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.

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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.

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?

About a week ago (or was it two? Days…blurring together…), I had the opportunity to hang out with a buddy, sip a little Courvoisier (yes, I am now classified as a mature gamer with refined tastes 🙂 ) and play the latest in one of my favorite survival/horror series, Resident Evil 5 by Capcom.  The only problem with this was the lack of horror.

If someone doesn't oil my massive arms IMMEDIATELY, it's going to get messy around here.

If someone doesn't oil my massive arms IMMEDIATELY, it's going to get messy around here.

A brief setup for the game: you’re Chris Redfield, the continuing protagonist for most of the RE games. You’re in Africa where terrorists have seized the T-virus and mutated it. You and your new partner, Sheva Alomar, are 1 of 3 teams trying to find a certain terrorist when things begin going wrong…zombie wrong.

I remember the nights working at Hollywood Video and closing the store at 1am, coming home and popping in Resident Evil 2. I remember those nights because they were damn near sleepless. Every door you walked through had it’s own creepy cut-scene (albeit, giving the Playstation just a bit of time to load the next scene) and you never knew what to expect in the next room. The lighting and music lent itself perfectly to the genre and enhanced the tension. I’ve been talking to a lot of colleagues about “moments” in games; the small scenes in a game that stand out and stick with you long after you’ve forgotten the name of the main characters or how the game ended. There was a “moment” in RE 2 when you walked down a certain hall with boarded windows, in fear of one of the Lickers attacking you, when suddenly zombie arms burst through the window boards and tried to kill you on the spot. I remember literally jumping out of my seat when this occurred and it has stuck with me ever since.

Fast forward to RE 5…no such “moments” and plenty of opportunities. In the first village, you walk around and witness someone being beaten in the street and a bit of tension rises as the members applying the beat-down slowly turn to look at you (all in-game). You walk a bit further down the road and a voice comes across a PA system. Suddenly, the town seems empty – again, a bit more tension. In hindsight, this would have been a perfect opportunity to secure the “horror” element for the game with something simple like a chicken popping out at you on a forced turn. Seriously. Something little that makes you jump and feel a bit embarrassed about doing so. Sprinkle several of these “moments” throughout the game, mixed in with actual times that the player does need to start firing to save their lives and you’ve got a winning combination that will have your audience punch-drunk, the way they want to be.

Visually, RE 5 is stunning. The motion-capture used on the zombie hoardes (and I mean hoardes…no more 2 or 3 zombies per screen) and protagonists alike is spot on. Even the textures in the walls of run-down buidings and villages look incredible.

Unfortunately, once you’re past the glitz and glamore of the graphics, you’ll notice a fairly weak storyline made worse by choppy, unbelievable dialogue. Gone are the days of ammo conservation (which set this series apart in a good way), so feel free to run and gun. And lastly, the first boss fight is much harder than anything you see throughout the majority of the game. Granted, I haven’t finished the game, but 5 hours into playing, I had not discovered a bigger challenge than the level released as a demo. Hmmm…I’m not saying false advertising, but…

In all, the game is fun but I don’t feel it lives up to its namesake. If you’re making a survivor/horror game, make sure it’s a struggle to survive and, for Pete’s sake, make sure there are moments of horror. C’mon, Capcom, you know this. Or at least, you did.

Catching Up on Things

April 9, 2009

It’s easy to be the first to report on such things as Game Developers’ Conference and World of Goo, etc. It takes passion, talent and determination to be the last to report on these things. So, here I am, bringing you the greatness of late news.

Drew McGee in "Manifest Destiny!"

Drew McGee in "Manifest Destiny!"

First things second, I’ve been playing a couple of games including Midway’s last ditch effort at a Mortal Kombat game: Mortal Kombat vs. DC Universe. My complete coverage of this game will be available soon on www.GamersInfo.net, but for now, steer clear. The game was obviously rushed, lacks the gore that MK fans yearn for and the overall fighting mechanics leave you more frustrated than ecstatic.

I also played TellTaleGames new launch: Wallace & Gromit in the Fright of the Bumblebees. My complete coverage of this game is already up here. As you will read, I highly recommend this game for about 5 hours of pure fun.

Okay, San Francisco and the GDC 09. Brilliant! I tip my hat to Aaron Murray, Founder of Tandem Games, for flying me out there and allowing me to experience the greatness. I spent most of my time on the expo floor where we displayed our new casual game, Bumble Tales, in the Garage Games booth. Speaking of which, BT will be available for download in May from sites like www.BigFishGames.com and various other portals, so look for it. A match-3 style game with content galore including 35 unlockable characters and stories, high-res art, full voice-over and more than 100 levels of fun!

There was an awesome game right behind these girls, but they wouldn't move!

There was an awesome game right behind these girls, but they wouldn't move!

I was given a copy of Uncharted: Drake’s Fortune by Naughty Dog’s own Richard Lemarchand (couldn’t ask for a nicer guy than this) and immediately popped it in when I got home. If you’re a fan of the Tomb Raider series, this will be right in your wheel house. The music is amazing! I literally found myself sitting there waiting for the music to loop before moving on in the game because it was so big. The music took me back to the movie theater when I first saw Jurassic Park…that good. The puzzles weren’t difficult at all, but the story really made the game come together (and no, I’m not saying that just because I’m a writer). I’m going to say “Buy It” because it’s a good 10 – 15 hours of solid gameplay and finding all the treasures will have you OCD gamers enthralled.

