PAX West 2016


I used to write something about the various events going on in the games industry, but when I actually started partaking I stopped. In a few cases that is warranted – when judging some competition, for instance, it’s difficult to be 100% ethical when writing publicly about it – but other than that it seems good to reflect on their value.

So, PAX West. Also, PAX Dev. I’ll start with that, since it came first.

I’m not entirely sold on the concept of PAX Dev – that they disallow journalists or recording in order to allow presenters to speak more freely. Even if we could rely on people to keep their mouths shut, there is no vetting process of attendees so you have no guarantee whatsoever that the people who should not hear what you have to say will not be in the audience – this being the case, presenters stuck to topics they could have just as well given at GDC or Indiecade. The big drawback, of course, is that there is no way to watch recorded presentations after the conference.

As conferences go, there were a some really good presentations and some that were mostly rehashes of old content or thinly-veiled marketing ploys. Not quite the quality of GDC but good in terms of value for the cost – especially if you already live in Seattle. And they do get bonus points for having tables in all their rooms.

PAX West itself was a weird beast – the stores and panels felt like they were taken from comic con, the boardgames would have felt right at home at a PnP/boardgame convention, the AAA studios had smaller versions of their setups from E3 and the independent games were laid out in much the same way as you’d find them at Indiecade. But the variety works really well – for all of those shows, attending a single day is usually more than enough for me but with PAX I was still finding more things to do for the entirety of the show. I suppose part of that is the lines – like any consumer show, the lines are long to just about everything. Also, the panels are going to be interesting to the fans rather than educational. But when it comes down to it, PAX is a show that is more than the sum of its parts.

My favorite games of the expo included Owlboy, Pit People, Celeste, Enter the Gungeon and Fossil Echo. Not going to get into why for the unreleased ones just yet, but Enter the Gungeon had really tight controls and interesting varieties of weapons and enemies that made it fun to play, it also was very visceral and satisfying and clean art with consistent theming. I don’t play a lot of roguelikes since I like finite experiences, but I will make an exception in this case.

Posted on Sep 09/16 by Saint and filed under Gaming culture, Meta-blog | No Comments »

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Not much to say about 2014. 2015 should be interesting.

Wolfenstein: The New Order is a great game on many levels, and it was made in large part by former Starbreeze employees – having worked with some of them for around five years, it invoked a very distinct feeling in everything from the programming to the story hooks. Certain people and studios have their own styles, much like in any other media, but I’ve never felt it as strongly before.

Destiny is the only game I’ve played to any meaningful extent since it was released (with the possible exception of Elliot Quest), and quite possibly the game I’ve played for the most time ever. Being partial to having many short gaming experiences rather than a rare few deep ones, I did not see myself getting hooked on Destiny to the extent that I did but the combination of a really solid core gameplay and a mostly horizontal progression curve in the endgame makes it a tempting game to return to time and time again.

Posted on Jan 03/15 by Saint and filed under Meta-blog, Reflections | No Comments »

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It’s been a long while since I wrote anything other than reflections on this page. Not that there has been a lack of material – I keep a closer eye on the industry now than I used to, and I partake personally in more events since I live closer to them – it’s just difficult to say something that is relevant but unsaid elsewhere. Not that the reflections have any particular value, but I do it mostly for my own sake and the public nature of the format only serves to make me think more about the words.

That said, in 2014 I will attempt to only write positive things about the games I play. This is not too big of a stretch since intriguing me is usually a requirement for me playing a game in the first place, but it is a useful focus in rooting out the successes of each game, the inspirational pieces of them. More importantly, there are far too many instances in the gaming culture focusing on negativity and ridiculing flaws – certainly, some thoughtful critique but there’s also a large chunk of people writing hostility for laughs. I’m not in a position to singlehandedly change the tone of the conversation, but I can at least experiment with the tone of my own voice.


Monaco is an interesting beast that invites you to find exploits, shows you why the exploits do not work and invites you to try and outsmart it. It is a brilliant exercise in asymmetric gameplay and a sandbox not in size but in options – every level is a stage for a myriad of heist movies. Most importantly, Monaco truly shines in multiplayer, constantly causing incidental synergy and making every player contribute without handicaps.

