Chet Faliszek from Valve – How to get yourself a job in Video Game Industry (Eurogamer EXPO 2012)

eurogamer32
/ by Simon Kobic

During the Eurogamer 2012 conference I had the chance to attend session with Chet Faliszek from VALVE, where he spoke and gave some advise on how to get a job in game industry.

I took lots of notes but luckily the conference was streamed and uploaded on YouTube so have a look if you want to know how to get a job in this extremely competitive industry.

 

Total War: Rome 2 – Euro Gamer 2012 Preview

Total-War-Rome-II
/ by Simon Kobic

Total War: Rome 2 – Euro Gamer 2012 Preview

by Simon Kobic


I had the chance today to get behind the closed door presentation that was happening at the Eurogamer with James Russell, the lead designer at Creative Assembly. We were being shown for the first time pre-pre alpha gameplay and demonstration from ROME II.

It is pretty exciting, as the game was just recently announced and ROME II is hugely anticipated by the fans of Total War Series.

total war rome 2

Here is a quick rundown of what we can expect and what was shown.

 

- The development team felt they needed to make a sequel to ROME because it was the most popular in the entire series and fans demanded it most.

- There are over 100 people currently working on this project.

- The release date is expected to hit late 2013 (probably holiday season)

- Improved engine will be able to run even more units and generate bigger and more detailed environments.

- James Russell talked about how much emphasis goes into sound design and creating very immersive experience.

- Rome II will feature more brutal and gore battles, to show more real scope of ancient wars

- The camera movements and how you follow your units has been hugely revamped. Watching battles now feels like watching a Lord of the Rings movie (even more than before)

- The demonstration started with naval fleet approaching land and dispatching smaller ships to  send off infantry (which means you now will be able to combine naval and land battles)

- The city that was under siege was also attacked from it’s harbour.

- The city that was demonstrated in battle was enormous. Beautifully designed (as oppose to being only copy/paste of the same buildings closed down within simple walls)

- Watching the whole battle really made an impression as if you were watching Troy movie, but you still had control over everything.

- There seems to be much more emphasis on cinematics, with an opening scene of the battle and up close camera scenes of commanders ordering their units and giving motivational speeches.

- There is a new “emotional” animation feature, that will reflect soldier’s emotions on their faces and some body language to represent what’s happening on the battlefield.

- Once again…the camera…gosh it’s so good…! Some of the moments are so eye candy with how it operates.

- Music is superb, fitting the atmosphere perfectly.

- This being pre alpha build, in few movements the AI felt very unpolished. Big units clashing with only the front rows fighting and surrounding soldiers standing still.

- New strategic camera angles, where you can zoom out completely (like an isometric view) to get better orientation of the battlefield.

- Lots of new siege machinery ( you can now move camera up close inside of the siege towers to see what your units are doing)

- Each model will have approximately 6000-7000 polygons, (as oppose to 2000 in Rome 1)

- Everything feels better and on much bigger scale. It really makes huge impression of what they managed to achieve with the game so far.

- It is going to be PC exclusive (again they mentioned memory and control limits of consoles), they’re aiming to have the same minimum requirements as Shogun II, with better hardware you will enjoy the game at its best.

total war rome 2 close up
It really looks fantastic so far, I am really looking forward to this one, ever since Total War: Napoleon I have felt as if they’ve lost the magic of the series, but with Rome II there is no dying it is going to be amazing experience.

The importance of sound design in video games

/ by Simon Kobic

So how many times have you actually played a game, stopped for a moment and looked closely at some of the details presented in the game, like for example the noises produced as you move along, the whistle of the wind in your ears, the sound of the wooden floor you step on, the noise of unoiled door you’re opening, or even the cracking sound of shattered bones of your enemy. These are the minor details often overlooked by developers because they don’t have direct impact on your gaming experience, but they do…

As they say “the devil lies in the details” and I would fully support that theory. Your basic gaming experience usually depends on number of common factors. There is the graphical aspect obviously, we make our first impressions based on the look, and so no wonder developers these days focus so much on pushing as many polygons onto the screen as possible. Next there are the gameplay elements. Since the release of first Mario some decades ago, we’ve moved on so much more (although you could argue with that as well), how the gameplay feels impacts heavily on the overall experience. Even the prettiest graphics won’t do the trick if you’re sitting there bored to death (Crysis 1 anyone?). And let’s not forget about the storyline and music, equally important key elements. But going back to my main thought, sound design (not to be mistaken with music tracks), in just how many games have you played where you noticed it’s presence and realised just how well they were executed?

