[Xbox] I’m a Dragonslayer. Yay.

Posted: November 29, 2011 in Misc

I’m not usually one for console gaming. I mean, not these days. Sure, when I was younger I had a NES, SNES, N64, PS2, and even a Gameboy (don’t hate). I snagged an XBox 360 when my first kiddo was born. It was mainly to help pass the nights while the wifey took her rests.

Don’t get me wrong, I like my 360. I’m jaded though. I’m used to the expansive worlds of the MMORPG. Or playing an FPS on a keyboard and mouse. I just don’t think you can top those. The 360 comes close. Pretty damn close. And at the peak of that mountain reaching for the PC heavens is Skyrim.

I’d never heard of Skyrim until it came out. The world was aflutter with this new game. I caught a bit of the excitement until I read “Elder Scrolls” which immediately threw me back to “Oblivion”. To put Oblivion in perspective, I have 60 achievement points in Oblivion. I also have 60 points in “Fable Coin Golf” for the Windows Phone 7. Yeah, I hated Oblivion. I’ve blocked out so much of it, that I don’t even know why I hated it. All I remember going was “really? Seriously? Fuck this, I’m out.”

So, when I heard Skyrim was the next in line, I said “fuck this, I’m out and I’m saving $60 this time.” That wasn’t meant to be, though. A friend managed to talk me into getting it. How he did that, I don’t know. He’s not even in the same Time Zone as me, but he managed to get me to spend $60 on a game I was dead set against buying.

I’m glad he did. Skyrim was a good game. Was it flawless? Hell no. The game managed to lock up my system five times over the past two and a half weeks. Typing that out, I realize that I’ve put 47 hours into a game in two and a half weeks. That certainly means they did something right.  I think the entire internet has lauded everything that Skyrim did right.  It was a gorgeous, deep game that kept you on the edge of your seats as the plot evolved.  I don’t need to waste your time reading that stuff again.

SPOILERS

I’m a little bit disheartened though.  The main quest line was fun, but entirely too short.  I felt that I did more work in Riften trying to kill Mercer than I did in trying to kill Alduin.  It was engaging, sure.  I think they just flat out ran out of story.  For that, I’m cranky.  While I realize that the story has to end sometime, I didn’t expect it to end so abruptly.  I went into the end-fight in Sovngarde wholly expecting a “Whoa shit!” moment and for the plot to take a drastic turn.  When Alduin died, I was pretty irked.  “That’s it?” was my first though.  There was more “Oh snap!” when the Circle ended up being werewolves.

END SPOILERS

I think that had I known the entire main story-arc could be completed so easily, I wouldn’t have worked on it nearly as much as I did.  I completed Whiterun, Riften and a good chunk of Markarth, bought two houses, fully furnished one of them and have a pretty good chunk of cash to go play around with.

That said, I can’t help but feel a bit jaded.  Now that I know the game has been completed, why am I going to run around Skyrim and help other people?  I wish I had the perseverance to get all the achievements in the game, as none sound completely ridiculous.  I just don’t see that happening.

 

 

I’ve been wondering just makes a dev tick. Is it Red Vines and Dr. Pepper? Four Horsemen and Three Wisemen? Getting Rickrolled on /b/? All of the above? I figured the best place to find out is to actually go to the dev themselves. I slapped together a dozen questions and sent them off to Pitch Black Games and said “Fill in the Blanks.” I may have said “Please”, but I’m not sure. At any rate, I’m hoping to put up a new developer’s responses every week. I’ll be tagging them into the same category, so they’ll be in one place. Hope this helps you get a good view of what makes these developers tick. And now, Lee Phemister!

Going Rancid: Who are you and what do you do at Pitch Black Games?

Lee Phemister: Lee Phemister, Art Lead. I manage the art team, the schedules, the content, and assist with the art direction with Zyad.

GR: What class will you be rolling at release, and what is your favorite archetype?

LP: I will play the class I think will beat you the easiest.

Okay, okay. I’m usually a heavy weapons/distance guy. I’m not a close range melee guy.

GR: What other MMOs are you playing right now, or what was the last one you played (and what made you leave, if you can say)?

LP: Guild Wars was the last one I played regularly. I’m too busy making an MMO to play any others right this moment.😉

GR: Do you do any console gaming? If so, what genre soaks up most of your time? FPS? Music? Racing games? RPG?

