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3:09 AM on 01.04.2013

Us and the Game Industry: an other look at the indie scene

Let me preface this a bit. This is an article I wrote last year after E3 and Indie Game: The Movie just had come out. Another film I was following had set out to tell a story about the indie scene, so I interviewed some of the people that appear in it and the director. I also asked the indie devs about their thoughts on E3 and some other topics. Never got to publish it so I really hope you like it!



With Indie Game: The Movie just out, it’s easy to forget about the other white meat.

Us and the Game Industry, funded on Kickstarter back in March, followed a handful of independent game makers over the course of three years. Produced and directed by Stephanie Beth, it had a simple objective: tell their stories and be “in the moment” as they create.
“I think that people are excited to be expressing themselves,” Beth told me over the phone, “and I think that people are having a great time using the internet to construct - and a game is a construction.”

I asked her if she was a gamer. “I’m a mother of a computer gamer and a concept artist. Before my son established himself, he was working out of our back office at home. Around 2007/2008, after he had had success for a little thing he drew for a company on Kongregate, he started showing me how the DIY (Do It Yourself) explosion was occurring. I realized that I could get a handle on game development from the point of view of individuals as opposed to companies. [...] I’ve always approached this as a filmmaker, not as a fan.”

Such a refreshing perspective might just be what we need. Coming in from the outside, I wonder if she had initial thoughts that got challenged as she made the movie. “I had preconceived notions that there would be a possible gap of perception between the science and the art, I was curious about that. How much does engineering carry the day and how much the aesthetic suddenly become generously foregrounded. I’d like to think that’s what a lot of my film is about.”



Indie Game: The Movie showed a lot of the hardship and pressure that can result from the completion of a game. Would Us and the Game Industry also show that darker side of the creative process? “I haven’t got those types of dramatic highs in the lives of the people in the film. It’s a film really where people are working quite regularly, and quite secure you might say in their process. It’s informative. You get an insight into their world, in such a way that some people may wish to become game developers, because this is the big question: how many people do want to be? That’s often the question when you have a new film coming into the culture. [...] I do have some of those personal management discussions that sometimes come up to give insight into the enjoyment of the long working process over a project.”

I inquired about a release date. “We’re still working on which festival to apply for based on when we get final cut.” She assured me it was a 2012 film and to look forward to it.

The independent scene has been at the forefront of innovation and taking risks. It has evolved and grown tremendously over the past years, to become a movement that ironically isn’t underground but has a sense of its own identity. Indie studios are often at the forefront of innovative ideas and gameplay. They take risks, they don’t hesitate to be different, and many are rewarded for it. Platforms like Steam, Humble Bundle and Good Old Games have provided an audience for titles made with a smaller team and budget, skyrocketing some to financial and critical success. I decided to talk to some of the developers in the film.

Jason Rohrer, creator of Passage and Inside a Star-filled Sky among other things, has been making games since 2005. “The market and the ability for creators to actually make a living by making independent games, that has changed dramatically over the past four years.” He has been a part of this ever changing landscape. “I think the audience has evolved to the point where it’s very comfortable buying an independent game.”



Douglas Wilson is the maker of the non-video video game Johann Sebastian Joust, where players holding a Move controller must eliminate each other by touching the other’s device, while moving to the rhythm of Johann Sebastian Bach’s music. He came onto the scene in 2007 and wholeheartedly agrees with Jason. “I think the last few years have been particularly exciting. [...] What you’ve seen in a lot of cities is really local culture. Rather than more of an internet based scene, you see [...] lots of game collectives and groups organizing public meet ups, and game parties and exhibitions. You’ve also seen indies embrace multiplayer a little bit more than before, than they used to. No longer is it just single player platformer games. Now you’re getting all these kinds of crazy multiplayer games that bring people together. If I had done Joust a few years earlier, it would have been harder for me to gain traction showing it around, because that game really does best in public.”

As E3 happened a few weeks ago, I asked Jason and Douglas what they thought of the biggest video game trade show in the world.

“Right now, all of the most interesting work in the games that are worth playing are being made outside of the traditional triple-A studio system,” Jason Rohrer told me with confidence. “When I look at what was going on at E3 and the games that are being announced there, every single one is like a third or fourth sequel in a series. No new ideas, nothing. And even the few sort of new ideas that are there, that aren’t sequels, are very derivative in terms of other games that have been out before.”

The recurring theme of E3 seemed to be the overt presence of violence. “Some of the things I saw, some of the trailers I watched shocked me in terms of how quickly they rolled out the extreme, disturbing violence. People’s throats being slit, and other kinds of person to person direct physical violence that’s meant to provoke and disturb you. The audience would cheer when that stuff would happen.” He paused. “It seemed very strange to me, made me feel sick.”



Rohrer isn’t against all video game violence. Just as some films use violence to have an effect, he believes game violence can achieve something. But in this case he felt sick to the point of not wanting to play the games and his sentiment was echoed as publications criticized the hyper violence following E3.

“Games have traditionally been a celebration of violence [...] but not realistic violence. Now it’s not violence at a distance where you shoot somebody from far away and they kind of crumple over and you run away and shoot somebody else. This is like somebody being surprised and all of a sudden having your throat slit.”

I asked him what he thought of Nintendo’s showing. He admitted not having seen the Wii U and its line up, but suggested it was just the other extreme. “They get rid of the violence, but they also get rid of any sort of sophistication. The alternative to a Quentin Tarantino movie is not necessarily My Little Pony. We can have things that are interesting and sophisticated and not have disturbing violence.”

Douglas Wilson, while also being exasperated by the violence, had a different take on the Electronic Entertainment Expo and the mainstream industry at large. “It is somewhat of a tipping point. [...] Mainstream media is starting to speak out finally, at least more than I’ve ever seen before. It’s in the water, just as a developer and a fan of games, I’m reading more about these issues. That’s encouraging. I do think that the media coverage shows that something is changing. I think the triple-A industry and the main three consoles are facing some challenges going forward.” He mentioned Steam, and the iOS platform as tough competition looking at the future. “It seems this exclusive focus on violent first person shooters is a little out of touch with where gaming is going.”

“Someone made a nice point, I think it was in Kris Graft’s editorial [of Gamasutra] that some of these games aren’t even as violent as the marketing makes them out to be. Some of them use violence in kind of a nice way but the marketing hones on that and focuses only on that.”



Did E3 feel relevant to him at all? The answer was a surprising yes. “As indies, it’s often nice to develop in reaction to a trend, to try and do something different. It is relevant, but there are other events that are more relevant to me as an indie, like Indiecade which is every October in Los Angeles. Even though that’s not really a commercial event, it’s more a showcase of these really great games independent creators are working on.”

I asked him if the lack of hyper violence in indie games was a response to the very popular trend in mainstream development. “Indie developers tend to have the luxury of being a little bit more political and ideological about what they design. That said I think there are a few indies who make ultra violent games, almost as a satire, and I think that’s great. It’s not that violence in games is bad, it depends on how you frame the violence, why are you using the violence, to what end.”

His stance isn’t categorically pro indie however. I mentioned how independent titles seem to have a better convergence of story and gameplay (citing Passage and Braid as examples), in a way that triple-A gets criticized for either not doing or rarely doing well.



