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It’s been a while since I’ve written here. I’ll have to correct that.

Last week I had an interesting conversation with a man named Elgin Summerfelt, who is a career counselor in Cambridge, MA. He told me that one of his friends had found it very useful to create a philosophy and theory behind how he did woodworking, and urged me to create a similar sort of thing for gaming. I’m going to take his advice today.

Games have always been a great force in my life, ever since I was nine and bought my first Nintendo Entertainment System. The most memorable ones, the ones that were the guiding force behind what I believe constitutes a worthy candidate for “Game of the Year” in a video game magazine, all had the following:

  1. 1.       Easy mechanics that didn’t take long to master, but required you to use them in challenging ways to get through the game.

Reasoning: Games that are too easy are boring, plain and simple. Great storylines are a big part of a good game, but if you get mechanics that make the storyline too easy to access and progress through, it isn’t rewarding enough for the player. They will feel like there’s no inherent challenge and they’re just watching a movie. A good example of a game that took this too far was Final Fantasy 12, released for the Playstation 2. In Final Fantasy 12, they gave you the option to queue up actions for your characters to take when not given input by the player, such as stealing an item from an enemy, or using a specific magic spell first. The problem was that they gave the player too many of these options, so you could easily get into battle, allow the party to fight the enemy without touching the controller, and do other things while keeping an eye on the TV to make sure your characters didn’t die. This made it a more cinematic experience than a game experience, and was a major downfall of the title. It was still a good game, despite this flaw, but compared to other entries in the Final Fantasy series, it was lackluster.

In contrast, a much earlier game that was produced by the same company, Secret of Mana, mastered the balance between player action and inaction very well. One of the main fight mechanics was a charge-up meter that allowed you to do different attacks with the weapons you found, and this was a great reward for gameplay. Charging up your weapon to unleash havoc upon the enemy when you released the button was a great way to offer the player consistent rewards for improving the weapons (since every time you improved it, you got a new combat move) and kept the story moving forward by offering you bosses to kill that would grant you new weapons and with them, new combat options.

  1. 2.       Great storylines.

Reasoning: Without a good storyline, the player has no reference to why they are supposed to do what they’re supposed to do. An engrossing storyline keeps the suspension of disbelief active and allows the player to be engaged in characters that tell a story that the developer created; ideally one that will make a good impression on the player.

  1. 3.       Creative and memorable graphics.

Reasoning: This doesn’t necessarily mean GOOD graphics. Some games do just fine with minimal graphics, and to a degree, graphics are limited to what the engine running the game can handle anyway. But the graphics used have to be memorable enough to the player that there’s something there to say, “Hey I really liked that,” about a combat move, a magical spell, environments, or whatever else. One of the most memorable games for its graphics was Chrono Trigger, which had a very unique combat system. In every battle, you had the option to create combination attacks using up to three characters, which were sometimes very powerful, but the point of them was not just to create powerful attacks; the point of having them in there was graphics that exploded all over the screen, in increasingly powerful bursts. Both combat moves and magical spells were utilized, sometimes in tandem with each other. This led to a very rewarding experience as you played through the game; it was a lot of fun watching all the double and triple attacks that you could pull off.

  1. 4.       Background music that matches the mood of significant events in the game.

Music that does its job well can turn a good game into a transcendent one. Fire Emblem: Path of Radiance was a game that did this well; so was Final Fantasy 7, and Diablo and Diablo II also pulled it off nicely. Path of Radiance had many missions where motivational music happened right on time to coincide with conversational events setting you up for things later on, which got you motivated and ready for the impending battle, which improved the game experience immensely and made it more fun. Final Fantasy 7 had a character named Aeris who died midway through the game and the music surrounding her death was EXTREMELY well done; the entire experience was enhanced and made unforgettable for anyone who played the game. Diablo’s first entry in the franchise had foreboding, dark music that was very appropriate for a dungeon crawler, and Diablo II followed suit in this while adding town music for each act’s levels that was quality sound work. I was particularly a fan of the Act II town, which was set in a desert and had music that evoked Middle Eastern themes.

Taken all together, these elements would make a AAA game memorable and worth playing for just about anyone. If any of them are missing, the experience of playing the game would be made lesser, and cost the game regard amongst its peers.

No PSN In Japan Until Preventative Measures Provided

The developing story from Sony’s dealings with the hackers that I’ve chronicled in this space continue to fascinate me. I thought this story was interesting mainly for the fact that the US and other governments have not seen fit to do something like this, and I also wonder what exactly the “preventative measures” will be. Sony clearly has lost face in the industry community, as we’re seeing from the general tone of the Japanese minister quoted in the story, and they will probably have to regain some amount of trust over the next few years from both their consumers and from the industry at large.

