I hate zombies but I hate vampires even more.

So I’m doing this game jam where you are supposed to make a game you normally hate. I also told how I love robots and how I was going to put robots in my game…

Sounds like someone wasn’t thinking enough.

When Fill this Jam was set up they probably mostly had hate for game design in mind. I think it can apply to art just as well. Took me a while to figure it out though. I was talking to my friend Zapa and when he mentioned something about zombies. I thought “no man, I hate…” And it was too late. Maybe it’s not how this jam was intended but I felt guilty because I don’t really hate turn-based dungeon rogue likes. I find them intimidating. So I had to pick up something. Zombies it would be.

It gets worse.

I told my girlfriend that I was going to change the theme from robots to zombies because hating tropes was all this jam was about. She stopped me and said “but you don’t hate zombies. You are just tired of them. What you really hate is vampires”

That’s when I sunk further. By now I have accepted my fate but I hate vampires so much that I wouldn’t even want to jam with them. I know I have to and I will. But only on my terms! Here is how my vampires are going to behave:

No hissing:
I see it in movies all the time. It’s supposed to impress me but it doesn’t : A vampire shows up. Opens its mouth for a while and makes some hissing sound. My cat does that too and I’m not afraid of my cat. Either keep your mouth shut or keep your mouth open.

No tilting the head:
If hissing won’t scare you they can always use that slightly tilt of the head to make it even more “psycho”. Thing is I’ve seen too many deathmetal videos and it just reminds me of failed attempts at larp or gothic. My vampires won’t do that. No tilting. It’s silly. stop it. stop.

No prettiness:
I almost vomit at the thought of the vampire mythos’ sexual subtext. I never thought anything about them to be sensual . Not their power, Not their eternal life. When I see a film and some hot dude or chick does something that’s supposed to be sexy I just feel embarrassed. It’s like I’m watching a comedian that nobody finds funny. My vampires won’t be hot. Or even slightly bearable. They will be stone cold hideous. They’re MONSTERS remember?

No talking:
9 out of 10 times when a vampire talks it’s an attempt to be cool by saying something witty or dark. “Your flesh will taste delicious tonight” or “don’t worry. I will make it quick”. I don’t care about such one-liners. You will never match “yippee ki yay” or “Cowabunga”. To prevent my vampires from sounding like self-obesessed jerks I took their ability to talk. They don’t talk. Ever.

Not just two teeth:
When a vampire opens its mouth and there’s just two sharp teeth I think “somebody went to a carnival shop with only 50 cents” The same suspicion of laziness comes to mind when I see a new alien in Star Trek and they’re clearly actors with some random putty on their forehead. Two slightly longer teeth? Is that how you “transform” ? Oh you have red eyes too? whoa! I guess you doubled your effort to look convincing! My vampires won’t do with just 2 teeth. There will be sharp teeth all the way.

When I sum that up I get something like this:

They are the three different enemy types we have so far. Arranged by power. I made these and to be honest I had a lot of fun doing so!

There already is a vampire that has all the things i seek for: Nosferatu.
The one from the film named after him. Coolest vampire ever. No talking, no pretty face, no glitter or mixed feelings. No tilting the head or silly hissing. Just a all-in scary-teeth-all-over-quiet-scary-staring blood-sucker. Similar dudes can be found in other movies as well. But for this jam Nosferatu is my guide.

The theme will be vampires and it pisses me off.

Disclaimer: If you want to tell me about how I look past the virtue of subtlety and subtext and power of the vampire: I know all about the virtue, subtlety and subtext and I wipe my butt with it.

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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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Game Worlds: Deus Ex’s Hengsha vs Sleeping Dogs’ Hong Kong

There are two games I played a lot lately and they are both (at some point) staged in a Chinese supercity. Sleepings Dogs with Hong Kong, And Deus Ex Human Revolution with Hengsha. I have an affinity for asian architecture so i´d like to compare.

Different type of games need different levels. One is 1st person and the other is 3rd person and mechanics dictate the environment on both accounts.
Here are the perimeters I used to compare:

Size, Detail, Interaction, Real World Likeness, Ambient Sound and Navigation Benchmark. For shorter sentences i will from now on refer to Deus Ex Human Revolution and Sleeping Dogs as DX and SD. You will thank me later.

Size.
A level does’nt have to be bigger if it’s big enough to enjoy yourself in. A huge damper on enjoyment is the feeling of boundaries in the playing field. Hengsha is the smallest of the two but it’s also designed to function as a maze. This constantly shifts your perception of what the actual border of the level is. You will rarely feel as if you actually hit a wall. It might not appear huge but it does appear endless.

