Tag Archives: Game Development

Putting a Price Tag on Nostalgia

While discussing the future fate of the Fallout franchise with a colleague, we came across a topic that became more interesting to me the more I thought about it: Bethesda purchasing the Fallout license. Licenses for old games are sold quite often these days, usually being thought of as an easy way to cash in without having to roll the dice with a new intellectual property and (gasp) being forced to apply creativity. Sadly (as far as the advancement of creative thought goes), most of the time the “cash in” aspect holds true and they do end up being at least marginally successful. Fallout was no exception here as Bethesda experienced great sales and brought the franchise into the digital age with it’s own slew of downloadable content (DLC).

While this never really surprised me – Fallout experiencing success in the distant past, now being ripe for picking up as a new-generation game – after pondering it more, I have to ask… was purchasing the license really necessary?

Of course, as said, the Fallout series had a very successful past, and there are still quite a lot of fans around dedicated to these old games and who even still play them today. The game distributor Good Old Games (established to re-package and sell older games that typically had trouble working on newer hard/software) arguably owes it’s explosive launch solely to having the Fallout series in their catalog.

So, the original games definitely had some sort of fan-base. However, we are talking about a vastly different age here: an age where the computer was seen as a primary vessel for playing games, and CRPG’s (when such an acronym even existed) were adored for their complexity and challenge. What would become of this franchise coming out of a coma, awakening in the day of the console dominating the gaming market and casual-friendly design being considered more important than brutal learning curves and endless depth?

Fallout 3 was changed considerably from the past games to the future incarnation. Going from a very strategy heavy turn-based role-playing game to an action packed first person shooter, Bethesda arguably didn’t even really attempt to please said existing Fallout fan-base (and really, they couldn’t have even if they wanted to). Sure, the fans may have bought the game anyway – being starved of the franchise name for so long, and it did have little nods to the past – but it had to of resulted in at least some percentage of potential sales lost. However, the sum of these potential sales doesn’t even come close to comparing to the amount of sales from people who have probably never heard of the name Fallout before. Given this fact, it is curious to think of what the sum total reaction would have been had it been Fallout 3 by any other name.

While the old games do certainly have a considerable fanbase, the genre that Fallout finds itself in is anything but unique. You can only spin the apocalypse so many ways. Compare Fallout 3′s setting and theme to that of STALKER‘s and you will find a great number of major similarities (of course, I am not talking about overall quality here):

  1. Post-apocalyptic landscape – check
  2. Mutants, both human and animal – check
  3. Superpowers granted via radiation – check
  4. Dark, abandoned subterranean locations – check
  5. Main character emerging into a world unknown to them – check
  6. Semi-nonlinear gameplay – check
  7. Quasi RPG character and plot advancement – check

About the only thing I can really think of that is truly special or solely unique to the Fallout universe is the Pip Boy and the 1950′s theme in general. This isn’t a slight to Bethesda or claiming that they ripped off STALKER, it’s just a testament to how generic the post-apocalyptic genre is – it’s basically self-descriptive.

So, what stopped Bethesda from just… making STALKER? Or furthermore, just creating Fallout with a different name? Would publishers not been as pleasant, ever-unwilling to invest in new intellectual properties? Perhaps (and this may be giving the industry more credit than it’s due) it’s simply a case of… shame?

Let’s take a look at a similar scenario involving the System Shock games and Bioshock. Presumably, 2K Games either didn’t want to or couldn’t develop a new System Shock game (the original games being made by Through The Looking Glass). In either case, they instead take to the blackboard and come up with Bioshock, a very similar game mechanically to System Shock 2 (much more so than Fallout 2 to Fallout 3) but with it’s own completely unique and independent style, setting, plot and characters; not to mention they are set over a century apart from one another. In a nutshell, there is nothing aside from raw gameplay that ties System Shock 2 to Bioshock, and thus Bioshock is considered a “spiritual successor” of it – a term often used to describe a game that does more than just pay homage to a past title, but seeks to replicate the feeling of playing the original.

Bioshock was another game that met critical success. This time to all parties involved – past fans were (more or less) happy that the game resembled their beloved System Shock 2, and the much bigger portion of the gaming populace who had of course never heard of the past games greeted the fresh artistic style and setting with open arms. 2K had managed to successfully bring up the past and pay tribute to it while simultaneously creating a brand new intellectual property that has no thematic similarities to the game it pays homage to.

After all that is said and done, what is the true value of a license that is doomed to be unknown by the vast, vast majority of gamers; and to be considered sullied by the few remaining who actually remember what the old games the licenses were ripped from were like? Obviously, if the license is big enough, there’s no question here. If the license to the old Ultima series were to go up for sale, there is no doubt that it would be quickly snatched up and used to carry a great amount of weight behind a new title.

However, those old games that fell into obscurity but still have that ever-persistent base of hardcore fans, who only grow stronger (but generally not larger) in their fandom as time passes and their nostalgia grows; is it really necessary or even worth it to use these licenses to promote a new game? Which of course, any new game using an old license – even one being booked as a “sequel” – is going to be just that, a new game. You cannot resurrect a decades-old title and hope to replicate the same exact gameplay, and once you realize that, you put the very license you bought in jeopardy and risk losing the fans who are the sole reason the license even had any value in the first place.

