To test out my newly optimized enemy model with Inverse Kinematics, I wanted to do a little animation test with a video or gif of some sort. You may remember this as the way Epic Games got in so much trouble with Fortnite.
Since we’re keeping it simple with the animated enemies in this project, I briefly thought I could achieve everything I wanted to do with simple bone rotation keyframes–this looked bad, took too much effort, and was just wrong.
I met David via Twitter while freelancing for Zam.com (now Fanbyte). Beyond writing the definitive unofficial book on Roblox, David has picked up bylines at Forbes Games, IGN, Vice, Polygon, and other outlets. He now juggles tasks as a senior editor at UploadVR and trust me when I say his work in the virtual reality space has been a boon to developers and enthusiasts alike.
It’s my fault we didn’t manage to have David on during 2019, and it’s my fault again that his appearance was in the middle of a CES crapstorm, but it’s all good news for you! Thanks to this timing, David not only sheds light on the most recent developments for Oculus hardware owners and the company’s apparent direction for the near future, but we also get the scoop on some of this year’s most promising sights from CES itself.
Go send David some love; it’s a difficult time of year.
Welcome back! This time on GameDev Breakdown we’re discussing the finer points of tutorials in games, and yes, whether or not they even have a rightful place in them. That idea may surprise you, unless you spend any time talking about development on Twitter where it’s become oddly commonplace.
This idea comes from a well-intentioned place. As games and players have matured, we’ve seen a lot of games with subtler, more innovative introductions. As seen in one of the tweets above, for some reason people who like attacking game designers like bringing up the introductory stage of Mega Man X.
I generally go out of my way not to criticize the work of other designers, but I would be very hesitant to set up an introductory stage like what Mega Man X features. For one thing, MMX seems to depend on the player having played previous games in the series and having some sense of what’s going on. It leaves players to experiment with what amounts to an unusually easy level, mashing buttons and experimenting with enemies and mechanics along the way. Even at that, I find the level visually confusing–quick, you just started, here comes some cars! Just kidding they can’t hurt you–and I don’t agree that players wouldn’t be better served by an optional scene with a few prompts to get newbies acclimated before dropping them into a proper stage.
Meanwhile, players in favor of sensible tutorials all pointed me at the same game: Far Cry 3: Blood Dragon.
Blood Dragon actually had the same challenge to overcome as Mega Man X: a unique game in a pre-existing series that still needs to onboard new players. To do this, Blood Dragon goes all the way in the opposite direction, interrupting players with nearly full-screen prompts every few seconds while the protagonist complains about the delay. Blood Dragon manages to roast an annoying trend in game tutorials (overdoing it) while using a tried and true method to teach players advanced FPS controls in a hurry.
This comparison is too simplistic, of course, and also doesn’t take into account the widely varied needs across other genres. Angry Birds doesn’t need too much handholding, but have you ever designed your own card game?
The resource we look at in this episode is the condensed result of a master’s project study on reactions to tutorials and introductory levels featured at Gamasutra.
This post was originally published at Zam.com in 2016.
As products of the computer hardware industry, video game consoles
inherit a finite life span ending in certain obsolescence. Since 1972, about 150
home gaming systems have been released in the United States alone, nearly all of
which have been commercially retired.
Sadly, player loyalty often plays a very small role in a console’s life cycle. While
many console developers have pulled systems from retail shelves to make room
for more powerful hardware, other companies have abandoned their products and
left the business completely. Once the end is in sight, die-hard fans of a
vanishing console quickly transition to the rear view. So, what becomes of these
Surviving a discontinued console has become a rite of
passage for gamers. Many of us begrudgingly move on to newer models after
coming to terms and setting aside the funds. Some of us keep old consoles
tucked away to revisit our favorite games when the mood strikes, while other
players sell off their gear, hoping to soften the upgrade’s financial blow. Some
players, however, don’t get dragged away so easily; they extend the console’s
Those who follow game industry news get occasional glimpses into the world of homebrewers, modders, and other developers of unlicensed game content. We perked up when Silent Hill 2 wasredesigned for 8-bit systems. We cringed at Square Enix’s cease-and-desist cancellation of Chrono Trigger: Crimson Echoes, a fan game more than four years into its development and mere weeks from its release. We marveled at footage of Mario Kart R, a hack that added new tracks and characters to the original Mario Kart. What drives these unsung heroes? With little potential for revenue, countless technological challenges, and a severely limited audience, what really makes the retro development community tick? I sought out some prominent movers and shakers of the craft to gain their insight.
