Category Archives: Opinion and Analysis

Game Design: On Ideas

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Often enough I have talked to people wanting to start making video games. And often enough they talk about making the next big game. I have to admire their enthusiasm, as it reminds me of a much younger me. But most often they say one thing which I can’t forgive.“I have this great idea.”

The number of times anyone in the industry has heard that must be innumerable. And I can understand why. There is vision and drive to make something awesome. The belief that this idea can be the next half-diablo-doom-craft. And wanting to be at the front of seeing that idea come to life is admirable.

Unfortunately, when you just start trying to make video games, that great idea is worthless. Not necessarily because it is a bad idea, but because you lack the experience to take that idea from the vision in your head, to the reality that the fanboys drool over. This is because a great game comes down to how the ideas are executed in the game.

Fives: Artsy Fartsy

Fives - Artsy Fartsy

Art games. Oh yes, we totally went there. Wait, come back! It’s not what you think! Look, we’re not going to sit here and open up some banal and dried-up debate on whether games are art or not – if we did that, we’d be practically contractually obligated to kill ourselves as decreed by Section 45, Paragraph 98 of the Contract of Life we all hastily signed whilst escaping from our mother’s womb.

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Making a tester’s life less miserable

Most game developers know that sharing an early prototype of their Next Big Thing™ with friends and fellow devs is usually a good move. It’s a great way to iron out bugs, gather ideas and start moving in the right direction. It’s also incredibly encouraging to receive positive feedback early on — as long as your audience doesn’t consist of the sort of people who foam at the mouth and start gnawing at every half-arsed pixel push you make.

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How to defeat negative self-talk

We all know that good old stereotype: the one which dictates that all computer-bound people are highly introverted and extremely antisocial individuals who wouldn’t know how to start a conversation even if they were slapped in the face with their grandmother’s knickers.

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Hate vs. Respect: Gaming as a Developer

I’ll waste no time in dropping the hammer: I really don’t like World of Warcraft.

The grinding bores me, the mentality upsets me and the game world just doesn’t engage me enough to warrant the odd five gazillion hours that you need to pour in just to get… well, anywhere. I’ve tried it out, honestly!

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Fives – Weak Character

There are close to 7 Billion people in the world (or at least that is the figure that smart people who come up with these figures predicted it would be by 2011) – that’s not a small number by any measure; and it’s difficult to think that almost certainly, each individual one of those people has a unique personality. Most of them are assholes though.

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Four issues that developers need to drop already

Disclaimer: This article covers the hyperbolic ranting of an entirely fictional (and very foul-tempered) stick figure thing. As such, we reserve the right to label this article as satire and advise you to take any of Angry Joe’s advice in good humour and high spirits. Whether or not he happens to make any valid points is entirely up to you to decide.

As a follow-up to his recent report on common game development myths, Dev.Mag correspondent Angry Joe has contacted us to rant about the state of the industry, and why he thinks that people are caring too much about things which don’t really deserve any attention.

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Fives – Battle Royale

Games are all about challenge; presenting the player with some or other obstacle that needs to be overcome in order to progress. Not everything has to be about fighting though. Aside from the blood, guts, gore and general brutality involved in most games, some games take a, how to say, finer edge to things. Some games even go so far as to not involve fighting at all but, well, THOSE GAMES ARE BORING! We want death! Blood! Carnage! We want to drink blood from the skulls of our decapitated enemies while we stand victoriously over their mangled corpses, our hands contorted in the air as we go MUAHAHahahahahahahahah!

*cough*

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Fives – Imitating Life

They say that art imitates life, which is something that for all intents and purposes we can pretty much agree with. And of course, depending who you ask, games are a form of art, so the saying must be applicable here. Now I was going to go on about how every work of art is different and represents life in a different way, but it seemed like such a schlep to have to go through all of that to reach the real point:

In this magical game called “real life” we, the characters, have to deal with nonsense like gravity and the very worrying realization that if a car should happen to drive into our homes, chances are good that we’re going to have new piece of furniture sitting in our living rooms. This is something that games everywhere try to replicate to make us shout “Wow! Just like in real life!” – Possibly from the passenger seat of the mauled vehicle which is now sitting conveniently in front of your TV.

