Friday, December 29, 2006

Guilty pleasure

I'm playing Sneak King. I have to confess, I kind of like it.

It's cheezy (like the burgers), lacks any substance (like the burgers), is predictable (like the burgers) and like the burgers, I feel bad about myself after partaking.

But still, I like it :-)

Wednesday, December 27, 2006

But Can a *CASUAL* Game Make You Cry?

Sure, this post's title is a play on the oft-repeated "can a game make you cry?" question, which IIRC, originally came from the early EA "We See Farther" ad. (BTW, does anyone have a high-res scan of that original ad? I sure would love to read the text of it again...)

The original question (it's rhetorical, those asking beleive the answer is 'yes', and the question's just supposed to make you think about what it might take for a game to illicit any kind of strong emotional response from you.

Today when that question is thrown about at conference keynotes and such (See my MIGS'05 anecdote on this), it's usually made in reference to the 'cutting edge' game development: 'Next-gen', big budget titles, with graphics and animation to suspend disbeleif and rich story and theme to wrap yourself up in. Because if anyone is going to do it, it will be those titles, right?

Maybe not.

A couple nights I rented & watched Wordplay, the documentary about Will Shortz, the New York Times crossword puzzle editor.

Arguably it just uses him as a focal point and is really more about the NYT Crossword 'scene', which includes him, his predecessor, frequently-contributing puzzle designers, and the leading competitive players that meet at the annual championship.

This documentary of course is very similar to Word Wars, the documentary about the players on the competitive Scrabble circuit. (I blogged about this one a while back). While Wordplay leads you to beleive it will be more of a character movie than Word Wars, it falls short in this respect. In covering so much, and talking to SO many people in doing so, and in focusing on getting 'the big names', means it stays pretty high level and doesn't dive deep on any one person. Word Wars is a better character flick, IMHO.

On the other hand, Word Play does a GREAT job of describing the game itself, the process some of the designers use in coming up with puzzles, and -most interesting to anyone in the electronic games business - the interesting relationship between game designer and player. The more 'hardcore' of the players in the movie are often heard saying "Ah, this is a [designer name] puzzle, so you can expect it to have some of [name of unique signature trait here]."

I found that to be very interesting. I'm not sure that same relationship exists anywhere in the electronic game world. Perhaps to some degree. Fans of Lucasarts (old school) adventure games, Bioware titles, and a few others come to mind. But I'm not sure it's at that intimate level. At no point during Gears of War did I get surprised by an ambush of baddies and say, "Ah, Cliffy, I should have known you'd put some of those guys there!".

Anyhow, that was one observation that I came away with in relation to our industry.

The bigger eye-opener was in seeing one of the DVD extras entitled 'Five Unforgettable Puzzles' which gave a detailed look at the story behind five famous crosswords, among them "Wardrobe Malfunction", which definitely showed that a Crossword can make you laugh, and "Drawing Power" a crossword done as a tribute to illustrator Al Hirschfeld, which judging by the mail they got from the latter, proved that at least a *crossword game* can make someone cry.

Anyhow, the movie is worth renting just for that extra alone.

The epiphany for me was that if a crossword puzzle can make someone cry, as can a pop song (vs an opera) or a short poem (vs a novel), then I think there's no reason that a casual game can't do the same.

Food for thought.

Joyeux Noel

Hey Blogosphere!

Happy Merry Chrismolidaymas!

Haven't had much time for posting between festivities, toy assembly, repair, and participation in play. Actually my first time online in a few days.

At least we have electricity!

Friday, December 22, 2006

Who's the brilliant marketeer at Nintendo?

A while back I posted this about Nintendo's gift to George bush.

Now I just saw the Dr Phil Wii product placement.

If it's the same person that came up with both of those, well, as I said earlier, they deserve a raise!

Wednesday, December 20, 2006

Le 'ockey

For those American readers (esp those on the west coast or in the south) that don't remember what the sport of hockey was like before it was cleaned up for American TV audiences...

... there is YouTube:

9 minutes o' fightin'. Now THAT was Hockey Night in Canada.

Or as Don Cherry would say, before those pansy Swede's started floodin' the league!

Oops. Did I say 9 minutes? I meant 15. Here's part two:

Where the money goes (kinda)

Raph points us to the Forbes article on breakdown of costs of 'next gen titles' (using Gears of War as the case study).

As he points out, there's a gross oversimplification here. All of these percentages(for an individual title, as well as over a portfolio of titles) dial up/down over the lifetime of a title, as does teh ASP of the title. ALso, there's a tradeoff of risk/reward that occurs between partners (eg. bigger advance vs lower royalty after the fact).

Still, it's a good read to get one perspective.

On thing that is interesting: They have disty margin of 1.5%, and retailer margin at 20%. Not sure those are exactly accurate, but they are in the ballpark. Interesting that it's almost a complete flip from, say, 10-15 years ago, where disties often commanded 20% or greater margins and small retailers, well, no Le Sieur peas for them!

Raph opens the kimono

A little bit anyway.

Supply and Demand

Originally uploaded by Kim Pallister.
Supply and Demand at work. $1 will buy you a whole wheelbarrow of wood... when a storm just passed through and knocked down an ass-load of trees


Originally uploaded by Kim Pallister.
Another tree-hit house in our neighborhood. When I drove by the day after it happened, there was a clear view of hte back yard where that sheet of plywood is now. You can see the size of the tree that went through the house. Yikes.


Originally uploaded by Kim Pallister.
One of the houses in my neighborhood that got hit pretty hard in the storm. Looks like it was a bedroom - hopefully no one hurt. Note the broken chimney as well. That can't be cheap to fix!

Tuesday, December 19, 2006

Power's back on

As of 9pm tonight. Total outage time: 116hrs. Total money spent on equipment (see previous post) ~$800. That's not including any damage to the pool equipment due to freezing pipes. I'm a little scared to go look at it.

Monday, December 18, 2006

Another example

Example of damage from windstorm

Originally uploaded by mini K™.
This is about 1/3 the size of the biggest tree I saw knocked down by the storm

Talkin 'Bout My G-G-G-Generator

So, no blog posts for a while. For those outside the area that may not have heard, Seattle got hit by a major storm that knocked out power to something like a half-million people. We lost power thursday night around midnight and still don't have it back as of Sunday evening, which is when I'm writing this (not sure when I'll get to post it). [Update: Posting from office Monday morning - still no power at home]

Thursday evening was MSCG's Xmas - oops, sorry - holiday party. Alisa and I left the kids with a babysitter and went into Seattle to attend. When we left, we realized the weather really was quite severe. Several blocks in the city were closed due to bits of high-rise buildings flying OFF of those buildings and landing in the street(!).

As we waited at an intersection at one point, the wind was slamming the car so hard that we were rocking back and forth as if driving offroad - only we were standing still. As we drove across the I-90 floating bridge, big cascading waves of water were being blown up over the edge and onto the road. Further down I-90, construction barrels were being blown about the road like moving road hazards. I saw one barrel being blown over the road and my first thought was "Wow! Half Life 2!" :-)

We got home, after driving through a neighborhood of green streets (so covered in cedar boughs that the pavement was blocked from view) power went out minutes after that.

Next morning, thinking "how bad can it be?" I figured I'd go into the office to get some work done. Big Mistake. Huge trees downed everywhere (I saw one that had cut a house in half - right through the living room), many streets were impassable, and all the intersection lights were out. My 20 minute commute took me 2hrs, and another 2hrs for the return.

That night we hung out with the kids and played Scrabble by candlelight. Two 30-pound toddlers in your bed is like a couple of big hot water bottles :-)

On the radio, they were talking about power being out for up to another week in some areas. Having seen the tree that (I think) was responsible for taking out our area - there's one nearby that snapped a telephone pole and took out a whole spaghetti-nest of wires - I figured we might be at the longer end of that time estimate. Our house has a hook-up for a generator, so I decided to bite the bullet and buy one. I called Home Despot, who were out, but expecting more that day. I got on a waiting list and decided to head into the store in case the list wasn't being ahered to.


A hundred-person queue had formed, some on list, some not. I was 66 on the list. 54 generators arrived. The called the first 54 names, and if you weren't on there, the called you and gave you one hour to make it in. When that hour passed, they gave up another 15 units, and I was at the tail end of that list. Goodbye, $600. Hellooooo POWER.

