Monday, 20 October 2014

Why Do We Buy Old Games?

This is a 300 word article I wrote as an application to Rock Paper Shotgun. I've decided to post it publicly since I was unsuccessful (which is fine, as over 1000 people applied and I haven't been doing this for long and so I never thought I'd get anywhere!). It's FAR from... good... and I have also noticed a few issues with my writing, but I'm not editing it. It also has a pretty uncreative title. Plus there's a crappy video version of the article as well. So... enjoy that treat. -oP
So you’ve just just built an epic gaming rig, you prepare to crank up those settings to ‘ultra’; you imagine the difference will be similar to Anakin Skywalker’s sensation of going from 0 to 588mph in his podracer. Shaking, you attempt to grip your £200 gaming mouse without accidentally pressing one of several (hundred) buttons; then you stare into the face-enveloping abyss of your quad-monitor setup. You click on Steam and… What? Baldur’s Gate is 50% off? Um.. ADD TO CART!

As a lover of old games which don’t like working on newer machines, I am guilty of doing this. Unfortunately I haven’t really got the time for digital deja vu; you know, with life ’n stuff. The truth is: if it wasn’t for digital download services acting as facilitators of our pixelated hoarding addiction, then we probably wouldn’t be revisiting old games.

These services have been a boon to the indie ‘scene’ (if anyone is still calling it that), as it’s now easier than ever to get your game out to the masses. Although, this isn't necessarily a good thing - as a quick perusal of Steam Greenlight will tell you. We love pixels, hell we love pixels so much we’re now starting to hate pixels (and the word ‘crafting'), so perhaps this torrent of modern, yet low-res 2D stylisation is a catalyst for our nostalgia.

There’s also very little risk in buying a game that we already know we’ll like, whereas investing in early access is probably, at it’s core, the biggest risk for us as the consumer. So for now I think I’ll close down Steam, finish browsing Kickstarter and dust off my copy of Theme Hospital; cranked up to ultra, naturally.

Monday, 22 September 2014

Dungeon Burglars: Complete!

Dungeon Burglars is my first complete game for iOS. It's FREE to download here. An update is already in review and I will continue to update it if any bugs raise their ugly heads. As I said this is my first game and I don't deem it perfect in any way! However I am proud of my achievement, as I have been trying to finish projects since I was a kid and have struggled to maintain focus. I have already made lots of progress into my second project which is another simple concept, but there is a lot less work 'under the hood' than there is in Dungeon Burglars. So this game will be in development for a considerably shorter period. I have learnt a fair amount from a design perspective, and about what game mechanics work and what don't.

Any feedback is welcome and I will take it all on board. I won't be altering the build in response to suggestions as I want to move on and upwards, but if you discover any bugs then let me know and I will do my best to fix them. Again this game is FREE so please give it a go! Also thanks goes to my brother for his bit of testing. -oP

Sunday, 24 August 2014

A Bit of Minor Self-Indulgence

I've been fairly quiet of late on the old bloggerooni, youtoobs and the tweeters due to my life going through some changes. I'm not only morphing into apparently an illiterate moron (refer to the first sentence for evidence), but I'm also moving house and attempting to switch careers whilst also closing the physical distance between myself and the missus. Along with it being festival season (which is work for me) I've unfortunately had plenty of excuses for not keeping up with my videos, pixel art, blogging and whatever other drivel I insist on forcing upon you; I have made massive leaps with my mobile game Dungeon Burglars however. I'm currently testing it on the latest and last generation of iPhones, and I'm hoping after a few minor tweaks it will be ready for the masses. It will be free to play, with no micro-transactions and (hopefully) will be worth the download for the odd 5 minutes of play on the commute to work. There will be unobtrusive banner ads during select points of the game, which will not affect gameplay whatsoever (hey, I gotta at least try to break even and make my money back after paying the necessary development fees).

There's no real reason for this post except for giving people who are vaguely interested some 'behind-the-scenes', "oh my god what a scoop" related gossip. I'm not often this self-indulgent so forgive me for it! Work wise, I have been looking for something within the games industry since my decision to switch career last october. I am not a coder, and have no qualifications for design and development in this industry; I will refrain from quoting Liam Neesom - no need to tell you all about my special set of skills. In my spare time I have attempted to keep this blog going, working on my pixel art, start a mobile game (and actually have pretty much finished the bugger) and write multiple CV and cover letters convincing potential employers that my degree in media production and my work as an event production manager and sound engineer can somehow become relevant enough to warrant an interview. It's been tough.

