I've fallen in love with a miniatures game again. Great game, beautiful models. Check out this strangely exciting, and well done playthrough.
I'm tripping on Red Dead Redemption (and spaghetti westerns in general) these days, as well as its amazing soundtrack, and I came across this live rendition of Jose Gonzales's Far Away, recorded on a rooftop a few blocks from the Squarespace Office.
Great song, amazing game
Absolutely amazing. Having been a level designer for over a decade, I can't stress how impressed I am with this. Granted, they can do this because the environments of Portal supports it, but that's part of the brilliance, isn't it?
It’s a noteworthy coincidence that Thomsen, in his opening paragraph, talks about Dark Souls distracting its players from potentially spending time learning a foreign language. In practice, Dark Souls does nothing but tutor players in foreign language. Because games vary in their mechanical rules, each one offers a slightly different ‘dialect’ to master. Some languages are quite different. The grammar of Drop7 is as different to the grammar of Assassin’s Creed as Mandarin is to German. To stretch the analogy a bit further, the gameplay language of Gears Of War and Uncharted would be more akin to the nuances separating Spanish and Portuguese. To adore videogames is to be an insatiable linguist.
Considering how much time people have spent trying to advance the idea that video games are works of art, it’s disappointing to see so many people defending the idea that games are product.
Let’s face facts; you deserve this:
Having the entire day laid bare before me, my biggest problem seems to be where to begin? Talk about a luxury problem, huh?
It’s honestly not an easy thing to come to terms with.
On the one hand it makes sense to start working full time with something as soon as possible, to secure some funding for the lean times.
On the other hand, since I’ve got a handful of months funded, what better way to burn through them than on the things I’ve been daydreaming while I’ve been stuck in a 9 to 5?
And I’ve had a lot of those day dreams. I mean, a lot.
I’m one of those people who’s cursed with too many interests and too many options in life. There’s another luxury problem for you. I secretly admire and want to be those people who burn for one thing, and one thing only and dedicate their entire life to it, and from that desire, create meaning.
Neal Stephenson said it best:
“I am fascinated,” I insisted, “That’s the problem. I am suffering from fascination burnout. Of all the things that are fascinating, I have to choose just one or two.”
- Neal Stephenson, Anathem, hardcover edn, Atlantic Books, 2008, p. 733.
Yes, I still have a burning desire to do games. I love games. Games are great. But other than the fact that the only larger company operating in Denmark, is my former employer, I’m also paradoxically struggling with on the one hand wanting to do large games, and on the other finding the process of doing exactly those kinds of games to be an oddly uncontrollable and often times frustrating process.
Regardless, short of a lottery win, or finding an unknown, but very generous rich uncle or a straight up miracle, there’s little chance of starting up a games company capable of doing the kinds of games I’d like to do, so that desire will have to take a rest for a while; which I’m actually happy to see happen just now.
I do wish games would grow up. That’s one of the things I’ve been proud to have been a part of at Io; Kane & Lynch did things with storytelling that I’ve yet to see other games pull off. It’s not rocket science; you’d think the games industry would be able to get their head out of Michael Bay’s ass for a moment and take in the putrid smell left in the wake of the ‘Louder, Faster, More’ mentality.
Which brings me to movies.
I love movies more than I love games. I’ve always known that, but haven’t really been in a position where I thought it was a viable alternative to chase. Denmark is a far from Hollywood. Hell, it seems even Hollywood is far from Hollywood. But then who knows, maybe one day…
Anyway, the closest I’m likely to come to movies anytime soon, is my sharing with seemingly half the globe, that most romantic of romantic daydreams: writing.
Yeah. I know.
I can’t even settle between wanting to do a novel, a graphic novel or a screenplay, so how the hell will I ever find the focus to pull off actual writing?
Beats me; but I keep coming back to it, and have often times made inroads, though I’ve yet to finish anything I’ve been genuinly proud of, not to mention anything that’s had substance to it. But it is unmistably a desire that keeps bubbling to the surface, and one I finally have that most precious of components to deal with: uninterrupted time.
Then there’s the whole design/programming/UX package, which more than any of my other interests has the curse/blessing factor of just being something that comes quite naturally to me. It’s the kind of thing I have to actively try to not do, to find time for my other interests. What a hassle, huh?
