Soooo, we’re all seen the results of the Big Fight between Microsoft and Sony at E3 the other night. The results are absolutely clear. Sony won.
Apart from the fact that they didn’t, in some ways…
But in a third, potentially very important set of ways, they may actually have won after all.
This is complicated.
It’s a few days since Microsoft debuted the Xbox One, and the web remains tingling with delight, interest, doubt, sarcasm and plain old bitter disappointment. I’d like to say that it was equal quantities of all of these, but as you’ve probably noticed, everything is heavily skewed towards the negative end of the scale.
The people have spoken.
And most of them used rude words.
So why am I about to write a post hailing the new console? Why am I going to fly in the face so so much opinion?
Well, actually I’m not. In reality I was a little bit disappointed in the Xbox One presentation myself. But I think that a lot of commentators have been too quick to stick the knife in, and may have not considered the intent of the presentation or the overall strategy of Microsoft. I actually think that the reveal show will have played brilliantly to corporate partners and share holders, but it clearly wasn’t aimed at the traditional, hardcore game fan. And that is something that a lot of people don’t seem to have understood.
It’s an exciting time. As I write this, the Xbox 720 reveal event is just a few hours away. And no, I don’t expect it to be called 720 either. But with that and the PS4 on the horizon, I thought I’d blog a wee bit what I think we need from these new consoles. I’ll probably get into trouble by not including the WiiU in this list. I sort of apologise, but not much because that console is already out so doesn’t qualify for a speculative post such as this.
To set this up a bit, I love console gaming, most of my most cherished gaming experiences live on consoles. And as much as I love mobile gaming, I expect more of my favourite experiences to only be possible on a console, on a whacking big telly, with a perfectly designed controller in my hands. But consoles need to change, and it’s not going to be poly counts or shader support that will make the difference.
Let’s start with some hardware bits to get that out of the way.
Graphics : Some – We’ve learned over the past few years that totes-amaze-balls pictures aren’t really necessary for a great game experience. But I concede that you probably will need “some” graphics so I won’t complain too much. You’ll probably want terribly shiny cars, I’d like human faces that don’t weird out on me when they are talking.
Sound: Yes Please – And if you could put an optical output somewhere sensible that would be nice. Thanks.
Console Hardware Configuration: Properly tested this time… Yes. You know what I mean. No more of that!
Right, now let’s talk about games. Frankly, I don’t care very much about all the big showcase, $100 Million productions that you’re all going to show us at E3. I want interesting, unusual and innovative games that will come from all over the game community, not just from your 6 bezzie mates in the dwindling Old Publishers Society. Most importantly, I want to be one of the people creating those interesting, unusual and innovative games. So my “games” section looks like this.
I’ve done a few First Impressions posts about high budget console games, but in many respects, the notion of a first impression is more appropriate to a mobile or web game that can actually evolve and change after launch.
And this week, Nimblebit (Tiny Tower, Pocket Planes) release their latest title, Nimble Quest – iOS/Android. Like lots of popular iOS titles, it is a hybrid game. It is a collision between the very smallest game design (Snake) and the very biggest (the RPG).
So what we have is a very cute auto-walker seen from a top down perspective in classic Zelda style. Your character moves at a constant speed, and you simply swipe across the screen in the direction you wish them to walk. You start every game with a single character but are soon adding to your party by collecting characters and suddenly the Snake reference becomes clear. Each character has a specific attack mechanism, be it projectile, explosive or sword based and they all attack automatically. You just tell the conga line where to go!
So here we are, once again leaping across chasms and picking off wildlife while discovering ancient artefacts and suffering occasional plunges to an unforgiving death on the rocks below.
But of course, it is far from business as usual in the new, rebooted, Tomb Raider. As things stand I am around a third of the way into the single player game so any spoilers can only be relatively limited in their impact and my conclusions may shift as I progress further.
What do I want from Tomb Raider?
Perhaps more than any other game, Tomb Raider comes with a vast litany of demands and expectations. The weight of history on Lara Croft’s shoulders drives a near unprecedented level of personal player investment in the game. Everybody knows who “their” Lara is and what “their” Tomb Raiding must entail.
For my part, I feel relatively comfortable with whatever Crystal Dynamics want to offer me. I don’t have many demands on either Lara or the Raiding, so we’re all safe from yet another blog post about how this Lara isn’t MY Lara and waaah waaah waah!
Given that this is the Year of Writing (for me anyway) I thought I’d best start off with a post about some of my writing. Specifically, about the writing process for my game, Kumo Lumo.
I was actually quite surprised to end up writing anything at all for the game, because its original vision was to be a pure gameplay experience - entirely driven by control, interaction, discovery and feedback. But about a third of the way through the development (about 8 weeks in) we discovered that the game was lovely to play - but had a massive gap when it came to caring about the game. Everyone knew what the game wanted them to do, but nobody knew why. The solution lay in a new game structure, and an emotional heart that came from a slightly surprising place.
Since it has been a very long time since my last post, I thought I’d go some way to explaining where I’ve been and what I’ve been doing. Thankfully, I’ve not been in prison or helping the CIA with unfinished business, I’ve mostly been making a game. This isn’t that unusual because I am a game designer by trade, but this game is special because this one is my first original title. I came up with the original idea, and then worked with a fantastic team at Blitz Games (where I am employed) to build and complete the game.
For those who have read the game design articles on this blog, you might be interested to see what all this theoretical fluff looks like when you turn it into a game.
Well, the game is called Kumo Lumo. It’s an iOS game and you can download it for free from the App Store now. Slightly nervously, I glance back over my previous posts in the hope that I’ve not gone and contradicted myself mahoosively somewhere along the line. Having put my money where my mouth is, do I now look as though I am full of shit?
A lot is said about emotion in games these days, and with good reason. Emotion is the absolute heart of all human experiences. None of us would do anything if it didn’t have some emotional feedback so of course we want to find it in the games we play.
Atmosphere is also intrinsically linked to emotional resonance, although I would still see them as two different components of a piece of art/media/design/whateveryouthinkgamesaretoday. The problem is that many games, and many game designers, have got an exceptionally wrong headed idea about what emotion and atmosphere in games actually means.
Way back in the mists of time there was effectively only one type of designer. And that was someone who knew enough about an obscure programming language to make a few dots move around a screen in an interesting way. Spin forward a few decades and you have game designers, level designers, narrative designers, weapon designers, social designers and quite possibly owl-based-hat designers.
These can all be considered job roles. And as the Earth shifts beneath the feet of the games industry, some of those categories are ceasing to be important as teams rapidly downsize from several hundred to just several, and game designs shrink back down to something you could write on the back of a napkin, and still leave room for an amusing drawing of an owl in a hat.
Job roles aren’t important to this post. The different types of people are!
“The player is the enemy. An invading force that needs to be controlled, to be trained like a dog. Mete out the chocolate drops and the whip with equal abandon. If they make a mistake, let not pity stay your hand, kill them, punish them, send them back and erase their progress. Without punishment there is no risk; no risk, no reward. No tension, no gameplay. It’s a waste of time.”