Archive for the 'News' Category

Taking a Break

Friday, August 30th, 2013

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

Tuesday, August 20th, 2013

 

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

Tuesday, July 9th, 2013

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 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 that are seen in more computers and TVs now a days, with people even going for using TV wall mounts from sites as https://www.hotrate.com/electronics/best-tv-wall-mount/.  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. If you are going to program a game I recommend getting a good gaming desk before you have back pain for sitting in an uncomfortable place. 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

Tuesday, June 18th, 2013

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

Monday, May 27th, 2013

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.

What Mode 7 is working on right now!

Monday, May 27th, 2013

What Mode 7 is working on right now!

 

 

Frozen Synapse 2

The “open world tactics” sequel to 2011’s award-winning tactical masterpiece.  Check it out.

Stuff We’ve Done Before

Frozen Cortex (PC, Mac, Linux)

A simultaneous turn-based tactical game: think Speedball meets Blood Bowl.  Check it out on Steam!

Frozen Synapse (PC, Mac, Linux, iPad, iPhone, Android)

A simultaneous turn-based squad tactics game.  Multi-award winning et cetera.  Have a look!

We collaborated with Double 11 on Vita, PS3, PC and other versions of their reboot Frozen Synapse Prime as well.

Determinance (PC)

Super weirdo sword-fighting game where you swing the sword with the mouse.

Server Update

Thursday, May 23rd, 2013

Server Update

Hey guys.

Over the past six months we’ve been developing a brand new server.  Our old one was slow and required sharding and made things such as the two-week timeout very difficult.

We moved to our new server shortly before the iPad launch, and have been working around the clock to fix issues which have arisen from that. I was hoping for our first launch with zero server issues but we didn’t achieve that, and I’m really sorry about that.

Every day we’ve put up patches which have improved things, and I’m hoping that by the end of this week you guys will not be having any problems at all.

We will then immediately activate the two-week timeout.  I’m sorry that our communication hasn’t been better on this – problems with our servers has made it difficult for us to sort this out well enough in the past, and I’m aware that it’s a source of massive frustration for our most dedicated players.  You have my word that we will be fixing this issue this month, and that we will continue to do our best to deal better with people who do not finish their games.

Thanks for the support and the patience,

Ian

Server up again soon

Saturday, May 18th, 2013

Interim server solution will be up soon and we’ll return to the main issue tomorrow – sorry for this idiocy

Frozen Synapse Server Down Temporarily

Saturday, May 18th, 2013

The server needs to go down for a few hours while we fix a problem – really sorry – we tried very hard to avoid this. It will be back up ASAP.

Why Frozen Synapse Costs Money

Friday, May 17th, 2013

Why Frozen Synapse Costs Money

The inimitable Nicholas Lovell over at Gamesbrief has cast Frozen Synapse front-and-centre in the interminable debate between paid and F2P.

Check out his “Why I haven’t bought Frozen Synapse on the iPad for £4.99 yet”.

I think this pretty much sums it up:

I had to put more “risk” into the decision to download a paid game than a free game. I will feel more stupid if I don’t enjoy it than if the only cost to me was some all-you-can-eat bandwidth on my wifi.

Basically, his point is that it’s harder (for him) to make the choice to try a paid game than it is to try a free game.

Now, everyone loves bullet points, so here are some:

  • It’s a personal article about someone’s own preference and how that relates to a wider theme; it’s hyperbolic…because it’s written by Nicholas Lovell!   I’ll be responding in a similar way
  • This isn’t really about Frozen Synapse, as Nicholas told me.
  • We get on well and I’ve written for Gamesbrief before: this isn’t personal, so be nice if you comment or respond to him

Let’s talk about me now:

I find it harder to try a free-to-play game than I do to buy a paid one. Here’s why:

1. Most free-to-play games are still terrible

I constantly see free-to-play proponents claiming this isn’t the case (Nicholas is doing it on Twitter right now!)  but it’s still true for a certain audience.  And it’s not just the stereotypical “core” or “indie” audience who feel this way.

“No!” they will say.  “Have you tried [terrible core game]?”  It’s always an embarrassing conversation.

This is changing, but very very slowly: the prejudices are still valid.

Back to me again.  I like:

– Immersion which isn’t broken by payment prompts

– Thoughtful narrative (in single player)

– Exceptional aesthetics

– Skill-based gameplay and a complex multi-player meta-game (in multiplayer)

Many, many free-to-play games are designed for people who don’t give two hoots about all of that stuff and like putting things in lines, flicking little men inside buggies, or buying the shiniest gun with the best numbers next to it.  I still expect most free-to-play games I try to be terrible and I’m not often wrong.

