Archive for the ‘Audio&Games’ Category

Series that could have been

Tuesday, July 11th, 2017

In my long quest for sustainable business in the game industry and comparison with Japan, Nintendo and Mario Kart I’ve been thinking of series in the West that could have become huge. But didn’t.

NBA Jam

An oral story at Sports Illustrated just came out. NBA Jam was the jam, obviously. The game was released in 1993 right when basketball was exploding internationally. But also the game was its own thing and not just a basketball computer game. It was way better than any other game in its category and there was no way that we wouldn’t see an awesome sequel and more.

Why it didn’t happen

Licensing. Midway the developer lost the rights to the name and the NBA was probably looking to get more money. I would love to see a new version with something the NBA 2K17 engine. BoomShakalaka indeed.

MDK

There was one mechanic that was just awesome: a sniper mode where you could zoom up to 100x. That and plenty of other cool stuff but this one in particular was dope and never really has been used in anything ever since. The game had flaws, some things were kind of corny but it run so flawlessly. MDK2 did a good job too but never really expanded on that one mechanic that was awesome. I wanted a MDK game were you would have to hide all the time because you’re kind of vulnerable and weak but you would have that crazy sniper/camera thing to observe and choose a path… Imagine that with titans. Yeah man.

Why it didn’t happen

Well it did for the 2nd but that was it. Greed was the reason the game didn’t expand. Interplay pushed really hard to have MDK2 asap. The dev team burned out and separated.

Re-Volt

Small racing game that was abandoned very quickly even though that RC car gameplay was really fun.

Why it didn’t happen

Platform madness (PC/DC/PS1/N64) and not lucrative enough I guess?

Tony Hawk’s Pro Skater

Well, there is a series. But after the third one, it simply lost its soul. Story mode, walking around, customization all that was superfluous. THPS was like NBA Jam, perfect from the start. It needed to be about level design, not quests. It needed to be about real locations, it needed to be about flow and the coolness of finding new spots, not about questionable challenges and other artificial gameplay. I played with my own music from the beginning. I played an absurd amount of the DS one, watching TV on the side.

Why it didn’t happen

Too much, too fast. Throwing ideas at it and brute forcing things without trying to build a true legacy. It was about riding the skateboarding wave as much as possible. Skateboarding is kind of for life though and now the series is ruined. Tony probably doesn’t want to have his name used for that stuff anymore. I’m still hoping on a version that uses our beloved 3D maps that we have everywhere from our phones to our browsers so that I can make absurd tricks in cities, forever.

Crimson Skies

This one is a favorite to me. Jordan Weisman describes it as “pilots meet pirates” in an alternative 1930s US. First off, that’s the kind of back story that I really enjoy because it’s the perfect mix of novelty and familiarity. Second, the game was a lot of fun. We don’t have enough fun games about flying, disappearing in clouds, dogfighting and recognizing new territories.

Why it didn’t happen

A little bit like Re-Volt, it was a time when things were absolutely crazy and tech was jumping leaps and bounds every 6 months. The game sold OK apparently, people loved it but I guess that wasn’t enough to convince the guys in suits to order a new chapter or go for at least a trilogy. I think it would do very well today.

Mario Kart analysis and Nintendo’s process

Tuesday, July 4th, 2017

I was watching all races on YouTube from MK7 (3DS) and MK8 (WiiU), after playing the original one last week, which was probably the first time in a good 10 years. I also played a ton of MK on DS.

MKSNES

It’s amazing how precise and “dumb” development is with this game. Here are some notes:

– The first MK came out of nowhere. I remember reading about it and thinking “why not? but that’s kind of weird”. Then we played it and loved it. Then we played it drunk and loved it even more. What a party game. The concept was good and the game was great. the dev team probably knew by then that they had an amazing thing going on.

