Friday, October 12, 2012


This game looks really cool. I've been following it for a while:

I cut my teeth on mech combat with Mechwarrior 2, so I'm already a huge fan of big, metal machines blowing each other up. Although I haven't played Hawken yet, I can already see that with aesthetics so well developed the game will make an excellent spectator sport, and make for great YouTube fodder. I'm already imagining all the cinematic moments a game like this can generate, especially in a team combat setting.

I also find the design of the game's interface, mechs, and the associated animations fascinating. The piloted machines jitter and swerve in a way that seems distinctly life-like and organic, the spastic shaking / twitching making an interesting contrast to the deliberate, plodding motions of Mechwarrior's mobile platforms. It actually makes me of a (somewhat disturbing) creation by Boston Dynamics / DARPA, this four-legged bot with an intense desire to stay upright:

Games with functional but still visually pleasing animations aren't always valued for that quality alone, and it isn't always mentioned in games that lack it, but I think it deserves its own category of evaluation. Games with strong animation and strong multiplayer are some of the most interesting to watch -- animations made well add to the fidelity of the player interaction, helping both players and observers visually interpret what is going on more quickly and more fluidly.

Then there's the sound -- metal skin crunching, wire tendon snapping, actuators grinding -- I have no idea how the game will play, but I know its going look and sound like a gritty steel inferno, and that's enough to get me excited.

P.S.: Closed beta starts on October 26th. Check out their website for details.

Thursday, August 16, 2012

"When I was a kid, I played a whole lot of video games."

When I grow up, I don't want to be the guy who tells his kids that he played a lot of video games.

It may be factually correct. But it isn't the truth -- not for me.

Games have made me scream, believe, try... I don't want to hear you say, when I was young, I played a lot of video games. Don't tell it to your kids, your friends, to anyone. Say that when I was young, my playground expanded into a dimension not previously explored by the youth of the world. My toys were limited only by the scope of human imagination. I learned just how weak the boundary between reality and non-reality is in our minds and how we can bridge that space. I shared the crossing of that bridge with others and was richer for it.

I want you to be creative. I want you to tell them about the parts of the game that made you hurt or laugh or wonder. I don't care if you flew ships or slew monsters or fought wars, or anything else off the grocery list of gaming tropes. I am the future youth and I want to hear about the time you realized that all along, you really weren't calling the shots. About every bug you abused and every object you launched into orbit. About how you came to understand the sordid destiny in store for you. Or the time you reached the end of the world, beyond the boundaries of logic, and looked over the edge.

These are the things we can't articulate properly without thinking hard and remembering. And there are so many games, now, that it is hard to remember the specifics. Please try. You must think hard now, while the experience is fresh. You must put what you experienced to words and keep the words safe so that one day, you can share these milestones with the future, before they are blown away in a wind of technological upheaval.

Because it's not just an illusion. The game is not real, the game is just a system, but that system can now and then access and expose a kernel of truth that you would never have unearthed otherwise. There is some part of the play that touched your mind in a way you can't quite explain -- though you can come close.

So get as close as you can, and say that. Say it loud and say it often and don't forget it.

Monday, July 9, 2012

Follow-up to Creative Process, etc., yadda yadda...

This is pretty awesome.  Way simpler than I imagined, community driven, and it's backed by a serious publisher & content delivery system.

Hooray for the future.

Saturday, May 5, 2012

A Jar of Spiders

In Diablo 3 there is an ability that allows you to throw a jar of spiders. It has many names, but most players refer to it simply as Jar of Spiders.

Some people are excited about this ability. "It's fun to throw a jar of spiders," they say. It's certainly novel, I'll give you that. But I am very worried about the implications here.  Throwing jars of spiders is not just novel; the Jar of Spiders concept taps into the deep evolutionary psychology of spider avoidance and multiplies it times a hundred.  We've never considered the ramifications of implementing spider-based weaponry, spider frag grenades if you will. And, heretofore unexplored lethality aside, the understatement baked into the phrase "Jar of Spiders" also lends itself well to memedom.

"Not as clumsy or random as a jar of spiders, an elegant weapon for a more civilized age..."

"If a problem can't be solved by throwing a jar of spiders at it, it isn't worth solving."

"I love the smell of a jar of spiders in the morning."

I see Jar of Spiders going big. Beyond memes, though there are sure to be a great many. Far beyond anything a simple game development company could have imagined. People are more afraid of spiders than of death, after all.

So it starts out small. A bank is robbed, the perp brandishing nothing more than a jar of spiders. Police forces move to utilize CSRS (Compartmentalized Spider Release Systems) as a means of crowd control. Jar of Spider control laws become a nationally charged issue. North Korea develops and successfully launches the first ICSM (Inter-continental Spider Missile).

It just keeps escalating.  Panicked and backed into a corner, humanity loses its cool and Global Spider War breaks out. No one is safe. Have you seen those jumping spiders? Think you're safe standing up on that chair? They're like honey badgers, they don't give a shit. They'll jump right up there.

