Posted by Rampant Coyote on May 23, 2013
The big XBox One (“XBone”) Reveal has just happened – the next-gen XBox! Woot!
Except… I dunno. Maybe as more details appear, I’ll get more excited, but I’m not too excited.
For one thing, they are going for the, “This isn’t just a game console, it’s your home entertainment system!” approach that served Sony so well for their PS3 launch. Oh, right, it was kind of a dud, wasn’t it? Well, maybe it’s just one of those things that failed because people didn’t spend enough money on it. Brute force for the win, right?
Okay, strike one. Let’s keep going.
Secondly, while they have apparently backed down on (or never really entertained) the “Always Online” requirement, instead they have a “Must be online daily” requirement.
Ah, that’s fine, then. We’re only going to be a little bit pregnant.
“There are many devices in your life that require the Internet to function,” Microsoft VP Phil Harrison explains. Which is absolutely true. But my gaming console isn’t one of them. Heck, I’m still pending an XBox Live update for my XBox from 3 months ago. I still use it, just… not online. And my GPS? I updated it a few weeks ago online, but otherwise, it’s not online. My phone? No, I don’t have a data plan for it, it’s still a “dumb phone” and works fine. My new tablet! Ah-hah. Except… well, half of the time when I use it I’m either not online, or not using it’s online capabilities. Playing games, watching stored videos, reading books (which I side-loaded)…
Yeah, my computers are mostly online devices, but for many years I was a busy computer user and never or rarely “online.” For a while, “online” meant “connected to a local bulletin board over the modem.”
So no, as a matter of fact, most of the devices in my life don’t have an online requirement. It’s just you and your new XBox, Mr. Harrison.
But more to the point – what this really means is that you cannot buy games for the XBox. You only rent them, but you pay full price as if you are buying them. But someday, Microsoft is going to pull the plug on you, and mock you for being such a whiner about it. Strike two.
Mock you? Yeah. I think Microsoft has proven that its personnel are happy to mock. Like in the case of Adam Orth. Or – from Don Mattrick, who explained on the lack of backwards-compatibility with previous XBox games, “If you are backwards-compatible, you are really backwards.”
Oooh, no backwards compatibility, and an attitude about it to boot. I’m not gonna call that a strike three, but it’s missing a brownie point that would have encouraged some small amount of leeway from me. What? You claim only 5% of customers play older videogames on newer systems anyway? Maybe it’s because you make it such a PITA! Hey, here’s a stat for you… how many Desktop Computer users use older software on new computers with a new operating system? I’d guess well over 90%!
Anyway, I could make some inappropriate (but also very analogous) jokes about how Microsoft only wants to force us a little bit to submit to their cloud servers so they can “best service” us. But I’ll leave that to other people, ‘cuz I’m above that and stuff. Bottom line – it’s still the worst of both worlds for me. It’s both a service and a product, whichever is advantageous to THEM. Not to me, the customer. And while I can still play games just fine on my fun little museum of older consoles, this one comes with an expiration date on it at which point the device will self-destruct… they just won’t tell us the date. I’m not okay with that.
And now another one… developers. Microsoft has nuked XNA, is nuking self-publishing on this device, and is getting rid of XBLA. Indies have so far not received invitations to the party. This may not ultimately be The Way of Things, and so everything may be warm and cuddly by launch, or shortly thereafter. It’s possible. But so far… it sounds like Microsoft is closing up the system. Indie, go home! Striiiiiiiike three. I’m out.
I guess I might be going back to Sony after all. It’s been a long time, hasn’t it, babe? Or maybe the Ouya is all I’ll have time for. We’ll see. This can all change in a heartbeat, and maybe I’ll be a gushing XB-one fanboy in a week or two. But for now, I’m feeling XBoned.
Filed Under: Biz - Comments: 8 Comments to Read
Posted by Rampant Coyote on May 22, 2013
I have recently entered the land of the mobile-deviced. Or something. Got a Nexus 10 (though I still have a plain ol’ “dumb” phone for the foreseeable future). It really is for game development, but I wanted to get some use out of it. A friend told me that he really had to hunt for ways to make his useful, but after some success it became indispensable. So I took his word for it and have looked for ways of using it.
It’s kinda tough for a guy who is almost always in front of a computer. There’s seriously very little a tablet can do that a computer cannot – except be mobile. Going where the computer can’t (at least not conveniently).
Remembering how incredibly boring a few recent flights for The Day Job were, I took that as an opportunity to hunt down the competition and find some entertainment (jussincase) in the process. So I checked out what was shaking in the RPG department for Android.
In five minutes, I was searching for an option to filter out any game that was “free.”
By way of explanation… I hate buying a car. I inevitably buy used, and used car dealerships are generally horrible experiences for me. No matter how much research you do, you are in an inferior position to the person in a cheap suit trying to gauge how much they can gouge you. With one recent exception (where I wisely educated myself as much as possible in advance, and went to a place specializing in low-pressure, no-haggle ‘one fair price’ dealerships), I’ve always felt like I’ve been taken…. but I never really knew by how much. So I’ve always felt like I’ve been played for a sucker.
So although I have rarely put any money into a “Free to Play” game – and have nothing against them personally (I mean, technically, my free demos of my games are kinda “free to play” with an upsell), I feel like these “free” games are either crapware laden with ads, or the digital equivalent of a used car dealership. I don’t feel like subjecting myself to either of these ugly situations.
And the Android store is laden with it. I was quickly getting to the point where I was only looking at those games with enough confidence and forthrightness to show it’s offer up-front.
Am I a really obscure exception to some rule – a market that nobody would do well to lose money on?
One day I’ll probably end up making a real “free to play” – long after the trend has died- and will probably have to come up with some crazy excuse that I really believe about how I’m different from all that other crap out there. And maybe I’m just being a big wuss about it (I do have a couple of f2P apps, and they aren’t bad. But for right now, it seems a little like a ghetto of gaming. A bunch of crappy games trying to lure me in to nickle-and-dime me to death or something.
Filed Under: Geek Life - Comments: 6 Comments to Read
Posted by Rampant Coyote on May 21, 2013
I’m in France this week. Actually, I’m in France as I type this, dog-tired.
While the trip was long and arduous, it is kind of amazing how small the world has become. In one ten-hour flight, I’m a third of the world away. It’s a butt-busting trip (particularly when flying coach), but relative to the history of the world it’s amazingly fast. I mean, you are covering several miles per minute. Modern travel and communication has allowed us to view a hundred miles in the same way that our ancestors may have viewed ten miles. It’s changed scale a lot.
