Tuesday, October 9, 2018

Modern Game Formulas & Systems

I don’t want to sound like an old industry guy here.  There weren’t college courses on game design when I started out and I’ve been noticing a “trend” in designers lately and I wonder if it's coming from these courses?  The trend is the notion of game systems and formulas being set in stone and to me it's making games feel generic and overplayed. 

Certainly game systems are required for cohesive and easily understood game mechanics but they shouldn’t get in the way of game narrative and logic.  As an example let me pose a hostage situation.  The player must get to the hostage and release them.  A consistent game system might say that during the hostage activity the victim is released and runs away to be despawned.  But what if the narrative says the next hostage is a soldier?  Would the player expect him to also run away and despawn too?  No, they would expect him to grab a weapon and fight with you.  So perhaps this gets approved and we change the entire game hostage mechanic to say a hostage when released picks up a weapon and fights.  But then perhaps later the hostage is civilians.  Would the player expect them to pick up a gun and fight?  No, you’d want them to flee to safety.  Core game systems are fine to have in place but they need to be flexible enough to work with the narrative and realization of the game.   Which seems more fun, all the hostages doing the same action or some picking up arms and joining the fight while others ran?

Another example is level design layout formulas.  I’ve been a part of studios that when I started handed me large documents on how they do game space layouts.  I do generally refuse to look at them.  To me if you want your studio to continue to rehash the same layouts and game play over and over by all means dictate the formula of a what you consider good layouts.  I however prefer to look at the space and think, “On this plot of land how would real people build?  Why is this building here?  What was this used for?”  Of course you need to make stipulations that create more enjoyable combat and game play but start with what is real.  Don’t have a game that stuffs a farm theme into a layout formula, then a saw mill into a layout formula, etc.  The game will inevitably feel like a bunch of similar spaces with different themes.

I’ve had really great feedback at studios which had a formulaic approach to their layouts.  They would say, “Your layouts feel so organic.” Which is because they break the formula and let the terrain of the space dictate how the structures should be placed rather than a layout formula.

A number of conversations with young designers lead me to think they are being fed a list of what someone considers design fundamentals.  Design rules and systems are certainly needed but design is not black and white.  You really need to be willing to move in and around them to keep your designs fresh and flexible.  Don’t let the rules hold back a better design.

Monday, July 16, 2018

Car Mechanic Simulator 2018

So I play around making gaming videos but it’s not really popular.  Recently I wanted to give YouTube streaming a try and also wanted to give the game Car Mechanic 2018 a try so I did. 

Is it fun to watch someone work on a virtual car??  Is it like watching someone do virtual taxes?  Well you be the judge.  haha

Tuesday, July 10, 2018

Will Game Services Ever Think Globally?

Does anyone else find it strange that big global companies like Amazon, Sony, Microsoft, etc. don’t think globally?  As a game developer you move a lot and not necessarily within your country.  Very often people move to different countries to work in the field. 

So let’s say you move from the US to Canada.  When you moved you certainly aren’t going to buy all new consoles, & why would you?  Maybe you will when you find your Sony and Microsoft accounts don’t transfer across borders.  You can no longer add money to the accounts to buy games because you have a US account and you can't use your new credit card with a Canadian billing address.  Calling them for help you’re told nothing they can do.  And don't think buying a points card will work, codes only work in the country of the account. Meaning if you have your US Sony account and you buy a points card at a Canadian Best Buy the code won't work.

Blizzard is the same, if you made a US account you cannot change the address to Canada to buy loot crates or items in your Blizzard games.  Steam allows you to change countries but recently changed their policy so you cannot gift games to other countries because of “regional restrictions."  So forget buying that game to your relative back in the States over Steam.  It’s not just game services.  Most online stores will only allow you to ship to the same country as your credit card’s billing address.  This makes holiday gift giving a nightmare every year.

Ironically the companies blocking you from using things across borders hire game developers from all over the world.   They will come and encounter these limitations on the very systems they are developing games for.

As the world get smaller and smaller game services should change to meet the needs of people that don't stay in their hometowns their entire lives.

Tuesday, July 3, 2018

Why Instagram Sucks

I find Instagram to be a little useless for anything beyond sharing pictures of your lunch.  This is really frustrating because my Instagram posts get way more exposure than my Twitter account.  The main problem is the lack of a link support.  I can post a picture of my YouTube thumbnail, lovingly crafted in  Photoshop and easily get a hundred likes.  However this does not equal views on the video because while I can type out the link address in the picture description it is not clickable.  Also viewers are not able to even copy/paste the address.  This makes it virtually useless to help promote anything on YouTube or anywhere.  There is a one available link in your profile description but again that is useless to promote any individual thing.

Monday, May 28, 2018

Please Follow Me on Twitch & YouTube ....please, please, please

Hey everyone,

For a while I have been tinkering with streaming on Twitch.  As a game designer I play a lot of things and thought why not stream it?  Later I download the episode and edit it down for my YouTube channel.  Generally I stream my first look at everything when gives me an opportunity to add some developer opinions. 

Also I have a private server of ARK Survival Evolved that I play regularly with friends and family members. We play on the Ragnarok map which is the best map in my opinion since it has all biomes except for the stuff in Abberation expansion. 

