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Through the lens of the Oculus:

A little backstory to how I even got in

I wasn't able to afford supporting Oculus, but I kept checking the kickstarter update page. When I heard they were coming to PAX I had to see it. I couldn't find it on the show floor and the enforcers had no idea either, so I headed for the bethesda/ID booth(Doom 3) to see if they had any idea. After a long misguided search, I found a small room on the second floor with a cubicle in the back labeled Oculus. One conversation and an email later and I was scheduled in for the last appointment on Sunday.

First impressions

It looks a little big, but not enough to chew your face off. Credit: PA Report
It looks a little big, but not enough to chew your face off. Credit: PA Report

Coming in at the end meant everyone was tired. The Oculus still doesn't look like the pictures show, and closer to a small black box attached to the viewing end of a spray painted 3D viewer(those things you would put film wheels in). It looked a little big, but I didn't even notice the weight while wearing it. They were showing 2 and a half minute demos of Doom 3 BFG with 3D turned on. Putting it on my eyes immediately looked at the edges of the glass, but after about 10 seconds I couldn't notice. Even cooler was that looking around worked perfectly, and though there was a permanent shotgun coming out of my face I realized after a few hours it'd feel pretty natural looking around a virtual world not to mention you notice a lot more when you're looking around with your head rather than with a stick. It does make you notice the scale of the game much more, and Doom looks kinda friggin weird when it's life sized. It's more a thing for developers to take notice of, but everything that you usually notice in the real world becomes much more prominent when it's out of place in the virtual one. Also it's pretty hard to get immersed without the sound working on par with the visuals. Although it's taken for granted, and that during the demo I had one side of the headphones they give you off for dev conversation, I kept getting pulled out of the world by outside noises and talking. Other things that will mess with you are waving your hand in front of your face and the Doom 3 Oculus control scheme. On a first run it's hard to get used to turning your head for Corners or really getting used to not using the right stick. Especially because you have to use the right stick a little(Again weird design scheme). I did find out that Hawken will let you look around the cockpit rather than aim the mech. Finally I should probably note that it doesn't look great. Some people have criticized the resolution and been criticized back. The game does look blurry. I think it's mainly the 3D(As anyone who's played a 3D game knows) making it blurry, but even Palmer commented on the resolution being higher in the actual kits(without comment, there's too much criticism on it to need one more). I don't really want to comment too much on the design, as this is really early on, but it WILL be wired(singularly) for expense reasons(they speculated on different models later on). And though this should be obvious you can't just dual stream video through some basic scripts to the headset. Finally I should say I couldn't last the full few minutes without feeling like I was a little ready to barf and had a headache for the rest of the day. Apparently I was in the minority but they are working on adding some positional tracking so that it's not just tracking your head movement but subtle sways of your body so that it doesn't feel like the world is moving with you rather than moving within the world.

Final views

It's pretty damn cool but when they said this was VERY bleeding edge they weren't lying. For me the issues made it hard to enjoy it, but I definitely see the potential and how cool it is. They've apparently talked with many various groups from military to medical, and even found a guy who designed a linux workspace in VR. I think my cynicism with all the issues makes me dislike the product more than it deserves, but it's a huge step in the right direction and what VR seemed intended to be.


PAX East Impressions

I only was able to go for a day but it was good enough to get a feel. Due to a lesser amount of big name titles the show wasn't the madness it was last year so here's what I got.

Indie games won

Indie games had both the mega booth and the advantage of popping up everywhere. I(finally) got around to playing Antichamber and Monaco, as well as checking out Super Time Force and Superbrothers. I spent the most of my time chatting with people but the games I did check out were a ton of fun. Or confusing. Probably both.

I could tell you about them, but pretty much everything I could say has probably been covered already. Doesn't make em any less fun though.

Giantbomb fans are fun people(usually)

I've met my share of duders over the last few PAXes but this is the biggest group yet. Apparently I missed Rock Band night by a whole day(According to the face of harmonix) but I still met plenty of awesome guys wearing everything from GLHB to Luchadeer shirts. I wore the classy 2010 original. It still holds up. I did find a few who didn't want to high five and talk about creeper cams, but I can be overzealous sometimes. Also met Patrick after I watched a GB interview take place in real time on airmech(Ryan and Drew) Little different than the stuff posted, but really in favor of the point of the site. I've yet to meet an uncool GB fan despite the PAXes I've been to before.

If it ain't broke, keep doing it

One of the best things to go to every year at PAX is the Harmonix booth. Bouncing jokes of John Drake, chatting with Eric Pope, Embarrasing myself in front of a ton of people on Dance Central(I was cheered and made a friend which means that I'm playing way too much and also should keep playing) and jamming on rock band. Other awesome things to play are the Capcom and Nintendo Booths for always having fun games to play with minimal lines and the smaller back areas for having older games with cool people like Greg Kasavin or "Chainsaw". They're always there, and that fact just makes it a good break from the rush of new stuff to just have fun. Not that there's anything wrong with freeplay, but it's nice to have some stuff on the expo hall. Also the Popcap Zombies are still awesome. Did a sexy car dance and then a crazy breakdance later. Still awesome. I'd like to imagine Jeff Green is one of them. Don't take away my fantasy.

