Screwing yourself out of a job sucks.

I don't currently have a computer. I'm using a pal's computer today (and was yesterday.) And I currently don't have a job in Games, and that doesn't look to change. After a guy I know did the supremely excellent thing of getting me a shot for a design position I screwed that pooch quite impressively. I was asked to complete an essay on "How would you improve the open city/random event aspect of Spider-Man 2?" Cake, right? Well, not having a computer I did this in my off time by taking it up to work and typing away there. This is a news station, so they have some spiffy spell check and grammar check software going on. (Seemingly no reporter uses these, but bear with me.) I type out my 500 word Manuscript of Geniusosity. Of course the first draft comes in at some 700 words with errors abounds. I pare this down to a respectable 500 even with finely nuanced punctuation (read: I love semicolons.) Then, and this is the key step, I don't save it.

Good ole' Jeff. I can always count on me.

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So, yeah. I figure I'm going to get a 'actual' blog to bullshit about stuff in too. Just to keep this one more focused on actual work I do, which is far less than the number of posts here. So here we go: Yeah, I'll do stuff with it later.


I'll admit; it's obvious. Everyone's thought of it. I don't like to admit to thinking about it, being someone who often laments about lame remakes and sequels. But damn it, I am thinking of it. Especially as games have more capabilities than they did back then. So, how great would it be to remake The Oregon Trail? And I don't mean into a quick-paced Native American Murdering Sim like some companies would make it, but a really long-ass drawn out two hour game where comparatively little action happens. (Compared to most modern day games, anyway.)

You start just like most games I would hope to create start. You create your avatar. Pick out your sex, build, skin tone, hair, etc, etc, etc. After all, how better to relate to a character than for that character to actually be them? (Or at least their self-image.) Depending on the type of person you choose (banker, farmer, carpenter, doctor, etc.) you get certain bonuses. Bankers start with more money, farmers are better (in skill and equipment) hunters than everyone but are the poorest, carpenters can fix broken wagons to save lots of money and make money off of others along the way, and doctors can better treat illnesses and have a modest starting purse but are otherwise unprepared for the tough trail-life. (Doctors being my addition to the original.) So stock up on supplies and get ready to head out, thus begins the Oregon Trail.

Where does the 'angle' come in? Simple. It's for XBox Live only. You start the game by walking around a town meeting new people and friends where you decide with whom you want to travel with.

(If two hours is too slow, offer the ability to hunt, raft, and the likes without having to play the rest of game. Y'know, just for sport. And if two hours is too short, allow players to set their game up for other time limits, like three, four, or five hours.)

So after picking a party to go with, you begin travelling the paths trying to find your way. Largely the game is a group of players in/around a wagon hanging out. Sound lame? I spend hours every night typing to people. Why not go on a virtual wagon ride where I can talk to them for a few hours once or twice a week? As players wagons break other players will come along from which the stopped players can offer to buy a wagon wheel from, or purchase the service of a carpenter, assuming none of them are carpenters. Someone in the group gets sick? If they don't get medical attention soon, they could die and be kicked out of the game, so you have to decide if you want to haul ass to the next town/encampment, or stop in hopes that a doctor will come by.

If you run out of food what happened in the old Oregon Trail? You get a short time limit to hunt for food. And now? First-person-shooting Doom-like mayhem. All five players get three minutes in a forest to kill as many animals as possible using their own bullets (which they can share if they want,) knowing that they can only carry so much meat back anyway. And be careful. If there's a hunting accident, well, you better hope it's not fatal and that there's a doctor nearby. Though if they want, X amount of the party can wait while Y number of players do the hunting. I figure that along the typical two hour session there should be at least two if not three hunting sessions. There's also the other fun part of the game, the river at the end. You have to maneuver your wagon down a river on a raft, careful not to smash into any objects along the way. Each player gets an oar and they all work in unison to help steer the raft with their analog sticks.

