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Bad Choices and Bad Endings part 1&2

Do you ever notice that having more endings or more in-game choices, means essentially more evil choices?  Why can’t I enjoy being one of a spectrum of good people?  I’m kind of sick of having either a goody-two shoes character or one that is over restricted from doing anything that a law book says.  Of course, that book is usually made by the gamer developers who seem to have no sense of what makes right and wrong.  Although, it is more likely that they see good as people who restrict their lives.  In the end, you kill people based due to some code or being naïve about almost everything.

So, now let’s usher in the grey and evil choices.  I get that people want to live out lives they normally would not live in real life.  However, in order to do this they have to give endings which aren’t logical.  They ultimately don’t satisfy because people don’t associate them with the virtual lives they acted.  The evil path becomes enjoyable due to the gameplay, and the ending becomes forgettable.

Some may say that you remember those endings.  However, it’s not because they had a livable non-good life.  It’s because they usually have non-endings or bad endings.  First, non-endings.  Wait for it everybody … Here’s the ending …. (set up sequel here).  Second, bad endings.  Well you know them.  They are just bad.  And of course all of those wonderful good-neutral-evil choices end up in a very contrived non-varying conclusion.

The reason for non-endings is greed.  Let’s face it. They want you hooked on the series.  Here’s an idea.  Make a good game.  Make good game play.  Have a rich story.  And wait for it …. Have a good ending.  As long as you don’t kill everyone off, you can always write another chapter.  People will want to buy it.  You don’t have to put an in-game advertisement with your lame ending.  That just shows a lack of quality storytelling.

As for bad endings, it’s almost as if people have a lack of knowledge outside the cliché.  Sure you may have a slightly different ending, but you are now a caricature, not a complex human.  And let’s face it, we all are complex.  Having an “I’m king of the world” ending for the bad path is a little silly.  The only thing worse is if you have the same ending as the good path.

Ultimately, unless you are playing a very in-depth RPG, the extra choices that you get don’t amount to anything.  It just gives the writers and designers less time to work on a satisfying ending.  Disagree?  Send me an e-mail.

No More Repitition

Youth allows for heavy repetition and speed.  As one gets older, this tends to evaporate from our list of skills.  I remember way back playing Centipede.  It was a fun game.  However, speed and hand-eye coordination were the key to doing well.  It was thrilling to see how far that I could go and how hard it became at higher levels.

With all that being said, I probably wouldn’t even play the game today.  Not even for memory’s sake!  I would find it frustrating with no pay off. After all, it’s pretty much the same level over and over again.  The speed just increases (along with the mushrooms.)

Now, was it a bad game?  I wouldn’t say so.  My guess is that some people could play it for hours today.  Those people would probably be under 30 years old. 

After that age, maybe it’s the fact that people lose some of your speed, but I think it’s also they aren’t so willing to do repetition.  Sure, there’s a lot of repetition in combat in modern games, but they diffuse it with large maps and diverse challenges.  

I don’t know why we want this at a later age in life.  Perhaps it is due to youth learning through repetition.  Older people have learned already and now want to apply.  We see more and more as we go, and even new things can seem like repackaged old.  (6/18/14)

Make Cash with the a Twist on the Old

Time to put our thinking caps on.  How are we going to make mega-money?  What about the well-worn but still running fine MMO? 

I’ve found that most MMO’s are slanted to certain genres.  RPGs, Shooters, and action are the most obvious.  However, the most watched gaming event of all time was League of Legends (LoL), and as of right now is the most popular.  You would almost have to classify LoL as an RTS hybrid. 

So, are there any genres that can be exploited for your own personal gain?  I liked the LoL example because they just didn’t make an RTS MMO, although they definitely could have done just that and made money.  However, the RTS fever has dwindled since slightly past the turn of the millennium.  They wouldn’t have had the same success.

Once again, what genres are still popular?  I think the one of the biggest that is left behind might be the simplest.  How about a platformer?  They’ve definitely had popularity in the past and still get played surprisingly much. 

So, how do you make a MMO platformer?  How do you put a twist on it that transcends the genre itself?  Input ideas, output success. (6/10/14)

The End of Flash (PT. 4)

Well, it seems like I write this column every year.  Flash is dying.  I believe this statement, and yet defend against it as well.  It sounds like a multiple personality, but the truth is that it will take a lot to get rid of Flash.  They are entrenched in more ways and deeper than you probably know.

However, the good news for you competitors of Flash is that Adobe has decided to start killing itself.  Yes, it turns out the Creative Cloud version will give you less tools than you had before.  Now, that’s ingenuity.  In this version, you lose the bone, deco and spray can tool. 

If you’ve used Flash, you know that these all can be problematic.  I guess they gave up.  No use trying on something that you didn’t work that hard on before.

They’ve also got rid of some text, code, animation and publishing helpers.  It’s a bit perplexing why you would give this all away.  Maybe Adobe really doesn’t want Flash to survive.  Maybe they really like Edge.  Or maybe they feel they can waltz into any arena and crush competition with any of their products.

It’s possible that they also got rid of this to support HTML and video export.  Who knows?  Maybe they’ll work on these and bring them back..  It just feels depleting to see Adobe essentially give up.  How many things get stripped out of software only to be brought back in later versions?  I can’t think of many … any?

We’ll see what happens, but it looks like a slow, creeping death.  Although, in reality my guess is that their nook of industry users will just diminish until they become irrelevant.  The next question is how long will that take? (2/13/14)

 

Embrace the Past, Maybe

I recently played a game called King’s Bounty.  When I read the details and the reviews of it, I thought that it sounded like a game from the past.  It was a role playing game that played in real time, with the fights occurring in turn based fashion.  I used to love these games.

However, I was trepid about the game.  I had just come off playing League of Legends, modern military MMOs and a couple of mediocre true TBS games.  I very much enjoyed the LoL and the MMOs and was worried that I grew out of my RPG, TBS roots.  

Well, I was wrong.  As it turned out, King’s Bounty isn’t a totally true old fashioned RPG game, but definitely like a brother to them.  It was nonetheless a delight to play, well worth overcoming my fear.

It made me wonder how much all gamers talk themselves out of game.  It’s so easy to get stuck in genres.  Eventually, those genres go down to just a couple or maybe even one.  How much fun are we talking ourselves out of by doing this?  Is it worth opening up a game like a game played before?  Or even try a totally new type of game. (1/17/14)

Online Games Overwhelm the Market

The Free-to-Play (FTP) model has taken over the MMO and MO worlds for the most part.  Most people would attribute this to the efficiency and profitability of the model. 

While the sales model is a good one, this model really came to fruition due to an oversaturation of online games.  With so many companies going all in to MMO game, competition became incredibly intense.  A company couldn’t just make a good MMORPG and advertise it.  They might never recoup what they put into it.  And heaven forbid, like Hellgate:London, that a company put out a clunky or premature piece of work.  There’s no way that people would want to pay a monthly fee for that.

Speaking of bugs and monthly fees, the FTP model would capitalize on this.  You could essentially put out your beta and let people test it to improvement. They can’t complain.  They are getting a game for “free.”  That’s not to say people won’t still flee, but if you have a good idea with good gameplay, server problems might be forgiven more easily. 

Of course, this method is starting to get flooded as well.  Can it keep up?  It requires many participants and ones willing to spend voluntarily much.  So far, it is keeping many companies afloat.  However, all companies can’t do it.  Super saturation will occur, then fallout. (12/6/13)

Conversion Doesn't Always Happened as Planned

Remember the days when we got games on DVD and actually stored them on our computers.  What?  We still do.

Well, it doesn’t look like digital distribution and cloud services have totally thrown out the old way we buy games.  Sure publishers want to do it.  After all, they get to do less work and worry less.  However, there are two things that get in the way. 

The first is that people don’t want it.  Sometimes companies can force things on people, sometimes they can’t (<cough> Windows Vista).  Even though people don’t realize this in society as much anymore, the masses still do have power and can keep things alive that aren’t necessarily in the direction that the businesses and the powers-that-be want it to go.

The second is that game developers are usually avid gamers as well.  The developers will try to give you games in the way that they want them.  Let’s face it, they don’t necessarily want their software stored on another computer.  And, thank God for that!  It’s kind of nice having someone looking out for you.  (11/1/2013)

New Blood Removes Old Strengths

As an aging gamer, I’m subject to talking about the good old days and the good old games.  Believe it or not, that’s not just age talking, many would agree.  The truth is that there are not games like in the past.  The olld RPG’s that were magnificent can’t seem to be replaced by the new ones.

However, that’s not necessarily the fault of the modern game designer.  After all, how many companies are seeking to make the best RPG ever?  The answer is not the same percentage that was at the turn of the millennium.

The reason for this downsizing, isn’t the lack of desire or skill, it is because games have in a way moved on.  Most modern game devs and designers are trying to push the envelope and reach different, new audiences.  Why would they go back to an old RPG format for that?  In actuality, they are looking for the new genre or new genre-hybrid.

