Monday, February 27, 2006

Microsoft's handheld? Mortal Kombat: Armageddon to end it all?

  1. Microsoft's handheld?
  2. Namco Bandai reduces forecast, plans acquisition
  3. Mortal Kombat: Armageddon to end it all?
  4. Midway's a shakin'
  5. Xbox 360 Korean launch


1. Microsoft's handheld?

A teaser Website,, has been linked to a new Microsoft handheld -- and it looks like a cross between a tablet PC and a PSP. Early concept videos showed it running what looked like a full version of Halo, and specs have been bandied about for audio/video playing, gaming, and "all-day bettery life."

The site says, "You will ... Learn more on 3.2.06."

The site has navigation for "week 1", week 2", and "week 3", and only "week 1" is currently selectable, making the next few weeks leading up to the Game Developers Conference very interesting.

2. Namco Bandai reduces forecast, plans acquisition

So, Namco and Bandai joining foraces wasn't enough.

In a recent earnings forecast statement (reducing their forecast, Namco Bandai revealed they'll be buying out Banpresto, "Japanese developer of arcade machines, game machine prizes and console videogames".

Check out for an impressive list of Banpresto's development and publishing credits.

3. Mortal Kombat: Armageddon to end it all? has an interview with franchise co-creator Ed Boon about the next in the MK line.

Most interesting tidbits?

  • "YES, there will be another new diversion in Armageddon as well."
  • "Armageddon does imply "The End" in a few ways. It is the end of MK on this generation of consoles. It also is the final battle between all the good and evil characters in the MK universe. We really want to close this chapter of Mortal Kombat."
  • "The roster is ... a lot closer to 60 characters. Since the story really ties up all the loose ends from Mortal Kombat 1 all the way to Deception, we want to include everyone. Plus, since this final chapter is all about the final epic battle we need to explain what happens to EVERYONE, which means leaving no stone unturned."
  • "We are going to be including all the boss characters from MK's past [as playable characters]."
  • "Armageddon lets you define your fighting styles, right down to the attack associated with each button... [and lets] players take their created fighter and go online against other created fighters. "
  • "Players can decide which fatalities they want to string together to form their own custom fatality."
  • "... new parry feature and air-kombat ..."

4. Midway's a shakin'

Ithink it's almost time for the Midway Gamers Day, but I need to check on that.

Anyway, they continue to do cool stuff. They announced a collaboration between Vin Diesel's Tigon Studios and Viacom's MTV Films, Paramount Pictures and MTV Games to produce a game and movie called The Wheelman (and Chronicles of Riddick: Escape from Butcher Bay, from Tigun and Starbreeze, was amazing). They also said they will co-publish and distribute Turbine, Inc.'s The Lord of the Rings Online: Shadows of Angmar in North America. Then there's Mortal Kombat: Armageddon and Unreal Tournament 2007.

5. Xbox 360 Korean launch

Microsoft said the initial batch of pre-order units in Korea sold out in only nine hours. I can't find numbers on the pre-orders, so I'm hope it's not "9".

Summary of the "How to Break Into the Game Industry" conference

Here are a number of thoughts and experiences from the How to Break Into the Game Industry. My apologies for taking time to get these out, but I was busy with a film shoot this weekend. Check out my acting blog to read about that.

To recap, I was motivated to go to this thing kind of last minute for 3 reasons:

  • I manage technical folks, and this conference gave me a chance to look at developers in a different vertical market, see what their needs are, and (hopefully) gave me ideas on to how to make my own folks more successful (and happier).
  • I'm a voice and film actor, so I want to do voice work, green screen, MoCap, character reference, and related work for video games and animation-- and this was a venue to meet more folks for that.
  • If I were to move from my current financial services job to gaming, these would be the kind of folks I would manage. I should get to know them.
All of the sessions were moderated by Tamir Nadav, a Full Sail grad and Associate Programmer at KingsIsle Entertainment. And (from a brief discussion when I told him thanks for his part in all of this), he seemed a passionate, pleasant guy.

