I’m Not Dead Yet!

Things have been very quiet around here the past couple of weeks. I could go into a long breakdown as to why I haven’t posted anything of note recently but that would be me making excuses. All you need to know is that Wedding Preparation, Job Hunting and moving again are taking up a lot of my time. So keeping this place and other online things going has fallen by the wayside a bit. But I have come up with a plan which is what I will share with you.

The reason I started this blog was to track my Uni Projects in my final year. It quickly grew from that to being my main portfolio website and a place for me to talk about game design, gaming and the games industry in general. At the moment though there are constant shifts happening in how much of a particular type of content is being featured on this site. Currently there is a lot of general gaming posts (mainly link posts) and not much else. The main purpose of this place is to promote brand me, my thoughts and ideas about game design & gaming and in the past couple of months I haven’t really being doing that. So I have decided to structure the site, the output of content a bit more and how it is produced. I have even come up with a schedule for the site on a two week rotation.

Not much for now but the plan is to add something for either Saturday or Sunday and more weeks to the rotation of content further down the line. Bare in mind though this is a plan for what should come out in a given week. It is not a guarantee that all content will be posted in a week. This is because my life is literally all over the place at the moment. I am constantly on the road between places sorting stuff out and doing things. I will post an update post on the Monday if some content will be missed in a week so you know what the situation is. I will also be sitting down at some point to write out a bunch of short posts that can and will be used to fill in the gaps when I miss posts or can’t do them. I have not really decided on what these posts will be about but they will be interesting and will fit in with the rest of the output of the site. Fair warning though there won’t be much for the next couple of week because of my wedding and honeymoon. 

All posts will be published between 5-6pm GMT/British Standard Time.

Weekly Link Storm

(Image Source)

The links are going to be a bit thin on the ground this week and next. Also incase you didn’t notice this week’s Link Storm is late! This is all because I’m travelling up and down the UK yet again.

Here’s your reading and entertainment for the past week:

A typical day at Toro’s home

After wonder just who/what the hell Toro Inoue was when he was announced as one of the latest additions to the upcoming PlayStation All-Starts Battle Royale. I did a bit of digging and came across this hypnotic gameplay footage of one of the free downloadable games featuring him on the Japanese PlayStation Network. It left me wondering two things: 

  1. Is Toro in PS All-Stars to push him as a mascot for Sony around the world or to just entice Japanese gamers?
  2. Why have Sony never released these free Toro games in the US and EU? It feels like a missed opportunity.

Is Paul McCartney Writing Music for Halo’s Original Studio?

Apart from showing Kotaku’s headline naming process for the click baiting that it is (they should have just put: Is Paul McCartney Writing Music for Bungie’s next game? or something like that). It is an interesting prospect. With Paul McCartney involved just what exactly are Bungie working on?

Sony acquires Gaikai for $380m

Perhaps one of the biggest news stories of last week. It had everyone dreaming of cloud next gen PlayStations and Sony paving the way for the future. The move by Sony to buy Gaikai is a smart one as it is a nice way to add to the current and next iteration of the PSN if they use it for that and in theory it future proofs a lot of their output as a media producer. This can be used for more than just games all those Sony movies, tv shows, music, etc. can benefit from Gaikai’s technology.

Interview: Anita Sarkeesian, games, and Tropes vs. Women

Another week and another part of the ongoing Tropes Vs Women in Video Games craziness. This interesting interview with Sarkeesian lays out a lot of the basics on what she will be covering in the upcoming series of videos.

EU court rejects EULAs, says digital games can be resold

While this will have little to no impact in the short term the longterm effects of this ruling will be interesting to see play out. As publishers try and worm their way out of and around the right to resell your digital products. Also how they will try to hide it from the average US gamers once the systems have been implemented over here in the EU.

Free university lectures

Tumblr blog Live Long And Proper posted this wonderful link to a database of free university lectures across a very broad range of subjects. I’m always on the lookout for new things to learn so this is a godsend. I’m planning on loosing many hours going through a lot of what is on offer.

