Archive for January, 2007
Wednesday, January 31st, 2007
While waiting for GarageGames to QA Determinance I’ve been taking a mini-holiday, doing very little apart from drinking beer, ******* **** ** **-**********, watching Diagnosis Murder, and, um, playing Bridge. Here are a couple of subjects I wanted to briefly bring up though.
42 all-time classics
This DS game has got some deserved praise from Eurogamer, but I have a couple of problems. The first is a general one – I don’t like the presentation much, information boxes moving around the screen too fast in a NOT RELAXING manner. Forty of the forty-two games are done well. The other two games are Chess and Bridge. Now, I haven’t played the Chess game and I imagine they just bought a chess AI and it plays ok. I can’t comment. But the Bridge implementation is horrible – you can’t see who’s bid what, Dummy is placed in a ludicrous position on the screen, you don’t have the option to play for your (AI) partner when you’re Dummy, and the AI is absolutely terrible. Oh, and it doesn’t use proper Bridge scoring.
Including Chess is understandable – apart from anything else being able to play chess with someone else without a Chess set is worthwhile. But the Bridge AI is so terrible that the only possible use would be with four human players. And I do not think it’s more likely you’d have 4 DSes than you would a pack of cards.
Come on Omar Sharif – bring your excellent Bridge implementation, and your leering face, to the DS.
Eastside Hockey Manager cancelled due to piracy
I go for long periods of time forgetting that piracy actually fucks PC games very very badly. ESHM 2 sold too poorly to get another sequel because all of it’s fans pirated it instead of buying it. I can’t imagine ever pirating a game I love. Frankly, the fans are getting what they deserve, but the devs certainly are not.
Console manufacturers deny console price-drops until ten minutes before price is dropped
Some people get annoyed at the companies for lying to them, but honestly there is no alternative. It sucks for the guys who buy the console in the month before the price-drop, but I think it just has to happen.
Cut-scene sub-titles – worst videogame crime ever?
Sub-titles in cut scenes literally RUIN them for me. I just don’t understand why anyone would leave out the option to turn them off, and in fact not have them turned off by default. Obviously this is good for deaf people, but I just do not understand how people under-estimate the atmosphere-killing nature of reading sub-titles quicker than the line is spoken.
Tuesday, January 30th, 2007
Alex “Malakian” Hayes is a Mode 7 Games associate and one of Determinance’s lead testers. This is a picture of Uwe Boll, who is not him.
“It’s quite apparent nowadays that video games are in a different world from the prison of the 1983 Nintendo microchips, but apparently more and more of that world is being poked by the big screen. I’m not talking about the dimensions of the PSP nor Ian’s dear Uwe Boll here, but the fact that nowadays I seem to feel like I’m playing the latest Hollywood production before it’s a Hollywood production. I guess I should start by saying the two games I’ve completed most recently are Resident Evil 4 and Gears of War. At least one of these is new enough for me to be considered vaguely up to date.
Anyway, I enjoyed both of these games. They were both quite good. But they got me thinking about how these and many other modern games really are cinematic to a fault. In Gears of War you play an ex-soldier let off a prison sentence for desertion, as the planet’s impeding doom is quite plausible due to the masses of insectoid baddies climbing out of every gap every which way. Yeah, it could easily be a B movie premise. It plays and looks like one too, with every detail down to the sequel-inducing ending tailored to look like you’re making a considered effort to navigate the plot of Starship Troopers. This wasn’t cool by me. It had some darn fun multiplayer tactical elements, but moving from one side of the room to another didn’t have to look like one of Stallone’s final lunges when it’s completely empty. Resident evil 4 probably boasts the most pathetic little challenge: hit the right buttons when they flash during a cut scene. As you probably know or can guess, it’s going one of two ways anyway, and isn’t very satisfying when you know you’ve just let the cut scene carry on how it’s already planned out to be. It’s like making you pick yes or no to your character dying mid-cut scene, but making you do it very attentively.
