"And to be honest, a lot of it is just bashing your head on the keyboard and wondering like, why doesn’t it work? And then bashing your head a bit more and then suddenly it works and you don’t know why."
Vlambeer on game development. (via gamedesignnovice)

There’s a reason why games aren’t taken seriously.

Recently, a professor of mine wanted to class to write a blog post. It could be about anything, she said, as long as it was pertinent to your intended industry. But she made one sort of post off-limits: game reviews. At first, this annoyed me. What makes game reviews off limits, while book, film, or other entertainment reviews are fair game? We all know that games can be serious works of art with depth meeting that of books or films, so it must have been her ignorance of that fact that led her to prohibit game reviews. It’s her fault, right?

Right?

Maybe not. While games can be magnificent works of art, the mainstream game press rarely treats them as such. Large game news outlets such as Game Informer and IGN like to say that games are art, but then refuse to actually take them seriously. They have created a game review culture which is comparable to large-scale Amazon reviews of children’s toys. It’s no wonder that anyone would get the impression that a game review would lack substance of good professional writing, or that games themselves should not be taken seriously. The following is the review summary for Game Informer’s review of Bioshock Infinite: Burial at Sea Pt. 2:

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The full review can be found here. I’m afraid it’s no better than the summary. Reviews like this, which unfortunately make up the vast majority of game reviews, are little more than buyers guides. They approach games like children’s toys: how pretty are they? Does it sound good? does it work right? Is it easy to use? Will I want to use it for a long time? Game reviews today lack the substance and depth required to portray games as anything more than children’s toys. Imagine if films were reviewed like video games. The absurdity seems to be far clearer when the common game review format is pasted into a film review.

It’s time game reviewers grapple with the art of games, with their themes, subtleties, plots, character development, art style, and how they all contribute to the whole.  Game writing needs something more than “This game has a good story, but it could use some work. The graphics look great. The sound effects are satisfying. The controls work. There are very few glitches. 9/10”.

If you were to read the aforementioned Burial at Sea review, or this Bioshock 2 review, might notice something: they don’t tell you anything at all about the meat of the game. Bioshock games are famous for having in-depth, striking political commentaries, attacking extremism, american exceptionalism, capitalism and communism (kind of), all the while mixing that in with imaginative science concepts and the projected impacts of inter-dimensional travel between the multiverse (admittedly that sounds ridiculous on the surface, but the game presents these themes thoughtfully and with careful precision).

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These issues are incredibly complex and the Bioshock series makes some seriously impactful commentary and crafts a wonderful plot that far outshines it’s traditional gameplay mechanics. However, traditional gameplay mechanics and basic game functionality seem to be all Game Informer, the largest videogame magazine in the world, wants to talk about. It’s no wonder that such a huge number of people treat games as children’s toys, incapable of reaching the level of artistic expression of novels and films.

I want to see game reviewers discussing the real substance that today’s games bring to the table. I want to see reviewers grapple with games’ underlying themes and their implications. I want games art styles to be analyzed against those themes. Really, I just want to see critics dissect games as literature and art. I’m not saying every game assessment needs to be such a terribly deep analysis, especially reviews by everyday consumers and non-professionals. But it’s time for game critics to be just that: critics.

discovergames:

Ladies and gentlemen: Ed Key, designer of Proteus.

discovergames:

Ladies and gentlemen: Ed Key, designer of Proteus.

icewatergames:

Hi everyone! Eidolon is getting really close to being on Steam, but we’re losing momentum and need another boost! It would be huge if you could help by sharing the link and asking your friends to vote for us!

guilelessmonk:

discovergames:

polygondotcom:

Your stack of shame is a lantern for your future, and a gift to the industry
We call it a few different things. The backlog. The stack of shame. Maybe you don’t have a name for it, and you simply watch it grow while feeling guilty about your buying habits.
Many of us have experienced the odd sensation of seeing our time grow scarcer than our ability to purchase new games.
(Link to the full story)

This is a really great article and a unique perspective on gaming backlogs. Rather than the usual hand-wringing and finger-wagging, the author talks about the positive aspects, both for you and for developers, of buying games you might not play anytime soon.

