Game Design, Programming and running a one-man games business…

The unstoppable rise of gaming videos

Something has changed for me in the last six months or so. A year ago, if a new game came out that piqued my interest, I would probably check out some screenshots, then read a review, (probably several), perhaps read gamers comments on forums, and maybe, if one was available, I’d try a demo of the game, before purchasing.

Now things have changed, youtube is my #1 source for evaluating the possibility of me liking a game.

I probably *hear* about the game at Rock Paper Shotgun or some other gaming site. I might hear about it first on a forum, but now I tend to not bother reading reviews until I’ve checked out a gameplay video. (reviews are good for getting a big-picture description of the entire game)

I *like* this development in the industry, because there is nowhere for the cynical marketing crap to hide…

Demos are sometimes just one slice (the best!) of a game, come out long after release, and are a huge pain to download these days, if you live in the country with a usage cap.
Screenshots are invariably bullshit. They are touched up by artists. They have zero relationship to the game you will buy. (They are called ‘target renders’ in the industry). (All my games screenshots are 100% honest simple screen dumps. This is actually rare.)

Reviews, which contrary to belief are generally not ‘bought’ or corrupt, are nevertheless seen through the prism of that reviewers opinions and experiences. A reviewer always brings their own genre tastes and personal pet peeves with them, they can’t avoid it. if I reviewed games, I’#d mark down everything with unskippable cut scenes, macho protagonists or elves with enormous breasts, but that is probably just me..

Youtube gameplay videos are wonderful. The most handy are not official trailers, or posted by big name sites. The best ones are just some random dude who played the game with fraps running and clicked on upload. That is the sort of experience I as a gamer will get, and that is exactly what I want to see. I probably know if I want to read a review within 10 seconds of video these days.

Am I alone in this?

Unsure trade-offs in game design

Here’s a thought.

Good games are ones where we make unsure trade-offs. Most games are either about reflexes or decisions. Decisions are more common in the kind of games I make, such as strategy and sim games. I think the two basic approaches to strategy/sim games are plate-spinning and trade offs.

Plate-spinning is where tons of stuff is happening at once and you are trying to stay on top of everything and keep everything from falling apart. Democracy 2 is very big on this aspect of design.

Trade-offs are much more common. Even games that are conventionally reflex ones, such as First person Shooters have a lot of trade-offs. You choose to be a medic, trading ammunition capacity for the ability to heal. You choose to be a scout, trading everything for the ability to move fast. Choosing to have more of X, means less of Y.

Where this system goes wrong in games, is where it is too clear, too obvious, too analytical, to decide exactly what the trade-off is. In other words, the number are a bit too explicit. If I *know* the details of every variable in the trade-off, then it simply becomes a matter of Vulcan logic. It’s when there is a suitable amount of fuzziness around the numbers, that the trade-off becomes one filled with uncertainty, anticipation, risk and excitement. You *think* the best choice is to risk building a new factory in the city, trading off increased pollution against lower unemployment…but you can’t really be *sure* that the numbers will go your way…

To me… that makes for a fun game. I don’t always need to know the numbers. Sometimes, just a hunch makes for more fun.

Pricing for gratuitous tank battles

I am not sure what the right price for gratuitous tank battles should be, even this close to release, so I’m going to dump my brain here, to help me think.

Gratuitous Space Battles was $22.95 on release, and as I recall a bit cheaper in beta/pre-order ($19.95 I think).

There is a lot of downward pressure on games pricing. people expect to get indie games for less than the price of a large coffee, which is silly, and frankly, a bit of an insult.

It’s a few years since GSB. There has been inflation since, about 5% in the UK. My bills sure keep going up.

GTB is a MUCH more fully-featured game than GSB was at launch, or even is now. GTB has achievements, a built-in editor, multiple game modes, better visuals, and more content. It is also more polished in every respect.

Nobody knew what to make of GSB, so it was a bit of a risk for many buyers. People know roughly what to expect from a positech strategy game now, so maybe they are less scared of parting with ‘large pizza + some beer’ music for one of my games.

None of this brings me to any specific conclusion, but I can say without any doubt that anyone who thinks it will be *less* than $19.95 is being optimistic :D GTB is a HUGE game. It’s taken quite a few people a hell of a long time to make. I guess I better decide soon…

One thing is certain: even if the game is $0.01 people will shout at me for being worse than hitler and call me stupid for getting the price *wrong*. Bah.