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The Paid Mods Question

This post concerns a lot of hot topics from about this time last year (April – May 2015) but the reason I’m speaking about it now is that it came to mind recently and is bound to come into the public spotlight again sooner or later.


So, recently, a mod was released for Aliens: Colonial Marines (2013) called TemplarGFX’s ACM Overhaul. The original game was a hotly anticipated Aliens game (based upon the second Alien movie, directed by James Cameron) that turned out to be a steaming pile of rubbish that had been grossly misrepresented in pre-release footage at E3 and elsewhere. It was even up in court in a class action suit over this.

According to the mod’s description on ModDB it “reworks, reprograms and rebalances xenomorph [the alien] AI, human AI, weapon mechanics, ballistics, animations, shaders, particles, decals, lighting, and engine features to get the best out of the game possible. This is truly the ultimate Aliens gaming experience!” By all accounts, this description doesn’t exaggerate. It makes the game actually worth playing, according to many of the original’s toughest critics. It’s now a scary Aliens shooter that visually looks a lot closer to the misleadingly touched-up pre-release footage we were shown, and plays a lot more like what Alien fans wanted.

I’d be one of those fans; one who boycotted the game originally as I wouldn’t support the dishonest practices of the game’s developers. So because of the mod I was tempted to now buy the game. Terrible sales figures have seen numerous price drops and the retail price is now just €15 instead of the original €60.

But then I realised: TemplarGFX (James – the guy who made the mod) won’t see a penny from the sale. Gearbox and Sega will. The offenders. The guy who stepped in to finish their jobs for them is working for nothing and the offenders benefit. Now, you can donate to James separately if you like, but as far as buying the original game is concerned I believe that you vote with your money and I don’t want any of my money to support shady business practices that diminish the gaming industry. I also wouldn’t condone pirating the core game (for the exact same reason). 

Maybe they’ve learned their lesson. Maybe a few extra sales 3 years on at 75% mark-down won’t encourage a repeat performance of misrepresentation. In fact, maybe if sales roll in now in light of the mod it would encourage developers to make sure they finish their games. You decide for yourself. This post isn’t actually about that. It’s about paid mods.

Do Modders Deserve To Be Paid?

That’s the big question. I’d argue ‘no’. At least not formally. Hear me out. Will I donate to TemplarGFX if I start playing his mod? Yes. He definitely deserves to be rewarded for services rendered to the community. But he has no legal right to charge or expect payment. He doesn’t own the Intellectual Property and wasn’t involved in any of the legal agreements that brought about the game’s development.

Mods can be anything from audio tweaks to new graphics or even entire game conversions. The eSports phenomenon Counterstrike: Global Offensive (CS:GO) started off as a Half-Life mod. Mods have traditionally been free and done by the community for the community out of a common love of a given product. The fact that money didn’t change hands made the complicated legal situation easy to overlook and many developers encourage modding of their games.

To change this opens a Pandora’s Box of complications. Valve opened such a box in April 2015 (then promptly threw themselves bodily on the lid screaming “undo, undo”).

Paid Skyrim Mods

Via Steam Workshop, a community mod outlet for the Steam platform, Valve started allowing modders to charge for their work on the game Skyrim, with the agreement of Bethesda, Skyrim’s developer. According to my research today (and it’s in line with what I remember hearing) a modder would get 25% of the revenue for a sale of their mod (let’s say it’s a set of armour), Steam would get 30%, and Bethesda got 45%.

As far as big games companies go, I consider Bethesda to be one of the good guys, and I don’t think they try to cheat their customers, but this made me sick. Mods for a game require that core game to play. By their very existence they contribute to boosting sales of the core game, which benefits Bethesda. They then take almost double the cut from the modder’s work as the modder gets when that work is already benefiting Bethesda and costing them nothing. And that’s not even the big problem. Not even close.

Incentivising Incomplete Work

The Skyrim paid mods debacle received a huge backlash and was shut down in just a month, but it will come back again in some way or form, mark my words. If there’s a way to make money from other people’s work, big companies will figure it out. This will be bad for us. I think the only reason the system was removed and not replaced yet is because they realised how many legal issues could arise. 

The worst result from paid mods that I can see is that games will deliberately release in even buggier and less finished states than they do now. You might argue that this would never happen as it would destroy consumer confidence and trust. Sadly, you’d be wrong. The success of pre-order culture despite the broken launches of an increasing number of games in recent years proves my point. People still seem happy to pay in advance for games despite there being no guarantees that they will work as promised. And there’s an even bigger reason that you’d be wrong. Paid mods incentivise developers not to finish their games. If you financially incentivise something, businesses will make it happen.

Let me paint you a picture. Late last year Bethesda released Fallout 4. It won Game Of The Year from a few outlets (though The Witcher 3 often beat it) but it launched with a tonne of minor bugs and glitches. Some modders were quick to fix some of these and Bethesda later patched many of them. But imagine if the paid mods system of just 6 months prior were still in place? Modders fix the broken game in different ways, maybe they charge for their work (as they’d deserve to) and then Bethesda get 45% of the money. This is instead of them paying their own staff or paying for an extra month of development to get the job done themselves. They’ve saved money by releasing earlier and got paid to do so.

Skyrim was already 3 and a half years old when they tried paid mods with it. It was in good shape. Can you imagine if paid mods had been around when Aliens: Colonial Marines came out? Or what if Skyrim came out without the dragons, but they’d dropped enough hints during development to make you want them (“you could mod anything into this game, even dragons! How cool would that be?!”). Instead of paying staff to develop them, they can sit back and get paid to let the community finish their game.

And where does that go? Where does it end? Certainly nowhere good!

  Fallout 4  bug. We could have been in a situation where Bethesda were actually paid to let someone else fix this. Less scrupulous companies would certainly think that's okay.
Fallout 4 bug. We could have been in a situation where Bethesda were actually paid to let someone else fix this. Less scrupulous companies would certainly think that’s okay.

If paid mods are ever going to work, and I don’t think they will, it has to be a situation where the original developer gets nothing! Zero! No money! They must acknowledge that an active modding community increases the value (and sales) of their game and be content with that. The potential for abuse is just too high for this to work any other way.

The Legals, and Consumer Protection

There are other reasons it won’t work. Who are you dealing with when you buy a mod? You can be sure you’ll never meet them, and almost as sure that Steam and Bethesda will never have met them or dealt with them either. If you pay for a service and it stops working, most countries have consumer protection laws to cover you. It’s one thing to try and enforce them when dealing with one or two big companies, but how do you police a myriad hobbyists? Many of their mods may break when the next official patch for the main game is released. Or one set of missions might be incompatible with another and so one paid mod breaks another, unexpectedly. If you have an open platform of paid mods, some building on top of each other, and others mutually exclusive, there’s no way to feasibly test for compatibility. It would be the Wild West!

 Mods have always been silly
Mods have always been silly

One of the earliest mods that I’m personally aware of is for id Software’s Wolfenstein 3D (1992), where Barney the Dinosaur was modded into the game as an enemy. The music from the show was also used. If this were a paid mods situation, the modder is using copyright material without permission to make money for themselves. That’s illegal in most countries in the world.

And what if somebody took recordings of a lot of local small-time metal bands and put them into the new Doom? (okay I’m really using too many Bethesda examples today, but they started it!) The bands may never know that their music was used without permission until months or years later. Then Bethesda and Valve have taken money for illegally-used material. Now what? 

I think there are some ways around this by having a closed platform and vetting the modders (Steam’s Early Access doesn’t inspire confidence in this area though) but it’s still a mess. Because there wasn’t originally money to be made in mods, people made them for fun. Putting Barney in Wolfenstein was just funny. Mods have a history and culture of copyright infringement. How do you separate that?

Apart from all of that, what the hell is the value of a mod? Is a sword worth €2? What’s a new level worth then? €10? €20? What about a total conversion? And some mods are definitely worthless, or even repugnant.

Mods can proliferate a lot faster than games can. Economically I could argue that this increased supply should drive price way down to where they’re not much worth pursuing anyway, rendering the whole argument moot, but that seems like a lazy way out. I also don’t feel it’s true enough to get us out of the situation. Valve didn’t, after all.

 What's this worth to you?
What’s this worth to you?

How should/could developers get paid?

A moment ago I asked what would a total conversion mod be worth? Let’s explore that.

Take the game Squad. It’s a 50 v 50 multiplayer shooter that champions realism and is available on Steam Early Access currently for $40. It’s based on a mod for Battlefield 2 called Project Reality. The mod changed virtually everything about BF2. It was just loosely similar gameplay and built on the same engine, but it was a fan community project. You could donate towards its development but the money was peanuts!

These talented developers then decided to make their own game. There’s no shortage of game engines out there. They already had a working prototype and knew they could work together, and they had the skills required. So they created their own original IP and sold that

Modders are people with the skills necessary to make games choosing to apply those skills to someone else’s product. When they make mods, there’s no money in it. They usually just do it after their day jobs for the love of the project. I know the Operation Flashpoint, Command & Conquer and Xcom tweaks I made were just for fun, and I never expected to be paid.

If modders want to be paid (not all do. Many were against the Steam/Bethesda move) they should try to apply their skills to making their own IP or getting jobs in the game development industry. Many have used their mods as portfolio pieces to get a foot in the door before. 

In Summary

Let’s be clear about me. I have done a little modding in the past. I’m also a guitarist, a writer, an events producer, a game developer and I’ve a lot of photographer and performer friends. I hate the term “for the exposure”. Do people deserve to be paid for their work? Yes! But should we formalise a system for paid mods where the developers get a cut? Absolutely not! It’s just a terrible idea for all the reasons I’ve mentioned above, though it pains me to say it.

Modders deserve to get paid, but I don’t think they should expect to. The existing system of voluntary donations and free mods is, I think, the only healthy system of rewarding modders. Nobody gets into modding to make a living, and generally speaking no living can be made from it. This isn’t an injustice. This doesn’t need to change. Modders do what they do for love (and to keep their skills sharp) but appreciate a bit of cash if you have it. They’re like a lot of buskers in this way. We shouldn’t formalise a system where if you use a main street and there’s a guitar player busking that you have to pay them and the town council get a cut. No, you just pay the person singing because you feel they deserve it. 

And let’s remember that modding isn’t a whole trade. It’s art, sound or programming skills applied to changing somebody else’s game. By choice! Modders have valuable skills. They can seek payment for these skills in other areas within the software or gaming industries.

I didn’t start this blog expecting to give my own verdict. On this blog I usually just discuss without drawing too many conclusions. As I wrote today, however, I just couldn’t see a situation where paid mods would be a good thing, and I didn’t see anything unjust enough about the current system to warrant changing it. 

Incentivising games companies to any extent not to do their jobs is one of the worst systems we could introduce. Even if developers like Bethesda agreed to 0%, Steam would still take a cut and then they’re incentivised to flash mods for the big games up on the main store front, forcing out smaller legitimate games. We already see it with DLC for games being listed separately from the main game and collectively filling up sales charts with basically one game, forcing others off the Top 10 list (or whatever list).

So donate to your modders. Support them. They’ve done good work. But please never support a paid mods system that could damage games for us all. The next time it comes up (and it will come up again) take a look at the profit splits. Ask yourself what’s being incentivised. If it’s anything other than 100% for the modder, please oppose it, loudly!

