StarCraft 2 is upon us!

July 27, 2010

That’s right, folks: StarCraft 2 launched today. This is the one and only time I will advise you to stop reading my blog and get thee to a video game retailer, be it online or brick & mortar. I will soon see you on the field of battle.

And that title is “as sung by Johnny Cash” in case you were wondering.  The unfortunate truth is I actually did hurt myself when I started writing this two weeks ago – on a shark-tooth, no less! About 7 or 8 years ago, some friends went to Hawaii and brought back a “ceremonial dagger” which was probably made in Indonesia or Central China, but the edges of the colorful piece of wood are lined with shark teeth. As with all things like this, it has found its way to the bottom of a box which happens to reside in my closet. While searching all around for my journal (yes, I keep a journal – it’s very therapeutic…although, not so much when you’ve misplaced it for the past 6 months), I stuck my hand down in said box and managed to find the ceremonial dagger or rather, one of the dagger’s shark teeth, with the tip of my finger. Cut. Blood. The whole 9.

That said, the title is actually in reference to a game I somehow stumbled upon on AdultSwim called Amateur Surgeon 2. It is not for everyone as there is excessive cartoonish blood and you are essentially using a pizza cutter to operate on patients, but the premise is hilarious and the gameplay is addictive. Imagine, you are a blackmarket surgeon who uses a few household items to repair even the most devastated bodies. Witty one-liners and ingenious levels that recycle the tools for new uses make this free-to-play flash game a must.

Since beating this particular title (at least the 2 available acts), I have begun playing the original Amateur Surgeon. I can see how much they’ve improved with the second title: sewing wounds rather than stapling, upgrading the usefulness of the tools rather than leaving you (or your patients) to rot, etc. My, how the young Alan Probe has aged in the past 50 years, but he’s still got the chops to pluck your glass and suck out your body poison. No innuendo.

Dark Templars are sweet, and by sweet I mean totally awesome.

Blizzard (or Activision Blizzard). You might know the company for their big title game…The Lost Vikings, but did you know they’ve made a few other games? Really great ones, in fact. 12 years ago, they made a game called StarCraft which was a grittier version of a game called WarCraft and it was set in space. 11 years ago, I began playing said game and it not only ate up my time in college, it digested it slowly and let its stomach acids marinate and dissolve my grey matter during the hours I should have been sleeping. The first few years resulted in a feverish and compulsory gaming of StarCraft, much like masturbating when you finally realize it won’t make you go blind. After that, my habit was sated with playing only a couple nights a week for 4 or 5 hours on those nights. As the years went by and other real-time strategies piqued my interest, I would lapse in my Craft, but I have never gone more than about 6 months without jonesin’ for a little Protoss action.

A couple of years ago, SC2 was announced as a current Blizzard project and my RTS-weenie started spinning out of control (along with all of South Korea’s). Since then, I’ve managed to get along with my life in the way a 3-legged dog still hops around and makes do. No, literally. I’ve been living as a 3-legged dog hopping around and making do – Austin is very accommodating.

Earlier this year, the public beta was announced and I signed up and allowed Blizzard to deeply probe the annals of my computer…What? There’s a lot of history on this ol’ computer of mine. Then, the beta came out! And I wasn’t on the list. Then someone at work had a beta invite they weren’t going to use! And I received the email a day late, long after someone else had snagged it. Finally, I contacted an old boss of mine who had sworn to me long ago in a pact with Satan himself that when the StarCraft 2 beta was out, he would send an invite my way because he knew “someone on the inside”. I never heard back from him. I can only assume he had made other such pacts and that the devil had collected the reward of that man’s eternal soul by the time my email made it through.

With all options exhausted and no stone left unturned, I lost hope. Yes, friends, I admit it: I was down-trodden and allowed my mind to fill with dark thoughts and sin! But then!!!! Two days before I was leaving on a trip to that sacred holy land known as Hawai’i, I received an email from Blizzard welcoming me, with open arms, into its bountiful, blizzardy bosom. I had finally been accepted into the beta.

