Archive for category: Gaming

02 Mar
March 2, 2015

Sign me up to fly around punching aliens in a beautifully disintegrating city, please.

Death of a Salesman

19 Feb
February 19, 2015

Well, the big controversy this week in game development was that RPS interview with Peter Molyneux.

RPS: Do you think that you’re a pathological liar?

Yowch. That’s probably the hardest punch I’ve ever seen thrown by gaming’s enthusiast press. Predictably, reactions were sharply divided.

Some folks said good, it’s about time Molyneux got the screws put to him, what with his history of grandiose claims and unfulfilled promises.

“There was always this sort of joke between everyone—’the bullshit in the press again,'” said Sean Cooper, one of the first employees at Molyneux’s first game company, Bullfrog. “But it wasn’t really bullshit—it was more stretching the truth.”

“I’ve never really understood if Peter is a genius visionary who intends to make his claims come true, is a compulsive liar, just fantastically eager to please or perhaps even a crazy megalomaniac who believes his own hyperbole,” said ex-Bullfrog employee Mike Diskett. “I suspect it’s a little of all of the above.”

And, of course, the cycle of hype and self-flagellation has long since stopped looking like anything other than theater. There’s only so many times you can let a grown man with decades of experience off with an indulgent “oh, that scamp, he just let his enthusiasm get away with him again.”

Others, gamers and devs alike, recoiled, horrified. Molyneux makes wild claims, sure, to the extent that there’s even a famous satirical twitter account dedicated to spoofing his characteristic bombast. But the man’s a game developer, not a war criminal, and one responsible for some of the most beloved titles in all gaming. Did he really deserve that?

Now, personally I’m not sure how much of the magic of those titles was Peter and how much was the team behind him, but it’s a fair point. That interview came across as, well, vicious.

For an industry used to questions like “on a scale of 8-10, how awesome would you say your next generic warshooter is going to be?” questions like “are you a a pathological liar?” are far beyond the pale. Many who have muttered about Molyneux being a con in the past recoiled in disgust at his treatment. Developers, in particular, closed ranks, widely declaring their desire to have nothing more to do with RPS, or how this kind of thing would doom any hope of an open development process.

It wasn’t the kind of article that wins you friends, no.

But maybe that’s the point. Maybe someone at RPS felt that the press has been a little too indulgent with some of its “friends” in the game industry, a little bit too willing to look the other way. That it had forgotten its role as consumer watchdog.

It comes back to Kickstarter, you see. Kickstarter is an amazing thing, potentially revolutionary, if it can survive as a busines model in the long term. But it also presents more than enough rope for developers to hang themselves with. For Molyneux, in particular, it may have proven a poison pill.

Over-promising and under-delivering is one thing when it’s publisher money, it’s another thing completely when you’re appealing to your customers directly to fund you. And when rumors start that you’re shrinking the team that has yet to deliver the game you promised to the fans who supported you in order to work on another title instead, well…that’s strike one.

Strike two is all-but admitting you were willing to flat-out lie to meet the Kickstarter target.

“There’s this overwhelming urge to over-promise because it’s such a harsh rule: if you’re one penny short of your target then you don’t get it. And of course in this instance, the behavior is incredibly destructive, which is ‘Christ, we’ve only got 10 days to go and we’ve got to make £100,000, for fuck’s sake, let’s just say anything.’ So I’m not sure I would do that again.”

Hastily assembled stretch goals always run the risk of being poorly thought-out, of course. But “just say anything” suggests a willingness to ignore ethical concerns, to not just overestimate your capabilities but to just plain ignore them entirely.

Perhaps it was simply a poor choice of words on Molyneux’s part. But given the man’s track record, and the dismal state that Godus is currently in, it doesn’t look good in retrospect. Strike two.

And strike three is the casual disregard for the winner of 22Cans’ Curiosity Cube, Bryan Henderson, after the Cube and its winner had served their purpose as a marketing gimmick to build hype for Molyneux’s new game’s Kickstarter campaign.

I don’t think I’d have opened with pathological liar. But I can understand being furious at this apparent betrayal, furious at this man everyone respects and his naked willingness to do anything for PR.

for fuck’s sake, let’s just say anything.