“I don’t agree that indie games are necessarily doing a better job. Games like Braid and Passage are one attempt, and that’s nice, but [...] in terms of traditional storytelling, I’d argue that indie games have not been exploring good writing. For a lot of practical reasons, indie games tend to be more mechanics focused. There’s this ideology that story and games should be somehow beautifully melded into one perfect whole, and that mechanics is what makes games unique so we should be exploring that. To me that’s all a bunch of bullshit. There are all this other beautiful art forms: writing, visuals, music. These are all part of games. Games aren’t just systems and rules, they’re these really complex multimedia things. I think sometimes indies have this ideology when you look at Passage and Braid, that’s the way that games should be made because that’s what the essence of games is. I think that’s really constraining. There is this reaction because people got bored of triple-A games that have a lot of in game cinematics. I think it’s problematic when indie games start claiming that that’s the right way to do it. To me it’s a diversity argument. I think triple-A sports games are one really compelling example, [...] how a lot of these sports games have a nicely built in player narrative.” He concluded with “It’s a different type of innovation.”

Even the most innovative games need funding however and it seems like, for the past few months, Kickstarter has been a nexus for independent developers and studios, with budget records being broken regularly.

Jenova Chen co founder of thatgamecompany, the team behind FlOw, Flower and the critically acclaimed Journey, had a very blunt opinion about the crowdfunding platform. “David Jaffe was saying it’s a dick measuring contest, who has the bigger dick basically.” Chen agreed with Chaffe’s take. “You’re probably not going to raise as much money as Tim Schafer. And then Wasteland 2 happened.”

Brian Fargo’s kickstarter for Wasteland 2 raised $2,933,252 while Tim Schafer’s project got $3,336,371. “Every game we make, at the beginning we don’t even know what the game is going to be, because we try to push the envelope, we try to make something new. If we don’t even know what that game is, how can we describe it to the audience. And we have the funding to make it, so it’s not a really good story for Kickstarter.” (Our phone interview took place in March, well before thatgamecompany announced a $5.5M fund from Benchmark Capital to make their next titles.)



Kickstarter and online distribution seem to go hand in hand these days, with many of these projects promising a release on Steam. EA’s platform Origin had just announced it would be waiving distribution fees of crowd funded games for 90 days, in a clear attempt to boost its indie catalog, and declared Wasteland 2 would be on it. Jason Rohrer admitted he had heard of Origin some time ago but had no clue the service was up and running. “It’s clearly not making any kinds of ripples in my world.”

“[Steam] is a force to be reckoned with in terms of anybody who’s trying to get onto the PC. There are all these other portals out there, and if you put your game on any of those portals, you will literally not sell any substantial amount of games. You might sell five. I’ve had my games on a couple of other portals and sold almost nothing. I’ve talked to other people, even well known established games, and they say it’s not even worth doing. They just don’t have any audience. Nobody’s spending money there.”

“Really?” I said surprised. He mentioned Direct2Drive and GamersGate as examples, where people got talked into putting their games on those platforms, his included, and never got much out of them.

“Steam has been the only one who’s ever been worth doing at all. All those portals have a minimum: you have to get your balance up to a certain level before they’ll send you a check. In any of the portals I’m in, I’ve never gotten up to that minimum. Except Steam. I’ve sold a few copies here and there, but never enough to make any money out of it.

Does it end up being detrimental to his games? “No, it doesn’t really matter. It taught me that I shouldn’t waste time. It does take time and effort and energy to get your game ready and bundled and ready to go and tested on portal. [...] Over time I’ve learned to just say no to all of them because it’s just not worth the time.”

Steam has clearly been a resounding success with gamers and game makers. “A lot of these platforms are much less discriminating in terms of what games they allow on their platform. I had another game a year and a half ago that Steam would just not accept. A year ago I had a game that they finally would accept, and it took a lot of energy and effort on my part to get them and convince them to put my game on Steam and allow it to be there.”



He’s talking about Inside a Star-filled Sky. “Because of that, they only have one or two games coming out each day. And when your game comes out on Steam, it’s at the top of the list for a whole day and everybody sees it. Everybody gets the chance to see the game, hear about it and so on. [...] They schedule your release date so that none of the other games are released that day. You have to negotiate a release date with them and they’ll say ‘No no, this big game is coming out on Monday you can’t release that day. We have this big sale on Tuesday so you can’t release that day. Oh maybe we can squeeze you in on Thursday.’ They really try to find the time for your game where you’re going to have a little bit of a spotlight. [...] I wouldn’t release on the iOS platform either, it’s just as much as a crap chute. You’re pretty much guaranteed not to make nothing if you release on Steam.”

You could argue that Joust isn’t really a video game or thatgamecompany isn’t really indie. The movie tries to figure out what it means to not rely on the big publishers and make games as an individual.

“The film expresses some of those inherent tensions between the independent and the idea of the industry, because it is a conflict that every individual needs to work out, in order to work and be a happy person.” Beth told me at the end of our interview. “If you choose a profession you have to figure out how to sustain yourself.”

It seems like there’s never been a better time to explore that than ever before.



PS: Wanna see some crazy Japanese games? Check out my favorites of Comiket 83!   read


1:14 PM on 01.03.2013

Comiket 83: my favorite games

I posted this on Japanator but since it's about games, might as well post it here too.

Comiket is the world's largest self-published comic book fair, held twice a year in Tokyo, Japan. It's not just about books though, but also music and dojin soft: fan made games either derivative of existing franchises or sometimes completely new.

Comiket 83 just happened and boy are some of the games this year awesome. It's the first year where I'm really paying attention to the music and the games that came out of it, and I'm loving what I'm seeing. Lots of Touhou games as usual, but some original content came out too! Here are some of my favorites.

It's about to get confusing, crazy, and totally Japanese. Brace yourself. And if anything, the last trailer is awesome.

Phantasmal Summoners


It's a Next Saga clone with a Pokemon like twist and Touhou characters. You explore dungeons and battle monsters. Sometimes you'll capture the monsters that you can then summon in battle with you. You also find cards in chests to boost your party's stats. I can't tell you what's happening storywise since I can't read Japanese, but the gameplay is a lot of fun to discover and the visuals are nice.

Trailer:

Magical Battle Festa


I haven't tried that one yet and I'm not even a fan of magical girl anime, but a quick look at the screens had me hooked. It looks like a crazy amount of fun and they seemed to have pulled off the feel of epic magical fights in the air! It's running on the same engine as Touhou Sky Arena which I liked a lot. I hope it has an online component.

Trailer:

Astebreed


This one I've played and man oh man it's so awesome. It's a highly stylized schmup in 3D, it looks beautiful and a must for any action fan, whether mech or otherwise. What is really amazing about this game is that the perspective keeps changing. It's not just top down, it switches from time to time and you're never bored. Only the demo's out for now. I can't wait for this one!

Trailer:

SHINSEIKI GPX CYBER FORMULA SIN DREI PLUS


A racing game if it had been touched by an anime angel. I'm not crazy excited about this one but I am very curious. It's the expansion to a game to a sequel to a game released at Comiket in 2004 by fans of the original. Japanese fans really are the most passionate huh?

Trailer (it's not Youtube so I can't embed it): http://www.project-ynp.com/product/cf/trailer/trailer.html

Touhou 13.5 Hopeless Masquerade Demo


The new Touhou fighter from Tasofro (Twilight Frontier). This time, the characters constantly fly. The 2D animations are gorgeous and the music kind of catchy. Three characters are available in the demo: Reimu, Marisa, and Ichirin, along with two stages. I'm not a big fan of fighters but I had a lot of fun playing this one.

Trailer:

LAST BUT NOT LEAST

NEO AQUARIUM II: ACE OF SEAFOOD



No comment. Except to say that I want it.   read


10:39 AM on 07.22.2012

Hero is a llama. His girlfriend gets kidnapped by a pony disguised as a horse!



