EA’s Tough Sell

by Steve Bowler on December 28, 2008 · 12 comments

in general

Awhile back, while I was living under a bus, I saw an article on Joystiq which pointed to a much larger article on Gamasutra, which in essence, said “new IP for EA fails.”

They’re referring of course to the less than stellar launch of EA’s new IP this quarter of Mirror’s Edge and Dead Space.  While both articles seem to paint the failing economy and the consumer’s lack of faith in spending money they might not have combined with the fact that “new IP is hard to sell” as the culprits, I think they’re missing the larger point as to why they fell short.

I’m pretty sure it isn’t the fact that they’re new IP.  New IP is certainly difficult to get people to buy, if you compare it to selling a sequel, such as Madden, as the graph above (liberally stolen from Joystiq who stole it from Gamasutra) implies.  But the problem is that a blanket statement like that is patently false, and pretty easy to shoot holes in.  Left 4 Dead sold pretty well (450k on Xbox 360 alone, and Valve never releases the Steam sales #s, so who knows how much better it did there).  Spore has sold upwards of two million units.  Both are new IP, so we can see that EA doesn’t have much of a problem publishing new IP or getting consumer traction with them.  If we look to previous years IP, we can see that Gears of War (the original) sold what, three million units?  Assassin’s Creed sold something like six million units.  Even lame duck new IPs like Kane and Lynch sold well over a million.

So it’s probably not that they’re new IP.  Mirror’s Edge was marketed out the wazoo, what with multiple comic books, flash animated web trailers, ads everywhere, and I’m sure their internet “buzz” rating was high considering all of the pieces written about the main character and the first person nature of the parkouring.  Dead Space had a pretty high anticipation rate, at least in the quick straw poll amongst my friends and co-workers, so, why didn’t people buy it?

The problem with this notion, is that I think people did buy them.  They bought them both used.  My team in particular grabbed Dead Space for competitive analysis used a mere four days after it had launched.  This is pretty much a death knell for any title, as the vast majority of your sales occurs within the first two weeks following launch.  To have those numbers crippled by used sales is horrible, but there’s a reason why it happened.

Both games are relatively short single player games.  Sure, sure, there’s some time trial business in Mirror’s Edge, but I don’t think that’s a big draw for a lot of folks who bought it.  There is no great value to a repeat playthrough, especially since there is little to no branching content in either title, and it’s my opinion that neither title was particularly innovative, either (I’m going to suffer the slings and arrows for this opinion, but I’ll elaborate in a later piece).  So, I don’t think there was a very large retention rate amongst consumers who didbuy it new.  They probably burned through the game in a two or three night playthrough, felt it wasn’t worth the $64 they paid for it, traded them in and got something else for their money while the title still retained a high trade-in value, and moved on.  Meanwhile, people who missed out on the launch bandwagon were able to buy the title used less than a week after it hit the shelves.

While I would like to turn this into a hit piece on why used games are bad for the industry, I’m instead going to take the route that I can impact and point out that we as developers need to deliver content that’s worth keeping.  This means a single player campaign that lasts significantly longer than 6-10 hours, if there isn’t any multiplayer content.  Games like Spore and Fallout3 do this quite amicably, with something in the neighborhood of 25-50 hours of content.  Both titles also have a decently high replay rate, as it’s nearly impossible to explore all of the game’s content on a single playthrough.

Other Q4 titles such as Gears 2 or CoD:WaW have a high consumer retention value due to the extensive multiplayer aspects of the titles (and the fact that they’re sequels to highly successful franchises goes a long way to boot), so there isn’t a ton of used titles to be found, especially during the critical first month of sales.

There’s some kind of secret formula here, one that should hopefully keep your title out of the hands of the used stockpiles, and while oversimplified, it goes something like this:

  • Single Player Content ~ 12 hours
  • Co-op or other networked non-competitive online play
  • Rich compelling multiplayer content, append-able with DLC

That’s pretty much the CoD/Gears/Halo/L4D formula up there.  The Spore/Fallout/Oblivion/Final Fantasy example is much more simplistic:

  • Single Player Content > 25 hours

I’m not saying I’m any kind of rocket scienctist for throwing these formulas up here; tons of people are already rolling their eyes at them.

