Friday, March 30, 2007

New Halo 2 maps April 17th ...

The new Halo 2 maps are coming April 17th -- two of 'em.

You can get info and screenshots from, but in essence, the two maps are good-looking remakes of previous maps Hang 'Em High and Derelict -- and I'm a big fan of the original Halo's Hang 'Em High map.

Not to disparage anyone's work, but though the maps are touted (via the press release) as "a perfect way to thank fans for their support", we have to pay $4 for our two thank-you maps. And there are just two of them. I was expecting more.

But they will be available on the Xbox and on the 360, which is a nice improvement (originally, it was suspected they would be 360-only). The tradeoff is these will be credit card purchases, not MS Points, since the original Xbox doesn't recognize the difference between Xbox 360 Silver and Gold accounts, or MS Points. Maybe that will lessen the 12-year-old idiocy on these maps?

And again, not to disparage anyone's work, but I think there's some work that could be done to make these maps purchase-able via points on the 360. I'm a development and services guy, so I really think there's some work that could be done to make these purchase-able via points on the 360.

But they'll likely be great maps, give us more Red versus Blue fodder, and (like previous Halo maps) may eventually become free.

And they're being created by Austin game company Certain Affinity. I want these to be off Certain Affinity's plate so we can finally find out what else they're working on...

Thursday, March 29, 2007

I'm not upgrading to an Xbox 360 Elite (yet) ...

A lot of folks are asking me if I'm going to buy an Xbox 360 Elite next month.

The short answer is "no", but why is important.


I'm sure pretty much no matter who you are, $479 is steep, and the new unit better have compelling features for that price.

It doesn't.

Here's your feature list:
  1. HDMI output
  2. 120GB hard drive
  3. Black color
Now, here's why those don't matter:

  1. HDMI output -- There will be hi-def purists who argue, but I cannot see the difference between HDMI and VGA -- and I get 720p / 1080i/p with both. I know hard core video- / cinephiles who say the same. You can maybe make an argument that you're a little "future proofed", but I don't know that the Xbox 360 Elite is going to be compliant with the newest revision of the high-bandwidth digital-content protection (HDCP) -- and there's going to be some time before that even matters. And the HD DVD drive is a USB 2.0 external addition, anyway.
  2. 120GB hard drive -- I can buy this by itself for my current Xbox 360 Premium (or Pro) for $179. That saves me $300.
  3. Black color -- Granted, black is the new black, and makes the Elite wicked sexy, but is it worth a McKinley? I think not.
One other feature the Elite SKU may have is faster, quieter DVD drives. Maybe. I'm just assuming. But new 360 Cores (pshaw) and Premiums / Pros will have that, too.


How about the negatives of purchasing the Elite?
  1. Low features, high price -- Not a lot of (any?) "must-have" features for having to buy a whole new expensive console.
  2. Old guts -- It looks like the Elite will be running on the 90-nanometer chips of the current Xbox 360 -- not the smaller / faster / cooler 65-nanometer chips that will be incorporated into manufacturing in July(ish). So in about 3 months, your Elite will have outdated innards.
  3. Your content is tied to your current box -- Here's the biggie. One of the things Microsoft has done well is when you buy content, it's yours. Xbox Live Arcade games? Yours. TV episodes? Yours.

    But though you can buy a 120GB hard drive and move content from your 20GB drive (just one!) to the 120GB, if you buy a new console, you're screwed. That's because content is tied to the physical box (not hard drive; it's like a hardware signature to make sure you own the content). Though Microsoft has acknowledged they're "still working on this". Guys? You have one month.

    No word on if I buy a 120GB drive now (in a color scheme that matches my current 360), and buy an Elite later (that ships with a black HDD), can I move my content from my old 120GB to the new 120GB? (What can I say -- I'm a completist.)
As far as the other stuff Sony fanboys are picking apart on the Elite model:
  1. No wireless -- It shouldn't have it; the specs change to fast. Sony, you're stuck with built in 802.11g, but N's out now, and Ultra-Wideband Wireless hits this year. Besides, smart gamers are going to hardline into their broadband connection.
  2. No built-in hi-def DVD option -- Again, it shouldn't have it. The PS3 comes with a built-in Blu-ray player -- yay. I'm not willing to fork over the premium for Blu-Ray discs that are overpriced and are not taking advantage of the promised rich content capabilities (hire some UI big guns, studios!). The external HD DVD drive is Microsoft's option, so if I buy that and Blu-ray wins, I'm out $200. But if HD DVD wins, you have a $600 Blue-ray brick of a PS3. One that plays DVD-9 discs slower than the Xbox 360.

Let the hate mail begin...

Wednesday, March 28, 2007

New Xbox Live partnerships ...

