Friday, January 27, 2006

My Fingers Hurt ...

... from playing several hours of Guitar Hero last night. I wanted to get it before Christmas but by the time I went looking for it all the local stores were sold out. Finally last week I broke down and ordered it online.

What a fun game! I can't play a real instrument to save my life. Once I tried learning the guitar for real but I couldn't even tune it. But with Guitar Hero I am a ROCK GOD!

90% of it is the controller. I've never really gotten into the other Simon Says-style music games but there's something magical about standing there holding that little guitar. It's hard not to rock out while you're playing -- I've caught myself head-banging along with the music when I'm in a really good groove.

It makes me want to pitch a shooter with an AK-47 as the controller ... .

Friday, September 16, 2005

Tokyo Game Show

It's been quite a while since I've posted anything here. We've reached the point in the project where things are moving really fast. I spent a lot of time in Salt Lake a few weeks ago nailing down the final cut on the 2-D animatics. And now almost everyone on the design side is deep into fleshing out the details of the missions.

Warhawk is being shown at the Tokyo Game Show this week. So far we're getting some very positive press. One of the nicest bits is this Gamespot article that says, essentially, "This doesn't look good enough to be fake."

Good call. Yes, it really is real gameplay footage. Yes, that really is the water that will be in the final game. Yes, you really can battle against several hundred enemies at a time.

(Unfortunately the video isn't up anywhere on the web yet. So unless you're in Tokyo you'll just have to use your imagination. Trust me. It's very cool.)

Wednesday, June 22, 2005

What it Feels Like

I'm working on some script revisions and it got me thinking about what writing physically feels like. Obviously this is totally subjective, but I realized that when I sit down to write it feels like rock climbing.

I move through a piece of prose one handhold at a time. I can't see where I'm going, but I reach up above me and feel for something to latch onto. I shift my fingers until they find solid purchase, then pull myself up.

It's not like I'm creating something out of nothing. It's like the story already exists and I'm exploring it, trying to find the right set of handholds that can get me to the top of it.

Sometimes I have to majorly backtrack. A series of easy handholds leads to a dead end. Sometimes I can't find a handhold at all and have to leap blindly into the darkness.

And through it all, I'm suspended over the abyss.

Thursday, June 09, 2005

So There's Not Going to Be a Strike

The voice actors' unions have voted not to go on strike. As someone who's halfway through developing a game using SAG talent, this comes as a terrific relief.

I've been conflicted during these contract negotiations because I usually side with labor, but in this particular case it seemed unfair that actors might get residuals while most dev teams still don't. A typical voice actor only works on a game for one or two days, while an artist or programmer might literally spend years. Compared to movies or television the amount of work done by the actors adds up to a much smaller percentage of the whole.

Long term I'd like to see the industry as a whole moving toward unions. I think that's the only we we'll ever get sane working hours and decent royalties for the rank-and-file developers. The amount of leverage SAG and AFTRA were able to exert on the publishers (despite the minor role that voice actors play in the development process) is evidence of just how strong organized labor can be.

Tuesday, June 07, 2005

Man, What a Stinker!

My wife and I went to see Revenge of the Sith on Saturday night. I'd heard that it was much better than Episodes One & Two and this worried me because I've been dealing with the awfulness of the recent Star Wars movies by pretending that they don't exist. I've pushed them down the memory hole, Winston Smith style. Star Wars is a trilogy that ended over 20 years ago. At one point Lucas talked about making some prequels, but the plans fell through. We have always been at war with Eurasia ... .

Episode Three had the potential to wreck this careful exercise in willful amnesia. What if it was actually good? Then I'd be forced to accept the existence of One & Two as fact. All of that awfulness would come rushing in: Jar Jar Binks. Midichlorians. Pod Racing. The Trade Federation. The taint of One & Two would become permanent, seeping into the original trilogy through Three and slowly destroying it from within.

Fortunately, Three stinks. Worse than One & Two actually. Or maybe it only seems that way since I've worked so hard to blot the previous prequels from my mind. In any case, I can revert to my convenient fiction of pretending that the latest movies were never made.

The amazing thing to me about Revenge of the Sith was how badly it flubbed the basics. I expected that the dialog would be wooden, but was surprised me was how bad the editing was. The film jumps from scene to scene with no sense of how the different narrative threads will play off each other. Quiet dramatic interludes are inserted in the middle of action sequences, totally destroying their momentum. Time jumps backwards and forwards in the cuts. The most egregious example was a scene where Obi Wan falls into a pool of water and the film cuts away to other action for several minutes before cutting back to show him surface! I mean, isn't this the sort of thing that you're supposed to learn not to do in film school?

Or take the action sequences themselves. The battle sequences in the original Star Wars are beautifully set up and pay off wonderfully. Here are the good guys. Here are the bad guys. Here's what the good guys are trying to do. Watch them do it. But the battle sequences in Sith are chaotic messes. There's so much stuff going on it's impossible to tell which side is which or what the overall stakes are. Spaceships zip around and things blow up but it all seems kind of random and pointless. Nice CG. Why do I care?

At one point I actually leaned over to my wife and whispered, "This ... is ... killing ... me ... ."

Thursday, May 26, 2005

It's Called Warhawk

Last week was E3 and Sony unveiled the PS3 so I can finally be a little more open about the unnamed game that I'm working on.

It's called Warhawk. It's a remake of the old Playstation game of the same name. The game is being developed by Incognito in Salt Lake City -- the excellent team behind the Twisted Metal franchise. I'm providing senior design direction.

Phil Harrison showed video footage at the Sony press event at E3. It's been really cool to hear the positive feedback we're already getting in the gaming press, particularly this one over-the-top column at IGN.

Wednesday, February 16, 2005

Brian's Rules of Level Design #1

This Hallway Has a Backstory!

I've been thinking a lot recently about trying to codify how I approach level design. This post is the first in a series of the informal rules that I use when I'm designing and populating a level.

One of the things that I try to do very early in the level design process is to come up with a "backstory" for how the level works. By "backstory" I mean a rationale for level layout that goes beyond just presenting challenges for the player. Instead I try to come up with a level layout that also makes some degree of real-world sense, either architecturally or geologically.

The idea is that players have an intuitive understanding of how buildings and landforms typically work in the real world. If game spaces obey similar rules it helps make the spaces seem more realistic and easier to navigate.

For interior spaces spaces this means understanding the function of each room I create. Say I'm designing a level that takes place at an ore-processing plant. I'll start with rough layout that takes into account how such a plant actually operates:

Train cars arrive here. Conveyer belts take the raw ore into this room here where the grinding machines are. Other conveyer belts take the cracked ore into the furnaces here. Slag from the furnaces is dumped here. This part of the building houses the lunchroom and the management offices. And so on.

Once I have a rough layout that mimics how an actual factory works, then I'll start shaping it into a fun play space, narrowing the player's possible traversal paths and organizing the various rooms for dramatic impact. But I try to always keep the spaces functional. No random rooms filled with inexplicable crates, or generic industrial machinery. If a room or hallway exists, there's a rationale for it.