Archive for month: September, 2012

Why I Make Games : 18 developers answer the question

27 Sep
September 27, 2012

Lovely piece up on Edge where 18 well-known developers answer the question “What motivates you to make games?”

I found it rather inspiring. I’ve mentioned before, sometimes I wonder if I still want to make games, if I still enjoy gaming. Sometimes, you need something to remind you of what you love about a thing.

Certain quotes particularly resonated with me.

Warren Spector

My desire, my need, to make videogames goes back to my very first Dungeons & Dragons play sessions. I’ll never forget the emotional high, the joy, I felt. I’d always known I wanted to tell stories for a living, but until D&D, I assumed I’d tell them to people. What D&D taught me was the power of telling stories with other people.

Five or six of us – working within a framework created by a dungeon master – could craft our own experiences. We could see and do and say things no one else in the world had ever seen, done or said… We could do things in our imaginary worlds that would be at best unacceptable in the real world… We could walk in the shoes of people from ancient civilisations, have adventures that put to shame the exploits of real explorers… We could all become storytellers.

Harvey Smith

My friends and I also played a lot of pen-and-paper RPGs. Story drama and game/verb drama blended together in RPGs. Then I discovered videogames: the way the bat in Adventure changed the game dynamically, the bullfrog puzzle in Ultima Underworld, which I solved in a nonstandard way by exploiting spells and physics…

Ultimately, the reason I make games is that I still find it fascinating to explore the dark, the potentially threatening or hostile space; it’s thrilling to me to solve problems under duress, to fight monsters in the metaphorical sense. And I want to do it myself, expressing my own desires and quirks. I’d rather be there as an active agent in a truly dynamic, changeable situation, and games do that better than film or literature.

But perhaps the best line comes from Adrian Chmielarz. Summing it up perfectly in one line.

Because games actually allow me to see the attack ships on fire off the shoulder of Orion.

Fuck. Yeah.

The Inevitable Evolution

26 Sep
September 26, 2012

Introversion have announced that their latest game, Prison Architect, is going into Alpha. As is fashionable (and smart, for some types of games), they’re doing the Alpha Funding.

But they’ve taken it a bit further by integrating a tiered reward system, ala Kickstarter. This is not the first time I’ve seen this kind of thing, but the last I remember had only 2 tiers, a basic and “premium supporter” tier. This goes all the way into Kickstarter territory with a wide range of rewards for all levels and limited slots for certain rewards. No timer that I can see though, which may be key in driving the psychology of Kickstarter. We’ll have to wait and see how effective the model is without that little mental push.

Interesting to see this evolution of the Kickstarter model, with more successful indies taking the model and using it on the individual level, away from the pooled audience of Kickstarter itself. And interesting to see how it turns out. Introversion often post revealing post-mortems on how their development has gone, challenges faced and overcome, stuff that worked for them etc.

I don’t know how I feel about this. On one hand, I’m fine with (certain types of) preorder incentives, alpha funding, collector’s editions and selling merchandise along with the basic product. On the other hand…it feels a bit like a gimmick. And for gimmicks, once people get used to them, you have to escalate things to get people to sit up and take notice again.

Pay-what-you-want indie bundles generated a huge buzz when they started. Now, you see another almost every week. Hell, recently I saw a bundle OF BUNDLES. When a new norm has been established, you have to go further to stand out.

Despite that, I think I still come down on the side of the positive, here. Giving the die-hard supporters avenues (and incentives) to support development is a good alternative to relying on publishers, who prioritize profits over the experience itself. For a developer that has spent the time building up an audience who trusts them and wants to participate, I think it’s a winner. But I also think this is a bandwagon that lots of developers who haven’t done the legwork required are going to jump on and be disappointed.

It certainly is an interesting evolution in drift toward “games as a service”. Game creation as an audience participation sport/show?

Coming Together…

25 Sep
September 25, 2012

A short update on the status of my game. I want to show, rather than tell, at this point, so you’ll have to forgive me if I keep it brief.

The gameplay coding is complete. Right now, I’m scripting and writing the story campaign, building and testing the enemy decks, checking balance and tweaking the UI. While I do that, a small team of contract artists, whittled down from the nearly 100 candidates that applied, are working on final game art. The design is locked down, the story skeleton is locked down, all I have to do is flesh it out.