I remember, many years ago, seeing game ads and previews pushing the size of the world in real-world units as a selling point. That never made sense to me. I mean, take Ultima – I can’t remember if it was one of the offenders or not – where you could cover leagues of distance per keypress. Maybe the map represented thousands of square miles, but an entire world of Ultima IV or V couldn’t contain the amount of adventure thrust upon you just crossing the city of Baldur’s Gate in Baldur’s Gate II, where you couldn’t get down a street without having a half-dozen quests thrown at your feet. The smaller world was more adventure-packed.
As a side-note, I once heard that if you did a 3D representation of those epic, sprawling cities and villages in Ultima VII, they looked… pathetic. That top-down perspective really helped make the world seem bigger…
Fortunately, I haven’t seen real-world scales used much in recent years as a marketing point for worlds. Either they are going to be big, empty miles cross uneventfully just like a modern-era jet eats the miles, or you will have a sandbox world where – with a few carefully-designed exceptions – the complete game and all of its potential can exist only a short distance from your spawn point.
When I was a kid, I lived out in the hills of West Virginia, and I’d see our little community (the “holler” – that was West Virginia speak for “hollow”) surrounded by woods. I imagined adventure lurking behind every patch of brush and every tree. I imagined giants, ogres, witches, buried treasure, you name it. Hey, my younger years included folk-tales of a guy named Jack who faced those kinds of threats whenever he left his home, so I imagined it just beyond our back yards. To me, that’s how adventure is supposed to be – high-density.
This should be something that guides RPG design, as well. Where the gaps are perhaps more notable for their rarity, a chance for the tension to mount or a brief respite to be obtained.
Filed Under: Design - Comments: 9 Comments to Read
Posted by Rampant Coyote on May 20, 2013
This just makes me happy. This is worth several thousand words of explaining why indie games are so cool.
Maybe it’s just because it reminds me of being a kid again, and visiting a new arcade and finding a bunch of new games I’d never heard of, plus a bunch of old familiar favorites. But I watch this and think, “Wow. Indies are AWESOME. Look at what they are making!”
Via Pixel Prospector…
Filed Under: Indie Evangelism - Comments: 3 Comments to Read
Posted by Rampant Coyote on May 17, 2013
First – an announcement:
There’s only a day left in the Show Me the Games sale. This sale is the only one that is 100% indie-driven, 100% indie-revenue (and 100% indie games), so if you really want to support the indies, this is the way to go. About 3 dozen games, all of them pretty awesome, are on sale. Including Frayed Knights! (Although the coupon code for half-price – “SHOWME” – for my game will probably still be good through Saturday. Probably.)
Now on to today’s rant…
“The Indie Community.”
“You keep using that word. I do not think it means what you think it means.” – Inigo Montoya, the Princess Bride
Indie Games have become the “rock & roll” of the games industry. Well, a really geeky, naval-gazing, not-all-that-sexy version of rock-and-roll. Without groupies. Hopefully without the drugs. Okay, this analogy is getting us nowhere. The thing is – well, indie has become a little bit of “the thing.” For now. To a point. Indie games – or at least a subset of indie games – have grabbed the spotlight. The indie narrative is compelling – it’s the stuff I’ve been evangelizing about it for years: creative control, gameplay over graphics, getting back to the purity of what made the hobby great in the first place, experimentation, innovation, and all that.
Very cool stuff, for people who consider themselves “gamers.” And even that word – “gamers” – has changed meaning over the years, from “people who play video games” – which is an awful lot of people these days – to “game fans.” I’m tempted to call then “hard core,” but that tends to have a whole separate meaning now referring to game style, not the amount of time spent or appreciation held for the games. Man, when did vocabulary get so weird for games?
So the challenge is – as Andy Schatz explained at this year’s IGF – that indie’s getting a little mainstream, now. “The system we’re fighting kind of likes us now,” he commented. “Like it or not, we’re not the Clash anymore. We’re Green Day.”
But we still put on the story, the narrative. We hold to the title “indie” because it serves a very useful purpose – it resets player expectations from what the AAA industry has been indoctrinating them to expect for decades. It explains, “Hey, this is a garage band playing at a bar, not a big expensive studio band with a million-dollar stage production.” That way people don’t get confused and disappointed when they don’t get a laser show and fog machine, and the lead guitarist can’t afford to smash his guitar to pieces on the stage.
So then we refer to the “indie community.” Broadly defined – as I can not understand any better definition – this is “everybody who makes indie games.” With the explosion of indie games (just look at how many games are in the app store nowadays – most of ‘em are indie) over the last few years, that’s a freaking huge group, with vastly different personalities and interests. It’s like saying, “The writing community,” or the “music community.” Crazy. Yeah, we don’t have very many points of unification.
Now, gaming journalists can’t handle the breadth and depth of this “community” – it’s far too large for anybody to get a handle on it all – so they picks a few people to represent it. These people – and their close associations – get most of the spotlight, often because they are outspoken, successful, or simply somehow have an interesting story that caught somebody’s attention (possibly by acting out or playing the role of a poor man’s tortured genius or rock star). And from there, you get concentric circles of attention with the “communities” around these people jockeying for position to share the spotlight of attention.
‘Cuz lemme tell you – if you are trying to not starve as an indie, your number-one currency is attention. Simple as that. And for some people, the attention IS the goal. And sadly, when it’s attention you are after, it can often be a zero-sum game. I mean, I try to pay as much attention as I can to what’s happening in the computer-based indie RPG world, and I cannot keep track of it all. That’s the right kind of problem to have, but it is a problem.
But from those little sub-communities with limited, zero-sum Attention Currency, you now have some pain and angst going on. And you have poor newcomers thinking of one or more of these sub-communities as representative of the entire indie games community, and feeling excluded. It’s junior high school all over again, I guess. But here’s the news flash: there are lots of “indie games communities” out there, and they are all different, but most of them don’t get much attention. So if it’s attention you are after, well, you’ll either have to play the clique game, or do it yourself.
The other thing is… well, community is different things to different people. I’ve got a few hangouts (private and public) where I at least lurk, but they tend to be either related to my audience, or professional. I’ll hit forums for help in my tools or something when I need them, but I tend to devote my time to just a few communities – including right here. I love going to Utah Indie Night and spending time with some of the local developers. I have several fellow game-developers who I feel privileged to be acquainted with and we try and help each other out. I know several of the very talented individuals involved in Show Me the Games, and I’m pleased to be in a ‘community’ with them, but most of them don’t get tons of press attention either. Most of the time, they are head-down in front of their monitor making games or trying to figure out how to sell them. Yes, even most of the “indie darlings” – the “rock stars” of the so-called “indie community.” There are no free rides in this business, and attention can be fleeting.
So I guess what I’m saying is this: Be very careful painting the “indie community” with a broad brush. There are vocal sub-communities that are getting the attention right now (and thus growing rapidly) which may have certain characteristics, but they are far from representative of the whole. Also, are you involved in any of these communities for the sake of making games, or being part of “the scene.” While there may be a big “scene” out there, one that might really be getting incestuous and buying into their own hype, that’s not all there is. And if it really does get that bad, it’s going to fragment. It’s the nature of the beast.
