Ego Check: Michael Peiffert, Creative Director of Out There

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Michael Peiffert

The primary purpose of this article is to publish my interview with Michael Peiffert, Founder and Creative Director of Mi-Clos Studio, which released Out There in 2014. Before diving into the interview, I need to provide some background as to how I came about communicating with Mr. Peiffert in the first place. Like many others this summer, I got caught up in the hype that proceeded the release of No Man’s Sky. The game seemed to offer the promise of endless exploration and adventure, and media outlets that were allowed early access fueled the speculation:

  • IGN – “Survival really is the beating heart of this gorgeous, enigmatic beast. Only time will tell if my 20th or 200th hours with No Man’s Sky will hold a similar sense of driving purpose, but my first two most certainly did, and that’s a good start.”
  • Ars Technica – “In a world of AAA sequels and franchises, passion-driven projects like No Man’s Sky are rare gems—and as silly as it sounds, Murray made a believer out of me.”
  • Polygon – “Many game developers will earnestly tell you that their creations defy categorization, and Hello Games’ Sean Murray is no different. He stresses that although this game clearly involves space combat, exploration and resource gathering, it’s not really about any of those things individually.”

A review by The Guardian summed up the challenges of a game that reaches the heights of expectation achieved by No Man’s Sky:

Two-and-a-half years ago, the team at Hello Games presented their concept for a practically infinite procedurally generated galaxy, and since then they’ve been suffering the consequences of that pitch’s success, faced with the task of creating a real game that would somehow measure up to thousands of different imagined ones.

Once the game was released, the reviews from the same media outlets were not as kind while others praised the attempted scope of No Man’s Sky:

  • IGN – “The promise of limitless exploration ended up working against it when I lost faith that it had any more meaningful things to show me no matter how far I traveled. This ambitious game reached for the stars, but its reach exceeded its grasp by light years.”
  • Ars Technica – “Its voxel-based, procedurally generated engine is an incredible template for more systems, content, and performance tweaks. Until then, the game’s title is true: this isn’t yet a sky any man (or woman) should bother claiming.”
  • Polygon – “Hello Games has built a set of tools that is amazing and unprecedented, something that could absolutely change the way huge games are made if placed in the right hands. But these powerful universe creation algorithms have been grafted onto a game that is, beyond its initial hours, so light on imagination.”
  • Trusted Reviews – “Sean Murray and Hello Games’ vision of creating a vast universe on a scale unseen in video games has no doubt been achieved, and will certainly provide everyone who plays it with something unique.”
  • GameSpot – “However, there’s an intriguing narrative that contextualizes your in-game actions, making for a fascinating experience that ultimately trumps issues that appear early on.”
  • Game Informer – “In its finest moments, No Man’s Sky is a sublime exploration of the infinitude of space, the beauty and variation of nature, and a quiet contemplation on loneliness… However, No Man’s Sky rarely reaches beyond its vibrant world-building efforts to provide satisfying gameplay and story.”

As I started to read the reviews of No Man’s Sky, the first though that came to my mind was, “This game sounds incredibly similar to Out There.” I even tweeted about this the day the game was released:

And again after playing the game for an hour or two that first night:

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Ship inventory slots are devoted to technology and minerals/elements. Just like No Man’s Sky.

I first played Out There after a dungeoneering-minded friend gifted me a copy on iOS in 2014. It was around the time I was also playing FTL so I was in a space frame of mind! He actually wrote the following, “I should apologize for that game I gave you. It is good and fun, but also frustrating!” Out There starts the player lost in space with the goal of reaching a far-off destination. The player immediately has to gather resources to survive while upgrading his or her ship and moving from planet to planet to get closer to the destination. It is a punishing game, where failure is commonplace; yet the game endeared itself to me and kept me coming back like the more recent roguelike title, Darkest Dungeon. For the record, I’ve yet to reach the final destination. I once got close after upgrading to an enormous ship – only to have something break and run out of oxygen.

Heartbreaking!

