Archive for the ‘Audio&Games’ Category

The Incredible Machine

Saturday, July 21st, 2018

The experience of working through the stages of a solution, getting a little closer each time, is almost indescribably satisfying for anyone with the slightest hint of a tinkering spirit. The Incredible Machine wasn’t explicitly pitched as an educational product, but, like a lot of Sierra’s releases during this period, it nevertheless had something of an educational — or at least edutational — aura, what with its bright, friendly visual style and nonviolent premise (the occasional devoured mouse excepted!).

Man. Not only this game was fantastic and refreshing, it was very well executed. I enjoyed playing it in the evening after an afternoon fighting bad guys on consoles at my friends’ house. I would go back home and launch this puzzle feast where instead of following rules, there was none, outside the physic-based world emulated in The Incredible Machine (TIM).

I have a strong memory of feeling that TIM (and Lemmings, and Shufflepuck Café) was showing me that computer games could be absolutely anything. TIM was one of those games that made me want to be part of a development team. So much excitement from the game and the prospect of making games, firing up people’s synapses.

It thus manages to succeed as both a goal-oriented game in the mode of Lemmings and as a software toy in the mode of its 1980s inspirations.

Exactly!! Do I miss this from games. That agency. That scalability. People talk about markets, and how TIM was casual. It really doesn’t mean anything to me: you could have been playing hardcore TIM, building absurdly complex machines for hours on end. You could just try to finish a level before dinner. I’m in love with the idea of games being scalable to different lives and different people.

I feel like this is the right (and really hard) thing to do.

There are tools. Use them

Monday, July 16th, 2018

I love Ron Gilbert. I still have to play Thimbleweed Park but the development blog has been a delight for anyone wondering how games are made.

Ron Gilbert is more than just a veteran game developer. He is a designer and a programmer with over FORTY years of experience making games. There are not a lot of people alive right now that match that vast amount of game development knowledge.

And yet, he underestimated the audio/sound aspect of his last game. I’m not bashing him, I’m glad he talked about it in this blog post. But my #gameaudio mind is like “this “we care about sound” but we do the exact opposite of caring about sound bullshit again”.

It’s a constant with most programmers: they adore tackling tasks from the ground and do them on their own. “A sound engine? That’s NOTHING. It’s just streaming audio data, volume curves up and down, fades. LOL. It’s NO-THING.”

And then, most of the times, it’s not nothing. It’s big, complex and viscious. Programmers then sweat and ruminate like bovines.

His designer mind should have taken over to tell him “think long term, you idiot ego. Delegate.” It’s true that FMOD and Wwise are a bit overkill feature-wise for a lot of games. The price can also be an issue. But for instance FMOD brings you a game audio engine that’s been tested and approved by thousands of games over twenty years, that has become a standard for game audio designers around the world in the past two decades. It shouldn’t be discarded that fast. It’s a bit maddening that it’s not sort of common sense for experienced people like Ron. Let’s be blunt: it’s totally maddening. I know the parallel is not perfect but imagine a movie director being like “yeah you make the sound using that? It’s an industry standard? Well we won’t use that. We don’t know yet what we will use, but not that”. That’s plain weird.

What are we doing?

If you care about your game, think and work with sound as early as possible. Hire game audio designers. Trust them. Let them iterate like you are, early on. Spend some bucks on the audio stack, even if you don’t see why. You’ll hear it soon, and that will make an entire difference (think about Zelda:BOTW).

Interactive Audio rant

Friday, May 25th, 2018

Sound and computers. We went from no sound to beep to unlimited sounds. Technically. On the development side, we went from being sort of straightforward to being an insane mess.

Please framework developers, listen: I should be able to loop a sound in browsers, game engines and apps without doing anything special. It’s 2018 and I have to do something special (hack and test and hack and test) for something ultra-basic: play a file on action (click) or loop an audio file seamlessly. So:

1. No more container

I don’t want to have to deal with this anymore. 18 years of that shit. One container that allows looping and multi-channel and this motherfucker works everywhere, forever. Like a damn wav file on Windows (reading those effortlessly since 1991, 27 years ago).

