Friday, August 31, 2007

Nerves ... nerves ...

I am a wee bit nervous.


Halo 3 went Gold this week, on its way to into my hot little hands on Sept. 24th, midnight (note to my new employer: I will likely be "ill" Sept. 25th).

So, why the nervous?

My replacement Xbox made horrible sounds last night. Like clicking, whirring, sparking, snapping sounds inside is plastic chassis. And I was playing the Call of Duty 4 multiplayer beta, so there was no disc involved.

I'm hoping this "new" 'box doesn't brick before Halo 3 arrives. "Hoping", but not "praying", mind you. I do save that for genuinely important stuff.

Wednesday, August 29, 2007

Incoming: Crotchety Gamer Comments

Over at CNET, Don Reisinger has a post for his "The Digital Home" blog basically saying movies are derivative, video games are innovative, and

"The movie industry needs to take some notes from the video game developers. Trust me, it's the only way to bring us back."
Ridiculous hasty generalization aside (but read the whole article, so you're not just taking my words), there are some problems with Reisinger's post.

Keep in mind he's a self-expoused video game proponent. Also keep in mind that though I am, too, I've smacked the video game industry around recently (and am getting ready to again). And while this is going to sound overly critical of him, it's not meant to. He's just espousing some "pro-game, anti-everything-else" rhetoric that seems to have become pretty popular lately. I feel like it needs a response. Again.

He's made some good points about the "mind-numbing" film offerings and the "far more innovative" games industry, but these are generalizations for both vertical markets. I think it romanticizes video game offerings, and unfairly slights film.

In essence, he's talking about the very real trap of commercialism, but that exists regardless of the distribution medium.

It's not like it's that easy to nail down. After all, film and video games are at the end of the day
commercial enterprises. It takes money to make creative projects, and financial backers may go with known quantities at the expense of original intellectual property. Sure, we want original IP, but if that doesn't sell, companies can't make more of it (look at how video gamers under-appreciated titles like Psychonauts, Beyond Good & Evil, and Breakdown, keeping us from those possible sequels).

Do you want challenging stuff in film? There is a fantastic independent film scene that pushes thematic and content boundaries. Sure, the downside is there are those that do it for the sake of pushing boundaries (to poor effect), but the same can be said of video games (the Virginia shootings "simulator" game, and it's too early to know whether Take-Two's Manhunt 2 will fall into the same category).

On the flip side, there are interesting and valuable films that attempt to make it through mainstream commercial distribution (Hayao Miyazaki's films, Timur Bekmambetov's Night Watch, Danny Boyle's/Alex Garland's Sunshine), and those that are wildly successful -- and arguably thematically important -- on the commercial front (Zack Snyder's 300, Robert Rodriguez's Sin City).

Reisinger maintains, "Movies have become boring and derivative", so I'm not sure he's compared and contrasted first-person shooters in general (and the number of World War II games in particular). Or the sports franchises. Or Massively Multiplayer Online games.

Sequels are often at the top of detractors' lists as a sign of a decreasing box office quality. But I'd argue there is commercial and popular anticipation for sequels like Sin City 2/3. And it's not to say there can't be innovation in sequels (in film or gaming). To me, Madden is a tired franchise -- but Madden 08 is an amazingly solid game. And while I would be satisfied with a break from WWII shooters, Gearbox Software's upcoming Brother's in Arms: Hell's Highway is the third in its series, is a WWII shooter, and is arguably one of the more innovative franchises out there.

And all of the "hot new video game releases" he lists are actually sequels (Halo 3, Grand Theft Auto IV, and Metal Gear Solid [4]).

And BioShock (which I consider a fantastic game), is, to honest, a bit derivative -- of its System Shock precursor and of the Deus Ex play mechanics and depth of story.

And video games are a different industry than film. A very young industry, with a lot of potential. Reisinger bemoans "only" getting his choice of a "'blood-pumping thriller', a 'laugh-out-loud comedy', or your run-of-the-mill family drama", but games don't even give us those three (surely not two of the three).

I'm also not sure I've ever seen anyone lament human beings' lofty emotions and struggles: "For too long, we've been subjected to the mind-numbing stories of love, action and drama."

To be honest, I believe good stories are good stories. Film sequels can be told well (The Empire Strikes Back, The Return of the Jedi), or not as well (in some folks' opinion, the new Star Wars trilogy). Same with games (I'm hoping Halo 3 has a better story than Halo 2; Hell's Highway is based on pretty hard-core, real account; I'm looking forward to Mass Effect's story; etc.).

So let's give different medium the grace afforded by the medium. And let's take each medium to task when it is being derivative. And let's laud the good stuff, loud and long.

No medium is more artistic than another.

Monday, August 27, 2007

GC and PAX summaries

Here's my take on game thingey's announced at the recent Leipzig Game Conference ("Leipzig", or "GC") and Penny Arcade Expo (PAX).

