Sunday, November 30, 2008

Fantastic Distraction

I showed the twins (aged 5) Fantastic Contraption, and they LOVED it. Tom especially so. I was surprised how many levels they made it through without any help from dad.

I feel far better about letting them spend three straight hours playing with this than I do about a 30 minute span on the infernal webkinz site.
[On a related note, I can't beleive how quickly the kids pick up computer navigation skills. The other day Tom told his mom in the car, "when we get home, I'm going to look on the computer for some crafts to do because it's a rainy day.". Alisa asked him how to do that and he replied, singing like the Yahoo jingle, "GOO-GLE!". She then asked him what that was, and he answered "you type w-w-w-DOT-COM-DOT-GOOGLE, and then type in the box what you want to find. I'm going to type 'kids crafts'". Holy crap. Probably time I have a talk with them about what not to type into a browser, etc.]

On irony and strange bedfellows

We bought Alisa a new laptop, her 6 year old Toshiba having finally given up the ghost. (We bought a Viao, about which a series of whiny posts is coming soon).

During the setup/migration process, I had to install the latest Java runtime from Sun.

It's somewhat comical that the Sun JVM install piggybacks the MSN toolbar (presumably with a similar buck-an-install kickback that Google's offers), and then after the accept/decline of the toolbar, is immediately followed by a splash screen ad for OpenOffice.

Tuesday, November 25, 2008

Why futurizing sucks, part II least if it sucks if you are Ben Stein, or anyone else other than Peter Schiff in this compilation:

Why futurizing sucks, part I

via Kotaku:

In 1982 the president of Arista records, Clive Davis, wrote an editorial in Billboard magazine entitled "You can't hum a video game." His point was that, although the then newly-popular pastime of gaming was giving record companies the heebie-jeebies by threatening to eat into the spending power of the youth market, music would always have the upper hand compared to this newfangled bleepy nonsense.

Irony, she is a cruel mistress. Thirty Twenty Six years later, Gamasutra reported that Aerosmith have earned more from their Guitar Hero spin-off Guitar Hero:Aerosmith than from any single one of the fourteen albums they have released to date. The A&R man responsible for discovering Aerosmith? Step forward Clive Davis.

Click thru to read the rest of the post. It's interesting

Sunday, November 23, 2008

Square sets sail for yesterday's new world

Square announces that they are going to be doing downloadables. Cool.

Of course the money quote is:

"...All formats – Xbox Live, WiiWare, PlayStation Network – are all viable formats for us"

Those aren't all the formats though. Are they? Just those that developers have been excited about for a few years.

PC, iPhone, (DS & PSP also support downloads now don't they?), etc.

Anyhow, says something about the industry's myopia. Kind of like europeans setting sail for the new world when those that settled it are already in wagons heading west.

Twitters from the attic

Alice points us to this neat Botanicalls DIY kit, a kit to build a device to that you sit in your houseplant and it twitters you if it's been overwatered, is in need of water, etc.

Pretty neat, but I could see this having other uses. I could see myself sitting one in the sump pump in the crawlspace, so I get a message on my phone if we have any flooding occurring. Cool.

As an aside, I love that there is so much open source & DIY hackery still alive in hardware. I really should bust out the ol' soldering iron!

Saturday, November 22, 2008

Montrealers live a polygon

photo.jpg, originally uploaded by Kim Pallister.

Just one. They share it.

This pic was a bad tagline that someone came up with for the MIGS conference. The photoshopped image in the background is from Habitat 67 ( a condo development from Expo67 famous for it's architectural cachet.

I guess someone thought it looked like an Unreal level or something :-)

The Shipping Machine

photo.jpg, originally uploaded by Kim Pallister.

From Jason Mitchell's MIGS talk, a second-hand pic of Valve's "shipping machine" which I mentioned in the post about his talk

Thursday, November 20, 2008

MIGS (Post 4 of N): Jon Blow closing keynote

Jon got a massive turnout for the closing keynote of the show. I took some notes, but didn't post till now as thurs/fri were pretty busy and then in transit. Anyhow, In rough form, here they are:

"A fundamental conflict in contemporary game design”

Inspiration to be found for those of us to think about problems

Goals: To touch people, to change there lives.

Other media have no problem doing this.

Today we limit ourselves to 'If it was profound  to you, it was from a game designer standpoint, not an emotional standpoint.'

Things that we do as a matter of course that prevent us from reaching those goals.

How do you make something important, profound, meaningful?

It musn't be.. Fake unimportant meaningless.

Two ways to be important to people. By expression. By introduction of activity.

Story games (fable, half life 2, GTA)

Activity games (Madden, Wii sports, Pacman, Go)

Developers are always trying to make better stories.

Academics are working on dynamic story techniques.

Fallout 3, far cry 2, attempting dynamic story.

Story games are inherently conflicted.

People can sense a conflicted work. It wont strike them deeply. Disharmouious. It won’t resonate. How can we remove the conflict?

Conflict 1: story meaning vs dynamical meaning.

Dynamical meaning.

Art games (very small)

Communicating via behavior and perceptual primitives.

