Wednesday, December 28, 2016

Dead Rising 4

Dead Rising is one of my favorite games and I've been keeping up with the series since it's inception. I remember seeing early screenshots of the game prior to obtaining an xbox 360 and imagining what a game like that could possibly be like. I still remember fondly the days of playing it for the first time, in my first apartment, with whom would later become my wife. We instantly fell for the charisma of the Frank West character and enjoyed the game thoroughly. It really showed off what was capable with the gaming hardware of the time and I greatly admired it's unique and interesting game design, so much so that I remain more than willing to overlook whatever execution related flaws the game had.

I begin to think Dead Rising was surely well...dead, but lo and behold a sequel came down to us courtesy of a Canadian studio that would later become known as Capcom Vancouver. I had my concerns about what might happen with such a unique game design when put into the hands of western developers after having waded through the deluge of ignorant criticisms laid at the feet of the first game by many gamers on this side of the ocean. Would they give into these stupid complaints about the time limit and about saving survivors? Would they remove the tongue and cheek humor and ridicule?

No! They nailed it! They really, really nailed it!

Dead Rising 2 remains perhaps the most objectively polished game in the series, in fact, It's difficult for me to identify a single element from the first Dead Rising that was not objectively superior in the second. Sure, there are things I consider better as a matter of sheer preference; I happen to find Frank more charismatic than Chuck, but I really liked Chuck too, and it's only those sorts of very subjective claims to superiority on behalf of Dead Rising one that I can make.

Well, except for the jump kick. If I remember correctly, I recall that being far more effective in the first game.

Then, along came Dead Rising 3. Surely this is where things go wrong. Look at the colors! Look at the marketing! They've gone too serious!

...Nope! Dead Rising 3 was good too! No, it wasn't on par with the first two, but it did manage to open up the game to a much larger environment with out completely sacrificing what makes a Dead Rising game work. There were even some improvements; This one handled survivors the best by far. I chalked up some of the decisions made here as concessions, perhaps to Microsoft, to make the game as palatable to as many as possible.

Then along comes Dead Rising 4, featuring none other than Frank himself, back in Willamette even. With a proven track record under their belt, CapVan left me feeling confident walking into DR4. I barely even paid attention to the game prior to release, despite being set on an early purchase (I reserve this behavior for only very, very special games. I really like Dead Rising.)

And, well...I'm having fun with it so far. It's good. It even has some improvements none of the previous titles could lay claim to. But, it also seems that CapVan has finally taken that brutal axe swing at the foundation of the Dead Rising design I have been fearing since the second game was announced.

DR4 has omitted two absolutely vital elements to the DR design and weakened or confusingly altered some of the tertiary elements. The exceedingly important timer mechanic is finally removed and people everywhere who dislike Dead Rising 1, 2, and 3, and probably aren't interested in buying Dead Rising 4, can finally rejoice. Additionally, survivors have been completely removed as a dynamic game mechanic and have been relegated to a collectible upgrade for the game's new vendor system, which in itself is of dubious desirability in a game that ostensibly challenges you to make due with whatever you happen to find.

Less critically, the challenge has been significantly lessened. This is the easiest Dead Rising by far and although there is some cleverness to the way items are now handled, some functionality has been lost. Frank West himself looks very different, inexplicably so, and the new voice actor increasingly distances the new Frank from the one you'll remember. He's written a little differently too; oftentimes I enjoy the writing here, but he also makes some decisions that seem a little out of character to me. Frank was always kind of an asshole, but an asshole with a heart of gold...or at least silver. Frank actually straight up leaves a guy to his potential death and I couldn't quite tell if they were playing it up for humor or if Frank genuinely didn't care if this guy died.

I could go on for some time, but this is starting to get pretty lengthy. All in all, these sorts of decisions have arguably taken Dead Rising 4 out of the survival horror category. This is starting to sound pretty negative, but like I mentioned previously, I am enjoying it and I continue to play. I just find it striking because 1) I love Dead Rising 2) CapVan has consistently impressed me and 3) I've been worried about these sorts of changes since the second game was announced. As things stand currently, it may be my least favorite in the series and I'm a little worried about what this might mean for a potential Dead Rising 5, but it's still fun to see Frank back at it again and it's fun seeing some actual "investigation" mechanics. I'll keep going and we'll see how this one turns out.

