dev life // dad life



March 8th, 2010

GDC 2010 has begun. Let’s meet!

Drop me a line if you want to hook up. I may hit the expo floor for a bit, but mostly I’ll be working during the days and meeting folks at night. I’ll be at the iPhone dev union party on Wednesday night, and it sounds like there’s another iPhone dev get-together on Thursday night, maybe at Thirsty Bear? I’m at a private gig on Friday, and probably other places as serendipity dictates.

(Does serendipity really “dictate”?)

Oh, the Huge Manatee!

February 10th, 2010

This has nothing to do with games, unless you are making a game about manatees. I took these yesterday.

Fish cleaning a manatee:

Manatee with caustics! (Hey, that’s at least graphics related.)

A manatee getting a belly rub:

And, of course, You Have to Eat the Rope:

Dragon Age Thoughts

February 2nd, 2010

Some quick takeaways from Dragon Age:

  • Bioware’s best content is so amazing, that people will put up with a whole lot of intestine-crawling* and monster-boxing** to see it.
  • While all game genres have to fight to keep up with the technology march, RPGs have it the worst.  There’s obvious strain between technology development, tool development, and designer learning curve.  There should be at least one more Dragon Age this generation.  DA2 : DA :: BG2 : BG?  I certainly hope so.
  • “Character” offers a riper field for productive innovation than “plot”.  While The Plot is on rails, everyone’s game experience is unique as a result of their morality intersecting with the NPC’s.  Expect to see more fruitful exploration of character development in future games, as Dragon Age influences developers everywhere.

* intestine-crawling: walking through a hallway that’s been looped back and forth many times in a tight space (usually square) so as to maximize walk distance.  This gives the dungeon more time to digest the adventurer.

** monster-boxing: stuffing monsters into a series of boxes, usually with doors.  Frequently, the monsters have no reason to be in the box, yet do not attempt to leave the box until they spot a curious adventurer.

MS Office: the Video Game

January 23rd, 2010

I’ve made no secret that the thoughts I expressed on the SXSW Game Interface Lessons panel were strongly influenced by Dan Cook’s work on the subject.  Well, a lot of folks have done a lot of talking.  Websites like LinkedIn and Facebook have borrowed a lot of the easy incentives from video games, from progress bars to “completing the set” to leveling up.  But the tougher question for a while has been: how do you teach a deep, complicated application using these techniques?  Forget random endorphin bursts– how do you get some real work done using games?

Dan Cook writes that he and the folks at Office Labs have taken a big step: Ribbon Hero!  If you have Office 2007 or later, you can download it right now, and learn how to use the controversial new “ribbon” interface element.  I don’t own a copy, so I’m stuck reading CNet’s coverage– but if you do give it a shot, please let me know what you learn (and maybe invite me over).

Without having seen the add-on, I think that an experimental, Office Labs add-on is the right place for this work.  There’s a long way from “we think we could use progressive learning techniques in video games” to “we’ve discovered what really works”.  I’m very excited to see this work kick off, and hope to see further developments before long.

EDIT: OMG, it has Facebook integration.  If you are my FB friend, PLEASE spam me with your Ribbon Hero updates.  I promise I won’t ignore you like I do Mafia players.

Uniwar vs. Advance Wars

January 2nd, 2010

A few hours of Uniwar on the iPhone have shown me: I underestimated Advance Wars.

I mean, what’s so hard about Advance Wars?  It’s a typical turn-based strat.  You make your land, sea, and air units.  You make some big ones and small ones, add some basic RPS, add terrain bonuses and penalties, crank out a bunch of maps, and you’re done.

Of course, that doesn’t give you a satisfying game.  Uniwar’s two biggest flaws:

  • Unit glut.  You simply have more units than you want to control.  Half the map is filled with units moving around, healing up, taking up space, doing nothing.  The delicate practice of using your few units to restrict the enemy’s movements is pushed to the background.
  • Drawn-out games.  After you’ve essentially won, it can take quite a while to actually complete the mission.  I last played a mission that I “failed” at the end because I didn’t farm my objective long enough before winning.  I’m not sure I’m willing to replay it.

The biggest culprit may well be the maps (or the terrain movement penalties– chicken and egg).  With few open stretches of land, you spend many turns moving units one or two spaces, clogging up the abundant choke points.  Flying units help, though you’ll end up resorting to them not because they’re better suited, but simply because you’re bored.

Furthermore, combat just isn’t lethal enough.  You’ll stack up a totally overwhelming force against an enemy base, simply so that you can kill off the infantry on it faster than the base can produce another one.

