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Thursday, November 4, 2010

IGF, meet Tom

We've submitted "A Virus Named Tom" to IGF. It's a bit of a stretch considering it's at an "alpha" stage, and with over 400 entrants this year, but hey, why not? If nothing else hopefully it'll raise awareness of us and our game!
Check out our entrant page at igf.com

Thursday, September 2, 2010

Less is More

I want less game for my money. That’s right, less. I suppose I don’t actually mean less game, I mean less filler. I’ve noticed over the past few years that in most of the games that I play I tire of them about 2-5 hours before the end. It’s a sad moment in a game players life when you think to yourself “am I there yet?”

Now I don’t mean all games of course, and I don’t mean games shouldn’t be long. A game should be as long as it needs to be. I’m just saying many are longer than they need to be.

In screenwriting you learn that brevity is the soul of wit. Unnecessary scenes that are not imperative to moving the story along need to be cut. Yet in games it seems that the opposite tact is often taken. There are many levels which simply seem like filler. I remember roaming through Rapture, going on a fetch quest for 7 units distilled water, 7 units of Chlorophyll solution, and 7 units of enzyme samples, to save some trees. When my wife asked me what I was doing, I told her I had no idea. I only knew that I needed 7 of a bunch of stuff to do something that some lady wanted me to do, and that somehow related to Andrew Ryan…? Basically I didn’t know because I didn’t care. Those trees, and the chemicals needed to save them, weren’t an important part of the story.

All of that padding made it so that by the time I got to the scenes that should’ve mattered to me (finding the little sisters rooms, battling Fontaine) I was fatigued. If those scenes had come when I needed them, I would’ve left the game satisfied and wanting more. As it was, I was just playing for a sense of completion, and that devalued all that was to come. Now I’m picking on Bioshock here, but this is the case for most of the games I’ve played recently.

The blame game

So why is it that there’s so much padding in games? Let’s start with the developer. After all, they put it in there right? Understandably when developing a game, a certain economy of scale comes into play. A lot of time and expense are incurred creating and refining game mechanics, establishing a look, getting a pipeline working, etc. By the time you have all of this down, adding additional levels to extend gameplay can be relatively cheap. It’s a big temptation to use these to add to the duration of a game.

But this doesn’t seem to make sense. Why would a developer want to add to the duration of their game? Especially if that dilutes the experience?

The answer of course is the reviews. One of the main gripes I read again and again out of reviewers is that a game is too short. And this isn’t a casual mention, it’s honestly looked at quite scornfully. I don’t understand why. Though I thought I did.

It made sense to me that if a game was shorter, than I was getting less entertainment for my money. And to an extent this might be true when taken to an extreme. A game which includes a multilayer mode that I’ll play with my friends is a much better value because I can spend hundreds of hours playing. But if some of the padding and fetch quests were taken out of game, we’re talking about a few hours of gameplay. A few hours that will ultimately make for a better experience. You don’t hear a movie-goer say “Toy Story was great, but it was only 80 minutes, don’t bother seeing it. Check out Pearl Harbor: it’s not as good, but at least you get to watch it for over 3 hours.

When a game is reviewed as being “too short” is credit ever given for a lack of padding? Is it ever praised for resisting the urge to throw in fetch quests and dilute the experience? Rarely.

But we can’t just cast stones at reviewers. We have to put a fair amount of blames on ourselves, the players. We’re the ones reading these articles, and we’re the ones judging the games. While we can’t control what reviewers write, we can let them know how we feel. We live in an age where it’s incredibly easy to voice your opinion. If you comment, they will listen. Most reviewers are eager to read comments. Let them know if you feel that a game didn’t deserve the “too short” scorn.

My hat’s off to everyone who participated in the “size doesn’t matter” day. It’s exciting to see the community organized like that. Everyone doesn’t have to agree, but let’s start some debates!

Monday, August 16, 2010

Meet Tom! (and give us feedback)

Come on by Flying Wisdom Studios in San Francisco this Thursday night to give us some feedback on "A Virus Named Tom". They'll be pizza and booze, cuz Tom loves a full belly. Email us for more details if your interested.

Sunday, August 1, 2010

Putting the i in Misfits Attic

Look out world, we've started development on our second title. And since we feel it'd work great as a mobile app we're now official iphone/ipad/itouch/i-tastic developers. So now our games will have super clean interfaces, and cost much more than they will on other systems (I guess the app store killed that joke years ago). Just don't ask Sean what he thinks of Xcode and Objective C. We'll probably be exploring various iphone options such as Cocos2D, Unity, etc. Let us know if you have any suggestions.

