Wednesday, June 30, 2010

E3'10 Rambles: Sony Press Conf

I thought Sony's press conference message was more "gamer"-friendly than Microsoft's, which might be good since, like MS, the new hardware and related software didn't seem novel or accessible enough to be compelling to a "casual" audience. And as much as I love LBP, it simply expands on already-established things. The most interesting thing about the conference, perhaps was the Steam announcement, which I wish there was more information on. Maybe Valve should make a console.

Two miscellaneous notes that also caught my attention during the conference: first, the main character in Infamous 2 really reminded me of Nathan Drake. It was like a Drake-with-ice-powers game, which was weird. Second, Twisted Metal looked fun. It stood out, despite my not being that into its predecessors. Amidst all the shooters, it came across as an interesting twist. I'm curious how the end product will be received.

Tuesday, June 29, 2010

E3'10 Rambles: Portal 2

Have there been any interviews with Newell about his Steam announcement at the Sony Press Conference? Valve is one of those rare companies that has a strong hold of my gaming heart, and I'm always curious about the moves they make. I wish I had access to their "where the industry is going" conversations because they make interesting choices, and often push in directions I wish the industry would. And their games are excellent.

When Halo 2 overshadowed Half-Life 2 in the press, it bothered me because HL2 had a vastly superior campaign, and I couldn't believe the balls on the HL2 team basically the template for Trespasser and saying, "let's try that again, but do it right this time." Even though it seemed like TF2 needed a decade or so to develop, the end product is so polished, gleeful, and well-supported that none of the wait mattered. And L4D is play-for-play something I've wanted in cooperative shooters for a long, long time now. But Portal is that rare accomplishment, so perfectly sublime an experience that despite admiring Valve, I wonder how many of the decisions that made it so powerful were intentional, and whether the same foresight/luck will make its sequel as compelling.

Monday, June 28, 2010

E3'10 Rambles: Dead Space 2

Watching the Dead Space 2 presentation at the press conference, I was a bit sad hearing EA describing Dead Space as "highest rated," the subtext being that "not enough of you arseholes bought it." I hope the sequel fares better. It was interesting to see how cutscene-y the demo was, though. I think interruptions in control can work and contextual controls adjusted for the emotion of a situation can be really useful for immersion in third-person games, but the balance between cinematic punch and an outright snap of immersion is rather fine. It all seemed thrilling in the movie, so I wonder how it plays.

Friday, June 25, 2010

E3'10 Rambles: LBP2

Oh, Little Big Planet. How I love thee. So much charm and creativity. In an alternate universe, Playstation Home is built around sack boys instead of wallowing in Uncanny Valley. Perhaps I only love you because I would have killed to make my own games in you as a kid, but I won't bother to control my fondness and interest in your sequel.

Thursday, June 24, 2010

E3'10 Rambles: PSMove

Watching the Sony press conference, I was surprised to find the Move more underwhelming than the Kinect. The genuinely interesting tech demos and gamer-friendly message had me believing there would be some cool games to show, but the most impressive of the bunch was Sorcery, which struck me as a surprise even to Sony, unlikely to get the support it needs to stand up to a competitor like Zelda.

The visible lag between the user and the game also surprised me. It was noticeable in the Tiger Woods golf game, and even when it worked accurately, it brought me back to the question that went around upon hearing about the device: is that much accuracy fun? Is sucking at golf in real life and virtual life good?

Finally, the unveiling of prices and bundles once again had me unconvinced by too-high price points and lackluster libraries. And all this after trying to make me believe that an expensive new 3D TV was the next big thing. Sigh.

Wednesday, June 23, 2010

Crab Shed

Two posts today, since this was too cool not to share. Again, under the umbrella of "cool stuff I wish I could share with concept artists, if only I still worked with them," though this one is fun for everyone. Enjoy!

Oh! There was another cool skin-shedding vid in the sidebar, this time of a frog.

E3'10 Rambles: MS Press Conf

Upon finishing the Microsoft Press Conference, I was left with the impression that MS was doing a poor grab for some of Nintendo's target audience while pseudo-shafting their current audience.

The Kinect has enough novelty to come across as offering something different, but the first-party titles seem like remakes of Wii games and therein, I think, lies the rub. What sold many on the Wii was Wii Sports and a good price point, and with the few interesting games being third-party games (i.e., probably won't be pushed as heavily by MS) that require expensive components (including the 360 and game) to access, there seems little incentive to jump in.

As for core gamers, announcing more of the same CoD, Halo, and GoW is okay, but things like DLC exclusivity are a gamer shaft. And despite the big push, Kinect comes across as an unconvincing toy, that come across as an unwanted distraction in the few hobbyist titles they interface with.

