I just beat Cave Story. It was the best game I’ve played in a while.

Being “late to the party” is even an adequate enough way of putting it. I can’t believe it’s taken me this long to finally play this game, in spite of all of the great things I’ve heard about it. And read about it. Even on this very blog, Chris’ post on it in 2007.

Cave Story was an freeware hit from 2004. The game was created by a 1-man army. It has recently been released on Wii Ware by Nicalis, and a 3DS version is on its way. Inspired by reading a great interview with the creator, Daisuke “Pixel” Amaya,  decided to play through it during this 3-day weekend.

Christian Nutt conducted a great interview with Pixel on Gamasutra, giving some insight to his motivations and process he went through to make the game. I felt the passion in the words and knew that I had to finally see what the game was about. In the interview, Christian mentions that he feels that the “indie game movement” began with Cave Story. And playing the game, I totally feel that. Most indie games I’ve seen have has this same kind of retro style, visually and aurally. I don’t think there were even many games in the 16-bit era that used a style like this — to me they were trying to get as far away from 8-bit as possible.

One reason I had been putting it off was that I didn’t think there was a Mac version. There was a Mac version done before I even heard of the game. So I didn’t have to jump through hoops to finish.

I don’t know what more to say. The game feels amazing. It’s like Metroid, but it’s got a charm to it that’s reminiscent of games like Earthbound. The game’s got an incredible sense of exploration, it grabbed me, had me anticipating what would happen next. The game also plays like an action shooter, think something like Metal Slug or Gunstar Heroes. The action-packed boss battles definitely kept me on my toes.

If you haven’t played it, download the original Freeware version. Buy it on Wii-Ware or get the 3DS version coming out this fall.

-Bryson

Links:

I managed to make it to E3 this year, though I had to dip in and dip out real quick. I met up with Chris and we had lunch basically as soon as we got there. I owed him a drink for going through with a pitch for a crazy game concept at work and getting them to actually accept it — I figured it might be too nerdy for the world of “social” games, haha. I guess you never know till you try!

So as we scooted around the floor, avoiding long lines, we eventually walked past Eufloria — a PlayStation3 downloadable title. One of the developers, Alex May, coerced me into playing by placing a controller in my hand. I feared for my life so I started playing. I was confused and how no idea what was going on at first, but after a few minutes of practicing the controls (i.e. mashing buttons) and following Alex’s instructions, I was up and running. From what I understand, Eufloria is a bit like an abstract RTS. Your units spawn from trees on asteroids and your objective is to generally destroy the units of another team or conquer a certain asteroids. Something like that…

Chris and I talked with Alex and the other developer, Rudolf Kremers, about the game for a while. They explained how they had competed in some competitions, selling the PC version through Steam and currently working with Sony on Playstation. It was inspiring to talk with these guys first-hand about their experiences fighting the Good Fight. Additional evidence that you can get it if you really want.

The next day I was able to meet up with the homie Nathan Fouts of Mommy’s Best Games and check out Serious Sam: Double D. Through a mix up involving me not knowing what Nathan looked like, haha, I ended up playing a bit of Serious Sam 3 at first, which was good because it introduced me to what Serious Sam was about. I started in the middle of the desert and it wasn’t too clear where I should go, but as I played I ended up following the path of swarming enemies coming at me. I remember a part where I was lost and saw an enemy coming over a dune, I went after him and saw my next objective. From what I saw, I liked that the map was very open and lured me to where I was supposed to go with enemies.


Serious Sam: Double D by Mommy’s Best Games

Next I played some Double D, which is a sidescrolling shoot ’em up created in XNA. The game pretty much plays like Weapon of Choice, which was released for Xbox Indie a while back. You run and shoot, and can aim in any direction with the right analog stick. The major difference to me was the pacing and linearity of the stages, I remember Weapon of Choices stages being a bit more open-ended. You’re constantly being bombarded by enemies, I found myself dying a lot and scrambling for health. As I got a feel for the aiming, I had fun with it. There was a good amount of variety in the stage that I played.