Vote with your money. Donate to modders. Don’t buy mods.

Until next time..

Playing Romero’s New Game

Okay sorry, you’ve been click baited a little. I haven’t played John Romero’s new shooter – of course I haven’t! The ‘game’ I refer to is following the stealth marketing campaign that surrounds the new shooter, and uncovering its mysteries.

Once a month I take time out of developing my Asteroids-like game, Sons of Sol: Crow’s Nest to blog on gaming news. I’ve been following this story with great curiosity recently.

Last weekend I did a hefty amount of research into Hoxar, the mysterious (and fictional) augmented reality company that lies at the heart of this mystery. During this past week a lot has been hinted and teased, including the fact that “On April 25th at 11 am EDT, the full details of Night Work’s upcoming game will be revealed”.

What I’m writing down today is a summary of what’s happened, what’s known, and (a little bit) what I think the new Romero shooter is going to be. While I may be proven wrong in just two days, this is something of a snapshot in time for posterity’s sake. Plus if I’m right, I’ll seem like an awesome games journalist and PC Gamer should probably think about giving me a job (if they’re reading.. hint hint).

The one thing I’ll give you for free before we kick off is that the new game is NOT called ‘Hoxar’. A reliable source high up in the studio confirmed that to me.

The Return

On April 20th, John Romero’s YouTube Channel released the video above and the gaming press have picked it up. It’s the most visible element in the campaign leading to the announcement of the new shooter.

If you’re reading this blog, chances are you’ve already seen it and know its significance, but hopefully I’ll tell you some things you don’t know.

Adrian Carmack opens the video, playing a role analogous to Rey from Star Wars Episode 7. Adrian (artist) was the co-founder of id Software with John Romero, Tom Hall and John Carmack (no relation) where they pioneered the shooter genre with games like Wolfenstein 3D, Doom, and Quake. He’s also credited with coining the term “gibs” – short for “giblets”. 

None of the original four co-founders work at id any more and to the best of my knowledge, Romero and Adrian haven’t done a game together since Quake in 1996.
The same source that I mentioned before has confirmed that Adrian is involved in the production of the new shooter – not just this teaser.

In the video, Adrian’s ‘Rey’ character approaches Romero’s ‘Luke Skywalker’ and proffers him a keyboard and mouse (lightsaber), initiating Romero’s “Return”. John Romero hasn’t stopped working in games, so the presumption is that, instead of a return to game development, it’s a return specifically to the genre that they pioneered together – First Person Shooters.

As proof, The Return points towards the new Night Work Games Ltd whose currently sparse website does prominently display the text “A NEW FIRST-PERSON SHOOTER IS BEING BUILT AT NIGHT WORK GAMES LTD. IN GALWAY, IRELAND”.

According to the same site “Night Work Games Ltd. is the dark and violent subsidiary of Romero Games Ltd”, which is also now based in Galway.

As trivia; the video was created by 2 Player Productions, the same team that did the Double Fine Documentary and Minecraft: The Story of Mojang. Apparently, hearing that Romero was now based in Ireland, they decided to mimic the famous scene from the end of The Force Awakens. The final scene from Episode 7 was filmed on Sceilig Mhicíl (Skellig Michael) in County Kerry off the West coast of Ireland. This video was filmed in Connemara, about 200km North of the Skelligs, and on the mainland.

Adrian Carmack has also had an Irish base of operations for a little while, having bought a 5-star hotel in County Laois in 2014.


Anyone who signed up to the Night Work Games newsletter or who’s been following John or Brenda Romero’s Twitter feeds will have caught wind of something called ‘Hoxar’. It’s been floating around for a few weeks before we knew anything about Night Work Games or The Return.

Shack News seem to have scooped the Hoxar story on April 15th, with Romero confirming (in a way) the validity via Twitter.

Hoxar’s website (registered in February this year), at a casual glance, appears to be just some technology company interested in revolutionary VR. But if you read a little into it, you realise that they’re calling VR (which is only just getting started) “a thing of the past”.

The biggest clue that they’re not real is probably that their technology has “sight, sound, smell, and touch components”.. nobody in their right minds is working on smellovision. That train has sailed. (although – that’s what they said about VR..)

If you Google Image search any of the photos on the site you can see that they come from stock photo websites or similar, and you won’t find any of the supposed employees on LinkedIn or anywhere else.

A lot of detail has gone into the site, and there’s even job openings. Apparently, a PR company is helping with this game, so presumably this whole Hoxar thing is part of their brief while Night Work Games makes the actual game.

What the company supposedly do is develop “BLACKROOM”, an extremely (impossibly) advanced virtual reality experience that doesn’t require any headsets. It includes advanced AI and uses hoxels (holographic pixels). It has entertainment, therapeutic, and military applications. The kicker though is their PMT (Predictive Memory Technology). Read the site’s info itself if you want, but essentially, in the fiction, it reads people’s memories and extrapolates more realistic experiences based on what the user would expect to happen.

The Social Media Fiction

Again, you can track it all down in detail yourself but in short; Through the Hoxar Facebook and Twitter pages, as well as their various newsletters, they’ve told us of how their tests with the technology are proceeding. A woman got to reunite with her dead mother and find closure – great!

There was also a military test that went wrong and is basically being examined – not so great! But this is why you test! Nothing to worry a bout..

This smacks of the kind of thing you hear on the TV or radio at the start of a horror movie before the hero turns it off, thinking nothing of it, only to have it start chewing on his or her leg thirty minutes later.

Hoxar certainly seems to be this game’s equivalent of Doom‘s UAC (Union Aerospace Corporation). When will the scientists learn?!

The other thing to note is that the dates mentioned in all posts are in April 2036. Presumably, many people have glanced right past the dates, not noticing that there’s one digit out of place. So while we’re getting ‘live’ updates every other day, the fiction presumes that we’re in 2036.

The Invitation

In the Hoxar newsletter of April 24th, they have a post about Curse of the Ebon Raven, an “entertainment HoloSim” horror game so intense that nobody has yet made it through.

The end of the announcement said “To arrange an engagement, contact please contact Thexder Roy at”.

I find this curious because it’s the only mention of this so far, and the game is about to be announced in two days. I’m not sure where they can go with this one (unless the hauntings turn out to be real! – ooooohhh). Nevertheless, I bit, and answered the email. To my surprise, I got a response. See below.

This email was sent out 1 minute after yesterday’s newsletter from Night Work Games. A minute is 60 seconds. 6 times 10. Ignore 10. 6. The first, second, and third numbers in ‘666’, the number of the beast! Coincidence? Wake up people!!

Okay so I’m not sure what to make of that one, but I know I’m not flying to Scottsdale to drive up 3 miles of road to an empty construction site. I put this down to just an extra level of detail to the crafting of the game’s mystique, and I have to say that I’m impressed. The reason I say that is actually my next point.

The Address

One of the most curious things that I found (and I haven’t seen any other media mention it so far) is the company address. Other media have rightly claimed that the company is registered in Scottsdale, Arizona (note that the company name isn’t trademarked with the USPTO, which would have been done for a real company of this size), but they haven’t examined the address.

11666 East Del Cielo Drive. The 666 seems like an obvious hint towards devilish themes (‘del cielo’ means ‘from the sky’), but it goes deeper than that. This is remote. 5 miles outside of Scottsdale, and 3 miles from the nearest road that the Google Street View car has visited. 

Because I couldn’t get a look through Street View, I used the satellite photos (I feel like such a spy! I love living in the future!). See the photos below.

There’s nothing there! How curious. There is a reasonably sizeable structure built into the side of the hill a little bit down the road. If I was feeling particularly conspiratorial, I’d accuse it of being a bunker built into the hillside. This is a real satellite photo, remember. You can go to Google Maps and find this yourself.

Companies can put their addresses into Google Maps, so I think it’s probable that 11666 was deliberately placed there by the game’s marketers, and not that the address was pre-existing. But, that said, you can also find results for 11665, 11664, etc. If you explore the satellite views on the way up this road, there are a few (very large, very nice) homes built nearby.

I do think there’s something to this, but I couldn’t say what, exactly. Why didn’t Romero and co just completely make up an address? It didn’t have to be searchable on Google Maps. It wouldn’t be the first conspiracy theory to come out of the deserts of the Western United States though. Most likely it’s all just part of the theme building and the fact that it’s searchable is just another layer of game-detail for the curious gamer to appreciate. It’s good design to reward Explorer-type players, because they spread stories about their findings (like I am now) and hype the game for just a small amount of content creation.

The Timing

How ready could this game be? Is it just starting out or has it been happening for years under our noses? In 2012, John Romero told Eurogamer “Yes, I’m definitely going to be making another shooter and it will be on PC first,” he explained. Read the article here. If the game he mentioned in that article is the one he’s about to announce, it could almost be done.
It would also mean that it was developed in the US, since that’s where the Romeros were based until moving to Ireland in 2015, a decision they apparently only made after visiting Ireland in 2014. Night Work Games is based in Ireland, as I’ve mentioned.

Could it be a coincidence that this new game will be announced to the world less than 3 weeks before the new Doom game releases on May 13th? 

May will also see the release of shooters Homefront: The Revolution (single & multi player open world game), Overwatch and Battleborn (both largely multiplayer ‘cutesy’ shooters). This year will also give us Cliff Bleszinski’s Lawbreakers as well as possibly the new Unreal Tournament, the original of which Bleszinski also created.

I find the timing curious. It’s doubtful that those big titles were looking over their shoulder for what Romero could be doing, since he’s been involved more in mobile and social games for years. Gearbox were more concerned with what Blizzard were doing, and vice versa. Then rises a phoenix from the ashes. A small new company (like id was) set to blow the comfortable competition out of the water.. maybe..

I speculate, but regardless of whether the timing was deliberate or not, the new Doom and the new Romero shooter will definitely be compared. If Romero’s shooter is actually close to releasing, the two games will be locking horns in a comic-book style grudge match for the ages. This could be a real life Batman vs Superman for games (though hopefully good).

What type of shooter could it be?


Well this is all speculation now, but the Hoxar stuff certainly hints at experimental technology gone wrong and has military and horror overtones. Doom and Quake certainly match those descriptions. Add to that the fact that Adrian Carmack is involved and I’d certainly say that we’re looking at some sort of demonic, mutant, or alien sci-fi horror shooter.

Indeed, Night Work Games’ website background is the surface of the moon, and the ‘o’ in ‘Work’ is a picture of the moon. Of course this could just be in reference to “Night”, but it’s quite possible that it’s a double entendre, since this studio has only recently been founded in order to put out this one specific game.

Single or Multi Player?

There’s no way in Hell that John Romero is teasing a “Return” to the first person shooter if it doesn’t at least include multiplayer Deathmatch. Call that confirmed right now!
The aforementioned Eurogamer article from 2012 did say “Romero also hinted at a “MMO-ish” style of play, with a persistent world and data” so if that’s anything to go by we can expect some PvP action, but hopefully also the option for some solo quests.

Tech Level?

Wolfenstein, Doom, and Quake were all famous for pushing technical boundaries, and while Hoxar hints at high-tech augmented reality, I think the obvious fallacy of that site doesn’t point us reliably at a cutting-edge technology or a VR based game. It still could be, but I don’t think anything hints at it.

