Game of the year

Hello everyone! The year's slowly ending. Everyone around me is slowly summing up their successes and failures. Half a month from now we will all have new year resolutions that will mostly last less than a week. Ahhh, the end of the year atmosphere was alrady surrounding me so snugly, when I got a spam e-mail from Gamespot.

Gamespot was announcing their game of the year nominees. Click on the link, don't be shy. I personally loved it. Why? It just represented so much good in the gaming community. Professional studio and a reveal formula that brought to mind sport studios in the half-time breaks during football games (to the american readers: deal with it - in football, you use feet, not hands to move the ball around - foot + ball - can't get any clearer than that ^^). Five guys sitting at a table. Each of them knowing at least a bit about the games they were discussing. Each of them cleverly stimulating the conversation to be as interesting as possible. Each of them showing a lot of wit, creativity and self-aware hypocrisy. Each of them talking about games. Not sports. And none of them coming across ass awkward nerds with social skills of a retarded stone. And on top of that, a very cute girl that was in charge of tweet management that was bringing more wit and humor to the table instead of boobs.

This video showed a level of maturity mixed with joy I would love to see more in the community. Sadly, as soon as Mary started reading the tweets from watchers, the level of maturity dropped on its face into a sea of emotional preferences. Shows how much work there's still ahead of us before we can really show games are not just for kids, but hey - at least we're slowly getting there. Good job, Gamespot guys!

Games Making Noob's GOTY
All of this made me want to make one of my own, too! And since it is my own, I can also apply any rules I want. So here it comes. Games eligible for the GMN GOTY award are games that I have played in 2013 for the first time. So even though I spent dozens of hours replaying old Final Fantasy titles on my PSP, these games don't count, I have played them earlier. I don't care if the games were released in 2013 or 1983. If I just discovered them, they are new to me and my experience with them came from last year. You, as a reader, can of course vote for any of the nominees in the rarely used comment box below. Obviously, your voice won't count in the verdict, because it's my GOTY not yours, but it will sure be fun to see what you guys think of the games I'll pick. Maybe I'll make a "GMN readers pick" award?

What's the award? Eternal glory on the virtual pages of my blog. Oh, and I'll send a congratulations card to the studio that released the game. And I'll probably write a lot more about the game in the post that reveals the winner. And... That's it. What more recognition could the winners want? Lol.

Games eligible for the title are 

on PC:
Dear Esther, Evoland, Portal 1 and 2, Recettear, The Walking Dead, Thomas was Alone.

on Android:
Plants vs. Zombies 2, Tower Defense, World of Goo.

on PS3:
Alien Rage, Catherine, Demon's Souls, Deus Ex: Human Revolution, Dragon's Dogma, Far Cry 3, flOw, Flower, Guacamelee!, ICO, Journey, Little Big Planet Karting, Lollipop Chainsaw, Metal Gear Rising: Revengeance, Remember Me, The Last of US, Tomb Raider, Uncharted 3, XCOM: Enemy Unknown.

Games that just missed the time window by a month or two include Shadow of the Colossus, Bioshock 1 and 2 and Dark Souls, which is paradoxically fortunate - those would make the choice of the one best game so much harder!

And here come the ten nominees!


Even though I didn't completely love the story and the immature, bipolar approach to a complicated adult topic, I still can't deny that Catherine's gameplay is extremely fun and well-designed. Not to mention an impressive difficulty level that's design-based, not just achieved with modifiers to parameters. 

Demon's Souls
Another demanding game I have spent well over 100 hours with before I finally got the platinum trophy (mostly because I have erased my save data halfway through the second playthrough). Why did I platinum it? Out of respect for the team who made it. It's a game that my girl hated so much she bought me awesome headphones just not to hear the game anymore :)

Another game I have already written about. Beautiful story told with minimum words. Intelligent, rewarding puzzles, the feeling of responsibility as you hold Yorda's hand to get her to safety. One of these experiences that simply enriches our lives. 

Another beautiful story. This time told with no words whatsoever. One of the pearls of video game writing combined with a bold, consistent art direction. By far the best online co-op experience I've ever had. Just an hour and a half long, linear game that touches your heart every single time you play it.

Little Big Planet Karting
One of extremely few games that I could actually play together with my girl on PS3. Delightfully fun and random. After a few races you even stop caring whether you are winning or loosing. All that really counts is getting new clothes, new carts and whacking the opponents with whatever you find on the track.

Lollipop Chainsaw
Another game that exists purely for fun. Sets your expectations really low just to prove how much more it is. The game is fun from start to the end, with great pacing and variety of gameplay mechanics that don't overwhelm, but are just enough to keep you experiencing a new thing every half an hour. A game you buy for boobs and you end up with a whole lovely package. 

I know Portal 2 is probably better in every possible aspect, having more assets, more variety, more characters, more clever dialogues, better pacing and in general much higher production values... But there's just something cute about a game that has been built from Half-Life leftovers, crude and simplistic, but not really lacking anything. And the ending - definitely the best ending credits I have ever seen. 

The Last of Us
Speaking of production values, they do not get any higher than in this game. Right at the end of PS3's life cycle, Naughty Dog shows everyone, how much could developers actually squeeze out of a 6-years old console, but never actually did. Interesting and coherent world, believable characters, well-crafted story. Even though I didn't like the gameplay one bit, I still can't deny this production a very high score.

Thomas was alone
I was having hard time deciding which of the PC games to nominate and I decided to just go with the ones with best storytelling and... Yeah, Thomas was alone (in my opinion) wins with The Walking Dead and Dear Esther in this category. The world of this game just couldn't get any more simple, yet still Mike Bithell managed to deliver a very deep gameplay and narrative through it. 

