Determinance screenshot

What Mode 7 is working on right now!

May 27th, 2013 by Paul

What Mode 7 is working on right now!

Frozen Cortex (PC, Mac, Linux)

This is a brand new tactical future-sports game!  See the official site for more info.  The game is now available in Early Access and will be released later in 2014.

Frozen Synapse (iPhone)

Includes a new UI based on the iPad version.  This will be out before the end of the summer 2014.

Frozen Synapse is currently available on PC, Mac, Linux, iPad and Android devices.  Take a look at the official site.

Frozen Synapse: Tactics (PS Vita, PS3)

This is a complete graphical overhaul of the game, which retains the same core gameplay as the desktop versions.  It’s being handled 100% by our amazing development partners Double Eleven.

Check on their Twitter for updates.

Please don’t ask us questions about FS: Tactics as we won’t be able to answer them – ask Double11!

Chiptune Rush

A store for the very best of chiptune music.  Check it out!

Untitled New nervous_testpilot Album

This should be out in 2015.  Take a listen to nervous_testpilot’s other music here.

 

Frozen Endzone is now Frozen Cortex!

July 22nd, 2014 by Paul

Frozen Endzone is now Frozen Cortex!

Frozen Endzone is now Frozen Cortex!

It also now has OSX and Linux versions as well as big performance updates and a completely overhauled AI.

We’ve also made some significant changes to the aesthetic: the ball, player animations and some elements of the pitch are now different.

frostyPickup

There are three reasons for the rebrand:

1.)  The original name was a bit rubbish and we got bored of it

2.)  We think the game looks better like this

3.)  Some people thought we were making a Madden game with robots: that is not what we’re doing

Cortex is a simultaneous-turn-based strategy game; a tense competitive contest wrapped up in the trappings of a brutal futuristic sport.  It’s not a simulation of any existing sport; it takes an influence from football but you can certainly play it without understanding even a smidgen of that particular game.

planning1

Here’s what’s in the update:

- OSX and Linux versions

- New pitch, ball and animations

- Completely overhauled AI including much faster performance and much more intelligent play

- Five new stadiums

- Significant performance improvements: frame rate should be 50-100% improved on most hardware

- Big loading time improvements

UI improvements:

- Throwing UI improved

- Intelligent interception-radius rendering

- indicator for whether a move location is “safe” or not

- Minor rules changes to reduce the need to “keep playing when the match is clearly over”; other gameplay improvements

- Quite a few new gameplay options to play around with in the Custom Game editor.

- Significantly updated in-game commentary text

- Other minor changes

nightCity

Have a look at the new trailer here:

http://youtu.be/mD08aDe0F8U

If you’re a journalist and you’d like to use some screenshots, you can find them here:

http://www.frozencortex.com/FrozenCortexScreenshotsJuly2014.zip

Frozen Endzone July Update

June 17th, 2014 by Paul

Frozen Endzone July Update

Greetings,

We will be pushing an update for Frozen Endzone at the end of July.

We’ve also been working heavily on single player content which isn’t ready to release yet. I’ll talk about that a bit in a moment but first, here’s what you can expect in the update…

nightCity

Change List

– OSX and Linux builds

– Completely overhauled AI including much faster performance and much more intelligent play

– Significant performance improvements: frame rate should be 50-100% improved on most hardware

– Big loading time improvements

– Major aesthetic updates and improvements including…
– new ball
– many new animations
– new throws, new catches, new tackles
– several new stadiums
– other minor graphical improvements with a lot more to come

frostyPickup

UI improvements:
– throwing UI improved
– intelligent interception-radius rendering
– indicator for whether a move location is “safe” or not

– Minor rules changes to reduce the need to “keep playing when the match is clearly over”; other gameplay improvements

– Quite a few new gameplay options to play around with in the Custom Game editor.

– Some commentary improvements.

– Other minor changes

Single Player

Alongside this update we have been working on the single player game, which we think is a fantastic combination of a traditional season mode but with a much tighter structure, character interaction and potential for storytelling.

The main mode will feature 7 distinct AI teams, all with their own coaches. Each coach has a response to the player, ranging from hatred to admiration, and their dialogue will change based on this and your performance in the league. You’ll be playing in the Global Cortex League (GCL) against these teams and also in a series of specially crafted contests with hugely variable rules and player behaviour.

You’ll earn incremental stat upgrades and be able to customise your team; there will also be storylines and intrigues which happen within the league that will have a bearing on your progress. The coaches will each have a different agenda and occasionally will propose league-wide votes on rule changes which you can influence.

There will also be other leagues and tournaments where you can coach, as well as an ongoing background story which will progress across different playthroughs with different teams

We’ve been working on this a lot behind-the-scenes for a while and making progress on it is very exciting. This kind of gameplay isn’t something that will work with incremental updates, so you’ll have to bear with us as we polish it up to the level where we’re happy to show it to you.

Thanks very much for the support on Endzone so far: this game means a lot to us and we’re really pushing to make it as good as humanly (and robotly) possible.

Frozen Endzone Beta 2

March 10th, 2014 by Ian

Frozen Endzone Beta 2

Three months ago we launched the first publicly available beta of Frozen Endzone.  Endzone is quite like Frozen Synapse, but it involves a futuristic sport played by robots.  People seem to like it quite a lot so far.

On Monday we launch Frozen Endzone Beta 2 onto the great Steam platform.  It is a massive update of Endzone, and a pretty complete multiplayer game in its own right.  Here is a list of the major new features:

(If you have bought Endzone via our own website, you will be able to use your key to activate the game on Steam right now.)

