XCOM: Enemy Unknown is a turn-based strategy game based on an old PC franchise. In this vidcast I am (once again) rambling in a mini Let’s Play session, wondering if what I’m doing is fun or not. Think that’s weird? Click play to find out why!
Archive for games
I haven’t made a game in a while. I don’t think this is any secret that I might simply be tired of games or maybe just tired of failing. For many people who find themselves feeling stuck, the issue is often in the difficulty of finishing the game. What prevents me from creating another game right now is a sensation of futility.
When I was younger and I had nothing to worry about, I worked my day job and made games by night. I stayed up to all hours of the night and locked myself in my apartment just about ever weekend. I used every precious waking minute of my day to ensure that my vision would be realized. Now, I look at my day and that time I had is gone. » Read more..
As part of my ongoing series of “Fixing the WiiU” design exercises =) I’ve decided to tackle the Near Field Communication (NFC) capability stored inside of the WiiU Gamepad. Looking beyond the streaming capability of the WiiU Gamepad might be another strong approach to fixing the consoles image as an uninspired gimmick.
The first and most obvious answer to utiliziing the NFC capability would be for Nintendo to create it’s own version of Disney Infinite or Skylanders using their Pokemon property. Though I have no doubt that it would likely be a very profitable endevour for them, I am hopeful that Nintendo will start to think outside the box. When I asked myself to think of something that did not mirror Skylanders; something that Nintendo did not already have in their wheelhouse, I came up with the concept of Nintendo Network Badges. » Read more..
I seem to be on a real Nintendo thread lately but I can’t get the WiiU out of my head. As much time as I spend “hating” on Nintendo, it comes from a place of love. I’ve expressed that the WiiU is Dead to Me, and even shared my concern over Nintendo’s relevance. I have even written wordy and completely baseless technical articles about achieving cross play between the WiiU and 3DS to help unify the consumer vision of the Nintendo brand and possibly introduce a lower priced SKU for existing 3DS owners who have not adopted the WiiU. Today I’d like to present yet another alternative; sell the WiiU Gamepad at a profitable price point and release a PC SDK much like what Microsoft did with Kinect. » Read more..
I’m a backer for Kickstarter game but have been a little slow to follow up on the updates. Recently I had an opportunity to finally catch up and there was something that really touched me with the latest documentary video. I’m going to do my best to describe something without breaking any backer-only secrets because I do feel that it is something worth discussing.
In the video, there was a disagreement between the designer and an animator. The animator created what he felt was a somewhat comical moment while the designer thought that it was too soon in the overall arc of the game, that the mood should still feel more somber. Ultimately, the disagreement ended in the only way most disagreements like this can end, the designer pulled rank to make it clear that the scene needed to be changed. The animator was clearly hurt by the change but he swallowed his pride and, with a stiff upper lip, wiped the animation slate to try again.
In the workplace, these kinds of disagreements happen often, and even more so as the team size shrinks and more hats start to fall onto less people. Though video games are developed by teams they are still teams of individuals with their own passions and their own desires. No one really wants to simply be a tool with which to create another person’s vision; most of use would like to infuse at least a little bit of ourselves into the work we are paid to do. It is a difficult line to tow when you are feeling inspired but that inspiration seems almost misguided for the objects held by those above you.
I’ve had plenty of projects that involved a ragtag team of talent. Some projects I pre-paid and others were built on “contract agreements” based on the release and success of a game or product. When you are paying for a wage the dynamic doesn’t change much from your typical 9-5 job. Things get very different when you are trying to keep teams motivated on the promise of just having a completed project, and the promise of future payments. A little money now almost always sounds better than the potential for a lot of money later.
I’ve had my share of moments like the one I described above, moments where I had to put my foot down for the sake of the project continuing to move forward. And when the other half has no monetary investment in the game; no steady wage – when they are simply riding on the high of making something new and inventive – that bank account was just emptied out.
