Sunday, December 21, 2008
Bad news for the Spanish videogame industry. I've been told Arvirago has closed their doors, and Pyro has just cancelled Cops (one of the projects in which I worked) and laid off many people. Up to 21 have been fired.
This is no good at all for Spanish developers. I have huge concerns about the capability of the managers of those companies (particularly Pyro, since I know it best) but any way it's a lot of unemployed guys, and considering the current economic situation it's even worst.
Somehow I think this is the end of the 'old school companies', which rely on the inspiration of a guru-like creative director and their projects often pay little attention to the market needs but the intuition/vision of their managers. Design changes are constant and budgets skyrocket easily. Organization is reduced, and crunch is common. The disappearance of this company type is probably for the best, but in the meantime many people lost their jobs.
Monday, December 1, 2008
As you may know I play World of Warcraft. The vast majority of designers I know play (or have played) it too, probably for a reason: Its design is really fucking good. Granted, not perfect, but 11 million consumers paying on a monthly basis can't be wrong.
I was recently given the tip (thanks, Ricard) about some interviews and keynotes available in the internet from Rob Pardo, Blizzard's Design Vice president and Starcraft lead designer. You can click here for a summary of one of his lectures from Raph Koster's website.
I think their approach in many aspects is really useful. Even though you'll understand it better if you've ever played WoW, I still recommend to read it if you're related with design. Enjoy!
Friday, November 28, 2008
Ok, I gotta talk about Mr. Potato, and by extension about retro-gaming. Yeah, I'm a teenager of the 80s and I had an MSX. Quite popular in Japan but it didn't sell that good in Europe. It was a pain in the ass to find decent games in Cordoba (Spain) back then.
Someone said that in our whole adult life we try to find the things we missed while we were teenagers. In my case one of those (many) things was to play all the cool MSX games that I could read about in magazines but I couldn't get access to.
In case you don't know it, Akihabara is Tokyo's technological district. There are lots and lots of shops dedicated to sell all kind of devices at extremely reasonable prices. By far the thing that attracted me the most was all the retrogaming stuff I could find. Old consoles such as the Megadrive, Super Famicon (known in the West as Super NES)... all in mint condition. And of course, MSX games. Lots of them. And much of them were at Mr. Potato. It's 3 stories of retro-consoles, games and all type of stuff from the 80s. Some british guys were saying loud while entering: 'This is our Mecca!'.
Unfortunately I lost my old MSX, and those were all games in japanese, so I had to control myself and not buy them all. Anyway, it's nice to know those old devices are not dead yet. Someday I'll get an MSX and re-build my old collection of games. Someday...
Thursday, November 27, 2008
I recently attended to the Congreso de desarrolladores de videojuegos at Valencia. My lecture was the first of the congress, and it was entitled 'La fase de concepto de un videojuego, o como diseñar un paracaídas mientras caes' (The videogame concept phase, or how to design a parchute while you free fall'. It was a good lecture and I got excellent feedback about it. Some of the other lecturers told me that they were told mine was so good that they got stressed and spent hours practising theirs!
I also stayed in the congress for the rest of it, and even though I originally thought it would be more a developer convention (in fact it was mostly a student gathering) some lectures were interesting and I was surprised to be considered by many people and interlopers as a reference for the spanish design. I guess it's the 'powerpoint effect': If you see someone at the top of a platform you automatically consider him as someone relevant. Even me!
Anyway, here you can find my lecture (sorry, in spanish).
Saturday, November 22, 2008
While I was in Japan I had the feeling that their culture is far more game-based than ours. At least more than the spanish, that's for sure. Here in Spain gamers have been traditionally been considered as semi-autistic. If you played some hours per day, you surely had problems.
Things in Japan seem to be different. They play games on a regular basis. Pachinko arcades are everywhere. Videogame arcades are also common, and they seem to be still acceptably populated by youngsters, something we've lost here in the West. There were some unique arcade machines that I had never seen such as a virtual horse racing bet simulator, games based on cards or tokens and fishing games.