WARNING: Post that has nothing to do with video games and shameless promotion incoming :P

Hello awesome Dtoid community peeps!

I wrote a short book not long ago called The Llama Space Tale and it's free right now on Amazon so, like, go get it! I figured it was okay to post about it since it's free. It's available as an ebook but it's not very long, so reading it on your computer screen won't be overkill if you don't have a Kindle or tablet, or don't like reading on your phone.

http://www.amazon.com/The-Llama-Space-Tale-ebook/dp/B007VWHFRQ/ref=sr_1_1?ie=UTF8&qid=1342970044&sr=8-1&keywords=the+llama+space+tale

It's about a llama named Hero. He lived a happy life on Sunny Sunshine Shoe when his girlfriend Plan was kidnapped by The Comet, a pony disguised as a horse. He then launches into space after them, to rescue his lover.

I've been told it's kind of crazy, but I'll let you be the judge of that. Hope you like it! NOW GO GET IT.

PS: Condors and a tiger are also involved.   read


3:27 PM on 04.04.2012

Dreaming: Choice, Destiny, and Alternate Realities



Each time I have to make a choice, I freeze. I start thinking about all the repercussions it will have, but also what would happen if I had picked a different option. We are shaped by our choices, and I'll be damned if I end up being defined by wrong ones. A small part of me believes in destiny, not in the sense that all I do was meant to happen, no. I do believe in freedom of choice, still I like to think that in the greater scheme of things, our choices lead us to our destiny. It may sound contradictory, but it makes sense in my mind.



Each time I have to make a choice nowadays, I flip a coin or roll a dice. Why? Because I create universes. In one of those alternate worlds, I chose the other option, I walked on a different path, I went the other way. By rolling a dice or flipping a coin, I essentially guarantee to choose everything while experiencing one thing. So what I failed in this version of myself? Out there exists another me, or multiple other mes, and one of them at least succeeded. Even if it was not me, it was still me. I may not have seen it, but it happened somewhere.

The concept of choice creating new worlds is something I find very interesting. More than that, the concept of exploring multiple retelling of the same story through multiple eyes, or living the same story with one different choice that engages us in a different narrative, are both things I wish we would see more of in video games. It's more than an a choice in Mass Effect that comes back two games later. That's not enough for me. I want a choice that changes the game.



Imagine this: you are part of a group of people sent on a planet to uncover an alien artifact. Pretty standard stuff. You find it, and realize it controls time and space. Everyone on your team has baggage, has a dark past that they wish they could change, so you use the artifact to go back in time and change one thing per team mate's life that they wish they could change, and explore the consequences. Or you could decide to go back to before you got the mission and try to learn why they sent you to get this. You could also go to the future and see how things changed after you brought it back. The catch is you can only make one choice per playthrough. A new playthrough would mean a new choice, and each team mate's life could be a very different genre too. The badass soldier's could be an FPS, the weird scientist's could be a puzzle game, the young assistant's could be an RPG, the main character's could be a horror game, and the old cook's could be a racing game from his past glory days. So many possibilities.

There are so many ways that one could use the concept of destiny, time travel and choice to produce brand new experiences. All we need are developers ready to do it, and publishers willing to take risks. That or Kickstarter.   read


2:02 PM on 03.29.2012

Why do I love you? Will I still love you?



There are few games that push all my buttons. I have a long list of video games I absolutely love but if contrasted with the number of video games I have played in my life, I think it would paint a very interesting picture of my habits.

I sometimes ask myself why I love some of the games I do, because they aren't always exactly popular with everyone else. Some are, some are not. Here's a quick run down of a few of them:

Final Fantasy VIII

It was one of my first Playstation games. It was my first serious game, my first RPG too: Those could be the reasons why I was blown away by it, but even today I can still play it all and love every second. I don't even think the game has aged badly.
Another reason is I could relate to Squall. He kept to himself, he wasn't exactly the stereotypical character that just jumps into battle sword in hand. He felt real to me.


Mirror's Edge

This is a game I had in my head for so long. I remember the day I saw a teaser for it online and my heart started racing: someone somewhere had scanned my brain and made it! I was so excited. It's the only game I bought three times, and one of my favorite just because it has one thing central to it: you run. You start the game and you run. You jump, you slide, you escape bullets, some platforming, but the main goal is to run. To keep running forward. And that's all you wanna do sometimes: run from everything and everyone until you stop, breathless, and smile.



Prototype


This is an odd one to many because it's not exactly deep or innovative or beautiful. It had one thing though: it made me feel free. I have never felt so free in a video game before. Running on the side of a building, jumping from the top and feeling the air go through your hair and clothes as you fall to the ground? It did that. And that's all I wanted:

Dead Space

That game terrified me. I would play it alone in my room in the dark at night, and it scared me so much I had to pause sometimes just to breath! When the music started ramping up for no reason I had to mute it sometimes. I would take breaks and watch something silly and happy on Disney Channel before going back into it. I love horror games and this is one of my favorites. Sure I played Silent Hill 2 and liked it too, but it did not scare me as much as Dead Space. Just a personal thing I guess.

The Saboteur

The artstyle blew me away. The soundtrack was amazing. The gameplay was solid. The city and its surroundings had a great atmosphere to them. The only game I nearly Platinum-ed on the PS3. We just clicked for some reason.

Just Cause 2

Just cause. Again, the sensation of freedom in this game even surpassed Prototype. Probably the game I played the most. If you have it on the PC, definitely try the Superman Mod: the game just got even crazier:



Rayman Origins

I'm not going to lie and say something like my life is hard, or I have it rough. Because objectively speaking I don't, I shouldn't have to complain. It doesn't take way from the fact that sometimes I feel sad, I feel down, I wanna be alone. This game? It's pure happiness. It's concentrated joy. Everything from the soundtrack to the gameplay, the incredible hand drawn art, the level design, the noises. If a game was ever the representation of a smile, this one would be it. In a market crowded with violence, and so many violent games are on this list, this game is refreshing.

Final note

My tastes in games are slowly shifting towards ones with a lower body count. It may not look that way with this list, but I'm starting to get sick of killing, destroying, and other variations of the mechanic. Whether it's Mario or Call of Duty, a big part of the gameplay is ending something or someone. "Well what would you do for fun" is something you could be asking.

Journey is an example of a game that I personally found fun and that did not involve destruction. I think of upcoming games like I Am Alive and I get excited. I remember Deus Ex Human Revolution, a game you could play entirely without killing someone (which I did and it was great) and still enjoy yourself. Think of Rythm Heaven or Animal Crossing. I've heard from a couple of people that you don't have to participate in combat in the latest Silent Hill game (Downpour). You do not have to kill or destroy to have fun. Games can be much more than that, just like movies and books are not limited to one type of story.



All I could think about when playing Uncharted 3 was how many people I had killed throughout the adventure. It doesn't have to always be about that, and I sure hope we see more titles that do something else while having strong stories and gameplay mechanics.


If you have made it through, I'd like to ask you two questions. One: can you share a name of a game you love, that's not necessarily viewed by others as especially great, and why. Two: what game that does not involve killing, destroying, have you played and enjoyed?   read


1:09 PM on 03.13.2012

Phil Harrison's move: a bright future for Microsoft?