XCOM: Enemy Unknown
Nostalgic journey back to the days of my youth that not even the crappy localization could keep me from playing. I would call it a very good port to the modern gaming standards that still manages to keep the game challenging (or even crazy hard if you choose ironman mode). So what the assets mostly look like crap. Games are meant to be played, not looked at :)

Make sure to vote on the games of your choice. The official winner of GMN GOTY award will be announced in a few days. Or in a week. Or whenever the hell I decide which game deserves it most. 


Announcement / Ogłoszenie : Extra Credits

Hey there everyone!

Most of you probably know the popular game-related series, Extra Credits. Me and my friend Stilghar decided it's a shame that the show is only available to the english-speaking audience and we should make it more available for polish people.

Extra Credits do a great job helping people understand video games. We are aware that a lot of people don't know english well enough to be able to follow Daniel on steroids ;) Young adults mostly have no problems with the language. However, we think it's teenagers and their parents that would benefit a lot from having someone explain to them the basics of game design and present games not as a cheap entertainment, but a new exciting medium to tell us new and immersive stories.

First episode has already been translated. Thanks to Soraya for a great contact. Thanks to James and Dan iel for creating the series. Thanks to all the great artists who contributed to the fun videos.

We will be adding more episodes as soon as we manage to translate them - most probably not in chronological order. 

Cześć wszystkim!

Istnieje sobie taka fajna seria filmików o świecie gier wideo - Extra Credits. Ja i mój kumpel Stilghar stwierdziliśmy niedawno, że to przykre, że są one dostępne tylko dla osób władających językiem angielskim i że powinniśmy udostępnić tę serię Polakom.

Extra Credits świetnie pomaga zrozumieć gry. Lektor, Daniel, mówi w tych filmikach bardzo szybko i wiele osób nie ma wystarczającego skilla, żeby za nim nadążyć po angielsku (nam też ciężko było wcisnąć tyle treści w napisy tak, żeby były one względnie czytelne). Szczególnie nastolatkowie i ich rodzice według nas najbardziej mogą skorzystać na wiedzy, którą seria przekazuje, mogą mieć czasem barierę językową. Filmiki te uczą podstaw game designu i prezentują gry nie jako prostą rozrywkę, a raczej nowe, ekscytujące medium zdolne opowiadać wciągające historie. 

Pierwszy odcinek został już przetłumaczony - wystarczy kliknąć w filmik, żeby go obejrzeć. Dziękujemy Sorayi za świetny kontakt. Dziękujemy Jamesowi i Danielowi za stworzenie serii. Dziękujemy też wszystkim rysownikom, którzy użyczyli swoich umiejętności, żeby filmiki były jeszcze ciekawsze.

Nowe odcinki będą się ukazywać tak szybko, jak damy radę je tłumaczyć - w pierwszej kolejności wybrane epizody, nie chronologicznie. 

Miłego oglądania!


Quickie #1: Fanboys

Hello guys! For a while now I had a few topics bottled up inside, but I didn't feel they deserve a whole article. Then I realized (yeah, I know - I can be reeeeaaally fast sometimes) that not every post on a blog needs to be a full-blown article. Long story short, I'm starting a new series on the blog - Quickies!

Today's quickie came to me when I was watching the newest episodes of South Park (for the people from the future - 17th season, episodes about Xbox One and PS4 premiere). South Park has really recovered in this season, by the way. None of the episode was straightforward boring or completely forgettable, like most of the episodes from a few last series. Good job, Trey and Matt! Back to the topic though. The episodes are about children forming alliances to buy either PS4 or the new Xbox. Among a lot of dumb arguments about which console is going to be better and other arguments that are just a complete matter of preference, there was one that struck me. It was when one of the Xbox followers said:

If you buy a PS4 you will not be able to play online with us!
Frankly, I never thought about it this way. Back when I was a kid and could only afford one gaming platform, it was really cool to have something nobody else had. I remember how me and the other kids were visiting each other, because one had a NES, one had a PC, the other had a Commodore and another one an Amiga. Then, in another generation, one had a Pentium, another a N64 and some other kids had PlayStations. People played together by visiting each other. Variety of platforms meant a variety of games you could play. You having something nobody else had was a social advantage! Now, in the age of online gaming, kids grow fat on their couches, not interacting with each directly. Sure online multiplayer is great, but I myself miss the days of good old co-op, where we were spending whole days on 8-player battles in Heroes 3. Now it seems that the console you own determines your social circle. Kinda sucks. 

Like the heroes of South Park, the majority of kids have to choose only one gaming platform. For economic reasons mostly. Even as an adult I am reluctant to buy a new console just to play a few games that interest me and are not available on other platforms. These games - exclusives - are in my opinion the very core of the fanboy phenomenon. I mean - most of the platforms are similarly attractive. Arguing which one of the two most popular controllers is better when the biggest difference is where the D-pad is? Seriously, guys - go find yourselves a real problem instead of running around in a wizard hat, forming childish alliances. The only actual difference between platforms are the exclusives. The exclusives from the other gaming platform are something that all the fanboys secretly crave. It is what they are jealous of. It's what makes all the hate boil. If you are a PC gamer and can't play The Last of Us or Gears of War, so you will loudly glorify Starcraft 2 on your way to BlizzCon. Most PS gamers loathe not being able to play Halo, so they boast about the God of War. X-boxers would die to go on a Journey or to play Demon's Souls, but instead they embrace Fable.  And Nintendo fans... Well, they've just been playing Mario and Zelda over and over for the last 30 years :P 

Acting like a fanboy is simply a way of overcompensating for the games you can't play. If you think about it, being a fanboy is psychologically identical to a small wiener syndrome - overcompensating for something you don't have. 


