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Archive for the ‘Opinion’ Category

If you asked me at the start of the summer if I was an ngmoco fan boy I probably would have told you yes. Their level of polish and craftsmanship towards their games fascinated me and getting to meet their president Neil Young at the past GDC was a real treat.

At the start of the summer they had just released WeRule and had announced God Finger would be arriving in a few weeks and I couldn’t have been more excited.

But as the summer comes to and end I find myself respecting them less and less as a company. Why? Well with the release of WeFarm a few weeks ago it has become apparent to me that ngmoco is no longer interested in making fun, compelling, high quality games like they use to. Instead they are content with pumping out re-skins of systems that create traffic to their Plus+ network.

From a business standpoint you have to applaud them. They are making boat loads of money but I miss the early days when they made boat loads of money because they made awesome games.

If anything, this experience has made me more determined to not let money get in the way of me making video games. I wouldn’t mind being successful, but I’d hate to “sell out” and start pumping out clones so I could roll around in piles of money.

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As the title indicates below is a list of 5 games you should be playing instead of reading this post since you obviously have some free time on your hands. All of them are free and take no more than 5-10 minutes for one play through. Now go play.

Covetous

By: Austin Breed

Length: Approx. 5 Minutes

Why: CREEPY!

pOnd

By: Peanut Gallery Games

Length: Approx. 5 Minutes

Why: It’s a unique experience that all game designers should play

Desktop Dungeon

By: QFC Design

Length: Approx. 10 Minutes

Why: Such a simple game with so much depth. You can’t play just one!

Not Tetris

By: Maurice

Length: Approx. 5 Minutes

Why: So you can hate the Z block even more

ImmorTall

By: Pixelante Game Studios

Length: Approx. 5 Minutes

Why: An art game if I’ve ever seen one

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So I think I’ve finally come to the conclusion that I’m mindie. No, this doesn’t mean I’ve decided to start dressing in drag or that I’m a girl trapped in a mans body or anything like that. I’m referring to being somewhere in between mainstream and indie (mindie).

The made up title comes from an article written by Alister Doulin that sums up some of the things I’ve been thinking about lately concerning the differences between mainstream and indie development. Doulin breaks down what being mindie is by addressing how mainstream and indie view profits, competition, publishers/investors, project size and art and then presents the middle ground where mindie fall in between.

Having been developing games for nearly two years now and co-running a studio for a little more than half a year I think the mindie label fits our philosophy on both business and game design well. Since we work the company as a hobby project and are lucky enough to have received our capital from an angel investor we don’t have to worry about creating a successful game (although that isn’t stopping us from trying). Our current market focus, iPhone and iPad, are markets that move fairly fast so there isn’t time to worry about competition. We simply look at what others are doing and try to incorporate what is successful into our own game designs. We keep costs low by working in our free time and spending money only when we need to and we make games that we hope are more than just “fun” but also appeal to a large audience of people.

I think we are very mindie minded.

What I find more interesting than this article, however, are the critics of the article. Many of their comments bring up good points, even Doulin admits he stereotypes mainstream (and even indie!) a bit, but I feel like they’re ultimately misguided on what the article is saying. Many of the comments bring up how continuing the mainstream versus indie discussion isn’t helping the industry (which I think they are wrong about). Even Johnathan Blow chimed in (rather pretentiously I feel) on the Gamasutra posting of the article to comment on how he believes talking and thinking about “petty things” such as this wastes a designers energy that should be spent making their games.

I want to come to Doulin’s defense on this because I feel that this article is very helpful for someone like me who felt a bit lost in where exactly they fit in this industry. Yes, I will agree that it probably doesn’t matter much to the industry what I label myself as, be it mainstream or indie or anything in between. I also agree that arguing about who is what and what it means to be this, that or the other isn’t going to get us anywhere. I do think that a conversation like this is important for those looking in from the outside who want to understand the differences between design and business philosophies. Talking about things like this also helps designers like me put things into perspective and realize there are others out there who share the same thoughts and feelings. That may expose some of my own insecurities about my position in the industry at the moment, and I’ll admit I have them, but I’m sure I’m not the only one who feels a bit more comfortable knowing there are others out there who share the same ideas and principles.

I also don’t think Doulin’s article meant to paint the industry as black and white and gray. I see it more as a gradient where the extremes of mainstream (all money) and indie (all art) sit on the ends. There’s plenty of room in between to organize this company and that studio into the spectrum. Doulin uses extremes on both ends (although he is a little kinder to indies) to illustrate his point so don’t expect them to work with everything (although some recent rumblings over comments made by Mark Rein of Epic might help prove Doulin’s point).

As for Jonathan Blow’s comment, I think that anyone who spends 100% of their time making nothing but games is going to miss out on a lot of great opportunities. The quote from Jordan Mechner that I like to use as my mantra speaks to this point in a sense. If someone wants to devote themselves solely to their craft and ignore the discussions going on around them they are going to miss out on chances to  impact the community in meaningful ways. If Blow wants to focus on letting his products do his talking that’s great, but he’s only going to get so far before his product fails to make the impact that his participation might have created.