I was told that many people went to play regularly just as soon as they left their workplaces. I'm not gonna recommend that for our society, but it gives you a good hint about why they like all those really hardcore games that force you to play over and over until you defeat that insanely difficulty final boss, and endless RPGs that keep them busy for weeks. Someone told me that Japanese people NEED to feel busy with something, and videogames are there.
Wednesday, November 12, 2008
I’ve recently been in Japan for a couple of weeks. It was a leisure trip but there was also some business on it since I attended to the Tokio Game Show. That was the last of the major videogame conventions that I had never been in. I attended to the E3 on the 2006 (the last real one before they turned it into a private show for publishers), the Leipzig Games Convention on the 2007 and the GDC on the 2008.
My feelings about the Tokio event were... well, basically the same to those I had from the old E3 and Leipzig’s GC. Again it’s an open show for all videogame lovers, lots of stands where you can play demos of your favourite games if you’re pacient enough to make loooong queues, plus lots of noises and few sits.
From an atendee point of view the main differences where the possibility of having access to many japanese games you’ll rarely see in western markets, lot of merchandise available in specific fan shops, and lots and lots of cosplayers, who added a lot of spice to the show.
From a professional point of view, yet again there were no major announcements made during the show. Big companies tend to prefer to make them in separated and corporative-focused shows they organize along the year. And the presence of japanese companies is so complete that I even doubt that event can be of any use for non-japan-based companies.
Here you can find some pictures I took while I was there. I’ll keep talking about my trip to Japan in future posts.
Wednesday, October 1, 2008
I didn't know who Jeff Freeman was, even though I spent 2 years of my life playing a game he had contributed to design: Star Wars Galaxies. He helped to create the pet system of the game (which was quite ok, by the way), and when the game was re-designed he tried to stay in touch with the community of players and justify the changes. He has recently took away his life.
The small bio I've read here sets clear that SWG had nothing to do with his suicide. But if you put your heart in your work as Jeff seems to have done and face the problems the game had at that time you'll eventually pay for it. I'm sure he had issues, but I'm also certain that the SWG troubles didn't help him at all.
I'm paying my respect through these lines to all designers that put their hearts in their work. Rest in peace, Jeff.
Tuesday, September 30, 2008
10 years ago designs just needed to be good to be successful. There wasn’t much discussion about what was the intended market you were aiming to. All were hardcore gamers and that’s it.
Lately this has become a major concern for designers. It’s not only that you need to be aware if you’re designing for hardcore or casual gamers, but you also need to have in mind where the players of your game live.
Most North-americans seem to value fast-paced action games. Japanese/Korean gamers seem to love really difficult games, and Europe… Well, each country is different. Germans & central Europe still love RTS, and Eastern Europe value fantasy/magic games more than other areas. Spain is claimed to be keen on casual titles more than anything else.
However, if you ask a producer ‘Ey, what type of audience target are we aiming to?’ they inevitably look at you as they were spotting a Martian. When requested to define if the title is aiming to a hardcore/casual audience, they always answer ‘Both!’ and they seem really happy. Keep in mind that, for their eyes, they’ve just double the revenue of the game with that decision. Even though designing a game for both is almost impossible. But that’s your problem, not theirs.
As I see it, some day the industry will grow old enough to be able to define exactly the target it’s aiming to with each product. I’ve heard that some EA and Ubi products follow strict marketing guidelines. Like all other industries do. That means it’s an adult business.
Monday, September 29, 2008
I always liked History. As a consequence as a player I also enjoy games set in historical scenarios. But I’m not including in that category games like God of War, set in a mythical world where gods and demos are common.
I mean those games that try to reconstruct that age realistically, and make you feel like you were living those times. There are not much of those games, aren’t there? Ok, there are lots of games set in WWII, but they’re not trying to reconstruct the 40s world itself.
That’s the reason why I like GTA Vice city (Rockstar). I don’t feel encouraged enough to play the other GTAs since I’m not really interested in exploring the current NY, for instance. Plus, I like the 80s. I’ve finished both Vice cities (PS2 and PSP) and I’m really looking forward to play a third one (hear me, Rockstar guys? ;)).
Now that I come to think about it The Godfather (EA) is another of these games. And also Driver Parallel lines (Reflections). Why all the games depicting a certain era are all free-roaming gameplay based?
