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

Tuesday, February 02, 2010

Top Ten Games I Worked On

I was sorely tempted to add Beneath a Steel Sky to my list of Top Ten games in the previous post, but I think that would be bad form because I worked on it. Although I didn’t do any of the writing and design, I still think it’s not something I should put on a list like that. So here is my top ten list from the games I've worked on.

  • Beneath a Steel Sky
  • So Blonde
  • Broken Sword – The Sleeping Dragon
  • Broken Sword – The Shadow of the Templars
  • In Cold Blood
  • Mr. Smoozles Goes Nutso
  • Gold and Glory: The Road to El Dorado
  • Rhianna Ford and the Da Vinci Letter
  • Wanted: A Wild Western Adventure
  • Call of Cthulhu: Destiny’s End

Again, the order is not a concrete one.
I put the last one on the list because it was turning into one of the best games I ever worked on and was eighty percent complete when it was cancelled. Perhaps one day I’ll post some of my favourite scenes.

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My Top Ten Games

I was waiting for my blog to update with the latest changes (it always seems to take so long...) and thought I'd create a list of my top ten games. Although I've created a list, the specific order may be a little varied depending on my mood.

  1. Day of the Tentacle
  2. Portal
  3. Grim Fandango
  4. Psychonauts
  5. Final Fantasy IX
  6. Knights of the Old Republic
  7. Heretic
  8. Dark forces
  9. Quake
  10. Tomb Raider Anniversary
  11. Beyond Good and Evil
  12. Full Throttle

The eagle-eyed among you will have noticed that I have twelve games in the list. I struggled to get it down to this many and still have a number that I'd want to include but thought I'd gone far enough.

So, my top twelve games...


Friday, July 17, 2009

New Article

Gosh, it's been a month since I last posted anything here. This year seems to be passing by so quickly...

A new article, by me, has just been posted over at the Adventure Gamers site. It's the first in what they hope to be a regular guest column using different people from the game development world. Thanks to Jack over at AG for asking me to do it. And for letting me be first. :)

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Wednesday, June 03, 2009

New/Old Monkey Island

They're re-making the original Monkey Island game:



I've seen some very mixed comments about the way this looks, but I think it looks pretty good. Not as good as if Bill Tiller had worked on the backgrounds, but very faithful to the original while bringing it a little more up to date.

There's also a new Monkey Island in the works from Telltale Games. It's an episodic series in the same vein as the Sam and Max series and Wallace and Gromit. Looks very promising and as some of the original creators are involved it could be just what the doctor ordered.


Thursday, March 12, 2009

Get Lost, Hardcore Gaming!

There seems to have developed a major snobbery in the gaming world – if a game isn’t hardcore then it’s undeserving of any real consideration and you’re an “imbecile” (not my word) if you happen to be a housewife who enjoys casual games. Where did this all come from? Games are meant to be fun entertainment, so why have people become so vitriolic about them?

Scratch that. Why have certain hardcore gamers become so vitriolic about the non-hardcore?

As a game creator who loves playing games, I find that many hardcore games are simply too hardcore. Why, for instance, when I play a game on “easy”, do I still die so many times that I’m forced to give up part way through? Bioshock was guilty of this and I have no interest in returning to it because I know it will only wind me up again. Many people regard it as a great game, but any game that I can’t finish because I don’t enjoy the experience is not great in my book.

Okay, I know that my reactions may be slowing down as I get older, but isn’t that a part of why the developer creates an easy mode? It’s supposed to allow those without ninja button skills to play and enjoy the game, too. I paid good money for this game, why shouldn’t I enjoy it as much as anyone else?

It’s because of this that I find myself buying fewer and fewer hardcore games, which is a shame because some of them look fabulous and could be great fun. But it’s that word “could” that puts me off. How would I ever know without buying?