The Marriage by rod humble.

“Here’s what Rod’s marriage feels like”

Gravitation by Jason Rohrer

Expressing “real life” themes through rules of interactivity.


Stares become ice blocks/ideas become concrete projects

Blocks preven you reaching child – projects interfere with family.

(bug) (weird interpretation)

Imagine I introduce a new element:

Ice block score decrease changes with a powerup. (stops counter)

What does this freeze mean in this game that is a metaphor for work/life balance.

More rules added, less pure interpretation, more of a mishmash

By adding/subtracting rules you travel a continuum. The resulting game will always have some meaning.

In the games industry we ignore this interpretation

Extend this to any game

Any time we stet up a system of behavior

“dynamical system”

…that system communicates something to the player, whether intentional or not.

This is the dynamical meaning.

(see Ian Bogosts “procedural rhetoric”, doesn’t need to be rhetorical or procedural)

Gravitaiton has thematic elements but does not tell a story.

Conflict 1:

Story meaning vs dynamical.

Mainstream designers not thinking about dynamical meaning. Rather implmenting story and basic gameplay mechanic that is “fun”. The story and fun mechanics have separate meanings that often clash.

Like having a scoring of film “happy carnival music" through a funeral scene.

We have happy carny music over every funeral…

How does this manifest in some popular games?

Altruism vs balance.

Bioshock: Rules showed very small token difference in ADAM whether or not you saved the girls.

GTA4: “I like Kate”. No, I don’t. The game rules expressed to me that I don’t care about her.

HL2: Alex relationship vs game progress.

We want to prevent these games from  seeming fake.

How to resolve these conflicts?

-          Don’t use story

-          Don’t use dynamical meaning

-          Make dynamical meaning match story.

A)     Don’t use story

Story gives you “interesting mental stuff

What happens next, people doing things, Themes, moods

Can we supply interesting mental stuff that doesn’t come from story?

Whereas Rohrer-style games are hard, anyone can write a story?

How could we scale Gravitiation up?

"Any dumbass can write a story from a game, and if you look at our games, a lot of dumbasses do"

The trend will always be toward the easiest things to throw money at (known quantity)

B) Don’t use dynamucal meaning

-          Technically impossible. It’s automatic

-          You could navigate to 0. So this devolves to case C.

C) “Tight coupling” (Bogost) or elemintate conflicts.

Like pressing bubbles out of wallpaper.

“change aspects of story that don’t fit story, vice versa (gameplay)

Designers not trained to consider dynamical meaning.

AAA production models do not support this. (late gameplay changes are very expenseive!)

2) Conflict 2: challenge vs progression.

We base most mainstream games on story, and also challenge.

Why challenge? It’s viscreral, fun, etc, but more fundamentally.

Challenge communicates to you that your interaction 'means something’ that it is important or necessary.

Story needs to occur, challenge is a friction preventing you from getting there.

Story is a reward

Challenge is about withholding that reqard until we deserve it.

Leads to dramatic presentation of non-difficulty ‘God of War, Fable 2 – seems like there’s a challenge – dramatic presentation of stuff that isn’t difficult.

Dynamic Difficulty Adjustment.

The Arrow can’t go to zero

“like “suspension of disbelief”

But for games and importance.

A reason to exist.

Without ANY challenge, that suspension is hard to maintain.

Faux challenge is unlikely to impact someone deeply, to change the player’s life.

Challenge is a precious thing: we can do it much more derictly that other media. We waste this. [Note: Braid makes a good case for this, doesn't it. The difficulty of some of the later puzzles really made the reward of progress that much sweeter; to me anyhow]

Challenge substitutes

Not difficult, but interesting.

“invitation-style” alternatives.

Open Problem: how to make game meaningfully response to player’s choices, without blocking progress.

Conflict 3: Intreactivity vs pre-baked delivery.

Trying to create Drama or Crafted Impact.

Required careful pacing and framing


Interactivity sabotages delivery.

You don’t know where the player came from, or what he just did.

Deus Ex spoof from “old man murray”

Interactivity sabotates structure!

Chehkov's Gun

“if you say in the first chapter that there’s a rifle hanging on the wall, then in chapter 2,3 it better go off”

Economy of audience attention.

Sideeffect of foresshadowing and justification

In a good story, it’s not random out of context gun.

Requires and intense preprocess.

Story is a filtered presentation of events that have already happened. ß games haven’t already happened.

Why is the gun there? What’s the history, etc.

Drama manager – “intelligent dramama manager? Yeah, show me… Can never match a human drama manager. A human drama manager can never match a human writing a pre-baked story.

Character animation analogy: Pre-baked CGI vs Live Physics {<-- ooh, good point!]

Recap: story telling techniques we suck at:




Potetic adjustment

Tone adjustment

Vocal emphasis

Body language



Dynamic stories are

Pretend stories

Poorly structured

Poorly delivered

Will always be awkward second fiddle to linear media. Not a good core value proposition for our medium.

Don’t use story. At least as not as a core value prop. We said this was hard

What does story provide people, can we provide it in a different way?

