Is Zynga dominating social games on Facebook so much, that it's, in a way, killing it?
I go to all of the conferences and I'm forever seeing developers who are actually looking at the likes of Zynga and going, "Let's do that!" Which I think is crazy... Pick something you're really great at, start there and really polish that up. A lot of game companies moving into, and getting their butts kicked, in the social space are better off, in my opinion, doing something that's a little more core. We've just figured this out recently and have a new buzzword called 'Mid-core' gaming.
Just when we thought we had put a cap on the whole Mid-Core thing, we've had two interesting developments in that area in the past week. First, back in 2008 there was a group of loyal readers who made an attempt to get the term "Mid-core" added to Wikipedia. They were not successful, and we did not pursue it our selves because our self-loathing tendencies. However, I just noticed today that the term has actually made it onto Wikipedia. Sure, we are not credited anywhere (an article about us from Joystiq *is* credited though). So there you go. three years later, and the little thing does have some legs.
A Mid-Core Life
More importantly though, is a new blog named A Mid-Core Life written by Erick Vallejos for the Belmont Shore-Naples Patch. Erick contacted us asking permission to use the name, and we happily agreed to let him use it. He even credits us throughout his first entry. Good luck Erick. We'll be checking back periodically to see how your Mid-Core life is going.
And if you are interested out Mid-Core lives here at 8bitrocket.com are pretty rocky right now. However, we're trying to get everything back on track. Our goal is to reach 1500 stories by the end of the year, which means we will need to work triple or quradruple time to make our goal. However, there is just so much going on right now in Flash, Mobile, Social, HTML5 and video games right now, it's really not a matter of content, just the time to write the stories and create our editorials.
Back in 2008, Jeff wrote a story named "I Am A Midcore Gamer" and I followed-it-up with a story named "The Midcore Gamer Manifesto". Both stories travelled the interbaun far and wide and caused a bit of a stir for a couple weeks. Many people wrote us about the idea of "midcore" and we felt we had started a bit of sub-genre of gamer. For a while it seemed like it would become something significant. However, since we don't do this full-time, we really had no way to keep the momentum going. and within a couple months it all died down and went away.
We've revisited the idea couple times in the past few years, but for the most part, we have left it alone. A couple people tried to get the word "midcore" added to Wikipedia, but the rules there made it very difficult for them to succeed. We did not persue it ourselves because the idea of it felt disingenuous. Every once in a while, someone will say to us "hey, 8bitrocket, the Midcore guys!", but other than that, the whole idea has simply disappeared.
A couple weeks ago, it occurred to us that the game industry has changed so much in the past few years, it might be time to take a look at that manifetso again and see how things relate today. What we found was very interesting: Instead of a living idea, the "Midcore Manifesto" was really more like a set of predictions from some guys in their late 30's who had played video games all their lives, and needed to find a way to make that work with their family and work lives. A set of predictions that, more or less, came true. Below is the manifesto again, annotated with our present day comments.
First off, the whole idea of "Midcore" did not have any roots beyond 15 seconds of internet fame. The game industry ignored it, (plus all similar ideas to add to the word "core" like 'hardcore casual') and just settled on buckets of "Core" and "Casual" gamer. While we still don't think those names work, but it pretty much shut us up. Some days I think we were naive and stupid for even trying to make these ideas known. Other days I think it is kind of cool that our little blog got so much play for when it was popular. Personally, we never use the word in conversation unless we are trying to be ironic, i.e. "Yeah, that idea will be as successful and long lasting as 'Midcore!" Now, here is a rundown of the specific "mid-core" manifesto points, and there we think they fit in today's game market.
1. Save Anywhere/Autosave/Respect Our Time:
We only have time to play games in roughly 5-60 minute increments. We need the ability to save our game at a moment's notice. If a game's difficulty is designed around the fact that is cannot be saved anywhere, it is too hardcore for us. Not only do we need to save anywhere, but we don't want to waste the time we have invested in the game if we can't save any where. An alternative or addition to "Save Anywhere" is an intelligently used 'autosave' feature.We would like something significant to happen in a game during the time period we have allotted to play. A plot point, new item, finished race, completed mission or task should take roughly 30 minutes (give or take 15 minutes) to achieve. This allows us to see progress in a game, and keeps us interested in continuing. Games with long cut scenes (i.e Final Fantasy X 30 minute intro) are rendered unplayable because we never have enough time to get past the exposition and into the game. Our free time is precious, and it needs to be respected.
