Wii Must Increase Our Bust

February 3, 2009

This is the first time I’ve ever linked to a Yahoo! article, but as I avoided covering Wii Fit last time, Nintendo has forced its way into my blog with this headliner.

wii-fit-chuck-norris-1024x768

Another reason for accepting this as tonight’s topic falls on my parents’ shoulders. They actually played Wii Fit a week and a half ago and they loved it! My dad couldn’t stop telling the story of how my mom faced her brother and was punching at him instead of at the TV for Wii Sports Boxing. My mom talked about tipping forward while trying to do the ski jump. I cannot believe I had nothing to do with this moment whatsoever. They didn’t even bother to tell me about their delving into the gaming world until I Skyped them. Kids these days.

In all seriousness, the article really hits home with what my hypothesis and personal experience have hinted at: actively playing a video game (more than twitching the thumbs) is something that sounds like a great idea, but quickly loses its charm. I have no doubt that certain members of society are getting the maximum benefit out of the Wii Fit, either through inhuman willpower or a bet, but for the most part, this is a device that will go the way of the Nordic Track or the ThighMaster…or the Dodo. People love novelty ideas such as this and they especially love the idea of having friends over to make fools of themselves trying to hula five hoops, but when the newness wears off, the balance board gets tucked away and forgotten.

If you are one of the seperatists that have actually been using the Wii Fit balance board for its intended purpose for longer than a month (and at least 3 times a week), or if you know someone who has, I’d love to hear from you. I won’t ask for any alibis, I’ll take you at your word.

Currently, I do not own a Wii. However, this weekend, I was in San Antonio visiting some family and had the unexpected opportunity to play both Wii Fit and Cabela’s Dangerous Hunts 2009. I’m choosing to cover this title over Wii Fit because, seriously, I think Fit has been covered.

"Simba, it's me! The great white hunter!"

"Simba, it's me! The great white hunter!"

Dangerous Hunts places you in the role of the hunter of all hunters, Flint Abrams (totally fictitious character, I looked it up). This man puts the late Steve Irwin, if not Steve McQueen, to shame. He can barrel roll with crocs, stab leaping cougars in the throat and rifle butt three hyenas with ease! Mix that in with Flint’s Hunter Sense, which darkens the screen and highlights surrounding beasts and you’ve got an expert who is called around the world to quelch daily issues with wildlife.

There was a bit of a learning curve with the zapper controller (Wii-mote on top as a barrel and the nunchuck as the stock) but once I understood all of this, the game became incredibly fun. One level stood out to me as a writer: India. Tigers escape from a truck hit by a rock slide. Your mission is to track the tigers and tranquilize them; any harm to the tigers results in a failed mission. The interesting part to me is the the herd of water buffalo. Peaceful giants grazing in a field quickly turn to angry, charging death-machines if you disturb them in the slightest. Because there is a time limit to achieve maximum upgrade points (the coolest part of the game: upgrades!), I wound up slaughtering all of the buffalo from a distance to avoid their horns while searching for tigers. It was a decision that gave me pause because I really did not want to kill them, but alas, my greed for a new rifle scope won out.

Pick up the game as a rental and if you end up enjoying it as much as I did, buy it. My nephew loved simply walking in circles and hearing the gun fire. I enjoyed the juxtaposition of Flint’s athleticism compared to 95% of the hunters I actually see in Cabela’s.

All in Good Time ;)

January 25, 2009

Here we are, folks. 2009. The last week of the first month and the first true blog entry. Let’s get started.

The company giving me a chance!

The company giving me a chance!

On January 1, I accepted the role of Creative Writer/Story Designer for Tandem Games.

I’m officially a game writer!!!

