blog: developer blog #17Sep 15, 2009 Derek Smart
….the best intentions of mice, men and the odd tool or two
I started to write this dev blog about two weeks ago. I came very close to publishing it but then that morning, a rather strange thing happened. I decided to solicit thoughts and opinions from friends, family and a few of the game reviewers who opinions (good, bad or ugly) I’ve come to respect over the years.
For more than a week I mulled over the responses, thought things through etc. In the end, I scrapped my original article and started this new one from scratch. In retrospect, I’m glad that I did.
At 46, I have been gaming since the days of Pong. I’ve owned every single gaming console ever created. With over 16K+ titles, most in a very expensive air conditioned storage, I believe that I probably own the world’s largest private collection of video games.
I have been a professional game developer for over twenty years and have run the skills gamut ranging from programmer to designer to writer to tester to artist, modeler, animator. While I have long since shed most of my “Jack of all” game dev hat, if it has anything to do with game development, I can probably do it or have done it. If I was working for any mainstream studio or publisher, I’d be the guy everyone comes to for pretty much everything. The last guy to leave the building. The last guy to get a Pink slip. And quite possibly the most expensive guy on the payroll. I earn my keep.
I have been around long enough to see the rise and fall of the likes of Microprose, Sierra, Dynamix, Empire, Spectrum Holobyte, Access, Interactive Magic, Bullfrog, FASA and every studio or publisher in between.
From Tetris and Magic Carpet to Falcon and Jane’s Combat F14, I’ve played them all. I am a proud holder of the elite hardcore PC gamer card. I carry it with pride.
As anyone who knows anything about Derek Smart can attest to, I’m very passionate about my work. I live, eat and breathe this stuff. Not to mention that in the interest of keeping my target demographic buying and sticking with my games, I take risks that most wouldn’t even dream of. As with all things risk related, risk takers are rarely rewarded, but when they are, the rewards are quite satisfying.
One of those risks involves the funding, design and development of a full blown sci-fi fps game. I’ve written about that in an earlier blog, so I’m not going to dwell on it in this missive.
As my team will attest to, the basic principle for All Aspect Warfare was simple. Go for a “thinking man’s fps” game with the high replay value of our previous offerings and the high-end feature set to match.
Right off the bat, I knew that – as with all my games – the resulting work would completely polarize not only the gamers but the reviewers (or at least those who pass themselves as such). That notion was of no concern or consequence because if I concerned myself with such trivial issues, I wouldn’t be in this business nor would I have a total of fourteen games under my belt. Not to mention the fact that most of those who started out before or after me – and who were all about the Status Quo – are either out of business, on their way out of the business or wondering where their next project funding was coming from.
The business of video game development is a tough business and one that is rife with fraud, corruption, greed and a healthy dose of avarice. In other words, welcome to our version of Hollywood.
As with Hollywood or any artistic medium, we have our cookie cutter blockbusters as well as the occasional art house style indie effort every now and then. Look no further than the last Call Of Duty, Battlefield, Braid or Trine game.
In a medium such as this, we have those who profit and benefit from peddling their opinions through various mediums and in the form of “reviews” of our works. Whether it is the collating and tallying of game review scores or just writing reviews, these outlets all benefit from the work that we as game developers (programmers, artists, animators, sound engineers, writers, scripters etc) put out day after day.
For some devs it is just a job, for others it is a passion fueled by the will to do something that we believe in, something that is fun (or at least for us it is), something that is cool and something that is worth doing.
As gamers, game developers and review writers, one would think that we were all on the same side. However, nothing could be farther from the truth.
Given that we as game developers and game reviewers have a job, one would also like to think that a certain level of courtesy, professionalism and respect would be primary. However, this is hardly the case depending on what review or news item you are reading.
Back in the day, the print gaming mags were all the rage. Today, most of them are gone. Some would like to think that the Internet caused that. I don’t believe that to be the case. If that was the case, how do you explain PC Gamer, Game Informer and others still in business? Even though they too won’t be around for long.
It is about credibility. Of course advertising dollars also help somewhat.
As game developers if we screw up long enough and often enough, we lose our credibility. And with that goes our fan and install base. Bad game, mismanagement or not, look no further than all the studio and publisher closings that have gone on just this past year alone and draw your own conclusions.
The same notion applies to review magazines – print or online. You can easily recognize names like Kieron Gillen, Jim Rossignol, Tim Stone et al if you actually paid attention to who wrote the review you are reading at any given time. And if you were really old school, the very mention of names like Jeff Green, Ed Dille, Andy Mahood, Denny Atkin, Cindy Yans, Desslock, Jeff Lackey, Mark Asher, Steve Bauman, Steve Honeywell, Emil Pagliarulo or their ilk in a review or similar will illicit either school girlish giggles – or fear. Either way, you know that the writing would be of the highest quality possible and by gaming media’s finest at their best. Sure you’d be pissed if they slammed your game, but you’d be pissed knowing that they slammed it with style, grace, objectivity and respect. And when you run into them at trade shows, you all have a good laugh about it. Like it never happened.
These days I know as much about the guys doing reviews as I do about the postman delivering my mail. In other words most of them are either forgettable or not worthy of note. Why? Credibility for the most part.