Kentucky Route Zero

Still in development, but the first two chapters have been something out of the ordinary. While there’s a lot to be said for the melancholy and mystery of the settings and aesthetics, the characters really sell it.

Tomb Raider

I can probably name a few games I liked more than Tomb Raider, but everything from the technology to the design and writing was surprisingly good. Making a modern Tomb Raider game and telling a human origin story for Lara Croft was difficult for so many reasons but Crystal Dynamics managed to pull it off.

…Honorable mentions go to GTA V and Rayman Legends (which I really liked but did not have much to say about), and Papers, Please. And a bunch of other games. It’s been a good year.

Posted on Jan 03/14 by Saint and filed under Meta-blog, Reflections | No Comments »

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The games industry has been changing for a while now – perpetually since its inception, in fact, but the last few years in particular have seen a boom of smaller games, alternative business models and a diversification rather than a technological arms race. It’s interesting to watch it happening from the inside – console generations used to last around 5 years, the XBox 360 is currently on it’s 8th and there is little information about what comes next, if anything. It used to be that merely making a game was hard – not so anymore, but making a good game is really hard. A couple of years back, I wrote that the AAA games industry had something you couldn’t get anywhere else – experiencing how it responds to change is a big part of that. But enough jetlag-induced blabbering.

Before I reminisce about other games, you should read Jon Blow’s post about inspiration if you haven’t done so already.

the Unfinished Swan, the game itself did not feel particularly interesting, it had a few brilliant moments but mostly it was more or less a linear slog through levels giving you the first-person puzzler equivalent of pixel hunting. The narrative, presented in the form of a child’s storybook, was a refreshing look at the creative process and probably the best one I have ever seen a game do.

Rayman Origins, it is definitely a question of a game right in my comfort zone – if you do not enjoy twitchy platform games, you will not enjoy Rayman Origins. But it knows what it is trying to deliver and does so with surgical precision.

Closure, there are always plenty of good platform games that ask you to solve puzzles (Queue mentioning my own project Backworlds here and quote from Jon Mak), but with the genre confusion going on it is hard to find games that actually require you to think and solve problems rather than repeat the tutorial to change the pace. Admittedly the challenge level is an individual thing but Closure hit a sweet spot right between busywork and insurmountable, and had some pretty fresh ideas as well.

Posted on Jan 03/13 by Saint and filed under Meta-blog, Reflections | No Comments »

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On rapejokes

… I am going to write a few lines closely related to the rape joke thing. Now, I read about it since the discussion about sexism in videogames have expanded recently – I am neither a rape victim, a woman, a comedian or a journalist. I make no claims of being an authority.

As with anything else, most of what I read about this is preaching to the choir – aggressive language promoting either side is good at making people feel justified but unlikely to persuade anyone to change their ways. Some people, like comedian Curtis Luciani, attempt an explanation for those who simply cannot comprehend what is so horrible about it.

Personally, I think requiring people to imagine a completely different world is a bit of a stretch to make a point. A short description is not enough to provide context and legitimacy and people are unlikely to read Egalia’s Daughters just to be convinced. So this is my attempt to talk about something a bit closer to heart.

A friend of mine divorced his wife a few years back and as a part of this he lost custody of his child. Now, there was no violence involved, no drugs or abuse, no question about ability to be a providing parent or anything like that – my friend is a fairly normal guy but custody battles are one of the few places were the odds are usually stacked in the woman’s favor. The courts ruled that he should be allowed to see the child on a regular basis but it was up to the parents to arrange  this.

Fast-forward a few years and he is still fighting, still has not been allowed to meet his child. The mother has used the usual tricks; taking the child out of town during the time for the planned meetings, claimed the child was sick each and every time and in some cases blatantly lied about him being a danger to the child. It is starting to get into the territory of the mother claiming that since he has not met the child for so long, it would be best if he simply was left out completely.

