Monday, October 19, 2009

Reboot Reboot: 1-800 HOW'S MY BLOGGING?

Monday, October 19, 2009
If you're reading this, I consider you an important part of the site, some element of it's now-forming nucelus of commenters/contributors.

Articles have been posted over the past months but I consider the site newly live and active, and it's time for some critical assessments and adjustments.
Your input on the following is greatly appreciated:

1.) Nomenclature

Some of you may have noticed by now that the title term "design reboot" gets flung around an awful lot, but the majority of the content I post is not actually about doing a "reboot" of a francise or IP at all, it's spinning out a new idea using the old game as a point of departure. What should I call these? design sketches?

I reserve the right do to "proper" design reboots, I'd just like to clarify things. Should I just tag the posts with design reboot/design sketch and just title them differently?
"Design sketch" is a lot more accurate for what most of these posts are about, and likely will be in the future. I don't like starting off every post title with "design reboot," it's redundant information if that's how most of them start. I'll just better use of the tagging system.

(I still think "Design Reboot" is a perfectly good title for the site so don't worry. I'm far too lazy to go about redesigning that beautiful header--and hopefully there will be more content that is worthy of the inspiration for the site's name)

2.) Content

People seem to be interested to read the game comments, but the level design primers and other design discussion related posts seem to draw interest as well. What is your favorite content? What would you like to see more of?

What about update regularity--would you prefer more frequent updates, as they are now, even if the writeup isn't all that thought through, or would you rather see more developed write-ups?

As I just hinted in at in the comments section, I think I'd like to start "iterating" on design posts. There are so many interesting and worthwhile ideas posted in the comments, I would leave the original posting up, and then periodically revisit it, probably with additional artwork, with the commenter ideas factored in and elaborated.
This could then in turn spawn fresh discussion which, with enough momentum, gets rolled into another update later on, and visitors at that point can click back through the idea at different stages.

3.) Tone

This is one of these things I'll probably have to iron out on my own, but input would be appreciated. For instance take the most recent update. It makes fun of Alone in the Dark and then segues into an original idea. I'm concerned that this comes off as glib or disrespectful, especially in close proximity to a game idea writeup--I'm not trying to give the impression of superiority or "knowing better."

It's confusing because it's not a reboot and is labeled as such (see item 1), which has lead some people to think I'm disrespecting the talent and ability of those that worked on the games I'm re-imagining. Nothing could be further from the truth; the one major title to my name is Darkest of Days, a game that was not received charitably. I don't need to be adding to the general pile of flippant remarks posted on the internet. It's not what this site is about.

I guess there's not much of a question here, so much as a resolution to be careful about tone. I like to be funny, but it's bricks and glass houses when I'm talking about other developers. I need to keep my deprecatory comments limited to my own work, and address criticisms of other games more respectfully.

4.) Presentation

The other issues I wanted to bring up would be the formatting for the game idea posts. I've received comments that the hypothetical Metacritic ratings are distracting and the youtube embeds come off as amateurish--what do you think? The youtubes came from initially wanting to just embed some music for certain posts, and I got that all wired up but I didn't have a solution for hosting the mp3s. I agree that the embedded youtubes are probably distracting.

Are there any elements to the regular design write-ups you'd like to see? More art, even if it's rougher sketches?

DIAL 1-800

Any and all comments would be invaluable. If you enjoy this site, take this as the Public Broadcasting "viewers like you" moment.

And if you've made it this far: tune up all your gripes about fantasy gaming tropes and dust off those melee combat paradigms, because we'll soon be exploring the overripe world of western fantasy RPGs.


Ben James said...

I don't have a problem with the tone of your articles or the titles of them, I enjoy the humour you put into them. More artwork would be awesome, just because it's great to have a visual idea of how you're picturing the reboot/design sketch/whatever.

Updates incorporating community comments and ideas would be really great, I love to see how designs can evolve from feedback like that.

Anu said...

I absolutely love your blog. I am a product designer and have done a small amount of game design in the past.

Your writing is strong (though there's the occasional misspelling) and your ideas solid.

1. Nomenclature is OK, but I feel that "reboot" is both a tired and inaccurate phrase. When I reboot my computer, it doesn't magically upgrade and become more interesting or different.