The Wii captured the attention of such a wide audience but it seemed a shame that they did a poor job connecting users with new game experiences and each other through a more robust online interface. It's ironic to think that the 360 has the infrastructure to benefit that audience but no real lure to attract them, and might even risk alienate their core audience in the pursuit.

Tuesday, June 22, 2010

E3'10 Rambles: Kinect

After watching the rest of the Kinect demos, I was surprised to find things that interested me as much as they did. The MS fare was rather bland and looked like one-offs that I'd enjoy until the novelty wore off (once or twice, like Wii Sports). But the dance game from Harmonix and workout game from UbiSoft piqued my interest, the latter because its technology and presentation was attractive.

The realistic, camera-driven approach to UbiSoft's exercise game (instead of a skeleton with a 3D model) was interesting. Throwing the sweater off was impressive, and it made me wonder if there were other speed advantages to interpreting the figure through the camera, or whether it's essentially the same backbone all Kinect games use, and they just present it differently. Either way, between this approach, the information about your body, menus options appearing near hands, and objects in the environment you bonk around, I found myself enticed by how it brings the player into the game.

But that says nothing about how it plays, and I'm still very skeptical about Kinect tech. The "look around your car" idea in Forza, for example, seems compelling but your head doesn't work the same way when your view is always on the TV and there seemed to be some clear lag between the actions of the person driving and what happened on screen. I can't imagine how that holds up to using a controller, despite best intentions. Transplant those same concerns to Harmonix's dance title or UbiSoft's exercise game, and I wonder how that disconnect might prevent the experience from coalescing, but hands-on impressions sound positive, so it might be more responsive than it looks, or simply easy to overlook.

Monday, June 21, 2010

E3'10 Rambles: Hands Off

Watching the Microsoft E3 Press Conference, I was intrigued by the controller-less Xbox interface. It's one of the few possibilities of Kinect that interest me because so few applications seem worth standing and waving my hands around for a prolonged period of time. There are things I have reservations about, like activating a selection by hovering over it for a few seconds -- waiting sucks when navigating a menu and you know what you want, and seems prone to accidental selection -- but otherwise it seems like a slick way to play with menus. If the Kotaku note about standing requirements applies to the interface, though, it'll be a moot point. Hand-navigation, maybe. Talking to my Xbox, unlikely. Standing up whenever I want to do something in a menu? Um, no.

Friday, June 18, 2010

E3'10 Rambles: Reach

Watching Reach at the MS press conference was interesting to me. For the most part it looks like standard scripted/interesting shooter fare, but I was intrigued by the Wing Commander gameplay at the end. My assumption is that for the core multiplayer experience, any time Bungie spends on something other than the FPS, but I think it would be some nice glue to the world in the single-player experience, even if it never was the point of Halo.

Mostly, I miss Wing Commander-style gameplay enough that I appreciate having a name like Bungie pushing it into the limelight, regardless of the multiplayer experience cost (because I don't care much for it). I've always felt similarly about Tribes. That the game was absolutely brilliant -- so, so far ahead of its time and still being stolen from to this day -- if only it had a more recognizable setting/developer pushing its concepts out to the masses. It may have been too control heavy, but it's funny seeing Halo and Killzone sporting jetpacks. On one hand, I want to be insulting and call it "quaint," but on the other, I secretly hope that skiing, targeting lasers, and advanced base tactics are also right around the corner.

Thursday, June 17, 2010

E3'10 Rambles: Exclusives

I was just watching the Microsoft E3 press conference on GameTrailers and cringed as some Microsoft guy spent the very first moments of speaking time at their press conference to proudly announce that Microsoft and Activision had put joined forces to make sure gamers had less options for how to experience their content by making it exclusive for x months before being available on other platforms. What exciting news. How generous.

In the next minute they go on to acknowledge that gamers are watching, so it wasn't just a pitch to retailers about how their evil machinations will generate dollars at the expense of gamers. Nope. They just said it directly to the people who otherwise would have had a simultaneous release. The sad thing comes from believing that the whole ploy will be successful.

I don't know that it is one of these things, but it feels like one of these things that you can expect to cash-in on short-term and lose out on long term. Where you hope they enjoy the fluff of extra money dumped into their Scrooge McDuck money pit, because the money leak somewhere inside it just got bigger, and that much harder to repair.

Now that I'm back from vacation, my first order of business is catching up on E3. I plan to jot down thoughts while going through all of the movies and press and share them on the blog, so expect plenty of rambling in the next few weeks.

Wednesday, June 9, 2010

Bear'll Roll

By the way, if you're curious why God doesn't share his fancy magic powerz with human beings, this is why.

Week Off

I'm off to Portland for vacation so expect an absence of posts for the next week. I hope everyone will be up to as much fun. ;)

Tuesday, June 8, 2010

Kotaku E3 2010 Preview Reaction

Reactions while reading Kotaku's E3 2010 Preview:

The Legend of Zelda
Yay. Will it have a wooden shield, a boomerang, a bow and arrow, and a grapple? Will the Vitality Sensor be a game changer? Probably more awesome-slash-boring.

