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DARK ACRE INDEPENDENT GAME DEVELOPMENT

How to Win the Independent Games Festival (IGF)

IGF_Banner

The following is just, like, my opinion, okay? I’m not part of the IGF in any official capacity beyond acting as an unpaid judge, a position I volunteered for & you can too (maybe).

Listen, if you’re going to enter a contest it’s very important to first know what the rules are. Even more important than that is knowing how the contest is going to be judged, for in that knowledge lies the clues on how to win.

I’ve served as 1st-round judge in this and last year’s IGF. This means I’ve sifted through hundreds of potential McNally Grand Prize winners and made my recommendations based on my own personal biases when it comes to gaming and game design. After I and 100+ other sets of eyeballs have made their nomination a smaller panel of judges decides who wins what. This is how the IGF works. Check the IGF site for a full clarification on the judging process.

The IGF is far from perfect, like most everything in life. There are numerous alternatives and a free market for establishing new ones. But if you’ve got your heart set on winning one of the IGF prizes, then here’s a short list of tips to help in that endeavor:

  1. Your game must be basically comprehensible within 5 minutes.
  2. Not only is this a great rule of thumb for any creative effort, but it’s especially important for the IGF as the first round of judging is left to 100+ volunteers who may or may not have the time to gain a deep understanding of what you’re selling.

    Note that I said basically comprehensible. Your game could (and many would argue should) have deep mechanics, secrets, and Easter eggs that go beyond the first blush. But if you can’t hook the player in the opening gambit then all of that extra stuff is made in vain.

  3. Your game’s summary info must be attractive.
  4. But beauty is in the eye of the beholder! Yes, of course it is, but if your attraction materials, such as screenshots and synopsis text, are not immediately interesting there’s a very good chance your entry will be passed over for something that is.

    So how do you go about making your materials attractive? Beyond taking a beginner’s course in marketing you can look through the games on Steam using its various layers of interaction. Start with the front page and figure out what catches your eye. Go through the list of top sellers and see how the thumbnails are composed, then hover over the image and check how they sell the game concept in the pitch paragraph.

    Yes, it sucks that such a superficial quantifier can make or break your game’s chances of winning a prize, but this is the nature of the contest. On the plus side, the sooner you embrace the marketing side of game development the better of an overall producer you become.

  5. Your game must be accessible.
  6. No tutorial? No tooltips? Relying on the cleverer players to simply “get” your game? Congratulations, you’ve just eliminated a large number of the players out there from achieving engagement. These days the way you introduce your players to your game’s mechanisms is paramount. Once, a long time ago in another reality, players would actually sit down and read copious documentation to understand how their videogames worked. We still will for boardgames, so why not for videogames? Because a generation of developers got wise and realized they could make accessibility part of the game itself.

    Yes, making tutorials and preparing a game for less ludocentric minds is extra work, but it’s acknowledged as part of the overall polish. In addition to teaching the player the game’s systems the game itself should be playable by a wide range of setups. Is your game only available on some obscure hardware that a player needs to go on an actual quest for before playing? Good luck getting eyes on it.

    Other areas to consider: resolution, controllers, color blindness, and various socio-political norms.

  7. Your game must be (mostly) playable.

This should go without saying, but the IGF has become a place where unfinished concept entries are competing side-by-side with polished near AAA-level product. The less polish that’s apparent on your darling the more obvious it becomes as judges work their ways through the entries. I’m not saying don’t take a chance that someone will recognize your unbridled genius in what amounts to the sketch of a final videogame, just don’t be surprised when it gets passed over for more fleshed out examples.


Hopefully that gives a little insight into what’s needed to get attention in a contest like the IGF. What you may notice is that it’s a microcosm of what it takes to actually sell a videogame into the larger market. Always bear in mind that entry into the IGF is 100% voluntary on the side of the competitors, and they accept the rules and conditions of the contest by making an entry.

Institutions and organizations only ever have as much power as we’ve chosen to give them.

Month 49 Report

It’s time to start talking about development. Let’s keep it short, simple, & heavy on the pictures.

DEVELOPMENT SNAPSHOT

Click for full-sized image.

The white/greybox is part of the prototype stage of videogame development. It allows for collision and scripting tests, scaling of objects, and other visual tuning like shading and lighting. In artistic terms it’s known as “blocking out” and provides a foundation for future levels of detail. The overall game system should work at this level of fidelity before enhancing objects or adding sound design.

The image above represents 4 months of planning and 2 months of production (solo, full-time, all assets from scratch).


FROM MESH TO MAPPED

Click to see full-sized.

This image illustrates the steps & costs involved in the current art pipeline.

