Dev Discussion: Modern Gaming and How it’s Evolving

consolevpc

 

Today I will feature a discussion that I happened upon on the internet.  Developers were having a heated exchange about an age-old argument that most often causes bloodshed between gamers.  For the sake of constructive intellectual exchange, I will curb my PC bias and look at this objectively.  Note also, Console v PC.  I will make fun of Mac gamers.  That is comedy that writes itself.

Gamers often get into heated debates over which is better: PC or Console gaming.  Console gamers often cite titles and communities as the strongest factors favoring console gaming, while PC gamers will fill your screen with chart after chart displaying the raw power of a PC compared against consoles, or grab screenshots to illustrate the visual differences between the graphics.  While each side certainly has a compelling argument, which really is better and , more importantly, where is it leading us?  This exchange focused more on the evolution of the various facets of the industry, rather than an argument over which is better.  Joining the Crotchety Old Gamer in the discussion, we have three fine gentlemen: Joe Yeats (@ProceduralJOYE via Twitter), a developer from the UK currently working with Autelia LTD on Human Orbit, a procedurally-generated simulator about shaping a computer-controlled utopia.  Max Krieger (@MaxKriegerVG via Twitter), an Indie Game Developer from Chicago and student at DePaul University.  Drake (@DMODP via Twitter), a programmer, designer and writer.  I came late into the discussion, but some very intriguing points were made.  Feel free to join the discussion in the Crotchety Gamers United Steam group!

Lightly paraphrased, Max said that the time-proven model of Mac vs PC illustrates why Console and PC gaming will coexist.  While Drake and myself were somewhat confused by the statement, Max was happy to provide a more detailed explanation on his viewpoint:

“[…] In this age where computing platforms are all headed in the same direction, the differentiating factor that will be key to platform sales remains the image and curated experience of that platform. I used Mac OSX as an example because it shows how illogical this thinking can be – OSX is really cumbersome for a lot of simple tasks, doesn’t play nice with industry standards, and only runs on a very closed line of hardware, but people lap it up because of the image it supports: a creative, media-oriented one that strives for intuitive use over flexibility. Make no mistake, I am not an Apple/OSX fan, but they’re one of the biggest proven examples of the curated platform image in the modern tech industry.”

Max does make a good point.  Essentially, he is saying that the biggest difference between the PC and console crowds is the image they use to represent themselves.  With the development of the Steam Machine, this viewpoint was never better supported.  Steam started as a PC gamer’s wet dream, but recent implementations in the retailer (such as Big Picture mode) reveal a strong push toward console gaming.  Not to mention, the fact that the Steam Machine plans to license its construction out to third parties, which will create a variety of hardware builds, make it a bit of a frankenstein PC-esque Console.  With companies bridging the gap between the two worlds, one has to wonder when the differences will be declared null and void.  Drake had a similar thought process, but with a different approach.

co-exist

 

Drake also did me the favor of elucidating his view:

“The reason people often side with one or the other and not both is […] because they’re polar opposites. They have their own unique control schemes. Consoles and computers are polar opposites not [just] because of their difference in controls, but in their difference of experience. First, [PC gamers] don’t have to move to a different part of the [house] to experience games. They’re right there on the same machine we use for work, surfing the web, social media, etc. Second, [PC gamers] can open windows […] for reference material […] but this is also good from a social standpoint. [PC gamers] can take screenshots and post them [on the internet], we can respond to [people] on our favorite social network, etc.”

So, as you can see, Drake has a solid point, too. Despite consoles, such as PS4, recently enabling access to other forms of media and direct internet streaming capability with the touch of a button, there are still a myriad of things that PC’s can do that still remain unavailable to Console gamers on just their consoles.  Drake continued, elaborating on the features of the console camp:

“I feel consoles are the extremist response-time choice. […] For response-time challenges, the question is: Who can execute the highest number of actions in the shortest amount of time? It provides a completely different experience from computers.”