The original id games were all driven by John Carmack’s ground-breaking tech, but he’s currently working with Oculus and has been for years. It seems very unlikely that he’s involved or that this will be a VR shooter.

On the other hand, it’s stated that this is a PC FPS, with no mention of consoles. Could this be because it’ll require a high-end PC to run? It does seem possible.


Romero has said over the past few years that he craves the speed and skill of the old shooters, and that modern cover shooters don’t satisfy him, so we can certainly expect this game to be fast and have heavy retro influences. I wish it would be sprite-based, like Doom, but Romero said in the Eurogamer article that it won’t be.

I’m sure of one thing, though: Knowing John Romero’s renowned penchant for spectacle and his love of first person shooters, we can expect this to be something special!

In Conclusion

Stealth marketing campaigns are fun (if you care about the content). In effect, they’re the meta-game already begun.

For anyone who’s been participating, they’re basically playing the prologue of the game. Sure, it happens to be a detective game and not a shooter, but the slow building of anticipation, and the excitement when you read into a new clue and imagine the implications – that’s marketing gamified! Romero has always been an exceptional game designer, able to empathise with the player’s experience. 

The Hoxar campaign is, to me, early evidence of a legendary game designer back in the saddle, and I’m excited to see what news comes on Monday, April 25th 2016, at 8am Pacific Time, 11am Eastern, or 4pm Irish.

Until next time..


Virtually a Reality: My thoughts on VR

 VirZoom. An exercise bike game controller. One of the surprisingly awesome VR experiences I had at GDC.
VirZoom. An exercise bike game controller. One of the surprisingly awesome VR experiences I had at GDC.

We’re almost there!

Hello folks! Myself and 27,000 other people are just home from GDC 2016 in San Francisco. For many, myself included, it was our first GDC. This year also marked GDC’s highest attendance to date, and there was no small focus on VR. They even went as far as to have an entire VRDC branch of the conference laid out with many talks and demos available for conference goers.

Personally, I was eager to try as much of the VR tech as I could, but more as a consumer than as a developer. My game is a 2D space sim, so VR is hardly going to have a major impact on it. Even further down the line, I can see myself favouring retro-style games (look at the company name, after all) than cutting edge VR, but I’m certainly interested in the area, as are many.

All the big players were at the conference and while many of the companies’ wares were on display by (very) advanced appointment only (Virtuix Omni, Playstation VR, Raw Data on the Vive) there was still a lot that I got to try out. I was very undecided about the future of VR before GDC. How the game industry evolves still remains to be seen, but I certainly now have an educated two-cents to throw into the conversation (Don’t mix metaphors. Don’t mix metaphors. Okay, sorry).

We’re closer than we’ve ever been, but is VR truly about to arrive for the masses, and if so, is it here to stay?

First Thought – Price

Before and after GDC, my thoughts on the cost of entry to higher-end VR gaming are that it is madly expensive. Even if I have now seen more of what I’d be buying in to, the cost is still a major obstacle.

The Oculus runs at $600 + shipping, and that’s without the Oculus Touch controllers which aren’t even released yet. The HTC Vive is $800, though it includes the VR controllers and the headset does have a camera, allowing AR (Augmented Reality) options that the Oculus can’t provide.

Both of those options require a high-end PC in the first place which will run easily over $1,000. 

The Playstation VR might lead the charge when it comes to user adoption. At $400 for the headset, it’s only about as expensive again as a PS4, and half the price of a Vive. While the quality is a little less impressive than its pricier counterparts, reports are that it’s not that inferior at all (I didn’t get to try it at GDC, unfortunately). Console gamers are already less concerned with having “the best” as compared with PC users and so I think here is where we’ll see the biggest early adoption of VR, at least when it comes to gaming.

There are several cheaper options again, and these lead me to my next point.

Ambiguity & Choice Paralysis

Even for those who are willing to buy one expensive VR headset, they may well wish to wait and see what takes off in a year’s time. The Vive can do things that the Oculus Rift can’t, but some of those things require an 8ft x 8ft room. Many people will need to buy a house before they can make use of that particular VR offering!

The Oculus Touch controllers (which I did try with the game I Expect You To Die) do seem somewhat more natural that Vive’s controllers, though I haven’t spent a large amount of time with either.

 I tried the Oculus Touch controllers. They aren't released yet, but they're looking and feeling pretty darned cool.
I tried the Oculus Touch controllers. They aren’t released yet, but they’re looking and feeling pretty darned cool.

Then you have the cheaper Samsung Gear VR into which you simply insert your phone (certain models of Android only) and you have instant VR. However, it only tracks your head movement and takes a single button input. This is not for advanced gaming. It’s more the evolution of mobile games in that regard, but the lower price makes it very viable for people who just want experiences like 3D movies, guided tours, or VR porn (yes, it’s already a thing. The porn industry has traditionally been on the cutting edge of technology – seriously).

Google Cardboard, the cheapest VR entry, can’t even compare with the Vive or Oculus in terms of what it can do, but anyone can afford it and it works with a far wider selection of phones. 

What is VR?

So, what is VR? Well it isn’t just one thing. That’s a problem and an opportunity. The fact that there’s an affordable VR option for everyone may lead to high adoption, but whether it robs the higher end companies of their desired market share or primes the public for that more exciting stuff remains to be seen.

I would guess that it will create a low-level interest in VR and as prices fall, we’ll see more adoption of the better headsets eventually.

For the rest of the article, I’ll focus more on the higher end products.

The games industry has been making the most noise about VR, so it’s easy to forget its myriad other applications. Hospitals have tried adopting it to reduce depression and anxiety and ease recovery in patients. Architects are using it to show their designs in more detail than ever before. Even Six Flags theme parks have started using VR on actual roller coasters

I wouldn’t be surprised if Google are working it into their Street View technology and all sorts of documentaries, concerts, and sporting events are sure to be recorded and broadcast in 3D in the coming years. Its use for mediation (see Deep – coming to the Tribeca Film Festival this year) or perhaps to treat forms of autism are very exciting also. And there’s the porn..

Thinking of VR as being “the next thing in gaming” is an extremely narrow way of seeing it, and many games developers are bravely leading the charge when time could very well show them to have had been headed the wrong way entirely.

This is my opinion only, but I don’t see VR treadmills designed for first person shooters as being the right way to go. I haven’t tried any, admittedly, but neither have many other potential customers, and that’s what counts. The FPS genre was pretty much fine as it was. It’s run its course, even! VR doesn’t lend itself well to lively first person movement. Older arcade shooters like Time Crisis may see a very positive revival because in those games you were tied to a single point in each section of the game, and then a cutscene moves you to the next. They worked just fine and as I watched demos of Raw Data (video below) and listened to the (very lucky) happy people coming away from their demo sessions, I think this is where VR shooters are heading.

I was very surprised to be asked “do you think VR will change the face of gaming” at GDC. For me there’s no question. It won’t! Look at the resurgence of 2D games, and the popularity of first person shooters. These games aren’t going away and they don’t need VR. Many 2D games exist because they’re cheaper to produce and almost everybody can run them. It makes no sense to develop the next FTL or Spelunky as a VR game. Indies already struggle to make ends meet (okay, maybe not those two) so they won’t limit themselves by developing for a smaller audience.

VR is a new peripheral (when it comes to gaming). It enables new types of games to exist, it will improve certain game genres, and it flat-out won’t work for other genres. The gaming world as we know it won’t change overnight, but it will slowly open up new territories.

Where VR shines for gaming

For me, any game where you are piloting or driving a vehicle will benefit well from VR. Being able to glance over your shoulder in a race car or fighter jet is something we’ve been missing and VR will really add to the experience. However, this is a very niche market. Headsets will sell well to the types of people who buy high-end joysticks or steering wheels, but these sales wouldn’t be enough to buoy up the VR industry.

We need new types of games.

I’ve tried a bunch of VR games that I’d describe as neat but I wouldn’t buy a headset for them and even if I had one I wouldn’t play the game for more than a little while. The first game I saw that I could really see myself playing every day was Ubisoft’s Eagle Flight.

You play as an eagle flying around an abandoned Paris. You hold a controller with buttons for acceleration and an attack, but all steering is done with the headset and it feels incredibly natural, smooth, and fun! There are single player and multiplayer game modes where you hunt down other birds who are attacking your nest (amongst other modes).

I queued for an hour to play this at GDC and I’m glad I did. I came away feeling for the first time like I’d really found a new type of game. The sense of flight, the field of vision, and the agility the player could quickly learn were all very compelling. And say what you like about Ubisoft (I frequently do) they know how to make compelling games that keep you coming back for weeks – at least! I can really see this one being big on Playstation, Oculus and Vive.

The problem of Fragmentation

Eagle Flight is a simple game with simple controls that works very well. I think it’ll be one of the biggest early games of the VR generation. This is because most people, whatever they own, will be able to buy and play it. 

The Vive in particular is guilty of encouraging the development of games that simply won’t be possible to play on the Oculus or PSVR. All the systems can track head movement and accept basic input, but the Vive can make use of a physical boundary scanning technology and front-mounted camera. This enables you to safely (if not yet ‘confidently’) walk around your living room while playing an experience, thus allowing types of games that we haven’t even imagined yet to be created. While that’s very exciting in theory, it’s in no developer’s interest to make games that can only be played on the Vive, when they could make simpler ones that will run on all (or most) devices.

Pushing the limits of the technology will yield great experiences, but someone who’s just dropped a grand into the Oculus isn’t likely to go over and buy a Vive for one new game. Who, then, is going to make the amazing games, and which platforms will they be available for?

I would predict a banality in the types of games that come out in the first couple of years until one platform or another really pulls ahead in terms of market share. That’s when developers will choose their dev platform and really start pushing the technology.


As if the headsets themselves weren’t expensive enough, there’s a whole subset of companies developing movement controllers for VR devices.

I’ve already mentioned Virtuix Omni, and my lack of belief in the product’s viability long-term. There are similar treadmills on offer, too, from other companies. I’ve even heard of virtual hang-gliders that you lie down and strap yourself into. I can only imagine how much floor space is required for that one! Presumably you wouldn’t get much use out of them, either. Games get boring, after all. This has always been true.

I say that without having tried any of those aforementioned. What I did try was VirZoom.

I’d seen GameSpot’s video (above) previously, and I was sceptical. How can you pedal a horse? That’s bound to feel stupid! Same goes for a race car. I tried this at GDC and was pleasantly surprised.

You wear your chosen headset, then sit up on an exercise bike. There’s a left and right trigger, and the pedals. Those are your main inputs. Tilting your head or looking at something directly is also a form of input. VirZomm provided five 1-minute demos back-to-back for attendees. I started off pedalling and the horse started moving. I was to lasso bandits off their nearby horses by catching up to them, looking at them and pressing a trigger. Simultaneously I had to avoid certain obstacles in the street.

After about ten seconds, I didn’t even realise I was pedalling any more. The gameplay just took over. The same went for driving the race car and even flying the helicopter. When you’re in it, it feels totally natural, despite how it looks to an observer and despite how unconvincing it must be to read about.

I finished the demo with a good warm-up done and a new appreciation for the types of games that could be created.

