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FvaFshX Blog

Experiencing the worst part of the games industry

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Six months ago, my last blog post was a celebratory one. The game I had been working on, Def Jam Rapstar, was finally on store shelves and it was time for my team and I to experience the hardest part of the development process: the waiting game. Leading up to the game's release, we were excited to learn that our marketing budget was quite high for a rap karaoke game. Talks of celebrity endorsements, TV Spots, and multiple sponsors truly made us believe we could make this game stand out in a very crowded holiday season. A high review average was also expected of us and even our producer expressed skepticism that a karaoke game could score high with critics.

We all worked tirelessly to deliver the best possible product we could, and fortunately, the critics recognized our efforts. The reviews for Rapstar were quite stellar and it warmed our hearts when some called it the one of the best music games they'd played. Talks of a sequel began to rise up within Terminal Reality as well as 4mm Games and design ideas for Rapstar 2 were already being thrown around. However, our enthusiasm was tempered by a very important factor: the sales figures.

As I mentioned earlier, the marketing budget was quite high for Rapstar, so I was a little bothered that the oft talked about TV spots and endorsements were barely seen. To make matters worse, we were competing with other high caliber games including another Konami title, "Castlevania: Lords of Shadow". I even checked VGChartz from time to time and unfortunately the sales figures were incredibly low. However, my co-workers tried to comfort me by saying Rapstar is not going to make Call of Duty numbers right away, it needs to catch on by press and word of mouth.

After working on DLC for months, it eventually came to light in the new year that Rapstar didn't meet sales expectations. The game did sell pretty well for a new franchise, but the amount of spent on marketing ended up hurting us in the end. That budget raised the sales cap we needed to reach in order to just break even on the amount the investors put forth. To make matters worse, I was informed I would be laid off in two weeks.

I read stories about video game layoffs for years, but I never imagined it would happen to me and a small subset of my team. The news hit me really hard because I relocated for this dream job and I was working hard to learn more about level design and the industry as a whole. On the bright side, and this may be a result of how frequent lay offs occur in this industry, the contacts I had established during my work on Rapstar were quick to provide me with other job leads and opportunities. Almost immediately after my last day, I was contacted by another former employee to work on an iPhone game. My linkedIn profile also expanded tremendously and messages started rolling in about possible job openings all over the US.

Even though it was a tough experience leaving a place I considered home, I still had an incredible time working on Rapstar. Terminal Reality is one of the best companies to work for and I hope one day I get to work with my developer family again. For now, I'm going to keep toiling away to stay in this industry in any capacity. Ideally, I'd like to stay on the development side, but I would also love to take what I've learned and transition back into journalism. It's amazing how much my perspective changed by working on the other side of the fence. Guess what? Sometimes the developers know if an element of a game is flawed, but the publisher pushes it anyway. Imagine how frustrating that is when the reviews come out and complain about that aspect, and the publisher then scrambles to patch it.

Anyway, I look forward to updating this blog more often and becoming more active on this site now that I have more time. With any luck, I'll be able to post a successful comeback story within months. I'm much more optimistic than I was before I worked in the industry and, despite the downfalls like work instability and time crunches, it's still a wonderful industry to be a party of.

The Time Has Arrived! (Def Jam RapStar)

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After a year of hard work (2 years for our entire team), Def Jam Rapstar is finally a mere 5 days away! My excitement reached an all time high today as one of my favorite sites posted a quick look of our game. You can see it here:

http://www.giantbomb.com/quick-look-def-jam-rapstar/17-3294/

Seeing our game on the front page really surprised me, and I was overwhelmed to see just how much fun the guys were having playing our game. It was also nice to see them point out features that I personally put into the game. The game has received tremendous exposure and I can't thank the Giant Bomb crew enough for helping a lot of people get excited about DJRS. As this is the first game I worked on, it's incredibly surreal to see a project observed by fresh eyes and ears (I can't tell you how many times we've heard the songs on the setlist).