Remember, the RPG was once cutting edge.  At that time, I’m sure the video game players were all complaining about the lack of quality chess simulators. (10/18/2013)

Overworked Excellence

The interesting part of going back to school is the lack of time that I have to do all things.  This includes school itself.  I often wonder if this is the same for everyone.  Many people who are in the gaming business often feel overworked either with fixed overtimes or crunch periods.  There appears to be no balance.  And yet, if we don’t do it, will our product make it out the door?

For me, my product is sometimes teaching 7 classes in a semester.  I can’t do that without getting lost in my work.  I usually don’t have time give to other things.   In fact, I have cut things that I’d like to do better in my courses and be a worse teacher.  It sounds cold but it has happened.  When people say I should reprioritize or work harder or fit something in somewhere else, I sigh or chuckle or worse.  I know that my schedule is packed.  If I fit something new in, something else has to come out.  It’s that cut and dried.  I’ve optimized myself as best I can.

So, what do gaming companies do?  The same thing.  They cut something out in order hit a deadline or satiate a stake holder or to avoid going broke.  Sometimes it testing, sometimes its art, sometimes it’s a level.  An excellent game exists mostly in our minds.  Reality compromises us down to great games … or yikes … worse. (1/26/2013)

Piracy, Too

Last week I talked about companies going overboard with anti-piracy measures, and the weakness of their positions.  This week I’ll justify them … okay, just a little.

What I really will do is put a little blame on the consumer.  Or rather, the pseudo consumer.  One problem with piracy is that it is rampant.  A large percentage of people I know have illegally downloaded a song or software off the internet.  Of those who haven’t, a good percentage have violated the License Agreements of the software they own.  I’m not talking about the accidental ways where they don’t mean to either.

Some people might have plenty of excuses for these breaks.  EULAs are ridiculous in what they ask for; software is too expensive; it’s not hurting anyone; the software is not worth what they are asking; on and on.  Not only are some of these reasons lame, but they also offer ammunition to those companies who help forge anti-piracy laws or put DRM on their products.

If piracy was minimal, no one could really do anything about it.  My guess is that most companies wouldn’t care about it.  However, when twice of your product is out there than you are getting paid for, it is understandable that some people get upset.  Unfortunately, when some people get upset, big business gets involved and either turns it into a money-making opportunity or an oppressive, overdone countermeasure like we are starting to see now. (1/13/12)

 

Piracy

There are many issues that cause anger to increase between publisher and player when it comes to piracy and anti-piracy.  One of my biggest irks nowadays is when a publisher says that you have to be online in order to play the game.  This is one of the many antipiracy tricks that are used in order to keep things fair and checked.  However, it also opens up a way for the publishers to play dirty by invading your space, too.  Being online is a two-way street.

There are more things like this that are done that invade our space in the name of antipiracy.  When challenged on the subject, usually someone from the company will come up and say, “We don’t do/use any of this for … blah-blah-blah.”  It sounds good, but here are my two issues: 1) I don’t know you.  Your word means as much as that guy who hangs out at the mall.  Unless your company has a stellar and long reputation for being a bastion of ethics, I’m not going to fully believe you.  2) Even if you are true to your word, you’ve set a standard that other less-than-prestigious companies can use to screw us over.  It may be fine for you, but now you’ve subjugated us to them.

I think even good companies have to be taken to task for setting up invasive antipiracy laws.  I don’t mind when they do something strict like make you put a CD in when playing.  There’s nothing unethical, just inconvenient, about that.  However, opening doors to for others to get in can be a very dangerous thing.  The people who open those doors are responsible for letting the other riffraff in and encouraging the other riffraff in, at least a little.

This topic I spent some time on the companies.  If you are ready to take arms, you might not want to read next week.  I’ll be talking about some mistakes consumers have made that have created this culture.  Could we be to blame as well? (11/17/12)

 

Flavors

We all have our favorite flavor of game.  Some have RPG’s, some FPS, some Adventure, and on and on.  The funny part becomes how hard it is to see why someone else likes another game.

I remember that I had a discussion with a student about one of my favorite genres: the Turn Based Strategy.  Many students can’t stand these.  This student seemed to be no different.  I think we traded why it was good/not good until he eventually gave me an example. 

He pondered about if there were a game where you didn’t get to control a unit.  Instead, you would send someone else to kill/attack another unit.  That wouldn’t be fun.  It would be more fun to attack yourself.  That is why TBS isn’t any good.  You don’t get to be the unit.

At first this sounds like a good argument, until you realize that this would be the worst TBS game ever made.  Mainly, because it is too simple.  A TBS would allow you to pick from multiple units, each with their own strengths and weaknesses.  Then, the unit you went after would have an asset of strength and weaknesses that you would have to punch/counter-punch with your decisions.  There would be penalties and rewards laid on top of winning or losing this micro battle.

The point that I’m making is that it is sometimes hard to see the beauty of the genres.  I only mildly like puzzle games.  They’re fun, but they just seem to be there to waste time and not challenge.  So, I could make a blanket statement about them.  However, a puzzle-game lover could easily counter with why I was wrong.  Why?  Because they understand the strengths of their genre.  I don’t.

I guess it is not that different than food music or TV.  We all are attuned to something that is our own, and that is nice.  Who wants to be one mass of people? (11/3/12)

The Downside of Sequels

I have a problem being a slightly older gamer.  Because of my busy schedule, I can’t keep up with the modern games.  Each year, I lose about 3 months with the current trends.  This doesn’t sound like much, but after 4 years, that means I’m behind 1 year worth of games.  And it keeps getting worse.

The next problem is that it is hard to get back on the merry-go-round again.  The main reason being sequels.  I want to play a new game once in a while, but I find that I haven’t even played the last in the series.

It’s hard to feel like I’m not missing something if I skip over the last installment.  I haven’t played Mass Effect 2 or 3, because I never played Oblivion.  (Don’t throw stones.  This will happen to you someday.)   I really want to play both but oddly I didn’t pick up Oblivion because I was behind a little and I only mildly liked Morrowind.  So, I passed it to keep up with a few other games.  Now, I’m way behind. 

The new problem is that most great games are sequels.  Try to name one upcoming game that that is not a sequel.  The flood of great games is so sequel laden that I find myself not playing anything new.  In fact, I just am content to pick up a game from 4 years ago. Oddly enough, most don’t tarnish even a little.  And so I fall even farther behind.  (10/28/12)

Sequels are Selling Out?

When I think of sequels, I think of modern gaming.  Most games are sequels now, and that feels a little empty.  It feels like we’ll never get to see another great new video game or world of fiction.  We’re stuck with goblins, antiheroes, multiplayer only, zombies or space marines for the next 20 years.  That freshness of finding a totally new type of game or plot seems to be few and far between, even in mainstream gaming.

It’s obvious that the main reason this is done is for the money.  A successful series can garnish a better first month of sales typically than a totally new game.  Ask any Indie developer.  It can appear very greedy.  Although sometimes, it’s just survival for some studios.

However, what if you are the writer or designer for one of those games?   After one game, will have unleashed all of your ideas about that game world?  Are you done telling your story?  Have you gone all the way with the development of those characters?

Once that you get in the groove of writing and start loving your characters, you don’t necessarily want to discard them to make a whole new world.   Moreover, if you are a designer, you tend to play the role of golfer.  No matter how well you played your last round, you could have always done something better.  Designers always see their mistakes think about how they could have made that last game a little more fun. 

Ideas are a hard thing to thing to silence.  Once they bounce up, you tend to want to let them run their course.  Sequels will allow you to do this if you are a game maker.  It’s not always a dirty way to pile on more money. (9/23/12)

Mass Effect 3 Endings

There are many people complaining about Mass Effect 3’s ending.  In return, there are many game makers defending it.  The issue comes from the fact that it is a less than a palatable ending to a fine and strong series of games.  No one has really questioned the gameplay or the fun of the game but the lack of a satisfying ending.

There are two ways to look at this.  The first is that the authors should be allowed to finish a story without their own ending.  It doesn’t have to have sunshine and rainbows attached to it either. This is true.  Generally, you don’t want the general public guiding the plot.  The stories more than not become cliché and predictable.  There tends to be no emotional tug to them.

However, I don’t think that this a creative freedom issue either.  The authors had creative freedom when they made Mass Effect 3.  Now, they have to live with what they made.

I’ll use the Matrix as an example.  The first movie was great.  The second two were not up to par with the original, and it is a valid criticism to say that the latter movies weren’t satisfying as an end to overall plot.