I have always enjoyed writing and video games, and so combining the two makes perfect sense to me. This has spurred me to try writing different styles of article, from retrospective and current gaming culture, to critical analysis of crappy Kickstarter projects. I've not done as much as a lot of people, but I'd like to focus more time into it when I've sorted out moving house, and finding a job. I've applied for QA and testing jobs, associate producer at entry level, reporter, PR and marketing internships and even a design internship in Hamburg of all places. As I said, it's been tough. I'm not giving up, but I do need actual options. I also really don't want to leave London behind!

This has gotten a bit too personal; I'm writing everything my brain is telling me to without really thinking about it at this point! This unnecessary blog post is basically my reasoning behind briefly stopping video uploads and other things. In terms of video, I have experimented with a couple things including a weekly news video and more recently a group 'let's play' of a god-awful game in a similar vein to some of my favourite YouTubers: Retsupurae. I quite like the format so I may do some more. I have to work out a method of splitting hangouts audio and the game audio next time, as the game was pretty loud in places. That video is here.

Finally thoughts are, I really want to work in this industry and I won't stop until that happens. Until then, I will do everything I can to make up for my lack of relevant education and experience! Anyway, that's probably enough. There will be a post soon announcing Dungeon Burglars' release. I'm excited for it! My first ever completed game, I hope you guys will enjoy it - even for a few minutes! Thanks for taking the time to read this. - oP

Thursday, 7 August 2014

Sh*tStarter: Poorly Presented Concepts & Begging

I was going to write about a promising Kickstarter project this morning, but instead I found my eyes glazed over, dumfounded by the sheer quantity of blatant begging and naivety. I'm not saying I'm a cynic; I'm a fan of the crowd funding model, and I feel that most projects I look at are sincere and transparent. It's just that there's a level of preparation required in order to present a captivating project with high production values, capable of drawing in potential backers. It's a business pitch, but without the stress of dressing in a suit, sweating on the way to a conference room, and looking an investor in the eyes and asking for his/her money with a lump in your throat. So as a Kickstartererer, you have an advantage over the IRL marketers and businessy peoples, in which case there's no real excuse for a half-arsed pitch.

This isn't a new thing, Kickstarter has had numerous crap filling it's pages for a long time, both accidental and deliberate. The potato salad pitch for example, requesting backer support in order to make: potato salad, has had copycats with even more ludicrous 'investment opportunities' cropping up. Let's keep things game related though; I'm going to reference a few projects that I have problems with, and in most cases my criticisms will be mainly constructive... well, I hope.

Kingdom of Oberon by Trini-V Games

First up we have this 'dark' MMO, offering a unique multiplayer experience, as this statement clearly proves.
Now, what, you may ask, sets us apart from the multitudes of other MMOs on the market today, such as World of Warcraft, Guild Wars and Everquest? First of all, our world will be split into multiple islands, allowing separate and drastically differing areas to explore, while still keeping them connected. 
It helps when pitching you game, to have someone well-versed in the design philosophy, development schedule, financial details oh and of course the lore. In this case, we have one of these boxes ticked... sort of. It doesn't help when your entire video is 15 minutes long and is presented by someone who isn't a part of your company. No offence to the 'guest speaker' but I would have requested from him some form of scripting, editing and possibly some production values? Investors want to feel safe and comfortable when funding a project, and a bit of fancy editing and well spoken commentary assists with giving us a little faith. I appreciate that you have learnt the backstory of the game, but I'd much rather see some gameplay than take your word for it. How about screenshots, no? Concept art?

Ok that'll have to do....

There is some minor descriptions of gameplay elements, including Borderlands-esqe weapon generation and classes, but all in all this project is presented extremely poorly and is more like the ramblings of a wannabe fantasy novelist if anything. I don't want to deny someone of their dream of creating a fantasy world, but building an MMO isn't exactly a small undertaking. Plus, recycling old and standardised MMO features and claiming that they are unique isn't going to fly. It's ok to be innovative! To top things off there are no links to the developer's site, and no social media contact details besides those belonging to the YouTuber who is pitching the game.

Cookie Crush Raga by InnovatelTek

Ignoring the obvious cheap cash-in nature of this project, and by judging it on it's presentation; Cookie Crush Raga is a multi-platform puzzle game and is presented, at first glance, quite professionally. Upon analysing the content however, it becomes apparent that the developers have gone to great lengths (as in, hundreds of words worth of... great lengths) to explain every little detail of the game as opposed to showing us succinct video gameplay.

Its obvious that this is nothing more than a bunch of mock ups, and there is no real detail about how the funding will be spent on the development process. Maybe I'm being too judgmental; who wouldn't want to see screenshots of a login page and lists of GUI components down to the player's name? The kickstarter also treats us to paragraph upon paragraph of information about astrology and how it features within the concept... What's wrong with being short and concise?

