It’s that time again, GDC time, which means a site overhaul!
I’m a dude living in San Francisco who has loved games his whole life and now works on them. I’m pretty all about games that offer things to discover and explore, systems to tinker around with, or games that present a strong experience (like Ico or Journey). I’ve been working as an engineer on games for a couple years now, but I also have a background in design and have done some design work.
Feel free to email me at firstname.lastname@example.org
I also say words on Twitter under the moniker @EdgeOfProphecy, which is the handle I use on the TigSource forums as well.
I’m throwing together a quick project with my good friends Pat Rossetti and Michael Stanley over the course of this GDC that I’m calling One Shot (working title), an FPS with only one bullet.
As work progresses I’ll throw up a dev log or something.
I’ve been contracted to work on a project, but it’s not ready to be revealed yet. I will say that it’s a mobile game and I’m working on it as an engineer. Hopefully as it gets closer to being done I’ll be able to post more about it.
Grem Legends was an iOS game I worked on while at Tin Truck. While the development was pretty stressful (lots of late nights coding and doing game balance), looking back on it I’m pretty pleased with how this game turned out. The goal was to create a game with an arcady feel, something fun and skill based that could be picked up for a few minutes. Missile Command was our inspiration for the gameplay, but I took the base concept and modified it to be something that works better on a touchscreen. Instead of multiple missile bases, you have two characters you switch between, and instead of ammo, you have stamina that drains and refills as you attack. It solves the ambiguity of selecting multiple missile bases without individual firing buttons (like on the arcade version of Missile Command), and it shifts the game’s strategic thinking to be more immediate (Ammo management is a big deal in missile command. Check out videos of really good Missile Command players, it’s nuts).
The game had a cool theme; designed to look like a pop-up fairy tale book. Our artist did an excellent job capturing the paper cutout feel of the graphics, and it looks great on retina phones.
(Grem Legends and all its assets are copyright Tin Truck)
I worked on a game at Midverse Studios called Bingo Run; it’s a pretty swank mobile bingo game that ended being darn popular. I worked with some guys who were really good at doing UI type stuff (which has a soft spot in my heart), so the game ended up being slick looking. I also worked on the Android port of the game, which was certainly an experience.
(Bingo Run and all its assets are copyright Midverse Studios)
I post on TIGSource, by the by. EdgeOfProphecy is my name there.
Much of the article addresses the use of story in games. I came away from it with the impression that “Story and game should never mix, they simply erode each other.”
That’s a pretty bold claim, and many of my favorite games are rather story heavy. Final Fantasy 6, Earthbound, Bastion (more recently), these are games that definitely have something special added to them due to their inclusion of story. I wrote up a response on TIGSource, you can find it on this page.
Long story short, I argue that yes, while games and stories are quite different from each other structurally, we are creating video games, which consist of multiple parts.
1) A game
Well, not quite “video”, but more like, “rich media experience”. Fancy graphics, a driving story, sound, music, so on and so forth.
The reason people like video games is that this amalgamation of stuff is different, and far more than the sum of its parts. It combines in complex ways, and entertains the audience differently than merely playing a game of chess then reading a book immediately afterward would. It’s not possible to totally separate the elements of a game from each other, they work as a unified system.
My full post from the thread is below, but I encourage you to take a gander through the thread itself. It’s full of some pretty good insights.
I don’t like the article.
It makes some good points, but then ruins itself by defining some highly flawed axioms.
First, I want to talk about experiences themselves.
Games are an experience. The entire game is an experience. You are correct, watching television or reading a newspaper or looking at piece of art or eating toast or pooping out said toast are all also experiences. Basically anything that happens to a person is an experience. These experiences have weight, they can be positive or negative. Bumping into an old friend is a great experience, while bumping into an old enemy can be very unpleasant.
However, the things that cause those experiences are inconsequential. A book is just a book. Toast it just toast. A story is just a story. Experiences are the mapping of human meaning onto events, and that meaning is highly subjective. A confused teen girl reading Twilight might have a fantastic experience, while a college professor of Literature would prefer to receive a root canal than read that drivel. That whole adage of “If a tree falls in the wood, and no one’s around, does it make a sound?” can be very relevant if we rework it into “If a tree falls in the wood, and it doesn’t hurt/harm/help something, does anyone care?” The answer is, probably not. It’s just a thing that happened, not a human experience. Once someone starts caring, it’s an experience, but not a moment sooner.
Media in general is kind of a pre-packed experience generation system for humans. We tend to like experiences, positive ones in particular, and do lots of things to seek them out. A painting is there to titillate, to entertain, to provoke thought, to incite change, etc. The brush-strokes, the canvas used, the paint used, all of that doesn’t matter. It has no meaning or value by itself. What matters is how well the piece is able to evoke its desired experience from its intended audience, and good examples of media are those who leverage their parts to evoke that experience.
This train of thought actually extends decently to tools, as well. I used to do metalworking when I was in highschool (hammer, anvil, forge, etc), and one common adage that people held was that great steel for making swords made decent knives, but great steel for making knives made horrible swords. The reason behind this is because a sword needs to be flexible and tenacious due to their length, while knives simply need to hold an edge. One demands flexibility, the other hardness. Point being, these individual properties (flexibility, hardness) have no worth by themselves, but they become very significant when you’re trying to accomplish something specific (make a sharp bar that won’t break under high stress but is rarely used, make a sharp bar that needs to stay sharp through constant, low-stress use).
