Friday, August 03, 2007

Curious in Illinois

Ok, reading that back, that title kind of sounds creepy. Maybe next time you comment use a different handle so my next post won't sound like the dirty version of a Tom Hanks movie. I thought I would post my answeres to the questions the poster fomr my home state of Illinois posed. I have been in writing mode lately, so I figured I would use some of that writing momentum to get back into the blogging habit. Not sure if I will be able to keep up the pace I am setting here, but I will sure as hell try.

Here is my fairly long winded responses to the questions about my gaming habits/likes/dislikes.

What game systems do you own?
Right now I have a few PS2’s, (One I bought, and my old debug for playing GOW2 discs at home when we were in production) a PS3, a 360, a Wii, a Gamecube, (Cause the new Zelda is more fun for me on GC) an Xbox, (To play Morrowind and KOTOR) a PSP, a DS, a GBA micro, an Astro City arcade cabinet, and my home PC. At one point I did own an Ngage…but that was very short lived as it was fairly lame. Many people at work made fun of me for getting the side talking taco….even though the one I got did not require side talking.

Man…I never realized how much I have until I listed it out like that. I really need to get a life outside of games.

What games do you own?
There are waay too many that I own to list them all out. I buy a ton of games; I am a pretty big geek. It is a wonder that I have ever had sex really. I try to play everything in the action adventure genre, no matter what it is. And then I also tend to buy a bunch of the newer big games regardless of the genre. I have a stack of about 15 games that I need to work my way through.

What is your favorite genre? (I made this one up on my own...that's just how I roll)
I like story based games or games with strong sense of character development. Not that I have anything against other more ‘pure gameplay’ games, I just prefer to have a strong reason of who I am and why it is I am doing things in the world. That being said I really don’t have a favorite genre. I like adventure, action adventure, survival horror, and RPG’s. Not too into music games until a little game called Guitar Hero came along. Before that I had only played a little beat mania, amplitude, and this freaking rad dancing game called Bust-a-Groove. (That game was sweet)

What is your all time favorite three games, and why?
I really don’t have one favorite game, so I decided to talk about three…but even then that is too limiting. There are just too many games that I love!!! But I will name just a few here.

First, Future Wars for the Amiga. (Pictured above) This was a traditional point and click adventure game from Delphine Software (Another World, Flashback) about a guy, who I think is basically a janitor, who gets caught up in a time traveling adventure to save the earth from certain destruction by the hands of an alien race. The story sounds cheesy now, but when I first played this game it was just amazing to me. when asked abotu my favorite games I say this one all the time because it was really one of the first games that hooked me and had me staying up for two days straight playing until the end; I was that into the story and the sense of discovery the game gave me. There was no voice acting, just text and music, but the game had me hooked. This was way before the internet so their wasn’t any or strategy guides…so it took forever to figure some of the more obscure puzzles but I loved every minute of it. I still draw some inspiration from the way that certain scenarios made me feel…the sense of wonder these relatively simple graphics evoked in me.

Second on the list is a little adventure game called Grim Fandango. I was debating whether or not to put two adventure games on the list, but freaking Tim Shafer is damn awesome that I would be an idiot to leave off this freaking masterpiece. I wanted to put Day of the Tentacle, or even Full Throttle...but int he end I think this game grabbed me the most of the three. This game was truly in a class all its own. Some of the puzzles were a bit annoying, but all in all, this one was of the most satisfying and unique experiences I have ever had with a game. The writing was brilliant, the art was fantastic, and for the most part the play was great! I can still go back and play this one every so often, just as I do with Day of the tentacle and Full Throttle. One day I hope to be 1/50th as talented as Tim…one day.

The number three slot in this somewhat verbose list is the sweet FPS Half Life. I almost hate calling it an FPS, because when I think of most FPS’s great character development and great story really don’t leap to mind. But Half life really changed my perspective on all of that. I was actually working on an FPS when the Half life demo came out.(Requiem: Avenging Angel) It freaking blew what I was working on out of the water. The demo for Half life was better than our entire game. The level design was unbelievable, the core mechanics were fun and offered the perfect mix of familiar with ‘new’, and the presentation was top notch. Valve started something that everyone in the industry has been imitating ever since.