Beef Jack recently revealed interview with Akira Yamaoka, mostly known for his work on Silent Hill franchise, where he discusses problems the industry is having. As he says “Game industry doesn’t take audio seriously enough”. I can see where he’s coming from, poor audio design really CAN affect our gameplay, make it so much less enjoyable or realistic, convincing.

Good examples of that are games that did it so well… I still remember playing through Diablo 1, and hearing all the audio elements in the background. The noise of opening sarcophagus, the silent footsteps on the dungeon floor, the far screams and shouts you could hear in background that would send chills to your spine, and even things like noise of weapons you picked up or dropped along the way. These subtleties really made huge difference and contributed enormously to overall atmosphere of the game.  How would you imagine the game without that?

The list goes on, most recent Battlefield 3 did really great job with audio design. Sounds of bullets, explosions, firing guns etc. helped greatly to emphasis and highlight the feeling of being on modern battlefield.

But it’s not about making the audio sounds go into the foreground. They really should be nothing but a subtlety that helps to create mood and atmosphere, emphasis what’s already in the game.  Like in “The Ninth Gate” movie, where thanks to the sounds you could almost feel and touch the environments, books, floor and other objects. That’s the strength these details have and how much they can impact on us. That’s why it is a shame not to see so many games these days put enough effort to achieve similar results.

I do sincerely hope to be amazed by future video games which take that extra step forward to bring the virtual world into our reality.

Can Open World Structures in Gaming be too Overwhelming

OpenWorld
/ by Simon Kobic

Playing through Mass Effect 3 got me thinking on the subject of open worlds and linearity in games. We can often classify games by their genre, but today there is a tendency to judge them on the aspect of how open they are and how much freedom the player is being given. There are lots of those kinds of games which offer vast open worlds, ready to explore; Skyrim, GTA4 and Assassin’s Creed to name a few.

There are also games which seem to be going in completely the opposite direction, taking the morestructured and linear approach. All these have different purposes and are supposed to enhancethe player’s experience with the game – however, some seem to be doing a better job than others, and choosing how much freedom you are willing to give to player can hugely impact on how the game is going to be perceived.

I am a big fan of games where players can freely roam around the map, exploring as they like, but this approach is often criticised for spoiling the narration and storytelling. A good recent example of that is Skyrim. Bethesda Software did an amazing job at creating a beautiful detailed world, but throughout my experience I’ve learnt that I felt overwhelmed from almost the very beginning. The idea behind it was to let the players take the lead, allowing them to continue the journey as they saw fit, but instead we were dropped into deep waters without much of guidance and it resulted in us losing the plot, forgetting the pressing matters of main quest. A simple walk to the nearest town usually meant being asked to complete tons of other side quests, some so silly and meaningless that it kept us away from the main focus and shifted the feeling of being the saviour of Skyrim. I fully support side questing – it’s a great way for players to get to know the universe of the game better, and it can be a good distraction. But, like with everything, there should be a balance to it. If I am being asked by almost every town villager to help them with their tiniest problem such as delivering cabbage to their neighbours, how does that help with game progression, or establishing yourself in the game universe? The answer is, it doesn’t. I feel like the developers felt they need to desperately fill up game content with as many quests as possible, but quantity doesn’t always mean quality.

