Psychochild's Blog

A developer's musings on game development and writing.

31 December, 2013

2013 in review
Filed under: — Psychochild @ 3:51 PM

So, we dodged the bullet on that pesky Mayan apocalypse last year, and so we had to suffer through 2013. Okay, maybe “suffer” is a bit strong. Let’s go with “tolerate”.

So, what happened this last year?

Games, games, games!

My MMO of choice remained DDO. They recently revamped the “enhancement” system, which is the MMO extensions to core D&D 3/3.5 mechanics. It allows for a lot more character variety and options, which I always enjoy. I think the revamp was just what I needed to keep me interested in the game beyond just playing with a static group. But, I understand that DDO is a very niche game, so it’s not everyone’s cup of tea. I also still really appreciate the business model, although I wish they didn’t feel the need to bring out expansions quite so frequently. I prefer to pay for my content a bit at a time.

I played a fair amount of GW2, but after getting a third character near level cap I just didn’t have as much enthusiasm for the game. I was playing GW2 semi-regularly with a cool group of people (a guild lead by one of the people I play DDO with, even), but the dungeons just didn’t excite me much. The lack of character ability variety I felt also just lead to each character feeling like “more of the same” after the first few levels. The heavy achiever focus I mentioned also left me cold as well; I noticed this in the most recent winter holiday events. The focus was on doing a bunch of achievements, and any pretense of a story like with last year with the “Infinarium” toy ship visiting each city in turn was dropped. I still visit on occasion, but after a bit the same malaise hits me and I ignore it. The unfun economy also hammers home the point that I just fall further behind the inflationary curve in GW2 the more I don’t play, which reduces my interest to play even more.

I dipped into The Secret World a few times this year. I got through the first area, but lost some steam as I went into the Egypt area. The game is okay, but I think it’d be improved gameplay-wise if I played with someone else. I played a bit with a friend who picked up the game recently, but it seemed the game stories really weren’t built for multiplayer so much. We’ll see.

What about the realm of single-player? I chewed through some of my Steam backlog, but purchased other games as the spirit moved me. I really enjoyed Bioshock: Infinite as a whole, and found the story to be really interesting. I thought a lot of the criticism leveled at it showed a deep misunderstanding about what the game was trying to do; the FPS-type violence fit for the type of person that the main character was and how the character seems to approach situations, and the point of the game wasn’t to bring fresh new elements to first-person gameplay. I thought it was a thoughtful meta-look at storytelling, although I would have loved it if it had delved more into the thorny topics it brought up. I also played a fair amount of Borderlands 2, and Steam says I played that game more than any other (including the original Borderlands!), so I guess they did something right.

On the indie game side, I really enjoyed Antichamber, and played through that enthusiastically. I bought Gone Home, and while it was a very well constructed experience, I hesitate to call it a game; yeah, I know, that line opens a whole can of worms. I think I might agree with Ian Bogost who said that the house in Gone Home is essentially “a complicated menu system for selecting narrative fragments.” I think the game was bold in choosing a very non-standard “coming of age” story as the plot. My hope is that this is a bold first step, and that others come along and think about how to improve upon these themes.

Most recently, I’ve indulged in some of the Steam winter sales. Rogue Legacy was more fun than I expected. Brothers: a Tale of Two Sons is a beautiful game with a slightly gimmicky (if effective) control scheme that was over way too quickly. Now I’m digging into Guacamelee which is a pretty fun exploration/brawler. Of course, I still have dozens of games untouched in my Steam library. :)

The other big change was me getting a smartphone this year. I’ve started dipping my toe into mobile gaming. Like with most things, there are good and bad things about mobile gaming. I’ve posted a few thoughts upon my Google+ stream, if you’re curious. I might do a roundup of some of the posts on here next month.

But, overall, it was a good year for games.

Professional Life

This year, I celebrated my 15th year doing game development. That officially makes me an “old fogey” in most game development circles.

MMOs are still not in a place I had hoped they would be when I first starting working on online games all those years ago. Upcoming games, with a few shining exceptions, seem to be retreading the same old paths in slightly new ways hoping to capture lighting in a bottle. Instead of embracing the online medium, it seems games are retreating and trying hard to copy other media more than ever. We even see a lot of games trying to go back to the “good ol’ days” of subscription-based business models, although I’m sure a few will transition over the free-to-play next year; contrary to what some opinionated people think, free-to-play isn’t a failure state, it’s often successfully understanding the economics of how people play games. As I’ve said before, I mostly tried DDO because it was free-to-play. I’ve spent a fair amount of money because the business model works for what I want out of the game, whereas I’d be hesitant to commit to a subscription since my playtime isn’t always regular.

Professionally, this year has had its ups and downs. The big thing I’ve noticed is that old feeling of working under the gaze of a larger company. People keep asking me questions that I have to keep silent about. A few times I thought about blogging on a topic, but then decided not to because I knew someone out there would try to relate it to EQN somehow. The last thing I want to do is cause problems for what I anticipate being a tremendous and bold game. Don’t get me wrong, I understand perfectly the situation I’m in and appreciate the problems I could cause, but I haven’t been under this particular restriction for many years now.

I’ve also been feeling increasingly disconnected from the larger game development community. After being indie before it was “cool”, I’ve worked with a number of remote teams. The biggest problem with working remotely is communication. Even with email, Skype, and all that, things still fall through the cracks if people aren’t committed to communication. In-person meetings require expensive travel, which eats into budgets. I’ve not had a lot of money to splash out on attending conferences, so I haven’t gotten much connection with other developers that way, either. It’s a bit ironic, because everywhere I do go I hear people talk about how they read my blog, but that hasn’t translated into people contacting me about work or other issues.