If you respect developers who are open and transparent about their project's risks, like the example below, then this'll be right up your street.
In doing a unique and great project like this, certainly there is the risk that people won't get it, they won't understand what the game is all about, and why uniqueness is important.
I'm not going to bash the potential audience that this game could have, or the concept at it's core; my problem is solely with the fact that this bored the hell out of me. Too much about nothing. Ok next.

Swine Bomb by Max Garrod

What element of a kickstarter project is most likely to tip the scales and convince you to invest? Is it the fact that the game is already finished and is free to download? Um, no! I am giving no opinion or criticism of this game whatsoever, mainly because there is no video footage, screenshots or even description, other than:
Swine Bomb is a great, faced pace game filled with bombs, timers and a little flying pig.
This developer is asking for £5000 in investment for advertising his existing game. This is not much better than the other kickstarters begging for money so that they can buy the equipment to become the next Pewdiepie. The only tier costs £7, the reward of which is being one of the first people to find out about the next game... I don't need to say much else.

So that was just a few different examples of bad kickstarters (not what I was originally going to write about). I will write about something a bit more positive next time! Hopefully! -oP

Wednesday, 6 August 2014

Dungeon Burglars DevLog: 7

It's been another busy month of work for me, but I have found time to do a lot of work on the game. I have completed the 12 main levels and after some testing decided that it was a bit too easy (although I knew what was coming). I had a thought this weekend and quickly added 2 new 'support' burglars: The Cleric and the Sapper. Despite all the work I've done, this video is a short one showing off these new additions. Check it out!

Next on the agenda:

  • Music
  • Last SFX changes
  • Add boss 'The Bankrupt King'
  • Create endurance mode (99999 enemies)
  • Final graphics polish

Any feedback is welcome! What do you think of the new support classes? Thanks for reading! -oP

Friday, 1 August 2014

Early Access First Impressions: 'Jotun'

'Early Access First Impressions' is just that, first impressions. This is not a review, and is heavily opinionated.

Let's be honest, Vikings are bloody awesome. Norse themes are awesome. Rape and pillaging is awe.. no wait, that's not so awesome. The mythology at least has grabbed my attention and so I draw your attention to Jotun!
Jotun is an action-exploration game for PC and Mac that takes you on an epic journey through Viking purgatory.
In this 2D top-down game, the devs want to create the perfect balance of exploration, discovery and combat. Inspiration has been derived from Shadow of the Colossus in that respect. You will explore the landscape in the search for Runes with which to summon the 'gigantic Norse elementals'. Defeating them will appease the gods, and secure your exit from purgatory.

The hook of Shadow of the Colossus was the idea of fighting huge monsters, climbing them and delivering the killing blow in the most risky (and sometimes frustrating) circumstances. The video unfortunately doesn't reveal any actual combat, but a still rendering teases a jotun's ice breath attack.

Inspired by the mechanics of The Legend of Zelda and SSB, the combat in Jotun is fast-paced and organic. Fighting the jotun requires the ability to dodge projectiles, use proper positioning and attack at the right moment.

Unlike SotC, Jotun will require puzzle solving in order to progress, which will be a welcome addition alongside the solemn loneliness of exploration. For me, in SotC the 3D aspect emphasised the solitude, and created a sense of emotional depth (something I believe a 2D medium may struggle to recreate). Considering the top down perspective, there is no landscape to peer across and to remind you of your insignificance. However, I hope to be proven wrong.

The game looks beautifully rendered, a bright colourful palette along with an art style reminiscent of The Banner Saga (come on, it came out recently so I'm bound to draw comparisons), but I consider this a hell of a good thing personally!

The Kickstarter itself is concise and direct, with a video of gameplay albeit (as I mention above) without any actual combat or detailed puzzle solving. Despite the lack of 'gameplay', the page is well presented; simple and to the point. It's also always nice to get a look at the individual developers and their past work, for reassurance of the quality of the project. There is a brief financial breakdown which again, is nice to see as a potential investor.

Our goal is to reach alpha within six months, beta within nine months and full launch within twelve months. Therefore Jotun will be released in September 2015.

The reward tiers are broken down into a table, which I haven't seen done before on a Kickstarter; I appreciate how simplified the devs have presented this, as in the past I have been very confused/frustrated by seeing higher tiers offer identical (or even lesser) rewards. Stretch goals are few and far between, but as they said in their video: perhaps community input could influence the direction of the development.

I'm excited for this, and considering that it's got $31,243 of $50,000 funded already (Canadian; at time of writing), there's obviously plenty of other Norse souls excited for it too.  I'll be waiting for some combat footage before I pledge, but I'm optimistic I'll open my wallet! Go have a look and see for yourself! -oP


Thursday, 31 July 2014

Early Access First Impressions: 'Aegis Defenders'

'Early Access First Impressions' is just that, first impressions. This is not a review, and is heavily opinionated.