Jobs in gamedev: Game Designer

The problem with not writing for so long is that when you return, you should get back with something that will justify the long lag between posts. This way you can say "hey, I know I was away for a while, but here, I've been doing research for this baby!". Sad truth is I've been so occupied with work lately that I barely managed to finish one game in the last month. Still, I wanna deliver something nice to all the people that waited. Here goes another one of the "Jobs in gamedev" series and definitely the sexiest one - Game Designer. And speaking of sex...

What does Game Design have in common with prostitution?
There's at least two things that these two jobs have in common: they are the oldest jobs in the world and they both can start at surprisingly young age. Remember when you played hide and seek when you were kids and then, when everyone started to run too far, someone came up with a rule limiting the hiding area? Remember when there were only two of you to play soccer so each of you stood at the different side of the field as a goalkeeper, kicking the ball from one side to another? And then, when it was too hard to score, one of you said "ok, but we can't use our hands from now on". That was applying new rules to the game. That was, in a way, designing a new game.

People always needed some kind of games. Something fun to do. Ancient Greeks had their olympics - someone had to come up with the rules. When our apelike ancestors were hunting and the prey was too easy to catch, I am pretty sure they were coming up with ways to make the hunt more entertaining for them. Like competing which hunter will catch most of umm... I dunno, mammoth snails or something. 

Yup, a little mindfuck for people who only read the bold text and stare at pictures :D
Game design is everywhere nowadays. Teachers design new ways to teach their students. Sure the game isn't too engaging to any of the participants, but there are clear rules, goals and quite a lot of competition. Politicians are designing our surroundings, applying new rules, shaping the reality around us. Too bad they are rarely similarly skilled or logical as game designers and, unlike the latter, they get paid in spite of the outcome. 

I think you get the idea. Game design was present in our world millenias before Super Mario Bros and will continue to be a discipline that will never limit itself to electronic entertainment. And that's what I find extremely cool.

Everybody wants to be a game designer
As soon as I thought of getting into gamedev, I decided that being a designer is the ideal job for me. You can utilize your creativity, make up your own games and man - I had so many cool ideas for games! A vast majority of people who want to get into game development has this one job in mind. Programming sounds boring, to create assets you need some artistic skill, but here you just need a head full of ideas! Of course, this perception of the role of a game designer is distorted by a terrifying lack of knowledge, which is quite common among the wannabe designers. It still doesn't mean the job itself isn't cool. Scott Rogers in his book Level Up!: The Guide to Great Video Game Design says that "designers have more fun [than people doing any other job in gamedev]" and he has some pretty damn good arguments for that, but I won't quote them here. If you wanna know - buy his book. It's a really good read and will let you get some nice knowledge on the game design topic.

If you can figure out what this picture is doing here, well... congrats.
The common desire to be the designer comes from the basic oversimplification that a game designer designs games. Sounds logical, doesn't it? A car salesman sells cars. A portrait painter paints portraits. It is only fair that the game designer designs games! Well, in AAA industry, that logic leads to a bitter disappointment.

What is it that the game designer actually does in gamedev?
A game designer creates a set of rules for a game. In the "good old days" it pretty much meant that he's creating a game. Games didn't have much story, they were made by small teams... Setting the rules of Tetris equals creating Tetris. Nowadays however, in biggest productions, roles are extremely divided and designers get their own pieces of the pie. Take a look at the credits of a few big games and you might find out that apart from the "game design" section there can be things like "combat system design", "quest design" and many others. Sometimes, the "game design" section can even be completely gone, replaced by all the smaller design teams. That's because making and designing a game is a team effort and - in the AAA industry - hardly anyone can say "I've designed this game" without either oversimplifying or being a swaggerer.

There's a common misconception that a game designer more than anything needs to be an extremely creative and innovative person. These elements are of course very important, but from what I have seen so far, the best designers didn't really come up with many ideas. They group the ideas, they review them, they design systems based on them. And if you think about it - it is getting harder and harder to come up with an original idea that will work. There's millions of ready ideas out there to mix and match. At the end of the day, a designer that can cleverly combine the existing ideas is way more valuable than a guy who just comes up with ideas, reinventing the wheel for the nineteenth time.

Systems over ideas
What are these systems I am babbling about? They are the very core of game designer's work. The ideas alone are neat, but they can't work without a proper system built around them. Let me explain on a simple example - jump.

Let's say we are designing an action game where a big pile of goo fights with oversized fruits. At some point (probably very early on) there comes an idea: "it would be cool if the goo could jump!". That was an idea. An idea that could have come from anywhere, not necessarily from the game design. To implement this idea, we need a jumping system that will have an answer to every question we can come up with:
- how high will the goo jump?
- will it bounce off a ceiling if it touches it or will it stick to it? Is the type of ceiling a factor?
- what will happen to the goo when it lands?
- how far will the goo jump?
- if the goo doesn't make it to the other side of a cliff, will it bounce off the wall it or stick to it? Is the type of the wall a factor?
- will the goo be able to crawl up the cliff if it sticks to it after jumping?
- what will happen if the goo jumps onto an enemy fruit? Is the size of the fruit a factor?

Suddenly, you start coming up with a system that derived from a simple "let's jump" and has all these cool possibilities and all these problems that you have to solve. Thanks to this jumping ability, you are building ceilings with spikes, hard floors to splash your goo on and creating mechanics of swallowing strawberries with the goo, but bouncing off the watermelons. Then you realize that this jumping system closely connects to the battle system, movement system, special skills system, scoring system - most probably every system that makes it into the game.

