From Blogger to WordPress

I’ve switched my blogging engine from Blogger to WordPress, and I’m quite happy with the result. WordPress seems more powerful and flexible, and has a much larger pool of templates to build upon. The development of Blogger seems to be in a near coma-like status, while WordPress appears to be going strong.

It was a bit tricky to make the switch, expecially as I have my own domain and host the blog myself. But after some tinkering, I managed to get all the posts and all the images transfered from one system to the other. The embedded videos stopped working, but fixing them manually was rather quick.

I’ve also found a good template that I tweaked a bit. Looking good, no?

Fate happily ever after Storytron release?

Well, this was wasn’t what I was expecting.

Industry legend Chris Crawford gave up on traditional game development 1992 after giving his Dragon Speech, and then went down a different route to develop something completely new; a system for interactive storytelling.

Imagine that system. I certainly have. I share a dream with Chris Crawford.

“I dreamed of the day when computer games would be a viable medium of artistic expression — an art form. I dreamed of computer games expressing the full breadth of human experience and emotion. I dreamed of computer games that were tragedies, games about duty and honor, self-sacrifice and patriotism. I dreamed of satirical games and political games; games about the passionate love between a boy and girl, and the serene and mature love of a husband and wife of decades; games about a boy becoming a man, and a man realizing that he is no longer young. I dreamed of games about a man facing truth on a dusty main street at high noon, and a boy and his dog, and a prostitute with a heart of gold.
– Chris Crawford, Chris Crawford on Game Design

After 16 years, Storytron is now ready for the limelight and Chris has released the first public interactive story built with it; Balance of Power: 21st Century. I tried it. My first game, or story, lasted about a minute, and this was the end result.

Fate happily ever after USA super-tiny? Yeah, not entirely what I was expecting after all those years. My second game lasted longer; it never seemed to lead anywhere. To be fair, I will give it both a third and a fourth shot. Chris might be crazy but he’s not stupid, and I still believe that, despite the horrible presentation and the surreal english, there might be something to it.

UPDATED: Response from Chris Crawford in the comments.

Age of Conan has launched

We’ve launched Age of Conan: Hyborian Adventures!

I’ve spent almost three and a half years as a designer on Conan, and it is with joy and pride I see our depiction of Hyboria leave the Oslo offices to meet the world.

Here is our launch trailer.

DICE believes in the web as platform

Something I’ve touced briefly on in an blog entry about indie game production is the realization of the web as a gaming platform for “real” games. Apparently, Ben Cousins – executive producer at DICE – agrees with me:

‘In a response to a question about the possibility of a ‘one console future’ Cousins answered, “Yes and it’s going to be the web, and it doesn’t care if it runs on a phone or runs on a Mac or the PC.”‘

Quote from

The beauty of Mirror’s Edge

I should probably not let myself get carried away, I know. But if Mirror’s Edge is anything like this teaser, I think they’ll succeed in creating a very special experience and emotion.

Watching the gameplay gives a sense of flow. The pace is quick but not frantic. The woman’s body interacts and reacts to the environment in a way that seems to establish a very physical presence. She’s not a rigid camera; she runs, jumps, climbs, tumbles. And through all of this, you can see her body.

I guess it’s been done in 3rd person, but doing it in 1st person – a feat that must be far more difficult – seems to be much more immersive in this case as in so many others.

Then look at the art direction. It seems obvious that they’ve chosen to color code where to go, what to interact with, to keep the pace and flow high. That could have looked rather unappealing and odd, but they’ve chosen to be consistent and use clear, simple colors to paint the entire world. Through that, they’ve created a unique, beautiful and emotional cityscape.

Obviously, the music adds a lot to the trailer. Hopefully, the game will have a similar, “aery” soundtrack.

Woman on rollerblades

I had spent the whole day inside, so I felt the need to get out for a while. I took the bike to the Vigelandspark, just to chill out, read for a bit and watch people. When I moved away from all the tall buidlings I was pleasantly surprised to find that the sun was still up. So I sat there on a bench for quite a while, having a good time just watching the sunset.

The evening light fell in a spectacular way on the many statues. People walked about. A woman on rollerblades went back and forth on a small square, doing simple tricks, showing a sense of grace. It was a beautiful scene.

Watching the woman on rollerblades made me think. How difficult would it be to add her to the background of a narrative you were crafting, in different mediums?

For a novel, it would be very simple. The idea already exists, and all it would take would be to find the right words and then type them down.

For a movie, it would be more complicated. You’d have to find someone with the necessary skills to play the part as the woman. You’d need to make sure she’s dressed properly and has the gear she needs. The cameras either need to make sure she’s in or out of focus. She needs to be lit properly.

For a game, the complexity would sky rocket. You’d need someone to perform the rollerblading, have it be motion captured and then have the animations cleaned up by animators. An artist would create a concept of the woman, and then other artists would create a model and texture it. Someone would have to write the logic for her; will the player be able to interact with her? What happens if the player gets in her way?

It’s obvious that it is much more expensive to add even a small element to a game compared to a book, or even a movie. The manhours necessary to add something as simple as a woman on rollerblades to a game is staggering.

I call this the “author to experience” factor. It stands for how much work that is involved in manifesting the author’s idea in the experience of the consumer. For every new generation of hardware, this factor increases as the complexity grows. If we are to be able to create games as interactive fiction in the future, with all the demands that follows, we need to find ways to reduce the author to experience factor for games.

A big reason why the games industry is so homogenous is because every title is such a huge investment. When dealing with large investments, you make sure to minimize risk, and innovative titles are risky. They must be mainstream to be greenlit.

