Bringing established franchises to a smaller screen

I’ve dusted off the Vita recently and played Hotline Miami which is awesome. Then I’ve played Killzone Mercenary, which looks stunning on the Vita. It plays good too. The Vita is a great piece of hardware, no doubt.

Killzone Mercenary also highlights a dilemma that Sony has not really cracked and this was an issue on the PSP as well.

I remember when the PSP first came out and how amazing it seemed. I was being told that I can now play Winning Eleven/Pro Evolution Soccer on the PSP and it would be the same game and experience as on the PS2. Now that sounded awesome, I could play the same game on the plane. How can that not be great? I played PES so hardcore, I thought it would be awesome to keep playing the game on the plane.

Sadly, reality is different. It’s not quite the same game, not quite the same controls, not quite the same experience as sitting on the couch in front of the big ass tv. The reality hits that you will never play the exact same game on a smaller screen, of course you are not. You will be playing an approximation of the “main game” . So why would I play PES or Killzone on a smaller screen when it’s like 80% of the experience? That’s the problem. It doesnt feel quite as good. If it doesnt, you wont play it for very long.

But you have to bring your big franchises to your other systems. That’s what one does. Even in this day and age when Sony’s own franchises and I think franchises in general dont drive us gamers to systems like they did on the 16-bit and PlayStation days.

This is Sony’s dilemma really.

It has published great original content on both the PSP (Locoroco, Patapon, for example) and the Vita, but those dont seem to drive sales of the hardware, so you have to bring your known franchises to the portable platform and hope they generate sales. They dont seem to. Sure, you can argue that Gran Turismo PSP aint as good as the PS2 game and Killzone Mercenary is not as good as Killzone 3 on the PS3.

I think Killzone Mercenary is a good game. It’s got great controls and the gameplay is bite sized enough that you can make progress in the levels in short bursts. Of course, you can always pause the Vita, so in some ways, it doesnt matter if the level is 15 minutes to 55 minutes. But shorter is far, far better these days.

What I really dislike is how many reviews compare Killzone Mercenary to the PS3 games and say it’s not as good. What the fuck is that? Sure, it’s aping a “real” console game, but I dont think you should review it by comparison. Comparing Killzone Mercenary to the PS3 game and saying it’s not quite as good must be really infuriating for the development team. I can totally understand that.

On the other hand, Sony’s selling the game by saying it’s a console-like experience and of course, the only comparison with Wipeout and Killzone on the Vita we have are the PS3 games. I think Killzone Mercenary does a good job of taking the universe and the style and build something out of it that’s relatively well suited to the Vita.

This is a difficult thing to crack. You need your big franchises on various platforms and they have certain standards to uphold. Though, I have to say what Guerrilla (and Housemarque…) did with Killone Liberations on the PSP was awesome. They used a top down view, since the PSP didnt have enough 3D power, but you cannot really take that approach on the Vita.

I think the indie game approach Sony is now taking up for the Vita is a good one. I dont think a single Vita indie game will sell the machine by itself, but I do think it will really help and as the price of the hardware is coming down…who knows.

Ruisrock 2013 -raporttia

Finnish style, this time.

Täytin heinäkuun ekalla viikolla vuosia ja sopivasti saman viikon perjantaina lähettiin Koirien kanssa Turkuun Ruisrockiin. Niille, jotka eivät tiedä, niin toimin Roope Salminen ja Koirat -bändin taustavoimissa. Soitimme Koffin valtavalla anniskelualueella koko festivaalin ajan – kun päälavalla ja teltassa oli tauko niin oli meikäläisten vuoro soittaa. Niinpä vedot kestivät noin 15 minuuttia, jonka jälkeen venailtiin tunti ja soitettiin lisää. Siistiä tässä oli se, että meidän lavalta näki loistavasti päälavalle. Porukka alkoi ollla “kohtalaisessa” maistissa jo iltapäivällä niin lavamme edessä olevassa pomppulinnassa alkoi olee aika hervoton meininki. Oli todella hauskaa ja Koffin tytöt olivat flirttailevaa sorttia bändin soittavia jäseniä kohtaan, joten iso kiitos heille hienosta viikonlopusta. Oli tosi hienoa, että meillä oli oma lava, joilla muut ei soittanut. Olimme ainoa bändi, joka soitti festareiden jokaisena päivänä.

Ennen kuin pääsimme alueelle lauantaina niin tuli taas erään bändin jäsenen kanssa perussäätöä lipuista jne, mikä kiristi muun bändin hermoja, mutta siitäkin sitten selvittiin. Jotenkin saatiin autotkin kivan lähelle lavaa niin ei tarttenut roudata kovin kaukaa. Välimäen Midhill-rafla oli lavan vieressä niin sai sitäkin operaatiota ihailla. Ei käy kateeks kokkeja muutenkaan kiireisissä rafloissa, mutta festareilla ruoan tekeminen…huh.