The point here is that you just can’t release a game that takes 6 hours to play and expect people to throw out $64 for it.  I’m sure both titles are at a reduced price now, but they launched at full retail price.  I don’t care how new and innovative you think your IP is (and let’s be honest, neither Dead Space nor Mirror’s Edge was horribly innovative or changed the game space we play or develop in), if you don’t deliver the consumer “their money’s worth” they’re going to not give you all of their money, or worse, they’re going to make sure you don’t make it (intentionally or no) by returning your game as a used title and buying something else.

Consumers wouldn’t accept a movie that cost $10 to get into but only lasted for 40 minutes.  Why should we expect gamers to latch onto a retail model that delivers a similar value?

New IP here isn’t the problem.  A small value per dollar is.

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The Rumors of My Death Have Been Greatly Exaggerated

by Steve Bowler on December 24, 2008 · 4 comments

in general

The rumors, I has them.

First off, I apologize for being away for so long.  I don’t think I’ve ever let this place go without a post for 20 days, and I don’t intend to do it again.  I really miss writing here, and it’s been probably the second thing I’ve missed the most, just behind seeing my family on a semi-regular basis.  After having such an incredible first year, I really didn’t want to start off Year Two with nearly a month of absence.

Unfortunately I got thrown under a crunch bus at work last month, and then while I was getting back up and about to start writing again a second crunch bus came along (this one included weekends!), and as I stood in the street dazed and seeing stars, the massive layoff bus blitzed by, narrowly missing me, although when I wasn’t looking the restructuring double decker bus blindsided me.  I’m lucky to still have a job, even if it’s doing something I haven’t done in a few years.  Added bonus of crunch bus trampling:  25% loss in overall health quality.

And while I was dodging/getting hit by metaphorical busses, my main home PC (the one I typically write and make graphics on) got hit with some awesome ransomware.  Fun times!  I’ve just now got it back up and running after a complete drive wipe, and I hope to have the graphics software operational within the next couple of days.  Oh yes, I’m afraid this battlestation will be quite operational when Santa arrives.

At any rate, I apologize again for throwing a bunch of excuses up here instead of an actual piece.  I really needed to start writing something just to get the “juices flowing” again.  I’ve got a handful of pieces that I’ve been positively dying to share with you from this past month, so please, don’t turn off your RSS feeds just yet.

I hope you don’t mind the staleness of them; the fresh perspective on the topics should help overcome the lapsed date on the side.

More coming soon.  This week even!  I swears.

Now if I can just find my FTP access notes…

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Run, or Shoot?

by Steve Bowler on December 1, 2008 · 2 comments

in general

Just a quick update to point out that everyone who hasn’t already figured this out needs to go and read Jason Brownlee’s piece on how the Left 4 Dead opening movie is a passive tutorial mode for the game.  Everything you see in the opening movie is a depiction of how things work in-game.  It’s so effective he didn’t even realize he already knew how to play the game the first time he started playing.

I hope it’s a trend that future games can use to entertain and educate players rather than forcing us through boring rote tutorial levels.

Also, it’s nice to see Brownlee writing about games again.

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A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to the Safe Room

by Steve Bowler on November 27, 2008 · 6 comments

in general

So, a funny thing happened on the way to the safe-room in Left 4 Dead.  We kinda discovered a new way to play it.

It happened purely by uncommunicative circumstance when we were playing the Left 4 Dead demo a couple of weeks ago at work, and ever since then it’s pretty much changed how we play the game, possibly for the better, but certainly for the hilarious.

We had pretty much cake-walked our way through the first streets of No Mercy on Expert, and my buddy and I were bringing up the rear on the safe-house. The other two members of our party had already made it inside. As I approached the door, I noticed that Zoey (the buddy) had turned around and was waiting at the door for me to make it through. Just then, I heard a new hoarde rushing down the stairs at us, and realized that

  1. We could probably take them without going inside, and
  2. Zoey wasn’t going inside, instead standing and shooting at the horde

Good buddy that I am, I decided that I’d turn and fight as well.  Shoulder to shoulder we stood, pushing back the wave of the infected, allies in the war against this scourge of humanity.  Our solidarity, unbreakable.  Our resolve, steadfast.  Our aim, tru–hey wait where’d Zoey go?  Oh shi–Zoey went back inside, well, I might as well just back my way into the door while firing and–

Wait, why is there a wall here at my back where the door should be?  ZOEY CLOSED THE DOOR.  OH GOD, YOU BASTARD.  And then the horde was upon me, knocking me to the floor.  Zoey, pal that he was, “helped” by racking up his score a bit and shooting some of the horde off of me by firing through the window, but in the end, it wasn’t enough.  Even with my valiant last stand, I succumbed to their mauling (and the hilarious curb stomping), and died.