Why not pursue examples from other forms? Music, sculpture, painting, etc.

Art games are a good place to start. How afar can we go in this direction?

To try completely, we art game authors must abandon “the message model of meaning”

The message model of meaning is insufficient

"The moral of the story is”

High school: Taught to read works and say what they are about.

Gamers get mad at art games. Inherently pretentious. Being condescended to. This is often true! If the message model of meaning is applied, whe the works are created. Trivializes meaning. (high school 5 paragraph essay)

[Frank Lanz quote, I missed part of it, so my apologies for perhaps butchering it...]

"...meaning which is less specific, less concrete and deliberate, harder to define, harder to pin down, trancends the author reader conduit model of message styles. "

Message model author is at least a little deluded. The true meaning of a game is multidimensional and fuzzy. … more complex than what you set out to build.

"if I understand it, it can’t be that important."

Instead, what if I build something that readhes beyond the eduge of my understanding and we all explore it together. They will have a play experience that is very deep and very precious and meaningful.

So what does Freeze mean? I don't know, but I think I'll stop here.

Wednesday, November 19, 2008

In the department of "you can't make this crap up"

Big three auto CEOs flew private jets to ask for taxpayer money.

"...the three companies defendede the CEOs travel as standard procedure."

Well perhaps the problem is with the procedure then, monsieur and madames PR lackeys?


MIGS (Post 4 of N): Randy Smith's talk

Randy's talk was entitled "Games are Art, and what to do about it."

As I get older, my attention is turning away from games and toward other media. Play less frequently these days [me too!]. Is this because I've changed? Games have? or are they not changing in the same way I am? Decided to spend some time thinking about this.

Some games I worked on (Thief , Thief II, dark messiah, Deus Ex, System shock)

Lots of talk about “games and art”. I spent some time thinking about this. 
Looked at some other media. 
Scott McCloud’s Understanding Comics: pic of Superman vs Maus 
- ‘Closure is the space between the panels’
- Is Interactivity the games equivalent of Closure?
[McCloud is must-read for everyone in games. This one and reinventing comics as well]

Well, what is interactivity:
Interactivity: “How user input is translated into Activity on the screen”
Good enough definition for this lecture.
- Magnitude of interactivity is how much the game listends to and applies player input
- (indigo prophesy reference) Discrete vs (Tony hawk) analog
- Stepwise vs continuous
- Isolated vs connected
- Designer-authored vs player authored

"choose your own adventure" books are really “choose between several of someone else’s adventure” books

- Interactivity is technical …for now…

Language of cinema

- Media literacty (example of day-to-night fade. Used to be the film had to 'explain' this wasn't an eclipse, just elapsed time - by say showing a guy waking up in the morning)
- Dialog and such (no interactivity)
- Shooting, running (lots – because we know how to do it)

- Magnitude of interactivity

A functional definition of art

“Joseph campell – The hero with a thousand faces”

- Consistent trends
- Certainty of death
- Need for connection
- Fundamental isolation
- Stories as functional

Robert mckee [missed the quote/definition]
- Any screenplay worth a damn contains relevance, honest

- How should I live my life?
- What is life like for you?
- ‘getting through the thick wall’

Comparison between ‘art games’ and ‘product games’

Top 10 movies list, Titanic on top.

Why think about games as art

- You could reach more peopoe
- You could make more money

- Art works because it reaches people: Aesthetics

How it works, how it feels

Narrative: how it works
o Children of men: walks you thought how it works to as he transitions from self-interest to selfless.
o Cinematography gives you how it feels.

Sinead o’connor ‘nothing compares to you’
o Narrative is in the lyrics - how it works
o Music and voicing – how it feels

Message comes from – topics of the artistic piece.
- How the piece represents the work represents how it feels

Passage [art game]
o Left to right, ages to old – metaphor for life
o Picking up spouse
o Metaphor for memory and anticipation

o How it works to escape the cops [mechanics, balance speed with out-of-controlness]
o How it feels to escape the cops [releif, pacing, less heightened sound effects]

- Artist --> mechanics --> dynamics -->aesthetics --> player
- When leader is knocked out, the rest of pack scatters (mechanical)
- Players often attempt to knock out leaders quickly (dynamics)
- Aesthetics – “I feel like  calculating hunter identifying and taking out the leader"
- Leader is identical to others – player can’t identify – “I feel like I flail in desperation”
- Possibility space
- An understood designer authored range
- Discovery through play
- “which is the right aesthetic for your message? (flail vs calculating) – depends what you want to get across…

FUN! Fairness, goals, clarity, balance

The Dogma of fun
- Topics -> aesthetics, messages --> mechanics
- Topic: licensed IP, your own idea, team project
- Aesthetic: what are you trying to say? What excites you? Why? Keep asking yourself
- What mechanics and tuning will produce that result

Post apocalyptic MMO example
- Expression of human struggle
- Tenuous alliances
- starvation economy
- individual more vulnerable than a group
- Why? Starvation economy? why do I like that as a designer? then ask why again to that answer.

