Tag Archives: design

Online-Only Consoles

Dan Stapleton, IGN:

When Microsoft announced the Xbox One in 2013, it was going to require an always-on internet connection to function. After backlash from gamers and Sony’s gloating proclamation that the PlayStation 4 would play games just fine without the help of the internet, Microsoft backed down and dropped the requirement (except for a one-time console activation). As it turns out, Microsoft’s initial approach was more realistic about the modern reality of how games are made, and what’s effectively required in order to have a reasonably stable experience with a physical copy of a game you buy off the shelf today. Your console will indeed run without a connection, but your disc-based games may not give it much to work with.

This piece started and ended exactly how I wanted it to; picking up with Microsoft’s original (and much maligned) “always-on” strategy, and ending with today’s “always-on” gaming reality.

Ben Kuchera recently spoke with former AAA developer Keith Fuller for this tragicomic piece on the instability of recent AAA titles. In short:

This sort of thing is more common than you think, and it leads to muddled, unfinished and often buggy releases. It’s not a matter of including the kitchen sink; developers are sometimes tasked with adding a hot tub at the last second as the project develops.

Stapleton touches on the fact that patches are blessing, but I seem to remember a time when there weren’t even a reality. Maybe I’m showing nostalgic naivety, but I’m having a very difficult time recalling game-breaking bugs from the pre-PS3/Xbox 360 era. But can today’s AAA, reality-verging games truly exist in a non-patchable world?

Games are more complex than they have ever been. The benefits of more powerful hardware are simply enablers. In 30+ years, we have moved from simple sketches of fantasy to unparalleled productions that now challenge reality. Global resources are required to make today’s video games. That doesn’t begin to scratch the surface of the time and resources it takes to generate cutting-edge animations and textures in highly detailed main characters, let alone randomly generated NPCs. I imagine it’s easier to create windblown hair now than five years ago, but nothing compared to the two frames it took in 1988. Just because a console “can” doesn’t make it any easier create.

As an aside, allow this 2011 piece from Gamesradar entertain you: how I wish Microsoft would have stuck with their original strategy.

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‘Nobody ever says “I don’t care if the music sounds bad.”‘

John Gruber, The Talk Show:

In general, I would rather read an interesting, well-written novel that’s poorly typeset than read a terrible novel that is beautifully typeset. Of course. That’s the difference. Even me as somebody obsessed with typography would agree with that. Whereas with music, nobody ever says “I don’t care if the music sounds bad,” like at a technical level. It’s fundamental to listening to music. But as the person making the device, that should be the obsession.

Relinking similar thoughts about broken video games from myself.

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Monument Valley is Magic

Myke Hurley of Relay FM interviewing Neil McFarland, Director of Games at ustwo:

MH: Visually, Monument Valley’s levels, they focus a lot on optical illusions and trickery. How much more difficult is that to develop for than just creating a straight “go from here to here” type level?

NM: It offers a lot of different challenges. We’re trying to delight people. There is that moment of delight when you turn the Penrose triangle around, you see it for the first time. Something goes from 2D to 3D and you suddenly see a connection that’s not there. It’s magic. For us, it was a drive to see how many of those we could uncover and re-engineering things and playing and trying and failing and getting it right and getting it wrong. It’s not easy but we were following our noses and following intuition and just seeing how many of those moments we could find within the concept.

The software engineering behind video games is still beyond me. Even so, I couldn’t help but wonder just how ustwo were able to engineer Monument Valley’s impossible yet traversable objects on the fly. Magic is right.

Relinking my review of Monument Valley 1.0 here.

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The Making of Lumino City

Brave. Daring. Ambitious. Inspired. Inspiring. Beautiful.

Not twenty minutes before watching this video was I listening to Howard Shore’s The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey soundtrack, ruminating on what it must have felt like to be involved in such a massive, all-consuming project as The Lord of the Rings film franchise. I often fantasize about working as a builder or set designer on those projects, bringing Tolkien’s Middle-earth to life. Imagining the construction of Lumino City brings about the same thoughts and is far more compelling than the game itself, and boy what an amazing game it looks to be.

State of Play’s Lumino City will be available tomorrow, December 3rd, via Steam for Mac and PC. Official trailer below.

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‘New Video Games Shouldn’t Be So Broken’

Luke Plunkett, Kotaku:

I get that making games is hard. That publishers force deadlines on teams, that accounting for millions of players is rough work, that a myriad of technical complexities mean completely eradicating bugs is an impossible task.

As a paying customer, though, I just don’t care anymore. Why? Because right now, the blockbuster video game industry is taking more than it’s giving back.

Another good read about the growing trend of broken games, the need for bigger testing budgets, and the call not to pre-order games.

Plunkett continues:

If a car, or DVD, or rice-cooker, or phone, or basically anything else launched with significant parts not working, or not working as well as advertised, it’d be slammed. People would demand their money back, and they would get it, because there is an expectation that when you pay money for something, it works.

My similar thoughts from November 11, 2014 below:

This does not, however, address the problem of protection from broken product. This is not film or music— botched playback would never escape manufacturing; a bad bounce would never escape the studio. Pre-orders for products so deeply rooted in real-time mechanics and engineering, notoriously subjected to time crunches and annual release dates, cannot wisely be considered for pre-order without subjection to reviews. While I implore patiently waiting for reviews on this type of product, release date and post-release date embargo lifts, as Kuchera implies, are cowardly and bullshit.

Hat tip to Brett Batesole.