Then again, maybe not. To hook it up, I need a special 220-volt, 4 prong locking plug. They don't have one. Neither does the 3 next HW stores I try. All sold out. I also don't have gas, and there are hour-long gas lines at the few stations that are open.

So, back home get gas can, borrow gas can from neighbor. Get gas (queue wasn't so bad by the time I got there), get home, assemble generator, run extension cords for 120v into the house, power a couple lights and a space heater. Better, livable. Still no heat though. Still, with a gas stove and gas water heater, it's not so bad.

Sunday, I got up, stoked the fire, started generator, and then we had some neighbors over with their kids and had quite a decent breakfast. Later, my mission was to find that power hook up.

I ended up finding not the cord, but the components to build one myself. Two 4-prong, 220v male plugs, and a lenght of 50A rated 220v dryer cord that wasn't long enough, but would do to put the generator outside the garage and close the door (did I mention that as of Sunday morning, 1 dead and 100 hospitalized in Seattle area from carbon monoxide poisoning?).

So, I built myself a generator cord, took the house off the grid via the main switch, plugged the home made cord into the house, threw all the breakers to 'off', and plugged the generator into the other end of the cord. Then I switched on the breaker for the furnace and.... Ahhh... sweet, sweet, heat. Next some lights... Ahhh... beautiful incandescent bulb, how I missed basking in thy glow.

As of my writing this, we really aren't THAT bad off. We have heat, power, gas for cooking, the fridge and freezer are full (managed to even save the ice cream). Only negatives are that it's a pain to throw circuits on and off (I don't want to overload the generator, which is only a 5500-watt unit), and of course, no cable - and thus no internet nor cable tv. Oh, and I'm behind on work since I didn't count on 3 days of suburban survival action.

Could be much worse though. We could be one of the poor people that lost their entire home or had major damage to it via a tree going through the middle. Look on the bright side and all of that.

I'll try to snap some picks of the destruction in our neighborhood once I get the chance. In the meantime, I'll post some examples from other people's Flickr pages.

Wednesday, December 13, 2006

Second Life reality check

Clay Shirky has written a very good article throwing a bucketload of reality-check onto the hype surrounding Second Life. It's worth reading.

I find many of the things being attempted and sometimes accomplished in SL as fascinating as the next guy. I just think the hype is outpacing the reality and proponents should come back down to earth a bit.

Tuesday, December 12, 2006

Warning: Excessive Levels of Cute

Ok, here's your dose of gaming cuteness to last you through the holidays. YOu may need an insulin shot after sampling this.


Courtesy Orsinal and tip-o-the-hat to JayisGames for the pointer.


I gave the Media Center box a much-needed space upgrade last night. I added a second 120GB drive to it.

The drive I had in was 80Gb, of which only about 60 was free for video, so I've basically tripled my effective space. Ahh...

However, to give you an idea how long it's been since I fiddled with PC componentry, I grabbed the drive out of the box, looked for the IDE connector and said "WTF?". Oh yea, this must be that serial ATA interface. Cool. So I mount the drive in the bay (which I made room in by pulling the mega-obsolete 3.5" floppy drive) and plug in the cable. Oh yeah, power. WTF? Never seen one of these power connectors.

I found some level of redemption in the fact the box didn't have an extra power connector of the 'new fangled' type to use with the drive, so I pulled a cable from another machine and spliced the connector to the MC box's power supply.

I am rusty, but L337. I wasn't doing this nekkid, however.

Monday, December 11, 2006

Watching Wii

I went to a Xmas party at a friend's place this weekend, and he had a bunch of people over, many of whom brought kids. I sat for a while in his home theatre room and watched 3 boys of ages 8-to-10 pick up the Wii for the first time. Amazing how fast they took to it.

In fact, the only thing they had any problem with was the qwerty keyboard layout when entering their name, as they weren't computer-savvy kids. Everything else was easily picked up.

Then they started Wii Sports boxing and all heck broke loose! No broken straps though.

On a related note, Alice points out that there's a WiiMotion flickr pool. Tabarnaque que c'est genial! :-)

Nintendo really has built something wonderful here. I was really skeptical about the controller, but am coming around. I still think it will have issues for long bouts of gameplay, but maybe gaming in 15 minute bursts, along with a play style that doesn't fit the preconceived notions about gaming, are just what we need to attract new gamers (or the 'dormant' gamers).

If you have any doubt, just have a look at the pool. Those are people have FUN!

Carnival Time

MMOG Nation is hosting the December Carnival of Gamers. Go check it out.

Wednesday, December 6, 2006

Out of the Dark(room) Ages

I've taken a few days off work this week to use up some unused vacation time (this is actually the first vacation time I've taken since starting at Microsoft, apart from a couple days at Xmas break last year). I'm splitting the time between playing with the kids and getting some stuff done around the house.

One of the jobs that has been pending for a while is a new cabinet, sink, and countertop for the laundry room.

The previous owner of the house was a professional photographer. So, along with some very useful stuff that came with the house (e.g. drop down screen and projector in the media room), we also got some not-so-useful stuff, like a darkroom (which doubles as a laundry room).

Some people might think a darkroom is useful and cool. However, in the age of digital photography, I think it's about as useful as a home printing press or backyard trepanation table.

Anyhow, so I've pulled the cabinet and sink, and am in the process of putting the new one in. There's a huge (4' by 2') darkroom sink and water purifier that are coming out on Friday, and will be craiglisted to fund the new sink and countertop.

Should be considerably less troublesome and costly than my last sink replacement job.

Monday, December 4, 2006

Aaiiiyyy! Mein Eyes

Uhh... No thanks. You can keep your PS3.

(This may turn out to be a guerilla marketing tactic to deal with the allocation problem by pushing down PS3 demand).

Bond commentary

Went to see the new bond flick on the weekend. I really liked it. I enjoyed darker, grittier Bond. Sort of Sean Connery Bond meets a Tarantino flick. (Nowhere near as graphic as a Tarantino flick, but certainly further down that spectrum than other Bond movies).

Enjoyed the airline-related cameo in it.

Not seeing the forest for the trees (and mud)

There was a story on the news last night about Thrifty car rental, and how they are marketing buffoons.

OK, it wasn't about that, but it amounts to that.

Recently, a guy got stranded in Olympic national park near here, after heavy rains washed out the roads to where he was at. He and a friend hiked out with help from the national guard. Only problem was, his car was still there.

It'll take anywhere from 3 months to a year to get the roads fixed. Thrifty wanted to charge him $30 a day, or anywhere from $3000 to $12000.

That was just typical corporate red-tape type stupidity. Irregular case, some clerk doesn't know how to circumvent procedure.

The buffoonery starts when a news story runs on the subject, and what does Thrifty do? They offer him a discount rate of $13 per day. So, now the get to extract the princely sum of somewhere between $1500 and $5000, and look like customer-hating buffoons while doing it. This makes a lot more sense than waving the cost entirely and painting a picture of a company that cares about its customers.

Seems like a big hit to your corporate image for just $5k, but then they are Thrifty, after all.

Thursday, November 30, 2006

A ruler with which to measure a game's Wii

Alas, even I can't resist the Wii jokes.

Corvus over at Man Bytes Blog has an interesting take on the Wii titles, discussing two approaches to designing games to use the gizmo controller.

At one extreme, "what player gesture can we map to a game's actions"

At the other extreme "what game can we design around a given gesture/action we're trying to inspire".

He puts a bunch of the launch titles on a scale between these two extremes (bracketed terminology mine):

Traditional [Suxors]
Marvel: Ultimate Alliance
Madden ‘07
Red Steel
Legend of Zelda: Twilight Princess
Wii sports
Rayman Raving Rabbids
Innovative [Rocks]

The Watch to Watch

When I bought my Tissot T-Touch a couple years back, I thought my inner chrono-geek was sated for a long while.

Various watches have tempted the geek, but I've resisted.

Then I saw this.

O.M.G. Belt-drive watch. Chrono-1337.

It is cool because It was done, ours is not to question why.

BTW, note that Tag Heuer also has a 'flippable' watch with analog on one side, digital on the other. The name? The Monaco 69. Way to go for the risquee branding!

(thanks to BoingBoing for the link).

Wednesday, November 29, 2006

Best Xbox Achievement Since 'Pacifist'

Perhaps better.

The GeoWars 'pacifist' achievement (survive 120 seconds without shooting anything) was pretty high on the 'water cooler conversation' scale.

