Thursday, December 24, 2009

STOP DRIVING AND FLYING THE MACHINE, a n00b in the industry: take 1

So here I am, a n00b in the game industry, with a world available to me, and I thought it would be informative to relate the trials and tribulations I face as I face them. For the majority of you who don't know me, I am the figurehead of indecision. Or maybe I'm not? (Sorry, bad jokes may appear in this column.) But right now I am choosing between Tigerstyle games or Digital Chocolate. And I don't mean where to work, because I work for both right now, but which I prefer.

Let's start with a little background. I have been dipping my toes in game development for fourteen years now. I can't say I dove headfirst, because much of my childhood was spent riding my bike, reading every Star Wars novel until Phantom Menace demolished the extended universe, and focusing on schoolwork. My parents encouraged me to do well and try new activities, and so sitting down in front of a computer for twelve hours at a time always seemed wasteful of my existence.

But I knew early on, even before I was allowed to play games (I never owned a console until college), that games were this powerful outlet for art and entertainment that I wanted to be a part of. I wanted to create games that everyone would recognize and love. Entertainment. And I am still happy to find the entertainment out there. From Don't Shit Your Pants to Far-Cry 2, the player is in it for the thrill, however low and dirty. And I point out those games because they do exactly what a game should do. They have an interesting game mechanic that is well-executed and entertaining. But now that the wonderful realities of the world have appeared since college, I am stepping back and looking at my path.

What do I want from game development? At Digital Chocolate I have been enjoying the perks of a large business that tends to my needs. Even as a contractor, I am taken care of, and after the day is done, I can come home and eat dinner comfortably in my nice little apartment. I can play some PC games, do some reading, and just generally be a responsible adult with a good income. (Good income is a relative thing for someone just out of college and living in a cheap part of town.) But is contracting for a large company fulfilling for me? I cannot say for sure. I love having weekends to go out and hike and bike and see family and friends. The comfort of being able to eat a nice meal. And I'm not trying to brag, I am just stating the simple fact that, like my father before me, I am a jedi. No wait, like my father before me, working at a large company brings flexibility to one's lifestyle.

But these perks are offset by the fact that Digital Chocolate is a business. They make games to make games to make money. And that's exactly what they should be doing. Make games so you can make money to make more games. And I got a job with them! They acknowledged that I am good enough to help them make money! And I'm proud of that. I want to make people money. I really want to support the efforts of others.

But what is my goal? Because while I create art assets for Digital Chocolate, I have been lucky enough to work on Spider: The Secret of Bryce Manor. Tigerstyle games has been this wonderful garage development experience. I helped make Spider while living in my parent's house seeking out a real job to pay bills. Because Spider is one game. A labor of love by a group of people who deeply care about what we do. And so I heard the term just recently by the designer, that Tigerstyle is a lifestyle company. Spider was made because the guys had a great idea and wanted to make it a reality, not because anyone thought it would make millions. We hoped it would, but regardless, we wanted to make the game to make something awesome, not just for profit. (More specifically, David and Randy had to make the game.) That's powerful, is it not? That you need to do something because you are passionate about creation. And that is art to me. Sacrifice. Putting in that time and effort. Blood, sweat, and tears. That's what makes something a piece of art versus a product.

So right now I debate between art and product. I love art, and it takes sacrifice. Am I willing to sacrifice and strike out fully on the rocky indie development road, or do I keep this steady position that I might live a life beyond these completely unimportant games?

Sunday, December 13, 2009

Gaming as an opportunity

So I have been playing a surprising amount of GTA: Chinatown Wars. Even now, a week after finishing the main story, I find myself pulling out the DS in spare moments, loading up Liberty City, and trading some drugs. Even as I bemoan the point of games like Farmville, I find that I am drawn back into GTA just to reach for that unattainable 100%. I know I won't get there. Partly because I don't care THAT much, and partly because at my next available opportunity I'll be purchasing the new Zelda.

But here I am right now, taking random 30 minute breaks in my Saturday, trading drugs and dodging cops just to finish buying all of the safehouses in this little city. And it's terrible. I think the game is repetitive, I think its driving involves far too narrow streets, there are too many cops, I still have a hell of a time figuring out what section of the city I am in, I have trouble avoiding cars because I'm watching the GPS too closely (which is an annoying crutch). There are a lot of reasons CW annoys me, but I keep playing it. And I think it is for that sole reason that handheld games are really easy to start up and play quickly. A five-minute session is super simple. I even will gravitate toward internet games because I'm already on the web and I can just load up kongregate or Canabalt, or the link will be there as soon as I type the first three letters.

The point I find myself arriving at somewhat unsurprisingly (though I had no idea this was what I was going to say when I started writing this post), is that it matters to me a very great deal how quickly I can actually start playing a game. I don't intentionally work that way. I would rather play a wonderful epic masterpiece that takes five minutes to get into meaningful gameplay, but when there are those small opportunities to play a game during the day, I am going to pick the game that is right there in my pocket that will take thirty seconds to get into.