Sunday, December 25, 2016

Merry Christmas, 2016

Our Christmas morning was wonderful. The kids had a blast and we loved watching their little imaginations run wild. We had incredible food, lots of laughs, and lots of love.

Thank you to everyone who helped make our 2016 Christmas special.

2016 was a wild year of ups and downs. But on this day, we remember the insurmountable "light that shines in the darkness." Whatever 2017 may bring, God is good and there is no darkness that can swallow up the hope he gives. God bless us all as we pivot from this time and begin to look on toward the new year.

Sunday, December 11, 2016

Resident Evil VII: Return or Departure?

Resident Evil VII is coming out soon and I almost certainly will be making an early purchase. Based on everything I've seen from the demo and trailers, it's got this old survival horror vet interested and while I am highly intrigued to navigate those dingy and disturbingly brown corridors we've been teased with for the past year, I can't say that I quite feel like I'm anticipating a Resident Evil game yet.

As I see it, the Resi- design (as our cross-Atlantic cousins are fond of calling it) is composed of the following essential elements:
  1. Sci-fi monster horror
  2. Resource management
  3. Fight or flight combat
  4. Strategic exploration
  5. Puzzle solving
  6. Camp
  7. "Spec-ops vs Illuminati" theme
  8. Appealing characters
These eight elements comprise the core aesthetic identity of the Resident Evil series. They are explicitly present in the first five titles (and by definition, REmake as well.) The series was redrafted with a new perspective in the excellent Resident Evil 4, although elements 1, 4, and were perhaps more weakly represented and element began to lean a little more in the "fight" direction. With RE5 and RE6 this shift in elemental priorities was pressed to the point where many fans simply could not stop lamenting the decay of this once horrifying franchise into a thrill based action flick. I reckon the further you depart from a combination of these eight things, the less your game is going to come off like Resident Evil.

Capcom, surprisingly some would say, has apparently decided to cater very specifically to the desires of these critics by once again redrafting the Resi design with REVII. As mentioned above, it's certainly caught my eye, but I would be remiss as a true blooded  Resident Evil Fan if I did not confess that I am concerned that some of what I consider to be Resi's essential character may be left behind. Namely, elements 6, 7, 8, and maybe even (although I expect my worries are misplaced on that last one.) Element 3 is almost certainly a pendulous reversal from the shift that took place after RE4's success, which could be fine. 

If those concerns turn out to be well founded, that means around 50% of what is responsible for creating a "Resi Vibe" has been excised from REVII.

You'll notice that I did not address the new first person perspective, despite this being the most obvious departure from previous titles. This is because my aforementioned list of eight is comprised of features that are both:

1) Aesthetically meaningful 
2) Important to Resident Evil in particular

While a FPP is certainly a substantial emotional shift, it only really threatens feature 8, and not even necessarily so. You need only consider Mr. Nukem for proof on the matter.

It does, however, make it more similar to many, many horror games that have arisen from the Indie realm over the past few years.

So, will it be good? Hopefully; things look good so far. But, while this appears to be a return to horror, I'm not yet convinced this is otherwise a return to what we originally fell in love with. Hopefully I'm wrong.

Hell of a logo, though.

Wednesday, September 07, 2016

Everything Is For Sale

In what strikes me as a sad turn of events, Interplay is selling off the remainder of it's intellectual property.

Interplay was a company that (in it's hay-day) was reliably interesting. I fondly remember flipping through magazines and admiring their various releases, noting how unique their catalogue seemed to be even in a time where game design was running wild in a way you no longer see.

Fallout and Fallout 2 were their finest titles in my opinion, but of course this property has long since changed hands to Bethesda. I appreciate what has been done with the property since, even if they have become dramatically different games. I hope we will see good things for the rest of Interplay's legacy as well.

