Chris's Podcast #2: Videogames are Dead. Command?

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My second podcast has arrived, and it is heavier on the theory than the controversy - at least I hope.

In this podcast, I submit that gaming - specifically the creativity behind it - is dead. This is certainly not a new idea - but I attempt to explain where we have been and look back at what made us successful. Where are we going? That's up to us.

Expect a look at the past, a bit of gaming philosophy, and a short, semi-technical story.

I look forward to your feedback.

Download the mp3.

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clok1966
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Well I dont think hardware is

Well I dont think hardware is limiting creativity. I think hardware is at a nice spot right now, some small tweaks (more ram) and such and hadware will be pretty decent. But as a PC/Console user i see the limitations quiet often on games that are released on both. Most of its graphicial, but then again, teh graphics are the singel easiset thing to notice.I know i have read several times about compromises Console games receive(ewhich puzzles me as it seems PC gamers comprmosie getting cosole ported games more0 most often its the media that limits it.. textures, cut sences, audio. yes many things that us video game stalwarts will say dont improve the game.. its all GAMEPLAY! gosh darn it!.. to go with a CRUDE sexist comment.. you can be with any girl.. but it sure dont hurt if she is pretty. Good gameplay is #1, but if it looks /sounds/ is presented in the best way possible it sure dont hurt. We can get back to.. should they have spent more time on gamplay and less on voice acting (a new soon to be released MMORPG based in space is going to be hearing this alot unless the betat changes draticly in the near future)..

i do agree creativity from the BIG developers seems to have gone to ZERO. Look at Id, EPIC, Bungie.. they all have done other stuff, but the FPS are where they seem "stuck" some of that is there own making. Id has really done nothing but FPS since Wolf3D... not that thats bad.. it was a style of game that has provided some devolpers a nice steady income.

I think the littel guys, indie primarliy are all doing some pretty neat stuff, Limbo, End of the World, WoG, Hinterlands, SPAZ, Mount& Blade, Minecraft (chcek it out again adventure mode (new) is very fun).. sure some parts of other games.. but all are new in there own way.

I honestly think the consumer is to blame. WE dictate the market, they wont make stuff that wont sell,and lack of support for new and interesting sways them more then anything. IF WE keep making the next HALO, COD, MOH, BF game the biggest selling game of the year, what are developers suposed to do?

You mentioned HD versions of some game.. some are well loved, others (beyond good and evil) are great games that never got any attention and the HD upgrade is a second chance. I'm personally not a big believer in it, but if a great game that got no love benafits from it, why not. Its one of the reason I love GOG, i see alot of comments on game in their forums about new players never heard of the games.. so there is some ( i am sure small) love for a "good" game without the glitz. While I dont much care about the HD verison.. I do long for some games to be remade with modern interfaces and graphics.. Dungeon Keeper.. (dont even say Dungeon lord in the same breath), populous, magic carpet (yes all bullfrog games.. I am a HUGE fan).

I dont tehink ther eis anythign wrong with creativity, we are just in a dull time. As long as you and me keep buying hallo 12thousand, and BF 35.. they will keep making it. there is no reason for them to make the next marble madness/crystal Castles, rpg cross breed.. who would buy it?

FUn to listen to.. keep it up.

Chris Kennedy
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Thanks

Hey guys -

Thanks for the feedback.

Quote:

You mentioned HD versions of some game.. some are well loved, others (beyond good and evil) are great games that never got any attention and the HD upgrade is a second chance. I'm personally not a big believer in it, but if a great game that got no love benafits from it, why not. Its one of the reason I love GOG, i see alot of comments on game in their forums about new players never heard of the games.. so there is some ( i am sure small) love for a "good" game without the glitz. While I dont much care about the HD verison.. I do long for some games to be remade with modern interfaces and graphics.. Dungeon Keeper.. (dont even say Dungeon lord in the same breath), populous, magic carpet (yes all bullfrog games.. I am a HUGE fan).

I thought Beyond Good and Evil was a charming game. I was hoping that the HD release would be a bit more of a remake than an up-sampling. I didn't really like their menu interface and wished the controls were easier to optimize. Also - it seems like you could disable dialogue text for the game on the PS2, but I didn't find that option on the PS3 version. Still - if you haven't played the game, it is a fun game to just kick back and play. I look forward to the (still possible?) sequel.

