It’s unusual to say you get excited for big 1-2 hour compilations of adverts, but E3 gets people hyped, myself included. This time of year is an indication of whether we should be caring about what the big companies have to offer, and I’m currently looking forward to playing a lot of video games shown at the event.
If any were a bit lacklustre, it would be Microsoft and EA. Microsoft put together a confident showing, with detailing what exclusives they’ve got that do look fairly cool. However a lot of what they showed were things that could potentially be a game. There were a few too many CG trailers, as opposed to real footage of the game. Real games they did show were Call of Duty, Halo, Fable and Assassin’s Creed. All games that I’ve seen before and don’t really show much that’s new and exciting. I was happy to see more of The Witcher 3 though.
EA was the same, at least they showed early in-game footage, but what they had was a ways off. It’s difficult to muster up excitement for ‘conceptual prototypes’ when others are showing the real games that are coming out. Mass Effect and Star Wars Battlefront are both games I’ll be happy to see more of though. We did see some good footage of Dragon Age: Inquisition, which is out in October (I suppose I’m certainly looking forward to dark fantasy video games). I did get into the Battlefield Hardline beta, and it honestly does not feel significantly different enough from a standard Battlefield.
Aisha Tyler keeps getting better as a host for Ubisoft, but I can never get excited for Ubisoft video games, their games tend to blend together as they share a lot of gameplay systems. There was a bit too much fake-sounding “voice chat” over certain games.
Sony had a mostly great showing, though they spent a little too much time on dull TV and hardware talk. NOBODY EXPECTED GRIM FANDANGO! It’s something I’ve never had a chance to play, and I’ll be glad to pick it up on Vita. No Man’s Sky, Mortal Kombat X, Batman: Arkham Knight, Destiny are some of the games that actually had in-game footage, and I want to play them.
Nintendo’s was just the most fun to watch, especially with a cringe-worthy fight between Reggie and Iwata being hilarious. And again they showed games I want to play. Mario Maker seems like it could be a really fun thing if it gets a good community behind it, and Splatoon looks like Nintendo’s take on a competitive shooter, complete with their standard of charm and fun new mechanics on top. It’s nice to see a third-person shooter where the goal isn’t kill everyone.
All things considered it’s been a pretty good E3 so far, and I look forward to seeing some of these games in action, and can’t wait to get them in my hands.
Recently I got the chance to talk with Tom Elliot, Technical Director at MAGiK ArtS. They’re a fairly small company that make apps for mobile initially starting with client work, and have recently just put out their first game SquareFlip.
PixPen: What’s the company ethos then? What does MAGiK ARtS Represent?
Tom: Our take on the market is you get a lot of indie studios, especially at Teesside, coming out rough and ready, “lets do some retro games”, “lets do some hardcore games”. They have a very clear audience, that’s great. They’re some of my favourite kinds of companies, the kind of companies I play games from.
But with MAGiK ARtS we went out and thought “what’s the niche that people aren’t doing at Teesside?”, “what these new business aren’t doing that we can do?”. And we found especially in our first client apps that we could use a very clean elegant, almost minimalistic style.
That resonates well with the more middle aged, the more middle class, the Steve Jobs kind of people of the world. So we aim for clean elegant apps, which are built for functionality and for your need first, for that kind of age range.
PixPen: MAGiK ARtS is a fairly small company at this point. How many people have you got?
Tom: A grand total of two (laughs).
PixPen: What does that bring to the company then?
Tom: Well for starters we can only focus on one given project at a time. Which has its downsides and its benefits. Its downsides are we can’t produce as many projects at a time as we could. The upside is we have excellent communication speed.
So turnover time for iterations is very speedy, and the best part of it we found is that with only having two of us, it’s really easy to set up contact with a client, with testers, with those kind of people, because there are no gears, no cogs.
Some clients we’ve had, we’ve had some really huge people, we’ve talked to big companies, and I can’t say their names unfortunately as those projects are still in development.
But the amount of time it takes to establish communications with these people, because you have to go through their front-line PR, to their local director, then to their managing director, then back down again to get authorisation, and then back up again. It’s ridiculous!
We’re a two-man company and if someone comes and asks a question, a few days we can turn around and say, “okay done!”
PixPen: Your first game, SquareFlip, what is it about?
Tom: It is a memory tile matcher. Designed to help improve your memory and put you in a Zen, relax you. It’s very good for killing time on a lunch time break, that sort of thing, very background, very nice.