Player attributes/statistics
In Beta 1, all players behaved the same way.  Now they do not.  They have different statistics in Speed, Strength, Blocking, Interception, Resilience, Evade, and Burst (with more to come).  You can play matches with random players, or you can…

ezstatsingame

 

Create your own team build, upload it and play against others easily
Click on the team editor and create a unique build, name your players, then hit the upload button and your team will be stored on the server.  Any matches started by you or by someone against you on the normal Full Match mode will use your team.  Speed-based teams are good for newer players, or try something a bit more pro with an Interception/Strength build.

ezstats

 

 

New central game mode
The “Handball” mode from Beta 1 has been fully redeveloped and is now the central game mode.  Lots of turnovers, interceptions, end-to-end action, and new points zones make this a really exciting and strategic mode.

 

All new single player AI
We’ve got lots of single matches to play in SP against a really good AI.  It took me bloody ages to make an AI which played the game properly, so I hope you like it!

 

Pitch editor
Powerful, easy to use tile editor to make your own game pitches.  Super easy to immediately play against the AI or a human on them.  The pitch templates we use for everything in the game are included.

 

ezpitch

 

Custom game rules editor
Make any two teams you like with the team editor, any pitch you like with the pitch editor, then use the Custom Game editor to challenge your friend and give yourself a 20 point lead to start it off.

ezcustom

 

 

In-game commentary
Our commentators Bill Jansky and The Auditor will keep you company while you play, talking about your history with a specific opponent; berating you if you’ve played badly recently; and using the AI code behind the scenes to tell you if you should have played better on the last turn.

ezcommentary

 

 

Loads of new animations and improvements for our cinematic Outcomes
We got loads of feedback on this area during Beta 1 – I hope you like what we’ve done with it.

 

Loads of fixes and tweaks
Beta can mean a million different things nowadays, but the Mode 7 way is never to sell something we don’t believe stands on its own.  We’ve got a huge amount more to add to Frozen Endzone, but right now it’s a stable, solid game that our fans tell us is good!

 

Aaaaaand… everything that was in Beta 1 too
Awesome game, rock solid matchmaking and online play with leaderboards, friends lists, and a feed.  Great music by nervous_testpilot.  If I can just quote someone one twitter for a second, talking about Beta 1: “it’s like they took the best bits of a Frozen Synapse match, and made a whole game out of them.”

 

 

Games in the Public Domain

February 4th, 2014 by Paul

Games in the Public Domain

Yesterday, John Walker over at RPS posted about his desire for games to enter the public domain twenty years or so after release:

http://www.rockpapershotgun.com/2014/02/03/editorial-why-games-should-enter-the-public-domain/

Steve Gaynor (of Gone Home fame) wrote a great response which is worthy of your time:

http://pastebin.com/eiKaV8Rq

I’d like to add a few points to this discussion.

Profiting from work in the public domain

Steve makes the point that profit from work > 20 years old is pretty vital to someone’s long-term career as an artist; I agree completely.

However, making something public domain does not mean that the original creator cannot go on profiting from it at all: John makes that point very strongly and he is completely correct.   It would be good for this discussion if people actually listened to the point he was reiterating and didn’t stupidly attack him on false grounds.  He did say that quite a few times, after all, just in case you weren’t paying attention.

Now that’s established, let’s look at what could potentially happen…

– A game being PD wouldn’t affect the sales of that game on GoG (or equivalent) all that much

There would be an impact on sales but my general suspicion is that it wouldn’t be all that great. I don’t have much evidence for this: I’d suggest that it is somewhat equivalent to the current piracy situation around single-player only games but that’s mostly conjecture…and obviously highly debatable in its own right.

– However, it would affect licensing a great deal

A large amount of value vested in IP’s that persist meaningfully for longer than twenty years (and indeed in ones that don’t) stems from their potential to be licensed for new products.

So it’s revenue from new products that mostly help support the original creator, not revenue from the original work.

The creator would not, in any way, be able to profit from the license, because the characters, art, story and anything meaningful to do with the IP would be free for anyone to use. So there goes merchandise, movie adaptation, animation rights (yes I’ve just started watching Arrested Development, please ignore me)…and, especially, reboots.

We’re seeing a lot of classic game reboots at the moment: these would all happen without the original creators getting a dime, when that person was still alive, well and creating.  That doesn’t feel right, and it doesn’t seem like it would make financial sense either.

Integrity of your IP matters, not just its monetary value

When something becomes public domain, anyone with any agenda can repurpose it. I would feel concerned if, in my lifetime, Frozen Synapse was turned into something used to promote ideals that don’t reflect our own: I’m sure Ian, the game’s designer and the one who originally conceived it, would feel even more strongly about that. I doubt we’d feel much better if that happened in our kids’ lifetimes either…so when does this become acceptable?

Think of the worst possible thing someone could do with work that you spent four years creating, then imagine you have no legal protection against that.

Most of us do not have experience dealing with big IP’s. The makers of Minecraft have to see rubbish, derivative junk products and scams which use their product’s name cropping up on a daily basis; they have to put in a huge amount of effort to stop this from happening while maintaining the rights of those who want to do genuine creative things with their game. Why are they suddenly not allowed to fight this battle after 20 years (or 25 years, or 30 years etc.)?

Creative work has a unique risk/reward paradigm which other forms of work do not share

I believe that there is a strong case for society treating creative work differently from other forms of endeavour.

I think John’s workman analogy is the weakest part of his argument and undermines his more interesting points, so I don’t want to dwell on it too much. I will add, though, that our hypothetical workman is building up a kind of value when he works which is inaccessible to a lone creator:

– The workman should, in a lot of cases, be able to earn promotion or increased salary simply by doing his job well over a long period

– He may, after a while, acquire enough knowledge about his trade to start his own business, or expand his current one. Growing a service business is significantly and inherently simpler than expanding a creative business. It’s Ian’s unique combination of talents and insanities that make our games the way they are; we can’t hire another one of him, nor can we clone him… Sure, we could hire another development team and expand that way, but please don’t try to tell me that’s like a plumbing company hiring another plumber.

