Tuesday, February 28, 2006

Boing boing indeed

In the (pun intentional - you'll see) running for craziest flash app of the year, it's a bouncing breast simulator from a sports-bra manufacturer.

Link. (Safe for work in Europe and my native quebec. Increasingly unsafe for work as you head westward across canada. Not safe for work anywhere in the puritan-rooted US of A.)

via (snicker, snicker) Boing Boing.

Good Vista writeup

Extremetech has an article about many of the new features in Vista that is a good read.

Sight for sore eyes

After months of working on laptop without an external display, I finally got around to ordering a shiny new monitor, a Dell 19" LCD.

And what's better than a 19" LCD? Why, THREE of them, that's what!

Why three? Seems a bit much, doesn't it? Well, that'll have to wait for another post.

Monday, February 27, 2006

If Microsoft made the iPod...

"If you can't laugh at yourself..." + "It's funny because it's true" =

Microsoft iPod parody video

On the serious side, anyone at any large company (come on Intellites & EA friends, admit it) has been in a meeting where at least one of those phrases was uttered.

Sunday, February 26, 2006

The future of arcades

It used to be that arcades offered technically superior machines to what you could ever game on at home. That ended with the last generation of consoles, when the dreamcast, PS2 & Xbox were on par, and the 'next gen' certainly exceeds.

The only thing they had left to differentiate was peripherals. You could build a cabinet with a game-specific controller, and people wouldn't do that for the home, right? Enter dance pads, and of course, Guitar Hero.

Nowhere left to run for the arcades, right?

Maybe not. Speaking of running, enter La Fuga. 50% theme park exhibit, 50% location-based computer game, and from the sounds of it, 100% awesome.

To boot, it sounds like some of the core mechanic revolves around the same thing as some of the "find your way out of the room" casual games that Jay is always reviewing, and for that matter is similar to Myst.

Coming soon to NYC! Sign me up!

Friday, February 24, 2006

A post for the managers out there

This blogging/transparency/everyone-is-an-evangelist brave new world we find ourselves in has all kinds of sides to it.

Everyone's heard stories about how that ONE customer Dell or some other company ticks off starts a blog that suddenly is a PR nightmare. (e.g. I even got pointed to a podcast where one guy is interpreting that "This call may be recorded for..." support call header message as *permission* to record the call and then broadcast it in his podcast!!! It's called "talk about service")

This post is a nice reminder that the same is true of employees. If you manage employees, are you creating great product & company evangelists, or just the opposite?

Are your employees doing the online (ie. Amplified 1000X) version of this:

(from Church of the Customer Blog).

4 employees. How many people walked past that store that day, didn't buy coffee, and then decided they'd never buy coffee there again? Now put it online where you can't tear the page down...

Mini-microsoft is of course a great example. I *hope* that Scoble and the thousand other Microsoft bloggers (like me!) balance out people's views, but who knows.

I managed a fair number of people during my tenure at Intel, and while I tried to "infect with enthusiasm" through example, I know I often slipped into gripe mode and/or cynical mode. As my manager at the time pointed out, Hanks had it right in Saving Private Ryan - "complain up". Anyhow, while I tried to prioritize their current state of mind & future development, I'm not sure I considered it in the vein of "are they out there right now evangelizing the company or it's products enthusiastically to someone?". And If I'd thought about things that way, would I have done stuff differently?

But I digress. My point was mainly that with all the current day focus of "your customers could be your best proponents", don't forget that your employees better be even better proponents than that.

Thursday, February 23, 2006

Breaking records

You have to hand it to the Rolling Stones. In their sixties, with many dozens of world tours under their belts, and with album sales that will never top those of their peak, they are still out there doing it.

So how to you top everything you've done before when you have done so much? You go to one of the biggest, densest urban centers of the world, one with a reputation of loving to party, and you hold a free concert. And the you make the venue big enough to accomodate all that show up.

And then a million people show up.

Hey-SOOS! That's a lot of people!

Here's a pic nabbed from the BBC article:

A MILLION people! I've been to a concert with, I beleive it was 40,000 people, and THAT's nuts. Now multiply by 25. Crazy.

Way to go Stones. Nice topper. What's next?

