And Now, A Message From Gabe Newell (Half-Life 3)

Dorkly posted an immensely entertaining (satirical) article called “A Message From Gabe Newell.” Valve recently made several announcements on products with enormous potential to disrupt the gaming business (Steam OS, Steam Machines, Steam Controller). While many gamers and pundits have reacted to these announcements with excitement, there are many longtime PC gamers that have can’t get Half-Life 3 out of their heads. The (satirical) message from Gabe Newell addresses all of that and more. Here’s an excerpt from the end of the letter Continue reading “And Now, A Message From Gabe Newell (Half-Life 3)”

Watch the Evil Game Design Challenge

Here’s a long, but terribly fascinating, video featuring three veteran game developers participating in the “The Evil Game Design Challenge.” The panel is hosted by Scott Foe, known for his work on the Sega Dreamcast, the Nokia N-Gage, and, most recently, Douche Defender. The participants have been in the gaming business for a long time, but have recently been focused on free-to-play games. You’ll watch Greg Costikyan, Dan Rubenfield, and Ethan Levy — dressed as evil villains — compete to come up with the best monetization, retention, and virality plans for Super Mario Bros. 3. Yes, imposing modern monetization, retention, and virality methods on an all-time classic is evil.

Check out the clip below and let me know what you think of “The Evil Game Design Challenge” (I usually say please, but since the subject matter is evil, I’m leaving it out). Lastly, help me get over my hangup that “virality” is becoming a word.


Beyond: Two Souls Gameplay Video

Here’s a sweet behind-the-scenes video of Beyond: Two Souls by Quantic Dream for PlayStation 3. In the video, the developers explain the features of the gameplay and the thought process behind it. Yes, it’s chockfull of quick-time events (as you’d expect in a Quantic Dream game), but the developers are trying to make things as transparent as possible. There are times when you’ll see the traditional cues for input (square, circle, etc.) but there are also times when you’ll see a simple white dot that indicates that an action has to be made. The goal is to make “the player forget that he has a controller in his hand.”

Also, the video explains why the Quantic Dream crew had to research “fishes swimming underwater.”

As a mark for the developer, I’m completely psyched for this game and really enjoyed this “making of” video. Check out the clip and let me know what you think (please!).

Noah Falstein Appointed Google Chief Game Designer

Between Android and Chrome OS, gaming has been a small but growing part of Google’s business. With Noah Falstein’s recent appointment as chief game designer, it looks like Google’s gaming ambitions are growing. However, there’s a lot of speculation as to what exactly those plans are and which products they’ll cover. Many have surmised that the company will up its Android gaming efforts, while others believe that Google Glass will be getting games.

For some background info on Falstein, here’s a clip from TechCrunch:

According to his bio Falstein’s been in the computer games industry since 1980, spanning companies such as LucasArts, 3DO, and Dreamworks Interactive, and is the designer behind a number of hit titles. He most recently ran his own consultancy, The Inspiracy, which offered companies help on game design, development and business, as well as being a regular on the lecture and speaking circuit.

A major interest of Falstein is the field of “Serious Games,” which he defines as “Using Games, Game Technology, or Game Industry Techniques for a purpose other than pure entertainment.” The list of Serious Games projects Falstein has been involved in spans anything from using game techniques to improve health and education, to financial projections.

The Google I/O developer conference is a few weeks away, so the company’s plans for gaming and Falstein’s role should be clarified then. For now, let’s play the speculation game! What do you think Google’s gaming plans are for the near future?


Baldur’s Gate Enhanced Edition Postmortem

Overhaul Games president Trent Oster posted a long and excellent postmortem on Baldur’s Gate: Enhanced Edition on Gamasutra. Oster goes over several things that went right and several things that went wrong during the remake of this BioWare classic. As a fan of the original game, the new game, and BioWare, I really enjoyed all five pages of the postmortem. In addition to the behind-the-scenes factoids you’d expect, the article covers a lot of BioWare history. It was one of the most enjoyable videogame postmortems I’ve read in years and I highly recommend checking it out.


Kellee Santiago (thatgamecompany) Joins Ouya

Ouya has announced that Kellee Santiago has joined the company as DBF (Developer’s Best Friend). She’ll be heading up the company’s developer outreach. Santiago is best known as cofounder of thatgamecompany, the creators of Flower and Journey. In the official announcement, she said:

Oouya gets it. This is the first console company that really understands how important it is to remove the barriers to development. By freeing up the development process, Ouya is opening up new doors in console gaming.