Last week's XLA release, Small Arms, has an achievement called 'six degees of small arms'. You can only earn it by playing multiplayer online with someone that already has it.

So who has it initially? Only the members of the Small Arms development team!

(I sure I hope someone is tracking/graphing the proliferation of that achievement. Coolness!)

Sunday, November 26, 2006

Willi Waller

Oh, how this made me laugh. I'd wager to say that even non-quebecois-speakers will find it funny.

Microtransactions & copyright

In followup from my earlier post on Copybot & copyright issues, here's some more stuff to consider.

First, off, Raph (where does he find the time?) once again has posted a thoughtful and lengthy set of thoughts on microtransations and copyright issues.

Raph points out that virtual world "objects" aren't objects at all, but only specific database entries, and that what you are getting when you transact is just the change of one or more fields in a database (corresponding to, say, gold pieces) in exchange for the changing of one or more other fields (say, incrementing 'num items' by one, and adding a pointer to 'Sword of +1 Pownage' to your array of inventory items).

I like his explanation, and it jives well with mine, which I posted here, which is that what you are buying is a sort of promisory note. A promise of a service to be delivered. i.e. "You give us your credit card number and authorize us to charge you $2, and we promise to change the fields in our database in an agreed upon way".

Raph goes on to talk about some of the more interesting issues that come into play when the bits are arranged in a specific fashion that may make them a work that is covered under the definition of copyright.

An analogy he draws is in that of books, where the book is a 'container' that you purchase, and the arrangements of words inside it is the copyright-covered item of value that you have acquired the right to read, but not copy, make an audio-recording version of for resale, etc.

These definitions work quite well. In the case of an MMO, you have an arrangement of bits that may be covered by copyright, sitting within a container that you do not own, but have paid for a promise of service. The service is letting you access those bits and do certain things with them.

In the case of second life, the person arranging the bits into a copyrighted work may or may not be the same person that owns the container (server storage). And that a local copy of the bits is made to your hard drive is immaterial. In that sense it's no different than copying a text version of Stephen King's latest book off the publisher's computer. That may or may not violate an agreement by which you got onto the publisher's computer, and regardless, it's still his copyrighted work.

Anyhow, Raph's post, while long, is worth reading. Nice to see a thorough analytical treatment of the subject, rather than the usual ranting.

Gears of War redux

Finished Gears of War this weekend. Some more thoughts following up on my previous commentary:

First off, I stand by my comment that it's a REALLY fun game. Probably the best fun I've had with an FPS game since Half Life 2. Better than HL2? Hmm... close, but for me, no. Probably a matter of taste.

HL2 had more story and more variety. Each chapter had a distinctly different feel. There was some of that in Gears, but less so. And there was very little story to it.

The Final boss was pretty lightweight once I figured out the technique to beat him. Mind you, I played through on casual. I've started playing through on hardcore now, which isn't hard now that I know how to play the game, but I'm not sure I want to play the thing the whole way through again. Hmm... chasing acheivements though... we'll see.

While the final boss was a bit of a let down, there were several episodes of the game that were first rate. The fight at the gas station, the "Alamo" battle, and some others were really fun. The bit driving in the car with the spotlight felt a bit contrived and very 'mechanical' (the suspension of disbeleif was broken completely for me), maybe it's a bit better in co-op where you wouldn't have to swap?

Anyhow, it's definitely worth the spend. Good fun.

Also played through most of Cloning Clyde on XLA. Bit late in getting to this one. It's a fun little platform/puzzler.

Saturday, November 25, 2006


Congrats to Robin, who's game got announced this week. A Japanese Wii-targeted Sims title. Not bad for a first job out of school :-)

Doesn't the game look cute enough to make you ill! Enough already, bring on the schwag! (And who do you think the above character was modelled after anyway?... :-)

Wii me

On Wed on my way out of the office I passed by someone's office and they had a Wii in there. I finally got a chance to sit down and play with it. I played around with the UI a bit, created a "Mii", and they played Wii sports to calculate my "fitness age" (it's like brain-age, but with sports, get it?)

Here's my quick 2c worth:

1) It's fun. You'll have fun. With friends over on a friday night you'll have fun. Kids will have a blast.

2) If my 'fitness age' were my real age, I'd not only not be writing this, I'd be dead. I was hands-down the worst of the group of people at the office. Now, mind you, I did not rtfm, so my first few rounds were getting used to the controls. Next time I'll do better.

3) The "lobby" for multiple 'Mii's on one system is well done. This really seems like the console was design with "multiplayer" in mind, where multiplayer means same-box, same room.

4) The controller works better than I thought, but I'm curious whether there's any calibration involved, and what that does to it. In particular, I'm wondering about screen sizes *significantly* different than the remote receiver widget. E.g. My console setup is a 7' screen with a projector. Is that going to be an issue?

As for whether I'll buy one... well... I haven't seen the killer app for me yet.

DMCA arcade and console game exception

BoingBoing posted this about six new exemptions to the digital millennium copyright act. In particular, note this one (the paragraph below is the EFF's summary):

2. Computer programs and video games distributed in formats that have become obsolete and that require the original media or hardware as a condition of access, when circumvention is accomplished for the purpose of preservation or archival reproduction of published digital works by a library or archive. A format shall be considered obsolete if the machine or system necessary to render perceptible a work stored in that format is no longer manufactured or is no longer reasonably available in the commercial marketplace.


I wonder what that implies for arcade or console titles that are for obsolete HW, but for which emulated or re-written versions are still in distribution?

Tuesday, November 21, 2006

Gino Blog!

Gino Yu is blogging. Subscribed!

Gino's one of those super-connected industry dynamos who's a pleasure to be around except for the fact that he makes you feel like you aren't moving fast enough :-). He kind of has one foot in the game industry, one in academia, one in the venture capital space, one in North America and one in Asia. If I can count, that makes five feet, so he'd have to be fast moving, wouldn't he?

I had the pleasure of spending some time with him when speaking at a conference he organized in Hong Kong a few years back, and also at Australian GDC where we both were on a boon.. umm... trip that the conference organizer, John De Margheriti organized for the international speakers down for the trip, where we went diving/snorkeling on the Great Barrier Reef for a few days. Ahh... the days before the bubble burst...

Anyhow, he's definitely someone to keep an eye on. Always up to interesting things.

Monday, November 20, 2006

Cool Tunes!

Intellite Cody pointed out that the Arcadia (post MIGS gamer event I couldn't make it to in Montreal) website is a Flash bonanza (usually a bad thing) that has an *awesome* soundtrack. I've got it playing in the background instead of my Zune player.


Il y a du Freezepop l'a dans!


Sunday, November 19, 2006

Net Neutrality, Copyright, and brave new (online) worlds

Two really good reads:

- Over at RampRate, they've posted a good paper entited "Every Time You Vote Against Net Neutrality, Your ISP Kills a Night Elf - Why online gaming will be the biggest casualty if ISPs prioritize packets". The title pretty much says it all, as does this line from the conclusion: "Out of all the victioms of the loss of net neutrality, online gaming is likely to be the most fragile and irreplaceable".

- Raph Koster opines brilliantly on the CopyBot meme. CopyBot, if you haven't heard is an open source app for Second Life which creates copies of in-game objects. Since Second Lifers can create AND SELL in-game objects, this open source app has some ramifications upon the in-game economy, to say the least. Raph's commentary is the most thorough and objective I've read so far (though there's too much posting on this subject to have read but a fraction). In it he points out that this is essentially another example of how ALL content is being commoditized and the money of the future is in services. I agree! It also deserves reading if only for the fact that he uses the line "hoist by their own petard", which in my book is deserving of a blogging-pulitzer! :-)

One more thing on CopyBot. Raph's post goes into some detail about client vs server, data streams vs tokenized streams, etc. Bottom line being that the more you stream/store on the client, the more you open up to copy, or 'theft' if you prefer. It'll be interesting whether the solution for copybot (and what's likely to be hundreds of derivatives) is (a) move more upstream to server side - unlikely as current bandwidth requires the 'local cache', (b) commoditization of content and a 'potato famine/gold rush combo' of a move to services - doubtful as the ingame economy may likely collapse before they could evolve the services model, or (c) evolution of some in-game DRM for content combined with an arms race of client-'malicious'-code-detection against the evolving copybot variants.