[update: The article points out that the same venue once saw a larger crowd - when Rod Stewart did a free show there attracting 3.5M people. The most shocking thing about this, of course, is that through volume, even with a low estimated percentage hit-rate, you get an enormous number of people who find Rod Stewart sexy. Even accounting for the subset who really want his body, and the remainder that just reach out and touch him, it's still in the thousands! *Shudder*]

It's official, the GDC craziness starts NOW

Already this week, 4 meeting requests, 3 party invites. . I guess this is the week everyone wakes up and says "ACK! How can it only be a month away!?!?"

In other news, we are hiring for a bunch of positions in the casual games group - dev, test, designer/producer types, biz folk, etc, etc. Any of you readers that I already know, or that I should know, please drop me an email with your resume.

It's a fun place to work, and we are working on way wicked cool stuff. 'nuff said.

Wednesday, February 22, 2006

Broke Back(-side on) Mountain

It's been 5 days since I went snowboarding and fell hard on my tailbone and it is still really sore. I'm beginning to wonder if I did more than bruise it.

Tuesday, February 21, 2006

Adding link...

I've added Raph Koster to my list of links off on the right hand side. The man's just got too much good stuff to say. Go subscribe to his feed and, well, feed on it!

Video podcasts

Other than Rocketboom, I hadn't checked out too many of these.

On the way up to go skiing the other day, I checked out my friend Pete's Video Ipod (sexy device, I must admit) and he pointed me to Snowfix, a ski/snowboarding podcast by a couple kids from the UK.

The quality is suprisingly good, and reminds one of a combo sports network show and Warren Miller flick, and the low-budget nature of it actually is part of it's attraction. Episode 7 even has a how-to on riding the half-pipe. Just what I needed! Check it out.

BTW, it was very cool that Rocketboom decided to run ads and was auctioning off their first one on Ebay. Very cool.

Sunday, February 19, 2006

Tom Pallister's First OS Critique

Today, my son Tom, aged 2 years, 4 months, offered his first critique of the Windows operating system; specifically, the appearance of the default cursor.

Since he'll undoubtedly become some kind of world-famous scientist, I thought I'd document it for future generations.

We have a little interactive CD on shapes, numbers & letters that we picked up for free somewhere, and Tom likes it. It's implemented using PowerPoint, actually, and he normally just clicks through it by tapping on the space bar. I was trying to teach him to use the mouse. When you move the mouse inside presentation mode of a PPT preso, the cursor arrow becomes visible.

Kim: "See that Tom? When you move the mouse, that arrow moves there."

Tom (surprised and pleased): "Tom's moving it!"

Kim: "Yeah."

Tom (pausing, squinting, examining cursor, pointing finger at screen): "LOOK AT DAT LITTLE TING!! It's small"

Kim: "Yeah."

Tom (giggling): "Dat's silly"

Tommorrow I'll have to see about getting Tom on the Vista beta program :-)

Good presentations online

I just love a good presentation. Something well thought through, well structured, well written, and well presented. I don't see many such presentations (let alone deliver such presentations - though I aim to improve...), but came across a couple this weekend. Both of them are aimed at "non-gamer" audiences about the promise and future of the medium, but they are both thought provoking enough to warrant some time from gamers and game industry folk

  • Raph Koster (always entertaining and a couple steps ahead of the rest of us) offers us a link to his talk on "The medium that ate my world". Watch it with streaming video. Raph even acts a little when presenting, so it's worth watching. If you've read A Theory of Fun, much of it is repeat, but worth watching anyway. If you haven't read the book, this will likely incite you to go buy it.
  • Alice points us to this presentation from Kim Plowright on what the future of 'interactive fiction' means to writers, among others. Thought provoking and with good speaker notes to boot. (Kim, we forgive you for the shoddy layout, the preso more than makes up for it :-)


Well, the weekend's almost up, and I still have a ton of work to do. Didn't have a chance to do much productive while in the middle of vomit-cleanup duty Friday night. Yuck. Ran a few errands yesterday, watched a bit of TV, played some Guitar Hero.