Now, his friends are sympathetic but fighting this publicly quickly builds opposition. Comments like “well, he obviously can’t be innocent or this wouldn’t have happened“,  “it can’t be that bad, he should be happy that they are with their mother” and, at best, “sure, it’s bad, but we need to deal with these other injustices before we focus on the privileged“. The act itself is not comparable to rape, but the societal response is full of distrust, trivialization and derailment arguments in both cases.

So let’s say a comedian makes a cheap joke about this. Maybe something like this; “So, this guy is complaining because he’s not allowed to meet his kids once a week. Hey, my kids bug me all day when I’m home – it’s always dad! dad! dad! Maybe he could just take mine instead – say a few hours every Saturday so I can watch the game. But yeah, he seems pretty shaken up about it. Maybe it’s for the best that he has some alone time so he can figure out how to be a man again.” … To me, this seems a little more likely than a society where women cut off penises. I do not have to suspend myself in a fantasy world to know hearing that would hurt on a very personal level. I know women who were subjected to sexual violence, but I have never been afraid to walk home alone at night; never been in a relationship where I had to trust someone not to be violent. But I have been hurt by people I placed my trust in, and through my friend I can easily imagine how much pain that could result in.

To be fair to Curtis Luciani, the rest of his post is spot-on. Lindy West also wrote about it. It is not a question about free speech, it is a question about personal responsibility. If I make a violent game I do it knowing that I am ignoring the people who think violence has no place in games, if Daniel Tosh tells a rape joke he should do it knowing that a lot of people will be offended by it and take responsibility for that. I think my favorite quote in the matter is from Tom Bissell after the whole Skyrim joke thing; “Do I loathe people without senses of humor? Very much so. But what I loathe even more is people who thoughtlessly propagate stereotypes and fall back on an easy gag for what they think is going to be an easy laugh

Without knowing how we are offending people and how much, it would be hard to judge if the value of the work is worth it – hence the anecdote above.

If you read this and you feel that you are the friend in question and take offense to your grief being used in this example – I am truly sorry. I try to be constructive but not everyone solve their issues in this way.

Also, if you perceive this as a way to shift attention from rape to custody issues, I am sorry as well. This is definitely not the intent – I just want create understanding by talking about something a bit closer to home. I do not want to compare the two, but I will say that thoughtless jokes are a non-issue with custody problems – maybe because it is easier to relate to for most men.

Posted on Jul 15/12 by Saint and filed under Meta-blog | 5 Comments »

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I made some big decisions in 2010, but it was not until this year that I had to come to terms with what they meant. It has certainly been an experience so far and I am still adapting, I have hardly played any big releases for the last 8 months and I do not know if that is a cause or an effect. Originally, this made me reluctant to write this, but since year-end “best-of” lists tend to have more games released in Q4 it might be for the best that I got most of my playing done in Q1.

In direct opposition to how the development world is moving, I have actually played *less* smaller games this year. It is something that shall be remedied for 2012, but for now these are my 2011 favorites;

Bulletstorm, a lot of people whose opinions I respect have dismissed it as juvenile crap based solely on narrative and presentation. While I agree these are important parts in a videogame, I think they serve a purpose in providing a unified whole that allows for radio-controlled dinosaurs, giant monsters and killing by cactus. There is a skillfully designed shooter there, and I am not sure a more serious presentation would have allowed it to deliver such joy.

Dragon Age 2, I actually liked it better than the first game in all aspects. Sure, it lacked the gravitas of a plot essentially about saving the world but it was different. The story does not revolve around a person, group or quest but rather focuses on how different factions forced to live in the same town tries to coexist. It is more about Kirkwall itself than anything else, and I found this immensely refreshing.

Deus Ex – Human Evolution, no-one I know have argued that it is a bad game. It certainly could be – it is graphically inferior many other games,  the design is uneven both in terms of core functionality and levels and even the lauded story has some contrived parts. But it also has a intricate and well-built setting as well as the backdrop for a deep and meaningful story.

… An honorable mention goes to Radiant Historia, but I am not done with it yet and some JRPGs really turn sour towards the end so I’m playing it safe.

