Thursday, April 19, 2007

Sony 2nd quarter release offerings ...

Evil Avatar is running a story on the second quarter 2007 release offerings coming from Sony for the PS3, PS3, and PSP.

Given more "than 100 first- and third-party PS3, PSP and PlayStation 2 titles will launch during the next few months of 2007", this is a pretty impressive line-up, volume-wise.

Somewhere south of a dozen are licensed fare. That's not necessarily a bad thing (though historically it is), with games like Spider-Man 3 likely to surprise (again, historically speaking). This hits the PS2 especially hard, but there are still at least 3 titles (Square Enix's DAWN of MANA, Rockstar's Manhunt 2, and Atlus's Odin Sphere) likely to excite gamers. And that's a fair more excitement than original Xbox owners are getting ...

The full list is over at Evil Avatar (the press release isn't on Sony's site yet).

Wednesday, April 18, 2007

Halo vs. Metroid video ...

UPDATED: Added the video inline (above) to this post.

Yeesh. Stop whatever you're doing and go watch this fan video of Spartan (Halo) on Samus (Metroid) action. Ever wonder who would win in a fight between the two? Now you will.

This is the work of just one freaking guy (Monty Oum), who's so talented and getting so much play from this video that his deviantART space is sporadically unavailable.

The vid's a mix of Halo + Metroid + God of War + Devil May Cry + DOA4 + Hong Kong actioner insanity + The Matrix + pre-pubescent fantasy + genious that just makes it great fun.
Watch the whole thing. Even the closing credits. Even the tagged on sequence after the credits. There's a great write-up by Monty on the Website.

I dunno what Monty does, but everyone from Nintendo to Microsoft should be scrambling to get him in hand, in a creative consultancy at the least.

His self-deprecation is funny:
"It should also be noted that I am BY NO MEANS a real 3D artist. Real 3D artists would find my methods laughable and never touch to programs I use."
Why? Because (A) The thing is good, (B) Independent of the 3D, it's all the other stuff that shows how amazing he is: Creativity, Composition, Pacing, Camera, etc., (C) He's figured out ways to make what he wants to do doable (though he says he's "sorta sold out", he's sharply pulled together 2 rich franchises with rabid fanbases, mashed them together, found a technical way to make getting the assets easier, and produced something in somewhere around a couple of months of effort).

This is the kind of guy I would hire on execution and potential alone.

Good for him ...

Comic book video game news ...

Sega has picked up additional Marvel licenses for video game treatment beyond the already announced Iron Man (set to coincide with the 2008 film).

Added to the roster are The Incredible Hulk (taken away from Vivendi Games, who did a great last entry in the franchise), also set to release next summer with the Edward Norton-starring Hulk movie sequel.

Then there's Thor, who's currently dead, but given just-released solicitations for July comics from Marvel (which include Thor #1) he evidently doesn't stay that way (does any comic character, really?). This is set to coincide with the tentative 2009 film.

Most exciting to me (of course), is the acquisition of the Captain America license. Cap is my lifetime favorite character, and I am so looking forward to a respectful video game treatment that I pray doesn't suck. This game will likely (all together now) also coincide with the film, which will likely be 2009 or 2010. The movie is being written by David "Road to Perdition" Self (who's also tapped for Deathlok, probably my third or fourth favorite comic character; he's behind Beta Ray Bill and probably ties with Moon Knight).

I want a Captain America game with a Harker-like fighting system. Seriously, Sega, if you're not developing the title in-house, give the license to some superstar dev team like The Collective; make it an Indiana Jones-ish WWII actioner, and have some classic Cap bddy like Baron Blood as the baddie. While we're at, Collective, how about you scrap Harker, and roll all that work onto the Captain America game? Great mechanics, style, depth and play, with a license deserving of all of that.

(Says the guy with no pull whatsoever.)

