Sad, sad news as it seems that Adobe is ending it’s stock photos program. The access to thousands of great photos added huge value to Photoshop. This service was a huge help while working on the Experimental Gameplay Project and I’m not sure what I would have done without it. It’s a shame to see it go.
I attended the Washington caucuses today excited because I like politics. Despite how important the caucus is given the tight Democratic race, but I expected a relatively small turnout due to the fact that it takes a couple hours. I knew I was wrong however when I saw parking packed five blocks away from my polling place. The room was packed. It had a dozen precincts and 99 people showed up for my precinct alone. A volunteer told me that it was quadruple the turnout from four years ago.
Personally it was an amazing experience. It was uplifting to see so many people involved in the system. It was great to have everyone voting at once so you could talk to other passionate people and hear their views. And it was great to be involved. I actually counted votes and assigned delegates for my precinct today. Out of the 99 people in my precinct, 18 were chosen and volunteered to attend the state convention as delegates and alternates. In a way, I wish we could do more elections that way.
The voting in Redmond and Kirkland wasn’t even close. It was a landslide for Obama. My precinct went 79% Obama, earning 7 delegates out of our 9. It’s no wonder as Obama had an amazing get out the vote campaign. In the last three days I received five calls encouraging me to come out for Obama, including one from the Governor (recorded of course). I didn’t even see a single poster for Hillary until I was actually at the caucus site. In sports terms, Obama wanted it more and it showed.
Part of the process today involved the opportunity to make speeched to attempt to sway voters. No speech actually changed any minds, though if just a few Clinton supporters had the delegate count would have been 8 to 1 instead of 7 to 2. During the speeches someone stood up for Clinton saying that we can’t change Washington, and we need a hardened politician to work for us. In response, someone asked how many Obama supporters had never been to a caucus before. At least 60 people raised their hands, to which the speaker said: “Obama won’t change Washington, Clinton won’t change Washington, only we can change Washington. Obama is the voice that’s inspiring the people to come out, and together we will change Washington.” It’s a simple argument, but it’s one of the most compelling I’ve head this entire campaign.
It was a near certainty with the writer’s strike, but there’s a new crop of game shows around. Read the rest of this entry »
Star Tropics, one of my favorite NES games, has made it to the Wii’s Virtual Console. One thing I was curious about is how they would handle the letter they put in the original game. For those who don’t know, the game’s manual came with a generic letter from your Uncle attached to it that said “Don’t throw away, you’ll need this later.” Later in the game they ask you for a frequency to help track your uncle. You cannot advance until you enter the correct code.
Unfortunately a lot of people tossed the letter and the mechanic operated like a the copyright protection of the day where games would ask for a certain word from the manual, only curiously late in the game. However, if you kept the letter the experience was awesome. The robot asking for the code also tells you (in classic 8-bit compressed text) to put the letter under water and enter the code. Once you figure out that it’s the actual paper letter you probably forgot about and get your head around the fact that they actually want you to run paper under water you reveal a secret watermarked message on the lower half of the page. The message apologizes for having to be so secretive and reveals the frequency.
This was one of the most immersive moments in my history of gaming. I even still remember the code (747 Mhz). Bridging games with reality can be a really powerful tool. You don’t see it very often because there probably aren’t a lot of ways around the problems of people throwing away the letter or reselling the game. However it’s good to see that sort of thing come up every once in a while in ARGs.
So the question is, with the game on VC, how will people deal with not having the letter? Well of course you can look it up online, but I kind of figured that Nintendo would just edit that scene out. Fortunately they came up with a better solution. The letter is included with the game’s digital manual. On the letter’s page, there’s a water bucket icon. You can use the bucket to dump virtual water on the letter and reveal the message. It’s not as powerful as doing in person and I suspect that far more people will check the net rather than thinking to look in the game’s help file, but I’ve got to give them credit for being clever.
I came across this interesting GamaSutra article while reading Kotaku. It does a good job of reminding me of days that will never come again when replay value was accomplished through terribly difficult level-design and secrets were shared through “you can do that?!?” moments on the playground instead of spoiling them the day they come out through a Prima guide or GameFaqs.
What the article makes me think about is the economics that have become conventional wisdom in game design. That is, that games should be made to be finished. With game production costs as high as they are there’s no sense in making content that won’t be seen by everyone. On one hand this has improved overall game pacing but at the same time it tends to reduce game difficulty to the lowest common denominator to make sure everyone can see everything. There aren’t many “I didn’t know you could to that” moments anymore.
The article makes the point that putting in easter eggs can increase the believability of the game world by adding the illusion that there’s more beyond what the player sees. By using obtuse rather than random systems, you can add depth by giving dedicated players something to master. Finally, having mysterious systems will add the the allure and replayability of games while people try to figure it out. Even if it gets spoiled on GameFaqs in a few days, word of mouth will be better and people will play more to figure out if there’s anything else to find. Think of the Super Mario Bros. 3 whistle secret spoiled in The Wizard. Everyone knew it but it gave people a reason to search for more and gave people something special to tell new players when recommending the game. In this way spending money working on content for just a few players can actually increase ROI. It’s something I hope more designers will think about.