Higgs boson-like particle discovery claimed at LHC

I am not going to pretend to fully understand the ramifications of finding the Higgs boson. I understand the basics and that is enough for me. It is a very big deal though and you should be excited for the scientist types in your life. They’re currently partying like it is 1999.

The Hero’s Journey (Part 1)

The Extra Credits guys are taking a look at the hero’s journey in this multi-part series on it. It is used extensively in a large number of games to varying degrees of success. It is a powerful tool to use as a starting point for a game, so watch, learn and then look into it on your own. It is one of those rabbit hole type deals that just keeps turning up stuff.

Codecademy

I came across Codecademy as a throwaway link in a LifeHacker post. Hot damn is this a good way to learn the basics of programming! I’m planning on sitting down and working my way through some of it in the next few weeks.

Halo 4 E3 2012 Multiplayer Wrap Up

I’m getting more and more excited for Halo 4 with each new video and tease 343 release. It is shaping up to be a solid game that takes the Halo franchise forwards while still keeping very true to the core idea and principles of the Bungie games. 

Weekly Link Storm

(Image Source)

It’s been a quiet week around here for me as I have been mainly looking for jobs and relaxing. (Next week will be more productive I promise!) I will make up for the lack of actual content with a bumper bag of links!

So here’s your Sunday afternoon entertainment:

Get Into Games 2012 – Edge

Edge magazine’s yearly guide full of advice and helpful tips on how to get into the industry. This is mainly for people considering starting a degree course in a games industry related field but it does have a few pointers for those of us currently looking for work.

Square Enix will only remake Final Fantasy 7 after it betters original with a new Final Fantasy – Eurogamer

Thank god for that! I’m all for HD remakes and re-releases, in fact I am currently enjoying the Metal Gear Solid HD collection, but for Final Fantasy VII I will make an exception.  For Square like Yoichi Wada says if they were to do it, it would break their franchise. Simply because they still have to surpass it. SquareEnix know that if they announce a remake of FFVII no one will pay attention to FFXV whenever that rolls around.

Camilla Luddington portrays Lara Croft in new Tomb Raider game – Eurogamer

I’m linking to this for a couple of reasons:

  1. It is not often that you see the announcement of who is playing a character in a video game be big news.
  2. Luddington isn’t bad on the eyes. (I’m a man I can’t help it!)
  3. I find it incredibly funny that the women best known to me for this piece of trash is now playing one of gaming’s most iconic characters.

Fortnite Unveiling At Comic Con – GameInformer

Even though little is known about Fortnite I am looking forward to seeing more. Mainly because it is Epic showing they can do more than just grim’n’gritty shooters and iOS fighting games. The concept interests me too because I am a big fan of co-op play.

Batman Revisited, Part 1 – The Big Picture

In the run up to the release of the Dark Knight Rises, Movie Bob over on The Escapist is taking a look back at the Batman films from Tim Burton’s first stab right up to Batman & Robin. 

Dishonored’s two lead designers talk about magic, “breaking” the game, and amoral power – The PA Report

This preview/interview for Dishonored fleshes out a lot of the gameplay focuses for the game along with the design methodology. Mainly embracing when players break the game in interesting ways and adjust the overall experience accordingly. Interesting reading.

Power Creep – Extra Credits

This week’s Extra Credits is all about Power Creep and how it effects online games. It goes for the MMO angle but it applies to many types on online games, especially shooters with levelling and unlock systems.

SimCity Social is a collection of dirty tricks pretending to be game play – The PA Report

Oh EA, why must you do this with your Facebook games? Good, fun and engrossing gameplay should keep the player in the game and spending money. The payment system shouldn’t prevent them from enjoying the game!

Meet The Pyro – Valve

‘Nuff said.

