March 16, 2006

Nugget of Wisdom...

Once and awhile a Nugget of Wisdom hits you upside the head changing thoughts, ideas, and views forever. Sharing these Nuggets of Wisdom can be just as enjoyable as receiving them so let me know what you think of this one.

"Movies are really good at story and use action to fill in the gaps while games are really good at action and use story to fill in the gaps"

This Nugget of Wisdom came courtesy of a conversation with a good friend whom I had not heard from in a quite sometime. He was interested in playing some video games since its cold where he lives right now. We talked and talked about many games and in the end he seemed bored before playing anything, he was saying things like "that seems way too long!" and "is that really entertaining?". The only games that he seemed interested in were games that seemed like big budget action movies, which brought him to say "what's short with a lot of action?", now we were getting somewhere. All of a sudden the Nugget of Wisdom slams into me as he says "playing the action will be awesome because it is usually the filler part of a movie". Who was this guy? Why did he say that? I thought about it and realized, movies are really good at story and use action to fill in the gaps while games are really good at action and use story to fill in the gaps. I think I might have known this on some kind of subconscious level but it definitely sank in after our conversation.

After coming to this realization, I researched this idea on the net and found quite a few resources detailing this concept. There was one in particular that caught my interest by a blogger named "Kung Fu Monkey"; I mean come on the guy had me at hello with that name. Anyhow, he wrote this awesome blog entry, Writing: Action Scenes, which might seem trivial to the more enlightened but I found it to be eye opening for someone that has difficulty with story writing. Give it a read because I am much better equipped to design an action sequence for a game after reading his blog entry.

Kung Fu Monkey's Nugget of Wisdom!
"Don't write action scenes.
Write suspense scenes that require action to resolve."

Simply remove the word "write" and replace it with "design" and video games might begin to combine emotional participation and physical participation equally. Who knows what kind of unique experience that marriage could create but I bet Hollywood will be a little more jealous of its growing little brother if it happens. And no matter how you slice it two degrees of participation is better than one so let’s hope video games develop this inherit advantage responsibly to grow out from under the shadows of other entertainment industries.

March 15, 2006

Shooters the old school way!

Why did Doom and its clones have to come along and call themselves First Person Shooters? Now every kid playing these types of games has truncated the name down to “shooter” thus soiling the original definition of a “shooter”. Real shooters have bullets flying everywhere, oh wait FPS’s do too… DAMN!

Anyhow, I am on a big “shooter” kick lately so I decided to make a list of my favorites. I chose one game per console that I owned at some point in my life, yes I even had an arcade cabinet. Also I know some of these games appeared on other platforms prior to the one I am listing them under but it’s where I experienced the game. Also Also I limited the choices to flight based games so I don't want to hear any bitching about games like Gunsmoke, Mercs, Heavy Barrel not making the list... I'll do a Run n' Gun list some other time. Finally the list was so hard to make, I feel like a loser for omitting Space Mega Force, Galactic Attack, Bangai-O, Forgotten Worlds, and I was called an “ignorant whore” by a friend for not putting 1943 on the list. Screw it; here is my list of sentimental “shooters”!

Ajax (konami) – Arcade
Zaxxon (sega) – ColecoVision
River Raid (activision) – Atari 2600
Life Force (konami) – NES
Un Squadron (capcom) – SNES
Starfox64 (nintendo) – N64
Ikaruga (treasure) – Gamecube
Afterburner (sega) – Master System
Thunderforce IV (technosoft) – Genesis
Lords of Thunder (hudson soft) – Sega CD
Radiant Silvergun (treasure) – Saturn
Mars Matrix (capcom) – Dreamcast
Aero Blasters (kaneko) – TurboGrafix-16
Einhander (square) – PS1
R-Type Final (konami) - PS2

Final verdict – UN SQUARDON #1

Tell me what else I missed because I know I forgot some gems…

On a side note I have found that it is damn near impossible to find any new “shooters” to play these days with the exception of Geometry Wars which I am considering dropping $500 to play right now. Craving a twitch based fix!

March 9, 2006



A tongue severed, a book burned, a radio silenced, a film edited, a song altered, a show cancelled, a thread deleted and so what censorship burden will video games bare?