What happens when you read a review written by a source whose opinion you trust; then you go out and buy the game based on that source and discover that you and the reviewer were so far apart in taste that you seemingly make a mental note to stop trusting them?
As you are reading this, my guess is that you’ve had this happen to you one too many times. To the extent that even though you still read reviews, you rarely pay much attention to them. Instead you buy the game based on a playable demo, gamer consensus or gut feeling. Then draw up your own conclusions.
In a world of $50 and higher games – especially in this world economy – the stakes are much higher for all involved.
With such disparity in most game reviews, not to mention scandal ridden sites like GameSpot, would you base your game buying decisions on the opinions of another? Especially someone who has proven time and time again that he or she simply cannot be trusted?
Through the course of our gaming history, we’ve had so many “reviewer vs developer/publisher” musings that I’ve lost count. It goes something like this:
- Reviewer plays game, writes reviews, awards score. Site posts review for all to see.
- Developer reads review, cries foul – usually goes public. Hilarity – and wanton abuse – ensues.
- Gamer reads review, buys game. Slams the reviewer or developer for some reason or another, usually either about the reviewer missing the mark or about the reviewer slamming a game they apparently loved. Hilarity ensues.
The result? Nothing changes. And so the Status Quo continues. But here is where it gets interesting.
That review you are reading, costs money to write. Even if it is a volunteer effort. That money has to be recouped. Its like pirated games. If you go searching for them, most will either have a trojan or virus payload (at least two of our games has this btw) in the files or you have to click through mountains of advertising (usually p0rn) sites to get to the download. This – like the game review sites – is all about making money. No matter how truthful a review is, the very nature of viewing it – especially on the larger sites – means that they make money. And when you throw unscrupulous sites and writers into the mix, you end up with the situation that is currently going on in the game industry.
Do you trust your politician? OK, that was an easy one. How about your president? OK, still too easy? Right – so how about this then. Does your car have cruise control, and if so, do you trust it? What about this. What if you met a hot chick in a situation that left you off-guard without a condom in sight. Do you trust her looks, her mannerisms, her smell, her hair, her laugh etc to take the risk? In other words are you willing to risk your life based solely on her or someone else’s opinion? OK, so comparing death to making a bad purchase decision is a bit off, but the point is about “informed decisions and opinionated choices”.
So then, for something as taste driven as gaming, why would you place your buying decision in the hands of another?
Lets do some math. A typical well marketed and reviewed game on Metacritic can get more than twenty-five or more reviews. For this example, I use the lastest Wolfenstein game which has a whopping 33 reviews and an aggregate score of 75. Click on the link and then look at the first two gamer comments.
So then. A total of 33 (maybe more coming) folks reviewed the game. As of this writing, the game – at retail – has sold a little over 17K units on the PC and a total of about 100K units across all three platforms. The latest Batman and Madden games have sold over two million units within the same period of time. The end result? Given the costs of marketing and developing multi-platform triple-A games, even if you factored in the digital distribution numbers – which traditionally aren’t anywhere near retail sales of the same product – this is yet another triple-A rated retail failure of epic proportions.
What is the connection between the 33 people who played and reviewed the game and the 100K or so that bought it? I don’t know. But I offer this. Given that it sold more on the console than on the PC and given that you can trade-in your console game for the next best thing, my guess is that most console gamers bought it, will play it, then trade it in. So that being the case, why didn’t two million gamers buy it?
Both the latest Batman and Madden games have had very few reviews. In fact, as of this writing, the former has had less than ten reviews.
You can’t return PC games. You can’t return console games either – but you can always trade them in.
Reviews – for the most part – have grown largely meaningless. Why? Because gamers today just don’t trust reviewers as we did in the old days of yesteryear. In some cases, these reviews playout like someone’s idea of an episide of American Idol where being mean, rude, condescending and disrespectful is someone’s (see that twit, Simon Cowell) idea of fun.
In a recent survey conducted by NPD group, 41% rely on word of mouth for game information. Go ahead and read this to see just how much gamers rely on reviews these days for their buying decision.
Let me digress a bit…
A few weeks ago, for the first time – and only because I happened to be in the family room and reading – I caught an episode of Shark Tank on ABC; a show in which aspiring entrepreneurs pitch investors for money. And sure enough, for every Simon Cowell, there is a Kevin O’Leary, the show’s pre-requisite Cowell persona and complete opposite of the other investors like Robert Herjavec or Daymond John. Thinking it was a one-night thing, I caught another episode this past week. Lets put it this way, I have no intentions of watching the show again. In much the same way I stopped watching American Idol as long as Simon was still in the cast.
Two weeks ago – yet another politician, Rep. Wilson – made a fool of himself by being rude to and interrupting the president of the United States. I am not a Republican, but if I was, I’d be ready to switch parties immediately if he wasn’t censured or at best voted out of office.
Two nights ago, Kanye West made a fool of himself – again – by stealing the spotlight in a blatant act of rudeness from Taylor Swift. A teen trying to enjoy her first spotlight avalanche. I own all his music. Last night, I deleted all of them from my iPod, deleted the source files (some ripped from CDs and others purchased through AmazonMP3). I am never buying his music again. I don’t care what his mom says nor how many apologies he makes. Why? Because this is not the first time that he’s done something foolish like this.