Friday, July 18, 2008
I recently attended to the Gamelab, a gathering of videogame developers in Gijón, a northern spanish city. It's an annual convention, and most relevant professionals of the spanish videogame industry were there. You can check their website here (unfortunately only in spanish).
There is no a proper congress of videogame makers for the spanish industry. In other countries the GDC takes care of those gatherings, but for lot of reasons the local GDC chapters in Spain have proved to be unable to keep a continuous activity. I was one of the professionals trying to activate the Madrid chapter. We organized a couple of events, but eventually there were more people interested in attending than in organizing it. To be honest we were probably too ambitious, and it was too time-consuming. As far as I know Dani Sánchez Crespo is in charge of the Barcelona chapter, but he has never organized not even one meeting.
With this situation, I'm quite happy that Gamelab has managed to put together so many relevant professionals of the spanish industry. Even the weakest keynotes were interesting since they offer a view of the current state of the spanish industry. I really enjoyed Enric's since it was full of real-life experiences about how to sell a next-gen project to a publisher. I also had the chance the see some in-game footage of The Lord of the Creatures, Gonzo's own Duke Nukem Forever (who knows, maybe they'll eventually publish it. I was always eskeptic about that). ZedCity was also presented. It intends to be a casual World of Warcraft, but so far it looks more like a Walking simulator. I sincerely hope Juan Tamargo will find the way to make it more interesting, I'm sure they will. Anyway, here you can find some pictures that I made of the conferences.
I'm one of those optimistics thinking that just talking and sharing experiences is good for the industry. Talking specifically about Spain, what's good for one company is generally good for all the others, so in a way we're all a bunch of guys trying to build an industry without any government support. Maybe we'll make it. I hope we will.
Monday, June 23, 2008
Lately I've read lots of game reviews recommending 'this game is a 10', 'you really need to buy it', 'it's perfect!'.
I'm not going to get into the fact that most of those reviews, under my humble point of view, are too hype-influenced to be considered accurate. Yes, I'm thinking about Halo 3, Metal Gear Solid 4 or GTA 4. Let's keep that aside.
What I'm pointing out is this: The videogame critics apparently don't pay much attention to the fact that gamers are different, and there are several genres to prove it. You would not recommend a horror flick to a romantic-comedy-fan, would you? Ok, maybe that horror movie is simply great, and a '10' in its genre, but it will definitively fall down in the rank when watched by someone who loves other type of movies.
Well, games are the same. Would you say 'you have to buy this shooter game' to a puzzle gamer? I don't care if it's the perfect shooter. It would be a bad recommendation, a waste of money and another step back for videogames to be the main leisure choice for the XXI society.
So I'd recommend videogame journalists to be more precise in their articles, and when they suggest potential buyers to acquire a game, clearly state the game's genre. Somehow I feel videogame press still need to grow old to become what it's supposed to be: An accurate information source for gamers so they can select the game they'll really enjoy.
Sunday, May 4, 2008
Undoubtely one of last year's most important games, essentially Bioshock is a console FPS, but there are also lots of RPG elements.
The story: Late 50s. Your plane crashes right at the entrance of a secret underwater city in the middle of the Atlantic. It was built by a group of visionaries after the second world war, and it was populated by scientifics and artists trying to build a better world. Their experiments on genetic engineering eventually turned the paradise into hell. You're supposed to be helping one of the survivors to rescue his family, but things are not always as they seem to be...
I personally bought it attracted by the good reviews and its original setting: That secret city below water was misterious enough to make me wish to explore its secrets. And god knows there are many of them.
Ok, about game mechanics:
My personal opinion is that there are just too many of them. And I really mean A LOT. I've always been in favor of combining one core mechanic with 2-3 supporting mechanics (which is too much for many designers) but Bioshock simply exceeded my expectations.
The basic mechanic is the shooting trade-off (with no aiming helps as far as I could see), but you unlock certain genetic improvements allowing alternative gameplay, such as freezing enemies, setting them on fire, sneaking, hacking turrets and security devices, use the environment electrocuting water areas, use 'the force' to attract objects to be thrown or as shields...
