I realised recently exactly what it is I like so much about games, or rather, what kind of games it is that I like. It’s all about exploration and escapism – which is interesting really because creating the world and the art is one of the only parts of the games that we make that I have very little say in. We come up with ideas about the global structure, but I’m no art director. One day…
I’ve realised that this is universal in my life. When I go out it has to be somewhere you can explore – I’m not happy in little micro clubs, and it’s also a big part of the reason why I dislike living in Brighton, and why I love London.
I find it interesting that every time you think you’ve discovered something new about yourself, some nuance that may inform your creative style, you think back and realise you’ve been like that since the beginning. Really we should just try and remember all the things we did as kids and bring them to the fore in our work. From now on all my games will be about eating apples with no skin on and naming cuddly toys odd things.
…and my colleagues thoughts on them.
Screw it.. TOP THREE!
The Last of Us.
I loved this for its production values, the beautiful music and the quality of the writing. It’s not just a good story for a game, it’s a beautifully told story for any medium. You can approach each encounter in a variety of ways from the stealthy to the ultra-violent and on top of that every mechanic supports the theme of survival – the weapons you use break and the crafting system forces you to choose between different but equally useful items leaving you hoping you made the right choice for the next encounter. The menu system that is your backpack is incredibly elegant too, and the bow is a joy to use once mastered.
Studio survey says: “I don’t like games that are just like interactive movies.” “It’s not really like Mario, is it?” “The crafting is confusing.” “It’s too stressful.” “I loved the first half hour. Amazing. Probably the best 30 minutes I played all year.” “Really enjoyed it but I missed the lack of targeting.”
This was such a lovely example of the kind of linear storytelling that can work better in games than in any other medium. It’s a beautifully told story that’s deeper than I was expecting. You’re given a world to touch and unfold. Short but sweet.
Studio says “What, so you just walk and click things? That’s it?” “The lack of action made it bland.” “Not enough mechanics.” “Yeah I’ve heard really great things about it. Not gonna bother playing it.”
This one really surprised me and I’m so glad it did. The combat was fun once mastered and the enemy design was intersting. A lot lets it down, but it more than makes up for it by being one of the most beautiful looking game worlds I’ve ever explored. In fact it made me realise it’s this aspect of games I enjoy the most despite being more of a gameplay designer.
Studio feedback: Designer’s muse ‘G.F.’ liked the system for customising combos. No one else in the studio played it sadly, which echos how it did in general. Shame.
This game is just so well executed. Every new item you get unlocks new routes around the open world. The bow is a joy to use and the story, though forgettable, is well-told enough to keep you coming back. Personally I would have liked less set-pieces. Worth playing just to experience a master-class in gating an open-world.
I was surprised at how much I enjoyed the crass humour which is really not the kind of thing I usually enjoy. It’s a testament to good voice talent and direction. I would also describe the music as the kind of thing I hate, but it worked so well in this game. Demons, black goo, the occult – I like none of these things, but I couldn’t put this game down until it was finished. Can’t wait for the next one. I genuinely liked the characters.
The design! The colours! The music! I played it on the vita and loved having it in my hands, I’m not sure how I would have felt about it on a bigger screen, but this was just such a nice game to be in. It also had fantastic traversal and colour mechanics that forced you to use specific moves (also coloured) on certain enemies. A little flying enemy is a lot harder to beat when you have to attack it from above! A treat.
This is a lovely little world to walk around. The music and sound evokes such a lovely atmosphere. I love this game for what it could have meant for non-traditional storytelling in games. If only it had had a point.
Studio says “It’s on YouTube 36 minutes full play-through. £1.40 saved. Not as pretty as minecraft sorry.”- Steam pours out of my ears…
In Remember Me there is a shining gem of a game, worn dull by an outdated world structure, cliched themes and a combat system that just falls short of brilliance. It should though be commended for its portrayal of a well-realised, non sexualised female lead.
Let me first say that I enjoyed playing this game more than I have enjoyed any in a long time. For all its flaws I felt its strengths far outweighed its weaknesses. It is one of the most inviting worlds I’ve ever experienced in a game. It’s also worth saying that I’m only ever this critical of things I love, because I want them to be perfect. This annoys my friends as I appear to have more of a problem with the films, games and books we like than the ones we dislike, but it’s only because I’m interested enough to obsess over the details.