Saturday, October 10, 2009

The Grind

Two unusual games are on my current playlist, games that I have simply been curious about. If my tastes and preferences for games have never been revealed, then let me say this: I love doing the impossible. Those games that thrill and excite me, that strike that amazing balance of unreal existence and epic environments, I could play those games for hours on end. I play games like Pyschonauts, Fallout 3, or Mirror's Edge for the thrill of unreal worlds. To be in places that are beyond the realm of my hometown. There are enough beautiful moments in reality, enough vistas to make life wonderful. A game hits me when I know that within my lifetime there is no chance I will experience such wonder.

Likewise, games like Max Payne, Mirror's Edge (again), or Shadow of the Collosus are games to be experienced. To play with, to enjoy the fact that, as a player, I am capable of things that would never ever be possible in real-life. Situations that are not feasible. Climbing astride a beast hundreds of feat tall, clinging to its fur, and then climbing further up, that is worth my money. Or how about a gun-duel with multiple enemies? I will never in my life be in a gun duel. And I'm okay with that, because Max Payne gives me all of the joy with none of the reality of me getting shot and dying.

Many games these days are not what I really envision as games because they seem to no longer embrace the fun or the challenge. So out of curiosity I am currently playing Lord of the Rings Online and Farmville. I have wanted to know why people would play Farmville, so I joined the ranks in an effort to determine whether or not Farmville is even a game. After probably an hour of actual playtime I can announce that it is not a game. The premise is to farm a plot of land and to raise money to farm more land and add more types of crops, add random visual flair to your farm, to add neighbors, and to add, add, add! As far as I have been able to discern, there is no negative element to the game. You cannot lose, there is no series of interesting choices, it is merely the progressive collection of elements that may or may not exist on real farms anymore. I have come to the conclusion that Farmville is not a game, it is a tedious chore.

So yesterday, after harvesting my soy crop and planting a new round of seeds, I tried Lord of the Rings Online for the first time, and was slightly disturbed how similar it felt to Farmville. "Oh please, Tinuriael! We need to kill 6 of those Blighted Insects!" "Oh thank you! Here is some experience and silver!" "Oh but this man wants to see you about killing 3 Rustling Mugwumps!""Oh grand happy day! Have an old leather shoe! Now there are 8 Goblin shoes to be collected down the road which we'll trade you 6 more silver for! And if you find any vegetables to pick... Off you go, please!"

I have never really been into MMOs, but I thought I would give LOTRO a try, because I was told that it was a beautiful game with lots of exploration elements. Frankly, it is a beautiful game, and I was pleasantly surprised by the well designed environments, but was this slow grinding going to kill me? It destroyed WOW for me very quickly. LOTRO does have grinding, but at least it's not Farmville. Why not? Because you can die! You can fail, lose, get hurt, have to run away from too many enemies. It contains the very real possibility of failure, and I like that. My accomplishments in Farmville are not many, but they feel like even less, because every step I took put me closer to the accomplishments, whereas LOTRO contains steps that carry me backward, further from one destination in my efforts to seek something new. I visited Bree quickly after the world opened up to me, because I wanted to see Bree. I was quickly out of my level-safe area, but it was fun because I felt like I was giving up one quest for my own personal quest of exploration. What has Turbine done with Middle-Earth? I am finding the answers to that.

I enjoy games that give me thrills, and LOTRO has a beautiful thrilling world, but unless I can soon escape the tedium of its action, I might have to give up on another MMO. Perhaps I just don't appreciate the subtlety of MMO action, but games are my hobby, I play what I want, and I want a game that not only gives me an unbelievable world, but one where my actions are also impossibly awesome. However I can say for sure that Farmville (like too many Facebook apps) is not a game and is definitely not something I want to deal with anymore.

Sunday, October 4, 2009


Okay, I'm all for clever thoughts and witty commentary and yadda yadda yadda.... BUT sometimes I find that people are trying to be clever without any actual understanding of how or why they might be clever.

Take the title of this post. This is a new bumper sticker that I've been seeing around Berkeley, that most wonderful eclectic town where half the residents still believe we live in the sixties and Priuses roam unchecked and unchained. You might have seen the E(ART)H bumper sticker as well, because clearly a few years ago someone thought that would make a great sticker, it would strike people as clever and awesome and a declaration of their love of the environment. But I don't accept it. Unless of course this is actually all a ploy by theists to show us that the earth is a great piece of art created by God. That's an argument I can understand and accept.

But I guarantee the majority of people say, "Oh looook, it's art AND earth!" It does not make any sense to me for those two, although both nice things, just don't really have any reason to be stuck together, or one extrapolated from the other. Maybe someone can explain it to me, perhaps I'm just being narrow-minded. In the end, someone is making some nice money off that bumper sticker, and that guy does not care in the slightest whether the earth is art.