I think one of my resolutions for the new year will be to try to make more and more meaningful contacts with other game developers. I think that will help me grow as a developer and grow my career in ways I want it to.

My postings on the blog have still been slow. Although, ironically, it seems my blog is more popular. According to my log analysis, I’ve grown to about 8,000 unique visitors per month, up from 6-7k per month last year.

Personal Life

The big thing was celebrating my 40th birthday this year, making me officially middle-aged.

I’ve been struggling with motivation lately. Lots of things I’d like to do, but just doesn’t seem to be enough hours in the day to do them. I find myself playing games a lot; obviously I need to play some games to keep current, especially with a new smartphone and wanting to catch up on the state-of-the-art. But, I’d like to do other things, too. I think I need to prioritize things better.

My writing has been going. I’ve submitted a work to two different anthologies with open calls. One rejected the story, and I haven’t heard from the other. I really should get back into writing my short fiction over on my other site. I’ve (re-)written some stories, but I need to go through and post them and keep at writing new content. The motivation issue has been there, too. I’m stuck in a chicken-and-egg situation where I really want to finish up some of the stories before I promote the site more, but working without feedback doesn’t give me motivation to do it.

In personal game development, I’ve really fallen off the cliff. Again, working on something in isolation isn’t something I enjoy. It’s been hard to find reliable partners to work with. I’ve had a few projects that just fizzled out because eventually it was just me working on it. When others abandon your work or take no interest in it, it can strike at your confidence and make you question how good the idea was in the first place.

I think I need some sort of change in my personal life. Not sure what shape it should really take, though.

Looking ahead

As I said, I think the big thing I want to do in the new year is to make more and more meaningful connections with other developers. In my personal life, I need some sort of change, and I need to figure out what change it should be.

Gaming-wise, I think I might enjoy some more games this holiday season, but cut back in a bit. I want to focus on other priorities. Especially writing.

So, what about you? What was your year like? What are you looking forward to in the new year? Any resolutions?

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  1. Its interesting to hear your take on the trail of MMO development. Maybe more interesting because I agree with it, but there ya go. I hope you are right about EQN. I’m glad you are on board the development team, but the only thing we’ve seen so far is an art style that is Blizzard copypasta. That isn’t a deal breaker, but it makes it hard to get excited. So, in the words of a galaxy far far away: help us Ob Wan Kenobi, you are our only hope.

    I think my resolution is to be more systematic in my gaming approach in the coming year. I tend to find something fun and then ride it to death over a time period lasting from a week to several months, and then burning out and moving on. Maybe its time to “do the Syp” and get a play schedule together – Mondays are this, Tuesdays are that, etc.

    Comment by HarbingerZero — 31 December, 2013 @ 4:16 PM

  2. 2013 is probably the first year in a long time that I couldn’t care less about MMOs and that nothing struck me really. Well it was fascinating to hear about EQN but when it comes to released games … nope nothing.

    I’m not sure if it’s due to personal preferences or that really nothing new interesting happened this year. From here it just seems like MMOs are stalling and on the horizon I only see EQN that could shake things up. I just have that old feeling of “been there done that” …

    Comment by Dave Toulouse — 31 December, 2013 @ 4:46 PM

  3. In regards to “I hesitate to call it a game”:

    I recommend to anyone who has ever had this thought, to play through The Stanley Parable. I’m not saying it will change your mind about what is, or what isn’t a game. I’m saying it may add to that, or multiply, divide, subtract, atan– there will be some math involved in how it may affect you and that will grow in one direction or another.

    Also: Happy New Year.

    Comment by Rog — 31 December, 2013 @ 6:29 PM

  4. Rog wrote:
    In regards to “I hesitate to call it a game”:

    Yeah, I know, that’s a capital offense in some communities. The usual accusation is that trying to claim these experiences aren’t games is exclusionary, the establishment trying to draw a line between “real games” and pretenders trying to do something unique. I didn’t want to dig into the gory details in the post, but let me go into a bit more in a comment.

    The reason I hesitate to call it a game is the same reason I hesitate to call a book of poetry a “novel”. Yes, they both have words put together in certain ways to convey meaning. Novels are great and more popular than poetry books. But, poetry books are wonderful things in their own right. Trying to call a poetry book “a novel” demeans the importance of poetry.

    The problem is that we really don’t have a term for what works like Gone Home or The Stanley Parable are. We call them “game” because that’s what they look like. I think this does these experiences a disservice, because it makes people go into them with expectations that will be frustrated in most cases.

    You might also read Ian Bogost’s take on Gone Home where I take the quote I used above from. I think you could sum up his critique as that these experiences still have a lot to live up to when comparing them to literature. The term “game” might even be a fig leaf trying to cover a lack of sophistication. Maybe these experiences need to embrace the fact that they truly are not games in order to go in the direction the need.

    As I said, I think these experiences are great. I hope they show a glimpse of an exciting new path in what we might see beyond the typical game. But, I think to call them “games” isn’t quite right.

    Comment by Psychochild — 31 December, 2013 @ 6:54 PM

  5. On the topic of Gone Home, here’s another perspective by Emily Short, noted IF author:

    Comment by Psychochild — 9 January, 2014 @ 1:36 PM

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