Thursday, May 30, 2013

Random Thoughts

Sometimes, there are things I'd like to write about that don't warrant a full blog post of their own. This is one of those times:

Initial Impressions: Grid 2

I love a good racing game and from what I've played of it so far, that's what "Grid 2" is. It's not amazing or mind blowing. It's not the "Forza" or "Gran Turismo" killer I'd have liked but it's certainly not bad.

The obvious positives would be its presentation, which is superb, and the feel of driving the cars, which is slightly improved over the original "Grid."

On the down side, the driving physics are still very arcadey and floaty. I was really hoping for a more Forza-like handling model given the increased emphasis on accurately modeling tires and their interactions with the surfaces being traversed but that effort seems to have gone into a more sophisticated drifting mechanic as opposed to wholesale improvements to the driving experience.

It's as if the new handling characteristics only kick in during a drift, which feels very artificial and gamey. Similarly, every car I've driven in the game so far feels like it's been set up specifically for drifting in terms of chassis, suspension and the like, which tends to diminish the unique handling characteristics of each car and make everything feel pretty similar.

I'm only a few hours into the game, so it's possible that the feel of the driving will improve and become more diverse and interesting as I progress but I can't help feeling like "Grid 2" has already made a major mis-step by not providing a compelling or sufficiently-innovative driving experience right out of the gate. There may be a great racing game here beyond the initial experience but I've yet to find it. So far, it's simply good.

Grid 2 (via Steam)

Alpha Strike: The Dead Linger

Playing games in alpha has become all the rage of late. With the release of the "ARMA III" alpha and a slew of "Early Access" titles now available on Steam, those intrigued and passionate enough about certain games have more opportunities than ever to get their hands on early, still-in-development versions that they can play and critique. While the degree to which such critiques are addressed varies from developer to developer, it's clear that "Early Access" is something a lot of people are willing to pay to have for a variety of games.

"The Dead Linger" is a game aspiring to join the ranks of other post-apocalyptic, zombie survival games like "DayZ" and "Project Zomboid–" the later of which having already made its way through Steam's "Greenlight" process.

It's fair to say that I have a soft spot for these sorts of games so I'll freely admit to happily looking beyond many of "The Dead Linger's" obvious shortcomings in its current state as I see a lot of potential in it. In fact, of all the would-be challengers to "DayZ" that have cropped up over the past year, this is the first one that I think has a legitimate chance of giving it a run for its money and pushing the DayZ Dev Team to make their own game better.

As such, I'd like to see "The Dead Linger" succeed in its attempt to get onto Steam and would encourage you all to check out the game's "Greenlight" page and show it some love if you're so inclined.

The Dead Linger (via Steam Greenlight)

Development Update

Been a while since I've done one of these. Sorry this is a bit long but I want to get a few things off my chest and I suspect that if you care enough to start reading this, you won't mind reading the whole thing.

As many of you know, I've been working for a little over a year now on my next game. What very few people know is that I've actually worked on a couple different game prototypes during that time. The first was a turn-based strategy game for iOS that I mentioned here on the blog at one point. The second was a top-down action game built in Unity. I've even gone through the process of documenting a few other game concepts to the point where it would be pretty easy to kick off development of them if I had the resources to do so.

Despite all that progress, I've faced a myriad of challenges with regard to game development. Of course, money is always the elephant in the room but I've also found myself struggling to come up with a concept worthy of carrying through to completion. The things I've worked on over the past year, while very useful from the standpoint of learning more about advanced aspects of iOS and Unity, haven't produced what I'd consider unique or compelling games, and certainly not games that I'd feel comfortable or confident trying to sell to anyone.

It's only been in the past several weeks that I've finally hit upon an idea that I feel I can fully get behind– that "A-ha! There's nothing out there quite like this and there damn well should be!" moment that turns development from a technical exercise into a sort of fevered quest for awesomeness.

