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Thursday, 20 March 2014

The CCC feedback philosophy.

It's always maddened me when people don't actually want to hear constructive criticism about their game, but believe it or not said people exist.

I've always loved Player feedback, because it means that not only have they taken time out of their lives to play something I have given them an option of playing, but they have decided to also leave their two cents. Like, what more could you want?

Oh, you want only praise? Go make a perfect game and yeah you'll get that. Too bad EVERYONE HAS DIFFERENT TASTES AND YOU CANT PLEASE THE 7 BILLION PEOPLE ON EARTH WITH A SINGLE PRODUCT.

Unless it was a game that gave out free money, that's beside the point though!

What I'm saying is that as a developer, you should be honored by ANYONE who would take time out of their lives to play a game you have made, and critical feedback is invaluable in comparison to someone saying 'this looks awesome' or 'HELLS YESSS, THIS IS FINALLY OUT'.

Those are nice things to have said, but! They don't tell you jack shit.

It was actually thanks to some critical feedback I received on Menagerie that allowed me to do better with Exile. I responded in the way I typically do, and I was applauded for not flipping my shit...?

This seems to be a common personality disorder amongst younger RPG Maker developers, they expect that just because they've made a game YOU SHOULD DROP EVERYTHING AND LAUD IT AS AMAZING.

No, fuck you, you grandeur-eluded little shits. I am ashamed that anyone would act this way, and you should be ashamed to call yourselves developers. People do not take time out of their lives purely to boast your ego you fickle fucking idiots.

I don't care how good your game is or how awesome you think you are, no one is perfect, and you should be disgusted with yourself if you think you are.

For some reason I've never really had this phase, maybe it's because I developed a tsunami of bad games in a medium where no one would have to know about them and got off on an okay start but realized that criticism is invaluable early on?

Anyway, I love feedback of any sort, I may act disappointed, but that won't be because you told me "X is wonky or bad etc" it will be me who is the target of disappointment, but I will vow to not make the mistake again.

That said, you also have to make sure that players dont make your game, their game. If someone says "Pep is so crazy, i really like how he does things, but maybe tone his word count down a little?" That's okay! They aren't telling you to change the character, they're telling you they are being strangled by words, which is a technical issue that you can fix without harming the character in the least, however if someone says something like "Rolly is soo thick man. Feels like he is the buttmonkey of the group and he is genuinely bright some of the time so why can't ah blahdy blah".

This is not technical feedback, this is personal preference. I designed Rolly with a thick lovable oaf in mind who while bright, just likes to enjoy things and doesn't examine every detail. Very much in his own world. Making him smarter or trying to making his character more assertive would contradict him entirely. When it comes down to personal preference for your game, you are the pagemaster, so your personal preference is for the majority, the right one.

The CCC Design Philosophy

I know I state this a lot but I figure I may as well put it here so it can be easily referenced. I'll do this in Q&A format because there's a lot of subjects to tackle.

Who do you want to be known as when you and your company becomes more prominent? What do you want the CCC to stand for?

I have always aspired to make fun, original wacky games that players will look at and think 'WHOA, THIS IS FUCKING NEW AND EPIC AND AWESOME, SO MUCH FUN!'. My goal since I basically started was to be renowned for designing good fun games that don't choke on their own wind for too long.

Recently I've also said I will not cater to the masses, I want to make the game that I and my company want to make, I will not be making it grey and brown just because that's an easy palette to point at and say 'IS REALISTIC'.

So while I don't work to please everyone, since hat's impossible, I work to please those who can see the beauty and charm in more balls to the wall fun or a game with an absorbing atmosphere.

I will do things my way, and if my way just so turns out to be the best way, then awesome!

You clearly have inspirations from different things, what are some of the large inspirational pools that you draw from?
Well, it depends on what you are talking about specifically, but I'll answer each as it goes.

