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November 15, 2008

GameSetNetwork: Best Of The Week

Time to round up the week's highlights on big sister site Gamasutra and its selected compatriots, and there's some really interesting stuff in here - particularly a discussion on game schools and IP, alongside a neat interview with Insomniac's Ted Price.

Some of the other neatness? Scrum discussions, game design pacing, some GCG.com design challenges and postmortems, the state of the industry via Sony, EA, Take-Two and more at a mammoth financial conference, and even Todd McFarlane with his (pictured) game action figures, among other things.

Mister Mosquito says:

Gamasutra Features

Peeking Inside Insomniac: A Conversation With Ted Price
"Gamasutra talks extensively to Insomniac CEO Ted Price, following Resistance 2's launch, discussing the company's history, relationship with Sony, development methodology, and much more."

Controversy In The Classroom: Whose IP Is It Anyway?
"Students at game schools are producing award-winning games -- but who owns them after graduation? Gamasutra talks to IGF-winning creators, attorneys and game schools on the controversy."

Gameplay Fundamentals Revisited: Harnessed Pacing & Intensity
"Former EA and THQ design director Lopez looks at pacing in games versus films and TV for Gamasutra, explaining how careful planning can produce a perfect intensity curve for games."

Beyond Scrum: Lean and Kanban for Game Developers
"If you've discovered the value of Scrum agile development while making your game, expert Clinton Keith outlines Lean and Kanban, two ways you can be agile during all phases of the game development process."

Called Back to Duty: Activision on Iterating on Success
"How do you follow up one of the most successful video games of this generation -- a mere year later, when it's still selling for full price? Activision senior producer Noah Heller talks to Gamasutra about Call Of Duty: World At War."

Gamasutra/Other Originals

BMO Round-Up: Industry Leaders Wax Lyrical At Financial Conference
"At yesterday's BMO Capital financial conference, a slate of the industry's top executives -- from Nintendo and Microsoft through EA, Ubisoft, Take-Two and more -- explained the state of their market in the financial downturn and their plans for 2009 -- here's Gamaustra's round-up of the event's top stories."

GCG Readers Tackle Black History Challenge, Toy with Time in Games
"GameCareerGuide has posted the three strongest reader responses to its recent Game Design Challenge, about using games to teach Black history in schools. The site has also posted the next challenge, which deals with ‘time’ and ‘replay’ in games, and looks to the 2008 Experimental Gameplay Workshop for inspiration."

The Color And The Shape: Bizarre Creations On GeoWars' Sensible Aesthetic
"In many ways, the team at Bizarre Creations produced a successful formula for Geometry Wars by accident -- and during GameCity, its creators talked about the logical sources of the game's distinctive look, feel and sound, and the challenges of evolving it through its various iterations."

Interview: McFarlane Talks 38 Studios, Revitalizing Game Toys
"Spawn creator Todd McFarlane has more than one foot in the game biz nowadays, thanks to Halo 3 and new Guitar Hero action figures, and his work on 38 Studios' forthcoming MMO title with Curt Schilling - and he discusses both in-depth with Gamasutra in this exclusive interview."

GCG: Postmortem of Collins College’s Eternal Winter
"Collins College graduate Blake Mitchell has written a postmortem, published on GameCareerGuide.com, of Eternal Winter, a mod created with the Unreal 2004 Editor that Mitchell and his peers developed as part of their game development program curriculum."

In-Depth: Inside The Magical World Of David Jaffe
"God of War developer and Eat Sleep Play founder David Jaffe has never been reputed for self-concealment, and in a videoconferencing session at the recent GameCity, he took attendees directly into his home office, where he bluntly tackled audience questions -- and let slip a few hints on his next project."

In-Depth: Microsoft Gets Sophisticated With Games For Windows Live?

[Another longer-form highlight from this week, with the wonderful Chris Remo talking about what Microsoft is doing to make Games For Windows Live a lot better - and they're certainly trying hard.]

Microsoft has released a major update to its in-game Games For Windows Live interface, the first in a new series of initiatives for the service that marketing manager Michael Wolf says will be "putting a lot of focus on PC gaming."

The revamp transforms an obviously console-ported menu system to one with more of a native PC feel, substituting the previous Xbox 360 "blade"-like aesthetic with a cleaner, more streamlined look taking visual cues from Windows Vista.

Buttons now also dynamically swap based on whether the user has an Xbox 360 controller active; previously, the interface used Xbox 360 controller iconography even if no controller was present.

"It's more Windows-oriented," said Games for Windows Live general manager Chris Early, speaking to us alongside Wolf prior to the update's release. Early acknowledged that the initial GFW Live incarnation was "clunky" and "essentially a port-over."

"This is a whole new interface," he went on, "but all the functions of Live are still there -- your gamertag, the games you've played, your achievements. It's all based on the Live system. Your community is the same, and you can see whether your friends are on PC or the console."


Games that incorporate GFW Live, such as Bethesda's recently-released Fallout 3, will display a prompt to update to the new version upon their next startup.

A New Marketplace

Microsoft also plans to release a standalone Games for Windows Live client. Some gamers have criticized the initiative for lacking such a feature -- in constrast to the "home screen" dashboard of its Xbox 360 counterpart.

The upcoming client, which a Microsoft representative said will be released "in the next few weeks," was demonstrated to Gamasutra in preview form. It features information about current and upcoming games, community and friends-related features, and, notably, a marketplace for downloadable content.

The marketplace will use the same Microsoft Points system employed by Xbox Live Marketplace and Zune. Microsoft hopes to drive Games for Windows adoption among developers in part by offering a similar-enough slate of features between Xbox Live and Games for Windows Live that studios feel they may as well support both if they are already supporting one.

That strategy has already worked with Bethesda, which announced that its upcoming Fallout 3 DLC will be exclusive to Xbox 360 and PC -- distributed through GFW Live. Asked whether Microsoft paid for that honor, Early claimed no such incentive.

"We didn't ask them to restrict it," he answered. "They see the [DLC] conversion rates on the PC versus the conversion rates on the Xbox 360 with Live, relatively speaking. They look at that and say, 'Wow, the one-button buy-in is essential for this to make money, and now that it's supported on both PC and Xbox, it makes sense to do it.' They had [The Elder Scrolls IV: Oblivion] DLC on PC as well, but you had to go through their website, and it wasn't as easy."


Regarding development, he added, "And the actual work is much less to get it to work on the two different platforms -- they code a little different one one [system] than the other, but it's a similar process."

There are two implications there -- one, that the development similarities between PC and Xbox 360 pay off more than they would on PlayStation 3; and two, that Bethesda may have seen its best DLC sales for Oblivion on Xbox 360, which boasts a centralized purchasing system.

Respecting The Platform

With initiatives like Games for Windows Live, Microsoft must walk a tight line between providing the kind of centralized multiplayer and marketplace functionality that has contributed heavily to Xbox 360's success, while avoiding acting like a traditional console-style gatekeeper that goes against the open platform mentality of the PC.

To that end, Microsoft announced earlier this year that participation in Games for Windows -- the collection of usability standard aimed at creating a more polished PC gaming experience -- and Games for Windows Live -- the Xbox Live-like online service component -- would be completely free to developer. Similarly, there are no longer subscription fees for gamers, as there on with the admittedly much more highly-used Xbox Live.

But Games for Windows would be ineffective without some level of accountability for those developers who choose to outfit their games with the service.

"We do require certification," Early explained. "It's very similar to the Xbox certification. It is something not everybody's used to. But what we found is that the [studios] that have been through Xbox certification already get it. They realize, it's not what is normally on the PC, but it does tend to make the game go out better. I think it's an overall advantage for everyone."

GFW titles also take advantage of Xbox Live-like patch checks. "We're able to keep everybody on the same version number," said Early. "When you connect to Live service, it checks right away. That really reduces the customer service burden on the publisher as well. It ends up being a net savings."

Games PC People Play

So far, however, though there have been a number of games adhering to the general Games for Windows standards, very few of them have actually integrated Games for Windows Live -- and Fallout 3, one of the program's higher-profile releases, is a single-player game that only uses Live for community features and DLC, not a multiplayer component.

Multiplayer Live-enabled games have included Halo 2 and Gears of War, both of which released long after their Xbox platform counterparts. Others, like Shadowrun, Universe at War: Earth Assault, and Kane & Lynch: Dead Men, failed to make much of a splash in the multiplayer community.


Valve's Steam service has had similar limited external adoption of its own Steamworks multiplayer features. But both companies have attracted some big third-party names for the coming months: The Creative Assembly's Empire: Total War will use Steamworks, and Relic's Warhammer 40,000: Dawn of War II and Rockstar North's PC version of Grand Theft Auto IV will use the Games for Windows Live multiplayer implementation.

Much like how Microsoft hopes the promise of accessible DLC will drive publishers to its GFW Live Marketplace, it is trying to convince developers already using Xbox Live that also incorporating GFW Live multiplayer in their PC SKUs will be relatively straightforward and beneficial.

Wolf recalled an incident from Microsoft's Gamefest developer event in Seattle. "When we made the announcement that Games for Windows Live was going to be free, there were several of us on the GFW team there," he said. "A developer from a company working on a game turned to us and said, 'Okay, so it's free? What's the catch?' But there is no catch; it's completely free.

"He said they were working on a game for PC and Xbox 360, and they were trying to figure out what multiplayer engine they were going to put into it on the PC version. They're already doing all the work to make sure it works on Xbox Live for the Xbox version, so it's so much easier for them to just bring all that technology over to the PC version. It's a no-brainer.

"We're working with the publishers," he went on. "We're trying to reduce a lot of barriers. We're creating these SDKs and making it easier for them to use. It's certainly not [effortless] in every case, but often, the developers are saying, 'I've already got this code base that I'm building for the console platform, and this is using the same thing.' It's just so much easier."

Despite how long the initiative has technically been in operation, Games for Windows Live still feels like it's in its preliminary stages -- but from what Gamasutra has seen of its upcoming efforts, Microsoft is finally committing to the interface work and developer relationships that it needs to become a valuable service.

With increasing competition in the combined marketplace and multiplayer arena from Valve's Steam and Stardock's Impulse and the increasingly robust feature sets that are resulting from that contest, PC gamers stand to win.

Round-Up: Gamasutra Network Jobs, Week Of Nov. 14th

In this round-up, we highlight some of the notable jobs posted in Gamasutra and its subsites' industry-leading game jobs section, including positions from EA Tiburon, Insomniac Games, Nokia, Sony Online Entertainment, and more.

Each job posted will appear on the main Gamasutra job board, and appear in the site's daily and weekly newsletters, reaching our readers directly.

It will also be cross-posted for free across its network of submarket sites, which includes content sites focused on online worlds, cellphone games, 'serious games', independent games and more.

Some of the notable jobs posted in each market area this week include:

Gamasutra.com - Game Industry Jobs

EA Tiburon: Senior Producer
"An EA Sports Producer is responsible for ensuring the successful delivery of a game to a high creative standard. Producers oversee the whole lifecycle of the game from concept to launch. Their role is to ensure that Game Designers clearly define the game concept (i.e., its ‘X’ or the unique idea that makes it stand out from other games), and the market positioning of the game (including defining the target audience). The Producer must then ensure the game stays on target throughout the whole development process. "

Insomniac Games: Programmers
"The gameplay group is in search of motivated programmers to further develop our team. Gameplay programmers are responsible for the high-level runtime code that pulls everything together into a highly polished and ultimately compelling game experience. You know -- the kind that blows your mind!"

Rockstar New England: Lead Environment Artist and Console Programmer
"Join one of the most innovative and successful developers in the industry; Rockstar Games, creators of such hits as Grand Theft Auto IV and Bully. Rockstar New England, having recently completed the Xbox 360 adaption of Bully, is working on exciting new projects. Our team, led by Dr. Ian Lane Davis, is experienced in every aspect of game development with an unmatched expertise in AI. We’re constantly pushing the envelope, and we’re looking for people who want to make great games!"

Games on Deck - Mobile Game Jobs

Nokia: Director of Engineering
"Services & Software will play a leading role in shaping Nokia’s growth and transformation, generating new revenue streams based on software and services. The Services & Software Unit’s portfolio of services creates opportunities for people to connect to each other and the things that matter to them."

WorldsInMotion - Online Game Jobs

Sony Online Entertainment: Lead Game Designer
"Based in San Diego, Sony Online Entertainment LLC (SOE) has an array of games in development at studios in Austin, TX, Denver, CO, Seattle, WA, and Taiwan including The Agency, Free Realms and DC Universe Online. These new titles are being designed to push the envelope of online entertainment quality, innovation and delivery... This is an exciting opportunity to conceive and lead the game design of our new flagship project and we are looking for a Lead Game Designer to ensure its success!"

SeriousGamesSource - Serious Game Jobs

Destineer: Senior Gameplay Engineer
"Destineer is looking for a Senior Gameplay Engineer who has shipped multiple commercial games to build and design gameplay features for a large budget next-gen. military shooter. If you’d like to play a key role in the development of a fully funded AAA game that we’re building with close help from combat-experienced US Marines, we’d like to speak with you right away!"

To browse hundreds of similar jobs, and for more information on searching, responding to, or posting game industry-relevant jobs to the top source for jobs in the business, please visit Gamasutra's job board now.

Best Of Indie Games: Qwop, Qwop, Qwop

[Every week, IndieGames.com: The Weblog editor Tim W. will be summing up some of the top free-to-download and commercial indie games from the last seven days, as well as any notable features on his sister 'state of indie' weblog.]

This week on 'Best Of Indie Games', we take a look at some of the top independent PC Flash/downloadable titles released over this last week.

The goodies in this edition include a ragdoll-based recreation of an OIympic event, a solo project entirely driven by user-generated content, a catchy music rhythm game, a couple of physics-based puzzlers and a 2D adventure game in the style of classic LucasArts releases.

Game Pick: 'QWOP' (Benzido, browser)
"A new ragdoll-based Flash game by developer of Too Many Ninjas and Top Spinner. In it, you play an athlete named Qwop who is participating in a hundred metres sprint event at the Olympic Games. Using only the Q, W, O and P keys, players must attempt to finish the event or at least get as far as they can without falling over."

Game Pick: 'IncrediBots' (Grubby Games, browser)
"A physics-based sandbox game by the developers of Fizzball and the Professor Fizzwizzle series. This beta build offers eight tutorial levels, nine challenges with multiple difficulty settings and a sandbox mode which can be used to create robots of any size, shape and function for sharing purposes."

Game Pick: 'The Maze of Madness' (Phil Hassey, browser)
"A browser-based exploration adventure game coded in under forty-eight hours by the developer of Galcon, featuring content created exclusively by registered forum members. The game itself can be played by casual and random visitors without any restrictions, but only authenticated users can add new locations, actions and items to the database."

Game Pick: 'Factory Balls 2' (Bart Bonte, browser)
"A sequel to an entry from Jay is Games' Ball Physics Competition, now with unlimited retries and an extended collection of tools to use. The objective of this game is change the shape and color of your balls to match a picture pasted on the side of an open box, simply by using the ball with a set of tools provided in each of the thirty levels included."