A huge issue for me is that as the cinematic flavour has increased in video games, the change this seems to have brought hits their soundtracks as well. The eerie non-diegetic swells of horror movies, the electric guitar techno of right about when Vin Diesel starts to get really pissed off about something or other, chaotic horn arpeggios, or the wailing strings accompanying the loss of a great comrade – they are all here a lot, and they never seem to have any panache. One of the great things about Determinance’s soundtrack, in my right opinion, is that it manages to pull off an odd mix of quirky innovation (trance) with traditional gamey tunes and memorable loops. GoW and RE4 are both toting scores that could well be backing a film. Now there’s nothing wrong with this as such, but I personally think a games identity can be formed by the tunes. Creating atmosphere is one thing, I know, but Castlevania II on my fossilised NES had up-tempo tunes that were not only memorable, but perfectly captured my mood, which was readiness for killing some vampires (NB: especially ‘malkavian’ vampires.) and chewing some bubble gum. The lack of anything musically memorable really added the quality of dull. Phoenix Wright: Ace Attorney could teach a thing or two on that front.
The monotony of your enemies colour was also annoying practically, especially in Gears, as my good comrade and I were struggling to discern members of our squad from the alien scum from Hades. This was quite obviously an over-emphasis on the cinematic look of it. In a video game, I want to know who I’m ploughing down instantly by them being quite clearly part of a menacing green skinned horde. Instead, they are mostly looking like mercenary Goths. Commander keen never had to put up with this shit. Basically, I think often lately filmic conventions seem to be poking their heads up in video games quite a lot. I’m not sure I want to say this is a terrible thing, but I know that I would have liked these two games more had they not tried to make me think I was playing a movie. Can’t say I’d object to a convergence of the price tag, though.”
Tuesday, January 30th, 2007
This week we’ve got top Determinance-tester bloke Alex “Malakian” Hayes at the controls of the Monday Night Live machine. He’ll probably be popping up in some other form in the near future so stay tuned, and enjoy what he has to say.
Monday, January 29th, 2007
In case anyone’s wondering what’s happening with that Determinance thing, it’s in final QA testing at our distributors. You should be able to buy it very very soon.
Tuesday, January 23rd, 2007
We have another guest MNL this week – a big Mode 7 hello to Shawn from Starwraith 3D Games. Check out his post below.
Tuesday, January 23rd, 2007
Shawn Bower is the Lead Developer at Starwraith 3D Games, a company dedicated to the indie development of distinctive space-combat sims. In his own words, it is “primarily the effort of one person who enjoys the space combat genre and wants to help keep the game theme alive by creating unique and enjoyable first person perspective 3D space games.”
I’m often asked about what independent development means and why I make my games with the design philosophy I do. My games don’t really fall into the casual category common to independent developers. They also don’t really fall into the mainstream category given the market I design for and features I include. By most accounts, my games generally fall somewhere in the middle where both casual players and more mainstream gamers can find some common ground if they share an interest in space games. This result is largely due to the design approach I use, which provides elements both types of gamers can appreciate and enjoy, while avoiding the drawbacks that risk alienating one or the other. In this article, I’ll cover some of the basics of my approach to game design to elaborate on why I use such a system and how it’s implemented.
First, I only release games that I intend to continue working on for a long time. The design and features of my games are dynamic, constantly adapting and changing to accommodate the requests I receive from players. Most games in the mainstream are released, then at best receive a few patches to fix problems. My games generally receive major updates for years after their release, which add new features, graphics, and gameplay. This is a quality not a lot of mainstream gamers are accustomed to and many seem surprised to discover that a game of mine might receive a complete graphics overall just a year after it’s released (with the update being free to players who bought the original version). Because of such updates, my games are set apart from the mainstream, yet provide a benefit mainstream gamers can appreciate. And they can enjoy this benefit without having to pay a monthly subscription fee or running a persistent background update application. It’s one of the advantages an independent developer can provide that the benefits of digital delivery can help facilitate.
I also provide a user-friendly delivery and copy protection system that gives the customer control over how the game they paid for is backed up. It also lets them enjoy the game without having to perform constant disc/key checks. If they lose their copy of the game, they can simply download it again (free) from a number of locations. Using extensive compression methods, the download size is kept to a minimum, providing some of the fastest delivery times available. No download insurance charges, no time-limited download links, no dependence on discs that can be lost or damaged, no monthly fees to maintain a membership for re-downloading. My games can also be backed up to CD or DVD for additional backup protection. Getting the best of both options is what I prefer and it lets the player control how their copy is backed up. I believe independent developers can further distinguish themselves from the mainstream by providing better content management options for gamers. When gamers are in control of how their software is backed up, stored, and played, they receive a unique quality that’s not available from either the mainstream download or ‘paper box and disc’ markets.