After that, Nathan introduced me to Ian Stocker and his homeboy James. Ian created the Soulcaster games for Xbox Indie, which I had read about but haven’t played. We got to chitchatting about how there was so much variety and exciting unique games at E3 or something like that. Nathan chastised me for saying that I may not charge for Donut Get when it’s released and we had a bit of a discussion about that. He gave me some points of reference, some games that have tried some different payment methods. It’s definitely got me thinking and shown me the value of being able to discuss these things with others. Also, Ian let me play a bit of Escape Goat, which I thought was a pretty awesome from what I saw. Random artwork, but the game mechanics are really fun. I’ve got a soft spot for this kind of adventure game.

I ended the work week with checking out the Joystiq event at the La Cita bar in Downtown LA. I got drunk and watched people play  Dance Central. I learned a bit about Retro/Grade, with the sweet visual effects. I watched and played a bit of Retro City Rampage Brian Provinciano gave me a bit of a rundown of the game. It looks super fun and easy to get into. Talked a bit with James Silva, he gave me some good stories about he’s been doing the damn thing with The Dishwasher and Z0MB1ES. Got confused with Monaco. Saw a lot of people waiting for Spy Party. I bumped into Rudolf again, chillded for a bit, drove home through traffic, and passed out.

Exhausting week!

Till next time…

-Bryson

If all I knew about games were what I had read, I would believe them to be the revolutionary, new zenith of human culture; a marriage of man’s greatest accomplishments in art and science. The problem is I’ve played them too.

Most recently I played Jason Rohrer’s new Inside a Star-Filled Sky. Rohrer’s been a key figure in the ‘games as art’ discussion since it first gained momentum and I’ve admired his aims. I enjoyed Inside a Star-Filled Sky too. I have my complaints, but that’s no shocker. What should come as a surprise is how few criticisms target the pseudo-intellectual banter that surrounds Rohrer’s work and projects like his.

The games industry, including and especially the so-called indie game movement, appears to be suffering from what I call ‘premature congratulation.’ Games without the depth of a poorly written soap opera are regularly applauded for their artistry while patronizing speeches are given by industry moguls patting themselves on the back for the snail’s pace of the art form’s maturation. Universities had no trouble constructing game academia overnight by cutting it down to meaningless abstractions and inventing predictions on the future of gaming despite their disconnection from actual game development. In this market, talk is real cheap.
Continue Reading…


Tiled Map Editor
Screenshot

I was looking into XML Tile Map editors a while ago and I found Tiled Map Editor. The site looked nice and was recently updated so I thought it looked like a good one to try. I recognized the demo maps displayed in the editor screenshots, they were from The Mana World. I contributed a few tiles to the project back in 2004, about midway through my journey through college.

During that time I was trying to figure out how I was going to be able to make games for a living. Although I was developing games like Thugjacker in my free time, I never believed there was a career in doing Flash games. I was preparing to become a 3D environmental artist, hoping to break into the game industry by designing a Half-Life 2 map. But I’ve always had the urge to explore different 2D art styles — I had a huge fascination with pixel art. During that time I would browse the Pixelation forum. The pixel art there was inspiring and I wanted to get in on it, but it was kind of hard with no direction. I just wanted to make some assets and learn the craft, not do all the characters and everything else. Shortly after that, I found a post recruiting people for The Mana World.

The Mana World is a free and open-source 2d MMORPG. It runs on the eAthena server, which is open-source software that emulates a Ragnarok Online server. I thought the game looked cool. It looked like Secret of Mana which was one of my favorite games growing up. It also reminded me of Ragnarok Online, which I didn’t play much but thought was super cool (I loved the art). So I jumped in.

Back when I first saw it, the game was super rough. Laggy. Buggy. But I loved being a part of it, the team was dedicated. It was exciting to log in everyday and see what changes were made while I was away. Most of the game development discussion was done in IRC chat rooms. There were many contributors. And good number of enthusiasts as well, which mostly played and gave feedback.


These are the tiles that I contributed to The Mana World.

I ended up dropping out of the project shortly after finishing these tiles. I had to devote more time to finishing school and my own projects. Looking back, it was my first experience working in a game development team that wasn’t just me and Ricky. I got some practice with working remotely with a team that was based in Europe. I got to feel the pressure of having to deliver game assets and the joy when everyone enjoyed what I contributed. It was also my first exposure to the concept of SVN — which saved me from feeling dumb when I first started using SVN at work.

I think it’s important to remember there’s always a game team out there that could use some help. People in school or just trying to break in the industry can look for these opportunities to gain some experience, and hopefully that leads to more confidence and some good portfolio pieces. From my experience on this project I knew that I could handle tiled pixel artwork. I wouldn’t revive this ability until 2007 on LUV Tank.

