Hey, did I mention that my buddy Jim Shepard has finally finished his epic, Dungeonmans, and it is fully purchasable on Steam?
He’s done such an amazing job… I spent a few weeks helping out a little on traps when I was awaiting a move to San Francisco back in 2010, and it was the very thing that made me realize how much I had missed game coding. I can’t lay any claim at all to the final product because probably 1% of the code I wrote back then made it into the final product, but it was a meaningful moment to me nonetheless.
Back in November, Jim and his long-distance contributors/friends decided to gather in Seattle for a week-long push to get Dungeonmans that much closer to the finish line. I put in a day or two (as a designer this time) and helped create a couple of “master dungeons”, and it was amazing to see how much the game had improved over time.
The coolest part was having an honest-to-god game studio, Adventurepro, in my basement for a week! These are amazing guys, each with years and years of grizzled veteranmancy (a word I just crafted now) behind them… They deserve every new success.
I’ve had to take a break on the article-writing to immerse myself in my work. Theory is fun, speccing can be rewarding, and hooking up is good, but sometimes I’ve found myself missing real hands-on gameplay programming.
A friend of mine has been creating a Rogue-alike as a side-project labor of love for the past few years, and recently it went from sporadic updates to a full-on development flurry. This of course made me very jealous, as tile-based engines allow for amazing freedom in creation… There are few limits and implentation is a breeze. It’s all about the gameplay.
The game is Dungeonmans, and he releases updates openly as an in-progress effort… It obviously revels in its old-school presentation… although the graphics are getting better by the day. He’s created an overworld and NPC quest system as well as invested a great sense of humor within, so in some ways it outpaces similar indie dungeon-crawlers already. It even can gather play stats that get collected at the home base for analysis and high scores.
Recently he made the codebase available to a few of us, and we’ve all been diving in and having a blast. I’ve been working on a trap system recently, and I gotta say it’s the most fun I’ve had with development since Heretic II. It’s been a while since I’ve worked on something past midnight without even noticing.
It’s not Diablo III, but fun doesn’t have to be developed in 3D by hundreds of people… Check it out.
Oh yeah. I would like to personally thank the entire country of France for the greatest cover ever for a game I’ve worked on. Irreverent doesn’t begin to describe it… If you dare, click for a disturbingly oversized version.
Play La Marseillaise!
Credit where credit’s due… I really have to appreciate the fantastic coverage that This is Vegas has gotten from the press in Europe. While I’m really happy with how the U.S. press has responded to the game, it’s still funny to watch how Americans in general spend so much time pondering how much the game is like GTA. In my completely broad-but-insulting generalization, people on this side of the world just seem to want to know who it is they get to shoot, while Europeans more easily “get it” and embrace the completely over-the-top nature of this game.
What is the deal with that? For everyone who complains about how games too frequently fall back on the old stereotypes of violence and thuggery, American gamers are still likely to complain when it isn’t present. People seem to think it’s just the result of high-level censorship… e.g. in Europe sex = okay, in America violence = okay, but these attitudes aren’t just made-up. The expectations of the audience certainly shapes the taboos in those respective countries.
To either side here are a couple more recent appearances from the other side of the world… Here are a couple of covers from the UK and Germany, using imagery created by our awesome Art Director Wayne Laybourn. With the help of a great team including our design guru David Heutmaker, he has completely nailed the feel of our game… The colors, the motion graphics, even created a home for some of our more “game-y” elements… We’re not trying to create a gritty portrayal of the city of Las Vegas, folks, and anyone who compares it pixel-for-pixel with the real city is completely missing the point. The style is like nothing I’ve never seen in any game before it.
My first Blog on This is Vegas is now running at IGN, check it out here. The IGN series won’t just be a soapbox for me, I just kicked it off… We’ll be working to get as many different Surreal folk represented as possible there, more in the spirit of the sadly departed SurrealGameDesign (of course it will center mostly much around TIV, but I hope our minds can wander a bit). This particular article covers some of the vision-oriented stuff on Vegas, and hopefully kicks off the TIV coverage with something at least mildly interesting.
We’re going to Vegas next week to show off the game (as well as check out other Midway titles), so you should see some good coverage very soon. We don’t want to reveal too much too soon, but I am confident that the upcoming showing should answer many questions for people who don’t know what our game is about.