The advancement of information/entertainment mediums always causes a regulatory reflex, which in theory will create a safe haven for the absorption of this new media content. Sadly though, being the new kid on the block also means assuming the role of public enemy #1, whether it is warranted or not. The first step in regulating usually comes in the form of a rating system developed and governed by the industry itself. Rating systems are useful tools which allow the consumer to make an informed purchase based on the age appropriate guidelines set by the industry. However when rating systems are tainted by the influence of politicians and parent groups seeking media attention and political gain it becomes an entirely different issue known as censorship which can lead to infringement upon the First Amendment. My political background is shaky at best so I am not going to delve into things I know little about but I am going to talk about something I do know a great deal about, Best Buy and the products it carriers barring the marks of the MPAA and ESRB.

First let us examine what the MPAA and the ESRB have created to measure the age at which certain types of content are deemed appropriate for viewing.



Oddly enough the symbols are different yet very close in meaning until you delve deeper into what content restrictions reside under each heading between the MPAA and ESRB. Also notice that the ESRB descriptions are quite specific and explanative compared to an almost suggested inference of wording found within the MPAA ratings. Looks like the ESRB is doing a better job at communicating whom should be playing what kind of product so why is the video game industry catching so much heat? Well this group disagrees plus I forgot about kids playing doom IRL at High School, “Hot Coffee” breaks at work, and laundering WoW gold via eBay, which are all evil things created by video games which never existed prior to the advent of the Joystick so perhaps something is wrong. Rant mode is almost upon us and since I have yet to help bring a child into this world pointing the finger at parenting would be unfair. However these few isolated cases contribute to preventing an entire industry from being respected as an art form.

Let’s talk Best Buy! I frequent the local store each and every Tuesday in search the hottest new movies and video games at great low prices! So I am browsing the new DVD releases and see quite a few specials editions of films brandishing “UN-RATED” tags, which tickles my interest on some kind of Mad Magazine level. I am thinking to myself I bet there is some cool shit on those discs stuffy MPAA people did not want me to see for the $10 movie ticket at the theaters but damn the movie publisher for suckering me with this poor yet effective trick. After I check out a few of these movies I start thinking could I make a game like this, I bet we could get lots of shock sales? The dollar signs in my eyes fade away as GTA: San Andreas enters my field of view because I remember it being pulled from the shelves and replaced by the new “EXTRA-RATED” version, so sad for video games.

“It's obscene, vulgar, vile, and on sale now. Get your copy of The Aristocrats today. Don't miss out on the joke! (Sigh… great marketing)”

Now this part is a bit I would love to test if I knew someone with a child between the ages of 10-12. The experiment would go as follows, send them into Best Buy armed with a handful of ten dollar bills to buy these movies on DVD: Finding Nemo, Raiders of the Lost Ark, Starsky and Hutch, Terminator 2, and Eurotrip. The probability of the child exiting the store with 4 or 5 of the movies in hand would be extremely high in my personal opinion.

Now let’s repeat the experiment with the following list of video games: Nintendogs, Lego Star Wars, Ratchet and Clank 3, God of War, and GTA: San Andreas. The probability of the child exiting the store with 2 or 3 of the games in hand would be extremely high in my personal opinion.

Here are the ratings breakdown of those movies and games.

Finding Nemo (G)
Raiders of the Lost Ark (PG)
Starsky and Hutch (PG-13)
Terminator 2 (R)
Eurotrip (UR)

Nintendogs (E)
Lego Star Wars (E+)
Ratchet and Clank 3 (T)
God of War (M)
GTA: San Andreas (AO)

The real kicker would have the child buy as many "UN-RATED" movies as they could over a period of a week while attempting to purchase one copy of GTA: San Andreas. I have a feeling more movies would end up being bought then a game(s). Good job media and politicians for exposing one game as the devil while neglecting a bulk of movies advertising controversial material as a reason to own and view the product. I know children should not be playing GTA and God of War not to mention many other video games labeled beyond their age bracket but let’s try to be fair here and keep other media out of their hands well.

Here is a little food for thought about some of the “Mature” rated titles that have come out over the last few years. For me the list is almost laughable at times but I guess blood and violence in games rates two whole categories above melting nazi’s with a religions artifact under the watchful eyes of the ESRB.

Mature Titles:
GTA series
Castlevania: Curse of Darkness
God of War
Dead or Alive 4
25 to Life
Resident Evil 4
24: The Game
True Crime
Spartan: Total Warrior
Poker Superstars
Rumble Roses
Prince of Persia 2
Blood Will Tell

March 6, 2006

When I grow up...