Perjantaina ja lauantaina meillä oli keikat jo “home away from home” -paikaksi muodostuneessa Turun keskustan Apollo-yökerhossa. Perjantai tuli itse vedettyä lootakii, mutta ei nyt mitään övereitä. Taidettiin hakea Urhon kanssa kiekot Apollon lähellä olevasta pizzeriasta keikan jälkeen. Urho on hieno mies! Lauantaina sitten olikin upea aurinkoinen sää ja oltiin koko päivä Ruisrockissa. Tuli taas syötyy bäkkärillä aikamoiset setit. Mietin tässä taas salilla ja lenkillä käydessäni , että miks mä edes vaivaudun? Pitäis antaa olla vaan levitä ja nauttii ruoasta.

Meillä oli oma bäkkäri lavan alla, jonka edellä mainitut Koffin tytöt rakensi meille (kiitos Carita!) mutta suurin osa ajasta meni hengaillessa päälavan vieressä oleva bäkkärillä syödessä. Siellä pääsi myös kunnon posliinille vessaan! Kyllä se tuntui hyvältä, huhuh.

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Kun Koirat lähtivät lauantai-iltana vetämään Apolloon ja itse jäin festareille, koska halusin nähdä HIMin keikan. Backstagella löytyikin sitten tuttua porukkaa, jotka kuvasivat ja editoivat kaikki Ruisrockissa ennen keikkoja näytetyt artistihaastattelut. Olin osan tämän porukan kanssa tehnyt mm. tämän dokkarin:

No siinä sitten alettiin vetelemään porukoiden viinoja kun vaihdettiin kuulumisia ja päätettiin mennä katsomaan HIMin keikkaa lavalta. Artistipassi on hieno juttu, sillä pääsee käytännössä festareilla kaikkialle. Ei tarvitse vaeltaa massan seassa, vaan voi liikkua kätevästi eri lavojen välille rakennetuilla reiteillä. Ruisrockin organisointi oli jotakin ihan mahtavaa. Muutamat festarit olen käynyt läpi ja Ruisrock on ihan nextillä levelillä, mitä tulee tapahtuman toimivuuteen, palveluihin, melkeinpä kaikkeen.

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Päälavan alla oli roudareiden hieno “lair”. Grillikin löytyi!

Näin HIMin porukoiden menevän lavalle ja Ville Valo hieman jäljessä perässä joten kun bändi menivät lavalle, niin menimme perässä. Katsoin koko keikan lavan (yleisöstä katsottuna) vasemmalla puolella noin 4-5 metrin päässä bändistä, joiden tyttöystävät olivat myös vieressä. Lavallahan musa kuulostaa aika surkealta, kun kaikki PA on suunnattu yleisöön, mutta fiilis on tietenkin mieletön etenkin kun näkee yleisömeren lavan edessä. Kuinka tuohon voi väsyä? Soittaa yleisön edessä? Kaikesta tosin tulee rutiinia. Sen olen jo vuosien varrella oppinut.

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Katselin keikan tuossa alusta loppuun ja sitten mentiin takaisin bäkkärille. Mietin, että nyt tai ei koskaan olisi oiva mahdollisuus käydä juttelemassa bändin pojille. Hetken venattuani suuntasimme bäkkärin perälle, jossa HIMin kaverit hengailivat muijineen ja tietenkin Seppo Vesterinen oli in the house.

Ennen kuin ehdin oikein sanoa mitään niin kosketinsoittaja Burton osoittaa minua, kävelee kohti ja toteaa, että MoonTV URL oli mahtava tv-ohjelma. No, siitähän juttu sitten lähti käyntiin ja kävikin ilmi, että Burton oli tehnyt jotakin hommia aikoinaan MoonTV:llä. Maailma on pieni paikka, what can I say? Otti musta vielä “kaverikuvan” omalla luurillaan!

Fanitin sitten kitaristi-Lindeä siinä tovin ja kunhan mun alkujännitys katosi niin puhuttiin viime vuoden lopun Tavastiakeikoista. Linde pyysi anteeksi kahta ekaa keikkaa, mutta itse ekalla olleena niin iha hyvä veto sekin oli vaikka sanat unohtuikin ja muutenkin oli jännitystä ilmassa. Oli kyllä tosi hieno fiilis, kaverit olivat niin rentoja ja maanläheisiä, etten oikein tiedä mitä sanoa. Lindekin vaikuttaa aika ujolta ja introvertiltä kaverilta (just like me!), mut oli kyllä selvästi tottunut fanien hermostuneisiin höpötyksiin, niin ei siinä mitään. Hienoja kavereita molemmat herrat.