– MK 64 blew us away. We went from a 2D game with 2 players to a 3D game with 4 players you guys have no clue. Unbelievably clever and exciting course design. I was scared that they would botch the transition to 3D (tons of games didn’t do well in this regard) but they didn’t because they did it in the most 2D way possible, by that I mean the gameplay didn’t try to do 3D things, it was still the same gameplay, just a ton more fun (unlimited mushrooms were giving laughs like I still laugh about that). And pretty. And fluid. And four players.

In retrospect that transition was one of the smoothest I have ever seen with any game series. Then trouble –aka pressure- begins.

– MK DD! the GameCube version was a bit perplexing. The karts looked lame as hell, the all “let’s swap characters on the kart” was distracting and useless, the music tracks were OK but not as memorable as the previous ones… As usual the course design was great bringing enough novelty, challenges and adorable sights to satisfy our brains.

Could it be the end of a good run? Nintendo was stressed out with the GC sales. But they bounced back.

– MK Wii was ditching the absurd kart look and silly character swap and introduced bikes. It really shows how good Nintendo is at cutting things that don’t work and go back to basics. The course design is as usual fantastic and introduces some platform gameplay and a lot more air in the jumps, although there are some pretty dull tracks. The music is still not as memorable as the original MK and the 64 one, but the Wii being a huge success, MK Wii was  also selling like hot cakes. They also added a big warning sound when a shell is coming too close, a little too stressful.

– MK DS. I couldn’t wait for that one. It was great! Awesome course design –that pinball stage is one of the greatest ever-, great looks… But then the music was… Really not good at all. Not fitting. the little jingle before the start of a race was dull, not dramatic enough. I played the heck out of that one but I was really disappointed in this sound.

Well not for long. Nintendo heard me think.

– MK 3DS aka MK7 and MK8 on WiiU fixed everything about audio. Harder beats and drums when needed including hard house, gabber and drum and bass? Yup. Immediately more punchy, regardless of the melodic motive. More dramatic orchestration and more diversity in the genres? Absolutely. It was due. Doppler effect? You got it, sounds neat and informative. Interactive music? Sure! Cute and making sense with the music-themed race. Annoying warning? Gone. Filtered music underwater? The last lap? Let’s make it faster AND move a major third up etc. I’m showing you the audio but it’s everywhere: Nintendo does polish like a brutal machine and made those 3DS/WiiU versions feel better compared to the Wii/DS because of micro adjustments and added features, all across the board. WorkWorkWorkWorkWork.

MKWIIU

Other thoughts:

– The entire series from all points of view –audio, level design, item mechanics, graphic style and so forth- was basically made within the first three games (SNES/N64/GC). Everything else after is tweaking, dialing in up and down (see the UI for that), making copies of what works, reusing and other tweaks. MK8 textures and lighting were a bit too realistic? Turn it off and go back to that cartoon feel in MK8 for the Switch. Great, spiral-ish roads going up feel awesome? Let’s make it one of the hallmark of Mario Kart’s flow.

– I wouldn’t be surprised if Mario Kart is just one single engine since home and handheld versions are more and more likely to be the same since the DS/Wii generation over a decade ago.

1992-2003: 4 versions. 2005-2017: 8 versions. Nintendo is churning out almost a perfect twice as many MK games in the second decade after its creation. Is it sustainable? I don’t think it is. We can see it now with the Switch version, which is just a refurbished WiiU version. Syncing MK games and new hardware is not really possible anymore at that rate.

Nevertheless that’s what I’m talking about when I want studios to copy Nintendo’s method. The relentless tweaking that probably comes from different people in the team and not just from “the boss”. The team grew up through time and tech progress but a lot of people have been on this series for a long time, they know it like the back of their hands.

I feel like a lot of series in western games could have profited from teams polishing to make things more coherent and attractive. Instead usually, we do one to three good to OK versions and then it goes down: the team isn’t the same, some people want to change the entire direction etc. It happens all the time.

Mario Kart is silly. 25 years after its creation it’s still making tons of people, kids and adults happy and that’s remarkable.