This is still true, we only get to play games for 5-60 minutes at a time, and we still need to save. In the past couple years, many Web based games are now offering "save game" through services like Mochi and Gamersafe. PopCap games such as Bookworm Adventures and Plants v Zombies have always had save anywhere / anytime functionality. A lot of social games and MMOs don't even offer a "save" anymore, they just do it often and automatically. Console games still lag far behind on this one though, still offering limited save areas, checkpoint saves, or after-level saves only. What gives? How about consoles makers simply giving us a "save state" so we can save the current memory snap-snot and come back later. Would that work?
2. Games Should be Affordable
We are not suggesting that new games should cost $.99 nor are we suggesting that state-of-the-art releases should only cost $29.99. But we are saying this: We can't justify spending $59.99 on games each month unless they can also be played with the rest of our families (read: Wii). For games targeted to us, $19.99 is a perfect price, but $9.99 is nicer while $29.99 is our upper limit. $.99 is great price for downloadable classic games. Also, we Mid-Core Gamers can be very patient. When Elder Scroll Oblivion was released, it fit perfectly into our demographic (see below), but the price was far too high. Now, after nearly two years, the price has come-down to $29.99. Bingo. We can bide our time for a good game.
This has already happened. More games are available now at better prices than ever before. Web games are mostly free with in-game ads these days. Most iPhone games cost $.99. Many new computer games retail at $19.99 or "29.99" and are downloadable. Xbox live game are $5-$15. Really, only the "core" platforms have games that come out for $69.99 or $59.99. We have to say, we think we nailed this one. Companies still charge for new technology (i.e Kinect Games for $49.99), but for the most part the price of "midcore" gaming has fallen, just like like we knew it would (and should).
3. Reasonable Graphic Choices
We don't buy computer hardware like we used to. We don't upgrade for the sake of upgrading, we don't care too much about getting top FPS scores. In fact, many of our games are played on laptops with good (but not the latest) graphics cards. Games do not need to employ the latest 3D graphic technology just for the sake of having it, or require the latest OS. Games can have nice graphics (2D or 3D), but the most important aspect of the graphics is that they fit the game and serve it well.
People say the current consoles (save for the Wii) still have a couple years of life or more left in them, so their graphics won't be updated well into this decade. Web and iPhone games are still mostly in 2D. Xbox Live Arcade and Wii Virtual console games are mostly in 2D. The Wii and DS are successful, even though the graphics they produce are no where near the PC/PSP/PS3/360. It seems to us that this message has been broadcast and received loud and clear. The current crop of hyper-successful social games are unabashedly 2D, and their legions of paying fans don't seem to care one bit. However, when we play a game with an amazing narrative and graphics to match (i.e. Gears Of War 2) it’s hard not to be sucked-in and get behind the idea of playing games with graphics that “blow you away”, it just doesn’t have to be every single game.
4. We Love Single Player Games
Single-player games are our bread-and-butter. We understand that the gaming world is filled with amazing hard-core and multi-player gaming experiences. We also realize that those games usually take more time and resources than we have available. For this reason, we eat-up single-player games. Even single-player games that appear to be "hard core" would fit the Mid-Core mold if they adhere to the other parts of this manifesto. A great example of a single-player game that fits the Mid-Core is Elder Scrolls Oblivion. It is an expansive, yet "light" RPG that fits many of the aspects of this manifesto: (engrossing depth, $29.99 price point, works on a good laptop, can save anywhere, etc).
In the past few years, multi-player has become expensive to support for game developers, and a premium has been placed on it. You need Xbox Gold to play multi-player on a 360, and many times your copy of the game has to be brand-new to get access to multi-player features. At the same time, some very popular games like Angry Birds, Plants Vs. Zombies, Bejeweled Blitz and Farmville are essentially, single player games. In fact, most of the the top social games might have co-op or spectator mode, and players might help each other asynchronously. However, but as far as classic multi-player games with 2 or more players on the screen simultaneously, those games don't feel the need to support that feature. and the games are still immensely profitable,
5. Cooperative Games On One Screen Are Gold
Cooperative two-player games are gold. If they are deep enough to appeal the hard-core portion of our gamer-personality, but easy enough so we can get the wife/husband/significant other and/or the kids involved, we can probably play them beyond the 60 minute barrier. A very good example of this type of game is Lego Star Wars. It's appeals to our inner geek, has long and interesting levels, but allows two people to play on the screen at once. Of course, Lego Star Wars did not allow the game to be "saved any where", but it fit many of the other aspects of this manifesto.
