Tuesday, November 12, 2013

Gamercamp '13 Text and Slides


I recently gave a talk at Gamercamp in Toronto, which was fantastic. First time at the event or ever in Toronto and both were outstanding, 10/10, would go back again.

As promised, here are the slides and text from the talk:

http://bit.ly/nels_gc13

There's a .doc and a .ppt in that .zip. I recommend you fire up the .doc and the .ppt side by side. Every time you read a bold word in the .doc, advance the .ppt. If you have any thoughts/questions/feedback/whatever, I'd love to hear it.

Also, I can't believe I didn't post about it here, but I left Klei like ... three months ago. I'm partnering with Sean Vanaman, Jake Rodkin and Olly Moss to start a new studio called Campo Santo. It's going to be pretty cool.

Monday, April 1, 2013

GDC '13 Slides & Text


I have returned from GDC (and PAX East proceeding it)! Simply, it was an amazing time. I am also physically ruined and confused as to what day/age it is. But hey, at least the weather here in Vancouver is gorgeous.

As promised, here are the slides and text for the talk I delivered on Friday at 10 AM. I cannot guarantee that the text is the same as the words that came out of my mouth on the day of (in fact I promise it's not), but it's close enough to be well representative. Heh, it's actually possibly more thoughtful and composed in parts that whatever I burned through that day.

Here it be: http://bit.ly/nelsgdc13

There's a Word .doc, a .ppt and a .odp (OpenOffice's PowerPoint-but-not format). I actually created everything in OpenOffice, because I sure as hell can't afford the Office suite at home and when saving to .ppt from OpenOffice, the videos disappear. So, uh, sorry about that and if anyone knows how to fix that, let me know.

I recommend you fire up the .doc and the .ppt/.odp side by side. Every time you read a bold word in the .doc, advance the .ppt/.odp. If you have any thoughts/questions/feedback/whatever, I'd love to hear it.

Thanks to everyone who came to the talk on Friday despite almost certainly great revelry the night before. It was fantastic seeing everyone at GDC and can't wait to do so again, hopefully sooner than next March.

Thursday, March 14, 2013

Conferring

I'm going to be speaking at GDC this year! Specifically, I'll be talk about the design of Mark of the Ninja on Friday at 10 AM. If you're at the conference and want to have your ears filled by me, it would be awesome if you came by. Some other folks from Klei are going to be talking about Ninja in more of a general post-mortem sense as well, on Monday at 1:45 PM, so you should totally come for that too!

In a back-to-back conference/convention horrorshow (it will be fun, but literally flying across the continent both ways in three days is not the stuff of joy), we'll at PAX East in Boston the weekend before GDC as well! Klei is #774 in the IndieMegabooth and I'll be there for part of the time. We're showing off both Don't Starve and something brand new for Ninja, which I'm quite excited about.

Also, I'll be on a panel on Saturday night at 7:30 PM about communicating information through UI with most of the folks from Three Moves Ahead. It should be pretty cool, so if you're in Boston for PAX, come out!

Finally, I realized I've been slacking on linking my Unwinnable posts. My second one was a bit about Dark Souls and other games that create joy through suffering and most recently, I posted about the usefulness and hazards of playtesting. So read them words!

Thursday, December 6, 2012

Unwinning


Both in person and on here (I think), I've mentioned that some changes would be arriving here in the near future. Well, the good ship Change has indeed arrived.

I've started writing a monthly column at Unwinnable, the first of which went live today: http://www.unwinnable.com/2012/12/06/on-faith/

Unwinnable has amassed a truly staggering body of talent and joining them is both incredibly exciting and a little daunting. But I am looking forward to it very much.

What this means for this site is, well, at least monthly, I'll link the Unwinnable columns here. Heh, so this place will be slightly less of the barren wasteland it has been since Ninja got crazy, but I'm not sure how much less. Random one-off thoughts that probably aren't fodder for a full column might end up here, but this site will be primarily for various announcements and other similar things from now on.

This site has been incredibly invaluable for me, with the conversations that rose out of it and everything I learned composing thoughts here. But its mission is also largely accomplished, I think. Everything I considered here I tried to apply to Mark of the Ninja and I know that game would have been poorer had the conversations here not occurred. This blog helped me connect with some tremendous people whose writing and games continue to inspire and challenge me today.

I wanted make my perspective part of a collection of voices though, and Unwinnable was an amazing opportunity to do just that. It's kind of crazy to think that when I started this almost exactly four years ago, I had no idea what would be in store. It's been an amazing ride here with Above49, but it's time to take what I wanted to do here to the next level.