Session 1: "Industry Overview"

Panelists: Rodney Gibbs (Executive Studio Director, Amaze Entertainment Austin); Rich Vogel (Former Director of Development, Sony Online Entertainment); and Mark Kreitler (Edge of Reality Software).

This was an interesting, if not ground-breaking discussion of the industry as a whole. While treading the "growing budgets, raised expectations" routes, the panelists also did a good job breaking out the shifting demographics and work mentality of the industry, the different markets, how off-shoring plays out in the interactive entertainment space, and PC gaming trends (FPS, MMOs, and casual games).

I was a bit surprised that statements made about casual games and independent games were not up-to-the-minute, though, admittedly, up-to-the-minute means the launch of the Xbox 360 in November of last year to today, where Xbox Live Arcade has given a distribution platform and sales channel for independent games (like Wik: Fable of Souls), and unheard of casual games trial-to-conversion ratio (35% on the Xbox 360, versus 2-6% on the PC). But they just might have been short on time.

All of the panelists were good, and I was impressed with Vogel's forthrightness about hiring and managing, and his administrative practicality. Vogel arguably started the Sony Austin Development Studio, and I met him just before he left, and didn't have his new contact info. So, it was good to get that, and (even better), to have a discussion with him about how "managing software is managing software" -- whether it's managing game development and hosting or managing BigHugeCorp's Financial Services development and hosting. Him saying it carried some weight for me, and was encouraging.

Session 2: "Getting in on the Ground Floor"

Speakers: Evan A. Bell (Senior Game Programmer, Edge of Reality Software); Michael Daubert (Studio Director, The Animation Farm); Adam Hunter (Sony Online Entertainment); Damion Shubert (Zen of Design); and Quoc Tran (Associate Producer, NCSoft)

How do get in on the ground floor?

Simpy, get in at the ground floor. And work your tail off. For peanuts.

Maybe not quite that bleak, but not far removed. I was, however, impressed with the specific stories of "Stick-with-it-ness" -- Daubert sending 300-400 demo reels out of college, working for years for a company, then starting his own studio. Hunter's lack of ego and honesty about the need (and his personal struggle) in pounding the pavement and taking it financially in the teeth to get the gig in the industry of which you want to be a part.

The panel wasn't that well directed, because it was a little too big, and audience (rather than Tamir's) questions largely drove the discussion.

Kind of unsettling in this and the previous panel was an implicit (and sometimes explicit) endorsement of not getting a college degree -- "your reel, your talent, will get you in the door." Though they did acknowledge a degree (2- or 4-year) is good for showing someone can commit to and finish something, the idea kept coming up that you don't need that piece of paper.

This really bothers me, because I know guys in the tech sector that went this route -- got jobs and didn't finish their degrees -- and years later, with kids to support and the company turning its back on them and passing them up for raises or promotions "because they don't have a degree", they're juggling job and family and getting a bachelors. Seemed a little irresponsible of the first two panels, but the third panel said the degree was important.

I touched base with Daubert after the panel, and he let me know my constant barrage of postcards is keeping me at the top of The Animation Farm's potential talent list.

Session 3: "Applying Transferable Skill Sets"

Speakers: Craig Fryar (Online Alchemy); Mike McShaffrey (Studio Director, BreakAway Games, Austin); and Brett Butler (Public Games)

For me, this was the most interesting and entertaining panel, though it strayed from the topic.

The speakers were mature, ireverant, and confident in what they had to say. They came down to brass tacks on interviewing, non-technical opportunities, networking, and the importance of passion and knowing what you want -- and what it may cost you.

Afterwards, I had a good brief chat with Butler about Public Games, said "thank you for your leadership advice" to Fryar, and got good, positive feedback on the physical presentation of my voice demo disc from McShaffrey.


