blog: How to enable space mode in AAWNov 14, 2010 Derek Smart
Wondering what happened to the DLC which would have enabled space mode in AAW? Well go to the development blog on our forums for the answer as well as a free update on how to enable it in the latest game version.0 comments Read more...
blog: v1.00.39 Released!Nov 09, 2010 Derek Smart
If you have the non-Steam version of the games, you can download the patch from any of the hosting mirrors or via the game’s “Check For Updates” shortcut.
If you have the Steam version of the games, it will auto-update once Valve makes the patches available on their servers.
ps: Don’t forget to stop by the game forums.0 comments Read more...
blog: v1.00.37 Released!Oct 14, 2009 Derek Smart
If you have the non-Steam version of the games, you can download the patch from any of the hosting mirrors or via the game’s “Check For Updates” shortcut.
If you have the Steam version of the games, it will auto-update once Valve makes the patches available on their servers.0 comments Read more...
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.41 comments Read more...
blog: v1.00.35 Released!Sep 14, 2009 Derek Smart
If you have the non-Steam version of the games, you can download the patch from any of the hosting mirrors or via the game’s “Check For Updates” shortcut.
If you have the Steam version of the games, it will auto-update once Valve makes the patches available on their servers later this week.0 comments Read more...
blog: developer blog #16Aug 07, 2009 Derek Smart
Taking The Long Way Back
Well, both of our new games, two years in the making, launch next week. It has been quite a journey full of aggravation, enlightenment, disillusionment, sadness, anxiety, stress – and every emotion you can possibly imagine when going through game development and dealing with publishers, distributors, contractors, gamers, anti-social misfits (the kind you’d probably throw gasoline on or light your cigar on if they were on fire) posing as gamers and everyone in between. And their dog.
How do I do it? I bury my head in the sand and just get on with it, treating everything else as noise. The only way I know how.
And on most days, the soft and soothing voice of Laura Pausini croons in the background. I don’t speak Spanish, so I have no frigging clue what the heck she’s going on about. But darn, she sounds good. So I bought an Spanish/English dictionary, language CDs, flash cards. The works. Now that I pretty much know what she’s going on about, it is still pretty much the standard fare – but the appeal and attraction lies in the way she sings.
I remember when I first met Laura. It was at a music store. Her Escucha album had been dropped in the jazz section where I was browsing for new music. So I picked it up and this Spanish lady standing next to me said “She’s really good”. So I flipped it over, took one look at the list of songs. And put the CD in my hand-basket. I had no clue what I had just picked up. I moved on; safe in the thought that a total stranger had just made my wallet lighter.
When I got to my car and started playing it, I found that by the time I made the thirty minute drive home, I had listened to “Escucha atento” and “Háblame” about a dozen times. I was madly in love with an artist I had met in passing and on the recommendation of a total stranger – someone I’d never see again in this lifetime.
By the time the dust settled that day, via AmazonMP3, I owned every single album she ever made. There was no going back now -might as well go all in.
As I type this, Laura is crooning “Un Dia Sin Ti” track #10 from her “Las Cosas Que Vives” 1996 album. This iteration is her umpteenth – and I’ve only been in this room for about an hour. And any minute now my daughter is going to saunter in and ask the inevitable “Dad, how many times have you listened to that?”.
I was quite young and naive when I started out and 1989 seems like it happened yesterday. The memories of my first game being a near disaster (no thanks to the old guard at Take Two (TTWO) – all of whom are no longer at the company) back in 1996 and the scars from that engagement still run deep. Every now and again, I’d look at the box of that first Battlecruiser 3000AD product on my shelf and wonder if given the chance whether I’d do it all again. And I’d think, Hell Yeah!!!
But I’ve grown older now. I’m twenty years in and have a wife, a kid, a nice fenced house on the banks of a lake, debt, a relatively bad back, a goatee, White hairs in places I didn’t know hair could grow, a small and dedicated dev team of mostly trustworthy friends, fourteen (100% self-funded) games under my belt and legions of fans around the world. I think I’ve done well for myself all things considered. It could’ve been worse. I guess. A lot of people go through a life less ordinary and with nothing to show for the three score and ten we’re supposedly given.
In our business, persistence, credibility and dedication are key. Back in 1996 when – without my permission or authorization as required by my contract – Take Two made the fateful decision to release my game while still in BETA and not quite ready for commercial release, had I given up where would I be today? Given the history of my other friends who started out with me about the same time or who got there before me, I’d probably be out of the business completely or have switched jobs or laid off due to studio closures and such more times that my car has miles. No, I chose to build and pave my own road. Then subsequently hopped on the ride to destinations unknown.
It has been quite a ride. And a little known fact to most in the biz – as well as gamers – is that my first game actually did make money. In fact, it is right there – neatly tucked inside Take Two’s SEC filing that was to take the company public.
My first game appealed to a group of gamers who somehow saw what I was trying to do. As with that kindly stranger who made me bring Laura home to what has become an unhealthy relationship bordering on obbsessive compulsive listening (wot?), these early gamers were the very ones who spread the word about the game. Though those words were sometimes lost in translation, those who wanted to get their meaning stuck with the game. Since 1996, I have released no less than twelve games across two series of games. Why? Because a group of gamers keep buying them due to the fact that we all share the same idea of what a high-end game and engaging but albeit niche experience space combat means.
As the years gained on my rapidly deteriorating desire to remain in the game development industry, I found myself becoming more and more disillusioned by what goes on around me and the direction that the industry proper has taken. Gamers – the lifeblood of our very existence in the business – have been relegated to numbers in a spreadsheet that some suit somewhere in a brightly lit room is dedicated to updating on an hourly basis. Video game retailers having braced a firm vice like grip around the throats of our publishers and distributors in a subjective stance, reducing the industry to nothing more than a mafia-like mob rife with protection money (a.k.a MDFs), bribery – and begging. Those actions trickle down to us the developers and gamers who keep the wheels turning by churning out our creative works.
My games have a distinct design philosophy. I develop and design games for me. Nobody else. Just me. It just so happens that I sell those games to a group of gamers who want to play them. If I’m not likely to play it, I’m not likely to want to build it.
