ArtYiynova MSP19U: A Cintiq alternative

 Posted by (Visited 19718 times)  Art  Tagged with: ,
Mar 222013

The Yiynova MSP19U. And the piece I finished today on it.

I’ve always wanted a Wacom Cintiq: a tablet monitor, where you can draw directly on the glass screen at your desktop. I would enter the raffles at every GDC, hoping. I have used Tablet PCs for years now, but of course, that also means working on a laptop, which isn’t the same as having desktop power. (I just recently picked up a new one of those — see my last two posts for that experience).

As I was doing the new color versions of the cartoons for the revised edition of Theory of Fun without a tablet PC, I was borrowing my daughter’s Bamboo tablet and trying to adjust. I ran across mention of a new Cintiq competitor out of China. I was pointed at it by just a few reviews out there on the Net: Ray Frenden’s and PC Weenies.

For those who don’t know, a big part of the reason why Wacom is king is that they have a technological lead that is hard to surpass. Their digitizers have better pressure sensitivity, tilt support, and much more. Competitors typically struggle to keep up with the basics, like “tracking the pen as you move it across the screen.” You get jitters, lines hopping about randomly, etc.

Well, the good news is that the Yiynova MSP19U Tablet Monitor, while not matching the Cintiq feature for feature, is totally worth the price: a fraction of that of a large Cintiq. I’ve had it for a week now, and I like it a lot.

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ArtMiscWindows 8 tablet, part two

 Posted by (Visited 11528 times)  Art, Misc  Tagged with: ,
Mar 202013

Life with a new Windows 8 tablet.

Oh boy, are there teething pains. Here’s some of what I did, located after insane amounts of Googling and multiple days. I am posting it here to save other people all the pain.

An amazing resource: the forums at

Gosh, the storage is limited.

Yes, it is. First off, don’t even bother getting a 64GB model. You need the 128, I guarantee it. In the case of the Smart PC Pro, people are even buying 256 or 480GB SSD’s – unlike the Surface Pro, the machine has some user-serviceable parts, and you can replace the SSD without a huge amount of hassle. If you’re brave, check here:

If you’re not brave, well, then:

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ArtMiscWindows 8 tablet, part one

 Posted by (Visited 9640 times)  Art, Misc  Tagged with: ,
Mar 192013

photoGiant post ahead!

Some background: I have been using Tablet PCs for a decade now. Back in the UO days, I always walked around with a paper notebook full of doodles, and I often sketch out design ideas as diagrams and quickie cartoons. With a pressure sensitive stylus I can also then do artwork directly — concept paintings (the sort of thing you then give to an artist so they can make the real concept painting…!) or game sprites or whatever. These days, I carry my iPad pretty much everywhere, and I can code on it a little bit, I can sketch on it, I doodle with it in Notes Plus, and I even have the Pogo Connect pressure-sensitive stylus, so I can use that for art. But I am working on the colored cartoons for the second edition of Theory of Fun, and none of the iPad art programs will successfully load the Photoshop files I need to work in. And I was in the market for a new laptop anyway, so I went shopping for a Windows 8 tablet.

So this post is what I learned and what I picked. I have another giant post done as well, with everything I had to do to get the new machine set up to my satisfaction. It was info all scattered randomly all over the Internet, so I figured that it might be valuable to gather it all in one place. But this post was long enough already! So look for that one tomorrow.

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Game talkWhy are QTE’s so popular?

 Posted by (Visited 8478 times)  Game talk  Tagged with: ,
Mar 132013

Ah, the dread quick-time event. We may have to blame Shenmue for its wide adoption, though of course something like Dragon’s Lair used the same mechanic. They’re everywhere. They are one of the simplest game mechanics there is. And I have done my share of bashing on them too.

What is a QTE and why do big AAA tentpole titles love them? Well, the mechanic itself is “press a button within a very short time frame.” An incorrect press or failing to do it within the time limit results in a negative outcome. In other words, it’s basically whack a mole, or that game where you pull your hands away before they get slapped.

This makes it a mechanic almost entirely based on reaction time, naturally timeboxed to a minimal duration. As such, it’s incredibly accessible (one button!) and minimally disruptive to whatever else is going on.

  • Tentpole titles need to be as mass market as they can get, so by having an extremely simple mechanic, they minimize barrier to entry to the game.
  • Heavily narrative games want mechanics that do not break the story flow, and provide as cinematic an experience as possible. The QTE is about as small as a mechanic gets, and requires next to zero conscious thought.

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Mar 122013

dk-paulineThere have been two notable events lately as regards the portrayals of women in videogames.

One is the launch of Anita Sarkeesian‘s video series on Tropes vs Women in Video Games, the first episode of which covers “damsels in distress.” You may recall Sarkeesian as the person who launched a Kickstarter for funds to make this video series, and was promptly attacked in vile ways, up to and including threats of violence. (This would be why comments are disabled on the video, I presume, though that hasn’t stopped the nastiness from returning in a number of comment threads all over the Internet).

The other is the story of game developer Mike Mika, who hacked Donkey Kong for his three-year-old daughter, so that she could play as Pauline instead of Mario. This has resulted in lots of accolades for “best dad ever” all over the Internet.

Pauline is of course a prototypical damsel in distress — as Sarkeesian points out, one of the very first in videogames. From time to time, games have subverted the damsels in distress trope in various ways (in Karateka, the princess seems like a damsel in distress the whole time, but at the end, if you approach her wrong, she kills you; in Metroid, the protagonist famously turns out to have been female the whole time, concealed in battle armor). But by and large, it’s alive and well.