Game Pick: 'Karateka Mania' (Krobon Station, freeware)
"Inspired by Nintendo's Rhythm Tengoku, this fan made version of the catchy music rhythm game features slightly updated graphics, customizable settings, and even comes with an editor to facilitate the sharing of user creations."

Game Pick: 'The Tales of Bingwood' (BugFactory, commercial indie)
"A 2D adventure game which tells the story of an unlikely hero named Tom, who must embark on a quest to save a kidnapped princess and restore peace to the kingdom. There are plenty of humorous observations and conversations to be had, puzzles are relatively easy to solve, and the game also comes with full voice acting."

Game Pick: 'Crayon Physics Deluxe' (Kloonigames, commercial indie)
"New week, new bargain. This IGF award-winning physics puzzle game is now available for pre-orders; customers who purchase it early get a substantial discount and will receive a beta build once it is released. Don't miss this one, folks."

November 14, 2008

Interview: Daniel James On Three Rings' Whirled

[We like Three Rings' Daniel James - he's a refreshingly honest counter to a lot of the online worlds VC hype train shenanigans. So Christian Nutt's interview with him about Whirled is lots of fun, and I'm really interested to see how it does - it's either a Swiss Army knife or a curate's egg, at this point.]

This Monday, Yohoho! Puzzle Pirates publisher and developer Three Rings officially launched its online service Whirled, a virtual realm-cum-Flash game portal -- which James has compared to a YouTube for games.

We sat down with the company's CEO and designer Daniel James to discuss the meaning, future, and implications of Whirled, which allows beginners to enjoy a friendly virtual world.

The free web-based service allows players to create avatars, chat in share groups and rooms, and play online games that have achievements and online high scores, as well as multiplayer functionality.

But it also goes so far as to provide open-source tools which allow professional developers to create Flash games that can be plugged into the service's social features, and which can be enjoyed both in and out of the Whirled game space.

In this in-depth chat, James, whose firm also created steampunk strategy online game Bang Howdy, discussed why he's "probably crazy" to make something this wide-ranging, using community competition to make better games, and much more:

If you can sum up what you see Whirled as, because as you have said, it's a bit nebulous. Can you give the synopsis?

Daniel James: I think Whirled is a conjunction of player-created virtual worlds and games in your web browser. There's Hollywood ways you can put it, like, "Flash Second Life," but none of these things are very good. Really, think about it as a virtual world in your web browser which is fun and is made by the people. That's what we're going for.

I asked one of our players a while ago for a one-liner for Whirled, and he said, "Whirled: It has stuff." In a way, it tells you nothing, but it tells you everything. There's stuff!

I think right now, we're pretty small. We have a small community, but they're doing all the things we want and making all the things and buying them, and they're playing the game. So we have a little ball, and the question is, is that going to be the snowball for an avalanche? That's what we're hoping.

Something we were talking about during the presentation is that we're sort of at this crossroads, where developers are choosing where they want to go and whether they want to move into starting up and doing XNA Creators Club or XBLA or online or casual. How do you see that choice that people are presented with? How does your stuff in Whirled fit into that?

DJ: I think it's awesome that people have the choice. That's the main thing. Developers are smart people. It's up to them to go in and look at what people have and make decisions.

One of the things that I think we're very big on is transparency. We're going to throw our stuff out there. You can look at our code, see what it's about, and we're a very open company. We talk at GDC, we throw our numbers around, we put our numbers out there -- that kind of thing. I think that's one thing that we're going for.

The technology and what we're providing is cool, and I think overall, what you have to look at is, "Do I think this platform is going to provide what I want and be successful?" That's a choice that you have to make.

One of the things that I have issues with, though, is when you're looking at things like the iPhone or XBLA or XNA stuff is that if you've got arbitrary criteria that this platform provider, this third party, has control over that you have no control over, then it's kind of a crapshoot, with this business model. You're basically saying, "Well, hopefully Apple will feature my game."

I know people who have made iPhone games have gotten on third-party sites, have gotten five-star reviews, and are really well-produced games, but because they're not on the featured list in the App Store, they've got no sales. That starts to look like the traditional mobile games business, which is, if you're on the carrier deck, you're golden. If you're not on the deck, then you're toast.

Any distribution model where there's some person... so you go to the iPhone, and Apple has basically got you by the short and curlies. I love Apple, but I wouldn't want to be at the whim of Steve, although I give him ten percent of my income. The Church of Steve. Hallelujah!


DJ: I don't want him to decide whether I've got a business or not, let alone after spending half a year making a game that's stuck on that platform. To my mind, you want to look at, "What's the opportunity space for the platform?"

Again, two million iPhones or whatever is cool, but if only 100,000 people are installing software from the App Store, that's worth thinking about, versus on the interwebs, there are hundreds of millions of people playing games, so you've got a very large potential audience.

The nice thing about doing an online game of any kind, whether it's Whirled or not, is that no one can lock you out. You put up your website and get links, and if you succeed, you can become viral and be a huge success anytime, and there's no one who can tell you that you can't. I like that.

That would be my criteria myself -- but say that to Jon Blow, who just made a fabulous amount of money and a great success with Braid. If you do have a good partner and they treat you well and can get promoted, then you can do well on a closed platform. It's just that it seems like it's risky, to me.

Something I want to talk about with Whirled is that it's a world of blurry distinctions, both in terms of...it's everything from a Flash game creation tool to a virtual world where people can hang out in rooms and stuff. Also, it's welcoming to people on the far end, from full-fledged game developers who make games for a living, all the way to kids who are customizing avatars or whatever. That's a very broad question, but if you can talk about it a little bit...

DJ: Yeah, I think that's really important, because you want to have the biggest possible addressable group of people. You want to get people in and have them have fun, and we think that creating stuff, even on the small level like moving furniture around your room, is fun for a lot of people.

And then you expect to have a pyramid going up. Someone's playing in the world. They're collecting stuff. They start customizing stuff, start uploading simple things like images initially, and then maybe they learn Flash skills and they start making sophisticated stuff, up to professional game developers, at the top of the pyramid, who have the most sophistication.

We believe that every level of the pyramid is important. We've got to make something that's super-accessible at the base and has a really wide funnel, so lots and lots of people can come in and find something fun, and has the richness and complexity that game developers can think, "Yeah, I can actually build a cool game on top of this." That's obviously a big challenge.

There's lots of challenges as well. When you started the question, it seemed more to me to be talking about the thing like, you've got virtual worlds and games, and what is it? That's definitely something that we grapple with a lot, because we're going for this big, somewhat nebulous thing.

Puzzle Pirates is relatively simple. You make a pirate, you do puzzles, and you get booty. You explain that to people, and they go, "Oh yeah, I get the idea." Whereas with Whirled, it's like, "It's this virtual world, and you have a room and this stuff." No one said it was easy making a new kind of media, and I think that's sort of what we're doing here.

It sounds pretentious, but the problems that we've had making this and making the UI work and trying to convey what the experience is about are nontrivial, aside from the technology problems and the complexity there.

So in a way, that means that we're probably crazy and we should pick something simple, like putting videos on the internet three years ago, but instead, we're saying, "We're going to make a go at this, and maybe we'll be a footnote in history, because someone else will come along in a couple of years and ace it, but perhaps we have a chance at synthesizing something here that's genuinely new and cool."

Something you talked about earlier is preparing for the graduates of Club Penguin, which is something I've also heard, obviously from Raph Koster -- no surprise -- and just as a general topic of discussion, which is that these kids are growing up with these kids virtual worlds, and as they grow up, they're going to expect virtual worlds to be a part of their entertainment lexicon. It's where their head's at. So what do you think about that merging market issue?

DJ: I think it's awesome. I think it's really exciting. I grew up on MUDs. I was an 11-year-old MUDder, and it certainly changed my mental landscape completely. I'm psyched.

People talk about the digital generation or whatever you want to call them, which is an annoying kind of terminology, but I think there is a genuine shift when you have access to something at a young age. It changes your way of looking at the world.

I think it's going to be great. They are going to want stuff that's more in their hands and has more freedom to it. If you've grown up on a manicured environment, then it's going to be really exciting to have something free and open, so I think Raph and I are big believers in that.

That again touches on, "What's a user of Whirled, versus a creator?" Someone will come to the experience at a young age, like 12 or something, as someone who's only been exposed to Club Penguin, in which the content only flows in one direction, and as they gradually acclimate to Whirled, they may expand their horizons.

DJ: People seem to get the idea pretty fast. It taps into the same natural thing about MMOs, which is, "I want to acquire the shinies!" You quickly see people understanding why. "I'm acquiring the shiny, and so-and-so made the shiny."

Now, if you are competitively-minded, there are definitely people on Whirled who are like, "Wow, that's really good. Now I'm going to make something as good as that." People are always setting the bar for each other. They seem to get that. I know that more tools and more cool things will increase that, but I think it's pretty exciting.

Moreover, there is a shift there, where people are becoming more and more comfortable with the idea, "Oh yeah. Of course I can make that myself," or "At least I can have a laugh trying."

One of the things that surprised us was that we thought there would be a problem with a lot of crap content, and that would be an issue for the community somehow. But as it turned out, people are cool with it.

Someone makes a crappy animated avatar, or one with no animations, or whatever, and yeah, it gets rated three stars because it doesn't do many cool things, but people in the comments are like, "This is great! Why don't you add some states and stuff? You should learn how to do some kind of animation." It's a very, "Good first effort! Now do more."

It's a closed environment to an extent, though, right now?

DJ: No. It's been wide open for six months. All comers welcome.

I'm just envisioning YouTube-style comments on stuff, as you attract a broader audience.

DJ: I'm not saying that it's always going to be like that. If we get to 100 million people hitting the website a day, then there's certainly going to be more idiots. But I think a lot of how a community evolves is what the initial tone is. I'm not sure YouTube ever had a good, high-quality commenting culture, and Whirled has already built that.

For a year in alpha, we had a very small community of a couple hundred people who were pretty high-brow. Similarly, Puzzle Pirates actually had the same thing. It's amazing. Six years after we started alpha testing Puzzle Pirates, that tone of the community is still present. Most of those people have gone, but once you've set the tone of a community, I think it can persist well beyond what you would expect.

Do you think that's a natural evolution? Or do you have any policies or practices?

DJ: No, we definitely have policies. We have active customer service, we respond very quickly to complaints and requests to remove people, and if someone's being offensive or swearing, we'll warn them, and if necessary, we'll ban them.

We definitely want to keep things nice, and if someone posts, "This is rubbish," kinds of comments, we say, "Hey, look. Be positive. Don't be negative." Community standards are very important, and enforcing those is really important. You certainly can't just expect it to magically happen.

Another thing that we've said with Whirled is that right now we're a PG environment. You have to say you're 13 to play. But we're not supporting mature content right now. We may in some method in the future, but right now, we have no plans to do that. And I think that's important, too, just to say, "Look, this is about having fun, playing games, and hanging out. It's not about naughtiness." There will be plenty of places where it is about naughtiness, and that's fine for them.

You talked about that you had open-source code available for everyone, from amateurs to professionals, to get ahold of and work with. I was wondering if you could talk about where that came from and what's available, and how that works.

DJ: We're still the game developer, and we put a lot of resources into Whirled. It's a big deal for us as a company. About half of those have been into the platform and the back end, and then about half went into content creation.

For example, as simple as an avatar... for the example for the avatar, people have taken the avatar code and modified it and gone, "Oh, now I can make my own avatar," and changed out the imagery and stuff like that, up to a full multiplayer game.

There's two things there. One is that we don't think we can make a bunch of technology and magically have people use it. Obviously, there has to be really cool content there to get people excited.

But now, we don't really need to make avatars so much, because people are making avatars, but we still need to make really cool games, because it's going to take a while for people to finish their games and get them up to the level of polish that we can deliver. In six months, maybe we'll be able to focus more on making games, and worry less about filling the catalog. Perhaps we'll have game teams focus more on making money from our games ourselves.

Something I wanted to talk about is referencing the open-source code that's available. Is that more of a philosophical decision, or is it more of a concrete, "If this is available, then it will, in the end, enrich our service?"

DJ: It's both. The libraries and the low-level stuff is a philosophical thing, because my God, we built a company on a lot of open-source software, and we're big believers in it on principle.

The practical benefits is negligible... some nice things are that when we recruit people, we can say, "Hey, make a game based on our stuff." That's a nice thing to be able to do. But I think it's mostly a religious, philosophical belief. In terms of the games and the examples and so on, obviously we hope that's going to contribute to the success of the platform. But I think it's still cool to throw out there.

It's kind of like giving out your numbers. People are always really wary about giving out your numbers in business, but it doesn't actually cost you anything to give out your numbers. If it helps your competition a little bit, why do you care?

If Raph Koster's Metaplace kicks our ass, they'll do that because they did a better job than us, not because we gave out our numbers or our source code or anything like that. They just would've done a better job, and fair enough. All you can ask for in the world is a meritocracy, I believe.

Something I was interested to see is that some of the popular content on the beta version is based on IP that you don't control. There are Sonic the Hedgehog characters, and also...

DJ: I don't ever look at that stuff.

There's an artist that you referenced who had content based on Square Enix IP. Final Fantasy stuff. Where's your position on that?

DJ: We'll respond to DMCA takedown notices. We do not review content for copyright infringement. In fact, we actively do not review content for copyright infringement, because it's the same as YouTube. If you filter the content, we make no representations about what people upload to Whirled.

If someone complains about it and they have the right to say, "This is my content. Take it down," then we'll take it down. We have done that, and we're happy to continue to do that. But it's not appropriate or possible for us, as an organization, to be combing through the tens of thousands of things that people are uploading, and going, "Oh, we think that might be copyrighted." How do we know? Maybe I've played that Square game, but I personally haven't. I have no idea.

Does it add a complexity to it? Because YouTube doesn't monetize its content through its users. Someone has made a Chocobo from Final Fantasy and put it on the site as an avatar, and she gets money for it. Does that complicate the issue?

DJ: You'll have to ask the lawyers. I don't know. But I think it's more of an issue between her and whoever owns the copyright, rather than between us. But again, you'd have to ask the lawyers.

Fair enough.

DJ: No doubt at the point where we're fabulously successful, if we get to YouTube-like scale, no doubt there are going to be interesting legal questions that arise from that. And personally, I would rather people make completely original stuff out of their own heads. I think that's much cooler, and I think that will be the way things go. But it's not surprising that people are being inspired by their favorite stuff out of the gate.

Something I want to also talk about is the time versus money equation. This is a pretty broad question that free-to-play is addressing right now. There's currency. As you play, you earn this currency -- the coins in your world. They're based on time investment. The avatar you showed me cost approximately an hour's worth of playing the game, or users can buy the avatar for ten cents.

There's a real relevancy to it. How do you see those two things working together in your game? Who are they for, and what do they accomplish, having those two different currency systems?

DJ: I think what you want is a situation where time and money are both valued. I think in a virtual environment, there's very few things -- and creativity, in our case -- there's very few things that you can look at and attach a monetary value to.

If you look at real society, time and money and brilliance are generally modified for the value of your time, perhaps, or increases the scalability of your time. We think putting that into a virtual world makes a lot of sense.

I think if you look at attempts to not support arbitrage between time and money -- like in World of Warcraft, banning gold farming, and so on -- I think it's like standing in the tide and telling it to go back out again. You may succeed if you're big enough and ban enough people and so on, but I think also, the uncomfortable thing is if you don't support it as a transparent market within your business, then you're basically telling it to go underground.