  • Edge of Reality Software is working on an unannounced next-gen title (the one for which I auditioned).
  • Online Alchemy is working on a "realy interesting concept for an MMO, not like anything you've seen before", according to Fryar.
  • McShaffrey said they're working on "triple-A titles for next-gen consoles", but "can't announce anything."
  • I overheard a developer from TimeGate Studios say the company is working on an unannounced title, and when I looked at their website, I noticed they haven't updated it since last march, when they announced they were going to use the Unreal Engine 3.
  • Daubert said The Animation Farm will be unveiling something new on the website next month.
  • Quoc Tran is an Associate Producer at NCSoft for "two unannounced games".
  • Rich Vogel will be announcing their new company and MMO this summer. I actually have what I think is the name of his new company, but since I may not supposed to have it, I won't spill it here.
Overall, a very worthwhile conference, and I did bail before the resume-writing workshop.

I've got a lot more notes and to-dos for myself from the conference, but I won't (further) bore you with that.

Sunday, February 26, 2006

Halo's daddy to work with Ron Howard

Last year, Alexander Seropian -- founder of Bungie and co-creator of Halo -- co-founded Spectrum MediaWorks:
"Comprised of a group of experienced and innovative entertainment producers, game creators and networked media experts, Spectrum came together to focus on the confluence — not convergence! — of the industries of digital filmed entertainment, games (consoles/PCs) and networked media (web, wireless, etc)."
Last month, word came out that Ron Howard was going to be working on a Massively Multiplayer Online (MMO) game tied in to a reality TV show.

Turns out the two are working together.

Spectrum MediaWorks is building its flagship franchise, X Quest, "from the ground up as a TV show and a game structurally designed to exist in the same virtual world." (Quote from

It sounds like Seropian and Jim Banister from MediaWorkswill help do the X Quest MMO game, and Ron Howard/Brian Gazer (Imagine Entertainment) and Mike Darnell (Fox) will bring the show and MMO together.

According to Variety, the basic premise is two teams (with no training) will be locked in separate high-tech "biocrafts" that simulate being in space -- for 30 days.

Other people involved in the project include Brady Connell and Jim Susko (Base Camp Films), and David Nevins (Imagine TV).

The title of the game will likely change, and how it ties into the show hasn't been announced -- though there's rumbling of players being able to playing along with (or against) players on the show.

Saturday, February 25, 2006

I went to the Austin "How to Break Into the Game Industry" conference

I decided kind of last minute to go the How to Break Into the Game Industry game conference today.

The more I thought about it this week, the more motivation I realized I had for "needing" to go:

  • I manage technical folks, and this conference gave me a chance to look at developers in a different vertical market, see what their needs are, and (hopefully) gave me ideas on to how to make my own folks more successful (and happier).
  • I'm a voice and film actor, so I want to do voice work, green screen, MoCap, character reference, and related work for video games and animation-- and this was a venue to meet more folks for that.
  • If I were to move from my current financial services job to gaming, these would be the kind of folks I would manage. I should get to know them.

So, was it worth it?


I'll write more later, but there were three sessions ("Industry Overview", "Getting in at the Ground Floor", and "Applying Transferable Skill Sets"), and all were pretty good. For whatever reason, I got the most out of the third session (and enjoyed it the most) -- even though it was not concretely linked to the discussion topic.

I also touched base with folks I knew, a couple for whom I didn't have contact information, and with a bunch of new folks (and therefore, new relationships and opportunites).

I've got to crash now for a 14-hour film shoot tomorrow, but check out my brief blurb about a statement made by Online Alchemy's Craig Fryar in the meanwhile.

Friday, February 24, 2006

Austin "How to Break Into the Game Industry" conference is tomorrow (Feb. 25)

The "How to Break Into the Game Industry" conference, rescheduled from January 21, is tomorrow (February 25) in Austin.

$45 if you register online, or $60 at the door.

More information below:

Thursday, February 23, 2006

Free Xbox Live weekend coming April 1st!

When the new Xbox Live service was launched, there was a promise of occasional "free play weekends" -- where Silver member Xbox Live subscribers could play online games for free.