Like clockwork is seems that these “contractual agreements” seem to fall through in 2 situations. The first situation is when the “wouldn’t it be cool if” brainstorming is over and it’s time to get to work. This may be as early as pre-production or as late as early production phase. The second is when the hard choices need to be made and one voice has to be the one that everyone follows. The one voice doesn’t always have to be the team leader or the designer, but all it takes is for any person’s own wishes to be misaligned with those of the winning voice. This mismatch is sure to spark departures from the team, and when you are looking at team sizes of 3-10 people you are talking about the potential of losing nearly half of your workforce because someone’s feelings were hurt.
At a developer that I once worked for; a place where I had the pleasure of cutting my teeth in the commercial games space, we had something of an inside joke about the bonus checks that conveniently arrived around the height of the crunch cycle. We called them attitude adjustments.
We’d all like to believe that we are better than money, that it doesn’t control us, but money certainly helps to smooth the bumps we receive on the path to building a finished product. Sadly, I’ve been a part of too many projects involving contractual agreements; some of them my own. I have yet to ever see one of them reach the end. The only projects that have ever seen the end have been those where money is the motivator, not the vision or the design. I’m not sure what that says just yet. In all my years of being in the middle of these grass roots games, I don’t know that I’ve processed it long enough to know how to feel about it. I always seem to be the person who holds onto the dream longer than most on these teams, and I try to keep the passion alive, but there are only so many pep talks and motivation speeches before people start to value their down time more than their need to push forward. It’s easy to see the missing number in the formula when every other box is checked; the talent, the design, the game plan, but not the money.
When I look at videos like the documentary I saw, I realize that game would have never been made without money…
Every now and then, and certainly during mutli-parted crowd-funded tirades about how girls get the short stick in video games, I notice the internet get themselves into a frenzy. The vocal minority(?) of boy gamers jump into action to defend their beloved heritage, and often do so with the tactfulness and civility that one would expect from the internet.
Me personally, I’ve never cared much for what online characters like Anita Sarkeesian have to say. I’m not saying she is wrong or right; that’s not for me to tell her what to think, but clearly it’s her job to tell me what to think. That said, I’d like to share how thing seemed to have fallen into place in my own life.
I have a decently large family, including my extended family. It’s a pretty even split of boys and girls in my generation, and the girls far out number the boys in the younger generation. In my generation, many of my male cousin’s are into the usual Bromance games like CoD and Gears of War. The females at most download an Angry Birds or whatever happens to be at the top of the charts. Many of the females have not bothered to research for games they may enjoy or followed up on what the next new console is going to be. They can appreciate why their male cousins enjoy video games but rarely stay in the room long enough to say more than, “oh.. that looks cool”, before walk out. Meanwhile, the males are actively following Call of Duty of Twitter and Facebook and expressing their excitement for the next installment.
In general, the women’s interests in video games are very much casual while the males are more core. But to be honest, less than half of all of the cousins in my family are regularly exposed to video games. If they are not playing core games, they may wander into a mobile App store once every few months or so. Even then, those Apps are usually free and they never spend a dime on micro-transactions. They play the game as a stop-gap between their daily grind and then it is out of their minds until the next time they have nothing better to do.
I was listening to the 8-4 podcast where one of the hosts was talking about his son, who is 3, can make his way through some Kirby stages and even beat some bosses. This got me thinking about my own family. Both, my wife and may daughter are the furthest thing from gamers. My wife’s claim to fame is having played Tetris when she was younger, but it never went beyond that. My daughter is surrounded by an endless supply of opportunities from iPad games, to age-appropriate console games. I have a library of casual games from classic arcade bundles to Monkey Ball on my GameCube (which is still plugged in!). I even have wide array of mature games that, once again, my wife seems to glance at and appreciate the visuals while simultaneously dismissing it as something she would care to play.
The only girls in my entire extended family that seem to appreciate video games regularly are 2 of my roughly 12 year old nieces, who generally only seemed to play Wii Sports every now and then and have recently upgraded to Just Dance 4 on the Xbox 360 they just got this Christmas. That’s about it… Beyond that, their game’s library is fairly anemic. Their younger brother spends more time playing Skylanders than either of the girls play Just Dance. They do generally spend a dollar here an there on an App for their phones, but I would guess that their annual spending habits for Apps are less than $20 a year together.