(c) seems the most likely, and also seems a losing battle. Will be very interesting to keep an eye on this one.  

Presentation Postscript

OK, last presentation-related post for a bit. I promise.

Several people pointed out to me that what I referred to as 'minimalist style' (in my MIGS talk prep post) that Dick Hardt used, is often referred to as 'Lessig Method' , named for Stanford law prof Lawrence Lessig. Lessig's Free Culture talk from a few years back is a must see. So see it here. The Lessig method is more 'minimalist text-only', and there's a parallel path of 'minimalist image-only'. People like Clint Hocking and Seth Godin use an effective mix of both and it's certainly what I was going for. More on Seth's approach here.

As you'll see from the links above, Steve Lacey was kind enough to point out the awesome site that is Presentation Zen. Subscribed!

Friday, November 17, 2006

Data Meister

OK, long story short; I got a Zune, I crammed it with all my music, some video, some pix. Among the video I crammed on there were a whole whack of the TED talks you can download here.

In case you hadn't noticed, I've been on a bit of a 'presentations kick' lately.

Anyhow, I'll post some thoughts on the Zune in the next day or two. In the meantime, this can't wait.

You ABSOLUTELY MUST go watch Hans Rosling's TED lecture from Feb of this year. You can watch online here or download here. I recommend downloading. You are going to want to watch this again. The best data visualization I've seen, hands down. This guy would school Tufte!

Add to that the powerful message the data delivers (you'll have to go see...) and you'll see why data visualization is such a powerful tool.

PS3 ships - Let the eating of crow commence!

OK, so Mark was the first, but not the last, to point out to me that PS3 finally shipped, and did so 50 days before the end of calendar year, thus rendering #1 of my 2006 predictions to be incorrect. In doing so, they've cost me two wagers I took on the subject. Ah, the perils of being opinionated and pigheaded.

On the PS3 launch, amid the stories of drive-by bb-gun shootings, robberies, retail line fisticuffs and shenanigans, there's also been a ton of news about the negative side of the Japanese launch. Lines in Japan have long come to represent a sign of commercial success (similar to big-line-for-tickle-me-elmo over here, but to a whole new level). To that end, it seems to have bred two things: Vendors (Sony in this case) trying to ratchet up the frenzy, and nefarious elements looking to exploit it. Below is what I've heard from some friends in Japan and on the web, so take with grain of salt, throw pinch of salt over left shoulder, do other things with salt, etc.

- Sony, rather than doing a lottery system for their 80 units, chose to encourage lines and only supplied retailers who agreed to force consumers to wait in line.

- Lines at the main retailers in places like Akihabara were made up of a majority of Chinese immigrants and homeless people. Rumor has it that these migrant workers and homeless were paid ~$100 to wait in line on behalf of Yakuza mobsters aiming to later scalp the systems.

- Most of this first wave of customers bought PS3's and no software. If true, relective of the point above, and of data I saw somewhere of an initial attach rate of 0.98.

- The interview with the first customer didn't go well as he didn't speak Japanese.

Various posts on the issue: 1, 2, 3,

Crazy if it's true.

Wednesday, November 15, 2006

Gears of War commentary

Just a quick commentary on Gears of War. I got back from MIGS'06 to find a copy waiting for me (we get complimentary copies of all MGS published titles - eat yer heart out!), so I've spent a little time playing the past two nights.

Despite all the hype, I really was expecting a tried-n-true formula shooter with shiny graphics. I really was ready to not like this game. Boy was I wrong! I really am enjoying it.

- Yes, it's very bump-mappy/shiny/shadery. (not a plus or a minus, just expected)
- There's some kind of post-processing filter/shader that they are doing on the screen that has some weird artifacts when you turn up the brightness, as I have to do on my ancient projector.
- The combo of heavy use of duck-and-cover and team-based-tactical gameplay is, to my knowledge, really innovative. I haven't played every shooter out there, but this feels WAY different (and better), than the squad portions of Half Life 2 and Medal of Honor. I really feel like I'm part of the squad, that my teammates need my help, that I need to work with them.
- I still hate game controllers for shooters. I may go back and play this game again on PC just so I can have my mouse.
- Best use of rumble EVAR! When you get hold of one of the enemy turrets and wind it up to speed, it feels like total Rambo-meets-Predator mayhem. I dunno what it's going to do to battery life on the wireless controller but who cares. It's also effectivly used for ground shaking due to ominous underground creatures coming up.
- The close-combat control feels messy and imprecise, but maybe that's intentional? Maybe you should feel panicked and sloppy and desperate when an alien is taking swipes at your head.

Anyhow. If you have a 360 and like mayhem, go buy! In the meantime, I have to go look up how to beat this Beserker thing because it's totally kicking my butt!

Tuesday, November 14, 2006

MIGS dinner and the presentation pow-wow

In my last post, I went on about the prep for my MIGs presentation and the prep that went into it. I worked on it up until 3pm the day before, and then took a break to attend a couple presentations, and then go to dinner.

As I mentioned here, the presentations were both great. But one thing that struck me (esp with Hecker/Gingold's) was that they too had moved to this super-minimalist-ppt presentation style.

At the end of the day, I bumped into Jane, who was on her way out to dinner with Chris Hecker, and they invited me along. By the time tradeshow-dinner-katamari rolled through the post-show cocktail reception and arrived at the restaurant in vieux montreal, it was Jane, Chris, Clint (who's presentation I mentioned in the last post), Jade Raymond and a friend of hers (forgot name. Bad Kim!).

At one point, Chris, Clint and I got onto a deep geek-rant about powerpoint, presentation style, prep methods and such.

- Chris made the point that "everyone is moving to the 'Will Wright method'". Which was the name he gave to the minimalist, image-heavy style.
- Clint pointed out that others had popularized before Will (though now I forget who he referenced).
- I was surprised at how close the prep method I came up with (see last post) mapped to the method that Clint used. Chris' was different given that it was a two-person talk.
- Chris pointed out that doing a two-person talk - effectively - is even more difficult. You'd think it's half the work, but the choreography is harder, plus it's hard to agree on what you want to say. If you aren't passionate about what you are saying, your talk will be crap, and it's hard to reach a point of agreement that isn't a compromise of the original idea. This is worth pondering some.
- We talked about the value of 'circling back' to the same point/slide (see the identity 2.0 talk), as an effective technique, and I pointed out that good standup comedy routines often do this.
- We talked about confusion as a presenter when you 'circle back' to a recurring slide, and then maybe forget where you are (which instance of that slide). I proposed that the 'presenter mode' in Powerpoint, which Clint didn't know about, could solve this problem.
- Chris pointed out that this mode in PPT, while a good idea, was in impementation, "ass", but then, he says that about a lot of software.

There was also some talk about the source material for presentations, for ideas. (I won't give away Clint's inspiration and materials for his GDC'07 talk, but it sounds awesome. I'll definitely attend). I guess it's true for many things in life, but it's interesting how the smallest things (single images, hallway conversations, etc, can plant the seed of these ideas that grow into a whole talk.

Anyhow, that's all that was related to presentations adn presenting. There was also lots of talk about how Chris has never shipped a game (pre-emptive strikes on his part, mostly), of life in Montreal, and about how A2M has a very, very bad name as it will shock customers. :-)

Monday, November 13, 2006

Presentation Prestidigitation

As mentinoned in my previous post, I gave a presentation at MIGS06. I'll eventually post it (along with transcript) but I wanted to do a little mini-post-mortem on what I was trying to do with it and how well it worked.

I've given hundreds of presentations over my career in groups ranging from five to five hundred. Truth is, I've never been terribly pleased at the results of any of them. Some were atrocious, some were well received. At best, I'd say I've given a "b minus" level presentation. Something like the QoL talk I did at GDC 2005 was maybe an example of this. However, I've never given a *really* top notch talk.

Now, let's get this straight, I'm not saying I did this time either.

What I did know was that something had to change, and over the past year, it's been a background goal of mine to improve.

So, I'd had a 'dump and chase' idea (a hockey analogy: Lacking a plan/play, dump the puck over the blue line, chase it in after it, worry about a plan then) about a talk around Digital Distribution and I proposed it for the Montreal Summit. It got accepted and so the forcing function was there to work on the talk and use it to try and reach a new level of presentation skill.