If you tell it to go underground, then you introduce all sorts of possibilities, like markups, and money-making on arbitrage. The reason Chinese gold farmers who get paid a buck an hour to play WoW -- because of IGE and Blizzard banning people for it -- it's because the marketplace was in a gray market, rather than a truly transparent open market.

If it was a transparent open market, the price of gold would probably have dropped to the point where you couldn't afford to pay Chinese farmers to do it, because there would be enough people who are like, "Oh yeah, I'll pay my subscription by doing that." Not, "I'll have a warehouse with 50 guys while playing 24/7 around the clock."

That's something that was brought up at Austin GDC too, at the same session. Hilmar Veigar Petursson from CCP was saying that you have to support free-to-play with micro and subscription, otherwise the gray market is going to force the issue, which I found very interesting.

DJ: We did this four years ago with Puzzle Pirates, and one of our principal beliefs was that we are going to bring the market within the game, and then remove outside arbitrage opportunities, and make it efficient and easy and accessible, like, "Oh yeah, I want doubloons. I'll just change over my pieces of eight," or vice-versa.

On the business side of it, you enable the people who are willingly wanting to give you money give you a lot more money, because they can effectively buy time, and time is a prolific commodity in an online game, as opposed to content, which you're trying to sell them more content all the time.

2009 IGF Reminds Entrants Of Student Showcase, IGF Mobile Deadlines

[Just a final reminder for the IGF student and mobile competitions for 2009, which are finishing up this weekend and Monday respectively - good luck to all the entrants, both competitions have had some standouts in previous years.]

Organizers of the 2009 Independent Games Festival are giving a final call for entries for this year's Student Showcase competition (due November 15th), and IGF Mobile competition (due November 17th), following the closing of entries for the main IGF competition earlier this month.

After a record turn-out for the IGF Main Competition, with entrants to be revealed soon, the ever-popular, free Student Showcase competition has an imminent deadline, with game students battling to be one of the ten games available in playable form on the 2009 Game Developers Conference show floor.

The Student Showcase honorees, which have previously included Portal predecessor Narbacular Drop and Dyadin, an early game by the team behind Flow, are given $500 and complementary passes to attend GDC 2009, which includes the third annual Independent Games Summit. They will also compete for a $2,500 Best Student Game award.

In addition, the IGF Mobile entry deadline is on November 17th, with $30,000 in total for those indie creators making games for iPhone, cellphone, and other handheld devices.

IGF Mobile categories include game design, art, technical and audio awards, a Best Game award, and -- new for this year -- a $10,000 'Best iPhone Game' prize. In addition, entry into IGF Mobile is free this year, meaning it's easy for 'bedroom programmers' and upwardly mobile indies alike to enter the competition.

The finalists will be invited to showcase their games on the expo floor at GDC, and winners of the category will be revealed onstage at the special standalone IGF Mobile awards ceremony at GDC 2009, and also highlighted at the flagship Independent Games Festival Awards event at the show.

More information on entering the competitions are available at the official Independent Games Festival homepage and the official IGF Mobile homepage, respectively.

Opinion: Mirror's Edge: If Looks Could Kill

mirrors_edge.jpg[In this in-depth opinion piece, game commentator Duncan Fyfe examines the increasingly overblown promotional campaign that preceded the release of DICE's Mirror's Edge -- and considers whether it's all worth it.]

It's essentially over. Mirror's Edge has been released and from my perspective it ran a very strange campaign.

This is one of our last opportunities to talk about that process while it's still current and hopefully still interesting, although Mirror's Edge itself will be last-gen and boring as early as next January so pretty soon nobody will be talking about the actual game either. These things have a very fragile lifespan.

The debut trailer in May quickly endeared itself to the constituents of Internet City. Clearly it was something different: artistically striking and an original first-person take on a familiar third-person genre. It invited favourable comparisons to Portal (perhaps unintentionally) as both games appeared to have a visual and a gameplay aesthetic in common.

Obviously they shared a female player character and a vivid colour pallete, and it's unfortunate that those are so rare as to immediately link the games together. Otherwise, they were both first-person games with no emphasis on combat, instead preferring environmental puzzles. Where Portal was the definitive first-person action puzzle comedy, Mirror's Edge would likewise be the first-person free-running platformer, capturing the adrenaline-rush primacy of movement and physicality like few games had before it.

Both are minimalist in their design, featuring sparse, bright environments and no HUD. It seemed like a reasonable assumption then to expect that this minimalism would result in a gameplay-endemic storytelling model much like Portal. Early previews suggested that radio communication was an important element, implying, agreeably, that the story would be delivered primarily through voice-over.

It was all supposition; DICE never drew the comparison directly. Until, of course, they set lyrics to the official Mirror's Edge theme song and called it "Still Alive". (Sample lyrics: "Ooh, I'm still alive/I'm still alive.")

After the initial trailer, curiously, every Mirror's Edge press release reflected design decisions shockingly unlike Portal. It was as if DICE felt it had the Portal vote all tied up and needed to broaden its appeal to sway some undecideds.

The marketing strategy that followed, however, was perhaps not the best move. When they had everyone thoroughly bewitched by the potential gameplay, they followed up by unloading a heavy dump truck full of superfluous lore, possibly into a local river or other municipal resource. We couldn't get the innovative platformer without the gritty saga of betrayal and revenge set in a near-future totalitarian police state/extreme skateboarding park in which sisters are framed for crimes they did not commit. My friend Steve Gaynor points out that Mirror's Edge takes less after 1984 than it does Marc Ecko's Getting Up.

Telling such a story entirely in-game presents a writing challenge, as Valve well knows. DICE resolved to opt out of first-person and deliver its narrative primarily in a series of heavily-promoted 2D Flash-style cutscenes featuring extensive expository narration written by Rhianna Pratchett.

For Mirror's Edge historians, a tie-in comic book documents the everyday routine of main character Faith before it was disrupted by a video game plot catalyst. The selling of Mirror's Edge is less about making a cool game available to play and more about launching a grand multimedia franchise event. Also, please buy the original soundtrack.

comic.jpgAt the time Portal was released, its story was an unknown quantity. It slowly unraveled and became progressively more involving as you played, and did so while remaining non-intrusive.

When dispatches of fictional backstory are one of the first things published about a game, before anyone's had a chance to play it, and are revealed in a passive format unrelated to the act of play, then it's not a game, it's homework. Please pay attention to all the particulars about these crooked bureaucrats and Faith's designer sneakers because it's totally going to affect the way you climb over fences.

The story is apparently so good, in fact, that it could not be leashed to just one game. DICE quickly assured us that Mirror's Edge was always planned as a trilogy, as if there isn't a game announcement any more cliche and presumptuous.

Reports came in that this was an apparently unforgiving platformer demanding precision, and the heart-pumping adrenaline of leaping across rooftops, fleeing from gunfire and helicopters is always captured perfectly by repeatedly failing at the same jump. DICE made the game's time trial mode a big deal, and promised that there would be special DLC in our future -- platform-exclusive DLC, and so the game gains value as an asset in console wars, which is what video games are all about.

None of it had anything to do with what made the game appealing in the first place, and made the whole package look kind of worse. I'm especially puzzled as to why they pushed the story so hard. My degree in political science almost leads me to suspect that it was damage control -- getting the information out early to preempt journalists from busting open a scoop on how the 2D cutscenes were ridiculous (this isn't what we learned in political science at all.)

Portal was lucky it didn't have similar flaws, luckier still that it didn't have to run the publicity gauntlet that Mirror's Edge has. Portal was never promoted on a triple-A level, otherwise we would have known everything about it.

We'd be indoctrinated in the full history of Aperture Science, and the backstories and motivations of Chell and GLaDOS would be well-documented in trailers and character profiles. Previews would have exhausted puzzle solutions. Penny Arcade would have done a prequel comic and "Still Alive" (the original) would have been Digged to YouTube stardom. Special challenge room DLC would have been announced. As soon as pictures of Chell were published, she would soon be redesigned by fans as a comely fifteen-year-old of nebulous Asian descent.


We've come to demand that level of exposure but it would have ruined Portal's chances at success. Portal slipped in under the cover of Half-Life and Team Fortress. It capitalized on low expectations, and the surprise contributed to players' positive impressions.

Mirror's Edge couldn't work that way. It came up from design documents and out of pitch meetings and was elevated to triple-A status, where it doesn't have the luxury of privacy. When your game becomes a high-profile high-talent cross-media cross-platform franchise trilogy experience, there's a lot on the line.

At the start it seemed reasonable to think that Mirror's Edge could stand entirely on the merits of its brilliant core concept, and not need to include extraneous and negligibly attractive features to appeal to as many people as possible.

But, no, this is the video game business. Mirror's Edge is big time now and it needs to win, and if that means bringing aboard comic book artists, "well-known music industry producers" and Rhianna Pratchett to push it over the edge, well, that's what you do when you run for president.

GameSetLinkDump: The Run Of Shadows

Good Lord, it's time for a little more GameSetLinkDump-age, headed by the UK Guardian discussing game addiction as an alternative to facing up to bad realities - a strangely needed personal perspective on gaming and feelings, something that maybe isn't done enough.

Also hanging out in here - the sad disappearance of WizKid Games, a version of Shadowrun (pictured) that you might not have seen before, the rise of doujin, something about Second Life that almost makes sense to me, and lots more.

Yee haw:

Naomi Alderman: Computer games are good for you | Technology | guardian.co.uk
On post 9/11 trauma and Diablo: 'I remember surfacing from four-hour Diablo II sessions feeling as if I'd been on holiday, so grateful that I'd been able to blot out the images of genuine horror filling my city.'

WizKids Games shuttered by Topps
"We feel it is necessary to align our efforts more closely with Topps' current sports and entertainment offerings which are being developed within our New York office.” What a shame - a genuinely interesting tabletop gaming company closed.

Shadowrun Xbox prototype info
Completely different from the shipped one: 'After shipping Crimson Skies HRTR, the FASA Management team asked me to art direct their next title, Shadowrun. They wanted a new Shadowrun, one that was real in the way Peter Jackson made the "Lord of the Rings" universe real.' Via Superannuation.

ARGNet: I Swear, I'm Not Claiming All Girl Gamers are Fake: Personal Effects Goes Live
Following up on the story I broke-ish recently - apparently, a couple of other bloggers had worked it out, but hey, I had the first/loudest mouth.

game girl advance: The Futures of Entertainment
Heartily agree with both 3 and 4.

Confessions of an Aca/Fan: Changing the Game: An Interview on Games and Business with David Edery and Ethan Mollick (Part Two)
Good two-part chat with the business game book folks.

Canned Dogs » Blog Archive » Otaku market size 2007
Rise of indie in Japan, too? 'Also at the same time, the doujinshi market is still growing as more become aware of doujin events such as comic market, increasing the number of casual fans.'

Second Life Users Furious Over Barely Understandable Controversy « Broken Toys
Nice disclaimer, and a good explanation of the ever odd, insular SL world.

Sex Games | Moving Pixels | PopMatters
Discussing a game I hadn't heard of called... BoneTown?

Crayon Physics Deluxe - the official website
2008's IGF Grand Prize winner now available for PC pre-order. Do it.

November 13, 2008

In-Depth: Inside The Making Of Resistance 2

[We really had an insane amount of good content on big sister site Gamasutra this week, and there's a couple of longform pieces that I think might get lost otherwise - here's one, which is Christian Nutt's visit to the Insomniac Community Day, with plenty of Resistance 2 talk all round.]

Last week, Insomniac Games welcomed around 100 members of the game-playing public into its offices for its first ever community day, to celebrate and promote the launch of its fall PlayStation 3 title, Resistance 2, with its most passionate fans -- and shared a surprisingly robust number of development secrets with the public.

The event was held at Insomniac's Burbank, California headquarters, and the day was split into two theater sessions that concentrated on the making of the game, and also included lunch, gameplay sessions, studio tours, and signings for the fans.

Insomniac CEO and Resistance 2 creative director Ted Price welcomed the fans to the event with genuine gratitude, explaining, "This is the first event like this we've ever had. We've never had so many people come into Insomniac, and it's something we've been looking forward to and planning for awhile... we want to show our appreciation for what you guys have been doing for us over the years."

Price thanked the fans, who had largely come to the Greater Los Angeles-based studio under their own power and on their own dime. He pointed out that this passionate group has been invaluable in building community, moderating the MyResistance.Net forums, and giving "objective feedback, positive reinforcement, and occasionally some really blunt criticism." Said Price, "If we don't know what you guys are thinking about our games, we can't improve our games."

After the welcome, the development team launched into a surprisingly candid and complex discussion of the making of the game, which was released last week in North America (and which is due this month in other major PS3 territories.)

The huge discussion panel included 11 Insomniac staffers, as well as Susan Bonds, president and CEO of 42 Entertainment, which produced the alternate reality game which served as a viral marketing campaign and companion to the title.

Over half of the questions were initially asked by Insomniac community staffers James Stevenson and Bryan Intihar; the remainder, many extremely savvy, were asked by the community.

According to Price, the creative process for Resistance 2 was team-led, in a spirit of collaboration. "The creative directors on the project are responsible for being the consensus builders... we go and ask the team, hey, what do you want to do?"

This sentiment was echoed by Jay Biegel, co-op lead designer. "Insomniac is very centered around collaboration, so any change or creation of weapons, there's a lot of teamwork involved... one of the things I think is really special about Insomniac is that collaboration. Designers like to think we start the conversation... but if you're a good designer you listen to other people." Biegel also included the attendees in this: "If the community has any good ideas for weapons, put them forward."

Big Changes

Tools group director Andy Burke explained that improved engine tech is what sets Resistance 2 apart from the studio's other games. "A few years ago, for Ratchet & Clank Future, we redid our toolset to make everything a bit more streamlined and manage the huge amounts of data... to make people able to see their changes in the game as fast as possible."

Mike McManus, gameplay programmer, noted a big change was that "we used streaming in the game, which was a pretty big change both for tools and for engine."

Biegel was adamant that the game's co-op design marked a big change for the title, saying, "We really wanted to do something different and special with co-op... the team was passionate with making it something different." The game is somewhat designed to reward teamwork and punish lone wolves with death. "We wanted to focus on what we think is the future of gaming -- that teamwork that happens organically."

When asked about the huge boss encounters, Price explained that beyond delivering entertainment to gamers, these have a benefit to the creative process at Insomniac, as well: "One thing bosses have done for us is fostered a lot more collaboration between our animators and gameplay programmers... there's a lot of back and forth, and it was really cool to see the team gelling over these monsters."

Adalbert Kinsey, senior technical animator, discussed Insomniac's approach to motion captured animation -- Resistance 2 being the first game for which the studio has utilized mocap. "We developed a way to take the motion capture and overlay it with hand-keyed animation without destroying any of the underlying motion capture. So you were picking up on the small details of a human's motion, while making sure he fits into our game engine and hits the poses that we need to hit -- always have the gun at the right height, that kind of thing."