This is true for Mass Effect 3.  If people don’t like the ending and don’t find it satisfying, then they certainly have grounds to complain about it.  The plot of a game has a direct affect on the enjoyment for most people.  If people are disappointed with the plot, than they can in turn tell you that you made a bad game.  Industry has more than a right to make the games and the scripts that they want, just don’t complain when people complain.  (4/13/12)

Single Player Pretend

With online multiplayer games taking over, there is a fear of the single campaign gaming becoming extinct, or worse yet, just crummy.  These fears are well justified as we see many production companies investing less into single player portions of their properties.  I don’t have a great method to counteract this trend.  However, I will say this.  Ride this wave out. 

Eventually, they will come back to the single user.  You’ll see.  Eventually there will be a big push back into obtaining this market.  That is what businesses do.  They constantly try to find new ways to make money.  Sometimes so much so that they forget the people they were serving.  Then, those old people seem like a new area of marketability.

In the mean time, let me make a suggestion.  Play an MMO or an MMORPG or a social game or whatever.  When you do this treat the other people not like real humans but like NPC’s (non-playing characters).  You are in a play environment of pretend, why not go all the way use this time/game as a true fictional event.  If you’re a dark elf, why have a sweet demeanor to your guild?  Does that make much sense in a single player pursuit?  Why not unleash your true imaginative self?  You can enjoy your game more and feel more like the thing that is missing in modern gaming.(3/19/12)

The End of Boxes

With digital distribution on fire, more and more publishers will not put out games in boxes and push them out to distributors and stores.  There’s obviously trends out there that give the publishers reason to do this.  We’ve all played Steam, or something the equivalent, including Flash sites.  Steam is great, affordable and very convenient. 

However, this is not an article to proclaim the wonders of that which is Steam.  Steam is invasive.  In a way, it needs to be.  It protects its game makers from piracy.  The problem is that when you get invasive, it is hard to resist the pull of doing things that you know the customer won’t like.  DRM, on a good day, grabs personal information.  On a worse day, it’s easy for a company to use personal information for gain.  It can obviously get darker than this.  Even if you can find an upright company, you are always one VP firing or stakeholders meeting from toppling good business ethics.

I think the biggest thing that I miss from box abandonment is the loss of ownership.  If you have DVDs, etc., it is a pretty easy thing to prove that you own it.  With licensed music and games, sure you think you own it.  It’s on your iPhone or on your PC.  But let’s face it, you are one careless “I Accept” away on a license agreement from selling away those rights.  I would be more than willing to accept a bet that in the future many intellectual properties will have expiration dates associated with them.  After that, the files will disappear.

Will we be able to go back to the box after that?  You tell me. (8/27/11)

 

Gamers’ Bill of Rights (Stardock and Gas Powered Games)

  1. Gamers shall have the right to return games that don't work with their computers for a full refund.
  2. Gamers shall have the right to demand that games be released in a finished state.
  3. Gamers shall have the right to expect meaningful updates after a game's release.
  4. Gamers shall have the right to demand that download managers and updaters not force themselves to run or be forced to load in order to play a game.
  5. Gamers shall have the right to expect that the minimum requirements for a game will mean that the game will adequately play on that computer.
  6. Gamers shall have the right to expect that games won't install hidden drivers or other potentially harmful software without their express consent.
  7. Gamers shall have the right to re-download the latest versions of the games they own at any time.
  8. Gamers shall have the right to not be treated as potential criminals by developers or publishers.
  9. Gamers shall have the right to demand that a single-player game not force them to be connected to the Internet every time they wish to play.
  10. Gamers shall have the right that games which are installed to the hard drive shall not require a CD/DVD to remain in the drive to play.

The Gamers’ Bill of Responsibilities (PC Gamer)

  1. Gamers must not pirate games for any reasons
  2. Gamers will not buy games under the assumption that more content will be made available to them for free later.
  3. Gamers will not support companies whose policies and practices they do not agree with.
  4. Gamers will speak up when the games industry is being unfairly portrayed.
  5. Gamers will not succumb to hysteria.

The above are two separate Bills that I will be talking about in (at least) a three-part article.  I’ll look at the each one individually in subsequent articles, but this time I want to talk about the Bills in totality.

There are some oddities to these.  First, the fact that two parties made two related Bills, and not necessarily in response to each other.  It would have been better if one party made both.  You should never ask of too much in a one way direction.  After all, would you want to date someone who only wants something from you and doesn’t bring anything?  If they don’t give to the situation, the relationship is doomed for failure.

And this is a relationship.  Gamers need games to play, and companies need gamers to buy their wares.  So, if one of these parties goes in thinking only of what they can get out of the other, eventually neither party will prosper.

That being said, a second oddity is who wrote both of these Bills.  The author of the first Bill you would think would have been written by gamers, when indeed it is written by game makers.  Some have argued that Stardock and GPG are making these laws according to the types of games they make.  But, look at the wording.  It only benefits the gamer.  If that’s the case, so what?  If you do something right what’s the point of emphasizing or highlighting your good actions.  If GPG gets game of the year, would we cry foul on them pointing that out? 

The second Bill was actually made by a magazine whose history ahs been in support of the gamer.  However, in current circumstances, PC Gamer is starting to become the industry’s lap dog.  In a day where print media is being reduced, we see now that survival for magazines is no longer bound majorly on the satisfaction of the reader.  The advertiser has become a better and more stable paycheck.  In fact one might argue that perhaps one or both of the parties in the gamer/game magazine maker may have gotten too selfish.  And hence, the relationship now is on the rocks with the possibility of a break-up. (1/8/10)

Gamers’ Bills of Rights and Responsibilities (pt.2)

Gamers’ Bill of Rights (Stardock and Gas Powered Games)

  1. Gamers shall have the right to return games that don't work with their computers for a full refund.
  2. Gamers shall have the right to demand that games be released in a finished state.
  3. Gamers shall have the right to expect meaningful updates after a game's release.
  4. Gamers shall have the right to demand that download managers and updaters not force themselves to run or be forced to load in order to play a game.
  5. Gamers shall have the right to expect that the minimum requirements for a game will mean that the game will adequately play on that computer.
  6. Gamers shall have the right to expect that games won't install hidden drivers or other potentially harmful software without their express consent.
  7. Gamers shall have the right to re-download the latest versions of the games they own at any time.
  8. Gamers shall have the right to not be treated as potential criminals by developers or publishers.
  9. Gamers shall have the right to demand that a single-player game not force them to be connected to the Internet every time they wish to play.
  10. Gamers shall have the right that games which are installed to the hard drive shall not require a CD/DVD to remain in the drive to play.

The Gamers’ Bill of Responsibilities (PC Gamer)

  1. Gamers must not pirate games for any reasons
  2. Gamers will not buy games under the assumption that more content will be made available to them for free later.
  3. Gamers will not support companies whose policies and practices they do not agree with.
  4. Gamers will speak up when the games industry is being unfairly portrayed.
  5. Gamers will not succumb to hysteria.

 

As the second part of this article, we’ll look at only the Gamers’ Bill of Rights.  At first glance, it seems pretty reasonable and very beneficial to the gamer.  I particularly like the first one.  Software companies (not just in gaming) having been getting off too easy on their overly stringent return policies.  Opening a box means buying?  Even if the contents don’t work?  I know they put the blame on piracy, but they should have worked out a better solution to this problem by now.

This policy has hurt the software industry, too.  This is one of the reasons that CompUSA went down the tubes.  I stopped buying from their store because I have 10 days and no “opens” in order to return.  Forget gift buying there.  If people feel confident that they won’t get burnt on a sale, they are more willing to buy. 

Number 6 on the list is one of the key drivers to this Bill.   Anyone remember Starforce?  Most companies don’t do sleazy practices, but many don’t seem bound by any code of ethics either on the company side or by governmental laws. 

The internet itself has made things very sticky as 7 - 9 imply.  When playing a game, it is easy to get so engrossed that you don’t notice your modem flickering out of control (and that’s not when you are doing an MMO.)  Many things can be downloading from your computer, not necessarily illicit, but like buying habits, web pages visited and other things invasion of privacy issues that you actually are paying for if you buy some of these games.   That’s a severe breach of conduct on my part.  And yet, it is usually the consumer who is treated as the pirate. 

The last item is the only thing that I think I disagree with.  A little burden on the consumer to reduce piracy is fine by me.  I’ve never had issue with locking up one of my CD/DVD drives.  I don’t want game makers to lose money because of the disk share practices of teens. 

Overall I find this to be a good piece, and a very magnanimous for two video game companies to make.  The only exploiting point of this Bill is that it benefits downloadable games over in-the-box games.  The trend is already that way, but there will always be a market for the latter, usually by the more mature (ok, older) buyers like myself who fully understand the headaches the internet brings.  If you disagree with that, wait ten years and see if you don’t fall into that category. (1/29/09)

Gamers’ Bills of Rights and Responsibilities (pt.3)

Gamers’ Bill of Rights (Stardock and Gas Powered Games)

  1. Gamers shall have the right to return games that don't work with their computers for a full refund.
  2. Gamers shall have the right to demand that games be released in a finished state.
  3. Gamers shall have the right to expect meaningful updates after a game's release.
  4. Gamers shall have the right to demand that download managers and updaters not force themselves to run or be forced to load in order to play a game.
  5. Gamers shall have the right to expect that the minimum requirements for a game will mean that the game will adequately play on that computer.
  6. Gamers shall have the right to expect that games won't install hidden drivers or other potentially harmful software without their express consent.
  7. Gamers shall have the right to re-download the latest versions of the games they own at any time.
  8. Gamers shall have the right to not be treated as potential criminals by developers or publishers.
  9. Gamers shall have the right to demand that a single-player game not force them to be connected to the Internet every time they wish to play.
  10. Gamers shall have the right that games which are installed to the hard drive shall not require a CD/DVD to remain in the drive to play.

