SCALE Landing Page

Hey everybody! I have added a temporary landing page for SCALE here:

DAT SCALE PAGE

There are some new screenshots and information about the game and the team! Eventually there will be a real page on www.scale-game.com, but not quite yet.

SCALE is a Game!

UPDATE! If you think this game looks cool and want to help it get made back the SCALE Kickstarter:

SCALE KICKSTARTER WOO!

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So I was at E3 this week, showing a prototype for a new game at this year’s IndieCade showcase at E3. The response kind of blew my mind. People seem to be EXTREMELY excited by the concept. Far more than I anticipated. My roommate totally called it. GOOD JOB KYLE PULVER.

Scale screenshot
Click here to EMBIGGEN

Also, note that the awesome TED MARTENS is helping out with art.

E3 Coverage Roundup:
Kotaku
Gamespy
RockPaperShotgun
IndieGameMag
Yogscast
Joystiq
IGN

The idea’s been a spare time project for quite a while. I’ll get a steveswink.com/scalegame/ page up in the next couple days. For now, thanks for stopping by, thanks for being interested in the game, and here are answers to common questions I’m getting:

Q: When will the game come out and on what platforms?
A: When it’s a thorough, polished exploration of the ideas and mechanics of growing/shrinking objects at will. I firmly believe that games should only be shipped when they’re done, good, and worth a player’s time. That means…yeah, I dunno. Making games is hard, dude. Like a year or two? Something like that. As for platforms, the game is being made in Unity3d. So that means I get Mac/PC for easies. I have been approached by some of the major consolebros. I told them THANKS BRO + I’ll hit you up when the game is good and cool and ready to go. Let me know what platforms you’d like to see the game on!

Q: But the game looks done now. Why can’t I play it?!?!?
A: Woah man! Calm down. Don’t pee. The game is very VERY early. I’ve just got the core mechanics kinda working. Since Scale delves into some mechanics and ideas that haven’t been thoroughly explored in a game before, there are still a few crucial things to figure out. For example: how to gracefully exit scaling when something would be overlapping something else. For another example: how to launch the player in a sweet way when they scale something they’re standing on. I have a long list of ideas for creatures, structures, game objects, and mechanics I want to prototype. Making things bigger or smaller is on its surface simple concept, but a lot of interesting puzzles is emerging from that premise. With some game concepts I’ve explored, finding interesting puzzles/ideas is like pulling teeth. With this one, the list of puzzles to prototype keeps getting longer. I’ve shown a few examples publicly to help everyone understand the basic idea, but I’m keeping what I think are the most interesting uses of the mechanic secret for now. Plus, you don’t want all the puzzles spoiled…

Q: OOH OOH it looks just like MINECRAFT! You filthy INDIES need to stop abusing the pixel/voxel aesthetic…
A: This is placeholder art. The important thing right now is gameplay: getting the basics of the scaling working well and feeling good. The simple style really helps with quick prototying and experments. I’m not sure what I’ll end up doing for visual treatment for the final game, but doing low-res pixel textures on 3d objects is quick and easy for mocking things up. One interesting thing about this game is the degree to which the shape of objects changes their use in the world. So doing a bunch of high res realistic artwork isn’t really viable for the prototype phase.

Q: So it’s basically Minecraft meets Portal, right?
A: There are surface similarities. Portal is about portals, though. It’d be silly not to look at Portal and what it did well and think about how those lessons apply to what I’m doing. But scaling things up and down in an unconstrained way and exploring the consequences of that is pretty different. It’s an exploration of a mechanic and a concept. As I mention in some of those various videos, the concept of scale is inherently interesting to humans. Things have some ‘normal’ size and when they deviate from that size they become fascinating. Extremely large fish, bears, dogs, buildings, chairs, nickels – all suddenly interesting. That’s what the game’s about, and it explores it through a mechanic.

But, teh E-3zorZ, oh NoEs!

For my part, I’m happy E3 is going the way of the Dodo. I just don’t share the affinity many in the gaming press – and, indeed, in game development – hold for the yearly raucous shitfeast. I’m sorry if you don’t get out of the studio and interact with people more than once a year, I really am. I’m also sorry if having your picture taken with strippers dressed as humanoid foxes or Lara Croft is the highlight of your year romance-wise. Please understand, though, that E3 is the embodiment of everything that is wrong with the game industry. That it is being castrated is a good thing for intelligent, adult gamers and those who want to make intelligent, grown-up games. This image of the gamer as greasy fetish geek wallowing in his fetid basement has got to go. You know, if our industry is to have a future.