The change wasn't simple for Insomniac, as the artists there appreciate hand-keyed animation. Kinsey continued, "In the past, mocap doesn't have the snap and feel of a hand-animated character. People tend to smooth it out a bit... we tried ot make sure that we didn't destroy the motion capture, so the small little details stay"

Huge Game, Viral Marketing

Ed Kim, the game's project manager, discussed how managing a game with three major modes -- with high player counts (60 multi, eight co-op) -- became a major task for the team. "In R2, just the addition of such a big co-op mode, and competitive [mode], to a big single player [mode] as well makes it infinitely more difficult. We'd have to rely on single player assets to adapt them for multiplayer and vice versa, keeping track of the timeframe of when assets would be done... or what changes would be made."

Kim concluded: "I don't even know where to start, it was a big challenge across the board. One of the more stressful things about it was, we have a reputation to uphold. Keeping the quality across the board took a lot of collaboration among all the teams and all the departments."

Susan Bonds explained the creative process behind the ARG viral marketing campaign for the game -- which included gruesome footage of mutated soldiers. "Our number one question was, who is [protagonist] Nathan Hale and why was he resistant to the Chimeran virus, and who's watching him? Those seem like interesting things to work on."

The story, which turned out to be Hale's origin story, was based on a "mysterious" photo from Resistance 1, never addressed by either game's story. It showed Hale with a group of other soldiers, who (according to 42's Insomniac-sanctioned fiction) turn out to be victims of military experiments in Alaska. When it came to building ideas for the viral videos, "Guys wrote things on the whiteboard like 'meat suffication, your insides liquefy, and you throw up organs'."

Questions from the Fans

While some of the fan questions trod into territory you'd expect -- questions about patches, updates, quibbles about design decisions and modes -- many of them were very cogent and development-focused.

One fan asked if there's a point in the creative process writing is no longer necessary. Chief creative officer Brian Hastings replied, "I always think that's going to be the case and it's never the case... we always are writing up to the point here our localization people in Europe say, 'We'll kill you if you add one more line.' As design changes... a lot of times that will mean, let's change the writing. It goes right up until the wire."

The Origins of Resistance and Its Sequel

When asked if there was any connection between Insomniac's PS1 FPS sleeper Disruptor and the Resistance series, Ted Price was reminded that Hastings "suggested an FPS in 2003... way before the PS3 came out, so we wanted to create a game that would be attractive to the hardcore players."

When asked where the initial idea came from, Price revealed that Resistance originally had a heavy sci-fi theme for much of its development. "It started out as lizards and space opera and time travel. We spent maybe eight months concepting a completely different story and a different set of enemies and worlds. Everybody was really lukewarm. We kind of reached a crisis."

The team moved to World War I, but abandoned it because of the weaponry; then briefly stopped at WWII but dropped that theme because of its prevalence, and finally settled on the alternate '50s history concept which the series has stuck with.

The game has a bleaker tone than its predecessor, and without getting into spoiler territory, fans who had completed the game wanted to know why it ended on a down note. Hastings said, "Every story's going to have an up or down ending. At one point we did discuss more of a Hollywood ending, and it... felt like we were lying to ourselves. The story couldn't end this way, believably."

Price continued, "We did talk a lot about creating a bleaker world and a greater sense of despair, because if the stakes aren't raised, it's not compelling to the player. Our goal was to push that as far as we could to make players feel really overwhelmed. We wanted it to have an emotional impact on players."

Audio director Dwight Okahara did note that this informed the creative process with the game's audio, however. "[The developers] created this bleak dead world, and we can't do a lot with that, so we added a lot of atmosphere into that with this Americana." The game relies on radios -- which play both period music, and spoken dialogue -- for atmosphere.

Changes Are Driven by Audience Issues

A commenter complained about the fact that R2 has moved to a Halo-like dual weapon system, compared to its predecessor's more traditional large cache of weapons. But Hastings pointed out some unexpected reasoning behind the shift. "During focus testing, we found that people used different weapons a lot more with the dual-weapon system, and used the alt-fires a lot more."

An equally interesting counter to the complaint that the game's co-op mode doesn't follow its single player campaign was also made by Jay Biegel. "All of the superficial add-ons you have to do to gate in a second player would detract from the personal story. Imagine playing BioShock in two player -- it would be horrible."

Ted Price summed up these decisions in conclusion of the fascinating roundtable: "We have to make changes for fans, and new fans... and that is why we made a lot of changes from Resistance 1."

Best Of GamerBytes: Who Watches The Watchmen?

[Every week, our sister console digital download site GamerBytes' editor Ryan Langley will be summing up the top console digital download news tidbits from the past 7 days, including brand new game announcements and scoops through the world of Xbox Live Arcade, PlayStation Network and WiiWare.]

No new Xbox Live Arcade releases this week, no PlayStation Network releases last week, and a variety of quality for WiiWare worldwide makes for an odd selection of titles.

I can't blame them, though - with Gears of War 2, Mirrors Edge, Fallout 3, Call of Duty: World At War, Banjo Kazooie: Nuts & Bolts and more games that have come out in this past week, who really would release a new game now?

Here's the top news stories of the week in the space:

Xbox Live Arcade

This Week On XBLA - New Arcade Hits, SFIIHD Pinball Table for Pinball FX And Banjo Kazooie Download Codes
Feeding Frenzy, Worms HD and Ultimate Mortal Kombat 3 are now available for 400 Microsoft Points. You can pick up a Street Fighter Pinball Table for Pinball FX for 200 Points, and if you preordered Banjo Kazooie: Nuts & Bolts, you can now play Banjo Kazooie XBLA.

What Went Wrong With Talisman?
The sad tale of an XBLA board game that just couldn't make it to release. Here, Capcom discusses just what went wrong in the games' production.

Sonic's Ultimate Genesis Collection Revealed -- Over 40 Games On One Disc
It looks like Sega will no longer release XBLA console classics. That shouldn't matter, though -- they're plugging in over 40 classic Genesis, Master System, and Arcade titles for only $29.99 as non-DLC.

Gridrunner+++ Having Difficulty Making It To XBLA
Jeff Minter's Gridrunner+++ for XBLA is "done" -- but seems like it's stuck in limbo for now.

PlayStation Network

Cuboid And Magic Ball Announced For PSN
Two new PlayStation Network titles have been announced -- Magic Ball, a crazy Arkanoid-type game, and Cuboid, the game that could destroy your mind.

Watchmen: The End Is Nigh Cover Story On EGM
EGM Magazine has given its front page story to Watchmen: The End Is Nigh, a downloadable episodic title for XBLA and PSN.


NA WiiWare Update: Yummy Yummy Brains
This week's American WiiWare brings Brain Challenge and Yummy Yummy Cooking Jam into the fray.

EU WiiWare Update: Alien Crush Returns, Space Invaders; Get Even, and Brain Challenge
Alien pinball, retro invasions, and racking your brain are just some of the things you can do in Europe this week.

Hudson Announce Cue Sports, Pit Crew Panic And Snowboard Riot For WiiWare
Hudson's next selection of WiiWare games aren't based on old classics, but they're making some very interesting titles.

World Of Goo Now Bound For WiiWare In Europe
Originally only getting a retail Wii release, World Of Goo is now hitting WiiWare in Europe.

Column: 'Might Have Been' - Time Gal

[“Might Have Been” is a column by Todd Ciolek that explores the ways in which promising games, characters, concepts, and companies failed. This week’s edition looks at Taito's Time Gal, released in the arcade in 1985, for the Sega CD in 1993, and for the PlayStation in 1996.]

Dragon’s Lair was not a good game. It didn’t really need to be. The typical arcade patrons of 1983 were quite willing to forgive awful, barely extant game structure as long as they could watch beautiful, seamless, laserdisc-streamed animation from the guy who directed The Secret of Nimh. And the laserdisc games that followed, from Don Bluth’s own Space Ace to half-cohesive anime collages like the Lupin-derived Cliff Hanger, didn’t have to be good, either, so long as they had cartoon visuals to smooth over their cheap, sudden deaths.

Time Gal was too late to ride that train. It was 1985 by the time Taito shipped it to Japanese arcades, and players were getting tired of laserdisc games that killed them over and over, with each death earning only a few more seconds’ worth of cartoon. Full-motion video games limped along into the next decade, spawning the likes of Time Traveler and far too much of the Sega CD catalog, but it was essentially over by the mid-’80s, when Time Gal’s arcade arrival was pricey, hard to translate, and too mired in anime atmosphere to interest a post-Atari America.

But Time Gal deserved better. Her title is a cut above the genre standard, with a bit more personality and cohesion than the usual live-action mishmash. More importantly, she was perhaps the world’s first human heroine from a video game. Sure, there’s Ms. Pac-Man, the mother marsupial from Kangaroo, the masked astronaut Toby from Baraduke, and the babysitter from Halloween on the Atari 2600, but Time Gal was the first game woman who wasn’t a cutesy abstraction, a by-product of a license, or ostensibly male.

Pattern Recognition

In the briefest possible intro, the year 4001 finds a bearded, cackling villain named Luda stealing an experimental time machine in a bid for temporal world domination. Reika “Time Gal” Kirishima, apparently not needing a large time-traveling apparatus of her own, simply warps off in pursuit of Luda, not bothering to put on protective clothing or pack anything more damaging than a laser pistol. With her green hair and half-dressed look, she’s pretty much the bikini-clad alien princess Lum from Urusei Yatsura, which by 1985 was too popular for the ever-derivative game industry not to emulate.

Time Gal has no undercurrent plot to speak of, as its true narrative lies in the various time periods Reika runs through. The game’s video clips show her leaping to the ages of dinosaurs, Neanderthal colonies, Roman coliseums, pirate ships, World War II naval battles, modern army firefights, a future of laser-spewing robots, and the lawless world of 2001, when mohawked thugs on hoverbikes roam the post-apocalyptic freeways.

Each setting puts Time Gal in a deadly situation every few seconds, be it a fire-breathing prehistoric Godzilla, an iceberg avalanche, or the bloated alien spiders that appear to have eaten a spaceship’s crew in 3999 A.D. Time Gal dodges most of what’s thrown her way, but she’ll occasionally draw her pistol and fry the opposition. As in Dragon’s Lair, pieces of scenery will light up, and the player’s required to press the joystick in their direction, jab the game’s one button to activate Time Gal’s laser, or freeze everything with her Time Stop command. As with most full-motion-video games, death is all around, and no one could possibly guide Time Gal to her quest’s end without a few dozen scenes of her getting scorched by lava, stomped by dinosaurs, pummeled by cavemen, smashed by mine carts, vaporized by mecha, or blown to pieces by the U.S. Army. Her constant demises are more comical than brutal, often turning her into a yelping, super-deformed little woman. And like any constantly destroyed cartoon character, she’ll always be back for more.

Time enough for sexism

Taito clearly intended for Time Gal to simulate an anime film, just as Dragon’s Lair was a Bluth movie condensed into half an hour. All of Time Gal’s animation was provided by Toei's studios, which had built a sizeable cartoon catalog by the 1980s, and it’s impressively fluid and detailed, occasionally approaching theatrical anime in quality. Granted, it’s never as pretty as Bluth’s laserdisc inventions, as Toei still used most of the shortcuts common to Japanese animation. Perhaps that’s a blessing. Time Gal’s lower frame rate makes it a little easier to play.

Time Gal herself is a fairly appealing lead, and she’s never at a loss for commentary, whether it’s a girlish squeal of delight as she evades a patrol ship or a shriek of alarm as a mechanical serpent chases her down the corridors of Luda’s palace. She’ll even throw out brief remarks or one-sided conversations, as seen when she flirts with a huge, unsmiling Roman gladiator. Misogyny creeps in, of course: Time Gal’s already skimpy clothes get ripped away by T-Rexes and Fist of the North Star mutants alike, and she’ll scream about being struck on the chest or getting bitten on her partially exposed rear. Pioneers are not always proud.

If Time Gal wasn’t a feminist icon, she at least had some pull in an era where many game characters didn’t even have names. The laserdisc-game craze may have set gameplay back, but it also allowed fully realized leads with their own stories and visual style. Taito had a potential mascot on their hands, and with some care, Time Gal might have starred in her own (probably awful) TV series or spun off some side-scrolling NES games. If Dragon’s Lair could do it in America, Time Gal could’ve done it in Japan.

Quiet, Reika. Samus is talking.

Yet Time Gal found no such legacy. The original game was never released outside of Japan, and a port for the Pioneer LaserActive was almost as obscure for Western audiences. It wasn’t until Wolfteam and Telenet’s Sega CD title that Time Gal showed up on a mainstream North American console. Wolfteam’s version mimics the arcade closely, adding in a theme song and a few new extras. Renovation, Telenet’s North American branch, went through the trouble of dubbing Time Gal in English, though they also censored a few of her more suggestive untimely demises. The most accessible version of Time Gal, however, is a later PlayStation port. Released in a two-pack with Ninja Hayate, this most recent edition of Time Gal is an accurate recreation of the original arcade game, though it lacks the bonus material of the Sega CD one.

Time Gal later resurfaced in an unlikely place: Alfa System’s Shikigami no Shiro III (Castle of Shikigami III in the U.S.), which featured a redesigned Reika Kirishima in its cast of selectable characters. No mere inside joke, Reika is identified in the manual as Time Gal, a teenage police officer who’s perpetually disbelieved when it comes to her ability to travel through time. Aptly enough, her special attack immobilizes enemies and their projectiles. And she’s still an overenthusiastic chatterbox.

Watch and never learn

Like most laserdisc games, Time Gal is (and always was) more fun to watch than play. It’s frustrating and rigid when attempted today, and anyone interested is better off accessing the Sega CD version’s play-through feature. Or you can just watch Time Gal’s collected death scenes, which play out like some plotless sci-fi version of the Looney Tunes short Duck Amuck, except that instead of Daffy being tormented by an unseen animator, Time Gal is at the mercy of some overworked anime in-betweener who’s just gone through an ugly divorce.

Time Gal will never be a classic in anyone’s eyes, and calling it one of the best full-motion-video games is still an insult. Yet there’s something charming and undeniably unique about Time Gal’s constant deaths, her shrill narration, and her hectic scenery changes. It helps that she’s an early trend-setter. The modern era may have game heroines with varying degrees of dignity, but Time Gal was there at the start.

[Todd Ciolek is a freelance jerk in New York City.]

Interview: UK National Video Game Archive's Newman On Preserving The Past

[This interview with the nice UK Video Game Archive folks was conducted by us just before they went 'public' at GameCity, and it's good to see more people thinking about how to archive games as an artform - hurrah.]

"Video games are living, breathing things with cultural lives and histories," says Dr. James Newman of the UK's recently created UK National Video Game Archive.

The newly launched Archive is a partnership between the National Media Museum and Nottingham Trent University's Centre for Contemporary Play. Gamasutra caught up with Newman, a key figure behind the venture, to discuss its plans and intent.

Rather than being a straightforward game collection, Newman stresses that the Archive's goal is to chronicle game history and game culture broadly speaking -- which extends beyond game design itself and out into the art that surrounds gaming, including game-inspired media and fan-created works.

Says Newman, "To make sure that we can tell the greatest range of stories, we want to spread our net as wide as possible and focus not only on video games, per se, but also on the cultures of play and playfulness that surround them."