By way of framework, there are games I care about, there are conference-related announcements, and there are conference-related announcements about games I care about. My summaries are mostly about this overlap. With smatterings of other stuff to celebrate diversity.

Oh, and Uwe Boll was the surprise guest at PAX. Not Jack Thompson. Good.

On to game announcements.

Age of Conan: Hyborian Adventures -- I'm a Conan fan, and getting two games based on the franchise is pretty cool. This one is the MMO from Funcom, expected in early 2008 for PC (with an Xbox 360 version following), and early play tests from press have been fairly positive (with the caveat that for an MMO you really need more than a play test). And it was named Leipzig's "Best Online Game of the Show". I'm trying to get into the beta.

BlackSite: Area 51 -- BlackSite's being done by the local Midway Austin folks, and though they didn't hire me to do the voice work (they did let me audition), I want the game to do well. The typically snarky folks at Kotaku are a bit bullish on the title, which is saying something.

Borderlands -- Likewise, I want Plano, TX-based Gearbox Software (Brothers in Arms) to do well with their just-announced Borderlands. Sounds promising, and with a randomization feature that touts up to 500,000 different firearms (and is likewise applied to armor, vehicles, and so on) and randomized level layouts, this game doesn't sound like it's going to be boring at all.

Chronicles of Narnia: Prince Caspian -- The works and mythos created by C.S. Lewis are deep and rich, and given the movie is coming along nicely, the inevitable game from Disney Interactive is, too. Early build screens are already looking good, and I hope some gameplay videos pop up soon.

Dead Island -- Zombies am still new hotness, so this game from Techland (Call of Juarez, Loki, Warhound, and the Chrome Engine) looks promising. I love that the bar for now-gen zombie games has been set by Dead Rising. I'm hoping other devs rise to the challenge.

Fracture -- I'm hoping this new IP from LucasArts lives up to the hype of the terraforming gimmick. While the play mechanic is enticing, I haven't been struck by the character designs, and initial impressions from game press have said while the mechanic is cool, it was straight-up shooting that won matches.

Halo 3 -- So far, industry folks are liking Halo 3's campaign (same, but tweaked), multiplayer (tweaked way more), and in-game editor, "The Forge" ("This might be the coolest addition to Halo 3"). I think I may be going dark on this title soon, to avoid any (more) spoilers for me. Oh, and breaking from tradition, Halo 3 was the title used for the final Omegathon challenge (usually a retro game) at PAX. It was a new level, with new maps, with many lucky, lucky fans in attendance.

Haze -- I'm excited about this game, if for no other reason than it's from the Free Radical folks of TimeSplitters fame. There are unconfirmed rumors the game is not coming to Xbox 360, which would suck.

Heavenly Sword -- This PS3 brawler looks good, and reviews so far have been mixed on gameplay and depth. They certainly seem to be putting a lot of the right effort behind story telling, acting, character design, and audio, so I hope the game rocks as much as its potential.

Legendary: The Box -- Aside from Gamecock or Spark Unlimited needing to rename this title, I'm so looking forward to this take on a literal Pandora's box. More mythology for me, and dev chops from Spark partnered with the announcement of multiplayer have me grinning. And dodging griffins. Gamecock knows how to pick 'em; and they're in Austin.

Mass Effect -- Allegedly more polished, allegedly more pretty.

Metal Gear Solid 4 --Seriously, if you're not excited about MGS 4 for franchise love, pushing technical boundaries, innovative character design, or boundary-pushing story and thematic elements, you're probably reading the wrong blog. News at the show was a bit of "maybes", with possible support for customer soundtracks and online play. Themes and new boss characters were revealed, with a loose "Beauty and the Beast" theme, and boss characters based on real-life actresses / models Yumi Kikuchi, Scarlett Chorvat, Mieko Rye, and Lyndall Jarvis.

Penny Arcade: On the Rain-Slick Precipice of Darkness -- I'm looking forward to this game, and the PAX announcement of the 4-5 hour Episode One available for download from Xbox Live this year is exciting for PA fans, and for folks (like me) wanting the Xbox 360 to catch up to episodic gaming. And the official Website opened.

Rock Band -- This game got rave pre/reviews at GC and PAX. I'm fascinated with this whole phenomenon that arguably allowed Activision to unseat Electronic Arts as top publisher (but let's see what the Madden '08 numbers do). Oh, and Rock Band is Harmonix / MTV Games. I was just, y'know, talking about the phenomenon.

Spore -- I so want this game, but I've put my interest on hold, repeatedly, to match its repeated delays. The devs at GC said the game is completely playable (yay!), but "still requires a lot of polish" (boo!), but there may be an open beta to help them do that (yay?). Oh, how they tease me.

Too Human -- While I'm tired of the soap-opera drama coverage of delays for this trilogy, I'm still excited for this game. GC announcements narrowed the 2008 release to early in the year, with a demo to hit this fall. And it's derivative of Norse mythology.