Want more mechanics? There are more. You can also loot objects from bodies and crates to craft ammo and other elements. There are weapon upgrades to choose from, genetic upgrades to adapt the combat style to yours. You can take pictures of the enemies to increase your combat skills against each one. There is a basic (and eventually repetitive) puzzle game to simulate hacking, and vendors to get ammo and medikits (by the way, the health system is really hardcore).
And let's talk about the weapons. There are not a lot (6), but each one has 3 different types of ammo to be used against different enemies which in essence makes 18 weapons. I noticed it's difficult to select the proper one, since you don't have much time to think when you're attacked.
And there is also a huge exploration aspect: Players are required to spend time searching all desks and boxes if they want to have enough ammo at their disposal. I personally think it was too much. It's just not fun to be searching every prop in the game. Some of them are highlighted so you can see them from a distance, but most of them are inside desks and takes too much time to collect them. It was boring.
Players are required to manage several parameters: Player's health, player's mana (called EVE, allows to use those genetic superpowers), ammo, ADAM (the currency for genetic enhancements), crafteable elements and money. Am I the only one that thinks it's a little too much?
Ok, yes, much of the mechanics are optional. You don't really need to take pictures, snipe or even use genetic enhancements much of the time. But somehow I have the feeling that I'm not playing in the proper way if I don't use them all. Also, it had to be really painful to tweak all those mechanics properly. I know, that same studio created System Shock, and since both games share most of the design, they've already been there. But anyway I think they could have done a great game anyway without that many. Made me feel lost often.
Now for the level design:
I found it appropriate. The bulk of the game is based on objectives like 'Go to that unexplored area'. Once you're spotted enemies never stop chasing you, so basically you're forced to kill everything on sight. But it's fine, you've got lots of killing options to choose from, so combat was always challenging enough combined with the scenarios.
Small twists in the levels were common, making each scenario somehow unique: There is a escort mission, collecting objectives or a level in which all your genetic enhancements are taken away (for some reason there was not much ammo in that level, and it was really painful).
I remember one of my bosses in my previous company saying that unique settings cannot create a good game by itself. I think he was wrong, and Bioshock proves it. None of the game mechanics are really that original. The underwater city and the stories within are.
The most remarkable element of this game story is how the plot is embedded into the game environments. Players are provided with all information required for the missions by radio, but you can see the inner stories of the people who populated Rapture through the signs they left in the rooms, their works... it's a little like the human traces found in hidden places in Portal.
In order to provide some background stories you can collect audio recordings hidden in the scenarios. It makes sense since there are no 'normal' people populating the place, just enemies. I'm not particularly hot about these audio recordings, though. Most of them don't add much to the story, and they're often gameplay intrusive.
The genetic superpowers are (for my opinion) a little too unrealistic for the story. Let's see: One allows you to throw electric discharges, another one shoots fire bolts. Telekinesis works as 'the force' (attracting and repelling objects), another one allows you to turn enemies into ice statues for a short time, throw bees against enemies (I'm serious), create cyclons... I just don't buy it. Ok, once you get into the story (and particularly the gameplay) you live with it, but I keep thinking the story doesn't support that degree of magic.
To me, the best thing of the story is how it makes you feel you're really inside it. Music is excellent (old tunes from the late 40s), and sound effects are everywhere to give you the chills. Final boss encounters are carefully prepared by the storytelling, so you know the insane experiments and abuses they lead against innocent people.
One of the most remarkable features of the game is an ethical choice you're given: Little girls (named little sisters) wander around the scenarios protected by one of the toughest enemies, the so-called Big daddies. If you manage to kill these, you can either save or gather (kill) the little ones. The end of the game depends of that choice. I personally saved them all, so I gained access to the 'good guy' ending. The 'bad guy ending' is not bad either, you can finish the game with both of them.
I'd give it a 7.5. Bioshock is one of those games that I like because they clearly offer more content than I expected for my money. Despite some frustrating moments and too much time spent in the RPG mechanics, I had fun playing it and the storytelling is really compelling. I strongly recommend to any RPG gamer to try it, and particularly anyone interested in how games can tell good stories. This one does.
