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Friday, February 12, 2010

How Street Fighter should look

A lot has been said about this already, so let me add my voice to the throng:

Street Fighter -- the gameplay -- should look like the stylistic trailers Capcom with which keeps teasing us.
Have you seen these? Watercolor! Splashes! Sandblasting!

Like this "Valentine's Day" trailer:


Give us beautiful innovative game visuals with the super fluid gameplay. Oh, and please take us out of "2.5D".

Put Okami, Street Fighter, and Mirror's Edge in a blender, please. Push the "Awesomate" button.

Iterate as needed.

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Friday, September 18, 2009

AGDC: The Loner

I made one session amidst the day of mind-numbing negotiations, and that was Damion Schubert's "The Loner":
"This talk explores one of the more interesting puzzles of massively multiplayer game design: why do so many people choose to play these games alone? How should designers reach these customers? How important is solo play to games? Should game designers try to entice solo players to enjoy group mechanics like raiding, sieges or PvP? Or are MMOs destined to become 'massively single-player games'?"
I've known Damion (casually) for years, and I'm constantly impressed by his digging into the tougher (and/ or more important) game design challenges, with concrete takeaways. I don't like to summarize his talks, because theres so much rich content there. But I will anyway. Check out is blog,, for more of wisdom and wittyisms.

This talk was about the shift over the last five years in MMOs toward providing (really, requiring) solo play in addition to the "massive". He identified several types of "Loner" - both legitimate (personality type or good game design) and illegitimate (broken game states). Damion offered a large number of concrete design techniques that could help make great games (and avoid game-killing design mistakes)

Damion made an important observation that the "massive" is the differentiation for MMOs - "We can't compete in any other area". Despite this, it's not even an option to create an MMO without a solo aspect.

He also covered bits of psychology and usability -- like, many people don't want to learn publicly; but even more, they don't want to be embarrassed publicly.

Damion made some important real-world data analogies to MMO design (traffic, bars, casino design) that would serve game designers well to consider.

There are also gradations of solo players. Many people (like me) choose to play socially with friends, but solo if friends aren't online

Sociopaths, at their simplest, don't recognize social norms for the space they're in. But everyone who's new to a given MMO is a sociopath, until the designer explicitly trains them otherwise (you don't know the social norms for the new space until you're taught them, and they're ingrained). People who don't change or don't care need to be retrained, channeled, or booted.

From a game design perspective, being "a Loner" is OK; forced into being lonely is not, and is a borked game state.

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Thursday, May 07, 2009

Gamebryo LightSpeed videos

There are new videos on the Emergent Game Technologies YouTube site, showing off some of the new functionality added in our Gamebryo LightSpeed product.

The videos are part of a series showing level editing in the new World Builder tool, data-driven entity and behaviour modeling for designers (in our just-added Entity Modeling Tool / EMT), and some Lua scripting shenanigans.

They're quick videos we put together for licensees and other partners prior to GDC09, and product manager Dave Bell is responsible for making them happen (and for doing the narration).

Not all of the videos are included, so it may feel like there are gaps -- but some of the videos are necessarily available only to folks under appropriate license or NDA.

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Sunday, March 22, 2009

GDC 2009: The Media

OK, I'm not talking about the public media for the show, I'm talking about personal media.


Since it's a games convention, and I'm a gamer, I picked up far too many DS titles for my cross-country trip and week o' gamey goodness.

I'm finally giving up on Advanced Wars: Days of Ruin. Vince and Mike shamed me into playing it, it's awesome, but I've been stuck at the very end for too long, and there are too many good games to play for me to keep beating my head against a wall. Great Game, though.

I picked up Dragon Ball Origins, because it looks like a good lightish RPG crawler treatment of a license I like.

Then there's Lock's Quest, a strategy title which I've been meaning to snag for a while, and finally did. I hope it's deeper than Ninja Town.

I want to see what all the fuss is about, so I'm bringing a copy of Phoenix Wright Ace Attorney: Justice for All. Probably going to be more interactive fiction-y.

Thanks to a series of unfortunate events surrounding Circuit City, I finally added to my library Chrono Trigger (dirt cheap) from recent EGT customer Square Enix.

