An outsiders plan on getting into the industry

Depending on how you use it Twitter can be a fantastic tool. Some people use it to talk with friends, others use it for business. I use it to find and communicate with people who share the same interests. Those people might be real life friends, people I've met in multiplayer games, or developers and journalists I found via the service. Over the last three years I've learned a few things about people, specifically those I want to work with or for. I'm going to drop some knowledge so pay attention.

The first thing you need to do, assuming you want to make it in the games industry or become a games journalist, is to figure out who you like. Go through the credits of games you adore. If you liked the art style, find the artists. Find out who wrote some of your favorite reviews or editorials. Once you've got a list of people who's work you enjoy put their name and twitter (name twitter) into a Google search. Start following them.

The second thing you need to do is interact with them. I know people that won't say anything to the those who's work they admire. You can't be afraid to talk to them. Most developers or journalists are more than willing to speak to you, so long as you act normal. If you're interested in AI programming, follow an AI programmer and get his or her opinion on best practices. If you follow Ken Levine, don't ask him every day to give Bioshock Infinite secrets. You'll get blocked or ridiculed and nobody wants that.

If you're a writer you need to share your work on Twitter. I've asked some of my favorite journalists for advice on something I'm writing and they've given it to me. The same goes for anyone getting into development. Share what you are working on, if nothing else Twitter acts as a great mouthpiece. Give and get feedback, share your work. Those two things are important.

The goal is to build a report with those who are already in the industry. Because getting to know people on the inside is never a bad thing. For example, I've spent the last 2 weeks discussing an indie developers game with him. I'll throw out an idea and we talk about it. It's nothing official, but in the future they may ask you to help in a more official capacity. Someone might tell you that the chances are slim, but there won't be a chance unless you put yourself out there. Make your opinion known and contribute. Be it Twitter, Facebook, Google+, developer forums, whatever. To only write or develop mods and put them on your blog isn't enough. You have to get your work out there and Twitter is fast and easy.

There seems to be a common theme among developers and journalists, and that is you have to know someone. The more people you know, the better your chances. Or so it seems. If you reach out to someone and they don't immediately respond do not get discouraged. If they're a developer they could be in crunch trying to ship a game. If it's a journalist they might still be sleeping, you never know. There isn't much else to share. Get out there and mingle. Share your work and have a voice.

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Dear Esther

Dear Esther is an experience. There's no semblance of a game to be found. I do not “play” the experience and I cannot affect the space around me. I am, quite literally, along for the ride. There are no enemies, switches, levers, doors to open, or crates to smash. I am a lens into a ghost world. The island is riddles, metaphors, euphemisms and an experience I won't soon forget.

But how to define the experience. It is Myst without puzzles, Amnesia without foes. It is a walk down memory lane with nothing to impede my progress. It isn't of the horror or survival genre as gamers know them. In all three of my treks Dear Esther evoked despair, loneliness, angst and a host of other feelings I associate with the horrors of reality. Standing at the edge of a seemingly bottomless chasm terrifies me. But because Dear Esther knows I want answers it entices me to stand at the edge of that chasm, hoping to find what I'm looking for. It's not unlike a friend nudging me closer to that cliff edge in hopes of curing my fear of heights. I may think the friend is trying to kill me, but it's really their way of helping.

Imagine you draw a line and mark one end as “film” and the other as “game”, you would find the peg that is Dear Esther listing heavily towards the former. When I hear of film directors dabbling in game development, this is how I imagine the end product. Jennifer Hepler, a writer for Bioware, posited that some gamers may want to skip combat all together and get to the story. At first I was skeptical, but after experiencing Dear Esther I'm warming to the idea. If a game can provide an engaging story and dare me to resolve its riddles without the impedance of clumsy gameplay, I'll board that wagon. The thought of a game getting out of my way so that I may enjoy what it has to offer is enticing. Let me explore and experience things at my leisure, do not impede my progress with your misguided attempts at challenging me. If you have a story to tell, get out of the way and let the world tell it.