Peace!

-Bryson

Last month, I found out last-minute about an IGDA Los Angeles meeting. The guest speaker was Mark Cerny. No way I was gonna miss out on that! I’ve been super inspired by the stuff I’ve read about him, like working on some of my dream projects (I wanted to work on Sonic 2 when I was 8 years old 🙂 ). I left work on time and ended up getting lost on the UCLA campus, but I managed to catch the tail end of the presentation.

My coworker was smarter than me and actually saw the whole talk. His synopsis described what I missed — like Mark talking about the arcade business back in the 80’s. Arcade programming was tough because each game ran on new hardware so programmers never got the opportunity to master the hardware. With consoles, the benefit was that they had a lot of time to learn all of the inner working, tricks, reusing engines, and whatnot. Something like that, ha.

When I jumped in, he was getting to some points. Game budgets are commonly exceeding $20 million. He made fun of no game development team being complete without a “combat designer”. The leap from vertices to pixels has taken its toll on the industry during this generation. But there is hope.

There’s hope in taking the time to actually learn the craft. There’s hope in learning what is and isn’t important. There’s hope in breaking out of budget climbing.

UN-learning

Mark stressed importance of UN-learning. Learning is easy, unlearning is hard. He focused this unlearning around many of the conventions of games inherited from the Arcade Era.

Arcade based games have frequent death and great difficulty at the end. He then did a quick overview of 30 years of arcade style games.

  • Dragon’s Lair had simple gameplay but required players to memorize each sequence to complete the game.
  • Space Ace was designed to be hard as hell for people that mastered Dragon’s Lair.
  • Robotron was mentioned because difficulty was the appeal of the game.
  • Mario 3 was a great example of an arcade game because even though it was a console game, it worked great as Play Choice arcade release.

After that, he talked a little about the Crash Bandicoot games he worked on. The first Crash Bandicoot was hard as shit. In it, you had limited number of lives and although you could restart from the same level, you had to progress to and complete a bonus stage just to save your game. With Crash 2 they had more consumer awareness, they tested it more for difficulty. The players performance in the game is tracked and the game helps when possible.

Dynamic Difficulty

He then talked a bit about dynamic difficulty in games, sometimes you notice and sometimes you don’t. The first example was Sly Cooper, in which the Sucker Punch “solved” jump problems. The solution was that if you missed a jump a certain amount of times as cartoon hook would grab you and put you where you need to go. Maybe not the ideal solution, but it fit the vibe of the game’s world.

Next he mentioned Ratchet & Clank, where reviewers had a problem because the difficulty adjustment was too obvious. When you die too much in Ratchet & Clank, boxes that would normally drop money start dropping health. Last he mentioned Uncharted but just that many people didn’t realize that Uncharted had dynamic difficulty systems, he didn’t go into anything specific.

End of Death

We are fighting our arcade heritage. If you aren’t dying, you aren’t playing. Is Farmville a game? Even though you can’t die?

I think this was an important point. Many games I love for the challenge, like a Mario game for instance, but many other games I enjoy more for the experience, like NiGHTS.  Mark asked the crowd to raise their hands if they thought Farmville was a game. There were some vocal Farmville haters expressing that they didn’t think these kinda games were games at all. Is it because you can’t die? No clear challenge or goal?

I don’t think they are good games, but it’s kinda hard to deny that they share much of the same basis of the games we all love.

Can a game be enjoyable without rewards and punishment? I’ve been playing Earthbound recently, and I’m into it solely for the story and scenario. I feel like I could skip out on much of the “game” of it and have a great time. I’m willing to experiment with these ideas.

Today’s Vocabulary

At the end, Mark talked about today’s gaming vocab, we have “co-op”, “social game”, “3rd-person-shooter”, “deathmatch”, etc. But we need new words for new social paradigms. His example of this was Demon’s Souls. It’s a single player action RPG… but it has many forms of social interactions. But not necessarily directly. For instance, you can leave messages for other players and your spirit shows up in other players games. So what do you call that?

Q&A

I believe during Q&A he states that he thought 80-90% of games could work with socialization and monetization. I agree with this, and this seemed to be his point of “un-learning”. Developers need to stop thinking of “social-games” as leaderboards and Farmville.