We're not just sitting back and basking in the positive preview glory though. We're all hard at work on delivering plenty of DLC for old school and new school hip-hop fans alike. And even if you don't like rap, the game is still incredibly fun. I can say this from experience because my genre of choice is rock, yet here I am at this past years E3:

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=weK0R7KmsRg

It's been a long and memorable year, and I couldn't be prouder of the final product we've created. I hope you all pick up the game when it hits store shelves on October 5th. Enjoy the gaming goodness!

E3 Bound!

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It's E3 time again! And this year was quite a special year for me, not only because I get to attend this year, but also because I got to experience what its like on the other end to produce an E3 demo. Let me be the first to tell you: It is not pretty. There's a lot of pressure to make a polished E3 demo while still working on the main game and you always have to be sure to CHECK YOUR CHANGES before finalizing it. The last thing you need is the blame placed squarely on you if you make a change that compromises the demo!

However, now that it's all said and done, I finally get to relax and look forward to the trip. I've always dreamed of going to the convention and I'm still in disbelief that I managed to get this job and gain the privilege to attend. Although I'm going to miss being able to watch the press conferences streamed in their entirety on television, it's a worthy trade-off to be able to play all sorts of demos and, hopefully, run into some of my favorite journalists. In addition to that, I've always wanted to move to California so this is a great opportunity to see what the state is really like.

Well, it seems its time for me to start packing. To all who are attending E3, come check out the Konami booth to see all the hard work we've done to make Def Jam Rapstar the definitive hip-hop game. If you've got what it takes, maybe you could defeat me in a rap battle...although it's not likely (what can I say? I'm the best maaaan). Also don't forget about the live performance from Method Man and Redman at 4pm on Wednesday. See you in sunny California!

A Triumphant Return

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Greetings All!

It's hard to believe its been almost five months since my last blog entry. It feels good to finally have a spare moment to share some of the huge developments that have occured. There were a variety of factors that contributed to my absence, but the biggest one of all is a dream job come true through very unexpected circumstances. In some way, I hope this story helps out anyone who is currently struggling to find a job or searching for a job that suits them.

Right around the time of my last blog entry, I was barely making it in Philadelphia as a freelance reviews writer, voice actor, and musician. Like many others, the recession was hitting me hard since many venues and agencies skimp on entertainment to save a little money. As performance gigs steadily diminished, I thought I would be stuck in Philly forever in a futile struggle to land a job as a staff writer for GameSpot, IGN, or any similar sites. I always thought that would be the ideal 9 to 5 job I could acquire since anything involving the Fine Arts never really counts as a steady paycheck unless you make it big.

However, just when I was beginning to lose all hope, I saw a job posting for a music based job for an upcoming video game. Since it was such an incredible job, blending a music degree I thought I would never use and my love of video games, I put together the best cover letter I've ever written and sent it off with fingers tightly crossed. A week later, I got called in for an interview. Which was great news, except for the fact that the development studio was in Dallas, TX. So with a leap of faith that this was the job for me, I spent tons of money on a next day plane ticket and even put down a deposit on an apartment as soon as I arrived. In the end, my faith paid off, and I was fortunate enough to land a job working for Terminal Reality!

I later told my co-workers my story and they all called me crazy, but I gained a lot of respect in the process from the higher ups at the company. I started working for Terminal Reality in August and it is hands down the best job I've ever had. I even had the opportunity to use my voice acting for an upcoming game and right now I'm working to transition into a design position to secure a more permanent position within the company.

So, to anyone out there still feeling the recession or worrying about a possible bad degree choice, I just want to say that I believe the perfect job is out there for everyone. I was fortunate enough to live a dream I've had since I was a kid to be a game developer and I did it with a music composition degree and a minor freelance writing resume credit. I honestly never thought I'd see myself in this position, but I really couldn't be happier.

Well that's it from me. Chances are I won't be able to write again for quite a while, so I hope everyone has a happy holiday and a great new year!

P.S: I hope you all pick up a copy of Def Jam Rapstar next year!

Guilty Gear, Anime Bloodshed, and...Chrono Trigger?!

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Hey All!