Thursday, August 25, 2016

A Model For Design

I am always looking for models or systems to help me find success.
Here is a model for design in general that I've found helpful.

1) PRE-PRODUCTION.
Obtain Goal
Analyze and Research
Identify and Resolve Problems

2) PRODUCTION.
Develop
Test

3) POST-PRODUCTION.
Implement
Evaluate

This system is applicable to just about any design related issue.

Because I find systems that comport with natural human tendencies more effective, I also considered what seems to be the "natural" human epistimology when putting this together. Note that the third feature of each section implies a return to an earlier part in the process. This means that it is in fact "looping" or reiterative rather than strictly linear. Furthermore, the final feature implies that there is no necessary ending.

I keep this small list around in many places and always put it yp nearby when I begin aomething new. Maybe it can help you, too.

Sunday, August 21, 2016

Thoughts On Ryu, SFV

ISo I've had quite some time to get a feel for SFV now and most of that time has predictably been spent on Ryu.

Ryu retains most of his expected attributes, at least superficially, but you will find that he performs very differently.  All of his normals are woefully short ranged and the exceptions all come with drawbacks. For instance, his st.HK only hits standing opponents and cr.HK is easily punishable on block. St.MK is relatively lengthy, but has an exploitable start up. You will find that in every match up you will be out ranged in the normals department. If you do not accept that he cannot perform at mid range like he could in previous games, you will constantly find yourself whiffing attacks.

The fireball is a good tool, although it requires very thoughtful use. Curiously, it's hitbox begins around the core of the fireball and extends slightly downward, reducing your ability to cause jumping opponents to land on the projectile. It is easily jumped over and the "sweet spot" for fireball/dragon punch is much harder to find and hold onto for zoning in this game. Speaking of dragon punches, the dp is very risky now and gives opponents an opporunity for massively damaging counter hit combos on recovery.

On the good side, the fireball is still a full range projectile, dp is still an invincible reversal, and Ryu has received some great offensive tools in his st.mp, cr.mp, st.lk, st.hp and b+hk. His dashes are also very quick.

The result is a general strategy of using mobility and mid to long range zoning in order to pry open the opportunity to enter close or point blank range, where Ryu's strengths lie. No longer can he be relied on for an ironclad defense. Zoning is not his strongest asset in V, it is merely a necessary tool to begin a close range rush.

There is a second strategy which is less effective and difficult to make win, but may be necessary in some fights. This is to stay highly mobile and carefully build up damage through chipping with fireballs and white damage. It requires lots of focus and sound judgement and takes a long time to produce results, but is viable.

I personally find this change to Ryu a little jarring as I've always valued his ability to "fight from defense." Offense is strategically necessary, but defense necessarily precedes it, as per Sun Tzu:

 "To secure ourselves against defeat lies in our own hands, but the opportunity of defeating the enemy is provided by the enemy himself."

Monday, August 15, 2016

Burnt Sausage


The behavior is reprehensible, of course. Sadly, you will find that it is very typical for artists to feel like they've been treated as disposable, especially in the animation industry. But, in the long run, they will probably be better off without their name on the film.

The movie looks like it is probably terrible and I suspect a viewer would walk away having gained nothing substantial. I am likely among the most guilty of people I know for finding puerile things funny, but I've heard people talking about this movie like an approaching legend or wistfully hoping it will break the "curse" of western animation being relegated to works for children.

If this is the west's ideal for mature animation, then may the Disney bane remain upon us forever.

I can just see the ironic sneering of a writer with indignant condecension at the thought of a Frozen sequel while they write their fiftieth weiner pun.

Final Fantasy XV Is Late



Today I watched FFXV's Hajime Tabata make a heartfelt appeal to Final Fantasy fans everywhere, asking for patience and approval on his (and I presume his superiors') decision to delay the game from September until the end of November.

Sounds good to me. "...A bad game is bad forever," after all and to be honest I had assumed FFXV would never appear in anything like it's current form (although I don't doubt it is completely different from its earlier versions.)