Microsoft announced today that Phil Harrison would be joining the company, taking the role of Head of Microsoft Games Studios Europe, overseeing studios like Lionhead Studios and Rare, and effectively replacing Peter Molyneux (Microsoft officially denies it, saying Molyneux's position is still vacant). Phil Spencer, corporate vice president at Microsoft Studios, said "[Harrison] is one of video gaming's true visionaries, and his experience overseeing global studios and deep industry relationships make him the ideal person to lead our European efforts. Under his leadership, we look forward to continuing cultivating the best talent and growing our business in the region"ť. You are probably thinking it's just PR talk. Not really. This is actually a big deal.

Let's back up a little though, in case you don't know who Phil Harrison is. Remember the Rubber Ducks video from E3 2005, showcasing the amazing things the PS3 could do? He was the guy on stage who introduced it. He was a game designer and graphic artist in the UK in his early career, then moved on to be the head of development for Mindscape International in the early nineties. In 1992 he joined Sony and has been a part of the launch of the PlayStation and its successors. "When we launched PlayStation we really had no idea we'd be talking about an industry that would more than triple in size and reach a 3rd of US homes so quickly."Harrison said in a Q&A on Slashdot.



In 2005 he became President of the Sony Computer Entertainment Worldwide Studios, where he was responsible for game studios across the globe, including Polyphony, Naughty Dog, Media Molecule etc, with a team of 2,500 people and fourteen studios. "This is the man who championed SingStar into existence. And EyeToy. And Killzone. And took a bet on LittleBigPlanet when it was just sketches on paper." develop's Editor In Chief Michael French says in his post about the move. Calling him the Steve Jobs of gaming might be pushing it, but he is up there with the forward thinkers of the gaming industry.

He left Sony in 2008 and had leadership positions at Infogrames, Atari, and Gaikai the cloud-based gaming service in 2010. It has been a while since he has managed gaming studios, which gives interesting prospects to the future of Microsoft. He was obviously hired for his vision, but it remains to be seen if they will influence the company's future projects or if the corporation will change him. I honestly doubt it but you never know: Sony and Microsoft have two very different environments.


Harrison showing off Home at GDC 2007

He always expressed interesting views however, on how social games, mobile platforms and internet browsers will be at the core of how we play in the future, or how the next generation could be disc less.
“There is no doubt in my mind that there is a generation of kids already alive that will never buy physical media." he says speaking to Develop ). "[...]The games industry has to wake up to that or it will watch its current business model dwindle and die."
"The games industry is addicted to retail revenues. They feed the entire machine and it makes the whole product planning process revolve around delivering a disc in a box in Q4. And then repeat. We have to step off that treadmill. Every boardroom in the industry is struggling with this."

He is a man who gets it, and Microsoft needs someone like him to have a shot at being the leader of the next generation. With the Kinect, a clear stab at the casual market the Wii dominates, and the last update to the Xbox pushing content straight to the console, it clearly wants the 360 to be the main entertainment device of your home. It feels like Harrison was brought on to give a "Sony" edge to the multi faceted company, and effectively turning it into the powerhouse of the next generation. Success in achieving that goal remains to be seen, but on thing is for sure: hiring Phil Harrison paints a very interesting picture of Microsoft's future.

The battle for tomorrow? It started yesterday.

  read


5:59 PM on 03.10.2012

Take a Deep Breath: a Personal and Random Mass Effect 3 opinion piece

There comes a time in a Man's life (and by Man I mean man, woman or other; my uncle had a cat who was pretty darn good at Pong) where he has to stand up for his rights. There comes a time where you will not stand for injustice and evil.

There also is a time where you need to sit down and think for a second. Most of the times are like that: not every situation needs a revolution. The other person is not always the problem.

Enter Mass Effect 3. A game like few others. A game made by passionate people, packed with content longer than most out today and the conclusion to a trilogy of other very well made games. I'm not even a fan of the series, I don't really like the games, yet I can recognize a "good" game, a well made game when I see one. Mass Effect 3 is one of those. Yes it has issues, yes it's not perfect, but it is not a bad game. That's not what a bunch of you seem to be thinking though.

Some people have decided that the game should be judged on outside factors. They don't like EA. EA is "ruining Bioware". They forced them to make the multiplayer content, detracting from the main single player campaign, which is the heart of the experience. The game has an online pass. The game has day one DLC. Except those claims, whether true or not, whether there are proofs to those allegations or not, should not be factors when judging the game.



Let's focus on the game. On. The. Game. (that style of formatting a sentence is so tacky. Is it supposed to reinforce the point you are making? It really just makes you look condescending. Stop doing it)

Is the game bad? Is the game short, compared to the others? Did it not expand on the characters you know and love? Did it not make you feel for the universe?

Was it Kane and Lynch 2? Oh it was not Kane and Lynch 2? Then please stop talking down a game based on things that don't really have anything to do with the game, like I just did with Kane and Lynch 2. It's annoying and stupid and you should take a deep breath.

You really should, because Bioware is not turning evil, the game is not bad, and if the DLC had come in a year, guess what: you probably would either have gotten it or not. And you still have both of those options.

Take a deep breath, shut down the internet, pop in your copy of Mass Effect 3, and just play it. You, the game, nothing else.

See you later.

PS: God how I hate those "oh I'm so cool I end my post with a quick short sentence because i'm so cool" endings. Adios amigos.   read


9:37 AM on 10.02.2011

Ico: All Style No Substance



The Disillusion of Ico?
Ico is one of those classic games a lot of gamers missed. Whether it was because of a lack of Sony consoles, or just never hearing about it, chances are you haven't played it. I could only welcome the initiative of re releasing two games regarded by some as the best in the world, and in HD no less! Gamers everywhere rejoiced, and so did I.

But then I played the game.

There is nothing fun about the game. It is essentially a glorified fetch quest, with a very annoying AI that does not always do what you ask her to do. The controls are clunky and inaccurate. I have so many stories of the boy deciding to jump where I did not tell him to jump, falling and dying, only to restart to the last door or worse, the last save point. The only redeemable quality would be the visuals. The game looks great, and the castle actually feels like a place where people could have inhabited before and not an excuse for puzzles.

That's what Ico is, beautiful set pieces, but nothing to back it up. It's not a video game, for the simple fact that it is not fun. I think this is a title that has been way over hyped to the point where we are forgetting what a video game is supposed to be about first and foremost: gameplay.

What a blasphemous introduction and title. As I sit in front of my laptop, reading it over and over, I can't help but feel a bit amused that I wrote this wholeheartedly yesterday. A lot has changed since yesterday. I am not sure what happened, and when it happened, but something clicked when I was done with the game. I realized that maybe, just maybe, the frustration I was feeling throughout the game was not because of the aforementioned issues I had with it. Maybe it was because I grew as a person. I changed, and my brain rejected that change, interpreting it as frustration. Yes, something happened, I grew alright, and I experienced so much in so little time.



I was a prince
The game opened and I was faced with rescuing this woman from a cage. The cage was suspended in the air, and she there helpless, covered in this ever glowing light. As I rush up the stairs, to her rescue, I barely had time to think about how she got there, and why I was doing it. It did not matter, I was a prince and she was my princess. I couldn't deceive her. I couldn't leave her there! It was my duty, it was my purpose at this exact moment. I was going to deliver her from the shackles of the game.

I was a lover
As I rescued her, the fiends that probably put here there started appearing. She held her hand in front of me, trying to caress my face but was suddenly taken away. She was my lover, and I had to free her from the hands of those evil monsters. I grabbed a stick and fought. I proved my love, I emerged victorious! I took her hand, she took mine, and our love was sealed forever. I would never let her go. Till death do us part. We sat down on a bench, our hands ever so slightly getting close to each other, like little kids and their first love: honest and pure.



