I'm back this week with the third segment of my interview with Jon Hare. In this section, we finally get into the meat of Sensible's catalog, with Jon describing the creation process behind Parallax, Wizball, Sensible Soccer, Wizkid, and SEUCK. Jon's never played Smurf Hunt! Some great stuff here for any fan of the good ol' days when the Amiga reigned supreme.
Download the MP4.
Last week I had the pleasure of traveling to Bogotá, Colombia, to attend and present at Campus Party Colombia 2011, a fantastic industry event that evolved out of LAN parties. The place was packed with thousands (tens of thousands?) of gamers, most of whom stayed up all night playing multiplayer games and then sleeping in tents provided by the event. It's like a summer camp for gamers! In the past few years, though, they've been adding on game development features, with the government and Colombian companies trying to spur some interest among young people in building games. I assume they realize (correctly) that a strong interest in making videogames will lead to a flowering of many related industries, including many that are good for business.
I could write a book about my adventures, but I'll just stick to the highlights. Two were getting to see Captain Crunch (John Draper) and Nolan Bushnell. I didn't get to meet CC, but did hear him speak (he sounds like Dennis Hopper). Somebody asked him what he thought about Anonymous, and he replied with something very witty: "Anonymous? I've heard of them. That means they're not good hackers." Haha!
Looks like the videogames industry has scored an epic win at the Supreme Court. The Court says games are protected under the First Amendment and that there is no evidence purporting to show a connection between exposure to violent video games and harmful effects on children. I'm really happy to see this, since all of the opposition I've seen are politicians who have never played games just desperate for an easy hinge issue. I think it might also raise the profile of videogames.
Everybody who's been gaming or awhile is well aware of the Videogame Crash of 1983, a period that saw the collapse of the American console market and a strange period when many people thought the videogame was dead. The causes are numerous and hotly contested, but it's likely just an unexciting story of a bubble that popped. One strain of the story I've always found interesting as it is improbable, is that two games are primarily responsible for the crash: Howard Scott Warshaw's E.T. and Tod Frye's Pac-Man, both for the 2600. In both cases, we're talking about massively hyped games that sold tremendously well, but then got returned to stores in droves. My thought for today is whether something like this could happen again--could a rapid-fire succession of massively disappointing games topple the industry like it did in the 80s?
We've recently seen five games that by all rights "should" have been great--expectations were high, fanboys numerous, and, for the most part, very talented people were in control. However, in each case, the major critics either dismissed them as mediocre or blasted them as if they were almost personally offended by their perceived lack of quality:
Duke Nukem Forever. Metacritic score: 55.
Alpha Protocol Metacritic: 72 (Gamespot: 60, IGN: 63).
Hunted: The Demon's Forge. Metacritic score: 63.
Alice: Madness Returns. Metacritic score: 75 (IGN: 65).
Dungeon Siege 3. Metacritic: 73 (IGN: 65, Gamespot: 60).
Even Nintendo seems to be having problems. Despite the waves of hype the 3DS is currently receiving over the re-release (yawn) of Ocarina of Time, I still see the whole thing as another Virtual Boy with a much better marketing campaign. I see an upcoming backlash, though, as more purchasers find that they aren't getting full refunds when they try to return the devices that give them headaches. That's the kind of episode and bad publicity that can make anyone think twice about buying a game. As for Nintendo's new console, it sure looks like that "U" stands for "Useless." Sony, of course, is unlikely to ever recover from the PSN nightmare, and Microsoft doesn't seem far behind. Even if the new console is great, who can justify it in this economy?
"At one time we experimented with putting beer in our drinks machine at work...That was a mistake."
Everyone's favorite cynic is back with another round of foreboding about the present and future state of the videogames industry. In this episode, Jon and I continue our discussion of the ups and downs of the casual and mobile market, Speedball 2, then dip into the early days of Sensible Software and what set them apart from the competition.
Let me start by saying I haven't played Alice: Madness Returns and will probably never play it. After all, avoiding games like this is why I read reviews, such as this one, this one, and this one. If you don't want to read all those, let me sum it up for you: The baby has turned into a pig.
It's funny how so many quotes from Lewis Carroll's work seem appropriate here. Consider:
March Hare: Have some wine.
(Alice looked all round the table, but there was nothing on it but tea.)
Alice: I don't see any wine.
March Hare: There isn't any.
Alice: Then it wasn't very civil of you to offer it.
March Hare: It wasn't very civil of you to sit down without being invited.
It's been a long time since I've been excited about a forthcoming CRPG. I usually just find myself disappointed and then bitter when I find that the latest "CRPG" is just another mindless twitch-fest with bigger boobs than ever before. Sigh.
So, what would I like to see in a CRPG? I thought I'd provide a wishlist.
#5. Quality packaging. Yes, I know that games are data and are best distributed over the internet. But that doesn't mean that there can't also be a tangible component, such as nice printed manuals, maps, and reference cards. The goal here should be to make those "extras" not only a pleasure to hold, but truly useful in the game (i.e., no collectors' edition bullshit of interest only to fanboys). Periodically the game should refer you to them, as well, since there is nothing more boring than being asked to read a lot of text on a screen. Why not do like the old games did for copy protection, and ask you to read entry #43 in your lovely printed journal? Hellz yeah! That sure beats trying to read a bunch of stupid text on a screen, or, worse, hearing it read by some voice actor without a clue of its context. As for nitwits who can't be bothered to actually read a book, those idiots wouldn't be interested in my kind of game anyway so to hell with them.
Well, the first wave of reviews are in, and it looks like somebody's gonna freakin' pay for screwing up Duke's comeback. IGN gives it a 5.5 and offers us this stinger: Duke has not aged well. As simple as he ever was, as irrelevant as he's ever been. Ouch! Joystiq gives it similar treatment: Allow me to borrow Duke's trademark line which he, in turn, borrowed from a fellow 1990s artistic endeavor, Army of Darkness: "Don't come get some." PC Gamer was more forgiving, settling on an 80 score, but warns us that the development-time-to-awesomeness ratio isn’t impressive.
The complaints are many and numerous, but most come back to how long this game took to make and how lackluster the finished product finally turned out to be. Wikipedia even has a special page just for the game's long and storied development cycle, which according to them went into production in 1997.
“Tiny Wings is an insult to professional game designers.”
This week, I chat with Jon Hare, founder of Sensible Software and a guy who doesn't mind telling it like it is. The gist is that back in the day, computer games were made for intelligent people and designers could take bigger risks--after all, an intelligent gamer isn't turned off by a true challenge or learning something new. According to Jon, that changed dramatically after the introduction of the Sega Megadrive/Genesis and the Sony PlayStation. Once the ordinary children could play videogames, the industry got really nervous about anything remotely intellectual and the result is the endless sequels and dumbed down games we're saturated with today. Warning: Jon pulls no punches here. If you're a diehard console or FPS gamer, expect to be offended by this video.