"We were determined from the start that this project would not just involve setting up a digital archive of code, though code is important, too," he explains. "Video games are living, breathing things with cultural lives and histories. Some of these stories can be seen by looking at a particular piece of hardware or software or even a particular sequence or soundtrack to a game."

"Other stories are told through design documents or through the performances of players who make new and unexpected cultural artifacts from games. Machinima, for instance, emerges from the retooling of cameras in first-person shooters like Doom, so to truly understand what machinima is, you need to understand this context, which is all about inventive gamers playing with the game."

Newman also cited the vast variety of game formats as a major challenge to archiving and to displaying games in an attractive way. "There have been attempts to curate exhibitions of video games in the past, and they have been hit and miss affairs," he notes.

"Where you're dealing with coin-op games, you're usually fairly safe because they are designed to be approachable 'pick up and play' experiences," he continues, "but many pride themselves on the tens -- even hundreds -- of hours of gameplay they offer and on the complexity of their branching narratives and structures."

"How do you take a 150-plus-hour game that may take all sorts of different storylines depending on choices you make or your proficiency as a player, and show it to somebody who's never seen it before and may not have much experience of games?"

The Archive hasn't quite reached the point of answering that question. "This is not a brick-and-mortar building -- not yet, anyway," Newman points out. Right now, the group is focusing on research and collection of games and gaming hardware, across several decades and myriad platforms.

"The partnership between these two organizations already at the forefront of their areas means that we have an enormous head start with our research, facilities and expertise," he adds.

Eventually, the goal is to display the collection through a combination of online and physical means, with access to gallery space owned by the National Media Museum in Bradford as well as by other partners UK-wide as part of the National Museums of Science and Industry.

With funding from the UK government's Department for Culture, Media and Sport, the Archive maintains a certain amount of interest in the UK's own industry history, but its goal is to cast a much wider net.

"We're interested in the impact and role of video games on the UK's cultural heritage but we are not only interested in UK development," says Newman. "Just like film, music, television, literature and the visual arts, gaming is a global phenomenon where different aesthetics, working practices, playing habits and preferences meld together."

"That said, there are certainly eras when naturally one's attentions turn to the UK and we definitely want to celebrate British development, talent and creativity. We don't want to paint a picture of the UK's heyday being confined to home computing in the 1980s."

Long-term, the Archive hopes to present its growing collection in a way that reaches outside of the core gaming base -- a task that can be difficult for the sometimes-insular industry.

"The National Videogame Archive is on the one hand designed as a resource for scholarly research," Newman says, "but we have been agreed from the start that we are equally interested in interpreting video games for a more general audience of gamers and non-gamers alike."

Those interested in more information about the Archive can read the FAQ page on its official website, or visit the Save The Video Game website to make suggestions.

November 12, 2008

COLUMN: Bell, Game, and Candle - 'Press Releases from the Future'

['Bell, Game, and Candle' is a regular GameSetWatch column by writer Alex Litel, discussing stuff that happens - or doesn't happen - in the game business. This time - he travels into the future to bring back press releases.]

EA Signs the Legendary David Lynch for Three Game Deal
Auteur behind Blue Velvet and Mulholland Drive to elevate the plane of interactive entertainment

Electronic Arts today announced that cinematic legend David Lynch will bring his unique talents to the development of three original games. Lynch will lead development of the games with a team at Pandemic Studios in Los Angeles, the same studio recently released open-world title Mercenaries 2: World of Flames and the forthcoming The Lord of the Rings: Conquest. Lynch's acclaimed works include Oscar-nominated classics such as Mulholland Dr., Blue Velvet, and The Elephant Man. He is presently devoting his time to an array of multimedia projects.

Under the agreement with Asymmetrical Productions, EA will co-own the intellectual properties and the game franchises will be co-developed, published and distributed worldwide by EA. The relationship between Lynch and EA includes efforts to extend the game franchises into theatrical motion pictures. Financial terms of the agreement were not disclosed.

“The sheer promise of technology has struck me as a bellwether of innovation; for that reason, I am excited to be entering a new medium and proving it capable of handling a scathing, soaring complexity,” said Lynch. “By taking the more arduous road of creating computer games without the use of computers, I believe that we will set an inspirational precedent for interactive narratives.”

The collaboration will also give Lynch unprecedented control over the marketing and publicity of the games, offering an imaginative experience prior to the release of the game certain to intrigue Lynch fans and gamers. Starting today, fans will find a clues embedded within Lynch’s daily weather forecast at his website davidlynch.com.

Frank Gibeau, President of EA Games Label said, “For decades, David Lynch has amassed an incomparable library of masterpiece after masterpiece, and it is nothing short of an honor to help him create his next masterpieces. These are certain to be projects that will show the general public that the medium is as legitimate artistically as film or literature.”

The deal was brokered on behalf of Mr. Lynch and Asymmetrical Productions by Creative Artists Agency.

Microsoft Brings Romance to the Halo Universe with Halo Dating

Groundbreaking franchise once again shatters boundaries with innovation

In an age when the state of gaming seems awash with the monotonous drudgery of soulless, polarizing product targeted at the most specific of audiences, an innovative title will stand apart. “Halo® Dating,” the ambitious next great chapter in the acclaimed “Halo” franchise, is certain to shatter entertainment sales records when it releases later this year.

Created by legendary developer Bungie Studios with the assistance of acclaimed author Nicholas Sparks and exclusive to the Xbox 360™ video game and entertainment system, “Halo Dating” will set a new standard for interactive storytelling and social gaming by engaging consumers worldwide in an epic, galactic tale of romance.

Sparks, best known for sweeping novels such as “The Notebook” and “Message and the Bottle” that have created big-screen romantic blockbusters, handled the writing of the project and guided the team in development. His contributions ensure an experience that will thrill diehard fans and newcomers alike.

“There is absolutely no greater platform in the video-gaming universe than that of the ‘Halo’ series,” said Sparks. “Dealing with very human, universal matter, I’m confident this game has an involving experience that will encompass everyone and bring gamers and non-gamers together.”

Although “Halo Dating” largely eschews the shooting that has marked the series, the game features relentless action and adventure that will bring the audience to see those two terms in a new light.

In the campaign mode, gamers can expect to spend twenty-five hours on an ultimate journey in the shoes of Colonel James Ackerson, as he attempts to sustain his relationship through intense intergalactic conflict and shocking revelations.

But “Halo Dating” truly comes alive when multiple players join in, the game features an entirely different cooperative mode called “Couples Play” that places one player as Ackerson and one as his girlfriend through an unique way of play, and will truly bring couples closer together with an emphasis on positive cooperation rather than nihilistic destruction.

On the Xbox LIVE® service, gamers will find a continuation of that emphasis of positive cooperation with modes like “Lovematch”—an subversion of the famed “deathmatch” mode—where the aim is not to blast each other but resolve differences and contribute in a positive manner.

“With a truly compelling experience that transcends demographics, “Halo Dating” is the must-play title of the fall,” said Don Mattrick, senior vice president of the Interactive Entertainment Business at Microsoft. “Anyone interested in the future of entertainment knows that the Xbox 360 is the place to be.”

Eidos Enlists My Chemical Romance for Shellshock 2 Soundtrack
Unprecedented collaboration elevates war-torn fear to new levels.

Eidos Interactive, creator of some of the world’s leading videogame properties, today announced an unprecedented collaboration with the multi-platinum art-rock group My Chemical Romance to create the soundtrack for the upcoming psychological first person shooter Shellshock 2: Blood Trails.

From “Let’s Live for Today” to “My Girl,” the acclaimed New Jersey quartet has reinvented more than twenty hits that truly illuminate the game’s harrowing setting of Cambodia ravaged by the Vietnam War. My Chemical Romance’s contributions mark the largest body of music recorded by a blue-chip act exclusively for a game.

“Ever since that first crack at Contra when I was ten, I have been a lifelong gamer, and finding an opportunity like this that indulges my own fantasies while promoting our artistic integrity is truly once in a lifetime,” said My Chemical Romance lead singer Gerald Way.

Additionally, audiophiles will be to geek out with a copy of the game’s soundtrack on vinyl when they purchase the PlayStation®3 edition of Shellshock 2: Blood Trails.

“My Chemical Romance are relentless auditory innovators, and it was only natural that we decided to partner with them to create the most visceral and menacing depiction of war to grace the medium,” said Lee Singleton, General Manager of Eidos Game Studios.

Shellshock 2: Blood Trails will be released in February 2009 on the Xbox 360® video game and entertainment system from Microsoft®, PlayStation®3 computer entertainment system and Games for Windows®.

Ubisoft Announces Tom Clancy’s Imagine: Party Babyz: Clandestine Frolics
Preeminent infantile celebration simulation returns.

Today Ubisoft, one of the world’s largest video game publishers, announced that it will publish Tom Clancy’s Imagine: Party Babyz: Clandestine Frolics exclusively on the Wii™ home video game system from Nintendo. Developed by Ubisoft Montreal and Red Storm Entertainment, Tom Clancy’s Imagine: Party Babyz: Clandestine Frolics marks a return of the preeminent infantile celebration simulation.

This time around, the franchise sees the addition of the Tom Clancy brand and an epic story penned by the PEN/Faulkner Award-winner Richard Ford.

“I am happily hesitant to lend my name to anything anyone approaches me to be involved with, but when I saw the unabashedly unflinching undertaking planned ahead, I knew this was a palpable presentation of a narrative,” said Ford. “To see a group of people committed to the conception of something beyond the basic, banal stereotype-laden shoot-em-up in some exotic locale is simply inspirational.”

“We’re absolutely thrilled to have the venerable talents of Richard Ford and Red Storm on board for this evolution of the Party Babyz franchise,” said Tony Key, senior vice president of sales and marketing for Ubisoft. “With these new epic additions, gamers everywhere are going to find themselves endlessly immersed in the powerful, enchanting world of Tom Clancy’s Imagine: Party Babyz: Clandestine Frolics.”

Game features include:

  • Acclaimed voice cast. The game features the vocal talents of acclaimed actors such as Michael Salinger, Gary Oldman, Brenda Strong, Jean Reno, Kris Kristofferson, Ron Perlman, Roma Maffia. Patrick Stewart, Terence Stamp, Tom Waits, Mickey Rourke, Christopher Walken, and Juliette Binoche.

  • Innovative soundtrack. Composed by Tom Waits, the game’s innovative soundtrack of dozens of ditties and doodles dynamically changes based on the context of the game’s action, making for a more immersive mode of play.

  • Command and move your party. Using the Wii Speak™ and Wii Balance Board™, players can experience the ultimate multitasking challenge where they must wiggle and waggle their bodies while efficiently using their voice to chart the course of their partying.

  • Sensational storyline. Written by heralded author Richard Ford, the game features an unforgettable Homeric probing of contemporaneous society filled to the brink with moral ambiguity that will encourage players discussing their experience after playing the game.

  • Evolved realism. Ubisoft enlisted renowned infantile celebration expert Dr. Frederica Ancalade to consult on the development of the game, ensuring the most realistic interactive experience of the kind.

Tom Clancy’s Imagine: Party Babyz: Clandestine Frolics has not yet been rated by the ESRB.

[Alex Litel can be reached at [email protected] and occasionally found at alexlitel.blogspot.com. The press releases above may not actually exist - yet.]

Opinion: You Are Responsible For Your Own Career

[What are the six key things you can do to advance your career in the game business? From getting good game credits through efficient networking, Divide By Zero CTO Joe Ludwig provides practical advice in this handy opinion piece.]

Advancing your career is your responsibility. Maybe this is obvious to everyone, but it’s something I’ve really only started paying any attention to over the past few years.

In the game industry this is even more important. Game companies disappear on a regular basis and you can be looking for work very suddenly.

Not everything related to your career development is in your control. Chances are you don’t get to pick what projects your company green lights. You also rarely get to choose when you are laid off.

Fortunately there are several things you can control, so if you focus on these items you will be better off than someone who just goes where the wind takes them.

Credits Matter

As an industry, we care a lot about what games you’ve shipped. It is difficult for many people to get a job in the industry if they haven’t shipped anything, which is why so much energy is spent on telling people how to “break in.” Once you are in you should ship as many titles as possible. Working on a game that doesn’t ship is better than nothing, but is not nearly as significant.

This is one area where MMO developers get screwed. It takes at least three and possibly as long as six years to build an MMO. In that same amount of time a console game developer could ship 2-4 titles. Expansion packs can help on the MMO side, so if you are at a company that puts out expansion packs, make sure you’re listing those on your resume.

Regular free content updates (like the monthly patches on Pirates Of The Burning Sea) should count, but that might be harder to convince people of. I suspect this is one reason for the mass turnover that happens whenever an MMO launches. People want to get started on their next title as soon as possible.

You can improve your title count by picking what projects you work on carefully. All other factors being equal, you should prefer the project that is closer to shipping. Be sure to make your own assessment of this.

People inside a game team rarely have an objective view of how far they are from done. Another thing to consider when choosing a project is how likely the game is to actually ship. Games get canceled all the time, and you don’t want that to happen to your game after you’ve spent three years on it.

In my ten years in the industry I’ve had two projects cancelled (Middle-Earth Online and Delta Green), shipped one PC CD-ROM game, and shipped one MMO. I suspect six to eight titles is more typical for that amount of time in the industry.

Success Matters

While the sheer number of titles on your resume is important, the success level of those titles is also very important. If you have an opportunity to work on a mega hit (like GTA, Rock Band, Bioshock, Halo, Half-Life, etc.) you should take it.

Getting one of these on your resume is worth at least 5 other titles. Everybody thinks that the success of the mega hit will rub off on whatever the people from that team works on next.

Ending up on a title like this requires a lot of luck. By the time it’s obvious that a game is going to be a hit the team is probably fully staffed. What you need to do is end up on the team that nobody knows will be huge, and I can’t really help you with that.

Advancement Matters

You should have a goal for where you want your career to be several years down the road. That doesn’t always mean management; becoming a hard-core specialist in some area is also perfectly valid.

It’s important that every job or project change you make take you a step down this road. “Taking a step” means an increase in compensation, responsibility, or visibility. Usually those steps are accompanied by a loftier job title.

This is something programmers have trouble with. In other disciplines the draw of a decent salary pulls people naturally toward positions that pay better. Programmers usually make good money even if they aren’t leads, so they have to be more explicit about servicing this need.

Insist on regular salary increases even if you don’t need them. Putting the extra money in savings will help you out the next time you are between jobs and maybe even enable you to start your own thing if that’s one of your goals.

The key to advancement in your career is to make sure the people above you in the hierarchy know where you want to go. Usually they’ll ask you, but if they don’t, make a point of telling them anyway. That way they have you in mind when they are thinking about the future needs of the company.

Visibility Matters

Gaining visibility is a good thing. There are three kinds of visibility I’m talking about here: visiblity to partners, visibility to customers, and visibility to peers. Visibility to partners means that your position involves regular interactions with your company’s business partners.

That could mean the publisher, the IP holder, or outside vendors. Visibility to customers means contact with fans and press that is targeted at fans. Visibility to peers means that you have regular contact with other people across the industry. All three of these are important to have.

With respect to your career, being visible to partners is important because it allows people outside of your company to learn what it’s like to work with you. Most of the partners your company has also work with other game companies, so this sort of contact will allow your reputation to spread. These contacts are also likely to be valuable at your next job, so make sure that you keep in touch with the people you work with at your company’s partners.

