Gamer Hate

Belligerently lacking in remorse.

Monday, May 18, 2009

Yoink! You’re On This Game Now!
Indecisive Game Studios

I couldn’t tell you how many studios do this. In fact, it’s been a relatively rare event within my own career. The normal course of events is that you’re assigned to a project and you stay on that project to completion. This is the first time I’ve ever been yanked off one project to lead another, then 2 months later, yanked back off the project and put on my old one.

I was only on my first project for 1 month, and it made a lot of sense for me to be on it. I had a lot of experience related to the game and I was gearing up to craft a great RTS. Then they asked me to help them redesign another game that was in trouble. Along with several other designers we met for a couple days and I apparently impressed someone with my design proposals because shortly thereafter I found myself Lead Game Designer on the very same title.

Let me say, the game was/is a clusterfuck of poorly done junior design work, poorly presented ideas, misdirection and indecisiveness from the publisher and a little bit of self-sabotage. That bad? Yeah, that bad. Programmers were literally hard-coding values so that the game designer wouldn’t tweak the game anymore… THAT bad…

So I spent 2 months trying to reshape the vision of the game and get it into a workable format for a 9 month cycle of continued development with the goal of releasing shortly thereafter. At the end of those 2 months I was to present the idea to a group at the main publisher and get their approval. At the last second, the trip for the presentation was canceled, another project was canceled, and a new Lead Designer was assigned to the project from that one. I was moved back to my ORIGINAL project and I gave my presentation over video conference to the publisher group which was then approved.

I’m VERY happy to be back on the first project, it made the most sense for my design background and I can tell you I’ll do much better overall on it. However, it FRACKIN’ SUCKS to have wasted 2 months on that hell hole of a project (doing some inspired design work in order to turn a piece of crap into a high quality product) only to know that every bit of work I did will be tossed into the trash.

It’s just one of those things. When one designer takes over another designer’s work, no matter how good the work was, it will almost entirely be tossed out. Not because it’s bad (though there can be arguments there), but because it’s difficult to execute a game designer’s vision without that game designer’s presence. That doesn’t make it any less frustrating. I’ve basically spent 2 months doing almost nothing.

Okay, not entirely true. I learned some valuable lessons on presentations and on the inner-workings of this company. Primarily, that I cannot trust their snap decisions. That their group in charge of giving the okays on products has had a sordid past of steering projects wrong. That being handed a nearly completed game from another company gives everyone extremely unreasonable expectations for the timeline of the release of the product (there’s a reason they couldn’t finish the game!!!). And finally, that if you’re a well-spoken presenter, you can make anything seem like a good idea.

posted by CommanderHate at 8:46 am  

Friday, March 27, 2009

Designer Worries

I was looking at old reviews for the Da Vinci Code game. It’s funny how almost all of them agree that there were some really interesting puzzles and a compelling storyline, the two areas of the game I was 80-90% responsible for. Whereas the combat is universally panned by almost every critic and it was the one thing I was diametrically opposed to having in the game. Pretty much every other game I’ve been involved in has been pretty good (okay, downright spectacular), with the exception of a few projects which I had little to do with up front or was not allowed to stay on to the end of.

In essence, I can truthfully say that over my career, all of the game design work I’ve done has been of excellent quality and my portions have turned into good gameplay that people enjoyed.

Despite all that, I can’t help but feel that if I ever get my own project, it’ll somehow not come together right. Perhaps I’m only good at working on a part of something and not the whole…

Or maybe I’ve got cold feet.

posted by CommanderHate at 2:47 pm  

Saturday, February 28, 2009

Game Theory Versus Making Great Games

At Ubisoft it has become apparent that there is a French held ideal of putting the theoretical as the pinnacle of game creation. That is to say, you come up with a theory and you try to apply that theory so that all your games fit within that theory. Of course, most of the theories I’ve seen are applied to the game after they have been created instead of used as an underlying principle of how the game should be created. What’s worse, is when they try to force the application of the theory to another game that has nothing to do with the first game.

Let me give an example…

Let’s say you made a 2D side scrolling shooter, like Contra (you all know Contra, right?). Contra did very well, so you make a theory that Contra did well due to the number of inputs the player puts into the game. For example, you can shoot in any direction by pressing the D-Pad in that direction, giving you freedom to shoot at any 45 degree angle (up, upright, right, etc). Therefore, it is important for every game to have similar inputs to Contra and you must make a document showcasing how your game demonstrates a similar behavior in order for them to consider it a good game.

So you’re making a new version of Tetris and you’re given a game design document asking you to show the number of inputs for the game to prove how awesome it is. Well, you write the document and you only have 3 basic directional inputs. Move the piece left, right or down. This upsets your bosses who say that you don’t have enough directional inputs in order to compete with Contra and games like it, since they have proven successful, your game will not be successful.

What?