A lot has changed since I first released "Powergrids" for iOS back near the end of 2011. In some ways, things were in the process of changing even as I shipped that game. Free-to-Play, In-App Purchase-driven games were really coming into their own on the App Store and I remember thinking to myself that I should probably jump on that train. To be honest, I really should have but "Powergrids" was a very indulgent project for me. It was me making the kind of game I wanted to make and play with no compromises beyond budgetary constraints. You see, I'm the sort of person who looks at a game and decides based on its description, feature-list, screen shots or perhaps a video, whether or not it's a game I want to play and if I do, I tend to want to simply pay for it and be done.

I'm not a fan of micro-transactions, DLC or the season passes that have become so pervasive in gaming in recent years. From a business perspective, I completely understand why they exist and clearly, there are plenty of folks out there who love them because they sell like hotcakes– but I was very resistant to the idea of building "Powergrids" around such concepts because I was making the game with my heart and not my fiscal head.

But at a certain point, reality sets in and you realize that it's a fool's errand to try to buck the system too hard or too frequently. For every cinderella story of a developer charting their own course and being showered with praise and piles of money, there are hundreds of people filing for bankruptcy and that's a conservative estimate.

Fortunately, I've not only managed to find a game concept that I'm giddy to be working on, but that also fits nicely into the established norms of what the video game industry has become.

With any luck, you folks will all be playing the first public version of the game later this year. For now, I'm going to shut up and get back to work. :)

Until next time, have a good one folks!

Friday, May 24, 2013

The DayZ Update - 05/23/2013

With Rocket's ascent of Mt. Everest complete and him back on his way to Prague to resume work on DayZ Standalone, the timing feels right for another DayZ Update.

Survivor GameZ III

This Saturday (May 25th) at 1PM PST marks the return of the Survivor GameZ– the DayZ e-sports event that was started last year and has pulled in some impressive numbers of viewers during its past two incarnations.

I had the chance to interview Soma (Jordan Tayer) who is part of the group coordinating the event and he was able to share some great information about the upcoming competition and its history:

VTX1: Is it true that Matt Lightfoot is going to be a contestant? Also, are any other members of the DayZ Dev Team scheduled to participate as contestants or commentators?

Soma: Yes, it is true that Matt Lightfoot and Ivan Buchta of the DayZ development team will be competitors in this event. Matt and the dev team have always supported the Survivor GameZ and I personally have been lucky enough to have Matt along for some SGz server testing in the last week. So yes, Matt and Ivan will be competing in the main event this Saturday.

VTX1: Who will be commentating the main live stream on

Soma: The commentators for the event will include Bikeman and myself. The two of us will be commentating on all up-coming semi and quarter finals events, and the main events, so I hope we don't suck too terribly. We both live-stream on twitch so we aren't exactly shy about talking to our PC's for hours at a time but commentating an e-sport is definitely a new experience for both of us. It's definitely exciting and I believe we are improving our skills with each event that we host.

VTX1: Will there be an official multi-stream and what will be the URL?

Soma: There is not an official multi-stream for the event but if you watch the event from this site, you will have access to two viewing screens that will include the main feed and the SGz Map stream, which will be a map of the play area with player markers enabled.

VTX1: The previous Survivor GameZ events were organized by QuickNap Gaming. I get the impression that Survivor GameZ is trying to establish itself as its own entity and that folks like Hicks, Bikeman and you, who were part of Qn are still the driving force behind it. Is the Survivor GameZ its own entity now and who manages/controls it?

Soma: The Survivor GameZ has always been its own entity. QuickNap Gaming was the original host of the first event, the Hunger GameZ, and was very helpful in spreading the word about the event and embracing the DayZ community in its early stages. As the event moved on from the first event and became the Survivor GameZ, the SGz team continued on its way with event development and planning and Qn Gaming went its own way with members live-streaming games on Hicks, Bikeman, Lou and myself are no longer apart of Qn but do in fact work on the Survivor GameZ as a team along with other team members scattered across the globe, such as Andy Bryer, Jake and Tommy.

