Writing and Design

Steve Ince, freelance writer and game designer, posts thoughts and comments on these two meaningful aspects of his life.

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Name: Steve Ince

Thursday, January 21, 2010

Games Forum Germany

Next week I'm talking at the Games Forum Germany. I was rather surprised when I was invited and, of course, very honoured. I hope I give a talk they'll be pleased with.

I decided to talk about aspects of character, but I didn't want to go down the route of it being an instructional talk, so I'm hoping that I can just give the audience plenty to think about.

As I was preparing my talk there was one point where I thought I wouldn't have enough to say. Now I'm worried that I have too much, so today will be spent on a little polishing and trying to make sure the timing is right.

I know there's been a mention of the talk being recorded, but I don't know, yet, if that will be made available to the public in general. I shall endeavour to find out.

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Monday, August 24, 2009

A few GamesCom thoughts...

I'm still feeling a little tired from the trip and I've been back for two days! The years are taking their toll. :(

GamesCom was huge! The fact that it was so much larger than last year's GC in Leipzig shows that it needed to move and is also a source of encouragement that the industry is in a strong enough position to sustain something of this size. If we weren't in the middle of a global financial crisis would it have been even bigger?

In some ways I wish it wasn't bigger and that the event was still in Leipzig. There, the event felt like the whole city was a part of the show and in Cologne it didn't seem to register beyond the exhibition centre itself. The size also gave it a slightly impersonal touch. I didn't bump into the same friendly faces anywhere near as often as the last two years.

In a business sense, it must be a lot better if there are more exhibitors in the business halls (which must have been 2-3 times larger than Leipzig overall). But what that actually taught me was that it was more difficult to get appointments at the show and I should have organised far more meetings in advance. Some people seemed to have so many meetings booked that they were in danger of becoming unravelled.

Because I write mostly adventures, it was a little disconcerting to see that the profile of adventures seemed much lower than the previous two years. Which seems a little crazy when adventures haven't had such a good profile for years, thanks to recent Monkey Island releases, amongst others. Although I demonstrated the Wii version of So Blonde a few times, it wasn't nearly as often as I was expecting. A number of people from the adventure site press told me that they had some real trouble getting to see presentations of games they knew were at the show, which is very puzzling indeed.

There were lots of great games in other genres, of course, and many of them were really exciting. I managed to get a play on Brutal Legend, but it was in some kind of boss battle and being unfamiliar with the controls I couldn't work out what to do. I was hoping to get a look at the Star Wars Old Republic game, but they didn't really seem to have much on show in spite of a huge public stand with lots of computers. There was a pretty healthy presence of casual games, particularly on the consoles, which helped give a good balance to the show.

I met a number of people for the first time, which was a real buzz. The first of these was Josh Winiberg who did the music for Mr. Smoozles Goes Nutso and is destined to go far with his talent. The second was Noel Bruton of Arberth Studios but we only managed a couple of hurried meetings because of other appointments. The third guy I met for the first time was Dan Connors, who is doing wonderful things with all his team at Telltale Games. I've been impressed with Telltale's episodic approach to adventures for some time, so it was good to meet Dan at last and have a chat.

I also met up with lots of people I already knew, such as the Wizarbox people and Mark and Rachel from Outsource Media. I also met up with and had dinner with Claas, Dominic and Jan from Daedalic who were great and gave me a German version of The Whispered World, which has been receiving great reviews. I hope the English version is as well received.

And, of course, no event like this would be complete without meeting up with the people of the gaming press, especially those from sites that concentrate on adventure games and I want to thank them all for their time an interest in what I do. I would particularly like to thank everyone from Adventure-Treff who invited me along to their community party and where I was able to meet Dan.

And if I missed anyone out who I should mention - sorry. Catch you next year.

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GamesCom photo

Those Adventure-Treff guys are crazy. (Note the interesting finger at the bottom right.)


Sunday, August 09, 2009

GamesCom 2009

As GamesCom is just a week and a half away I thought I would post.

This year I'm hoping to hook up with quite a few clients and friends, as well as help support and promote games I've been involved in.

Primarily, there'll be promotion for the Wii version of So Blonde, for which we recorded the English voices a few weeks ago. Hopefully, they'll be fully integrated into the latest version on show. Although I imagine that the DS version will also be on show, there are no voices in that version.

