Feb 052012

Thanks to the folks at Game Developers Guild, we had a real, live, in-person Global Game Jam take place from January 27-29. The first day (Friday) was all about registration, kickoff presentations and forming the teams that would have less than two days to complete their game concepts. The speakers were strong – all with local ties to South Florida: Derek Smart from Quest Online and 3000AD, Miguel Oubiña from Nuclei 3D and Mark Bradshaw from Stratogon Entertainment. Derek and Mark use a lot of remote workers (i.e. “inexpensive”) but Miguel is recruiting local students to intern with his studio. There were some constant themes coming from the presenters: being successful is tough, the work is volatile, use – and legitimately pay for – a prominent off-the-shelf game engine such Unity or Unreal, and be prepared to sleep under your desk a lot.

As we all sat around discussing skills and needs, I offered to provide QA or Music help to any of the teams who requested it. The first day ended with the artists and devs being shown to their computers and me heading for home, but not after I left my email address so anyone could contact me to take me up on my offer to help.

Not sure whether anyone would call upon my talents, I ended up getting requests for the “Midgard Serpent” Viking game, the futuristic, virtual “Voxel Slayer” game, and the urban “Gang Warz” game. Each required different styles and I had to dig out some old sample CD-ROMs to bring the right sounds into the loops and effects for each of them.

For Midgard Serpent I initially provided a sound loop to play while the Viking ship was sailing, as well as am appropriately aggressive battle song titled “for Thor!” The team made additional requests for sound effects such as lightning bolts and injury sounds, which I fulfilled with a combination of public domain sound effects and sounds of my own concoction.

The Voxel Slayer team was less ambitious, asking only for a single song loop, which I titled “Mad Voxel.” This was a synth-driven dance type tune with retro game sounds thrown in.

Finally, the Gang Warz folks needed a music loop and some effects to play when attacking, winning, or when a gang member dies. The loop got an urban treatment and the effects were short and to the point. Here’s a link to download and install their game on your PC:

Overall, the experience was fun, but it was work at the same time – especially when all three teams had overlapping requests that I had to triage and deliver on as quickly as possible. Definitely something I would do again!

Gang Warz

Sep 092011
Ichigo kurosaki

Bleach is a Japanese anime focused on the life of teenage Ichigo Kurosaki who discovers he has special powers and throughout the show sees those powers grow as he faces challenges and battles against powerful supernatural beings.

In the story, there are thirteen court guard squads, each with a captain and a lieutenant at the head. Ichigo fights against the same enemies as these squads, but sometimes comes into conflict with them and their leaders. Whenever a situation threatens someone’s life, or the very existence or the world as we know it, the Emperor who rules over the court guards rules in a way that seems to intentionally hamper the pursuit of right over wrong.

A typical conflict more or less follows this sequence…
– An innocent person is accused of doing something wrong and the laws are strictly applied, resulting in that person being hunted down and/or put into prison
– One of the subordinate leaders, or an “outsider” (e.g. Ichigo) acts despite their orders or rules, and initiates a rescue or other actions to clear the accused person’s name
– Some of the captains or other outsiders rally around the rebel and help in the cause, out of devotion to the accused individual or to save a world or dimension that is in peril
– Throughout this, the emperor continues to enforce the rules, refusing to intervene and even seems to impair those attempting to do the right thing
– Eventually, the rogue group succeeds

Given that the efforts inevitably lead to a successful outcome, we can draw two possible conclusions:
1. The leader is worthless
2. The leader is a genius at developing his captains

Have you ever been asked to do something, or inspired/provoked to go against the grain to prove your point about something to your boss? Maybe you were so determined that you worked extra hours to crunch the numbers, or came to work on Monday with a counter-proposal you worked on all weekend. When this happens do you feel grateful or frustrated? You should say “thank you” because you’ve just grew a little bit.

Perhaps the emperor’s approach is obvious to Japanese viewers, but to Western viewers, it must seem that the emperor should be replaced with someone who has a clue. I suspect he is creating the situations and watching to see who the real leaders are. Interestingly enough in the story, they tend to be the youngest ones.

Aug 282011
FIFA Soccer 12

Older readers may think this blog title is the name of a 70’s disco-funk band. Sorry to disappoint, but it *is* a start at thinking about the importance of the steps that lead to the success of an important (for fans and studios) release – especially for a sequel or new episode where fans’ expectations can only be for something better that they previously consumed and raved about.

When a successful title has a number after it – either to indicate a calendar year or sequence number – that breeds an expectation of a followup. Sometimes these hopes are shattered by unforeseen circumstances, such as when the EA Madden franchise got exclusive NFL rights and neutered ESPN NFL 2K5 (arguably the better football title that year) from having any progeny. But, for the most part, there is financial and social pressure for the next edition to appear. Annual updates, such as those for sports titles, are enslaved to unforgiving deadlines to deliver the good in time for the new season. Many non-sports titles are less disciplined about forthcoming releases, and may have good reason such as the availability or home-grown creation of new technologies that will wow fans and justify spending 50-70 bucks on a triple A title.

The subject of this post centers around the upcoming FIFA 12 release, although I expect many qualities and experiences would be similar for other titles and genres such as the next Portal, Battlefield, etc.

Like a little seedling, conversations and speculations arise on the internet through forums and game critique websites. Some gameplay video may even get “leaked’ (wink-wink) to generate some pre-buzz. The first big moment happens at E3. People get to see in-person glimpses, reviewers and business partners get some hands-time, and interviews let the devs and projects leads tell their stories about what’s great this time around. FIFA 12 introduced a “new” technology with a catchy name to make a clear distinction about what’s going to be better in the game play. IMHO EA did a superb job providing videos and developer interviews explaining the Player Impact Engine – which provides more realistic reactions when players get tackled on, as well as Pro Player Intelligence, which guides AI players on the field to make decisions based on the attributes of the other players on their team, such as an AI player deciding whether to cross the ball to a tall teammate (e.g. Peter Crouch) in front of goal, versus passing the ball back to a skilled outside shooter. Precision Dribbling, Tactical Defending and a new Career Mode add enough firepower to warrant the new purchase. You can see what I’m talking about in this YouTube video. The final ploy to get your hard-earned dollars, and prime the revenue pump is the $20 credit you get when pre-ordering through Amazon.

Summarizing, EA seems to have hit on all cylinders by generating some internet buzz, having good demos at E3, putting lots of new-feature videos on the internet, personalizing their message by involving their dev leads, and providing a nice $20 reward for pre-ordering. The only thing I can criticize is the unimaginative and repetitive box art.