Archive for the ‘Audio&Games’ Category

Humongous

Tuesday, May 14th, 2019

Humongous Entertainment created a major wrinkle in that formula. The company, founded in 1992 by Ron Gilbert and Shelley Day, offered something different—a series of kid’s games that were based around narrative, character, and world-building rather than lesson gated modules. The two had come from LucasArts—Day worked as a games producer and Gilbert worked as a programmer and game designer—and specialized in creating adventure games aimed at adults. After seeing how much kids enjoyed playing adventure games, they decided to apply the same principles to games aimed at younger players.

Vice.

Ron Gilbert, who I had grew up playing his games, had this company and was making games to teach. I was in love with Humongous. I had already planned to be a game developer and my little sister was playing those games. I was studying her play and use the mouse. It was so cute. I was genuinely excited about the future of games and learning. There seemed to be so much to do. So much to re-invent.

The mid and late 90s were oblivious to financial pressure. Things were going well. By 2000 they had sold 16 million copies of their games. At a time when people didn’t have access to computers like we all do today. That’s amazing.

But publishers didn’t see it this way and coupled with the massive and drastic move from 2D and DOS/Windows 3.1 to Windows 95 and 3D in game development, edutainment was dead by 2003. Brutal.

I miss it. I miss the opportunity to teach with fun. I miss taking care of kids and respecting them.

We do the exact opposite these days in game development and we need to stop that shit.

Tera, the city of skulls

Saturday, May 4th, 2019

This was my first RPG experience, ever.

We –my cousin and I- played this French game on my mom’s IBM PC XT. She’d just bought 2 for her freshly new independent accounting business. We played in the evening and my cousin played up late.


I still have the box goddaaaamn memories.

I just understood how unique that game was and how much it influenced my tastes. First person view? You bet. Procedurally generated gameplay? Check. Mix of fantasy, PSY powers and sci-fi? Triple check. That was almost unheard of at that time. 1986. I remember how pumped I was when we would do the “mental attack” and the IBM speaker would barf some weird square tone arpeggio while the NPCs would lose some health lmao.

Here’s the backstory, thanks to crpgaddict:

The backstory–recapped in a series of opening screenshots–sets the game on neighboring planets called Amarande the Black and Alfol. Once prosperous and unified, the planets are now torn between three factions: scientists and their technology, the religion (transcendance) of priests and vestal virgins, and sorcerers based out of the City of Skulls.

The strife seems to be the work of a demon named Aricoh and his unnamed ally. Followers of technology have entrenched themselves on Alfol, an inhospitable desert planet. The Pirates of Shaam menace the space between the two worlds. There are rumors that the priests have allied with telepathic beings made out of crystal who inhabit a parallel world called Meduz.

BRUH SPACE PIRATES. Even when I wasn’t playing the game, the backstory was just dope enough to trigger my imagination. I loved the fact that we didn’t know much. That things were rumored. That you could use a  “seduce/charm” command to get NPCs to join your squad, fly spaceships and share items. So much freedom and possibilities.

As crpgaddict notes, mapping zones was hard. I think it was one of the first exercise that developed my spatial brain like fucking crazy. I remember struggling to understand positions and movements because the game wasn’t easy on that. Later, Wolf3D and Doom would be easy for 12 year old me to navigate after that hardcore CGA bullshit.

I don’t know how, but my cousin beat that game. He leveled up and one night he went to defeat Arioch, the big boss. My mom was kind of mad because he had left the computer on all night long to show the final page –yes, the end was a page of text explaining that you were the Lord of Whatever and no, we couldn’t save or “resume” at that time-. The easy days.

What I realized earlier this week is that:

– Loriciels the publisher only released that game on MS-DOS. There’s no other version. Loriciels would release games on all platforms but very rarely on that one. That makes the game even more special.

– The developer, Grafmodcolor is unknown: 2 nicknames and that’s about it. They only made that game, apparently. More mystery, more legendary.

Chapeau bas, les gars.

what is this

Monday, April 22nd, 2019

What makes these issues worse is that the patches themselves aren’t meaningful. Apex Legends has only had about three total balance patches or adjustments outside of bug fixes and almost all of them have been nerfs. Two months after release, Apex has added just one new character and one new gun. Fortnite’s v8.10 patch had three major balance changes, reworked the game’s vending machines — an important way to get loot — and added a new vehicle along with reworked animations for healing.

1. Journalists have so much bad faith. I know, it’s business. That’s also why that career means less than ever.

2. Making multiplayer, fast-paced computer games with millions of people playing through a large variety of machine is an insanely complex task. Respawn is a small developer to tackle this and they’re doing amazing. That’s why they’re going slow. Focused.

3. The race to bottomless content is unrealistic and stupid: first it’s not economically sustainable, even for Epic. Second, pushing for novelty as incentive to do anything is so bad for culture and game culture! You can enjoy something that’s been cooked days ago. A music album that’s 21 years old. An 800-year-old cathedral. But not with computer games. We have to stop this.

