Thursday, December 9, 2010

Pip Pip Cheerio!

Did you know that Foyles at 113-119 Charing Cross Road in London England is in the Guinness Book of Records as the world's largest bookship in terms of shelf area and number of titles on display?

Well, one of those books is "Level Up! The Guide To Great Game Design" and I'll be at Foyles on Saturday December 11th from 10:30 am until they kick me out signing copies!

Remember every copy of Level Up! gets an unique level design drawn just for you!! So, put on some warm clothes and come on by to say "hi!" - see you there!!

Wednesday, December 1, 2010

And it makes a great Christmas gift!

Yeah, that's me on Electric Playground talking about Level Up!

You can watch it right here!

Friday, November 12, 2010

I Think I've Found My Limit For Video Game Violence

SPOILER ALERT - if you haven't played Call Of Duty: Black Ops yet, you might not want to read this - despite the following, I do recommend the game - it is a highly polished, exciting experience... with one exception.

In COD: BO you play a black ops agent who participates in many "wetwork" missions over the years starting in 1960's Communist Cuba and going through Viet Nam and beyond (I haven't finished the game at this time of writing)

At the start of the game, the player is offered an opportunity to skip "graphically violent" sequences. In the previous COD game (Call Of Duty: Modern Warfare 2) this sequence had the player cast as a (ANOTHER SPOILER) undercover agent who participates in a terrorist attack on an airport. The player is given the option to gun down innocent civilians who flee in terror and beg for their lives.

Or the player could also choose to not gun down the innocents and just follow along with the terrorists as they did their dirty work. Either way, the story still progressed, but the player could choose to opt out of the violence - kind of the gaming equivalent of being a "conscientious objector."

COD:BO does has the same start of game prompt, but this time the violent act was so odious I was actually stunned by it. In it, the player is told to smash a glass window. Which I did. Then the character puts a pieces of broken glass into the mouth of an interrogation victim and is prompted to punch the victim in the mouth.


Now, I understand the place of violence in games. I've found myself defending the use of violence in games on several occasions. To confess, I had no problem gunning down the victims in COD:MW2. But this torture sequence felt so gratuitous, so wrong, that I couldn't bring myself to press the button.

After a few seconds, the game went ahead and punched the victim for me (not once but twice) so the story could continue, but it left me feeling really bad.

Bad about being given the option to do such a heinous act (no more heinous than gunning down hundreds of enemy soldiers I suppose but in a shooter, that's part of the territory), bad about my character who I had perceived as a "good guy" up until this point and bad for the state of gaming in general. That this is what it takes to get attention in games these days. As much as I respect the Treyarch design team's work, this sequence just felt like it went too far and left a bad taste in my mouth. (no pun intended)

Like I said before, COD:BO is a great game. It is definitely worth your play time. It's well designed, very exciting, very cinematic. The controls are great and the camera is great. It's an admirable effort, especially considering what the company went through earlier this year.

But it didn't need a torture scene to be a great game. And it's sad the team didn't realize that.

Friday, October 29, 2010

The top 5 scariest games

Halloween is almost here and what better way to spend it, then with a scary video game?

Here's five that scared the crap out of me:

The Uninvited (ICOM Simulations)

Sure the graphics don't look like much, but this game was the scariest thing you could find back in 1986 - good story, clever puzzles and some genuine scares.

Alone in the Dark (Infogrames)

As far as I'm concerned, the first true horror video game was this 1992 PC game. The graphics were considered pretty awesome for the time (check out that 50 polygon rocking horse in the above image!) and true 3D gaming was still a new thing. This game was all about mood and it had it in spades. Great story, creepy sound effects and great pacing. A classic.

Resident Evil 2 (Capcom)

The game that cemented zombies into the hearts of gamers everywhere. Despite a few head-scratching-ly obtuse puzzles, the sadistic typewriter save system and wretched "tank" controls (which I argue actually adds to the player's feeling of helplessness), Resident Evil 2 is a fantastic game filled thick with mood, awesome sound and cinematic design and genuine scares (alligator any one?)

