Watch me ollie!

Monday, November 21, 2005

Long Time Between Drinks

Well, what do you know? Here we are again.

I'm going to have another go at this, but with a few differences. See if you can spot them.

First thing I want to say: I've no idea where this year has gone.

Actually, that's a complete lie. I know exactly where most of it has gone - I spent most of it in the office, working on a SpongeBob SquarePants game for the Nintendo DS. Since emerging from that death march, I've been in a somewhat dazed state, filled with half-arsed ideas about how to change my life for the better in various ways. This has involved:

1. Buying some plants, and attempting to look after them.
2. Attempting to cook more often, and in different ways.
3. Making myself shamble, puff and wheeze around the park every once in a while, in a gross mockery of exercise, wearing entirely the wrong sort of socks.

There's a whole bunch of stuff going on at work now, to fill the void that follows on from the end of a major project. It's taking up at least 6 of the 10% of the brain that I supposedly actually use, but I'm not going to talk about it, since a) I probably shouldn't, and b) it's not very interesting.

I'm also going through the customary nearly-the-end-of-the-year process of self-indulgent doubt and uncertainty. I'm wasting my life; I'm in the wrong job; I'm not doing anything worthwhile - that sort of thing. I'm not actually particularly unhappy or anything - I thoroughly enjoy my work for the most part, as a matter of fact. It's just a bit pointless, is all.

In addition to the usual treadmill, I've done a few extracurricular, semi-work-related things lately. We had a pretty good IGDA meeting last week, where local boffins kindly brought their projects along for us all to take a gawp at. Many of them were absolutely brilliant. I'm not sure if it's impolite to say I was surprised, but here goes: I was surprised.

HOWEVER... as impressed as I was with the quality and quantity of what was shown, and with the passion and professionalism of these independent and student development teams, what always worries me about these events is how derivative everything is. I'd like to think that, given my druthers, I'd want to spend my time working on something refreshing and new. But these talented, driven groups of people, who can literally work on ANYTHING... end up making Zelda, or Ikaruga, or Worms, or whatever. There's plenty of time for that once you get into the games industry proper - we've got plagiarism down to an art. But when you're doing your own thing... why not actually do your own thing, and experiment a little? Very few people actually do. I don't get it.

I also spoke in a discussion panel on storytelling in games. As you can tell by the website I've linked, I wasn't their first choice for a speaker. But someone pulled out, and I guess they know that I'm always prepared to walk into a room and voice my opinions at a bunch of strangers, no matter how short the notice. And I'll admit that I do take pleasure in doing so, despite the fact that I always feel a bit of a phony when I have to pretend to be some sort of "expert". I think it went alright.

I've been playing Mario Kart on the Nintendo DS over the weekend. I'll leave the reviewing to others - they're pretty much in unison anyway. I will say two specific things about it, though:

1. It's a perfect example of "if it ain't broke...". There's nothing here that will surprise fans of the series, but nothing that will disappoint them, either. For once, adding WiFi multiplayer and making it portable actually IS enough.

2. There are no stupid touch-screen controls. The game doesn't need them, and I'm thrilled that they had the courage to stick with what works. The touch screen is used to input text sometimes (like when you have to enter your WEP key), and to draw a logo for your cart - and that's it. Awesome. Hopefully Nintendo's lead in this department will mean that the rest of us won't have to add gimmicky touch-screen controls purely for the sake of being able to say that we have them, where they don't fit at all. Phew!

It's also another reason that it's a great time to own a DS. A year ago, it looked like it might have been a bit of a turkey, but a steady stream of amazing software has made it the one gadget you've really got to carry with you at all times. The PSP is still mighty pretty, but it's also still awaiting its true killer-app, as far as this little black duck is concerned.

What else? Oh yeah. I'm also indulging myself in the traditional end of year "start a bunch of side projects I'll probably never spend more than an hour on" thing. I've got some initial notes for all sorts of overly-ambitious nonsense. If they ever progress to anything much beyond that, I'll post the results here, I promise.

I'm getting some lunch. In the meanwhile, read Honey's blog. It's a pleasure to read, and thoroughly educational, to boot. Tell her I sent you.


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