My Favourite Eight Games

Thanks to Paul Drury, I was featured in Retro Gamer issue #111 as part of a six-page “Desert Island Discs spread”. Paul asked me for my top eight games. Given my length of time in the business, this was extraordinarily difficult, and probably not even that meaningful, but here, in no particular order, are my top eight.

Star Raiders – Atari 400

Bit-for-bit, probably the greatest video game programming accomplishment in history. An 8KB miracle, the audio-visual experience was light-years ahead of anything else and the game design and balancing were almost unbearably good.

Jet Set Willy – ZX Spectrum

This game possessed me. I left my Spectrum on when I was asleep with a cushion on it so I could come back to it in the morning without having to wait for it to load. The freedom to explore was mind expanding. I loved it so deeply, I converted it to the C64.

Super Mario Kart – SNES

I played this for two years, every single day, for two hours a day, one and two player. I kept getting better. Probably the best balanced video game ever written. A masterpiece.

Speedball II – Amiga

“Ice cream! Ice cream!”

It’s hard to pick out a single title from the golden Amiga era, but this game gave me RSI and had believable and reliable AI. It had that feeling of solidity and it was brutal. Brutal deluxe.

Ultima Underworld – PC

A year before this came out I had a vivid dream of a game in which I was the protagonist facing skeletons in a 3D environment. The Stygian Abyss was that dream made real. This game made buying a monster PC a priority. It was by far the most deeply immersive and engaging game I’d ever played to that point. I still remember the battle music. Lights out, sound up, exhilarating genius.

God of War – PlayStation 2

This is one video game for which the word “epic” is wholly apt. An absolute masterpiece of design, progression, adrenaline, fury, story-telling and character development, the score is a masterpiece, the visuals were shockingly good and it is one of very few games I went back and replayed at a harder level. An utter triumph.

Super Stardust HD – PlayStation 3

The greatest twin-stick shooter ever made, supremely balanced, shockingly addictive, technically superlative, great music, retro-remade done better than anything else I can think of. At one point, I was in the world’s top 50 on several of the leaderboards. The updates were a joy too. This was like crack for the eyes.

Super Crate Box – PlayStation Vita

The PlayStation Mobile game I was most pleased to sign, this had to be on the PS Vita because there is no better way to play the game than with “proper” controls. This game is deceptively simple at first glance, but every hour of play reveals greater nuances, depth and balancing that show just how deeply considered the gameplay is. I never thought so much thought and love could go into a single-screen game. My best score is 306.

What is an Indie Dev?

What is an “indie dev”? What’s the difference between a plain old “developer” and an “indie”?

I’ve been giving this some thought since last year and I think I’ve finally come to a definition I’m happy with, and a point of differentiation, or specialisation against a  “developer”.

The term “developer” is a broad definition that covers any person directly involved in the act of software creation. A “Developer” on the other hand represents an entity involved in the act of software creation. It can be one or more people. A “Developer” can be independent, whilst not really being “indie”. So what does “indie” mean?

Indies are free to create what they want.

An indie has control over his or her creative direction. Thus Mike Bithell is an indie, Jeff Minter is an indie, Rob Fearon is definitely an indie, Rami Ismail and JW (Jan Willem Nijman) are indies, Ricky Haggett is an indie, James Marsden is an indie, Rhodri Broadbent is an indie, but despite the tag “independent” being applicable to a number of larger developers around the world, they aren’t really “indie”. A developer who was at first an “indie”, but then paid to create a specific piece of software, is no longer “indie”. However, a developer who is paid to create what the developer wants, without contractual restriction, whether that be a date restriction or a content restriction, is still an “indie”.

There is no value being applied here. An indie is not “better” in any way than any other developer. An “indie” just has true freedom. A freedom is not more or less responsible than any other type of developer. An indie can create a franchise. The difference between an indie and a non-indie is that the indie can decide not to continue with a franchise without anyone making them do otherwise. Thus Infinity Ward was the antithesis of indie, irrespective of the ownership position of Activision. Again, this is not a value judgment. Call of Duty 4: Modern Warfare sold over 13 million copies. Many people would prefer that to being poor and independent. I wouldn’t judge people harshly for that and the game remains one of my favourite games of all time.

It’s about what you value. If you value creative freedom, you will aspire to be indie. I love games made by all kinds of developers.

I think the greatest games of the future will be created by indies.

Indies are free to create what they want.

Red Tape

Modern technology was supposed to make our lives easier, but much of it reminds me of the worst excesses of cold war Eastern bloc bureaucracy.

Take TexturePacker for example. It’s not the worst offender by any means, and I feel a little mean picking on a program developed by an independent developer, but I am a customer, and I did part with money. I bought this program in October 2012 after it came highly recommended by I think Steffen Itterheim of cocos2d tutorial fame. I have yet to use it.

This morning I wanted to use a little time to migrate Alphabite code from Cinder, which is clean, powerful, transparent and utterly amazing, to cocos2d-x, which is easy to use, has great tools support, but is perhaps a little more opaque and so harder to fix when things go wrong. From being able to draw sprites individually, I needed to be able to draw them from a sprite sheet. You don’t have to, but I thought I might as well get it right from the start.

I remembered buying TexturePacker. I like buying software tools, even those, like TexturePacker, I don’t use. It’s the digital equivalent of a well-stocked tool shed. Sometimes, a man just wants to peruse his amazing collection of unsullied SnapOn metal and not necessarily ever get around to building that armoire, or customising that chopper, but it’s good to know that should the occasion demand it, he’d have the tools to do it.

Similarly, I like to kid myself that I can still program. Chimera is not exactly the greatest achievement, but it makes me think that should it come down to it, if my country ever needed my programming ability, I’d be ready to deliver; and I’d have the tools to deliver with.

Except that the tools that I buy are digital. I downloaded TexturePacker again, and activated it. Or at least, I tried to activate it. I was met with a message informing me that I was outside my update period, whatever that meant, and that I wouldn’t be able to use it. Not to mention it features the stupidest clip art I’ve ever seen.Screen Shot 2013 04 26 at 06 44 44

My tool wasn’t in my shed of course. I’d changed my Mac, so I was redownloading the tool. Imagine my set of shiny tools actually live in the SnapOn van and I have to pay to use the latest tool, or I have to find the original van that had the tool I paid for in the first place.

Except that I can’t find the original SnapOn van. And I can’t find the version of TexturePacker that I paid for on the site.

Now you can see why people like the Mac App Store. And why I’ll be using SpriteHelper. Which incidentally, I also bought ages ago and never used. It was ugly. I don’t like ugly tools. I like shiny. TexturePacker was shinier. Except for that clip art. But at least I know where to go to download SpriteHelper and I know I won’t have to pay any more than I did in the first place.