Monday, August 13, 2012

Girls Just Wanna Have Fun

Once upon a time I had a girlfriend. She liked to play games and the games that appealed to her most were singing or dancing type of games. She liked horror based games too, especially ones featuring zombies, but tended to prefer watching them being played. I'd try and get her to join in or have a go herself but she'd decline because by her own admission, she sucked at these games.

One day I was playing Fable 2 and she showed a great deal of interest in it. Having a momentary brainwave, I quickly made a profile for her on my Xbox and got her to create a character. She started a new game and I joined in as her henchman. Doing this gave us hours of fun as she got to experience the game without the frustration of struggling with the combat. Any time she got overwhelmed, my character could jump in and take out some of the enemies. 

What a great feature, I thought at the time, removing one of the more frustrating elements for casual gamers while allowing them to explore and enjoy the game world. And look! I'm actually playing a game with my girlfriend!

Now imagine some time later I'm working on a sequel to a successful game. Let's say that the main selling point of this game is its co-operative play. I'm faced with adding new ideas and content to improve it over the original. I think back to playing Fable 2, how much fun that was and how it would be great to get people like my girlfriend playing our new game.

"Hey guys" I might posit while sat in a meeting "Wouldn't it be cool if we could reduce the barrier to entry for our game?"

"What do you mean?" they may ask, unclear where I might be going with this, possibly sneering at the use of buzz phrases like 'barrier to entry'.

I may go into further detail and recount the Fable 2 story to them. How difficult some people find our type of game. How we should try and create a way to encourage more casual gamers to our franchise. 

While being roundly mocked for using the word franchise, a few nod in understanding but not everyone has understood my point. To win over the rest of the team I desperately try and convey the feature in an even simpler way. Jokingly I may suggest,

"Let's call it my girlfriend mode. A mode my girlfriend can play."

Everyone now understands.

And so we spend many hours on this feature, looking at how to make it work, how to balance it, how to make it appealing, attempting to address the issues that have prevented people from participating in our game previously. There's no real name for this yet, that'll get finalised nearer end of production, so it's still jokingly referred to as 'my girlfriend mode'. As the feature is closer to completion, I begin to feel very happy with it. Here's a cool mechanic that will allow more people to get involved and enjoy the experience too. Friends who have never played my game before can now join in. My girlfriend too. 

Hey I'm awesome.

Later I get interviewed about this new cool feature. Full of bravado of my own brilliance I explain my inspiration to the journalist. I go through the Fable 2 story, my meeting with the team and the 'my girlfriend mode' eureka moment. Excitedly I explain how even more people will be able to enjoy our game now. We've broadened our appeal without diluting the game one bit. Look at me, new features and a cool back story to go with it. This article is going to be amazing and everyone will recognise my genius. Everyone will be talking about this.

So imagine my surprise that when the article is published all the emphasis is on Girlfriend Mode, that my low barrier to entry mechanic is seen as patronising rubbish and that it appears that along the way I've said that all girls can't play games. Somehow I now look like a dick. 

Not a genius.

Of course, this didn't happen to me. 

Something similar did happen to John Hemingway, the lead designer on Borderlands 2 today. Whether he had a Fable 2 story, a 'my girlfriend mode' pitch or considers himself awesome is unknown. All the above is based on the fact that my Fable 2 story is true and if I was to ever pitch a similar idea to a team I may well find myself telling that story and the words 'girlfriend mode' may be said in a quick shorthand way to get the concept across.

Even as I write this, the Eurogamer article is being amended to attempt to clarify the original comments:

Now I very much doubt that Hemingway is a sexist, patronising pig or that Eurogamer deliberately focused on 'girlfriend mode' just to sensationalise the article to create traffic. Regardless, it seems to have created a storm over the careless use of a couple of words rather than focus on what is potentially a very good feature.

The games controller is like a language. Many of us, regardless of gender, have grown up with this language. We learnt the basics and as the consoles and joypads became more complex we adapted and mastered those too. It is native to us. For someone now, picking up your average controller for the first time is like asking them to conjugate verbs in Latin.

There's a reason why singing and dancing games are popular. Why your average non-gamer loved Samba de Amigo and Donkey Konga, Why EyeToy took off, why Wii sold so well and why Sony and Microsoft are pushing Move and Kinect. They remove the single most difficult part of entering the world of games. 

