Rule number one of game business there are no rules

September 22nd, 2016 by harold

Reigns, a mobile game that you pay for before playing it –which is a business model that isn’t supposed to work at all anymore ever again, so they say- has sold over 600,000 units in a month. $2.4M.

RPS was running this story last week: Why A Million People Still Play Multiplayer Grand Theft Auto: San Andreas Every Month and it comes down to three, simple things:

– No competitive behavior. People just go around, role-play and race. Racing is competitive but in a very light way compared to being constantly killed by bored, kind of psychotic people.

– It runs on old ass computers just fine. Game developers feel grossed out by old hardware I guess but machines are extremely resilient. I’d argue they are more and more because we underuse them so much (your quad-core CPU has probably been under-employed most of its life).

– Freedom+Bottom-Up design. Players do whatever they want, ask for features to scripters, who in turn make them available to players. Repeat. Not having to deal with marketing, PR, IP holders is a blessing to game development.

At the end of the day you need to craft something that people really want, something that you really believe in. Forget trends and media strategy, trust your feelings have good money on the side if possible, and ship.

Another wall down

September 15th, 2016 by harold

So Google just presented Wavenet, an AI that recreates human speech more accurately than anything before. As a sound designer I am used to speech synthesis and have been playing with it for the past sixteen years. the last big innovation was around 2000. This is something else.

Cyborg and Speech Synthesis

This is so close to a real voice I feel in deny. Convincingly faking a human voice to the ear the most unforgivable, most sensitive organ we have –and which is totally shaped around human voice- is a tremendous achievement. Like, I can’t believe it it’s pretty much a done deal.

Look at yourself and see how you react to the voice or sounds of your loved ones. Yeah, a computer will be able to make you cry really soon. Forget virtual worlds and visual cues, audio triggers emotions like nothing else.

Same week, Microsoft just announced that they have reached a milestone in speech recognition.

Both sides of the equation are being solved as we speak.

Obviously first thing I think about: jobs. It’s ridiculous how many jobs are based on boring ass discussions, bam, gone. The fact that now robots will be able to understand us easily AND answer with natural voices is FREAKING ME OUT. Jobs where you needed a human to interface between people and machines, ba-bam, gone. Voice is why you trust your doctor. You’ll trust a robot with a sulky voice even more.

As Brad Wardell is writing:

The new uber class (calling them rich isn’t even the right term at that stage) will be way ahead of the mob. They’ll have machines to protect their holdings, homes and families from the rabble. So those who think “they’ll have to do something for everyone else or they’ll be a revolution” think again. Don’t assume a universal basic income is a definite.

Of course no techlord be MS or Google or Uber or Facebook or Amazon are warning us, they’re too busy replacing us already.

If you have kids or plan to have some, you’d better get the discussion about UBI going right the fuck now.

I can’t shake the feeling that we’re arriving where we wanted to be but that it’s also an abrupt end to things as we know them…

Beat ‘em up 2016

September 12th, 2016 by harold

Beat ‘em ups were and are my thing. I just think that the concept of going left to right beating people up is enjoyable and less brutal than first person shooting which is a good thing, probably? It’s relaxing, exhilarating, doesn’t demand a strong commitment in time or skills. That’s good entertainment.

I think that type of game would be great in lots of ways these days: a beat ‘em up where you go after cat-callers and rapists a beat ‘em up where you play the new Ghostbuster cast, a beat ‘em up where you punch politicians in the face before escaping the white house I mean, the list is endless.

I was there when they were popular in the arcades. A few notes on what they need to have in order to become a classic.

CAST

Look at Battle Circuit, the last Capcom beat ‘em up in 1997: you can play a woman in leotard, a Fantastic Four looking skinny dude, a carnivorous plant, a little girl riding an ostrich and a cyberdude. Maybe that’s a little extreme but you get the point, representation and diversity are important because it makes your potential audience happy. Don’t just have a dude and dudette, with the dudette being “fast” and the dude “strong”. We’re way passed that. Mix it up and go nuts on character design.

AESTHETICS

The beat ‘em up golden age is the 90s. 16bit graphics, 4096 colors. So I’m always kind of annoyed when I see that most beat ‘em all avoid that style for another “8bitHD” style, monochromatic and sad. The 16bit, Paul Robertson style is where it’s at. Bring me some colors, bring me some dynamic.