See the games New Super Mario Wii plus Lego Star Wars, Batman, and Indiana Jones and even Gears Of War 2. Many new games use this technique. Our kids and we thank the game gods for it, as it makes playing together easy, fun, and rewarding.
6. Multi-player Games: Play Anytime, Find Friends Easily, No Fees, Voice Chat Not Necessary
We do enjoy playing multi-player games online with friends and sometimes, even strangers. However, there is a limit to what we can handle. First off, an "instant and anonymous multi-player mode" similar to the Wii version of Guitar Hero can work very well because it means we can compete quickly, but each game only takes a few minutes. However, if we do want to play against friends, you need to make it very easy. We need to be able to tell very quickly if someone we know is online, and if so, connect with and challenge them instantly. The Wii is terrible for this purpose, XBox Live is better, but it requires a monthly fee (see below). If Playstation Home remains free, it might be the perfect model. Also, one more thing. We don't want to hear 13 year old kids curse at us for not moving quickly enough. If your multi-player games requires us to participate in voice-chat, we are probably not interested.
See all the most popular Facebook Social Games. Bingo.
7. "Casual" Games Don't Have To Be Simple Games
We Mid-Core Gamers love all types of games. To some extent, Mid-Core gamers are "casual" gamers in that we do enjoy many of the types of games that are geared towards the "casual" demographic. However, we tend towards "casual" style games with a bit more depth. For instance, Bejeweled is a passable diversion, but Puzzle Quest is an obsession. Bookworm Deluxe is nice way to kill some minutes, but Bookworm Adventures is an unshakable addiction. Where there is depth, but with the aforementioned save anywhere feature, we will be there.
There are many people who think the current hot "Social Games" are simple "cow-clicking" contests, but really, that is not the case for most of them. While they don't have the sophisticated enemy AI of the latest Call Of Duty, nor the complex strategic ramifications of tech tree of a game like Civilzation V, they are certainly not "simple" arcade games or "mouse clickers" either. Farmville, for example, takes a very addictive cycle of tending to crops, and layers all sorts of quests, achievements and activities on top of it, while at the same time, blending in social interaction for players that thirst for it. A game like Empires And Allies takes that even further, adding a a strategic layer on top of it. Furthermore, here at 8bitrocket.com towers, our motto has always been "the fewer rules the better". Games don't need to have complex set of rules to be deep and interesting. Board games like Risk, Blokus, Scrabble, Boggle, Apples To Apples and Settlers Of Cataan have proven it, and computer games should be no different.
8. Size Does Not Matter
The last two commercial games I have installed on my computer have been just about 5.5 GB in size each. 5.5 Gigabytes! I believe just about every single game ever made before 1994, could fit in 5.5 GB with room for 1000's more. Graphically those games could never compare with the modern 5.5 GB behemoth, but game-play and depth wise? A lot of those pre 1994 games had much more than in some modern games. The point here is not that "retro games are better" but that the size of the game on the hard drive is not necessarily proportional to its quality as piece of entertainment. Most good Flash games download in less than 1 megabyte. Good, downloadable PC games can be had that are under 20 megabytes (i.e.: New Star Soccer). Mid-Core Gamers do not need bloat, they need well designed games with solid game-play. If a game is worth the 5.5 GB required, that is fine, but if not, it eill probably be removed fairly quickly and never played again.
OK, so we may have been wrong about this one. Does it really matter? We are not so sure. Hard drives are so large these days, space really doesn't seem like a concern. Dragon Age Origins is 20GB! However, if you only have , say. a 100GB Hard Drive on a laptop, freeing up 20MB to play Dragon Age could take days of intensive (and sometimes heartbreaking) file management. Still, we're willing to let this one go.