Depending on the kind of games you make, visibility to customers may be easy to accomplish. Many MMO companies allow staff to talk directly to fans (or customers if the game is launched), which can build a reputation for that staff member within the community surrounding that game.

Unless you are very well known across a broad set of potential customers, customer visibility isn’t likely that this kind of exposure will do much for your career. On the other hand, knowing your customers is often good for helping you do your job better.

The visibility that is most likely to help your career is visibility to your peers in the industry. The three best ways I’ve found to get this kind of exposure are to speak at conferences, maintain a blog, and network. These are things that your company is not really going to be able to help you with, so expect to pursue peer visiblity on your own.

Peer visibility is incredibly helpful when it comes to finding another job. Many jobs are never listed publicly so you will only hear about them if you know somebody. You are also far more likely to get an interview if the person reading your resume has read something on your blog or seen your name on the speaker list for the last conference he was at.

Reputation Matters

We work in a very small industry with high turnover. Chances are good that someone you work with today will end up at a company you’re applying to. Chances are even better that someone you work with today will be looking for work while you’re on a team with an opening.

You should do everything you can to make sure that other person wants to work with you again. Don’t be the jerk that nobody likes.

Your Happiness Matters

If all the advice above seems rather self-serving, that’s because it is. Nobody cares as much about your career as you do. Your manager is trying to keep his team productive while juggling the needs of his own career.

The top brass at your company is trying to keep the company in the black, which often means keeping expenses under control. Both of these groups have to balance your personal career needs with those of a larger group of people and those of the company itself. That’s why it’s so important that you are taking care of your own career.

On the other hand, blind ambition is not the key to happiness. Enjoying what you’re working on is very important. That’s what gets most of us up in the morning. Happy people are also far more productive and less likely to burn out than merely ambitious people.

Your personal quality of life issues are important to balance against ambition. For you it could be where you live, what kind of games you work on, how much time you have for family and friends, what your work environment is like, or the length of your commute.

You are the only one who can set the balance between career advancement and what makes you happy. All I suggest is that you make deliberate decisions instead of putting up with whatever happens by chance.

[Joe Ludwig is the CTO of Divide by Zero Games. Prior to joining Divide by Zero in 2008, Joe spent nine years at Flying Lab Software where he worked on several projects, but recently on Pirates of the Burning Sea.]

GameSetLinkDump: The Politically Correct Space Giraffe

Rolling into midweek with a fresh set of GameSetLinkDump, and of course, the screenshot to my left is Space Giraffe, which is threatening a new PC version soon, complete with extra levels for the less psychedelically inclined. Good times!

Also in here - Forbes on dames in games, some awesome Media Molecule TV commercials created in-engine, Wii software stats, the Sega Sports Grill explored, the very odd Tuttuki Bako, and lots more.

Who ya gonna call?

'Faith' Saves The Day - Forbes.com
On females starring in games, bouncing off the EEDAR research we recently featured, I do believe.

V. interesting legal article on machinima and derivative works, referencing Red Vs. Blue and a host of other examples.

GameRelease.net: 'Happy somersaulting with Somersault, winner of the European Innovative Games Award'
Interesting mouse-drawn main character manipulation game - check it out via the official site.

IGDA - Culture Clash - Nov08
'Gamers are (by and large) smart people, people who know what they want from their games. Many of the companies that serve them, however, prefer to scoff at the wishes of gamers, both in design and business practices.' This is a little fringe, for me.

Llamasoft Blog » The light is coming soon.
On Space Giraffe PC: 'What you are going to get is Space Giraffe exactly as you seen it on the 360 PLUS an “expansion pack” with 100 NEW levels that “no one else has seen before”, some of them could be a bit more “vanilla” for those that found the SG original graphics maybe a bit “too blasting for their own taste” we wish this time to really manage to pleasure more and less psychedelic users.'

Media Molecule - we make games. » Blog Archive » Bubblegum for your eyes.
'All the ads (excluding the intros and outros, natch) were made using the game tools that come in the box. It was an interesting experience, because each level had to played through and acted, rather than animated. It feels like we did a thousand takes. At some point in the next few days we will try to get the actual levels online so you can play them yourselves.' Complete awesome.

Lips Hands On - Page 1 // Xbox 360 /// Eurogamer
For whatever reason, this Inis-created 360 exclusive has got near-zero press in North America thus far - this articles makes it sound v.cool, but I'm wondering why it's so low-profile now. Via MBF.

MTV Multiplayer » Wii Software Stats November Update: ‘Rock Band’ Passes ‘Mario Kart’
These stats overall seem wrong, presumably due to whoever shares them being heavy users cos you have to be online to share? Dunno. But in aggregate, they're interesting.

My Visit to Sega’s World Sports Grille » Murderblog 3D
'A few months ago, Sega opened a new concept restaurant in Tucson, Arizona. It was being billed as a combination of fine dining, sports bar, and arcade.' The tragic results within...

NCSX Import Video Games & Toys: Tuttuki Bako - Import Preorder
'Bandai's Tuttuki Bako... features interactive digital objects that respond to external stimuli. Simply poke an index finger into the side of the gadget and you'll be able to push around a little panda, disturb a girl, cause an octopus to squirt ink, and perform other simple actions. '

November 11, 2008

Game Time With Mister Raroo: A Short and Sweet Look at Game Length vs. Quality

Game Time With Mister Raroo logo [Do you finish your games? Do you believe a game’s quality is measured in part by its length? Regular GSW columnist Mister Raroo takes a brief moment to reflect upon why some games keep his attention while others don’t. As it turns out, he loses interest in most of the games he plays, and he thinks he has the answer to why this is.]

I have a guilty secret: I rarely finish video games. There was a time I used to play every game I tackled to completion, often replaying games multiple times to uncover every last secret. Not so these days.

Between working full time, pursuing a Master’s degree, and being actively involved in family life, the spare morsels of time I have to devote to gaming are a luxury I try not to waste. When a game gets to the point where any degree of tedium sets in, I often end up moving on to something else.

It’s not really the fault of the games, I suppose. Nobody wants to pay $60 for an experience that is over in an evening. Thus, games are usually stuffed with enough content keep players busy for weeks or even months. That said, too often the length of games is artificially lengthened in order to provide players with the perception of a longer experience. I’ve done enough backtracking and fetch quests in games to know filler when I see it.

It pleases me to report, then, that the other night I actually finished a game. I did it in one sitting, too. The game was Portal, which I’d heard so many great things about but never got around to playing until then.

Instead of being the equivalent of a gaming banquet, Portal is like a rich, satisfying snack that provides just the amount of content needed to leave the player completely happy and fulfilled. I began playing around 11:00 pm, and just after 2:00 am I was watching the end credits. I wasn’t hungry for more and instead felt a huge sense of elation as I climbed into bed next to my snoring wife.

Of course, not all games are of the same caliber as Portal, but the point is this: Sometimes less is more. In an era where players will lament a 10-hour game as being “too short,” Portal’s 3-4 hour length sounds downright criminal.

However, playing Portal made me realize that it’s not how long it takes to finish a game that matters, but how enjoyable the journey is. A concise experience that never drags or runs off course is so much more appealing to me than a lengthy time investment that has a tendency to lag or lose direction. Portal’s length is matched by its price point, which is a fraction of the cost of most retail games. It’s interesting, then, that I had more fun playing a short game like Portal than any “full-length” game in recent memory.

Mister Raroo Playing Portal I understand that Portal is a rare gem that stands head and shoulders above many other games, so brevity in games isn’t necessarily the be-all, end-all requirement for crafting an ideal gaming experience.

If I became bored playing a short game, I’m not necessarily going to finish it. And, on the other side of that coin, if I’m engaged with a longer game, I might end up completing it. In the end, it’s the quality of the content and its ability to keep me entertained that dictates whether or not I made it to the finish line.

Obviously, given the amount of video games I don’t finish, finding something as wonderful as Portal that hooks me the entire time is not something that will happen very often. Hopefully more developers will realize that it’s not the breadth of a journey that counts, but rather the importance is in what happens along the way. Whether a game is short or long isn't as important as whether or not it is continually fun and enticing.

Unfortunately, if what I read on gaming forums and message boards any time a new game is released is any indication, the criteria of a game’s quality being related to its length isn’t going to be dismissed in the foreseeable future. Therefore, I have a feeling that instead of pithy games that hold my attention the entire time, I’ll be left with a stack of unfinished games that keeps growing and growing.

[You may reach Mister Raroo at [email protected]]

Best Of FingerGaming: From Guitar Games To Backyard Sports

[Every week, Gamasutra sums up sister iPhone site FingerGaming's top news and reviews for Apple's nascent -- and increasingly exciting -- portable games platform, as written by editor Matt Burris.]

This week's notable items in the iPhone gaming space include Gameloft's Guitar Hero-styled Rock Tour game for the iPhone, Atari's new backyard sports titles, and the second entry of Equilibrio's developer diary.

Here are the top stories:

Guitar Rock Tour - Guitar Hero for iPhone
"The game weighs in at a hefty 167MB, which includes 17 rock songs performed by cover bands, such as [Nirvana and The Police]."

Atari Release Backyard Sport Games
"Atari has a couple of new sport games available in the App Store; Backyard Soccer ($0.99) and Backyard Baseball ($0.99). As you might suspect from the name, both games sport a cutesy, casual theme that takes place in a backyard with little kids."

Developer Diary 2: Compile, Run and Share?
"Two weeks ago, I did a small presentation of the company, myself and the project we’re making on the iPhone/iPod Touch which is called Equilibrio. Today I want to talk a little bit more about what’s going on with the project, and it’s current status."

Finger Gaming Review: Blackbeard’s Assault
"Blackbeard’s Assault features a light-hearted and, at times, silly story about the infamous pirate, Blackbeard, which continues after you clear each level. Even ninjas are involved, and we all know that there’s nothing cooler than pirates and ninjas."

Dope Lords, Dope Wars for the iPhone
"Dope Lords is a homage to the very popular turn-based strategy game, Dope Wars, and may be coming to the iPhone/iPod Touch... I say “may” because it will have to get past the strict Apple vetting process and be approved before it shows up in the App Store. Don’t hold your breath though."

Finger Gaming Review: Zombie Invasion
"If the developers updated the game with a more exciting pace, and add more variety to the gameplay and different modes, then Zombie Invasion will be well worth getting. At this time, though, it’s more of an alpha version of a game that was rushed out too soon."

BusinessWeek on iPhone/iPod Touch Gaming
"BusinessWeek has posted an article about gaming on the iPhone and iPod Touch, and why both Sony and Nintendo should watch out. The article mentions games such as Gameloft’s Real Soccer 2009 ($9.99) and EA Mobile’s upcoming SimCity."

Finger Gaming Review: Smiles
"The game can be enjoyed by both casual and hardcore gamers, both young and old alike. Add to it that the game looks great, plays smoothly, and has a cutesy vibe to it easily makes Smiles one of the most well-rounded and lovingly developed puzzle game available in the App Store."

On PixelVixen707, Brinkvale Insane Asylum, & Slow Burn ARG Craziness

Wow. Ever get the feeling you've been thrown for a loop? I did just that, when I worked out that GSW commenter and erudite game blogger, PixelVixen707, appears to be not just a smart game blogger, but a fictitious front for some kind of damn weird ARG/online story.

Now, I've linked PixelVixen707 on the site before, when I dug some of her game preview work after she emailed me. I know that more people have gradually been reading her over time - I'm actually chatting to another blogger right now who had RSS-ed her site, which deals with traditional game industry critique a lot of the time.

And heck, even Crispy Gamer's Kyle Orland just quoted her in a column. Because she's a good, evocative game writer. But a few days ago, she started talking more about her personal life, specifically the following about her boyfriend:

"Zach works as an art therapist at an insane asylum. I have no problem with asylums: I used to sneak into an abandoned one late at night, when I went goth as a teenager, and believe me, I had some good times and some good scares. But that doesn’t compare to the Brinkvale Psychiatric Hospital. In a nation of wretched institutions, it’s the wretchedest I’ve ever seen."

She goes on to describe getting stuck on the wrong floor when going to visit him at lunch. It's creepy, but actually fairly believable stuff if you're just used to reading PixelVixen, aka Rachael Webster's normal blog. You sort of presume there are art therapists at asylums, after all.

So we go on from there, and to the latest entry, which gets deeper and darker, as it's noted:

"Zach got the Martin Grace case, the biggest one of his career. I can’t talk about it here, both because of patient confidentiality and because, well, what happened this week is something I don’t know how to talk about. Some things happened right here in our neighborhood, in our home, that I can’t explain."

The Martin Grace case? I'm wondering if I'm spacing something big there, and luckily she refers to a site where you can check out the details, the New York Journal Ledger, where she is "currently stuck in the research department", according to an email Webster sent me on September 15th.

But hang on - here's the story in question, and it's pretty bizarre stuff:

"According to the Times story, Zachary Taylor, an art therapist, has been tasked with determining Grace’s mental competency to stand trial. His role at Brinkvale received media attention last week, as his therapy helped solve a 30-year-old art theft and triple homicide."

So yep. At this point, it's worth doing a doubletake, since those stories are more unlikely and interesting than I would expect, and who really works as an art therapist in an insane asylum anyhow, and... heeey! All of the above linked sites, as well as other ones such as ThinkTheBrink.com, appear to be elaborate but, well, pretty much not part of normal reality.

So PixelVixen707 has been impressively and subtly fictional for some time, and it's only then that I go back to the original email I got in mid September, and note: "A friend at Smith & Tinker passed along your address, and it's a pleasure to finally contact you."

Wait, the Smith & Tinker set up by 42 Entertainment founder Jordan Weisman, the super-smart serial entrepreneur who created MechWarrior and Shadowrun and birthed the modern ARG with ilovebees and 'The Beast'. I'm not nearly clever enough to know where this is going (game? interactive serial?), but I'd love to find out...

[UPDATE: Of course, this got posted at the Unfiction forums, and it didn't take them too long to work out what book/ARG combo it's promoting. I have to admit, I'm intrigued now, and may actually pick up the book, which seems like it may be Cathy's Book for an post-teen audience, when it's published by St. Martin's Press next year. But.. it's all a little odd, since the book isn't really about video games at all, yet the fictional character has embedded herself in our community. Hmm.]

GameSetLinkDump: Inside The Emerald City

Back to the grind with GameSetLinkDump goodness, then - headed (at least in my mind) by the announcement of Wadjet Eye Games' 'Emerald City Confidential', to be published by casual PC folks PlayFirst in January.

It's a gorgeous noir-ish take on the Oz myth which reveals what a lot of people don't realize: that the sometimes formulaic 'casual game' biz is getting increasingly sophisticated and intriguing in places, even for the core/artistic game geeks among us. Golden age adventure game return now, plz.

To those links:

The lovely OXM folks try - and fail - to make an XNA game. This is why we need more 'average person' accessible game creation tools, of course.

Format Magazine interviews indie Flash geeks PixelJam
Part of a video game issue reprinted on their site that looks good - via Phantom Leap.