It’s a 1-time fixed cost ($6563 USD) to produce physically-based rendering assets for the current project. The Child uses Alloy for shading in Unity, as there are no plans to update to Unity v.5.

As a solo developer relying on self-instruction it’s taken roughly 36 months to put this pipeline together & get it to the point where it’s fast and produces assets of acceptable quality.

There’s still room for improvement in regards to animation output, but it will still be months or upwards of a year before that really matters.


HOW TO SURVIVE

Months of anonymous assault on certain high-profile individuals seem to be trying to teach us an important lesson: put the work before the ego.

Why do people feel it’s so critical to put their personal lives in front of their work? Particularly in a field like ours, that of digital authorship, where we can remain anonymous ourselves, shielded by pen names and aliases forever while still disseminating our work with the exact same reach of those who choose to reveal themselves?

I’m not innocent in this regard, after all I spent the first few years of my independent career feeling insecure and underloved as I tried to push my persona alongside my work. But now it looks like it’s in my best interests to fade back into the shadows and let the work speak for itself. And shouldn’t that be the way it is?

It’s a good practice to take a long look at the behavior of anyone victimized by a random internet hate mob. Take a good look at how much gasoline they pour on the fires at their own feet. I guarantee (providing the victims haven’t gone to great lengths to cleanse their contributions from their timelines) you’ll find that they’re the ones most antagonizing the mobs and whipping them into frenzies. No one is really innocent in these exchanges, yet it always seems to start with an artist putting their ego before the art, rather than allowing the work to speak for itself.

It’s unfortunate that people have had to get hurt for this realization to come about, but now that it’s clear it’s going to be very hard to feel sympathetic for anyone who comes forward with a “me first, my politics, my agendas, look at who I am” approach rather than a “here is the art, here is the message, make up your own mind”.

Game developers are not rock stars or stage performers. Who we are is irrelevant to the presentation of our work. Perhaps there’s a case made for motivating others by setting a good example, but doesn’t it follow that setting one untainted by racial, sexual, or other politics is purer?

An artist who chooses to pursue personal fame has to learn to avoid antagonizing any mobs that might form. It’s important to step back and think critically by looking at the lives of the celebrities who’ve come before, and how they’ve dealt with the masses. It’s more important to really question why it’s so important that a name, face, and political agendas are attached to the work. Inevitably the answer to that question is ego, hubris, and pride, and those qualities are far more toxic and self-destructive than any death threat.

Until the Internet is stripped of its anonymous functionality we will forever be outgunned when agitating the public. The only way to “win” a war of hateful attrition is to not participate. Make it about the art, not the artist. Artists come and go, we are only mortal after all, but our creations have the potential for immortality. The only people standing in the way of that are ourselves.


JUST WRITE

Unsurprisingly, 6 months of sustained and daily practice produces solid results. I’ll be participating in this year’s National Novel Writer’s Month. If you’re doing the same feel free to connect and best of luck.

See you in 30 days for the 50th monthly update! Thanks for following, your patience is appreciated.


You do it to yourself, you do. And that’s why it really hurts.

GAME DEVELOPMENT AS EXORCISM

It Compels You

“Do what you love” is a ridiculous epithet when it comes to solo game development. There will be many, many long months of doing things you absolutely hate in order to produce something you can love. Game development as a journey of self-discovery is a horrible nightmare that feels like it will never end. It is far better to treat it as a penance that must be paid in order to find redemption.

When I was a kid I took a lot of drugs. What I was really doing was self-medicating in search of certain realities of self that were slowly revealed to me through reckless experimentation and introspective observation. When I came out the other side, changed though I was, I believed I’d learned the lessons I’d needed to learn. For a good number of years it seemed I had, then I found myself possessed with a wild desire to produce videogames.

Now, 5 years deep in the actual art of game development I realize that I’m still self-medicating, only this time my drug is in the punishing form of self-inflicted software bugs and artistic concepts that refuse to realize themselves because I lack the skill or the technology. Whether this is karma, or I’m still digging a hole into my heart to find out what really lies beneath, I can say that it’s just as painful as waking up after a drug overdose used to be.

Don’t do what you love. Do whatever’s necessary to exorcise the unfathomable horror of being and get back into the business of living free.

Dark Acre Year Three Report

The Dead Year

THE DARK JACK

Check out the Year Zero, Year One, & Year Two reports.

Major Events from Year Three

  • October: Suffered a devastating emotional break-up.
  • August: Recovered.

Detailed chronicles of Year Three can be found on the pages & posts of this website.


