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Archive for October, 2012

It’s the Decennial celebration for Puzzle Pirates this month.  It’s the plucky little MMO that thought it could, so it did, largely by making people happy to play.  ‘Tis the perfect time to check it out! (I’m Silveransom over there, the genesis of my little pirate avatar I use on Twitter and around the web.)

It’s kind of odd, thinking that it’s been around for ten years.  It was one of the pioneers in microtransaction monetization in the MMO space.  They started as a subscription-only game, but really exploded with their take on what we now call Free to Play (F2P).  Sadly, they aren’t quite as big as they used to be, but I suppose that’s true of most MMOs, given that the market exploded.  Still, the game is still alive, still developing in new ways (the alternate Sailing puzzle being the most recent addition), and it’s still one of the most solo-friendly games I know that still makes it easy to group up on the fly.  Guild Wars 2 might challenge that (if I ever get my computer running it for more than 20 seconds), but even then, Puzzle Pirates is still great fun, just a different sort of play experience.

I’m definitely a fan of the game.  It’s my MMO home, the game that has the most traditions I’ve taken part in, delightfully early access to the freedom of personal ships, and it happens to be a perfect fit for my puzzle-infused mind, one as fond of Tetris as Gyromancer, of Professor Layton as Puzzle Quest.  I’ve done a fair bit of fan art for the game, and even chipped in a little with some art that wound up in the game proper (the rare Easter Egg for the 2007 contest).

Happy tenth, Puzzle Pirates!  May Three Rings have continued success and fair winds!

…oh, and the Three Rings offices are sweet.  Really sweet.  Seriously, go check this out.  It would be a blast to work there.

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Three Seasons 2.0

Three days ago, we mowed the lawn.

Two days ago, it snowed.

Yesterday, the leaves fell on the snow.

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Rowan has a great article up that digs a bit into the difference between intrinsic and extrinsic motivations for play.  Penny Arcade fortuitously has a similar article from a game developer (for the game Don’t Starve, a curious game that I’m looking forward to playing).

I come down firmly on the intrinsic side.  I love Minecraft because it lets me just go do stuff (especially in Creative mode where I can fly and have access to everything).  I love Burnout Paradise because I can just go drive around and see what the city holds.  I love SSX 3 because you can start at the top of the mountain and just snowboard down to the base, purely exploring the terrain.  I love flying in World of Warcraft.  I love just moving around in game spaces.

I want to do things that I do because I enjoy doing them, not because there’s a reward for doing them.  Living and doing things you love are rewards in themselves.

Carpe Diem, as it were.  Live, don’t just survive.  Play.

It’s good for you.

…though I can admit this is fun.  Metagaming the achievements, whee!

 Achievement Unlocked

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These are just some questions and thoughts I’ve had rattling around in my head since my Sell By, Use By, Bye Bye article, spurred by Syp’s No Game Lives Forever… not all questions are dichotomous, and “right” answers are personal.  I’m just in a musing mood lately.

“Needing is one thing, getting’s another”

Do we play something because we want to play it, or because we want to have played it?

Do we explore to see new sights or to take screenshots of them?

What do you do when the world changes beneath you, or when you change… or both?

Why do we want stuff that we can’t take with us, whether it’s “real life” stuff we can’t take with us when we die, or stuff in games that we can’t keep when the games die?

Why do we value “virtual goods”?  (I really want a grey dragon familiar, for example… but its utility and permanence is very narrow and potentially fleeting.)

Is that stuff important for the connected memories, or for future bragging rights?

Why do we care about what other people say, and why they say it?

Why do we help others?

Why do we play?

I recently sold a handful of my SNES, GBA and DS games to finance the repair of my computer, the purchase of Guild Wars 2 and some Christmas gifts for my children.  Once upon a time, I had hoped to share those games with my kids, since they are classics, but they were less than impressed.  Instead, I’ve sold those games and their ability to make more memories for tools for my children to make their own memories, somewhat cheered by the idea that those games will hopefully entertain someone else who valued their potential to do so enough to buy them.

Life goes on, and sometimes memories are all we get to keep.

In the end, that might be all we get to keep.

…and I’m OK with that.

…today

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The Curse of the Zombiesaurus

The newest DLC for A World of Keflings is going live on Wednesday!  Or would that be going undead?

…zombification is bad for verb tenses.

Anyway, I worked quite a bit on this one as well, so it’s good to see it finished and in the wild.  That cool promotional poster was done by my talented coworker, Daniel Hughes, though I did some work on the logo.  So yay, I’m famous an’ stuffs… but he’s a way better artist.

Happy Halloween, everyone, complete with candy and Zomblings!