4. The battle for audience and the winner-takes-all approach that everyone looks forward to, is our demise. Every. Single. Time.

It’s exhausting, that’s what it is.

Sad Anthem

Wednesday, April 3rd, 2019

If you have a loot-oriented multiplayer online game, it’s little use having an in-depth story or environmental story telling because the majority of players are just going to be “could you hurry the hell up so we can get to the end boss and the loot drop!?”

it seems obvious, isn’t it? A decision needed to be made right there. It seems like big game companies executives still don’t get that gameplay is everything, and always will. And that top-down design, on massive games like Anthem, is a no-no.

On the other hand, EA has Apex Legends. All about gameplay and, for some reason, is really successful.

If Bioware closes soon, we’ll know why.

So much waste. It’s just sad.

Separating gameplay from aesthetic

Tuesday, March 26th, 2019

I am more and more convinced that tool/engine/gameplay should be made by a different company/team than the one doing the aesthetic/theme/narrative.

This way the whole game hits a wide spectrum of gamers with the perfect combo: investment in the game and enjoyment of the experience, 100%. Right in the chest.

Think Overland (the indie game) with an Atlanta-ish vibe and a more narrative-oriented game. I would buy the fuck out of that (I already have Overland but I feel its theme is kinda bland).

Counter-Strike with a paintball and women athletes skin, for a more than welcome change from the terrible narrative the original game conveys. The maps are 20 year old maps. Still played. That game is good. The theme is gross.

X-COM2 with a TV show theme: L-World and Shameless and Weeds and the fucking Tudors, I don’t know. All of them could come out and fans would jump on them. To each his own, and probably more attractive to most people than the weird, generic 90s X-Files, very limited, theme that this great game has.

Etc.

Maybe there would be a new role, some kind of game development A&R thing to match gameplay and “dressing”. I’d love to do that. I’d be good at it. It’d be like modding, only official and professional.

We should as developers seriously think about that kind of things. It’s not *that* hard technically speaking –leaving things open for another team to populate- but it does mean having an extremely stable production process. Very clear tools and very technical folks. Which is still something rare in game development.

Walled gardens kill

Monday, March 25th, 2019

On another subject with the same online problem:

Many of the best games ever released on the App Store now only exist in reviews or YouTube videos we published.

These games are effectively lost forever.

(not totally, I’m sure some people have them on old devices and raw images on hard drives). The problem remains.

The fact that we lose things online is dramatic and stupid because:

– We always thought this would never happen. If costs (storage, bandwidth) were a problem in 2000, they’re not in 2019. It’s a whole lot of laziness and control by the big brands in the game and a lack of culture preservation in the developer community.

– Computers are so resilient. Software flows. We can run code anywhere. We can run Doom on a doorbell  or Half-Life on a 3DS. Code can always be translated, virtualized or decoded. It absolutely doesn’t have to be the way of not being able to run anything from a device to another.

So it’s dramatic because it’s only because folks (at Apple, Facebook, overall developers) not thinking about the long-term and past history. It’s not about technology. It’s about us focusing on the short term, the next hit.

It demonstrates that far too many developers don’t and didn’t make games for anything but using new tech, make a bit of money and maybe go viral, instead of trying to build something that lasts. Some games did badly 5 years ago but maybe they would benefit from a re-release with more polish and be successful today. That happens all the time in other fields. Putting out great products is hard, it’s not crazy to try multiple times. Consumers don’t mind at all, they even sometimes absolutely love it.

But for that, you need to foster legacy and a sense of continuum in the medium. We’re not doing that at all.

90s gamestalgia real quick

Saturday, February 9th, 2019

First, [games should be] fun, with no excuses about how the game simulates the agony and dreariness of the real world (as though this was somehow good for you). Second, they [should] be challenging over a long period of time, preferably with a few ability “plateaus” that let me feel in control for a period of time, then blow me out of the water. Third, they [should] be attractive. I am a sucker for a nice illustration or a funky riff. Finally, I want my games to be conceptually interesting and thought-provoking, so one can discuss the game with an adult and not feel silly.

Star Controll II designer talking about how games should be via Filfre.net on Star Control II.

It’s really something I miss from the early 90s gamedev culture: do something dope, challenging but not brutal. Serious, but not that serious either. Teams were striving for balance to serve an unknown, yet big market.

These days we have optimized our production to cater to very specific demographics so much that, if you like one thing from a game, you have to eat so much of other things that you might not like. We specialized gameplay and wrapped it in some aesthetic and no other. Say I enjoy FPS. I have to deal with ultra-heavy military settings and themes because that’s what FPS players enjoy. But I don’t. I just enjoy the shooting/hide and seek mechanic.

I don’t miss the 90s ruthlessness of how game developers didn’t care so much about you having a great time. A bit too much of “I make the game I want to play” type of process.

But when said developers had an entirely new game, interesting gameplay, universe, story, characters and so forth, like Star Control II or Day of the Tentacle? Man, it was the best times ever. Like, life-altering.

