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.

Wednesday, September 27, 2006

Oh boy. Oh boy. Oh boy.

Guitar Hero coming to 360, with downloadable tracks to boot.

That's it. I've just wet myself.

Only question now is WHEN, and whether above controller will be wireless.

There's a lot of debate going on about whether the Explorer was the best choice for the controller design. I know the Les Paul and SG were done already, and I know Gibson is lending their brand to the title, but I still think they could do better.

Personally, I think they should have gone with the same model Steinberger I own:

It comes in white, and it wouldn't have to be shrunk from original size. Plus, Gibson owns Steinberger anyhow.

Interrobang, where have you been all my life?!

Why was I not told the interrobang existed?

Jeez, how useful is this?! See, I could have used one just there, no?! WTF?!

Thanks to Mother Tongue Annoyances for the link.

Tuesday, September 26, 2006


Originally uploaded by Kim Pallister.
I have a friend up in Vancouver to whom I occasionally give one of my 360 games that I've finished playing.

"Wow Kim. That's awesome. I wish there was something *I* got from my work that I could give you in return"

My friend is a plastic surgeon. This week, a breast implant arrived as a gift. "Makes a nice paperweight" I was told.

I'm trying to use it as a wrist-rest for my mouse hand, but I find I'm occasionally finding my hand has left the mouse and is clutching the pseudo-mammary.

[Sorry for the dark photo. I felt mood lighting in my office was in order :-)]


Originally uploaded by Kim Pallister.
My 4th attempt. What's with me and the air-travel theme? Gotta stop!

Only got around to posting this today, after they announced they'd be relaxing the no-liquids rule. Thank goodness!

Monday, September 25, 2006

GDC Game Developers Rant audio proceedings posted

[Edit: OOPS! I just noticed that this is 2005's session that was posted. Hopefully '06 will go up soon]

The excellent session from GDC, "Burning Down the House: Game Developers Rant" has been posted as a one hour MP3 file and I definitely recommend listening to it, if you missed the session this year.

  • Jon Blow's rant was powerful
  • Chris Hecker was in usual form (in fact he wasn't supposed to rant, but was brought up and de-shoed by popular demand)
  • Robin gave a 5 minute mini rant that was also inspired and culminated with some bird-flipping action
  • Jane, Seamus were both in form
  • And yes, this reaffirms that Chris Crawford has truly jumped the shark. His was the only one of the rants without a positive call to action of some kind (Robin's had one at least implied)

Download here. [edit: Of course, none of hte above applies, but maybe they'll post '06 soon?]

Which Superhero are you?

Folowing on Mark's propagation of this meme...
Your results:
You are Iron Man

Inventor. Businessman. Genius.

Iron Man


Green Lantern


The Flash



Wonder Woman





Click here to take the Superhero Personality Quiz

Sunday, September 24, 2006

Back from TGS

Whew. Just back from four days of craziness in Japan. Will write up some details later, but the short version goes something like:

  • Saw a ton of old friends that were there for the show (Alice, Robin, Doug, Casey, Atman, Vlad, Jane, many more)
  • Saw a show that was ripe with derivative sequels and uninspired content... but there were signs of life.
  • Ate some great meals and had interesting and productive discussions
  • Felt bad at my non-existant Japanese skills as at least 4 of my western friends were speaking at a functional level.
  • Went out with the gang from Kotaku and discovered that the young'uns tire out early these days :-)

More details later. Right now, nappy time.

Monday, September 18, 2006

Life imitates art

And in this case, so does architecture.

Also via Wonderland, here's a new housing development being built in Bend Oregon called the Shire, which is modelled after, well, you guessed it.

For those of you who've never been to Bend, well, let's just say a portion of the populace likes to partake of the herbal recreation, so to speak. Ya know. The beard'n'sandals'n'telemark-skis type o folk.

Mario Bros Cake

Mario Bros Cake
Originally uploaded by alt text.
I'm not one to post photos of wedding cakes but HOLY COW! What a work of art!

I'd start by eating those toothed flowers. Finally, revenge would be mine!

(Thanks to Wonderland for the link!)

Sunday, September 17, 2006

Hummer | Escape

Via Shotgun Marketing ( A *great* ad from Hummer for the Hummer Escape. It is, of course, a parody of The Great Escape, one of my fave movies of all time.

TGS Prep

I've been quiet on the blogging front as I've been trying to get a bunch of stuff done before heading out to TGS this week.

Friday I was watching the kids, couldn't find the keys to the car, so I trailered them behind my bike to get them to pre-school and back. I'm not in biking shape as it is, but an 80lb load behind the bike doesn't make it any easier!