Big names won't go for niche appeal

I only had a few big name games I could go to with the time limitations of one day. I wanted Far Cry 3 but it turned out to be only multiplayer. I then chose Spec-Ops: The Line hoping for some moral ambiguity and some awesome story. I had a great time chatting with some gamers in line, found out about Ubisoft and 2K's relationship from a business guy(from ubisoft) behind me and got a T-shirt. But the Demo wise the lighting was amazing(Minecraft fans know how much lighting makes a difference) but the textures were shoddy and the animations uneven and split. Sometimes it wanted the fast and easy feel of Saint's row, other times the tactical yet weighted feel of modern shooters and then a few slow and realistic animations. I get they wanted to make it accessible but good feeling but they spread it too wide and it feels more than a little uneven. Other than the close up cutscenes of lips the lighting blows away all the technical weaknesses for a good look and the actual shooting felt good enough but the game doesn't even touch on the moral choices going straight shooter with light, and I mean really light tactics. I hope they focus more on the choices in the main game because this felt like it left out the thing I was most interested in to go for a sure bet. I would have preferred spending my time at the giant Borderlands 2(stupid fun gunplay) stand or at least check out the ACIII Booth(I'm interested, a little sad I missed it). But I learned that they'll go for a sure bet if they can over a innovative and unproven concept.

Bioshock is lost to me

Now if you were at PAX or have been watching the big theme is Bioshock hats everywhere. Other conventions have had their own cool things but this year it's Bioshock, and for good reason. The original was awesome. So I decided to follow the trail and see if I could find a little info on the game regardless of all else(okay I kinda thought the whole get your face in the game was kinda cool if tacky marketing advertisement) I slowly found more and more info on the irrational guys from a few polite questions and a long day of walking. Due to the mixed reports they wear normal clothing although I heard more reports of light blue shirts(Hint to the people still going). I did find a lot of interesting people including two Catherine cosplays from completely seperate people(One of catherine, one of vincent because apparently Katherine is dull) or a bunch of the normal stuff like TF2 or Link. And of course Pokemon. But the Irrational guys seemed to be nowhere. In the end the day ended so I left, but it was interesting to find out more.

After all's said and done

PAX even now is still one hell of a convention. I didn't even expect to be able to go this year much less be in town, so meeting all the people I love hearing from and chatting with a bunch of gamers was pretty damn cool. PAX works because everyone here loves games. Tabletop people are playing all the newest stuff, there's cards and food, performances and prizes, Puzzles and mazes, Cosplays and Press. It's awesome and the people there are awesome. Things like this where even a convention(which is missing some big titles set to come out soon like XCOM and Prey 2(Please be ok)) with much less big name titles than previous years still flourishes this well shows how dedicated we are to the games we love.


Interested about getting into the industry? Here's my plan.

Alright if you don't care about my personal plan skip to the section what it means for you. That said...

My plan on getting into the industry

Since I was a kid I loved games. But I loved playing them, and wasn't sure how much I would enjoy a job in the industry. At that time I also hated writing and math. Since then I've looked through a multitude of options, become decent in writing, and accepted math even if I don't like it. I eventually decided that I knew what I wanted to do for a job. I wanted to become a game journalist. In a dream maybe I'd work at Giantbomb with the PA report being a second best choice. Seeing their rapid expansion I might have a chance later on. But you can't just jump into a respected company like these. You need to show you think in your writing, be eloquent, able to write fast and clear, and for a company like Giantbomb have a great sense of humor. You need proof, and you need recognition. There's thousands of bloggers doing reviews and thoughts, and plenty of websites. You have to stand out from these.

But It's something I wanted. To devote my life to bringing news to a community and helping people figure out which games to buy with the little money they have. To interview great people and to make things people can look back on and laugh.

Which brings me to my plan. If I ever get to a great company like that, I'd need both proof and recognition. Patrick being the newest and first to join from the outside showed his ability by creating great stories at less revered sites. He broke stories and acted like a journalist should. With a clear focus on bringing informative news that was factual and relevant he was accepted. This isn't my plan. I have a lot else I'd like to at least try. Once you get into that line you give up a lot of your free time, and there's some things I'd like to work on first. So instead I'm working on being a game dev. I spent years seeing how others create games and what makes those games good. I'm currently studying programming in my free time, and practicing art. Not to become a coder or artist but to give me an understanding of them. If I can understand the mechanics behind everything in a game's development and put it to use to create something ambitious but do-able I might have a chance and breaking in. I'm applying for college right now and looking at universities that teach this stuff, to have an even better grasp on it. That said it'll only get me recognition within the industry, but for making games not for writing. To help that I'm creating blogs here showing design elements, looking at games, and giving opinions on things like gaming news. I'm really trying to show that I'm a good writer so when I get to the point that I try to break into journalism if I can base it off games I've made(hopefully they'll be successful or at least enjoyed) and combine it with the writing I've done I might be able to break in to Journalism. With that in mind I doubt Giantbomb would just take someone who has no idea on where to find or separate(I have some idea on good and bad) news. To get a better understanding I'll hopefully be able to get into a less revered journalism site and work my way up from there. To help cement my understanding I'll probably apply for future internship at GB during a free summer or right after college. I'll do work in free time.