The Gamers’ Bill of Responsibilities (PC Gamer)

  1. Gamers must not pirate games for any reasons
  2. Gamers will not buy games under the assumption that more content will be made available to them for free later.
  3. Gamers will not support companies whose policies and practices they do not agree with.
  4. Gamers will speak up when the games industry is being unfairly portrayed.
  5. Gamers will not succumb to hysteria.

As I hinted to in my first article, I thought that the Gamers’ Bill of Responsibilities was a good follow up to the first Bill.  However, I was a tad disappointed that PC Gamer was its origin.  It’s not just because it would have been good to have both Bills under one organization that represents gamers, but also because PC Gamer lately has seemed to be cozying up to industry.

The five line items aren’t necessarily over the top, but they are like a slanted table.  If you walk around the room enough, everything shimmies to one end of the table.  Items 2 and 5 seem to be good by themselves, but they and the rest seem to portray the video game in a certain negative light.  I don’t remember a lot of hysteria in gaming.  Have I missed a riot or something?  Yet, they picked that word on purpose.  There’s no reason to see gamers as naturally over emotional or even high maintenance.  They’re not.  Don’t let the minority speak for the majority.

I do believe that no one should pirate anything for any reason.  I’m old school that way.  It sounds like a statement that is too authoritarian, but you can’t hold industry to a higher ethical stance if you don’t hold yourself to it.  This combined with #3 can be useful tools to keep industry honest and fair to the gamer.

Those two items would also keep game prices of relatively affordable.  Less piracy means more money to publisher and developers, which in turns allows for more full time talent with more stable companies.  Once they have stability, and they know people won’t buy their games if they have some intrusive background app, per se, you’ll get good games for the right price. 

Looking at the list as a whole, there might be room for more responsibilities.  How about not buying software from countries that have no desire to obey these responsibilities?  A lot of these responsibilities are already done by most (a majority of) individual game players.  Infractions of this Bill are usually done on a much larger scale by groups, even companies and sometimes by the aforementioned countries.

So, let’s not make the gamers out to be something they’re not, but still hold onto the ethics that are implied by the Bill.  And while we are at it, let’s apply it to more than just gamers. (2/13/10)

 

Modern RPG’s pt.1

I’m mildly irritated with today’s view of the RPG.  RPG stands for Role Playing Game, which at first sounds like every game since you play a role in every game, pretty much.  However, just like there is drama in every movie, not all movies are dramas.  RPG’s are, at the core, games where players can express themselves through their avatar/character.

Unfortunately, usually in most modern attempts this means stats adjustments.  So, you have the choice of how much strength, dexterity, mana, etc., your character plays with.  This is a good start, but that is all you get.

What gets me riled is the modern thought that this is enough.  It’s not.  In fact, this is not even necessary for an RPG.  Decision making, plot affectation, choosing parts of the game to engage are more important to personal expression than stat building.

With the prevalence of shooters and action games, RPG’s have been reduced to games that are essentially some other genre with an RPG element slapped onto the package.  I’ve even seen reviewers call some of these games the future of RPG’s or revolutionary.  They are indeed not.  Not because the trend tells otherwise, but because they are not RPG’s.  They are hybrid games, and hybrid games have been around for some time.  They are not revolutionary or futuristic.  They are part of the past. 

I wish publishers would keep their minds off of their wallets for a while, and focus not on the latest graphics technology, or how to make their game multiplayer for the masses, or whatever gives a great “Wow!” when released only to tire shortly afterwards, and focus on the elements of what makes an RPG game.  It may not be as lucrative, but a good RPG is hard to beat and people remain loyal to those franchises.  What’s wrong with making a consistent smaller lump of money? (2/19/09)

 

Modern RPG pt.2

As I was writing my last RPG piece, I realized that I may have been too harsh on modern games.  Then, after I realized that I wasn’t, I still decided to at least say something nice.

RPG’s are a tricky thing.  To try to fit them into one house, so to speak, would be a hard thing.   And, it would ultimately box them into a place which would severely limit the genre’s natural creativity.

It’s also hard to force modern RPGs to the 90’s measuring stick.  Games today spend much time and dollars on art and getting a game engine to work in real time.  Old graphics and old style mechanics wouldn’t be super competitive in today’s environment (although Spiderweb does fine.)  There naturally has to be a compromise to satisfy today’s consumer and make an in depth game. 

One point of last article was to not throw the baby out with the bathwater.  However, that doesn’t mean we can’t have multiple and varied types of RPGs, not just in setting but in type.  RPG’s have enough breadth that they can afford subcategories.  To focus more on economy or sub-quests or alternate endings or etc. is great.  I just think that there should be a bouncer at that door to keep the wannabes and falsely self-proclaimed (RPG’s) out. (3/12/10)

 

3 Tweens

The writing is on the wall for Flash.  It looks like it is now just a matter of time before its demise.  No, there is not a piece of software out there looming and poised, ready to pounce like Flash did to Director.  Instead, it is the fact that Flash has fixed its issues in a less than robust way.

Flash CS4 has some great new parts to it which you would think that would ensure its future, but what type?  What gives me this opinion is the creation of a third tween in Flash.  In the CS3 edition, Flash had motion and shape tweens that weren’t always true to their names.  They were used according to what object(s) was used in the active layer.  Now, they’ve added a third “Classic Tween.”  (This is a misnomer.  They actually have moved the old motion tween to classic status and created a new “motion” tween.)  

The third tween actually is nice.  It fixes some issues that first two could not.  The problem is how they solved their issues.  They added on another tween in order to fix a flaw.  What if they find 17 more problems, or want to deal with 17 more issues?  Does Adobe make 20 tweens?

Then it is up to the user to surf through all the tweens to make things work.  This won’t work.  It’s a bad method of doing things.  If you get a 3D package, do you even have a set of tweens to pick from?  Most have one way that you can modify on an editor, and don’t even have you set up a tween. 

This tween problem, plus the fact that Flash still uses a layer system that is a holdover from Graphic Design Packages like PhotoShop , makes me think that this is the beginning of the end.  Now, Adobe has such a stronghold that Flash may be just re-invented.  There may be a new package called Flash.  However, with Adobe’s treading into 3D, they may awake the Autodesk giant who in return may tread into 2D. 

As someone with computational geometry experience, it is a lot easier to go to 2D than it is to go to 3D.  That doesn’t account for the multimedia accessibility of the .swf file, but Adobe best have their ducks in a row if they want to expand their frontiers. (1/15/10)

End of Flash (part 2)

When I wrote earlier about the end of Flash, I did it somewhat tongue-in-cheek.  My point was that Flash had to change what it had become in order to have future value.  Otherwise, something new would take its place.  To be honest, I thought that Adobe would eventually do a re-haul and Flash would survive.

Now, what I said may be even truer than I tried to bark and bite with.  As many have heard, Flash will not be supported by the iPhone.  Apple really laid into Adobes’ sloppy coding and buggy outputs.  They (Apple) prefer to put their money on HTML.  I hate to say it by I agree (with the sloppy coding comment.)

Adobe has been, for too long, adding to haphazardly to their somewhat flawed software.  To me, it’s like building a house.  If your house isn’t perfect, you can just add to it.  You can just slap bricks on to the old parts of the house.  It might work, but ultimately this isn’t the way to remodel.  You actually have to break down some walls, plumbing, etc. 

Adobe hasn’t done this, because let’s face it, it’s easier to create a patch or add an extra feature.  Better to do that than go into the old code, try to understand it all, and gut it out.  Modern programming is so touchy, most of us fear and tremble at the aspect.  A part of me doesn’t blame them.  That is the part of me that doesn’t notice how much money Adobe makes or charges for its products in their pseudo-monopoly.

That’s not to say that Adobe is the only guilty party.  Microsoft has been charged with this crime for multiple years (and products) now.  It is just a culmination of being a big company with many employees who have to all try to communicate in order to get out one product.  I hope this wake-up call makes Flash into a better product.  However, usually big companies laugh this action off, preferring to play a game of chicken.  Or, they might throw a small bone to try to appease the iPhone and then go back to “doing what they do.”  We’ll see. (3/5/10)

 

The End of Flash (PT. 3)

The end of Flash is near yet again.  Sounds like something we've heard before.  In fact, sounds like something that I have said before.  This time I will go against the grain and say it will not be the end.  Well, at least not yet. 

