Arkham Knight: The good, the Bat and the ugly

 Click for launch trailer.
Click for launch trailer.

Firstly, I won’t be apologising for that pun, so moving on..

I intended for my blog this week to be a simple review of the game, as I haven’t done a review on this blog yet and I’d had a lot of negative topics recently so that I wanted to start balancing them out. However, there’s far too much to talk about here that doing a simple review would be missing the opportunity to take this game as a case study on a whole load of issues.

I do want to separate the discussion though because basically there’s Arkham Knight as a game, a piece of art, and secondly as a product and its associated business decisions, and I definitely think that they deserve to be separated.

The Review Stuff

I wasn’t going to buy the game because of its pricing (more on that later) but found it at a hefty discount and so picked it up. I played it on PC with an nVidia GTX 970 graphics card, 16GB of RAM, an AMD 6300 3.5GHz processor and normal HDD hard drive. A good PC, but not top of the line either. I also did have the latest nVidia driver released the night before the game and tailored specifically to fixing a lot of issues with Arkham Knight. The game ran fine for me and didn’t affect my enjoyment, so I won’t discuss that aspect in the review part.

This may be controversial, but I liked the Batmobile! Let’s start with that. Many reviewers say that it’s a huge flaw, crowbarred-in as an extra selling point, that the drone combat and puzzles that get you to use it seem forced and aren’t that much fun, and that you’re faster navigating the city without it. I disagree, mostly..
Let’s be clear; the Batmobile wasn’t an afterthought and wasn’t done cheaply. It’s fully developed, has its own upgrade  tree, feels good to drive (maybe TOO good for something that weighty) and results in a lot of fun high-explosive gameplay that is the kind of thing we play games for in the first place, and Rocksteady fully committed to making it a part of the game. I can’t fault them for doing that. They could have gone half-assed but didn’t. The Batmobile plays as much a part in the game as the Predator levels or big-room fist fights do, which basically adds a fully-developed pillar to the game.
The question is; “did the game need it”?
Most are saying no, but I say yes. We’ve had Asylum, City, and Origins which have largely been the same game with new story each time (even if City opened the game into a more open-world style) and this formula was definitely getting tired by Origins. I’m glad they risked going for something new, and I’m glad it was the Batmobile. I’ve wanted to drive it ever since the first time you see it in Asylum. If they didn’t try it we’d all be slating them for going ‘Assassin’s Creed’ on the series, now wouldn’t we? For not taking risks!

 Avoid the lines to win drone fights. This turned me off the first time I saw a video, but when it comes to playing it you'll be glad that the batcomputer predicts firing lines. You'll still take a lot of hits and would be totally screwed without this and the Batmobile's other abilities.
Avoid the lines to win drone fights. This turned me off the first time I saw a video, but when it comes to playing it you’ll be glad that the batcomputer predicts firing lines. You’ll still take a lot of hits and would be totally screwed without this and the Batmobile’s other abilities.

The drone fights can get repetitive, yes, but so can the Predator or combat sections, especially if you’re trying for 100% completion. Most of the drone combat I did was in optional side-missions, but the main story paces all the gameplay pillars pretty well and making things go boom-crash is fun now and again!

Also, city traversal isn’t slower in the Batmobile unless you’ve to reach a bridge to cross a river, so there!  It just depends where you’re going.
The Riddler challenges are tedious, and often involve the Batmobile, but they were tedious in all 4 games if you ask me so I can’t fault the car for that. I will fault the game for including over 250 trophies to collect though. And collection them is required to put the Riddler in jail and get the ‘full’ ending. 250 is too many when not a single one of them is fun to do! They’re the biggest chore and the biggest flaw in all 4 games, but they’re optional.

My one Batmobile-gripe is that despite all efforts by the team to show the Batmobile as a non-lethal weapon (because Batman don’t kill) there were tonnes of situations where I said “there’s no way that guy survived that” and I just had to get over it and enjoy the game.

So that’s the car, the big new selling point, and I liked it.

Story-wise, I think the game’s fantastic, and through all the Arkham Games (except maybe Origins) it’s been the primary thing driving me on. This is a dramatic and well-written conclusion to Rocksteady’s Arkham trilogy (i say ‘trilogy’ because Origins wasn’t a Rocksteady game, though Knight does give it the nod several times throughout, making it is canon). I won’t give spoilers but there’s plenty of drama going on, and it’s not all driven by discovering who the Arkham Knight must be. There’s lots of nods to and borrowings from the comics alongside new content. There are several set-pieces that I enjoyed. Rather than take me out of the game they enhanced the drama and I ate them up! The story also results in a number of sections where the entire game gets one major shift in how you have to approach it for a while, before returning to normal so you can continue your normal sandbox experience. More so than any of the other Arkham titles (possible exception of the first, Asylum) this game understands pacing and variety, and again, people may not realise that the Batmobile helps out in spades with this.

 I couldn't stop playing until I learned the Arkham Knight's true identity! I had my short list, but was never sure.
I couldn’t stop playing until I learned the Arkham Knight’s true identity! I had my short list, but was never sure.

The drama leads me to talk about boss fights. They’re still present, and varied, and I played several where I thought they must be the last fight of the game, because the stakes were getting so high. When the game didn’t end it drove me straight onto the next one. I couldn’t stop! This is huge praise for a story-driven game.

I loved how the Joker’s legacy/ghost affects Batman and the world in this game, too. Spoiler here until end of paragraph: And no, he’s not the Arkham Knight. That would be stupid. So Rocksteady didn’t do it. Because Rocksteady are smarter than Splash Damage.

I do have to say that the other games had more memorable boss fights, though. Too many of these were glorified drone or Predator sections, but all the same, none were bad. Just none were as good as the Copperhead or Deathstroke fights from Origins or the famous Mr.Freeze fight from City. There are also slightly less of the supervillains in this game because the Arkham Knight and militia take up a large chunk of the missions, but this isn’t to the game’s detriment I felt.

Graphically (assuming here that you’re on console or it’s worked on your PC) this game is gorgeous with so many wind, rain, paper, rubbish, and environmental destruction effects going on. I can understand plainly why performance has suffered slightly in places for how beautiful the game is, and the trade off is well-worth it. I never suffered enough of a slowdown to affect my experience and the visuals stunned me repeatedly. Add to this the musical score, the idle conversations between and about all the various gangs and militia members, and the top class voice acting from Kevin Conroy, Mark Hamill, Jonathan Banks and John Noble, you have a game dripping with atmosphere. The complete removal of loading screens is a major help here too, and Origin’s fast-travel system has been removed, forcing you to traverse enemy-occupied streets to get where you’re going. The only downside to that is there’s no Batcave any more, but I didn’t even realise that until half way through the game as GCPD and a couple of other locations stand in for the Batcave’s functionality. The police station fills up with all the people you’ve captured or rescued too, which is a great touch!