The lack of recognition Out There garnered for No Man’s Sky mirroring it so closely was simply stunning to me. No Man’s Sky was fueled by hype and speculation around simple questions like, “What do you do in this game?” And yet you would be hard-pressed even two months after the game’s release to find many articles referencing Out There while discussing No Man’s Sky. I will save you the trouble of Googling yourself:

  • PC Games Network – No Man’s Sky PC Review (Bravo to them for having it in their review!)
  • Pop Matters – The Vast Indifference of ‘No Man’s Sky’
  • Digital Trends – 8 Great Games Like No Man’s Sky
  • Kill Screen – Disappointed in No Man’s Sky? Here Are 10 Cheap Alternates

An article by Euro Gamer that discussed similar games to No Man’s Sky even left Out There off their list! Why was this connection between the games not being addressed?

I first assumed this oversight was because a member of the development team from Out There was involved in No Man’s Sky in some capacity. Not being able to discover if their was a link between the development team of the two games, I started to research the development of Out There. I contacted the creator of Out There, Michael Peiffert. He continues to operate Mi-Clos Studio, which is based in France.

What follows is an interview that took place over the course of several weeks as Mr. Peiffert was busy traveling across the world to gaming conventions. He shared his candid thoughts on the numerous similarities No Man’s Sky shares with his game, Out There, and his frustration with the press for failing to cover the topic, “If indie developers start to rip themselves off and the press thinks it’s OK, then our industry is doomed.” Please take a moment to read the interview with Michael Peiffert and consider the possible ramifications and following questions.

  • What does it mean if the creative team behind No Man’s Sky knowingly borrowed/plagiarized multiple gameplay elements from Out There – and profited heavily from it?
  • Were traditional media outlets that preview and review games oblivious to the similarities to Out There – or did they choose to ignore them? Which of those alternatives is worse?
  • How much responsibility do gaming journalists have for cutting through the hype of a game like No Man’s Sky to give players an accurate sense of what a game is – and is not?
  • Games copy features all the time, though where is the line between inspiration and plagiarism?
  • Why were the creators of No Man’s Sky in hiding until a recent patch update?

I contacted Sean Murray and Hello Games numerous time for comment while writing this article and conducting the interview with Mr. Peiffert. I contacted them both through Twitter and email on multiple occasions, and have yet to receive a reply. I remain willing to communicate with them for an interview to discuss these issues. I am genuinely curious about these questions. If no one else is going to inquire about how Out There influenced No Man’s Sky, then I will continue with my efforts. Until I get a response, here is the full interview with Mr. Peiffert.

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Ask Iddy: What to Do When the Thrill Is Gone?

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I recently received two related questions from a long-time reader. I responded to him quickly, though I also wanted to expand on the answers as the topic seems universal to gaming groups. The questions focus on how to alter the routine of a gaming group when it feels like the sessions are no longer quite as fun and the thrill is gone. You can find the questions and my answers below, and please contact me if you have other questions!

I’ve been running a game for about 14 months now, and my group took about half a year to complete Phandelver. We hadn’t played before, but I believe we’re doing well. Upon finishing, we decided to start anew with Out of the Abyss. Because of the unusual setting, I find it rather hard to DM that campaign, and the group is a bit frustrated with the limited resources and equipment. We recently played a one-shot with the Phandelver characters and everyone was very nostalgic. Now there’s Storm King’s Thunder, and I believe the Phandelver characters could just transition into that setting. I feel the temptation to rest the Out of the Abyss campaign and start Storm King’s Thunder instead. Is that a legitimate idea? Or can I be confident that Out of the Abyss will become more “likeable” over time?

I appreciate the thoughtfulness of the question, and the obvious care you have about the gaming experience for all of the players involved in the sessions. To provide a clear answer immediately, yes, your idea is legitimate! I believe it is the DM’s job to monitor the enjoyment level of the players (and him- or herself) and adjust accordingly. There are several options available to you, and I believe any of them are legitimate to pursue.

First, you mentioned you are finding the Out of the Abyss setting “rather hard to DM” because of the “unusual setting.” There are resources available to aid your efforts if you wish to continue running Out of the Abyss, such as Sly Flourish’s aptly-named series, Running Out of the Abyss. He has written seven detailed articles about individual chapters in the Out of the Abyss campaign, and his first article in the series addresses how a DM can adjust to make the adventure more forgiving to players.