As a fanboy and film industry watcher, however, I am a bit nervous about all of these license / video game / movie announcements. There's a lot of Marvel glut scheduled in the 2008-2009 window, and that's a lot of time for the comic book cycle to wear off (Hollywood is wicked cyclical), and it only takes a Batman & Robin to offset the genre for 8 years. And though Marvel's in an inarguable upswing, they've got a couple of Captain America movies, the Dolph Lundgren Punisher, (shuddder) Nick Fury: Agent of Shield (also set for a resurrection in 2008), etc. that give me more than enough concern about license treatment.

But Kevin Feige on the Marvel licensing side looks to be a rockstar, so that mitigates a bunch of my concern.

Regardless, the announcements are exciting...

UPDATED: Check out a really funny lead-in to this press release over at Fellow geeks, deys my peeps ...

Saturday, April 14, 2007

Evil Avatar Analysts ...

So, the fine folks over at Evil Avatar have had enough, and they've launched a new "Evil Avatar Analysts" Website:

"So, here we are. The people who play the games, read about the games, study the corporations creating the games, and obsess over every detail of our hobby. We are providing the analysis now. You want to know what to really expect from this industry? Don’t ask a suit or a pocketbook. Ask an intelligent, informed, articulate gamer."
The site's got some interesting initial topics, including "Math is Hard: Assassin’s Creed for the DS? Highly likely"; "Guitar Hero II = Love, GHII Downloadable Songs = Not So Lovable"; "Shifting Trends: Microsoft and a series of Errors" ; and "Big Brother is watching you play games".

I think it's a good addition to the gaming blogosphere, and (along with Kotaku and Joystiq), I've been long glad for Evil Avatar's game coverage.

I am, however, going to give the site some more time before deciding it's useful to me. And it's not an analyst site, per se. Reading the first run of posts, I would say it's certainly more of an gamers' Op-Ed site (which is fine; and analysts are lying if they say they're not opinionated).

A few things at least are keeping this from really being in the "analyst" arena.

First, there's this gamer-centric, almost anti-corporate vibe. Though at least one contributer explicitly acknowledges, "Don’t ever forget for even one second that game corporations are in this business to make money", that acknowledgement of reality seems to be lacking in his and co-posters' writings. Corporations make the world go 'round, and while I like and support and participate in the indie game scene, that scene doesn't bring me Gears of War, Marvel: Ultimate Alliance, Mass Effect, BioShock, or the like (it does, however, bring me Dungeon Master). Want a triple-A title? You need a triple-A budget (and yeah, despite Epic Games's assertion of the "small" $10-15M Gears of War development budget, I would like to see the Microsoft Marketing budget for the title; and I would like people to stop using Gears as an example of a triple-A now-gen title built on a last-gen budget).

Secondly (and tied to the first), I'm not sure where the corporate experience is for these contributing writers. Granted, the bios are a bit thin, so there's obviously more to each of them, but it doesn't appear that anyone there has any enterprise financial, development, product, program, service, or project management experience (and yeah, I have all of those). Don't get me wrong -- having years of gaming experience and relationships with companies like these guys have is huge. But I do take issue with commentary lobbed from folks who haven't lived in the trenches with tough product, financial, and development / customer balancing acts. I think that insight would balance their gamer's perspective.

Finally (if only because people remember things best in threes), the professionalism tone may inhibit them in their analyst goal.
"Ask an intelligent, informed, articulate gamer."
That's a good, important goal. However, the tone needs to be watched (or at least evaluated; their tagline is, after all, "Providing in-depth game industry analystatistics…with attitude!").

To illustrate what could be perceived as a possible lack of professional writing, I had pulled a bunch of sound bites out of the posts, then realized all but one were from a single contributer. So, that's either easily fixable, or that becomes his particular "voice".