Yeah, the French can be weird.

posted by CommanderHate at 6:36 am  

Tuesday, February 3, 2009

Resident Evil 5
Quick Impressions

Hey look, it’s Resident Evil 4 but the hot black chick hanging with you is more like the Spanish guy with the gun instead of the helpless little girl.

Also, fuck the developers for not either getting rid of inventory management by moving it entirely onto set keys, or pausing the game while I deal with it. If the goal was to keep a real life intensity going at all times, you fail. Inventory screens are NOT something you deal with in real life. If you are in a combat situation you have a place for everything important on your person and you can grab it within seconds. You need to switch entirely to quick select with the d-pad.

Or you need to pause the game when you bring up the inventory screen.

I know why you did it too you cheap bastards. You don’t want to slow down multiplayer. Well it’s time to buckle down and find a proper solution with the quick select menu.

Recommendation: Try Metal Gear Solid and see what they did… It’s not quite right, but it’s close to what you need.

posted by CommanderHate at 7:20 am  

Friday, January 23, 2009

Is it better to innovate, or imitate in games?

I’m asking myself this one because it has come up recently in my work.

When you look at the successful companies in the game world, what you end up seeing are a lot of imitators who just happen to do it the best or at least better than the rest. Blizzard wasn’t the first to make an RTS, but they did it very well, and then they continued to improve on their previous models. No doubt Starcraft II will be a serious improvement over Starcraft I, but will it be an innovative game?

I think people get stuck on the idea of innovating. Of making something from absolutely nothing. The truth of the matter is, we as humans have been building our knowledge based on old knowledge since we started. To have a truly new thought that has no basis on anything before it is actually quite impossible. Everything we do is based on something that we have already learned or been taught. Even if you could actually come up with something like that, no one would understand it, and no one would pay you to make a game out of it.

So what it comes down to (for games at least) is how much should you push for innovation over imitation. The truly successful companies don’t innovate much. How different (really now) is Gears of War compared to Doom? If you look at all the things that came between Doom and Gears of War, you’ll see that GoW really is only about 3% innovation. The rest is built upon hundreds of established (and obscure) games.

When something truly new comes out, almost no one plays it. Where is the game built upon the foundations of the arguably very innovative Facade? I want to do that, but damned if I can find a company willing to let me (or anyone willing to fund me). Most companies shun innovation on a large scale. In fact, most innovations are afterthoughts that come from sudden technological inspirations (Endwar’s voice commands for instance came in during the last few months of production).

Blizzard in particular has made an empire out of copying the best things from all its competitors and cutting the things that aren’t fun. Practically no innovation comes out of Blizzard, yet they are the number one PC game maker in the world (I think).

Is it the consumer that doesn’t value innovation? They cry out for something new, but when it comes time to make a purchase will they buy a game based on Facade that they may not understand, or will they buy Starcraft II? My money is on Starcraft II. =P

Of course, it’s funny how many game companies I’ve been at that don’t understand the very simple Blizzard model. Most companies can’t comprehend how amazing games can come from simply stealing all the good things your competitors have done. Maybe they think that innovation really is the way to get more marketshare, but I know that’s a fallacy. I’ve seen it with my own eyes. Innovate too much and the consumer will run away screaming. But take everything they like from other games and package it together, they’ll buy millions of copies. That’s why I’m working on the ultimate version of Solitaire combined with Minesweeper.

So is it better to innovate or imitate in game design? Well that depends on how much money you want to make… ;D

posted by CommanderHate at 8:44 am  

Wednesday, January 14, 2009

More Shanghai Notes

I have yet to see a single “squat pot,” anywhere in Shanghai. I was told that all bathrooms would be squat pots here, but that’s not even close to the reality.

None of the apartments have carpet. Everything I’ve seen has been hardwood or tile floors. I miss my carpet. =P

The fastest cable modem speed in Shanghai is 2M. I miss my 8M connection in California. =(

posted by CommanderHate at 5:29 am  

Sunday, January 11, 2009

Shanghai!
The rumors and my truths!

I start work tomorrow and as I get into the swing of things I’ll return to game related posts, but for now I hope you find my Shanghai observations entertaining. =)

So, obviously, I made it to Shanghai. It wasn’t easy… I had a flight delay cause me to miss the connector to Beijing so I was stuck in San Fran for a day, but I was fortunate enough to have a very very kind friend let me stay with her for a night. Thank you Super Power Up! =D

So, I wanted to go into some of the stuff I was told would happen to me when I got to Shanghai, and what has actually happened to me so far.

1. You will be pickpocketed.

I have yet to be pickpocketed or even have someone attempt it. I’m being safe and keeping everything important on inside jacket pockets, but having walked around the busy streets on a Sunday, I haven’t even seen someone who looks like they would want to.

2. The taxi drivers will either drive you to a remote location where you will be mugged, or they will overcharge you.

Nope, after exiting the airport there’s a clear designated Taxi line where legitimate licensed taxis will pick you up. The guy used a meter and did not attempt to overcharge me, so I gave him the change as tip which he was very grateful for. No one even attempted to coax me into a shady taxi or anything like that.