PixPen: Why give a relaxing element to it then?
Tom: Our model for SquareFlip was we knew that we couldn’t make the next AAA blockbuster indie title. We gave ourselves a shortened development time, and built specifically for one platform.
So we figured “right, what is within our scope?” Well that’s not really the right question to start with, “lets ask people what they want and then see if we can build something to that scope.” We went out and asked people, we found our demographic of middle aged ladies mostly, although this game applies to everyone. We found that the kind of games they play, Peggle, Bejewelled, Tetris even are all nice Zen, just relax over your break time and we thought “yeah go for it, we could make that.”
PixPen: Do you have plans for future games.
Tom: Yes we do absolutely, I can’t give the full low-down but I can tell you what our immediate plan is project wise. The next app we’re building is a utility app, a car related one, look out for that if you’re the kind of guy who drives a Ferrari. The immediate app after that, we’re hoping to build another game in a similar vein to relax and chill with.
PixPen: Is that the philosophy when you’re designing games for MAGiK ARtS?
Tom: Oh yes, I’ve already spoken about this simple elegant design system that we’re trying to go for and we’ve found the relaxed chilled Zen puzzle games really fit that ethos to a point because they’re all about just being elegant and smooth and feeling nice.
PixPen: So the platform is all iOS devices then?
Tom: We’re currently focused on iOS devices because when we asked our demographic what kind of games they play, they all play them on iPhones, now we are actually looking to port to Android if enough people call for it, but at the moment we’re focusing on iOS.
PixPen: What other considerations do you have to take when developing for that demographic?
Tom: Technical ones, interface, as in from their perspective. We are two fairly technical people. We’re effectively bringing back bedroom programming but in the new age of the apple market, so we get what we’re building.
For a lot of the time, if you’re building a more high-end indie game, a more focused experience, like a platformer or an RPG, you can assume your users understand how it all works. You can’t assume that when you’re building experiences which are supposed to gel into everyday life, because the less that they have to learn to get into your experience, the better.
One of the biggest challenges we found is just making them learn without realising they’re learning, teaching them these surprisingly technical concepts of game mechanics, while at the same time assuming they have no idea how any of these games works. The most you can have expect them to have played is bejewelled, and even that’s a stretch so definitely understand how much the user gets your mechanics, that’s the biggest challenge I’d say.
PixPen: So the game is out?
Tom: Yes it’s out for free, if you’ve got an iOS device for Xmas, if Santa feels so obliged, it’s immediately available for free on the app store.
If you didn’t know already, game journalist and Giant Bomb co-founder Ryan Davis passed away on 3rd July. I’ve never met the man, but he’s been a big inspiration to me and a lot of other people.
Even though I’ve never seen him in person, I felt like he’s always been around, ever since I was reading GameSpot, and when he went onto Giant Bomb.
I’d always get excited for when the Giant Bomb podcast came out on Tuesdays (Wednesdays in UK time), and it was always great to hear.
It wasn’t like every other videogame podcast, they wouldn’t just run down the new releases, the games they’re reviewing, they’d talk about their lives. Bug-out bags, barbecues they went to, movies they liked, and other general talk usually filled up the first hour of the podcast, and it was great. I felt like I was listening in on some friends talk to each other, and they all came across as likeable people. That’s why it’s so much more upsetting to lose one of them.
His appearance in the video content on Giant Bomb was not to be missed as well, he could always bring up a good amount of energy and enthusiasm for whatever game was featured in the video.
His talent in writing reviews far outshone many others out there. A lot of writers fall into the trap of listing the good and bad features of the game without making the piece itself a compelling read. Ryan Davis’ reviews were very compelling reads, while still also managing to highlight exactly what was good and bad about each game. Just take a look at these examples.
Games writing needs more people like Ryan Davis, he had a sincere passion for videogames and the work he was doing in the industry. It’s incredibly sad to lose someone like him, I give my condolences to his friends, his family, and everyone at Giant Bomb.
Microsoft have revealed their new console, the Xbox One.
It is going to have more emphasis on content that isn’t games, such as TV and films.
Games shown at the conference were Forza 5, multiple EA sports games, and Call of Duty: Ghosts.
The system will also have a new Kinect bundled with the system.
Microsoft did not give any indication of how much the system will cost, used games will also require a “preowned fee” to be paid.
Xbox 360 games will also not be backwards compatible with the system.