Facts & Figures

Financials

All values in Canadian dollars, year total/monthly average (previous year)

  • Administration (licensing): $974.40/$74.95↓ ($1,454.00/$121.17)
  • Billings (@$20/hour): $25,839.59/$1,989.51↓ ($25,935/$2,030)
  • Delivery (postage): $0.00/$0.00↓ (291.21/$24.27)
  • Donations (made to charities/NPOs): $89.12/$6.86↓ ($228.58/$19.05)
  • Entertainment (business meals and events): $251.43/$19.34↓ ($317.09/$24.52)
  • Hardware: $2,102.19/$161.71↑ ($1475.53/$120.02)
  • Marketing (press releases/advertisement): $138.20/$10.63↓ ($219.44/$13.83)
  • Memberships: $138.20/$10.63↑ ($70.99/$5.92)
  • Phone (business land-line): $209.67/$16.13↓ ($242.20/$18.93)
  • Rent (percentage for home office): $618.52/$47.58↓ ($1,227.25/$98.58)
  • Research (“competitors” games): $1,579.65/$121.51↓ ($1,992.70/$161.35)
  • Software (development applications): $1,134.24/$87.25↑ ($733.57/$61.13)
  • Training (DVDs/seminars): $171.06/$13.16↓ ($195.29/$15.86)
  • Utilities (electric): $240.00/$20.00 ($240.00/$20.00)
  • Food: $1,550/$129.00↓ ($1,550/$129.00)
  • Rent (actual): $7,140/$595.00↓ ($10,656/$888.00)
  • Total Cost Minus Billings: -$22,157.53↓ ($19,426)

Year Three was a big earner (theoretical) despite lack of new output, and the move from a big city to a rural community cut overall costs in half. Sales of existing products were predictably low due to lack of any serious marketing efforts. This is all in line with the original ’06 business plan projections.

Considering that I did almost no work for the entire year, this was a pretty good paid vacation.

As with the end of Y2 I still find myself in dire need of publishing something worthy of a serious marketing push. This is a “pre-hit” condition for any independent creative, so it’s not a source of discouragement so much as a fact of life.

Results

Primary Game Projects:

  • Project Zero Zero: Development ongoing. Undisclosed systems prototyping.
  • Project Zero Five: Development ongoing.
  • Project Zero Eight: Research ongoing.
  • Project Zero Nine: ???

Year Three has been the worst year for new commercial output with zero completed projects.


What Went Right

1. Played All the Videogames

I couldn’t have possibly taken a better vacation from reality than I did, at least from the perspective of being a videogame developer. Immersed in both Call of Duty and World of Warcraft I dedicated thousands of hours to understanding the appeals of two of the biggest commercially successful videogames in history, and had a lot of relaxing fun doing it.

2. Continued to Not Read Twitter

Apparently there’s been some very serious problems with certain egos on Twitter. I only found out about it when it managed to gain some exposure in real (read: non-gaming/blog) news publications, so I went out and checked some of the social network timelines of the major players. After spending a few hours sifting through various threads and links, I realized that the only place the war was raging was in those tabs of my web browser, so I closed them. It’s horrible, certainly, if people were attacked in real life, but the whole thing seemed pretty ridiculous on all sides. From an objective viewpoint it looked just like a bunch of egos clashing and tossing gasoline on each other’s fires.

My takeaway was a deeper interrogation as to why self-promotion of any individual ego matters at all in game development. Isn’t the message or product more important than who made it? And if an individual opens themself up to the anonymous firehose of hatred that the Internet provides, shouldn’t they expect to get blasted? Why attach your sexuality, politics, or face to an endeavor? Who cares? It makes no sense to me.

I saw timelines of developers filled with hours and hours of engaging with anonymous burner accounts and wondered what drove them to do so. Isn’t it just like trying to stem the incoming tide with walls of sand? Ultimately futile and a massive waste of time? I’m just glad I had the wherewithal to disengage from that tarbaby ages ago.

As said last year, “taking Twitter seriously is a high road to hell”, and this still seems to ring true.


What Went Wrong

1. Didn’t Work

I’ve only recently recovered the vestiges of my work ethic that was blown to bits at the start of last year. It’s coming together nicely with several hundred words written per day, both fictional and game development-related. The amount of time spent with 3DS Max and other visual asset pipeline tools is paying huge dividends, and the overall quality of production on Child rises daily. Whether this level or productivity could’ve been reached without taking almost an entire year off will never be known. I don’t regret not working, but at some level it’s hard to completely ignore the time lost.


Year Four

HIDDEN AGENDA

This is the year of Child. It may not be released within the next 12 months, but there will be no production distractions whatsoever. A playable version will be available to first-run testers before the year is out. That’s all I’m willing to say on the matter, so if you’re interested in receiving production updates if and when they happen, watch the usual channels.


Once again you have my deepest gratitude for following along this journey of solo independent creative development. With so much positive happening in the first couple of years a down year was inevitable, and here’s hoping the momentum gained will carry the production to fantastic new heights.