Hong Kong is huge but there are cars. The player’s perception of the size of a world is related to how fast he/she can travel from one place to another. With sportscars as fast as these, travelling from top to bottom takes under 5 minutes. Just a little more as it would take Jensen to travel all of Hengsha by foot. Unlike Hengsha, Hong Kong might still have places you won’t have seen after hours of playing. But you also less likely to care as much. Hengsha’s small size makes it comprehendible enough to make you want to finish the unconsiously set task of exploring it wholly.

Detail.
Or as i like calling it “behind every corner is another corner”. How much is there to see per square mile? This is especially relevant for asian supercities as space can be scarce. SD has its share of accessible buildings and there is no piece of space that appears as if it could use a bit more attention. What Hengsha lacks in space is more than made up for with the fact that you can get into buildings. see people have some chit-chat. climb on top of stuff and joyfully discover little corners every time. Both games are on the same level when it comes to texturing and geometry. The detail is in the number of buildings you can get inside and how they’re connected through vent ducts. alleyways and sewer systems. With a little more effort SD could have some of these but it would be useluss because of the player perspective. DX’s 1st person view allows for much better navigation in small spaces. It would be a struggle to move through such small spaces in the 3rd person view SD has.

So DX has denser connections and smaller streets but it’s not just the view: Again, SD has cars and the streets are wider apart because the cars need to be able to fit through these. Even streets that would be narrower in real life are broadened up for you to keep on driving. This is the part of realism SD sacrificed.

I did some math and a game that would have the level size of SD and the detail of DXHR would take about 3400 years to make.

Interaction.
Your level of immersion is related to how much you can interact with your surroundings. This is part of what makes games like Skyrim and Fallout fun. As pointed here. The good news is that both cities offer a wealth of this. In SD You can shop for clothes, Drink green thea, Do Karaoke, Hurt people (this one’s important) and climb on some buildings. Some. but not all. The game decides whether Wei Shen will climb or not when you run into a wall. This hurts your experience because it breaks the illusion of the game designer’s god hand absence.

Is this important? yes!
For the sake of fun, When playing a game your mind is willing to discard the knowledge you are simulating instead of really experiencing. You know it’s not true but your mind is able to trick itself. It needs some help though. It’s about meeting or breaking the player’s expectations of what is possible. But a players expectation of how a game environment functions is based on the system of how real life environments function. Anything that breaks with the perception of a functioning game world is a reminder that everything is just fake. Dealbreakers.  like the absurd disability to climb a seemingly easily climbable obstacle. Every time Wei can’t somehow climb onto something. you are reminder about how fake this all is.

That won’t happen as much in DX. You can jump on pretty much any platform you see. Which is is quite something for Jensen has a mighty high jump. You can also break into people’s houses. empty their vault and plant their fridges on their beds. Quite the mayhem.  You will never be able to see them come home and freak out though. The ability to move inside buildings gives the player a premise upon seeing a building from the outside. The premise that you might be able to go in. That you are able to get inside the larger geometry at display.

The people on the street also react to you with both games. Nobody likes you carrying a gun, people cower when you assault someone publicly and strangely utter sentences that are non-replyable. The cower in fear part is an important one. Though both games are not specifically meant for you to cause mayhem among citizens, the do account for it. Because many players enjoy doing it and more important: A world with citizens not responding would break your suspension of disbelief.

Real World Likeness.
How much it is like the real thing is not as important as how much it feels like the real thing. Both games are made for a western audience and there’s some tricks to abuse when you want that “authentic” Asian atmosphere. The opening hours of SD display every China cliché you can think of: Busy Night Markets, Red Lanterns, Herbal Thea, Kung-Fu school and  this and that instrument.

Cheap. But you do feel like you’re in Asia. And guess what. You will encounter these in real world Hong-Kong, and not just just in the tourist area. SD’s Hong Kong does look like Real World’s Hong Kong. But there’s more than just the cliche tricks to make that work.

Like the great GTA 4. Immense research has gone into capturing the landmarks, atmosphere and general architecture of  a real city. When playing, you can sense that you are moving around in an actually functional city. Just take a moment and sum up what it would take for a city to function properly.  In SD it’s all there. Everything is accounted for. From city halls, to schools to drainage systems. It’s pretty much based on the real city. They made the floorplan first (aka take a map of Hong Kong and chop bits off)  and then worried about how to put a game in that. Like advocated here.

