Talent in the midwest

Time and time again I hear that the midwest (Wisconsin, Minnesota, Illinois etc) lacks talent.  As a person that now resides in the midwest I’d like to argue this is not the case.  I’ve worked with some of the most talented people in the world over the last few years.  Just look at the number of Fortune 500 companies in the midwest, and look at the number of very talented design and development houses that build amazing software.  We wouldn’t have either of these if we lacked talent.  I want everyone to know that we are here in the midwest, and we can run toe to toe with everyone in the country.  When someone tells me that we are in fly over country, all it does is drive me to prove them wrong.  Companies like Zymo Entertainment (my company) don’t get to work for Fortune 500 companies, and major brands on accident, we are as talented as any studio in the country.  It is up to us in the midwest to change that perception, and the time for that change is now!

What makes a good game – Resident Evil 4 Case Study

Resident Evil 4 is one of the games I think of when thinking about my favorite games.  It really provided a refreshing experience at the time, compared to previous Resident Evil Games, by adding a much more action based 3rd person gameplay and much more believable AI.  The overall goals of this game are simply stay alive and manage your resources, while providing a very polished and cinematic gameplay experience throughout.  The reason this game is fun is due to a couple of key elements that are executed nearly perfectly for the game; atmosphere, surprise, tension, and re-playability.

The atmosphere in Resident Evil 4 is the first thing that caught my attention.  The very detailed  buildings and environments, and the bigger environments compared to previous Resident Evil games, sets the stage for a very intense experience.  Its hard to talk about believability when referring to a game that has the player killing zombies, but in Resident Evil 4 the game portrays a world that seems alive.  As the player moves forward through the game sounds add to the life of the world, from the background music that sets the overall mood to the sound of an enemy scurrying nearby.  Another simple addition that adds to the environment is the mysterious stranger that sells the player supplies and weapons.  This stranger shows up at fixed intervals in the game, and if I remember right the game even allows you kill him which makes him a very believable addition to the game world.  As unbelievable as Resident Evil 4 is, after a few minutes of playing, the world the game creates feels like it could be real.

Surprise is an element that Resident Evil games have been using since the first game.  Resident Evil 4 is no different, there are moments in the game that actually made me jump, most notably the first encounter with the chainsaw wielding zombie.  Even the cinematics would occasionally implore quick time events to make sure the player kept his controller tightly gripped the entire time.  Surprise is a big part of keeping this game fresh for the player, there’s rarely a dull moment, and when there is, its usually just preparing you for a bigger surprise around the next corner.

Resident Evil 4 does an arguably perfect job at maintaining the tension level in the game.  I believe there are a couple major changes from previous version of Resident Evil games, and survival horror games in general that help maintain the tension level.  The first is the AI, in previous games I never really felt the zombies were alive or believable.  I will never forget the first zombie that ran at me with a crazed looked on his face.  Simple changes such as having the zombies run at the player, or jump down from a rooftop adds immensely to the tension.  Without the new 3rd person camera I would not have had the same reaction, so I think the camera change also adds more design space for pushing tension and surprise.  Even the facial animations on the enemies adds to tension of the game and believability of the enemies your facing.  The controls may feel awkward at first to anyone that’s played a 3rd person shooter, but I think the controls fit really well with the design of the game, the player can’t run and gun his way through the level, instead he has to find a safe place to fight, with the hope that nothing will attack from behind.

The game also puts effort into re-playability.  I really appreciated being able to play through the game multiple times while keeping all my previous weapons and ammo I acquired.  It may seem like a small thing to include, but I think the game really rewards the player for playing through more than once.  This was a time before Xbox Live and online games were really huge, so having this kind of reward for a single player game on the GameCube really added to my love of the game.

In the end it took a complete experience with solid gameplay, design, and presentation to make Resident Evil 4 a fun experience.  The game world felt alive, and the game did a good job of holding my attention throughout the entire game.  The complete experience and non stop “holy crap” moments kept me coming back for more.


Originally written in September of 2009 by Adam Larson

No App should be boring

I’ve come from years of game development into the mobile world somewhere around 3 years ago.  In that time i’ve noticed that a lot of developers still build apps like websites, heck some even use webviews to display their html pages as an app.  I understand cost, and budgets more than anyone else, but one thing I truly believe is that the days of apps being boring and successful are long gone.  This doesn’t mean you need to reinvent every app that you create, but it does mean you need to analyze apps that are successful, and those that aren’t successful.  As developers we need to realize that users become accustomed to the apps they use everyday.  Pinterest is the one I think of immediately, the world was overtaken by the Pinterest app, where now you have millions of people use to navigating their app.  This should tell us as designers and developers to pay attention to the functionality in that app because we know people understand how to use it.  Lets learn from successes and keep making minor changes, lets not revert back to making apps that function like websites.

With the power of mobile phones, apps need to be exciting, fun, and engaging, no more boring apps!