Saturday, November 7, 2009

Decay is released!

I've been telling you people this would happen for a long long long time and it's finally here! Decay is now available for download from ModDB. Just go ahead and follow the link below to view screenshots and get the installer.

Six hundred hits in a few hours, holy crap!

Decay mod for Half-Life 2
Download me!

Wednesday, November 4, 2009

Decay is on ModDB! / Some Thoughts About IGDA

So, Decay is on ModDB now. You can check out it's page at the following link:

I feel guilty for not posting anything all semester. It hasn't been for naught though! We've finished a sweet level in Unity, with a video of it ready to be uploaded. The reason it's not in this post is because it's still sitting on the hard drive at the lab which is locked right now.

In other news, myself and a lot of class mates went to the IGDA Montreal meeting tonight. The speaker was none other than the Producer for one of my professors Patrick Fortier. Patrick was the creative director on the recently released Wet, and that's what the talk was about.

As far as the actual talk goes, I'm not sure how much I got out of it. In our class with Patrick we've already done some fairly thorough post-mortem talks on what he believes went wrong with the game and what went right. As his producer mentioned in his talk, the character and the setting have been reviewed very well. It'll be interesting to see where A2M decides to take their first Triple A franchise from these roots. I can only imagine that it must be daunting as a company to be wading through such shark infested triple-a waters when you are used to designing family games.

Afterwards, our conversation shifted from the talk to another topic: Students. We are literally part of the first wave of students coming out of any college for Game Design. Many game development degrees from small technical schools are jokes compared to the program me and my piers are involved in, but of course nobody knows that. And beyond the problem of only a few people being knowledgeable on our actual program, no one knows how to talk to us or what to tell us and vice versa.

When we finally manage to make contact with an industry professional, we tend to hear things like "Have a good portfolio" and "Try to talk to a lot of people". These are certainly helpful nuggets of advice, but it always seems to come along with a strange air of "Well, I need to say SOMETHING to these kids." Professionals have no idea what students know, what they don't know, what their experience levels are, etc. They were never game design students, after all.

I'm going to gather my thoughts on this and write a full article for my blog on Gamasutra. The short version of it is this: Hey! We know a lot about game design and we don't think the way that you do. We're poor college students! We're cheap resources with good ideas! Try and be a little friendlier.

Thursday, July 30, 2009

Some Thoughts About Indie Games

In my last post I wrote that it was 1 of 2 of my commentary on genres. The first part was about "Serious Games" and can be found here. I was really surprised at how much of a chord that struck with this community, when I really imagined that this would be the one that people would be up in arms about. Today I'll be writing about indie games.

There is an "Us vs. Them" mentality inherent to a large number of indie and triple A developers. It's gotten into our heads that triple A games are corporate drivel and, to counter-act this, the bold indie developers have stepped up onto their digital distribution platforms to spread the revolution of new mechanics and deep story that those corporate meatplows won't take a chance on. Viva la revolution!

Except the reality isn't like that. Triple A games are just as daring as the current set of indie games and indie games are just as samey as triple A games. Put your torches and pitchforks down, I'm not done yet.

Triple A games are frequently lambasted for paper-thin stories, muddy brown/grey graphics, and no innovation in their mechanics. If you don't think there's an attitude of superiority about indie games vs. mainstream games, you need look no farther than Gamasutra's own sister site Let's take a look at those quotes:

"The indie game movement is the most important transition this industry has seen since the rise of the internet." - Andy Schatz

"For the mainstream industry, everything goes in one direction: bigger, shinier, 3D-ier. Indie games go in every direction, and it's exciting as hell. We'll keep 'em honest." - Derek Yu

"I believe - fiercely and with passion - that the independent video game scene is in the midst of a startling rise to prominence. Why? Because innovative a
rtistic games made by small teams finally have the ability to be easily played and enjoyed by gamers. Viva la indie revolution!" - Simon Careless

These guys know all about the mushy browns and greys of modern gaming. They see through the shiny veneer of bloom and specular mapping. To illustrate the state of modern mainstream gaming, I've made the following image.