But I truly love it, and right now is as exciting a time to be a part of that as I could imagine. I’ve wanted the time to really dig into some of the things I’ve started with K2 as well as various other projects I’ve got sketches of lying about the apartment, but have found them daunting to tackle at night and on weekends; but perhaps now I’ll finally be able to do something about it?
At the end of the day it comes as much down to who I can do it with, as it does to what I do. Once I start working fulltime again, it’ll be web design for now. Maybe that’s what I’ll do for the next ten years; maybe I’ll seque back into games. I don’t know. All I know is that I want to do it with people I love and respect. That’s what it’s all about anyway.
Until a man is twenty-five, he still thinks, every so often, that under the right circumstances he could be the baddest motherfucker in the world. If I moved to a martial-arts monastery in China and studied real hard for ten years. If my family was wiped out by Columbian drug dealers and I swore myself to revenge. If I got a fatal disease, had one year to live, devoted it to wiping out street crime. If I just dropped out and devoted my life to being bad.
- Neal Stephenson, Snow Crash, paperback edn., ROC, 1992, p. 254.
Yes, people of the planet Earth and outlying satellites, I am as a matter of fact a ‘free agent’, even if this blog seems as inactive as ever, which would be because I spend my days basking in the sun, reading long-overdue books and experimenting with various outlandish fruit combinations for smoothies that’ll blow your socks right off and send tears of joy rolling down your cheeks.
Alright, so I’ve started reading some books, the other stuff I’ve only dipped by toes into. But I’m working on it.
But a I am a free agent, having had the opportune fortune of ending my 6+ year stint at Io Interactive by being escorted out the door along with some 30 other people who for various reasons found themselves down and out in Copenhagen on the single most beautiful spring day in a decade or more.
No, I’m not entirely sure what happened. I don’t think any of us are, including friends and colleagues left behind, but considering that I’m the least experienced of the developers let go—most of them having 10 years or more behind them—I’m left to wonder on my own what the overriding idea was…
But, as is always the case, the bad memories fade and the good persist, and much as I’ll miss the excitement of working on large-scale games like the Kane & Lynch series—where I spent most of my time—I’ll miss my friends there infinitely more. The banter, the heated TF2 matches, the coffee trains and the overarching eagerness to prove our meddle and just create great games.
So hurray for Facebook, Twitter, blogs, mail and Skype. These things truly shine when you suddenly find yourself going it alone.
Lucky for me, I’ve had it in mind to quit for quite some time, having made several preparations for doing so, and this quite literally couldn’t have happened at a more opportune time. Add to that the timing of having spring making its way into Denmark and me getting to soar my oates on some of those vanity projects I’ve been wanting to do for years, while Io continues to pay me for a few months more…
Things could be a lot worse.
Beyond that, my plan is to hook up with friends of mine for a pretty cool project we’re all very excited about. After that I’ll go the way of the modern-day ronin: The Freelance Web Designer.
Hopefully, this also means I’ll be able to find the time to blog some more, not to mention bringing out the next version of K2 within a foreseeable future.
Oh yeah, and then Red Dead Redemption is coming up in May, so…
I’ll expound on my plans in the near future; for now I just need to get them more organized as well as learn this new routine of not having an office to go to for a little while, which is probably the hardest part about not being employed. It’s surprising how fast time flies when you’re just milling about the house.
Goodbye Io, and thanks for all the
So this is what I’ve been working on as a level designer for the last couple of years; the parts with the motorbikes and the burning cars and what not.
My good friend Brian Meidell decided to go up against the iPad, and launched the site for his new game Deep Blue Sea 2, yesterday. It looks amazing, and Brian is one of the most talented guys I know, so you can bet you it’ll play just as well. The game is coming in march for both Windows and OS X, but head on over and check it out now and sign up for a notification mail.
The irony of me lauding how a closed proprietary device is helping oust a proprietary technology is thick, but honestly I couldn’t be happier that Flash seemingly isn’t supported by the iPad. Gruber has written much about Flash and Apple, and he’s a clever guy, so if you haven’t read his stuff yet, you should do yourself a favor and consume his site start to finish, but here’s my take.