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Update: Apparently, pOnd stirred up enough traffic that it brought down the Peanut Gallery website. For the time being you can now play pOnd here.

Warning: Spoilers appear below the break. If you want to fully experience pOnd play the game before reading below the break.

IndieGames.com lead me to an intriguing game yesterday called pOnd. It’s a simple, one-button browser based game made by The Peanut Gallery in which you use the space bar to control a characters breathing as he walks through the woods towards a pond. The creators proclaim the game to be a very zen like experience and even suggest players breath in time with the game.

Over all, its a wonderful experience. The graphics are superb and the music and sound really pull you into the experience of walking though a forest in the early morning. Actions in the world are triggered by the passing of the player and their breathing  which sends wildlife scampering and prompts beams of light to cascade between tree branches.

By the time I reached the pond I was totally immersed in the experience and like the character stopped to admire the scenery taking in the pulsing spheres that prompt the player to breath in and out.

-Spoilers Ahead!-

(more…)

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I’m excited.

There is a new app coming out for the iPhone called Epic Win which looks awesome. It’s a ToDo list with a twist, one that has you completing task like an RPG and leveling up a character, finding loot and generally being awesome. It’s being created by Rexbox (one of the artists who worked on Little Big Planet) and Studio FungFung (who made MiniSquadron for the iPhone). It looks spectacular and a lot of fun!

I have tried a number of ToDo applications and computer programs. None of them are really my thing. My problem with them is I never feel like there is any incentive to actually use them. I start off with good intentions and slowly stop using it because I don’t have a reason to come back to it. I’m hoping Epic Win will change that by making my activities more than things I cross off a list.

Things like this have been done before in the app store, but there’s something about wrapping it up in a fantasy world illustrated by Rexbox that appeals to me. I’m also really interested in the loot they talk about (who doesn’t want a Helm of Questionable Appeal?) and seeing how they are going to pull off the app in general.

One question many people have been asking about the app is what is going to keep people from cheating? The answer is simple: nothing really, but that’s not the point of the app. While there are game elements wrapped into it, the app is suppose to encourage users to actually use there ToDo list and feel a sort of exhilaration from completing tasks. It a great example of Alternate Reality Gaming at its finest and I hope it comes out soon.

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We all commit design sins while making games. Whether it’s because of producers, time constraints or just plain ignorance, things get put in or removed that should not be. It’s time to take a look at our transgressions so we may cleanse ourselves and become better.

Earlier this week, I wrote about my concern with transferring Fuse to the digital space because it might possibly neuter the social aspects of the game. As an artist and a game designer, I feel that games (especially games with multiple players) are often much more than systems players are interacting with. There is something very special about gathering in a place, real or digital, and interacting with other humans.

As an iPhone developer I’ve seen and heard a number of ideas from colleagues for ports of games onto the device that  shouldn’t be. This often comes from a lack of understanding about how the device cannot support the social aspects that make the game they want to port a well designed game.

I encountered this about a week or so ago when I was approached by a fellow student who want some information about iPhone development. The game he wants to make is an iPhone version of Egyptian Ratscrew (ERS) which is a card game with an interesting system of mechanics. It also has a large amount of social interaction encouraged by the “slapping” mechanic. Regardless of the coding challenges involved in porting ERS to the iPhone, what concerns me most about the idea is how the social aspects of the game will suffer. Even if a player can network to play live with other players the feeling just isn’t the same. The excitement of slapping the pile and taking someone’s jack or misjudging and slapping the pile at the wrong time causing the player to draw cards isn’t the same. There’s no smack talk or interesting alliances/betrayals to be had.

It’s all cold, sterile game mechanics and where’s the fun in that?

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Amidst the dying buzz of E3, which ended almost two weeks ago, La Time reporter Mark Millian made an interesting observation about one of the largest video game conventions in North America; mobile games were almost nowhere to be seen. There were certainly devices, patrons and reporters alike were spotted by the blogger carrying about their smart phones and Apple’s new iPad, but save for Disney and EA there were no booths setup for mobile gaming.

Even though smartphones are quickly becoming the highest penetrated gaming platform, their absence from E3 doesn’t surprise me in the least. As the article states, mobile gaming is really “unsexy.”

So it doesn’t surprise me that companies opted out of the “flat screens, loud sounds and big flashy graphics.” Casual games don’t belong there. I think this is why many are stating Nintendo was top dog at the convention. Compared to their showing last year Nintendo announced the return of many of the old favorite franchises (and there was much rejoicing). Microsoft on the other hand, showcased their motion controls (to the dismay of many) which cost them a lot of face among the hardcore crowd that frequents E3.

If there is a mobile developer out there kicking themselves for missing their chance to show up to E3 with their impressive new game they are doing it wrong. Mobile gaming needs new media, not old. Let the big guys flex their muscles and macho around in front of everyone. Mobile will be out back actually having some fun.

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