Ugh. Bloom and brown. Indie games on the other hand, are often praised for their deep stories, unique art styles, and innovative mechanics. This is what the industry should be striving for! So I've constructed another handy diagram for us, similar to the last.

Wait a second... Those all look alike too! They're cartoony, abstract, and clearly fans of bright colors. What gives? Where's the revolution? Well, maybe they might look like one another, but certainly they have the upper hand in terms of mechanics. No first person shooter clones over here.

Braid had ingeniously clever platforming, time shifting puzzles and it's hand painted art style certainly hasn't been replicated. World of Goo was a physics game that took the "simple to learn / impossible to master" mechanic to heart, with a delightful aesthetic. No game has been able to capture the same emotions that Blueberry Garden has. This is certainly the kind of stuff that the mainstream can't take a risk on.

These mechanics and aesthetics are all unique in their own right, and it would be unfair for me to lump them all together and claim that the indie games industry is stagnating. It isn't. Neither are the big games either. Just as those indie games introduce new and unique concepts, so do just as many triple A titles.

Mirror's Edge introduced the world of gamers to parkour and to a new sleek aesthetic. Portal gave us a whole new way of thinking about 3D spaces with its portals and its boldly unique narration. Left 4 Dead gave us a new way to think about multiplayer shooters; no one had seriously attempted a shooter designed from the ground up to be cooperative before. I don't even need to talk about Bioshock: we've all played it for a reason. You can't tell me that triple A games are stagnating when you look at these (and more) titles.

As a student who's worked on a number of small projects, I know that it's easier to do abstracted art styles with simple mechanics on small teams. That's what small teams are good at, so that's why a lot of indie games are that way. Indie games aren't a revolution and will not change the face of gaming. They're just a subset of the industry.

The bottom line is that we all make artistic works. Those works draw inspiration from all manner of sources; that's part of the creative process. We draw this inspiration from each other, from different mediums, and from the natural creativity of our own minds. Triple A games, Indie games, and every type in between together form the whole of our medium. Why do we bother delusions of grandeur for our own style of design?

Indie games can be unique and mind blowing and triple A games can be stagnant, indistinguishable clones, but just as often the opposite is the case. There's no magic trick. Throwing tons of money at a game could produce something terrible, or give us the next Portal. A small indie team could push the boundaries of what we think is possible with design, or it could be boring and frustrating. When consumers or developers give into the hype surrounding indie games they're harming themselves and the industry. Let's leave the cliques in junior high and get back to making great games.

Monday, July 27, 2009

Some Thoughts about Serious Games

This is going to be part 1 of 2 of my critiques on two different "genres" of games. This first part is about serious games. I've got some personal experience with this subject matter, as my very own school has a department dedicated to the creation of these "serious" games. I'm going to be completely honest here; I hate the term "serious game". I'm going to give you some official definitions, and then I'm going to tell you why I think it's a value judgment on our industry, and then I'll let you know how that value judgment actually works against us rather than propelling us forward. By us, I mean all developers in every part of the industry, including "serious" game designers.

So, what are serious games? I've found a few definitions that I’ll list here.

From the Michigan State University website (MSU hosts a conference called "Meaningful Play" that is all about serious games, so I think their definition can be used for reference): "Serious games are games with purpose beyond just providing entertainment. Examples include, but are not limited to, games for learning, games for health, and games for policy and social change."

Wikipedia says: "A serious game is a software or hardware application developed with game technology and game design principles for a primary purpose other than pure entertainment."

Gamasutra’s sister site Serious Games Source says: " created for training, health, government, military, educational and other uses."

So there is one thing these definitions agree on, save for the last one. That is that serious games are for something other than "pure entertainment". This implies that any game that is "non-serious" is only for entertainment. These people are implying, some explicitly so, that any game which is non-serious cannot have a real impact beyond being entertaining. Uh, what? Not only that, but to give themselves credibility they lump in government and military training simulators and educational titles.

So, what we're really looking at is a number of two different types of serious games. Those that are developed explicitly for classroom use, government, and training purposes and also those games which are intended for the general public to promote some idea or theme.

