Friday, December 21, 2007

Holiday game tidbits

Looks like my annual shopping recommendations and awesome deals post isn't going to happen this year, so check your local papers for whatever happens this Sunday before Christmas.

There some 50%-off deals at ($20 Crackdown isn't bad).

What else?

PopCap games are 50% off.

Other than that, all I've got is if you buy Viva Piñata Party Animals online at Toys R Us, you get the original Viva Piñata free, and free shipping:

(So I made maybe two of you out there happy.)

Aside from that, enjoy this Call of Duty 4 holiday map video, from the find folks at Infinity Ward:

Monday, December 03, 2007

Activision Blizzard Webcast

I'm online listening to the Activision Blizzard Webcast, and will be sort of live blogging, so refresh often.

This thing has been the works for at least a year.

Blizzard has an revenue of $1.1B, and operating income of $517M (and break even on all other activities).

There are more than 9.3M World of Warcraft, and claims to be the leading Western entertainment franchise in Asia.

Awe, he's saying nice things about Activision brass.

Activision slides aren't advancing.

The merger deal is appealing to respective company's shareholders. Go figure.

Activision is touting their IP pipeline -- Guitar Hero IV, Call of Duty 5, their entry into racing (by acquiring Bizarre), new Tony Hawk, James Bond, new Marvel titles, and new Dreamworks titles.

Activision is spelling out the market growth opportunity for the merger -- "margin expansion opportunities", and "operating models providing more leverage", etc.

Planning to be the "only publisher positioned to capitalize on all online and offline properties" -- there's a nod to leveraging the [expletive] out of mass market IP and sequels.

CFO Thomas Tippl is up to present the transaction structure and terms of the deal.

They're looking at 3-4 points margin expansion over the next two years for each of Sierra's and Blizzard's markets in the next two years.

They're claiming the mantle of "Most valuable Pure Play competitor" in the market -- easily double Electronic Arts.

There is an acknowledgment this merger brings together "the best development resources in the industry".

Now they're opening up to general questions.

(I got distracted after this, so check out Joystiq and Kotaku for summaries. I'm actually curious as to whether there will be any knock-on effects from this merger.)

Sunday, December 02, 2007

Wanna work in the games industry?

So, I've been a bit cagey about my new gig in the video game biz.

I have my reasons, but I may as well shake things up:

"Hi, my name's Adam Creighton, and I'm a Senior Product Manager for Emergent Game Technologies."

Emergent is an impressive video game middleware and services company. More than a once trick pony, Emergent has a lot of experience and offerings for people making games, and people offering services and looking to partner for new ways to get their products, technologies, and services out there.

They're also one of the few (only?) of the many game companies with whom I've spoken that "get" there's a lot to be learned from the business and technical world from folks outside of the games industry, adn they're actively hiring for it. No, the games industry may not go ITIL or Six Sigma any time soon, but there are a lot of process and technical problems that have already been solved by the tech sector years ago.

So, why break my "never talk about my day job in my blogs" rule?

Because this is a video game blog. And I now work for a video game company.

And they're hiring like crazy.

Whether your technical, business, managerial, artistic, or whatever, check out the available jobs.

Interested? Get a hold of me here, or via LinkedIn or Plaxo Pulse.

And stay tuned -- there's another reason I'm coming clean about me and Emergent.

The Xbox 360 Dashboard Update

(OK, I've had too many requests for this, so here's a shortish version.)

Microsoft is readying its next Dashboard update for December 4th, and it's a doozy.

You can find the straight list of features here, or a slightly differently packaged one here (which worked better for me). And if you want to an in-depth breakdown of video FAQs, go here (DivX, baby!).

There is a ton here. If I had to back up and extract some themes from the bulleted lists, I'd say "Social Growth" (Messenger, friends, etc.); "Increased consistency across Microsoft Products, Services, and Accessories" (XBL, Zune, Big Button, etc.); "Audio Video Performance and Functionality Enhancements" (DivX, media handling and streaming, etc.); and "Usability and Aesthetic Improvements" (a bunch, and some nice touches that could be considered "unnecessary").

The MSDN blog poster "IndieGames" gives some insight into the pretty impressive engineering feat showcased by the Dash update:
"Did you know our system update package is only 7MB in size? Or that the entire 360 O/S resides on a tiny 16MB filesystem and when running it is only given 32MB of system memory?"
As much as I dislike what I belabor as Microsoft's poor corporate decision to not guarantee a hard drive will be present on every console, the mother of necessity has pushed the team to do some cool stuff. And they're not dumping 5GB of game data on your hard drive, a la the PS3. (Allegedly.)

The other thing this got me to thinking about is in the rush to "own the living room", it really struck me that Sony is competing with the O/S, software, and media intersection might of arguably the bar in the industry. Puts a different spin on the competition for me.

Oh, and while I acknowledge the engineering feat here is impressive, I'm going to take quick issue with the MSDN blog poster's statement "Maintaining a twice yearly ship schedule is difficult."

Yeah, and water's wet, so cry me a river. Try maintaining a twice a year ship schedule on a multimillion code line, mainframe and distributed, six thousand concurrent transaction per second system. Or 12 releases of varying sizes across 7 services (my last gig) in less than a year. Or being a doctor. Or a divorce attorney. Or sewer employee. Or ...

Now just bring down the overpriced Xbox 1 games that are going to be available for download, and I'll be happier (and you'll make more money, Microsoft; unless you don't care if the downloads to cannibalize sales from brands you don't own, and won't realize any revenue from, anyway).

Ooh, Crotchety Game Dude is back!

Anyway, good stuff coming, and'll probably get better for gamers everywhere.

Activision + VU Games = WTF (I mean, "Activision Blizzard")

Seriously, I didn't see this coming.

There's going to be a live Webcast Monday at 8:30 a.m. (Eastern). I'm guessing the Sunday press release is to head off leaks and rumors.

Vivendi Universal Games (VU Games, the interactive adjunct of Vivendi Universal), owns Blizzard Entertainment (who owns the Warcraft MMO, and the Diablo and Starcraft universes) is merging with Activision, and they're calling themselves "Activision Blizzard".

As an aside, this is an interesting elevation of the Blizzard brand. I almost wish they'd pulled an Infogrames, and elevated defunct Sierra like Infogrames elevated the defunct Atari brand (which isn't Atari to me, but I'm a purist). But the Blizzard brand is actually alive, and has more market and consumer pull.

This is a "mega-merger" for this vertical (and most others, at ~$18 billyun), and makes for interesting times in the publishing / developing landscape.

And it opens all sorts of opportunities for "If they mated" style jokes (the folks at Joystiq and Kotaku have been awake longer than me, and beat me to the "Guitarcraft" and "elves on skateboards" jokes. Personally, I'd like to see "World of Bournecraft", but that didn't require a merger. "Brutal Legend Bee Game" requires a merger. "Marvel Ultimate King's Quest Alliance" requires a merger. I could go on.

Anyway, here's the press release.

More on this tomorrow.

Tuesday, November 27, 2007

Video game art

I like Matt Burlingame's quirky, three-dimensional (real-world) art.

I like quite a few of his pieces. I like that Matt has a video game inspired piece (unfortunately, it's sold), depicting a copesetic Taizo Hori (Dig Dug), Mario bludgeoning a Shell Creeper / Koopa Troopa, and a rabid Pac-Man (complete with mouthed-on remains of Bashful / Inky).

Click the pict in the link to view multiple detail shots.

"The Dynamic Trinity" (

Xbox 360 backwards (forwards?) compatibility update

Hey, I still care about original Xbox games that are playable on the Xbox 360.

The full list of added / updated is on, but here are my biased highlights (I’ve been lobbying for the top 4 for a looong time):
  • Armed and Dangerous -- HAH-larious; think Monty Python with firearms and sheep humor (which may be redundant).

