Saturday, December 27, 2008

2008 Professional Year In Review

With the end of the year fast approaching, one of the many givens is the amount of "year in review" and "upcoming year forecasts" that will be published for every possible area of interest. For the end of this year, I thought I would spend some time going over events of note in my professional life.

At the beginning of the year I was wrapping up work on Destroy All Humans!: Path of the Furon at Sandblast. The project turned a corner and I was looking forward to the final push where everyone comes together. Towards the end of summer, production was just about done and so was my role on the project.

At the end of July, I attended the Microsoft focused GameFest for the first time. While this conference has been going on for quite a while, as a long time Nintendo developer I didn't have a reason to attend in years past. Having missed the Game Developer's Conference this year, I thought it would be a good way to scratch the conference itch. The best sessions were applicable to general game development outside of Microsoft platforms. There was at least a talk or two that got me to reflect on user interface design practices for games.

Shortly after GameFest, I started working at Sony Online Entertainment Seattle on The Agency. Making the switch was a somewhat daunting experience due to my lack of contacts at the company and the larger team that awaited me. Towards the end of the year, I made several important contributions that helped me get to know people better. It felt good to come together as a team to deliver an important milestone that occurred just before the holiday break.

Meanwhile, Destroy All Humans!: Path of the Furon was released for Xbox 360. While the reviews are much lower than I had hoped, I am still proud of this title and what the team was able to accomplish given the challenges we faced. In addition, as a designer I learned a lot about creating compelling sandbox gameplay, taking enemies and bosses from concept to completion, balancing a large pool of skills and weapons, and being a better team member in a design capacity.

From the research and recreation perspective, I was able to play through several incredible games this year, including Metal Gear Solid 4, LittleBigPlanet, Mirror's Edge, Gears of War 2, God of War: Chains of Olympus, and Braid. I've still got several games in the backlog to finish in the coming year including the fantastic Persona 4, which hooked me for most of December. Overall, I thought it was a steady, solid year of high quality releases and I felt inspired by what these games achieved on their respective platforms.

Finally, from an extracurricular development perspective, I was able to increase the posting rate on the blog, attend several local industry gatherings, dabble in LittleBigPlanet level design, write up some conference proposals, and increase my knowledge on all things FPS, spy, and cool game mechanics related to work.

Overall, it was a productive year and I want to make 2009 an even better one. On the agenda: reading several books on design, attending at least one more conference, writing about game development more often, finishing several games, getting to know a larger piece of the game design community, and building awesome creative experiences that I can share.

Tuesday, December 02, 2008

DAH!: Path of the Furon, here at last!

The day that a game you worked on is available for sale is always an exciting one. Today I went to Best Buy to pick up my copy of DAH!: Path of the Furon. It wasn't on store shelves at the time I arrived, but the weekly ad guaranteed it would be in by 2 PM today. After speaking with one of the sales reps and having him hunt it down, I walked out with a shiny new copy. I'm excited to finally play the game from start to finish without interruption or fires to put out. So far I have managed to clear the first invasion site and I've been pleasantly surprised by how well some things worked out. There are the occasional audio issues and miscellaneous bugs present, but I'm mostly happy with what we were able to accomplish given our tumultuous develpment cycle. I'm looking forward to getting back into the game, and I'll post my thoughts on the rest of the finished product and address the reviews in the near future. For any of the Destroy All Humans! fans out there, I hope we delivered an experience that surpasses your expectations of the series. That was one of our goals, and so far I feel like the gameplay has definitely delivered in that area. More to come...

Tuesday, October 14, 2008

The Indie Scene

While I can't say I follow the independent scene as much as I should, it is always enjoyable to see games that push the boundaries of the medium. Once upon a time, one of my student projects was featured in the IGF Student Showcase and I have been following the festival at GDC ever since. Over the last weekend, I attended IndieCade, which was held at the Bellevue Open Satellite Art Exhibition Hall. This venue was a good choice because it reinforced the idea of games as art. I went during a reception that reminded me of traditional art gallery showings, only with games in place of paintings or sculptures. Each station had a PC with one or two games set up along with a written artist statement and interview. In addition, every 30 minutes or so an artist representing one of the exhibits on display would stand up and discuss the motivation for creating their project. True to my experience at traditional art showings, there were some games I didn't entirely "get", but I had a great time regardless and enjoyed the unique experiences on display.

The thing I find odd is that we work in a primarily digital medium and there are a very limited number of ways to discover creative non-commercial and independent work. While I hope that initiatives such as Xbox Community Games begin to open the floodgates, I feel like there is a lot more work to be done. The delivery platform is part of the problem. I applaud game portals such as Manifesto Games for providing a hub to indie content, but I consume the majority of my games on consoles these days. The PC has been almost wiped out as a gaming platform to me because of my perception that most software tends to degrade the quality of my computer, sometimes in ways I don't even know about at install time.

Another piece of the problem is the lack of a larger organization to promote games on a more regular basis. Because games have a lot of usability issues that are not present in other mediums, I feel that the presentation needs to be polished more to ensure that the experience an artist had in mind is represented properly. A good example of when this issue arises happened to one of the games at IndieCade that required the use of a controller. The analog sticks on the controllers at that specific computer did not function well and the experience of the game was significantly diminished as a result. I do not blame this on the IndieCade organizers, but there is a part of me that feels a disconnect between what the exhibitioner and exhibitionist expected to be shown, which is where a unifying organizer would be beneficial.