For artistic direction, this is secondplace to more important things like gameplay and atmosphere, however, artistic direction does speak a lot for the atmosphere. I've based it on a variety of styles, my own sort of cartoon drawings I did as a youth which were based off for the majority, characters in Disney Motion Pictures and cartoons of which I still watch, Invader ZIM, Courage the Cowardly Dog, Ed, Edd n' Eddy, the Baskervilles, Jackie Chan Adventures and a couple others, these pool themselves into the cartoony way I draw which in itself is still very much an unusual style, it doesn't have any defined outlines so color matching can become quite a challenge, but it's one of the challenges I really enjoy. Though the outlineless heavily-shaded style is only a recent style I've developed more for my own ease rather than as a chosen artistic choice.

Exile was very much an exercise in how to further define that as a style. It can actually look stunning when done correctly.

For gameplay, most of my inspiration comes from the Ratchet and Clank franchise, along with older games that are legitimately fun like Rocket Knight, DooM95 and Duke Nukem 3D.

I get ideas for several of my events from various games I play, usually ones where-in crazy shit happens, Saints Row, Devil May Cry, Metal Gear Rising Revengeance and indie games like IJI and Risk of Rain / Terraria have always been a way to think of bosses and other mechanics.

If you fought Menagerie's Optional Boss you can see the inspiration from the final battle in IJI.

Atmosphere inspiration, a lot of it is given by oddworld, which is an incredibly atmospheric game that just immerses you, but then there's also games like Wizards & Warriors which while still old, have a very eerie atmosphere about them that just sucks you in. Diablo II (especially the Kurast area) are very heavy in their atmospheric appeal, there's also games with a more bright and happy atmosphere like Glitch and Lollipop Chainsaw which just make you feel like you are lucky to be playing in this world.

That's as far as I'll cover for inspiration.

You typically belittle people who try to adapt gaming as an artform, why?
That's very different from what I do. Psychonauts is an amazing game and it certainly is something that was revered and reviled as very 'arty'. It allowed me to get past it's few gameplay flaws because I was invested in the universe I had to explore.

What I do not support is developers who don't TRY with gameplay and let art excuse it. I've come to call it the "Daikatana Effect". Bastion proves that you can be indie and produce a good artistic game that is very solid in gameplay.

So, philosophy time, what do you beleive makes the best game?
It all comes down to refining it in the end. You can't DOO everything. That's the brillance of games, so what you do is decide on an element, and then stick with that.

Exile: You're starting a new life, and trying to remain free while you're at it.

Hellcat: You just wanna go home.

Intelligence: Gassy malevolent beings threaten existence, so you gotta deal with them somehow!

Menagerie: I fucked up on this one. It lost it's solo focus very fast and was the biggest mess I've ever done story-wise, but whatever! Since it was in production for such a long time, I began intermingling multiple elements that shouldn't have been in the focus at all.

It was the Bioshock Infinite of my lot, I tried to do too much at once.

Once you know an Element you want to stick with, then you go forward and make sure it remains the solo focus. Menagerie's original solo focus was: Saving your world from an alien invasion. However Zardari made that very much a 'nope'.

Basically, I can't say that you should make a game fun and fuck everything else, because there are some games that get further with their atmosphere or storytelling than their gameplay, and this is okay.

You also need to set the standard, I have a ridiculously high standard for releases now. Someone was confused as to whether Exile was REALLY a demo because it is so polished and feature complete for what is there.

That's all there really is to it, refine and polish.

So what do you consider from a technological standpoint, your most 'solid game'?

I'd have to say Exile, Menagerie did have some advanced eventing within but it was solid only so long as players kept reading dialogue. It also was far too masturbatory on it's vocabulary and writing. (to the point that it was driving people who had enjoyed my past works away)

Both Intelligence and Hellcat did much better in the spotlight than Exile, but they had a much larger palpable audience. Their gameplay was not solid. Hellcat's started chugging if you didn't have a decent PC and Intelligence had several issues, these were more at fault of the Engine than my capabilities, but you can see why Exile stands out as the most solid.