 Gotham city is gigantic, beautiful, alive, and full of enemy aerial drones (which are fun to land on and explode) and watchtowers set up on skyscrapers.
Gotham city is gigantic, beautiful, alive, and full of enemy aerial drones (which are fun to land on and explode) and watchtowers set up on skyscrapers.

Lastly the combat. In each game Rocksteady expanded on their excellent combat system and improved it without losing the balance. With Origins, Splash Damage were so afraid to change Rocksteady’s formula, to their discredit, and the only memorable change they attempted was shock gloves, which were overpowered and unbalanced the combat.

Knight removes the shock gloves (you can find them in GCPD’s evidence room with a tongue-in-cheek explanation as to why Batman didn’t keep them) and adds a number of new enemy types, enemy actions, and a few new player skills to counter them. Also, the upgrade tree is vast, and even after finishing the game I don’t have all combat abilities and gadgets, so more so than the other games this is one where you really choose and develop your own fighting style.

The Predator sections have been touched up as well with enemies now able to learn your tactics (better than before), flush you out of vents with incendiary grenades, pair off into teams to thwart your ambushes, place mines and gun turrets, and control UAV drones which can also attack you. Don’t worry though, you have the tools the handle the new behaviours if you use your brain and “be the Batman”. This has really made the section of the game that most bored me previously into a fresh experience.

All round, I think this game is a great sequel (a rare thing), a great end to Rocksteady’s trilogy, a well-paced and very-well balanced game, and a great example of what AAA publishers can do when they set their minds to it.

 The other games may have had some snow, but the rain effects on top of everything else make it readily apparent that you're playing a next-gen game. PC owners may not appreciate that statement as they don't like sharing space with console owners but they still have to understand that there's a common performance bar that has to be aimed for when making million dollar games.
The other games may have had some snow, but the rain effects on top of everything else make it readily apparent that you’re playing a next-gen game. PC owners may not appreciate that statement as they don’t like sharing space with console owners but they still have to understand that there’s a common performance bar that has to be aimed for when making million dollar games.

I don’t really have a personal scoring system in place but Metacritic, if I average-out the PS4 and XB1 scores, comes to 85% and I think that’s fair.

I just think that a lot of people, myself included, were far too ready to hate this game for other reasons. I’ll now explore those reasons without having tarnished the game itself as a piece of art that hundreds of honest developers poured their hearts and souls into.

All the other stuff

Warner Brothers published this game, and have made a lot of enemies with their policies in the last few years. Arkham Origins (the most recent Batman release in 2013) came out the gate with a host of bugs and issues, and Warner Bros. basically said they wouldn’t be fixing them because they were working on DLC for the game. Which is ludicrous! They expect people to pay more when what they’ve already paid for isn’t working!

Then, short on good will, they are charging €40 for the Season Pass (six months of DLC content) for Arkham Knight. This is 2/3 of the price of the main game, and brings it up to €100 all-in. Granted there were discounts for getting them together at €80, but still it’s a very high price for the Batgirl mini-story and a few racetracks and skins. Further, I don’t want to be drip fed my €40 back in six monthly instalments. I’d like to play the whole game this week please, and move on. I wasn’t going to buy the game myself in protest, but I did find it (with Season Pass) for €30 on and relented.

The practice of working on DLC and charging more for the content before the game is even out and/or working properly is hugely unpopular with consumers, and, paradoxically, hugely widespread with developers. It takes developer time out of making a working product, so that they can ask for more money for 1.2 or 1.5 inferior products, instead of one good one. They carve up one game’s content into the game, plus pre-order bonus content, plus later DLC content. Consumers lose nearly every time and they had no recourse.
Even with the ‘Premium Edition pre-order’ that I picked up, I somehow didn’t get the Harley Quinn pre-order story DLC bonus thing, which apparently wasn’t included in the more expensive version, only in the normal version. Just wtf?! Paying more up front in this case gets you less of a game on release than if you paid less!

 No I don't want to pay extra for this, thanks.
No I don’t want to pay extra for this, thanks.

In walks Steam’s brand new refund policy, the hero we deserved. This deserves its own blog post as there are many angles on it. I’m not praising Steam for finally giving users a basic consumer right, but I’m glad they have.

The ability for a buyer to return a product for any reason (within limits, as laid out here) means that if a game is released in a sorry state, the buyer can simply return it. This at last pushes developers to stop releasing games in a sorry state, and here Arkham Knight is hugely important.

After less than two days, the PC version of Arkham Knight was voluntarily removed from sale on Steam by Warner Brothers. Why? Because the game wasn’t fit to be released on PC in the first place. Not yet. As I said, I had no problems, but users with AMD graphics cards or just more average PCs found the game literally unplayable in many cases, or severely disappointing performance-wise. PC gamers tend to have an elitist, snobbish reputation, and having a game run less well than on a console rubbed a lot of them up the wrong way. The Steam user reviews for the game are “Mostly Negative” (I challenge you to find a positive one) and refunds were being demanded in droves.

 Testament to the botching of its release this header box on the game's Steam page says both that the game was released on June 23rd, and that it will be available in Fall 2015. 11,000 users are not happy.
Testament to the botching of its release this header box on the game’s Steam page says both that the game was released on June 23rd, and that it will be available in Fall 2015. 11,000 users are not happy.

With my finely-functioning game I’m actually in the minority on this one, and I still experienced a few bugs and body textures that never rendered properly when I got in-close. You always find some bugs in big games. There’s a certain leeway granted, which I granted, but the game has to actually work! Hours before it went on sale, Warner Brothers ramped up the recommended minimum settings for the game, which is a huge deal if you bought it expecting that you could run it, and then were told that you couldn’t. It’s unacceptable, frankly, and until Steam refunds came along, I’m sure Warner Bros. would have taken a “tough shit” approach to customer care.

But they didn’t. Instead they removed the game from sale. You can read their press release on why here but essentially it’s been removed until it works, with no clue as to how long that will take beyond “Fall 2015”.

 I have literally never seen this, and I don't think anyone else has either. That's PC gaming history right there, no exaggeration.
I have literally never seen this, and I don’t think anyone else has either. That’s PC gaming history right there, no exaggeration.

I’d like to mention that Rocksteady didn’t handle the PC port, and don’t deserve all the ire here. Iron Galaxy Studios did the port (or were still in the middle of it, it sounds like) and Warner Bros chose to publish it rather than push the PC release date back. The game had already suffered lengthy delays in production, but unfinished is unfinished! 

Okay, so bad decision there, obviously. It was a farce and will go down in gaming history as one of the most catastrophic releases of all time. I can’t actually think of another game that’s been removed from sale after release for performance reasons, and examples of games that should have been are in no short supply. Assassin’s Creed Unity, Sim City and Battlefield 4 all leap readily to mind.
But Warner Bros. are owning up to it. They removed their own game from sale and even linked readers to the Steam refund page directly in the press release. Would they be so eager to appease if not for Steam refunds? Hell no, would be my guess. But they are, and deserve a modicum of credit for that, at least.