- Seattle east sider metrosexuals (or closet metrosexuals like myself) should definitely check out Weldon Barber. New one opening in Kirkland soon.
- Watched another episode of Hustle. Still an awesome show. Love the concept, the way it's filmed, and most of the cast are pretty good. (BTW, the website has a section on the history of some 'classic' cons, one of which is "The Spanish Prisoner" a scam that originated in 1588, but exists today in the form of the "nigerian money transfer" spam scam.)
- Finished a short book this weekend, "Playing Around: My Adventures on the Zone.com" by Dorothy Rosencrans. A good (and quick) read for anyone in the casual games space looking to get a better grip on who their customers are.
- Guitar Hero: I've hit a wall. I've finished all 30 songs on medium, but only 4 on hard and only 1 on expert. >:-(

I also made two Cheney jokes, neither of which was terribly great, but that I hadn't heard anyone else say, so I'll state them here:

- Cheney's a man of action.... PUMP-ACTION!
- "Quail? Oh, I thought we were hunting QUAYLE!"

Thursday, February 16, 2006

Guitar Heros

Had friends Pete & Dean over tonight. They are up from Portland to do a day of skiing tommorrow (fingers crossed for good conditions).

Anyhow, we ordered a little butter-masala chicken pizza from Can-Am Pizza, had a few beers and then I introduced them to Guitar Hero.

I back up what others have said: Everybody loves Guitar Hero. Even those who suck at it.

Now I'm not naming names, but at least one person in my house tonight did not fare that well at first attempt :-)

Wednesday, February 15, 2006

Runnin on empty

...or so it feels.

I haven't blogged much this week as a cold the twins gave me has just wiped me out. Seems to be waning though, and just in time, as I have friends coming into town tommorrow night to stay over and go skiing on Friday. Yipee!

Anyhow. In the meantime, enjoy a little Googlepark :-)

Monday, February 13, 2006



Churchill club panel

Raph Koster points us to GameSpot’s video of the Churchill Club Panel that there’s a lot of buzz about in the blogosphere.

It’s a good view, and I recommend watching it. I don’t, however, agree with all of it.

The panel had 4 people on it: Microsoft’s Peter Moore, Sony Online’s Raph Koster, Ubisoft’s Laurent Detoc, and EA's Lars Butler.

It's a great panel, in that many controversial remarks are made (that's what makes for a great panel, no?). Among them:

  • "Single player games are an aberration" (Raph)
  • "Single player games are to multiplayer games as masturbation is to sex - it'll always be there, but it's not as good as the real thing" (Lars)
  • "Physical media is stupid" (Peter)

While I thought the panel was great. All members, especially Raph, made great points. I thought that Peter Moore was a little too much in "Xbox talking point" mode, to a point where it damaged his credibility a little. I found myself tuning him out a bit.

I have to disagree with the "aberration" point that Raph made. Interpolation breaks, dude! Just because something is new (and I don't agree that 'single player entertainment' experiences are new) doesn't mean it'll go away. TV was an aberration. BOOKS were at one time an aberration, and story telling was a two-player experience! That said, when he later qualified it (e.g. community around single player experiences), I agree. Just in the extreme I think it's off some.

Anyhow, view the video and judge for yourself!

Sunday, February 12, 2006

The rest of Casuality, in a nutshell

I was going to do a number of posts on the other sessions I attended, and on other thoughts from Casuality. However, it's Sunday night, I have work to do, and so my time is limited.

I've also found a number of other posts that cover the show nicely:

Rather than cover the other individual sessions separately, I'd like to merge them, as this is kind of how it worked at the conference.

The sessions I attended, including the panel I spoke on (subbing for a coworker), all basically drifted between the same 3 topics:

  • Busines models for casual games (is Try'n'buy it? Will in-game item sales work outside Korean and Finland? Will portals ever share ad revenue with developers? Do free web versions of games cannibalize downloads? What's a healthy conversion rate? Is 2% conversion really a bad thing?)
  • Addressing a global market (game design issues, payment issues, biz model issues)
  • Cell phones (will the market grow as stated? Will we always have to go through carriers? Will cross-platform cell/console/PC/etc gameplay ever happen?)

I'm not sure whether the 'agenda blend' between sessions was a sign of poor organization, poor moderating, or just inevitable because that's what people wanted to cover.

Anyhow, it was what it was, and many useful discussions happened. Nothin' wrong with that!

The last day, they had a "speed netowrking" event set up, for people to rotate and do mini-meetings. It was super productive. I loved that format in particular.