Sunday, April 20, 2008
I have a subscription to the Edge Magazine (english edition). There are multiple adds there of British Universities inviting people to study game design. Also design conferences, meetings for designers, design books in english...
For some reason there are not much studies for videogame designers in Spain. It was recently published in the media that videogames sold last year more than cinema and music TOGETHER in Spain. Considering that, I'm stunned for the fact that there are just a couple of masters to train people for the spanish videogame industry.
Ok, there is one perfectly valid reason: The spanish videogame industry is reduced. Just a bunch of companies trying to survive. No point of investing money training people. Not much people know about it. Today Spain is a consumer for foreign products. I think this is changing, but not fast enough.
As far as I know there are 2 masters trying to provide a basic knowledge to people (one in Madrid, another one in Barcelona), and both focus in programming. Seems like there are some lectures about pure design, but that's it.
I personally think that having professional experience lets you know about the real life of videogame development, but having some studies gives you a basic layer of knowledge that eventually may set the difference. I lack of that. I’ve tried to cover that fault reading books, but it will never be the same.
Right now I’m really interested in sharing the little I know with the future professionals. I am probably not the most experienced or skilled designer in Spain, but somehow I feel the need to contribute to the training of future professionals...
Saturday, March 22, 2008
Have you ever been into a meeting with other people trying to find a solution for a problem, spending hours talking and ending up with no result? Yeah, me too. Lots of times. The basic premise of Edward de Bono's 'Six Thinking Hats' is to provide you with a method to avoid that situation.
The main problem in most meetings is how to deal with the different personalities of the people involved. There is some creative but not-so-well organized people, people who only criticize, others who just want plain data and nothing else... If you find a group who knows how to work together is great, but that rarely happen.
So de Bono offers a way to organize people's thinking to optimize the result. The system works as follows: The author has isolated the different personalities which could be involved in a decision-making process, and assign each one of them with a colored hat:
- White Hat: Facts and figures
- Red Hat: Emotions and feelings
- Black Hat: Problems
- Yellow Hat: Positivism
- Green Hat: Creativeness
- Blue Hat: Organization
Then all people involved in finding the solution need to use each different hat when they're required. It's like a role-playing game, but with a professional objective. Each person will probably be particularly skilled in one or two of the different hats, but the final result should be a complete overview of the problem, the solutions and which is the best one.
Well, that's what de Bono says. However, my personal impression about this issue is not as optimistic as the author's. Seems like all those people using hats need to have a unique approach to the problem: They should all be in the same level (or at least be allowed to talk freely to people of a higher rank), they should all be really willing to surrender their own personal solutions to another one, be open to criticism and eventually be really looking for the best solution.
My personal experience is quite different: The main motivation is not to find the best solution, since bosses always use their hyerarchies to make their own proposals win over the others. Few bosses that I know have really managed to create an atmosphere where anyone can talk freely. The main motivation of the people in the meetings is generally to make their proposals triumph over the others, or simply accept the boss solution in a smart way trying to get as much credit as possible. In most situations, when they fail to make their ideas succeed they talk with the boss alone, convince him and make his approach be the winner. And no, I don't think this only happen in Spain. I've worked with people from lots of countries and it happens all the time.
If someday de Bono's idealistic system is really put to work I'll be the first to adopt it. Sadly, my experience tells me that the decision-making process is based on 'company politics'. De Bono's method seems interesting for those social areas were there can really be a 'best solution' (engineering, for instance) but not for those areas where is not that easy to decide if a solution is the best or not. Any artistic-related activity will not allow that easily. Videogame design is one of them. However, I think the book is extremely interesting because of its isolation of personalities. Once you spot a 'black hat' person (only points out the problems, never provide a solution) it's easier to deal with him, asking them to use 'another hat'.
Monday, March 10, 2008
I had never attended to any previous GDC before, and I didn't have the intention to do so this year. I had taken a look at the speakers and it didn't look particularly interesting. However, my company manager told a group of employees (including me) that they'll pay us the trip, the hotel and the GDC registration. As the Godfather would say, it was an offer I couldn't refuse.