Gamers opinions are unfortunately often discounted by mainstream press, because there's a stereotype of immaturity and lack of professionalsim (which, incidentally, is borne out in spades through a majority of video game forums). And things like Take Two Interactive's lack of responsibility doesn't help at all. So, to be taken seriously, I think gamers almost need to err too far on the "professionalism" side of literary voice, just to be taken seriously. But that's my opinion.

Overall, I don't mean to come down on the whole "Evil Avatar Analysts" Website. I think it's a cool idea. Besides, "legitimate" video games analysts (as I've mentioned repeatedly) are usually only right 30-60% of the time, and a lot of the big financial firms are getting involved late in the game with green analysts only because they see the dollar signs, but they aren't immersed in the relationships or culture that create a better understanding and (importantly to them) bigger financial opportunity.

Let's see how it goes moving forward. They need to be different. They need to be deep. They need to be useful. These guys need to compete with solid, vetted gamer analysts (who are themselves gamers) like Chris Morris and Jeff Keighley (who seems to be falling out of favor with gamers), and differentiate themselves from other gamer analyst sites, and differentiate themselves from their own Evil Avatar main site brethren (otherwise, why exist as a separate site?).

That's a lot to juggle, but some useful stuff could come out of it for the gamer community, if they pull it off. Best of luck to them.

Thursday, April 12, 2007

Microsoft, channel stuffing, and bad press ...

There's an interesting read over at Information Arbitrage about Microsoft, the Xbox 360 (including the recently announced Elite), and questionable retail and distribution practices.

It's a timely write-up, especially given Microsoft's PR abrasiveness in the face of the Elite's upcoming release (and Nintendo's success).

Fairly aggressive stuff:
'Microsoft is in trouble, and this ain't no joke. Vista is a disappointment. Search is weak. Xbox is under siege from the Wii. Paul Graham recently posted that "Microsoft is Dead."'
And, later:
"Bottom line: strong companies confident in their strategy and performance don't do these things. They don't have to. What kind of a message does this type of behavior send to the investor community and, more importantly, your customers? Weakness. Fear. Short-term thinking. Nothing that represents a positive signal for a better, brighter tomorrow."
The whole post is an interesting read, especially if you're unfamiliar with things like channel stuffing, and learning from the business past to avoid future mistakes.

It's also stokes a bunch of my pet peeve fires, because it touches on a bunch of them:
  1. Falling into legacy models in a "modern" market -- Nearly fifteen years ago, when I was managing a pet shop, we were trained in the tactics and dangers of channel stuffing so we could protect ourselves and our Customers. What, the biggest software company in the world doesn't know the same stuff and more?
  2. Cronyism -- Maybe not directly, per se, but there's some unneeded stroking of other financial / analyst blogs and articles in this post. Fawning is for deer. Or something.
  3. Not the whole story -- Sure, it's a post about Microsoft. And the Sony PS3 and Nintendo Wii are mentioned briefly. However, this post doesn't mention Sony is as more guilty on the channel stuffing front, and the slew of other miss-steps (including the business side, loss margin per console, etc. It doesn't mention the possibility of artificial shortage of the Wii (according to GameStop; not so much according to Nintendo). And so on.

But other people are writing some of those latter articles, and Kotaku and Joystiq continue to be decent industry watchdogs, and maybe even Information Arbitrage will chime in on some of these other issues. An equivalent write-up (pro or critical) of Sony and Nintendo would be interesting companion pieces.

Wednesday, April 11, 2007

Sony Discontinues lower-SKU PS3 Model ...

From Wired:
"Not six months after the PlayStation 3 launched in $500 and $600 models, the
lower-priced unit has officially been discontinued in North America. The only
PlayStation 3 model available from here on out will be the $600 one ..."
Interesting, though a bit of a generalization to say "The only PlayStation 3 model available from here on out will be the $600 one", especially in light of patent paperwork indicating an 80GB model.

Also odd to refer to a model by price, rather than by name or feature set, but whatever.

Tuesday, April 10, 2007

"Halo 3" video documentary ...