The article also reminded me of Baten Kaitos, and I realized that I remember it fondly. I discussed it well in my original post about the game. Over time I’ve forgotten the negatives and come to realize just how out-there and innovative the innovative parts were. While I don’t expect any of it to get incorporated into other games soon, it was refreshing to see a studio be so bold in trying to reinvent a genre. I’d upgrade its score to 8.5/10 and recommend it to any game designer interested in RPGs.
Given the lack of good TV due to the writer’s strike, I’m surprised at how much I’ve been enjoying the new incarnation of the American Gladiators. Apparently I’m not alone as 12 million people watched the premier.
I think the reason I enjoy it is because they got the most important part of bringing back old shows right: it’s exactly as I remember the old version. That’s not to say that it’s exactly like the old version. Far from it. I was a big fan of the old show so this prompted me to go back and watch some old clips because I was curious about some of the events they changed. I realized that the old series was visually pretty bland. However, I romanticized it into a much flashier memory and that’s what the new one is. It’s the same little guys versus big guys in wacky events fun in a future as viewed from the 80’s veneer with today’s production values.
Unfortunately the new producers have picked up some bad habits from reality TV and filled the show with human-interest montages and interviews. You can tell the writers are on strike because the dialog is plain bad. The gladiator’s personas are ridiculous, the contender’s catch-phrases are worse, and the attempts at gut-wrenching back-stories are deplorable. The more I watch it, the more I want the only dialog to be “Is the contender ready? Is the gladiator ready? 3. 2. 1. Go!”
Fortunately, in this era of DVRs that wish is easily possible. At this point I record the episodes and fast-forward through anything that’s not competition. If I couldn’t do that I wouldn’t watch. But with DVRs, there’s about 20 minutes of fun TV in each hour episode.
Check Hillary’s tirade on change in the recent Democratic debate that starts at about 2:00.
I would have given almost anything to have someone shout out “Could you break a twenty?” at that moment.
Welcome everyone who found my site from Fargo’s GameSpyDaily newsletter. When I wrote him yesterday, I never thought he’d post it directly, but I’d like to thank him publicly for it here. I love it when people appreciate my work, and thanks to that email you’ve visited more in one day than you do in most months.
I want to clarify that what you see on the demos page was my best work on the Experimental Gameplay Project. The rest of it you can see on the EGP site. Some of it is attributed to me and was posted when we were posting everything no matter how bad it was, and some of it is posted anonymously along with the rest of my teammate’s work under the alias EGP2. The Experimental Gameplay Project is about just that, experimenting. Part of experimenting is naturally that a lot will fail, especially when you only have a week to make a game from scratch. I batted about .300 on the project, which I thought was actually pretty good. The point is that if you try to experiment with gameplay, you must accept failure, and even encourage it. Otherwise you won’t learn. I definitely learned more about game design from my failures than I did from my successes.
However, when it comes time to show people what you can do, you need to dazzle them. Just because it may be a good job market right now doesn’t mean that recruiters aren’t still picky. So select only your best work and present it in the best possible light. When I went to the GDC this year, I made sure I was prepared. In addition to doing several passes on my resume and printing it out on nice paper, I took time to make my CD as polished as possible. The CD contained just those three games in .exe, .zip, and unpacked formats, my resume, and the page you see as the demos section. To make things easier for the viewer, the games don’t require installation and could run off the CD in either the .exe or unpacked forms. The webpage was set to autorun when the CD was inserted so that the explanations could precede the work. The page was of course running off the CD too so that it would work even if the internet was unavailable. Finally, I made custom labels and handed them out in nice CD slips.
I could go on about job-hunt preperation for paragraphs, so I’ll stop myself here. I do love to hear comments on my work. Love my games? Hate them? Have suggestions? Want to know more about how they were made, interview preperation, the games industry, or how to get started? Drop me a line at psaltzman *at* gmail *dot* com.
It’s been a really long time since I’ve posted here. Being amazingly busy started about two months ago when I went to the GDC, which kicked off a solid month of programming tests, interviewing, and flying to do in-person interviews. Then came end-of-semester project stuff, and finally graduation.
The result of all of that has been excellent, as I have a new job at Microsoft that I’ll be starting soon. In fact, I’m only a permanent resident of Pittsburgh for a few more hours. Moving has been part of my stress. The movers came on Monday, and since then I’ve been living in an essentially empty room. The whole process has really driven home just how much we have and how little we need. All-in-all though, moving has been pretty smooth thanks to Microsoft’s excellent relocation support.
So tomorrow I go to Sacramento to catch the always fun Jazz Jubilee, and then I’m off to Seattle. I’ll be working for Microsoft Game Studios in their Tools and Technology division. As I understand it, I’ll be helping to add online features to games in development by some of the studios Microsoft owns. I’ll be working in Redmond a couple miles from the main Microsoft campus, and from what I’ve heard I think I’ll really love the area. I can’t wait to find out more about Seattle. If you have any tips or know anyone I should meet out there let me know.
Looking back on it all it’s hard to even recognize myself two years ago. You never feel like you’re changing from day to day, but before I came to the ETC I had never used a real 3d engine, had made only the most rudimentary of games, did very little team-based work and certainly never worked directly with artists, didn’t know anything about the structure or economics of game studios, and had never driven cross country or maintained a house. I often say that the ETC was not what I thought it would be but was exactly what I needed. As I look back on it all I stick to that. Without the ETC I probably wouldn’t be where I am today.