That said, when I decided to take a break from space combat games and do something else but set within my established game world, I had a choice of what type of game to do. Adventure? Nope. RPG? Nope. RTS? Nope. Casual browser game? Aw, hell no!
Since I already had my mind set on building a space/planetary combat MMO in the vein of my established games, I already knew what technologies needed to be rebuilt, revised, enhanced etc. The first of those was the planetary terrain engine, then the first person dynamics engine etc. All of these and then some would be needed for Galactic Command Online, our MMO and final (yay!! no more two year bum rush to do new game) game.
As the development of those engines progressed, it hit me that it was a major financial undertaking that would completely deplete the company’s entire financial resources – including the bulk of my own personal holdings.
So since the terrain and first person dynamics engine were largely completed and a ton of art assets well on their way to being completed, I made the decision to develop a game out of them. That would be our stepping stone. And with reusable technologies the costs would be amortized across the games they would power. And so “All Aspect Warfare” was born more than two years and a few million dollars ago.
I already touched on how “Angle Of Attack” came about in an earlier blog. Basically our potential publisher (now out of business) had asked us to create it due to the AAW game being so massive in scope, that a dedicated smaller, lighter aerial combat game could stand on its own. So when they folded, we got saddled with not one but two games. The rest is history.
Both of the “All Aspects” games launching next week have a different premise but they still have my signature design of high-end and rewarding gameplay. And once again – as with all my previous games – a number of gamers used to the standard cookie-cutter fare churning out on a monthly basis by those other guys, won’t get it.
I don’t care. They’re not my demographic.
It is hard to understand why a developer makes the decisions that he makes. But in life, you will always have those who agree or disagree with you. And if you’re famous and a public figure like myself, the signal to noise ratio can be overwhelming when everyone becomes a critic and think they know more than you do. Despite the fact that some of these are folks who either never left home – ever – or who have their failures nicely tucked away in anonymity and shame.
But why ask why? The director of a movie, the writer of a book, the producer of a play – or anyone who works in a creative field doesn’t owe anyone (except maybe the suits at top paying the bills) an explanation of why they do things the way they do. To this day, if you pull up George Lucas on Google you will find folks who after MANY years are still pissed about Jar-Jar Binks. Seriously.
Homo Sapiens – for the most part – are flat out insane. Thats why temporary insanity is a legal defense.
It just so happens that – though insane – most tend to still be able to function. Those who can’t are heavily medicated or nicely locked away in a padded White cell – and heavily medicated. Its like those dormant diseases that most carry and which just stay safe and firmly tucked away in your DNA strand. You still have it – and you probably don’t know that you do – but its there. There is that one food, drink, drug that you’re going to injest – or old age – thats going to trigger it. Then all hell breaks loose.
Then you wake up one morning and realize, “By golly! I’m certifiably insane!”. Or not.
So, once again I have a bunch of folks questioning why I made the design decisions that I did for my new games. My favorite ones? “…why is the world so flat? Where are the trees? Oh, can I have roads?”
This despite the fact that the game’s manual, promo materials etc all explain the premise of the game world.
The Terrans (thats us) have been at war with the Gammulans (the bad guys) since 1989 (hehe, thats when I came up with the universe). Send that to the year 3000 and go from there.
Anyway, a Terran battlegroup operating deep within Gammulan territory, discovered that those pesky Gammies had discovered a method of creating planet killer weapons. Much like the R.A.N.D.O.M* that the Terrans themselves had created.
So they sent in a deep strike team to that planet, LV-115 – located in the Gammulan quadrant – to find the site and destroy it. This planet is like our Mojave desert – it is used for military purposes only.
The Gammies saw them coming and put up quite a fight.
The Terrans – now on LV-115 – setup shop on the planet, while a space battle waged on above them.
When the All Aspect Warfare begins, the Terrans had only taken over Alpha starbase by taking out the Gammies.
After awhile – and making no further progress – the Terran brain trust (Galactic Command) back home said screw this; if we’re not going to find it, we’re just going to nuke the whole planet and call it a day.
So the remaining forces on the planet were evacuated. They did leave the base’s defense systems on-line in order to fool the Gammies into thinking that Terran forces were still on the planet. Though there are a few infantry marines on the planets – they are actually clones of Terran forces. Yes, clones – just like from all our previous games.
GCV-Excalibur is sent in to nuke the planet from orbit. They botch it.
As the Excalibur plummets to the planet’s surface, a team of marines beam off the ship and end up in the middle of nowhere.
The retail game’s campaign starts off where this team of four materializes on the planet.
* Random Nuclear Destruction of Obsolete Matter
Instead of typing it all up again, I’m just going to quote excerpts from an exchange I recently had in our Steam forums.
First, you say that it is a massive world. I believe you. It is indeed massive. But, most of the maps I’ve played had absolutely nothing! two or three bases dotted on a huge, empty world. I took a jet aircraft to fly straight in one direction, it was really, REALLY empty and boring. So I’m not quite sure how you can use the “massive” world argument here?
My response in its entirety
Just because it is massive, doesn’t mean that irrelevant stuff needs to be ON it. Would you rather that we did what other games do by littering the game world with blocky buildings and other inconsequential rubbish which serve NO purpose – and further impact the game’s performance?
The game is not based on “levels”. It is one massive seamless world. Most of the fps action focuses on the military bases. Thats where “stuff” is. LOTS of it. You end up out in the open world only when in aerial combat or when traversing from one place to the next. And if you’re aerial combat, the goal is to survive, not stare at the scenery and noticing that you’re out in open country – with nothing interesting. If you want that, try Microsoft Flight Simulator or one of the many study sims.
Have you played H.A.W.X? No? Please, go try the demo.
Point is, ALL games make compromises. e.g. our terrain technology is way more advanced that anything in H.A.W.X. (I only use this because it is the most recent air combat game). We don’t use blocks for buildings nor do we have blurry and messed up terrain at anything below 10,000 ft AGL.
Our game engine was designed to look good at ANY altitude – especially since ground zero fps gameplay is required. That sort of tech requires a LOT of processing.
The game takes place on a “near barren” planet used for military purposes by the Gammulans. Hence no cities. Think of it as the Mojave desert testing grounds. They have an entire planet for that. If the game was focused on a single base or city, we would have a smaller and much more detailed map focusing on that one area.
