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.


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 Dictionary.com (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 (blogs.intel.com/IT) 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.