Bringing this all back to the beginning; I’m not upset with the points that people like Anita Sarkeesian are trying to make. She has a right to feel like gaming is a man’s world, but I’m not so sure it’s the fault of the developers entirely. Products exist to serve a market. This is why we don’t see Hello Kitty for young boys on the store shelves, because it probably wouldn’t sell very well. Context is just as important as content. In the context of video games, there is a strong argument to tailor games for the interested demographic. As much as games may be art, at the end of the day, they are a commercial art form; they require large sums of cash to continue to exist at the capacity at which they do today. This means you need to create something that not only appeals to wide audience, but it appeals to a wide audience who are willing to pay for it. More often than not, the safest bet is the core market; the 10 – 25 year old male.
Some arguments about these boy-centric games is that they reinforce some kind of objectification of women or that they create an unrealistic view of women. To the women who have never been a 12 year old boy, it’s something you’ll just never understand. Men and women are different creatures and there are no words in our vocabulary yet to describe to a man what is to be woman, and the same can be said to the other. Many games that appear to be tailored to young boys are designed by men who may be fulfilling some childhood power fantasy. In the simplest fantasy, a young man wants to be the hero of his own story. Basic principles will tell you that he’s not going to want to save the Prince; the Prince after all is his rival, the one who may achieve greatness before himself in the classic tale. Who dreams of getting second place, or going on a perilous journey to lose the object of their affection? It is not a reinforcement of any deep root conspiracy to push women back into the stone ages, it’s simply a fulfillment of one designers childhood fantasies, a fantasy that is often relived by every young boy who is finding himself and his place in the world. It is also a theme that happens to target the largest audience of actively interested consumers, even if it’s not the largest audience overall.
The funny thing is that the power fantasy is not something that you grow out of, which makes it such a popular topic for video games. As you grow older, you have to deal with the more serious side of life. You come to grips with your own mortality, with the loss of control over your life including anything from a lost loved one or unexpected parenthood to psychological and physical issues like depression or impedance. The power fantasy is the brief escape that some people need, even if that fantasy is manifested as a Greek god who disembowels mystical creatures to avenge the death of a woman he himself killed.
I can’t think of many top tier popular games that had some hidden agenda to objectify women. Most games with any demoralizing agenda frankly tend to be uninspired and poorly received by consumers. If there are activists out there who feel women are getting the short stick then maybe they should act on it instead of pointing the finger and telling others that they need to abandon their successful business strategies. I would welcome as many feminist games as these activists are willing to create themselves and submit to the gaming ecosystem, just as I am open to LGBT themes in games like Gone Home. The experience wasn’t really so special to me, but I’m still glad it’s there.
As much as I would love to pick up a couple of development kits for the sake of tinkering, I don’t think Nintendo would allow it, and I don’t have many thousands of dollars resting by the fireplace. As such, I’m going to have to work on a lot of assumptions.
Here’s a proposal I made in a previous blog post; pair the WiiU with it’s now popular handheld, the 3DS, and/or Drop the Game Pad for a Pro Controller in a new SKU. Below is a series of baseless mathematical formulas to argue my proof of feasibility.
When I think of Nintendo in recent months I often envision Iwata-san humming the popular Portal tune in my head, Still Alive. Nintendo is hurting, and I could certainly speculate why and point fingers like some angry monkey at various people along the chain of command. But I’d honestly rather consider the bigger picture. It’s just too easy to beat up on Nintendo right now. And even though I myself have shared my thoughts about why the WiiU is Dead to Me, I still don’t consider Nintendo to be a failure.
Nintendo is in a rough spot. They have a console that was dated the day it hit the market and is now even further out of sync with the rest of the industry. But that isn’t anything new for Nintendo. I feel like the people who groan over Nintendo’s choice to deliver a product that is inferior in every aspect, on paper, clearly has not followed the company for more than a single generation.
In the recent news of Nintendo reporting huge losses for the year, the obvious question started popping up; How can Nintendo convince you to buy a WiiU?
At this point it’s about momentum. For a long time I kept telling myself that when the games come I will pick up a WiiU. Now… I don’t know.
The other consoles are on the market and PS4 is looking really sharp. The lack of games on that platform has kept me playing on my PC but the higher probability for multi-platform games arriving on PS4 is much greater than WiiU.
