Return To Castle Wolfenstein Is On Sale

Yes the first game I worked on as a designer is now on sale on Steam.  Maybe it's always on sale I don't know but this was the first time I noticed it at least.  If you're into retro gaming it's a really great old school shooter.  It's still one of the highlights of my career.

I learned a lot working with Gray Matter on it.  I was the last designer Activision had on the payroll when they stopped internal development to focus on publishing.  Gray Matter needed help so I was sent over to help them stay on schedule.  The schedule was an absolute death march, I started overtime in January and didn't see the light of day until November.  I literally missed the entire summer.  I slept on the floor of my office so often that Gray Matter bought me a pillow and sheets.  No joke.

The development process was much different then.  You didn't have tasks really, you were given levels and it was your job to see them to completion.  Your task was to "make it fun." Every day the company owner and design lead would play the level and give you feedback which you iterated on.  Often you were totally free to try anything you could think of if you thought it would make the game fun.  One day I hand scripted every movement of a head bouncing down the stairs (there was no physics) because I thought it would be a nice touch to a spooky area.  In modern game development you'd never really be allowed to take time to do such a thing.  You are given tasks to complete like an assembly line.  Game development today has lost most of that creative freedom.

So it was a terrible death march of endless work but it was also creatively free and fun.  In the end Activision bought Gray Matter and it became Treyarch.  Everyone that worked there got fat bonuses with the buyout except me.  Since I wasn't technically a Gray Matter employee.  So that sucked big time.  After it completed Gray Matter offer to hire me but instead I went to Raven Software with dreams of Hexen in my head.  Considering the insane success of Call of Duty I made another financially bad decision.

Anyway if you haven't played it go grab it.

Lotta Quake

Looking through my wardrobe I recall how many Quake games I've been a part of.  Certainly strange to thing that when I was playing Quake 1 I wasn't even part of the game industry.  Things certainly changed.

Sad News

Booted up the old PS2 tonight just for the hell of it.  Loaded War of Monsters and found one of the controllers no longer works.  Bummer :(

Preparing for the Cold

The chill is happening out there here in Ontario.  In anticipation of the upcoming winter months I decided to clean out my art area a bit .  Believe it or not this is better than it was.  At least I can now actually see the desk.

Measuring My Art Chops

I've been tinkering around with a project at home.  It's a little overwhelming to sit down in front the computer and just create a game that isn't there in any form.  Where do you start?  What can you do yourself and what do you need help with?  These are the questions you don't have answers for until you dive in.

I have an art degree so I thought I might be able to handle the art myself but as a game designer it's been a long time since I created much art.  So I thought I should see what I can do in Photoshop.  My goal for the project's look is to have a style that was fun and sort of cartoonish, something like Warcraft.  To start I decided to do something simple and just create a board or a texture for a beam of wood.  No particular scale or metrics, just see if I could get the look I was going for.

This was sort of whimsical and fun like I wanted and was going the right direction but it needed more details like dings and chips.

So from start to finish I'd say it took about 3 hours and looked pretty close to what I had in mind.  At least I accomplished my goal of measuring my current art ability.  At the start I felt a little rusty but after turning on some music and digging in it started flowing pretty naturally.  I think it turned out alright.

My No Man's Sky Experience So Far

UPDATE: Apparently there isn't anymore to this game that what I experienced.  Pity.  Perhaps someone will finish the game in a mod.

I read a one sentence review that said, "No Man's Sky is miles wide and an inch deep." I think that is the main issue with the game. You are given and endless expanse of nothing to do in it.

I enjoy the freedom of doing whatever I want but that isn't what the game is. You are actually very limited. You're not building structures or creating a base, or building a ship, you are wandering lost everywhere gathering resources. You sort of create and trade things in your inventory but it doesn't make you feel grounded with a goal and an understanding of what you're doing.  Some say it's a survival game, but does that mean if you can maintain all your shields and systems then you've won?  No, of course not.  You are supposed to feel a drive to explore and find more of what is out there.  But the game doesn't tease you that there is more out there.  For me after visiting three planets I see pretty much the same things and I'm doing the same tasks.  In a game where they say you'll never be able to see it all, seeing it all really isn't a goal you try to achieve.  So is exploration the goal??

