Category Archives: Opinions

How I learned to beat GDC.

The Game Developers Conference is one of the world’s biggest conventions for game industry people. Last year I went there for the first time and wrote a bitter, disillusioned piece about it. Being at GDC can make you feel lonely. Then I figured the whole thing is like a game level with pitfalls you just can’t foresee the first time. I went a second time, and this piece is about where I learned to jump and duck. A lot of media is about the winners of GDC. This piece is for the losers (yes: I just called you a loser).

DISCLAIMER: This is not all-around advice for all GDC people. It’s how I personally dealt with going to this conference as a visitor, and a relative newcomer to the industry.

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I rested well before going to GDC.
Last year I prepared to a certain point, but it turned out that business cards and hotel reservations are just details. My best move this year was to get the stuff at home that I wouldn’t get at the conference and that is rest. Rest is GDC’s rarest currency. Even if you can resist the urge to relentlessly go out and socialize, there are many things that can keep you from resting, like noisy hotel neighbours or jetlag or just being freaking hyped. If you don’t get rest you get sick. The week before GDC I just slept well and didn’t do many things. It worked.

I stopped being bent on meeting people.
Even if you’re not able to rest before there are ways to save your energy. GDC is a social carousel that you’ll be compelled to jump into. Being in the same spot as “all” the game people in the world is a great opportunity. The shadow of that is that staying in your hotel room feels like a waste of that opportunity. Even if it’s to do things like showering, breakfast and napping. The pull to constantly go out and “connect” with people is strong with me but it’s a battle I can’t win. GDC is not all the fun in one place. It’s all the fun spread all over a giant city, and somehow they didn’t let you in on it. Last year that hit me so hard that I just had to give up caring about it. Once you let that go you can divide your time the way you want. It’s pretty much like Bob Marley said “You can meet some GDC people some time but you can’t meet all of them all the time”.

I gave up on social media.
Whatever feeling you have about being left out will be amplified a thousand-fold by checking up on things like Twitter. When somebody tweets that another guy owes him 50 dollars all I can think is “Okay what the hell am I missing now?”. I think putting inside jokes on an outside medium is alienating. During GDC Twitter and Facebook will be full of that shit. I stayed away from it as much as I could and used Twitter mostly as a slow chatbox for meeting with friends.

I stopped respecting people’s status.
It’s very easy to walk into people who you look up to and it can uncontrollably change the way you step into a conversation with them. People can feel that and they don’t like it. Deep down everybody longs for success and status but once you have it, it seems like everybody wants something from you and that’s hard to deal with. I had an encounter with a guy that made a hugely popular game and he seemed prickly in every interaction I had with him. I had no idea who he was but I offered him a napkin and he just frowned like I was a lepper begging for money. For this guy status was a new thing and he dealt with it by adding barbwire around himself. I can’t afford to worry about what these people think of me and I just stopped asking or finding out what they do or who they are. I don’t chase them. I don’t stare at them. I just hang out with people I have fun with and that’s it. Even famous people poop and pee and smell if they don’t shower. You get the best conversations with people if you don’t know who they are.

I started using being alone as a tool.
Conversations, new faces, new names, new topics. There’s a ton of things coming at you at a typical GDC day and you need to process all that stuff. There’s no shame in being alone and isolated once in a while. I even benefit from it. Take it as a moment to let things seep in. Take a nap. Go somewhere and have a meal by your own. Maybe take a day off and visit a part of the city to wander around. Treat yourself!

I stopped caring about parties.
For 5 days straight there are parties going on every single night. At the end afternoon “What party are you going to” is the question going around and it’s a tiring thing to be bothered with. It’s fun to have something to do but you shouldn’t overvalue these things. People will always make it look more exciting than it actually is. It’s hard to pick which party to go to as there are always many happening at once. You’ll always miss some fun somewhere. You might meet a couple of nice people but I think parties are not the best way to do that. Thanks to loud music you often have to raise your voice to make yourself heard. Dirty trick: Just go to the party when it’s about to end. It’s not a problem if you don’t have an invite. Just stand at the exit as people poor out to have smokes or snacks. By that time most of them are a bit tipsy thus more open and honest. You might get some nice chats out of it.

I stopped asking people what they do.
This is a bit of a freaky trick but it worked for me. I noticed that “So what do you do?” is a crippling question for some. It can be taken it as a status check. As if it implies you want to see if they are worthy of your time or not. It can lead to a bad start of a conversation, A moment where people think they have to hold a mini presentation about themselves. I experimented with skipping that question and going for the blunt and piercing “So what is your agenda?”. People don’t expect it but it leads to surprisingly honest answers as if it is the moment people take their mask off and become themselves. This is especially the case on the expo floor where a lot of people walk around looking for work or represent a company. I still may very well be viewed by people as a weirdo though.