The game world is 400x400km. Do the math.
The entire terrain is loaded and rendered. In real-time. Why? because there are lots of bases where stuff needs to be happening – even if culling does render out-of-scene elements, the terrain itself needs to be processed, as does AI, dynamics etc.
Each of the bases is about 10x10km. They are spread apart because due to the AI and radar capabilities, any closer and bases taken over by the Terrans will automatically engage any nearby Gammulan base. And vice versa.
1. The entire game world. Notice the waypoint marker on the left edge with the distance at the midpoint of the marker line.
The map area (ALT+M) is divided into different topologies with various climate and weather patterns as well as time of day (each Earth minute is three minutes on LV-115 planet).
2. The Alpha base. 10x10km
3. The distance from Alpha base (Terrans) to Bravo base (Gammulans). In a fighter going at Mach 2 (657.1 m/s) @ 10K feet ASL, you can traverse that distance in just about no time at all. That is just one example of why the world was designed the way it was. Gunships are slower but still a viable option. Vehicles and infantry are out of the question. For those, you can either jump from base to base using a DJP or you can airlift the vehicles using a gunship or shuttle and drop them at the destination.
Finally, in such a massive world – disregarding graphics for a second – a LOT of other processing takes place. Processing (e.g AI) that makes the GPU processing pale in comparison. A LOT of optimizations were done over several months. And when you get to the point where you can’t do more, you have no choice but to wait for the tech to catch up.
Comparing our game engines to the likes of Source, Unreal etc is laughably silly. For one thing, neither of those engines can power a game world of this size and scope – with our game’s features. And even if they could, they too would have performance issues. Take Crysis and FarCry for example. Both level based. Both totally detailed. Both in a relatively small world compared to ours. Yet with major performance issues as well.
And for every one of those responses, we get a bunch of these. All from the Steam forums btw
What I like -
- It’s trying to do a lot and for the most part succeeds
- The vast amount of epically cool things to drive and play around with
- You need a brain!
- I like the mentality of the company, it’s refreshing to see someone who is not driven by corrupt stock holders. I would gladly give my cash to support someone smaller then the greedy folks at Betatest arts (EA)
Xbox 360 controller doesn’t work as well as I’d like, it handles poorly.
I understand that a lot of processing is going on but I’d like to see small variations in the game terrain textures. I’d also like to see more things added to the sky box ( Like moons or planets or what not) If I read correctly this takes place on a alien planet, could we have like double moons or stars or something? (Even a static image would help) A fun game so far. I find small glitches here and there but nothing game braking. Most of these will probably be gone in the final release any way.
The terrain and structures have a very Earth Siege/Star Siege feel to them. The canyon terrain is very nicely done.
I love the variety of vehicles in the game. The flight mechanic works fine for this game. I think they move like an aircraft without airfoils would. I can see where some people are coming from but you need to keep an open mind. This is the future we are talking about. It would be nice to have the ability to look around while driving. (I may have missed this in the manual though.)
I find the complexity of this game refreshing.
All in all a good game. I’m probably going to get the final game and I hope you keep updating it. Keep up the good work.
i thought the demo was alot of fun. it took me a while to get the hang of the flying but once i finally got the hang of dodging thoes damn missiles everything just clicked. oh and to people worried about the desert landscape hop in a jet and fly over to Starbase Charlie. got some nice looking canyons and vistas over there.
can’t wait to play the full game
And so it goes acrosss the Internet.
All this despite the fact that we did release a demo well in advance of the game’s launch so that gamers can try it and make up their minds. Unlike other game companies, we don’t stick the best parts of the game into a demo, then give gamers shellshock when they go out and buy the game. No, over the years, all our demos have been done at the very last minute in order that they be indicative of the final game. We expose as much as we can without giving away too much of the game’s gameplay feature set.
If you don’t like the game based on the demo, move along because the final game isn’t going to change your mind. Ever. And I have no interest in helping you do that. Thats why there’s a demo.
And even so, over the years I have released my older games for free on the Internet. Those serve as promos for future games as well as introduce gamers who had otherwise never tried our games or who were too young to make the commitment. On any given day one or more of my free games is charting somewhere.
The rules for these new games don’t change just because they are in different genres and we’ve posted this everywhere that we have the games discussions, support etc. That being.
These games are very complex and huge, so sometimes we miss things or find things that we probably should do differently. As such, we welcome ANY and ALL reasonable and constructive feedback because our goal is to keep you playing and enjoying our games.
A LOT of work went into these games over a two year period and the budget is about x10 the size of any indie game. Ever. In short, by the time the games were finished, we were already a LOT of money and twenty-five months in the hole. So despite these games coming from an indie developer, we don’t sit around making excuses for why some things just don’t work. If we were going to do that, we’d have developed different games and called it a day.
And just because we are indies, does not mean that we shouldn’t aspire to attain high levels of quality as titles coming from publisher or better funded teams. I mention this because when some gamers hear the word “indie”, they think low quality bar. Fact is, I blame the media for that because they have tainted the terminology beyond recognition. To the extent that you might as well compare a car to an SUV and expect the same level of performance just because they are both vehicles. An indie simply means “independence” and the freedom to do what you envisioned and without outside interference. It does not mean anything else. So you can still be an indie and produce a $.99c app or an indie and produce a $10m app. Just because your app is $.99c does not mean you should not be held to a higher standard nor expect quality material.
A LOT is invested in these games and their engines (most of which are new or improved from our established IP). We as experienced developers don’t go around re-inventing the wheel just because we can. In much the same way that Source Engine licensees get updates over the years – while the core engine remains largely the same – we have the same principles towards our engines, as do all experienced developers.
For example: Our aerial flight dynamics works just fine and there was no reason or need to mess with them. It was and always will be on the lighter side since we’re not interested in developing study sims. Go to Tripwire, 1C etc for that. So our aerial dynamics engines have been that way for almost eight years, but have of course undergone tweaks and some revisions over the years.
So just because you happen to have played our previous space/planetary combat games, doesn’t mean that you should expect that we’d go and do a new aerial dynamics engine just because we have different (non-space combat) games. It just doesn’t work that way. If it ain’t broke, there is no reason to mess with it or change it. And that principle doesn’t just apply to game development. There is a reason why some people license engines and others build theirs from scratch. If you’re going to build it, there is no reason to re-build it if you don’t need to.
