A single button and the sky is the limit

We tend to watch video game trailers and the like during tea time lately. I know it’s kind of pathetic to work on games all day and to look at other people’s work on games for leisure. But anyway. One thing struck me when we were watching bits of the Fable 2 Dev Diary on Eurogamer TV. Something Joss Moore, Senior Combat Programmer (they all seem to have funny titles like that at Lionhead), said about the “One Button Combat” in their game.

For Fable 1, we had loads of different ideas about how we wanted to move forward with the combat. And we always would come up with a new thing and there’d always be the standard problem of how we work this into the controls. It was so limiting thinking “Well, we’ve run out of buttons for that. How will the player actually make this happen?” By stripping back to just using one button it seems the sky is the limit all of a sudden. Anything we can think of based on the context that it’s appropriate, we can do. Just with a single button press.

Sounded very similar to our own rejection of even the “single button press” for The Path.

I believe that this is more than a matter of restrictions stimulating creativity, though. Oddly, video game designers often seem to forget that they are working with computers and that computers can do a lot of things for you. Games often seem to be programmed as complete systems in which the player is asked to perform a function. So, in essense, when playing, we are working for the game, helping it to become complete.

But weren’t computers invented to work for us? Let the computer do the hard work! Even in games. Not only does that free us up to enjoy the art and the story better. This way, the computer can also become an active and creative element in the experience. The computer can become your ally, your friend, while together you explore this strange new virtual world.

Interview with Takayoshi Sato

Takayoshi Sato Time for another installment in our ongoing series of interviews with people we feel have something important to say about the past, present and future of game design. And this time it’s with one of our big heroes!

We can’t help but feel that the career of Takayoshi Sato so far illustrates what’s wrong with the games industry. While everyone’s talking about making artistic games, rivaling cinema, turning the medium into a mature art form, etc, Mr. Sato simply goes out and does it. With Silent Hill 1 and 2 (1999 & 2001), he has made some of the greatest contributions to the creative development of the medium that anyone has. So what does Electronic Arts do when he goes to work for them? They build a team of experts around him, reserve a nice budget, give him plenty of time and tell him to Go! Create a masterpiece!? No. They put him on some licensed IP and forget all about it. Et tu, EA!

In the mean time, Sato has left the building and is now working for a “serious games” company. We feel that this is a shame, but Mr. Sato doesn’t agree. He talks about how the commercial games industry is stagnating, how the way production is organised stiffles the creative spirit, how game after game is just a re-skinning of a stale old concept. How we need new areas to experiment and express ourselves in this medium.

Read all about it!

Reviewing games as products

We’ve mentioned it before on these pages, but Chris sums up the problem quite nicely on his excellent Survival Horror Quest blog: reviews of games often focus on technical features and rarily on content. And he illustrates his point with some amusing faux-reviews of works in other media.

Part of the problem with game reviews, I think, is that game journalists often try to offer objective analysis of the games that they review. It’s easier to be objective about something if you just stick to the obvious facts, which is maybe why games get treated like products rather than works of art.

I don’t think journalists are entirely to blame for this situation, though. Developers and publishers often think in terms of features and numbers of levels and hours of gameplay as well. Mostly, I think, because it is what their marketing departments know how to deal with. And I have seen several reviews of our own games that exclusively discuss content. So perhaps, it’s also a matter of developers taking the content they create a bit more seriously. A simple trick would be to remove all “features” so that there is nothing to talk about but content.

But then there’s of course the gaming audience. I’ve seen many remarks on forums and in blog comments from people who did not find the extra feature in the full version of The Graveyard (the added possibility that the protagonist can die) worth the money (5 USD). Someone even made a list of features that would be required for him to spend that money. The fact that the element of death drastically changes the emotional experience did not seem to be valuable to most players.

Players too seem to think of games as products. So journalists are just giving them the information they apparently need. The question remains: why? Why are games being judged as products, while books, films and music are not?

The Graveyard selected by Indiecade for E3

The Graveyard has been selected by IndieCade to be shown at their annual independent games showcase at E3 in Los Angeles, from 15 to 17 July.

IndieCade is an interesting project that promotes independent games from a refreshing new angle. As far as we can tell, their selection is more focussed on the artistic side of the medium with less hardcore tendencies than, for example, the Independent Games Festival. As a result, they are much more forward looking and more independent of games industry trends. Which makes for a nice selection of games.

Will mobility kill the medium?

Girls using laptops outside

Laptop computers are becoming increasingly popular. To my great frustration because they are often underpowered machines, certainly when it comes 3D graphics, and our games require every last bit of performance they can get. But is there something else going on too?

We’ve always been very fond of the intimate nature of desktop computing. One person alone with one computer in the sollitude of their home office. That’s more or less how we imagine the ideal environment for experiencing our work (not unlike a 19th century gentleman going through his secret drawer of lewd pictures). A very intimate situation in which the player can be at ease and concentrate on the work. But as more and more people use laptop computers instead of desktops, this ideal situation will occur less and less. Through becoming mobile, computers also become trivial. Mere accessories to take on the road, for convenience, not media that you actually devote some time to.

Would cinema have been so succesfull, culturally, if it had become mobile before even maturing as a medium? I highly doubt it. It is exactly the demands that cinema makes on the viewer, that give the authors the room required to create their art. Cinema, nor literature, or theatrical or musical performances, are casual media. But if computing becomes mobile, what will be left of it as a medium?

Picture by fabuleuxfab