9/10/06 


An Analytical Discussion of the Industry, Culture, Progress and Nature of Video Games.

September 10, 2006

How to Make Games Like:
Extreme Buxom Ninja Toenail Clipping 2

September marks the beginning of an outrageous opportunity for all video gamers who are no longer content to sit in their mother’s basements and write bad poetry for girls they’ll never talk to. You may not know it, but the power to have wicked-awesome games is limited only to your imagination, creativity, disposable income, and free time. I’m talking about Independent Game Creation (IGC).

Sure, there have been game-making programs before - most notably RPG makers and the previously mentioned Adventure Game Studio. But RPGs and adventure games went out with Hammer Pants and Mark Wahlberg’s singing career. Other strategies for IGC involved attending programming classes at the local community college. And, take it from me: School is lame. It looked as if IGC would continue to stay within the realm of the ultra-dorky.

Now, with the release of XNA Game Studio (a tool to make games for Xbox Live Arcade) and Gamebryo (a tool for making mods for Oblivion and other Bethesda games), in addition to a more accessible Flash, NOW is the perfect time for you to get into IGC.

It’s not all Flowers and Sausages, however. Designing a game can be tough. As Jesus said, “With great power comes great responsibility.” And with your new power, you need to unleash a game upon this world that will not only be popular – but also make a difference in people’s lives. It’s quite a charge, and many an avid gamer has been stymied by the daunting task of creating something cool.

To help you with this creative process, I’ve constructed a list to guide you through the difficult choices you will have to make. If followed through to their end, Pixels and Progress guarantees a game that will bring you not only fortune and glory, but the attention of that special lady on which you’ve had your eye:

Q1. What kind of game should I make? This is where many people get stuck. A good idea will guide the rest of the project. A bad idea, like a foundation built upon sand, will crumble as you work on it. There are two time tested strategies for dealing with this question:

A1#1. Rip off an old game. Geometry Wars is a ridiculously popular game on Xbox Live Arcade – and a complete rip-off of Robotron. I played Robotron on my Atari 7800 when I was seven. If there’s one thing we’ve learned about game development, it’s that great ideas are already out there. It’s not “creative bankruptcy”, but “creative sharing”. Why kill yourself thinking of something original? Pick a great game, change the character model, and start browsing for Maseratis.

A1#2. Think of something totally mundane. Here are a few ideas: dishwashing, paint peeling, flower-patterned wallpaper sanding, office supply ordering, pencil sharpening, gym-sock arranging, browsing for toothpaste at Costco, or pouring Rice Chex. The service industry is also ripe for ideas: bartending, short order cooking, parking cars, and stacking blocks (that’s a service, right?). As long as you attach points to the task and make the pace artificially frenetic, your players will love it!

Q2. What should my character be? Never underestimate the levity of this choice. Your players don’t want to control a gay, drunk, cartographer clown.

A2. Since beefy solders are soooo passé, you basically have five choices: Ninja, Pirate, Zombie, Robot, or Monkey. Here's a link comparing their popularity. As you can see, robots and monkeys are always strong choices, but pirates have become quite popular of late. Ninjas have slipped a little, but are still rad as hell in my own personal opinion. And don’t be underwhelmed by zombies – with Dead Rising doing so well, I predict zombies to be the next It-character for the next-gen consoles.

Q3. How should I program this game?

A3. Once you have a kick-ass idea, and an equally ass-kicking character, you need to get to programming. I can’t tell you how to work XNA, Flash, or any other software application you might use. Read the freaking manual. But I CAN tell you some things that you have to include in the gameplay if you want to make your game stand out:

The first is: Poor Collision Detection. Whatever character you pick, they’re going to have to do manipulate an object with something else (sword, half-eaten brain, banana, etc.). Make sure this works only half of the time. Making it work 100% of the time in a “correct” manner would make the game too easy. You want people spending time with your game – not beating it in an afternoon. Poor collision detection isn’t bad; you’re providing your players with challenge. They’ll appreciate it.