Example: RTS meets FPS
- Tiberium
- Jump jets - LOD renderer - lonliness of leadership
- Audio and visual touches - fog, fade noise out
- Giving RTS orders from 1st person
- Soldier react to being sent into battles

- Maturing art form
- Interactivity is our distinct thing
- Mechanics carry the aesthetic
- Overall interactive work is a possibility space
- Are we going to be the ones to mature thie art form
- Limited range of topics
- Attached to dogmas
- Interactivity is technical, but the barrier to entry will drop some day

MIGS (Post 3 of N): Jason Mitchell's talk

Jason Mitchell (former ATI, now at Valve a couple years) gave a talk on "Connecting Visuals to Gameplay)

Rough notes below. Lots of screens and some video from Team Fortress 2 and the recently released "left for dead". Worth googling both before you read the notes below.

We'll look at two games today
- Distinctive silhouettes
- Stylized rendering
Left for dead
- Dark, gritty horror
- “filmic effects"
- Lessons from TF2

TF - Orignally as a quake mod 10 years ago, then half life mod
Class is selected by players. 
Initial TF2 1999 screenshot.
- Screen showing more “realistic” FPS, nothing distinctive
- Evolved to be stylized
- Gameplay (different classes)
- Readability
- Branding

Read hierarchy: What does player attempt to ascertain?
- Friend or foe (color)
- Class – run or attack (distinctive silhouettes, Body proportions,  Weapons, shadows, hats and clothing folds)
- Selected weapon – what’s he packin?
- Highest contrast at chest level
- Greadient from dark feet to light chest
- Lots to draw your eye up to chest level.

Early 20th centry conmmercial illustration influences.
Cornell, Leyendecker, Norman Rockwell
JC Leyendecker was biggest influence
- Clothing folds
- Rim highlights (light source orthogonally) – helps silouetttes pop.
- “red terminator” – where normal crosses orthogonal – increases saturation at that point, makes it red – actually makes sense inf you think about subsurface scattering

Screenshot from early short videos (“meet the heavy”)
- Before and after 2D paintover to make the image pop – rim highlighting was awesome.

Character creation
- Character silhouette (showed silouette of elephant, everyone gets it, despite it being orange)
- Bulding block, Identifiable at first read
- Interior shapes, Keep it iconic
- Work out design in ¾ pose
- Model sheet
- 3D model
- Front rear views
- Base ambient occlusion map, that's then used as a guide for painting skin
- Final character
- Iterate on the above

Environment design
- Create a compelling immersive worlds
- Team districntion through material hue/saturation/etc desaturate relative to players.
- Uncluttered painterly look.
- Bases – blue featured concrete, steel; red featured wood, sand.
Miyazaki was an influence – brushwidth foreshortened example. 
Left for Dead

Co-op first person horror, Dynamic shared narrative – "experience an action movie with friends"
AI director

Photo  - The valve “Shipping machine” (When games go live, they have a BIG RED BUTTON on a control panel of sci-fi proportions that Gabe hits at midnight. This then sends an 'enter' keystroke to a person's PC. Awesome. Took a pic, will post soon).

Gameplay movie (awesome).

Lessons learned from TF2
Filmic effects
Shaders enhance dark setting.

-Color correction
-Local contrast enahancement
-Dynamically communicate game state

Showed step by step
Color correction made it a bit greyer, desaturated
Grain – detail in greyed out darker areas
Vignette – mainly along top, to focus attention down at center.
Local contrast – highlights area around the player

We’re not film, we’re an interactive medium, so we might have info and cues we are looing to give to player
“sideband communications channel” like music score to film director
Gave example of normal stress level vs high stress
(local contrast driven higher, more stark
"Third strike", totally washed out, stark contrast - almost black and white.

[one note is that all the filmic effects were weilded subtly, but in sum were dramatic. good lesson here]

Lighting for darkness
Support fiction
- Fires
- Headlights of abandoned vehicles “clearly something has gone wrong”
- aid naviation - players tend to follow light.
"Smoking the set"
- Separate foreground from background
- - fog, light colord fog in dark areas to contrast with silhouettes, of infected in mid-ground
- Particles – adds atmostphere and helps accentuate silhouettes.
- Subway example of grey fog.
- Particles coming up from manhole
Reload shove and muzzle flash
- Player is the light source
- - increase drama and immersion (when Flashlight is attached to the weapon, and you are using it to light up a dark hall, reloading has consequence).

Self shadowened normal mapping
- Normal mapping locally alters surface orientation, causing detailed lighting effects
- HL2 “radiosity normal mapping”
- Turned out to be free by refactoring shader code
[note effect here was noticable but not huge, felt like he delved a little to deep into this one vs others. Hmm...]

Wet environments
- Film technique
o Wash down the set to geth that moview dark look
o Film noir
- Adds details to dark settings while still feeling dark

Then showed gameplay elements to show the above.