Source Filmmaker – Valve

Along with Meet The Pyro, Valve decided to unleash their in-house editing suite upon the world, for free! It looks incredibly versatile and fairly easy to use. I’m looking forward to seeing what people come up with. I might also have a play around with it myself at some point!

The 25 Greatest Spider-Man Stories – IGN

A great list of the best the Spidey has to offer for readers and fans. It has a lot of modern classics on there which is refreshing because a lot of these types of lists for comic books never go past the 80s.

Gender Inclusive Game Design – rumirumirumirumi

Shared by rumirumirumirumi on the game design tag on Tumblr this PowerPoint Presentation is well worth a read. I wish I knew this existed when I was doing all my work on Core Female Gamers earlier this year!

The Most Important Character in Mass Effect 3 Never Even Showed Up Until After the Credits – Kotaku

This article sums up my feelings towards the various endings for Mass Effect 3 fairly well. Lover, hater or inbetweener I would suggest reading it.

A Day in the Life of Max Payne – timtimfed

As a long time fan of the Max Payne franchise this video had me laughing a lot!

Super Mario World Camera Logic Review – shauninman

A good look at the camera system for Super Mario World. Before watching I recommend trying to remember how the camera works. Then be prepared to realise how much work and thought has actually gone into it!

Rezzed

Finally I thought I would share the details for Rezzed, the PC and Indie Games Show that is happening down in Brighton on next Friday and Saturday (6th-7th July). I will be going on the Saturday and looking at all the Inide games on offer and hopefully chatting the people behind them. Borderlands 2 and Aliens: Colonial Marines might get a bit of a play too. 

Ladies and Games

You can probably guess why I am writing a post about women in video games: The uncalled for attacks on Anita Sarkeesian (the details of which can be seen here and here) who only wanted money to help her make a documentary series called Tropes Vs Women in Video Games. The concept of the series is good: a look at a cross section of gaming and see how the female characters are handled and presented. Simple and to the point and hopefully it will work towards improving this great pastime enjoyed by millions. But what was this noble effort met with? An agressive assault on both Anita and her project. 

The only good thing to out of it is that it has drawn a lot of attention to the project and has galvanised people like me into backing it. At the time of writing the project is well past its asked for amount of funding but still has 67 hours left. GO. BACK. IT. NOW. Simply to piss off the ignorant idiots who are scared of this series being made. Also check out Anita Sarkeesian’s other work on her site and videos on her YouTube Channel. This kind of abuse is completely uncalled for and has really made me ashamed to be a male gamer. Props to Anita for having the incredible strength to withstand all that is being thrown at her.

Anyway moving on…

Female characters in games and how they are used/presented is something that needs to be looked at and talked about at an industry level. You can leave all the angry internet gamers to argue amongst themselves about who needs to make the sandwiches, who needs to be in the kitchen and to provide sites like Fat, Ugly or Slutty with the material to shine a light on their activities. On our side of the fence though where games are made there needs to be a discussion. Not just because of all the recent debates about women’s place in games but because it is important to this industry’s future business. So I’m not going to go into the different types of female characters like the female voice in your ear or the eye-candy, I’ll leave that to Tropes Vs Women in Video Games when it comes out. I’m going to talk about demographics.

Currently we can all agree that gaming particularly in the Core Market is decidedly male focused. Everything is a male power fantasy from the muscly space marines to the overweight plumber saving the princess. It is all attuned to the male demographic because that is the way it has always been since gaming’s earliest days. The male market made gaming what it is today and there has been little need for change. Until now.

Now, thanks to companies like Nintendo, sites like Facebook and devices like the iPhone and iPad everyone has access to and is playing video games, and yes a lot of these new gamers are women (flick through the ESA’s latest summary on the games industry here). The problem though is that currently, games for female gamers are targeted at kids and 30+ Mums on Facebook. There is not a lot for the teenage and young adult female gamer. Those that do play have to find what they can in the male focuses games that dominate the core market.