Of course, the Survivors still “won” and I was resurrected in the very room I was denied entry to.  We all laughed pretty damn hard at what had happened, and I am pretty ashamed to admit I used some language typically used by kids on Xbox Live, but for everyone who witnessed it, we realized that we had a new game on our hands.

Since we only play on Expert, we need to play as a team in order to survive.  We’re there for each other, we have each other’s backs throughout the entire stage, but man, once we know that door is within reach?  It’s every survivor for themselves.  We know that it only takes one person to make it through the door to complete the level, and now everyone wants to be the first guy through the door and lock everyone else out.  The betrayal is comically delicious, and it now seems to happen every time.

So the next time we played through the demo with that same crew, I at least knew what was going to happen at the door.  Everyone else hadn’t figured it out yet, but there went Zoey, trying to be the first one through the door.  Sure enough, as soon as he reached it, the door closed in our faces.  I didn’t even try the handle.  I could see Zoey’s head peeping out through the window, so I shot it.  With my shotgun.  This knocked Zoey to the ground, and now I could successfully open the door from the outside (you might be able to do this anyway, but I wasn’t going to take any chances).

Once we were all inside, everyone else kept trying to help Zoey back up to his feet, while I continued to shotgun Zoey to the ground ’till he was dead.  Of course, he just respawned back inside the safe-room, and we all laughed some more and continued on to what can only be described as an epic finish to the second level.

We’d never been able to finish the subway part of the No Mercy demo on Expert.  We almost always got owned by the tank that would invariably show up.  Maybe killing Zoey before the level ended made our total health low enough to keep a tank from spawning, but either way, one didn’t show up this time, and for the first time ever we were finally seeing the second floor of the electrical substation room.

My health was getting dangerously low that round, and so I grabbed the sniper rifle as I knew I was going to be “hanging back” due to my horrible limp, and wanted to still be able to help everyone else push the front.  I had no idea just how horrible that limp was going to get, and was shocked to see myself bleed out ’till I only had one hit point remaining.  Let me tell you, you’re always bringing up the rear when you’ve got only one hit point.  You.  Move.  So.  SLLLLllooooowwwwwww.

Our group was pretty haggard looking.  I don’t think there was a person not limping.  Collectively I don’t even think we had 100 health between the four of us put together.  But damn it, we were going to race to that door if it killed us.  Some folks didn’t know just how prophetic that would turn out to be.

Zoey and Francis were in the lead, gimping their way for the door, when Francis had the bright idea to blow up the gas can hanging on the wall before you round the corner to the door.  Unfortunately, he and Zoey were standing too close to it, and the resulting explosion knocked them both to the floor.  I didn’t see this happen, because I was still trying to use both hands to get my busted legs up the stairs one at a time.  As I rounded the corner, I could see that Bill had his back to me, and Zoey and Louis were still alive but on the other side of the firewall that separated us.

I don’t know what Bill was thinking.  Maybe he could feel my sniper rifle aiming at his back, my finger ever so gently squeeeeezing that trigger, maybe he knew he was the “man in the middle.”  Maybe he was just feeling desperate.  Bill just ran through the fire, and baby, he burned.  I’m not sure if he was running from me, trying to be the first through the door, or stupidly trying to save Zoey or Francis (who would have shot him had he come close enough).  Either way, Bill burned. 

Meanwhile, both Zoey and Francis bled out at the exact same moment.  Normally, I’d be pretty ecstatic right then, seeing as my Louis was about to be the only survivor.  Only I still only had the one hit point, and I had what felt like a hundred yard crawl ahead of me to make it to the door.  Even just one lone horde zombie could kill me at this point if he got in a lucky shot, and so there I was, laughing hysterically as I limped, hobbled, and dragged myself to the saferoom, and went from being the loser with one hit point in the rear, the guy “Most Likely to Die in a Horror Movie,” to the last man standing, triumphantly, in a locked safe-room.