…is there any interest in showing off some concept art and behind the scenes production stuff?  I can ask my boss if he’s OK with that if you all want to see it, and maybe a peek behind the game development curtain.

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Not all at the same time, though.

NinjaBee’s game A World of Keflings (a game I worked on quite a bit) is on sale this week over at XBox.com, and just in time for our latest DLC to hit the shop.  OK, technically it’s a little early, but it’s on sale this week, and the Sugar, Spice and Not So Nice DLC releases tomorrow.

As teased in that trailer for the DLC, we’re also releasing a second DLC, Curse of the Zombiesaurus, giving us a nice double serving of October-flavored gaming goodies.  I worked a LOT on both of these DLC releases, and it’s been fun to see them come together.

Curse of the Zombiesaurus!

I’ll be writing about the art and design of these things when I can get something put together.  If nothing else, I want to put together an article in praise of noobs.  …yes, it’s relevant.  Mostly.

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From the sound of it (thanks, Fool’s Age, Rowan x 2, Syp and Syl, I can’t recommend your articles enough), the social scene in Guild Wars 2 is exactly what I’m looking for when it comes to MMO sociality:  a light touch, encouraging cooperation instead of demanding it.

The way of the Open Hand of friendship, instead of the Closed Fist of the designer.  It’s a Zen kinda thing, man.

It’s… less Big Brother, more… Crazy Uncle Eddie with golems and firecrackers.

I’m just wired that way.  Tell me I must do something social, like find a tank and a healer to run a dungeon, and I’ll fight it and try to solo it.  Tell me that there are baddies that need whumping over thataway, give me tools to help anyone I happen to stumble into, and I’ll stop to give a hand up to a fallen friendly or do whatever tricks I can to offer assistance in killing said baddies.

Tell me I can be social, and I probably will.  Tell me I have to be, and I probably won’t.

Guild Wars 2 apparently also has a big exploration factor, and that’s kind of what I do in these MMO things.  Yes, I’m looking forward to playing GW2.  I’m selling some of my older games to fund it (and make my blasted computer work), and one of those WoW time cards, but that’s OK, new vistas await.  One can’t dwell in the past forever.

Unless one is a nasty, grumpy ghost of Ascalon, I guess.

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If the eyes are the windows to the soul, I tend to think the ears are… um… also important.  More for the intake than the output, obviously.  So… doors, maybe?  Anyway…

Good music does good things for people.

No, I’m not talking about sappy hippy gunk like Lennon’s Imagine (can’t stand that song) or celebrities pontificating about Christmas in third world nations and whining about first world problems on their day off, no, I’m talking about music that doesn’t set out to preach.  I’m talking about music that sets out to entertain and maybe uplift.  I see it as something akin to Walt Disney’s famous quote:

I would rather entertain and hope that people learned something than educate people and hope they were entertained.

…as in, I’m looking at music that just starts out to entertain, and if it happens to feed the soul or teach something along the way, that’s a bonus.

Anyway, I suppose I blame Syp and Syl for this, somewhat.  They share good music clips here and there, so it gave me the itch to do the same. (Should I change my name to Syh or something to fit the mold better?  Decisions, decisions…)

Most of the music I listen to while working or at home is from video game soundtracks.  Occasionally I’ll splash something like Daft Punk’s TRON Legacy soundtrack in there (really good! …but how is putting the whole soundtrack online legit?), but it’s mostly game music.  Convenient, then, that I work in the game industry, perhaps.  Some of my favorites are as follows:

Mirror’s Edge, a quirky first person Parkour platformer, has a great theme song thisaway, titled Still Alive:

Which, of course, should not be confused with Portal‘s Still Alive song, which is also really good, but very different.

Bastion, a great little game, has a wonderful soundtrack.  It’s different from the laid-back sort of music I usually prefer, but it just hits the spot when I’m looking for something a bit more adventurous.  There’s the great Terminal March

and Spike in a Rail for some sweet, sweet banjo rock,

and the incredible Setting Sail, Coming Home duet

(now in acoustic!)

I don’t play Skyrim, but this makes me want to.  Sorta.  I know, the game won’t let me be a killer violin-wielding bard or a chanting Viking, and it’s M-rated, which I avoid, but… that’s some good, stirring music.

And this definitely makes me want to play a Zelda game or two.

Torchlight 2 has a pretty good soundtrack, as does The Ur-Quan Masters (Star Control 2), especially the fan-made remixed version.  There are a LOT of good pieces of music out there, completely free.  Others I picked up during Humble Bundle promotions, like the Swords & Sorcery soundtrack, which is also good… just not free.  You can listen to pieces of it over at their sales site thisaway, though.  I’m particularly fond of the And Then We Got Older track (track 26).