This is a big score for Ouya. Santiago has a great reputation within the gaming business. Ouya will be leaning on independent and small developers to make games optimized for the system. Those kinds of companies will feel like they have a sympathetic ally in Santiago. Journalists view her as an “indie darling,” so it’s additional press for the company too.

What do you think of Ouya hiring Kellee Santiago? Will she help differentiate the company from others that are trying to console-ify Android?


Coffee Talk #570: The Ewing Theory and Videogames

As a Bill Simmons fanboy, the “Ewing Theory” is far more relevant to my life than any scientific theory. When Simmons posted a column revisiting the Ewing Theory, I started thinking about it in videogame terms. Obviously videogames are larger team efforts than sports are, so some of the principles of the theory don’t apply, but it was a fun exercise. Over the last week, I asked a bunch of friends if they could think of any videogame franchises that improved when a “celebrity” developer moved on or left the team.

The most common answer I received was the God of War series. A lot of my friends feel…more

Welcome to Coffee Talk! Let’s start off the day by discussing whatever is on your (nerd chic) mind. Every morning I’ll kick off a discussion and I’m counting on you to participate in it. If you’re not feelin’ my topic, feel free to start a chat with your fellow readers and see where it takes you. Whether you’re talking about videogames, Shia LaBeouf getting booted off a Broadway play, Floyd Mayweather, Jr. switching from HBO to Showtime, or celebrities wearing pajama pants, Coffee Talk is the place to do it.

As a Bill Simmons fanboy, the “Ewing Theory” is far more relevant to my life than any scientific theory. When Simmons posted a column revisiting the Ewing Theory, I started thinking about it in videogame terms. Obviously videogames are larger team efforts than sports are, so some of the principles of the theory don’t apply, but it was a fun exercise. Over the last week, I asked a bunch of friends if they could think of any videogame franchises that improved when a “celebrity” developer moved on or left the team.

The most common answer I received was the God of War series. A lot of my friends feel that the series reached new heights after David Jaffe left the team. The answer surprised me. Part of it is because I hold Jaffe in high regard and part of it is that I believe the series simply progressed. Of course Cory Balrog and Stig Asmussen did wonderful jobs directing the next two God of War games, but I believe the series would have improved similarly with Jaffe at the wheel. (Hmmm, now I want to rewrite the song “Jesus Take the Wheel” with the lyrics “Jaffe Take the Wheel.”) While I understood their points, I don’t think it was a “Ewing Theory” situation. God of War definitely got better, but I don’t think it was because of David Jaffe taking a different role (II) or leaving the team (III).

A few people mentioned John Romero and the Quake series. I understood this argument morebut felt that the older guys I spoke with still had Daikatana on their minds. That said, Tim Willits and Graeme Devine definitely took the franchise to new heights.

Now it’s your turn! What videogame franchises can you apply the Ewing Theory to?

Wargaming Buys Gas Powered Games

Wargaming, the makers of the popular free-to-play World of Tanks and World of Warplanes, has announced an agreement to buy Gas Powered Games, the creators of DemigodDungeon Siege, and Supreme Commander. Gas Powered Games recently made some news with its Kickstarter pitch for Wildman. The beleaguered company was facing financial issues and had to let several employees go to stay afloat, while its fate was in the hands of Kickstarter. Gas Powered Games CEO and founder Chris Taylor posted a teary and heartfelt video explaining the situation. Thankfully, the company was able to find a financial backer in Wargaming.

Now here’s the part with all the quotes! Let’s start with with the excellent Chris Taylor:

Wargaming growth in recent years has been tremendous, and we’re looking forward to joining one of the fastest growing gaming companies in the world. I’m sure our experience and expertise will help us contribute even more to Wargaming’s global success.

And here’s one from Wargaming CEO Victor Kislyi:

Gas Powered Games’ heritage and development pedigree shows us just how valuable an addition Chris and his company will make to the Wargaming family. Gas Powered Games has a long track record of providing incredibly engaging AAA gaming experiences and we can’t wait to start working with them.

