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Previously on, "Getting Players to Care"
I talked about all sorts of interesting stuff and laid out the foundation for this article series. Each part leads directly into the next and explains what the heck is going on. If you haven't read a previous part, check out Part 1 and skip along merily through my linear corridor of an article-design. I'll work on a non-linear article series next time, I promise. 

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The least consistent aspect of modern digital games is the quality of the UI. This article - the first in a series of four - outlines UI design axioms to help designers create better games and gamers to understand more about UI.

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Interplay founder and Wasteland co-creator Brian Fargo has laid into the depressing state of the publisher model, offering some rare insight into the rough treatment many developers are allegedly subject to.

Speaking in an interview with Ripten, Fargo explained that word rarely gets out about how destructive the relationship between publisher and developer can be because those affected fear "they'll never get another contract" if they blow the whistle.

He then went on to highlight the recent controversy over Bethesda's refusal to pay developer Obsidian a bonus for Fallout: New Vegas as a prime example.

Read more…

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vita indiegames.jpg The PlayStation Vita launches today in both wifi and 3G models in the US and EU territories. Digital titles Super Stardust Delta, Escape Plan, and Tales from Space: Mutant Blobs Attack!!! have hit the US PlayStation Network, and Frobisher Says is a free preorder incentive to those in Europe.

Independent studio Housemarque brings Super Stardust Delta, a spherical arena shooter that uses the dual analog sticks to handle the core mechanics. It also makes use of Vita's touchscreen to create black holes and fire missiles and tilt mechanics to view what's on the other side of the planet. The action looks pretty frantic and fun below:

Fun Bits Interactive (whose producers worked on Fat Princess) made touch-intensive puzzle platformer Escape Plan for the Vita. Players swipe, squeeze, poke, slap, and tilt to manipulate the characters and interact with the environments. Escape Plan also has pretty slick gray-scale visuals:

The final US indie launch title is DrinkBox Studio's Tales from Space: Mutant Blobs Attack!!!, a follow-up to its 2011 PSN puzzle platformer About a Blob. The charming retro sci-fi '50s vibe is felt throughout the trailer. The music, visuals, and 2D platforming seem all to be rock solid in this title, too. Finally there's a load of indie puns plastered in the game (And Yet it Moos!).

I took to Metacritic to see how these indie titles fared against their AAA counterparts. The currently EU-only Frobisher Says hadn't been reviewed yet. In the developer's defense, Honeyslug only got review codes to email IndieGames (and I assume the rest of the press) two days ago. However, Pocket Gamer gave it a generally favorable preview.

DrinkBox Studios' Tales from Space: Mutant Blobs Attack!!!, the only independently published PSN title, was reviewed the least of all US launch titles with 4 times (edit: and a 90/100 from Vox Games). However, it currently has a high 87/100 average. Super Stardust Delta had 10 reviews and averages 83/100, and Escape Plan had 8 reviews and a 76/100 average.

To give an idea of how many reviews exist for the AAA titles, Uncharted: Golden Abyss has 50 reviews and averages at 80/100. Modnation Racers had 28 reviews and an average of 62/100. Little Deviants, the title Sony chose to bundle with the PS Vita's First Edition pack, averages out at 58/100 from 37 reviews. Sony later gave away the stronger Super Stardust Delta to pre-purchasers of the $299 3G-model.

Currently, the indie titles have a review average of 81.3/100 collectively, whereas the AAA titles bring up the rear with 70.2/100.

Not only do indies average better overall, they so far avoid lower-tiered review scores individually:
games reviewed below 80/100:
80% of AAA launch titles and 33% of indie launch titles
games reviewed below 70/100:
45% of AAA launch titles and 0% of indie launch titles
games reviewed below 60/100:
30% of AAA launch titles and 0% of indie launch titles

In Leigh Alexander's intriguing opinion piece on Gamasutra, she asks if the Vita casts too wide a net. In the case of Sony's $50 million marketing strategy, I hope Sony figures out how to cast a wider "net" with all that money to get its hardware and indie software in the right hands to review. Promoting and ensuring a strong digital library (filled with indie and AAA games) may help make the Vita more relevant as it competes for portable gamers' time and money.

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Today's collection of independent game links includes more indie game previews, a couple of development updates, and the usual round-up of interviews with developers from around the 'net. (image source).

IGN: Matt Hammill Interview
"IGN recently had the opportunity to speak to Hammill about Gesundheit's history, the game's IGF showing, and whether fans can expect any more snot-slinging action in the future."

Gamasutra: Indie Game Marketing
"I'm fortunate enough to have some money to spend experimenting with marketing and I figure by sharing what I've learned, these marketing articles can help other indie developers who can't afford to waste money heading down dead-ends and trying experiments that might not pay off."

Eurogamer: Jonathan Blow Interview
"With Jonathan Blow recently visiting London, we caught up with the designer of Braid and The Witness to ask him a selection of rambling questions and received some surprisingly concise answers."

Joystiq: Escapement Studios sheds light on using Kickstarter
"Kickstarter has helped generate funds for plenty of indie devs, and Escapement thought it would work for them, too -- with a goal of $10,000, they put In the Dark's future in the hands of the Kickstarter public, and they waited. One month later, they had generated $7,440, but they failed to meet their goal, meaning they earned nothing."

Indie Games Channel: ACE Team on Rock of Ages
"With Rock of Ages set to roll out, I took some time to talk to Carlos Bordeu of ACE Team. He was happy to talk about the Santiago-based studio, Rock of Ages, the reasoning behind some of the game's delays, and ACE Team's future."

Ctrl-2-Crouch: Revenge of The Titans Interview
"We originally started out writing a game that was akin to a Flash game called Storm the House. As you can see it turned out rather different, completely by accident, as we kept on twiddling it to make it more 'fun' whenever we came up with a new idea."

DIYgamer: Manic Game Studios Interview
"Manic Game Studios broke onto the indie scene with the critically acclaimed puzzler, Critical Mass, which retains a MetaCritic score of 82/100. It turns out the indie devs are not huge puzzle fans, so what prompted the development of Critical Mass? Some insightful answers await you."

The Word of Notch: Why no Steam, Notch
"At PAX, I got asked why we're not on Steam with Minecraft, and I had to answer the question straight out for the first time. So I'll repeat what I said on here, because openess is awesome."

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My study of over 850 games over a twelve year period found that the individuals in the producer role had a much greater effect on the critical and financial success of the game than the designers, or even the developer as a whole.

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Recently we had a chance to look at 2K’s intriguing reboot of XCOM – and a full XCOM preview is coming up soon – but first there’s an interview which explains a bit about the world, and the intention to tell a story about the origin of the XCOM alien invasion in the setting of 1960s America.

In the depths of a bunker packed with strange humanoids that communicated almost entirely using the words “like”, “totally” and “hella” we spoke to something that claimed to be Jonathan Pelling, Creative Director at 2K Marin, developers of XCOM. Here’s what he had to say…
(more…)

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