I’m not a fanatic when it comes to open vs. proprietary, which should be evident, my Apple fetish taken into account, but in my mind Flash has no home on the net of the future, and I’m happy to see Apple inching it out bit by bit. Yes, it crashes a lot for me, but that’s not the reason I don’t like it, I just want to see the internet of the future absolutely open, and Flash simply won’t allow that. Furthermore, we’re slowly reaching a point where modern web technologies will overlap Flash’s unique functionality.
So why are people vying for Flash on the Apples devices? What is it that Flash delivers that people want so bad? I was tweeting with Matt Brett, who said he’d buy one for his daughter if it had had Flash, for casual games; but I just don’t see what it is that Flash can deliver as a browser plugin, that can’t otherwise be delivered in much more superior ways as apps, be they compiled Flash applications or not.
Besides whatever technical or economical reasons Apple has for not wanting to include Flash on their closed devices, there’s another major issue I never see anyone address, which is very applicable for those pesky flash games.
How do you click-drag on a multi-touch device? Yes, you can concoct some inane scheme (double-click, but hold on the last click and then drag… or something), but that’s exactly what the iPhone and iPad aren’t about. There’s no elegant way to bring over those games to that user interface, you have to build them for it because it straight-up simply is not the same as keyboard and mouse.
Furthermore, and this is really important, for everyone involved, the app store is a working marketplace, which the web isn’t. It’s proven insanely hard to get people to pay for content on the web, but for various reasons people don’t mind dropping gold for apps on the app store. As a smalltime game developer, despite whatever approval process problems the app store has had, this is a much better deal on almost all accounts. It’s easier to develop for, being as it is almost console-like, and it’s a working, proven marketplace.
In fact, hey, it pretty much is a console experience.
So what is it that people want with Flash? What is this coveted thing that Flash does that people can’t live without?
I just don’t get it.
That’s pretty crazy.
I think I’ll crawl back in my hole and gawk at my die roller (“Why weren’t you a port of Another World, huh? No, no, I’m not mad; I’m disappointed”).
Woke up to this scoop:
Thought you might want the first notice – because of your posting, i’ve received a fair amount of email, and i’ve decided to post my book for FREE on my blog...
Its more important to me that the story of Lucasfilm be shared and circulated than for me to profit directly. So if you wanted to add that to your blog – you’d be the first!
Thanks for your kind words and support.
I don’t know what you’re still doing here, when you should be over there, downloading the hell out of that thing! It’s gorgeous; the full 518-page book, complete with photosRare photos I might add, plugged in many cases straight out of the Lucasfilm vault or even personal collections from the people who were there., index and whatever else you’ll find in the printed version, covering everything from Lucas’ earliest years up through the creation of ILM and its struggle to put Star Wars up on the silver screen, down through Coppola’s experiements with mobile film making, the creation of Pixar, non-linear editing, digital sound editing, the creation of the Games Group and much much more. It is in actual fact, a book about the creation of modern filmmaking (and to some extent games even) as we know it. Don’t let the technical foundation scare you off though; it’s not only accessible, but centered on the people, not the tech. It was easily one of the most enjoyable reads I’ve had in years.
As he does, I obviously suggest you just go ahead and buy the real thing, should you like what you see.
I’m a man of few available hours these days, much to my dismay, as I do crave so, the act of classic blogging. And yeah yeah, I should fix the weird layout issues WordPress 2.8 caused in my footer, but it was either that or an entry, and since my friends have started pointing fingers and calling my blog dead…
Now, games, peeeehew. Do they ever suck.
Three pillars create entertainment in a game: gameplay, fiction and aesthetics. For obvious reason, any game that has good gameplay, can get most often get away with a lot more slack in fiction and aesthetics than a game which is strongest in either or even both of the other two. But people, that doesn’t mean you can just downright ignore them, alright? Now, fair enough, the more common problem is when aesthetics are favored over gameplay and fiction — it’s after all easier to sell a game with screenshots of ‘teh pretties’ than it is to somehow show how fun a games is, or how invested you’ll be in its amazing turning points.
In either case, fiction loses out. And when fiction loses out, games become stupid. And when games become stupid, I get a headache.
Case in point: Portal. Have you played Portal? You should have played Portal. If you haven’t played Portal… What are you even doing here? Go play Portal, we’ll wait.