Timed with the Xbox Elite announcement, Microsoft has announced new partners for Xbox Live.

You can read the full press release here, but let's just skip to the bulleted list of additions:
  • A&E Network. "Dog the Bounty Hunter," "King of Cars," "Gene Simmons Family Jewels," "Driving Force" and "Criss Angel Mindfreak"
  • ADV Films. Top offerings from the No. 1 producer-distributor of Japanese animation ("anime") outside Japan
  • National Geographic. The television series "Is It Real?" and "Taboo" as well as programs such as "21 Days to Baghdad" and "Air Force One"
  • A broad action-sports offering including extreme skiing and snowboarding, skateboarding, motocross, surfing and mountain biking

And, hidden in the press release:

'Also, for the first time, Warner Bros. Home Entertainment will be releasing its
direct-to-video movies exclusively in high definition on Xbox LIVE simultaneous
with their availability on DVD, starting with "Sublime" and later "Babylon 5:
The Lost Tales."'

I'm a guy who tracks changing business and distribution models in media, so this last nugget is pretty telling to me. To have one of the big boys willing to do day-and-date for two separate distribution modes is a big deal (and a tacit nod to guys like Mark Cuban over

"Xbox 360 Elite" SKU confirmed!

Microsoft confirmed the existence of the "Xbox 360 Elite" tonight -- the new (black) SKU for the Xbox 360 console.

This is a new ongoing SKU (not a limited edition), and has HDMI output, a 120GB drive, and a black headset. It also comes with an HDMI cable (unlike the Sony PS3) and the component / composite cable that comes with the current Xbox 360 Premium (or "Pro") SKU. There's also an audio adapter / cable for those folks that have HDMI for their home video set up, but not for their audio (and it looks wicked slick).

The Elite will MSP for $479.99 -- $130 less than the high-end PS3, with twice the storage, and a pack-in HDMI cable ($60 extra with the PS3). However, the PS3 does come with built-in Blu-ray and Wi-Fi, and you need to purchase those items separately for the 360 (HD DVD in that case) separately, for $200 and $100, respectively.

The new SKU will be in stores in the US and Canada on April 29, and elsewhere worldwide this summer.

The new 120GB hard drive will also be available separately at an MSP at $179.95, and comes with a transfer cable and software to move data off of the old 20GB hard drive easily. If you buy the hard drive alone, it'll be in the gray scheme matching the existing consoles (the 120GB drive that ships with the Elite, however, will be black).

Other accessories that will be shipping in a black versions are the wireless controller and battery packs. Other accessories won't roll out in black (at least initially).

There are going to be existing Xbox 360 owners that are going to gripe about this new SKU. As for me, I've had my 360 for a year and a half and got to enjoy it -- I'm not planning to bitch and moan about the new SKU. Covet, maybe.

UPDATED: You can catch a video reveal over at Channel 10, and pictures from Major Nelson over at Flickr.

Below are links to Podcasts from explaining the thought process and marketing around the creation of the Elite edition:

Tuesday, March 27, 2007

Microsoft and Xbox Live upgrades ...

I'm probably going to get in trouble for this, but man, I'm irritated by Microsoft outages for Xbox Live updates.

Why? Is it because they're multi-hour affairs making the service unavailable to users for ridiculous time periods?

Sure, I'm a bit irritated on this front -- look, the current outage is a 14 planned hours.

But I'm more irritated that they have a planned 14-hour outage -- and they can't accomplish their maintenance inside that time frame (they're currently an hour late, with "no ETA").

For the last 2 (and maybe all 3) of the last 3 scheduled downtimes, operations folks have slipped significantly outside of the scheduled downtime window.

I'm not talking from a naive perspective -- I manage large-scale, multinational, enterprise systems and services. And I don't do multi-hour outages for maintenance activities. I don't do more than a handful of hours even when I'm rolling systems from one infrastructure to a new, upgraded infrastructure.

But Microsoft can plan a 14-hour outage (during business hours; another thing I'm not allowed -- and wouldn't think -- to do), and slip outside of it. Repeatedly.

This is not sour grapes ("I wish I could have that much time to do my upgrades") -- it's professional umbrage.

I wonder what their internal Service Level Agreements (SLAs) are? Because, honestly, I feel like they're taking advantage of the fact that their end users can't do anything in the face of a protracted outage.

Maybe Major Nelson will have another podcast interview with ops folks about the delay, where they explain "how complex something like this is".

"LEGO Batman" confirmed ...

The rumor from last October is true -- LEGO Batman (not sure of the final title) is coming to consoles -- but not until 2008.

This time, it'll be published and distributed by Warner Bros. Interactive Entertainment -- but it will be developed by Traveller's Tales -- the folks who made the LEGO Star Wars franchise a platinum deal.