This big statement came out when Flash Player was no longer going to be made for mobile devices.  That in turn got read as all Flash Player.  Then, that got truncated into just Flash.  Many people who have no idea what Flash is, think that these are all the same, and in turn are selling Adobe stock and trying to buy stock from whomever owns HTML 5.  They still have yet to track this company down. 

However, Flash Player is quite different from Flash.  Everyone thinks that the end of Flash Player on mobile apps is the end of the world.  Look at your desk.  See that monitor on it.  It’s attached to something that isn’t phone.  Flash will work on it fine and HTML is just too simple and clunky to compete on anything more than browser.  Lets' face it, even though mobile apps are large, PC's and laptops aren't on their way out.

The interesting thing is that most app developers abandoned Flash Player quite some time ago.  If you develop Flash for mobile devices, Adobe Air was your method of delivery.  Flash Player is more of a construct needed to run websites.  So, if you love making Flash websites or tools on them, you are out  ... for now.

Flash may have a problem with the growth of iPads and gTabs surfing the net.  However, this just allows many new animation and interactive packages to try to take a hold with HTML.   The problem is where are they?

People say that HTML 5 will replace Flash.  The only problem is that HTML 5 is a scripting language.  Flash is a software package.  That is like saying C# is going to replace Powerpoint.  If anyone who is bright thinks about this, it actually makes no logical sense unless C# has a delivery system that allows you to make presentations.

HTML 5 does not inherently have a delivery system.  I'm sure someone is yelling at their screen right now.  However, this is true.  The way to animate in HTML 5 is by programming.  That's it. 
We are seeing tools that will help people animate amongst other cool things in HTML 5.  I wouldn’t call any of these mature products.

Most software packages are in their early development.  Most of these will turn into one of three categories: open source, crapware or abandonware.   However, despite my optimism, I'm sure that a few of these could be the new animation and interactive making tools that we have been looking for.  (By the way, I've recently learned that ending a sentence is indeed not grammatically incorrect.   Take that, high school English teachers!)

Ah, but there is the catch.  Flash is planning port to HTML 5.  They will use Walloughby technology that will take you Flash files and allow them to export into something that will work in or with HTML 5.  They haven't done this yet, but they are working on this as we speak.  So, all of you software engineers, get working.  You have less than 2 years to make something as good as Flash that people want to use.

Otherwise, you lose.  And guess what?  It's back to Flash ... for now.

(9/9/12)

 

Lifetime Achievements

Champion Online has given the gift that keeps on giving.  You can get a lifetime subscription for $199.  That’s not too bad considering the monthly price of online games today.  It will be interesting to see if this model works and is followed.

The bad news is that this price and all of their prices are so far buried on their site, most won’t notice it.  You even have to register before you can even see a price.  That’s a little shady in my book.  If you won’t tell people a price up front, what does that say about your integrity?

But, before I get on one of my usual rants, I do want to commend this action.  It gives the player, especially loyal players, a break.  It also may allow companies to store up money for future development.  Most costs of a game are up front, and this would be a good way to recoup or flat out pay for needed materials.

The backlash might be that you end up with a community of almost solely lifetime subscribers.  What do you do then?  Well, my guess is that some companies would just cut the cord.  Then again, the situation might not be the worst thing either.  You could hand it over to the user community and let them run it while you just put a little advertising in to keep up the servers.  It could also act a springboard for a Champions II.  There are lots of possibilities and ones where both parties win. (1/22/10)

 

Why No Sports on PC?

I remember the first time I played Madden on a PC.  My thoughts were roughly, “Is this it?” and “I don’t get what is so great about this game?”  There were no good answers to these questions because the questions were unfair.  The better question should have been, “Why didn’t EA want to make this work on a PC?” 

This question, although seemingly picking on EA (which we do here sometimes), is actually an honest one that has a broader scope today.  Madden didn’t work well for me because I was playing on a PC.  Madden was not meant to be played on a PC.  When forced into that format, the keyboard was just not a good fit as a controller. 

So, why isn’t a keyboard as good as a video game controller?  <Console players add rant here.>  This is an excellent question.  For years, consoles have done well with shooters that have done equally on the PC, both in enjoyment level and play-ability.  There doesn’t seem to be a reason why this can’t be for sports games as well.  The problem is that you don’t see sports games come over to the PC nearly enough any more.

The problem might actually start around EA.  EA’s bread and butter is the console.  So, if they don’t work hard at PC’s, that’s only because there is little return (direct sales) for their efforts.  The problem becomes when one person (or in this case publisher) does it, everyone follows.  Many companies could easily make a good sports game but they don’t see the market for it.

That’s a shame because there is.  The problem is that the market needs to be cultivated.  It’s died down because publishers have left, and not because no one was interested on the PC side.  Now, it is more likely for a PC gamer to go and buy an XBOX to play a sports game, than to find them asking a publisher when’s the next NHL game coming out.  I’m sure PC gamers in general have dwindled due to this trend. 

Unfortunately, no one really wants to put the first bucks into cultivating.  You may put some in, make little to no return, only to have a competitor swoop in for the cash when you finally build the thirst back up.  I wish someone would do the grass roots thing and try anyway.  There is always the flip side where you become the dynasty before anyone has a chance to challenge.  I’m sure a lot of closet PC gamers would agree. (2/5/10)

Give NURBS a Break

I want to talk about curves.  Nothing too dirty, but I’ve heard complaints about NURBS and Bezier curves, lately.  I’ve heard things like we should ditch them for a more modern alternative.  Unfortunately, there is none at the present.  So, it is pretty much wishful thinking.

Here’s the problem.  NURBS aren’t the problem, the application of them are.  We still don’t fully understand how to use them in graphics.  Part of the problem is the artists.  Let’s face it, many artists don’t have Math degrees.  To use them properly, is like using a home ultrasound machine. Sure, we could use it, but we have no idea what the Physics might be behind it, and in fact, we don’t know what is truly safe and not.

Moreover, in gaming, we usually reduce everything down to a polygon.  That means that we take a curve and make on non-curve out of it.  Straight edges.  That’s it.

What I would suggest, is that we stop using polygons.  I think that a bunch of people just gave me a strange look or a phalanges expression.  Yes, I stand by it.  We can do it.

We’ve gotten all that we can out of a polygon, and we should be thankful.  It’s served us well in its simplicity and usefulness.  Unfortunately, we’ve hit a wall with it.  There’s not much to do with it now except put more of them in our models.  Plus, I’m tired of cornered human faces, etc.

So, what’s the alternative?  Higher order elements.  Yes, elements that look like the curves that they are built from.  They are more computationally expensive.  However, you need less of them to represent a body, object, whatever. 

There is a little, okay medium, amount of fore-work to do on them to make them viable in graphics packages but the output will be worth it.  Then the artist will get less of the unexpected results that have had us all pound our keyboards.

Do you think that this is too much?  You are wrong, sir.  Or madam.  Look at the game Ecstatica II.  It has already used a form of higher elements.  A little dated, yes, but it worked well.   And when was it made – 1997!  I rest my case.  Now get to work. (2/26/10)

 

 

What Happened to Manuals

Although I’ve stepped off my old adage that you can measure a game’s enjoyment level by the size of its manual, I still think there is something missing in games that try to forgo or reduce in size their game manuals. 

I know there are some changes that make things quicker or more enjoyable.  Tutorials let you play in a real game setting so that you can understand first hand what to do.  However, when was the last time you replayed a tutorial to remember how to control something? 

Some games have the instructions built into the in-game notes section.  Yet, I have yet to see this done well and easy to look up. 

Some developers just strip down what you can do into the game into five easy pushed buttons. But after playing a game for 5, 10, 15 hours, how much fun is 5 buttons going to get you?

Game makers like the idea of no manuals because it’s much cheaper to have a small or no manual to put in with the packaging.  Heck, let the consumer download everything. 

As you might guess, I’m not on board with this idea.  It would be much cheaper to send out a half made game, too, but you don’t do that.  In fact, publishers will make games that have stripped out a graphics engine and replaced it with another for the tune of millions in overall accrued cost, but cutting corners on manuals is no big deal.

Not to sound totally old (which is now probably out of the realm of possibility) but I don’t even like the .pdf manuals that you get on disk.  There is nearly nothing worse in gaming than having to alt-tab out of a game or even stop a game just so that you can find the other disk that the manual resides on, to look up a keyboard shortcut.

Now, I know manuals aren’t the best literature to read.  I find them boring myself.  However, you get tips, background story and list of other things at you fingertips while playing the game.  There is a great feeling of looking something up in a manual after your first 10 hours of gameplay to find a nugget of information that will help renew the game for you.  It’s a great way to get the fullness of the game that the original developer meant the game to be.  (3/19/10)

 

Is There Room for Linearity?