What can you learn from this?

Now there's a lot of people trying to get into the industry right now. Journalists, devs, programmers, artists, writers, voice actors...there's a lot. I have spent my teenage life studying news, learning how games are made, and what makes one better than another. It gives me a small head up over the people who haven't been doing the same. It's a tough life but it's one I want to go into. For those that share that feeling here's what I can say:

  • The time to start studying is now. Whether it's writing, programming, reading informative books...just go for it. You need to practice to get better and if you don't you'll never get anywhere.
  • Go to events. GDC, PAX, TGS, if you can make it do your best to get there. The places are chock full of people wanting to tell you their knowledge, and plenty of interesting new stuff. It's also really fun.
  • Twitter. Someone(CoreyMW?) already mentioned this today, but a ton of game people have twitter to the point it almost takes away productivity. Phil Fish would support that statement. You can talk to them online, but despite them not always answering interesting conversations always come up. Recently I've been chatting with Brad Muir(@Mrmooear) and Hulk Game crit(you can find it). Find your own people and just have conversations. It's a great way to talk to people you'd otherwise never be able to talk to.
  • Make contacts. People near you might be interested as well. I know some people who're helping me out, and you might find your own. Even if they don't want to get into games, there's a lot of people with interests that could be useful for your desired job. Make contacts with people who're useful to know and keep working at it.
  • Start making. Sure this is KINDA a rehash of the first point. But you can't just study, you have to practice. Writing, searching, info finding, programming. There's a lot to work on and learn from that work that could be helpful to you. Keep working at it and you'll improve quickly

That's about everything I can think of. There's probably plenty more I forgot but it's a good note to work on. I hope it helps you guys find some success.


Where Journey Fails.

I wrote a review on Journey, but with all the talk about cool stuff in it I'm going to talk about it's problems. Something it's much easier to do in a blog than a review.

Journey in itself is just a beautiful if basic game. The multiplayer shifts the focus to the other person and them to you. Without it Journey would be a much worse off game. But there's problems with it. With all the freedom you give it you also give it power. You lose that single experience. But thatgamecompany realized that and took out everything but basic interaction. This allows them to play and you to play with them. But just that allows certain people to mess around at least to some degree. They can't do much to you and the design lowers it to small jokes and play rather than ridicule and trolling. But regardless it creates the ability to take you away(if only slightly) from the world

But I haven't got into the meat of it. Journey is short. The design doesn't make it short, it just is. The way it weaves from one environment to the next should allow the designers to add a huge amount but they add only a few levels. Sure each is memorable but it greatly diminishes the scope and the size of the levels themselves only allows a small space to feel each element. It's like listening to a 3 minute song. It's hard to get all the impact from such a small space. Each of these is extremely detailed in it's design but because they're so focused they become short. The only thing that keeps the pacing working is the constant flow of music which tunes you to the world. And that music helps to set the tone and feeling. Without it the flaws would be more noticeable, although your companion helps to

In that there's almost a strangeness in the diversity. The first levels give you a sense of being lost, with a large scope and your path being only shown by a few stark objects, in contrast the later levels are extremely narrow with obvious points to go to. Other games often do this, but for a game so detailed it's strange that it loses this. There's also little variation in the path. Sure a few splits but they're small. The craziest one is predictable and later on. There's a path on the side you can see before hand and by the time you get to it you can figure out why it exists. But in these areas some are also weird in overall design. Most are straightforward sure, but in the beginning you get to an unnatural box. It's filled with stuff but it feels unnatural in overall design and though you can get high enough to pass over the sides the game won't let you(obviously). It's a stilted experience that doesn't work.

On that there's a few other things that aren't that great. The areas where you can find side murals for no conceivable in-game purpose seems useless to me. (and I went to all I could find but no achievement either) A lot of them are more than vague they're just redos of what you've seen before. And things like achievements at the end kind of break the experience. The game also becomes more and less like a game at points from having to not be in an area, (I hid AND ran but it didn't work) to having to get to a bunch of points. There's not much you can do to get through a lot of situations so answers become clear quickly but it can be troublesome to figure it out sometimes.

There's not much to criticize about the art design or glitches. My experiences were relatively solid and I expect a lot went into the perfection of these areas.

That said this is just the criticism.

Wait this is where I flaunt stuff that I want you to see isn't it?

So, comment if you have any to add.


The two schools of thought on Innovation in game design

With Journey coming out I really should talk about the two schools of thought in game design. I find they're often applied in different amounts together, but they're radically different, despite being able to work well built on top of each other. But I"m getting ahead of myself. Really the two sides are Rethinking everything about a game, or building upon what other games have done. For example Call of Duty built upon what Halo started and made is faster and more gritty. Wheras Halo rethought what made shooters work but built upon the basis of them.

Sometimes to make something new you have to ignore what you know.
Sometimes to make something new you have to ignore what you know.