But really, it’s supposed to be about the games, and there’s always going to be “community” to support that. You just may have to find it a little out of the spotlight. If nothing else – be a community builder. Reach out, chat with other developers. No you may not be able to get a big, popular, busy game developer to answer your emails out of the blue (I imagine he’s pretty swamped), but form your own bonds where you can. Network with other like-minded developers. Attend indie meet-ups or conferences where you can meet people face-to-face, and exchange business cards and email addresses. Learn from them, share with them, and treat their time with respect. A good community can be a big help for you as a game developer, but you have to remember to reciprocate that help in return when you can.
And remember – it’s always about the games. The community is there for mutual support and helping each other retain what shreds of sanity you collectively still possess.
And all that being said – if you are making indie RPGs, especially for computers – please keep in touch with me, too!
Filed Under: Indie Evangelism - Comments: Read the First Comment
Posted by Rampant Coyote on May 16, 2013
This question was posed in the “Ask Me Anything” Reddit yesterday, and I thought I’d cross-post and elaborate on my answer here: Why are most indie games done made with 2D graphics instead of 3D?
Obviously, I’m something of an exception to the general rule, as I do 3D games (at least, the ones I’ve done commercially are 3D). That’s mostly my background. The games that thrilled me the most as a kid were the primitive 3D games of the era – arcade machine like Star Wars, Red Baron, Battlezone, Tail Gunner, Starfire, horrendously slow flight sims on the Commodore 64, to the wire-frame dungeons of Wizardry or the iffy solid and textured walls of Ultima and Bard’s Tale, or the pseudo kinda-sorta-feels-like-3D of the C64′s Forbidden Forest. I was always about the virtual worlds, dude, and few things made the virtual worlds feel more real than a 3D perspective.
Then I made 3D game development my career for many years, starting fresh out of college on the Sony Playstation – the first console IMO truly built from the ground up to be a 3D gaming console. Sure, the older consoles had some ability to pull it off, and the Sega Saturn could actually pull off 3D pretty well, but it wasn’t inherent in the system. The Playstation was all about 3D, and the guys at my company – SingleTrac – knew 3D as well as anybody. So I was steeped in it. I’ve been working with 3D worlds and 3D graphics ever since. I’m hardly a guru – I am easily outclassed by anybody who really considers themselves a “graphics programmer” in the modern world. But I know enough to know where to look for help when I’m stuck. So for me, working with 3D – as a programmer – isn’t a whole lot harder than working with 2D graphics. It’s just an extra layer of skills. Now that I no longer have to write my own 3D engines, it’s … pretty easy.
So why am I an exception to the rule? Because I have loved 3D games since childhood, and because I’m pretty familiar with both 3D games and 3D game development. I tend to imagine games in 3D, or at least using 3D technology to make it work. But it’s not a preference based on belief that one technology is superior to another.
I would be happy to work on the right 2D game. It’s my opinion that the mainstream games biz was quite a bit premature jumping on the 3D bandwagon. For a period in the mid 1990s (which hasn’t completely left us), it was “the thing.” 3D showed off the technological advantages of the new consoles. It was new and hot. It was novel. Suddenly, a publisher trying to get approval on a console for a purely 2D game that only looked marginally better than what could have been done on a last-gen console might find themselves facing an uphill battle. So everybody abandoned 2D in pursuit of the new shiny. Bummer.
So for other game developers who aren’t me… why 2D?
1. Familiarity and Lack of Special Skills
First of all – it requires greater know-how. 3D requires additional skills for programmers, and a LOT of additional skills for artists. Making 3D content requires a ton of new technical and artistic skills, not to mention expert knowledge of your tools. Sure, anybody can learn it… but it takes time and practice. So there are simply more people with the skills to put together a 2D game than a 3D game.
2. Ease (and Speed) of Development
Secondly, making a 2D game is generally easier and faster than making a 3D game… marginally or significantly depending upon your approach. There are a few things that I feel are actually easier to do in 3D than 2D, but not enough to really change the equation. There’s no easy, obvious metric to use here – so much is dependent upon the style of game, camera perspective, etc. So I’ll just go with the rule of thumb that 3D games are somewhat harder and more time consuming to make, and leave it at that.
A third reason, brought up by others in the AmA, is that indies tend to make the kinds of games they love. Today’s indies are products of the Nintendo and Sega generations, and the games that inspired them tend to be the classics of those home consoles.
That’s probably why we have such a plethora of 2D platformers right now – that was the dominant genre of the late 80′s and early 90′s when many of these developers were introduced to the medium. Those were the games that fueled their creativity and imagination, and so we’re seeing a new generation of games that are running with those classic concepts.
4. Lack of Mainstream Competition
A fourth reason is that indies tend to gravitate to niches ignored by the mainstream publishers. With the Great 3D Migration of the 1990s, most publishers abandoned 2D technology and 2D game styles. That means no competition from the mainstream developers. That means there’s plenty of room for indies to play, and plenty of demand that might not suit a AAA publisher’s mass-market requirements, but which are perfectly awesome for indies. So, naturally, indies go there.
5. Cheaper Multiplatform Development
There’s a fifth reason, perhaps, and that goes all the way back to technology. Most business-oriented indies soon discover that their best chances lay in not putting their eggs in a single basket… making a game for multiple platforms is king. Right now, the capabilities of these diverse platforms are… let’s just say, “varied.” 2D art can scale a lot easier between the lowest common denominator and more powerful systems than 3D assets usually can. If you don’t have money to burn (and unless you are Mojang, you probably don’t), going 2D is a far cheaper route to releasing a game on the largest number of platforms possible.
So there you have it. Perhaps there are more reasons than this (in fact, I’m sure there are), but I’d wager these broadly cover most of the reasons why 3D indie games are relatively scarce.
UPDATE: Number six
I actually had something like this mixed in with an early edit for #3, but a lot of people have spoken up on this one. Another issue is that I kind of lumped together 3D and what is sometimes called “2.5D” – where 2D gameplay is represented with 3D models but doesn’t really use the 3D space. But that’s a whole ‘nuther topic…
6. Most Game Designs Work Just Fine in 2D
There are a lot of game designs – possibly the majority – which do not need to be represented with 3D graphics. They work just fine in 2D. Most of the time, 2D gameplay can be handled with 3D graphics, but many times that may be an overkill or actually a distraction. Would we really need the gems in Bejeweled to spin and tumble in place as 3D models? It might look cool, but it also might distract the eye and detract from the game. While the AAA games biz is often all about showing off and providing the biggest spectacle for the player’s money, the indie world is about being lean, mean, and fast to market. Just making objects in 3D isn’t enough to wow people anymore… and may really not justify the added cost over using quality 2D art.
