Category Archives: New

Q&A: Frank Lantz of the NYU Game Center talks about Together We Game, an ambitious, first-of-its-kind game project.

Developers big and small crowdsource ideas for video games all the time, asking fans what new features or gameplay elements they’d like to see in future games. But there’s never any guarantee that what fans want will make it into a final product. Developers have final say.

But what if the community of gamers at large was given control of a game’s creative direction? With some limitations, this is the idea behind Together We Game, a first-of-its-kind initiative that’s seemed to fly completely under the radar since it was announced back in July.

An in-development version of Protocol 57
Here’s how it works. Though gamers could not choose the genre (it was always going to be a 2D tower defense game due to time and budget concerns), the community was asked to vote on everything else: the game’s setting, features, soundtrack, economy, and the name.

Fans chose the name Protocol X57 for the game, and have decided it will include stackable towers, an open field playfield, and feature nanobot enemies, among other things. Voting for the game’s sound effects and prop design are still to come, but the game is closing in on its release in January 2015 as a free download for PC and iOS

Together We Game was spearheaded by Logitech, with help from the NYU Game Center Director Frank Lantz, an industry veteran with more than 20 years of experience. The game itself was developed in the uber-popular game engine Unity by Brooklyn-based indie studio Tiny Mantis.

We caught up with Lantz and picked his brain about the unique project and what he’s learned so far in the process. Check out our full interview below.

When Together We Game was originally announced, it caught me by surprise. Can you explain the genesis of the program and what you hoped to achieve, overall?

Frank Lantz: Logitech wanted to experiment with a big crowdsourced game design process, something that allowed anyone who wanted to get involved and contribute to the creation of a real video game. They asked me to help oversee the project, and I thought it sounded like fun, so I said sure. I like to experiment with things like this, just to see what happens.

What was Logitech’s involvement in the project?

Logitech has been actively involved in running the whole event–setting up the community, providing the platform and resources to create the game. But all of the design decisions have been made by the people involved.

Do you think such a democratized game development process could work for a bigger game, maybe like a 3D shooter or RPG as opposed to a 2D tower defense game?

Actually, one of the things that’s interesting about this project is that it’s a more extreme version of an approach to game development that happens all the time, even for large-scale projects. The Internet allows for this kind of open, collaborative, community-based design–people making maps and mods, player-generated content, open betas where the player-community feedback is a big part of the design process. All of these are examples of an open, player-centric design process and this project reflects that same spirit. So yes, I think it does work for bigger games.

“Some of the ideas have been so detailed and imaginative; I’m really impressed by how passionate and committed the fans have been” — Frank Lantz
You’re an industry veteran with 20 years of experience under your belt; how did this experience creating a crowd-sourced game compare to your past work?

I love experimenting with systems and structures. I’m interested in social experiences that connect people in new ways and create new relationships. I like games that generate communities. For me, this project is an experiment in second-order design–creating a social system that creates a game.

What pieces of feedback and input from fans surprised you throughout development?

Some of the ideas have been so detailed and imaginative; I’m really impressed by how passionate and committed the fans have been.

About how many people contributed to this project?

Since launch, we’ve had more than 10,000 votes and 176 contributors to our subreddit, thus far. Voting opens up each time we begin a new phase of design, which happens each week. We’ve also hosted Google Hangouts and Reddit AMAs to open up conversation at key phases along the way. Some people regularly contribute and others chime in here and there, so I would say that we have a central, hardcore group of about 200 people, and then a few thousand others who are more casually involved.

“Sometimes people who don’t have a lot of prior knowledge about conventions and practical constraints generate the most interesting ideas” — Frank Lantz
I noticed on the voting page that the choices already showed the percentage breakdown when I went to vote–are you concerned that this could prematurely influence decisions?

We like the idea of having as much transparency as possible. The whole idea is to open up the process and show people what’s happening behind the curtain. So this is a reflection of that approach.

Was it ever frustrating, listening to community ideas from people who maybe don’t know much about what it actually takes to make a game?

Not really. Brainstorming and crowd sourcing is all about generating as many ideas as possible. Sometimes people who don’t have a lot of prior knowledge about conventions and practical constraints generate the most interesting ideas. It’s our job to guide the design process, to explain the realities of development, and harness these ideas and turn them into something real.

What types of issues did you face during development, and how did you overcome them?

We’re still in the midst of development, so we’ll have to wait and see.

What did you personally learn from the development of this game?

I think the main insight for me has been that crowdsourcing isn’t some magical process that harnesses collective energy. It’s more about casting a wide net and being really inclusive. At the end of the day, it’s still about creative individuals with passion and commitment.

When the game is released next year, is that going to be the end of Together We Game?

The plan is to release the game in January 2015 and currently the idea is to keep the voting and feedback lines open on Reddit. We want to continue to get reactions and feedback.

This is a first-of-its-kind experiment, so how do you measure success?