9. No need to be "mature" for the sake of being "mature"
Mid-Core Gamers are mostly adults. Mid-Core Gamers were also once 13 years old, and also once laughed about the name Lake Titticaca" in Social Science class. However, that does not mean we need resort to only consuming "mature" material, or that our in-game humor has to be at the scatological level. Yes we do play games, but we don't want to have to hide them, their boxes, or the game magazines we read from our families simply because they might have a cover featuring, for example, an artist' rendition of scantily-clad female robot tearing the intestines out of space marine. Mature content is not necessarily taboo, it just needs to be used to serve the story, not in place of it.
You know, it's funny. In the past couple years the game industry has seemed to mature about being "mature". Look at Duke Nukem Forever. The content is mature but childish at the same time, and the game industry (and the buying public) have responded by not buying it. Bravo.
10. Yes To One-Time Fees, Rarely To Monthly Fees,
Mid-Core Gamers are not fond of monthly fees. We can not always subscribe to your game, live service, player matching server, etc. if it means we have to pay for it month after month. We can't afford it, and we don't want to have to explain this fee to our husband/wife/significant other. For the rare game, a monthly fee might be workable, but we won't last very long. However, if there is a compelling reason, we will pay one-time fees. One-time fees for updates, new chapters, sequels, power boosts (i.e. Adventure Quest), add-on modules etc. are acceptable. However, the one-time fees must be reasonable, and offer a significant benefit. A One-time fee that allows us to buy things that should have been included in the game in the first place (i.e. Horse Armor) is not acceptable.
Again, the micropayment and social game revolution has proved this one correct too.
All in all, we think the game industry has moved towards the ideas of MidCore, even if they never adopted the term in any serious way. It had nothing to do with us proclaiming it or defining it in a manifesto, but it was just the natural progression of an industry that is constantly re-defining to stay relevant to the game playing public. This industry is 40 years old now and while it might have made some mis-steps along the way, as a whole it has evolved and will continue to evolve itself Even though the "MidCore" name has all but disappeared (we certainly didn’t do much to keep the idea going) we see signs of "Midcore"ness all over the place just without the name attached. This might be because MidCore became mainstream, and there was no need for the idea any longer.
So I have to admit, one of the reasons I bought a Wii on release day was the because I thought it would be a perfect platform to finally play a Star Wars game with a lightsaber. Ever since I flailed aimlessly with my mouse trying to play the PC game Jedi Knight, I've wanted to find a way to play a game that included lightsaber battles that more closely resembled a real battle. The original Wii-mote simply could not replicate anything in 3D space, so that Wii dream died sometime in cold winter of 2006. Last year, the Wii Motion Plus promised a real sword-fighting game, and we got a couplee...kind of, with both Red Steel 2 and Wii sports Resort. Will both were fun, but they were still not Star Wars.
Yesterday while playing "Fitness Evolved" on the Kinect, I stopped between exercises, and just for the fun of it, posed like a Jedi holding a light saber. No one was awake to see me (thank God). I swung my hands in sword fighting motion, and my swing was replicated very nicely by my on screen avatar. This got me thinking: would a Star Wars game really work with Kinect? How could it work without holding anything in your hands? Sony's Move's claims to solve this problem with the colored balls on their controllers, but that's Sony, and I don't plan to but another system any time soon. Kinect does such a good job of making you feel like you are "in" the game, and replicating your movements, it seems like a loss not not have a controller to "hold" while playing a Star Wars game.
A quick search of the interbaun found this: Kinect games will scan objects in the future. Here's quote from Microsoft Kinect guru Kudo Tsunoda:
It’s not like we’re trying to take controllers out of the equation [..] games that involve both controllers and Kinect as well are totally possible. [...] That’s one of the unique things about the Xbox platform: we can do controllers; we can do controllers with Kinect, which is more than just motion control, it has voice and human recognition as well.
- Kudo Tsunoda
So, does this mean we will get a lightsaber (functional or not) to swing with a Kinect Star Wars game? There is already a game on the horizon, could this be the holy grail for prospective Jedi? Would having an object to hold while playing as a Jedi make the game feel that much better? It's been 23 years since the Atari gave us the true feeling of destroying the Death Star for the first time with their sit-down arcade game. Now, do we finally get to be Luke, Obi Wan and Darth Vader too? It's almost too good to consider. Personally, I feel that the company that finally does a Star Wars game the right way with motion-control, will be THE winner. With Kinect's superior camera technology, and their ability to track objects and use controllers at the same time, I think Microsoft may just have the edge they are looking for.