It’s remarkable, if you think about it, for a developer to say something like that, such a bald and damning statement, and still have most of the industry treat him indulgently, like an impish uncle. Instead of being raked over the coals. The real scandal here, according to the zeitgeist, is what John Walker said. Not Molyneux. Not the legendary designer who practically admitted that he was willing to promise the moon to his fans to get their money, and who is now skipping off to his new project, leaving an amateur from the community to take over lead designer duties (and presumably responsibility for future failures) on Godus.

Truly remarkable.

I called this piece “Death of a Salesman” because it’s catchy, because I think Molyneux is a consummate salesman, and because there’s been a lot of talk (by him and by others) of whether he’s “finished” in the industry or not.

But honestly, I don’t believe he’s done. It’s not criticism or dislike that kills your PR story, it’s apathy. Disinterest. It doesn’t matter how much they hate Phil Fish, the hatred is itself a form of interest and will generate hits if he does anything the press can pick up on in the future.

And if Molyneux’s self-flagellating act had grown stale, well, no one is questioning the authenticity of his raking over the coals this time. If he comes back in a few years, somber and repentant, saying he’s learned his lesson and hopes to redeem himself with this new game he’s working on, well…who doesn’t like a good redemption story?

Whatever the truth is, amoungst all the controversy, one fact remains – Molyneux’s legacy will live on in his inheritors.

Doom Selfie Stick Mod

16 Feb
February 16, 2015

Amusing.

Human Resources, A Post-Apocalyptic RTS.

06 Oct
October 6, 2014

Such a cool concept.

Invisible, Inc Looks Fantastic

14 Aug
August 14, 2014

Duskers Looks Great

06 Jun
June 6, 2014

A lovely game idea, this, from Misfits Attic. I really want to see this one get made.

Besides the cool idea and mechanic, I always find it really inspirational, seeing the creative ways that indies find to convey an evocative style without having huge art budgets. I’m taking notes!

Hotline Fortress 2: Wrong Number

05 Jun
June 5, 2014

A violent (for a cartoon) but awesomely stylish mashup of Hotline Miami and Team Fortress 2. Pretty rad.

Howling at the Moon

04 Jun
June 4, 2014

The townsfolk are starting to panic. Each night this week, someone in their small, sleepy town has been brutally murdered. The victims’ bodies are found the next morning, savaged as if by a wild animal. One word is on everyone’s lips – Werewolf!

Tuckbox-nomarks

This is the setup for a fantastic little tabletop game my friends and I played recently while we were on holiday – Ultimate Werewolf. One person takes the role of the game master, the rest are all townsfolk. Except…one of them is hiding a monstrous secret! Each night, while everyone is sleeping, they transform into the beast and murder another villager! In the morning, the townsfolk awake with dread, to find out which of their number has become the next victim!

The game uses a simple but clever mechanic. The game master is the one who assigns the roles (at random) to the other players, so they know who everyone is. At “night”, all the players shut their eyes, then the game master asks the werewolf to open theirs and silently point to one of the other players that they want to murder. The game master notes that down. Then, the werewolf shuts his or her eyes and everyone “wakes up”, to the news of who has become the next victim.

During the “day”, players get a chance to hold a town meeting and nominate another player for lynching, on the suspicion of being the werewolf. The players hold a vote, with a simple majority passing. The living players win if they manage to lynch the werewolf before it eats the last of them, and the werewolf wins if there are no one but werewolves left at the end of the game.

Did I say “werewolves”? Yes! You see, the game is made more interesting by there being a whole range of special character cards, other than the werewolf, all with their own rules. The Seer, the Witch, the Bodyguard, the Troublemaker, the Prince, those are just a few of the special characters. Many of which have abilities that come into play during the night, before or after the werewolf attack. The Seer, for example, is one of the most important characters, and is in every game. During the night, the seer can point to one other character and the game master will nod if that is the werewolf or shake their head if it isn’t.

werewolf

What really makes it fun is the discussion during the day, when the townsfolk try to decide who to lynch. It’s part detective work, part roleplaying, especially if players get into their roles. Everyone comes up with a public persona on top of their character type at the start of the game. For example, I was the town mayor, others were blacksmiths, taxidermists, the stranger who had just arrived in town. So, with your public personas in mind, you debate on who is the most likely to grow fangs each night.