  • Breakdown -- Bless Namco for trying this first-person ... thing (and its "What, it's still not over" gimmick didn't piss me off, and was well-implemented).

  • Dungeons & Dragons Heroes -- “Most under-rated last-gen hack-n-slash RPG treatment of the D&D license with 4-way co-op as long as you don't play with people who don't get co-op or are hard-core D&D fundamentalist/legalists” (yes, there's a story there).

  • Hunter: The Reckoning -- Great treatment of the White Wolf license, and Voice acting for Carpenter rocks (and no, I didn’t do it).

  • Syberia II -- This game rocked the high-def when the 360 was just a twinkle in J Allard's eye (Bring back the adventure genre!).
Again, this is just a partial list; the backwards compatibility "ninjas" at Microsoft have churned out an awesome amount of work in holiday time to add to the Big M's (not the Mouse) game catalog.

Note: I realize I've only got an online review for Dungeons & Dragons Heroes; my reviews of the other top-four titles were done in the pre-blog, Email mailing list days. Ah well -- something you long-timers can hold over the newbs heads.)

Monday, November 19, 2007

Black Friday video game deals

OK, for the last like five or six years I've given you a heads up on video game deals for Black Friday (day after Thanksgiving).

This year, I'm just pointing you to, the Website that dares to post circulars from major retailers for your shopping insanity pre-planning enjoyment.

What's the awesome?

You probably need to find what floats your boat (and look for ads for stores in your area, and remember that mistakes or miss-listings do happen occasionally).

But how about a $25 PC Game version of The Orange Box at Best Buy (or a $5 XBox 360 version of Gun, which is cheaper than renting it)?

Maybe a Wal-Mart trip, to net a $30 video rocker chair (which may even be the wireless version, saving you $60)?

Maybe Circuit City, to get a $10 gift card to take the sting out of not being able to get Halo 3 or Assassin's Creed on sale?

Then there's KB Toys, with "buy one get one free entire stock of video games" (limit 4).

Sam's Club will allegedly have the Renegade Game Chair for $180 ($120 off MSP).

Personally, I think Target has some of the better deals on recent games for $48 -- Heavenly Sword, Project Gotham Racing 4, Call of Duty 4, The Orange Box (Xbox 360) -- and some deals like $38 for Gears of the War (XBox 360), and $17 for Saints Row (Xbox 360).

OK, so I didn't just point you to

Enjoy your Black Friday shopping.

Sunday, November 18, 2007


So, it's finally happened.

After an approximately three-year focused effort, I'm officially working in the video game industry, hopefully leveraging that perfect storm of my technical skills, business savvy, passion for games, and snarky attitude toward traditional corporate America for the benefit of gamers everywhere.

I am so jazzed.

The recent sporadic posting on this site is because of the physical cross country move ("Goodbye, Texas! Hello, North Carolina!") and new job baptism of fire -- not because of any conflict between the job and this blog. As a matter of fact, the new paycheck-givers are very supportive of my blogging prowess (or proliferation; they didn't really say -- I'll claim both).

So I'll keep blogging my mix of video game news, business analysis, thoughts, ramblings, and rants.

Keep in mind my thoughts don't necessarily reflect those of my masters.

To wit:
"Viewpoints expressed in this Weblog do not reflect or represent the thoughts,
intentions, plans or strategies of my employer, family, friends, acquaintances,
other gamers, or even, quite possibly, me as the author."
There. Think I'm covered now.

Exciting times ahead, kids.

Tuesday, November 13, 2007

Xbox titles downloadable!

The future is digital downloads.

Well, not the future, but a future. Or, more like a part of the future is digital downloads. Except they've been happening for a while now. So let's just say a part of the retro future is digital downloads.

Anyway, part of the Xbox Live Fall (?) Dashboard update will include (tambor rollo, por favor) the ability "to download and own full Xbox games, such as 'Halo,' 'Psychonauts,' 'Crimson Skies: High Road to Revenge' and 'Fable,' among others".

Download, own, and play games. Imagine. It's like GameTap on Xbox Live.

More deets*:
"With no disc necessary, and at just 1,200 Microsoft Points per game, Xbox LIVE members can easily rediscover these hit titles, or check out a game they missed the first time around. This launch lineup is only the beginning, as Xbox 360 owners can expect to see a growing catalog of Xbox games to download and own over the coming year."
`I can't find details on the list, but I wonder if it will be limited to Microsoft-published games (Brute Force, anyone?), or will include all of the backwards compatible titles (Breakdown downloadable? Sweet mother ...

Of course, 1,200 Microsoft Points per game is too ridiculously high -- $14.99. You can buy many of the games on the Xbox backward compatibility list for $9.99 (new) or lower (especially used), just like you can buy a DVD boxed set way cheaper than you can download all of the episodes from Xbox Live -- and someone's pocketing the difference, since there's no $4-$8 physical manufacturing cost.

It's in the right direction, though. Once they fix the pricing model across XBL, I bet they see an explosion in digital purchases.

*Like my street lingo? I'm trying to keep it real with the articulate online gamer peeps. Fuh ral, dat's da shizzle.

Xbox Live turns 5; gamers win

Has it been five years already?


Xbox Live launched November 15, 2007, and this week sees a lot of love from the Big M (no, not The Mouse).

What do you get?

How 'bout a free Xbox LIVE Arcade game,(downloadable between 12:01 a.m. PST on Nov. 15 and 11:59 p.m. PST on Nov. 16); rumor says it's Carcassonne, which is an awesome board-to-video game adaptation.

Want more?

How about an all-night gaming session with classic Return to Castle Wolfenstein?

Get more info about the "5IVE" celebration at, or the various WMA/MP3/PodCast itnerviews at

Enough about this. Now to write the post I really want to write.

Saturday, November 10, 2007

Halo 3 OST coming Nov. 20

I'm a fan of the Halo 3 music. I think Marty O'Donnell and Michael Salvatori are two of the more ridiculously talented music folks out there.

And not only is the two-disc Soundtrack coming November 20, but it will include the Halo 3 game score, and re-orchestrated, re-recorded tracks from Halo and Halo 2.

If the following doesn't get you excited, you're probably not the audience for this post:
"... I used a twenty-four voice choir and a sixty piece orchestra for both the new music and the new arrangements of the classic music."
As if that wasn't enough, there's a Website just for the soundtrack, which has the expected track listings and logistical purchase info, but has behind the scenes documentaries and stills, artwork, downloadable sheet music, and "Marty's Playground".

Perhaps the biggest thing sliding under the wire is the announcement that a version of the Adaptive Music System created for Halo 3 will be available after December 1, which will allow you to "'score' in game footage in real-time."

Again, the OST will be available from online and brick and mortar stores November 20, and is available for pre-order now from

Tuesday, November 06, 2007

WGA out of the game (UPDATED)

So, the Writer's Guild of America (WGA) is currently striking.

So, besides early re-runs and some other, more serious impacts about which I'll probably write on my acting blog, there's a video game impact.

The WGA is trying to a full-on push to get into video games. They put forth big presences and PR as to why it's better to use professional, union writers, at conferences like the Austin Game Developers Conference, even chairing sessions entitled, "Taking Your Videogame [sic] to the Next Level with WGA Talent".

And why wouldn't they want to push into the roughly $26B video game industry?

And why wouldn't we want them too, since we want quality writing?

But there's a problem. Problems. But let's keep it simple.

Problems, like, it's tough to get the majority of the game industry to pay for professional actors, let alone professional writers. (There are some great exceptions, but I'm talking generally.)

And then the writers go and strike.

Why, again, should game companies look at hiring potentially more expensive professional WGA writers, with the risk factor union reps have just introduced into the risk profile for companies assessing whether or not to pay for WGA writers to write games?

UPDATED: Over at, it says "A Writer's Guild representative told IGN today that only a handful of game writers are currently represented by the union, and that they fall out of the jurisdiction of the current strike."