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No, sitten piti jotenkin selvitä takaisin Turun keskustaan. Piti olla kyyti tiedossa, erään kotimaisen nimeltä mainitsemattoman suuren musavaikuttajan bemarissa, mutta kaveri ei ollut ajokunnossa, joten sain kunnian ajaa seurueen Turkuun. No, hitusen kylmää hikee puski kun pelkäsin että olin itsekin jurrissa eikä hirveesti tehnyt mieli romuttaa BMV:tä, mutta nopeesti siinä selvis ku paniikki iski. Ekaks ajelin Ruissalon leirintäalueella jonne dropattiin Roopen (Salmisen) broidi Santtu, joka toimi meidän kuvaajana. Hitusen oli kuumottava ajaa joskus 03:00 sysipimeellä tiellä jossa känninen festarikansa hoipertelee. GTA-tyyliin vaan kaasu pohjaan, ei siin midist, jengi lens kuitenkin sinne puskiin.

Sitten kohti Turun downtownia ja luukutettiin sitten ikkunat auki musaa. Turun keskustassa pärähti Dr Dren Chronic soimaan ja sitä sitten hoilattiin ihan liekeissä. Eeppinen ajomatka kerta kaikkiaan.

Ehdin Apolloon sopivasti roudaamaan bändin kamoja takaisin kämpille ja sit yritin siinä nukkua, mutta samassa huoneessa oli meitä kolme ja yskivä groupie niin eihän siinä saanut nukuttuu. Olin vielä niin HIM-adrenaliinihuuruissa, että valvoin melkein koko yön. Aamulla menin 09:00 junalla Helsinkiin, kävin himassa suihkussa, otin toisen pakatun laukun ja lähdin 14:30 lennolla Chicagon kautta San Franciscoon katsomaan The Bureau: XCOM Declassified -peliä ja lensin sitten päivän kuluttua takaisin Helsinkiin.

The Last of Us demo impressions based on the two level beta demo

(there are no spoilers here)

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The demo contains two levels. One is very short and is all about combat. The second, hopefully, is much more indicative of what the game really is about. This demo level is a slow paced, athmosperic and powerful sequence of affairs.

The crunch at Naughty Dog has apparently been pretty epic on this game (first Naughty Dog to ever have been delayed from it’s original launch date), but it always has been. The quality of this demo feels superb, but is probably even higher in the final product.

The “end of the world” theme and zombies are very tired themes and things to explore. That was my first reaction upon hearing about The Last of Us. That was of course preceded by excitment for an brand new IP from Naughty Dog. Still, it’s about the story and if you can offer something interesting from a drama and character point of view, where you set it, doesnt matter as much.

This is clearly a game where you want to avoid spoilers and watching too much footage since it really seems to rely very much on the story. It simply has to – a game with these sort of themes: survival, being alone and so on, to differentiate from The Walking Dead, Enslaved and others out there – the story has to be powerful. But it’s also probably that like in the Walking Dead, not much will explained at the end, why the epidemic has happened, so there’s probably not going to be a “proper”, explain-it-all ending. So, I assume The Last of Us really is about the journey that the two lead characters are taking. But I really do hope it offers proper closure at the end of the journey.

The demo sells this really well. The dialogue between Ellie and Joel is lively and believable. The voice acting is great and the chatter has a lively feel to it (even if it sounds sometimes too much like it’s been recorded in the studio) and there is a lot of it. There is a lot of sequences where Ellie will comment on Joels comings and goings. It’s a pleasure to hear form her – there’s a very organic feel to the game.

The feel really is what sells this to me. The visuals are often incredible as is the lighting. Just imagine what you will see on the PlayStation 4 three-fours years from now, when compute shaders are being fully utilized. The world in The Last of Us feels lived in, dead, yet alive. We’ve all seen barren streets with wrecked cars and dead-ends with large school buses etc in so many games and movies, yet here they feel fresh.

There’s just a great feeling of being there, which is something the technically far less efficient (and of course having been made on a much smaller budget) The Walking Dead did not have. The world in The Last of Us seems like something I want to know more about and also I want to know more about Joel and Ellie.

I really do not want to see more of this game before I have the final game and can sit down and play it by myself, turn off all social media so I can just sink myself into this world. Though having said that, this is a game that is also entertaining to watch as somebody plays it.

So the fears of the themes being very worn out, I do not have anymore after having played the demo, but of course, the demo is less than an hour of the game, which apparently offers something like a 15 hour single player story. That’s my only worry really – the game sounds too damn long.

I really do think one of the biggest problems developers and publishers now have is that they make single player games way too long. I think that actually turns people off (no from The Last of Us though, I feel) from buying certain games. We just do not have the time these days to spend 15-20 hours with single player games. I understand that developers and publishers are afraid of losing revenue to rentals and afraid that gamers thikn they are not getting enough value for 50 dollars, but we are. We definitely are.

