Robert Hornbek

Game Development & Exploration

Archive for the ‘Conventions’ Category

E3: 2010

Posted by rHornbek on June 15, 2010

Due to financial restrictions I decided only to attend E3 (Electronic Entertainment Expo) for a single day this year, and honestly I think that was about all it was worth.

Initially I was going to use this space to rant about how much worse E3 has become since the first time I attended it back in 2001.   Then I decided to take a moment and really analyse my disappointment so to confidently identify the culprit.

A few things occurred to me…

The first time I went to E3 I was 16, so I stood on the sidewalk outside the convention center asking everyone who passed if they would sell their badge to me for $40.  Needless to say I was able to score a badge, however the next step was getting in without being carded for my age (18 or older).  After spending a few minutes studying the entryway searching for an opportune moment I managed to get inside the first of three halls. So it is safe to assume the impact on me for the first event was compounded by the amount of effort it took to get in, and it was the first time.

After a few years of that I managed to acquire enough contacts to get tickets without pan handling on the street.  However the events were still rather exciting.  What has killed the magic?

There were various controversies including over crowding at the center, exploiting booth babe marketing and at one point many of the big boys (Sony, Nintendo, Microsoft and Blizzard) all threatened to leave entirety.  One year E3 was beat so bad it was almost unrecognizable from its former self.  Things have gotten much better, but it is still not the same

Blizzard has moved its operations to BlizzCon so I can attribute some of the problem to that, but nonetheless what is reallying missing?

Ultimately I began blaming the games.  Too many sequels, too much cliche, nothing that looked interesting or genuinely new.  While much of this holds true you will soon learn that I found a fair amount of interesting things at the event this year.

So where did the magic go?

I have decided in addition to much of what I have already said, the primary reasons why E3 has lost its luster is the following…

I have seen a lot since then, played many games and have grown as an individual and an industry professional.  My expectations have refined and not every flashing light interests me as much as it has in the past.  So while E3 used to be a cave of vast treasures, it is now an adventure to find only a handful of gems among the rubble.

Here are some of the gems I found this year!

DISNEY’S EPIC MICKEY

At first much of the advertising for this game was unrecognizable, and while it wasn’t the most amazing thing I saw at the event it was fascinating to see a new game about Mickey Mouse that wasn’t Kingdom Hearts.  Speaking of Kingdom Hearts, I can’t help but thing much of the inspiration for this game was based on the success of Kingdom Hearts.

Honestly the only thing about this game that really caught my eye was the fact that it was a relatively dark looking game featuring entirety Disney characters.  This kind of reminded me of the Sega Genesis game Mickey Mouse World of Illusion which has great nostalgia value for me.  However I found the title “Epic Mickey” to be down right terrible!  I guess we can only blame the internet culture.

CASTLEVANIA: LORDS OF SHADOW

While watching a series of videos I came across a trailer for this game.  I am not a fan of the series but it looked interesting enough and had a killer cast of voice actors!

So the game play doesn’t scream creativity but I am hoping that it stays consistent with Castlevania’s RPG elements and it doesn’t just turn into another God of War wannabe.

DEUS EX: HUMAN REVOLUTION

Unfortunately all I got to see was the cinematic trailer for this game.  Now I just hope the game can hold up to the standards set by the video.

What really struck me was how much this video came off as a trailer for a movie and less that of a game.  Even the credits at the end were displayed like that of a movie’s.  The soundtrack they chose was really spot on, it gave me chills accompanying the visuals and the dialog.  Once again we can only hope the game itself can keep up.

STAR WARS: THE FORCE UNLEASHED II

I was fortunate to kick my day off with this video playing on a massive screen with a rocking sound system.  You NEED to watch this in the highest quality you can!

This has got to be one of the most impressive cinematic video I have ever seen since the opening for Onimusha 3.  Aside from the realistic quality of the main character, you get drawn in by amazing sound effects, lighting and an ever rising action.  Of course this is so far removed from the original Star Wars movies, but honestly I almost forgot it was Star Wars and really didn’t care that it was.