Consumer faith in the industry, particularly in the bigger publishers, is at an all-time low. Delays, DLC, and broken releases are now expected and it’s hard to look at big upcoming releases like Battlefront with anything better than very cautious optimism, never mind fanatical hype. Publishers were incentivised, through the unavailability of any refund policies, to release unfinished games and move onto the next one, letting the game’s problems get fixed in a later patch, or by the modding community, or just never. This feels like the first time in recent memory that we can put a point on the consumer’s side of the scoreboard. Hopefully this will force publishing houses to cop on already! We need more faith in the industry because if consumer good will keeps being abused the way it has been, people will not be pre-ordering big games, will buy them less often, and expensive AAA games like Arkham Knight would simply not get made any more.

“Cut the crap, Publisher. This is my city”.

I, for one, am glad that Arkham Knight exists, glad that it had a botched PC release, glad that it was taken off sale, and am hopeful that this marks a turning point in publisher behaviour and consumer confidence.

If it does, who better to have saved us than Batman?

E3 2015. In Summary.

Wow! What an E3! This was my first year with a working situation that allowed me to stay up and watch the conferences, as well as follow the show closely online during the week. The general consensus it that this was the best E3 for many years. It’s also my first E3 since I started a blog, so it seemed a good topic for this week. I’m just going to sum up the news and games that have me the most excited. I’m pretty much exclusively a PC gamer, but I won’t focus solely on PC here either and I’ll go pretty broad. First up: VR and AR (virtual and augmented reality).

Oculus Rift

 The Oculus Rift consumer version, with Oculus Touch. Click to see Oculus' press conference. Video will start at the Touch reveal
The Oculus Rift consumer version, with Oculus Touch. Click to see Oculus’ press conference. Video will start at the Touch reveal

On June 11th, the week before E3 actually started, Oculus held their own press conference and finally revealed the consumer version of the Rift, as seen above. I had a previous blog on how Oculus was seemingly lagging behind their competitors now, despite starting the new VR race, and that they needed some big announcements to catch up. Well they caught up!

  • The demonstrated final consumer version comes with plentiful size adjustments and detachable headphones.
  • A big announcement was their partnership with Microsoft. All Oculus Rifts sold will come with a wireless Xbox One controller. This is huge as developers can target a single input device that they know all users will have.
  • There will be an online store for your Oculus games, which will include the ability to demo the games before buying them, in recognition of the fact that a traditional video trailer can tell you very little about what a virtual experience will be like.
  • Price was not announced, and the release date is still a vague “1st Quarter, 2016”.
  • The huge reveal was their main input device (not the Xbox controller), the Oculus Touch. Clicking the pic above will take you to that part of their press conference. It looks like a controller split in two, which allows each hand to move freely in the virtual space, and without any wires. It also features haptic feedback (vibration, for touch sensation) and a ring of sensors that accurately track your finger movements, for great control or “social interaction” (use your imaginations there). It’s set to release a few months after the primary Rift launch, but accounts from people using it at E3 are very positive, saying it’s on par with or better than Valve or Sony’s input offerings.

Microsoft HoloLens

 Click for Microsoft's E3 press conference HoloLens segment. See the crowd go nuts about 1 minute in and feel the goosebumps. The future is here!
Click for Microsoft’s E3 press conference HoloLens segment. See the crowd go nuts about 1 minute in and feel the goosebumps. The future is here!

Microsoft stole the show at E3 with their HoloLens, winning IGN’s “Coolest Tech” award for the show. If you didn’t click the picture to view their Minecraft demo, do it now! I’ll wait.. or if you’re not interested just skip this whole section, but you’re missing out.
It’s hard to convey what the experience is like without having it for yourself, and so I first viewed that part of the conference with a bit of scepticism, but by all later reports, what people saw through the camera at the press conference is exactly the same experience as when people got to try for themselves later. This is an incredible technology. On the show floor they also had a (very tailored, admittedly) Halo experience with the HoloLens which you can catch a glimpse of here.

The only negative report was that the viewing window on the Lens was very narrow, in that you lost the effect in your peripheral vision, but this is still in the prototype phase with no release date, remember.


So, moving onto games, what has people excited?

Star Wars Battlefront

 EA FINALLY revealed gameplay from SW Battlefront at their press conference. And it looks good!
EA FINALLY revealed gameplay from SW Battlefront at their press conference. And it looks good!

Winning IGN’s Game Of The Show award, Battlefront wowed with its long overdue gameplay reveal. Considering we’ve had 3 trailers without a second of gameplay up until now and they were already cheekily taking pre-orders, this was long overdue. Personally I had wondered what they could have been hiding. The game had received a lot of negative press up until now but they finally put out something positive.

As you can see from the gameplay video (click the pic), DICE have really nailed the sights and sounds of Star Wars. In terms of gameplay, this map looks a lot like the Battlefield franchise’s Rush maps, but there’s a lot going on here to be excited about and it seems to feel more like a Star Wars game than a Battlefield one, which is important.

What Battlefield doesn’t have (any more, at least) but Battlefront does, is bot support, meaning you can actually play in single player mode, which is a big plus for me, personally, as I don’t always like relying on servers and the decent behaviour of other gamers.

This other video shows off a wave-survival mode which looks decent. Again, the graphics and animations are something to be excited about, and this was running on Playstation 4, not PC, so you can expect these visuals to be typical. 

Release: Nov 17th, 2015
Platforms: PC, PS4, XB1



 Click for Bethesda's DOOM gameplay reveal
Click for Bethesda’s DOOM gameplay reveal

Bethesda kicked off E3 on the Sunday night (before E3 officially starts, technically) with their first ever E3 press conference, and it was a major event, widely lauded as the best conference of E3.

DOOM gameplay was revealed at the very start of their conference and can be seen above. They’re clearly going for speed, action, gore, violence, and frantic over-the-top gameplay. I was never a major Doom player but this strikes me as exactly the kind of game Doom fans were hoping for when we saw the (ridiculous) ten second trailer only a few weeks ago, as opposed to a survival-horror (whatever that currently means).

The game features a single player campaign, multiplayer, and a very detailed in-game level/scenario editor. This could be the big arena shooter for years to come, at least until we see the next Unreal Tournament.

Release: Spring 2016
Platforms: PC, PS4, XB1 

Fallout 4

 Click for Bethesda's 30-minute presentation on Fallout 4 (and Fallout Shelter)
Click for Bethesda’s 30-minute presentation on Fallout 4 (and Fallout Shelter)

The main reason people give Bethesda the credit for best show of E3, was the reveal of Fallout 4. I’ll admit that I never played the other Fallout games (I know, shame, shame) but even I could feel the excitement as Todd Howard showed off his new baby. I’m super-pumped for this. The game looks incredible. It looks like a game-changer just as Skyrim did. Incidentally I’d never played an Elder Scrolls game until Skyrim but like many others, I was an instant convert. Bethesda are really hitting their stride when it comes to making RPGs more accessible and exciting to the masses while still keeping their core audience.