I was a father
I became a father too. I looked out for her best interest. I defended her against those that thought ill of her. I helped her through obstacles she did not understand how to tackle. There were times where I was angry, shouting at her, reprimanding her. It was always with her best interest in mind though: I only wanted what was best for her. She did not always understand my actions, but I did what I did to protect her. Like a parent with his child's best interest always at heart, I carried her through the game valiantly.

I was a captive
The game opens with this mysterious woman dressed in white. She glows and she radiates. It then tasks me with one simple objective: live for her. For the duration of this odyssey, you will only act for her, feel for her, think of her. It holds me captive, makes demands and does not let me go. This situation leads to Stockholm syndrome: I am trapped with this girl, I do not want to be with her, I do not know her and therefore do not care about her, yet I start having feelings for her.

I was our savior
This is for me, the true beauty of Ico. Those ever conflicting emotions where, as the game traps me like a hostage with this woman, I fight the game to free her, and by proxy me, from this castle that represents our captor. This duality of hate and love from and for the same person.



Ico truly is a masterpiece of a game.   read


9:52 AM on 09.30.2011

The Disillusion of the PS Vita



As we get closer to the 17th of December, the launch date of the PS Vita in Japan, more and more information is released about the device. When the handheld formally known as the NGP (Next Generation Portable) was unveiled at E3, we were all amazed by the HD graphics and the incredible line up of games. When Sony told us it would cost $250 for the WiFi version, we couldn’t believe it. The Tokyo Game Show rolled around and cemented the fact that there will be a lot of games available at launch, all looks prettier as ever. We also learned we could have apps like Skype or Facebook directly in our hands, and a full internet browser. A few days ago, it was announced that it would be region free. It seemed too good to be true.

That’s when the picture went from fuzzy happy feeling to murky brown reality.

(Re)Launch Titles



Let’s talk about the games first. While the line up really is plentiful, how many of those games really are new IPs? New and fresh experiences, or at least not ports? Very few actually. With titles like Disgaea 3, Persona 4, Final Fantasy X, Little Big Planet, Mod Nation Racer, Marvel VS Capcom 3 and the Oddworld games, I’m starting to think “portable” from back when it was named the NGP actually meant “port enable”. Sony had a flash of genius when it took away the PS2 emulation from the Playstation 3, now being able to re release it’s last gen catalog. It looks like it wants to strike gold again with the PS Vita. What other way then to make you buy games twice?

Transfarring

Sony announced that you could take some games with you and keep on playing them on your new shiny handheld, freeing up the television for who ever wants to watch Robocop again, and basically one upping the Wii U before its release. A developer working on an action RPG called Ruin showcased the feature on stage and it looked wonderful, except it is not. Ruin is the only title announced yet, where both a PS3 and a Vita copy of the game are bundled together. Would you like to keep on playing the Metal Gear Solid games in the palm of your hands? You’ll have to buy another copy of the exact same game. What about Marvel VS Capcom? Same deal. With prices looking to approach full retail console ones, it’s going to be one very expensive feature. “It’s cool” you start saying, “no one is forcing me to buy two copies of the game, I’ll just play it on my Vita”. About that...



Battery life

With this new system, Sony is trying very hard to sell us on the idea of console like experiences but in our hands. Dual sticks, HD graphics, great franchises, big digital market those are just few of the arguments to try and reel us in. With that in mind, it’s absolutely unacceptable to give us 3 to 5 hours of battery life. This is not just a regular handheld, this is supposed to be the ultimate one. It’s (supposedly) changing the game. You’ve never seen anything like it, yet we’re supposed to stop every 3 hours? Games like Uncharted focus on a great and extensive single player campaign but we have to worry about saving in the case that it shuts off in the middle of a level? I guess we could just leave it plugged it, but that would defeat the purpose of a portable gaming system huh? I guess it is not spelled Next Generation Portable anymore. “But that’s not an issue” you bravely declare, “I don’t game more then 3 hours straight on a handheld anyway, and surely the price would have been more expensive with a better battery”. About that price point...

Proprietary Format and Price



Sitting at $250 for the WiFi version (or €250 because why not) the price was a shocker to say the least. It even caused the 3DS to lower it’s price from 250 to 170! A substantial drop that clearly showed the competition (namely Nintendo) feeling threatened by the device. Sony also dropped a bombshell on us: the system will use a brand new memory card (unnamed for now) priced at 9,500 yen (about $124 for a 32GB card). “Why would you need so much space” you start spouting, “The 4gb one costs around 30 dollars in Japan! And besides, those are the Japanese prices”. First of all, you will NEED one, some games forcing you to install data on it, and it does not ship with one. Second of all, if you honestly think the prices will be drastically different you’re pretty optimistic. You can be hopeful and dream of a $100 price point but that is still expensive, raising the handheld to $350.

Third of all, you’re forgetting something crucial here: the push for a better digital marketplace. Sony is in the process of transferring its PSP catalog on the PSN so you can pay for the same gam have even more games available. Games are heavy, a 4gb card is two PSP games at best, and that’s not even counting the Vita games that will be much heavier. Some of the launch titles are only available online! Add the cost of the memory card to the money you will probably shell out for a battery extension and you’re looking at a near PS3 price point. The Vita is not looking so cheap now is it? And about that whole digital thing...

3G Connectivity

You probably know this already, but you need a damn good internet speed to have a solid and smooth online experience. Trying to game through 3G really is laughable, especially for games that require quick reflexes like the Marvel title. The speed simply is not high enough. Add to that download limitations of 20MB, and looks like the 3G will only be used for small DLC and themes. Why do we need 3G again? Certainly not to try and make some of the money back by partnering with cellphone companies through plans. Why would you think that? I'll also add that Skype thru 3G can be pretty hit or miss, speaking from personal experience.

In Conclusion

The Vita is a great piece of hardware, but don’t let the PR fool you, it is far from perfect. The announced price is nothing more then a smoke screen, most of the games shown are ports and more ports, its battery life is ridiculously short and it uses a proprietary format.
That being said mine is already pre ordered. The point of this article is not to convince you not to get one, or to try and troll anybody. It’s to bring you back down to earth. Let’s not over hype the PS Vita. Let’s approach it level headed, our minds clear, so we can enjoy it more and expect what is reasonable of it.



Let’s be smart about this.   read


2:25 PM on 08.19.2011

Transcript: Bastion Interview on Mash Tactics!

Greg Kasavin, creative director of Super Giant Games was a guest on Mash Tactics yesterday. He gave us a great insight into the making of Bastion, and how the team works together. Here is the transcript of that interview by Jon Carnage and guest Max Scoville.



Mash Tactics: How long did it take you to make the game?

Greg Kasavin: A little less than 2 years start to finish. It started development in September 2009. That was around a month after myself and the co-founders Amir Rao and Gavin Simon of the studio all quit from EA together. We dropped everything, moved into a house in San Jose CA, and started working on
[Bastion].

M T: Leaving EA, was that something you thought would be risky
or did you just think "I'm going to do this, it's going to be
OK" or "I'm going to do this, and it's all going to fall
apart"

G K: I think it was both of those feelings combined. It definitely felt risky and scary to some extent. I did not join the team until some time later. These guys [the co founders] had no income, lived where they worked, put it all on the line for this game. It's definitely a big risk. It was scary for me too. I have a wife and kid and had to convince my wife "How do you feel about me not getting paid anymore, working on this little game with guys based out of a living room of a house". It didn't sound like the best plan on the surface of things, but thankfully my family was very supportive.

