Wednesday, 9 July 2014

If "....." Was Released Today: An Alternative Review

Considering many indie developers produce work reminiscent of the 8 and 16 bit glory days, it has become fairly standard and acceptable to see ‘retro’ sprites and pixel art in games of recent years. This, along with my current trend of revisiting old games, has inspired me to start a series where I take old games and review them as if they were released today. To clarify, I have a very flexible definition of what an ‘old game’ is, although I won’t be reviewing last years releases (unless for some contextual reason there is validity in doing so). As a starting point, the general criteria will involve games that are at least 10 years old. I have made a few rules to consider whilst I write, and whilst you read these reviews.

  1. Game must be reviewed as if it were a brand new release.
  2. If the game is part of a series, then the other instalments must be ignored and no comparisons can be made.
  3. Comparisons made from any other game old or new are allowed regardless of how factually and contextually (in)accurate they may be (therefore the review may have fictional elements).
  4. Game documents, data and statistics can be researched, however no existing reviews can be read prior to writing.
  5. Game must be scored on a scale of 0.0 to 10.0, and compared to the Metacritic Metascore (or User Score if this is unavailable).

I already have some games lined up, but I would like some input before I begin. I plan on making this as a written series on my blog, however do you think it would work better in video format? Do you have any other ideas for rules to follow? Also what games would you like to see reviewed in this series? I think this would be an interesting concept to follow through as it may open up some interesting critical perspectives which could potentially end up with me ripping apart games I love dearly.

Let me know what you think! -oP

Wednesday, 2 July 2014

How Much Do You Value Your Games?

The long awaited annual event on every gamers calendar has now been and gone. Some of us are smug whilst we bask in our own glorious ability to keep our hands firmly off the mouse and away from the 'add to cart' button, whilst many of us I'm sure, are smashing open the piggy bank, counting the pennies and wondering if we can live off dried pasta for the month. Yes of course I'm referring to the Steam Summer Sale where gaming consumers allow themselves to buy any game that they may vaguely play in the distant future that's at least 50% off, usually resulting in accidentally going over your budget reserved for a single AAA title anyway. 

I know people that practically sunk their whole wage packet on the sale, with the justification that they would play their backlog of games throughout the year. A statistic I plucked from last April stated that 36% of registered games on Steam are unplayed, which is quite high! Remember when you would go to a shop, buy a title at £40 and actually play it? This got me thinking about my games and how many I actually play, not only on steam but on my shelf. I've been wanting to upgrade to a PS4 (other consoles are available) so perhaps now is the time to really look at my hoard of games and be ruthless about what NEEDS to stay and what, in all honestly, could be let go and traded in.

Unlike my Steam digital shelf, I've played ALL of these games a decent amount.

I tried some online trade-in price checkers and was pretty disappointed at some of the offers I was getting. My limited edition copy of Halo Reach (black box with Halsey's journal etc) is apparently worth a whole English pound. I know it's almost 4 years old but still, compare this to Call of Duty: Modern Warfare 2 (which came out about 10 months before Reach) currently available on Steam and you will see it priced at £19.99 (not including map packs). Assuming my physical copy of Reach is in perfectly good working condition, is this product really only worth 5% the cost of the digital version of an older game? Sure there are some advantages to having a digital copy of a game - you can download it as many times as you like, you don't need to worry about losing it, storing it; you're paying for convenience. I am partial to the odd digital download myself, but I would much prefer a physical copy. This brings me onto pricing structures for digital games generally.

Physical copies of Grand Theft Auto V can be bought from multiple online stores for around £30 (Xbox 360/PS3), however if you browse the PS3 games on the Playstation store you will see it priced £49.99. I cannot fathom why this is the case, and perhaps it explains why we as the consumers wait until those ridiculous 80% off offers appear online before we commit to a purchase. This model is broken, it surely de-values not only the products, but the jobs, the time - and if you like, blood sweat and tears - that individuals have invested into these projects. I have no problem dropping £40-50 on a new AAA release if I can store it on my shelf and touch and read the manual (although in this day and age, even that's a luxury), but I cannot see me ever buying a digital copy for the same/higher price. If digital pricing aged appropriately with the physical games, then maybe we would be more willing to spend our cash on them and less likely to be sucked into flash sales which de-value games when we already have plenty of things to play anyway! 

£20 difference, surely only the impatient would choose the digital copy over waiting a few days for delivery?