I've had my microsoft Kinect for excatly 1 hour now, and i'm totally hooked. All of the things that frusted me about the Wii have been fixed. Sports games are amazing on this thing, mostly because it can see your feet. I can now kick balls. I know that sounds weird (in multiple ways) but just take it at face value. I've always wanted a Wii game where I could use my feet to kick a soccer ball...and Kinect can do it!
Kinect also lets me jump. Unlike the Wii Balance board, that yells at me when I jump, this thing demands it! It also senses my movement around the room, so moving side-to-side works too. My dream of a platform game that I can play with my whole body is almost here.
I bought the Wii on day one, and I've always been a big supporter of it...but I don't think Nintendo has returned the favor. I bought the Wii Motion Plus on day-one too, but they have since released about 2 games that use it. Nice job guys.
I can sense that this Kinect thing, even with the small technical issues I've seen (the need for a big space, and a bit of lag) is about to make the Wii look like boring old console.
So here is something really cool I just discovered. I decided to install the Mac version of Steam, so I could look at some downloadable games. When I got it installed, I logged-in with the Steam account I made nearly 6 years ago when I first bought Half-Life 2 for my PC. When I logged-in, I found out that the Mac version was available for me to download...for free! Now that is cool. The honored my license, even after I moved to a new OS. Valve rules!
It's prediction time again. First, we need to run-down our 2009-2010 predictions and see how we did. Here they are:
10. Microtransactions In Flash Games Will Struggle. Too many games, too few people willing to pay. The most successful service will be Mochicoins, but it will still struggle with quality vs. what people are willing to pay for. However, a few very well made and successful games will point towards the future.
This is pretty much true. Money is being made on Microtransactions, but most of it is on Facebook. Many developers are still struggling.
9. Adobe will announce a new version of Flash that makes AS3 much more accessible for artists and designers. Also, real 3D support will be finally added to Flash. At the same time, Silverlight 3 will start making in-roads, but mostly for corporate applications, on the 360, and on Sharepoint web sites.
Well, there was a new version of Flash, but 3D support is still not really incorporated. That may be in the NEXT version. CS5 is much more accessible for designers though, so we did OK.
8. Atari will officially do something on the web in regards to their classic game library. It will be too little too late.
They DID, and we were mostly correct!
7. Web Surfing on the 360. Microsoft will open-up the 360 to web browsing…but without Flash support (just like the iPhone). However, Silverlight will be supported. Silverlight web games will become a new “home brew” dev platform for 360 games.
Hmm. Not yet, but they have opened-up more apps for the 360. I still think Silverlight support is going to make it onto the 360 very soon.
6. Even though it has robust Flash and HTML 5 support, the Palm Pre will be a dud (at least in the USA into the foreseeable future). Sprint is is the only carrier right now, plus the CrackBerry is killing in corporate market, while the iPhone has a lock on consumers mind share and handheld phone gaming. That leaves early adopters and Sprint customers.
5. Also, even though there was nerd backlash, Diablo 3 will be released and it will generate a huge, massive, amazing ocean of cash for Blizzard. A new “Ultima” branded single player Diablo-like game will be announced by Electronic Arts. Sadly, Richard Garriott will not be involved.
Ooops. These things have to be RELEASED first.
4. A new console from a MAJOR company will be announced. It will be download-only and will support games from multiple platforms (Flash, PC, emulated, etc.). This could also come in the form of set-top box that “rents” games ala Netflix directly over the internet.
The "download" only console was the new PSP and it was a dud.
3. The PC will fall even further away as a platform for AAA game titles, but indie and web games using Flash, Unity and and Instant Action will pick-up much of the slack.
Pretty much true.
2. The Atari/Bushnell Movie will take a drastic turn in tone when Will Farrell replaces Leonardo Decaprio in the lead role, and Seth Rogan is cast as Al Alcorn. However, it will be nothing compared the switch in tone for the “Asteroids” movie when Universal casts Jack Black as “Medium Sized Rock”.
The rumors are still out there...
1. A great new book on AS3 Flash Game Development will be published. You all will love it and will buy a copy. Also, that “How To Create Blog Posts That Hypnotize And Influence Your Readers” e-book I bought last year will finally pay off.
