Hello! I'm Tom. I designed a game called Gunpoint, about rewiring things and punching people, and now I'm working on a new one called Heat Signature, about sneaking aboard randomly generated spaceships. Here's some more info on all the games I've worked on, here's the podcast I do, here are the videos I make on YouTube, here are some of the articles I wrote for PC Gamer, and here are two short stories I wrote for the Machine of Death collections.
RoboLeg: this game would be PERFECT for mobile, and I’d...
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In it, you play a man who is unable to see anything to the left of his nose. Dead Space doesn’t make monsters appear behind you as often as Doom 3 did, but it doesn’t have to: the half who happen to be on your left are just as much of a shock. I have no idea how this camera angle was ever supposed to work.
It’s also obsessed with avoiding any kind of fixed HUD, which means you can’t see your health if you’re near a wall, you can’t see your total ammo in combat, you can’t see part of the map because your own head is in the way, and you have to take your gun out to jump – so that the game can use its LCD screen to tell you whether you’re looking at a surface you’re allowed to jump to. Given that none of these are problems you would face in reality, and assuming the point of avoiding a fixed HUD is to enhance immersion, I’m prepared to call this one a failure.
I used to be fiercely anti-HUD, but now that a few developers have done their best to do away with them, I’m a convert. I still think they can be eradicated eventually, but you’ve made your point guys: none of you are anywhere near figuring out how to do it without profoundly irritating the player. Now for God’s sake have some shame and put your HUDs back. Make them skimpy, see-through and revealing, but please put something on.
The reason it’s not the right-hand side of a bad or boring game has a lot to do with the monsters. Their concept is only a whisker away from the Generosaurus Meh – I seem to recall we’ve seen badly mutated humans once or twice before – but their more delerious design takes it to uneasy new lows. One of the most common enemies has what look like a child’s forearms protruding below its main claws.
They’d be even more unsettling if this was, as it always should have been, first-person; but you can see just about enough from your ParrotCam to powerfully want these things away from you.
But it’s not so much their look that makes them interesting or fun to fight, it’s what you can do to them. That’s always what gives enemies their ‘feel’ – we can’t really touch the stuff we fight in games, but we quickly acquire near-total knowledge of how they react to almost anything you can do to them, and that’s the way in which we come to know their consistency, resilience and structure.
In Dead Space the primary form of interaction is dismemberment: cutting, blasting or burning whole limbs off at a time, while your enemy is still alive, and then trying to figure out if it has enough functioning fleshsticks left to drag its way towards you and gnash off your own. There’s even a type of zombie that can never die, so the only consideration is how you want to prune it before you turn and run.
That makes it satisfying and grisly, and the availability of a remotely guided circular sawblade weapon makes it more so. There’s a very potent and expensive upgrade system that works well, slowmo and a Gravity Gun are thrown in almost as afterthoughts, and stepping out into the vacuum every now and then is a blast of fresh no-air – even if your movement isn’t interestingly different.
The interface and camera angle keep finding new ways to screw you over, but Dead Space scores positively on the simplest metric: I’m glad I bought it, even at a time when Fallout 3 and Left 4 Dead are still new.
Nonomu198: Wow, thats... a LOT of blood.
ZomBuster: I think trying to remove the HUD to improve the immersion is kind of stupid when the game is in 3RD PERSON
Seniath: I had no such problems with the camera and the lack of a HUD. Or maybe I'm just weird and expect such gripes in my 3rd person action survival horror games.
Jazmeister: They should design it so that you can only walk along the left of corridors, monsters attack from the right, and, uh... what's wrong with the way the likes of hl2 did it, again?
On the HUD comment, can anyone envisage maybe taking the TF2/L4D character-chatter further so that it replaces the HUD? If your health was expressed in, say, three general ranges, where you're either hearing "Man, I'm hurt bad", or "I feel really rather healthy at the moment, if anyone's wondering", you wouldn't really need to know the numerical expression of your health. Such a thing is a farce anyway, a convention of games based on the conventions of earlier games, stemming from D&D and the like perhaps, when you either used hitpoints and damage, or a big anatomical poster and a few darts.
@Seniath What is survival horror? I mean, if you take that too literally, it's just about every game ever. Is Resident Evil 4 survival horror? I never ran out of ammo once, but I came close, and you couldn't just empty kilos of gunjuice into everything that moved.
@Everyone Look how twitter has corrupted us.
Roadrunner: I was wondering if you we ever going to post something on Dead Space.