Onto the topic of video games.
People do tend to focus pretty heavily on one aspect of the video game experience over others, such as “man these graphics are amazing” or “golly gee the camera in Mario 64 is simply the best there is!” While we can pick apart and focus on individual elements, and appreciate them, the fact of the matter is that we, as players, consume video games as a single, cohesive experience. It is totally possible for a video game to have a great idea or a great mechanic but to suck overall. How many times have you read reviews like, “The combat in the game is great, giving the player lots of options and control, but managing your inventory is a nightmare. I spent more time organizing my inventory than I did playing the game. Just when I got into the flow of combat, I’d have to open my inventory up and shuffle things around to make room for an item that dropped, or play the weird reloading mini-game. It has some good ideas, and is ambitious, but overall the game falls flat.”
The sum of this experience is its parts, but it’s not a simple equation to describe how they fit together. You can take a mechanic that’s “great” from one video game and toss it in another, and it may no longer work. Does that mean the mechanic is worthless? Absolutely not. For instance, in my prior example a deep and complex inventory system is not intrinsically bad, but it is bad for that sort of fast-paced action video game. In a really crunchy RPG or Sim video game, it could be just the ticket!
This mashing together of disparate elements is commonly seen with fad mechanics that grip the video game industry at one point or another (quick time events, morality systems, physics puzzles, bloom lighting, etc). People are very good at analyzing a single system, but not so good at analyzing the interactions of these systems, and marketing people are even worse at trying to shoe-horn an element into a video game that doesn’t support it.
Thus, it is a very big claim to say that story and games should not mix, and that games are good in spite of their stories. “Story” is a pretty broad and flexible component. A very. Big. Claim.
That would be like saying, “Salt is overrated and ruins food. Bacon is great in spite of its salt content. People are just blind to how great bacon would be if we stopped putting salt in it.”
I read the other article here:
You appear to be elevating games and stories on separate platforms, saying that games “can’t do their job” when you put them together with stories, and that stories “can’t do their job” when put with games.
You have completely misdiagnosed the motivation behind why people consume media, and the motivations/goals people have when making video games. Worse yet, you aren’t even talking about video games most of the time. You’re just talking about “games”, then telling people that these lessons are applicable to video games, when they’re absolutely not.
Consumers consume media so they can have experiences.
It’s some combination of sound, music, graphics, story, gameplay etc, that makes a video game. People play video games for this interesting amalgamation of stuff, because they combine in interesting ways. The only atomic “thing” that a video game is is that it’s an experience, an experience forged from many parts. I would indeed agree that a “game” must be present for it to be a video game, but the “game” part is totally subservient to the overall experience, and is more than welcome to take a back seat to art or music when the need arises.
People who just want to play a “game” should absolutely play a game. But when people are playing “video games” they are doing so not because they just want to play a “game”, they want to consume this interesting combination of game and media. I would argue that by stripping away all the story, art, graphical chrome and such and leaving behind a system of rules laid bare, you’re left with a “digital game” and not a “video game”, which is not necessarily what someone desires.
Yes, absolutely, a “game” and a “story” are totally different things that are very opposed to each other in structure and goal. I’ll even give you that a “game” weakens a story and a “story” weakens a game. However, a video game is more than a game, and it scratches a more complex itch than just “story” or “game” do separately. If you cannot recognize that this combination yields something different, something potentially better than the individual value of its parts, and something inseparable from its parts, then I believe you have a lot more thinking to do about what makes video games special.
I make video games not to make good “games”. I make video games to provide the players with a good multimedia + game experience, something that is wholly unique and more than its parts. I am totally focused on the end experience, on the combination of its parts, not solely on the virtue of an individual part. You can’t just up and say, “Well a story just makes the experience of playing video games weaker”, because that’s flat out not true. I love the crap out of FF6 because it is a beautiful merger of game, art, sound and story. I don’t play it because I want, “RPG combat, the game” or “Convoluted revolutionary drama, the story”, I play it because I want Final Fantasy, which is a combination of those two parts, at the same time, running in parallel, to form a single experience.
I don’t eat a big handful of salt then take a big bite of pork and call it bacon. My needs are more complex than “salt” and “pork”. I want bacon, dammit!
If you removed the game from Final Fantasy 6, I would not like it as much. If you removed the story, I would not like it as much. It is a set, a system, of balanced components acting together as one to present me with a fantastic experience. Attempting to create broad, sweeping statements and axioms about an inherently multimedia discipline by nit-picking its parts is not only futile, but actively detrimental to both the development and analysis of such media.
Whew! It’s been a long, long time since I updated the site.
That doesn’t mean I haven’t been doing anything! Far from it.
Since September of last year, I’ve been working with the fine folk over at Tin Truck. It’s been a great experience, and we’re getting extremely close to launching our first game, Grem Legends. It’s all hands on deck to get it done, and hopefully it’ll be just a couple weeks until it’s on the app store.
Sadly, that means some of my other projects have been shelved. I’ve been devoting all my time to Tin Truck, and enjoying the work there, so it’s alright. I still have every intention of finishing my other projects, like Joust Training, whenever I get the free-time.