Manufacturing Make-Believe

The Art and Science of Video Game Design from a Certified Game Geek

Welcome to my game blog, sketch-book, rant-rag, and soap-box. This is where I get pretentious and pontificate like a pompous pedagogue, peeps!

Gender Representation in Video Games

Remember Me's female protagonist Nilin

Are women being adequately represented in video games? A quick look at the gender of playable characters in a selection of popular video games.

Elders of Skyrim

Elders of Skyrim at the Steam Workshop

I just finished uploading my newest mod, Elders of Skyrim, to the Steam Workshop and Nexus. Elders of Skyrim makes the Elder race a playable race and adds 44 NPCs from the game to the list of presets. I've also added a couple of bonus presets: Gandalf and Baba-Yaga. :) The Elder race has a unique racial power, increased Magicka and Magicka regeneration rate, and decreased Health and Stamina and Health and Stamina recovery rates. If you feel like getting your old wizard groove on, check it out.

Ultimate NPC Face Unlocker for Skyrim

Ultimate NPC Face Unlocker at the Steam Workshop

Last night I uploaded the Ultimate NPC Face Unlocker to the Steam Workshop. UNFU adds over 700 NPCs from Skyrim to the list of presets available in the character creation screen, including every unique, named NPC plus a few that don't have proper names. UNFU does not include NPCs from the Elder race (like the Greybeards) or children, but it does include all of the named ghosts and several named vampires. UNFU was created primarily to cut down on the number of requests I get for face sliders from PC gamers, but I think it's a useful tool with a relatively broad appeal. It also gave me a chance to upload my first mod to the Skyrim Workshop on Steam. You can pick it up now: Ultimate NPC Face Unlocker.

How to Make a Custom Hireling for Skyrim

Learn how to make a custom hireling that works like every other hireling

Another lengthy tutorial. This one is an extension of my previous tutorial and takes your generic follower through the process required to set them up as a full-fledged hireling complete with recruiting dialogue. This tutorial introduces you (briefly) to quests, dialogue, and scripting, and also how to extract files from Bethesda's game archives using a BSA browser. You can check out the tutorial on HubPages: How to Make a Custom Hireling for Skyrim.

How to Make a Custom Follower and Marriage Partner for Skyrim

Learn how to make a custom follower and marriage partner with the Creation Kit

Another tutorial, this time about creating custom followers and marriage partners for Skyrim using the Creation Kit. This tutorial is a little longer, but contains lots of good information and tips that I've accumulated since I started using the kit. Another great tutorial if you're just starting out and don't know your way around the editor. You can check out the tutorial on HubPages: How to Make a Custom Follower and Marriage Partner for Skyrim.

How to Make Your Skyrim Character Look Like Any Character in the Game

You can make your character look like any character in the game with the Creation Kit

I wrote a tutorial for players who own a copy of Skyrim for the PC who want to make their own 'Famous Faces'. It's written for complete noobs, so even if you've never touched the Creation Kit before you'll find all the information you need in this tutorial (though you might want to do the short starter tutorial on the Creation Kit wiki first--it's linked in the article--because it provides some additional information). You can find the tutorial on HubPages: How to Make Your Skyrim Character Look Like Any Character in the Game.

PopOut, Free Browser Game Created with HTML5 + CSS + JS

PopOut, a free browser game created with HTML5

PopOut is a simple Breakout clone created using HTML5, CSS, and JavaScript. Press 'F' to lauch the ball and then try to break all of the blocks by bouncing the ball off the paddle. If you 'drop' three balls, it's game over, but you can earn extra balls by breaking blocks. There is also one power up you can get. This game is still a WIP (I plan on adding a couple more power ups and a few other minor features).

This is my first attempt at creating an HTML5 game. It's also the first time I've used JavaScript (so don't look at the code unless you want nightmares). It's not well integrated with the site, yet, though I do plan on creating a 'Game' section to showcase my games. PopOut plays in Firefox, Chrome, Internet Explorer, and Opera (it doesn't work in Safari). You can play PopOut for free here.

