Archive for Videogames

The Death of Splitscreen

 

I got into this great Twitter discussion the other day about whether or not FPS games like Destiny or Titanfall are losing anything by excluding a splitscreen multiplayer option. (For those of you who don’t know, splitscreen is what we call it when your TV image gets split to offer the differing POV for two or more players at the same time. Like Picture-in-Picture, but a bit more awesome).

The thing about where I am in my life right now, I can clearly see this through two lenses.

On the one hand, the core-gamer in me doesn’t GAF about playing with friends locally. I can count on one hand the number of friends I have who are still core gamers at this stage in their lives. (Jobs, Kids, Vacations, Mortgages, Rent, Grocery, all these things take a huge amount of time, time that could be better spent shooting Vandals in the head, I grant you, but still, once you accept those responsibilities, they tend to expand to fill all available space.) So, for the Gamer-Me, splitscreen is nice to have, but by no means a necessary. I can go online, mute my mic and play with a handful of real-live humans any time I choose. Yay Gamer-Me.

On the other hand, I am a Gamer Parent, and I have three Gamer Kids plus one Gamer Spouse. That’s FIVE people, and we are lucky enough to have ONE Xbone in the house.

Now, sharing is a thing. And I recognize that, yes, having all of use share a controller is of benefit for a whole bunch of “Real Life” reasons.

But now (especially in games like Destiny, where the whole game is, essentially, crippled unless you get your *ss out there and team up with people) instead of my kids being able to invite friends over to play Titanfall or Destiny or whatever the current favorite FPS is, they can only get their teamwork on by going online and gaming with a randomly assigned group of strangers. Which works well, in theory, but when you are 14 year old trying to team up with a bunch of adults who have been playing FPS’s since DOOM, you’re going to have a bit of a skill gap. The players who suck (or who haven’t managed to lay their hands on a particular special item… LOOKING AT YOU GJALLEHORN) get kicked repeatedly. (Destiny is addressing the “special item” issue in an upcoming patch, btw, because they don’t like it either).

NOW. For those of you who think you know where this is going. Shut up for a minute. This is not a “special snowflake” rant.  I love my kids, but if they suck at a game, then they’re going to have to practice more.  This is a true thing.  BUT…

If we had splitscreen for these games, it could solve a couple of problems. First, getting local kids to team up would be much simpler, AND (for you core gamers who hate the squeakers) would let them bang their heads against missions without them getting out into the broader team pools. In essence, they could team up with each other, deliberately, and they wouldn’t be bugging all you core players who b*tch about tweens in the mix. When they do get into the bigger pool of players, then they will at least have had the opportunity to become a better player beforehand by playing with friends who won’t kick them for missing a shot. (And when you kick them off your team, they’ll have someplace to go to get better). They’ll get the chance to memorize the maps and min-max their weapons without having to rely on players they are getting randomly teamed up with. The whole player pool gets improved.

Now, all that said, as a professional game developer, I can see a handful of reasons why splitscreen simply isn’t practical (some are addressed by the 343 team HERE, for the upcoming Halo release).  BUT I would simply like to ask the AAA group to please keep it in when you can.  Don’t kid yourself, your audience for these games goes down to the Elementary School set (especially when their parents are also gamers).  If you want to keep expanding your player base, you’ve got to allow more than one player per console.

On the Subject of The Thing’s Lack of Pants

 

Allow me, gentle reader, to revisit a topic that is near and dear to my heart. Character design.  Most of the time, I’m working with character design for my games, either my own, or consulting on someone else’s project.  This doesn’t mean I’m figuring out what their favorite color is, or what their favorite birthday cake is (the answer is ALWAYS chocolate).  Most of the time I’m trying to deconstruct something more vague, something to see if a character “works” and if not, WHY doesn’t it work.

Now I know, I KNOW that getting all photoreal is the thing to do with GCI (especially in superhero movies/tv) these days.  We’re trying to move away from the past… what, 20 years, of best-of show latex and muscle suits.  I get that.  But you have to remember, a lot of these superheroes were developed by traditional illustrators.  People who were destined to be “car stuffers” or advertising illustrators before they found their way into comic-books as a trade.  Many heroes were likely designed with a handful of constraints in mind.  1. You had to be able to draw them quickly and repeatedly.  2. You had to work with how the comic book would be printed (b/w line, grey halftones, 4 color process, etc) and 3. You had to have a clearly recognizable, definable figure.

Now, it could be argued that The Thing is one of the most recognizable figures in comic books.  Almost on a par with The Hulk, you might say.

 

Thing is (ha ha) that as a character design he’s very fiddly.  That stone-pebble surfacing that helps to make him so distinctive makes it hard for us, as a viewer, to make out the lines that normally indicate muscles, foreshortening, even the details on the face get muddled and hard to discern.

This is a problem that has carried over to the most recent cinematic version of The Thing, and I would argue that his “breaking up” effect has been compounded even further by the decision to have Thing without a costume at all.

 

From a visual standpoint, there were some excellent decisions made here, most particularly with the variation in patterning of the stone, large pieces and small ones, to help us better discern one body part from another.  the lack of definition to the feet also makes perfect sense, and gives him a somewhat alien look.

BUT

The very nature of the Thing’s key design element (the pebbly skin) means you need to give some thought to two key elements.

First off, his face.  Right now, we get a wall of rock.  Which is okay if you’re clobberin’ the bad guys, but if you are trying to develop any kind of empathy with your audience, if they want us to care about what happens to The Thing at all, we’ve got to be able to make a connection to his eyes and facial expressions.