Linearity in games is usually considered a bad thing in gaming.  For the most part, I agree with this.  However, (and you knew that was coming) it does have its place.  Its place is based in emotion. 

When you have a wide, expansive, open world, that is great.  Usually it’s a fun place to start when making a game.  The other part that comes with the open world is that people can go anywhere and usually act in any way.  So, if you want them to experience something in particular, you have to force them through uncooperative dialogue or other types of restrictions.

To keep these restrictions forces a type of linearity in itself.  The reason for this is to get the player to a hopefully better gaming experience.  After all, if you want a player to become an outcast, fight back and then achieve redemption, how do you do this without restrictions or linearity?  You pretty much just have to hope that the player will fall into this plot.

That is why there is a place for linearity.  It can bring you to a plot point or a strong emotion through a narrative that might end up being missed in a do-anything environment.  Generally, when one can go anywhere and do anything, the plot and emotions from that plot can be dulled down. (Note: that doesn’t mean the end of good gaming, per se.)

The problem comes from the fact that most game makers choose linearity for reasons other than those listed above.  It can be chosen due to ease of making the game, not having any bugs pop up, avoiding dialogue mistakes or repetition, and so on.  If you choose linearity for those reasons only, my guess is that your game better have pretty good graphics. 

In some cases you may have to make the game that way.  Small developers with small publishers may have no choice.  If that is you, don’t just go with it.  Instead, try to infect your game with all of the up-sides of linearity. (3/25/10)

 

When will ultra-realism end?

When will it end?  You know, the games that have the excellent explosions, mega-polygons, super renderers that need special cards to work on your machine or console.  You know, Crysis. 

Each year we see more and more realism in games.  Some tricks might be done with smoke (blurs) and mirrors (light over exposure), but some of it just comes from great artists, great software and great techniques on great computers.  If you have a great graphics card, you can get movie-like quality in your animations and gameplay.  I’ve even seen people get fooled by games thinking they are real movie clips (from a distance.)

But, when will it end?  I know at this point, many may not think it ever will but history indicates otherwise.  In art, we saw the Renaissance, build into Baroque and possibly ebb into Romanticism.  Then it all crashed.  Sure we saw good art since, but new artists heavily favor creativity over craftsmanship.

Now, the art movement took centuries to go through, but things move faster now.  Look at music.  In the 60’s, guitar players were displayed and came into prominence.  The 70’s showed the next step having faster, more experienced players take the stage.  The 80’s went all out with speed demons cranking on their axes.  The 90’s displayed a counter culture to the guitar movement.  Why?  Most likely, because it was too hard to get to the top.  It took too much effort and breaking new ground was frustratingly hard to do. 

So, when we look at today’s games, we might soon see the same thing.  If someone has to string 16 CPU’s and 4 video cards to squeeze another ounce of graphics goodness, they might think about doing something different.  I’ve already seen the ugly, dirtier looking indie games.  They are on the horizon, ready to ease the burdens of the tired, overtimed game employees.  Will it happen?  Maybe … almost definitely to some degree. 

Two parties are in ultimate control: 1) the consumers, who may not fork over money to anything but high end games.  2) the gaming community, if they band together and force a standard.  We’ll see. (4/9/10)

 

When Does Modernizing Work?

I’ve read some similar thoughts by multiple, varied sources about the need for modernizing of today’s games.  For the most part, the arguments stemmed around the fact that the old computers just couldn’t run the games of today.  Therefore, past developers were forced to make adjustments (and what not) in order to ultimately water down their game.

I don’t find this as a good argument to hyper-realize games today, or to make everything feel real time.  I think that modernizing in this way is highly genre dependent.  I often have a student give me a nice discourse on why turn based strategies (TBS) are stupid.  While there have been modernizations to the TBS process, it isn’t always an improvement to the game play of these games.  I would be quick to point out that Las Vegas (not any particular video game sequel, but the actual place) is turn based.  Very few gambling games in Vegas are shooter-like or similar to real-time action video game play.  And lets’ face it, Vegas does pretty well.

The reason being is that TBS games have one great thing that Action games can’t fully reproduce: anticipation.  There is no more exciting feeling to me than seeing a protagonist’s uber-strong force approach one of my cities.  They are two turns away, and I’m fretting to make more units and calling units back to the city.  Why?  Because I have no idea if I’ll be able to withstand the attack.  There’s something to be said for that.

On the other hand, real time action games did need to be modernized.  Ever try re-playing a game from years’ past?  Not quite as fun as you remember, huh?  For you young people, try an action game from 1996.  How do you like that one texture stretched (or checker-boarded) to its one-poly limit?  In order to get more out of the game, developers needed to make people feel like they were in the game and the tensions that come from being in that environment.  It brings out great eustress (yes, it’s a word)

Modern computers do improve games, but not all games.  Action and FPS games needed the modern computer to become fully realized.  RPG’s and TBS’s could easily be made enjoyable on a 10 year old computer.  Okay, maybe 7-year old computer … in some cases.

 

What is the right length for a game?

What is the right length for a game?

What is the right length for a single player game?  It’s probably genre specific.  After all, would you want to play 50 hours of solitaire?  Of course many an office worker has done that.  I guess I’ll have to take that statement back.

I find it interesting that the game times have gone up and down in an attempt to get the right stuff.  Usually, outside factors drive this.  Usually, it is not done right, trying to conform to some rule.

It might be better to do it per game.  After all, if you are making a terrible game, tearing the rip cord might be a good option.  Although, that would take some self awareness on the part of the developer.  It seems like when a game is terrible, the maker’s subconscious takes over, and they add useless repetitive hours to it, hoping that quality beats quantity.  

There can be market issues, too.  I know one of the higher-ups at a well known developer who told me once that they don’t make their games with more than 10 hours of game play.  The reason for this is due that multiplayer garnishes most of the money so why put all that money into something that won’t reward you.

Even good games can get it wrong sometimes.  I know most people won’t agree with me on this one, but Diablo II was too long.  A great game sure, but after a while it kind of dragged.  I tried playing it a second time around, and stopped on the very first quest.  I played the first Diablo 3 times, at least.  Why?  Well it had random quests for one, but I also think it didn’t have enough time to get boring and/or repetitive.

I guess that it is good to put 10 hours of single player into the content.  Otherwise, people might feel ripped off.  Although, placing more than 50 hours into it means that most, if not all will not replay it.  If we split it down the middle, 30 sounds like the average for this answer.

So, what do you think?  What is the right length for a game?

 

Is Too Much AI a Bad Thing?

Artificial Intelligence (AI) is a wonderful thing that has really helped games break through in recent years (thanks to computers that are powerful enough to run sophisticated algorithms.)  However, when does good AI turn into unreal or annoying? 

I ask the slanted question because I have played games where I have set to snipe on someone 100 yards away only for their spider-sense make them instantaneously turn around and start firing at me.  Is this good AI?  I guess it makes the game challenging, but in reality, I’d shoot the first guy before anyone knew what was happening.

Likewise, some RTS games become so hard at the end, you need to take a Mavis Beacon typing class to be able to compete.  Hence, strategy goes out the window in exchange for control. 

Now, I obviously am not talking about in depth AI.  I’m referring to simple AI methods highly imposed.  People may counter by saying, “I hate games where you can get 15 feet from someone and they don’t even see you.”  Guess what?  In real life you can do that, too. 

In fact, a little bit of slack AI tends to push strategy and gameplay.  I know we’ve all played a game where the monster or lead boss is all but invincible.  What do most of us do in that situation?  Well, there’s the run-and-shoot(/hit) method.  If that doesn’t work, try finding a place that the AI glitches on, like a corner or crack.  Then, try to unload what you got from here.  Is that fun?  Not necessarily.  You’ve made a great AI only to sacrifice fun. 

So turn down the AI dial on the fighting once in a while.  You can always turn it up in another part of the game. (8/28/10)

 

Verisimilitude

You might be asking what that word means.  To be honest, a few years back or so, I would have thought some one made it up.  It basically means that something is trying to depict reality.  So, why doesn’t anybody just say that?  I have no idea.  I guess we all want to sound smart once in a while.

Well, I’m already off topic.  The reason that I have introduced this word is that some games really go for it, and others don’t worry about it so much.  All games try to be realistic to some degree, but some opt of reality to pursue funativity.  Yes, that word is semi-real, too.  Or it has been at least been used.  One of my students actually used it often.  I tried to fail him, but he managed to escape.

Anyway, the games that go for verisimilitude are war games and sports.  They do it in roughly different ways.  Sports will try to make the agents/sprites look exactly like the athletes and even move like them using motion capture.  War games will focus more on the objects, like the look and play of each gun, tank, etc.  Even military strategy may be pushed into the AI.

To their credit, both groups of games have pushed the money envelope grossing obscene amounts of cash.  They may have pushed their popularity past where it would have normally been, especially amongst consoles.

