1st Game Design deadline

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1st deadline came and went. I delivered the shit out of it. Well, I delivered something. Let’s see how the powers that be like it.

So far, I have lived a fun-sized bit of a game writer’s life, and I had a lot of ups and downs already.

One day I thought, this is perfect! I can work everywhere! Take a laptop to a park or café! I get paid for sitting around and thinking up stuff! Or take some paper, and doodle away!

That other day, I fell asleep over my notes and dreamed up several ideas, ready to use the next morning. How convenient!

Next day, writer’s block.  Oh no! I have only written a few words today, and then I fell asleep! And without the dreams that completed my thought process for me! This sucks! I want my money back!

My creativity comes in bursts. I need to kindle my interest, so that I get consumed by an idea (this is much easier if it is my own idea), then everything “feels” easy. If I can’t get myself to fall into that berserk mode, it feels super hard.   The few days I had to spare for writing (in between my other jobs), I almost always did write nothing good in the first 5 hours. 80% of the good ideas in the last 3 hours of the day. It takes forever to get me to that zone, but the zone delivers. Most of the time.

Gamedesign & Dream-fueled writing

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A long and detailed dream inspired the whole concept & story of my latest album. So, I have known for quite some time that dreams work well for me. I like to complain, but for this I am grateful.

Last night, I let my heavy workload rest (music & sound effects) at 10 pm, because it was too late to start something completely new, so I took my notes for my game writing job and decided to write in bed for an hour or so. This didn’t really work at first.  I wrote down 3 words or so. But working in bed did succeed in making it difficult for me to fall asleep. It took me ages to fall asleep, and I was drifting back and forth multiple times that night. This morning, I had about 10 new ideas for my game, 3 more scenes and a big piece of the puzzle that is our main character. I had even scribbled down a few words in complete darkness at some point. I don’t really know WHEN those ideas came to me, but I take it!

I am on page 4 now of my little plot, about half of the basic story is done. Glad to report, that my first deadline was just moved back a little bit, but I like how this is taking form. More details soon!

Now, back to the pressing audio jobs at hand.*

* Have to mention this, so that any client who reads this doesn’t get pissed off. Audio still takes up 90% of my time, as it should. 😀

New Chapter!

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I already blurted this out between two deadlines: I got offered the paid chance to write for a game. Something I have been basically longing for since the heyday of Amiga 500.

© Bill Bertram 2006, CC-BY-2.5

© Bill Bertram 2006, CC-BY-2.5

Due to the usual secrecy of our trade, I can’t tell anything about it. That will make blogging about it very difficult.

I can only say, the similarities to my own project are definitely there. And I believe, this is something I could actually be good at, but I can’t know yet.

Will try to find out soon, how much I can say and not say about it, and report back to you.

But so far it’s clear: With a full-time job of writing music and designing sound, a band working on an album, 100% composed by me + doing my own artwork this time, a family…. What I am saying is, my own game has to rest for a while. Any game design ideas I will have I will put into the new job or put away for later.

The new game I am writing for will be much more immediate, you will see!

HA!

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OK, my blog gathered rust for >1  year… WTF.This happened:- I submitted a game design document to a company of which I am a partner. Yesterday, there was a meeting in which it was introduced. I am waiting for feedback, but maybe my game will be developed.

– The adventure: Not much progress. Still happy with the mood and setting, but the lack of creative energy is disgusting.

– The rpg: Yep. My awesome RPG ideas which I collect for a few years (using ideas that are up to 25 years old) are still fresh and mostly unused. Divinity: Original Sin seems to be the first real contender, and does a lot of things right (in my view), but I am happy to report, my rpg concept is still not obsolete. Maybe. One. Day.

Doing some non-creative work in the last days, and the ideas keep on coming. That explains everything. When I am not in a bad mood, and not creatively exhausted, I get cool ideas. Hmm. I am using this time to gather ideas, and see what I can do about all that.

 

Kai Rosenkranz & me

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Kai, composer of Gothic 1, 2, 3 and Risen 1, is returning to his musical form and is kickstarting a new album. And here is why I care.

KAI

Gothic 1 was the first audio job I ever applied for. About 15 years ago or so, LONG before my first commercial music job. I saw a preview of the game in a magazine, and wrote to the developer. I had never done that before. They talked to me, alluded to big things on the horizon. They were 5 people at that time! They sent me software, I wrote a few songs for them using the software, but in the end, I couldn’t handle the technical side. A deadline came, looked at me in disgust, and passed by. I failed.

(Side note: I later was able to use the music I wrote for Gothic 1 for other soundtracks, for example for the first half of my favourite track for “The Dark Eye: Chains of Satinav” by Daedalic/Deep Silver:

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As we all know, Gothic 1 turned out to be a huge hit, start of a big franchise, and I had years of wonderful “hating myself” before me for not rising to the challenge. That feel-of-fail due to my first big chance was the very thing that drove me to try it over and over again, and now I am a fulltime game composer. WTF.