Tuesday, November 18, 2008

MIGS (post 2 of N): Warren Spector keynote

Notes from Warren's awesome keynote. [my comments in braces]

Preamble from introductory speakers [BTW, government-influenced/run conferences always have too many guys introducing one another to introduce the next guy who introduces the next guy, etc. Ugh]
- Fifth year of conference - from 500 attendees to expected 1400
- In same 5 years, from 2k games industry folk in Montreal to now 6600, of which 4500 are in "actual development/production" [why do they feel the need to break this number out?]
- 88 speakers at this years conf.


Warren Spector keynote

Look back at 2005 talk – best of times, worst of times; had a pessimistic view; cautionary note; didn’t think next gen HW was going to solve everything.

So how’d we do?

“I was wrong about almost everything”

Positives still positive; negatives not so bad.

So why am I feeling good?

Gaming’s renaissance … but... Economic turn, Projects killed, Studios shut down, Layoffs, Plummeying stock, etc [posted some numbers - same ones I posted last week plus a few more]

So I was thinking, should I not do a positive talk? Should I come up with new topic? 


We are still in a renaissance. Optimistic like I haven’t bene in a while. 

Doing “ok” compared to other industries

We can be THE medium of 21st century

From book “A Whole new mind” by daniel pink.

6 secrets to successs

  • Design
  • Story
  • Symphony
  • Empathy
  • Play
  • Meaning

Holy crap – games do all this already.

Still optimistic... because

  • -          We are doing a lot of the right things.
  • -          What’s bad for OLD biz is good for NEW biz
  • -          We’re here to stay

Online: Best entertainment bargain on earth, WoW reportedly $1B+/yr; Facebook games, tons of fun and I'm not paying a dime. "$60 game is a bargain compared to a $60 date night” [<-- ok, that's a money quote right there]


“players have unprecedented control over their experiences. Whether competing in in facebook; building levels in LBP…” [missed rest of quote] - note from a playboy october 2008 article. Mainstream press talking about player control and UGC. Holy Cow!!! "When mainstream starts saying things like this, we are in a whole new world"

So no new topic, but new slant on things:

Instead of celebrating;  Talk about what got us here, What do we have to do to stay here; What to do to continue to progress

The Big Risk

  • When the going gets tough; really, most people don't 'get going', they get conservative
  • We need innovation and a renewed pioneer spirit
  • Styles of Innovation

I'm going to use a 'discovery of the new world' metaphor

  • Invention (scientists)
  • Discover (Exploreres)
  • Refinement (Settlers)
  • Re-invention (pioneers)

Scientists – turn darkness into light – ask fundamental questions – build boats, sextants, notice curvature of horizon and wonder Hmm.... 

Steve Russel, Ralph Baer, Nolan Bushnell, etc

Explorers – use the scientists tools and inventions to go find new worlds – go find new things with them, make the maps - take that boat and go west.

Will Wright – Richard Garriot, Miyamoto, etc

Settlers – pilgrims, john smith at Jamestown – follow in footsteps of explorers, settle the new world in rough conditions and settle it and thrive

Chris Roberts; blizzard, Warren Spector falls in this camp, etc. 

Don’t invent, synthesize, refine. Richard garriot established the rules that I wanted to break; Chris Roberts merged flight sims and star wars and role play to come up with wing commander


Moving into re-invention: Pioneers; Kitt Carson, Lewis and Clark; Self-conscious, sometimes university trained, interpreters; internet frontier is one of them; reinventing existing genres;

Flow, Braid, Rag doll kung fu, Crayon Physics, Facade, Portal, Everyday Shooter, Jello car, The night journey, Passage [ note to self, I have played all these games but the last two. Added to 'to play' list]

Refreshing to those that have played existing genre 100 times. Explosion of innovation in existing gernes, sometimes completely turned on their ear. Elevating them to the level of art

Not just little guys, but established guys ALSO being pioneers!!!

Spore, rock band, fallout 2, wii fit, fable II, little BigPlanet; Guitar Hero; - established companies; EA doing 5 original IP’s this year. Go EA!!!

Why innovate?

We’re not done figuring this medium out

  • -          Culturally,
  • -          Aesthetically
  • -          Commercially
  • -          Personally

 Cultural:  More than nerd culture,  More than time wasting pastimes, More than adrenaline fueled fantasy

Aesthetically: How do games make meaning? What sorts of experiences can we provide? Maybe with nothing than story? What sorts of images?

Commercially: “I knew I needed to play portal minutes after seeing it because I’d never been able to do that in a game before – JPS programmer

-        Personally:

Players experincdes hundreds of games. Developers get to make far fewer. Make each one MEAN something? [note, this doesn't pop off the page, but the intonation was along the lines of 'no one lies on their death bed and says 'I wish I'd made more sequels to madden'. Will you lie on your death bed and say, 'I made a game that MEANT something to people']

Where DO we innovate?

Plenty of problem areas:

  Interactive stories

-          Developer created?

  • Player driven
  • Collaborative storytelling
  • Better actors
  • Character graphics
  • Physicality
  •  Expressiveness
  • Character interaction
  • Communication
"in a standard video game, it’s easy to kill someone, but impossible to talk to them"

Jonathan Rauch

Non-compbat AI

  • Stuck with adolescent power fantiastis
  • Limited verbs, limited player expression tools.

