Sunday, August 26, 2007

Passed on Pax (again)

Another Pax goes by, and I didn't make it down again. Shame on me! It's in my back yard, too.

Anyhow, while I didn't make it, I sure am glad for the folks it brings to town. Drinks with folks a couple nights ago, and then today I got a note that Clint was in town to demo his game at Pax, so I hooked up with him and Chris Butcher for drinks and more interesting conversation.

Talking big-budget games certainly is a different conversation from the indie-related conversation of the other night. I can't really go into what was discussed, but it's just interesting how many different "spheres of perspective" there can be in this industry of ours.

Anyhow, on Pax, next year I'll attend! Promise!

Zero Punctuation reviews Psychonauts

Bravo! Even better than the last one, and it's bitter and profane WHILE being a *good* review!

Yeah, and for those of you that still haven't bought and played it, shame on you! Go do it now. You can get it cheap and the Xbox version is backward compatible on 360.


Saturday, August 25, 2007

The Wii and The Unhandy Valley

With Pax in town, I went into the city last night and hooked up with Jane, Casey, Andre and some other folks for good ol' geeky conversation.

A particularly entertaining piece of the evening for me was watching (sometimes facilitating, sometimes instigating) an argument between Casey and a guy (forget his name) from Nintendo, about the Wii and more specifically about it's controller.

Casey was expressing a complaint about the Wii controller that he was having trouble articulating. His point was that while it may sense motion, and that may be useful, he was dissatisfied with it because it didn't do what it *promised*.

As of late, I've been finding myself often, in discussions with coworkers, developers, other industry folk, coming back to this point about what it is that you promise the customer. It's a kind of very high-standard, high-level litmus test that you can apply to any product offering you are working on and see if it passes a straight-face test.


Casey's point was that Nintendo was directly or indirectly promising something with the Wii controller that ultimately it didn't deliver. That users expect it to sense position AND motion, but because it's only the latter, then have to get 'trained' on the device. Wii tennis, while fun, has that moment for everyone where they say "oh, I get it, it's not really like a racquet".

Further underlining the point, I added that in Wii sports baseball, it expects motion, not position, and thus bunting isn't an option. I can't just hold up the bat in the right place and let the ball hit IT.

The Nintendo guy couldn't quite grok why this was an issue, which is when I made what I think is a clever analogy:

Similarly to how there is an "uncanny valley" that refers to how, as artificial representations of humans illicit an aversive response as the approach - but don't reach - realism; I beleive there is an "unhandy valley" that occurs as methods of input to a simulation approach their real-life equivalents - but don't quite reach it.

Anyone who's tried any of the VR simulations of the past decade can attest to this, only most of those are disconnected enough that they don't approach the valley. I think the Wii controller gets near enough (or to Casey's point, sets the expectation that it gets near enough) that people have this disconnect on their first try with it.

Now, don't get me wrong, the Wii and Wii sports is good ol' fun. But there is that training step, and within it, a little bit of disappointment that it wasn't really magic after all.

I do wonder, as these types of controllers improve (position + motion, lower latency, higher precision, etc, etc), will consumers grow more enthralled with them... or will we find that the valley runs deep and wide?

Monday, August 20, 2007

ZOMG! Best game review EVAR!

Thanks to Ozymandias for the link to the Escapist new video feature, Zero Punctuation. This episode's review is of the Heavenly Sword PS3 demo, and it is the funniest thing I've seen in ages. Must see.

Sunday, August 19, 2007

The Internets are on FIRE!

Man, there's a lot of stuff going on, and I don't have time to blog it all with the detail I'd like.

Here's a smattering of this week's interesting tidbits, and a quick thought or two on each. More when there's time... work's got me pretty busy right now.

  • EA gets caught with their hand in the cookie jar, or rather in the Wikipedia, for makin' a little revisionist history. Jeez guys, I get why some clueless government lackey does this, but a tech company? Don't know know you can't put the toothpaste back in the tube? Also, I just don't get why people think their company's wikipedia entry is what gives tehm their rep. Your company gets it's rep from it's behavior, and thus ya just screwed the pooch a little more, didn't ya?

