Added New ‘Published Articles’ section

Between 2008-2013, I wrote a column for Game Developer magazine called “Design of the Times”.  As part of me enjoying my time off, I created a new Page for these articles – you can find them from the Published Articles tab under the main masthead, or you can click here to read them.  In particular, they are a good primer for Systems Designers looking to improve their skills and thinking about the art and craft of making games.

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On Progressive vs. Normal Criticism

Erik Kain of Forbes Magazine says that on the topic of GamerGate, I understand it among the best.  Which is high praise, as he’s been fairly plugged into the controversy from the outset, and is actually reasonably sympathetic to some of the undertones of the cause, where as I am mostly a caustic chronicler and critic of the subject.  I’ve slowed down my writing on it quite a bit as the cause has started to flatline and I’ve discovered that I could be using that free time to instead do more productive activities such as watching paint dry, but anyone who wants to know what he’s talking about may want to look for articles with the GamerGate tag. Continue reading

Posted in Games Media | 10 Comments

MMOs and the Fall of THQ

The AAA games industry has hysterically overreacted to the failure of anyone to capture the lightning in the bottle that World of Warcraft.  It’s weird – AAA studios seem completely and totally oblivious to the fact that EverQuest was quite successful with – what, 450K subs max? WoW at the time, if you recall, stated they merely needed to match EQ to be successful.  Analysts at the time used to say stuff like ‘there might only be 600K to 1M MMO players in the world – how could WoW and EQ2 possible coexist?’  Even then, the breakout success of games like Lineage in Asia suggested that something could come along and blow the doors off of things.

Going back through my blog in the mid-aughts, people forget both how slow WoW’s roll to 12M actually was, and also how stunning most observers thought it was at every major milestone.  I remember when they hit 1M and were clearly still on the uptick, a lot of people discovered the need to recalibrate their definition of success.  As one example, Star Wars: Galaxies (which launched about a year prior) went from being considered a solid and respectable success at 250K subs to one that the corporate overlords apparently figured needed a disastrous reboot in the form of the ‘New Game Experience’.  Because WoW recalibrated what success SHOULD look like for a major MMO.   Continue reading

Posted in Big Corps Are Evil, Indie Stuff, MMO Design | 18 Comments

Civilization: Beyond Earth, and Resonance’s Role in Game Design

I won’t lie – when I was planning on when my last day with Bioware would be, the idea of coinciding it with the release of Civilization: Beyond Earth was pretty damned serendipitous.  I expected to go into a six month Sid Meier coma of one-more-turn up until the money ran out and my wife demanded I shower, get a job and start bringing home bacon again.  But I’ve found I’m not just reaching for the game.  Instead I’m reaching for Endless Legend.

CBE is a fine game, and in many respects it is an excellent evolutionary step to Civilization 5.  The game balance still has some flaws (trade is ridiculously overpowered, for example).  Right now, Civ 5 + Expansions is a better game.  A lot of that is just because Sid games seem to require at least one expansion to get all the kinks out, which is fine.  I strongly suspect CBE’s first expansion will move it from ‘Fine’ to ‘Excellent’.

Continue reading

Posted in Design Reviews, Game Design | 9 Comments

GamerGate Now Beating Up on Gamers With Disabilities

AbleGamers is a charity that I have some familiarity with.  I actually spoke on a panel for AbleGamers in 2012 at PAX, when I also accepted the award for Accessible Mainstream Game of the Year on behalf of the SWTOR team.  Their mission has always been noble, and from my viewpoint does three things:

  1. Help raise money so that kids with disabilities can buy peripherals allowing them to game.
  2. Help raise awareness among developers that design choices can limit their game’s reach among those with disabilities.
  3. Help the differently-abled identify games that can be played with people despite their disabilities.

Designing with disabilities in mind is often put off way too late in the development cycle of the game.  It’s often easy to do if you include factors early in development, but hard when you factor it in late.  Common examples of things that should always be included but aren’t include: colorblind-friendly UI design or alternate mode (8% of males are RG colorblind – this is significant!), ability to remap literally any command to allow for alternate control mechanisms, and including close captioning and not depending on audio cues for key playability.   You know, all those things in the options menu that you never turn on.

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Posted in Game Design, Gamergate, Social Justice Stuff | 28 Comments

Perversely, the Target GTA V Kerfuffle Represents Progress

Target Australia’s decision to pull GTA V from shelves is surprising for a few reasons, the least of which being that the product has been on shelves with nary a buzz since September 2013.  Not much has changed since then, other than the title’s rerelease on next gen platforms last month,  the windows version coming in 2015, and the announcement that the PC version will have first person mode, which apparently makes for some spicy sex scenes.  And by ‘spicy’, I mean, ‘holy uncanny valley, batman!’  And, ‘you people do know you can get real porn on the Internet, right?’  Also, it really seems like the biggest badass in Los Santos should last longer than 25 seconds.

Continue reading

Posted in Games and Politics, Games Media, Social Justice Stuff | 6 Comments

Updated ‘Breaking In’ Page, Added Presentations Download Page

I’ve updated it, so it has working links, and now has a section that talks about watching your social media footprint.  Here’s a link.

