Monthly Archives: June 2012
Well, I’m down in Melbourne right now alongside luminaries Tim Schafer and Warren Spector for the opening of Game Masters, an exhibition at the Australian Centre for the Moving Image which honours the greatest minds and biggest movers and shakers of our humble craft.
There are countless panel discussions, workshops and more happening down here. We kinda wish we could be at all or more of them, but being as we’re working on our game up in Sydney, it wouldn’t behoove us to take too long a break in spite of the knowledgey goodness being down here amongst this stuff will bring. Also, it’s really only one of us who’s made it down. The rest of the team is hard at work in Sydney making me feel bad while I console myself with Lord of the Fries (the only burger joint you ever need in your life ever).
So what’s on offer? Aside from Warren Spector giving an amazing talk on how he hasn’t written a line of code, drawn a picture or designed a level since 1992 (seriously), and Rob Murray from Firemint being the only one of the keynote speakers to admit he’s more of a businessman than a game designer, there are 130+ games here to play. There’s Defender, Rip Off, Braid, Child of Eden, The Sims and a whole buttload of mega-inspirational titles which in some way, shape or form, have changed gaming forever.
It’s a load of fun, and I do heartily recommend the exhibition (and just the ACMI in general) for any gamers down in Melbourne who get passionate about the culture and the minds behind what we all know and love.
Now, back to work! There’s drinking to be done down here in sunny ol’ Melbourne!
Ladies and gentlemen, it is my gratuitous pleasure to announce Eliot Fish as the composer for Flat Earth Games’ first title. Eliot is undoubtedly a familiar face to some of you existing in the Australian videogame circles.
He produced ABC’s Good Game for a couple of years, and is perhaps better known as the editor of HYPER magazine, where he had the helm for 5 years from ’99-’04.
Eliot’s been in gaming for absolutely ages, but also released an EP entitled ‘Trick of Light’, and played as a bassist for years in Big Heavy Stuff (got an ARIA nomination in 2001) and The Apartments. He’s toured all over Australia and internationally, playing (with The Apartments) to sold out shows in France, and touring locally (with Big Heavy Stuff) with the likes of Radiohead, Powderfinger and Jebediah.
Perhaps more importantly, he’s just a gosh-darned lovely guy, and we’re stoked to have him on board.
Check out a bunch of Eliot’s music here (http://soundcloud.com/
In our many wanderings, we were fortunate enough to wander just recently over to the biggest and grand-mac-daddyest gaming expo of them all: E3.
The experience, as an indie developer, is vastly different than the experience as a punter, larger-scale dev or media pundit, with the convention by and large catering to the biggest of the fish, with only the most standout, well-funded and publisher-sponsored indie titles getting enough floor space to attract any notice.
Darlings there were aplenty, however, with The Unfinished Swan and SoundShapes simple blowing us away.
Unfinished Swan is one of those Cindarella stories where a student working on something cool (in this case a completely white game world with no shadows whatsoever where you can only see by lobbing black paint around the place to get some sense of where you are) was noticed by Sony, plucked from his university lifestyle and given a team and a budget to turn his idea into a fully fledged concept piece. Kinda like the experimental albums which can either lead a band astray or have them hailed as artistes, Unfinished Swan commands respect from across the show floor. Decadent, elegant, distinguished – it blares from all angles that Sony believe in sponsoring the arts, and provide a service which connects you to a higher culture than that of its Microsoftian brethren.
I am, of course, being at least somewhat facetious, but while it’s easy to be cynical about what a game like Unfinished Swan does for a brand, it’s also just breathtaking to play, and will likely cop the same universal praise a game from ThatGameCompany (Journey, Flower) would.
SoundShapes is the second game from Jonathan Mac (Queasy Games, the outfit who created Everyday Shooter). Sitting quietly in the corner of the (also Sony) booth, this Vita title is a simple platformer where each of the coins you collect (there are several in each screen and each screen takes a good minute or so to cross) adds a note to the music. This builds to a pitch-perfect climax as you approach the end of each level, with the music in full force and only getting stronger and more vibrant right before the finale.
The kicker in this cute little title is the Superband factor. Music and art styles for each level are brought over from someone of significant repute. Obviously, Mr Mac has his own level, but so does the chap who created Swords and Sworcery, and the illustrious Deadmou5 has done one of the music tracks. Each level (or ‘record’) has its own completely distinct art style and its own music track, and each feels entirely different.
The potential for DLC is obvious, and the level editor (and music editor) is complex enough that it’s got the potential to rival Little Big Planet for user-generated content.
But these titles, modest in scope though they may be relative to the larger pack, are immense properties which must’ve each surpassed the $1 million mark as a cost to bring each to market.
Nothing puts life in perspective more for you as a gamer than E3. The big trumpet their bigness with aplomb, while the smallest of the small must still be one of the lucky few to be featured in the Indiecade booth (conveniently not located in either of the two major halls) if they’re to be featured at all.
Not saying it’s a grim or disheartening experience, just that for a budding developer with a game world in his pocket ready to bust out and shine in hapless victims’ faces at a moment’s notice, it’s essentially about networking rather than demonstrating. Gathering business cards, meeting people who may be able to help your game get noticed and keeping a firm eye and ear out for any opportunities to get a little attention is the order of the day.