My personal experience with computers, however is totally different.  The mouse offers pinpoint accuracy while playing a game.  How can you get more direct than pointing at it with your mouse? The answer is getting a touchscreen and pointing yourself.  Of course, Drake had his own response to this:

“[…] A controller’s reaction time is far more demanding. It’s more than clicking a billion times a second. It’s about hitting the right buttons at the right times and getting your fingers everywhere they need to be without looking down at [the device]. Console games often assume the player’s really good at this activity to the point they make [players] do everything all the time. [Console gameing] is about just doing.”

Of course, I would offer that this depends on the player.  I grew up on PC gaming first, so the ‘WASD’ model is practically gospel for me.  Sure, different games have different controls, some even have demanding hotkeys, but use of them is up to you.  You can customize the experience to your own play-style, and the majority of games tend to use the keys immediately adjacent to the ‘WASD’ keys for additional actions where applicable.  Not to mention, the sticks on a controller can’t be as accurate as a mouse.  A mouse is literally point-and-click.  Controller sticks are more indirect.

Joe’s thoughts on this topic were a bit of a combination:

“It’s obvious that some genres are better aided by certain input hardware than others. This is certainly the case with simulators and strategy games, which usually do better with a keyboard and mouse. I don’t think it’s necessary to expound on this.”

Max largely agreed with Drake’s assertion of their differences, but had his own interpretation of how this affects gaming.  The tech he refers to is more the innards and less the interface devices:

precisely

 

Max got more specific in explaining this part of his thought process:

The Playstation 4’s success also may owe itself to [platform image], but it’s too early to tell. Sony has always given the PlayStation brand a mild sense of curation by endorsing or even producing avant-garde titles on the platform, moreso than any other console maker in history. Going forward, this curation may end up being the PS4’s largest difference when PC hardware overtakes it again at an equivalent price point.”

Around here, Joe had some relevant input on the topic:

“The technical boundaries between a console and a desktop machine have become increasingly blurry over the years – but we’re all still pretty sure what they each are and when we make a decision about how we want to play a game, we know how to compare the ‘desktop experience’ to the ‘console experience’. We all know that we can hook our PC up to the TV and use a bluetooth controller for a ‘console-like’ experience: but most of us aren’t going to do that. The reputation and image of the formats has been accrued over a generational time period – we couldn’t shake that easily and there may not even be a good reason to do so (even if all games were available on all platforms). When I play a game on a console, I know that it has been tailored for the specific controller that I’m using, for the hardware that it’s running on. I can expect a reliable game experience without having to faff around. The experience has been designed for me down to the slightest detail. I don’t even have to tweak the graphics settings. I just need to switch on, plug in & tune out.”

The conversation gradually drifted in the direction of mobile gaming.  Drake disagreed that mobile gaming had a different target demographic and said that it targets everyone, presumably everyone with a mobile device.  Of course, just in the virtue that targeting “everyone with a mobile phone” is a task achieved differently than targeting “everyone with a specific console”, it logically follows that it is a different target demographic.  In fact, because of the similar situation of iOS v Android, console and pc gamers might find themselves on either side of the mobile discussion depending on their devices.  In this way mobile almost has a market that is totally separate from, but still noticeably influence by the gaming market comprised by PC and Console gamers.

Of course, Drake also touched on a separate issue that abounds in the mobile gaming market: the quality of games:

greatmobile

Now, before someone starts cluttering the comments sections with cries of Angry Birds adoration, Drake is referring to the fact that simple, casual games, like Angry Birds, currently dominate the mobile market.  And while he is right in that great mobile games are hard to find, they are far from non-existent.  The greatest example of a mobile-specific game that uses its functionality is Ingress.  Read about that game here.  And Ingress isn’t the only one, but, to my knowledge, it is the first.  Windows phones will be able to play QONQR, a game that wants to be Ingress, and X-Tactics, a game that is just like “Fuck Ingress!  And now for something completely different!”  Of course, location-based games are certainly not the only angle mobile gaming could take.  The fact that progressive-thinking developers have tried, and failed, to make augmented reality games more accessible overall shows that we are still a long way from making it work effectively, even with Google Glass.  So, Drake definitely has a point with mobile games being “designed to waste time while you [wait] or short experiences.”

