games design

How a year changes everything

by on Sep.10, 2016, under games design


For every covertcreations post, the apology is implicit. The time between updates flies by. I guess that’s what one gets for having a child, buying a house, and filling the idle moments with gaming goodness (Dark Souls 3, absolute best of the bunch recently). With the time gaps comes an avalanche of topics to write about. Often I don’t even know where to start! That aside, I’ll pick a random topic and see where that takes us.

It’s 2016! Almost a whole year since the last update where I lavished praise upon the Penny Arcade Expo. Honestly, if you have the chance do make a point of going. Go! The hot topic then, and still, is the release of Generation One for Virtual Reality. In the intervening time I bit the bullet (a rather costly one) and acquired an HTC Vive VR headset for my wife, the darth bunny herself. Have we enjoyed it? Of course! Are there issues with it? Of course! I can’t help but feel like I’m still in a tech demo when I use it. To me (and one may disagree) there is no killer app for VR. I’ve read claims that “Star Trek Bridge Crew” is “it”. But I’ve heard that about a few other titles as well (e.g. Cliffy B most recently. To me, if someone needs to proclaim “THIS IS IT!!”, then it’s instantly not true. A real killer hit will just happen without anyone making any bold proclamations about it. It’ll just be so good on its own without needing to point it out. I’ll cite the original arcade Space Invaders or Pacman. Half-Life 2. Quake. World of Warcraft. I will assure you that there is no Quake-level amazing equivalent for VR today (I’m talking about Quake as a total experience, not just a simple videogame).

VR isn’t in a rut, per se. It’s got a lot of pressure on it to take over and be totally amazing for everyone. That day has not arrived, but I’m sure it will come. The market promises indicate that VR as an industry will soar to being worth something like 150 Billion by 2020. That’s a lot of sauce for a still nascent tech. But here we are in the latter half of 2016, and the predicted timeframe gets far closer than an influx of killer titles and experiences.

Don’t get me wrong. The technical demos and various experiences are really quite something. I”ll point out that thedarthbunny claims Recroom, La Peri, theBlu and Portal Stories VR lead the pack. Yet, as I’ve said now, there’s nothing that is going to blow the world away with sheer awesomeness right now. I am happy to be corrected on this if you have recommendations. Bunny also warns that the rollercoaster sims should be avoided.

Let me explore what’s missing.

There is lot of developers, even triple-A companies, using their vast experience, resources and skills to create a videogame in VR. Of course they are! That’s not an issue, but what I have found is that the “world” of VR is simply not the same as a making a typical computer game. There is less crossover between the two ideas when you really think about it. Even Palmer Lucky in his early days (before he sold to Facebook and became an industry pillar for the word, “sell-out”) said something very poignant about input schemes in VR. I’ll paraphrase him out of sheer laziness : “People have to remember that VR has different requiremnts in terms of input technology. Superhuman input schemes don’t work very well. They’re very jarring and non-immersive. Remember, the mouse is a superhuman input device. And it just doesn’t work very well in VR at all.” OK fine, here is a link to one of many instances where he said something approximating this. This applies to a lot of concepts that stem from thinking “videogame” and then applying it to VR. And to me, this is wrong. They are not the same. I think that the missing element is the acceptance that VR is an entirely new medium unto itself.

If history tells us anything, a new medium requires a whole new way of thinking.

Is there a solution? Well if I knew that, would I be sitting here writing this article? OK probably. But seriously, I believe that we are on the right track with the Vive and the Rift. Roomscale is a winner. Embracing other input modes (the fancy Vive controllers and Touch), very good. I’ve not seen the Touch yet but if it delivers on allowing one to reach out and grab things with just your hands then it’s got my vote. What else?