NES Games from Scratch
What would you do with complete control over your favorite
As a gifted middle schooler, Damian
Yerrick spent the early ‘90s on an Apple IIe computer writing programs in the
BASIC and 6502 Assembly programming languages. When he discovered an early Nintendo
Entertainment System emulator for the PC near the end of the decade, he
experimented with a few game hacks for his own entertainment.
“I wanted to hack another game,” Yerrick
says, “but I discovered that the generic graphics hacking tools didn’t work
with it because its graphics were compressed. So I decided to start making my
own NES games from scratch.”
Now a web application developer living
in northeast Indiana, Yerrick’s software creations have earned him cash prizes
in homebrew competitions twice in the last five years. His knowledge and
software tools have made him a major contributor at the NESDev forums.
Yerrick’s tales of tinkering include a
variety of experiments and self-instruction. After participating in Game Boy
Advance and Nintendo DS homebrew groups, he turned briefly to the PC platform,
concerned about the potential difficulty of shipping a console game. As he
finished college and entered the workforce, he gained expertise in versatile
programming languages like C and Python. His desire to get serious about the
“One reason I
program for the NES,” Yerrick explains, “is that because of the system’s
limits, it’s still within reach for one or two people to make something whose
production values compare with commercial releases on the same platform. By the
Super NES era, teams routinely grew to a dozen or more people.”
He adds that the
responsiveness of this kind of programming is also rewarding. While modern game
development often requires commands to filter through a potentially sluggish
operating system, commands sent to the NES Picture Processing Unit and audio
circuits take effect instantly.
As Yerrick got plugged in with other
NESDev users, he gained a deep understanding of the NES hardware. Over time he
would wow the community with a variety of projects not only flaunting his
design skills, but also demonstrating clever hardware use, including a
competitive NES Zapper game and a game designed for the Super NES mouse
peripheral. He now values being of help to new developers on a wide variety of
hardware, software, and even legal questions pertaining to the craft.
Yerrick deeply understands how the law applies to what he does, and how homebrew games have been the subject of some unwanted attention. This has caused Yerrick to take a handful of his games offline out of concern about potential litigation. In fact, Yerrick points to intellectual property disputes as the leading cause of trouble for homebrew developers. Many publishers will take action to protect characters and other game elements they consider vital to their business. The simple act of creating your own unlicensed games, he maintains, is not inherently dangerous.
“By 2015, I doubt that Nintendo cares
about unlicensed development for its patent-expired consoles.” Yerrick explains.
He further illustrates this point by referring to Sega v. Accolade, a landmark
case that established the development of unlicensed console games as fair use.
“Mostly the issue lies in projects that reuse characters from Nintendo
Yerrick doesn’t necessarily feel that
social media has had a profound impact on his work. The homebrew development community
thrives on older message boards. Between competition activity and shoptalk, Yerrick
says, he could freely take part in at least a dozen active discussions on any
given day. The forum discussions are lighthearted but the developers tend to
stay on-topic. Instead of a community for the sake of community, theirs exists
to benefit the craft.
Looking ahead, Yerrick plans to help
move the homebrew community in a positive and increasingly legitimate
direction. He hopes to use his personal site, Pin Eight, to release new programming libraries
and tools over the next year that will allow new developers to come up to speed
more quickly and without the need to get started through legally risky
activities like hacking and sharing copyrighted games.
“That’s one reason I try to spread the
knowledge of how to develop NES games.” Yerrick says. The more free games the community
creates, he points out, the stronger their position becomes when defending
against broad complaints about homebrew projects and emulation in general.
For the Love of the Games
While many developers work together to keep old consoles alive and well, a dedicated few spend years breathing new life into a single game.
