Thursday, December 30, 2010

A Spanking Good Year

DeathSpank made the 20 Best Games of 2010 list over at Very cool! Seems like yesterday he was just a lump of modeling polymer, not to mention a pitch document that languished on the desk of publishers all over the world.

To celebrate, here are some random images, including some concept work for stuff that never made it into the game, and a screen mockup dating back to the very first concept document.


Wednesday, October 13, 2010

A Print Institution Reborn

Some people read these things called "magazines." These are created when people grind up some trees, make flat white stuff called "paper," then print words and pictures all over it. It's like a blog, but you can smack spiders with it. One of the finer publications is Gamefan, which was resurrected a few months ago.

There's a nice, if somewhat dense, interview with me in this month's issue. Editor Dave Halverson grilled me on all sorts of topics, including DeathSpank, some recent artwork, Kinect and my projects at Microsoft. Pick up a copy at your local Best Buy, Target or Barnes & Noble if you really want to know what I think about... stuff.


Wednesday, September 22, 2010

The Little Concept That Could

I've worked on over ninety thousand games with my friend Ron Gilbert. Or nine. I forget. One of our better known collaborations concludes this week with the release of DeathSpank: Thongs of Virtue on Xbox Live Arcade and Playstation Network. Yes, that lovable dumbass with the stentorian voice appears once more in the downloadable game cosmos. The epic story, first conceived in the seedy back alley of a rant-filled blog, draws to its momentous end.

Ron and I started thinking of DeathSpank as a character back in 2004. We schlepped the original concept all over the world, starting with a trip to Europe in 2005. Even after years of "no," we kept adding details to the character and his world. It just kept growing. We couldn't stop it. One vivid memory is the sight of the proto-story and puzzle tree document spread out on Ron's kitchen table as we explored the nooks and crannies of the initial design in 2006. It was a tough decision when I finally made the call to get a "real job," mostly because my family seems to require "food" and "shelter." It turns out you can't live on the sweet, sweet taste of justice alone.

Sidebar illustrations from the original pitch document for DeathSpank, circa 2005.

That DeathSpank was made at all is still astounding. People who create characters are used to having them knock around inside their heads. It's always kind of surprising when they escape and actually appear in the real world where everyone else can see them. But ideas are easy. The endless hours of detailed, hard work is the tricky part. DeathSpank's existence is a tribute to all the awesome, smart, funny talented people involved in its creation and development. Those who weren't awesome, smart, funny or talented were only minimally inconvenient, so that's pretty great too in an odd sort of way.

Head shape work 2008

I'm proud of my work on DeathSpank. I named him. I took a chunk of sculpting stuff and molded the basic shape of his heroic noggin with my own hands. I iterated on his visual design, taking him from a glorified stick figure to a fleshed out hero who could walk and talk and kill lots of things. Hothead does that nutty "we don't believe in regular credits that describe what everybody actually did" thing, so I guess my character designs, juvenile jokes, puzzles and story contributions will just have to remain our little secret. Due credit or not, my time with DeathSpank is certainly over and done with at this point.

Getting closer! Almost there...

It's the end of a six year saga where I've gone from co-conspirator, to frustrated outsider, to a distant observer who feels pride in what the concept ultimately accomplished -- and regret for what it could have been. Still, when it's all said and done, the world is better off with DeathSpank in it.

And now, randomly selected reviews!



Tuesday, September 21, 2010

Verbosity You Can Touch

One of the casual download games I made a few years ago just got revamped and all tarted up for the iPad. Word Spiral HD launched on the App Store last night. I have to say, it seems to work even better with a touch interface than it did with a mouse. Check it out if you're a fan of word games. Or beaches. Or very laid back Reggae-ish music by (Voodoo Vince composer) Steve Kirk.

UPDATE: Sorry to say, we didn't get around to updating the game to the latest version of iOS, so it's off the App Store for now. We might re-launch someday but life has been a bit too busy lately.


Tuesday, June 22, 2010

Sweet Release

Electronic Arts and Hothead Games announced a release date for DeathSpank today. It's July 13th on PSN and July 14th on Xbox Live Arcade.