Though I still stand by my statements above for possible future impacts.

Tuesday, October 30, 2007

Target gets into the pre-owned game

I see that Target is offering "Pre-Owned" electronics -- including game consoles.

Right now, they just have Nintendo GameCubes (which are out of stock), but this is a pretty interesting, un-trumpeted retail happening.

Friday, October 26, 2007

Another reason to not like game journalists

(Caveat: I'm not a games journalist. I'm just some dude who likes games and is gifted on the snarky communication front.)

I get frustrated with video game journalists for a lot of reasons, not least of which is their jaded take on games. They'll downgrade the score of great little gems because they're not a fan of the franchise, or they've gotten so greedy with escalating feature sets they penalize a smaller developed title for not including the feature.

The other reason I riff on games journalists is their lack of any sense of history. If it's not related to a violation of their fanboy franchise, it's dead to them.

Take, for example, Microsoft's Entertainment and Devices Division, which includes Xbox, making money this past quarter. Read a lot of the trade press coverage for this, and you'll have people downplaying the profitability because it's "only" due to Halo 3 sales.

OK, so let's review, jaded journalists:
  1. The Entertainment and Devices Division wasn't projected to be profitable until 2008.
  2. 2008 was a bump up from the original profitability projection of 2010.
  3. This is Microsoft's second profitable quarter for the Entertainment and Devices Division in a row.

So, the division is profitable for 2 years, and 203 quarters (depending on how you count) earlier than planned, and it has a track record, and (going into holiday sales), a likelihood to continue.

Never mind things like the Xbox was never expected to be a contender in the console war, and arguably bested Nintendo last generation and Sony this (so far). And the Entertainment and Devices Division also includes Zune, which is doing well, and also wasn't supposed to even be a contender in the MP3 / personal media devices front.

And, brass tacks, they're making money. Lots of money.

Honestly, I don't get the haters mentality (toward Microsoft, Apple, Electronic Arts, etc.) -- it just seems to be sour grapes from the have-nots and don't-want-to-work-for-its.

I'm fine with opinion pieces on things like the Microsoft numbers -- just call them "opinion", rather than "reporting". Or call them "second fiddle to Adam's snarky brilliance".

Let the hate mail begin...

Monday, October 22, 2007

Contradicting fall game sales predictions debunked

OK, it's not that I don't like the guy, but I when he does video gaming analysis, this guy at CNet falls flatter than me.

Below is a version of the comments I left on his blog. Last time I did this, he wrote a defensive response post, aimed at "people", and never referencing my comments. Let's see if we get a repeat infraction.

Like I said, I don't have an issue with him. He's got a good gig (more power to him). But folks like him (and I) need to recognize (and acknowledge) where we're stepping out of "analysis" and into "opinion".

Anyway, read his whole post for context, but he basically says this is his projection for each of the consoles this holiday:
  • Overall Xbox 360 outlook for the holiday season: mediocre.
  • Overall Nintendo Wii outlook for the holiday season: strong
  • Overall Sony Playstation 3 outlook: moderate to strong

And he says parents not able to find a $250 Wii will buy a $400 Ps3. Why they would do that rather than a $280 or $350 Xbox 360 feels a bit off to me. Maybe he's thinking parents will recognize the Sony brand over the Microsoft brand?

It's an interesting analysis, but it is lacking (and not accurate) in so many areas.

Many of the comments in response to his post point out the major misses in the article.

In addition, I'd say his analysis neglects basic market factors, and doesn't even address things like the recently released NPD numbers, which paint a very different picture than he does. And while every company is going to have their spin on these numbers, Sony's "forward-looking" take is pretty telling.

He's also inconsistent in pointing to bundles as being factors (or non-factors) in holiday sales, but doesn't mention things like the recently released Xbox 360 bundles (the Arcade bundle and the Forza 2 / Marvel Ultimate Alliance bundle).

On the PS3 side, you doesn't go into any detail about the brief history of (and differences between) the price-dropped 80GB, 20 GB, phased-out 60 GB, and recently-released (but feature reduced) 40 GB models.

And he says with Halo 3 out and Mass Effect the only exclusive this holiday, the 360 won't see enough of an upswing from those titles.

Seriously? Does he think the Halo 3 tailing occurred that fast?

I would argue that console exclusives (like Halo 3 or Gears of War) are console sellers, Mass Effect will likely do far better than for which he credits it (the Electronic Arts acquisition by itself is arguably indicative of this market confidence). And I don't think the "BioShock boost" is over yet, either.

And I would argue the non-exclusives are huge console draws (they are for me; I'm looking for a console's total gaming portfolio which is why Microsoft is first for me for its retail offerings; Nintendo is second because of its great Virtual Console offerings, and Sony is last).

For example, "Oh, I can also play Call of Duty 4 on Xbox 360, which is a better FPS platform? Oh, Madden '08 looks and plays ridiculously better on the 360 than the PS3? I don't need to buy a PS3 to get Devil May Cry 4? I can play Orange Box (definitely) and Assassin's Creed (probably) earlier on the 360 than the PS3? Etc.

Again, the guy has some interesting commentary, but it's super lightweight, and way behind (both in terms of time and depth) industry analyst professionals like Michael Pachter or Colin Sebastian.

He also trumpets a previous forward-looking post he did as pseudo credentials for his analysis. Avoiding a rebuttal to the idea of "Why 'Halo 3' will decide the Xbox 360's fate", I'm not sure I'd recommend trumpeting a September Halo 3 post written the day before the game was released -- when industry analysts like Pachter and Sebastian had posted deeper, more accurate predictions weeks (in some cases, months) before. And those guys, as storied as they are in their dedicated vertical market, are only "right" around 60% of the time (in a non-representative, but random, and repeated, an non-overlapping personal sampling).

Anyway, those are my thoughts. Looking at comments written in response to his post while I was writing this one, though, looks like I'm not alone in my grousing.

Hey, for those of you who have been writing to complain about me not having done a "Crotchety Gamer" post in a while ... you're welcome.

Saturday, October 20, 2007

Free HD DVD Heroes with 360 player (UPDATED)

UPDATED: Yeppers -- It's for real.

If you haven't bought an Xbox 360 HD DVD add-on, Sunday could be your golden hour.

Not only has the price dropped from $200 to $180, but rumor has it Best Buy will give you "Heroes" Season 1 on HD DVD free if you buy from them.

So, here's my math representing the new cost of the HD DVD add-on:
$179.99 HD DVD player
- $99.99 Heroes Season 1 on HD DVD (free)
- $27.00 King Kong (HD DVD pack-in)
$53.00 Total

And, you also get to mail away for 5 free HD DVD titles.

So, depending on how you're selling this opportunity to your significant other, your either getting an HD DVD player for fifty-three bucks, or you're getting the player for free, and five HD DVD titles for a little over $10 a piece.

It's a shame the free titles are a little ... lackluster.

Like most purchasing decisions, you have options. You can go to Wal-Mart, and for $10 less on the MSE (depending on your Wal-Mart), you can get the HD DVD player and 300, rather than "Heroes" (and still get the five free movies).

Of course, rumor has it there's an HD DVD Xbox 360 in the works (which would also include a TV tuner). But that won't see the light of day until probably late next year.

Of course, you could just try to win Season 1 of "Heroes", and a "Heroes"-themed 360 and HD-DVD drive at

Thursday, October 18, 2007

40GB PS3 for US

Following up on the 40GB PlayStation released in Europe (and lacking backwards computability), a similar model has finally been announced for release in the U.S.

According to
"The new version of the PS3 will come with a 40-gigabyte hard drive, cost $400, and go on sale on November 2, said Jack Tretton, president of Sony Computer Entertainment America.