Here’s to another year of tilling the hard soil of the Dark Acre.


Never give up. Never surrender. Unless of course you run out of food. Then maybe re-think the strategies.

Month 47 Report

FALLING

The Story So Far:
from the Private Journals of Dark Acre Jack

May 20th, 2011

The results are in. A videogame I didn’t think I’d be able to finish in the 48 hours I’d been given places 13th overall out of a field of 288 entries in the 19th Ludum Dare. I’ve been a full-time solo independent game developer, author, and publisher of digital content for a little under 8 months. It’s my second Ludum Dare entry. I decide that I should focus on building this game, The Child, into something bigger.

May 20th, 2012

It’s been a year since I made up my mind that The Child was going to be my “big indie game”. Since then I’ve competed in the Ludum Dare a few more times to lesser degrees of perceived success. I’ve attempted collaboration a few times but each project ended up fizzling out due to creative differences (or indifferences, depending on which side you ask). I’ve built and burned an equal number of bridges over social networks. People are starting to wonder if I’m ever going to make something of value. I haven’t actively worked on The Child for 10 months.

October 8th, 2012

After dabbling here and there with other smaller projects and completing a novel, I realize that I only have the capacity to either write books or make games. It’s a crucial issue, because I want to do both at the same time. Once more I make a conscious, focused effort to build The Child into a salable form.

November 28th, 2012

After failing to complete this year’s NaNoWriMo I decide to abandon all active projects. This is the lowest point of motivation that I’ve had for being an independent creative developer since I first had the dream some 10 years prior.

December 18th, 2012

I complete the 25th Ludum Dare challenge, my 8th consecutive entry. It provides a much-needed, if short-lived, lift in spirits. I start on Project Zero Eight, an unnamed project that I’ll learn much later is a subconscious effort to return to work on The Child. In the meantime it provides a framework for which I can complete two-and-a-quarter new videogames, two of which I’ll actually sell.

January 31st, 2013

I sell my first-ever commercial videogame, The Apartment. Using a donationware model I earn a small amount of cash that comes mainly from long-time followers, and a minor influx from niche YouTubers like RockLeeSmile who graciously cover the game.

February 15th, 2013

I give up trying to produce a third 1GAM. The relentless march of development has taken its toll, and my apathy toward marketing CONCRETE has produced exactly the results you’d expect. Motivation takes a dive and I retreat into a self-education hiatus, choosing to focus on developing my skills in 3D modeling, basic 2D art, and music composition.

The Happy Pill

March 31st, 2013

I’m 38 years old and being professionally treated for depression. If you’d told me that this was going to be an integral part of the “solo indie experience” I might never have chosen to come this way. But I’m getting help, and getting better.

April 30th, 2013

I manage to complete another Ludum Dare. It’s become routine, and I’m starting to hate it. I decide to remove my ebooks from Amazon, bouyed by the success of self-selling The Apartment through Gumroad. I reconfigure everything so that I have a proper Gumroad storefront. It might not be the best business decision I’ve ever made, but it’s one that makes for more independence and that’s all that matters.

July 15th, 2013

I relocate the Dark Acre away from Vancouver and onto the Island, to the port city of Nanaimo. It’s going to add years of survivability to the company, and hopefully provide a much-needed boost to the creative engine. I weigh 110 kilograms (242 pounds), the heaviest I’ve ever been in my life. It’s time for a fresh start.

August 1st, 2013

I re-release Ambia. I haven’t written anything new for ages, and the change of scenery hasn’t seemed to help much.

August 26th, 2013

I finish my 9th, and what is to become my last, Ludum Dare challenge. My interest level in rapid development has waned to almost nothing, and every morning my creative instincts tell me to think bigger. To build bigger. To stop messing around and get some real work done. I initiate Project Zero Nine.

September 7th, 2013

Fed up and disgusted with how much I’ve let my physical self go, I start walking. Every day, 40 minutes, up and down a paved trail next to the highway. I make a conscious decision to repair my diet which, alongside the sedentary nightmare my working life has become, has beaten my body so far out of shape it’s become almost unrecognizable in the mirror.

October 28th, 2013

It’s been 19 years since I died of a drug overdose and was almost committed to a mental asylum. I take stock, as I do around this time of year. It’s always a bad time for my personal relationships, and this year is no different. I suffer a bad breakup and start spiraling into depression again, but I keep walking.

November 11th, 2013

The walking becomes jogging.

November 30th, 20130

I start playing multiplayer Call of Duty: Ghosts. It’s to become a full-time obsession, distracting me from my unproductive state and giving me a weird form of purpose.