2. Basic stuff first

One shot and gapless loop, regardless of the lossy/lossless compression. I don’t care if we kill mp3 to do gapless loop. I don’t care if we need John Carmack and the best engineers in the world to solve this problem. GAPLESS AUDIO NOW, SON. A computer should be able to do that with a stream of audio data. Like a damn wav file on Windows (looping those effortlessly since 1991, 27 years ago).

Clicking a button and playing a sound should be part of HTML5 and shouldn’t require anything else to work. We should be able to do something like:

<a href=”new page”>

    <img src=”button.png” snd src=”woohoo.ogg”>

</a>

Where I click on a button to go to a new page and it plays a sound. It shouldn’t be harder than that. It is though.

Looping some music/ambience in the background and playing a sound on action are the most basic things, yet they are super powerful. But we sound designers and artists spend more time making this work than we should. People give up on this hot mess.

Don’t develop a 3D positioning system, a music system, a FFT analyzer or an ambisonic Web eXperience before solving those 2 crucial points and making them standards that audio people can rely on, natively (so yes, no libs ffs).

In the DAW world, we went from converting files to import them through drop-down menus to drag and dropping ANY kind of audio file in the timeline. That’s the kind of improvement that makes everyone a lot more productive and ultimately creative. We should be able to do that with interactive/game audio. Design your audio file, put it in the folder BAM it plays anywhere, you don’t even have to test that. It’s native, built-in. It’s a wrap.

We have that clarity with this terrible file system called Portable Document File. PDFs are readable everywhere. If you send a document to someone as a .pdf, you know this person will be able to read it on his/her device exactly like you do on your computer. Isn’t that pleasant? It’s dope.

Can we please have that with interactive and game audio, without libs or middleware? It’s definitely overdue.

Thank you.

Case in point

Tuesday, May 15th, 2018

About our weird fetichism. The perfect examples of Japanese people getting shit done and not caring about “art”:

The PS1 startup sound is a preset from a 1987 Roland synthesizer (D-50).

PaRappa on PS4 is running on a PSP emulator.

A lot of comments are like “those developers are lazy!” No. They make shit happen. You wanted a cool startup sound for your groundbreaking new console? Done. It took almost 20 years for us to know that they didn’t spend months on it. It’s still an iconic sound and yes, people making synthesizer presets are extremely underrated. They are worldwide-known anonymous artists.

You wanted to play PaRappa with HD textures right now? There you go. Do you know how insanely pesky it is to port something from a 1994 architecture to a 2013 one that has nothing in common?

We in the West need to do the same: focus on creating things that work more than trying to outwit ourselves for outwitting purposes. We fall in this trap too often. Don’t reinvent. Recycle, twist and move on.

The funny thing about Nintendo

Saturday, May 5th, 2018

Is how we see this company in the West. Or how we like to see this company.

-Innovative.

-Creative.

-About art.

-Etc.

But them, they just see themselves as a business. And I always felt that way too. The business of making entertainment. It’s a thing in the West: business –finance and money- is separated from the craft, as if they were unrelated. Somehow! Except that they’re tied together.

Look at Nintendo Labo. It’s a very lucrative idea. It’s not just fun. It’s also cheap to use cardboard. Nintendo just tries things out, executives ponder and greenlit the best ideas –probably always on the basis that it’s affordable/profitable- and we scream “OMG”. It’s interesting. Fetishism? Maybe.

Nintendo isn’t shy on making money as a goal though. They are about that, too, and foremost. For some reason when we talk about Apple people are fine with the idea of this company making money but when it comes to Nintendo, we’re quiet. They’re about putting smiles on people’s faces right?

Yeah. And also printing money. Both goals being completely intertwined. It’s all good.

On virtual guns

Sunday, April 1st, 2018

It’s a good post. I’ve never been a gun fan but I’m still trying to headshot in Counter-Strike.

