Category Archives: Games

I’ve been doing other things in 2015

A glance down this blog would lead to the reasonable conclusion that all I’ve been doing this year is writing A Day of Faces. I should probably try to be rather more varied in my blog output.

So, other things.

At work FXHOME just released HitFilm 4 Pro. It’s a great NLE/VFX product and it also has a snazzy new website to accompany it. In terms of copywriting I’m massively proud of the new site and feel like it’s my best work to date. Do check it out over at I’ll be writing a full-on copy and design deconstruction blog at some point in the near future.

Related to that release I also ended up fronting the launch video, which you can watch here:

The VFX examples on display in there are a mix of work from myself and Josh and, again, it’s the best work we’ve ever done. For my part, the spaceship landing shot at about 4.06 seconds still gets me excited each time I see it. The 20 year old me would have been fairly stunned to think that I’d be able to make that kind of shot relatively easily 15 years later.

Meanwhile, in game dev land, I’ve been slowly plodding along with my experimental Conversation In A Lift game, Going Up. The concept is to provide a naturally flowing conversation (via a Twine branching dialogue) with far more flexibility than you’d normally find in a game. To make this doable the game is restricted to a single location (a lift) and just two characters. Your interaction with the other character will vary wildly depending on what you say.

It’s progressing but it also hugely complex and is thus taking far longer than I’d anticipated. I’ve discovered why most RPGs stick with Good/Neutral/Evil responses and leave it at that…

Also on the game front, I’ve been in talks with an indie development team to write for their game. That’s pretty much going ahead and I’m currently digging into their existing documents and code to see what I can contribute. I don’t want to say what it is just yet, until the project’s progressed a bit and it’s all ticking along nicely, but it’s a really exciting opportunity and the game itself has a ton of potential – both as a game and as a narrative design challenge. More on that soon, I hope.

On another note, I’m considering setting up a regular Norwich-based creative writers meet-up. No idea if there’ll be any interest but it seems worth trying. I recently attended the Norwich Indie Game Developers meet-up and it was super inspiring and entertaining. That experience, combined with my general love of collaborative writing projects, is what made me think it might be fun.

Right. I’d better go write some more A Day of Faces, then.

Steam Controller impressions from someone who doesn’t like controllers

Every negative article on the Steam Controller has been from experienced gaming journos, all of whom tend to profess to having used traditional controllers for over a decade. These are people who love Xbox or Playstation controllers and have a ton of muscle memory invested in them. It’s not surprising that they’re finding it difficult to adapt to something very different. Crucially, I think they’ve forgotten the initial learning curve they had with the Playstation and Xbox controllers, because it was decades ago.

I come from a very different perspective, as someone who never owned a joystick and has always played with keyboard and mouse. Although I owned a PS2 and 3 I never enjoyed using the controller, finding it awkward and imprecise. Playing multiplatform games on PC I tend towards keyboard and mouse, even with games like Assassin’s Creed. In the last couple of years I have switched to a PS3 controller for third person games, such as The Witcher 3, but still don’t get on with it in anything requiring aiming.

So that’s how I’m coming at the Steam Controller.

As a result, I’m finding it to be much easier to use than every preview would have me expect. I’m already getting more comfortable and accurate results in FPS games than I ever have with a traditional console controller, after just a couple of evenings. The previews would have me believe that it would take weeks to get comfortable.

It’s not as natural as keyboard + mouse yet, sure, but I’m confident I’ll get there based on my ability after a few hours. I fully expect the controller to become my preferred interaction method for FPS games, in fact, even if I’m sat at my computer. It’s more comfortable than the outstretched arms of using a keyboard and mouse, and also feels less like the posture I use all day at work.

Although I’ve sacrificed a small amount of accuracy while I become more familiar with the controller, it was immediately entirely usable. And the thing to remember about keyboard and mouse, especially in FPS games, is that really you’re just talking about the mouse. The keyboard offers very little benefits. The Steam Controller manages to get the best of both worlds, with mouse-style aiming and gamepad-style analogue movement via a traditional thumbstick. Analogue movement is something I’ve never been able to enjoy while also having mouse look.

One of the first games I tried out was Invisible Inc, a game which is almost entirely mouse-driven (plus some very useful keyboard shortcuts). It’s not something I’d normally ever consider playing with a gamepad. The devs, Klei, have already put out an official setup for the Steam Controller, though, and it works brilliantly. Here’s what the setup looks like:


Thanks to Klei providing that setup it was zero effort to to get it set up. This has been the case with most games I’ve tried – minimal effort. This will only get easier once the community really digs in and starts sharing optimum setups. I bought a traditional joystick for space sims a few months back and still haven’t used it much due to the setup being such a faff. Not a problem with the Steam Controller – though, again, journos used to instant console gratification seem to be finding any kind of setup time annoying. As a PC gamer, tinkering has always been part of the experience for me.