When asked something about independent development without a publisher he said that it’s possible to scrape together enough cash to make a console game but even if you manage to do that, you’d need a publisher for marketing. With a console game having about $10 million marketing. On the subject of the iPhone market he said something like “There’s someone successful out there. Odds are that’s not you.”

That’s it!

One of the most interesting things he said was pointing out that gaming has sort of come full circle. People are scared and violent towards the trends of monetization of social gaming. But it’s the same concept that the industry was founded on — arcade machines eating players quarters to cover development costs.

I think it’s best to embrace it if you can, think about it differently and find a way to make it work for you.

Some Links:

I started playing through Earthbound to see what it was about. There was a great little article on the original that never made it stateside in issue 5 of GameSpite Quarterly, the NES 25th anniversary issue. Just another reminder that I needed to play through this game! The only time I played it was back in 1998 on a SNES emulator, which barely ran on my 200Mhz Pentium 1 computer. Today, I’m running a much more developed version of that same Snes9x emulator, with a much better dual core processor and USB controller. No reason not to keep playing!

The first time I played, I only made it through the intro and a little farther after that. This time, I discovered why. Once the game opened up to the first town, it became a puzzle to determine what to do next. Back then, it was too frustrating with the choppy framerate of my slow computer. Now, I took the time to figure out what the game is about.

The gameplay of Earthbound is pretty much your typical Japanese RPG — think Dragon Warrior or Pokémon. You wander around locations and encounter random battles when you bump into enemies, similar to Chrono Trigger. You can obtain an advantage if you encounter the enemy from behind — and you start the battle at a disadvantage if they get you from behind. The battles are of simple menu driven variety. No cluttered menus and overly complex sub-systems.

What separates the game from everything I’ve mentioned is definitely the scenarios and dialogue. The scenarios are pretty random and wacky from what I’ve seen — from fighting thugs at their arcade hideout to fighting police. The dialogue is always on the side of humor and satire. It’s just goofy and funny! Makes me smile simply by reading it, wondering what was going on in the Nintendo translators’ heads in 1995. They did a great job! In addition to the writing, the game starts off with allowing you to answer questions from the NPCs early on. This will usually affect how they respond. But sometimes your answer affects your progress through the scenario. For instance, you may have to answer with the alternate response for something to happen. I got stuck at a part like that.

The music is great as well. I was like “right on” when they played a little reggae track when you enter a house. Great attention to detail with the tunes, it seems like they even sampled songs for many of them.

What I love about the game is that even though it’s so simple, it’s apparent that a lot of love went into it. I love that it’s not afraid to poke fun at it being a game. I even feel like if you took a lot of the gameplay out of it — like removing the battle system — it’d still be an enjoyable experience because of the definite world it creates for itself. Playing, I feel like I just gotta see what happens next.

Till next time…

-Bryson

When asked whether there would have been a loading screen when switching times in Sonic CD if he had programmed it, Yuji Naka replied with this…

“Technical skill depends on being in the moment and getting some kind of inspiration to overcome your current problem, and there’s no guarantee it will happen every time. ” – Yuji Naka’s New Bird by Gamasutra

Yuji Naka’s known as an amazing programmer , being lead programmer on Sega classics such as Phantasy Star, Sonic the Hedgehog, and NiGHTS: Into Dreams. Many of his games have pushed the hardware in ways that many didn’t think was possible.

I identify with the words because there’s been many times where I’ve gotten through a mess and realized that I was capable of a lot more than I initially imagined. There are always those “Why didn’t I think of that earlier?” moments where you reach a sudden realization which pushes you further ahead. These moments have come to me at the most random times so I try to step out of my problems for a while and have a look from another perspective.

Take a break, breathe and take a little walk. Clear your mind. Then jump back in, haha!

Sega 16 has a great biography of Yuji Naka.

IGDA Los Angeles

The title of the talk was ‘Writing Games: Tall Tales of Triumph and Terror’ and it was held last Thursday at the Writers’ Guild of America, West headquarters in Los Angeles. It went alright, with some discussion of what it’s like to be a game writer, the new and growing position of game writers within the WGA (which allows game writers to join according to lower standards than film or television writers), and lots of nods to Uncharted 2 and Half-Life.