Lastly, World of Goo. Play it! Buy it! I loaded this last night and wanted to try it for 30 minutes. I ended up playing for almost 3 hours. The game design is fan-freakin’-tastic: beautiful levels, hilariously cute Goo balls AND it makes you think! Again, the music in this game could be a soundtrack you listen to for recentering your chi or something. Take my word on this: you won’t regret this purchase.

Post-lastly, Domain of Heroes made a few headlines here and here!  Okay, that catches you up on a lot of things. Leave comments, wishes, or money. Whatever you like.

Just Before GDC

March 24, 2009

The title might be a little innaccurate, as technically this is the 2nd day of GDC 09, but I am heading to San Francisco tonight, so, the title works. Moving on.

I’m writing partially because I have failed to do so in a month and partially (or I’d like to think mostly) because I read two interesting articles on Kotaku just now: one made me mad, one made me happy.

Starting with what made me mad (so I can have a happy ending 😉 ), Apple: please do not do this. It only takes a moment to see what will happen here. Indie developers with little capital to create their games put out their product and yes, maybe it’s not great, but maybe they make a little coin off it and their next title is a hit. If they end up getting smacked down with returns, they could very easily go in debt repaying consumers and then the creative flow stops. Meanwhile, larger companies who can afford to take the hit will continue producing the same drivel they’ve always put out there and consumers will buy it out of sheer lack of options. The iPhone has been wonderful for the indie development scene. It would be a shame to have a major drop off now.

The second article makes me happy because I own a PS3. For the longest time, I’ve listened to friends talk about how great their exclusive XBox titles are and have been saddened a bit on the inside that a powerhouse like Sony hasn’t grasped the concept that devoted fans of their system need games to play. I appreciate the Blu-Ray player (though I’ve had to replace mine twice), but I wanted a gaming console, not a glorified DVD player. Finally, with a lower price on the dev kit and easier-to-use tools, hopefully 2010 will be the year of the PS3’s domination!

Check back soon as I will be covering my first GDC 09 experience with pictures, audio and whatnot! If you’re lucky, I’ll double the whatnot. 😉

Just a Quickie

February 20, 2009

Not to sound too much like I’m justifying the fortnight since my last post, but I’ve been working a lot on trying to craft the newest expansion of quest lines for www.DomainofHeroes.com. We’re having an overhaul of gear and tying in lore pieces, so the work is a bit extensive. Along with that, I’ve been grinding out character bios and thinking of story lines for a casual game we (www.TandemGames.com) hope to release in May. All that to say that though I’ve been less than diligent with my blog posts, I have been writing…which is the goal, right? Oh, and that reminds me! My newest Smallville blog should be up by noon today.

As for actual gaming, I’ve been sneaking a few hours of RockBand 2 (PS3) in whenever possible. The truth is, I have very little actual musical ability (although I’ve been applauded for my karaoke skillz) and this is even more apparent on RockBand. I’m addicted to drumming on those plastic/rubber pads, but as of now, I’m a Medium drummer at best. The song that will probably be the death of me is Lazy Eye by Silversun Pickups. I can 95% it on Medium, but I step up to Hard and the syncopated notes jump out of the screen with billy clubs and beat me into submission. Here’s to you, real-life drummers. You deserve the women! 🙂

Drew as The Real Slim Shady

Drew as The Real Slim Shady

A little late in the reporting, but Wednesday, the SXSW/Screenburn crew joined hands again with the likes of Bob McGoldrick and the Austin Community College for the 3rd annual Mixer before SXSW. Real quick, are any of you making it out to Southby this year? It’s March 13th – 22nd and loaded with booths and contacts for interactive media, movies and music. As far as gaming in Austin, TX is concerned it is one of the Big 3 events of the year, so try to make it.

The Mixer held a panel with popular names such as Rich Vogel (EA/Bioware) and Billy Cain (Heatwave Interactive), along with others that are becoming gaming household names including Rodney Gibbs, Frank Roan and Lori Durham. Austin’s Chamber of Commerce member, Tony Schum, also delivered information on the economical state of Austin’s gaming. The overall mood was a bit somber as the realization of cutbacks and layoffs was heavy in the air. The silver lining seemed to be that gamers can look forward to solid games being released as companies can’t afford to grapeshot money at projects that have no value. It was great to see some familiar faces again and let’s face it, being around fellow gamers and developers is almost always good company.

The “& More” bit of the title is all about a link to my most recent work: Blogging for The CW Source – Smallville, in particular. You can check out my first paid blog here! Please leave comments here and on that site; it’s how I know you love me and how my boss knows I’m worth keeping. 😉

Farewell, Kristin Kreuk!

Farewell, Kristin Kreuk!

That’s right, for all you audio lovers, the silky sounds of me are on Cryptic Allusion’s Anniversary Cryptocast. Be forewarned, it’s long and I’m only in it for about 15 – 20 minutes somewhere in the middle, but the guys and gal at Cryptic Allusion are great and worth listening to.

"That's right, I said a PODCAST. They'll be huge one day!"

"That's right, I said a PODCAST. They'll be huge one day!"

For those interested, I pretty much plug Tandem Games and Domain of Heroes and talk about recent games I’ve been playing. I’ve been considering adding a small 5 – 10 minute podcast to this blog maybe twice a month. Do you think it’s worth it? Post a comment and let me know (yes, that means you).