Saturday and Sunday I helped a friend disassemble and trailer an big play structure, got my fence 90% completed (still some parts on order, but most of it's done now), fixed some holes in the rafters that birds were attempting to use to nest in our attic, ran some errands, got a haircut, caught up on some expense reports, caught up on some (but certainly not all) of my email. Phew!

If you'll be at TGS this year, drop me a note. Quite a contingent of westerners seem to be heading over.

Friday, September 15, 2006

Game Industry Speaks on Montreal Shooting

Jason posted some thoughts [update: fixed this link] and also a link to this CTV news interview with him and Danny Ledonne, the creator of "Super Columbine Massacre: RPG".

Oh my goodness. I have *never* seen such straight up objective journalism when it comes to games and violence. No Jack Thompson. No CNN sensationalist sound bytes. No fox news screaming over the interviewees. American networks could learn a thing or two.

To be fair, they could have had someone from the other side of the debate, but that aside, it was a nice chance for the game industry to say their piece, and Jason did a fine job stepping up. Jason says the did get the other side of the argument later, but didn't post the clip.

Well done J!

Thursday, September 14, 2006

Montreal School Shooting

The school shooting that took place in Montreal yesterday took place at Dawson College. I went to college there. Very strange seeing it on the news in a much more tragic context than I am used to.

My best wishes to the 19 people injured yesterday, and of course my sympathies to the family of the person who died.

Of course, none of this is good for the video games industry either, as this story on MSNBC this morning profiles the 25 year old shooter and talks about his liking for the "super columbine massacre" "video game".

Oh, and for those that don't remember, Montreal was the location of another school shooting, in 1989 when a gunman killed 14 women and then himself at L'ecole polytechnique there. That's a higher number than were killed in columbine.

America's gun crime and murder rates may be way higher than canada's but it seems that no one has a monopoly on imbeciles opening fire in schools.

(BTW, the wikipedia article on school shootings/massacres is macabre but interesting. I had no idea that the worst one in the US took place in 1923. Guess video games weren't to blame for that one.)

Nintendo lineup

As Robin points out, Nintendo has posted the requisit video montage of their title lineup for Wii.

You'll spot the expected (Zelda, Mario) and the unexpected (cooking sim? bravo nintendo!)

Wednesday, September 13, 2006

Viva la Wiivolution!

In case you missed it, the gaming blogosphere just exploded in a giant orgasm of Nintendo love.

Everybody was embargoed until the start of the nintendo conference, but the NY Times leaked it a couple hours before, and then there was a stampede of typing fingers and a rush of uploading bits and now you can find coverage here, here, here, here, and, well, name your games site.

Bottom line: Nov 19, $250, bundled with "Wii Sports" a collection of gesticu-tastic sports mini-games. (so I wasn't too far off on yesterday's prediction :-). There's an online service of retro titles, priced $5-$10. On the plus side, Nintendo retro-action is da bomb. On the down side, no goal (stated at this time anyway) to go after indie titles, something we are doing with Arcade (same goes for traditional casual titles).

I tip my hat to Nintendo. The have used 'content + low ASP' strategy several times now (gameboy vs gamegear, N64 vs other consoles of that era, gamecube vs xbox and ps2, DS vs PSP), each time successfully, and each time to the embarassment of those that declared them dead in the water.

This will be good competition for 360. "No more shooting fish in a barrel" as an old boss of mine used to say.

As for Sony, well, wow. They'd better have some dang impressive games to come in at 2.4x the price and have Mario, Luigi, Zelda and Donkey Kong all kicking you in the shins.

Well played, Nintendo! Rock on.

Women of Influence

NextGen has posted a list of the 100 most influential women in gaming.

It's a pretty big list, and would have been more fun if they'd attempted to rank the 100 in order of influence (I know, apples-to-oranges, but what fun!), but still makes a good read. Some factoids:

  • 8% are at Microsoft (1 of them, Ellen Beeman, from the group I work in)
  • 7% are in casual games - and that's not counting The Sims as a "casual" franchise
  • A large number are from EA, and Maxis in particular (I didn't count)

Contrats to Alice for making the list.

Robin should have been on it too! I demand a recount! (Well Robin, you've influenced me. That will have to do :-)

[Update: Jason takes issue with the list and cites many examples of others that should have made it on there]

Pardon, combien le Wii?

The meme this week seems to be guessing Nintendo's price point, as I guess there's some press announcement coming thursday.