I’m thrilled that Gas Powered Games was able to find a solution. Hopefully, the developer will be able to rehire everyone that was released. And hopefully the partnership is everything the company needs and wants. I’m a huge fan of the Gas Powered Games and, especially, Chris Taylor.

On the other side of the deal, it’s interesting watching Wargaming move and shake. The company’s purchases include Day 1 Studios and BigWorld Technology. All signs point to bigger and better things from Wargaming, including a console invasion (presumably full of tanks and warplanes).

Now here’s the part where I’m supposed to make a joke about the Belarusian company’s acquisitions being backed by Russian mob money…but I’m much too afraid of the consequences.

Path of Exile Preview and Video Interview

Yesterday, I caught a demo of Path of Exile by Grinding Gear Games. The game is a free-to-play action-RPG that reminded me of an ultra-hardcore version of Diablo. The game also has features the reminded me of Final Fantasy VII and Final Fantasy X. The developer cites Magic: The Gathering and Call of Cthulhu as influences. Check out the video interview by Paul Semel above, as well as the screenshot gallery below.

One of the most striking things about the game is how customizable everything is. As you’d expect, armor and weapons can be upgraded. What’s really unique is that items like potion bottles and maps can be upgraded as well. In the case of potion bottles, the effectiveness and potency can be manipulated. As for maps, they lead to portals to secret areas; they can be upgraded to increase monster level and difficulty, as well as to give your character a gameplay advantage.

Armor, accessories, and weapons can be adorned with different gems that grant various spells and boosts. The developer noted that the materia system in Final Fantasy VII was an influence. Gems can be stacked for more powerful attacks at the expense of more mana (generally speaking). For example, a fireball gem can be armed for a basic projectile attack. It can be accompanied with a “fork” gem, which causes the fireball to split in two after it hits an enemy, allowing a single fireball to potentially hit three foes. The spell can be further enhanced by a “multishot” gem, resulting in three forking fireballs (say that five times fast).

The skill tree is a massive map of powers, passive abilities, and boosts, with each section of the tree specializing in certain types of powers. It reminded me of a much more flexible and diverse version of the sphere grid used in Final Fantasy X. While I wasn’t able to explore the intricacies of the skill tree during my short demo, I was impressed by its size and the amount of choices it gives players.

Another curious facet of the game is that there’s no gold. The developers eschewed currency in favor of a barter system. As armor, accessories, items, and weapons are modified, they become more valuable. Players can choose to stash items for future use, trade them to a generic in-game trader, or trade them with other players. I was told that in the closed beta, some players got so into the crafting and trading elements of the game that they spent more hours on selling goods than slaying monsters.

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Path of Exile hits open beta on January 23, 2013. The full release should be some time in Summer 2013. Be sure to watch the video interview for more details, including the Kickstarter-like system the developers used to fund the game. Find out why 176 gamers spent $1,000 to get cool and unique in-game items. Lastly, let me know what you think of the game. Do you think the hardcore gamers that were disappointed in Diablo III will find what they’re looking for in Path of Exile? Are you interested in trying the game?

Yasumi Matsuno Leaving Level-5

My morning started off with the depressing news that Yasumi Matsuno is leaving Level-5 and taking a long break from game development. Matsuno is one of my favorite game directors/developers of all time. He dazzled RPG fans with his excellent Final Fantasy Tactics and Tactics Ogre games before being handed the keys to the big car — Final Fantasy XII. As many of you know, FFXII’s development cycle was disastrous and took a huge toll on Matsuno’s health. I had high hopes that Matsuno would revive his career at Level-5, but his return to glory has taken a detour. Here’s the (translated) word from Gematsu:

I’m sorry to report, but due to personal reasons, next month I’ll be retiring from Level-5. Having finished production of 3DSWare domestically and in North America and Europe, it’s at a good point time-wise for me to retire.

Even though it was for a short period of time, I was able to work hard without any gross mistakes. I am extremely grateful for the gift of genial teaching I received from everyone. Over and over again, thank you so much. I plan on taking a break for a while. I’m very thankful to have your support from now on.

Well…that just sucks. While I hope Matsuno can find some peace and happiness, I selfishly want him to dazzle me once more with an epic RPG. I’m just going to sit here and vape while I patiently wait for another Matsuno classic. *pout*