This has become my preferred way to play L4D now, and I wish it could be a special mode.  Basically, give extra health and ammo to the guy who can successfully keep everyone else out of the safe-room at the end of a round and close the door on them.

The reason I love it so much is because it turns the game design of “stay together” on its ear, and creates this moment where your primary goal of helping your buddies is switched off and a competitive mode of “kill everyone” is switched on.  You even start thinking about it halfway through the level.  Do you really want to use your health on your buddy?  He looks like he still has half his health, and he’s just going to try and kill you when you all reach the door, anyway.  Maybe it would be better to just ignore his health request and let him die before you get to the door?  You’ll even start jockeying for position when you know the door is close.  You either want to be waaaaayyyy out front where nobody else can get you (which is in itself a dangerous place to be, since you don’t want to be alone), or you want to be in 2nd or 3rd place, so you can knock off the guy(s) in front and still get the door closed before 4th place gets there.  You typically don’t want to be in 4th place, which is almost a sure-fire place to be in if you want to be locked out, unless you know everyone has low health and will wind up incapacitating each other before anyone gets through the door.

The bottom line is it creates this sort of “Mad Mad World” self-interest greed that should be present in some small way in a group of four people all from different walks of life who are forced together out of necessity in order to stay alive.  I’m not saying that people are horrible; I love the game design of L4D that forces you to stick together, but I just love how our new game of “locking your buddies out” has created a new level of intensity to the door.  It’s created a very real fear of “not making it” that just wasn’t there for me in the game’s original inception.

And it’s certainly created quite a few laughs and water cooler recaps.

ETA:  Crap, it appears anyone outside the door can just open it.  Anyone want to start a petition to Valve to incorporate a new “Betrayal” game mode? :D

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Game-Ism: Year One

by Steve Bowler on November 26, 2008 · 9 comments

in general

Holy crap.

Has it been a year?  Already?  To be perfectly honest, when I started this, I had only a small expectation that it would make it a full year.  Typically I give up on personal pet projects much sooner than that, often tossing them aside for some other lofty and typically unreachable goal given my total lack of free time.

And yet, here we are.  It feels pretty good to know that not only has this worked out, but that I feel like I’ve got at least another year’s worth of this in me.  Who knows, mabye I can keep this up indefinitely.  But enough of the crazy talk.

Like all anniversary posts everywhere, I’m going to throw some stats up here, because I’m pretty proud of these.  I didn’t give myself any real goals when I started this, only that I dreamed it would be pretty killer to have a million visitors in my first year, and while I don’t think I quite hit that mark, I’m proud as hell about these stats.

  • Pageviews:  1,057,440
  • Posts: 174
  • Comments:  965
  • RSS Subscribers:  233

I wanted to say thanks to all the folks who’ve linked here, posted pieces to digg/stumble/reddit, read, and/or commented in the past year.  Sometimes, just your love of the site or an insightful or heartfelt comment is enough to make the attention whore part of me want to keep posting when I feel like I have “more important” things to be doing.  So thank you, from the cerebral part of me who doesn’t mind being goaded on once in awhile by a few excitement pheremones.

Here’s to what was an incredible year, and I’m looking forward to next year already.


Of course, I suppose I should spruce the place up a bit.  This design is so 2007.

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Just What is Innovation Really Worth?

by Steve Bowler on November 24, 2008 · 6 comments

in general

Keith Stuart posted what comes off as a little bit of a defensive post in favor of Mirror’s Edge regarding some reviews of it (or really at least just IGN’s) which he claims are overlooking the “innovation” that ME brings to the table.

First off, I don’t know what he’s getting so upset over.  It’s not like he worked on it (or did he?).  I’ve seen games that I’ve worked on for years (ones that caused me to abandon my family for months at a time) get ripped apart by shallow callous reviewers, and I had to bite my tongue and take it.  Sure, I would have loved to have gone on the internets and registered my righteous indignation at the reviewer, but to what end?  It wouldn’t move any more units; it wouldn’t convince anyone to buy the game.

Second, I don’t really think that Mirror’s Edge is all that innovative.  After all, someone beat them to market with a mod of Crysis that ostensibly covers their core navigation mechanic.  But more importantly, Stuart makes some heavy-handed comparisons, putting Mirror’s Edge and films like Blade Runner, Apocalypse Now, and The Magnificent Ambersons in good company.  

