Thursday, December 27, 2007

Magnifica? Magnifico!

A quick review on what Santa left under the tree:

The DeLonghi Magnifica super-autamo-espresso-robo-machine.

Here's a long review of it that I mostly agree with. Here's my short review.

It's the frikkin bomb! I so love it.

Wednesday, December 26, 2007

Rock Band: Drunken Doozies Download Party Pack

I noticed that Jane posted a wish list of female vocals songs for Rock Band.

I thought I'd add my own, only this time, this is 'songs Harmonix really should have included for drunken Rock Band parties'. Here it is, along with the envisioned end user experience:

  1. Cream and Bastards Rise (Harvey Danger): Alright. It's friday night, you've had a hard week. You wouldn't have to flip burgers if those in the fake music biz hadn't screwed over your fake band. F*** 'em! It's about the music man! [Play 5 times until scoring perfect or your angst has been sated. One beer per iteration]
  2. I'm the Man (Joe Jackson): That's right. You're the man. Let it be known. [Play thrice, with one jager shot per iteration. Why jager? Because you're The Man]
  3. Mexican Radio (Wall of Voodoo): The tequila's been busted out, and now so has this song. (This song isn't on Amazon's mp3 service, but there are a bunch of good covers, see here. If Harmonix opt's for the Bruce Lash version, then move to very end of playlist :-) [play 4 times or until tequila finished and you lose count]
  4. Pump It Up (Elvis Costello): Time to rock out. Go. [Play twice or until sick of it. Do tequila poppers during guitar interlude bits. Yeah, you ran out of tequila on #3, so these are 'miscellaneous poppers']
  5. Iron Man (Black Sabbath): This one isn't in the download pack. The guitarist got carried away on the last song and kicked the controller out. The singer is now just screaming "I AM IRON MAN!" repeatedly while standing shirtless on the coffee table. [Repeat doing so until controller plugged back in. Drink JD directly from bottle throughout]
  6. Bonin' in the Boneyard (Fishbone): The basist has been whining for this one for a while. Fine. [Play once only, and only if he agrees to buy the beer next week. Meanwhile drink the 6 pack of wine coolers he was going to bring over to his ol' lady's place after practice. He wasn't going to get any anyhow. Its a school night]
  7. Hornets! Hornets! (The Hold Steady): OK, you got in a fist fight with the drummer over who finished the coke and should go to the 7-11 for refills. Your girlfriend left because Rock Band doesn't make you sexy. Forget her! Priorities! [Play once. Now might be a good time for the rum. Since the coke is all gone, you mix it with vodka]
  8. Bro Hymn (Pennywise): You and the drummer have made up. Revel in drunken camraderie. [play, say, 10 times or so. Swill malt liquor and spill a little for your dead homies (don't let the fact that you don't actually have 'dead homies' sway you. You don't have a real band either)]
  9. Rock and Roll, Part 2 (Gary Glitter): OK, now we are on a proper bender. The group has reached the point where the chords need to be blurry, and vocals have been reduced to slurred yelling. Screw who has the mic, everyone is the singer now. [Play till you pass out, drinking whatever's left if anything]
  10. There's a track number 10, but no one ever gets to it, so they don't know what it is.

There you go. Harmonix, please get right on it. I'll buy first round!

Tuesday, December 25, 2007

Great laptop bag search of 07

So I figured I'd pick up a new laptop bag.

For a long time I was doing the pseudo-leather laptop briefcase thing, then switched to a backpack that I'd gotten at a tradeshow somewhere. Somewhere along the way I realized I should go the messenger bag route as many have done, as I carried both the same way, slung over one shoulder, ergonomics be damned.