Friday, September 25, 2009


First off, I really dig this Kickstarter website concept. But secondly, I really love developers that create "games" with messages, with artistic and political intent.

One piece that originally opened my eyes to the power of games and interactivity was September 12th. The laziness of the bomb, the brightly chilling sound when you turn a mourning family member into a terrorist, and the simple but fascinating intro to the "simulation".

Also recently discovered was a game from years ago that was recently noted on TIGSource, World War 1 Medic, another game that is made the more chilling by its bright optimistic sounds.

Game developers have messages they want to get out, and the best games take a slice that hits you, whether it's due to amazing controls or chilling actions. That is the goal of a game developer, to make you feel. And I hope that The Unconcerned can make your actions mean something like in September 12th, or ultimately mean nothing, as in WW1 Medic, both games revelatory in their own ways.

Monday, September 21, 2009


How the hell do you make a multiplayer tutorial? I have been pondering this for a few weeks now, because I think that it is indicative of the delicate balance required for all the elements of a multiplayer game. I am working on a Team Fortress 2 map, and I'm finding myself continually reworking the level, knowing that the spacial layout is key. But I was also playing the game a bit and I really took notice of how different the learning curve is between single- and multi-player.

In a solo linear game, even in a nonlinear game, you can introduce players to each concept, slowly ramping up the difficulty and complexity of the scenarios/levels/missions. In a multiplayer game you are introducing a player to the game, explaining the basic concepts and then throwing them out to the wolves. Play Team Fortress 2, Call of Duty 4, or, heaven help you, the venerable Starcraft, and the multiplayer games will hand your ass to you several times over before you give up in frustration or finally catch on to a trick somewhere and then slowly climb the tree of experience.

Multiplayer has never been for the weak of heart, but often hardcore games do try and ease you into the challenge over time through different methods.

Firstly, many games have a singleplayer mode. Starcraft you can train by playing through the campaign. I faced as tough a time at the end of Brood War that I faced online. Then again I never surmounted either Brood War or multiplayer SC; instead I conceded defeat against such brutal opposition. With Call of Duty there is also singleplayer, and many major games place just as much importance on the woven yarn as the multiplayer arenas.

Other games have excellent Bot modes. Unreal Tournament and its sequels have always been favorites of mine because they have excellent bots that you can play through the game as if you were playing an online match, but instead you play against whatever skill level you wish.

And finally, other games simply have tutorials, videos, or text and images to tell you what you should do when you're thrown out onto the field of battle. But these are the least helpful, frankly. Team Fortress 2 works with such simple tutorials because every element of the game is so plainly presented in the game. When you are a pyro, you immediately know you're a frontline soldier, intended to torch the enemy, and that's all you really need to do. You can see a giant glowing enemy signal, go to it. Play the doctor and you know right away what to do because as soon as you enter the game someone is yelling for a doctor and an arrow is pointing toward them.

The more complicated the game, the more complex the introduction, the more effort is put into singleplayer. Indeed, as I ponder, I am realizing that a game like Counter-Strike can throw you right in, because there is a simple goal and a simple mechanic to CS, it is the balance, the delicate interplay of all the little pieces, that make CS such a joy to master. People play CS for the challenge and if someone does not like CS, they will know it right away.

Likewise, when someone does find a mechanic they enjoy, they will stick with it. It just has to get easier. A player has to get better at a game. They have to feel progress. That is the joy of learning a game: the growth of the player.

Therefore, a multiplayer tutorial needs to reveal a game's central mechanic and hint at the strategies untold. A tutorial merely needs to explain the central tenet of the game, and if you cannot do that in a sentence or two and a couple images, then perhaps it's not the tutorial that needs fixing. The player needs a revelation merely by grasping the main game rule. And once they say, "Ahh, that's a clever concept," or, "Yes, I want to experience that," then the game must have the depth waiting on the other side.

So now it's the other side of the column for me, so thanks for reading. Next up: I have absolutely no idea.

Thursday, September 10, 2009

Amidst the fallout

I finished Fallout 3 a few days ago and thought it was a pretty solid ending. I will have to go back and play through things a bit differently, or realistically I will move onto another game and never look back, because I don't often return to games that I've actually gone to the trouble to beat. I am curious about the evil path (I always take the good path) so perhaps Fallout 3 will finally be the game to bring me round to a second playthrough.

Scratch that, there is another game I've played multiple times, possibly my favorite: Max Payne. Both the first and its sequel were immense pleasures to play and I reluctantly await round three. I've written previously about the location of MP3 and the attitude of the game, but I wait to see what they end up doing with it.