The entire goal of this blog was to journal the process of becoming a game writer – I know I never officially stated that – but now that it has happened, I don’t want to quit. Actually, time considered, I want to start again and not quit. 😉

Technically, I am the creative writer for Domain Of Heroes which is the second released title for Tandem Games, but since I am working on story for another Tandem project, we’ll keep our fingers crossed that my brain’s ideas continue to be enjoyed by the founder. If you get a chance, I strongly urge you to check out DoH, as it is an MMO that can be played at work! Feel free to leave me feedback here or on the game’s forum.

As part of this News Package de Awesomeness, I will be attending the Game Developers Conference in San Francisco at the end of March, so if you’re going to be there, leave me a message and lets try to meet.

Here's to success in all things, in all aspects of life in 2009!

Here's to success in all things, in all aspects of life in 2009!

Oh, and a quick shout-out to my best friend, Meredith! Happy Birthday!

Gamers, what are you up to?

October 12, 2008

Over the past ten or so days since my last post, I’ve been doing several relevant things (my justification for not blogging) toward my goal of writing in the game industry. I’ll list these things shortly, but I’m interested in what you guys and gals are up to. Now, I know that everyone thinks the indie project they’re working on is the next revolutionary idea and they want to keep it hush-hush, but c’mon. I know you’re dying to let someone know what kind of magic is happening and it might as well be me. Leave a comment with a relevant link to your site or wiki or whatnot; if for no other reason, use my blog as another way to market your project.

...sometimes the void looks back.

...sometimes the void looks back.

As for me, I recently purchased Fable: The Lost Chapters for the PC. I know it’s 4 years old or something, but better late than never, right? AND, with Fable 2 coming out this month, I think I’ve timed it perfectly; none of this waiting forever for a sequel. So, I’m almost finished with the Lost Chapters but feel like the game is more of a grind than actual fun now. I have never really felt all that attached to my character because he never says anything, even when directly asked a question. It’s a throw back to games like the first Final Fantasy or Breath of Fire (I loved this series!), but not in a good way. Don’t you think responses are just as likely to influence your “Good/Evil” gauge, or at least your public identity, as actions?

I also read Joseph Finder’s Power Play. Though this isn’t directly game related, reading is as big a part of writing as writing itself. If a musician doesn’t listen to music, why the hell are they doing it in the first place? If you like a quick read that is very smart and full of action, read this book. Mr. Finder has an amazing ability to keep a hostage situation believable from every perspective, while making you hate the big wigs in corporate America even more.

I just purchased Flint Dille and John Suur Platten’s The Ultimate Guide to Video Game Writing and Design and wow! In the first 25 pages, I wrote 8 interesting pages based on their exercises. What I wrote may never see the light of day, but it’s writing – and it’s game writing to boot! If you remember, I attended Flint Dille’s panel at the Austin GDC and absolutely loved it. The man has a comfortable presence on stage and spoke with us (the audience) rather than to us. The same goes for the book; it comes across as casual/informal while tackling some very technical issues in an in-depth manner. Though I’m only halfway through it, I highly recommend it.

Lastly, if you haven’t heard, Richard Garriott is in space! This is just a cool thing, no matter how you slice it.

Now, I’ve shown you mine, time to show me yours. What are you up to? Show me, show me, show me!

Two Quick Links

October 1, 2008

I am just taking a moment to post two links for those that don’t make it to my actual website:

Notes on Game Dev posted an article I wrote covering the Austin GDC from a different angle than my blog post.

I also did a small, informal interview for Cryptic Allusion’s podcast (or Cryptocast, as they call it) covering my experience at the GDC, so you can hear my not-at-all polished interviewee voice, complete with a thousand and one “Ummms”.

Let me know what you think. Today, one article and podcast. Tomorrow, the world!

Spore (PC) – Review

September 28, 2008

Probably the most hyped game in the past few months (definitely since GTA4 and MGS4), Spore is Will Wright’s and EA’s newest Sims-like game with added components of an RTS (real-time strategy). The object of the game is to take a creature from a microscopic stage (I’d say single-cell, but I’m not sure) of life all the way through galactic conquest via evolutionary add-ons, trade and warfare. How’s that for an elevator pitch?

