Monday, December 1, 2008

The Election of Barack Obama

Its been awhile since I was impressed with America to be honest. I'd generally lost confidence my country's general intelligence since the election of and subsequent re-election of George W. Bush. The President America "felt comfortable that they could have a beer with" had run up the debt, and probably lied us into a war and still gotten re-elected. After his re-election, he presided over one of the worst failures of national government during Katrina, continued to run up the debt during the war, increased government wiretapping of its own citizens without court orders when the law specifically told him not to do so, tortured people and even exported the practice, and speaking of exporting, continued to support an economic policy that exported American jobs! This is to say nothing of the energy crisis he did nothing about and probably wouldn't have done anything serious regarding the issue if he had four more years, nor the energy crisis. Not to mention the economy, but to be fair, that's not entirely his fault.

Enter the 2008 election season. John McCain, despite his former independence in the 2000 race, was a mirror image of Bush with perhaps some slight differences on torture. He knew little about the economy, both because he said so and because there was nothing in his background to state he understood it. However, to say John McCain is just another Bush is a bit inaccurate. He actually appears to have some interest in an intellectual argument, although I still feel it is lacking in many areas. And he did serve in the military, unlike Bush. However, his military service (and torture during that service) appears to have hardened his mind so much against people that attack America that he also falls into the trap of simply calling them "evil" and can find no way of defeating their ideas other than simply killing them (and bestowing "freedom" upon the people they want to influence). In fact, he may pursue policies even more violent and insane than Bush's simply because he has experienced it first hand. In this respect, depending on your point of view, you could consider McCain worse than Bush in these troubling times.

Then there was Barack. A man that obviously enjoyed debate, and was indisputably and intellectual. During the campaign he proved himself to be very cool in crisis, and a very careful speaker. At the Saddleback forum, where McCain said of evil that America simply needs to "defeat it!". Barack espoused that we should be careful of evil abroad and evils committed in America. During the convention, the differences were even starker. Seemingly according to the Republicans America could do no wrong, and that this man who'd associated with people who'd criticized America was somehow anti-American. A near rage against any type of intellectualism besides trailer-park "seek and kill terrorists" and "lower my taxes!" would've shone through the entire convention had it not been out shined by the near totality of white-skinned people present at the convention. Meanwhile, the Democratic convention was the complete opposite. Vast diversity, a "rainbow coalition", if you will, of the people was a clear staple. Many of the speeches, while against Bush and conservative ideas, had logical themes within them that were easy to follow without being half drunk.

So on the night of the election, I was somewhat worried about the Republican's foot stomping on terrorism and the apparent evils of thinking about something before you act on it. But I needn't be worried, Barack won easily. The election was a rout of the idiocy that had governed the nation for the past 8 years, and with his cabinet, Obama is proving that his is a very competent leader for the 21st century that lovees debate and loves to weigh the opinions of all sides. Indeed, I am glad America finally saw the light. Churchill's quote (I think it's his quote at least...) still rings true. "America will only do the right thing after exausting every other possible option".

Oh yeah...and the Republicans will never get minority votes until they admit America can do somethings wrong. There's not enough self deprecation of America in the party. Its kind of a fundamental problem that's keeping them from getting any minority besides asians.

Saturday, April 21, 2007

The video game media

Hiya folks, it's been awhile I know, I just really haven't had time to type something worthwhile in quite a while...

Anyway, this Friday I was thinking about something to post here, and I was listening to the weekly 1up podcast. This week, Luke Smith, a fairly popular video-game journalist, announced that he would be quitting his post at 1up, and move-on to work at Bungie (the creators of the Halo franchise).

At once, many on the 1up boards began to wish him well, and posted messages saying that they'd "miss him" and wishing him good luck. This got me thinking about how journalism in this industry is handled, and how lucky this industry is to have such a vigorous community supported by the thousands (millions?) of users who post on message boards, that at the same time...has a strong connection with those who work in the industry.

Simply put, those who are working in the industry have a tight connection with the fans of their product, whether that be a game or an article about a game. This is a phenomenon that is almost non-existent in any other entertainment besides the game industry. You don't see many forums dedicated to 20th Century Fox or DreamWorks.

Having this communication with fans of games is a great thing because it gives creators a vast amount of feedback on their game that otherwise wouldn't be least not as loud and clear as it is.