Of course Max breaks back in and asks for a thought experiment:

“[…] If all consoles disappeared overnight, could mobile [gaming] fill their place? Yeah. But they’d have to cater to both convenience and involvement – two contradictory ideas that dilute platform image.”

This is true, but if gaming were to be forced onto mobile devices, I find it believable to find games evolving to replace what was lost – FPSs utilizing the mobile device in question combined with the player’s surroundings, RPGs that focus more on tap-controlled characters, etc.  In short, mobile games wouldn’t stop being the simple, casual games, but these types of games would be joined by an overwhelming number of widely varied games and genres.

There was more discussion about Mac OS vs Windows, of course.  This piece of the discourse was meant to display how the image-focus model has affected other markets aside from gaming.  Max posited that Mac OS continues to sell primarily because it does “normal user” better than Windows. He continued saying that Windows tried to retake that ground by creating Windows 8.  This undermined the “pro” part of Windows, which upset their users. Then, when Windows repaired the alterations to their OS, the image of a “jack-of-all-trades” OS persisted. Max maintained his standpoint, saying “image is everything.”

Max’s final thoughts on the discussion were pretty broad, but still relevant.

“Ultimately, I believe that the current trend of consuming media in any environment is one that will plateau once our near-omniscient media viewing capabilities lose their novelty. It’s an undeniable phenomenon that certain forms of media are better consumed in certain environments and settings. The biggest obstacle to a unified platform for all gaming is not the tech, nor the interface, but human nature itself – not something that can be so easily overcome. Nobody expected the PS4 to be doing as well as it’s doing right now, and I think that alone is proof enough that human nature has a lot more twists left in the evolution of gaming tech than we expect right now.”

Drake came from another angle, though, saying that games are a form of media.  And if there is one thing that is true now more than ever, it’s that people want their media no matter where they are.

everywhere

Joe broke into the conversation here, pointing out the relevance of the feature of PS4 where it can be played remotely from the Vita.  Drake admitted that he hadn’t tried it, but named a relevant issue with that right off: not every PS4 owner has a PS Vita.  Drake also suggested that the Vita isn’t the best handheld to carry around with you.  Joe threw in some more thoughts of his own regarding the PS Vita.

noway

Drake added saying that it really needs to be a native experience that still feels extremely great. But to do something like that, you’d have to take the ‘app’ structure and generalize the controls, then change the controls so they cater to every device the game might appear on.  He had a lot to say about this especially, and there was also a considerable piece of discussion about porting.  That will be included in another piece since this one is long enough already.

If you’ve made it to this point, please remember, I am interested in hearing your thoughts on this topic!  Come join the discussion on my Steam Group, and let’s see if we can get some interesting exchanges started!

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How Elysian Shadows Team Plans to Revive The 2D RPG

ES_logo

 

In 1998 I spent my time roaming the castles of Thief: The Dark Project and watching The Matrix, but I also have a strong memory of hearing about this mythical console set to ride an eastern wind to our shores.  Its name was the Dreamcast and it was Sega’s final all-or-nothing bid to take the game console market by storm.  It had numerous features that were well ahead of its time.  Unfortunately, it was too far ahead, like trying to explain electricity to cavemen.  By the time the Playstation 2, Xbox and Gamecube were released, it was just a shadow of a memory from a glossy magazine page.  After the Dreamcast, Sega didn’t die, it just slid out of the limelight and settled for publishing games instead of consoles.

Many did not get to experience the Dreamcast, but for those that did, it was more than just a console, it was a lost piece of gaming history.  Even today, developers are putting out titles for Sega’s last console, and the Elysian Shadows Team proudly stand among their number.  Falco Girgis is the Engine Architect and Team lead, and he explained his motivation to me when I asked why develop a game for the Dreamcast in 2014?