I ordered it off play.com, it never arrived and I had to wait three torturous weeks for a refund. But it's now on my list of things I hope to get for Xmas, and because my list is so small It's quite likely i'll get it.
Play.com have really sucked recently :|
Jon Baker: I haven't played the game, but I'm going just from screenshots on this one... but does anyone else think that the main character is almost always in a baseball batter's stance?
Which begs the follow-up question, what the hell are we doing putting baseball players in space?
Pod: You didn't touch on the story which I reckon to be absolutely bloody awful, forced, and definitely rubbish in a doesn't-make-actual-sense kind of way. Also: the glowly line was a bit pathetic, and turned what was already a rails shooter with fetch the key moments into a rail fetch the key shooter, if that makes sense?
Roadrunner: @ Pod,
when have you ever seen or heard of a Sci-fi thing which makes sense?
Your like the kind of guy who sits in a cinema watching Star Wars, only to snort and blurt out in the cool bits "EXCUSE ME, THERE IS NO SOUND IS SPACE! EH-HEH-HEH, I THINK YOU'LL FIND DUE TO THE LACK OF AIR AND SPACE BEING A VACUUM, THAT THIS MOVIE IS *NOT* ACTUALLY A REAL REPRESENTATION OF REAL LIFE SPACE BATTLES!"
Hmm...I think I typed too much in caps.
Anonymous: If the game were first-person, the player wouldn't have to stare at the main character's bizarro spacesuit the entire game, lessening the chance of it becoming an iconic point of reference for future titles.
Tom Francis: I'm only on chapter five, so I can't vouch for where the story's going. So far there hasn't been one - it's just: we broke open the planet and bad things came out :(
The rest is just bickering between two characters who I've forgotten who they are, and a series of technical problems I have to manually fix. Right now there's a- no kidding, there's a fleshy biomass clogging the hydroponics deck, and I've got to - yep - find an antidote and propogate it through the ventilation system to kill it off. At this point I'll be surprised if SHODAN doesn't turn up.
I like the breadcrumbs, though. I've never enjoyed working out which way I'm supposed to go, you spend all that time bumping up against the conceits of the game world. Lord knows the 3D map is no help.
Roadrunner: The greatest twist ever would be if at the end of the final level, you were confronted with a massive robot, who says
"Well done. You've found me..."
And to kill it, you have to shoot a portal through a wall so it hits itself with missiles, while you race against time against a deadly neurotoxin.
Man, I love Portal. Speaking of portal, is there any news on Portal 2?
Joe Russell: Nope, not on here, anyway.
Jazmeister: I hear portal 2 is set in the same universe as the original portal!!11 It will include some of the two characters!!1
I lol'd at hydroponics deck. Does it come off as a homage, or do you think they just assumed they'd thought up the idea, SS2 being but a faint memory?
Lack_26: Also, so glad you've discovered Mad Men, it's such a good series.
Jazmeister: Also, not seeing the blood anymore. Did someone punch out all your blood?
Dante: @ Jazmeister:
King Kong did something similar, hitting a button would have your character call out how many rounds he had left, rather neatly if you'd been sprinting too long he was too short of breath to say anything.
Rei Onryou: I'd like to see a mod (or a console command) that'd make this first person and have a suitable HUD. Would it be a better game for it? Scarier? Or just "OMG, I didn't know that was to the left of me!" I'm sure I'll get round to playing this at some point in the next year or two.
I also have to wonder, why would someone design a suit that had its vital information displayed on its back? The user would either need a parrot cam to do anything or some random guy behind you going "Dude, your health is kinda around the middle area. Sucks to be you". That or mirrors all over the place to check it out yourself. 3rd person immersion breaking FTL.
Post Maker: Just checking around first, are there any unwritten rules about new posters making gigantic posts in here? It's relevant to the game, but it's about three pages in MS Word (unfinished) and is currently broken up into different posts based on content. If posted, it's not going to get deleted for being too large, is it?
Roadrunner: The HUD in Metroid Prime is good and works well, even if it is a wii game :P
Jazmeister: Metroid Prime for PC: DO WANT.
Seniath: @Rei Onryou - The RIG was apparently based on scuba diving suits, that have readouts on the back to allow fellow divers to quickly asses your situation without the need for verbal communication. In the context of deep space mining/engineering, it is plausible. Slightly.
Lack_26: Well, if your going to be outside of the ship doing repair, a similar environment to diving in many respects, then for the same reasons as in diving then it would be necessary for your partner (I imagine they would send them out in pairs or more) to check your status. I personally find it perfectly excusable, although perhaps a few more panels (just for fluff really) wouldn't go a miss.