The weekend of April 1st (probably not the greatest choice of a date) is set as the first "Free Xbox Live Gold Weekend".

So, if your licking your wounds from being the butt-end

Get to your rental store early, and stock up!

More info over at

Tuesday, February 21, 2006

PS3 delayed? Gears update ...

  1. PS3 delayed?
  2. New Xbox 360 accessories coming in May
  3. Gears of War update
  4. Windows Vista versions revealed?
  5. Xbox 360 Dashboard update
  6. Microsoft Names New GM for Xbox Japan


1. PS3 delayed?

CNN (or Reuters) is running an article saying the PS3 may be delayed.

Sony has been touting a spring(ish) release for their next gen console (though the territory rollout hasn't been announced), but it looks like there may be a hitch.

A SCE spokeswoman said the company is waiting for final specifications on some of the technology it is using in the PS3, like the Blu-Ray DVD drive and A/V input/output. These specifications are being decided by "industry consortiums", and if they're not decided now and manufacturing is begun, I don't know how Sony can plan to make a "spring launch".

The cost for manufacturing is likely to be high, too. Whereas Microsoft loses about $44 per $400 box sold, a Merrill Lynch analysis said Sony's boxes could cost $900 each to manufacture, leading to a new definition for "loss leader".

Analysts are now projecting a summer launch in Japan, followed by a U.S. launch before Thanksgiving, and a European launch in early 2007.

That news, along with ML saying the PS3 could be delayed 6-12 months, caused a Monday share drop of 4.4 percent.

I thought the late send of apha, beta, and final Xbox 360 kits was rough on game developers, but PS3 developers may largely be developing on speculation, at this point.

2. New Xbox 360 accessories coming in May

According to the Hong Kong Edition of The Official Xbox Magazine, the following two accessories are coming out for the Xbox 360 in May:

  1. Xbox Live Camera for Xbox 360
    • Supports built-in video chat and video messaging on Xbox Live
    • Features up to VGA 640x480 video at 30 frames per second
    • Takes 1.3-megapixel still photos (better than most phone cameras)
    • Includes a microphone that connects to the controller
  2. Quick Charge kit
    • Quick Charger for two batteries
    • Play and Charge cable
    • Rechargable battery pack (whether one or two is unclear)

3. Gears of War update

Sounds like Gears of War may be further along than I thought. is running an article about a closed-door demo that was fairly complete, with more of an emphasis on playtesting multiplayer modes than previous statements from designer CliffyB led me to believe.

4. Windows Vista versions revealed?

According to, Microsoft has let slip the versions of their next OS, Windows Visa. I can't yet find details on the versions, but they seem to be creating a software tiering nightmare:

  • Windows Starter 2007
  • Windows Vista Home Basic
  • Windows Vista Home Basic N
  • Windows Vista Home Premium
  • Windows Vista Business
  • Windows Vista Business N
  • Windows Vista Ultimate
  • Windows Vista Enterprise

5. Xbox 360 Dashboard update

If you haven't already, next time to log on to Xbox 360 Live, you'll get a mandatory update download.

I'm not crazy about Microsoft's "here's-an-update-don't-worry-what's-in-it" patch policy, so thanks to the fine folks at, here's the list of fixes included in the download:

  • Improvements to the Xbox Guide.
  • Option to retain your saved games when you delete a profile.
  • Increased accuracy of "last time played."
  • Network configuration improvements for Xbox Live members in the Netherlands.
  • More detailed messaging for unreadable disk or region errors.

Not likely there's a fix hidden in there for the Xbox overheating, since that's allegedly related to a faulty heat sensor.

I'm curious if anyone else has noticed glitches in the Achievements functionality since the download. I'll be playing DOA4, and unlock a single Achievement, but get 4-5 notices for it onscreen.

6. Microsoft Names New GM for Xbox Japan

Ouch. Microsoft promoted Takashi Sensui to General Manager, replacing Yoshihiro Maruyama, who has "appointed to a strategic position within Microsoft’s Entertainment and Devices Division".