Is he gone? Lock the door, we’ll go on without him. Sucker. Aaanyway, I don’t need to remind you, who did play Portal, just how awesome the writing, and writing alone, makes that game. Without the writing, Portal would be little more than a cool tech-demo puzzler. But with great writing…
It’s a turret! Just a turret! You know, the things that usually go BEEP RATATATAT? That’s that! All games have them (all!), and yet only one is as cute as a kitten, and memorable for it.
That’s what good writing alone is capable of.
“But Michael, that isn’t bad; didn’t you watch Troll 2?”
Listen kid, mediocre is the new bad. In the same way that Dead Space itself is mostly a really well crafted, thoroughly mediocre game, the mise-en-scène, if one can call it that with a straight face, is that of absolute mediocrity. Consider how much better a game Dead Space would have been, if the fiction had simply been given the same care and attention that was paid to something as irrelevant as those beautifully rendered floor panels. A little love and care in the writing and direction… Is that too much to ask? Fair enough, there is only so far you can go with a ‘distress beacon’ plot, but stories are great not because of ‘what’, but because of ‘how’.
It is truly mystifying how an industry which so thrives on transporting people into the fantastic, spends so little on the oldest traditions in the portfolio of the fantastic.
That other major entertainment juggernaut, Hollywood, knows that good fiction is the key, even if they’re afraid of anything that isn’t an existing property. That’s why they’re so busy falling over each other to buy up comics, a huge, previously untabbed source of great fiction, ready for the taking. In his heart of hearts, even Michael Bay knows that explosions, bimbos and big robots alone, are too shallow to keep people coming around for a sequel; and whether or not it’s your cup of tea, and while it may not be Dostoyevsky, I assure you, Bay screenplays don’t happen overnight, and they aren’t written by ‘Phil from accounting’.
It’s high time games started taking this aspect of themselves seriously. It’s staggering that it hasn’t happened yet, considering how infatuated the entertainment industry as a whole, and the games industry in particular is with franchises. Consider that before one frame of celluloid was exposed, Lucas spent well over 3 years writing, just writing, Star Wars. That’s after years of thinking about it… Star Trek was—according to Wikipedia, cuz I ain’t no damn Trekkie—in pre-production for up to six years! Lord of the Rings? Psh. Forget about it.
And every one of those franchises exist today, first and foremost, because of writing. After that, any of the many steps from there on out can easily make a wreck of the entire project, but no amount of subtle direction or jaw-dropping special effects will miraculously polish a turd of a script.
You’ll be lucky if you can find me a game that has had a combined pre-production period of more than one year.
With all of this in mind, is it so odd odd that until recently I kept confusing inFamous and [Prototype]? It’s not that I think either development team consists of bad people, or even untalented ones. They probably have the best of intentions, like everyone else. And I’ve heard good about both games from colleagues. But in my eyes, on a fundamental level, these games have no vision. So they fall back on clichés and platitudes, the likes of which seem so familiar because they are composites of other cliches and platitudes, to the point where, if this is defining for the games industry, we should just cut our loses and not bother with fiction at all.
It doesn’t all have to be hulking power armors, head-butting, ass-slapping, badittude slow-mo walkcycles and omnipotence, does it?Some, dignity, would be nice, you know?
I leave you with this, not because I’m done, but because I’m sleepy. Psycho? Jester? Is this a much hyped 2008 state-of-the-art top-of-the-line grade-A computer game or no-name action flick from the 80’s?:
I finished Metal Gear Solid 4: Guns of the Patriots a while ago, but forgot to post this review-thingie. I never thought I’d play it—I always hated Metal Gear Solid—and now that I have, I’m not sure how I can play any other games again; I’ve been so spoiled…
And so will you be, if you haven’t played MGS4 and still continue reading…
You see, seven years or so ago, I played through the first Metal Gear Solid on PC. I wasn’t too impressed, though I thought it was pretty cool to see a game actually try to comment on issues facing the world today; something that wasn’t seen much in games back then, kind of like today. But the horribly told story, the inane exposition, the weird characters and all the other things that make MGS what it is, just never jived with me, and I ended up hating the game for being so popular, when it could have been so much more.