Thatgamecompany is a large suscriber to the first school. If you look at their past games they're rebuilding game design from near the base up. Each one of their games is technically still a game(argue if you want, not the point on this) from flOw being about growing and still being challenged in an almost RPG like design but without most of the tropes. Flower had the main goal of finishing the level by hitting all the dots much like collection in a platformer. But why we don't see them as this is because of the presentation. They didn't want their games classified in this way, and focused on the experience as a whole. In flOw it's slow, you choose what to do, but your actions change your state in the world. Whenyou've pretty much broken the game it restarts. It focuses on the artistic design and your experience as you move through the layers. It's about the moment and the music and characters help that. Flower was about changing the world, embracing nature, and finding calm. Sure it showcased motion control and graphic fidelity, but really it was about that loose sense of freedom. Everything was built on that. And in this design they rethink games from the beginning to create a unique experience.

Sure the controls worked, but you played this for the 1940s broken world. It wasn't about the mechanics.
Sure the controls worked, but you played this for the 1940s broken world. It wasn't about the mechanics.

A good example of building on the shoulders of other games(Other than sequels because...yeah) is Bioshock. Sure it's focused on showcasing a world, but the mechanics are there because of what past games have done. Think about the controls, the perspective, the leveling, the collection. It took from a lot of elements and added a world and story on that. Sure there were other things like better AI and choice but deeper than that it was focused on telling you about the world in the story you're playing out. And to accomplish that it takes the mechanics from other games to constitute the base. Everything from jumping to shooting feels natural with very few caveats because you've done it before. It's an implemented and upgraded system. There are a lot of games that base off this. Producers love it's proven success working on top of new cool looking things to get people interested, and developers love to implement their new ideas(though not being able to completely redefine the experience, play or other elements can ruin it for some). Most AAA titles live by starting with an inventive concept and adding mechanics from other games, streamlining the controls, and iterating it to make it better (Assassin's Creed anyone?).

Even Minecraft builds from RPG, adventure elements, creation, and other game concepts
Even Minecraft builds from RPG, adventure elements, creation, and other game concepts

Then you have the types that blend it together. You can't rethink everything WHILE taking from things. SO instead you do it in parts. Take this and rethink on top of it, Rethink a basic thing and take mechanics to build on top of it. It's really hard to think of an example that stands out as almost EVERY game does this. Really there's few that stick to building on something without rethinking a few parts of it or straight up creating something new. At least recently. If you think back to the older games, beginnings of genres and types, those created out of nothing. Even the ones that were variations of concepts and not completely new are rarely seen in such variation today. Still a lot of people are trying, and more are looking at the past for answers and inspiration. Super Meat Boy is still one of the best examples of level design taking old concepts and making them work. All those little things that developers put in that you don't notice till you get good. That's some of the innovation we need more of, subtle stuff that can't be advertised without losing some of the appeal. But off topic a little, you can take near any game and see this style of both. Hydrophobia? WET? Zomboid? Damn near everything you think of will have some of this design put into it even if the devs don't realize that they're doing it.

In the end I don't think we should lose either. I would like to see more rethinking than there is. Especially in the AAA market. Double Fine just proved how Fluid the gaming market is, and Bethesda is one of those companies that knows risks are good, even if it prefers calculated ones to random. But really we need some of the bigger companies going out and just experimenting. Sony puts a lot of stock in it(maybe because it knows it can't dominate the shooter market, and is trying to only work with it while expanding into new strategies). But most movement is still indie regardless of how cool it is. If we could get a huge team, working on something big and crazy, while all putting in ideas and thoughts on a giant whiteboard while connecting them. Or something. Just if we could get big stuff going it'd be awesome. But going too into that, I really think we have to embrace both. They help cement and evolve gaming. In a scientific way we're always finding new approaches and exploring how we can make games work in better ways. It's a crazy world, and all the recent stuff will make it crazier. I can't wait to see what we think of next.


Non-gaming war talk for a minute.

I like commenting on the Worth Reading posts patrick makes. On his most recent one it talks about what real war is from the perspective of a veteran. I don't feel it's about games but how war is misrepresented. His entire point relies on soldiers working for the money, and the fight. It's very Apocalypse Now. And while I wouldn't disagree with a lot of his points, I find it's less people like him become sociopaths but more they become desensitized. They make decisions to put the people they know the least in the most danger so that they won't feel as bad. They block out the horrors they see. They try to keep themselves distanced from the horror, and they need to because otherwise the reality would kill them. As humans we adapt and take on these horrors. Even further we ignore the bad as much as we can. Not everyone can do it, and lots break down. As he said no one out there's a true hero, they're all just surviving. When you act like one you die.

And I do agree that the military is creating a false image of war. They get people in based on the image of heroes. I know some war guys, they aren't supermen. They're trying to further themselves in the world. And usually things don't happen. You have to be fit, and you'll still get tired, but more than that it's mostly boredom. I doubt we'll ever see a war sim unless an activist makes it. And even then there will probably still be the existence of some military shooters. I bet most of the people reading this know the war games aren't representative, and that real war is tough. But when you're playing Call of Duty past the ridiculous nature and basic concepts, how often do you feel like a badass? How often do you feel like you're a war hero, or forget that it's not real. In the moment you're playing, you're not thinking about actual war. You're not thinking about all the bullets hitting you. You're thinking about your objectives. And in real war, you're just trying to get by.

