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Archive for the ‘Rant’ 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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A Half Dozen Zombie Games

Following on the heels of my last post here are six games that feature zombies as enemies (and maybe one with a zombie main character).

Resident Evil Franchise

There are zombies everywhere in these games (in all shapes and sizes too). Zombie dogs, zombies with chainsaws, black zombies; it has everything. I never really got into these games until Resident Evil 4 when your character stopped moving like a tank. Also, here is an excellent comparison between Kingdom Hearts 2 and Resident Evil 4 that everyone needs to made aware of.

Dead Rising

Lots of zombies in this one too, plus a shopping mall full of things to kill them with. I’ve gotten to play around with this game a bit but never actually played it all the way through. It was fun to squirt zombies with squirt guns until they ate me. There is suppose to be a sequel coming out soon that I will have to check out.

Zombies Ate My Neighbors

Speaking of shooting zombies with squirt guns this is a game all about that. Well, that and saving your neighbors. Sadly, I have not played this game (I’m sure there is a ROM of it out there somewhere) but I’ve been assured by a good friend of mine that it is most definitely worth checking out.

Plants Vs. Zombies

The name pretty much says it all. There are zombies and there are plants. You can guess which one wants to eat you.

Stubbs the Zombie: Rebel Without a Pulse

It’s nice every once in a while to experience the story from the other side and Stubbs the Zombie is your chance to do so. Shamble around the town of Punchbowel devouring brains and adding to your zombies ranks.A nice change of pace when you’re tired of taking off a zombie’s head with a shotgun.

Bonus! Zombie Hooker Nightmare

Play it. Now.

-Edit-

Wow, and I totally forgot Left 4 Dead. I fail at this apparently…

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Earlier this week I lost my valuable Internet connection to what I can only guess was a borked router. I spent three days huddled alone in the darkness at home with only the light of my iPhone to provide me with access to my email. Why is this so bad? Well, aside from not being able to post for three days I was also unable to play a number of the games I have been recently because they are all on Steam.

Now don’t get me wrong, I love Steam. The platform has taken more money from me since I started using it again back in December than I have spent in the past few years on video games. I sometimes shudder when I look at my list of 50+ games and think about how I’m ever going to get through them all. Regardless, the past few days I couldn’t even touch them because of my lack of Internet connection. This is where I see the problem of cloud computing coming to bite the gamer in the ass.

The biggest hurdle I see with getting cloud computing working long term is creating a stable system for Internet delivery. I’d like to think that our network is stable and could handle something like cloud computing, but if this past week has been any indication to me it shows me how easily the system can be broken.  Cloud computing just adds more parts the equation (modems, routers, ISPs, stream size, signal strength) on top of all the computer pieces that need to be in order before you can play your games.

I’m not going to stop using Steam (I’ve sunk to much money into it to back out now anyway), but I will definitely keep my consoles around for the days when my connection to the cloud keeps me from playing my games.

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I’m happy to announce that after being released a month, the iPad game my company 5 Minute Games produced has sold 200+ copies world wide! This is a small number compared to some of the big boys, but for us its a small victory and a (hopeful) indicator of more to come. This news comes just a week after I discovered that a website was illegally distributing Famished Farm Animal Frenzy (itunes link) for free. My company contacted the site (which had distributed the game 70+ times) and they kindly took the game down.

The illegal copying of electronic games has been a problem long before the Internet got started, but the ability for people to exchange information at such a rapid and easy rate has only exacerbated the situation. Please note, I did not say steal or pirate because I think the act of “pirating” electronic products has been portrayed in a negative light by the software and entertainment industries to try and prevent society from engaging in these acts. This is could really be another post all its own, so I’ll be short and say that I personally believe while illegally copying games is bad companies are going about it wrong by creating elaborate DRM systems or trying to find ways to fight against those who want to copy their software instead of using them to their advantage.

Case in point, the site that facilitated the illegal copying of Famished Farm Animal Frenzy had a running counter which indicated that our game had been downloaded roughly one third of our sales. Had our sales been ten times what they are 70+ downloads would have been a drop in the bucket and we might have turned a blind eye, like most big companies do, or possibly not even found the site hidden amongst the glowing reviews of how awesome our game is (really, you should play it). The reality is, however, illegal downloading of games hurts small indie companies like us the most. Copying a game like Famished Farm Animal Frenzy, unlike stealing, does not deprive everyone else from every obtaining their own copy of the game, but it does prevent me and my company from seeing some money from the lose of a potential sale.

Now in all fairness, not everyone who copies games has the intent of screwing developers out of money. In fact, Cliff Harris received a lot of attention, including mine, when he posted on his blog about a certain incident where he asked those who were copying his game why they were doing so. The answers surprised him and much of the game development community. You can read the post for yourself, but the gist of it is that many gamers HATED Digital Right Management (DRM) or were becoming disillusioned with the quality of games coming out at the time (and many still are).

Another reason people pirate games is because they are easier to obtain that way. The iPhone and iPad in particular are having this problem because there are plenty of people who own them in countries who either don’t have their own apps store (a complaint I will save for yet another post) or they want access to the apps available to the American market which they can’t otherwise get. China was a big sink hole for developers for nearly a year before the okay was given to allow sales of iPhones in China back in 2009 because anyone in China who had an iPhone was using it illegally to begin with.

It’s fairly safe to say that we can’t stop people from illegally downloading our games. No matter how much we try locking the system down, someone will find a way around it and put all the effort to waste (jail breaking iPhones being a case in point). In my mind, the logical thing to do is to figure out a way to make those who “pirate” your game into a benefit rather than a problem.  It’s something I’ve been thinking about for a while and I honestly have no idea how to do it. the video game industry is so focused on creating and selling a product that it will take a major shift in philosophy to make pirates work in the developer’s favor. Some of the companies that are moving towards making their games into more of a service might be shedding some light on a solution, but I find that most of their games are not as entertaining as the traditional games. More to the point, not everyone has the resources or the ability to create them.

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

The first sin I would like to look at is something that has always irked me as a mobile developer: the on-screen game controls. I’m talking about the archaic controls pads we are using to interact with our new technology. It boggles me why we are making games for touchscreen devices that use part of the screen for a control indicator that usually doesn’t even give the player feed back.

I know what some people are probably thinking, and I agree with you, the control pad is a good way to control a game, but not for a touch pad game. The reason: thumbs. Considering something like the iPhone (which has one of the larger touch screens) is roughly 3 inches by 2 inches this means my thumbs are blocking a third of the screen (bottom left and bottom right sixth) to accommodate the controls. By the time you add in all the user interface pieces that usually come with a game that needs a control pad you are lucky if you have a third of the screen left to actually play on.

More than anything it feels like developers are trying to force certain types of games where they don’t belong. In my mind, mobile gaming should not be something that you sit down for a few hours to play. It should be quick burst of ten to fifteen minutes max with a focus on casual play. Things like hack and slashes, role playing games and first person shooters just don’t feel right on a phone.

So designers, please. Do us all a favor and stop committing this sin. Use the touch screen as an opportunity to explore new ways to interact with games instead of sticking with what’s safe. Who knows, we just might learn something.

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