Thanks to Sophia's beautiful video game covers in the Name That Tune blog posts, I was inspired to post a link to a just completed video right here. As you can see from the title though, my video may not be as soothing

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=zHJrOgFowAc

This medley is one of the many guitar rock covers I recorded back in 2005. During that time, I was at the absolute peak of my geekiness and I decided to exhibit that by recording a 2CD set of video game and anime covers all 8 minutes and up (one medley passed the 20 minute mark!). It took months to record it and I got a C in a college Music History course because of it (I don't care what the professor says, all Gregorian Chants sound alike), but I still think it was totally worth it.

So if you're into super crazy guitar rock (and if you recently picked up BlazBlue, you should be), give it a watch/listen. Also, if you click on my name on youtube (VashKein), you'll find rock covers from Final Fantasy VII, VIII, X, an original song using LittleBigPlanet, and the theme from the X-Men Cartoon which everyone seems to go nuts for.

Thanks for reading and thanks to Sophia for the awesome blog posts, even though I'm always too late to answer in the comments

A (Glorious?) Return to Kingdom Hearts

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Wow, after almost 3 months I finally have time to post a new blog entry. Hopefully, I haven't completely forgotten how to do this :P

I decided to replay Kingdom Hearts a week ago due to the recent discussion on the Hotspot and my own desire to replay a series I'd completely forgotten (I still can't remember a single thing that happened in Kingdom Hearts 2). I was never really the super-fan of Kingdom Hearts like many others are, but I really appreciated how well Square was able to combine two completely different worlds. There's been quite a bit of hostility from most of the Hotspot crew regarding the game, which only sparked my desire to revisit the game. Was the game really that bad or is it a case of higher standards for games as time and technology progresses?

Well, as I just finished the game 10 minutes ago, I can safely say its a little from column A and a little from column B. For the first few hours, the game felt like an absolute mess. Putting the camera control on the shoulder buttons while the right stick went to waste as a secondary way to select commands just blew my mind, especially whenever I had to awkwardly hit both shoulder buttons at once to snap the camera to Sora's back. I also forgot how much of a pain the game is before you get a Cure spell. Having to fumble with the item menu in the heat of combat really didn't help the first few hours.

Another issue that popped up was the level design. Unlike alot of games now that implement some way to tell you where to go next, Kingdom Hearts often has you aimlessly walking around from area to area hoping to trigger the next cutscene. That doesn't help the game's incredibly slow start on the beach and in Traverse Town, where you have to walk in and out of shops and random buildings until you finally meet up with Donald and Goofy. And on a last note about the level design; Considering how frantic the game's combat system is, its absolutely staggering how many combat levels place you on high catwalks where you can easily fly off and have to climb your way back up (ever notice how enemies like to bait you and hover way off of the catwalk?). Oh yeah, and for a game that was supposed appeal to kids as well as hardcore gamers at the time, the story truly is baffling (I counted the words "darkness" and "heart" over 15 times in one text box) and the difficulty spike is kind of weird (An 8-Stage Final Boss?!!).

Aside from those flaws, I still felt really satisfied with the game as the credits rolled. I think the game really hits its stride when you get to Halloween town and the Colosseum was always my favorite part (gotta love fighting Sephiroth). The secret CG movie also made me look forward to restarting KH2, but I need to take a break first and play other games to cleanse my Disney/Square mash-up palette. The polish of new games definitely made me notice the flaws of KH alot more, but I don't really consider it a broken game by any means. Take that, McShea!

LittleBigPlanet Music Video Complete!

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After months of procrastination and laziness, I finally decided to give the creation aspect of LittleBigPlanet a shot. I've always wanted to try out the creation aspects of the game, but I was always too intimidated by the awesome levels the community created in such a short amount of time. However, because I'm really trying hard to get my music out there now, I figured now is as good a time as any to finally bring my level idea to life for a cool music video called "Voodoo Hero".