Personally, I am also most comfortable when the campaign is tethered to a typical fantasy environment. I have taken campaigns into the Feywild, Shadowfell, and Elemental Chaos in the past, and those sessions tend to be a bit more challenging for me to run effectively. When the environments, creatures, and obstacles become more fantastical, I find I’m less confident in my descriptions of events and how the world “works.” When in doubt, simplify the elements from the campaign book or reduce the number of bizarre elements in any given session to something that feels more suitable and familiar to your style.

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Guns N’ Roses: Use Your Illusion – The Phantom Edit

The purpose of this article is narrow the 30 tracks from Guns N’ Roses Use Your Illusion I and Use Your Illusion II into a single, 12-track, classic rock album. But before we get there, some background . . .

The first concert I ever attended was on December 17, 1991 at The Spectrum in Philadelphia, PA – close to 25 years ago. I had turned 15 years-old earlier in the Fall and was a few months into my sophomore year of high school. At that time in my life, music was important. Of course music remains meaningful to me now, though it does not match the passion and enthusiasm of the 15 year-old version of myself scrawling lyrics in the margins of notebooks during class and eagerly going to the mall to buy new albums at Sam Goody each week. The internet as we know it today did not exist, so being a music fan was a completely different experience back then. The only form of streaming music was taping your favorite songs while they played on the radio. It was a time when MTV still mattered; viewers actually learned about new music through that channel, and video premeires from popular artists were appointment television. I recall making sure I was by a television when Riki Rachtman on a special episode of Headbangers Ball introduced the video for November Rain, an epic, 9-minute power ballad from one of the biggest and baddest musical artists on the planet at the time, Guns N’ Roses.

Watch the video, and soak in the excess. To a teenage boy in the early 1990s, Axl, Slash, Duff, and the gang seemed like aliens from another world. They were unashamed rock stars that were larger than life. Of course Axl is dating Stephanie Seymour from the Victoria’s Secret catalogue, which was the closest thing to pornography readily available to me outside of the annual Sports Illustrated Swimsuit Issue. And of course she appears in the video portraying his bride. And of course Slash walks out of a church in the middle of a desert and rips off a soaring guitar solo while being filmed from a helicopter. It made perfect sense at the time, and it was all so epic and f***king glorious!

So on December 17, 1991, I tagged along with my older brother and his friends to see Guns N’ Roses with Faith No More and Soundgarden. To this day, I am salty with my brother because we missed Faith No More’s set. My brother and his crew had no interest in the opening bands, and I lacked the confidence to leave them and enter the concert on my own. So I waited in the parking lot while they tailgated and tossed a Nerf football around. I finally convinced them to go inside the building and we caught a few songs from Soundgarden, which had just released their second album, Badmotorfinger. Soundgarden did not fit into the rock or metal category, and the term “alternative” was becoming a musical genre. In the months leading up to my first concert in December 1991, the following albums were released:

  • Pearl Jam, Ten – August 27, 1991
  • Nirvana, Nevermind – September 24, 1991
  • Soundgarden, Badmotorfinger – October 8, 1991

Three Seattle bands were about to change the world, and the 1991-version of me was rather unaware. Even though I really wanted to hear the opening acts, including Soundgarden, I was most excited about seeing Axl in person. The Use Your Illusion albums were released a week before Nirvana’s Nevermind. We now know how the story unfolded; the bloated excess of Use Your Illusion I and Use Your Illusion II foreshadowed the band’s demise. Axl fell from Rock-God status to caricature, and the band flamed out. Slash and others went on to different projects and they only recently got back together to tour. Guns N’ Roses ruled the world for about five years from 1987 through 1992, and I caught them live before it was torn asunder.

The concert that night was unlike anything I experienced in my young life. Of course they did not take the stage until close to 11:30PM, which left the historically docile Philly fans to alcohol and their own devices for several hours. When they finally did take the stage, Axl was a tornado. He ran around the stage, belted out lyrics with his impropable voice, and performed as if he was the baddest man on the planet. At one point while talking to the crowd, he exclaimed, “Get me a piano.” A piano rose up from a hole in the stage; he calmly sat down, took a moment to gather his thoughts, free-styled for a bit, and then started pounding out November Rain on the keys. The concert concluded somewhere around the 2AM mark, and the entire experience was amazing.