Saturday, February 11, 2006

Media experiences

Alisa and I took the twins to their first movie today, Curious George.

It was a big hit, but perhaps a little long to sit in a theatre for kids their age. Still, was good fun. Oh that George. He's so curious!

Later this evening, I worked on my own media experiences by setting up my Logitech Harmony 890 Remote. Woohoo! Finally, one remote to rule them all!

I've set it up so far to control the media center PC, my projector, my ReplayTV, my DVD player, my CD changer, my PS2, and my AV Receiver. The setup was pretty painless once I got past one glitch (browser security settings prevented it from fetching updates).

Last thing to do now is set up the RF component so that it will control the music from rooms out of line of site.

Thursday, February 9, 2006

What did you do today daddy?

Steve Lacey points us to this AWESOME video, done by an AA pilot as an answer to his daughter's question about what he does for work.

For an amateur production, it's outstanding. Another way to look at it is yet another example of bloggers (or vbloggers in this case) putting a human face on their company. American just ceased being a faceless airline.


Buck a point

Following the session at Casuality on Designing casual games (see previous post), I had an epiphany based on something Jason touched on in his presentation.

He cited some of the positive feedback Popcap received in testing bejeweled when they added a zero to the scores granted (e.g. going from 1 point per 3-stone match to 10 points per match).

That got me thinking. I used to own a few vintage arcade games, one of which was an old 1967 Woodrail pinball called Twinky. I used to prefer some of the older, simpler pinball games from the early 60’s through to the early 70; 80’s and 90’s. For what it’s worth, 8-ball by (I think it was Bally, but I'm not certain) was I think my favorite.

Anyhow, one thing that is apparent when looking at these games over the years is the “score inflation” that occurred. Games in the early sixties had bumpers, gates and buttons worth 1, 5, and 10 points. In the late sixties, this turned to 5, 10, 20 and perhaps 50. Move through the 70’s, 80’s and 90’s, this kind of “point inflation” continued.

A good final game score for those generations of titles might have been 5000, 50,000, 1 million and 10 million or so, respectively.

Clearly, there was something behind this.

One could argue that if game A offered more points than game B, it would make players feel better and that positive reinforcement would lead to repeat plays. Thus competitors building machines would increase their score more than the next guy.

However, as the inflation continued, it reached absurdly high levels, where points of 100's of millions were attainable. I submit that this became one of many contributing factors in the decline of pinball (admittedly a minor factor when compared to everything else).

So, here’s my epiphany, which I will state in the form of a rule.

Kim’s First Rule of Casual Game Design: Points awarded should correlate to real-world currency and the reward for an accomplishment should correlate to the value to the user.

OK, so what does this mean?
First off, when I say “first rule” I don’t mean most important. I just mean it’s the first I’ve come up with :-)
Secondly, when I say correlate to real-world currency, I mean the basic unit. E.g. 1 point = $1.
Finally, when I say value to user, I mean that you should think about things like “if these points were dollars, how would I feel about accomplishing that act and winning that amount?”

Another way to look at this: The high score attainable for a game should equate somewhat to the prizes awarded by a TV game show. Since the “grand prize” awarded by a game show might vary somewhere between “winning a new car” and “getting rich”, game scores should fall somewhere in the same range. In 1960, a new car cost a few thousand dollars. Today, perhaps $25,000 to $50,000. The “getting rich” number used to have a range of $50,000 to $250,000 (e.g. the $64,000 pyramid was a popular TV show). Later it meant being a millionaire, but as of late even that isn’t as significant an amount (e.g. Austin Power’s Dr Evil’s “one meeeeleeeonne dollars!!!”)

Taking this into consideration, I’d argue that a good “quickie” casual game should have a high score for a good player up around the 20k to 50k point range, and that a game requiring some time investment and learning complexity might be OK having a point system that allowed for high scores of 1 million to 10 million.
Points. Examples like Zuma, Luxor bear out the former; and maybe examples like geometry wars bear out the latter? I’m sure there are also examples that contradict.

One more thought: There may be another benefit to using such a ‘real life’ metric to a scoring system. It’s analogous to how many (including me) think it’s a good idea to build any simulator (for graphics/physics) scaled to real-world units so that you can better judge if things are working right.

Please post comments. I’m curious if people agree/disagree.

And if you do agree, what does it mean when localizing games to other countries?