The gameplay in The Last of Us, especially in the slower paced Lincoln-level, like I said, I really hope this is what the game is about – very careful, slow-paced exploration where avoiding the enemies is really necessary. Basically whenever the infected saw me and rushed me, I would die. There’s no hammering the buttons or a QTE offering escape – you get caught, you die.

That I think is already a bold move in current climate of video games where the fear of death is non-existent.  Shooting does not have the clinical finesse of Call of Duty and on purpose. There’s some realism to the shooting here with shaky hands and inaccuracy in the aiming. Again, this is a great, refreshing move and hopefully the game sticks to it’s guns until the end so to speak.

So in the slower-paced level, one has to climb on top of a building and use a wooden plank to get across to another building. This mechanic repeated itself a few times. Now, when everything looks so damn realistic, it’s stil a game, so you can only interact with a few things. So the plank is resting across a chainlink fence and I figured I have to get it up to the building’s roof, but how can I climb up carrying it? Ellie was of no help. Took me a while to realize I had to rest the plank across the building’s wall, then climb to the roof, then grab the plank to hoist it onto the roof and place it across the chasm between the two buildings. Makes sense.

Another critical thing that the game will have to do to be succesful and realistic is to have scarce resources. If there’s too many bullets available, then even though killing the infected is tough, you can just use a lot of ammo to survice. We are so used to the fact in the video games these days that there’s never a lack of resources because designers are too scared to lose players because the game might be tough or require strategy. It’s a very, very fine line. Clearly, there’s a lot of small rooms behind locked doors that you need to build shiv’s to open them. Spend resources to build shivs and you can access these “resource rooms”, but by spending some resources. How all of this will play out, it’s super hard to balance out so we shall see.

I do assume this is a game that one should play without any of the multitude of helping functions like pointers and HUD elements showing things that you can interact with. Of course then, you will end up hugging everything in the enviroments kinda like in an old school adventure game to figure out what you can use and what you cannot. The game feels so real and tries to be real that logical solutions to problems are what come to mind, but of course, this is not a simulation, it’s a game so it works in a certain kinda way.

The graphics, the feel and tone of the game are huge parts of The Last of Us just as they are in Uncharted – they really are the building blocks of the game. Also, this is kind of like in Grand Theft Auto – it’s about…enjoying the athmospere, soaking it all in and enjoying it. Even if it’s all about insane people, death and bacteria.

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I’m pretty sure that any criticism the game will face, the rather dour answer will be that “at least we are trying to push the envelope in story-telling, so never mind the little details”.

Kind of what the Bioshock Infinite has experienced. It’s a sign of a great game that it’s merits generate so much discussion and columns. Now, I think Bioshock Infinite is an amazing game – I dont mind the gamey aspects of it like stealing everything everywhere you got and emptying ever nook and cranny in front of non-reactful NPC’s. That what you do in video games and there’s so many technical challenges in making video games that in Bioshock, Irrational chose to concentrate on the story and other things rather than getting rid of basic gameplay tenets. 

Now yes, it did annoy a little bit that I sort of had to get the “stealing resources” out of the way in every building and gameplay sequence of Bioshock Infinite to enjoy the rest of it, but I can live with that.

Same with The Last of Us, there’s some gameplay elements that might jar with the realism, but only concentrating that is losing the bigger picture – that a developer is trying hard to do something new, a new IP and trying to explore mature, adult theme’s and drama.

Also, I have to push the point that The Last of Us looks absolutely stunning.

 

 

 

 

 

Stuck in Seattle

It’s been really busy at work in the beginning of 2013 (thanks Adam). It’s great really, some changes at the company and while there’s frustration, at least it feels like goals are more clear and there’s more for me to do. So we launched Umbra 3.2 on February 1st and it’s been pretty good since. Last fall felt pretty aimless, but now there’s loads for me to do. Check out this video about what our technology or rather, software, does.

So the first real contact that came to fruition on my behalf was Eidos Montreal who licensed Umbra 3 for a future project. Cant say anything else than that, but it was gratifying to handle that whole deal from start to finish.

