Monthly Archives: June 2011

L.A. Noire – How it is a poison apple.

I haven’t played L.A. Noire myself. But I did sit and watch my husband play it. As a fan of Law and Order, CSI, and NCIS, I could not contain my excitement for this game. It was huge, ambitious, and most of all, had tons of recognizable actors to fill the roles of the people in the game. The game had some fairly serious flaws (who puts the climax at the end of the second chapter?) but those could be overlooked. It was a fun and interesting game.

But now, having read this, I wish I had never allowed my husband to buy it, and I wish I had never seen it played. Why? Because if L.A. Noire succeeds, then it continues to support and exceptionally BAD management style. (And clearly a very bad manager.) The game industry needs to break away from the lone programmer in his basement, pounding out a game in a weekend mentality. Unfortunately, if the game does well, all bad decisions are forgiven, and the perpetrator is allowed to go on to another project, with a new team, and make other lives hell.

First off, I really want to reach through the internet and smack this lead guy. So I am just going to pick apart the crap they quote him on.

“It’s my game. I can go to anyone I want in the team and say, ‘I want it changed’.”

The smallest game I worked on had about 25 people on it. The largest over 100. The minute a second designer has been added to the game, it is no longer “your” game. You can’t make L. A. Noire alone, and it is as much their game as it is yours. Especially when people are pouring their lives into getting it made. This doesn’t provide the “idiot idea” filter that the leads of a game are there for. By running everything through leads, there is a vetting process for time spent. Is an idea really good enough to improve a game? Can it be done in a reasonable amount of time? Is the gameplay improvement worth the time spent implementing and maintaining it? Most of all, it is a sanity check. It should prevent things like Duke Nukem Forever, provided you have a good studio head and good leads.

Crunch – “If you wanted to do a nine-to-five job, you’d be in another business,” said McNamara, citing routine hours from 9am to 8pm – “whatever days it takes” – with frequent travel and 4am calls with the New York-based publisher. “We all work the same hours,” he told us. “People don’t work any longer hours than I do. I don’t turn up at 9am and go home at 5pm, and go to the beach. I’m here at the same hours as everybody else is.”

This is EXACTLY the kind of mentality that lead to the EA Spouse debacle. First off you have employers who think it is okay to ask their employees to work these hours. Second you have employees who are so fearful of losing their jobs they will allow themselves to be exploited. Third you have exceptionally short sighted thinking the anything gets done any faster when all the employees are rapidly burning out.

I once had to crunch two straight months on a game. There was literally a point where someone said something to me about what I was doing on Thursday and I could not tell them. Not only because the days had blurred together, but also because I couldn’t even have told them what day TODAY was, much less when Thursday was coming around again. Why did I crunch like that? Well, mostly because I liked the job, I liked the game, and I liked the people I worked with. It was fun for me. But I also knew we had a hard line, set in stone, release date. We had to ship that day, regardless of where the game was. Honestly, by the time we reached the second month I was working at most 75% of my previous “skill level”. By the end, I couldn’t make a change without going to another designer and getting them to double check I wasn’t screwing things up. As people burn out, they get sloppier. They stop making good decisions. They stop fixing things in the correct way. They stop working at good productivity. At that point, it’s like trying to run a marathon with a thorn in your foot. Yes, not stopping will keep you ahead, but you will move slower than if you simply took the time to stop, pull the thorn out and bandage up your foot, then return to the race.

The thing that most stuck me about my experience with crunch was that everyone, from the studio head to the newest artist, we all knew that our crunch was a result of poor planning. Everyone was willing to admit it. They knew they took too long on the tools. They knew they hired people too late. They knew they promised more than they could deliver. Did that make it right? No. But It certainly made everyone feel better about it to hear the leads say “Yeah, we screwed up, but no use crying over it now, remember it, move on, and let’s get this thing shipped.”

He even goes on to say “The expectation is slightly weird here, that you can do this stuff without killing yourself; well, you can’t, whether it’s in London or New York or wherever; you’re competing against the best people in the world at what they do, and you just have to be prepared to do what you have to do to compete against those people.”

Unbelievable. All it takes is organization, planning, proper scoping, and good leads. I am currently on a triple A product where my crunch days are still in the low teens after a YEAR and multiple milestones. And even then, it was my own choice, not the company telling me to, just to get thing done faster that I wanted done already. But then we have good leads, good producers, and the ability to say to our publisher “Okay, we can do this well or we can do this fast, we can’t do both.” They chose the well option.