Sometimes I feel like I’m the only one on earth who can disconnect gameplay/what’s on screen. I know, tons of players can discuss games’ weapons for pages and pages, how they compare to real life ones etc. I am completely uninterested in that.

It’s an age thing to me. Of course, when I was in the single digits of my life I was kind of fascinated by Rambo and all those weapons in American movies that we didn’t have in Europe and France. Like, not at all. Besides shotguns for hunting, that’s all the real weapons I ever saw in my life there. I could go shoot some targets here in LA but I’ve never cared a second for that.

What’s fun in game to me is not “shooting a gun” it’s the “quick action to take down your opponent”. The fact that in Counter-Strike any weapon used by anyone can, with some luck, take down anyone. It’s exciting as hell. That’s excellent gameplay. I’m into the dance, how to be careful and how to take advantage of the environment (hiding in a difficult angle for the opponent to land his shot) or the cons of a weapon (the sniper has to reload, it takes time, he’s vulnerable).

Gameplay is not about guns.

The fact that so many ultra-realistic looking games are compared to real life is weird to me. It’s still a game y’all! Computer games are faking everything on screen. Nothing exists. Physics are tweaked so that it’s fun. Visual realism has people confused.

Guns are also supposed to be a part of masculinity, like loving cars. At least for us GenX and early Mills, that was definitely the case. You needed to know about those and sure enough, I know the difference between an AK47 and an AR-15 or a 4WD and a muscle car. Dudes’ shit, right? Culture and assimilation through time, are interesting processes.

Chris Remo, a game designer talks about bullet fatigue: “I remember a particularly potent experience playing one of the many Call of Duty games, and being totally overcome with ‘bullet fatigue.’ Particularly the audio. I suddenly found the constant sound of gunfire totally draining.

I think that’s very true. The sound violence is what makes me quit a Counter-Strike game too. We expose ourselves to hundreds, thousands of hours of gunfire and explosions, for fun. Our ears are not supposed to deal with that. He continues:

“The older I get,” he said, “the more profoundly uncomfortable I become with the almost overwhelming obsession with guns in entertainment culture broadly (…)”

It goes back to that pre-teen/teenager target, which always will be impressed by the punch, sound violence and quick action going on with guns and gun fights. I don’t think that will ever change. At that age you want to explore and see the limits of everything. And that’s a lucrative business.

People forget about one crucial thing in terms of game development: it’s “very easy” to debug a game about shooting targets. If bullet hits target then this, if not then that. It is way more complicated to debug something like The Sims because so many variables are flying around. That’s why a game series like Creatures didn’t go very far because raising, teaching, breeding virtual creatures is an insanely more complex thing to build and debug than Shooting Simulator 847. Even when said simulator looks like 4K pictures taken by a professional photographer somewhere in a war conflict in the real world.

PUBG/Fortnite BR

Tuesday, March 20th, 2018

It’s fascinating.

First, names. You know I like to pay attention to that. PUBG’s name is an acronym and even though when there was no competition it was fine, now it makes an impact.

On one hand you have Bluehole’s Player Unknown’s BattleGround. Weird. Sounds like a malware/hack tool.

On the other hand you have Epic’s Fortnite Battle Royale. Okay!

The latter just sounds more legit, even though it’s the one copying the former. Battle Royale is not even used, Fortnite became the game’s name by default (even though Fortnite is a different game at first).

It’s confusing.

Also both games are powered by Unreal Engine, owned by Epic. I can’t even imagine the tension and heavy breathing going on in those studios.

Aesthetically, Epic’s colorful game is immediately more prone to be picked up to chill and have a good time with after a day at work. The grim and realistic tone of PUBG is not that sexy, never was. Once again, it’s not detrimental when the gameplay and experience brought are unique. They’re not now.

Moreover, Fortnite brings some nifty mechanics with the building part. Watching a good player like that Ninja dude is mesmerizing. It looks so fun. It takes a very realistic concept to another level (you can basically build while moving so you create your own stairs to take over an enemy, that kind of thing).

Epic has been aggressive as hell with the F2P part. Also the sound design is much funnier and engaging with a wide variety of people (though I think the weapons’ sounds are a bit brutal).