There are also a couple of other upcoming games with which I've been involved, but at the moment I don't know which I can talk about and how much I can tell. One of them is a new IP I created, so I'm looking forward to discussing that one. Let's hope I can do so at GamesCom.

As always, I enjoy meeting members of the gaming press and look forward to doing so again at this show. It's always a pleasure to discuss the work I do with genuinely interested parties.

My composer friend, Josh Winiberg should be attending this year. For those who don't know, Josh composed the music for Mr. Smoozles Goes Nutso, which went a long way towards giving the game the fun feel it has.

If anyone would like to meet up or arrange an interview, please don't hesitate to drop me a line.

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Saturday, August 23, 2008

Leipzig Fun

I just got back from Leipzig and while I'm waiting for millions of e-mails to download I thought I'd post some thoughts and comments about the show and some of the goings on. Firstly, the main reason I was there in the first place:

So Blonde - Nintendo Version
In a very well-attended press conference, DTP announced, along with showing Venetica and Divinity 2, a new So Blonde game.

What we're doing for this game, which is for the Nintendo Wii and DS, is to create something that we believe encapsulates a very unique approach.

We didn't want to do a straight port of the PC version, so we started with the original premise, and created a "What if..." game by posing the question, "What if Sunny had first landed on the dark side of the island and befriended One-eye?"

This gives us the opportunity to explore the ideas, themes and characters a new way as the story of Sunny's time on the island is seen from a different perspective.

Because the story unfolds differently to the PC version, the story and dialoge have been re-written and the gameplay re-designed. We introduce totally new characters - one of whom is player controlled for part of the game - and new locations. Some characters and locations that were in the PC game will not appear in this version because the new story takes a different path. Some of the locations are common to both games, but a number of them have been re-drawn to fit the Nintendo systems, such is the care and attention being lavished on this new game.

So, what we have is a new game that's not a sequel. Each game (PC and Nintendo versions) is a stand-alone game, but those players who play both games will be rewarded with a richer feeling for the characters, story and the history of the island.

For me, it was a fantastic opportunity to work on something with a very original twist and do so with characters I know and love so well. In many respects it was more enjoyable than the first time around because I could explore new aspects of the characters' relationships.

Venetica and Divinity 2
As I already meantioned above, DTP were showing both of these games at Leipzig and I was very impressed by each of them. Although they are RPGs, the art style and approach to gameplay give them a very different feel to one another. I think they're both going to be games to watch out for.

The Public Halls
I had a tour of the public halls to see what was being shown and was almost swamped by the throngs of enthusiastic gamers. I know that some people dislike the noise and the crowds, but I find it's quite like when I used to go to the fair when I was a child. I also think it's great that we have events that allow us to keep players excited about forthcoming games.

I was very impressed with the range and quality of so many of the games themselves, but two games in particular stood out for me - Lego Batman and Little Big Planet.

Lego Batman builds on the success of the previous fanchise games they've done, but from what I've seen it could prove to be even more fun than ever.

Little Big Planet (which had posters on billboards throughout the city of Leipzig) just oozes quality. I watched people playing all kinds of gameplay bits and pieces on a variety of televisions of different sizes and it really is worthy of the attention its been getting. The only question that remains - Is it good enough to make it worth buying a PS3 for?

Beer and Food
It was great!

As well as the work that gets done during the day, a convention like Leipzig is a great opportunity to meet up with existing development friends and make new ones. And the great thing about development friends is that they are both supportive of you and your dreams, but also make you question your creative goals - in a good way, of course.

And Leipzig is such a great melting pot of people from across the globe, where you get to experience different perspectives because of cultural variations. But underlying that, the one thing that strikes me is that in spite of cultural and gameplay development differences, you meet so many friendly people it's a pleasure to spend time with.

I also discovered something really cool - I can re-use a lot of my old jokes. The ones that my sons get sick of hearing, for instance. Though I was actually surprised that the following got a hearty laugh:

"What's brown and sticky?"
"A stick."

I'd like to thank all those people who where good enough to spend some time watching me demonstrate an early version of the new So Blonde game and those who took the time to interview me. Without the great work that the gaming press does (amateur or professional) we'd never be able to put over our new projects as well as we do. I'm glad, too that you're able to put up with my ramblings and jokes about stalking. Some of those guys were so busy we saw each other everywhere.

Other Work
I took advantage of my time at Leipzig to talk to a number of people about project ideas and potential work in a variety of guises. All the meetings were very positive, but I obviously can't go into detail. As soon as I have more information I can share I'll be sure to post something here. Just keep your fingers crossed for me.