For a good example let’s look at my sister. She is a few years younger than me at the age of 17, she has her whole life ahead of her but it is a life almost devoid of gaming. When she was young and in her tween years she had a DS like every kid at that age and played it to death. She had an amazing town on Animal Crossing and enjoyed the Mario games because of their simple but effective design. As she got older though she played it less and less until the point that she stopped. She now plays the odd iOS game from time to time but gone are the days where she would sit with me and my brother and play games. Fair enough she became a teenager and with that came needed to distance herself from her family somewhat to find herself and all that. But that didn’t mean she had to stop gaming. She didn’t outgrow gaming she outgrew the games being sold to her. 

She got to 14/15 and saw there was nothing for her in gaming anymore, so she turned to Gossip Girl, Twilight, House of Night and many other teenage girl focused book series and media. Gaming lost her to Robert Pattinson because gaming couldn’t give her anything that helped her explore life as a teenage girl, wether in a good or bad way. 

Guys we are easy to please, from a young age right up until the day we die, we gravitate towards hero roles. Superhero comics have their huge cross-generational appeal because of this. The only thing that changes is that once we hit our teenage years we want to hump everything that moves. Thus our media starts using sex to sell us things and it is sex and ladies that is geared around pleasing us and only us.  So we get lads mags, Dead or Alive and Catwoman with a broken back,

and like our want to always be a hero figure once the need for sex grows in our loins it doesn’t go away. So sexual imagery goes from being targeted at horny teenagers to trying to please all men of all ages. Then because we are the majority of the market it becomes the norm to see and now as the number of female gamers increases on a yearly basis we are starting to see a backlash against the over sexualised imagery we have become accustomed to. You also have guys like me who have become disenfranchised with all the provocative poses and big boobs simply because I want to see more from female characters in the games I play. I’m a fan of all things Buffy The Vampire Slayer and Joss Whedon, I know it can be done. You can have a strong beautiful female character who can kick ass and deal with personal problems without the need to resort to putting her in skimpy clothing to please my more base urges to to make her appeal to me.  

But when that change to be more inclusive to female gamers happens, when we start to sell less of this at E3,

(pvponline.com – Full strip can be seen here)

and more games featuring strong female characters that are not just shells like Portal’s Chell or Metroid’s Samus before Other M. That allow the female gamer to implant their personality onto the character in the same way we do with Master Chief. We will still have lost a vast amount of potential female gamers because of the huge age gap between games for kids and casual games for older ladies. My sister is never going to get back into gaming unless she starts dating a gamer who re-introduces it to her in the right way. Like I (hopefully) have done with my fiancée. For her the ship has sailed and she might only re-discover it when she is 30+ and has some time to kill between meetings on her phone.

Also better female characters is a good thing for guys too because not only will it help reinforce positive stereotypes it will also work towards stopping those bastard kids on Call of Duty being so goddamn annoying!

It is something that I am always trying to explore and improve in my own way but there needs to be a big industrywide shift and soon just to stop the haemorrhaging of female gamers we are currently seeing. As for the ladies who have stuck with gaming throughout their lives; they’ve put up with enough of our crap, it is time to give something back.

Year 3 Work – Franchise Development: Franchise Development Documentation

Documentation: Franchise Development

This final document for the Franchise Development module was an interesting task. We had to work on it from the point of view that the first game in the franchise had been a success and now we were coming up with a plan to take the IP further and beyond. 

Writing some sections was easy, areas like sequels were easy enough to come up with a basic roadmap to keep the franchise going. It was when I started to write the sections in what I term as Franchise Exploitation. With things like Player Incentives and Merchandising you can quickly end up hitting a massive grey area. I found myself questioning the implications of things like pre-order DLC and tied-in merchandising more than I had in the past. The DLC question is something that is growing as an issue in the games industry. At the start of the current console generation it was seen as a cool little additional extra to supplement your experience with a game. Now it is used in so many different ways to bring additional revenue to a publisher and as a wall to attempt to block out pirates. When designing a game or IP at this level you have to take it into account. If you choose to embrace DLC in a certain way you are sending a message to a large portion of gamers. 