The convention took place in San Francisco's Moscone center. Nice place in the city downtown. For those who never attended, the convention features dozens of different conferences, most of them at the same time. So you really need to schedule your attendance heavily in order to be in those you really want to be. As I said, I didn't feel this year's conferences were extremely interesting but anyway there are always some subjects that could be useful for your work.
More than that, we had a problem with the schedule. It was also our intention to meet with our publisher, and so we had a couple of conference-free days for that. However, they put no effort in setting the meetings in those days. So we had to meet them during the sessions. I was attending meetings with my mobile on, and when needed I had to run away to go join the others. Not too professional from Universal's side but ey, they pay our salaries.
My general feeling about the content of the (few) design sessions I could attend was that there were too many 'pajas mentales' (mental masturbations) and few useful day-by-day applicable solutions for designers. Most of the speakers seemed to be more interested in show how cool they were, how many 5-syllabled words they could put in the same sentence, and talk about 'what is design?', 'Are videogames art?' and all that academic shit, more than sharing with us the problems they have and how they solved them.
I would have loved to have the time to talk with people. I'm sure that's the real way to make the conference useful for you but, as I said, we didn't have the time to be at the conference all the time we should have. Anyway, I bought some interesting design books, had a nice experience, had dinner with other spaniards (see the pictures here) and had the chance to see San Francisco again, which is one of my favourite cities.
Not bad in any sense, I think.
Before joining the videogame industry I worked in the tv for some years. During that time I didn’t pay much attention to games in general, and consoles in particular. So I missed the golden years of Nintendo’s consoles, Playstation 1 and part of Playstation 2.
As a consequence, I didn’t experience some classic games of that era, including all Zelda games. I was intrigued by the complete devotion of its followers, and since Ocarina of Time ranked as the best game of all times in some lists, I tried to play it in my PC using an emulator. It was a bad experience, graphics were clearly out-of-date, the action took too much time to start, some mechanics seemed to be ridiculous (such as cutting grass to get rupees) and I got lost almost at the start.
As a result, I was quite skeptic about that series. Minish Cup was not a bad thing to play, but Gameboy’s graphics were so cheesy that I couldn’t give much credit to the game. However, since so much people that I respected were so devoted to that Link guy, I decided to give it another try buying Wii’s Twilight princes. My opinion about the series clearly improved, but so far I’m still unable to finish it for a number of reasons.
Anyway, in 2006’s E3 I played a small demo of the multiplayer mod of Phantom Hourglass, and I like both the graphic style and the camera. Considering my current devotion for portable consoles, I decided that game will be my Zelda, and eventually it was. Here are my impressions of the first Zelda game I ever finished:
Zelda games are apparently unique in its genre. There are not much competitors. It’s a mix of basic fighting, RPG, exploration and puzzles, and we could say the final result is pure adventure. The extension of the game is huge, there are usually lots and lots of areas to explore, puzzles to solve and enemies to fight.
Phantom Hourglass is the first Zelda for DS. It takes its graphic style from the not-so-well-sold The Windwaker (Gamecube), and that was a wise decision. It perfectly fits with the type of DS gamers, and I think can attract other players as well.
The game uses all the conventions of the epic tales: Eden-like paradise invaded by evil forces, an heroic main character using a mighty sword, magical creatures, unexplored universe filled with all types of dangers...
The plotline appears to be the same in all Zelda games: A young blonde elf-like fellow lives happily in a small town. For some reason evil magic forces take control of his world, and an old man reveals the big secret: He’s that mythical hero of past times, Link!. Not a big surprise for the player, though, all Links look more or less similar. In the very moment you begin playing you know you’re going to be discovered as that ancient hero, and the main character’s surprise expression when he realizes who he is looks almost stupid for your eyes.
The tactile screen is wisely used, particularly applied to all the player actions. It’s basically Diablo style (if you click on the field, the character goes there. If you click over an enemy, the character attacks). They’re easy to remember and most of them are consistent with your mental mapping for that action. Only rolling (present in other Zelda games) is not properly integrated into the game.