Tackling these two categories separately really leads to a breakdown of "serious games" as a term. As far as educational games, training simulators and medical software goes this stuff has been around for a long time and do just fine without being labeled as serious games. They’re called simulators and trainers or “Educational Software”. That is all they need to be called. Most of these wouldn't even be recognizable as a game to the rest of us, because they're not for us, they're for airline pilots and the like. Educational games can be called just that. When a school program is looking to purchase some software to aid its teachers, it probably doesn't mind having them called Educational Games or Educational Software. That's kind of what they do. Calling all of these things serious games is a tactic by the serious games promoters to make themselves seem more legitimate than they really are. These games were being made long before the recent serious games publicity and will continue to do just fine.

That leaves us with the serious games which are supposed to be just like those normal games we play, but with serious and poignant themes in mind. Wait, don't we have these already? Didn't Far Cry 2 touch on the poverty and power struggles in Africa? Didn't Bioshock try to challenge our notions of freedom (“A man chooses, a slave obeys”)? And how many countless games have been satirical but serious critiques of western society (Fallout, Grand Theft Auto)? Now, those games aren't perfect. They haven't all even accomplished what they set out to do, necessarily. But they try and they becoming more potent with each iteration. Why aren't they called serious games? Because, as with education games and simulators, it's superfluous.

It’s not as if the “serious games” crowd has a large repertoire of successes to claim either. They’ve done no better than Bethesda or Ubisoft or EA at this, because this is a rapidly changing highly experimental medium. We’re all getting better at this at the same time. But serious developers are actually starting back at square one, intentionally. Rather than work with those tools that we have already crafted, they try and reinvent the wheel. They seem to think that all of these techniques we’ve created for immersion and engaging players in other games won’t work in their serious games. Why not?

Rarely, if ever, will people make this kind of distinction in film or literature. Nor will those authors writing with serious intent eschew the techniques of those writers who write for entertainment. There is a reason that many philosophers wrote novels: They get the point across without making it dry and boring. Calling these games serious does nothing except erect a big wall between developers who are trying to accomplish the same goal. It’s a wall that prevents healthy discourse between developers, businesses, and students.

Frankly, it's damned arrogant. The term came about through a mixture of marketing on the part of the colleges and through a level of arrogance for developers who wanted to separate themselves from those other designers who make games just for fun. I truly believe that a large portion of it comes from a desire to say, "I make serious games, about how beating women is wrong." so that they can get a pat on the back from those ignorant of the power already inherent in mass market games.

We need to stand up for ourselves as an industry. We're going on a solid 40 years now, we don't have to pretend like this is just kids’ stuff anymore and we sure as hell don't have to label any attempts at mature themes as "serious". It's condescending, it’s counter-productive, and it’s unnecessary.

Thursday, July 23, 2009

Some Thoughts on My Design Theory

Everybody designs games in their own way. Of the dozens of designers I've met at school, through work, and online, everybody has their own quirks and methods when they are working on an idea. I think it's important for readers of this blog to know where I'm coming from as a designer and so I've boiled down the general process into a couple steps. These are things that I did without even realizing it before, not something I've come up with ahead of time. They are:

Step 1 - The Idea

This is the first spark of creativity where you get the itch to make a game about something. This could also be called the inspiration step. Everybody comes get their ideas differently. Some people sit down and consciously brainstorm, other people just have it come to them, and other people just do drugs.

At this stage, my ideas come to me as some sort of hypothesis. Frequently, I have something I want to test or present to my players as a test. With a game like Decay, it was in the form of "Can I capture the feeling of being unsatisfied with your life?" With my recent L4D map decay it was much less grandiose, and stemmed from "I want a survival that feels like a real last stand, rather than the survivors being trapped and surrounded." With Mission 16 it was, "What could be a realistic conflict that would arise from the discovery of time travel?"

Not every game needs to start with a hypothesis like this, but that's how I do it. These things just come to me, for the most part. I got the idea for Decay from this tangentially related Calvin and Hobbes comic. When I'm driving, when I'm playing other games, whatever. I don't want to make it sound more mystical than it is, that's just how it works for me.