Filed Under: Game Development, Indie Evangelism - Comments: 19 Comments to Read
Posted by Rampant Coyote on May 15, 2013
A week ago, veteran game producer Warren Spector (Epic Mickey, Deus Ex, Thief: The Dark Project, System Shock, Ultima Underworld, Wing Commander, Ultima 6, Ultima 7, and others…) ruffled a few feathers when he publicly griped about the first-person (FPS) shooter “genre” – citing Bethesda’s Wolfenstein: New World Order announcement video:
He later issued an apology to the team working on the game, explaining “I’ve been saying that for years – it’s nothing new. Wolfenstein got in the line of fire, but I’ve been shooting at this target for a long time.”
I was a big fan of Wolfenstein 3D, and it’s predecessors – the original Castle Wolfenstein by Muse Software, and what little I played of the sequel. It’s owns a special place in my heart. I mean… this is effectively a game series that has been around for 32 years, and is getting a new entry. No, this new one will probably bear little resemblance to the original Castle Wolfenstein, which was actually more of a predecessor of the “stealth” genre than the straight-up shooters that Wolfenstein 3D spawned, or even to Wolfenstein 3D itself. I’m probably gonna get it and enjoy the heck out of it.
Actually, to my recollection, the id Software team did plan on putting stealth elements into Wolfenstein 3D when they acquired the license. But as time and development continued, they made the (correct, IMO) conscious decision to eliminate those elements and intensify their focus on shooting. But we can probably trace all the classic parts of the modern FPS experience back to Silas Warner’s original design decisions, where you were searching through the castle for keys, bullets, explosives (better weapons), armor (bulletproof vests), and miscellaneous items. It’s cool to see the legacy continue with Bethesda’s announcement, and I hope it’s a wonderful game. And for you old-timers… this will hurt: Wolfenstein 3D was released only eleven years after the original Castle Wolfenstein on the Apple II. It’s been twice that long since Wolfenstein 3D was released…
But for what it’s worth, I think Spector is right.
What Was Once Cool Is Now Generic
I mean, there have been a few innovations, certainly. We get “real” 3D now, as an obvious example. Cooler visuals. The ability to ride in or drive vehicles. But for the straight-up shooters, we’ve basically been playing the same game for a couple of decades. What I think Spector is talking about here isn’t so much mechanics as presentation. It was the sameness of the genre – the gritty, dark, colorless, save-the-world-from-apocalypse worlds and hardcore modern military environments that we run and gun our way through. There are some pretty cool exceptions in the mainstream world. And Spector notes that the indies are an exception to his complaint (although there are some pretty generic indie FPS games out there, too).
Now, sometimes that’s exactly what I’m in the mood for. Gimme some of that awesome butt-kicking Doom with cooler visuals and even more bizarre weapons! Sure. But I don’t feel the need to buy every single entry in the Gears of War / Modern Warfare / Halo franchises. At all. One of those games can take care of my appetite for a couple of years.
And really, while I appreciate some twists on the formula, just as in movies – there’s a formula for a reason. It works. I don’t need the first-person shooter mechanics reinvented with every game. Throw a metagame underneath it (like Borderland‘s RPG-esque foundation, or something like X-Com‘s strategic system, or just variant battle types), or some interesting twists to change things up a little bit (bullet-time, Left 4 Dead‘s integral cooperative requirements, whatever), and I’m good.
A fresh setting, mood, and story can change things a great deal as well. We knew this back in the Doom era, where some “Total Conversions” changed Doom into Aliens or Star Wars, or the one mod that made you toss flowers at people instead of shooting them. The mechanics were the same, the formula was unchanged – though in the best cases, the different flavor inspired a somewhat different approach to level and encounter design. You don’t have imperial stormtroopers popping out of hiding places quite as much as you would demons or aliens.
Beyond the Basics
And then there’s Half-Life. Half-Life proved that with a compelling storyline, a solid setting, and intriguing AI & level design, you really don’t need to change too much. It (and its sequel) are acknowledged classics and deservedly so. The smart thing Half-Life and its brilliant sequel did – and the setting gave it some leeway to do so – was adapt its gameplay to match an intriguing world and story. The fundamentals of running and gunning didn’t need to change. But they kept doing different things for you, the player, so that you had to use those basics in different ways.
This was the same principle used in the classics of platform-based shooters (today often called “Metroidvanias“)… they basics of running, jumping, and shooting were unchanged, though there were usually some additional mechanics that varied between games. Once you had the chance to master the basics, things got interesting. It was like a language made of only a few basic words that you eventually had to speak fluently to express really complex ideas. As the environment threw all kinds of curve balls and new situations at you, you were effectively entering into a complex dialog with the game. While accuracy and timing were always important, creative adaptation of the fundamentals were equally critical.
Of course, for every great side-scroller where the designers truly understood these principles, you had dozens of knock-off titles that felt like they were made in an assembly line which had different graphics and little more. Nothing but a fresh coat of paint over the same tired look & feel. There were tons of 2D platformers, and 99% of them felt exactly the same. While technique – accuracy and timing – could be pushed to require an absolute mastery, that wasn’t necessarily fun for most players. Players got bored.
Which is kinda like the situation the FPS category is in now.
Funny – the id Software guys maintained in the early days that Wolfenstein 3D was nothing more than a 3D perspective put on a fundamentally 2D game. It was simply an extension of the same kinds of games they’d been making for years on platforms like the Apple II and Commodore 64, and the very old 2D gameplay of Silas Warner’s classic title. So could it be that in spite of vast technological gaps, we’re dealing with the same problems of 2D games – and can use the same solutions?
Play Portal and find out.
Lots of Story, Need More Substance
I can’t argue that modern FPS games haven’t gone to great lengths on story – the budget for storytelling (cutscenes, voice-overs, etc.) could probably fund any three games in the 1990s. But too often they serve to change the context of why you are shooting at these kinds of bad guys this time. Underneath the really expensive paint, there’s a lot of the same-ol’, same-ol’. It feels like they are forcing a story to match tried-and-true gameplay, rather than the other way around. The games may require mastery of the basics, and provide some highly scripted context shifts. But they are still lacking a lot of that real depth of fundamentals and creative adaptation. Going back to that language analogy, you are never required to use more than two-word sentences, but you may be punished for the slightest mispronunciation or grammar error. (Wow, that sounds like the Internet culture).
I believe Spector understands this. His own contributions to the genre were (although, rumor has it that in at least one case he was dragged a little by his team into it) so transformative that they really became new categories. And the indies – especially if you look at stuff like last year’s 7-Day FPS Challenege – have proven there’s a lot of interesting directions the mechanic can go if we’re willing to depart from the the same pool of adolescent power fantasies we’ve been swimming in for decades. Or – hey, we can just go to another end of the pool, really.