We run into the fragmentation problem again, here. Any games designed to work well for this exercise bike input will likely not be very convincing as a traditional game with an ordinary gamepad. Thus for the developers to make back money, one might expect the games to cost a lot, or at least to have been cheap to produce and probably lacking in variety. On the other hand, we see here that there are legitimately whole new directions to explore with VR. The retail cost of the bike is $400. Another steep investment. However, here you can weigh the investment against the cost of a road bike or gym membership. Maybe in colder climates where you can’t cycle or jog in Winter, the gamification of exercise could really take off. The bike also folds down pretty small so it doesn’t take up much space in your house.

If I already had a VR headset, I could honestly see myself making this the next purchase. I know I need more exercise, and while the best gameplay motivation in the current demos is merely to place on a world high-score chart, savvy developers could make some really compelling narrative games based around stories like Easy Rider, or Mad Max style road warrior games.

Update, 13/01/2018: If you’d like extra reading on the VR cycling space, I’ve recently been contacted by Eric from Bikemunk who read this article and offered a link to his own article on cycling software..

In Conclusion

I personally think VR will be a big part of our futures, but not that it will revolutionise gaming. I doubt it will revolutionise any particular industry. I think it hasn’t quite arrived yet but that when it does it will be here to stay. The internet and the smart phone will likely remain the largest technical and social milestones in our recent history, but VR will certainly shake things up a bit and make the world a more interesting place to live in.

I can’t wait until I can afford it..

Until next time..



Player Too: Episode 5 – Broken Age, Dr.Langeskov, Snozbot’s Text Adventure

Welcome back to the Player Too series, where I slowly beg and cajole my patient girlfriend, Claire into playing games with me as I document the process.. more or less. It’s been two months since we last left off.

This is the first entry of 2016, and also my first non-technical blog of the year. I’ve been looking to write less and develop more, but I haven’t given it up. The current pace seems to be one post per month instead of 2015’s one-per-week. The breather has been nice. Sons of Sol is also coming along more quickly and I imagine the newly found downtime allowing me to just chill sometimes is partly responsible.

In the past few months we’ve tried a few new games that were all very successful for Player Too (i.e. Claire liked them) and which shared some commonalities (‘similarities’ is so last week). Those would be that these games were all cheap (or free), humorous, and you couldn’t die. Spoiler alert; we’d recommend them all! First up..

Snozbot’s Text Adventure

 Click to play the game.
Click to play the game.

Despite the name, it’s not a text adventure. It’s more akin to the funnies section in a Sunday paper (do those still exist?..) by way of a platformer. It’s a five minute (less, probably) experience in which you’ve little in the way of challenge or gameplay, but you’re just along for the humorous ride. It’s the 4th entry in the Spaaace Faaarm series by Snozbot in Ireland, which is still releasing episodes regularly.

Snozbot are the guys behind the Fungus tool, a free plugin for the Unity game engine that excels in simplifying the development of narrative or text driven games (or those sections of larger games), to put it simply. The Spaaace Faaarm series (as well as Pipsville) is something of a free sample set of the great things that can be made easily with Fungus. That’s great for us because it means there are some fantastic free games being made on a regular basis. Think of them as 5 minute comedy sketches that are loosely tied together with some common threads and references and you won’t be too far off.

Snozbot’s Text Adventure is probably the most game-y  entry in the series so far. You play as Snozbot, a robot who wakes up to find that his brain has been stolen! Oh no! In a quest to find it again, you platform around the environment, but with a twist. The platforms and floor are all made out of the words that are narrating the story! The simplicity and beauty of this design instantly blew me away the first time I played it, and the same for Claire when I showed it to her. The carefully chosen words, sentence structure and the animations on choice verbs are delightful. 

The tone is adorable, the characters, gags, and resolution are heart-warming, and the writing is hilarious in a Pixar kind of way.

To say more would be to spoil it. You could play it in as much time as it took you to read this far. Do play, and check out the other entries if you enjoyed it. I particularly liked episode 6 – Cooking with Cthulhu.

Player Too Result:

I actually heard Claire squealing with delight at some of the gags and revelations, and she laughed throughout. Who doesn’t like good comedy?! What surprised me was her instant enthusiasm to see (and create) more of the same. So I briefly explained what Fungus was and how it worked and she was all up for tackling a game jam with me some time in the future. To paraphrase here “if games can be like this then, yep! Count me in!”.

That’s the thing! Games are so much broader than just Call of Duty or Civilization. I knew we could find a genre Claire would genuinely take to, not just enjoy-but-please-stop-making-me-play-your-stupid-games.

Look out for a Player Too game jam in the coming months, so, hopefully!

Dr. Langeskov, The Tiger, and The Terribly Cursed Emerald: A Whirlwind Heist

 This screenshot won't do a single thing to help you understand what the game's about - guaranteed!
This screenshot won’t do a single thing to help you understand what the game’s about – guaranteed!

While this is a short game (finish reading the title and you’re probably a decent way through already), I can’t believe they charged no money for this! It’s hilarious and really enjoyable. As with The Stanley Parable (many of the same developers/writers were involved, including William Pugh) this game defies a summary, though I shall attempt one.

It’s a comedy experience with a very British sense of humour. I remember thinking that if the Monty Python guys made games, this is probably what they’d be like! Again, just play it. It’s free. It only takes a few minutes. Play while dinner is in the oven some time and your life will be better for it!

Player Too Result:

I broke a Player Too rule with this one in that I played and Claire watched. It was only a short game at the end of a long day and she didn’t want to ‘steer’ so I did, but I still think that creates a barrier. If you’re trying to interest someone in something, let them do it! I can name countless games from my childhood that I’ve seen but never played because a friend wasn’t so generous with giving others a go. Starcraft 1, Descent and Baldur’s Gate were games I may have loved, and I saw many hours of them, but I’d no idea how they felt to play and can’t call myself a fan, really.

Stop! Digress time! There was little missed though in Claire not playing herself this time around and we both laughed through the experience. She’s played The Stanley Parable demo before and really liked it, but as she hasn’t played the full SP yet I’ve held off on writing about it in this blog. Playing Dr.Langeskov has bumped Stanley back up to the top of our list (next to Life Is Strange, which we’ve started but not gotten very far in yet). Again, we’ve found a game that Claire really enjoyed and would like to see more of. Humour goes a long way in endearing you towards something, and Dr.Langeskov oozes finely crafted, excellently timed humour.

Broken Age

Okay so, the “real” game. The high profile one you may have actually heard of, seen in shops, and can pay for.

Loved it!

I’m not personally an adventure game fan per se. I played bits and pieces of them before but never actually owned a Lucasarts or Sierra one. I bought the Grim Fandango Remaster last year and it was the first time I’d played it outside of the original demo. I also gave up on it by the second chapter, so I wasn’t going to be the one championing the genre to anybody, though I knew that shouldn’t stop me from seeing if Claire liked them. 

A “Daniel” commented on the very first Player Too blog and recommended this, so thanks for that, but our coming to play it was a little less direct than that. I read PC Gamer’s The 50 Most Important PC Games of All Time article and there was an entry for Broken Age. They liked the game and all, but were touting its importance as a Kickstarter project and how the Double Fine Adventure documentary on the game’s development had been a very important insight for the public into how games are made, particularly in an era of crowdfunding.

I’d forgotten that there had been such a series and started watching it while making dinner in the evenings. Claire joined me a few episodes in to it. Won over my Tim Schafer’s charm (who wouldn’t be?) and rooting for the hard working people at Double Fine who were putting their hearts and souls into Broken Age’s development, Claire decided that she’d like to play the game, so we got it.

This was her first adventure game, but the formula isn’t too complicated and Act 1 of the game is actually beautifully balanced for new players (we think, anyway) so she took to it right away. This is actually the first game she’s played that I’ve seen her come home to and want to play. To tackle a puzzle or just move the story along. She really enjoyed it. I never came to suggest (as with many of the other games) that we sit and play together for a while or convince her to return to tackle a challenging puzzle. She just grabbed her laptop and launched the game because she truly wanted to. I really enjoyed watching it too, and was soon convinced to start my own playthrough. We both finished the game at almost the same time yesterday, hinting each other through some of the frustrating final puzzles as we arrived at the final confrontation pretty much neck and neck, each on our own machines.

 That's Vella. She's my friend. I love her..
That’s Vella. She’s my friend. I love her..

I hardly ever laugh out loud at anything (I’m dead inside, you see) even if I find it funny, but I laughed at this a lot! I also found the game to be a much smoother experience than older adventure games. There weren’t any puzzles that I solved by blindly trying every item in my inventory against every item in the room. Broken Age always left me with a few working theories, and Claire said the same.  There are two lead characters; Shay (Elijah Wood) and Vela (Masasa Moyo) whoa are both teenagers disillusioned with their worlds, albeit for quite different reasons. The genius of the game (whether it was intended originally or not, I’m not sure) is that who you can swap between both sides of the story at will, meaning if you’re ever stuck and feel frustration coming on, you can swap characters and try out the other puzzles for a while. This will also often lead you to hints in one world that spark an idea of how to solve your problem in the other, and it’s actually required to solve some of the last puzzles.

The symmetry in the game is fresh and very well done from a gameplay point of view, with each character getting equal screen time and equally challenging puzzles. My only criticism (if I’d even call it that. More of a ‘huh’ moment) is that this doesn’t exactly extend to the narrative side. Throughout the game, Vella is the one directly confronting overwhelming odds and rallying people to her cause, while Shay is struggling to catch up. Vella’s achievements narratively carry a lot more weight than Shay’s. That’s fine; their stories are different and the first 5 minutes of each thread make it plainly clear that each lives in a very contrasting world with different things at stake, but after watching the final cutscene for the second time, I realised that Shay didn’t exactly do anything in it. This was Vella’s moment. Shay didn’t contribute in any substantial way to changing the world for the better or saving people, either during the game, or come the ending. It was all Vella! She’s awesome! I love her (bit of a crush, actually)! I love Shay too, mind you. He’s amazingly voiced and carries the adventure game tone perfectly. But for a game that champions symmetry in almost every aspect, from box art to intertwined puzzles, this stood out a little. However, we get an even more awesome heroine for that, so I’m not complaining, and I’m really stretching just to get even that one criticism in (well, I could mention one or two very minor bugs but who cares?). This is a fantastic game with a great story and Claire and I enjoyed every minute of it!

 Adventure games never had to make sense, in case you don't remember.
Adventure games never had to make sense, in case you don’t remember.

Player Too Result:

Very positive! We should take into account though that watching the documentary predisposed us to appreciating every little detail that went into the game. We were rooting for Double Fine and for Broken Age before we pressed play, and that’s an unfair advantage it has over any other game we played during Player Too.

 Amongst a stellar cast of larger-than-life characters, it's the talking cutlery that stand head and shoulders above the rest (at 6 inches tall)
Amongst a stellar cast of larger-than-life characters, it’s the talking cutlery that stand head and shoulders above the rest (at 6 inches tall)

But it is what it is! The fact is that Claire played a game and loved it! It was a Tim Schafer adventure game. She wants to play more. As there’s no Broken Age 2 (which she said she’d definitely buy/back) Claire’s up for trying Grim Fandango next. Would Monkey Island be a better choice? Or Day of the Tentacle? The pixel hunting and complex unintuitive puzzles of the second chapter made me quit Grim, but I’ve never tried the others. Were they worse for this? None will have that Broken Age advantage of swapping characters when you’re stuck (that I know of). Broken Age was also designed with those older frustrations in mind and they were deliberately minimised. The trick here will be finding modern adventure games to play in an era when they’re just not made, or finding old ones whose puzzles aren’t typical of a time when impossibly ludicrous puzzle solutions were the norm. Recommendations very welcome!