[thought: they are animals that articulate well?]

More compelling Worlds

  • Worlds (or sandboxes)
  •  Allow deep player interaction options
  • Not movie sets
  •  Limited player interaction - kind of goes against what we stand for, no?

Virtual Dungeonmasters

  • -          Good stories are made, not found
  • -          Systems should respond to players
  • -         dynamically modify local conditions
  • -          Accommodate unexpected choices

Not by Online Alone

  • MMO should be 'More Mainstream Online'


  •         A coherent language of design
  • -          Online biz model that actually works
  • -          Consistent sources of tenanted devs
  • -          Reasonable approach to the preservation of our history

How do we innovate

“invention has it’s own algorithm"

 - Malcomlm gladwell ( “into the air” NY Times column?)

How do we innovate:


  • 1.       Go indie
  •     Find a patron or self fund
  • 2.       Be famous and eccentric
  • G Go undercover
  •   Be part of a team, but introduce SOMETHING
  • Join a cult
  • -          i.e. you join Valve, you know what you are getting

-          start your own movement if you can’t find one.

Go small or self-organize

-          you can’t dictate innovation

-          - spherical core =  general direction

-          Self organizing teams =  execution

 Be open to change

a.       Flexibility in execution is key

b.      Blindtest early and often

c.       Fail quickly & often

                                                               i.      Regroup

                                                             ii.      Revover

                                                            iii.      Redirect (also quickly)_

Have a purpose

“bigness of purpose is what seperates the 20th century and 21st century organizations. You must strive to change the world"

Umair Haque - “Obamas seven lessons for radical innovators”

Harvey Smith – started at origin as a tester – was there 2-3 AM every night. Talking about what mattered about games he wanted to make. That’s what led him to where he could make his own games…

We are not immune to economic downturn. But as a medium, we are doing well. I see exhilarating joyous innovation and progress, in academia, in garages, in major pubs. Haven’t seen innovation like this

Publishers, don’t get conservative

Indie developers, dare to be great

Team members, fine ONE new thing.

Too many indies who’s work looks like a portfolio piece.

BE AN AGENT FOR CHANGE wherever you are

Geroge Bernard shaw quote:

“Reasonable people adapt themselves to the world. Unreasonable people attempt to adapt the world to themselves. All progress, therefore, depends on unreasonable people.” 

MIGS 08 (1 of N posts)

I'm at Montreal Game Summit this week. Have some meetings to attend but am managing some sessions for a change, so will try to blog notes from a number of them. Watch for them in coming posts.

Overall notes on the show:
- good attendance so far (looks 1000-1200-ish?), but they've opened the closing session tommorrow to the public, which is conference speak for "oh my god, how are we going to make the numbers we promised on our hockey-stick graph?". 
- Some great hallway conversations.
- Small show but the caliber of talks and attendees is awesome. 

Sunday, November 16, 2008

Random thinking on bulbs.

Our house has a lot of light bulbs. Lots of them. Most are recessed halogen floods. They burn out from time to time and they aren't cheap to replace. I hadn't relaced them with CFL's as they are of a particular form factor that is hard (short-necked 50w PAR30's, if you care).

Anyhow, fed up, I decided to bulk purchase them online. Price comparison:

Halogen at Home Depot: ~$9 each; 50w
Same online: ~$5 each; 50w
CFL equivalent online: ~$18 each; 15w draw
LED equivalent online: ~$25 each; 4w draw (but only equivalent to a 30W bulb brightness)

So if I wanted to replace them all (about 50 in the house), there's a $600 delta between CFL's and the regular halogens. On the other hand,at 9c per KW/hr, there's a savings of 16c/hr for every hour we have all the lights on, or maybe something like 5c/hr averaged over the course of a day, or $1.20/day. Call it $1 a day. So they pay for themselves in 2yrs or so.

Of course, they pay for themselves more quickly if used in high-usage lights, so that's where I'm going to start, having ordered less than a dozen of them. Will start with the kitchen and house entry and we'll see from there.

The LEDs should be an even bigger savings, but I'm a little worried the ones I found are too dim. Will look for some brighter ones and maybe try those out.

Friday, November 14, 2008

Economy: Well, at least we all agree

I was at a business dinner last night where the subject of the economy came up. Opinions ranged from "everything back to normal in 6 months" to "slump for 3-4 years".

At least the games publishers are in agreement. From back-to-back articles on Gamasutra:

Ubisoft: Next year will be great! Yay!

Take Two: It doesn't look promising! Boo!

Microsoft: There'll be some impact, but we're pretty comfortable! Meh!

Brash Entertainment unavailable for comment!

It should be noted that the comments above were mostly in response to questions about this holiday season's sales. On that front, I fall in the camp of 'modest impact'. 

PS3 as the pricier platform is going to feel some hurt. Nintendo's going to further rocket ahead due to their price-focused hail mary with the Wii. Good for them. Xbox should do well too, offering value beyond the PS3 for the hardcore gamer. Title sales should be fine for the A titles, but I wonder whether the falloff curve for B titles will be steeper.