Totems --OK, this is a just-announced, PC/360 free-roaming / sandbox game from 10tacle Studios (best-named dev studio EVAR), and is inspired by the French sport Le Parkour, animism, super heroes, and Cirque de Soleil. Tell me your interest isn't piqued.

Viking: Battle for Asgard -- Long-time readers know I'm a fan of mythology, and Norse mythology in particular (my dog's name was Loki, and Thor and Loki action firgures are currently beating the crap out of each other on my office shelf). So I'm stoked about SEGA's announcement of Viking: Battle for Asgard, an Xbox 360 and PS3 hack-n-slasher where you'll also get to "order around mythical beasts and liberated troops in enormous battles" as Skarin, a warrior protecting Midgard (earth) from goddess Hel and her minions. Hey, even if it's just now-gen Rune with a few other mechanics, I'm on board.

Virtua Fighter 5 -- This is an improved version over the current cabinet arcade "Version C", and has upped the number of NPCs, the intensity of the AI in Quest Mode, and added more accessories with which players can customize their characters. The big show at GC was online play for Xbox 360 -- something the PS3 version doesn't have. VF5 hits this October, also from SEGA.

WET -- Is a new action shooter from Sierra, and game reviewers and sites have been a little jaded on it, marginalizing it as derivative of Tomb Raider, BloodRayne, Prince of Persia, and Covert Ops. "Jaded" being the operative word. The pre-rendered cinematics belie an attention to detail and love of Hong Kong / Rodriguez-style films that make for great target visuals and gameplay. Could be some potential here.

Sony -- Sony's booth evidently had toilets as seats, probably an allusion to some of their Euro advertising that had a model sitting on a toilette (no, it doesn't make sense to be either). But they did announce Play TV -- just for Europe -- which will sit between your PS3 and TV and let you record one channel and watch another (so it sounds like a dual tuner setup). Play TV not only supports high-def video but lets you stream live or recorded video from the PS3 to your PSP, letting you watch TV shows on the PSP from anywhere in the world. Not earth-shattering for those familiar with Slingbox tech, but still pretty cool. Sony says this isn't coming to the U.S., because the "U.S. doesn't have terrestrial digital television yet."

To me, not a good excuse, and I expect Microsoft to announce a leapfrog move that involves an extension of what they're already doing with their Media PCs, Xbox 360, and Zune players (now #2 in the MP3 marketplace, I'm told). If they don't make such an announcement, we can chalk it up to one of the bigger missed opportunities in media intersection.

The full Sony press release about Play TV is here.

Other pointers to Leipzig-related news stories:
Other pointers to PAX-related news stories:

Sunday, August 26, 2007

PAX 2007

Ergh. I'm behind. It's not like I'm paid to do this (yet -- stay tuned).

So, in addition to my pointers to the Leipzig Game Conference (in advance of my "winnowing"), here are some pointers to the overlapping Penny Arcade Expo (PAX):

Big news (for me)? Penny Arcade's game, Penny Arcade Adventures: On the Rain-Slick Precipice of Darkness, is coming via Xbox Live Arcade, and the Website is now live.

There are also a couple of meet-'n-greets I set up for folks for the conference, so I'm anxious to see how (or if) those turned out.

Thursday, August 23, 2007

More gaming Web 2.0 ...

Folks have been hitting me up over the whole "Web 2.0 / video game intersection" mini-post I did.

(Oh, and I'm not the 'techno-geek screaming, "F***ing get with the times, game industry!"' He probably wouldn't appreciate me giving out his contact info; he actually works in the games industry.)

Anyway, some folks wanted some more concrete examples of Web 2.0 and video game intersection.

First, a review:

Web 2.0, to oversimplify, is that intersection of getting desktop-application-quality ("rich") functionality from your browser, and user-generated content that draws people in droves.
And since I used a Halo example last, I'll use another one.

First, as an additional caveat, consoles have a ways to go to catch up to PC gaming in user-generated content. So to get to this Web 2.0 intersection about which I'm talking, they need to leapfrog the stuff they're currently not doing that well, and get with the Web 2.0 times. Recent changes from Microsoft with regards to (for example) allowing Xbox Live user-generated content means this may actually happen sooner than later. If someone capitalizes on it.

Back to the example.

At its simplest, think about being able to create player customizations, user skins, game types, and map changes, and share them -- from your browser -- with your Xbox Live friends list.

(Here's where I tick off game devs again.)

This is easy.

(What? It is. You know how stuff like this gets done? A development manager says, "We need to do X." And, hopefully he's got a management style that's built a dev team that want to work to make that happen for him, rather than being made up diva devs that will spend the week explaining why it can't happen. Because, conceptually, everything's doable. We get to shop online with credit cards, for crying out loud. You're welcome, by the way.)

So, think about how Halo 3 is going to support multiple player models and more variation in armor customization than the previous 2 Halo games.

There are a definable set of fields for customization. That's begging for a data-driven web page that takes your little radio and checkbox selections for armor types, colors (probably via a slick picker widget), symbols, and so on, and sticks them in your table in the user database. Then, Bungie gives me the field names and technical specs for each (type, length, key, allowable values, binding, etc.) and the output configuration file (or segment of a file it belongs to a larger config file), and I can convert that to a Halo 3-consumable input.