Of course, as with most art depicting reality, game physics don’t quite get it right, leaving us with some really weird side-effects. Let’s count down 5 instances where games and their whacky physics have made us contemplate driving cars into people’s houses, just to see if they’ll bounce back!

5. But I shot you…in the head!

In the games

Guns and shooting and swords and stabbing have been staples in games since the days of the NES, with blocky characters shoving a blocky pointy thing into other blocky things to make them die. Naturally, we’ve come a long way since then. Well, sort of. You see, even though the blocky characters are now beautifully rendered models that always seem to shine as if they were covered in baby oil; the stabbing and shooting is still pretty old-school in terms of their impact on that which is being attacked.

Sword slashes man; man staggers and continues as if he were merely pushed back by a gentle shove. Gun shoots man; man stops and then continues as if he simply walked into an invisible pole. Flashbacks of the black knight from Monty Python and the Quest for the Holy Grail are swimming through my mind. Either the metal used in these weapons is actually really a rare cheese, or the people you’re trying to kill are very, very persistent.

In real life

Well it’s all really simple, isn’t it? Someone shoots you and you’re going to go down. Someone stabs you and you’re going to be severely hampered. If you’re lucky you’ll get to play the lottery one last time, but probably not.

Explain yourself!

Fallout 3 gives you the wonderful V.A.T.S. system, allowing to you freeze time and target specific parts of your enemy. This system works beautifully for causing critical damage but also raises a few questions. Why, when I have crippled your head, can you still move around, let alone fire a weapon at me? Why, when I have stabbed your eyes bare, can you still aim at me with any degree of accuracy? And for the love of all that is holy, why, when I have firmly punched you in the groin multiple times, can you still be chasing after me, contents of your stomach still firmly in place? In all fairness, crippled limbs do slow people down and make them more inaccurate in their aiming – but they can still walk and hold weapons as if nothing was wrong.

What do you expect from me?!

I’m not suggesting games be true to life in this regard, (we’d all die far too easily making things insanely difficult) that would be silly. But it would be great to see some more realistic penalties, as it were, for specific injuries. Also, crotch shots should render any male enemy completely useless, naturally.

4. Disappearing act

In the games

You’ve just made your way through 20 enemies with a chainsaw; stopping a moment to catch your breath, covered in blood, you excitedly turn around to see the massacre and carnage left in your wake. Decapitated heads! Intestines! Courtney Love! The most gruesome scene ever to be pl- oh hang on a moment…where is everything?

Ok, so the above was mostly just for dramatic effect; usually it’s no surprise to you because enemies usually disappear right in front of you (though the quick ‘disappear while the camera’s not on us’ trick is also pretty common). Minutes of bloody handiwork, gone in seconds. What a waste.

In real life

We here at Dev.Mag don’t condone violent acts. But should you find yourself in a situation whereby you have made your way through a group of 20 people with a chainsaw, I’m afraid turning around and hoping the bodies will be gone when you look back again isn’t a viable solution. Better call a good defense lawyer.

Explain yourself!

Well, here we have two – and both of them are Capcom beauties: Dead Rising and Resident Evil. Good ol’ Resi-Evil took the “make them disappear unrealistically into some goopy thing which then also disappears” route. I assume this was so that they didn’t have to worry about Chris or Leon getting obstructed by corpses and having their motor functions hindered further.

Dead Rising decided to go with “disappear when the camera’s not looking” approach. The difference? Well, Dead Rising smartly ‘layered’ the act – that means that they didn’t all disappear at once (most of the time) so that by the time you started wondering why you weren’t up to your neck in zombie guts, there were a few zillion more corpses spread around.

What do you want from me?!