Look! A Spike-tailed Bloody Phlegm!

Good: The game is an immersive world with a gradual learning curve. I believe this is something the whole family can enjoy for small snippets of time, but then again, I don’t have kids. Do I have any parents reading? What do you think?

The Creature Creator (sold seperately for those who want to populate their world with their own creations) is both a blessing and a curse. The blessing is the ability to fully customize the positions of arms, legs, necks, tails, spinal curvature , spikes, poison jets, skin color and texture, etc. The curse: for anyone with any level of OCD, get ready to spend a lot of time color coordinating arms and legs, swelling the belly and tapering the tails – and when you’re finally done with the creature, you’ll be too mentally fatigued to play the game that day.

Ahh...Cartoony-space. What can't you do?

Ahh...Cartoony-space. What can't you do?

Another beautiful aspect of the game that other studios should pay attention to is the level pacing. There are five different stages, or levels, to Spore: Cellular, Creature, Tribal, Civilization and Space (or Kick in the Nards). I found that when I began to tire of swallowing bits of cellular debris and adding spikes to my sides, it was time to move to the next stage. Also, by the time I made it to space, I was worried the game was almost over, only to find around 40% of the game’s content is in the final stage. Just say no to final stage Boss Battles and yes to long, immersive, final levels allowing you to use everything you’ve learned throughout the game!

The bad: Repetition. Once you make it to space, it’s all about repeating the terraforming and colonization of other planets and returning home to defend your planets. When you pan out to see the galactic view, you realize how long a journey you have to make it to the center and how many of these planets you have to colonize…and then you yawn. So, long final level? Check. Immersive? BONK!

Also, if you’re truly talking about an evolving species, the creature should have to carry on the traits of his ancestors, not suddenly switch from being a carnivore to an herbivore or removing all spikes and adding dancing feet. It’s fun, but doesn’t this destroy the idea of evolution?

Interactive Media

September 21, 2008

Since the AGDC, a thought has been nagging me in the back of my brain-bone. I want to open this up to discussion because I want to get a feel for what others think about the idea of interactive media. A great number of theories about the future of storytelling have popped up in conversations and so I turn to you.

What are the boundaries of interactive media and what is at its core?

I feel, at its core, a book is a form of interactive media, albeit rudimentary. A reader must turn the page to progress the storyline. This said, the author has complete control of where the story goes and the “player” merely turns the page and reads on. Linear? Yes. Interactive? Sure.

The books are in the computer!

The books are in the computer!

The problem seems to arise when folks begin discussing non-linearity and interactivity. Terms like “open world” and “sandbox” get tossed about and there is finger-pointing with shouts of, “That’s still linear!” Some seem to think the idea of storytelling is a burden to be placed on the shoulders of the gamer in the future.

WHAT?! Wait, why exactly should this happen?

The general theory appears as such: in our day-to-day lives, we constantly fill in blanks with things we see and conversations we overhear. Sometimes, we are spot-on. Other times, we create stories that are far greater than the actual occurrences. To this, I say, “Kudos! We all have some level of imagination and contextual reality.” But does this make us all good storytellers?

I fully understand the desire to interact with a game’s storyline and make it my own personal experience. As a fan of RPGs, it’s what I thrive on. But what makes a game a game? Furthermore, what makes an interesting storyline? Non-linearity is great, if done well. I love being able to do what I want (in any order) and having the consequences of my actions affect the outcome of the game. This being said, I want to be part of a strong story, not something being generated on the fly that has a greater than 50% chance of being worthless and uninteresting. As a writer, I have a daily opportunity to write garbage. As a gamer, I want a refined and polished storyline that can be altered – sometimes subtly, sometimes majorly – but never breaks my immersion.

In my opinion, you should enjoy a storyline that allows you to play along; a storyline that a professional has spent time on to make sure there are moments of tension and action, betrayal and emotional pulls.  If you want full control of your destiny, play 2nd Life. Better yet, go to work.