You start the game with a crashed ship and use raw materials to "fix" it.  An amazing feat.  But for a character with the ability to do vast space exploration it feels strange to not know anything about where you are and where you're going. You feel like a super smart infant with no clue of the world they inhabit. To make me care about what I'm doing I'd like to know who I am. You are a lone what? Human? Nothing really tells you that. Every intelligent life form you encounter is described as an alien. But you have a fancy ship and fancy tools so where did you come from? Are you a part of something bigger? Have you just lost your memories? Did that question matter to the game's creators? What the hell is the premise of what you are and what you're doing? 

I also theorize that the game might be too open for people to easily grasp and in some cases myself included. Many people need at least a little guidance . Looking at the Elder Scroll series from Morrowind to Skyrim you can see Bethesda tightening the reins on the amount of hand holding and still some people found Skyrim too open and don't know what to do with themselves. I loved Morrowind and hated the more guided direction of Oblivion and Skyrim but No Man's Sky give you nothing at all.

I'm going to continue with No Man's Sky for now. Maybe the game is exactly what I've seen and nothing deeper but I can't shake the feeling that I just haven't figured it out yet.

My Warcraft Confusion

I really enjoy getting into the Warcraft lore, but the Warlords of Draenor expansion confused the hell out of me.  Of course I understand the expansion went back to an alternate reality of past events but I thought Blizzard specifically said this was an alternate timeline that does not affect our current world.  My guild has basically dissolved so I also didn’t get into any of the dungeons or raids that might fill in the blanks for me. 

Now with Legion coming out at the end of this month I see many teaser trailers with Gul’dan.  I’m thinking what? But Gul’dan’s dead in our timeline.  Is Legion also in the past timeline?  Why is Gul'dan still a part of Legion?

Also Vol’jin is the Horde Warchief.  Isn’t Legion going to be the first time he really needs to prove what kind of Warchief he can be? Or was that also something I missed in WoD?  I mean WoD was an alternate timeline so Vol'jin technically hasn't done anything "Thrall-like" yet correct?

Like I said I’m very confused.  Any chance someone or is there a good YouTube video can clear this up for me?



Where My Interest in Games Came From

I often credit my intro to the video games to a Wolfenstein 3D demo but in reality if I think back I was interested in games way before that.  I lived out in the Iowa countryside so I rarely had access to video game arcades.  So I was super lucky in 1982 when my grandmother gave me a mini Donkey Kong console for Christmas.  I played this thing to death and was grounded on several occasions for playing it under the blankets when I should have been sleeping.  It was super simple but it was all I had.  This game had to
get me through a number of years because it wasn’t until I was in high school that I was able to hit the arcade with any kind of regularity and Wolfenstein 3D was 10 years away.  When I did get to the arcade I would go for Duck Hunt, Tempest, and Rampage but my favorite was always Joust.  I don’t know what it was about those flapping ostrich riders but I couldn’t get enough.

After graduation I had a roommate and he had a Sega Master System and I was hooked.  Space Harrier, Ghost House, Psycho Fox, Fantasy Zone.  My game play became pretty regular and annoying to the people around me including my roommate who wanted his console time back.  But like everyone fresh out of school I had no money and when my girlfriend and I moved out and got married we didn’t have money for games and again my inner gamer went into hibernation waiting for the right conditions to emerge.

These conditions happened years later when my wife mistakenly agreed that we should get a Sega
Genesis system.  BAM!! Again emerged the gamer sleepily playing until dawn, beating each expensive and carefully selected title to completion.  Golden Axe, Ghouls & Ghosts, Altered Beast, Sonic the Hedgehog, Ecco the Dolphin, the list goes on and on.  I never crossed that line into Nintendo gaming.  I think from being a car enthusiast I was stupidly brand loyal and Sega was my brand, the underdog.  I kept my Genesis until I moved to California to attempt a career in animation.  Which is where we bought a Windows 486 PC and my wife came home with a Wolfenstein 3D demo disk that some guy at her job said, “Chad might like this.”  That guy later got a job at Activision and helped me get hired as a game tester in their QA department.

One day my wife came home and found me yet again playing Wolfenstein 3D rather than working on my animation portfolio which lead her to say, “Chad we moved to California so you could become an animator, but instead of working on animation all you do is play games.  Maybe you should work in games instead.”  I whole hardily agreed and the gaming industry is where I have been ever since.