2. While daily content keeps people coming back, I like that your blog is full of thoughtful, developed ideas. Perhaps there's a way to split the difference - write shorter articles about, say, level design, in the context of pointing out what's actual/good/bad in a given game and some hypothetical changes/different approaches - post 1 a week. Do one "revision" a week. Do one "new idea" a week. Or find someone with similar thinking to fill in on your off days.

3. Tone is fine. Write with your voice. Nothing wrong with dumping on a game you think is bad. I don't find it gratuitous. However, I would note that your writing is strongest when you write like an adult, not a teenager. There's a way to be harsh without resorting to shopworn phrases and internet slang. Make your criticism as thoughtful as your design ideas.

4. I like the hypothetical Metacritic ratings - they're reminiscent of Stanislaw Lem's book reviews of imaginary books ("A Perfect Vacuum", "Imaginary Magnitude")- but they're not essential. You could be vague about the scoring and just simply discuss the reviews.

However, I don't really have an interest in YouTube embeds. I think your sketches and art are more solid/interesting.

Gabe said...

I wouldn't worry about a disrespectful tone when talking about a game as bad as the AitD reboot.

Lunaran said...

> What is your favorite content? What would you like to see more of?

My favorite content is your best content and your best content is what you feel the need to write in that moment. Forcing it or trying to stick to a schedule will just lead to less interesting ideas, and it'll burn you out besides.

MartinJ said...

Simply use tags, that should work. I don't much care for the frequency of your updates, as I have a lot in my RSS reader to keep myself occupied for one day, one article less or more doesn't affect me and I think that many people feel the same.

As for your tone, don't mind it at all. You should never try to force yourself to be either polite or insulting, just write as you feel it is, that's the best way.

Hypothetical Metactritic ratings are a fine conclusion to the article, and I don't really view youtube videos unless it's something significant. So posting music in a youtube embed is useless, but when you talked about the scene from Nikita I couldn't remember it - an embed there would have been useful.

Simply limit the youtube videos to ones relevant to your article, depicting an important part of it or something. Or don't embed them, just link them.

Ryan said...

1. I agree better use of tags is the answer. Let the title be a short, clear description of the article.

2. I am more concerned with the quality and depth of a given subject than frequency of new content.

3. Your tone does not bother me. I think Anu's recommendation is good.

4. I find both the YouTube embeds and hypothetical Metacritic ratings unnecessary. I typically skip past them. I agree with MartinJ's comment on linking to relevant links within your blog.

Keep up the good work :)

Anonymous said...

A much more relevant problem to me is that your captcha apparently doesn't work in Firefox. I wrote a nice long comment that failed silently multiple times.

And I can't copy and paste from the comment text box. What's going on here?

Anonymous said...

In order to write the above comment, I had to use IE.

Glen Moyes said...

Anything that you feel passionate about writing will work fine for me. Don't write about something that you are not interested in. :)

I did like the primer because I learned more about design theory, and when you take an existing game idea and build on it, a critique of that old game idea does comes through which are always valuable to read.

As for update frequency, it doesn't matter to me much. I use an RSS reader, so I'm more interested in quality.

Andrew Holliday said...

1) sketches is alright for wholly original stuff, but might I suggest "design tangents" for building new ideas on existing ones? You're free to use that without crediting me. :P

2) I've quite liked both the design speculations and the primers. The former are very imaginative, and the latter are very informative.

3) Don't worry about your tone, just write what you feel. Respect your fellow developers, sure, but if you need to censor yourself to do that, then there's a deeper problem. So far, the snark level has been just right. Whatever you've been doing, keep it up, it's really good.

4) I quite like the Metacritic hypotheticals, it's interesting to see how you think your own ideas would be received, but a little more detail in your reasoning for the numbers might be nice. Don't force it though.

As for the YouTube videos, I like them as another insight into your mind, but they do come off as a bit unprofessional. A compromise: post them in the comments?

I hope all this helps.

Guy said...

I like everything about what you're doing. Don't change it at all! The YouTube (or music in general), is I think very important. Perhaps include a link to the 'mood music' at the very beginning of every post rather than embedding.

Sam C said...

A link to the mood music as opposed to the embeds might help posts flow better.

As for content, I would definitely like to see more of the level design primers, although I haven't seen any content I dislike.