In 1997, Rare’s GoldenEye 007 took the world by storm. Millions of players across the globe hungrily devoured the single player campaign and sank countless hours into the game’s split-screen multiplayer deathmatches. GoldenEye’s commercial success revealed the enormous potential of console shooters and inspired Rare to get to work on the game’s spiritual successor, Perfect Dark. A large player base would maintain their loyalty to the Rare shooters far beyond the Nintendo 64’s commercial discontinuation in 2003.
For Canadian game hacker Donald J. York (known almost strictly online as “Wreck”), this was just the beginning. His team is hard at work on GoldenEye X: an ongoing effort to rebuild and enhance the GoldenEye experience in the more-capable Perfect Dark engine. This highly sophisticated hack has added features like weather, improved light and dark outdoor environments, multiplayer AI, cooperative missions, and all-new Virtual Assignments to the original game.
Wreck’s path to project management in this accomplished community has
been bumpy at times. His appreciation for gaming began as a desire to cope with
the frustration of a difficult childhood.
“I had difficulties earlier in life caused by social anxiety.” Wreck
says. “It was so bad that I couldn’t attend most of school, and was home
instructed by a tutor…it was more than just a way to kill time. It was a sort
of escape, which has stayed with me ever since. “
This may be why Wreck enjoys having a little extra control over his
games. He describes growing up with a game enhancer (“cheating device,” if you like)
on hand for each console he owned. By the time the Nintendo 64 reached the
height of its popularity, off-the-shelf cheat tools were considerably more
advanced. This, wreck says, opened up a whole new world.
While he confesses a soft spot for tinkering with Resident Evil 2,GoldenEye was the first game Wreck got serious about modifying. His early days of borrowing internet time for research and cringing before testing hacks would lead to his eventual entry into the online game hacking community. Around 2005, Wreck was enlisted to work with GoldenEye Vault community member SubDrag on an early version of the GoldenEye Setup Editor, a powerful application eventually capable of changing not only GoldenEye, but also a variety of other games including Perfect Dark and Diddy Kong Racing. Over time, the Setup Editor would simplify intricate game modifications, greatly reducing the learning curve for new modders. This is where Wreck would hone his skills and deepen his knowledge until he was ready to spearhead his own initiative: GoldenEye X.
“What you see in the GoldenEye X project (as well as many of the releases you can find on the GoldenEye Vault website) is the direct result of years upon years of hacking GoldenEye and Perfect Dark,” Wreck explains. “A lot of what has gone into this particular project has been learning as we go. We knew far more about GoldenEye than we did Perfect Dark, and our time working on this has given us a whole new appreciation for [Perfect Dark]. Things we never even noticed in the game before had suddenly appeared. You really have to give Rare credit for putting so much into a game that people are just noticing things 15+ years later.”
Presently, Wreck leads a team of about 3 developers at any given time. They started by porting GoldenEye’s multiplayer mode to the new engine and steadily branched out to campaign missions as well as their own additions to the original game. Their assignments are the result of lengthy feature discussions and detailed bug reports. Changes are documented religiously. Years of continuous process improvement allows the group’s workflow to meet the quality you might find in a professional development studio. Wreck explains that this is a conscious practice in contrast to the project’s loosely organized early days.
“Once the preview was released, I started over from scratch.” Wreck
says. “This time I knew enough to write down everything. It really helps to
know what you did for each release…Sometimes you’ll run into an issue and it
tracks back to some little change you made in the previous version. We’re still
finding that every so often. I’d suggest to all others out there to keep logs
of whatever you’ve been doing as you go.”
Otherwise, Wreck notes that the management side of the project is a
pleasure. With virtually no financial burden, the project’s biggest cost is
time, and this doesn’t seem to faze the team. All contributors are diehard fans
of Rareware and they never settle until they’re satisfied. They never seem to
lose sight of the fact that their project is a tribute to what they consider a
Notably absent from the GoldenEye X story is any presence of legal activity. At face value, it might seem surprising that a hit game from a top publisher on a console owned by a litigious company could be part of such a long-running hacking project without drawing ire. Wreck suggests his team’s methods and motives have helped them keep the peace.