This is likely a result of a poor Japanese launch for the Xbox 360 (arguably worse than the relese for the first-gen console), leaving approximately 200,000 360s unsold on Japanese retailers shelves, while other territories starve for product.

Voice Acting Audition

Hey, I did a voice over audition for a military-themed video game last week -- my first such themed game since Gearbox Software's Brothers in Arms way back when.

Check out here for the skinny (Not much on the game, but a bunch on my current acting process).

Tuesday, February 14, 2006

Sony setting up a super network?


1. Sony setting up a super network? has a fairly studied feature on Sony's possible Xbox Live killer, and the thing's got potential, if they choose to link it to some of the parent company's other products and services:

  • Connectivity with the PSP
  • Sony Pictures Entertainment and their new MGM aquisition content (Xbox Live has a trickle of content; Sony will likely open the floodgates)
  • The music store
  • Sony mobile phones
  • The PS3 could be the media center (whereas the Xbox 360 is a Windows Media Center Extender, requiring a Media Center PC)
  • Web Surfing (they do it on the PSP; why not extend it to the PS3?)
  • Integration the Sony photo services
  • Location Free technology (kinda like Microsoft's Extender idea, but with a much lighter-weight hub)
  • Streaming or downloadable UMD-quality movies
  • Online gaming (which at a minimum should have all of the features of Xbox Live and Sony's current stable of titles -- mostly MMOs).

As if that isn't enough, Sony arguably built the DVD user base with the PS2, and they look to do it again with Blu-Ray and the PS3. Want to pay $1,500 for a Blu-Ray player, or the alleged $500 for a PS3 monster gaming machine that also plays Blu-Ray? Hmmm ...

The article is fairly objective, but despite phrases like, "Xbox fanboys, stop reading now, because we don’t have good news", I'm not overly concerned.

I have an Xbox 360, because I could get an Xbox 360. I'm going to go where the games (and the services) are. Sony's service may rock, and that could spur Microsoft to do more with Xbox Live (because, let's face it -- Xbox Live and its integrated services may be the bet part of the Xbox 360, but they've got a long way to go).

The reality is a Sony vs. Microsoft dual could be a very good thing for gamers -- even Number Two in the Online Services arena could more than adequately service its members.

Competition is good.

Also, I'm waiting to see if Sony converts on their technologes. Microsoft did stumbling entries (Xbox Extender, Xbox Live Arcade, etc.), but spun on a time (corporate comparitively) and turned those things into robust, top-notch services.

Sony, on the other hand, has had Extender-like devices for their Vaio line for ages, and they suck hardcore. And their Location Free technology, while a compelling concept, regularly strikes out on the review and usage front.

Read the full article at

Let the games continue.

Thursday, February 09, 2006

Halo 2 coming to Windows Vista

Halo 2, arguably one of biggest console games of all time, is coming exclusively to Windows Vista this fall.

Windows Vista is Microsoft's next version Operating System (OS), the successor to the current Windows XP.

Windows Vista is being touted heavily as a gaming platform, and putting Microsoft's/Bungie's premiere franchise is a good way to push the point.

The Vista version will include "both the single-player and multiplayer elements of the original Halo 2, as well as each of the additional maps included in the Halo 2 Multiplayer Map Pack. Players will also have the opportunity to create and customize their own multiplayer levels."

No word on whether Vista users will get the online co-op mode poorly stubbed out in the Xbox version, what the Vista version of Xbox Live will be, or whether the game will support the PC version of the Xbox 360 controller (why wouldn't it?).

However, Bungie did say it will not support cross-platform play (what the hell is XNA good for, then?).

While we're on the subject, other Halo tidbits:
  • Halo/Halo 2 games sold to date: 14.5 million
  • Halo 2 games sold to date: 7.5 million
  • Halo online multiplayer hours logged: 600 million
  • Halo 3 release date: Sometime after mutliple, maddeningly irritating Virtual Reality Games and marketing gimmicks, and just before the Dark One gets his nads frozen off ...