February 10th, 2014

I reach maximum prestige in Ghosts after a total of 290 hours played. I’m a decent player, again proving the “if I put my mind to it, I can do it” axiom. I play regularly with a decent group of folks from around the world. I haven’t done any form of game development or writing in months.

February 19th, 2014

The jogging has become full-fledged runs, of the pace I kept when I was 27.

April 27th, 2014

Our Ghosts clan wins its first platinum-level clan war. It’s a tough points-based trial where our team was pitted against other high-ranking teams from around the world. It’s a great accomplishment, and I feel like I’ve learned a ton about online shooters and clan-based videogame play.

March 14th, 2014

I re-subscribe to the World of Warcraft, something I swore I’d never do.

March 31st, 2014

I’m 39. The running has helped, but I still look and feel far from prime physical condition. I vow to get into the best shape of my life before 40, coming up with the hashtag #FUCK40 for social networking. A stupid thing, but every little bit will help.

April 2nd, 2014

I’ve been reported in Ghosts and had my statistics reset. After a discussion with Activision’s customer service I learn that there’s no appeal process, and no way for me to find out the reason for the reset. It’s a crushing blow to my esteem, and one that pushes me away from the clan and the game. World of Warcraft moves into the forefront.

April 15th, 2014

I start a “one-a-day” writing journal. It’s been almost two years since I’ve written any serious fiction, and this feels like the last gasps of a dying writer. Somehow, I start writing again.

May 25th, 2014

I join a local university gym, the first proper gym I’ve attended in over two years.

June 18th, 2014

For the first time in my life I make a serious effort to write in public, at a new local cafe called Buzz. It’s a hip place full of young people and noise and I wonder what the hell I’m doing here. In the past I’ve never been able to do any serious work in an environment like this, always preferring a silent solitude for any creative efforts. But here in the Buzz the words come, and they come fast and easy.

August 1st, 2014

A revised and updated design document for The Child, representing several years of frustration and thought, is feature-complete at 20,000 words. I’ve never written this kind of volume for any of my past game development work, and this only represents the framework. I have a decent shell of a videogame in paper form. I feel really good for the first time in forever.

Today

I’m down to 85 kilograms (187 pounds) and I can run over 5 kilometers (3 miles) in 30 minutes. I haven’t missed a gym day since starting. I haven’t missed a writing day since starting the one-a-day. I’m in love. Things are looking good, but I’m not taking anything for granted.

The Child: Episodes - "Mug Cup"

Tomorrow

The fifth year of Dark Acre is coming up. Most businesses fail in the first 5 years of operation, and I’m finally starting to see the planks under the gold at the bottom of the war chest. I don’t want to be fatalistic about my situation; when taken as a whole the last 6 years have been amazing. I haven’t had to draw a paycheck since October 2008, I’ve graduated from two intensive art and design programs, and I’ve produced a ton of creative content. I’ve learned the ins and outs of a wide array of game development software and had hands-on experience with digital publishing. In almost all regards it’s been “mission accomplished”, the only thing that’s missing is that commercial success. And, for better or worse, the only thing standing in the way of that is me.

I suppose that’s the real beauty, and the curse, of the solo route. In the end it all comes down to your own capacity and willingness to exercise it. I’ve never recommended it, and I never will. It takes a lot more than I believe most people are willing to give to keep going, but even for all the hard times I’ve had I wouldn’t trade it for anything.

So, with a little hard work and determination we should see the release of The Child at some point between the end of 2015 and early 2016. Yes, that’s potentially 18+ months from now. Good things take time and it’s critical to acknowledge this.

I’d like to personally thank you for joining me on this journey. I hope the words above have filled in many of the blanks that I’ve intentionally left over the last couple of years, and provide much-needed insight into the solo indie process. I invite you to add me on Facebook, as these days I’m most active there and always willing to chat. In that same vein, feel free to request an add on Skype (darkacrejack) as well. I’m looking forward to hearing from you!

HARD SURFACES

After more than half a year in documents & spreadsheets I figured it was time to see if I still remembered how to use Autodesk 3DS Max. Using a primitive collection for visual reference I constructed, UV’d, & rendered these parts over the course of a too-hot afternoon.

Simple open nut, unthreaded.

Simple open nut, unthreaded.

Castle tower tops or tactical flashlight edges.

Castle tower tops or tactical flashlight edges.

Basic insets at angles.

Basic insets at angles.

Tileable.

Tileable.

For such a simple form this one was a pain in the ass to harden up.

For such a simple form this one was a pain in the ass to harden up.

Looks basic but requires a fair amount of fiddling to get it to smooth correctly.

Looks basic but requires a fair amount of fiddling to get it to smooth correctly.

Basic technique.

Basic technique.

Removal of parts of loops & extrusion make these forms a breeze.