Day[9] said it best, buy to support not to own. Don’t get me wrong, owning is nice and all but when I put down money I like to imagine saying “This is neat. I want you to be able to keep making things like this.” This has caused me to pay for games I don’t really expect to play just because I think the developer has promise and I want to support them even if the game they are making isn’t exactly what I’m looking for right now.
This attitude has also caused me to not buy games when I find some things a developer does distasteful (overly restrictive and pointless DRM or just general ass-hattery).
I get that I can support this view monetarily though. I happen to do all right money wise (rolling around in all this Computer Science money) but when you are feeling bad about games you haven’t played remember you are supporting cool people’s ability to make cool things. More cool things are being made than they would if you weren’t around, which is cool.

guilelessmonk:

discovergames:

polygondotcom:

Your stack of shame is a lantern for your future, and a gift to the industry

We call it a few different things. The backlog. The stack of shame. Maybe you don’t have a name for it, and you simply watch it grow while feeling guilty about your buying habits.

Many of us have experienced the odd sensation of seeing our time grow scarcer than our ability to purchase new games.

(Link to the full story)

This is a really great article and a unique perspective on gaming backlogs. Rather than the usual hand-wringing and finger-wagging, the author talks about the positive aspects, both for you and for developers, of buying games you might not play anytime soon.

Day[9] said it best, buy to support not to own. Don’t get me wrong, owning is nice and all but when I put down money I like to imagine saying “This is neat. I want you to be able to keep making things like this.” This has caused me to pay for games I don’t really expect to play just because I think the developer has promise and I want to support them even if the game they are making isn’t exactly what I’m looking for right now.

This attitude has also caused me to not buy games when I find some things a developer does distasteful (overly restrictive and pointless DRM or just general ass-hattery).

I get that I can support this view monetarily though. I happen to do all right money wise (rolling around in all this Computer Science money) but when you are feeling bad about games you haven’t played remember you are supporting cool people’s ability to make cool things. More cool things are being made than they would if you weren’t around, which is cool.

Game Informer’s New Year’s Resolutions for Gamers gets it.
But in all seriousness, why do people criticize EA for microtransactions so much? Sure, one could criticize EA for faulty game launches, poor customer service, etc, but criticizing microtransactions is just unreasonable.
Gamers today demand cutting edge games- those with absurdly detailed graphics, huge sprawling worlds, detailed intense combat, immersive stories, and movie-like production. Hell, a huge portion of the gaming community practically had a circle jerk about Crysis 3’s graphics. The problem with this is that these games cost ungodly amounts of money to develop. This production cost, coupled with the fact that games are the cheapest they’ve ever been. means that either a game needs to sell immense amounts of copies to turn a profit, or they need to utilize another monetization method to help ensure that the tens or hundreds of millions of dollars put into the game will be a good investment.
Microtransactions are pretty clever. They help to make sure that gamers of more lower economic brackets can get their hands on a game like Dead Space 3 for the price of any normal game, while allowing those who are more fiscally endowed to buy some minor enhancements and toys within the game. As long as these microtransactions are not necessary to enjoy the game, they help to make sure that the developers get the money they need in order to make more games in the future, and make a living, while keeping the game at a low price.
As a community, let’s try to stray away from this hate on microtransactions and Electronic Arts. There is no reason they should be named the worst company in America for something as trivial (and even as helpful) as microtransactions. They may not be saints of the game industry, but give them a break.

Game Informer’s New Year’s Resolutions for Gamers gets it.

But in all seriousness, why do people criticize EA for microtransactions so much? Sure, one could criticize EA for faulty game launches, poor customer service, etc, but criticizing microtransactions is just unreasonable.

Gamers today demand cutting edge games- those with absurdly detailed graphics, huge sprawling worlds, detailed intense combat, immersive stories, and movie-like production. Hell, a huge portion of the gaming community practically had a circle jerk about Crysis 3’s graphics. The problem with this is that these games cost ungodly amounts of money to develop. This production cost, coupled with the fact that games are the cheapest they’ve ever been. means that either a game needs to sell immense amounts of copies to turn a profit, or they need to utilize another monetization method to help ensure that the tens or hundreds of millions of dollars put into the game will be a good investment.