The strange world of creative business called games

Wednesday, June 28th, 2017

It’s frustrating. I read this article last week and had a small discussion about it on FB. Robert Yang has a interesting take on it too.

First off, if we are talking about sustaining making games as a business, don’t come in the conversation to say that you can always make games for free. That’s irrelevant. We all know that we can make things for free, thank you.

For people who want to work and make a living in this business, the answer is: be at the right time, the right place. Have money. Three things that you basically can’t choose (you can bend them a bit).

People like to point out that this is how it is and will get worse.

It doesn’t have to be like that. We have some leverage.

It didn’t used to be like that. Early 2000s we had plenty of studios doing OK around the world, tons that you might have never heard of. It doesn’t matter, they were sustaining themselves, making games. I want that back and not just because finding work is very challenging and that my game audio skills are not really transferable but because I see young developers to whom we say “learn everything on your own, work 3 part time jobs and of course you failed miserably we told you so lol”. I mean, what the hell is this? That’s not something I want. I started at a mid-sized studio where I learned a billion things, learned to love game development to death and it made me care about it. That was fantastic. It wasn’t luck, it was just work. I really wish we would stop making game development something special, it isn’t. it’s another creative business, that’s all. And that’s fine.

What’s special is how hard it is. As I was answering Robert on Twitter game development is too intense, demanding and costly –for most people- to be something you do for free or on the side. It’s easy to rehearse a few songs after your day job or clean up your movie script in the morning. It’s another thing to fucking build a game when your engine requires a 5.4 gig update and you need to talk to your sound designer on skype and there’s this big ass bug in one feature and your software license is about to expire… People compare the complexity of making a game to launching a rocket, it’s not a joke. Game development’s overhead –even if it got better- is really brutal.

GameRocketDev 
You might believe Elon more than me.

But also let’s be honest, we’re full of shit. We revere Nintendo games and their polish, do you believe Mario 64’s camera would have been that good if the team had been fighting over contracts to get paid in time to cover their rent? Everything we love from Japanese game development is the product of well established businesses running for decades but we’re fine with the ultra liberalism that is killing all of us in the West? Why are we OK with that, especially when it’s clearly unsustainable? I want us not to revere Japanese studios, I want us to copy their methods: bottom-up design, long lasting teams etc. Why are we so dismissive of rookies and veterans? Why don’t we have a healthy fleet of medium studios where we would make contract work for brands or other IPs, share more knowledge and ultimately make even better games? Very successful mobile and web game companies do that, why don’t we do it with other games? Why do we have to be kind of elite about difficulty in games? Why do we have to be so dismissive of accessibility? Why do we want to create completely different games when they’re so dangerous to make? Why do we aim at niches so much?

The point is not to dismiss what’s going on for some developers. The point is, we could have mitigated or avoided some situations. We can do better and we should.

True

Sunday, June 25th, 2017

There are too many indie games that seem to cater for an older audience but demand the persistence of young gamers. -RPS comment

This nails a big issue I have with games today, indie or not. They’re either brutally hard or unfair or really trying to make you sweat, or they’re a walk in a park with not much challenge.

It’s a design decision. For some reasons, a lot of game developers find that making a game accessible and “at the right temperature” for people is a flaw or a weak stance. That explains why open world games are popular because people can do and play as they want from chilling on the digital beach to cranking up the challenges to the max.

Allow me to enjoy your mechanics without stressing me out y’all.

I feel determined too

Tuesday, June 20th, 2017

Reinventing a major publisher’s keystone release [Sonic The Hedgehog] for a pair of secondary platforms represented a tall order for a 22-year-old game composer who had never made a video game before, but Koshiro says he felt determined to rise to the task.

Polygon article about one of my hero.

Sánchez had also not worked on a film before, nevertheless, after receiving the script, he composed "rhythmic themes" for each of the characters.

On the great soundtrack of Birdman.

Games, movies, music. Unlike those examples above we like to keep things safe and ultra predictable these days.