Step 2 - Flesh It Out

This step is where I start thinking about the answers to the questions I posed in Step 1. I think about what mechanics fit it, what sort of story should go here. I just let my brain run loose in every direction while I'm here, no matter how infeasible or the time constraint. I don't think of possibility here, just how far I can take the idea. To give you an example, with Decay there were parts where I was thinking that the whole game was a massive drug trip, or that the player was in some kind of twisted experiment. We considered having other characters in the game with you, etc. All of which were valid directions to take the game in. This part, for me, is just about filling a notepad with as many ideas as possible to flesh out the hypothesis, this can include raising new questions which even replace the old hypothesis, or modify it significantly.

A lot of people have very specific methods for doing this. They make flowcharts or start working on a design treatment at this point. I don't do that quite here, because that for me limits where my creativity goes. I quite literally will have notes on the back of napkins or scraps of paper or several notepad files on my computer with odds and ends of thought.

Step 3 - Focusing

This is where the practical side of my designer kicks in. Now I start working on a formal design as a concept doc or a design treatment. As I'm putting the ideas on paper I think of which ones really help progress the thesis and which ones are there just because I like them. I start peeling away at the design until I'm left with something that is feasible to build and has a much more focused design than if I had taken everything from stage 2.

That is not to say that everything is locked in at this point, more could be taken away or added, but at this point is where I decide what to start building.

Step 4 - Build It

Once I've got a really solid idea of what i want to do, I can start building it. What engine I use is largely dependent on the idea. I don't start with the engine and say "What idea works in this engine?" I start with my idea from above and say "What engine works for this idea?" The former is very valid, if you're given an engine that you have to use that's an ideal place to start. But when you're in my situation as a student you can be very adaptable. I use what works best, it so happens that most of my ideas have worked well in the source engine, but I've had ideas that would work on anything from The Witcher Engine through Unreal.

Step 4.5 - Iterate

This is really a part of the building phase. Once the game starts coming together, as soon as I have a first playable I get some fresh eyes on the game. I really learned the value of this while making Decay, where we had two playtest sessions through out the developement. We had people check it out after the first level was playable, and then those same people again when the second level was done as well as people who had never seen it before. This feedback ended up changing some of the fundamental design of some areas and puzzles that ultimately created a richer game experience.

This step brings me to what I think is one of the most important parts of being a designer, flexibility. I really think that being able to accept changes to the design part way through a project is key to making a successful game. Nobody gets it right the first time. Painters do it, poets and writers do it, directors do it. You have to be willing to make changes, cuts, and additions as you need. The Mona Lisa has several other Mona Lisa's under it, and probably years of footage have been left on the cutting room floor as well as scenes reshot at the last moment. That is the nature of creativity and you need to be ready to roll with that. Get feedback, and reiterate on your design as much as you possibly can.

So that's it. Get an idea, flesh it out, focus it, build it, and iterate on it. I think most designers go through this process, but everybody does it differently. That's how I do it and I hope that it may spark some of your own ideas.

Wednesday, July 8, 2009

Some Thoughts Abo- MAKE GAMES

Over this past year I was asked to address a gathering of the game development students at Champlain. What I said boiled down to something along the lines of, "WHAT ARE YOU DOING AND WHY AREN'T YOU MAKING GAMES" I was just reading an article over at Gamasutra's sister site and read this in an article about what you should expect from your education.

"Making games is quite different from playing games. Yes, you need to know games, you need to be enthusiastic about games, but playing games that others have devised is productive only in limited ways, especially if you play four hours a day. I've known way too many students who define their self-worth through game playing; unfortunately, in the real world game playing, unless you're good enough to make a living at tournaments, counts for nothing. Make no mistake, the game industry is part of the real world, however extraordinary it may appear to be.

To be an adult, someone who can be a good employee, you must be responsible and productive. When you're learning your skills, your responsibility is to yourself, to do what needs to be done. And that is to be productive. If you want to design, you need to make games, not play games (unless you made it), not talk about games, not analyze games, but to make games. "

There you have it. Get out there and make some games!

In related news, shortly I will be releasing the final version of my Left4Dead map, Dead End, accompanied by a mini-postmortem on the level. That's more for me than it is for you, but you may find it an interesting read if you endeavor to level design.