Can you imagine, for a second, critics emerging from the press screening of Apocalypse Now, or The Magnificent Ambersons, or Bladerunner and proclaiming, ‘yeah, it had some good ideas, but it wasn’t perfect – I’ll look forward to the sequel’.

Allow me to pull out my LLoyd Bentsen misquote right off the bat, and say that Mirror’s Edge, sir, is no Blade Runner.  It’s not even in the same league, let alone ballpark, as Apocalypse Now.  And more to the point, I think he pretty much makes his own counter-argument by claiming that fictional reviewers might look forward to sequels to films that were never considered for sequels.  The films never made enough money or interest to merit one, regardless if their plots or creators ever deemed a sequel necessary or worthy. 

Apocalypse Now has made in its lifetime $82 million.  Most movies nowadays, especially the innovative ones, cost more money than that just to make.  Blade Runner worldwide made just $32 million.  Pan’s Labrynth is $83 million.  For comparison with some more “mainstream” films (some would say just as innovative), Star Wars (just A New Hope) has made $775 million in its lifetime.  The Matrix has made $460 million.  Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull, easily the worst and least innovative of the Indy movies, has done $786 million worldwide alone.

The point in pointing out these numbers, since we’re throwing out analogies to films and videogame innovation, is that it seems that no matter how well a movie is interpreted as “innovative” by a reviewer, the truest mark of success lies in its ability to inure itself with the consumer.

However, I wonder, what is Stuart really after here?  Okay, I’ll give.  Let’s say, just for argument’s sake, that Mirror’s Edge really is all that.  Let’s say it is just as good as a Pan’s Labrynth or an Eraserhead.

Shoudln’t that mean it is reviewed and received at the “box office” just as well?  None of the movies Stuart lists can be considered a box office smash by any means.  In fact, if we look back at the “Clover” era of gaming, all of which were given the “innovative” nods in their reviews, we’ll see a whole lotta flop.

Okami, Viewtiful Joe, and Godhand, were all for the most part failures at the “box office.”  Okami and Viewtiful Joe were both received very well by reviewers (93 and 90 Metacritics respectively), one enough to spawn an ill fated sequel, but in the end it wasn’t enough to keep the studio open.  Because nobody bought the games.

And that’s because no matter how much a reviewer cares about innovation, the general consumer public does not.  And before everyone throws out anecdotal evidence to the contrary, keep in mind that if you’re reading this website then you are not the general consumer public.  A good review, even the most shining one will never be enough to convince people to go buy innovation.  The market has already proven this.

What convinces the market to buy a title is the general “verve” a product has.  From marketing, to buzzworthiness, to “attach rates,” to simple peer or forum discussion.  Reviews hardly ever come into play.  Gerstman’s 6.whatever review of Kane and Lynch (and the overall Metacritic rating of 65) didn’t stop it from selling well over a million units.  We can always trot out the Enter the Matrix example, where the general Metacritic of 62 didn’t stop it from selling ahead of four million units (or was it six?).  We’ve already visited examples of well received games that didn’t even make enough money to keep a company afloat.

So we can plainly see that even if reviewers can see the innovation (and let’s be fair, there isn’t that much innovation in Mirror’s Edge other than a change of camera), it really just doesn’t matter.  

The game, no matter how innovative, won’t be served by getting a better review, because in the end, it’s the consumer who dictates if a game is worthy of a sequel.  Not the reviewer.

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For All Your HL2 Cosplay Needs

by Steve Bowler on November 23, 2008

in general

Or if you’re into world domination, y’know, either or.  I’m merely here to provide a service for all of your dictatorship needs.

There’s even a black version in case you needed it for a more formal engagement or something.  Okay good lord I need to stop clicking on stuff on this website.  There’s also the makings of a super creepy version of that alien spy bounty hunter (Garindan) who tells the Stormtroopers where the Millenium Falcon is stationed at on Tattoine.

Hat tip to commenter primal_80s, from the original post on We’re All Doomed.

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Fallout3: Where’s the Original Sin?

by Steve Bowler on November 19, 2008 · 31 comments

in uncategorized

Apologies that the posts haven’t been coming lately.  I hope you can understand.  I’ve been playing Fallout3.  A lot.  Like, every possible moment I can.  It is, in a way, the ultimate culmination of some of my gaming favorites.  It’s quite possibly the peanut butter/chocolate combination of my American RPG favorites, so hopefully this will be the first of a three part series this week about teh Fallouts.