And Vince gave me Professor Layton and the Curious Village, which he can't stop raving about, and it will hopefully keep me sated until the anime comes out.


I filled an SD card with SXSW tunes from this year's festival. I may have not been able to go, but I've got a bunch of fare from bands who did, including a ton o' tunes my beloved Rainbow Quartz Records.


Here's my odd mix for this year -- a gut-wrenching important book about being a father and man of honor for little girls, and 40 years of Spider-Man and Captain America on DVD. I shall switch back and forth between both.

So that's my personal media; but we'll see if I get to any of it; I still have to write up the all-hands talking points and floor demo instructions.


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Saturday, June 07, 2008

Video game criticism that matters

Here's a decent article (and part of a series) on more mature video game criticism: "Zarathustran Analytics in Video Games, Part 9: Flaws in Criticism Today".

You should read the article (and the series), but -- in essence -- it's a call for the importance of meaningful critical review of games as genuine feedback to the teams that make them, as opposed to the "this is fun" / "this sucks" or review scores model that is endemic to the review world today.

(As an aside, does anyone else find it ironic that versions of numerical scores are used to grade non-numerical, creative experiences)?

I do think a model that creates -- in essence -- post mortem input to creative teams is far more useful for driving the games industry forward in a meaningful way than the aggregate Metacritic scores currently used by publishers, and (unfortunately) sometimes used to penalize creativity.

I think there's probably some middle(ish) ground between the prevailing system, and ivory tower(ish) critiques like "Repressed Homoeroticism in R-Type" (no disrespect meant, but I'm looking for a subset of enabling criticism that helps development teams, as opposed to "just" cultural implication assessments).

I do have a pet peeve, though: historical pop culture memory gaps.

While I appreciate references to Lester Bangs and Alan Moore, why reference Enders Game, as opposed to Kobayashi Maru? Or perhaps more appropriately (given this particular article), why use Mirrors Edge, rather than precursor (and dead-on candidate for the particular point being made) Breakdown? (Admittedly, I'm perhaps overly a fan of Breakdown, and think that team did something gutsy and innovative and didn't get its due props.)

But those are nits compared to my overall appreciation of this article and its sentiment.

Check it out for yourself.

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Thursday, May 29, 2008

Character creation randomizer

I like character creation mechanics in games.

I like having a unique character, and the option to customize the way I want to, if I have the time and / or inclination.

What I don't like is having to take the time when I want to jump in and play, but not be stuck with the canned Space Marine 2099.

So, Devs? Can you please add a character randomizer? I've been able to roll random characteristics in table-top gaming for ages. Please grant me the virtual equivalent.

Thank you.


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Tuesday, March 04, 2008

Gary Gygax, dead at 69

Gary Gygex, Co-creator of Dungeons & Dragons, died in his home in Lake Geneva, Wisconsin, at 69 years old.

There's probably a hit points joke in there somewhere, but I'm just too saddened by our loss of another creative entrepreneur.

Whatever your feeling about D&D, fellow creative Warren Spector maybe sums it up best (for me):
"what most folks don't appreciate is how special, how ground-breaking it was as the first medium of expression to turn anyone who played into a storyteller, into an author, into a creator. Not a bad legacy for a pioneering game guy..."

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Wednesday, October 17, 2007

Another place consoles are missing the boat

So, The Orange Box has flagged for me a couple of big missed opportunities for developers / publishers wanting to capitalize on things setting consoles apart from PCs.

The big one is multiplayer. I'm not talking about Xbox Live and the PlayStation Network -- I'm talking same-box, four-player mutliplayer.

I have FOUR freaking controllers! Not being able to play local Crackdown at all, only being able to do two-player local co-op for Gears of War, and having to go online to play any multiplayer Team Fortress 2 sucks. Why buy it for $60 for the Xbox 360 or PS3 (eventually?) when I can have the same same box experience (with an arguably better control set) for up to $25 less?

I can see a company mistakenly not wanting to implement local multiplayer, because of the mistaken perception they can sell more games if everybody has to buy them in order to play.

Ridiculous. I have so many friends and acquaintances who have bought games and systems because of my twice weekly open game nights. You limit the local play, you limit those sales.