Play This Thing! explores the work of South American indie Tembac
'Coming straight out of Buenos Aires, another indie auteur by the name of Agustin Fernandez a.k.a. "Tembac". Agustin's work encompasses genres, where he tends to take established mechanics and completely reconstructs the dynamic into a new mold.'

Guest blog featuring Dave Gilbert - PlayFirst Grapevine
Nice, Dave 'The Shivah' Gilbert's new adventure game, 'Emerald City Confidential' for PlayFirst, revealed, and it's a noir Wizard Of Oz adventure title, complete awesome: 'I had just watched The Maltese Falcon for the first time, and I wondered what the Scarecrow would have been like if he was played by Peter Lorre."

Raph’s Website » UGC and IP in a cloning world
'If UGC really does succeed in democratizing game creation to the extent that many of us hope, we’re going to have to reach an accomodation with this question. When people learn and create Tetris within LittleBigPlanet, should Sony claim ownership?'

Sex & Games: Artmunk's Velvet Express Released
Ah yeah, this is from the LoveChess guys, they sent me a postcard about it but I forgot to mention. It's very odd and European - the <a href="http://www.thevelvetexpress.com/">official site</a> is incredibly NSFW, too.

Game (demo) recommendaton: Naruto: Ultimate Ninja Storm
Even if you don't watch Naruto (which I don't), check out the PS3 demo of this CyberConnect 2 developed title - really sharp anime cel-shaded art and an interesting free-range fighting game style set it apart from your average anime license.

Siliconera » Yaris Not Yanked From Xbox Live, It Expired
'Yaris was a free brand supported advergame “available for download in the U.S. and Canada for one full year” according to a Microsoft press release announcing the game.' Aha, thanks for someone for spotting this, was trying to work out what happened.

The Video Game Atlas - Wii Maps - MegaMan 9
Neat to see all the art laid out like that - slight spoilers, I guess! Shame the site doesn't have an RSS for keeping up...

T=Machine » Micro-micro-payments via electricity bill
'A new startup has appeared that essentially charges people a per-second subscription to play games that is added to their electricity bill.'

November 10, 2008

The Game Anthropologist: The Gaming Family Habit

['The Game Anthropologist' is Michael Walbridge's regular GameSetWatch column looking at gaming communities and subcultures. This week he explores the impact gaming decisions have on marriage.]

My wife, Amanda, will spend two weekdays and a weekend playing a new release that's coming out; she even wanted to preorder it and get it at midnight. I am not as excited about this as she is. In fact, for a while I was dreading it. This is because she wants the new World of Warcraft expansion, Wrath of the Lich King, and I had become converted to Warhammer Online.

My friend Bill (real name), a friend of mine since I was 10, had leveled up in World of Warcraft while I was in college. I got a review copy of Warhammer Online. "Tell me how it is," he says. "It looks pretty cool." My first verdict was "I don't know", and my second was "I'm not sure but I'm guessing Amanda won't be into it since it's more PVP-oriented".

He comes over to my house to play it for a while. He is not so sure either. I spend a lot more time with it, analyzing it with intent to not only write about it but to give an accurate report to my childhood friend and my wife. Are we going to go over to it?

Amanda has Obsessive Compulsive Disorder, so I have an insurmountable wave of comfort to topple. Not only does she only want to play one game and wants to stick with what is familiar, she likes repetition. She likes to purchase cloth and then have her character make bandages for ten minutes, knit (IRL), then sell all the bandages to an NPC for a profit.

She likes to repeatedly warm her hands over animals and hit rocks with a pick. She likes to kill the same things and do the exact same scripted moves, even if not the most healthy, over and over again. And she really, really likes leveling characters. She has leveled four paladins extensively, though only one to the highest level.

Meanwhile, Bill just purchased a computer to start playing World of Warcraft again, and he's just got married in the summer. He exudes that "I'm on a budget aura" that one must learn to use when a newlywed; it's clear to me that it had better be worth fifty bucks. But Amanda's not going to move, and he isn't either.

I had quit Warcraft anyway; Warhammer or no, I wasn't interested in going back. The embarrassing truth is that I ragequit from a guild I never wanted to be in over a dispute with a leader. I did it in public; it was the guild Amanda was in. She later found out my accusations against said leader are true. "But raiding is so much fun," she tells me. She stays. It's somewhat awkward. I enjoy my freedom; she goes raiding, I can play whatever I want!

A few weeks later she tells me she didn't think I really meant I was quitting. In a wistful, "I wish you'd buy me flowers" or "you never ______ anymore" kind of tone. Oh God. "It's so awkward playing with Bill without you," she says. Bill had tried to convert his wife; I had told him "I think she's just trying it to make you happy;" if we're all going to start over as alliance instead, she'd better really mean it. I don't want to do all this for her when she doesn't mean it."

"Oh yeah, she means it," he says with newlywed zest. I can tell he is deceived. I sigh. To insist, to really press the truth on him would be cruel.

Recap: I leveled a character to level 70 for the sake of Bill's wife who never wanted to play in the first place, and joined a guild I didn't want to join. Then he slows down his playing time, my guild leader is a jerk and my wife keeps playing with them, and I find out I like Warhammer better, quit Warcraft, and neither of them want to join me. They also want me to come back.

I am bitter.

I persist in playing Warhammer; I like the guild. They are intelligent, affable, down-to-earth. It's very easy to introduce yourself to others in the ventrilo server there; most guilds I've been in have Ventrilo servers that are as awkward as a blind date set up by an oblivious friend's girlfriend.

I have other games I'm interested in playing, other sights to see. I certainly couldn't have gone back to Amanda and Bill's guild, and if I had gone to a new one that would have meant I'd be on a different raiding schedule.

But for the launch of the new Warcraft expansion, my wife and friend want me to come back. I ignore this for a while.

"I really didn't think you meant it," she says a few more times. At least one of these times, she is making the effort to not cry.

Later, not during one of these episodes, I tell her I'll play WoW at launch with her; I also tell her she can get it at midnight and she gets excited. "Okay, make sure to reserve it for us!" she squeals.

She gets so excited her hands start to spasm and her laugh cascades out of her with such strength her eyes narrow and she keeps alternating her weight from leg to leg. She calls the game by her own name for it. "I'm so excited for Hate Town! Hate Town Hate Town Hate Town Hate Town!"

As the weight of this commitment settles on me, I am given one of those brief moments where I learn why I never consider it a big deal that I have baby pink sheets, baby pink blankets, and pillow cases on my bed. Or a New Kids on the Block concert to go to. It is ironic that in what is usually a solitary and meaningless activity, I was given a choice where I could make it anything but.

2009 Independent Games Summit Announces First Speakers

[Here's the first speaker announcements for the 2009 Independent Games Summit, which should be pretty darn interesting, as you'll see from both who we've invited so far and who else is coming down the pipe - stay tuned.]

The organizers of the 2009 Independent Games Summit have announced initial speakers for the March 2009 GDC-included conference, including notables from 2D Boy (World Of Goo), Stardock (Sins Of A Solar Empire), and more.

Initial confirmed speakers for the event, which is taking place on March 23rd and 24th, 2009 as part of the 2009 Game Developers Conference, include 2D Boy co-founder Ron Carmel, talking on 'Everything You Always Wanted to Know About Going Indie But Were Afraid to Ask'. As is explained in the lecture description:

"When Ron Carmel and his business partner Kyle Gabler formed 2D Boy and started making the IGF award-winning World Of Goo, they knew a bit about game design and programming, but hardly anything about the business aspect of making a game... Having published on Wii/WiiWare and PC both physically and digitally in multiple territories, Carmel explains how they managed it, with plenty of real-world numbers plugged in."

In addition, Stardock's Brad Wardell, the founder of an independent game developer and publisher involved in such titles as Galactic Civilizations II, Sins of a Solar Empire, Demigod and Elemental, is presenting a lecture named 'Stardock On The PC Hardcore Scene As Indie', described as follows:

"Through its choice of game projects combined with its digital distribution platform, Impulse, Stardock has been able to tap into the "core" PC game player, a group that has been often ignored in recent years, with the ability to create games they want and deliver those games to them. Wardell will discuss the strategy Stardock uses to design such games, as well as how they deliver these games to the target audience through both retail and digital channels."

Other notable lectures confirmed at this early stage include:

- Acclaimed indie creator Jonatan 'Cactus' Soderstrom (Clean Asia, Psychosomnium) is renowned for the wide-ranging, eclectic multitude of freeware games that he creates. In an IGS lecture, "he'll discuss fast prototyping and how he creates standout, beautiful games in as little as four hours."

- Infinite Ammo's Alec Holowka (IGF Grand Prize-winning Aquaria, Paper Moon) and Pillowfort Games' Tommy Refenes (Goo!, Grey Matter) talking on 'How to Finish a Game Project You... Hate?', specifically "finding and maintaining motivation on an indie game project, long after it feels natural to do so."

- IGF Chairman and Gamasutra/Game Developer publisher Simon Carless on 'Independent Games & Sales: Stats 101', talking on "how you can make a living from PC web, casual, and downloadable indie titles, iPhone games, XBLA, WiiWare, and PlayStation Network titles, to name but a few."

The Independent Games Summit takes place alongside the yearly Independent Games Festival at GDC 2009, with IGF finalists invited to attend IGS for free, and other interested parties able to attend via a GDC Summits Pass. More information on the full line-up for the Summit will be available at the official Independent Games Summit webpage in the near future.

Interview: Christopher Monks On 'The Ultimate Game Guide To Your Life'

[GameSetWatch contributor Alex Litel got a chance to ask McSweeney's Internet Tendency editor Christopher Monks about his new book The Ultimate Game Guide to Your Life, a literary rara avis that is not only brilliant satire but won't make gamers wince with the representation of the medium.]

From jPod to Kilobyte, mediumistic incompetence or a clumsy portrayal usually condemns books about games to the oubliette of literature; their mere utterance carries a universal stigma.

Writing a quality work of satire may even be harder than writing a quality book about games, but McSweeney’s Internet Tendency editor Christopher Monks has done both with The Ultimate Game Guide to Your Life.

Written in the style of a strategy guide, the book guides players through the epic journey of Your Life; in other words, a contemporaneous realization of that ambitious game Peter Molyneux is always talking about (but ends up becoming an entry in the Fable franchise).

A book extract over at McSweeney's includes 'A FEW MINI-GAMES FROM LEVEL III: "Your Adolescence."', for example 'Notice My Mustache'. As explained: "This mini-game is something of a double-edged sword, or, better put, a double-edged razor. Should you choose to let that peach fuzz above your lips accumulate, you'll earn a Life Point every time somebody other than your parents notices or comments on your mustache. However, after a game-year or so has passed and you see a photograph or home video of yourself with the mustache, you'll be mortified and lose a Life Point."

GameSetWatch spoke to Monks via email about his book, games, and humor.

How did the idea for the book come about?

When I became a stay-home-dad I spent what down time I had writing and playing video games, not necessarily in that order. While playing Halo and Super Mario Brothers and the like, I began to see the same strategies I employed in those games as useful in my everyday life, particularly with regards to parenting.

I discovered that if I performed certain tasks in a particular order, while paying attention to specific details, I would reap maximum results. I also learned quickly that if I forgot a step, or performed a step out of order, disaster ensued. Daily tasks became like video game challenges: to reach the next “level” I had to achieve the objective without losing Mr. Teddy at the mall or without remembering, too late, my son’s strong reservations about clowns.

Looking back, much of my life has been about performing certain tasks in a particular order, while paying attention to specific details, in order to reap maximum results. The concept of my book grew out of that realization.

Is the book in any way autobiographical?

Not really. There are some sections that are based on times in my life, for instance the “Having a Baby” challenge, which is largely a direct reenactment of when my wife had our first child, but overall I’m relieved to say that most of it is made up.

How long did it take to write the book?

From the idea to the final draft, it took about ten months.

How does it feel conceiving the most amazing game ever?

I suppose had I invented Pong I would think the world of myself, but alas, I did not.

What would the Christopher Monks Game® be?

I can’t say for sure, but I’m fairly certain that it would involve hanging around your house in your pajamas playing Word Twist on Facebook for hours on end. Perhaps there would also be a boss level where you’d have to go to Stop & Shop, buy a pint of Ben and Jerry’s, and return home before “The Office” begins.

I am a presently playing Your Life® as a Wall Street executive that may or may have not gone on a hundred thousand vacation the week after my firm was taken over by the government, what are your tips for me?

I recommend you play the “You Need a Hug” mini-game a few dozen times. It’ll give you the Life Point boost you’ll need before you’re indicted on tax evasion and sent to prison for 3-5 game-years. There aren’t a lot of Life Point-making experiences in prison. And if hugging isn’t your thing, then I suggest triggering the Robot War Cheat. The robots will wind up zapping you, but at least you’ll go out with a little bit of honor restored.

Do you read any writing about games? Is there anyone or anyplace in particular that impresses you?

I read sites like Kotaku and GameSpot from time to time, largely for reviews, as I go out of the way to make sure I don’t buy a game that sucks. There’s nothing worse than that. It’s right up there with the flu and traffic jams. I also check out Play This Thing! every so often. I think the writing there is pretty sharp.

Most times when developers try to inject humor into games, it does not work to well. What advice would you have for someone trying to add compelling humor to a game?

The humor in many games is far too broad. Can we put a moratorium on fart jokes in video games for once and for all?

Thankfully, in more and more games you can tell there’s been an emphasis on good writing, like the Grand Theft Auto series for example.

For me, the most enjoyable games are not the ones with the best graphics, but the ones with the best stories.

GameSetLinkDump: Inside Edmund's Head, Yoiks

Have been wandering quite happily around Las Vegas today - and it's interesting that more than the obvious gambling rigmarole, the standard of restaurants is particularly high, even for plebs such as ourselves. This is thanks to downhome but upscale eateries like Hubert Keller's 'Burger Bar' and Tom Colicchio's 'Wichcraft'.

But this has nothing to do with games, no matter how hard I try to make it (though I will be going to Sega GameWorks later, arcade fans!), so let's just get on with the GameSetLinkDump, and presume the restaurant analysis is not something we will be covering heavily, going forward:

The Independent Gaming Source: 'This Is A Cry For Help'
'Edmund McMillen (Gish, Tri-achnid, etc, [pictured].) has just released a CD containing his life’s work – 10 years of uninhibited artistic creation, including games, comics, and art.'

An odd Japanese Shiren the Wanderer DS 2... - Tiny Cartridge
'While the U.S. is making history by electing its first black president, Japan is doing the same by featuring Jero, its first black “enka” singer, in promotions for, uh, a remake of a Game Boy roguelike that never left the country.'

1UP's 10 Favorite User-Generated Little Big Planet Levels (So Far)
'Although the game still offers plenty of rewarding offline content (a full Story mode to venture through along with the game's robust, open-ended level-editing tools), LBP's true magic lies in its global exchange of its users' creativity.'

Various Megaman unused sprites | Unseen 64: Beta, Unreleased & Unseen Videogames!
'The people at Sprites INC. ripped some sprites from the Megaman series and found some nice unused stuff in there! '

Ars Technica: Genesis of success: 20 years of Sega's dark horse console: Page 1
Former GSW columnist Benj Edwards continues to do excellent histories for a variety of outlets.

