Phil Harrison is a visionary – someone whom I greatly admire. That admiration was taken to a new level last week when Phil, not content with just existing in the real world, invaded my dream. His latest vision? That in three years the PlayStation Vita would have an add-on that would cure baldness. Simply plug it in, run then app and rub the OLED screen over your head. Rejoice; hair growth!

If only he hadn’t left Sony…

Choosing a location in which to set a game is important – just like a game premise, the location is something that either grabs your attention or doesn’t. The second thing to consider is period, for instance – present day NYC – or more specifically Manhattan Island – (for me) is a lot less interesting than the NYC of the ’80s – a time during which crime was at an all-time high. I’d have to say that NYC circa 198X is my favourite place/period – and that general place and time (whether used directly or inspired by) appeared in many games from the late 80s and early 90s – mostly games about people beating the shit out of each other.

The best example is Final Fight – Metro City is a great representation of Manhattan Island of the 1980s.  It captures everything from the slums, subways, gangs and graffiti. I’d definitely like to see this place and time revisited in more games.

“You’re only as good as your last [whatever]” – we’ve all heard this in some shape or form; but I’m going to suggest something slightly different: “You’re only as good as your next [whatever]”. Looking at it this way helps you to realise that once a project is complete you shouldn’t be looking back at it – you should put it to one side and then start looking toward what you are going to do next. Yes, it’s good to celebrate success – but that success will only carry you so far, survival and prosperity are found in the things you have yet to do, and not in the things you have done. It also helps if you create something that doesn’t live up to expectations – you can learn from that and make the next project better.

It’s interesting to read the opinions of the Whale Trail developers with regards to their pricing strategy. I’m paraphrasing from an article on GamesIndustry.biz, but if I’m not mistaken they are losing faith in ‘premium pricing’ (aka – selling stuff for money) because the money they made off the App Store didn’t cover the cost of developing the game. They are also dissatisfied with the sales figures based on their marketing spend, question the validity of even charging for a game on a mobile device, and are using the performance of the title on Android to decide whether to go ‘freemium’ (aka – giving stuff away) in the future.

Some thoughts spring to mind…

Does marketing spend ever correlate with sales? Nope, and when it does it’s pure coincidence.

Should developers be giving stuff away because it doesn’t sell? Nope, they should question the product and their expectations instead of questioning people who didn’t buy. And besides, the game is selling – but given the cost of the game the money earned through sales seems less than great – but at 140,000 downloads to date and 700 subsequent downloads a day – that should actually be a pretty nice earner for an indie.

So what really went wrong here? Well, answer me this:

If the game cost $250,000 to develop – where did the other $240,000 go?

OnLive impressed me – a very slick interface and great way to quickly play any number of games or watch others play. Without a doubt the future of gaming is cloud based – the removal of hardware and other barriers to content gives complete freedom to gamers – you can buy a game anytime and play it on anything that supports the OnLive app. OnLive is a great name for the product and very marketable – without knowing anything about the product it would take a complete hermit no more than a few minutes to have a rough guess at what kind of service a product with that name would provide. In all fairness it’s probably piggy-backing off Microsoft’s Xbox Live too (not to mention the 360 controller) – but that’s a smart move. You’re giving people something completely new but with a touch of the familiar to help lure them in; it’s kind of like the big bad wolf dressing like Red Riding Hood’s granny to get her within eating distance.

Gaikai is actually slicker than OnLive as it doesn’t require any kind of app – everything you need to run a game is somewhere other than your device. The main advantage to this of course is that you can play your games on machines where you wouldn’t usually have access to install any kind of app – such university or work computers, The thing that bugs me about Gaikai however is the name – sure, it’s a better service but the second question on the website’s FAQ is ‘How do I pronounce Gaikai?’. So now you are giving people something completely new, and making them guess your brand name. That’s a tough sell in my opinion.

Of course the other thing to consider is that there’s nothing to stop OnLive from changing its service to be app free as well – they may even be working on this right now. So then Gaikai’s unique feature is no longer unique and it’s left with a name some people can’t say. Let’s also consider the arrival of the ‘big three’ console manufacturers – how are Gaikai and OnLive going to entice consumers to their services when they can’t host any of the first party titles, together with the fact that the games it can offer are also going to be offered by the ‘big three’? Assuming the ‘big three’ do shift into cloud gaming it’s finally going to lay to rest the console war – with no entry fee to their games, everyone will be able to ‘own’ the future ‘hardware’ of the ‘big three’ – that’s worth getting excited about; a future where there are no barriers and only those making the very best content will survive.

It all depends on where you place the most value. Is it the initial ideas and concepts or the working levels you get to see and play? Great ideas are just that – ideas – you won’t get anywhere on ideas alone, you need a strong team of designers to convert those ideas into fun, challenging and interesting gameplay concepts. Likewise, a playable level can be as much fun as watching paint dry if either the designers are not interested, or if the tools and editors do not facilitate the design vision.

I’ll admit – I’m an ideas man. Not in the sense that I’m a creative genius (that’s debatable) but just meaning that the idea phase interests me more than the execution (which, conversely, I think is the most important phase). It would be a mistake to place the ideas phase purely with the designers – not because they aren’t capable or interested – but because great ideas can come from anywhere and anyone. If you asked each member of the dev team to provide an anonymous design concept (well almost anonymous – you can always tell a designer has written something as it’s 5000 pages long!) you may find you like the ideas of those people who perhaps do not usually get the opportunity to provide ideas.

In short – accept a good idea when it comes along, regardless of who it comes from – and encourage ideas, feedback and changes from all those working on the project. Maybe not practical on large scale console games – but for iPhone games there’s really no excuse for not throwing caution to the wind.

I’ve reached a point in the development Super Zombie Bowl where I can literally spend hours tweaking small values yet ultimately feel as though I haven’t changed anything – the time spent tweaking is seriously disproportionate to the increase in actual fun (which feels minimal – if any increase at all). I’m going to try something radical the next time I sit down to do some programming – I’m not going to think too much about the changes I’ll make I’m just going to start making big changes to the way the game works – deviate completely from the design and write code so dirty it would make John Holmes look like a choirboy. Sometimes, breaking things can increase the scale of fun by a factor of HADOUKEN!

Turn your volume down now!