Age of Mythology Made Me Feel Dirty

So! Just a few days ago I found out about this:

Now, despite my eternal love for Age of Empires II, I did really enjoy Age of Mythology. I played it a lot and I played it with my daughter (co-op against AIs, of course). So that video made me very happy; there are some long-standing bugs with the original Age of Mythology that rear their head every time I try to play it. Seeing these bugs fixed would make me happy. Plus enhanced textures, water and lighting, and tools to make streaming and commentary easier. I might get to watch commented games on Twitch.tv! I couldn’t see a downside.

But the community sure could.

See, the game is being released at the abominable price of $30. I know, right? Quel horreur! It’s not like Microsoft is paying an external developer to improve the original code and add all these features. And it’s not like this developer is actively encouraging feedback on what new features to put into the game. And it’s not like the only reason they are doing this is because they feel they might make money at it.

Oh. Actually, it is like that.

And the thing that bugs me isn’t the fact that some people think that the price is too high. There are always going to be people like that. The thing that bugs me is that people are actually outraged at this price. They are frothing and foaming. The price is an affront to them; they can’t live full and robust lives any longer because of this price.

So I (possibly stupidly) decided to dip my toe in.

You can’t see most of it now because it’s been scrubbed, but I was immediately attacked by one Baron von ZinGer who, instead of addressing any of the points I’d made, called me an idiot. He accused me of having such a big ego that I’d probably be fired from my dev team soon.

I can’t wait to have that conversation.

“Anthony?”

“Yes?”

“Can I have a word?”

“Sure.”

“We’re letting you go from the team.”

“What?! Why?”

“You’re too arrogant and sure of yourself. You’re egotistical and your self-confidence is completely obnoxious.”

“That’s ridiculous!”

“I’m sorry, but that’s how we feel.”

“We? Who’s ‘we’?”

“Me, Viridian and Badman.”

“But we’re all the same person!”

“I know. We’re drawing a line inside our brain. We’ll stay on this side and you stay on that side.”

“Well, fine!” (door slams)

Yeah. This same guy also looked up my profile, saw the Greenlight link to Planitia, and accused me of being a “lying stealing dev” because Planitia is based on Populous. When I asked him how I was lying when I explicitly stated that the game was inspired by Populous, he said it was because I called the game “one of a kind” on my Greenlight page.

Yeah, I’ll just stop working on Planitia now and play one of the forty other god-game/RTS’s out there. I mean, why did he think I was such a fan of Age of Mythology in the first place?

So all I can conclude is that people are stupid on the internet. Oh! And that Age of Mythology Extended Edition looks boss and I’m definitely picking it up.

Money, Dear Boy

I’m seriously thinking about doing a Kickstarter (or something similar) for Planitia.

One of the best things I ever did when working on Inaria was to put the game up on 8-Bit Funding.

I’d provide a link to 8-Bit Funding but it’s gone now. Sad face.

Even though I only got about $500 in funding, knowing that people had paid me money in advance for the game was an incredible motivator and I don’t think Inaria would have ever been commercially available without it.

(The fact that it’s not really commercially successful is all on me, of course.)

I think I need something similar for Planitia.

But…

A successful Kickstarter needs at least one of the following things:

* Name Recognition: Tim Schafer, Brian Fargo, Keiji Inafune

* An incredible gameplay video (even if the gameplay is mockup): Planetary Annihilation, Star Command, Hyper Light Drifter

* “Spritual Successor” Recognition: Star Citizen, Satellite Reign, Godus

Having a video that’s funny or includes some biting satire on traditional game publishing helps too.

And I don’t really have any of that. (Neither did the Conquest 2 Kickstarter, unfortunately.)

I could have tried to get some “spiritual successor” recognition going (though I wouldn’t have been able to mention either of the games I’m successing) before Godus came out.

But I’m still trying to think of a way to get it done, and I might have an answer in that I actually have a working version of the game right now. If I could put together a clever trailer and couple that with a good demo and scream about the Kickstarter at the top of my lungs every second of every day (basically following Dan “Buy Gibbage!” Marshall‘s formula) then I might be able to make it succeed. People will be able to say, “Hey, the game is there. It works. He just wants to buff it up before it goes on sale, so I’m not as worried about being taken for a ride.”

Maybe.

Thoughts?

Stardock and Star Control

When I initially wished that I could still be at Stardock so I could work on Star Control, I didn’t have all the facts. I didn’t know that Stardock only got the name, not any of the content, and because of this they say they’re going to “reboot” the franchise.

Um.