This morning CNN had a segment about America losing its manners.
The general consensus is that this sort of behavior is not only deplorable but totally unacceptable. Unfortunately for us, some of our game reviewers are also following this trend. Going for schlock and/or shock value, rather than quality review writing. And its not just in the writing but also in the conveyance of the message inherent within.
A Call To Arms Or A Call For Change. You Decide.
Oh, you don’t think there’s a problem? Seriously? Try this, pull up Google and search for any recent game, notable game developer or game reviewer and chances are you’d find a wealth of writing, both professional and amateur rantings – all of which point to the same thing: We have a problem with the review process. Period.
This problem ranges from outright scandals like the GameSpot/Gerstmann fiasco to the Adventurine/Eurogamer Darkfall review outcry by the developers and gamers alike. That Gerstmann-gate article written by Jonah Falcon is among one of the best that you will find about this issue of game reviewing and the shenanigans that go on behind closed browsers. EDIT: Then there was that whole review farce over Atari’s Driv3r game.
Fact of the matter is that there are many such incidents that go un-noticed and usually played out in forum and blog posts, rarely hitting the mainstream media. You only get to read about them when a developer steps out from behind the marketing/media/publisher curtain and writes about it. In most cases, bound by their publishers and/or marketing depts. some of these developers can only turn the other cheek as there is seemingly no recourse.
To the extent that a lot has been written about the needed change. These actions range from calls to overhaul video game journalism to questions about the review and scoring process and right down to the hosting of a symposium on video game journalism. And if you love metrics, take a look at this excellent article about the influence of Metacritic scores on game sales. Adam Blue also wrote a worthy piece about this whole review nonsense and from a gamer’s perspective.
Fact is, change won’t come if the actions of these sites and reviewers prove to be largely inconsequential. People are still going to visit these sites, read the reviews (good, bad or otherwise) and thus generate the much-needed CPM advertising source of revenue. In some cases, even that has failed and those sites have either closed down, sold off or are still struggling to attract readers and thus increase their advertising dollars.
Like piracy – which more often than not penalizes honest gamers – these review sites will never go away and the quality will continue to suffer as long as there is money to be made. They penalize gamers and game developers alike.
The crux, the whole crux and nothing but the crux
The Adrenaline Vault folks apparently had a shocking revelation that there was in fact a problem with how games are reviewed and perceived and so came up with this. Bless their hearts; but my guess is that no developer in their right minds is going to bother to participate in it. Why? Well primarily because it doesn’t change anything and the effort is inconsequential. Exactly as I commented in their piece. And all you would be doing is writing a 500 word article which they can potentially benefit from by way of page views or whatever. So they slam your game. Then you go back and give them more content? Seriously?
In fact, look no further than one of their own recent podcasts in which Mark (aka Turk) one of the Avault presenters spent the better part of three minutes and nineteen seconds saying that our AAW game was crap. A game that he admits he only played for “5 to 10″ mins. I quote from the forum comments where I responded:
Like I said on the show I was very disappointed when the game loaded up. I was hoping for this great combat game and what I found was not close to what I envisioned. This may be due to lack of experience I have with some of your previous titles and my assumption of what the game was going to be. There was nothing about the demo that made me want to play beyond the 5 to 10 minutes that I played. The difficult controls and disparity in visual quality turned me off.
Oh, but it gets better…
Believe me Derek I wish I was a true professional in this business but I am not. I am an average gamer who hosts a show with two buddies and gets the opportunity to have his voice heard by hundreds of listeners every week. I also get the opportunity to speak to developers every week and ask them questions that an average gamer would ask. My criticism of your game was by no means presented as a review. It was done under the segment called “The Weekly Adrenaline Shot.” In the segment we discuss what we played during the week and this week I happened to have played the AAW demo. What I said about the game was by no means a review of the game. It was not pre-written or pre-determined and was spoken off the cuff.
Since the forum thread already contains my comments, I’m not going to bother belaboring the point that I’m trying to make. You draw your own conclusions.
The Crux Of The Matter
A bad movie is a bad movie. A bad game is a bad game. There is no middle ground or in between. However, by the same token, that addage about “…one man’s meat being another man’s poison” also rings true. A reviewer may find a game to be lacking, poorly constructed or even flat out horrible, while there may be others who absolutely do not share those feelings. Why? Because game reviews – done honestly – are about the opinions of one person and which may not have any bearing on what you think.
To further compound this problem, when you have folks like EA’s head honcho John Riticello coming out and using Metacritic scores – which are based on a subset of diverse opinions – as an internal yardstick to judge the hardwork of its studios, you know there’s a problem. But then again, since EA – like most – lost all sense of credibility with gamers back in the nineties, this may come as no surprise to you. And you probably don’t care since Metacritic does not make your game buying decisions for you. Nevetheless, the problem is there and the commentary from all corners of our industry indicate such.
Closer To Home – And Yet Another GameSpot Hatchet Job
This past August 17th, after almost two years of very hard work, we released our new game, All Aspect Warfare to the public. Like all our games, I anticipated that it may attract the wrong crowd, send the wrong message and again result in polarized views. So I took steps to counter that and to prepare the gamers for what was coming and help them make an informed decision.