Uniwar is fun– it’s just not Advance Wars.  And it illustrates a troubling constraint on iPhone games: shoestring development budgets.  While Uniwar would be a much better game with some more time to tweak the units, playtest the maps, and improve mission design, it’s hard to say that would pay for itself at $3 a pop.

The Greatest Gift of All: Calculords

December 17th, 2009

The best gift this holiday season isn’t something material.  It isn’t something you can buy.  No, it’s a humble arrangement of ones and zeroes that collectively form the Calculords First Test.

Yes, together, I and a very special group of iPhone/iPod Touch owning Star Nerds can work together to create a very special Christmas miracle.  (Actually, more like a January miracle.  Or a February miracle, depending on AppStore approval time.)  What’s the miracle?  Why, the best math-based video game of all time.

If you’re interested in helping us test Calculords, and maybe giving us some feedback to make the game better, send me your email address, device type (Touch, 3G, 3GS, 1st Gen, etc.), and UDID.  We’d love to have your help, but there are a limited number of slots, so please don’t take it personally if we’re full up.

Happy holidays!  If you’re simply interested in hearing more about Calculords, just hang on until January.  We’ll be asking for your help spamming your friends before you know it.

Modern Warfare 2 Goes There

October 27th, 2009

There’s been a lot of back and forth over the idea of playing as the bad guy in a video game.  There are the clearly ridiculous games, such as Postal.  Or PvP games, largely removed from context, in which one side is Nazis (wargames, Wolfenstein, etc.).

Most mainstream forays to the evil side bring plenty of controversy.  (Smaller indie games, such as indie game “Edmund”, about a rapist, escape notice.)  GTA’s been a favorite media whipping boy.  The game “Six Days in Fallujah” was canceled, likely because of media controversy.

Modern Warfare 2′s leaked beginning is so relevant to today’s fears, so realistic looking, that it’s going to cause a lot of people to think very hard about the role of video games.  If you haven’t seen it yet, and don’t mind the spoilers, search YouTube for something like “modern warfare 2 airport”.  (I can’t link, because Activision’s pulling ‘em down as fast as they can find ‘em.)

If you don’t want the beginning spoiled, I’d advise not turning on the TV or going in to work for the next couple weeks.

Happy Geocities-geddon!

October 26th, 2009

And the vast cities of man crumbled into the–

Oh, hi! This site isn’t done yet! It’ll be up soon!


“The story of GeoCities this decade is one of a skydive from the clouds without a parachute or supervision and a sack of missed opportunities.” –Actual journalist person, paid to write that sort of thing.

Epic Brutal Legend Achievement Video

October 15th, 2009

I’ll probably never get this achievement, but I loved the vid. This is a guy getting the hardest achievement (IMO) in Brutal Legend. The vid’s a fun watch, because it gives you a quick tour of the environments in BL, and shows off the world’s immense scope.

Also, for you completionists and solo-hunters, check out this awesome fan-made map of everything in BL.

Now THAT’S How You Run an MMO

September 4th, 2009

MMO players are like children– you can give, and give, and they’ll just get more spoiled.  Witness a WoW designer reminding a bad player that its skill-based system isn’t intended to give the top loot to… bad players.

No, you have to have a firm hand, and you have to set the tone immediately.  That’s why Champions Online developers Cryptic dropped a massive day one nerf as a morning welcome to its audience of ill-raised babies, and then sat silent for a couple days while its head-start players asked if they’d be able to re-spec their now-crappy characters into something a bit less “loser”.

In child-rearing, we call this the “cry it out” method, and it’s the only way you get any sleep.  Put the child down to sleep, let it scream its head off for a few days or so, and eventually it learns to shut up and pay its monthly fee go to sleep.  “But Matt– they’re not trapped!  They can get up out of their crib, and go to another coddling, namby-pamby, buy your way to maxlevel, pamper you until you’re Gossip Girl spoiled day care MMO!”  Well, duh– that’s why you wait to drop the nerf until a couple hours after you’ve stopped selling lifetime subscriptions!

And lest you think this is just an act– if you think this game is going to be balanced for casuals, another walk in the park– Roper has a message for you.  Suck it up or stop sucking:

CraigHort asks: …After the launch day patch I feel weedy, like Superman near Kryptonite, and I struggle to best three baddies of similar power. Is that right? Shouldn’t I feel more super?

Bill Roper: …With my Might-based character, I regularly take on four-to-six henchmen and feel awesome doing it.

That’s right, pencil-neck.  Bill Roper just told you to learn to play. Now stop crying and change your own damned diaper.