Tuesday, December 23, 2008

Batman lands on Little Big Planet!

I love Batman and I love Little Big Planet. So what could be better than the two of them together? Check out images from my latest LBP level:

In what will probably be a mistake - mixing education with entertainment - I try to teach the player about the history of Batman while making them jump past all types of hazards. Fight baddies, collect goodies and drive the Batmobile!

You can play it too on Little Big Planet. Just search for:

The History of Batman Part 1 (1939-1949) PSN: MightyBedbug

Heart it if you like it!

Monday, December 22, 2008

Current Top Ten LBP levels

So I had written up a really detailed love letter to Little Big Planet - how much I really love playing the game, how great it looks, all the neat things it makes me research when making levels (Shadow Puppets, Turning devices, etc) - I put together images and lots of text... and then the blog tool crashed out.

So what I have instead is a Top Ten (OK, more than 10) list of really really cool LBP levels instead:

10. Star Wars PSN: shinta123 / Sack to the Future series (part 1, 2 and 3) PSN: Hymanator/Ghostbusters PSN:Stryden - These levels do what LBP does best - allows creators to make levels/homages to their favorite movies in the LBP/Sweded style. It's always fun to see what gets highlighted and left out. The Sack to the Future levels also features some very clever asset switching - some of which I'm still scratching my head over.

9. Burning with Dinosaurs PSN:Blue-Alloy/Fly me to the moon... PSN:thespaff - Two levels that show of the charm of the LBP graphics - allowing creators to make beautiful themed levels that feel like they've leapt off the wall of a kindergarten class.

8. Duck Hunt from the NEW - NEW GAMEPLAY PSN:shiftshift/Libidius.jp PSN: RRR30000 - Two levels that really show off the flexability of the LBP engine - both shooters in this case and both based on classic game - Duck Hunt and Gradius.

7. Little Dead Space PSN:DarknessBear - fantastic use of light and sound. A little light on gameplay but really rich on atmosphere.

6. Tick Tock Clock 2.0.1 (Episode 1) PSN:TOBSn08 - An extremely complex and playable level, Tick Tock Clock also looks very nice.

5. Jack McSetback & the Spikey Stone of Doom PSN: Wyth - The best of the "temple" levels I've seen - the gameplay is very solid and there are some nice touches, especially the use of realistic physics to trigger the temple's traps.

4. Sackhouette - Forest King's Request - PSN:Luckett_X - Luckett has mastered the "Patapon" silouette style and I'll be damned if I know how he does it. He has several in the series and be warned, they are all hard as nails. But really pretty to look at.

3. 300 Spartans - PSN:branditimus (also Escape the Burning Building) branditimus' levels are very straight forward, almost traditional, but he comes up with very clever ideas and visuals that make you forget that you're playing LBP. I'm looking forward to seeing what he does next.

2. World of Colour - PSN:geosautus - (also Mad Mansion) - geosautus really understands not only what it takes to make a good playable level, but also does some neat trickery with reward systems. He is one of the LBP communities' most solid creators.

1. The Comic Book Adventures of Super Sackboy! - PSN:MightyBedbug - OK, this one is mine, but it's my blog! If you liked "Comic Zone" and fighting giant robots, then you'll like this. Make sure to heart me! Also keep your eyes open for my next one coming soon: The History of Batman part 1 1939 - 1949.

Monday, November 3, 2008


If you haven't already, you should play Growcube - a highly addictive puzzle game. Using no dialogue whatsoever, the game is extremely clear (and yet not, as that is the nature of the game) and it is completely adorable. The creator also made the excellent Grow RPG for those of you who like a little Dn'D with your puzzles.

Friday, October 31, 2008


Did I scare you? Good.

While I haven't made any scary games (yet) I have played a lot of them and think I have a pretty good idea of what does and doesn't make a game scary. You know the general list of what makes a good horror game: Building mood and suspense, foreshadowing of threat to the player, and the critical importance of lighting, music and sound design.

But rather than talking about how Survival Horror is a dying breed (like in Leigh Alexander's excellent article) let's look instead at the some things found in survival horror games that really don't make it scary.

The filthy room

I don't suffer from Rhypophobia (fear of filth) but developers who make horror games sure seem to. Look at the image above. Silent Hill doesn't need a brave hero to defeat it's demonic inhabitants, it needs a Merry Maid and a tanker truck full of disinfectant. I just don't find dirt terrifying. What make befouled lavatories so scary are the smell and having to touch something: Two senses that are completely absent from a video gamer's "vocabularly". I'm sure the intention is to implied that the location is abandoned or old but it just comes off as a texture artist making the most use of their bump maps.