And it's not just colors and armor types. I should be able to upload symbols and skins (in pre-defined templates), and those should likewise be able to be batch converted to consumable input (Hey, it worked for Rune 8 years ago; they just didn't have the batch process).

Game types are even "easier" -- given the process for customization of game types is already defined for Halo 3, the high-level context and user flow has already been defined -- it's just about adapting it to the Web medium (and the creation of the additional conversion conduit).

And if you're concerned about being invaded with obscene or otherwise undesirable symbols, skins, and the like (and you should be), this whole functionality can be constrained to your friends list -- just like the personal gamer pictures or the Xbox LIVE Vision camera's output. Mostly.

But think about it. Think about a friend of yours creating an amazing Star Wars Stormtrooper skin, and 16 of you showing up in a Big Team Battle variant. Halo has red and blue armor (and for that we're grateful). Halo 3 has more colors, and multi-team battle. Halo 3 would rock with uniform-motiff team armor. Stormtroopers (but not clone troopers). Cobra troopers. Hydra or A.I.M. troopers. My Little Ponies (What? Girls gotta represent!).

Have you seen the Forza 2 paint community? Think of that applied to Spartan models (or the Puma, but that's probably asking too much).

Anyway, yet another example of Web 2.0 servicing our gaming. And to be honest, these are pretty tame examples. I have bigger stuff about which I'm thinking ...

UPDATED: Again, if you're a professional in the industry and in Austin for the Austin Game Developers Conference, there may be some off-schedule discussions of Web 2.0 and video game intersection. Let me know if you're interested in that, and I'll try to connect you with like-minded folks.

Wednesday, August 22, 2007

Watch the Team Fortress 2 soldier in action ...

Do yourself a favor -- go watch the Team Fortress 2 soldier trailer from Leipzig this week.

I'll have more Leipzig stuff later but ... just go watch this video.

A reminder that there is goodness in the world. Twisted goodness, but goodness.

UPDATED: While you're waiting for my brilliant winnowing of the Leipzig wheat from the Games Conference chaff, you can get the relevant tagged stories at the fine sites below. By "fine", I mean "other".

Web 2.0 and gaming

You hear that? It's the sound of opportunity.

Or it may be some techno-geek screaming, "F***ing get with the times, game industry!"

Web 2.0, to oversimplify, is that intersection of getting desktop-application-quality ("rich") functionality from your browser, and user-generated content that draws people in droves.

Tastes are out there. YouTube, FaceBook, and other specters of new-technology past that are, frankly, "so 2005".

Twittervision is probably a better, simple, recent example. Or SplashCast.

But what about gaming? Where's that perfect storm of Web 2.0 mashables (which, I think, are required to include at least one of Google's forever-in-"beta" products) and gaming?

Some stuff is already out there. Maybe Habbo Hotel is an example.

But what about mainstream game intersection with a Triple-A title?

Maybe this nugget missed by most folks (from GameTap's quietly launched news/feature Website) speaks to the future:

"As development on Halo 3 reaches a climax in preparation for the game's September 25 release date, developer Bungie has revealed details of an expanded file-sharing system for players with Microsoft Points to burn. Halo 3 features an innovative in-game system of file sharing, whereby custom map configurations, "game variations, screenshots, and game movies can be uploaded to Xbox Live's central servers. Every player with a copy of the game and a Live Gold subscription can upload six different pieces of content that cannot exceed 25MB in total. Bungie Pro raises the stakes, opening up a total of 24 slots and a 240MB storage total. The price of this expanded file-sharing option is 750 Microsoft Points for a year's subscription, or "around 78 cents per month," as Bungie puts it. Sophisticated integration with is also promised, allowing gamers to quickly navigate other users' shared content on your computer, and even queue it up for download when you next load Halo 3 on your Xbox 360. "

That last part is pretty key from a Web 2.0 / video game integration perspective. The stats for Halo 2 are already teasing at some cool stuff, with being able to look at in-game activity from different angles, Email it to a friend, and so on. I've got to think this is just a hint of the hidden rich-statistical goodness that is going to be in Halo 3. I claim dibbs on the phrase "rich-statistical goodness".

snapshot of a Halo 2 game played by player Hitachi Wasabe.
And I want a lot. I want to be able to set up in-console on on-Web the folks whose content I want to watch. I want to get notices when new stuff from them comes out. I want to look at the Game Viewer, and zoom in to that moment, and watch that movie, from every angle. I want to watch when I earned that 12th beat-down that also won the game, and I want to Email that to my buddy. I want to get his response in-game on the Web or on my phone. I want to be able to look at who's watching my movies and playing my maps.

And so does Bungie. You think they won't be watching the variations to which their customer base is gravitating?