The Day I met Kai.

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In 2008, I was at a very different point in my life. I was still not sure whether I would, should or could ever become a full-time game composer. Armed with the best game music I had written up to that point – which doesn’t mean a lot – trapped on 5 CDs I burned and assembled and stuffed into my jacket, I went to one of the first game events for me: the Game Dev Meetup North Rhine-Westphalia (Spieleentwicklertreff NRW).

A small and nice one. Short event, followed by long unofficial partying in Düsseldorf afterwards. The contacts I made there were very precious to me, as I didn’t know a lot of people back then, and they still are. Some of my best friends in the industry I met at one of the Spieleentwicklertreffs I attended.

When the event ended on that day, and some of us were on our way to fetch a drink somewhere, I was excited. Tingling. You see, no matter how important those contacts were and are to me, one could say there hardly were any “celebrities” at an event of that size, hardly anybody with international fame or impact. Except for Kai Rosenkranz. Composer of Gothic 1, 2 and 3. I think we had had some internet contact earlier, but we had met in person for the first time that evening. He had been friendly, respectful and had listened to me. The first REAL game composer I ever met. I had excused myself nervously to fetch one of my lousy CDs from my jacket pocket, and had found him again in a corridor away from the rest. We talked for at least 5 minutes, alone, which seemed luxurious to me back then and felt like 15 minutes. I gave him my grubby CD. He said, he believed in me, and a few more hope-inspiring things I can’t remember now, because this was really exciting to me. A big deal, and as I said, I was elated all evening afterwards.

Risen 2???

When it later became clear that Kai wouldn’t continue composing for Risen after Risen 1, Kai recommended me for the job. Several times. ❤  I just had a look at the old mail I had written to him back then, it’s basically a whole bunch of nothing I had to offer. Just words to hide my lack of experience. Still, he recommended me several times.

I didn’t get the job, which was no surprise given my experience, but I later was able to provide a few songs for Risen 2 for Dynamedion, which was quite redeeming. For example this one:

The Visit & the Gift

After that, we met at basically every event I went to. It felt more like old friends meeting every time. One day, he started suggesting to visit me in my studio. At first, I misunderstood it as something you say but never do. BUT, lo and behold, one day earlier this year, he drove through half of Germany to visit me in my remote Bavarian studio, something only a handful of friends have done before, like, 3 or so! And stayed a night. Just to jam with me. That is insane. We have written some pieces of music together for two games, to be announced later. Among the first songs after a long break, what an honour!

And even more insane: He gave me his keyboard. Look at this beast:

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I use it all the time, and so I can send some friendly thoughts in Kai’s direction every day when I start it up before descending into the game composer’s slave mines 😉

Thanks Kai!

Thus, the circle is complete. Kai is connected to my very first game music job I applied for, my 1st failure and the burning drive for a 2nd chance, and – through his friendly gift – also to every soundtrack I work on these days. Sorry for all the heartfelt words one usually only says after somebody died, which is stupid – and also too late. Why should I be ashamed to say that Kai is a wonderful person. At least I managed to post a lot of links to MY music in an article about HIS Kickstarter 😉

If you are interested in revisiting the music of Gothic 1, 2, 3 and Risen 1, discovering his new melodies and harmonies, and want to support a bear of a game composer with a huge fluffy heart, then please consider throwing a few bucks at him!

 

Sony is leading in the console naming wars

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A: “Hi, I am interested in buying a gaming device?”

B: “Hello sir, which one would you be interested in?”

A: “How about that Xbox. I see you have 3 versions? Which one is this?”

B: “The Xbox One.”

A: “Ah, and that one on the other end?”

B: “The first Xbox.”

A: ” ??? So I guess that one in the middle is… let me guess, the Xbox A, Xbox Uno, Xbox…”

B: “360.”

A: “Of course! Well, that’s rubbish… How about an Ipad. Is this one new?”

B: “No, it is used.”

A: “I mean, is it the latest one?”

B: “No.”

A: “How is it called?”

B: “The New Ipad.”

A: “??? And that’s not the new one? Which one of these is the latest version?”

B: “This one. It is called the Ipad with Retina Display.”

A: “Ah, so like the older one which is called The New Ipad,  but with a Retina Display?”

B: “No, The New Ipad also has a Retina Display.”

A: “WTF! All these names are bullshit! OK let’s go with Nintendo, maybe they have names which are not shit.”

B: “Ehhm.”

 

Still wanting!

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OK, this has been ages. November the deadlines avalanched me… Still working on the last of the games from that deadline clash…

But I am still thinking, wanting, researching… about the game script I want to write. Largely thanks to Javier Cabrera, who reminds me almost every day to not let the ball drop, I will try to use his method soon to write my 1st draft.