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What is a game? And why it matters!

Yours truly, June 23, 2014:

There have been many arguments about the term “video game” and what it actually means in today’s world. Many “games” no longer incorporate elements of games (e.g. Journey), causing critics to coin terms like “interactive experiences.” I think Siracusa’s talk shines light on a better word for modern games (especially first-person design) that has been right under our noses: Simulations.

There are games (e.g. Super Mario Bros., Uncharted), there are simulations (e.g. Journey, Dear Esther, Gran Turismo), and there are those that incorporate both (e.g. Halo, Mario Kart). The problem is that no one wants to hear the term “simulation.” For most, simulations have been boring since Flight Simulator 2000. On the other hand, games have been fun for centuries.

As we move closer to an Oculus future, we move further away from “video games.” If anything, I’d argue that the term “video game” does more harm than good for the industry’s larger appeal, carrying the baggage of a childish activity regardless of what studies show. “Simulation” may not be perfect the perfect term but it’s a word that should be incorporated more often.

In any case, a very enjoyable argument from Jamin Warren and PBS.

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‘Why the Two-Hour Game is the Future’

A great article by Colin Campbell at IGN exploring the gaming community’s need and desire for shorter yet emotionally fulfilling games such as Journey, Limbo, and Dear Esther:

[…] the two-hour narrative game has arrived as something with a definite beginning, middle, and end. It’s a story that is designed to be played through entirely in one sitting. It does not demand the kind of time-investment of a game like Mass Effect 3, nor does it attempt to persuade you to join a sub-culture of online enthusiasts like Call of Duty. Nor is it crafted to ensnare you with addictive tricks, like Angry Birds. It is downloadable and priced at the cost of a movie ticket and a bag of popcorn.

The article includes interviews with game developers Jenova Chen (Journey), Dan Pinchbeck (Dear Esther), Edmund McMillen (Super Meat Boy), and Dino Patti (Limbo).

Dan Pinchbeck:

[…] we’ve got this slightly weird situation where it’s all or nothing, right? It either has to be something that basically takes you the amount of time it takes you to have a bowel movement or it’s got to last you for six months. There’s nothing in the middle and that just seems weird and crazy.

The article also explores developer’s desires to work on smaller games due to the developer’s ability to experience creativity more freely rather than be pressured by massive, corporate controlled budgets and large, separated development teams.

Jenova Chen:

If you make something artistic you need to reach a very strong coherence in the development team so the game has a singular voice. A very clear vision, so that the audience who experience the game can clearly get that voice or get the vision. If you have hundreds of people working on something there’s no way of working on the game towards the same direction. When you have three hundred people working on something the game just felt like a huge crowd of people singing but they’re not well orchestrated. It sounds loud, it sounds impressive, but you don’t know what they are singing. You don’t know what the game is about.

A worthwhile read that I can get behind!

Recently, I have found that I have very little time to invest in gaming. When I do find that time, I do not want to attempt jumping into a massive story, knowing I’ll likely forget what was going on, forget how the mechanics work the next time I play it, or never finish the game, nor do I want waste my time on grinding in an MMO or flinging birds into bricks.

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[This was originally posted on 4/18/12 on my previous thestarrlist.tumblr.com blog; reblogged in regard to Ben Kuchera’s piece To hell with longer games, tell me how SHORT your game is.]

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MMOs, English, and Experiential Learning

Phys.org:

The computer games that appear to be most effective for the development of English vocabulary are those known as Massively multiplayer online role-playing games (MMORPG), a genre of role-playing computer games in which a large number of players interact with one another in a virtual world.

“As a player you simply have to be able to understand what’s being said, to read English and to interact yourself by both writing and speaking English,” says Liss Kerstin Sylvén, Associate Professor at the University of Gothenburg, who conducted the study together with Pia Sundqvist, Senior Lecturer in English at Karlstad University.

I’ve always considered localization to be the bottleneck in the globally connected society; though, I’ve never considered it’s use in MMOs. Maybe I just assumed that all players were connecting to local servers. Apparently not.

My little sister was adopted from China at age 9. She hadn’t had any experience with the English language at the time, nor had she acquired the ability to read or write in her native language due to the lack of adequate education in the orphanage. All of our initial communication was handled through Google Translate. However, within months of being immersed in an English speaking culture, her use and understanding of English skyrocketed at an extremely rapid pace.

On a simpler yet similar note, my own typing skills (not necessarily my grammar) greatly improved by the use of AIM, mIRC, and Battle.net outside if school. Mavis Beacon or other education based software didn’t hold a candle to what I was learning through practical, real world use.

When forced to learn a skill because the greater population or infrastructure will not conform to your own methods while their’s is efficiently serving the same function, you are forced to learn. I believe this is the trick with edTech and game-based learning. Build a “core” game with limitations and challenges where the player is forced to apply different skills or types of thought to win instead of a “game” that is purely and unabashedly focused on teaching a particular skill. Flashing lights, fun noises, and achievements can only go so far. It needs to be an engaging (and possibly addictive) game to teach. Experiential learning is key.

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Your Brain Sucks at Video Games

Anthony Carboni:

We blame everything when we suck at games: lag, the controller, bad framerates- but here’s a fun fact: your brain is built to be terrible at video games and everything is usually your own fault.

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Visual Polish

Ed Catmull, excerpt from Creativity, Inc.:

For all the care you put into artistry, visual polish frequently doesn’t matter if you are getting the story right.

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