Honestly, I just feel a bit slighted by Nintendo at this point. We are still waiting for launch titles to show up on the WiiU over a year later. That is completely bonkers. They spent a considerable amount of development time and dollars rehashing a Zelda that most fans have already played, and still haven’t come out with a proper Metroid, or even released Bayonetta yet. I mean, at this point it’s just a long running joke and I can’t take their efforts seriously.
I’m sure that Nintendo is working hard but they are running in place. It seems like every time they hand off a title to a 3rd party it gets mutilated. Hyrule Warriors?! The early trailer looked rough, and we probably witnessed 75% of the gameplay because it’s clearly Zelda assets in a Warriors engine. Other M was a disaster with the worst voice acting ever, worst story, repetitive environments, and general Team Ninja sexism just smeared all over it.
Nintendo has failed to prove exactly why that expensive controller is the reason to go with WiiU and not get a 10x more power and better supported device like PS4. I mean, why is it that the one and only console capable of having a Supreme Commander-like experience has failed to deliver a single RTS on their platform?! Why is it that we haven’t seen deep strategy or RPG games that let you use the big screen for the action while planning your attack on the small screen?! Seriously, a long list of 8bit remakes is cute but that hardly shows off the hardware. The problem is that, outside of Zelda HD, I haven’t seen anything on WiiU that couldn’t have been done on Wii just as well.
I wish I could say that I want a WiiU, but I don’t anymore. The newness is gone, and the games still aren’t there. It would take an epic announcement for me to look in their direction this generation.
I feel like I’ve talked about this before but, in case I haven’t, it needs to be said again.
There is a long list of successful of quality games on XBLA for XBox360 and a crop of gamers who’s first Microsoft console may be XB1. With the original introduction of XNA and the .NET family of virtual run-time environments, I was convinced that Microsoft was positioning themselves for a future proof console. I was convinced that their ultimate goal was to create a vast library that was agnostic to the hardware, and thus become the ultimate backwards compatible solution to the console cycle. With a run-time environment like .NET the idea of having to recompile your code was a thing of the past.
Okay, so a lot of this sounds like a no brainer for anyone beyond a Sophomore college grade level in Computer Science. And yet… Here we are, looking at a brand new piece of hardware that is owned by the very company that invented the .NET framework, and they mysteriously seem to have left it out of their design. A lot of people have just been sold a new car with 3 wheels and a spare tire…
I could be cynical here and say that Microsoft and the publishers that work with them are hoping to make an extra buck. Publishers could re-release these games on the new platform and squeeze out a few more pennies from naive gamers. But what if Microsoft considered doing the right thing here, and treated that library of XNA games much like your Steam library. These platform agnostic games could migrate onto the XB1 platform and give real value to this new console. Instead of 3 okay games, an XB1 owner could be staring at a library of 10+ games they own, 3 okay launch games, and 50 other quality games that may have been forgotten in the crowd of the previous generation, but are primed to buy them now. THAT to me sounds like a solid console experience.
C# is amazing, XNA was decent, Creators Club was terrible. If Microsoft’s new ID program is an improvement over the Creators Club then it could be a promising venture. That said, it wouldn’t take much to outclass the old system. Outside of that however, XNA was not bad and certainly could have been leagues better if it had not been abandoned years before the end of the 360 generation and demoted to being an SDK for phones nobody used. They really tossed out the baby with the bath water on this one, and there doesn’t appear to be any effort to get the baby back.
I feel like Microsoft had a bad experience with the wild nature of digital download games. But now that their entire console experience is centered around the downloadable experience, Microsoft needs to come to grips with the fact that their platform is going to get a little unwieldy again sooner or later. Simply cutting ties, drawing a line in the sand and saying that new consoles need all new games is an arrogant and short sided idea. Microsoft appears to have cut their own leg off by abandoning the suite of games that gave them any credibility as a supporter of small developers. I really do hope that they have a master plan here. I hope that, after all of the time and money and effort put into XNA, .NET, and this virtual run-time environment that it wasn’t all just a flaccid gateway to development for an irrelevant phone.