Everything pretty much went as I expected, but I found it very unfortunate that we did not see a discussion of the art or craft of game writing. We only really heard about the differences in work environment and technicalities. For example, it was generally agreed that game development involves far less clearly defined roles than filmmaking, so a writer can expect to play some role in game design and should expect the game designer to play a role in writing. A script writer should also expect his usual 125 page script to shoot up to around 800 pages for a game, since games are longer and a player may only experience a fraction of a game’s writing in a single play through. We did not, however, hear about anyone’s ideas on game writing, how a game is structured, approach, how they use the game to convey meaning or feelings. At one point it was mentioned that while in film it is said that a writer should ‘show’ and not ‘tell,’ in games a writer should ‘do’ and not ‘tell,’ but that was the extent of artistic discussion.

I stood up for the Q and A at the end and asked about the difference between games with mute protagonists and those with talkative protagonists, citing Half-Life and Uncharted and asking how each writer felt about the different approaches to game writing. This, I thought, was a question they could bite into. Surely one of these guys struggled at one time or another with the contradiction of a game’s protagonist being both a unique character and being played by the player, or at the very least, thought it was interesting, thought something could be done with that. Right? One of the writers reiterated that Uncharted 2 and Half-Life were both great games and simply said sometimes you go the one direction with a mute, and other times you go with the yapper. Nobody else had anything to say. So that was my shot. Oh well.

Anyway, I had a good time, especially talking to some of the writers over cokes. I even met a flash developer by the name of Tamar Curry. Seemed like a cool dude.

This is my second IGDA meeting and I recommend checking them out, especially if you want to meet some local LA game developers. Students and indie devs show up in addition to folks from some of the larger companies, so it’s a good bunch.

-Christopher J. Rock

  • First-Person Shooter. Check.
  • Post Apocalyptic World. Check.
  • RPG Elements. Check.

I had held off from getting an Xbox until Halo 3 came out. There was all the drama with the Red Ring of Death and there were lots of rumors of a new motherboard with less problems, coincidentally around the time of Halo 3’s release. After playing through Halo 3 I ended up getting a Wii and Super Mario Galaxy — mostly using my Xbox for XBLA games ( Braid, Rez, Castlevania: Symphony of the Night, Banjo Kazooie, etc.) Last Fall I decided to get caught up with Xbox retail games, and borrowed a bunch from Ricky.


Bioshock

Bioshock was high on my list. It was mega-hyped, looked pretty cool, and one of the prettiest games out at the time. There were a lot of demo videos leading up to its release, demonstrating the variety of ways you could interact with the enemies and environment to get through situations. Using electricity to deactivate machines, using fire to make enemies run for water, making the Big Daddies fight on your side, and the like. It looked exciting and I had to see what the game was about since it was one of the best examples of our game technology.

Continue Reading…

Chris and I attended the IGDA LA Chapter’s July meeting for a panel discussion titled “Running a Small Development Studio: Perils, Pitfalls & Promise.I was interested in checking out the event because it was a relevant topic and I’ve yet to attend any of the LA Chapter meetings. I’ve been an IGDA member on 2 separate occasions but failed to see value in the membership since there were never any meetings. This year they’ve restarted and are having meetings the 2nd Thursday of every month.

The talk was excellent. The speakers gave a good idea of some of the challenges of getting a company started and keeping it rolling.

The speakers were:

John Beck CEO, WayForward Technologies (A Boy and His Blob, Where the Wild Things Are, Space Chimps)

Jenova Chen Creative Director, thatgamecompany (Flower, flOw, Cloud, Journey)

Tian Mu CEO, Co-Founder, Naked Sky Entertainment, Inc. (Star Trek DAC, RoboBlitz, RoboHordes)

Jesse Vigil Founder, Partner, Psychic Bunny (Codename Games, Lead Balloon)

After the talk, it transformed into a mixer. It was good chit-chatting with some of the homies and the regulars. Met and re-met a couple people we saw at the USC Global Game Jam. I had a good chat with the homies Nite and Deon, who worked on Lulu Cao’s thesis project, SomeDay.

This IGDA-LA event is every 2nd Thursday. It hasn’t been updated for a while, but you can try the website for info about the next one. If they keep having meetings of this caliber, I’ll have to renew my membership.

Oh yeah, baby. I came up. Won this wonderful game at the raffle.