VTX1: Is there anything you'd like to say to fans of DayZ and the previous Survivor GameZ events?

Soma: To any current, new, or future fans of DayZ and the Survivor GameZ, I just wanna say thanks for keeping DayZ alive and a generally great community to be apart of. The mod has been out for about a year now and it still remains a fantastic game to immerse ourselves in. Patiently waiting for the standalone to be released isn't easy but I have faith in the dev team and sincerely believe that the final product they release to the public will be a superb and evolved level of DayZ gameplay that I can't wait to experience. The Survivor GameZ will continue to evolve along with the game and we can't wait to see what's in store for the Survivor GameZ's future. Thanks a lot for supporting DayZ and the Survivor GameZ; I'll see you guys on Saturday!

Survivor GameZ - Official Site

The Man Behind the Map

In case any of you missed it, there was an interesting interview posted to the DayZ Development Team blog a few weeks ago with Ivan Buchta, the designer of the "ARMA II" map "Chernarus," which is used to such great effect in the DayZ mod. Ivan is also heavily involved in the design of the "Chernarus+" map for DayZ Standalone and was recently freed from wrongful imprisonment after an ill-fated trip to Greece last year, which he touches on briefly in the interview. Definitely worth a watch.

Shout Out: Soma

With the Survivor GameZ this weekend, it only makes sense to feature Soma. I've been watching his stream off and on since he started it last year and it's been one of the most consistently-entertaining I've seen. This guy should have way more viewers than he does. Hopefully, his expanded role in Survivor GameZ will help make that happen. Of course, stream highlights like the following don't hurt either.

Until next time, have a good one folks! - DayZ - the mod - the game

Thursday, May 23, 2013

Powergrids 1.2

A quick note to let everyone know that Powergrids 1.2 is available. This minor update fixes an issue where the main menu would display in the wrong position if the game were launched on an iPad running iOS 6.1 or higher in a landscape orientation.

I also cleaned up the in-game instructions a bit by adding a Version History, and removed references to older iOS versions and devices that aren't supported in the new versions of the game.

This new version should be right on target. I crack myself up! :)

All things considered, I think last week's update to version 1.1 went pretty well. A lot of people upgraded and nobody seemed too bothered by the little iPad bug.

This 1.2 version should be stable and compatible with current and upcoming iOS versions and devices for the foreseeable future.

As always, feel free to send any feedback on it to and please consider rating and reviewing the new version on the App Store. It really helps a lot!


Wednesday, May 22, 2013

My Thoughts on Defiance

It's been almost two months since "Defiance" (the game) launched. In that time, I've spent a few dozen hours with it and I've also had the chance to see the first six episodes of the corresponding TV series.

While I maintain that many of the positive aspects I experienced during my time with the beta are still valid, I find myself significantly less enthusiastic about the game two months into it than I'd hoped.

Some might say that any game that can be played and enjoyed for two months is an inherently-good product and I agree with that in general. The issue I take with "Defiance" is that it presents itself as a Massively Multiplayer Online (MMO) game, which sets certain expectations that it simply does not meet.

The moment-to-moment action of 'Defiance' is still one of its best attributes.

In my time with the game, I've had a lot of fun. I've also been frustrated on occasion by technical and design issues that have hampered that fun often enough to be noteworthy. Some of those issues were created and fixed within that span of time, but others persist.

I recently summed this up in the form of three suggestions to the game's developer, which I think bear repeating here with a bit of editing:

#1 - Get rid of mandatory solo missions. - By far, these are the worst thing in the game right now. It's tremendously unsatisfying to be running around with friends, progressing and having a good time, only to encounter one of the solo instances and be forced to break up the group while everyone slogs their way through at their own pace. There is absolutely no valid reason why groups should not be allowed to complete that content together. To be clear, I have no problem with the content being solo-able but the idea that the people I'm grouped with can't follow me through the occasional door for some arbitrary reason is vexing to say the least.