You know, I'm going to miss Leipzig next year...

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Friday, July 25, 2008

Leipzig 2008

Hooray, I'm going again. And posting again. :)

I'll be at the game convention on the Wednesday, Thursday and Friday. Last year was so insane with meetings and interviews that I felt I had no time to myself. This year, though, DTP have left me with Friday to myself so that I can see the show and hang round with cool people. If you're a cool people and going to the show, let me know and perhaps we might arrange to casually bump into each other unexpectedly.


Wednesday, November 28, 2007

Developers Creating Unhealthy Experiences?

There's a piece on the Develop website, which covers a keynote speech by Jonathan Blow at the Montreal Game Summit. It's a perfect example of how a person can be so right and so wrong at the same time.

While he's right that there is a need for deeper, richer games, the way he puts it gives me the impression that he's losing sight of the fact that we're in this industry to make games, which are meant to be fun to play. So who cares if he thinks that collecting coins is a poor way of developing games if the player has fun doing just that?

I have still to play Bioshock (shame on me) but I thought his comments on the game were unnecessarily harsh. If players are looking to first person shooters for a meaningful commentary on the trials of modern life then I'd be very surprised. No matter how good Bioshock might or might not be, there will always be limitations on what you can do with an FPS without changing it altogether. If people bought that game and found it wasn't a cool FPS then I think the players would feel rightly aggrieved.

There seems to be a fashion at the moment of people making speeches and slaggin off other peoples' games, particularly games that are doing well. Is this some kind of resentment on their part? Some kind of professional jealousy? Is it the plan to be controversial for its own sake just for publicity? Perhaps I should give it a go? Except that I find I'm loving a lot of very different games and wish I had the time to play a lot more.

So, going back to where I think he's right - it would be great if we could broaden the spectrum of games in lots of rich and rewarding ways. But the key word for me is "spectrum". Blow talks as if all current gameplay styles should be done away with and replaced with something more rewarding, something on a higher plane. The way I see it, though, is that you don't get rid of the current gameplay styles and genres but add to them and create a base which allows the discerning game player to choose exactly what suits his or her mood.

Half-Life 2 is a wonderful game. As is Super Mario Galaxy. And Zelda. And Psychonauts, Day of the Tentacle, Final Fantasy...

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Saturday, November 24, 2007

Adventure Developers Online Conference at Adventure Europe

Over at the Adventure Europe site, they are once again hosting and online conference where they pull together a number of developers and publishers to answer questions during allocated slots over the three days it takes place. More details can be found here.

I'm actually going to be doing two sessions.
The first one will cover So Blonde and takes place on Thursday 29th November between 5pm and 7pm UK time.
The second one will be a general one for myself, my projects and Juniper Games and takes place on Friday 30th November between 7pm and 9pm UK time.

I hope that everyone can make it along and join in the fun.

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Thursday, November 01, 2007

Hear My Dulcet Tones...

Well, listen to my weird voice, anyway. :)

Although GC in Leipzig was two months ago, the guys over at Adventure-Treff have finally posted a video interview that they conducted with me. I've done a lot of e-mail and MSN messenger interviews and with that format I always have a chance to think about my answers, so I'm pretty pleased that in this video I didn't make too much of a fool of myself. Mind you, I had done about fifteen interviews already by the time these guys got to me.

It's very strange watching and listening to myself in this way. It feels like it's another person doing the interview as my voice sounds so different in my head.

Thanks to everyone at Adventure-Treff.

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Tuesday, September 04, 2007

More Leipzig Photos

Here are some more general photos, but there's one of me and "Sunny", too.

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Monday, September 03, 2007

Leipzig Photos

Marek, over at Adventure Gamers, has a photo-article up on the AG site. The pictures are pretty cool and I like Marek's comment about my pockets - where would an adventure developer be without George Stobbart Pockets?

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Tuesday, August 28, 2007

The Leipzig Games Convention

It's been a few days since I returned from the convention, so I thought it was high time I wrote down a few thoughts before what's left of my cell-depleted brain decides to lose them altogether.

The first thing that struck me was the size. The convention centre was HUGE. I'd been told how big it was and I'd even seen pictures before hand, but nothing prepared me for exactly how big it really was. Did I mention that it was massive? It took me ten minutes to walk between the DTP booth in the business hall to the Anaconda stand in hall 2. I thought about venturing into the other halls but couldn't find an expedition team willing to travel so far.