The exact opposite is DXHR. First came the abilities and the mechanics. Then they built a world to cater for that. Add to that the fact they had to cleverly camouflage a limited size and you have the makings of a super well designed world. But does it look like the real world Hengsha? You be the judge. Here is a picture of a typical Hengsha landscape.

The real Hengsha is about 55.74 km2 more of the stuff above. It’s a small rural island of Shanghai. Did I mention that DXHR is set in the year 2027? Here, Hengsh is a densely packed city with a city on top of it. There is an off chance the year 2027 will be exactly like in the game but i would not bet on it.

It’s forgivable they sacrificed some “realism” for the sake of making it so much fun to play in. SD does it for driving. DX does it for walking and questing.  DX’s Hengsha is not based on the real thing. It’s mashed up of bits and pieces taken from photographs, visits and concept art of other cities. But is does feel like an asian city! For one it has all the cliches and most important is that they remembered what makes Asian city architecture remarkable: that behind every corner is another corner. Fun fact: Making – offs reveal that DX’s Hengsha is based a great deal on Hong-Kong (And Blade Runner, which also takes notes from that city)

SD is pretty much a virtual Hong Kong with bits chopped off. DX is not like Hengsha at all but does have all the sights that are typically Asian. Both went for a balance between authenticity and fun. With a focus on the latter. It does not have to be like it is in the real world if the alternative is more fun. But one way to make a gameworld feel more credible is to incorperate patterns players can recognize from their experiences with real world cities. There is a certain logic in the placement of things in most big cities. DX does not have that logic but compensates in other ways.

Ambient Sound.
We gamers have only sight and sounds to take in the experience of our gaming worlds. That makes both pretty important. Which one makes you feel more like you are actually there? SD is in many ways similar to GTA4. Also in the fact that when you drive, You hear the music of the car radio. That music stops when you get out. But DX has music almost as part of it’s city’s soundscape. It smoothly fades in and out and makes subtle use of oriental instruments. It lingers, is pretty exotic and does a great job in making you familiar with the place upon multiple sessions. (you will visit the city twice in the game and the second time it’s like meeting an old friend).But the ambient sound of SD is very good. As a test: play the game with your eyes closed. You can just completely imagine what is happening and where you are. there all kinds of sounds, close and far. And it varies from place to place.  Add to this the fact that SD’s world has realistic colours and DX drenches everything in the golden hue that marks the whole game. It appears that DX wants to bring you atmosphere and SD wants to bring you location.

Navigation Benchmark.
Suppose you passed out and you wake up in the middle of a level. Just by looking around could you recognize where exactly you are? You would if there was something to see that is particular for that place. Could be a certain unique configuration of walls or a placement of chairs. But it could also be a tall recognizable building. These are benchmarks and most open world make good use of these. Like how McDonalds thought it would be cool to put a huge M on a tall pole. Kids in cars can spot those things from a distance and it makes them crazy. It gives them direction as to where to go. Medieval cities have it too. Often a huge tower. On the other side there is the inside of an Ikea store. Which has 0 benchmarks. They want people to get lost so they stay longer.

Hengsha is like that. It has some recognizable buildings but you wont be able to see them until you’re right in front of those. It’s very hard to navigate through. But then again it’s Asia. Some people don’t like the way it’s designed but i find that more people do. I scanned some forums for player’s reception of it’s design and most of it goes like this. be sure to check the replies.  It’s nice to get lost there in the Hengsha they made,

SD is not like that. You won’t be lost. Some buildings are re-used throughout the map but on a larger scale there is a variance in surrounding depending on where you are. There’s the industrial Area, The upper class area, The deep down and dirty streets and crazy-busy nightlife streets. You can seperate these from each other. Then of course there’s the larger copies of Hong-Kong landmarks. Most alleyways are too much alike but the places that matter, the numberous garages for example. Are so different from each other that  you’ll always be able to tell where you are. And then there’s the smart thing where they place relevant places next to other relevant places. If you see one of them you’ll be able to connect the dots and go “if that’s the garage then i must be close to the clothing store”. mission accomplished.

Conclusion.
On the surface these games’ worlds are much alike but they differ in many aspects.  A big factor  in this is the leaner, more flexible first person perspective which allows navigation in smaller spaces. Then there’s the presence of vehicles which warp the needed space between buildings and overall size. They try to achieve different things. They cater for different mechanics and are effective in doing so. The only thing that is genuinely evil is the fact that some walls cannot be climbed in SD. And there’s no telling why some walls are more climbable than others.