First off, the level creation portion of the game is as intimidating as I always thought it would be. When creating a level from scratch, the game literally places you above a flat plane and says "There you go! Go nuts!" Luckily, there are tutorials...about 2 hours worth of tutorials. Even after all of that, I still found it hard to grasp having to start off a level high up in order to have drops and pitfalls, how to make it compelling using the 3 planes of travel, and most importantly making it easy enough to run through to sync up with the music while also telling the story of the song.

After about 10-15 hours of work (and it really did feel like work), I'm glad I was able to create something that was quite close to the crude storyboard I had written out previously. You can find the video by typing "voodoo hero" into the YouTube search bar or going to youtube.com/VashKein (Ive got a few RPG guitar rock covers on my channel as well). If you like any of the music, theres a download section at www.myspace.com/sevyncain. Lastly, please spread the word (except if you hate it, which is cool too, but just keep it between you and me) :D

The Shadow of the Colossus Movie: High Potential, Low Expectations

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This week on the Hotspot podcast, the hosts brought up the Shadow of the Colossus movie and mentioned that the screenwriter will be the same guy who wrote "Street Fighter: The Legend of Chun Li". I assume many other listeners felt a sick feeling in the pit of their stomach during the announcement; a sickness that hasn't been felt since Brett Ratner was announced as the God of War movie director (which has thankfully been changed). However, for a brief moment, I experienced a surge of optimism; and that moment allowed me to visualize a movie like no other. Allow me to share my vision with you:

You sit in your local IMAX theater as the movie begins. A few lines of opening credits are displayed against a black screen and the entire theater is quiet, except for the crescendo of a man breathing heavily. Suddenly, a wide angle shot of the sprawling vista abruptly lights up the theater and wows the audience. The next shot is a close up of the protagonist as he struggles to climb the mountainside from the first level of the game, recreated to stunning detail. As the hero reaches the summit and catches his breath, he hastily runs to hide behind a rock. The thunderous footsteps grow louder and louder. Those who played the game wait in anticipation, and those who haven't are frozen with curiousity. Without further ado, the first colossus is revealed and the CG work is absolutely awe-inspiring. The hero stealthily runs up to the Colossus and begins his assault. The two engage in an epic 5 to 10 minute battle. The lack of any musical accompaniment enhances the outstanding sound design as the colossus stomps and thrashes about. Finally, the hero plunges his sword into the colossus' head and it crashes to the ground in dramatic fashion. The final shot is another close-up of the hero, covered in black liquid, panting and shaking with fatigue and fear. Screen goes Black... the musical score of Kou Ootani swells and the words "SHADOW OF THE COLOSSUS" fade in.

As I envisioned this amazing opening scene, it dawned on me that perhaps a Shadow movie isn't as impossible as people think. You could have more than enough dialogue between the stone statues in the Altar room, the local tribesman who are trying to stop the resurrection, and the hero himself would have to talk occasionally too. Of course, a few compromises would have to be made for the sake of film. Obviously, the number of Colossi would have to be cut down considerably, but a smaller number of Collosi could lead to better pacing. In between Colossus battle scenes, the movie could flashback to the hero's relationship with his deceased love interest, his journey to the altar, and the internal rumblings of the local tribesman. The ending might also need some tweaking to make it less "gamey", but once again I'm sure that could easily be accomplished with a little imagination.

Sadly, imagination is the main thing that Hollywood lacks, especially when it comes to video game movies. Despite my grand vision for an artistic movie with a blockbuster budget, I'm sure the writer and director won't have enough respect for the source material to put their best foot forward. I don't want to condemn the movie or those involved before a script has even been written, but I can't help but have low expectations given the video game movie track record. In the meantime, I guess I'll have to stick with the movie inside my head. Does anyone else have similar dreams of film grandeur or is everyone to jaded too care anymore?

Edge Maverick=A Terrible Role To Play

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It's no secret that Japanese Role Playing games place more of an emphasis on telling a story than casting you as a blank slate character into a fantasy world. In many cases during the PS1 and 2 era, I wasn't very opposed to this. Fei from Xenogears, Squall and Tidus from Final Fantasy, and even Sora from Kingdom Hearts…even though none of those characters were an exact match to my personality, I still enjoyed watching their growth and personal journey. Tonight, however, Star Ocean: The Last Hope may have destroyed my tolerance for this mode of story telling (especially the way Tri Ace does it).