Anonymous said...

1. I hadn't really noticed this up until now. I like the idea above about just using whatever title best fits the idea then using a tag ("reboot" would be as good a term as any other, I figure) to sort out the series.

2. I'd definitely like to see fewer updates with more depth, as opposed to the other way around. I'd also like to see more of the level designer primer stuff. It might not generate as much interesting discussion, but for people like myself who have little knowledge about what thought processes go into the games we play, it's really fascinating.

Ideally, I think I'd like to see more level/game design specifics go into the posts about the game reboots. The reboot stuff, naturally, is a bit sparse on specific details. Integrating more discussion about specific concepts with these hypothetical games would be great.

3. I think it probably could be pulled back a bit at times, but I wouldn't want the derisive humor to be dropped entirely. I think you can respectfully make fun of others without seeming like you're looking down on them. Like you said, just walk the line carefully.

4. The Metacritic rating always seemed a bit bizarre to me. It doesn't add much to the fleshing out of the game idea, and often it just ends the article on a weird note. I'd be in favor of dropping it completely.

I might drop the YouTubes as well, though I don't feel particularly strongly about this one. I guess I'd rather draw my own conclusions about the atmosphere/tone of the game based on your writing than tie it to a specific piece of music. But either way can be good.

Additional stuff:
It would always be great to see more art. I wouldn't mind rougher stuff if it helped flesh out the game in any way.

Another thing I might like to see would be something closer to the level design primers: taking a specific concept in game design, and then give several examples of points where games got it "right" and where games go it "wrong." This wouldn't be picking on notoriously bad games or small-budget games, but ideally illuminating how different developers approached a certain issue and what their results were. I don't have much specifics in mind here, I guess, so I'm not sure how it'd be done. Basically, some kind of games critique that's based around specific principles instead of the vague standards of commercial review sites.

Lastly, a question: Do you re-visit the comments on older posts? Sometimes I see something I want to comment on that's a few posts back (but still on the first page), but I'm unsure if you'd actually read it or not.

Thanks for all the great work!

chiasaur11 said...

I generally like the reboots (tangents, etcetera), and the metacritic bits provide a nice little tail end comment, so I like those, but beyond that?

I guess case by case seems relevant.

Dmitry said...

Man, just keep elaborating on anything and everything. I love it all, especially the extreme professional look of your covers (I swear, Laputan Machine's art was just great). Also, your game design stuff is really cool, too.

Keep at calling any newideas on familiar games design reboots! I don't Mind.

Johnnyburn said...

1. Pssh, whatevs. Tag: 'sketchboot'
2. I really like what people have said about posting passionately. I RSS the feed so I'll pick it up whenever you post.
The design sketch/reboots are interesting (and the titular attraction), but the random posts and level design basics were interesting, too. Mix'n'match, I say.
3. I think you've nailed tone.
4. Presentation and pace is quite readable. The music choice is fun if you are feelin' it, but it is not the main attraction.

^No need to be too formulaic. ^Don't be afraid to link-back to acquaint a new reader with old posts. ^Don't do it and hate doing it.

Mark said...

I like the idea of considering what the reception to a hypothetical game would be, but the score out of 100 is fairly unnecessary, seeing as it would (or should) be more dependent on the execution than the concept.

Chris said...

*Copying and pasting (in Firefox)*: preview the post then click the 'Edit' link, then you can copy and paste.

jack said...

I love the conceptual game stuff, but put simply, I'm here for the creativity and original thought. Whether they're in game or design posts, frequent-n-short or rare-n-big it's all gravy with me.
If you do decide to add to previous entries, do be sure to do an alert post, will ya?

gauss said...

Sincere thanks to everyone. Sometimes asking the right question can provide it's own answer, and here, posing the questions helped clarify a lot for me.
I feel very reassured knowing that the commenters are in line with my better instincts, so I don't think I'll have to ask for any further commission. Thank you again--look (or don't look) for some minor ninja-editing to bring older content in line with some of the proposed changes.

Ben: good to hear. And yes, the commenter response to ideas and how much further they're enriched is much of the impetus to post further iterations on ideas, could be very interesting.

Anu: thank you for the detailed response, comments on writing especially helpful. Bringing criticisms into the same realm qualitatively the rest of the content is absolutely the way forward.