"The price of the 80-gigabyte version will be cut to $500 from $600."
But don't forget:
"For the new 40-gigabyte PS3, Sony has removed its ability to play games for the predecessor PlayStation 2, which is still selling strong despite its aging technology."
Me? If I were to buy a PS3 (I'm not), I'd try to find one of the discontinued 60GB models still in stores that does play PS2 games.

Wednesday, October 17, 2007

Another place consoles are missing the boat

So, The Orange Box has flagged for me a couple of big missed opportunities for developers / publishers wanting to capitalize on things setting consoles apart from PCs.

The big one is multiplayer. I'm not talking about Xbox Live and the PlayStation Network -- I'm talking same-box, four-player mutliplayer.

I have FOUR freaking controllers! Not being able to play local Crackdown at all, only being able to do two-player local co-op for Gears of War, and having to go online to play any multiplayer Team Fortress 2 sucks. Why buy it for $60 for the Xbox 360 or PS3 (eventually?) when I can have the same same box experience (with an arguably better control set) for up to $25 less?

I can see a company mistakenly not wanting to implement local multiplayer, because of the mistaken perception they can sell more games if everybody has to buy them in order to play.

Ridiculous. I have so many friends and acquaintances who have bought games and systems because of my twice weekly open game nights. You limit the local play, you limit those sales.

I'm glad to see Halo 3 continues the 4-player same-box support, both offline and online (other than offline co-op campaign, which only supports 2, and which I maintain is likewise poor; but not as bad as all of the other games I mention).

I'd have more sympathy, but (A) I really think console multiplayer games need to support local multiplayer as a standard feature to compete in the current market, and (B) After pinging multiple game devs about this, they were pretty harsh about local multiplayer not being included because of "developer laziness" -- ouch! And those are their words, not mine).

So, get with it, kids. I would have bought The Orange Box day one if TF2 supported local 4-way play. As it is, I'll hold off until it hits a promo discount price, and if that doesn't happen well before or well after the holiday game glut, I may end up passing on the title altogether.

Oh, and Area #2 where consolers are falling short? User content. Halo 3 has the Forge level editing feature. Build from that (give us the level, map, and skin creation options we've had on the PC mod side for years).

(Oh, and don't get mad at me for mentioning Halo 3 so much. Though they do a lot of things right, their botched non-drop-in-drop-out online co-op sucks. Feel better?)

Saturday, October 13, 2007 360 bundle? Email advertisement for an Xbox 360 bundle. Anybody else get this?

In my Email last night, I got my Weekly / mailout.

Of particular interest to me is the Xbox 360 bundle that's highlighted (my doing).

It looks like it's the announced Holiday Bundle that comes with Marvel Ultimate Alliance and Forza Motorsport.

In addition to that, the bundle lists "Bioshock" [sic], Two Worlds. , and "Half-Life 2" (I assume this is the Orange Box edition).

The bundle lists for $399.99, so given the announced $350 MSE for the Holiday SKU, for fifty extra bucks you get two great games (and one debatably good game), which Fry's Electronics (at least in my neck of the woods) are selling for $50, $40, and $60, respectively.

Of course, clicking on the link was taking me to a "Page not Found", and is now redirecting me to the site's front page.

I'm trying to get a response from Customer Service, and I'll post an update here.

Updated: According to Customer Support, "Unfortunately we have sold out of that bundle."

Since I clicked on the bundle the instant it showed up in my inbox (got an SMS when the Email arrived), and didn't get a "Out of Stock" notice, I doubt this is true. But, what are you gonna do?

Thursday, October 11, 2007

EA buys BioWare and Pandemic


So, Electronic Arts just worked it out with Elevation Partners to buy VG Holding Corp, which owns BioWare and Pandemic.

From a business perspective, this is a great way for EA to add top-tier Intellectual Property (IP) and talent to their stable. And it's not all that surprising a move to me, since John Riccitiello is the CEO of Electronic Arts, but was the co-founder and Managing Director of Elevation Partners before that, and the President / COO of EA before that.

It does sadden me a bit, as BioWare / Pandemic were an interesting happening in the independent developer scene. And there's a local connection for me, since "It will enable [Electronic Arts] to further the careers of the passionate, creative and hard working teams at BioWare Edmonton and BioWare Austin." (The "Austin" part is the local connection, for those non-regular readers. And welcome!)

I'm curious as to whether there are other reasons EA did this. The cynical side of me worries this is akin to the EA purchase of Criterion, which I would argue wasn't so much for the RenderWare engine, as it was for the Burnout and BLACK IP.

Also, what does this mean for the Xbox 360 exclusive Mass Effect, published (currently) by Microsoft Game Studios? Sure, it probably won't impact the first iteration, but Mass Effect is a franchise, and was a planned trilogy of titles (at the least). Sure, there was no guarantee before that the game would stay an Xbox 360-exclusive, but given the "we'll finish it this hardware generation" mindset, it would be hard to envision it on other systems as well -- EA is arguably the king of multi-SKU titles (to be fair, so are other commercially successful big dogs like Activision and THQ).

And what about other deals? Like the BioWare / SEGA deal for the Sonic RPG?

Almost more importantly, will all of this impact EA's BLACK sequel on the 360? I'm kinda waiting for an update on that. It came out during an investment call update. Now, nothing.

But really, as long as the BioWare / Pandemic people are taken care of, the other stuff is pretty academic.

(As an aside, I don't really care about console exclusives, per se. I just want the games on the platforms I own to rock. Devil May Cry 4 and Orange Box for everyone? Suh-weet. Dead Rising and Lost Planet quality across multiple platforms? The more the merrier.)

Wednesday, October 10, 2007

Halo 3 and BioShock Reviews

I've posted reviews of BioShock and Halo 3 on that side of my Website, and included links to those (hopefully balanced) reviews and balanced them with the ultimate in snarky reviewing -- the Zero Punctuation embedded video reviews from The Escapist.

Halo 3:

Adam's thoughts:
Zero Punctionation review of Halo 3:


Adam's thoughts:

Zero Punctionation review of BioShock:

Monday, October 08, 2007

New Xbox 360 bundles

Looks like there are a couple of new Xbox 360 holiday bundles, and since the price doesn't raise and they include ~$90 in games, I'd say it's a good deal.

The Xbox 360 "Pro" / "Premium" / "Main" SKU (or whatever they're now calling it) stays at $350, and comes with Forza Motorsport 2 and Marvel Ultimate Alliance, two fantastic games (the latter especially for me).

The Xbox 360 Elite stays at $450 and comes with the same two games.

The bundles should be available near the end of this month, and are called "Holiday Bundles", so they're probably limited run jobbies.

I also don't know if the Marvel Ultimate Alliance is the standard version, or the Gold version that includes the new downloadable content. That would be an extra nicety, but might be a bit greedy.

Sunday, October 07, 2007

PS3 drops backward compatibility

In case you haven't heard, there's a new 40GB SKU PlayStation3 coming from Sony Europe -- and it drops backward compatibility for PS2 games altogether.

I don't know yet if this is going to happen in the United States, and while it is irritating, I think there are some bigger things going on.

First, the irritating part. Parts.

Sony blasted Microsoft for Microsoft's multiple SKU approach -- a "Premium / Pro" (hard drive and wireless controller) and a "Core" (the stupid, hard drive-less configuration). This is all Microsoft had until this year, when they released the Elite. There are special editions of the console (Halo 3, Simpsons, etc.), but those don't count as mainstream retail SKUs to me. Oh, and the "Core" will probably be replaced by the "Arcade" version, which differs from the "Core" by switching to a wireless controller and including a memory card.

So, on the Xbox 360 side, you'll have three retail configurations, and two special editions.

And Sony, who criticised multiple SKUs from Microsoft as confusing consumers, has had a 20 GB model, a 60 GB model, and an 80 GB model. Then they phased out the 60GB model in the U.S., and it looks like they're about to do the same in their European territories (Europe, the Middle East, Africa and Oceania). And they've introduced this new 40GB SKU there (and, shortly, in Aussie Land).

