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Created by patrick on Mar 21, 2008
Last updated: 03/11/10 at 07:17 PM
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I’m haunted by a green man in a bad suit. After showing up on Steam a little over a year ago, Stubbs the Zombie is now available for download on the Xbox 360. Of course I think this is pretty awesome… but for more reasons than you might think. First up, the Xbox version of the game has cooperative play, which the PC version doesn’t. It’s just split-screen and not online coop, but if you have a friend handy, it’s still pretty cool, especially when you start mixing and matching the super powers. For example: you can charge in as an über zombie while your buddy possesses a sniper and covers you from on high. Secondly, and I’m kinda ashamed to admit this… the controls just work better on the 360. We put the super powers on the black and white Xbox buttons, which Microsoft wisely turned into LB and RB. And wouldn’t you know it… the game’s better when you can reach all the buttons! So I guess I owe double thanks to Microsoft: thanks for releasing Stubbs on XBL, and thanks for fixing your janky controller!
Games are supposed to be fun, right? I think so, anyhow. We play games because we get something out of the experience. For some reason we find games more compelling that watching TV or wasting time on the Internet. We do this because games are fun, and most of the time they’re way more fun than books or TV or the web.
But if we’re all in the business of creating fun, why is it such a difficult topic to define? Why is fun such an elusive goal? Why are there so many games made that just aren’t that fun? I think the answer is the same for questions like: Why isn’t it easy to get rich quick? Why can’t we all be rock stars? And why can’t all M&Ms have peanuts in them? There just isn’t an easy answer to fun, and every game designer is going to give you a different definition, not to mention a different method for trying to make it.
So with that said, let me share my own little definition of fun. I like to think of fun as being a bit like profit. If you invest $10 in the stock market, and you get $25 back, then you’ve made a nice little profit of $15 for yourself. I believe fun works the same way… but instead of investing $10, you’re investing money to buy the game, time spent on the game, and some amount of blood, sweat, and tears actually playing the game. And instead of getting $25 back, you get a bunch of experiences from the game, and a bunch of little rewards.
Fun = Rewards - Investment
If you subtract the investment from the rewards, then you’re left with the “fun.” If this sounds like a gross oversimplification, well, it is. But maybe I’ll dig into this some more soon…
GDC is right around the corner… and after having to miss out last year, I’m super pumped to go back this year. And I’m especially pumped because I somehow convinced the folks at GDC to let me give a talk this time. They’ve (probably wisely) limited me to twenty minutes, but I’ll be doing my best to pack those twenty minutes with as much awesomeness as possible. I’ll be talking about this website, and the 52 Game Ideas I came up with in 2006. Well, actually I don’t plan to talk so much about the ideas themselves, but rather about the side-effects of long-term, perpetual brainstorming. You can read the official write-up over on the GDC website.
If you’re attending the conference you should also check out the two talks beging given about Stranglehold. Neill Glancy is talking about bringing Woo’s cinematic stylings into the game as actual gameplay, and Steve Anichini is talking about our crazy destructible environment system. Both of these guys are terribly smart and talented, and they’re talking about the two biggest things that made Stranglehold what it is… you know, blowing stuff up and slow-mo close-ups of guys getting shot.
So I hope to see you there. Please feel free to come say hi. I swear I won’t bite.
Well… another year has come to a close. To say that 2007 was an intense year would be a phenomenal understatement. I don’t think this is a year that I’m going to look back on and particularly want to repeat. There was some good, there was some bad. I had some new experiences and made some new friends, but I also had to say goodbye to some old friends. And there were way too many close calls in-between.
New Years, more than any other day each year, is when I take stock of things… when I look back on what I’ve done, what I’ve left undone, and what I want to take on in the coming year. It was New Years of 2001 that I decided to get back to making games, 2005 that I began writing about games, and 2006 that I pushed myself to up my creative output. When I take stock of 2007 I see one big accomplishment, but a whole bunch of other little things left undone.
For 2008 my goals are simple. I’d like to take it a little bit easier. I’d like to spend more time with my friends and family. I’d like to spend some more time on my personal projects. I’d like to write more, and teach more. And maybe I’ll finally break down and write that book I’ve been threatening to do for so long.
I hope you had a very happy New Year, and I wish you and yours all the best in 2008. Let’s make it a good one.
I had the pleasure of speaking at DePaul again a couple weeks ago, which has become a semi-annual treat for me. Joe asked me to give his class some useful advice for their final projects, so I sat down and thought about it, and wrote down the game design advice I’d want to go back in time and give myself.
I’ve paraphrased the advice here for you, as I think it can be helpful for anyone endeavoring to make games. Especially if you’re setting out to make your very first game!
Don’t start on what you can’t finish. Start with designs for games that you believe you can finish. A completed game is so much better than one that’s half-finished. You’ll learn tons more, and it will look much better on your resume. This might mean that you need to make a few smaller games before you attempt the big one, but so be it! But which would you rather have, three completed games, or one massive incomplete game?