We need more designers who actually understand game design, and who are given freedom to really design rather than being restricted to “bigger, better” versions of last year’s hits.
I’m Not Really Talking About First-Person Shooters
While I’ve been talking about first-person shooters and their 2D roots, this is something that isn’t limited to any genre or category.
For RPGs, I’ve been saying the same thing for a long time. Aside from the pure novelty of playing games on a machine, what was fun once upon a time can still be fun now. The concepts may need to be cleaned up, tuned up, and adapted to modern audiences, but just as first-person shooters may not be all that different from running around Castle Wolfenstein on an Apple II in 1981, the fundamentals may work just as fine in the modern era.
But we can’t just keep playing the same game with prettier technology and a few details changed. I’ll keep harping on indies the same way… while it’s great to be inspired by older games, you have to draw a line somewhere where you can make your game your own and you aren’t just creating an echo of the past.
Filed Under: Design - Comments: 8 Comments to Read
Posted by Rampant Coyote on
Hey, wanna ask some indie devs some hard questions?
Fire away, at any of the devs that are appearing for the “Ask Me Anything” on Reddit today. These are (some) of the people behind the games currently on sale for Show Me The Games.
I’m there as RampantCoyote, although I imagine you guys are pretty used to asking me anything here anyway.
Filed Under: Deals - Comments: Be the First to Comment
Posted by Rampant Coyote on May 14, 2013
Due to some problems with my hosting provider and a failure on my part to schedule today’s post in advance, today’s post will post tomorrow. I guess it kinda balances out with a bonus post on Sunday. I apologize for the downtime today, but apparently my provider was under external attack. Ugly. I’ll make sure it’s set to auto-post without me tomorrow.
I will be leaving the country again this weekend, and will be in France all next week. If you have any guest posts you can throw together by Saturday, please send them my way. Things will otherwise be queued up in advance as much as possible, simply ‘cuz I don’t know what kind of Internet access I’ll have on the road. New hotel and all that.
Want a topic? How about this: Classic (or indie) RPGs You’ve Probably Never Heard Of! (Or Played)
Theoretically the subject would be about obscure RPGs you’ve played that you’d like to share with others. Or I guess it could be games you wish you could play that never were. Or something. Make it up. Or write on something else related to other topics here at Tales. Send me three paragraphs or so. I’ll share a link back to your site or something. And give you a chance to vent to
millions thousands hundreds dozens an elite audience.
In other news – the Show Me The Games sale continues through Saturday. There have been more late additions – I believe the count is up to 35 now. I think the awesome Defender’s Quest is new today.
Filed Under: Rampant Games - Comments: Be the First to Comment
Posted by Rampant Coyote on May 13, 2013
Okay, just a little bit of a follow-up for yesterday’s announcement… for RPG fans (I understand there may be one or two around here), here are the RPGs currently on sale at steep discounts at ShowMeTheGames.com —
Frayed Knights: The Skull of S’makh-Daon – you may have heard me talk about this one once or twice.
Bret Airborne – Match-3 puzzle game mechanics melded onto an RPG structure. Or is it the other way around? Regardless – duelling upgradable airships!
Magical Diary: Horse Hall – IMO, a nice visual-novel-and-RPG combo set in an alternative to Harry Potter’s universe.
Planet Stronghold: A sci-fi turn-based RPG with Manga-style art.
Moonchild – Good ol’ 16-bit-console-style RPG, from Aldorlea Games
Dangerous High School Girls in Trouble – I haven’t really considered this one an RPG, but that’s probably because it defies categorization. If you are looking for something other than plain ol’ fantasy realms, this is a popular (and, at times, controversial) title to check out.
Space Pirates and Zombies – Shooter / Strategy / RPG in space. It draws inspiration from such an unusual mix of titles as Diablo, Star Control 2, Master of Orion, and Mechwarrior 2.
Long Live the Queen -by the maker of Cute Knight and Magical Diary: Horse Hall, you play a young princess, and heiress to the kingdom. And you are unlikely to survive long enough to take it.
Magi – An action-strategy game with “RPG elements,” you participate in arcane duels with rival magi – including Death herself!
Loren: Amazon Princess – a turn-based RPG with Manga-style art. And – it’s big. Romances, over 500 unique items, 100 different enemies, deep skill trees, romances, etc.
Cinders: More of a visual novel, not sure it counts as an RPG, but that’s the category it puts itself. Anyway – it’s a moody VN based on the story of Cinderella, with an emphasis on characters, motivation, and the impact of choice. It has lush illustrations, and that’s…. about all I know about it.
There may be others that appear later on this week for the sale – but that’s a lot of RPG-style or RPG-influenced titles to choose from. You can check ‘em out (with videos!) at:
This sale doesn’t go long, so grab ‘em while you can.
Filed Under: Deals - Comments: Be the First to Comment
Posted by Rampant Coyote on May 12, 2013
Show Me the Games, the developer-centric site where 100% of the profits go to the developers, is having a big sale starting right about nowish.
Many of the more than 30 different games for sale have a coupon code that you can use for a discount. Yes, that includes Frayed Knights: The Skull of S’makh-Daon. So if you missed the last sale, here’s your big chance! (The big secret coupon code to use is “SHOWME”).
The sale is running through the week (the 12th through the 18th, inclusively…) and there are some really great games available at steep discount:
Jets ‘n Guns Gold, Gratuitous Tank Battles, Scoregasm, Gratuitous Space Battles, Beat Hazard Ultra, Space Pirates and Zombies, Loren the Amazon Princess, Long Live the Queen, Moonchild, Bret Airborne (the match-3 RPG I talked about a few days ago), Evochron Mercenary, and a lot more. Some of my favorite indie games can be found there…
Again, the games are 100% indie, and Show Me the Games doesn’t get a dime of the profits – it all goes to the developer, which is really very cool. (I’m sure I’d think this even if I wasn’t a developer…)
So – if you want to support some indies and get some very cool games on the cheap, now’s your chance. Check it out!
100% MORE Indie than EA or Samsung!!!!
Filed Under: Deals - Comments: Read the First Comment
Posted by Rampant Coyote on May 10, 2013
One peril of being a lone-wolf developer (and a part-time one at that) at that is that it can be really tough getting motivated to keep plowing through stuff – particularly the un-sexy parts – on your own, particularly when working on a (relatively) really big game. That’s probably why most successful small indies focus on tiny games that they can complete and polish within six months. It’s tough to keep your eye on the ball for months and months and months. And as something of a lone wolf, there’s little accountability – positive or negative.