Also, how do we know that Isaac hasn't had his left eye put out at some point... yeah, that's a silly idea.
Iain "DDude" Dawson: This looks like a fun game, but one I will definitly wait to get in the spring sales. Actually, it seems like the sort of game that must be played in the dark, so probabl;y better around 4.30pm in the winter.
How the hell did the comments become about loving Portal? Oh my god.. my time machine! It worked! Now to go back just a bit further, then we can all share memories about how awesome Peggle is!
Jazmeister: (After a spiralling strobe of spectral timepieces from all eras, we arrive in pre-source James.)
Isn't Opposing Force insane? Who would have thought you could actually fire a teleport! The technology these days. Soon, they'll sell 10gb HDD! If only they could make monitors flatter.
Roadrunner: The flattest monitor you can get, is a projection on a wall.
Tom Francis: Post Maker: post away! Lord knows this place can't get any harder to scroll through.
Jazmeister: You could always have comments appear to the right of posts, so you have to pan right all the time.
Roadrunner: You'd think people would have scroll wheels on thier mice these days :|
Or am I missing the point?
Tentaculat: Fallout 3 does the "ParrotCam" (heehee) as well, though I think it's more bearable on a wide-screen display, which is where things are headed.
All your screen-shots are in 4:3 which, I'm afraid to say, was designed for people with eye-patches or monocles.
TychoCelchuuu: Like Tentaculat says, playing Dead Space in 4:3 and saying it's the right-hand side of a good game is like watching Star Wars in fullscreen and saying it's the middle 1/3rd of a good movie. If you play in widescreen you can see to your left.
Tom Francis: You're right, I just tried Dead Space at 16x9 and you can see signficantly more to your left. That only makes it more idiotic - cut some off the right if you need to make it narrower.
My 4x3, as it happens, is the very same monitor I've had since the days you're talking about Jaz. It's been on for around eight years at this point, switched off only to be dropped, bumped and carted across the country every so often, and it's never once gone even slightly wrong. Taxan might have been wildly expensive at the time, but they last like freaking Cthulhu.
Tom Francis: Okay, I was actually replying to Tentaculat, but you're right too Tycho. Though your analogy is like comparing a thing to a thing it's not like.
Roadrunner: Games without widescreen support are almost as annoying as Google Chrome and how no videos ever work in it.
Roadrunner: But on a side note, What pros and cons are there in a game for 3rd person over 1st person?
Jazmeister: I'm using my own beloved CRT. After many heated three-way lan evenings with the first CoD, I got one of those label makers and wrote "Jazmeister M1 Garand Iron Egg" and stuck it on top right, immortalising my myriad triumphs.
The flat screen thing is all the rage now, but sometimes they can be a bit dodgy. As you say, the CRTs are robust. I also like that it's essentially a big laser pointed at my face, and I'm glad to hear that other games still use them. Anyone else use the big CRT monitors?
Jazmeister: Gamers, obviously, not games. Of course games still use them.
Roadrunner: I don't have space on my desk for a CRT Monitor. Also, I've never heard of a widescreen CRT :|
Lack_26: I've still got my 16 inch CRT, quietly giving me cancer, but I deserve it for the punishment I've put it through, I dropped it down a slight of stairs once when I fell over a cord (sprained wrist and concussion not helpful to playing games) and it still worked fine, not even a scratch, unlike me, this was 5 years ago.
My dad is considering an upgrade, including a widescreen ('Samsung SM-2032BW Pebble 20" Widescreen LCD Monitor' I think), with a 9800 GT would this be a good monitor, or should I consider pestering him to get a bigger/better one.
Jazmeister: Just the fact that a post about Dead Space has become a comparison of monitors is telling, no?
Roadrunner: Isn't it easier to carry a widescreen up stairs?
And monitors are way more important then Dead Space.
Trithemius: Dear readers,
Dead Space's single greatest failing for me is one of timing. It emerged from its, no doubt hideous, pupation at a time when the marketplace is full of games of high quality, good length, and sound replayability. It is hard for a fairly linear game, even one whose combat is as interesting as Dead Space's can be at times, to compete with the splendid environments we have had thrust upon us.
In truth I find myself not playing it only because I am so spoiled for choice.
The greatest mystery surrounding Dead Space is not its issues with aspect ratio, but rather why the honourable, yet stupefying, censors of the Commonwealth of Australia permitted it to be sold unadulterated while requiring the modification of Grand Theft Auto IV. Truly a riddle for minds greater than mine.
Jazmeister: I agree this much with Trimetheus.