On the other hand, the gaming community knows titles which focused so much on main plot, they were criticised for their linearity. Namely, Final Fantasy 13. Square Enix were supposed to be “influenced by western genre FPS games [Call of Duty]” and as a result of that, players were forced to move along simple corridors without much freedom. The game would open up eventually at some point, but that wasn’t enough to save the entire experience. And although this way it kept a heavy focus on main storyline and character development, it simply took away the fun from playing the game. The game was often been described as an “interactive movie”.

So where do you go from here? How do you satisfy all kinds of players? Is it possible to create a game, which is compelling in its storytelling aspects and at the same time offers enough freedom to create an immersive experience and expand the gameplay? I think there is a number of games that were able to crack this, and got the best out of both. An example that most would be familiar with is Mass Effect. It’s really hard to think of a game that emphasis storytelling so much; during my playtime with this game, not once have I lost track of what my ultimate goal was, and not once I’ve felt like additional side quests I was doing were slowing me down. That is thanks to the game’s quest structure. They weren’t there to slow me down, or for the sake of being there: instead, they aid us on our main quest. Completing them wasn’t essential but contributed toward the final goal and really helped to grasp more of the Mass Effect universe and its characters.

Another good example would be the not so well known Gothic 1, released back in 2001. This game really showed amazing storytelling and character attachment. It offered a unique and intriguing world ready to be explored. It was full of interesting characters and side quests players were able to take, none of which felt like an unpleasant necessity. They helped your character to establish itself in the world it was thrown into (quite literally) and they were put together neatly enough to fit well within the bounds of the game universe. You had the freedom to go and explore anything, but smartly some areas would be guarded by enemies which were stronger, making it harder to access. But there was no limitations whatsoever to where you can or cannot go! And it worked. And I am sure there are plenty of examples like this out there.

There is no need always to create a world so big and so overwhelming if it doesn’t serve a higher purpose if it doesn’t fully support the player on their journey. Sometimes compromising storytelling and open world quest structures can create better results. Generating hundreds of side quests and places, which the majority of players won’t visit or won’t benefit from makes no sense. But to create an experience so immersive and unforgettable, one that the player is eager to explore and one that can offer enough freedom for those of us who like to check every corner is an entirely different story. We cannot always demand access to the whole world, because it doesn’t always help. There is a thin balance between how much we can explore and visit before we lose ourselves completely and finding this balance should be every developer’s focus to ensure the best possible gaming experience they can offer.

3 Underdogs That Compare With Their Big-Franchise Rivals

Dragon's Dogma
/ by Simon Kobic

3 Underdogs That Were Better Than Their Big-Franchise Rivals

by Simon Kobic


Sometimes you watch a great movie or read a great book and none of your friends have ever heard of it. Weird thoughts start pouring into your head. Is it just me? Am I weird? How could it be possible that no one has ever heard of this? Is society so shallow that it only consumes what’s popular on the market, or are so many of the great things in the world bound to remain undiscovered? Well it’s the same with video games. And there are some examples where amazing creativity, brilliant concepts, or beautiful storytelling led to a fantastic adventure that many people missed out on. Instead they blindly followed their big-franchise counterparts without looking at the competition.

Here are some of my personal favourites. If you are familiar with any one of them, you’re in luck. If not then I recommend you have a look at it. Give it a shot. You might just love it. Like I did…

Killing Floor

When in 2008 Left 4 Dead was released it was THE game to play if you enjoyed blowing up zombie’s faces. It had high value production and it was well received by the community of gamers. It supposedly captured (and I quote) “the tension and the action of a Hollywood zombie movie”.

So when a year later a small company by the name of Tripwire Interactive released their title, Killing Floor, not many people managed to hear of it. Why? The game was developed for the price of a Tesco’s lunch, it didn’t receive massive ad campaigns and it certainly didn’t look the part.

In fact it was (and still is) glitchy, ugly looking and foremost has the most annoying stereotypical British voice acting ever done in Video Games. There is no plot, no cinematics and comparing it to L4D is like comparing the RITZ Hotel to camping inside a tent on the top of Mount Everest.