Monday, June 28, 2010

Playable Demo

Not only do we have a playable demo of "A Virus Named Tom", but we've submitted it to Indiecade! We're hoping to win in the category "studio most likely to get pregnant or end up with a virus game". Let me know if you want to give it a whirl, we're always looking for feedback!

Wednesday, May 5, 2010

Game Jamin'

I'm honored to have been invited to judge at Wild Pocket's Bay Area Game Jam. I've never actually been to a "game jam" but I've heard a lot about them so I'm excited to check it out. If you're in the Bay Area and want to try your hand at rocking a game out in a weekend, sign up! Also if you wanna see my beautiful mug, check out the Judges page. The bio I wrote is so short compared to everyone else's, so I either seem like a genius or an idiot... to the millions who are intently reading the game jam judges bio's.

Tuesday, April 27, 2010

You complete me.

The often brilliant xkcd has posted a funky take on a circuit world.

Who says circuits can't be fun?

Monday, April 26, 2010

Mmm. Organic... Pixels?

I will always admire the Japanese.

Today, it's those guys at iGem Osaka

Definitely an interesting take on pixel art. They did this using genetically engineered glowing bacteria.

Seems like they manually laid out the two colored bacteria in a grid, and then grew/stimulated them individually to get each to expand within their cell.

I particularly like the irregularity of each cell, giving great variety to an otherwise rectilinear art form, yet still keeping that nice retro feel.

Sunday, April 25, 2010

Humor in the Age of Digital Reproduction

I was reading this pedantic article about humor.

Stumbled upon it rather unexpectedly, and the topic is relevant to what we're doing.

Unfortunately the article itself is mostly a survey of different humor categories, there is an interesting section about "interactive humor."

As far as I know, we'll be making downloadable games. We'll be writing stories and scripts for these downloadable games. Most likely an internet-savvy player who is unfortunate enough to stumble upon one of our hopefully rather addictive games will waste hours immersed the gameplay, as well as the quirky humor that we'll be trying to project with our visuals and story.

1) Internet folks have been exposed to more stuff that any group of people in human history.

3) Humor is about delivering the unexpected. A joke ain't so funny if you've heard it before.

Put two and two together we have our work cut out for us.

Let's all add something unexpected in our games. Let's add a bit of crazy, and enjoy the concoction.

Tuesday, April 20, 2010

I am not young enough to know everything.

I was very proud of myself.

So I created this animation. Looked cool. Did it using Maya. Rendered and exported out each frame in png format.

After all that, assembling them is cakewalk for sure! After all, I was even able to do it in my head...

...but not on the computer.

At least, not within the 5 seconds that I thought it was gonna take.

Which gets to one of my biggest pet peeves: not being able to do something that should be stupidly simple to do.

Photoshop? Couldn't do it without some pain.
Irfanview? Destroys transparency.
Paint? Hah!
Doing it by hand? Only if all else fails...

Basically, this isn't exactly the thing that I should have to google.

But I did. And felt annoyed because of it.

Moral of the story is that I took for granted something that I thought should've been automatic. You'd think I'd have learned something by now...

The solution I found in a forum somewhere. Kudos to the gal who posted:

-put all PNGs into a single folder, name them *01.png, *02.png, etc
-run the command on the shell:

montage -background "transparent" -depth 8 -type TrueColorMatte *.png
geometry 128x128 -tile 8x1 -matte -transparent "transparent" concat.png

That's for a sheet of 8 png files, with a size of 128 square each, outputting to concat.png

Monday, April 19, 2010

Frictionless Entry

It's not what you think.

Or at least, it's not what you first think about.

Say someone wants you to try something cool.

It's really really cool. Guaranteed. You just need to go through 20 or so pages worth of EULAs, create another account and provide some random but most of the time identical series of letters which represent the only password that you can remember for your email accounts and your social profile.

Before you even get to try this really really cool something, it's all of a sudden not as really really cool, and maybe not even really really cool enough to worth pursuing, because there's a ton of other really really cool things that you could be wasting your time on instead.

Frictionless entry is the new buzzword. But I like the concept.

It means I can get around to playing the game in one click. One button press. Because our attention spans nowadays don't last much longer than that.

It means having a good game, without the huge learning curve.

It means the concept is clear. We get the point right away.

It means to get to the fun, without the hassle.

We want there to be frictionless entry. Guys love frictionless entry. Girls love frictionless entry.

The above pic? First thing that popped up when I google image searched. Sure frictionless is good, but it's always smart to keep things safe.