Who is this hurting? You'd think the AAA publishers a little but no I don't think so, I think they will be just fine. They'll keep their digital prices nice and high so ultimately it's the 'little people': you, me, indie game dev and consumer alike that suffer because we don't have the willpower to say no to a sale and because digital games 'aren't worth buying' until they are in one. Even after all these flash sales finish, we get on with our lives and many sad looking games sit on our digital shelves, collecting digital dust, unplayed and unloved; so what, we only spent £2 on each of them, right? I haven’t even mentioned the new Playstation 'NOW’ streaming service and it's pricing structure - but there are plenty of articles about this already of which Final Fantasy XIII-2 is a common case study. In short, Playstation value a short duration of gameplay ridiculously highly when compared with how much the game costs outright on Amazon and other stores. This won’t help to balance the games/digital download economy.

 The Summer Sale has ended apparently? Nope, it never ends.

I'm not an expert in sales, and I have generalised quite a lot, but I think this 'de-valued digital download' mentality exists. I have said 'we' a lot, but I am guilty of all the things I have mentioned above, and assume that many of you who read this will agree that this applies to you also. I currently have unplayed 39% of my Steam games, and this isn’t even truly representative considering the average duration of play of the other 61% is about 4 hours. I will also add that my library, ignoring any sales prices, is currently worth £837.97 with the value of my unplayed games being £273.67. I will say though, that this summer I have done quite well for the most part. When I saw a game I wanted on sale I pulled myself together, checked my existing library and installed one (of many) games I bought years ago and played it for the first time. 

I would love to hear from indie developers who have games on Steam and other services and your thoughts on how you structure your prices, generally and during sales. Give your existing Steam library some love guys, and when you do have some spare cash don't feel bad about spending more than the price of a sandwich on an indie game - it will satisfy you for longer. -oP

Saturday, 28 June 2014

Dungeon Burglars DevLog: 6

It's been a busy month for me but I did find some time to update the game. The additions are minor but they help to bring the whole project together slightly. I haven't been able to tick off everything from the agenda, but they will be accomplished next time! Here's a short video showing the game in it's current state.

Next on the agenda:

  • More audio/change audio
  • Build the first few levels
  • Make extra death animations based on what trap dealt the killing blow

Any feedback is welcome! Thanks for reading! -oP

Tuesday, 24 June 2014

Nintendo: How Being Late to the Party Helped Them Win E3

So it’s been a couple weeks since E3 and I decided to jot some thoughts down here. I watched all the big name conferences and as much of the other streams as possible. Why? Because I love games both AAA and indie and despite the large number of E3 protesters on my twitter feed (which is not representative of the entire planet’s POV obviously), I was interested in what all the big publishers were *cough* churning out and whacking into massive boxes along with 12 inch statues of men with guns fresh from the conveyer belt. There’s no denying that the big players will always make the most of the biggest live marketing opportunity in the games industry calendar by showing off the same gameplay we’ve seen each year but slightly updated with more guns, dogs or jet bikes; but I’m not writing this to have a go at big franchises - in fact, I think Advanced Warfare looks like a lot of fun. We were actually treated to a lot of 1st and 3rd player gunplay options releasing over the next year. Both Tom Clancy IPs look impressive, and both taking different directions, Rainbow Six: Siege in particular takes me back to a time where strategy and communication played a bigger part in the FPS genre - very promising for what many people may call ’the same old thing’.

So both Microsoft and Sony had very impressive shows, focusing on the games with actual gameplay and less hype - plus the new playstation hardware (despite having ‘TV’ in the name) looks like a big advancement in the way we actually play games. Nintendo however, surely came out on top.

Nintendo have always been risk takers, experimenting with how we interact with games and having the guts to try something new. We’re all aware of the ‘trouble’ Nintendo has had financially despite the excellent sales of the 3DS console, and their archaic POV of new media and gameplay content on youtube has arguable done some damage to their reputation and (again arguably) their sales. Let’s try to give them the benefit of the doubt, especially since other big publishers have done the same (if not worse) in the past with copyright claims on youtube. Also Nintendo have been in it for the long haul, they are in the business for the love of games, the protection of children (with their restrictive social interaction) and in my opinion are committed to NOT milking human kind of all our hard earned money. They do however have pressure to keep up with some of the profitable aspects of the games industry business model that they have been fairly lax with up until now.