Hope you all will take a look at the piece over at Unwinnable and check out all the other amazing writing that's on their site. And my tremendous, profound appreciation to everyone who's commented, linked and simply read the words I put up here. It's been so, so valuable for me. Really, thank you all.

Monday, October 8, 2012

Holy hell, do I love Dark Souls


After finishing Mark of the Ninja, I had a pile of games on my mantle that I didn't have time to play. Dark Souls was the one at the top of the heap and, well, I haven't gotten any further into the heap yet. I honestly don't even know what to say about Dark Souls. I've connected with it on a more basal level that probably anything else I've played in a long time. There's so much going on with the game that's presented in such fantastic, confident ways, I almost don't know what to make it so. So I'll just relate one tale from a few nights ago, and apologies, if you haven't played Dark Souls, this will probably make very little sense:

Basically, I just an absurdly amazing time in Anor Londo.

I'd never been through before when I arrived at the large palace/cathedral building. I made it through a bit of the place, nothing too crazy. I see a note on the ground that says "Need Humanity." I figure, why the hell not?

Go back to the bonfire where the Sun Knight is, Unhollow and then there are like 4 summon signs on the ground. I pull in a person, without much idea of what we'll even do, and I must have accidentally summoned two. Just as they're appearing, a Spirit of Vengeance invades my game. We pile on him, but he leads us through a crazy chase all through the castle, pulling as many enemies as he can. We chase him onto one of the roofs, where he tries to ambush us at the top of the tower. Doesn't work, we take him down.

Then I follow my two new pals further into the castle, to places I've never been. We end up in a big hall and then I get a message that says something like "Eye of Death is pulsing." I have no idea what the hell that means, but I figure it means someone is about to invade my game again. (Ed: I later figured out what this means and oh boy, was it satisfying) There's a giant white doorway, no idea what's on the other side. Figure what the hell, better than being invade.

Step through with my two mates and holy hell, I guess it's not one boss but TWO. Ornstein and Smough, who I don't know anything about, except I remember people speaking about them on Twitter back when the game came out, which can't be good. My two allies take one each and I pile onto Orstein. We lose the guy fighting Smough part of the way through, so my partner moves over to him. Smough goes down first, but Orstein was almost out of life too. Except I discover kill one, the other heals and gets *gigantic.* We persevere though and take him down without my pal dying.

Then, because it's Dark Souls, my friend then just silently disappears. But I'll remember you, The_Demise (PSN username). You were a badass and a friend, even though we never shared a word.

And that's basically the saga. The emotional experience isn't just one of victory and success though. For me, going anywhere you haven't been in Dark Souls is a harrowing affair, as you have no idea what you're going to run into. The chase with the Spirit of Vengeance included some areas I'd never been, and my overreaction later was all going blind. It's exciting in the truest sense of the word, with all the positive and negative connotations.

What's even more interesting is some people have said Dark Souls is a game about memorization, but I don't think that accurately capture the game at all. There's so much choice in the game, it's very difficult to imagine any two people having the same experience playing the game. There are so many choices on both the micro (rapier or axe? sorcery or miracles?) and macro (did you go to the Catacombs first, or the New Anor Londo Ruins?), but they're all focused through a tremendous tight set of levels. If the game was more open and mushy, I think it would feel as distinct. Truly open world games just end up seeming like, "I did crazy shit and blew stuff up, so did you." Matthew Weise recently related that he felt that Demon's Souls/Dark Souls were the best Looking Glass games he's played since 2000, and thinking about it, that might just be why I like them so bloody much.

And on top of that, you have the multiplayer component, which can provide truly unique moments like mine above. The experience you have are unique yours, which make the feel more tangible and genuine somehow. Just like real life, no two people will experience the same event the exact same way. Yet it feels like a lot of games seem to create identical experiences with their games, at least as far as the substantial bits that really congeal in your memory are concerned. Part of the reason why I think systemic games are interesting is that they fully embrace providing players with the means for generating their own unique arcs through the game that are truly their own. They're more real (or less unreal) and there's something very interesting there, I think.

Alright, I got one more day to invest in Dark Souls before the twin cruelties of Dishonored and X-Com necessitate a bit of a respite ... probably.

Thursday, September 27, 2012

I ... I Don't Even Know. Thank You.