So GDC 2013 is in two weeks. I’m writing this at the Seattle airport. We got up at 5am with my CTO/CEO and were on a planet at 7am to New York, but due to a mechanical fault, the plane didnt take off and we got out. Two hours of queuing later, we get a 7pm Seattle to London flight and then to Helsinki. Well, such is life when travelling. We are both so tired that we really dont have energy to work or leave the airport and go the nearby mall or something

The past week we’ve been in Seattle on business. I really like this town. I have a few great friends here like Mr Berghammer . Umbra has worked with Bungie for over two years on Destiny and I’ve gotten to know some of the Bungie crew at various developer conferences. I have to say everybody’s super cool and just nice. We had some work to do at the studio, but they let us hang out there too, which was really appreciated. Cant really say anything about Destiny of course 😉 Bungie’s studio is amazing. Over 350 people and it’s in a mall and used to be a movie theatre. So the ceiling is set super high and the space is very open. The same building has restaurants, bars, a gym and across the street there is a California Pizza Kitchen. It cannot get much better than that! The same block has Suckerpunch, tons of Microsoft offices, Valve is a few blocks down, so is Arenanet and Camouflaj. Shoutout to the crew at Camouflaj and Suckerpunch!

The week before we spent in California on some PlayStation 4 stuff, I can say shit about it either. So two weeks on the road and five different hotels in two weeks.  So I spend six days back home and then fly out to San Francisco for GDC.

So I cant really complain. It’s a cool job with a lot of freedom and some frustrations with engineers, but I get to ball around the world and see hardware and games years before they are announced, which is awesome. Of course, there’s a girl who I again didn’t manage to charm enough that’s been making me sad for most of the year but with so much work now and really just getting used to told no, you get over these things faster.

Most of this week was spent on GDC-related matters. Organizing stuff for our meeting room such as graphics for the exteriors, working on a brochure, then there’s lots of Umbra-news I had to put all over the internets like Eidos Montreal, PlayStation 4, Destiny type of things, tracking some customer-client relations, doing some ad’s for GDC etc.

I got Tomb Raider in my luggage. Somewhere. Hope it makes it back home! I was thinking that I will stay on west coast time back in Finland so I’d be better prepared for GDC, but we’ll see how it goes.

Ballin in Las Vegas 2013

We really started off 2013 with a mission at Umbra – we really came out flying working on Umbra 3.2 after the Christmas. So January  was full of work, especially for the engineers who crunched a bit on Umbra 3.2, but we all had a clear mission and target. It really felt we were working as a team even if I kept most of my work under wraps and vice versa really.

It did help that I knew I was gonna jet off to Las Vegas on 1st of February, so that was a good goal to aim for! Work hard all January, party for a week in February!

Check out this video explaining our tech at Umbra that I did with the talented Teemu Jäppinen. Check out his website here.


I flew out on Friday (on the same flight as Remedy’s most awesome CEO mr Myllyrinne), but since the outbound flight was delayed from Helsinki, I missed my connecting flight from New York to Chicago and from there to Las Vegas. When I got out of the plane in New York, they handed me an envelope containing a ticket for a JetBlue flight on Saturday morning directly to LV and a night including dinner and breakfast at the nearby Doubletree Hilton hotel. Ironically, the reason I had a bad (ie. short) connecting flight at JFK was because I had a three flight travel plan to Las Vegas so I could get more frequent flyer flights (flights count more than miles for us who fly economy) and fly cheaper. That plan backfired spectacularly so I ended up spending the night in New York and flying out at 10am on Saturday. I didnt really mind, I would have gotten to LV around 11pm on Friday anyway. Now I got see a new part of JFK which was the JetBlue terminal. It had free wifi, but other than that, it was the usual terminal, but I did grab me some Dunkin Donuts for the first time in years! Flying JetBlue meant I got no OneWorld frequent flier miles. Real first world problems, I know.

So once I landed in Las Vegas, it was time to head to the hotel (Hard Rock) and meet up with my friend Ossi (Ozzy in the US) who flew out for a few days as well. We ate at the Pink Taco at the hotel which is a Mexican joint that sounds appropriately dirty. We also have a Mexican joint below our office in Helsinki, so I eat a lot of erm, Mexican food. Good thing I like it. So after that I tried getting some sleep, but I cannot sleep during the day (even if it was night back in Helsinki) – I dont know how to nap, I really dont. So, we went to see the Cirque de Soleil show O, at the Bellaggio. It was cool, but not as awesome as Ka. So, I managed to stay awake, then we went to eat at the Yellowtail restaurant at Bellaggio, which is a Japanese restaurant. Doing that allows me to then freely eat good American food for the rest of the trip and not feel bad about burgers, pizza and lots and lots of dessert. All of which I ate on Sunday. Multiple times. Still, I really eat a lot less dessert than before. People do change to some extent, I can tell you that with expertise at my age. I like different clothes to when I was younger and a different crowd, but I still roll with an extra clip. That has not changed.