Have a gameplan. Don’t go running face-first into the minefield that is game development. Make a plan of what you want to accomplish, how you want to accomplish it, and how long you want it to take. If you make a schedule for your game and you find that you need twelve weeks to make a game that’s due in three, that’s a pretty clear message that you need to cut some features (or make another pot of coffee). I won’t go so far as to say that you need a game design doc, a tech design doc, and a hard-core schedule… but if you get into the habit of some planning up front, it will pay off in the long run.
Use an Engine
Don’t reinvent the wheel. If someone has solved the hard problems, like how to write a renderer or scripting language, learn from them! Don’t stop there. Beg, borrow and steal from them. Lots of good engines are free these days, and the ones that aren’t free can be acquired for the price of a new PC game.* Now, if you’re one of those guys who wants to write every line of code by hand, by yourself, that’s cool. But don’t kid yourself… the big-boys reuse their own code all the time. Carmack and Sweeny don’t start from scratch every game… they take what they have from the last one, upgrade or rewrite a few features and then add a few new features. So write little bits of new code for each game you make, and slowly build up towards an engine that’s 100% yours.
* You don’t get the full source code for $50, but you do get enough to make a game.
Make your game simple to understand, simple to play, simple to implement. Just because a game is big, doesn’t mean it needs to be senselessly complicated. I don’t mean that your game needs to be “easy” or “small” though. Small and easy games are great, and a good place to start. But no matter what the size of your game project, keep it simple. If a feature is simple to describe, it’s simple to implement. If a game is simple to explain, it’s simple to play. As a game designer we spend so much time communicating - talking to each other about ideas, communicating these ideas to the rest of the team, and eventually trying to communicate them to players. Simple concepts are just easier to pass on.
Make something new. Now is your chance! Now might be your only chance! When you get a job in the game industry you’ll probably have to work on some games that you’re not a huge fan of. That’s life. But now when you’re a student make new crazy games. Make games that don’t exist yet. Make games that try something new. Recreating old games is a great way to learn how to program, or how to make art. But to learn to be a game designer you need to experiment with new designs and learn how to mold them into something fun. So be original.
Make games that are meaningful to you. If you’re into animal rights, make your game about saving animals. If you’re into chemistry, make your game about molecules and stuff. If you’re really into hackysack, make your game about kicking around a hackysack. Don’t just make another game about shooting people… it’s just not that meaningful. Make games that say something about you and what you care about. Now is your chance to push your ideas in videogame form. Make a game that says more than “I love videogames.”
Make a game you’re excited about. If you’re excited, other people will be excited. Excitement is contagious! It’s much easier to get your friends to work on your game with you when they’re excited about it. And believe it or not, it will be easier to get your friends to play your game when they’re excited about it. And if you’re excited to play the game, it will be easier for you to make it. Making games is really hard work, and if you can’t get up in the morning with the drive to work on your game, then you’re either making the wrong game, or you’re not cut out to be a game designer. It’s tough, but it’s true.
Ok, I know this is a mouthful. But hey, if I’m going to go back in time I really should have something important to say. And just to make it easy to remember, there’s a nice little acronym for you. ACHIEVABLE, WELL-PLANNED games with an ENGINE that are SIMPLE, ORIGINAL, MEANINGFUL, and EXCITING. That’s A.W.E.S.O.M.E. I want you to make awesome games. Gimmicky? Yes, sorry. But hopefully you won’t forget it.
Holy crap, Stranglehold is done. Two years, a dozen skus, and a hellofalota overtime later, and we’re done. Being done with the game is a tremendous feeling, not just because I’m finally caught up on sleep, but because I’m really proud of the game we made. The final product is very close to the game we set out to make, and even though some good bits always end up on the cutting room floor, there are by far more good bits in the game than not.
It’s especially rewarding to see the game on shelves, play it with friends and family, and to be able to sit back and enjoy it as a game… and not as a job. As time goes by I get more and more perspective on Stranglehold, which is a bit of a double-edged sword. On the one side I can more clearly critique my own work, so of course I’ve started my wish lists and todo lists for the next game. But on the other side, I really should be in full-on vacation mode, catching up on that huge stack of games that’s accumulated over the last few months, and enjoying being a gamer instead of a developer.
And it’s not like there’s a lack of games to play this season. It seems like every single “big” next-gen game got delayed to this three month window right before the holidays, which is putting more than a little strain on the bank account. Especially considering I was just in the UK, which is not a particularly cheap place for us Yanks these days. But there were a few things there I couldn’t pass up… like that copy of Stranglehold for sale at the supermarket. The supermarket! There’s a country with its priorities straight. You can buy beer, soda, crisps and Stranglehold at all at once. God Save the Queen!