#2 - Add some mechanical variety. - Running around and shooting stuff is fun and it's pretty well done in "Defiance" but it's a real shame that every single mission in the game boils down to some combination of A) shooting stuff, B) picking stuff up, or C) interacting with something by holding "e" for a few seconds. If this game has any shot at longevity, main and side mission designs and the gameplay mechanics present during them need to be greatly expanded versus what's currently available. And don't just throw a bunch of stuff at the wall to see what sticks. If you're going to add some new mechanics, make damn sure that they're compelling.

#3 - Streamline and Polish everything. - In general, the whole user interface could use some refinement and automation. For example, If I'm following a group member and they go into a phased area, I should not have to stop and plow through a series of clunky menus to join their phase. It should just happen or I should be prompted to join them with a single key/button. If I pick up new items or receive new in-game rewards, or if anything of importance happens, it shouldn't just be a pop-up that disappears in a couple seconds. There should be an event log (either tucked into a corner of the screen or a key/button away) that lets me see that information in a nicely-formatted, chronological summary of my current play session.

Playing 'Defiance' with friends is a blast until those periodic missions
where the game forces you to split up for no good reason.

I want to make it clear that I am not implying that "Defiance" is a bad game or that the issues I have with it prevent it from being enjoyed to a reasonable extent. The problem with "Defiance" is that it could be so much better than it is with an amount of effort that's insignificant compared to what's already been put into it.

It's that shortfall, that perception that it doesn't quite live up to its potential that really stings. While it's impossible for me to know for sure, it would seem that the strict deadline imposed by launching it to coincide with the premiere of the TV show is at the root of the game's shortcomings.

Ironically, it may well be the show that ends up keeping the game relevant long term. While not a masterpiece, I've found "Defiance" (the show) to be quite entertaining and engaging thus far. It's been a bit of a slow burn but the past few episodes in particular have really started to go in some interesting directions and pay off many of the setups established in their predecessors.

It would seem that I'm not alone in my affection for the show as it has been getting solid ratings and was recently picked up for a second season.

In a lot of ways, my growing interest in the show and its characters has compelled me to return to the game in a way that almost certainly would not have happened without the tie-in. The recent Rynn-focused story arc that was added to the game to follow up on the events from episode 5 of the show in particular did a lot to build on the crossover potential– despite it only taking about 30 minutes to complete and culminating in one of those damn single-player instances.

Irisa and Nolan are great characters that are set up well in the game
but really come into their own and shine as the show unfolds.

All things considered, I like "Defiance." At the moment, I like the show a bit more than the game but I'm also not sorry that I bought and played it. I'm especially looking forward to the five DLC packs that are scheduled to include new free and premium content for the game between now and February.

Hopefully, between this post and my previous beta impressions, you have a good idea if "Defiance" is something you'd be interested in checking out but if you're still unsure, there's going to be a season one catch-up marathon of the show on SyFy Channel this Saturday. I'd recommend starting with that or being all 21st century and heading over to the Defiance web site to watch the first six episodes right now. :)

Defiance (via Steam)

Thursday, May 16, 2013

Powergrids 1.1

Update: I've become aware of an issue where the main menu is out of position when Powergrids 1.1 is launched on iPads running iOS 6.1 in a landscape orientation. Should have a fix out for this next week. The good news is that orientation changes work fine once the app is running and gameplay is not affected– so this is a very minor bug. Still annoyed at myself for not catching it during testing. Sorry folks. I will fix it as soon as possible.

Despite that...

Wanted to let everyone know that a new version of Powergrids (1.1) is now available via the iOS App Store. Current owners of the game who have it installed and are running at least iOS 4.3 should be getting an automatic update very soon if they haven't already.