Cool little side note on that, one of the level designers on that game (Requiem) with me went on to be the Lead Designer over at Tim Shafer’s Double fine studios…he was the lead on Psychonauts…I am very jealous of him. :)

There are so many other games I love that I don’t even think these are my top three. This is the top three I can think of right now…but in an hour the list will change.

What games inspire you?
I think that every game inspires me in one way or another. Some really great games inspire me to get back to work and push harder to make what I am working on better. Really bad games inspire me to get back to work so I don’t end up releasing something that makes people mad they spent 50 or 60 bucks on my game. This is why I buy all my games…so when I get a Spiderman 3; I know what it feels like to feel cheated having spent the money on game that really feels unfun and unfinished. I actually like the second one, but three just did not live up to my expectations of the series.

As for specific games that have inspired me in the past….I would have to say there are so many that I will just name a few.

1. Indigo Prophecy was great…especially that beginning section in the diner. I played through that opening like 5 times trying different things to see what would happen. It’s a slower paced game, but I love the storytelling. I like the way they handled dialogue trees in this game, it felt pretty good. The whole 3D David Cage (The game director) tutorial in the begining was a bit much is kind of wierd to have a game version of yourself teaching people the mechanics of the game. But hey, maybe that is just me. I would not be able to supress the urge to punch myself int he face, or slam my own head in a door, if I had a 3d game representation of me.

2. DMC 1 and 3…you gotta’ love these games. Not that great of story telling, I don’t dig the mission structure, and I am not all that into Dante as a character, but the mechanics of this game are just freaking solid. This game has great animations and interesting enemies and bosses to fight. I don’t really care about the super insane difficulty of the game, that kind of gaming is just not my thing. Some people are all about ‘Dante must die’ mode, which is cool, but it is just not for me. I usually want to enjoy the experience, not get my ass handed to me by it. I love the air combat in this game as well. There is just something cool about how long you can keep Dante and an enemy in the air with the combos. Their effects are always top notch as well; I have noticed that most Japanese games have really cool ‘inventive’ effects. I think that western developers tend to reference a lot of Japanese games for effects. I could be totally worng on that one, just something I have noticed over my years in this business. I also dig the new style system they implemented in the third game.

3. Shadow and Ico…I don’t need to go into why since I already talked about that in the previous post. Needless to say that every time I play wither of those games I feel like I am not working hard enough.

4. Resident Evil 4…this game has it all, great level design, pacing, atmosphere, sweet bosses, and gorgeous art. This game was an all around masterstroke for the Resident Evil series. I was never a huge fan because I hated the survival horror design conventions. I couldn’t stand that the only way to convey fear and tension was to make the character move like a tank, and have characters attacking from off screen. And the puzzles always felt random and out of place. This series drove me nuts….cause I love the horror genre…but the game was just too frustrating to play. When RE4 came out, it freaking blew me away. That is until I wasted all my ammo getting to the Gondolas and I had to go back to an earlier save and play smarter. I still thought the game rocked, but I was pissed that I was so dumb. Anyway, this game kicked me in the pants and made me wish I was working on a horror game. It also made me take a second look at how I approach certain design decisions.

5. Medal of Honor…the first one. I mean, storming the beach at Normandy was freaking unbelieveable the first time you did it. This game raised the bar for immersion I think. I know that I still look at these games a lot to see how they are handling the narrative through real time NPC’s and events. It really is wonderful stuff. The later games in the series got a bit derivative, but I have high hopes for Call of Duty 4 and Airborne…we will have to see how it all pans out.

6. Marvel vs. Capcom 2...I just love this game. even though I am probably the worst of all the people I play it with, it is still fun. the game is fast, and sometimes confusing, but always a blast to play. The cast of characters is diverse and huge and for the most part the combat in this game is amazing. I don't think I will ever get tired of this game, it allows sloppy players like me to have fun in a way that Street fighter just can't do. I like most of the Street Fighter series, but most of the guys here I play with are just so damn good at it that I just dont have fun. And I really don't have the time to dedicate to getting better.

Ok…that is all I have for today. I am going to get back to the other four documents I am trying to finish. No more slacking for me today. Have a good weekend everybody!


Thursday, August 02, 2007

God of the Colossus

So many people have stopped by to check this interview out that I thought I would do another post where I answer some of the same questions, only about Shadow of the Colossus. I don’t imagine a western developer weighing with their take on a Japanese developer's game is as intriguing or exciting as when the situation was reversed. But what the hell…It’s my party and I’ll cry if I want to, right? Plus I am such a huge fan of their games that I love any chance to talk about them.