Dante: The timing is bizzare, I never saw Dead Space as a true AAA title (god I hate that term) so I don't know why it was forced to compete with them.
The Australia thing gets even weirder, they've just let the PC GTA pass without cuts, suggesting they have absolutely no idea what they're doing.
Jazmeister: It's because they know that real triple-hard bastards play it on PC, and to disturb any of us, they'd need to somehow access personal data on our pc and tailor the horror to the user.
Or maybe they think that GTA is top-down on the PC, and thus not as gory.
Trithemius: Dear Dante, Jazmeister,
I believe, according to the exhaustive http://www.refused-c... ...cation.com website (their rigour somewhat expiates their use of Comic Sans from time to time), that the Australian release of GTA IV is edited very slightly. New Zealand was to receive the same version but a citizen complained about being subject to a decision of the OFLC, an Australian body, when he lived in New Zealand and so New Zealand received an unedited version.
The edits are minor, to my knowledge, but irritating in principle.
I have no idea how drug use is an issue in Fallout 3, but not in GTA IV, and how violence and gore is an issue in GTA IV but not in Dead Space - perhaps the OFLC reviewers were just extremely good players and were never decapitated by huge chunks of spinning metal in zero gravity? It is at least a possibility.
However, I fear we are radically disgressing from the topic at hand. Much has been written elsewhere on Australian censorship (and it should continue to be written there).
Thank you for your comments, dear interlocutors.
Roadrunner: I wonder if there will be a new post tomorrow...
Sorry. I just wanted to add another comment. :|
Tom Francis: Trithemius, I wouldn't be surprised if the distinction on the drugs front is that the player is able to use drugs at will, and they confer a benefit when he does; nor if the distinction on the violence front is that in GTA IV the player is asked to commit it against humans, whereas in Dead Space he can only attack monsters.
I'm vaguely in support of the latter logic. As gamers we see things so mechanically that we sometimes don't even register the moral difference between a game that asks us to strike first, against what are notionally humans, and those where we only defend ourselves from attackers.
Roadrunner: I think when a question like that weighs enough on your mind to type it out, James posts may be occupying too large a part of your brainspace.
I'm slightly rethinking the logic of this place, so it might be quiet for a while. The unhealthily astute may have already noticed a subtle change in the last couple of days.
Trithemius: Dear Pentadact,
I find your argument to be quite coherent, but I am dubious about how it applies to this situation. The censorship in GTA IV is rather cosmetic in nature. It seems to focus on epiphenomena associated with the sex trade ("service selection") and violence (fountains of blood). Dead Space, despite the Just War-like defensibility of its violence and the inhuman nature of those upon whom the violence is inflicted is incredibly gory.
If the criticism of GTA IV was about its implicit sanction of lethal violence used pre-emptively and for personal ends (which I am - for the record - unsure about) then it would be necessary to ban it completely. To vaguely sanitize it seems more like a punitive or self-justifying activity than one that stems from considered moral principles (the consideration of moral principles being something that I tend to ardently endorse).
Your statement about the moral thinking of a, necessarily abstract, category of "Gamers" makes me wonder: Do we fail to register these things? If so, are we distinct from anyone else in doing this? I will stop this line of questioning though, before I begin to bemoan the lack of philosophical introspection present in our societies, and so on.
I must confess to being both curious, and vaguely terrified, by your terminal remarks. I hope that you will see fit to discuss it at length in future, if and when you convenient for you to do so. Video Game discussion and gratuitious Nietzsche quotes are, in my experience, a rare enough constellation that they should be prized.
Trithemius: Dear readers,
Only now, too late, I notice my grammatical errors. I can only blame my latent terror for this.
I shall, nonetheless, vigorously beat my servants as a result.
Jazmeister: Lets see... compared with Dead Space:
1. GTA is more about killing people for no reason, but rather than censoring the activity, they're making it less violent, so no dice there. That's your second point, Trimetheus, aye?
2. GTA is a controversial game; people who know nothing about games have an opinion on this game in particular. As part of a body or bodies appointed solely for the purpose of defending the populace against, you know, teh vidjeo gamez, you want to be apply the most attention where it is most effective.
3. Bodies like that must be aware of how their system is being subverted. A half-blind, xanax-popping parent might just buy GTA for their 12 year old kid. Hell, I knew a 13 year old in the US who could complete missions for me, and in Hitman:SA too. GTA is popular with the naughty kiddies, and perhaps they're giving it special attention because they know kids will get a hold of it. Dead Space has horrible things on the box. It even smells of rotting meat, for the completely blind parents.