And of course, it’s an opportunity to go and hang around the Watch Dogs booth for hours on end.
So yes, that title was sarcastic.
Flat Earth has been at Game Tech for the last day and a bit, and it’s entirely about one thing – monetizing (I’m intentionally using the American spelling here, I feel it’s an American word) digital enterprise. Now, we’ve had some rather heated internal debates surrounding how to effectively make money on our humble little endeavour, looking at models including people paying us money and getting our game, people playing a bit of our game then paying us money for the full game, people playing our game for free with optional ways to pay for a different experience, and other fun models like these.
We’re still a fair way off deciding how this sort of thing will work in our game, but we’ve got one firm principle we’re sticking to above all else: the business model will be added to our already completed game.
What we mean by this is that we want a game which is fun to play in and of itself, not a game where we intentionally frustrate or stagnate the player’s progress until they pay us money. We have no interest in holding players to ransom and implementing a bottleneck in our game where people want to pay for nefarious reasons.
But one thing is very clear, this conference is all about companies of various shapes and sizes trying to figure out how to make money out of games. Everyone is doing digital, even big franchises are looking at ways to extend their brand to mobile, tablets, Facebook and any other place where their fans can be found.
Us? We’re just making damn sure that whatever way we decide will be our final payment model, it will not be something which breaks or alters the gameplay we consider fun.
The fun comes first, business models ought to be built around an existing and internally fun game. The two ought not be developed in tandem.
Perhaps this should be one of those pledges from the ‘We the developers‘ declaration article? Heh.
In the middle of Darling Harbour, during the drizzling rain the other week, Mark Serrels from Kotaku Australia interviewed us about life, video games, growing up as brothers and now making video games as brothers – more precisely, making the kind of video games that used to inspire us as kids.
You can read it over at Kotaku AU.
The thing that surprised me most when we started announcing our existence and our goals wasn’t that people liked the idea of being inspired by the games from our youth. I mean, that’s pretty natural. It wasn’t even that we got such a positive reaction to “recapturing the spirit of ’90s games” specifically.
It was that nobody actually asked what we meant. This means that either they instantly “got it”, or just thought it sounded cool (OR that they didn’t care enough to ask – L). I thought about this a bit more afterwards. What IS it they think we’re talking about? WE know what we mean, but saying we want to bring back to the ‘spirit of 90s games’ or some variation is about as open-ended an idea as saying “we want to bring back the spirit of games that have graphics”.
Everybody has a different idea about what games were “like” in the ’90s, and everyone is probably entirely correct in their own way. But this is an era which brought us everything from Wolf3D & Quake to Sim City 2000, Jagged Alliance and Whale’s Voyage II: Die Übermacht (yes, that’s a real thing).
So, what do *we* mean when we say the spirit of ’90s games? Well, let’s start with what we don’t mean.
We don’t mean pixel-art. Pixel-art is great, and certainly is something I’d associate with (particularly early) ’90s games – but it’s an art style, and doesn’t necessarily have to inform gameplay in any significant way – and anyway, so many brilliant games already do pixel-art and sometimes even elevate it to an artform far beyond its humble origins as an outcome of technical restraints.
We don’t mean we’re going to clone games that we played back then – there’s enough of that going around. Inspired by? Sort-of-like? Sure. But not flat out remakes. There’s nothing *wrong* with remakes, but that doesn’t mean we need to do it ourselves.
What we *do* mean is probably two-fold: firstly, the sense of slightly genre-less design that many games, especially in the early ’90s had. Sure, Covert Action was a spy game, but what game genre was it? Action? There was car chases and stealth/infiltration elements. But there were also puzzle elements, an over-arching narrative *and* strategy components.
Secondly, we mean the wonderful way in which (again, especially early) ’90s games often chose bizarre subjects that you might not normally think of as ideal subjects for a video game. These included everything from running a hospital to managing the construction of a sky-scraper, simulating the life of a 1950s burglar, building a strange machine out of household gadgets or attempting to get a 40-something year old virgin software-developer laid.
There was a sense, to us, that every new page we turned on the latest issue of a gaming magazine might hold some new adventure we’d never thought of.
For years, that seemed to decline – we had a decade deluged with grungy military shooters, cookie-cutter RTS games that rarely rose to the excellence of the titles that gave birth to the genre, and almost all of them seemed to involved destruction of something or other.
Again, there’s nothing *wrong* with destruction in a video game – but it wasn’t until the advent of tablets and touch-screen phones that this started declining a wee bit and the market for physics puzzlers, strategic management games and odd-ball hard-to-pin-down games came back.
We think this is a great thing, and for the first time in a long while it seems that now is the time to innovate in strange and interesting ways – and let players tell all those weird stories about insurance salesmen, bookstore-owners and pizza-chain magnates that have been neglected for all these years in lieu of shooting enemy soldiers and/or invading aliens in the face.
So, that’s part of what we mean when we say “the spirit of ’90s games”.
What do you think of?