Obligatory Bioshock Post Follows

So like every game designer in the world, I picked up Bioshock last week and completed it this past weekend. Now, I must preface this by saying I absolutely loved it. I am sucker for anything with a good story and Bioshock delivers. I’m just a little sensitive to the hyperbole going around about it.

– The widescreen HUD issue is unacceptable. Not the FOV issue, the FOV was fine. But to ship a game where the HUD elements bleed offscreen to widescreen users is ridiculous when a large portion (dare I say majority) of your base will be playing in widescreen. I had to pause the game to see how much Adam I had and radio/diary names/titles would bleed offscreen. Did no one test this?
– Looking out any corridor to the sea shows an obvious skydome – there’s no depth to art at all. Many times it looks quite low-res.
– Absolutely terrible “splash” flat-looking textures/particles, especially given the great-looking water.
– You can’t tell what tonics/plasmids you have without going to a gene pool, you can’t tell how many auto-hack tools without hacking, you can’t tell how many invention items you have without going to a U-INVENT. This isn’t so bad, but is a little frustrating.
– You can’t tell how many of an item you already have when inventing. Often you will use up invention items inventing something that you cannot carry, especially when you get the double invent plasmid.
– Bad achievements. The “listen to every audio diary” achievement reminds me of Dead Rising’s “put up with Otis” achievement. This one wouldn’t be so bad if the designers: a) gave you a count of how many diaries you had vs. overall diaries and b) didn’t put two diaries in the first level to where you cannot backtrack. (I may be wrong about the backtracking, but I am pretty sure you can’t.) Additionally, the “Ironic” achievement is buggy and the game gives you no hints that would allow you to get into Sander’s room w/o looking at a walkthrough (which also puts the maximum weapon upgrade achievement off-limits on the first playthrough). I’ve seen worse, but I’ve seen better.
– Arbitrary bad/good path. So you can harvest or save the Little Sisters. Harvesting gives you an extra 40/3 Adam, but also puts some good tonics off-limits. This isn’t much of a trade-off. This good/evil choice affects very little in the game, even creating a “What-The-Hell?” story hole moment in the late game if you choose the evil path. I’ll leave it at that to curtail spoilers, but I was dissatisfied.
– Every Little Sister calls her Big Daddy “Mr. Bubbles”? With only a dozen or so Sisters in the game, you would think they could record some additional tracks for different names. It just doesn’t make sense for every single one to have the same pet name.
– The game has an amazing soundtrack, yet the special edition ships with only three truly awful remixes.
– Big Daddys can’t see trap bolts? There are some real easy ways to cheese the Big Daddys.
– I’ll try to post this last one without too much in the way of spoilers: How did the final boss expect to go back to the surface looking like the Oscar statue?

With that said, here are some daring design decisions that I absolutely agree with:
– No radar. Many (most?) FPS games have radars. But in games with radars like Rainbow Six, you spend much more time studying the radar than you do checking your surroundings. If you are trying to make something realistic or immersive, radars kill it. You don’t have to be careful or aware, just kill the dot.
– No multiplayer. I had a discussion with a coworker who was being all curmudgeonly about Bioshock. “How can Madden get docked a dozen points for not having an online franchise mode which no football game ever really has and this game gets 100s without any multiplayer at all which every FPS has?” That is a pretty consistent argument I think, but I am quite happy without multiplayer. This game is about the story, not about the shooting. If it was a game about shooting with a story attached, rather than visa versa, this makes sense. Halo and Splinter Cell would be half the game w/o a full multiplayer mode. Bioshock simply does not need it. And what sense would it make within the world?

I’m torn on the uber-hype. It is a great game – one of the best on the 360. But it isn’t perfect. Giving it a 100 says “This is it. The pinnacle.” It isn’t. We can and will do better, don’t you think? I wish every good game got this amount of attention.

Wow

It helps when you have a blog if you actually post. But… Bioshock, you know?

First, holy shit. Highlights of the linked: Uwe Boll has cojones the size of Cooper Minis. Uwe Boll thinks that September 11 and shooting children are funny. Uwe Boll thinks that people want to see Dave Foley’s penis. Dave Foley has less integrity than Rob Schneider. And that’s just a sample of the goodies within.