As every schoolchild knows, the name Star Control had been trademarked by Accolade, so when Paul Reiche III and Fred Ford left that company they couldn’t take the name with them. They did, however, retain rights to all the content of Star Control, which meant that nobody could make another game featuring the Syreen or the Melnorme or the Ur-Quan without their permission.

Which they gave to a ragtag group of programmers intent on re-creating the original game (which for a long time was available only second-hand or through nefarious means). This group of codiferous rebels produced a new version called The Ur-Quan Masters and it’s a really good version of the game – anyone who played the original will feel right at home. Except that the exploit that allowed you to sell more planetary landers than you actually had to get infinite money was removed. Bummer.

Now, Fred & Paul gave the permission to use their content because it wasn’t a commercial project. This is not the case with Stardock’s Star Control game. And Fred & Paul sold their company, Toys for Bob, to Actiblizzion back in 2005. Which means that they are still Blactivizzard employees.

So, I’m seeing a few options for Stardock here…and most of them aren’t that good.

1. License the Star Control 2 content and get Paul & Fred to consult on the project. This will give the highest chances of success but will be damn hard to pull off. Fred & Paul may not be in a position to actually license the content for commercial use (I don’t know the legalities there). And Fred & Paul almost certainly won’t be in a position to consult on the project since they work for, you know, a competing game company. But if the stars were to align in this manner I feel confident Stardock could pull off a good new game. The fact that the original developers were involved would also cause the fanbase to be more forgiving of any missteps.

2. License the content but go it alone on both gameplay and story. This would tie the game back to Star Control 2, but unless they do a great job themselves it could result in a poor game hurting the Star Control brand. This is exactly what happened with Star Control 3.

3. Do a complete reboot with completely new aliens, story and gameplay. This is the worst possible outcome; the lack of involvement of any of the previous developers and the complete break with the original Star Control storyline means that fans will judge the game as harshly as possible, so unless Stardock pulls off an XCOM, there will be significant internet backlash and they don’t need that after Elemental. Again, it would be very easy for Stardock to ruin the brand like this. Elemental was supposed to be a new version of Master of Magic, but Stardock couldn’t get the license. Imagine if they had, and the shipped version of Elemental had been called Master of Magic instead…

So, I’ve got some misgivings. But at least there’s a chance for a new good Star Control game, which is better than no chance.

Xbox One: The Dark Horse of This Generation

Yeah, I’m betting on the Xbox One. Seriously.

Why?

Because of the TV stuff.

Let me set a stage here. It’s a few years ago. I’m walking into Best Buy. The PS3 has been out for maybe a year but I don’t have one yet. The HD-DVD/Blu-ray fight is over, with Blu-ray the winner. But I hadn’t felt the need to buy a PS3 yet, even though some excellent games (like the new Ratchet & Clank) had come out.

So I walk into this Best Buy and they have a PS3 hooked up to a big ol’ TV, and it was playing the Blu-ray version of Kung-Fu Panda.

Now, Kung-Fu Panda is one of my favorite movies. And it looked glorious in Blu-ray. And that’s when I said to myself, “Damn it, now I have to get a PS3.”

This same thing is going to happen for the Xbox One. It will not happen for the PS4.

And it’s all about the TV stuff. I don’t think people realize what Microsoft is really selling with the voice control stuff.

Would you pay a flat $500 fee to never ever lose your remotes again? Would you pay a flat $500 fee to never have to know the number of your favorite channels any more, or search through the guide to find it? Would you pay a flat $500 fee to be able to be able to say, “Xbox, find Duck Dynasty” and have your TV find that show on whatever channel it’s on and tune right to it? Would you be willing to pay a flat $500 fee to be able to watch your TV in a window and search the internet (using voice control) in another on the same box?

Just last night I was watching the original Iron Chef. I noted to my younger daughter that these shows were about twenty years old and it was possible that some of the chefs had died since the show had aired. She got really sad and said, “Can’t we look it up? Can’t we find out if they’re still alive?” I said, “Yeah, but I’d have to go to my computer in the bedroom and I’m not going to do that right now, since you’re sitting on my lap.”

With an Xbox One, I could have just snapped the video, brought up a browser and looked up the Wikipedia articles on each Iron Chef to find out. With my voice.

(They’re all still alive, by the way. Which is a relief.)

Unfortunately, this is a lot like the fidelity of Blu-ray video. I didn’t understand it until I saw it in person, and people aren’t going to understand the UNLIMITED POWAH of the Xbox One’s TV integration and voice commands until they see it for themselves.

But once they do, they will need it and then they’ll tell all their friends. And people who have no intention of playing Titanfall or Metal Gear Solid: The Phantom Pain will buy an Xbox One simply because it makes it easier to use their TV.