Audio is insanely important. Punches and kicks need to make you smile and feel like you’re actively beating the fuck out of those punks. Streets of Rage does beat ‘em up sound effects admirably. You need that high pitched, slap sound. That’s the feel good, hilarious, crucial part (Castle Crashers lets you abuse the slap sound as much as possible). SMACK THAT BITCH UP. Mid 90s is when we started getting sampled voices everywhere, so you would end up in a satisfying flow of punch and whoosh sounds, short screams and other digitalized cues with a punchy soundtrack that all together made the experience what it was. You need those whoosh sounds when you’re not hitting anybody, it helps solidifying the experience. Mother Russia Bleeds fails quite hard on the sound side when it could elevate that game soooo much.

DIFFICULTY

It has to be perfectly possible to beat the game on easy almost first try. It’s about having fun, not about spending hours you guys. Once again Streets of Rage and Castle Crashers do that perfectly –and that’s really hard to do- you can beat the game on easy or ruin your fingers on hardest. Health bars on all enemies is an awesome convention because it discreetly teaches you how to optimize your moves to get rid of them: two punches and a head butt or one uppercut and a kick in the face? And of course on bosses, it makes you realize how long it’s going to take, as well as putting pressure on you once you know you’re about to win. Not giving that precious feedback to players to force them to be as perfect as possible regardless is bad design. I don’t play beat ‘em up for a damn score or “be the perfect beast”, I play them to have a good time.

IT’S NOT THAT DEEP

I think beat ‘em ups can be serious in the theming –if you want to- but must use some kind of comedy in the delivery. I mean, it’s like any entertainment: violence is fine but you have to justify, wrap it into something that makes it less about just violence. I’d love to play a beat ‘em up where the plot is just you and your friends going to the beach and you end up in a riot beating up cops, rioters, scientologists and priests, destroying SUVs and fixies, sucker punching idiots on their phones, trying to go through to get there before sunset. The end would be like Inside’s end and that game would be the shit.

Beat ‘em ups could be so many things.

The Simpsons

September 8th, 2016 by harold

The Simpsons is so ambitious, intimate, classical, experimental, hip, corny, and altogether free in its conviction that the imagination should go where it wants, that to even begin to explain all the things The Simpsons is, and all the things it does, you would need an immense Venn diagram drawn on a football field, each circle representing different modes of comedy.

On the best TV show ever.

It went to more places—tonally and topically as well as geographically— tackled more issues, and told more jokes about more subjects than any comedy has before or since, and at its peak (roughly seasons 3–12) did it better than anyone else.

Those seasons happened right when I was a teenager in France, where the show aired too. It is just great memories of talking about that joke, that line, in the last episode during a break at school. What I remember being struck by was the amount of self-consciousness, how the writers would go on US culture and society. Could be hard or just poking fun at it but it was constant and surgical. France’s irreverence has always been pretty corny and basic, or its satire is super brutal going for hard themes and strong images. There, humor and criticism were happening through so many angles and layers, it was inventive and great. Balanced. I couldn’t get enough of that. Same with Futurama.

I just read that Matt Groening grew up on the west coast with his parents being both half-Europeans. Considering how strongly universal the Simpsons felt –despite being truly Americans- I am not surprised.

I thought that liberal, agnostic take on the US and the world would spread because it is so effective creatively. So many places to go.

It did not happen but we still have 596 episodes –and counting- of that sitcom.

The Simpsons, man. One of the only thing the US can be proud of univocally.

Parsing and mind to mind

September 5th, 2016 by harold

Dave Winer, one of the blogging godfather wrote this week:

My reason for writing is not just engagement, but also to get mind-to-mind connections.

Medium people who write 200% for engagement, you need to chill.

Writing is not even just to get mind-to-mind connections to me, it’s a fantastic way to play “parse my thoughts and make them readable” which is a useful thing in life. Those ideas that go back and forth, it’s really great to lay them down and move on and I’m always surprised that people find that kind of weird, while they have no issue talking to a stranger about how they feel for years to get a hold on themselves.

