Tuesday, April 30, 2013

Development Log: Horror Game, Day 0

So I've had a bunch of projects in the shadows, dabbling with different ideas, and I think it's finally time to bring one of them to light, and work on it in earnest.

So for the next month, I'll be working on a Horror Text Adventure.  I'll post about it twice a week, whether I have something programmed, or just designed on paper.

Image of text boxes, mostly
Lots of text boxes.  Woot.
This game will have a semi-randomly generated layout that gets created as you play.  Right now I've made a sample with a room that is a church, and each time you load it, it gives random details.  I'm not going to bother posting the actual Flash file like I did with the January Engine, at least not until there is something to do. Clicking refresh really isn't much interactivity.

Like last month, I think I've got a break week, this time where I'm going hiking instead of a conference.  But last month my excuse for not doing a "monthathon" was the conference, and I don't feel like putting it off again.  So this isn't as much of a "monthathon" as it is just me focusing on one project.

So let's see if I can make something creepy!

Friday, April 19, 2013


My apologies for not posting to schedule all the time; right now I'm busy preparing for ECGC, as well as working hard on a volunteer project.

Inmates picking up trash on the highway
Not this kind of volunteering.
Next week I'll be at ECGC so there will be no posts.  Expect posts to resume 4/30.  It is likely that I'll be doing another "monthathon" next month, since I had the itch this month but didn't want it interrupted by ECGC.  Not sure yet want the project will be; typically I assign options to a number and roll a die.

But, till then, keep yourself busy with the Fireboy & Watergirl series, beginning with The Forest Temple.

Saturday, April 13, 2013

The arguments of "always on" and "the end of single-player"

Growing up, I lived in the middle of nowhere.  My closest friend lived miles away.  We got dial-up internet (eventually), but we could never quite get DOOM working multiplayer.

For most of my childhood, I played exclusively single-player games.  Or, if the game featured multiplayer, it was rarely used.  I think I played Super Mario Bros. on two-player mode by myself just to have double the chances of winning.

I moved away from there and got cable, and now I do like playing MMOs.

But that town I grew up in still only has dial-up, even in 2013.  You can't even get DSL there.

But my early childhood is what got me into games.  If I lived somewhere else, I would probably have friends closer by, and I'd see them more and play outside more.  The isolation drove me to games.

It also got me so interested in games I was drawing level designs when I was seven.

So, with this background in mind, I think it's fairly obvious what my opinion is on the two major debates: the "always on" controversy and the supposed death of single-player.

Single-player won't die, just as books won't die.  Reading is a solitary experience (unless you're reading to kids or something), and books haven't disappeared for the sake of being social.  Single-player remains supreme in the realm of story-driven immersion, because you don't get distracted by other humans acting out-of-character in the world.

Single-player may take a backseat in many genres (and already has in a few), but it will never truly go away.  It will remain the staple for horror games, for instance (and the debate over whether horror games are dying is for another post), for obvious reasons.

I think there will still certainly be a bigger rise in multiplayer-only games, until there reaches some kind of new balance.  But just because the balance is shifting, it doesn't mean single-player will topple completely.

In fact, I suspect there may be an ebb and flow to it, and video games are just too young of a medium to have seen it yet.  Perhaps in fifty years single-player games will be huge again, and it will cycle.

As for "always on", I can assure you that people will decide with their wallets.  I, for one, will never buy an always-on console, until the town I grew up in gets solid and stable twenty-first century internet.  

Maybe when these guys get internet, always-on will be a good idea.
When it does, I will know the technology has advanced enough that always-on won't be a problem.  Well, technologically anyway.  There are plenty of other reasons to object to always-on consoles.

But I would say that the industry, as a whole, seems to be blinded by its own momentum.  It's rolling along thinking it rules the road, but in reality their are turns it just isn't seeing.

The two arguments about the death of single-player and always-on consoles are just two of many examples where the industry is blasting ahead without stopping to think about who really rules the road--the players who make purchases.  The industry is just along for the ride.

Players will be applying the brakes soon enough on these arguments.  The question is: how many companies will get into crashes before they do?

Tuesday, April 9, 2013

An Experiment in Gaming Quality

Well, time to try to answer that age-old question: were games back in the day better than the games today?