Having bodies remain on the map is probably very resource-heavy for developers, so it would be unfair to expect games with mass carnage to be true to life; however, if you’re going to have bodies disappear either make it flashy so that we don’t care, or at the very least wait until we leave the room so that when we get back we can create our own wild theories like crows ate them, or something. But seriously, disappearing bodies shouldn’t even be in the equation with most games these days. [An interesting point here: Gears of War 2 tends to keep certain gibs and decals around for ages. Some multiplayer games degenerate into slideshows as a result. Conversely, Doom 3 enemies evaporated into fiery clouds of evil dust, which made sense and solved this problem. Score one for id? – Ed]

3. Staying act

In the games

Speaking of corpses; on the flipside of the disappearing act, we have the situation where bodies don’t disappear. Some games decide characters should simply clip through the bloody mess, while others decide to apply the wonderful ‘rag doll physics’. As the name implies, this allows your character to toy around with the dead like a father with his red-headed step-child. Sounds good in theory, but boy do they get it wrong in practice.

While most characters appear pretty solid in life, in death they usually turn into weightless (and quite limber) husks of flesh. That and they emit some oily substance that sends them gliding across the floor. Seriously, only in games are most enemies more mobile in death than they were in life.

In real life

Have you ever tried to move a corpse? Man, it’s TOUGH work. Er, I mean, many people have reported that it is tough work. Does dead weight mean anything to you? You are more likely to trip over a corpse, than send it flying across the room in your stride.

Explain yourself!

Dead Space. You can pretty much decapitate corpses and remove various limbs by stomping on them with your 736-ton shoes. And then kick them around like empty milk cartons.

What do you expect from me?!

Make dead bodies heavier and less mobile. It seems so easy, yet no one’s done it right just yet.

2. Weight-watching

In the games

While we’re on this (aren’t you loving how everything flows?), mass isn’t something reserved for the corpses of those who stand in your way. Many games today (especially the ones who want to show off ‘dynamic lighting’) have started taking out the nails that have kept set-pieces tied to one spot for years. That’s right! Marvel as the vase casts a realistic shadow as I carry it around! That’s great, but it would be better if I wasn’t carrying the three-seater sofa in my other hand at the same time.

It seems in their excitement to make everything able to move around (well most things anyway), developers have forgotten that, generally, things have different weights – and that a door closing on a tin can causing it to roll a few meters, shouldn’t have that same effect on a trolley or life-support unit.

In real life

Well it seems a bit silly when you say it out loud, but in the real world a can and a couch are actually pretty different in terms of their weight.

Explain yourself!

I hate to say it, but Fallout 3 immediately comes to mind with Silent Hill 5 and Dead Space coming a close second. Dead Space allowed you to use kinesis energy to move a plethora of objects, but even running into things sent them flying about. I drew the line at a couch, which hurtled across the room because I looked at it funny. Silent Hill also had this weird habit of movement making everything in the room shake; but Fallout 3 is in a league of its own – running past a shelf makes its contents basically fly across the room as if an army of poltergeists were suddenly pissed off at you.

What do you expect from me?!

If you’re going to make it move, make it move realistically. Easy!

1. Selective Destruction

In the games

In any game involving weaponry and a smidgen of free-will, we have, at some point or another, tried to shoot the wall to see if it leaves bullet holes. Admit it, you’ve done it too. Thus begins the slippery-slope of destructible environments. It starts innocently enough. A bullet hole here, a bullet hole there. Then we start shooting at the windows to see if they shatter. The cans to see if they fly. The fruits to see if they explode. Soon we are taking the bonus chainsaw we found under the desk and attack anything just to see if it will break. Most of the time we are disappointed of course, but it is always worth trying.

Then came the age of physics. Surely if it moves, it can break? Surely if it’s made out of wood it can be cut? If it’s glass it will shatter? The box I hit, nigh seconds ago, broke with no problem so this flimsy looking box…? Sadly not. Welcome to the world of selective destruction, where there exists only two kinds of materials: that which can be broken, and that which cannot.

Don’t let appearances fool you; it may look like glass, metal or wood, but it’s either breakabilium or unbreakabilium – the only elements that govern the gaming world.

In real life

In the real world we have a much more diverse range of materials used to make things; and almost always they are destructible in some way. Usually a chainsaw works quite effectively. With everything.

Explain yourself!

Oh dear, where to begin? Perhaps it would be easier to simply just say Grand Theft Auto. Driving through the streets you’ll doubtlessly plummet through everything taking out cars, pedestrians, signs, street lights, traffic lights, small buildings1, large buildings2, national landmarks3 and small European countries4. Until you hit into a tree that is. With roots wrapped around the core of the earth itself, that birch isn’t going anywhere. Yes. Birch.