The game has come a long way from the random doodle of a bumbling hero in my sketchbook all those years ago. There were times Ron and I were pretty sure the game would never see the light of day, especially after shopping the concept in every corner of the planet. It's ironic. A concept that started as a parody of games from a cartoon that mercilessly mocked the game industry was picked up by one of the biggest game publishers in the world.

It's somehow fitting, since a smaller publisher simply cannot contain the mighty awesomeness that is DeathSpank. Props to Ron who followed our initial vision for DeathSpank all the way to Canada, the fine folks at Hothead Games in Vancouver, B.C. and everybody who gave their blood and sweat (not to mention cash) to make the game happen.

Evil may not be 100% vanquished, but I'm feeling way less downtrodden knowing DeathSpank is about to be unleashed.


Sunday, May 30, 2010

DeathSpank: My Clip Runneth Over

It's handy to have something I worked on nearly, almost, kind of about to be unleashed on the world. That means I can post stuff and do very little work.

Here is the latest. It's a quick teaser from the lovely people at Hothead Games. It reveals some of the story in the upcoming DeathSpank game. I fondly remember the first orphan-related story & design sessions with Ron some time earlier this century. We knew then that DeathSpank would be something special.

And wrong. Remind me again why it took so long to find a publisher?

DeathSpank: Now with 20% more orphan!


Saturday, May 08, 2010

Impending Spankitude

My old pal Ron has been hitting the PR circuit for a little game we cooked up a few years ago called DeathSpank. Ron was sequestered in Vancouver, B.C. for the last couple years working on the game at Hothead, but has finally emerged from hiding to proclaim the game pretty much, kinda totally finished.

Here's a link to some hands-on impressions, first from Joystiq.

And from Gamespot.

Look for DeathSpank on some form of shiny box with blinking lights near you soon!


Saturday, February 13, 2010

At War With My Friends

I've been a Senior Design Director at Microsoft Game Studios for nearly a year now and I've had the pleasure of working on some damn cool things. I work in an incubation group. We get to experiment with new concepts while pitching in on games across the studio. We also build games ourselves as we explore wacky new ideas. I haven't been able to talk about anything I'm doing, until now. One of our efforts just launched on Facebook. It's called Match Defense: Toy Soldiers.

Toy Soldiers is a truly awesome game for Xbox Live Arcade. It will launch during the upcoming Block Party campaign on XBLA, and it's one of my favorite games in a long time. Really. I can't stop playing it. Signal Studios has created a masterpiece. The game looks as good as it plays, and that's saying a lot.

Signal's brilliant upcoming Toy Soldiers game for Xbox Live Arcade.

Not too long after I started, my boss Ken Lobb asked me to think up a basic idea for a Facebook companion game for Toy Soldiers. I was already a huge fan of Signal's title, even at that early stage, so I whipped up a quick mockup for a puzzle game that combines a basic match-3 style game with elements of tower defense. Thanks to Ken and the rest of our team, the final result went way beyond that initial idea. Match Defense is a nifty little experience with some surprising depth. Ken's influence really shows in the layered scoring and a robust combo system that brings to mind some puzzle games of yore.

Sure, you can play it like any other swappy, matchy puzzle game, but you can also build huge combos, or go for pure accuracy, or speed, or a mix of everything. I've seen people debating in the hall outside my office about the best technique. Passionate arguments can be music do a game designer's ears. So can music, but that's not the point here.

This is more than a promotional item for the Xbox 360 game. The games are connected by a continous connection to an ongoing Great War. Scores from both games contribute to whichever side players choose: Allied or Central. Two countries are up for grabs every day. The first side to win eight countries first wins. After that, medals are awarded, the war begins again and players once again choose sides.

We expect to continue refining and tweaking the game, especially after the XBLA game is available. It's an early step, but an interesting one where two different kinds of games share a common connection that is as social as it is technical.

See you on the leaderboards!


Saturday, January 16, 2010

Dungeon & Dragons & Life

All I Need To Know About Life I learned From Dungeons and Dragons. An IgniteOKC Talk. from Chad Henderson on Vimeo.

Hilarious talk from IgniteOKC from Chad Henderson. It talks about the many things he learned playing D&D and how that applies to the real world. I can say without equivocation, I would not be a game designer today if my friends hadn't ruined my teen years by introducing me to Dungeons & Dragons. The jury is still out as to whether this is a good or a bad thing.