Holding Onto Home

In my industry there tends to be a high chance of layoffs and studio closures. Very unexpectedly you can find yourself looking outside your State, Province, and even country for your next job. This makes it difficult to commit to big lifetime purchases like houses and hard to put down local roots in an area. It also makes it hard to keep relationships with people that can’t or don’t want to move. So you can feel like a "temp person" everywhere you go. In the past I have also lost my home, friends, and relationships due to studio layoff as have most in the game industry. This experience was much more difficult than I expected. Close friends become long distance friends, the house you raised your children in now needs a quick sale because you need to leave. Your kids are pulled from their schools and friends and you really have little choice.

It would seem however that working in a tech driven industry your physical location shouldn’t be such an issue. Video conferences are commonplace, instant message services and email keep everyone constantly connected, work can be securely sent online. Is there really a need for a physical workplace anymore? When working in LA on Return to Castle Wolfenstein our AI programmer lived in Australia , and that was back in 2001. Certainly business and security has evolved since then.

I would love to see more companies like Hinterlands which have a headquarters but allow people to live wherever they want in the world without being forced to a physical location. Being forced into or just wanting to make a career change shouldn’t cost you your house and relationships. Game developers want to have normal lives like everyone else. We also want a place to confidently call home.

- Chad

Games I Want to Understand But Don't

There are a few gaming things I don’t do but would really like to.   The reason I don’t play them is either lack of knowledge, overwhelmed and intimidated, or just don’t have the time to get involved.  I would like to change this and any help or suggestions would be appreciated.

1. Pen and Paper RPG.  I’m old-ish.  Oldish enough that I was the right age to play when all the D&D stuff started up.  When I was 19 my girlfriend knew I was interested in it and bought me all the books and modules she could afford. I think in an attempt to force me to socialize but I still never played.  Mainly because I never found anyone else that played it.  Later in my late 20s I became friends with a guy whom I found out played regularly and I asked to join.  He was very reluctant telling me, “Man, it’s nerdy.  I mean REALLY nerdy.”  Finally one day he called me and said they were going to play a certain night but again greatly stressed that he didn’t think I would like it and it was super super nerdy.  I took it as a hint that he would be uncomfortable with me there and bowed out.  I even worked at Raven Software for 8 years which is a great haven for the nerds and still never played a game even though they had many game nights.  A few years ago I was trying to help out a friend that was creating a pen and paper RPG and bought his game rulebook and it sits on my bookshelf unused.  I’d really like to experience playing a game if for nothing else to just understand it as a game designer.  I’d especially like to try the game I bought, Darkest Age.  So far I see no prospects.

2.  Eve Online. I don’t know what it is about this game.  I have subscribed to it 3 times and I’m so intimidated and overwhelmed by it that I literally just sit in the hangar with my ship.  I know nobody that plays so I have no help.  A few times I have flown around the space station and then docked again.  The complexity and vastness of the game blows my mind to the degree that I let my sub run out and don’t renew.  Then later my curiosity rises and I sub again and repeat.  It’s the fear of getting lost, losing my ship, and dying in the middle of nowhere that has me spooked.  As I understand it you have to insure your ship and clone yourself to avoid this but what if I die a lot out there?!?  I bought Elite Dangerous and find I have been having the exact same experience.  Space games really get me, I so badly want to be a part of it but just can’t get out there.  If there are any players out there willing to give me a hand to get me started please drop me a message.

3. Dwarf Fortress. I REALLY want to get it but I don’t get it.  I hate to say it but I think it’s the lack of visuals that is throwing me.  Just looking at the symbols I feel like I’m failing a math test or attempting C++ programming.  The concept behind it sounds so interesting and as I understand it’s inanely detailed.  I have downloaded and attempted playing several times but I feel I don’t really know what’s going on.  I’m moving things around and I think I’m doing things but I’m not really sure I’m doing it correctly.  I’ve watched a few YouTube videos explaining but still not certain.  It would be so awesome to have it running while I’m working so I could replace watching YouTube or listening to music with something more constructive.  But maybe that is the disconnect, perhaps it requires my full attention.  I really don’t know.  Do you know any good videos or guides you can share?

Got help or advice to offer?  Shoot me a message at cursethedawn @ gmail or hotmail or leave a comment.

Canadian Shipping Companies Suck

I enjoy ordering online.  It’s easy, convenient, and fairly secure.  Knowing something is on its way to you is a little bit like xmas.  But there is one part of it that falls short for me and that is the delivery.  When I pay for delivery to me it means I don’t go pick anything up, the package comes to me.   However what seems to happen 99% of the time is instead of the package I get a little note delivered telling me where I need to go pick it up.