The thing about Las Vegas and going out in general is to plan ahead. Just randomly going to various bars and hotels is ok to non-ballin people, but going to the club and partying properly – plan ahead. That means buying tickets ahead so you avoid queues or get this American invention called bottle service. Which means booking a table at the club by paying a ridiculous amount for a bottle of booze, which rests on top of the afore-mentioned table. This is what you do unless you roll into the club with hot girls, but sadly I almost never do, so like the most of us good guys, I pay my way in. The way I look at it, for a few days at an expense, I live an alternative lifestyle and then go back to normalcy when I get home. It’s escapism and boosting one’s low self-esteem.

So after Yellowtail we went to the Tryst club at the Wynn. House is the music of choice in Las Vegas clubs and I like hip hop and IDM, so we lucked out that Jermaine Dupri was spinning at Tryst. He played the hits and it was all good, we had a great time in the club and only paid 25 dollars to get in. But we had tickets beforehand, so we got go past the queue and got in really fast. That was really awesome. We were there pretty early though, around 11pm.

On the following day it was Super Bowl Sunday or the Big Game as they know it in Las Vegas. I think due to NFL licensing etc, you cannot advertise that you got a “Super Bowl party”, you have to call it the “big game”. That’s America and Ronald Reagan giving all power to the allmighty dollar and advertisers. So, I had booked us a table at the Pub at Monte Carlo. Again, plan ahead and book. No queue. So we had an open bar and a great buffet from 12am onwards until the match ended. Thanks to the power failure, we definitely got our money’s worth! The buffet was really good, not just the usual crap burgers. There was hot dogs (three different sausages), great variety of pizza slices, excellent Cesar salad, nachos with tasty cheese and meat sauce, some pulled pork sandwhiches and other food. The dessert table was awesome, but I didnt eat so much dessert, I seemingly had some control left.

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So after the match, I dont remember where I went. Probably back to the hotel.

Monday morning was spent at the gym and then catching up on work, which means a lot of email. I had launched our new website on Friday morning just before I got on the plane, so there was kinks to iron out and a press release to put out. Please check out the website here and give credit to this lady who did the “remix” on our old design.

Monday evening I had reservations at my favourite steakhouse STK at the Cosmopolitan. We took a good walk outside in the sun before, visited the MGM (still being renovated) and the Mandalay Bay and The Hotel (which will become the Delano in 2014!) and then went to STK. The bottle of wine I had at STK made me far more drunk than I was on Super Bowl Sunday, I really dont know how that was possible. After STK, we went to the older part of Las Vegas and Fremont street, which has bars like Insert Coin and DJ Lethal’s Backstage Bar and Billiards. Two drinks cost 12 bucks here, which was less than a single drink on the fucking strip!

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My buddy Brandon joined us here, we shot some pool, hung out and then went back to the strip. We ended up going to the Marquee club at the Cosmopolitan by getting insanely expensive bottle service and had to listen to rubbish house music. Still, this is the US – you pay, you get awesome service and feel like a VIP. So we had our own table in our own closed area with own security and hostess. All made us feel really welcome and it just gave a good vibe…but of course at a price. Still, jetlag caught up and I didnt stay too long. Long enough to be an idiot and losing money on the roulette table. Damn it!

Then work. On Tuesday evening the action really started as the DICE Summit kicked off. Not that networking and socializing with lots of friends and industry people in Las Vegas feels like work. DICE brings out everybody from key media to all the decision makers and studio folks from all over the industry. Where else can you hang out with Jason Rubin at the bar and then kick it with ex-Capcom king Seth Killian. I was really tired by this day so I went to bed early.

Wednesday was filled with presentations that kicked off with JJ Abrams and Gabe Newell, which was really great. A welcome change to the DICE format was that we went form 45 minute presentations to 20-35 minute presentations. It’s sad that our attention spans are so short these days (while writing this blog, I’m on Facebook, watching Liverpool-WBA, answering work email, browsing random websites->codetalk for pr0n really…you know the deal) that this is what you have to do – shorter presentations. Still, the quality was great, much improved over last year. I did a few interviews in there as well.

Wednesday ended with the opening party and I did get to go to EEDAR’s penthouse suite party at the hotel thanks to my friends hooking me up. The room had a jacuzzi facing the balcony and the strip and a fucking bowling alley. In the room. Met some people here and we ended up going to the Lavo club at the Palazzo with a few really cool game industry ladies. American women are easier to talk to than Finnish ones and they give compliments back at least. I’m  proud that I had stamina to go out and enjoy myself. I bumped into some Activision folks at the club and Rafael Colantonio from Arkane, so some business was done too. That’s what I’m at DICE for.

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Thursday was more great presentations, again from Newell from the start. Warren Spector had a really personal and emotional presentation or rather just …talking about how he felt about getting older and how the industry and games are changing. We get it, you want to make different kinds of games, like Epic Mickey instead of the games you made when you were 20 or 30. I really respect Spector for going for that. His studio, Junction Point, was shut down just a week before this, so his talk was even more impactful due to that. He spoke really well and from the heart, good stuff. Kiki Wolfkill and Frank O’Connor talked about setting up 343 and Halo 4. They talked okay, but somehow I didnt feel I got enough out of this…I wanted to know more, they just really didnt go into enough detail.