Short update today, sorry I’ve been slammed. Meanwhile, enjoy some Don Hertzfeldt.
So over the past two and a half years, we’ve been laboring at Surreal over a game that is really a different sort of game than those I’ve worked on in the past. The cool thing is that we’ve been able to apply all our knowledge from a multitude of past action games into a completely new experience. Overall it’s been an enriching experience, making me think of new ways to tackle old problems, as well as come up with solutions to entirely new challenges. If anything it’s a fantastic breather from “shooter of the month”.
But I can’t say that the silence has been easy to endure. “So Pat, what’re you’re working on?” my industry friends would casually ask as we munched awesome, giant slices of pizza… The answer used to be so easy… “Military shooter” or “Star Wars game!” Those chats were easy, and would elicit a knowing nod… Little else needed to be discussed. Maybe talk about a new weapon or multiplayer mode, or gripe about problems with the technology, but not much else. Lately it’s been a struggle: “Well, it’s an open-world action game, but it’s got this sort of lifestyle component…” They’d stop, and give me a puzzled stare. “I can’t really say anything else, but it’s pretty different. It’ll be announced soon I think.”. As they turned back to their slice, they mumbled: “Uh, sure, sounds cool. Can’t wait.”
Well, after an eternity, it’s finally announced. It’s called This is Vegas.
There’s only a thimble-full of information, so until more gameplay is revealed publicly I’ll have to continue to wave my hands at our monthly pizza ritual, but at least I can point you in the direction of some of the early coverage:
We’d like to congratulate the team at Midway Chicago for completing Stranglehold for the Xbox 360! It’s been spotted on store shelves around here, so obviously that’s the official sign! We’ve been playing a lot of it as it approached completion, and it’s a really fun game. They really executed well… It isn’t just about mass destruction, but about using the world around you and gaining the high ground and playing with style. The game rewards you for being the coolest you can be.
We should also call out the incredible work of the Surreal FX team that appears in the game. Every column, chair, and statue all have all been translated into a visual symphony. Perhaps the game isn’t just about mass destruction, but in Stranglehold, even fruit can be capable of dazzling moments. Check it out!
Also, if you dig the visuals of Stranglehold, or if you liked the creepy vibe of The Suffering, you should check out the new Art of Midway book now available! This is concept art on overdrive, including some incredible work from our own Garrett Smith and Ben Olson. These guys create entire worlds with the sweep of their pens (or mice). This is only a sampling of what we see everyday… Thanks also to the Midway art directors for putting this together. Fantastic stuff.
I should talk a bit about my experiences with the academic group that made up Joystick101 and the local groups around it. As I reached 2004 and was just finishing up X-Men Legends, I was getting pretty burned out on the industry… 11 years of making varieties of shooters at Raven was entertaining, but was growing into a somewhat single-note affair. Around then, Nathan McKenzie, an incredible gameplay programmer I had been fortunate to poach from a college back in (I think) 1996 was acquainted with a lot of the game academics around the University of Wisconsin. After an awesome run completing Soldier of Fortune in 2000, Nathan had taken a couple of years off and did something of a journey of self-discovery… He came back to work on Quake 4 in (I think) 2003 with a lot of academic knowledge and a pretty unique view on games.
Anyway, Nathan introduced me to the UW academics that had been studying games… something I had no idea existed. They were an incredibly interesting group, including Kurt Squire, Constance Steinkeuhler, Alice Robison and notably Professor Jim Gee. Every week a group of them, including a number of other graduate students in departments such as Education, Linguistics and English, would gather in a game wonderland known as Room 130. Every week these folks would gather and play a new game, observe and talk about them. These were not the hardcore gamers that I had grown accustomed to interacting with, although they loved games with an equal fervor.
Coming from a fairly practical point of view on games and development over the previous 11 years, I felt refreshed. I didn’t ultimately “switch” to an academic perspective as much as Nathan did (he’s doing awesome, more power to him!), but my eyes opened a bit, knowing that there were more angles to look at games than I had realized… Not everyone was searching for that 20-levels-8-weapons-12-enemies magic formula that seemed so common out there. It was just what I needed to help me explore other genres and places.