Tuesday, February 07, 2006

March OXM goodness

I got the March Official Xbox Magazine in the mail last night, and there is more goodness than words to express it.

But I'll try.

Here's the disc content that I think is particular interesting (not exhaustive):

  • Playable Demos:
    • Condemned (Xbox 360; for those of you who can't download the demo over Xbox Live)
    • Quake 4 (Xbox 360; ditto)
    • Black (Xbox; Freakin' so excited about this game!)
  • Other Content:
    • Final Fantasy XI interview

Other cool stuff in the mag? According to The Outfit pack-in advertisement, the game is coming in March, but I can "Download a Multiplyer Demo Level via Xbox Live!"

But the best (for me) is the confirmation of LEGO Star Wars: The Original Trilogy, in OXM's "We (heart) Xbox" section. I've talked about the original version of the game here, and even mentioned last year the rumor of a sequel based on the original trilogy.

Check out a pict of the spread below.

Lego Star Wars: The Original Trilogy

As an aside, back to The Outfit demo download, Microsoft absolutely sucks at hyping coming Xbox Marketplace content, or even letting me know it's arrived. They will, however, send me an Email 3 weeks after a game has shipped -- just to let me know it's "now available!" Nice.

No, I haven't gotten to any of the disc stuff yet. I picked up my mail late last night, but life, acting, and Toy Job stuff took precedence (damn my responsibility).

Thursday, February 02, 2006

Nintendo, Take-Two buyouts? EA makes deep cuts ...

  1. Nintendo buyout?
  2. Take-Two buyout?
  3. Electronic Arts cuts people, profits


1. Nintendo buyout?

Cisco Systems announced it was launching a new home entertainment division two weeks ago. This week,'s Marguerite Reardon speculated that in addition to Tivo, Cisco could be looking at acquiring Nintendo.

And the firestorm began.

Really, it doesn't make sense, and an inappropriate amount of attention is being focused on the fact that the report came from "" -- even though the article clearly says it's "news analysis".

Nintendo's profitable, so there's not much chance of an acquisition on this front.

2. Take-Two buyout?

Take-Two Interactive is sucking some serious wind.

The parent company of 2K Games, Global Star, Joytech North America, and Rockstar Games (the Grand Theft Auto people) is financially on the ropes, and bad decisions (a la the "Hot Coffee" GTA sex-content) may force an acquisition.

In addition to known lawsuits/investigations pending from the FTC and individuals, cities, or class action acitivites in CA, New York, Pennsylvania, and Illinois, a recent SEC filing indicates additional possible actions from North Carolina, Connecticut, and Delware.

Besides legal grief, Take-Two was out of control on the acquisition front last calendar year (Irrational Studios/$11.8 million, Gaia Capitol Group/$11.4 million, Visual Concepts/$32.2 million, and Firaxis Games/$26.7 million).

Add big spending plus pending lawsuits plus the GTA franchise making up roughly 34% of Take-Two's revenue, and you have a compelling acquisition target (diversified brands, IPs, and spin-off sales of companies/studios opportuniteis), and a compelling reason to get acquired -- "the new owner didn't create the problems cause d by Take-Two."

3. Electronic Arts cuts people, profits

Electronic Arts confirmed it laid off a sizeable number of its employees -- approximately 5%, or 325-350 people -- across 3 sites (unoficially, Redwood Shores, EA Tiburon, and EA Canada).

Layoffs were done "so we have the most efficient alignment for all of our strategic doesn't have to do with any one [game]."

Today, EA announced its last quarter earnings. Typically, major layoffs are a sign of pending poor financials, and EA's net income for last quarter saw steep decline. Profits were slashed by nearly 1/3, ($375 million in Q404 to $259 million in Q405, or a drop of $116 million).

Part of the shortcoming was likely due to the December purchase of mobile-game-maker Jamdat ($680 million).