There is a lot of drama at studios and in work places in general. That’s what I’d love to hear more about, not relationship bullshit etc, but really, the challenges, the arguments etc that happen when you got hundreds of talented people making a game. Ironically, David Cage kept complaining in his presentation about how the industry and especially journalists need to grow up. I’m fucking tired of hearing this. He could then share more about his studio and the difficulties he’s faced and how he’s kept his studio going over the years with little money and he’s lost a lot of people, but he and PR dont want to talk about those things.

One thing some video game developers complain about is reviewers complaining about lacking technology in games and such things. This comes in the way of “understanding the art” of the game, the message, the things it’s trying to portray and the kind of feelings games try to evoke in gamers.

I get that and reviewing games is really a difficult task because you always balance on…what the game is trying to do, what the vision is and what the execution is….but, video games are an interactive medium. Things like frame rate have a significant impact on controls which in turn have a significant impact on gameplay. You know what? That matters. What also matters when you got an incredibly looking and sounding game like Max Payne 3. Then play some other 3rd person shooter where the graphics are average and the combat doesnt feel good…having a great story there is simply not enough. Often, this is a question of opinion and taste, absolutely, these are really tough calls. The difference between an 10 and 8 can sometimes be small. I gave Grand Theft Auto 4 a 10.  I chose to overlook the fact that missions were relatively linear and that there’s wasn’t as much freedom as before. Those features didnt matter to me, instead what mattered to me was that there were great characters, great story, a bold move in choosing an immigrant as the lead character and also, really amazing technology for a game made in three years on new hardware. Those were my reasons for giving it 10. I understand why some people would give the game an 8, completely. That’s why reviewing games is tough.

Back to the lecture at hand.

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The AIAS Awards were held on Thursday night at The Joint which was the place were Guns’n Roses played their residency a few months ago. The awards went well and the new host Chris Hardwick was pretty funny after a slow start. I did miss Jay Mohr though, but there’s only so many times he can do the same show. Journey was the big winner of the night alongside with The Walking Dead. I still have not really tried Journey, too artful it seems.

I was glad to see that for once, most people really wore suits and respected the evening’s event. It’s a gala, it’s a celebration of the very best in video games, so wearing proper attire is only right. I got to hang out a bit Robert Bowling again, which is always great. I also got to talking to my man Arne at Naughty Dog, I’m so glad I still have that connection there even after I didnt get to work there.

The after party was sponsored by Wargaming.net. They have basically sponsored all major industry event parties for the past 18 months from GDC 2012, to the last Austin GDC and GamesCom. It’s been epic, but this was chilled out. I spent a lot of time with my fellow Finns Housemarque and then I just went to bed. I had no energy left and that was sad. I felt really bad, but in the end, I’m a responsible person and the need for sleep and being ok the next day are more important. I find it hard to really let go.

Friday I managed to extend my check in to 12am. I did email, packed up, treated myself to the spa and a massage and just hung out at the spa reading a book that I bought. Stanley McChrystal’s My Share of the Task. An interesting read so far.

2012 in review

The WordPress.com stats helper monkeys prepared a 2012 annual report for this blog.

Here’s an excerpt:

600 people reached the top of Mt. Everest in 2012. This blog got about 11,000 views in 2012. If every person who reached the top of Mt. Everest viewed this blog, it would have taken 18 years to get that many views.

Click here to see the complete report.

Random thoughts on Far Cry 3

I wanted to love Far Cry 2, but the difficulty level, the forever breaking down weapons, the fucking check points… too much realism for my taste. Incredible game world, superb engine, lot of great ideas but as often, building an engine and a game hand in hand, rarely results in a great end product.

So Far Cry 3 has the same engine base, but mostly new people and a sort of a Ubisoft dream team with the Creative Director being Patrick Plourde (Assassins Creed 2 and Brotherhood) and Jeffrey Yohalem (writer of AC2 and Brotherhood) handling the writing duties.

What is gameplay?

Is it… 34/34, 14/14, 120/120, 20/20 ? Ie. completing tons of tasks to get that 100% completion rate. Is that what is gameplay and enjoyment these days? Is doing all that shit fun at all?

Is it us gamers who have this annoying completionist streak and we have to get every collectible and complete all side missions? There’s so damn many in Far Cry 3 that it made me sick to look at the map with all the side missions on it. I know I have to complete all those side mission. In reality, I dont, but I have to or I dont have piece of mind. So I grind through them and get tired of the game, but not the actual game.