I think that so far, it is the best game I've made all around.

It's got a solid art style, atmospheric immersion and doesn't strangle players with words. They are told only what they need to know at the time. The only time gameplay is heavily interupted is after a stages end, which is ideal because when you get to the end of a stage you expect there's going to be an intermission.

The beginning and end of stage 4 gives me feels that I literally, feel. Reverberations from the characters development, which has never happened in a game I've made before. You want Lyza to escape and you feel great and triumphant when she does. I've never felt so emotionally attached to a character I've invented. This is likely helped along by the games several artistic still shots and the superb writing.

It's something I am very proud of.

That will do. Stay tuned for more Philosophies.

The CCC Piracy Philosophy

I was inspired by my last entry to talk about this, so here goes.

What do I think of piracy and how do I plan to combat it?
Well, here's the trick... you don't try to combat piracy. That's stupid and you should feel stupid if you think it can ever be done.

I mentioned that for a while, Digital Merchandizing will be as far as I can go, and I realize that yes, that will make such things a subject of piracy.

The truth is, I don't give a fuck. I mean I'd rather people not do it but I'm not gonna try to stop them, because that always works so well doesn't it? Also, being a little into psychology and how the human mind works, I'd guess that the majority of piracy that happens in the video game industry is not because someone is thinking "oh hell yes i can get all this free shit time to exploit that!". I never thought like that, and I don't actually know anyone who thinks like that about piracy.

Piracy is at fault of mostly, DEVELOPERS! Who'da thought? Well here's the thinking behind it, most people who pirate a game and end up liking it do actually buy it if it's accessible.

Why does this happen? Oh, maybe you forgot to add a free demo or a trial version, or maybe you are over charging or better yet, have some terrible clunky DRM like Windows Live Arcade.

TellTale studios, the guys behind Mount & Blade: Warband and others of that series, give you a limited trial (up to level 7) and then you can definitely see if the game is for you, and if you want to go full hog with it, you'll buy it, it's moderately priced, accessible and doesn't come packed with terrible DRM.

What I'm saying is that these guys know what they are doing, and for an even better example, let's have a look at Valve, to date one of the most heralded and renowned developers on the surface of Earth. They don't use DRM! They usually have a demo of some sort and best of all the man behind it all (Gabe Newell) beleives the same thing I do, if you are having problems with piracy, its your fault, not your players!

As time has gone by games have become very much for some developers a money industry rather than one you are in to enjoy, see EA and Activision for examples.

When was the last time since 2006 that EA or Activision made a game (not published, developed) that was really good?

If you said anything other than Mirror's Edge you don't know what a good game is, get out.

Call of Duty and Battlefield are one of the most pirated games to date, and it's not because of the DRM or that players want to see it before hand to make sure it isn't infact the opposite of the same drivel they always want, nope! Those idiots actually buy the games!

The truth is that the majority of the pirates who illegally download and distribute these games have no real interest in playing them, but they want to see the companies producing them suffer for making garbage!

That's right, the main force behind piracy is psychological! Spite is the largest wellspring for cyber-piracy ANYWHERE.

No one really looks at EA or Activision and thinks "I SURE WOULD LIKE TO WORK THERE ONE DAY, I SURE WOULD LIKE TO MEET BOBBY KOTICK" do they? In fact as a developer I fear that I will become ensnared in their publisher crosshairs.

Though at least EA does have a sense of justice. Anyway, back to the point of piracy.

Trying to stop it happening is futile, and there have been several attempts both large-scale and small which have all failed. Free-to-play models seem to be the best way to avoid it happening, and that's sorta what I'm doing but not with in-game DLC since again, I don't believe in bringing any barriers of monetary worth into gameplay.

So, what's my stance on piracy? Well I'm not against it, why would I be? I'm guilty of it myself. To now get all indignant about it would be both hypocritical and show that I'm only in the industry for money.