“Drew, what did you do about Hawaii?” you may be asking. I’ll tell you what I did. I ripped my plane ticket in half and in half once more, logged on to Battle.Net and began a journey of downloading, patching and overall StarCraft 2 mayhem that would not end until the night of June 7th, 2010 when the beta was stripped from my clawed and crippled hands.

Not really. I left for a week and a half, got home, ordered new Internet service which is sloooow (thanks CLEAR) and took 2 days to grab all the patch data. From there I responsibly played the amazing SC2 beta for approximately 4 hours a night for 3 nights (never missing a bit of work, mind you) and like that <poof!> it was gone.

The game looks great, plays incredibly well and while it doesn’t reinvent real-time strategy games (or its own brand) by any means, it gives die-hard fanboys like me and newcomers exactly what they should want: many long nights of glorious, uninterrupted pleasure without any need for protection or morning-after pills.

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A Touch of Marketing

January 27, 2010

So, I would be remiss to not cross-reference my other blog that is currently taking up most of my free time: The All-in-One Gamer Project is a few weeks underway and I’m feeling pretty good about it so far. In essence, I’m trying to familiarize myself with all aspects necessary to lead an independent game development team. So, for the thousands and thousands of you who are fans of this blog (am I rounding up too high?), jump on over and subscribe, comment and be merry!

Not a bad start…

December 7, 2009

My brother-in-law recently asked me if I could ballpark the amount of money it would cost to lead a group of developers through an entire indie game, start to finish. “Nothing at all; pay ’em all on spec,” I joked. 

The truth of the matter is there really are games being made out there completely on spec (ahem, Bumble Tales) but that doesn’t mean no money is required. Speculation is the best I can do on how much money went into marketing that small casual download, but it also required a great deal of pre-existing connections with people (Billy Garretsen with Perfect Dork Studios who in turn introduced us to the powers that be with GarageGames, for example). Paying for the entire team to be present and accounted for at GDC in San Francisco was no small cost either. 

As the writer and assistant producer for this game, none of this capital burden was on my shoulders – but other payments were extruded from the team members. Every one of us became a mandatory piece of the QA puzzle. We all gave up weekends to become designers for new features for the game, and consequently, salesmen of those features to the rest of the team. What is all that time worth? Who knows, but probably more than the original royalties percentage you sign on for.

Why did we change to these colors? Black and white was what we wanted orginally!

So, in answer to my brother-in-law’s question (which I’m not sure I ever gave him in a very clear manner): I have no clue. I do, however, have a very realistic idea of what must go into making a game from concept to finished product. As the assistant producer for BT, it became my overall responsibility to communicate with the other team members and constantly have a feel for where we were in the grand scheme of the development. “As Assistant Producer?” you may be asking yourself. Yes, this was a very small team. You see, when people are working on spec alone, things happen. Life gets in the way. Team leads have breakdowns. Musicians become…musicians. Feelings get hurt. Morale plummets. Worries about why you’re doing any of this kick you in the gut. All of these things happen in the big leagues as well (so I’ve heard), but at least you can rest your weary head on a paycheck. On spec, you’ve got nothing to show for your labors but a dream – and unless you’re the lead, it’s someone else’s dream that you occasionally get to chisel your name into.

So, why do any of it? Because, I believe, we all want to be part of something fun and something that can last forever. When the credits roll and your name appears, the creative part of your being smiles. You’re no longer simply a consumer or some replaceable cog at a corporation. You’ve assisted in creating something real, something visible and something playable. That will always dwarf your frustrations and worries and always be worth more than your royalties or paycheck.

If you’re at all interested in reading someone else’s quick take on leading a team like this, I highly recommend Promit’s Ventspace.

Everybody Loves a Winner

October 23, 2009

It’s true: no one truly enjoys a loser (even your mom when she acts like you’ll do better next time). I’m serious. Everyone Loves a Winner.

