Enola advances, my take on the OUYA and why David Cage needs a filmmaking book
Been working a lot more on Enola. Last week I began designing a new level. I can’t tell you much about it, but it’s going to be the darkest level yet (although the final level will be even darker). The part I’m working on right now is some sort of cellar.
When I began working on Enola I said “no monsters,” and while I’m holding to that, I understand a game like Enola needs to give you something that makes you run away from time to time. I had been pondering the idea of showing you “the enemy” but now I think it’s THE time to do it. This level will finally show you who “the enemy” is.
As you know (or maybe you don’t know), there are 3 levels so far (the island, the church and the cabin). We’ll go back to those and add/change a lot of stuff. In part, that’s done to keep things fresh on every build, but also because things need to be changed as I rewrite stuff. Rewrites will be less and less from now on, but I constantly find a different way to present certain part of the story, so that’s why I believe rewrites are a good thing.
I’m betting almost all of you have heard about the OUYA. Well, basically it’s an Android-based console, and the makers are aiming to make it an open platform where all developers can post their games as long as they are either free to play, or have a demo version. To tell the truth, a new device is always interesting to me, but there are a few things that make me rethink everything about this new console.
The most obvious concern to me is the fact that it’s an open platform. According to my definition, an open platform is a platform where everyone, and I mean EVERYONE can publish their games (on a side note, I just remembered how Gabe said that Steam is an open platform, which is NOT because ‘one does not simply publish into Steam’ ). To me this is a concern because open can mean there’s no quality control (everything that’s submitted and runs can make it to the console’s online distribution platform?), and we may end up with a console with many good games but MORE THAN MANY crappy games.
I am not old enough to know all the ins and outs of the 80’s game crash, but I do remember part of it was caused by ATARI’s open platform where anyone could publish crappy games.
Also, you can’t just take your Android game and publish it on the OUYA. This is obvious if you know the differences between designing for mobile (touch-screen based) devices and devices with controllers (I’m leaving the screen size issues out, because those are just too obvious). This alone adds to the cost to develop the game.
To tell the truth, I’m interested on the device, but I’m taking a “wait and see” approach, because I don’t want to be one of those devs that fall flat on their faces if the console doesn’t deliver.
And now the last part of today’s post. I am aware many like the term “cinematic gaming” and compare games to movies. I have to admit at first I liked the idea, but now I believe that’s nonsense. A few days ago I read an interview with David Cage from Quantic Dream, where he was talking about cinematic gaming, Beyond, and many other things. Just a little disclaimer, I have nothing against David Cage, and Quantic Dream
Near the beginning he says “I don’t know what the difference is between a game director and a movie director.” If he doesn’t know the difference, maybe he should get a few filmmaking books, because he’s pretty much implying that games and movies are the same thing, which are not.
I have never played Heavy Rain, but I know enough about it to know it’s what we’d call a QTE-fest game, throwing in just enough interactivity so it can be called a game and not a movie. I am not going to say “gameplay is first” nor “story is first.” I think that, depending on the game, gameplay and story must go hand in hand, and that’s where, I believe, Heavy Rain fails. You are free to disagree with me, but I have to ask what’s the difference between entering the right inputs in Heavy Rain, and having a really long and branching bluray version of Heavy Rain that prompts with a menu what you want to do? The only difference I see is that the first one costs 60 bucks while the second one costs like one third of that.
It’s a good thing that David Cage wants to make “mature stories” but then he talks about innovation when Beyond borrows everything from Heavy Rain except the story. He may be talking about technical innovation, but then I fail to see where Quantic Dream are innovating since they are not the first ones to utilize performance capture.
The next thing that drew my attention was “I mean this industry will die if it doesn’t try more to be innovative and to come up with new ideas and to talk a bit more – not necessarily serious, but deeper things at some point.” And then he talks about first person shooters. Based on what he’s said before that statement, he’s talking purely about stories in games, and that takes me back to what I was talking about: a deep story with shallow interactivity.
Games are a combination of audiovisual elements and interactive elements. That’s the idea behind my thoughts on Dear Esther, and that’s the idea behind me never wanting to touch Heavy Rain. If games are what I just said, don’t you think there’s room for innovation in graphics, sound, storytelling and control schemes? So Heavy Rain innovated by making a really long branching movie, but B.U.T.T.O.N. innovates by completely changing the rules of gameplay and control schemes, Battlefield 3 innovates by making the coolest-looking demolition dynamics, and some 10 year old kid innovated by making a videogame for blind people using sound.
So again, can we say there’s no innovation in the industry just because “we have too many shooters” when, even shooters, change some of the rules and formulas to find their own identity? Bulletstorm is a shooter, but it encouraged you to “kill with skill” while other shooters don’t care much if you use headshots or a knife.
The last thing is “Is there a problem with uncanny valley in Avatar? Do you think it was a problem? It was not a problem for many people.”
Unlike popular belief, the Na’vi in Avatar are not the product of pure performance capture. Yes, they used the mocap volume and face cams for the entire movie, but any animator knows that performance capture is not the be-and-end of character animation because the human body (and face) is really REALLY stiff, and human motion looks horrible when applied, unchanged, to a 3d character. There’s a reason why The Polar Express looks creepy, just like there’s a reason why Final Fantasy Spirits Within completely failed from a technical standpoint.
Performance capture in Avatar was only 50% or so of the final product. The other 50% was produced by Weta’s animation army going through every shot to amplify the performance of every character so that they felt truly alive. This is not known by the majority of people, though, because everyone just goes like “the Avatar mocap thing is so cool because made the blue dudes feel so believable.”
There’s another thing Avatar has that no videogame has (yet): a skin solver.
After watching the Kara demo, and then the Beyond demo, I couldn’t help to notice now much performance their performance capture lacked. I don’t know if they actually went back to those shots and add the “animator’s touch,” but based on what I saw, I’m thinking the probably didn’t.
I’m thinking the guys at Quantic Dream should take a look at The Last of Us or Watch Dogs. Those games really push the facial expressions and deliver an actual performance.
Then again, Ellen Page may be a good actress but has a really, REALLY stiff face…