1. Concept art for the game LOM, a 2d adventure platformer.

     
  2. image: Download

    Field Scenery 1/8/13

    Field Scenery 1/8/13

     
  3. 14:05 29th Dec 2012

    Notes: 2

    Tags: gamedesign

    5 Ways to be a Better Gamer in 2013

    As the new year rolls around people start making the same declaration.  “Next year will be better.”  No matter how good or bad 2012 was, people will tell themselves that 2013 will be better.  The thing is that if you want to see change you have to work for it.  If you want to see a better game industry in the future you’ve got to be the change you want to see in the world. Here’s some stuff we all need to work on.  Some resolutions for the new year.  

       1. Be Nice Online

    “Well duh,” You tell me, “obviously I’m going to be nice.”  

    Well… no, no you’re not.  Online we’ve forgotten what it is to be nice.  A lot of people don’t say anything mean and think that makes them kind.  Kindness is complimenting your teammates, telling everyone when they did a good job.  We’ve started punishing online bullies and jerks and that’s a step in the right direction but I think we should be rewarding those who are fun to play with.  

    There’s that bit in the movie Office Space where Ron Livingston is telling his bosses that since he doesn’t get rewarded for doing well, he’d only do enough work to not get fired.  You can argue that virtue is its own reward and all that but in reality people will be only be as nice as they have to be to not get banned. 

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    There are a few games that reward you for being a good person.  League of Legends has honor points that are given when people vote you’re a good teammate, honorable in defeat or things like that. Until every game rewards you for being nice however you’ll have to do it out of the kindness in that twisted black hole that used to be a heart.  Step by step we’ll slowly make online play into an actually pleasant environment. 

       2. Buy a game outside your comfort zone

    We all have our niches, our genres.  Some gamers refuse to buy anything that will never be played in a tournament.  Some only play Japanese RPGs and consider anything from the west to be a ridiculous facsimile. Go out and buy a game you normally wouldn’t buy! I’m not saying that you should go out and grab Barbie’s Unicorn Dancing Sim but maybe play something from a genre you wouldn’t normally look twice at.  If you play nothing but JRPGs maybe you should go grab Persona 4: Arena.  You’ll get to play a hardcore fighter but with a lot of those JRPG aesthetics.  If you’re more of the Call of Duty type, maybe go grab Fallout 3.  It’s a lot different and I’m sure you’ll have a lot of fun. 

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    You don’t need to go out and grab a sixty dollar game that you’ll probably hate, but maybe go check out the games on sale on Steam and pick up something for cheap that you wouldn’t normally.  Grab Civ 5 or Saints Row 3. It’s good to expand your horizons and even if you hate it you’ll be able to say with certainty why you hate it.  Your gaming vocabulary will expand and you’ll be better off for it.   

       3. Watch the Credits

    When they beat a game, many gamers will start pressing all the buttons to figure out which one skips the credits.  In 2013, watch the credits when you beat a game!  These people worked hard on the game, at least watch the credits. 

    You should learn the names of those who had a big impact on the games you love.  Think of your favorite three games. Do you know the directors of those games?  Did you love the graphics?  The design?  Learn who was the art director, the lead designer, or the sound designer.  You don’t have to learn the name of every programmer obviously but you should be able to know who makes your favorite games.  Some people will go see a movie simply because they love the lead actor or the director.  We should be able to say the same thing about games.   

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    We’re slowly building up to that too!  If somebody hears that like Schafer or Jaffe was the lead director on a game they’ll definitely give it a closer look.  This is great and we need to work on this more.  Find out who your favorite directors and designers are, learn what they’re working on.  It’ll only enrich your experience.

       4. Buy Games that got Average Review Scores

    A lot of people don’t like the numerical review system.  At best it’s a simple representation of a complex opinion, at worst it’s an arbitrary meaningless number.   You should read game reviews, they’re very useful!  They can give you an idea of what a game does well, where it falls flat, things like that.  But you should take the score with a grain of salt.  

    More importantly however, you should go out and try games that got scores under a nine!  There’s a definite mentality that anything under an 8.5 is a complete failure.  Just look at Obsidian’s New Vegas infamous 84 score on Metacritic.  Bethesda, the publisher promised bonuses at 85 so Obsidian got nothing. There’s a larger issue here about tying bonuses to review scores but that’s an issue for developers and journalists.  As a gamer you just need to show your support by buying games that got mediocre scores.  

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    These games that got 6 or 7 or even 5 are still good games and you’ll still have fun with them. By only playing those big budget games that consistently score high; you’re crippling the industry by discouraging experimentation.  So read those reviews.  Read the ones that love the game and read the ones that hate the game.  Learn about what they thought of the game, but don’t base your decision entirely on the number beside the words.

       5. Stop Justifying Piracy to Yourself

    Obviously this one should read “Stop Pirating Games you Jerk” but let’s be honest, the pirates wouldn’t listen.  Instead, here’s what you should do. Stop justifying piracy to yourself. Whenever there’s a talk of piracy there’s always a bunch of people who say things like “I’m just pirating the game because I disagree with their DLC policy” or “I’m pirating the game because I hate their DRM” and so on and so on. 