Saturday, June 27, 2009

Some Thoughts about Left4Dead 2 (And Computer Gamer Elitism)

I wanted to post about this sooner, but I thought it would be better to wait and let the initial shock reaction simmer down a bit. I did and now I think I'm ready to really lay out what this move is about for Valve, from my perspective.

The internet is a hate machine. Many PC gamers feel like they are the elite of the gamer world and many of them feel entitled to...stuff because of that. Part of why the community flipped out when L4D2 was announced was because of this feeling. But, there was also a tidbit of information from Gabe Newell in an interview where he said that L4D would be supported much like TF2, with new characters, weapons, campaigns, etc.

That is largely what the commotion has been about. I hear a lot of "Valve promised!" coming from all sorts of directions. As much as I love Gabe Newell, him saying something in an interview is not and should never qualify as an official press release. It isn't.

I think he also told us something about having Half-Life 2 a little sooner than we did.

What Valve did instead, was give us a game that's bigger than Left4Dead, for the same price. It has more campaigns, more weapons, and seems to take place a little after L4D2 in the story line which allows for some cool things. (Like Zombies in Hazmat suits who can't be lit on fire.) This is sweet. This is not something to complain about.

I've also heard a lot of accusations that Valve's support of Left 4 Dead 1 would stop once L4D2 comes out. We have been assured, in an official capacity, that this is not the case. They tell us it's coming, and I for one believe them. I think they're still working on stuff for L4D1 and it's far too soon, especially considering the release of the SDK, to have a funeral.

Hi, I'm Ray Ortgiesen and I'm a PC gamer.

And I am not entitled to dick.

Thank you.

Thursday, June 11, 2009

L4D Goings On

First off, let me just say that I'm have been very very pleased with the reception I've gotten for my recently released L4D map. I've been doing pretty regular updates to it, and people are responding well. At the time of this post it has 1765 downloads and a 3.77/5 rating on

I also released a map that was ENTIRELY made as a joke. It's just a giant hallway, with four miniguns at the end and a near infinite supply of pills and medkits. I was able to hold out by myself for 20 minutes until I got bored and quit. I uploaded it to the site, and people really ran with the joke. It's up to 653 downloads itself.

There's been a lot of controversy going on lately with regards to Valve's announcement of L4D2 and I'm still mulling it over in my head, but expect a new thoughts post regarding it shortly. And if you haven't gotten the chance to check out my map yet, give it a look.

Thursday, June 4, 2009

Dead End Beta Released!

Hey everybody, I've been hard at work trying to get this puppy up to par as fast as possible in time for the update of the matchmaking system and I feel comfortable with it's fun and polish levels to release it as a beta. There will be improvements to come, but for now I give you the beta of:

It is available for download from If you find any bugs, or have any suggestions, let me know!

Thursday, May 21, 2009

First Batch of Bunker Screenshots

I promised you some real screenshots showing off the map, didn't I? Well here they are. Remember that the map is not 100% done, which is particularly noticeable in the lighting as I always do that last. Here they are though:

Outside the facility.

Close up outside.

The first fallback point.

The silo room (the top of the missile should be red, it didn't show in the screenshot.)

I'm going to show two more screenshots that our closeups from the first checkpoint and second checkpoint. I like doing subtle things on my maps that players who take the time to look around will notice and appreciate. The following screenshots are two "mini scenes" I created within the game, where you can look at the bodies or the situation, and imagine what may have transpired there.

A corpse with spray paint next to it, some desperate graffiti, and three covered bodies.

A body slumped against a barricade, weapons and ammo at the ready.

I think it's little details like this that really make the differance between a polished map and just a fun one. Sure, I could have just played the rifles in a row next to the ammo by the sandbags, but this gives the scene a little more character. The same goes for the first checkpoint in the bunker, there's no real purpose for the scene, but it adds some context and flavour to what would otherwise be a regular survival map with a fall back mechanic.

Check back for more in the future, beta soon!