What we need is excellent middleware. Engines, tools and pipelines that will speed up the process. Getting good middleware has been a dream of many in the industry for a long time, but we still have a long way to go.

Perhaps, when games and interactive fiction are much cheaper to produce, we could see a market that carries a wider range of game genres. I hope that translates into “interesting games”.

A cry for games that matter

I find it laughable and sad that despite the fact that the average gamer is 33 years old, games are still mostly juvenile power fantasies. We have a few settings and mechanics we revisit time after time, and there is very little debate about leaving this well-treaded path to explore others.

Now, listen. I don’t want to shoot another alien. I don’t want to survive among mutants in a post-apocalyptic world. I don’t want to save the princess or the world. In fact, I’ve grown rather tired of killing things all together. And I know I’m not alone in this. We’re adults now. We crave games with topics adults give a damn about. Most of the time, that doesn’t include space marines or headshots.

Of course, gameplay needs some sort of conflict, and violence is a conflict that is easily translated into gameplay. And the gods know we’re good at it; we’ve done it since the birth of the industry. That doesn’t mean that we shouldn’t aspire to find mechanics that can portray other conflicts.

At GDC 2008’s Game Designer’s Rant, Clint Hocking stated that the industry did not lack creativity, it simply lacked the courage to create something that challenges people.

“Why can’t Call of Duty be about duty? Why isn’t Medal of Honor about honor?”

[…] “Even with 6 million Halo users, you’ve reached only 10% of the audicence size of the LoTR movies. That movie is fundementally about the mechanings of trust. Those should not be harder to simulate than the mechanics of rope.

The industry is not completly oblivious about this. There’s been discussions for quite some time if games are art, and if games can make players cry. At this stage, someone always bring up the death of Aeris in Final Fantasy VII. I have two problems with that. Her death is predetermined – it happens in a cutscene and the player has no chance to effect the outcome and doesn’t even really take part in the event.

Secondly, trying to evoke feelings of sadness like this is a very simplistic way of touching the player – it usually happens by portraying a character in a good light, and then killing her halfway into the game. It’s storytelling on a very simplistic level, and those who’ve read and seen many stories are likely to scorn at it.

It seems like the most powerful moments appear through emergent (not intended) situations. John Walker writes on Rock, Paper, Shotgun about the guilt he felt when he let his comrades die in battle while he remained hidden in Call of Duty, in an in-character piece called “I Am A Coward“. Just as interesting are the comments of the readers. One guy talks about Stalker.

“I was tackling the Monolith base in the Pripyat Palace of the Arts and a Freedom guy was doing the same. I sort of hung around him, shot people who were shooting him and he ending up shooting some guys who were shooting at me a couple of times. We continued inside, our partnership going well, but eventually got split up.

[…] Just as I got there the Freedom guy came in the room behind me and said something quite friendly sounding in Russian. I freaked. Before he could finish talking I’d spun around and emptied my clip into him and he slid to the floor.

I had to quit the game. There was just no point going on. I didn’t want to play any more. I felt utterly despondent. If I’d paid attention to my scope I would have seen that little green dot. But this would never happen again on reload. It could not be undone, redone or made up for.”

But these cases are few and far between. Our medium can be the most powerful one there is, if we look for other adjectives than “awesome”. We must strive to produce games that matter – matter to us.

Explaining Everything: Derek Smart

Derek Smart is a phenomenon. On forums he’s taken a lot of flak for his attitude, and from time to time there’s been jokes on the quality of his games. Yet he’s just gone gold with his tenth game (Galactic Commando Echo Squad SE), and after all these years he still manages to run a successful business as an independent developer.

It’s a bit strange funny that a man that continuously succeeds where so many others fail is not taken seriously in online discussions (like the forum on Blue’s News), and as I’ve seen very little of what he has to say about the industry itself, I decided to ask him myself.

Pixel Park: What made you join the gaming industry?

Derek: You mean aside from fame, fortune and the potential for picking up chicks? Oh, I dunno. I’ve always been a creative type and an avid gamer. Once I started thinking that it would be cool if I could create my own game. So, I set off to do just that. It wasn’t all Roses of course, but as you probably know (from my Wiki) the rest is history.

Pixel Park: How come you’ve never chosen the easy route and joined a big, safe games studio?

Derek: Because I like calling my own shots and doing my own thing. Besides, what constitutes a “safe games studio”? Especially given the current state of the gaming industry. If I wanted to keep working for someone, I wouldn’t have left the highly lucrative (at the time)
IT industry to go into gaming.

Pixel Park: You’ve received quite a lot of negative attention from gamers on the Internet; how have this affected you personally, and how have you dealt with it?

Derek: It doesn’t affect me in the least. I’m not that egotistical whereby a bunch of idiots on the Net can intimidate me. And you’re using the term “gamers” loosely. What makes you think they’re gamers? Just because they happened to be on the Net? Most of them are antisocial misfits who probably never buy games, but since they can pirate them, it makes them “gamers”.

Pixel Park: There is so much potential for games in the future. Where do you see the industry going, and what is your vision of where you want to take it?

Derek: I said this many years ago in one of my blogs, digital distribution is the wave of the future. Here we are. With the steady decline of the PC gaming industry, we’re going to also see a shift to pay-for-play being the norm. Not unlike MMOs of today. In other words, you’re not going to see one off games (PC or consoles) in the near future. And piracy is going to force us to transition to backend server authentication (ala Steam) of games being the norm; be it single or multiplayer.

Big thanks go out to Derek Smart for answering my questions!