It is also implied in the article that they hired young people to do the work, and then just churned through young cheap labor that was willing to do the work, just because they wanted it so bad. The problem with this is that you have wildly inexperienced people making decisions on your multi-million dollar game. That’s gonna turn out well.

All in all this article shows that despite this game’s success it was poorly managed, and a result of extremely bad business practices. We shouldn’t as developers be supporting this kind of management. Games made like this, that still succeed, leads managers into thinking that they can do this kind of thing and make money. True justice would have the game failing, miserably, to show that unless you take care of your employees, listen to your talent, and strengthen your studio, you are just setting yourself up for failure. True, there can be flukes, but for the most part, I would expect this to kill a studio.

On being Legendary

As with every shiny new raiding tier, Cataclysm has brought with it a shiny new Legendary. There are currently 8 Legendary weapons in World of Warcraft. (A few other flavor items, but no armor. Weapons are Legendary and so all Legendaries are Weapons..)

Legendaries are amazing things. Having one, even from old tiers of content, is a way of showing how amazing, persistent, and dedicated you are. At tier, they show that not only are you a hard core raider, but also that your guild is amazing and supports your awesomeness. And of course, with each new Legendary, guild leaders groan, knowing that the mere possibility of such an item will cause strife, anger, and likely a few losses, if not entirely destroying a raiding group. See, the thing with Legendaries are, they take a great deal of time, effort, and gold. And generally, it takes a few MONTHS to get ONE. That one Legendary, goes to ONE player. Not to the guild or raiding team that helped farm up the shards. Not to the crafters that help farm up the mats. The one player who was lucky enough to start the quest. In most guilds I have been in, this is usually an officer, if not the guild leader them self. Lower ranked raiders are likely to feel left out, passed over, or un-welcome.

It’s a sad state of affairs. I understand the logic. Legendaries are supposed to be Legendary. It’s not quite as cool if every player has one. But there are so many problems with them, I am to the point where I have to say, there needs to be a change.

1. Only 1. It’s sad really, that generally only one player in a raid group gets one. Despite the fact that it takes an intense amount of work from all the players in the raid group. I don’t know how to solve this. I really don’t. Part of me says make it as such that if you always run with the same 10 people, then after 3 months, you *should* have had sufficient time to earn the legendary for every person in your raid that it is specifically itemized for. To explain that and example.

I am a Warlock. That means, spellcaster DPS. I look for Intelligence, Stamina, Spellpower, Critical Hit, Haste, Mastery, and the most godly of all, Hit. A well itemized weapon for me would be +Int, +Stam, +SP, +Haste, and +Hit. Sharing with me perfectly would be any Mages. Now… having said that, if the caster item chosen were a staff (they usually are) a staff, itemized towards me would logically also be appropriate for Shadow Priests, Balance Druids, and Elemental Shaman. Now, let’s go out on the limb and say these classes don’t count. So that gives us two classes. Now in a 10 man raid, generally it is a fairly good idea to only have one of each class. It is also common to have 2 tanks, 2-3 healers, and 5-6 dps. It’s also a good idea to have dps split fairly evenly between melee and ranged. This puts us at chance of having the “correct” class for the Legendary pretty high. Even, probably, that there would be two in the raid. It’s possible to have 3 or more, but more likely that the raid would have two, provided it is a pure dps ranged staff. Let’s just say for simplicity that there is one mage and me. The staff is exceptional for both of us. We are both exceptional and consistent raiders. We are both likely to continue playing with said guild for years. Which of us gets the staff? My answer is that after 3 months, consistent clearing of the entire instance (beginning to end boss, each week), and assuming that the person with the steps is on the ball and immediately works at completing the step they are on so as not to lose any time, then a consistent raid group should be able to complete two staff Legendaries. Likely one much earlier than the other.

To round this up to 25 man, where there are 2 tanks, 5-6 healers, and 17-18 dps, then likely, a raid would have 4-5 of the proper class to take the staff. (My current 25 man has exactly 5. While my former 10 man had exactly 1. The math works out for the most part in my casual experience.)