I said I was 2-3 months away, 1 month ago, but I think I underestimated again. I know, I know, if I was wrong last time, why believe I’m right this time? Well, as you progress your estimates get a bit closer to the mark aye. It’s very close now, especially with final art assets coming in. 1 month to put it all together in its final form. 1 Month for polish and final tweaks. 1 month for bug fixing and playtesting with beta testers. And then it’s release time.

It’ll blow my worst case estimate by 1 month (November would be a year since I started), but it’ll be out the door. For Christmas, no less. I can think of no better Christmas present to myself. 😉

And I can’t wait to show you guys.

NEO Scavenger progress report, and the effects of Greenlight and Desura

22 Sep
September 22, 2012

Daniel Fedor has a post up on his development site about how NEO Scavenger is doing, months after release, and what effect putting up a Greenlight page on Steam has had, as well as the impact of Desura. It’s well worth a read, for aspiring indie devs. And points to something I’ve said before, that putting up a Greenlight page is valuable even if it doesn’t result in your game getting on Steam itself, simply for the additional exposure.

Give it a read here, it’s always great to see indies being so open about their games do in the marketplace. It’s helpful data for all us aspiring indies, and can be hard to find.

Farewell to the Biodocs

19 Sep
September 19, 2012

News is all over the net, Bioware’s founders, Greg Zeschuk and Ray Muzyka (how you pronounce those surnames, I have no idea) have both publicly announced their resignation from Bioware.

More interestingly, the announcement comes almost 5 years exactly after their acquisition by EA. Given their simultaneous resignations, this suggests that 5 years was the length of their contracts with EA, that they may have simply been riding it out to retirement.

The cynical might say that the sale to EA was not done in the best interests of Bioware, that it was a “cash in and retire” plan from the beginning. Maybe. Another possibility is they have simply grown tired of their positions as managers rather than “creatives on the ground floor”, and that moving to EA and becoming part of that giant infrastructure exacerbated that feeling.

Or, it’s completely possible that they’ve simply reached a point in their lives where gaming is no longer their thing now. It happens. I’ve talked about my own fears that I’ve reached that point, and my gratefulness at games which remind me that the passion is still there, somewhere. After 10 years of working toward the goal of making games professionally, struggling with the feeling that you no longer enjoy games as much is difficult, you question your life and its current direction. So yeah, I sympathize, really.

Whatever the case, I wish the Biodocs all the best in the future. Bioware has brought me some of my favourite RPG experiences of all time, and I owe it to their vision and drive. Thanks, Ray and Greg. Enjoy whatever comes next for you.

And Bioware, as a company, as it stands now…I won’t pretend I don’t feel uncertain about its future. EA is a machine that has, time and again, swallowed developers at the peak of their success, ground them down by not really getting their passion for their genre of games and demanding that they focus on whatever is perceived to make the most profit, and then strip mining the company when they can’t meet expectations. The multiplayer shooter tacked onto ME3 worries me. The EA exec talking about how all future games will have online aspects worries me. Bioware’s flubbing DA2 and the predictable failure of SWTOR worries me.

But I still have hope. Bioware is capable of great things, and I wish them all the best. Hopefully, history won’t repeat itself, and they will return to the direction they were going in DA1, which looked to be more toward their roots as a company.

FTL makes me feel excited about gaming again.

17 Sep
September 17, 2012

After hearing multiple people I respect rave about FTL, I decided to give it a try. And I’m glad I did, it’s rather lovely.

If you don’t know, it’s basically a roguelike-meets-Firefly/Star Trek simulator. You command a small ship navigating hostile space, having encounters (text adventures), getting into battles, managing crew and resources, upgrading your ship and fighting off boarding parties (or boarding enemy ships yourself). Since it’s a rogue-like, the universe is procedurally-generated and you cannot choose to save and restore a previous game. You play and have to accept the consequences, meaning that taking a risk on an unknown is always tense. Exploring a mysterious asteroid field could have disastrous consequences, or reveal a hidden cache of resources. The core risk-vs reward focus of roguelikes is strong here, even if it doesn’t look like a traditional roguelike. And a lot of the joy is in seeing how far you can get, and the story you generate in the process.

Now, I’m not really a huge fan of roguelikes. I’ve tried the forumula, and it’s ok. But generally I feel like I’m playing a dungeon-crawler RPG (which aren’t my favourite) with less point. And I’m especially not fond of the (what seems to me) nostaligia-driven love for ascii graphics and shitty, arcane interfaces. I’m not really a fan of retro graphics, though I can see the advantage to using them, for indies.

