Short Games as Products

I will soon be releasing a 20 minute game called Auto Afterlife. Auto Afterlife is meant to define a new type of experience similar to a short film but in game form. The idea is that you spend around 3-4 months developing a game from start to finish (the scope is 3-4 months but it may take 10-11 months to finish depending on schedule) but that unlike a short film, you can charge for it. You get a player to pay for a mix of narrative and interactive experience – so you charge anywhere between 3-10 dollars for this. By releasing games this way, you are afforded the chance to experiment with interactive storytelling that would be restricted in a AAA game like Last of Us, and you get to focus more on individual expression rather than conventional execution.

The wonderful thing about projects like this is that you can easily finish one game, and then follow it up with another without having to worry about sustaining a large development team. Life is Strange is the ultimate winner in this model, but I feel that it can be executed on an even more indie level. A game that comes to mind is Paratopic. Paratopic is priced at $5.49 on itch.io and provides a 45 min experience. Although the game is not feature rich, it places a heavy emphasis on atmosphere and story telling which is the thing that you are really paying for, similarly to when you goto a theater. If you look at gameplay time as what you pay for, then this game is a rip off. You pay $50 for Persona 5 which has 60+ hours of gameplay. The cost per hour of gameplay is much higher in Paratopic. However, with Paratopic you are buying the inner vision of an artist and the not the product of a big studio. You are paying for personal authorship not corporate design by committee. If the buyer/user understands this, they will not be upset with their purchase… as I was not upset when I payed for Paratopic. I prefer a shorter, more dense interactive product to a shallow one that lasts for 60 hours. I also do not classify dense as feature rich – or “took a long time to create” – but rather unique, emotional, and visionary.

 

The benefit here is that the game is not sold as a complete game full of conventional game mechanics, skill based challenges, and quests nor is it geared toward a gamer audience. Rather, it is an interactive narrative with elements of game design to engage the player and tell a story in an interactive way. This is a project model which is low risk high potential reward for the creator, and it stands to empower creative individuals to express themselves in a personal way while still having opportunity to earn money or do other things in their life. It also pushes innovation and experimentation due to smaller budgets and quicker development cycles. The main thing is cultivating and finding the audience that appreciates this sort of work, and labeling/framing the work as a short narrative piece rather than a “game” such that the audience is willing to pay half the price of a movie ticket to experience it. 

Book Recommendation: “2666” by Roberto Bolaño, for anyone interested in Spanish literature or what came after Borges.

Baby Rage Games: An Introduction

My business partners Alex Davis and Billy Cavanaugh started a VR company called 2020xr a little over a year ago. I joined as their CTO in July and have helped on board two more programmers and a 3D artist. This past month we changed our name to Baby Rage Games. We are creating a PC/VR multiplayer cross platform game and we will be releasing a single player version later this year. We are waiting to start development on the multiplayer mode due to Unity’s change in networking tech which is affording our lean team time to experiment and iterate on the design of our single player arcade mode. Our long term plan is to enter the eSports world with our game allowing players to compete either on PC or VR, but still drawing inspiration from the way that new VR games like Onward are hosted at VR tournaments.

From day one we knew we wanted the game to be more or less the same on VR and PC so every time we add a new feature, we have to make sure it works for all platforms. This is resulting in a design approach that is very gameplay focused and not so much VR focused. Unlike other VR devs, we are not trying to add cool VR-only features in our game. In fact, we are stripping them out to create a balanced experience when playing against someone on a PC. Keeping our design simple will allow it to be fun on both platforms.

Sometimes we will go for weeks with out touching a headset and will only test our game with a mouse and keyboard. But inevitably someone will say “Hey does Oculus even work right now?” and we will have to go in and make up for lost time. Here is a screen shot of a test level along side some scripts that we use to toggle between platforms while we develop:

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Our current goal is to wrap up an arcade mode similar to Call of Duty Zombies and get it out on the market as soon as possible. From there we plan to release rolling updates and move forward with the multiplayer mode.

We will be releasing more information soon. Follow us on Twitter or contact us if you have any question.

20/20 XR Update

Since I left Skydance Interactive and the Archangel: Hellfire team to join 20/20 XR I have been working on a new VR/PC cross platform game IP that is currently unannounced. Here is a very early stage screen shot:

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At 20/20 XR I have been spending most of the time doing early stage start-up things: recruiting, planning, setting up the office, doing research on tech that we will be using for our first game, etc… However, for the first few weeks in August I worked on a VR architecture walk through prototype which we are still shopping around in order to close deals with real estate developers. This would allow us to extend the runway for our original game development. All of the art is “programmer art” for both of these screen shots so pardon their lack of quality.

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Book Recommendation: For anyone interested in learning how to motivate your employees in the year 2018, check out “Drive” by Daniel H. Pink.

 

Archangel: Hellfire Update

I recently wrapped up Archangel: Hellfire with the team at Skydance Interactive. It is currently available to play as a beta and the full free release will be available July 17th 2018.

Archangel: Hellfire is a valuable case study because we were forced to push against the grain of standard VR first person shooter games. Hellfire’s premise (as a cockpit-based mech game) allowed us to focus a lot of our development time on game design rather than VR specific feature development. By dialing back the amount of simulation and touch control based interactions, and iterating on combat mechanics, movement systems, and multiplayer gameplay experience, we discovered several valuable, yet subtle secrets to VR game development that I will cover in this section.