LP: I don’t play a lot of console games, but if I do play, it’s Tiger Woods [Golf].

GR: Fondly recall your first MMO experience. What game was it and what happened?

LP: It was DAOC. My first memory was killing these enormous cows and getting this one tiny steak to loot.

GR: Tell us about your most memorable or epic gaming experience, MMO or not, and why it was so memorable.

LP: BF1942, Bocage map. Fast landing an F15 Eagle at the enemy base, grabbing the flag and taking off.

GR: Tell us about your most memorable experience of being an utter noobie. What did you learn?

LP: It was in Baldur’s Gate. The first time I tried to play, I just got so frustrated. I hadn’t played anything like that before. I just quit and didn’t come back for a few months. I eventually logged in and slogged through the learning curve. I learned that keeping your players immersed is important – overly convoluted gameplay is bad.

GR: How did you get into the game industry, and when did you know you wanted to actually stay and do this for a living?

LP: I was 25 and wanted to do something different with my life. First I thought I wanted to be a pilot, but I realized it would be prohibitively expensive. So I took a 3D art class and I really loved 3DStudio Max.

I got a job at Gas Powered Games, and it was amazing. The camaraderie, the late nights, everyone working together to make this great game was just such a rewarding experience.

GR: What is your favorite part of working in the game industry?

LP: Fragging my coworkers in the latest shooters.😉

GR: When you’re not making games, what do you spend your time on?

LP: Golf! I love golf. I’m not that good, though, I have a 17.2 point handicap.

[Rancid: Special thanks to Lee for getting this done andSanya for poking him with a bic pen!]

I’ve been wondering just makes a dev tick. Is it Candy Apple Jolly Ranchers? Zimas with said Jolly Ranchers? Watching Youtube instead of reading email? All of the above? I figured the best place to find out is to actually go to the dev themselves. I slapped together a dozen questions and sent them off to Pitch Black Games and said “Fill in the Blanks.” I may have said “Please”, but I’m not sure. At any rate, I’m hoping to put up a new developer’s responses every week. I’ll be tagging them into the same category, so they’ll be in one place. Hope this helps you get a good view of what makes these developers tick. And now, Luke Gravitt!

Going Rancid: Who are you and what do you do at Pitch Black Games?

Luke Gravitt: My name is Luke Gravitt. I am one of the gameplay programmers at Pitchblack. I mostly work on the interface systems such as the vendors, friends list, guilds, and auction house.

GR: What class will you be rolling at release, and what is your favorite archetype?

LG: I will probably roll a Salent. I typically roll healers in most MMOs so I may try out the Revenant.

GR: What other MMOs are you playing right now, or what was the last one you played (and what made you leave, if you can say)?

LG: I have a very well-played World of Warcraft account. I haven’t played in a few months though. My guild essentially broke up and we all moved to other games. I will probably get Star Wars: The Old Republic when it releases and play that for a while. I am in the beta for it right now, but I rarely have time to play it.

GR: Do you do any console gaming? If so, what genre soaks up most of your time? FPS? Music? Racing games? RPG?

LG: I own an Xbox 360 and a Nintendo Wii. I haven’t played either in months. Most of my console games are still shrink-wrapped. The most recent game I played on the Xbox was Mass Effect 2. I am currently playing Deus Ex: Human Revolution on the PC and enjoying it thoroughly. I also just got a 3DS and am extremely excited about revisiting Ocarina of Time. Genre-wise, I generally stick to RPG, Action/Adventure, and the occasional shooter.

GR: Fondly recall your first MMO experience. What game was it and what happened?

LG: My first MMO was Star Wars Galaxy during one summer while I was in high school. I was playing a Wookiee and foolishly decided to level weaponsmith as my first profession. It took so long that I ended up writing macros and building a device out of K’nex that spun around and clicked the mouse button for me. Then I just let the game run while I watched TV in the other room.

GR: Tell us about your most memorable or epic gaming experience, MMO or not, and why it was so memorable.

LG: Beating Through the Fire and Flames in Guitar Hero on Expert was about as epic as it can get. I don’t think I’d get through the opening riffs anymore though.

GR: Tell us about your most memorable experience of being an utter noobie. What did you learn?

LG: I haven’t been a noobie since getting hacked to bits by the Butcher in the original Diablo demo I got with a copy of PC Gamer. Been gaming hardcore all my life.

GR: How did you get into the game industry, and when did you know you wanted to actually stay and do this for a living?