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Didn’t we almost have it all?

I continued to listen to Guns N’ Roses along with other artists I was getting into at the time. I do not recall reading reviews about the Use Your Illusion albums; I only recall consuming them day and night. Several tracks seemed out of place, but I found most of the songs enjoyable. Many of the songs felt EPIC, and the video for November Rain and my experience of seeing them in concert only bolstered that opinion. Nothing in my mind could top their work on Appetite for Destruction, but I had the thought – even back then – that had the band limited themselves to one, 12-track Use Your Illusion album, it might hold up as a worthy successor to their debut masterpiece.

I have written the following article in my mind countless times in the intervening 25 years. I mentioned this to Ed Grabianowski on Twitter last week while I was defending the Use Your Illusion albums. He responded that it might be a challenge to even come up with 12 tracks from the two albums to make a decent follow-up effort to  Appetite for Destruction. We agreed to compose our thoughts within a week and post them on our respective sites; his thoughts are now posted as well. It was finally time for me to externalize my decades of thought on this matter.

Below is my thought process on selecting the 12 best songs from the Use Your Illusion albums into one sophomore-slump defying Use Your Illusion slice of brilliance. And, no, the watered-down, no-swearing version that sold in stores like Wal-Mart does not count.

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Ego Check: Andrew Nerger & Jeff Chin, Creators of Galactic Debate

Unless you are living under a very big and sound-proofed rock, then you realize this is a Presidential Election year in the United States. It is a challenge to escape political commentary in pretty much any forum at the moment. Even I devoted some space to a few political tangents in a recent article on Pokémon: GO. So when I was scrolling through Twitter a few weeks ago and saw a link to a new game titled, Galactic Debate, I was immediately intrigued. The idea of having players debate imaginary issues as candidates from different alien races seemed like a perfectly-timed idea. I reached out to the creative team behind the game, and Andrew Nerger and Jeff Chin were kind enough to participate in an interview. Below, we discuss the concept of Galactic Debate, how the game was designed, and how real-life political tensions and squabbles could bleed into gameplay.

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Andrew Nerger & Jeff Chin

Thank you for sharing some time with me to talk about your new game, Galactic Debate. I first became aware of the game’s Kickstarter campaign through Twitter, and the premise immediately grabbed my attention. What were your sources of inspiration for Galactic Debate?

 

Andrew: Jeff and I have always enjoyed playing improve games and having heated late-night debates on everything under the sun, so the idea developed pretty naturally. The concept of debating fictional issues really intrigued us, and soon, we began to study storytelling games and figuring out what worked well mechanically and where we thought we could make changes to support a game we would really want to play.

I think almost everyone enjoys arguing, but nobody wants to get into a confrontation with friends or family. When debating, players are actually taking on the role of Galactic Candidates like General Mindu of the proud warrior race, so feelings aren’t hurt when players try to debase one another. Everyone realizes they’re playing a role.

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Ego Check: Andy Hand of Limitless Adventures

Andy Hand

Michael Johnson and Andy Hand

Earlier this summer, I was contacted by Andy Hand, the creator of Boccob’s Blessed Blog and co-owner of Limitless Adventures, which is a new endeavor by him and Michael Johnson. He contacted me to ask if I would be interested in reviewing the 5th Edition Dungeons & Dragons products that are now available for purchase through Limitless Adventures and other outlets. Rather than a product review, I thought it would be more fun to interview him about the challenges and opportunities involved in self-publishing D&D content. Below, he speaks about he long history with roleplaying games and how the Open Game License has evolved over the years including the recent introduction of the DM Guild through Wizards of the Coast. We also delved into design philosophy between editions and entered a bit of a debate around issue of Dungeon Masters “fudging” die results for reasons. Enjoy the interview leave a question below if you have any thoughts or reactions.

 

You started Boccob’s Blessed Blog over six years ago, which was during the upswing in attention to all things Dungeons & Dragons based on the release of 4th Edition in 2008. What were some of the key motivations to start writing about gaming back then?