I’m pretty sure the F2P model brought so many people of color to the game. Fortnite seems a lot more popular with black and brown people than PUBG. We broke, don’t judge, read. And now that rappers and celebrities stream it the snowball effect is in full effect.

Both games are available on a lot of platforms including mobile but of course, it’s when you play with a keyboard and a mouse that shit gets done. Crossplay is so unfair. Windows computers still are the master race aren’t they. Mouse control is so insanely precise and fast compared to a thumb on a controller. But, it doesn’t matter too much. As long as people have fun, which is the case. Also, eyeballs.

Can both games coexist? Will one win the battle? It fascinates me. *grabs popcorn*

Jason Out

Monday, March 12th, 2018

Jason Rohrer on his last released game, One Hour One Life.

But if the games press isn’t relevant anymore, how do people find out about new games? There are two ways: word of mouth, and YouTube videos. Word of mouth has always been the most important factor for any game, I think.

Word of mouth is insanely powerful. It’s random, unchecked, pervasive. It just happens. I keep hearing about FortNite even though I don’t play it nor do I see people play it nor do I watch people play that game. But it’s around and that makes me want to try it.

I designed One Hour One Life intentionally to operate well in this new paradigm.

That’s a crucial statement. I’ve always heard developers talk about making the game they want to play but I always felt that this was not necessarily business-savvy. Jason didn’t hesitate and designed his game so that it works with how people “behave” with new games. Very interesting and apparently, successful.

I hope it gives other developers ideas. Let’s free ourselves from silos a bit, shall we?

Wing Commander II

Thursday, March 8th, 2018

Outstanding article on a pillar of computer games’ 90s culture.

In retrospect, the Speech Pack for that game might have been one of the thing that made me think that sound is important in games. Even then as a preteen, buying sounds for a game felt wrong but I thought this was just because technology was moving so fast, developers didn’t have the time to do everything at the same time. Which was true, to some extent.

The technical craziness to me was that this game used 20MB of space. My hard-drive at that time was 20MB, which was standard and not enough for Origin’s game. 40MB hard-drives were ultra expensive. It’s as if today a game coming out required you to have a 2TB SSD ($1200 as of now). Not recommended, required. That was nuts.

The game was pretty bad. The fake 3D didn’t work well. The divide between gameplay/story was already there and yes, the story wasn’t that great. But it didn’t matter, I really wanted that game. The jump between the CGA-based awful game clones on MS-DOS to this mind-blowing 256 colors fest with digital effing sound was ludicrous. 3D-rendered bitmaps were sexy as hell.

I loved the visual style and design: those spaceships look like they were straight out of Robotech and I couldn’t get enough of that back in 1991. At the same time, Sonic was blowing everything away and Street Fighter II was punching everything away. Dragon Ball, Ranma½, Saint Seiya were airing in France.

That summer, Japan was reigning supreme in my young designer’s head. Japan, and Origin Systems.

Paid saveslot. They did it

Tuesday, February 27th, 2018

Yoooo.

It seems Metal Gear Survive only comes with a single free save slot – if you want a second one you’ll have to pony up a significant chunk of extra cash.

Metal Gear Solid requires you to create an avatar, which is tied to your single-player and online multiplayer save file/account. If you want to start a fresh playthrough, you’ve got to create a new character, which means you’ll have to delete your original save or cough up 1,000 SV Coins. Konami is selling their premium in-game currency in various set amounts — 550 SV Coins will set you back $5, while 1150 will cost you $10.

If you share your Steam, Xbox Live, or PSN account with family members, each additional player will have to spend that extra $10 to play with their own character.

This is out of control. Also, this is successful: Metal Gear Survive is apparently selling well.

The sunk cost fallacy has become standard in Games as a Service. This is where the focus is in my field: how to funnel those Gen Z kids. How to tractor-beam those people that hoard digital “goods” for hundreds of hours in digital worlds. How to make them feel guilty for quitting. And all that casino and slot machine psychology.

Man.