Nintendo’s recent foray into the ‘free to play’ model resulted in ‘Steel Diver: Sub Wars’ on the 3DS, a game which frustrated the share holders because of how the ‘incentive to spend money’ aspect of the business model was almost totally ignored. No buttons with ‘Buy 10 Monopoly Monies’ for £2.99, instead you can spend £0.89 on a submarine - with the total number of subs currently on offer being 10. You can also upgrade to a premium version which allows you to unlock more submarines for £8.99 - but let’s be honest, you can buy a full game and play as intended or play a lesser version for free - developers do need to earn money for their craft and I believe this is totally reasonable. I think many people would agree that in the current mobile gaming climate, this is a bargain and it’s obvious the developers have concentrated on the most important aspect of making a game: gameplay (who would’ve thought!).

Now back to E3, pressure was on for Nintendo to deliver and they did not disappoint. E3 promised fans everything they have been waiting for, new Zelda (with another Zelda themed game to play while you wait for it!) which looks absolutely gorgeous, the standard quality of Nintendo franchises reborn into the current console generation and new alternative IPs such as the 3rd person shooter Splatoon which looks like lots of fun. The big news at the conference for me was the new Nintendo version of the Skylanders and Disney Infinity style models launching with Super Smash Bros. The amiibo! Now I will admit when I heard it I flew off the handle on twitter - how dare they make me spend £40 on a game only to have to then spend £12 (estimate) on what is essentially a Skylanders model in order to unlock them all. My outbursts were foolish and uninformed and I imagine a lot of angry twitterers had a similar opinion. I don’t need to buy all these models to play the game, instead it opens up a whole new set of possibilities within multiple Nintendo franchises. The idea of buying your one favourite character model, and then levelling them up among all your games is actually a pretty neat way to improve your bond with the WiiU console and I am all for it. I would assist Nintendo and argue that from a design point of view this has been the goal all along since the Super Smash Bros concept was based on models becoming ‘alive’, but I imagine a lot of people would dismiss this. I can see many people collecting them all, but I would pick one and stick with it for the lifespan of the console. What’s more is that Nintendo didn’t need a physical stage, expensive A/V hire and pyrotechnics to represent their brand and to show of their games (with the exception of the Super Smash Bros live tournament which I was transfixed by). 

Why does this mean they’ve won E3 though? So what that they are just late to the party and are mimicking existing business models. Well I think they have taken a new risk, the risk of being on the back bench when it comes to the console wars by watching and learning. They have taken heed of how money is made in the industry by manipulating and tricking people into ‘pay to win’ and they are offering another option, an option which I believe to be fair in the current climate. I won’t stick on the subject of ‘collectibles’ and 'micro transactions’ as I didn’t want this article to be a rant based on my hatred for the publishers who do the business model an injustice by offering poor quality gameplay. All I will say is that Nintendo seem to have the right attitude to offering additional content in order improve longevity of gameplay and your enjoyment of their products. There will always be people who will argue that Nintendo just do what everyone else does, churn out new incarnations of the same IP year to year. I can understand that, but out of all the developers who do the same - Nintendo surely do it with the most love and care. They are behind the times in order to be ahead of the times, slow and steady wins the race, [insert another cliche here]. The WiiU sales have been slow since it’s release but with the release of Mario Kart 8, sales in the UK have increased by 666% and I foresee this is as only the beginning.

My opinions of Xbox and Playstation remain unchanged, But If you’d asked me before the event if I would consider buying a WiiU - I would’ve answered ‘no’. Ask me again now, the answer is definitely a maybe! - oP

Thursday, 29 May 2014

Getting Back Into 'Let's Play'

So over the last month or two I've been thinking about my 'dabbling' in 'Let's Plays' back in 2012, and I have decided to give it a go again. I plan on uploading at least two videos a week and have begun recording two games. I don't want to saturate youtube with what is already a saturated LP environment, so I will upload things when I am happy and not ASAP. Also I'm not planning on doing any AAA new games for now; my focus is on introducing people to older games of my childhood. I have titled these 'series' as 'revisited' games, and I hope that people find some enjoyment in seeing what I used to play as a kid. Below are the first parts of both games to kick things off. If you have feedback please contact me. -oP

Dungeon Burglars DevLog: 5

So here's a bigger update to my free mobile game in development! If you are new to this then please check out the previous devlogs if you're interested. In short this game is a free quick-to-play mobile game for when you're bored on a commute. You must protect your dungeon and treasure from pesky burglars using traps which you must buy and place. Treasure is therefore your currency and also your 'health'. When you run out of treasure, you lose. This game is all about being frustrated and beating that high score. There will be a set number of levels, so it's possible to win but the high score is the important factor!