Ubisoft Developing Assassins Creed Splinter Cell Ghost Recon Movies

As a fan of video games and movies that they have become over the years, I hope that the titles that Ubisoft are working on do well. The movie that Squaresoft did of Final Fantasy was horrible in my opinion, and I’ve heard that the Resident Evil and Max Payne movies did little better, so I hope that Ubisoft is able to find a good director and good talent to bring some great game properties to life. Fans of the games deserve to be treated to, at the very least, a good rendition of their  favorite characters and the story that they go through.

http://www.gamasutra.com/view/news/34276/How_RPGs_Were_A_30Year_Detour_Matt_Findley_On_Hunted_The_Demons_Forge.php

This was an interesting interview from someone who worked at Interplay mainly for the fact that he says that he and his coworkers at Interplay, although they turned out some of the best turn based games ever, really had wanted to do action games. I found myself wondering a little bit if the was retconning things to fit his own worldview… there’s a quote in here from him, “I think these games always wanted to be action games at their heart. I think all those old turn-based games, it’s just that’s all the technology would allow.” I have a big problem with that, since the games that Interplay produced were widely lauded (Fallout, Fallout 2, and Descent are some of the most famous) and I believe that the makers of those games would take umbrage as well; good design does not depend on good technology. Magic: The Gathering is a card game that has been played by many people since its inception and relies primarily on card printing and on the ingenuity of Wixards of the Coast’s design team to create interesting mechanics for the cards; technology is nowhere in that equation.

http://www.gamasutra.com/view/news/34440/Sony_Press_Conference_Discusses_PSN_Intrusion_Next_Steps.php

In the press release above, Sony has announced that they’ve had more problems than just with Anonymous, as detailed in my previous post. It’s a bit un-nerving, the amount of problems they’re having actually; PSN was taken down entirely for more than a week and a half while Sony investigated all the avenues that they’re having problems with, and took steps to notify their customers about what may have been compromised. I have to agree with one of the things I saw in the comments though; moving the server location won’t do much unless the hack was done via social networking somehow. At this point though, I’ll be happy if the PSN is back up and running at all, with all the problems going on.

My college career is wrapping up on the 7th, when I attend graduation and move back home. It’s been a long trip for me but I’m glad I made it, I feel much better about being a game major than I did about being a History major, and I’ve ended up with many friends in my time here while I was working on my degree, ones who I hope will help me get a job at some point in the future. I can honestly say that I’ve had a great time in the majority of my classes and learned things that are far more useful to me in the real world than anything I ever did as a History major and I have more friends and people I respect than I ever did in my time at St. Mary’s University in San Antonio. At the moment I feel incredibly accomplished and proud of my impending graduation, but I’m also happy to be moving on from the protective bubble that college provides. It is past time that I started having a regular job and working with real people in a business environment, and I’m looking forward to the challenges waiting for me in Boston.

All things considered though, it’s time for me to move on. I had a great time in Burlington but I’ve had enough of small towns; it’s time to move to a city, get a job, and join the real world. Boston, here I come.

The following post assumes you have read and understand some of the issues around two stories that I will post below for your perusal, so go read them and then come back.

http://technology.gather.com/viewArticle.action?articleId=281474979208493

http://ps3.gamespy.com/articles/116/1160070p1.html?_cmpid=gspy53

Done reading? Great. Now, on to my own interpretations of this.

I’m pretty solidly on Sony’s side of the fence in this spat. The laws are the laws in this country regarding patents and trade secrets for a reason; they allow people who love games enough to make them for a living to be able to make that living. Neither George Hotz nor anyone else has a right to hack into the software of a PS3, XBox360, Nintendo Wii, or any other system past or present and run programs on it that it was not intended for. By doing so, they’re indirectly depriving people who love games, love making games, and went to a big effort to learn how to make games, of income from a career. That’s not okay in my book at all and shouldn’t be encouraged. I hope Sony wins this one, for the sake of all its customers and on behalf of the people in the industry who make games.

In my personal case, I’ve spent four years being a member of the Game Design program at Champlain College, with all the expenses associated with a college education. I find it personally offensive that anyone would want to attack one of my potential employers for something that was clearly illegal; it seems to me that this is tantamount to saying that we shouldn’t have to spend any time learning how to make a game and should be able to do anything we want with systems that are produced, even things it was clearly not meant for. That’s not how the world works. All three branches of the e-gaming degree (programming, design, and art) are MUCH more complicated than most people think they are, and I can tell you firsthand that there are a lot more things to think about when designing a game than anyone who hasn’t been a part of an e-gaming program knows about. The idea that anyone would want to degrade or make invalid the work I put into one of my own creations is really something that should be prosecuted.