I would like to blame my lack of enthusiasm for shooters and rpg's on old age, but I'm only 25, maybe 26. I enjoy a good shooter now and then, but less each year it would seem. Games like Dear Esther work my brain in ways other games do not. That isn't to say Call of Duty and Skyrim aren't good, only that I've grown tired of the ways in which they tell their stories. I turn my brain off when I play them, but in order to make sense of Dear Esther I have to think. At this point in my life a thinking game is more appealing than a shooting game. The only thing keeping me from progressing is me, not clumsy or frustrating gameplay.

Dear Esther is a short experience typically lasting about two hours. But in those two hours it evokes more emotions and I've done more work than in any other game. I put more effort into finding and decoding paintings and messages than when I'm forced to shoot people for 6 hours. It requires me to find and read excerpts from the Bible, to research history, and to learn about chemical compounds and electrical engineering. Even after doing the research I'm still not sure what it all means. And upon finishing it dares me to come back for more. Each time through more secrets are revealed so that I may work to unravel its mysteries.

To a degree it is more than a game, more than an experience. There are those rare moments when something transcends what it set out to be. For some it will be a fun distraction, for others it can be a place to be introspective. I've often dreamed of retiring and moving to hedgerow country, far away from civilization. Thus far, Dear Esther has proven to be a nice placeholder. As I venture, I learn as much about myself as I do the island. I could spend eternity wandering its serene landscapes. In much the same way a book or film can influence someones life, Dear Esther is more to me than a mod for an old game.

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Things that are awesome: Round 1

This is a weekly writeup of things I find funny, informative, enlightening or just awesome. I don't have a definition for awesome. It's purely subjective. Maybe a trend will develop and I can then determine what I find awesome.

I'm going to lead off with a quote by Gabe Newell of Valve Software. This is taken from the interview Ben Kuchera conducted, and is linked below.

Discussing DRM:

"You know, it's a really bad idea to start off on the assumption that your customers are on the other side of some sort of battle with you. I really don't think that is either accurate or a really good business strategy." - Gabe Newell

Games:

Plink

This isn't a game. It's more of a music simulator. If you're lucky there will be other people to play with. Pick your color on the left to make different tones. I think this only works in the Chrome browser, but I'm not sure.

The Dark Room - Thanks to Alex for the link.

It’s a YouTube adventure game. I just started playing it moments ago and I love it. It’s frustrating, but I love it.

Good reads:

A great editorial by Griffin McElroy of VOX Games on Johann Sebastion Joust, a PS3(maybe?) game that utilizes the wands. The game exists because its creator decided that moving in slow-motion is awesome. From what I can gather it seems as though he's right. I really want to play this game.

Vox Games: Johann Sebastion Joust

I like Steve. He's worked on games that I enjoy and he's intelligent. Give his blog post a read. Once finished I'm sure you'll agree with both of us.

Steve Gaynor talks about being respectful

If you've ever played a Twisted Metal or God of War game and enjoyed yourself, you have this man to thank. He's outspoken and not afraid to tell people what he thinks. I appreciate that from a developer. If you ask him a direct question, he's going to give you a direct answer; and it will include no fewer than 2 swear words. I appreciate that too.

David Jaffe isn't afraid of the media, or new challenges

They are responsible for some of gaming's most memorable moments, and one of the, if not the most successful digital distribution platforms available. Penny Arcade was lucky enough to take a tour and snap some fantastic photos of their beautiful office space.

Take a tour of Valve Software

After finishing this article there's no doubt you'll understand why Valve is as successful as it is. Gabe understands what it means to innovate and he's willing to do what it takes to not be left behind. This is a great read.

Penny Arcade's Ben Kuchera and Valve Software's Gabe Newell have a chat

This guy has an amazing story. He's always had a passion for gaming and let nothing stand in his way, not even a successful career as a lawyer. He started what could be considered the first iteration of “The Amazing Race” and has starred in several films, most recently “The Artist”. He's an interesting man. Take the time to read this.