Wednesday, May 20, 2009

Delicious Zoey Bait

I'm in the process of rapidly trying to get the survival map to beta so I can get as many people playing it as possible. So far so good, with it looking like I might have it up to beta as early as Friday. Though I do start working tomorrow so that's going to suck up some free time. Regardless, I've got a nice screen shot for you. This is a picture of me testing the Missile Room you can see in the middle of my SketchUp screenshots. You can imagine how this ended:

Real screenshots coming soon.

Monday, May 18, 2009

Mapping for Left4Dead

Not more than a few days ago, Valve finally released their long awaited SDK for Left4Dead and I promptly set about making a survival map that I've had bouncing around in my head for a while. The concept was that, instead of a single area with a few defense points that is typical of the standard suvival maps you have have a larger area with multiple "checkpoints" that you could fall back to. The ideal set up for this kind of gameplay is a military bunker, set into the side of a cliff. You start outside, fall back to an inner chamber and can close blast doors that will hold the infected at bay for a time. You repeat this process two more times falling deeper back into the bunker until you reach a command room where you can run no further and make your final stand.

I used SketchUp to lay the map out:

I actually have all of this laid out in Hammer already, but I'm having some difficulty getting the director to cooperate with where I want zombies to spawn in from. It has to do with the navigation mesh editing, which is only done in Left4Dead. Well it's kind of done in Counter-Strike: Source, but not to the extend you need to do it in L4D so I'm still getting the hang of it. Once I do I'll have a beta version up for download. At the least, expect screenshots soon.

Thursday, May 7, 2009


This is a short video that I put together to showcase some of the stuff that I've done during my schooling, both in and out of class. Mission 16 and Decay were done in free time, the War map was my level design final project.

Check it out:

And as always feel free to leave your thoughts, criticism is good.

Thursday, April 30, 2009

Controversy: Six Days in Fallujah

I think it's time that I spend a little time talking about the recent controversy over Six Days in Fallujah, a game that was recently dropped by publisher Konami. The game was being developed by Atomic Games.

The reason there is controversy over this game is pretty interesting actually. It's not the actual content of the game that's come under fire. It's an action game that takes place in Iraq, maybe not the most tasteful subject, but it's certainly one that has been done before. The problem comes from how the devs and Konami initially tried to pitch it. It was touted as a hyper-realistic game all about the seriousness of war. A big pitching point of the game was that the developers interviewed American soldiers who were actually in the battle the game is supposed to be about. You were going to follow one squad through the second battle for fallujah in a documentary-esque video game. I think that's a really great idea, executed right.

Now on the one hand they have it pitched as this intense realistic game about war. On the other hand you've got Konami marketing VP Anthony Crouts saying something like, "We're not pro-war. We're not trying to make people feel uncomfortable. We just want to bring a compelling entertainment experience. At the end of the day, it's just a game."

At the end of the day, it's just a game? Man, are you that out of touch? I tend not to get worked up about these sort of things, but this kind of ignorance is unexcusable from somebody who is supposed to be marketing this thing. If you think you're game can try and pretend to be a serious game about war, but really just be about mowing down faceless soldiers and taking clips of bullets to the chest unflinchingly, you are seriously mistaken.

Obviously, there was some serious bumbling on the marketing aspect of this game, Shacknews covered that really well and I'm not going to hammer the point in anymore, but I am going to point something else out. As soon as the controversy began, Konami immediately dropped the project. I mean this game wasn't announced more than a month before Konami washed there hands of it. Regardless of the legitmacy of the controversy, it raises an important question about publishers. If we want to make something of real merit with some controversy, not only do we need to worry about public reaction but good luck getting the industry itself behind you.

It's a little depressing for the Triple A side of things, but it certainly chalks one up for the indies.

Wednesday, April 29, 2009

Announcement: Boosh Studios

Hey all,

Quick announcement about some of those plans I mentioned earlier. Boosh Studios has been formed by myself, Josh, and Mark and we've started a development blog for our ramblings about flash development and games. Give it a read!

You can find the blog over at !

Thursday, April 23, 2009

What's In the Pipeline

It's been sometime since I had the time to get on here and write something up. The end of the semester has been pretty busy between our production beta, papers for other classes, finishing up our mod for a la mod, and some other side projects. Here's what I've got coming up:

1) As soon as I can I'm going to post up some screenshots and a download link to our completed a la mod project, Decay. It's a Half-Life 2: Episode 2 modification and it only takes about 25 minutes to play through. For the record, we did win a la mod!