Siren (SCEA)

One of the things I love about Siren is while it is set in a very traditional Japanese location - which gave a western player like myself a feeling of unfamiliarity throughout. The game feels is steeped in helplessness - only been rivaled by the recent Heavy Rain. When you realize that not all of the 10 playable characters are going to survive the game (despite your best efforts) a feeling of fate and doom settles on you. Then there is the sightjacking. Seeing an enemy coming (or even worse looking around to realize he's STANDING RIGHT NEXT TO YOU!) is truly terrifying. If all of this wasn't enough, Japan Studio's method of using real actor faces on 3D models dips deep into the Uncanny Valley, right into creep-ville. A truly scary game.

Amnesia: The Dark Descent (Frictional Games)

I just started playing this first person survival horror game, but it builds such great mood and creates such great scares, I had to add it here. The player doesn't even get the option to fight the monsters, all they can do is run and hide and pray that it goes away. Beautiful visuals, great sound design and unique play really makes this one not to miss.

Tuesday, October 19, 2010

October is the time for tormenting children

For those of you who haven't played Limbo on XBLA, you are in for a treat. Limbo is the creepiest game I've played in awhile without being overly trying to scare you.

If you already have played Limbo and you are looking for another game that brutally kills small children, then look no further than Gretel and Hansel 2!

This game not only looks beautiful - with WATERCOLOR ARTWORK (!!!) - but it also has a very macabre sense of humor. It's obviously not for kids.

You can play Gretel and Hansel 2 here!

Thursday, October 14, 2010

In full Zombie Mode

A lot of game designers and players have been telling me lately they are suffering from zombie burn-out. I can understand this feeling as zombies are in A LOT of games (close to 250 by my last count!) however, there's no denying that zombies are popular and there's a reason why they are so popular (at least to us video game designers):

Zombies are the perfect video game enemy.

Why don't you ruminate, while I illuminate with these ten reasons:

1) Zombies are creepy! Well, duh, but as a former video game artist, I can tell you that zombies are fun to draw. Go ahead. Draw one. RIGHT NOW!

Hey, that turned out pretty good! Are you sure you haven't done this before?

The truth is no matter how gross they are, rotting, skeletal, bloated, grotesque, humanoids just look cool. They are horrifying and they evoke a response of fear and revolution from a player. Which is good, 'cause they're suppose to be scary and that's plenty of motivation to get a player to run or blast 'em!

2) Zombies 'plode real good! They show off effects and gibbing particle systems and make the players go "ooooh!"

3) Zombies work in a variety of genres: They work in horror, they work in sci-fi, they work in action, they work in fantasy. They work in shooters, platformers, brawlers, action games, adventure games, fighting games... even puzzle games! See that image above? It's from "Rock of the Dead" a music/zombie game. THEY WORK IN EVERY-THING.

4) Zombies can be scary... and funny! Put a funny bear head on a zombie in Dead Rising? Hil-larious. The ones in Plants vs. Zombies with the traffic cones on their heads? Comedy gold.

5) Zombies come back. A zombie is shot and falls to the floor. But if it gets back up, no player is going to yell "CHEAP!" The player expects it. (Heck, I'm a little disappointed if it doesn't) And as a game designer, any enemy that can provide "double-duty" is one worth having in a game.

6) Zombies (turtle) are in Mario games. As I always say, if they're good enough for Miyamoto, they're good enough for me.

7) Zombies travel in packs. The best basic enemy is one that can be replicated when it makes sense. This means ninjas, masked terrorists and zombies. Pirates? Not so much.

And with new technology that allows you to swap parts and decorations, you can push 100's of them on the screen with no two looking exactly alike!

8) Zombies eat players. If you were to ask anyone what the worst way to go is, I'm sure "being eaten by something else" would rate pretty high up on the list. And that's just creepy (see point #1) Fortunately, because zombies have to get up close to eat you, this allows the player some time to blast them with a shotgun or chop their heads off with a katana or simply run away. That's gameplay, folks.