Add this to the LEGO MMO from NetDevil (also coming in 2008), and next year is looking pretty good for LEGO -- and solid gameplay -- fanatics.

Oh, and you'd think a publication like Variety would get product references right ("LEGO", not "Lego"). lEgO is known to send out nastygrams if they don't like your casing of their logotype ...

Saturday, March 24, 2007

Stream PC content to your 360, PS3, or Wii

Orb Networks, Inc. just announced what sounds like a wicked cool innovation for networked Xbox 360, PlayStation 3, and Nintendo Wii owners.

Using their new (and free) downloadable PC software, you can get all of your "digital entertainment on the PC (home and Internet videos, photos, music and more [IPTV, PC Webcam, etc.]) directly on your TV with your gaming console using Orb's free software as the bridge."

I have a Windows XP Media Center Edition PC, and the Xbox 360 serves as a Media Center Extender (using Transcode 360 for non-Microsoft formats), so I already get all of this.

Microsoft also provides this functionality for non-MCE Windows XP machines via Windows Media Player 11 or Windows Media Connect (but for a subset of Windows-supported formats only; for things like DiVX, you can use VLC, WinAvi, or Windows Media Encoder).

But it looks like Orb packages stuff together and makes it easy to install-- especially for PS3 and Wii owners, and for all 360 owners who don't have a Media Center PC option available to them.

Check out Orb's solutions for all three consoles.

Wednesday, March 21, 2007

WOW, Blizzard to hit Austin ...

Blizzard Entertainment (World of Warcraft) is coming to Austin.

According to the Austin Business Journal, Blizzard "has secured a 46,000-square-foot office building in Northeast Austin where it will relocate a significant portion of its gaming support staff along with quality-control and internal support groups" and "the new facility will eventually house around 500 employees."


So, on the Austin MMO front, Blizzard will be joining NCSoft, Sony Online (who are working on the DC Online MMO), and BioWare (working on an unannounced MMO). Plus, there are non-MMO big guns in Austin (like Midway, working on Blacksite: Area 51, I suspect Criminal, and probably something else), not to mention the tons of other development and related studios in Austin, like Pixel Mine Productions (who does the Ashen Empires MMO), The Animation Farm (makers of top-caliber art assets), and turnkey / outsourcing experts Critical Mass Interactive.

And though Blizzard says they currently don't plan on putting a development studio here, people like Rich Vogel (previous co-founder of Sony Online Austin and current co-studio director for Bioware in Austin) say down the road that may make sense, due to the industry-specific (and, I would add, the high-tech industry-related) talent pool in Austin.

This is great news for Austin.

Five hundred people? Surely they need a big-gun enterprise service manager rock star ...

Thank you for "D&D: Heroes" ...

If you worked on Dungeons & Dragons: Heroes -- thank you for a great, under-rated game.
If you know someone who worked on D&D: Heroes, please tell them thank you for me.

And check out my thoughts on the game here. Then get some friends together and play.

Friday, March 16, 2007

Halo 3: Good news and the bad ...

What kind of person are you? Glass half full? Half empty? Empty and there's a leak and somebody did that to you on purpose? Uh, you last few should probably stop reading.

Do you like your good news first, or your bad?

Here's the good.

Looks like Halo 3 may launch in September, rather than its traditional November.

Microsoft's saying "Fall", so there's no guarantee (November's still fall in Austin), and if they feel like they need more polish, I'm sure they'll push to October or November. Because they can.
Now, the bad news.

Remember when I said Halo 3 was coming in three versions? Remember how I said the "Legendary Edition" SKU would be $99.99?

It's more.

Like, $30 dollars more. So, $129.99.

The Legendary Edition will include a miniature replica of a Halo Spartan Mjolnir Mark VI Helmet. Miniature. $130 bucks and I get a Mini-Me Spartan.

But you'll also get some storyboard art from artist Lee Wilson, depicting "crucial moments from the Halo story".

And you'll get two DVDs (besides the Halo 3 game). The first disc has a behind-the-scenes looks at the making of the game and Bungie Studios and an audio-and-video-calibration utility to maximize home theater performance. Interesting.

The second disc, available just to deep-pocketed Legendary Edition purchasers, will have remastered cinematics from the first two Halo games, along with Bungie commentary. There will also included be a "a day in the life at Bungie" featurette and content from Halo video series Red vs. Blue and This Spartan Life.

Folks with shallower coffers can shell out $69.99 for the Limited Edition, which includes the first disc from the Legendary Edition and a Halo fiction and art book.

And $59.99 will get you just the Halo 3 game.

$130 for a game? Seriously?

Monday, March 12, 2007

Aspyr inspires me ...