Improving Your Studio: What Your Producer Told Me

Today I want to talk about an article from Gamasutra that I found today as a feature, because I believe its importance is more than the comments are making it out to be.

The article is about what Producers at game companies believe their companies strengths and weaknesses are, and how they can be improved. I’m copy-pasting some of it here to highlight what I believe are the most important bits to take away from it.

“Question #4: In which of these areas would you most like to see improvement at your company?”

“There are two noteworthy points about the responses to this question:

  • Every area has a very similar number of responses…
  • …except for Leadership, which had twice as many as any other category

“So when given the chance to select any part of their company for improvement, somebody would choose any given area, but twice as many want to see their leadership improved. Remember in Question #1 when nobody said their organization excels most at leadership? It seems a fair number of folks would like to see that addressed.” (Fuller, 2011)

And later on:

“Question #6: On a scale from -5 to +5 how much of an impact could that area have if it was improved as much as possible?”

“There were no negative responses here. If you were to improve anyone’s selected problem area, the worst that would happen is you’d take a negative impact up to a zero. And the average of all the responses here was 3.36. If you combine the information gleaned from questions 5 and 6 you can see the following:

  • Average impact of all areas in need of improvement = -1.64
  • Average impact of all areas if improved maximally = 3.36
  • Impact of improvement = 3.36 – (-1.64) = 5.0
  • Given the scale is -5 to +5 (e.g. 100 percent awful to 100 percent awesome), fixing what needs fixed will have a 100 percent improved, positive impact on company success.” (Fuller, 2011)

The author acknowledges that any survey should be taken with a grain of salt, but the responses to this survey are very interesting. Apparently, it is worth noting the successes (and lack thereof) of companies like Activision/Blizzard, Infinity Ward, Sony Online Entertainment, and other titans of the industry who encounter leadership issues. This may seem obvious to some people, but I find it much more interesting that producers AT COMPANIES ACTIVELY SURVEYED are acknowledging that fact and freely admitting that their companies have problems. It makes me wonder if in the future we’ll see a sea change in how companies treat their employees, and what effect that will have on the games produced. If the results of this survey are any indication, it’s something that a lot of producers at a lot of companies want to see.

–Tomas

Citation info: Fuller, Keith. “Improving Your Studio: What Your Producer Told Me.” http://www.gamasutra.com. Gamasutra, 31 03 2011. Web. 3 Apr 2011. <http://www.cnn.com/2011/WORLD/africa/03/31/libya.un.ambassador/index.html?iref=allsearch&gt;.

I’ve been back for more than two weeks now actually, but this is the first time I’ve gotten a chance to really sit down and write. The site looks different now and I think I’m happier with the overall design. Feel free to look around and if you like it  give me feedback!

I’ve been looking around Gamasutra today and I wanted to remark on a few stories that caught my eye:

Opinion: Why The Duke Nukem Forever Delay Makes Sense – In some respects this is pretty funny. Duke Nukem Forever has been dropped and picked up again by a lot of different companies now, to the point where fans are just happy that the game is finally looking like it’ll come out at all. Another delay, after years and years and years of them, is merely a blip on the radar screen at this point. It seems, however, that this delay is more strategic than anything else, which is commendable by the company. May’s slate of action shooter games includes Bethesda’s Brink, Warner Bros.’ F.E.A.R. 3, THQ’s Red Faction: Armageddon, LEGO Pirates of the Caribbean, Dirt 3, Dungeon Siege III and Hunted: Demon’s Forge. Given the glut of games in May, delaying is a sound tactical move, so as to have less competition when it finally does ship, and allows for more polish in the extra month. Smart planning.

Okamiden Devs: Team Process At Capcom Made Development A Challenge – I never played this game, nor its predecessor, Okami, but an important lesson is taught by reading this story and the full Post-Mortem (linked at the bottom): Sometimes, you don’t have to be perfect. Sometimes, it’s good enough to be good, when you’re working on a deadline. By trying to be perfect in every way, the developers of Okamiden had to change their schedules and the latter half of the game suffered in depth because of it.



NPD: Guitar Hero III Tops Lifetime US Sales By Revenue – This isn’t really surprising, as the industry has moved towards being casual-oriented more in recent years, but it’s still noteworthy for the fact that Guitar Hero III brought in $830.9 million in retail sales. Another interesting note is that Activision has five of the top ten earners that the NPD has tracked.