I had 3 goals for the presentation:
- Compelling presentation style. People should be intrigued - rivetted, even - start to finish.
- No words. I am presenting, not powerpoint. Picture is worth a thousand words. (More on this later).
- Deliver one or more valuable calls-to-action that, while beneficial to my business and my employer, are honest and interesting to the listener, and don't come off as 'the microsoft pitch'.

I spent a long time bookmarking and filing things that might be relevant to the presentation when it came time to assemble it. Hundreds of clippings both digital and analog were stored away over the course of six to eight months. However, for the presentation style and form itself, I specifically drew inspiration from five places:

  1. Clint Hocking's 'Next: The Designer's Generation' talk from MIGS05. I blogged about it here. It moved me. It made fantastic use of imagery to both support and/or contrast the speaker's words. It had humor. It told stories. It delivered a powerful message. It in many ways was the amalgamation of 2 through 5 below. It was performance art.
  2. Dick Hardt's Identity 2.0 Presentation. Superbly scripted; rapid-fire presentation slides with single images or single words on each. Even background color is powerfully used. A barn-burner.
  3. Seth Godin's "All Marketers are Liars" talk at Google. Seth tells stories. Very human, very 'everyday' stories that audiences can connect with.
  4. Guy Kawasaki's Art of the Start talk from TiECon 2006. This is a good talk any time, but for this one in particular, Guy was on fire. In particular, I liked the use of humor, of analogy, and his handling of the 'handlers'.
  5. James Burke's ACM Siggraph 97 Presentation: Fantastic use of analogy and learning from history. There are some particular examples in digital distribution where I wanted to use this. Also like his occasional use of humor.

Having looked at #1 (and another of Clint's presentations) and #2, as well as a number of others following the same style, it was obvious they'd been highly scripted. So that was where I started. I looked at a number of presentations along those lines to guess how long a presentation of that length had to be. Some had online versions on which I could do word and slide counts. Answer: 100 words/minute for someone of my speaking cadence. This would result in a 6000 word presentation that I would dry run in one hour and deliver live in 45-50 minutes (live always goes faster). This turned out to be a surprisingly accurate estimate.

On the slide front, the one-picture-per slide seem to average 1 slide per minute. This generally worked out to 3 or 4 slides the presenter would fire through rapidly, say 10 seconds each, and then a slide the presenter might spend four minutes on, like a diagram or something else that illustrated a process or concept, whereas the rapidfire images were just supportive imagery. The extreme of this would be #2 from above, which averaged 40 slides PER MINUTE. I counted. That's over 500 slides in his pitch of 15 minutes or so.

So, using these guidelines, I laid out what I wanted to say in bullet form. From there, I thought aobut some interesting analogies and anecdotes I could use to tell stories around this. Then I scripted it out. I turned it into roughly a 5000 word script. I did this over the course of weeks, but with bits and pieces done out of order. I had certain stories or sections that I tried dry-running on their own to see if they felt right. Eventually though (very last minute - more on this later), I had a whole script.

From there I dry ran it - without slides - a handful of times. I changed order around, threw out some pieces, added others. Once I had something I was happy with, I assembled slides as supportive material. I'd been working on bits and pieces already done, but the point here is the first time a start-to-finish Powerpoint deck was done was AFTER I'd dry run the presentation and was roughly pleased with it.

While I cant post it yet, this reduced images should at least give you a feel for the image-heavy, minimalist feel of the deck:

Now, once I did that, I dry-ran it again. And realized I still wasn't pleased with some portions of it. Now this was 1am the night before the presentation (10 hours to go), so I had a choice. Muck with it in the morning, or do it right. I chose the latter and pulled an all-nighter, rearranging things and dry running it another 4 times or so before the presentation (at a full hour per dry run, it adds up).

The next day I delivered the presentation and it went off pretty well. I'd give myself a B+, maybe A-, but not better than that. That's not bad considering I was moving to a new format & style that I was very uncomfortable with.

So what happened?

On the plus side, the format worked, and more importantly, was a forcing function for me to have an extremely well rehearsed presentation. No hiding behind bullet points. The analogies and illustrative imagery made for an entertaining presentation and I could tell people were engaged. I had lots of positive feedback after the talk.

On the minus side, I left far too much till the last minute. Aside from the sure-to-get-my-wrist-slapped-move of not being able to run in by our PR folks for approval, it let to me pulling the all-nighter, which meant I wasn't as sharp a presenter as I could have been - espresso treatment aside. Also, I had it pointed out to me that I'd have done well to follow the "tell them what you are going to tell them" rule at the start of the presentation, especially when you are going to go off on 'anecdotal tangents'. Finally, while some things might serve well as analogies, as someone from MS I need to keep in mind that these can be pulled out to serve as headlines where they can be construed differently (google 'pallister' and 'fruit flies' to see what I'm talking about).

Overall, I'm still pleased. I'll definitely continue with the new approach, especially given teh dinner discussion I had with some collegues... which will be the subject of my next post.

Sunday, November 12, 2006

MIGS06 Wrap-up

Sorry for the blogosilence. Last week was a whirlwind of action between attending the Montreal International Games Summit, getting in visits to friends and family, and trying to keep up with goings on at the office. Didn't leave a lot of time for posting.

I gave a presentation at the summit which I'll do a lengthier post about when time allows.

Summarizing the summit itself, there are a few things worth noting.

First off, the conference is rapidly growing, as it appears the montreal gaming industry is, and this year it definitely reached a critical mass, popping its head above the radar of the mainstream press (at least in Canada).

I don't know what attendance was recorded, but it was definitely larger than last year. If I had to hazard a guess, I'd say 800 or so attendees.

The scene in monteal is buzzing. EA has 150 to 200 people there, Ubisoft has well over a thousand with plans to grow to over 2000 in the near future. Artificial Mind and Movement (often referred to by the sure-to-get-more-googlejuice-for-all-the-wrong-reasons acronym of A2M) has over 300 people. Over three hundred! Where did that come from?!

Add to that Softimage, Quazal, and a host of other middleware and service companies (not to mention my alma mater Matrox Graphics, who is Montreal-based and was exhibiting at MIGS :-).

Anyhow, games is growing in montreal and people are taking note. Lots of government folks floating around, lots of tax breaks for those looking to grow businesses or facilities there.

The exhibition hall was small, but had a few booths of significance. The Nintendo booth was the hit of the show, with a large queue lining up to play Zelda and tennis, as well s the offroad racing game.

Between meetings, press interviews, my session and the prep for it (more on this later), I only had a chance to attend a few sessions, only two of which were of note:

Reid Schneider and Vanderlei Caballero's talk entitled "Building New IP and Innovation in Games, How to Break Out of the Box" was the first, and Chris Hecker and Chaim Gingold's "Advanced Prototyping" keynote .

You can find blogged summaries here: Schneider/Caballero: link. Hecker/Gingold: link, link.

In many ways, they were the same talk. The Hecker/Gingold talk was about the method of prototyping they use at Maxis on Spore, and how they wrapped some thinking and methodology around how and why to prototype ideas in an interactive medium. Basically, prototyping is how you implement the scientific method in game development. Hypothesis, experiment, results. Rinse, repeat.

The Schneider/Caballero talk was around how they used prototyping to innovate in a bunch of areas in the development of Army of Two. Or more to the point, how they used prototypes to sell people (including themselves) on a bunch of really crazy out-of-the-box ideas around co-op gameplay that otherwise NEVER would have been ok'd.

Two things to note:

(1) I wish I'd seen the Hecker talk first (it was actually more or less a repeat of a GDC 2006 talk), as it was more the 'theory' talk, and the other was the 'theory applied' talk.
(2) Army of Two *really* looks awesome. Some very cool, innovative stuff here.

That's it for now. MOre on the summit and on my talk there in a later post. I have some day-job stuff I have to get to first!

Sunday, November 5, 2006

We're gettin' short changed!

Originally uploaded by Kim Pallister.
Someone at the office brought in a bunch of Japanese candy to put in their "it's halloween, come by my office and slip off your low carb diet" bowl.

Banana Kit Kat?!? Green Tea Kit Kat?!?!!

Why don't we get any of these cool flavors here. I want!

Green tea is awesome, btw. I've cleared him out. Time to get back on the wagon.

Saturday, November 4, 2006

Best blog post EVAR!

OK, this is the best blog post ever. EVAR!!! That includes future posts too. We're done.