Posted on Jan 04/12 by Saint and filed under Meta-blog, Reflections | No Comments »

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The Mojäng – Zenimax thing

Apparently the first step of Zenimax’ lawsuit is concluded. The trial remains and appeals do not seem unlikely, so it may be a while still.

Now, I am going to draw upon some experiences of my professional life in this post so maybe it is best to make it clear that this post, like all others on this blog, are my opinions alone and are not to be attributed to any of my employers, past or present.

In “the Darkness”, a little less than halfway through the game, Jackie runs into a WW2 era cannon. It is a rail-mounted monstrosity, somewhere between a train and a building – but more importantly, at one point the train had the number “999” stamped somewhere. This was a subtle reference to the anime “Galaxy Express 999”, but you will not find it anymore as it was removed due to copyright concerns. There is also a lot of graffitti in the game – we actually hired artists to paint this for us as just grabbing it from concrete walls around town put us in a sticky ownership position. The cool part about this is that the entire development team got to have their handles recreated as tags – though you will not find mine there as I requested that my tag have a stick figure with a halo. You know, “Saint” and all… I have some more understanding for the cutting of this (even though the figure in the tag looked nothing like the icon popularized by Simon Templar), but still. And those things are just the beginning.

Now, I do not blame the studio heads for wanting to play it safe – Intellectual Property law is apparently a minefield in entertainment in general and videogames in particular, for several reasons.

First, as a small independent studio making a global product we were at the mercy of our publishers. As far as I understand it, most similar contracts make it the developer’s sole responsibility to make sure that there is no IP infringement in the game, even if the publisher has signed off on the game and it sits on shelves around the world. A small independent studio could not handle the cost of a lawsuit concerning a game selling millions of copies.

Second, there is a general notion that since everything in a videogame more or less has to be explicitly created for the game, there is never a lack of intent. I have not been able to get this verified or denied by anyone – again, this is a subject no-one wants to touch. But unlike movies, where other trademarks might happen to be in the background, you better be sure all your designs are original in a game. This creates a warped responsibility where our artists had to design everyday objects and model fictional characters only to spend hours searching online to make sure they had not accidentally made it similar to an existing design or celebrity. It hurts narrative too, Max Barry wrote about the alienation of fiction when we are not allowed to use brands that have forced themselves into our everyday lives – this is the biggest reason why so few AAA games are set in contemporary settings.

Third, this is an issue that very few people talk about. No-one wants to be publicly involved in IP lawsuits, so nobody talks about it. All of the things we had to do for the Darkness (and later games) were not because of warnings from outside but from self-policing in fear of a reportedly massive number of copyright and patent trolls looming around every new release. Stories from publisher representatives and rumors from conventions where all we had to go by – but it was enough. We could scarcely afford to finish the game, a lawsuit would leave everyone without a job.

It is mainly because of this third reason that I appreciate that Mojäng are fighting this and they are being public about it – there needs to be a lot more light shining on these issues so we can get some real, official examples of what we can actually do. That is not to say I think either them or Zenimax are obviously in the right, but maybe if a case like this is settled in public we can be on the way to a functional industry where IP decisions are made based on facts and reason instead of fear and rumors. I think that would make the entire entertainment industry a nicer place to work in.

Posted on Oct 19/11 by Saint and filed under General game development, Intellectual Property, Meta-blog | 5 Comments »

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The game I used to work on was officially announced a while back and today some video footage was revealed. It has been quite a while since I worked on it but since I could not talk about it while working on it for more than two years I am going to write something anyway.

I suppose the elephant in the room is the fact that it is not an assymetric, squad-based RTS thing, or rather that people are complaining that it isn’t. I’d be lying if I said it didn’t hurt a little when so much hard work is hatefully dismissed by people who did not want it in the first place, and seeing as some of my best friends are still working on it I really feel for Starbreeze. Hopefully it will die down as more information about the game surfaces. On the other hand, I can understand the disappointment. Games like Halo Wars and Mario Party did not get nearly as much complaints, but I am very sure they would have if we did not have Mario Galaxy and Halo: Reach. Metroid Prime was universally hated before it was released for similar reasons, and that game kept most of the central gameplay intact.