I'm only 16 hours into the RPG, but I can already say with full confidence that I hate the main character with every fiber of my being. I hate his name, I hate his face, and I hate that this is the role I've been forced to play. My level of frustration with a certain section of the story was so high that I struggled to find the correct words to articulate my thoughts in this post. Therefore, I will recreate my actual angry responses to the dialogue in a summarized version of the scene (possible spoilers ahead). So here goes:

Edge: "I choose to trust you"
Me: "What? Why, you just met and this person is obviously deranged."
Edge: "Meddling with the past could potentially ruin everything in the present and future (other cast members warn him about this too) but I will still give this past world advanced technology."
Me: "HEY! Come on! This is ridiculous! How stupid can you be?!"
Edge: "Oh No! Because of my mistake, the entire world was destroyed!! Now I have to embrace my inner Emo child and scream and cry about it for the next 3 hours!"
Me: "……………(expletive deleted)."

At the time of this post, Mr. Maverick (theres no way to not make that name sound ridiculous) is still moping about, even going so far as to remain silent and boring in battles. It's truly mind boggling that Tri Ace chose to make such a Naïve and emotional character a Captain of his own ship. It's also sad that I can't even agree with the rest of the party as they attempt to console this loser. "It's not your fault Edge" (Well, no, it kind of is) "You didn't do anything wrong!" (Yeah, except destroy an entire planet). You would think that means Edge and I actually are on the same page since those thoughts are the reasons he's moping, but the main difference is my own common sense and television screams could do nothing to prevent the mistake that started it all. It's very hard to sympathize with a character in his 20's who acts like a 13 year old.

Anyway, I hope Edge Mopey snaps out of it soon because I was genuinely enjoying the game up until this point. It was actually a reminder that Japanese RPGs are indeed my favorite genre, somewhat justifying my lack of interest in American RPGs such as Fallout (Although before Star Ocean 4, Persona 3 and 4 proved to me I could get the freedom/choices of American RPGs while still providing the anime inspired stories I so enjoy). Hope this post was somewhat intelligible as I'm writing at 4AM and this game has destroyed my brain for the night. Later Days and Enjoy the Gaming Goodness.

Street Fighter Fatigue...For a Different Reason

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Its been over a month since Street Fighter IV was released and totally rejuvenated my interest in the series. The revival started to take shape with the release of Super Street Fighter Turbo HD Remix Plus Alpha Ultra Mix 2000 Party Beat Go! (I think the actual title might be longer than that). And as soon as I played my first match in Street Fighter IV I was transported back to the glory days of SF2 in the Arcades. I even picked up the animated series and watched 2 of the animated movies (and chose NOT to watch Legend of Chun Li to show my ultimate love). Now, after 70 hours invested into Street Fighter 4, I find myself getting a little burned out. But its not because I overdid it, but rather because I'm tired of fighting the same 3 people on Ranked matches.

The percentage of Ken players has dropped off slightly to about 70% instead of 95%, but the remaining 30% is usually a Sagat, Ryu, or Akuma player. As a Cammy and Chun Li player primarily, two very close quarters fighters, I'm getting tired of using the same tactics in every single match, especially against those who jump constantly and spam fireballs. Yes, I do know how to evade those tactics using focus attacks and other methods, but it still takes away from my overall enjoyment. I know this because I fought one ranked match against a really good El Fuerte player and it was a close and exciting matchup that I barely won with a well placed focus attack.

I am also aware that people are far more versatile in player matches and I intend to switch over to those as soon as I get the ridiculous 10 wins in a row trophy (I got 9 wins before...9!!). Anyway, I would love it if everyone would look past the same 4-5 characters, but I know I'm problably asking too much. I guess I have to deal with the yells of "Hadouken!" forever haunting my dreams.

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