Agree? Disagree? Let me here from you.

From new friends to slammin’ parties and everything in between, the AGDC was everything I hoped it would be. Maybe more. I will try to be brief but invite all of you to ask any specific questions you may have about the goings-on of the conference.

Sunday night: The writers gang met at the Gingerman around 8:00pm and I met who would turn out to be the usual suspects: Jeff Spock, Rhianna Pratchett, Andy Walsh, Ron Toland, Susan O’Connor*, Haris Orkin, Richard Dansky, Tom Abernathy and others (sorry to any I may have left off…there was alcohol involved). Without missing a beat, Andy launched himself into several rants that were informative and entertaining all at once; not a bad skill for someone who would later be giving a lecture about OnDemand Dialogue.

*Meeting Susan will be forever memorable as I made a giant fool of myself by asking her husband if Susan was married. As a writer, this was a moment of poor word choice.

Me, Rhianna Pratchett, Andy Walsh & Richard Dansky

Me, Rhianna Pratchett, Andy Walsh & Richard Dansky

Monday:I arrived early to the convention center and brought two dozen donuts along with sign-up sheets, coupons and an easel. Registration was quick and painless and I got a shirt, a schwag bag and a water bottle. I met Kristy Bowden who brought boxes full of literature and books for our table. I set everything up with some help from Ron and things looked good!

Celtx guys watch Andy dance the Robot

Celtx guys watch Andy dance the Robot

I spent the day going to a few panels (including a brilliant session with Shana Merlin on improv storytelling and a critic-al workshop hosted by Richard Dansky) and manning the booth. I met Tim Langdell and we had a couple of drinks before leaving the center and making our way to the ArtHouse for music, art and drinks. There, Tim and I met with John Canning and left to eat dinner at Thai Passion. After this, the three of us went to the Sky Lounge for the Heatwave Interactive party. Open bar, food, cookies and Rock Band 2 competition – ‘Nuff said.

Tuesday: Waking up was a little difficult on Tuesday, but I still managed to arrive early with some donuts and kolaches. Interestingly, the booth, books, literature, poster and drapes were all gone! Mix up with CMP, but things got fixed while I attended Andy’s panel on the Prince of Persia and OnDemand Dialogue. Kudos to Andy on what seems like a very interesting way of handling story through dialogue in an open world. I had a chance to walk the Expo floor (pretty small and packed) and later attended the Writers’ SIG meeting to put many more faces withnames. The night was devoted to Valve’s party (I met Marc Laidlaw – the man behind the story behind the game of Half-Life) and the Gingerman.

Daniel Greenberg & Haris Orkin @ the Gingerman

Daniel Greenberg & Haris Orkin @ the Gingerman

Wednesday: The last day was slow for the first half, perhaps because Andy had left us. I manned the booth and then went to lunch (leaving the booth in the very able hands of Jeff Spock). Upon returning, I attended Adrian Hon’s panel of We Tell Stories and finished with an excellent presentation (or conversation speech) by Ground Zero Productions’ Flint Dille covering the necessary practices of writers wanting to break into the industry. A group of the writers ate at P.F. Chang’s and then split to attend different parties (most heading straight to the Gingerman).

P.F. Chang's FTW!

P.F. Chang's FTW

I was sad to say goodbye to so many of the writers and even though I’ve already read emails from a few, I hope to see them again before next AGDC. Call me a pushover, but the 3 days and 4 nights of the conference have made me feel that a lot of the writers are more than just names on an email list now. They feel more like friends.   

Again, if you have any specific questions about the conference (I know I was pretty vague here), please ask. I’d be more than happy to talk about this some more! Also, join the IGDA Writers’ SIG email list!

I would love to be writing more about the Austin GDC that is quickly approaching, but all things have their time and place. Activision’s The Bourne Conspiracy is here and now.