So I started shopping around and am surprised and frustrated by the lack of an overlap between 3 sets of functionality that I'd like to find:
- high level of geek functionality (easy access, lots of pockets for phone, mp3 player, biz cards, pens, etc
- stylish and/or unique (if possible customizable: Why is there no Threadless for messenger bags? Why is 'design your own' limited to a choice of fabric or color, not uploading my own graphics or choosing different strap types, etc)
- finally, while the two above were what I started looking for, I added 'solar powered' to the list after shopping around some. I might give this up, but the idea of gaining a few more hours out of the phone or mp3 player is appealing.

I also like the idea of environmentally appealing (made from recycled/re-used materials), but the high price tag some of these carry is hardly justified and makes it seem its just being done 'for the pitch'. Also, if you really care about the environment then having them shipped from germany or south america or whatever probably negates whatever good you are doing via the recycling.


A few neat ones I ruled out:

  • All The King's Men: Like the belt and the look. Too pricey for the basic bag you get, not enough pockets/etc.
  • Chrome messenger bags: Like the belt system. If I was actually going to use it on my bike frequently, I might have gone this route.
  • Freitag: Made with recycled truck tarpaulins, but they are pretty basic and have to be shipped from europe. (there was another similar one from a cool german company using fabric from recycled mail bags, but I can't find the URL now).
A few candidates I'm looking at are below. If anyone has suggestions, feel free to comment.

  • BumBakPaks: The look is ok (except when wearing it in weirdo backpack mode), I like the versatility. I like the luggage handle pass-thru.
  • Skooba Satchel: High functionality. Seems to get reviewed well. So-so on looks, customizability.
  • Booq Vyper: High Functionality. Sleek looking. However, pricy.
  • Eclipse Fusion: Kind of an OK look. Lower on functionality than some of the others. solar power! Nerd power! (2.5w of it anyway)
  • Reware Juice Bag: OK look, medium functionality, solar power (4W this time), made of recycled soda pop bottles. On the down side, the price could buy a lot of soda pop!
Decisions, decisions...

Sunday, December 23, 2007

Hacker Wiizardry

Apologies for the title. I am as prone to Wii-puns as the rest of the blogosphere.

A number of people pointed me to Johnny Chung Lee's youtube vids. Lee has done some interesting hacks with the Wiimote, and posted vids of them along with explanations. They include:

Interactive Whiteboard:

Minority Report-style finger-tracking:

VR headtracking:

These are all very cool, yes. But the real lesson to take away here is that this is what happens when you base your products on open standards (Wiimote uses bluetooth to communicate). This in turn is predicated on not selling your HW at a loss, which means you have to be damn sure people aren't using it for something other than its intended purpose, but that's the subject of another post...

One does wonder whether the folks at Nintendo are benefiting from these vids in some way. If I were them I'd be replicating the experience and doing some game jams around them to see if they have legs.

Wednesday, December 19, 2007

Game Credits: Labels vs Nuance in a Tag-Cloud Age

[Disclosure/Disclaimer: As I noted in a post a while back, I no longer work for Microsoft. I'll post something about the new gig soon, but I had the following post down as a draft for a while now and thought it important enough to finish. These views are mine and not those of employers past or present :-) ]

The Game Credit thing

A recent Saturday morning consisted of wolfing down the November Game Developer magazine along with my oatmeal and espresso, reading in fits and stops amid the cacophony of Cheerios crunching that my three offspring orchestrated.

The back page article was the months 'Business Level' column by Russell Carroll of Reflexive, and focused on the issues of game credits and specifically on the casual games industry. The issue as a whole has been discussed a lot lately lately. There's an IGDA standards effort underway, Rockstar's not-so-rockstar move on credits in Manhunt 2, etc. This Next-gen article covers the area well.

I have some thoughts on the issue, and the Nov GDMag piece made me jot them down, as I have a few issues with the article.

For those who don't get the subscription (really, you should), Russell makes the following points:

  • That casual games portals (like my former employer's MSN Games, or others like Real Arcade, Yahoo games, etc) don't mention the developer or publisher name on pages where they offer the game for sale. Further more, he insinuates a kind of conspiracy may be at the root of this, asking "Are portals marginalizing developers in order to try and keep another Popcap from rising up?" and stating that this is a question that most portals avoid answering (we, while I was with MSN Games that is, have. I'll get to that).