2) Hypernova is a game that was conceptualized by my good friend Josh Terry who was kind enough to bring me on board this really cool project. Hypernova is a tabletop game of similiar ilk to Warhammer and Warmachine, except that the models you're commanding are space fleets. It's unique in that not only are the models made via papercraft (aka they're free if you have a printer and some glue) but the game takes into account the lack of physics in space such that your shifts can drift around each other while firing. Very cool.

3) Finally, Myself, Josh Terry, and Mark Desmarais have put together an (as of yet) unnamed production team for this summer to produce quality flash games for Kongregate. With the experience we've picked up from our Production classes and working on the a la mod project we feel more than up to producing something worth while for the masses of the internet. We'll see if I'm eating those words in a few months, but I don't think so.

So yeah, that's what I've been up to, and all of that on top of my other non-gaming classes. Stay tuned for more info on all of these projects.

Wednesday, March 11, 2009

Some Thoughts about Real Characters

Warning: The following blog post contains spoilers about an anime that was released in 1998.

I was talking with my friend the other day about the ending of Cowboy Bebop. At the end of the 26 episode show, the protagonist dies. That's right. You follow this characters story for hours and hours and at the end of it all, he dies. Strangely enough, that ending was fulfilling. In fact, it was far more fulfilling than having Spike Spiegel ride off into space. Instead, his character is satisfied with how how his life has come to this point, and he dies. Just before he leaves for the climactic finale he says, "I'm not going there to die, I have to find out if I'm really alive." Spike Speigel is a human being.

People love Spike Spiegel. He has a human beings flaws and emotions. He carries a past with good memories and bad memories just like anybody else and then he dies, just like every human being. That's what pulls you into the series and what makes you feel satisfied at the end despite a non-traditional ending. So why is our industry so obsessed with the exact oppisite?

Many of the industries famous protagonists are barely even recognizable as humans. Lara Croft, Master Chief, Link, Dante, etc. most of these characters don't even have last names. Even the ones who do feel more real, such as your character in Mass Effect or Solid Snake are rarely more fleshed out than the bare minimum necessary to keep the player engaged with the mechanics of the game. It's almost insulting as a player. As if my puny gamer mind can't comprehend characters more complex than the cardboard cutout cliche they throw at me.

One of the few games that felt like it had a "real" protagonist was Shadow of the Colossus. Through very simple cutscenes and and animations, the player gets a real feel that the character is a human being going through an extremely trying ordeal. He hardly talks and he is more human than 90% of the characters we see today. What are we doing out there?

There are some games that are excused from this critique, no doubt. There are some games where you aren't playing a human, or the intent isn't to go down that road. I don't fault Mario for not behaving like a real plumber with feelings and depth. But if you're trying to present a strong character in an interactive narrative, we have got to start giving our characters a little more depth.

P.S. I know that Master Chief is a rank, and his name is John, and he was taken from his planet and blah blah friggin' blah. I shouldn't have to read a novel to know the back story of my character.

Monday, March 9, 2009

Some Thoughts About Blame - Bernard Ambersino

The following post was written by a classmate of mine and I found it worthy of publishing:

As the video game industry grows, as with any other entertainment industry, it garners the unwanted attention of disgruntled parents and those looking to blame anything for society’s ills. The video game industry certainly is not the first to deal with such accusations, as this trend can be seen clearly in the past few years even just within the music industry. First heavy metal was to blame for increases in violence, and then there was that Eminem and his rap music. It seems it is the gaming industry’s turn to take the blame now, as games are often said to make children more violent and to lead to obesity.

Over the years there have been countless attacks on the values of games, often led by recently disbarred attorney Jack Thompson. Cases have been made that Mature rated games like Grand Theft Auto and Mortal Kombat have taught children violence and changed their temperament. Earlier in the year an ad was run in the UK depicting a child slumped on a couch playing a video game with a tagline that states “Risk an early death, just do nothing” (, which insinuates that playing video games leads to premature death. The same organization links game playing to obesity in other ads broadcasted on television. It would seem that without video games, the world would be the paragon of health, and as calm as Gandhi.