The second follows from the first: Cheap Deaths. Playing a game without the chance of dying takes away the challenge. If you’re game is kinda easy, you might want to think about adding ways for your character to die in a manner that is surprising, unwarranted, and counter-intuitive. Like poor collision detection, this will add challenge to your game. Players also love getting frustrated with their games. Yelling at a game is a type of emotional investment, and that’s what all game developers are striving for. Again: Your players will appreciate your thoughtfulness.

Q4. How do I make my game stand out?

A4. With the launch of software putting IGC in the hands of everyone, you need a few strategies to separate your game from the mountain of crap-cakes that are sure to flood the market.

Strategy 1: Be funny. In addition to being an avid gamer, I’m sure that you have a well-honed sense of humor. You should add as much as you can in to your game. This can include inside jokes with your friends, who are sure to download your game. And don’t be worried about these jokes flying over the head of your non-friend downloaders; to them, it will just seem like “randomness” and be hilarious anyway. A knock-knock joke at the end of every level is always a choice move.

Strategy 2: Add a pop-culture reference. Remember when that French soccer player headbutted that other soccer player? Do you know how many games incorporated that? Ass loads. You need to do something similar. Paris Hilton is always a good choice. As is President Bush.

Strategy 3: Add shooting. You know that mundane activity/service industry you chose? Well, imagine doing it with a gun. All aces, kid.

Strategy 4: Add boobs. Economists suggest that that our pre-human ancestors (if they weren’t the dominant males) were more attracted to large-breasted women because they had a better chance to bag them (it’s complicated. Read this article.). Some anthropologists suggest that larger breasts acted as fat storage and gave well-endowed pre-humans the ability to survive and procreate through hard times. Finally, some evolutionary biologists suggest that large boobs look like a large butt, and just as monkeys are interested in engorged rears (as a sign of ovulation), a big chest signaled to a pre-human man that he had a chance for amor. Whatever the reason, you have to realize that mostly men will be playing your game, and they have been culturally and biologically programmed to like boobs. Use this knowledge to your advantage. And don’t be fearful: Adding boobs will not be seen as contrived. Your players will just be thankful you put them in there.

Q5. What do I call it?

A5. Remember all the hype surrounding Snakes on a Plane? You need a title that engages the senses just as that title does. Apes at a Rave was suggested to this writer, who was exploring the trend. Of course, your game might involve apes, and it might involve raves, so that title is golden. But if your game doesn’t involve non-human primates or Paul Oakenfold, you still need to think of something simple, but catchy. “(Character) (Action)”, as the title of this article shows, is a good strategy. Adding the word “Extreme” is always a good touch, as a way to differentiate your game from your more “normal” competitors. Also, if you added guns, the “extreme” moniker won’t be seen as artificial. Finally, consider to make your game part of a trilogy. Trilogies are all the rage, and they also give you the opportunity to launch another game, which is basically the old game with minor graphical upgrades (saving you time!), months later to an adoring, frothing public. Sales figures for sequels suggest that gamers love this cycle. Also, this cycle builds “hype” – which is something you want surrounding your games.

Especially if your games live up to them.

Which, after following these tips, I’m sure they will. Get to programming.

 
September 12th, 2006
 
A Dragon, A Detective, and a Spaceship Do Not A Story Make: Genre and its Problems
 
Being an intense lover of stories, I often find it incredibly difficult to give up on any of them part-way through. I find myself unable to simply close the book, turn off the TV, or walk out of the movie, no matter how awful it, or how late I, may be. I need to know which suitor our heroine will choose, if our protagonist will see his dreams fulfilled, whether or not the plumber will get it on with the lonely housewife, and if he will still respect her afterwards. Even if they are the most rote and predictable of plots, I'll stick around for the inevitable conclusion. I mean, if I start an episode of Law and Order, I have to finish it, which is saying something.