I just read an interview with Ted Staloch, Executive VP of publishing at Aspyr Media, Inc., in the March issue of Tribeza magazine.

I'm impressed with publisher Aspyr anyway (they've done a ton to lift Macintosh gaming and the video game cred of Austin in general), and Staloch seems like an fun, passionate guy.

But this quote in particular struck me:
"I miss handshake deals. The amount of energy, time, and resources put into
contracts and tactical negotiations is fascinating, but I miss the days when a man's word and integrity were more significant and binding than a fifty-page contract with ten signatures."
Longtime visitors to my site -- particularly my acting blog -- will probably get that this stuff is pretty important to me. I'm glad to see someone being successful with the same mindset.

As an aside, the whole March issue of Tribeza is dedicated to video games and interactive media -- so check it out.

Sunday, March 11, 2007

SXSW 2007: Screenburn Arcade ...

A buddy and I just went down to the ScreenBurn Arcade, the open-to-the-public portion of the ScreenBurn Festival (the video game portion of SXSW Interactive).


I mean, it was OK -- and I did get a copy of Auto Assault to try -- but it was a bit of a light event.

Fortunately, I got to talk to folks I know (BioWare Austin is an increasingly cool group of folks).

And got to meet the Pixel Mine crew -- folks with whom I've been wanting to touch base for a while. They've got some slick stuff out now (Ashen Empires), but could have up to six titles out by year end). They also seem to have an intelligent and unique development / publishing / distribution model that I hope bodes well for independent developers.

And now I'm at Fado's for fish and chips. There are worse ways to spend a Sunday afternoon.

Friday, March 09, 2007

GDC 2007: Summary ...

OK, so I need to go back and pick up a few things, but I really don't have anything for a "GDC 2007 Day 5".

So, instead, here's a summary of all of this week's posts, and don't expect much more, because SXSW Interactive starts tomorrow.
To get caught up, check out GDC summaries below:

GDC 2007: More on LittleBigPlanet ...

If you haven't seen the videos of the Sony PS3 LittleBigPlanet and its level editor, go look right now.


This is the first thing that's made me want to buy a PS3. So, hopefully, it'll be available on more platforms.

Thursday, March 08, 2007

GDC 2007: Day 4 ...

  1. Nintendo / Shigeru Miyamoto keynote
  2. Developers Choice Awards
  3. Independent Games Festival Awards
  4. More Warren Spector
  5. How to Pitch an XBLA Game
  6. Chris Taylor says "no more overtime"
  7. Inafune b*tch slaps Clover Studios
  8. Games I'm watching

Again, this is just a sampling of some of the things that caught my attention -- see links at the bottom for more complete coverage for these and other things.

1. Nintendo / Shigeru Miyamoto keynote

Seriously, I can't argue with the Lifetime Achievement Award Miyamoto took to the hotel last night.

A lot of the coverage of his speech today is in that "Live blogging" stuff that trades up-to-the-moment information for any sense of cohesiveness. GameSpot's got a decent summary that pulls out what I want -- a legend's comments on game design and the market (codified as an expansion of the "Nintendo Difference" -- the company's vision).

The 3 key components of the vision / design ethic are "Expanded Audience" (getting "cat people and dog people to play together; seriously); "Balance" (played out in collaboration and team work and interdisciplinary benefits); and "Risk" (and "none of the company's past risks hold a candle to the Wii").

Bridging the corporate vision to his personal vision, it sounds like Miyamoto is all about fun -- but not transient fun so much as creating a lasting, positive upswing for gamers from his games. And he's self-admittedly tenacious about it.

And he said creative vision isn't one element of game design--it is the very essence of it.

Lofty stuff from a guy who makes fun games.

2. Developers Choice Awards

Gears of War topped the GDC Developers Choice Awards, taking Best Game, Technology, and Visual Arts awards.

In news of local import, Austin's sound genius George "The Fat Man" Sanger took the Community Contribution award. He's actually not at all fat.

3. Independent Games Festival Awards

Indie's got their time in the limelight, with perhaps the only generally recognized game being The Behemoth's (Alien Hominid) upcoming XBLA title Castle Crashers, which picked up the Audience Award.

But if you haven't checked out the "Where-the-Wild-Things-Are(esque)" Samorost 2 (Amanita Design) -- which picked up the Best Web Browser Game -- you should.

Also, I really like the Technical Excellence Award winner from Three Rings Design, Bang! Howdy -- a tactical/strategy title that's slick and poppy.

RoboBlitz (another XBLA title) from Naked Sky Entertainment also picked up one of the GameTap awards.

And a mod I had been watching and didn't know was done won the Best Mod award and the Best Single Player FPS Mod -- Cut Corner Company Productions' "Weekday Warrior" Half-Lfe 2 mod (a "corporate office adventure mod", and really a total conversion mod). Who do I get to beat with that crowbar? Seriously, though, check out the site -- it's a slick little work of art in and of itself.

