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!

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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.

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?

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

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!

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.