Other areas of concern was the plans for the expansion of the franchise. Before writing I was looking forward to writing those particular sections. During the writing though things changed. I laid out a basic plan for some sequels then a roadmap for spin-off games and finally plans for tie-in media. I then realised something, I had in the space of 2-3 days of writing diluted my franchise IP idea. With a mild panic I went through it again and tied things up a lot more and tried to make everything seem like it would stick to the core idea of the franchise. We have all seem franchise dilutement happen in game IPs and large media properties (Star Wars and Star Trek immediately spring to life) but to see it happen first hand showed how easily it can happen. This is with approaching things with the best of intentions too.

Year 3 Work – Franchise Development: IP Statement

Presentation: PDF, Keynote

Documentation: IP Statement

The actual IP idea for this module came together fairly quickly. This is because the basics of it are something I had been sitting on for a long time, so all that was required was to make a few tweaks and changes to fit my target market and then I could just run with it. The sci-fi/fantasy mix has been done before but I think I managed to find a unique spin on things.

The other noticeable additions I made to the IP Statement was the focus on the customisation option available to the player. It is something I had touched upon in previous projects but I took the opportunity to expand and refine the idea of open customisation.

As a document it is not as robust as the market research but it was never meant to be as big as that particular document. This was the starting point for the idea of a franchise IP. The next part was to come up with a plan to expand and exploit the IP.

Year 3 Work – Franchise Development: Market Research

Presentation: PDF, Keynote

Documentation: Market Research

Extras: Top 40 New IPs

My game design work for my final year was divided into two distinct modules. My honours project which took up the bulk of the work and the Franchise Development module. Franchise Development was all about coming up with a new IP that would be a multi game franchise during the module we would be creating documentation to reflect the game in a few stages in its lifespan as a franchise. The first part being market research.

Being a fan of the research process I jumped on the opportunity of doing an in-depth report on the current market. So I set off on my research journey looking for as much data as possible to do with the most popular franchises in gaming, what games people like to play and the most popular new franchise. 

Getting the data for the top selling franchises of all time was easy enough. That data is readily available in a basic form via Wikipedia and other sites. It gave me a great starting point but I needed more. It was then that I started looking or data about which of the new franchises created this generation were the most popular/sold the most units. Easy enough to get a hold of (you would think) but aside from a few very contradictory blog posts and flame wars on forums dotted around the internet there was nothing. So I did the only sane thing and compiled the data myself!

My Top 40 New IPs report became the back bone of my IP idea as I could see the gaps and emerging trends by spending a lot of time going through the raw data and analysing the finished result. The final results are referenced constantly in the Presentation and Documentation, I have also included a handy PDF of the finished results of my research and the methods used to obtain and compile the data in the extras.

The other key point of my research was derived from the above table a friend on the degree showed me. This is a table of franchise efficacy which is mixture of the popularity, engagement and retention a given game franchise has across multiple ages and gendres. I look at these results and mostly agreed with the total and male columns but I had a major issue looking at the Female column. I know many female gamers who are more comfortable with games in the total and male columns than the results for their gendre. I did a bit of digging and found as I had suspected that the data for the table was from questioning average American families, which is fair enough but the is one thing that a lot of average American families do not have: A Core Female Gamer. 

This lead me to looking into and attempting to define what exactly the Core Female Gamer was and what games they would like to see more of. Part of this was compiling a survey that I made publicly available. From the results of the survey I started putting together my definitions of the Core Female Gamer. Once again just to cover my back, I am a guy, so I am no way near being an expert in this field but if you disagree with what I came up with please let me know.

This is the best research report I have produced to date and I am proud of it mainly because I had started doing something I hadn’t really done in the past, compiling my own data rather than regurgitating the findings of others. I recommend it to everyone because you learn so much in the process of putting it all together.