With a limited timeline and budget for the game, we wanted to create something that got as close to a classic first person shooter as possible. We wanted to create a fast paced, tactical experience that felt familiar and fun to play, but also complex enough for a high level of replay-ability. The last thing we wanted to see was people taking off the headset after a couple minutes and saying “That was cool, I have never experienced something like that before.

No. We wanted to see people slam the headset on the ground, scream “what the f–k”, get pissed at their opponents, and say “Put me in again so I can avenge myself.” We wanted people to get competitive as hell. We wanted to push the VR eSports universe to the next level.

And even though we wanted these things – we knew it was going to be hard to get them, simply because of the fact that relatively few people actually own headsets today. However, whatever time players would spend in Archangel: Hellfire, we would make it as intense as possible. We would set a benchmark for competitive game play in the VR space.

I will talk more about the development of Archangel: Hellfire in my upcoming book: Silicon Beach GameDev. Follow me on instagram for further updates.

Book Recommendation: “Sapiens” by Yuval Noah Harari, for a deep historical look at the evolution of the human being as well as the society and ideology that surrounds it. Many intriguing patterns and perspectives on human kind are revealed here, all of which are incredibly relevant today.

The VR Advantage

What I have learned after examining VR video games is that they are not enhanced by AR/VR in a meaningful way.

I believe that interactive systems are highly functional when they use their input systems to effectively communicate information and allow users to interact with that information in a natural, intuitive way.

Looking at all of the games I have played in VR, the only ones that have made we want to come back for a second go are the multiplayer games. In fact, the first VR project I made was a multiplayer game.

When you play a multiplayer game, another human is sending you information and communicating with you in a way that makes you engaged and interested. The difference between a VR multiplayer game and a regular multiplayer game is that you get access to a deeper amount of information about the player on the other side than you could with just a computer, and this information is entirely to do with their BODY and HUMAN PRESENCE.

After reading books like Charisma Myth and People Skills, it becomes very clear that human communication is about much more than just the words you say, but rather the posture you maintain, the hand gestures you make, the pauses in your speech, the eye contact you transmit. VR/AR has the potential to capture all of these expressions and represent them in virtual space, and this is the true advantage of VR/AR over regular computers.

A single player game will not be superior in VR than on a screen, because no game will ever be able to be designed to interpret the minutiae of human expression and use it in a system of deep game mechanics. Only a human or AI can interpret this sort of information in a useful way, games only require simple binary inputs on behalf of the user because they are essentially static systems whose depth is not built on deep input but rather on shallow input being processed in a variety of contexts. This is not to say that single player games are not fun experiences in VR, it is to say that they are not evolved or more game-like.

I believe that the ultimate strength of VR/AR will come from humans coming together in virtual environments and communicating through immersive interactive systems, utilizing the complex input data generated with AR/VR in conjunction with creative and analytical VR tools that can help record and capture the communication between people. This will not only drive the success of remote work and telecommunication, but will also allow for new modes of streamlined, uninhibited human collaboration – two people will be able to draw on a white board at once while overlapping in virtual space. The ability to learn, collaborate, and instruct from remote spaces will see a major improvement and the distance between individuals will impede their work life communication and collaboration less than ever before.

I will be expanding on this topic with much greater detail in an upcoming video presentation, please stay tuned.

Book Recommendation: “Kafka on the Shore” by Haruki Murakami, for anyone interested in Japanese history, surrealism, madness, and what is perhaps one of Murakami’s best works.

New Mr. Robot Inspired Game Project

I am working on a new game called Silicon Beach Psychopath inspired by Mr. Robot and my personal experiences in Los Angeles.

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The gameplay revolves around David P Luna (seen above) as he wanders around a nightmare version of Los Angeles trying to get better at programming so he can get a job. I expect the game to take around 30 minutes to play and 6 months to develop. Playing as David, you have to manage your anxiety which increases every time you use a computer or run into a psychotic trigger. You alleviate your anxiety by talking to your therapist Dr. Goldberg and answering his questions correctly.

I will be revealing more about the other characters and nuances of design in future updates – stay tuned!

Book Recommendation: “Console Wars” by Blake J Harris, for anyone who wants to find out how the old video game industry worked and how it differs from what it is today.

carPG-13 Self Driving Car and Pathologic Intentions

My most recent gamedev stream for carPG-13 involved a demonstration of my car NPCs and their ability to navigate around a world on their own without a nav mesh by using a ray cast detection system. You can find out more in the video below:

I will be taking a break from carPG-13 in the coming months because I have started working on a VR RTS game which I will be releasing in partnership with my current company, BrainRush. After helping my friend Edwon on his VR virtual pet, I have learned a lot about the design strengths and limitations in VR and I think that my VR RTS fits nicely into the VR system.

My friend Mykolas and I are beginning a book on our favorite game Pathologic, we will be playing through the game together 3 times in the coming months while taking notes and outlining our book. We expect the book to be done in 2017. Mykolas and I have been discussing the game design behind Pathologic since high school (8 years ago) and we find it to be the most relevant topic of discussion in video games, so we are finally going to take action and attempt to share our ideas with the world.

Enjoy this photo of me with my first VR head set, the Vive Pre, which Valve sent to me thanks to my good friend Edwon, check out his website at http://www.edwon.tv/

 

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Book Recommendation: “How to Win Friends and Influence People” by Dale Carnegie, a great read for anyone looking to improve their ability to manage a team or expand their network – or interact with humans in general.