For Ian and myself, something which has always attracted us to making games is that there is “no ceiling”. There is a very, very low chance that something will become a ridiculous hit and go on being a success for your entire lifetime. Again, this isn’t entirely about money, and I agree with John’s point that it’s facile to suggest that money is a prime motivator for creativity. A lot of that feeling – for it is mostly a feeling – is to do with the fact that nobody can ever take it away from you.

Publishers holding IP’s exclusively / creators not getting paid

This is a completely separate discussion in my eyes: briefly, I don’t think there is a “moral right” to be paid for work where you have consciously and knowingly signed up as work-for-hire and waived those rights.

Trying to fix this by enforcing a situation where nobody owns rights after a certain time is somewhat of a nuclear option and not an elegant solution to this particular problem; I don’t think conflating these issues is helpful.

Things that do need addressing

A world where IP holders can just sit on both an IP and a product for years and refuse to allow anyone access to it for no good reason is fairly silly. It would be nice if, perhaps, there were some means to force older games to be available in some form: perhaps they should have to be released for free (but not PD) if they are not commercially available in any way for a length of time?

We need better, clearer and wider application of Fair Use to allow free quotation and intertextuality without threat of legal action, facilitating things like sampling in music (which is a whole different kettle of fish). Not-for-profit fan work should be actively encouraged; repurposing of game footage and machinima should be more than just quasi-legal.

The “giving back to culture” idea that John mentions does appeal to me.  I’m actually still thinking about this in the context of my own views – I don’t have any real conclusions on how to facilitate this yet.

Rather helpfully, that brings me on to my final point…

Thoughts on discussion

This is a very emotional issue for people: John illustrated this at the start of his piece with the vehement reactions to his off-hand comment.

I’m personally utterly sick of big games industry topics like this one dissolving into ad hominem idiocy; I wish that everyone could grow up and focus on the actual issues involved.

I’ll admit to having been annoyed by that initial comment as well: I thought it reflected views that were hopelessly different from my own.

But here is an instance where John has taken the time to expand his off-hand remark into a significant, thoughtful piece about a nuanced issue. We should respect him for that: it’s easy to just become more entrenched in your beliefs and leave the discussion when responses are combative; instead he’s actually done something that benefits everyone.  In the course of his writing, he took me from just being a bit irked by something he said to fully engaging with his argument: much more interesting!  Maybe I don’t fully agree with everything he said, but he  overtly stated that wasn’t his main goal, so everyone’s now happy, right?

Why aren’t people praising and encouraging this instead of being defensive and stupid about it?  If you can’t explore the reasons for your own beliefs and just get increasingly tumescent with rage when challenged, that’s a good indication that you’re probably wrong.

I’d like less knee-jerking, more brain-thinking, please: I guess I’m a romantic as well.

Follow me on Twitter @mode7games

Indie advice: how to respond to beta feedback

November 9th, 2013 by Ian

Indie advice: how to respond to beta feedback

In the first two years of Frozen Endzone’s development only eight people had ever played it.  In the last six weeks, forty outsiders have been playing.  In two weeks we will launch the first public beta.  How we respond to the feedback from those testers will have a big impact on how well the game is received by the world at large.

 

Beta tester feedback is incredibly important.  Buried within it are the nuggets of information you need to make the small changes which will have the big impact.  You’ve done a great job getting your game this far – now finish the job.

 

But taking and responding to feedback is very difficult.  You love your game and you will get emotional about any criticism of it.  And there is usually a gulf between what testers say you need to do and what you actually need to do.  Each piece of feedback is an emotional and analytical journey – here’s my checklist for how to deal with each forum post or email.

 

1. Read it, then calm down, then read it again

You didn’t read it properly the first time.

 

2. Classify what kind of feedback it is

Here are some broad classes of feedback, with some notes on what to do with them:

 

“I don’t like the aesthetic”

You’re making a zombie game and this guy hates zombie games.

Move on – his feedback isn’t useful.

Relevance: zero
Frequency: high
What you’re feeling: “whaa no-one likes the aesthetic I’ve chosen”
What you should be feeling: There’s a pretty direct correlation between popularity of aesthetic and the number of other games using it.  So be happy – either you’re doing something popular or you’re doing something unusual.  Both of these things are positive.
Action to take: None.

 

“I love the aesthetic!  Why isn’t this a JRPG?”

This guy doesn’t like the genre of your game.  But he does like your aesthetic!  So take heart in that.

Relevance: zero
Frequency: high
What you’re feeling: “Hnnnnrgh… fuck…. off…”
What you should be feeling: Well, I have a hard time thinking anything but fuck off on this one.
Action to take: None.

 

“I can’t do this thing <which was taught perfectly in the tutorial>”

Oh this guy’s just an idiot who doesn’t pay attention to the tutorial.  Ignore.

WRONG.  This is an exceptionally useful piece of feedback you need to immediately jump on.  This guy has identified something which is hard to do.  He’s not going to be the only person who finds this hard.  This is your opportunity to make your game more accessible.  Maybe the thing could be made easier?  Maybe your control scheme for it is bad?  It’s crucial not to ignore this kind of feedback.

Relevance: high
Frequency: high
What you’re feeling: “I’m not aiming this game at people who can’t read instructions”
What you should be feeling: No one in the world reads instructions.
Action to take: Iterate this feature until people stop complaining that they can’t do it.

 

 

“Hey I did something really weird and the game broke”

Here is the golden rule of testing: if something happens once during testing then it will happen twelve thousand times on release day.  It doesn’t matter how weird the bug is – if the outcome of the bug is unacceptable, you must fix it now.

Relevance: high
Frequency: very high
What you’re feeling: “Oh god another bug to fix”
What you should be feeling: Thank god this came up now and not on launch day.
Action to take: Fix it.

 

 

“This feature you’re really proud of is shit – you need to get rid of it”

This is a great piece of feedback because, like most in-the-wild feedback, it contains something very important and something you should ignore.