I am also going to do a post after this that answers the questions the curious gamer form Illinois posed in the comments. That will be coming soon, until then; here is my interview…with myself. This seems to be a growing trend…me interviewing myself. Which is lame, I know, but it seems no one else is interested in asking me questions.

Q: Have you finished Shadow of the Colossus yet?

Yes. When I first picked the game up, we had an early copy floating around the office, I played through a large portion of it in one sitting, but then things got kind of hectic at work so my play time had to slow down a bit. After a month or so I got the retail copy of the game and started over, playing sporadically over the course of a few weeks. Then I stopped for awhile, went back to it, and got to the final boss which proceeded to kick my ass. I knew exactly what to do, but I kept falling off when I would finally get tot the head. After a few times of that I frustrated and stopped, knowing I would come back again at a later time when I was fresh and finish it off. What I didn’t know is that wouldn’t be for like 8 months. But now, I can say I have finished the game and I loved it.

Q: What was your first impression of Shadow of the Colossus?

Unlike my first experience with Ico, Shadow grabbed me right away. With Ico my first experience did not grab me right away, I needed to step away from that game and come back to it to really appreciate what it was they were doing with the development of the relationship between Ico and Yorda. Once I did I was blown away with how much the ending of that game affected me as a player. It was quite possibly one of the strongest moments I have ever seen in a game.

With Shadow I was more prepared for what to expect, and I was immediately pulled into the experience. I was in awe of the scope and scale of the world. It felt like my little playground. The presentation and art style really sparked something in my imagination and I immediately felt connected to this world. It took me a while to find my first Colossus since I really did not understand the whole gleaming sunlight off the sword mechanic. I kind of wandered around on the horse for a long time marveling at the scope of the world. I found the forest, and got off Argo and walked around a bit. I played with calling the horse mechanic, which was really simple but it was doing something on such a subtle level I almost missed it. During all of this exploration I was establishing my relationship with Argo. As cheesy as it sounds, we were discovering these things together. When I would run him at full speed towards an upcoming cliff he would come to a skidding stop. He was telling me his limits, which served to flesh him out as a real character to me. Perhaps I am overanalyzing this, but I really do think this kind of interactive character development that Ueda and his team do is second to none. Very few games can get you to care about a bunch of polygons without using words.
Finally Argo and I stumbled on an area that looked like I could platform on. So I got off Argo, and left him down below as I ascended up into the unknown. As I was climbing up I was struck with mixed emotions. It was the first time I felt a small hint of concern for leaving Argo behind, as well as being the first time that I really felt that I was onto something. For the first time in a long time, I really felt like I was exploring in a game world, and it was amazing. Making the final jump up I knew something big was about to happen, but I was totally unprepared for what did happen. Seeing that first colossus has been burned into my brain. The music swelled perfectly as this gigantic colossus lumbered out through the fog. I was feeling the same sense of discovery that the character was feeling. That same sense of discovery I had when I played the original Tomb Raider, or when I was wandering around the various areas of Morrowind III. This sense of discovery was immediately followed with a smile when I realized I could run up to this thing and actually climb on it.

The mechanics for the climbing were perfect, simple and somewhat intuitive. I say somewhat because the grip meter took me a bit of time to really adjust to but once I figured it out it was no problem. That is the thing about this game; so much of it is about the players’ discovery of not only the world and its characters, but the mechanics and play as well. There is a patience to the design and pacing that, to me, is hard to do right. If you do it wrong it makes the game feel boring and uneventful, but if you do it right it is really something spectacular. The Shadow/Ico team has a sensibility, a subtly to their approach that may take a little patience to see but is so unbelievably worth it.

Q: Perhaps this sensibility opened your eyes, right?

Yeah it did. I think a lot of people would say that God of War is a bit more of the in your face ‘Hollywood’ movie style presentation, which for the most part is considered a western style of presentation. Although I don’t think that is totally accurate since there are so many great eastern films that have the same intensity and over the top quality. I mean, look at Hard Boiled; I wouldn’t say that is very ‘Hollywood’. It’s a style all its own, one which westerners immediately began incorporating or copying.

