AGW Retrospective part 2

May 8, 2010 at 10:04 am | Posted in Retrospective | Leave a comment

Continuing on with the retrospectives from the Auckland Game Works meetup, we’re looking at the well known Myst, an early “indie” success story (the “indie” tag is debatable, according to some, but it’s the angle the media chose to take at the time).

Presenting the tale of Myst on the night was flash developer Jeff Nusz, responsible for the well received adventure puzzler Sprout, and other gems.

Jeff raised the point that just because something’s popular doesn’t mean its crap – and it’s a point worth making; often, we equate general popularity with quality that appeals to the lowest common denominator but those who haven’t played Myst because of its mass appeal are missing out (it was the biggest selling PC game ever until The Sims took its spot).

With its immediacy and simple, intuitive interface (you have a mouse… and you click on things…) Myst throws you straight into a world of questions that compel you to click further to find out what’s going on. This is not an easy balance to maintain – being revealing enough at the right time to keep your interest, and challenging enough to keep you engaged.

Adventure puzzlers of this type are very commonplace now but Myst still stands out as a classic of the genre thanks to its involving storyline and well constructed teaser narrative. If you haven’t already experienced Myst for yourself there are a number of rereleases and new versions available now, including a version with free-roaming, real-time 3D graphics instead of the pre-rendered stills of the original (realMyst).

Developer Retrospectives at the AGW

May 6, 2010 at 10:28 am | Posted in Retrospective | 2 Comments

At last night’s Auckland Game Works Meetup various members of the community gave a quick rundown (10 slides for 20 seconds each!) of favourite or influential games from their past. They gave us some new and interesting perspectives on classic games and I thought I’d cover them off over the next few days.

First up is the classic French adventure puzzler Another World, presented by Ben. Besides spoiling the ending for those who hadn’t played it ; ) he highlighted the aspect of the story that intrigued him most about the game – the question of one’s significance and positive or negative impact as a protagonist in a world that goes on largely without your involvement.

Another World had beautifully fluid animation for its time and whilst I found its punishing stop-start / right-wrong gameplay a little hard to swallow at first, the overall narrative and reveal of the alien world kept me, and many others, well engaged throughout.

Another World was followed up by the more conventionally beautiful – yet less dynamic and “open” – Flashback (not a sequel), and Heart of Darkness was another aesthetically pleasing game in a similar visual style by Another World‘s designer, Eric Chahi. The lesser hyped Heart of the Alien for Mega-CD was the “official” sequel but Eric Chahi was not involved and also says he intended Another World to be a standalone story with the ending intentionally left open to interpretation.

I’ve always been a fan of cinematic presentation (no distracting HUD or meta-info) so anything like Another World nowadays gets my attention!

Streetfighter Retrospective

April 30, 2010 at 11:52 am | Posted in Retrospective | Leave a comment

Streetfighter is one of the classic franchises and Nostalgic Gamer has done an engaging and informative 8 part rundown of Capcom’s genre-making fighting game. Whether it’s never been on your radar or whether you’re a veteran of one of the many versions that have been released to date, this retrospective is an interesting look behind the scenes of an epic series that is sure to reveal something you didn’t know. Check it out!

Click on the image below to see the first video

Indie Highlight: Desktop Dungeons

March 24, 2010 at 10:39 am | Posted in Indie Highlight | Leave a comment

Here’s a great little casual drop rogue-like with a concise, yet surprisingly deep approach to the genre. Rockpapershotgun says “…it ends up feeling like a cross between a Rogue game and Minesweeper, with a splash of Patience…” thanks to its strict, and sometimes unwinnable gameplay.

Indie Highlight: Canabalt

January 5, 2010 at 9:03 am | Posted in Indie Highlight | 1 Comment
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Some of the best casual indie games are simple concepts distilled down to their essence in a single, pure mechanic.

Canabalt has you running headlong across rooftops, jumping gaps and obstacles and trying not to fall to your death. The game stays interesting by randomly generating the environment and gradually introducing new elements (like collapsible buildings). I like the soundtrack too – it manages to be suitably dramatic with an ominous edge that feels very cinematic.