Many of you loved it, some not so much. Still, it was a rewarding experience.
Now for the new predictions for 2010-2011.
10. Flash Games Everywhere!
Google TV, the Google Web App Store, Flash games on Android, Flash conversion on the iPhone, Flash player 10.1, etc. Flash games will take-over much of the non-core game industry in the next 12 months.
9. Diminished Power Of Flash Game Portals
With Flash games everywhere, the power and influence of Flash game portals will diminish somewhat. Look for some consolidation (e.g. Kongregate + New Grounds), and for portals to start their own development arms, as they, themselves, branch to mobile, Facebook ,and other platforms.
8. Silverlight Down, HTML5 Up
Silverlight will fall even further out of the game space, while HTML5+Canvas games grow in number and sophistication. The inclusion of Canvas support in I.E. 9 will help fuel this fire. However, for Microsoft and Sharepoint shops, and on the Windows 7 phone, Silverlight will grow in influence and usage. Silverlight will still be viable, but focused on Microsoft platforms.
7. Atari/Asteroids Movies Will Still Live In Development Hell
The Nolan Bushnell "Atari Movie" and the Universal "Asteroids" movie will still be in development hell, far from any kind of production or release date.
6. Atari Will Mine Their Classic Catalog Even Further
Atari will continue to mine their classic game catalog, and finally dig out titles that remain unreleased on modern platforms such as remakes of games like "Yar's Revenge" , "Air Sea Battle", "Canyon Bomber", plus coin-op games like "Food Fight" and "Hi-Way" and "Qwak". I'd also look for the Flashback 3 to finally get a release, maybe even as a mobile device.
5. More Retro-Style Games On Downloadable Platforms
With games like "Scott Pilgrim" on the Xbox 360, we will see many more classic looking and playing games on the downloadable game platforms. Unlike "Retro Evolved" games, these games will hit all the nuances of classic games, and revel in them. At the same time, retro-evolved style games will continue to be created at a rapid pace.
4. Big Fanchises Will Falter
At least two well-known franchises expected to move "tonnage" will falter. Neither will be PC-based, but both will put their respective publishers on the brink of bankruptcy.
3. The Mac Will Rise
Pushed buy Apple's moves in gaming, the Mac will rise as a game machine. Some big PC games will see simultaneous and possibly targeted Mac releases. Publishers will see good sales for Mac games because the user-base is more willing to pay for software. Look for Mac sales to edge-up again and challenge the PC's dominance.
2. Quality Advertising Supported Games Will Start Disappearing
High-quality games that use in-game ads for revenue will start to trickle in the next 12 months. Coins games, mobile platforms, etc. will dominate instead. Look for more "demo" style games that hint at game-play instead of being full games themselves. Tiny developers will still use in-game ads, but mostly for the other services they provide (high-scores, social layers, etc), and not really for the revenue they generate.
1. The 3DS Will Fail, But The Wii2 Will Shock The Gaming World
I'm going out on a limb here, but I believe the 3DS will be failure in the USA. It will be too expensive, and will not be able to compete with the iPhone and Android and mobile gaming platforms. However, it will have some great games and be a cult hit. It will dominate in Japan.
As the Xbox 360 and PS3 transform into the Wii with their own motion controls, Nintendo will announce the Wii2 in 2011. While the system will miss the Christmas 2011 season, there is good reason for it. The Wii2 will include some revolutionary technology that only Nintendo could put together. HD+ visuals, Blue-Ray, 3D, massive amounts of solid-state storage, mind-control, an anti-piracy device utilizing buyer's DNA/retina scanning, holograms, virtual reality, full-body scanning motion control, time travel and weather control are just some of the features that are possible.
What are your predictions? Tell us in the forums:
No More Printed Game Manuals For "The Environment", or "Pay Twice For What You Used To Get For Free"
The Gamer's Blog has a very interesting story about Ubi Soft jettisoning printed game manuals as a "green initiative".
"No more man'u'als? Ubisoft announced this week that they will be
ditch'ing the trend of print'ing instruc'tion man'u'als for new games
under the 'green' ini'tia'tive. While no other pub'lish'ers have jumped
on that 'green' train just yet it is likely that oth'ers will
To me, this is the same kind of corporate doublespeak that nets those "we don't wash your towels or sheets every day to save the world" cards in the bathrooms of hotels. The idea is to make you feel guilty for something you have already paid-for, while the business saves a little money.