I’ll try and keep this spoiler free.
There are several problems that I have with the narrative, some missed opportunities I think would have been really great, and there are also a wealth of small gripes like poor voice acting, (though the main cast is excellent). It’s not really worth focusing on these as they’re easily ignored, but I do wish they’d made more of certain story themes – Nilin’s amnesia for example would have been a great opportunity for her to be manipulated by people claiming they were old friends.
The combat system has some fundamental flaws and later unlocks make it pointless to ever use initial combos, as you get no bonuses for finishing them. The bigger sin though is that although you can continue your combos between enemies, if the one you’re fighting dies you lose the progress. It almost feels like a bug.
I also find the inclusion of the mutant ‘Leapers’ disappointing. Must all games include a mutant or zombie of some sort? They come with Gollum-like voices and it all feels a bit silly.
My main problem with Remember Me though, is that like a lot of older games it’s a slice of a world I wish I could explore fully. You play in closed off environments, bookended by cutscenes and mission cards. You have access to abilities that are only available to you a few times throughout the game and only at certain points. It feels like a teaser for something much bigger, a vertical slice. You do not feel like a free agent.
One such example is your ability to enter someone’s memories and alter them, changing what they do in the real world. However these only happen at set points making you feel a loss of agency. It’s a shame they couldn’t have built a system where you could steal anyone’s memories, gaining you access to a variety of places around the world, some insignificant, some vital to the story. It would not have been able to be as complex as the current implementation, but I would rather have an ability that I could use at any time, anywhere, than one that I wasn’t truly free to use.
It’s these things that make it feel outdated. I want to be free to explore the world I’m in, after all, along with interactivity, exploration is one of the fundamental differences that games have from other art-forms. Gameplay too is our way of touching the worlds we play in. If we’re shown that a character has an ability we are not free to use, it only distances that character from us.
Nilin is supposed to be a Memory Hunter, someone who operates above neo-paris, a detective who steals peoples memories in order to unlock the city. It’s just a shame that we were simply told that story, rather than living it ourselves.
Digital sightseeing in Remember Me. I have to admit this one almost passed me by due to the slightly disappointing reviews, but I’m very glad I played it. It’s set in a meticulously and beautifully crafted world. It also made me realise that this is what I love in a game – being taken away to another place. Escapism. Interesting how the rest of my current design team differs. I think my creative director has similar sensibilities, but the other two designers play games for very different reasons. One likes create characters who are very different from themselves and who they then rollplay, while the other is fascinated by numbers, statistics, odds and probability.
I wrote this before he died. I was going to re-phrase this, but I think I’ll just leave it as it is. It’s unfinished, and there’s a bit of a mess towards the end, but perhaps that’s rather apt.
Iain M Banks is dying. This actually hit me in a more profound way than I thought it would. I’m not the kind of person who gets upset about the deaths of people I don’t know. I was surprised by my own reaction to the news, but then I started to realise that he has been one of, if not the biggest source of creative inspiration in my life since I was a child.
I was always drawing robots when I was little, and making things out of pieces of cut up cardboard. I’d watched StarTrek before, and Star Wars, and I knew I liked these things in some way but I never considered them as part of a genre. When I first started to read his science fiction books I was amazed at the seriousness of them, the sexiness. They are written like adult novels, there are no ray-guns or spandex-clad barbarellas. I began to think about these things more and more. I watched Ghost in the Shell, I looked at the concept artwork for Metal Gear Solid. There is a style here that I want to be part of, I want to contribute to. Good stories told about incredible things, or just stories told in interesting worlds. Often this is a genre that allows a great deal of philosophical reflection as it can be so rich in metaphors. Science fiction releases you of so many restrictions imposed upon you by other genres, especially in Games, which I now make for a living.
So much of my imagination is plagiarised from the ideas in his books. Actually so much of so many things are plagiarised from his books. The ‘halo’ from Halo for example…
When I was younger, before I went to film school, one of my often daydreamed ambitions was to make one of his books into a film. There are so few good sci-fi films. I always imagined the letter I would write to try and convince him to let me do this, and to justify why I would do the material justice like no-one else could.