Quote:

I think the littel guys, indie primarliy are all doing some pretty neat stuff, Limbo, End of the World, WoG, Hinterlands, SPAZ, Mount& Blade, Minecraft (chcek it out again adventure mode (new) is very fun).. sure some parts of other games.. but all are new in there own way.

One of my biggest problems is keeping up with all the games that come out. It isn't that there are too many as much as it is that I just don't have the time to read or listen about every single game that comes out. Heck - I am already way behind simply trying to log some retro gaming in for games that I have never played before. It is hard to juggle 20+ platforms of old while still keeping in touch with what is new.

I may not have emphasized it enough in the podcast, but I do think we need to try to find the diamonds in the rough - especially indie games - and give them a whirl. It is too easy to get buried by the marketing for the latest FPS. Man...we're really been throwing the hate on the FPS games lately.

Bill Loguidice wrote:

This is not really a new position for me, though. I've long since said that the younger videogames were, the easier it was to innovate, simply because there was less that came before it. I think that despite your statement about the hardware no longer being an innovation motivator, I think with the change in form factors, i.e., smartphones and tablets with touchscreens, and the changes in console add-ons and delivery systems, i.e., Kinect and Xbox Live Arcade, we're seeing as much innovation as ever. Sure, gaming is so big now that there's quite a bit of the play it safe mentality, but to use my gameplay last night as an example, where I got caught up on a few Xbox 360 games, I think it's quite clear that we're in a very innovative period.

I agree that is definitely easier to produce - or perhaps the better term would be "invent" - a genre back in the days of old. I do think that limitation still contributed to how things were pulled off. The third part of the equation is the question "is it fun?" That is ultimately what it had to be - fun. I think the limitation, creativity and fun all tied together nicely in the past.

I think we are certainly still experiencing innovation, but I don't know that the innovation is a pull for the hardcore gamer - or simply the gamer. Perhaps there is still plenty of innovation, but it is focused toward a different average group of gamers? Am I feeling left out? Perhaps it isn't gaming - it is me?

Can you describe someone that has a smartphone and might play a game or two as a "gamer?" My parents do that, but I don't call them "gamers." I don't see it as simple gamer vs. hardcore gamer. I see it as those that play games on occasion and those that are "gamers" - be they hardcore or not. So I return to the innovations - Does Kinect, Playstation Move or the Wii appeal to most gamers? Are they must have devices because there are must have games released for these devices? I don't really see that. I have looked into getting a Kinect - and possibly a Move - but I just honestly haven't found the killer app for them. As a gamer, I don't see them as a necessity right now. As a collector, I feel a small push to buy them. That being said, I find myself spending more money on vintage software at the moment rather that new, innovative hardware.

Quote:

Now, I'm not saying that any of those three are GREAT games - in my limited time with each they all exhibited some type of issue - but you can't help but appreciate the effort and there's certainly quite a bit in that small recent sampling to give me a great deal of hope for the future.

So, sure, we had a rough period there for a while of sameness, but thanks to profound changes in hardware, from touchscreens (starting with the DS and then iPhone) to motion tracking (starting with the Wii and reaching a new height with Kinect), we're seeing innovation continue anew, and thanks to the availability of delivery systems geared to smaller games (and advances in universal and capable languages like HTML5), there's no end in sight. It's certainly more than enough to balance out Call of Duty 27 and the oh-no-they-made-my-favorite-genre-game-into-an-FPS occurrences.

So one of the questions I asked was "has gaming gone stale?" Do you think there are plenty of games out that are making good/great use of the Kinect, Playstation Move, and Wii, or do you find yourself viewing these devices as simply potential and still look into the future with a ray of hope?

I understand that there is certainly innovation around us. I will acknowledge that. I suppose my new question is - Is that innovation fun? That is more important than if it exists or not. I can't recall experiencing anything new and exciting due to the hardware on the current gen systems since...well ...playing Wii Sports, honestly.

