Author Archives: scar3crow

Review – Wolfenstein 2: The New Colossus

Wolfenstein 2: The New Colossus is Machinegame’s job application for Naughty Dog without angering people who want to hold down both W and left mouse. It tells the origin story of B.J. Blazkowicz who went from an imperfect but earnest patriotic American to a renowned jumper of sharks, though I won’t spoil that for you. The New Colossus (TNC) is a lot of cutscenes which provide the only context for your actions, and a fair bit of corridor shooting, or looping through arenas shooting at freshly spawned Nazis. Continue reading

Introducing Reviews

Coming soon, the post content will expand to the subject of reviews for games and mods. This will not be on a particular schedule, nor will I strive to cover the latest and greatest releases, but rather if I have enough thoughts covering multiple aspects of a release – rather than one or two components – then I may likely write a review.

Reviews will be scored on a scale of 1 to 10, where you essentially extrapolate that to a multiplier of 10% quality/goodness/positive whatnot. I am not adhering to the rule of every game being between a 7 and a 10. I don’t anticipate the reviews being popular by any means, but, sometimes you want to say something.

I have one in the pipe, expect it next week, and another which I will start writing soon. After that, it will happen as I am moved to review something, be it new or old. The upcoming reviews are both new releases, but that is largely coincidental. You are just as likely to see me review Duke Nukem 3d or the AirQuake mod as you would a preview build of Amid Evil. The primary criteria is having at least 800 words to say about more than two aspects of it, and having reached a conclusion as to my feelings on the product that I believe I can quantify with my scale.

I hope you at least find them interesting, keep your eyes peeled for next week.

Game Development and the Cost of Dreams

This post will likely be very dry, and at an extremely high view as it concerns the business of games as a commodity and how it pertains to employment, budgeting, and forecasting. Do not take me as an authority on this, rather an impassioned individual who has been burned by the lackluster business acumen of the game industry first hand. I will always defer to hard numbers which are not anecdotal on this subject.

The game industry is very much that, an industry, and an industry must profit. This is oft forgotten and overlooked because we enjoy it as an art, a sport, a social event, a tool, and a puzzle, so it comes as quite a shock when a studio shuts down. This post is not to defend any particular action, but rather to provide a little more detail to the overall financial situation of a game studio, with some topical anecdotal exploration in the conclusion.

Games are not made in a vacuum, but rather part of a larger studio budget. This budget includes the administrative staff, facilities and IT staff, HR staff, legal counsel, and the many other positions we take for granted that are part of any company. Their salaries and benefits, as well as the cost of the office space, utilities, hardware, software licenses, and more, are part of the base budget. Within that we have the game team(s), which has a similar structure but is comprised more so of the people you think of when it comes to game development.

The largest portion of any budget is the cost of the labor, and that is a factor of the local cost of living. Where your favorite game is made is a substantial factor in its profitability. The higher the cost of living, the tighter the margins, and even if a game is profitable, more work on that same scope is risky because of the location. I’ve written about this before with The Costs of Kickstarting in Expensive Cities and it still applies here, as many games are made in California, which is in general expensive.

An aside to that is the subject of outsourcing, as the reason outsourced labor is so much cheaper is typically due to cost of living differences, and in many cases, the outsource is located on the opposite side of the globe, Poland and India both being common locations, which is very convenient to tight deadlines as it allows for around the clock work on the project, though due to the difficulties of time zone differences, this labor is usually constrained to QA, art, and isolated engineering components that require little synchronization with the primary developer.

Already we are looking at a large amount of expenditures to overcome with sales of the game, but people won’t buy your game if they don’t know about it, and thus enters marketing. Marketing is never cheap, but always necessary. At a minimum, take the game’s budget, and allocate it all over again as a baseline for marketing, though it can easily go higher, say, four times as high for a large project like Call of Duty, or something akin to Blizzard’s partnership with Yum Brands. It isn’t cheap to get Soldier 76 on your large soda at Taco Bell, and the game is going to have to recoup that as well. Continue reading

The Axes of Difficulty

As always, I am generally writing to and from the position of FPSes.

