Archive for category: Games

Questions DayZ Should Make You Ask

08 Jun
8 June 2012

Keep moving, pal.

By conventional standards, the DayZ alpha is a mess.

Want to play?

Google it and then head to the main page.  Click the promising looking download link and you’ll get this:


(In most cases, it’s safe to assume that around 80% of potential players who get to a web page like this will never get any further.)

So, how do you get from a bunch of loose RARs to playing?  Good question.

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What to Look for in New Game Designers

06 Jun
6 June 2011

Not long ago, colleges didn’t offer degrees in game development.  When they started to, the programs were generally not seen as a great source for new hires.

Things change.  Over the years, many programs have found their stride (helped in no small part by actual developers taking teaching positions).  So much so, in fact, that there’s now a symbiotic relationship at work – studios count on instructors to birddog promising graduates, and instructors count on devs to keep them current with the business.

As a result, I’m asked, “What do you look for when hiring new designers?” a lot.

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We Must Eradicate / Support Social Gaming Before It Ends Life On Earth / So Kittens Can Live Forever

05 Apr
5 April 2011

You couldn’t go ten minutes at GDC  this year without running into someone either raging against or defending the virtue of “social gaming.”  The content of the conference mirrored this, frequently seeming very much like the same arguments attendees were lobbing at one another only delivered on stage (and with somewhat less slurring).  Satoru Iwata, Nintendo CEO, bemoaned the decline of the industry at the hands of smartphone and social-media in his keynote.  The rant session was a collection of people from the social-gaming space ranting against the fact that other ranty people were ranting about them too (probably most mentioned from this being Brathwaite’s call for solidarity).

And now Zynga apparently feels a need to answer critics of their development process, with Brian Reynolds going out of his way to assure people that, hey, there actually is creativity involved in how they make games.

I’ll borrow from the late, great Kurt Vonnegut here and recast his take on overly-concerned literary critics to fit the current situation:

Any developer who expresses rage and loathing for a type of game is preposterous.  He or she is like a person who has put on full armor and attacked a hot fudge sundae.

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Writing Better Game Design Docs

22 Mar
22 March 2011

Text has an important role in game development.  From pitches to system designs to team emails, effective writing is a valuable tool.  Which is why it’s always surprising to see how awful most documents are or how rare it is to encounter anyone interested in changing this.

I’m certain myriad people have been tasked to improve internal docs at various companies.  As far as I can tell, that results in templates, naming conventions, filing schema, preferred fonts, and similar standardization details.  In other words: nothing that will produce more effective writing.

I’ve been scribbling game-related things of one variety or another for more than thirty years.  As a packrat, I have a fair amount of that piled about, ranging from six-year-old me’s awesome Atari 2600 pitches to my first professional work on Age of Empires.  Looking over it, I assure you that I’ve made a vast number of mistakes and inflicted my share of the crappy docs on people.  But my work has  improved over the years and I spend a lot of time thinking about how to write things that are more useful to the team.  These are some of the big changes I notice across years of docs.

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“The Average Gamer” == /rolleyes

04 Jan
4 January 2011

Over the last few months, I’ve been presented with some interesting facts about “the average gamer”:

  • Facebook has become the platform of choice for the average gamer.
  • The iPhone has taken over as the most popular platform for the average gamer.
  • The console continues to be the primary gaming platform for the average gamer.
  • Due to the massive popularity of free-to-play, the average gamer won’t pay for anything anymore.
  • The average gamer has a subscription to Live.
  • The average gamer loves microtransactions and cannot wait to buy absolutely anything offered for sale.
  • The average gamer doesn’t  have any online friends, is unfamiliar with chat, and would never imagine asking a question in a general chat channel while playing a MMO.
  • The average gamer is a member of a younger generation characterized by familiarity with technology and a desire to be constantly in touch with friends via things like texting, Twitter, and Facebook.
  • The average gamer is in his mid-30s and gets older every year.
  • The average gamer is (or soon will be) female.
  • The average gamer only wants a “bite-size”, casual experience.
  • Competitive PvP is very important to the average gamer.

It would appear the average gamer is a great many things.


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Don’t Bank on Kinect

18 Aug
18 August 2010

Shockingly, baby launch consumed more time than I anticipated, so myriad things are complaining about neglect.  One is a set of notes I’ve been carrying around since last year but was waiting for mid-June (hey, only two months ago) to finish.

June was on my mind because of E3 which, in turn, was on my mind because I honestly expected to see something there that would change my mind about Natal / Kinect.  From a distance, this product appears so obviously flawed that I imagined at least some people in positions of authority saw it too and had impressed upon all the need for something that would permit a “now shut up” type of E3 announcement.

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Ensemble Figures Out How to Go from Empires to Kings

06 Jun
6 June 2010

It was early May, 1998. nearly all of Ensemble Studio’s employees were in San Jose, aboard the Queen Mary. We had just been awarded a pair of Spotlight Awards from the Computer Game Developers’ Conference, including “Best of Show.” The statuettes looked like miniature Klieg lights, and someone had plugged them in on one of our tables. Sheets and sheets of stickers advertising an entertainment network called Berzerk littered the bar. We had taken to using them to replace the labels on our beer bottles and, as they became more numerous, to toasting “berzerk” and then just randomly yelling “berzerk.”

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09 May
9 May 2010


And he’s from Pittsburgh, too.

Efficient Design in Neptune’s Pride

14 Feb
14 February 2010

For fun I tend toward deeper games but I’ve been looking at a lot of web offerings lately, mostly out of professional curiosity.  From a design perspective, Neptune’s Pride by Iron Helmet Games is a standout.  For anyone interested in the fundamentals of game design, there’s a lot that can be learned from taking a look at how all the parts fit together here.

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The Catch 22 of Playtesting Games

27 Jan
27 January 2010

While the importance of playtest might seem obvious, the practice took time to catch on and gain acceptance.  In the late ’90s, it was still pretty routine to run into developers who didn’t playtest the games they were working on.

Luckily, I earned my bones at Ensemble, where there was never anything else.  As the only founder with much real experience making games, Bruce Shelley was often responsible for providing us with some clue as to what we should be doing.  Playtesting was the process he had seen work in the past.  (Apparently, the development loop for Civilization involved Sid Meier writing some code, then Bruce playing and making notes, then Sid writing some code, then….)  Ensemble started with it and we never questioned it.

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