And the bad news doesn’t stop here. Even the smallest of things look and feel unpolished. From how you navigate the menus, to server browsing… I could keep going on and on, but you probably would stop reading.

So why is Killing Floor on this list? You see, sometimes when you’re tired of “Hollywood cinema” and all its glory and explosions, you sometimes switch to watch European cinematography, much rawer and truer in its form. And it’s the same story with Killing Floor.
Killing Floor is not the RITZ, it never will be. It doesn’t try to be. What it is though is a raw gaming experience; it really does feel like going camping. You’re covered in mud, it’s dirty and wet. You hate it, but something draws you into it. You rather take the bath in a cold river than a sauna in an expensive hotel.

That is because small things can also be enjoyed and Killing Floor delivers in this department. In many years of my personal experience with games, it would be hard to name any other game that gives you so much satisfaction when you blow a zombie’s head off – when you do, the slow motion kicks in and you follow up with another headshot and hear the satisfactory sound of another head blowing up. Or when you chop off an enemy’s limbs and dodge fireballs shot at you in slow mo.

With so many ways you can play this game, from being able to choose one of the seven classes and having the level up-experience based system, to a huge variety of interesting and innovative weapons like the fireball gun, crossbow, katana, magnums, shotguns, rifles and so on, along with tons of official and unofficial maps on different difficulty settings, this game guarantees you can soak hundreds of hours into it EASILY.

The community is great at providing interesting content. The publisher itself releases free updates a few times a year, keeping it fresh. It’s not an easy game though, make no mistake. You will die and die, and swear, but once you get the hang of it you’ll love it. You will build up a friends list of people to play with (this being a cooperative game) and you will be hunting to unlock every achievement there is to get.

So if you can for a moment just get past the initial flaws, and overlook the unpolished nature of the game you will enjoy this.
And do you know what the best part of it is? It’s all for just £15… a third of the normal price you pay for a new game.

Dragon’s Dogma

This choice might come with a little controversy. Dragon’s Dogma was released earlier this year, making it a fairly well established new IP. Capcom revealed that their sales for this game reached over 1 million copies. That’s a good result for a new game, right? Especially given how difficult the situation is with pushing new brands in the gaming industry (or any other industry for that matter).

But is it really good? Not so long ago we saw a release of a major title by the name of SKYRIM. Now, when Skyrim was announced everyone was wetting themselves in excitement of what’s to come. I am mentioning this because Dragon’s Dogma is often compared to its “older brother”, Skyrim. Both are open world RPG’s with an emphasis on side questing and world exploration.

The difference is that Skyrim is part of the well known and loved Elder Scrolls franchise; one that’s been with us for some time now and it definitely has its support from the gaming community. Chances are if you say anything bad about it you will get knocked down in a fire of heavy criticism. But that’s not the point here.

I wanted to bring up the subject of Dragon’s Dogma because it is an RPG that was just as great, but didn’t receive the same treatment. I remember comments from developers that said Capcom was expecting sales to reach 10 million units. That sounded like an overstatement, and in fact, it was. So how is it that the end result was just a TENTH of what is should be?

For one, it’s extremely hard to sell anything in tens of millions unless you wear a badge with “CoD” initials on it. The second thing is, Dragon’s Dogma wasn’t good enough to sell that much. Throughout the game you get the feeling that lots of content was taken out or not finished properly. Some concepts felt like just that – concepts, not tested and polished enough. But despite that, it still managed to be one of the best RPG’s this generation I have seen and one that could easily take on Skyrim.

It didn’t have its “fast travel system”, and some of the quests were probably put together during tea break time. Technical problems were bit of an annoyance. Occasional freezes and frame rate drops felt very much unlike Capcom.

However, it’s still a game that offers so much content with tons of side quests. Great main plot and who cares if dragons played a major part in it? Skyrim wasn’t the first to introduce that and won’t be the last. Although, if it was APPLE behind The Elder Scrolls, we probably would have seen them pulling out another law suit against Capcom.