Yes, it all starts with an idea, but the idea itself is worthless without a careful analysis, problem solving and lots of crash testing. If you are a game designer, the coming up with the idea part might happen without you. What won't happen without you is turning this idea into a logical and complete system that the player will have a very hard time breaking and that will work well with all other systems in the game.

One more idea-related myth to bust while we're at it: A game designer rarely comes up with the game idea. In many cases the game idea is thrown at the design team from above. Be it from the company's CEO, the publisher who simply ordered the game at your company, the marketing team that decided that the next title should be a platform shooter with experience system "just like Skyrim" or a movie company that wants a game based on the movie they are releasing next year. In lion's share of cases, none of the designers that work on a game has actually come up with an idea for it. If you have a game idea and think that by becoming a game designer in a big company will let you bring it to life, stop thinking that.

A game designer does not need to code
I am giving this one a separate section as it is a very, very common question. The idea that a designer = coder comes from the times when small teams of people were producing games. The coder had to be a designer, a producer and ideally, a marketing genius. Nowadays it is quite unique for a designer to actually code. They do need to think logically. They do need to know what an algorithm is and even be able to think in algorithms, but they don't really need to get their hands dirty in low level programming. Sooner or later, a designer will have to learn how to script the things in the engine, but scripting is about as complicated as using MS DOS, so no real coder would call scripting programming. Therefore, programming experience is never a requirement for a game design position. If it is, you are looking at a job offer for a designer/programmer in a relatively small gamedev company.

If the designer had to code, there would have been only Two Amigos on this picture :)
Awesome image stolen from http://blog.teamtreehouse.com

What is it that you need to get a job as a Game Designer?
There are generally two ways that lead to becoming a game designer in an AAA industry. First would be to start at a different position like QA or a producer and then join the design team as soon as you prove yourself worthy and there's an opening. Second would be to get the internship or an entry-level job straight away. In both cases there's a number of things you will need to prove.

Simply having ideas is not good enough, as I think I have emphasised a few paragraphs back. You need to show that you can make your ideas work. This is what a portfolio is for. There's a lot of software nowadays that lets you easily create your own games. They come with some generic assets that you can use. There's really a lot of them:
- UDK (Unreal Development Kit)
- Unity 3D
- Construct 2
- RPG Maker
- Engine 001
You can easily google for many, many more. Both free and paid. Both basic and user-friendly and very advanced. Countless small game studios use these kits to create their games. Just choose one that looks best and create! Start with something simple and see how far you can get on your own. The further you will get, the better it will show off what you could accomplish if there was some actual game designer that could guide you. Don't worry that you're using generic assets. What counts is how you connect them. If using all this software baffles or limits you, try the good old pen and paper. Design your own universe, rpg system, board or card game! Anything that will scream out "this guy knows what it is to design a system around his ideas!". So yeah - portfolio. Get it.

If I had to choose a second most important advice it would be "experience as much of various media as you can". Swallow everything - books, movies, TV shows, music, blogs, games. Whatever the modern pop culture spits out, you lick it off the ground happily. Good or bad. I don't mean you shouldn't be critical - be as critical as you wish. The more the better actually. If you know what the second image of this article is doing in it, you are probably on a good track. As a designer, you need thousands of examples of how certain things worked in different media, how they appealed to the audience and how much fun they delivered. This will help you decide things like what topics are worthy of touching and whether it's better to go with an 8-player hot-seat or an online multiplayer. When you are interviewed for the position and a book, movie or game comes up you will get silver points for knowing it, golden points for having something interesting to say about it. And believe me - there will be titles coming up.

Read at least a few books about game design. I cannot stress the importance of this point enough. If I followed this advice two years ago, my early interviews would have gone much, much better. Following this point will let you set your head straight and actually more or less know what the game design is instead of imagining what it is. Some books worth checking out:
- Jesse Schell: The Art of Game Design: A book of lenses
- Scott Rogers: Level Up!: The Guide to Great Video Game Design
- Ernest Adams: Fundamentals of Game Design
It also won't hurt to watch the popular Extra Credits series. Their episodes are short, fun, insightful and informative.

Know what's going on in technology. Gamedev is an incredibly dynamic industry. New inventions revolutionise the whole business within few short years. When things like 3D technology, motion control, touch screens or Oculus Rift happen, game designers need to already be able to use these to their advantage instead of hoping people will keep playing their games in the old way, without new possibilities.

These would be the most important things you need in order to get a job in game design. Whether you are "just" migrating from a different role within the same company or you are coming from the outside. Already being in the company obviously lets you show off your talents much more easily. And don't get concerned when all these websites that tell you that a game designer needs drawing, 3D, programming, software, storytelling, communication, presentation, marketing and whatever other skills and knowledge you can come up with. Yes, those can be very helpful, but are not always crucial and since it's an entry position job you are most probably after, they can always be learnt along the way. You have all the time in the world to try to learn everything.


Catching up: Catherine - the nerdy guide to relationships?

It is very rare for me to find a game that I will have such mixed feelings towards. In case of Catherine, these feelings are also incredibly polarized. What you are about to witness is as much of a love song as it is a hate rant. The text contains some spoilers - you've been warned.

Let's start with the good sides. The gameplay is simply delicious! I only play puzzle games on my phone and if I were to choose a game type for one of my main gaming platforms, puzzler would be one of the last choices. Still, the way Catherine handles its puzzles is exceptional. Fast-paced, highly competitive, diverse climbing mechanics with variety of block types provides a very entertaining challenge. And when I write challenge, I mean I have platinum trophies in both Demon's Souls and Dark Souls and I still wouldn't dare to play Catherine on hard difficulty. There's 28 stages in the main game, 64 stages in Rapunzel retro mini-game with same mechanics, just a bit different rules + Babel + Colosseum, a local competitive multiplayer. That's a lot for a simple small game Catherine seems to be. 