“Hopefully I don’t jinx myself here, but
we’ve been very fortunate when it comes to legal stuff.” Wreck says. “We’ve
never been contacted by any of the copyright holders in the past. All releases
we make are in patch form (which are pretty much useless on their own), and we
don’t encourage or promote downloading of ROMs online. We’re doing this to keep
the game alive and well.”
On a hunch, I asked if Wreck’s team had been in contact with any members of the original GoldenEye or Perfect Dark teams. One widely-recognized GoldenEye developer does seem to acknowledge previous membership at their forum and Wreck claims others have provided the team with guidance in more private discussions.
“I don’t know if I should name any names, but we have had contact with various members of the original GE team.” Wreck says. “A certain someone joined up on the forum, and others have been e-mailed to help fill in some holes regarding different aspects of the game, and they have been quite kind and informative – for what they can remember dating that far back, of course.”
Wreck stands apart from some other developers by attributing some of his passion for his work to the community.
“Our community is probably one of the most supportive and committed
ones out there.” Wreck says. “If nobody was around to care. There’d be no real
reason to push on.”
Wreck does echo the sentiments heard so commonly from his peers: that
it’s all for the love of the games. Still, he notes how rewarding it is when a
new member joins up, filled with interest and excitement, eager to contribute.
He says that the games still have a way of pulling people in, which he
welcomes. He hopes that the Setup Editor’s recent support for additional games
will continue to encourage new community projects.
“I can only hope we see people with a real desire to dig deep into things and show us something we’ve never seen before.” Wreck says. “I mean, who wouldn’t like to see a Diddy Kong Racing sequel?”
As for the future of GoldenEye X, Wreck acknowledges that there must be an ultimate end to the ride. He believes there’s only so much his team can do while staying true to the spirit of the original GoldenEye experience, and he hopes his work won’t discourage other modders from taking the original games in completely different directions as he moves on to future projects of his own. He says that the time investment has been enormous and the journey is occasionally difficult, but that he is proud of what he’s done; he feels he is meant for this.
“With a small team, life getting in the way, and no paycheck for all
the hard work you put into it, it puts a damper on progress and motivation at
times.” Wreck says. “But the love of this, and the feeling of reward when
getting things going can do a lot to keep you looking ahead.”
I wanted to Save Sega
Few announcements have hit gamers harder
than Sega’s declaration of intent to discontinue its Dreamcast system in early
2001, less than two short years before it was first made available in the
United States and Europe. Despite its successful launch, poor timing put the
Dreamcast launch in the way of Sony’s PlayStation 2 hype train. At the end of
this tumultuous financial period, not only would Sega discontinue the Dreamcast,
but they would also exit the console business completely.
In the wake of the 90s console war,
households devout to Sega products, like those now committed to Nintendo, Sony,
and Microsoft systems, were not uncommon. Many younger gamers around the world
reeled at the news that the only gaming hardware they’d ever known would soon
leave retail shelves forever. Some players, like young Bilal Zia, wanted their
voices to be heard.
“…I wanted to save Sega,” Zia says. “I
registered on the Sega message boards and tried to convince them to not
discontinue the Dreamcast. That’s how I got involved as a 13-year-old kid in
Far from alone, Zia would connect with
countless other gamers who came together to create petitions, organize
campaigns, and brainstorm ideas to reach executives at Sega. One such campaign
received a response from then president of Sega of America, Peter Moore,
encouraging the group to reach out to executives at Sega of Japan. Zia
summarizes Sega of Japan’s response: “Not happening.”
Not to be deterred, the group’s next
campaign urged Sega to widely release the Dreamcast’s Katana development kit,
which would allow the growing homebrew community to support the Dreamcast
independently. Sega formally declined this request as well. The community was
on its own, and they set out to carry on without Sega’s help.
In the years that followed, the group
would defeat the technical roadblocks preventing them from publishing
independently on the Dreamcast and filling the void left by Sega’s
disappearance from the scene. Zia’s mentor Max Scharl would arrange for an
independent Dreamcast booth at Germany’s Game Convention events (now succeeded
by GamesCom) where Sega Germany GM Tina Sakowsky even stopped by to give the group
a public endorsement.