Concluding.
And those are the cheats I used to survive GDC. All of them are related to lettings things go to preserve energy. GDC sucks up physical and emotional strength. I feel like I learned to sail through that by dropping all excess baggage, and honestly I had a good time. I met some nice people. It’s hard to measure this in actual payoff but at this rate I assume next GDC will be even better. Like in gaming. You get better at it with every try. Just make peace with the fact that you are just one person. You cannot be everywhere at once and you don’t have to. You are not alone in feeling alone.

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My 2014 as a game maker in 8 moments.

This year I worked on Mutant Gangland and Penarium and it was awesome. It was a good year for me. The following sums it up: 

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8: Going to GDC for the first time. I guess
Boy, was I disappointed in GDC. It’s just not what it’s cracked up to be. People on social media will have you believe it’s the most joyful thing ever with their selfies and their inside jokes but that wasn’t my experience. Every evening was super stressful because there were parties all over town and I just always felt like I was missing out. It’s like new year’s eve five nights in a row. It’s not for me. I don’t even like parties. I did meet a few nice people and it was interesting to see a new city. I guess it deserves a place on this list because of how big an experience this was. Otherwise, I couldn’t find 8 significant moments. I’m also probably going again next year. Enough for the sour stuff. The rest of the list is happy stuff. I promise. 

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7: Getting a new console
I know this is shallow but I just love unboxing game consoles. When I was 8 and got a NES on Xmas, I freaked out, ran out of the house and went screaming on the streets. Ever since then, I try to recreate that moment. It’s never going to be that intense anymore but unboxing a new console will always be special. During previous console generations I was not very big with money and only got a game machine after it had been out for years. Somehow I always missed noticing their releases but I was extremely excited about getting a PS4. Maybe so hard that I actually tricked myself into wanting it. I wanted a new new PS4 and I got mine. That smell of new plastic is amazing. 

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6: Realising how much experience I gained over a year
Two years ago we released Paper Vs Paper, a game you probably don’t know because we did a crappy job at promoting it. We were fresh out of school and somehow had the idea that we could put it on the app store and email people about it until it started selling. That was naive. There was a moment when we were far along with Penarium where I though “Man were we a bunch of idiots when working on Paper Vs Paper”. Somehow that cheered me up.

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5: Putting Mutant Gangland online and actually selling units
Mutant Gangland has become a very personal project I can fill up with everything I like about action figures, Robots, Ninja turtles, and apocalypse stories. I honestly believed that when we put the game on itch.io maybe ten people would buy it but it’s a little bit more than that. I often check out the names of people and it’s not just friends of friends anymore. It’s complete strangers thinking “this might be worth my money” and that feels like a signal that we are making a proper game here. It might sound superficial but I wouldn’t know if I was equally enthusiastic about Mutant Gangland if we sold 0 copies. But we do sell and I’m super pumped to make a big release in 2015. 

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4: The moment Penarium pieces fell into place
At one point a game is just a bunch of moving objects and at another point it’s a game, a product, an orchestra of arts that together create magic. Sometimes the transition between those moment is unclear but in the case of Penarium it was when the sound effects and music were in. Our sound man is a wizard and when we loaded the game for the first time with audio we were very very happy. There’s something awesome about trying your game for the 100th time and finally, BOOM it rocks. 

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3: Signing a deal with a publisher
WE knew that Penarium is a fun game but we actually rang quite a few doorbells with it and it took a while before they started opening. Then we started worrying. Not because our game might be bad but because the outside world had their eyes full of shit and couldn’t see how awesome it is. Team17 was enthusiastic from the start. We felt good about them. A nice bunch and a name I look up to. For us signing with a publisher was signing a treaty that said “look, we think your game is so good that we’re actually going to spend money on it. We trust you.” Also, I can’t wait to one day come home, turn on my console and buy my own game. 

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2: Picking up drawing again
In 2009 I took concept art seminars. The huge amount of stuff you need to learn to become an artist scared the shit out of me. I decided I did not want to be a concept artist and focused on other things. Since then my sketchbooks became less filled with drawings and more with scribbles of game mechanics. It was a shame though. I loved the idea of Penarium right away and researched circus life and aesthetics. I had trouble transporting that directly to pixels. I just couldn’t get it right in Photoshop. That’s when I discovered my sketchbook again. Countless sketches of clowns, tents, monkeys, and directors came out. Not just that but also robots, monsters, and spaceships just for the fun of it. Now the year is almost over, the book is almost full and I often look through it feeling proud as if I reclaimed something I left behind for no good reason. Welcome back, Drawing.