I don’t want to pick it up, that was the entire point of paying for delivery.  If I wanted to pick it up I would go to the damn store and buy it myself.  To try and avoid this problem I have nearly everything delivered to my workplace.  My work has 300+ employees running around at all times.  There is a reception area but it’s open to the lunch area where people are always abundant so there is absolutely no excuse for not finding a person to sign for a package.  However what I seem to be encountering is that the delivery people are extremely lazy. If there is nobody with their butt planted in the reception chair they turn right around and leave.

Here in Canada the blame for these lazy deliveries has mainly been Purolator and Canadian Post.  Purolator in particular has failed to deliver every single package I have ever ordered.  A few times I have lost my temper and they got the driver to turn around and deliver it later in the day.  I have to go through this every time I order a package.  I now refuse to order from companies that use Purolator.  Canadian Post on the other hand is basically the government mail service and they frankly don’t give a shit how you feel about anything.

We as consumer have little control over how sellers ship their products but we should have the power to take responsibility and approve the person delivering it to just leave it.  Just drop off the damn package like I paid for.

Today yet another package failed to arrive and I got an email saying they attempted a delivery but among the hundreds of people in the lunch area they couldn't see a single person that knew how to sign their name.  They also didn't even leave an attempt note telling me where to go get it.  So I get to bitch at them for the address and drive to downtown Toronto to pick up a package I paid $20 to deliver.  I try to scour the internet looking for a local store to buy the products from since I'll end up going to pick it up anyway.

What if I paid for delivery on a certain day?  The package would not be delivered and instead be heading back to their warehouse.  It's in transit so you can't even get it on the delivery day, you have to wait until the following day.  This is a complete rip off.

Shipping companies make online shopping pointless.  Stop being lazy and make a real attempt to deliver packages.

Stranded Deep Impressions: Early Access

During the 2015 Steam holiday sale I purchased Stranded Deep.  I’ve been thinking about picking it up for some time because I enjoy survival games although most never see their full potential.  I made the mistake of buying it along with Subnautica which made me unconsciously compare the two even though they are very different survival type games.  So I stepped away from Stranded Deep and came back to it after a few week to give it a fresh look.

First off obviously the game is still in early access so there are issues and I can understand that.  Thing’s like the hammers doing nothing, not being able to cut down trees, several items not having inventory images, these things are excusable.  I think the game in its current state portrays what the game design is trying to do and the game play shows the extent of what they plan to create.  What I would like to do is look at the game from a design perspective and offer some opinions.

Currently when the game starts you are in a life raft floating near the island you chose in the world creation screen.  In play through videos I have seen there was a plane crash scenario that let you be in this predicament.  Obviously I don’t know what the developer’s plans are but without it and maybe even with it I think starting in the raft is a bad choice.  First time players could be disoriented because you do see many distant islands you could paddle toward.  Also the raft physics and controls are not great and I seemed to have a natural tendency to press “W” while paddling because I want to go forward which would make me walk off the raft and into the ocean.  Even after knowing you don't need to press forward I still found myself doing it many times.  Getting back into the raft is clumsy and it takes some time to realize you can only climb up the side with the small ladder.  Eventually you make it to the shore and struggle with another odd feeling that you want to drag the raft out of the water which you really can’t do.  So you leave it feeling that it might drift away.  Personally I feel waking up on the beach would be a much better solution.  It avoids all the weirdness of the raft, puts you on the correct island, and you would instantly feel that you washed ashore after an incident.  My assumption is that the developer didn’t go this route because placing a player spawn in a randomly generated shoreline could be challenging, much easier to plop them in the ocean and let the player figure it out.

Graphically the game looks great.  I’m really amazed it’s the Unity engine.  There are really beautiful skies and sunsets and the ocean looks really amazing.  The game objects suffer from some harsh LOD popping which affects game play poorly.  Since you are searching the beaches for useful items you can’t really see anything from a distance so you have to walk every beach and see if anything “pops” into existence when you get closer. 

The water tech is pretty good.  Unlike Subnautica the designers of Stranded Deep realized that the ocean is a character in the game.  It is both the friend and the enemy of the player and should show moods.  So on sunny days the water is clear and colorful.  On rainy days it is dark and menacing.  Unfortunately there isn’t a lot of wave action.  As a player I was afraid of setting up my settlement on an island with low elevation for fear of the ocean waves sweeping over it during a thunderstorm.  But so far in my hours of playing there haven’t been any thunderstorms or scary high waves which has been disappointing to a degree.

