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Harrison Gives Good Interview, Pokes At Totilo

March 1, 2007 3:34 PM |

- Well, you may all recall that I had a little crisis of faith earlier this week, questioning the divine Sony - or rather, my quoting skills when it came to Phil Harrison, after he quibbled with some of my reporting in the first part of a recent Newsweek interview.

Well, N'Gai Croal has been continuing the excellent Harrison interview on his blog, and semi-unbelievably, Part 2 also included another call-out of a journo in it.

Specifically, Harrison discusses an MTV News interview with Stephen Totilo in which he said: "I fervently believe that the biggest challenge we face is that our industry is referred to as 'video games,' and games are supposed to be fun... Games should deal with fear, should deal with comedy and with death. They should deal with peril, with drug offenses."

In the Newsweek piece, Harrison commented that "...what I actually said to Stephen when he interviewed me was, and I gave an example and I paused before I did so, I actually said "drug abuse," not "drug use." He transcribed it as "drug use." I wanted to clarify that comment, because drug abuse means a character who is clearly, in my view, suffering from the abuse of illegal substances, rather than glorifying a rock star character."

So, this drew a response from Totilo, who is one of the most meticulous journos I know, as follows: "Phil Harrison is one of the most forward-thinking and creative executives in the games industry that I've interviewed. Gamers passionate about the evolution of games should find cheer in the fact that he oversees one of the largest global teams of game developers in the industry. Me? I'm, if nothing else, a pretty good transcriber. In the interview I conducted referenced above, Phil Harrison used--on tape--the term "drug offenses," not "drug use" or "drug abuse." He mentioned the term in a list of potentially taboo subjects that he thinks game developers should feel confident to embrace."

I find this all generally odd - of course, there are far bigger Sony vs. media stories just breaking, but it seems like Phil is being worn down by the media and is finding snakes in the grass where, if anything, it's just particular quotes being cited and passed around by other outlets, blogs, and commenters - who are presenting legitimate soundbites in slightly hyped-up contexts. And the way around that is not to question the original quote. Not sure. You guys decide! Harrison is still a smart guy, and his interviews are nuanced and good.

Game Developer February Issue Brings The Resistance

February 27, 2007 3:04 AM |

- We showed you the faux version of the cover, and now the real thing is here - we announced over at big sister site Gamasutra that the February 2007 issue of Game Developer magazine is here, and here's the neat stuff that's in it:

"The cover feature for the February 2007 issue is an exclusive postmortem of Insomniac's key PlayStation 3 launch title Resistance: Fall Of Man by the company's Marcus Smith, described as follows:

"Insomniac is known more for its stylized character-based games than its first-person shooters, but Resistance: Fall of Man is in fact a return to the company’s roots — the first game the studio ever made was an FPS. Herein, project manager Marcus Smith shares with us the boons and difficulties of creating an original IP on a brand new console at launch, as well as why they want to set the next game in Tahiti."

The February issue also includes an in-depth technical article called 'Scrum Rising', of which it's explained: "Scrum is an agile development methodology which can save your studio a substantial amount of crunch time, headache, botched plans, and disorganized employees — or so says High Moon’s Clinton Keith. Scrum may not be right for everyone, but after reading this article, you should know if it’s right for you and yours."

Another major feature, alongside the editor preview of next week's Game Developers Conference, is an exclusive interview with Junction Point's founder Warren Spector, described as follows: "As the creative mind behind Deus Ex, Warren Spector is in a keen position to talk about dynamic story and gameplay. In this exclusive interview, the game designer discusses the state of game writing, before expounding on his dream game."

The issue is rounded out by the customary in-depth news, code, art, audio, and design columns from Game Developer's veteran correspondents, as well as product reviews and game art features.

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, all for a reduced price. There is now also an opportunity to buy the digital version of February 2007's magazine as a single issue. Newsstand copies of the magazine are now available at North American outlets including Barnes & Noble and other specialty bookstores."

fl0w The Music, Wake The Drink?