In other news the awesome Flixel Bros, Adam Atomic and Danny B, have released another awesome little time-waster. Canabalt is a simple procedural, six-tone game in which you're playing a one button, sidescrolling Mirror's Edge. All you do is jump obstacles and leap from building to building, crashing through windows as you gain speed, allowing you to leap the greater distances as the buildings grow farther apart. Fun for a short time or a bit more than that, I highly recommend the minute it takes to click on the link and get hooked.

Speaking of Mirror's Edge, I finally was tipped off by my girlfriend to a coupon that saved me half the cost of the ME map pack, so I grabbed the new time-trial maps the pack has to offer. They are slick levels, ditching the cities for giant floating boxes that feel like they should be designed by VW and Apple's lovechild. The levels are fun and challenging, just what I like, though I need to give them some more time to truly appreciate the $5 I added to EA's pockets. DICE did well, and I think that you should give Mirror's Edge a chance if you've never done so. [Factoid: I applied to intern at DICE, but this was when I had absolutely nothing on my resume that would make an international developer such as DICE recognize me as anything but ordinary. I still might feel that way, but my resume grows steadily, nonetheless.]

next week on []Musings: I discuss singleplayer vs. multiplayer tutorials.

Thursday, August 27, 2009

Pictures like this make my day:

Sunday, August 23, 2009

an urge to play videogames

microblog: It doesn't always happen, but right now I've the strongest urge to play some videogames. I am guessing that I've excess energy that can only be taken by the totally absorbing experience of playing something like Fallout 3 or perhaps the new Batman demo?

Unfortunately I'm not playing for a bit yet, since I've got visitor obligations and who can deny going out to breakfast on a Sunday morning?

Monday, August 17, 2009

Happy! Beautiful mother, beautiful father, happy!

It is a happy accident that I met my girlfriend three years ago. It's a happy accident that I have continued to email and keep in contact with one of my old high school teachers who, it turned out, had a husband with lots of amazing connections and got me my current job. It's a happy accident that I don't really remember what incited me to open up blogger to write this evening.

But I'm continually in amazement over the simplicity of this world. The fact that we create these beautiful tapestries that we call lives, we create them out of the simplest events. Going to dinner with someone, reading a book, playing a video game, traveling into the wilderness to bond with friends and get attacked by mosquitoes. Eating, drinking, walking, talking, playing. Am I playing games to escape all of these beautiful things? No, I guess I am playing for my desire to extend my life beyond its normal bounds.

Recently I have been reading the Harry Potter books and I finally did it for two reasons. A) I finally noticed Ginny in the latest movie and thought, hey, she's pretty cute. I wonder what she's like in the novels. And B) I understood that there really was a depth to the world that Rowling had created. My Tolkien elitism settled down and I've been able to enjoy a fascinating world that expands my imagination. The imagination is so powerful and it holds the special place in my heart that recognizes my dreams and thoughts of unreal things can matter just as much to the internal tapestry of my life as any tangible reality.

So, despite Harry Potter not being real, that addition to my mind of a fantastical school of wizardry extends my universe a little more. He is, at times, almost as important as the hike I took a couple weeks back. Or as prominent as the unfortunate homeless I pass on my way to work. Or as captivating as the movement out of the corner of my eye late at night in my apartment that gets my adrenaline pumping? Isn't that amazing? I have read Rowling's words, and now her real imagination is part of my own intangible existence.

Tuesday, July 28, 2009

annoying invention of the day

If you cannot afford to put a regular soap dispenser in your home or office, why not get one that is exceedingly wasteful and ineffective? That's right. When you grab the following dispenser:
You will find that it is difficult for the soap to come out, and when it does, it will just drip slowly. Grab it now so that you can detest using it and wish people never came up with it.

Wednesday, July 22, 2009


Here I am sitting at work, not working, because it's after work and I'm only here because my pal is getting to the nearby airport 4 hours from now. That's a long time. However, there's no sense in me driving home, because that takes approximately an hour and a half. So I would be spending all my gas to get home and then leave again shortly thereafter. So why not blog a little?

Hello! I'm Randy O. I work at Digital Chocolate as of two days ago. I spend my time now making sweet art for stuff I can't tell you about. I like signing NDAs. It's about the closest I will ever get to being a secret agent. In fact, it's as close as I can get because it makes me a secret agent because I keep secrets as an agent of this company. I'm ignoring the somewhat inappropriate usage of "agent" and so can you. This is cooler than my normal life because I don't have to keep anything secret. Though I do love mystery.

And there are still a few people here at 7pm. That was definitely not how it was at my last job. Then again, surprisingly, people show up here even later than people at the previous place. How do they do it? Okay, I know the answer to that: they have sleep schedules just as screwy as mine. I'm changing my schedule because I've got no other choice. 2 hour train ride to work at 7am, ya got no choice but to not sleep at 3am every morning.

This change of pace in life, it really gets to ya. I'm tired right now, but, well, I could take a nap. Perhaps I shall. Oh, to be napping at my workplace (after work hours!) after three days here. I am amazing.