And it's not just a hard-drive change on the 40GB version. It'll still come with the SIXAXIS wireless controller, WiFi, and HDMI, but will have only two USB ports (not the four on the 60GB/80GB), and no multi-memory card port.

And it will not be backwards compatible with PS2 games.

Which leads to Irritation point #2: Dropping backwards compatibility. First, it's nice for gamers to have. Second, Sony was a bit uncharitable toward Microsoft as to Microsoft's not supporting backwards compatibility out of the box. Sony told GameDaily BIZ the feature drop is due to "both the reduced emphasis placed on this feature amongst later purchasers of PS3, as well as the availability of a more extensive line-up of PS3 specific titles".

Thankfully, Joystiq does a good job of refreshing folks' memory by quoting Sony's Phil Harrison as saying in 2006,
"[B]ackwards compatibility, as you know from PlayStation One and PlayStation 2, is a core value of what we believe we should offer. And access to the library of content people have created, bought for themselves, and accumulated over the years is necessary to create a format. PlayStation is a format meaning that it transcends many devices -- PSOne, PS2 and now PS3."
"Hello, Pot? Kettle's on line one."

Besides the embarrassment, what's with dropping the backwards-compatibility feature, when it's "a core value"?

I think there are at least a few options.

First, in the Sony versus Microsoft versus Nintendo race this round, I'd argue it's not the hardware -- it's the game library. Sony knew this in the PSOne and PS2 era, but they seemed to have forgotten it this round. This holiday, Sony will have 65 games for the PS3. Microsoft will have, what -- 250? 280? Halo 3, Blue Dragon, Mass Effect, Eternal Sonata, BioShock, and other console-selling Xbox 360 exclusives? Three hundred and eighty-five playable original Xbox games (and I've personally played at least 36 last-gen titles on my 360.)

By dropping PS2 support in the PS3, Sony forces PS3 owners to buy PS3 games. Games expensive to develop, and needing to recoup cost. Sony may be hoping money shifted from buying PS2-supported titles will go to PS3 game purchases.

Secondly, Sony could be hoping the move causes people to buy PS2 consoles to play PS2 games. Sony is taking a bath this console generation, coming in an arguably distant third. But the PS2 was selling well, and a recently (quietly) revamped version saw manufacturing cost efficiencies. Sony may be realizing the PS3 was cannibalizing PS2 sales more than expected, and they need to drive up their flagship sales. (As an aside, I've said multiple times only Nintendo seems to be able to avoid the self-cannibalization model.)

Or this could be as "simple" as a "right hand no knowing what the left hand is doing" situation. Could it be SCEA is shaking their heads at SCEE? (Probably. But for this? Dunno.)

Or it could be more complex. Think myriad factors, like does moving away from PS2 support in the PS3 reduce support costs? Is the software emulation unaccountably dropped from the new 40GB SKU actually somewhat hardware dependant, and does SCEE measurably reduce its loss-leader margin by taking out this component of the hardware?

And maybe, maybe this could be a good move. Maybe it introduces another SKU at enough of a reduced cost that meets enough of a new market segment that it will be profitable and non-cannibalizing.

Or maybe it's just Sony's turn at channel stuffing.

So why is it irritating?

Because Sony said one thing, lambasted the competition, then turned about and did the same thing -- in spades (at least Microsoft is releasing more feature-rich SKUs). Companies are getting a lot more scrutiny and less obfuscation in what they're doing -- why not come clean? Why not, "Market demands are currently not aggressive enough to justify manufacturing costs, so after serious study and consideration, we've decided to remove features that will least impact our core Sony PlayStation3 constituency."

Or maybe something's broken on the whole console retail model. I mean, does Sony have apologize each time they release a new DVD or music player? Do they have to go on the defensive every time they release a BetaMax, mini-CD, Sony Memory Stick, UMD, or equivalent?

Wait ...

Monday, October 01, 2007

Cooler Xbox 360 chips in the wild

Looks like the new Xbox 360 65nm "Falcon" CPUs are out in the wild, at least on the Halo 3 version of the console.

For those missing the significance, the 360 has an abnormally high failure rate. There are arguably multiple endemic problems, but part of the issue includes the original, larger /hotter 90nm chipset, and inefficient heatsinks. Some consoles returned from repair recently have included a secondary heat dissipation pipe added to the board.

But many in the industry have been waiting for these new chips. They're smaller, and they cost half as much to make (this may lead to further price cuts to the console this holiday to counter Sony's allegedly pending price reduction). Theoretically, the chips are also more economic with heat output. Consoles with the new chips also have simplified heatsinks.

How to tell if a console has the new chipset before buying it (and without the messiness of cracking it open and invalidating the warranty)?
"Check the barcode sticker on the side of the box. The 65nm chipped Halo 3 console was built August 24, 2007 from team "FDOU" and part of lot 734.

Saturday, September 22, 2007

Capcom TGS rumors

In an earlier Tokyo Game Show post, I said, "I'm hoping for some good stuff from Capcom".

While some good stuff did come out from them this week (moving Capcom franchises to mobile handsets, Omega Five for XBLA, three new PS2/PSP games), I should clarify what I want:

Dead Rising 2. And more original IP (a la Dead Rising and Lost Planet).
Fortunately, Kotaku's Brian Ashcraft caught up with former Dead Rising creator/producer (and now Capcom exec) Keiji Inafune, who provided more info (if not short-term hope on DR2).

While Inafune said he does "really want to do Dead Rising 2. It's just still hard to get games for the Western market approved." and unfortunately, the "original team has been split up and is working on different projects".

More encouraging on the new IP side, though, there's this brief exchange between Ashcraft and Inafune:

Ashcraft: Capcom has been cranking about a lot new IPs like Dead Rising, though — not just relying on sequels.
Inafune: And there are a lot more new titles coming. A lot more.

Awesome. More new ideas, please. You guys tend to rock at those.

Thursday, September 20, 2007

TGS coolidge so far

UPDATED: Added Soul Calibur IV video, link to's "Bringing it Home", and more info on Lost Odyssey.

OK, I'm not really able to stay away from game happenings, even while I'm trying to avoid Halo 3 spoilers.

Cool / interesting stuff is coming out of the Tokyo Game Show (TGS), and I'm pretty stoked.

  • PS3 gets rumble -- I feel bad Sony's thunder was stolen by a third-party partner, but they did get to announce the DualShock3 at TGS -- so Sony now has Sixaxis (yawn) and rumble. Sweetness. (List of supported current and upcoming games is here.)

  • Seaman 2 -- Stop giggling. Turns out they're making a Seaman 2 that is weirder than the first game, so it'll probably never see US (or maybe even EU) shores (how did the first game ever make it stateside?).

  • MetaPlace announcement -- Wunderkind Raph Koster's MetaPlace "open MMO platform" made its official debut at TGS. Official after winning in the TechCrunch40 conference and being chatted up at the Austin Game Developers Conference. But official. Again. (This is part of what motivated me to share about my AnthropoMMO(TM) idea.)

  • Soul Calibur IV -- One of my favorite franchises has a new, less-jiggly trailer (thank goodness)! The trailer has cutscene and gameplay footage, and shows tastes of the melodramatic (but for me, fun), mythos, and the WTF one-liners (love those). The video's also downloadable via Xbox Live as part of Microsoft's "Bringing it Home" effort.

  • Metal Gear Solid 4 -- Gameplay videos have finally shown up, and I'm hoping the bandwidth hogging lets up so I can watch the officially released vids to get a sense of the non-cut-scene quality. I am hearing that even folks who hate MGS (probably the same folks who dislike Splinter Cell) are loving it.

