The Dark Side

Smile!
Smile!

There’s an ambiguous bit at the end of Return of the Jedi where Luke Skywalker and Darth Vader are duelling on the Death Star 2.0. Luke’s hiding from him for some reason, but Vader taunts him out by suggesting that if he can’t be turned to evil, maybe Leia could be. This makes Luke flip out, unleash his fury and beat Vader down. That always felt to me like he was doing exactly what the Emperor and Vader had told him to do. It felt like he was turning to the dark side.  Letting the hate flow through him and all that, right? But nope, I was wrong, turns out that “Actually mate, I’ve changed my mind. I think I’ll still be a Jedi after all.”

When you think about it, this was one of the most believable deceptions of a character in any of the 6 (as of writing) Star Wars films. Before this, and even more profoundly in the Prequels, the merest hint of anger, or jealousy or anything else along that ‘path’ was decisively snuffed out. No complex characters here please! And I always found that rather dull, because of course it’s fine to use the dark side a bit in moderation. Abstinence Only is not an effective method of Sith control.

I’m playing a lot of a Free to Play mobile game at the moment. This has caused no end of inner turmoil because it’s not a proper video game. It has wait timers. There’s tons of grinding. There are RIDICULOUS MICROTRANSACTIONS

That's not a lot of gems.  Seriously.
That’s not a lot of gems. Seriously. See the £22.99 one above? That’s ONE good card pull.

It is the Dark Side, plain and simple. But I just… can’t…stop…

I guess what I’m reluctantly admitting is that they’ve done a good job making a fun game behind all the Las Vegas exploitation. The main moment to moment stuff is typical rhythm action – just tap the correct spot on screen in time to the music. The anime theme gives it a nice charm, especially for those of us who know the show, and there’s lots of variety in the songs. The real genius of it all though comes from the meta-game. You see, tapping to the music scores you points, but when you start out even a perfect run will only get you a C rank, tops. What the hell’s going on there?

Stats! Of course it is! Naturally, your cast of loveable, collectable, FUCKING EXPENSIVE character cards have a skill stat. The higher your team’s skill, the more points you get when you tap.  And that’s the magic, because, at heart, this is in many ways a deck building CCG. Get a good team. Level up that team by feeding them characters you don’t need. Combine two of the same card to make them go super-saiyan for ultimate power!!! Naturally some cards are rarer than others; you get Normals after every game, and standard Rares aren’t too hard to come by. But… say… Ultra-Rares? Well, if you get one from your £22.99 up there, you’ve gotten pretty lucky. And then of course you’ll want to get the same one again to super-saiyan that ultimate power…

I’ll give it this much – it’s compelling. Although I’m not entirely sure how much of a compliment that is. I’m sure slowly drinking myself to death in the gutter would be a good demonstration of the ‘compelling’ nature of Jack Daniel’s Tennessee Whiskey, but that in itself is not a particularly strong recommendation. I suppose what I can say is that I do enjoy the collection mechanics. Building my team, getting the occasional rare character, watching my power slowly grow… it’s satisfying and adds a sense of purpose to what would otherwise quickly become a very dull experience. We have the same trouble designing F1 – at the end of the day you’re just doing laps around a track. How do we keep that interesting?

But those timers… I will maintain until my final breath that the stupidest idea any game designer ever came up with was “Hey… why don’t we force the player to stop playing our game after ten minutes!” This is what keeps an otherwise entertaining mobile game firmly on the Dark Side. To be enjoyed in moderation when you’re between other activities. But only when the game timers allow; I feel its important to never actually spend any money on games like this, because they’re designed in such a way as to make moderate spending impossible. It’s not like dropping £22.99 will get me everything I need. I could spend ten times that and be no closer at all. In a way, I’m rather lucky that the prices are so ridiculously high; if they seemed reasonable then I might be tempted… I mean, it would only be one or two…

Hmm… I’m starting to see Yoda’s point after all.

E3 – You Spoil Me

Reunion

It’s not very often that I get genuinely excited by game announcements these days. I sometimes think I’m contractually obligated to be cynical and jaded, and it is fun snarking at EA’s press conferences on Twitter.

But then a Final Fantasy VII PS4 remake got announced and all that cynicism just sort of…melted away.  The trailer itself had an insightful line in its silly and pretentious narration, which said: “the reunion at hand may bring joy. It may bring fear. But let us embrace whatever it brings.” I understand those feelings – joy that one of my favourite games ever is being recreated for modern technology; fear that they’ll change some of the minuscule details that are really important to us fans for some reason.  Whatever it is though, it’s a gift really. It’s a big hug to people like me who grew up with the game, and a chance for all those poor suckers of the next generation who never experienced it themselves to do so. Win win.

