game

Insomniac’s Spider-Man and Why AAA Games Still Matter

Last September, Sony released Spider-Man, the 35th video game based on the popular Marvel comic book superhero. The game, developed by Insomniac Games (Ratchet and Clank, Spyro the Dragon), retailed for $59.99 and was exclusive to the Sony Playstation 4. It took two years to develop the game and its production is estimated to have cost around 100 million dollars.

Triple-A (AAA) is the classification used for a video game that receives the highest budget from a publisher, both for production and for marketing. An AAA game is expected to be of the highest quality and to earn a high profit to justify its expensive costs. In short, an AAA game is the video game equivalent to a blockbuster film.

AAA games like Spider-Man are expensive and time consuming to make. Their premium retail price can be expensive for the consumer. You might ask, with the decline in console sales, why developers are even making AAA games at all? As it turns out, AAA games are still worth creating, for numerous reasons.

AAA games generate excitement for the industry

At 2018’s Electronic Entertainment Expo (E3), Spider-Man gained 37 awards from industry news outlets. It topped dozens of  “most anticipated games of 2018” lists. Despite there being hundreds of games released a year, only AAA games typically get this kind of attention. More media coverage means more gamers paying attention to a game, which leads to more excitement for a game – which can result in big sales on release day.

AAA titles are often used as a vehicle for launching a new intellectual property. When Tomb Raider debuted in 1996, Eidos went all in on their marketing and licensing for the action/adventure game, putting the character on everything from action figures to magazine covers to shower gel bottles.

With commercials that looked more like perfume ads than for video games, Tomb Raider demanded attention. Eidos even hired a real-life actress to play the character for media events. Thanks to Eidos’ media push, Lara Croft appeared all over the news. For a few years in the 90s, Lara was the face of video games. Launching a new IP is always a huge risk, but when it pays off, it pays off big.

Spider-Man Game

AAA games create jobs

As of 2018, there are 22 major publishers who make what can be considered AAA games — employing over 300,000 developers in the industry. The majority of working game developers in the United States are working on AAA games.

AAA games don’t just employ game developers, however. Think of all of the people related to the creation and release of these games – marketing, PR, legal, cutscenes, publicity material, advertising material, commercial directors, and more. There’s a reason why the credits on AAA games are so lengthy.

AAA games influence the public’s perception of gaming

The extraordinary marketing budget for AAA games allows their publishers to reach more consumers through a variety of advertisements. Consumers are bombarded by ads through television, internet, magazine, billboards, and even buses. Thanks to this constant stream of advertising, this means that the majority of games that consumers are exposed to are primarily advertised AAA games. Ask consumers and the media about which upcoming games and they will most likely respond with AAA titles.

Almost half of the top 10 games for 2018 were console exclusives. The truth is, AAA games are what sell consoles for the big three (Sony, Microsoft, and Nintendo) and as long as consoles dominate store shelves such as Target, Wal-Mart and Best Buy, these will be the games the consumers will be exposed to. While consumers can purchase smaller, independent titles elsewhere, learning about them and finding them in the store can sometimes be difficult.

Spider-Man Game

The AAA single player experience is still a thing

In 2017, EA cancelled their AAA Star Wars game, citing that a “linear adventure game” wasn’t relevant to today’s multiplayer audiences. However, if the success of games such as Spider-Man (3.3 million copies in opening weekend), Red Dead Redemption ($725 million opening weekend), and God of War (5 million copies sold to date) are any indication, the linear adventure game experience is far from dead. According to gamers and game designers alike, linear narrative games are still the best way for game designers to tell a story.

Single-player experiences allow gamers to live out the adventure of a character, which is one of the most exciting aspects in gaming. Have you ever wondered why so many shooters like Fortnite and PUBG display the player in first person? Because it is supposed to be you, the player. However, most story-based narratives will show its character using a third person camera, because it is the best way for the player to see what the character is doing on their adventure and how they carry themselves throughout.

Out of a 2017 survey, 9 out of 10 best known characters were in games that used a third person camera.

While some may complain that AAA games are ruining the industry, the truth is that big-budget titles like Spider-Man keep consumers excited for games, employ game developers, and make the video game industry the highest-earning entertainment industry in the world.