I’ll be the first to admit that I’m not the biggest Fallout fan on the planet.  I’ve only previously played Fallout 2 until it became impossible to play any further due to a bug in the 1.0 version of the game (I’d come to find out that the 1.0 version was impossible to finish even if I didn’t hit the following bug).  The 1.1 patch made 1.0 saves incompatible, and I wasn’t about to start over after investing over 40 hours in the game.  But I loved every minute of it.  I figured out how to play through the entire game solo mission until I got the “cursed dog” bug, where it won’t ever leave you, giving you a Luck score of 1, which makes the game pretty much unplayable.  You and the guy fighting you will never hit the broad side of a barn with a mini-gun set to full spray.  It’s that bad.  But my time invested?  Loved every minute of it.

I’m also a ginormous fan of Bethsoft’s Arena Scrolls RPGs.  I never played Arena (although I watched my wife play it a bunch), but I dove right in when Daggerfall came out, playing it until I was simply exhausted from the grind.  I played Morrowind again until I was spent, never finishing it either.  Then Oblivion hit and I played it every night ’till at least 2 am (try it with a baby on your hands sometime.  It’s like staying up ’till 5am) until I had logged about 54 hours in and wound up realizing that a thief/assassin didn’t care if the world was in peril; there’s nothing to steal and no one to kill under contract in hell.  So I retired as the world’s greatest Theifsassin and called it a day.

So, as you can imagine, when Bethesda did the press release that they had purchased the rights to Fallout, and when I learned that Oblivion’s Assassin’s Guild writer was going to be doing a larger role in Fallout3, I was pretty ecstatic.

Let me attempt to explain why.

Fallout already was steeped in debauchery.  Not only did they handle the graphic violence better than almost anyone (bloody mess perk = amazing), the Fallout series was always brutally honest about humanity.  Sure, you can be a beacon of hope if you want to.  But you can also revel in sin.  Like drugs?  Fallout has ‘em.  Like sex with prostitutes?  Hell, Fallout 2 will take it one further and let you be in a frickin’ post apocalyptic porno.  You have a sub-class of humans (ghouls) who not only symbolize every underclass in American history, but they even took the literal step of making them horrible to look at.  The player actually is forced to look past the surface if they hope to understand ghouls.  Of course, you’re welcome to hate them and murder them at will, too.  In fact, they balanced a lot of this out by making you addicted to drugs, with negative repercussions, you got a nasty venereal disease from nailing the tramps, and you lost out on any good quests/items the ghouls had by wiping them out.

While the Elder Scrolls games were never really about debauchery, I eventually stumbled upon something fairly “wrong” that made my time in their worlds as a Thiefsassin (screw the term “Rogue” I’m coining a new one here) even more compelling of an experience for me.  It all happened out of complete necessity way back in Daggerfall.

While I was wandering the wilds getting my murder and my killing on, two things happened almost simultaneously.

  1. I realized I was wasting a lot of my time in game re-exploring dungeons I’d already been through because they were barren, with no dead bodies in them.
  2. The game was reaping dead bodies, with loot on them or not, while leaving items dropped persistent in the world (items aren’t ever reaped.  You drop it, it stays there).

Now, being the Thiefsassin that I am, I wasn’t about to go leaving big ticket items like swords or armor in front of the exits for dungeons.  That shit is to be sold and make you big money!  And I largely ignore cups or daggers left lying about as just general detritus; how am I to remember if I left that cup on the floor or if it was one that happened to be placed there by the designers?  After a few dungeons it’s hard to remember you’ve even been to a dungeon, let alone if you’ve dropped an item there or not.

Then, a funny thing happened.  I was looting a corpse, and I accidentally removed a shirt I didn’t want from the victim.  Instead of putting it back on the victim’s body, I just cast it aside, and it appeared on the ground, neatly folded, and the victim was left bare chested.  I wondered, would this trend continue?  I grabbed the pants, and sure enough, naked legs.  I threw them on the floor (neatly folded, of course), while I yanked off the boots and threw them on the floor as well.

Suddenly, I had the solution to knowing if I’d been in a dungeon or not:  Folded clothes left everywhere.  The bodies would reap, but the clothes would remain.