Gabe: good to know, thanks.

MartinJ: yes, I think that's what I'll do as far as better labeling. At the start of the site, with no content to categorize, I had only a vague idea of how it might be helpful, but with entries now, organization should be pretty straightforward.
Regarding the youtube embeds you might find me shocked to realize that people were in fact watching them at all, in sequence to the post, when this was not the intent; rather a poor man's music embed... for now, I'll simply link to or omit entirely, until I get this part nailed down.

Ryan: good to know. Regarding update frequency, right now it happens that I want to/have the energy/focus to update frequently, but I know this won't always be the case. It's heartening to know that most of my readers pick up new updates via RSS feed.

gauss said...

Anonymous: Yes, there have been some longstanding and quite frankly baffling issues with the comment form. Color me confused; it might stem from the template I used when originally constructing the site. I'm afraid the issues are somewhat beyond my expertise.

Glen Moyes: Steve Gaynor (whose site I need to link in the inevitable blog roll I'll add to the sidebar at some point) gave me much the same advice about what/when to write and it's been invaluable. Thanks for the comments.

Andrew Holliday: Good suggestion! Thanks for the freebie. And thank you for the tone comments--there are more than enough reasons to be legitimately angry about the game industry--it's practices and it's products, so maybe that's the best way to look at it.

Guy: Yes, originally I wanted to simply embed with one of those svelte little embedded mp3 players, but I've had some hosting issues that need sussing out. But good to know, thanks.

Sam C: agreed, as I said above since I was using as a poor man's music embed, idiotic as it sounds I didn't realize people would actually stop reading and watch the youtube. It's like a television in a bar, you can hate it but still not keep your eyes off it. I'll keep that in mind.

Anonymous: To answer your question yes, I have an email alert for when anyone comments and I try to answer every comment in some way, so I do still monitor old updates.
Thank your for the detailed rundown. From the fact that older update still attract comments, I think that's how I'll run the site--"old" ideas are still in play at all times. If there's enough interest or the mood strikes me, I'll make a new post which synthesizes my more recent thinking on the subject with the best of the commenter ideas.
I like the suggestion to do design commentary on games--design issues are notoriously difficult to explicate so if, much like the LD primers, it allowed us to build a more common vocabulary to discuss some of these things, then all the better.

chiasaur11: Thanks, a good point. I might be moving to retaining the debrief/critical response hypothetical, while maybe omitting the score.

Johnnyburn: All good thoughts on the matter--it's certainly easy enough to re-link to older material. Me, I tend to take an old fashioned, say circa-1998 view on the value of hypertext richness. Read my text, but if there's anything people should know but might not, provide an easy link for it.

Mark: absolutely, I think I can still give ideas the hypothetical breakdown without the odd particularity of a numeral score. People get endlessly hung up on them anyway, and for virtually all of my updates I'm pulling the number of the ether... just like reviewers! (zing)

jack: Thanks, and don't worry--any "iterated" design posts will get rolled into their own new posts, with links back to the originals, so readers can look back on the old posts and the original discussion that spawned the update version. A diagram for design by accretion, if you will.

Anonymous said...

A little late to the show here, but I find your meta-critic scores to be each reboot's captsone. First innovators in games tend to suffer less positive reviews even if they're good games, and I found your scores to reflect that.

It might help if you explained how you came to the scores, or even wrote snippets from fake reviews-- like what would happen when Jeff Gerstmann doesn't like your player characters...

As for the youtube embeds, I love having the music to establish mood (it goes a long way to getting your theme across), so if you can figure out how to get the music in there please do.

grilly said...

basically, yes.
i love what you do. i do like the 'design reboot' title as a tag for what are basically your own ideas springboarding off other people's concepts.

i like the music to get the tone - it's well multi-sensory. youtube embeds are fine but if you can find a better way (and i doubt you can), by all means...

and the level design primers: great because it gives credence to your design ideas as it demonstrates you obviously know what you're writing about.

basically: don't go changing. gimme your hand, you're wonderful.

Anonymous said...

Sorry-- I'm going to reference my previous anonymous post: 'captsone' should be 'capstone'. *sigh*

I stand by my previous post, and also agree with grilly's last line.