OK, My guess:
$199 for a barebones system with the basic controller, no games.
$249 for a bundle that includes some controller add-on/nunchuk thing plus a game.

Total swag. Not taking any bets on this one!

Counterfeit Carts

Curmudgeon Gamer has an interesting post about the sale of counterfeit cartridge games at stores selling used games.

Bottom line: It may happen more frequently than people know. It appears to primarily be people buying them off the web (ebay, etc), and selling them to used-game stores afterward. The staff seem to be uneducated on the subject, but is management? And should they be responsible for counterfeit merchandise in the same way pawn shops are?

I wonder about how many counterfeit PS2 CD games there are in stores?

Monday, September 11, 2006

What do Tigers and Launches have in common?

...both have their paper varieties, of course.

News last week that Kutaragi has trimmed the launch volumes for PS3 even further, to just 500k units worldwide, with 400k of those going to Europe and 100k to Japan. (News came last week that Europe wouldn't make this year).

When I originally made my prediction in the new year that Sony wouldn't ship anywhere in 2006, I took two $50 bets from co-workers. (yes, I'm still holding out hope). Anyhow, at that time, I got into an interesting discussion with one of them, centered around this question: What does it mean to launch?

Back when I worked on graphics cards, the "paper launch" became an issue the press was wrestling with. The leading companies (this is pre-Nvidia, so it was like, S3, Diamond, ATI, and ourselves) would declare they'd launched, send in one of number of pre-production samples to the folks over at PC Mag for the big review (issue 21, IIRC), and no one that wanted to buy one could actually do so.

So the folks at the mags started insisting that they go buy a retail unit, but that led to funny games with allocation and being able to supply some number of units in order to declare a launch, but they weren't yet in full production.

Now, 500k units is not a small number. It might be if you are a game publisher :-), but not in terms of units produced. However, if that number gets trimmed again, how small does it get before it really doesn't count? 200k? 100k? If they only ship 10k, is that a launch?

The $100 I have riding on this aside, I really hope they do launch. I think if I were in Sony's shoes, I'd wait. After all the hubris and hubbub, shipping with a parity product and mediocre launch catalog would be catastrophic. If you are showing up a year later, you better be a whole lot better right out of the gate.

Put differently, whether or not the launch is a paper one, the tiger had better not be.

Guess we'll know better after TGS, where they promise to be showing a number of game titles in playable form.

Back from Austin

If you hadn't guessed by the sudden reappearance of posts, I'm back from Austin.

Austin GDC was ok, but smaller than I'd been lead to beleive. Between meetings, a stint of booth duty, and my own session, I didn't get a chance to attend much.

My session was at the same time as Raph Koster's, which was a drag because (a) I only had 25-ish people show (surprised it was that high) and (b) I wanted to attend Raph's talk! I lucked out Friday at the end of day when David Edery and I met up with Raph and he gave us an up-close-and-personal version of the pitch. Pretty interesting talk, which as Raph points out was taken vastly out of context by the press, but liveblogged pretty well elsewhere.

The Digital Distribution panel that David & Warren Spector were on was entertaining, but I'm not sure anything remarkable was said. The only interesting snippet from the marketing panel in the casual games track was that BigFish (and I quote) spends 30-40% of their revenue on search optimization (a combination of optimising the site and buying keyworks). If that figure is accurate, it's astounding.

Though AGDC was small, it was great for running into people. Aside from those mentioned above, I bumped into Mark and Dante having BBQ, bumped into several old Intel pals, had a brief conversation with Warren, went out for drinks with an acquaintance from Square-Enix from a few years back, saw Jen from Softimage (another ex-matrox compadre), and others.

Oh, and beleive it or not, I think I mildly sprained my elbow playing foosball after a few too many drinks!

Sunday, September 10, 2006

Pop5 Live: An innovative casual game

We just launched a game on MSN Games as a result of a deal I've been working on for a little while now. The fact that it was my deal isn't why I'm blogging it though. I actually think it's got some really innovative aspects to it and wanted to point those out here.

The game is called Pop5 Live. [Update: Here's a link to the game with my 'user submitted video' in it] It's an online game from the folks at Cranium based on their new board game of the same name. The new board game is similar to their flagship product, Cranium, with a pop culture theme and an interesting new mechanic.

The online game is a pop culture trivia game, where you guess clues based on streamed video snippets of people 'performing' them (where performing is done via the different methods used in the game: drawing, sculpting, 'charades'-type acting, humming and picking clues based on letter blocks).

There are a couple things about the game that are innovative.