Mind-blowin' graphics of '96

Mind-blowin' graphics of '96

This week, I witnessed it first hand. With due appreciation for Blues News reporting that Remedy Entertainment has free-released their 1996 hit, Death Rally, I was praised by my peers for my driving prowess and ultimately shunned for my losing streak. This top-down racer pits you against three other drivers equipped with machine guns, mines, spiked bumpers and boosts. All this and I still rose to the top. After about 7 races, I had enough cash to purchase not the next best car, but two cars up from my default Vagabond.

A couple of guys took notice of what I was doing and suddenly I had them asking me to play again so they could watch as I battled for first place against the likes of NPCs Greg Peck and Cher Stone. As any game designer would tell you, keeping your audience involved is key, so I would ask the guys what upgrades I should purchase with my winnings. Suddenly, my “team” really felt like we were all accomplishing something great.  And weren’t we? We were having incredibly humorous discussions about races in a game that is 13-years old! 

Then I bought the Wraith.

Fully Upgraded, Bro

Fully Upgraded, Bro

The Wraith looks like a Porsche 911 for all intents and purposes and is pretty fast. Without at least 3 tire upgrades, I couldn’t seem to handle the turns and my winning streak was shattered. The races were still interesting, but I knew I was underperforming. I took some time to win some easier races and upgrade my Wraith all the way. The “team” came back to see how I was faring and quickly got back into the action as I won a few races.

With their encouragement, I stepped it up to the hard races in order to win the big prizes of $12K for 1st place. Sadly, I was left behind, duking it out for 3rd place against some other poser NPC who, like me, should’ve known better than to enter this level of racing.

The end result is the guys lost interest in watching me get scorched from the starting line and struggling to return to my former glory. They moved on and left me cold and shivering in the shadows of the top four racers (including Duke Nukem, that bastard).

This is something I’ve been trying to get my hands on for the past year but could not wrap my head around paying full price ($40+) for a 3-year old game. Not to worry as www.Direct2Drive.comis currently running their 5th anniversary special and offering many games, such as Techland’s Call of Juarez for the oh-so-sweet price of $5. I say this with no hesitation or averted eyes: This was the best $5 I’ve spent since **EDITED**

"I'll stay awake in church, Preacher. I promise! Just don't shoot!"

"I'll stay awake in church, Preacher. I promise! Just don't shoot!"

But seriously, I love Westerns (and I never thought I’d say that). My brother-in-law introduced me to the greatness of McMurtry’s Lonesome Dove about 5 or 6 years ago and ever since, I’ve had a deep respect for the epic western…and that’s exactly what you get with CoJ. Just about anything you’ve seen in a western is in this game: horse-ridin’, gun-slingin’, cussin’, whores, preachers, Mexicans, Indians, murder, brothers, trains, bridges, eagles, fires, stage coaches and dynamite. I’m telling you, this game is EPIC!

Graphically, I’ve seen better games, but I’ve also seen a lot worse. I’m obviously more fond of story than graphics, so this game is incredible in my opinion. The graphics are more than functional, but less than hyper-realistic. They paint a world you can believe and allow you to envision the rest – that’s all I ask from my games on the visual front.

Sounds – spot on. Guns sound like guns from that era. Six-shooters don’t sound like bass-heavy hand-canons. The biggest complaint I had on the auditory level was the voice acting for Billy Candle, one of the two characters you play in this game. His Texan accent sounded disingenuous at best and was downright painful at certain points in the game (especially if you die in certain areas and have to hear him say lines multiple times). Compared to the greatness of the voice work for Reverend Ray (the other character you play), Billy was greatly lacking.