Not being an actual soldier, this is all taken from the soldiers I know, retired, in duty, or on leave. I'm not saying anything about the quality of games, or that my perspective is necessarily right, but more an extended comment to make you think a little more.


Controls schemes in games. The need for complex simplicity.

Most games take control schemes for granted. The dual stick shooter, regular shooter controls, in depth fighter controls, light brawler controls, platformers. Everything seems to be copying each other and focusing on the game almost wholly. The originators of these knew that a good control scheme would lead to more players, hell that's why Call of Duty and Halo became the forefront of shooters in the first place. What the gameplay is and how you control it play off each other. I found two games I love in control scheme. I'll talk about Syndicate first.

You can do this anytime, anywhere, any situation.
You can do this anytime, anywhere, any situation.

Syndicate has a pretty simplitic control scheme. It's basic shooter controls. Triggers for aiming and firing, buttons for jumping, getting behind cover, switching guns and reloading. There's also the two cyberpunk power buttons for hacking and DART, but really in this that doesn't matter. The Darkness 2 did the same thing with a near identical controller layout. The amazing thing is the contextualization. I personally think this is the future of controls. We create a vague context for each button and make it do a bunch of things depending on the situation. In Syndicate this means when you're running, some guns can shoot(pistols) and others can't. You can run and slide AND THEN shoot. Do it, it feels amazing. It's this momentum. The duck button suddenly becomes the slide button. The jump button becomes the vault button. The shoot button becomes the shoot while running button. It's not new to games, but when you make these situations work together it feels awesome. Saints Row the Third went somewhat in this direction by changing HOW you did things when holding down the run button. The Darkness 2 changed your aim trigger into a shooting one if you picked up two pistols. I'm hoping to get this same feel in Prey 2 later this year, with it's constant movement and mirror's edge style platforming.

Despite it not being the most ridiculous, it's the most cinematic and contextual scene in the whole game.
Despite it not being the most ridiculous, it's the most cinematic and contextual scene in the whole game.

Uncharted(Not the first) has a pretty great control scheme for similar but not completely exact reasons. It throws the buttons around a little with the reload as a trigger, but that's not important. The four face buttons are. They stand for counter, physical attack, defense, jump. Now these sound simple in nature but they're situationally contextual. attacking behind someone is now a sneak attack. Auto jump attacks if you time it right. Pull people off ledges, use enviormental objects, or just get in a fistfight. And that's just the first button. All of them(with counter doing almost nothing contextual other than one purpose) are designed multipurpose under vague context. I feel U3's bar scene did this well, when it felt like a cutscene but you had to actually intereact. And if you didn't do it perfectly it'd still work out as long as you weren't giving up. This extends to the other buttons as well. Jumping becomes climbing, defense becomes rolling, dropping, and taking cover. Uncharted is more contextual to the environmental while Syndicate is more contextual to your actions. Both have aspects of the other, but to different degrees. The best part is that the player will come to expect this contextualization and it becomes intuitive. The vague meaning becomes specific in situations and they understand it. The biggest fault I have against Uncharted is they break this on one account. The defensive button grabs people. Not only does this break the context, it can actually be detrimental if you want to roll away, but keep grabbing an enemy. Especially one of those ungrabbable ones. Even if you're tilting the stick away it won't change. This means that two commands of the button are clashing and it takes away your control. This has killed me many times in the game, but moreso I felt it wasn't my fault for having a tool I needed taken away. But that's my only fault.

So in this pic he's moving with the left stick, up and down with the right, shooting missles with the trigger, and holding down the gas.
So in this pic he's moving with the left stick, up and down with the right, shooting missles with the trigger, and holding down the gas.

Now those were variations on common control schemes. Growth maybe. But what about new schemes? First I'll start with the worst control scheme I've seen. Twisted Metal. Don't get me wrong, I love the series. From Head-On to Black it's great. But the controls are overly complicated and weird. Some of it just doesn't make sense like having a gas button instead of just pressing the stick, while others like rear fire and freeze are just too many things being plugged in. I wouldn't want the game without them but maybe use the right stick as a power wheel and instead of both triggers switching items one could be a wheel opener. Really I'm just saying there's better ways to make a control scheme than everything having a button. Now on new control schemes, I'd have to point out splosion man and Flower. Before you get angry for me only choosing the simple ones I want to put it in context. These games made simple gameplay on simple controls. They went for simplicity over complexity. We can learn complex schemes sure, but just go watch the Xbox indie game QL for games that are WAY too complicated for their own good. These games were designed simply and tried to show how you could have fun with less not more. Really making a new game control scheme is an expansion of this concept of simplicty. You have to make it as user friendly as possible. People can get used to complexity, but a well designed control scheme just makes the game more fun to play and more enjoyable. The best AAA game control schemes are simple in execution but complex in nature. How many new FPS users spend 30 minutes or more staring at the sky or ground? We're used to it, but the multitasking can be hard on some. I think even in this we need to expand our horizons and continue innovating the schemes, rather than copying and pasting the same formulas into new games.