You’re better off watching the video but let me try to bullet-point some stuff here:

  • You can play as a man or woman.
  • You can play in the world before the bombs fall and the main game commences.
  • You set the appearance of the male and female couple at the start with an intuitive-looking editor, and the game then interprets the appearance of each and generates what the couples’ child looks like (like GTA V does for your multiplayer character).
  • The special edition comes with a real plastic ‘pip-boy’ arm band that you can wear and put your phone into. Why?
  • Because there’s a companion app for the game that lets you manage inventory, etc through your phone, though you can still do it in-game.
  • As an aside, nearly, Howard mentioned that they’d also developed Fallout Shelter in which you manage a (you’ll never guess) fallout shelter and its survivors, The shelter looks a lot like the 2012 Xcom’s “ant hill” base management. The game is free but has micro-transactions, is so far only on Apple devices, but will come to Android, and is currently outselling even Candy Crush.
  • Back to Fallout 4, you can craft your own bases and villages, and defend them with turrets, lights, traps and more, all of which require power management. It’s like Rust or DayZ inside Fallout 4, though you don’t even have to participate at all.
  • The game is set in post-apocalyptic Boston, and is a huge huge game world.
  • You can have a dog (Alsation) companion who they DON’T kill on you for normally-predictable dramatic effect.
  • The game won IGN’s Best PC Game award AND their Best RPG award for E3 2015.

Release: Nov 10th, 2015
Platforms: PC, PS4, XB1

No Man’s Sky

 Click for No Man's Sky demo at Sony's press conference
Click for No Man’s Sky demo at Sony’s press conference

No Man’s Sky, which doesn’t often step into the light of day, showed off some more gameplay this year at Sony’s conference, and also appeared during the brand new PC Gaming conference on the Wednesday. It also picked up IGN’s Best Adventure Game E3 award.

Previously the game was going to be a timed Playstation 4 exclusive, and then likely to release on PC, but Sean Murray of Hello Games announced that the game will release for PC and PS4 at the same time! What that time is, we still don’t know, as Murray apologetically explained that they couldn’t yet announce a release date (though they had wanted to do so at E3). 

Release: Expect to see it released before the next E3. I’m betting 9-12 months.
Platforms: PC, PS4

For Honor

 Click for gameplay
Click for gameplay

Yeah so we’re going with the North American spelling, since this is being developed by Ubisoft Montreal. 

This was one of those unexpected treats. This brand new IP from Ubisoft annoucned during their press conference is centred around medieval sword fighting between vikings, knights, and samurai, because why not? The gameplay demo above shows off a lot, but essentially two teams of four players fight for control points (in the demonstrated game mode, at least). Dozens of NPC warriors are there as sword-fodder but the main fights happen between players using the “Art of War” control system, which looks like it uses the triggers and control sticks to attack and defend from different angles. Watching your opponent’s body language is key here. Players can also call in arrow and catapult strikes on their enemies.

There will be several modes, though, including a single-player campaign.

I’m excited about this one, as I always am when I see attempts at sword fighting done right. We’ll have to see how this one plays next year. Chivalry was okay but still usually devolved into button mashing, with the available nuances lost. Mount & Blade: Warband has the best sword fighting I’ve seen in a game to date, though the upcoming Kingdom Come: Deliverance also looks to have an interesting take on it.

Release: unknown
Platforms: PC, PS4, XB1

Xcom 2

 Click for 25 minute gameplay demo & interview
Click for 25 minute gameplay demo & interview

So I’m particularly excited about this one as 2012’s Xcom Enemy Unknown is one of my all-time favourite games, and my own game in development is heavily influenced by the Xcom series. A (non-gameplay) trailer was released the week before E3 but we saw some gameplay at E3. 

The game is set twenty years after Enemy Unknown and the story is based on what happened if you failed (as many of us did) and the aliens took over the Earth. Xcom is now a (moreso than before) guerilla organisation fighting from a now mobile base.

The aliens themselves are much tougher, each like a mini-boss, but your grunt enemies are now human(ish?) soldiers called the Advent who are baically stormtroopers for the dark and evil alien administration. Collaborators. Traitors. So it’s fine 🙂

A big new change is that the maps are procedurally generated, meaning you never quite know what to expect, or what’s around the next corner. A fault with EU was that after a while the (wonderfully created, but limited) maps started repeating themselves and you sort of knew how best to approach the area each time. Not so, anymore. 

You can now engage in melee combat, carry injured soldiers off of the battlefield, destroy floors and ceilings (only walls before), and call for your own extraction zones. You also have procedural objectives on the map and you can complete missions by taking these objectives and fleeing without having to kill every enemy, which should make for some awfully exciting sprints for the evac zone.

Release: November 2015
Platforms: PC only


At this point, I’m going to shift gears. I could talk all day about what has me excited from E3, and for two days if I talked about games that others care about even if they’re not quite for me, but I’m just going buzz through the rest.

I recommend you skim this section for titles that interest you and click the links for trailers and more info.

Unless I state otherwise, chances are the games are for PC, PS4, and Xbox One.