I came across a Kickstarter this morning which I was compelled to write about. Aegis Defenders is 2D platformer, that also takes on board some tower defence elements. It's initial release will be on Mac/PC however other platforms will open up as stretch goals are reached.

Lost civilisations and ancient technology is always a tasty hook for me, but the first thing that grabbed my attention in the video was the Ghibli 'Nausicaa' vibe (one of my favourite animations). The Valley of the Wind inspiration is also apparent in the game's theme:

You play as a pair of Ruinhunters searching for the one thing that can save their village - a legendary weapon known as Aegis.

The player can control both 'Ruinhunters' throughout the level, utilising their different skills for both puzzle-solving and combat strategy. Micromanagement is necessary, as each character will only perform one 'passive' ability when not active. There is a stretch goal of local co-op, but I'd love to see some online support.

I'm a sucker for pixels too, and there's pixel a-plenty here, complete with a gorgeous colour palette and cute animations. Awesome audio design has been promised, as the team behind Towerfall: Ascension are on board to collaborate.

Overall, the project looks pretty strong with funding of $24,000; with 3 days to go I can't see how this could fail to reach it's target of $65,000. The Kickstarter itself is very well put together with simple stretch goals and ton of content. I don't have a load to say about this as the Kickstarter speaks for itself! Please go check it out! -oP

Wednesday, 30 July 2014

Early Access First Impressions: 'Survive the Nights'

'Early Access First Impressions' is just that, first impressions. This is not a review, and is heavily opinionated.

I like crafting as much as I like turtles (internet reference), and I especially like it when the game I'm playing is unfinished. Sarcasm aside, there has been a plethora of indie survival games appearing amongst the pages of Kickstarter and Steam Greenlight and there's a damn fair amount that are still stuck in alpha/beta. At the time of writing, 'Survive the Night' has 11 days to go on Kickstarter and is described by the developers as:

Unique FPS survival focusing on teamwork, fortification, creativity and strategy. Secure a structure or roam free, the choice is yours.

I would hazard a guess to say that this probably isn't as unique as the developer thinks, especially since it's (arguably) jumping onto the crafting/survival bandwagon of the last 5 years. However, what's popular is popular and if there's demand for it, then having choice is always a good thing.

The game's premise is both simple and complex (as is the nature of the sandbox), collect resources, food and supplies, fortify your home, and then defend it during the night. Most of us are familiar with the model, and for me personally, I'm not too interested in the realism. I casually play Minecraft because it can be accessible, relaxed and sometimes beautiful. I play Project Zomboid, and I play Starbound. Realism is definitely something I'm not looking for, and visually I don't need to see the result of a texture budget of £100K. When it comes to the sandbox however, I like choice, flexibility and creativity (which is where a sandbox can become as complex as you make it).

Having said that, I like the idea of using vehicle trailers and wheelbarrows to move resources, rather than filling your bottomless pockets with planks of wood. The majority of vehicles on the island you inhabit will be usable, and you can insure your ownership of the scavenge by removing vital engine components. What I'm not a fan of, is managing your calorie intake; eating to survive is one thing, but I don't count my calories in real life!

I do also like the idea of hooking up generators to power your home, rather than light switches magically working. I appreciate the constant threat of starving, freezing and losing sanity as an incentive to explore and scavenge; rather than just an onslaught of zombie attacks (oh yeah, there's zombies by the way). There's an emphasis on player built content, and cooperative gameplay. However as with any survival sandbox, griefing will most likely be a standard day-to-day hazard.

Servers will be player run dedicated and persistent. The game as of now is island based. This will allow us to release alpha builds sooner. Islands will be added to the world and players will need to craft or find ships to travel between them. It's very important to us that the world is full and alive. Everything we design and everything we want to achieve with Survive the Nights has a meaning and a purpose.

Graphically it looks fairy, well, dull. You could ignore the fact that it looks probably just on par with Half Life 2 (now a 10 year old game), and forgive the poor texture quality because it's a small indie company from Hull, UK. However from the footage on the Kickstarter and the YouTubes and such, it looks very uninspiring and features sprawling woodlands with not much to admire.

Of course it is early access, and so there's a certain amount of flaws that should be overlooked because ultimately it's just not finished yet. But Day Z hasn't really achieved what people want it to achieve, and currently many consumers feel that it never will. So should we be less lenient when making judgements on an unfinished product? This game could tick all the boxes in the end, so maybe a bit of healthy criticism will be good for the developers. 

I will also add that the Kickstarter stretch goals are incredibly vague (throwing around phrases such as 'extended X system'), and it wouldn't hurt to go into more detail about what the pledgers are actually getting. The game has already been funded 5.5 times over it's goal, so it should get finished. If it sounds like it's worth your time, run over to their site and Kickstarter to check it out. -oP

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