But more importantly, I realized the hilarity/absurdity of the situation.  Here I was, the world’s greatest Theifsassin, killing my marks, and then taking their clothes off, and folding them neatly next to their bodies.  I began laughing out loud while I imagined what the poor victim’s families must have had to go through stumbling upon the scene:

Oh god, Gwendaline, are you okay?  Did you have too much to drink again last night?  My sweet wife, why are you–   OH GOD SHE’S DEAD.  She’s been murdered, and…wait, why is she naked? MY WIFE IS DEAD.  AND NAKED.  AND waitaminute why did he fold her clothes?

I don’t know, it’s possible I’m the only person who finds this hilarious, but it eventually became my calling card.  If I killed a victim, I put their clothes on the floor.  Even if I knew I wasn’t coming back.  It’s not enough to kill your victim.  It’s not even enough to leave a card.  Only the greatest Theifsassins leave their victims dead and humiliated.  That is the greatest card of all.

So you can imagine how delighted I was when that infamous “nude patch” came out for Oblivion.  The one that rendered the bra invisible?  My interest in it wasn’t sexual.  No, in fact, it was professional.  It was one more degree of humiliation for my victims.  If someone had made the bottom underwear also see through I would have been just as excited to leave the men nude.  I’m an equal opportunity post mortem humiliator.  I’m no misogynist Thiefsassin.  I want to shame both sexes equally.

Now, imagine my excitement when I found out that not only was Fallout3 going to be made in the Oblivion engine, but that it was going to be rated M.  Surely they were going to allow for some nudity?  I was fully expecting at least nude breasts straight out of the box.  Prostitution is practically a bullet point on the back of the box.  They’ve taken moral themes farther than any other game in history.  There’s pat/matricide.  Not only can you take drugs, you can make drugs.  Active player participated cannibalism (if you choose).  Players enslaving NPCs.  Frickin’ interactive slavery for crying out loud.  Garden variety violence no longer seems even remotely T rated in light of this title.

And yet.  They evidently were pretty sore about the ESRB fiasco over the Oblivion nude patch.

There’s no real nudity to speak of in Fallout3.  I think you can game a really blurry view of a crotch if you can find Dukov’s Place and find an upskirt view of Cherry of Fantasia in their silk teddies, but for the most part, there isn’t even side-boob.  And it’s not that I need nudity in the game.  I can surely mod it using the previous Oblivion tools to get it if I wanted (and I’ve already installed a few), but it’s downright absurd that there isn’t nudity in this game.  I’m not asking for even soft-core porn, but when I remove the armored bra from a Raider with the hope to sell it, and a giant grey sports-bra pops up in its place, covering 200% more skin than the original bra did, well, you’re really killing the immersion, and making a hilariously pointless moral stand in a game about depravity.  The bucket’s already overflowing.  Your thimble sized bail-out effort isn’t really saving anyone here.

Even the prostitution stinks.  All she does is go lay down in the bed you’ve purchased for the night, and you get to sleep next to her.  You wake up in the morning, and she leaves.  Sex isn’t even hinted at, other than an “I’m done here” voice call way.  It’s really less virtual prostitution and more like a 25th marriage anniversary simulation that you just paid 120 credits for.  Mass Effect certainly created a more titillating sex scene.  They at least showed some blue side-boob.

Now, I’ve had some folks call me a “pervert” for finding this beef with this game, but come on.  I’m not a sick bastard for enslaving people (or wanting to enslave at least the slavers?  I’m not at that point in the game yet)?  No one questions my desire for the bloody mess perk which causes my victims to spontaneously explode into a gooey mess with eyeballs flying at the camera?  Cannibalism is taken at face value somehow?  I know I’m just retreading an old straw-man here, but why is super ultra violence and moral depravity okay so long as it’s not naked?

Let’s face it:  Fallout is about a post-apocalyptic wasteland frontier.  The universe is painted with some of the most desperate souls, doing some of the most desperate acts conceivable by man.  So where the hell is the original sin?

Fallout without at least some R rated nudity/sexual themes is like the Wild West without the guns.  It’s like Vegas without gambling.  Amsterdam without the red light district.  Okay it’s like the Wild West and Vegas without the strippers and prostitution, too.  The fact that Fallout’s missing one of the pillars of debauchery is inexcuseable.  Especially when the Fallout franchise pretty much created the expectation for it to be there in the first place.

