The made their first appearances in the pages of Fantastic Four in the mid 1960s. The Royal Family of Attilan were different from Stan Lee and Jack Kirby’s previous creations. They were a motley crew of space oddities, led by a king who cannot speak lest his quasisonic voice tear the world asunder.
In September 1992, producer Bernd Eichinger of Constantin Film approached B-movie magnate Roger Corman of Concord Production Inc. with a script and a proposition. He wanted to know whether Corman and his team could make a live-action adaptation of Fantastic Four on a $1 million budget. There was a catch, though.
With so many superhero TV shows out there, writers look for ways to make their latest series stand out. More often than not, keeping things interesting requires plot twists – lots of them. A good twist can bring new depth to a show, ratcheting up the tension.
Diabolical and morally bankrupt, supervillains belong in prison or straight-jacketed in an asylum. With their heinous deeds and vulgar intentions, they deserve our contempt. Murderous though they may be, some supervillains make us want to invite them upstairs and into our bedrooms. While some superheroes inspire amorousness with their good deeds, great looks and heroism, supervillains appeal to our basest instincts in darker ways.
Yesterday, Rayman creator, creative visionary, and underappreciated fashion icon Michel Ancel confirmed Beyond Good and Evil 2 is in development. You read that correctly. The sequel to the 2003 cult classic Beyond Good and Evil, rumored and whispered about since 2008, is at long last in the works at Ubisoft Montpellier.
Elderstatespersons of the gaming world joyously await the return of Jade and Pey’j. Never played Beyond Good and Evil? Ancel and his crew have got you covered. The first game will soon be free via Ubi30.
An ECGC article three weeks after the conference? I had better have a good reason for it, and I do.
ECGC was last month, ancient news. Who even remembers it? An internet-eon has come and gone. PAXEast has happened. Everybody is talking about the lead up to E3. If you are going to report on yesterday’s news, you had better have a good reason to do so. I believe I have one. My notes on ECGC have helped me to put the cancellation / inevitable failure of my book’s Kickstarter campaign into a more useful context than, simply, “The people do not want another analog book about digital media.”
Two-panel discussions stand out to me as pertinent to the theme of this article.
In a panel called What Not To Do As a Game Writer, Richard Rouse III (State of Decay and the upcoming game The Church in the Darkness) hosted Carrie Patel (Pillars of Eternity), Antony Johnston (Dead Space), Annie Reid (Dead Rising 2 and Dead Rising 3), and Dan Jolley (Prototype 2, Dying Light, Transformers: War For Cybertron and Transformers: Fall of Cybertron). Patel talked about another writer’s rewrites that changed a flawed character, whom she had created to be flawed but likable, to a very bad guy. Johnston emphasized the importance of clear instructions and documentation when communicating over Skype and email. Jolley told a tale of woe in which he was not paid for his work on a game due to a contractual loophole. Reid gave examples of how passivity and foolish pride can be a game writer’s downfall. Stay humble but be heard; take the long-view.
In a panel on Writing for Franchises, Carrie Patel, Eddy Webb (Futurama: Game of Drones, an addictive and consistently hilarious Match 4 mobile game), Jessica Sliwinski (Lead Narrative Designer at Disruptor Beam, makers of Game of Thrones Ascent), and Jonathon Myers (Game of Thrones Ascent, Ear-Play which makes immersive gaming experiences that are entirely sound-based). Patel and Webb shared anecdotes from their careers. Sliwinski sang the unexpected virtues of high-quality fan-fiction for aspiring game designers. What better way to prove you can write for an established franchise than to have a portfolio of evidence showing you can do just that? Myers emphasized the importance of having deadlines defined in writing, going on to say that if “silence equals consent” on an issue, then “spell it out” in the original correspondence. That is to say, if you ask a question in an email to the intellectual property holders and you receive no response, be sure whatever action you will take on the issue is in writing beforehand. After all, the IP holders have the final say. Define your terms and stick to them.
There were other standouts, including Warren Spector’s keynote on choice and decision-making in game design; a panel discussion about Tom Clancy’s The Division and its team’s writing process (lots of Skype calls and patient collaboration), featuring Annie Reid and Richard Dansky among others; Jonathon Myers’ entertaining Futurama Lives! talk; and from the tutorial sessions, Jana Sloan van Geest’s masterful presentation on story structure and dialogue writing, and Eddy Webb’s witty presentation on narrative. To the delight of everyone in attendance, Webb declared, “If it makes sense to have a battle while riding a giant turtle through a forest that’s on fire, by all means do that!” You do what makes sense for your game, your story.
Rewind to ECGC Day 2 (April 20). Richard James Cook, creator of the Devolver Digital Films documentary Pixel Poetry, gives a presentation on his own experiences as an indie dev. With disarming honesty, Cook cataloges his failures to make a name for himself in the games industry, his DIY adaptability (the camera he used to record his first doc was a Samsung Galaxy S3 smartphone), and celebrates his recent Devolver Digital Films successes. Here, Cook riffs on Beckett’s old theme which only gets truer with age. Try again, fail again, fail better.
Fast-forward to the end of ECGC Day 3 (April 21). I chat with Heather Albano, game dev and writer at Choice Of Games. Her latest game is A Study in Steampunk: Choice by Gaslight, a Choose Your Own Adventure style text-based game about steam-powered mech warfare. Choices matter.