The controller.

Now I love console games and I loved Borderlands. I generally like FPS games but struggle with a keyboard and mouse set-up. Why? Because it's not my native language. I can get by on it but I'm not fluent. I know other people who are the exact opposite and would not even consider playing a FPS using a joypad.

So when I first read the Eurogamer article I was much more excited at their attempt to simplify Borderlands 2 than to notice the 'girlfriend mode' comment. Perhaps that makes me sexist too or perhaps I just saw it for what it was. A clumsy, inelegant, shorthand phrase to convey a great feature that was given too much prominence in an article.

Anyway, girlfriend mode for me these days means waiting for my arm to fall asleep.

Thursday, March 08, 2012


For those of you not aware of it, House of the Dead started out as an arcade game in the '90s. It's an on-rails shooter, where you use a light gun to shoot enemies, mostly zombies, with boss levels thrown in for good measure. It was developed by Japanese company SEGA and whether by design or due to translation issues, the original story is somewhat bizarre and the acting wooden.

Useless bit of trivia - SEGA started life as a US company called Service Games of America.

House of the Dead has had many incarnations in the arcade, on computers and on consoles, including spin-offs Typing of the Dead and Pinball of the Dead. One of the latest versions was House of the Dead: Overkill, developed by Headstrong Games, which gave the series a gritty reboot (aren't all reboots gritty these days?). Taking on the Grindhouse stylings of films such as Planet Terror, it was a gore-filled, F-Bomb laden journey through madness with an ending that at best is described as interesting and at worst disgusting. Having an 18 rating and the world record for most uses of the word 'fuck' in a game meant it was a bit of a black sheep on the family friendly Wii but regardless it was a  success.

Having spent far too much money in the arcades and too much time playing House of the Dead 2 on the Dreamcast, I was more than a little envious of those that worked on Overkill when I joined Headstrong. I loved the style and writing, particularly the B-movie film presentation. So when Headstrong were asked to remake it for the PS3 Move and I was asked to be Lead Designer, I jumped at the chance.

In many ways, being asked to update a successful game puts you on a hiding to nothing. If it isn't successful, the blame lies squarely on your shoulders. If it is, you're seen as having merely done a conversion, with all the hard work already done by the original team. So with that sort of pressure I wanted to ensure that not only was the game good but that it had enough differences and improvements to distinguish it from the Wii version and give us some ownership over it.

When working on a game like this, I like to do a lot of research and use as many influences as possible to get into the right mindset. Having played the original Overkill and House of the Dead arcade games was definitely a good start. Next, I started trawling through the game forums and reviews, seeing what elements were praised and which were criticised. From this, I could start making a wishlist of things that I wanted us to do.

As good a start as this was, I wasn't feeling I was in the Overkill mood, so further research was required.

So I bought a couple of books:

Some DVDs:

Some more DVDs:

A few more:

And this:

Actually, ignore that one. That was for another project.

Bought the T-Shirt:

And spent 2 days wandering the streets of Brighton looking like this:

And this:

It was at this point one friend suggested that I might be a little monomaniacal. After spending several days writing a rebuke, I'm pretty sure I proved him wrong.

Anyway, after all that research I was definitely getting into the zombie vibe needed for a game like Overkill and the hard work could commence. Naturally, it was only then that someone decided it might be a good idea to tell me that we weren't allowed to use the Z word and that our enemies were in fact mutants.

And as any horror expert knows, mutants are not the same as zombies.


Saturday, March 03, 2012

Bring it back

Those of you with higher than average deductive powers will have noticed that this blog has been dorment for the last 5 years. I wish I had some exciting story of having to fake my own death while attempting to save the world from an underground criminal cabal, being kidnapped and held hostage by nymphomaniac lingerie models that demanded sexual favours on an hourly basis or a strange case of Memento type amnesia where I lost the Post-It note marked 'update your blog'.

Sadly I've got nothing.


Just a slightly sheepish expression and a mild resolve to try harder until the next bout of apathy takes hold. I know that's the sort of commitment and dedication that is bound to endear me to readers new and old alike. Strap yourself in. You're in for a mediocre ride.

The obvious question is 'why now' and if I was being facetious, which I often am, I would reply 'why not?' However, dear reader, I think after such an absence I owe you a little more than that. So here it is.