Never put off until tomorrow what you can do the day after tomorrow.

Okay. Tim convinced me that adding thoughtful stuff on this blog may someday pay off.
Just keep doing it, and it increases your odds.

Like the lottery, except without the money.

Or maybe I should just post random game-related stuff every once in a while.

Monday, April 5, 2010

Happy little trees (hiring artist)

Look mom our first job posting! We're in need of a 2D concept/production artist for our current title. Think you got what it takes? Check out the job description or look at the "Current Job Openings" link on the right panel under "Misfits Attic Links". Note, our game has no trees, happy or otherwise... yet.

Thursday, February 18, 2010

The difficulty I want

I got on a treadmill at the gym all ready to workout when it asked me a question I didn't know the answer to: "Difficulty Level?". I stared at the screen, which gave me no range, and to boot I had never run on a treadmill with an incline before. So I guessed 10. Turns out I think it was out of 10. Fortunately I didn't need to be Carl Lewis, when I realized things were getting way too hard, I just adjusted the difficulty down to 8 (ok 3). The point is, sometimes you don't know how difficult you want it to be until you've tried it.

So why don't we do this more in games? Many games ask you to choose a difficulty level up front, but don't allow you to adjust it later on when you realize you were wrong. Giving players access to Level of Difficulty settings throughout the game can not only help prevent them from being frustrated and putting the controller down, but also allow them to change the way in which they perceive and play the game.

I was playing "God of War" last week, a game I had always meant to play, but had avoided because it seemed like a hack and slash platformer, which is a genre that I've never been incredibly fond of (In case you're wondering, it turned out to be a hack and slash plat former). While playing it, I found myself enjoying the game quite a bit, though there were definitely moments of annoyance when I was punished for not being able to repeatedly push a button fast enough. At any rate I entered a room where I needed to beat everyone in it before the floor gave way. After several attempts I began to get frustrated, when suddenly on one of the restart screens I was asked if I'd like to switch to an easier difficulty.

Now normally I laugh at myself as the game took pity on me, and then defiantly answer "no" as if my wife had suggested we stop at a gas station for directions. But then I realized something. The elements of the game I was actually enjoying were things like story and atmosphere. And while I enjoyed some of the fighting, the thousands of baddies I had brutally murdered so far had somewhat soothed my blood lust. I realized that playing on easy would actually make the game more enjoyable for me, after all I still have God of War 2 left to play! So here's an example where not only I was reminded that I didn't need to play through the game frustrated, but was also able to play the game the way I'd actually prefer to play it at that point. What a clever God that War is!

Another interesting case for level of detail is "Oblivion" (ok, ok, Elder scrolls IV: Oblivion... nerds). This game had something I'd never seen before: a difficulty slider. Accessible at almost any time during the game. Moooore difficult.... Lessssss difficult. Sliders are so fun! So I'm playing the game and I get to a point where I want to silently assassinate someone (always a fun thing to do). I sneak into the house across the street, jump over to their balcony, slip in and stand over their sleeping body with a giant sword in my hand and glint in my eye. I rain my strongest attack down on their head and... they get up and call the guard? Now I was still able to kill them (I know you were worried), but I was very unsatisfied with the result. In my mind this game was fairly life-like on the tone scale (other than the magic, and maybe the vampires). This was not a giant Ogre wearing sword repellent, so in my mind, when one attempts to lop another's head off with a sword while they're sleeping, one generally succeeds. So what did I do? I snuck in, lowered the difficutly, lopped his head off, and then raised the difficulty back up. AMAZING. It was as if I had an argument with the designer, and won! As if he listened to my plight, installed a fix and I was able to continue playing the game I wanted to play. What would have been a frustrating complaint turned into a paragraph about a cool feature.

Now some might say that in doing this, you allow players to play the game in unintended ways, and this is a valid point. Someone may crank the difficulty down, and then forget to raise it up as they get better. This could cause them to miss out on some of the "tension" of exploring caves because they know they can't get hurt. I feel this is somewhat acceptable. The player knows how they want to play, and if my wife hadn't been able to crank down the difficulty I'm guessing she would've given up on the game (she also enjoyed exploring more than fighting anyway). However, there may be a way to have your cake and eat it too. What if you combined this with what "God of War" did? What if you remind players that they can raise the difficulty level if they haven't even come close to having a formidable battle? Many times a player would take such suggestions, they simply forget about these options and sometimes end up putting the controller down instead, because they don't know why they're not enjoying the game anymore.