Next Time on Player Too

Well I’ve sort of said it already. Grim Fandango or maybe Monkey Island (please make recommendations) is on the cards, as well as (at least the demo of) Life Is Strange and the full version of The Stanley Parable.

More Snozbot games will be played, for sure, but they’re all under 5 minutes and free so I won’t write each one up. Text Adventure was just a gem I had to share!

Telltale games are kind of on the back burner after the failure of Game of Thrones to do anything for us in episode 4.

Skill based games like Portal are still out but the Stanley Parable may improve first person movement skills to the point where Portal could be tackled, because who doesn’t like Portal?!

Until next time..

Unity WebGL for Dimwits (like me!)

Updated 26 Nov 16: Since originally posting this blog, Chrome has made more changes that now prevent my Dropbox/iFrame (last section of this blog) solution from working. All browsers are working together on the future of the WebGL format, and Unity continue to make their own changes, too. The landscape is constantly shifting and while everything in here was useful info at time of writing, that may change over time. At time of update, the rest of this blog should still help you out with many problem areas that you may be having, though.

Updated 1 Dec 16: Further viewing. There was a more up to date talk at Unite (Los Angeles) 2016 that’s a slight bit higher-level than this, but is also useful.

Fair warning, this post is targeted solely at Unity game developers. Normally I write posts targeted at gamers. Not this time. Today this is a public service for game devs 😛

If you’re reading this then hopefully you’re new to Unity. I say ‘hopefully’ because if you’re not then, as is the case with me, the chances are high that you’ve been trying and failing on and off for almost a year now to get Unity’s Web “this is the future, no really” GL builds to work for you. For me, at least, the problem was probably compounded by the fact that I am the ‘layman’. I know nothing about html, C++, how Unity works under the hood, what a NPAPI is or what Google’s problem with it is. Any material I did find explaining WebGL always seemed to be aimed at those with a slightly higher level of knowledge in these areas than I possess.

At the time of writing I was using Unity 5.3.1f1

EDIT: Do read into the comments. There has been some interesting news from Unity themselves and others. I’ll edit the article to include some of it.

The Background

In September 2015, Google Chrome stopped supporting NPAPI. All I knew is that now all my Unity Web Player builds of games on my site wouldn’t run in Chrome, and that 66% of my visitors were using it. I put in messages for people to please use Firefox or download the PC build, but people are lazy. Giving them an extra step or two to play my crappy game jam entries and prototypes is more than many of them were willing  to do. And that’s my problem, not theirs. It’s my responsibility to fix it. And fix it I… couldn’t!

I suffered all kinds of problems from builds simply failing (usually), to builds successfully loading an empty scene but failing on the 2nd one, to gamepad inputs being horribly messed up (mine still are, so if you’re expected a fix for that in this post, sorry) and builds running (for seconds) in one browser but not at all in another. Even when I got good builds more recently, I couldn’t get them onto my site for another while. There were also confusing messages about exceptions happening but exception handling not being enabled. I couldn’t see where to enable this (it’s not directly on the build screen) and didn’t really understand what it meant, or what the exception might have been.

I even met some Unity ‘evangelists’ (as they call them) from the company when they came to Ireland last year (sound folk!) and asked a few direct questions about my WebGL problems but got no immediately usable answers.

This was all extra frustrating because by now I was seeing plenty of other devs get working WebGL builds out into the world, and I was wondering what was so different about my projects that caused them to fail so completely!

Because there’s so little support out there so far and because I’ve made huge leaps in the last two weeks, I thought I’d write this up and share it. Big thanks to Chris Gregan from Fungus (a great Unity plugin. Check it out. It’s free!) for his help. He doesn’t know it, but playing (the fantastic) Snozbot’s Text Adventure, seeing another great game running in WebGL inspired me to finally brute force a solution to it for myself. Chris was also a big direct help several times during the last two weeks and made the first breakthrough suggestion.

EDIT: For the sake of completeness, I should also mention that when you download and install Unity you will want to ensure that “WebGL Build Support” is selected. If you installed Unity without this, just run the download assistant again and select only WebGL. You don’t have to completely reinstall Unity to get the support back.

Enough Background! Solve it, dimwit!

Okay. It turns out that my single biggest problem came from the fact that every game I tried to build in WebGL was one that I’d started under Unity 4, not 5. Naturally, this was because all my games on this site have stopped working in Chrome, and I wanted to fix it. Many of you are probably in the same boat. I’d upgraded all the projects to Unity 5 and made successful Web Player and PC builds, but never a working WebGL build. Even the simplest single-scene game jams here failed.

If you’ve no Unity 4 projects then you’re probably not experiencing this problem so skip this and the next section.

I was in the middle of taking Teluma and rebuilding the level generation line by line, taking 5 minutes every time I changed a line to test a new build (infuriatingly, the exact same code would fail sometimes and pass others) when Chris suggested the following.

Export a Unity 4 project as an asset pack into a clean Unity 5 project

This may sound painful, and let me assure you, it is, but it’s also the only solution I’ve seen to date since waiting and waiting for Unity updates to fix the problem hasn’t worked. Something deep in a project’s files is incompatible. Deleting the Library or meta files won’t help you (well, it didn’t help me anyway). If this is a project that you really want working in WebGL, then rip off the bandaid. If it’s not, maybe consider if the project is worth your time. At the time of writing this, Teluma is the only project on this site that’s been updated for WebGL.

Take literally everything in your project folder and select it (scenes, prefabs, materials, sounds, scripts) then right click and Export Package…

Select all dependencies. Select everything. Package it up into one little Unity package, open a new Unity 5 project, and import the package again.

Everything will be broken. To my knowledge, there’s no way to bring in the project settings like Input Controls, Physics collision matrices, Tags, Layers, Sorting Layers, and possibly lighting settings (I’m not sure because Teluma uses only unlit sprites and that’s the project I did this with). The more complicated your project is, the longer this will all take to fix and test. Them’s the breaks.

EDIT: Chris has suggested a way to do the export with your project settings intact. Check out the docs here. I haven’t tested this at time of writing.

FURTHER EDIT: Tested now. While this works to export your project settings, it seems to be those very settings (something within them) that causes Unity 4 projects to break in WebGL. The painful way is still the only way I know of to go. 
I’ve packaged up a handy script based on that link to export your settings anyway if you want to. It adds a command to the Editor’s Menu Bar (Tools > Export Project Settings).

For me, it took a few hours to connect everything up again and test. Top Tip: If you put your Layers back into the exact same spelling and order as they were in before, then most of your prefabs and scene objects should fix themselves. I think this didn’t work for nested prefabs though. I can almost guarantee you’ll be fixing bugs for a while.

Once you’re sure everything is working as it should be (the confidence won’t return for a while) then you can make a build.

Exception Handling

After the last step, I tried builds and I wasn’t really getting the exceptions error too often any more. However, it’s worth knowing where to turn these on and off if you don’t already.

 Click Player Settings... futher options appear in the Inspector, including Exception Handling.
Click Player Settings… futher options appear in the Inspector, including Exception Handling.

I don’t know much about these save for the fact that you don’t really want them on. If your game is running well, you don’t get exceptions. If it’s got some bugs in it you’d be better off finding and fixing them than just allowing the exceptions. 
I believe enabling them also makes your builds larger, and thus loading times are longer.

I’m a n00b in this field, though, so only listen to what I’m saying there if you know next-to-nothing on the subject yourself.

You can also set things like the company and game name from here, as well as put in a logo.

DataCaching is probably worth turning on for performance’s sake on subsequent visits by players, but you are telling their browsers to download game data, probably filling up their temp folders… as I understand it… which I’ve already admitted that I don’t. 

Unity Docs has this to say on the subject: “The Data caching checkbox in Publishing Settings lets you enable automatic local caching of your player data. If this is enabled, your assets will be stored to a local cached in the browsers IndexedDB database, so that they won’t have to be re-downloaded in subsequent runs of your content. Note that different browsers have different rules on allowing IndexedDB storage, and may ask the user for permission to store the data if this is enabled, and your build exceeds some size limit defined by the browser.”

Gamepad Support

EDIT: Apparently this issue has been fixed in 5.4 so we have that to look forward to!

This still is totally broken for me and I’ve nothing to offer you here. I’m asking for your help if you have gotten a controller working correctly in WebGL. 

For me the left stick works fine, but the game thinks that the Right Trigger is the Start button, and several other buttons are similarly remapped with no rhyme or reason behind it.

This was one of the things I asked the Unity evangelists about last Summer and they basically said that they’re aware of it and it’s on the list. I’m surprised that it’s still as broken several months later. For me, anyway.


According to Chris Gregan, audio is one of the bigger problems they’ve faced with WebGL. It uses WebAudio, while the other builds use FMOD. So there’s literally different rules and operations going on.

I experienced no problems but Chris said they had problems playing shorter sound clips in close succession. My gunshots in Teluma seem to be going okay, so your mileage may vary. 

Third Party Assets

Given how much stuff there could be in your project that comes from the Asset Store and isn’t an officially supported Unity asset, the best thing I can say here is ‘be careful’. If you’re using assets or custom shaders that were written under Unity 4 and haven’t been updated, then they may be a source of trouble for you. Try building without them if you’re unsure, check out the forums, or email the developers.

In the case of Aron Granberg’s quite popular A* Pathfinding Project, I’m using it in Teluma and initially suspected it of causing trouble. Aron is still supporting it and he suggested one or two fixes on his forum. I had no trouble with it after doing the package export I mentioned above, though.

Other Issues


I like to use this so that the game keeps playing if I switch away from the screen. This keeps it going in the editor or in a build, except it doesn’t seem to work in WebGL and I haven’t gotten around it yet.

Cursor Behaviour

In other build types I can set the cursor lock mode but it doesn’t seem to work the same with WebGL. I attempted the solutions set out by Unity Docs but was unsuccessful. Now, that’s the official docs so I’m sure it’s correct and that my first attempt just got something wrong. Copying the First Person character controller script may be a good way to go. It corresponds to what the docs say about the events happening on button UP events.

Finally, deploying to Web

After all of that, my builds would run locally but I still couldn’t run them on the RetroNeo Games website. I opened this Unity Answers thread that was watched by 42 people but answered by nobody. The lack of response is what encouraged me to write this. Clearly it’s an issue people are having and there’s very little support for it.

 A failed attempt at integrating WebGL onto the site. It also didn't execute.
A failed attempt at integrating WebGL onto the site. It also didn’t execute.

If you know what an iframe is and this is painful to listen to, skip ahead. If not, then like me you may have attempted what worked with the old Web Player builds. That is to put the game in a public Dropbox folder (or similar) then edit the output html file of the game to reference the web link of the game’s .unity3d file, then copy all that new html into a code block on the site.

While this was how I handled the old Web Player builds, this totally failed for me with WebGL. There are several links which need referencing in the html file. Unity’s docs (bottom of the page) mention linking only 4 files. There are more like 8 in the index.html file. I tried linking 4 and I tried linking all, but both ways failed.

That’s when I learned about iframes (this guide is “for dimwits” remember).