So what have I accomplished? Well I have also completed all movement, status effect and death ('fainting') animations and have done some initial balancing; I am quite happy with what I have so far. Thats the short of it, but the video really shows my progress. This time I have made a video with commentary showing off all the burglars and how each trap affects them. Please have a look!

Next on the agenda:

  • Audio!
  • Build the first few levels
  • Make extra death animations based on what trap dealt the killing blow

Any feedback is welcome! Thanks for reading! -oP

Monday, 12 May 2014

Dungeon Burglars DevLog: 4

Hey so this update is a small but significant one in terms of early 'polishing'. I have made animations for the 7 traps and status effects, all of which are simple and pixelly just as nature intended. I am happy with the way it looks at the minute but I need to make progress on the animation of the other burglars and working on the level design (that term may not seem appropriate for this game but I consider the 'design' of each level to be all about balancing and stats). Once I have finished the other enemies I can begin to iron out any balancing kinks and see how the game will actually play - and then I can consider any drastic changes. Fingers crossed it'll turn out the way I hope! See the video for the animations.

Next on the agenda:

  • The other burglars!

Any feedback is welcome! Thanks for reading! -oP

Wednesday, 16 April 2014

Dungeon Burglars DevLog: 3

Time for the next update, and I've made some big progress (well in my eyes at least) with the GUI and some minor polish.

So the first big change is the x2 zoom. I felt that the original view was too small with too much black, wasted space. This means that in order to view the entire dungeon you must now scroll left and right. I'm hoping that this will add an additional level of frustration and panic as you wildly fling back and forth to catch the burglars. There is also 11 slots for traps to be placed in (as opposed to the original 9) and traps can now be sold to free up a slot.

The GUI is now restricted to the bottom of the screen, with the exception of the purchase menu which pops down and automatically closes when a trap is selected. After the required amount of burglars have been killed the level 'Complete' screen will pop up indicating the amount of kills, recovered treasure (from dead burglars who managed to reach the treasure), the final total and the current best score.

The temporary numerical cool-down indicator has been replaced with a more appropriate clock-style timer, which despite being a minor change, has made a difference to the overall polish. The majority of the menu and buttons now have a red colour scheme to set them apart from the greys of the background. With regards to the overall aesthetic, I will most likely decide to revisit the dungeon background and add decals and other elements to make it look more interesting.

Next on the agenda:

  • Polish trap animations
  • Animate status-effects on current burglar (replace existing particle effect)
  • Begin to animate the other 4 burglars

Any feedback is welcome! Thanks for reading! -oP

Friday, 21 March 2014

Destiny Avatars

It's been a while since I've done any pixel art unrelated to my latest project or for someone else, so here we go! I made 3 'avatars' based on each class in the upcoming Bungie title Destiny (for which I am very excited for).

Shown from top to bottom, Warlock, Titan and Hunter. The armour and weapons are loosely based on existing artwork but I added a different colour scheme to each based on the favourite colours of 2 friends. The warlock has some Boba Fett colours if you hadn't recognised it and is now my generic online avatar - this space wizard trumps my old avatar (normal boring wizard!). Thanks for looking! -oP

Sunday, 16 March 2014

Dungeon Burglars DevLog: 2

For this update I decided that I needed to have the basis of my trap placement system done. There is currently 9 'slots' for traps to be positioned in. My reasoning behind this is that because it's pixel art, when I come to re-design it for older iOS screens I want to simply crop the existing view, move the doors inwards and have the same amount of space for traps. Therefore 9 slots is the optimum. I will admit that this process is trial and error and I haven't ever produced an iOS game so there are bound to be more snags along the way, especially as I am using pixel art. I may need to rethink the size of buttons and traps as whilst watching this video on my phone, it seemed that perhaps the buttons were too small for an average finger! However, I am just happy that I got something working!

This video shows purchasing traps and placing them. Free 'slots' will be highlighted in green when a trap has been selected. Used slots are simple not highlighted. If there is insufficient funds then the free slots will flash red before cancelling the purchase.

So here is basically what's been done so far in the last week:
  • Purchase buttons for each trap
  • 'Slot's made to place traps
Next on the agenda:
  • Make a button to remove a trap and recover half of the cost
  • Polish up cool-down, treasure total and create a 'health bar' for the burglar wave

Any feedback is welcome! Thanks for reading! -oP