Now, people with time on your hands that want to prove me wrong and make my day. Go start a company that makes blogging software to auto-generate blog posts like the one I just linked to, using your flickr photos, and THAT is going to shake things up a little. Go. Do it. I'm waaiiittting....

Thursday, November 2, 2006

Don't Mock the Monger

I had lunch a while back with Eric Mattson. Eric writes the very cool Marketing Monger blog. He was based over in Europe for some time, but recently moved back to Seattle. We'd exchanged some email and agreed to meet for lunch.

Along with the blog, Eric also has a podcast called... wait for it... the Marketing Monger Podcast. A while back, he set what I thought seemed an overly agressive goal: Do do a thousand podcasts, all of htem interviews with marketing folks around the industry.

A thousand.

Seemed nuts to me. They take time to put together, and you need to find the people to have the conversations which requires a bunch of legwork, etc.

Anyhow, he recently hit his milestone of 100 podcasts. 10% of goal. And the caliber of people he's landing interviews with is pretty impressive. CEO's of web startups, senior leaders at fortune 500 companies, and everything in between. Pretty impressive.

Tuesday, October 31, 2006

It's me, in a game!

A while back, I blogged about the Pop5 Live game we did with Cranium up on MSN Games. In that post, I mentioned how it has a player-generated-content portion to it, where users submit video clues that other players can see.,740,0,0,0,0&cmp=EMC-POP5VID&emp=MSNKim

Anyhow, we got a camera set up a few weeks ago and filmed a bunch of them on a friday here at work. Here's a link to an instance of the game with me in one of the clips.

Yay Me!

Monday, October 30, 2006

Sony Cuts Japan Launch Quantities

Kotaku reports that Sony has cut the originally-7-figure, then 6-figure, launch quantity of PS3's in Japan to a wimpy 80k units.

Kotaku points out that retailer Yodobashi Camera is not taking pre-orders in order to avoid angry mobs, but I think this is incorrect. The Akihabara Yodobashi Camera store could easily contain an 80,000 person queue without leaving a single person in the rain, and IIRC, has an entire floor just for angry mobs. :-)

Tuesday, October 24, 2006

Wasted Marketing Opportunity

Originally uploaded by Kim Pallister.
I've blogged before about how Microsoft offers a membership at the very posh -dare I say, oppulent- Pro Club to employees.

This is a pic I snapped in their coffee shop while waiting for my Super Mega Huge coffee after my workout this morning (technically, *during* since lifting Super Mega Huge coffee is part of the workout)

Anyhow, their price list is displayed on two large LCD screens. They are coming down in price, but at the time these were put up, I'm guessing they were a few thousand each.

They are being used as expensive light-boxes, since the text never changes. Meanwhile, 20 feet away is a huge rack of brochures the club tries hard to upsell it's members on a variety of services (tennis lessons, personal trainer, birthday party for the kids, they even do botox injections).

No one is reading the brochures. Everyone is standing for 3-5 minutes waiting for their coffee. The screens are capable of a streaming feed, but just sit static.

Anyone else see the problem here?

Great MMO Presentation

This presentation by Nick Yee, given at the Palo Alto Research Center, is a must see. It's 45 minutes long but full of interesting stuff.

The section on "reasons people play" (he lists over a dozen) was probably the best answer to the question of why people play games at all. The fact there are so many reasons is probably a good indicator of why people never agree, and the fact that he doesn't boil it down to a single sound byte is why it's a great answer.

The portion on persecution of gold farmers was scary. The portion on game addiction was insightful and moving. The concluding slide on TV usage almost had me applauding in front of my PC!

Oh, and while I'd heard many a reference to "Leroy Jenkins", I'd never actually seen the video clip. Hee hee. Funny.

Sunday, October 22, 2006


This is a great talk given as part of Google's 'Authors at Google' speaker series. The speaker is Erin McKean, editor and lexicographer for the New Oxford American Dictionary.

It's subject is the ten things she wishes people knew about dictionaries; but the simple title doesn't indicate how interesting the subject matter is. It's a very interesting look into the complexity, richness, and fluidity of the English language. Great for fans of etymology, but has implications to all kinds of other spaces too.

One great example: Every dictionary, no matter how small, will have the word lexicographer in it. Why? Bias. That's the chosen profession of the person editing the dictionary. (Go think about THAT, wikipedians!)

I also learned something I didn't know about (which I use all the time): They use dictionaries that are out of copyright (at least some of them) so they are >50 years out of date!

Along the same lines, another site I've subscribed to as of late is Mother Tongue Annoyances. A lot of cool articles on language and speaking there. I particularly like the post on Three Things Our President Needs, which is a language buff's post about Bush and 'Bushisms'.

Wednesday, October 18, 2006


A couple unrelated blog posts I read got me thinking about tools.

1. Clint Hocking posts some commentary on AiLive's "LiveMove" motion capture app for designing motion input for the Wii. The video below is worth watching to get an idea.

It's basically motion capture using the actual player input device for the capture, and then some kind of matching algorithm to determine if player input matches the original sample.

Way easier than, say, force feedback programming which I tried my hand at (shudder) a decade ago.

2. And now for something complely different.

Reading a post about writing (sorry, I forgot where), I got pointed to Jer's Novel Writer, a simple niche-targeted word processor. (mac only, doh!)

While it doesn't have all the features of Word, it does have some stuff specifically aimed at those that are writing a novel. Some examples include integration with a database in which to store information about characters, their roles, histories and other references in the text (e.g. you add Susan in chapter 12, and are reminded that she was last seen in chapter 2, where you killed her off), maintenance of a separate outline (switch back and forth between filling in the detail or changing the high level flow), and margin notes for everything from sentences to fix up later to possible flaws in the narrative ("has bob already met susan before this point?").

For what it's worth, the author of the tool is also a 5 time winner of NaNoWriMo - another "Jam" type of challenge - this one to create a 175 page novel in 30 days.

Anyhow, this point isn't so much about writing novels, but rather, to pose the following question:

What niche-specific tools are we missing for this "next generation" of games?

The LiveMove tool is one example.

However, with all the talk of better, deeper narrative and player involvement, what do those tools for designers need to look like, and do they already exist?

When people speak of more beleivable characters, it's generally spoken in the context of shaders, walking animations, and physics simulation of bouncing bosoms. Not that these aren't important, but what about making the character's behaviors and place within the game more beleivable?

For example, if there's a state machine for a given character's AI, does that state machine grow/shrink or otherwise change throughout the course of the narrative (if there is a narrative)? If so, are we back to "explain to the programmer to hook this up to make it happen like this", or do the tools designers use need to start incorporating this kind of stuff.

Maybe people are already tackling this kind of thing. I sure hope so.

Friday, October 13, 2006

Selling consoles around the world

I thought the Xbox360 "Jump in" ads were pretty good, but have to say that I am LOVING some of the ads we're seeing from elsewhere in the world.

These ads from India are awesome. And let me say that I'd never thought I'd hear the phrase "one has to imitate the posture of a fierce cock" in a Microsoft ad!

And another:

This ad from France, well, ca me fais heureux et libre aussi!

[Thanks to Mark for 2 of the 3 links above.]

Thursday, October 12, 2006

Books missing from the "list of fifty"

Next Generation has an article up by Earnest Adams on the '50 Books for Everyone In the Game Industry".

It's a good list. Sadly, I can only claim to have read 11 of them, and I took away a couple good suggestions.

However, I think it came up *WAY* short on the business side of things. Page 7 of the article has four 'business books' and three that are arguably more about production (the 'post mortems' book is I guess a bit of both).

However, what he's got as business books are "story behind the legend" type books like Masters of Doom and the "Game Over" Nintendo book. Nothing down about business models, distribution, forces of change, etc, etc. This is in many ways indicative of what's wrong with many parts of the games industry today, in particular the developer community, is a surprising level of naivety about the business. Seamus Blackley ranted about this at GDC this year, and I agree.

With that said, here are the five books I recommend. These aren't necesarily the BEST business books (with the exception of the first, which really is), nor are they the best "business 101" books out there. These are teh books that, when I read them, made bells go off about my thoughts about our industry.

Anyhow, here goes:

1. Inside the Tornado by Geoffery Moore. How innovative technologies and products go from birth to death, every phase of their lifecycle in between, and the strategies for each. The most complete analysis of the technology industry to which games is married, if not a part of.