” I found my way into the Dreamcast scene at around the age of 14.  I had always loved video games, and I had done a little bit of programming, but when I discovered there was an entire community of crazy fuckers out there developing their own apps, emulators, and games for the console, and I had the opportunity to also do that without being part of a huge studio, I fell in love immediately.  You have to realize this was before Steam, smart phones, or any kind of indie support on consoles.  The Dreamcast allowed the average guy with a dream to develop for a platform.  I taught myself to code just for that little white box.  I fell in love with it, and what it represented as Sega’s last console.”

So, it was a console Falco loved immensely as a teenager and he learned to hone his craft on it.  That just means it has a special sheen, right?  It’s a dead console, though.  So what?  I was still wondering if there was even still an audience for the console as Mr. Girgis continued.

“It’s so underappreciated, and it innovated so much in gaming–poly counts in the millions, hardware support for bump mapping (PS2 can’t do that), memory cards with screens, online gaming.  It also had an insane amount of AAA titles for a console with such a short lifespan.  It really felt like Sega knew it was their last chance in the hardware market, and they poured their hearts and souls into it.  For those of us who were able to experience the Dreamcast, it’s kind of an immortal thing, and it shows.  Most of our money from our Kickstarter is from Dreamcast sales.  There are still gamers everywhere who have not forgotten the Dream, and I have made it my personal quest to realize my childhood dream of releasing a game for the console.”

Honestly, I was taken aback.  Jump over to their Kickstarter and tell me what you see.  As of right now, I see 90,448$ with 760 backers.  Doing the math, that would have to be about 119$ from each backer, and considering only 182 backers pledged 100$+, that means there is a formidable Dreamcast audience.  Granted, some of those backers gave 1k$ – 5k$, so this game has a spirited group of supporters…

...And when you look at what they want to accomplish, it is hard not to drink the koolaide.

…And when you really look at what they want to accomplish, it is hard not to drink the koolaid.

Everything I see on their page makes me flash back to the numerous hours I had when I discovered Chronotrigger, Secret of Mana 1 – 3 and (US) Final Fantasy 6 on emulators.  There is a lot on that kickstarter page, but seeing everything made me wonder, what are they really trying to accomplish?

“Our overall goal is pretty multi-layered, haha!  The biggest thing we wanted to achieve with Elysian Shadows itself was to reinvent the traditional 2D RPG formula in a manner that makes it new, exciting and relevant by today’s standards.  We don’t want games like Chrono Trigger or Secret of Mana to be a thing of the past, and we certainly have not been too thrilled with the slow demise of the JRPG itself.  Most of our team members can be quoted saying that they want to create the game they wanted to play most as a young gamer, including aspects of games that they grew up loving as children, and trying to use them to create a unique RPG experience that could appeal to an audience beyond just RPG players.”

“I have found myself,Falco, really wanting to make an emotional connection with our audience through ES.  I want to create a game whose story and characters are relatable, and whose struggles are relevant to the lives of our players. I feel like this connection is really the ultimate goal of any form of art, and this is especially true for video games as they’re an aggregate of every other art form: writing, art, music, etc.  I’m really an introverted guy who loves to play the outgoing extrovert, but I have very few close friends and I tend to not have much in common with most people.  The older I get the more I feel like my contributions to ES artistically are some kind of attempt to connect with players and fans on a deeper level.  I’m sure Freud would have a field day psychoanalyzing that.”

That really explains everything.  Elysian Shadows is a collaborative piece of art interpreted through the hearts and souls of its creators.  Each of them has something unique to put in and being indie developers lets them do this the best they can.  And when you look at what it adds up to, you can’t help but feel the passion and love there.  You can’t helped but be awed.  Personally, I think it’s moving.

I love the shadows and how the game looks like pixelated life.

I love the shadows and how the game looks like pixelated life.

I really enjoyed taking in everything that Falco and the team were telling me, but what is the rest of the team like?  What do they do and who are they?