Best Free Game Engines and Development Software

Is the only thing keeping you from transforming your great game idea from dream to reality your wallet? Well then, you will be happy to hear that there are excellent free / open source software packages in every discipline you need to build a great game. Sections include game engines, 2D art, 3D art and animation, sound design, and project management. Everything on the list below is used by professional game developers.

Best Free Game Engines – Unity and Unreal

One of your first key decisions as a game developer is which game engine you will use. Game engines provide you ways to quickly implement core game functions like physics, rendering, scripting, collision detection, and much more without the need to custom code them. They provide tested, reusable components that allow you to build more quickly and focus on making a great player experience.

The most prevalent platforms used by professional game studios today are Unity and Unreal. Amazingly, both platforms are now free to develop in. Both are great and do many of the same things, so deciding between the two comes down to user preference.

#1: Unity 

Our platform at NYFA Games is Unity for two reasons.

Firstly, Unity gives developers to build functioning games with little coding — e.g. through use of drag and drop features. However, it also has the full power of object oriented programming through scripting languages with the most prevalent choice being C# (pronounced “C sharp”).

Secondly, Unity allows developers to write their programs once and output to the top 25 game platforms including Windows, Mac, Playstation 4, Xbox One, Nintendo Switch, Oculus Rift, and many more. Have a look at Gamblingapps.com to find out which gambling apps make most money and developed on which software. Games made with Unity include: “Hearthstone: Heroes of Warcraft,” “Deus Ex: The Fall,” “Assassin’s Creed: Identity,” “Temple Run Trilogy,” “Battlestar Galactica Online,” and many more.

#2 Unreal 

Unreal was created for it namesake (the Unreal franchise) and is a top of the line game engine through and through. When using this tool you are given the full force of a AAA tool. Games developed with Unreal include “Gears of War,” “Borderlands 2,” “Batman Arkham City,” “Bioshock,” “Mass Effect 2,” and more.

Honorable Mention: Amazon Lumberyard

Lumberyard is a relative newcomer to the game engine space. It is a free AAA engine that is deeply integrated with the Amazon Web Server (AWS) platform and Twitch.

All of the engines we recommend are fully documented and come with a slew of tutorials online.

Best Free 2D Art Software – GIMP

Compelling art is the make-or-break point on whether a new player will be willing to try a new game.

GIMP (GNU Image Manipulation Program) is the open source version of the industry standard graphic design program, Adobe Photoshop. GIMP is a freely distributed program for image authoring, graphic design, and photo manipulation. Use GIMP to start your game art. Check out a world of tutorials on the web.

reflection-pad-gaming-gamepad

Best Free 3D Art and Animation Software – Blender

MAYA, MAYA, MAYA — is all everyone says these days when it comes to 3D asset creation, and for good reason! Yet Maya’s price tag of $180 / month leads some developers to the great, functional open source alternative, Blender.

What GIMP is to Photoshop, Blender is Maya. It is your one stop shop for 3D modeling, texturing, rigging, animation, and more.

Special note for those who have a .edu email address: MAYA reduces its price tag to $0 for three years! All you need is a .edu email and you can hang with the best of them. More info here.

Best Free Sound Design Software – Audacity

With the emergence of virtual reality and augmented reality, the demand for great sound design is stronger than ever. This is especially true because of the need to communicate location in VR and AR to create an immersive experience. The open source leader today is Audacity

This software is being used by game developers, musicians, podcasters, filmmakers, and other creative people. It is approaching its year 10 anniversary and going strong, so you know it isn’t going to disappear any time soon.

Best Free Project Management Software – Trello

There are many free online collaboration tools. Trello is our current favorite because of it’s ease of use, flexibility, and ability to integrate other platforms such as Dropbox and Google Drive. Trello also lets you run AGILE development and SCRUM with a little know how. Check it out here.

The 5 Ingredients of Successful Games and VR Experiences

By Felipe Lara, NYFA Game Design

Screen Shot 2017-04-10 at 4.21.45 PM

Image by Felipe Lara

What makes a game successful? The answer depends on your goals. Sometimes it is revenue, sometimes it is number of downloads, impact on your players, etc. However, focusing on these outcomes is usually not very helpful as a developer. It is much more helpful to define success in terms of engagement, because engagement can be linked directly to the kinds of decisions we need to make during development.