Here is a direct translation of this feedback: “there is something wrong with this feature.”  It doesn’t mean anything more than that.  You must pay attention to this feedback, but the tester has made it hard by being too extreme.  People fall into the trap of not responding to this kind of feedback because they disagree with what the tester thinks you should do about it.  Ignore what the tester thinks you should do about it – just pay attention to the fact that you must do something about it.

Try to work out why he doesn’t like it – it could be badly taught.  It could be buggy.  It could be unclear.  Swallow your pride and iterate your feature more.

Relevance: high
Frequency: medium
What you’re feeling: “Pff.  You’re just a tester – you have no idea about game design.”
What you should be feeling: This is an opportunity to make my pet feature even better.
Action to take: Iterate.

 

“I was really expecting to like this game, and I really tried, but I just don’t”

This is a tough one.  Sometimes people just aren’t going to like your game – even if it’s great.  Frozen Synapse has been a huge critical success, but I still meet people in person who say “I respect it – but I don’t personally like playing it.”  You’re never going to please everyone in the world, and you can’t make an omelet without breaking some eggs.  Take it and move on.

Having said that, it’s always possible your game isn’t good enough yet.  If you’re hearing this a lot, maybe it’s something you need to think about properly.

Relevance: medium
Frequency: low (hopefully)
What you’re feeling: “I’m going to throw myself out of a window”
What you should be feeling: I’m going to get away from the game for a while and get some perspective.
Action to take: Generally, none.

 

“I’m enjoying this game – I’d really like to see you add feature x”

If a tester asks for a simple functional feature – something like the “opponent done turn” notification in FS – then I tend to implement if I can.

On larger things, I don’t tend to directly respond.  Maybe a feature a tester suggests will give me some inspiration, and getting a general idea of what people especially like about the game and what they’d like to see expanded is useful.  You have the best idea of your game’s overall direction – don’t get too distracted by new directions.

Many times testers come up with really great ideas which resonate with me straight away – that can be one of the best parts of indie game dev.

Relevance: medium
Frequency: medium
What you’re feeling: “Ooh! Maybe you should be able to talk to the monsters”
What you should be feeling: I don’t want to get derailed.
Action to take: take it in, and think on it.

 

“This game is fantastic!”

This is the feedback we all secretly hope we get deluged in.  A couple of things though:

First, I know you want your testers to fall in love with your game at first sight, but it doesn’t tend to happen.  With a released game a new player already has a context for your game from reviews and general buzz.  Without this people don’t tend to immediately fall head over heels – they need to get to know the game.  Don’t get depressed if you aren’t getting enough positive feedback in the first couple of days – look for what happens after a week or so.

Second, just as one guy not liking your game wasn’t cause to jump out of a window; one guy loving your game isn’t cause to release it straight away and expect 95% in every magazine.

Relevance: highish
Frequency: lowish
What you’re feeling: “Yes! I’VE WON INDIE GAME DEV”
What you should be feeling: well, that’s a pretty great feeling – enjoy it.
Action to take: Go get wasted.

 

<Crickets>

Finally, how do you respond to a lack of feedback?

A whole book could be written on this, but I’ll just go with a couple of things.

  • A good 50% of the people who signed up for your beta will never play it.  Just ignore this – it’s completely standard and is absolutely no reflection on your game.
  • If someone is still playing it after a week, then they like it.  It’s as simple as that.
  • If no-one plays it more than once, then that is a massive warning sign and there is something wrong with your game.  Don’t over-think this – the main way people tell you your game is bad is by not playing it.

 

Thanks for reading, and I hope this was useful to you.  If you have any comments please mail me at ian bat mode7games bot com.

 

Ian

 

Taking a Break

August 30th, 2013 by Paul

Taking a Break

This is Paul here – hello.

Thought I would make it public that I’m not well at the moment. I have a long-term, difficult-to-solve stomach problem which has flared up severely in the last couple of weeks – this is a very difficult state to be in but I am managing with the help of my lovely fiance and brilliant family. Luckily, it’s not life-threatening, just extremely tough: I am getting very little sleep so have no concentration and am unable to work. Without the support I’m getting currently I have no idea where I would be; I always want to be doing something so being stuck with relentless discomfort and insomnia really sucks.

I need to take a complete break for a while and there is a chance I may miss the beta launch of Frozen Endzone and Eurogamer Expo next month. That’s a bit gutting to say the least but the rest of the amazing team has things under control – if you mail either of my addresses you will get hold of Ian.

With regard to _ensnare_, music will be on hold for a while and there is a good chance I will have to cancel my forthcoming appearance at Eindbaas in October – this is also very disappointing but I’d hope to return there at some point in the future. The organisers are being very accommodating and, if it turns out I get better and am able to make it, I will do my best to get over there.

If you are trying to contact us for Mode 7 things, please talk to Ian (ian at mode7games dot com). He is being a total legend and handling everything for me while I’m off.

That’s it – I need some time but I hope to be back to full functionality before too long.

Gone Home Review

August 20th, 2013 by malakian

The Encounter With Dracula Is Terminated is a long running and sporadically deployed series of articles about the gaming universe by long time Mode 7 community person Alex ‘malakian’ Hayes. Follow him at www.twitter.com/inspectorvector

A chill wind blows, and I enter a house as the clock strikes twelve. No welcome greets me, as no one is there. I ascend quiet stairs and push open the door of a dark bedroom to find a message on the screen: “you need to play this game”. Well, I suppose as it is noon I should probably do something beyond topping up bird food and thinking about how the top of my smartphone looks a bit like a potato peeler…The bit around the speaker. So, without further ado, allow The Encounter With Dracula Is Terminated to thrust the beak of analysis into the caged peanut of gaming.

draculaqq1

The peanut in question is Gone Home, the enigmatic first-person debut from the Fullbright company, who I believe are comprised largely of Bioshock 2 DLC devs who have gone rogue. It’s won a huge amount of critical praise for its touching story, convincing atmosphere, and piece-it-together-yourself narrative style. I’ll not be spoiling any specific plot details herein, though I will be sharing my opinions on the experience and my general thoughts on other coverage of the game. I believe you get the most from experiencing Gone Home with no preconceptions, so if you want no potential feeling compromised, I’d abandon ship here.