What they did with Shadow, the sheer simplicity of their approach really made me take a harder look at how I approach various aspects of making a game. I don’t think I will ever make a game in the same way that they do, because that is really just not my style. But there is so much I learned, and am still learning, from what they do.

With God of War, we want the player to always feel like they are experiencing something new, and that everything you are doing is clearly part of the bigger picture. In that respect, we will tend to try and find clever ways to guide or lead the player without them knowing that is what we are doing. Essentially we are leading the player along by a thread, once which we try hard to be as invisible as possible. Sometimes this works, and sometimes it does not. With Shadow and Ico, there is a sense of cutting that thread and empowering the player to freely explore, while still remaining on a somewhat straight narrative path. It’s not sandbox but, especially with Shadow, it kind of feels like it. I loved that. Even though our games are not that similar, there is something to be learned there.

Q: Has Shadow of the Colossus inspired you in any way?

Very much so. I mean the opening of God of War II was partially inspired by what I saw in Shadow. We knew we were not going to be able to do the full on climb on the Colossus thing, but the sense of scale, the whole David vs. Goliath thing they captured so well in Shadow, was something I wanted to achieve in the opening of the game. But I wanted to do it with our own sensibility, our own style.

Another thing they did so brilliantly is, with very few words, they made me care more about a character than I ever have in a video game. In that regard, I am so completely inspired. I hope that I can evoke the same emotional response that they did with Yorda and Argo in all the games I do in the future. To me that is the holy grail of games right now…getting players to feel something other than fear or anger.

I have to say that as much as I admire those guys, and feel I have so much to learn from them, I don’t think I could make the same type of games they make. Perhaps it is because I have such a ‘western-short-attention-span-need-some-ridolin’ mentality? Probably not though, I love to play their games, but I love to make a very different type of game. You know…the type that punches you in the stomach in the first five minutes, as opposed to one that slowly creeps up on you. Both are very effective, the latter is especially effective when handled in the way Ueda and his team do it.

Ok...I need to get back to work now. Stayed tuned for more.


Wednesday, August 01, 2007

Ico of War!

So no luck for me on the GOW PSP, but it was my own fault. I got too busy with other stuff and did not realize that it was over and done with. But it is still cool though, it fetched a pretty penny for the modder as well as for the Child's Play all is right in the world.

In other news, we got a translation the other day of a Famitsu interview with Fumito Ueda, the Director of Shadow of the Colossus, about his impressions after he finished playing God of War 2. It's great to hear a Japanese game maker's perspective on the series so far, especially when it is from someone whom I respect so much. If you are a fan of God of War, or Ico or Shadow, then you should give it a read. The translation was done by a friend of Eric's, Andrew Alfonso, so a big thank you goes out to him!

Aight'...check it!


Q: Have you finished God of War 2 yet?

A: Yes, of course I have. However, at first when I was playing God of War 1, I thought "This kind of game is rather cool". The player's character is on the screen, and he can move on both the X and Z axis. Also, it's the type of game where you have to be up close and personal with your opponent, and it's quite interesting but there have been so many games that have the same style that I was sick of it. So, I had kind of a negative image about the game to start off. But as I progressed through the game it really opened my eyes and I was like "wow this game is pretty cool!". The guys who developed this game have such enthusiasm that I really felt like they were saying "dude I want you to see all of this awesome stuff!" on purpose. Usually with sequels the tension and excitement goes down but I felt with God of War 2 that was the complete opposite, and the excitement factor was definitely higher than the first game.

Q: What was your first impression of God of War 2?

A: The way the game first grabbed me was pretty awesome. The way the game started off, it made me think about how in Japanese games that would never happen. It wasn't a matter of "how many explosions can we have on the screen in a short amount of time", but it definitely felt like a Hollywood movie. The way that everything was changing and expanding, I had never thought of that, I had never gotten tired of it, it constantly pulls in the user into the game's universe. Everything from the combat, to the programming, to the way of thinking is totally different from a Japanese game. For example, when you see the stage where you're flying (ed. note flying pegasus stage), and you see another stage, the more someone says they're two different games, the more varied the game becomes. The game's contents change, and if too many elements are thrown into a game you can quickly lose the interest of gamers, and it'll end up costing you. When I talk about Wanda and the Colossus (Shadow of the Colossus), the whole game is consistently based around the system of "the climb and the battle", and if you really say that we only made that kind of system, then it really was a success. However, when making God of War 2, because of the ideas, the programming of the stages and the numerous ways of capturing gamers, it became something really different. Each part was specially created, and the parts were all consistent with each other. That's a really extravagant way of creating things. But having so many different elements in a game makes me feel a little uncomfortable, and it's expensive too. If it was me, I guess I would use things multiple times.