From my various poking around the internet and general obsessive knowledge, it looks like the FFVII remake is somewhere over a year into it’s development, so hopefully they’ve finished pre-production and are actually building stuff at this point. It’s a massive undertaking regardless, but I think sometime in 2017 is a very good bet for a release window. About a year after FFXV (probably)? FFVII 20th anniversary? Seems legit.

There was also some stuff about The Last Guardian and Shenmue III but come on guys. Final Fantasy VII. Get your priorities straight.

 

aresick

 

You Know Nothing, RoboSaurus

In terms of new titles, the one that most grabbed my attention was Horizon: Zero Dawn. This was very much out of left field, when the guy from Guerilla Games was announced I prepared my soul for another Killzone, only to be met with an open plain and herds of robotic dinosaurs to hunt.

For years mankind has asked the question: “What is better than both robots and dinosaurs?” Well, Guerilla have found the answer.

Robodinosaurs.

While the gameplay we were shown reminded me a lot of Crystal Dynamics last Tomb Raider in many areas, there was a tangible focus on stealth, positioning and quick reflexes as well. I feel like Monster Hunter  fans will get a kick out of this one, and that rope weapon the protagonist used was straight out of Just Cause, and expertly used as a robodinosaur trap. Leading lady ‘Aloy’ is a dead ringer for Ygritte from Game of Thrones, and looks pretty cool with her mechanical bow and other strange tribal-yet-sci-fi weapons. She’s also one of a number of women headlining some of the major games shown at this years E3, which is really welcome to see.

Horizon is out sometime in 2016.

horizon

I Asked For This

Look, if you aren’t already excited for Deus Ex: Mankind Divided, there are one of two possiblities:

  1. You’ve never played a Deus Ex game before. In which case, go buy Human Revolution right now. It’s pretty cheap these days, it’ll blow your mind, and then you’ll be excited.
  2. You don’t really like Deus Ex all that much. Please consult you GP at the earliest opporuntity as something is wrong with you. They can prescribe something to help.

Deus Ex: Mankind Divided will be out early 2016.

Magic

Thanks to everyone exhibiting at E3 this year. It’s been a long time since a show really gave a sense of genuine excitement. There’s so much good stuff coming out, and so many diverse titles as publishers begin to realise that not everything has to be a gritty military FPS. I can’t wait to get my hands on some of this stuff.

– Luke

 

The Optimum Experience

There’s this one game I really want to make. I’ve been working on the design and story since September 23rd 2003. I got into this line of work thanks to playing Final Fantasy games, and I pretty much wanted to make one of my own. 12 years later and all it is is some concept art, a few pieces of music and a thousand pages of documentation.

Capital of Ranasse, one of the major nations of my story. Concept Art by Sean Thurlow.
Capital of Ranasse, one of the major nations of my story. Concept Art by Sean Thurlow.

I still dream that one day, this project will come to something. But realistically, it probably won’t. Still, pursuing this dream with my limited skills has reinforced something I’ve always believed: be ambitious. Set ridiculous goals. Let your imagination run wild and bite off more than you can chew. Striving for an impossible goal brings out the best of your ingenuity. It forces you to improve yourself. And when you find one day that reality is cruel and you can’t reach the summit of that mountain… you’ll be surprised how far up you’ve managed to climb.

I do a job I love. I design video games for one of a very small number of companies I’d ever have aspired to work for. I mean, short of Square Enix offering me the director’s seat on Final Fantasy XVI, Codemasters is pretty much where I want to be. I’ve been a designer in one form or another for a year and a half now; after working as a Car Handling Designer on a great project (GRID: Autosport) and then briefly on DiRT Rally, I moved to regular old game design on the Formula One team, and I really have found where I belong. This is what I was meant to do.

All things being equal, I’ll be working with this team for the forseeable future. The official F1 games that we make are already pretty good, but now? Now we’re going to make them brilliant. I guarantee it.

When I started my little team with my stupid dream back in 2003, I settled on the name ‘Optimum Experience Games,’ because that, somewhat iffy grammar aside, is exactly what I wanted to create. I may not have the technical skills to go independent and deliver that goal under my own banner, but with the help of my talented colleagues I’m in a better position to achieve that mandate now than I have ever been.

This website will now be a place to discuss my work, show off any little extra projects I do, analyse games in general and probably talk about Final Fantasy IX too much because it’s the best game ever made and that’s an end of it.

Please enjoy the nonsense I put up here. I look forward to sharing more of my spectacular (but constructive) failures going forward.

– Luke

Donna. Scholar, fist fighter and party member for my dream project. Art by Carlo Spagnola
Donna. Scholar, fist fighter and party member for my dream project. Art by Carlo Spagnola

P.S. F1 2015 is coming out on 10/07/15 in Europe. Buy all of the copies. The voice recognition stuff I worked on is pretty cool – the Xbox One version is the best for that (voice controls require Kinect).

Making & Writing About Games Cause I'm Just That Cool