I'm glad to see Halo 3 continues the 4-player same-box support, both offline and online (other than offline co-op campaign, which only supports 2, and which I maintain is likewise poor; but not as bad as all of the other games I mention).

I'd have more sympathy, but (A) I really think console multiplayer games need to support local multiplayer as a standard feature to compete in the current market, and (B) After pinging multiple game devs about this, they were pretty harsh about local multiplayer not being included because of "developer laziness" -- ouch! And those are their words, not mine).

So, get with it, kids. I would have bought The Orange Box day one if TF2 supported local 4-way play. As it is, I'll hold off until it hits a promo discount price, and if that doesn't happen well before or well after the holiday game glut, I may end up passing on the title altogether.

Oh, and Area #2 where consolers are falling short? User content. Halo 3 has the Forge level editing feature. Build from that (give us the level, map, and skin creation options we've had on the PC mod side for years).

(Oh, and don't get mad at me for mentioning Halo 3 so much. Though they do a lot of things right, their botched non-drop-in-drop-out online co-op sucks. Feel better?)

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Monday, September 17, 2007

Serious games I'd like to see: Anthropological MMO

"Serious games" are a genre of interactive entertainment designed to not "just" entertain. They should provide instructional or simulation benefits, often beyond just "edutainment" -- more along the lines of equipping users with skills they need before they actually need them in the real world.

Companies like Maryland-based BreakAway Games and Austin-based Online Alchemy provide serious games (or AI for serious games) for clients such as first responders and the Armed Forces.

Other companies, like Total Immersion Software (also based in Austin), provide game engines for creating serious games in addition to mass-consumption games.

Sites like Ian Bogost's Persuasive Games create games that "influence players to take action through gameplay", because games "communicate differently than other media; they not only deliver messages, but also simulate experiences. While often thought to be just a leisure activity, games can also become rhetorical tools."

So, here's a game I'd like to see -- an anthropological Massively Multiplayer Online game.

I'm calling it AnthopoMMO(TM) (partially because it's apropos; partially because it makes me grin).

Below is basically a formal concept document for the title:


PC (at least)

Target Demographic:
Male/Female 14-55
Students and Academics

High Concept:
World of Warcraft meets the Mayans. And the Aztecs. And the Inuits. And the Aka. And ...

The game will leverage research and assets from partner universities and secondary education sites around the world to create a free-roaming massively multiplayer online (MMO) game. Rather than just traditional MMO fighting (or "grinding"), the game will let you pick a member of included tribes, peoples, and cultures to grow within your culture. You also be able to explore other cultures -- including your impact on those other cultures. In this sense, the game would be more of a "World" MMO, as opposed to a "Quest" or "Player-versus-Player" (PvP) MMO. However, it would have elements of all of those types of MMOs.

Where you start out in the game depends on what people you choose, and your purpose in the game.

The game will have three avenues for exploration:
  1. Leveling up within your chosen people (leveling and interaction is restricted to those within your chosen cultural and geographical restrictions).
  2. Interacting with other groups, peoples, or tribes (creating a powerful "what if" simulator) for academic research and exploration.
  3. Spectator mode for "untouched" peoples (largely for research and observation).
The goal is to work your way through the "ranks" of your chosen society, but that may include testing interactions in a simulation manner to model possible inter- or extra-societal impacts.

Every group, tribe, people group would have two versions. The first is a "Control Group" that would be untouched by MMO players, but can be visited in a non-impacting way in a "spectator" mode (popularized by some shooter-style video games). The second group would be an "open" group that could be used for likely interactions (say, the Aka hunter-gatherers visiting Ngandu farmers), and unlikely interactions (the an Aka tribes member mixing with the Inuits).

Each playable character will have personality and attributes of its own, attributable to the chosen people group. Models will be "balanced" based on anthropological input to take advantage of their culture and physicality, while constrained by real-world physics, weather, climate, terrain, and the like.

Play modes are to be determined, but may include versus AI (NPC), online adversarial, online co-operative, and "online exploratory" (for joint research of "Control Groups"). Player models are marginally customizable, depending on the chosen people. Customization may be randomized to a simplified subset of inputs.

Art style is in keeping with 3D simulation MMOs, and more realistic, as opposed to cartoony or characterized.