While the players are travelling periodically they could run into other players who are going faster and/or slower than them also. You don't want the trail to be completely devoid of players, but at the same time, it shouldn't be like heavy traffic. Of course there are some other problems to work out, but overall I'm not worried about it being too boring. It's the Oregon Trail. It's not about imposed action and/or drama.

Y'know, this whole think is just begging to be link-laden, but it's 10:30am and I need to wake up at 1pm to get to work... Hey, at least I didn't make a billion links to Steve Rolston. Nah, the next project is to link every other word to Shaughn's site.

/edit: And because someone asked, if a player dies, yes, you have the option to cannibalize them.

Things change.

So, I've bothered a few folks to give opinions about my control scheme idea. (It's funny, everyone emails or IMs, no one posts.)

One guy fucking hated it. But that's cool because he puts purdy colors on purdy pikshurs.

The five or six gamers I asked seemed to like it just fine. Well, except the guy who seemingly hates the idea of any first-person game with a controller anyway... But Brad's a bastard. But to properly explain the use of the system, I noted to them that the system was to be used in a slightly slower paced puzzle/maze-ish type game. (The player would have to avoid and outmanuever the zombie hoards by clever use of his surroundings and items as opposed to blowing them all away.) I also asked a couple of other non-"gamers." One who, after I asked for a review of the control scheme, went on to critique my idea for the Zombie Apocalypse Game, even though what I gave wasn't really an design as opposed to general ruminations. Guess I wasn't specific enough. Seriously, saying " I see a gameplay dynamic being something similar to Lemmings or Lost Vikings,..." ? If I gave that impression... Wow. My bad. I should've noted the pace to him as well. But some of it was helpful.

On the controls, I'm not so sure a first person view would work well for game that's as slow burning as this and requires you to be mindful of a group of survivors. Maybe my experience is just limited, but I think the FP view only really works for more action based games -- then again you have games like Thief, so I don't know. I just think 3rd person would work best for this.

I've thought about the pace I want in the game. And I've decided that I DO want to break this up into two different ideas. One being an adventure game that goes back to my control scheme idea, another with some fast paced zombie fun. Mmm, zombies. Though unlike my pal's suggestion, the action game will be from a 3rd person perspective. (I mean, look at Grand Theft Auto and Max Payne. Third person action games work well.)

Said pals other line of critique was:
Also I'm really not sure about segmenting the hands and further segmenting what your hands do. I think it would slow down and confuse gameplay actually. A game like this needs a really stripped down interface and I think I good example is the Riddick game. You have a button that does everything and while you fight with both hands, you basically control them as one. I think it's a successful example to emulate.

I've nothing wrong with emulation. I mean, I just conceded that third person camera views work well with action games. It's just that with this I intentionally wanted to do something different. In this example, I don't want emulation. I want innovation. And that's why I'm splitting them up. A fun mix of Gauntlet and San Andreas making my zombie game; my control scheme going to be a tech demo of it's own. In fact, I think I'll use control thing to leard ODE. And maybe the zombie idea is a great place to learn something like the Quake or Quake 2 engines.

(Note: The non-"gamer" I mentioned was offeneded I said he wasn't a gamer. By "Gamer" I meant my pals who program games and either do, or want to, make games.)

In Zombie Apocalypse Game.

I realize as an independent developer making my "Citizen Kane" of games in its entirety is a pipedream, so realistic goals must be set for Zombie Apocalypse Game. First the larger idea:

My idea for Zombie Apocalypse Game is, I hope, is a little bit different from other games. You're effectively Ben from Night of the Living Dead. It's an action game in which you have to secure a place to hold up against the hordes of zombies outside. Unlike most games with zombies, your goal isn't to kill lots of zombies. Your goal is to live. In addition to fighting zombies, this includes foraging for food and any other amenities that you want. And if you want to do more than live, like rebuild, you have to do that on your own too. Make signs letting people know where you are. Secure area(s) for you all to live, and possibly self-sustain. And you have to keep the trust of everyone, or they'll end up hating you and either leaving or attempting to take control of the group. (Yeah, there's going to be a Harry Cooper or two to your Ben.)