February 5, 2007 6:24 AM |

- Jay over at the appropriately named JayIsGames popped in to mention the following: "Just to let you know, we are running an interview that John Bardinelli conducted (oh the humor!) with flOw composer, Austin Wintory." The intro is a bit heavy-breathing-ish (fl0w is apparently "breathtaking both as a game and as a work of art"), but it's an interesting piece.

First explained is the general idea behind the soundtrack for the first Flash-constructed, and soon to be PS3 E-distributed game: "We sought something atmospheric and electronic, but not in the stark, soundscape sort of way. Something warm and organic, as if a symphony of instruments never before played on Earth. That sounds horribly pretentious, but that was sort of our guide. What resulted was a combination of literally hundreds of small audio files being triggered by the player interactions, and a steady background track."

It's also good to see a nicely varied list of influences from Mr. Wintory: "The one composer that seems to always have the answer for me is Bela Bartok, especially when it comes to writing for orchestra. But I’m also a huge admirer of John Corigliano and Eliot Goldenthal. Of course where would we be without Jerry Goldsmith and John Williams? Among game composers I love the old LucasArts team like Mike Land, Peter McConnell, etc. “Grim Fandango” was always a personal favorite."

Kochalka's PlayStation 3 Interface Problems

January 20, 2007 10:18 AM |

- If in doubt - we run a random story that cartoonist, musician, game weirdo James Kochalka mails us - only this one doesn't have an accompanying illustration of Zelda with some Cool Ranch Doritos, which is most disappointing. But it does have something PS3 related, so we forgive him! Here goes:

"Here's a link to the official theme song [.MP3 link] to the SuperF*ckers comic book by James Kochalka. It's got one awesome gaming-related line, "Our dicks are stuck in the Playstation 3"." Uhh... right! Here's the lyrics:

"SuperF*ckers (Theme Song)
© 2005 James Kochalka

We're always in our clubhouse getting high
Everybody wishes we would die

Here we come, like a bomb,
everybody run and hide.

Our dicks are stuck in the Playstation 3
Everybody wishes they could be

Here we come, like a bomb,
Everybody f*ckin' run and hide."

Kochalka ends by explaining, handily: "Of course I wrote it about a year before the Playstation 3 actually came out, so there was no way to predict the lackluster response that the Playstation 3 has actually received. I think that just makes the song funnier now, though." I don't know, I'm not really sure Phil Harrison is laughing?

GameSetTrip: A Random GameStop PS3/Wii Experience

January 19, 2007 5:02 AM |

- Firstly, a disclaimer - any GSW editor's individual experience at a game store is obviously not precisely symptomatic of the situation throughout North America. But nonetheless, figured you might want to hear about the hardware availability at a certain major Bay Area game store branch that I visited this evening.

This particular store is located in a major mall, and the fact that there was a paper notice with 'We have PS3s' on it pasted to the open front door of the store clued me in to one important fact - they had PlayStation 3 consoles! In fact, they had two of them left. I couldn't get the kind clerk behind the counter to discuss exactly when this latest shipment (which I believe was of 3 PS3s) had come in, but he did reveal that the previous PS3 shipment, which arrived last week, took a total of about four days to completely sell out.

As a comparison, this particular GameStop (there, I said it!) had precisely zero Nintendo Wii-s in stock, and more than one person asked for a Wii in the quarter of an hour or so I was in the store (though, to be fair, there was also one phone query about the PS3.) I then asked how long the previous Wii shipment (which I think had also arrived the previous week?) had taken to sell out. While I was openly wondering if it took days or hours for the Will hardware to disappear again into the hands of hungry consumers, the clerk grinned and simply said: 'Minutes!'

So there you have it - more anecdotal evidence that the PlayStation 3 is a little slow to sell through when it gets to stores - IMHO at least partially because of the marginally eye-watering $599 price for the 60gb model that most retail stores are selling.