4. Australians are suffering from relatively close proximity to the sunken city of Ry'leh.
5. You all made all this up and I'm too tired.
Trithemius: Dear Jazmeister,
Your fourth point is particularly good, however I believe that Australia is afflicted by proximity to Pnakotus, the Library City of the Great Race of Yith, rather than any emanations of malignant Star Spawn.
Your first point is correct. The ostensibly reprehensible behaviour is still possible, even actively encouraged in some instances, but in the censored version lacks the abundant red-coloured textures that accompany it in the uncensored version.
Your second point is likely to be, on balance, the closest to reality - at least to reality as you or I or any other piteous blessedly-blind mortal perceives it.
Tom Francis: I can't address the specific changes they've made since I haven't seen them, I'm just responding to your puzzlement as to how violence and gore could be acceptable in one game but not another.
The context of gore changes its impact. Seeing it come out of a monster that had to be killed to save a human life is different to seeing it come out of a human who was shot for no reason. Just as is it is different again to see that same gore inside someone on a medical drama. I don't imagine they have a unilateral policy on the colour red, nor would I want them to adopt one. I know nothing about Australian censorship, but the UK's BBFC works in a much more human and nuanced fashion than the dispassionate checklist of sex acts and viscera most seem to imagine.
To your other, aborted questions, it's informative to sit and play a violent game with a non-gamer, or have them play it themselves. My friend Steve's wife saw him hit a pedestrian in GTA and yelped, "Oh my God, I think you killed him!" Steve found himself replying "It's okay, the cops didn't see."
Dante: You know, I never actually pictured the classification boards playing the games in question, academically I know they must of course, but in my mind they're serious minded gray haired men in suits who sit and stare at the games until it's secrets spill forth.
Interestingly the BBFC used to work on a checklist system (head butts were arbitrarily cut for example) but now they're more flexible, and more relaxed, and just better. Sadly other classification boards don't emulate them nearly as much as they should.
Jazmeister: Do you think the classification people read PC Gamer and love gaming, and have to spend their day jobs pretending they aren't stoked at rating the new GTA IV for free? It makes it easier to think of them as excited gamers with some kind of stern boss.
Sheepye: You know a comment thread is on a roll when it mentions - TF2, L4D, RES4, Portal 2, Metroid Prime, Time Machines, Opposing force, Gaming Hud, Monitors, GTA IV, Game ratings, New Zealand, Australia, PC Gamer, Drugs and the morality of a human being without breaking stride to name but several.
*Lunges wildly into the arena*
So ratings are based on the shock the majority will enlicit from a game? Like I could happily when younger watch action heroes eviscerate people and use extreme violence, but I was generally disturbed by the likes of the exorcist. Am I even on point?
I rarely post on here but I was bored tonight, yet I check this blog so often I think I'm rather sad. Might not agree with all Tom says (opinions in my opinion are pick and mix rather than a bundle) but he's damn funny and insightful at times. What are these changes you're making to here anyway?
Trithemius: Dear Pentadact,
I am inspired to try your experiment, particularly as I am personally quite surprised by some of the content of television (which I rarely watch). I think it may be, as Warren Ellis said through the mouth of Spider Jerusalem, that you can get used to anything. A corollary of that is, perhaps, that things which you are not used to - even those ostensibly similar - can seem quite jarring.
The urge of antipodean post-colonial governments towards new and repressive censorship is probably fairly dull for those readers not currently living in those antipodean post-colonies. I don't question the authority of a government to regulate the media, but I do find that the example of Australia is particularly good - if one is looking for an example of how *not* to intelligently regulate "new" media. I am pleased to learn that other governments appear to be more reasonable.
To haul, momentarily, away from such tasty ethical stuff, and to return to the nominal topic-at-hand - namely Dead Space - I found the zero-gravity segments to be rather infuriating. This was particularly true if the 'breadcrumbs' were used since this tended to result in some wild head - and thus camera - flailing, a slight sensation of nausea, and precisely zero intimation of where I was supposed to be travelling. Possibly this was a feature, intended to make zero-gravity navigation something of a puzzle, but I found it to be immensely irritating.
Dante: To be honest I think the most likely answer is the cynical one. GTA is a big game with a notorious history, it's got a big target fixed to it's head, Dead Space less so.
Of course, that doesn't explain why the PC version has no cuts. Unless they're thinking that console = kids but pc = adults.
Tom Francis: After playing Mirror's Edge, I take back what I said in this post about no developer being close to making a no-HUD game work.