The first is that it's user-content driven. There's a link off to a mechanism to submit your own video clues. Videos go through an approval process, and once approved they go into the pool of videos from which five are pulled at random for any game session.

The second thing that's interesting is that it's viral (or at least we hope it will be). It's viral because people that submit videos are sent a link to instantiate the game with their video as one of the five and can send that to friends and families. It's also viral because players RATE the videos, and the top ranked videos win prize money - an additional reason for 'performers' to invite their friends and family to play (and vote for them).

Anyhow, it's pretty neat. Not bad for a web-only casual game!

Number crunch: WoW vs Biking

Robin posted this the other day regarding a water cooler discussion about whether the number of "WoW enthusiasts" exceeded the number of cycling enthusiasts.

According to their conclusions, there are 3M bike commuters in America and less than 1M bike enthusiasts (defined as "people that don lycra and clip into pedals"). Given that this is less than the 6M wow players world wide, they concluded that WoW wins.

I disagree.

Here's why:

  • As I've posted before, I have issue with the 6M number that WoW is supposed to have. Their own definition of 'customer' leads me to beleive there's some overlap.
  • I also beleive there's been some attrition where accounts are still getting billed. However, this is analogous to people with $600 bicycles in the garage taht haven't been riden in a while (ahem, like me).
  • Their figures compare US numbers (cyclists) to worldwide (WoW). Apples, Oranges. According to Raph's numbers from his presentation at Austin GDC (not posted yet), US WoW players was something like 2M, so less than cyclists by Robin's numbers
  • According to these figures from the National Bicycle Dealers Assoc, 20M bikes were sold last year, and 16% of the unit volume was in the "Road/700c" category, who's *average* selling price was $1150. Another 16% of the unit volume was "mountain front suspension" who's average selling price was comparable.

I'd argue that $1000+ bicycles are usually sold to enthusiasts. 6.4M bikes a year. Assuming enthusiasts keep their bikes for what, 3 years, you could figure somewhere around 20M biking enthusiasts. And that's US only. Assuming another 5M (conservative) in europe and another equal number in the rest of the world, you are looking at 15M+ easily.

WoW doesn't even come close.

Tuesday, September 5, 2006

Austin GDC

Salut l'monde!

In case any of you, my esteemed readers, random surfers, and people surfing for strange diaper fetishes (a small number of visitors come to this site from WEIRD google searches) are planning on attending the Austin GDC this week, I'll be there Wed evening through Friday evening.

I'm presenting a session there on thursday, and have a couple meetings. Other than that I will be attending sessions and hanging out sporadically in our booth. Drop by and say hi!


After posting last week about the Game-realted article in Harpers this month, Curmudgeon Gamer points out game related comment in this month's New Yorker.

We've definitely "arrived". Question is, will we like it here? :-)

Monday, September 4, 2006


Steve "Croc Hunter" Irwin died today.

I feel bad for his wife and kids left behind, but c'mon, is there any cooler way to go than being stabbed through the heart by a stingray tail? Holy smokes!

Friday, September 1, 2006

The Potential of Games

Two very good, and related, reads:

  • This month's Harpers contains an article called "Grand Theft Education", discussing the potential for games to educate. Among the interviewees is the one-man-think-tank, Raph Koster. Definitely worth picking up off the magazine rack next time you are at a store.
  • Alice links us to this liveblogged transcript of Will Wright's talk at BAFTA.

Some very similar thinking in both about games' ability to teach a variety of things not only as well, but better than other media.

Here's the teaser that will get you (from Will's talk):

(Slide: Programming Next Generation Systems)

That’s the title of my talk. I don’t mean these (Slide of consoles), I mean these (Slide of children playing games) (Laughter).

[blank] design challenge

Following on the heels of my post about the 24-hr comic and it's similarity to the Indie Game Jam, here's another comparison.

In this case, I was reading a post over at VentureBlog (yes, I read a lot of blogs. My RSS agregator is my "Information Beer Bong") about the goings on over at Foo Camp (description here, it's a get together/mini-conference organized by Tim O'Reilly).

On of the sessions they do there is something called " Entrepreneurial Improve Theatre", in which teams are randomly assigned two-word combinations and then have fifteen minutes to prepare a pitch to a panel of pretend VCs (some of whom are real VCs).

Sounds a lot like the GDC's Game Design Challenge, no? I guess that kind of time-pressure, audience feedback, format is common, but it's interesting that it seems to always produce good results.

BTW, The winning entry was "Bottlecap Porn", and I'd argue it wasn't only a good entry, but an novel business idea that actually could work. (See the website for the short pitch)