Imagine a world where the ‘E3 pressure cooker’ is no longer sucking up precious development time and burning out our best and brightest. Imagine a world where the public face of our industry isn’t trashy hookers, cosplay, and an assault to all senses. Imagine a world where there’s no delineation between ‘gamers’ and ‘non-gamers’. I mean, people who watch TV don’t call themselves ‘TVers’, do they? And imagine a world where the most violent, misogynistic shoot fest sits side by site on the content-ranked ‘Itunes of games’ with beautiful, experimental experiences that are hugely profitable because they serve a powerful niche.

E3 is basically the embodiment of the Old Game Industry in the sense that it’s puerile, dripping with saggy strippers, and completely focused on what a certain luminary calls “The Reptilian Brain.” Out with the old, I say. Make way for the new game industry.

Urf!

I’ll be back presently with a lengthy demo-filled article. I’ve been writing and teaching quite a bit, with a sprinkling of game design. In the mean time, enjoy Lego Mario:

How Warcraft Went Flacid

*Rise from your grave…*

I’ve been rather busy of late, evidence the lack of posts. The rub: we (Flashbang) are kicking the ass out of Potion Motion, our next title. If you have any interest in such things, there’s an extensive thread on the excellent AIPX Student Game Developer’s Association forum where we’ve been posting test builds and getting fantastic feedback.

On principle, I’m opposed to the concept of crunch, but there are a few exceptions I will make. One is when you’ve got the design by the tail; due designer diligence is to ride it out, to see where the design wants to take you. To be honest, we were sidetracked for quite some time, obsessing over aesthetic polish. We hadn’t user-tested design assumptions in many iterations. Bad designers. Anyhow, lesson learned. E3 was a bit wake-up call and now we finally have it by the tail, due in no small part to the many gracious participant testers we managed to round up. Many thanks to you all and a tip of the hat to Sir Joel who has taken on the role of surrogate lead tester.

It was said many times at GDC this year, and I’ve seen it in action many times before – prototypes solve everything. Make the thing, put it in front of some users and watch design arguments disappear. This is why “Advanced Prototyping” was such a hit this year, and why I believe those skilled in rapid prototyping are poised to lead the game industry into a new world. Making good games is all about iteration and iteration is a function of speed. The math is simple: the faster you can complete a single test –> observe –> change –> test cycle, the more times you’ll be able to iterate over the course of the project. The more times you iterate, the better the game gets. Unlike a painting, it’s not really possible to ‘overwork’ a game, especially a huge, sprawling videogame. The closest thing I’ve ever played to an ‘overworked’ game, I’d say, is Warcraft 3.

Despite many attempts, Warcraft 3 has never managed to hold my interest. Even when I was using it as an assignment in my class I was never able to engage with it. On the surface level, I never fell in love with the treatment, but that’s never stopped me from liking a game with a good design at its core. Warcraft 3 turns me off because the design is overpolished. It’s been played so many times in testing, the numbers balanced and rebalanced so many times, the gameplay’s gone limp. Every possible outcome and type of player has been accounted for, every strategy weighed and balanced against every other. It feels sterile, like playing a game in a vacuum. To most if not all players, this is, like every other Blizzard game, a huge win. They find enjoyment on many levels. For myself, as a designer, as someone who has at least a modicum of understanding about the nuts and bolts of creating a game, there’s just nothing left for me. There’s no interesting asymmetry, no novel mechanics, nothing for my mind to tinker with. It’s just too well balanced. Blizzard games stand as monuments of achievement in design, polish, and playbalancing, but they’ve lost their soul along the way. Give me something dirty and flawed, created by an auteur mind toiling away in some basement. Give me a tool to express myself. Give me something alive.

So, yes, there is a spectrum, and I think it is possible to overpolish a design. So few games are in danger of arriving at that point, though, that it’s pretty much safe for all designers to ignore the possibility and try to power through just one more iteration. Test, observe, change, test. Quick, before the money runs out and the game is lost forever.

New Look!

As you can see, I’ve a new look for the site :).

All I know about CSS I learned last night, so I’m sure I’ll be working little kinks out for the next few days. Thanks once again to Dan Pratt for creating the artwork and to Matt Mechtley for the CSS crash-course.

UPDATE: Yes, I realize the site is schnitzel’d in IE. I’ll poke at it more later. Right now it is time to play Hitman: Blood Money.

UPDATE the Second: mostly working in IE now. For some reason, there’s a random “S” at the top right of the side bar. It does not exist if you view source, nor does it show up in Firefox, so I have no idea how track it down. Anybody know about phantom S’s? ;)

Nuclear Flow

Now this is an instance when absorption in a game is a serious detriment! It’s a shame he spoiled it for all the other isotope guardians but, hey, that’s what happens if you can’t keep your DS case zipped when the inspector comes round. Seriously, though, what game was he playing? Clearly, the packaging needs a ‘more fun than a nuclear reactor!’ sticker.