For me the most important thing is that the process is genuinely open and inclusive, that it’s fun and interesting for everyone involved. Secondly, we’re hoping the final game turns out well. We want it to be accessible, easy to play, but also deep, something worth spending some time with. Lastly, we want it to have some interesting and original ideas that reflect the experimental design process and the creativity of the individuals involved.

In this week’s pre-Black Friday deals, get The Evil Within for $30, Watch Dogs for $30, and more.

The best new deals of the day are from Newegg, which is offering Destiny for the PlayStation 4 and Xbox One for $40, and Walmart, which if offering games like Watch Dogs, Battlefield 4, and others for $30. Find the full list of $30 games for each platform below.

Toys R Us is currently offering a “2 for $30″ deal on a ton of Xbox 360, PlayStation 3, Wii, and Nintendo DS games. It’s a good opportunity to catch up on some older games like Call of Duty: Black Ops, Red Dead Redemption, Halo: Reach, Scribblenauts, and many more.

Also at Toys R Us, Skylanders fans can grab three Skylanders Trap Team Traps for $15, or three Spyro’s Adventure figures for $10.

You can still get three Amiibo for $30 from Toys R Us, but you better hurry up as some figures are selling out.

Don’t forget Walmart’s promotion that lets you customize your own discounted PS4 and Xbox One bundles.

For example, you can save up to $30 on Xbox One, and you can choose what bundle to start with (the Assassin’s Creed Unity bundle, the Kinect-less Assassin’s Creed Bundle, or the Call of Duty: Advanced Warfare bundle), two additional games, and a controller.

Save up to $44 on a PS4 that comes with camera, and choose between a regular PS4 or the white Destiny bundle, one additional game, and your choice of controller: white, black, or blue.

You can also get a 3DS XL plus one of 13 games for $219 or less.

Below you’ll find the rest of today’s best deals divided by platform:

PlayStation 4

Walmart is offering a $50 gift card with a PS4 or the white PS4 Destiny bundle.

You can get some holiday shopping done early at GameStop, with deals on PlayStation products. You can get a PlayStation TV for $80, a 500GB PlayStation 3 The Last of Us bundle for $250, and other PS3 and PlayStation TV bundles on GameStop’s website. If you prefer ordering from Amazon, the online retailer is now offering the PlayStation TV for the same price.

Destiny — $40 (Newegg)
Watch Dogs — $30 (Walmart)
The Evil Within — $30 (Walmart)
Battlefield 4 — $30 (Walmart)
FIFA 15 — $30 (Walmart)
NBA 2K15 — $30 (Walmart)
Shadow Warrior — $25 (Groupon)
Grand Theft Auto V — $50 (Ebay)
Wolfenstein: The New Order — $30 (Amazon)
Killzone: Shadow Fall — $27 (Amazon)
Knack — $21.54 (Amazon)
Call of Duty: Ghosts Hardened Edition for $45 — (Amazon)
In Europe only, Sony is holding a PSN sale with up to 60 percent off games like Sniper Elite III, LEGO Marvel Super Heroes, Thief, InFamous: Second Son, and many more. You can find the full list of discounted games on the PlayStation Blog.

Xbox One

This weeks Deals with Gold is all about Tomb Raider. You can grab the Definitive Edition for Xbox One for $20, and if you still only have an Xbox 360 you can grab the normal edition for $10, Tomb Raider: Underworld for $5, and more. You can find the full list of games here.

Destiny — $40 (Newegg)
Watch Dogs — $30 (Walmart)
The Evil Within — $30 (Walmart)
Battlefield 4 — $30 (Walmart)
Madden 15 — $30 (Walmart)
NBA 2K15 — $30 (Walmart)
FIFA 15 — $30 (Walmart)
Grand Theft Auto V — $50 (Ebay)
Titanfall — $26.76 (Amazon)
Wolfenstein: The New Order — $30 (Amazon)
Sleeping Dog: Definitive Edition — $47.19 (Amazon)
Call of Duty: Ghosts Hardened Edition — $46 (Amazon)
Shadow Warrior — $25 (Groupon)
Wii U

Toys R Us has a “buy 1, get 1 40 percent off” deal on Wii U gamesl today, but it’s in store only. Find a store near you here.

PC

Super Time Force Ultra — $9.74 (Steam)
Chivalry: Medieval Warfare — $6.24 (Steam)
Evolve — Preorder for $45 with the code EVOLVE-THANKS-25OFFX (GMG)
If you create a free account on Green Man Gaming, you’ll also be able to check out its VIP section, which has special offers on Far Cry 4, Assassin’s Creed Unity, Dragon Age: Inquisition, and more.

GamersGate is also holding a Warner Bros. publisher sale, with offers like Injustice: Gods Among Us Ultimate Edition for $6.80 and Middle-earth: Shadow of Mordor for $45.

Humble Bundle is still offering its Humble Jumbo Bundle 3, which includes GRID 2, Tesla Effect: A Tex Murphy Adventure, and more. The bundle now also includes GRID, KickBeat Steam Edition, and Half Minute Hero. And if you pay $12 or more, you’ll also get Saints Row IV.