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1: Pitching a game to Nintendo
I can’t believe we actually got to present our game to a number of important folks from Nintendo. I look up to Nintendo and its people. We were quite nervous. The introductions were awkward as we gave them our business cards Japanese style (bowing, two hands) and the Japanese handed theirs western style (one hand, eye contact). We presented Penarium, they played it and seemed to like it. Then there was a round for questions from our side. I asked them if there was going to be a sequel to Advance Wars. They all laughed and then there was a silence. I think that’s a “yes, secretly”. One minute later a Japanese boss read what his translator wrote and it made him chuckle. I feel like this was the man who might know more.Business-wise this meeting did not leave a lot of ripples but for me it was significant in the sense that I presented my game to freaking Nintendo! Words like ‘Nintendo’ ‘Flappy Bird’ and ‘Angry Birds’ are things family and friends understand. They know I “make games” but saying “Uncle Joe, I just came back from a meeting with Nintendo” became my way of saying “look, I’m not playing around anymore”. I’m serious. I’m playing with power now. 

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As for next year, I look forward to seeing my first game on a shelf when I happen to walk around in a store. It would also be great to finish Mutant Gangland although making games costs a lot of time. With all that behind, look here’s a new Penarium development log.

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How GTA 5 makes driving fun

I like driving around in GTA 5. Unlike real life it’s quite smooth. Driving like that doesn’t just fall out of the sky. This is the oompth 3D GTA and the makers have picked up lots of little tricks and tweaks to save you from annoyances. Here are some of those tricks explained.

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The Plastic Pole:
The most obvious of them all. Streetlights, lanterns and fire hydrants snap loose when you hit them as opposed to stopping your car. It just slows the car a bit down. This highlights a concept that most of these tricks are based on: Driving is fun, Standing still is awful. Think of that frustration that jolts through your body the moment your car comes to a sudden halt. That has to be avoided and that’s why most poles won’t stop you.

Nobody likes hitting them though. Based on knowledge of real life, players still know you’re not supposed to hit them. The bonus is that when you actually do it gives you a small sense of power. It’s you vs an obstacle and you won.

The Perfect Space:
It’s one of the mostly glorious things to do in GTA. Speeding down the road and slipping through the perfect space between two other cars cars on the road. Feels good right? You’d be amazed how often you can pull this off with a bit of practice and the fact that GTA meticulously places each car with just enough space to fit your vehicle in. All that driving in the gap between two cars is part of the plan. In fact: even the space between cars is so well aligned both front and side that you can perfectly swerve left and right as you pass them by.

The blind eye:
Secret: You make more bumps than you know. The game is just protecting your feelings by letting very tiny collisions go unnoticed. They don’t make a sound and they don’t stop your car. If you got so close to a car that you thought “Good I didn’t hit that one” then you probably did.

The Slow Rest:
You don’t notice it until you stand still but most other cars drive way under the speed limit even on the highway. This has 2 effects: you feel like you are going fast because you are passing by everyone else even if you drive a garbage truck. Also: On intersections cars coming from the left and right don’t pop up as sudden as they would when driving regular speed. Because most players have total disregard for stopping lights I suspect the number 1 cause of crashes is still being rammed from the side though.

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The Magic Flip:
After driving a car for a while you kind of bond with it. Nothing is worse than finding yourself being upside down when all you did was racing off a cliff with 80 mph.  To prevent you from having to part with your new friend the game lets you jinx the laws of physics but wiggling the car with your stick until it flips on its wheels again. This is where the game sacrifices realism for the sake of you keeping your car.

Mid-air Magic:
An evolution of the car-flip and a  gimmick that’s most arcade-ish, least realistic. You can steer the pivot of a car when it’s making a jump…so that’s in mid air. It looks fake but only a bit. It benefits the smoothness because you can prevent cars from hitting the floor face first. More important: it puts you in slight control and in driving games (or almost any game) being in control feels good. even if you crash horribly afterwards.

The Self-conscious Hood:
Sometimes your car is dented and the hood pops up blocking the view of the road for the third person camera. After 5 seconds the front hood grows a conscience and knows it’s not welcome anymore. it will automatically let loose and you’ll be free again. This happens every single time a hood pops up. Guaranteed.

The Ghost Door:
It might mean nothing to you but if you are only slightly compulsive then driving around with a car with one door closed and the other open may rub you the wrong way. It does me. Good that when making a turn the door slams shut and there is symmetry again. Inner peace. Real life car doors have a mechanism the prevents them from shutting but GTA knows that just doesn’t make players feel good when driving 120 mph. The best thing about it is that it doesn’t close automatically but only when you make a turn. Giving you the feeling you are in direct control of the situation.

If you’re curious what difference this makes you can play Sleeping Dogs which doesn’t feature these super doors. It’s agony.