END OF NATIONS

Up until this point I have only talked about games that caught my eye graphically, which is part of the problem I have with E3.  While Mickey’s game and Castlevania look interesting, the Deus Ex and Star Wars videos really said nothing about what the games are actually like.  End of Nations however is a Massive Multiplayer Online Real Time Strategy Game… MMORTS… G.

Ok so the graphics don’t come off as exciting, nor does the game play appear incredibly deep, but they are trying something different.  I had a conversation today that made a lot of sense.  The Wii and its motion control has been hailed as groundbreaking while most of the time gimmicky and anyone in their right mind can see most Wii games that use the motion control don’t need to.  But Microsoft and Sony are bother jumping on the motion control bandwagon.  So while the Wii may not be the best application of the technology others are helping it grow.  I imagine a similar affect could occur for End of Nations.  It may not be the best MMORTS, but others may not be afraid to try it themselves and thus usher in a new genre.

DONKEY KONG COUNTRY RETURNS

This has got to be the highlight of the day and the whole event for me.  Aside from impressive graphics, the game manages to maintain much of the original gameplay and the Wii motion control acts as an added flavor and not an overpowering gimmick.

This was the only game I played besides Sonic Colors (waste of time, RIP Sonic) and I am glad I did.  The controls felt solid and familiar, even the motion control with the Wiimote felt pretty seamless.  There was only a certain carnivorous green muskette totting villain who didn’t appear in the demo, I do hope he has not given up the fight!  I know there will be at least one game on my holiday list this year.

So while the magic has not completely vanished it has changed form.  This has continued my ongoing investigation into what makes games different today than days past.  I plan to explore much of my findings in another article, until then you will have to think about it yourself and see if we come to any of the same conclusions.

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IndieCade

Posted by rHornbek on October 3, 2009

Today I drove down to Culver City to the famous Culver Hotel where all of the Munchkins, from The Wizard of Oz, were housed during the shooting of the film.  This is where I picked up my $20 day pass which was literally a little blue sticker that I stuck on my shirt.  Besides some paperback loot there wasn’t a whole lot to do there, so my friend Simon and I headed over to the first gallery.

IndieCade Ad

IndieCade event flier.

The first thing I noticed when we entered the Wonderful World Gallery was the complete vacancy of the room.  Between the eight or so computers that were set up, each with a unique game, only one person was actually playing.  What was more disturbing was the fact that none of the game’s developers were there to present their work.

The first game Simon and I played was a simple side scroller called Spectre.  This is indeed how they spelled it, could be the old English spelling, does it matter?  It was a simple game, you move the character around a house passing through memories that would transport you to other rooms.  In these other rooms a monotone voice would begin speaking, telling you a little story about the character that was relevant to the room.  It was dark and what appeared to be mini-games in each of these rooms were really not much more than unfulfilling tasks.

We quickly moved onto another game called Akrasia where you control a little amoeba  like character around a oddly shaped maze.  We learned that you could consume little floating objects around the stage, but they did not appear to do anything.  We soon found that there was a second creature roaming around in the maze with us, a ghost looking thing.  When we approached it it would begin to run away, so logically we chased it.  When we finally caught it it turned into a dragon and began chasing us.  Long story short we found an exit door that appeared after touching the ghost for the first time and the stage was complete.  Enjoyable in its simplicity, but not super engaging, so we moved on.

akrasia

Akrasia

The next game we found, if you can even call it that, was called Gray.  You where a little stick figure who wanted to run left while dozens of other stick figures are trying to run the the right.  Simon and I figured, seeing how the other stick figures would push us back, that we had to get all the way to the left of the scree to win… so we did… and nothing happened.  I would consider myself a pretty open minded guy, but up to this point it has been mostly confusion and disappointment which leads me to this…

Invest some time in a tutorial or learn how to convey objectives to your user.  Otherwise most people are going to get board and move on.  This is just what we did.

