Good Robot #41: Why Promote Your Game?

By Arvind Raja Yadav
on Feb 2, 2016
Filed under:
Good Robot

105 comments

Good Robot is almost done, and we are on course to finish the remaining tasks in the next couple of weeks. We’ll release the game in the first week of April, which should give us some breathing room for testing and polish.

However, there is another reason we are launching the game two months after we’re done making it – promotion. This is the part where you email every single Game Journalist / YouTube Personality / Twitch Streamer / Person with a Blog in an illegal-substance-fueled-frenzy and hope they play your game and tell others about it.

You have to cover our game! It has an exploding Frisbee that bounces off walls in it!

“Why do you need to promote your game, Arvind?” I hear my friend Manny Straw exclaim, “If your game is any good, surely you can just put it up on Steam and people who see it will tell their friends about it, and then those friends will tell their friends, and soon you’ll sell a million copies! That’s how Minecraft did it!”

“Minecraft did build its initial momentum via Games Press, Forums and YouTube though”, I answer, “but let’s say you’re right and conduct a thought experiment for a hypothetical game.”

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Rutskarn’s RPG System Hoedown, Part 2: The Latter Dragons

By Rutskarn
on Feb 2, 2016
Filed under:
Tabletop Games

105 comments

When I wrote the first entry in my series explaining RPG systems to newbies, I wrote–and deleted–several paragraphs on why I recommended Dungeons and Dragons at all. The reason it got cut was that it felt like a needlessly confrontational introduction; this series is to educate new players, not carry a spear in the endless nerd faction blood war between old ones. But now that I’m underway, let me take a moment explain to any prospective gamers–if not imaginary grognards with opinions two degrees east of my own–why I’m pushing D&D for my first two posts of recommendations when I rarely choose to run it myself.

Sure–there’s things I don’t like about D&D. And as a full disclosure, that’s not exactly an unpopular opinion among people who’ve been gaming as long as I have. A common complaint is that it’s outdated, married to 1970s sacred cows that have since been replaced with newer, sexier cows with lower carbon footprints. I’ll be honest and say that several of the editions I’m recommending, I don’t like playing at all. At least, not anymore.

But when you get right down to it, D&D just isn’t like the games I replace it with. It’s not a schlocky parody riff/jazz solo on the tropes of standard roleplaying games like Sacred Barbecue. It’s not a re-examination of dungeon crawling storytelling using tightly reinvented mechanics like Dungeon World or Dungeon Crawl Classics. All of those are games made because somebody got sick of D&D, but they got sick of it because they’d played it–their work is derivative, and it only functions because it operates from the same recognizable and approachable foundation. What D&D is–what it needs to be–is a solid, earnest, classic game. It’s a firm base of objective rules with a straightforward, literal, and legible mechanic used to tell entry-level fantasy stories. It’s a medium-crust delivery pepperoni pizza. It’s a great start. You won’t hate it. Odds are you’ll have an excellent time, you’ll find one part you like more than the rest, you’ll branch out, and then four years later you’ll be writing forum posts about what’s wrong with D&D like the rest of us.

There’s another and simpler reason: Dungeons and Dragons is lavishly produced to be an introductory game. Almost every RPG allocates some space to teaching first-timers what they’re doing, but it’s so often a perfunctory and lazy effort: generally speaking the rulebook’s either a tight sixty-page .pdf that can’t dedicate more than a couple to tutorials or it assumes anyone who can find it by word of mouth and pick it up won’t need more than a refresher. Grab any edition of D&D, on the other hand, and you’ll find an entire chapter–often several chapters–dedicated to explaining how things work in the sort of exhaustive mind-numbing detail you only get when you’ve got interns to abuse.

Now, where were we? Oh, right.

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Experienced Points: How EA Can Regain Trust on the PC

By Shamus
on Feb 1, 2016
Filed under:
Escapist

55 comments

While we already discussed it on the Diecast, my column this week is a response to the story last week where EA said they were looking to improve relations with the PC market.

While I don’t actually expect the EA leadership will read my column, I wrote it as if they were going to. Which means I left out some points that – while major sticking points for many consumers – are simply beyond the scope of the sorts of changes they can make. That is to say, I left out advice that required a major shift in corporate priorities or company culture.