Casuality Session: Designing casual games

Jason Kapalka, Popcap games was asked to do a session on what it takes to design a casual game. He said it was hard to come up with ‘magic rules’ but instead did a session on 10 things you can do to screw up a game, citing less than perfect Popcap games as examples of each of these. The list, in brief, was:

1. Make it too hard
2. Have a dozen mediocre game modes instead of one good one.
3. Make your tech requirements to high
4. Self-distribute, price it bizarrely, or other biz no-no’s.
5. Give it a terrible name (interesting example: Dynomite’s sales went up when the changed the name from the original: Egg Sucker).
6. Award Low scores (another detailed post coming on this one).
7. Use the right mouse button. At all. Ever. Casual players don’t get it.
8. Expect users to read. That page of directions is never going to get read.
9. Make it too challenging and insult the user if they lose (exending this: casual games shouldn’t be ones you can lose. Just win, or win really well.
10. Ignore feedback.

The funniest bit of the presentation was the mock up he did of Bejeweled, if they had violated all 10 of the rules.

The game was renamed: Bloodwar: The Revenge, but then renamed again to Bloodwar Manager. It used skulls instead of jewels, had a dark theme, tons of complex game modes, etc. Plus it had this great end-game screen:

I give this presentation a 8/10. The speaker definitely knew what he was talking about and provided plenty of their own examples of mistakes, which showed some humility. However, his perspective was pretty US-centric, and limited to their audience and business model.

Casuality Europe Notes

Today wrapped up the first "Casuality" event in Amsterdam. I have a bunch of notes to post, but will likely only get to most of them on the plane on the way home or on the weekend. In the meantime, I wanted to post a few thoughts on the conference overall.

The conference was held in this unassuming venue:

Which, inside, was just a great little venue. A 3-story high old theatre-type venue with a huge pipe organ on the wall. I didn't get the greatest shot inside, but this should give you and idea:

Overall, the event went pretty well for a first time event.

Good: Great sessions, great attendees, great networking, great venue.

Not so good: No feedback forms for sessions, sessions drifted *far* from their stated descriptions in many cases (see my notes on the panel I participated in - stay tuned), and the schedule wasn't adhered to so well. Also, having day 3 of the event at a different venue was kind of a pain, but not the end of the world.

Overall, I give the conference a high rating. Maybe 7/10.

Monday, February 6, 2006

When game tat's go wrong

So I get into Amsterdam, decide to check mail before running off to meetings and I am greeted with the following.

Its kitchy to get a gaming-themed tattoo, right?

Oh no it's not. Not in this case.

Behold. Pac-man butt. Courtesy Alice's blog.

Like she said. Oh. My. God.

Dreadful thought: Where, oh where, is the warp tunnel?!? AHHH!

Saturday, February 4, 2006


I'm off early in teh morning to Amsterdam to attend the 'Casuality' conference. I'll try to blog a little while I'm over there.

Exciting, as it will be my first trip there, and the conference is shaping up to be interesting.

Hacking the State of the Union

Showing that he's still got a couple gems left in him, Mark has hacked Bush's state of the union speeches. Now that is really cool.

He makes some interesting observations too. Go check it out!

Friday, February 3, 2006

Used games: Good or bad

There's been a lot of discussion lately about the used games market, and whether or not it's good for the games industry.

In this corner:

Pro-used games: (1) Used games allow consumers to get more gaming for their dollar, the amount they were going to spend was a 'fixed' amount anyway, (2) Games are property, and people have a right to do what they want with that property, including to sell it, (3) low-price used games allow people to try games they otherwise might not, and provide a path for non-gamers to dip their toe in the water, growing the gaming market overall.

(Proponents include Alice, Billy, many others)

In the opposite corner:

Anti-used games: (1) Used games reduce the number of people that buy the title new, thus decreasing the revenue to the developer/publisher, (2) retailer margins are better on used games, incenting them to sell those first and foremost*, (3) while sold on physical media, the consumer is actually buying an entertainment experience, which shouldn't be transferable/replicable, or at least if it is, the 'performer' should get paid again in some way.