M T: How did you come up with the name Super Giant Games?

G K: I would say it was pretty collaborative. It's really hard coming up with a name for a game studio, that doesn't sound like and adjective and an animal. We weighted a lot of options. We thought of it as a big star in the solar system, we like that kind of feel.

M T: When people see your game, what do you want them to think
of?

G K: I think we wanted it to be somewhat open. We wanted the world of the game to have this quality of, one the one hand fantastical and larger than life and on the other hand there's something familiar about it. It has this western feel from the narrator's voice, tumbleweeds, pistols etc. We want that high sense of contrast, where on the one hand it feels like a story book and on the other hand it feels important and serious. Right from the start there are these conflicting and almost contradictory feelings that you're having. We hope it's interesting and atmospheric on the first impression.

M T: Was that something you wanted, having the player feel
like "What? Where am I?" No explanation, we're just there.

G K: That was really important to us. The narration technique of the game is pretty closely tied to that idea. From the start, we wanted to have an action rpg that had a lot of pick up and play appeal. You can just pick it up, start to play and have some fun, as a throwback to the good old days where you could just hit start on the title screen and you got into the game. You didn't have to watch a 20 minutes cut scene. It was important for the game to be immediate, but at the same time we wanted to tell a story, but never interrupt the game for the sake of the story. The narration technique solved a lot of that for us. We could explain things to people as they played, in the order in which they cared about things, as opposed to bombarding them with a wall of text explaining 5000 years of story. Until you start playing, you have no reason to be invested in the game story. We wanted to make you care first and then explained later, rather than the other way around.

M T: Speaking of the narrator, where did find this guy?

G K: The narrator is voiced by Logan Cunningham, an actor in New York. He is childhood friends with Amir Rao our studio director and Darren Korb our audio director. They have been friends since middle school, and if we didn't have that long standing connection, if we didn't know a very talented actor, I don't think we ever would have undertaken this kind of technique to begin with. Being a small team it was all about playing our strength and making the most of what advantages we did have. Knowing this talented actor was one of those things, and because of that we were able to record dozens and dozens of times with Logan. Darren and Logan were actually roommates during much of the project, so they were able to literally record out of Darren's closet whenever they had the time.

M T: After those two years of development, does the game still
look as you envisioned it? Has it completely changed and
warped into something different yet wonderful?

G K: The art style went through a lot of changes. It didn't come together until Jen Zee, our artist director, joined the project in April of 2010. Until that point, the game was in a pretty crude, prototype version, with scanned monsters out of Dungeon and Dragon, with stick figures, just to get the gameplay going. Jen joined when the look was still undefined, but we knew what we wanted from the tone of the story. She was able to take that information and create this art style we fell in love with instantly. She's a very talented artist and struck just the tone that we wanted.

M T: You did a great job with the art style that's for sure.
Are there plans for a future Bastion title? Part 2 maybe?

G K: We don't know what the future holds for us at this point, and a lot of it is going to depend on how Bastion itself pans out. We obviously want to stick together as a team, and keep making games that have some of the characteristics of this one like filling players with a sense of surprise and wonder.
Those qualities are really important to us, but also have this balance of responsive gameplay and interesting narrative. I think both can co exist and you don't have to trade one for the other. We designed Bastion to be a very self contained game. We wanted to make something that felt very complete so
when you got to the end, you felt a sense of satisfaction and accomplishment. No crappy cliffhangers, I hate when games do that. It takes time to finish a game and they should have an ending that feels conclusive at the end. We hold nothing back for DLC or extra content similar to that, but at the same time we wanted to make a deep world that could potentially support other stories. Never say never.

Whatever we do next, our priority will be to capture the qualities that this game has, it worked well for us.
Surprising people is really important to us, we would never act like "Well you like Bastion? Here are some more levels of Bastion". I don't think we would go for that.

M T: Like a Bastion kart racing game? With the race tracks
forming as you drive, you don't know where you're going.

G K: Nothing is confirmed yet. [laughs] That's perfect. You can't see the track in front of you.

M T: A lot of people love the music, can you tell us a bit
more about that?

G K: It was all done by Darren Korb, our audio director. He did all of it: all the sound effects, all the music in the game. We had high hopes for what people were going to say about it, but we've been pretty blown away by the response to it. It seems like the one thing about the game that everybody
agrees on. Everyone loves the music of this game. Part of the reason it turned out of the game, without taking away anything from Darren's talent, he started writing the music early. We recognized it as something that would be important early on. Back when all we knew about the game was the tone we wanted, we had this idea of a western fantasy setting, storybook setup. Darren was the first one who started doing something with that, and it helped us really understand exactly the tone we wanted. We worked with him closely on some levels of the game where music is really important. It was a real
inspiration as we made the game content, and it fed back right into it self. It's a major part of the game.

The soundtrack is available for stream for free on Bandcamp, and you can also buy it with some original tracks added on Steam and Bandcamp. The response to the soundtrack has really been outstanding.

M T: When you were making this game, was there a lot of
insecurities about how the public would have received it? In a
day and age where we are FPS crazy, Metal Gear crazy, not
necessarily for me and a lot of the Destructoid staff, but it
could have been a risk.

G K: When comparing the look of the game, some people think of japanese rpg classics, and games like that. That's a style of a game that's not as fashionable as it used to be. I love it personally. We don't really play anything like a lot of those games. They were certainly moments of insecurity as we were making the game, but we passed them on quickly because it felt as if we were driving towards a cohesive whole. We chose the art style in support of the game tone and feel, the story. None of the choices were arbitrary. We felt like it was all going to fit together. As a studio, we had this idea of making games that spark the imagination of players, like the one they used to play as kids. It just felt right to us in that regard. Even if it's not for everybody, there are enough people out there who will appreciate it for what it is. As a small studio, we don't need to sell 5 million copies. We're happy with just making a small amount of people happy, instead of going for universal appeal. I wouldn't even know what that is.

M T: Some people in the chat say it reminds them of Secret of
Mana, and Star Ocean too.

G K: It's cool to hear because none of those games are individually an inspiration, we think of a bunch of stuff. The one thing we all have a common as a team is we've been playing games all our lives. For me personally, the later Super Nintendo era had a big impact, like Metroid and Chrono Trigger. I don't think that those game had a specific impact, but they did act like spiritual influences in various ways.

M T: A chat user heard that it's really hard to get games on
Xbox live.

G K: It certainly is hard to make a console game. To make a proper Xbox Arcade game, you need to have a publisher. All XBLA games are either published by Microsoft or some third party, in our case Warner Brothers. Even just signing a publishing deal, it can be very challenging. Consoles also
each have their own standard you need to adhere to, instead of the PC where you can just do whatever you want. There are a whole bunch of weird little technical issues you have to take
care, that most normal people will never encounter. It's all for making the game better in theory, so the spirit behind it is good.

M T: Is there going to be a PSN version?

G K: We get asked that a lot, mostly PSN and Mac/iOS. The simple truth is we have no immediate plans for other versions of the game. Bringing a game to another platform is a big undertaking for us. Each version of the game out there has to feel like the best one. We don't want for anyone to feel like they don't have the best experience with it. We are a team of 7 people. Trying to release on every platform under the sun would have just hurt the quality of the game. Although we don't have any plans for it, we haven't ruled out anything for the future. We're not restricted to anything. I like to joke that I hope there's a Neo Geo revival, I would love to have Bastion for the Neo Geo [laughs]. Nothing is stopping us, but we're focusing on the Steam launch right now. It's too early to tell what we'll be doing next, but we will be busy I can tell you that much.

