Feel my Teeth.

I am constantly slapping my own face with my own hand. This is because of the anesthetic. I have a weird existential fear that, if I don't remind my face that my jaw is on the side of my head, it will cease to exist.

I came out of the dentist's surgery after my first ever filling. It was without any real pain, except for the local plunging directly into my jaw's nerve cluster, triggering little spasms and jolts on the inside of my teeth.

Anyway, outside the surgery, I'm thinking "have I got something in my mouth? Some leftover oatmeal, perhaps, filling the gap between anaesthetized upper jaw and anaesthetized lower jaw?" After a bit of chewing, I concluded "Ooh! It's my tongue!".

I'll strive to give minute to minute updates as and when the feeling and pain returns. However, I may be too busy teaching/screaming at my mother to learn how to use her new computer. She hasn't touched a machine in 15 years, but is finally acceptant of the mouse. It's one of those first MS laser mice, so she doesn't have to deal with a cheapo ball based one, scragging around on an uneven surface and getting all gunked up with dead skin, or whatever the hell all that grey goo is.

It's sort of interesting teaching her, because you go through the same process as you would teaching someone a game, or developing a tutorial/ease-in period for a game.

In Windows, I'm teaching her the fundamental tools (stuff like window manipulation, task switching, right clicking for menus, the idea of "selecting" vs "opening/running" with the left button, creating files, dragging them into and out of directories, copy/pasting) and then showing them how the same manipulations are re-used regardless of the type of data - text, files, images, whatever. See, once you get someone to make a logical lateral connection between common, fundamental operational consistencies, then you've built a foundation for a well formed mental model. You then build upon that foundation, re-using the core tools in other situations, and introducing new concepts as a natural progression of old ones. And eventually, they'll even start showing their own creativity through those tools to do things you knew were possible, but hadn't expected them to do - and that, for me, is what makes games so great - the dual authorship of player and designer... carving out possibilities, and letting them explore them at their own pace, and of their own creative volition.

Here's the interesting thing about all this (for us, at least): even though she hates computers, and my obsession with games, she's able to quite easily play our game. In terms of interface, we've kept it as simple as possible, while still retaining great depth in gameplay. It's nice, because if a complete technophobe like my mother can pick up and enjoy our game, it bodes well if Microsoft want to ask us about the "casual" market.

Personally, I really don't feel like games should be designed with a target demographic in mind. It creates a lot of "second guessing". And for me, it tends to go against games' unique strengths - that they can be simple, but deep, and open to a wide range of players and expressions. Systems adapt to their users, so it follows that one game can adapt to many varied tastes. But apparantly, that kind of systemic adaptation to ones' audience is not often seen as a useful quality of games, and is underplayed in lieu of chasing "filmic experiences" and whatnot, where the player is treated like an ungreatful, expressionless oaf - an enemy of someone else's "finely crafted" story. *sigh*.

We want people to be able to come to our game with whatever emotions they feel like, and for our game to resonate that emotion. If they bring a sense of calm thoughtfulness, then they'll be able to express their calm. If they bring a fury, then they represent that fury in their approach to the game. Their play style should not alone ensure victory - it's the skill at their playing style which is more important in that respect. It really shouldn't matter if our players are middle aged housewives or teenaged spunking boys. Our game is there as an emotional amplifier, not as an emotioneering machine (which I imagine would be used to brainwash its audience into a certain state of mind - crying at level 17. Jesus. Hasn't Speilburg even seen "A ClockWork Orange"? Didn't he get the point about the immorality of agendaic film making?).

When movies try too hard to push their agenda, they're called polemic... sometimes even totalitarian. But even though it's a passive medium, films do exist which allow the freedom of interpretation. I've always felt that the boundaries of interpretation are widened in video games - there's still a system there, designed by a designer, which cannot be changed. But it is possible (to varying degrees) to express your own opinions within that expression space, and feel like you're being acknowledged by the system... listened to by the designer. However, there are just as many totalitarian game designs as there are expression-friendly ones. I guess I shouldn't moan. It's just one style.