I'm really pessimistic about long-term prospects though. I think pubs are going to tighten the reins on any projects they don't feel are absolutely on track and solid prospects for AAA hits, which means a lot of projects that would have stayed afloat previously now will get canned. That's going to mean a lot of studios having the rug pulled out from under them, and if they aren't sitting on a pile of cash (and many aren't), there's no access to credit to make payroll & keep projects alive while they line up a new publisher. I really hope I'm wrong.

I had a lunch discussion with someone yesterday about a studio we'd done some work with that went under when their publisher funding got cut. Someone commented that it was stupid to be running a high-burn rate operation with no cash in the bank.

I made the analogy that it was like playing poker in the following situation: You are short stack or perhaps close to it. You don't have the money to buy in, but someone is willing to back you. You manage to double up every couple hands, but to your frustration, the blinds are actually doubling every couple hands as well. You are constantly at risk of getting blinded out. Logic would dictate that you go to another table with smaller stakes, but you look around and realize the other tables are playing blackjack, baccarat, etc, and you only know how (or only want) to play poker. You keep having to turn to your backer and ask for a little bit of money to buy in. If he at some point says he wants his money back, you're done.

The 'other tables' here might be XBLA, iPhone or Facebook games, but if you are a 30-person studio building a big FPS or MMO, that's not exactly an easy switch of gears.

Thursday, November 13, 2008

Review: Hello Kitty MP3 Player!

One of the little fringe benefits of blogging is that people occasionally send stuff in the mail in the hopes that you'll like it and write about it. I figure it's simple enough to do so, though I'll be honest in writing it up and if it sucks then so be it.

There's a pile of recent arrivals waiting for writing up, including a Hello Kitty themed MP3 player, a Star Wars themed digital camera for kids, and three different books. I'll get to the first of those here:

Sanrio Hello Kitty MP3 Player

This is basically a generic 1Gb flash-based MP3 player. The "Hello Kitty" theme is entirely in the 3 snap-on face plates and the pink earbuds. It comes with some software to manage your music collection, etc, but it's not necesary that you use it, as plugging the device into the USB port makes it appear like a USB flash drive. 

The good:
  • It's cheap ($40 list (street probably $30-35?))
  • Functioning as a flash drive doesn't mean you have to use proprietary SW like iPod or Zune
  • Backlit display
The bad:
  • Faceplates add bulk (see pics in this review comparing to the thickness of an ipod)
  • included earbuds are *awful* quality
  • The user interface is horrendous. 
The last point above is the real issue. To be fair, this is the same as you get with almost ALL generic mp3 players. The menu system to navigate folders, settings, etc is just cumbersome. I owned several pre-iPod and they all had a different flavor of this issue. The question is whether you want to deal with that to save a few dollars (over something like a nano or mini-zune). If so, then a generic player is fine, and if you want one with a Hello Kitty theme, then look here.

Wednesday, November 12, 2008

Flying car? No. Flying pot roast? YES!

photo.jpg, originally uploaded by Kim Pallister.


Fred Meyer (west coast grocery/department chain) has installed 3D displays from 3DEO with "3D Coupon Dispenser".

OK, while the tech is a bit nifty, the giant floating plate of roast turkey COMING OUT TO GET ME! (it really was floating way out in front of the device when viewed live) didn't do anything to make me want to buy it. Nor did the giant avocado COMIN TO GET ME! or the cantelope melon COMIN TO GET ME!!!!

Buy low, sell high

photo.jpg, originally uploaded by Kim Pallister.

Another exhibit at OMSI, it's a stock trading simulator.

We've all seen these before, but this one was cool in that it (a) was a better sim, with 4 different "trading desk" stations where people could sit and trade while also watching the market action and news on the big screen, and (b) at the same time was highly simplified, with only 4 stocks to buy or sell.

Probably doable for 9-10 year olds.

Balancing the budget

photo.jpg, originally uploaded by Kim Pallister.


The OMSI science museum now has a little section on economics (timely). One of my fave exhibits for the kids was this game of literally balancing the budget. The bag'o'money on the left is fixed income. The blocks on the right are different size/weight and are labelled things like "big house", "small house", "groceries", "eating out", etc.

The twins grokked it super quick. Though they chucked auto payments off in favor of 'buy toys'.

Can't say I haven't done the same!

Quintessential Irony

photo.jpg, originally uploaded by Kim Pallister.

Starbucks point of sale CD rack labelled "The quintessential soundtrack to a crisp fall day".

On this particular fall day, that sound track included a glam rock collection. Because nothing says autumn foliage colors like Adam Ant, I guess.

Eee PC's R Us

photo.jpg, originally uploaded by Kim Pallister.

EeePC's on sale at Toys'R'Us of all places.

Epaper esquire deconstructed

photo.jpg, originally uploaded by Kim Pallister.

I tore apart the cover of my Esquire e-paper cover issue (blogged about a while back)

The second screen is missing because I peeled the layers apart until non-functional.