The first professional gamer: Bob Glouberman

Images:

I'm only perpetuating the meme, but I have to share it because I found it so adorable.

Link

Because it's Portal 2 related, and I love Portal 2

Link: Deviant Art

I feel bad for him, sitting there alone after a hard days work.

Link: Spiderman

Videos:

Everything is a remix: Part 4

Just watch it

A violin player and her shadow

Link

The Gravy Rainbow always cheers me up. These guys actually have some good music, and really strange videos.

Link

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Oh Bioware, what are you doing?

I was originally going to write an open letter to Bioware, but I'm a nobody and they would never have seen it. Instead, I'm going to write a piece about why putting the likeness of Jessica Chobot in Mass Effect 3 is a terrible idea. I know they can't change it now, and I don't expect them to. But, man, what the fudge pop.

Okay, if you haven't seen it Bioware released a new video starring the real world cast behind the in-game characters. The usuals are there, Trisha Helfer, Seth Green, Kieth David, etc. There's one addition, so far, that seems out of place. That person is Jessica Chobot, and her in-game character looks atrocious. The resemblance is close enough to immediately recognize her, but it's so bad that she looks out of place among the rest of the cast. Her face seems saggy, I have a picture.

There are two reasons this is a bad idea.

1: While Joker, Seth Greens in-game character, shares a resemblance, he fits in with the rest of the universe. It isn't a close enough likeness that I'm taken out of the experience. While Jessica doesn't really have a saggy face, her character is immediately recognizable and I'm afraid is going to pull me down from the immersion high I'll be on moments before she enters the room. At least with Joker there's enough of a difference to where I have to stop and think about who he is in real life. With Jessica's, not even a second passes and I know, and the high is gone.

2. Her model looks grossly out of place in the game. There's something about her face that in all honestly frightens me a little. Jessica is a good looking women in real life, in the game I get the sense that she's 30 years older and smoked for as many. Nothing looks right about it.

I wonder who thought it would be a good idea to put her into the game, and why. Were they doing her a solid? Was this done hoping certain outlets might rate the game higher because they see a friends likeness there-in? I mean, I hope no one would do that. If your argument is “Many game industry people are featured in games.” then I have to again ask, why? Especially one that is so well known. Mass Effect is all about immersion, the dialogue system, the way it moves from conversations to action, everything is done to enhance immersion. When the likeness of a familiar face is injected I'm immediately reminded that yes, I am playing a game. All of the work to make me forget that fact is undone.

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Focus, people

I sometimes wonder if anyone writing for game related websites stops to think about the shit they post before they post it. For example, some people seem to think that Sony or Microsoft may release a new console this year, or at least mention it. In reality, anyone who pays attention to what the two companies say would know the answer right away.

Sony and Microsoft have both said they want their current generation consoles to have longer life cycles. For Sony their PS2 lasted nearly ten years. The only reason they would release a new console now is if the PS3 stopped selling entirely, even then releasing a new console wouldn't alleviate that problem. They aren't selling PS3's because they haven't got the quality library that Microsoft does. Let's be honest, Sony has Little Big Planet, Uncharted and Resistance. That about covers it doesn't it? With the addition to Netflix and Hulu+ on what seems like most devices these days, how many people actually pay to have a blu-ray player? We're getting used to content on demand, physical media inhibits this.

Microsoft released the original Xbox and then a follow up in 5 years because the original platform had nowhere to go. It was clunky and the hardware was tapped out. They did the smart thing and released a new console that was easier to scale, makes sense. They will not be releasing a new console until the sales of the current generation drop off drastically. They wouldn't announce a new console this year because some people might hold off on getting a current gen system in anticipation for next generation hardware. How do people not get this? It does not benefit them to announce a new console this year, and maybe not until 2014.

As an aside, I do think the Xbox 360 could be transitioned into a more media centric role, mostly as a set-top box. When the next generation platform releases they would coincide and provide a nice entertainment platform for the home.

