Archive for January, 2010

Managing the Game: Open Door Policy

January 14, 2010 Leave a comment

Have an open door policy and stand by it. Let your employees come to you about their problems. Listen to them and their concerns. Then do what you can to help them out. We are all busy with what we do but if you don’t take those moments to listen then a small problem can grow into a bigger problem. Showing your team that you care and are willing to go to bat for them is one of the best things that you as a manager can do. I personally work harder and go the extra mile for my superiors who do it for me. Not just out of a personal work ethic but because I know I have value and respect from my boss.

Monday Morning Quarterback: Brutal Legend

January 6, 2010 Leave a comment

Tim Shafer’s Brutal Legend is an interesting game that ends right when the game gets good. I had an exciting 8 hours of doing a lot of different things only to find myself not at the end of an elaborate tutorial but actually the end of the game. Brutal Legend has a lot of things going for it but none of them can carry the game as a whole. I would have played a whole game’s worth of a few of them but I was instead presented an assortment of genres to play. There was driving, action, real time strategy, quick time events, and shooters to name a few. Every new event added something to the mix so I was constantly learning new rules in the game. Even in the final battle I had new and different tactics to use to win.

What did the game do right? Well, it had a very talented group of voice actors. You have Jack Black as the main character of the game which really made the game fun. Add in Ozzy and a few other folks and you see some top notch voice acting which raises the production value of the game a lot. This talent carried the story further and made it a little easier to swallow.

Another thing the game did right was the art style. The characters looked cool and so did the monsters. The world was really held together with its theme. I enjoyed exploring the world and felt comfortable there. It was inviting and fun to interact with.

That is kind of where it ends for me though. I felt the story was rushed. They spent a lot of time in the early part of the game to get you invested. Then it drops sharply only to overload you with big reveals and then bang! It’s the end. I would have liked a little more time to digest it all. The story fits together in the end but there are sizable chunks missing I think that should have been told.

Brutal Legend has so many different genres going. It is an action game one moment. Then it’s a strategy game and then a racer. They did them all well but none of them seemed to be the focus of the game. Also, why would you reward the player with an upgrade that really only has a benefit for racing after you have completed all of the racing? Why do I constantly get new units in the strategy part of the game but never have time to really get used to them? I really think things got cut in production, so much so that we saw a very streamlined version of the game. Usually I am all about a streamlined and compact game experience if it seems complete but here it doesn’t.

I was ready for the rest of the game to start once the game came to an end. I felt the tutorial was finally over and I could play the game. Sadly there was no more game. It didn’t make me long for a sequel. It made me long for the game I should have still been playing. I want that game. I feel tricked since the beginning area was so front loaded and top heavy with stuff to do. Once the map opened up more I was sad to discover myself rushed through and then with little to do in those areas anyway when I stopped to go back.

There is a lot of stuff hidden in the world. You don’t need any of it. Which is kind of a good decision to make but at the same time it really doesn’t add anything to my play experience. It didn’t add much to my play time either since I was still able to get all the garages, solos and half of the dragon statues and songs. Sorry,  I will say the new music did add to my play experience and the soundtrack was all around solid. Kudos to the sound department on this game for great voice talent and music.

What do you get for giving me only part of a story and too many styles of game with no focus? 3 stars out of 5. I suspect there was a better Brutal Legend game out there to be developed sadly it wasn’t the one delivered.

Managing the Game: Feedback

January 6, 2010 Leave a comment

Feedback is important for any project and any team. You need to be able to express to your team what they are doing right and what they are doing wrong. Communicating these things can be a challenge for some people. Regardless of difficulty feedback is essential to getting a job done. If you see behavior or work that is impressive let your team know. Chances are they will continue to do what you like rather than what you don’t like if they are made aware of it. It is more than simple praise. It is guidance and leadership which is what a team needs. If you see bad behavior or work you should also communicate that to your team but you should do so with recommendations of better ways to accomplish the work. Simply telling someone they are doing something wrong or you don’t like something is not helpful. Give examples of what you would prefer or like to see. Help them reach your standards and goals. If you don’t like something then obviously there is a reason or something else that you want. Communicate that want. Don’t say do something different. It is likely the people who did the work like what they did or they would have done something else. If you are the one with the problem you should help with a solution. People need some direction or guidance and that’s what being in a leadership position is for. It is important when communicating to your team and others to use words. Emoticons are not a language. Sad face or happy face tells your team nothing on how they can improve their work. Feedback should be done in a respectful manner. You will always find better results in doing so.

Categories: Managing the Game

Late To The Game: Fable 2

January 2, 2010 Leave a comment

Fable 2 was a game I was quick to pick up when it came out. Peter Molyneux designs some very fun games and even if they don’t always live up to his promises they do always push game design forward. Fable 2 is no exception in this and brings together both simple story design with new tries at innovating the moral game design. Add in some innovative use of a trusted dog companion and a great concept in environmental change based on decisions and you have a fun game. Since I played this game they have added two DLC pieces which I will comment on as well.

Fable 2 starts you off with some decent control of your character design. As the game progresses you can add tattoos, change hair styles, color of hair, and your wardrobe. All of these changes have an effect on your interaction with other people and the comments they will give you. These interactions will also affect your good vs evil and purity vs corruption which are your moral compasses through out the game. Your character ultimately comes down to the decisions you make and based off those decisions your character will be shaped and grow.