Perhaps the other important piece of the indie scene problem originates from the content itself. It isn't getting people interested enough to set aside the comfortable mainstream games that make up the bulk of our time consumption. Some of this is a result of being trained over many years into an understanding of games that is too narrow while another part seems like a failed attempt to understand the potential of games as a medium.

Whatever the problems may be, it was certainly encouraging to see our medium promoted from another angle that doesn't get nearly enough exposure. I'll certainly keep my out for more of these events and do my best to get people to attend in the hopes that we can see the fruits of further experimentation.

Monday, August 18, 2008

The summer update

As with all things in life, change is inevitable. Now that my work on Destroy All Humans!: Path of the Furon has wrapped up, I have moved on to Sony Online Entertainment Seattle, where I am working on systems and content for The Agency as a Senior Game Designer. While I can't say much about the game, I can say I am excited to be working on such a unique and interesting project. There is preview coverage from e3 over at GameZone and I expect upcoming coverage from the Sony Fan Faire to hopefully come out soon. The two main things that excite me about The Agency is that it is original IP and most people are fairly intrigued by the premise of the game. I feel a lot of good momentum going forward and hope that the team can deliver on all the things people are looking forward to.

In Destroy All Humans! news, IGN now features a developer blog written by Creative Director Jon Knoles that outlines some of the decisions that went behind the weapons, destruction, and conversation system. I did a lot of tuning on the weapons and upgrade system. It was fun trying to balance the AI, alert system, and bosses against what almost always seems like an overpowered (on purpose) set of player abilities and weapons without making the game too hard. A detailed description of the weapons can be found in one of these IGN blog entries.

As a follow up to one of my earlier posts, this summer has definitely defied my long held sense of summer drought. Metal Gear Solid 4 kicked things off nicely and the 5 weeks of Xbox Live Arcade is keeping me busy these days as I try and climb the leaderboards on Geometry Wars 2, finish off the achievements in Braid, and try to squeeze in time for Bionic Commando: Rearmed, Galaga Legions, and Castle Crashers. I've also found myself absorbed in Olympic fever, and consequently took up Beijing 2008 on Xbox 360. It's been a great summer so far and the holiday flood is going to flare up in September.

As per every belated blog post, I'll make an effort to increase the update frequency here. There are a number of things on my mind these days that I'd like to share.

Monday, June 16, 2008

Creature of the Night

My love for games forms a large part of the passion that drives my work. In the last couple of months, I have partaken in not just one, but two midnight game launches. In April it was for Grand Theft Auto 4, and more recently for Metal Gear Solid 4. In both cases, I admit to feeling genuinely excited prior to the release of each game. The funny thing of it is, I don't stay up that late anymore, so I only get an hour or two of playtime before going to bed (well, I suppose some people might consider 2:30AM to be a little late..). The reason I do it is for the satisfaction I have the next day, which is palatable, and it leaves me with enough longing to make me giddy until I can return home. Calling myself a superfan isn't really the right word, because I don't buy anything and everything that is associated with my favorite things. However, I definitely feel a strong excitement at times when I sense that something I want will live up to my expectations. I want to say more about both of these games, but I will reserve that for a later time. The great thing is, in both these cases the excitement I feel about each still hasn't worn off.

At this point in life, many of my friends and colleagues no longer wait out in the late hours of the night to pick up a game. Chances are, most of us won't get much time to dive into the game for potentially weeks. That said, I think there is another important reason for continuing to partake in this process. To understand the enthusiasm and disappointment of a fan, I think you need to continuously experience being one yourself. Having waited years for something to come out only to be disappointed is something everyone can relate to. On the other hand, having the final product meet and exceed expectations can add value to peoples lives, sometimes for many years after release. I enjoy going on this emotional journey from reading initial press reactions, to discussing game trailers, to being in the pre launch line at midnight, and all the way through the conversations that ensue once people have gotten to try the final result. And then there is the inevitable sadness. Sadness that you experienced a game that was clearly hyped up to be something it wasn't, or so completely exceeded your expectations in a way you know will perhaps never be replicated in quite the same way. The ups and downs are what make me feel alive, and I hope I can continually exceed the expectations others have for the things I create.

Saturday, April 26, 2008

Destroying All Humans in the Press

For most of the game development process, a lot of what we work on is kept under wraps. Consequently, it's refreshing when you get a chance to show your work and get feedback from fellow gamers. THQ held a Gamer's Day earlier in the month where Destroy All Humans!: Path of the Furon was demonstrated by fellow designers Jon Knoles and Matt Cox. While industry veterans believe that previews tend to skew positive for various reasons, it was exciting to hear that people also had a blast playing the game during the event.

Preview articles and media from Gamer's Day can be found at Gamespot, IGN, Gamespy, TeamXBox, and WorthPlaying. Path of the Furon was also mentioned on the EGM Live podcast of April 7th, 2008. As a fan of the 1UP podcasts, this was a particularly exciting place to be mentioned. Additionally, to coincide with the event, a snazzy new trailer can also be found at GameTrailers.

Finally, the Sandblast Games website went live recently. There are unique trailers and screenshots available on the website as well as images from our studio and a biography of the company. It's great to have a company home on the internet and a lot of people worked hard to make the website both user friendly and slick.

All of these recent announcements and updates make the finish line feel more real than ever. Final polish is being done and the severity of issues is declining at a rapid rate. I hope to see more news and impressions in the near future and look forward to sharing the final vision to the rest of the world.