[I actually wrote this on the way to Europe, but didn't get a chance to post it over there. So here it is now, as I wrote it two weeks ago]

I'm composing this from a plane somewhere above Iceland, but I couldn't help but make a note about the last few days. Since Mark of the Ninja launched on Friday, I've basically been in a state of perpetual bewilderment. The reaction to the game has been astoundingly positive, beyond any our of expectations.

I've complained about Metacritic and the shortcomings of really granular review scores in the past, and my feelings about the problems they cause haven't changed. But Metacritic can be a vague barometer of how folks are reacting to a game. And currently, Ninja sits at a 90. That makes it the highest-rated XBLA game this year (tying with Trials Evolution) and the third highest XBLA game of all time (tying with at 90 Limbo, Super Meat Boy and Geometry Wars 2, in addition to Trials Evo) behind only Braid and Pac-Man Championship Edition DX.

While I was certainly happy with Ninja when we sent it off to Microsoft for certification, I had absolutely no inkling that folks would consider it to be in the same league as any of those games. I'm humbled and still utterly shocked. I respect and admire those games tremendously, and to create something that would even be spoken of in the same breath is something I wasn't sure I'd ever accomplish in my career as a designer, let alone on my first game. I'm still not really able to process that.

A couple outlets specifically just left me floored with their thoughts. Eurogamer gave us a 9/10, the same score they gave Journey and Dark Souls. Destructoid gave us a 10/10, saying Ninja was "Let it stand as the benchmark by which all stealth games are now measured." Giant Bomb gave us a 5/5.

Obviously the visibility of the game has been a challenge, but the community support has been amazing. Every time I log onto Twitter, there are almost universally positive comments about the game. I've literally seen one negative comment (from someone who only watched the trailer and didn't like the violence, although I told them you can get through the entire game without killing anyone) and two "Tried it, not really for me." That's it.

More than anything else though, it's edifying that this kind of reaction means there is a place for this kind of game. Something emphasizing player-centric systems and intentional play. Something that doesn't compromise what it wants to be. I've loved stealth games for a long time, and more importantly, the type of design they represent. Being able to create something that's considered a worthwhile addition to that canon is still almost unbelievable.

So thank you everyone who has supported the game and told anyone else about it. And we certainly don't want that momentum to flag, so please keep letting people know they can download the game or the trial directly to their Xbox from here: http://bit.ly/xboxninja

Now I'm off to enjoy a week in Ireland and a week in Scotland. When I get back, I'll have some exciting news about my writing here as well as something about Ninja that I think will make a lot of people quite happy.

[That news hit on Monday, specifically that Mark of the Ninja is coming to Steam on Oct 16th]

Friday, September 7, 2012

Mark of the Ninja LAUNCHED!


I woke up this morning like I always do, walked the dog, fed him, showered and shaved. It felt like any other day, but sometime in the night, the game I'd spent the last year and a half working on had been made available for purchase. The review embargo isn't up for another hour as I'm writing this (although it will be up by the time this is posted), so I'm not sure what the critical reaction will be yet, but I'm feeling optimistic.

But in this brief calm before the storm, I just wanted to give my profound thanks to everyone who has helped me get to this point. I was the lead designer on a game I'm incredibly proud of, but I didn't get here alone. To start, the team is Klei is simply amazing and every single one of them was instrumental in Ninja's success. I'm so lucky to be able to work with some amazing people. As you see their names in Ninja's credits, know every one of them is seriously phenomenal.

More broadly, thanks to all my colleagues, both local and afield, for your amazing insight and work. Even if you didn't directly comment on Ninja during a playtest, your games, writing and GDC talks all helped me possess the (admittedly, still quite limited) understanding of design I needed to make Ninja what I wanted it to be. And to everyone who has written something thoughtful about games, thank you. You made me want to aspire and reach further that I would have otherwise.

Especially, thank you to Michael Abbott, whose writing basically started me down a path of consideration and thoughtfulness when it came to looking at games as a form of creative expression. Plus, and I was only reminded of this last night, it was an invitation to a dinner that set up the partnership that led to Chris writing Ninja, so doubly thanks for that. Michael actually did something very special for us as well, expect it soon.

And yes, of course, a tremendous thanks to Chris Dahlen, Ninja's writer and a vital part of establishing the game's tone and atmosphere. Without doubt, the game would not be what it was without Chris' significant contributions.

To all my friends who supported me through some late nights, tolerated my absences from our usual activities and kept me sane through the process, thank you.

Finally, my wife, for her endless love and support during some stressful and busy times. I love you more than anything, bright-eyes.

Alright, enough being sentimental (but seriously, thank you all so much).