Obviously the brute-force monetization is a big complaint that people have with EA. There are some things that clearly shouldn’t be chopped out of the core game and sold as DLC. (Like the final boss.) There are other things that are clearly great for DLC that won’t offend anyone. (Alternate costumes for your character, original soundtrack.) But the line between these two extremes can get really blurry if you like. EA likes to mess around in that blurry area and see just how much they can get away with.

I think this is foolhardy. I think there’s more money to be made with a focus on the user experience. But this is a different mindset. Compare:

“I think we should screw and harass our customers until we find the optimal spot where their desire for the product is just high enough to overcome their disgust and frustration with the transaction itself.”

versus:

“If we release quality products and build our brand around positive experiences, we can build a rabidly loyal fanbase that will always show up to give us their $60.”

The latter is a sort of Disney / Nintendo mentality. (And maybe you can make the case this applies to Apple as well, but I’m not an Apple customer so I’m not in a position to judge.) It’s a patient, long-term approach to developing a company. Moreover, it’s not one you can pursue unless you’re an avid gamer yourself, because you need to be able to look at a game and judge for yourself if it meets your company standards for quality.

But I don’t think there’s a good way to articulate this to an EA exec. This requires not just a change in company policy, but a philosophical change in how the business works. Even if EA was interested, a transformation like that could take a decade.

I still don’t have a really good suggestion for why they’re making this move now. Maybe they don’t like how this console generation is shaking out. Maybe the PC market is growing, simply because it’s so much easier to acquire and maintain a gaming rig these days. (Because machines last longer.) Maybe they really love being able to sell games through Origin and not paying the 30% Steam / Sony / Microsoft taxI don’t actually know what the platform fees are for Playstation and Xbox. It’s just a guess.. Maybe EA is worried the bad press and consumer outrage might be a drag on their stock price.

It’s impossible to know. But I do wonder.


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Diecast #139: Rise of the Tomb Raider, Rainbow Six Siege, The Witness

By Shamus
on Feb 1, 2016
Filed under:
Diecast

64 comments


Direct download (MP3)
Direct download (ogg Vorbis)
Podcast RSS feed.

Direct link to this episode.

Hosts: Josh, Jacob, Shamus, Chris.

Episode edited by Rachel.

Show notes: Continue reading »


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The Altered Scrolls, Part 17: Bullies and Heart

By Rutskarn
on Jan 30, 2016
Filed under:
Elder Scrolls

85 comments

Last time I proposed to talk about what Skyrim does well. It’s a long list and one I’ll relish exploring–but I’m going to have to put it off a little longer. I can’t talk about what’s done right until I get at the core of what’s done wrong, and I think the things detractors usually blame–various mechanical evolutions, paradigm shifts, or just plain they-don’t-make-’em-like-they-used-to RPG sacred cow absences–aren’t really at fault. Nothing Skyrim does wrong had to be done wrong, even every major element of the design was kept intact.

It’s clear Bethesda built Skyrim around a clearly visualized model player: somebody who wants to enter a fantasy world, casually browse content without running up against impediments, frustrations, or a need to master additional playstyles, and then get back to real life without worrying about forgetting some important detail or systems mastery that would impede a return days or weeks later. Pleasing this model player meant several obvious sacrifices: the loss of stats, the drive toward making questlines similar and similarly approachable, the trimming away of little mechanics that added texture (and friction) to previous titles. But each of these sacrifices, while necessarily resented by grognards, has a purpose. They all contribute meaningfully to creating an experience that is well designed and exuberantly approachable and that is straightforward to slip in and out of at will, however long the player is away.

The real misfortune of Skyrim isn’t what mechanics the team sacrificed to a purpose; it’s what finesse was lost without purpose. Their weakness is not in creating gameplay but in creating meaningful and appropriate context.

I`m going somewhere else with this, but a minor random example of that phenomenon: this guy who calls you out for having made a living selling stolen goods, despite the fact that before you do his quest--after this conversation--you literally CANNOT do that. Was anyone paying attention?