I want to write more and a blog offers an outlet for that, opening up my musing, rantings and hopefully insights to a public forum. It means I have to make an effort, introduce some sort of discipline to my life and if nothing else, it keeps me away from drinking cider on the street corner with other undesirables. I have time on my hands at the moment and don't want to waste it.

Well, not completely..

To be a writer, you have to write, which while sounding moronically obvious is rarely that simple. Realising that I don't write anywhere near enough, it was long overdue that I started again. and so here I am. Hopefully a few of you will read this, comment, offer feedback and generally give me the motivation to carry on. If you don't, don't worry, you're not a bad person. I'm not judging you.


So I hope I can get back into the habit of writing on here regularly and in return you will get in the habit of reading it. I've given this place an overhaul, adding various buttons that allow you to stay updated, share my idiot words with friends (or enemies) or just add abusive comments.

Failing that you can abuse me on Twitter. Although abuse will have to be limited to 140 characters but that's your problem.

To start off with I thought I'd do a few bits on House of the Dead Overkill, talk about the scripts, cutscenes and marketing stuff I did for it. I might as well stick the scripts I wrote on here while I'm at it and some videos. Hopefully I can make it interesting for those of you that don't like grindhouse inspired video games and B movie bad writing. Although if you don't, what's wrong with you?

Once I've done that I might get back to my usual ranting nonsense. Who knows? Fresh start and all.

Regardless, it's good to be back.

Friday, August 10, 2007

Please allow me to introduce myself

Well, I know it’s been a long time since I last wrote on here but I’m not sure introductions are completely necessary, given I’m on first name terms with my small, yet loyal readers of these pages. Of course, there may be a few new people visiting here for the first time. If this is the case, pull up a virtual chair and be prepared for some random musings, rants and general rubbish. And remember, this virtual experience can be recreated in person at your nearest pub for the low, low price of a few pints (travel expenses not included).

So, as you can imagine by my absence that I’ve been somewhat busy of late. That and suffering from terminal laziness, so this place has been a little neglected. Still, a quick spring clean, a throw and a few cushions will make it look as good as new. Sorry about the smell.

I’ve been at a loose end this week, which reflects the end of a game project. After some hectic weeks and late nights, everything is pretty much done and dusted bar the odd bug. The least satisfying part of ending a project is the sense of anti-climax (no pun intended). Projects tend to just fizzle out. Often there’ll be a handful of people left ironing out the last few problems while you’re moved on to your next game. By the time the announcement is made that it’s officially over, you’re left shrugging your shoulders since as far as you are concerned it finished weeks, if not months, ago.

So, stuck in the limbo of not quite finished but next to nothing to do this week, boredom finally pushed me to do something that I’d resisted for a long time.

I joined Facebook.

Of course, it wasn’t just boredom that precipitated this move. I was bribed/blackmailed into it with the promise of pictures of female friends wearing very little at Pride last weekend. No problem, I’ll sign up, have a quick look at the pics and be on my merry way, thought I. But no, it wasn’t that simple. My friend, like a pusher giving out a free rock of crack, knew that once I’d had a taste, I’d be back for more. I should have just nicked his camera instead.

My profile was diligently filled out, pictures added and friends searched for and duly invited. Add-ons added, quizzes taken and games played. I could see what music friends were listening to, At That Very Moment!, films that they were watching, books they were reading, places they'd visited and trawl through the many, many photographs that they had added. Once bored of all this, I’d still be clicking on my page to see if anyone had sent me a new message or done anything interesting in the 10 seconds since I last checked. Even sat in the pub I’d be tempted to have a quick browse on my phone and see what other people were doing. I’ve lost count of the number of times I’ve checked while writing this.

Oh, someone’s just added ‘Princess Mononoke’ to their favourite movies list.

The ‘wall’ feature is an easy way to chat to friends by adding a comment to their profile page. If you want, you can also make the comment appear on your wall. Of course, no one bothers to do that so you always end up seeing only one side of the conversation. Anyone checking my page yesterday afternoon would have read a series of insults, expletives, outbursts and threats from the same person. Without seeing my replies it appeared to be a virtual form of Tourette’s.