I also want little things, like my Xbox Live Friends list to be accessible with my non-Xbox Live (Windows Live) Friends list from my Xbox and my computer, and I want to be be able to do the same stuff on both platforms, and have it enhanced beyond what it is -- with Xbox 360 content. Things like that.

Good times ahead for Web 2.0 and video game integration. I just hope the games industry is quick to get on the bandwagon. Or quicker, since folks have been rolling on it for a while.

And if you're a professional in the industry and in Austin for the Austin Game Developers Conference, there will be some off-schedule discussions of Web 2.0 and video game intersection. Let me know if you're interested in that, and I'll connect you with like-minded folks.

Monday, August 20, 2007

Killing our heroes ...

I've been thinking about design, story, and games as "high art" for a long time, but quite a bit lately in particular.

One of things I've tossed around on multiple personal projects of mine (video game, comic book, screenplay, and more) for a long time is the importance of meaningful sacrifice. It's important to me, so it shows up in my creative endeavors.

This shows up in different ways, besides my own creative output.

Like my interest in the recent Comic-Con "Kill Your Darlings" panel with F. Paul Wilson, David Morrell, Max Allan Collins, Richard Morgan, Josh Coniser, Joe Schreiber, Elizabeth Forrest, and Maryelizabeth Hart.

Or there's my recent rant about games not being "more artistic" than film.

And there's this video of Ed Brubaker interviewing Matt Fraction, where Fraction turns the tables briefly and asks Brubaker about his killing Captain America, and how Brubaker loves the freedom at Marvel, because he was able to kill Captain America, because "nothing is sacred" there. (For the record, I think Brubaker's writing one of the most amazing ongoing books in Captain America, and all with the absence of the titular character; "titular" especially when Rob Liefeld draws him. Oh, snap! Oh, and I like that Fraction doesn't care what he says.)

(And I'm sorry if this is first time you've heard of that Cap's dead, but it's been months; go here for my "second shooter theory").

Speaking of Master Chief (what, you didn't follow that last link?), I got to thinking about Microsoft's recent print ad campaign for Halo 3, which has M.C. Johnny walking by a giant structure. There's some blah blah blah text at the top of the add, and this nugget that stand's out to me in the middle of the page:

"A hero need not speak. When he is gone, the world will speak for him."
And I got to thinking, how cool would it be if this was literal? How cool would it be if this was about Master Chief?

In short, how cool would it be if Master Chief had to die at the end of Halo 3 to "finish the fight"?

(I really enjoy the Halo franchise, and I'm not anti-Microsoft, so get that out of your head.)

More generally, what if we wrote games such that to really succeed, you had to sacrifice yourself?

I'm thinking of the sacrifices in other mediums that struck me. Spock in The Wrath of Khan (best Star Trek movie EVAR). Spider-Man in the J. M. DeMatteis / Mike Zeck "Kraven's Last Hunt" / "Fearful Symmetry" arc (hey, I thought Spidey was dead). Superman (even though I knew he wasn't going to stay that way). Elliot Ness in the romanticized The Untouchables. Doyle in the Angel episode, "Hero". Captain America.

And there have been moments in games. Floyd in Planetfall comes to mind.

But what an amazing opportunity games have.

Ever felt elevated or weepy or inspired or called to action from watching a film? What if you weren't watching the heroes making sacrifice, breaking your heart, making you feel like you need to jump out of your chair (Hellboy's "making a choice") -- what if you were that guy or girl?

What if we get to play our icons in a game, and sacrifice ourselves. Not because we suck at 3D platformers (ahem, Ms. Croft), but because the sacrifice is required to "win" the game. Or maybe it's required at least for one or more versions of "winning", given games' propensities for multiple endings.

This obviously has to be handled carefully. It can't be a cheap death (we gamers hate those already). And it can't be contrived ("I must die, otherwise I don't finish the game"). It's got to be so organic and sensible and seem like the only option (or at least one of the sensible options) that the player wants to sacrifice her- or himself (no easy thing in a purported non-linear medium). And it's also dicey because Brubaker's "nothing is sacred" is different than "nothing is important" (he's very much treating the death of Captain America as wicked important in that book).

Think about it. What if the story and the stakes for games were so elevated that I as a gamer felt like what I do matters so much, I'm willing to sacrifice myself for the good of the game universe, which -- for a moment at least -- I forget is a game universe.

That's when I think interactivity will meet high art. I'm still looking for that.

Let me know what you think.

Thursday, August 16, 2007

Zero Punctuation reviews

Heard of Ben "Yahtzee" Croshaw, picked up by The Escapist as the exclusive purveyor of his brilliant snarky video game reviews and opinion pieces?


Head over to The Escapist to see his NSFW first official review for them of the Heavenly Sword PS3 demo, and his thoughts on the Resident Evil 5 racism controversy.

Below is the teaser video for it, followed by his previous (non-Escapist, and therefore embeddable) video reviews of The Darkness and Fable: The Lost Chapters.