4. More Warren Spector

Like the Warren Spector stuff I posted before? Value more insights from the man?

Good. I respect you more. And I don't even know your name.

Spector spoke at GDC -- again on narrative. And he had some pithy, sometimes tough things to say to about it.

Spector broke out three narrative types

  1. "The rollercoaster", where it feels like a lot is going on, but it's really constructed on non-linearity (I'd put Gears of War in this bucket).
  2. The "Will Wright" -- The players really create the entire narrative (I'd put, uh, Will Wright's games into this; and to a lesser degree, sandbox games; and Crackdown more than others).
  3. Procedurally generated stories -- Games with a mutable story, and allow gamers to "explore the innerspace of personal relationships as much as the outerspace of the game world". Scary, that.

He criticized his peers for not offering enough non-violent play options -- "I want the opportunity to play a game and not play the part of Vin Diesel" (And I want to be able to play Crackdown without killing innocents). He also advocated the building of fully explorable worlds, not superficial environments that are "just an excuse to shoot stuff" (this "Massive D" movement -- BLACK, upcoming Stranglehold and The Force Unleashed -- may be guilty of this, but wicked fun).

My favorite quote is probably his directed at developers:

"Get over yourself. Your story isn't that interesting. Trust the players a little bit ... let them off rails. ... This is as much a design issue as a technology issue at this point."

Not that I have anything against developers -- I just think this is an applicable quote for all of us (writers, designers, developers artists, voice actors, and players).

5. How to Pitch an XBLA Game

Here's a gift -- get from the horse's mouth how to get a game to them. If I'd waited 4 months, I wouldn't have had to figure it all out on my own as Microsoft was doing an internal transition.

And it's changing, thanks to Microsoft's evolving mindset and inclusion of XNA.

The bummer (at least from the IGN coverage), is the revelation that while "Microsoft has funded the development of XBLA titles in the past (Small Arms), they aren't doing so at this time."

6. Chris Taylor says "no more overtime"

I manage development teams, and quality of life for me and for them is important to me. So I hooked onto Gas Powered Games honcho (and Supreme Commander designer) Chris Taylor's success story of developing under sane hours.

"We would have made a worse game [Supreme Commander] if we had worked 14 hours a day. Dungeon Siege would have been a better game if we worked the way we did on Supreme Commander. It's just the right way to work, and it puts fun back in the business."

My experience is insane hours occur for a lot of reasons (poor scheduling, inappropriate staffing -- numbers and skills, etc.) but more often (and more severely from a breakdown in communication between the business and the technical folks, where business folks are trying to meet bottom lines and technical folks are stuck on the "you can't have a baby in one month if you add 8 more women".

Or, at BigHugeCorp, I see the breakdown when product decisions are made for a development organization -- and the rules aren't the same. I have to think there's a nigh perfect mapping to the developer/publisher relationship in the video game vertical market.

7. Inafune b**ch slaps Clover Studios

Not really, but it makes for an interesting title. Plus he kind of did.

When Capcom R&D head Keiji Inafune was questioned about the closing of innovative design studio Clover (Okami, Viewtiful Joe), he blamed the Clover producer(s).

The interview has an interesting breakdown in what Inafune sees in the roles of Director versus Producer, and I'm curious as to how much of this is Japan-games-industry-centric.

Games are not a work of art. It's actually a product. If we think of it as a work of art, then... when we think about Picasso and Van Gogh's paintings, the end result is beauty, so it doesn't matter if you sell it or not. However for games, it's a product. It is a commodity. The producer has to think about that.
The producers work is to make the team make good games and then sell those games. The producer has to do the promotion. They have to think about the promotion. The producer has to take those good games and think about how to deliver it to as many users as possible.
Great directors may exist in great numbers, however, if you don't have a good producer it won't lead to sales. And I think this Clover Studios example is a really good example of that.

Inafune also revealed that Capcom offered to take those roles for Clover, but Clover refused. I wonder if there's more there.

Now Inafune is the guy behind many stolen hours of my life (a la Dead Rising, Lost Planet, and Mega Man), so I'm inclined to listen a wee bit.

8. Games I'm watching

I mentioned in my first GDC post there are a number of games I'm watching, and several made GDC appearances.

Killzone 2 actually showed during Sony's Edge presentation (their suite of PS3 development tools). I've heard mixed things. Like some of the footage sucked. And that it's like "BLACK for the next generation" (which will have some competition, since Electronic Arts confirmed in a conference call last year that there's an actual now-gen BLACK sequel in the works).