One of my bosses at Pyro used to say ‘Less is more’. He was one of those Sony-let’s-make-it-casual guys that insisted in having just one cool game mechanic and build the game completely out of it. Zelda is clearly in the other side. It has lots and lots of different mechanics. I know, this game is quite unique, but thank god it exists. Otherwise the gaming world will be based only on Singstars and so on.
Another remarkable mechanic of the Zelda series is its role element. Instead of allowing players to set their characters using indirect RPG options (stamina, intellect, slot-based inventory...) that require the player to micro-manage their characters in order to do special things, or leveling abilities until they’re really powerful, players get new equipment with special usages, each one allowing a unique and cool use (generally associated to puzzle solving).
If there is a minor aspect that I dislike from Zelda puzzles is the fact that there is only one way to solve them. Sometimes you feel there is another possible choice (in fact it makes more sense) but since the puzzles was conceived to use other objects/equipment you’re stuck wondering why the game doesn’t make sense. Or simply you don’t understand what you’re supposed to do. I think all puzzle games should have their own walkthrough inside the game (maybe you lose rupees or special content if you use it too much). I just don’t see the point of making one of your customers leave the game unfinished if he paid for all of it.
Frankly I got stuck 2-3 times. When internet didn’t exist that meant the game was over for me. Thanks to the net, I just took a look at the walkthroughs, found the way to solve the problem and keep having fun.
I didn’t like AT ALL the use they made of the Temple of the ocean king. You’re forced to play it up to 5 times (if I remeber correctly), going through all its dungeons over and over, and play it against a timer. Yes, new tools make the journey easier. Yes, along with the story you get more time to play with and yes, at some point you get a teleport portal that saves you some dungeons. But anyway it’s boring. The only justification to do so is to artificially enlarge the game’s experience.
Conclusion: I’d give it an 8. It was a real challenge to bring Zelda series to DS, and they excelled. Great game, nice experience and not that long (I think it took me like 15 hours all together). I really felt into the game universe and I even tried to solve some optional missions (fishing, treasures). Since it’s partially a puzzle game, I got stuck and had to check internet walkthroughs to keep going, but most of the time I managed to solve problems by myself. Highly recommendable for DS players, adventure lovers and by all means anyone who likes Zelda series.
Saturday, February 9, 2008
Last week I attended to a conference where the main speaker was no other than Alexei Pajitnov, the creator of Tetris. More than a conference it was an encounter with fans. Even though the organization didn’t publicize the event too much, the small Barcelona FNAC conference room was full of people (see pictures here).
Pajitnov looks like a nice and shy guy who answered patiently all our questions in the most concise way. Somehow he looks like someone who could never dream of being famous, but circumstances made him a celebrity among a certain (and raising) group of people: videogamers.
Apart from being the creator of arguably the most famous puzzle game of all time (still being sold in platforms such as the DS, or digital tv as far as I know) he has created some other puzzle games like Hexic, and he’s still working as a consultant for more puzzle games.
You know, Tetris has an interesting story behind. It was created in the soviet era, and it took years of struggling against the russian government for different entrepeneurs (some of them not particularly honest) trying to get the rights of that soon-to-be best selling game. If you’re interested there is a nice BBC documentary about it named ‘Tetris – from Russia with love’.
I liked Pajitnov. He’s obviously a geek who deals badly with being a celebrity. He told us he plays 3-4 hours daily, and he even has a lvl 66 in World of Warcraft (at least, I beat him in that ). I’m thinking that, in a way, videogames also have their stardom. Of course, Pajitnov/Molyneux/Miyamoto/you-name-him will never be able to compete with Scarlett Johansson or Brad Pitt in ‘gorgeousness’ or sexual appealing, but at least their achievements endure for years, not only while they look good and the press loves them. And that’s not a bad thing.
Sunday, January 20, 2008
I knew about Portal for the first time through videogame websites. The whole concept of a puzzle game based on the possibility of opening and closing portals in every scenario wall seemed promising, although a little ‘hardcore’.
The development team are a bunch of guys who made a prototype which eventually pleased Valve so much that they offered them a job. One of my workmates downloaded the demo they presented (Narbacular drop), and it’s quite promising.
