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Max Mallory, Remembered…

Max Square Selfie

From Chuck Mallory: we are continuing this site to memorialize my son, Max Mallory, a gamer, writer, businessman, friend to many and all-around good guy who often looked out for the underdog. He passed away suddenly on May 20, 2016, at age 22, from a brain hemorrhage as a result of advanced cancer.

Max was a writer for Game Zombie, hired before graduation from the University of Wisconsin-Whitewater (May 2015), and also a writer for several gaming websites. In October 2015 he was diagnosed with testicular cancer and endured chemotherapy, two major surgeries, and numerous procedures.

While there will not be posts on games here, there will be updates on other things about his life–writings about Max, his own writing, and the Max Mallory Foundation, which will promote testicular cancer awareness and provide awards and scholarships for gaming students at the University of Wisconsin-Whitewater.

For further reading now, here are some short pieces related to Max Mallory and his life:

Across Two Aprils

The Son of Someone Famous

Life as We Knew It

What to Suspect When You’re Expecting

Woes – Why Molyneux and RPS Both Have Work to Do

Let’s talk about something in games journalism today, and I promise I won’t use the GG-word.

Rock Paper Shotgun just published a pretty heavy interview with Peter Molyneux, one of the most famous game developers in the world who is currently working with his indie studio 22Cans on the god game Godus. I highly recommend reading that interview in full (settle in, it’s a long one) before reading this, since I won’t be quoting too much of the actual content here, just looking at the overall message.

It went okay. Here’s the first question:

liar

Alright, maybe it didn’t go okay. Throughout the duration of the interview, both RPS writer John Walker and Peter Molyneux get very passionate about their goals. Walker’s goal is to expose how wrong it is to take the money of Kickstarter backers without delivering on the company’s promises, and Molyneux’s is to defend himself by pointing out how much work he and his team have put in (and are going to put in) to Godus. Both of these are valid sides to take; the lines are blurry in Kickstarter and many of the backers who wanted to see Godus made are very upset with the quality of what they’ve received.

And rightfully so, what they thought they were going to receive in the timeframe promised is not what they received. The problem is that we have been and still are treating Kickstarter as if it is a marketplace. It is not. Kickstarter is and always will be a website where those who believe in a product can put their money forward to see it happen. I understand that these backers are upset. Those who had faith in Godus should be.

However, it’s wrong to besmirch someone for doing their best to deliver on those promises. Molyneux very clearly has poured his heart and soul into his game, you can see that in the interview. It’s not just evident in the numbers he quotes but in the passionate way he delivers his statements:

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When game developers have a great idea, and great plans for features, they wait for the excitement to die down, then actually begin to consider all the concrete things necessary for a game to be made. How much will it cost, how many work hours will it take, when can we promise to have this by? I get the impression that, during the Kickstarter phase of Godus, Molyneux and his team did this. They were asking for people’s money, after all, and they can’t toy around with that. It’s your word as a developer that’s on the line, and when you don’t do what you say you’re going to do, it feels like a huge breach of trust to the people you put your faith in. This is why I find it understandable that Kickstarter backers are pissed. They were given heavy implication that the product they wanted would be done in the timeframe promised, and it wasn’t. By far. This really means that there’s an important lesson about funding vs. product here, and it’s what I’ve been saying about Kickstarter, IndieGoGo, and Early Access for a while now:

When you give money to a company for a product that isn’t out yet, you are not buying a good, nor a service. You are funding a company. You’re paying them because you believe in them and you want them to succeed, so you’re providing a resource for them to find that success. If you’re on Kickstarter and you select a backer reward, you shouldn’t expect it. We need to avoid these types of conflicts, both on the press and development side. It’s very toxic to have arguments like this. They do nothing but pressure developers and make press look unprofessional. When Walker interviewed Molyneux as he did, he created a problematic environment between the two of them, because his main point is flawed from the beginning. The nature of Kickstarter is different than what he perceived it to be.