  • Playstation 4 exclusive (though I REALLY hope it comes to PC) Horizon: Zero Dawn is the most worth mentioning. It’s a new IP set on post-post-apocalyptic Earth when humans have reverted to tribal social structures and machines have evolved into dinosaur-like wildlife. It sounds silly and looks silly at first, but there’s something really special going on here. It was nominated for all sorts of awards and won IGN’s Best Playstation 4 Game of E3.
  • Sea of Thieves is a new multiplayer pirate game from Rare that looks pretty awesome, though so far it seems like it’s only coming to Xbox.
  • Rare also announced Rare Replay which is a 30th Anniversary celebration of Rare’s career making games, giving you 30 old Rare titles for $30 on the Xbox One. Most of these titles were from Rare’s heavyweight days as N64 champions and are well worth playing or replaying.
  • Just Cause 3 is looking very silly, explosive and fun. Everything a game wants to be and could be if it took itself less seriously. This game is just about awesome explosions and stunts, and isn’t trying to be anything else.
  • Microsoft announced that Xbox One will soon have backwards compatibility for Xbox 360 games, and with a host of exclusive titles coming soon, they’re hoping to convert many 360 users to the new console. Will Playstation follow suit? I hope so, but there’s no official word one way or the other.
  • Starfox Zero for Nintendo Wii U is getting a mixed reception. I looks graphically very appealing but requires heavy use of the gamepad for your targeting, while the TV screen shows off the wider, more cinematic views. Will you spend most of the game looking away from the TV? I don’t know, but it looks gorgeous to me. The game is neither a prequel, sequel, nor reboot, apparently. It just.. “is”.. I guess.
  • There’s a new Hitman game on the way, which is looking like taking some of the wind out of Assassin’s Creed’s sails in the next year.
  • Deus Ex Mankind Divided is looking good if you’re a Deus Ex fan. We’re still following Adam Jensen, marking the first time we repeat a protagonist in the series. It looks a lot like 2011’s Human Revolution, but moreso, if that makes sense.
  • We continue our march towards Metal Gear Solid: The Phantom Pain‘s November release (we hope it’s not delayed) with another 40 minute video of gameplay, though there’s barely anything new in this video if you’ve been following previous gameplay footage. 
  • We’ve an announcement trailer for Mass Effect Andromeda but there’s no gameplay, very little info other than that you’re a new hero in a new galaxy, and the game’s still a long way off.
  • Gears Of War 4 is coming to Xbox One (the trailer says “Gears 4”) but it’s confirmed that “of war” will still be in the title. This gameplay looks stupid to me. Where the hell does the super-massive storm come from and go to all of a sudden? It’s a two minute super storm that just serves to make the heroes go into a building. That kind of lazy design really turns me off.
  • Gears of War 1 is getting a HD remake and coming to XB1 AND the PC, for once, with a multiplayer element based on Gears 3. This marks Gears’ first appearance away from an Xbox console. August 25th is the Xbox release, but there’s no date for the PC release yet.
  • Switching to Ubisoft’s Tom Clancy series of games, there’s three games to talk about. Firstly, Rainbow Six: Siege continues to look great and a single-player element is confirmed, though sadly there are no AI squad-mates to accompany you, so it probably isn’t really worth talking about next to the multiplayer experience.
  • Secondly, The Division showed off a new so-so-scripted gameplay demo, which really disappointed me and many others. Basically, every player winds up betraying and fucking over every other player until one is left, and now the game basically looks like DayZ without the zombies. By this I mean “just not fun to play with people”, which is the whole point. Graphically, it looks less impressive than it seemed before, also, and I think that the general consensus is that the ball has been dropped on this one. The game was probably delayed too many times and just missed the boat, though that remains to be seen, come release next March.
  • If The Division dropped the ball, though, new announcement Ghost Recon Wildlands picked it up! It’s a 4 player co-op experience in a huge open world in which you approach your targets your way. Plan your approach, set up a sniper, booby-trap a vehicle, whatever. This one actually looks quite fun (if you’ve 3 competent friends who want to play with you).
  • Final Fantasy VII is getting a remake, so the rumour mill can finally stop churning!
  • Similarly, The Last Guardian is finally seen again, and its cute giant-bird-puppy looks incredibly well animated.
  • Dishonoured 2 is a thing now.
  • Cuphead for the Xbox One has an incredible retro-Disney animation style and is really worth looking at.
  • Another beautiful indie game worth looking at is Unravel, who EA have picked up as part of their “we care about the little guys too” quota.
  • Shenmue 3 was announced, though I never heard of its predecessors, sorry. It was declared as a Kickstarter campaign that broke Kickstarter in minutes. Needless to say, it’s already successful.
  • Dark Souls 3 was announced but hasn’t made any real waves so far.
  • South Park are making their second game, The Fractured But Whole (say it out loud).
  • We saw some footage of Rise Of The Tomb Raider, which is an Xbox exclusive. From the gameplay video this may as well be a movie as it’s so scripted and on-the-rails. Apparently the game does actually contain tombs and puzzles though.
  • Another Xbox exclusive ReCore could be good.
  • Kingdom Hearts 3 showed us a new trailer.
  • The new Mirror’s Edge is called Catalyst and is prequel. Very little is known but it’s confirmed that this time you can’t use guns at all. In the original you could take an enemy’s gun and just fire off what was in the clip, but not reload or keep the gun. 
  • The multiplayer team shooter Rising Storm is getting a sequel set in Vietnam, The original was set in WW2. I wonder if they’re just following what DICE did with Battlefield more than 10 years ago. If the next one is set in 2142, we’ll know.
  • Arma III is getting a huge new island expansion called Tanoa.
  • Halo 5 Guardians is coming out on October 27th, 2015.

Thanks for reading. I hope my E3 summation gave you something to get excited about. I’ll be back to more opinionated blogging next week. Until next time..

Perpetual Sale Demon casts 96HP damage on unsuspecting party

It’s that time of year again. Assuming you live in the Northern Hemisphere, it’s Summer! Meaning the Sun is out, and you’re likely incarcerating yourself inside buying dozens of ludicrously cheap games and racing to put enough hours into them to feel like you’ve gotten your 99c of value before the next flash sale pops up 6 hours later.

That’s right! It’s the Summer Sales. I’d have said Steam Summer Sale but GOG are currently doing one too and Humble just finished up with one also – not that you’d know as, without scrolling, I can see the word ‘sale’ three times on the Humble home page right now.

For laughs, and I haven’t planned this in advance (having written the blog title after the article), I’m going to give you, dear reader, 100 HP (hit points / health – but if you don’t know that you’re probably not reading this blog), and each time we discover damage, I’ll subtract HP and see if you make it through this blog-dungeon intact.

I’m going to subtract -7HP now for the aforementioned time of year and the fact that Summer sales are making you miss good weather. If you live in Australia I’m still subtracting those points because it’s probably sunny and warm there too right now, chances are.

To set the scene, there are two major sales periods on Steam annually; Summer and Winter. These sales are huge, nearly everything gets a discount, and they last about 10 days. The rest of the year there is something on sale every day, and the weekends are always worth looking at too for free-weekends where you can install the game and play it normally for free all weekend,  then buy it at a hefty discount if you want.
Humble Bundles are always selling games, though the selection is far more limited, and GOG are a quickly-growing competitor to Steam who are following suit with very regular sales as well as larger seasonal ones.
In short, if you don’t have to play a game on day-one, and you keep an eye on these sites or just drop in for the big sales, you need never pay full price for a game. Ever!

Great for us, sure, in the short term, but let’s look at the problems this might cause.

As consumers, and I’m as guilty as anyone here, we don’t often pay full price for games any more. This means that retailers and developers can expect to never really get full price. Considering that games make us gamers happy, and developers and retailers make and sell the games while they’re happy (financially speaking) to do so, we can agree that it’s best that everyone is as happy as possible. Lower selling prices make consumers happier (supposedly, we’ll look at that) but can thin out developers’ profits, making them less happy, when we want to be aiming for win-win.
In the past year, there’s only one game that I’ve bought at full price, and that’s GTA V for the PC. It wasn’t offered on sale, wasn’t likely to be soon, and I’d been wanting to play it for years while it was out on consoles, but waited for the PC version. Furthermore it’s actually worth the money by any measure. Amazing game! Apart from that, though, I couldn’t tell you the last game I paid full price for, and I’ve bought new AAA games like Far Cry 4, Alien Isolation, Watchdogs and Wolfenstein. I suppose I paid “full price” for Sid Meier’s Starships, but that was only €15 (actually, my 1-sentence review: Just about worth €15 but there’s not a full game there).

The reason for this is not that I wouldn’t pay full price for some of the games I have bought, but because I don’t need to. I’m still busy playing the last lot of games I got on sale by the time the next one comes around, and I’m mostly pretty good at limiting what I buy to what I’m actually going to play. Many people buy games on sale and never play them at all. This is bad for the games as innocuous art pieces, as nobody is enjoying them. Poor games. -6HP there.
It’s bad for the consumer too as they will regret their purchase. €1 wasted is still money wasted, after all. Even if they do get around to playing them, until they do they’ve added a task to their mental To-Do list and this adds to our stress levels. Whichever of the two is your problem, that’s -11HP.