The bad news is that these games have turned people like me off.  I could care less if a pistol side loads.  I just want it to shoot when I am in the fire fight.  It might be neat if it acts differently from other weapons, but I don’t need true historical accuracy.  I also don’t have a strong desire to see an accurately depicted Kobe Bryant blocking a shot.  I’m more about mastering the challenges of the game.

Now, I don’t think that I’m too important to most of the game publishers and developers.  After all, my guess is that I represent a small part of the market share.  The warning to all is that be wary about going verisimilitude.  After all, I may not represent well in the war and sports arena, but my guess is that my numbers are much larger in other game genres.  Let reality take a second or third seat when making games like RPG or RTS or Adventure games.  The followers of these games will allow for more mistakes in the verisimilitude arena, but aren’t so forgiving with the other elements (See, I had to drop that word one more time.)  (9/10/10)

 

Going Hollywood

There is the consistent thought by many a publisher that it would be best to get rid of the traditional business model and switch to the Hollywood way of doing things.  By this, I mean that instead of hiring people as long term employees, you hire them essentially as contractors.  I’ve noticed the term permalancer seems to be popping up more and more.  This is merely the word that means permanent freelancer.  My guess this means that there is already a lean towards the model.

Analyst Alex Seropian is quoted as saying that this Hollywood model would save businesses 35%.  If it’s taking you 10 million dollars to make a game, that means you get to save 3.5 million.  It would be hard for major companies to turn their proverbial backs on trying out the model to get that kind of money.  Seropian may be right … in the short term.

The problem is that when people see you saving money, they want a piece of it.  Pretty soon after going to the Hollywood model, essential personnel will say, “Hey, you’re saving 35%, I should get at least 5% of that cash because you need me.”  After 30 people do this, that 35% is gone, and companies will be right back where they were.

Just look at Hollywood itself.  If it takes $100 million to make a movie, you probably are paying 5 actors or less a total of $20 million.  And guess what?  Many movies lose money.  You end up in a bad situation with people making much money in a product that overall loses money.  The unfairness of have’s and have not’s system is palpable.

Speaking to my students, present and past, and to those who are starting a company, don’t go with the Hollywood model if you expect long term gain and stability.  It might appear attractive but the only reason that it ever works in any situation is because there is a lot of money available.  Most places don’t have the money inflow to hire and fire freelancers, while maintaining the expectation to have available, talented workers at the ready.

I’m not saying that you shouldn’t hire freelancers. Sometimes, that is the only way to make money upon start-up.  However, if you want loyalty and steady growth, you have to give your people hope of a future. (11/28/10)

 

Commentaries

This week’s topic really came about when I was watching a series of Commentaries for a TV show that I liked.  I realized that it also applied to game commentaries and “The Making of …” videos that are distributed by the Publisher or Developer.  I don’t mention the TV show because it made a bunch of boring comments that pretty much are the sins of all commentaries.  So, to hopefully help these people out, I’ve created a short list of rules to follow if you are planning on making anything like this:

  1. Never use the statement “It was great to work with …”  I don’t know these people.  I like to get understand what happens behind the scenes with the people who made the piece, but these statements usually tell me nothing.  More over, if I here too many comments like this without any negative comments about the people behind the scenes, I usually think you are lying to set up your next job.  Therefore, I dismiss them all summarily.
  2. I also don’t want to hear about things that set your product apart from all others. First, these things are usually stretches.  Secondly, I don’t care.  If I’m watching your video on YouTube, it’s probably because I like your game or am looking forward to it.  I don’t need you to woo me.  The latter case might warrant it, but I don’t play games to be different.  I play them to have fun.  Spend more time on that topic.  So, save these types of thoughts for the artsy-fartsies and pseudo-intellectuals at conferences.  They like to ponder on these things, not us.
  3. On this same topic, do explain your choices.  I want to feel like I was there in the war room with you.   I understand that making a game can be a grind and a lot of work, but we like to get why you do what you did.  Those nuts and bolts end up being interesting tidbits to those who may secretly want to make a game.  And, for the most part, this may help you with crowd control.  Sometimes it might explain something that we weren’t fond of in a game.  We may become more forgiving.
  4. Don’t give too much time to things that don’t affect the game that much.  Sure, you palette choice was nice, but if you go on too long about it you just remind me of one of those red carpet shows that goes on and on about someone’s dress.   Get over it.
  5. To wrap it up.  Keep it insightful and fun.  Gamers like gameplay, graphics and story.  Stick close and work from that.  (6/4/11)

 

Simplification

Many popular game developers will talk about how they streamlined their game or made there GUI’s more user friendly.  The goal was to get more people to play and enjoy their respective games.  Many times they are successful in this.  It’s not a far leap to say that simplifying a game makes it better.

Not so fast.  Look back to the actual goal: to get more people to play.  This would have to be synonymous with good.  But, is it?  I would say not.

Making a GUI less frustrating definitely gets me to like a game.  However, it is not a true positive.  It is really a non-negative.  You’ve removed a mistake.  Have you actually put something better in your game? 

The problem is that many people in the gaming industry see this as a true law of gaming.  Simplification = better product.  Of course, this is silly.  Just because someone can’t quickly understand something, doesn’t mean it’s worse than the easily understood.  The problem is that most gamers aren’t willing to invest the time to learn something new, preferring to go with variations on the old controls, motifs and objectives.

I know everybody’s whipping boy is Farmville now, but I can’t help but bring it up.  It is the largest game out there as we speak.  How hard is it?  Not very.  Mom’s and people who usually don’t get into games play it.  One of the reasons that it is successful is that it is easily accessible.  No one fears reading its manual or worry about mastering any controls or GUI’s.  That doesn’t make it a good game, only popular.

That’s also true for most anything in society.  Pop music tends to be very simple and not very well crafted music.  The reason that these teen bands (in particular) do well has nothing to do with their talent, which often tends to be mediocre.  The reason is that, again, it takes very little effort to get into this music. 

Games are the same way.  The most popular don’t tend to be the most well crafted, or most rewarding.  The great games unfortunately have to wear banners and tags of average or unexplored merely because people don’t want to spend the time and effort to get the most out of them.  It’s a shame.  It is a greater shame that our industry is falling for this modern motto of simplicity. (1/7/11)

 

The Struggle between Innovation and Intuitivism

Many games want to break the mold.  Many games want to have new and exciting gameplay features.  Many games want to do something different from the last big game or game style.  Most don’t.

The problem with innovation in gaming is the modern gamer.  Sure, we want to play the new and the cool.  We don’t want something old and stale.  What are we willing to do for it?  Read a manual?  Most won’t.

The modern gamer gets so excited for a game they want to be playing it 5 minutes after installing it.  They don’t want to learn about a new and exciting interface and controls.  That would put playing said fun game off for hours.  Plus, we’d be bad at it for a long time until we have mastered the new interface.

Publishers and developers both know this, at least subconsciously, and hence always go back to the same basic controls, same simple UI’s, same essential rule sets.  They instead forgo this type of innovation, and instead attempt creative output in usually the more artistic or explore one eye catching difference to the same old gameplay.  If I can morph your hand into an axe, a slice will still require the same button push as a punch.  You don’t have to even change your damage model.

In some ways, as a game maker, it is a little depressing.  We have a very simple game on this site called Singularity Bomb.  Most people don’t get it because they refuse to read 2 ½ paragraphs worth of instructions.  They instead think that it is a lame form of Space Invaders.

I’m not saying that Singularity Bomb is terribly innovative or a great game.   It’s there just for a kick.  However, why would a developer make a great advanced game when people won’t even bother learning simple wrinkles in game functions that lay them outside the realm of Halo or WOW.

No, it is much easier and more lucrative to play it safe.  Make a game that is roughly the same as all else with something that just appears to be different.  If you are still reading at this point, my guess is that you aren’t one of the crowd.  You probably want more and are willing to the prep work.  As part of the gaming community, I apologize.  We’ll try to do better starting with this company. (1/15/11)

 

New … Not So Great

New is great.  No, wait, I take that back.  It is new.  It doesn’t guarantee that it is good.  It is new.  It doesn’t mean that it is better that it is previous things.  It is new.  It doesn’t mean that everything before it was stupid and outdated or worthless.  It is new. That is all that it is.  I wish we would get over the idea that “change”, “cutting edge”, “new” and “pushing the envelope” are words that are equal to good.  They are just forms of saying the word “different.”

When you try to different, guess what?  Sometimes you fall on your face.  In fact, sometimes when you push the envelope, you really are in an undefined genre that isn’t all that creative.  It’s just a semi-change on an old concept or maybe a wild attempt at trying to be different.  However, you still are a genre.  The powers that be just don’t want to label you yet.

I’ve seen it in art, comedy, and even education.  The desire to do something new and make a mark is strong.  It causes people to get notoriety sometimes.  Sometimes it results in a great, great piece of work.  People who view it are affected and enjoy it immensely.