Q: Perhaps the amount of volume kind of opens your eyes, right?

A: Even more than before, the modulation, and even though you push, it's still advantageous, I think. However, I think the service is a little excessive. However, talking about the flying stage I mentioned before, it's a little bit hard to put into words but I got this really old feeling when I played it. You can't really fly around like you could in newer games, and you could only attack on the Z Axis... But, even though the game design isn't totally new, the powerful imagery doesn't make me feel like it's an old game. With the CS Attack, the tension and the imagery's power is vast, I think. You could easily say that it copies a game like Made in Wario with its numerous mini-games, but it's a type of game where you can enjoy the varying tempo. Not only that, but the game also has a wonderful sense of direction.

Q: As for the graphics, from the way it looks like it's done by hand, did it surprise you?

A: I think the way that Japanese people handle it is a little different. It's only my impression, but perhaps Japan would say it's a little low poly? It's a minute detail of course, but usually in Japan we use textures to cover up for the low poly, I think. The edges of the polygons aren't all that conspicuous so it has that soft look to it. On the other hand, God of War rather than use textures they use polygons to represent their characters, so it seems very hard to Japanese people. So, like a rock's hardness, that's how God of War looks. So in God of War II, even if you arranged ICO or Shadow of the Colossus' objects in that game, they wouldn't match at all, since the way we made all three games are different.

Q: Do you think there's a relation between the way the game looks and how late it came in the PS2's lifetime?

A: Yes, perhaps. With PS2 games, right now you can get a lot of power out of the system. In God of War 2, there's almost no loading time, and how fast it reads your save games is really fast. That's because you only have to look for procedures on one hardware, which makes things easy.

Q: So everything rests on a higher foundation then, and that's why everything looks so good, right?

A: As for the ideas, even though they are very common, the way everything is represented makes it interesting and fun to play, I believe. And yet, the action, puzzles, graphics, everything was realized on a higher foundation, that was my impression. From the start, everything was put in with care, and nothing was really neglected. Basically, like how a Japanese game carries itself. But with japanese games, the really interesting parts are kind of sparse....

Q: It's not fresh but...

A: That's right, the attacks, system and ideas have been done before, I think. However, when you try to play the game, you have a usual sense of tension, but the graphics and the reactions become better and better. Perhaps, starting now, Western games are advancing quickly, you know.

Q: Has God of War 2 inspired you in any way?

A: Well there are certainly a lot of ideas and such in the game, and they're all really fun things. I haven't had a lot of time to think about it though. If there are things that I can really absorb from the game I think I will absorb it, but God of War 2 is such a high value game (ed. note: I don't know if it means that it's valuable or if it was expensive to make.) that I don't think I can really copy it. Perhaps with this kind of game, we'll leave it to the Western designers to make them, hah.

Q: Why would you do that?

A: Well, I think it'd be kind of difficult to do things like that. The reality is that costs to develop a game is different between Japan and Western studios. One year ago I observed how things were going with God of War 1, and I was really surprised by the number of people on staff. With one team they made a lot of programs that couldn't be used more than once. It's the kind of trouble I hadn't thought of. Also, everything took a lot of time too. Perhaps they were implementing a lot of elements into their game. When you have a lot of stages, the player won't get bored and it's really interesting. However, with Japanese style, when you apply that kind of thinking, I don't think it'd be cheap at all. I don't think our schedule or budget would be enough for that kind of project. However, budgeting and scheduling is difficult, but more than that, focusing on the scope of the game is important. Within our team, and within a workable scope, the best ideas will eventually win out and be something we can work with. Up until now I've held that idea and I've made games with it. However, right now when I play God of War 2, I think that if I don't think things clearly and with a level head, I may create something that's only halfway finished. That's the kind of impression I get.



Well that is all for today...hopefully everyone got a chance to vote for the Gphoria thing...we will have to see how all of that goes. In then end it really doesn't matter all that much, but it never hurts to get some recognition for the teams hard work on the game.