[Oh, yah, so this all means I have a job. Go me!]

Monday, July 13, 2009


I was scrollin' the internet through the power of the Nethernet, and a portal took me to TOSBack, a site that follows certain EULAs and such, including Blizzard's EULA for World of Warcraft. I decided to scroll down and I discovered this addition from a couple months ago:

"BLIZZARD MAY SUSPEND, TERMINATE, MODIFY, OR DELETE ACCOUNTS AT ANY TIME FOR ANY REASON OR FOR NO REASON, WITH OR WITHOUT NOTICE TO YOU. For purposes of explanation and not limitation, most account suspensions, terminations and/or deletions are the result of violations of this Terms of Use or the EULA."


Wow, that's scary. What kind of rights do you get with an MMO now? The right to what you paid for? Now back to Fallout 3 where multiplayer doesn't get in my way.

Friday, July 10, 2009

Ghostbusters: The Videogame


(I played the version for the Wii, so I can't comment on the graphics of the other versions, or if there's much difference otherwise.)

Ghostbusters is a fun game that uses a single mechanic too much while treading ultimately blocky repetitive levels. What the game does well is really give you a solid mechanic for tackling a variety of ghosts that are, in general, fairly similar. They either fly around in circles ocassionally swooping in to attack or they run/drift at you, trying to swarm you. You hit them repeatedly with various forms of energy until they either disappear right there or can then be wrestled with until they lose the fight and you can drop them into a trap. It's a fairly simple mechanic of shooting enemies without draining all of your energy and having to let it replenish. I felt energy drained slightly too fast, but still, once you had knocked enough out of the ghost to get a lock on with your proton pack, you would swing the remote in different directions, slamming the ghost against walls until you had defeated it. That was a lot of fun, I thought, and, unfortunately, it was the only really satisfying part of the game to me.

The story was decently clever, and the various actors did a good job of bringing it to life. Except Bill Murray, who seemed far too calm and quiet during the whole affair; it almost seemed as if he were whispering out his lines. I do wish they had recorded a little more idle chatter, however, as they were fairly quiet when the cutscenes weren't occurring.

As a level designer/environment artist, I was somewhat disappointed by the all-around blocky levels. They were bright and colorful and interesting for a couple minutes, and then many would descend into the same routine of extending the levels by copying sections and then pasting them over a few more times so you had more distance to cover. In particular, I wasn't a fan of the graveyard and its strangely tight corridors. I guess I've never been to graveyards with winding corridors of stone walls... Although I should say there were also decent levels, my favorite being the museum with its open halls.

Much of what annoyed me doesn't seem so bad in retrospect (a week after playing the game), but I distinctly came out of the game just glad it was done. I felt engaged for parts of the game, but at other points it was just slogging through to the next interesting checkpoint. I played through with a friend and we decided it was a good game to rent, but not to buy.

Thursday, July 2, 2009

Up. My review

My review will be very short in my writing, rather start by reading Matthew Sorento's review here:

I agree with the points that Matthew makes and it really does hit the nail on the head that Up seems to take a great concept and throw it into a blender with a bunch of other random ideas. Three questions that arose in my head over the course of the movie.
-Why do the dogs always yell squirrel when they've been raised in a jungle where I doubt squirrels exist?
-Why is a man who is at least 25 years older than the main character at least as spry?
-Why do we see the main characters trudging through jungle when every time we see their environment from afar they are at the top of a huge rocky ridge?

I thought the movie failed to really explore its exploration concept further and instead went on a more typical romp for the second half, however the mood of the first half was strong enough to carry through the characters for most of the movie and I did indeed come out of the movie wanting to accomplish something with my life. The movie was very strong emotionally, and hopefully they can tie that up next time with just as cohesive a narrative.

Tuesday, June 30, 2009

Angry at game-makers

I am angry for two reasons this evening:

1. Seeming ignorance of real-world issues. I was reading about Max Payne 3 a week ago and I came across a comment that really stirred me up. Rockstar's VP of Development talks about going down to Sao Paulo, the new location for Max, and getting tons of real-world documentation for the game. They scanned people living in the favelas, they did 3d scans of locals to be authentic!

'Oh, I'm sorry, you're a Brazilian in America, you're a little too thick to model our game characters after. We want thin sickly people, so we're actually going to grab some locals just to make sure they look right. And to get their tattered clothes.' And continuing on, Barrera, the VP, says, "The favelas are like little mazes. We looked at the structures and how they are built and said, 'Oh this would be fun.'

There is something about the article, which you can check out in GameInformer #195, that just doesn't sit right with me. I know you want to go grab reference, I know you are there to get the mood and documentation to help create a game in that setting. But, whether or not it was just the reporting or the reported, these are opportunities to actually bring to light real-world issues in a more constructive manner. Go out on a limb, bring awareness of Sao Paulo's troubles to a teen male audience and see if you can get the issue to resonate... I doubt it will, but I'd love to see Max Payne 3 do just that.