First, Direct2Drive (our long term digital distribution partners) sponsored a month long public Beta back in May. This yielded far more feedback and positive results than any of our previous games.
Next I released a demo – more than a month or so prior to the game’s retail release. To the extent that prior to the game’s retail release, the demo was again updated to reflect the final game build.
In short, I wasn’t taking any chances. And the sole purpose of the exercises was to make it clear that this game was not designed or developed for the mass market Call Of Duty, Quake, UT etc crowd. So doing the “run and gun” here is going to result in a very unsatifying experience. To compare our fps game to another, you’d have to pitch the likes of H.A.W.X. to something like DCS Black Shark. Both flight sims. Both from opposite ends of the spectrum. In fact, lets just go to the fps part and say the comparison would be between Call Of Duty and something like ArmAII. Both from opposite ends of the fps spectrum.
I have always maintained – and still do – that I’d take a well written and objective review with a low score over a badly written review and high score any day. Most of devs that I know have the same opinion. Why? Well simple. If you write an objective and well written review that conveys a factual and unbiased slant, the reader will obtain enough information to make his/her own decision even if reviews don’t form the basis of their buying decisions. Now more than ever, most – sensible – gamers, buy games based on consensus in which reviews play little or no part because they realize that reviews are based on the opinions of a select group of people who may or may not be professional.
Ask yourself this when you read the other reviews of our game. What is the common denominator?
The common denominator from the perspective of we the developers and those who have played the game is that while there are debatable aspects, both of these reviewers actually played the game. Right through and past the first five [fustrating?] minutes. They made it clear who the target audience was, what to expect (for the most part) etc. I have no problems with either review.
Most of you reading this probably don’t bother going to GameSpot anymore, but please read the GameSpot review.
GameSpot has used me – as they do others they haven’t played nice with – as their whipping boy for years. Of course it doesn’t help that in one of their shady publisher dealings, back in 2003 they actually went to the extent of running an altered version of an interview that I did with them for a previous publisher. And without my permission. I only found out about it when I read their version. I asked them to take it down, they refused. So I immediately did what I always do in situations like this. I shoved my attorney in both their face and my then publisher’s (the now out of business Dreamcatcher Interactive) and subsequently posted the original version online. Then sent out a press release about its availability and detailed the circumstances of what they’d done. That was the last time that I had any sort of direct contact with GameSpot.
In cases like this, when you pull a stunt like that, the site either a) never reviews another of your games again or b) they’d make it a point to slam you at every chance that they get. Shamefully.
In the case of a) I never even expected that they’d review another one of my games – so the AAW game review was a surprise to say the least since we never even sent them a review copy. It appears that they obtained a free copy via Steam’s media list which makes games available to some media folks. As for b), well go read the GameSpot reviews of my games.
Sure I could just rave and rant, but that would just be perceived as sour grapes and amount to nothing. Especially since no self-respecting gamer pays attention to GameSpot. Besides, if you’re reading GameSpot, you’re probably not my demographic anyway. But I digress.
After I decided to write this piece and as I mentioned in my first paragraph, I consulted with nineteen respected reviewers and media folks I know, including one who now works for a PR firm. Some of them had either played, reviewed the game or were in the process of doing so. But all of them saw the current reviews of the game, including the GameSpot one. As of this writing, I’ve heard back from seventeen of them. The responses were, for the most part, very detailed – one was about two pages long! Below I am only going to post excerpts from a few of them. These responses range from…
Obviously, I can’t offer an opinion on the review policies of other websites or the integrity of their writers. In general terms, I think developers, publishers and the media can all aspire to a higher standard, both in terms of how we do our own jobs and how we handle conflicts like this. Most of the professionals on my side of the table are thick skinned enough to tolerate criticism as long as it’s valid and intended to move everyone in a positive direction. As long as you aren’t making unfair generalizations about the media or saying things to specifically discredit *****, I can’t hold it against you.
If you choose to respond, make your motivation clear.
It’s not that bad. I guess I am part of “the hype”.
The reviewer obviously did not play more than 2 hours, as there is varied landscape of different climates away from the main base. He also brushes off the multiplayer component.
The graphics aren’t terrible, either, as I thought the texturing for buildings and vehicles was quite good, although the bases to lack cover.
Here are more detailed thoughts:
“terrain is dull and the scenery is so flat”…He clearly did not play the game past the first 2 missions. Shoot, the FIRST mission takes place near a freakin’ canyon. And I think SCENERY can be dull and TERRAIN can be flat, but not the other way around.
“the action always spotlights either shooting or flying”…so no other vehicles, then. Oh, wait.
“You’re very, very lucky to survive even the first 30 seconds of an engagement,”….missile jammers, anyone?
To answer your message below…in my opinion you have nothing to lose by taking on Gamespot. There is a good chance they will never review your games ever again but, considering their review history with you, I think that will be a good thing. The old adage “Bad press is better than no press” is absolute bullshit. Bad press is bad press.
My feeling from the review is also that Brett did not get out of the first base and explore. This is not surprising to me — I rarely see Gamespot reviewing indie games so I’m pretty sure Brett picked AAW out because of your history with them.
So as to whether you should publish this post of yours, again, you have nothing to lose where Gamespot is concerned and my feeling is that the rest of the gaming publications won’t give a damn.