Activision's tips on avoiding the draft

Activision's tip on avoiding the draft

 The Good: Per my post about Bioshock, I played through this game as a Trainee (easy) and still found moments of solid challenge. What the fighting lacked in combos, it more than made up for in QTEs (Quick-time events). The QTEs truly resonated with me for this style of game because for the few hours it took me to play through the levels, I felt that I had the quick, decisive nature of Jason Bourne from the movies (not the books…dear Lord, not the books). In the middle of tapping the triangle and square buttons to deliver brutal punches and kicks, you have mere seconds to tap the correct button during a QTE to stave off an opponent’s vicious attack. If you fail, you don’t necessarily die (unless someone is shooting you), but you do suffer a hard knock to your health meter and in a fight with a boss, that health meter needs to last.

And. The boss fights = greatness. After the first two or three, you know what to expect, but they’re never over-the-top. Simply put, a man in a position that requires him to be better than the men below him is harder to beat than the men below him. Or maybe that wasn’t so simply put. Eh, figure it out.

Lastly, the movie-to-game adaptation is handled better than I’ve seen in most games like this. I’ve seen the movie. I love the movie. But the game flashes back to missions Jason ran before the incident on the boat left him for dead in the Mediterranean Sea. Thank you, Ludlum group, for allowing Activision some artistic license to create an entertaining back story and fresh scenarios that were unpredictable.

The Bad: Not a lot to say here other than the controls were a bit quirky. Okay, in all fairness, after my first hour of playing, I was tempted to put the game down due to control-induced frustration. When sprinting through gun fire, Jason Bourne – a $30 million perfect weapon – runs like Mike Myers’ Philip the Hyper-Hypo, run and jerked to a stop…into boxes, fences, cars or anything else that gets in his straight path. I was finally able to come to terms with it later when I realized the shooting was made a lot easier through the “Bourne Instinct” (aka Spidey Sense). Just take cover, pop up and shoot. If you want a headshot, move the crosshair up a hair.

Overall: Play it. With the slowly growing library of games for this console, it is definitely worth your time.

Perhaps a bit overdue, but nonetheless, here we are discussing the upcoming Austin GDC! Not sure what others are hoping for, but as this will be my first official conference to attend, I am…giddy, for lack of a better word. The Writers’ Track alone looks amazing, not to mention audio portion and other key guest speakers.  Personally, I am looking forward to the speech: Endgame: How to Build High-End Gameplay for Your Most Devoted Players by Damion Schubert, Bioware, Austin. So, maybe I’m a little biased about this one because I absolutely love Bioware’s products, but it’s nice to know that the company does think about its most hardcore fan base (“They love me. They really love me!”).

And on to some (not all) of the individuals that I am eager to meet.

First up: Rhianna Pratchett. Not only is she the narrative designer for the upcoming Mirror’s Edge by EA Digital Illusions, she put the “bad ass” in Nariko from Heavenly Sword. Plus, she has all but promised me a quick Q&A session – more than likely nothing you haven’t read elsewhere, but I’ll be the one asking the questions. (Insert evil, maniacal laugh here…unless you are Rhianna Pratchett, in which case, you should have only read the first two sentences of this paragraph)

When I think about you, I touch myself...Get it? Get it?!

When I think about you, I touch myself...Get it? Get it?!

Another presence that I’m looking forward to is Austin’s own Susan O’Connor. Okay, I’ve devoted two different blog entries to Bioshock’s amazing story so, all of that applies here. Now. To this woman. ‘Nuff said.

Richard Dansky’s workshop is another one pulling me. I’ve actually spoken with him briefly on the phone once, so…I don’t really know what that equates to, but it’s out there now for the record. Can’t I just be excited to meet people in the industry without having to qualify it all? Who are you to judge me? (grin)

That is all I have for now. If you’re going to be there, be sure to stop by the Writers’ SIG Booth as I will more than likely be there most of the time. And say hi to me. I would like to meet my two or three readers!

Repetition ingraines the idea

Repetition ingrains the idea