I've watched the Halo 3 video documentary several times, and I'm pretty stoked, if for no other reason than I really enjoy these kinds of things.

Sure, these folks aren't curing cancer (that would be my brother), but they're working freaking hard on creating the next iteration of something that brings me a lot of joy. I, for one, am very, very grateful.

And even though the footage in the video is caveated 6 ways to Sunday as "Alpha" (Bungie's equivalent of Google's no-accountability forever in "Beta"?), the stuff looks great, and the new maps, chokepoints, weapons, and strategies look to make online a lot of fun. (If we can just get rid of the socially inept griefers.)

I do, however, have comments and questions:

  • There's an artist rendering of a "Big Ass Mortar Gun", and it looks like that's what 3D Artist Tom Doyle is building during the video, but we didn't see it in play. What gives?
  • There's reference to AI Turrets -- are these robotic turrets, or are bots coming to the Halo unviverse? On the footage of one of the snow levels, there seems to be several inactive turrets that don't look like they're meant to be manned. Interesting.
  • How does the "Escort" game type play out? An adult game type for Halo 3?
  • What's the "Warthog Inc." map showing up in the background of one of the custom game setups? Could it be as obvious as a Warthog manufacturing plant?
  • "Porta potties", Mr. Justin Hayward? WTF?
  • I want one of those table top whiteboards in my next job. As a development manager, I like the idea of the collaboration and intimacy, rather than using an on-wall whiteboard as a device to distance people and say, "Look how smart I am!"
  • What names did Interface Designer David Candland get called in gradeschool? Ditto for Sandbox Design Lead Jaime Griesemer.
  • Does Multiplayer Designer Tyson Green really fish, or does he just like the hat?

Valid questions and comments, all. Really.

"Halo 3" Beta dates & new video

Bungie announced the Beta dates for Halo 3, with the event to "go live on May 16th at 12:00 AM PDT and run through June 6 th at 11:59 PM PDT."

To participate in the beta, you need to have purchased specially marked copy of Crackdown, or won a spot in the Beta through the "Rule of Three" or other regional promotions.

And here's a little of what we're supposed to expect:

"There are a number of new features you'll get to test out – including a new grenade type, a completely different class of weapon and some of the enhanced online functionality we plan to bring to the game – but it should be noted, a lot of secret features are hidden in this Beta. We’re keeping a lot of our powder dry for Fall. In May, when your firing the Spiker, sniping vehicles with the Spartan Laser and sticking fools with the Brute Spike grenade, remember that it’s just a peek-a-boo fraction of what's to come.

And do me a special personal favor – walk down to the beach, the river or the lake in High Ground and Valhalla, and take a look at the water.

There will also be new guns, vehicles and gameplay features to try – including the mysterious "X-Button" functionality.'

In addition, a new Halo 3 video is available on Xbox Live Marketplace.

The video is entitled, "Is Quisnam Protero Damno!", and I have no comment on it yet, since it's taking its icy molasses uphill time to download, and I'm waiting to watch it on the projector, rather than my computer monitor.

Been while since my Latin, but this is roughly, "Those condemned will be trampled underfoot!"

Or something.

The video's supposed to be "a long look at the making of Halo 3’s Multiplayer game", and Frankie teases, "There are a lot of questions raised in this Vidoc, and we’ll be answering them in the next couple of weeks".

The video is also available in smaller form from

Monday, April 09, 2007

New Xbox 360 features, accessory (or, "How the InterWeb Won")

Last night, Microsoft confirmed new Xbox 360 feature enhancements coming in May, and announced a new text input device ("Look for this new accessory this summer").

Details are below, but more interesting to me, it looks like Microsoft got pushed to announce this stuff earlier than intended.

The Xbox 360 dashboard update won't happen until "the week of May 7", but details were allegedly leaked via video from this weekend. Then, details of a QWERTY input device were leaked (allegedly also from a site, albeit in another region).