Tabula Rasa got a lot of time, both with new video footage and insight from Richard Garriott. After a redirect a year ago, the game sounds like it'll be an MMO with less of the MMO annoyance and more of the single-player bennies for which I'm looking. According to GameSpot coverage, the "game will make smart use of instanced content and branching story-driven quests to help players feel like they're more involved in the game's story." And in a move that might make his peer Warren Spector nod and smile, this might "also to offer a more mature overall story that offers moral ambiguity and shades of gray, as opposed to the conventional structure of most online games."

Hellgate: London continues to look great, and introduced the Templar class, which looks pretty sweet.

My other watched games haven't seemed to have made it in any noticeable form to GDC.

Except Fable 2.

Fable 2, Peter Molyneux revealed, will have 3 big features -- but he only talked about the implemented one (I think he's learned since the first Fable). And people are badmouthing it online because its ... a dog. But it's not just a dog. We're talking a Black & White AI flavor of dog. We're talking there-is-no-HUD-in-the-game, and the dog is a little map finder. We're talking he put the four-legged furred thing in there to create a form of emotion -- a form of love -- for the player. And there is some brilliance in many of his statements. About game design. About people. About life.

The dog won't leave you. It will follow you if you leave it. It will fight for you in battle. It will trail after you whimpering and bleeding and devoted.

And he hinted at downloadable content related to the dog.

Amazing stuff. Add Spore and whatever the hell Junction Point Studios is doing (and Mass Effect and the like) and we've got some heady stuff coming up.

To get caught up, check out the updating GDC summaries below (and if you know of more / better ones, let me know):

GDC 2007: XBL accounts will work for Vista ...

This just in from one-less-reason-for-the-peasants-to-revolt (me being a peasant):

Microsoft's released details on the Live for Windows pricing, and it looks to be just like the Xbox Live pricing -- free for Silver, and ~$8 / ~$20 / ~$50 per month / three months / full year for Gold.

Better, Xbox Live Gold members can use their accounts for the Live for Windows features on their PCs -- surely vice versa is true, to? Brass tacks is it looks like we won't have to pay twice. Which would cause me to want to revolt. Against the Man.

No details yet on what Silver versus Gold will get you on the Live for Windows side, but hopefully, Microsoft has no plans to screw with the it's-free-to-play-PC-games-online model (excluding MMOs and the like, of course).

In related news, Halo 2 for Vista will have Achievements and a complete map editor -- two things the Xbox version (even playable on the Xbox 360) doesn't have.

Is it too much to hope those same features would be part of this spring's Xbox 360-only map pack download for Halo 2? Max? Please?

To get caught up, check out the updating GDC summaries below (and if you know of more / better ones, let me know):

Wednesday, March 07, 2007

GDC 2007: Wii comments ...

Um ...

So, Chris Hecker over at Maxis and working on Spore, probably one of the most anticpiated god games (and games period) lashed out at Nintendo, saying, "The Wii is a Piece of Sh*t!"

So, everyone's entitled to their opinions, but since publisher (and Maxis owner) Electronic Arts is prepping a version of Spore for the Nintendo DS, maybe these comments could have been more artfully couched?

Since these comments were made in a talk enabled "Burning Mad - Game Publishers Rant", I wonder if any publishers wanted to add, "Better understanding from all levels of development the advance and royalty structure."

As a guy who manages develoment teams, and service programs that span the branding, distribution, and multiple internal and external parties, I'm sensitive to the balancing act between giving space to gripe, and the importance of being on the same page.

"One team, one brand" (or something similar).

I'm just saying ...

UPDATED: Evidently, Hecker gave a public apology for his comments. From
Hecker also noted that when he is giving a speech (or rant) he is speaking for
himself, and not for Maxis or EA, which owns Maxis. EA has been throwing a lot
of support behind the Wii, so it may have put the company in a strange spot when
one of its employees publicly denounced Nintendo's new console.
To get caught up, check out the updating GDC summaries below (and if you know of more / better ones, let me know):

GDC 2007: Day 3 ...

  1. Sony gives PS3 owners a Home
  2. Sony shows off LittleBigPlanet
  3. Sony says they have an Edge
  4. Microsoft episodic Halo project and more

1. Sony gives PS3 owners a Home:

Sony just gave every PS3 owner a Home

Accessed via a new menu item in the cross media bar, Home will give PS3 gamers a virtual space where they will receive and store achievements they get in games -- like Xbox 360 Achievements, but times a 100 geek points. Maybe a thousand geek points. I'm a little rusty on my rule sets.

Sony's Phil Harrison revealed the initiative last night at a press-only, NDA-bound event, and is just going public with it now during his GDC keynote.