As well, how will this apply to the future? Will the number of gamers eventually stagnate to the point where the amount of older gamers reminiscent about a past title is of significant size to make a sequel or re-licensing of a game marketed specifically to them? Or when Halo eventually turns into a “timeless classic”, Master Chief becoming comparable to an 8-bit Mario, will it be difficult to pay homage to it due to the ever-changing climate of game design? Only time can answer this one, but I think one thing is clear: licenses to classic games will always have a hefty value, because all gamers are fans of something; and as time goes on, so does our nostalgia grow – getting to a point where we can fool ourselves into wanting something that can never exist – to re-experience the past.

MMO Design Ramble

I’ve got a lot of thoughts written down about the MMO genre waiting to be formed into articles, and with each passing year the collective pile of thoughts gets bigger and messier. What turned into a simple forum reply ended up being a giant ramble containing some of my thoughts and inquiries about some basic problems that seem to plague the western MMO industry currently.

A member of a forum I frequent asked about any MMOs using skill systems recently. Apparently Star Trek Online is using a skill system, which afaik is the highest profile game to do a skill system in a long while. Too long.

Honestly, the “diku era” (or frankly, the WoW era at this point what with the new role of quests and all) has to be coming to an end sooner or later. WoW isn’t the only big online success, and most of the other successful online ventures are wildly different and see fairly equal player retention. And most of these aren’t based on leveling or progressing roadblock statistics at all. It’s just a matter of time before developers begin realizing that copying WoW is folly and learning from their mistakes (however many of them need to happen, heh).

Frankly it’s a shame it hasn’t happened yet (not a global change, mind you – just one game to go out and try something new I mean) and it sort of speaks volumes about how big of a problem design and implementation is in the MMO industry, let alone creativity itself. It’s pretty amazing when we’re so devoid of new and interesting features that we begin salivating over something as bland as public quests. Quests that are specifically designed to be done with other players. In a genre that boasts being “massively multiplayer”. Brilliant! And it only took us until 2008 to think of this.

With designers being tossed around left and right, being called saviors one moment and scapegoats the next, they seem to be the easiest target to blame, but is it always solely their fault? I can’t imagine there hasn’t been any good ideas but rather that they all just get shot down due to being “unproven” or having an unknown development time or some such. I’d love to get a behind the scenes look of any given MMO’s development process, like what happened to an extent with Vanguard before it switched over to SOE (although that wasn’t on the best of terms).

Deadlines are another thing that interest me, as it seems WoW is pretty much the only MMO to come out recently that was allowed to take its time and become as well developed as it needed to be. Of course Blizzard is well known for this development style and continues to apply it in both patches and expansions for the game. It seems these days everything else is just developed as “quick, we have a deadline to be as good as WoW in one year! Hurry!”.

Failure after failure just leaves me with a ton of questions. Why do we end up with such below average games? Is it the design to begin with, or is the design solid and rather production is the root of the problem? Do deadlines stifle creativity? Do the poorly implemented features not get changed post-launch because it’s too expensive to replace them (that, while poor features, are indeed implemented – another major problem in MMOs as one loosely constructed feature can be the downfall of a game as all features are extrapolated exponentially over the course of the game)? Are these facets contributing factors to a poor launch/subscription base, thus creating an ongoing downward spiral towards inevitable failure?

Maybe producers need to just take their time and not immediately jump on the hype train the minute the developers have a single piece of artwork, thus forcibly accelerating the development process. Maybe the foul way betas are handled recently (i.e. as a marketing tool) is a contributing factor to the downfall of recent MMOs. As one gamer looking in from the outside, it just seems like a big tangled indiscernible mess. I’d love to talk with some industry veterans about what it’s like on the inside.

Dystopia released on Steam

Well, I was going to post this a couple of nights ago but it kind of got swept up in the excitement. What excitement you ask? Well…

Click the image to go to the Dystopia Steam page.

The new version of Dystopia is out! Although 1.2 might seem like a meager decimal increase from 1.1, it actually marks a huge improvement to the game and even more importantly, the first release that I can really say I had a huge part of. My latest work on the game was creating the trailer along with the help of the team’s musician, bioxeed. Bioxeed has also recently put up a mix of all of his Dystopia music, so if you like this music style be sure to check it out.

High quality x264 download link for the trailer available here.

It’s really been a great ride. I never thought I would become a game developer but it is something I really enjoy. Even moreso, I never thought that the old Doom maps that I’d toy around with in DoomED would be the precursor to year-long projects that push every limit of a next-gen engine. Having finished two maps from scratch, picking up and finishing a partially-completed third one, and collaboratively working on a fourth with other members of the team (termi, Venciera, charlestheoaf, Spire), and creating a few dozen model props and textures, I’ve been working on the mod for over two years now. And even though Dystopia is getting to a point where I can see myself being done working on it, there is plenty more exciting things in the future in the world of game development. I don’t know if I’ll ever be ready to pursue an actual job in the industry (I don’t know if I could be as passionate about something that isn’t my brainchild), but I’ll certainly be continuing it as a hobby.

I’ll try and get a Game Development page up soon highlighting the work I’ve done so far with Dystopia, now that it’s all public. If you’ve got a Steam account and any source game that includes the Source SDK Base, be sure to check out Dystopia and let us know what you think on the forums.