Archive for the ‘Audio&Games’ Category

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.

Fortgreed

Tuesday, January 15th, 2019

It’s a ruthless world. Fortnite didn’t do so well, they made it a Battle Royale thingy, added emotes and there you go, making hundreds of millions of dollars a month.

It struck me when I read about Alphonso suing: those Fortnite emotes are basically digital blackface. It’s really problematic because there’s a dramatic lack of diversity in big game companies. As long as you simply acknowledge culture with a nod, like previous games using dance moves without making money off of them, it’s totally fine. The second you make mad money off of them without trying anything to mitigate the move (cutting checks for artists, create a fund for education, I don’t fucking know),  it’s just bad. It’s greedy.

It hurts because I have massive respect for Epic Megagames as they used to call themselves. Epic was everything to me in 90-94 on MS-DOS. I have pristine memories of playing Jill of the Jungle on rainy days, realizing that it’s a pretty good game. And then in 1998 they released Unreal, which I saw running on a 3DFX, with 5.1 sound, subwoofer and all the goodness on the last floor of a building in the Paris suburbs and it was life-changing. Tim Sweeney has been a terrific business man –and quite lucky–, making moves at the right time, from escaping the early 2000s PC hell to making tech demos for mobile to allowing Tencent to basically take over and offer Unreal Engine for free, which is used for so many games now (Street Fighter and Kingdom Hearts, 90s-me wouldn’t believe this shit).

Epic started as a mom and pop software shop. It is now “worth” $15B. You won, Tim. But it feels like you could have won without going down this road. A little humility and fairness would be good and not destroy your business either.

Examples of bad game design business decisions

Tuesday, December 18th, 2018

You have a hunger meter that’s constantly counting down so you have to look for food to eat. You have a thirst meter that’s constantly counting down so you have to drink. You have a gem meter that’s constantly counting down so you have to kill enemies to get gems to power your lantern. Then once you get to level 3 there’s a cold meter so you constantly have to find fires. Oh, by the way, the fires die after a little while so you have to constantly find NEW fires. Oh, don’t get hit either because you’ll start bleeding and you have to find bandaids otherwise you’ll bleed out.

This is from a review of Below, a new game. Right off the bat, I’m wondering if the developers have been around, walking in cities and reading about what’s going on in the world. People are struggling, y’all. Everywhere. In every class besides the 0.1%.

Let me rephrase this: PEOPLE ARE ALREADY ANXIOUS AND YOU WANT THEM TO RELAX BY BEING UTTERLY ANXIOUS FOR FUN? AFTER A FEW YEARS OF WAVES OF SUCH GAMES??? I don’t understand how you can validate a game design that is so deeply anchored in anxiety with the world we’re living in. In this economy?

I hate seeing this because I’d love the game to be successful –it’s highly polished, great audio- so that its developers continue to make more. And such a mistake –going super hardcore- was easily avoidable. People need one of two super hardcore game, not plenty. There are already hundreds of those rogue-like games. Capy the developer didn’t adjust to what people would enjoy in 2018/2019. Not many people want to pay to taste pain and punishment. We get that for free in real life, all day everyday.

And there goes the not very convincing argument: “but they made the game that they wanted to play” and I’m like “this is a business, get real. if a game takes 6 years to make and you NEED to sell it, you’d better do some market research if you don’t want to die”.

Example two: Gris. Gorgeous world. Thin gameplay. Despite good word of  mouth, it’s not doing that well. Because the representation is, at least that’s how it feels to me, very very white. Had the protagonist and whole aesthetic aim to a more ambiguous crowd, it would be more attractive to many more people. Hell, make Gris: Black Edition, make the heroin a voluptuous black woman and that game would have an order of magnitude more players playing right now. That shit would go on Ellen and Oprah, gifs all over Tumblr, selling like pumpkin-spice beverages in October.

“That would be a dirty marketing trick!” No it’s not if you  listen and do it right. Once again, look around and listen. It’s about connecting with people. Expand your vision.

The players who can sustain your dev madness are out there. They’re hungry. Reach out by changing your game design or theme/setting accordingly. It’s not complicated.

Digital Store 2K18 II

Monday, December 17th, 2018

But this space is ready for disruption, and that could open the chance for something like a subscription service. Maybe Discord Nitro, Game Pass, or Origin Access Premier will do to gaming what Netflix and Spotify have done to movies and music.

I hope they don’t. Netflix is still in the red (-$8B I believe), Spotify doesn’t pay shit for artists.

Nothing beats selling “premium”, aka no BS sale. $30, $40, $60 upfront for a game is better for the developer and the customer than those micro-aggressive subscriptions that are trying to hide behind your bills to squeeze a few bucks for eternity. Stores want that, obviously.