  • The resolution needs to go up and up, and not stop being increased. Yes, I know this is hard with the OLEDS within the headset but I’m sure they’ll figure it out.
  • No more “screen doors”. Even the Vive has this and it’s a problem.
  • Stop making games. Make experiences that have games in them. When you think of them in terms of games, there is an implicit agreement between the player and the title they are loading. “I am about to start a game that I will play and then stop.” WIth the immersiveness of VR, it needs to drop you into the world and wrap you up in it immediately. No title screen, no HUD, all context, theme, story and interaction must take place within the confines of the virtual. And no pause button.
  • Roomscale-to-playscale calibration needs to be totally fluid. The Vive needs recalibration periodically and it’s an immersion breaker.
  • Binaural audio. I predict that when a true 3-dimensional sense of sound becomes a standard part of VR gaming, this will help immensely. I’ll even go further than that and say that accomplishing the same sense of “3D sound” in VR (where your physical head turns and the virtual sounds have to adjust where they’re coming from) would likely be helped by a dedicated sound processor, just like a graphics processer (GPU). Lets return to the days of the Soundblaster Pro! (Wow, they’re still around!)
  • Safety and environment. These headsets need cameras and they need to warn you when you’re going to bump into something or when the real world needs your attention. I’ll cue my story of getting smacked in the head by my wife with her controller as she’d completely forgotten that I was there. It was OK, but it sums up the problem nicely.

Clearly not an exhaustive list, and not earth-shattering either. I appreciate the technology and innovation that’s been brought to bear thus far, but it still has a way to go to gain wider acceptance. Yet I believe that solving, no nailing, is an absolute must for this to happen.

Fast forward a mere four years and we’ll see where we’ve gone. If the mere one year since my last post has anything to say, we’ll definitely get there.

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Why The Witcher 3 is Awesome and Why You Should Play It

by on Sep.20, 2015, under game reviews, games design, pc, playstation, rpg


Sure, you’ve loaded up the Witcher and the rather shaky beginning doesn’t grab you. You hit Quit and move on with your life, wondering what the hype is all about. What I’ll say to you then is, seriously, give it a chance. Once you finish the intro area (White Orchard) and get through Vizima’s plot hook, you’ll be set free. And that’s really where the game starts. Look, I’ll just come out and say it. The Witcher 3 is a master class in doing a RPG. CD Projekt Red, where were they hiding all of this creativity and talent in the previous two Witchers? I found those games incredibly frustrating, and never finished them. But right now I’ll tell you, I’m on my second play-through after doddling and ferreting my way through to story completion.

Here’s what I liked :

  • The density of the visuals
  • How your choices have significant impact on the fate of characters and the world
  • The combat
  • The visual style
  • The variety of quests, many of them hooked me that I’d forgotten the original thing I was intent on doing

And here’s what I loved :

  • The details – environmental, visual and character
  • The voice acting (well, most of it)
  • The story
  • The sprawling world
  • The hybrid narrative-meets-openworld approach

And the best part of all, the sense of continuous discovery. No matter what I was doing, I knew that within the vastness of this sprawling epic I’d happen upon something interesting. A fellow traveller being ambushed that I had to save. A derisive NPC needs something done before she’d help you. A deep cavern hidden in the hillside, housing an elite monster. And loots! Loots everywhere!

It isn’t like this game is without foibles. Yet those little nigglies are navigable and easily forgiven as they’re swept aside from the relentless tide of story, crafting, exploring and of course… GWENT. Gwent is a card game in the style of your typical Magic TG or Hearthstone. You build your deck, deploy your powers and hope your strategy pays off (literally). It’s one of the most polished minigames within a game that I’ve yet to encounter (and I usually ignore them).

Do yourself a favour. Get outta Vizima. And into the best game you’ve played in your life.

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A Few Covert Creations

by on Jun.22, 2015, under games design

One of my latest loves has nothing to do with videogames. Actually, one may argue that videogames, RPGs in particular, owe homage to the age old practice of tabletop gaming. In my case, the tabletop game of choice has always been Dungeons and Dragons.

I’ve been running various campaigns over the last couple of years, and one of the things that I’ve tried to do is make the big setpiece battles more interesting. Not only from a mechanical perspective in terms of the game’s mechanics, but also from a visual perspective. Either some work in Photoshop, or physical objects that include actual puzzles, carts, elaborate dioramas and other odds/ends.

Once I started doing that, there was no stopping. I’ll pay my respects to someone called “DM Scotty” whose DMCraft Youtube channel inspired me to go out and get my first glue gun. So here are a few creations that I’ve done in the last while. (click on the images to view full or use HoverZoom).