Of this, I have to look at things I can realistically achieve on my own for my 'blue box demo'.

I can't create a huge expansive city filled with detail. But I can create a few buildings to toy around on/in. I can't script one hundred hours of dialogue. But I can program an AI that relates it's needs/wants. I can't create a billion items for the player to interact with. But I can create a new system for item interaction.

And on that note, I'm going to create my control scheme first. This game should have a first Person point of view. (Imagine an XBox controller as your means of control.) The left analog stick will control player movement. (Up is forward, down backward, left will walk directly to your left, and right to your right.) The right analog stick control the 'looking'. Press a direction and the camera (, the player's head,) will turn in that direction.)

The left trigger (on the back of the controller) is the Left Hand Action button. It performs the chosen action with the left hand. (The right trigger does the same for the right hand.) If you press the left analog stick button inward (commonly called L2) then your Left Hand Action cycles to the next Action available. The right analog stick button cycles for the Right Hand Action.

Assuming you have nothing in your hands, your only actions are 'grab' and 'hit'. Assume both hands are 'grab'. You click the right analog button and cycle your right hand action to 'hit'. Now you run up to an enemy and press (and hold) the Left Hand Action button. This grabs the enemy. Then you press the Right Hand Action button and hit him. Repeatedly press the right hand action button and you're holding someone with your left hand and hitting them with your right. Just like a playground bully!

Simple enough. And I hope intuitive once you get into it.

Taking a left turn.

After simultaneously thanking and blaming Steve Rolston (Christ, I can't stop mentioning that guy,) for my lack of enthusiasm towards a Rocket Jockey remake, I've found a new ebullience for loving my own project. Myself. I'm just like anyone else. Sometimes I hate myself, and sometimes I love myself. But overall? Damn do I love me. Anyone who's met me in real life can attest to that. I mean, I often have to put the news anchors I work with in their place. "Jesus Christ Ben, calm down! Who do you think you are, Brokaw? Rather? You work in Albany Georgia, dude. Sure, I do too, but that's only temporary. I'm Jeff Bridges, damn it!"

Well, today I read a post on Jurie Horneman's blog about Chris Crawford. Crawford has given me this enthusiasm with something he wrote in December 1987:

Many years ago the CEO at Atari referred to the company's game designers as "high-strung prima donnas". The comment was not meant to be derogatory, but the designers responded with a T-shirt that proclaimed, "I'm just another high-strung prima donna from Atari." Perhaps the CEO was right.

I have known many game designers; they encompass a broad range of personalities. Yet all these disparate people share one common trait: they all sport towering egos. Each one is absolutely certain that his own talents are the purest, truest, most brilliant talents of any game designer in the world. I myself am given to introducing other game designers as, "...the second best game designer in the world."

Why is egotism so rampant among game designers? Is it perhaps the self-indulgence of a pampered elite? I think not. Consider, for example, my own case. Was Chris Crawford spoiled by too much press attention? The fawning masses, the rivers of adulatory prose, the screaming nubile nymphs (OK, so I exaggerate a little!) &emdash; have all these things gone to my head to make me the hopeless egomaniac I now am? No, a thousand times no! Chris Crawford is too big a man to be spoiled by such trivial things! I was already spoiled long before any of this happened to me. Mine is a mature egomania refined and developed since the day I emerged from the womb and took a bow.

I think that egotism lives in game designers because of a selection effect. Game designers without healthy egos will never achieve as much as their better-endowed colleagues. The egomaniac sets higher goals for himself than he can reasonably expect to achieve. This may sound idiotic, but in a poorly defined field such as game design, it is the stuff of creativity. A civil engineer doesn't get too experimental with the bridges she designs, because it is easy to reliably calculate what will and what won't work. But we don't know as much about computer games. We don't know where the limits are. So we need these foolhardy egomaniacs who blindly plunge into the darkness, boldly going where no one in his right mind has gone before.