“But the DRM thing! The always-online thing-”

Has all been walked back. Yes, it was stupid of them to do that, but by the time the console is released it’ll be a historical footnote.

“But the PS4 is $100 cheaper!”

Yes, it is. But it has no motion or voice controls and all it does is play games. It’s nothing more than a souped-up PS3 (that can’t even play PS3 games).

Micorosft is trying to open up a new market and I think they’re going to succeed.

I Give Up.

Sometimes I try defending the game industry from critics who decry it as misogynistic.

“Female video game characters are shallow!” Not all of them, and frankly, most MALE video game characters are shallow too. A lot of games use interactivity to cover up their poor storytelling.

“Female video game characters are objects, solely there to be rescued by men!” I can name ten female characters off the top of my head who are either protagonists or integral to the plot of the game without being damsels in distress. And that list grows every year. We really are getting better.

“Female video game characters are usually portrayed in stripper outfits!” Yeah, well…okay, I don’t have a response for that.

But I was still trying.

And then along come THESE assholes:

Okay, This One’s For Everyone Who’s Telling Me To Keep Working On Inaria…

This is Dungeons of Dredmor.

Notice how the first feature of the game is that it’s a Roguelike but with a modern interface. Sound familiar?

Notice how awesome those screenshots look.

And now notice this announcement that it’ll be released for $4.99.

This just reinforces the idea that Inaria was wrong game, wrong time (not to mention all its other flaws). I need to do something completely different, and frankly, I need to release it now.

Fortunately, I do have a couple of ideas.

The Conferences

Okay, I’ve now watched all three of the major conferences (Microsoft, Sony and Nintendo). What follows are, of course, my opinions.

First let’s declare the winner:

Nobody.

Everybody presented very solid stuff. Nobody had an announcement that pushed them over the top.

So let’s start with Microsoft.

Tomb Raider looks like Crystal Dynamics looked at Uncharted 2’s sales and said “Hey, that’s OUR money!” The look of the demo reminded me very much of Uncharted, plus they really, really like beating the crap out of Lara. Do not like. What I do like is the fact that this game will potentially tell the story of how Lara goes from a fit and attractive but otherwise unexceptional 21-year-old woman to…well, Lara Croft. I also love the idea of a hub world and that attaining new abilities will allow you to access new areas – in other words, it’s apparently going to be a 3D Metroidvania, and there are not enough 3D Metroidvanias in this world. A new one, well done, and featuring the grande dame of action-adventure gaming sounds like fun to me.

Modern Warfare 3. Did you like 1? Did you like 2? You’ll like this one. I actually like the fact that the gloves are off and it’s a global conflict – yes, several missions in MW2 were set in the continental United States, but at this point Infinity Ward and Sledgehammer have basically stated, “Screw it – everybody hates each other, which means we can set our missions anywhere in the world we want. Even in NOT_DESERT!”

Tim Schafer. Is doing. A Kinect game. About. The Muppets. A lot of other people think that this might be his time in hell after publishing two excellent but commercially unsuccessful games, but frankly I see this as a real opportunity – and I believe he does too. Plus, my son is going to go absolutely spare when he finds out; guess I’ll be buying a Kinect (and possibly a second Xbox for the living room) soon.

By the same token – a Kinect game where you tour a virtual Disneyland. It’s brilliant. Plus, son, spare, etc.

It’s nice to know that the dialog in Gears of War 3 will be just as horrendous as in 1 and 2.

Oddly enough, Microsoft was the only company not to unveil any new hardware at their conference; but then why should they? The 360 is working and selling well, and the Kinect doesn’t need a new version – it’s the software interpretation of what it sees and hears that is improving.

SONY:

Uncharted 3. Day 1 purchase, will play until my eyes won’t focus, but then we already knew that.

Okay, 27-inch PS3-branded 3D TV. Yaw – wait, you can use the same tech to allow two people to play a shooter on the same screen without needing splitscreen? Finally, a decent use for shutter-based 3D! Who cares about the actual 3D – let’s bump the refresh rate up to 240 so four people can play!

Sony is still committed to the Move, and Dead Man’s Quest actually looks pretty fun to play. It also has the honor of being a new game, rather than a franchise game with Move support smushed into it (like, say, I don’t know, NBA 2K12).

The NGP is now called the Vita. It’s basically a super-PSP. It fixes almost all the PSP’s problems, is backwards-compatible with (downloadable) PSP games and starts at $250. And if you want, it can be your phone. Why didn’t the NGP win the conference? It’s still missing the L2, L3, R2 and R3 buttons, ensuring compatibility problems even with some PSX games – ‘sright folks, its controls aren’t as good as the original DualShock’s. How long do we have to wait until they fix this? Plus, I can’t wait to see how long you get on a single charge – I’d bet it won’t be more than 4 hours.