So much simpler! I uploaded the build file to my Dropbox/Public folder, right clicked on the index.html file and got the public link.
On my web page I added a code block of html and said:

<iframe src=”myPublicLink.html” width = 860 height = 700></iframe>

Obviously, replace ‘myPublicLink.html’ with your own, and set the resolution to whatever you want it to be.

That’s it! Results can be seen here.

In Conclusion

After that, the game finally ran. Two weeks of brute forcing the problem had (mostly) paid off. 

Controller support and cursor locking are still hurdles to overcome, but they feel much more manageable now.

Unity’s WebGL builds are no longer in preview mode. They’re now considered the way you’re meant to do business. There’s been a shocking lack of guides like this one (only, you know, smarter and more coherent) from Unity themselves or from the normally extremely active YouTube community who are forever making tutorials on this, that or the other for Unity.

Hopefully this will be of some help to people. And it will only get easier as Unity iron out the remaining kinks. I’m sure they’ll do a tutorial or live session on building and hosting WebGL at some stage, but for now, this is actually the most comprehensive guide I can find to Unity WebGL anywhere online. I figured out surprisingly little for myself but instead gathered (or discarded) information from dozens of sources, (and of course, from Chris Gregan) and I can only claim credit for writing down the most useful of that information in one place.

Good luck fellow game devs. Game on!


Player Too: Episode 4 – Game of Thrones, Speed Runners, & Sherlock Holmes

Merry Christmas/Happy Holidays everyone! This is my last post of the year and completes my goal of doing one post every week for the year’s duration since I started in April. I didn’t set a time limit then but in my head I said “6 months or to the end of the year, then we’ll see”. I do think I’ll keep it up, but maybe less frequently. If you’d like to see the blog continue weekly, please do let me know. A lot of time goes into it every week and it’s nice to hear back if people are finding it worthwhile. Alors (it’s French)..

Finally, I return to Player Too! Sorry to anyone following this particular series that it’s been so long since the last one. Claire and I took our holidays in the intervening time and were each busy enough before and after that we didn’t get many opportunities to game together. That said, I’ve a lot of games backed up now to talk about today. So without further ado..

Game of Thrones (A Telltale Games Series)

Disaster! I mentioned at the end of the last episode that I’d just bought (in a Humble Bundle, admittedly; so not too expensive) almost all of the Telltale Games, including Game of Thrones. I, and just about everyone else who made us recommendations (thank you, guys. Keep them coming), figured Claire might really enjoy these since she was liking puzzles, narrative, the Game of Thrones books/show, and was still a bit of a novice when it came to skill based games.

The first Telltale game we tried was GoT, and it was not a success. We started up the game and the story began. We understood that your character is an original character from a new family, but who will tie in with characters and events from the main GoT story eventually. That’s grand. A few minutes and a couple of minor choices in, a big battle starts in your camp and along come the quick time events (QTEs). At the risk of sounding redundant, this is where the game limits your control input to just a few buttons. It plays an action like somebody about to hit you, then prompts you to quickly hit a given button or direction to avoid the danger and progress.

The first action is to press up to raise your shield as you run at somebody firing arrows at you. If you fail once then you die and actually have to re-watch about 20-30 seconds of cutscene just to try that again. It’s unskippable. Most people would see this as a minor game design failure. Anyway, what I didn’t count on was that Claire’s laptop wasn’t quite up to the recommended specs and the frame rate was very low. This made the QTE responses (especially where you have to move the cursor into a small moving circle to hit a target) feel very sluggish and much harder to perform. Claire had also never seen QTEs before (and doesn’t readily know where X, Y, A, and B are versus each other) so when as I wasn’t present to explain the first one, she kept at it, rewatching the same cutscene and death about 20 times before asking for help. This built her frustration. I tried passing the section (very hard with the low frame rate) and moving to the next QTE later in the battle.

 Quick Time Events demand that you press a certain button within a very short space of time to progress.
Quick Time Events demand that you press a certain button within a very short space of time to progress.

Claire asked and I acknowledged that a lot of the gameplay and obstacles to progression in any Telltale game would be based on QTEs and she said in no uncertain terms that she didn’t want to play any of them. 

Player Too Result:

We can’t say anything to recommend or not recommend the game. It has very positive reviews, and I’ve always found the Telltale Games to be very engaging (if depressing), and their QTEs to be quite intuitive. If danger approaches from the right, you’ll press left. If you have to hit something, it’ll usually always be the same button. 

The problem was that Claire is unpractised in QTEs and the laptop’s frame rate was adding an unwelcome handicap. The game forcing you to rewatch the same cutscene every time you fail was a major frustration though. It took over a full minute to retry the same two seconds of QTE each time, and the first one wasn’t terribly clear on whether you had to press up on the left stick, right stick, mouse, or W key. So it actually took trial and error, too.

I think it’s a shame to fail such a recommended series at the first hurdle. However, Claire feels strongly that it’s not the kind of game she wants to play, and that’s a result too. It brings us one step closer to finding the type of games that really are for her. Speaking of which..


This was on a Steam Free Weekend a few months back (if I remember correctly. There is a free demo too but I think we played the full version) and we played it then. It’s a 2D side-on racing game. You pick a character and the game starts you running. You always run so your main input is to decide when to crouch, jump, or use power ups as appropriate to gain the upper hand. There is also a grapple that you use to swing from certain environmental objects to reach a shortcut or just to gain momentum. You can also use this to grapple on to the person in front of you and pull them back to overtake them. You can play either in multiplayer or with bots.

It works a bit like the old Micromachines games in that the camera tracks all players at once. If one falls to the back of the screen they are eliminated and the round continues until only one player is left. This means that the player at the back can see the furthest ahead of them and can more easily avoid obstacles than the player at the front can. It’s a very simple mechanism that simultaneously balances the game and creates tension.

As you can tell from the trailer above and from my description, the game is fairly skill based, but this didn’t stop Claire from competing. This was the first game where we both played on the same screen simultaneously and we had a lot of fun. Claire usually lost and after a few rounds I went to play online multiplayer while she continued against bots. In the multiplayer arena it was my turn to get my ass handed to me repeatedly. Skill levels are all relative.

I enjoyed this game for what it was; a fun party game and a short, simple distraction. Claire felt the same. She liked it in the same way that she liked Race The Sun. It’s a simple, action-packed game with very few inputs. It’s challenging but fair and with quick restarts when you die. This last point is very important, and is in stark (pun intended) contrast to what I said above about Game of Thrones. The learning curve is also fairly soft but you definitely get better every single time you play.

However, after an hour or two, each of us was kind of done with the game. We weren’t tempted to buy it to play more. I guess this speaks to the value of games nowadays. They’re (sadly) a dime a dozen and as gamers/ rabid consumers, we tend to just have a taste and move on. There are so many great games to play that games often have to be more than just “very good and a lot of fun” to get sales. That said, anyone who’s more into racing games, skill-based platformers, and/or party games than me (and those three are not what I tend to go for normally) might find that this is exactly the game for them and get hours out of it.

There is a free demo of the game and I’d encourage anyone to try it. It’s quite fun and if you want more do consider buying it. I realise I sound hypocritical encouragin you to buy when I didn’t but it didn’t have staying power for me and as an indie developer myself I’m in the unfortunate position of very much wanting to play and support all manner of indie games, but having neither the time nor money to do so. Sometimes the best I can do is spread the word. Go here and find the ‘download demo’ button to try SpeedRunners.

Player Too Result:

The fact that Claire liked the game reinforces what we found with Race The Sun. Simple but engaging gameplay, a small number of input controls, short but challenging rounds and quick restarts (not to mention speed, apparently) make for a solid an enjoyable gameplay experience. 

However, the fact that we both liked both games yet didn’t purchase or return to them suggests that round-based games without a story or greater progression are not exactly what we go for. I already know I prefer story-based games or tactical ones with a greater overall progression (like X-COM or FTL. I’m currently playing The Witcher 3 and Satellite Reign). But this series is about finding the type of game that makes Claire lose hours to fascination, to look for new releases along the same lines of this undiscovered game, and to voluntarily declare herself a gamer.

The most Googled game of 2015, believe it or not! This game is fantastic, and Claire agrees. It’s an extremely simple online multiplayer game played in your browser (or now on mobile), and it’s completely free! You can go to the address and just play. Signing in will track your progress and allow upgrades (like your own avatar or entering your name) but it’s not necessary.

You play as a small circle, very reminiscent of a cell. The camera keeps you centre-screen as you move around a flat and empty (but large) square-shaped arena. There is graph paper in the background for scale. You move your mouse to guide your circle towards smaller circles and as you meet them you consume them and grow larger. There are some small static cells to eat, but most are other players, and it will seem at first that they’re all bigger than you. 

It’s ingeniously simple. You flee bigger (but slower) cells and chase smaller (but faster) ones to climb the ranks. It feels like evolution at its most basic. The ultimate game! You catching a smaller, faster player often means that you succeeded in trapping them against the outer wall or simply between other players. There are only two additional controls. You can split yourself so that you become two or more (faster) cells of smaller size, all of which now follow your mouse in a cluster. This can help you catch smaller targets or (half) escape larger ones. You can also dump mass which makes you smaller and faster but allows your pursuers to eat up what you leave behind.

That’s almost all there is to it. There aren’t even sounds or music. This is a great example of raw gameplay done right, and its appeal is universal. There are millions of players around the world, and the servers are never empty. 

Player Too Result:

 Some of the names or avatars you see really add to the game's unpredictable character. Some are offensive, But being chased by a giant Angela Merkel is pretty hilarious.
Some of the names or avatars you see really add to the game’s unpredictable character. Some are offensive, But being chased by a giant Angela Merkel is pretty hilarious.

Both Claire and I loved this game, and you will too! We both played at least an hour longer than intended on the first day, and went back to it several times. Even today as I looked it up while writing the article I spent about twenty minutes on it when I didn’t mean to. It’s a very “one more round” kind of game. Claire swore off it so as she could get other stuff done. Games that don’t end can be kind of addictive and dangerous for productivity, but the fact that she forced herself to stop rather than start playing is a testament to how good this game really is, and real progress for the Player Too project. 😛

The fact that Claire really liked a game as stripped-back (dare I say “casual”?) as this proves at the simplest level that she engages with games. I posit that anyone who plays even one round of this game and doesn’t enjoy it simply doesn’t like computer games. I bet I could even get my dad to play, and that’s saying something!

This was also her first time playing a competitive online multiplayer free for all death match! I wonder if, as her skills improve, she’d take to online racing or shooters. What is Call of Duty multiplayer if not Agar in 3D with guns? Thank God there’s no voice chat in Agar. That said, I did see people renaming themselves as Star Wars spoilers and getting the high scores. The world is full of ass-holes, and it’s generally what turns me away from multiplayer games.

So, from gameplay at its most basic, to today’s last entry; a full modern mystery game.

Sherlock Holmes: Crimes & Punishments

Given our relative successes with the mystery games Gone Home and Her Story, as well of the fondness Claire and I already share for Sherlock Holmes in general (we’ve each read all of the books), a Sherlock Holmes game was pretty much a no-brainer. Of the plenty to choose from, Crimes & Punishments by developer Frogwares was the best rated and most recent.