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Spoiler Warning 6th Anniversary: Contradiction – Spot The Liar!

By Shamus
on Jan 28, 2016
Filed under:
Spoiler Warning

73 comments

Six stupid, ridiculous, nitpicking, barely-coherent years of game analysis and puns. Six years of baffling software bugs, dialog trees, and jokes about Reginald Cuftbert. Six years of turning games I love into Games I Never Want To Play Again by way of over-exposure. Six years of Josh acing difficult fights through skill or exploits only to die two minutes later to a mook that’s not even intended to be a serious danger to the player. Six years of Josh’s Rube Goldberg pile of barely-working technology that made the whole thing possible.


Link (YouTube)

Today is the sixth anniversary of the day we posted the very first episode of Spoiler Warning. That was so long ago that we didn’t even post it to YouTube, because YouTube wasn’t yet the universal choice for such thingsWe used Viddler. It didn’t work out for them..

It’s customary to play a single episode of something unusual or off-beat for these anniversary specials. This year we’re playing… is this an FMV game? It is. It’s an FMV detective game made in 2015. Even worse, everyone around me basically falls in love with it right away, so it’s my job to play bad cop for this one.

The show has a Patreon now, by the way. That goes to Josh, who edits every episode, and also maintains the technology chain that makes the whole thing go.

I am celebrating today’s anniversary by observing a completely different anniversary. As of last Sunday, the missus and I have been married for 19 years. So we’re going away for a couple of days without the kids. The last time we did that was PAX 2013. I’ve been moving through time for 44 years. You’d think I’d be used to it by now. But it’s always moving a little faster than what seems reasonable to me. Anyway. I’ll be gone for a couple of days. Please don’t burn down the blog while I’m gone.

Thanks for watching. And if you play Contradiction, let me know how it turns out. I really want to know who killed that hat.


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Mass Effect Retrospective 32: No Take-Backs

By Shamus
on Jan 27, 2016
Filed under:
Mass Effect

275 comments

As with Mass Effect 2, I’m going to be referring to the writers as if they were a single individual. In reality, each game was written by a team of people that shared some difficult-to-quantify overlap with the other teams. So yes, I realize that “The Mass Effect 3 Writer” isn’t actually a single person, but for convenience that’s how I’ll refer to them.

This is for the sake of my own sanity. The question of “Why?” lurks behind every plot hole, every retcon, and every implausible character beat. What happened to Mass Effect? Why did the story change so radically? Part of me wants to put up a bulletin board of photographs and newspaper clippings, forming lines between them with bits of yarn, obsessively toiling over this puzzle until I can crack the case and figure out Who Killed Mass Effect.

But that’s a fool’s errand. We don’t know what was said in the writer’s room. We don’t know what kind of pressures the writing team was put under, or what sort of ideas were imposed on them from the outside. We could just as easily end up cursing the name of an overworked writer who, in reality, did the best they could with the time and material given to them and who might even agree with a lot of this analysis.

Wow. The writer decided to take the story to Earth? I can`t wait to see what the political and cultural situation is there. Imagine the stories they`ll tell about how the world works in the future. How does life on Earth compare to life on the Citadel? This is going to be amazing.

Moreover, it doesn’t matter. There’s nothing to be done. It doesn’t matter who broke this story, or why. In the end, you can’t “take back” Mass Effect because not even the authors themselves have the power to do that. For good or for ill, this is the story we got. The point of this series isn’t to identify the guilty or single them out to be the focus of the widespread nerdrage the surrounds this franchise. The point is to put all the nagging issues to rest, simply by identifying and acknowledging them. We can’t fix the problems, but we can catalog them, and that brings a sort of calming sense of order to the madness and offers a grudging kind of closure. This is about moving on by way of clearing up all the questions that might be preventing us from doing so. I don’t know about you, but when this series is over I will be well and truly out of things to say about Mass Effect.

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Half Time CH16: Split End

By Rutskarn
on Jan 26, 2016
Filed under:
Lets Play

25 comments

The stadium is one big mossy Blood Bowl ball, and at long last, after many abuses and grim spectacles, it’s been punctured. It drains slowly in the moonlight. All that action–all that potential for action–vanishing into the night. But there’s still one bug hiding under that vast deflated canopy, and as I enter the subterranean locker room, there’s two.