I'm still playing this all the time.
I'm still playing this all the time.

One of the biggest new game control schemes is based on new ways to play. The touch controls of Angry Birds, The motion tracking of Dance Central. Old game archetypes are being used in new ways(Red Steel, Skyward Sword) and new games are popping up on top of that(No more Heroes, JSJ). These games are taking advantage of new tech and using it in the best of their ability to make new experiences, new gameplay, and most importantly (at least with motion control) new ways to play. These games only work because of the tech, and won't be playable otherwise. That doesn't make them bad, just different. And I personally find that difference great. The control schemes are based on the tech we interact with, and although I doubt that wiimotes are the future, I would never argue that games weren't able to make good control schemes with it. And even better, all this motion control can lead to more intuitive gameplay. It's easier to feel more at home playing simon says on Dance Central than Driving a car with an analog stick(regardless of the akward factor). But neither is bad, just a different way to play.

And that's kind of a look behind control schemes. I hope you enjoyed it, and tell me if there's something you think I'm wrong on.


#%@#! Difficulty in games. A perspective that everyone's right.

When Patrick posted that saving zelda story, I completely know what the author was talking about. I understood his points, agreed that it's changed, and that designed difficulty is a thing rarely seen today(Demons/Dark Souls). And I disagreed with his main point. Strongly. Maybe from after the second game Zelda should have changed titles, as it changed it's purpose. It became a formulaic ride, as most games of today are. But at this point asking it to go back to what it once was is a broken plea. There's a reason Zelda is still critically acclaimed, and that's because from the perspective of a player the games are still good. It's tried to go new places from art style to collection quests to now motion control, but at their core the games are the same. Although in the perspective of buying these games it's ridiculous to continue unless you're content with surface level changes. The problem is most people just want more, and that keeps Nintendo staying in the safe zone. As in Patrick's review, it's a great game with changes in gameplay not design that he felt made it worth going through another Zelda adventure. Most people would agree. And sure Tevis's points about how it's just different locks and keys is valid, but it's designed to not be challenging to the mind. Kids do love figuring out things and don't mind hard things(if they're fair like Punch-Out or Rhythm Heaven) but they have so much else they can play, that making the same kind of challenges as the old Zelda games would drive them away. It's no longer a puzzle but figuring out a mindset. And it's partially the fault that so many games are rides, that kids expect them to be. I feel that instead of Zelda going back to it's roots, we should look for new games to fill that void. Kind of if 3D dot game heroes had more thought put into the puzzles and difficulty than the art and references. And there's definitely a market for that designed to be hard but fair stuff, which is getting more and more apparent with games like Bit Trip, Super Meat boy, and Souls(Again). There's not much at the moment and the biggest stuff is indie, but there's a good market for it as long as it doesn't get flooded.

Now on actual difficulty(and to get rid of that nasty looking text block) and not just focusing on one game. Difficulty is something I always have enjoyed as an option. Hardcore mode in Torchlight, Crushing in uncharted, legendary in Halo, Veteran on CoD. But more and more games are designed to be punishing. Sometimes fair sometimes not(binding of isaac). But this slow growing love for normally difficult games is because of the group that wants difficulty as a standard. I personally think a lot of them really just want games with more deeper design. The old games were hard but designed to make it possible to win in the game's logic. I found beating Battletoads without cheats to be my personal hell. Newer games have become designed to be approachable and more of a ride. A lot of people say that they should be challenges not rides, but I believe both can exist. It's like having The Expendables and I am love in movies, they can both exist in the medium and be great in separate ways. It's just that we have too many rides right now. And both are designed to have the player's experience in mind. It's just that we as people can experience so much, that we shouldn't hold ourselves to one or the other. Anyway, the problem with rides, is they're designed to be easily winnable on normal difficulty. And everyone wants to win on normal. I wanted to win on easy as a kid, but I feel I can handle more now. But when making it easy, they take out a lot of player control. They make it straightforward. One example is the Mcdonalds shoot out in Call of Duty(I know it's not really MDs just go with it). Technically this would be a great place to send a bunch of troops in at once from different directions. You would have to quickly take out the groups separately, choosing which one to go after first. But instead they sent waves one at a time from the same area(even if it differed between waves). This made it a 3D eye spy with shooting. It's an understandable situation to make the scene more straightfoward and for the player. But it's a missed opportunity for strategy and depth in player control. Really in the rides the only problem is we need more depth, and we can have the challenges as well.

So that's my opinion on difficulty. I think we need more difficult games, but saying we should have them over what we have now isn't the right answer(to me). Also we need to explore the depth in games we have, to make them better and more like the older games in design quality. Thanks for reading and not getting angry at my huge text blocks.


Designing story in games, from the perspective of a player.