Now, when you see our game, because it's very abstract, you'll be thinking "what's all this rhetoric got to do with this game?". It might be hard to tell at first, but it's a belief that has guided this whole development: Listen to your player. Re-inforce what they have to say. And through what they try to express, express your own message through the percievably natural occurance of the limitations of their own expression. To explore a possibility space is to explore a game designer's message. It's hard to tell if the game will say all this, as it might seem a lot more superficial. We'll have to see, I guess.

[10:32] I cannot feel my teeth.

[10:33] I can feel my teeth.

[11:58] I taste blood.

And just for fun:

(I'm sure this draws strong parallels with some people's experience in the games industry).


First Hurdle in sight

I'm in London right now, staying with friends, and making good use of the internet to get some proper work done.

The games coming along very nicely: you often find that your game concepts (especially those experimental ideas) end up needing massive re-designs because you've not thought them through properly. But so far, so good. The concept is so simple that so far, there have been no design tears shed, and stumbling blocks have, on the whole, been foreseen.

In particular, this week a big risk area has been met and tackled completely successfully*. It did require a couple of failed tries, but Tommy nailed a solution which barely affects CPU (while my first stab killed a good 50% of frame rate at its peak). It's by no means plain sailing from now on, but our core gameplay works, and is great fun. We have a foundation to build on!

We've heard back from MS. It took a while, so as we expected, they're obviously inundated with requests for Live Arcade titles. Interestingly, we have a British guy dealing with our inquiry, so it looks like the XBLA team has expanded to cope with demand, which is nice.

Standard procedure for applying involves getting NDAs signed and giving the XBLA team some background about our company. Our heritage spans back a massive 3 months, which probably isn't going to sound very impressive.

Rather than talk about the company, it makes more sense to talk about its people: we're writing up our resumes, (full of linkage to previous work), and asking a few industry friends for letters of recommendation. Hopefully we won't be passed over when they see our previous work, learn of our experience with the 360, and read some rather glowing letters from experienced people willing to vouch for us.

I do hope it's enough, because it's keeping me up at night; that nagging thought that our submission will be tossed because we don't have a famous name, major titles, or publisher backing. Still, I shouldn't think this way - paranoia breeds empty victories i.e. if I'm right, and my fears are embodied, we will have failed at the first hurdle, and I'll have to go get a job in starburger in hammersmith.

There's no such thing as a free pass into XBLA. As you'd imagine, most submissions are thrown out pretty quickly for a variety of reasons: perhaps the game concept is too similar to other things on the arcade, or the team behind it doesn't seem to have the pedigree to pull it off**. It can seem unfair to those on the receiving end of a rejection letter (especially those who would have had the stones to make it happen), but any Gold Rush naturally sees a hundred cast to the wayside for every single person who succeeds. That's just the Video Games game, sadly.

The best bet is to make your first impression count. For us, that means recognizing and acknowledging our limitations while being honest about our positive conviction to make the game worth Microsoft's attention - we've got the talent and drive to pull it off, and all we need is their blessing.

I know we can make this game, and I know that it will be a sorry shame, not only for us, but for the playing public, if we don't.

*Once again, sorry about being so vague. It'd be imprudent to reveal anything too soon.

**I'm reminded of trying to get my first industry job. Sometimes it felt like getting an entry level position required at least two years' industry experience, and at least one shipped title. Interviews were a thoroughly painful experience, to be sure. When you're being interviewed by someone much more experience than yourself, you feel like an ant under a magnifying glass - aware that you're getting hot under the collar, but ignorant of how dwarfing your interrogator's knowledge is. At least in this case, I know roughly how difficult it is to get approved, and can go into the situation with adolescent arrogance a distant memory, and realism guiding my step. We're just looking for the chance to make this game, and then the onus is on us... but that's never an easy decision for MS to make as there are many others like us, looking for a shot.