Macey: Somehow it manages to remind me of Lode Runner, Conan (on Apple II), Sonic and Spy vs. Spy, all at once.

Play Canabalt on Kongregate.com

Why we established PlayMaker

December 16, 2009 at 12:37 pm | Posted in PlayMaker | 2 Comments

Our goals – mine, Kevin Tom’s and Stephen Knightly’s – in establishing PlayMaker or IGDANZ (the Independent Game Developers Association of New Zealand) are pretty straightforward: we want to bring the New Zealand independent development community together to provide support and feedback to each other.

My personal motivation in establishing PlayMaker/IGDANZ grew from a desire to make a living doing what I love – creating. I thought that the development of an interactive, supportive community based around this premise (being an indie developer as a viable career option) would assist myself, and everyone else who was interested, in taking positive steps toward that goal of true independence.

But the PlayMaker community is not about my personal motivations or goals. I’m sure there are more indie devs out there who harbour the same desire to make a living doing what they do but I can’t say for certain until I hear from you!

What do you guys think about the goals of the PlayMaker community? Is it enough to say that we aim to carve out a career space for indie developers in NZ or are there other things you think we should also be striving for?

We’d really welcome any feedback or input you have as we’ll be raising this topic at the first official Annual General Meeting of the PlayMaker Association so please let us know your thoughts!

PlayMaker News for August

August 20, 2009 at 2:33 am | Posted in PlayMaker | Leave a comment

Thanks to those who’ve signed up and jumped into our community forums! We’re still in launch mode and still ironing out a few bugs here and there but we’re up and functional and eager for your involvement and feedback.

If you’re new to the site but you haven’t yet introduced yourself, please consider heading to the Introductory thread to let us know a bit about you : ).

What’s Coming?

At the next meetup for the Auckland Game Works we’ll be introducing and profiling a new group from the site – one that’s been established by Kevin Toms for those who are interested in iPhone development. We’ll also be announcing another exciting initiative at the coming AGW so make sure to head along, if you can.

There are a number of other changes to come to PlayMaker NZ – we’ll keep you posted as we go!

The role of music in games

July 15, 2009 at 9:36 pm | Posted in Music | Leave a comment

Some games understand the importance of dynamics, subtlety and just plain rightness when it comes to music.

My early experience of a deft touch of minimalism in game music occurred with the very first Tomb Raider game. My friend and I were caught up in a virtual world, staring at his projector screen in awe as Lara wandered through ancient ruins with nothing but the crunch crunch of gravel or clop clop of stone beneath her feet. The occasional brief musical stings as Lara entered a new area and a gorgeous vista opened up beneath her feet, were perfectly placed and brought a swell of anticipation whenever they appeared.

Other games have a George Lucas approach to music: there is always a soundtrack playing. The japanese seem to love this style. Many’s the game where one finds oneself wandering through a picturesque village with jaunty music plunking away on endless repeat. The music becomes part of the background atmosphere after a while, then when you enter the next area – e.g. the vast, uncharted wilderness – a stirring anthem of adventure bursts forth and your expectation of new encounters, excitement and danger suddenly kicks in to gear.

There’s obviously something appealing about the approach above (constant music) but I’m more of a fan of dynamics, personally.

A great example of soundtrack dynamics from film is in Peter Jackson’s “The Fellowship of the Ring”, during the sequence in Balin’s tomb, in the mines of Moria. When the orcs finally burst through the door and the battle is joined, the soundtrack that had been gradually building the tension of their approach drops out completely and all we hear is the thwack and whump of swords and arrows, interspersed with the occasional grunt and cry.