You can’t reveal your character card to other players, but you can just come out and tell people who you are. The problem is…they don’t have to believe you. You could just be lying to save your skin. Remember, there’s a werewolf in your midst, and they’re obviously working against the other players, trying to hide their identity. More than that, revealing your character type could draw the wolf into attacking you the next night. The Seer, as i said, is an especially valuable class, able as they are to verify the innocence of one player per night. Which means that if they come right out and reveal themselves from the start, they’ll be an early victim, unless they are lucky enough to finger the werewolf in the first round AND convince the other villagers to lynch him or her.

It’s an incredibly fun game, especially if, as I said, people get into their roles. And it has something I love in board/card games, the ability to vary the dynamics of the game by altering which cards come into play. There are 34 characters, so if you’re playing with a group of 8 you can only use a subset per game. Depending on which characters are in play, you can have a very different game. One of the later games I played, I was the Lycan, a character who, for all intents and purposes, is a normal human villager. Except that, when the Seer pings you, the game master nods that you are a werewolf. And in that game, I got pinged in the first round! :/

uw1

I managed to stave off my lynching for a few rounds by lying through my teeth, claiming to be the Witch, another valuable character, but my lies didn’t save me for long, especially since the real Witch (whose identity was still secret) knew I was lying, making me look doubly suspicious. I met an untimely end, that game, but at least they eventually found the werewolf. My own girlfriend! :|

If you can get a copy of Ultimate Werewolf, I highly recommend it. It’s small and portable, scales well (you need a minimum of 5 people, maximum 34), is really simple to run and teach, and it’s amazing fun. Get it, lynch your friends! ;)

Spiffy Space Shennanigans

21 May
May 21, 2014

I have no idea whether it will actually be enjoyable to play a space RTS from the bridge, in first person, rather than as a free-floating omniscient camera. It may end up being a gimmick that frustrates, rather than enriches, the experience.

But man, some of those shots really capture the drama of your favourite sci-fi TV shows, don’t they? Personally, even if I’m cautious about whether the control model will end up being frustrating or not, I’m still keen for someone to try make it work.

A Sign Of The Times

08 May
May 8, 2014

So. Wow.

This is a pretty huge deal.

To summarize – Epic are going to broadcast development of Unreal Tournament 4 from day 1, they plan to work in close collaboration with fans to build the game, which will itself be completely free, and Epic plan to make money by opening a mod marketplace and taking a cut of mod sales.

Hell’s bells. This is surely a sign of the brave new world we’re living in, of early access and the trend toward open development. Kudos to Epic for taking this brave step. Sure, when you’re earning licensing income from probably the most popular engine in the market, there is a nice financial cushion to fall back on, you’re not risking the farm. But still, it’s bold, it’s innovative, it’s experimental. I like it. Kudos to you, Epic.

The open community development is interesting, but so is the monetization model. We’re all well-aware that the various types of Free To Play models are big in the mobile space. But to have one of the AAA studios embrace that model in the development of a flagship product is quite the statement. Clearly, the industry is moving, and this is probably just the beginning.

And before someone says anything, this is F2P. I know, there aren’t any microtransactions. But F2P just means using the base game as a platform to sell other products to players of the game, in some manner. The game isn’t the thing you’re selling, it’s a platform that creates the desire for the things you’re actually selling.

All that said, this is, in my mind, probably the least exploitative type of F2P imaginable. In fact, like Unity’s Asset Store, it’s a great example of a mutually beneficial relationship. The ability to sell their product encourages modders, they benefit financially for their creative work. And the developers benefit, not just from the cut of sales they earn, but from the fact that these mods increase the value of the game platform for other players. Modders benefit from making mods, the developers benefit from giving modders a platform to make their mods. Win-win.

I wouldn’t be surprised if this turned out to be an incredibly successful experiment for them. And if we didn’t see many other developers follow suite in the coming years. The Elder Scrolls, for example, is ripe for this. Forget the MMO, build this, Bethesda!

Anyway, I’ll be watching this play out with interest. It certainly is a brave, exciting new world out there! Gaming is such an exciting space to be in!