Hecker Visits UC Berkley to Talk SpyParty, Future Of Emotion In Games – This article was interesting to me for two reasons; one is that I like spy and sniper games, and secondly because of the way this game was put together. I can’t remember another game that was put together where the aim was to act like the computer characters in order to blend in. I would have loved to play it at the campus but of course I don’t go there. I think the most interesting paragraph out of this story is this one: “In order to explain the challenges the game presents, Hecker outlined how SpyParty functions as an inverse of the classic Turing test—that is, rather than creating an AI that mimics a human, spy players aim to mimic an AI, so as to fit in with their surroundings and remain undetected. ‘When you force a human to act like a computer, you get a game – it’s an interesting task,’ Hecker said.” Interesting indeed.

I have to go to bed, since it’s very late now, but I hope you enjoyed this.

–Tomas

I will be taking the week off to kick back and relax from school for a while. Have safe travels, fun adventures, and enjoy!

–Tomas

Productivity FTW

I spent today figuring out how to make heroes in StarCraft II work properly within levels, it was really fun! The process is fairly simple, I actually have all the steps memorized now, all the way down to the health and energy level settings that I have all my heroes set up for. I’ll have to revisit this on Wednesday when I try to figure out what the 2nd team of heroes should be for my 3rd level and start making those units, and the enemy units so that they have different abilities than the normal Zerg units.

It’s a lot of fun so far, but I suspect two weeks from now will be the beginning of the not-so-fun stuff, when I sit down and try to figure out for once and all what’s going on with the scripting. I’ve already run into some issues having to do with spacing the text that I want out (although I have gotten the trigger to work for actually making the text appear). Apparently I’m going to have problems with long text strings, because they get cut off at a certain point. I’m not sure yet what the best solution to that is, but I’m hoping that one of my classmates or my teacher will be able to help me with it.

Have a great night!

–Tomas

Argh

I got a rejection letter today from a place I found on IGDA.com that had been advertising for help making their game, called Hostile Worlds. The company was founded by three students in Germany and the thread on IGDA’s forums said they were looking for beta testers, but I went one step further and offered my services as a Narrative Designer. They sent back a very polite and encouraging letter, but unfortunately they don’t have the means to pay anyone right now so I’m going to do as they suggest and try to spread the word about their game, since I think it has a lot of potential. They’re building an RTS in the style of Warhammer 40: Dawn of War 2 in the Unreal Developer’s Kit engine and it seems like it has some really solid ideas for multiplayer mode.  They don’t have a singleplayer mode yet, (which is why I emailed them, I was hoping to work with them and create a singleplayer story for use in their game) but the multiplayer ideas look reasonable so far.

Their website is here: http://hostile-worlds.com/ I encourage everyone to pay them a visit and keep an eye on what they’re doing. So far they are in the pre-alpha stages of testing but I’m impressed by the few screenshots they have up, and the pre-alpha trailer looks like it could be interesting. At the least it’s a promising start.

I’m exhausted, so I’m going to bed now. Have a great weekend!

–Tomas

Yeah so Friday night I spent playing Magic: The Gathering and pretty much passed out when I came home because I had been up like 30 hours straight or something insane. Thursday night was apparently not a night for sleeping. Anyway here’s an update on what’s been going on since Thursday…

Thursday I was given a new version of Possessed to play with, but it was too late to really play around with it at that point. Two freshmen spent Saturday evening with me toying around with it for two hours and we found ten bugs with it, some of which were pretty cool. My favorite one was one that allowed you to possess a guy as a ghost and then when you unpossess him next to the wall you can go through the wall and look around the interior of the walls. It wasn’t discovered by me though, one of the kids did that.

Friday I was supposed to present the StarCraft II levels that I’ve made so far to Mr. Bemis and our class in Advanced Seminar: Game Design. However, the college is making me jump through hoops to get StarCraft II to work properly on one of the computers which makes me a very sad panda. I told Mr. Bemis about this problem on Friday and we are showed the Tech Support guys what’s going on with the server when I try to access StarCraft II (basically, there’s an electronic keychain that the server operates and StarCraft is not on the keychain, which means it won’t start up until it is part of that keychain) and unfortunately the guy who can fix that is out until next week. I’m gonna have to visit them on Monday to see if things can get cleared up. Fortunately I did have the maps and the script uploaded and was able to tell Mr. Bemis and my classmates what the story is about as well as what I’ve done so far with the maps and what kind of learning I’ve been doing with the tutorials.

Friday I also spent some time with this site; there may be some other pages going up soon since Dev Jana and I are working on being able to upload videos and Unity game files to a site where I can link to them. Stay tuned!

–Tomas