Input can be provided and updated by top-tier anthropological and related disciplinary programs (archeology, etc.) throughout the world. These organizations would be recognized through formal partnerships, to constrain input and development.

I'm pretty intrigued by this idea, and if anyone else out there is, too, let me know. We can address a quick non-disclosure agreement, and I can share a somewhat lengthier formal Proposal Document.

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Monday, August 20, 2007

Killing our heroes ...

I've been thinking about design, story, and games as "high art" for a long time, but quite a bit lately in particular.

One of things I've tossed around on multiple personal projects of mine (video game, comic book, screenplay, and more) for a long time is the importance of meaningful sacrifice. It's important to me, so it shows up in my creative endeavors.

This shows up in different ways, besides my own creative output.

Like my interest in the recent Comic-Con "Kill Your Darlings" panel with F. Paul Wilson, David Morrell, Max Allan Collins, Richard Morgan, Josh Coniser, Joe Schreiber, Elizabeth Forrest, and Maryelizabeth Hart.

Or there's my recent rant about games not being "more artistic" than film.

And there's this video of Ed Brubaker interviewing Matt Fraction, where Fraction turns the tables briefly and asks Brubaker about his killing Captain America, and how Brubaker loves the freedom at Marvel, because he was able to kill Captain America, because "nothing is sacred" there. (For the record, I think Brubaker's writing one of the most amazing ongoing books in Captain America, and all with the absence of the titular character; "titular" especially when Rob Liefeld draws him. Oh, snap! Oh, and I like that Fraction doesn't care what he says.)

(And I'm sorry if this is first time you've heard of that Cap's dead, but it's been months; go here for my "second shooter theory").

Speaking of Master Chief (what, you didn't follow that last link?), I got to thinking about Microsoft's recent print ad campaign for Halo 3, which has M.C. Johnny walking by a giant structure. There's some blah blah blah text at the top of the add, and this nugget that stand's out to me in the middle of the page:

"A hero need not speak. When he is gone, the world will speak for him."
And I got to thinking, how cool would it be if this was literal? How cool would it be if this was about Master Chief?

In short, how cool would it be if Master Chief had to die at the end of Halo 3 to "finish the fight"?

(I really enjoy the Halo franchise, and I'm not anti-Microsoft, so get that out of your head.)

More generally, what if we wrote games such that to really succeed, you had to sacrifice yourself?

I'm thinking of the sacrifices in other mediums that struck me. Spock in The Wrath of Khan (best Star Trek movie EVAR). Spider-Man in the J. M. DeMatteis / Mike Zeck "Kraven's Last Hunt" / "Fearful Symmetry" arc (hey, I thought Spidey was dead). Superman (even though I knew he wasn't going to stay that way). Elliot Ness in the romanticized The Untouchables. Doyle in the Angel episode, "Hero". Captain America.

And there have been moments in games. Floyd in Planetfall comes to mind.

But what an amazing opportunity games have.

Ever felt elevated or weepy or inspired or called to action from watching a film? What if you weren't watching the heroes making sacrifice, breaking your heart, making you feel like you need to jump out of your chair (Hellboy's "making a choice") -- what if you were that guy or girl?

What if we get to play our icons in a game, and sacrifice ourselves. Not because we suck at 3D platformers (ahem, Ms. Croft), but because the sacrifice is required to "win" the game. Or maybe it's required at least for one or more versions of "winning", given games' propensities for multiple endings.

This obviously has to be handled carefully. It can't be a cheap death (we gamers hate those already). And it can't be contrived ("I must die, otherwise I don't finish the game"). It's got to be so organic and sensible and seem like the only option (or at least one of the sensible options) that the player wants to sacrifice her- or himself (no easy thing in a purported non-linear medium). And it's also dicey because Brubaker's "nothing is sacred" is different than "nothing is important" (he's very much treating the death of Captain America as wicked important in that book).

Think about it. What if the story and the stakes for games were so elevated that I as a gamer felt like what I do matters so much, I'm willing to sacrifice myself for the good of the game universe, which -- for a moment at least -- I forget is a game universe.

That's when I think interactivity will meet high art. I'm still looking for that.

Let me know what you think.

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