  • He states that the issue doesn't exist for "non-casual" games. I believe he really means "retail boxed-product" games, but I digress. I think he's wrong regardless.

  • He then claims that his employer, Reflexive, does credit content developers on their site. While I disagree with him on this point, I am grateful that he gives me this mallet with which I can hammer some nails into his argument.

First off, let me state that I agree wholeheartedly that developers should be given credit for their work. On the other hand, I also believe that there are a handful of issues that make this more difficult than it may first seem. I like Russel and respect him but I think he's made this issue a little more cut and dried than it really is.

Before I get to the issues, let's look at an example. I'll take a favorite 'classic' (in the casual space anyway!) example of mine, Diner Dash.

Diner Dash was developed by the fine folks over at GameLab, and published by the equally fine folks over at Playfirst - two companies I love working with, and whom I have a great deal of respect for.

If I go to download Diner Dash on Reflexive's site, I get the following: I see Playfirst cited as the game's creator (incorrect), Gamelab is not mentioned. After installing the download version of the game, I get a splash screen for Reflexive, followed by the game executable putting up splash screen animations for Playfirst and Gamelab.

Installing the same game off MSN's site, I get the following: No mention of developer or publisher on the web page, and after installing, I get the same splash screen order for MSN Games, followed by Playfirst and Gamelab, but then followed by Oberon Media.

Additionally, installing the game from MSN, if you are running Windows Vista, installs an icon in the Vista Games Explorer, with metadata that cites Oberon as the publisher (wrong), and Playfirst as the developer (partially wrong).

Why is this situation so messed up?

Well, there are a handful of issues that Carroll doesn't address in his issue that make this more complicated than it may seem. These include the following:

Channel conflict.

This is a big one, and in many ways is at the root of this whole issue. Channel conflict occurs when manufacturers of goods start to perform roles that put them in direct conflict with companies that normally are partners in the distribution chain. For example, when Apple decided to start operating Apple Stores around the world, it probably didn't sit very well with their distribution and retail partners at the time.

In the digital distribution world, this is a pretty hot topic, since startup costs are relatively low, anyone can at least hang out a shingle and say "we're in the distribution/sales/etc business!".

The reality is that everyone needs to work together to provide a good selection of product to customers wherever they may be. Channel conflict does lead, though, to discussions about how company names are used, and what they imply to the consumer. For example, Are you trying to indicate "Company X makes good games, look for more games by Company X", or are you trying to say "you might get a better deal on Company X games if you bought them directly at the Company X store!".

Antiquated Labels

I believe another issue is that the labels of 'developer' and 'publisher' are rapidly becoming obsolete.

What *is* a publisher anyway? Traditionally, it was someone who provided three functions: financial backing, production assistance, and go-to-market (sales, distribution, manufacture, marketing, etc). However, we are increasingly seeing those roles changed from one title to the next. If a developer funds their own development and production and only uses a publisher for distribution of boxed product - do they deserve the same credit as a publisher who made an early bet on a risky title? What about a company that funds development, but then lets another partner do the go-to-market? Are they both listed as publisher?

The same issue exists with developers. When multiple components of games are outsourced to other companies and/or shared across titles, how do credits work then? We see some of this confusion with publishers moving large franchises from one studio to another for sequels, etc.

I think a (and not necessarily 'the') possible endpoint for all this is something more akin to what we see in the movie industry. Movies from 50 years back had labels more distinctly defined like today's games. Today if you see a movie, you'll see a barrage of company names up front that let you know the names/brands affiliated with a film, but it's not always under concise labels. (e.g. "a John Doe film", "with Company X", "from the minds of Studio Y", etc

These labels become increasingly confused when they move from physical to digital channels. Now the portal may play the role of the retailer and may have a deeper relationship with the customer than just 'a place to buy stuff' (the game may integrate with their meta-game, etc). There are distributors who provide more than just moving a cardboard box from A to B. In the casual space, Oberon media is a big player here. Do they deserve recognition in getting the game in the customer's hands? What if they provided some of the meta-game integration work?