Other stuffs:

I have a new site design (currently in PSD form) thanks to the hardworking efforts of the inimitable Diamond Pratt-a-tat-tatt, which should be live in the next week or so. It’s hot like a buttasub. Now I just need to learn all about creating custom WordPress themes ;).

Tune updates abound – I completed some first pass art and prototype number one which was a quick hack-in test of my proposed gravity/slider mechanic. Usually I encourage substance before polish but I got a good start on the art and it seemed prudent to keep going while the fervor had me. Now I have some art. There are a couple of lingering technical issues I’m interested in tracking down…on my computer the camera is all screwed up in the web player (looks like a priority issue but doesn’t occur in Dev for you Virtools buffs out there.) Does anyone else see this? The symptom is that it’s nauseating and nigh-unplayable because the camera constantly jitters and jangles. Also, I was seeing some z-sorting crapola in some of the textures. Again, though, I don’t see this stuff anywhere but on my box, in the Web Player. Up next for Tune is a recode of the basic systems including a cleaner, more modular way to do alterable parameters for stuff. What I have right now is hack-central. Also, a UI prototype detailing how the parameters, variables, and sliders will hook in to one another. Huzzah!

Via Clint Hocking’s blog, a most excellent and candid conversation with some big name designers. The conversation covers the gamut of hot designer topics; it’s basically a synopsis of all the good questions designers get asked by the gaming press. Harvey Smith always seems to be reading my mind when he answers which is both comforting and alarming. He always draws on personal experience to illustrate his points, which is exactly what I’d do. Cheers, Harvey. Will swings his Broadsword of Insight +13, cleaving (as usual) through waffle to get to the juicy center of any topic. Surprisingly thoughtful commentary from David Jaffee and CliffyB is the real story here, though. Based on what I’d seen of both these guys, they seemed like idiots. I knew they had heads on their shoulders, but I’d never seen them show it publicly. So, good for them. I still probably won’t go see CliffyB speak at GDC – I’ll not soon forget his awful ‘looping’ nonsense at GDC 2005 and lackluster performance at the Game Design Challenge this year – but at least I have a clearer idea how he’s a creative director. And, hey, I really like some of the things he and Jaffee have to say. They are contributing. Huzzah!

Lastly, I got Camtasia set up and working (a new soundcard later) and will be recording Virtools tutorials/game design exercises. These will be something of a supplement to the videos Matthew’s been doing, with a much greater focus on how to tune mechanics to be fun and other design-y types of things. Huzzah!

Is video game violence is good for children?

Yes, checking ID for an M rated game is a good thing; it’s self-regulatory and as such keeps the government at bay. Scanning the driver’s license was what angered me. I’ve never had to scan my driver’s license to purchase liquor or an R rated movie. That, and the way the woman treated poor God of War Guy, as though he were buying horse porn, was unacceptable. And the whole ‘state law in Arizona’ thing. The sum total of the situation was enough to rile me up.

We’re not talking about booze here. There’s just no reason to hassle a guy who’s obviously over 18. There are no liquor licenses for games, no state-imposed fines for retailers who sell to minors. Just as a movie theater can sell R or NC-17 tickets to ten year olds all day long and face no government censure, games ratings should be industry-enforced. As a means to the end, keeping the government from regulating games, checking ID for M rated games is a good thing. But, hey, Target, your employees are hassling your game-buying customers, and so are you. Who scans IDs? Ridiculous.

To complicate my point and this debate, anyone who seriously thinks that play violence, even graphic video game violence, is genuinely negative for children should read Gerard Jones’ “Killing Monsters.” He has three great points:

1. Children seek out violent entertainment because it is empowering for them and because it is the way they deal with stress.

2. Adults do not interpret media the same way children do; we’re much too literal and so are not properly equipped to interpret what stuff actually means to our children. We would do well to remember that and to not interpret media literally, but as a child does. You know, before totally freaking out.

3. The entertainment your child chooses is an extremely important piece of parenting information – remember, children choose what helps them cope, what helps them develop, and what they like. Respect your children’s choices, learn from them. Allow your children to have heroes.

The book hits very close to home: violent stories, films, and games were my primary stress-coping mechanism as a child. I read Tolkien, Dragon Lance, Clavell, and Wolverine, watched “The Crow” and “Aliens”, and listened to ridiculous death and black metal. I needed these things as a release, a respite, to feel strong and calm at times when my life was, to be blunt, categorically miserable. Of course, I now find a great deal of humor in the things I was into as a child, but that doesn’t reduce the power with which they affected and supported me.

