The Nuance of Uncharted Character Design

  • Reading time:1 mins read

by Eric-Jon Rössel Waugh

Uncharted had about a three-year development cycle; a year of pre-production, followed by two years of active production. Early on they began to research all manner of pulp adventure fiction, from Tintin to Doc Savage, to seminal movies like Gunga Din and more recent stews like Raiders of the Lost Ark and The Mummy.

Beyond the hair-raising, larger-than life quality of these stories, the team wanted, wherever possible and appropriate, to capture the “certain lightness of tone” in the source material, to contrast with the current standard for Western games, which Lemarchand described as “overwrought and all a bit emo.”

( Continue reading at GamaSutra )

The New Generation – Part Two: Masterminds

  • Reading time:23 mins read

by Eric-Jon Rössel Waugh

Originally published by Next Generation.

Something is happening to game design. It’s been creeping up for a decade, yet only now is it striding into the mainstream, riding on the coattails of new infrastructure, emboldened by the rhetoric of the trendy. A new generation of design has begun to emerge – a generation raised on the language of videogames, eager to use that fluency to describe what previously could not be described.

First, though, it must build up its vocabulary. To build it, this generation looks to the past – to the fundamental ideas that make up the current architecture of videogames – and deconstructs it for its raw theoretical materials, such that it may be recontextualized: rebuilt better, stronger, more elegantly, more deliberately.

In the earlier part of this series, we discussed several games that exemplify this approach; we then tossed around a few more that give it a healthy nod. Some boil down and refocus a well-known design (Pac-Man CE, New Super Mario Bros.); some put a new perspective on genre (Ikaruga, Braid); some just want to break down game design itself (Rez, Dead Rising). In this chapter, we will highlight a few of the key voices guiding the change. Some are more persuasive than others. Some have been been making their point for longer. All are on the cusp of redefining what a videogame can be.

Dead Rising: A Trope Down Memory Lane

  • Reading time:1 mins read

by Eric-Jon Rössel Waugh

In 1985, Shigeru Miyamoto came to down with a truckload of tropes, and they were so wonderful, they did such a great job at filling the creative vacuum of the time, that it took two decades for people to notice the limits to their application. Now, step by step, we’re kind of getting back our perspective. Under Satoru Iwata’s oversight, Nintendo – so long, so much to blame for the entrenchment – has painted a huge “EXIT?” sign in the air, with a wave and a sketch. Valve has suggested new ways to design and distribute software. Microsoft and Nintendo have tinkered with how videogames might fit into our busy, important lives. Blog culture is helping aging gamers to explore their need for games to enrich their lives, rather than just wile them away. And perhaps most importantly, the breach between the Japanese and Western schools of design is finally, rapidly closing.

( Continue reading at Game Career Guide )

Aonuma’s Reflections On Zelda

  • Reading time:1 mins read

by Eric-Jon Rössel Waugh

Check out the comments section on the original article. Seriously.

On Thursday Aonuma candidly, and with self-effacing humor, spoke of his period of aimlessness and mistakes that began with the release of The Legend Of Zelda: Wind Waker, the way in which they reflected the Japanese industry as a whole, and how they led to Nintendo’s shift of focus over the last few years.

( Continue reading at GamaSutra )

Five That Didn’t Fall

  • Reading time:52 mins read

by Eric-Jon Rössel Waugh

Part nine of my ongoing culture column for Next Generation. After the popularity of my earlier article, I pitched a companion piece about companies that had lived past their remit, yet technically were still with us. On publication we lost the framing conceit and the article was split into five pieces, each spun as a simple bottled history. In turn, some of those were picked up by BusinessWeek Online. Here’s the whole thing, in context.

A few weeks ago we published a list of five developers that made a difference, helped to shape the game industry, then, one way or another (usually at the hands of their parent companies), ceased to exist. One theme I touched on there, that I got called on by a few readers, is that although in practical terms all the listed companies were indeed defunct, several continued on in name (Atari, Sierra, and Origin), living a sort of strange afterlife as a brand detached from its body.