9) Zombies inspire interesting gameplay - sure, shooting zombies in the head is always fun, but creating barricades to keep the zombies out, protecting helpless (hapless) NPCs, the constantly advancing waves of undead work great for shooters to brawlers to tower defense type games.

10) Anything can be zombified. OMG is that a ZOMBIE BEAR?!!! (I just want to go on the record as saying we had zombie crocodiles in Maximo back in 2001)

As a result, Zombie Mode" has become all of the rage in gaming. Every major game has one. Here are some of the better ones...

Red Dead Redemption: Undead Nightmare - Cowboys? Zombies? Count me in. Low-tech weapons like reloadable six-shooters, bowie knives and lassos are not as effective as a chain-gun or flamethrower and therefore zombies become a much greater threat to the player.

Call of Duty: World at War Zombie Mode - two words. Nazi Zombie. Add the word "jetpack" onto that and you have the perfect video game enemy. The CoD zombies are particularly cool as they have glowing eyes. I don't know what it is about glowing eyes, but they're almost as cool as jetpack. Zombie mode is nothing new to the CoD franchise, but my personal favorite is in Black Ops where you battle zombies as President John F. Kennedy.

Scott Pilgrim vs. The World - To play this you need the zombie code. On the game's title screen, simply input down, up, right, down, up, right, down, up, right, right, right -- that's "DUR DUR DURRR", presumably the sound a zombie makes. It doesn't add too much to the game other than some enemy graphics, but c'mon Scott Pilgrim vs. Zombies!

So maybe the next time you see a zombie in your favorite game... be a little more sympathetic to the game designer and then blow those zombies away!!

Tuesday, October 12, 2010

If it's October, It must be time to update my blog.

As you might have already noticed, I'm really slow about updating my blog. Sorry.

It doesn't mean I'm not thinking about things to blog about, I'm just not doing it. However, I am going to make a "End of the Year" resolution (why wait until the New Year?) to update with a post once a week. I might fail miserably, but I'm gonna try.

And since it always helps to put my money where my mouth is, here's a preview of a few topics:
  • Video Game Box Covers Should Not Be Like Movie Posters
  • Everything I learned about Licensed Games I learned from Batman
  • The 10 Things a Publisher is Thinking During A Pitch Meeting
  • Survival Horror Games Aren't Dead... yet
Check back and see you soon!

Sunday, August 29, 2010

Great sci-fi that would make great games.

Once in awhile, a website's post inspires me to write up a very long response. This time, it was io9's "10 awesome science fiction stories for gamers" - which was based on the premise that the list included 10 awesome sci-fi stories that had yet to be made into games.

However, I felt that their list didn't really cut it.

So I offer up my own "10 awesome sci-fi stories that would make a great game and haven't really been done justice if they already have been":

Ender's Game: Sure, every space-faring RTS feels like Orson Scott Card's book, but what hasn't been done is the "Zero-G strategy/shoot-em-up" that composes the first half of Ender's school daze.

Logan's Run: By William Nolan and George Johnson. Sci-Fi Survival Horror. 'Nuff said.

I am Legend: While Richard Matheson's book strattles the line between Sci-Fi and Horror, this is another candidate for a Survival Horror game. Or, howabout a "Tecmo's Deception" style game where you build traps to lure the vampires to their demise...

The 10th Victim/Hunter Killer: The 10th Victim was a pretty poor movie based on Robert Scheckley's book series, but while the competitive nature of "The Big Hunt" has been often imitated in many FPS death match modes, no game has ever quite captured in the way it plays out in the book.

Dream Park: Take World of Warcraft and let you choose the genre - that's the basis of this fantastic (and predictor of MMO's and LARPing by at least 20 years) book by Larry Nivens and Steve Barnes.

Snow Crash: IIRC there was one attempt to make Neil Stephenson's book into a game, but it never captured the Saint's Row meets Neuromancer vibe the game should have. At the very least, sword-fighting melee combat is a must.

Sunshine: Danny Boyle's 2007 would make for a great survival horror game in the tradition of System Shock. Hard Sci-Fi, IMHO, is pretty overlooked in gaming.

