Archive for the ‘Audio&Games’ Category

Cuphead part II

Saturday, October 14th, 2017

Congrats on the  success! Here’s an interview about the game’s sound design, which is fantastic as I said.

Well, now the difficulty thing. Very good arguments back and forth but I think what doesn’t quite work is the dissociation that happens when looking and listening to a cute game that is that hard. The 30s cartoon aesthetic is just way too naïve in a good way and adorable to be serving such a brutal gameplay. I get the contrast idea but man, this game is so punishing. Your brain gets on a timing/width diet and forgets about all the amazing detail and whimsical sounds happening anyway.

I think the unlimited credit “difficulty system” –like in Metal Slug or Castle of Illusion- would have been better.

Cuphead

Friday, October 13th, 2017

I’m glad Cuphead is doing well. Production value is fantastic and demonstrates if it was needed, how audio and visuals need to perfectly fit together to make something insanely appealing, which is not a plus but required to stand out in stores with hundreds of new games every day.

As we say in French, chapeau bas.

Cyberpunkulture

Monday, October 9th, 2017

Cyberpunk culture has been trite as shit for so long, let’s face it.

I want cyberpunk to think about the fact that people have been leaving cities steadily for decades, despite what we think. I want green and concrete. I want cyberpunk to focus on mining rare, crucial elements for high-tech in Africa and all the political, local, economic, social implications with African countries becoming very powerful. I want cyberpunk to think thoroughly about China and its relationship to the rest of the world, as well as how communism can or will survive that long. I want cyberpunk to think about EVs, from bikes skateboards to cars and trucks. I want climate change, hurricanes and underground shelters. I want cyberpunk to think about driverless vehicles, vulnerable truck convoy, the battle for water, drones, laser-guided slingshots. I want cyberpunk to think about new problems created by new things like Basic Income, polyamory, ultra-sophisticated sex toys. I want cyberpunk to think about the scary prospect of having very uniform societies looked at as example while racial melting pot is trending down. I want oasis of dreams where boredom is the enemy or where you need certain genes to do certain drugs because we evolved that way.

I want all that together.

Controllers

Saturday, September 23rd, 2017

I was reading Jeff’s blog post on fad controllers and read a comment thread where people shamed some dudes who were playing games on keyboards. Here’s my take.

Controllers –joystick, gamepad, keyboard, Ouija board- are like musical instruments. You have your preference and you can play any music with it but probably, it fits some genre better than others. With the right skills though, you can do whatever you want: beating Super Meat Boy on a keyboard is a bit like covering some early Pantera on a saxophone, that sounds risky. But if you’re good, you probably can do that. And you’re awesome.

Controller choice doesn’t matter so much. People are having fun? You good. What developers need to do is test different input and make sure they’re all decent, instead of polishing one input scheme to death while forgetting about the others. And  of course, a re-mapping tool should be standard these days.

I miss the Wiimote. I could play golf and physics-based games for the next five decades with it without any issues.

Sonic is the past

Monday, September 11th, 2017

There is a new Sonic game that came out this summer. This is the original ad I guess.

Sonic

So the new game is called Sonic Mania and it is basically the continuity of a game that came out in 1991.

To this day, I’m not sure you can do a better first game than Sonic the Hedgehog did. It destroyed me when I saw it. I was going to the store to buy a game for my birthday. A platform game for PC that looked gorgeous and fun and that I had been eying for months! Sonic was running on the Sega Genesis on the demo stand.

It blew my fucking mind, took the ashes off the ground and blew them in my face again.

The speed, the colors, the shapes, the sounds –that ring sound y’all, think about how perfect it is- it was so insanely better than anything I had seen and heard in my life. I didn’t even care about the game I wanted anymore, nothing meant anything in front of that little TV, watching beautiful scrollings and animations. Sega was in another league at that time.

Now, 2017. I really don’t care about Sonic anymore. Not by disrespect or anti-nostalgia, it’s just that the gameplay, the concept, the music are part of the past. A pillar of game design and one of the best aesthetic produced in the 90s. But it’s still just a platform game where you go fast and sometimes stop to jump on some trigger. I don’t know.

26 years later, almost 3 decades is a very, very long time with computer culture. Imagine if people demanded the original Mario Kart in mode 7 to be re-done because that’s the real Mario Kart. That would be weird. If Sonic Mania had come out in 2004 when Steam came out or 1999 to finish the decade with the most famous hedgehog, that would be different and make a lot more sense.

For me nothing can beat the first time I saw the original. Ecstatically traumatized by a blue animal.

PlayerUnkownsBattleGround

Wednesday, August 30th, 2017

PUBG is a big deal. 8 million copies sold in five months. The game was released this year and already has passed the most played games on Steam. There are currently 874,171 players running on auto-generated islands.

That’s completely absurd. And yet it makes sense.

PUBG is Battle Royale. Everyone my generation and younger has wanted to play a Battle Royale game, there we are. The keys to success are consistent with other very popular multiplayer games:

– It’s all about gameplay

The game started as a Battle Royale mod. Everything you do has repercussions, from when you open your parachute to how you hide in the bushes and what you loot. Simple interfaces, straight to the action. PUBG is about gameplay and nothing else.

– Hard, but fair

You will die a lot without understanding what happened. But you also will get the satisfaction to do the same to others. Anyone can eliminate anyone. That intensity and fairness are the core loop (just like CS).

– Very high dynamic

You can be alone in the middle of some cornfield or in a building fighting with fifteen people in a 2 minutes span. In single games, that dynamic is authored and usually ultra predictable (battle music fades in). In a multiplayer game, it’s really hard to balance high gameplay dynamic, which is why it is usually about high intensity and nothing else. PUBG’s design –Battle Royale’s- pulls that one together with ease. It is great game design.

– Customization

People have their preferences and like to express their individualism. This is a part of gameplay. Diversity, inclusiveness and hat choices are fantastic to involve as many people as possible and broaden reach. This is not rocket science and probably why most developers still don’t get it :p

 

Now, the big elephant in the room. Yes, this game is about killing other people. Yes, when someone gets hit, they crawl on the ground and you will shoot them in the back. In a game setting with friends, especially friends with beers in the same room, laughs will happen. But we’re talking about hundreds of thousands of people online doing this for all kinds of reasons, not just pure fun.

Everything that Raph Koster says about building societies by accident applies here.

Raph Warning

Let’s face it: a Battle Royale game kind of invites all kinds of terrible behaviors. And in the current social climate in the real world, I can see how a lot of people will look forward to play a game that teaches them to have ice in their veins while roaming an area with two guns and grenades. That’s a little bit terrifying. For what I can see, Bluehole the developer has taken a strong stance and they ban anyone on sight. But they unban too. This is where things become complicated. Now that the developer has very strong foundations for the game, welcome to managing a society.

The game will be polished, eventually. The issues with a giant, growing community of people killing each other until there’s only one left? They probably will last forever.

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.