And it's more than just virtual trophies in a Fortress of Solitude-style virtual space. Sony -- with an underlying concept call "Game 3.0" -- the "service will feature a detailed three-dimensional environment with graphics and physics on par with many next-gen games." There will be a lobby (where you can have MMO-like interactions); entertainment spaces (a cooler implementation of the Xbox Live Arcade); movie theaters (where you can watch trailers or "sit down" and watch films, a la Xbox Live Video Marketplace); decorate-able apartments (where you can "hang out" with friends, throw virtual parties and play music stored on your local PS3, etc.).

And it doesn't stop there, because Sony's gotta make some cash, too. Besides the expected pay-for-play movies, gamers will likely be able to pay for upscale apartments, clothing, and accessories. In addition, publishers could conceivably build whole neighborhoods -- paying Sony for the right to do so. And, of course, there's in-game advertising.

Set to beta this April and go live (at least for the U.S. and EU) this fall, we'll have to see what the final application looks like -- and what Microsoft does in the interim.

2. Sony shows off LittleBigPlanet:

Following up on its "Game 3.0" announcement last night, Sony revealed LittleBigPlanet, from Mark Healey (Media Molecule) and Alex Evans (the dudes behind Rag Doll Kung Fu). LittleBigPlanet looks like an accessibly playground for users to make their own platformer. The description and screenshots are impressive, and Kotaku now has video up.

While I'm impressed, I'm bummed this seems pretty narrowly focused -- I was hoping Sony was announcing something for Indie developers to compete in the XNA space with Microsoft.

3. Sony says they have an Edge:

I'm not sure if this is the XNA competitor, but Sony revealed "PlayStation Edge" -- new development tools Sony is offering to PS3 game developers free of charge. Free is cool, but is there an XNA Creator's Club-like offering, so wannabe Sony developers can publisher their creations on non-debug PS3s? I'm trying to get more info, because a lot of the press coverage seems to focusing on the apparently lackluster Killzone 2 clips -- the game that's been missing in action for nigh on 2 years.

4. Microsoft episodic Halo project and more:

Not new news, but at least it's good to know the project's not dead, and there's a tweak. Microsoft's Shane Kim said Microsoft and Bungie Studios are currently planning two different episodic gaming series for the 360 (with Peter Jackson). Kim said the first series will be set the in Halo universe -- implying the second will not.

To get caught up, check out the updating GDC summaries below (and if you know of more / better ones, let me know):

Tuesday, March 06, 2007

GDC 2007: Day 2 ...

Today, the Independent Game Summit is in full swing, and it looks like there were some good sessions on "Prototyping for Indie Developers", and thoughts from "Gatekeepers" for indepent distribution -- Microsoft's Xbox Live Arcade (XBLA), Sony's download service, GameTap, and "one of these things is not like the other" Manifesto Games (who is thankfully pushing the emotive envelope for games) -- I wonder where Valve / Steam was?

There was also a crash course from The Behemoth (Alien Hominid and Castle Crashers) that must have been a gift to attend (fortunately, the highlights are available online).

And I'm excited that a verison of Every Extend Extra (Every Extend Extra Extreme) is coming to XBLA. The game is from Q Entertainment (Tetsuya Mizuguchi, behind (Lumines and Meteos), and looks to be pretty sweet.

As a matter of fact, despite my rantings a couple of weeks ago, XBLA quality is looking up. I still have my concerns for indie opportunities (Microsoft Kim Pallister's remarks about XBLA criteria being "self-funding" and "track record" certainly leaves a lot of folks out), but from a gamer's perspective, there are some good things on the horizon. To some degree, all of the following games have got me grinning: Boom Boom Rocket (Electronic Arts), Jetpac Refuelled (Rare), Schizoid (Torpex Games), Eets Chowdown, Worms, Pinball FX, Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles (Ubisoft), etc.

And the announcement of "a 'YouTube for games' that Microsoft is working on to develop and share XNA games" might mitigate my other concern.

To get caught up, check out the updating GDC summaries below (and if you know of more / better ones, let me know):

GDC 2007: Blue Dragon and Lost Oddyssey get dates ...

Microsoft announced Blue Dragon (already released in Japan) will be released in the United States this August, and Lost Oddyssey (Hironobu Sakaguchi) will hit "this fall".

These are two titles about which I'm pretty stoked ...

To get caught up, check out the updating GDC summaries below (and if you know of more / better ones, let me know):

Crackdown impressions ...

I finally finished Crackdown -- ready my impressions here.

Monday, March 05, 2007

GDC 2007: Day 1 ...

Crud, I'd really planned on doing a blow-by-blow this year, but an implosion on the non-virtual front has got my attention elsewhere. But it's a stupid implosion, so to hell with it, and back to the fun stuff.