But to be fair it isn’t really Bethsoft’s fault.

I have a feeling it’s the ESRB’s.

More on that tomorrow (or at least later in the week).  Now if you’ll excuse me, I’m off to experiment with alpha settings on an underwear.dds file.

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by Steve Bowler on November 9, 2008

in art

Kotaku re-linked here (well, in the way that only they can, by linking to themselves first) in a piece about some awesome artwork Makani drew for the TF2 announcer (seen above), and it made me realize I’ve been remiss in my hosting duties in not pointing out her work awhile ago.  I first started following Makani on Live Journal when I saw her Harry Potter genius fanart linked in a friend’s LJ, and since I had been reading it forever, I didn’t think anything of it when she started playing TF2 and started putting her TF2 fanarts up in her journal.  She also does a lot of fun stuff with Gordon Freeman and company.

So anyway, I’ve been following her artwork for awhile, and I have to say that I’m insanely jealous/enamored of her craft.  Her poses are always amazing at expressing what the character is feeling/thinking/emoting, and her style is really reminiscent of some of the glory days of Disney design.  She really deserves to be working at Pixar or Disney doing some character layout for scenes.

At any rate, I’ve already said it in my twitter feed, but as much as I give Kotaku shit, I’m honored beyond words that my artwork was even mentioned in passing in a link pointing out her amazing talent.

If you don’t already follow her artwork, be sure to swing by her Live Journal, her Deviant Art feed, her gut busting hilarious and hilariously named Harry Potter fanart website, or her equally hilariously named personal website.

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Rolling the Dice

by Steve Bowler on November 7, 2008 · 3 comments

in uncategorized

I’ve been trying to incorporate some dice rolling into a card game I’m trying to build in my spare time for fun (ha ha ha I’m crunching what spare time), and while the game itself is taking too long (this is a CCG, after all), I’m finding the die roll the most controversial part of the game.  Folks who’ve tested it for me either love it or hate it.

I’d love to say that “at times,” it creates the most drama, but the reality of it is that the die creates almost all the drama.  There’s a lot of good push and pull in the cards, but the die?  You love it, and then you hate it.  And then you love it some more.  It is the harsh mistress.  It giveth, and it taketh.

I could go on for days about the damn thing, but the point is, that randomness it introduces and the absolute mystery of the outcome = instant drama.  Are you going to fail?  Succeed?  Critically fail?  Crit hit?  Even if I allow you to modify your target number with some cards, to attempt to make it easier for you to hit your target while at the same time feeling a bit more in control of your experience, you can always roll a one and miss.

It’s funny what some randomness can do for your game.  If it’s balanced right, it can be a lot of fun.  Modern gamers really don’t seem to enjoy dice rolling in their simulations.  Most gamers wouldn’t realize that there’s tons of dice rolling going on under the hood (the AI shooting at you has a 75% accuracy rate with a – 10% on each successive shot in a burst to hit.  This would literally be computed with dice on each shot as % dice (two D10s) with a target number of 25, and then roll a D10, and subtract it from your roll for each shot after the first).  But people don’t want to see the randomness.  Especially when it’s their guy rolling the numbers.  People these days want skill.  They want to feel in control.

So in a dice game, it seems that to allow for the player to feel they’re in control, you have to give them decisions to make.  Dice games inevitably turn out to be risk/reward gamble games for the most part.  Force players to make quick mental calculations about probability, and let them determine if they’re going to press the attack or hang on another turn, based on what previous rolls have told them.

In my research, I’ve stumbled across this great little Yahtzee-esque game called Zilch.  And like any good dice game, it’s got some kick-ass risk/reward mechanic.  You have to keep rolling to hit a minimum score in order to bank some points, but then to get ahead you have to take some risks and try for higher scores to bank, which starts guaranteeing you’re going to roll a “zilch” score and drop all points from that attempt.

There’s even a penalty for trying to “go big” too often.  If you zilch 3 times in a row, you lose points from your bank (which is normally untouchable).

It’s a nice little game, and I think I’m learning a bit about risk/reward with dice just from playing it, even if that lesson is to create situations in the game design to force players to risk above their comfort zone every so often.

It feels good when it pays off, and it infuriates you when it doesn’t.  Those damn dice; who knew there was so much drama in rolling a little piece of plastic?

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