It’ll be launching in time for Christmas, is anyone intending to get one? I’m not quite sold on it myself, but we’ll see what they have to show at E3.
The previous wednesday, I had atttended an awards ceremony for my university course, and I ended up being one of the award winners.
I’ve won blogger of the year for this website in particular.
I’d like to thank all of the readers, all of the people who gave their time for me to interview them for features, all the people that allowed me to join in with gaming events. It’s been fantastic working on this, and I hope to do a lot more with it.
Also, I will be live-streaming more Dragon Quest VIII at 7pm GMT. Check it out right here.
Tonight at 6pm GMT I will be attempting the first proper PixPen livestream.
I will be playing Dragon Quest VIII: Journey of the Cursed King. Hopefully you guys will enjoy watching it, and I’ll enjoy playing it.
This is a first time effort so I hope you can excuse any hiccups that occur, be sure to point any out.
Check out the livestream here at the right time.
People aren’t always aware of what goes into making a game, unlike with movies and all of those making of documentaries you can find.
It’s made personalities out of the people in the film industry, something games don’t have as much. Which is a shame because they have some nice people.
There’s nice people here at Mythic Entertainment, they must be nice to invite me, a total stranger who has had little experience writing about videogames professionally.
Paul Barnett, the General Manager had decided to invite me after finding this blog through my twitter account. It seemed rather surreal at first, initial emails I had sent back sounded a little hesitant as this is not something I’ve ever had the opportunity to do.
After encouragement from university lecturers I took up the offer and made the long trip to America to visit the studio.
The studio takes up the top floor of a big tall building, I kind of expected them to have their own building. Bearing in mind this is the first time I have been to one of these places, it is quite possible the potential scale of an environment like this may have been over-inflated in my imagination.
There’s also a lot of press about game development being an incredibly stressful job to work in with no free time, this place didn’t come across like that at all, it came across a bit more relaxed and friendly. Sure all the people working there have their own things to worry about and stress over, but they all found the time to talk to me, and they were all very polite.
Mythic are usually known for their MMORPGs Dark Age of Camelot and Warhammer Online, but recently have transitioned into developing for mobile platforms.
They had managed to sit me down with people of very different disciplines. Designers, quality assurance, art, localisation, audio and video. It was fascinating to learn more about all the kinds of work that goes into making a game.
Nick LaMartina, director of Audio and Video at the studio came across as incredibly passionate about his work. Currently he is working on the Ultima Forever soundtrack, and since the game is taking influence from Ultima IV it’s encompassing that game’s score into it’s own.
Different devices come with different challenges. Working for iPad, art now has to be scalable, Art Director Pete Lipman was telling me. Large amounts of detail could be lost when players zoom in and out, something artists now have to account for.
These people aren’t going to get so much recognition, even though they put so much work into everything. It’s a shame really.
This is of course a place where videogames are made, and I got to see some raw, unfinished prototypes. I’m used to seeing games as fully functional experiences, so it was a little different to be playing something incomplete.
With prototypes, I learned that you have to understand not everything is going to be perfect. You can come across a bug, or find that something hasn’t been quite implemented yet. What they show off are ideas that could eventually be put to good use. I’ve been made to sign a non-disclosure agreement, so I can’t really talk about everything I have seen, some of that might not even see the light of day.
One game I did see was Ultima Forever, an interesting take on Ultima for the iPad. It feels like it could be a good attempt to bring PC-style Action-RPGs onto a tablet. I took up quests and explored a few dungeons, as you do in most RPGs. It controlled rather well on the system, holding your finger on the screen to move the character, and tapping monsters to kill was fun and simple to pull off.
I got some time as the Warrior and Mage class, the Warrior being your usual hit-things up close strong man, and the Mage preferring to attack from afar.
The structure of dungeons did intrigue me as well, intending to be more bite-sized affairs around 5-15 minutes in length, as opposed to the gargantuan length dungeon raids in most MMORPGs that can last hours.
I had a great time at Mythic, and another opportunity to do something similar in the future could be very fun indeed. It was interesting to learn about what goes on backstage, see games that most of the public don’t know about yet, and speak to the people behind them as well.
Ken Wong got his first videogame job from a piece of fan-art he did on the internet.
He created a piece of fan-art for American McGee’s Alice, and got noticed by the game designer who asked him for if he wanted a job. Eventually that led to him being the art-director of the sequel, Alice: Madness Returns.