Still here? Ok, I suppose I’ll need to keep writing, as I can’t *completely* rule out the possibility you aren’t.

The premise is quite a simple one: You’re a girl named Katie who is freshly back from travelling in Europe, bags in tow. It’s quite late on a stormy night, and it is the first time you are going to your parents new mansion, which your family have moved in to while you were away. The problem is, the large and unfamiliar house seems deserted. Herein begins the game, and you’re basically going to have to find out what’s going on, and what’s happened. The house isn’t as populated with stuff as a real one, but it’s very believable. For instance, you’ll see a ring binder featuring an exorbitantly colourful scene composed around a puffin in a Hawaiian shirt. Home’s DO have gaudy objects like this that escape being thrown out due to long ownership, and Katie’s tooltip-only reaction tells us her sister, Sam, has indeed owned it since 4th grade. As well as its familiar setting, Gone Home’s fusing core siphons its fuel from your own youthful dreams of possibilities, nostalgia for the confusion and elation of new experiences and just caring for the wellbeing of others. Its unconventional storytelling – the plot itself is the puzzle – manages to take you far beyond the house it is set in while still gripping you with what is one of gaming’s most foreboding atmospheres. It does a lot with a little.

I come from what Tory thinktanks would refer to as a “broken home”, so seeing the intimate workings of a nuclear family is always quite fascinating for me, but in the way a zoo is. Gone Home presents evidence of a family flinging metaphorical banana peels at each other, all hoping their discharged pericarp will strike true, slapping into the other family members a newfound understanding of exactly what they are going through at the moment. Sam is in perpetual conflict with her parents over her liberties and behaviour, while the parents are doing a poor job, characteristically unable to realise how their attempts at putting her on the right track are stifling their intelligent daughter’s self-discovery. Katie’s mother is becoming jaded with her relationship. The father is engaging in insular naval-gazing after hitting a wall with his career. Well, we all know how depressing having to turn to freelance writing is, right? Right? Oh. Ahem…

Katie’s parents, while intriguing, never take shape in the player’s mind as Sam does. The psychologist Gordon Allport espoused that the thought and feelings of individuals are affected by not just the actual presence of others, but the implied or imagined presence, and that apparently even holds true when the people are an imaginary imagined presence. I found myself entering Sam’s room and taking a moment before opening her draws for fear of violating her privacy. A very interesting aspect of the game, and one that’s definitely a reason to play it, is the ability to see Sam’s personality materialise as you begin to see it from at least three distinct viewpoints. When you’re either commander Shepard in your favourite store on the citadel, or your boring real self in the high street shops, you can meet somebody and they’ll react to you. They might make small talk, they might open up to you, they might ask you to get out of their shopping trolley. Regardless, you’re engaging their psyche from a very particular angle. Humans, though predictable and usually quite dull, are multifaceted, and will present a different side of themselves to different people.

Gone Home does what a lot of games don’t/can’t, in that it shows you Sam’s interactions with her idolised Street Fighter 2-playing friend Lonnie, her documented clashes with preoccupied and misunderstanding parents, and her own personal thoughts in the form of her (audibly narrated) diary. You get to know Sam this way. The humour that fills Sam and Lonnie’s notes to each other is recognisably teenage: Sardonic, and brimming with a bravado that masks the phenomenal insecurity of being a teenager. Her answers to school assignments are subversive (in the 16 year old way that isn’t actually) and, again, nostalgic for the player. Everyone did this kind of thing. In fact, playing it made me realise how much “humour” teachers must have to put up with. It must be like being a catchphrase comedian and having to smile at the endless tap of people who think it would be funny to say your catchphrase at you. Suffice to say, I now feel more ashamed of my Religious Education exam paper than I already did. I’m still a bit dubious of a marking criteria that awards a drunken tale about the moons of Thundera a D rather than an outright fail, but they can’t take it away from me now.

The missives to her parents present a different Sam, one that is full of reasoned, rebellious indignation at their iron-fist method of parenting, clearly driven by thoughts that she’ll snap out of it rather than any consideration. The third angle on Sam, her diary that was intended for Katie, shows a vulnerable, naive and often helpless girl. The intensity of feelings displayed throughout her story, written with more nous than you might expect, does lead you to at several points imagine the possible outcomes, both happy and dreadful. This is great, and I found myself guessing until the end.

A lot of reviewers have expressed the identical desire for Gone Home to reach a non-gaming audience. I’d agree that this would probably go some way to portraying gaming in a positive light to uninitiated liberals, as it’s definitely a thought provoking story that’s very well written, relatively speaking. The problem, at least in my experience, is that when a true non-gamer plays even a simple game, they get stuck in ways that are just implausible to gamers, who have game logic hardwired into their grey matter. And getting stuck will ruin Gone Home. Despite its unique slant on the experience, Gone Home’s gameplay is “find this key/find that clue to proceed”, as many point and click adventure games are. This is a criticism that will only apply for people who actually miss something – if you progress as intended without missing anything vital, the well-designed flow of the experience is exquisite. But getting stuck in Gone Home completely shatters the immersion, leaving you feeling like the glassy-smooth pacing of the experience has been dropped and the largest shards hurriedly reassembled with blu-tac. You’re shoved right back into the objective based contrition of gaming. All of a sudden, the fixed walking speed that allows you to breathe in the atmosphere of the house becomes frustratingly sluggish as you retread your steps looking for that small trigger to let you progress to where you’ve already worked out you need to be going. In this situation you’d just grab something heavy and open the damn lock, so if you are searching for any length of time it begins to feel ridiculous.