The game was finally released in the Orange Box pack (although you can buy it separately), and these are my impressions after completing it:
First of all, Portal is a first person puzzle game. The player uses a Portal gun to open up to 2 portals (in & out) in all those scenario elements that allow it, in order to get his final objective: Escape from the level. You can move your character into the ‘in’ portal, and you’ll automatically appear in the ‘out’ portal. It may sound complex, but after some practice it’s not.
The game offers up to 18 levels, and after its completion you gain access to some additional levels and challenges. If you’re a skilled puzzle gamer it should not take you more than 6-8 hours to complete it. It took up around 10 to me anyway.
So the first doubt is: Does the main (and almost only) game mechanic work: The Portal gun? Well, of course. The tutorial is quite good, escaling its use through simple puzzles. Along the game you forget about ‘how to use it’ to concentrate over ‘where to use it’. I suspect that those gamers with a poor 3D conception (probably more than you may imagine) can have huge problems with the game. I’m wondering if the game wouldn’t have been more accessible with a Third person view.
And the second doubt: Is it fun to play with that gun? The answer should be common to any other puzzle game: The fun is based on finding the proper solution to every challenge, and execute it properly. The game doesn’t allow several solutions to the same problem, which means that you need to find the right one or you won’t be able to progress. A classic puzzle proposal, so players are supposed to invest as much time as needed thinking about the problem until they find the solution. If you’re impacient or you prefer direct action, this is not your game.
However, they game could have suffered of the same problem than most puzzle games: They lack story. Unlocking level after level is only challenging if you really love the game, but without a link between them games falls into repetition (I’m thinking of Lemmings, for instance. I loved that game, but I got tired too fast).
And (in my opinion) there is the truly greatness of the game: Where most puzzle games fail, Portal excels in making his small story the real ‘pusher’ for the player. The player is supposed to be a woman with artificial legs (no explanation why) treated as a Guinea pig by an artificial intelligence only audible: Glados. There is something twisted with it, and you know it: It’s not only its voice (sounds like those parser systems that recognizes text and pronounce each word with a different entonation), Glados is constantly promising you a cake party when you finish all levels, and talks to you like a sociopath will do, like a semi-intelligent animal, until it eventually tries to kill you (last level). Then you look and find it, and face it in a final ‘boss fight’.
So there is a real link along all the puzzles. Glados’ comments become the real reward for you, and its lack of any human feelings towards you increase your will to finally kick its ass. There are also small scenario hints that support the story: Eventhough there is no other human being in the game but you, you can see the traces of others who managed to escape from the testing levels and lived in small hidden rooms, filled with bean cans and painting graffitis such as ‘the cake is a lie’.
The final boss fight is the only one with a timer, which can be quite stressing, but the credits are really rewarding. Glados sings a nice song to you while the development team is listed. I really loved that song, it could become one of those internet sensations between gamers (Still Alive).
Apparently Valve wanted to keep some connections with the Half Life series in case they eventually use the Portal gun in future games. So from time to time you can see presentation rooms with Powerpoints mentioning Black Mesa (the scenario of Half Life 1). Who knows? Half Life 3 using portals? Sounds promising to me.
Oh, by the way: I played the PC version. I tried to play the Xbox version when they were showcasing it in the Game Convention, and it was almost unplayable because of the fast 3D view movements you’re supposed to do. Console controller pads doesn’t excel at that as as the mouse does, you know.
Conclussion: I’d rate it with an 8. Highly recommendable for puzzle gamers. The graphic style is just too similar to Half Life (they re-used much of the graphic assets) but you forget about that soon and concentrate in fighting Glados and its insane levels.
Hi, reader. Just a few lines to introduce myself and this blog. As a videogame designer, I feel that most press reviews are not accurate enough, either because the reviewer didn’t have the time to play the whole game, or because there are company interests behind. Here you’ll find game reviews only of those games I completed personally, along with articles about industry trends, and anything that affects to videogames.
Just feel free to write down your comments. Since I’m a spaniard, some people may write theirs in spanish. I’ll do my best to help people understand each other. Enjoy!
Just feel free to write down your comments. Since I’m a spaniard, some people may write theirs in spanish. I’ll do my best to help people understand each other. Enjoy!