Yes, I could play a demo, but it seems to me these days that game demos are becoming rarer all the time. Besides, the demo is not the issue but the fact that some games seem to squeezing out all but the hardcore gamer.

There are games that give me hope, however. I’m currently playing – and thoroughly enjoying – Tomb Raider: Underworld. Okay, I’m playing it on the “easy” setting, but it’s still a great game to me. I don’t feel that I’m being excluded or that I’m missing out on anything because of this, so to me this is a great game. So far it is tons better than Bioshock. Well done Crystal Dynamics (the developer)!

So, really, I don’t want hardcore gaming to get lost, but just to be less hardcore.

The games themselves aside, the attitudes of the hardcore gaming “press” are much worse.

This piece has its origins in my reaction to two things that appeared on the net. The first was Randy Sluganski’s article about PC Gamer’s condemnation of the Nancy Drew games. The second was Yahtzee’s latest gaming rant in which he refers to the huge non-hardcore audience as “imbeciles”.

Okay, the Nancy Drew games don’t appeal to me, but I recognise that to a large section of the general gaming audience they are an enjoyable form of gaming and Randy was right to voice his opinion on the matter; something which I think he did in a very professional manner. He could easily have been much more vitriolic in return.

His main point, that a magazine about PC gaming which isn’t actually being representative of the whole range of players who play games on a PC, is a very valid one. Perhaps this goes some way to explaining why PC gaming appears to be dying – at least if you think of PC gaming as traditional retail only.

Okay, there may be many fewer people buying hard copies of PC games from the shops or even online, but the number of people playing games on their PC must be huge when you take into account the number of downloadable games available through the many portals. “Casual” if you like.

Actually, I dislike the term “casual” more and more. When you look at the games portals, they’re offering a larger selection of games all the time and many do not really sit well within the “casual” umbrella. Perhaps we should term them “general” or, even better, “non-hardcore”.

Getting back to the point, it was Yahtzee’s derogatory remarks about the non-hardcore audience than annoyed me the most. How can everyone who doesn’t play hardcore games be an imbecile?

Yes, I know that he does his “reviews” in a manner that’s supposed to be controversial (and often it works really well), but sometimes it’s just nastiness for its own sake and in this instance indicates a weird kind of snobbery that seems to be pervading hardcore gaming.

I suppose I found it particularly offensive because I’m a developer who happens to be working on games aimed at this non-hardcore audience, so does that make me an imbecile, too? Perhaps even a double imbecile? I enjoy making games for a more general audience and would never see that audience as other than valuable.

There are times that some of these games can come across as patronising or even childish, but that’s mostly because the creators have erred on the side of caution in order to make them easily understandable and accessible. However, the success of recent games like Women’s Murder Club, Emerald City Confidential and Return to Ravenhearst show that many of these general gamers enjoy games with more depth to them, too.

These last three games, although they have lots of adventure style gameplay, have also come under some criticism from the adventure gaming community. Instead of embracing these games as a broadening of the genre, some criticise them because of the way they “casualise” the gameplay. Considering that the adventure genre has itself has had a lot of unfair criticism from the hardcore press, I find this an unusual viewpoint.

What, then, of the people who like both hardcore and non-hardcore games, myself included? How are we catered for in all of this? In many respects, not very well at all.

Ivinia, one of the posters on the Just Adventure + forums, wrote this: “There is, however, the other side of the coin with portals focusing mostly to the older female crowd... it would be nice if gaming genders/age groups/genres as whole were represented and someone would cover the full spectrum of gaming in an even-handed way.”

Really, that’s the heart of the problem – the market is being seen as two very different things when it comes to gaming press sites or publications and we’re desperately in need of something to bridge the divide.

Or are they simply too separate for such a site to draw in the users? Are those who do play games in both camps too small a number to justify such an investment?

Whatever the answer, the journalists working in the gaming press should be able to understand and appreciate audience tastes that don’t always fit with their own mind set.


