While you don t have to click far online to notice growing discontent with Early Access and Kickstarter, it s harder to gauge how developers are reacting to it. In a GDC talk today, Hinterland Studio founder and creative director Raphael van Lierop chatted about the studio s community-informed approach to The Long Dark, which has its feet in both camps: it was a successful Kickstarter campaign which made the transition to Early Access.
The risk [with Early Access] is that you re living with other people s mistakes, as well as your own, van Lierop said. One of the eye-opening experiences on Early Access is how much hostility there is towards it on Steam community.
[The attitude is] that they ve been burned so many times, and you re probably going to burn them too, and sometimes they haven t even played the game they ve come to reinforce their anger about other Early Access projects. You re inheriting all of that when you move to the platform.
The Long Dark is among the most polished and fully-featured Early Access games, and that s in part thanks to Hinterland s approach to community feedback. While the very model depends on this feedback, van Lierop said the studio seeks guidance, not direction from funders and Early Access participants.
The community doesn t belong in the driver seat, van Lierop said. [The community] is a tool, a data point, a voice to listen to, but they haven t spent years of their lives doing this job. I know it s an unpopular way of approaching it, but my opinion is that if you do [allow the community in the driver seat], you re not going to have as strong an expression of your creative vision. We re getting a lot of benefit from the community and we re not about ignoring the community, you just incorporate the ideas.
It s not our job to make the game the community wants. It is our job to make our community want what we have made.
It's important for a studio not to take online feedback to heart, and to maintain an internal consultative approach. There can be so much feedback that at some point you think I don t know what to do there are so many people talking to me ," van Lierop said.
"Sometimes the community s feedback can start to sway your team, because they re reading the forums too, and if they see something in the forums about their particular area of the game, they might be really influcned by that and want to change it. But it s important to talk about it and not be pulled back and forth by one or ten forum comments."
Van Lierop also confirmed that when The Long Dark launches proper later this year, the story-driven game mode will launch alongside it.
The reputation of Daybreak Game Company, the studio formerly known as Sony Online Entertainment, took a hit in February when it laid off employees shortly after changing ownership. Something that we hope Daybreak will continue to have a good reputation for, though, is its transparent approach to development. Its president, John Smedley, is one of the more outspoken, honest, and engaged company heads in the industry. The same could be said of its current and former leads: Matt Higby of PlanetSide 2, David Georgeson of EverQuest Next, and the H1Z1 dev team have all had a big presence on Reddit, Twitter, or on in-house livestreams.
How does a studio with multiple living games empower its developers to be vocal without over-promising or adding fuel to flame wars? Daybreak's Tony Jones, senior community relations manager, shed light on Daybreak's approach to social media during his panel at GDC this week, "Balancing Community Management With Transparent Development."
In the talk, Jones emphasized a few key policy points. "Training is crucial for development teams. Putting your teams on Twitter with no training, you might as well just hand them a loaded gun. The ability to say whatever we want when we want to say it is extraordinarily dangerous." Jones also said that it isn't the community manager's job to police developers' tweets, but to be constantly listening and provide insight and advice. "It's not that you try to restrict what they're saying, it's that you try and slow them down and think about what they're saying before they say it. Everyone's tone should be the same. Don't have 'grumpy cat' on one side and, you know, super hyper guy on the other side. You want to kind of make that middle ground and make them appear as a cohesive team. Show them the common pitfalls. Show them what trolling looks like. Show them what kind of things... maybe you don't want to tweet a lot about Gamergate, maybe you can tweet a statement and just kind of walk away from it. Things that get them into trouble later on, things that may cause them additional grief. Maybe they want to tweet about Gamergate, just tell them what's going to happen in advance."
During the Q&A section of the talk, Jones gave an anecdote when asked how he'd respond to a developer who's saying too much—or the wrong thing—on Twitter. "When you're working with a developer who says things that you're not particularly wanting them to say, there's a couple different things they should know. First of all, if it's already out there, it's already out there. I had an associate programmer who got really engaged with at Gamergate. It started out as a 'Hey, you may want to be careful with this' and it got to be a 'Hey, dial it back a bit.' You can put a disclaimer in your 'about' section all day, but [players] still know that you're an associate programmer on this game. Part of it's training, part of it is just building up a relationship and asking them. They're making your job harder. I'm not saying go to them and beg and cry, I'm not saying that's worked—but it has. Making them aware of the potential impact of what they do I think is crucial."
To Jones, it's also important that multiple developers aren't competing with one another or contradicting on social media. "Your Twitter followers are not a Gamerscore. It is all about your team. Everyone should be working together, not jockeying for position on Twitter or on Reddit. Everyone works together, succeeds and fails together as a team, that includes the community management team."
One of the big challenges that many studios are facing, according to Jones, is how much information to give players. "There's plenty of risks and rewards to it."