Decorating with blood and corpses

OK. We get it. There are horrible monsters here. They will kill people. And they will be trying to kill me next. However, what is supposed to be horrifying comes off as predictable and in some cases, strangely comedic. I picture a zombie taking time to pose a corpse strung up on a wall "just so." "Does this look good?" Says the zombie. "It's a little crooked" says his undead pal. "Howabout now?" says the first zombie straightening the body out a little... I thought monsters were supposed to eat people, not decorate with them? And what's even worse is when there are copious amounts of blood splashed all over the place. The human body does hold 6 quarts of blood, but come on!

Does the above image below look like enough blood to paint an entire room? You'd be lucky to get two walls covered out of that. And believe me, I've tried.


I love zombies. I play every zombie game, watch every zombie movie, but I think people are too used to zombies. The sight of a rotted animated corpse is just too common place these days. Besides, the real impact that zombies have never been explored in a video game - that zombies are our loved one back from the dead. The emotional struggle that happens between wanting to not let go of our dearly departed or shoot them through the head. There are plenty of movies that play off of this theme (Pet Semetary, Sean of the Dead, Return of the Living Dead) but in games, zombies are just filler. Either targets to be shot or masses to show off how cool the instance code is. As the gaming industry isn't able (or has tried) to attain that emotional chord, I think the feeling is that zombies don't have much to offer anymore. Even Resident Evil, the "king" of the zombie games, is going with mutated foreigners rather than the living dead.

I'm looking forward to Dead Space, Resident Evil 5 and Silent Hill Homecoming so maybe there are some good original scares for me in the near future!

Happy Halloween!

Tuesday, September 9, 2008

The Triangle of Weirdness

I'm sure most of you are familiar with the "triangle of quality" - a model that can be applied to any project or product. It often comes to my mind during the course of a game's production. Time, Money, Quality - pick two and forget about the third.

Well, I have my own triangle model - pertaining to the initial stage of game creation. You see, game designers are creative people - sometime too creative for their own good.

Jaded folks that game designers are, they would prefer, particularly with new IP, that everything to be new and different. The problem is, that most people don't have a good frame of reference to everything being new, so I have found that the best strategy is to pick one thing in your game to concentrate all the weirdness on otherwise things become unrelatable to the player.

To illustrate this point, I present The Triangle of Weirdness:

I tell developers to think about which of these three aspects is the weirdest in the game? The Main Character, the activities or the world they are in? It's ok to push the envelope in one direction but if you go off in more than one weirdness direction, you risk alienate your audience.

Let's take some movies for example:

Star Wars (the original one) has a weird world, but the main characters and the activities they do are pretty relatable.

Toy Story has weird main characters but their activities and world are based in reality.

Monty Python has pretty normal (albeit silly) main characters and a real world but things they do in it are bizarre.

Feel free to apply the Triangle Of Weirdness to your own game and see if it isn't the reason why people are having trouble getting into your game!

Tuesday, August 5, 2008

Regarding crates

Crates are the running gag of the video game industry. They're over-used, visually boring and frankly, the cheap way out for designers who don't want to come up with more interesting breakable objects (and artists too lazy to make more complex shapes) - they are handy for jumping on, but what do you do if you break the crate underneath?

Old Man Murray came up with a review system they call "Start to Crate" - the time it takes for a player to encounter a crate from the start of the game. It's a brilliant idea and a good gauge to set your game against for just how creative it is.

Rather than re-invent the crate... er wheel, here is a list of fifty breakable objects you can populate your game with other than the humble (and boring) crate:

Barrel, Treasure chest, Vase, Urn, Garbage can, Mail box, Metal drum, Cargo container, Cardboard box, Cage, Lantern, Light fixture, Desk, Filing cabinet, Fish tank, Toy box, Keg (or cask), Hay bale, Pile of skulls, Dog house, bird house, Idol, Statue, Fortune teller machine, Church donation (Alms) box, Suggestion box, ATM, Hollow tree stump, Log, Attache case, Suitcase, TV or computer monitor, Fuel tank, Refrigerator, Oven, Breadbox, Cabinet, Wardrobe, Parked car trunk, Crypt, Sarcophagus, Coffin, Video game console, Soda machine, Vending machine, Oxygen cannister, Filled shopping cart, One-armed bandit (slot machine), Copy machine and Toilet.

Just make sure you use a little creativity when thinking of these things. Use the crate only as a last resort.

Thursday, May 1, 2008

GTA 4 - best game ever? Hardly.

So like every one else in the gaming world I picked up a copy of Rockstar's newest: Grand Theft Auto IV. I enjoyed the third but never had the time to play Vice City or San Andreas but I had high hopes. I fired up the XBOX 360 version (gotta love those achievements) and started playing.