2. Plagiarism is repulsive. I'll keep this short since it's quite late, but I spotted on TIGSource a sidebar noting that the new iPhone game Blopo is actually a complete ripoff of the game Tumbledrop.

Tumbledrop is a cute, well-put-together flash physics puzzle game made in Unity and freely available at:

Blopo (originally named Blogo), is a not very cute, not very clean or flashy version of Tumbledrop, and you can see it in action here:

Ripoff? So incredibly obviously a ripoff. I just think it's sad that people who can make games don't come up with their own ideas. COME ON! Be creative! Make your own damn work. I can't deal with this anymore, I'm going to sleep.

Saturday, June 13, 2009

Thursday, June 4, 2009

Rich moms driving unnecessary luxury SUVs OR My time with Far Cry 2

Far Cry 2 spoils its amazingly diverse world by trying to too hard to maintain the reins as a leading First Person Shooter.  It's really too bad that the game doesn't do exactly what it attempts to set up in the beginning "cinematic".  The intro sequence creates villages of normal people tending animals, rolls your vehicle through aggressive checkpoints where the NPCs scrutinize you but let you go and shows you how gorgeous the world of Far Cry 2 is.

Then you get your first mission and you find out that apparently everyone, including the people on "your side", will shoot at you.  This is the most frustrating element of FC2: you are supposed to choose sides and yet it never matters.  Everyone outside of the cities will fire at you and no one in the cities will.  Perhaps the point is that no one can be trusted, and yet it immediately destroys this fascinating take on a video game that the opening presents you with.  Perhaps that's just the way games have always worked.  Let the opening build a cohesive world and then drop you in the game where the systems have to balance and be entertaining.

But wouldn't it be more entertaining to have those safe outposts that you could flee to?  Then when an enemy jeep is hot on your tail you can arrive safely to have the barricades and friendly guns take out your aggressors?  It's unfortunate that this was not how the game went, because otherwise the game is quite full-bodied and such a meta element to the world would have tied in its shooting so well.  And believe me, the shooting is very solid.  The game offers such fun gunplay because of its open world.  Stealth is a much more tenuous game in the outdoors and the variety of guns and different ideas FC2 brings to the table make it all the more addictive.  It's fun to replay certain sequences with such innovations as buddy back-ups and weapons jamming.  Or just to light the grass on fire and watch it sweep across a field of enemies and perhaps burn down a tree.

The game looks gorgeous when burning things down or blowing things up.  It even looks gorgeous just driving boats and jeeps around or sneaking through the jungles.  It has a dreary color pallet of greens and browns but makes up for it with fantastic lighting and texturing and foliage.  However I do have one gripe with the terrain.  In an effort to make you take certain routes the game does something that has always annoyed me: it puts up impenetrable cliffs.  I detest that solution.  Especially when the map so clearly outlines where giant unwalkable areas are.  Please, put some random routes through those mountains.  I HATE being funneled through regions when I feel that a game is better when it doesn't put artificial barriers in any way.  If I want to spend the time to climb the mountains where no jeep can go just so I can assault a fortress from above, give me that option please.  Don't always route me through chokepoints, especially when you're touting such open-world scenarios.  Chokepoints don't always exist in the real world.

But I like Far Cry 2.  I have invested considerable time into it, even learning how to play a shooter on a console.  I still prefer the ease of mouse and keyboard, but FC2 has lots going for it: new gameplay elements for shooters, an incredibly expansive world, and a gorgeous engine.  It's just too bad it can't break free of certain traditional shooter elements: everyone is an enemy and you always have to pass chokepoints.  Give it a try, I am sure you'll love it.  It's the FPS equivalent of TES4: Oblivion.  Just be wary, it doesn't break as much ground as it clearly wanted to.

Wednesday, May 6, 2009

2d side-strollers

There are as many 2d platformers produced every minute as babies. Until my recent foray into indie games, I had believed, like so many others, that 3d was the way of the world now. But I have discovered that it is not. No, indeed, it seems that the mass majority of games are in 2d. And I'm trying to decide how I feel about that. So I think it's great that indie developers are making 2d platformers because they are producing games. But it seems like almost ALL of them are making platformers.

It must be due to Gamemaker, I just don't know. Please, though, stretch your horizons. I want to play some new types of games. And I know there are a billion other games out there. But half the time I go to tigsource I see a new sidescrolling platformer. I just don't know how to feel.

Saturday, April 18, 2009

Bottle caps

I think the decision by bottle manufacturers to remove the grip from their plastic caps was one of the most ass-backwards move of recent years. I can't open a 20oz bottle of soda anymore. Who made this decision? And who is still backing it? "Hey, let's make it so people can't open their soda bottles unless they have sandpaper on their fingertips!" Bottle caps worked fine 3 years ago, and now they don't. THEY DON'T WORK ANYMORE! The only possible explanation I can muster up is that someone hurt someone by scraping the rough surface against their eyeball and the soda companies determined that they could get in trouble for having a slightly rough surface on their bottle caps. WTF.