Removal of parts of loops & extrusion make these forms a breeze.

The most straightforward of the practice forms, basic inset & negative extrude with hardening loops.

The most straightforward of the practice forms, basic inset & negative extrude with hardening loops.

Getting a singular welded form from was tricky, but the result is worth it.

Getting a singular welded form from was tricky, but the result is worth it.

Sort of a combination of the techniques from the other exercises, fitting the bottom cylinder to the nut form was the hardest part for me.

Sort of a combination of the techniques from the other exercises, fitting the bottom cylinder to the nut form was the hardest part for me.

Reasonably simple to construct, pain in the ass to UV.

Reasonably simple to construct, pain in the ass to UV.

I think going harder on the flat sides of the cylinder would produce a better look overall.

I think going harder on the flat sides of the cylinder would produce a better look overall.


Checking on the blog I see I managed to miss an update. Progress on the Child has been slow, but steady. There’s been little writing done, aside from daily entries into this thing. I’ve been spending a lot of time on the road & in the gym, & I feel the return to good physical form starting to nudge the creative energy back into gear. Whether or not it will be sustainable remains to be seen.

Thanks for checking in.

Month 43 Report

The Workstation

In an attempt to break the long creative drought I’ve built a “one-a-day” website focused on putting words to paper.

It’s a writing journal of sorts, a forced-march repository that requires something, anything, to be published on a daily basis. The work there is more often than not first draft, raw, unedited garbage straight from the sludge swirling around in my brain, so don’t expect much. I’ve already noticed a benefit, though: the words are coming more readily and easily than they have in a long time. Now whether I can take them & fashion them into something worth reading & selling remains to be seen.

On the game development front there hasn’t been as much progress in the past 4 weeks. I’ve started to notice a trend in small-scale high-quality independent videogame developments, one that further confirms a pronouncement I’ve made time & time again in the past: good videogames take a crap-ton of time. I’m seeing more & more solo & small-team developments that I’ve been following for ages come to fruition that have taken 3, 4, even 5+ years to get commercial-ready.

I’ve a feeling that these other developers have gone through the same stages of productivity that I have. An initial burst of small-form work that very few people care about, nor should given the overall quality, followed by a long period of fits & starts while building up the confidence to tackle a larger scale project. Work typically starts on the “big one” with gusto, supplemented by a public development log somewhere, then varying lengths of silence. The closer the project gets to actual completion, the longer the periods of silence until a build-up & marketing push.

So it would seem I’m in decent company. With a stubborn refusal to seek collaboration I’m perhaps in a bit of a harder place than others, but I’m still leading a life where my hobby has become my livelihood. While it may be true that over the past few months the consumption side has overshadowed the production side, it’s been the pursuit of fun & enjoyment that’s taken top priority here at the Acre, & the fact that that’s even possible is something to be grateful for.

Thanks for your continued interest in my work, & I hope to have have something exciting & interesting to show in the not-too-distant future.

Month 42 Report

I’ve lost a true love. More accurately: I let a true love slip away through gross negligence.

It’s remarkable how much of an adverse effect this can have on productivity.

Though I doubt she will ever read this: I’m sorry. It’s all I have left to say.

Let’s see if we can’t turn this grief into some killer creative output now, shall we?


I hold it true, whate’er befall; I feel it when I sorrow most; ‘Tis better to have loved and lost, than never to have loved at all.

Another 365 Days of Gaming

+ Month 40 Report

Sorry I’m late, I was busy getting head-shots (& getting head-shotted) in Call of Duty: Ghosts.

Here’s some of what I have to say about the past month(s) in easier to digest audio format (hit the little arrow to listen):

 

Also downloadable from the Dark Acre Radio page, along with the other 11 episodes to date. Check ‘em out if you’re really that bored.

In short: not much game development or writing going on in the last little while, but I’ve sure gotten good at online 1st-person competitive shooters. Good, bad, or ugly is irrelevant: I’ve been having a great time making new friends & learning the ins & outs of one of the biggest videogame franchises in history. Mostly because I finally realized it was something I could do without all the silly guilt I’d been self-attaching to it.

There’s a personal Twitch.tv channel that’s been documenting the Ghosts exploits, feel free to sub/like/follow whatever they call it. I might not notice the chat channel in there, though, as it’s rather hard to watch while playing. I also don’t do that silly picture-in-picture of my head, I find it distracts too much from the action in the game being streamed.

Okay, without further ado here’s my best-of list for ’13. Enjoy.


Click here for 2012’s round-up.

Spent a bit of time in '13 playing vidya

PREAMBLE

2013 carried on the “new” tradition of allocating large swaths of time to gaming alongside game development. I’m firmly in the camp of “one must play games to understand games”. It’s entirely possible to produce real paradigm-shifting content without playing games, but so long as I’m still capable of enjoying gaming as a hobby I’ll continue to devote my free time to it, & hopefully learn a thing or two along the way.