Sunday, November 16, 2008

Creativity in games 2

Either I've not been paying attention or there's a lot more creativity coming out of the gaming woodwork at the moment than there ever has been. I just saw an article on Eurogamer about the forthcoming game, Love.

This looks like a truly creative and exciting project and something I find intriguing, particularly as, with a name like Love, I never would have expected it to contain combat. I also like the way that he's specifically looking back to older games for the combat style. The first Quake game works much better for me than the recent ones which are becoming too realistic. But then, one of my all time favourite first person shooters was Heretic (the one that used the Doom engine). Blimey, I wonder if I still have a copy of that somewhere...

I also saw the trailer for Love, which looks fabulous. Certainly a game to keep a watch over.

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Wednesday, November 12, 2008

Creativity in games

Yesterday evening I was over at Hull University giving a talk to the local section of the British Computer Society entitled, Games - the Creative and the Technical. Basically, I looked at how the technology of tools and modern game engines allows developers to unleash their creativity.

One of the great things about the games industry is that we have such a wide variety of excellent games to match all kinds of tastes, from Hotel Dusk on the DS to Bioshock to Peggle to the wondefully artistice delight of Braid released recently on XBox Live Arcade.

But what I think epitomises the whole notion of creativity in games is something I discovered this morning (and now wish I'd seen yesterday to include it in the talk). Crayon Physics Deluxe is a delight, judging by the short video on the website. What a great idea and so brilliantly executed.

The art style perfectly matches what it is meant to represent and complements the game's design wonderfully well. I can't wait to try it out for myself.

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Wednesday, June 25, 2008

How Rude

I received my first piece of hate mail today and actually find it quite funny. The following is the entirety of the message:

"your game sucks, go **** a goat and don't make video-game stories ever again! Bad bad bad bad bad writer!"

Obviously, I edited the line to take out the expletive, but I'm sure that if you so wish you'll work it out.

The subject heading says "So Blonde", so I'm guessing that the writer was referring to this game. I just can't understand why, even if they hated it they would be bothered to find out my e-mail address just to send me a vitriolic missive.

It's nice to know I instill such passion in my fans. :)

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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 15, 2007

Super Mario Galaxy - gameplay

I've just watched this gameplay footage for the second time.

What a fabulous looking game!

What great fun!

This is going straight to the top of my most wanted list. Sod those story games if there is fun like this out there. :)

It's weird because I've never been particularly drawn to Mario games in the past, but I can't believe how cool and fun this game looks. Have I been missing out on something great all this time?

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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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Thursday, October 18, 2007

Home Town Gets a Big One

A report over at MCV covers the opening of a new Gamestation shop in my home town of Hull. Claiming it will be the second largest gaming shop in Europe, that's quite an acheivement for a town that reguarly gets a lot of stick from all quarters.

"Hull has some of the most dedicated gamers in Britain" apparently. Who'd have thought...?

I wonder why I haven't been invited to the opening. :)


Wednesday, October 17, 2007

Brütal Legend - trailer

The first trailer for Brütal Legend, the next Tim Schafer game, has been released. I must admit, it caught me a little by surprise, but the fact that a game trailer can do this in today's jaded climate is a good point to start from. Although it's an action game that looks incredibly gory, the humour is definitely there and I'm sure that the whole game is going to be a real blast.

And with the main character voiced by Jack Black!

Rock on, Brütal Legend!!


Thursday, September 27, 2007

Plotting Talk

I gave a talk on plotting last night at a meeting of York Writers. I was pretty nervous, as many of the writers have been published, and wondered how they would take what I had to say. Thankfully, they all seemed to enjoy it and it fired up some interesting discussion afterwards, which resulted in us running over the normal meeting time.

Because of my years of game development experience, the first part of the talk was about how stories work in games and how we approach the creation of the stories to ensure that they are sound, logically. The second was how I'm bringing some of those techniques to bear for the novel that I'm writing in my spare time.