So that covers the consumer side. But how can we expect press to have a good understanding of what game development is like? Companies are required to be hush-hush about development lately, due to…recent events…And with the somewhat required lack of transparency from the company side (don’t want the consumers to revolt because they revealed the mistakes made before launch), both the press and developers are put in a very difficult-to-resolve dynamic with one another.

We need more transparency by game developers. We need more respect by press of the difficulties of creating games. Sometimes a developer promises something and they really mean it, and they think it’s feasible and possible and all that, but roadblocks will always happen in any industry, so why are we the ones that get outraged when they do happen? It’s unfair to those developing the game. I know that it’s not exactly presented in the clearest way possible on crowdfunding platforms, and that’s a huge problem. However, as those who invest in a product or a company do for a living, we need to understand that there will be hiccups, and be forgiving of them instead of punishing.

Let’s worry less about not getting our supposedly promised product, and worry more about creating a place where that product can be delivered without the humongous amounts of pressure developers like Molyneux have on them now.

2014 Games of the Year

In no particular order, here are five of my favorite games that came out in 2014.

Mountain

Mountain blew my mind for the entire journey I spent with it, from O’Reilly’s awkward IGF announcement for the game to the response to my IGI piece on it. It doesn’t make sense, it doesn’t seem like a video game, and everyone I talk to about it looks at me like I’m speaking backwards. It confused the crap out of me and I loved every second of it. O’Reilly created something that breaks most of the molds that we hold about games while still providing a stimulating, controlled experience that we demand as players. I include it on this list because it sticks out in my mind as one of the weirdest games of the year, but also one that I resonated with deeply, one that I enjoyed every time I started it up, and one that I’ve recommended to most people I know this year.

Desert Golfing

desertgolfing1

Continuing on the trend of weird games, I found Captain Games’ Desert Golfing to be another game that really messes with players’ expectations, but on a different, more game-y level than Mountain. Most mobile golfing-style games are very similar, with mechanics that focus on power and accuracy on very bizarre holes that do weird things like teleport the ball, or make the ball extremely bouncy, or some other outlandish, impossible golf thing. Desert Golfing has an infinite amount of holes. It has almost no HUD, and it has one type of terrain: sand. Just sand, for thousands and thousands of holes. The generation of the holes is great, providing easy, filler holes that can be interspersed by holes that take over twenty strokes to beat. There’s no indication of when the game is going to end, or when you’re going to get to something different, save for the leaderboards that unlock at 1000 holes (whoops, spoiler.) But the lack of stimulation in the game somehow creates stimulation in itself. The holes seem so easy to complete, why not spend another ten seconds completing it? It’s a gourmet chocolate wrapped in dollar paper towels, but it still tastes amazing.

Hearthstone

Hearthstone

Blizzard’s Hearthstone did not appeal to me when it was in Beta late last year, but after a quick introduction by a co-worker of mine, I was instantly intrigued. Best described as a simple, electronic version of Magic: The GatheringHearthstone is a simple card game that pits you against random opponents with constructed decks. On the surface, it doesn’t really bring much new to the world of collectible card games. There is a main resource used to play cards, there are attack and defense on creature cards, There is a card limit on decks, etc. etc. It’s nothing you haven’t seen before if you play card games, but the real amazement comes in two places: The technological brilliance of their cross-platform play system (which reaches across THREE platforms!), and the depth of the multiplayer. Hearthstone‘s meta-game is baffling. The importance of a single card’s effectiveness in a deck can win or lose multiple games. The cards included are balanced and still immense fun to use, and the game runs smoothly with a rapidly-approaching-zero disconnect rate. In classic Blizzard fashion, the game is one that players can see themselves sinking hours upon hours into, all while finding more and more content to harvest.

Threes!

Threes!