Level design itself is impressive. If someone told me to design a level for platformer or a shooter, I would at least have a faint idea where to start. With Catherine, I would pass right away. Respect to all these guys who fried their brains with maths of this block-building. Even bigger respect to designers that came up with all these cool techniques that NPC's in the game teach you (I would have never invented half of them on my own).

The narrative of the gameplay shines as well. Whenever gameplay tells us the story, it just can't get get better. Climbing a tower, pushing blocks like a slave in Ancient Egypt, avoiding traps and falls, dealing with various environment elements and being constantly aware of your surroundings - and all of that as a metaphor of being in a relationship! Cherries on top are these small moments where designers use clever tricks to let you feel the social aspects of the games theme. For example you can only check out a dirty picture on your phone when on a toilet, which makes you feel like a sneaky bastard :) A nice touch is also the online feature showing statistics, how other players answered the questions.

Then comes the story itself. The main theme of the game is relationships, fidelity and growing up. Pretty unusual for a video game, huh? Unfortunately, as much as I was excited to find out how they approached it, I got solely disappointed. There's just so many sins Catherine's storytelling commits, it's almost unbelievable.

First of all, the setup. We have a classic shōnen manga situation - a guy who seems average in every possible way, yet somehow two girls want to be with him so badly that he can't decide which one to choose. It reminds me of an old Jim Carrey stand-up:

Start at 2:38 :)

This might work for teenagers that feel like most average of the average and dream of girls being interested in them. When used as an assembly for a mature analysis of cheating in a relationship, it falls flat very quickly. To top that off, none of these girls is really to die for. From the very start Katherine is depicted as an annoying control freak that most of the guys would dump after a few months, a year tops if sex was good. Bimboey Catherine on the other side very quickly shows she's nuts and I myself would be running from a girl like her faster than from a rhino. After first few nights, I just wanted to have an option to get as far away from both of them as possible. But no - no matter what you do, Vincent (the main character) behaves like an indecisive teenager, but without the charm of Keichii Morisato or Tenchi Masaki. But wait, it gets worse.

In the center of the story there's this meter that shows where your actions and choices take you on a good - bad scale. Seriously, every single dilemma in the game is judged as simply right or wrong. All the subtleties and complexities of human relationships got downgraded to just "good" or "bad". If I wanted a bite of such oversimplification I'd just go to church instead of playing a game. 

After most of the stages you get to answer questions that are supposed to judge your attitude towards relationships. Of course, they are also judged in this ridiculous right and wrong scale which leads to all sorts of even more absurd revelations. To give you a taste:

Q: Do you prefer an older or younger partner? - selecting "younger" automatically drives you towards the "bad cheater" scenario. WTF?

Q: Have you been told your romantic standards were too high? - according to the game designers, affirmative answer doesn't mean you will die alone looking for "the one". It means you are a good, faithful partner.

Q: Are you more of a Sadist or a Masochist? - apparently, cutting yourself means you are a reliable, stable lover. Sharpen your razor blades, guys!

Seriously, if someone ever got the crazy idea of getting dating advice from this game, he would end up as a repressed weirdo who, if lucky enough to get a woman by sheer luck, would be unable to communicate with her, building up his and her sexual frustration. There's just one conclusion I am able to draw here. When I was teaching teenagers creative writing, one of the first advices was "don't touch topics you have no idea about - it will show in what you write". Dear Atlus writers - it really shows you have no clue about men-women relationships. Actually, there is barely a moment in the game that could show you know how an average 32 year old man behaves. 

But yeah - you guessed it. It gets even worse! The narrator in the game, together with sms-based tutorials tell you at least three times how the choices you make in the game matter. How the answers to the questions change your good vs. evil meter and how it affects the story. Well - bullshit! No matter what you do and what messages you write, the plot stays the same for the whole game up until the ending that has a number of different versions. Due to the first 95% of the story remaining untouched, half of these endings doesn't even make sense. You can be leeching dirty pictures from the bimbo Catherine and send the worst possible messages to the bitchy Katherine. Either way, Vincent will suddenly (really, he does that out of the blue) realize Katherine is the love of his life and he wants to save his relationship. I played the game twice because I thought the choices I make will really make some difference in the story but my advice to you guys - unless you want to check out other difficulties, just watch the other endings on YouTube.

Does it still get any worse? YES! The game is rated M and obviously trying to market itself to the young adult audiences. It also clearly tries to touch the topic in a more dramatic, mature way. One could think that they believe in the cognitive abilities of the players who finish the game. Unfortunately, right at the end, a busty red-afro-head appears, like she did in the start, and trying to imitate Elvira, she... explains everything! She tells the player what climbing the towers was a metaphor for! Treating the player like a complete idiot, she explains something that was obvious by the third night at latest.

The developers delivered an immaturely told story of 30+ people acting like characters from High School Musical. Simplified relationships to a flat right-wrong scale. Showed how they didn't care about your choices and just force-fed you the same story no matter what you do. And after that, they still dared to lecture you on one of the most obvious metaphors of the decade. That... was weak.

No, it doesn't get worse than that anymore, luckily. The story is a complete waste of a good theme and instead of letting the player explore the various aspects of relationships and fidelity, it takes you back to the third grade and simplifies the whole message to:


7 reasons why linearity beats the crap out of free roaming.