On Netflix for games

Thursday, January 31st, 2019

Apparently the concept is heating up. But I don’t think people realize how expensive being the Netflix of something is.

Netflix is $8.4B in the red. That’s right now, at the height of their near-monopoly, at the highest point of their brand. Minus 8 billion dollars. Netflix only distributes videos and they spent 12 billion dollars in 2018 to buy or create content. That’s absurd and insane. It’s like me right now buying a 2-story house in Brentwood with money I don’t have and everyone would be like “duuuuuude fuck yeahh!!!!!!” and I would buy 3 others with my friends’ money while feeling super confident. That’s craziness.

Can y’all slow down the madness? Seriously.

A Netflix for games would also probably need way more bandwidth. Especially with big games. Final Fantasy 15 in 4K is 85 motherfucking gigs. 85 GB. They say watching Netflix consumes about 1GB/hour. For just one big game, say 40 GB, you would be able to watch 40 hours of Netflix. GTA5 is 75 GB. The numbers are talking and screaming in your face “LOL”. Also, anyone outside big cities would never be able to play recent games due to not-perfect connections? It’s already bad, that would make the situation far worse.

And if you think that you’ll be able to have people spend additional money while they already pay for the “all you can eat” model, think again. Netflix grew because it’s cheap. And if you think that people will pay a monthly fee to play 2D games that they can play in a bazillion ways already, think again.

It’s not even that it’s going to be though, It’s that it’s unsustainable as fuck. I don’t understand the appeal, the “challenge” to push for even more convenience. There are people with their lives at stake behind all that. And if game developers’ only chance to reach an audience is through three or two streaming services, it’s going to be the end for 90% of us.

I sure don’t want that at all.

This whole union thing

Friday, January 25th, 2019

The question isn’t if people are for it or not. The question is: how can we build a strong union in the world of game development? And the answer is, mostly, we can’t.

Here’s what unions do: they bargain. In order to bargain effectively, you need leverage. What does it mean within the game industry? It means that unionized developers can go like “we know exactly how long and how much it costs to make a game, and we know that 99% of the time; here’s what we demand”.

The problem with game development is that 99% of the time, we don’t fucking know that. At all. Ever. It doesn’t matter if the team has 300 years’ worth of experience, shipping games left and right. We never know. I don’t know, even 19 years in. 40-year-old veterans don’t either. Making games is that complicated.

That’s why the VFX industry is in the same boat: finishing the next Marvel’s special effects will take the time it will take (aka crunch/burnout). And this is also why online writers could unionize easily: they know EXACTLY how long it takes to write 5,000 words. Now you can negotiate. Same with TV and movies. We know EXACTLY, production-wise how long it takes to shoot a scene, multiple scenes, if it needs additional writing etc. Every single thing in TV and movie production has a price attached to it. In gamedev? At best a pretty wide range. We never. Fucking. Know.

Outside of my domain, audio, we mostly have ZERO standard processes. Every game is slightly –and by that I mean different enough- weirder than the other and considering a shit-ton of variables (type of game, team experience, country where it’s made, when it’s made, the tools and what not), we don’t have solid leverage to bargain. I thought our production processes would standardize and help sustaining our lives in the past fifteen years. It just never happened. Constant tech upgrade prevented us from solidifying production.

So for one game union to work would require that union to be solely part of one studio and that would mean that this is a weak union. Which means it probably won’t exist nor should it. If it’s only one union for say, software engineers but not audio designers, it won’t last either. We’re all game developers, the union needs to cover us all.

Having unions isn’t a good or bad thing. It’s necessary when it’s necessary. But can it be done? Looking at the way our industry has been working for the past 40 years, I’d say no. Decent, full-time jobs should make up for the lack of unions, though. Because the industry –especially GaaS- needs those.

Swiitch

Wednesday, January 23rd, 2019

the Switch had the best unit sales of any console for that month since 2010, and the best dollar sales since the Wii mania of December 2009.

That’s pretty stunning. And yet I rarely see anyone play it nor do I hear much about it. I think that’s a testament of how much gaming is happening in the world. You can be stuck in one game for years –Fortnite these days- or play dozens of different games on mobile, laptop, tablets, consoles. There’s so much entertainment.

As before, the Switch can appeal to people whether they want a living room machine or a portable gaming rig. It simply has a larger potential audience than its TV-focused counterparts — while the PS4 and Xbox One are more powerful, they’re not as flexible.

It’s not about that (journalists and narrative; I want to beat your ass sometimes). It’s about competition. The Nintendo Switch has none. PS4 and XB1 compete directly with Windows/Steam, which are extremely good at providing games from short simple games to AAAA behemoths. Now that everything streams to the TV or that the computer monitor IS the TV, consoles feel the heat. They also make as much noise as a desktop machine and need as many updates, so.

Yes, excellent games with excellent game audio design, like the last Zelda and Mario keep selling. Water is wet as well.