Most recently, Ken has been working on his own iOS game, Hackycat, which is a game of Hacky Sack except you kick cats in the air.
Hackycat is the first game that Ken Wong has worked on as an independent, solo developer.
He told me: “I have always been more interested in smaller more expressive games, and so when iOS came along, especially the iPad I got into these smaller tightly designed games, so that’s what I was interested in when I started Hackycat
“The barriers for entry are much lower for IOS, you can make a game with just a laptop and with some free software, and with an apple developer account, and that’s a lot easier than making a console game.”
Moving from a big project with a team, to a small indie title working by yourself can be challenging.
“you have to become very self reliant because you’re the only person there, you can’t turn to the programmer and say ‘hey can you fix this, can you work on this for the next couple of days?’ so I had to get used to not having anyone else and that often means taking on the role of producer, QA and handling marketing and all that kind of stuff.
“I was working from home at the same time, so it was really easy to get stuck in your own head. You’re working on the game design and you think it’s fun, but you’re not sure cause you know only you’re playing it yourself, so you need to get out there and have a few people play it and really listen to their feedback.
“It’s kinda hard when you know what you want and they’re just not getting it, they don’t think it’s fun, and that was challenging for me because I think I know what I want but you have to listen to the audience and analyse their feedback.”
Wong also warned those who wish to immediately want to go into indie development: “I do think that I can only do what I’m doing right now as an Indie because I spent many years working with a team of fantastic talented people who I learnt a lot from.
“I think it would be quite hard to do this without my prior experience, so I would say, if you can, work with people more experienced so you can learn for a few years.
“If you’re determined to embark on this indie adventure, listen and learn to the people around you, read as much as you can from people who have done indie games, listen to their advice, learn from their mistakes.
“I think there’s this idea of ‘I’m a game designer and I’m gonna make a game and people will like it’, it’s a more organic process than that, people will give you feedback and you have to respond to that.”
It’s too early for him to tell if it’s a big financial success, but in some ways, he’s already succeeded: “I think for me what I wanted to achieve with this game was complete the project, to make a game by myself and put it out, so I’ve done that and I’m really happy about it, so the next thing is just to see how well it does financially.”
“Games writing has a chequered history,” said Rhianna Pratchett, writer of the latest Tomb Raider reboot, Overlord, Mirrors Edge and Heavenly Sword.
“It wasn’t usually done by a professional writer, it was usually someone who just fancied a go or someone who drew the short straw.”
The last fifteen years has seen videogames bring more focus onto narrative, Rhianna Pratchett listed Portal, Half-Life 2, Bioshock, Mass Effect, Dragon Age and Dishonored as proof of this.
So when I met her at the Animex festival at Teesside University, I asked her what she considered when writing a game:
“It’s important to know how gameplay and story fit together, and how one informs another.
“With Tomb Raider we didn’t want the case that the story and gameplay were each created in a vacuum, we wanted it seamless and appear as a cohesive whole. It was important that both disciplines talk to each other to get this done.
“Tomb Raider’s not a story led game, it’s not a gameplay led game, it’s an experience led game, it’s a journey led game, so gameplay and story both come together to support that journey, to support that origin story of Lara.”
Overlord was a comedy-fantasy game, something not often seen, so I wondered why is videogame comedy not as big a thing?
“What worked with Overlord is that the humour was saturated throughout, it wasn’t just down to script, it was down to the overall premise, the animation of the minions, the voice acting and the level design. It was all very cohesive, it all kind of worked together. We had some really great voice actors.
“We sort of built the humour in from the ground up, through everything, and I think that’s kind of what you really need to do.
“If you look at something like the Monkey Island games, they take a similar way of doing things, they sort of built kind of comedy into the animation as well as the writing and the gameplay premise.
“I think comedy is hard to do in games because you can’t control the scenes in the same way as a film can. You can sort of control timing a little bit but because it’s an interactive medium you never quite know if the player is going to hit something at the right time.”
When creating stories, communication between divisions is important according to Pratchett.
“You really have to work closely with gameplay departments and level design, particularly with something like Overlord where I worked every day with the level designers.
“That meant that although it was my script, they had an input into it, it was shaped around what they wanted for their levels.
“On something like Tomb Raider which had a much bigger team, I drew reliance on creative director Noah Hughes and narrative designer John Stafford to be a conduit between myself and the team and make sure that I was aware of when things needed to change
“That’s quite a good way of working and it tends to work well.”