That being said, FTL works for me. There seems to be a clear goal and an overarching sense of a plot (if not an actual plot) to keep it focused, the roguelike “procedural generation plus tense risk-reward analysis” formula is there, and it taps into that geeky desire to captain your own starship into uncharted space, like on TV! 😉

It’s also made me that much more excited for Star Command, a game which seems to tackle this concept as well, but perhaps with a bit of a different implementation.

But most of all…I enjoyed the feeling of playing a game that felt like it was exploring uncharted territory in the game design space. Fresh and interesting. It’s a problem for me, I often feel a bit bored of gaming as a whole, there’s a bit of “been there, done that” settling in. Makes me question, at times, my decision to try become a full-time game developer. Have I just moved on, grown out of gaming? I can’t relate to the things the teenagers get excited about much anymore.

So it’s great to be reminded that there is still the possibility of excitement and novelty in game design. In fact, it makes me question myself. Am I being too lazy in my thinking, defaulting to thinking about and wanting to make games in well-worn genres? Perhaps the reason I feel bored is because my thinking has grown a bit stale, a bit too focused on the game designs that others have pioneered. Perhaps I need to work harder to start with fewer assumptions about things like genre and so on, instead focus on capturing some general type of experience or idea. Such as “Captain a Starship through dangerous space!”.

Build up from the premise and a clean-slate, assume nothing.

It’s good to play a game that is both fun and challenges me as a game designer. So FTL designers, I thank you.

Project Eternity

15 Sep
September 15, 2012

Obsidian have done what they’ve been hinting about doing for a while, and launched their own Kickstarter project.

Called Project Eternity, Obsidian has promised that it will hit all the old-school bullet points we love, in a new and interesting fantasy setting from the minds that brought us games like Planescape etc.

Which is cool. And I’m hoping it goes great, both for Obsidian and for us gamers. I’ve little doubt Obsidian will get their funding, they’ve almost hit their target as I write this, I’m guessing the final total will be about $6 million in the end.

But…can someone tell me what the game is about? The setting/plot premise? I know it’s fantasy (and that map is highly reminiscent of the Forgotten Realms, to me), I saw something about a Watcher, Sawyer said something about soul magic and I saw some concept art of an elf which I am not entirely sure is from Project Eternity at all.

I want to be super excited…but emotionally, I’ve got little to latch onto here, besides being pleased that someone is making more games of this type. I made myself a cup of tea, sat down to watch the video and get hyped, and ended up feeling like I’d watched 6 minutes of name-dropping. That IS one of the most effective ways to get Kickstarter support so I can’t fault their strategy, but I wish I knew something more about the actual game itself.

Well, let’s hope everything ends up great. Good luck to Obsidian, they’re one of the few companies whose potential I feel excited about, even if I occasionally feel let down by one of their games.

Blade Runner Tribute

14 Sep
September 14, 2012

A level created in Unreal 2 as tribute to Blade Runner. Fantastic.

I wanna play this!

Man, but I would love to have level designers/artists like this working for me. This is the kind of RPG level design I love the most, the DX/VtmB “open, non-linear levels but not vast sandbox” style level design, combined with a first person “seeing it from the ground” view.

And cities are so much cooler to explore than boring tracts of wilderness!

I think, when I do go back to creating a 3D RPG, this level of art (the U2 generation of games) is a good one to aim for. It’s simple enough that art isn’t incredibly time consuming to produce, but good enough to create great mood and atmosphere nonetheless. What do you guys think?

BG2 Cinematic recreted in the DA engine

12 Sep
September 12, 2012

Too, too cool. BG expanded needs to come out soon, I can’t contain my urge to replay the series much longer.

Art Update – Gas Mask Girl

11 Sep
September 11, 2012

Just a study. Click for the large version, as usual. Process underneath.

Definitely feel like I’m developing a concrete “process” here. I “thrash” less, which is what I call laying down brushstrokes and hoping that it will look right, then trying to fix it when it doesn’t, or worse yet, knowing that it’s all gone wrong but not being able to see why.

Feels more like I’m purposefully building it up according to a blueprint instead of kinda chucking down strokes and praying.

Also, I’m using fewer, simpler brushstrokes/lines than I used to. Forms are simpler, but more readable. So that’s cool. 🙂