Roger Ebert: Video Games Can Never Be Art, Just Because

Was Roger Ebert right when he said that games would never be art?

In Roger Ebert: Video Games Can Never Be Art, Just Because I take a look at Ebert's famous 2010 blog post rebuttal of Kellee Santiago's ambitious TED talk to convince people that video games should be considered art. Is there some merit in Ebert's argument, or is he just missing the point?

A Line Drawn in Blood: Survival Horror vs. Action Horror

What's the difference between survival horror and action horror?

There has been a lot of debate in the last few years about the difference between survival horror and action horror. Is there a difference? Is there any point in distinguishing between games like Amnesia: The Dark Descent and Dead Space? I think that there is something useful to learn from the discussion. In A Line Drawn in Blood: Survival Horror vs. Action Horror I look at how a change in focus affects the gameplay experience.

Diablo: A Retrospective Review

Diablo was so successful, it created an army of clones.

Fifteen years ago Diablo invented it's own sub-genre. Does it still deliver after all of these years? I decided to put Diablo under the microscope in my latest game review.

Elder Scrolls Online

The Elder Scrolls is Going Online

After years of speculation, the inevitable is finally happening: The Elder Scrolls is going online in a new MMO. You can find more details about the Elder Scrolls Online in my hub.

Titan Quest: The Best of the Diablo Clones?

Is Titan Quest the best Diablo clone out there?

There's a lot of hype these days about Diablo 3 (I sure hope it lives up to it) which got me in the mood for some ol' fashioned hack and slash action RPG gameplay. After shopping around for a bit (in other words, after Steam advertised a sale) I decided to give Titan Quest a try. While it's highly derivative, it's derivative in very good ways, and I was pleasantly surprised. You can read my full review of Titan Quest on HubPages. Warning, though: it's very detailed!


First impressions of Dishonored.

The trailer for Dishonored is out, and I have to say, I was pleasantly surprised. This title is shaping up to be an original gameplay experience with excellent art direction. I recorded my impressions, along with some pertinent details about Dishonored at HubPages.

Portal, Art and Game Design

How did a low-budget title like Portal become one of the best ranked games of all time?

Portal received rave reviews and became a game sensation almost overnight, inspiring several popular Internet memes. Why is Portal, a short, low-budget titlen one of the most successful video games of all time, and what can this teach us about game design? I take a look at some of the factors that contribute to Portal's success as a game, and as art in Portal, Art and Game Design.

Art and Integrity: The Mass Effect 3 Controversy

Are gamers entitled to demand that BioWare change the ending of Mass Effect 3?

My latest article examines the controversy that has arisen around the ending of Mass Effect 3. Players have demanded a new ending, and the developers have given in to those demands...but only part way. Is artistic integrity a valid defense for an ending that doesn't deliver what players were promised? I think the controversy raises some important questions about the status of videogames as art.

Is Skyrim a Role-Playing Game?

Many people think that Skyrim is not a role-playing game.

I know that most people are sick to death of this question, and that most people have already decided one way or the other about Skyrim's status as an RPG. Nevertheless, I felt compelled to reflect on why, exactly, many people feel that Skyrim just doesn't cut it. People on both sides of the divide have made very good arguments in favor of their position, and I think you can learn something about game design by studying the reasons people use for classifying games into certain genres. So is Skryim really a role-playing game?

Digital Dolls: Our Obsession with Making Hot Characters

Many people are very concerned about their looks in video games.

Ever since I published my article about creating more attractive characters in Skyrim, I've had numerous requests from players looking for help with their character's appearance. These requests, which were often for slider settings for characters from the game, eventually led me to create the Famous Faces of Skyrim NPC slider database. The amazing number of downloads that these characters have received (in addition to the countless console users who simply copy the settings from the screenshots) led me to reflect on our curious preoccupation with making hot characters.