The Lensmen: E.E. "Doc" Smith's Galactic Patrol of "cops and robbers" in space (and pre-cursor to the Green Lantern Corps) would make for all kinds of great gaming experiences. "Grand Theft Auto in Space" is the obvious choice.

The Automatic Detective: A. Lee Martinez's hard-boiled noir story with the detective cast as a killer robot with a heart of gold would make for a great adventure game.

Flash Gordon and/or Buck Rogers: Other than the Colecovision "Buck Rogers: Planet of Zoom" and the Commodore 64 "Flash Gordon" game, I don't remember any video game based on either of these two classic sci-fi properties since the mid-80's. Laser blasters and swordplay, cigar-shaped rockets, jetpacks, space pirates and evil space dicators? Count me in!

Got any of your own suggestions? Post them in the comments section!

Tuesday, August 17, 2010

Michel Gondry

"Every good idea borders on the stupid."

I used that quote from Michel Gondry in Level Up! and I did because have a lot of respect for him and his work. Even though we live in a world overflowing with creative imagery, some how his visions remain unique and very personal.

So when I recently discovered "The Work of the Director: Michel Gondry" I found his list of his "10 principles*" and who he learned them from.

1) My Mother: We don't fall from the earth because we are attached to it.

2) My Father: You're gonna be all right.

3) Mr Lefoll (school teacher) An infinite straight line goes forever.

4) A friend of my parents: Draw from real life, not from a picture.

5) Physics teacher: When you do a demonstration, don't use the word "because" but "so" instead. In others words, don't start with the consequence to find the cause, but start with the cause to find the consequence.

6) French teacher: Your life is as interesting as any celebrity's life on TV. Tell me about it.

7) Guy Bouart: Even if it's just a fly, it's alive. Don't play with it.

8) Jean-Louis Bompoint: You have to finish your project.

9) Bjork: Follow your instinct.

10) Julie Fong: You are much stronger than what you think.

11) George Bermaan (my lifetime producer): Don't ask the question if you expect a negative answer.

12) My brother Twist: You can't be in love with your girlfriend everyday. It comes and it goes and it's normal. But in always comes back in general.

* just like Gondry to have twelve "ten principles"

Wednesday, July 28, 2010

Dorks in the forest!

Hey all,

You can hear me talking about video game design, Level Up! and other junk on the Dork Forest Radio internet show today at 2pm.

Just follow the link to the Dork Forest!

Monday, July 19, 2010

Come meet me at Comic Con!

Wanna meet me in person? I'll be attending San Diego Comic Con signing a FREE COMIC BOOK that I co-wrote!

Come to the THQ (booth 5145)
on Saturday July 24th at 11:00am

What's the book? Stay tuned for the big announcement!

Wednesday, July 14, 2010

Why can't I combine Warrior and Ship to get a Pirate?

Is it a game or merely a pass-time? The puzzle game DoodleGod presents an interesting dilemma.

First of all, it has nothing to do with Doodling. And you aren't really God in it - more like an Alchemist. And yet DoodleGod is fun and very addicting. Think of it as a simple (and free) Scribblenauts where logic plays a bigger part in solving the puzzle.

The goal is start with the four elements (Fire, Water, Earth and Wind) and create natural and technological advancements by combining them together two at a time. What makes this work is the great graphics and presentation.

It's not a bad way to kill a couple (or several hours)

Thursday, July 1, 2010

What? A level designed just for YOU!

So many of you have been asking me just I mean when I say "I will design an unique level just for you?" The answer is: Anything you want! All you need to do is buy a copy of Level Up!, find me at a trade show (like E3 or GDC) or a book signing and decide is:

1) Who is your main character
2) Who is their arch-enemy
3) What is the object of their desire
4) Where does all this action takes place

The fun has already begun! Check out these custom-made levels!:

My lovely wife wanted her level to be Disneyland's Haunted Mansion with a security guard blocking her way to me with an engagement ring. (It's a long story)

Another Level Up! reader wanted his level to be himself at Disneyland with his goal a plate of Mickey Mouse Pancakes. Watch out for that bad-tempered Goofy! (I'm sensing a theme here...)