However, I still wish to read stories that are actually interesting and challenging, so I usually avoid such genre excersizes as L&O or other crime capers; all the cops are cynical, all the dames victims or vixens, and every character introduced a suspect. They can be fun, but there tends to be a shortage of ambiguity. Whether the detective dies and the bad guy get away with it, or just gets away, the conclusions are conclusive enough to occlude the inconclusiveness I usually look for in stories.

People don't usually play video games for the stories, however. That narrative part of video games seems to be what is added after the gameplay and marketing is completed. No wonder then that games have dipped heavily into genre lit for their materials, as they provide conventions of plot, character, setting, and tone. Max Payne? Just have the character growl a lot and low-light the sets. Half-Life? Make the aliens freaky and put more science stuff around. World of Warcraft? Ask the programmer who played too much D&D as a kid what to do. Oh, add Orcs and Dragons. Gotta have those. Mind you, this isn't to knock games or their designers' abilities. A lot of them pull out all the stops when it comes to filling out their universes with unending levels of detail. So what if all this sound and fury is signifying, well, not much at all? For all their efforts, they're mostly missing the point.

The best genre fiction (and genre movies and TV shows) always reach towards something overwhelmingly larger and usually much more dreadful than itself. Good noir is typically instilled with a terror of both the past and present, hinting (and sometimes directly addressing) the existential dread of the German Expressionism from which it emerged. Horror also works on fear, but the best ones don't just jolt you, but also unnerve you, unsettling the world and surrounding you with the unknown. The idea that man is just a few short steps from madness and death is what a good horror movie can invoke. Our discomfort with technology and the future is what great sci-fi can clue us into, in addition to its ability to allegorically address the here and now. Flights of fantasy (a la Lord of the Rings as the obvious example) can use the distance of imaginary worlds to distill complex issues down to stark examinations of conflict and power. And, not surprisingly, games have missed almost all of this.

Genres in video games (and let's not mix games genres like FPS or RPG or POS with story genre) get all the trappings painstakingly right but don't use them to connect to anything truly big, or at least bigger than itself. Resident Evil, Silent Hill, and almost the whole of the survival horror genre have the scares and scary creatures, and the rusty, poorly-lit settings, but are never anything more than excersizes poor plotting and are overwrought by half. Half-Life, as kvetched about above, is just a typical sci-fi run. 2001 it ain't. And almost every RPG has devolved into over-the-top characters and convoluted stories with mathematically determined battles, leaving ideas of power behind. And no, selling or keeping a +5 broad sword doesn't count.

Of course, I admit that there are caveats. There's a reason genre fiction hasn't always had the most stellar reputation, as the bulk of it, from detective tales to sci-fi stories, isn't very good. Pulpy trash meant for a brief entertainment really. And yes, there have been "genre" video games that seem to get what a genre is all about, if awkwardly. Halo, for example, with it's themes of religious fanaticism and internecine conflict, seems to be commenting on the world we live in now. Of course, the game isn't really sure about what the comment is, but at least it's trying. Eternal Darkness has creatively gotten at the idea of existential fear by breaking the fourth wall and having its horrors, in one way or another, come out of the game to go after you personally. But the quality stuff is few and far between.

There's a reason that genre fiction, (or at least the idea of it) once considered a dreadfully low form unfit for the term "literature," is currently undergoing something of a renaissance. The forms, even with their expectations and predictability, have within their pre-fab confines the ability to tap deeply into some of the more painful and thrilling roots of the human condition. They emerge out of a human need to deal with things we are usually very uncomfortable discussing. They can get at the true heart of the matter. Games could take a cue. 

First Time Here?
Home
Who Are We?

Why Are We Doing This?

Feedback:
stevandaaron@gmail.com

Friends:
1up.com

IGN.com

4 color rebellion.com

Gamespot.com

Gamasutra.com

Escapistmagazine.com 

Current Posts:
Click here.