“Perv,” I say. “Everybody’s gone home.”

“This is home.”

“That’s a bit maudlin, don’t you…” Then I notice the battered Morg n’ Thorg patterned sleeping bag. “Oh. That explains a lot.”

“I’m a long way from Potatoeville, coach.”

He scoots an inch down the bench. That’s more accommodation than I’d expected–I sit down.

“It’s never going to get any better,” he says, “is it.”

 

Should I tell him? Hell, why not. I’d been planning to wait until he was in a more stable frame of mind, but just look at the little bastard. He’s stable, alright–he’s sunk to the nadir like a big fat cannonball and I wouldn’t task ten men and an elephant to budge him. Not without the right leverage.

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Experienced Points: Is the World Ready for Deep Network AI Opponents?

By Shamus
on Jan 25, 2016
Filed under:
Escapist

120 comments

This week: I talk about the lack of apparent progress in opponent AI in games, why that is, and what challenges we might face if we wanted to put REAL AI (such as we have so far) to work playing games.

For the record: The description I gave for how deep learning works is pretty sloppy. So don’t read that and think you know what deep learning is. It’s actually way more complex than I made it sound. You’ve got to understand something really well before you can translate it into plain language, and I am pretty far from an expert in this stuff. The article still works (because my points aren’t based on HOW deep learning works, only on the expense and effectiveness of it) it’s just that I want to make clear that my explanation is a gross over-simplification.

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Diecast #138: Pony Island, Dragon’s Dogma

By Shamus
on Jan 25, 2016
Filed under:
Diecast

67 comments


Direct download (MP3)
Direct download (ogg Vorbis)
Podcast RSS feed.

Direct link to this episode.

Hosts: Josh, Rutskarn, Campster, Mumbles.

Episode edited by Rachel.

Show notes: Continue reading »

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Half Time CH15: The Big Game

By Rutskarn
on Jan 23, 2016
Filed under:
Lets Play

17 comments

I’m wrestling with the most gut-twisting and unfair dilemma of my misspent life, and it naturally follows that I’ve taken my ethical contortions to the bar. I’ve a hazy notion that a few stiff ones will push me out of my deadlock. They won’t, obviously; that’s just a thin pretext for the usual moral procrastination and substance abuse. I’ve reached the point where I can observe and label my failings with the keenness of an ornithologist.

That’s the bother, isn’t it? Knowing what’s wrong with your life is certainly helpful. It just doesn’t require the same skillset as fixing it.

“Bartender, give me something really disgusting.”

“I’ll have what he’s having,” wheezes the man beside me.

The voice is painfully familiar. I do one take, then–as the evidence filters through the inebriation–a double-take. That besotted fop sitting next to me, red-eared, red-cheeked, and with the wispiest peach-fuzz hint of grizzled stubble on his chin–he’s the coach of the Surf Somethings, and he looks as bad as I do.

“What?” he says. “So I’m having a couple. Elves can’t get drunk.”

“I think they can,” I say.

“Can they? Shit.”

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Knights of the Old Republic EP45: THAC0!

By Shamus
on Jan 22, 2016
Filed under:
Spoiler Warning

119 comments


Link (YouTube)

Here it is. The big reveal of the big secret the game has been hiding right under our noses. The truth is out, and it will forever change how we see our character, our friends, and our relationship with the villain. Old conversations will take on new meaning and the earlier visions suddenly tell us more than we realized.

So naturally I expect everyone will jump down to the comments and argue about THAC0. Nerds.

Like I’ve said before: This twist wasn’t so much “concealed” as “obfuscated by genre tropes”. BioWare did the exact same thing in Jade Empire. All the stuff that sounded like the usual “YOU ARE THE PROTAGONIST OF A VIDEOGAME” ego-stroking was actually the foreshadowing. And most people didn’t question it because we’ve been soaking in “chosen one” narratives since we were tiny little baby nerdlings and this sounded like more of the same.

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