And in a sense, I still feel that way after MGS4. The amount of slumber-inducing absolutely unnecessary and plainly superfluous exposition is mind boggling. When you meet up with Big Mama, she literally talks for something like an hour straight! And it’s all pretty ho-hum… Something something nano machines, something something Big Boss, something something ZZZzzzzzz. I just wanted to throw my controller so hard at the TV that it would crack Hideo Kojima’s skull. There are several of these prolonged talky cutscenes throughout the game, and to me they represent everything that’s wrong with the game. It simply doesn’t know when enough’s enough, and they end up tearing down more than they build up, which is a hell of a shame, because if there’s one thing this game does well, it’s cut scenes. Holy fuck.
But before I get to the good stuff, let me just talk Vamp. Vamp. The name itself makes me want to punch somebody in the teeth. I truly hate him. He makes me see red in a way even Jar Jar never mustered. Vamp. I just wanted to wrangle my TV to the floor and dropkick his ugly face and his latin lover moves. If I could, I would take a needle to the MGS4 disc, and scratch out the exact parts that contained just him, and consider the game twice as good right there. Killing him was the most satisfying thing I did in that game, and not in a good way, but in a ‘finally I can get on with this game’. What his role was, I’ll never know; but then that’s MGS for you.
And the entire game is filled with little ‘ugh’ moments, where it was obvious that someone (Hideo Kojima, undoubtedly) had indulged himself and his world in a way that does service only to himself and the most obsessed fans.
But that’s MGS; it fails more spectacularly than most games succeed. And when all that’s been said—and I think it has to be said—MGS4 just blew me away. Wow.
The production values. My God Man! The production values are through the roof; it makes every single other game on the market look like a 3rd grade science project! And it’s not that there aren’t plenty of places where one could point out how neat this warzone’d street is, or how unbelievable South America comes off. But then you notice how the MacBook Pro is a MacBook Pro, down to the screws, or how the Mk. II absolutely looks like a piece of hardware that could exist in the real world. The attention to detail and the love that has gone into even the smallest things is what really brings this game up to a place where despite all the bad things that could be said, it still commands respect.
And MGS was always a bit hardware horny, but the weapons, the vehicles, the gekko... Oh, the gekko. In the realm of science fiction, there is so much ho-hum’ness and slock design that most titles blend in and out of each other, leaving behind mostly no impression at all. Metal Gear on the other hand, is so well designed it makes me want to cry.
There’s such an attention to, and breadth of, materials in MGS4, that I just want to walk around and look at everything. Akiba’s balaklava, the Mk II’s frame, the muscle weave in Old Snake’s OctoCamo suit. I love the materials in MGS4, for showing us that not everything has to look like Gears of War; there is another way.
Mixed together, the design and the materials come together and create these incredibly believable piece of military hardward, a long-time MGS stable, which would make even James Cameron proud.
Making something as weird and alien as the gekko believable is hard work, yet MGS makes it look like no big deal. And man, do I ever love the gekko. Mostest awesomest everest. How they look, how they move, the way they jump, the mooing they make, how they hide in the snow on Shadow Moses… These things are the design equivalent of the X-Wing today, if you ask me.
Otacon talks about changing the disc, before going off on a tangent about blu-ray’s (there’s that indulgence I talked about). Mantis tells you to put your controller on the floor so he can move it by pure thought alone. For a game so hooked on having some of the most intricate cinematics ever in a game, Metal Gear Solid sure isn’t afraid of snapping paradigms and preset ideas about what games are in two. It’s just so damn playful and energetic that it’s hard not to love it for it.
And while it’s normal for games like Gears of War to change… gears… every once in a while, by having a rail shooter or something to break up the gameplay a bit, MGS4 does this with such gusto and such flair, that I was literally grinning from ear to ear as I was playing it.
When Ray jumped out of the water, onto the pier I was literally laughing out loud with joy, and the ensuing gear on gear action was one of the best parts of the game for me, not only because the concept itself was pretty awesome, but because the execution was near flawless. Somebody spent a loooong time making these mechs move, making all new animation sets and making the buildings destructable and what not. This took a lot of time to do, and it’s used once in the game. Just once.
And another thing is, it’s perfect not only because it’s fun to play, but because you’ve been chasing Liquid across the entire game, and when you finally fight him, it needed to be grand and epic and something entirely new, for the gameplay to carry the importance of this moment.