The display shown is still clocking along on my office wall. It appears to be 12 "pixels" or regions (e.g. "The 21st Century" is one region that must all be on or off), and has 4 states. White, light gray, dark gray, or black. The two larger ICs on the board are 8-bit shift registers, so it's just wired to cycle through a pattern of 'region 1; region 1, 3 and 8; region 2 and 8...." or such. Pretty simple. I'm guessing the 3rd is a timer, but I didn't look it up.

It makes it pretty useless to hack though. I was hoping it would be a regtangular grid of pixels, in which case you could do some fun stuff with it.


Tuesday, November 11, 2008

The taste of crow up in Redmond

"There's no chance that the iPhone is going to get any significant market share. No chance. It's a $500 subsidized item... They may make a lot of money. But if you actually take a look at the 1.3 billion phones that get sold, I'd prefer to have our software in 60% or 70% or 80% of them, than I would to have 2% or 3%, which is what Apple might get." - Steve Ballmer, April 2007

In related news, I heard an interview with Neil Young on NPR in the car on the commute home yesterday. Go NGMoco!

In other related news, NPD is starting to include the iPhone in their portable gaming devices market research.

Sunday, November 9, 2008

The Ambient Life

Cool bit of futurism here.

These things normally miss the mark some, but worth watching if it makes you think.

Book Review: Settlers of the New Virtual Worlds

So I've just finished Settlers of the New Virtual Worlds, by Erik Bethke & Erin Hoffman. It's actually both written and edited by them because the bulk of the book is a collection of essays by others.

The book's focus is on the evolving world of MMOs and virtual worlds, and how their progress and evolution is going to demand they transcend the current one-sided state of their EULA's, grant users (scratch that, residents) rights, and discusses many of the issues involved in doing so.

In short, it's a must read for anyone in the games industry - not just in the business of MMOs - and for anyone that is interested in the future of the medium. The book contains many provocative ideas. Not all are great, but that it will spur thought and discussion is reason enough to recommend it.

Among my favorite bits:
  • Raph Koster's piece on a declaration of player's rights (borrowing heavily from the 1789 French Declaration of Man and the Citizen and from the US bill of rights).
  • Ren Reynolds' piece on issues with claims with virtual property and IP in which he compares with precedents in both US and UK law and shows just how murky the water might be.
  • Erik Bethke's opening and closing pieces in which he seems to be putting his money where his mouth is, as he's taken some bold steps with his own EULA, for GoPets, which he runs.
There are some not so good bits as well (I won't name them) but you shouldn't let them stop you from picking up the book.

My only complaint was that there wasn't one of the essays that attempted to tackle the issue of virtual property as a sort of promisory note of service, as I've alluded to before*.

Anyhow, pick it up. Good read.

* One additional thought on the 'promise of service' idea. It's occurred to me in re-reading my earlier post in current economic times, that this is not unlike a sort of derivative. I have to think about that a little before expanding on it.

Friday, November 7, 2008

The first wave of bad news

Lots of axe-weilding around the games industry, and in the tech industry in general. A few recent examples:

Brash hit by layoffs, cancels titles (not surprised, given their initial titles' poor reviews, which seem to stem from an attitude of "hollywood license + low quality game = ok", as others pointed out when they originally announced. Guess you can burn through $400M pretty quickly these days. Fools and their money, etc.)

Google will give you plenty more examples. 

Unfortunately, i think this is just the battening down of the hatches. The real trouble comes if people tighten their belts a notch or two this Christmas, which I expect will absolutely happen. After that we'll likely see another wave of layoffs.

So much for 'recession proof', which was crazy to think anyway.

Shitty times. And I think it's going to get far worse. The layoffs in other industries have a ripple effect on people's spending; budget clamp downs in all industries are going to cut advertising budgets, which are a big part of the casual games business, etc.

Wednesday, November 5, 2008

The Unfinished Swan

Jane points us to this interesting concept, a 'first person painter'.


Monday, November 3, 2008

The Virtual World Taxman Cometh

As aluded to previously, we all knew it was coming.

And notes:
[the ruling] seems to apply whether or not the value is cashed out.
(and goes on to note)
However, if the value is not cashed out and taxes are still paid, that could mean (maybe should mean) that the companies are liable if they manage to accidentally delete some of it. In other words, they’re banks.
I commented on his post that non-Chinese MMOs like Wow are probably glad they licensed the right to run servers in that country to other parties. Boggles the mind to think how something like this would apply, be determined, be policed, etc, if numerous countries were to institute similar laws. Thousands of individuals all paying taxes on income incurred in other countries (where the servers reside), and businesses in some cases being run from elsewhere than where the servers reside. Blech. What a mess!

It's already moderately messy to do taxes for, say, stock purchases & sales, if you do anything moderately frequent in the way of trading. Now imagine that on a micro-scale at an accelerated pace. 

As I understand it, in the USA, Internet commerce has been relatively hands-off in the area of taxation; as an incentive to promote growth. However that can't last forever, can it? At some point, growth has happened. Plus, no one is doing VW business in the US only going forward. 

This whole idea of 'countries' is obsolete :-)