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Bill Loguidice
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Counterpoint to the lack of innovation

Nice job again, Chris. While I still have to finish listening, I thought I would chime in with a comment: I disagree. This is not really a new position for me, though. I've long since said that the younger videogames were, the easier it was to innovate, simply because there was less that came before it. I think that despite your statement about the hardware no longer being an innovation motivator, I think with the change in form factors, i.e., smartphones and tablets with touchscreens, and the changes in console add-ons and delivery systems, i.e., Kinect and Xbox Live Arcade, we're seeing as much innovation as ever. Sure, gaming is so big now that there's quite a bit of the play it safe mentality, but to use my gameplay last night as an example, where I got caught up on a few Xbox 360 games, I think it's quite clear that we're in a very innovative period.

As I said, shockingly I had a little bit of energy left over last night, so I played some backlogged demos on my Xbox 360. One was Rotastic, which starts out as a single button game, then evolves to a slightly higher level of sophistication. In any case, it's certainly not worthy of being put on a disc and sold as a full-fledged game, but thanks to the delivery system of Xbox Live Arcade, it's able to both be made and sold on nothing more than a compelling gameplay mechanic of "circular grappling" in sort of a strategy/puzzle/action mash-up.

Another one I played was The Gunstringer, which is a full retail game for the Kinect. This one is fairly innovative from top to bottom, with the possible exception of the gameplay itself. The premise and opening cinema are extremely clever and unique, and controlling the lead - a puppet - with your left hand like you would a real life marionette - and using your right hand to fire a pistol (you can't help but make a gun shape with your hand), are genius uses of the Kinect device. While the gameplay itself is a relatively straightforward action adventure with shooting elements we've seen before, it's wrapped up in such a compelling mechanic that I doubt anyone would call it anything except innovative.

The last one, of several that I played, that I found particularly innovative was Leedmees, another Kinect game. It is the usual Lemmings-like guide the creatures puzzle game, but it approaches it in a unique way thanks to the platform. You literally let the little creatures you're guiding walk all over you, and you need to position your limbs and body in general in just such a way for them to reach their goals. Simple, yet quite effective.

Now, I'm not saying that any of those three are GREAT games - in my limited time with each they all exhibited some type of issue - but you can't help but appreciate the effort and there's certainly quite a bit in that small recent sampling to give me a great deal of hope for the future.

So, sure, we had a rough period there for a while of sameness, but thanks to profound changes in hardware, from touchscreens (starting with the DS and then iPhone) to motion tracking (starting with the Wii and reaching a new height with Kinect), we're seeing innovation continue anew, and thanks to the availability of delivery systems geared to smaller games (and advances in universal and capable languages like HTML5), there's no end in sight. It's certainly more than enough to balance out Call of Duty 27 and the oh-no-they-made-my-favorite-genre-game-into-an-FPS occurrences.

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Matt Barton
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They say an artist never

They say an artist never blames his tools, but I think tools (especially licensed engines and tools like GameMaker) do pressure you to make certain kinds of games and follow certain conventions. Let's take Unity, for instance. Sure, you could make a SHMUP, side-scrolling platform game, sliding puzzle game, or whatever. But it's obviously optimized for making FPS. Gamemaker is optimized for 2D platform games, and that's what is easiest to make with it. Anything else is going to be a lot more difficult.

I think the type of creativity that gets rewarded in these situations is: "Okay, here's the tool, here's what is easy to do with it, what can I do within those constraints to make something neat?" Another type of creativity would say, "No, here's my vision; what tools can I find or make to achieve it?" It's the former type of creativity that we see in 99% of modern games. The latter type is obviously a lot harder, since you might have to create a new engine from scratch or at least substantially modify an existing one.

What the big guys see is that FPS are a predictable item, they already have tons of existing assets they can bring to bear on them, it's relatively inexpensive just to create stories and artwork than to invent a whole new engine and type of game. Nintendo deserves accolades for taking bigger risks, going so far as to create new control schemes.

I understand the economy of just creating one engine and then licensing it out to everybody. But it DOES impose constraints and encourages designers to create similar games. I think the engine whoring that we see nowadays is largely why there is so much less diversity on the shelf than we had in the 80s, when it was far more common to do all the coding in house.

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Chris Kennedy
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Mmm

Nobody should ever start a game with a cookie cutter.

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Matt Barton
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Nice
Chris Kennedy wrote:

Nobody should ever start a game with a cookie cutter.

Nice way to put it.