It can wear ya down. Sure, slacking off one night isn’t going to hurt things too badly. Two nights? Nah. But when the one or two nights stretch into a week? Or a month? Particularly when paying the bills is not dependent upon your game sales, it’s easy for things to get sloppy, and go from sloppy to dead.
This is how many indie projects end up dying. The fun part mostly over, the work-part begins, and the project is never really canceled. It’s just that those working on it (especially if it’s just one person) just slow work down gradually, focusing efforts on new, more fun “side-projects”, or getting sucked into a new game (guilty!), etc. Before you know it, a month has gone by without any real work being done, and by then it’s really hard to get back into the swing of things. There’s no intention involved, it just… dies of gradual neglect and entropy.
There are three big advantages, in my mind, to having a team working on a game. The obvious reason is that you are able to specialize in skills and complement strengths. A less obvious reason is that it gives you people you can bounce ideas off of. It’s easy to get stuck in your own little world or thought-loop, and having someone else around that can give you a fresh perspective. Or – and this happens to programmers all the time – it’s just good to have somebody to explain a problem to, because four times out of five the process of explaining the problem to someone else is all you need see the source of the issue.
The third reason a team is so valuable is because – in the right kind of team – you can motivate and push each other. You can have accountability, dependencies, and – this is surprisingly important even for most self-motivated, self-starting people – the appropriate moral support and “attaboys” from peers as you complete tasks. People who can appreciate the fact that you just spent three days converting a working prototype to actual functional, maintainable code.
A lot of indie teams work remotely, which limits some of these advantages.You might be on a team, but be on your own most of the time. In many cases (like mine), you might be the primary person working on a title, but might have a few people pitching in or working under contract. While you aren’t the sole developer on the game by any stretch, but you are still carrying a lot of the load in solitude, with no one to answer to on a day-by-day basis.
(I should note there are downsides to a team, as well, and a lot of devs really thrive operating largely on their own. But I’m focusing on how solo or “semi-solo” indies can obtain some of the advantages of working on a team, or at least limit the downside of being on their own).
For me – it seems like I need to re-solve this problem with every project. Sometimes I’m awesome at being motivated and pushing myself to get tasks done. Sometimes – especially in the boring mid-development stages – I struggle, too. That’s probably why I have to keep re-solving it: Shifting from the breakneck pace of final testing back to design and early development is a huge change of pace and rhythm, and it’s easy to forget how you made it work the last time.
Here are some ideas, largely taken from tricks that have kinda worked for me in the past. They can certainly be improved upon or adapted by other developers:
- Keep it small.
It’s a lot easier to keep your eye on the goal when the excitement for nearing release kicks in just as the excitement of working on a new project starts to fade. (And no, I may never actually follow this advice myself, because I’m stupid.)
- Group boring and fun tasks together.
I broke up my task list into collections of tasks (usually 3) that had to all be completed before moving on to another collection. One of the tasks was a “fun” task. That was my reward for getting the other jobs done.
- Have a “dev buddy.”
As in “the buddy system.” Find another indie in a similar situation (there are literally thousands of us now, it’s easy), or maybe a network of buddies, willing to act as sounding board and moral support for you. In exchange for you doing the same for them and taking an interest in their project(s).
- Weekly ‘team’ updates. Even without a real team.
Send weekly updates out to a “team” – even if the team is only friends, dev-buddies, testers, or people only peripherally involved in development – on progress. While this doesn’t prevent a night of slacking off (and really – we all need a night of slacking off now and then), it DOES hold accountability for everyone involved. The updates should include both goals for the following week, and how you did on achieving the goals from last week. (This makes it important to set reasonable goals — if you get into the habit of only hitting half your targets, you’ll get used to it and admitting falling short will get easy).
- Set serious internal milestones… with bonuses!
Any other means of actually *setting* internal milestones and having them mean something. While it’s possible to do this completely on your own, it’s often better to have somebody else involved – even if they aren’t otherwise involved in the game. Buy a new game or fun bit of hardware for yourself, but don’t take it out of the shrinkwrap… instead hand it to your spouse, sibling, or friend and say, “don’t give this back to me until I complete this milestone, which I plan to complete on this date.” This not only puts in a reward structure for hitting milestones, but it forces you to be accountable to someone else.
- Blog Reports.
Write weekly, bi-weekly, or monthly reports on development on a blog. Granted, these can be really, really hard (especially when you are down in nuts and bolts that isn’t of much interest to anyone), but it’s one more layer of making sure things keep moving so you’ll have something to talk about. It doesn’t matter if nobody ever reads ‘em – you are putting yourself out there as a matter of historical record.
- Show your work-in-progress to the public.
Participate in Screenshot Saturday, local indie meet-ups where you show your game, or other kinds of shows /presentations where you can publicly demo your game. Anything to force you to show progress to someone else. Knowing that you have to have something new to show in a few days can help drive development. There was (and still is, as far as I know) a long-standing joke in the tech business that, “If it weren’t for trade shows, we’d never get anything done.” True, they can cause some horrendous wasted effort as well as you make stuff with the intent of throwing it away once the demo is over.
- “Live,” in-person demos with the “team.”
Likewise, live meet-ups with whatever might constitute your “team” in any form is a good thing. Not only is it a motivating factor to get things ready to demo, but you’ll be with people who have a higher level of interest in the game and able to provide some quality feedback. And like talking about a programming problem with another problem, it’s funny how you can see problems when showing the game live to a group that you overlooked a hundred times on your own.
- Test early, test regularly, but get testers!
Start testing as early as possible. Early testing can be with other devs or experienced testers who understand what a work-in-progress really means. Start getting that feedback loop – and dependency on getting regular, steady builds out the door – going as soon as possible.
- Work towards a true release goal.
And lastly – here’s a big secret: All those companies that brashly give a street date of, “When it’s done?” That’s only what they tell the public, because of the number of things that have to be coordinated for release. Internally? You bet they’ve got a release date. They may totally blow it, but they’ve got a plan. If you have a release goal and you earnestly strive to achieve it, but fail miserably, you’ll still be far, far further along and better off than if you didn’t have a goal.
I need to remind myself of these tricks from time to time. It’s easy to get sloppy when you are going at it alone as an indie game dev, and the bigger the project, the harder it is to keep things together. Hopefully these ideas will help.
Now, you may notice that most of these tips involve other people. That’s the way it is. If you truly wish to live in a cave by yourself, you may need to come up with better ideas. But indies usually make games for other people. For me, even being a “lone wolf” doesn’t mean being a hermit. If anything, it probably requires you to get out of your space (physically or digitally) and interact more with other people. So get to it!
Filed Under: Game Development - Comments: 10 Comments to Read
Posted by Rampant Coyote on May 9, 2013
Looks like Ouya is moving out of the wading pool into at least the shallow end of the grown-up pool.
