Archive for the ‘Audio&Games’ Category

Day of the Tentacle

Tuesday, June 18th, 2019

The 1993 CD “talkie” version of Day of the Tentacle is a perfectly flawless adventure, the rarest of rare games, that which did nothing wrong. Nothing. There is no weakness in this game, no sieve. Stop waiting for the “but” because it won’t come. This is the perfect adventure game, the one adventure that brought every aspect of great adventures together and created such an enjoyable masterpiece, it almost seems to transcend the level of computer games.

filfre.net (give Jimmy Maher money, he more than deserves it)

This game was perfect. I was waiting on it. I have two boxes in my hands at the store in my Parisian suburbs: Day of the Tentacle and Wing Commander Academy. I love spaceships stuff but the Academy thing was a spin off and smelled like it wasn’t so great, looking at the screenshots and missions (I played it a few years later: it was a turd).

On the other hand, I had this irresistible green box with funny looking characters with a story happening at three different time periods. This sounded amazing.

And it was. I loved every single second of it. True, the puzzles were quite vague sometimes –design wise, how to make a puzzle work for a kid living in France with a quite different set of values and culture must not have been in the designers heads- but I would play and try things out until I was bored and then look up a magazine walkthrough pages to unlock the thing I couldn’t understand. I thought that “Fony” television was hilarious and inspiring. Subversion was king in the 90s.

Day of the Tentacle is one of those rare, everything-went-well cases. They had talent. The publisher hadn’t been through massive failures yet. Money was not a problem at all. There was no pressure like we have had for the past twenty years in game development. They worked their ass off, creative and accountable (polished and bug-free game!) through and through. It paid off.

Lucasfilm Games and LucasArts (same company, change of name) was probably the pinnacle of western game development. 25 years later and the game still holds well, like Batman the animated series or Animaniacs. Memories.

Game Life Expectancy

Friday, June 14th, 2019

It’s a terrifying thing that’s happening in game development: people die. Early.

Game producer dies at 44. We lose a few every year and it’s starting to be a pattern.

It’s a young age but also, really?? He produced huge games for Sony, back to back to back. That’s got to leave some marks (he apparently died from heart failure).

How come we went from dying early because of body wear and diseases to dying early with virtually no body wear and quasi total absence of any disease and abundant nutrition? It defies nature’s laws.

How modern days healthy dudes who spent their lives in cubicles die earlier than medieval folks?

The out-of-this-world pressure, destroying our hearts and arteries at a velocity never encountered before? Possibly.

That’s scary as hell.

Fiction rigidity

Thursday, June 13th, 2019

There are no right or wrong in fiction, only ideas that work or don’t. Sometimes, you need freshness.

In 1975, Moebius draw the biggest cyberpunk influence ever, a short-comic called The Long Tomorrow. It’s a classic police story only it’s happening in the future. The fruit of Dan O’Bannon writing and Moebius’ imagination, this short story influenced absolutely everyone from Blade Runner to Akira to the 5th Element to Cyberpunk 2077.

The Long Tomorrow describes a giant, high density city in part because mid 70s, this looked like the future of cities for their authors, men born right after WWII, who grew up thinking about reconstruction so much and who saw huge public housing projects being built all around the world in the 50s and 60s.

Cyberpunk 2077 is said to be "true" to the tabletop RPG game made in 1988, with the influence of Blade Runner, 1982, which in turn was influenced by The Long Tomorrow, 1975.

I mean, let’s ponder on the fact that a computer game scheduled to ship in 2020 is “true” to 1975’s anticipation of the future, when we’ve been having so many things that are drastically changing the vision, especially with fiction happening on the west coast of the USA.

– High density housing with very diverse population didn’t/doesn’t work.

– We have wireless-everything, delivery-everything-same-day, drones. Robots that jump, exoskeletons.

– Poor people don’t live in expensive “luxury” condos in towers, they live in their cars, on the curb, with 2 phones, 1 tablet and a blanket. They charge their phones in stores, malls and public spaces like libraries. Poor people live in small houses with 10 other people.

I think it’s kind of a mistake to act as if there was one and only one definition of Cyberpunk and Authorized Aesthetic and that it was coming from 75-88. There’s so much to re-invent in terms of cyberpunk universe considering what we’ve seen grow as tech trends in the past twenty years or so.

Cyberpunk would draw a lot more people into its universe if it wasn’t targeted only to 35-55 year old people who bought Blade Runner in every conceivable format.

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.