These are the success stories.  They are also the minority.  Most people who try to cut the endge keep doing this until it eventually becomes a crutch to do mediocre work.  It’s hard doing something well in an area where someone else has done excellent work.  It’s easier to show your creativity, not your skill, because skill takes time, and usually a lot of it.

Don’t let this be you.  Do something great, not necessarily revolutionary. 

Don’t worry.  When you finally make things consistently great, creativity pours out of you as a consequence.  I’ve seen it happen more times than you would think.  You end up making something extremely revolutionary and groundbreaking in a way that all can appreciate.  Who knew? (6/10/11)

 

Mr. Perfect O

I’ve heard a lot about the perfect game.  The arguments revolve around perfect immersion, playing as yourself, endless choices, virtual reality to the extreme, etc.  It’s all pie in the sky stuff that is almost impossible to do, even if we had the machines to do it.

I think there is a holy grail that game designers and gamers alike believe exists.  It doesn’t.  Games are just too complicated to make a Mona Lisa or Beethoven’s Fifth. 

Moreover, if we could create this masterpiece, would it satisfy everyone?  Of course not.  We all have our favorite genre.  To take it further, we all have our most hated genre.  Some may not even pick out this piece of perfection out of the bargain bin. 

Those who aren’t too into the genre of this uber-slobber-knocker may be nonplussed by it.  So, sit back enjoy the game you’re playing.  Or better yet, grab one of your old games that you loved, and relive its greatness.  There are plenty of superb games that aren’t perfect. (1/22/11)

 

Sandbox Games

Sandbox games always sound great.  Then, you play them.

It’s not their fault.  It’s just that they bring out the uncertainty that everyone.  “I want this.  No, maybe that.  Oh, if I can only have part of this and part of that.  No wait, that would totally be a nightmare.”

Sandbox games are best played by the meandering spirit.  People who like to dabble but not get too involved.  The rest of us want to a little bit of order, so we can rage against it.

If we have a bad guy to fight, it’s a lot better than hoping somebody on the multiplayer front becomes a jerk so that we can get angry at him or her.  We want some rules so that we can mete a challenge, not make a real interesting soup without a recipe.

If not, we end up with the old conversation every teenager has with their friend, “What do you want to do?”

“I don’t know what do you want to do?”  And so it goes. (1/28/11)

 

Starcraft II and Real Time Strategies

I have heard very bipolar opinions about Starcraft II.  I would expect this from any long anticipated and well financed video game.  However, hearing certain specifics of what was not liked, brought up a very interesting aspect of modern gaming and RTS’s.  Many of the negatives revolved around thoughts like “Why did it take so long to make this?” or “Its graphics look a bit better but dated.  There doesn’t appear to be anything new about it.”

I’ve talked before about what art means to each genre, and Starcraft II (SC2) demonstrates some of my past thoughts well.  One of the reason that SC2 doesn’t appear that fresh and new is that it can’t amaze you graphically.

Is it better graphically?  Yes, but let’s look at the difference.  The old SC was a 2D game but most of the imagery was 3D.  Blizzard would make 3D models and then convert them to 2D in order to make them work with their engine.

Does their fully 3D SC2 make for better graphics?  Surely.  They could even expend more memory and clock speed on porting better models as well.  However, there is one thing missing.

How are we viewing this?  Our perspective is very zoomed out.  This isn’t a FPS where things can get right in your face.  Here, everything gets a little blurred out due to the apparent distance that you are viewing it from.  Can you see a mole on a person’s face from 500 feet away?  Likewise, the graphics that are superior in SC2 are reduced in effect.  Thus, this gives an appearance of a small step in terms of advancement from the original SC.

Gameplay is another topic … perhaps for another time. (5/27/11)

 

RTS: Novelty Gone

In the last few years or so, there have been many who have pointed out the demise of Real Time Strategy.  Most of the time the articles speak to weaknesses, and what needs to be done to break down the walls to usher in the next big era for RTS. 

First off, RTS games are not in as much trouble as you’d think.  The industry has just grown so fast, that strategy games in general have not grown as fast as other genres. 

The second issue comes from the fact that RTS games no longer have novelty.  When developers and publishers could put out strategy games that didn’t involve turn based movement, people were intrigued.  It was a fun and fresh way to play games.  A lot of people got hooked.  However, novelty only lasts for so long, and only happens once.  That time is over for RTS games.

Obviously, that doesn’t mean that RTS games are bad or lost a step.  It just means they have officially taken their true place the gaming spectrum.  Just like puzzle games, adventure games and platformers, they will not be as anticipated as much as the hot Shooters or sell as much as the latest casual/social game.  Nonetheless, they will still have loyal players, a larger than a niche level of play and certainly can still make a lot of money.  (6/24/11)

 

Inequality of Judgment

What’s important in a game is a curious thing.  Most people would agree that gameplay is paramount, but when you read a review or hear someone get excited about a great game, these people digress into other topics quickly.  Sometimes they don’t even address any play.

Usually the graphics get the credit.  That’s nice but why do we evaluate so many genres with the same measuring stick.  Placing graphics and other sticks to RPGs, FPS, TBS, RTS and action, to name a few acronyms, end up giving us similar testing procedures.  However, they are different types of games.  One test does not fit all.

Another good question is why we let some games off the hook for weaknesses.  Almost every genre has NPCs now.  They are important part of the gaming experiences, but an FPS would never be held accountable for them.  On the other hand, if a RTS doesn’t have a multiplayer, it usually gets a downgrade.  Maybe the developers didn’t want a multiplayer component.   How is that game worse than a game like Left 4 Dead that has no single campaign?  

These are curious things … and more that I’ll talk about in the future. (7/2/11)

 

Casual gaming … or not

Casual games are not my favorite thing.  Sometimes, I can be a little too hard on them.  Nonetheless, I find something a little disturbing about them. 

The games themselves are successful and many like them.  I certainly don’t fault them for that.  However, the games don’t seem to try to be fun excursions into escapism.  They instead appear to try to be addictive with hooks to keep people playing.

As a person who wasted many a night on Everquest, I understand this.  You want to sell your product, and you want to make money.  There is no shame in this, but casual game makers take this too far.  The addiction seems to be what they are trying to make, not a game.

Even when one of the people from industry gives a talk they tend not to talk about anything gaming.  Well, other than how great their game is.  Their speeches instead revolve around business success, popularity or getting people engaged in a product.

Is this just me? (7/8/11)

 

Economy, a Lost Art

New games appear to go out of their way to challenge players is only certain ways.  They also appear to have thrown out some of the old ways.  

Today’s players may be challenged in the physical or in strategy.  That is fine.  However, some of the smaller ways have been discarded as novelty or old school.  In particular, economy has really gone down hill.  This used to be one of the bread and butter pieces of the RPG world.  It even spilled into other genres as well.

Now, most games have at least a re-spawn area so that you can always waste more time and make millions of copper.  That’s a shame, since this is a great subplot or fringe dimension of strategy in a way that enhanced the experience is now gone.

My guess for the reasoning was two-fold.  The first is that it is hard to create an economy that will be balanced.  They already have balancing issues when it comes to combat. 

The second is that neophyte players and spendthrifts in video games waste their money and end up losing an advantage at the end.  Well, too bad.  If my motor skills didn’t get better by the end of the game, my FPS won’t bail me out.

Both of these reasons are lackluster to me.  Go all the way in all dimensions if you are claiming to make a triple-A game.  And, don’t go soft on the “economy challenged” in order to make a sandbox for everyone.  You only weaken the experience for the rest of us. 

Nobody wants to play an easy game over the age of 13.  Everyone wants a challenge.  Make economy one of your challenges when creating a game, for the player and you as the maker. (7/22/11)

New Console Maker?

I once had a student ask me where do you think the next great console will come from?  After I corrected his grammar for ending a sentence in a preposition and thus exorcising myself from him ever seeing me as cool, I realized his questioned revolve around the opportunity for other hardware makers to emerge something that will compete with Nintendo, Sony and Microsoft.

As always, I twisted the answer a little.  (Now I know why they hate me.)  I said there already two existing.  I was being sly, but it’s true.  The two are Google and Apple.

We tend to think of consoles in the traditional sense.  They are these rectangular things that we place beside the TV.  Then we plug things into it like cartridges or DVDs.  In essence, a console is a stand alone game playing machine.  When you think of the gTablet or the iPad, isn’t that essentially what they are?  Sure they do other things, but doesn’t the Wii surf the net.  You can load more than games onto your consoles now.  The space between the two types (traditional console and tablets) is shrinking. 

If you can add a keyboard to an iPad, than why not a controller, output to a TV if desired, etc.  There are plenty of good games to play on the tablets.  They are only limited by disk space.  That will change.  With solid state hard drives being what they are, solid, full games will emerge on the tablets.  Hence we will see a convergence.  Then chaos, but that’s another topic … (7/29/11)

 

   

 
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