As Flash game developers, we have been working on the art of the "in-game" manual for a long time, with very mixed results. We know that most people simply skip the instructions and try the "well used" controls (arrows, WASD, space-bar, enter, mouse+mouse button, z,x,.,/).
At the same time, manuals for modern video games have became a joke anyway. 1/2 the space is used-up for the same coockie-cutter messages from from the console makers about "health issues", and at least a 1/3 is a list of credits. The rest contains the most basic information about the game possible, obviously hoping you will rely on in-game tutorials and/or shell-out $19.99 for a hint guide that tells you the information you need to know.
A good example of this is Red Steel II for the Wii. The in-game instructions were good enough to get me started, but I still needed to know one very "midcore" thing: "how do I save the game?"
There was no information any place about this. Even my online searches were fruitless. I finally just had to quit the game and restart to find out that it auto-saves at specific places. However, why such a mystery? If anything should go into the manual, "save game" information seems like a good choice.
With more and more downloadable games, the printed manual has its' days numbered anyway, but please, don't try to sell it to us as a "green" initiative. We know full-well that it's only a matter of time before game companies start offering printed manuals for a "nominal fee", and then we really will be paying extra for something that should have been included in the first place. Why pay once when can pay twice for what we used to get for free?
Sorry big game companies, this is why the future of games is probably on the web. At least here you get what you pay for.
Review: Kill Screen Magazine Issue 0
I've written had many stories through the years at 8bitrocket.com about video game magazines. I've covered personal stories about magazines like Electronic Games that influenced me while growing-up. I've interviewed some of my heroes of the first era of video game journalism like Bill Kunkel, Arnie Katz, and Michael Schrage. I even once reviewed an issue of PC Gamer magazine (after which, inexplicably, my subscription was canceled). I've done this because I love the medium of the video game magazine. At least, I once loved it. However, In the past decade I found myself buying the magazines on a less and less frequent basis. Even when I did buy them, I would usually start reading from the back of issue, where (most of the time) the best stories were stashed. Ever since magazines started to include overly hyperbolic previews, followed by numbered and scored reviews, I've found myself skimming those sections to get to some kind of meat of the type I once adored in back pages of the magazines I read in the 80's and 90's. Those usually came in the form of columns, speculative pieces on the future of games, or long-form stories about game design and development. Last year, when PC Gamer dropped all their columnists (recently reinstated), I felt the final limb had been drawn on the "hangman" game for the medium of the video game magazine.
Then I read about Kill Screen.
I think I found the link on one of my favorite sites, gamesetwatch.com. It was a magazine that purported to be something completely different. It began as a Kickstarter.com project, asking for donations so that the magazine could be printed. Normally, I would not have cared, except for these two paragraphs on their kickstarter site:
There is a single question that we are fixated upon "What does it mean to play games?" We want to be what early Rolling Stone was to rock n' roll or Wired was to tech. We want to look like the Fader and walk like the Believer. We're talking about the long format read on the creative minds behind AAA and indie game titles sided by the personal essays about what games mean as part of our daily little lives. There are intersections between the games and everything else that are only beginning to be explored. The minds of the videogame world are woefully faceless and we should change that.
Enter Kill Screen.
Here's what we're proposing a smart approach to a beloved medium led by folks who've written for the New Yorker, GQ, the Daily Show, Christian Science Monitor, LA Times, the Colbert Report, the Onion, Paste, alongside some lovely photos and even a poster or two! We promise to keep explosions to a bare minimum and limit fawning praise for Modern Warfare 2 to a giggle.
This seemed to be exactly what I had been missing for a decade (or even longer). There were several levels of donations. I could have given $5.00 for .pdf, but I wanted real MAGAZINE. To hold in my hands, put on shelf, or read on the can. I chose the $20 option because I could both feel "involved" and get a physical copy to covet. The whole idea of a magazine about video game written by adults (even if those adults were younger than me), was exciting. I checked the web site a few more times in December, and then I forgot about it. Many months went by, and last Saturday it arrived on my door step.