  • Lost Odyssey -- A playable version of the game is being shown at TGS. I really hope gameplay vids come out this week. Its from Hironobu Sakaguchi, fer crying out loud. Another nugget on the game? It'll be on four discs. Yeah, first Blue Dragon on two DVDs, and now L.O. on four. I wish Microsoft would rethink the non - high - capacity format thing, and the "don't - require - the - hard - drive" thing (but not in the "memory - management - poor - 5GB - per - PS3 - game" way). But, streaming is allegedly better off of the DVD-9 format compared to first- and second-gen Blu-ray streaming, so there is that.
  • 2007 Game Awards -- Part of TGS are the Japan Game Awards. What's interesting is that the 360, despite sucking hardcore in the Land of the Rising Sun, picked up the "Global Award: Japanese Product" for Dead Rising and the "Global Award: Foreign Product" for Gears of War.
  • PSP/PS3 neatness --Looks like updates to your PSP and PS3 are going to lead to some coolness. Things like turning your PS3 on or off when you're somewhere else with your PSP, using your PSP as a rear-view mirror for Formula 1 Racing, using your PSPs as PS3 controllers (Why? If you feel that extra analog stick is annoying?), and (eventually) you'll be able to play the PSPs and one PS3. That's all pretty cool.
  • Folding @ home -- With the addition of the PS3 in the network, the project recently achieved the "petraflop" -- a quadrillion floating point operations per second. That's the equivalent of every person in the world (at the same time) doing 75,000 calculations in a second. That's cool because of its gaming connection, but it's cooler to me for the bigger application of successful (and useful) grid computing (whatever happened to Butterfly after the IBM acquisition).

There's more coming (in particular, I'm hoping for good some stuff from Capcom), but this stuff rose to the top for me so far.

Wednesday, September 19, 2007

Tokyo Game Show coverage

I normally go dark before some game or movie releases, as I try to avoid spoilers. When Spider-Man or Transformers movies or the like come out, I'll even avoid toy stores, so I don't get spoilers from the merchandizing.

Halo 3 is coming out, and I'm trying to not have the game ruined by idiots.

This is bad timing, because the Toky Game Show is this week.

I may or may not check out various coverage of the event in my attempt to avoid Halo 3 spoilers.

If I don't write about TGS stuff, here are some other sources where you can grab the TGS-specific info:

Playing Halo 3 early? U R NOT banned.

UPDATED: According to Pro-G, who earlier said "a Microsoft rep confirmed rumours", :
"We can confirm that Microsoft is not taking any action (such as banning Xbox Live accounts) against gamers who are playing Halo 3 before the official street date. Any rumours or speculation to the contrary are false," reads the statement issued by Microsoft this evening.
I'm not on the "official" distribution, so I'm waiting to see what pops up on places like Also waiting for a mea culpa from Pro-G, but that doesn't look forthcoming.

This in from Pro-G (with Microsoft "preparing an official statement on the Halo 3 banning scandal"):
"... a Microsoft rep confirmed rumours that gamers who play Halo 3 early will have their LIVE accounts banned. Simply not connecting to the internet [sic] doesn't appear to be a solution either. The rep also confirmed that Microsoft is able to ban accounts based on information collected by the console which shows when the game was played."
So, if you play Halo 3 before midnight(ish) next Tuesday, you could be banned (unless you never, ever connect to the internet).

I actually applaud Microsoft for doing this. No, I don't care whether I'm liked.

People work really hard to create product, and your thoughts about hype machines aside, a company has the right to do a launch event in keeping with the timing and desired return on investment for what they've already poured into the product. We're getting Halo 3 because Microsoft poured a lot of money and planning into it.

More important to me, people, individuals -- designers, developers, animators, producers, QA folks, writers, audio people, community managers, network gurus, operational mavens, breakfast taco delivery drivers, and the like -- put in time, effort, and creativity, and gave up a lot on the personal front to make Halo 3 something special. They should get to see the fruit of their sacrifice maximized next week. My thoughts.

And for those of us who detest spoilers, I really appreciate their being a penalty for inconsiderate folks who think it's funny to ruin the endings of movies, games, or comic books for other people.

Intel buys Havok

AMD bought ATI.

Intel did not buy Nvidia, but for some reason, many folks think they did (it was just a cross-licensing partnership, kids).

Then *BAM!* Intel buys Havok, makers of the gold-standard for physics engines (hard to argue), character behavior (maybe arguable), and animation (arguable).

AMD? Your turn.

What does this mean?

For Intel, it represents a significant additional revenue stream, as Havok's technology is used in top-tier games (BioShock, Stranglehold, Halo 2, Half Life 2, The Elder Scrolls IV: Oblivion, Crackdown, Lost Planet: Extreme Condition, MotorStorm, etc.) and movies (Poseidon, The Matrix, Troy, Kingdom of Heaven, Charlie and the Chocolate Factory, etc.).

Practically, for gamers, the purchase may not much. I mean, Intel says "Havok will operate its business as usual", but there is the upside that they will be able to "take advantage of Intel's innovation and technology leadership".

To be honest, despite the happy happy press intonations, I think Intel does do a better job than a lot of folks with their driver releases and robustness, so the Havok acquisition may additionally benefit gamers on that front as well.

Monday, September 17, 2007

Serious games I'd like to see: Anthropological MMO

"Serious games" are a genre of interactive entertainment designed to not "just" entertain. They should provide instructional or simulation benefits, often beyond just "edutainment" -- more along the lines of equipping users with skills they need before they actually need them in the real world.

Companies like Maryland-based BreakAway Games and Austin-based Online Alchemy provide serious games (or AI for serious games) for clients such as first responders and the Armed Forces.

Other companies, like Total Immersion Software (also based in Austin), provide game engines for creating serious games in addition to mass-consumption games.

Sites like Ian Bogost's Persuasive Games create games that "influence players to take action through gameplay", because games "communicate differently than other media; they not only deliver messages, but also simulate experiences. While often thought to be just a leisure activity, games can also become rhetorical tools."

So, here's a game I'd like to see -- an anthropological Massively Multiplayer Online game.

I'm calling it AnthopoMMO(TM) (partially because it's apropos; partially because it makes me grin).

Below is basically a formal concept document for the title:


PC (at least)

Target Demographic:
Male/Female 14-55
Students and Academics

High Concept:
World of Warcraft meets the Mayans. And the Aztecs. And the Inuits. And the Aka. And ...

The game will leverage research and assets from partner universities and secondary education sites around the world to create a free-roaming massively multiplayer online (MMO) game. Rather than just traditional MMO fighting (or "grinding"), the game will let you pick a member of included tribes, peoples, and cultures to grow within your culture. You also be able to explore other cultures -- including your impact on those other cultures. In this sense, the game would be more of a "World" MMO, as opposed to a "Quest" or "Player-versus-Player" (PvP) MMO. However, it would have elements of all of those types of MMOs.

Where you start out in the game depends on what people you choose, and your purpose in the game.

The game will have three avenues for exploration:
  1. Leveling up within your chosen people (leveling and interaction is restricted to those within your chosen cultural and geographical restrictions).
  2. Interacting with other groups, peoples, or tribes (creating a powerful "what if" simulator) for academic research and exploration.
  3. Spectator mode for "untouched" peoples (largely for research and observation).
The goal is to work your way through the "ranks" of your chosen society, but that may include testing interactions in a simulation manner to model possible inter- or extra-societal impacts.

Every group, tribe, people group would have two versions. The first is a "Control Group" that would be untouched by MMO players, but can be visited in a non-impacting way in a "spectator" mode (popularized by some shooter-style video games). The second group would be an "open" group that could be used for likely interactions (say, the Aka hunter-gatherers visiting Ngandu farmers), and unlikely interactions (the an Aka tribes member mixing with the Inuits).

Each playable character will have personality and attributes of its own, attributable to the chosen people group. Models will be "balanced" based on anthropological input to take advantage of their culture and physicality, while constrained by real-world physics, weather, climate, terrain, and the like.