Besides clothing and material appearance changes you will find that your diet will also affect your character’s appearance as will skill choices. Eating meat and pies will make you fatter and some will make you more corrupt. Eating vegetables and tofu will make you skinnier and purer. Simple mechanic but effective. Skills work in changing your appearance with strength based skills bulking you up and magic making you glow more with magical veins.

Going good vs evil shapes your appearance and your reputation, as does purity vs corruption. People tend to like good characters and will talk with you. My first play through I went all good and pure. I ended up with a halo over my head and could walk through town with no problem. My second play through everyone but quest giving NPC’s ran in fear of me because I went evil and corruption. I ended up with horns and red skin. It would seem that the world of Fable frowns on mass murderers who sacrifice entire towns to the Temple of Shadows.

The game presents you with many opportunities to do the right or wrong thing. For the most part the world doesn’t really care. Yes guards will punish you and like my second play through the peasants will run in fear but it is still simple AI. The peasants with red hair aren’t wearing kerchiefs to cover their hair because my character is known for killing them. That would be a real accomplishment and sort of what I remember being promised back in Fable 1. Still the game takes us closer in this direction than most games do and I can appreciate that. I also appreciate that other than running peasants the game doesn’t try to make you feel guilty for the horrible things you do.

As far as the story goes it is a decent one of a hero/villain who has to save the world. You do so with the aid of other gathered heroes in a very linear fashion. Fable 2 tries to give the illusion of an open world that you can explore and do the story in your own time but that is a lie. It gates your movement by forcing you to do certain activities before moving forward. Now it does so in a logical format and chances are the average player will be fooled by this seemingly open world but if you break away from the story long enough you realize you are forced to progress at the speed of the story and not your own will. Along with a decent story is funny dialogue and good voice over work. The dialogue is a little cheeky at times but can be forgiven.

Your dog companion is one of the best parts of the game. He helps you fight battles though kind of pitifully. Your dog also detects treasure for you to dig up or chests for you to open. This can be handy if you are not that observant of the environment or want to search every corner. Chances are your dog will find it for you. Your dog also loves you no matter what so you can always count on your dog no matter how good or evil you become. Your dog can learn fun little emotes that you can train him with from books you find or buy. The bunny hop and playing dead are favorites of mine.

Besides your dogs ability to learn emotes so can you. In fact it is about the only way to interact with other characters in the game since you are a mute who can only grunt. I guess this was a way to avoid lots of written and voiced dialogue for your character. Your emotes range from distasteful like farting and growling to flirty emotes like come hither. You can shape the opinion of townsfolk with these emotes and some, reaching certain thresholds, will give you gifts. Emote animations are an interesting form of communication and are done in a fun manner here.

The other thing I really liked in Fable 2 was how certain choices could be made that in turn shaped the environment. Sadly this is only done a couple of times in the game but when done I actually felt like my choices had an effect on the world. Again a slight illusion since it didn’t change the eventual outcome of the story and perhaps only changed my access to a few side quests. Still it is a start in the right direction. It gave me more reason to replay the game and see what my other choices would have given me. I would love to see more games do this. Granted it is not always feasible to create extra assets a player may never see but hopefully production will get to a point where it is easier to do.

Also I give Fable 2 a nod for being smart and letting the player continue to play the game after the overall storyline is done. There are a lot of things you can keep doing and even some quests that don’t open up till after you finish the main story. They don’t even charge for DLC content to do this (I’m looking at you Fallout 3). This little feature has had me drop back into the game every once in a while. It even made me more likely to buy their DLC which I did.

The first piece of DLC Knothole island was a fun little addition. There was a good bit of content there and nice level design. It made good use of a changing environment and gave the illusion of a larger area to explore than was really there. I was disappointed to see that the content was gated to your story progression. They added a good bit of new items and a fun story. It was a worthy addition to Fable 2 and felt like a complete package.

The second piece of DLC was See the Future. Instead of being one area with an intertwined story you get a collection of adventures loosely linked together. Though the story is weaker than Knothole Island the adventures themselves were solid. They felt at times like content that could have been in the game for release but had to be dropped do to time constraints. The addition of new costumes was cool and novel in their use in the game.

Fable 2 suffers in only that it doesn’t live up to the hype but not for a lack of trying. The game is a fun one and has a lot of opportunities for replay. Its a comfortable world and one I am happy to return to when nothing else presents it’s self. Fable 2 is another 4 star in my collection and the DLC is right there with it.

Managing the Game: Play to their strengths

January 2, 2010 Leave a comment

I really believe it is important to play to your team members strengths while giving them a chance to build on their weaknesses. Too often I have seen managers assume that individuals are great at everything. Then these same people are surprised or disappointed when someone fails to accomplish something they aren’t good at. If you set someone up to fail they will. Chances are they will not get better at it and will feel discouraged increasing their tendency to fail at their task. If you give people assignments that they are good at then you are setting them up to succeed. When people are successful they feel accomplished and encouraged. Evaluate your team and know their strengths and weaknesses. Challenge their strengths and grow their weaknesses when you can. If you have a tight deadline and need something accomplished go to the person who can get the job done. If you have time to work on a part of a project that someone isn’t very skilled at give them that opportunity to take that time to get better. Partner them up with someone who is skilled at it. Let them learn from the best. Mentoring is important to growth and building strengths. Never set your team up to fail, instead give them every opportunity to succeed.