In his GDC talk on the development of Divinity: Original Sin, Larian Studios founder Swen Vincke gave us a hint of what we can expect from Larian's next game. Or, rather, its next two games. If you missed the news back in December, Divinity: Original Sin was successful enough for Larian to start working on two new RPGs using the same engine. Vincke casually said that Larian may reveal those games at E3 in a few months—or in 2016. "Whenever they're ready," he said.
Larian is expanding to develop its next games more quickly. And a couple themes from Vincke's talk may offer some clues as to what Larian will (or, more likely, won't) be doing with its future RPGs. Vincke pays close competition to his competitors, both to avoid release overlap (he suggested not releasing an epic open world game starring a man looking for someone this May, for example) and thematic similarities. Don't expect the next Divinity to be too similar to Dragon Age, Pillars of Eternity, or The Witcher 3.
And no matter when Larian gets around to announcing its next RPGs, don't be surprised if their release dates get pushed back a time or two. For Divinity: Original Sin, Larian went all-in, pumping more and more money and time into the game instead of compromising their vision and releasing it early. That strategy nearly bankrupted the studio, but it paid off in more than 500,000 sales. With Original Sin's success under its belt, we wouldn't expect to see Larian's next RPGs until they're completely ready.
ClayFighter was originally released in 1993 for the SNES, then ported to the Sega Genesis a year later. The characters, with names like Bad Mr. Frosty, Blue Suede Goo, and Ickybod Clay, were all rendered in claymation-style graphics, and there was a fairly strong element of humor to it. It was also pretty well-liked: According to Wikipedia, EGM named it "Best Street Fighter Wannabe" of 1993 and said the Genesis version was solid too. And now the original publisher, Interplay, is bringing it back.
Interplay announced that a remastered version of ClayFighter is being developed in partnership with Drip Drop Games and is expected to be ready for release in 2016. It will include more than 20 characters and 20 "familiar" environments, unique "Claytalities," and new mechanics like double-jumping, air-dashing, counters, and reversals.
It sounds good, though it's worth pointing out that Interplay hasn't had much success with new projects in recent years. The 2012 resurrection of Black Isle Studios hasn't gone anywhere, and a recent Kickstarter campaign for FreeSpace Tactics, a tabletop miniatures game, fell far short of its funding goal. I also haven't had any success finding references to Drip Drop Games, which I assume is the studio that's actually doing the remastering, so it's impossible to say what it brings to the party. Interplay isn't crowdfunding the updated ClayFighter, so there's no risk to anyone else, but if you're the easily disappointed sort you might want to wait awhile before getting your hopes up.
Croatian developer Croteam is mostly known for the Serious Sam series of run-and-gun blast-the-shit-out-of-aliens shooters, which is why its puzzler The Talos Principle was such a surprise. It s more Portal than Duke Nukem, filled to bursting with puzzles and a challenging philosophical narrative. Again, surprising from the team that made Serious Sam—especially because The Talos Principle actually began life as Serious Sam 4.
In a GDC post-mortem for The Talos Principle titled Reactive Game Development, Croteam talked about how The Talos Principle spun out of development on the next Serious Sam game. While working on the jammer mechanic that eventually found its way into The Talos Principle, the Serious Sam team kept brainstorming new mechanics that seemed like a better fit for a new project. So they decided to start work on a completely new game.
Croteam s Alen Ladavac and Davor Hunski stressed how important they think it is to be reactive in game development, because there will always be unforeseen problems or situations or opportunities during development. They said that that s especially true when developing a wholly new game, rather than a sequel: you can t know what you want until you see it.
Croteam s focus on reactive design informed The Talos Principle throughout the entire development process, starting with internal testing. The team members individually built puzzles, then extensively tested each other s puzzles and rated them for fun and difficulty. Getting stuck on puzzles in testing led them to The Talos Principle s nonlinear structure, so that players always have multiple puzzles to tackle. External testing led them to more refinements, as the team cut out redundant puzzles and shortened the game s Rome segment based on that feedback. They also used automated testing, running a bot through the puzzles, which they say came out to 15,000 human hours of testing.
Not everything went well—Croteam acknowledged several mistakes, such as misjudging the time required for localization—but the key lesson was that getting and reacting to feedback quickly is vital. Had that iterative process not kicked off during the development of Serious Sam 4, The Talos Principle would never have been made.
3D Realms and Interceptor Entertainment teamed up in early 2014 to make a new Duke Nukem game, a noble aspiration that almost immediately got them sued by Gearbox Entertainment, which apparently wanted to ensure they didn't damage the value of the franchise or something. So 3DR and Interceptor did the obvious thing and made the game anyway, but with a brand new character named Shelly "Bombshell" Harrison.