My brain is eating itself.

Second, I plan on training for thirty seconds to be on the new American Gladiator show. Then, I’ll get distracted and go eat some brownies.

Nose to the Grindstone

Today’s exaggerated two-minutes-hate towards EA is starting to push the boundary of ludicrous. God forbid someone in the industry who understands what is going on makes a Wikipedia edit that is out-of-date and now, as such, untrue. No one at this studio is required to work eighty hours a week during normal development. No one. The statement probably wouldn’t even have been noticed if it hadn’t been worded in such an HR-like manner. If the editor was truly acting to delete any opposition, he/she would have removed mention of the lawsuits as well.

The edits I see in the comparison remove NPOV, out-of-date, and/or redundant verbiage and unrelated items. The statement the editor made about the NFL licensing is 100% true, but because the Internet loves to dole out the hate, it will continually be reverted no matter what the truth really is. If this was an article about Blizzard or Valve, no one would bat an eye.

No one realizes how frustrating it is – how difficult it is – to make games for gamers when gamers just want to criticize and destroy your efforts.

I’m reminded of a story one of the executive producers told me last week. He was to present at a local college’s game development program’s project day, talk a little about the industry and answer questions. As the presentation ended, the first question was along the lines of “Why do you work there when GameDeveloper called your studio the worst place to work in the industry?” He answered [I’m paraphrasing throughout], “For one, GameDeveloper didn’t say that. The article in GameDeveloper quoted a single person’s anecdotal reports that this was a bad place to work. That having been said, there has been a lot of changes to focus on work-life balance while at the same time meeting all of our obligations and still creating great games. But it can be hard to fit in everything one wants to do with limited resources.”

Later, he was asked to review the student’s game project. He did and found it underwhelming and incomplete. He asked, “So how close are you to being alpha?” The students looked at the producer quizzically and said “3 more days. We’ll be alpha on Monday.” He laughed and said they would never be alpha on Monday because the game was still missing such and such and this and this. So he asked, “Given all that is missing, how will you be Alpha on Monday?” They genuinely thought what he was saying was valid and got that fire lit behind the eyes where determination breeds. “We’re going to work all night and Saturday and Sunday from 9am-4am until we get it done!” And they were excited and literally high-fived each other.

My former boss nodded and said, “Remember an hour ago when you criticized my studio for its work-life balance? Here you are with a class project with no budget, with no real stakeholders beyond yourselves, no communication issues when you only have to meet with the other couple people on your team and yet you plan on working eighteen hours a day, seven days a week just to get it done. Now imagine my teams. We are working on much bigger projects that have incredible levels of contingencies. We have budgets in the eight figures. We have stockholders. We have relationships with suppliers and retailers that we get done by certain dates. We have expansive marketing budgets where content has to be ready for simultaneous delivery with the product. How can you criticize us for wanting to put out a decent game by working copious overtime, when you freely decide you want to do it on your own?”

I thought it was a great story.

And I haven’t worked a weekend in almost a year.

A Poor Man’s Advice

Remember the NovaStar REIT that was the subject of this sad NY Post article about six months ago? (If you haven’t, read up. It’s a telling tale about diversification and trusting anoymous message board folks with your financial decisions).

The article includes this quote from a pained investor:

Quote:
Mary Helburn, who owns 60,000 shares, told The Post that she was down nearly $500,000 in a week, but is optimistic on NovaStar’s future. “I’m holding for the long haul,” Helburn said.


Well, things just got worse for poor Ms. Helburn as Friedman Billings Ramsey analyst Scott Valentin downgraded the stock yet again and set a price target of $0. That’s not a typo.

Since it’s 2003 peak, NFI is down 98%.
Since February’s aforelinked article, NFI is down 85%. Mary Helburn’s 60,000 shares, if she has still holding on, have lost $1,717,800.00 since the article went live.

Why anyone would have such a large amount of money in one speculative stock is beyond me, but if you needed another reason to diversify into the entire market, Ms. Helburn’s tale is good enough. If she sells now, she will have plenty of money to buy the Boglehead’s Guide to Investing and invest in a globally diversified index portfolio.

If she holds on, she may not even have enough for the Guide.