Until then, I need to work on this deadline here, but on the side (on a 2nd screen or in my little sparetime) I am researching all kinds of mystery movies to find out what I like, what I think works and doesn’t work… I gather little DOs and DON’Ts for me…

One quick example: Recently I saw “Stay” and “Mulholland Dr.” And both movies (won’t spoil too much, but if you don’t want to be spoilered stop reading!) fuck with your mind. For me, an important DON’T manifested. I didn’t like either movie. They both have redeeming qualities/scenes/ideas, but the basic thing I didn’t like and which goes straight to my DON’T list: If parts of your movie “aren’t real”, don’t show them from anybody’s perspective except the guy/girl who “made it up in their head”. That annoys me totally. If let’s say most of the movie happens inside of the head of somebody, don’t have scenes which have nothing to do with the character, with people the character is not connected with, and even worse: don’t let me feel, wonder and second-guess things through the mind of a character that doesn’t really exist. That is not how dreams or fantasies work. Both are very self-centered. That little thing ruined both movies for me. Writing this down for my script.

Too busy

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This week and the next I am racing towards a hard deadline, not much leisure… I am currently not getting further, anyway. I think I need to start writing, to get more detailed ideas about the story, and collect them… But: End of the month, soonest…

 

#Gamedesign Reading

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As I said, reading is great. To me books are a medium that can have the highest impact of them all. But when I want to play, I don’t want to read. When I want to move my avatar along, I don’t want to watch a pointless cutscene…

I don’t have to write interesting content. We have to act earlier: I need to make the player interested in the content. No matter what’s actually in there.

Do you know Sherlock Holmes Consulting Detective, the 80ies board game? The game where you have a case, a map, a newspaper and a telephone register… You can read the newspaper to find fluff but also leads… And you are totally free to use your brain, to let what you read nudge you in the right direction.

I want to use that feature a bit. This would slice the story into days – like with Gabriel Knight I which I worship – will put the story into a frame of time and space, allow me to present a lot of fluff and make the player look for clues, make him think outside the box and reward him for it.

Dialogue vs. Riddles

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I don’t like riddles/puzzles in adventures. Never have. Some are forced (“Before we chase after the mysterious killer, we have to reassemble this industrial vacuum cleaner”). Almost all are jarring, stalling. Almost every riddle would be cut out of a movie because they stall the storyflow and make no sense.

So, if you ask me where the focus should be in my game, I would place it on Dialogue. I know, people don’t want to read, people are easily bored. But what do we have in movies: Scenery, Movement, Expression, Dialogue, Action….  Rarely riddles.

If riddles are the difference between 1.5 hours of a movie and 9 hours of a game, they can’t be the solution.

I will try to wrestle with this, but I had a first idea yesterday: I can use some ideas which I have gathered for my “rpg concept”:

Basically, the first step is to make the system good. I have the feeling (which is certainly a very arrogant one) that on average, most decisions in game development are “convenient”. “Well, audience wants a story where those things happen, the other games usually do it like that, what about dialogues, well these are usually done like this, blabla.” They usually focus on a good polished product, not on reinventing the system.

How many games try to be innovative? Not many, in innovation there is danger. Mankind will go the easiest way until it sinks into the sea, only then will we start to think about boats. Even though there are other possibilities, we will burn petrol until it’s gone, then we will realise “damn, we need it to manufacture plastic”. That’s just the way we are. We will make the same FIFA game every year until we no longer make any profit. That means, things will never change, until nobody buys those games anymore, THEN “the genre is dead”.

I think, before I write a single line of text, I need to find a way to make the whole thing meaningful and interesting in general. A bad system can’t be saved by good writing (i.e. the dialogue is totally unwanted and unnecessary, but brilliant). One example is the dialogue system of Mass Effect 2, with spontaneous good/evil QTE decisions, good idea!

But here is my first idea, I will model my own dialogue system on my favourite dialogues in books. Games usually make a big mistake: They remove subtext from dialogues. Have you ever seen a game where you have those 2 options among your dialogue options:

“I will certainly do that!” (truth)
“I will certainly do that” (lie)

They always assume, if I say yes to somebody in a game THAT I MEAN IT. Yes, I will complete that quest (fuck off!). That’s bullshit, you don’t know how people talk. If you remove the inside of things, they collapse. If you remove all the awkwardness, politics, intrigue, manipulation and guesswork from talking to people, then YES, it’s boring and irrelevant.

LA Noire tried to do a lot of things there, but it didn’t really work.

In books you get six channels of information:

What the hero thinks.
What the hero says.
Outside perspective of the hero.
What the conversational partner says.
What hero can deduce from the partner’s tone, expression and body language.
Outside perspective of the partner (not necessarily the same as the one above)

In games, we only get 2 to 4 of those. I want to provide all 6. Combined with dialogues you can honestly botch, with consequences, with special rewards if you did it really well.

I prefer this a lot over “hmm, I forgot to bring my car keys, so I just go back to… Oh damn, I need to fetch my 3 key cards first and solve that number slider puzzle again.”