The latest Greatest Game Series of the Decade poll on GameSpot got dominated by open world series crushing such franchises as Super Mario, Street Fighter or God of War. Combine it with yesterday's premiere of GTA V and people orgasming as soon as they touch their own copy. Add to that yet another article where I read that a game's flaw is its linearity, I feel obliged to stand in defense of linearity, that not only raised me as a player, but is also a foundation of roughly every game there is.

I don't want to get into the whole "is this game open-world?" or "is this game non-linear?" debate. There's Skyrim (or whatever it aspires to be) on one side, Contra on the other and everything inbetween is a subject to discussion. Some would argue that Dark Souls is a non-linear open-world game. Others would say Dark Souls is beaten in 6 linear steps with some wiggling area inbetween, like which bell to ring first. Why is that nobody calls the second and third trilogy of Final Fantasy open world games even though they all have world maps, free roaming and a decent number of NPC's, quests and substories? Most people don't even see a difference between a sandbox and open world (The Sims are a sandbox without open world). Let's just... not get into that, as it's a topic for a book. A thick one. 

Here's 7 reasons why linearity in games is in my opinion superior to free-roaming.

1) Every bit of your experience can be predesigned. It of course sucks ass if the designers have little imagination and you are forced to go through a cliche story using a clunky gameplay. If, however, the designers know what they are doing (and have cash to deliver it), you will watch the ending credits with a feeling that you just lived through something beautiful. Imagine ICO with 10 sidequests and 5 villages added. Instead of a story of a boy escaping a castle with a girl it would become a story of a boy dragging a girl around to find some chest to get a key to open a door to kill a spider to buy a bigger wallet to carry more cash... You get the idea :)

2) Story and pacing in linear games is much easier to nail as limiting possibilities pushes the story and gameplay further and doesn't distract. I always care deeply about the story elements. In Oblivion or Baldur's Gate I barely had motivation to reveal the quarter of the main storyline before I got bored with endless sidequests. I have no hard data to back that up, but I can bet that the open world games completion rate is way lower than with linear games. Way to tell an unfinished story. No wonder stories in free roaming games are mostly close to irrelevant - would be a waste of a good story anyway.

3) Open worlds must offer something to do, which means hundreds of filler quests. It's pretty much impossible to make hundreds of cool, innovative small stories or tasks. What we get is dozens of trash-quests like "help me find my cat" or "I seem to have misplaced my Broken Sword of Forgetfulness +4 in the dumpster". I'm a hero and savior of the universe, goddammit, not a catcatcher. If I wanted tasks like this, I would go outside and help old ladies carry their groceries. In a game, I don't want to be running errands. I much more prefer to have a decent main storyline with two or three fun and/or interesting subquests and a cool minigame.

4) Just as quests, the NPC's in open-worlds are mostly generic and without any personality. They sometimes have some shallow backstory, but mostly they are just bartenders who heard some gossips or shopkeepers who just returned with some goods. Boooring! In a linear game, NPC's count. Even the Crestfallen Warrior from Demon's Souls (a guy who basically just sits and whines) is way more interesting than majority of open-world NPC's.

5) In a linear game, I don't have to run for 20 minutes through mountains, wastelands, plains and villages just to get to the interesting part. And in an open world game, this interesting part will most likely be some trash-quest or generic NPC. No, thank you.

6) Sorry, but general gameplay quality of open-world games sucks most of the time. Shooting or driving in GTA sure is fun, but nowhere as fun as shooting in most of decent shooters and driving in any decent racing game. Fighting in Skyrim is not nearly as fun as in any given fight-oriented RPG or Adventure game. Heck - the first Legend of Zelda (1986) has fighting mechanics equally compelling as Skyrim (2011) - you just have to mash the "attack" button while standing in the right spot, facing the right way. Even a simple jumping mechanic: in linear games it's used to solve jumping puzzles or as an element of fighting, in open worlds it's there because it'd be just frustrating for the players to not have the jumping ability in a game that's supposed to offer freedom. 

7) The illusion of freedom paradox. The closer you get to giving the player complete freedom, the worse he will feel about the restrictions. While a linear game can be designed around a limited range of features, sandbox can't. In a linear game you will accept that you can't enter every single house, can't get to the top of a faraway mountain, can't jump or can't have a hour-long dialogue with every guard, barmaid or peasant. In an open world, every limitation is taking away from the main promise of the game - free exploration. And sooner or later, every player will encounter a limitation that feels unfair for him/her. What's worse, even if the game did give you the possibility to do literally everything, it would still feel weird, limited or just plain counter-intuitive with the currently available controllers.

Don't get me wrong, guys. I really appreciate the amount of work put into the open worlds. In general, there is no such thing as a perfect game. Every title focuses on one, maybe two aspects and more or less accepts that the other elements will be just good enough. And that's ok - Mario Kart doesn't have to use newest graphic technologies to achieve the goal of being a great family game. BioShock wanted to tell the story and show an interesting world, but the shooting wasn't really the coolest experience in the genre. Lollipop Chainsaw aims at the joy of slashing zombies in little pieces without much focus on mature or even consistent storytelling. It all happens for a reason. Developing a "perfect game" would be just plainly too expensive and time-consuming in today's reality. Even titles with hundred million dollar budgets can't  afford to have it all.

Open world games often have no choice, but to choose the balanced model because of the budget limitations.
Images stolen from the best MMO ever - Ragnarok Online :)
Open worlds are no different when it comes to the budget limitations, but at the same time they are promising to give the player almost unlimited freedom. That's where the problems come from. They need to have all these features that other games can live without. Players want to get into every house they see, swim in every river, run, jump, shoot, brawl, cut, fly, drive, craft, trade, interact with as many objects and talk with as many NPC's as possible while having a vast world to explore. That's a lot of features and graphical assets to deliver and it's not surprising they won't be top quality.