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The not much traffic:
On one side it’s a performance saver but it’s also extremely convenient the streets are not sprawling with cars. It’s not exactly empty on the streets but it’s not crowded either. Why? Because you probably couldn’t handle driving as fast as you like with so much traffic around. The game tries to strikes a balance between believable crowded but also manageably empty. GTA knows you are a lunatic and though a certain amount of obstacles can be fun there’s really not much use for more cars than there are already.

The invisible hand:
There is an invisible hand at work here. When hitting the brakes it’s amazing how often your car comes back on track after it seemed to spiral out of control. I suspect this is staged. The game knows where your car is and also where the roads are and I feel like every once in a while it pushes the car slightly back on the road because the most important thing about driving is keeping on driving.

And finally the coolest of them all…

The reverse and brake move:
I like to see this as a secret move. The race gods are always in your favour when you want to get out of a situation by doing this: Drive in reverse, Hit the brakes, Steer to a side and hit the gas. You will have turned around your car almost perfectly in line with the road again. I can’t help thinking this is predetermined. Pulling this move is like an invisible hand reaches from the sky to make sure you get back on the grid to continue racing but it also makes you feel like a totally cool driver.

Those are the tricks I know. I could be seeing things that aren’t there and maybe I’m missing out on some huge aspects but what do I know? I’ve only made $950.000 doing cab jobs so far. Don’t worry though. There is still plenty of things to be annoyed by. Like the fact sometimes cars can instantly explode upon crashing…yeah.

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20 games reviewed in 1 sentence

I make games but I also play a lot. Both struggle for my time and I always feel guilty for neglecting one if I do the other. Now that is a first world problem.

I also try to avoid reviews. I like to be surprised and like my bias to be clean. Also: some reviews are too long to read. I have a solution. Make it shorter. It’s crazy to try to capture all a game has to offer with so little words but life is short so here are 20 game reviews with one sentence:

Batman Arkham City
The stylistic stew of all the comics and movies plus some fitting and solid mechanics give you the empowering feeling that you are indeed the batman.

Mass Effect 3
Tough choices make this compelling a game with just above average action mechanics and a great initial ending because closure is bullshit.

Dishonored
I gleefully sneaked around guards that are too stupid for me to believe in a beautiful world that could do with less obvious and ever-present detours.

Dead Space 2
A game with an unbelievably uncomfortable environment that doesn’t understand it could be twice as scary if it showed half as many monsters.

Skyrim
The package of music,lore,people,landscape and simple mechanics will warmly welcome me inside its world for years to come.

Ghost Recon Future Soldier 
This game strikes a weird balance between being challenging while also making me feel unfairly powerful with all the gadgets.


Swords and Sworcery
Sometimes I don’t get what’s going on but sometimes there’s the joy of being a kid looking at a picture book in a foreign language.

Super Lemonade Factory
Pretty, clever and so tough as nails you’d almost give up on the humor and back-story.

Journey
Seamless? yes, Gorgeous? Very much, Harmless multiplayer? yes, good job but it’s also bordering boredom.

Resident Evil 6
The most tragic victim of gearsofwar-ification keeps true to its roots and fun for the first 6 hours and rots to action set-pieces after that.

Tokyo Zoo
The neat translation of survival into simple mechanics works so well that under its fast clock I really am focused on staying alive primarily.

LA Noire
I still feel like the viewer instead of the detective but it’s fun to guess who did it while unravaling the plot and with a setting as great as this one it’s a comfy slowride.

Sleeping Dogs
Kicking, Driving, Shooting, It’s all there and some are done better than other but where the hell is proper climbing and why do I have to punish a girl that supposedly cheated on me?

XCOM Enemy Unknown
With its meticulous structure of sliders and paths the ultimate simulation of war with all its gripping losses and treasured victories.

Uncharted 3
1 in every 4 ledges Drake grabs will almost fall through in the game with impressive setpieces and a guy that sure smiles a lot considering the number of people he kills.

Deus Ex Human Revolution
A warm coat of techy music, architecture and gold hues make this a sneaker that’s comfy and solid even in the darkest alleys but don’t mention the boss battles.

Alan Wake
A true shame for such a cool plot and my favorite setting to exhibit mechanics that makes sense but bore when feeling this repetitive.

Mark of the Ninja
So much blackness that I can’t play it in daylight but a true ninja works at night and has fun with the stealth elements in doing so.

Duel of the Planeswalkers 2013
No idea how it plays for newcomers but after 15 years of playing Magic there is so much fun to be had even if it was just for finding the exploits in the AI.

Army of Two; the 40th Day
One of the leads sums it up with “ow come on!” after we see a crashing chopper block the way because there is only so much action I can take and this game paces it decently plus apologizes with humor for where it falls short.

Note that I played more games than this. I’m saving some for the next time.
And yes: We are finally done shooting the trailer for Paper vs Paper.We are editing it all right this moment. Sit tight.

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