So, last night (during the Easter holiday) Microsoft issued a press release, and Major Nelson announced it on his site, after he said he wasn't going to do his weekly show due to the holiday. The holiday timing and change of heart tell me this was a rush job to get the information out to folks. That was probably a fun phone call to Larry as he was enjoying dinner with the fam (I've gotten those kinds of calls before).

To me, as a development, product, and marketing guy, this PR shuffle is interesting.

Anyway, back to the announcement itself.

The big things are a new text input accessory (fulfilling the tease from an August 2005 image leaked in a Microsoft presentation) and integration with Windows Live Messenger, something I've been harping on for a looong time (October 2005; November 2005; May 2006; July 2006). Lost in the shuffle is chat support for USB keyboards (though I'me really hoping for support of wireless keyboards).

Oh, says the keyboard accessory won't work with existing headsets, and comes with its own; hopefully, this means existing wired headsets.

Here's an abbrebiated version of the new features, with full details available on (and like the last major dashboard update, it repeats feature items more than once):
  • "provide Xbox 360 owners worldwide with access to Windows Live Messenger features"
  • "use Windows Live Messenger to text chat with up to six people on their contact list at one time, while playing games, listening to music, or watching movies"
  • chat support for USB keyboards
  • "richer Achievement notification pop-up"
  • "Enhanced family settings features for Xbox Live communications"
  • "new Xbox Live Marketplace blade"
  • updates to Xbox Live Arcade (XLA) so you can see which Xbox Live Arcade games friends are playing and more easily join
  • "Tell a Friend" capabilities
  • Auto Downloads provides faster access to free, trial-version XLA games
  • play, fast-forward, rewind, pause, and resume partially videos before they're fully downloaded
  • set the Xbox 360 console to turn off automatically after downloads complete
  • name of game in tray is now displayed in the dashboard (Xbox1 games show the name and image of the game)
  • when tray icon highlighted, displays list of achievements, game icon and gamerscore for that game
  • playback progress bar indicates download completion
  • improved skip forward, skip back functionality during video playback (fully or partially downloaded)
  • switchable aspect ratio during video playback (Auto to Letterbox, Zoom, Stretch, Native)
  • player and friends lists now quickly show session presence information
  • support for streaming WM-DRM protected content from a PC
  • folder view for video content on connected devices
  • H.264 video support
  • MPEG-4 Part 2 video support
  • folder hierarchy for video content played from all devices
  • bookmarks stored for each video, remembering the user's last location in the file and aspect ratio user choose for that file
  • skip forward and backward functionality has been improved to skip to the next or previous chapter (videos divided into 10 “chapters”)
  • information bar turned on via the On Screen Display (OSD) now shows exactly where you are in the playback of the video file and download progress
  • system will determine if there is sufficient disk space for the item and, if not, will ask the user to delete content on the HDD (includes improved prioritization for deletion process
  • console will block the user who attempts to download content onto a storage device that will never have the capacity to store the item without deducting any Microsoft points associated with the content item
  • screensaver is disabled when playing photos from any source

Friday, April 06, 2007

Chronicles of Riddick on Xbox 360?

I'm a big fan of The Chronicles of Riddick: Escape from Butcher Bay, the Xbox sleeper hit that came out of nowhere, blew people away, and connected the dots for me for Starbreeze Studios' awesomeness.

And I wondered why CoR hasn't been made forwards compatible on the Xbox 360.

But I got to thinking some time ago, what if it is coming to the 360?

I mean, Starbreeze is behind The Darkness for the Xbox 360, one of my more anticipated games for this year (I'm a comic book geek).

And what better way to learn the dev nuances for Starbreeze's game engine on the Xbox 360 then by porting CoR to it? And wouldn't a 360 version of CoR make a sweet pre-order bonus, pack-in, or special edition swag item for The Darkness?

But this is me talking with my Product Management hat on ...