That’s what I was thinking when I was playing. Like, what is the actual fun in the game and the core gameplay? When do I play the actual, real game, the story missions? Why couldn’t I simply concentrate on playing just those? I’m not sure. Part of is that you get a lot of help by completing the side missions. Hunting gives you the capability to carry far more ammo and weapons, so you sort of have to do them to be able to complete the story missions without too much pain.

I have no real answers, so let’s talk about other aspects of Far Cry 3.

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Am I cry?

It’s a great game.

I like the heavy feel of the movement and the combat. The combat is so much better than before; it’s really satisfying and you have so many different type of weapons to use, but it’s all about the scenarios.

I did have a lot of fun taking over the guard posts. These typically have anywhere between 5-10 enemies. The more harder to reach area’s guard posts tend to have snipers, heavily armored soldiers and also enemies who run to the alarm’s when they are under fire.

So…you can sneak in, kill enemies stealthily, snipe them from afar, ride into the compound with a jeep and hope to drive over enemies, throw grenades into the camp…just so many ways to get rid of the enemies. I tended to snipe from afar, I’m sure most people do that since it’s easiest. Back in the day, I would have spent time in trying lots of different methods, but these days it’s fuck it, let me get done with this game as quickly as possible and I sure hope the checkpoint system is a good one. Sad, but true. ADHD. I did try using the flamethrower and molotovs a few times to box in the enemies and then just watch them burn (merry christmas), but most of the time I ended up burning myself up.

So, this one time at (band) camp…I let loose a bear or a tiger from it’s cage and it proceeded to, absolutely, positively, kill every motherfucker in the room! That was awesome. Freeing the caged animals has seemingly rather random chance of success in terms of them attacking enemies, but when they do it’s pretty awesome to roll into the camp while the pirates are fighting off a badly animated tiger and I’m serving up some flamethrower action! A few times I ran into the camp with a tiger or some other crazed animal on my tail. Fun times.

The propagating fire is pretty cool too and surely one of these gameplay mechanics that could be expanded so much more on next-gen consoles with much more memory to play around with.

Story

I like the rich kids get in trouble angle of the story and some of the digital acting, especially Vaas is truly great. The whole issue with the “open world do whatever you want games” is pretty clear with Far Cry 3. After hours of messing around on the island and doing side missions, I felt like how come this story aint moving, where the fuck is Vaas and why is my character not talking so much?

It’s because I wasn’t doing the story missions, of course. Pacing a game is tough when the player has so much freedom.

When you do actively follow the story missions, the actions and the characters feel better because you are around them more. Still, while Vaas is great, Hoyt is a bit too cliche and I would have liked a bit more interaction with your rescued buddies back at the cave. Sitra is a bit distant too and not enough of a relationship evolves with her and the lead character, though of course they do fuck, which I thought was cool as it was casual in the game.

The lead character moves from a pretty boy into a killer pretty fast, but then again, this is a video game and also… us humans turn into animals pretty damn fast, so I can live with that.

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The world

It’s hard to put my finger on it, just how they did it, but the game world is massive. I think it’s too big for it’s own good, but the amazing thing is that traversing the world is fast even on foot. Sure, you can run all the time, but you have miles and miles of enviroments to play in, yet I always felt relatively close where I was supposed to be. A big part of this is the excellent road system and of course, the quick travel options, which get you around the island fast. Still, I would often rather run than drive, because it felt faster to move that way.

The design work here is really cohesive and great, which must have been very difficult considering just how massive the two islands are. One really awesome thing is that you know often how in these types of games when you have to find something on the map and you get near the point where the treasure etc is…you are on the wrong side of the mountain etc.

Going around seems like it would take long and it’s annoying. In Far Cry 3, you always tend to be able to find a way up or past the mountains and similair obstacles without having to spend minutes and minutes finding an alternative route. The graphics make it pretty easy to see where you can run up and where you cant, so you dont end up spending a lot of time getting frustrated by not being entirely sure if you can get up at this point or not.

I was a bit bummed by the fact that when I tried to travel to the other island with a boat, the game just resets me and sends me back the way I came. I get it from a technical and story stand point, but it felt really jarring and pretty disappointing.

Island worth vacationing ?

What the game does great is to combine all these systems and most of the systems are quite good and polished to a good level. The gunplay, the core of an fps most of the time, feels great and accurate. The AI and enviroments often present a lot of scripted and lot of unscripted surprises and fun. The visuals are good, the acting often great and some of the characters are excellent. The UI could be better though. You always have to go into the main pause menu to make the “power up syringes” and equipping is pretty painful. I could live with the system, but it should have been better.

Above all, despite way too many side missions, I had fun with this game. It transported me into another world, it offered relatively polished campaign missions and some pretty funny moments with animals!

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