I’ve been playing borderlands 2 quite a bit recently, and something players of this game will have spent hours doing is looking slightly downwards, angling yourself correctly in front of the container, pressing the open key, holding the pick up key and then moving on to the next adjacent box in the long queue. You are driven to engage in this Pavlovian monotony, as your gaming brain knows this is where exciting new items come from…Occasionally. The reason I’m so off-piste here is that you do spend a lot of time in Gone Home doing effectively the same thing, albeit for richer occasional reward. When you approach a table or cabinet and slightly adjust the angle of the pointer to carefully hover over each thing, pressing the same button on each to see if it triggers something readable or audible, you’re reminded of how it’s still shackled to gaming’s usual one-to-the-next progression. This type of interaction is not ideal in an experience like this, for me at least. Although you can argue that searching a real cabinet would be similarly repetitive, it doesn’t feel like it. I do believe this is something the future could improve, though.

As ever, technology continues to stumble blindfolded, vellicating clumsily in the hope that an outstretched digit will manage to probe through a hitherto unknown aperture upon the bolus of gaming, prodding immersion to a new level. Gamers will, of course, perpetually roll their eyes at the flurry of new gimmicks, accidentally changing the channel with the eye roll command. It is indeed true that the Oculus rift and new Kinect hold little promise for integration with traditional emotionally resonant gaming genres like RPGs or non-fps point and click adventures, and likewise fail to offer much of any artistic merit in the fields within which their predecessors were financially successful (ducks, launching various orbs, flailing/wobbling). Experiences like this game, and the ability to design them, could really benefit. Switching between the usual two vertically-fixed viewpoints of stood and crouched is ideal in a fast paced FPS where the limitation is usefully predictable, but being able to lean down precisely towards the piece of paper at the back of a cupboard as you would in reality could give a game like this quite a bit more impact. Using your hands would also speed up and enhance the experience of sorting through a paper-strewn desk. It’s not a deal breaker here – I’m not letting my musings on the future affect my review, and it probably wouldn’t make a huge difference to how you look back on your time with the game, but it’s something I hope the future’s silly technologies will inspire beyond the usual swing-your-arm games like Duck Lapidation Station. Ok, I made that up… also I would play it.

Something that is putting people off, quite reasonably, is the price point. Really, £9.99 would be a fairer launch tag considering the content here. It is short and sweet. But really short. At four hours cover to cover, there’s a temptation to think there is more to say about Gone Home than there is, or see it as smarter than it is. It is smart, certainly, but the industry is still incredibly intellectually barren. It emerged bouncing over holes and shooting full stops at geometry, and has spent most of its ascent in the IQ nadir that film is currently in, where the big hitters revolve around a man who needs to level up to eventually hit the other man, who is definitely bad, and hopefully explode him. I won’t disparage it because of the industry’s low bar, though. It is a simple, thoughtful tale, and what makes it excellent is its ability to draw feelings and memories from you. While it’s essentially your own nostalgia, compassion and emotions filling the gaps after the credits roll, you’ll be thinking about it long beyond its time.

Gone Home is a touching experience, and an encouraging one. It is a reminder that indie games are where some of the best experiences can be found, and that’s comforting. I will award four out of five Kim Coates’ heads to Gone Home.

kimcoates4

Frozen Endzone: Development Update

July 9th, 2013 by Paul

Frozen Endzone: Development Update

Here is what is going down with Frozen Endzone at the moment…

Art and Animation

Martin and, confusingly, ANOTHER person called Martin (a coder) are working on getting the in-game UI fully functional.  Hopefully this will happen by the end of the week.

This side of development is always tricky – not least because of subjective conflicts over what looks good, sparkly vs. readable and simply the raw effort it takes to get GUI effects working and looking nice.  In a turn-based game, the planning UI often looks like butt so we are attempting to avoid this as much as possible.  You spend a lot of your time staring at this thing and we want it to be visually stimulating as well as extremely clear.

Rich has concepted some of the in-game info screens and is now working on particle effects.  Here’s one of the concepts:

<Diffuse name="Diffuse" export="True" abbreviation="d" extension="TGA" resolution="1" sharpen="True" grayscale="False" bitmode="8" as="Fals

 

While the in-game UI is going to be quite sparse and clean, we want a lot of this interstitial stuff to evoke a big over-the-top sports broadcast.  I think it will be awesome to have all of your actions placed in this over-dramatic context and we’ll do a lot of work on making things feel very hyped-up and exciting.

Also we recently released a screenshot of Rich’s work on the new stadium:

HVP Stadium Promo 1 1080

Code

Ian is currently working on a system that will allow the in-game camera to know where to look at any given time.  We’ll then be able to get the artists defining camera paths / behaviour and figure out how to shoot the outcomes as nicely as possible.

Music

I (that is, Paul) have now completed the music which will play in-game.  I’m just working on final mixes for each track; I’m about 30% of the way through and hope to have that done this week.  You can listen to some of my work-in-progress efforts on Soundcloud or you can just click on this handy player to hear one of the tracks:

 

I’ll be moving on to some sound work shortly as well.  Sound for Endzone will be much more complex than anything I’ve done in the past but I’m looking forward to the challenge.

Some Development Thoughts

So far, it’s been hard to talk about how development is going since announcing the game as we haven’t been able to show very much.  With the UI and animation in flux, and no real outcome camera, the game currently doesn’t make visual sense.  As things start to come together more, we’ll be able to demonstrate the gameplay and final look of the game with a lot more coherence in a way which won’t horrify people.

We are targeting later this year for a beta release.  Two game modes are already basically done for multiplayer, and single player AI is in a very good state.  Art and animation still need a push, but that’s mostly just tidying things up.  I think we’re likely to get the beta out pretty much on schedule so we can concentrate on adding content (and things like the customisation system) from that point until release.