What if it were a caster staff, but didn’t have hit or spirit? So suddenly it was viable for all 5 classes? Personally, I think this would be irresponsible design. Itemize to Caster DPS and create a second Weapon for Healing. Someone might say, well what about all the Hybrids? Do they not deserve a Legendary? Well, yes, but the assumption would that a Legendary should be created that appeals to that hybrid class more than the pure classes. So anything with spirit, but with a proc off damage.

Now obviously this means more Legendaries running about, but this also assumes a consistent group, clearing the entire instance, over 3 months. Not a simple feat.

2. Legendaries get replaced.

This is the saddest truth about Legendaries. Thunderfurys sitting in banks. Warglavies trotted out for showing off. Valynrs only pulled out to play around in old raids. After all that time, effort, gold, and destruction of guilds to have the item cease being useful is just sad.

A possible, and the one I like best, solution, is to have all Legendaries have the potential to upgrade. Let’s take Thunderfury, for example. Run Molten Core until eyes bleed? Check. Gather the exceptionally rare and expensive mats? Check. Made weapon. Yay! Now. Level to 70. Start a new quest, that includes running all the new raids. Collecting even more crap. Gather more materials. Do more bosses until eyes resume bleeding. And at the end, turn in the level 60 Thunderfury, for the now level appropriate, and amazing, Thunderfury, Level 70. Yay! Now level to 80. Rinse, repeat, and once more, Thunderfury, level 80. And for the final trip, again, eyes bleeding, pockets to let, bosses on every tier downed… Level 85 Thunderfury. A Legendary for someone with Legendary patience and perseverance. Of course, at each stage the weapon gets a bit more ornate, adding a proc, and making it a truly Legendary item.

This would also fix the third big issue.

3. With only 2 Legendaries per expansion, how does Blizzard decide which class it is intended for?

Two melee dps legendaries. A caster dps staff (now removed from the game). A bow. Two swords (for melee dps). An Axe (could be tank for DK, but really more melee dps). And a mace, specifically designed for healers. The newest is a caster dps staff. Seem unbalanced? It is.

But if the old weapons could be “upgraded” then with the addition of two tanking Legendaries, the removal of the class limitations on the Warglaives, and bam… every class, with each spec, would have a decent viable Legendary.

It would make the quality of life for everyone a bit better. There is an argument to be made that they should be super super rare, and maybe they should be so insanely difficult even hard core guilds only get one. But really, where’s the fun in that?

I dug a cave

I’m a bit late to the game. Just like a year or so, but two weeks ago, in my unending quest to play around with new games I took some time to play with Minecraft.

Or in more graphic terms, I took my World of Warcraft Alts out back behind the barn and shot them.

People have been talking about Minecraft for a year or so. And not just about the game, but also about the developer and his interesting way of releasing the Alpha of the game, for sale.

Notch, the founder of Majong, and creator of Minecraft did some very intelligent things when deciding to release Minecraft in an unfinished state. First this allowed him to start earning revenue on his game. Money allows him to purchase support, expand servers, and pay bills while continuing development. Second, they require “checking” in to the server, so each person playing Minecraft has paid to play. Third, he gave a price point and stuck to it. Buying the game in 2010 meant you got the game forever. Content would continue to update, things would be added, but you would never have to pay for updates. It’s the MMO model, on a non-mmo game.

This also allows them to do short quick updates. It helps keep the game fresh for old players and draws in new ones.

Creation, Destruction, Exploration

Minecraft is a “sandbox” game. Meaning there are minor goals, but those are unimportant. The true goal of the game is whatever the player wants it to be. Some might even go so far as to say that this isn’t a “game” per se, since it doesn’t have goals, objectives or rewards, but rather a toy.

That doesn’t make it any less awesome.

Initially any player’s goal is to create a workbench, then create tools. Tools that are then used to get better tools, and explore better.

Minecraft is perfect design in it’s simplicity. The progression is very clear in what the player is using as their main weapon material. Wood or stone? What a nooby. Diamond and Iron? They are truly a Minecraft player.

There are various types of gamers, who all come to games for different reasons. The killer, the explorer, the socializer, the achiever… they can be broken down further, but that’s the basic ones. The killer plays Minecraft on hard, slaughtering Creepers, Zombies, Skeletons, and even cows at their leisure. They use the game to improve their killing skills. The explorer stocks up on torches and goes off into caves. The socializer finds a good multiplayer server and starts having fun. The achiever plans grand structures and huge projects.

