For the independent developer

Gamasutra wrote about a presentation from the Independent Games Summit, Kim Swift from Valve talked about the development of Narbacular Drop and subsequently working for Valve developing Portal;

Everyone goes through the same experiences making their first game, it seems; so she offers some information that – although important – feels kind of redundant. On the other hand, the development of Portal is sort of a success-story so the things she brings up that people don’t usually say are all the more interesting

Posted on Oct 30/07 by Saint and filed under General game development | No Comments »

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Games and Research

Patrick Liu, formerly associate producer at Starbreeze, has some discouraging words for students at any of the Swedish game developer schools at his blog…

To be fair here, he does write that it’s basically just his opinion based on impressions. I don’t disagree with everything he says either – whereas, say, you’ll be hard-pressed to find any doctors that could have gone without a medical education, I have yet to see a now-employed, former student from a game school that I thought couldn’t have done it by themselves. Since he asks people to correct him, though, I’m going to point out the things I disagree with.

I’m not sure what game schools Patrick has visited, but I’m fairly sure he never visited mine since if he did, he’d see that games analysis (according to Aarseth, among others) was a very important part of the introduction course and there are several PhD students researching in the already existing academic principle concerning games. Perhaps not on par with the research conducted about other areas at larger universities, but it’s only been there for 4 years – Give it time. I also don’t get why he’s complaining about the lack of innovation – I would say most of the qualitative, innovative games in Sweden are made by students from game schools. While I do agree there certainly could be more of it, you have to consider that game-making require quite a high knowledge threshold in the first place and the school sort of has a responsibility to make sure everyone passes that threshold.

What I’m saying is that it comes down to whether you want to spend your education working out new concepts or actually learning how to implement them. From experience I know that most people will go for knowledge of implementation, and the purely conceptually interested are rarely able to show what they’ve done anyway. There are of course exceptions where people already have great skills and wacky ideas, which is why we do see innovative games from game schools from time to time.

Additionally, I would like to point out that of the “fresh” employees hired at Starbreeze, at least half come directly from game educations. I personally believe that the greatest boon is to build some connections to people with similar interests as well as the established games industry, sort of a middle-ground between being a hopeful and an employee, if you will. Perhaps that isn’t as useful to the established game industry as a program that reliably churns out top-notch game developers, but it sure is useful to the students.

Posted on Oct 30/07 by Saint and filed under Gaming culture, General game development | No Comments »

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This is another game in the so-overhyped-I-shouldn’t-even-bother- category (I guess this means I’m too mainstream. Have to work on that), but since it surprisingly enough didn’t toy with my health the way Half Life did, I could actually play it.

On a high level, Portal reminds me a lot of Katamari. There is a very solid base mechanic that you don’t seem to ever get tired of, and just like Katamari it has a strange humoristic tone that alone makes it worth playing. But that’s sort of it, and while Katamari felt dragged out at times, Portal is very short. It does seem sort of like a waste as there easily could’ve been more levels (the flash version had more, even), and even on the levels there are a lot of puzzles are recycled without really changing between iterations.

But people saying it’s a great game aren’t lying, I guess I’m just hoping that the success hasn’t blinded them and that they’re actually going to try and make something bigger when they make a sequel.

Posted on Oct 27/07 by Saint and filed under Reflections | No Comments »

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Why would they do such a thing?

… Around the end of my vacation, I picked up the Orange Box to have something to do during the final weekend. It seemed like a good deal; Five games for the price of one (of which I would probably only bother with four, one is rumored to be incredibly short and two of the others are just expansion packs to the first, but still a good deal), and Half-Life 2 is, after all, considered by many to be one of the finest achievements in videogaming.

I didn’t get it until today, and as it turns out that was just as well, since it makes me nauseous. Not that it’s gross or anything, it’s something else. Out of a myriad of 3D games, the only game ever before to have made me sick just by playing it was Half-Life, so it couldn’t be a coincidence, right? other people with the same problems mention the aspect ratio and how HL and HL2 use 75 degrees instead of the more common 90, but of course that can’t be changed on a 360 so if I’m going to get any return on my investment, I’ll just have to play the game in short chunks.

This is sort of discouraging to me because what I’ve seen so far hints that it might very well be deserving of a lot of the praise; even though Newell & co seem to be fond of illogical physics-puzzles (seriously, the point of having physics is to have a universal set of rules that people just “know”. If you’re not being consistent in how you follow them, you’re just confusing people). I usually play through games in as few sittings as possible so it is likely that I don’t follow through on Half Life 2 for this reason. On the other hand, it might be interesting to play a game that can’t possibly keep me occupied for more than an hour at a time as it leaves time for other things.  I would assume to finish Metroid Prime 3 before going any further with it, though.

Posted on Oct 23/07 by Saint and filed under Gaming culture, Meta-blog | No Comments »

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“Ideas are the only real currency”

Gamasutra sister site Game Career Guide recently posted advice on safeguarding your ideas, and the internets would probably be a nicer place if more people read some of that advice and took it to heart;

“It really is important to make sure all our readers know upfront that one idea isn’t worth diddley-doddley, as Ned Flanders would say. One idea is nothing. Even killer ideas are a dime a dozen.”

Now, while I certainly recognize that plagiarism is frequently occurring out there, I would argue that, as Edison said, invention is 1% inspiration, and 99% perspiration. Making games is hard work and anyone with some experience in design will tell you that it’s very, very rare to get it right the first time. In order to make something that’s actually enjoyable, you need to evaluate it, refine it by adding and detracting things, balance conditions and you’re still not guaranteed to have something more than what amounted to a “good idea on paper, but…”

“…He talks at one point about trying to sell a game to a publisher by explaining the idea to the executives verbally and on paper, which failed. He went back to his team and told them they would have to try again, but instead of showing documents, they would show a trailer, a visual representation of the game they wanted to make. And that’s how they sold the idea.”