So lots of accolades for Mika, and a lot of vitriol for Sarkeesian. And along the way, a lot of apologia for the damsels in current games. We’ve seen people saying that rescuing women is a male instinct driven by hindbrain biology. We’ve seen the argument that it just costs too much to provide alternate gameplay modes. We’ve seen the case made that games already have a predominantly male market, and that’s why the games are designed the way they are, to maximize revenue — essentially a tautology (and one that ignores early games like Ms. Pac-Man, not to mention the enormous boom in the female audience that came with more casual play). And of course there’s the fact that it is undeniably a classic plot device used in many classics of literature.

My wife Kristen is an as-yet unpublished romance novelist. She’s got one novel out there right now being looked at for full-length publication (e.g., she got past the query and sample chapters). She’s been working on this stuff for years… and I first started paying attention closely back when I did that Love Story Game Design Challenge at GDC back in 2004. And I think there’s a lot we can learn from romance novels — and it doesn’t mean that the plot device has to go away. Continue reading »

Game talkRequiring online for single-player

 Posted by (Visited 10095 times)  Game talk  Tagged with:
Mar 082013

In the wake of what has been happening with SimCity 5, a lot of folks are asking what the future holds for single-player games that require an always-on connection.

It’s not going to stop.

The future is that

  • Connectivity keeps getting better, which softens the blow for consumers.
  • Developers find the sweet spot between “always on” and “phone home when you can” that mobile games have already had to solve (because bandwidth and connectivity for mobile are far more erratic).
  • Metrics usage explores in the single-player market, to match what is seen in Facebook and mobile.
    • Yes, this means, with all the good and bad that brings to the table. The fact is that publishers simply won’t be able to resist it. When used right, it makes for better games. And even when used wrong, it generally adds to the bottom line.
  • Single-player games will continue to evolve towards being services.
    • Ongoing updates, because again, as seen on mobile, publishers won’t be able to resist the loyalty factor, the boost in retention, the revenue from re-acquisition… in the presence of things like charts showing popularity of games or top grossing games, there’s huge value in doing this even for games that don’t have ongoing revenue streams.
    • For games that do (be they sub, DLC, or microtransactions), it’s of course a no-brainer.
    • Really, the single-player model did this already, just without connectivity. Always on just makes it cheaper and better.
  • Ongoing erosion of the pure single-player experience, as I stated would happen ages ago.
    • Achievement system metagames.
    • Tweets.
    • Dashboards of friends, leaderboards
    • Getting interrupted with messages that pull you out of the immersion
    • Notifications
    • Asynchronous multiplayer features
    • Sharing your gameplay sessions (, Everyplay, etc)

Basically, we will continue the march towards “everything you used to buy, you now rent as a service.” With all the good and bad that entails.

Penny Arcade, "All of the Jokes",

Gamers may protest now, but if I may draw an analogy: when they came for your music collections (Pandora! Rhapsody!), you did not complain. When they came for your DVD collections (Netflix! Hulu!), you did not complain. When they came for your office documents (Google Docs! Adobe Creative Cloud!), you did not complain. Now they are coming for your games (Steam! You love Steam, don’t you?), and no one is left to complain on your behalf. 🙂

Don’t get me wrong, though. I keenly feel the drawbacks. As an example — as someone who cares deeply about the history of our medium, I shudder to think what happens to preservation efforts for games from this time period. We’re not going to be able to emulate things without reverse engineering dead server apps — which will mean reverse engineering every rule and bug.

Or another — we’re used to platforms obsolescing away the ability to play a given game. But when business realities mean shutting down a server as soon as the opportunity cost makes it not as profitable as doing something else, we’re going to feel like even single-player games have gotten to feel a lot like that TV show we loved that wasn’t allowed to finish out a full season and left us on a cliffhanger.

But for any business owner, the advantages greatly outweigh the disadvantages. Even with the issues SimCity has had, I am sure that right now the takeaway within EA is not “don’t do this” but “do it better.” The fact of the matter is that running a service seems to be one of those things that you have to learn by doing, stumbling along the way, and it’s a big adjustment for any organization that has been used to retail-style sales.

And the fact is that if it works seamlessly, customers will start to say “I like my Games On Demand” and sign up willingly.

It may be that at some point we see a swing back from the cloud — if the power on our devices exceeds that available in the cloud (if this happens, it likely will be due to bandwidth, not CPU cycles). But I don’t see that changing in the near future.

Instead, we’ll see disconnected games using their disconnected nature as a selling point, at first in contrast to the rocky services and later on as a premium offering for hardcore folks who want to keep going after the game is sunset.

Am I crazy about this scenario, all things considered? No. It has many pitfalls, and some old lessons are getting to be more relevant than ever. But at the same time… I design online games. I’ve been part of the problem the whole time. 😉

Best of luck to the SimCity team with resolving the issues. I’ve been there.

Game talkThe Devil Wears Prada game

 Posted by (Visited 8551 times)  Game talk  Tagged with: ,
Mar 062013

The Devil Wears Prada game:

Easy Mode

  • A game about climbing the ladder at a fashion magazine. Lots of special event parties and lots of character customization

Normal mode

  • A game about attempting to edit a fashion magazine successfully — including taste-setting and photoshoots and budgets and ambitious editors

Hard mode

  • A game that teaches you that even the most frivolous-seeming of professions and activities have surprising depths; and people who passionately dive deep into the minutiae; and more, even consider it to be important to human civilization

Nightmare mode

  • A game that seems to be about the prices we pay to be at the pinnacle of a profession, and about what we sacrifice; but that in the end reverses it all, and becomes about the fact that we all make a commitment to something, even if it is inactivity, or a balanced life, and that in the end, we always still sacrifice everything we chose not to do.

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