4 days (follow up)

July 7th, 2017 by harold

I was reading that article yesterday. Comments on Hacker News are pretty good too. I’ve written about all that already but missing the mighty pocket computer for a few days made me realize a few things.

It’s clear that the internet being consumed mostly on small devices by generations who mostly grew up on videos, is killing text. Articles. Long form thinking is disappearing, it’s all about emotions. Even long articles these days tend to try to get to you with emotional content more than inspiring thoughts.

It really is all about attention and nothing else.

Second, phones as platforms do not care about legacy. If you were using an app for something, for years, and you have to reset, update or change your phone or whatever, that app might be gone. Fine, you get another one because there are plenty. But a UX/UI that was almost like the back of your hands doesn’t exist anymore. I’m not used to that at all.

I’m used to a world of computers where I can run anything, from any time in the past. I can right now in 2017 run a 1986 game from France on my 2012 Windows laptop in California, with minor to no friction at all. I take that for granted. But we can’t do that with phones and networks like Twitter and FB. They totally own us and yes we all know that but it’s different when it actually hits you in the face. Bye, app that I was using every day. Bye, memories. And the thing is, if we could host millions of apps in 2003 on the internet and have people use them as they want, we can do that now even more. We’re just not allowed to anymore.

The combo of not having control over my devices and apps+everything being about virality and immediacy… Where does it lead?

4 days

July 6th, 2017 by harold

Someone stole my phone last week and I could have had everything back the next day but decided to take some time off too. After all, four days is ridiculously short.

I’m sort of back. This sudden lack of smartphone made me realize things like, I’m still processing it.

First, you feel naked. Then you feel the need to check what’s going on, you feel lost not knowing what hundreds of people are talking about. Then you feel lost that you can’t but you know it’s better this way, so you’re conflicted. And the internet and its myriad of distractions is still here.

But then I wrote a 900 words article and read and watched things without micro-smartphone interruptions for the first time in years, seven years to be exact. It feels great! It feels like something is back to a human level. But I can’t help: I check quickly what’s going on Twitter on my laptop and it’s just overwhelming how we’re all just having uninteresting things to say and it’s not because of people so much as it’s because of the platform, the 140 limit.

My train of thoughts was back to a longer size, a  normal size. 2006 size.

I’m starting to realize how much the infinite feed, the impossibility to mark things as read, our necks looking down and cutting blood stream to the brain, short amount of texts with colorful pictures are killing our cognitive process, killing our capacity to overcome emotional thoughts. We become attention-seeking babies without even realizing it.

But also food tastes better and I digest better by looking/talking to someone, looking up or simply closing my eyes. Nothing new! But it’s scary to realize it. Even scarier to imagine generations not able to do that at all.

Mario Kart analysis and Nintendo’s process

July 4th, 2017 by harold

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

June 28th, 2017 by harold

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

June 25th, 2017 by harold

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.

I miss the ol Email

June 24th, 2017 by harold

Email was so cool. We have the best email clients now but omg do we get spammed. And the spam is getting better while filters are getting worse, real emails stuck in the junk folder is expected now. And these days some spam looks ridiculously real, it’s easy to make a mistake in the morning and click a link from one of those.

Email was more central to communication, everything was happening there. Some notifications from time to time but mostly discussions. I loved that I had everything in one place. Short inquiries or long forms it didn’t matter but also we didn’t have access to it most of the day unless we were staying in front of a pretty big computer, which was a good way to curb addiction.

Damn.

Suburbs

June 23rd, 2017 by harold

Culver City
Main streets with businesses, side streets with homes. Copy/paste forever.

I just love the suburbs. I always did.

First I grew up in a small village. Which is great Quality of Life but you understand pretty quickly that it’s too small: you know everyone and everyone knows your every move. For decades to come. It’s kind of wrong at some point.

The city. I spent a lot of time in Paris, roaming sidewalks with my grandparents, skateboarding later. I’ve never loved it. I don’t think it’s neat to live in towers and move under the earth all day, all year long. We despise cockroaches but we live exactly like them and like to pretend that it’s the ultimate thing. Great (unaffordable or run-down) buildings, nice (always late and ultra-packed) trains and complete anonymity filled with neighbors going crazy in their small boxes.

I’m not for it.

The suburbs. A mix of neighborhoods and industries on a horizontal plane. That’s the favorite part of my childhood and of my life today: biking around, discovering a part of the city that is half taken over by Nature, half an ancient factory. Skating a brand new plaza. Driving a few miles to go to a friend’s backyard and BBQ all evening. Easy parking. Walking and saying hi. Being in the open, no wind tunnel created by high verticals. The suburbs doesn’t care about what it is. It just is. It mutates and yet stays the same. it’s the trifecta of shelter, work and nature. It’s simple, real and human.