So often, we as game developers and aged gamers lament the constant flow of shallow power fantasies from our beloved industry. How many of us, though, are here today doing what we do because those fantasies empowered us as children. I have to be uncomfortably honest and say that, yes, power fantasy is what led me to want to create games. I’ve grown up, I’ve changed, I now yearn for more sophisticated games to cater to my grown-up tastes, but there’s simply no denying that I am who I am today because violent, shallow, power fantasy games gave me solace and comfort in my times of need.

The Game Politic

Apparently it is now Target’s corporate policy to scan the driver’s license of anyone buying an M-rated game. Also, it is apparently Target’s policy to tell its employees that such a policy is in accordance with state law in Arizona. Of course it isn’t. Also: fuck that.

Not ten minutes ago, I found myself engaged in a surprisingly heated conversation with a Target employee over checking ID for a game purchase. The best part: it wasn’t even me buying the game. It was the poor guy in front of me. This gentleman, obviously over 18, wanted to purchase a copy of God of War. For his trouble he was harassed, embarrassed, and made to feel guilty, as though he were buying some particularly offensive pornography. It went down like this:

He hands her the game, she scans it. The computer bloops up the familiar ‘this is going to take a while’ noise all line-waiting consumers dread. She mutters something about “need to scan your driver’s license for this now.” He shifts uncomfortably. “My driver’s license? Scan it?” He obviously doesn’t have a driver’s license and now everyone in line is privy to that information, which obviously makes him extremely uncomfortable. He hands her some card or other, probably a SS card, with his DOB on it. She tries to scan it; no dice. Great. His eyes dart around with the wild fear of a caged beast. I try to bail him out by asking if she’s really scanning his license for a game purchase. “I guess…” Yes, God of War Guy, it is preposterous. You are correct. Finally, she reads the DOB on the card, and decides it’s time to move the line along.

“Did you just scan his driver’s license for that game?” I ask. “Yes,” she says “it’s State law.” Is she serious? By her tone I can tell she is, and it’s very clear what side of this issue she stands on. I have to retort. “I’m sorry, but it’s not. There have been attempts to pass laws in various states, but they’ve all been blocked by their respective courts.” She takes this as a personal attack, we get into a bit of a ‘yes it is, no it isn’t’ cycle, and things degenerate. I tell her that I’m going to write a strongly worded letter to Target Corporate. She points me to the ‘write a letter to Corporate’ cards and falls back on “it’s not worth losing my job over.” I tell her that I’m not trying to get her fired, but that their new corporate policy is ridiculous. Surprisingly heated, as I said.

What the hell is going on here? Is Target deliberately misinforming their employees about Arizona state law? Even as a corporate policy, how does checking a driver’s license for a game equate to being harassed and publicly embarrassed? What are we, at the airport? Is God of War Guy wearing a turban? As he put it “it’d be easier to go to the liquor store.” Heh.

So, I’m a gamer. Not only that, I’m a game developer, which makes me part of a somewhat nonexistent constituency, politically speaking. Still, I hardly deserve to be treated like a child rapist. Of course, there are neat initiatives out there, like the Video Game Voters Network, working to counter the various legislative and political assaults on games, but in general the gamer as a political force is a non-entity. It would (and, I suspect, will) be a huge and vocal political force if mobilized. Senators Hillary Clinton (D-NY), Joe Lieberman (D-CT), and Evan Bayh (D-IN) would do well not to underestimatethe portion of the young voting population who are gamers. Why grope desperately for the scraps from the reactionary family values fundamentalist table with “The Family Entertainment Protection Act,”when you can capture a new, youthful constituency whose values are much more in line with those your party claims to espouse? Barf.

Are you aware that nowhere in the United States is it allow a minor access to an R-rated movie? From VGVN:

“Government does not regulate access to or the sale of movies, books or cable TV, and it should not regulate video games.”

Duh. I will be contacting senator McCain, and I will no longer be patronizing Target who, regardless of the underlying motivation, enforce a policy in their stores which personally affects and offends me.

Video Game Voters Network

Back in the Saddle

I’m back! And I have pictures!

I’ve no idea why I thought it would be a good idea to move right after GDC, but the deed is now done. My new command center is secured and things are back to a new, improved, more Feng Shui version of normal. And now: business!

I’m working on a paper and continuing with move-related activities for the rest of this week so there will be a trickle of GDC posts, with the bulk flooding in next week. At last count I have over forty pages of notes to parse out, respond to, and post. Alice does a preternaturally good job directly capturing GDC sessions and Gamasutra’s coverage was excellent this year so I’ll be sticking to thoughts and impressions, letting them spin off in whatever bizarre directions they want. For example, I started typing up my notes from the first session I attended, Emotion Boot Camp, and I ended up drawing a crackheaded mockup in Photoshop and writing about why I dislike game genres. Go figure.

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