As I’ve got older I’ve grown my own worlds inside my head, and I no longer want to simply tell the stories of others in a different form. But still, these worlds wouldn’t exist without his writing and I still wanted to ask him for his permission to include some homage in my work. It’s an odd, very selfish feeling to realise that I will never achieve this; one of my earliest ambitions.
If you read one thing from his volume of sci-fi work, read the short story ‘The State of the Art’ from the book of the same name.
I read it once on a family holiday in Turkey, and then again lying next to my friend in central park in NYC, with him too hungover to move. It’s about our world as seen through the eyes of others, but there are no UFO’s or aliens in the traditional sense. You follow a woman as she walks around European cities, contemplating humanity.
traditional science fiction ideas with genuine people and a more realistic view of the future that satirically criticises current western culture. moulding the spiralling, inky-abstract grasps for something more lucid that began to form in my head when I was young.
his ideas -
Stories that begin and end at opposite times and meet in the middle.
ships within ships, endlessly and intricately tattooing each other, recursing into… something
I never knew him, but it makes me sad.
Recently at work I’ve tried to entertain myself at the end of the project by being the most irritating and antagonistic member of our internal blog. The creative director also enjoys this.
From the internal blog. Thanks guys. Idiots…
When forced to work on a bank holiday, I try and cheer myself up by indulging in many little things. On these days I treat myself to many more cups of tea than usual, but our modern studio manages to take the satisfaction out of the ritual. I like the fact that this was a two minute break, you can rest your eyes, clear your mind. But of course, we don’t have a kettle any more, we have a boiling water tap. A cup of tea takes 15 seconds to make and then I’m back at my desk. This is a good lesson to learn; not everything is better optimized. Fuck you, boiling water tap.
The Bechdel Test:
It’s amazing how few films and games pass this simple test, even things that you think would, like most Wes Anderson films for example, usually fail on point 2. There are definitely occasions where this isn’t a sign of anything, plenty of trashy films starring female characters would pass, but could barely be described as woman-friendly story telling.
Games have always been a chief culprit of negative gender stereotypes, but we already knew that, and much as I would claim to be a feminist I don’t actually care about this at all. If people want to play through a teenage power fantasy full of half-naked girls, fine. I won’t play it, but I don’t care that it exists either.
What bothers me is the lack of women and female-centric story in media that we perceive to be mature. How often have you watched a scene, especially in a game, where two women talk to each other in a room? Just that. Honestly I struggle to think of a mainstream example where this happens.
We seem to have a short-circuit that just stops us from creating female characters unless there’s a specific reason to. take a film like Ratatouille. How many chefs are there in the restaurant where the film takes place? Quite a few. And how many are female? One, the love interest. Many of the characters in these films or games could be female, there is absolutely no need for them all to be men. If they are, they are the exceptions. Lara croft is a woman in a world of men, Colette from Ratatouille is, again, in a man’s world. Yes in Monsters Inc the only women are a simpering receptionist, a little girl in need of protection and a woman who, for all intents and purposes, works in HR. But this seemingly more extreme gender-stereotyping is more obvious and more easily addressed. It is the subtler and far deeper problem that bothers me the most, one that I wasn’t even aware of until I really started thinking about point number 2 on the Bechdel Test.
It’s not a question of making more women-oriented stories, or getting rid of adolescent sex objects, it’s far simpler – why aren’t more of our characters women?
I have been addicted to this little game for a number of reasons. Chiefly that it looks great, sounds great and only takes up to a minute per-playthrough, which is perfect for an iPhone game.
I read somewhere that Terry Cavanagh gave a talk at GameCity and that it revealed a host of interesting things that the game is doing without you noticing. Unfortunately I couldn’t find the talk online, but knowing this made me notice a number of things.
First of all the speed of the difficulty settings do not affect the speed at which the player moves, so from the very beginning you are learning the skills you need to play the game at its hardest setting.
The game also appears procedurally generated, but it isn’t. It has set sections that play randomly. Either that or the whole thing is in order, but you are started at a random point along this path every time you replay. I thought this was especially clever, because it means that you get an equal amount of practice at every section and you go from barely being able to complete a third of a level to completing the whole thing very quickly. This really ties in well with the music, which re-starts every time you fail. Hearing a longer section of the track becomes huge positive reinforcement.
I’d still love to see that talk, so if anyone has it, let me know!