The game appeals to creation, through building, destruction, through acquiring resources, and exploration through finding resources. As the game world is infinite and randomly generated, no two worlds are the same. And all worlds can be equally interesting.

Day One – The Beginner.

I started playing and relatively quickly picked up the concept of storing up mats, digging down, and fortifying my base. One of the big issues with the game is the presence of enemies, who will spawn, find you, and eat you (or blow up and take you with them). So I dug myself into a cave and got to working on getting all settled in. I was afraid to venture outside, for fear of creepers, so I decided to build a mine in the basement of my base.

*tink tink tink*

What was that?!? I sprint back up to the doorway leading to my base, frantically looking around. That was something. Something big. Something scary. Something that very much sounded like it would eat me and use my bones to pick it’s teeth. But I didn’t see anything. My heart racing, I slowly walked back down the steps into my mine, sword at the ready.

I told my husband about it. He said it was zombies, I should look for a cavern.

*shudder* Zombies…

6 hours later…

I now have a fairly awesome hollowed out cavern for my main base, three chests worth of dirt, sand, and cobblestone, and a very nifty pool of water. My mine is about 15 blocks deep, 30 blocks across, and 60 blocks long, and well lit. There is a nifty door leading down to my mine.

But I have very very little iron. This is a problem. I certainly haven’t seen any diamond, gold, or redstone. Digging with stone takes forever. I want to dig with Iron. I still haven’t seen a zombie or a creeper.

I pop back down into my mine and decide to cut some “test” halls. I find an underground pond, but not much else. I keep hearing the creepy sounds, but I can’t find their source. I dug in the wall toward them, but never found a cave. I shudder every time I hear it though. And slap a few more torches on the walls, desperately hoping the light will keep the evil at bay. I felt lonely, and confined.

I talked to my husband some more about it, and mentioned the creepy chime like sounds I kept hearing. He was confused. That didn’t sound like zombies. I went onto YouTube and found this. As I sent him the link I noticed off to the side a link to another video. Tutorial to find Diamonds. Now that’s what I am talking about. This of course links me to three or four other videos…

2 hours later…

I have a plan. And I have now seen the face of awesome. I have also realized I was playing on Peaceful and there were no zombies or creepers. /facepalm.

I started digging out a quarry, as the underground mining was getting to me, being so lonely. 15 x 20, all the way down to the bedrock. Of course, I ran into lava along the way, discovered a huge cave system, a ton of obsidian, and lots of other materials.

I ventured into the Nether soon after for mere moments. The soul sand, the bleeding fleshy looking netherrock, the deeply creepy music. Not only did I bail, but I also walled off the portal. I might go back later. Might.

Day 30 – *tink tink tink*

My quarry is now 30 wide, 50 long, and all the way to the bedrock I am currently extending it on the one side to be 50×50. I have over 700 obsidian. A full stack of diamonds. A rail system leading to two warehouses for all the ore. A two floor palace all made of obsidian, with art, beds, bookshelves, and even jack o lanterns. My palace has a moat, with glass bridges.

I have two glass encased wheat farms. I have two sugar cane farms. I have a cactus farm. I have a smithy, for quick smelting.

But most of all, I have a monster trap. 30 wide, 2 tall, 70 long, with water forcing all the nasties into a wicked lava blade. I just stand in a spot while at work and let the loot roll in.

And I haven’t even begun to explore my world or really begin to build. I haven’t played Multiplayer. There is a ton I haven’t done. The game is as big as your imagination.

Now, some might comment on the low fidelity. Minecraft definitely rocks the pixel art. But in reality, the low fidelity is part of what allows the game to be as interesting and as creative as it is. It didn’t take me long to get used to it, even to the point that when I fell in lava and died, not only did I shed a tear for my diamond armor, but also felt fear and shock. When I edge along great heights, I can *feel* my heart beat faster and my stomach clench for fear of falling. It doesn’t matter that I play in peaceful, the sounds of a dark cave sends chills down my spine and makes me check the area around me. The dark still scares me.

Minecraft is a wonderful game. Not only because it proves that indie games can become blockbusters, but also because it’s just a great game at heart. I look forward to where they go from here and the release launch in November.