So why are websites making posts about non-announcements? It's extremely frustrating to see how lax game news outlets are with the content on their site. I have news for you guys, slapping an article “blurb” up about Microsoft and Sony not making an announcement isn't quality, it isn't even relevant as there's no useful information to be gleaned. Please stop, and thank you.

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How Portal changed the way I think about games

It goes without saying, but I'm going to anyway. Valve employs some of the best talent in the games industry. They have an incredible knack for timing, and the fiction they create draws me in like a moth to light. But why? What about the Portal universe has that effect on me?

During a recent discussion with friends I realized what it is that I find so appealing about the series. The games are the complete antithesis to anything I have ever played, and as such are a breath of fresh air that I, and the industry desperately needed.

Initially I had no interest in Portal. It was a puzzle game and if there's one thing I didn't play, it was puzzle games. Sitting down to play I was of the mindset that I would solve a few puzzles and be done with it. And then something happened that I hadn't anticipated. There was an entertaining robot lady to keep me company every step of the way. Where as most puzzle games watch you in silence from a distance, she was there incessantly mocking my attempts every step of the way.

And then I discovered a room behind one of the panels. It was at this point that I had what I like to call my “Gorbachev” moment. That large wall of tropes I'd associated with puzzle games, and to a greater extent the way in which characters and narrative work in games came crashing down. We've all had that moment in games, watching a film or reading a novel. It's the moment that, for me, was filled with confusion, an adrenaline rush and a general lack of cognitive abilities while my woefully inadequate brain tried processing what just happened.

It's as if my thoughts about antagonistic tendencies and game narration were a large plate glass window and Valve was the hammer. Up to that moment I hadn't played a game that challenged my beliefs like that. It was as close to a religious experience as I've ever had.

From the moment I discovered that room my opinion of GlaDOS changed entirely. I knew, as most people did, that her mention of “me being missed” meant there would be no party. She was no longer, in the context of the story, funny. And what a fantastic way to reveal her dastardly intentions. Imagine if you had passed the reveal and read nothing. I can't imagine the confusion when you're on that last platform.

That she is in constant contact with you throughout the game adds a whole new level of immersion. In that I mean you get to piece together the plot with each puzzle, instead of starting as a puzzle game and then facing death at the end. It wasn't as if you met her at the outset and then at the end, left to wonder what had happened. No, you are left to piece things together on your own. With exception to Bioshock's Andrew Ryan, I've yet to encounter a narration device that worked to the effect Portal's did.

If I'm being honest GlaDOS is my favorite antagonist, ever. Before Portal who knew I would enjoy fighting a monomaniacal robot with megalomaniac overtones. She's witty, sharp and often spouts comedy you might find in a Mensa meeting. She is infinitely smarter than you and communicates in a condescending tone. What's not to love about a robot who has an impeccable sense of comedic timing and uses it to play on your emotions?

The contrast between Wheatley and GlaDOS in Portal 2 was the perfect narrative device. Both characters story arc's were smart and immensely satisfying. When you replace GlaDOS with Wheatley and are leaving the facility on the elevator, and you hear Wheatley quickly go from bumbling dolt to test mode, your heart sinks. Well, my heart sank a little. This guy helped me defeat GlaDOS, and now instead of escaping he wants to test. And I know it won't go well because he fumbles his way through everything. I wasn't ready for the ensuing ride, but more than willing to buy the ticket.

I don't think Valve needed to include the section of the game where you venture through Aperture Science's past, but I'm glad they did. They could have easily thrown you back into testing with Wheatley. I understand why they did it, and I appreciate the extra effort. Getting to spend time with GlaDOS, even though she was there for comedic relief more than anything else, was a good time.

Valve seems to be one of the few companies that "get it". Their games have an inordinate level of detail, polish, and love that other games should aspire to. To play through Portal 1 & 2 is like no other experience I have ever had. I don't know if it's the simplistic aesthetic of the game or the overall quality, but their games always feel like a solid, complete experience. At no point do I feel like I have to fight the game (mechanics, visual style) to continue. In so many games the controls are clunky or the environments are littered with things to get caught on. With Valve I never seem to have those issues.