The changes in the update are as follows:
  • ADDED - Tap & Confirm input mode to Pause menu
  • ADDED - "How to Play" video (YouTube)
  • ADDED - Improved 4" Retina display support
  • ADDED - Improved iPhone/iPod game backgrounds
  • FIXED - Resetting Local Scores resets Local "Way to Score!" Achievement progress
This update is primarily designed to address the two most common issues players have indicated regarding the game:

#1 - Tapping the wrong square when playing

#2 - A tutorial and/or alternative to reading the Instructions

The following "How to Play" video, which can now be accessed directly from within the game, covers this in much more detail.

As always, I would greatly appreciate it if you would all help spread the word about this new version of the game. I know it's been a long time since the initial release but as I said in my interview with Joystiq last year, this was always meant to be a game people could come back to over time.

Having said that, this will probably be the only update for a while unless something unexpected comes up and needs to be addressed. Still, if you have any comments or suggestions about the game, feel free to send them to

Finally, if you enjoy Powergrids and would like to help promote it, please consider rating it and writing a review on the App Store. Ratings and reviews are extremely important to the success of iOS games and (beyond buying the app) they are the best things you can do to help and encourage me.


Powergrids - Official Site - App Store Link

Wednesday, May 8, 2013

Shout Out: Zeno Clash 2

Originality is a precious commodity in game design and development. For every truly original or unique game, there are literally thousands that simply imitate or elaborate on what's been established.

It's for this reason that I instantly fell in love with "Zeno Clash" when it debuted back in 2009. From its unique take on first-person melee combat, to its evocative and surreal landscapes, to its often strikingly-original character and enemy designs, "Zeno Clash" was a game that set the creative bar at a height that's a challenge to reach, much less exceed.

Sure, it was a little too weird for its own good at times and there was a bit of jank to its mechanics but that was all very easy to overlook because of the hugely-important things it did right.

Much like its predecessor, Zeno Clash 2 is about punching things in the face.
The variety of ways players can go about that is a big part of its appeal.

"Zeno Clash 2" (ZC2) as a result shouldn't be as important a game as it is. It should be the bigger, fuller-featured, more refined and totally-predictable sequel that one would expect but while it is many of those things, it's also something more.

ZC2 looks a bit better than the original. It plays a bit better than the original. You can even play through the campaign with a friend via drop-in/drop-out co-op. All these things are important but they're not the most important thing about it.

ZC2 is important because there's still nothing else quite like it. Even given the four years since the release of "Zeno Clash," there hasn't been a single game released that I'd consider a worthy successor to it until now.

The game's environments are often quite beautiful and unique.

Think about how crazy that is. A quality game comes out and basically defines, or at the very least re-defines a sub-genre of gaming and not one other game comes along in four years that's anything like it?

It's this utter absence of anything similar in the marketplace that makes ZC2 so special. You're not going to play this game and mistake it for generic first-person game x, y , or z. It's a truly unique experience that's going to stick with you because, unless you've played "Zeno Clash," you haven't played anything like it.

Of course, if you did play "Zeno Clash," you probably already have ZC2 on your radar and have a pretty good idea whether or not it's something you'd be interested in playing.

You'll fight a lot of unique enemy types that vary their attacks
and defenses both in terms of timing and technique.

Even though I love ZC2 as much as the original, I should point out that there are some minor AI, collision-detection, input-timing and networking (during co-op) issues that can very occasionally put a damper on the experience. It's also not a particularly long game, with a 6-8 hour campaign– depending on how quickly you power through it.

Finally, ZC2 can be somewhat obtuse in terms of conveying core game mechanics and moment-to-moment objectives to the player. It's nothing that a few runs through the fighting tutorial and a little careful thought and observation can't overcome but players who are used to games holding their hand throughout the experience might find it a bit daunting or frustrating at times.

Still, ZC2 is a noteworthy and compelling gaming experience in a world full of all-too-often derivative stock. That alone makes it worth a look and the $20 price makes it easy to recommend.

Zeno Clash 2 (via Steam)