Even though GameStop offers $100 toward trade-in if you swap your PlayStation 2 and some extras at the time of purchase, this is the second time that I've avoided buying a PS3 when GameStop/EB has actually had one in stock - and I'm the EIC of a game magazine/website. And it's really the price (and the amount of unplayed X360/Wii games I have) which is personally holding me up - though we have a work PS3 to keep me ticking over.

So, a question to GSW readers - if you saw a PS3 in stock at a game store, the next time you walk in, would you buy one? And if not, why not? (Having said all this, I'll probably get my PS2 packed up and trade up to a PS3 some time in the next couple of months, likely when MotorStorm and downloadable Tekken 5 debut in the States.)

OPM Gets Smedley PS3 MMO Hints

December 19, 2006 1:37 PM |

- Wow, lots of acronyms in the headline, but I just got the latest issue of Ziff Davis' EGM, and the final issue of Official PlayStation Magazine, aw, in the mail, and there's an interesting tidbit in a one-page OPM interview with Sony Online boss John Smedley that is worth repeating.

As part of his chat about the PlayStation Network online component for the PS3, which has been designed by SOE, Smedley says: "Sony doesn't have a 50MB Xbox Live Arcade limit. Sony's letting publishers do what they want... We're making an MMO that won't be distributed at retail, and we believe so strongly in it that it will only be made available online." Interesting - this appears to be confirmation that an upcoming SOE title will be digital download-only for PlayStation 3.

Smedley has talked about this a little before, in a personal blog from earlier this year: "We have four diverse MMO titles in internal development, not counting the five MMOs we currently have live, or our partnership with Sigil for Vanguard.... We’re also concentrating on bringing each of these games to you on both the PC and the upcoming PlayStation 3." He also notes: "With the exception of the DC Comics game we’re working on, each of these games is an original IP." But Smedley hadn't previously indicated that at least one of them would be digital download-only on PS3.

I wonder, is this PS3 MMO going to be free and pay for items/upgrades, or just pay-to-download - or both? The PlayStation Network makes pay for items very possible, of course. I guess we'll find out in due course - and let's not start 'OMG Sony is ripping us off by nickel and dime-ing us' rumors with regard to pay-for-items until it's obvious what's going on, shall we?

Medal Of Honor, From Renderware To Unreal Engine

November 25, 2006 2:08 PM |

- One of the more surprising stories I've written on Gamasutra over the previous few months was the news, purposefully released late on a Friday in August, that Electronic Arts was licensing Unreal Engine 3 for "several next-generation titles that are currently under development."

As I wrote at the time: "The brief announcement states that EA "employs a variety of engines, tools and technologies to best serve the needs of each game and development team", but raises interesting issues regarding the Criterion-authored Renderware engine, purchased by EA in 2004 alongside the Burnout developer, and its intended global EA rollout."

Immediately subsequent to that, analyst PJ McNealy put out a research note claiming that the new next-gen Medal Of Honor title, named Medal Of Honor: Airborne and in development at Electronic Arts Los Angeles, had switched to UE3, though EA apparently wasn't commenting on specific games at the time.

Well, preparing a news story for Gama earlier this week, I spotted that, on Gnomon Online's instructor page, Bil Leeman - [EDIT: VFX Animator, thanks commenter!], EA Los Angeles, is working on MoH: Airborne and is teaching... Unreal Editor 3. Aha! And actually, a little Googling later, it turns out that a late October GameSpot preview of the game confirms: "The team at EA LA is using a "heavily modified" version of Unreal Engine 3 to create Airborne."

Now, why is this a big deal? Well, in the February 2006 issue of Game Informer magazine, which had the big unveiling of MoH: Airborne, commented at the time (sorry for scan linkage): "This was our first glimpse of Medal Of Honor Airborne - a video combining running interactive game software and target footage exhibiting Renderware on the PlayStation 3."