How to Build Interesting Characters in Skyrim

Interesting characters are made, not born.

Creating an interesting character to role-play in Skyrim isn't as easy as picking a race and whacking things with a pointy stick. If you want a real, deep, engrossing role-playing experience you have to start by designing a complex, multi-faceted character. In How to Build Interesting Characters in Skyrim, I share all the tricks that I use to create characters that will withstand hundreds of hours of hard-core immersion.

Most Popular Characters in Skyrim

Aela the Huntress is considered by many to be the hottest character in Skyrim.

People have been downloading the NPC character saves from my Famous Faces of Skyrim page for over a month now, so I'm starting to accumulate some data on the most popular characters in the game. If you happen to suffer from a disorder which inclines you to find such banal information interesting (and, really, who doesn't?), check it out on my Hottest Characters in Skyrim page.

Friends and Allies

Tinga, a Khajiit companion.

I've started creating a series of followers for Skyrim called Friends and Allies. Some of these are based on existing NPCs, and some of them are custom characters created by myself. They use the default follower mechanic from Skyrim but all of them will level with the player up to level 100 (future proof!) and I made a change to the follower quest to fix the hunting bow bug. Try one out and let me know what you think.

Stickier Locks: Lockpicking Tweak for Skyrim

The lockpicking mini-game.

Like pretty much everyone, I find the lockpicking mini-game in Skyrim to be way too easy. I decided to rectify that by tweaking the game settings. Stickier Locks makes locks harder to pick by vastly reducing the size of the 'sweet spot'. It also makes lockpicks a little more durable. The result is that the lockpicks allow a little more 'wiggle room' (they're slightly harder to break) but the sweet spot is much harder to find. Picking locks now actually feels like you're using a delicate but flexible pick to force open a stubborn lock. It just feels a lot more realistic. Try it and see.

Famous Faces of Skyrim!

Ralof and his twin...Ralof.

I've had a lot of requests for slider settings from XBOX360 and PS3 gamers who want to make their characters look like characters from the game. Now that the Creation Kit is out and it's easy to access these settings, I've started posted them on my Famous Faces of Skyrim page. In addition to screencaps of all the sliders, I've also included downloads for PC gamers that include a plugin so that you can select the character's preset from the character gen screen (which allows you to tweak their appearance however you like) and a save file (if you want to skip the chargen--and the tweaking--altogether).

I'm Back, Baby! Balzu Comes to Skyrim!

The Shining Shingle Inn. The place where many adventures begin.

I've spent the last week deeply entrenched in the Creation Kit, Skyrim's world editor. Although there are still a lot of problems with the editor, it seems that there is a remote chance that some of these problems will be addressed by the devs. Hoping against hope, I've started working again on Balzu, my dark Gothic fantasy total conversion using the new game engine. Cross your fingers and hope that the devs fix a few of the game-breaking bugs that would make all of my work pretty pointless.

Featured Article Series: How to Make Video Games

A simple tileset for a game.

I wrote these articles a couple of months ago, but I thought I'd shine a spotlight on them here while I work on another major opus. Here are the links:

  1. Pick Your Class! (introduction, overview)
  2. The Visionary (concepting, modding, team building)
  3. The Career Gamer (game schools, game testing, portfolios)
  4. The Hacker (programming languages, math, open source projects)

These articles haven't had a lot of views on HubPages, but I think, after re-reading them, that they do have a lot of good stuff in them. These first four articles really just clear the path for game design by talking about a lot of different things that come up when you first start thinking about pursuing a career in the field: should you go to school? what programming languages should you learn? what tools should you be using? how important is math and physics? how do you get a job as a game tester? can you get into game design by making mods?, etc.