I love game stories. Probably one of the biggest draws into gaming originally was story. It's easy to make one, even making a better one isn't that hard. Guy goes psycho over family problems, friends band together over disaster and look for treasure. Great stories are easy, telling them is hard. People more recently have been using the scripted model a lot, I can't really think of a game that's completely non-scripted. Even Fallout has a storyline you follow, despite having some light control. In that I wonder if to really make your own story you have to design a game. I don't really believe that though, My dream game is completely unscripted, and I can imagine it working. But off topic. Games are really about being just that, a game. Something you play. And with that in mind a story in games is something to engulf you in the experience. Whether you get into it or not, that's the purpose of it.

With that I want to talk about how I see the stories, I find there are different amounts of scripting. Uncharted, where it's normal shooter/puzzle/climbing gameplay intertwined with extremely scripted action sequences. All have been done before, but not in such a cinematic way. There are games that try to use the story scripting as a way to drive you forward through the gameplay. Off the top of my head I'd say Scott Pilgrim vs. the world for one that has a light story, but really is only a way to advance your gameplay and doesn't intertwine well. As I said earlier I haven't found a game without scripting, but the Elder Scrolls series might come the closest. It focuses on letting you explore the world. And it has many scripted sequences inside that world, but it lets you experience them in any way you choose. You can even break the scripting. And this lets you make your own story to a degree rather than being told one. I find that all of them are different approaches, and valid ones at that. Games should be messed around with, and we should keep trying to find how to include story the best we can. The best scripted game would intuitively react to the player's actions and either find ways to continue the story(Heavy Rain is a good example) or script it in such a way the player has almost no chance of not knowing what to do unless they're not taking the game seriously(and in that case it's their fault). The best non scripted game would have no story, instead dropping you into a world(Tutorial first?) where you would create your own story. Random events would be commonplace and more rare ones would happen less often. Kind of taking the random events of GTA IV and making it at an extreme level. Even better would be chain events, making the world more lively, and leading to mini stories including you or sometimes not. This would still be scripted to a point, but in the sense that you could control it. True nonscripting would have nothing happening other than what you do, and that doesn't work in most game models. Of course this is just conjecture, as I'm not an official designer. These are just my thoughts, and shouldn't be taken for the end all answer.

Reading David Jaffe's interview, I thought about player experiences. These are less of a story and more of an experience. They have no plot or meaning often. They're more a series of events. Even just one. And like a completely unscripted event it makes your own story from the tools you have. Not in a traditional sense, but one of actions leading into each other. You hear these stories all the time, but few of them from each person. And that's because they occur based on everything fitting together in just the right way to cause something great to happen that's not usual in game. You don't hear about every match despite how great they are, you hear about the best ones because something happened. I feel eventually someone will figure out how to make that experience happen everytime, and that'll lead to the next level of best game stories, and so on. But I'm really saying that these on essence aren't stories, they're experiences.

But on how stories integrate into games I find the most interesting. I often use this as an argument for how games can be art, yet very few have succeeded in it, but I'll save that for later. The games I find that represent this well(That I've played) are God of War(not the franchise, but the original) and Braid. Both are amazing games that take the gameplay and give it meaning in response to the narrative. Why is Kratos so powerful AND Angry? It gives a real emotional reason, not the overly ridiculous twists of the others(Not bad, just not driven how the original is). And Braid gave vague context to the gameplay, yet still had puzzles that worked. They gave explanations not to further the story but to explain everything about the game from how you played to why you were killing monsters through it. And furthermore both expanded into works made for you to think, to reflect upon. GoW being a modern greek Tragedy, and Braid being well...meaningful through being unclear. These are my high points of Story in games of today. They intertwine and that's what makes them work.

Others might say Half life 2 or Bioshock are good examples. Silent Hill 2 maybe(Haven't played it and can't say). I would agree with Half Life being a good example, maybe not having too much meaning and I dislike a lot of it for reasons I don't know myself, but Bioshock is more an expansion of narrative in games rather than a great example itself. It's story is interesting, and it tells the story of the world more than it's own but in the end it's that fact that it in itself does not tell the story well, or have a good one. It's expanding new ground and created an amazing world(and I love it to death), but the story it makes isn't great in itself. Half Life on the other hand tells it's story well, and explores a continuous narrative traveling across a great landscape, with it's lack of loads or scene changes being different from what we knew at the time.

A more recent game made me rethink scale and how design of worlds changes the narrative. That game was Dear Esther. I don't think it's so much a game as an experience, so I won't go into too much depth, but the way the world was designed made me realize that most games have redesigned scale. The world has been redesigned to allow you to traverse things that seem large in very little time. It's not that your path is shorter or you are faster but the world appears different than it is. I also should probably comment that if the narrative and experience style of Dear Esther was communicated to a game designed to be played as a game not just an experience, then we might find new ground in narrative.

Anyway, I'm done rambling. Hopefully this'll make some of you guys rethink the essence of story in gaming. It's not an easy thing to just say as it is, and even while writing this I found myself editing past sections to make my thoughts more understandable or expand on them. There's much more to learn from storytelling in games, and to me it's one of the best things about them. I don't think gaming should leave things behind but rather take what we know and expand on it to get stronger and stronger.

also sorry for no pics.


Steelport is a bloody Mess. My two playthroughs of SR3.