Again, I expect this year to be bigger and different than previous years, if publishers / developers try to use GDC to fill the vacuum left by E3. It sounds like from Kotaku's perspective, this might be partially true (at least from a vibe perspective):

"There's a different feel to this year's. The event seems more serious, bigger,
a bit more spread out... horizontally."
Particular items of note so far for me:

Games I want to "see" at GDC (I'm not there, but I want info on these titles):

  • Bioshock (most ... ethically challenging ... game ... ever?)
  • Fable 2 (what's the super secret reveal, Peter?)
  • Killzone 2 (yeah, right)
  • S.T.A.L.K.E.R. (Most-annoying-to-type-title)
  • Tabula Rasa (Could be wicked cool)
  • Hellgate: London (It's Hell. It's London. It's RPG. It's MMO(ish).)
  • Junction Point's TBA title(s)? (I'm hopeful)

To get caught up, check out the updating GDC summaries below (and if you know of more / better ones, let me know):

UPDATED: Added, since their coverage is finally up.

UPDATED #2: Added

Sunday, March 04, 2007

Why Gamecock's got me smiling ...

First (and probably most repeatedly), it's the name. Seriously, Gamecock's going to have the double entendres flowing.

Second, the Gamecock Media Group is pretty important to the Austin scene. As arguably the third publisher of note in Austin (joining Aspyr, Inc. and NCSoft), they're a serious shot in the arm to Central Texas creativity.

Third, they're funny. Seriously, check out their site. Sure, it's a bit frustrating for getting any concrete content about the company or people, but it's an entertaining diversion, and has a lot of Wideload-like humor (I'm still trying to get a handle on the whole Wideload / Gamecock thing).

Finally (and most importantly to me, since I'm on this whole integrity / do-the-right-thing mission), Gamecock sounds like they're going to "do it right" -- Interesting, original properties, crediting and supporting the developers, and so on. I'm just hoping from a business model perspective it works out for them.

Gamecock Media Group is founded by Mike Wilson and Harry Miller, two of the three guys who founded Gathering of Developers ("G.O.D" for short, which became GodGames, which became Gathering). Take-Two Interactive Software, Inc. forced a purchase of Gathering of Developers in 2000, and Wilson and Miller left shortly thereafter (with Wilson doing a couple of missionary stints back to Take-Two in the intervening years).

As an aside, Wilson and Miller (and Doug Myres, who sadly died unexpectedly in 2001 from asthma) got a financial shot in the arm (evidently with strings that forced the acquisition) from Take-Two's founder Ryan Brant, who recently plead guilty to stock option backdating, and can no longer be in a controlling position in a public company.

But that was then.

Now, Gamecock's ready to make a splash and do games right -- with Wilson and Miller driving the business, branding developers before themselves as a publisher, and getting solid venture funding from outside the game industry -- which avoids some of the pressures of publishers pushing for favors (or acquisition) down the line.

And the titles and genres in Gamecock's first wave(s) are pretty promising:

  • Hero (Firefly Studios) -- A high-def RPG/dungeon crawler. Miller sez, "All the things I don't like [about dungeon crawlers] they were changing or improving upon."
  • Insecticide (Crackpot Entertainment) -- Described as "a hard-boiled, fast-shooting detective game set in a festering future city where bugs have evolved as the planetÂ’s dominant race." Think A Bug's Life with a layer of pulp noir, and more of an Antz kind of sensibility.
  • Mushroom Men - The Spore Wars (Red Fly Studios) -- There's a war going on between "Mushrooms, cacti, kudzu and other formerly-normal plants", and I can't tell for sure, but think this'll be a combination of action/adventure, kind of like the Oddworld stuff for which I'm jonesing. Miller describes it as "Earthworm Jim and Abe's Oddysee" (though I think it looks more like Stranger's Wrath).
  • Fury (Auran) --MMO + RPG = "the ultimate competitive online RPG".
  • Hail to the Chimp (Wideload) -- This game's got me most excited, because of Alexander Seropian (Bungie founder), Stubbs the Zombie: Rebel Without a Pulse (wicked hilarious game), and because an inside source tells me, "It's a total gas" (and I've learned to not ignore my inside sources; or references to gas). This game will have Gamecock pushing 4-on-4 action (online and offline), a la a beat-'em-up / party game that will probably take over my Monday night group gaming session for weeks on end. (I struggled with whether to pair "Gamecock" with "4-on-4 action" or "beat-'em-up".)

    Seropian's also the guy behind Oni, one of my favorite (and under-rated) games. Gathering of Developers published Oni, which probably created the recent Wideload / Gamecock relationship.
  • Unnamed game (TBA) -- There's another slot for a game on the Gamecock Website, so I expect something about it soon.

Good, encouraging stuff, great for Austin, great for gamers, great for people with a skewed sense of humor.

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