In time, Zia took on the roles of both
“community reporter” and editor for what is now known as Dreamcast-Scene, a
unification of Dreamcast emulation enthusiasts, homebrewers, fans, and
independent developers. He also supports numerous independent developers and
publishers with PR and marketing initiatives for Dreamcast projects.
The Dreamcast community sees an unusual
number of these revenue-earning projects with relatively few legal issues. Zia
explains that an interesting design choice about the hardware makes this
“Sega wanted the Dreamcast to play audio
CDs.” Zia says. “Big mistake…it is because of the system’s ability to play CDs
that we still get new commercial-quality games for it.” The console’s software
attempts to load special content included on standard audio CDs and
enterprising developers quickly learned how to feed the system their game code,
no proprietary media or modified software required.
Even with the freedom to design for the
Dreamcast, Zia is outspoken about discouraging Kickstarter campaigns or other
initiatives that might hurt the community. While he doesn’t disapprove of the
crowdfunding platform itself, he feels that indie developers predict their own
future pacing to their detriment, so he encourages his colleagues to play it
”I would urge all budding video game
developers to finish beta testing before opening pre-orders.” Zia says. “…don’t
quit your day job. Do this on the side if you have fun with it. Only open
pre-orders once the game has gone gold and allow yourself months of buffer time
because there are a ton of things that can go wrong in the physical production
process as well.”
While it’s understandable that Zia is
protective of the community he has been so instrumental in supporting, the
Dreamcast scene needs little encouragement to thrive. With dedicated
developers, publishers, and even online game stores catering to modern
Dreamcast enthusiasts, his is one of the most advanced and functional subgroups
in retro gaming.
The game developers agree. French indie dev Cedric Bourse (better known as the developer/publisher Orion_) left a game studio after five years to go independent, releasing new games for a variety of retro consoles and computers. His recent title Alice’s Mom’s Rescue was released on Steam, Android, Atari Jaguar CD, and the Dreamcast. Though he makes his games available for many systems, he speaks highly of the Dreamcast community’s passion for their console and their support for independent developers.
“They are really passionate about their
console, and they greatly support indie developers no matter what,” says
Bourse. “A supportive community is key to indie developers, because you can
make a game on a retro console, if nobody cares, you won’t get very far.” He
adds that he released a game for the original PlayStation that sold less than
As for Zia, he believes the community
could go even further with better use of social media tools like Facebook and
Twitter. He says Dreamcast-Scene isn’t formally represented on either site and
lists other similar Dreamcast groups that are absent there as well.
“Community is the most important thing,”
Says Zia. “…there is a sense of community, a sense of belonging, and the
community strives to nurture what holds it all together.”
When Nostalgia Calls
While many American gamers
spent the early ‘80s discovering the Commodore 64, Sinclair Research introduced
players in the United Kingdom to its own 8-bit home computer: the ZX Spectrum.
Not only did the “Speccy” enjoy wild popularity comparable to that of the C64
throughout its decade-long commercial run, but it also became the center of an
independent development scene that is still virtually unrivaled. More than 30
years after its release, hobbyists still release new software for the Spectrum frequently.
To celebrate the tradition of Spectrum development, Portuguese game developer and entrepreneur Diogo Vasconcelos (@DiogoStuart) coordinated the first ZX Spectrum Retro Game Jam early in 2015. During the event, entrants were invited to spend the weekend creating a working ZX Spectrum game fitting the selected theme (this year’s theme was “Evil Chicken”). At the end of the allotted time, entries would be play-tested and a winner would receive the grand prize.
The 2015 ZXS Retro Game Jam ran from September 3rd
through September 5th.
“I decided to do a crazy
retro game jam dedicated to the Speccy with an award I would have loved to win
when I was a kid,” Vasconcelos says. True to his word, two entrants were
declared winners and will have their games professionally packaged, published
to cassette (the spectrum’s medium of choice), and made available for sale by
Vasconcelos and his partners.
For Vasconcelos, the game jam
was just one more product of a life-long passion for retro gaming. He recalls
beginning a collection of gaming boxes, posters, manuals and more from the age
of eight. By the age of ten he was learning how to program on a Spectrum of his
“Eventually that gaming era
became the past, but my love for it kept going…so in 2010 I opened the first
Portuguese physical store dedicated to retro game collecting,” Vasconcelos
says. PressPlay Porto was a 5-year experiment he describes as “awesome.” He
would eventually close the store to go all-in as a co-founder of British game
studio Nerd Monkeys, Ltd.