“We have 7 team members total:

Falco Girgis

Falco Girgis

 Falco Girgis is our engine and toolkit developer, and he’s also the one who developed the framework, allowing us to target so many platforms (including the Sega Dreamcast).  He’s basically the team mad scientist.  Falco loves the Zelda franchise, pretty much anything on the Dreamcast, and obviously all of the 16-bit JRPG classics.

Tyler Rogers

Tyler Rogers

 

Tyler Rogers is the gameplay engineer, who basically takes the art, music, and levels then puts everything together into a cohesive gameplay experience.  Tyler is very into Legends of Dragoon, Castlevania, and Final Fantasy tactics.

Daniel Tindall

Daniel Tindall

 

Daniel Tindall is our web developer and level designer, and he has been very much a secret weapon for creating our Kickstarter and Steam pages.  Dan’s favorite series is Metal Gear Solid.

 

Patryk Kowalick

Patryk Kowalick

Leandro

Leandro Tokarevski

 

Patrick Kowalik and Leandro Tokarevski are our two pixel artists, both self-taught and classically trained traditional artists who decided to get into game development to broaden their horizons through pixel art.

 

 

 

Connor Linning

Connor Linning

Connor Linning is our team rock star and audio composer, bringing with him a background in rock, metal, electronica, and survival horror music influencing his musical direction with Elysian Shadows.  Connor is obsessed with the Resident Evil and Silent Hill series.

Eddie Ringle

Eddie Ringle

 

Eddie Ringle is the team mobile developer, who has been the guy working on the OUYA, Droid, and even Google Glass builds of Elysian Shadows.

We aren’t just retro gamers either.  Falco is totally into the new adventure-style games: Uncharted, Tomb Raider, The Last of Us.  So good.”

It feels like I just put up a description of the A-Team, or something.  Hopefully each of these pictures gives you an idea who we’re dealing with here.  Each of these guys is immensely talented and putting everything they have to make something amazing.  I hope Ebert is rolling in his grave because if this isn’t art, nothing is.  Of course with the influence each of these games has had on the Team, what games have a direct influence on Elysian Shadows?

“There really is no single inspiration behind Elysian Shadows, and I kind of feel like that’s why it’s so special.  It’s why our team is so emotionally invested in the project.  We have all found our own ways to endow Elysian Shadows with a piece of what we like best in gaming, each of us growing up with different backgrounds and inspirations.  Obviously games like Chrono Trigger, Secret of Mana, Dragon Quest, Final Fantasy, and Phantasy Star have deeply inspired our direction, but there are quite a few more inspirations that aren’t even from the RPG genre.  Falco and Tyler grew up loving the Megaman Legends series, and it has influenced their direction with the whole “ruins” concept.  Even portions of the storyline.  Connor is a huge survival horror fanatic and, oddly enough, he’s found ways to endow ES with that kind of emotional tension through dynamic lighting.  Once we added jumping (initially inspired by Mario RPG), we quickly found ourselves able to design levels with influences from games like Super Mario and add combat moves from games like Megaman X.  I feel like there’s little pieces of numerous games influencing what we do with ES.”

So Elysian Shadows, almost literally, draws its lineage from the DNA of a widely-ranging gamut of games without any single influence dominating completely.  The more I hear about it, the more excited I get.  This isn’t just a game, it’s a love letter.  The kickstarter page has an amazing set of features.  Elysian Shadows Team has partnered with Pixellamp, which allows for impressive pixelated shadows.  The combat is set to be real-time and the gameplay will have a strong feeling of freedom.  Splicing 2D RPG and platformer elements, this game will go boldly where other games are limited from going.  There will also be a complete class or “job” system where characters’ innate strengths, weaknesses and gameplay styles can be augmented through a wide array of job-specific abilities and talent trees.  A lot of this is straight off the Kickstarter page, so you can go there and get the complete feeling for what backers are getting out of this.  They have samples of the music, the art and descriptions of various details planned for the game up there, too.  The initial goal is to reach 150,000$ with stretch goals all the way up to 800,000$.  And considering that last one would make this into an MMORPG, I hope we get as many additional backers as humanly possible.  They also have an entry on Steam Greenlight, so if you can’t put any money in, vote them up on Steam!  This is one vision that is extremely close to meeting its funding, and it threatens to shake the boundaries of games as we understand them.