Before you know it, it's all over, a spider apocalpyse. Humans die out and are replaced by jars of spiders. I mean, replaced by spiders. That live in jar cities. Because that's all that's left. Jars, and spiders.

Just so some damn CM could get his jollies breaking barrels. Do you see what you've done, Blizzard? Do you see what you've unleashed?

Sunday, March 11, 2012

Speculation: The Open Market Future of Creative Development

A few weeks ago I was listening to a podcast shared by a friend that involved a bleak literary e-future, after the "e-bookalypse", when publishing becomes a bizarre practice of self-publicity and patron-seeking. In this world, publishers are replaced with mafia-esque groups that take advantage of budding or inexperienced authors, roping them into contracts to pump out endless derivative works. The only way out? Seek the funding of a powerful individual interested in investing in your work, a "patron."

A bleak future indeed. An illogical one in some ways, I felt. But is it so far from reality? Would you believe we're entering into an age where you as an individual user can dictate what content is developed before the first word is penned, the first scene is storyboarded, or the first line of code is written?

The industry of speculative artistic creation entered into my consciousness through a website you've probably heard of, called Kickstarter. It's a simple concept; propose a project, find interested investors, and reward them based on their investment level if the project is funded and completed. It works, too, to the tune of a few million in one case.

That case is one of a game developer cashing in on a lot of unsatisfied interest to fund a project that many larger game publishers would see as doomed in the market. And it worked so well that the Doublefine Adventure project is now six times over-funded. So why did it work? Is there more here than the novelty of sticking it to "the man," the big publishers responsible for canning so many interesting titles? And is this a development method that can be maintained?

I believe that in the individual case above, it "worked" because there is is an unfilled niche (the 2D adventure gaming genre), and a moment in time (Kickstarter is still fairly new), that both together have enabled this project to gain a lot of momentum. But I also think it worked because there is trust for the figurehead of the project, who has a reputation, who has roots in the earliest incarnations of the genre.

The ability to preserve that level of trust is what will make or break a new market like this. And I really think we ought to try and preserve it, because the benefits, both to the developer and to the consumer, of seeking investment directly from those who will be your customers are many-fold.

Think of a standard consumer market, where a producer accepts some kind of monetary risk to produce a new product. Then, consumers either reward the investment with purchases, which creates financial success, or scorn the new product, which causes the producer a loss. You create a new line of shoes, produce them, put them on shelves, and the customer either buys them or doesn't.

But if the customer trusts the producer enough to commit to a purchase before any significant investment is made (the shoes have been designed, but none produced), then that producer can do something incredible: they can turn their entire customer base into a focus group, and determine the success of the product before spending a dime on actual production.

I think taking this approach has a lot of promise for creating more awesome stuff in a more efficient way. In a huge way, it puts the decision to greenlight a project into the hands of the people who will actually be paying for and experiencing the content being created. The publisher disappears like a bad dream. It seems too good to be true. So how can we move forward and maintain this method as a tool for creative production, for things like games, novels, or movies?

What is really needed is an online platform DEDICATED to entertainment content development via "currency votes." In the case of gaming, developers would post their credentials, their plan for a new game, and set levels of reward similar to the blueprint established on Kickstarter. If adequate funding is provided, the developer develops. Games are created. And, eventually, user invested capital is paid back in the form of promised content.

Of course, for the average independent content developer looking to get into this game, lacking an invested publisher to provide its (often iron-fisted and destructive) oversight to the process creates a void of accountability. My suggestion for filling this void is something like a basic development roadmap applied to every project, where users can vote at certain stages to either continue or terminate funding. The stages could be marked differently for different mediums, but for the gaming example (please forgive the drastic over-simplification):

1. Design (concept, initial funding)
2. Alpha (engine, assets, refining concept)
3. Beta (playable version, public testing)
4. Release (final polish)

Portions of the initial funding cache would be disbursed at the end of each stage, not as a lump-sum, and progress to the next stage would be moderated by the investors: as the developer released new information on the progress of the project at the end of each stage, a vote takes place on the continuance of funding by those invested in the project. This would provide a form of accountability.

In essence, I'm saying that what Tim Schaefer is doing with the parallel YouTube development documentary for Doublefine Adventure, set to provide constant updates on development progress, is not just a bonus for the invested public; it is ESSENTIAL to maintaining consumer trust in an emerging market where there is currently not much to back up the producer's promise of returns but the a little good-will.

The throwback to Renaissance patronage might not be so misplaced, if we're willing see it at a much larger scale. And if we can make it work at this scale, it will be a step towards a world where the producer can determine what wants to be made before they make it, not with guess-work but with dollar signs -- and where the consumer can exercise something more than a passive, reactionary influence on that process, with interest driving the market directly. The concept excites me.