I started Boccob’s in response to 4th Edition. I started playing D&D with Basic in 1990; I still think the Rule Cyclopedia is the greatest D&D product ever written. Our group quickly evolved to 2nd Edition, and then moved to 3rd in 2000, so suffice it say, we’ve played a lot of D&D. We loved the changes that came along with 3rd edition and played it zealously for years. When 4th came out we didn’t care for it and started to archive as much 3.5 material from the Wizards of the Coast website as we could, knowing that they’d clear out the old to make way for the new – which they did, and a lot of great content was lost. I wanted a place to post new 3.5 material and continue the conversation started by the Open Game License.

Your experience is quite different from my own; I started writing in 2011 after falling in love with 4th Edition. I took a long break after playing some 2nd Edition as a teenager and still have yet to play any form of 3rd Edition D&D. The Open Game License first came about in 2000, and it has gone through a variety of forms over the years. How has producing D&D content through the OGL changed over the years and editions?

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What Itch is Pokémon: GO Scratching?

PokeStops

I never did find the Ninetales!

It’s 10:30PM on a Friday night in a quiet suburb north of Minneapolis. A friend and I have come voluntarily to walk around an American Legion parking lot – and we are not alone. We are first encountered by two teenagers that appear to have fallen out of the pages of Scott Pilgrim; tattered jeans with brightly dyed, floppy hair. The boy wipes his blue hair away from his eyes and gives us a knowing nod as I inquire, “Hey, find anything good around here?”

He easily responds, “There’s an Evee by that water tower. Somebody set a lure off so we’re waiting to see what comes by from that.” We thank him for the tip and swing by the Howitzer Statue to refuel on PokéBalls before hitting the Water Tower. We find the Evee and return to the parking to in time to be approached by a vehicle transporting a family. The driver slows down next to us, “How’s it going?”

We update him on our progress and share some stories from earlier in the day, “We found a Jigglypuff down the road, but that was a few hours ago.” The driver is not impressed, “Oh, I already have one of those anyway. I’m just going to hit all the PokéStops to get more balls.” A few more pleasantries are exchanged before we go our separate ways, “Well, good luck!”

My friend and I continue our laps around the American Legion to hit the four PokéStops. Our last encounter is with a taxi driver and his fare for the evening. The couple exiting the vehicle remarks that they have not started to play yet and advance inside the Legion Hall; so far, they are the only two people we’ve seen that are on this property for something other than Pokémon: GO. The taxi driver expresses his curiosity about the roamers around the building, “You think if I advertised to drive around PokéStops, people would be willing to pay for that?”

We informed him there is likely a market for such as service considering there are already drones available to cheat the game. He hopped back into his car while letting us know, “Yeah, I think I’m going to try that. Thanks, and have a good night. And remember my name if you need a ride for more Pokémon or whatever.”

We get back into my car, laughing at the absurdity of the past 30 minutes. We just spent quality time on a weekend wandering around a parking lot speaking to strangers that in no other context would we encounter.

What is happening with Pokémon: GO? Why did it become more popular than pornography in less than a week?

What follows is my attempt to answer those questions, and to discuss the benefits of Pokémon: GO.

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Our Exercise in Fertility

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Livin’ large!

My wife and I recently celebrated our 12th anniversary; it was a lazy Sunday and our big event that day was getting comfort food at Taco John’s. We have simple tastes, and nothing says twelve years of successful marriage more than a Six Pack and a Pound! Emily and I have known each other since 2000, when we met at – what was, ostensibly – a Star Wars Prequel party. Like any couple that has persisted through 12 years of marriage, we’ve had a number of challenges and an abundance of joy. It has been a wonderful journey, and I look forward to the rest of our lives together.

We do not have children.

And here is where the story becomes a bit more complicated. We have always considered having a child. There has never been a point in our lives where we told each other, “Yeah, we’re never doing that.” We would talk about “starting a family” (more on this phrase in a moment) every 3-6 months to discover if the other person was ready for that phase of our lives. Neither one of us ever felt compelled to voice strongly, “This is something I want now.” So we agreed to wait while we enjoyed our lives together. I graduated with my doctoral degree and we moved to Texas in 2005, then bought a house there in 2006 figuring it was a good investment. (Hah!) She started working and then went back to school to earn her MBA in the following years. We developed an amazing network of friends while living in Houston and visited family in New Jersey and Minnesota whenever possible.

Life settled into a routine.

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