So it definitely seems like (and please correct me if you know otherwise!) the Medal Of Honor next-gen team had to change engines midstream when Renderware didn't come up to scratch for developing a AAA-wannabe World War II FPS. Given that EA or Criterion doesn't really seem to have a flagship next-gen title demonstrating Renderware, it may be that the engine team is significantly behind UE3's technology curve - further cementing Unreal's position as leading next-gen game engine.

It's going be interesting, frankly, to see whether EA ever mentions the Renderware name in public again with regard to it being a core company strength - I'm betting not, even if elements of the engine end up getting used in some internal technology. Indeed, the recent EA press reelease touting their PS3 titles mentions the 'bleeding-edge Frostbite game engine' for Battlefield: Bad Company, but doesn't even reference Renderware for Criterion's Burnout 5, which is obviously using upgraded elements of that engine.

Don't get me wrong, this isn't a complete disaster overall for EA, but it shows the difficulty of implementing a company-wide game engine when your game genres are so diverse, and a lot of the tech used for current-gen is already heavily entwined within existing game engines. And for Medal Of Honor: Airborne (and possibly other games that were significantly in development with Renderware before being switched to UE3), it may be a big deal simply because it's horrendously tricky to change your entire technology base after you start core development.

As EA's John Buchanan commented at TGS 2005, when it was revealed that Electronic Arts Los Angeles was on 'the cutting edge' of the RenderWare implementation: "For the most part, the understanding is that we want to get ready to innovate and experiment, and in order to do that, we need to stop wasting time by re-inventing a rendering or animation engine." Well, woops - but in some ways the switching of Medal Of Honor to UE3 can be seen as vindication of that statement - just not using an engine that's actually owned by EA. Ouch.

Three Speech - Blog Control, The Sony Way?

November 1, 2006 4:00 PM |

- So, you may have seen a news story today about an interview with Phil Harrison on the Three Speech blog, in which he reveals that there are 40 E-Distribution games currently in development for the PlayStation 3. All well and good.

But what, exactly, is Three Speech? According to the 'About' page, it "...isn't part of PlayStation, but it does get to speak to PlayStation... We bring together people who have something valid and engaging to say about gaming and digital entertainment." That's a bit vague - is the blog Sony-run or not? Well,'s story on the interview reveals that Harrison was "...speaking to' Rob Fahey as part of an interview being serialised on semi-official Sony blog Three Speech."

So the interview was conducted by Fahey for Three Speech, and then gets first reprint rights to the exclusive chat? Sorry, Eurogamer guys (who I get on well with!), but this really opens up a number of journalistic issues. It's pretty clear to me that the 'Three Speech' blog is Sony Europe's attempt to get its message out amongst the blogerati in a more nimble way than just official websites (as excellently practiced by Major Nelson and friends for Microsoft), but surely using Fahey is a bit of a suspect move?

I say this because, as a PR site which certainly appears paid for by Sony (the Three Speech domain is owned by Ramp Industry, which has done 'trendy urban' sites for Sony in the past), it's just not a good move to fake an attitude like: "People are free to say what they want here. We won’t censor content so long as this space is used constructively" - and with a pun on 'free speech' as the blog name, too.

You know, this 'free and open' is true to some limited extent, but why weren't there any difficult comparative questions asked about Xbox Live Arcade in the Harrison interview on E-Distribution? Surely the fact this is for a Sony site makes a difference? (The earlier discussion on SIXAXIS is a bit more rigorous in terms of asking tricky questions, mind you.) I'm aware that the interview was _largely_ just informational, and there are some tautological ways round this. But how about Sony just give Fahey a no-holds-barred interview with Harrison that would run in full on, and then reprint the bits they want to? Or wouldn't that be bloglike enough?

So Harrison is free to snark away about the competition (Xbox Live Arcade), without anyone asking him questions on the business model validity of a big star like David Jaffe making a small $10-ish downloadable, almost faux-indie game with (sure, smaller, but still expensive!) in-house Sony resources. Well, that's one question I want asked - there are any number of other hard questions that could be asked, and I'm not either a Microsoft or Sony fanboy.