Clearly society’s problems would remain if video games suddenly disappeared, as they have existed since before games were commonplace. While the general public is quick to jump on the next big thing to turn into a scapegoat, it would behoove them to take responsibility for the issues themselves. If Mature rated games are getting through to kids, then perhaps the parents should be questioned as to why they would buy these games for their children and allow them to be played. The fast food industry and general attitude of the average person must not be the sole reasons for the obesity rate but maybe, just maybe, they have more to do with it than video games. I live in everlasting hope that at one point society will stop blaming whatever seems to be convenient and decide to start tackling these issues and take responsibility for them. Unfortunately, this seems like a distant dream.

Thursday, January 29, 2009

Some Thoughts About Genre

I hate genres in gaming. Anybody who has had a design class with me can tell you, there are few things I dislike more than genre. I have two major criticisms of the current genre system in games:

1) Design Ruts - As soon as a developer or a publisher says to themselves, "We are making an RTS" or "We are making an FPS", their heads are immediately filled with expectations for the genre. Specific little things that those games are "supposed" to have. I.E. resource management in a Real Time Strategy game.

2) Mechanical Classification - The system we currently has classifies games based on their mechanics, rather than their style or substance. As far as I can think of, we are the only medium that does this. Sure, maybe those more technically informed about films might refer to them based on the mechanics of the cinematography, but for the most part a film is referred to by its content. I.E. Drama, Comedy, Romance, etc.

I'm not going to blame the industry for this, or the game journalists, or anybody else associated with the medium. Traditionally, games have only been about the mechanics. Stories, characters, and context were so abstracted that they didn't really matter or could be summed up in a quick sentence. Truly, mechanics were the king.

Chess is about a war between two factions. Super Mario Bros. is a game about a plumber rescuing a princess and so on and so forth. It made little sense to categorize these things by their visual style or their thematic elements.

But now, we do have a lot of these things. Games have themes and visual styles, and I would call for a move away from the genres of yesterday. Naturally, that's an easy thing to say and much harder to do. I don't have a ready made list of categories to classify different strokes of games ; Ian Bogost at Gamasutra wrote this article about a style he would call "Proceduralism". I agree with many of the things he says, and disagree with some of them, but this kind of thinking will be an extremely useful tool for us designers as we go forth in an effort to make something new.

Sunday, January 11, 2009

Some Thoughts About Dissapointment

Hey everybody, I hope you all had a good vacation, I finally got the chance to do some concentrated effort on my mod, but that's not what this post is about.

Instead I want to talk about disappointment in games. Friends of mine and critics alike constantly harp on the fact that they are disappointed with a particular new release. The reasons vary from the game was too linear, or it wasn't realistic enough, or it was too unrealistic, or it's story wasn't very good. I've done some pondering, and I think it's safe to say that almost all of these sort of complaints stem from a player's expectations of a game. They expect the game, either from previews or screenshots or just hearsay, to perform in a specific way which it does not. Subsequently, they are disappointed with the title and move on.

The problem with this is that you may miss the entire point the designers were trying to put in front of you. It's like walking into a steakhouse blindfolded and expecting lobster, then being upset that they give you a delicious juicy steak. Sure, maybe it isn't a lobster, but gosh darnit it still tastes great.

Okay, maybe that wasn't the best analogy, but you get the idea.

I know a number of people disappointed with Left4Dead because it wasn't enough "Survival Horror" and was too actiony. Valve never set out to make a survival horror game, they set out to make a great co-op game. An equal number of people were disappointed with Mirrors Edge because it didn't do the sorts of things you'd expect a first person game to do. And I'm sure there will be a number of grumpy real time strategy fans when we get our hands on Dawn of War 2 come Febuary 23rd thanks to its bucking of RTS tradition.

What I'm trying to say here is that as players and designers, it is crucial that we go into a game playing experience with a clean slate. I don't think every time you sit down to play you should be analyzing and critiquing constantly, that negates the point of experiencing the game. But you should at least give it a fair chance to stand on its own two legs.