It’s Labor Day and I’m going to make more coffee.

On Gawker

August 24th, 2016 by harold

I often thought of that website as being necessary. You know, shaking things up at least with words on a screen. In the real world we can’t do much anymore so that was always refreshing to see them write super loud what tons of people were trying to avoid to discuss or were muttering under breath.

I had two links from Gawker for a sugar/physical activity blog post here are the titles:

– Study: You Are Not Working Out

– Artificial Sweeteners May Actually Raise Your Blood Sugar, Ha

Those are frank articles on the fact that folks drink too much sugary shit and don’t move enough –a plain, good old truth-, when every single publication around is on its toes, massaging its audience.

At first I thought Gawker was necessary but then, because they were so thorough too, it became a favorite. I really appreciated reading wit on absolutely everything and it was one of the very last website where comments were true gold (despite a terrible comment system: if articles are good, people will go through hell and back to add their sarcasm). Now all I have is The Atlantic.

So Gawker is gone. As we all know the American justice system has “some” flaws. I still contemplate how three adults into open marriage and voyeur stuff can sue a company that wrote an article –which was pretty cool btw- and published a few seconds of said video to death. That’s fucking crazy.

But yeah writing freely online as powerful and freeing as it is, is “dangerous”. I have too made adjustments from time to time in fear of some backlash. This is why Gawker falling is not good news for anyone not a billionaire, not a sheep, which is probably some of you.

The importance of lateral thinking

August 23rd, 2016 by harold

I went through Stranger Things.

It was bad.

It got me thinking though. I think you need to have a “fucked up” upbringing to have things to say creatively more and more. You need a fresh, different perspective and you can’t really have that if you had a perfectly boring and great childhood.

Apparently the Duffer brothers didn’t do anything else in their lives besides watching movies, learning how to make movies and making some. That’s not a good thing. You would think it is but it’s not. Stranger Things feels like it’s been created by an algorithm. Procedurally generated generic horror story.

Akira, which has the best story revolving around kids with psychic powers escaping a secret government lab of all time, has this development because the author lived something, being born right after the war and wondering about nuclear bombs effects on people. Which is why the kids in Akira look like they’re old, making them immediately fascinating. Katsuhiro Otomo had lived some shit and was putting it in its art.

Take someone like Jenji Kohan, TV writer born in a family working in television. You’d think she would be bland but she isn’t because she was a woman competing with her brother and dudes in the late 90s and that ultimately had an impact on her output. She went for unheard themes and stories like single mothers selling weed and women in prison. She added something. She brought something.

You need purposes and reasons to make long and lasting things and Stranger Things falls really short for me because it’s been made with a weird fetish/me-too/nostalgia-induced creativity and nothing else.

Perception-to-progress ratio

August 21st, 2016 by harold

We have a thing in sound called signal-to-noise ratio.

Signal-to-noise ratio (abbreviated SNR or S/N) is a measure used in science and engineering that compares the level of a desired signal to the level of background noise. It is defined as the ratio of signal power to the noise power, often expressed in decibels. A ratio higher than 1:1 (greater than 0 dB) indicates more signal than noise.

So let me introduce the progress-to-perception ratio (abbreviated PPR or P/P)

Perception-to-progress ratio is a measure that compares your perception of the world which is what you actually live everyday to our progress, which is defined by actual facts and numbers.

So for a white person maybe the ratio is about 5:1, indicating that white people see a decent amount of good things going on while the actual progress is 1. Maybe 1:1 for poor white folks.

For black and brown people though it’s going to be 0.8:1 if not 0.2:1. Just an example from a recent article in Baltimore:

of the nearly 1,000 people killed by police officers in 2015, 40 percent were unarmed black men. Now consider, black men make up just 6 percent of the national population.

Let that sink in. Ponder. Imagine the impact on people like me, realizing that we’re definitely the target. It’s not just a “we talk a lot about it in the news”. It’s real. We knew this before, now we have HD footage.

So even if progress happens, it happens at a slower rate for people of color: if all violence goes down but black and latinos are still targeted far, far more than we should –at a rate that never went down- then violence doesn’t really go down for us. And because violence *does* go down globally, it makes us wonder quite a lot what is going on because that’s not what we witness or how we feel.