I have not felt passionate about Final Fantasy for many years, despite my enduring love for the original US releases of FFI, II, III, and VII, which were all formative for me. I enjoyed X and I greatly adore XII. The cast lacked the charisma of yore, but there were exceptions.

XIII will never be respected for the chances it took and the successes it achieved because it's flaws were simply overwhelming.

Despite everything, I still hope this one will make me feel that sense of wonder again. It's cast of drably clad boy band members is already inferior at least in terms of visual design, but maybe this one will really be the one we've all been waiting for.
Who knows? I'm game.

Saturday, August 13, 2016

Confidence and Audacity

A friend of mine recently passed along some e-mail correspondence to me, which resulted in a short discussion about how to deal confidently with employers when looking for work.

Here's some advice:

1) Avoid statements about internal speculation, they usually come off as unsure or timid. For example "I think..." or I feel..." should be avoided. "I think I'm great for this position." is not as good as "I am great for this position."

2) Focus on the value you bring and not on what you need from the employer. Focusing on your needs when applying for work can come off as desperate, weak, needy, or even insincere. Use statements about how good you are at what you do or how great it would be for the company to have you.

3) Think of everything you say as dropping a foreign idea into your interlocutor's mind. Every idea you put out there enters their head in it's raw form. They must then exert some sort of mental effort to reconcile this new data with reality. Is it true? Is it false? If they do not do this, it simply remains in it's uncontested state.

This topic could probably be unpacked in greater detail, but I'll save that for some other time.

For now, just imagine two scenarios. Picture yourself speaking to someone you want to hire you. Imagine this fictional person will not put any effort into wrestling with the ideas you put into his head. Which of these plays is the winning move?

A) "I'm the perfect fit for your position."

B) "I hope we can work together soon."

Friday, August 12, 2016

Tunnel Vision in Game Art

We (that is, artists in general) typically come into games with a soloist mind set. This is cultivated from our time as amatuers, where most of us seem to have been producing art by our lonesome, where we have immediate control and visibility over all elements of our work at once.
This entirely reasonable trend among amatuers a might change as game development is increasingly more accessible, thanks to readily available software like construct, unity, and unreal. Only time will tell.
But, once we enter into game development we typically join a team of artists, wherein we specialize in producing art for a specific family of assets; characters, environments, etc. At this point we tend to fight the same old battles we've always fought at this point, throwing our entire bag of tricks at any particular task set in front of us. When an entire team does this without considering their art's place among everyone else's assets, the final look of the game comes together looking like a mess. It is akin to every musician in an orchestra trying to play the entire score.
Of course, this can happen even if it's the project of a single artist, since you will be working on a variety of disparate assets which will only later be seen together. However, the team based nature of most game development only further lends itself to this problem of tunnel vision.
Its crucial to remember that each asset must work in concert with all the others, just as certain hues and values are regulated to certain areas of a single illustration to produce harmony.
For art leadership, it is especially important to be aware of this type of tunnel vision both in your own work and in the work of your teammates. Although it is valuable for everyone on the team to recognize this concept, it is ultimately the leadership's responsibility to coordinate everything.
The principle can be sumed up thusly:
The entire screen of a video game is the illustration, not any particular asset.

Tuesday, June 14, 2016

E3 2016 Thoughts, Part 1

Some thoughts on E3 2016:

YOOKA LAYLEE


The character designs are whimsical and appealing; they are fun and cleverly proportioned. The same can be said of the environments. The gameplay expectedly resembles the delightful 3D platforming one would hope to find in this title. I would love to introduce this game to my children.

AGENTS OF MAYHEM



I like the artwork, although the protragonists are sadly the least exciting designs so far. The exception is Hardtack, whose gaudy schtick is hilarious and exciting. He steals the trailer with two words. It may be too late to hope for, but I would give the others a more dramatic appearance and give Fortune her own bombastic gimmick.