There are three axes for skill settings, broadly speaking, which can change (non-exclusively) to adjust the difficulty, they are:

  • Behavioral – Enemies gain or lose abilities, display different reaction times, change tactics, and vary in accuracy and prediction. A simple illustration of this is in the original Unreal where the combat capability of the monsters was modified by the difficulty level you selected.
    • Nightmare difficulty deserves a special note here, as it often increases monster attack speed, general aggressiveness, and may include elements such as respawning. Nightmare was created for Doom in a patch, a response to player complaints that Ultra-Violence was too easy. You may want to read my small article on Duke Nukem 3d’s higher difficulties.
  • Economical – Health, armor, and ammo are more scarce, inventory may be limited. This can engender an anti-completionist attitude, or drive the secret hunter all the further.
  • Circumstantial – This one is a bit broader and can include changing level layouts, though less common due to technical and labor reasons, but more often involves Economical changes on top of enemy positioning, quantity, and composition changes. This method was commonly used in FPSes and can be seen extensively in Quake for the wide shifts in level density and battle complexity depending on the difficulty.

These increase the cognitive load on the player, asking him to factor in more at a time for decision making, thus asking the player to use their existing education about the game in a more strenuous form, while mentally juggling changing data points, which takes us back to the simple notion that learning is fun, when focused and applied. Continue reading

My First Doom 2 Map

Tainted Waters.

It began as an exercise to challenge myself to actually sit down and learn Doom Builder.

The goal was to explore a variety of features and gain familiarity, enforced by the tight deadline, and to a degree inspired by Romero’s single session creation of e4m2. There was no planning involved, though in my downtime I would think on the layout for ways to improve it. Now I did hit a snag in my plan of weekly map releases…

I recovered faster than I feared it would take, but it did hit my self-derived momentum, but I had a new momentum, in the form of a not completely horrible looking level that was a functional layout. Functional layout meaning a player spawn, exit, triggers, locked doors, keys, secrets, and a variety of encounters. So I got back to it, having already clocked 20 hours, I engaged in that infamous final 20% which seems to take so much of the effort and began soliciting friends for playtests, and iterating on it from their feedback and my own play sessions and bug finding.

It is one thing to find bugs, but another to fix them, particularly on your first outing. I quickly learned how much error catching and good faith assumptions GZDoom makes for the player, as I ran into some ugly issues and locked off areas when testing in PrBoom+ and Chocolate Doom (and to a lesser extent, ZDoom). I ultimately decided to simply state that the map is best played with GZDoom, as I had developed some mapping habits that GZDoom had no problem with, but other clients did. Hopefully those habits will be broken on the next level.

I’m releasing it now, and will be uploading it for Doomworld’s /newstuff. I’m not a great mapper, yet, but I think this is an okay first effort, and I had more fun making than I’ve had playing most games. Maybe the next one can be done in under 20 hours?

You can download it here.

What Doom Is Not

At the heart of the advocacy from id about Doom 4 is the repeated references to Doom’s DNA, to the validity of this addition to the franchise. Reviewers and YouTube personalities are keen to demonstrate a command of FPS proficiency, and thus latch on to this while citing various parts of Doom 4 as being just like the original. This is understandable as it does add weight to a positive review in the form of a pseudo endorsement. “This is awesome because it is a given that the original is awesome, and I vouch that this reminds me of it.” The problem is, they are speaking of Doom as a memory, which it doesn’t have to be.

Since its release in 1993, it has always been playable on mainstream devices (and less mainstream gaming platforms, like, pianos) thanks to the original executable, Doom95, and the source ports surrounding the 1999 release of the engine code. There is no need to appeal to childhood memories when it is just as accessible today as it was on release. But this does seem to be their foundation, and I am being generous here, as if it isn’t the fault of memory, then they have serious sensory issues to work out. The following is a short list of Doom 4 attributes that Doom does not share, yet so many reviews insist that it does. Continue reading

Doom 4 Campaign Stream Thoughts

Bethesda and Twitch recently streamed an hour of the Doom 4 campaign, switching between a few different areas and showing quite a bit. I’ve got a variety of impressions from what was shown there.

This is borderline a stream of consciousness, I don’t have much good to say, and without that I often struggle to find a writing rhythm. I try to explain a little, and why I don’t like it.

The levels appear to function very much in the same vein as Painkiller, in that you progress from arena to arena, though there is a tiny bit more fighting in the between spaces – though those are mostly hallways. I didn’t notice if you are confined to the arena during the fight, but progress appears to be tethered to killing everyone in the area. The arenas themselves appear interesting, usually with three different combat heights and about a 40-60% overlap in pathways, and some connecting intermediary heights using geometry like crates, but the combat itself doesn’t seem to make much use of the third dimension. Monsters pursue you, and seem to favor close range attacks, in such a way that all of the fighting happens on the same level as you. I did see a little vertical combat where Cacodemons were involved, but not much. From what id has chosen to show, the combat is functionally a 2d affair, where you are concerned with what can walk to you.