Play modes are to be determined, but may include versus AI (NPC), online adversarial, online co-operative, and "online exploratory" (for joint research of "Control Groups"). Player models are marginally customizable, depending on the chosen people. Customization may be randomized to a simplified subset of inputs.

Art style is in keeping with 3D simulation MMOs, and more realistic, as opposed to cartoony or characterized.

Input can be provided and updated by top-tier anthropological and related disciplinary programs (archeology, etc.) throughout the world. These organizations would be recognized through formal partnerships, to constrain input and development.

I'm pretty intrigued by this idea, and if anyone else out there is, too, let me know. We can address a quick non-disclosure agreement, and I can share a somewhat lengthier formal Proposal Document.

Saturday, September 15, 2007

Halo 3 diorama -- Believe

If you're a breathing human being, like it or hate it, you're probably not going to be able to get away from Halo 3 over the next couple of weeks.

Microsoft's new "Believe" advertising campaign presents a sober take on the Halo mythos that's vaguely World War II retrospective-ish. I'm liking the campaign, because it's trying something new and gutsy, and hooking into the mythos and heroes that could make the Halo franchise more than it is currently (and hopefully, not just in a marketing capacity).

Featured in the first video, "Museum", the Halo 3 diorama (the "John-117 Monument") will be touring the country soon.

The diorama was put together by the incomparable Stan Winston (Aliens, Jurassic Park, Spider-Man 3, 300, Superman Returns) and is more than 1200 square feet (30'x40') and 12 feet tall. Each figure is handcrafted (eight to twelve inches high). Honestly, it's a beautiful piece of art.

Online, you can tour the whole diorama in an amazing camera fly-through that includes 180- and 360-degree views, enemy and participant pop-ups, and first-person accounts. The fly-through shows some stubs where more videos will be available on September 25 (the date the game launches) and (interestingly) October 1.

This is a cool mix of high-tech and traditional modeling, and is a lot of fun to spin through. More about the filming and diorama can be found at Static Multimedia. And this whole thing is "media intersection" in the coolest sense of the term.

My only gripe is I wish the first-person accounts had voice over, since this would have been a powerful addition to the piano-overlaid experience, and the text is too small to read comfortably on high-res monitors.

And there are spoilers in the fly through, so be careful. I generally "protect" myself from these kinds of things, but I'm such a Stan Winston / old-school set modeling fan, that it's worth the hit to me.

Wednesday, September 12, 2007

Halo 3 toys give me hope, confirm fears

So, picts of the fully painted sculpts are out for the new Halo 3 toys at McFarlane Toys. I'm not posting the picts, because I haven't receive permission yet -- but here's my deconstruction of them (and a major pro is they're based on a 6-inch scale).

To review:

  1. I'm a toy fan.
  2. I'm a fan of Todd McFarlane.
  3. I like McFarlane's toys for their sculpts, and dislike them as action figures (as a generality, they're not pose-able).
  4. I said I'm nervous about the articulation for the Halo 3 toys.
  5. I call Todd McFarlane "Toddy", because no one else seems to. No word yet on whether he's OK with that, but I'm told someone is checking this out for me.

Anyway, as far as point #4 (from a prior post): least Master Chief will have "more than 18 points of articulation" (would that be "19"?), which ups the Joyride Series One's 15 points. No articulation notes are given for the other figures, which makes me nervous.

Master Chief:

Master Chief does, indeed, look decent. The photos, unfortunately, are not good at showing how much range of articulation the figure has. A little of critical analysis yields encouraging stuff, though:

  • Photo 1: Looks like the shoulder joint is pretty versatile
  • Photo 2: (with Photo 1) showcase a range of motion for the knee joint, and similar jointing for the ankle (which would be good news)
  • Photo 3: Looks like the elbow has great range of motion

What I can't tell from the photos is what the hip joints are like (Photo 2 is closest to giving a view, but it's too dark to see). To be fair, hip joints are hard -- you have to avoid the whole "adult diaper" look (epitomized by Hasbro's Marvel Legends White Queen). But I can't tell if the Chief can stand straight, or he's eternally ready to crap Brute spike grenades.

The deco looks spot-on, though, and I'm curious about the tenuously attached frag grenade -- Clever magnet gimmick? Pin and socket? Breakable and child snortable in waiting?


Cortana is a non-articulated statuette with a light up base. And honestly, Scott Fischer set the sexy bar for our favorite semi-corporeal Femme AI in The Halo Graphic Novel. That's the new Femme AI Sexy Bar, or FAISB(TM). And "Mother" from Alien is our favorite non-corporeal Femme AI. So I'm mheh on this sculpt until I see it in person.

Brute Chieftain:

The Brute Chieftain has probably the coolest deco scheme of the lot. The picts are also better about showing a range of motion the other product photos don't. The gravity hammer accessory is almost a character in itself (hmm, new weapon for the game?). My only concern is whether his "I'm compensating" loin cloth thingy gets in the way of posing the figure. I dig the sculpt, though.

Jackal Sniper:

Imagine if there was unholy wedlock between Pan (the goat dude, not the cross-dressing broadway dude/tte) and Skeksis (from The Dark Crystal). This would be their baby.

The sculpt and deco are complex and detailed, the picts again show a more varied range of motion, and I'm curious what the spiky things on the head and forearms are made of. I'm more curious as to the balance of the figure, given the goatish legs. This will either be amazingly done, or amazingly frustrating.

Grunt Two-Pack:

Speaking of balance, that could be the bugaboo with these cooly crafted little ... buggers. The Grunt Two-Pack has one each teal and burnt orange armoured Grunts (What? Specificity is good.) that look great, down to the nubby little feet that could make their back-heavy Notre Dame(ish) humpbacks a problem. But if the weighting is good (and the rock-like feet are cleverly sculpted to compensate for character tilt), these could be a couple of little winners.

I do hope the guns are removable. And I wonder if it's too late to have Jason Staten voice clips emanate randomly from the figure as they sit otherwise quietly on the shelf?

So, there's my unsolicited (but stunningly brilliant) deconstruction of the toys. If I get permission to post picks from McFarlane Toys, I'll update this post with those.

New Halo 3 ad; no Master Chief

This ad for Halo 3 caught my attention.

Simple. Emotional. Creates a universe through a voice over interview and straightforward visuals.

It really feels like a Neill Blomkamp piece; I wouldn't be surprised.

Tokyo Game Show (Microsoft)

I'll have to post more about this tomorrow, but here are some of the highlights from the Microsoft's Tokyo Game Show press conference (mostly lifted from
  • Lost Odyssey will be out December 6 (in Japan; probably)
  • Ace Combat 6 from Bandai Namco is exclusive to the Xbox 360
  • Gundam Operation Troy will be out in 2007, as will Katamari, and Gundam Musou International (that last one is a maybe)
  • Dynasty Warriors 6 will be out in November
  • Ninja Gaiden 2 was announced, and looks to be an Xbox 360 exclusive
  • Age of Empires, Crysis, World in Conflict, the new Viva Pinata party game will all be out for Japan's Games for Windows Live
  • New controller colors have been announced (possibly just for Japan): green, black, pink, and white
  • New XBLA titles include Rez HD, Every Extend Extra Extreme, Ikaruga, Trigger Heart, Exit, and Omega Five
  • New RPG Infinite Discovery was announced, a joint project between Square Enix, Microsoft, and developer is Tri-Ace
  • Square Enix's other project, The Last Remant, will be playable at TGS this week

Tuesday, September 11, 2007

Disney on the move?

Hmm, Disney may be up to something -- on the video game and downloadable content (DLC) front. I mentioned my thoughts suggesting Disney buy SCi / Eidos, but I am seeing an amazing amount of Disney activity among my video game industry contacts, their blogs, and micro updates.