LG: I was a huge gamer as a kid. I played everything from King’s Quest to Zork to Diablo to Goldeneye to Mario. I loved them. My brother went to school for Computer Science and he would come home and show me the things he was working on (he is about 7 years older than me). I started programming when I was about 12 or 13 years old, and I have been doing it ever since. I have known I wanted to work on games my entire life.

GR: What is your favorite part of working in the game industry?

LG: There are really two things I love about the games industry that you don’t get anywhere else. First, I love working with the fans: talking to them, how invested they get in the games themselves, and just working on something that people love. I also really love that the games industry has a different definition of success from other technical industries. Games have to be fun to succeed. You can’t just take a programming specification and build what is given.

GR: In regards to your position, and comparing the current landscape of gamers to the ones of the past ten years, what trends do you hope to turn around/accelerate?

LG: The worst trend in gaming is the proliferation of sequels and recycled game-play. I am incredibly frustrated that we keep seeing franchise after franchise getting ruined by over saturation and lack of creativity. If you look at the games featured at E3 this past year, every single game featured had a 2 or a 3 behind it. Sometimes sequels stand out from their predecessors: Diablo 2/3, Assassin’s Creed 2, Deus Ex: Human Revolution or Team Fortress 2, but this seems more like the exception than the rule.

GR: When you’re not making games, what do you spend your time on?

LG: I honestly play a ton of video games. I also love reading (sci-fi especially), watching TV and movies, and playing soccer and swimming. I would love for the temperature to drop a bit so I can ride my bike again.

[Rancid: Special thanks to Luke for taking the time and Sanya for poking him with a cattle prod! RAWR. ]

I’ve been wondering just makes a dev tick. Is it Funions? Bud Lite? Hating on the local weather station because they’re borderline incompetent? All of the above? I figured the best place to find out is to actually go to the dev themselves. I slapped together a dozen questions and sent them off to Pitch Black Games and said “Fill in the Blanks.” I may have said “Please”, but I’m not sure. At any rate, I’m hoping to put up a new developer’s responses every week. I’ll be tagging them into the same category, so they’ll be in one place. Hope this helps you get a good view of what makes these developers tick. And now, Sanya Weathers!

Going Rancid: Who are you and what do you do at Pitch Black Games?

Sanya Weathers: Sanya Weathers, Director of Community. That means I handle the forums, the social media, web media, the beta wrangling, and I plan out community support stuff – in game tools, web tools, etc. Marketing reels ‘em in, but community keep ‘em.

GR: What class will you be rolling at release, and what is your favorite archetype?

SW: You cannot pay me enough to tell you the answer to the first, but I will admit that I’m almost always a tank player. Unga kill. Unga whack things with big stick.

Between me the tank, Warren the stealther, and John the healer, we’re almost a functional group.

GR: What other MMOs are you playing right now, or what was the last one you played (and what made you leave, if you can say)?

SW: LOTRO is the released game I’ve played most recently.

GR: Do you do any console gaming? If so, what genre soaks up most of your time? FPS? Music? Racing games? RPG?

SW: I’m not much of a console player, because when I move my avatar, I’m one of those dimwits that lifts the controller when I want to jump, or leans my body over to the side if it’s not turning fast enough. I end up getting lost and slightly dizzy. You’d think I’d be great at Wii or other similar controllers, but with those I’m too spasmodic.

When I do play console games, I enjoy RPGs.

GR: Fondly recall your first MMO experience. What game was it and what happened?

SW: “Fondly” as a modifier changes the answer from “first.” My first fond memory was actually EQ. I’d been nagging my three roommates to get the hell out of the basement and out bowling or playing pool or darts or ANYTHING, GOD, WHAT IS WRONG WITH YOU PEOPLE. Then one of them went on a trip and the other two set me up an avatar on the absent one’s computer. I was surrounded with rat corpses and had a friend list within an hour. Then that roommate came back, and another one left, and the guys made me an avatar on that computer. Two weeks later I bought a computer and joined my guild.

After that I was a lost cause. I had friends all over the world who got all of my jokes, read the same books, watched the same movies, and didn’t care what I looked like or how well I danced or how much TV I watched. It was my first real experience with what the internet could be.

GR: Tell us about your most memorable or epic gaming experience, MMO or not, and why it was so memorable.