The game presents six unrelated cases that you can play in 90 – 180 mins each, depending on how stuck you get or how sure you want to be about the result. The first case is lifted directly from the books with only a minor change, so it wasn’t all that challenging for us. The rest seem inspired by the stories but not directly lifted from them. The first case is naturally a bit simpler as the game introduces you to the mechanics, of which there are actually quite a few. Mini-games and set pieces abound, and the game doesn’t often let you wonder what to do next. If it wants you to press X, it’ll damn well tell you.

I’d often complain about that but not here. There are a lot of mechanisms to remember and without prompts you’d be more likely in this game than most to get stuck and give up. Indeed, there is still plenty to slow you up. Gathering clues amounts mostly to wandering a scene looking for pop up boxes to press A on until the game tells you that you more or less have them all, and reveals more story. In a sense, this eliminates any meaningful ‘examining’ of the crime scene, but as players aren’t generally trained detectives, maybe this is for the best.

What does that leave you with?

Fortunately, quite a bit. Each case features a number of locations that you reveal as the story of that case goes on. You can travel between the discovered ones at almost any time. This could have been done without but they left it in, allowing you more agency over what to do next. When you’re a bit into each case, you’ll have a few leads suggested to you and generally you can pursue them in whichever order you like. The negative side of this is that you can often miss just one clue hidden somewhere in one of four locations and waste half an hour or more scouring every inch of multiple levels to find the one clue that will trigger the game to progress, when you may have already figured out what the clue was/meant, but you need the game to trigger that the Holmes on screen knows it. That’s unfortunately a disconnect that can come with story-based mystery games, and the best that developers can do is to minimise it. If you’re a fan of mystery games, it’s likely that you’ve come across this before and it doesn’t bother you much.

The real value this game offers is that each case can be solved incorrectly. You actually can have two or three results, and within those you can choose the ‘punishment’ that the game’s oddly pluralised title refers to. Generally this means you can absolve the criminal or let the police handle it. It’s a moral choice. There may also be a quick time event where the accused attempts suicide or to murder another party. You can fail or succeed at stopping them and still proceed. At the end of a case you can choose to see if you found all clues, if your conclusions were correct, and what other players chose to do. If not for this feature I think the game would really have been very dull as you’d just be walking around pressing buttons and revealing the story, but here you really have to think! That’s the real promise of a detective game, and this one delivered.

It’s achieved through the ‘Deduction Space’ mechanic, shown above. As you reveal clues in the game, they populate your brain. You combine some of these as makes sense to reveal little nodes in the deduction space. Many of these nodes allow you to make two choices about what the clues mean. See ‘Missed Chesterfield’ above. It’s half blue and half grey, showing that you can make an alternate conclusion there. When enough conclusions join up, those white lines connect and reveal the golden node, which triggers an ending if you select it. The thing is it’s very possible to get the wrong conclusion, or partly wrong conclusion, which is where the gameplay happens. You have to intuit things and decide who you believe to come up with the answers. This can be very fun when done with another person. Claire and I played the first two cases together and actually got the second one partly wrong. She then played the final four by herself over the following weeks.

Player Too Result:

Very positive! This was at least a twelve hour game, and while Claire initially refused to play as she was frustrated by the dual stick move/camera controls coupled with over 8 other inputs (so I played the first two cases), she did pick up the controls herself and solved four additional cases with little or no input from me, beating the game! 

I mentioned already that Quick Time Events aren’t her friend at the moment, and she failed to stop one or two suicides, unfortunately, but the fact that the game allows that as a consequence only speaks in its favour.

We both found this quite an engaging detective game, though were at times frustrated looking for one trigger clue when we already knew the answer. The developers could have done more to minimise excessive backtracking, as it came into almost every case we played and really slowed the pace. That, and long loading times on Claire’s laptop broke the immersion for her, but it’s telling that she stuck with it. The game engaged her and she looked forward to beating each case. She went back to it night after night in the last couple of weeks. Those are some telling habits.

At the end, she said she really enjoyed it and would be quite interested in playing other similar titles. Frogwares have previously made a number of Sherlock Holmes games, but as this is reputably the best, it’s unlikely that we’ll look backwards. They are releasing Sherlock Holmes: The Devil’s Daughter in Spring 2016 and it’s quite possible we’ll take a look. The only reason not to would be if it doesn’t feature original stories but instead borrows from something like A Study in Scarlet, in which case we’d know the ending already. I doubt this is the case, but there isn’t much information available yet.

Next Time on Player Too

I think that the ‘project’ (for lack of a better term) is coming along quite well. It was nice over the Christmas days to be playing something myself with Claire sitting next to me on her laptop frowning at clues or gasping at revelations. This is also the first time she’s beaten a long game and wanted to play more.

The Stanley Parable isn’t long but it’s still on the list, as is Life Is Strange (which has a new free demo out, fyi). Given that the Telltale Games games were a bit of a fail, has anyone got other suggestions for games based on what you’ve read today? Skill-based games are still a no-no, but Claire’s definitely improving in that area and we’re getting closer to Portal, I feel, but aren’t really there yet. Valiant Hearts has also been recommended.

Sorry for the long post today, but we had a bit of catching up to do. See you all in 2016! And do please drop a comment if you’ve been following and would like to see the blog continue weekly.

Until next time..

FREE game. Shadow Complex (Remastered).

In August I did a two-parter about PC Gaming on a budget. Taking advantage of the occasional free game was one of the obvious pointers, and this ties nicely in with that.

Donald Mustard from the developer ‘Chair‘ was at the Game Awards 2015 a few weeks ago to reveal the trailer for Shadow Complex Remastered and to make a comically awkward announcement that the game was free to PC users who downloaded the game this December from The game will return to normal price in January but (and I’ve confirmed with Epic Games by email) the game will remain in your library if you downloaded it this year. It’s yours for keeps!

Intrigued, I downloaded it. The only catch is that you have to download the Epic Games launcher (whose shortcut icon now joins the rapidly swelling ranks of game launchers on my desktop alongside Steam, Origin, UPlay and GOG Galaxy). The promotion seems to serve the dual purpose of hyping the game in anticipation of console sales, and getting more PC users aware of and using the Epic Games launcher. If doing that and creating an account sounds like a step too much for you, fine, but let me tell you that you’re actually getting a quality game in exchange for just your email address.

Admittedly, another minor annoyance is that you can’t shortcut to the game directly. You have to launch it from within Epic Games’ launcher; something the other launchers don’t force you to do. However, opening it did remind me that Unreal Tournament (the new work-in-progress one) is free to try through the launcher as well.

Okay. Enough logistics!

What is Shadow Complex?

So it’s free. But what is it? Is it worth your time? 

The original game released for Xbox 360 in 2009 and was fairly well acclaimed, scoring as high as 9.4/10 from certain media outlets, IGN being one, and being nominated for several Game Of The Year awards. This remaster seems to be an attempt to capitalise on that success by releasing to a wider audience via PC, PS4, and the new Xbox. But we on the PC are the only ones getting it for free! Go Master Race! (I kid, I kid).

I never played (or even heard of) the original so I was totally going in blind.

The game is a 2D side scrolling action game (‘Metroidvania’ as the kids are calling it) set inside a top secret facility run by a masked (and therefore, evil) antagonist and his gigantic hidden army who are intent on “liberating” the United States from its corrupt government. Again, these are supposedly the bad guys. Go with it. Your character stumbles across this secret base (one of many, as I understand it, though the game is set in just this one) while hiking in the mountains with your new girlfriend who is kidnapped while you’re separated. I finished the game feeling like there was a lot of story I was missing, and indeed, it turns out the events of the game are set alongside events of the novel Empire by Orson Scott Card. Hidden Empire is a follow-up novel. The story you do get is humorous and silly in a B-movie kind of way, and dutifully takes a back seat to the gameplay. All the same, I’m tempted to pick up those novels.

Note: There was controversy surrounding Card because of his positions on homosexuality and some called for a boycott of the game (Card had nothing to do with this game, though). In 2013 Card reversed his positions against gay marriage. Do with that info what you will.

2D Open-World

What’s very interesting about the game is how it feels. While your character moves in 2D space, the environments are fully rendered in 3D, and enemies even utilise the whole 3D space at times (mostly when entering the area, but sometimes positioned on catwalks slightly behind your playing area). There’s a healthy amount of auto-aiming the game does to allow you to hit the enemies in the background if you’re aiming in their general direction, though it can get frustrating in certain sections. I started the game on the hardest difficulty but quickly lowered it.

That all makes the game feel very fresh, however. I really haven’t played something quite like it before (though I’m sure people can point me towards a few examples). The 2D plane is also broken up a few times when you hop into turrets and pan around, and this really gives you an interesting perspective that you won’t find in other games.

Navigating the world is a treat. The base is gigantic, and you reveal more and more of it on your map as you progress through the game and hack into terminals. There are secret rooms and powerups that you may never find before you beat the game. For example, I got a grappling hook eventually that felt awesome but I was only ten minutes from the end at that stage. Given where it was, I realised I could have explored and gotten it earlier. 

 This game is NOT small! The map reveals to you only gradually so it takes a while to find out just how much you're in for.
This game is NOT small! The map reveals to you only gradually so it takes a while to find out just how much you’re in for.

You can nearly always back-track (or find a way around if you have the right equipment) and there are often two or more ways to get to where you want to go. The story gives you a waypoint to the next goal but you don’t always have to follow the planned route, and ignoring it in favour of exploring an older part of the map with a new missile launcher can pay dividends by finding you upgrades behind formerly impenetrable blast doors.

Exploring in this way reminded me of Metal Gear Solid 1 &2 (the walking robots helped there too, and they feature in plenty of cool boss battles) but this is not (at all!) a stealth game. The action can be quite basic, in fact, and it’s one of my few complaints. You pretty much just always shoot until the enemy dies. You have unlimited bullets but limited health, grenades, and missiles. While there are plenty of environmental hazards to take (usually hilarious and satisfying) advantage of, it still often feels like choosing whether or not to use your limited explosives is the only meaningful choice you make in combat, at least early on. This is definitely somewhere that 3D games have the 2D action genre beat. If you want a 2D open(ish) world stealth game, I recommend Mark of the Ninja. However, I mean it when I say I really enjoyed this game, regardless.


 You at the start.
You at the start.

This is handled really well. When you start, you can only do a single jump and shoot bullets. You’ll see areas that you think you should be able to go to (your map often confirms this if you check it) but you can’t quite reach it. Similarly, you’re taught early on that your grenades can grant you access to areas that are hidden behind green highlighted obstacles (when you shine your torch on them) but you also see red and purple ones and it’s a long time before you reach the powerups required to get through them, which encourages (but doesn’t demand) back-tracking and exploration later on.

Your character finds an incomplete suit of advanced armour and collects more components of it as the game goes on. The scuba gear allows you to explore the sections that you flooded earlier in the game and finding the jet-pack grants the ability reach greater heights, and later to double jump. Finally reaching a balcony that you’ve seen ten times before can feel greatly satisfying. There’s a wealth of other upgrades rationed out to you over the 6-8 hours that it might take to beat the game’s story, and I really liked when I realised that the game wasn’t actually going to take me to some of them if I just followed the waypoint directly. Player agency is a great tool in games and I love it when developers ease up on the hand-holding a bit to let you play your own way.