Most importantly our games have always catered to a more discerning gamer. They never were – and never will be – run of the mill games. Don’t play our games like you would COD4, Halo or whatever because the end result is that you’ll just end up being frustrated, discard the game – then blame us for something we have no control over. In short, you absolutely – postively – MUST read the game manual and run through the tutorials first. I mention this because a bunch of people were on servers yesterday asking about how to call up the in-game docs, enter/exit vehicles, find other people etc. Heck, one person asked me personally how to arm his weapon!! On a multiplayer server no less.
I never set out to conquer the world of gaming. I set out to make a difference and to do what I wanted to do on my own terms and with my own rules. Which is why to this day and since day one, I own my company and all my IP 100%. No partners. No investors. No VC. Nothing. And I don’t want any. Never did. Never will. The day I run out of money and with no games to sell, I’ll shut it all down and say a silent prayer to God for bringing me as far as he did.
Then I’ll retire and spend the rest of my days laughing at the poor saps I leave behind in the video game development rat race. You think I’m grumpy now? Just you wait. John Dvorak has nothing on me.
Until that day comes, I’m going to keep designing and developing games for myself and the discerning gamer. I’ll leave the cookie-cutter crap to those other guys who, despite doing that, are still going out of business, posting huge losses etc. I’m still here, making games for myself and those discerning gamers everywhere.
Because I make my own road. You either hop on or you don’t.5 comments Read more...
blog: developer blog #15Aug 03, 2009 Derek Smart
Yes, you read that correctly. We’re coming to Steam. In a BIG way. And its happening TODAY!!
We’ve been working on various digital distribution deals in the past few months since the All Aspect Warfare was “Release Ready” back in June. Steam was one of those that we were working on. By the time the dust settled, in addition to pre-existing long time partners such as Direct2Drive, Digital River etc, we had new partner sites such as Steam and GameStreamers. We are working on closing two other major ones in the coming days because as gamers we love nothing more than the word “choice”.
Starting later today, you will be able to pre-order one or both games from Steam. And if you haven’t played the demos (The first Angle Of Attack demo releases today!), you can download those directly from your Steam account as well.
UPDATE @ 2:45PM
We’re now live on Steam!!
Both games will be available for sale on August 10th worldwide. So check your favorite online distribution sites for whatever deals they are offering on the games.
Since both games play differently (well, AOA is just a pure aerial combat action game with its own unique scenarios, features etc), you probably want to get the bundle. But thats just me.
With both games releasing next week we are going to continue to work towards building our community around them, creating DLC (additional scenarios, assets such as weapons, vehicles, aircrafts, maps etc).
Our initial post-release patch plans include implementing various Steamworks features such as stats tracking, achievements, leaderboards, built-in voice chat etc. You will of course need a Steam ID to experience any of these, but regardless of where you buy (e.g. Direct2Drive vs Steam) the game, you will still have all these features.
While we realize that we stand the chance of losing some of our hardcore space-combat fans, my suggestion is to still get on board with these games if you ever hope to see another space combat game from us again. No seriously. If these games fail to meet sales expectations, why would I invest in another space combat game – a genre with a drastically smaller and with a rapidly dwindling install base? Won’t happen. Unless it is an MMO – which with proper execution and planning, can be self-sustaining.
Even KnightBlade – our upcoming space commander simulation – will go back on hold while we try something else as we have just done with these two new games these past two years. Then you won’t be able to play a game which gives you the added scope of being inside your own ship – in first person mode – issuing commands to and mingling with your crew – while hurtling through space at light speeds. Most of the elements of our previous space combat games will be there, but this time around, you are really in charge and no 2D interface is going to get in the way! Don’t say Star Trek Bridge Commander because while that was in fact a good game and decent attempt, they’re not even in the same league.
And of course there is Galactic Command Online, an all encompassing space & planetary combat MMO and our final (no more two year song and dance to release a new game) game. A game which takes all our previous space combat experiences, new technologies, features, ease of use etc – all derived from these new games and KnightBlade – and creates a seamless experience. No level grind, caps or any of that rubbish.
Digital Distribution – The Bandwagon
Contrary to popular [gamer] belief, getting on these online distribution portals is not as simple as it may seem. As with signing with a publisher, distributor or even a retailer, there are specific procedures in place.
If they don’t like your game, they’re not going to sign it.
If they don’t think that your game will do well on their service, they’re not going to sign it.
Sure some sites will sign up just about anything – usually in a bid to acquire as much content as possible, regardless of potential. And that is no different from the likes of EA pushing out a thousand SKUs and in which only a handful make any money – and thus pay for the others. Yet still post a loss. Gotta love them suits.
Also, just because you can doesn’t mean that you should. You simply cannot partner with sites that don’t cater to your demographic, even if those distributors want your game. e.g. why try to put a hardcore fps game on a predominantly casual site? Even if they agree to take the product? What do you gain by doing that?
In the world of online distribution – which is rapidly progressing as the de facto standard for our beloved PC platform – the players are already being segmented in much the same say that you have a handful of top tier gaming retailers such as Walmart, Target, Best Buy, GameStop and then everyone else.
The key then is to get your games on the top tier sites at any and all costs. Then work on the other sites since after all they too have clients. So the goal is not to get on all sites if you don’t need to because it makes no sense if you only sell five copies a month on those sites.
According to recent tracking estimates, the predominant online distribution sites are segmented as follows:
- Valve’s Steam (40%)
- Metaboli / GameTap (+15%) <--- They have White Label partners
- Digital River (12%) <--- They have White Label partners and also host EA's stores
- Real Networks Trymedia (+9%) <--- They have White Label partners e.g. GameStop, Yahoo Games etc
- IGN’s Direct2Drive (9%)
- GamesGate (3.5%)
- Everyone else (Stardock’s Impulse, Boonty/Nexway, GameStreamers, Ztorm, Gamesload etc): 11.5% <--- some have White Label partners
Of course you have to make sure that you sign with sites that actually pay royalties. You’d be surprised at just how many either are not paying on time or at all. Sound familiar? Yep, just like some retail publishers some of these online distribution sites are up to the same tricks.