However, it's not just great for creators, it's great for fans. Take the 1up podcast...or any other gaming podcast for example. These podcasts give the fans powerful insight into the games industry that otherwise wouldn't exist either.

So hmm... there didn't seem to be much of a point to this post besides to congratulate the video game media on being awesome. So yeah, keep it up guys!

Monday, March 26, 2007

Simplifying the way we think about game design

Games are very complicated pieces of art. Let's just get that out of the way. Obviously, there are many layers to a game. Most basic of these are the coding, visual art, audio art, and environment (level) design. However, just because something is complex, does not mean that creating them has to be.

I've listened to some analyze the various designs of various games to the most tiny details, and it's my opinion that these people are missing the point. Even though creating games is a very complicated exercise, playing them is not. What the user sees at the end of the process, when the game is spilling out onto his or her living room through the TV set or PC monitor, is simple.

The user only experiences what is happening in the game. And from this experience, the user creates an emotion. It is this experience that creates the emotion that should be the focus of the game's designers. By focusing in on this one word, and ignoring all others, the game creator has avoided many pitfalls that other game creators fall into.

These pitfalls exist for various reasons, and not all of them affect the game negatively in the long run. But they are pitfalls, and thus they cannot be positive, and thus they should be avoided.

An example of one of these pitfalls can be found on the recent EGM podcast on The guest was Dennis Dyack, the lead creator of the Xbox 360 game "Too Human". On the podcast, he talks on an E3 2006 demo of Too Human that received negative reviews. According to insiders in the industry, Too Human's flop at E3 was due to the fact that right before the E3 2006 demo, Dyack and his team dumped their old engine, and applied the Unreal engine to their game. Unfortunately, the game's code wasn't optimized for the Unreal engine, and the game's frame-rate dropped to unbearable levels. Thus, when the media played the game at E3, the game was broken.

This is a pitfall. Dennis shouldn't have wasted time preparing a demo for the game if the game wasn't going to be shown properly. Dennis didn't get any usable feedback on the experience his game provided because the demo didn't represent the work the team had done on the game. Because this demo did not help Dennis improve the quality of his game's experience, it was a waste of time.

Frankly, to make a game as good as possible, all time dedicated to the creation of a game must be applied to improving the quality of experience provided by the game. Now, granted, the example mentioned above was probably (hopefully) a temporary pitfall that didn't affect the game in the long term. The bigger, deeper pitfalls, may not be as evident to a game creator, and in some cases, not evident at all.

These pitfalls, are harder to avoid, and sometimes, are unavoidable. Many game developers on the Xbox 360 and PS3 need to rely on Sony and Microsoft for money to make their games (an example would be a publisher demanding better graphics in a game that probably doesn't need better graphics). Because these companies are putting up money for development, they're probably going to want a say in how the game is designed. This may or may not be a pitfall, but generally, it probably is a pitfall. After all, how can a CEO with degrees in business and management possibly know anything about game design when he or she has no experience (in most cases) in designing games?

Therefore, these pitfalls must be overcome by simplifying the thought that goes into the process of game design.

I am currently in the process of designing my own game, Angel Wings, a side scrolling aircraft shooter. When I began the process of game development, I decided to simplify the game's desired experience to one sentence:

"Angel Wings is a side scrolling shooter that challenges the user, and makes that challenge more tolerable through comedy similar to television cartoon humor"

And from that point on, all development in the game is focused on that point. Any time I add a new element to the game, I ask myself "does this fit with that sentence I based the game around?". If it does, the element is added to the game. If it doesn't fit with that sentence, the element is not created.

This, in effect, focuses all those complicated elements of game design that I mentioned above, (coding, visual art, audio art, and environment design) around that once sentence. Thus, when I begin creating a sprite for my game, I ask myself "does this sprite provide a comedic experience for the user?". And when I begin writing code for the object the sprite represents, I ask myself "does this code provide enough challenge for the user?". And after that, when the sprite and code are finished, I ask myself, "does this sprite provide enough comic relief for the user to defer the challenge to make the game enjoyable?".

If the answer to that final question is yes, then the object is finished. And when that question is applied to an entire level of the game, and the answer is yes, that level is finished. And then the question's answer is yes for the entire game, the game is finished.

It is of course, possible to have varying levels of "yes" (one could have "yes" and "oh YES!"), and how high a "yes" you want is often dependent on how hard you're willing to work on a game. And as in any field... often, the harder you work, the better your results will be.