Saturday, May 29, 2010

Craggy Update

Island exterior nearly complete! Just adding the last few props and details before vegetating the whole thing. I'll then light the baby up and reveal it to you in all it's (fingers crossed) glory! Provided I don't run into too many problems plus the fact that I'm off to Milan for a few days next week to see Muse in the San Siro, it should be visually complete within a fortnight.


Saturday, May 22, 2010

Alan Wake - Review

"It's done when its done".. Few studios are in a position to command such a power. It's clear that after ploughing through Alan Wake in a few short sessions, the Finnish studio's first title since Max Payne 2, is nothing less than a labour of love. Stark attention to detail is clear from start to finish; this is a world that Remedy wants you to emotionally buy into and after knocking on the juke box in the local diner and listen to two has been rockers grovel back and forth at each other, while tapping the table to the beat of the tune you just put on, you will have all but placed yourself in Alan's shoes.

A local TV known as 'Bright Springs', the local radio station.. Stick around characters for longer than the story dialogue requires and you will be treated to a tonne of extra dialog; all of these things enhance the experience and pull you further into the land of Bright Falls. Down to tiny details such as accurate star patterns in the night sky.. Remedy's obvious care and attention resonates throughout the entire 12ish hour experience. (Look out for the face of Max Payne on the live action talk show in Alan's apartment - quite funny!)

So how does the game play?

Combat is solid. The torch is a fun tool to use and havok physics provide satisfying oomph when blasting the nasties with a double barrel shotgun. The game however is hampered by repetitive level and mission design. At night, there is too much of "get from point A to B" or "make your way through the power station/farm/mine" sections. Also, there are some jumping sections which are terribly awkward to control with glitchy animations killing you more often than bad timing. They feel like a tacked-on after-thought, in an attempt to create some variety. Daytime provides a welcome change of pace, with the games narrative scenes taking place at wonderfully designed locations. Its during these sections that generate the games most memorable moments. The day and night system is similar to Silent Hills alternation between real world and nightmare sections.

The story is a little all over the place come the end and seems to ask more questions than it answers, but it's also in the plot that helps draw you into Alan's world and it's confident enough in itself to create a sense of mystery and intrigue that clearly extends past the scope of the first game.

Anyone expecting a somewhat open world experience be warned - It's linear. Extremely linear. Originally, Wake was designed as so, but later was retracted, redesigned (hence the delays) and is now confined to a very linear path throughout. Not at one point can you branch off and mosey about the town of Bright Falls, or freely travel from one location to the next. It damages the level of immersion you would expect from a game that relies so heavily on it. Seeing as though most of the inaccessible content is already in place, a sequel or DLC might open up the town and surrounding area to us a bit more. If you can get your hands on the Collectors Edition, its more than worth the 5 extra euro. The hard-bound book is fantastic and provides some insight and background stories on some of the characters, which ties really well into the game.

So, was it worth the wait? Alan Wake does feel slightly dated when compared to the likes of Uncharted 2, but when judged on it's own merit, it deserves much praise. It has it's faults, but they don't detract enough from the overall experience. The foundation is there for a rather brilliant sequel and I for one will be looking forward to a return trip to Bright Falls.

Wednesday, May 19, 2010

So it begins.. again?


I've been toying with the idea of creating a blog for some time now. I suppose its the personal expression that excites me, or even the potential inspiration that one or I could get from it.

Over the next few years, I will endeavor to update Sticky Brain with my progress, each step of the way, as I try to go from working in a retail store, to breaking myself into the Games Industry.

A little about myself then? My name is Paul Conway, 27 years of age. I was born and bred in Dublin, where I have lived most of my life, apart from a years stint in England. Games have been the absolute focal point of my life, with practically all of my childhood memories involving things like tearing open the box to my C64 from Santa, whopping my brothers ass in Mario on the Amiga and buying my very own SNES with Zelda: Link to the Past. I have owned every games console released and well basically, my life = games. My memories are filled with these golden nuggets of joy and even to this day, I still feel that excitement while unwrapping a game I've been waiting for for so long.

That magical process of waking up early on the morning of a big game release, getting a bus to town, stuffing a Mc'Donalds Sausage and Egg Mc'Muffin into your face, while you wait for the game shop to open, buying you're game and taking it from the staff member in a small paper bag, getting back on the bus, gently pulling off the plastic, opening the case, sniffing the manual (you all do it!) and reading it on the journey home.. Its unparalleled. 

From about 3rd Year in secondary school, I knew I wanted to work in the industry. There was only 1 course available in the entire country at the time involving Games Design and it was only a 1 year Certificate. Still, no other course would have satisfied me at that point, so regardless of earning a very good Leaving Cert, I took the Cert course and luckily a 2 year Diploma was set to launch the following year, in the exact same college. Nice timing! So I got a diploma and was accepted into the 3rd year of a Games Degree in the UK.