I think you’re an easy target, Derek, not just because of your history but because your games are tough to learn and beyond the reach of reviewers out of touch with what gamers care about.
you will get the “Oh, he’s just whining” response. I’d probably back that up by linking to a positive and a negative review at the end to show that it’s not about negative reviews – it’s about someone simply not playing the game more than a little and pretending he has.
Of course I’m not going to reveal my sources, nor am I going to turn the article into a showcase. I posted the above differing opinions in order to make a point.
Brett Todd, the GameSpot reviewer, never played the game past the first mission or to any meaningful extent.
The “review”, in short, was yet another GameSpot “Derek Smart attack piece” that was devoid of facts, direction and objectivity. In short, yet another GameSpot hatchet job, only this time with the usual target.
I am going to take it apart and with the help of the other reviews, prove this beyond a reasonable doubt. What is going to be even more shocking is the simplicity with which this can be achieved and the fact that, using the demo or the in-game tutorial movies you can see all of this for yourself. You don’t need to own, nor buy the game. Each paragraph below corresponds to one from his “review”.
First of all, we don’t have any PR on this game. Never did. In all the interviews and blog posts that I’ve done, it was made clear why this game was developed and what the target audience was. Go ahead and check. Google is your friend. All you will find are what I’ve said time and time again. That being, we set out to make a “thinking man’s fps” and thus had no intentions of catering to the Status Quo since a) that is not our target audience for ANY of our games b) given our indie level resources, we can’t effectively compete in that mass market space dominated by the likes of EA, Activision, Take Two and the like. If someone gave me $20m to do a game, I’ll do what I’ve always said I’d do. Make four games for $2m apiece then go buy an island with the rest.
As to the nature of the game and its target audience, if the 53 page docs (manual, game commands, tutorial) weren’t a clue – compared to the single sheet of games like Call Of Duty etc – I’m not sure what is.
That “kitchen sink craziness” he is refering to is obviously our hardcore suite of space/planetary combat games. Games which can in no way shape or form even be compared to this with a straight face.
There is nothing confusing about the game, unless you’re not paying attention, have not read the docs or you think this is another run-of-the-mill fps game, which its not.
Controls are the basic WSAD fare and the first person map has a built-in radar. Everything else in terms of controls and interface is the standard fps fare that includes health/ammo meters as well as weapon and ammo counts. Yes, thats basically it. Seriously.
THE PLANET AND ITS BACKSTORY
When a reviewer pokes fun at the backstory in an fps game, you should probably stop reading or at the very least know that something is up.
In fact, the backstory goes with the game’s premise. That being LV-115 is a deserted planet used for military purposes by the Gammulans. It is not unlike weapons testing grounds that most countries in modern age have. Except that these guys have an entire planet for that. We based the game on that planet. A planet that is devoid of all life, cities or the like. Thats why they chose it for that purpose.
LV-115 is one planet from the established game galaxy which I created back in 1986 and the same galaxy that has been featured in all my games since the first Battlecruiser game released in 1996 by Take Two. LV-115 is smack in the middle of hostile territory. This game takes place on a 400 sq. km section of it.
It just so happens that a) the only base the Terrans had taken over prior to the decision to nuke the planet was made, was Alpha. Located smack in the middle of the desert. Deserts, by their very nature are devoid of all personality. Thats where the name “desert” comes from. See a real-life desert. And a desert from a fictional sci-fi planet called LV-115.
I would stop there if the entire LV-115 was a barren desert, devoid of all other types of topology. But the fact is that, not only does LV-115 have four distinct topographical features, it has several climate and weather patterns which make the entire planet different. Lets go through them as they appear in the previously posted planetary map via in-game screen shots. Desert, Hot, Artic (at sun down), Moderate and everything in between.
Since Alpha – located in the desert – is the only allied base on the planet, thats where some of the game scenarios take place.
The game’s Story Mode campaign, starts off in the hot climate region – on a plateau where the team beamed down to. That happens to be in the middle of impressive canyons, crevasses and such. Like any plateau, it is flat at the top.
The first mission has you taking on a roving team of Gammulans setting up an Area Defense Jammer. You have to take them out, steal their shuttle, make it over to their nearby base and then teleport over to Alpha using a Dimension Jump Pad. Thats just the first mission. And in those thirty-mins (or less, depending on how good you are), you’ve already traversed (by air and land) two completely different planetary topologies.
So no, the game world is not entirely flat at all. If you have played most of the missions and the campaign, you’d know that because EACH one takes place in a DIFFERENT part of the planet. Unlike the demo which, of course, only has missions which are based in the Alpha base desert location.
The game’s Story Mode campaign deliberately takes you through various parts of the game world because they were scripted that way in order to introduce the gamer to the game world. You can also visit any part of the game world using the single or multiplayer sandbox (with or without your team) mode where you can can fly around or hop from base to base using a DJP.
If you only spend about 15 to 20 mins with the game, then you haven’t experienced nor seen even 5% of the game or its world.
Below is an overview of the Story Mode campaign. There are twenty-two missions with a total running time of 390 minutes. Each mission takes place in a different Mission Zone (e.g. MZD01) located in a different part of the planet. Refer to the planetary map to see the locations and bases mentioned below.
- LV-115 Just materialized. Lost. Engage roving Gammulan team. Steal shuttle.