If I get the time, I may turn my notes into a Developing Thoughts article, though it may be better as a couple of articles. I shall let you know.

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Saturday, September 01, 2007

Games for Lunch

The blog, Games for Lunch, has an interesting idea as its basis. Each entry is a kind of small review of a game played for an hour, at the of which the question, "Would I play this game for more than an hour?" is asked and answered.

Let's face it, if a game hasn't grabbed you after an hour of play, is it likely to do so? At the very least, a game should intrigue you enough so that you want to continue playing after that first hour.


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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Saturday, August 25, 2007

This is wonderful!

A fabulously witty commentary on certain aspects of the games industry. And a great way of showing support for one of the best games ever - Psychonauts.


Saturday, August 11, 2007

Another New Interview

Sorry for not posting here for some time. I'm very busy at the moment and fitting everything in has been quite the juggling process.

However, I did find the time to fit in an interview for Delter Adventures, a Swedish gaming site.

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Wednesday, June 27, 2007


Over at the Develop site there's recently been posted a report on Nintendo's WiiWare. This must be the coolest idea for a long time. Mr. Smoozles Goes Wii, anyone? :)

Now, if I could just find where I can get hold of the right tools...

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Thursday, June 21, 2007

Sam and Max

I've just played the first episode of the recent Sam and Max series from Telltale Games and thoroughly enjoyed it. I know it came out months ago, but I've been waiting for the whole series to appear before committing to it, particularly as the Bone games were put on hold.

I must admit to a little trepidation after I was a little disappointed with the first Bone episode, but I'm glad I bought the series and as I just said, I enjoyed the first episode. While it's not perfect (what is?), the sense of fun was wonderful and I just loved the dialogue writing and the voice acting and the way that the, sometimes fabulously nonsense, puzzles and gameplay held together within the zany world logic.

Although I loved the dialogue, it's the conversations where my only small (and I must emphasise small) gripe is aimed. It's nothing to do with the way the lines are written, but the way the interactive conversations are implemented. I wish they were a little more context sensitive with more options available depending on Sam and Max's knowledge. There were a few times where I'd just discovered an important plot clue and yet couldn't talk to the other characters about it. I realise that time was tight for the guys at Telltale, so it's understandable that they prioritised in other areas.

I've read in other places that people thought that the puzzles were easy, but I didn't find that to be the case. I'm not a fan of puzzles that cause you to be stuck for days. On the whole, the puzzles fit very well with the unfolding story, the characters and the zany nature of the whole premise. It's the first game in ages that's genuinely made me laugh for all the right reasons.

So, I'd heartily recommend trying out Sam and Max for yourselves. You know I must be right because I just used "zany" twice.


Thursday, February 22, 2007

A Better Perspective

Those of use who actively work in the adventure genre and many of those who just like playing the games, are a little tired of reading tiresome reviews in which the reviewer says (ad nauseum) that "the adventure game is dead". So imagine my pleasant surprise when I read the review of the latest Sam & Max episode over at Eurogamer and found it was taking a much more balanced view and saying such things as:

"To my mind, innovation isn't a pre-requisite to gleaning entertainment, from whatever source, and I was, personally, extremely grateful that Telltale didn't attempt to fix something that wasn't broken with misguided 'innovation'."

Well said!

I do worry that the "innovation" aspect is too predominant as a whole and is part of why games are so expensive to make and therefore so expensive to buy. But that's a digression for another post, perhaps.

There is always the worry that a review which defends adventures is going to be too biased the wrong way, which is a slight tendency for "fan" reviews, probably in every genre when you think about it. However, Kristan Reed was pretty fair in his comments and even picked up on the re-use of locations as putting the game into a rut. This, though, was the kind of constructive criticism that game developers need and although it clearly had an effect on the review score (7/10), I would imagine that Telltale will be more than happy with what was said.

If every game could get such a fair review we'd all be much happier as developers and players.