Games are NOT more artistic than film

OK, I've left the Manhunt 2 thing alone. I made a little request about the game when it was announced (which brought a lot of traffic to my site from Take-Two Interactive over the following weeks), and I left well enough alone, even amidst the initial Adults Only (AO) rating, and it being banned outright in the UK and Ireland.

But then Gordon Hall, head of Take Two's Rockstar Leeds studio, says this:

"I don’t think Rockstar specifically has been picked on, but I do think that the wider issue attacks our entire industry. We need to teach people that games are an art form – they are more artistic than film.

"I think the games industry should rally behind us, because there will come a time when we’ll all have an idea that’s a little edgy, and we need to have the freedoms to express it.

"We are an adult entertainment industry – we may have started out with child-like technology making games solely for a younger audience, but it’s just not like that anymore. It might take legislature a little while to catch up, but if the industry sticks together hopefully we can change people’s attitudes quicker."

Granted, Hall's doing a corporate call to arms so people consider the import of what a rating can do. But there's no way in hell I'm letting this cast-off slide.

Games are "more artistic than film"?

Garbage. First, because you can't say something is more artistic than something else. It's art, so that whole, "I don't know if it's good, but I know what I like" thing gets in the way. It's subjective.

Second, let's compare the two. Let's arbitrarily say film "started" on April 23, 1896 (when Thomas Edison presented the first publicly-projected motion picture). That same year, we got The Kiss (The May Irwin Kiss) the first film ever made of a couple kissing in cinematic history. Six years later we have A Trip to the Moon (Georges Méliès' four-hundredth film). A year after that, The Great Train Robbery. And Chaplin did his first film by 1914.

In 1915, less than 20 years after the "start" of film, we had D. W. Griffith's 3-hour Civil War epic The Birth of a Nation.

Now, let's arbitrarily say video games started in 1972 with the patent for "A Television Gaming Apparatus and Method", the public display (if not availability) of Magnavox's Odyssey (the first home video game system), Nolan Bushnell and Ted Dabney founding Atari, and Pong.

So in 2007, 35 years after the "start" of video games, with more technology, a bigger production infrastructure, multiple tempate industries (film, TV, publishing, music, toy manufacturing), and incomparably fast technological advances, we've got (*drum roll*) ...

(*sound of crickets chirping*)

Jack sh** (comparatively).

You know I'm big into video games. I seriously enjoy them. I've enjoyed countless games, and been moved to a degree by a handful (things like Planetfall, King's Quest III, Dungeon Master, American McGee's Alice, Indigo Prophecy, Breakdown, Psychonauts).

But they're not The Birth of a Nation, Metropolis, Modern Times (or The Great Dictator), King Kong, Singin' in the Rain, From Here to Eternity, On the Waterfront, Seven Samurai, 2001, Schindler's List, or hundreds of other examples.

If you could even say one art form is "more artistic" than another, games have light years to go to even touch the grandeur and elevation of film.

Ooh, but let's give him a chance with "... we’ll all have an idea that’s a little edgy, and we need to have the freedoms to express it."

Yes, because we have games that touch Psycho or Se7en or Fight Club.

Wait, no we don't.

(Hell, there's a whole snuff film industry of which Manhunt is a poor man's shadow.)

"We are an adult entertainment industry."

Really, Mr. Hall? Is that why the Nintendo Wii is rocking the company coffers, and you guys are in all sorts of financial arrears? (I know, there are alleged financial ethical issues of Take Two's that make that an unfair comparison.)

Is that why someone brilliant like Warren Spector partners with Disney? Is that why a largely licensed-fare publisher like THQ is doing so well? Is that why the Madden and Guitar Hero franchises make Electronic Arts and Activision the top publishers?

Please, soften the "adult entertainment industry" hyperbole. Pornography is an adult entertainment industry against which games (thankfully) don't even rate on a comparable scale. But at least they don't market to kids.

Um ...

(We may nickname this post, "The One That Kept Adam Permanently Out of the Game Industry".)

Monday, August 13, 2007

Microsoft Gamefest happenings

(Wrote this earlier today and thought more was coming. Not so much.)

Microsoft's Gamefest is in full swing (I just realized I had an invitation; blast), and there's quite a bit happening of interest to gamers -- consumers and creators.

XNA Game Studio Express is becoming XNA Game Studio 2.0 -- This has some cool additions in the infrastructure (including Xbox Live network development) and Xbox 360 areas. My concern is I'm currently using the XNA Game Studio Express 1.0 Refresh, and while 2.0 is touted as working in "all versions of Visual Studio 2005. This includes Standard and Professional", I hope this still includes the Express versions. Also, I hope my projects survive the 1.0 to 2.0 upgrade. More info at the XNA development blog.

Third-party additions to XNA Studio -- It was cool enough that Torque X was available for Creators Club members. Now SOFTIMAGEXSI 6 Mod Tool (3-D modeling and animation software) will be free to use in XNA Game studio (for non-commercial projects).