Super Smash Bros. hand-drawn video

Go over to and wach this video.

Here's creativity steeped in video game culture. He (they?) get it.

Good fun.

Wednesday, April 04, 2007

Xbox 360 Elite doesn't support HDMI 1.3

Remember this snippet from my previous post about the Xbox 360 Elite?
"... 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) ..."
(Of coure you remember; you hang on my every word.)

Turns out it the Xbox 360 Elite supports HDMI 1.2 -- but not 1.3.

What does this mean? Not much, other than it's a bit behind the curve, since the PlayStation 3 supports the 1.3 spec. Other features in the 1.3 spec, absent from the 1.2:
  • Support for Dolby TrueHD and DTS-HD Master Audio streams
  • Audio / lip sync technology
  • Greater transfer speed (I think this is only for stuff over 1080p, which is the current maximum)
  • Support for Deep Color (probably no impact in current TVs)

I don't know that these are deal breakers, but the audio stream is probably the "biggest" today impact -- but I suspect a lot of audio- / videophile folks (PS3 and Xbox) are attaching their consoles optically to their surround sound system.

But this is arguably a hefty conceptual shortcoming -- Microsoft is coming out with a product that is downspec from the market.

I don't know enough about HDMI to know if this is update able via download over Xbox Live (the PS3 has been receiving a steady stream of updates since launch).

Anyone know?

Tuesday, April 03, 2007

PSP drops to $170 ...

The Sony PlayStation Portable (PSP) was released two years ago, and starting this week, it's dropping to $169.99 -- down $30 from the previous $199.99.

Sure, the thing dropped a while ago from $250 to $200, but that was because of the change from the Value Pack (with accessories) to the Core Pack (no accessories; uh, is it still a "Pack" at that point?).

And PSP games Daxter and Syphon Filter: Dark Mirror are now in the "Greatest Hits" line, and should MSP for $19.99.

"Marvel: Ultimate Alliance" DLC!

OK, I haven't been saying anything about this, because people were calling me a Marvel fanboy.

But since I don't care what people think of me, it's time to share my excitement.

On April 10, Marvel: Ultimate Alliance is getting new downloadable content (DLC) on the Xbox 360, in the form of new, playable characters -- including baddies:
  • Hulk
  • Hawkeye
  • Cyclops
  • Nightcrawler
  • Dr. Doom
  • Magneto
  • Sabretooth
  • Venom

All characters will have their own costumes, movesets, and powers, and there will be new teams and combo points that take the additional characters into consideration.

Given how the shipping version of the game didn't really acknowledge your characters (like Hank Pym talking to Captain America about Captain America, in the third person), I'm sure the inclusion of Dr. Doom (the main baddy and "Big Boss" of the game) is going to play a bit wonky. But we fanboys can pretend one or the other is an advanced Doombot. Or something.

The packs'll cost you 500 Microsoft points ($6.25) each for the Hero pack and Villain pack, or you can get them together for 800 Microsoft points ($10). But they also added 12 new Achievements and 250 additional Gamerscore points

Check out for screenshots, and they're promising new info on costumes and powers between now and April 10.

UPDATED: Delayed and MIA, with no ETA, but I want the content ASAP. (More useful info at

Monday, April 02, 2007

Act TODAY for Texas interactive media ...

I've got a post over on the acting side of my Website about pending legislation creating Texas incentives for creative endeavers -- including video games.

Head over their and read the post, and act today if you think you should:

GO3 2007 (Summary)

GO3 was a new gaming event this year in Perth, Australia, ostensibly trying to be the "E3 of Oceania". Or something.

Sounds like it fell a bit flat.

Luckily for us, Kotaku's Luke Plunkett was onsite, and gives the blow by blow -- and he does pull some gems, from stuff like his one-on-ones with the likes of Epic Games' Rod Fergusson.

Check out Plunket's summaries of the conference here.