Infamous 2
I wonder if the sandbox will have some interesting toys in it this time.

Castlevania: Lords of Shadow
Will the action offer anything more than GoW, Ninja Gaiden, DMC4, or Bayonetta? Is average action plus Kojima direction something to look forward to? I don't know.

Metroid: Other M
Hopeful, but guarded.

Metal Gear Solid: Rising
Kojima bukakke! Enjoyable bukakke?

Ah, Okami. The better-than-Zelda game with vague objectives that more people should have played. I wonder if your little buddy will be worth a return trip.

Assassin's Creed Brotherhood
Really? If you're curious why so many game ideas look so boring, it's not because executives/marketers hate something fresh, and not just because gaming is a fashion industry, but because the really interesting stuff requires you to put your job on the line. The only interesting ideas always surprise you, meaning they have an element of WTF, and WTF will never be justified with PowerPoint slides. If WTF succeeds then you are a genius, but if WTF fails then buh-bye. And if your ideas never have WTF but they always have bullshit statistics and graphs from the marketing and finance team that rationalize it? Then even when you fail, fail, fail, fail, and fail, you still get to keep your job because your decisions "made sense." Most of the gaming industry is built by executives that actually crave WTF but only have the balls for CYA. Why sacrifice your career when you like your job?

Star Wars: The Force Unleashed II
The Watered-down GoW Clone with the Big License and Too-big Combo Lists II. Why am I such a dick today? Maybe it'll surprise me. (The first might surprise me if I played further into it.)

Lara Croft and the Guardian of Light
Kotaku's raves have me curious. Tomb Raider makes me so sad. The first game was so, so brilliant. I wish someone showed some sign that they understood why. This franchise has been so largely devoid of what made the original special.

The Last Guardian
A predictable OMGOMGOMGOMGOMG from me.

Dead Rising 2
With much embarrassment, I admit that I never played the first, which I hear very good things from trustworthy people.

God of War: Ghosts of Sparta
Awesome-slash-boring, I'm guessing. The first one brought some fun close combat to the table with the gloves, but I find it unlikely another fun gameplay twist is incoming, or that the story is any less brain-dead.

Enslaved: Odyssey to the West
Since the rumors about DMC, I'm more curious about what they've learned from Heavenly Sword. I have my eye on it.

Dead Space 2
Everyone's favorite, bossed-around janitor is back. The atmosphere and presentation were amazing but my connection to the avatar was weak, weak, weak. I hope DS2 keeps the former and fixes the latter.

Another executive/marketing idea FTW. I can hear the meetings: "God of War sells because of the gore, and this property will let us outgore them." You have your work cut out just on that premise, but to execute on story presentation and mechanics with probably a fraction of the budget, time-frame, or executive care? I find it highly unlikely, but would love to be wrong.

Spider-Man: Shattered Dimensions
I haven't played many Spider-Man games. I don't know what's worked and what hasn't, and maybe it's telling that I don't really care(?).

Resident Evil Portable
I really don't trust Capcom that much anymore. They come across as kinda schizo. It'll take some mega press to get me excited about this one.

Knights Contract
So, so skeptical about action games nowadays. Maybe playing it with a friend will be fun?

Itagaki's Next Project
Always curious about his stuff. He always comes across as one of the few pushing the bleeding edge of kinesthetics, and I likey.

Monday, June 7, 2010

Pet Immersion Peeves

A few years ago, after deciding design should serve the sum experience before game mechanics, and that immersion is the way to measure engagement with your intentional or accidental experience I did a little exercise of listing everything that noticeably broke my connection from a game. A few of those were touched on in the last post, and I thought it would be fun to make a new list, because I lost the last, and I can't find the original. I remember some interesting ideas bearing out of it, and I only hope the exercise jogs them from my memory:

Things that affect immersion
  • Bugs (though they can sometimes offer a different, fun experience)
  • Cinematics with a visual style different than my game-engine visual style (I'm looking at you, Final Fantasy)
  • Cinematics that obviously take place outside of the game-engine (still looking)
  • Un-earned, emotional character beats (still looking)
  • Excessively long cinematics (still looking)
  • A character says or does something illogical in a story moment (especially bad when that character is my avatar)
  • A shoddy front-end (the first thing you see makes an impression, Blizzard's always done front end right)
  • Loading screens (...)
  • Save points you control via menus
  • Tutorials telling me things I already know
  • Taking stuff from me (I'm looking at you Metroid Prime)
  • Dying in a way unbecoming of my character (God of War tightropes)
  • Dying, generally
  • Visibly bad AI
  • AI I have to take care of, else I fail
  • Any game with "immediate fail" conditions (I'm looking at you, Splinter Cell)
  • Games that tell show me exactly how to solve a problem and still expect me to do it (not unlike tutorials, really)
  • Needing health and not finding any
  • Countdown timers (let me play at my own pace, dammit; might be tolerable if I believe you aren't hiding secrets from me in the corners of the crumbling building)
  • Anytime I feel control has been taken from me
    • Cinematics
    • Tutorial messages
    • Loading
  • Bad voice overs
  • Bad animation
  • Avatar animation with too much anticipation or un-interruptible follow-through
  • Predictable missions structures/solutions (something I'd like to expand on later)
What would your list have on it? There are many more things to list, I presume, but the process gets me thinking about game theory and different approaches and ways to think about to improving immersion. Ultimately, everything affects it, but even a brief list of immersion pet-peeves can provoke a lot of thinking.