    Stop it.  You’re not a crusader; you’re not a freedom fighter.  You’re just some kid with utorrent. If you’re going to steal games, then steal games but stop saying that you’re sticking it to the man by doing so.  You’re the reason DRM is crippling and invasive. You’re not fighting DRM by pirating, you’re encouraging it. 

    There’s another excuse I hear for pirating all the time. “If I like it, I’ll buy it.” The idea is that you’ll pirate it, enjoy it, and then go purchase it. If you love the game, you’re probably not going to buy it. You already have it.  If you want to try it out, most computer games have demos on steam.  There are Redboxes everywhere in America and they usually have the big names that come out.  Rent it for a day then buy it if you like it.  Go get a Gamefly account, it’s cheap and it’ll let you keep the games you really like. 

    The fact that piracy is such a problem is abhorrent.  Stop pirating games, and if you can’t do that, stop lying to yourself.

     
  4. On Guns as Narrative

    This article was featured on the front page of Destructoid on October 25th, 2012.

    (Please note that this article isn’t about guns from a societal perspective.  It’s not about desensitization to violence or any of those topics. Nor is it about gun control or any real life issues.  There isn’t anything I can say about those topics that hasn’t been said a hundred times before in better ways by better people.  This is about guns from a narrative perspective in video games.)

    Have you ever held a gun?  They’re heavy things.  You can see a lot of shows and games all about guns and you’ll still probably be surprised by the weight of one when you’re actually carrying one.  The point I’m trying to make is that while you have a gun, you won’t forget its presence and you won’t forget what it is. 

    Very few games treat guns with the weight they have in the real world.  Every person in the civilized world that uses a gun knows to respect it.  Police hope they never have to fire their gun and people in the military are taught strict discipline and maintenance of their rifle. They all know the exact purpose of a gun and the threat it carries with it. Yet most video games don’t give a gun this weight and thus often lack the impact a gun should have.

     This is mostly a problem with the writing and pacing rather than the sound effects and visual effects that firing a gun has but sometimes those can be a factor.  A lot of research often goes into how a gun should sound when fired and a lot of games do their best to emulate it.  The 2006 game “Black” did its best to make firing a gun impressive and exciting every time.  As such it had a fantastic presentation… for the first hour or so.  After that the player often stopped being impressed by the games visceral presentation.  They fired the gun so many times it lost impact. 

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  5. On Silence

    Why are so many protagonists in games these days silent?  Back in the old days of videogames nobody talked.  They didn’t have the technology to fit in any voices outside of the occasional villain screaming. But as the technology grew, space on disks and such grew and voice acting was added gradually. Games would have more spoken words.  Characters started grunting when they jumped, calling out their attacks and eventually full on acting in cutscenes.  These days most games have a ton of spoken dialogue.  Games have scripts!  Something unheard of in the old days. 

    Now that voice acting in games is a near must for nearly any AAA title the choice to make a protagonist silent is a conscious and deliberate one. Out of literature and film and games, only games commonly have a silent hero.  Think of your favorite silent main characters in movies and books.  Take out the ones that are animals and you’ll likely have a pretty small list. So why all the silent game heroes?

    I’ve never been particularly bothered by a silent protagonist but I’ve been playing Dishonored lately and the main character in that game is completely silent.  While everyone in the game is so well defined and the setting has so much character, Corvo is the odd man out.  So why doesn’t he speak?  Does he fall into the classic excuses for a silent protagonist?

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  6. On Consequences

    The Walking DeadVery rarely am I worried about the consequences of any of my actions in a game. Which is fine sometimes!  Sometimes the player just want to indiscriminately punch random criminals on the street like in Sleeping Dogs.  

    But a lot of games boast about how the choices you make affect gameplay.  Yet from what I can tell, the more important the player’s actions are during a game, the less important any action is. The developers are forced to make sure that every option has an equal gameplay experience so your choices rarely have any consequence rather than the color of ninja you fight.  

    That’s why I’m so rarely worried about anything I do during a game.  If I lose and get a game over, I’m back to five minutes earlier and suddenly everything’s fine.  The best tension in games comes from threats other than losing the game.  

    That’s why Telltale’s The Walking Dead is such a wonderful game.  Because everything you say and do has real consequences.  If the player does or says the wrong thing, people turn against each other or against the player or they die.  In the first and second chapter I was constantly trying to take the middle road so I didn’t anger the group.  But my wishy-washyness just upset everyone anyway so in the third game I took a more direct approach to choices and I got someone killed because of it.  My head immediately went over all the things I could’ve done differently to save them but it was too late.  

    That’s how you give players consequences to things they do.  

    “Game Over” as a mechanic has been on it’s way out for a long time now.  Most games allow the player to immediately start over at whatever fight they lost.  These days the only fear players feel about losing is that they’ll have to watch five minutes of cutscenes to get back to the boss.  I’m not saying players should be punished for losing, that’s just a bad idea, but at the same time, players should feel that there are consequences for what they do.  