Even though I'm not a hugh fan of crime dramas, I still liked how I was drawn into the world and its characters. After the first hour of play, I felt like it was more Grand Theft Buying Clothes and Grand Theft Driving Really Slow. Which I was totally fine with as I was getting comfortable with the controls and started to explore around a little further than the ghetto I started off in.

I started to get a bit bothered by the constant "nagging" of my cousin and actually felt bad when I went on a date rather than answered his cries for help (I chalk that up as to me accidently hitting the wrong button on the phone and not knowing how to backtrack to call him back and get directions.)

So, the second time he called, I rushed to save him from the two loan sharks that were pummelling him on a basketball court. While I found the combat a bit sluggish, I was still able to beat them down. And then we rushed to the car to chase after another guy.

Here's where the game went completely in the shitter for me. Because I had been following the story, there had been no previous opportunity for me to drive like a madman. I actually drove pretty slowly when I had my date in the car or when I had to go to my cousin's. Because I was slowly working my way into the game, I didn't feel like I had the chance to put the pedal to the metal and learn how to drive fast. I'm no strange to driving like an idiot - I've played Crackdown, Burnout Paradise and a few other open world games that feature driving - but in GTA IV the combination of a car that handled like shit, a street full of obstacles and traffic AND a time limit that was made even worse by my cousing yelling in my ear every ten seconds was a convergence of factors that made me end of wrecking my car or losing the thug I was chasing. What was worse was each time I lost, I had to go back and re-fight those two loan sharks and the more I learned about fighting and timing blocks, the more sluggish the fighting felt. After seven times I threw down the controller (something I NEVER do) and had to go play some Team Fortress 2 to cool down.

What pisses me off so much is that a game that has been almost universally praised for how perfect it is doesn't have features like pretty common features like dynamic difficulty, alternate pathing that if you know a better route, you can cut the driver off at the pass or even a checkpoint that doesn't require you to fight the two goons over and over again. I'm sorry that's just sloppy design and not worth of a "perfect" score.

I'll give GTA IV another try, but I've already felt like I've seen the emperor's new clothes and it'll never be "perfect" in my mind.

Monday, March 31, 2008

The Hunt for Sandwich Alpha!

Thanks to Kotaku, I discovered a hilarious site: The random video game name generator : http://www.norefuge.net/vgng/vgng.html

After playing with this for more time than I should have, I generated a list of truly awesome (and awful) names. The weird part is, some of these names sound like games I'd want to play (or in some cases, just real games):

Dracula's Battle Hell

Post-Apocalyptic Assault Overdrive

Ancient Dungeon from Planet X

National Lampoon's Submarine Slam

Indian Jetpack Battle

Disney's Cowboy Princess

Vampire Karate Maniac

No one can stop the Sword Machine

On the other hand, some of the randomly generated titles are just plain wacky:

Ultraviolent Amish Basketball

New Punching Strikes Back

Nasty Beast Park

God of Beach Jamboree

Papal Batman Brothers

Giant BMX of Love

Epic Hair Salon Gone Wild!

And one title was generated which could be chillingly accurate:

Indiana Jones and the Wheelchair of Magic (Harrison Ford is looking a little old)

Post your own random name results here!

Tuesday, March 25, 2008

The curse of the T-Shirt!!

I know I'm superstitious when it comes to certain things, but one thing I DO KNOW is that you never ever want to make a T-shirt of your game while you are still in pre-production.
In fact, if I can control it, I will not let a team make the shirt until the first playable build has been created. I've run into this problem many times before and it seems to be a well-known but little talked-about phenomenon in the video game industry.
Share your tales of premature T-shirt tragedy here!

Tuesday, March 11, 2008

Why video game sequels are good

I was recently talking with Chris Taylor of Gas Powered Games and he mentioned that he was really dismayed by seeing all of the "2's, 3's and etc's" on the cover of a gaming magazine. He said that he would rather see an original game than a sequel.

Now I would be inclined to agree with him - I prefer original games. I buy original games just to show my support of a new IP - some of my favorite games are titles like Psychonauts, Mad Maestro, No One Can Stop Mr. Domino, Professor Layton and the longest title ever but I have to admit, I have more than a fair share of sequels on my shelf as well. It's because of this...

I think I now have a good perspective on sequels now that I work for a publisher. Just like in Hollywood, they are "safe bets" - proven IPs that don't need to be explained to the audience - "if you loved the first one, you'll love the second." It's easy to understand why that is appealing but it also leads to some lazy marketing - since they feel that the popularity of the first game will result in "instant sales" for the sequel.

But the blame for the bad taste left in ones mouth for sequels shouldn't be squarely laid on the marketing department. Sequels sadly seem to be an opportunity for teams to "dial in" the gameplay and design. A sequel is an opportunity to get it right. For example, after finishing the first Maximo, I went to my producer with a list of 40 things I thought were broken and needed to be fixed in the sequel (to my amazement, I was able to get 39 of those requests fullfilled!) While the first game sold better, I still think the second game (Maximo vs. Army of Zin) is a better game. And we wouldn't have had the opportunity to make that better game if we didn't make the sequel.

