Like HL3 (or just plain ol’ Episode 3) a Half Life movie seems like it’s never going to happen. Well, the games probably will in due course – but the movie isn’t going to happen. There are three reasons for this –

1. Valve, as a games company, are untouchable – they have a Midas touch when it comes to producing quality software. They’d struggle to find a film production partner as good at making movies as they are at making games. So the end result would no doubt produce…unforseen consequences!

2. Gordon Freeman doesn’t talk – so how would you go about casting a character that has no voice – you’d probably piss off half the Half Life fans with the choice you make anyway. On the other hand – the movie could stick closely to game and have a main character that doesn’t talk…but for the movie’s producers – there’d be a certain amount of…apprehension!

3. My personal choice probably wouldn’t work anymore as he’s getting on a bit. But Charlie Sheen circa The Arrival would have been a great actor to play Gordon Freeman. Not only did Mr. Sheen actually look like Gordon in that movie – but it also had a sci-fi riff too. Age isn’t the only thing going against Charlie now though, casting him in light of his recent behaviour would be…questionable ethics!

One look at the App Store charts is all you need to understand why digital is your best chance at success – there are 22 countries listed on this page. When you get a product out there via the web or digital devices with a large user base there are very little boundaries between you and the rest of the world. Which brings us onto the topic of localisation. To get your game localised into 22 countries is a big ask if you are text and VO heavy – so if you can avoid pumping your game full of such things that would save you a lot of time and money. Take Limbo for example – a game I recently played and enjoyed from start to finish – there was no text and no dialogue, and yet it told a story brilliantly. If you imposed a rule upon yourself not to use text and VO would you still be able to communicate to the player what your game was about? Try telling your game’s story through imagery alone.

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Tonight's contestant on Super Zombie Bowl is...

Preparing for broadcast nationwide this fall.

Back when I was 10 years old Super Street Fighter 2 had been released for the Sega Mega Drive. To this day I can still remember the review it got in Sega Power Magazine. It scored 10 out of 10 and the usual review summary (which weighed up a game’s pros and cons quite sensibly) was scrubbed in favour of “Buy this game. Buy this game. Go on, treat yourself, buy this game”. I tried looking around on the Internet to find the actual review page in some kind of archive but couldn’t – but if that isn’t the exact wording I can tell you it is very close. I remember because I literally shouted the words out at my dad. Who then did indeed treat me (Asda, £50 – ouch, sorry dad).

Back then numbers made sense. I can still remember the playground logic in game appraisals with my partner in crime – who was also an avid fan of Sega Power Magazine (we won’t talk about the matching Sega Power patches stitched onto our jeans). If a game didn’t get a 9 or a 10 (or 90% – 100% depending on what publication you were reading) then it was deemed to be not worthy. How completely immature that is. But that was fine because I was 10. That is a perfect excuse – what excuse can (pretty much) every review site and magazine give for still rating games by giving them numbers?  “This realistic driving game gets a 9, this FPS gets a 7, this old-school rehash gets a 10 just because”. What a load of old cobblers.

All you need to tell me is “go play” or “don’t play”.

 

I saw this on Kotaku today and I want it bad. It has all the classic games – plus Code Veronica which is the only main Resident Evil game I didn’t manage to complete (I gave up on the blind mutant roof top boss battle). It’s being released in the west as a download version only – but I’d prefer the disc version.

Must find a Japanese reader so they can help me order on the website…still – all the games are in Japanese too so maybe I should just marry a Japanese lady so I can have a full-time translator for when I play the games!

If you want to make a game that requires the skills of others but you don’t have any dosh you’ve no doubt had the thought of waiting until the game is released, generating sales and then using this to pay people after the fact. I don’t like this method for 3 reasons.

1. If people make the game and it fails to sell you have to live with the fact that those who helped you get nothing. Sure – you can tell yourself they knew the risks but still – I don’t like it.

2. Every project has its rough patches; and people experience highs and lows. It’s during these low periods when people drift off and lose interest. If you have a large group working together they can provide moral support and help others ride out the rough times. Worse case scenario is a small group working from home who you only keep in contact with via email and Skype – not impossible but certainly harder – and the more ambitious the project the greater the chances of failure.

Now – money doesn’t solve the problem of projects failing – but in some/most cases the pay at the end of the current milestone/month can make the difference between persevering and taking an early bath.

Anyway – the reason I touched on the subject of rewarding a percentage based on sales is because of this post by Seth Godin. What if you said to someone at the start of the project “you get half the money earned if you do all the art.” What if the game gets made and goes on to be the next Angry Birds? Would you honour the original offer? Or would you get nervous and start thinking “well, half of a gajillion dollars is too much for what he did – I’ll give the guy a hundred grand as that will still be more that what he ever thought he’d get.”

I’d tell you what I’d do – but I’ve not been in this position before so I don’t know how I’d react. But this is reason three for me not using the ‘sales-before-payment’ pitch.

3. What if I bottled it, got greedy and thought “fuck it – I’ll move to tropical resort, disconnect from my previous life, friends and society and live the rest of my days in luxury. A bottle of whiskey a day keeps the conscience at bay!”? I’d like to say I wouldn’t. But I just might!

October’s issue of Edge features an interview with Jaakko Iisalo – the creator of Angry Birds. When asked about what factors increase chances of success on the mobile marketplace Jaakko provided a number of points – one of which was as follows:

You have to have a great idea for a game. It has to have heart and soul. For me, that’s the most important thing.

The heart and soul can only come from those people who drive a project forward and have personal input and control over the final result – anything else (at the other extreme we have ‘design by committee’) and the game will suffer as it loses its charm. But it’s not an easy thing to do – especially if you are working with a publisher that is investing millions in a game. But for independents it is possible and, for me, is the biggest single attraction to making games. I really think that people respond far better to a quality game with the creator’s stamp or MO all over it.