I am happy to have worked on it though, even if a lot of people seem to be of the “all or nothing” – mindset Syndicate is a really good IP even without the characteristic gameplay. It takes place in an establish dystopian future where humanity and personality is worth nothing, and it approaches this subject in a way that feels eerily plausible. I really am not usually the one to complain about materialism but the grim future in the world of Syndicate is not that many steps from what we have today. There is a very brutal element to the IP but the excessive violence serves to drive home the point – I remember being a vocal opponent to gibbed body parts in “the Darkness” because even though the IP was also very grim it did not feel like it made anything better. Some of the previewers have mentioned a somewhat disturbing scene of something being extracted from a man’s skull – it used to be even more disturbing, and I was kind of sad when they toned it down.

I am hoping this all goes well and the game is a success. If it is, maybe the IP will grow big even in a modern context, and maybe if it does EA will have enough faith in the setting to release a game with elements they do not have as much faith in; such as a non-FPS.

Posted on Sep 30/11 by Saint and filed under General game development, Meta-blog | No Comments »

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On Starbreeze


So apparently I missed this completely; 1up picks apart the history of Starbreeze Studios.

Most of it is personal opinions on verified facts rather than any real secrets, but still an interesting read. I have little further to say other than to add my voice to the choir; when I left Starbreeze it was a very different company than the 30-people strong outfit I joined in 2005. It goes for the entire games industry, really. We were still just discovering MMORPGs and the large scale indie movement had barely even started. The entire social games movement was not even thought of – we did not even have achievements or anything to share our mostly singleplayer experiences. Even if the particular change that happened to Starbreeze was up to a few specific companies and individuals, I think that the change itself was inevitable.

Posted on Sep 11/11 by Saint and filed under Gaming culture, Meta-blog | No Comments »

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… So I decorated the walls of my apartment this weekend. To be honest, this has little to do with anything else that has been posted on this blog but as this is as good a place to document the process as any I will do it here.


When starting out, I only really knew that I wanted to do tree silhouettes so I drafted up a quick blueprint of my walls in Inkscape and then made a mockup with some images of oaks I found and liked. I honestly cannot remember where the specific images came from apart from the small one which was part of the art collection by HammedHareet that we used for Backworld, but that matters little. I had been really sloppy in the exact locations of electrical outlets and lightswitches in the blueprint, something that came back to bite me later – but I am getting ahead of myself.

At this point I had cleaned up the images and made them into silhouettes. As the images had different origins I tried to make them somewhat similar – this meant adding branches to the stylized trunk and removing them from the photograph. In retrospect I should have spent a lot more time on this as some of the branches have really uneven thickness, but that is something to remember for next time.

I added the grid in order to break down the process of scaling up the image into manageable parts – it is a lot easier to replicate and enlarge one square at a time than an entire image. You are also almost guaranteed the image will not be distorted. Someone suggested I should project the image on the wall and then pencil the shapes – this would probably have been a really good idea if I had been painting, but either way I did not have the equipment for it.

Day one

It was suggested that I use contact paper instead of painting, I did some tests with scrap pieces and it worked out really well. The only downside was the poor availability of colors but since I was only going to use black anyway it mattered little. The image shows the first piece – it can be hard to see but I pencilled the grid on it to do the upscaling.

The back of the contact paper actually already had a grid, but it was in half-inch increments and my measurements where in centimeters. Had I thought about this before I could probably have saved myself some time measuring the grid, although I would probably still have had to draw it.

Finally, the keen eye will notice that the print of the pattern is actually mirrored since I was drawing on the back of the paper – not an absolute necessity, but I find minimizing the possibility of mistakes speeds up work. I had mirrored and normal printouts both with and without grid for reference as the grid sometimes obscured details in the image.

Just before attaching the first piece to the wall. It is a bit faint in the picture, but I improvised a plumb by attaching a screwdriver to a piece of thread and then taping it to the ceiling. I then taped the corners of the trunk to the wall in order to make sure it lined up properly before attaching it – it turns out I was needlessly cautious as the contact paper was really easy to attach. It doesn’t crease so as long as you get one small piece attached correctly the rest will not be a problem, and should you fail it can easily be detached and placed again.

