Saturday, November 01, 2003

Another thrilling episode of Manager In A Strange Land went live.

Thursday, October 30, 2003

Aw, crap

I wrote a lot more about Viewtiful Joe and how Bullet Time is to slow-motion gameplay as Kleenex is to tissue, but somehow screwed it up and lost it. Incorrect use of the 'draft' button. To sum up: it has a simple dominant strategy, which is a shame, but it takes a while to find, which is maybe all you can ask of a game that's only intended to give you a dozen hours of gameplay? And even though it attempts to holistically balance the game by giving you more power-ups the longer you play, it's still freaking hard. Oh, but I have a point to make:


Richard Rouse III talks about how important focus is in his game design book. I actually think he may be underestimating.

In one of these Trout / Reis books I've been reading -- I forget which one -- they pointed out that Volvo used to get mediocre marks across the board before they started marketing themselves as the 'safe' car. When they marketed themselves as the 'safe' car, their ranking for safety skyrocketed, but it pulled up most of their other scores (reliability, etcetera) as well. (I may be mixing up details here. They may have been talking about some other car and attribute entirely. Still, my point remains.)

I think we see this same kind of halo effect in videogames. When a videogame does one thing very well, you either ignore its problems or say to yourself, "The designer must have meant to do that." The first Max Payne: the bullet-time combat is so good that we ignore the fact that the game is too easy, that the bosses are undifferentiated, that the plot is tough to follow. Halo: the controls are so tasty that we blot out our memory of slogging through the flood. GTA3: the crime experience is so visceral that we ignore the blocky hands of the characters, the avatar's ridiculous jump animation, the low detail of the building textures. Tony Hawk: the hyperbolic skateboarding and compelling trick system are so good, we assume that the dinginess of the art direction is part of the intended package. (Which it is. We wanted to punch up the colors some for our ports but we were denied. Keep it gritty, we were told.)

And focus isn't just for game design. It's also for marketing. Your focus should be what differentiates you from your competitors. It's the USP that your marketing team should be driving into the heads of your marks. I mean customers.

Which brings me to a quandry. When working on a game, I like to feel like it isn't the vision of just one person. Everybody on the team contributes. And yet if one person is setting a focus, and all the cool ideas extraneous to that focus are shut down...then it's not everybody's game anymore.

By the way, a focus isn't strictly, absolutely necessary. Does Zelda have a focus? Sometimes a game does a lot, and does it all awesome.

Cool thing

I sent a wanky e-mail about how I was having trouble upgrading to BlogSpot Plus and they set me up free. No more ad banner. And I can look at statistics about who's accessing the blog. Fun fact: twice today, people were referred because they were doing google searches for videogame downloads.

What did I do to deserve this, other than whine? I'm wondering if there's some way they can make money off of keeping me happy but don't see how.
Notes on Viewtiful Joe

Why I love "bullet time", no matter what you call it

Viewtiful Joe is to beat-em-ups as Halo is to console first-person-shooters. The controls of Halo are delicious; at the game's atomic level, the very act of aiming and firing a weapon has been given meticulous attention. The same goes for VJ, but now the focus is hand-to-hand beating.

I'm not much of a beat-em-up player: in the long history of games that were more or less linear romps with endless streams of badguys that you pummel and kick into submission, originating with Double Dragon and Final Fight, I never really got into it. This may be because Double Dragon, released in 1988, came out when I was in college, and my childhood twitch reflexes were already starting to decay. A lot of what you do, I'm told, is watch the badguys - wait for the 'tell' that lets you know an attack is coming - and then make the appropriate counter.

I suck at that.

Actually, to tell the truth, I'm not much good at first person shooters either.

Enter Bullet Time, courtesy of 3dRealms & Remedy. Bullet Time is what it feels like to have those teenage reflexes again.