Wakeup Throwing Since 1994: Street Fighter Lessons: Throw Range
'Each lesson will briefly explain one particular element or nuance from the classic fighting game series Street Fighter and then explain how implementing that element into a 3D action-adventure game may improve the overall fun and feel of the player character.'

Gamer's Radical Realization: I Prefer Playing With Myself
'The reason we single-player fans love world-games like Fable II is precisely because there are no other "real" people around.'

IGN: Once Upon Atari
Howard Scott Warshaw's documentary available via IGN Retro - via Driph.

A Tree Falling in the Forest: Eurogamer has Multiple Personality Disorder: Sybil Edition
'C'mon publishers, wake up and realize this guy's words are of no value. There is no correlation between metacritic scores and sales.'

Chinese "facebook" friends hooked on games
Wow, Facebook app Parking Wars got ripped off (?) for a now-popular Chinese social networking site? Wonder what Area\Code think of that!

November 9, 2008

COLUMN: 'Game Mag Weaseling': Mag Roundup 11/8/08

['Game Mag Weaseling' is a weekly column by Kevin Gifford which documents the history of video game magazines, from their birth in the early '80s to the current day.]


Ho ho ho! Merry Christmas from all your friends at Game Mag Weaseling! Unfortunately, what's good for your holiday wish lists isn't necessarily so good for game mags, their pages filled with year-end shopping guides and endless reviews and not much in the realm of really interesting content afoot. 'Tis the season for distributor circulation statements, though, and I'll be doing a full piece on those once I have 'em all -- a couple are already out below, and heavens, GamePro's dropped a bit.

Anyway, click on for all the details of the game mags that hit US mailboxes in the past fortnight.

Edge December 2008


Cover: Reviews special

Remember when Game Informer did reviews-special covers for their December issues? And it was always a whited-out mess that looked like it should've been an advertisement for cosmetics instead of a video game magazine? This is how you do a reviews-roundup cover, assuming you really have to do one. It's, at the very least, extremely colorful and fun to look at, like a lot of GMR's old covers. I approve.

This is a reviews issue and therefore there isn't a whole lot to say, but one thing that struck me is that the Deus Ex 3 feature is a whopping four pages long, two of which comprise a collage of concept art -- the sort of thing you'd expect of a GI cover feature on some way-pre-alpha game. You can tell Edge's heart isn't really into the feature, because they devote twice as many pages to a dissertation on the state of shooters in Japan, complete with an interview with Tez Okano (who was just in Edge's pages to discuss Segagaga a few months back). The history-of-3D-technology-in-games piece is fascinating stuff, too, offering a quick, bitesized reference to all the jargon you've read and forgotten about over the years.

Humorous: A spread interview with the head of Gamecock Media Group, which must have taken place literally minutes before he sold the company to SouthPeak in October 'cos none of that is mentioned in here -- it's still the usual pioneering-guerrilla-blablabla that every bit of Gamecock media coverage has been.

Nintendo Power December 2008


Cover: Animal Crossing: City Folk

I am really digging NP's new cover style for subscriber editions. Mainly it reminds me of Nintendo: The Official Magazine's look -- and, come to think of it, I wonder how much that UK magazine is influencing NP design nowadays. Haven't seen a physical issue of it on sale in the States at all.

The AC piece is nice 'cos of the perspective -- it's actually written by an ex-member of NOA's localization department, and he interviews some of his old co-workers in the 19-person (!!!) staff working on City Folk's script, which I'm sure is larger than any RPG. If you want an inside look at this process -- no small part of why Nintendo's titles are special, in my opinion -- you'll want to read this.

Official Xbox Magazine Holiday 2008 (Podcast)


Cover: Left 4 Dead

Paid Distribution: 404,301

Best cover of the month, I absolutely believe. I remember, back when I worked for print mags, there being something of an aversion to putting Resident Evil on the cover. I think that wasn't because consumers didn't like RE so much as putting a closeup shot of a zombie's face on the cover of your mag is not very appealing. This stuff is, totally.

Otherwise, though, it's a nearly pure reviews issue. That, and there's a Halo novel except. Arrrgh!

GamePro December 2008


Cover: 2009 preview guide

Total Distribution: 183,274

Cool bit: A news piece with six games the ESRB gave the wrong rating in GP's eyes (I agree with their conclusion that M for the Halo games is too high, not that it seems to have affected sales any). Not so cool bit: A 50-page preview feature in a 108-page magazine, one that uses Cooper Black for its title and headings for no good reason. Yes, I know Cooper Black is my favorite typeface, but even I have trouble seeing it as a "futuristic" font, you know?

PC Gamer Holiday 2008 (Podcast)


Cover: Star Wars: The Old Repubi

Whoever designs PC Gamer's covers wasn't paying attention to the subscriber edition this month. Otherwise he/she would've noticed how the space for the address overlaps the game's logo and chief coverline (world exclusive first what? Hot dog?).

On the plus side, the Star Wars feature is well laid-out and thought-out, and there is a picture of a ferret in the letters section. Smiley face goes here.

Ultimate Videogame Codebook (CHEATS!) Volume 17


I like spending money on things I don't need. Frowny face goes here.

[Kevin Gifford breeds ferrets and runs Magweasel, a site for collectors and fans of old video-game and computer magazines. In his spare time he does writing and translation for lots and lots of publishers and game companies.]

Game Developer November Issue Showcases Top Deck, Certain Affinity's Age of Booty

[We just published the latest issue of Game Developer, including a neat downloadable game postmortem, a 'top industry folks' countdown, our regular developer columns, and lots more, yay.]

The November 2008 issue of Game Developer magazine, the sister print publication to Gamasutra.com and the leading U.S. trade publication for the video game industry, has shipped to print/digital subscribers and is available from the Game Developer Digital service in both subscription and single-issue formats.

The cover feature for the issue is an exclusive postmortem of Certain Affinity's multiplatform downloadable real-time strategy game Age of Booty, by creative director Max Hoberman, offering insight into the pirate-themed game's development. The piece is described as follows:

"Beginning with a paper prototype and then creating an original engine, Certain Affinity brought Age of Booty to completion in just over a year, all while juggling multiple projects and shuffling developers on and off the project. Even an unexpected last minute dispute over the name couldn't scuttle the game and Certain Affinity took home the real treasure: full control over its own IP."

Debuting in this issue is Game Developer's Top Deck feature, which highlights notable game industry players from around the world:

"Not all game industry figures are cards, but many of them are unique in their way -- in Game Developer's first Top Deck feature, we name the top creatives, money makers, and innovators, highlighting both individual and company achievements. 52 developers, organized by suit, with two jokers to round out the bunch."

Development veteran Oliver Franzke offers up an in-depth feature compiling best practices for error reporting and value editing systems for in-house tools:

"In-house tools and editors can present clever solutions for asset handling. However, as projects grow over long development cycles, what was once a handy fix can become a costly burden to maintain. A little planning at the onset of a project can make for tools that are easily extendable over the long term and offer flexible error reporting with more useful real-time feedback, keeping your game on track and your asset creators happy."

Finally, our regular columnists contribute pieces on numerous areas of game development: Bungie's Steve Theodore on artistic hooks, Power or Two's Noel Llopis on multiplatform data baking, Maxis' Soren Johnson on free-to-play design, and LucasArts' Jesse Harlin on the Game Audio Network Guild. As usual, Matthew Wasteland contributes his monthly humor column.

Worldwide paper-based subscriptions to Game Developer magazine are currently available at the official magazine website, and the Game Developer Digital version of the issue is also now available, with the site offering six months' and a year's subscriptions, alongside access to back issues and PDF downloads of all issues, all for a reduced price. There is now also an opportunity to buy the digital version of November 2008's magazine as a single issue.

The China Angle: China Tries And Buys Social Gaming

[In this latest China Angle column, Frank Yu examines the rise of social media in China, seeing Facebook-type sites thrive amid economic uncertainty -- while online games rush to implement social networking elements. But will the most successful social networks be the ones that retain ties to the region's prominent game biz?]

One of the things that people in the game industry say is that the industry is in some way recession-proof because games are viewed as a cheaper alternative entertainment than eating out and going to expensive clubs.

Of course, one still has to buy the appropriate console and software, but on a dollar-per-hour measure, it is still cheap.

In China too, most games offer a cheap night's entertainment in an internet café or online at home, without the hassle and costs of KTVs, pricey gilded restaurants and Chivas VIP green tea lounge booths. And one of the best ways for non-gamers to try games during these difficult times is through social gaming.

One of the latest trends in China has been the rise of social gaming through the social network sites. Whereas MMORPGs and games like Nexon's Audition seem to capture the imagination of the media and the game industry, the real story is that simple web and social network games have become very popular with the mainstream and nongaming crowd.

Although Facebook and its near UI clone Xiaonei have been in China for more than a year, Facebook was late with a Chinese UI, and Xiaonei didn’t have a social game application platform ready until recently. Then came Kaixin001, which launched in April 2008, offering a social network centered around small games like Friends for Sale and Parking Wars.

The rapid rise in users for Kaixin001's game-themed social network has caught the attention of China’s portals, game companies and investors. The social networks and virtual worlds in China have now rushed to put social gaming elements into their offerings. Zhengtu’s investment into social networking site 51.com highlights the ongoing combination of games and social networks.

Even 56.com, formerly a popular video-sharing site, has recently reinvented itself as a social network with gaming applications. The traditional Chinese portals of Sina and NetEase have also created their own social networks with games in the last few weeks as well.

In the midst of Chinese web companies like search engine Baidu and B2B giant Alibaba toying with entering gaming through social networks, what are the traditional online gaming companies doing? They are quickly building out their own social networks from their gaming communities and adding more socially-oriented gaming as quickly as they can backward-engineer them.

The implications are clear that in China, games are more than just an entertainment space. They serve as social utility tools, media channels as well as potential community and ad networks. Social gaming brings in more mainstream users who would traditionally not call themselves gamers and gives them entertainment options that we would not have traditionally called games until recently.

As many web entrepreneurs in China have begun to learn, although games may not be needed for an online offering, some game elements are necessary alongside a connection to gaming sites and social networks to draw users and revenue.

In a time of economic uncertainty in the market and the tightening of credit for online startups, China’s large online game companies draw both users and profit from games year after year. Games are some of China’s first successful software exports as well.

Some game designers scoff at these social games as not really being real games as well the way some have looked down up casual games in the past. However, the reality is that the market continues to embrace social games as the viral content that drives both users to try, come back and invite their friends to join as well.

As social gaming continues to grow and embed itself into China’s online experience, it’s only a matter of time till the world’s largest wireless market feels the impact of these games on mobile web and social networks as well on smart phones and mobile devices.

[Frank Yu is the Chief Strategy Officer for eMrazor, a Beijing based mobile game developer. Prior to his current position, Frank started and led the first China game team for Microsoft Casual Games and served as the first Regional Business Manager in Asia for the Xbox and Home Entertainment Division. He can be reached by email at [email protected]]

GameSetNetwork: Best Of The Week

Well, there's been plenty of game news this week, and not all of it great - layoffs in the game biz, and all - but we tried to keep the interesting stuff going, with Matt Matthews' analysis of Nintendo's numbers one of the more notable things we put out.

Also in here - Mirror's Edge and the Team Ninja folks interviewed, Stardock's Brad Wardell on his new (pictured) title, GCG.com goodness, Xbox Live Community Games exposed, and quite a few other things too.

Hello moto:

Gamasutra Features

The Philosophy of Faith: A Mirror's Edge Interview
"Gamasutra sits down with EA DICE producer Nick Channon to discuss the design philosophy behind innovative first-person action title Mirror's Edge, from concepting to game mechanics."

The Mushroom Growth Plan: Inside Nintendo's Numbers
"Detailed new Nintendo-published graphs contrast the growth of the Wii/DS with Sony and Microsoft's consoles -- here's our comprehensive analysis of the global game market."

The Megatrends of Game Design, Part 2
"Veteran designer Pascal Luban (Splinter Cell: Chaos Theory) continues his Gamasutra series on the "megatrends" of the gaming industry, looking at accessibility and games as a teaching tool."

Sponsored Feature: Xbox Live Community Games
"In this sponsored feature, part of Gamasutra's XNA microsite, Microsoft's Hawkins presents a comprehensive overview of Xbox Live Community Games, which uses XNA Creators Club and a peer-reviewed submission process to allow indies to put their games onto Xbox 360, starting on November 19th."

Thinking With Portals: Creating Valve's New IP
"As Valve releases an update of Portal for XBLA, Gamasutra presents an article written by the game's creators, discussing the genesis of the 'Game Of The Year'-winning cerebral action-puzzler."

Team Ninja: Ready For More
"In one of its first post-Itagaki interviews, the Ninja Gaiden and Dead Or Alive team explain what's next, also analyzing the Xbox 360's international appeal and disappointing Ninja Gaiden DS sales."

Gamasutra/Other Originals

Stardock CEO Wardell On Skipping The Holiday Rush
"With such a crush of titles all slated for the holiday season, waiting for Q1 is unusual -- but that's exactly when Galactic Civilizations/Sins Of A Solar Empire publisher Stardock is planning to release a game for the next 5 years. Following the recent announcement of Elemental: War of Magic, Gamasutra speaks with CEO Brad Wardell about the company's unique strategy."

In Depth: Media Molecule On LBP's Genesis And Future
"LittleBigPlanet originated on a cocktail napkin? Media Molecule's Alex Evans was at GameCity to discuss the game's genesis, the team's 2D versus 3D battles, and how the title's future will require redefining the word "sequel", if user-generated content is to become a required feature for games."

Educational Feature: Student Postmortem of Smashout
"When five students at Full Sail teamed up to make their final game project, they intentionally chose to keep the game small and focused, and Gamasutra sister website GameCareerGuide.com has published a postmortem of that title, Smashout, discussing the ups and downs of the pinball-ish Breakout title."

Games For Learning: Perlin, Salen On The Future Of Educational Games
"In key lectures at the Future Play game conference in Toronto, Ken Perlin and Katie Salen discussed smart new ways that games can be used for education - specifically the Microsoft-funded Games For Learning Initiative and the Institute of Play's 'Quest to Learn' school course, and Gamasutra was on hand for the details."

Interview: Stardock's Wardell On Elemental: War of Magic
"Developer and publisher Stardock Entertainment (Galactic Civilizations II, Sins of a Solar Empire) has announced its next game, the Master of Magic-inspired fantasy strategy game Elemental: War of Magic. CEO Brad Wardell tells Gamasutra about the game's influences, plans, and tech."

GCG Readers Design New Lemmings, Tackle Xbox 360 Achievements
"In response to its weekly design challenge, GameCareerGuide.com has recognized the three best solutions to a recent test of imagination: design a new lemming role for the classic puzzle series Lemmings. The site has also posted a new challenge to think of a new Xbox 360 Achievement for an existing game."

If you enjoy reading GameSetWatch.com, you might also want to check out these UBM TechWeb Game Network sites:

Gamasutra (the 'art and business of games'.)

Game Career Guide (for student game developers.)

Indie Games (for independent game players/developers.)

Finger Gaming (news, reviews, and analysis on iPhone and iPod Touch games.)

GamerBytes (for the latest console digital download news.)

Worlds In Motion (discussing the business of online worlds.)

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