SW: Heh… well, er… so, the deal is, my favorite memories might perhaps be considered kinda sorta griefish. Mind you, I heartily reject that label for the high-spirited antics perpetuated by my guildmates and brothers.

I have a very good friend who also works in the industry. She and I met on the job, and worked together for years. One day we happened to be chatting about our previous game experiences, and it turned out we played EQ on the same server. What a coincidence, right, what are the odds?
Then we started swapping stories. It was quickly evident that we were telling the same stories, but from… er… very different perspectives.

Her slightly paraphrased comment was “I cannot believe you were one of those [unprintable] [expurgated] [euphemisms].”

GR: Tell us about your most memorable experience of being an utter noobie. What did you learn?

SW:I learned that “obvious” is in the eye of the beholder. No one is born knowing which mouse button opens a chat window and which attacks the target🙂 I was very lucky, learning to play with a roomful of gamers – the learning curves were a lot steeper in 1999, and I’m not sure I’d have bothered learning the keyboard commands, let alone the complexities and subtleties that make playing fun. Now I’m kind of aggressively incompetent, because I want to be sure the game I work on is accessible. I don’t mean dumbed down, I mean you should be able to play the stupid thing without taking a class or reading the whole manual.

GR: How did you get into the game industry, and when did you know you wanted to actually stay and do this for a living?

SW: I did volunteer CS for a game I loved, but one that was at the time not well supported by the company. After literally days of taking front line abuse from customers without either the tools to deal with the problems or anyone from the company noticing, I went insane. I wrote a rant (somehow not directed at the company, but at the players) and it went viral before we used words like viral.

One thing led to another, and I started working as a game journalist. I also had a website where I shared all kinds of opinions about how to treat customers. I went to write an article about a game company with an MMO in development, and they hired me to do community. My day job skills were in communications/marketing/management (and I had been rather a good CSR until I went berserk), so it was a case of right place, right time, with the right skills.

After that there was no chance I was going to go back to a job where I had to wear makeup and heels just to be taken halfway seriously. Would you leave a job where you’re paid to hang out with your friends (or people so like your friends as to make no nevermind) and argue about AOE damage?

GR: What is your favorite part of working in the game industry?

SW: The players. Hands down. See [above].

GR: In regards to your position, and comparing the current landscape of gamers to the ones of the past ten years, what trends do you hope to turn around/accelerate?

SW: I think the MMO industry has put too much faith in trying to be all things to all people, and that doesn’t work for anyone but the market leader. I think huge megagames have their place, but collectively we’re ignoring a lot of niches. I’d like to show that knowing what customer you want and going after him has a lot of room for profit.

I’d also like to move away from the quick buck, ADD attention span, pay-to-win mentality of design. I want to be part of a community that grows together with the game into something legendary.

GR: When you’re not making games, what do you spend your time on?

SW: Playing games, reading, and my family.

[Rancid: Special thanks to Sanya for spilling her guts to us. ]

I’ve been wondering just makes a dev tick. Is it Cheetos? Dirty martinis? Getting their bandwidth capped at home because they hit *that site* too many times? All of the above? I figured the best place to find out is to actually go to the dev themselves. I slapped together a dozen questions and sent them off to Pitch Black Games and said “Fill in the Blanks.” I may have said “Please”, but I’m not sure. At any rate, I’m hoping to put up a new developer’s responses every week. I’ll be tagging them into the same category, so they’ll be in one place. Hope this helps you get a good view of what makes these developers tick. And now, Jeff Pinero!

Going Rancid: Who are you and what do you do at Pitch Black Games?

Jeff Pinero: My name is Jeff Pinero. I am a gamer who loves working on Sci-Fi and I am an environment artist and terrain texture artist. I also love to troll/grief my co-workers a lot here at PBG, especially Lee.😛

GR: What class will you be rolling at release, and what is your favorite archetype?

JP: I am all up on the Salent Class! I am a hobbit myself, so I am picking the smallest Salent for sure.

GR: What other MMOs are you playing right now, or what was the last one you played (and what made you leave, if you can say)?

JP: The last MMO I played and thoroughly enjoyed was Wizards 101, the animations on that game were awesome! Also I enjoy that card game factor to it. I left due to the fact that I could not stand getting those stupid card payments, that and all my co-workers won’t play with me. My wife and her brother only plays WoW and thought that Wiz101 was too lame for them. I tried out Aion and enjoyed the art style a lot as well as Forsaken World, but the substance was not enough for me to enjoy.