It’s about the relationship with the customer. Subscriptions tend to be abusive: companies change the terms and you’re screwed. That show that you mostly subscribed for, isn’t available anymore. You don’t unsubscribe because of the sink-cost fallacy. Stores want you to feel like that so that you keep paying. For what, it doesn’t matter to them. They’re laughing at you.

That’s not a great relationship.

Now knowing that games take so long to make, you’d better get as much money as fast as possible when it’s out because the studio is probably close to die. If the store delays revenues by offering the new game for next to nothing or free, that’s not going to end well. Very few studios will do fine. Most will die.

Enough game studios have died in the past 20 years. Can we start disrupting in order to sustain things or fucking what.

Digital Store 2K18

Thursday, December 13th, 2018

So,

Very high profile people in the game industry talked how bad the Windows Store was for humans, elves and princesses so that they could build, promote and enjoy the success of… Their own , exclusive stores.

Gotcha.

The paradox of digital game stores is this: competition is good. Having all your games in one single place is awesome.

Pick one.

The truth is people want to play the best games and if it means launching another thing, they will. Many developers talk about stores support and features but I don’t think they’re that big in players habits. Transforming your audience into a light QA/playtest is not really great anyway, even though it brings engagement thus, future sales.

But if someone is using say, 5 different launchers, wouldn’t it be better to have all this tied to the operating system’s store? Giving you the benefits of sync accounts and all that convenient shit?

Let’s see what the players decide. Keep selling through your website, developer. Get that 100%, you deserve it.

Why game producers, why

Thursday, December 6th, 2018

There’s this game called Just Cause. It’s about blowing stuff up, driving vehicles and flying around. It’s the most perfect action game ever, in the way that the gameplay and the game engine really allow you to trip: it’s like a GTA game with the craziest gadgets. It’s great fun.

They just released the 4th iteration of that game and apparently, it’s a disaster. For some reasons, producers decided to add all that weird unlocking/challenges/grind fest for “engagement” and streaming I guess? It started with the previous game and they just went further into this, despite not really making people happy at all.

What’s so infuriating is that the core game is fantastic but you can’t appreciate it the way you want because they put some rigid obstacles in front of it, like terrible key mapping, awful menus and other super arbitrary designs. It’s just incomprehensible. How do you mess up UI that much in 2018, on the 4th version of your game? How?

Imagine an awesome TV show where they decided to flip the picture 90° to the left so that you have to watch in an awkward position. That’s how those production decisions feel like.

It reminds me of EA and Burn Out, another quite timeless game from 2001. The only thing people complained about was the annoying DJ talking all the time and the unskippable intro with Guns n Roses. They remastered the game this year. You would think that they would listen and simply take out two elements that are bothering players and that are absolutely not core to the experience, right? They left that shit in. They could at least give you a choice, a simple on/off toggle. No. There’s a mod to do it though.

What’s up with being actively deaf to reasonable requests from players who want to spend money and spread the word about your game? I don’t get it. Developers ask for feedback, listen and just do the opposite. It’s bizarre. We really have to do better because we’re looking like clowns with that stuff.

Make ‘em dance

Wednesday, December 5th, 2018

Epic has consistently sought to exploit African-American talent in particular in Fortnite by copying their dances and movements," writes Carolynn Beck, the attorney for 2 Milly. "Epic has copied the dances and movements of numerous African-American performers, including, for example, the dance from the 2004 Snoop Dogg music video, ‘Drop It Like It’s Hot’ (named the ‘Tidy’ emote), Alfonso Ribeiro’s performance of his famous ‘Carlton’ dance on The Fresh Prince of Bel-Air television show (named the ‘Fresh’ emote), the dance performed by Will Smith on the same television show (named the ‘Rambunctious’ emote), the dance in Marlon Webb’s popular ‘Band of the Bold’ video (named the ‘Best Mates’ emote), Donald Faison’s signature dance seen on the NBC television show Scrubs (named the ‘Dance Moves’ emote), and, most pertinent here, Terrence Ferguson’s Milly Rock dance.

Link.

Context reminder: the game industry has a workforce that is less than 2% black. It’s been like this since forever. There are virtually no changes. African-Americans create tons of pop culture, most of it being very popular, like dance moves.

That shit is iconic (I remember seeing Donald’s routine the first time on Scrubs, so perfect and hilarious) and Epic is making loads of money off of that. Their attorneys probably made sure that they could profit from that content without getting sued. They’re getting sued. It might not go far but it seems pretty obvious that this whole situation isn’t right. In May, Fortnite brought in $318M. One. Month. Redistribute (some) wealth where it’s due, goddamn.

Note: Epic has stopped bragging about how much money they gross with Fortnite months ago. *winks*