What do you expect from me?!

I guess we should be happy that developers are applying real-world physics to games at all, so, fine. Forget everything above, I’m happy that we at least get to enjoy the wonders of slip ‘n slide corpses and aero couches. But as always, there must be a line drawn somewhere. If you’re going to apply selective destruction in your game, at the very least, try to be logical about it. Please.

Bonus

Fall from glory

Two words: Assassin’s Creed. Diving off of high towers? Falling great distances? Altair’s kneecaps should have shot up and taking his eyes out by now. Not that that would matter mind you, he’d still be able to walk around and aim accurately enough to kill you.

1No, not really

2This is a lie

3Unlikely

4This one is true

Fives – Survival Horror

We’ve all been there: you’re alone, walking down a dark passage, firmly gripping an axe in your hands. You can hear your heart pounding in your ears because you’re surrounded by complete silence…except for the mysterious sounds coming from behind the door at the end of the passage. As you draw nearer you stand in something. Something wet. Something warm. It’s blood. Nervously you move your hand to open the door. Locked. Upon closer inspection you notice a diamond etched under the lock.

Obviously all you can do it trek back through the darkness (and unknown) on the off-chance you’ll come across a key that, maybe, has a diamond back? Let’s not forget that there are zombies about as well. And not to mention that what’s making those noises behind the door could be worse than any zombie. I guess there’s no choice but to go ba- Oh wait, axe. In your hands.

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Historical Dev Challenge: Shakespeare

Sometimes, one just has to wonder: is history chock-full of great game developers that were never able to realise their full potential? Would Julius Caesar have invented Pac-Man if he was given a computer instead of the Roman Empire? Could Aristotle use his Greek superpowers of reasoning and insight to create an experience that rivals Braid?

In this piece, we’ll be looking at a blow-by-blow assessment of William Shakespeare and his potential as a game developer in today’s mad world of mainstream extravaganzas and well-evolved indie communities.

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Screw It

If there’s one pet hate that I have concerning games (aside from those obnoxious troglodytes that plague multiplayer servers for just about any title you care to mention) it’s the idea of making things competitive. Now, I know that this statement alone will cause a lot of people to froth at the mouth and go for my jugular (well, not really, but it’s an interesting mental image), but the fact remains that I cannot — or rather, will not — reconcile myself with the sort of people whose sole ambition is to bastardise something that has brought me countless hours of undistilled joy and goof-aroundery by dragging it into that abysmal realm of Serious Business™.

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Back off, indies!

The other day (and by that, I mean “some undetermined date a really, really long time ago”) I was having a typical gamer’s discussion inside a typical gamer’s forum. The topic: piracy and all the pain, chaos, death and homeless devs that it brings about.

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Five Game Development Myths Debunked

Disclaimer: Please try not to be scared of Angry Joe – he’s only a stick figure. In fact, he doesn’t even really exist. Steel yourself, read on and ride the storm. It’ll all be over soon.

There seems to be a lot of ideas held by new developers which, quite frankly, are leading them in the completely wrong direction. One could be forgiven for holding most of these assumptions: after all, they’re usually the result of laymen looking at the AAA industry through rose-tinted glasses and thinking, “Gee willikers. This is what game development is all about!” But that doesn’t mean that they’re correct.

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Fighting the Narrow Game Focus

The way I see it, modern indie development is imbalanced. Not in the way that a foul-tempered DotA player would scream “IMBA!” after getting killed for the fifth time in succession – no, I’m talking more about exposure, attention and who is playing what out there. I’m talking about everyone’s tendency to play the same narrow range of “cool” stuff without ever bothering to explore the wider market.

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Game Dev from the Dark Continent

To many developers, the fine art of game creation lies strictly within the domain of the first world. Europe, America and Japan have all been sitting pretty with a very well-developed industry for a while. Other territories have recently hopped onto the bandwagon, of course: we have high-profile offerings such as the S.T.A.L.K.E.R. series from Ukraine, and the more recent Zeno Clash from Chile. But in terms of pumping out loads of awesome games, not many people currently look to Africa.

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