Microtransactions are pretty clever. They help to make sure that gamers of more lower economic brackets can get their hands on a game like Dead Space 3 for the price of any normal game, while allowing those who are more fiscally endowed to buy some minor enhancements and toys within the game. As long as these microtransactions are not necessary to enjoy the game, they help to make sure that the developers get the money they need in order to make more games in the future, and make a living, while keeping the game at a low price.

As a community, let’s try to stray away from this hate on microtransactions and Electronic Arts. There is no reason they should be named the worst company in America for something as trivial (and even as helpful) as microtransactions. They may not be saints of the game industry, but give them a break.

loced:

cod4 still the best

Call of Duty 4 is great. The game maintains depth in multiplayer while staying away from ridiculous over-complications of its sequels, and the maps are tight, balanced, and just overall well designed. I’ve yet to see a shooter with better maps than those of the original Modern Warfare.

(Coincidentally representative of Sonic 06’s development dilemma.)
Anyway, as my friend and I were playing Sonic The Hedgehog (2006), one question persisted as we continually yelled profanities at the TV: “why on earth does this exist?”
It’s easy enough to pass off Sega as consisting of total dipshits with their heads exploring their cavernous rear ends, but maybe that’s not totally fair. Sonic 06 was created using half of their development team, while working with the same deadline they established while utilizing their full team. Using advanced calculus, one can conclude that 1/2 team = 1/2 output.
So, basically, these game developers were in hell. Imagine getting one of your legs and one of your arms removed, and then being told to ride a bicycle. It just won’t work. Well, if you’re persistent enough, you could maaybe do it, but it would be far too arduous, and you’d scarcely cover any distance at all. You might also end up with a couple of bruises on the way. Such is the nature of Sonic 06. The game’s atrocious, and there’s no denying it. I don’t see how any sentient human being can honestly say that it’s a good game. I don’t fault the designers though, that’s not fair. The real cuprits are deadlines and bad management decisions. (Splitting your team in half for an average Wii game- are you kidding me, Sega?) Game development deadlines can be poisonous. They might be necessary evils for fiscal reasons, but they mark the deaths of way too many games with good potential. I would have loved to see Sonic 06 the way they had envisioned it. I honestly think that it could have been the next new Sonic Adventure. The split development team could have put out a good game despite the cut, but the deadline made that impossible. Deadlines stifle creativity and put limits on an art that needs room to breathe.
If Sega (or whoever was in charge of the publishing deadline) were to extend the deadline to the next holiday season, would marginal increase of sales due to an increase of quality in the game make up for the cost of added labor and assets? I don’t know for sure, but I’m tempted to say yes. Gamers tend to know what they’re buying (unless they’re too young to care). A game with a big, shiny 8 or 9 in Game Informer magazine that all of their friends are enjoying and telling them about is bound to sell far more than than a sorrowful 5 or 6 that their friends warn them to avoid like the plague. Sega needed to have a sharper focus on the quality of their game, because quality sells. Holiday deadlines can wait till the next year, because people will buy your game if it’s good and has good advertising.
Don’t get me wrong, there’s nothing wrong with capitalizing games. It’s important to make sound market decisions when in the industry, otherwise, well, you’ll end up like Sega (a company notorious for killing off their products). A problem is created, though, when the capitalization becomes a burden on the creative process. Money should not stifle a game’s quality, it should be an incentive to improve it. When game makers prioritize quick money over sound, quality game design, bad things happen.

(Coincidentally representative of Sonic 06’s development dilemma.)

Anyway, as my friend and I were playing Sonic The Hedgehog (2006), one question persisted as we continually yelled profanities at the TV: “why on earth does this exist?”

It’s easy enough to pass off Sega as consisting of total dipshits with their heads exploring their cavernous rear ends, but maybe that’s not totally fair. Sonic 06 was created using half of their development team, while working with the same deadline they established while utilizing their full team. Using advanced calculus, one can conclude that 1/2 team = 1/2 output.