At the other end of the room we found what looked like an art and animation major’s project.  A grim room with eight or so black and red clad girls sat there idly on the screen.  We learned quick that we could mouse over each of the girls to see their name and have a ghostly image of them faintly appear over the screen.  I was greatly impresses up to this point.  We selected Ruby and immediately transitioned to what looking like a dirt road in central park.  In big stylized font the title The Path appeared, this was indeed the name of the game.  My friend Simon pointed out that this was a game about Little Red Riding Hood and while I had not noticed it up to that point it made sense.  The game warned us to “Not Leave the Path” and we made sure not to… for about 60 seconds.  I kid you not, we walked about 30 feet off the path  and got completely lost.  I found this utter failure to be somewhat entertaining, seeing how we clearly disobeyed a simple warning.  It got me thinking about human nature for one and how this could make for an interesting premise in a game like Don’t Shoot the Puppy.  We decided to restart the game and see if we couldn’t finish the path and actually find grandma’s house and the big bad wolf.  Long story short we found the house – dark – then we found grandma – looked dead – and even the wolf who was stuffed in a corner – over it.

the_path_9

The Path

I was not so sure what was so wonderful about the Wonderful World Gallery, but we were hoping that the Greg Fleishman Gallery would be better… and it was!

But not by much.

There was only three machines set up there and only two were working.  I mean really did any of the developers care what people thought about their babies, or were they all just a bunch of bastard children abandoned at an amusement park?

Despite the quantity of games the Greg Fleishman Gallery had a good and a great game set up to play.  Tuning was a simple maze game where you have to roll a ball into a hole at the end without falling off the stage.  What made it interesting was how each stage looked and functioned.  One stage was blown out like a fish eyed lens where objects in the middle appeared larger than the ones around the outside.  As you rolled the ball the lens would magnify new areas of the stage which was sort of fun.  Another stage would actually change shape as you moved the ball.  Moving it right would change it one way and moving to the left would be another.

Looking at our map, Simon and I learned that we had missed some games back at the Culver Hotel, so we made our way back there.  To our surprise we found a couple of fun and interesting games.

One was called Cogs where the user moves panels on a rotatable cube trying to connect all of the cogs.  Once all of the cogs were properly connected it would complete and activate the machine.  Overall this was pretty cool and executed rather well.

cogs

Cog

Another game, Mightier, allowed users to drawn images on a piece of paper on their table and scan it real time into the game using a camera.  The images could be used to create your character and alter the stages to complete them. Simon in particular likes this game because he has always been an illustrator at heart.

The one game that truly blew us away was Minor Battle.  It was a simple 2D side-scrolling game where each team of two controlled a warrior with the objective of destroying the other team’s castle.  You did this by finding a bomb on the stage, running it to the enemy castle and throwing it.  What made this game so exciting was that it was played on four flat screen monitors that were set on a pillar each facing in one of four directions.  As your characters moved to the left or right off one screen they would appear on the next and we quickly found ourself running around the pillar in circles to keep up.  I have to hand it to these guys, they made a simple game a dozen times more interesting and interactive.

My favorite game of the day had to have been Aether.  You play as a little boy who befriends a big squid beast.  You ride the squid around using its tongue to swing from clouds generating enough velocity to leave the planets atmosphere and gravitational pull.  You could then zoom through space to find other worlds each with their own puzzles to solve.  This was the only game I played to completion the entire day, and I am glad I did.  It has been incredibly inspiring and really fun!

aether

The monochromatic world of Aether.

I was expecting a lot more from IndieCade but I was not surprised with what I had found.  The $20 day pass felt completely unnecessary seeing how there wasn’t a soul at the galleries to check entry.  Out of the 12 or so games only a few were noteworthy.  Would I go again next year?  Most likely I will, and I just might bring my own game and make sure to be available for those who want to play it and ask questions.

In the meantime I will work on improving my blog post’s format and overall language.  Thanks for putting up with the noob!

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