The flip side of this freedom is that you can spend a long time going back to somewhere you think you can get to (twenty minutes for me in some cases) only to realise there’s one locked door or high-jump at the end that made the journey fruitless and then you have to spend another twenty minutes getting back to where you started from. I can see why some people report the game taking them over 20 hours to get 100% completion. However, later in the game the whole map does become revealed, including the locations of the remaining armour pieces. Once you have those you know you can reach everywhere, so I’d recommend holding off a little before doing too much back-tracking.

 You towards the end.
You towards the end.


This release is a remaster, so if you’ve played it before the gameplay and story that I mentioned won’t have changed. I also didn’t play the original so I can’t speak to how much better the game is in the sound or graphics departments. I do know that there are (of course) improvements that have been made in those areas, as well as the addition of a lot of new close-combat animations and new achievements. I can’t speak to how much mileage you’ll get out of this if you played the original, but I can say that the game looks beautiful. The environments have been very convincingly created, rendered, decorated and lit. I’ve no complaints about the music or sound effects and the voice cast includes Nolan North (you may remember him from EVERYTHING!!) and Eliza Schneider (almost everything).

In Summary

The game is basically what would happen if Metal Gear Solid, James Bond, Metroid, and Uncharted all got together to make a fun B-movie-style game that you can enjoy in 6-8 hours. I had a lot of fun with it. I recommend you get it for free on PC before December 31st and enjoy it over the holidays. I’d even recommend you buy it (price dependant) when it comes out for general release early next year.

Until next time.. 

Interview with Composer Frank Klepacki

This week I had the remarkable privilege of getting to have a Skype chat with Frank Klepacki for almost an hour. Frank is the legendary composer behind the games of Westwood Studios and Petroglyph, including Dune, Blade Runner, Empire at War, and of course, Command & Conquer!

We talk about his career, other musical interests, his favourite projects, current work, and we peek behind the curtain into how some of the Command & Conquer songs and sound effects came to be.

I apologise for some of the audio quality as the connection went iffy once or twice.

A timeline of the conversation’s questions are listed below in case you don’t want to watch the full interview.

You can check out Frank’s awesome music on his site where you can stream or buy dozens of his albums and soundtracks. I highly recommend that you do (‘Just Do It Up’ has been stuck in my head for two weeks now).

Interview Timeline references

00.21 – When did you first start playing music? What was your instrument?

01.49 – [Starting at Westwood Studios]

03.34 – Have you any advice for people on getting into the industry?

06.56 – You voiced the Commando in the first Command & Conquer. What else have you done?

09.44 – [Voice samples on early tracks] What led to that?

12.41 – What’s your favourite track that you’ve ever recorded and what’s your favourite soundtrack that you’ve worked on?

18.20 – Any chance we’ll see an Empire at War 2?

19.08 – What are they yelling in ‘Hell March’?

22.30 – Tell us about the second half (the electronic part) of Hell March 1?

23.34 – Do you play the games yourself? GDI or Nod?

25.05 – Are there any game soundtracks from other games that have impressed you in recent years?

27.51 – Do you like any Irish music?

29.10 – Do you have any advice for us as composers, and as RTS developers?

32.14 – What did you use to get the awesome industrial bass sound on the C&C soundtrack, particularly on Target (Mechanical Man)

35.59 – What’s your favourite band/ game/ C&C game?

39.12 – [Asking about his goals with more mainstream music. Includes talk on Sly & The Family Stone]

45.00 – [Playing Hell March with Video Games Live]

45.52 – What are you working on right now? What’s next?

Hope you enjoyed this one folks! I certainly did!

Until next time..

Far Cry Primal. Where to start?!

Far Cry Primal is coming out of nowhere and is really worth keeping an eye on! It was first revealed in October, less than two months ago, and it’s releasing on February 23rd (March for PC), just over two months hence (Achievement Unlocked: “Use ‘hence’ in the blog). The short time from reveal to release is bucking the trend of super-long hype periods, and it worked very well for Fallout 4 this year. At the time of Primal’s announcement I did a post on why I was optimistic, but also what I was concerned about. You can read it here.

Ubisoft unveiled their second trailer on Thursday night at The Game Awards, which was immediately followed by a slew of gameplay videos from various press outlets who had played it in the days prior. Presumably a press embargo was lifted at this stage.

The new trailer is shown at the top of this page and shows a lot more of the game in action, giving us a better feel for what to expect. The press videos on YouTube are worth watching as they’re mostly uninterrupted gameplay, which is a more honest representation. There are videos from outlets like Angry Joe, PC Gamer, and Game Trailers as well as the one below from the developers themselves (in case you want to see only what they want you to see).

Expansion or Sequel?

Given that Far Cry 4 only came out a year ago, and that it’s not an annualised series (like Ubisoft’s favourite child Assassin’s Creed), people figured this would be more of an expansion along the lines of Far Cry 3: Blood Dragon, a single-player only short campaign which had the decency to release at a discounted price, to reflect the fact that it’s not a full game.

Developers at Ubisoft Montreal are insisting that this is “the next Far Cry game”, and are charging full price for it. I’ve a massive problem with this. You can hear from the gameplay videos I linked above that none of the other press really believe this about the game, and neither do I. Graphically, this game is the same as Far Cry 4. It uses the same UI elements (see the alert indicators and map icons?), same engine, and many of the same animal and human animations. Sure, there are new models (a brown bear is now a cave bear, a tiger is now a sabertooth tiger, an elephant is now a woolly mammoth, and the honey badger is.. well, still a honey badger) and a new map, but that’s exactly what Blood Dragon did, and it acknowledged that it was a short game and charged accordingly.

I feel they’re trying to pull the wool over our eyes with the pricing. It remains to be seen just how long the game is, so I’m not willing to guess what a fair price is, but charging the same as they did for Far Cry 4, for half a new game with no multiplayer is not the fair price. I want to play this game, and I want to support the new direction they’re attempting, but I firmly believe that every time you spend money you’re casting a vote for the type of world you want to live in, and I don’t want to live in a world where games companies charge us more and more for less and less. I’ll wait for a sale or something, but I’ve a big problem with their pricing.

 That minimap and UI are looking extremely familiar, not to mention the tiger's running animation.
That minimap and UI are looking extremely familiar, not to mention the tiger’s running animation.

No guns, but you don’t even need to play

I feared that they couldn’t really commit to using no guns in a game series that is built on gun action, but it seems they have. Bows and arrows and spears rightly take the place of pistols and rifles, and (from what I’ve seen so far) they’re not stupid rapid-fire versions of the weapons. They work quickly, but there’s still a pull back delay and the projectile seems to have to travel the distance to hit its target, rather than being as rapid as a bullet. This means that learning to hit moving targets at a distance might actually take some skill and be an actual challenge.

However, no fear of actually needing to play the game yourself, it seems. As with The Phantom Pain you can pretty much let your companions do all of the work for you. I’m sure there are certain enemy types and locations with lots of enemies where your sabertooth or cave bear might meet their end before they can clear the entire enemy presence for you, but from what the videos show, it looks like you can just find a wild animal, feed it meat, and hold a button to own it forever. It’s not even a more challenging quick-time event that might have leant tension to staring down a giant wild animal to tame it. You just hold the button. This is too dumbed down for my liking, especially when it appears that if your tamed animal does die you can just resurrect it with meat or some other resource (according to PC Gamer’s video and some of the animal UI we’ve seen, anyway).

There are over a dozen animals you can have play the game for you, but why would you pick anything less than the giant cave bear or sabertooth? It looks like a game design failure to me, to have the animals be so overpowered, but maybe there’s a progression system that means you can’t tame the bigger animals until further in the game, meaning you actually have to fear the wild ones early on and do some killing yourself. Hopefully.  The larger animals also take the place of vehicles in the game, allowing you to ride around on them

The owl can what??

This won’t bother everyone, but it bothers me. You are a beast tamer, so you can control an owl. It takes the place of binoculars when scouting enemy positions. You can fly around from the owl’s perspective, though, see what it sees, and tag enemies. This is a bit silly, but okay, gameplay has to come first sometimes. But I hate when ‘the rule of fun’ goes so far as to shatter immersion and make you say “ah come off it, ref!”.. or something..whatever you say, yourself.

The owl can be upgraded to drop fire bombs and other items onto the enemy troops, or dive bomb and rip somebody’s throat out directly. Maybe if it was even one bomb, that would be okay, but it can somehow carry and drop multiple ones.

A parallel: The Phantom Pain kept taking me out of the (otherwise brilliantly tense and immersive) experience by jumping the shark repeatedly. Upgrading D-Dog to allow him to attach Fulton Balloons to enemies was too far, and this after the upgrade to let him carry a knife! Why would a wolf carry a knife in its mouth?! But I digest..

 Owl control mode. Notice the 3 unlockable weapons on the right. How can an owl carry 3 things??
Owl control mode. Notice the 3 unlockable weapons on the right. How can an owl carry 3 things??

I’m still sold!

If there were more games like this, I wouldn’t be as excited for the game as I am. Far Cry is a series that I think has lots of problems. Even in hard mode the games are rarely challenging. Your character is just too strong to start with and only becomes more so. While stripping away your machine guns and grenade launchers was a bold move, letting animals do all the damage for you seems like even less fun, ultimately. But I’m partly assuming the worst there, as well. It could be very well balanced and there might be nuances to the systems that make varied approaches worth while (though ‘nuance’ isn’t a word I’d traditionally associate with the Far Cry series).

But we have to give credit where credit is due. This is a AAA publisher, the same one who’s deathly afraid to significantly innovate on Assassin’s Creed, trying something drastically different with one of their next-biggest franchises. While they’re doing a money grab by declaring that it’s a full game, this also means that they can’t shy away from it later by saying “oh, that was just a side-experiment; a joke, like Blood Dragon“, which again shows a very unexpected commitment to a new idea. 

If you asked almost anyone what the Far Cry series was about they’d say something along the lines of guns, fire, explosions, vehicles, action, (more recently for the series) flying, power fantasy, and maybe ‘exploration’ further down this list. Ubisoft Montreal is saying that exploration is actually what the series is about at its core, and they want to take us to the original frontier for mankind, leaving behind helicopters, wingsuits, cars, rocket launchers, and the guns (while retaining crafting, the grappling hook, melee combat, skill upgrades, and grenade-like items).

 Developers inform us that the map is
Developers inform us that the map is ” really  big”.. so there you have it…

I have to say I respect that, despite disagreeing with their pricing and some gameplay choices. I’m torn because I want to support new ideas, but not AAA greed. I may wait for a sale, buy it on a discount game codes site, or start a petition to drop the price… don’t laugh, somebody actually should. We should voice our concerns as consumers, not just pay-up-or-pirate.

I wrote two weeks ago about how first person shooter campaigns look to be dying off. Far Cry has been one of the few series holding back the tide, and here’s their newer game with no multiplayer at all. I want to support this game. I want it to succeed. It could see a reverse in that trend and encourage big developers to take risks with their first person franchises. Imagine Call of Duty set during the times of ancient Rome. Come on!!!! You can be sure Activision will be watching Primal very carefully.

Anyway, them’s my thoughts. Do be sure to check back on the site next week as I’ll have a very exciting post! An interview with legendary games composer Frank Klepacki of Command and Conquer fame!! Don’t miss it!

Until next time..