And they’ve all started with the same nonsense and shenanigans related to contracts, royalty splits, payment schedules etc.
e.g. why can one site afford to pay royalties using the standard Net-30 terms while another insists on Net-90? Simple. Cash flow. They would rather hang on to your money for as long as possible. It doesn’t cost them anything to pay you Net-30 – after all they’ve already made the sale and received the money. The standard Net-30 term is for all sales during the previous month, you are paid by the end of the next month. e.g. Aug 1st – Aug 31st means that you should expect to get paid by Sept 30th. For some sites, this is not the case. You’d have to wait for 30 days from the end of the previous quarter to see a dime. Which means you’re waiting for a total of 135 days to see any money from 90 days worth of sales.
If you come across such a deal, you can of course just say no and walk away.
You can always put up your own shopping cart and sign up with the likes of Digital River, RegNow, Yahoo, Amazon, eJunkie, FastSpring etc and call it a day. But then you have to source out your own traffic.
Then there is the royalty split. These range from the 70% high end to the 30% low end. Getting 70% per unit royalties is the standard and is a good thing. So for a $40 game, you make $28 in royalties. No deductions.
Where you start getting into lower royalties is sites that are “pass through” or which have so-called White Label (e.g. sites which they host stores for, provide content to etc. e.g. broadband ISP sites) partners. Or sites which just want to give you less instead of more – because they can.
For sites with White Label partners, you end up with a percentage of a percentage because they get a cut from the White Label sales and you get a percentage of their percentage.
Signing with such sites is a toss up. You either do it or you don’t. If they can justify the lower royalties (e.g. they have White Label partners with major traffic and thus more gamer eyeballs) then there is no reason not to. Especially if you just regard them as “derivative income”. i.e. that site is not your primary revenue source. If you are lucky – and have a decent product – you will find that you end up with 30% of 1500 units as opposed to 70% of 500.
The PC Retail Shindig
In three words: It STILL sucks.
It used to be that getting a PC game into retail was horrendous. Now its just a nightmare of epic proportions.
Even the smaller retail publishers – a species on the verge of rapid extinction – are getting into some really crazy deals and concessions to even get into some retail stores. Even so, most of them who aren’t distributors themselves – and thus can’t go directly to retail – are getting the shaft from their own distributors. So they pass it on down the line to you the developer.
And God help you if you have a PC only game with no console version and try to get it into retail.
When you as a developer give your titles to one of these smaller publishers – especially in International territories – don’t expect to see a penny. Ever. Don’t believe me? Just ask around. As I type this, I personally have over $87K in outstanding account receivables – some going as far back as 2007. I have developer friends who haven’t seen a single dime from games given to some publishers – most of which are either out of business or in the process of going out of business.
And if you rely on these royalty payments to keep your company going, pay your team, contractors etc well thats the difference between going out of business and taking out a loan – if you can in this current economic climate.
So the retail space – at least for the PC – is now just for the big boys (EA, Activision, Take Two, UBisoft etc) who can just have the PC versions ride on the goodwill of their console counterparts. For them, getting a multi-console title into retail is a no-brainer. Heck, for the most part the PC version is just derivative income that just ends up paying for itself. Whether it turns a profit or not is irrelevant because those losses and gains are reconciled and amortized across the other console versions – if any.
If you come across a PC retail deal that doesn’t have high royalties and an advance, take my advice and just walk away. Especially in International territories where you are better off doing single lump sum deals rather than relying on periodic royalties. Myself and a bunch of my developer counterparts have said this time and time again, and I simply cannot stress this enough.
After several months of putting up with the retail publishing and distribution related crap above, I just said screw it.
Thats our world. Welcome to it.
Until next time!13 comments Read more...
blog: developer blog #14Jul 13, 2009 Derek Smart
THE DRM MINEFIELD
Based on some emails and PMs that I have been getting regarding our decision (technical more than anything else really) to drop the use of Byteshield in our game, I’d like to discuss a few things about this whole DRM issue in gaming.
Before you read any further, please familiarize yourself with what DRM actually means.
There are various DRM schemes available for use in games. These range from basic disc checks (SafeDisc, SecuROM, Starforce etc) to online authentication (SecuROM, Starforce, ActiveMark, Impulse*, Tages, Steam etc)
*Yes, Stardock’s Impulse is a form of DRM. Anyone who says otherwise is either lying or has no clue what DRM actually means.
For our part, we are currently evaluating new versions of Tages, Game Shield, SecuROM etc in order to decide which DRM scheme to implement for the game’s upcoming commercial release. Later this month, we’re going to be looking at SteamWorks as well. We looked at Starforce ProActive5 again recently and discarded it for the same reasons we stopped using it several years ago.
Since we already have experience with SecuROM and have been using it for some of our previous games (UCCE, GCES) with NO incident or issues, we just decided to re-release the demo using SecuROM and disabled the disc and activation checks. In other words, you won’t even know its there. We advised Byteshield well in advance of this decision. Not to mention that the fact that it would be unfair to leave the Byteshield demo out in the wild and using server resources that nobody is paying for.
As things stand, we are still running our tests with various DRM schemes but have yet to decide which scheme we will use for the game’s actual release.
The reason for having DRM in demos and such is because hackers use demos, XB360 binaries, press copies etc as comparison to the final retail version. A talented hacker can then easily break the DRM from a released game using binary comparisons, search and replace hacks etc. Sure they’re going to break the DRM regardless, but why make it easy for them?
The cleverness of how the Byteshield enabled demo was cracked took me a bit by surprise I must admit. So I personally did the same thing on a different build using different (and more aggressive) settings. I was able to reproduce it. That influenced my final decision greatly. It wasn’t an easy decision, especially given that we’d been working on it for almost a year and helping them iron out various quirks and issues here and there.
Sure any DRM scheme can be broken, but why adopt a new scheme if it doesn’t improve on the curve? There is a reason why there are so many DRM products on the market. That reason is because each caters to a different audience. It is called competition.
Any talented and determined hacker can break a DRM scheme. But thats not saying much because at the end of the day it is up to the developer/publisher to do a good job of implementing the DRM while taking performance and other issues into consideration. e.g. SecuROM, Tages, Starforce etc all give you so much control over how to protect the code, its not even funny.