One of my design objectives is to provide broad compatibility balanced with graphics and effects. As a developer, you have to ask yourself, how many people do you NOT want to sell your game to? That is, how much of your market do you want to cut out? High system requirements will reduce your market potential and the effects will vary depending on which market you are going for. On the other hand, you also have to ask yourself just how many more sales are high end graphics/effects going to get you. Are they worth it in relation to the sales you’ll lose over the high system requirements necessary to include them. If you are trying to encourage players to buy your game before they pay (using a free demo), then you will need your game to run on the largest group of systems possible. And keep in mind, you are not your customer. Just because you would install system updates to play a game doesn’t mean your customers will. It’s usually best to try to avoid a situation where most people downloading your game just uninstall it because it didn’t work the first time they tried it (research suggests this is a very common occurrence). Every time that happens, that’s a potential lost sale. So if you plan to have fairly high requirements, make sure they don’t hurt potential sales for your market and the effects offset the reduction in your target market to justify their use. Otherwise, don’t be surprised at your results. I continually monitor the average system configuration used to play my games, then improve graphics and special effects based on the results. A large portion of my user base is ignored by big budget retail companies. Many have a system that might be 2 or 3 years old that doesn’t have a cutting edge $400+ video card and high speed CPU. Many are also laptop users with little or no upgrade path, and they don’t want to buy an entirely new laptop just to play a game.
With a combination of flexible content control, fast and easy digital delivery, direct developer support, broad compatibility, and continuous game development, independent developers can provide a unique set of benefits not often found with other gaming markets. You could even say that providing such benefits might be one way gaming can grow and thrive on the one platform that provides freely open development.
Sunday, January 21st, 2007
I’m sure it’ll end up being terrible, but this screenshot actually makes me want to play this new Turtles game.
Saturday, January 20th, 2007
Craig Pearson previews Stalker again in this month’s Gamer – very positively too.
I’m getting pretty excited about Stalker. As I mentioned before, I really hope that the gun combat is good, because everything else is looking fantastic. It’s been a while since we had an epic PC release… Stalker could be the next one.
Friday, January 19th, 2007
Release Candidate 3 is in our distributor’s and testers’ hands – it may be the one. I’m organising a big test this sunday, be there if you can.
Tuesday, January 16th, 2007
This week’s Monday Night Live guestblogger is Peter Stock, developer of the wonderful physics-based indie puzzle game Armadillo Run.
Indie developers are pretty much all small fry in the big picture, but they can play this position to their advantage rather than let it be a shortcoming. By small fry, I mean that they typically have small teams and budgets. There’s the possibility that work is done in people’s spare time and it’s unlikely that they have access to console development kits. In contrast, mainstream development is comparatively flushed with money. So how can this situation be played to the best advantage for the indie? By avoiding going up against the big fish on equal terms.
People complain all the time about how games are all the same and publishers shun risk to fund games that conform to established genres. I didn’t pay much attention in Business Studies, but I do remember the bit about niche markets – even if a market’s small, if you’re the only one satisfying it then you’re in a good position. So the astute indie developer should consider the potential competition for their next game idea and choose something else if the market’s already well catered for. It’s particularly bad if there are games that already offer everything yours will (or more, and better), effectively making your game redundant before it’s released.
In addition, games that require a lot of time and/or money to develop are best avoided by the first-time indie developer. So an FPS, RPG or MMOG might not be the best place to start.
So where are the best places to explore the market? Although I’ve said that a game needs to have something unique to set it apart, it doesn’t have to be totally new – indeed, some familiar elements are desirable, since it gives players an immediate point of reference. So a novel twist on an existing idea might be all that’s needed – Determinance introduces a novel control scheme to the well-established fighting genre and Armadillo Run (my first game) has been described as a combination of Bridge Builder and The Incredible Machine.
The main advantages an independent developer has are scale and control. Being small allows them to exist by appealing to markets too small to interest the larger operations (10,000 sales would be great for many indies, but wouldn’t be enough to cover the costs of a mainstream title) and having total control over their work gives a lot of freedom to indie developers. The IGF competition, the Indie Game Jam and the Experimental Gameplay Workshop have shown some amazing ideas that would be unlikely to be made by mainstream developers. I accept that they might not all make commercially successful games, but they show how much can be done outside the boundaries of cookie-cutter game design.
So all I’m suggesting is a bit of common sense. I love Gran Turismo, but I’d be mad if I tried to make a game like that and expected it to sell – there’s too much competition, and the existing games are just too good, apart from the fact that it would be far too much work.
We can get away with less as long as it’s different. And to be honest, we have to settle for making ‘less’ in comparison to mainstream game budgets. So we have to be different.