So, basically, these game developers were in hell. Imagine getting one of your legs and one of your arms removed, and then being told to ride a bicycle. It just won’t work. Well, if you’re persistent enough, you could maaybe do it, but it would be far too arduous, and you’d scarcely cover any distance at all. You might also end up with a couple of bruises on the way. Such is the nature of Sonic 06. The game’s atrocious, and there’s no denying it. I don’t see how any sentient human being can honestly say that it’s a good game. I don’t fault the designers though, that’s not fair. The real cuprits are deadlines and bad management decisions. (Splitting your team in half for an average Wii game- are you kidding me, Sega?) Game development deadlines can be poisonous. They might be necessary evils for fiscal reasons, but they mark the deaths of way too many games with good potential. I would have loved to see Sonic 06 the way they had envisioned it. I honestly think that it could have been the next new Sonic Adventure. The split development team could have put out a good game despite the cut, but the deadline made that impossible. Deadlines stifle creativity and put limits on an art that needs room to breathe.

If Sega (or whoever was in charge of the publishing deadline) were to extend the deadline to the next holiday season, would marginal increase of sales due to an increase of quality in the game make up for the cost of added labor and assets? I don’t know for sure, but I’m tempted to say yes. Gamers tend to know what they’re buying (unless they’re too young to care). A game with a big, shiny 8 or 9 in Game Informer magazine that all of their friends are enjoying and telling them about is bound to sell far more than than a sorrowful 5 or 6 that their friends warn them to avoid like the plague. Sega needed to have a sharper focus on the quality of their game, because quality sells. Holiday deadlines can wait till the next year, because people will buy your game if it’s good and has good advertising.

Don’t get me wrong, there’s nothing wrong with capitalizing games. It’s important to make sound market decisions when in the industry, otherwise, well, you’ll end up like Sega (a company notorious for killing off their products). A problem is created, though, when the capitalization becomes a burden on the creative process. Money should not stifle a game’s quality, it should be an incentive to improve it. When game makers prioritize quick money over sound, quality game design, bad things happen.

Duck Tales (1989) is often said to be one of the best games for the NES; I can offer no opinion in regards to this assertion since I’m bad at things and got stuck in the game, but I did have fun playing what I could. However, this game had a pretty striking flaw in an early level (if not the first). The game required that the player traverses an area that is generally assumed to be inaccessible due to the nature of the rest of the game and most games before it. Super Mario Bros (1985) does this sort of thing, but it is optional and contains only warp zones to skip levels of the game. Duck Tales, drawing on the idea of Super Mario Bros (I have no proof of this, I only assume), implemented the same sort of thing, but with in-game money instead of warp zones.

While this might seem as a copycat thing for the Duck Tales developer to do, I like to think of it more as a pleasant throwback- a nod to one of the most influential games of its time. I enjoyed it; I like it when you can use information you’ve learned in one game and apply them to another in interesting, surprising ways. This becomes an issue though if a game’s progression relies on these skills, which this particular level does. While I don’t think this was a huge problem for this game (as I’m sure almost every NES gamer at the time had played Super Mario Bros to death), I can see how this level design can be a roadblock for less experienced players, since finding this area is basically mandatory in order to complete the level. Something like this should contain something extra- a pleasant surprise. Not a key to advance progress. So that’s where I fault this design, though I doubt it caused too many players to be stuck here permanently. Advice to game designers past, present, and future- if you’re going to implement a “reference mechanic” like this game did, then don’t make it obligatory if it’s something that isn’t obvious or apparent. It can lead to easily avoidable roadblocks. While I disagree with this design choice in Duck Tales, I still enjoyed it. “Reference mechanics” can be a lot of fun, but leave them on the side with a little reward for those who find or utilize them. Use reference mechanics to make players smile, not to frustrate them.

The Virtuix Omni: the next level of immersive gameplay.