In a world where telecommuting, driverless cars and communities are becoming so prominent, suburbs will expand. I mean they should.

I feel determined too

June 20th, 2017 by harold

Reinventing a major publisher’s keystone release [Sonic The Hedgehog] for a pair of secondary platforms represented a tall order for a 22-year-old game composer who had never made a video game before, but Koshiro says he felt determined to rise to the task.

Polygon article about one of my hero.

Sánchez had also not worked on a film before, nevertheless, after receiving the script, he composed "rhythmic themes" for each of the characters.

On the great soundtrack of Birdman.

Games, movies, music. Unlike those examples above we like to keep things safe and ultra predictable these days.

Creative risks are also rewards. Creative risks bring the high-profile and/or timelessness they’re “dangerous” but they allow, enable the “legendary” part. Looking at how much reputation is important these days, I think it’s worth it.

Hot takes finals

June 14th, 2017 by harold

That game 4 was pure bullshit. Someone got paid. The Warriors lost by a combined 5 points without the fouls in the first quarter and of course, Cleveland wouldn’t have shot that well with Golden State right behind on an elimination game. Suspicious af.

KD is pretty good at basketball. At the same time he was the only one big name on the floor that didn’t have a ring and it showed. Mofo didn’t stop and was ultra efficient. Jesus.

LeBron… I told my friend that to win he needs to have some midrange jumpers in his arsenal. Why? Because they consume 1/3 of what a drive to the basket costs. He never does it because he sucks at it so he drives and is gassed in the second half. He’s either going to the basket, passing at the last second or shooting 3s. We all know. Might be a coincidence but: MJ, Kobe, Hakeem, Duncan, Dirk, Kawhi. Kevin Durant. They all have/had a “goes in 100% of the time” midrange shot to counter a tough team. LeBron thinks he can just leave that shit to someone else but that’s not enough, if you’re the star player you need options and the ability to bring chaos. A good midrange J is annoying as hell for any defense. How the fuck do you guard someone who can shoot/pass at anytime, from anywhere? The Cavs were too obvious against GS’s defense and we all know that they got very lucky last year. We also all knew that their defense was tuuurrible. They didn’t disappoint.

The Warriors are not invincible though, the Spurs showed it for half a game (they also beat them 2-1 during the regular season). Intense defense and smart, tall players give them all the trouble they don’t want. The Pelicans new duo –AD/DMC- aka the Twin Towers might be the answer. Tall players that can do everything at a more than decent rate are the future of the NBA.

The Cleveland Specialists lost to the Golden State Generalists. Good Game, Peace.

Live commenting the Andromeda

June 10th, 2017 by harold

Mass Effect Andromeda behind the scenes.

From conversations with nearly a dozen people who worked on Mass Effect: Andromeda, all of whom spoke under condition of anonymity because they weren’t authorized to talk about the game,

It will never be not weird to have NDAs that long. The game has been out for months, it’s a $100B industry. We should be able to talk and have conversations without all that hiding going on. It’s unhealthy, we can’t learn and do better this way.

Mass Effect: Andromeda was in development for five years, but by most accounts, BioWare built the bulk of the game in less than 18 months.

Five years. Half a decade. Probably 3 years of trying things out and 2 years of absurd pressure. Classic, quite standard but definitely not good.

Rather than develop a Mass Effect 4 at the studio’s main headquarters in Edmonton, which had made the first three games, BioWare decided to put its Montreal studio in charge.

Game companies have massive tax cuts in Montreal. Games cost a lot. It makes sense to send an expensive franchise to be made where it costs less. Cutting off the main team though, is… Very risky.

“No Man’s Sky with BioWare graphics and story, that sounds amazing.”

I mean. Any seasoned designer or programmer would tell you that it is ultra risky to do something like that because tons of technical reasons. It blows my mind that they would try something that cocky on a huge franchise. Cockiness should be in the polish, not the scope. Try new things out on short projects, not pillars.

Frostbite is capable of rendering gorgeous graphics and visual effects, but when BioWare first started using it, in 2011, it had never been used to make role-playing games.

No problem! Risk on top of risk on top of more risk for a beloved franchise. All good! This is going to work!

I just don’t understand how Electronic Arts, a 35 year old game company that produced hundreds of games still makes pretty much all the bad decisions possible on one of their biggest franchise. Wouldn’t you polish the previous games main features, perfect them? Create a spin-off, less costly, with procedural exploration? Have a RPG engine or layer developed and perfected for years for RPGs to come? Five years, hundreds of people working hard and the result is memes and an IP put on halt. Pretty sad and probably avoidable.