I think there are definitely some concerns that we haven’t been able to show exactly what kind of game Endzone is yet.  It’s a very exciting evolution of Frozen Synapse: I personally enjoy playing it much more (for what it’s worth!).  Despite the sporting sheen, it’s a very pure strategy game based on timing, positioning and getting inside your opponent’s head; Ian’s gameplay design is tight and produces a lot of exciting knife-edge situations.  As soon as I can get you more details I will!

We have such a huge amount to prove with this game and a lot invested in it (literally and metaphorically).  Through working on this project, we’ve been able to establish an amazing team: our goal now is to make it viable to continue working with everyone on into the future.  This size (up to 9 people from time to time, including occasional freelancers) means that you can do a huge amount of things that a smaller team can’t handle.  We’ve always wanted to make games with a big scope and a huge amount of atmosphere: Endzone will certainly turn out that way.

 

Frozen Synapse Android Beta Launch

June 18th, 2013 by Paul

Frozen Synapse Android has launched in very very late beta form in the latest Humble Bundle.

Grab it now, pay what you want, get the full version on release soon!

Words and Feelings: The New Indie PR

May 27th, 2013 by Paul

Words and Feelings: The New Indie PR

The New Indie PR

When we started Mode 7, the idea of a PR strategy was a bit silly: nobody cared about indies and what they had to say, so the objective was just to constantly shout as loud as possible about anything.

It’s a new era now: indies are getting interviewed and asked to comment on gaming news stories with great regularity at the moment; this is a great thing!  We often don’t have the PR filters and constraints of those in larger companies, so we’re able to speak our minds more and get people to pay more attention to our games.

In this post, I’ll be talking through:

– Thoughts on making statements and giving interviews

– Releasing game content

– General philosophical stuff

Talking about THINGS

Also, a lot of us know journalists personally and are happy chatting off-the-record about stuff; this is almost always completely respected by the press, as it’s vital to keep everything flowing…not to mention basic personal courtesy.  Sometimes, however, that respect isn’t there: choosing your friends wisely is important.

When on the record, however, I think it’s sometimes easy to fall into the mode of chatting and forget a few of the inevitable things that will happen when your words are published.  For the purposes of illustration, I shall be using the fictitious GameHerbert console and GameHerbert Industries.

“Wait…wait…indies should just say stuff, right?” OR “Everybody knows this stuff: shut up”

Two points before I start:

1.) I am not here to tell anyone what I think they should say, the topics they should talk about or anything like that.  You can do what you want and you absolutely should express your own personality.  What I am attempting to do is discuss the reactions that should be expected when certain things happen in public.

2.) One thing I’ve learned is that people vary massively in their intuitive understanding of these processes.  To some, everything I say will seem blindingly obvious, but to others it might be the first time they’ve thought about any of this in detail.  Maybe you are working on a project but have never released any info about it or been interviewed yet: this might be useful to you.

 – Anything controversial you say will be foregrounded, even if you say it as an aside and it is not directly relevant to you

Let’s say I do an interview about Frozen Endzone and, in passing at the end, I say, “Oh, it’ll never come out on GameHerbert: it’s pretty hard to develop for as well, so we probably don’t have time.”

If I’m not expecting the headline to be “Indie developer says it’s too hard to make games for GameHerbert!”, I am fundamentally misunderstanding the press.

“They based the whole interview on this one thing I said at the end!” I might complain, but actually…why wouldn’t they do that?  Why was I expecting them to do something else?

Obviously journalists are trying to get people to read your interview.  Virtually any indie, with the exception of perhaps Notch or someone like Jonathan Blow, isn’t news in their own right: what you say is going to be the only draw in the interview.  If you say something even slightly interesting about GameHerbert, which is inevitably more famous than anything you are working on, that will be the headline.

Why do the press leap on this so much?  It’s mostly because experienced devs will furiously no-comment anything that isn’t about their specific game…for the above reason!

By the way, you are allowed to, literally, say “No comment” until a question goes away.  You might feel stupid doing it the first time, but you are allowed to do it.  I have heard people say, “But they just kept asking me a question so eventually I felt like I had to say something.”

Am I saying that indies should “no comment” more? Absolutely not.  I’m saying that they can if they want to.

- Any clarification or modulation of a controversial point will be removed or buried

This is important – but hard- to remember.

Here is a transcript from a fictitious interview:

“GameHerbert’s a good console: it’s got the built-in USB fan, the light-up monkey control, the retractable wheels.  But, I mean, it does look like a mottled brick with a turd coming out of it, right? [Everyone has a good old laugh].  Having said that, sometimes I’d put my GameHerbert in my bag just because I want to play Super Rowing Boat Madness GT on the way to work, so it’s a really solid product that has a lot of good sides.  And honestly, I think it looks ok.”

I’ve just given the quote: “[GameHerbert] looks like a mottled brick with a turd coming out of it”.  That’s a pretty good quote, so if I’m not expecting it to be a pull-quote…I don’t know what’s wrong with me.  Any journalist in the world, friendly or no, is going to jump on that.  Secondly, what they might do is just not quote the sentence which starts with “Having said that…”.   They might put in the generic stuff about GameHerbert being a good console in the body of the piece, in order to represent what you said in an appropriate context, but…

1.) Pull-quotes don’t have context

2.) Nobody cares about generic preambles or postscripts to bombshells anyway

I’m not being critical of journalists by the way: this is how news works and that is something that everyone needs to accept.  We need short, digestible, quirky or interesting hooks to make us read something; it’s that simple.

I’m also not being critical of bombshell-prone developers either: as I’ll discuss later, sometimes things need to happen to make the extent of an issue clear enough for the wider community to understand.  Also, we occasionally need a good bombshell to bring an issue to the forefront; some people have to be pioneers in discussing issues and take a bit of flak for it.  The benefit they get (“This is someone who speaks their mind!”) can sometimes outweigh other consequences.