On the subject of combat, it isn’t slow, but fast isn’t likely to come up either. It is a very even tempo, and one that will keep most people from getting bored. Due to the level design, it doesn’t seem the combat ever pushes you back to a previous area, or forward into further danger. It is all very… I don’t want to say scripted, but, foreseeable. The only real variance seems to be the meta layer the player can engage with, which is that of weapon upgrades, suit upgrades, and which runes they are using. Now they didn’t go into depth as to the various ways to get weapon upgrades, but it seems they can be tied to level challenges, and kiosks, and concerns unlocking found weapon mods. Suit upgrades appear to be based on finding tokens of a sort on a type of guard in the UAC? And runes are unlocked by completing isolated challenges, triggered by finding rune stations, and upgraded by using them in certain ways.
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Romero’s Take On Doom E1M8

It is very likely that if this is the sort of site you read, you’ve probably already heard that John Romero released a new Doom map, his take on e1m8. Many note that this is substantial due to how long it has been, but my takeaway was that it made it possible to play all of the first episode of Doom encountering only maps by Romero. E1M8 was designed by Sandy Petersen based off of scraps from Tom Hall, and it being a different mapper worked for a boss level, as the level signified change. It had the most somber song yet, and the clearest presence of the Hell themes. It was transitioning you to Shores of Hell, an episode with many maps by Petersen.

I’ll be reviewing the map on its own merits, but also in the context of being the level following E1M7, and of being constrained to the shareware content. Below the cut you’ll find not just the review, but my first playthrough of the map on YouTube. Due to GZDoom crashing and corrupting the video, you missed out on my first five deaths, so this video (recorded in ZDoom) has me changing my strategy and being aware of one secret.
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Quake’s Original Map Order

John Romero recently shared the original sequence of maps for Quake, as of March 26th 1996, using the internal file names. It revealed a different structure to how we think of the game. Where the final release is four distinct episodes with separate entrances from start.bsp, where episode one is a cross section of maps and styles, with the remaining episodes being primarily owned by a particular mapper and of just one theme, we now can see an earlier and different beast: There was no start map, and the game led with all of the base maps, before going through the themes of medieval, metal, wizard, and elder. Sure that sequence is familiar enough, but as I’ve covered before, Quake has a rhythm, where Doom has a flow. The interrupts of the base maps at the beginning of each episode lends itself to that rhythm. This original structure flows, more like Doom. Below you can see the full plan, and my write-up of how the sequence would go using the final file names, with the reference having been graciously provided by John.
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Duke Nukem 3d and Higher Difficulties

For someone who loves classic first person shooters so much, I’ve never been a fan of Nightmare modes. Doom had enemies respawning, Quake had faster attack rates (and a faster Vore firepod), Blood had substantially healthier enemies, and Duke3d, like Doom, went with respawning enemies. I didn’t care for these because they tended to mess with the rhythm of the game. Quake doesn’t feel like Quake with monster attacks spamming, Doom can’t build its sly creepy mood if you’re forced to keep moving like it is a deathmatch session, and the robed cultists in Blood should not require four shotgun shells.
duke0000
I recently dropped by GalleyUK’s YouTube channel, home of some of the finest playthroughs of first person shooters, and saw he had somewhat recently re-recorded his playthrough of Duke3d, all secrets, all monsters, all four episodes. But this time he did it on Damn, I’m Good, the game’s equivalent to Nightmare. Damn, I’m Good respawns the monsters, but only if a solid corpse is there. And Duke has corpses which react to splash damage. Immediately the pipebombs and laser trip bombs gained value beyond toying about (and in Dukematch). Galley would toss a pipebomb amidst corpses and detonate, or lace the room with lasers before leaving.
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Explosions are somewhat obvious, but this also inflated the value of the Shrinker and Freezer, elevating them beyond gimmick – they didn’t leave solid corpses either. Killing an enemy in a doorway would result in the corpse getting squished, also preventing a respawn. But my favorite was the HoloDuke, a toy copied straight out of Total Recall, I never found a use for it. But Galley, without any explosives to his name and an abundance of corpses, left the hologram running in a thoroughfare as he continued his exploration of the level. He later returned, and all of the enemies had respawned, but instead of fanning out in search of Duke, they were preoccupied with the hologram. He kept them in check.

Where other games, excellent games which I love, lose something from their highest difficulty level, Duke Nukem 3d gained an additional layer, and turned the trinkets into tools. We need more games like that.