* I haven't seen any date on (2) above, but do have one anecdote. I had a game developer in Japan actually take me to a couple shops in Akihabara where (in one) the used games were stacked IN FRONT of the new games, so you had to dig for them, and (in another) the used games were on display and the new games were hidden away and had to be asked for (only displayed if they were sold out of used). I've only seen this taht one time, and only in Japan though. For this case at least, it was pretty clear where the retailer's preference was.

(proponents on this side include: Mark Rein, Mark Deloura, and -until recently- me.)

Anyhow. There are plenty of proponents on both sides of the argument - probably a good indication that the reality lies somewhere in between.

While I've stepped out of the "anti-" camp, I haven't stepped into the "pro-" camp either.

Why? Because I haven't seen a good thorough analysis of the problem. So I just don't know the truth.

What I would like to see is a piece of research, backed by data (ie. research, not opinion) that answers the following questions:

  • Do used games increase/decrease the amount of money the average gamer spends?
  • Do used games increase/decrease the amount of time the average gamer spends playing games?
  • Do used games introduce new gamers to gaming, or gamers to new genres?
  • How do margins compare, and what is the split between various parties, between retail new and used games? (Looking for something better than my original stab in the dark. This post looks like it goes into some detail, but I haven't made my way through it all yet).
  • Do the above answers vary significantly between different countries? different platforms? (e.g. PC vs console, handheld vs console...)
  • How does the above compare with other media (music, video)?
  • How does the rental market compare (e.g. I've heard that with video rentals, IIRC, some portion gets back to the publisher, but not game rentals. Is this true?)
Anyone know of one any piece of real research that can help answer the above, or is it just a religious argument and we are left to choose our favorite preacher?

Thursday, February 2, 2006

I'm excellent at being mediocre!

I finally beat Guitar Hero on medium. Have now cleared a few more tracks on expert.

Bad taste in ads

That last post reminded me; that PSP ad is NOT the poorest-taste winner for high-tech industry ads.

This old favorite from Gainward for it's "Golden Sample" graphics card STILL holds the number one position (as well as holding the, er, sample):

Is that a PSP in your pocket, or.....?

Via GameSetWatch, a link to a japanese ad for PSP porn.

Umm.. is Japanese culture really so different that these situations wouldn't be... embarrassing? I mean, come on! Especially in front of Hachiko! It's really crowded there! And skydiving? Someone could get hurt!

Ol' Yellerbot

Mark posts his thoughts on Sony's euthenizing Aibo & Qrio.

I have to say I agree. While it was a long-shot that Aibo would ever be profitable, it was definitely a huge win for their brand with tech enthusiasts.

For all the talk of DS beating PSP, Rootkit fiascos, missed earnings targets, etc.... one look at an Aibo or Qrio in person and you just thought "wow. this is a company that builds the future". Simple as that.

RIP poochie! You'll live forever on Ebay, I'm sure!

Wednesday, February 1, 2006


EA announced a 5% staff layoff across their studios.

Of course this sucks for those being laid off, and for those still there having to watch others pack up and leave. However, if it's done right, (i.e. make that 5% your slow performers, problem children, etc), then it's good for the company long term.

EA's definitely at the size (~7000 world wide) where they've got to worry about the bozo factor.

Now if it's being done wrong and bozos are staying while quality people are let go, well, that's bad by a larger degree. Not only does you "bozo percentage" go UP, but you demoralize those still there who think "why did they lay off Joe and keep Schmo?"

Regardless, my sympathies to those laid off and to those friends of mine still there who had to go through what was surely a crappy day at work.


In other stumbling news, Google missed estimates and that lopped $40 off the stock. This is not surprising, given all that's been written about the improbability of their sustaining the revenue growth rate of the past year. What's surprising is that people still are betting on them. Aren't these analysts supposed to look at things objectively and calculate figures, not just be wooed by lunacy? This just proves I don't get the stock market at all. Sigh.


Wasted another hour this evening playing GH. Beat Cowboys from Hell, just have Bark at the Moon to beat. And that's on medium difficulty. I went back and cleared a few songs on hard as well. Expert, well, I ain't ready for that yet.

I learned on an email thread that Brian beat GH in expert mode and scored >350k on one song. Compared to my piddly 100k for one song on medium, that is awesome. I told him that his URL was fitting (blue and orange are the color of the two 'frets' that are only used in hard and expert mode.

I really should get rid of this game and get back to real guitar...