Besides, if there were no sequels, there would be no Grand Theft Auto 3, Call of Duty 4, Burnout Paradise, Curse of Monkey Island, Resident Evil 2 or 4, Lego Star Wars original trilogy... you get the idea.

So, rather than this turning into another boring piece of someone's opinion, here are five pieces of advice on making a video game sequel:

1. Use the "spine" of the sequel as a basis of your game play design. Take everything that was good in the first game and improve on it. Take everything that was bad and throw it away. It seems like common sense, but it's not all that common - things like lousy camera, controls and game play mechanics are "justified" by teams because they were in the first game. Just because they were in the first game, doesn't mean they were that good. Don't be afraid to cut out the bad bits. If it's better than the original, no one will complain.

2. Don't let the player down - they expect certain things in the sequel and you shouldn't disappoint - for example in Maximo vs. Army of Zin, we didn't realize that the players wanted to fight more supernatural enemies - we had them battling clockwork creatures instead. We let the fans down because we deviated away from what they liked in the first title.

3. Name it something other than "GameName 2" - Names are really important to a game. Personally, I think both the Batman (Batman Returns, Batman Begins, etc.) and the Indiana Jones (...and the) movie franchises did it right. Their titles are mysterious and keep furthering the fiction rather than reducing it to a numbered outing. Maybe I'd like the Final Fantasy series more if they named their games this way...

4. Always introduce something new. This may seem to be pandering to marketing, but make sure there are FIVE new things in your game for the back of the box, preferably new gameplay concepts to bring something fresh. Also, try to introduce at least one new hero and villain to the franchise. Remind the player that this is a new experience, not just a rehash.

5. See if you have the freedom to do something wildly different - This takes the buy in of your marketing department so it can be tricky to pull off. I've worked on franchises that were in their 5th, 8th or even 20th incarnation and sometimes a completely new direction is what it needs to shake things up. Give it a try, it worked for both the Grand Theft Auto and Castle Wolfenstein franchises!

I'm sure there's more but that's all I can think of for now. Good advice? Bad advice? I'm on crack? Let me know!

Saturday, March 1, 2008


I'm probably late to this party, but I recently discovered Jason Rohner's "game" Passage and I must say that it's a brilliant piece of work.

A metaphor for adult life, the player walks a 16-bit character (which reminded me of the Activision's Pitfall Harry) on a "life journey" - the first session I played, I walked straight ahead - got a wife (more on that in a second) and scored moderately high points-wise but encountered no treasure (which increases points) and no obstructions either. As I walked along, the area ahead of me (the future) was hazy and as the character aged, the future became clear but the past grew hazy. (It reminded me of a trip I had once when on 'shrooms, but that's a story for another time.) If you "go off the straight and narrow" you encounter treasure chests which can be full or (more often) contain nothing at all.

There are also obstacles which can be circumnavigated alone, but if you have a wife following you, there are many paths you cannot take - as a married man, I can tell you this was the most poignant aspect of the design - a mechanic never really done in games outside of Ico - and one that really brought home the whole theme of the game for me. I would love to see this design idea (caring for someone else) brought to more games - I'm beginning to feel that the era of the solitary hero against the world in games is almost dead.

I highly suggest everyone to experience Passage for yourself here.

Thursday, February 28, 2008

52 games in 52 weeks - madness or awesomeness?

This year at GDC, I attended a talk by Patrick Curry (lead designer of Stubbs the Zombie) who did an interesting project in 2006 on his own blog - he created a new game design idea a week using these rules:

Only new ideas. This will force me to keep the creative juices flowing, which is the primary goal. But it will also prevent me from posting a game concept belonging to a long-lost friend, co-worker, or company.

No work-related ideas. I will steer clear of all game concepts that are directly related to any professional game projects that I have previously worked on or am currently working on. Of course I can’t predict which projects I might work on in the future…

Only good ideas. This will be the hardest rule to follow. But I’m really going to work hard to filter the ideas down to the gems, and then go into as much detail as possible about why I believe it’s a good idea, and would make for fun gameplay.

I haven't read all of his ideas yet but I really like the idea of this challenge and I'm thinking of taking on myself. Am I crazed? More to come...

Tuesday, February 26, 2008

How to create the greatest Boss Battle (and why not to do it!)

Here is my 2008 GDC talk (sans humorous animations) - "How to create the greatest Boss Battle (and why not to do it!) This will make more sense with the audio from the talk - which will presumably be posted at gdcradio. I'll post a direct link when and if it shows up.