The two areas that shine the brightest for CoJ are story and gameplay, in that order. I know, I know. I’m a writer so you think I’m a bit biased. Well, to add to that fire, I also know the co-writer of this game – Mr. Haris Orkin – and think he’s the cat’s pajamas (I believe that’s a complimentary phrase). Haris is one of those accomplished writers who is soft-spoken, unassuming, always smiling (even in his in-game Wanted poster) and a natural story-teller. Have a pint with him and you’ll see what I mean. But, beyond thinking this particular writer is a great guy, I’d say that being a writer makes me more critical of story…especially in games. That said, this story is rich in western genre motifs, but does not even come close to being considered cliche. The mistaken actions of Billy Candle setup a great overarching plot, but the true meat of this tale lies in the unfolding past of Reverend Ray. Why does a preacher have a hidden pair of “hog-legs” (revolvers) in his church? What did he do 20 years ago that changed him to a man of God?

Haha! Got 'em!

Haha! Got 'em!

Okay, I mentioned gameplay and talked all about the writing. Sorry. The gameplay struck me as fun simply for the variety. We’re talking about a first-person shooter (FPS, or “Shoot’em-up” for those like my father) and yet so many times throughout the game, there’s no gun in your hand. Granted, at times it is replaced with a bow and arrow, but many times you are finding your way through rough Texas terrain by swinging over canyons with a whip, climbing up Eagle Mountain or riding as fast as you can on the back of a horse. I believe it should be required for FPS games to have this kind of variety now. Gamers, male and especially female, want more from their games than just shooting, so thank you, Techland, for breaking up the monotony.

Buy this game. For $5, it’s a steal. It took me around 10 hours to beat and I was overwhelmingly entertained throughout the entire journey. I will definitely be playing Call of Juarez 2: Bound in Blood soon.

…and speaking of Games

September 24, 2009

I’m sitting here at my desk eating some Ketchup chips (thanks Dyana and Canada!), reading a bit of gaming news on Kotaku, when I decide that a carbonated beverage would hit the spot. Lucky for me, I have a 12-pack of Dr. Pepper at my desk (courtesy of the IGDA Writing SIG’s Leanne Taylor – Ooo, I need to blog about Austin GDC last week, don’t I?) and I reach for one. The others roll down to take its place (I could see through the handle hole) and it took me back to my skeeball days as a kid.

OVER THE LINE! Donny, mark it zero.

OVER THE LINE! Donnie, mark it zero.

Remember throwing the wooden balls up the lane without so much as a glance to see if you were scoring points? I was always fascinated by the remainder of my wooden ammo rolling down my way. And there was often a window to see the remainder of your shots. Sad was the time when I would come to the last wooden sphere. I would try to make it really count and either granny-throw it into another lane or try to put some sort of strange spin on it that resulted in a 12 mph roll that would just crest the lip up to the scoring area and fall in the “gutter”. Tragic. At least until I would drop the next token in and see a new full rack of opportunities roll my way.

Do you have any fond/funny childhood memories of gaming? I wouldn’t mind compiling a little list of “I remember when”s.

Bumble Tales – FTW!

September 9, 2009

At long last, the game that took priority over Domain of Heroes (the game for which I was initially hired to write), Bumble Tales is now available for preview and purchase! You can find it on most of the big portal sites if you don’t trust our main site, but then you’re just giving your money to “the man” instead of us. 😉 

The Team - Bumblized

The Team - Bumblized

It feels like a long time has passed since I originally started writing the tales for these 35 Bumble characters, but our (Tandem Games) development time was only 7 months, so I can’t complain. It has been an experience full of fast-paced crunches, leisurely time-off and lessons learned on how to go about it “the next time”. We have not had our official post-mortem meeting yet, so I’ll keep quiet on all the nitty-gritty details for now, but rest assured, the creation of Bumble Tales will be known by the masses!

Check out our games at the above links or just visit www.TandemGames.comto see a trailer of Bumble Tales. Have fun and give me some feedback – what do you think of the stories? Would you rather have a more linear storyline? How do you feel about the game as a whole? Is this your typical genre?