Go to Delta [MZH02]. DJP to Alpha (MZD01)
- MZD01 Defend GALCOM Alpha starbase (MZD01)
- MZD01 Protect GALCOM nuclear reactor unit at Alpha. Destroy Gammulan ADJ.
- MZD02 Access Gammulan network at starbase Bravo (MZD02)
- MZM04 Access Gammulan defense grid at MZM04. Destroy ADS.
- MZH02 Liberate x4 cloned GALCOM marine prisoners at Delta (MZH02).
Destroy prison building. Fall back to MZM01.
- MZM02 Locate and kill Gammulan commander at Echo (MZM02)
- MZD01 Access GALCOM database and send squawk signal.
Locate x2 cloned GALCOM marines at Charlie (MZH01). They’re vets.
- MZM03 Locate x2 cloned GALCOM marines at Gamma (MZM03). They’re vets.
- MZM03 Destroy ADJ at Gamma (MZM03)
- MZA01 Steal Gammulan defense codes from ADJ at Helix (MZA01). Destroy ADJ.
- MZA02 Compromise Gammulan network at Kilo (MZA02)
- MZD01 Download GALCOM defense codes during attack on Alpha (MZD01)
- MZA02 Steal Gammulan V-Band comms codes from Gammulan Sentry probe at Kilo (MZA02)
- LV-115 Locate downed GALCOM probe from missing GCV-Excalibur carrier. Locate and de-activate R.A.N.D.O.M device using location info provided by downed probe
THE SHOOTER ASPECTS AND PREMISE
It is an fps shooter with vehicular and aerial dynamics. No matter how you choose to play, you can’t expect it to be anything but.
The game takes place on a 400 sq. km stretch of a map. No levels. No load times. No nonsense. Save anywhere. Each mission zone (where the bases are located) is about 20x20km depending on the layout. Since the game assets are to scale, you can’t expect to walk from one end to the other. You’ll just die tired.
Similarly, the fps movement is accurate. No elevator style movement (see every fps game, including Section 8).
And you’re not just shooting dots on the horizon unless you don’t know what you’re doing or you haven’t played the game long enough to know what works. Case in point. The fps map has a radar. That radar has color coded targets. The radar is idiot-proof and easy to read and uses only two key commands to cycle targets.. If you see Red, you know its hostile, Green is friendly. You can then press F10 to call up the satellite camera which immediately shows you the target, whats it doing etc.
You also have a wide band full screen radar map which shows you the entire planet from a satellite view. You can go to and zoom to ANY part of the game world from there. It is very simple to use and is no harder to manipulate than using your web browser.
NPC marines only engage by line-of-sight a.k.a. LOS. Then they have a minimum engagement range, regardless of weapons. So that dot on the horizon can’t do you any harm outside of its 500m target acquisition range. Inside of that range, it will equip the correct weapon for the engagement. Even so, he not going to fire a pistol from 500m when a rocket launcher or sniper rifle has far greater range. Selecting a target either in fp, vehicle or craft, shows you its range from you. So you can always tell how far a hostile unit is and whether or not you need to be concerned about it. The sound of gunfire or rockets, usually means that they can see you and have you acquired.
e.g. the PL12 (p35) sniper rifle shoots DUPE3 (depleted uranium) rounds and has a max range of 1000m with very little shot deviation. Each shot travels at 1100 m/s and has a damage factor of 400. A head shot is lethal since the body armor is not taken in consideration. The highest body armor (p10) in the game, the heavy armor – 400 units of protection – can withstand only a single shot from such a rifle. So one shot takes out your entire body armor (assuming it was full to begin with) and the next shot kills you. In comparison, the highly inaccurate MK330 machine gun fires DUC shots with 175 damage factor and has an effective range of 750m. So no, not all weapons can kill you from a long range unless you’re sitting around twiddling your thumbs or acting the fool. Even rocket launchers with their high area splash damage can be evaded by going vertical (jump or use your jetpack).
Just like you, the NPC units have access to all manner of weapons, ammo and items. They don’t cheat. Their AI is not designed to miss if they have a clear LOS target and you’re standing around admiring the scenery. They will miss if you are moving, are prone or their weapon (e.g. machine gun) has a high shot deviation. In which case you should know they’re shooting at you from the sound of gunfire but you not taking any hits. If you have a Personal Sensor Jammer, they can’t see you on radar, only via LOS. If you have a Personal Shield Unit, shots can’t hurt you. If you have a Personal Cloaking Unit, they can’t see on radar or via LOS.
You have visual cues which show you from what direction you are being shot at. If an indicator comes up that you are being shot at from the left, your first response should be to hit the deck and search for the aggressor – not turn around to see where the shot is coming from. Thats stupid. Stupidity can get you killed.
Every character has a profile with a rifle in it. In fact, there are so many weapons which cater to a different job, you’d be hard pressed not to find one for a specific mission. You can change them at anytime in the game. All rifles have scopes with high powered zoom. And you have a pair of high powered binoculars (Darklight Image Enhancer) with NV filtering as well. So you don’t have to see what that “dot on the horizon” is or wait for visual IDENT in order to engage. The fact that he’s SHOOTING at you, should be a clue. Take a look at the infantry combat tutorial to see all of this in action and in a high stress combat theatre.