Fast-forward again to May 4. Enhance the image. My Kickstarter campaign teeters at 11 percent funded with less than two weeks to go. It is clear to me that the campaign is taking up too much of my time. The outlook is grim. I hit the kill switch to cancel it. If you want to get anywhere in this industry, you can’t look back for long. Keep moving. E3 is right around the corner. I can’t wait.
Correction: A previous version of this article erroneously identified Jessica Sliwinski as an employee of Telltale.
Special thanks to the incomparable Rellik Nissassa, my ECGC spirit guide.<
There is no way to fit everything else ECGC-related in one post, hence Part One.
Most technology-focused conferences amount to disguised marketing ploys, concocted by product-pushing corporations. Conferences tend to perpetuate ideologies consistent with transhumanism (a dangerous New Age memetically transmitted infection common to billionaires who want to live forever) and technofascism — this is to say, ultra positive portrayals of technology, techs nouveaux as humanity’s Redeemer. People are valued in as much as they express monetarily their devotion to the latest tech toy.
Since 2006, Walter Rotenberry has sought to change the trend from presenters peddling wares to presenters providing useful trade-specific information to gamers, programmers, and designers. Let Day 2 and Day 3 of ECGC 2016 stand as irrefutable evidence of the success of Rotenberry’s efforts. In presentation after presentation, ECGC’s speakers and panelists offered priceless career advice and hard-won industry wisdom. Unlike other conventions and conferences, ECGC is truly about people, not products.
Two speakers communicated ECGC’s message particularly well in their talks: Dr. Jennifer Elliott of the University of North Carolina in a talk on the right ways to bring Virtual Reality into classrooms and Chelsea Curran Adams, QA Lead of Epic Games, in a talk on teamwork and quality.
On Day 2, Dr. Jennifer Elliott of the University of North Carolina lectured on present-day educators’ Rift/VIVE/VR mania (in particular, fully immersive VR mania), showing it to be just another iteration in a historical pattern of education industry hype. Dr. Elliott summarized educators’ obsession with new technology as a pervasive belief that the tech industry is always one innovation away from radically changing the way we study and experience the world. Once new tech, now old news; as it has been since 1870, evermore shall it be – unless we get real about the limitations and the qualified promise of the latest tech craze.
Using a timeline of classroom tech breakthroughs (everything from the pencil to the projector) and the hype surrounding them at what we would now call launch, Dr. Elliott reinforced the need for teachers and students to understand the technology they use. Information on the new tech must be made freely available to teachers. If a VR tech company or software developer promises a VR-powered revolution in education and can’t offer the how and why specifics, then educators should assume the pitch to be industry hype, hot air, and little else. To use one of Dr. Elliott’s examples, porting a documentary from video to non-interactive 3D video is a waste of designers’, programmers’, educators’, and students’ time. Better just to play the video.
In order for an interactive lesson in fully immersive VR to be a worthwhile use of resources, Dr. Elliot argued, its quality must be assessed in terms of its purposeful utilization of all the unique aspects of VR. If the new VR technology is to be useful for educators, if new technology is to facilitate unique learning experiences, the technology must be what Dr. Elliott calls the “context” for the lesson, not just the medium which communicates it. Educators should be able to answer questions like; Does the lesson take purposeful advantage of simulated tactile stimuli, stereoscopic rendering, 3D sound, full 360-degree camera tracking, gestural inputs, etc.? The more specifically a teacher can answer these questions, the likelier the lesson is to be a worthwhile use of resources.
On Day 3, I attended a talk on teamwork and quality by Chelsea Curran Adams, Quality Assurance Lead of Epic Games. As in an earlier talk, Adams utilized constructivist techniques to emphasize the human element in the Quality Assurance process. She incorporated input from attendees, assured attendees that the presentation would “tie in everything you guys said here today,” and delivered on the promise. This implicit tactic made all the more compelling her argument that design is a collective activity.
Adams examined the perks and drawbacks of two design methodologies, waterfall and agile. Waterfall is sequential, linear, with the entire team moving together through each design phase. At the expense of adaptability, waterfall keeps the team on the same page, so to speak, working together today on the physics engine, tomorrow on the control schemes, the next day on the level design, and so on. You can see how, if you suddenly need to back-track to a previous development phase, your team will have to do a lot of things over. Although waterfall is “demonized in the industry,” as Adams put it, indie dev teams often find it useful. When waterfall works well, it is more cost-effective than the alternative.
Agile development is the design methodology by which AAA games are made, almost without exception. With hundreds of people working on one game, it would not be feasible to have everybody – programmers, writers, marketers, graphic artists, motion capture artists, actors, testers, et cetera – moving rigidly from one design phase to the next. Rather than linear in progression, the agile methodology is cyclical, with QA assessments built into each phase of development. With agile, a large studio can have multiple teams in different phases of the design process at the same time. Agile’s drawbacks are its price tag for the company and, in the event of poor communication and incomplete documentation, its potential to engender chaos for the dev team.
True to ECGC’s focus on people, Adams suggested that devs use message boards to start a dialogue with the people who will be playing their game. It’s the players who will be most likely to speak up when they find a bug, encounter an established character behaving in an unexpected way, et cetera. In the games industry, Adams concluded, communication among people on all sides of a project is key to successful QA. At no point did her informative talk stray from useful methodological analysis into product placement.