I’ve no idea what the appeal of Facebook is but it’s sucked me in. Maybe it’s just a good way to see what your old friends and colleagues are doing or for quickly and casually organising a night out. Maybe it’s a way of stalking your friends and vicariously living your life through them as you discover the fun they’ve been having while you’re stuck at work in front of a PC. Or maybe it’s just a massive multiplayer online game where you try to convince everyone else that you’re having a better time and have more friends than them.

Anyway, I think I'm winning.

One final word of warning, though. If you’re going to do quizzes that compare your friends to each other and you really must answer questions like ‘Who would you rather sleep with?’ then make sure that you un-tick the box that says ‘notify the winners of the results’.

It tends to be less embarrassing that way.

Wednesday, January 31, 2007

Take the money, open the box?

There are many great mysteries in life. Why do boilers only break down at the coldest time of the year? Why did it take some racist comments before people realised Jade Goody was an intolerable witch? Why do people who play music on a crowded train have the worst taste? Just when exactly is Jimmy Savile going to die? And for us men, what do women keep in their handbags?

Most men know better than to ever invade a woman’s leather inner sanctum but, despite this, I’m pretty sure that amongst the myriad of bizarre items that they cannot leave the house without, a balaclava, dog biscuits, Rawl plugs, false teeth and rubber bands are not amongst them.

However, these items were some of the answers listed by ITV’s Quizmania when they asked viewers to call in and name 13 things you would find in a woman’s handbag. I don’t know which woman they had in mind but it suggests a dog-loving, ninja OAP with a talent for DIY.

I’d never watched these late night quiz shows, given that I regard them as the preserve of drunken idiots, but over Christmas while flicking through the channels in the early hours, I stumbled across Five’s offering. Seeing anything on Five is always a bit of a surprise as it just does not register on my TV radar mostly because, let’s face it, it’s a bit rubbish.

Their late night quiz was no exception but it was strangely compelling, especially after one too many nightcaps. The presenters looked like rejects from an ‘80’s US soap with grins and tans from the planet Perma. The camera work was straight out of a bad porn film, all Vaseline lens and gratuitous close-ups, as the presenters would play with their hair, stare into the camera in what would be a seductive manner bar the fact that they appeared slightly cross-eyed and whisper, nay implore, the viewers to phone in with the answers in the kind of voice you pay premium phone rates to hear.

Then there were the questions. Or rather question, as one would seem to be enough to last for hours without someone finding the correct answer. Prize money would go up and down throughout the night and soon I was screaming at the TV in frustration as the same wrong answers were repeated over and over as more and more drunken idiots phoned in.

One question seemed innocent and simple enough. It showed a picture of a jumble of notes ranging from £1 to £50 and asked the simple question ‘How many £’s?’ Now did they mean the total monetary value? Did they mean how many £ symbols were visible or even how many £ symbols were on the notes in total? Should the £1 notes be discarded as they are no longer legal currency? It was incredibly confusing and despite working out every permutation, each one was given as an answer and proven to be wrong. Sleep came before an answer was revealed.

So for several nights, well, early mornings, I found myself tuning in, hooked by the surreality of it all. It was like a dirty secret, an addiction to hide. Until the night I drunkenly introduced Jon to the show. At first he was sceptical but, as with me, the show slowly reeled him in and soon we were arguing over the question.

Appropriately enough it was some maths problem involving monkeys and between the two of us, after several wrong attempts, we were absolutely positive that we had the right answer. Next thing we knew, Jon was trying to phone in, convinced we were about to win £20k. Of course, despite several calls and a small fortune in premium rates we never got through nor discovered if we had the right answer.

As I said, these things are the preserve of drunken idiots.

Sunday, December 24, 2006

It takes two to make a thing go shite

It’s the night before Christmas and I wish that nothing was stirring. Instead, surfing through the channels on TV I stumbled upon the equivalent of aural rape. I wish I could have changed the channel or turned off the TV completely but it was so hypnotically bad. I think my will to live drained so fast that I couldn’t summon the strength to escape its clutches.

Welcome to the world of ‘Duet Impossible’.

No doubt conceived by some coked up TV executive after seeing the Radio 2 advert starring Elvis, Keith Moon, Stevie Wonder et al, current ‘stars’ get to duet with dead ones. I’m not sure if the impossible part of the title is for the incredulity that this ever got past the first pitch meeting or for the implausibility that stars of the past would ever deign to share a stage with these pretenders. With Vernon Kay presenting, you knew that it would always be nylon on offer rather than silk, with little spark, static or otherwise.