If you’re standing out in the open or playing a “run and gun” game, you’re going to get shot at. Chances are, you’ll die. Quickly. That is no different from being shot at at close range by an enemy that you can see in a standard fps game.
SA (Situational Awareness) is and should be your top priority. If you see them first, you will survive. If they see you first – and you don’t take the appropriate action – you will die. This is not a “run and gun” game. Play the game that way and you’ll have a very frustrating experience.
Unlike other fps games and such which take place in closed “levels” and so the combat is up close and personal, this game is an “open world” game. The 400 sq. km planet – the largest in any game of its kind to date btw – should have been a clue.
And there’s lots of cover. Maybe not enough for some people’s taste, but its there. Heck, for the most part, you have a jetpack, so moving from one building to the next is trivial. Buildings, vehicles and such all stop bullets. So you can hide behind EVERYTHING and use it for cover. Since the AI is smart enough to know this, they’re going to take out your cover since 99% of the world is destructible (and can be rebuilt over time as part of the game’s dynamic and persistent nature). Which means if you are hiding behind a vehicle, don’t stick around there for long. It will stop bullets, but it won’t stop a rocket or missile.
Further, due to the sci-fi nature, enemies, even with LOS, will lose you if you pose a smaller target cross-section. i.e. go prone and unless they can see you or are almost on top of you, they can’t engage you.
If you enter a friendly base and enter the air space of a hostile base or DJP to one, the base will create intercept forces ranging from fighters and gunships to heavily armed marines. If you’re in fps mode, standing around out in the open or trying to “run and gun” is only going to get you shot, killed and pissed.
The game’s fps difficulty is in line with it’s premise and design. If you’re getting shot at over and over, then you’re doing something wrong. Either that or you’re just plain mad – as that is the definition of a repetitive action that yields the same consequence and response.
Some gamers actually “get” the game’s direction. Others don’t. So for those guys who wanted to try something new, I took my time to create six detailed and lengthy tutorial movies showing how the game was designed to be played.
OF BUGS & CONTROLS
As to the “unnecessarily complicated and dated controls”, please take a look at the game’s commands and tell me what is dated or unconventional about them. Not to mention that you can remap those keys as well. Nothing further to say about that.
The “incredible number of bugs” commentary is just flat out incorrect. Some folks with 64-Bit machines have reported crashes which were traced to either installation, rig setup or video card drivers. We can’t fix or address what we can reproduce or what is in the hands of someone else to fix. e.g. nVidia’s graphics drivers are notorious for breaking most games with each release. Look no further than the latest version they released.
As with all our games, we have a public changelog that shows what we’re investigating and what we’ve fixed. The retail version of the game as shipped and one used by GameSpot and sent to reviewers, is based on engine build v1.00.26. The latest patch we released yesterday is based on v1.00.35. It contains a reasonable 24 bug fixes, amidst a plethora of tweaks and wishlist revisions.
There are only six fps related bug fixes in the patch, NONE of which are showstopping bugs.
The bug related to dead marines being in a default stand pose is ONLY experienced if you saved the game before they were auto-removed and you later restored that saved game. It is an inconsequential bug because a) they can’t shoot at you, since they’re dead b) they will be removed as normal when the timer elapses. This was a bug we didn’t see before and due to the game’s “save anywhere” feature which was revised in an update. Most of the time, there aren’t any dead bodies lying around when you save a game. And even if there were, chances are they won’t be within your immediate vicinity for you to notice that they’re standing up instead of lying on the ground in their “death” pose. They don’t appear on radar. They cannot be targeted. They’re still dead. To even mention this means that you might as well mention every single game quirk, ranging from dead characters being stuck in walls in COD4, L4D, HL2 etc to bullet sprays not appearing on some surfaces in games where they should. It is called nitpicking.
In short, the game – as released – is 100% playable and has NO show-stopping bugs to speak of. If there were, I would have released incremental patches (starting with 1.00.27) or even a Day One patch (game released on August 17th worldwide) rather than collecting and investigating all reports and doing one major 1.00.35 patch almost one month after the game’s retail release.
AIR/FPS COMBAT DYNAMICS
Yes, the aerial combat of the game is just as intense as the fps portion. Thats the game I designed and developed. I make no excuses for that. Its not H.A.W.X. If I wanted to make that game’s interface and flight dynamics, we’d have a different target audience.
The keyboard control scheme mimics the fps and vehicles because we wanted it to be consistent across all aspects of the game. Any fool who tries to play ANY aerial combat game without a joystick or gamepad – both of which we support – is just that, a fool.
Sure you can do that in the likes of Frontlines, Battlefield etc since those are just fps games masquerading as full blown aerial combat dynamics games. Our game is not. We have dedicated engines for EVERY aspect of the game, be it first person, vehicle or aerial dynamics. Nothing is shared. So you’re not going to be flying around in a fighter going at Mach 2 above sea level and thinking you’re still playing an fps game. Nor are you going to think you’re in a fighter when your walk and run speeds are only 2.5 m/s and 8 m/s respectively.
Think about that for a minute. Bases that are about 20km wide. Players with a run speed of 8 m/s. You can’t run from one end to the other because, yes, you will die tired due to the game’s modeling of fatigue which directly affects your health.