And we’re not talking about mere binary wrappers here – which all of them (and others like Armadillo, Game Shield etc) do support. Most – if not all of the high end protection schemes – can and will impact performance in certain games. e.g. while you can use source code implementation in something like Peggle, you can’t particularly use it on something like AAW or Crysis. Why? well think about it. If you have a 10% performance drop in Peggle, you won’t notice it. But you will notice it in a real-time and CPU intensive games.
When you do source code level DRM implementation – the most difficult to crack – using something like SecuROM, Tages, Starforce etc, you leave most of the protection work to the DRM scheme because it replaces those bits of your source code with their own. If you don’t do enough testing, you end up with a situation whereby the game is unacceptably slow, crashes due to some critical piece of code being protected etc. e.g. you can do code replacement on something like resource initialization – called only once at the start of a game – but not in something like the game’s mainloop which has to iterate though LOTS of processing EACH FRAME. So you can run your tests and five minutes into the game, no problem. Then twenty minutes in, you get hit with an fps drop from 30 to 24. Then you have to go find what is causing the drop. Then you move the code injection elsewhere. It is a VERY LONG AND ARDUOUS process and not something you can just slap together. Sure you can use the basic DRM protection in under thirty minutes and call it a day, but thats what Day One cracks and all manner of problems gamers have upon release are all about. If you don’t want your game cracked on Day One or you don’t want to deal with performance issues, crashes etc then you have to put A LOT of work into the DRM implementation by way of various tests.
Most developers tend to leave DRM wrapping to the very end of the game’s development cycle. Yes, really. Thats why you see all those reports of so many problems when that happens. Problems that they, in some cases, could have reproduced and fixed through stringent pre-release testing and QA. And when stuff like that happens, it is the DRM scheme – not the developers doing the implementation – that tends to be in the spotlight.
The key to DRM for developers/publishers is that the longer it takes for hackers to break the game, the more chances you have of actually making some additional money on the game. There is no such thing as a casual pirate anymore. At least not since everyone discovered the Internet and Google. So DRM implementation is not about preventing uncle Tom from making a copy of your game for your cousin Harry. Tom doesn’t need to crack your game in order to make that copy for Harry when he can just go online and get it from someone who already has done the job for him. Heck, Harry can probably do it all by himself. Casual piracy is no farther than a trip to a search engine.
DRM only works so far as to stiffle the cracking of a game and giving the game some fighting chance in the retail space in the first weeks of release. Most gamers tend to justify their THEFT by saying that they wanted to try the game first before buying it – so they pirated it. Bollocks. Theft is theft. I can’t go next door and “borrow” my neighbor’s Ferrari just because I wanted to see what it drives like.
Without DRM – of some kind – you might as well just invite piracy and is no different than leaving your car door unlocked while you go running around in the mall. If a determined and experienced car thief wants your car, they’re going to steal it. No locks, GPS or anything is going to prevent that. Does that mean that that you should leave your car unlocked? Same with games. Just because DRM schemes can be cracked does not mean that you shouldn’t at the very least implement some sort of DRM scheme in it.
RESTRICTED ACCESS. HARD HAT REQUIRED. SERIOUSLY
Yes, we have used SecuROM in the past – and those games are still being sold. Yes we will use it again if we had any reason to do so. So there, I’ve said it. Go ahead, send me email about how you disapprove, you’re not going to buy my game etc and see just how much crying I end up doing. Fact is, if you’re not going to buy my game because of some DRM scheme – even though you haven’t even run the game yet to see if it even impacts you at all – then you’re probably not my target demographic anyway. And so I lose what exactly?
Lets move on…
Removing SecuROM is not the responsibility of any individual developer/publisher. Thats like putting the onus on us to remove DirectX – or any similar driver component – from Windows OS.
Do you REALLY think that when you remove something like DirectX, .NET, audio drivers, video drivers etc or most of the code drivers in Windows OS that they are really gone? Seriously? In fact, all you have to do is search online to find so many “driver cleaners” that you’d just as well wonder what all the fuss is about regarding the removal of DRM drivers. Sure some are difficult to remove. And so what? How are they different from any other driver that is difficult to remove?
Fact is NOTHING IS EVER REMOVED COMPLETELY WITHOUT ADDITIONAL TOOLS. Why? Because of the Windows OS. It is a bloated piece of crap that gets bloated each and every day just by doing something as simple as going online (oh look! There is something now called Silverlight, yeah, lets install that then).
When you remove something from a Mac or Linux OS – using the OS acceptable standards, trust me, its gone. Not so with Windows. Its like that aunt you have who just hoards and collects stuff. Then one day she dies. And you’re left with all this mostly worthless stuff. You might as well just torch the house because it would be far less painful than filtering through all her accumulated stuff to see what you can toss out. Which is pretty much what most of us do every few years when we save our precious documents, images, emails, games etc scrub our Windows OS and re-install from scratch.
Why would you want to remove a driver, any driver? Well, compatibility for one. Piracy for the other.
Back in the early days there was much learning to be done by way of how DRM schemes handled their drivers, implementation etc. Heck, they ALL install some sort of driver, hidden file, hidden registry entries etc. Just that some of the earlier iterations (e.g. Starforce) just went too far and rather than erring on the side of caution, decided to throw caution to the wind, thus compromising the integrity of not only the games they were protecting, but also garnering the ire of gamers. This is why it is hard to find a developer/publisher in North America, using Starforce these days. It is still widely popular in places like Russia and elsewhere. I considered looking at it again recently because of our Russian publishers (Akella) who would prefer to use it because it is cheaper for them than the alternatives.
The only reason why anyone would want to remove any DRM driver is if
i) they no longer have any games that use it
ii) they are having compatibility issues with it
In our tests, we found no such compatibility issues with SecuROM. If the SecuROM driver* or DLL files are already installed when the game/demo is run, then they are used. If you un-install the game/demo, it doesn’t do anything with SecuROM because we have NO way of knowing if the files are needed by another game. Thats not our responsibility.
* To the best of my knowledge and from my own testing, the version of SecuROM that we use does not use or install any drivers whatsoever.