I keep coming back to the fact that you have to have a game with soul. Someone has to have a strong vision for what the game is about. You get nowhere by just copying and producing a lifeless clone. There just aren’t a lot of folks out there with fresh, good ideas. Just look at the number of Angry Birds clones that are out there.

It’s something to bear in mind whenever you have a confidence crisis in your game – remember that you should be focusing on the experience you want to give to players – not changing your ideas based on what is popular at the moment or what you anticipate people will like. Of course, even if your game is a commercial failure and no one plays it – at least you failed without compromising yourself. If there’s one thing worse than failing, its failing after bending over backwards to please others.

I’m off to see the new Fright Night film tonight – well, not new exactly…new remake – I’ve not watched any trailers or read any reviews as I want to walk in with an open mind. The 80’s certainly were a golden period for horror films. My all-time favourite zombie film is The Return of the Living Dead. My all-time favourite vampire film is a tie between Fright Night and The Lost Boys – I really can’t decide which is better so they are both number 1. Generally speaking games should have an easier time of it when being remade – I think principally because people associate the actors with the films and you can’t really reuse them X years later – games don’t have that problem; they’re just making the same characters more detailed.

Some great examples of remakes include Resident Evil and Metal Gear Solid for the GameCube. In fact – these were the two games I bought the GameCube for. I remember walking down the high street shortly after purchase and thinking to myself ‘have I just gone back in time five years!?’ Seriously –  they were two of my favourite games on the PlayStation and here I was some years later buying what were essentially the same games (albeit graphical enhancements and gameplay additions). Consumer familiarity drives a lot of purchases – it’s why games like FIFA and Madden refuse to die, why sequels tend to do so well, why licensed content is used like it’s going out of fashion and why for each Angry Birds and Doodle Jump you have a dozen Angry This and Doodle That clones. I can understand why some developers get shirty with the clones – but to be fair it’s not the developers who make the clones who are to blame – it’s us consumers and our need for something new, yet familiar to what we have enjoyed in the past.

That’s why innovation is risky – if you are going to innovate I would suggest innovating a feature of your game rather than aiming for an entirely innovative game. Consider the gravity gun in HL2. It was risky and innovative but it worked because it was only a part of the overall experience – if HL2 was a gravity gun from start to finish it wouldn’t be as good.

So going back to the subject of the remake – what we really want to see is pretty much the same but with all mod cons and a few bells and whistles…not a complete hatchet job (Sega – I’m looking at you..and again).

You’re so cool, Brewster! Trips!

Great art doesn’t grow on trees. Today the artist for SZB presented me with an updated quote for the project. That may make him look bad if I leave it there, but here’s some context – the artwork has been ongoing for a few months now. The start consisted mainly of semi-sporadic concept sketches followed by a fully working main character. Then came the u-turn in art style – which brought with it more concept sketches at a fairly regular pace. More recently the artwork has been flowing really well – with most graphical work done and some inroads made into basic anims. In other words – we’ve hit that crucial juncture where the path to the finish line becomes clear and so too does the amount of work required to get there. Imagine making Tomb Raider and then being asked to make Tomb Raider 2. Chances are you are going to have a good idea on how much work you have to do and how long things will take – same engine, same target platform, same people (probably), same gameplay. If your project is new making estimates is like playing pin the tail on the donkey – you might think you have good idea of where things are but when the blindfold comes off you realise the tail is on the donkey’s ear! But in a game dev environment this process is considered with such seriousness and importance that you’d be convinced it actually had value. Going back to my game the point i’m trying to make is that the artist didn’t appreciate the amount of work that was involved when making his price estimate at the start – and this has only become apparent now some work has been done. This is fair enough as far as im concerned – and you have to anticipate these situations arising. In fact, i instigated the price review by asking him to tell me how many hours and days he’d invested in the project – and looking at the animation ‘to do’ list it became obvious the original sum simply wasn’t enough. I’m not going to reveal the numbers just yet (well, one of them is 2) as im saving that for the postmortem. Needless to say – I still think the artist is giving a great rate and I can’t think of a better way to spend my hard-earned cash! Well – there are loads of things actually; but remember – a fancy laptop, designer clothes and maybe even a Cagiva Mito 125 (bellissima!) are only possessions that depreciate and turn to dust through the passage of time. A game is eternal!

There aren’t too many games available where you get to play as the zombie(s). Off the top of my head I can think of only two – Stubbs the Zombie and L4D. I’m sure there are others but unless they are hidden gems there’s probably a good reason I haven’t heard of them. The idea of controlling not one but a whole group of zombies is an interesting one – and a game that sprang to mind the more I thought about it was Katamari Damacy. I think one of the reasons Katamari works so well is that the game effectively rations out the gameplay in such a way that you’re left equally satisfied and frustrated at the end of a round. Watching the Katamari grow is satisfying, but watching as it grows large enough to start doing some real damage as the timer counts down its final seconds is frustrating. This would be an essential element to emulate in any game using a similar mechanic.

The zombie game premise would essentially be the same (albeit a lot gorier than the Prince’s endeavours) – you would start out with a small group of zombies, maybe even one, and then gradually build up the size of the horde allowing you to progress onto bigger and better things. Along the way you would have scaling opposition in the form of have-a-go-heroes, police, military and ultimately some kind of secret government agency. The player’s ultimate aim would be to amass as large a horde as they could and infect an entire continent. But this would develop from humble beginnings in the same way Katamari Damacy does – I’m thinking patient zero could be a child in a playground – controversial maybe – but then that never hurt sales!