Tag Archives: call of duty

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

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.
Continue reading

For Beta Or For Worse: Black Ops 3 Multiplayer

I had months ago resigned myself to not playing the Black Ops 3 multiplayer beta. It came with the pre-order, and I’m leery of pre-ordering anything these days. Sure Black Ops 2 ran pretty well on PC, but it had a rough start with multi-core systems, and besides, I couldn’t predict how my life would be come the summer, or November.

Then I learned that the beta was actually open to owners of Black Ops 2, and just today, it became open to anyone. Go try it if you have an inkling of curiosity (that would be curiosity as measured in units of C.S. Lewis and J.R.R. Tolkien). I tried it, and am inherently an unreliable narrator as to the experience, seeing that my PC is just under the minimum requirements (a 6850 when a 6870 is the lowest level), but I played it on the Potato settings. Everything low or off, resolution set to almost half the native, and the frame rate capped at 30 FPS.

These substantial compromises resulted in a nearly playable experience, barring the frame drops which everyone seems to be having, at the cost of an aesthetic akin to Impressionist painting on the mixed medium of recycled cardboard and rejected plaster samples. But this is multiplayer, it’s about the combat.

Continue reading

Games Are Better Without Consoles

The topic of consoles versus PCs is something which comes to mind for me rather often. I see the subject surface in strange little ways across a myriad of discussions, and once in a while in a big way. It is regularly debated in practically every place it can be, but it is always from the angle of the gamer, rather than the game. My issue with consoles isn’t one of value (though I do find them to not be a good value), but rather that when you develop for a console, it comes at the cost of the game. The hardware restraints, the common user setup, available input devices, and the garden wall structure all impose costs on the design and development itself. I don’t want console games on PC, I want the best games that can be designed and developed, and that won’t happen when a console is being considered.

Performance

The dedicated hardware of a console was for a very long time, the advantage of a console. Where PC gamers had to run a game on top of an operating system, consoles were comparably leaner, and the game had more resources at their disposal. The trick there was the different architectures between the consoles, so even if a developer had the freedom to release on the leading platforms, they rarely had the fiscal freedom to do so. Consoles were faster, but inflexible, and PCs were growing in both strength and selective standardization.

quake_n64

With the Xbox 360 and PS3 we saw more defined operating systems, and thus some actual overhead to the games, while at the same time PCs were immensely powerful. Sure the 360 and PS3 had some muscle behind them on launch, but that muscle was fixed. Over time, developers learned the systems and the games looked better and better. Competition naturally set in, and more of that processing power went toward the environments and effects. Games streamlined toward gated stories as we see in things like The Last of Us, where it is easy to control what a player can currently possibly see. As expectations of detail levels increased, larger and more open (in terms of choices and exploration) environments decreased. With the fixed hardware, the two could not coincide. Meanwhile on PCs, you simply need to raise the minimum specs some, or advise the user disable a more costly effect. The design wasn’t encumbered. When a game is being ported to PC from console, I expect more limited environments, and being forced down certain areas with no ability to backtrack. Continue reading

Oh Buoy

I know it isn’t what I should be fixated on, but I can’t get past the simple fact that the buoys shown in the Call of Duty: Advanced Warfare multiplayer reveal trailer rotate and boy in exactly the same fashion. To the extent that I have to wonder if it is one rotating brush, that was copied… I guess it could be the exact same animation for a mesh… But it just really sticks out to me.

…and Everything Else

The site has been quiet, but my life has not. Things have picked up in taking care of my daughter, I’ve had some personal illness problems, and a new project is starting up at work. On that same note, I have decided to leave my current job and return to the south so as to be closer to my family as we raise our own family. So now our home is a bluster of packing and paring down, in between diaper changes and bottle washing.

I’ve got a few articles in the works, but am stopping to do this general update one to freshen things up a bit. Today is my 30th birthday, and to mark that I got my first “flawless” Call of Duty game, with 10 kills and 0 deaths. I used quotes because I did not earn the medal, as I joined about 30 seconds after the game started. Oh well. I’ve taken pleasure in my increased ability to predict an opponent who has gone behind concealment and still hit them without line of sight. I’m still usually doing terribly, but I’m catching fleeing targets that I typically would not.

On the subject of multiplayer, though on a vastly higher skill level than my own, and in a higher skill game, there was an excellent Quake Live match between Evil and clawz. The first match isn’t much to behold, but the second was quite thrilling to watch. If you are unfamiliar with Quake Live, Evil is one of the champions, a feared player by most and a respected player by the best. clawz is a relative newcomer, younger than the average member of the competitive Quake community, so in some ways you don’t get more of an odd match up.

So enjoy that, the second match, which is the best, starts at 11:39.

Lots more has happened, but I should probably spend more of my birthday either having fun, or being productive.

Improve Call of Duty With This One Weird Trick

Call of Duty has quietly changed in a lot of ways since the release of the initial Modern Warfare. Namely, a lot of bad perks have been gutted, repurposed, or cut entirely. Stopping Power is largely gone, Juggernaut is now the much more interesting Ballistics Vest item, Martyrdom, Last Stand, Commando, and 3x Frag Grenades are gone. But one perk remains that holds the game back. Steady Aim.

An innocuous sounding perk, reduced hipfire spread, Steady Aim is a thorn in the side of Call of Duty’s primary gameplay loop. In Call of Duty the primary concerns of the player are shooting and not being shot. To liven up this dynamic, the game has the ability to aim down the sights of your weapon. Doing so greatly improves the accuracy of the weapon, at the cost of a slightly more narrow FOV, and reduced movement – sometimes drastically reduced. It always takes a moment to aim down sights, but the resulting accuracy is vastly superior to what you experience firing from the hip. Continue reading

The Epistemology of Multiplayer

There is a lot of faith in the gaming internet community, faith in persons, companies, and technologies. A lot of faith in the technology, such that any explanation as to why an outcome was arrived at is handled with a zealous response.

If you lost a gunfight, to explain what happened is to be a whiner. A response of qq would be had, no matter how reasoned, or accurate your explanation was. If you won it, to explain it beyond a claim of supremacy is to get muddled and take the game too seriously. In both cases, you are supposed to simply accept what has happened. The game has spoken, and that is the way things are, and any suppositions that the networking could have been structured differently, or the gameplay balanced in a way to overcome the flaws of a particular structure, are heretical. Continue reading

Rock Paper Shotgun Yet Again

Rock Paper Shotgun would like to inform you that Call of Duty getting a third dedicated developer to the annual cycle, meaning each game has a three-year development cycle instead of two, a 50% increase in the scheduling budget, is worth mocking. They posit that this can be used to watch more Roland Emmerich films to do research on making monuments fall over. An interesting attempt at mockery, though I’m hard pressed to think of any scenes regarding a monument outside of Modern Warfare 2 and Modern Warfare 3. It also relies on the idea that the development primarily goes into the single player campaign, but you can commonly find people mocking the single player saying people only buy it for the multiplayer. Which is it?

Three hours earlier, Rock Paper Shotgun wanted to inform you of Counter-Strike: Global Offensive adding stickers. Yes, stickers. To your gun. Like a middle school trapper keeper. These posts were made by the same person, who is apparently severely lacking in self-awareness, or awareness of the games he is posting about.

We have a game that is developed by two (now three) studios, each one with their mechanical differences which shapes the gameplay and molds the audience who have their preferences across the releases. We also have a game that is developed by one studio, still relying on the same primary maps, releasing once in a while with iterative updates. But it has stickers!

It is fine to dislike something, but please, dislike it within the scope of things it actually does wrong. Especially when you are publicly writing about games.