To be honest, my first reaction was of being "under whelmed". I leafed through it once very quickly after the kids had gone to sleep, assessing the situation. The publication is roughly 3/4 the size of a regular magazine, and at 65 pages contained lots of "artistically placed" white-space. I have to admit, that the disappointment was palpable. I guess I expected a glossy publication that had the texture, size, text depth, and smell of magazines from the days of old. I paged through it, but did not read a word, and promptly fell asleep.
The next day, my wife and kids and I went on a hike together, so I had no time to check it out again until later that evening. Again, when everyone else was asleep, I took a second look at Kill Screen issue #0. I recalled why I paid $20 in the first place. It was not for a huge glossy magazine, it was for the promise of writing that might re-animate video game magazines out of grave dug for themselves in the 21st century. I wanted to read stories about games that made me "feel" something more than anger at cookie-cutter reviews or uninformed opinions. I picked up the magazine again, and noted the things that I liked about it. It was printed in full color, on a stiff card-stock almost like a literary journal. Also, there was no advertising, so every one of the 65 pages had the potential to say something interesting that I wanted to read. Then I opened it up and did just that.
When I had made it through every story I noted what was *not* there. There were no reviews with scores or otherwise. There were no massive previews. There was no outdated, web-scooped news. There were no strategy guides, release dates, or letters to the editor. In fact, absolutely none of the common features of a video game magazine appeared in Kill Screen Issue # 0. I did not miss them.
So what did I find? Validation.
I always knew there was more to my love of video games than pixel depths, polygons, and licensed power-pop songs. In fact, many times I've tried to capture my own feelings about the nature and importance of video games in my life, but have mostly failed. I've tried to locate stories like these on the internet, but they are sparse and hard to find. Here, in my hand, was a collection of stories better written than any I could hope to write myself, but with many of the same emotions and feelings that I had been trying to capture. Even though I was not familiar with any of the writers, I understood their voices almost immediately.
The first story that really drew me in was "Player One, Player Two" by Jason Killingsworth. This was chronicle of a guy who learned to be friends with his younger brother by playing video games together. Since my brother and I had very much the same experience, this one was close to my heart. I was happy to read that someone had the same type of experience, and it was important enough for them to write about it. The next story I read, "Play In Isolation" by Ryan Kuo was about indie game designs. The focus of the story, the game "Where Is My Heart"" about hiking and relationships by Bernhard Schulenberg, hit very close to home. Since I had just been hiking with my family (and, inexplicably, designing a video game with my kids as we walked), I could see the brilliance in this idea. The complex interactions between children and their parents should be ripe fodder for games of all sorts, yet the ground of that path has hardly had the dust unsettled, much less had a path beaten into it. Still another piece that resonated was "Us vs. Them" by Leigh Alexander. It was a story about the quest to find like-minded lovers of video games in sea of kids with no frame of reference and guys who like sports games. It mirrored many of the feelings I've had trying to make friends in the modern world.
There was much more to enjoy as well. From the bizarre ("Walk through For A Made-Up Game"), to the meaty ("Air Traffic: A Million Miles"). One nice thing that I did not expect were the stories of specific games. Even though none were games that I was necessarily interested in playing, they were told from the perspective of how they resonated with the writer, which transcended the the topic and kept me reading. There were also some clever cartoons and art work of the kind you would not normally associate with a magazine about video games (read: no manga boobs...thank the Lord).
The one warning I have should be obvious: this is not your little brother's video game magazine. There was little overtly objectionable in Kill Screen Issue 0 (some mild drug and sexual references that should go over the heads of most kids), but many of the stories required a bit of life experience to understand and fully appreciate. I recommend it for adults only, or at the very least, for smart kids 15+. Also, while I loved what was there, I still feel that there was not enough of it to justify the price (beyond the first kickstarter issue). I've purchased similar-sized trade paperbacks for $14.99 and copies of Retro Gamer magazine for about the same price, so that seems be a point that is closer to something palatable to the audience. If that is not possible, then a few more good stories and images for the asking price would be very welcome. No matter though , I would still have to call Kill Screen Issue 0 a rousing success. All I asked was that it made me feel something about my place in the world of video games, and the place that they have in my life. When my throat well-up reading "Player one, Player Two", I knew it had achieved that goal that several times over. I plan to buy the next issue, and if the quality continues at this level, I
might just be hooked for good.
You can check out Kill Screen here: http://www.killscreenmagazine.com/