The egomaniac has another gigantic advantage over the more emotionally balanced person. In the darkest hours of a project, when the problems seem overwhelming and there is no rational basis for hope, a reasonable person would start casting about for ways to scale down or even abandon the project. But the egomaniac lies face down in the mud of his own failure and then draws himself up, proclaiming, "I am ze magnificent Crawford! I weel find ze way!" Egotism, of course, takes a back seat to reality, and sometimes he fails; but when he succeeds, it seems like magic to the rest of the world.

There are, of course, liabilities created by egotism. There is the deadly difference between pre-project egotism and post-project egotism. The former serves to inspire the designer to greater heights of achievement. The latter convinces him that he has already scaled those heights. Post-project egotism blinds the designer to the flaws in his work and robs him of the ability to learn and improve.

Then there are the embarassing consequences of an ego that is foisted on other people. It is one thing to smile inwardly in secret appreciation of your untouchable superiority; it is another thing entirely to tell it to other people. The mature, genteel egomaniac keeps to himself the untold story of his towering intelligence and blinding creativity.

So don't feel embarassed by that ego of yours. Go ahead &emdash; stand on the craggy mountaintop, lightning bolts playing about you, head held high as the furious wind hurls rain in your face. Laugh scornfully at the elements that doubt your greatness. Shout lustily into the tempest, "I am ze greatest game designer in all ze universe!"

Then crawl back into your cave and get back to work.


Down at the crossroads

I haven't programmed in a few months now. I'm going to be rusty as fuck. I may forget it all if I'm not careful. I've been slacking. This after Steve Rolston (, who is an excellent fellow even if he is currently contracted with Electronic Arts,) did two pictures for me, for the game idea Rocket Punks. After another guy named Jeff modeled a rocket for me, but after I was internetless for a short time, and told him I would be, he doesn't seem to answer my emails. (But he did do the work, he sent screens. And I hope everything's good. It's always odd to lose touch with people at no notice.) So, what do I do now? Well, I make games. That's what I do. I began this workblog as a way to keep strict in my work, but that failed. Time to try new impetuous reasons.

So, I have spoken to a bunch of my programmer friends and most of them seemed either cool with the idea of working on something, or at least willing to look at it if/when it got off the ground. The problem I blame myself for. How was I expecting to get myself excited about (re)making Rocket Jockey? It's not 'my' game. It's some else's. Granted it was great, but it's not mine. And I've now noticed that many others are interested in remaking it. One posted twice in my blog and I didn't notice. But that's not something I'm gonna do. Why? Because. I don't want to write Teen Titans, damn it!

Okay, it's a metaphor. Bear with me. I was talking to Steve Rolston a while back. Back when I first asked him about doing some art for me. Recently his pal, Warren Ellis had said he would be good for writing duties on the comic Teen Titans. I told him something to the effect of "Shit man, if I had the shot, I'd write that in heartbeat. And I've never even read the damn book." And he replied "So write it."

Yeah, that Rolston guy's pretty good. Caught me off guard.

But I thought about it, and if I could publish a comic, I wouldn't want to write the Teen Titans. I'd want to write my own comic. Much like Rolstons new comic "Jack Spade & Tony Two-Fist #1" from the Cartoon Militia that hit shelves just recently, I want to do my thing. (Go ask your local comic shop about it. One friend told me their shop had it in the "Manager's picks" section. And deservedly so, damn it.)

I can make a video game. So why make someone elses?