HORIZON: ZERO DAWN


The creature designs and their contrast with the otherwise natural and primitive world is interesting. The action looks fun. I hope the main character will have an appealing personality.

CUPHEAD

The appeal is obvious, surely! Also, it reminds me of the Mega Man "Power" arcade series.






Wednesday, June 01, 2016

Starbreak at PAX East 2016

Some of our promo art and a pre-show photo of our environment artist L0cke and monster artist Kohyunu  giving our set up a quick test.
Promo images created with the assistance of L0cke who provided a beautiful starry sky to work off of.


Sunday, May 29, 2016

Silver Trash

So, it took me a while to actually play Street Fighter V, but eventually I received it as a gift from my father who was waxing nostalgic over our playing Street Fighter II Turbo during my childhood.

My time is far more limited these days and playing games is usually contingent on sacrificing an hour or two of sleep or a sufficiently fathomless nap from the kids. But, after having managed some preliminary exploration into the game, I determined that I ought to at least be able to make it as "silver trash" with minimal training. Recently I met this goal more easily than I had expected and I'm curious what it will take to get to gold.

Now, I'd heard a lot of talk about rage quitting being a major issue among SFV players. My personal experience was at odds with this, though; where were all this quitters, anyway?

Turns out they are in Silver league.

Almost uniformly the bronzies I had been playing saw their matches through to the end and overwhelmingly they chose to play out the whole set without much regard to gaming the system for points. Likewise gold players would often see through an entire set with me despite the paltry gains in points a victory over myself would have netted them. But, when I began to regularly compete with players the three silver ranks, things started to change; suddenly I understood the complaints.

Based on the quitting, the style of play, and meta gaming for points seen in Silver league, my current hypothesis is as follows:

Silver leaguers are disproportionately prideful to their actual skill level.

For the record, I take on nearly all commers. I'll finish a set with just about anyone, except perhaps the poorest of rookies who would be done more harm by it point-wise and people proven to rage quit when things don't go in their favor. If something needs to be addressed in real life, i leave the controller and forfeit the points. I never rage quit. I've received some massive blows to my score because of this, but also seen massive gains by overcoming high rankers.

Part of what is so fascinating about fighting games for me is how they reveal the personallity of players. I'm curious how Golds will behave, but for now an important lesson is that Silvers are probably very vulnerable l to trolling tactics. Repeatedly throw them or tick away at them with only light punches; being obnoxious in gameplay will likely put a silver on tilt and if you can then withstand and counter their offense you'll have yourself a win.

I Just Want to Feel Something Again

Recently, I heard a friend of mine mention with reluctant apprehension that we are "...in a golden age of gaming, I guess."

What a strange demeanor by which to deliver that phrase. But, I think I know why he was reluctant to admit what ought to be a glorious revelation.

What I think he realized was that we have all the necessary infrastructure in place for a golden age of gaming; all the wheels seem to be turning, after all. People have convenient access to powerful games-making software and an unprecedented ability to self publish their work or get it into a number of viable publishing platforms. I can tell you from experience that even representation on the major home consoles is far more accessible than it was less than a decade ago. This can be illustrated simply by taking a look at their respective digital storefronts.

Yet here we are, wistfully awaiting for something important to happen, all the while sighing over it's absence and lamenting the disappointments that arrive instead. Why?

I have seen many ideas put forth, but I will cut to the chase and identify what I observe to be the worst problem:

Insincerity.

I have come to understand this as one of the hallmark features of millennial art. In an age of prodigious opportunity, where individuals really can make their visionary game a reality, people far too often choose to instead produce something ironic and irreverent, affirming what they purport to admire on one hand, but sneering condescendingly at it from the other.

These are the "turbo fist puncher" homages to Streets of Rage and the "super blocky dungeon" successors to Wizardy.

Perhaps you think I simply don't have a sense of humor, but when I look out and observe that contemporary works inspired by previous successes are ubiquitously either failed attempts to reboot someone else's property or aweless, uninsightful satires, I have to conclude that by and large no one cares or understands what previously existed.

Thank goodness Doom is supposed to be good.