Dropping the bomb

The first time I spoke in public about games, I was on a panel with the ebullient and brilliant Jason Wonacott.  He gave me a great piece of public speaking advice; I think it can be applied to interviews as well.  Here it is:

“Think about what you want to convey and then come up with a really interesting way of saying it.  Make sure it’s short.  When it comes time to say it, pause slightly before, say it, and then shut the hell up.  You will almost always get quoted on it.”

You don’t even have to go that far: just simply coming up with a relatively eloquent way of saying what you want to say in advance can be massively helpful, for both you and the journalist.

Message Control?

We’re now in a culture where the net output of words and (yes I’m going to use that horrible word) “content” from indie developers is increasing.

We’re all at a very crowded party, so we have to speak more in order to get people to pay attention to us.  Again, this is great: I want to hear more from the people who are doing things which interest me.  Sometimes this is massively helpful: look at this great post about Fingle’s sales figures; that’s going to benefit a lot of developers as well as being interesting to a slightly more general audience.

One of the most important things to do on Twitter is post a lot; it doesn’t especially matter if your posts are boring.   Similarly Facebook.  I read a blog post by famous game streamer Destiny about how he established an audience…shock horror, it was all about doing things regularly.

Personality is important as well: people quote Jon Blow or Phil Fish a lot because they say out-there things which seem incredibly inflammatory.  This almost certainly has a net positive impact for them: being infamous certainly hasn’t caused them any problems so far.

Critical Mass

Also, sometimes it takes personal experience to give you a good understand of how things really work.

Last year, I changed the ending to Frozen Synapse for a limited period because I became fascinated by the idea of changing the end of a game’s story.  I mentioned it on Twitter and a few people encouraged me to do it, so I went ahead.  The action generated a fair amount of publicity, and  I wrote up the process and the responses to it here.

The inspiration behind this was the fan outcry to the ending of Mass Effect 3, but I had no intention of commenting on the rights or wrongs of that situation.

I was thinking about:

- The relationship fans have to an ending, especially in a game where very few people have actually seen an ending

- The idea of a creator vandalising his own work; I parodied my own ending, which I had never been entirely happy with

- The lack of comment on Frozen Synapse’s ending, which I thought would be quite inflammatory when writing it

Instead of anyone paying any attention to that, I was met with an amazing barrage of anger from Mass Effect fans.  It was difficult for me to understand the points they were trying to make, but they mostly revolved around being certain that I was either heavily supporting or heavily criticising Bioware.  I did a quick tally of the “pro” and “anti” Bioware responses and they came out roughly 50:50.

Ian told me recently that I had made “a massive misjudgment”, which was definitely true; I had no idea that taking inspiration from a popular issue would incite people to emphatically believe that I was making a moral judgement about it.

I’ve still never played Mass Effect 3 and don’t know all that much about the ending change beyond the fact that it was rumoured to be happening at one point: I wasn’t really interested in it.

I got significant personal hate mail for the first time in my life, much of which I documented in the post:  I was told to “eat a dick”; people wished bankruptcy upon me; people insulted my writing; people told me that this represented hatred towards my own customers; people told me that I was a “fucking moron” and that I was being culturally elitist.

I think I learned a few things from the experience:

- Emotion FIRST

As I get a little tiny bit more mature, I think the most important thing about how we communicate is the emotion we incite in someone else.  I talked to Nicholas Lovell on Twitter recently about a trait we both share: we argue a point incredibly strongly and dogmatically to incite counter-arguments; if the counter-arguments are good we think about them for a while and then back down if we were wrong.

This can work in certain contexts, but it’s often terrible communication; it just pisses people off.  Also, you can hold on to a point too long way past the time when you have obviously been proved wrong, and this is just bad behaviour.  I’d often struggle to see why people become defensive, irritated or upset by the way I was arguing – “if they were right then they’d just be able to prove me wrong; why are they upset – don’t they believe in their own points?”

Being right or clever often isn’t important relative to how you are communicating your points.

- Ad hominem

My changed ending made people angry; so they immediately became angry with me; they tried to say things that would deliberately hurt me.  I was very lucky that none of the comments personally upset me in any way; I can imagine someone in an analogous situation being put into a pretty bad state by that level of negative attention.  This is why we see so much crazy personalised hatred online: something pushes someone’s button and they go into ATTACK MODE.  They don’t attack the content because EMOTION FIRST: they are barely aware of the content.  They attack the person because it’s the most direct thing they can do to avoid engaging with the argument.  Most people are terrified of being wrong; this dodges that completely.

- There is no context

Of all the things that surprised me most (and I now consider that response pretty naive) was the lack of contextual awareness that people displayed.  Nobody saw the new ending in the context of the original one; I was basically TOLD that I was making a comment on something, and that interpretation had to be the exclusive one; I suppose the author really is dead…poor author.

Why am I banging on about this so much?  One major reason:

Control isn’t everything

I don’t really feel like it was a mistake to do it; while we received vocal negative attention, I feel like most people were aware that it was unreasonable and also about a relatively trivial topic (I mean “narrative” not “Mass Effect 3″ before anyone starts up in the comments!)  in the grand scheme of things.  If this had been about a more socially inflammatory issue, I think I would still be receiving internet hatred daggers to this day, despite not making any kind of emphatic statement about anything.  The reality of this is shocking.

Struggling to stay in control of your “message” too much will stop you doing anything at all.  When we started Mode 7, our policy was basically “say anything”; we then swung towards caution as soon as we realised the impact our words could have.  When one of your tweets shows up as a Eurogamer headline, you really start paying attention to hitting that little blue button in Tweetdeck.  I think this is a step too far; I think I have worried too much about entering conversations.

So, I want to see if it’s possible to be more open while still being aware of some of the issues I raised earlier.  Evolving how you talk in public is a subset of evolving how you relate to other people; I think this should be a life-long process and something which everyone takes seriously.

Sometimes, everyone will get it massively wrong : I’m certain I will do this personally at some point.  That’s just par for the course: if you have sane expectations of how people will react to you, your ability to express yourself properly should increase rather than being subject to a fear of doing something wrong.