As his focus shifted to game
development, Vasconcelos says he’s put more energy into game jams as a
participant, where he enjoys getting to know other developers. When nostalgia
came calling, he was fascinated by the idea of organizing the Spectrum jam and
creating something special for the other creators around him.
Vasconcelos feels that these
events mostly exist for the sake of fun but he does believe that they
strengthen the retro game development community. He says that the collaborative
and social nature of the internet in recent years has had a profound impact.
“It changed everything, and
in my opinion, for the best.” Vasconcelos says. “I’m a strong advocate of this
natural media transition that is happening, and all sorts of social networks
like Twitter are undeniably successful marketing tools for the present game
developer, from the independent to the AAA. It levels things a bit and brings
new and awesome opportunities to everyone who dares take them.”
Even in his community event
coordinating, Vasconcelos explains that his motivation goes back to the source.
“What keeps us passionate
about what we do is the fact that we are making games,” he says, “all of the
rest is work.”
The retro development craft
demands uncommon levels of skill and commitment, but the work of these
dedicated few produces results that strike a chord with nearly all of us. Their
determination has kept our favorite consoles active independently longer than
they were commercially supported. In the absence of publishers, the enthusiasm
of hobbyists has led to new, compelling experiences for players everywhere. As
the community contemplates its place in relation to social media, unfolding legal
issues, and new revenue potential, we can rest assured that they will not lose
focus on teaching our old hardware new tricks.
Richard Rouse III calls in to talk about his new indie title, The Church in the Darkness, and treats us to some stories from his fantastic career including the design of The Suffering, writing Game Design: Theory & Practice, and some interesting creative projects we never got to see.
Richard is a really insightful guy. He has too much writing and too many talks to fully list here, but I encourage you to check out his wisdom around the web. I could have filled much more than a one-hour show while picking his brain–and I’d love to have him back for more–but I sure appreciate the time he took with us this time.
I wanted to be sure to include the IGN article that was written after Richard and Midway lured game journalists into a defunct prison and locked them in overnight. Richard even seemed to get a kick out of revisiting the topic. It’s a little piece of unique game PR history, don’t miss it.
LucasArts Employee #3 himself, David Fox joins to talk about his fantastic career contributing to some of the most iconic graphic adventure games of our time, chasing the technology to create location-based interactive experiences, and his philosophy on positive change through design. Topics include VR, interpersonal issues in the modern game industry, politics, electric cars, and more.
David was so kind to agree to this show, we were both fighting illness at the time of recording (I had to really work hard on my end of the discussion in post to make it listenable, apologies for any unusual tone quality) but I could not have been more pleased with the discussion itself. David has contributed to so many games we all know and love, Zak McKracken, Maniac Mansion, Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade, Thimbleweed Park, and more. It was such a pleasure to spend some time learning about the rest of his awesome work and capture more details about the things he’s done. Please keep an open mind; David’s time at LucasArts has been discussed in super deep detail in a variety of interviews and I’d encourage you to check them out. I wanted to do more for this show to really get a sense of David’s contributions to technology and interactive experiences on a broader scale. Nonetheless there’s plenty of great material here to dig into about design, VR, and the game development community. Check it out and reach out to David on Twitter!
Will Traxler of Traxmaster Software discusses his new game, Exception, his first commercial release following years of solo development. Will shares insight into his unique post-launch mindset, his solution to investing in his development, and the dynamics of outsourcing PR responsibilities as a one-man studio.
Will has accomplished a ton with this game release. Multiple platforms on day 1, stellar marketing in motion, and all without crunching or losing his cool. His attitude is exemplary and this is a must-listen for small indie teams or other soloists.
We discuss surviving a flood early in the episode. Indeed I did have to push our Skype call back a day over flooding in the area as it resulted in a school cancellation for my kid. It would have been too ridiculous a lie to use, so I suppose I’ve got that going for me.