GR: Do you do any console gaming? If so, what genre soaks up most of your time? FPS? Music? Racing games? RPG?

JP: Yes I do, quite recently though it has been collecting dust until Gow3 comes out, the New “Batz-manz”,  and Supremacy MMA, Also BF3!!!

GR: Fondly recall your first MMO experience. What game was it and what happened?

JP: I got started on WoW but I just could not get into it. Something about the color palete saddened me. No but seriously…WoW was like that bad ex girlfriend that after you take her out to a nice dinner and a movie, she would expect you to pay for all of it. Actually I am trolling you, I have no idea what happened and why I never play it. ( I mean I have people I can raid with and do dungeon crawls…but alas no answers.)

GR: Tell us about your most memorable or epic gaming experience, MMO or not, and why it was so memorable.

JP: Metal Gear Solid for the PsOne, when I had to switch my controller from Port 1 to 2 when fighting Psycho Mantis. THAT was  an experience! My Mind was blown away, like my first sugar rush. It came and went!

GR: Tell us about your most memorable experience of being an utter noobie. What did you learn?

JP: Bad Company 2 for the PC. I remember when I was first learning the maps on MP. I kept looking at my K/D ratio. I asked myself why I was doing this to myself. Now I am close to Level 50 before my all time BF3 fav is around the corner. “Watch out for me plan3z! They drop B0MBZorZ!”

GR: How did you get into the game industry, and when did you know you wanted to actually stay and do this for a living?

JP: I got into gaming when I watched Movie Magic a lot. For the much younger guys out there, this was on Discovery when there were no Behind the Scene features on your DVD. Also my parents, I have to give it up to those guys. They rented games a lot for us during the weekends as a reward, it was something I can look back and say that really got me going in the right direction. Plus it helped that I loved drawing and doing art. I mean I used to make my own comic books and pass them out to my middle school friends!

GR: What is your favorite part of working in the game industry?

JP:  I get to work on games as an artist,  be a kid, and enjoy what I do.

GR: In regards to your position, and comparing the current landscape of gamers to the ones of the past ten years, what trends do you hope to turn around/accelerate?

JP: Well every company out there currently is churning out gold, so expectations and the bar is set quite high. I just try to control what I can control, and that is art. The great thing about Pitchblack is these guys really listen! So everything is heard and we are extremely hard on each other, and hopefully that pushes us at launch

GR: When you’re not making games, what do you spend your time on?

JP: I am a garage monkey. I am usually in the garage tinkering with my little naturally aspirated b16 dohc vtec. I love working on my little honda. Everything can be learned through other’s experience, Honda has so much fanatics that they put a lot of DIY tutorials out on the forums. I learned how to replace my alternator, pull out an AC system, replace my coilovers,shocks,struts, sway bars, and clutch slave cylinders. The junkyard and the internet is your friend! Also I love spending time with my wife, we go on date nights!

[Rancid: Special thanks to Jeff and Sanya for helping get this together. Stay tuned for next week’s developer: Sanya Weathers.]

I’ve been wondering just makes a dev tick.  Is it insanity?  Beer?  Trolling the internet for poor souls to pick on?  All of the above?  I figured the best place to find out is to actually go to the dev themselves.  I slapped together a dozen questions and sent them off to Pitch Black Games and said “Fill in the Blanks.”  I may have said “Please”, but I’m not sure.  At any rate, I’m hoping to put up a new developer’s responses every week. I’ll be tagging them into the same category, so they’ll be in one place.  Hope this helps you get a good view of what makes these developers tick.  And now, Z Kadri!

Going Rancid: Who are you and what do you do at Pitch Black Games?

Zyad Kadri: I am Z Kadri and they call me the “Art Director” at Pitchblack Games. My main responsibilities include creating concept art along side the other concept artists, so I am in the trenches with the guys, and I also facilitate some of the aesthetic direction to the 3D artists in the studio. Personnel management and tasking is also shared amongst me and the Art Lead.

GR: What class will you be rolling at release, and what is your favorite archetype?

ZK: My favorite archetype to play has always been the paladin type character in fantasy, but in sci-fi, it would have to be the bounty-hunter freelance type. One principled and heroic and the other self-serving and cavalier. I’m not sure why that is.

GR: What other MMOs are you playing right now, or what was the last one you played (and what made you leave, if you can say)?