First, of course, let's note potential biases, so we can try to avoid them and answer the (highly subjective) question more objectively.

There are two biases that are in favor of old games from the get-go:

First is your basic nostalgia.  You still like playing old games because you used to like them, and they remind you of a particular time in your life.  This is a difficult bias to get over, and really, the only way to do so is to ignore any old game that you have any affection for.

My example would be the King's Quest series.  I played King's Quest 1 and 2 when I was a kid, on a Tandy computer.  Now, consider that King's Quest 3 is essentially the same idea, it should be essentially the same quality.  But since I didn't grow up with KQ3, when I play it now, I don't really like it.  I may conclude from this that my mist of nostalgia is getting in the way of objectively rating KQ 1 and 2.

But, of course, ignoring the games you grew up with can get you into trouble, because you might be skipping the best of the best, the games which everyone had precisely because they were the highest quality that era had to offer.  So by ignoring games you feel nostalgia for is likely to lower the average quality of the era by default.

Ignoring this one brings the class average down significantly.
Hopefully there are some old games that are considered classics that you never got around to, or never had the opportunity to play, and those would help in the testing.  For instance, I never played any Metroid games growing up, and those are typically high-quality games, so playing an old Metroid game, for me, might be a good way to find a high quality game unmarred by nostalgia.

The second bias is the "Oldies Station Effect".  This is the idea that arises from music radio that applies very well to any medium with a backlog.  The example is that an oldies station doesn't play every song that was popular in the fifties, but it picks out the songs which were popular then and still sound good now.  If there was some crummy song that was popular for a week, you aren't likely to remember it, and the oldies station isn't likely to play it.

But a modern station doesn't just play the best of this decade.  Instead, it picks a genre, and plays anything and everything that's selling at all.  Some artists that are popular now will appear to be one-hit wonders in the future, or may fade away entirely.

Pitbull, the rapper
So if you think about old games, you're limiting your field of view to only the games we remember, only the games we call "the classics".  Meanwhile, we are flooded with so many games today, both good and bad, that we might compare the average of today with the best of yesterday.

So to overcome this bias, perhaps we can only weed through today's games and compare the best of today with the classics of yesterday... as long as we're not nostalgic for them.

However, there are biases on the other side, too:

Some games might be our flavor of the week, and because it's so new to us, we think it's great.  We don't have any historical perspective on it, so the game might just be a flash in the pan, to be forgotten as soon as you get your next game.

So though we want to compare new games, we cannot necessarily use games that have just come out, but must use games that have been on the market for a time now and have proven success (or failure).

The other, far more obvious bias, is to suggest that newer games are better by default, because the technology is better, and/or because the industry has evolved to the point where developers have games down to a science.

Newest Sim City
I think we all now the previous statement is false.
Now that these biases are known, can we compare old games to new ones in a more objective manner?  Depends on how well you can get through these biases.  Some of them are tough to get over, because our natural inclination is to pick the games we grew up with and love already, and compare them to the new game that's currently the hot topic.

Perform this experiment yourself, and see how well it works:

Download an emulator for a classic system, like an NES (or for you young whippersnappers, an N64), or download a game on Wii's Virtual Console, and play a game with high marks that you never got around to playing.  Note how much fun you had, how much you truly enjoyed the experience.  Then pick up a recent game with equally high marks that you didn't have a chance to buy right when it first came out (by doing this, not only do you see what game is still being talked about, but you also get a reduced price!), and also mark just how much fun you had.

Of course, a single case study isn't much evidence, but if you can afford it (and if you can find enough old games you never played), try it out a few times, and average the results.

Original Sim City
Consider a classic game and it's modern counterpart as another comparison.  Though SimCity might be unfair.
Do you find yourself surprised by the results?  Did you change your mind on your belief that one age of games was better than the other?  Are they equal?  Is one age atrocious?

Tuesday, April 2, 2013

East Coast Game Conference

I'll be attending the East Coast Game Conference this month, so the week of 4/21-4/27 probably won't be postful.

Raleigh, NC skyline

Other than that, despite GDC being over, it's still crunch time on my volunteer project (I think), so posts here may be spotty, like last month.  It'll be randoms this month, no Monthathons, mostly because of the guaranteed ECGC break.