What has really been captured in Dragon’s Dogma is a sense of integrity. You’re left to wonder a big open world, but you don’t feel lost in it. The main plot manages to stay on top, and side questing doesn’t become an annoyance but merely supports the main story. The visuals are great too, with a nice mixture of a European medieval style and a Japanese take on it. The combat stays engaging from start to end. Character building and gear collecting is rewarding and satisfying. There is a set of interesting and memorable characters and the game takes a step forward in the music department.

Dragon’s Dogma is a gaming gem because it is a brave step forward in open world RPG’s, but because it experiments with ideas and stays in the shadow of its big brother it didn’t get the attention and sales it definitely deserved.

If you take the risk and pick up Dragon’s Dogma, you will finish it from start to end in one go. It is a solid game, and it is also overwhelming – not because you feel lost in its ocean of content, but because despite everything that the game tries it all comes together in the end and it’s hell of a journey.

Gothic 1

When it comes to Role Playing Games, especially those ones which emphasise open world structures, we tend to look at a few particular franchises or IP’s. Without naming any of them, it is the general rule that we tend to set standards by which any other games are judged. Now here is an interesting fact: Just like the iPhone wasn’t the first phone (which might be hard to believe), these games weren’t the first to experiment with the idea of an open world and a less linear approach to gameplay.

There are a few titles that come into my head. There is the famous Ultima series, the Might and Magic series and half a dozen games from late 80’s and early 90’s with the likes of Ishar, Dungeon Master, or Eye of the Beholder (although you could question the “open-ness” here).

And then there is Gothic 1. It is in its own category – in its own league, if you like. The reason behind that is because it sets out to do what has never been truly done, and succeeds. Creating a believable and fully interactive world, all realised with outstanding visuals and what has to be one of the greatest and most fitting gaming soundtracks ever.

So what is Gothic 1 all about? You’re a sentenced prisoner who’s being thrown into an area covered in a magical barrier to prevent escape and you have to live the rest of your life there without any hope of ever getting out. That area is a host to 3 different camps and every person living there is also a sentenced prisoner, so you’re not getting a warm welcoming party.

Instead you’re being thrown into an unforgiving world, where if you make any mistake you will pay for it – with your life, most likely. And don’t expect much help – Survival and hierarchy are the main themes here.

The world you’re now a part of is also home to a few dozen hostile creatures and orcs – not to mention a “cold war” between all the three camps. You being a new guy doesn’t make your life any easier. You will start with nothing and will have to build yourself up into a powerful warrior able to take on any danger, and you will have to find some unlikely allies to aid you.

What really shines about Gothic is how everything comes together. Every decision the developing team made fits right in. From the fact that you’re in an open world, not limited by invisible walls to further explore but instead the magical barrier which helps to emphasis the struggle of your will to get out, to how NPC’s treat you – the pacing of the story, the battle system and the music highlights all of that. Your decisions impact your surroundings, you will feel the bond you have with the few people who will join your cause. You will see how along with the story, everything else develops.

And part of the magic of Gothic 1 was how despite the graphical limitations of PC’s in the year 2001, you could feel the world you were in. When you find yourself in the swamp camp, you could almost sense the dirt and weed smoke – the atmosphere was always top notch. That is unfound in today’s games.

Gothic wasn’t without its errors, however. Some technical issues, chunky controls, unpolished gameplay, dreadful localisation and voice acting – but you just didn’t care. It really was a simple concept, but one with so much depth to it. It simply had soul.
It was one of the greatest RPG’s and what makes it even more special is how it was all accomplished so many years back. Looking at it now and seeing today’s market feels like a step backwards. Gothic 1 set up standards that most won’t be ever able to achieve. It really is the Nokia 3300 of Video Games. Go and learn, Apple.

It is a shame that with such a great creation, success didn’t follow as it should and the franchise spawned sequels that tainted its name. There may be never another Gothic.

Those are but just a few of many. If you have your own personal gaming gems you’d like to share, feel free to contribute. Sometimes it’s word of mouth that helps spread the good news.