But overall, even if this isn't sleeping with the enemy, the odd Three Speech interactions are certainly snuggling up pretty close. If Sony is going to come out and court the Internet in a more informal way, these sites can't be 'semi-official'. You need to state your agenda, or don't come and play at all (see: Fragdolls), and journalists need to be aware of the ethical problems lying there-in, because Sony's profit motive lies above any interest in fairness on their part.

[Disclaimer: Obviously, I also edit Gamasutra, which could be considered a competitor to But I like and get on well with the GI guys, and they will hopefully/presumably still talk to me after this post.]

Some Random Tidbits From PS3 Gamer Day

October 19, 2006 8:08 PM |

robot7.jpg The observant among you may have noticed that I was liveblogging the PlayStation 3 Gamer's Day over at Gamasutra earlier, and I've even just posted an opinion piece on Sony's showing there - relatively rare for me, since I prefer not to post thinkpieces unless they're actually, uhh, called for.

Anyhow, I know that you really don't care about the actual events, and want to know some really irrelevant things that happened while I was there, so let's get straight to that:

- Just before the press conference itself started, there was a call over the PA for a Lexus with the numberplate 'Factor5' to be moved by the owner, because it was blocking something and would be towed otherwise. Just because you make neat-looking PS3 dragon games like Lair, it doesn't mean you can flaunt the rules of parking, Julian Eggebrecht. Oh, how we laughed!

- The pre-conference buffet-style lunch, which was at the W Hotel in downtown San Francisco, was notable for having both normal and sugar-free Red Bull (hey, they're detail-oriented!), and some of the most expensive looking bottled water we've ever seen - it's Voss Water, and Wikipedia explains that it's "a brand of artesian water marketed towards hotels, restaurants, and clubs that cater to the upper class." And unwashed game journos!

- There was an amusing security guard on the second floor landing at the PS3 event itself (which was divided up into three separate floors at a screening-type space in SF) who seemed to think it was necessary for him to direct attendees, traffic cop style, despite the fact he was largely blocking the passageway and confusing people who thought he was telling them they couldn't go upstairs. He also accused someone serving drinks of talking to herself, which may or may not have been true.

- We're not doing impressions of games, because everyone else is. (Fl0w pictured, though!)

Oh, also, we left a bit early to go write editorials, but there is indeed a musical guest this evening. Someone said it was Ludacris. Someone else said it was Prince, but that was Chris Kohler and he was just starting a pointless but potentially self-amusing rumor. When someone finds out who it was (we're pretty sure not Jay-Z and Linkin Park, as used in the presentation), I'm sure they will update the post or otherwise go crazy. Maybe it was the landing-blocking security guard and his hair metal band?

PS3 E-Distribution - First Games Revealed

October 16, 2006 7:51 PM |

robot7.jpg The wizards over at NeoGAF have spotted some screenshots and info on PS3 e-distribution titles, apparently released somewhat inadvertently ahead of Sony's PS3 press day in San Francisco this Thursday, and there's some neat XBLA-like stuff on there.

In terms of first-party titles, there's Blast Factor, which "brings together “old school” and “new school” arcade action" in a way not unreminiscent of titles such as Geometry Wars - also profiled is the previously mentioned fl0w, and there are screenshots for Go Sudoku (heh, continuing Sudoku's takeover of the woorld!), Lemmings 2 (yay, classic puzzle suicide action!), and the as yet completely undocumented Swizzleblock.

Also listed for PS3 e-distribution: third-party titles including Gripshift (Sidhe's under-rated PSP title coming to PS3), and the relatively unknown Crash Carnage Chaos and Wheel of Fortune (OK, we can guess what that last one is!) Anyhow, it's nice to finally know what PS3 will initially have for digital downloads.