This was an deliberate choice; although Infogrames has been going around lately with a nametag saying “HELLO my name is Atari” – and hey, why not; it’s a good name – that doesn’t make Infogrames the historical Atari any more than the creep in the purple spandex with the bowling ball is the historical Jesus. (Not that I’m relating Infogrames to a fictional sex offender – though he is a pretty cool character.) The question arises, though – what about those companies which live on in both name and body, yet which we don’t really recognize anymore? You know who I’m talking about; the cool rebels you used to know in high school, who you see ten years later working a desk job, or in charge of a bank. You try to joke with them, and they don’t get a word you’re saying. You leave, feeling a mix of fear and relief that (as far as you know) you managed to come out of society with your personality intact.

The same thing happens in the videogame world – hey, videogames are people; all our sins are handed down. This article is a document of five great companies – that started off so well, ready to change the world – that… somehow we’ve lost, even as they trundle on through the successful afterlife of our corporate culture. And somehow that just makes us miss them all the more.

The Nose Before Your Face

  • Reading time:12 mins read

by Eric-Jon Rössel Waugh

Part eight of my ongoing culture column; originally published by Next Generation, under the title “The Value of Simplicity”.

So lately we’ve been swinging back toward thinking about games as a medium of expression. It’s not a new concept; way back in the early ’80s, companies like Activision and EA put all their energy behind publicizing game designers like rock stars – or better yet, like book authors – and their games as unique works by your favorite authors. This all happened just after figures like Ed Logg and Toshihiro Nishikado started to extrapolate Pong and SpaceWar!, incorporating more overt narrative frameworks and exploring more elaborate ways of interacting with the gameworld. From this initial explosion of creativity came Steve Wozniak and the Apple II, providing an easy platform for all of the early Richard Garriotts and Roberta Williamses and Dan Buntens to come.

Then stuff happened, particularly though not specifically the crash; the industry changed in focus. On the one hand we had ultra-secretive Japanese companies that – like Atari before them – usually didn’t credit their staff for fear of sniping and for the benefit of greater brand identity; on the other, what US companies remained tended to inflate beyond the point where small, expressive, intimate games were economically feasible. And then there’s just the issue that, as technology grew more complex, design teams grew larger and larger, making it harder for any one voice to stand out, leading to more of a committee-driven approach.

Mascots and Messages

  • Reading time:16 mins read

by Eric-Jon Rössel Waugh

Part four of my ongoing culture column; originally published by Next Generation under a different title; something like “The Problem with Mascots”. Somewhere between this article’s completion and its publication, one of my more vocal “fans” started a forum thread about Sonic the Hedgehog. He felt a few of the points were similar; I think something in my description of Sonic. Considering this is one of my least favorite articles, I sometimes wonder if it was worth the bother. Still, here it is again.

I wrote a while ago that there’s maybe one good Sonic game for every two flops. At the time I was halfway kidding, setting up the premise for a silly “top ten” list. Where I wasn’t kidding, I was speaking from a historical perspective rather than a contemporary one. As much as I have loved the guy, I’m aware that Sega hasn’t done too well by Sonic for a long time – to the point where he’s now the butt of dumb jokes on semi-respectable business websites. Since the Genesis we’ve seen, what, one truly great Sonic game?

When Sonic and Sega came back with the Dreamcast, they did it with a collective bang. Everyone cheered at his return, and at Sega’s. Then came a less interesting sequel. Then Sega went out of the console business, and suddenly there didn’t seem much point to Sonic anymore. More games kept coming out, each worse than the last, each building on the least compelling parts of Sonic Adventure. People stopped caring about the character, then started mocking him. Sega tried to address the problem with Shadow: a grittier, cooler answer to Sonic. Without even playing the game, people immediately wrote off the character, Sega, and everybody involved with the franchise.

The problem wasn’t really Shadow, or his game – even the concept behind it, for what it was worth. Heck, people didn’t even have to play it to dismiss it. The problem was that it didn’t seem like Sega knew what the hell it was doing anymore.