Later there’s the microwave hallway, which is the simplest, stupidest setup around. But they manage to make everything be about you pressing that goddamn triangle as fast as you can, because the fate of the world is in your hands, and you can see it right there, in the split-screen above you, if you can take your eyes off of Old Snake, who is being cooked alive. And you’re just pressing that triangle like it was the end of the world, as he inches his way forward.
That isn’t gameplay. Gameplay is ‘a series of interesting choices’... But it works. Man, does it ever work. I was absolutely engulfed by this point; buying 100% into the fantasy. I made it this far, I’ll be damned if some lousy microwave oven is going to be the end of Old Snake! CRAWL OLD MAN, CRAWL!
And the coup de grâce; the crown on the scalp of this confusing, half-game, half-movie ‘experience’, was when the camera craned down, and it was Snake vs Snake. It’s like post-modern game design right there; first the injections, then health meters, you going ‘hey, what the…’, the camera cranes down and… It’s a fighting game! Literally, side-view, health bar and everything. Holy crap! Madre de Deus!
This breaking of the fourth wall, in the service of making a greater game, is some of the best gaming I’ve done in years. Not because the gameplay was particularly great (or I just suck at it), but because the designers were willing to concede that their core gameplay mechanics weren’t what was needed to portray the climax they had in mind, so they changed the game to make it work.
In most games of MGS’ ilk, the climactic boss-fight would simply be a really big robot or some such, who you would then have to shoot in new imaginative ways. And it kinda sorta works; but by making the game a fighter instead, they made it into something much more personal. Something more intimate somehow.
And the genious of it, was that in that climax, I kept playing even when I wasn’t sure if I was still in control. I was playing my ass off, and I’m not even sure Old Snake was heeding my command any longer.
I chalk that up partly to how well MGS4 shifts between cinematics and gameplay, often sneaking up on you by suddenly fading in your HUD and leaving the mess for you to deal with. And partly to how well they manage to make the elements of story, character, mise en scéne and game come together.
But the cinematics are truly something to behold. They’ve always been in MGS of course, but this time… In Prague, when the military surrounded Liquid how did they do that? It must have taken years to get all of those elements to play together that well.
I honestly don’t know how they put together the Raiden vs. Gekko fight. It’s so intricate, so amazingly well done. It just boggles the mind and the body.
Of course, the cinematics are also where MGS veers way off into Blahblahland, and it just brings the entire momentum to a complete and utter standstill more than once (sometimes even bringing the momentum into the negative!). There might be some cultural differences and all that, but even Kurosawa’s Ran wasn’t as longwinded as Big Boss taaaalking and taaaaalking, when all that was needed was for Snake to die and the credits to roll.
And yes, Old Snake totally should have died onboard Outer Haven. Absolutely.
In fact, for a game about war, the Metal Gear series simply had too Return-of-the-Jedi an ending. You know, the one in which everyone smiles and laughs and Anakin is there with Yoda and Obi, and they’re all snug as bugs, having forgotten aaaaall about that one time, at band camp, when Anakin slaughtered a bunch of kids and betrayed all the people in the known universe.
But despite being, as mentioned so many times before, weighed down by some of the most indulgent story telling ever, set against one of the most confounding plotlines (also ever), I would actually go so far as to say that it managed to almost touch me once or twice near the end.
And while I never played through MGS2, so I didn’t really get to know him, I thought the monsterization of Raiden was a stroke of genious. Nevermind the design, which is just the coolest thing ever; they actually managed to make him into something entirely different from a human, which really tickled me, and almost made me… dare I say it… want to play as Raiden!
And Old Snake? Well he just rocks. Hayter’s growling is a tad much sometimes, but then so is everything in MGS, so…
I’m sold. There are so many things wrong with this game, and so many reason I should hate it, but how can I, when it does so many things so very very right. I still can’t stand Hideo Kojima and Vamp makes me want to claw my eyes out, but I’ll be on the next Metal Gear Solid like a gekko on a building.
Dave Arnesen, co-creator of Dungeons & Dragons, alongside Gary Gygax, has died.
As I also wrote when Gygax died last year, what I’ve gotten from Dungeons & Dragons is what I surround myself with every single day. My job, my hobbies and the D&D campaign I play in every other week.
I salute you gentlemen, with the finest mead of the kingdom.