My grumbling joke is this might barely give them enough time to ship all the Kickstarter preorders before public launch now…
No, I haven’t gotten a single message about my Ouya. SOMEBODY has to have their machine ship last, I guess. Le sigh. Not like I’m anywhere near ready to start porting to it, yet, so I guess I’m about as good a “last person” as anyone. I’m still pretty excited about the box. You know, for a console. Me not being much of a console gamer and all.
Anyway, it’s only a three-week delay, and since they got off to a slow start. It turns out, SURPRISE, that actually building hardware and a system is only a small part of what’s necessary to ship a product on this scale – the logistical side is something that cannot be rushed that much – at least not without huge expense.
Anyway, this is… probably… pretty good news for the Ouya. The story of consoles has always been, “Go big or go home.” The Ouya team has been trying to subvert that in a very indie way, but having enough money to go bigger doesn’t hurt. The big question – as always is the case with VCs – is how much of their own success and control did they give away?
Filed Under: Biz - Comments: 6 Comments to Read
Posted by Rampant Coyote on May 8, 2013
This article is mostly speculation, and so there’s a good deal of likelihood that there’ll be minimal changes to Windows 8 (or the roadmap for Windows 9) in the future, but it’s interesting nonetheless…
What it all boils down to: Microsoft is starting to acknowledge that trying to force desktop machines to act like a tablet might not have been the Best Idea Ever. Of course, they are kinda spinning it by calling it a failure to properly educate and train consumers – basically saying, “Windows 8 is totally awesome but we failed to show people how totally awesome it is!”
Yeah, well. Whatever.
Maybe one day, when touch-screen displays are ubiquitous on the desktop and people are very used to touching their screen for stuff, some of the changes they have made might make sense. As for me, while some people are into that, I don’t see it happening. I actually prefer to sit back from a (hopefully larger) screen, and the mouse gives you the ability to keep that distance and offers some precision you can’t get with the fingertip (without doing the whole magnification gesture with your fingers like you have to on a tablet or phone).
I am fairly new to owning a tablet, and while I certainly think it’s cool, there are a lot of things for which I feel it’s a very poor substitute for a desktop (or my beefy laptop). Even if you were to add a USB wireless mouse and keyboard to the thing, it’s strengths and weaknesses are often mirror images of the strengths and weaknesses of a computer. I really don’t think “one size fits all” trying to merge the two is really a good idea. Sometimes convergence is The Right Thing, but at other times, specialization is the key.
I still have a bigger concern that Microsoft may be trying to deprecate the desktop (although the push-back might mean they have to slow down their plans) and make their new Metro interface the standard – and of course, that’s now a locked-down, closed environment. They really, really want to be Apple, I guess, and are quite pleased with the results of XBox Live and Xbox Live Indie Games.
As far as my own plans as a game developer, this potential retreat changes nothing. I may be a little late to the party, but I make big games that take a long development time, so I don’t get a lot of opportunity to turn on a dime and jump on short-term trends. So I’m looking at long-term “sea changes.” Windows has become a “loose cannon” as a platform for me. Windows 8 was something of an early warning for me that I cannot make my games for a single platform, or even have a single “primary” platform anymore. Yeah, I knew that a long time ago, but this kinda turns it from a “should” to a “must” with me.
Filed Under: Game Development - Comments: 11 Comments to Read
Posted by Rampant Coyote on May 7, 2013
Frayed Knights is not what you’d commonly term a “social game.” It’s not multiplayer, you aren’t forced to recruit friends to pass critical sections of the game, anything like that. It’s a good ol’-fashioned, dungeon-crawling, monster-clobbering RPG that draws inspiration from numerous classic first-person part-based RPGs, dice-and-paper gaming, and my own demented sense of style and sitcom-inspired humor. However, as I’m cranking away on the sequel to the award-winning game, trying to improve the experience in every way, I’ve started thinking a little bit about the social aspect of gaming. Long before “social networks,” we were talking about our games (tabletop and computer) with friends, sharing ideas, stories, and rumors face-to-face. Gamers like to talk about their games! We always have.
To be fair, I think the social aspects have improved from the day when my friends and I would swap stories about our personal experiences in the Slave Pits of the Undercity. Today, forums provide an easy medium for people all over the world to get together and chat about a popular game. Unfortunately, for single-player RPGs, the dicussion is usually related to hints, bugs, or strategies – mechanical aspects. Other kinds of games have a wider range of topics (especially when you are talking about big massively multiplayer online games).
In the early years of D&D, there were a few modules that many players went through. In that respect, it was a shared experience. We all had different party compositions, different approaches, and of course a different game-master running us through the experience, so there was enough differences to be worth talking about.
Back when I was working at SingleTrac, lunch hours would often include a group game session, often a cooperative mission-based combat sim of some kind. Often our after-game discussions took longer than the game session itself. We loved sharing our different views of what was essentially the same experience. While we’d all played the same game, we all had unique angles on it, and we loved talking about it. If it was a competitive game, of course, it was fun sharing what had happened on the different sides. It was fun to discover that what we thought was an incredibly clever stratagem was actually just dumb luck, or vice-versa.
Sometimes, with a single-player CRPG (especially for a guy like me, who often doesn’t finish a game until a year or more after it’s “current”), it’s a pretty lonely experience. Not that I usually mind – I gravitate towards these kinds of games because there are times I really just want to enjoy an adventure all by myself. Unless I am stumped or stuck and looking for a solution, I tend to ignore any community of players out there. But other times, I really like to hunt down a forum or something and see what other people are saying about the game, especially if it leads me to better understand the game or the possibilities for enjoyment. That’s something I’d like to foster, but it’s really hard to do in a little indie game. If you assume that only 1% of the players are predisposed to take that kind of initiative and contribute to the discussion, that’s not a lot of people.
It’d be nice if the game itself made it easy. And, to be honest, it’d probably help sales if the game made it easy for players to broadcast to their social networks that they are playing the game and doing exciting stuff. However, I grew pretty disgusted by all the Facebook & Twitter messages from certain games announcing the discovery of a certain flower or rock in a game I don’t give a crap about. That’s “doing it wrong,” in my opinion. Decent idea, poor implementation, maybe. Bombarding friends with stuff like that isn’t a good idea.
I especially don’t want the experience ruined by having out-of-game notifications pop up while playing, inviting you to broadcast something or to visit a website or any crap like that. Then again, these days, certain people seem to enjoy nothing more than posting status updates everywhere they go and with everything that happens to them in the real world, so maybe that’s not so bad. I really don’t know.