Friday, June 4, 2010

Immersion Notes

I wanted to write a fancy post about immersion, but I had a hard time organizing my thoughts, especially in a timely manner. It seems really difficult to make a "worthy post" in 30 minute intervals, and probably none of my meaty posts were done in so little time. But I digress. Below are some random notes about immersion. If anything sounds worth more discussion, lemme know.

Immersion goes hand in hand with experience. If experience sums up what players should get from my game, then immersion is how I measure their connection to it.

Immersion is something everyone intuitively grasps. If I ask players what experience a game tries to provide, I might need to back up and explain myself, but if I ask why a game fails to compel them, I'll get a lot of answers that help define what the experience is and what is in the way from achieving it.

Immersion helps me grasp big design. Focusing on connection to an experience, instead of "fun," "flow," "reward," or "narrative," helps me take a step back to assess how and when these design tools should be utilized to achieve a given experience, instead of becoming the experience themselves.

Immersion helps me grasp small design. Focusing on connection to an experience also helps me develop notes about miscellaneous elements that affect connection. I've noticed that passing information in interface design is more important than blending into an environment; that death is a disruptor whose impact changes drastically based on simple alterations; or that games remove player-control and snap immersion all too often, in load screens, cinematics, and attention-cams.

Immersion affects technology. And some immersion-breakers can be a part of where technology goes in the future, especially when aiming for a common experience at a studio. I might want to focus on streaming instead of loading, on scripted events instead of pre-rendered cinematics, or autosaves rather than saves. They should be prioritized appropriately, but it's useful to note that each affect immersion, and can be prioritized in technology development.

Thursday, June 3, 2010

Foot Dragging

Heavy Rain is still sitting on my PS3, unplayed. I find myself wanting the conditions to be right; like wanting to write a well thought-out email to a friend instead of a quick thoughtless one and never quite finding the time for it.

Also hanging around is Monster Hunter Tri, which I've played off and on. It seems like the game requires patience, though, and with the pile of games getting higher, I don't feel like I have that kind of time for it. Is it really too much to ask that my core tasks be more fun? Skin, skin, pick, pick, fish, fish. How is it that WoW kept me going for 2.5 years on this same paradigm? Maybe because I can be doing plenty of other things at the same time. MHT's lock-you-into-a-quest format might be more difficult to slog through, but I really haven't put the time in to fairly say.

Before it slips off the radar, I wanted to try the new Splinter Cell co-op to see what that experience is like, but I need a buddy.

And of course, Red Dead Redemption feels like an attention whore right now, and it'll get it in due time, but I'm pre-wary of it, because sandbox games and I don't usually get along that well; a personal preference problem that may or may not play out when I dive into it later.

Regardless, a post with more substance is incoming.

Wednesday, June 2, 2010

Baby Steps

One small step for me. On Memorial Day, I finally made it to the swimming pool for laps, and again on Tuesday. Next trip is tomorrow, and it's all so very exciting. And feel good-y. And stuff.

Tuesday, June 1, 2010

Creative vs. Creative

One of the most surprising things about programming is how creative it is. There are so many different paths to a solution; so many different ways to approach problems, that it really does reward my creative urges. Besides, the power to create whatever I dream up is invigorating. I love it.

But I noticed that at draw night, my brain was completely fried, and I thought it was sapping my drawing mojo. Over time, I recognized that it was really just a slump or bad day or lack of inspiration; that the "magic" wasn't necessarily gone, but as absent as it might be whenever I get a little distracted. But it's interesting how I panic about losing one skill for another.

I began in the gaming industry as an artist and eventually switched wholly into design, a move that was really scary to start, but that I never regretted. Now, out of necessity, I've slipped from design towards scripting, and it's scary for similar reasons. This is a switch I don't plan to make permanently because I love organizing and communicating a vision, but those fears -- that I'm losing skills and awareness as a designer like I lost skills and awareness as a modeler, texture artist, or animator -- make me nervous sometimes. I know that everything is fine, but I like sharing neuroses, whatever the worth.