I wouldn't mention it as a rumor except I have never seen this much concerted traffic among all the gaming people and updates I follow, all pointing back to a single company. We're talking touchpoints to a couple of dozen (otherwise) unrelated publishing and developer entities, all within a few days.

We'll see.

Could be nothing. Could there's just one active Disney networking beaver, and he's playing "Corporate Partner Pokémon".

Sunday, September 09, 2007

The importance of corporate solidarity

As a enterprise technical director, I recognize the importance -- and challenge -- of keeping everyone on the same page. Some recent video game happenings have prompted me to write about it.

So, I'm gonna talk about my version of what I call "corporate solidarity", why it's important, why it's hard, and why it sucks (and what costs) when it's broken. And I'm going to use two recent examples that aren't big by themselves, but give me a launch pad for discussing this in a games industry context -- BioShock and Crackdown.

"Corporate Solidarity":

From a functional perspective, if the various development, QA, project management, support, operations, and other parties are not marching to the beat of (largely) the same drum, I can't get the products and services for which I'm responsible out the door. And once I get them out the door, if people don't have a "one team, one brand" perspective, a lot of folks' ridiculously hard work can be thrown out the window in a heartbeat.

Maintaining this is hard for a bunch of reasons. Actually, we could say, "The reasons corporate solidarity falls apart is Legion" (both due to the connotative sense of the word, and because when all of these things stack up against you, they can feel vaguely demonic; I kid; maybe).

I manage international, multi-million dollar projects and services. People fall off the same page because of time zone and cultural differences, varying departmental goals, the "silo effect" of different internal functional groups prioritizing their goals over the success of projects or services they're supporting, Customers' (or developers') changing needs being put ahead of agreed-upon schedules, miss-prioritization of cost / scope / schedule to the negative detriment of the other factors, personality conflicts, greed, hubris, embarrassment about admitting a technical or business mistake or lack of skills or experience, the planets not being aligned, tectonic shifts, and Web 2.0. To name a few.

And managing these stumbling blocks is hard. Wicked hard. And it requires just that -- management. Project management, financial management, people management, risk management, relationship management (in addition to people management), expectation management (separate from people and relationship management), communication management, and on and on.

Personal case study:

Let's take a small example of internal corporate solidarity falling apart, and the damage it does.

I managed a part of a service / product offering I'd actually brought into the company. A year-plus later, it'd become a decent revenue stream, had transitioned to another group, and was growing. I was brought in to shepherd some next steps for the service, and had been asked to attend a call with the current owners (within my company and division) and the Customer.

On the call, the point person from the new owning group within our company proceeded to insult the Customers and my team as not knowing anything about the service (I had actually been responsible for helping define the original business, user, and context flows the service). He was unresponsive to Customer questions and requirements statements and dismissive of my bringing up any history and lessons learned.

His content was worse due to his delivery, which was very aggressive, snippish, and what you could call "steamrolling".

The call went as well as it could, and I spent the time constantly navigating conversation back to the Customer to get what I could as far as enhancement requirements, desired time lines, service level expectations, concerns, and the like, not responding to our own company's barbs, and heading off my team members' and the Customers' responses to those barbs.

Immediately after the call ended, the Customer (who was also the business owner of the service, and who had a positive history with me), called me to ask what just happened, who this [unmentionable] person was, proceeded to tell me they may have made a mistake moving the service with this group, said he was thinking of stopping the enhancement project all together, and hinted that the mistake might impact our entire division.

That's a whole lotta cost for an employee forgetting he worked for the same company as folks on the phone, and forgot his Customer on the phone was providing his current position. The real-world cost in addition to that was the expense and time-cost of stopping and restarting the enhancement effort a number of times, weeks work of damage control, and the relationship building of re-establishing credibility for the entire division. The eventual solution is too long for (and outside) the scope of this post, but involved several of us outside of what I'll call that problem area of the company doing the work to keep the business, and being mature enough to swallow our own pride to keep the business, despite having to do it along with less mature people. Not fun, that.

Game Case Study 1 -- BioShock:

OK, biases out in the open first: I'm playing BioShock, and it's an amazingly well-done and entertaining game. On top of that, Ken Levine seems like a genuinely nice, hard-working and helpful guy.

But BioShock's had its share of PR bumps.

First, there was the hiccup around widescreen HDTV presentation. Which, arguably came down to an internal development miscommunication as to how 4:3 and 16:9 presentation is handled, versus ... what the rest of the HDTV world expects. But Levine was quick to offer (while on vacation) a mea culpa, explanation, and promise of further exploration to address it for gamers. (This is a actually a pro-solidarity example, sometimes called "constituent solidarity".)

But then there have been all sorts of problems with the PC version of the game -- largely around copy protection, and getting "charged" for multiple installations of the game, even if you're the only one playing it.

That's frustrating by itself, but exacerbated recently (and publicly) by a statement from a 2K Games forum moderator (who is not a a 2K Games employee; most news outlets have not updated with this critical bit of info).

Here's the thread from the forum (stereotypical crudishness included):

Nemesisdesignz wrote:
I installed Bioshock on my laptop under one admin user, Everything works fine, but I then tried to switch users on my computer and whenever I launch Bioshock it is asking me to enter my serial again for the game.... IS THIS GONNA CHARGE ME TWO OF MY 5 Activations???? IF SO THAT IS GAY.... I need to know this ASAP before I attempt to play this on my pc under the other user... THis is a bug if the case get yo stuff fixed!

Here's the response from moderator 2k Tech JT:

2k Tech JT writes:
The other way to view this, is one USER has purchased the game. Not the whole family. So why should your brother play for free?

Obviously, the logic is a bit off (if you buy a movie, and the hero doth bleed, can not your family watch the hero bleed with you?). It's not like games follow a per-seat licensing structure akin to big-gun ETL or development software.

Since this is allegedly not a 2k employee, why do I include it?

Because this is still another extended example of a lack of corporate solidarity costing a good product that's already in the marketplace. The problem person in question "works for an outside tech support group" -- a vendor who is part of the larger matrixed BioShock team -- and who (obviously) impacts the positive and negative success of the product. You better believe if I was at 2K, I'd be factoring this instance into contract renegotiations with that vendor company. Of course, maybe this forum moderator is just effected by the penumbra of parent company Take-Two Interactive (what, you don't think there's something endemically wrong with that outfit?)

Game Case Study 2 -- Crackdown:

This one makes my heart hurt a little. Hang on ... OK.

Crackdown is a great little sandbox game from the original creator of Grand Theft Auto (before it got caliente café). It came bundled with a beta key for Halo 3. The game stands on its own without the Halo 3 beta. It sold 1.5 million copies in six months. It was published by Microsoft.

Realtime Worlds producer producer Phil Wilson said in a developer interview (among other things), despite the critical and popular success of Crackdown, there isn't going to be a sequel.


According to the Realtime Worlds (and pay attention to the language):
"Microsoft were a little late in stepping up to the plate to ask for Crackdown 2, and by then we had already started working on bigger, better things."
Ouch. So, "Our publisher who effectively banked us on that and our two next projects? That hand? This is me biting it."

Not good. So with this publisher / developer solidarity breakdown, Shane Kim over at Microsoft Games is probably going to be thinking about that if Realtime Worlds comes and asks them to publish their "undisclosed project due in 2009."

Oh, and as a little freebie, notice how bad decisions beget bad decisions and impact tertiary groups. has changed the story (there was some other unflattering stuff in the original article), adding this disclaimer:
"NOTE: Details/facts in this story have been adjusted at the request of Realtime
I used to be a journalist (formally, not just this current labor-of-love column stuff), and there are things you want to do. Stuff like stand by your story, not blame your source, not be obligated to get your story approved -- or edited -- by your source, and so on.

The solidarity breakdown has hurt many.

Anyway, that's my little (little?) blurb about corporate solidarity, corporate partnerships,