Ruin. What started out looking like a Diablo ripoff for the Vita got freakin’ awesome when they announced that you can a) build your own dungeons to prevent other players from looting your stuff and b) save your game on the Vita, load it on the PS3 and keep playing. More of that, please.

Whoa, a new Sly game? On the PS3? Did the Sly Collection sell that well? Not that I mind, I’m just surprised.

Nintendo:

Nintendo talked about new software for the DSi, 3DS and Wii U. Notice what system wasn’t on that list? That’s right, the Wii. That strongly suggests to me that the Wii is effectively dead – all Nintendo’s efforts from now on will be put into the 3DS and the Wii U.

Speaking of the Wii U…what the HELL is up with that controller? It’s way too big and bulky, and it’s not its own device; Nintendo tried hard to gloss over it but they were forced to admit that the controller isn’t a gaming platform. Why not? It’s got wi-fi, a nice screen and a processor; why can’t it operate separately from the Wii U? Plus, there’s no way that controller will sell for less than $100.

And Nintendo is again trying to grab a piece of the older market, but the games they’re doing so with are not console-exclusive

This brings up something I’ve been thinking about. Nintendo really, really doesn’t like controversial material on their consoles. Blood? Fighting? Bullets? Okay, they’ll let that slide. But when was the last time you heard about the “controversial new game for the Wii”? Can you imagine playing through a mission like Modern Warfare 2’s “No Russian” on a Nintendo console? Or seducing Liara T’Soni? This is why Nintendo is still the kiddie pool – they refuse to allow the deeper emotional experiences that these games provide on their console because they know somebody somewhere will get pissed off. And Nintendo can’t stand that.

Nintendo could have won, you know. They could have easily won this conference. All they would have had to do was say, “Okay, here’s the controller for the Wii U. It’s a traditional dual-analog controller. Why? Because the Wii U has motion control and voice recognition built in, and it’s as good or better than the Kinect. Its graphics are on par with the current systems, and to prove that we’re serious about catering to mature gamers, here’s a console-exclusive FPS based off of modern specops missions, including the killing of Osama bin Laden. We’re also beefing up our network to handle all the new multiplayer games that will be released for the system.” Sony and Microsoft would have thrown in the towel right then.

Okay! Going to close with my favorite trailer from E3 so far. Content warning. (In other words, it’s not a game for a Nintendo platform.)

Temptation

In my last post my friend Dave commented thusly:

I know you’re out of games and I know you’re not into moving away any time soon. But I feel I must say that BioWare Austin does have many programmer positions currently open and actively hiring. And I’m not saying this just to get an iPad. I’m saying this because I know you’d like it here.

Dave, you tempt me, but

a) the last time I tried to apply to Bioware Austin they didn’t seem particularly interested in me, even though Wynne vouched for me. I don’t think anything has happened that would make me any more appealing to them now.

b) we have no money to move and are not in a moving mode anyway, and

3) EA Louse seems to suggest that Bioware may be having some troubles of their own. I hate to be swayed by such fearmongering, but this is my family I’m talking about.

So I’ll be sticking it out up here. I think finding another contract job as well as getting Inaria ready for publication is my best bet right now.

What. The. Hell.

Okay! Let’s talk about expectations vs. reality.

I was recently hired by Somanetics to do some refactoring of their codebase and fix some graphical issues with one of their embedded devices. My contract was to last six months, after which Somanetics would have the option to hire me. When my current boss introduced me to one of the VPs and described what I could do, the VP became excited at the thought of how a “real” graphics programmer could improve the software. As we walked out of his office, my current boss remarked, “You probably just doubled your contract!”

Now, I knew that Somanetics had been bought recently, but that didn’t seem to be affecting day-to-day operations of the company.

So everything was fine. Hunky to the dorey, in fact…until last Wednesday.

When we discovered that our new parent was closing this office upon completion of our current project.

Fortunately, the other contractors and I are considered essential to the completion of said current project, so we’ll stay on until probably the first of next year. Then I’m going to be unemployed again.

It’s almost as if Fate or Destiny or the Great Will of the Macrocosm is saying, “Look, man. GO INDIE. How many companies do we have to destroy before you get it? Just do it! Just trust yourself and do it!”

Goodbye, My Love

Well, my wife and I have talked about it…and it doesn’t seem like I can stay in professional game development. For one thing, we don’t want to move again so soon (it’s been less than a year since we left Austin). And for the other…we just can’t put up with the uncertainty of the industry any more.

So I made a video to say goodbye.

Don’t worry, this blog is not going defunct. In fact, I’ll have more time to devote to it than ever!