Anonymous said...

I'd suggest perhaps "Concept Reboot" for the tangent articles. Great blog by the way. :)

Senethro said...

Been enjoying the blog so far. I think theres a risk of your own reboot articles becoming a bit samey. While many of the games that need rebooting are flawed to a greater or lesser extent and may be deserving of the derisive tone, it may just cause a reader to become tired if reading several postings at once.

To get some variation in tone, how about some reboots of games that were great, but could have been very different? Or reboots that turn out horribly wrong because of how the industry or consumers have changed.

StickFigs said...

I appreciate all your different kinds of updates so far, particularly ones about level design (like the article about the "saw tooth" mechanism). It's good to have both because level design articles are more practice while the "Design Reboots" are more theory.

metacritical said...

To be fair, I think the fairest term for your most recent ideas would be 'Spin-Offs'

Anonymous said...

I just want to say--

First and foremost, the content of your site is great. I would love it if you were to update more frequently, but not everyone lives on their computer as I do. Some people even have jobs.

I have no real problems with nomenclature, though I think I like tangents rather than reboots as terms to describe the more theoretical aspect of your writing.

Your tone is your tone. If you write that way, it's fine. I have no objections.

I like the fake metacritic ratings, and I love your art (the HL2 stuff is excellent. A shame you never heard back from Valve) and would not mind seeing more of it.

Chris said...

DESIGN SKETCH more clearly descibes your 'reboot' articles, each one should have a clear concise title, don't start each one with the same redundant title.

CONTENT IS GREAT, I'd like to see more 'how to' design posts, it was the sawtooth level design article that lead me to your blog. Well thought out posts are better than quickies. I remember back in the day (Planet Quake) reading an article on what made a great level in Quake 2, which has since been lost, it's a pity because modern games still get the basics wrong. ITERATION SHOULD BE ENCOURAGED.

TONE IS FINE. All games / tech have flaws and hence need criticism to bring those flaws to light, SO THAT WE MAY LEARN. Making software is hard.

MOVE METACRITIC & MUSIC TO BONUS SECTION. A 'Bonus' / 'More musings' section at the end of the article so we know that that content is related to the design sketch but not part of it.

Chris said...

Congratulations on making it to the front page of Rock Paper Shotgun, that's only second to the holy grail!

Chris said...

Don't feel bad about Darkets of Days, those stills in your portfolio look great! I love the '12 monkeys' feel to the guns too.

Broklynite said...

1. It's primerily your blog. You do what you feel is good, and to hell with everyone else, so far as I'm concerned.
2. That said, I greatly enjoy your writings.

Reboot vs. sketch- I'd think that reboot would be something like your Gordan Freeman As Space Viking, which is completely starting from scratch a game. A sketch would make more sense for your ideas like offshoots, prequels, etc. That's my 2 cents worth tho.

For iterations of articles, since I'm mostly an RSS subscriber, so long as the changes show up in the RSS and are preferably indicated (something like adding a black line at the end of the old article before continuing your thoughts, rather than just editing the old one.)

Anonymous said...

I'd like to see more blogs, needn't be as thoroughly written. As long as the idea is communicated somehow, the writing style is rather secondary.

Also, while level design is certainly interesting, I personally favour the game comments.

Design reboots are very interesting, too, but those should maybe really be written more thoroughly rather than quickly.

gauss said...

Anonymous: hey, thanks for the comments and especially suggestions with finishing remarks. Good advice. If you'll notice, I figured it out now and all the youtube embeds have been changed to what they were meant to be all along--unobtrusively embedded (and entirely optional) mood pieces.

grilly: Makes me feel like the belle of the ball, thank you kindly. Glad to see you're enjoying the site.

Anonymous: that sounds good, too. I'm hedging on 'design sketch' and 'design reboot', but haven't decided yet.

Senethro: I appreciate the comments, certainly any site should be on the look out for avoiding long-term stagnation and I'll keep your comments in mind moving forward. This whole thread has been very helpful for shoring up things now, but I know it'll be helpful to come back to later as well.

StickFigs: thanks man. You like the most recent one as well?

metacritical: true, but I think the term is a bit too loaded/associated already, so I'll probably stick with some variation on my own established jargon.