And I understand why the games offering open worlds are so highly praised. After all, they are usually titles offering many, many hours of gameplay. It's no wonder that players prefer to spend $60 on a game that offers 80 hours of diverse, even if just "correct" gameplay rather than pay the same cash for a game offering 8 hours of brilliant gameplay. Another obvious reason for open world or sandbox games popularity is the actual promise of being able to do so many various things - telling your own story (even if crappy, still your own) rather that playing the main role in someone else's movie. 

I get all that and I am definetely looking forward to seeing how these games develop and how (terrifyingly) close they can come to real world simulation. At the same time though... Don't be dumbasses, guys. Even Elder Scrolls series have lots of linearity in them (every chain quest, includint the main one is linear). All these reviewers who use "linearity" as a synonym of a bad game, teaching the young players to associate linearity with low value should be forced to try to jump up the side of the Skyrim mountain for eternity.


Happy bday to me! ;)

Hey folks! This is just a short post to brag about two cool presents I got today, as they are quite related to the blog's theme.

First - a T-shirt - came from my boss and looks like this:

This is a double-cool gift! Mostly because it raises the probability of me having something clean to wear, but also because it might mean that he probably won't knowingly kill or rob me until the end of current project. Unless, of course, he's just putting my caution to sleep before firing me, in which case I will just add "I worked in gamedev for over a year and all I got was this lousy t-shirt" on the back. 

No, seriously. The design is just ultra-cool. I love it.

Another gift was from my girl, who after listening to Demon's Souls sounds for almost two months decided she can't stand it anymore. In all fairness, Souls series aren't famous for their soundtrack variety, especially with the redundance of the dying sound. Yup, you guessed right, she bought me headphones :)

Gotta say, the whole headset is really sweet. I am nowhere near a specialist when it comes to sound, so I won't be writing a review here, but I remember playing BioShock and being unable to hear all the words in the audio notes, because my audio setup had pretty much all the sounds on the same channel. With these babies I can hear all the words while shooting splicers, listening to the pouring water and hearing every single sound my Big Daddy armor makes. A while ago I encouraged everyone to get a surround set for their homes to fully enjoy games. Now I can add that surround headsets really work and are a far better choice if you don't wanna piss off your parents / spouse / neighbors.

Yeah - I know this post isn't exactly what the few of my followers (I think I might actually be reaching a 2-digit number of regulars^^) might have wanted to read, so yeah, apologies, and stay tuned - I'm already working on an article on game linearity.


GMN at GamesCom

I started writing this article on the plane back from Cologne and with head full of stuff I have seen and thought during GamesCom. Yes, I am writing this to justify the possibly chaotic nature of what you're about to read. Oh, and if you want some GC 2013 summary or photo gallery, you'll probably have to look somewhere else. Here's GamesCom in the eyes of a noob developer. 

Before GamesCom
If you are going to a fair with your product, you need to have something to present. A trailer, beta gameplay or at least some artwork. All this needs to be prepared. That means that a big chunk of the studio's work will not be going into developing the game further, but into preparing the trailer or gameplay demo or both. The bigger the fair, the sooner the studio starts preparing for it. In case of the biggest events, the preparations start months before. Close to deadline the team is very likely to go into crunch mode. The producer goes to a convention like GamesCom tired after the last minute preparations and full of guilt. Guilt, that he spent way too much time on promotional tasks and that he has so much to catch on with productionwise.

Business area
There are two types of a place a company can have in the business area. Some decide to have a stand-alone booth that - as a rule of thumb - gives better visibility. Others might get a booth in larger areas prepared by third parties. Such areas have the convenience of external maintenance, a dedicated bar and lots of tables for networking. To be honest, the business area of GamesCom looked pretty boring. Sure, the walls have nice logos and arts on the walls, but if you don't know where the cool stuff happens, it looks pretty close to any job or trade fair. It's what happens behind closed doors matters in the business area. Since only press and people from the industry can enter, studios tend to show much more of their currently developed games than they would show in public. My studio, for example, was showing only a CGI trailer in the entertainment area, while people in the business area had a chance to see the gameplay. Another perk is shorter lines or no lines at all if some exhibitors decide to show off their products in both areas. People in the entertainment area waited in a line for hours to check out the Oculus Rift. I waited five minutes. People in the entertainment area could crowd around a booth with the racing seats while people in the business area could casually try the seats out without any crowd and enjoy a race.

Sounds like a dream comming true? Not really. If you are there as a developer, you are most likely booked from early morning till late evening to deliver the same presentation over and over with just small breaks to pee. The shorter the presentation, the worse. A guy from CCP Games briefing people for EVE Valkyrie was explaining the same controls over and over every five minutes for three days. After that, he'll probably be repeating these controls briefing in his sleep for a week. The only people who can actually fully enjoy all the perks of the business area are high level executives and press.

Entertainment Area
This is where I spent most of my time on GamesCom as I was responsible for showing off the trailer of our game. It is also what most of the folks came to see. The amount of people in there is truly ridiculous. To play some of the more popular games for a few minutes you need to spend at least an hour in a line. To get from one hall to another you need to slowly move with the crowd - getting from the closest hall to the one most far away can easily take 20 minutes of travel. In the halls themselves, if there are two big studios having an exposition next to each other, the space between them will probably be so crowded that it'll be impossible to go through.

What you see here is maybe a 1/3 of a corridor between halls.
This year, GamesCom was invaded by over 340 000 people.
If you want to visit a big games convention (which I highly encourage you to do if you have the means to do so - it's an amazing experience!) then I would advise you not to assume that you will get to play a lot of games that are still in development. Still, you will get to see lots of cool presentations, professional battles in the most popular online games, like LoL or SC2. You will have a lot of chances to win some nice gadgets - be it t-shirts, baseball caps, sometimes gaming hardware or peripherals. Also, don't worry if you don't get to play a game - it is almost as fun to see others play it. You will at least learn what the game is about this way.