The Sugar Babes continued to make me suspect that there’s a chip shop short of 3 staff somewhere as they took on Dusty Springfield with a version of ‘Dancing in the Streets’. As soon as Springfield opened her mouth, completely blowing the ‘Babes’ off the stage, I was left wishing that they would go back to the fish suppers and leave Dusty to sing. It was like being in a nightclub, hearing your favourite song and the DJ cutting out the best bits to sing over the top.

McFly announced that they were going to duet with Lulu, which made me wonder when she died. They appeared with a 15 year old version of Lulu which, they claimed was the impossible part, while attempting a predictable version of ‘Shout’. It looked like performing was the real impossible part as their contribution resembled miming to the original with a bit of extra shouting. Lo and behold the real Lulu appeared at the very end of the song and again I was left wondering when she died.

As McFly were out of their depth with Lulu, so too was she as she performed with Marvin Gaye. Simon Ward (I have no idea either) mumbled over Peggy Lee’s classic ‘Fever’ and for the grand finale, Boy George showed that there’s no greater love than self-love by dueting with himself. By this stage I nearly performed a ‘Duet Impossible’ myself with Mama Cass as I choked on my sandwich.

Choosing such obvious, classic songs was the first mistake. How anyone can think that altering the near perfection of ‘Heard it through the Grapevine’ will result in anything but disaster needs help. The second problem was the gulf in talent between the current and past acts. It highlights just how far good marketing and PR will get bands these days compared to acts of the past relying on pure talent.

The only person to come out of this with merit was Katie Meluah. Her duet with Eva Cassidy on ‘Somewhere over the Rainbow’ was understated, restrained and touching. Her voice and guitar complimenting both the song and Cassidy’s vocals, surely the most important quality of any duet. The fact that Meluah is a talented artist rather than from the conveyor belt that churned out the other acts is telling.

A truly terrible Christmas offering from the BBC and I’m only grateful that I didn’t catch all of the acts. If this is the best of the Christmas TV treats this year I only hope that someone has kept the receipt.

Friday, December 22, 2006

What did you do during the war?

You know the clock's ticking, time's running out and you still have that last minute shopping to do. Panicking you check your shopping list;

Porn mags?
World Peace?


Today, wankers all over the world will unite, unashamed and striving single-handedly to end all wars. By the simple act of self-love while thinking positive thoughts, aggression and violence around the globe can be reduced. Yes, today they come in peace.

Brought to you by the same people who spelled the word ‘peace’ with their naked bodies to show just how alarmed they were with the state of the world, Global Orgasm is their next step in ending conflict. You may be surprised to discover that the organisers are Californian hippies. Their website provides the following information:

The Event

WHO? All Men and Women, you and everyone
you know.

WHERE? Everywhere in the world, but especially in countries with weapons of mass destruction.

Winter Solstice Day - Friday, December 22nd,
at the time of your choosing, in the place of your choosing and with as much privacy as you choose.

WHY? To effect positive change in the energy field of the Earth through input of the largest possible surge of human energy a Synchronized Global Orgasm. There are two more US fleets heading for the Persian Gulf with anti-submarine equipment.

And while you may think this is all nonsense, they have science on their side:

The Global Consciousness Project runs a network of Random Event Generators (REGs) around the world, which record changes in randomness during global events. The results show that human consciousness can be measured to have a global effect on matter and energy during widely-watched events such as 9/11 and the Indian Ocean tsunami. There have also been measurable results during mass meditations and prayers.

The Zero Point Field or Quantum Field surrounds and is part of everything in the universe. It can be affected by human consciousness, as can be seen when simple observation of a subatomic particle changes the particle’s state.

We hope that a huge influx of physical, mental and spiritual energy with conscious peaceful intent will not only show up on Princeton’s REGs, but will have profound positive effects that will change the violent state of the human world.

So that’s cleared that up.

Looking at the countdown on the clock, there are less than 10 minutes until the synchronised global orgasm. Hopefully there aren't any trigger happy types out there because who knows what could happen if shooting starts prematurely. War is a messy business.

Perhaps the earth really will move.

Cover me. I'm going in.