In a previous article (link to “A Roadmap…” article) we talked about how engagement follows a 4-step sequence: stand out, connect, engage, and grow. The next layer is to figure out which ingredients in a game can help you do that. In this article, we’ll look at five ingredients that will help your game or VR experience become more engaging in the long-term.

Your Ingredients

Screen Shot 2017-04-10 at 4.21.54 PM

Image by Felipe Lara

In the many years I spent developing MMOs for casual gamers (kids and families), I saw how there are four basic elements that can be combined very effectively to get the attention of players and make them want to stick around: art, fun mechanics, story, and community building:

  • ART: Art is what first catches your players’ eye and makes them want to take a closer look at your game. At first, players won’t know much about the specific mechanics and stories in your game. They decide to pay more attention after experiencing visuals that resonate with them.
  • FUN: Art by itself, no matter how cool it is, won’t keep your players for long. Finding fun stuff to do that is easy to understand, with clear goals, is what makes players want to stay more than a few seconds.
  • STORY: Even fun activities get repetitive unless there is a larger meaning and purpose behind them. Having a longer-term purpose or story that players can relate to is what makes them want to keep coming back. Shooting hoops is fun, but doing it everyday for hours can get boring quickly unless the activity is part of a larger story — like training to defeat an old rival team.
  • COMMUNITY: All good stories need an ending, but the meaning and purpose that you get from being part of a community can last for years. The games that we keep going back to over and over are the ones that let us form connections with people that we care about.

All these four elements are important to create a successful game that follows the sequence:

  1. Stand Out
  2. Connect
  3. Engage
  4. Grow

The importance of art, fun, story, and community may shift from one step of this sequence to another. For example, standing out depends much more on the art and how things look like than on the details of the story. Then again, engagement depends much more on the mechanics and story than the art, and growing depends heavily on the community building aspect. I’ve seen many good games that don’t succeed because they lacked one or more of these important elements.

Power Up With a Theme

Screen Shot 2017-04-10 at 4.22.05 PM

Image by Felipe Lara

What I’ve noticed through the years is that games are much more powerful and effective at engaging players when all the elements mentioned above (art, mechanics, story, and community) work together and reinforce each other.

Having a strong theme will help tie together the elements of your game and will make it much easier to connect emotionally with your players. But for a theme to do that, you need to have the right understanding of what a theme is.

Theme is not topic. Saying you want to do a pirate game is not enough. There are many different potential approaches to a pirate game: is it about gathering treasure? Is it about fighting the law? Is it about ship battles?

Theme is not about a conflict, either. Defining your theme as the conflict between pirates and the Spanish Armada is not enough. You need to pick a side, you need to have an opinion about the topic or conflict you are talking about, for example, “A pirate’s life is a wonderful life, because it is more free and exciting.”

When you state your theme as a clear point of view you get a much clearer idea of what you need from your mechanics and story. In this case, the elements would all need to revolve around the excitement of being a pirate and feeling free of responsibilities and commitments.

In his book “The Art of Game Design,” Jesse Schell relates an example from when we worked on a pirate’s virtual reality ride for Walt Disney Imagineering and DisneyQuest. In his book, he writes that as soon as they nailed down a theme for the ride, many of the design decisions about art style, game mechanics, story, and even technology became clear. As a result of clarifying the theme, all these ingredients ended up supporting each other to create a much more powerful and award-winning VR experience.

Conclusion

There are five ingredients that combine to help your game become much more engaging and successful: art, mechanics, story, community, and theme. When you put these ingredients together in a game or VR experience — art that resonates with your audience, mechanics that are fun and have clear goals, a story that adds meaning and context, a community makes you feel part of something larger than yourself, and a theme that ties it all together and connects to points of view with which your target audience can resonate — you get a much more engaging experience, and your chances of success grow exponentially.

Ready to learn more about virtual reality and game design? Check out NYFA’s VR programs and game design programs!