That changes a lot of things in the way we go on with our lives and it’s hard to describe it, that was my attempt. I wish there was a “apply to all” button for progress so that we flatten those enormous disparities.

No Man’s Sky and space exploration design

August 18th, 2016 by harold

Have you listen to the UI sounds? Pretty great aren’t they.

That’s the screen that kind of killed the suspension of disbelief for me. Spaceports that are going to be empty as hell and way, way too clean. Forever. And stairs that people take once before they remember that they pack jetpacks. And of course the same four different crates you found everywhere.

I compared a lot NMS to Rebel Galaxy design-wise. How Rebel Galaxy did the spaceport thing? Interface only, no cumbersome walking or weird maneuvers to do in order to simply sell or buy things through a menu. RB still has 3D characters to talk to and ask stuff but the way they did it is smart. They keep your “flow”. They strip the game off everything that is kind of a boring task to do.

Both are space exploration games but in NMS you don’t really have a direct purpose to mining and stealing, destroying things from planets. In RB you have a purpose: you pilot a ship, you make money with it and you can choose to be a law-abiding citizen or a pirate or both.

It’s interesting to me that those small design decisions make RB fantastic and NMS feel hollow. NMS is immensely large but in today’s world it doesn’t really matter no one has the time to spend hundreds of hours on one game. It’s pretty rare. I didn’t finish RB and it’s probably a hundred times smaller.

Both are independent games made by small teams. But NMS is going to probably make a lot, a lot more thanks to a trailer that set all expectations all the way up and sold people on the game (RPS has a good article on that). I don’t think playing the hype game is worth it in the long term but Hello Games and Sony are printing money right now so, I don’t know.

Posting pictures on a blog

August 15th, 2016 by harold

It used to be that, for years and years:

http://har0ld.free.fr/myblog/crayonphysics_launch.jpg

Readable URL with a picture file at the end. Harmless.

Then it was bad, thanks Google for being so great at respecting the Web and making it even better:

https://lh6.googleusercontent.com/-V2KxqFTnho4/VQyNttyz7MI/AAAAAAAABkw/m-7V38p
ZvZQ/s800/tumblr_nlffxgy67S1tmkxe3o2_540.png

You see, it still respected the syntax and some WWW readability: URL and picture file at the end.

Now it’s 2016 Picasa is dead and Google has Google Photos, which displays pictures like that:

https://lh3.googleusercontent.com/SJZfoWrPOFBE021c2C04U8Ohbdj6RTvOYkM3gsxkjzIn
71oR6TkJsnHXYMZTvZzVNJcKt313p4
-pX6NCecq6vNaW0a_c9XPgtlsW9OfkzXy8bkPkRqqyFlrQMgD5Nh9P9hA415wKxUPUPGlJL8PS-
DslvPriquRV5FEKWQ4108lxwkNOUqvqIgovsS9fZNo92jDFLcWmF70HyqipMtY-
ifzbBtj6UsejzMNlhzkotc5K5_X-UJSjf7ZDXCkHMitJszzuCMcOBgH2DxQvMPwGUpynbw513zSFLV
Je3BKB3rJvzteMKIUrjII0qdGQzpHUF_fEOgtn1oG7jCEome6q3TsEwaYF9LkLCi2zUeTvjH1Bo8tq
qKf-a7-ZTer6JSN2YpEij49poblCQI2ConNtGvwwF3Y-tvKH2Cr9aMTC0eC16UqjZjBGmAy2LkpurO
tSqx6brFrNHUJyyUxhrxKIUiljVNSqduYG7duyY2baFTM7Vp5bdHqnzEojiMmEAzje4d9oIXXrmFZf
VsZsihyWraTN2PphyFFWRIwW4w4vAP7CwAxTH__zJtiwoNmaKuN4wJB2z5df5g-
sqBpEs6c3ok8FpSoiYIA=w1064-h636-no

Of course it absolutely breaks HTML and makes your brain vomit. It’s the URL for machines, it’s the web for “AI” and crawling robots. It’s the web where we can’t put our little hands in and make stuff the way we want them.

I guess I’ll have to find a solution to that mess. I like pictures in the middle of text.