ZK: Actually I’m not actively persistently playing any MMO’s right now. The last one I played (and you’ll forgive me for no names out of professional courtesy) became so boring I reverted back to traditional word of mouth by the book role-playing games for a few years. I’m just not a grind after grind kind of guy.

GR: Do you do any console gaming?  If so, what genre soaks up most of your time? FPS?  Music? Racing games?  RPG?

ZK: I currently do some console gaming. I grew up playing the Atari 2600, Mattel’s Intellivision, and Colecovision.  Then I went through a huge Nintendo “Game & Watch” phase where I collected those little pets and kept them by my bedside and in my school bag where I’d trade “Game & Watches” with my friends at school. Good times. But since college I’ve been a PC gamer, very much a FPS and combat simulation and RTS genre fan right now.

GR: Fondly recall your first MMO experience.  What game was it and what happened?

ZK: My first MMO experience was Ultima Online! I remember during college my roommate and I fought for time on his “shared” computer. So you can imagine that between school, work, and his time online I struggled to get any UO time in. And I found it soooo hard to get any progress in that MMO because of the time sink it required that I just didn’t have. So I lasted nearly a year before I had to give it up. But I remember being amazed at the depth and the isometric “3d” aspect of it. Especially because I had enjoyed the Ultima I, II, & III trilogy on my Commodore 64 growing up.

GR: Tell us about your most memorable or epic gaming experience, MMO or not, and why it was so memorable.

ZK: Do arcade games count? The most memorable gaming experience would’ve been Tokyo in the 1980’s! Wow it was like everywhere you went there were video game arcades. The restaurant tables were Pac-Man and Donkey Kong, etc. I must have easily spent a $1000 dollars of my parent’s money on games there in a week. There was a time when my parents went on a date and left my brother and I at the hotel arcade for 3 hours. When we ran out of money the attendant would give us more. What a boon! That to me was an epic gaming experience.

GR: Tell us about your most memorable experience of being an utter noobie.  What did you learn?

ZK: Oh no, not the noob. Let me put it in a way best described by a professional colleague, “It was like playing the NPC as cannon fodder for the real player characters in the game.” I’m a FPS fan so every new one I play I go through it again and again: Doom, Unreal, Tron 2.0, Call of Duty, Crysis 2, and now Battlefield: BC2. What could be most memorable about that? Not sure, but watching replays are hilarious.

GR: How did you get into the game industry, and when did you know you wanted to actually stay and do this for a living?

ZK: Well I was approached by Warren of Pitchblack Games based on a personal comic book project I had illustrated years ago. Don’t ask me how, but through an unusual series of coincidences Warren got a hold of the original art work from my comic partner at the time and was impressed enough by the artwork to call me. At the time I was a freelance product designer and had been looking to get in the game industry as a character artist. So a few art tests later, I was steeped in ‘the game’. As we geared up for production at the company I was asked to direct the game art and here I am.

GR: What is your favorite part of working in the game industry?

ZK: My favorite part of working in the game industry is creating and designing creatures, characters, and props that have no real world engineering specifications. If that makes sense. I was an industrial designer for over 10 years and everything you design must actually be able to be engineered and manufactured or else it is just considered useless “Blue Sky” concepting. In the game industry “Blue Sky” is the limit, whatever you’re designing just needs to be something the commercial audience can relate to, much like cinema. Nothing but art fun, so to speak.

GR: In regards to your position, and comparing the current landscape of gamers to the ones of the past ten years, what trends do you hope to turn around/accelerate?

ZK: In regards to my position, hmm. I try to make “cool” but that’s ambiguous as well as subjective. One of the things I’d like to be a part of is accelerating the audience’s immersive experience in gaming. The better technology gets, the more I look forward to dialing the art into the senses. There’s a lot of R&D being done in different scientific and engineering disciplines that I hope will continue to revolutionize how computer graphics are “crunched in the machine”, and allow devs like us to intensify the density of art presented to the audience.  Whether you plop yourself in the barren Sahara or bustling Times Square, there is an infinite amount of stimulus to the senses. Even if nothing beats a real life experience, wouldn’t it be awesome to keep getting closer to that vicarious experience? Hmm.

GR: When you’re not making games, what do you spend your time on?

ZK: Spending time with my family.  Of course that’s the right answer. Right now I’m living in a fixer-upper so really it’s been painfully taking away my free time. Grrr. However, we have a horse, two dogs, two cats, fish, and chickens and ducks that we enjoy the company of, and did I mention trips? I love to take trips!