To be clear, when I say "brand new," I mean pretty much exactly the same: By all appearances, Bombshell is a new take on Nukem, with one of Tank Jr.'s arms. She drives a big truck with a skull painted on the hood, and her strike-a-pose weapon of choice is a monstrous three-barreled revolver named Loverboy.
Somewhat more interesting on the "newness" scale is the game itself, which is not an FPS but an isometric action-RPG. "It's a genre that allows us to blend intense storytelling action with player freedom and expression," the developers explained over at Bombshell.com. "We believe we can add something new to the genre based on our experiences as a studio. Working with a new genre and a fresh pair of eyes allows us to view things from a new perspective."
Bombshell may not represent the pinnacle of character design originality, but even so I do feel some cautious optimism that it might turn out to be decent. 3D Realms may not have the industry's most sparkling post-90s reputation, but Interceptor did a nice job bringing back Rise of the Triad a couple years ago, so this one might work out too, runaway silliness and all. It's currently slated to come out later this year.
I'm not ashamed to admit that I was initially enamored with Stealth Inc. solely because of its original title, Stealth Bastard: Tactical Espionage Arsehole. It was thus especially pleasing that it turned out to have a lot more going on than just a ridiculous title (which was later changed to accommodate the more straitlaced console market), and then disappointing when the sequel, Stealth Inc. 2, was released as a Wii U exclusive. But it turns out that exclusivity came with an expiration date.
"I'm not at GDC this year for the first time in eight years since I'll be demoing Stealth Inc 2 on PlayStation and Xbox at PAX East. :)," Curve Digital Design Director Jonathan Biddle tweeted earlier today. "To confirm, Stealth Inc 2 is coming to PC, PS3, PS4, Vita and (for the first time in the series) Xbox One."
The basic gameplay of Stealth Inc. 2 looks to be very similar to the original, but it does away with the linear level progression of the original in favor of a "Metroidvania-style overworld," and includes a fully-featured level editor. Naturally, there are also a number of new gadgets, puzzles, and terrible ways to die; there will not, however, be a switch to a new (that is to say, old) title.
"It's be Stealth Inc 2. We can't effectively market a game with two titles!" Biddle tweeted. Nor will there be a return of that gloriously juvenile subtitle, either. "The areshole subtitle is... divisive. :)" he added. "Personally, I thought it was funny for a day or two 5 years ago. Now...?"
Hey, I still think it's funny. Stealth Inc. 2 will be out in early April.
Skyrim mods will no longer be limited to a meager 100mb if you're pulling them from Steam Workshop, Bethesda announced today.
This is excellent news, as up until now larger mods like the city redesign mods, for instance required several separate downloads. In the future, modders will have the freedom to bundle them together, which means a lot less clicking for you, basically.
The functionality is in beta this week and can be opted into now (follow these instructions), but from next week the Skyrim launcher will download directly from the Steam Client rather than Workshop.
None of this matters if you use NexusMods instead of Steam Workshop, but for those who prefer to let Workshop do the hard yards this is great news for the Skyrim modding community, which continues to thrive.
Word that Blizzard was considering a tokens-for-time option for World of Warcraft first came to light late last year, when Community Manager Micah "Bashiok" Whipple revealed that the studio was looking at ways to make life more convenient for its players. Today it confirmed that the system is on the way in the form of WoW Tokens, a new in-game item that players can buy and sell for gold or real money, and then exchange for 30 days of World of Warcraft game time.
WoW Tokens will be purchasable through the World of Warcraft in-game shop, and can be sold on a 'Token exchange' in the Auction House. The value in gold will be "determined dynamically based on supply and demand," and there will be no negotiating prices: Token values are quoted when they're put up for sale and locked in once the sale is committed. The same system applies for Token purchases made through the shop.
The system is reminiscent of EVE Online's Plex, but WoW Tokens can be sold for gold only once, after which they become Soulbound and can only be redeemed for game time. Blizzard said the system will give wealthy players something to do with the fortunes they've amassed, but more importantly it will enable players to acquire gold without having to go through third-party gold sellers, which it said are "one of the primary sources of account compromises."
"Buying gold from third-party services negatively impacts the game experience for everyone. The overwhelming majority of the gold these services provide comes from stolen player accounts, halting the victims ability to play the game and contribute to their guilds," it wrote. "On top of this, gold selling companies often farm resources using hack programs, sell fake product codes as a scam, and spam entire realms with ads to buy gold, disrupting the game in very real ways."
Each region—Americas (including Australia and New Zealand, for some reason), Europe, Taiwan, Korea, and China—will have its own Token exchange. There will be no deposits required, nor will the Auction House take a cut from sales. Blizzard didn't indicate when WoW Tokens will go live, saying only that they'll be rolled out in an "upcoming patch." More details will be revealed "at a later date," but for now you can learn all there is to know right here.