In the past few years, we’ve released two commercial games with SecuROM and you won’t find a SINGLE post online or on our website about issues with it. Why? Well because:
i) we don’t leave things like DRM for last, then do a rushed botch job of it
ii) we don’t go all Draconian on the gamer and restrict their right to play a game they licensed (NOTE: buying a game does not mean you own it btw – you are paying for a license to use it and still preserves your First Sale doctrine rights).
We as developers, ALL know how to remove every single DRM scheme we implement. We just don’t do it because we would end up breaking other games. If we removed the SecuROM drivers when we un-install our game, we could end up breaking other games that need those drivers.
So, compatibility issues aside, the only way anyone is going to justify removing DRM drivers, is if they no longer buy or play games. In which case, you might as well re-install your OS and give up gaming.
One of the many reasons why I liked Byteshield was because it didn’t rely on drivers in any way, shape or form. So when you removed the game, you essentially remove Byteshield. Same thing with schemes like Armadillo, Software Passport etc. All of which are so easy to crack that you might as well not implement any DRM.
Implementing more than one DRM scheme presents its own set of problems. If you don’t adopt a worldwide standard, then it is a pointless venture. e.g. why implement different schemes in different territories when they can all be cracked anyway? Thats just more work because each has to be implemented and tested. Then the end goal is to see which gets cracked first. If they e.g. crack the Starforce enabled Russian version, then they’re 90% of the way to cracking the SecuROM English version. So why bother with two DRM schemes?
YES VIRGINIA, IT CAN ONLY GO DOWNHILL FROM HERE
And let me just point out one bit of rumour mongering nonsense right now. The drivers in the versions of Tages, SecuROM (no drivers detected in our version) and Starforce ProActive5 that we have, are NOT Ring0 level drivers. No matter what you read online, I can tell you clearly – and without breaching NDA – that none of these use such a driver. If they use drivers, they are top level drivers (i.e. not nesting between other drivers) that are not much different (at least not by much in terms of the OS level integration) from your video or audio card drivers.
This whole DRM rumour mongering nonsense, is just that, nonsense. Conjured up by mere mortals. The same mortals who are fallible in every sense of the word. It is not my job to defend anyone’s product, let alone walk a minefield like DRM discussions, but the fact is that in most cases, most of those making the loudest noise are doing so just from sheer pack/mob mentality because it just feels good to be one of the “guys”. Or fear. Or due to being under the influence of a controlled substance (OK fine, cough medicine then?).
FACT: There are millions of gamers happily playing their DRM enabled games with nary a problem. Sure, there may have been problems in the past but that has nothing to do with the present. People having DRM related (what are those problems anyway?) problems are no different from those having problems installing or un-installing their audio/video card drivers. And in most cases, a trip online is all that it takes to solve the problem.
The reason that the DRM argument is so loud – and noisy – is because gamers, by their very nature, are a very loud and vocal bunch.
At the end of the day, DRM scheme aside, the onus is on developers/publishers to ensure that they have performed stringent tests on any DRM scheme that they implement and to ensure that such a scheme does not
i) treat gamers like criminals
ii) prevent gamers from enjoying a game they paid for
iii) present incompatibilities as a result of any such DRM implementation
This is why we don’t leave our DRM implementation to the last minute.
No piece of tech is perfect; so at the end of the day, it is all about what you are willing to accept and compromise. e.g. a company like EA can afford to do whatever they like and still come out on top. Think about this. Both the The Sims 3 and Spore are amongst the most pirated games in the entire history of gaming. And both used a DRM scheme – and even more relaxed in The Sims 3. Small devs cannot afford to lose a single sale of a product, let alone anything remotely close to a million units. So in short, we have to be more careful in what we do.
And even though we have experience with SecuROM, for the past three weeks we have been working closely with Sony’s engineers in ensuring that the standards that we have for our game and gamers are not compromised. At the end of the day, the scheme we go with for the game’s final release will depend on only two factors: money (what the scheme costs us per unit) and performance/reliability (the negligible performance impact on our game).
OF MICE AND MEN
In conclusion, instead of being a member of the pack, why not just go over to Reclaim Your Game and PYAITK? The more educated you become, the better off we as gamers and game developers are.
Until next time.32 comments Read more...
blog: developer blog #13Jun 19, 2009 Derek Smart
GAME OVER MAN, GAME OVER!!
Well it has been a long – long – almost two year journey to make our first full-on fps game and so here we are. The PC version is now done – and Gold (meaning that it is finished and awaiting commercial release).
We are on track to release it via digital distribution on June 30th, unless a retail publishing deal that is worth doing, comes along. At which point, the release date could be pushed as far back as the end of Summer in order to have time for marketing, production, localization and all that.
We intend to release an update (v1.18.23) for the demo later today in order to bring it to the same v1.18.23RC version as the Gold build so that gamers experience the game based on the final Gold version. A lot of last minute tweaks were made and we also added one more single player fps combat mission to the demo build.
All in the media currently doing previews of the BETA/RC builds will need to contact (biz -at- 3000ad.com) us for links to the full game downloads and new DRM keys. If you have not yet previewed the game, you are more than welcome to contact us for a review build of the full game version.
Hopefully you all will have as much fun with the game as we did developing it.
Next up. KnightBlade.4 comments Read more...
blog: developer blog #12Jun 10, 2009 Derek Smart
…and so here we are.
Both All Aspect Warfare (PC) and Angle Of Attack (PC) are on track to go Gold sometime next week, thus bringing this near two year journey – which started out with one game – to a close. But life would be a whole lot simpler if it were that easy. Given the industry we’re in, it is not. Read on.
With digital distribution, you can pretty much go from development straight to sales without batting an eyelid. No need to worry about silly things like the [boxed] retail publisher song and dance, production, box art, sales & marketing to the retailers etc. You finish the game, sign a couple of contracts with the main digital distribution sites and boom, head shot – your game is online and selling.
However, even today, there is still something to be said about retail distribution. Sure, on the PC side it is dwindling as everyone moves to an online distribution model which will pretty much reducing the brick and mortar retailers to nothing more than ghost towns by 2013. Assuming they’re still in business.