Websites For Budding Game Designers

Now that the major parts of my degree are over and done with it is time to step things up a notch on here!

Let’s start things off with a list of awesome game design, game design theory and smart game journalism websites that every would be game designer needs to check and use regularly.

These are some of the sites I use regularly and if you have any more suggestions please feel free to mention them in a comment or note on this post or by dropping them in my Ask Box. I’ll have a look at them and then add them to the list. The plan is that I’ll repost the list every couple of months with new additions and updates.

So let’s begin!

The Game Design Tag on Tumblr

Our quite little corner of Tumblr is slowly growing and every day I am impressed by the ideas and quality of work on display. From people showcasing their work, to people posting links and production images from games both old and new. The game design tag is always an interesting place to check out. Hats off to you guys! Seriously, I mean it.

Game Pitches

A website my tutor shared with us all. It may not be updated regularly but when updates do come they are usually really good. Pitch documents, presentations and game design documents from some of the industry’s most well known games and franchises. Go check it out and loose a day or two reading all the documents and presentations!

Game Development StackExchange 

It may mainly be a haven for games programmers and the more technically minded among us but game designers need to have at least a passing knowledge of programming and how it works to get by. Just spend an hour or so every week exploring the StackExchange and you’ll be surprised how much you’ll pick up.

The Psychology of Video Games

Not a website I check regularly but when I do they always have some interesting articles on how games and certain game systems effect the player and their engagement with a game. It will give you some major food for thought both on mechanics and the morals of them and game systems in general. Well worth checking out.

Gamasutra

This is one that everyone should have bookmarked already. The key here though is not just to check out the Design section. Explore the whole site; Programming, Art, Audio, Production and Biz/Marketing all impact on game design. Keeping up your knowledge of these areas even on a basic level is a must.

The Brainy Gamer

Michael Abbott’s blog is always a good place to go for higher level discussion and discourse about the games we play. Some great recommendations on books to read and other places to visit. It is also now home to The Smart Game Catalogue which you need to check out.

The Escapist

It may be a big news site but The Escapist’s contributors constantly throw out interesting points of discussion. If you just go their to check out the videos you are missing out on loads of interesting articles and content relating to game analysis.

Game Informer

If you live outside of the USA like I do the Game Informer website is a godsend. In the past year or so they have started putting up more and more content from and related to the monthly magazine. (WHY NO INTERNATIONAL SUBSCRIPTIONS?!) The area of the site that has the greatest interest is the Monthly HUB pages that tie in with the big focus, Cover Stories, of the latest issue. These are more than just slowly teased out previews. There is always a lot of content related to the game’s production and design process. Game Informer is also home to this wonderful piece of inspiration by Ken Levine from 2010.

Edge Online

The online arm of the UK’s game industry focused magazine. Lots of content from the magazine, lots of links and news articles that are actually relavent and lots and lots of job listings!

Penny Arcade

I cannot stress the growing importance of Penny Arcade as a hub for all things gaming enough. The team that run the various elements of the business know what they are doing and do it extremely well. It is not just because you have video series like Checkpoint and ExtraCredits finding their home on PATV. Or the brilliant webcomic that started it all. You also have things like the slowly growing PA Report which is quickly becoming my new favourite gaming news and discussion site.

So that’s it from me, for now. So do you guys have any suggestions that I can add to the list?

Extra Credits – Crowdfunding

Link: Extra Credits – Crowdfunding

Everyone should watch this week’s ExtraCredits! It is all about the Crowdfunding model that gaming’s newest buzz, Kickstarter employs.

It gives both the good points and some of the negatives but overall it shows how it can be used in the future to enable the players to buy and play the games they want to on their terms. The video also details the more traditional methods of funding for games for added clarity.

I’m taking a big interest in games being funded via Kickstarter and I have planed post about my thoughts on it all, the good and bad points and my do’s and don’ts that I’m set to do after I have all this Uni work out of the way.
So keep your eyes peeled!