You’d think that for consumers, particularly cash-strapped ones, that it’s great there are so many sales, and in a way it is. For the same money we get to play more games. We like games and we like saving money. But the amount of games most of us want to play is far longer than the amount of games that we can play, especially if we want to both do the game justice and get maximum value for ourselves by completing it!
I could easily argue here that the benefit to consumers is illusory. The cake is a lie! For me, who likes to beat games I feel it is, though I acknowledge that people might buy games cheaply in a shotgun approach, try them all for a little bit, and play the one they found themselves to like. I just find it hard not to fuss over the games left underplayed.
Whichever your problem there I think you’ll find games are taking up more of your time than they perhaps ought to. The lowered price point makes them “too cheap not to buy” and you’re going waste hours playing games that you know aren’t really for you (everyone has their own taste) just because people recommend it, though they’re maybe an RPG player and you’re an action guy. -9HP for leisure hours spent doing something you knew you didn’t really want to do.
(edit: I’m all for trying new games, but sometimes you just already know, you know?)

Moving on, are the sales good for the vendors? Sales obviously have their origins in the physical goods industries, where vendors need to clear stock either before it perishes, or just to clear room for newer seasonal stock. Sales make sense there. They make zero sense for digital distribution, looking at it that way. Bricks and mortar game shops had discount bins because they needed to clear the shelves of ageing stock, not to give gamers better value or to boost sales particularly. It’s likely that the marketers, in their divine, short-sighted wisdom, decided to apply sales to the online stores purely because of the psychological effect it has on consumers. People are more likely to buy something if it’s discounted, and to feel good about it. This would have started as 10% off, say, but if you look on Steam today, you can find multiple titles, some of them really good games, with 90% off! It’s a race to the bottom! Once your competitor is doing sales, you have to do them too, and do them better, if you can! So Steam and GOG, for example, now have to out-do each other in discounts every day of the year, and especially at the arbitrarily-set bi-annual mega sales times. So while they may have increased volumes of sales, the cash-value of each sale is lowered, and so even for them, they’re potentially doing themselves more harm than good in the long run. -11HP for opening that Pandora’s Box, because that monkey won’t go back in his cage too easily.. not to mix metaphors or anything.

Following on from that is the stupidest example of all of this. The meta-sales games. I don’t want to get too into it because I’ve never wasted my time with the nonsense, but during Steam’s big sales, you can get reward cards for voting on what sales are next, or buying games on sale, or other random stuff. The rules change each time as they try newer and stupider ways of making a game out of the very selling of games. Essentially you turn the cards into badges, or gems, when you collect enough, and you use those to.. craft more badges? Or something? Oh and you’re on a team now.. and can trade the cards with other people so you can… what?! Look, I feel I did it all the justice it deserved with that explanation and I’m not looking further into it. All I know is that somebody actually buys these stupid cards so I can actually sell the ones I get (for doing nothing) for about 10c a go to some joker, and thus I get maybe €1 store credit when all’s said and done that I can put towards my next purchase. That’s after Steam’s commission, of course, clever bastards. Make something out of nothing, give it to somebody for doing nothing, then get someone else to pay you and the the first somebody just so they can be the one to have that nothing. Genius! That’s the easiest to understand version anyway. But the existence of such a system is ludicrous! Constantly selling the product (which is games, Steam! remember?) so low has made even the sales unexciting and Steam feel they have to jazz them up with this marketing tripe.
GOG’s current equivalent makes more sense, at least. If you spend a certain amount during the sale period, you’ll get a free game. A higher amount means another, better free game. This, at least, I can understand, but it’s symptomatic of the race to the bottom and it really hits me hard in the sense part of my brain. Let’s say -15HP. 
(edit: have you figured out that my numbers are arbitrary yet? I’m not even rolling a dice here!)

 What is this shite?! Click the picture to go read the full rules.. if you want to..
What is this shite?! Click the picture to go read the full rules.. if you want to..

Having established that serious gamers like myself would actually pay full price for many games but never really have to, it’s clear that games are becoming less and less valuable. I actually now always check how long a game will take to beat before I consider buying it on sale. I’d like the experience, but not if it takes more than 8 hours. Kid-me would hate me for that. -5HP for making your kid-self cry with your first-world “problems”.

Finally, I want to look at it from the developers’ viewpoint. Games are very expensive to make, and individual games being less valuable means you can’t count on getting your RRP (recommended retail price) for each unit. Or even close to it! So AAA publishers releasing the big games, in the knowledge that many people must have them on day one, are pushing that RRP higher and higher, and adding on day-one DLC and season passes. A standard game is pushing past €60 now, while with DLC and a Season Pass for more of it, games like Evolve can break the €100 mark. Arkham City is €80 if I want to play the ‘whole game’. Which I do. But I’m not going to pay that much. -18HP  for either taking more from our wallets, pushing games out of our price range, or withholding content behind a pay wall.

 Batman can't save you when soaring prices, season passes, and day-1 DLC join forces!
Batman can’t save you when soaring prices, season passes, and day-1 DLC join forces!

It also tends to normalise the games that are being made, with big studios less and less likely to take risks because they need to know what their sales are likely to be for a given game-formula. This results in less interesting games coming out from the AAA side. Ever wonder why Assassin’s Creed is (debatably) the same game every year?  -5HP.

Wait a second; rising prices, less and less value per unit currency, product not worth what you’re paying for it? Sounds familiar, particularly if you bought a house between 1990 and 2007. It’s not unrealistic to suppose that the AAA bubble might be going to burst in the next few years. It’s worth noting that EA actually shy away from doing too many of these major sales on Origin. They know the harm that the perpetual sale is doing to their sector and they’re not contributing, or trying not to. They do seem extremely unwilling to takes risks with their games franchises though (unless you count risking shipping them as unfinished buggy messes).

On the indie side, where a full price game is rarely more than €20 and DLC is rare, they don’t have far to go to the bottom. Before long they might not be able to count on selling at more than €5 per unit average (and that’s before vendor commission – often 30% – and before all other costs) on their €20 RRP game. (As a disclaimer, the numbers are my own fabrication as I’m hypothesising on the future.)
-9HP for making it harder on the little guy. It’s notoriously hard to make a living as an indie game developer unless you have that big success. Indies need to stand out to have that success though, so on the positive side, this does at least result in more interesting games being made, rather than a normalisation (if you exclude the myriad zombie survival games out there). This would be true with or without sales though so I can’t really add back any HP, sorry. Healing spell failed!