M T: When you started writing the game, did it come in one
sitting, or did it happen as an evolutionary process?

G K: The writing was a long term process. There was a high level story outline that I created early on. The skeletal structure of the story was made once we had a solid vision of what the game was going to be. The reason not to overwrite the story too soon is that it needs to fit the content of the game. All of the narration writing happened as the levels came alive. We would write the narration to the level very
precisely. From playing you can see a lot of reactivity coming from the level design, but of course some of the details changed along the way. There's room to shit things around as long as the major story points happen. It took about a year to write the story, once that outline was there. There are more than 3000 lines of narration.

M T: How did you come up with the flashback sequences?

G K: There's an interesting story behind those. We were making the game that was pretty heavily story driven. You move through those levels at a rapid rate, and you're driving towards the conclusion of the game, but at the same time we felt that we had this deep and robust combat system. We wanted to have the players experience the game, without pushing towards the main story. The gameplay idea of the "Who Knows Where" sequences came from that, as sort of a combat arena where you can practice. The challenge was have it make sense in the game. Everything had to be motivated by the fiction. A simple combat arena fighting for no reason felt at odd with the rest of the game. The idea of turning them into backstory dream sequences came from the fact that I had already written a lot of background information for all of the characters, but we never intended to include those in the game at all. They were there to motivate the characters in the story, and help me in the writing process. We realized that it was a cool chance to introduce that content into the game in an optional way. We didn't want to bash the players' heads with a bunch of ex-positional content. We figured by the time you got to those sequences, you would actually care about those characters.

M T: It sounds like you really paid attention to old school
games, and what they would have evolved into if they were
still around.

G K: That is how we talked about it some of the times, and when we looked back to the games that inspired us we realized people just stopped making those games. 3D revolutionized games with the Playstation and people said 2D was dead, but 3D games still can capture the feel of 2D. We thought what if the people from that era made games today, what would they feel like. Bastion is sort of our response.

M T: The beautiful art, was it hand drawn?

G K: All the environment art, and just about everything in the game is hand painted by Jen Zee our artistic director. Although the entire game is 2D, some 3D models are included, and Jen made the textures for them. We wanted everything to have that 2D feel.

M T: What games are you playing now since it's finally over?

G K: I'm catching up on ton of stuff, more portable games than anything else. On the DS and PSP they still make those JRPG kind of games. I've been playing Trails in the Sky, Valkyria Chronicles 2, Tactics Ogre. Right now I'm playing some of the Phoenix Wright games, LA Noire, Vanquish, and some XBLA titles like From Dust and Twisted Shadow Planet.

M T: What about a Bastion art book?

G K: We don't have plans for it right now, but we will give thoughts into it. We would have to take the time to do it right if we would eventually do it.

M T: Could this game have happened without the digital market
place?

G K: I honestly don't think so. I don't see how we would have done it without the digital marketplace. Digital distribution has brought so many unique and interesting games, and enable small teams like us to concentrate on making something, and not focusing on retail channels. Our objective was to make a digital game. We were really inspired by some of the stuff that we were seeing from Braid and Castle Crashers to Plant versus Zombies. I don't think those could have existed without
digital distribution.

M T: Someone from the chat says that a lot of developers are
having mixed feelings about Xbox Live and the Indie place.
What are your thoughts on that?

G K: Our game was in Summer of Arcades. We were pretty motivated by it. It had a real track record, and for me as a player it has brought so many of my favorite games like Super Meat Boy, Limbo, Trenched earlier this year. I think it's been fantastic.About the Indie part, I try to go on an indie binge every month but it's hard for a lot of those get noticed. I think Steam has had a lot of impressive success stories from these indie titles, for example Terraria. Personally, it came out of nowhere and it's really popular. There's also Magicka, Frozen Synaps, and none of these games are on consoles. It can be easier for a small team, they can just focused on getting the game done, and concentrate on updating. Steam seems to be a really good home for a lot of it, as a gamer I really like using it.

M T: It has to feel weird not having the game on the PSN, do
you maybe feel like you're alienating a lot of gamers?

G K: I think by definition we kind of are. We have made a game that only people who have PS3s can't play. Some people take that personally and I get that, but the real truth is that there are technical challenges to bringing the game to both platforms, even tho the end result looks the same. It's not like we're sitting on a PS3 version without releasing it. It would take much of re writing the whole game from scratch. It's really nothing personal from our perspective. We all own PS3s, it just comes down to what makes most sense being a small team, with our resources in mind. Again I reiterate we haven't ruled out anything yet, but we haven't announced another version of the game. I hate to sound so indecisive but that's the reality of it. Studios live and live by those decisions. I would encourage people on the outside to try not to read too much on those decisions because they're complicated. As a game maker, I don't think anyone would not want to have a lot of people playing their game.

M T: Are you happy to move on from the project, or is there a
part of you that thinks "I wish we could have done more"

G K: It's a weird thing for me to hear myself say, but I'm actually very happy with how this game turned out. We left nothing out, I don't have any regrets about the content decisions. From the feedback we're getting, we know that it's had the intended impact so that's really good. We are actively working on the game, we've had 3 updates on Steam already. It's nice to hear direct feedback. Working in bigger companies you can feel removed from the game you're making. Sometimes it can be against the rules "You're a designer, you're not supposed to contact the customer, we have support people to do that" [laughs]. It feels really good to talk to people who liked the game. We are entering into this whole new era of "Now what?". It's interesting and scary and challenging as we start to think of what to do next. Those are tricky problems at the same time. Personally, for the first time in my life I was able to do on Bastion exactly what I want to be doing forever. I can't wait to get back to doing the things I was doing on Bastion, on the next project that we'll do. Creating stories, levels, that type of work is super inspiring and rewarding for me. I can't wait to get back into that mode.

M T: I remember thinking when I first played it at PAX last
year that it could make a great movie. Have you thought about
it at all?

G K: Who knows? From my perspective, in terms of the world building we approached it as creating a deep world that can be used for this game. We joked about making a pen a paper role playing book to go with it, because of a bunch of us are D and D nerds. Who knows, a movie, book or cartoon why not. Our competency as a team is making games. We're going to be very protective of it, it's our own IP but we'll see.
[...]
It's a small team, we're 7 including our voice actor, it's
wonderful to look around and know that you trust those people
and respect them. I just like being part of a smaller company.
I worked for a big company for a while and that can be
different.

M T: As a final question, where do you draw the line between
telling your story and giving the players what they want?

G K: I think the game is my answer. I think there's a balancing act, and with Bastion the goal was to prove that games can tell a story. Some people believe that games should not tell authored stories at all, it should all be about the player experience. I don't believe that personally, some of my greatest games of all time have crafted stories, a lot of role playing games for example. The goal with Bastion was to create a deep story but have it feel personal as well. Have the narrator to respond to your actions give it a personal flavor. This is not my story as the writer but your story as the player. That's the feeling we hope players get from it. To some degree we hope that's how people get it. Given the choice to do it again, I would certainly be interested in walking that fine line.

M T: Thank you so much for hanging out with us for over an
hour. I will see you at PAX.

G K: No thank you, see you there.

Note: Greg Kasavin added that the whole Super Giant Games will be at PAX including Logan Cunningham the voice of the narrator. They want to meet everybody and can't wait to meet their fans. The game is available on XBLA and Steam, and the soundtrack is on Steam and Bandcamp. A demo is available on both platforms.   read


3:09 PM on 05.27.2011

Freedom: Open World Games: the new trend?