I was inspired by Sarumarine's blog to try writing about Saint's Row: the Third. Hope someone finds it interesting.

Going for a normal person in a crazy world
Going for a normal person in a crazy world

In designing my character, I wanted to start out with a girl and went from the default, to a matrix clone, to my modern day normal girl. I also changed it to a british guy with reptile eyes at one point. I wanted to imagine the world as something different based around my character. For my latest one, my character is just a normal person but has become so bored of life she created the Saints Row world of Steelport through her imagination and slowly gets more and more ingrained in the world, which explains your level of health, attack style, and upgrades.

But that's too much about me and not enough about the game.

Two journeys through the madness: A story of Toilets, Zombies, and Ninjas

I try not to buy new games. There's always a GOTY or Special edition coming and I often don't have the cash. I had managed to avoid buying most of the newer games during the Steam Sale and wasn't planning on buying Saints Row. After a month into the year of the apocalypse I decided I was bored enough to buy one game off ebay. In the end after seeing all the footage, I wanted a game that was fun enough to fulfill my free time.

I haven't played the first Saints Row, and I hated the respect=new mission system of the second(I gave up right after I hired Shaundi and Pierce). From the beginning of the third game I realized this was an upgrade in everything but the basic feel of combat and driving mechanics. The combat and driving both feel like they were stripped right out of SR2, although Driving is better overall.

San Andreas Blues
San Andreas Blues

In contrast I've played all the GTA games(including the PSP ports) and funnily enough I hated San Andreas the most for being less of a game and more of a toybox. Some people are gonna hate me for this, but I hated how the world was huge and never felt tightly pulled together and things like some of the ridiculous physics glitches and jetpacks made it feel ridiculous in contrast to it's somewhat serious story. Overall it felt like the open world was fighting against it rather than helping it.

Which incidentally was the reason why I was so excited for SR3. Now that I've played it however, it's not quite what I expected.

Missions Missions Missions

The Story itself is decent but mostly a way to introduce you to new activities and set you up for jokes. The first level sets you up for a cinematic style with scripted moments, destructible environments and shifting battle grounds. It never reaches that cinematic height, instead choosing to revel in ridiculous set ups for levels such as

skydiving in a tank or fighting in a tron inspired cyberspace.

there are missions that try to be unique, but it feels like with all the stuff the developer forced into the open world they didn't have room for more.

Weirdly, the story itself is extremely melancholy, despite the nature of the game. The story can be dumbed down to a revenge plot as

Johnny Gat "dies" in the second mission.

this causes Shaundi to be pissed off for the rest of the game, not to mention one of the two endings is dark as hell. Other than the dreary plot, the characters keep it ridiculous and humour filled from mission to mission with little quips that help to solidify the feeling of the game against the plot.

During many of the missions, you get cutscenes with a whole bunch of motion blur and effects thrown on. At first I thought they were prerendered, but after seeing they actually change based on your character made them one of my favorite parts of the game. The Cutscenes themselves are usually just characters talking or action sequences but they're extremely well made and filled to the brim with Saints Row style.

Cell Phones are the key to life

Probably the best thing in the game is your cell phone. Other than changing your clothes, gang, weapon upgrades, and car upgrades, you can do everything else on your phone. Need money? Phone. Blew up your VTOL and need a new one? Phone. Want to become invincible? Phone. Your phone is the one stop shop to everything in the game, despite it being really just a menu.

Pistols are the best upgradeable weapon. No Seriously.
Pistols are the best upgradeable weapon. No Seriously.

Speaking of money transactions the game has a similar gang territory system to San Andreas. But instead of constantly fighting, you either buy a place, perform a side mission or fight a small gang. The more you do the more money you make. It's a clever incentive to make you want to finish everything as early as you can to reap the benifits over time. Even better you don't have to defend the areas. Instead there's an optional wave based survival mode which informs you where to go randomly. It happens often enough it feels good enough to go, but rare enough that it doesn't get tiring.

With Freedom to do anything, what do you do?

To get to the best part of the game, is to really just start it up. You can fight anyone, listen to classical music while taking down tanks in a mini cooper, or recreate Apocalypse Now in your local Park. Just looking at your Saints Book (Challenge list), there's a ridiculous amount to do before you're done. having said that, it's best to just run around causing mayhem and doing whatever you feel like at the moment. While I'm still waiting for the game that lets you recreate a normal life before breaking and turning into batman, this lets you do all the things you'd expect from a normal sandbox game plus wrestling moves.

If you stay in the same area for a few minutes drivers become jerks
If you stay in the same area for a few minutes drivers become jerks

It's hard to complain when you can call in a horde of zombies into the middle of a gang war, but I wish there was more. The rest of the missions never quite stand up to the graphical power of the first level and there are to many intro to the world levels compared to the rest of the missions. There are also some really annoying reappearing bugs in the game, such as one that denies human shields and takedowns after missions or being killed by getting in a car that's clipped into the ground. Hopefully the mission issues will be addressed in the DLC, although even with these issues Saints Row: The Third is still a great game.

I hope this interests people, if I messed up somewhere tell me in the comments.

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