Enduring the Grind – Crunching as Company Policy

Mike Capps, president of Epic Games, has come under fire recently for remarks about quality of life issues in the videogame industry made during the “Studio Heads on the Hotseat” panel at the IGDA Leadership Forum ’08 (video here).

The remarks which brought about the controversy were made at about 21 minutes into the panel. Taken in the context of everything he says, his remarks aren’t as inflammatory as they’ve been made out to be, but I still have experiences which would contradict some aspects of what he maintains is a good way to make video games. I’ll get back to him after a little background on crunching to make a video game.

For anyone who hasn’t studied the game development industry, the dreaded “crunch” refers to the period during which game developers work well beyond eight hours a day and sometimes through weekends in order to meet an important deadline, typically the shipping date of the finished game. →  Actraiser Readnaissance

Review – World of Goo

What a strange and intriguing little beast this is. I’m hesitant to call it a game. It most certainly is a game in the sense that it places a series of challenges before you, with rewards meted out along the way, and then a credit sequence plays. But in some ways that are intangible, and other that are, it doesn’t quite feel like a game. Before I go off on some bizarre experiential recollection of my time spent with it, I will give you a more straightforward recounting of what I felt about the game. I believe in times past they were called “reviews”.

There is a lot to like about World of Goo.

I’m going to get the look and feel out of the way first, because it’s pretty much perfect. →  Can you read me now?

The promise of motion control

Who wrote this unspoken hardcore gamer law that we can’t enjoy a game that engages more than just our brains and fingertips? Just because our hobby has been sedentary in the past, a lot of people seem to want to treat this as some kind of necessary condition to enjoyment of a game. I’ve wondered why so many people scoffed at the notion of actually having to move their arms to play a videogame or, heaven forbid, stand up from the couch. I’ll be the first to admit this may not be conducive to hours long grinds or extended raid sessions, but Nintendo wasn’t looking to give you those kinds of experiences. Thankfully, it seems the emotionally mature members of the gamer demographic have realized this and accepted the Wii for what it is – something that’s striving to give us a very different kind of experience. →  Reading. Reading never changes.

Another design mechanic that should die – Remaining lives

This one has been on my mind lately after finishing the New Super Mario Bros. game on the DS. The little icon reminding you how many Marios remain with which to complete the rest of the game remains ever present. I guess it’s there because, well, it’s always been there, and this is a game about pulling some strings of nostalgia.

What happens when you run out of Marios? You get a screen that asks if you want to continue playing from your last save point. If the ‘penalty’ for running out of lives is the exact same thing that would happen if the user just turns the machine off perhaps you should rethink why, exactly, you are going to the trouble and expense of putting it there in the first place. →  Today I consider myself the luckiest reader on the face of the earth.

A design element that deserves to die: The time limit

Ahh, our old enemy the time limit. Is there a lazier way for a designer to increase the difficulty of a game?

The latest object of my scorn due to this lazy design element is Star Fox Command on the Nintendo DS. Before you get to the Star Fox part of the Star Fox game, you plot out flight paths for Fox and his allies on an overhead map of the planet, keeping in mind enemy squadrons that approach the Great Fox, cities that need liberating, and objects on the map that may assist you in your quest. The caveat? You have a limited number of turns in which to accomplish the planet’s mission objective. You can increase the number of turns you have remaining by liberating cities under enemy control. →  Read more, before it’s too late!