This is an article I wrote back in Summer 2009 about open world games. I hope you find it interesting!



GTA IV, Fallout 3, Elder Scrolls IV, Red Faction Guerrilla, InFamous, Prototype. Apart from being awesome games, what do they have in common? They are HUGE. As in physically. All these games have a common component that really adds to the overall experience, and that is an open world. Why are more and more games featuring open world environments? Is this the new 2009-2010 trend? And what does it mean for the future of gaming? Let’s take a look and see!

With the arrival of next gen consoles like the XBOX360 and the PS3, not only do they bring new graphical capabilities, features like WIFI and a better online gaming system, but they also have a powerful processor. Microsoft’s Xenon (consisting of three sinlge core processor) and Sony’s Cell (often seen as more powerful but more complicated to work with) have enourmous processing capabilities. They can process more information, faster.

That enables Game Studios to make bigger games, litterally, the main obstacle now being the size of the format (that is, untill the studios reach the limit of the processors, but we are not there yet!). The XBOX360 has the DVD format, and the PS3 has the bigger Blueray. You would think that with more space there would be more things, but all the games cited in the introduction are multiplatform (except for InFamous).

So great, you say (or not say as far as I know), the studios have better processors and bigger formats to work with. Why are not all games open worlds? And what is an open world anyway? Well let’s define what that is first.



An open world game is a video game that features a big environment where the player is free to move wherever. If you take a game like Eternal Sonata, some of the levels are huge, but that is not an open world game. You can not run around in dreamland. But games like Fallout 3 that have cities that you can go to; or Red Faction Guerrilla where whenever you want to go to the far end of Mars, all you have to do is drive there, now that’s an open world. It’s pretty much the ultimate simulation of freedom of movements right now. You want to go to that place you see in the background? Then go!



But an open world has to bring something to the game. For example in InFamous, the PS3 exclusive title by SuckerPunch (the makers of Sly Cooper), Empire City is a huge place to visit. The city is divided in three parts that all become accessible at some point in the story. But it’s not grandure for gandure’s sake! The people walking in the city react to you. That and pretty much every mission involves you climbing on tall buildings. The same for Protoype, where climbing up to the top of skyscrappers is a good way to escape tanks! And as for good games, they usually mean no or few loading times. Missions and story events start by physically going to the locations, whether it’s walking, driving or fastporting there (Fallout 3, Elder Scrolls)!

So what, should all games be open world, and have that sense of freedom? Now that’s just according to your own personal opinion, but I think not. I don’t feel like Splinter Cell should be open world. How does the stealth element work with that setting? Or games like Bioshock, or RPGs are awesome experiences without the need of a big environment.



What does that mean for the future of gaming? Well, when you look at upcoming games like The Saboteur by Pandemic and EA, that takes place in World War II Paris, looks absolutely stunning. They need to fake the capital of France, and size helps a lot. And since it features GTA mission-like gameplay, the choice seems to be justified even more. The new installment of the Halo franchise, HALO ODST also has an open world component. You will be roaming the city, looking for your lost mates, therefore enhancing the feeling of actually ‘looking’ for someone and rescuing that person.

As you can see, Open World gaming now being a very feasible reality, and our consoles hardware making it possible, I think we are going to see more and more games like these. But the question will now become, who makes the best use of it? And that, dear readers, is a question YOU will answer.   read


5:06 AM on 05.26.2011

P2 Press Start: Competitive Coop

*\WARNING/ THIS ARTICLE CONTAINS SPOILERS OF THE FOLLOWING GAMES: Splinter Cell Conviction coop mode, FEAR , and talks about the coop feature in the upcoming FEAR 3*

The last mission from SC Conviction's coop campaign had to be the hardest one of the game. After reaching some kind of hangar, my partner and I had to deactivate the security system, run to the airplane and finally escape, while at the same time fighting off waves and waves of enemies. Stealth had pretty much jumped out the window at that point. It was more of a Gears of War type kind of game, with less health and ammo.

"Throw a grenade!" I yelled at my team mate, sitting right next to me in real life.
"I threw my last one five minutes ago!" he replied hectically.



I started to think about the best way to reach the controls we had to deactivate, as I flash backed to the beginning of the game. My friend had never played a Splinter Cell game before. Granted this one is a lot less focused on stealth, but it was still a challenged for him. The only games he had ever played were platform games, and a couple of racing ones. It took a lot of convincing to finally get him to try it out, but as soon as he got the hang of the intuitive controls, he was hooked.

The game started out very slowly, showing him how to kill an enemy from behind, use him as cover, and also one of the key features of the game: mark and execute. The more stealth hand to hand kills a player racked up, the more his execution bar would fill, until he could point at two or three enemies in a room, and instantly kill them with a press of a button in a very smooth fashion. The added benefits of the coop were that the two players could combine their executions and get the job done faster. If one of the player was down, he could play dead until his team mate came and revived him, provided he did within the time limit. The game was fun and felt rewarding. You could play the solo campaign if you wanted to be alone, but here you had to have your partner's back and vice versa.
I realized I had one grenade left. A well placed explosion later, we made our way to the security controls where we had to both push a button and finally get on the plane, our objective. We eventually did, but that's when something interesting happened.



A cutscene played, where I was alone in the cargo section, when I got a very simple email: kill my partner. Was it part of the story? That's when I realized he probably got the same one asking to kill me. The game turned into a very intense death match, and all of the skills I had taught him were now being redirected towards me. After what seemed like forever, he got me and I fell down to the floor.
That part of the game was really unexpected. The game turned from being cooperative to being competitive in the blink of an eye. After working hard together for so many hours, we had to finish each other off. This practice is not very common in video games, and felt really refreshing to be honest. Even if it lasted a few minutes at the end of the game, the fact that you had been helping each other since the start made it seem much more interesting, than say online death matches where you spawn, kill, repeat.

Another game that looks to be implementing cooperative and competitive gameplay at the same time is the upcoming FEAR 3. You play as either the main character with his ability to slow down time, or Fettel (who got shot by Point Man in the fist game) with his telekinetic abilities. Both players share the same health meter, and have to revive each other when one falls to the ground. The maps have also been designed to make the best use of both players, assuring gamers that it's not just a run and kill thing. The interesting competitive feature, which has been done in some games before I believe, is that both players get points for kills, the goal being to outnumber your teammate. Quoting from MTV Multiplayer Blog:



"The gist, though, is that you'll be scored based on your performance in a mission, and those points can be used to upgrade your character. For example, you can increase Point Man's slow-down meter. This makes the co-op a bit of an uneasy truce between the two brothers, and it often encourages players to think for themselves rather than the group. Unfortunately, if one brother dies, so does the other (they're psychically linked or some such ridiculousness), so you can't be a total jackass to your partner. Just a partial jackass."

This could lead to very interesting sessions where players feed for themselves, and only play together when they really have to: an uneasy truce. This raises concerns in other places, like can a game still be scary when playing with someone else? That's a topic for another day, but it could be interesting to look at how this competitive aspect can be used to enhance the scary parts of the game. For example, separating the players, and making them do a actions that benefit one (One player turning the light on...) and at the same time impacting the other (...turns the light off for the other player).

There are not too many competitive coop games out there, as in games that truly blend the two, but it could be a refreshing way to tackle the multiplayer side that a lot of games come with today. Let's not make it a thing though: after all coop means cooperative.   read


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