And with bases that size, why is it surprising that most engagements are not up close and personal? Just like in most real life wars.
In all aerial combat engagements, unless you’re playing something like H.A.W.X, Ace Combat or a similarly consolified aerial combat game, most engagements takes place BVR*. With a variety of missiles, all with various dynamics and properties, “guns, guns, guns” engagements are few and far between. Heck the game even features accurate terrain masking with NOE flight altitudes into consideration. In other words, you can sneak up on a base by flying as low to the ground as possible in order to evade EAD (Enemy Air Defense) assets. You can dodge behind mountains, hills, canyons etc. The craft’s (aircrafts and gunships) aerodynamics and weapons modeling are suited to various combat patterns including standard CAP and SEAD.
If you’re engaged, there are specific tactics that lead to survival. If you hestitate, you’re dead. If you stop moving, you’re dead. If you don’t know the limits of your aircraft’s radar – or how to use it, you’re dead. If you don’t know how to use the fighter’s jammers, you’re dead. If you waste your missiles, you’re dead. If the other guy is better than you are, you’re obviously dead much earlier than you’d like to be. If you’re dying a lot, then you either flat out suck or you’re playing the game like it was a console port.
I did a very lengthy flight dynamics tutorial video showing how the game’s aerial combat plays. You will see – first hand – just how simplistic it is from the minute you step into the cockpit to the minute you take down your first threat. Sure it takes some skill but thats the difference between playing a canned “roll of the dice” game and one that requires skill. This is not a “run and gun” game.
* If you know what BVR means – without guessing or looking it up – then you’ll be right at home flying around in our game. You’re my target audience.
Brett Todd: The one defense for All Aspect Warfare is that it is supposed to be a tough “thinking man’s” action game, not an arcade shooter. But it doesn’t feel like a stiff-but-fair tactical challenge for smarty-pants gamers. Rather, it’s a sloppily made mess, with archaic level design, controls, graphics, and sound.
Only when you compare the above statements to other reviews and commentary from players of the game can you begin to wonder if Brett was actually playing the same game. Heck, you don’t even have to look further than the game’s demo or even the six tutorial movies. ALL of which paint a completely different picture than that which he is trying to paint.
- The game world is not entirely flat. Thats just crazy talk and attributed to the fact that he didn’t play the game to any reasonable extent that would befit a review.
- There are no “levels”, hence no level design to speak of. The mission zones are military bases – which by their very nature and even in modern times – are not architectural wonders, nor were they designed to be such.
- The controls are standard fare and there is no way we could possibly screw that up even if we tried really hard.
- The graphics are based on a distinct style that I commissioned for the game. Yes, many design compromises were made in order to make the game playable on the target platform. There is a big difference between a closed level based fps game and a massive open world game (with various topologies, climate zones, weather patterns, different engines working in concert with each other etc) in which the fastest aircraft can reach speeds of Mach 2.2. Especially when you consider that the premise of the game takes place on one 400 sq. km patch of an entire planet. A patch that when compared to the likes of level based fps games, makes them appear as no larger than a football field if placed in our game world.
- The sound engineering is actually one of the strong aspects of the game, as evidenced by others who have played and/or reviewed the game.
A sloppily made mess? By whose yardstick exactly? If there is anything sloppy here it is Brett’s “review” which clearly shows how unprofessional he has always been and how increasingly sloppy his work has become. He might as well start phoning it in. Then again.
The bottomline is that myself and many others do not believe that Brett Todd played more than a few minutes of this game and his review was never intended to be a fair shake.
..and so the dust settles
Reviews are written by other mere mortals like me, you and other game developers and gamers. They’re not infallible. Nor do they have any more credibility than the developers whose works they tend to tarnish with sloppily written rubbish like Brett Todd’s review.
This GameSpot review is yet another reason why you have no business paying attention to GameSpot or anything that they have to say. Ever. Just don’t. Eventually, like all the others, they will either be sold off or go out of business. And hopefully guys like Brett Todd will just fade away and be forgotten. Just like ALL the others who have come and gone.
We as game developers – upon whom most of these reviewers rely on for their paycheck – are not rewarded for incompetence. Nobody cuts us any slack. Two can play that game. In short, you shouldn’t cut any reviewer or site any slack when they do a shoddy job or just abuse the privilege that we afford them. By disrespectfully – and without merit – tainting other people’s hard work and effort like we were baking a damn cake, they do more harm than good. At the end of the day, you have a choice. Choose wisely.
To be clear: This game was designed for a select group of gamers. You either like it or you don’t. Try the demo, if you don’t like the demo, don’t buy the game. It makes absolutely no difference to me either way because if you don’t like the game, then you are most likely not our target demographic or you have different tastes. In which case we lose nothing. Your money doesn’t do me any good if all you’re going to do is buy a game you can’t play effectively or correctly, only so you can come yell at me for your own poor judgement or because you foolishly decided to put your buying decision in the hands of another. Either way you’d still be phucked and I’d still have your money.
So please, if you are interested in a hardcore game like this, take my advice and play the demo – or at the very least, watch the gameplay tutorials. And whatever you do, stay away from GameSpot and their sloppy “just phone it in” reviews.v1.00.37 Released! » « v1.00.35 Released!