 Final tally: Since we had 100HP to begin with we're still alive, but we've taken some serious hits. I didn't plan the numbers, I just took points based on how bad I reckoned things were relative to each other. Interesting that we got as low as 4HP remaining.
Final tally: Since we had 100HP to begin with we’re still alive, but we’ve taken some serious hits. I didn’t plan the numbers, I just took points based on how bad I reckoned things were relative to each other. Interesting that we got as low as 4HP remaining.

In all areas of life, it’s very hard to be a responsible consumer. We know we should recycle, we don’t want to support slave labour or animal cruelty, or the killing of the bees, or the harming of our beloved industries, but it’s not always easy to see how we’re doing these things as the end consumer. I do think we should stop and think once in a while instead of always jumping for the carrot. Do I have a useful suggestion though? No. Am I going to stop buying games on sale? No, probably not, although I’ll buy them full price if I’m ready for a new game and it’s not on sale.

Short of all parties agreeing to stop sales and get back to selling games at reasonable recommended retail prices (and there are laws against collusion like that, see ‘cartels’) I think we’ll just have to ride this wave until it crashes into the shore and see what the industry looks like after that. Change is not always a bad thing, after all, even if it can be painful. Just make no mistake, these perpetual sales are definitely driving a change in how we perceive, play, purchase, and create games, and it’s not necessarily a good thing. We behave like the consumer is king, but even the all-consuming bushfire can run out of fuel and burn itself out.

My Bumpy Road To Game Development

I really wanted to blog about Xcom 2 which was announced during the week and has me super-excited, but I thought it was a better time for this one. My blogs are usually opinion pieces on games or tech. Today I’m going more personal and autobiographical. After being told that the subject matter here would make for an interesting talk (I’m still going on faith on that, dear reader) I applied to give it at State of Play 2015 in DIT, Dublin. It wasn’t picked (thankfully, because there were some really great talks on that night)  but what follows is more or less the content intended for that.

So last Tuesday (June 2nd, 2015) I got this in the post. It’s a confirmation from the Companies Registration Office in Ireland that the indie games studio name I registered is unique, approved, and now mine. This means I’m a sole trader, trading under the name RetroNeo Games. I’d sent in my application a week before.

I won’t say I’d always wanted to start my own business as I was usually happy if working for a decent employer, but I had been open to it if the right idea came along too, so I was now well-chuffed!

I’d already bought the .com and reserved the Twitter and Facebook handles (all that is coming soon) so it was a real enough idea to me already, but the confirmation was sweet! As you can see in the picture, the form was actually approved on May 30th. This was huge for me. A real “ha! fuck you!” victory moment, and I’ll tell you why.

May 30th is one year on from the lowest I’ve ever been in my entire life. On that day in 2014 I wanted to die, very sincerely, and it took a while to level out again. I was in a new job in a Tax/Accountancy firm in Donnybrook and had just that week made the move from Greystones (90 mins commute each way) to an expensive apartment 10 minutes walk from work so I could have more time to study entering the final stage of my Chartered Tax Adviser exams.
I liked the new job. It was permanent with upward mobility and challenging work. I was getting on okay with people. Being outgoing. It was good. I went in to work a bit hung over (not the bad part) as the night before the whole office had been celebrating. The guy who’d done my interview (and phoned to offer me the job before I even got home that day) 6 weeks before had been named Managing Partner after his dad retired and all was positive as he spoke about how he wanted to grow and expand the firm. I was thinking this was great because I soon wouldn’t be the last-in and prone to be first-out at any moment as had happened in previous jobs when funds were low. Plus the guy who liked me was now in charge, basically.

That afternoon he fired me.

No reason was given. I’d never had a tiff with anyone. I hadn’t gotten a single complaint about my work. I know I hadn’t done or said anything stupid at the work party. They knew I’d no plans to travel or move jobs. I was solid. And I wasn’t even the last-in any more as a younger guy (also named Kevin. Considering our manager was a third Kevin, it was a very confusing room to work in) had just been hired. I was totally shocked. I agonised about what it could have been for months, but I never found out. Legally they don’t have to give a reason until you work somewhere 12 months. It was mental torture. Whatsmore they knew I was moving house that very week and chose the Friday to tell me (as firms often do). I had murder-suicide revenge fantasies for weeks. Months! Every time I pass the office on the bus line since I still want to burn the place down.

 Hm.. needs more petrol.. Probably click the picture if you feel like this too often though.
Hm.. needs more petrol.. Probably click the picture if you feel like this too often though.

That might seem extreme but everybody’s different and context is everything. To me I lost a lot more than a job. It was kind of the loss of all hope to me. One year before that firing I’d been unemployed and decided I needed to study again (already had a Commerce Degree) if I wanted a stable job. I’d already tried a year in Australia so that was no longer an option. I was thinking of going to Pulse to study games for two years but it was very expensive and not too likely to end in a job. In the end I chose the “safer” option of studying tax for 2 years, building on from my degree, instead of starting a new one. This would cost €5000 approx for all 3 parts, assuming I didn’t fail and repeat stages (50% do by the way).

So from mid-2013 to mid-2014 I treated tax study as my day job (apart from 4 months where I did temp work and studied in the evenings), and took lectures on the weekends (only time they were on). This was kind of rough because I saw very little of my friends on the weekends that year, and they were mostly working during the week (in mostly temporary jobs, typical of our demographic). I stuck it out though, got the 2nd highest results in Part 1, and passed Part 2  (way harder) first time (50% fail, remember). All that time I’d been applying for Tax Traineeships and I think I did six interviews until eventually I got the job in Donnybrook. I couldn’t get into the bigger places because I didn’t have a 1st in my initial degree, and I’d interviewed with most of the Dublin firms who were hiring already (they typically won’t interview someone ever again) so I was running out of places to go and thought that this (extremely boring) “safe”  course that I’d spent my savings on wasn’t going to pay off. So getting the Donnybrook job felt like my last chance. Annoyingly I turned down two interviews that were offered while I was working there. After I was fired I had one more offer for (the hated) Job Bridge version of the same job elsewhere, but even the Law Society of Ireland advise not to take them, saying it’s demeaning to the profession, particularly after you spend thousands on your education to be the skilled applicant that they want, just to work for free. I wasn’t about to work 60 hour weeks in crunch time, after spending thousands to be the ideal candidate, and then studying on the weekends for no money.

Further, the house I’d just moved to was also the first place I’d lived alone with my partner in nearly three years. For financial reasons we’d lived with friends or entirely separately over the previous few years, and so that was another thing snatched from us with that sentence “we just don’t feel you’re the right fit for us” (whatever that means). I won’t say I’ve had the worst recession by any stretch, but it’s definitely been rough. I’ve been 6 hours a week part time, emigrated, lost several jobs, been mostly un or under-employed, failed to get a permanent visa in South Australia and heartbreakingly had to leave a great job and life, got and had to give up two adorable puppies after that, lived separately from my partner, moved home, and for the few months of work I did have I was often commuting around 3 hours per day. I’d already moved house 6 times, twice that year, with 2 more to come because of the firing. There were more personal concerns also that I’ll spare us all. People have it worse, I know, but I was finally out of all of that, and for no given reason it was taken away. 