    The Game of Thrones videogame fails because it lacks the shifting levels of power that are in the series and books.  The player knows that they’re always going to be the ones to win the fight.  The player has to be the one to win because if they don’t the game stops.  Why not phase out game overs entirely?  If the game doesn’t stop when the player loses, there can be real consequences.  

    The player stops thinking “If I lose, I’ll have to try again.” and starts thinking “If I lose they’ll burn down the orphanage.” 

    Heavy Rain didn’t have a game over system either.  If your character died, the story would continue on without them or their help.  If players screwed up enough, the killer would just get away or the little boy would die.  The player had the implication that everything they did mattered and because of that, they constantly felt that they had to do their best.  The tensest moment I had in the game was when I was performing CPR on the drowned Shaun and I was terrified I didn’t make it in time.  

    The player shouldn’t feel tense all the time when you’re playing games.  Like all good stories there should be an arc of rising and falling tension, the player shouldn’t feel constantly stressed.  The Walking Dead succeeds so well because of the quiet moments where the players learn more about their companions and chat with them about their homes and what they want.  The player should feel that their decisions are important and in the Walking Dead they do feel important, life and death have the proper weight.  That’s quality storytelling.

    But what about the game part?

    A lot of this has been focusing on the interactive story aspect of games rather than the gameplay.  The idea is that the game doesn’t stop on a loss but instead takes the story in a different direction.  The concept can be applied to a variety of genres and there are a variety of games that do this very well already!  

    Look at the Total War series as opposed to Starcraft.  In Total War you don’t have to win every single battle to win the game.  You lose troops and territory and the game continues.  You may lose your general during a battle and if you like him enough or put enough training into him this may be a major loss!  If the player wants to keep the general they’d play differently, more defensively.  Whereas in Starcraft, if the important units die, the level starts over.  When games have different conditions than just win or lose, the game changes dramatically.  

    The middle ground of this would be Fire Emblem.  In each level, characters that die stay dead but there are still lose conditions that would cause the level to have to be restarted.  And of course many players simply restart when any ally dies.  In that case it simply becomes another loss condition.  Otherwise, the player is forced to make dynamic choices in battle.  ”I could finish this battle easily but I’d have to sacrifice one of my characters, and I really like that guy.” 

    Obviously not every game could handle the freedom this presents.  There are only so many ways you can justify having a main character lose a life or death fight and still survive after all.  But by incorporating a bit of freedom into the system, the player can feel much more involved in the game, and isn’t that what so many games are striving for these days? 

     
  7. On Guild Wars 2

    Guild Wars 2I really like Guild Wars 2.  For the first time in a long time, I feel like an adventurer rather than a mercenary.  I started playing MMOs with WoW in around 2006.  I loved that game back then.  I wanted to explore everything, travel the world as my little undead rogue.  I’d get lost in jungles and monasteries, I’d debate with my friends on whether I should get a flaming enchantment on a cool sword I’d just found.  Everything was new and fresh.  

    But of course as the game went on, the excitement dulled.  I’d look through new areas but I wasn’t exploring anymore, I was looking for loot and quests.  The game became about numbers and dps.  It’s not entirely the games fault, as time went on, I just learned the system behind the game.  It stopped being a world and went back to being a game.  

    Other games didn’t give the same feeling of exploration, probably because they were too similar to WoW.  I’d see everything as “this game’s healer” or “this game’s mage.”  I wasn’t an adventurer, I was someone that murdered everything in sight when someone promised me new bracers.  

    With Guild Wars 2, however, that feeling of exploration is back.  It’s not just because the game generously rewards you for exploration although that’s a plus.  I just honestly never know what’s coming next and that’s very appealing.  The dynamic events system of theirs really works.  I just wander from city to city, looking for cool stuff to see and then somebody will yell that undead are attacking a nearby city, so I charge in and fight off a few hordes. 

    Once I was walking through a swamp and my events signal flashed and told me that “The swamp lies dormant.” I checked back there a few times and eventually there were undead everywhere. As me and a few friends fought them off, a giant shadow monster appeared and everyone within shouting distance came to help until there were a hundred people battling this massive thing. 

    The game has achieved what few games have.  It’s given me a world.  Even now, my Mesmer isn’t quite strong enough to do the next story quest.  All I need to do is look at my map, choose somewhere new, and walk off in that direction.  

     
  8. On Feeling Special in Games

    I frequent forums about being a dungeon master for games of Dungeons and Dragons.  One of the problems I see come up a lot is “I want to have an entire session about a certain PC but I’m afraid of singling one player out.”

    Many people are afraid that their other players will be jealous that one player is special, even for a short time.  They want to make sure their players are equal at all times.  Here’s the thing:

    It’s good to single characters out.

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  9. 18:11

    Tags: writing

    Home, Son

    Home, Son is a script written for a series of student written plays.  It’s about a man named Jack sorting out his father’s estate with the help of his girlfriend Elaine.  You can read it below. 

    Home, Son

     
  10. 18:00

    Tags: writing

    Canvas Sky

    Canvas Sky is a comic script written in 2010.  It tells the story of a little girl saving the sky from an entity bent on eternal darkness.  You can read it at the link right here.

    Canvas Sky.