So, I still reason I'd like to use his art down the road. His style is too good to pass up. He probably knew going in that it was a pipedream, but didn't have the heart to break my heart. It's just that lately I've seen some friends of mine going through some tough shit. And knowing I'll soon, again, be internet-less for a week or three as I move, again, I've decided to buckle down and do something. What? Why, I'm glad you asked. Zombie Apocalypse Game, of course.

Y'know, if Eddie read this, he'd kill me and call me "emo."

A quick look:
Rocket Punks : Dead. But good luck to the others.
Volt Man : DOA, I was offline by the time the script was sent, and signed back on months later to find it was kaput.
Office Sitcom To Be Named : Stillborn.
Car Washer & Rock/Paper/Scissors : High Voltage Software never emailed me back about the design position, though the jobs are still posted on their site. I hate the "Don't call us, we'll call you" culture. Ah well.
Zombie Apocalypse Blog : Alive, but slow.
Zombie Apocalypse Game : Alive, and plodding along.

If you know me and you're reading this, I trust you on at least some level. So this post is also a call for help. Especially if you've read this far (or skipped down here.) So IM/email me and help me make this game.


Alright, I'm back. Not having a computer sucks.

I've written more entries for my Zombie Blog. A total of only five, I believe.

As I've not had any way to communicate, no work has been done on Rocket Punks, aside from the wondiferous artwork of two logos by Steve Rolston. He's got a spiffy blog over here. Though he should post more work.

But, last post, I posted a pitch for a game called Car Washer for a game company to send along with my resume. They promptly sent back this:

In moving forward in the interview process we would like you to complete the following request from our design director.

What they asked for was a:
design document for rock/paper/scissors. Treat it as an implementation doc that will be used by a programmer to set up a sub-game within a larger console game (a fantasy RPG for Xbox only, due out Xmas 2005). Be as detailed as possible. Focus on the core design - feel free to refer to imaginary docs for sub-systems or other game systems, if necessary.

So I did. I'm not sure if I made it "programmer oriented" enough, which is sad as I'm a programmer, but I tried to tackle both the program side of what it should do, as well as explain what it would be used for.

Let's hope for the best, shall we?

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Asking your opinion.

As this is a work-blog, I'm going to ask your professional opinions on something. And I want the brutal truth. This isn't fun and games, this is my livelihood, damn it! (There, now that I've set the mood. :D )

Looking at a job posting for a position I'd like to take, one of the guidelines is to send in examples of your design work. Be this writing samples, game levels, whatever, send in examples. And they note: "If you really want to impress, write a one-page document that convinces anyone who reads it that a game titled “Car Washer” would actually work." I'm going to take them up on this challenge. So I present to you, a video game pitch:

Car Washer

"The Fast and the Furious" re-ignited America's love for fast and stylish cars. "Grand Theft Auto" made it possible to steal any car and go anywhere you wanted. But it's time that someone made a game that truly showcases the world of high speeds and auto-theft.

Become Tony Heart, a young up-and-coming "car washer." Your job is to steal vehicles, clean all traces of former ownership, and sell them in local and international scenes. New in the area of Miami, you and your team look to make a name for yourselves in the international scene of exotic car dealings by starting with the lowest base cost of all, nothing.

Miami is not just some lifeless city with automatons running around. Instead live out the missions while other citizens live out their own life. Try to get as many cars as you can without alerting the police to just who is running this car theft ring. If you become too popular, future jobs could become increasingly difficult. Scout out your target's schedule to see when and where they are the most vulnerable. Gather conspirators to help you clean the car's legal tracks, informants to help you study your next mark, and round out your team with the best drivers to ensure that every wash is a clean one. And the marketplace offers such varying levels of depth, the player can decide just how much control they want. If management bores you, hire a numbers-man to run the business side of your enterprise for you. You can be hands-on in the market by deciding how cars will be modified and for how much they will be sold. Or if you're only interested in providing a service, and the thrill of it, go after job postings asking for washers to procure 'choice' cars.

Despite popular opinion, stealing cars is not child's play.

Opinions? Criticism?