This Level Up! reader wanted the Flash fighting the Trickster in Central City!

See? Whatever you want! I look forward to designing YOUR level when we meet!

Tuesday, June 22, 2010

God help me, this looks so delicious...

OK, you know how the title of this website promises "other nonsense" than video games? Well, here we are.

(just what does this have to do with bacon?)

While looking around for "explosions" on Google image, I came across an intriguing listing for something called "The Bacon Explosion."

The Bacon Explosion is: cooked bacon wrapped in sausage wrapped in woven bacon strips which is then barbecued.

Did you see that picture above? OMG! It looks SOOOO good!! The recipe for those of you brave enough to try it at home can be found here.

Bon appetite!

Monday, June 21, 2010

Level Up! advance copies in hand!

That's right, I received my advanced copies of Level Up! this weekend and it is thick!

Here are ten reasons to pre-order at your favorite e-tailer or bookstore (or just click link to the right!) Level Up! RIGHT NOW!

1) It has over 15 years of video game design experience packed into one book
2) Over 400 original illustrations and diagrams
3) It's funny (at least that's what I'm told)
4) It contains a full outline for writing a Game Design Document and making pitches
5) It has hand exercises to prevent cramping from playing games
6) It contains an award-winning chili recipe
7) Did I mention it's thick!? (almost 500 pages of Game Design goodness!!)
8) Anyone who buys the book is entitled to a custom made unique and free level design
9) All the cool kids are doing it
10) I will be your best friend forever

Wednesday, June 2, 2010

Level Up! due out June 11th!!

Hey all,

Things are really heating up here at Level Up! central!

First off, Level Up! has an official release date - June 11th (just in time for my birthday! Did I mention it makes a great gift?)

Secondly, there is a HUGE (and I mean HUGE) 94 page preview of the book at including the introduction by Danny Bilson, the infamous "wife-blinder" chili recipe and the debut of "Farm Wars" the greatest game never made!

Don't forget there's plenty of time to pre-order a copy of the book - just click on the link at the right!


Wednesday, May 19, 2010

A little advice

A co-worker of mine just had his first child - which reminded me of the time when my own first child was born.

For those of you who haven't been there, even though we do almost none of the work, being a expecting father can be pretty stressful. besides all of the worrying about whether you are going to be a good dad (or at least better than your own dad), you worry about whether your wife is going to get through the pregnancy alright, that the baby is going to be healthy, that the doctor doesn't screw anything up like dropping the kid on the floor or cutting the wrong thing during the circumcision.

Once the pregnancy was over (which happened around six in the morning) and all the tests were done and Mom and baby were all cleaned up and all the family and friends had come and gone and everyone had finally settled down for the night (this was around 9 pm), I finally felt like I could relax.

A gigantic weight of nine months of worry lifted off of my shoulders and for about five minutes, I experienced the greatest peace in my life. Pure, unadulterated relief.

And then I looked over at my new daughter and I realized I was going to have to worry about this little person for the rest of my life. And then the weight came slamming back down twice as hard as before. But that's OK, that's what being a father's all about too.

So my advice to my co-worker and everyone else out there is to savor those fleeting moments of peace and happiness. They don't come that often, but when they do, they sure are great.

Wednesday, May 12, 2010

Two great things that taste great together!

One of the first handheld games I ever owned was the Nintendo Donkey Kong Game N' Watch a friend of mine brought back for me from Japan. I loved that thing and sadly had to sell it while in college for some rent money. SIGH.

Years later, I designed the hydra boss fight for the original God of War - It's a pretty well-loved level and pretty damn hard, but had some great visuals (Par for the course with the talented GoW team)

How do these two topics go together? Behold!

The mad geniuses at Swing Swing Submarine created Greek and Wicked - a mash-up of Old Skool tech and New School cool... and it is glorious!!

By the way, have you ever wondered what inspired the "Kratos in the jaws of the Hydra" sequence? Well, wonder no more.