From my perspective, I feel like when I’m playing a CRPG, I want to be sucked into the game completely, so that the outside world disappears for a couple of hours. That includes little real-world reminders popping up or out-of-game achievement announcements or any of that crap. That’s my ideal player experience. Maybe not all players are like that. But I think that later, when a player is finished for the night, or has a minute during a lunch break at work, or is waiting to pick up your kids from dance practice, or after the game is completed but for fond memories, the game world can still there, with a network of other players to share it with.
So here are a few of ideas I’ve been mulling over.
Some games have things like being able to post characters to a website, so you can share your stats & gear with other players. That’s a neat idea, and certainly something to consider, but it’s also pretty dry. But since I’ve got quite a few more dynamic items & spells in this game, maybe that’s something people would like to show off. I dunno.
How you’ve statted up Arianna or what cool headband you’ve acquired is not nearly as interesting as whether or not you decided to let Valeria rot in her cell. At least that’s my thought. But then, that could be a teaser or a spoiler depending upon who hears about it.But maybe, at the close of a session, the game invites you to post an after-action report on your biggest achievements of the session? Defeating a boss?
When you save off a screenshot, rather than just storing it in a directory, the game can include an option to share it on social media?
An even cooler idea (for me, anyway) might be the opportunity to share items or spells via social media. This wouldn’t be a trade, but rather just straight-up sharing, and would be restricted to “normal” level equipment and spells – no special items, unique rewards, or ‘boss’ level items / spells. Just stuff that could appear as normal, dynamically generated stuff in a shop or in loot. Maybe you could share a code and other people could then import the item and have it appear in one of the in-game shops. I like this idea because it gives players a real benefit for participating in the community, yet I don’t think it risks seriously unbalancing the game, as it’s no different than if particular dynamically-generated things appeared in the game through pure chance.
Anyway, I’m not committing to any of this, but these are things I’m thinking about. What would be a “killer” community or social feature for Frayed Knights 2 & 3? If the game encouraged you to share what you were doing through social media, how would you prefer it to happen, and is there some kind of incentive that would make it interesting or cool? Lemme know what you think in the comments, folks!
Filed Under: Frayed Knights - Comments: 16 Comments to Read
Posted by Rampant Coyote on May 6, 2013
“The last man on Earth sat alone in a room. There was a knock on the door…”
This is the shortest complete story I know, written by Fredrick Brown, although he later elaborated upon it in his short story, “Knock,” but his point was that those two sentences formed a complete story. And he was writing for a magazine that paid by the word, so writing two-word stories probably wouldn’t pay the bills.
There’s a quote frequently attributed to Alfred Hitchcock, “There is nothing more frightening than a closed door.” This is almost an axiom in horror writing (too often ignored in modern gore-fest horror movies) that implied horror is more potent than fully revealed horror. Whenever I think of the quote, I think of an experience I had playing the original Ultima Underworld. As I approached a locked door, something on the other side evidently heard me and started beating on the door, trying to break it down. I heard the sounds, and electrical-sounding noise and the pounding of the door.
I fled. Really. The urge to flee was stronger than my trained response to SAVE THE GAME NOW BEFORE SOMETHING BAD HAPPENS. I did what minimal preparations I could to meet my fate, but I felt a really real fear about approaching that door. I had to prepare emotionally like I rarely do for a boss fight. There’s some deep programming from ancient ancestors who knew they were not at the top of the food chain, could not allow themselves the luxury of feeling ‘safe,’ and who knew that something that was trying THAT hard to engage you made it the predator and you the prey. It was just a video game, but that instinct was still there.
I unlocked the door. And found… a mongbat. A stupid mongbat! That was it! I think that was the first one I’d encountered in Ultima Underworld, so at least it was an exciting new encounter. But I’d gotten all worked up over a frickin’ winged monkey. The battle that followed wasn’t trivial – a mongbat was indeed a reasonably challenging foe. But it was hardly worthy of my expectations and fear. But by that point, I don’t think anything could have burst out from that door that could have been anything but a let-down.
I had no idea what to expect – the closed door was the horror. And the knock at the door – or in this case, the pounding at the door of an unknown creature – was the story. The story I told myself in my mind, subconsciously, was more powerful than anything that could be on the screen.
I’ve recently been considering this element when it comes to narrative in games. I came across a quote I can’t find right now about rock music, where one critic noted that the song lyrics were most evocative and powerful when their meaning was incomprehensible. The poetic, stream-of-consciousness organization of the lyrics (often drug-induced, I’m sure) captures a mood and feeling that invites the listener to insert themselves into the song, to invest themselves and their own life situation to provide the meaning. Naturally, then, the songs were powerful because they were magically tailored to the listener, speaking to their situation.
In Scott McCloud’s “Understanding Comics,” he addresses this principle with comic artwork – the more abstract art allows the reader to “fill in the blanks” with his or her imagination, to hold the comic as a mirror to their own lives. This isn’t just a power of abstract artwork. I was rather surprised last year when I went to the Louvre and Musee d’Orsay in Paris at the power of the art and sculpture there. I’m not much of an art critic or afficianado – I’ve got enough training and experience to recognize (sometimes) when it “works” for me or not, or actually go into some technical details with artists. But I’m not often moved by artwork. I was kinda bombarded with it that day. I usually didn’t know much about many of the people, events, or stories being depicted. But they were worth more than several thousand words to me. My own imagination and experience provided the rest.
I’ve written many times about the inherent conflict between narrative and gameplay. We have to sacrifice the principles of (linear) narrative for the sake of good gameplay, or sacrifice gameplay (often locking out interaction completely to tell stories in cutscenes) for the sake of providing solid narrative. The two don’t work well together, and in an interactive medium – like real-life experiences – good narrative often comes from reorganizing and editing of events after the fact.
But that’s linear storytelling. As Chris Crawford once pointed out in a talk I attended many years ago, it’s quite possible to assemble a story from a series of vignettes or one-sentence events that combine to modify the context. In other words, complex stories can be formed of simple atoms (his example was the sentence, “He kissed her.”) that can be endlessly reused. At the time, Crawford’s efforts were focused more on having the computer tell the story interactively with the player.
But might we find ourselves able to construct more powerful narratives if we let the designer and the player take care of the creative heavy lifting? Let the designer imply connections, let the player form and breathe life to those connections, and let the computer just do it’s thing to provide the tools and mechanics to facilitate this?
Don’t worry – I’m not getting all artsy-fartsy and experimental for the next installment of Frayed Knights. I’m just kinda circling around a handful of concepts for how to think about non-linear storytelling. On a budget. After all, if a closed door is more frightening than anything else in the world, isn’t it a waste of time and money for indies to create what might lurk behind it? Well, yes, but for the fact that this focus makes opening the door the single most important thing a player wants to do when that unexpected knock (or pounding) is heard. We just need better ideas of letting the player’s imagination fill in what might be lacking on the screen or in the dialog.
Filed Under: Design - Comments: 14 Comments to Read
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