[Rancid: Special thanks to Z and Sanya for helping get this together.  Stay tuned for next week’s developer: Jeff Pinero.]

What’s your Favorite Beta Flavor?

Posted: September 6, 2011 in Misc

I’m in a handful of beta tests right now.  Suffice to say, they are ALL drastically different.  I can’t speak to any details about the games though, as I’m under pretty hefty NDAs and I don’t wanna get my ass sued.  Also, I’m not a total douche log.

For Game X, beta feels… rough.  There’s features that aren’t implemented and the fundamental core concepts seem like they’re relatively unfinished.  Release seems like it will be a good ways out.

For Game Y, beta feels like I’m actually playing the product.  All the fundamental systems work, and the gameplay is smooth and refined.  I’d probably go out and pay for this product right now as it is.  Release could be just around the corner, for all I know.

So, which is more fun to play?  The average gamer out there would answer in about half a second.  And hell, if you were just talking about fun-factor, it would be pretty easy.  You’d want to play the beta that felt more like a game.  You want entertainment.  You want a sense of accomplishment.  You want to know you advanced.  You want to know what you’re getting into, without having to buy the game.

But, as a developer, which would I rather play?  Which is more fulfilling?  That’s hard.  I don’t know that you can fairly ask that question, as everyone might have a different Ideological View of what Beta should be.  Should it allow the tester to be influential in how the future of the game is going to progress, and which direction the developer chooses?  Should it simply be a validation for the path that the developer has already chosen? Or should it be somewhere in the middle?   It’s a pretty murky question, if you ask me.

Let’s tackle the first type of Beta:  The Grassroots Beta, as I’ll call it.  In the Grassroots Beta, the developer comes to the fight without armor on.  They open themselves up, they say “Hey, we have an idea, and want to know if you like it.  We’ll get it to function as well as we can, but we’re open to the idea of changing it, if you think it’ll be a good idea.”  There’s a whole smattering of feel-good in this.  On the plus side, you have an instantly accessible developer who comes off genuine and admits they don’t have all the answers.  They’re big on collaboration and want to see the genre progress.  In a Grassroots Beta, you, the beta tester, feel like you are almost part of the staff.  That’s a somewhat dangerous sense of empowerment, as I’ll flip the coin.

With so much influence at the ground-level, it can be tough as a developer to keep the final goal, or product.*  Rancid might have a great idea about how crafting should work, but maybe down the road, that severely interferes with how the auction house system works.  The player, after all, is just the customer.  And while they may pay your bills, the customer is not always right.  In fact they’re probably wrong.  It happens.  That’s life.  At some point, the developer needs to rely on the fact that they are the developer and know what is best.  They see the big picture.  They know the end-product’s goals.

Moving on to the other type of Beta: Dubbed (by someone else) The Marketing Beta.  The Marketing Beta is where the dev team comes to the players and really just needs some fine-tuning.  They’ve come to the conclusion (valid or invalid) about how the game is going to work, and they’ve developed to an end-product.  This is a boon to the beta tester, as they see the full intent of the game.  They know where it is headed and they can more accurately respond to questions about the game.  It’s easy to comment on the minutia, when you can see the whole picture.

Therein-lies the drawback.  With so much work being already put into the game, you’re not going to alter the face of the game as a beta tester.  It’s pretty well-established already, and you’re there to validate or invalidate the direction the developer has taken.  Whether or not your validation is taken to heart is, of course, up to that developer.  Suffice to say, based on history, very rarely does the developer drastically alter the course of the game once it has made it to a Marketing Beta phase.  It could happen, sure.  There’s a metric crap-ton of issues though, with changing so much once it’s been brought into this level of public exposure.

So where would you like to help?  What’s your favorite flavor of Beta?  Do you like the Grassroots Beta, where you feel like you are a significant influence on the future of the game?  Or do you like the Marketing Beta, where you have a pretty good idea of what the game is going to ship like, and get to have a special “try before you buy” session?

 

*And that’s an intentional use of the word, as every gamer at heart needs to realize that video games are products for sale, for consumption and for monetary gain.  Every developer out there doesn’t suspend their need for four walls and three squares a day just because they like video games.  They are giving up a job in more mundane fields to do what they love, but they still need to eat, yo.