A future in the games industry was looking very bright. After 1 year of the diploma course, I spent 3 summer months living in Galway working with a startup studio, gaining invaluable experience. I also designed many 3d sets for a TV gameshow aired on RTE, known as 'Fame and Fortune' (which is no longer running). Unfortunately due to money issues and a big family dilemna back home, I didn't get to finish my degree in the UK. That was in 2006. What's I been doing since then you wonder?

Well, it took me some time to find a job, pay off the loan I took to study in England and help out at home. Stupidly and carelessly, I lost faith in myself and my dream. It became increasingly difficult to keep up with the games industry, at least technically, as I had very limited access to resources and considering that game development barely existed in Dublin or even Ireland, things started to fall apart for me. I became a manager of a small entertainment retail store and fell into a trap. That cursed trap.. Life was easy, relatively stress free and I had a car, money and friends. Over the past 2-3 years, I have not been myself however. I felt like I had something greater to contribute. It has been a constant thought for me, where will I go with my life? I'm approaching 30, with no prospects. Plenty of different carrier paths entered my thoughts, but not one of those gave me that feeling.. that spark. Perhaps it was the fear of rejection, or the thought of going back down a beaten path only to fail again. Going back to college was never really an option for me due to the costs and in hindsight, primarily due to the fear of wasting more years of my life on something that would bring nothing. Fear, fear, fear... How did you ever get inside me? Anyways, stay with me!

2 months ago, I woke up. In quite a literal sense. Much credit has to go to a very close friend of mine, Daniel, who put things into perspective for me. I took a week's annual leave with the sole intention of figuring out what I wanted to do with my life. I went for a drive and ended up in a bookstore, looking for some inspiration. Initially I was looking for a book on college courses, but I ended up coming out with so much more. I bought a book called "How to Get from Where You Are, to Where You Want to Be", by Jack Canfield. As I read the first few pages, it felt like someone had picked up a big wet fish and slapped it across my face. My future as clear as day to me. I would fulfill my original dream of working in the Games Industry.

Recently I realized that through my few years of management experience, I have developed a real passion for leadership. When I look back over my college years, I was always a team leader, always providing help and direction to those in my team and it all came naturally to me. I also had a short stint in World of Warcraft, in which I created and ran a guild and lead their raids, taking them to top position on the server, in a very short space of time. As much of a taboo subject as this is, the sheer amount of logistics, people management and leadership needed for that, will one day be of great benefit. It taught me so much. So over the last while, I've been hard at work at breaking myself out of my comfort zone, you really notice how attached you can get to things, when you take them away.

Were I dream to end up, is as a producer for a games studio. Sure, I will need countless years of industry experience to get there, but as far as I'm concerned, as soon as I step foot inside a studio for the first time, in any capacity, I will be living my dream.

So, how will I get there? I am applying to do a 1 year honour's degree course in Media Management Production, starting Sept 2011. Why not this year? I'll get to that. Following this degree, I plan to do the new Masters course offered by D.I.T, in Digital Games. It has been designed with help from Microsoft and was recently launched by Peter Molyneux. Applying to start in September 10', wasn't an option, simply because the cost of attending the 2 courses over the 2.5 years will amount to roughly 30k (all expenses), so between now and Sept 11', I have implemented a savings scheme to allow me to save about 22k, with a part-time job throughout college to bring me up to the 30k mark. Currently saving about 340 a week out of my 480 pay packet, with 100 of that going to home support. Living on 40 euro a week can be tricky, but it will all be worth it in the long run. Having excess to free DVD's and games through work really helps though!

Obviously 2 new qualifications wont land me a job in the games industry, I'm under no illusion's there. The channel of expertise in which I think I will pursue over the coming years, is level design. I have started work on a portfolio and hopefully, along with the qualifications, I'll have a shot of getting my foot in the door somewhere.

I have been hard at work on my first portfolio piece, an addon for the RPG, Dragon Age: Origins. It is entitled 'Craggy Island' and things are going very well! This blog, along with my project page on Bioware's Social Network, will be my primary sites of progress updates. I'm going to end this blog now as I want to keep it as an introduction, albeit long one, with the hopes that it has grabbed some peoples attention enough, to warrant a return visit! I will post another blog later to detail 'Craggy Island' in full, or you can check for some less-bloated updates @

Another thing I will be doing, is writing up some small reviews of current and upcoming game releases, again, something I've wanted to do for a while now (if I find the time!)

I have a long journey ahead and I would love for you to join me, as I attempt to pick myself up from the land of the mundane, to pursuing my ultimate dream.

Thanks for reading,