In open worlds this is the grandest of sins.

 

 

 

 

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Meaningful choice for talking about games

We used to talk a lot about the games we played when i was still in school. We shared how we experienced the games. Kinda like reviewing but not criticizing.  It was fun. The games we most talked about in the past four years were probably Mass Effect and Fallout.  Games that were way less discussed were Burnout, Call of Duty and Uncharted. We all played and liked all of them. So why are some games more talked about than others?

 

I suspect that this holds relation to the amount and weight of the decisions players can make in the game, and how much these can diversify the experience. Mass Effect offers choices to follow mulitiple lines of play resulting in different endings. giving different cut-scenes and powers.

This is not as true for a shooter like Call of Duty where you follow a linear path. Race games are the same for this matter. This way, each player’s experience is more likely to be similar whereas those of Mass Effect is widely divergent.This causes conversations about Mass Effect to be an exchange of experiences where with Call of Duty there is not much to exchange since every participant would have the same information.

I’d like to separate single players from multi-player here. Exchanging tactics can be a huge source for conversing! But there is more going on here. Games that were most talked about also allow players to express themselves through actions. “Did you torch the innocent villagers in level 3?” “no, i kept them alive and saved all their children from the monsters”. This is a meaningful choice. An opportunity for players to be either the good guy or the bad guy, Or the neutral lone ranger, Or the badass that sometimes kills just for fun.

 

I think Skyrim puts it on another level by tying all kinds of political issues to its game choices. This as well gives gamers something to talk about.

To finish the game you have to side with either the imperials or the Stormcloak rebels. Do you support the independence and uniqueness of a beautiful country and accept the by coming racist supremacist (but also feminist) ethics of the stormcloaks? Or will you team up with the Imperials, Strengthen humanity’s defense against the douchebag Elves’ upcoming invasion, and turn Skyrim into just another imperial state, giving globalisation a free way?

If you made choices in Skyrim and talk about it with others, you are one step away from a political debate.

The act of talking about a game you play part of a number of activities called “metagaming”, a concept coined by dr Richard Garfield. The creator of Magic the Gathering, which was designed to cater for metagaming as much as possible. He explains its workings and benefits here.

As a bit of a conclusion; one way to get people talking about after playing your game is to give them choices for diverse experiences as well as opportunities for self-expression through action.

Grundysoft is currently working on two games. None of these display political questions but both of them should be well worth talking about!

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Games as holidays

Are you nostalgic? Do you like to bring up fond memories of games you played? Worlds you have visited? like they were that one awesome summer holiday trips “oh remember back when..” or “ooh i miss that time”

I do.
On rainy days, or when i’m in a train looking out the window. In my head i like to revisit some of the places i have been. campsites, amusement parks, festivals, raptures, capital wastelands, liberty cities.
Here’s my top 3:

GTA Vice City: I remember the palm trees, the nice weather and the gorgeous sunsets. But most of all i remember the endless cruising on a stolen motorbike wearing just some kaki pants,flip flops and a hawaii shirt: Total freedom.

Fallout 3: Probably so etched because i played it so much. All the small communities, The landmarks, The endless interconnecting subway system and always something to explore on your horizon. When you think about it a barren wasteland is actually not a place you want to be at all. Not for real.

Shadow of the Colossus: Get this, an wide open space with a minumum of buildings, no lush wildlife, no one to talk to. zero enemies (bar the Colossi) and nothing to destroy! And yet one of the most interesting worlds to explore and arguably the most beautiful.

These games have one thing in common, set in open 3D environment. I have played Full Throttle, Okami, The Sims, Plants vs Zombies, Braid etc and had much fun doing so but i don’t remember them as much as i do with the games above. That because i dont remember them as if i were there. And in gaming there is such a thing as being there. Open 3d worlds take up a space in your memories different from all the other games.

Some years ago i went on a trip to New York but before that i accidentally played GTA 4. And when i was in that city, i actually roughly knew my way around and it felt like i came back instead of being there for the first time. It all felt so familiar.

I like to think of this when i make my games. How people feel during play is one thing but how will they remember it? I tried to build a place like that once. I graduated in environment design by making a game of a deserted island where there was almost nothing to do except walking around. It was called Wandergates.

Although there were a lot of flaws and the game is never released. (you can see it if you ask for it) the exploration and world visiting bug is nested deep deep deep inside my head. I want to make a game that people will remember as a place they’ve been some day.

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