Game play itself is pretty basic.  Survival expert Les Stroud is quoted in saying that the easiest environment to be stranded is a tropical island as long as you have fresh water, and I would so far agree.  Stranded Deep is fairly easy.  You have a wrist watch that tells your health, hunger, and thirst.  Most all of this can be controlled with coconuts and frankly that is where the game falls short.  You drink the coconut milk then cut the coconut in half and eat it which fills both needs with one item.  So in regards to surviving you just won the game.  Really all you need to do then is paddle around gathering coconuts.  However in what I consider a strange decision the designers made your hunger drop much faster than your thirst.  A really odd choice since everyone knows you can survive much longer without food than you can without water.  This often leaves you in a weird spot where you don’t want to waste the water in the coconuts so you drink it before eating even if you don’t need it.  Which means you are always super hydrated, not what I would have expected on deserted islands with no running fresh water.  I thought water would be the struggle.

There are of course other food items you can gather such as crabs and potatoes.  Potatoes for some reason make you throw up if you eat them raw.  I don’t really understand why since you can totally eat raw potatoes in reality.  This is a bigger issues when raw and cooked items remain stacked together in your inventory which I can only assume is a bug.  So you cook an item and if you don’t cook the entire stack you never know if what you’re eating is cooked or raw, but you figure out which you grabbed when you throw up after.  I would assume there are fish you can eat although I have yet to do so.

Other than gathering food items you can gather building materials.  From things such as driftwood, shipping containers, salvaged metals, you can create buildings and shelters.  This is a neat thing to keep you busy but I’m really not sure there is a point to doing it.  Standing in the shelters seems to create no benefits at all.  Granted I became sunburn once from sun exposure but does that mean I should be standing in my shelter during the day, and what does that game play look like?  Reminds me of the game The Long Dark when you have a fire going, nothing to craft, and a frigid blizzard blowing outside, nothing to do but stand there.  Waiting is not game play.  You can even create structures with multiple rooms and multiple floors.  Still I’m so far lost why you want to do this in a game where you are alone and nothing is attacking you on land.  I get that it’s just fun and I’m fine with that, it would just be great if it was tied into game play somehow.  Perhaps keeping things dry could keep food from rotting or keeping yourself inside during a the rain can keep your health from dropping.

The only enemies I have encountered have been the sharks, tiger sharks and great white sharks.  In real life deep ocean and sharks freak me the hell out so this game has the ability to push my panic buttons.  However the game plays a little warning musical event when they appear so you scramble even if you don’t see them.  In murky water I can’t handle it.  Just the idea that they could be there make me to leave all water explorations for sunny days and clear water.  So far I have not been killed or even attacked by anything in the game.  I get the hell out of the water as soon as I see one.

I have however died several times, but not to the sharks.  All times it has been from falling while climbing for coconuts.  Climbing the trees is really clunky.  You never really know when or why you are going to fall.  Sometimes you don’t and sometimes you drop from what seems like no reason at all.  Often the game feels confused as to which direction the inputs mean.  Generally pressing forward would make you climb and pressing backwards should make you descend but this doesn’t always work.  I’ve had several occasions when pressing back makes me continue going up so you start using a little lateral movement to get the right results which can often make you fall.  Hitting the ground sometimes does nothing, sometimes you break a limb, and sometimes you die outright.  Breaking a limb causes your health to start dropping to zero and you have to eat and drink much more.  Also your wrist watch view becomes terribly skewed and you can hardly get into a position to view it at all.  I would assume crafting bandages would help but that requires cloth when I have only found once.  My health dropped to zero and then nothing.  My watch kept beeping at me but there was nothing I could really do about it.  I didn’t die and eventually got sick of it and started over.

I think the game has great potential and I hope it will reach for it.  It's possible I have not played enough to get the full scope of the game but Steam says I've played 9 hours which is enough time for me to have some solid opinions. I think the food/water system needs an overhaul.  Coconut should only keep you barely alive forcing you to seek out fish and other food sources with more drive.  Islands with a more stable environment involving small mountains and fresh water streams to seek would be great.  Tropical storms with high waves and lightning would really shake up the easy lull of the current difficulty and cause the players to create high building structures to escape the rising water.  The introduction of daily tide cycles and ocean currents could also add to the difficulty.  I think they have a good game on their hands that could be an excellent game if the continued development has the funds to do so.

Note: I did not create the screenshots. They were gathered from Google.