Now, I’ll point out that the recent run of comic book artists have already solved this one:

BAM.  The jutting jawline and overhanging brow give us a perfect visual frame, they drive the audiences eyes right to the character’s face.  The extra thick line-work and shadows there help to resolve that area, to give us a place to connect to on a human level.  Even if we can’t see his eyes per-se, we know we are looking into his face, which matters a whole lot more than you might realize on a subconscious level.

Now.  Number two.  Those hero-pants and the lack thereof.

From the CGI design level, we have a big problem with the movie-Thing.  See his hips?  See his shoulders?  See those LINES of separation that allow the legs and arms to swing freely?  The audience can see them too.  They may not SEE them, but unconsciously, they’re going to recognize them as separations in the costume.

Yeah, I said costume.

See, even when you are working with a wholly CGI created character, your audience is going to suspend their disbelief.  They’re going to presume that pants have snaps and shirts have buttons (even though they don’t actually NEED them because CGI).  So if there are separations in the form, those tell the audience that this is a rubber-suit.  You’re pushing them one little step closer to killing their experience.  If it’s one of your main characters, the effect is doubled, or even more so.

So WHY pants?

Modeling and animating for VFX is a tricky business.  Getting skin to stretch and flex in a natural fashion is not easy, not by a long shot.  There’s a long and venerable tradition of designing your forms so that the glitches, the places where your mesh goes all wonky, or folds up badly, get hidden in shadow, under the armpits, underneath the clothes or shoulderpads or kneepads or what have you.

Now, let us be clear.  The Thing likely doesn’t NEED pants.  The between-the-legs architecture has been discussed in various venues and comic books and, well, okay, pants are not a NEED for that particular character, any more than they might be for Groot.

But the design of the movie-Thing character, those breaks being in the form are the problem.  In order to counter that “hey it’s a rubber-suit” voice in the back of your audience’s brain, that’s WHY you need pants.  You need to either give a meta-reason for the break (a-la, hey these aren’t breaks int he suit, these are the edge of his tighty-hero pants) or you need to cover them over entirely.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Pocket Gamer Connects SF

IMG_1457

 

I have to admit, Pocket Gamer Connects is one of my favorite app conferences.  I went to their Helsinki event last year, and I was invited to speak this year at the event here in San Francisco.  They always have some of the coolest speakers, not just the big marketing talks, or the monetization talks, which are interesting, sure, but they get a whole host of smaller developers.  They get talks on the indie experience, or they get different local takes on different aspects of development.  Couple that with a fairly creative eye with regards to what you might consider an “event space” and you get a great intimate event with a lot more networking potential than you might otherwise find at some of the larger venues.

Talk Data to Me

 

http://arxiv.org/pdf/1506.05869v2.pdf

There’s a difference, a pretty large difference, between an AI and a chatbot. It’s perhaps hard to see if you’re on the receiving end, if you don’t know what to look for, but the way they act and react are different and in the case of a chatbot, once you figure out how the logic behind it works, you can talk it in circles.  Which is a good way to kill an afternoon, if you’re bored on the intarwebz.

Not that I have ever done this.  Oh no, not me.

The point of a chatbot, usually, is to mimic conversation.  They are often not capable of *steering* a conversation themselves, they don’t, or can’t, as leading questions unless the developer has planned ahead (and even then, you can tell when the canned questions come into play, the segues are never terribly smooth).  What they can do reasonably well, however, is continue a conversation in much the same way that many humans do.  It deconstructs your sentence, pulls the appropriate verbs and subjects, and constructs a question or response of it’s own.

If you’ve ever gotten a customer service call, or contacted customer service through one of those “live chat” services offered by banks and online retailers you’ve likely encountered a few chatbots.  Depending on the sophistication, they are often used to just collect your basic information before passing you off to a real-live human, but you can hear the difference if you listen.

 

 

DOOM over time

Shenanegains_DOOM

 

 

To continue on my last post about the time it takes to establish relationships in games (versus the time it takes to turn an enemy into a pile of giblets), they announced a new and extra-quishy version of DOOM in the works.

Now, I adore DOOM.  In fact, THIS is the game that got me back into pursuing game development as a career option.  When DOOM came out, I was sharing an apartment with a couple of High School friends (one of whom also went on to have a career in games) and the original, shareware version of this game became the entertainment of choice (at the time, however, I had an Amiga for 3d animation/rendering and so had to borrow my friend’s PC to play).

I’m not sure it could play it now.  In the intervening decades my tastes have changed a bit.  Part of this is the presence of my kids.  I found (post kiddos) that my personal tolerance for giblets has decreased quite a bit.  It was really bad when they were all 1-6yo, I couldn’t watch certain cop shows, I got all twitchy about certain movies, I couldn’t play certain games.  When the kids were new, my mind would simply project them into the middle of any dangerous situation, which made it very hard to enjoy a number of the harder-edged things that I once loved.

The point is, though, I have a long standing relationship with this game.  I’ll cheer when it comes out with a newer, bloodier version, perhaps not so much because it now has super-hyper-realistic splatter or an extra 3 miles on intestines in every level, but I’ll cheer because the franchise has some meaning for me.  Because I want to see it continue.  This new version of the game may no longer be what I am looking for in a shooter, but that doesn’t mean I feel we should stop making them.  I think there are a lot of people in the industry who feel the same way, they are cheering not so much because it’s now extra gory, or super-violent, they’re cheering because they have a relationship with the game that helped to reboot our industry and they want to see it live on.