  • Clint Hocking takes PC Gamer's Vederman opening salvo on Far Cry 2 ("will it be art? Will it have the power to affect you emotionally on anything other than a surface level? Probably not.") as a personal throwing down of the gauntlet. One thing about that Clint, he does love his wicked problems (see also here). Go Clint Go! We're rooting for ya!

  • Bioshock is getting crazy good reviews. While I'm glad for the developer and for what it's doing for our platforms, I more depressed about it overall, and have a lengthier post I'd like to write about "local maxima and the game industry", but that's for another day.

  • Not only is Facebook going to eat the social networking universe, it's also turning out to be a pretty compelling game platform as well - especially for play-by-mail type scenarios. No wonder people say it's a black hole.

  • Related to the above, I think it's only a matter of time before Scrabulous (I've been playing the facebook app version) gets sued and shut down. Oh well, enjoy while you can!

  • Parks Associates reports that gaming is the most popular activity on the web - more than blogging/reading/socialnetworking/youtubin', etc, etc. (And no, this doesn't contradit my previous post - the games will just move onto facebook - it's the platform, silly).

  • EA says user created content is the next big thing in games. I agree. This is another subject I need to do a longer post on, but I have come around 100% on the UGC thing. I will say a couple quick things: (1) I don't think it's going to happen in the way EA anticipates - or likes, (2) there's going to be a TON of interesting discussion on user and creator IP rights, ownership, copyright protection, etc, in the coming years (like I said at the conclusion of my MIGS talk last year - Customer Ownership is going to come by granting customers ownership. Also relevant is this 2004(!) Clay Shirky quote: "So forget about blogs and bloggers and blogging and focus on this -- the cost and difficulty of publishing absolutely anything, by anyone, into a global medium, just got a whole lot lower. And the effects of that increased pool of potential producers is going to be vast."

That's all for now. More once I catch my breath.

Wednesday, August 15, 2007

Microsoft: Go ahead, party on our game IP

OK, that's a bit of an overstatement, but our esteemed legal eagle and blogger DonkeyXote points us to Microsoft's recently released game content usage rules that are cool because (a) they let the gamer community use game assets for things like fan art, machinema, etc, and (b) because they are written in English, not legalese.


We know that people like you love our games and sometimes want to use things like gameplay footage, screenshots, music, and other elements of our games (“Game Content”) to make things like machinima, videos, and and other cool things (your “Item” or “Items”). We’d like to make that easier for you. So long as you can respect these rules, you can use our Game Content to make your Items.

Yes, there are rules, but this is still pretty progressive for a large company. Pretty cool.

Tuesday, August 14, 2007

Jon Blow interview

If you haven't read it, it's great.

I am so looking forward to Braid.

Monday, August 6, 2007

A fool and her yen...

Via the awesome TokyoMango, comes The Great Happiness Space: Tale of an Osaka Love Thief, a documentary about host-club workers, the hard drinkin', smokin' and hair-sprayin' young men that entertain women for money. The male equivalent of the hostess bar, a Japanese phenomema that Westerners already have a hard time understanding, it seems even more strange to many over here that women would pay for such companionship.

The documentary is great in how it peels the layers of the onion off the 'glamorous life' facade. And the twist that comes 30 or so minutes in was a complete and brilliant suprise. The closing shots of one worker drunkenly wobbling away on his bicycle in the early morning are a brilliant close to the film.

Watch documentary in full (~1hr) here.
[BTW, the movie is worth watching for the HAIR alone. This would make a list of 'top ten best hair movies', ranking alongside Saturday Night Fever, Gumball Rally, etc]

Wednesday, August 1, 2007

Mickey, Put on your Parka - Disney buys Club Penguin

To the earlier discussions about large media companies getting into the MMO space, today we here that Disney buys Club Penguin.

Things that are interesting about this:

  • $350M. That's a lot of kippers, kids.
  • Not sure how that compares to subscription revenue, but as I said earlier, I'm not sure it matters.
  • Club Penguin is based in Kelowna, which is very close to some kick-ass skiing. Why was I not told!? This is important!