By the way, it is completely amazing, what people are willing to do for a freebie. Guys from Roccat have told me about a show they did where in the end they only had one mouse left. Two guys - strangers to each other - went on the stage to battle for it. To win the mouse they had to... kiss. And they did. As a reward, they got this last mouse. One. How they shared it remains a mystery. And I've seen with my own eyes people having dance-offs for keyboards and bare-chested air guitar battles for headphones... It was incredible to watch how people don't want to take fliers from hostesses, but would kill each other for them if you throw the same fliers off a stage.

Just look at the cute chibi chocobo!
A common misconception about the entertainment area is that you can meet developers there. People in Blizzard, Nintendo or Square-Enix T-shirts are mostly hired hosts and hostesses that know extremely little about the game they are letting you play. They are mostly there to check ID's for mature games, direct the line of people waiting to play and to hint the controls to the currently playing if needed. If you want information, you will sooner find them on fliers, posters or screens than by asking the hosts. Even if the guy at the stand is actually an employee of the studio, he's most probably from marketing or PR. Let me just put it this way - lots of people asked me what my role in the studio is - sales, PR or marketing. When they heard that I'm a producer that's actually working on the game, they were very surprised.

In the back of Hall 9 of Kölnmesse was where you could actually buy some goodies. Surprise number one - I haven't seen a single game being sold. T-shirts, posters, action figures, plush toys, trading cards, wallets, keychains, soundtracks, mousepads, more T-shirts... but not games. A lot of the stuff was obviously low quality and overpriced. Others were incredible quality and even more overpriced. Some were just a plain robbery, like selling a hoodie heat-prints for 25€ (you of course have to provide the hoodie). Browsing through all this stuff makes you regret you are not a millionaire who doesn't care that small silver replicas of pendants from Final Fantasy series aren't worth 230€ no matter how you slice it. Still, it is nice to at least look at some extremely nice stuff like Portal's companion cube pillow, vinyl Final Fantasy album or massively detailed, hand-painted figures from Starcraft 2.

Yup, look at the prices.
Boobs. I mean... girls, ah, who am I kidding :)
By now, hostesses are an integral part of every convention. How to better reach a bunch of nerds like us than with a pair of D-cups? The funny part is, one of my responsibilities on this GamesCom was to take care of two cosplayers for promotion of our game: Ari Campari and cosplaying celebrity, Ophelia Overdose. Since I now have a full two days experience on the matter (+ some previous experience from RPC), I can now tell you - don't go cheap on the girls. It might not sound like a hard work, but apparently not every pretty chick is cut for the job. I had the pleasure of observing a wide moat between zombie-hostesses creeping around, handing out fliers and my girls who were actively comming up with new ideas, attracting attention. There was a very visible difference in general attitude, body language and awareness of the role between Miss Overdose and other girls. I never expected I would be able to learn professionalism from a cosplayer.

The awesome team promoting Lords of the Fallen over the weekend.
So once again - don't just get any pair of boobs for promotion. There's more to a hostess or cosplayer than a cup size. And even though - to quote Ophelia - "they're not there to be intelligent", I can assure you that you won't regret having girls that can actually say a few things about your game or hardware, not just giggle. 

Saturday Parties
This was something I didn't expect. At 8 PM Kölnmesse closed for visitors that left literally tons of trash on the floors behind them. After that, parties of exhibitors began. The biggest one, hosted by Sony, started at 10 PM. At that time, the venue turned into one of the most incredible clubs I have ever seen. Free beer, gaming-related environment and on top of that... hundreds of hostesses who somehow managed to look even sexier during the night than during the day (no, it wasn't only the lack of light and amount of beer). Which got me to conclusion: in your faces, jocks - guess who are your cheerleaders partying with now!

Sorry pervs ;) no photo of the party and sexy girls. 
Being not exactly a dancing type, I left the party really early to check out the geekiest party in the Messe - a party of casemodders. Modified PC-cases stood among full beer-cases. Groups of four were playing a custom-made automated drinking game machine that automatically filled the glass of the looser with a scarily glowing alcoholic liquid. Some guy from Netherlands was showing me the case they prepared for the contest in 24 hours that was made out of trash, was both spinning around and lighting up. I saw a laptop with water cooling, PC's shaped as Terran miniguns, Ferrari engines, boxes with bloodbags... almost as crazy as a club full of nerds and hot chicks.

Games that noob is waiting for
I decided not to stand in line to the biggest titles - I didn't have the patience for it, and besides, everyone knows everything about these already. So, apart from Lords of the Fallen (impudent self-advertising), I am now really looking forward to two games:

- Rain by SCE Japan Studio: a nice example where a simple idea makes a game. From gameplay mechanics to art direction, everything comes together.

- Contrast by Compulsion Games: a mix of 2D and 3D platformer with an excellent idea of shadow mechanics.

After GamesCom
Getting back from GamesCom feels like getting back from a summer camp. You head home with your bag full of dirty clothes, wanting to finally sleep in your own bed. You ponder on new sexual experiences (I still don't know how I feel about female Link cosplayers). You say "see you" to the people you have met there even though the chance of seeing them again in the next few years is extremely low. You carry dozens of new phone numbers with you knowing that it's unlikely you will call even 10% of them. On the train/bus/plane home you are completely exhausted, but full of positive feelings and memories that probably won't last longer than a day when you get back to your everyday reality.