In this series, I've tried to impose some order on all of these different topics by showing how they relate to specific goals and personality types. These things make a lot more sense when you know why people engage in particular activities when trying to break into the industry. The series is by no means complete--it just barely scratches the surface--but I plan on continuing it at some point in the not-to-distant future.

Desktop Wallpaper for Skyrim

A beautiful autumn scene of a bridge over a river.

I decided to upload a few of my favorite landscape screenshots from Skyrim. I've been using these as desktop themes for a couple months now and just wanted to share.

Game Design Topic: Why Graphics Matter

This winter wonderland is brought to you by great graphics.

Another article on game design, specifically the role of graphics in game design: The Surface of Things: Why Graphics Matter in Video Games. This article is fairly short (1,900 words). Is there a dichotomy between graphics and gameplay? Are developers forced to choose between one or the other? Is there a hidden relationship between them? Read it and let me know what you think.

Thank you Ben Jones! Big shout out to Ben Jones for letting me know that my PayPal link wasn't working. 'Splains my I ain't makin' no money. It's probably been broken for years! :D

Last updated June 30, 2014

© 2009-2014 Dave Finch

wicked factory image, credit:
yasincrow @ deviantart

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I was a little skeptical about HubPages when I joined, but I have been very pleasantly surprised by the results and the fantastic community. They have a very professional, well-designed and easy to use publishing system and you can make money from your articles. If you have something to say, it's a great place to say it. [Sign Up]

News: July 31, 2012

I've been hard at work on a number of projects related to the site, primarily in relation to Skyrim. The first is the Ultimate NPC Face Unlocker, mentioned in the main feed. I also figured out how to load images dynamically to provide preview shots of the characters in the Skyrim Slider Tool. I wasted an entire afternoon trying to figure out how to get it to work in IE but gave up. It works perfectly in FF, Opera, Safari, and Chrome. I've also been toying with the idea of creating my own preset overhaul. There are a couple of good ones already, but the faces all look a little too samey for my tastes. I'd like something with a little more variety. The trick is going to be figuring out how to get it to play nicely with mods that add custom hair, eyes, etc. I also beat Silent Hill: Downpour, which I liked more than most reviewers, and picked up a copy of Dragon's Dogma, which I haven't sunk my teeth into yet.

News: July 12, 2012

Okay, so I know I haven't updated the news feed in a while, but honesty: I've been very busy! Most of my newest stuff is available in the main feed--the Roger Ebert response, PopOut (my first HTML5 game), and a couple of pretty in-depth Skyrim tutorials--but I also wrote Invested: How Good Game Mechanics Hook Players, about the relationship between challenge and reward in video games, and Free Games Like Plants vs. Zombies, which is a review of some of the better PvZ clones that I played while researching browser games. I also started creating a little Javascript widget that provides slider numbers for several characters from Skyrim. This tool is designed to be usable on a smartphone as well, so you can load it up while playing Skyrim and just punch in the numbers to duplicate that character's face. Nifty. I'd also like to personally thank Joe S. for his generous contributions to the web site. It's been a huge incentive for me and a welcome reassurance that sites like mine can provide a useful service to others. Thanks, Joe!

News: May 4, 2012

At the end of April I wrote a rant about people using their reviews as protest votes on Metacritic and how the nefarious practice contributes to the downward spiral of game journalism.

News: April 3, 2012

As usual, I'm a little behind in my reporting about my latest article submissions to HubPages. How to Build Interesting Characters and Is Skyrim a RPG are both listed to the left, but I also published two others: Where Did the Challenge Go? The Problem with Skyrim and Open World, Free Roaming, and Sandbox Video Games.

News: March 20, 2012

Some very not game-related news from me today: I've written a couple more hubs, Skyrim Machinima, which points out a couple of the best Machinima videos available for Skyrim, Web Shows Worth Watching, a top 5 list of my favorite web series, and A Little Evil Goes a Long Way: Why So Many Children in Horror Movies are Evil, an analysis, of sorts, of the role that evil children play in horror films.