But as the husband of someone who loves cookie cutters, I get a bit confused. While the cookies made with the cutters all have the same shape, that's not where the creativity exists. The creative bit is how the ingredients, colors, icing, and decorations are applied, and also how the different shapes are combined. Perhaps something like that is true of games made with engines?

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Chris Kennedy
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Hmm
Matt Barton wrote:
Chris Kennedy wrote:

Nobody should ever start a game with a cookie cutter.

Nice way to put it.

But as the husband of someone who loves cookie cutters, I get a bit confused. While the cookies made with the cutters all have the same shape, that's not where the creativity exists. The creative bit is how the ingredients, colors, icing, and decorations are applied, and also how the different shapes are combined. Perhaps something like that is true of games made with engines?

Well I made some peanut butter cookies last week, and I sure as heck didn't use a cookie cutter.
...but then I do enjoy using a cookie press. It is like a gun that shoots cookies (Sounds like an idea for a game. Hmm...better make it an FPS)

I would like to think the cookie cutter is the uniform hardware - a Super Nintendo for example - everyone has to use that same hardware. The creativity, the gameplay, the ideas, the genre, and what you do with that Super Nintendo cookie cutter is what makes a great game.

Taking someone else's code as a starting point is a shortcut but also starts you with a boundary. These ingredients might make you the best peanut butter cookies in the world, but did you ever stop to consider making something like lemon chess pie?

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Chris Kennedy
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Reverse Definition

Obviously, my original cookie cutter comment was in regard to "cookie cuttering" the creativity, ingredients, etc and not the hardware. If the hardware is the cookie cutter and the rest is up to the developer - creativity stands a better chance of being present. I would prefer the hardware be the only cookie cutter and the rest be left to the imagination.

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Matt Barton
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I had a dream last night

I had a dream last night about an FPS, if you can believe it. In this game you played as an inventor who had discovered how to travel to different dimensions. However, the dimensions were Earth's own past, but the nice thing was that you could do whatever you wanted without having to worry about changing the time line (since that other dimension wasn't the same as your own). So the idea was that people with modern weapons and equipment could zap back to Ancient Rome or Egypt or earlier, but it turned out to be a lot more dangerous than the inventor thought (who barely escaped with his life from the dinosaur age). Eventually he forms a team with the duty of collecting video and photos of historically important events and to settle historical disputes, such as how Hitler died or what happened to the colonists at Roanoke.

Now that I'm awake (and somewhat conscious) I can still see some potential here. Maybe there would be lots of emphasis on stealth and guile, trying to blend in perfectly so as not to disrupt that dimension's timeline (thus interfering with the event you were trying to capture).

I think the appeal of this game would be that you could focus on really interesting historical mysteries, which are interesting in and of themselves, and also you wouldn't have to be violent at all. Plus, if you messed up, it'd make logical sense to be able to rewind the mission to any point you wanted, since that'd hold up with the theory of the dimensional travel.

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Bill Loguidice
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Time Travel FPS
Matt Barton wrote:

I had a dream last night about an FPS, if you can believe it. In this game you played as an inventor who had discovered how to travel to different dimensions. However, the dimensions were Earth's own past, but the nice thing was that you could do whatever you wanted without having to worry about changing the time line (since that other dimension wasn't the same as your own). So the idea was that people with modern weapons and equipment could zap back to Ancient Rome or Egypt or earlier, but it turned out to be a lot more dangerous than the inventor thought (who barely escaped with his life from the dinosaur age). Eventually he forms a team with the duty of collecting video and photos of historically important events and to settle historical disputes, such as how Hitler died or what happened to the colonists at Roanoke.

Now that I'm awake (and somewhat conscious) I can still see some potential here. Maybe there would be lots of emphasis on stealth and guile, trying to blend in perfectly so as not to disrupt that dimension's timeline (thus interfering with the event you were trying to capture).

I think the appeal of this game would be that you could focus on really interesting historical mysteries, which are interesting in and of themselves, and also you wouldn't have to be violent at all. Plus, if you messed up, it'd make logical sense to be able to rewind the mission to any point you wanted, since that'd hold up with the theory of the dimensional travel.

Not quite the same, but this series sort of did that: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/TimeSplitters_(series) and to a much lesser degree this: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Serious_sam . I would think the approach would definitely have to err less on the action side. Perhaps an FPS version of Sierra's Time Zone: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Time_Zone_(computer_game) ?

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