All I know is that it just took me far too long to open my iced tea.

Monday, April 13, 2009

Pointing Out Problems, Pt 2: Survival games

Do I hate survival/gauntlet games? I love and hate knowing that I should not win a game. Let me examine further. I love the idea of victory. If I don't immediately see victory within reach, I will probably move on to another game. So this becomes my problem today: to endure the challenges of a game where the end is unclear.

I do NOT endure unclear challenges because I prefer immediate success. If a game cannot present me with immediate goals and rewards, then I will not continue. Tell me what I am going for. Show me what I need to do. Do not leave me in the dark.

That is the point of some games, however. By not playing these games I am not understanding a section of the game spectrum. This section of games grows larger still because I generally dislike the zombie genre.

So here is my task: to beat Omar's Orthogonal Oyster Outing. A zombie survival game with unclear goals. And to clarify, the game does give the goal of reaching a helicopter. However, this is only stated within the readme and at this point I have yet to find any evidence of a copter or its whereabouts within the game. Therefore: unclear goal.

[note: I am also playing through Chrono Trigger, which is epic, and it could be stated that I am unclear on where the game might take me, though the goals are generally clear and close. But I am liking my first true foray into a jRPG.]

Monday, March 30, 2009

Pointing Out Problems, part 1?

If I were a man of few words, this would be easy as pie, but instead I spit out words because I stuff myself to the brim. My problem is as follows: I am not aware.

That's right, dear readers, I, yours truly, the man of this blog, ruler of all that is a[muse]ing, am completely utterly and hopelessly unaware of things. Progressing forward in life I shall attempt to document that of which I am not aware and hopelessly I will document my struggles to overcome this most massive of hurdles/cliffs/mountains(/planets?).

Let's commence at the beginning. My problem today is this: I am unaware of the metaphors behind great writing. I want to believe that things are as they seem, and I am fighting to read between the lines. I just love text! And I love seeing it! Unfortunately, the spaces between the lines are invisible, that point where we're supposed to be unconscious, sleeping. That third of our life of silence and blank existence. Sadly I don't often sleep all that much and I have been missing that thing called silence and sleep so I am no longer conscious of sleep and space and reading between the lines. Perhaps tonight I'll sleep. At least for a few hours. No! Seven hours! I must. (Haha, I can dream. [No, you cannot!])

Thoughts and prayers to my professor

How easily we brush away words. Words contain so little weight with us, and indeed we're taught to learn to ignore and to heed them at the same time. Where does sarcasm melt into sincerity?

I'm writing this because I do not know the state of health of my Spanish professor and I believe it to be poor. All last week I was in San Francisco enjoying the Game Developer's Conference, enjoying life and networking and my career, and completely ignoring my Spanish homework. Which is fine, because it was my choice to do so.

Here to Boston I return and find that my professor has been gone all of last week and again today he isn't teaching. Two months ago when I first began my GDC planning I told my professor that I would be gone. Remind me in a month, he said, he could be dead by then. A sarcastic comment from a professor who we've known to throw as much humor into his teaching as he could muster.

But it seems those words were not so hollow and light as they appeared to me. I am praying for you professor.

Tuesday, March 10, 2009

The grifters and the peddlers

Tonight I was approached by a man who has approached me on at least two other occasions. I saw him coming from a mile away as he crossed an intersection at a very odd angle just to catch me. And of course not a single person nearby for me to hide behind. As expected, he needed a dollar. He had four quarters. Well I told him I had no dollars. So then he asked if I had a five, because he had a few dollars and needed a fiver. Strange. I thought he had no dollars.

I do not carry much money with me these days, especially on campus where my student card gets me my meals. But it must be a hard time for small-time grifters these days. What I mean by that is that I am guessing the average guy asking for a buck today is about half as likely as someone asking thirty years ago because everyone uses debit cards these days. We all love to keep digital transactions of every time we spend money. We like to carry around a piece of plastic to pay for things. And most of all, we don't have change when the people who may or may not need it ask for some.

So to all you non-helpless people out there asking me for some change or a dollar for four quarters (I still don't get that one), I apologize that we do not carry change around to help you make a living. I am sure somewhere someone has got a modern trick up their sleeve that will sweep the nations of their debit cards and PIN numbers.

Sunday, March 1, 2009

Hoppin at the AvoCondos has entered the kongregation

That's right, yours truly is now a kongregate game. Support me with a half cent or perhaps a .1 cent by visiting

I don't think you'll be disappointed.