Dream-Build-Play Challenge Contest Winners -- This is pretty cool. Microsoft has announced a bunch of winners for their indie dev contestm giving 10 grand and Xbox Live Arcade publishing contracts to John Flook (Blazing Birds) and James Silva (The Dishwasher: Dead Samurai). And Microsoft gave an unexpected $5K and extended contracts to two other, second-place winners, Steve Olofsson (Gravitron Ultra) and Daniel McGuire (Yo Ho Kablammo!). There were like 4,500 entries to the contest.

New ways to use Microsoft video and screenshots -- Microsoft has lifted the legal banhammer (mostly), allowing more use of screenshots and video from their games (for parody, machinima, etc.). It's for the stuff for which they own (or own trademarks), and it's for non-commercial use. The full rules are over at, and it's actually pretty generous (and a combination of retroactivity and proactivity on Microsoft's part). Good for them.

Schizoid debuts -- Schizoid is the first XBLA title built exclusively using XNA Game Studio Express (at least, first indie-built title). It showed up at Gamerfest, and there's video, too.

Xbox Live. Population: 7 million -- So, there are now more than 7 million Xbox Live subscribers, and combined they've downloaded 45 million ... things. I need more deets on the numbers before they mean anything (or before I snarkily dissect them).

Mainstream media video game coverage

Man, I'm feeling like a grumpy Gus lately.

First, there was my earlier sniping at the New York Times.

But now there's this article that just popped up "Console Makers: Move It or Lose It".

The story alleges companies are preparing for
"...what could be one of the bloodiest holiday seasons in video game history. The epic battles will play out on TV screens around the globe, but could do real-world damage to the bottom lines of console makers"
First, though a little hyperbolic, credit where credit is due. The story is pretty solid, and has a little more meat than the NY Times piece. And it was written by an intern, who in one article probably got more eyeballs than I've gotten on my column all month. (OK, that's probably not true; my numbers for this part of the site have been through the roof for a long time.)

But good for him anyway.

Now, to the issues.

First, there is no sense of history. Microsoft and the Xbox were never even supposed to be contenders in the console wars. But they took second last generation. They're currently first. That's huge, and I don't think they're getting business props for it.

Secondly, the holiday picture's not broad enough, as it's just about the Nintendo Wii, Xbox 360, and PS3. Unless you factor in the Nintendo DS (and the Sony PSP, if for no other reason than fairness), and the PS2 (because it dominates the PS3, 360, and Wii), you're not telling the whole story.

And as far as omissions go, not including the previously Sony-exclusive Grand Theft Auto franchise, its move to the 360, and its slip to 2008 in the impact to holiday sales is pretty glaring.

But my biggest issue is in unattributed allegations and inaccuracies.

Going back to GTAIV, the article says,
"Microsoft recently spent $50 million on additional exclusive content for Grand Theft Auto IV, ..."
This is a rumor that came out of a Take-Two financial call, but hasn't been confirmed by Microsoft. Also, why some people have cried foul at Microsoft "buying" exclusivity (if they did, so what?), the truth is likely closer to traditional publisher / developer business dealings: Publishers pay a cash advance for development work up front, and that money (or a portion thereof) is given back to the publisher out of initial royalties. And it's not $50M up front -- it's $25M a piece for two separate, large episodic extensions of the GTAIV game.

But wait, let's look at part 2 of the quote:
"... five times as much money as was spent developing the Xbox 360's current best-selling game, Gears of War, according to statements made by Epic Games Vice-President Mark Rein."
I've been wanting to write a big article about this for some time, but here's the short version.

I don't know Mark Rein. He's the one guy at Epic who never writes back to me. But he's tough, ballsy, and could probably tear me a new a$$. That said, his "We spent less than $10 million to make Gears of War" Wired interview statement really pisses me off.


Epic makes the Unreal Engine 3 -- what was the Gears of War development cost for that portion of the engine (sure, it's amortized across titles and licensees, but Gears was the first, and so far only, from Epic). And since developers don't work only 40 hours a week, I'd like to know the "actual cost" if you take the Gears developers' hourly salaried rate, and the 20-80 hours more they worked per week (over 40), to find the "real" development cost.

And the biggest deal? That's development cost. That doesn't include the marketing and advertising costs. It does not include the cost for things like theatrical movie trailers or Monday Night Football TV ads or licensing "Mad World". I would like to know that budget for the game.

Anyway, details like that should be in the article. Or you can just look to this post as a cautionary tale for all of us to be critical readers. Or something.

(And they don't seem to be posting an abbreviated version of this post that I left on their comments page.)

Man, I'm grumpy. Gonna go write some happy crap or something now.

Pirates vs. Ninjas Dodgeball

I had a reminder on my PDA go off this morning, letting me know I was supposed to check Blazing Lizard, Inc.'s announcement for their new game (they announced they were going to make an announcement today).

And they did:
Pirates vs. Ninjas Dodgeball
Seriously, the title by itself is a game seller. The quirky art style and vibe make it feel a bit like Kung Fu Kaos to me, it's playing with a geek trope (pirates against ninjas), and its announcement coincides with the release of film Balls of Fury (which I'm thinking can't hurt).