Of course, it’s fine for things to be terrible, and such things often do well commerically.  Here’s Pitbull and Christina Aguilera to explain further:

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=5jlI4uzZGjU

Is this a snobby, elitist, smug opinion? Definitely.  Show me a single person who isn’t smug, snobby and elitist about their own taste.  I’m sure there are people who love that song, and that’s fine.  I…kind of love it.  Because it is terrible.

THIS IS DIGRESSION

2.  The ones that are not terrible make me dread their monetisation, fear for their future or write them off as an anomaly

I think this is a more interesting point.

I’ve played some League of Legends: it’s definitely a fun game with a rich multiplayer meta-game, although it’s not really my thing.  I don’t want to get to the point where I feel compelled to buy champions…that just doesn’t appeal to me.  I want to pay and forget that I’ve paid, not keep reaching for my wallet from time to time.  That, coupled with the crazy impenetrable maximalism of the rune system, and the fact that I don’t enjoy watching it streamed made me stop playing.

Obviously aesthetic-only microtransactions avoid this problem.

However, I don’t really think that small indie developers can take many meaningful lessons from either DOTA2 or Team Fortress 2…aside from “people actually do like aesthetic microtransactions in big communities”.  I believe free-to-play in core games works at a massive scale with a well known franchise; if you’re at the stage where you can viably consider it you’re probably doing pretty well for yourself anyway.  If we considered doing a free-to-play game in future, it’d probably be aesthetic-only and we’d be aiming for a huge audience.

So, I have “wallet dread”: I know that there will be some reason to keep me paying regularly while I’m playing and I just don’t want that.  It makes me concerned about the design of the game and often not even bother to try it.

When a free-to-play game doesn’t induce that feeling in me, I have concerns about its future.  There’s very little data available from devs about this still at the moment, so it’s hard to know whether that instinct is right or not.

By the way, if you’re a smaller developer making core F2P games, please release some data.  You’ll get a massive amount of press and it will help a lot of us to understand these things more.

I don’t think I’m alone with my wallet dread: a lot of people value their time more than they value money.  They want to pay to experience an unusual, unique game design that won’t harass them with tiny charges later on.  The game is up now: people understand that “free” doesn’t really exist.

Here’s another thing: sometimes I don’t want to be “retained”.  Designing for retention isn’t the Holy Grail: sometimes something is really fun for a short period of time, then not fun any more. I found this with Chivalry: I’m still glad I paid for it, but I probably won’t play it again.  That sort  of game is valid, both creatively and commercially: it can’t be free-to-play.

Frozen Synapse

Frozen Synapse is doing well on the App Store: it’s hit the benchmark that we wanted it to hit.

Nicholas said this wasn’t about Frozen Synapse but, of course, it sort of is.   I’ve said this many times before: if there was a way of making Frozen Synapse F2P in a way which wouldn’t compromise its design, we would think seriously about doing it.

There genuinely isn’t: it’s not possible.  It wouldn’t be Frozen Synapse if you started to do any of the things to it which would make for a successful free-to-play game.

For that reason, I’m glad Nicholas hasn’t bought it.  If the relationship you want with creators is that of being gently cajoled into paying while maintaining the illusion that you’re getting something for free, we’re not going to do that for you.  We’re going to say: “Look, here is something which we spent four years making that has a massive scope.  You can read what people say about it, watch videos of it, read user reviews, talk to members of the community and make one decision about its worth to you.”

We are being straight-up with you; that allows us to be straight-up in our design.  Frozen Synapse was supposed to be a clear, simple tactical game which allowed the user to do anything they wanted: that wasn’t perfectly achieved but that was the original motivation.

You don’t have to puzzle out just how we’re going to extract the next $2 from you: we made a deal and we’ll stick to it.  This isn’t the way to make the most money possible from a game, but it’s what we wanted to do.

In addition, once you’ve bought the game, if you like it and you want to spend more money on it, you can!  There’s a whole Red expansion pack to buy (coming soon to iPad by the way!).  This is completely optional: there is a huge amount to enjoy in the game without it.  I have no problem with games allowing their audience to pay more to get more stuff, by the way: I do think indies should take this into consideration more as well.

Finally, FS is a niche game, so it’s more expensive than some other games on the App Store: that’s how niches work, you often pay a little bit more for something that appeals more directly to you personally.

I’m sick of people telling me it “should” be free-to-play: I feel like this opinion is as daft as telling me to put a banging donk on it.

Where am I going with this? 

We will never, ever make a game where the payment model constrains the design.  If a design fits into free-to-play then we would definitely consider using it, but it’s not ever going to be an a priori creative limitation for us.  There will be no donks.

Every payment model has its disadvantages: pay-once can put some people off.  It’s hard to get the price right, and sometimes people aren’t able to try a game in a low-pressure way.

Design comes first for us: that’s why Frozen Synapse costs money.