GOG.com is wrapping up its Fall sale, which has over 700 games discounted on its online store. All the games featured in flash sales throughout the entire promo are available once again for the next 48 hours. On Sunday, November 23, at 2:00 p.m. GMT the flash deals will make way for the daily bundles, available for the final two days of the sale.

PS Vita

Batman Arkham Origins: Blackgate — $15
Hardware

Samsung 58-inch 1080p 60Hz TV — $698 (Walmart)
Intel Core i7 — $277 (Amazon)
AMD FX-6300 6-Core Processor Black Edition — $100 (Amazon)
AMD FX-8350 FX-Series 8-Core Black Edition Processor — $175.59 (Amazon)
If it’s gaming peripherals you’re looking for, Amazon is also holding a sale on Logitech’s gaming hardware, with up to 30 percent off gaming keyboards, mice, wireless headsets, and racing wheels.

Developers given tighter restrictions on how they can market their unfinished projects.

Valve has issued new rules and guidelines to developers regarding its Steam Early Access program, in a bid to help protect consumers from investing in risky projects.

Documentation of those guidelines is not available publicly, but GameSpot’s sister site Giant Bomb has obtained a copy and has outlined the key changes.

The new guidelines come months after Valve decided to remove a game, Earth: Year 2066, from its Early Access program after suggesting that it was being marketed with disingenuous promises about its quality. The corporation then offered refunds to those who bought it.

Early Access allows gamers to purchase games before their completion and, in some cases, help developers with feedback along the way.

However, Valve is now telling game creators that they need to be clearer in the sales pitch, making it clear that Early Access games are not the finished article.

The corporation says: “We work really hard to make sure that customers understand what they are buying when they get an Early Access title on Steam. But we’ve seen that many of these titles are sold as keys on other websites where there is no explanation of what Early Access is or what the current state of your product is now versus what you hope to achieve.”

Developers are also being asked to refrain from “specific promises about future events,” meaning that assurances about unfinished features, or merely prospective ones, should not be at the heart of a game’s marketing.

The company writes: “For example, there is no way you can know exactly when the game will be finished, that the game will be finished, or that planned future additions will definitely happen. Do not ask your customers to bet on the future of your game. Customers should be buying your game based on its current state, not on promises of a future that may or may not be realized.”

Pasted below is a key section from the documentation, written by Valve, which specifies rules that developers must follow:

Don’t launch in Early Access if you can’t afford to develop with very few or no sales.

There is no guarantee that your game will sell as many units as you anticipate. If you are counting on selling a specific number of units to survive and complete your game, then you need to think carefully about what it would mean for you or your team if you don’t sell that many units. Are you willing to continue developing the game without any sales? Are you willing to seek other forms of investment?

Make sure you set expectations properly everywhere you talk about your game.

For example, if you know your updates during Early Access will break save files or make the customer start over with building something, make sure you say that up front. And say this everywhere you sell your Steam keys.

Don’t launch in Early Access without a playable game.

If you have a tech demo, but not much gameplay yet, then it’s probably too early to launch in Early Access. If you are trying to test out a concept and haven’t yet figured out what players are going to do in your game that makes it fun, then it’s probably too early. You might want to start by giving out keys to select fans and getting input from a smaller and focused group of users before you post your title to Early Access. At a bare minimum, you will need a video that shows in-game gameplay of what it looks like to play the game. Even if you are asking customers for feedback on changing the gameplay, customers need something to start with in order to give informed feedback and suggestions.

Don’t launch in Early Access if you are done with development.

If you have all your gameplay defined already and are just looking for final bug testing, then Early Access isn’t the right place for that. You’ll probably just want to send out some keys to fans or do more internal playtesting. Early Access is intended as a place where customers can have impact on the game.”

Lucasfilm veterans Ron Gilbert and Gary Winnick are trying to bring back the classic point-and-click adventure.

Yeah, it’s another Kickstarter, and like several others it’s also from PC gaming legends that want to revive a genre that doesn’t get much love from big publishers. But the game that developers Ron Gilbert and Gary Winnick are trying to bring back harkens back to the days of Maniac Mansion.

According to the game’s description on Kickstarter, “Thimbleweed Park is a new game that cuts to the core of what made classic point & click adventure games so special, and done by the actual people who spawned the genre.” And the team’s lofty goal is “to create the true spiritual successor to Maniac Mansion and Monkey Island.”

You can read more about the game, the team, and the various reward tiers over on the game’s description page. The least amount you can pledge and still get a copy of the game is $20.

The team is suprisingly frank about their expectations for launching on time as well. If the Kickstarter is successful, the game is set to ship around August 2016, but the developer writes, “Does that mean we won’t be late? No, we probably will be late, but not by a lot and the game will be better for it. That’s just the reality of making a game and we’re going to be honest about that. We’ll keep everyone up-to-date and hopefully there will be no surprises.”

The team is trying to raise $375,000 for Thimbleweed Park, and as of this writing they’re sitting at almost $200,000 with 28 days left to go. Full disclosure: I’m a huge fan of point-and-click adventure games, and I totally backed this.