August 2007


Bioshocked

Ohmygoodness, what an original headline!

Like everyone else in gamelandville, I’ve played through Bioshock. And it’s good. Very good. “Game of the Year” good. It’ll probably lose out to that “Halo” thing or Rock Band, but in the case of the latter, comparing it to a game with its own custom controller isn’t fair. If Bioshock came with its own $200 “Big Daddy” helmet interface, it’d be a 1-to-1 comparison. (It’ll be interesting to see how Halo 3 feels after blasting through Rapture. Consider the bar raised. A lot.)

But I’m not just here to praise Bioshock and admit my crazy man-crush on Ken Levine. I’m here to rip it to shreds. So, without further ado, I’ll break this down Adrenaline Vault-style, with individual ratings. Because that’s how I roll. (I’m fairly certain there are no spoilers here.) (more…)

I finally broke down and installed a traffic plug-in for WordPress, so now I can see how many people are reading (Thousands? No shit?) and how they’re getting here.

The latter is what fascinates me. The search engine inquiries that get people here, whoa…. For example:

People Want Better Abs
how did the men in 300 get their abdominals
300 movie abs
“300” abs from the movie
300 movie abs
get abs like 300

People Really Like Searching for 300
is 300 the gayest movie ever
300 movie CODPIECE
300 oracle nipples (more…)

That’s some crazy insight, no? Of course Windows is critical to the future of PC gaming. Duh. Major, major duh.

WindowBut I’m not talking about Microsoft Windows; I’m talking about playing games in a window.

Consider your lifestyle, or at least that of everyone around you. We’re all multitasking whenever possible. We’re sitting at our computers—or have them on our laps—while watching TV or a DVD. We’re reading or working on public transportation. We’re talking on phones while we drive… or waiting in line, or walking down the street, or cooking, or… doing other things. There isn’t enough time in the day to do everything we want, so we optimize our time and tasks to group as many things as possible together. We feel like we’re wasting time doing one, single, linear task.

(Is this why people see fewer movies? Would people go more frequently if they could IM friends while watching? God help us if that ever happened.)

Let’s consider PC gaming. Most games require 100% of your attention, all the time. That’s fine and dandy—and how it should be for many games—but they also occupy 100% of your screen real estate. And this absolutely flies in the face of most people’s typical PC usage. We run multiple applications in multiple windows, constantly switching between them. It can be as simple as working on a document in Word or Excel and having a browser open for quick Google searches. Or maybe you’re doing some file copying in the background, or listening to music via iTunes, or torrenting your favorite episodes of Star Trek. We gotta use all of those cores on our Core 2 Duos, right? (more…)

Day of the TentacleToday, let’s consider the adventure game. Dead as a doornail. Sure, there’s a thriving community of people admiring games like The Longest Journey. But if you’re thinking this is a vibrant category, you’re in denial.

So, what happened? At one point, adventure games were the biggest, most important PC genre. They had the best technology, they got the most press, and they were becoming the most “cinematic.” (And some, like Day of the Tentacle, should be on any reputable “top games evar!!!1!” lists.)

But as soon as DOOM dropped, it was over. In a couple of years, every other genre surpassed the adventure in technology, most games adopted some form of rudimentary storytelling, and almost all genres started to introduce more and more puzzle-like elements. In other words, all of your adventure itches could be scratched elsewhere. (more…)

As a former writer-like person, I always found it more interesting to write shorter articles than longer ones. Any hack can pump out 1000-3000 words on any topic; for anyone not in eighth grade, quantity isn’t a problem. But trying to distill that 1000-3000 words worth of information into 100-300 words that convey the same information… that’s when you really start to work. And that’s also when the fun starts. Particles

It’s also more fun to think about designing smaller games than big ones. Working with limitations forces you to come up with interesting mechanics that are forced to carry the weight of your game. You can no longer fall back to, “OUR GAME HAS HD TRIPLE NIB NURBED BIFURCATED TEXTURED OPTILOGONS AND PARTITIONED PRO-ALIASED VIRTUAL WATER PARTICLE EFFECTS!”

Working in miniature also eliminates some of the paralysis that accompanies the idea of, “Holy shit, I can do anything!” Your core mechanic can get buried in thousands of other crazy systems, which can be cool and awesome… when it works. (Like Grand Theft Auto, which has a core mechanic of… something or other. Is it driving? Is it walking around? Is it beating up hookers? It’s all of those things, and none of them. Or something.)

Back to writing, when you have 1000-3000 words to cover something, you can also “do anything.” You often spend a lot of time making sure you cover everything, and can actually end up burying your core point. Reducing that same article to 100 words forces you to make difficult but possibly interesting choices about what to focus on.

This isn’t to say a 100-word article is inherently better than a longer one, or that you’ll end up spending less work creating it. It’s just that when you boil everything down to its simplest element, you’re left with something more pure, or at least clearer. You need to make your point with few words, and it needs to be good; you won’t have thousands of other words to either embellish or obscure it.

If there’s one positive to take from the industry’s move to Wii, DS, and smaller download content (XBLA, WiiWare, PC casual gaming, etc.), it’s that good design and simple and entertaining game mechanics are again coming to the forefront. Not that they went away, mind you. But it’s cool to break these things down to their smallest bits, and fine a simple mechanic that’s fun without whiz-bang graphics and 5.1 sound.

And when you get around to adding the chrome—including particle effects—-you end up with an even better game.

An article at Gamasutra, “PR And The Game Media: How PR Shapes What You Think About Games,” by Robert Ashley and Shawn Elliott, kind of bugs me. Not because it’s a bad article. It gives a fair overview of the relationship between PR and the game media, and how it’s a wee-bit too chummy. You’ll get no arguments from me on that point. Corrupt!

(I do think it misses another, possibly bigger issue; the relationship between the press and developers. That one is often much stronger and more back scratching than the one with PR, particularly with members o the press that have less of a financial interest in a publication’s ad sales. One funny sidebar: I once had a publisher suddenly start “recommending” a certain writer review their products; as a result, I stopped using that writer. He or she has now gone on to bigger and better editorial shilling, on TV no less.)

What bugs me about the article—and most other, similar ones—is that it holds print magazines to a completely different standard than it does websites. (more…)

While watching some of the footage of StarCraft II from Blizzcon, I had a minor epiphany: You shouldn’t release a sequel 2-3 years after the original. Why? Because if you wait long enough, you can pretty much re-release the original game with a few improvements. Obviously there’d be an enormous differences in the visuals, and there’d be a few tweaks to the interface. But the longer you wait, the fewer changes people expect. In fact, they almost demand an identical experience. The original design becomes sacrosanct.

StarCraftThis isn’t a criticism of Blizzard. Lord knows my knowledge of StarCraft or StarCraft II is about as comprehensive as my understanding of string theory. (Which is to say, I’m probably totally wrong and the changes between the sequel and original are significant.)

But if I’m right, and StarCraft II is a prettier version of StarCraft with some interface tweaks (and a new storyline, and amazing cut scenes, blah blah blah), would people be as hot for in 2000 as they are for it nearly a decade after the original dragged and clicked its way into our hearts? Chances are, a lot of the people excited about its release would be saying, “Is that it? Shouldn’t there be more improvements?” because we have greater expectations for major leaps in a franchise when the gaps between releases are shorter. The bigger the gap between releases, the more you can rely on—and cash in on—nostalgia.

So, instead of reinventing the wheel every 2-3 years with a sequel, wait 10 years and just give it a fresh coat of next-gen paint.