3. Women will accost you cause you’re white and try to sleep with you to get you to give them a better life.

Nope, not yet anyways. I just don’t see that happening though. I think that’s primarily an “english teacher” thing, or a predatory white guy thing.

4. The tap water will kill you and is full of bacteria.

Yeah, it’s pretty bad. It smells like river water or something. I’m definitely not going to drink it and I try to keep it out of my mouth and eyes when I shower, but I think it’s chlorinated to say the least, so bacteria likely isn’t the problem. I’m told there are heavy metals in it though.

5. Everyone is rude.

This one is no more true for Shanghai than it is for New York. Some people can be rude, but the majority of people I’ve talked to have been at least decent, if not incredibly nice to me. Of course, the majority of people I talk to are providing me a service so they kind of have to be nice, right? =P

6. Everyone is short.

No, there are some tall Chinese here. Some are taller than me. I’d say on average they’re a little shorter than Americans, but not by much.

I think that’s about it as far as stuff I was told about Shanghai.

While I’ve only been here for less than 24 hours, I have noticed some interesting stuff. Like the traffic lights seem to cover every situation. There are U-Turn lights and Bike Lights. Many of them have countdown timers to let you know when you’re about to be screwed or when you’re about to get a green light. Traffic is a little crazy as people sort of wander around the lanes. It’s not as bad as I was lead to believe and I think I could probably drive here if I were so inclined.

The city seems to be divided into themed areas. For instance, when I walked down one street from the hotel, there was a lot of clothing and mall type stores that sold watches and bags and other stuff I don’t care about. When I walked down a different street it was primarily food. A third street seemed to be homes. I don’t know if it’s on purpose or just happened to get layed out that way, but it’s interesting.

The police are not as threatening as I thought they would be. Their primary purpose seems to be to warn people when they’re about to do something really stupid. Like today I was waiting to cross the street and someone decided they were just going to wander into the oncoming traffic. The cop blew their whistle and got them to get back out of the way of death’s headlights. Another interesting thing about police here is that they seem to have their own show. I think it’s a gameshow where the cops demonstrate good cop qualities and win prizes or something. I wish I could understand what they were saying because it seems fascinating. It’ a little awkward to watch because the two hosts are extremely upbeat and happy, but the audience (which seems to consist entirely of police are VERY somber.

There are random points on the highways where your photo will be taken. I don’t know why or what is done with them, but you’ll see periodic bulb flashes while you’re on any of the major highways if you drive down them long enough. There’s a predominance of cameras in the shopping districts, but I guess that’s just part of security.

Some tips if you’re planning on coming to Shanghai from America.
1. Keep your boarding pass with your passport and DO NOT LOSE THEM. When you get to Beijing they will be checked four times before you can get on the plane to Shanghai. FOUR TIMES!

2. If you’re traveling around this time of year, dress for VERY cold weather. It was 0 degrees Celsius when I exited the plane in Beijing, and they make you wait on the tarmac for a bus. I was lucky I had my jeans on and a warm jacket, otherwise I would probably have gotten hypothermia. Keep gloves in the jacket of your pocket along with a scarf, just in case.

3. If you have electronics you want to bring with you, check the plug. If one of the prongs is slightly wider than the other, you might as well throw it away. There isn’t a converter that I can find that will work with it. If it’s the three pronged type (grounded) or has two prongs of the same exact size, bring it. There are power converters for it that you can get at Best Buy or Gome.

posted by CommanderHate at 2:51 am  

Monday, January 5, 2009

Shanghai Bound

I am headed off to Shanghai, China. My flight leaves Thursday and all my paperwork is in order. Pending some disaster, my next post will be from there (unless they censor it). =D

posted by CommanderHate at 6:37 pm  

Tuesday, December 30, 2008

Busy busy busy… More ebay!

I’m still preparing for my trip to China so there’s little time to post… But hey, check out more of my ebay auctions!

A WW2 knife.

Oddworld Inhabitants memorabilia.
A lot of Magic the Gathering Cards.
Knights of the Dinner Table comic collection.
Sega Dreamcast with games!
Nintendo Gamecube.
TiVo Series 2 Dual Tuner.
A Toyota Prius… Yes, my car!

posted by CommanderHate at 9:55 am  

Monday, December 22, 2008

Selling My Geeky Stuff

In order to scrape some cash together to make ends meet and hopefully not get another foreclosure on my records, I have opened up my store of incredibly geeky stuff for sale on e-bay. I’ll be putting up many items for the next week or two and if you know of any websites that might be interested, please spread the auction love in their direction.

Almost all the items start at $0.99 and most of them will have 10% of any profit go to Penny Arcade’s Child’s Play charity.

Battlestar Galactica Episode 1, “33” signed by cast.
Transformer’s Jetfire.
Robotech Masterpiece VF-1J.
The Crow – Brandon Lee Trading Card.
Dragonstorm Figurine.

posted by CommanderHate at 10:01 am  
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