I really enjoy doing it but getting exposure is super hard.  I have no clue how to get the word out that I’m online and streaming.  I tweet it on Twitter but that’s about the extent of my public reach.  I would love to get my channel more exposure and see where it can go.  If you know any tricks please leave them in the comments below and feel free to follow me on Twitch and YouTube.  It would really help a lot!

YouTube Channel

Twitch Channel

Tuesday, March 27, 2018

Farcry 5 Is In Stores Now

Another game in the hopper. Farcry 5 released today.  I hope you all enjoy it.  It was very interesting working on a Farcry game based in the US, created by a French company in Canada. I was a Senior Level Designer on this title at the Toronto studio, which focused on the Northern region of the game.  I’m very proud of the work we all did on Farcry 5.  

I had to do most of my development with the sound off.  The words of the cult leader, the Father in my ears all day was getting to me.  I think it has an unsettling familiarity that Americans such as myself can feel.I could write a whole thing about that but I'm not sure what I'm allowed to talk about so just play it and see if it speaks to you as well.

I grabbed a PS4 copy in hopes that I will buy a PS4 someday.  lol

Tuesday, February 6, 2018

Dev Stream of Return to Castle Wolfenstein

Usually after release I don't play the game again, they just sit in the shrink wrap.  But I'm currently on a three week vacation and thought it might be fun to play some of the titles I've worked on starting with the first, Return to Castle Wolfenstein.  So yesterday I did a two hour Twitch stream of the game over on my channel.

Twitch doesn't keep videos around forever so you can also check it out over on YouTube.

In the video I talk about what working at Gray Matter was like back in 2000 and the industry in general.  Please join me if you can and sub to my channels.  Thanks

Saturday, February 3, 2018

How Times Have Changed

I'm getting ready to stream some Return to Castle Wolfenstein on Twitch Monday Feb. 5th.  So I installed it to ensure it still runs and it ran perfectly.

When you quit out you are shown the credits screen and I found it amazing.  Today on a project like Call of Duty or Farcry it takes hundreds and hundreds of people and multiple studios to create a game.  But back on Return to Castle Wolfenstein we made the entire single play game with just 18 people.  Sure they had Nerve Studio make the multiplayer but today they would never dream of letting such a small number of people tackle a major AAA title.

Tuesday, January 9, 2018

Has My Career Been a Success??

Over the years I have found my career in the gaming industry a strange mix.  On the one hand I’ve without a doubt devoted myself to my career having started back in 1997 as a lowly phone rep at Activision and clawing my way to design in 2000.  From then to today I’ve worked on many AAA titles and have the respect of many of my peers.  But on the other hand I’ve found a kind of emptiness in that I’ve only worked on what feels like other people’s ideas.  Certainly I’ve had creative input to the content of Wolfenstein, Quake, Farcry, titles but none of them are what I would call “my game.” They weren’t my concept.

Do I have my own idea?  Wow! Certainly!  I’ve been documenting my design ideas since the early days and have many fresh takes and completely new concepts.  Back in 2000 I and a small group of people from what was Gray Matter studios pitched one of my ideas to Activision.  They loved the idea but we were really “green” and they wanted us to get a few more titles under our belt before they would be willing to fund us as an indie company.  So we all drifted into our separate careers in Ubisoft, Infinity Ward, Treyarch, and others.

 With the accessibility  of game engines like Unity, Unreal, and others why haven’t I jumped in and started doing my own thing?  Well that is a question that haunts me daily.  First of all it’s often hard to work on games all day and then come home and work on games all night. I know it’s a very popular assumption that working on games isn’t work but it really is.  Like the saying goes, “All work and no play makes Jack a dull boy.”  Also it’s one thing to work in a particular role and something very different to assume all roles.  The stack of work gets rather high when you realize you have to do it all yourself.  I can certainly handle the game design and level design.  I have an art degree so I could fill the role of art and modeling.  I have done scripting so I could handle some light code.  But I am certainly NOT a programmer.  Numbers and I have not been friends in the past and I’m not thrilled with the idea that I need to learn serious programming.  My experience has been that if what you want to do is not something you’re engine can do then you’re on the right track.  You’re not going to break new ground doing what everyone else is doing.  But to bend the rules you need to program a way to do it.  So in that lies the turmoil.  The obvious solution is to get a programming partner but I am soooooo reluctant to involve someone else. 

Another hurtle is that as a designer most studios don’t allow us to have side projects.  You are in breach of your agreement if you are either designing for someone else or yourself while working for a studio.  Luckily Ubisoft has an option.  You can pitch your idea to them and if they are not interested they will sign a “Right of First Refusal” agreement that allows you to freely work on it.  Of course there is a chance they would be interested which for me would be tragic.  You could say I have trust issues and that would be pretty true.  Like letting your child out into the world, really you can only hope for the best and I’m just not ready to do that yet. 

So I should be able to sit back, proud of my career accomplishments thus far and the big AAA titles I’ve worked on.  But I really envy the little indies that aren’t following the money making trends and are chasing their dreams.  I might get there eventually fingers crossed.