 

A lot of this article has been lightly edited to flow as neatly as possible.  The message conveyed has been kept the same in all respects.

Steam and its box

steam

 

Possibly the best thing ever invented for gamers.  When this baby came out in 2003, it forced a fuck-ton of Counter-strikers the world over to download it.  It was a little rough around the edges and infuriated a LOT of people, but Valve cleaned it up and it is now the first thing I download on a new rig after Chrome.  It’s like iTunes if iTunes let you keep everything you ever bought rather than limiting you to 5 downloads.  Assholes.  But Steam sells you the licence for the software and you can download, uninstall, download, uninstall etc. ad infinitum.  Why am I even bringing this up? ‘Cause I fucking LOVE it!  I am currently debating with myself where I want to get the above image tattooed on my body.

But its other fantastic features include non-video game software like Maya, fantastic sales, an immense library of indie games and community-selected greenlighting on games.  If you don’t use Steam Jesus doesn’t love you.  If you still hold fast to your skepticism, you can make your friends buy you games you like by adding them to a wishlist, gain early access to pre-release games, earn achievements and check out any number of stats on games you love.  It even recommends games to you based on games you already play!!!1!11!  If you still think this isn’t for you, go get a console.  I will always love you Steam.

Valve-SteamBox

Oh, right.  Need I mention the Steambox?  A console that you can use to play Steam games?  Xbox and PS4 won’t even know what hit them.  I have been saying they should make this baby since 2005!  Of course, I just googled ‘Steambox release date’ and I found this article calling it the Steam Machine.  It was updated today, too, but there is no release date.  It looks like Valve is just like, “Fuck your consoles, get a console that lets developers push the envelope, would ya?”  That is nice to hear since us PC gamers look at the console wars like a bunch of retards arguing over their favorite color flower.  But everyone in the world plays console games ( as they want you to think ), so in a lot of ways gaming has been held back repeatedly by its slowest evolving component.

This offers a chance to up the ante in the console wars.  Maybe.  You can talk a mean talk, but when your new console boasts an i5 processor, 16 gb RAM and an NVidia GTX 780… Hey. That is almost exactly what I have in this computer.  I just built it, and it cost me $2000 on Newegg.  Granted, it has a much larger case a monitor and a new mouse on that price tag, but the processor, graphics card and RAM altogether will run you around $1190.  Granted, the Steambox doesn’t have a centralized developer.  It’s licensed out to developers and each of them makes a version of the system that will match the base requirements for running Steam, not any particular games.  A netbook could probably run Steam, so that worries me.  If this system is going to sport the power of my system and be like $900, what is the point of getting a bitchin’ computer rig?  At that point only computer hobbyists would, but I doubt that such a competitive price is even possible.  Oh, wait, did I say competitive?  The PS4 and Xbox One are half that price albeit with a fraction of the computing power.  Did I mention that Valve is hinting at virtual reality support? True life.  Just scroll to the section of the aforementioned article labelled ‘Virtual Whispers’. Sounds kinda sexy.  And there is the point that the Steambox’s controller looks like an alien pleasure device.  Who is supposed to use this thing, jedi?  There are prettier versions, but it looks as intuitive at first-glance as a Ouija board.  I am a proponent of what Valve’s Steambox proposes to do, which is ass rape its competition until they are firmly relegated to historical footnotes, but at what cost?  I would say that innovation is the key to owning the future, but sometimes it can lead you to the Wii U.  And as this guy details, such shenanigans will lead you to ruin.  I hope they know what kind of shitstorm this is setting up because if Valve is not careful they’ll be the ones left without an umbrella.