To qualify for this list, these games:

  • Were “beaten” in 2013, i.e. played to end credits roll and/or exhausting normal gameplay.
  • Were released at some point before January 1st, 2014.

Also some stats for you stats-mongers out there:

  • 210 video & boardgames purchased in 2013.
  • 20 videogames beaten.
  • $2500 spent.

Okay here we go, & in no particular order other than how I remembered them so there’s probably some scale of favoritism here. Click any of the images to visit that game’s website.


RPG OF THE YEAR

Grand Theft Auto V

Call it misogynistic, racist, a horrible example for today’s young people. That’s cool. You’d be right, but that’s only if you took it as a serious document by which to live your life. Fortunately, it’s a fantasy videogame that’s fun as all get out & has one of the best-written anti-heroes in recent memory in the form of the brutal & abrasive Trevor Philips.

Very nearly 100%’d the campaign but for some of the more tedious gold-medal qualifiers. All in all a spectacular outing by Rockstar that combined the open-world sensibilities of Red Dead Redemption with the acidic satire we’ve come to expect from the Houser Brothers. Also a massive technical achievement that runs flawlessly on 1st-generation Playstation 3 units, something the much-lauded “Last of Us” struggled to manage.


ADVENTURES OF THE YEAR

Tomb Raider (2013)

What made this videogame so addictive? Was it the perfect storm of collection, exploration, & action-adventure? Possibly.

The reduction of the actual “tomb raiding” to a mini-game left a sour taste in many long-term fan’s mouths, but I found the incorporation of it into a much larger narrative with well-rounded characters an excellent design choice. This was a Lara Croft I really cared about.

The only real negative takeaway was the many brutal death scenarios that the development team felt important to illustrate in the goriest of manners. Quick-time events that more often than not ended in Lara getting impaled, crushed, or otherwise horribly murdered could have been handled differently, perhaps with less punishing fail-states. Despite this gruesome aspect Tomb Raider still shines as a fine example of cinematic linear adventure gaming that incorporates the very best of modern game design & technical advancements.

Assassin’s Creed 3

There’s a lot of personal bias attached to adding AC3 to this list: I’m half Mohawk Native, & I’ve had a long-term love affair with Assassin’s Creed from the very beginning. I put in the time to 100% the main campaign & not a moment felt like it was wasted. The development team nailed the feeling of nature, so much so that I often thought I smelled fresh pine while parkouring my way through the treetops.

The narrative was very well written, with an exceptional surprise twist. If you’ve heard nothing about it, as I hadn’t before starting, you’re in for a pretty cool surprise. This also marks the introduction of the sailing mechanisms that play a prominent role in the also good Black Flag.


TOUCHTRONIC EXPERIENCES OF THE YEAR

Steamworld Dig

Short, sweet, & very much to the point. Steamworld Dig is a deep (pun intended) exploration of the “mine & upgrade” school of game design. It does what it needs to do in a very precise, workpersonlike manner that’s made charming by the colorful art & characters.

This was also the 1st videogame I bought & beat on my shiny “new for ’13” Nintendo 3DS. Highly recommend experiencing it on that platform if you can, but it’s also available for personal computers via Steam.

Hotline: Miami

A late ’12 release, I bought it at launch back when I was blindly supporting any & all indies who achieved major release status. Nowadays there’s one every other day & not all of the content is super-compelling, but back then HM was a pretty big deal in the indie-sphere. I played a few levels, recognized its greatness, then left it alone. It wasn’t until it was made available on the Playstation Vita that I really managed to get sucked in.

It seems the Vita is the perfect platform for a lot of games that are otherwise somewhat tedious on console or personal computer. The ability to carry the game with you wherever you want to go (usually the bathroom or the bedroom) make continuing through to completion somewhat easier.

Hotline Miami is excellent. Yes, it’s an ultra-violence simulator but one that’s so satisfying it’s very hard to put down once you get a handle on the presentation. The background music alone makes it worth the purchase price.


BOARDGAME OF THE YEAR

Netrunner

In a year where I spent 3 months immersing myself in all things cyberpunk, Netrunner stood out as a perfect execution of that genre. It’s fast-paced play, asymmetrical design, & unlimited room for personal play make it one of the most enjoyable deck-building card-battle games I’ve played since Upper Deck’s version of the World of Warcraft.


EVERGREEN OF THE YEAR

Minecraft

The videogame that keeps on giving. I hadn’t played Minecraft in ages, & coming back to it felt brand new. What really made it an amazing experience this time around was the attempt at playing “hardcore” mode, wherein you’re only given one life. It made the game so much more intense & interesting.