I love making games, and I love spraying people with all my glorious filth! There need be no barrier between thy consumer and thy filth. Though if you want an artbook or a T-shirt or just want to give us some encouraging coins in donation then yeah we can work something out!


The CCC Profit Philosophy

I (Biz) have been getting a lot of questions recently from both fans and from less in-the-loop employees of the CCC on how we will manage ourselves financially when we start getting serious as a business. Though spending 500 dollars on a free game doesn't seem to hint that I can afford future expenses.

Well that's a fair concern, and it's one that I figure is worthwhile taking a post here to address, so here goes:

First off, the goals of me as a developer has never been to see how much dosh I can make from it, nor has it been to support myself financially, I am supported well. My goals as a developer is to share the world with my ideas, my characters and my oddball designs while simultaneously doing what I love doing.

Secondly... I see having a pay to play method good only if you have a demo, but then it still functions as a barrier. I am making games because I want you to get enjoyment out of them, I want you to see what me and my team have done... adding a price tag to even SEE the content seems weird to me. It's a barrier in my eyes, and the thing I've always prided myself and my company on is making games accessible to the masses, since not only are they unusual and thus, don't appeal to everyone, but we also aren't incredibly grounded as developers... so it'd be a gamble for anyone to pay to see what we've done and it's a gamble we'd rather people not have to measure up.

Lastly, there are multiple alternatives to getting money for your work that doesn't hamper the accessibility of your content. There's kickstarters (though i won't be doing one of those for a LONG time yet, it'll have to be when I'm better known and when it's a project I want to really make, but won't have the resources to do so unless I go through it.) and then there's merchandizing.

Having myself a history of reading web-comics which simply HAVE to be accessible, supporting yourself off of the merchandizing you can do is your best bet. I figure I might adopt that strategy with my games some what, for now it'll have to be digital things which can yeah, be redistributed, but that's fine... I think I'll go through my stance on piracy next but for now yeah, merchandizing.

If we ever get a really big surge of people liking what we do, then it might very well be profitable to begin physical item merchandizing. I'm a believer of the peoples support, if people like what we do in large quantities, then they will probably say, "HEY, I WANNA T-SHIRT WITH PEP'S HEAD ON IT. MAKE IT HAPPEN!" or "You know what'd be a sick shirt motif, that Maw dude, who's icy cold and everyone likes for some reason." and they would pay for it because they want to support our efforts.

I think a bit of digital merchandizing at first along with a Donate button would be an ideal way to go.

But for now, costs of developing don't really concern me. It was my choice to spend money on Menagerie and get some sweet art pieces for it (that I can also use for future projects... suckers!) and Exile was released as a demo recently and it cost me the heavy sum of $0, I can make sweet projects without having to break my ass, but it can take longer for less quality.

So with game maker, it's a thing I can use okay and can do everything from scratch if I want, I could definitely make a game for no cost at all outside of things that are regular, but I like commissioning for two reasons.

One: It allows the CCC members who aren't me to flex their muscles and feel like they are contributing, it also gives me something to actually DO with my money and help out those in a much less healthy financial situation.

Two: The game will look much better and won't take as long as it would if I were doing everything.

The chat of the CCC yesterday was my employees lamenting that they were out of work, but I came online and slapped that sadness away, and said, soon guys, you will have a brand new project to help towards!

The Members had right to be worried, After Menagerie I took a two month break due to being exhausted and even when I started going full throttle on Exile that was a project I wanted to do cheaply, because I was moving house (and city), which isn't ever cheap.

But I have shared with them a basic document of our next project and I'll begin working on the mechanics tomorrow.

So yes, I think that should answer any question relating to future plans for profits, if not, feel free to post a comment.

What are we working on?

Nothing yet, but that will be soon to change. I have begun sketching up an awesome idea for a game we will make with game maker, should be pretty cool.

It's too nascent at this stage to speak much about. But keep an eye out in three weeks or so from now.