Peter Jackson (or the editor ; ) uses the music to bring us into the mindspace of the heroes of the Fellowship: before the battle, when they can hear the howls of the orcs outside and the hacking of axes at the door, the music escalates along with the tension they are feeling; then, as the fray begins in earnest, the heroes’ focus turns from their imagination – from anticipation – to their immediate predicament; to the urgency of life and death and the simple act of keeping their enemy’s sword from entering their body. They hear no ‘mind music’ of escalating dread and anticipation – they are in the moment: a frantic and uncluttered zone of conflict (and, by extension and musical cue, so are we).

After a time, and at a significant moment in the narrative of the battle choreography, Jackson reintroduces Howard Shore’s score and we are figuratively ushered back in, as an audience, to witness the spectacle of our heroes in action.

~ * ~

Those sorts of dynamics, when applied to games, interest me the most. The music in a game is one part of a multi-faceted whole that includes the visuals and the gameplay experience – and just like an individual instrument in an orchestral score it should be employed at a specific time of the creator’s choosing. In musical scores an instrument is introduced at points where its particular contribution is most perfectly suited to the emotion or feeling the creator is trying to express at that time. At other times, it suits the score for that particular instrument to be silent.

As I said, I can’t understand the benefits or artistry involved in the decision to have a soundtrack constantly playing throughout a story experience (please enlighten me below!) – but it seems to me to be the difference between being enveloped in a holistic, engaging experience or simply playing a game where the music is a convention, like the health bar and the opening menu – something that, if missing, would be sorely noticed but when present, seems simply to fade into the background like so much wallpaper.

Some would say, “George Lucas had a constant soundtrack and we still experienced a great emotional journey from his films”, but I would point out that the music was often composed specifically for the images and action on-screen and was thus dynamic in its makeup – a dynamism that game music often can’t emulate (as the Player could take ten seconds to walk across the screen to the next area or they could take thirty minutes – by which point the music has had to loop a number of times).

What do you think? Is a dynamic, nuanced soundtrack more likely to engage the Player on a deeper emotional level than a soundtrack that plays constantly throughout the game?

Why “PlayMaker”?

July 11, 2009 at 9:16 pm | Posted in PlayMaker | Leave a comment

I thought I’d start this blog off with a post to explain the word “PlayMaker”, which is also the name of our game developer portal.

I can’t speak for anyone else, but I was never a big fan of the title “game developer”. It’s functional, it’s the norm and I’m happy to use it because it explains what we do from a technical and business perspective through its association with software development, but it doesn’t fully encompass the breadth of our role – or, more specifically, it doesn’t do justice to the scope of the game designer role.

Okay, so they’re two different things – game developer, game designer. But even game designer doesn’t adequately describe the peculiar creative energy required to direct and nurture a game project. The title of Game Designer puts the emphasis on a specific skill with common connotations from real world application (design) applied to an impersonal thing, limited in definition (game).

A PlayMaker makes play experiences. His or her role is to provide environments and situations through which a Player experiences meaningful emotional reactions. A PlayMaker’s consideration rises above the level of “will this software work?” and “how do I make it work?” to “can I encourage the Player to feel this?” and “how can I make the Player experience this?” PlayMaking puts the emphasis on a more abstract and all-encompassing form of creation (making) applied to an experiential endeavour: something that we do that allows us to feel (play).

A PlayMaker wants the Player to forget they are interacting with a software program and get caught up in the experience of doing so. A Player doesn’t want to feel the hand of a designer – to see the signposts and walls of the ‘design’ all about them. A PlayMaker creates a play experience for them – an emotional and active state that the Player feels is open and limitless in scope, like Play should be. For a PlayMaker, the player experience is their focus: all other aspects of game design – the logistics and mechanics of gameplay – are considered through this lens.

PlayMaker, to me, suggests a more creative and experiential focus.

Semantics, some will say xD. Ultimately, it’s just a personal preference in how I choose to perceive my role as a game designer; the same way that DJ Babu decided to start calling himself a “turntablist”, instead of a DJ. On the one hand, the common perception has become the standard, the norm – and there’s nothing wrong with that per se. But a fresh perspective brings fresh motivation and ownership, and a feeling of doing something unique and unfettered from tradition.

In summary, PlayMaker is our name for what we do.

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