Further to that I established a hardcore server & started playing with other friends & folks I’ve met through the social networks. While not “true” hardcore, you could still die & lose all of your stuff but you wouldn’t be able to come back until the server restarted, which could be any where from a few hours to weeks. This made for some very compelling play.

As always I point to Mojang/Persson’s creation a real case study & model to emulate for videogame development. Create something & continue to add value to it over time, increasing the purchase price to reflect those developments, & you’ll win. The steps are deceptively simple, though, & still require attention to detail & many hours of hard labor, but I believe that Minecraft has tread the noble path in caring for their player base – past, present & future.


GAME I PLAY EVERY YEAR OF THE YEAR

Red Dead Redemption

Rockstar Games's "Red Dead Redemption"
Along with watching “There Will Be Blood” & reading George Lois’s “Damn Good Advice (for people with talent!) on Dark Acre Day, I play RDR every fall.

Did playing GTAV to completion in any way alter my appreciation for Rockstar’s vision of the Old West? Not one iota.

& though another year has passed since I last moaned about it, there’s still no PC version. I’m starting to think Rockstar doesn’t even read my blog.


PARADIGM SHIFTS OF THE YEAR

Gone Home

Is Gone Home a videogame? Yeah. Yeah it is. I guess that ends that debate.

Gone Home’s success is important because, along with other notable indie trailblazers like Proteus & Dear Esther marks experiences that people will pay for that don’t involve killing monsters, upgrading characters, platform hopping, coin collecting, or any of the other myriad tropes we’ve come to expect from our digital divergences.

It’s an interactive story that’s really quite good, & provides a really high-quality visual presentation as well. As developers we should be celebrating the Fullbright Company for opening doors to new markets & viable designs. As players it’s a pretty good time to be standing on the bridge between “core” videogame experiences & more narrative/exploration driven ones.

The Stanley Parable

As above, really. A bit more of an extension on the burgeoning genre, & well worth playing through just to see how the development team handled the credits.

Also wow, is that Source Engine getting some mileage or what?


LUDUM DARE 48 ENTRY OF THE YEAR

I used this space last year to pimp what I’d felt had been my best entry into the 48-hour solo game-making competition known as the Ludum Dare. This year I had a heavy change of heart about the LD & game jams in general, so instead I’ll just point you to all the videogame work I’ve done so far & you can decide for yourself which of them is the “best”.


DISAPPOINTMENT OF THE YEAR

The Last of Us

I went on media blackout for Naughty Dog’s non-Uncharted venture early in development. I knew nothing of the fungal zombies, so you might be able to imagine my surprise when I found out that what I’d previously thought was a human-vs-human post apocalyptic vision of the future had become a zombie survival horror… thing.

The game has received universal praise from popular media, but in the critical circles I listen to (other gamers, many from Japan) there was a resounding tone of disappointment. Poor artificial intelligence, a rigid & linear plot filled with strictly scripted events, & very unevenly designed set-pieces sullied the overall experience. The art direction (aside from a few minor gaffes like the re-named landmarks & “borrowing” of an outside artist’s rail map) was fantastic, however the horrible anti-aliasing that seems to be a trademark of Sony Playstation games did its ready best to muddy the already ruined landscapes. Furthermore whatever technology Naughty Dog uses for rendering caused my Japanese launch PS3 to kick on its over-loud internal turbofan, destroying the last vestiges of game immersion that had already been torn to tatters by AI partners running circles around zombies & standing in lines of fire.

I will say this, though: Gustavo Santaolalla’s score for the game is phenomenal, & now enjoys a top spot in my permanent game development BGM playlist.

Now despite being a junk videogame, The Last of Us does tell a pretty darn fantastic & emotional story. It would be far better suited to television than the medium it was executed in, but what can you do? Oh look, you can watch it on YouTube:


As always there’s a ton of stuff that gets swept under the rug by recency bias & plain forgetfulness, but the opinions expressed above are as genuine as I can make them, & for the positive ones I can guarantee you won’t be wasting your time or money on those games.

Thanks for reading, & here’s hoping 2014 yields even more treasure from the nigh-limitless amount of videogame content that’s out there & continues to pour forth from the creative minds of published game developers everywhere!

Month 39 Report

It’s been a dark month. Perhaps I’ll talk about it next month, perhaps not.

New episodes of Dark Acre Radio & my comprehensive “Games of the Year” coming up in January, as well as a treatise on Infinity Ward/Beachhead Studios’s “Call of Duty: Ghost”.

Happy holidays from myself & Dark Acre to you & yours!

P.S. Dark Acre e-books can be “gifted”, if you’re scrambling for a last-minute digital present.


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