Antiquated labels in an evolving world

The above issue is aggravated by the fact that the world is changing, and these labels that evolved out of big-budget, physically distributed, boxed product games. As muddled as it may be getting for casual games on PC, I think it's going to get far worse for flash and other lightweight web games, mobile, and other segments. We are going to increasingly run into scenarios where new mixes of attribution are going to have to be shoe-horned into existing mechanisms.

An example.

Back when I was making the push to have MSN Games be fully Vista compatible, and helping to define the mechanism by which we'd retrofit games with meta-data for the Vista Games Explorer, we had an issue, and made what I think was a good compromise.

The game meta-data has place for a developer and publisher to be listed. However, there's no concept of the distributor or retailer to be listed, and while *multiple* devs or pubs can be listed, only the first is immediately apparent in the games explorer, and only the first of each is displayed as an active hyperlink.

The compromise we made was to list the developer and publisher, but have the URLs not link to their sites, but to the MSN games site with a flag to display all the games from that one developer. The site has yet to configure itself to that custom flag but I expect at some point in the future it will. regardless, this is a good solution because while it address the competitive channel conflict issue, it doesn't do so by falsely assigning attribution for the games creation.

Multiple layers of channel

Another issue that exists is that while one player in the equation may be trying to do the right thing, its not always apparent WHO the correct attribution should be assigned to! A typical PC games portal may see five hundred different games and/or skus of games in a typical year. Often, many of those come via distributors or publishers. They have to assume that the information they are getting on attribution and credits is accurate, and don't have time to police it all. Same is true for each layer of the channel.

Losing sight of the end goal

One of the things I take away from this 'credit' discussion is that people often are losing sight of - or perhaps just overloading - who the end 'consumer of credits' is, and what the information is supposed to help them with. There are several:

  • End users use credits to identify the artist who provides quality (or conversely, shoddy) games to them, so that they may seek out or avoid more from the same artists. There is value at several levels here: A destination portal that provides content I like (e.g. Manifesto), a publisher that puts the kind of polish I like on games (e.g. EA Sports fans), a developer of envelope-pushing shooters), or a designer who's work I admire (Miyamoto, or Molyneux), etc. End users also use credits/attribution to determine who they should go to for support, or a refund - especially true in the digital distribution space. If someone has a problem running Peggle on their system and wants their money back, but forgets where they bought it, this is an argument for there being some attribution to the retailer.
  • Companies (developers, publishers) use credits/attribution to build brands associated with quality, family-friendliness, family-unfriendliness, or whatever the case may be. They may also use the attribution to try and strengthen relationships with customers (say, if my game is developed by Pogo, and I have a game portal by the same name, I'm hoping you'll make the connection and come visit - and thus the channel conflict issue).
  • Individual artists use credits to build their 'personal brands' or portfolio. They also view it as a form of compensation, in that it just feels good to see your own name up in lights.

Some of these have different answers (Who created this? vs Who should I return this to for a refund?) but we try to jam everything into these two labels of 'developer' and 'publisher'.


I don't have any easy answers. that was the main point of this post is that this is a complicated issue and not just a matter of a few big evil companies trying to keep the little guy underfoot as the GDMag article implied.

I do have a few ideas though:

1. Move into the tag-cloud age. Like the movie business, we should worry less about official 'role labels', and just start listing all those involved. Don't worry about "oh, we did the design, all they did was the mac port". Put your name on enough quality work and people will get it over time. I'm not sure the end user recognizes the difference anyway (at least outside the hardcore space).