I’ve also readded all of the presentations that I’ve made over the years (well, mostly. I think a couple have been lost to bad thumb drives and whatnot).  Here’s a link to that.

Posted in Behind the Scenes | Leave a comment

Yes, GamerGate Still Exists- Just In Petty Drama-Oriented Form

So, how is #GamerGate going, you might ask?  I’ll be honest – I went out of town for five blissful days for a board game convention, which is pretty much as close to a religious experience as I get.  During that time, I was far too transfixed by dice and wooden meeples to give any fucks about what was going on.  This was me thinking about gamergate while at BGG.con:

Well, there was the part where the dynamic duo dug Jack Thompson out of his court-sanctioned exile so that they could declare him quite reasonable and sadly misunderstood.  Well, that required me to come up for air to give my two cents.

reaction animated GIF

But seriously, the board game con was a few thousand game players – sure board gamers, but literally, other than one person who saw my Sea Lion T-shirt and broke out laughing, and said ‘fuck gamergate’, not one mention the whole time.  You would never know Gamergate was a thing. It was blissful, and once I came back, I tried getting back into things, and to be honest, my heart wasn’t in it.

seriously animated GIF

Seriously, it’s like a fever had broken.  Now, a huge part of that is because GamerGate has, since the week of the Red Wedding, veered into Shirtstorm and the Jack Thompson fiasco, pretty much devolved into being an endless miasma of anti-SJW fuckwittery and, even more than that, endless, endless web drama that is more obsessed with defending Gamergate’s right to exist than anything remotely related to, you know, that ethics thing.  But hey, don’t get me wrong, the GGers are having fun.

Car Fun animated GIF

But it’s a pissant, petty, nihilistic sort of ‘fun’.  Here’s a little taste of the penny-ante bullshit that has been CONSUMING the hashtag on twitter, KiA and Gamerghazi.  Continue reading

Posted in Gamergate | 23 Comments

“Framed” Design Review (and the concept of Design Space)

“Framed” is a brilliant experimental iPhone game, built on one incredibly genius design idea, but appears to run out of room quickly.

First off, I love the look and the style of this game.  The character design is strong, given the room for detail is so light given their art style.  The character animation is incredibly well-done.  The music is incredibly appropriate, and often queues off of game events – play this one with the sound on if you can.  The art style is fresh, with cool pastels that are totally appropriate for the game and make every screenshot identifiable at a glance. Continue reading

Posted in Design Reviews, Indie Stuff | 5 Comments

That Stephen Seagal Moment

About a year ago, I decided to lose some weight with the Rock Band Exercise program.  In short, Rock Band on Expert Drums will totally and completely kick your ass.  Along the way to losing about 40 pounds, I gold starred 400 songs.  Yay, me.

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Well, most of those pounds found their way back on me, and I have some time to kill while I seek out funding and/or jobs, so I’ve been picking the drums back up.  I decided a good place to start would be to re-gold star the songs I’d gold-starred in the past (gold-star is above ‘5-stars’ and means ‘near perfect’ on most songs).  So far my hit rate is… not good.  About 40% of the songs, I’m able to gold star again.  The other 40% will take me getting back into fighting shape.  Some percentage of that, I have no idea how I beat it the first time through.

But there’s some joy in there as well: the Stephen Seagal moment that Bad Romance gave me.  Yes, for a long while, Lady Gaga’s best song was my great white whale.  It had one tricky drum part that made it trivial to 5-star, but almost impossible to defeat.  It was on my list of songs to beat for some 5-6 months, as I kept getting closer and closer to the desired score, but not hitting it.  Beating it was difficult, grueling, and rewarding in a bloody and bruised sort of way, like the ending to The Karate Kid.

Well, now, well out of practice, I just obliterated it.  Played it once, it clicked, then followed up immediately and decimated it.  No Ralph Macchio here, this was more like Stephen Seagal in Under Siege 2.  (Spoilers!) The movie goes to great lengths to convince you that a major fight is coming up and, when it finally happens, Stephen Seagal finishes what he started in about 10 seconds.  It was an ultimate display of mastery.  It was a brutal beatdown.  And it perfectly describes the feeling that was just crushing Lady Gaga’s gauntlet.

The Stephen Seagal moment is often used in games as a way to display progress.  RPGs do it all the time clumsily, by sending you back to areas you have levelled past, just to demonstrate your growth to yourself and the world.  So do games like God of War – a Minotaur Boss may be a grueling fight at the end of act 1, but once you’ve unlocked some more health and attacks, the game has no qualms about throwing them in multiples, or as part of larger waves.  It truly gives a great sense of your own personal growth.

But even that is somewhat artificial, hand-crafted by the designer.  In skill-based games like Rock Band or Mortal Kombat, such moments are even more magical.  Because you, as the player, have to earn them.

So screw you, Lady Gaga, you’re my white whale no more.  Your Bad Romance is in my rear view mirror, and that feels pretty good.

However, I simply cannot at this time see a reality where I figure out how I ever beat Duran Duran again.

Posted in Game Design, Personal | 12 Comments