Anonymous: All good points, and I want to make it clear how helpful even some small affirmations from readers have been in moving forward at this point. Much obliged.

Chris: Yeah, as already commented, I think design sketch might just be the way to go for the articles that aren't more explicitly design reboots (Dr. Ivan, Sin Episodes). Thanks for the other comments as well. I like the idea of just finishing up with "more musings," which is very much in line with how the metacritic capstone was conceived of in the first place.

And yes, making it on RPS was a really rewarding experience. They're my go-to, so it means a lot.

Broklynite: thanks for the comment here and on the fridge box entry--and I tend to agree. Glad to see people are following via RSS, it's definitely the best way to enjoy most sites I find.

Anonymous: when you say "favor game comments," you mean commentary on existing titles, mechanical critique etc.? And I agree about the reboots, I think they'll be taken a bit more thoughtfully now. We'll see.

Zwebbie said...

Seems I'm a bit late to the party, but since you said you read everything anyway, I'll have a go at commenting too :) .

I think a great strength of this blog is that you've got a history as a concept artist. Pretty much everyone has some game concepts floating around in his head, but the pictures you attach immediately convey an atmosphere too, which is very refreshing and important.
Considering this, I'd be very curious what would happen if you were to fabricate a screenshot-esque picture for a game reboot/sketch. Show, don't tell, for so far as that's possible with a game concept anyway.

gauss said...

Zwebbie: nice thought man, thanks for the comment.

I have thought about full mock-up screenshots but these can be a more of a commitment than they sound; for simple games and clear concepts they work wonders.
I did one for a client a few years back about a shmup/shooter that took place inside the world of a bored study hall student's lined notebook. It ended up being the best way to communicate the overall concept.
On the other hand, if the game is more in the line of FPS games as is often presented here, which is to say fairly complex, screenshot mockups can be a lot of work, and even when you do them, people can get hung up on minor details and fixate on them, rather than the overall feel you're trying to communicate.

Which is why I tend to stick with "key art" style concepts when I do these. Time is also a factor.

But in any case, it's been a while since I've done a proper full-screenshot style mockup, and I think with more impressionistic/quick painting techniques it could end up as the best choice for a lot of posts. Thanks.

Dread Lord CyberSkull said...

I enjoyed the design tutorials you presented. If you can continue to keep it simple and provide such great examples, please do more!

gauss said...

Thanks DLCS. It's one of the things that I'm a little cautious about, given that I'm not terrible senior in the industry myself, but I feel as though there's a real gap in that kind of material to be found on the internet and the lessons I've learned that I try and teach on seem pretty solid. Only time will tell, but I'm hopeful.

Copperkat said...

Don't remove the music! They're great frames for your reboots, and immediately set the tone. I'm actually listening to portisheads Machine Gun right now.

I'm not a fan of the metacritic ratings though. If anything they make it seem like the reboot is already a fully formed idea and not up for the discussion you encourage.

Can I formally request some wallpapers? Either a straight up gausswerks one, or maybe one with some art from your reboots, or possibly wallpapers just for reboots? I can already picture a fictional Invasive Species wallpaper.

quantumdot said...

I've really been enjoying your blog, especially since game design is something I'm still very interested in from a purely speculative point-of-view rather than an actual career.

The art of your site is what first drew me in, so anything more of that is always appreciated--I second and third those who asked for more, whether it be rough-hewn sketches, or more fully-realized ideas.

The Metacritic ratings are a bit of a toss-up, for me: on the one hand, they're sometimes an interesting statement on how the game would be received in today's climate. On the other hand, depending on the tone of the article and the rating write-up itself, they can come off as a little woe-is-the-misunderstood-art-developer. Maybe that's just me, and I do know that some of these games are not for everyone, but maybe you should give your ideas, and the gaming public, a little more credit sometimes.

The tone and content are why I've fallen in love with this site, so I wouldn't change a thing in those regards. I love the iterative idea as well--who knows, maybe with enough of it, your collective readership could come up with enough of a groundwork to actually build on!

The music is often a good fit, and something nice to read the article to, but I wouldn't say to force it or add it when you don't think it's welcome.

Lastly, as an aside, I have to say that your header (other than being amazing of course) reminds me a little of Xerxes from SS2. Whether that was intentional or not... well, only you would know.

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