Creative risks are also rewards. Creative risks bring the high-profile and/or timelessness they’re “dangerous” but they allow, enable the “legendary” part. Looking at how much reputation is important these days, I think it’s worth it.

Live commenting the Andromeda

Saturday, June 10th, 2017

Mass Effect Andromeda behind the scenes.

From conversations with nearly a dozen people who worked on Mass Effect: Andromeda, all of whom spoke under condition of anonymity because they weren’t authorized to talk about the game,

It will never be not weird to have NDAs that long. The game has been out for months, it’s a $100B industry. We should be able to talk and have conversations without all that hiding going on. It’s unhealthy, we can’t learn and do better this way.

Mass Effect: Andromeda was in development for five years, but by most accounts, BioWare built the bulk of the game in less than 18 months.

Five years. Half a decade. Probably 3 years of trying things out and 2 years of absurd pressure. Classic, quite standard but definitely not good.

Rather than develop a Mass Effect 4 at the studio’s main headquarters in Edmonton, which had made the first three games, BioWare decided to put its Montreal studio in charge.

Game companies have massive tax cuts in Montreal. Games cost a lot. It makes sense to send an expensive franchise to be made where it costs less. Cutting off the main team though, is… Very risky.

“No Man’s Sky with BioWare graphics and story, that sounds amazing.”

I mean. Any seasoned designer or programmer would tell you that it is ultra risky to do something like that because tons of technical reasons. It blows my mind that they would try something that cocky on a huge franchise. Cockiness should be in the polish, not the scope. Try new things out on short projects, not pillars.

Frostbite is capable of rendering gorgeous graphics and visual effects, but when BioWare first started using it, in 2011, it had never been used to make role-playing games.

No problem! Risk on top of risk on top of more risk for a beloved franchise. All good! This is going to work!

I just don’t understand how Electronic Arts, a 35 year old game company that produced hundreds of games still makes pretty much all the bad decisions possible on one of their biggest franchise. Wouldn’t you polish the previous games main features, perfect them? Create a spin-off, less costly, with procedural exploration? Have a RPG engine or layer developed and perfected for years for RPGs to come? Five years, hundreds of people working hard and the result is memes and an IP put on halt. Pretty sad and probably avoidable.

Diversity in money and jobs numbers

Saturday, May 6th, 2017

People in games, listen.

Hidden Figures

– Budget: $25M

– Box office: $228.4M

9X

Moonlight

– Budget: $1.5M

– Box office: $55.8M

– An academy award

37.2X

Get Out

– Budget: $4.5M

– Box office: $194.9M

43X

Empire the TV show renewed for a new season, averages 15M viewers.

Fate of the Furious, directed by a black man, just crossed the billion dollar mark at the box office, making four times what it cost.

ALL of those are prominently about black people, minorities and sport a diverse cast.

ALL of those are doing more than extremely well. What does the game industry offer this year?

Another WWII shooter. Another walking simulator where everybody is dead and you’re a white dude smashing aliens or whatever. Another RPG where your white self crafts stuff and roams endlessly.  I mean.

Blizzard paid attention and included a diverse cast in its last game Overwatch. It won all of the awards, has apparently 30 million players monthly and is now a billion dollar franchise. IN ONE YEAR.

It’s nuts to me how bad we are in games at listening and paying attention to society, societal changes. Game development is an ultra risky business and we refuse to do anything to help sustain ourselves, despite answers being around us. 2017.

It’s mind-blowing.

Cant care

Friday, April 28th, 2017

It’s been interesting. First, Ian Bogost article on how video games are better without stories. Which I agree with, without denying the attraction for people to play games FOR the story. It’s a matter of taste but also as Ian says, it’s not where games are the strongest, I don’t think we can argue against that. Video games were about gameplay before anything else. The article talks about narrative in games with a new story-heavy game that just came out, What Remains of Edith Finch.

Watching a playthrough my immediate reactions are:

– Make it a movie.

– Cool assets. That’s a lot of work to cram in some interactivity that is not that central to the game: it’s about the story, not mechanics or fancy way to advance the plot through game scripts. Thus back to my first point.