After a major publishing (the publisher decided to cut back on SKUs as a cost cutting measure) deal went South a couple of months back leading to our just flat out terminating the XB360 version – thus immediately losing millions in revenue – we’ve been talking to a bunch of publishers about retail distribution into various territories of the PC version. Why not hold out? Well after spending the kind of money that we have on this game, holding out and spending the next six months pissing around with console publishers, is the kind of thing that kills companies and dev teams. So, I just decided to cut my losses and move on with the PC version. We may not turn a profit being only on the PC, but worst case scenario, we’ll make our money back and move on with our next project. I have a lot of friends who are currently out of work, have either lost their companies, teams etc or facing that sort of fate. Knowing what I know of the industry, I’m just not taking any chances. Especially when I have people to pay, a team to run and a company and IP to protect.
The deal with releasing even the PC version is that, once again, you can’t release the digital distribution version of a game ahead of the retail version. No publisher – let alone a retailer – will take it. And even so, most of the smaller outfits are either struggling, closing shop, aren’t paying their bills on time – if at all, or they’re cutting back on their SKU numbers. So even if you do get a [boxed] retail publishing deal, chances are you’ll never see a penny in royalties depending on who you give the product to.
Signing a game goes beyond contracts. There is quite a bit of up front expenses involved with that. It takes planning for production, sales, marketing, shipping etc. So even if you do a straight up “no advances” distribution deal, the distributor/publisher still has to fork out money to get the product onto the shelves in various territories.
So, once again, as with that whole PC vs XB360 game of chicken, we get to wait a bit and see if a retail deal is worth doing or not.
It doesn’t stop there. Retail distribution takes months of ahead planning. So even with a game going Gold today, by the time the dust settles, it won’t be in stores for at least two months. Assuming those months fall within a publisher’s best guess as to when the game would do well. In our case, we’ve been hearing that the game would do better at the end of Summer to early Autumn – the late August to September time frame.
Which means that if we run into a deal worth doing, we’re going to be sitting on a finished game until after the Summer – IF we wanted it at retail. If not, it is very likely that the game will start appearing on sites like Direct2Drive, Gamers Gate etc as early as the end of this month.
So, if you like the game, go to one of the sites and pre-order it. Those numbers make all the difference as to whether or not we forget about a retail release entirely and just go for broke. Our friends over at IGN already have a discount pre-orders page on Direct2Drive and we’re working on additional promotions which you will read about in the coming weeks if not days.
Oh, but it doesn’t even end there.
Now we’ve also got an offer (which I’ve declined twice already because the deal sucked) to consider putting Angle Of Attack on XBLA. So we’re looking at that. Since it is a much smaller game than All Aspect Warfare and fits within the XBLA price point, we’ll see how that goes. The trick in dealing with Microsoft these days is that you need a damn good Ouija board to figure out what they’re going to stipulate from one week to the next. And even so, you just need to make sure that the darn Ouija board isn’t running any version of Vista. Can we release the PC version first and still get it on XBLA? Do we need a publisher (then we end up with a percentage of a percentage in royalties), when we’re approved XB360 developers and seasoned developers? Oh, the royalty rates have changed again – so is it even worth spending upwards of additional $250K in dev costs to finish the XB360 port and put the darn thing on XBLA? Will they even concept (Yes, with all the crap thats on XBLA, you’d be surprised to know that they do in fact actually have a concept approval process. Go figure.) approve it?
Hence there is no demo of Angle Of Attack today. Why? Because releasing a PC demo of it will most likely affect the outcome of any such XBLA venture. Until we know for sure, we can’t do anything with the PC version of Angle Of Attack, least of all sell it for the PC.
THAR BE A DEMO!!
In the meantime, you can now play the demo of All Aspect Warfare which was just released and should start appearing on server mirrors throughout the day. Check back here throughout the day for the latest list of download mirrors. You can also check the demo discussions forum.
The demo – which includes the full docs, tutorials etc from the full game – contains the following features:
* Single Player
– No Story (a.k.a campaign) mode. No freeform sandbox mode.
– x03 (of six) playable careers (Mobile Infantry Marine, Elite Force Marine, Elite Force Pilot)
– x02 (of many) first person weapon profiles per career
– x02 aerial combat Instant Action scenario (Elite Force Pilot)
– x02 first person combat Instant Action scenario (Mobile Infantry Mairne, Elite Force Marine)
– Includes the stand-alone dedicated console server
– x06 playable careers (x3 Terran, x3 Gammulan)
– x02 (of many) first person weapon profiles per career
– x01 (of five) gameplay modes (Deathmatch)
– x02 Deathmatch scenarios (16 players)
The demo is based on the latest game build as of 06.09.09. If you were in the IGN sponsored closed public BETA focus test which ran between April 19th to May 18th, then the last version you had access to was Build 1.17.11 released on 05.07.09. Boy, have you missed quite a bit. Troll through the dev log and see for yourself.
So, check out the demo and let us know what you think. As with all our franchise properties, we will look to releasing future enhancements, features etc in the coming months and years. Who knows, we may even release modding tools and the scripting system for it, allowing you to create entirely new scenarios, maps, assets etc. So if you want to see future additions to the IP, go buy the game. Best of all, pre-order it. Now.
Oh, before I forget I must mention that the game demo is protected by Byteshield DRM, recently endorsed by the folks over at P.R.I.S.M Why did we do this? Because releasing un-protected demos just makes it easier for dastardly pirates to crack your final release. We have spent a fortune on this game and keeping Day One pirates at bay is very important to us. The good thing about this is that you get to see first hand the effects of this Gamer Friendly DRM from the game demo. It is the same DRM used in the final game, regardless of where you buy the game. Unlike the final game release which will require registration and a Digital Access Code (DAC), you don’t need to register and authenticate the demo. It has already been done for you. Just follow the instructions in the GUI and you’re good to go. You do, however, need an activate Internet connection for authentication the first time you run the game.
THE END GAME
For two years, a lot of us have worked very – very – long hard hours on this game. On our own. No outside funding sources. No publisher support. Nothing. Not to mention that we completely and totally bet the farm – the whole farm – on it. We hope that from the demo, you find the game appealing enough to buy the full version. This is why the demo is jam packed with features giving you enough to make an informed judgement. Most of all, spread the word.
Until next time!
ps: Like the final box art for the games? Well you can get them in large glorious wallpaper for your desktop.14 comments Read more... « Older Entries