A few things Mark Wallace

Month: March 2011

Homefront Looks Different from the UK Front

Bored on the home front

Can a great story make up for horrendous gameplay? Though it clocks in short for an Xbox360 title (which has led me not to buy it for the moment), I was interested to read Seth Schiesel’s review of THQ’s new FPS, Homefront. (I like reading him in large part because he reminds me of the “culture of technology / gaming” writing that I used to do.)

“The basic shooting and combat mechanisms in Homefront are standard fare,” Schiesel writes. “What makes Homefront stand out from all the other shooting games is its setting and its ambition to grapple with a vision of what could happen in the real world if absolutely everything were to go wrong.”

Sounds good, thinks I, I’ll have to pick this up once it’s a bit cheaper. But then I dial in Rock, Paper, Shotgun: “Homefront is barely a game,” writes John Walker. That sounds fair to me too. John is hardcore(-ish) and historical-minded (where games are concerned); he’s fully qualified to make that call. If his judgement of the gameplay is a bit harsher than Schiesel’s, I put it down to beauty being in the eye of the beholder — and keep in mind that John’s is perhaps the more discerning eye.

His judgement of the story, however, makes for more interesting contrast: Continue reading

Mass Queens and the Clarity of Game Mechanics

One question I’ve been pondering as I go about designing a strategy game is that of clarity in game mechanics, and in combat systems in particular. Committed players of strategy games (and many other genres, for that matter) have long taken joy in pulling apart the math behind the combat resolution systems that drive the games they play, in part to seek an advantage or upper hand and in part out of simple fascination. This description of the mass queen experiment from the StarCraft2 Hacks blog is a great example. It runs through a bunch of math, based on things like minerals, gas, queens, hatcheries, food, game time, energy, “transfuses,” injections and more, and comes to the colorful but perhaps surprising conclusion that “Queens are better cost effective healers than Medivacs.” Food for thought.

What’s interesting to me is the question of where a combat system might lie on the spectrum from transparency to obfuscation (through complexity or by other means), how that stacks up against the combat results you as a designer want to produce, and whether a game is any the better or worse for your equations and calculations being deeply buried, or riding on the surface of play. Continue reading


As this Tweet indicates, I’m currently working on creating a game. A browser-based game, that is, and a strategy game at that. (More on that below.) And by creating, I mean that I’m writing the code. Which, like all code, occasionally waxes poetic:


The map itself. Probably more poetic if you’re the one writing the code, I’ll admit. Especially so if you haven’t written any code in a while and are rediscovering the man-machine integration one occasionally feels in the process. I have done a lot of things in life — freelance journalist, book author, software engineer (years ago), startup CEO, tech blogger, world traveler, international man of not much mystery — so it doesn’t feel terribly awkward to extend the dimensions of the map now to include gamemaker. In fact, given everything I’ve been up to for the last five or six years and how deeply all that has been involved in games, it doesn’t seem out of step at all. Continue reading


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