In case you don’t want to watch the above video (which I highly suggest, it’s pretty exciting), the Virtuix Omni is basically a (relatively) small treadmill-like platform which you walk on in order to walk in the game. It comes with special shoes and maybe a gun accessory as well.

Virtual reality seems to be just around the corner, especially with the pairing of the Virtuix Omni and the Occulus Rift. Can it catch on though?

This hardware seems to be geared toward a single player experience. Only one person can use the Occulus Rift and the Virtuix Omni at a time, which is fine of course; I think everyone enjoys single-player gaming escapism once in a while, if not more often. However, at its price. which is at least $500 USD per Virtuix (not including the Occulus) is steep for a game peripheral that would be used on top of already-expensive gaming hardware. When making these kinds of gaming investments, most people would want a sort of validation from their peers; they would want to be able to experience it personally with others so that it can be enjoyed with them and doesn’t involve the always-unpleasant “taking turns”- especially when you can’t even watch your friend play (because of the Occulus). Reasons like this are why the Kinect was a monetary success (if not in other areas)- it could be a social experience. I don’t think people would drop such large amounts of money on this Virtuix Omni, on top of the price of the Occulus, in order to use it without a friend or two to share the experience with. (Edit: To be clearI’m talking about local multiplayer, not online)

"But it would work fine with online multiplayer games! Who cares about splitscreen?"

Well, a lot of people care about split-screen gaming. Some online polls such as this one even deem it to be preferable over online gaming. Online gaming is fun; I don’t think anyone has a dislike for it. But it doesn’t beat sitting next to a good friend or family member and spending time together, in person, playing your favorite games.

Another issue: will there be games for this? Surely there will be the everyday shooter or first person adventure game, but good luck playing anything else. This isn’t a problem that could be easily solved, either. Sure, developers could create games specifically for the Occulus and Omni combo, even if they have to invent a new genre of games to do so, but they won’t. Far too few people will own the hardware, let alone both pieces on top of their already expensive gaming systems, to warrant production of a game designed around them; the amount of potential customers would be absurdly low. Other kinds of peripherals could be used too, such as Wiimotes,  to integrate new styles of gameplay with the machines as well, but again this is just slimming down the amount of potential players even further.

To be clear, I’m not suggesting that the hardware will be too faulty for gaming. I’m fairly convinced that this could be a very good product that would be immensely enjoyable to use and could function phenomenally. But it just has too many things working against it. Another major roadblock is the size of the Virtuix. Despite its relatively small size, most people still just don’t have the space for such colossal hardware. The average living room or bedroom in which someone plays their games would not be able to house such a large piece of equipment comfortably. Nor would the average person’s wallet be able to afford all of the required peripherals, and nor would the average person’s mind be willing to drop such colossal amounts of money on something that is only to be experienced alone.

So yeah, I don’t think the Virtuix Omni can survive. I think the hardware is more suited for a kind of rental model. Maybe if small businesses developed to allow you to rent the use of a Virtuix that they own to play certain games on it on the business’s premises, it could work. but beyond that sort of business model, if even that could survive, I can’t see this turning out well. I hope I’m wrong.

PS: I don’t think this is as big of an issue for the Occulus Rift alone. It is cheaper and smaller than the Virtuix Omni and doesn’t rely on any other peripherals.

An important issue in the games industry, (as well as the animation industry). Too much money is spent on attempting to achieve photorealism. A battle of polygon counts grows more and more intense with each passing day. Yet, with this battle, there is little innovation in actual art style, and the improvement of other game systems is being put as secondary in favor of pushing the CryEngine to the limits. You don’t have to spend $60,000,000 to make a good looking or attractive game. The creation of art is far more interesting than the simulation of the real world. We see the real world every day - show us something new.

The creation of game art is a lot like the creation of music. You can get as technical as you want in both, hit as many notes as possible or create as many polygons as possible, but that doesn’t make it interesting or necessary. Lower polygon and note counts arranged into an artful or interesting pattern always trumps technical cacophony. Not saying that photorealism usually means visual cacophony, but it serves little more than to show off technical ability and hardware capacities. Compare the following screenshots and tell me: which one really catches your eye?

[source]

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