2. Reinventing Comics by Scott McCloud. It's been said that comics and games share many similarities, both creatively as well as culturally. The same is true of the business and distribution models. This look at the history of the comics business, it's varying degrees of success in different cultures and times will make bells go off in your thinking about the games business. Many of the thoughts on reinvention of the business in the age of digital distribution apply here too.

3. Our Band Could Be Your Life by Michael Azerrad. This is the story of how a bunch of bands making up the indie punk scene of the early 90's carved a new industry into the soft underbelly of an old one. It's an entertaining read about punk rock. It may also serve as a manifesto for the indie game movement.

4. The Art of the Start by Guy Kawasaki. Go do the startup thing, or start a revolution within the big corporate machine. Either way, here's a manual.

5. The Innovator's Dilemma by Clayton M Christensen. A painful lesson that keeps repeating itself in teh tech industry and in games as well. Good to be familiar with the model and the mistakes others have made to avoid making them yourself.

6. Only the Paranoid Survive by Andy Grove. What do giants like Intel and Microsoft have in common (other than yours truly :-)? The nagging fear that it could all be over in the blink of an eye. Best adopt that mentality for your own business as well.

7.The Long Tail by Chris Anderson. I actually don't recommend reading the book. I think the PDF version of the original paper conveys the idea quite well, and the book stretches the idea so far beyond it's original scope as to be detrimental. Also worth reading the other side of the arguement in The Wrong Tail by Tim Wu (a counter argument, or at least a pointer to where the tail sometimes doesn't apply.

That's my 2c worth on the list!

Oh, and that the works of fiction referenced didn't include Snowcrash, well, that's just plain inexcusable! :-)

[Update: Finished the paragraph after point 7. Seems I posted with it half-drafted. Duh. Also, still mucking about to see why my image links aren't working [now fixed]]

Wednesday, October 11, 2006

A peek "inside"?

Intel appears to have it's first "sanctioned" blog. It's an IT group, so relatively safe harbor in which to start (no manufacturing, release date, benchmark numbers, etc, to worry about getting leaked; hopefully some insight into big ideas in IT, done on IA).

The syntax of the ULR ( would lead us to beleive that other /groupacronym/ departments will follow (though the nightmare of re-direct management required post-reorg is daunting!). I really think there's a lot wrong with the current corporate culture that simply talking to customers (oems, developers, end users) at all levels would help address.

Kudos to these guys for cracking the "iron curtain". There were individual bloggers (like yours truly) while I was there, and there was a grassroots movement to get PR, marketing and legal to ok 'official' blogging, but it was an uphill battle against a very old-school mentality. First one is always the hardest.

He sure shoots a mean pinball

Via BoingBoing, I was pointed to this display of Kevin Tiell's pictures of pinball machines that are just fantastic. I'm really taken by them.

I'm going to call and ask about pricing for the prints. I really love the combination of the vivid colors, geometric play from the camera placement and setup, and how both nicely contrast the wear and tear and the dated artistic style of the (mostly old 60's through 70's woodrail) pinball machines.

PH34R M3!


I crossed the 2k mark on my gamerscore today. This does not make me l337 by any means, but at least I am no longer a noob.

Some thoughts on recent titles I've played.

  • If I haven't said it already, Doom on XLA is balls of fun. Good old nostalgic still-get-surprised-by-something-poppin-out-of-the-dark fun. Go get it.
  • Time pilot is, well, time pilot. If you liked the arcade cab version, it translates well. I haven't tried co-op, but it seems like a good idea. There are updated explosion sprites, but I'm not sure the point. The rest of the graphics are retro-looking, so why half do it?
  • Pac Man is, well, pac man. If you liked the original, you'll like it. If you never played the original, then you are too young to be on the internet unsupervised, go ask your mom about pac man.
  • 99 Nights is also kind of retro. It's like a multi-million dollar graphics upgrade to Gauntlet :-) Just kidding, there's more to it than that, and it's quite pretty, but it's a little too hack and slash tedium for my liking. I'm going to give it another hour or two and decide whether to give up on it.

As an aside, I have to give my co-workers some flak. Way too many of these games are getting by with sub-par standard def implementations. There've been complaints about Dead Rising (text unreadable), and I noticed that elements of the pacman maze are difficult to see, and the Doom map suffers the same issue (but then real men don't need a map now do they).

PS3 Ebay Craziness begins

So it looks like every EB Games (et al) employee who get themselves a PS3 pre-order didn't waste any time putting them up on ebay for auction.

Starting prices range from the Nutty-as-Kutaragi $1000 to Kim-Jong-Il-Kinda-Crazy  $7900.

Bidding is active on those in the low four digits and ceiling-du-jour seems to be about $1200. And that's with 5 weeks to go.

It will be interesting to see how high it goes and what the upper end of the enthusiast-price-elasticity-scalping-curve looks like.

At this point though, I'm wondering whether Sony shouldn't have taken 100k of those 400k US units, gold-plated them, and sold them for $2500 :-)

Tuesday, October 10, 2006

Quote of the Week

A female co-worker (who shall remain nameless) was recently talking at lunch about her usage of the new camera for Xbox live, and using it when playing online (Uno, etc), when another co-worker asked her if she'd been... um... suggestively propositioned, when playing with strangers.

"Man, I've seen so many butts 'n nuts, it doesn't even affect me anymore."

OK, in defense of the device and the service, she does play on the 'hardcore' zone, and you can block & report users who flash unwarranted butts, nuts, or both.

Peter Sellers does various English accents

For those that don't realize how great an actor Peter Sellers was, watch this clip of him rapidly switching between 8 or 9 different english accents. That can't be easy! (This was from an interview in which he was asked about his doing an American accent in Dr Strangelove)

Monday, October 9, 2006

Holy snappin' cat videos!

Google is buying YouTube.

Well, that's interesting.

I have to say that I agree with Mark Cuban's take on the whole thing. Short version being that it's a legal house of cards that will start to crumple following the first copyright lawsuit (and the wave of follow-ons).

Still, Google and their what-must-be-a-now-legion team of lawyers thought it was still a good idea, so what do I know.

There's another story here, which in the dinof all the copyright issues, LonelyGirl15's and cat videos, doesn't get talked about. It's a disruptive technology discussion.

It's interesting that while Microsoft's WMV, Apple's Quicktime, and MPEGs (2,4, etc) were all fighting it out, they all turned around to realize that - in terms of eyeballs anyway - Flash had passed them all by. Interesting. 

Thursday, October 5, 2006

Canival of Gamers #18 is up

After not having a carnival last month, it's back on track again, this time at Man Bytes Blog.

GameJew Episode #1

Bravo! A very cool effort, and full of giggles.

Thanks to Robin for the link.

Wednesday, October 4, 2006

ok go treadmill video

Very cool music vid by OK Go. Nifty choreography idea. Looks easy at first, but I'll bet it took a lot of takes to get it all done in one. Thanks to Chris M for the link.

Tuesday, October 3, 2006

The Japanese are Coming! The Japanese are Coming!

The consoles, that is.

I went into two different EBGames stores today (if you must know, I was looking for a new or used copy of Dora the Explorer for the kids, and failed on all counts), and the stores are in total disarray as they re-rack and compress inventory in order to make room for arrival of not one, but TWO new consoles from our friends in Japan.

Looks like my bets are *really* unlikely going to fall in my favor :-( [So far I'm only 1-for-5 and will not likely even receive a passing grade!]

Interesting conversation overheard in one of the two EB games stores I went to:

Fast-&-Furious-Style-Kid-With-Well-Sculpted-Hair: "Hey, are you guys taking pre-orders on PS3 yet? I'd like to order one!"

Me: "So, THIS is what an insane person looks like!"

No, not really, it was more like this:

Fast-&-Furious-Style-Kid-With-Well-Sculpted-Hair: "Hey, are you guys taking pre-orders on PS3 yet? I'd like to order one!"
Disinterested-Milk-n-Cookie-Fed-SNES-Honed-Physique-Clerk: "No, we're not taking pre-orders"

DMCFSPC: "Never. We are getting so few units that we don't want to have people not get their pre-order."

FFSKWWSH: "How many are you getting?"
DMCFSPC: [types at computer] "At most, ten. Likely less than that."

DMCFSPC: "It's gonna suck anyway. They built some kind of tech that locks any game you buy to that one machine"

FFSKWWSH: "What does that mean?"
DMCFSPC: "Means you can't trade or resell the games, or loan them to your friends".