 Ishi and Weiler. Simultaneously the two most loving and boldest puppies ever. Now with a garden and family of their own.
Ishi and Weiler. Simultaneously the two most loving and boldest puppies ever. Now with a garden and family of their own.

So I spent the June bank holiday weekend catatonic in bed. I eventually set up my computer and played some Hitman and Max Payne 3 to focus my mind away from the dark places. I’d cancelled the house warming, talked to the landlord and prepared to move house again.

Once I was lucid enough to concentrate again, I downloaded and started taking tutorials in Unity3D. I figured I should have just followed my heart in the first place, because look at where my head had left me. I’ve always been a big gamer and wanted to make games, but everybody says that, don’t they? It’s not smart to do that, is it? Well I figured that since the next most attractive option at that stage was looking out the balcony at the ground three floors down for hours and hours, I may as well remember that the ground will always be there and spend some time doing what I’d always denied myself. I was going to learn how to make games, and finally see if it was for me. Money wasn’t a factor because there seemed to be no alternatives that were going to pay me anyway.

I really got into it! I found that I loved the magic of bringing something to life on the screen. It satisfied that same creative side of me that had loved playing in a band or running a burlesque show, neither of which I’d done much of since moving to Australia in 2011, three years previous. Also, I loved solving logic problems in the scripting. In school I’d loved French and been fond of Maths and Physics so language and logic seemed to be things for me and I took to programming Unity games in C# like a duck to water. Not that I or my career guidance teachers had ever copped this back in school. I realised immediately that I should have done computer science in college instead of business. I’d certainly be working now if I had. But there was enough online material that I could keep teaching myself and so I kept going. A family friend told me that I didn’t need to go to college to study game design if I worked hard on it myself and made games! I’ve a very nagging ‘sensible’ voice in my head that had never let me get into games, but the hard fall along with that advice and a newly discovered passion for something silenced that voice. I’d stay up past 4 in the morning, having made games all day, to continue making games.

I’d finally found what I wanted to do with my life.

 It's never too late, but it's only getting later
It’s never too late, but it’s only getting later

For the second half of 2014, I was a man on fire. I spent every waking minute learning all I could to catch up on years of “wasted time”. They say education is never wasted, but the €4k and 1 year I spent learning tax was definitely wasted. Ask me anything. I can’t remember it now. I put everything I was learning into a single project, pretty much. A top-down space shooter. I called it “Sons of Sol” which was a sci-fi universe I’d invented myself and started writing a novel in while unemployed in 2012-2013 after discovering that Disney were throwing out all the Star Wars canon that I was such a fan of.

I loved making games but I’d nothing to show people. I’d months spent on a single okay piece of a game, but had never finished something. If you’re a victim of this, make sure you get over it. The single piece of advice I hear most often for aspiring game developers is to “make games and finish them” and I have to fully agree. Try out Cow-Spiracy for a fun example of what you can do quickly. I made it in 48 hours with a friend.

In November 2014 I went to my first DubLUDO event with a couple of friends I already knew from the scene. DubLUDO is a regular-enough meetup of Irish game developers and was probably the closest thing the game dev community had to an organised structure in Ireland until Imirt was founded last month. At it I heard Brenda Romero (with husband John Romero) speak about game design documents, which was an issue I was then agonising over. Suffice it to say, she put my mind to rest. I also learned from others just how much she was doing for Irish game developers (I won’t detail, but it’s a lot!)  and she’s now on the provisional board of the aforementioned Imirt, which aims to promote Ireland abroad as a place for game development and represent for the community as a whole. I was very impressed and am ever-grateful to her and everyone who’s championing Irish game development. It gave me faith to start my own business, but we’ll get to that.

 Click for Fulbright article. And here's  Brenda's Twitter  and  John's Twitter .
Click for Fulbright article. And here’s  Brenda’s Twitter and John’s Twitter .

The community I met at DubLUDO and that I’ve come to know over the past few months are so friendly, accepting, and alive!! It’s invigorating and it pulled me further and further from the dark place. There’s a real buzz about the scene which gives me hope for the future. For my future and the future of Irish game development, which I hope are closely linked.

At the community Christmas party I met Paul Conway (the one in BitSmith making Frank n’ John, not the one working on Darkside Detective and doing art for Gunman Taco Truck with Romero’s son Donovan, though both Pauls are lovely, and all those games are awesome). Anyway Paul#1  gave me the advice to start this site and throw a few games up on it as a portfolio. Short but finished games. Paul’s advice helped me to no end. He gave me a focus. A direction! A week later ended 2014, and though I’d had the lowest point of my life in that year, I didn’t kick it out the door as I had with 2012 and 2013. Both rough years. But things were finally looking up.

In January 2015 I did the 48 hour global game jam, and started attending 1 Game a Month jam hosted by Colm Larkin who’s making Guild of Dengeoneering. (edit: you quickly see how in Ireland everyone knows everyone and chances are they’re working on something amazing and artistic. Small, talented country!)

These jams helped me fill up my site and all games can be played here. I also “finished” my original prototype for Sons of Sol in January and moved on to learn how to make other types of games. It’s also at that link.

 Claire's anniversary present to me with my game's spaceships on them! That's what support looks like. If you're wondering, support tastes like cupcakes.
Claire’s anniversary present to me with my game’s spaceships on them! That’s what support looks like. If you’re wondering, support tastes like cupcakes.

In the meantime all these great Irish games above (and Onikira too) are coming out this year, bodies are forming, the iDig games-music festival (with Video Games Live) happened in March and is becoming annual which in turn has copped Enterprise Ireland onto the viability of the games industry, and it feels like such a positive time to be an Irish indie. All these good vibes and the knowledge that I couldn’t possibly go do anything else with my life now has rescued me and given me the confidence to start my own business. I can’t thank the community enough for getting me here. To where I’m happy and alive again. I absolutely have to thank my partner Claire here too, because without her support and confidence this past year, I wouldn’t likely have stayed the course.

During the first half of this year I set about applying for Irish welfare’s Start Your Own Business scheme, which gives you guaranteed welfare income for two years while you set about your business, subject to the approval of your business plan. Mine was approved in May and the same morning as the meeting I had for it was the morning I thought of the name RetroNeo Games. The remarkable thing was that that day (I was told it was very likely to be approved), I stopped identifying myself as unemployed-with-a-hobby and started identifying myself as an indie game developer. That’s my job now!

I’m going to make “Sons of Sol: Crow’s Nest” as RetroNeo Games and I’m going to give it no less than everything I’ve got! This post has been the first half of a story. The next two years might make it a triumphant success story or just a sad, boring one. If you want to follow its progress though you can follow me on Twitter, or bookmark (site coming soon).

I know I could fail. I know I have to steel myself against the possibility of a huge let down and further financial hardship, but at this stage, I’ve survived worse, and I can’t look back now!

This is what I want to do with my life, and no fucker in a suit (note: I’ve nothing against suits. I like suits) is going to stop me!