First branches attached.  Discounting the leaf this is now three separate pieces, but in normal lighting conditions you really cannot tell unless you walk up and search for the seam.

Another picture of the workspace. The branches (as well as everything on the other walls) were drawn out with the contact paper lying horizontally whereas the trunk was a vertical piece. This made a lot of sense from an economical standpoint as there was little waste even with big pieces, but as it turns out the difference in light reflection gets really obvious when you join two pieces rotated 90° to each other. For this particular tree it was okay since it does not get hit by direct sunlight but later on I made sure only to rotate the pieces 180° on the roll.

All done with the first wall. I had to cut off and modify the right branch since I had been sloppy with placing the lightswitches on my blueprints, but other than that it was easy. Getting the first tree up took around four hours, but I was overly cautious so it took longer than it had to.

Day two

At this time, the trunk consists of four pieces stacked on top of each other. The second-highest piece, the one with the branches, was one of the longest I did for the entire project, but thankfully attaching big pieces of contact paper to the wall was no problem at all. Corners turned out to be a bit of a problem though, and I probably should have cut up the base piece in two and put one piece on each wall – making sure it was aligned with both the doorway and the ceiling while crossing the corner was cumbersome and even now it is slightly angled. Luckily, the tree itself is by no means straight so it does not show.

Second piece of the trunk done, discounting leaves it is 8 different pieces. Compared to the earlier tree this looks kind of jagged and abstract which is ironic considering it is the only piece based on a real tree, but then again I could probably have done a better job cleaning up the picture when I was at that stage. I had spent at least five hours on it at this point and it was well past midnight so the rest would have to wait.

Day three

Done with the second wall. The only difference is that I attached four branches, two on each side and five pieces in total. And some leaves. These pieces are kind of big – around one meter each in length – and while this produces a lot of waste contact paper it is a lot easier to attach it and get it to look good since it more or less takes care of itself once you have positioned it. In other words, less pieces = less attachpoints = less potential issues. Finishing up this wall took between three and four hours.

Onto the final wall, again I am placing the contact paper horizontally and building the trunk up in pieces. It is actually too wide to be made in one strip anyway. The first three pieces are relatively simple – in retrospect I probably should not have bothered drawing out the entire grids on the paper – and I am done in less than two hours. To be on the safe side I am using a plumb again but I really did not need it.

Day four

With the help of a chair, I managed to put up the last pieces of the trunk. This is now seven pieces – as many as the last tree in height, only that one had a couple of branches in separate pieces while this only has the one.

Left branch. Due to the complexity of this branch and the complexity involved in splitting it into pieces, I have now spent more than seven hours of the day. During the course of the project I have occasionally decided to change the design slightly when branches where just a bit too long to fit inside the bounds of the contact paper, but doing it too much would make the tree look ugly. An alternative would have been to think about how the pieces would be cut out when I drew the design, but I chose to work with less limitations out of personal preference.

At this point I have finished the first roll of contact paper – 18 inch by 75 feet, meaning I have drawn around 900 squares.

An image of the first piece of the right branch, and the mess on the workspace that has now begun to overflow down to the floor.

Finally done. I spent somewhere between 9 and 11 hours on this during the day, meaning around 12 hours on the tree as a whole and maybe 4 workdays on the entire project – but it was all worth it as my home is a lot less bleak now. Most of the images were taken at night with artificial lighting, but here are a couple of images of the finished pieces taken in sunlight;

Putting giant stickers on the wall is nothing new, of course, there are a few companies that specialize in just that. I personally have a Blik in my bathroom that I really like, and considering that most of my time with this went into drawing and cutting out patterns getting pre-existing decals instead would have been a lot faster. There is something to be said for decorating your own home though, and if nothing else this was probably the cheapest way to go about doing it.

Posted on Jul 19/11 by Saint and filed under Homegrown, Meta-blog | 1 Comment »