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Blog, Interrupted

by on Apr.15, 2015, under games design


We will be moving providers away from the stale and horrendous Yahoo to a far zippier one. Not that I have a large following on this blog but if you do visit and things look strangely broken that is why.

Hopefully the transfer is smooth and good ol’ covertcreations comes back unscathed.

See you on the other side.

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Elder Scrolls Online We Love You Long Time

by on Apr.30, 2014, under game reviews, games design, mmo, mmorpg, rpg


Oh look, a covertcreations post! Yes, it’s true we are back after an epoch. Or two, however much an epoch is.

Gaming has moved on in the last few years, that’s not news. VR is here (almost), sequels come and played and gone again, mobile games come and not played and gone again, and so on, on and on.

In keeping to the spirit of shorter, pointed posts I shall say this : I FREAKING LOVE Elder Scrolls Online!


Oh look, we’re goblins! No, that’s not a selling feature (unless you like goblins). Aside from this random bit of information, I shall provide another. If you like exploration-puzzling-social-crafty-questing-gorgeous-interesting-zomgepicbattles type of MMORPGs, then I will implore you to give ESO a try. We did, and if you didn’t pick up on the subtext here, I’ll just say it again : I FREAKING LOVE Elder Scrolls Online!

Detailed review to follow, hopefully before epoch#3. In the meantime, check out my lovely gamerwifeunit’s Geek Girl Review blog. Peace out.

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Will I return to Auraxis? Planetside 2…

by on Jul.08, 2011, under games design

Planetside 2 trailer from out of nowhere. Unreal! Tell me what you think!

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Buzzing about the GW2 Buzz

by on Aug.12, 2010, under games design, gaming, mmo, mmorpg

(Thanks for the video link, Mr. Headcrash)

Can I say Nextgen? Oops, I just did. I hate that word. Thank-you Areanet for kicking the bar aside and ratcheting up a whole new one.

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And Guildwars, Two.

by on Jul.18, 2010, under computer graphics, games design, mmorpg, rpg

Oh Guildwars, how you disappointed.

There were so many good things about it, most notably the visuals, but also the interesting quests, fun combat, an innovative henchman system, cool spell-effects and general polish. For the time, all of these virtues seemed great when held up to WoW’s cartoony, cutesy style.

So what was the problem?

(continue reading…)

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Gamin’ on…

by on Jul.08, 2010, under consoles, game reviews, games design, playstation


Driving often makes me think about futurism. How will we be regarded by generations far ahead of us, peering into the soup of the 20th and 21st centuries? I think one of the least interesting aspects of our society is how horribly inefficient modern-day automobiles look and act. We’ve engineered and over-engineered a century-old technology that spends most of its time idle, slow, pollutive, noisy…

And weaponless.

(continue reading…)

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Impressions on (a not yet finished) LBP

by on Jul.03, 2010, under games design


It’s a tricky little thing. Tricky and weird. My early forays into LBP’s bouncy, plush little world have been entertaining and interesting. Under my girlfriend’s ever-patient tutelage, I’ve finally experienced what everyone else was blogging about last year. Do I love it? Well, there are so many good things about this odd little creation. The visual and quirky style, the polish, the kinked out puzzles and wacky kinetics are just so unique. I expected weird, but came away surprised.

In my clumsy state of console retardation, I die a LOT, I whine and wonder blankly at the wonky camera angles and impenetrable platform logic. The only time I seem to do well is when it’s clearly by accident, or when my lovely playmate rescues us by solving a puzzle or escaping the crocodiles.

This game doesn’t survive long play sessions. I’m used to extended sessions of play, interspersed with unhealthy episodes of bad food and caffeine, but I reach a marked distraction point with LBP. The cuteness wanes into frustration, my nominal attention span wanders. I don’t often care about what I’m doing as I nudge the little puppet along the various platforms, pitfalls and otherworld physical rules. However, jumping straight in for a short visit seems to work well. I get overwhelmed by cuteness, am entertained and challenged, and come away with an overall good impression.

I haven’t finished it. I probably will. My initial understanding was that this was a game of toolsets and creation, of which I have yet to plunder. I probably will. All said, LBP is a fun, interesting place. One I will visit often through my PS3’s journey.

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