Monday, July 30, 2012

Examples of characters' emotions as part of game mechanics

I was on an email thread where one game designer was asking about characters' emotions as part of game mechanics, so I shared some of my experience from being the lead designer on Wing Commander Prophecy. Wing Commander Prophecy (and many Wings) had a few systems built into it that would simulate emotions. These comments are specifically directed at WCP. We tried to do everything we could think of, from gameplay itself to the interaction of cutscenes and gameplay. My motto was gameplay first, so the movies had to support gameplay; not the other way around. In fact you could even disable movies in the options and it wouldn't affect anything. All the comms in the game told you what you needed, so the movies were not absolutely necessary to "feel" the emotion of combat or learn that there was in fact a war going on.

Shooting a friendly a couple of times would elicit a comm telling the player that "hey - I'm a good guy" written in the character's style. We had to allow for a few stray shots. Hitting an enemy would knock this back down, but if you hit them too many times in a row, you were considered a traitor and you'd be marked as an enemy and killed by Confed. It was pretty fun watching the "good guys" change into red targets.

Each pilot had a stat that told the pilots whether they would take orders or not. I believe we adjusted that based upon the number of kills you had made during the mission to simulate "leadership." Noobs would automatically follow them no matter what (ahh the redshirts) and Maniac was extremely unlikely to EVER follow orders. :)

Every pilot had comms that played when they did something and those were tuned and written to match their character. Some were verbose and others were not. Guess what Maniac's verbosity was set to? We wanted to have stoic characters as well, like Hawk, so if they said anything, it was rare. Some pilots would also eject early because they were chickens, and others would go down with the ship, ejecting at the last moment. Plot characters would always live, unless it was "their time," but we lost a lot of red shirts so we could simulate real deaths. We added new ones to the roster (you'd see them on the kill board) so you'd watch some noobs get added throughout the game.

When you returned to the Midway, we rated the damage on your ship so Rachel, the head mechanic on the ships, would give you different types of feedback.

Depending on your performance, you may have won a specific medal.

For the player that wanted to really dig into the game and add their own emotions, when pilots died, their names were listed on the Killboard as KIA. This worked for redshirts as well as main characters.

Plot that happened on the ship would directly affect comms and such, but one of the things I liked was that we made some plot deaths happen in flight where YOU caused them and if you managed to save them (I mean, really, who wants a mission where you can't possibly win), they died somewhere else and you just heard about it later. Man that was so long ago, maybe that was something in the original script that we had to cut after our budget was gutted. Anyway, you see the idea.

And never forget the interactive music! It changed based upon gameplay and the emotion we wanted to elicit. Some of the concepts that had associated tracks that would be swapped between at any time (really on the correct measure) was: no threats, threats, you're in deep shit, congrats you killed something, congrats you killed something HUGE, threats on the way, and more).

I'm sure I'm forgetting a lot more. Suffice to say, we did all we could to make the game as "personal" as we could. I'm sure most people didn't notice much if any of this, but it was there.

Hope this is somewhat interesting. Let me know what you think! bjc

Monday, July 23, 2012

Investing in Content: A Reply to Mitch Laskey's blog post

JUNE 06, 2012


Mitch Laskey's Blog

My response:

He's right.

What I think is interesting about this blogpost is that he really has done a good job of summing up the history of game development from a publishing perspective. I've lived through the console cycles and watched companies pour ridiculous amounts of capital into manufacturing those cartridges before they ever even had a chance to see if they were going to sell. And they had to guess how many they would sell or they'd eat that inventory. It was ugly. Back then, it was hard to imagine even entering the console market. Publishers had a stranglehold on the customers through the capital requirement, relationship with console manufacturers, wholesale distribution, and control of wholesale to retail. The game makers never interacted with retail, much less the players. When I explained this to my friends and family, it always seemed to me that the console owners were like a mafia that controlled access to the fans and publishers had to pay to get on the shelf. Developers were always at the mercy of "the deal."

Then from a developer perspective, you were constantly strung out for the promise of royalties, but whenever a smaller company struck it "rich," the royalty rates and contracts were re-written so that it made it next to impossible to have a hit game propel you into the big bucks. It still happened, so we all believed it could happen to us. That is some ridiculous insanity and I was completely caught up in it for years.

And that's not even to calculate in the music mafia style chargebacks and advances that had to be paid back through your royalties. Many many bands found that they actually wound up owing the music publishers / record companies money after their first album was released. That contract style still lives on with bigger publishers and developers.

Nowadays, the field is much more level. Small teams can speak directly to their customers, both online through forums / blogs and through their games themselves. Adapting at lightspeed to the desires of their SPECIFIC players, game developers can turn on a dime to give them exactly what they want and need. It's a fundamental twist that is absolutely changing the game. For the better.

We're delivering entertainment. We can adapt to the ever changing desires of the public instantly. As long as we know how to listen, we will succeed.

Okay developers, let's rock!


Friday, July 6, 2012

Kickstarter and Stoic in Austin, TX

Today, I am in north Austin, behind the Pour House on Burnet road, at Stoic's game studio. They are in the process of making a game that is funded, in part, by the PEOPLE that want to buy it. The team reached out through Kickstarter and are hard at work.

I was asked by an old friend and colleague, Michael Morlan, to come in and interview them for their fans, and I really had no idea what I was getting into. They are super smart, super tight, and super focused. In fact, I'm pretty jealous.

They are a super tight, small team (right now, I'm sitting on a couch in the middle of a single room with 5 Stoics and 2 others shooting film and recording audio. Their lead artist is explaining the "look and feel" of the game on camera. The room might be 20x20. It literally is a converted goat shed. Yes, a lean-to. Super bad sheetrock and painted exterior siding as a ceiling. They have a small window unit A/C that's cranking its best against the Texas heat. Small. Indie. Driven.

I love small teams. I really love small teams.

Their group funded themselves by their savings originally, and are continuing to do that, while the funds from Kickstarter are set to only be spent on the game and prizes.

I've never interviewed a game team before; this has been really interesting! My role is essentially to move the team through a standard set of questions, but the fun part is following up interesting answers to dig deeper. Michael made a good decision when he asked me to do this, because I'm just as much of a game geek as I am a game developer. It's been GREAT using my experience to ask additional questions that I *hope* that the viewers will want to hear about. C'mon, Michael, leave those answers in! I'm not on camera or on audio; I'm just feeding questions to the team.

The release location or date of the video hasn't been decided yet, but I'm sure Stoic will get it up on their site soon after it is edited. Or their Youtube channel. Or their Kickstarter page. I'm not gonna give any details away, because that's their thunder. It has been a pleasure being part of this, not only because they are so nice, but because they are so HONEST with their fans and so open with their information. They are open kimono and I respect that greatly. Only success can come from this. Openness is the only thing that allows for complete creativity; hiding information and keeping knowledge private are the death knell of an organization, IMHO.

These guys are going to be successful. Their fans are going to be happy. This is raw game development. Like I said... I'm jealous.

Go guys. Make Austin proud.

[UPDATE: The final interview is located here:]

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