Saturday, February 28, 2009

enter the confusion, pt. 3

As the day started to slip away, I felt a fell breeze whisper through the trees around me. Goblins, probably. The grim thought remained with me as I trudged through the undergrowth in a verdant valley. I was learning its layout very quickly. This was the third time I had passed that cluster of rocks, and I was quite sure I now knew where to go to exit this strange land. Up the hill, to the right of the rocks, I spotted an open field. From that vantage point I should be able to see what was next.

Stumbling over myself I climbed the slope. I was starting to get tired. I might need another apple soon, I thought to myself. Strange too, as there had been no goblins yet to sap my health. Why on earth would my health be dropping for just traveling? I couldn't even ask my companion for help as he had disappeared hours ago, intent on finding more nuts to throw at passersby.

Exhausted, I made the top of the hill and the field that sat upon it. Beyond the valley I had been struggling through seemed to lay another valley. Great. I had quite the quest laid out ahead of me, it seemed. Onward and upward...

Friday, February 27, 2009

GDC 2009

I'm going to GDC! I realize this is actually about a month late, but I had yet to mention this on a blog primarily about games. So now you all know! I am really really really looking forward to going and getting to experience all that is the legendary GDC. I have got a to-do list right now, basically trying to make myself look good by then. I need business cards, a resume, a killer set of images and game-work to show people. Hooo doggy, there is lots to do. So why am I still writing about this? Time to write important things! Like stories and designs and other things of that nature!

Monday, February 16, 2009

Le Tranchant du Miroir

Everyone is making a mistake with Mirror's Edge. Players, critics, and even DICE themselves are trying to believe that ME is a first person shooter. It is impossible to escape genre cliches in a game that so heavily relies on them, with constant firefights erupting around you, helicopters above shooting at you and the ability to use not only melee skills but guns as well to retaliate at your aggressors. It's even more impossible when the game's loading screens seem intent on showing you how to fight enemies with karate-like "flow".

But play the game and you're shown a different focus; holding a weapon eliminates most of your dexterity. Melee is only beneficial to disarm one man and then use his gun to take out others. You keep wanting to fight, you want to refine your melee skills, but in the end you are outnumbered and underpowered. Why? Because you aren't meant to fight. The game was made for you to run.

Mirror's Edge is a racing game. You want to run, and you should. Each level is a course with a few different ways to move through the level and one of those ways is the fastest. It seems harsh when the game is criticized for requiring just the right touch because that is exactly what a racing game is about. Play Trackmania for more than ten minutes and you know that just the right angle around a corner will lose you that Gold medal time. So it is the same for Mirror's Edge. You are trying to make the most efficient use of space and time to manuever your way to the exit. In Story mode it gives you helpful red markers, but finish the story mode or turn away to the Race mode and you see that it really is all about getting that exact right line. Learning the movements, finding the route to propel you the most quickly to your destination.

I am really enjoying the game. I acknowledge random small issues that annoy me, such as sometimes unclear goals or the somewhat common lock-up. But I love the challenge the game has presented. I'm still working through the story, but I've got to give DICE props for making what I think is an incredibly solid Parkour game.

Oh, and it's gorgeous as well.

Friday, January 23, 2009

Pixar: The Thomas Kinkade of the Animation World?

Perhaps? I just had the thought and I had to share it with you all.

Saturday, January 17, 2009

You are too connected when...

You bring your laptop into the bathroom with you.

I realize that I work on the same floor as Google personnel, but seriously? This guy came in and set his laptop on the sink as he took a leak. I hope to heaven there was some crazy macbook thief on the loose in his office. Otherwise, come on!

Oh, and you're a very ballsy girl if you wear a miniskirt out in weather that's less than 10 degrees. I say this because a couple nights ago, sure enough, I saw some girl bundled up heavily down to her waist wearing only a miniskirt with lots of leg showing. How clearly can one look like they want sex? Or, put more diplomatically in the words of my girlfriend: "suffering in the name of fashion".

Wednesday, January 14, 2009

enter the confusion, pt. 2

I awoke with a start to find the beast staring hard at me, its fangs glistening as it -- well, no, it was just a squirrel. Looked like the little guy hadn't eaten anything in days. Which was befuddling, because I was surrounded by acorns. In fact, I had been woken up with an acorn right in between my eyes. Apparently this squirrel had never received the memo on what one does with acorns.

Pop! It chittered and hurried away as I recovered from another nut to my face. This was not my idea of a great time. I scrambled to my feet and looked around. Nothing new or unusual to be seen except this slightly confused squirrel. I dropped my kitchen knife to the ground and began to arrange my items. An apple was gone! No, wait, I had just eaten it before the nap. As I finished repacking my items it seemed forward was my only option. Forward into the wilderness. The sun was beginning to drop low and the burrs were particularly clingy to my jeans and socks. I was going to have to seek out shelter soon otherwise I'd be in trouble.

As I walked through the grove of magnificent, magical oaks, I heard the squirrel chitter away as it scampered after me. Interesting, I thought, my party grows.