News: March 10, 2012

As you can probably tell, I've been messing around with the site layout again. Just rearranged things a bit and added a couple links to features on the site. I did have time to write up an op piece for hubpages called, affectionately, Skyrim: Simple Fixes (They Should Have Made). I picked out a few of my main pet peeves that could have been easily fixed and explained why they're bad and how they could have fixed them. Let me know what you think.

News: March 8, 2012

Good news for my total conversion, Balzu. Most of the major bugs that might have prevented the mod from becoming a reality are either resolved or in the process of being resolved. You can read my latest news update about Balzu on the ModDB page.

News: February 29, 2012 Leap Year!

I know it doesn't look like I've been very busy, but let me assure you: I've been very busy. Between working on Balzu, my Gothic horror total conversion for Skyrim, and my Famous Faces of Skyrim page (and handling numerous requests for assists with character faces) I haven't had very much time for anything else. I did write a book review for the Art of Videogames and a very short guide to Skyrim modding (links, mostly).

News: January 26, 2012

I've been working on a new series of articles (approx. 10,000 words) which should see the light of day sometime in the near future. I've also been reading Grant Tavinor's The Art of Video Games which, if you haven't read, I can't recommend highly enough. It's the deep, engaging discussion of video games as an artistic medium that I've been waiting for. Yes, Christmas was good this year. :)

News: January 11, 2012

As usual, I'm behind on my updates. I've written a couple more articles: The Rules of Immersion: Why RPG Gamers Fight All the Time and What Makes a Great Role-Playing Video Game?

News: December 23, 2011

Wow, I'm really getting behind in my updates! I just published another article, which I'm sure you noticed: The Surface of Things: Why Graphics Matter in Video Games. I also published another hub on HubPages a few days ago: Warrior, Wizard, Thief: Class, Balance and Archetypes in Computer RPGs. Read 'em and weep. Er...actually, don't do that. I don't want them to make people sad. Just read 'em and let me know what ya think. I've also done a couple more characters in my War Baby/War Dog series. I'll update the relevant pages ASAP.

And if I don't update again before the holidays: Happy Whatever You Celebrate If You Celebrate Anything This Time Of Year!

News: December 12, 2011

I've added three more characters to the War Baby collection and consolidated them all on a single web page. Planning on doing a bunch more, male and female for both races.

News: December 7, 2011

Okay, in spite of appearances, I have been totally busy lately. Here are my two most recent articles: Ten Rules to Better Role-Playing in Skyrim, and How to Create Beautiful Characters in Skyrim. I also released my first mod on Skyrim Nexus: War Baby - Tabanaryl. Tabanaryl is a female Wood Elf character save (ie. nothing fancy) and the first in a line of character saves that I plan on creating in the War Baby series. These characters are designed to be beautiful, but also functional: ie. to be more than a 'pretty face', but a character with personality and 'edge'. Let me know what you think.

News: December 1, 2011

In a strange turn of events, I somehow managed to write a humor piece: The Pampered Nerd: The Art of Trolling Video Games.

News: November 29, 2011

Another one of my bombastic articles: A Tale of Two Exploits: Skill Perks and Character Leveling in Skyrim. Seriously, these are just too much fun to write. :)

News: November 28, 2011

I've published another article about level scaling called The Well-Appointed Bandit: The Case for Level Scaling. I think it makes some pretty good points about the necessity for level scaling in open world RPGs. Maybe you don't. Read it and let me know what you think.

News: November 27, 2011

I've just posted my (very) long (4,500 word) article about content scaling in video games. If you get a chance, check it out. It might take you a couple of sittings. Feel free to leave your comments.

News: November 23, 2011

Still playing Skyrim. That game is amazing! I did take some time to write a couple of articles about game design, however. Check 'em out: Fast Travel and Narrative Elision in Skyrim, and Is There a Right Way to Play Skyrim?

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