Here's hoping Half Life 3 and Portal 3 continue the tradition.

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It boggles the mind

"xplay: Tonight 6:30PM ET on Xplay: EA drops EXCLUSIVE gameplay of masseffect 3 armor in action from ReckoningGame."

What you see above is a tweet from xplay. I can't help but ask myself why in-game armor warrants an EXCLUSIVE look. Shit like this is what puts me off of most game related entertainment.

First of all, and let's make sure we're on the same page, this is in reference to in-game armor for Mass Effect 3. The game is going to be massive, and they are teasing this? Why not show something that is, you know, worthwhile? How about more information on the multiplayer, or a tease about where Shepard's story goes?

That isn't even the worst part about this. No, the worst part is knowing people are going to tune in to see the armor in action, indicating to EA and xplay that they were right to show it off. This is not acceptable, it is on the same level as offering exclusive in-game content to various retailers. It's trashy and kind of offensive. Do they think we as gamers are so starved for information that they can release shitty exclusives and we'll lap it up like good little dogs?

I'm sure someone is going to say "Just don't watch it if it isn't for you" or some such. But isn't that letting them win? Shouldn't we fight them on this and let them know that we won't accept their cruddy exclusives any longer? They're turning us on each other, things are getting out of control.

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Fun vs. not

In one of Jeff's recent Jar videos he mentioned that football games weren't as fun as they used to be. That in the 90's you had access to football games that didn't require an intimate knowledge of the sport to have fun. Games these days are so intricate in their systems that a player could easily become overwhelmed and discouraged from continuing. After listening to this I tried to apply it to my feelings on Battlefield 3.

I adored Bad Company 2. While I know the tone in the games single player campaign is meant to be different between the two, I enjoyed Bad Company 2's story and multiplayer more because it didn't take itself too seriously. Battlefield 3 tried to put me in a real world scenario in the Middle East and it failed. I see that shit on the news every day. I read about it all the time. What makes developers think I want to play through similar scenarios in my games? I think there's less room for creativity and originality when they commit to serious, real world issues and inherently the game is less fun because of it.

One other issue I took with Battlefield 3 is that they toned down the destruction to make it accurately represent real life. No longer can you take out a building with a few grenades. That, to me, was what made BC2 so much fun. The unrealistic physics and destruction are what provided me with countless Battlefield moments. Those moments that make you wish the game had a built in theater mode. With Battlefield 3 you get fewer of those moments and the game is less memorable.

Because of the serious tone and lack of meaningful destruction, it feels more like Call of Duty. In Modern Warfare you get to shoot people, that's it. There are no vehicles to drive, no destruction what-so-ever. I think the reason Call of Duty multiplayer works so well is because they're multiplayer is not unlike an RPG. It's less about killing people and more about collecting things, and people love collecting stuff. They have a nice mix of arcade and simulation, a solid grounding in reality but enough of an arcade feel to make it fun.

What I've come to realize is the closer a games subject matter is to real life, the less fun the game is for me. My life is serious enough, I play games to have fun.

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Stagnation

Unless I am misunderstanding the quote, it seems as though Mr. Antoniades is stating that keeping his people paid requires accepting any offer the publisher throws at him; including rehashes of older AAA titles.

I guess my question is why can't the studio develop a new, innovative idea and pitch that? I know publishers are less likely to pay for the development of a game if it isn't a well established franchise, but I think part of the problem, specifically with AAA titles, is that nobody is willing to take that leap and invest in a new, innovative approach to the standard way of doing things.

Isn't that the crux of the "indie games are where innovation comes from" argument? At some point shouldn't a studio or developer (ala Ryan Payton) give up and do their own thing in the indie scene? A scene where they're free to be as creative as possible and the cost of development is much lower.

Link to article: http://www.joystiq.com/2011/09/06/ninja-theory-head-wary-of-aaa-retail-model-despite-following-it/

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