My point is that for anybody who has never really liked console controllers, the rumours of the Steam Controller being difficult or disappointing are quote exaggerated. It’s a fascinating gizmo which is surprisingly easy to get to grips with, if you’re used to a keyboard and mouse. If you’re an experienced console/gamepad gamer then you might have a trickier time adapting, but that’s to be expected.

I’m excited to find out how adept I am at the Steam Controller after a couple of months of use.

Any questions?

First 5 Minutes: Brothers: A Tale of Two Sons

I played Brothers just after my son was born, as I recall. Everything is a bit of a blur around that time. Without wanting to play the father card too heavily, that timing definitely informed my experience with the game (just as playing The Walking Dead just before he was born helped me examine my fears of becoming a father).

Brothers is an honest, heartfelt tale of two kids – one slightly older than the other, on the verge of adulthood, the other still very much a child but who is forced into accepting a heavy responsibility.

The game is entirely unique in the way it uses its control mechanism to create characters and empathy. Every puzzle and challenge is fun but is also informing the characters of the two boys.

It’s brilliant. The video above takes a look at the first five minutes.

Thoughts on the Heat Signature alpha

On Sunday I discovered that I had access to the Heat Signature alpha, due to owning a particular version of Gunpoint, Tom Francis’ previous game. I’d seen him talk about the alpha but hadn’t realised I qualified. Typically, it was the last day of the 2-week access.

The above video is what happened on my 2nd attempt. In short: it’s great fun. So much potential.

My only real concern comes courtesy of an interview with Tom Francis over on Gamasutra, where he talks about having the space stuff be more of a background element since the interior stuff has taken focus. I think that’d be a real shame – there’s a ton of untapped potential in the space stuff and it’s that aspect which gives the game it’s immense scale and unique feeling. There’s nothing else quite like it.

The interior stuff, meanwhile, is reminiscent of every top-down shooter/brawler – Hotline Miami in particular. Which isn’t a bad thing – it’s in good company. But it’s the space stuff and the interplay between the two which makes Heat Signature exciting.

First 5 Minutes: Proteus

I’ve wanted to try my hand at recording some in-game commentary for a while, with the above video being the first actual result. The idea is to play through the first five minutes of a variety of games, examining what they do well/not so well and generally discussing the importance of that first impression.

This first video takes a look a Proteus, a quirky indie game from a few years back which is still unlike anything else I’ve played.

It was a lot of fun to make the video, so I’ll probably do more.

The joy of an empty wilderness in The Witcher 3

Eurogamer published a fascinating behind-the-scenes account of the launch of The Witcher 3 this week, with writer Robert Purchese having been given complete access to the studio for three days. Prime Ministers visited, developers crunched deadlines, and controversy reigned briefly for no good reason over the game’s supposed ‘downgrade’.

The whole article is fantastic but one particular section jumped out at me, in which the game’s director is remembering the moment the ‘open world’ was first stitched together and made playable:

Something “really really scary” then happens in October 2014, at that first playthrough of the game. The great open-world is realised but it feels… empty. “We had these cool quests, this cool content, but nothing in between,” Mateusz Tomaszkiewicz says. “We knew it’s not enough,” his brother Konrad adds, “and we knew if we want to release an open-world game we got to fill it with interesting content, and we got a really short amount of time to do it.” It’s at this moment the question marks – points of interest – are born, all twists on around 20 templates dreamt up by a newly created and dedicated strike force team.


Continue reading

If Twitter hate mobs are Ultron, where is the internet’s Vision?

For the last ten years-or-so I’ve been convinced that governments would be responsible for the death of the Internet As We Know It: ever-encroaching censorship and surveillance transforming the promise of the open internet into something darker, more capitalist, more consumerist and, essentially, more 20th century. Here’s me on the Digital Economy Bill, and then on the good ol’ Twitter Joke Trial. That’s a lotta words.

Then so-called GamerGate happened, late last year. An amorphous bunch of apparent activists rose up, ostensibly to decry ethics in games journalism but in reality taking every opportunity to harass female game devs, game journalists and gamers, and anybody who supported them. Rape threats. Death threats. It was the abuse unleashed upon Anita Sarkeesian writ large, with a broad brush. The aggressors wielded the term ‘Social Justice Warrior’ as if it were something to be ashamed of. And all the while they claimed the moral high ground, even while forcing planes to land and issuing genuine terrorist threats to universities. The actions of GamerGate spoke far louder than its words. Continue reading