What do you want to be when you grow up? The question appears to be innocent enough but the answer will fundamentally alter a person’s course of life. The question is usually asked during youth to determine the interest of child so that parent’s may indulge and nurture this fragile ideal. For some this ideal may never be decided upon. Yet for others it will become the cornerstone of an educational focus which is later transferred into a career. However for most it continually changes often during high school and well into college where the question becomes painfully overbearing as the real world is looming just over the horizon of adulthood.

We all have our stories of how we got to where we are in the world and why or why not, so here is my little tale of how I became one of the lucky people in the world that gets paid to do what they love for a living. If any aspiring designers are out there reading, this one’s for you!

The first time I even thought of being a game designer was in 4th grade (1986-1987). We all know what came out that that Christmas, NINTENDO ENTERTAINMENT SYSTEM (NES)! The Atari was tossed under the bed to collect dust forever while Super Mario Bros. and The Legend of Zelda took over my huge ass 27” wooden cabinet Zenith hand me down TV for the remainder of my Christmas vacation.

The Cadillac of Televisions!

my old school tv

I remember my friends and I throwing snowballs at my kid sister like Mario’s fireballs as we hopped and jumped through the snow that first day back from winter break, it was a great Great GREAT time to be a kid! The teacher was quick to bring us all back to reality with our first assignment being a book-writing contest across the state. I selected that oh so important question “What do you want to be when you grow up?” as my topic. This book is what got me started on this post because oddly enough in 4th grade barely knowing what a designer was let alone a game designer I said I wanted to be one near the end of the book after all the cheesy typical cliché type answers like fireman and athlete filled the first few pages. I know many of you are saying, “yeah right you fucking loser” but here is the picture to prove it since I still have the book!

Point and laugh!


OMG look at that horrible artwork and damn that hair! Sadly neither has improved at all over the last 20 years… but HELL YEAH anyhow because I made a little dream come true, which is pretty rare in life so I enjoyed this immensely. I was going to post the whole book but it is a train wreck and I get enough shit from the other designers on a daily basis. The final page has a picture of an F-15 fighter jet because I wanted to be in the Air Force. As I grew older and learned I might have to drop bombs on land that might be populated with innocent people all in the name of war. Well I sort of had issues with that which I had never really thought about before so I started thinking I like stars maybe there is something there for me, look out Astronomy here I come.

So it was off to college to enjoy the stars and some numbers. Long story short 3 years – 3 colleges – 3 strategy guides later – I quit to chase after the dream of being a game designer. Just at the time that I decided to quit school an old contact, which I made at E3, helped me in landing a job at a small game studio called Paradox Development. I completed 4 games while 6 others projects were cancelled during my 4 years of employment, in the end those 4 years turned out to be my real college experience for game design. Life there was hard, because I did not know shit but was quickly moved into a position that was way beyond my skill set by default of others moving onward that were my superiors. The games were all kind of bad and the company was more concerned with finishing a game then making a great game but that is the nature of being a 3rd party developer. Milestones dictate if you are going to get paid or not so that game is created to get milestones approved instead of doing what is best for the end product. I learned all this while trying to learn my craft over exhausting hours for a peanuts wage due to my experience level. REMEMBER it’s not all getting paid to play games! So here I was transplanted from the Midwest for this dream job and it was really bummed me out. This did not compute and I felt close to short-circuiting and quitting the industry altogether. I had many heart to hearts with family and close friends before making the decision to leave Paradox. It was all aboard - next stop, Sony Santa Monica where it seemed like they wanted to make a great game and wanted to teach me how to be a strong designer. The short of it is, the team there under David Jaffe did in fact create a great game in God of War and well I am still learning how to be a strong designer in the company of some remarkably talented people. I want to thank everyone for giving the Midwest kid a shot, Fighting Game Community - Video Game Exchange - Brady Games - Paradox Development - Sony Santa Monica!

To all you youngsters out there, I have found that every game I played, every movie I watched, every comic I read and every toy I created a fictitious world for in my bedroom came together to create some kind of catalogued information which allows me to succeed at this profession so be a sponge and soak up the world.

P.S. Finish school I got lucky and I do not think people without degrees are going to be able to break into the industry much longer, plus your parents will be proud of you and stuff or something.