FFSKWWSH: "Wow. No second hand games? What are you going to do?"
DMCFSPC: "Well, I don't know about what EB games is going to do, but me, I'm going to NOT buy one!"

Yahoo's hack day

Yahoo held an event call "hack day" which sounds very much like an Indie Game Jam on steroids, for developers to come in and build mashup apps over a 24 hour period. 54 apps were submitted by 500 developers.

As Guy Kawasaki points out: It's a brilliant marketing effort. It's a brilliant incubation event. It's probably got some benefit for HR too.

One thing he didn't point out, but that TechCrunch does: Of the 54 prototypes delivered, the winner, called "Blogging in Motion" was developed by an all-girl team!

Way to buck the statistics and stereotypes, ladies!

Monday, October 2, 2006

Wii's once-in-a-lifetime opportunity, and how they are blowing it

When I was at TGS a little while ago, I had a conversation over dinner with a bunch of developers, and one of them (who shall remain nameless, but he's got a very credible track record on one of the world's biggest franchises) said something about the Nintendo Wii pricing strategy that stuck with me. The more I think about it, the more I think he's right. I'd quote him here, but a direct quote is impossible since it needs the context of the dinner conversation, so I'll attempt to paraphrase.

In truth, I'm taking a little dramatic license in addition to just paraphrasing, but I think it's important to get the point across.

"I think Nintendo's mistake is not the $250 price tag on Wii. Many people think that's high, but it's reasonable especially in light of the higher prices of the 360 and PS3.

"Nintendo's mistake is the high price of the second controller, which is expected to cost around $65 (controller + nunchuk + tax). That's around 25% the price of the console itself, and more than the cost of buying another game.

"as a result, a lot of parents buying the console for their kids at Xmas will buy the console with one controller and one or two games. Kids will have fun with it, as they would with any other console.

"on the other hand, if nintendo had priced it at, say, $275, with the second controller being, say $35, or if they'd managed a 2-controller bundle for, say, $300, then something else would have happened...

"... instead of one kid playing some games off in the den on Christmas day, while the rest of the family relaxed in the living room, you'd instead have Dad, in his PJ's and bathrobe, and his son or daughter in their flannel pj's, jumping around one another playing Mario Tennis, laughing, and bonding around a game console in a way that many toys aspire to but never acheive.

" Nintendo is losing out on the opportunity at a once-in-a-lifetime, Hallmark moment, which would forever cement their brand in Mom and Dad's heads as 'the toy with which we played... together' ".

I really think he had a point. And there's a reason I feel this way.

My own introduction to gaming dates back to three seminal moments: (1) The first time I saw an arcade machine (a cocktail-table Asteroids machine in a cafe in Sugarbush vermont in 1979), (2) the first time I saw a game written in Basic typed into a TRS-80 machine (my first year of high school, 1981) and saw what happened when you typed R-U-N, and (3) my very first intro to gaming that predates either of these.

One Christmas, my dad (a geek before geek was chic) bought us an "APF TV Fun" machine. It was one of the many Pong variants.

I remember a scene that evening that today seems surreal. My neighbor (a French Canadian kid named Jean Francois - he went on to become a tennis pro. Whether APF TV Fun tennis was an influence in this happening is a subject for another blog post) and I, both kids of seven years old, playing an hours-long tournament in front of an audience of what seemed like EVERY ADULT ON OUR STREET, all of whom were laughing and cheering, crowded into my parents living room. It was before gaming was taboo, and it was a fun time.

I guess I agree with this one man's opinion that maybe we had another chance at a few thousand families having a similar positive, formative, experience around games, and am a bit sad that fewer will have it because of something as silly as a poor pricing strategy.

I bought a new game console today...

Nope, not a Wii (can't get 'em yet), nor a PS3 (can't get'em yet, and money doesn't grow on trees!)

I bought a V-Smile "TV Learning System" which, despite the name, is a straight-up game console, right down to the razor'n'blades business model.

It competes head-to-head with a comparable product from Leapfrog. The leapfrog one looked more appealing, quality-wise, but the V-tech (the parent company that owns the V-smile brand) one supported two controllers. I have twins. You do the math.

First off, let me say this: It went straight back to the store. The video quality is awful, and the two games we got, while listed as suitable for 3+ years, clearly aren't. They are very comparable to other products listed as 4+ (e.g. the Leapfrog leapster or l-max). And unlike some of the leapfrog stuff, they've done a very poor job of wrapping any kind of learning around their games. They are really just very lame games with letters/numbers/shapes wrapped around them. (e.g. "duck under/leap over monsters while collecting the letters!" does not a languages skills game make!)

Now, despite the fact that I'm returning it, I'm glad I bought it. Made me think a little about this business as a whole.

Some questions it raised:

  1. Does DFC/IDC/etc include such products in their analysis of the size of the market? Leapfrog made about 650M last year, and the 'learning toys' division of V-Tech made about $400M. Granted, it's a wide range of products, but with things like these and the handhelds (leapster, v-smile equivalent, Fly, etc) making up a significant portion (judging just by percentage of their retail shelf space devoted), there's somewhere around a half-billion dollars in *gaming* HW and SW unaccounted for.
  2. Why is the quality so crap? I can't beleive that the delta in the BOM to get to a *half decent* level of quality isn't worth the extra customers it would pick up. The quality of the software experience is one thing, but the video quality was so low that I had an immediate negative reaction to it. How many others returned it for the same reason?
  3. Would a better path be to license an old console design and wrap a different form factor around it? License an SNES or Sega Genesis design and stick a different cartridge connector on it. Would be miles ahead of what they are delivering now.

Anyhow. It's an interesting space, and another example of an overlooked games market along the lines of what Raph talked about in his Austin GDC presentation.

Saturday, September 30, 2006

Nothing says America like...

Originally uploaded by Kim Pallister.
... an inflatable Santa hanging out of a nascar racer on your front lawn.


Friday, September 29, 2006

Book Reviews

I had some airplane time recently. Tore through a number of books, both of comic and non-comic variety. Here are my reviews of the comics. More on the non-comic variety of books in the near future):



Megatokyo 4

Some of you may recall I posted about my having picked up the first book of this comic series. Volumes 2 through 4 just got better and better.

It's a brilliant mashup of gamer culture, anime/manga culture, American and Japanese youth cultures, geek culture and a story telling style that borrows from all of them. Watching how the creator grew in his abilities over time is a real treat. The artwork, story telling, and plot line are far more evolved in the fourth volume than in the first.

You can of course read this comic for free on the web, but I highly recommend picking up the print version. Especially for the first volume, where the margins are filled with notes on the evolution of the comic along the way.


Making Comics

Scott McCloud has a new book out. If you've read Understanding Comics or Reinventing Comics (like those two, Making Comics is also itself in comic form), then you don't need pursuading, and are off ordering the book already. Good.

For the rest of you, let me say this:

  • If you are at all into comics, then Understanding Comics is just the best disection and analysis of the medium in existence. It will make you think differently as a reader of comics.
  • If you are in the game industry: Understanding Comics is a must-read for anyone on the creative side of the industry, and Reinventing Comics is a must-read for anyone on the business side of the industry. There are so many parallels between the mediums, cultures and business ecosystems, it's uncanny.

Making Comics is less applicable to the games medium, though there are dozens of points where I made comparisons while reading it. It's more a straight-up instruction manual on the making of comics (thus the name). Where other authors often just address drawing style, he address all aspects of choosing, framing and composing moments, making characters more memorable (face, body language, their motivations and personalitites, etc), and much more.

The *only* downside for me (and I still highly recommend the book despite this) is that he didn't spend a lot of time talking about how to choose what to leave "between the borders". In his previous books, he discusses the concept of comics being an interactive medium, where the space between the borders (between moments, panels, etc) being constructed in the mind of the reader.This is analogous in some ways to how some in our industry think the game isn't complete until the user interacts with it. Anyhow, would have liked to have seen more time spent on this topic.


24 Hour Comics

This is another McCloud book, though it's a compilation of the best 24-hour comics done as part of his initial 24 hour comics challenge (in which artists are given 24 hours to create a full 24 page strip.

This is an extremely fast read (I finished it in an hour), it's fun if you like dark and different kind of stuff. Some of the authors have some pretty twisted imaginations.