Archive for Videogames

Veiled Alliances Release Day



A little bit of studio-pluggery here.  As you may or may not know, I am the CEO of Bushi-go, a mobile game startup.  For some time now, we’ve been plugging away on building a mobile app based around “Veiled Alliances”, Kevin J. Anderson’s prequel novella to his bestselling “Saga of the Seven Suns” novels.

This first release is a little more app than game right now for a couple of reasons.  Bestselling books don’t always translate into bestselling games.  Now, historically you’re looking at really big games.  Stuff like LOTR online was what everyone envisioned when you tried to make a book into a game.  They focused on the world-building, it focused on BIG BUDGETS and BIG GAMES.  We think we have a solution that will give the readers the kind of re-imaginings they will love.

But just because you like a book doesn’t mean you’re going to change your entertainment preferences and suddenly become a gamer.  If you loved “Wheel of Time”, no matter how much you loved it, you’re probably not going to go out and drop the cash on a new XBoxOne just so you can play in that world (heck, you could probably buy a full set of those books in a hardcover archival format for the same price).

So Bushi-go decided to try something different.  We went small.  Tight focus, stay close to the book, make the product truly accessible to almost every fan. When the game-play comes in later it’s going to be slower, more thinky, not completely twitchy and shooty (but there may be some of that too). We built this app using the leading edge magic of the Unreal Engine, then took that and modified it so that the app can run on almost every mobile device we could test it against, across all platforms.  If you have a mobile phone, you can enjoy our app.

Because we get it, if you’re a reader, that’s your thing.  You might watch a TV show based on your favorite books (Bones, Game of Thrones) but games require a bigger commitment, both time and money-wise.


The “Veiled Alliances” App drops tomorrow.  Head to and we’ll send you a direct email link when it’s live.  Tomorrow should be Android first (GooglePlay and Amazon) followed by Apple (phone and tablets) and WindowsPhone.

This first release is small, pretty and free.  Because we want to see how many of you like this format.  IF the download numbers look good, if we’ve chosen wisely, then we can move on to making the rest.

The Lens of your Lifetime

There is this ongoing problem that I’m (and most likely you) are aware of.  Because we do love to lament the “dumbing-down” of our current crop of kids (just ike out parents did, and their parents did on back through time).  It’s been brought back into focus for me by some of the recent goings on around the Hugo Awards, but also I just had a glowing, glaring example shoved in my face this morning by my own two kiddos (which was disturbingly topical).

The Things downloaded the newest Black OPS Beta this morning and are going through it, nitpicking every single thing they have ever seen in another game.  Thus far we have: Jetpacks being stolen from Halo, Giant Mechs being stolen from Titanfall, Supers/Specials being stolen from Destiny…  Do you see where this is going?

All of their references are from recent games they have played in their very short lifetimes.  They have no clear knowledge of the history of Mechwarrior as a tabletop RPG, or the many attempts to bring the Giant Mech Battle games to the videogame fold.  They have no idea that jetpacks in the FPS genre are decades old, in fact, you might as well say that Jetpack Joyride stole their jetpack idea from Halo, for all the sense that makes.

Now, because I’m a bit of a Legacy-buff, I’ll spend some time educating my kiddos on this (as I do on a number of topics, including the history of science fiction, robotics, spycraft, space exploration, etc).  I also know from experience that it will probably not stick as well as I’d like (or, they will continue to kvetch because it’s a power and control thing, rather than actual, genuine kvetching).  But it brings to mind the question, how do we, as fans, as developers, as CREATORS or a product, widen that lens of experience?

Historically (or so I am given to understand) this was the job of the previous generation.  The established would tell their stories to the new and the new could move forward with a better-informed fanview.  But there are a couple of key problems with this.

One, fandoms (games, pop-culture, etc.) are bringing in people faster than ever.  You no longer need an entre to become a part of fandom, you can hop online and find a group of new fans to join and even meet up with at conventions.  That means that the influx of new people is looking through the aforementioned lens of limited experience.  That’s not a BAD thing, but it means that those that went before have to spend extra time and effort to educate (which, granted, is annoying, I get that.  You don’t get to rest on your laurels, you have to show the color of your boxers every time you meet a newbie).

Two, no two people remember things the same way.  So what might be an insult to one party was a clever turn of phrase by another.  Yes, we should all be able to sort these things out, but when the grievance was decades old, reliable information may be hard to come by, and the “newfans” won’t know if a mistake has been made, if they are just listening to one piece of a complex issue, and where/how to correct it.

Ideally, there ought to be a frictionless way to sort this out (yes, I know EFFORT should genuinely be put in, but humans, all humans, are designed to be lazy critters, we need to work around that).  But barring that, I think a certain level of awareness might be the best, first solution.  If newfans are aware that they are missing something (because many of these fan-bases have stunningly and engagingly rich histories and a stunning number of fans seem to be unaware that fandom existed long before they were born) and the fanbase can find ways to make that information obviously available, then we might be able to reestablish a coherent, fully-shared experience.

Witness File 770, for example, which was established as a single-source record of the recent Hugo divide.  Almost every writer with a fanbase of their own has repeatedly referenced it so that newfans know, and that unified sourcing has made a very big difference.

Thing is, there’s no way around this yet without a metric butt-load of work on the part of one or more people.  This kind of thing has been tried before, with varying degrees of success.  And it does have to be a small, ongoing group, you can’t pass this kind of thing from one elected keeper to another because then you lose the purpose, and agendas get involved and eventually the whole thing goes down under a pile of bit-rot.  We have hit a point where those databases of memory can be easily searchable, the trick now is going to be making sure they contain the best (and preferably impartial) reporting on events, as well as including all the old histories as far back as we can go.

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.


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



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.