This Thanksgiving, my dad sat with me for a solid half-hour and showed me his infallible strategy for high scores in Sirvo’s mobile puzzle game (that actually isn’t a match-three) Threes! He showed me exactly what he does on his morning train ride to work, and told me about how he almost never gets a score below 7,000 anymore. The mechanics of Threes! are fumblingly simple, but for a puzzle game to have as much depth, possible strategy, and replayability as Threes! does seems impossible. The team behind the game released their email string after the inevitable mobile attack of the clones, and it gives a ton of insight to the development of such a simple game. This team’s passion for creating something so fantastic over such a long period of time has made me respect them just as much as the top mobile developers I know, and their game was so fantastic that it’s been on many GOTY lists before mine.

Bounden

If you met me in 2014, there’s a solid chance that we played Game Oven’s brilliant ballet game Bounden together. Never has there been a game so compelling, so flowing, so gorgeous that I feel the need to show it to people that have never played a game before. The combination of orchestrated tracks and timed dances can bring players closer than any other video game I’ve ever played. It’s an 8th grade party game for adults. It’s a game to break the touch barrier with, while still maintaining an air of playfulness and fun. It’s a game that your precious phone battery life is worth. I was fortunate enough to meet Game Oven at PAX East last April, and because of that I found something so innovative, so new, so refreshing, that it erased the chalkboard in my mind of what I thought a game was about, and I could not have been happier that it did.

Thoughts on Coming Out Simulator 2014

In 2010, indie developer Nicky Case participated in the most difficult conversation of his life. Four years later, for the itch.io narrative game jam “Nar8”, Case made a game about it. That game is Coming Out Simulator 2014.

COS2014

The game takes about 15 minutes to get through, so go play it right here if you haven’t.

Successes: As with a lot of games that focus on connecting players to emotional experiences, Coming Out Simulator 2014 succeeds in telling the story of someone who struggles with the same problems as the developer. Your choices in the game don’t always have the effect you want them to, and some of the choices you’re given won’t be what you really want to say. While the former succeeds in the frustration and fatigue that people face when coming out, the latter is harder to judge. From the perspective of a narrative game, barring a player from making a choice they identify with is wrong, but in the scenario of a difficult conversation, one where you might tell the truth, the half-truth, or nothing but a lie, you might not say exactly what you want to say, or what you’re thinking.

With the player limited to three choices, it makes sense that things won’t always pan out the right way. Combine that with the minimalist art and somber animations (especially the phone conversations), and the mood of the game is successfully set in a bleak, nervous atmosphere that’s perfect for what the author is trying to convey. The only constant sound effect is the ticking clock at the dinner table, while around you, your parents are breaking down, fighting, and denying their son, right in front of their son. If the game rolled with these elements, I wouldn’t have much to complain about. However, there’s some serious tone and framework issues.

Failures: The game’s humor is my biggest complaint with this game. It opens and closes with the developer talking to you, as a character, in the game. He explains what the game is about in a fourth-wall shattering intro that feels jarring. It takes you out of the experience and frames it in this weird conversation that doesn’t feel natural. The in-game character as the developer sits in a coffee shop and tells you the prelude to how he came out to his family, and at the end of the game, you have to listen to three alternate endings.

By the way, these endings are told to you, which is a clear breach of writing’s first rule: show, don’t tell. These monologues feel really out of place and very jarring against the stark reality of coming out. Many of the choices you’re given for dialogue are clearly just jokes, things that few would actually say given the situation. I understand the importance of comic relief when dealing with something serious like this, but it’s not done effectively here, and it really brings the game down with it.

Overall, I’m glad the game exists. It is giving people a perspective on a difficult subject, one that not everyone will deal with in their life, and one that must be handled with care. The game was made with the intention of helping people sympathize with those who have had to come out to their families. This is done by brave people, people under threats of heartbreak, abuse, and abandonment. Maybe Coming Out Simulator 2014 will shed some light on what they go through, but next time, let’s take it a little more seriously, eh?