Publishers frequently get demonized for turning down original concepts by startups, and while there may be some merit to this argument there’s also a reason selling something as a startup is more difficult: you have to prove that you’re capable of going the distance.

I won’t neglect that a good, simple-to-implement idea can make or break a game, but even if plagiarism is bad form I would consider it infinitely worse to withhold a good idea from the world just because you can’t possibly profit from it yourself.

Posted on Oct 09/07 by Saint and filed under General game development, Intellectual Property | No Comments »

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Surprisingly little to add

… I have written very little text directly considering my work, so one would think that now – while I’m on vacation and free to spend the days doing what I please – I would actually have more to say. Obviously, this isn’t the case but I’m not sure why. Since beating Symphony of the Night, I’ve played Alundra and watched the Resident Evil series of movies in it’s entirity. The movies were quite good for game-based features – not that it’s saying anything – and Alundra… Well, let’s just say that fond memories had painted it in a more appealing light than nostalgia managed to keep up when burdened with the flaws of the game itself.

Until I get my hands on Bioshock, I hope to able to get some work done on my personal projects, but that is assuming I don’t find it more interesting to play another game (and destroy another illusion of rememberance) or just sit and watch movies. While it’s sort of sad to be reduced to solely a consumer, this is my vacation after all and I’m not going to force myself to work on a hobby creation.

Posted on Oct 08/07 by Saint and filed under Meta-blog | No Comments »

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Symphony of the Night

… My vacation started friday, and since I am not done with “completely meaningless” just yet (I’m aiming for “pointless” by the end of the week), I decided that I should download and play the titular game since Microsoft/Konami are nice enough to have it on XBLA. That was roughly 20 hours ago, and 2 hours ago I turned off the 360.

What I wanted to say was that my mind is a little muddy at the moment, so this might be even less coherent than usual. This also explains I write insanely long sequences without even getting to the point until the next paragraph – even moreso than usual (damnit, now I’m doing it again)


Symphony of the Night is one of those games that everybody adores – not necessarily because it is a timeless classic, but because it took a big step forward and did something different (“different” only from it’s prequels in this case, but I’m getting ahead of myself). It was an action-adventure game, an exploration game in 2D when everybody was busy trying to figure out how it should be done in 3D. I always planned on getting SotN back then. I spent unhealthy amounts of time bitching on forums (or “messageboards” as we called ’em back then) about Nintendo’s lack of a Metroid title in the pipeline, and everbody said SotN was perfect to fill the gap. I don’t know why I didn’t (lack of money seems plausible), but at least it’s nice to finally conclude a chapter of doubt and say that yes, indeed, I should’ve played SotN ten years ago instead of today.

Symphony of the Night is exactly what I wanted back then; it’s Super Metroid with more features, prettier graphics, and exactly the sort of deficiencies I wouldn’t mind then but that bother me now.

First of all, the controls are unresponsive and lousy, getting used to them takes awhile. I’m willing to accept some of this is due to bad emulation, but why bind “special weapon” to up+attack where you’ll accidentally waste ammo trying to do combinations more often than you actually have to fire, especially since there is a completely useless “back dash” feature bound to it’s own button? Yes, I am aware that up+attack was how it worked in the earlier games, but the NES controller has 2 spare buttons. The PSX controller has 8. That’s not really my biggest gripe (who needs special weapons anyway), the controls also are slow so it gets very tricky to do precision jumping before you get used to it.

Second, it is kind of uneven. First it was maddening since the savepoints were the only way to regain what little health you had, and trying to hit some enemy with a slow-moving thrust, only a few pixels of width, failed more often than it succeeded. Then, a quick inquiry to GameFAQs revealed that there did in fact exist a spell to steal HP from all the enemies on the screen and take it yourself, and suddenly the game became almost embarrassingly easy. Not that I’m against that – the game should be about exploration, and forcing the player to replay parts is probably the best way to destroy that. What bothers me is that it seems the designer wanted to compensate for this and disregarded the progression curve for some of the last few bosses and just made them insanely more powerful than the rest of the enemies. Or maybe it was just me starting to get tired, but keeping all the bosses at an ever-so-slightly-increasing level and suddenly make one eight times as powerful seems a little off.

Third – and now we’re really moving into opinion terroritory – what is the deal with the flipped castle? some games flip levels around to create interesting puzzles – gravity or objects lining up create paths to places that were previously unreachable, and that’s pretty cool. In SotN you can fly more or less how much you like, so there is no reachable point on the first map that can’t just as easily be reached on the second one. I’m aware that lots of games – even new ones – throw the players on semi-random bughunts throughout the explored world in an effort to extend gameplay, so I probably shouldn’t hold it against SotN. This is more of an open remark to all the reviewers and fans that seem to think it is a stroke of genius instead of just a small fix to make the excuse to squeeze out a few extra hours of game feel better.

But – and it’s sad that I rant so much, since no-one will bother to read this far – I still think I should’ve played this when it first came out, because there’s a nice game in there. From the time when you get the hang of the controls to the time when you reach the upside-down castle, it’s a really exciting and good-looking game. Sure, the story and how it’s presented is corny, but this was 97 and non-RPG titles didn’t have decent storylines back then.

So don’t play SotN, play the sequels where all of the annoying stuff has been sorted out.

Posted on Oct 01/07 by Saint and filed under Reflections | No Comments »