Oh, and for the next 7 hours or so, the Humble Bundle guys have another great bundle up… and they are including the soundtracks.  This is a fantastic move, and I hope we see more of this in the future.  That’s how I got the Bastion and Swords & Sorcery soundtracks, which were each worth the price of the bundle alone, never mind all the other yummy goodness in each bundle.  Games?  Who has time to play those?  The soundtracks, though, I can listen to while I do something else.

Kingdom Hearts is a favorite series of mine, ever since it was announced and I said “wait, er, what?” to the bizarre but fanboy dream pairing of Disney and SquareSoft.  Y’see, I grew up wanting to be a Disney animator (and I could have worked into a Pixar job, but I won’t work in California), and played a fair dose of SquareSoft (now SquareEnix) games in my teens.  My cultural DNA is infused with Disney and SquareSoft, so the pairing of the two just fit for me.  It helps that the games are pretty fun.  The first piece of music I heard was in the teaser trailer for the game, and I’ve been a fan of Yoko Shimomura’s work since.  It’s a delightful mix of an orchestral score and Disney-flavored whimsy.

The intro for Kingdom Hearts is really good, too.

Utada Hikaru’s work is really good in those games, too, with the theme song for the first (Simple and Clean)…

…and second game (Sanctuary) among my favorites to just listen to.  Sanctuary is a bit odd in that it uses lyrics played backwards to punctuate the piece.  It fits with the theme a bit, and just works as mysterious music.  Sometimes I prefer these game pieces in Japanese, since I don’t understand Japanese.  I can just listen to it as music, and not engage the linguistic part of my brain.  It’s a bit like those Gregorian chants that are good listening sometimes; I don’t understand them, so they are just something delightful to listen to.  I think that’s valuable sometimes, as I wrote about a bit in this old article about hummingbirds (sorta).

I would be remiss not to mention Nobuo Uematsu while we’re talking Squaresoft.  He is brillant, even though he’s turning to the dark side in his old age *coughOtherworldBlackMagescough*.  Dear Friends is an oldie but a goodie, though even better on the N Generation CD.

Terra’s Theme is great,

Roaming Sheep is slightly weird, but good,

and almost every gamer has heard Sephiroth’s One Winged Angel, for better or worse.  (I like it, but it’s overplayed sometimes.)  The whole S Generation CD is really good as well.

Uematsu has such a big body of work that this snipped doesn’t really do it justice, but I’m a big fan of his orchestral work.  My favorite, though, is this lovely little solo piano piece, To Zanarkand.

The orchestral version is good, too, but I love the simple piano version best.

Speaking of SquareSoft, I’m a big fan of Yasunori Mitsuda’s work on Chrono Trigger and Chrono Cross.  The OCRemix (a great resource, by the way) fan compilation “Chrono Symphonic” is also really good.  My music appreciation gained a lot of depth staring with this ticking clock.

…and Frog’s Theme still makes me smile.  Repetitive as it is, thanks to the nature of game music, it’s still a rousing theme for one of my favorite game heroes.

… but when I really need something to make my day better almost instantly, I often turn to Radical Dreamers (Chrono Cross OST, Yasunori Mitsuda).  The whole 3-CD soundtrack is excellent, Scars of Time perfectly sets the mood (it plays during the game’s intro cinematic)

Dream of the Shore is great “wandering” music…

and Life, Faraway Promise is a fine culmination of the action,

but Radical Dreamers, that’s just right for me.  It’s just… good.  Food for my soul; sweet, delicious fudge.

It’s telling that I know these Japanese artists’ names as well as I know Johann Sebastian Bach or Wolfgang Mozart.  I love classical music, and in many ways, I think of these modern composers to be just as talented as the old masters.  That idea may be heresy to some, but even the PLAY! folk see some value in this game music, else there would be no efforts to employ it with a full orchestra in sold out concerts world wide.  (But never in nearby Salt Lake City, the meanies.  Always in the bigger cities, for crying out loud.)  Also, there are gems like Sailing to the World, Yasunori Mitsuda’s non-game composition.  I’ve only heard parts of it, but it’s almost as hauntingly beautiful as the Chrono Cross soundtrack.

These artists are more than mere chiptune flunkies.  (Not that there’s anything wrong with chiptunes… DuckTales in the NES days had some great music.)

There’s a lot here in this industry to value.  Even if it sometimes takes a distant back seat to the other trappings of modern gaming.  There’s a lot of eye candy for those windows to the soul… and a lot of ear candy, too, for… um… whatever portal they are.

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