2. Understand and communicate your intent, and that of your partners. If you are looking for attribution to promote your studio brand, great. If you are doing so hoping this will drive site traffic so you can sell direct to customers, then don't act surprised when the places those customers are currently buying aren't interested in promoting your brand. [taken to the extreme, you could argue that a commitment to NOT compete with your channel partners could be a strategic advantage, as they may give you opportunities that they may not offer your (shared) competition. This is true for every layer of the channel.]

3. Count on Karma. When in doubt whether to give an individual or a company credit, do so. This is a small industry and the person you 'left off the list' will remember it, and you'll cross paths with them again.

Parting Thought

One final thought is this. It's 'out there' enough that I don't want to list it as a possible solution, but at least food for thought.

What about separating game credits from the game itself? Let games contain URLs to their credits, and let their credits reside as a living body of work, a la wikipedia?

Have the IGDA body create a wikipedia-like 'universal game credit wiki'. it's goal to contain all contributions to all skus of all versions of all games. Games could then choose to opt in to linking directly to their entry, or including credits in the game, or doing both!

A little something to ponder over your holiday festivities. Cheers.

Wednesday, December 12, 2007

Back from Vacation

I'm back after 8 days in sunny hawaii (only 5 of which were sunny :-( ). We rented a little house on the windward coast of Oahu and had a lovely time. Now, back on the grid and back to work!

Halting State's Sharpening Focus

I purchased Charles Stross' Halting State a while back but only got to reading it while on vacation last week.

It's a fun read. Not a great read, but a fun one, and one that should be required reading for those in our industry.

The book is a story of a couple reluctant heros that get wrapped up in an investigation of bank heist that unravels into a story of international espionage, etc, etc. On that basis alone, it's kind of a 'B' read. It's not a superb story as far as heist or spy stories, and doesn't have the page-turning action sequences of, say, Neal Stephenson's Snowcrash, though there are parts that almost get there.

However, what makes the book interesting, and makes Snowcrash a good point of comparison, is that the bank heist takes place in a virtual world, with a band of rogue players cleaning out a bank and then selling off the items for millions via online auctions. The heros' sleuthing takes place in both the real and virtual worlds.

Where the book succeeds, as Raph Koster pointed out a while ago, is in how well it nails all the details and issues around virtual worlds. To quote Raph:

Among the stuff that pops up, “namechecked” so to speak: PvP sploits. God mode. ORLY. Zombie flash mobs. Leveraging ARGs for real work. Impositional game design. VC bubble shenanigans. Cross-world avatar portability. Cons and cosplay. Discworld. LARPing. 4th edition D&D. Second Life. Mirror worlds.

... add to that Augmented Reality, cross-platform gaming, serious games, using VW's to launder money, etc, etc. Stross shows that he really gets it, and as great science fiction should, projects the possible implications that stem from the 'science'.

The thing that struck me most was this: If Stephenson's Snowcrash drew us a picture of the metaverse (and excited a bunch of people enough to run out and start VRML companies :-), then Stross, some fifteen years later, uses his book as a lense to sharpen that picture for us.

Highly recommended. Go Get it!

Sunday, December 2, 2007

Snow Day

It snowed last night, and again this afternoon. Which is fun for kids... and their snowmen brethren!

Its also fun for parents, when they know a flight to Honolulu is just hours away!

Saturday, December 1, 2007

Our House in Bellevue is For Sale

Our house got listed. Or see it on Zillow here.

If you know anyone looking for a lovely home in the area, point them this way.

We really do love the house and wish we weren't leaving it, but alas, 'tis not a mobile home and we are relocating.

Good geek home too. X10 lighting, media room, wired speakers all over the ouse. Includes many hundreds of feet of hardwired gigabit ethernet cable, fished with care by yours truly!


I was reading Yahtzee's Valve Travelogue and this bit about their Bellevue office locale made me laugh:

I notice out of my bedroom window that there's a store down the street called "Crate & Barrel," which, considering, strikes me as a very appropriate position for either it or Valve, as anyone familiar with the writings of Old Man Murray could tell you

If it doesn't crack you up, then you don't remember this piece.