It made me think about why I have such a hard time connecting with stories in games –and everywhere else- and it’s because writers always think they’re slick to talk about family because that’s universal right?

Wrong. Family is a vague concept to my adopted ass. The all genealogy thing and what happened to uncle Bob, I just can’t give a fuck. And it’s not because it’s not compelling, but it’s really not to me. It’s bland. It’s washed out. It’s the past that isn’t really what’s going on today.

It made me think. What kind of stories do I like? The ones that are vague. The ones that leave room for interpretation. The ones where relationships are absolutely not about that ultra classic view of family. I’m starting to think that if I loved Akira, it wasn’t so much because of the amazing sci-fi and paranormal stuff going on but because it’s just a bunch of kids with no family. They are their own family. I connect with that. Same with Mr. White and Jesse in Breaking Bad. It’s like emergent families. That’s a lot more interesting to me because that’s how my life has been: many families, none with which I share anything biological.

In short I connect with stories where family is a concept but not that hard, body-wired thing. And it’s not just because I’ve been adopted that I don’t connect with that, I think I’ve seen enough toxic biological families to know that traditional family is not something that you should put on a pedestal or imagine as being universal.

I see narrative design –right, writing- as more interesting when you add mystery in the relationship itself, not when you add mystery around a classic family tale.

Anyway.

Game developers please

Monday, April 24th, 2017

I don’t get how we end up where we are.

All machines and devices that we use are personal computers. CPUs, RAM, storage, Operating Systems, Updates.

All PCs, all doing the same. Your phone, your console, your laptop it doesn’t matter. All the same.

All running software that we mostly get online because that’s how we’ve been doing since online exists.

I don’t get why we’re spending so much time separating things and making them as if they were different. They are not, at all. People acting like Japanese games would be successful on Steam like, duh. I wanted that for the past 15 years if not more and it’s not slick or anything: we love their games and we don’t necessarily want to buy a new machine to play them.

Like, is that even an argument? Why wouldn’t we want people to play our games on whatever they want, now that we can do that pretty well? Why wouldn’t we want people to pay for computer games, those things that are so damn complex to make?

Instead we create silos inside silos inside silos and bargain our sweat to ludicrous levels.

I don’t get it.

Creative process and critics

Friday, April 21st, 2017

Rock Paper Shotgun talking about Full Throttle:

On release, Full Throttle was perhaps the first sign of adventure fatigue from critics. It was 1995, and the flawless DOTT and S&M had in years past rightly received rave reviews from everywhere, inducing everyone else in the industry to try to copy. The press were perhaps looking to take LucasArts down a peg, and Full Throttle provided the opportunity. It was short, the puzzles were simpler, and it had some absolutely god-awful action sequences. It didn’t receive a drubbing, of course – but it did represent the beginnings of the tedious decision that the time of the adventure was coming to an end.

They. Were. Trying. Stuff. Out. It’s something that critics get-but-don’t-get most of the time. Creative people try things out, find a recipe. They use that successful recipe for a while. Then they want to switch it up, change things. Consolidate, reduce, add.

Short? Yes, because we’ve known for a long time that people don’t finish games.

Simpler? Yes, because we’ve known for a long time that people hate difficult, convoluted puzzles.

Action? Yes, because we’ve known for a long time that people like action a lot.

Yes, most of the time it doesn’t do as well as previous output but… That doesn’t really matter because the reasons for changes are not stupid and if you want the old stuff, it’s still around.

We’re here now in 2017, where the most popular games have some narrative going on like Uncharted or Thimbleweed Park or Mass Effect. Adventure games never really died, that was a headline trick. That’s what I dislike with journalism/coverage of creative stuff: pushing a narrative when really, there’s none.

We just create entertainment and try to sell it to continue to create entertainment. If you want to write about that, dive into the design and business decisions that are shaping games but don’t go for the kind of lazy and obnoxious “X is dead” or “Y is everything now”.