The only down side about promoting So Blonde was that I didn't have enough time in my schedule to look round all the public halls. I only explored hall 2 because DTP had their Anaconda booth in there and I had half an hour between presentations. But if that hall was anything to go by it's not surprising that 185,000 visitors attended the show. There were demonstrations, trailers, promotions, audience participation, multiplayer games, free gifts, signings, booth babes, game demos and lots and lots of noise. I don't know how the people do it who are based in there all day every day of the show.

Speaking of booth babes, I must be one of the few people who was asked by one of them to have her picture taken with me. I think she must have been a game fan, too. :)

Anaconda also hired an actress/model who looked the spitting image of Sunny, the main character from So Blonde, so there were a number of pictures taken of the two of us together. As soon as I get hold of copies I'll be sure to post them here. It occurred to me that from now on I should design all my games with sexy young female leads.

I spent much of my time in the business hall doing interviews or demonstrations of the game and the response was very good. I'd like to thank everyone who I met for their patience and enthusiasm.

Hal Barwood and Noah Falstein were also at the booth promoting their game, Mata Hari. For those who don't know, Hal and Noah both worked on some classic LucasArts adventures, among others and it was a real pleasure to meet them for the first time. Very friendly guys, too. In fact, all the other developers were extremely friendly and I got a real buzz from being around so many wonderfully creative people.

A real high point for me was meeting Martin Ganteföhr for the first time. We've corresponded through e-mail and chat, but never actually managed to be in the same place at the same time as each other. Martin is doing some wonderful things with his new game, Overclocked, and I can't wait to play this game for myself. Martin is very tall - so tall that I'm surprised he doesn't need an oxygen tank to deal with the thin atmosphere up there. I think that the rest of us ended up with cricks in our necks after talking with him, particularly Laura MacDonald, who must have been about the shortest in our group and who suffered bravely through the whole show with a broken foot.

Because the day was so full of appointments, I crammed a lot of socialising into two very late evenings filled with food and beer. Talking games and joking and slowly getting drunk has never been so enjoyable.

Prior to our press conference on Thursday I was more than a little nervous, but as it started I got into a calm zone, which quite surprised me. When it came to my turn to present So Blonde I quickly got into my stride and the ten minutes were up in what seemed more like thirty seconds. Everyone seemed pleased with the way it went, which was backed up by the fact that the press audience laughed at a number of places in the game. Where they were meant to, I might add.

Hal and Noah are doing some interesting things with their game, using an icon system for their conversations. Although Revolution used something similar, starting with Broken Sword, Hal and Noah have added some nice refinements that will make the conversational gameplay much richer. It's certainly an approach that I'll be bearing in mind for future projects.

I nearly met Bill Tiller, but our schedules clashed.

I'm pretty sure I saw Tim Schafer, but I wasn't sure enough to say hello.

The strangest question I was asked in an interview was, "What would you do with ten million dollars?" After giving a flippant answer, I then had to think about it for a few moments. Part of my answer was that I'd have to think long and hard, but that I'd love to do a proper romatic comedy - something that's the gaming equivalent of "Four Weddings and a Funeral" or "Love Actually" or "About a Boy". Though I doubt it would cost ten million, so I guess I'd rather do five two million dollar games.

Perhaps the oddest moment was when I was standing at check-in at Leipzig airport to come home again. the guy who came to stand behind me started chatting away and we were soon in a deep discussion about game development, which takes some doing at 4am after about three hours sleep. It turns out that he's Chris Taylor, the guy behind the Dungeon Siege games and who has a new game coming out, Space Siege. We discussed the idea that games should be treated much more as interactive entertainment and the days of aiming games at the hardcore gamer are drawing to a close. That's not to say the hardcore gamer should be discarded in any way - that's what difficulty levels are for - but that games should be accessible to a wide audience while still delivering interesting and fun gameplay. Although we're (currently) working in different genres, I could see a lot of parallels in our approaches to game development.

Although GC is over, some of us are already thinking about next year and what we can plan socially...

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Monday, August 20, 2007

GC in Leipzig

I'm going to be in Leipzig for three days of the GC. If any of you are going, why not drop by the Anaconda booth - Halle 2, Stand F40. I'll be there on Thursday 3pm and Friday 4pm for a presentation and signing session.

The rest of the time I'm going to be in the business hall at the DTP stand, F40.

Hope to see you there.