Since the game "will be available for download on yet to be announced home console systems in the first quarter of 2008", I'm thinking XBox Live Arcade and/or PlayStation Network. The art assets don't look Wii-friendly, but I wouldn't rule it out.

The game will supposedly have multiplayer (4 players Local / 8 players Online / 4-player Co-op), and it's not just pirates against ninjas -- there'll be 3 other factions announced.

Looks like it's got promise.

Y'know what I want? A stealth gameplay mode. Totally owning your pirate a$$ from behind a palm tree. That would be fun.

NY Times on Xbox 360 failures

For those interested in "mainstream press" takes on the video game industry, the New York Times has posted "Xbox 360 Out of Order? For Loyalists, No Worries".

It's a little light, a little late, a little inaccurate, and doesn't include any really relevant sources. Other than that, it's fine.

While there's a snippet with Frank O'Connor at Bungie Studios, it doesn't interview relevant Microsoft folks about the failure rate or new return policy. On the analyst side, there's no Michael Pachter or even Colin Sebastian. And while they talk to someone whose Xbox 360 has died 3 times, they don't talk to the guy whose Xbox has died 12 times, or reference arguably meaningful polls like the one by

And while the NY Times says, "Microsoft has said that it will fix any faulty Xbox 360 free of charge," it's actually just "Red Ring of Death" items that will get fixed. That's three red rings indicating a system failure, not four red rings (for you folks who can't plug in a video cable correctly). That misinformation may cause some disgruntlement.

The article doesn't even include the Halo 3 pre-order numbers. At over a million pre-orders, Microsoft's claiming the "Fastest-Selling Pre-Ordered Video Game in History" crown. And if you assume a standard / special edition / Legendary Edition split of 80% / 15% / 5% (for discussion sake), you're looking at $48M / $10.5M / $6.5M. Since Halo 2 day one sales shattered any movie's opening box office weekend numbers, and Halo 3 looks to shatter Halo 2 numbers, you'd think those kind of things would make it into a New York Times story.

I think the linking and layout of Halo 3 and broken 360s (arguably done to show the game is so big, the broken Xboxes and repairs don't matter to loyalists), sends a negative message, and probably not the kind of PR Bungie or Microsoft want for the game.

But hey, it's mainstream coverage of video games.

Sunday, August 12, 2007

Texas comic book video games

I like to blog about my passions. Even better, the intersection of my passions.

Like video games. And comic books. And Austin.

So I feel like I have to pimp's story about the Incredible Hulk movie tie-in game from SEGA.

Because it's a video game coinciding with a movie based on a comic book, and it's being done by two Austin companies. Amaze Entertainment'll be doing the PSP and DS versions, and Edge of Reality will be doing the console versions, and can probably update their cryptic Website text:
"We are also partnering with SEGA and Marvel to create an exciting new title based on one of Marvel's signature super hero characters. While it's too soon to announce details, the project is going to be very high profile."
I think they'll need voice work for the game.

(And yes, I know Amaze is headquartered in Kirkland. But they have an Austin office. And I know some of those folks. And they're good folks.)

BioShock demo out for 360!

BioShock, if for no other reason than because of its potentially challenging in-game moral dilemmas, is on of my most-anticipated games for the Xbox 360. And I think Ken Levine is pretty amazing.

And the demo just got kicked onto Xbox Live, so I'm downloading it now, and hope to rock my ethical grounds in an hour or so; or whenever the heck it finishes downloading.

Wednesday, August 08, 2007

Halo 3 contests

There are three rounds of contests giving you chances to earn cool Halo 3 swag.

The best is the third contest, but if you wait until then, you miss out on two prior contests (and other still-cool stuff).

Contest entry dates:
  • Sweepstakes Round 1 (Jul 26-Aug 28)
  • Sweepstakes Round 2 (Aug 30-Sep 25)
  • Sweepstakes Round 3 (Sep 27-Oct 25)
Check out the Website for all three contests, prizes, and rules, but here's what you'd get from the one granddaddy grand prize in "Sweepstakes Round 3":
  • Halo 3 Legendary Edition game
  • Halo 3 Special Edition Xbox 360 console
  • Halo 3 Limited Edition Wireless Controller (Spartan)
  • Halo 3 Limited Edition Wireless Headset
  • Halo 3 Wireless Headset
  • Zune™ – Halo 3 Edition
  • Xbox 360 Halo 3 X-shaped Ibanez Xiphos Guitar with Case
  • Xbox LIVE 12-Month Gold Subscription
  • 1600 Microsoft Points
  • Halo 3 Messenger Bag
  • Halo Graphic Novel Autographed by Bungie

38 Studios

Why are there not stories six ways to Sunday about 38 Studios?

Formerly Green Monster Games, the smartly renamed game studio that had been unfairly simplified as "the house that Curt Schilling built". (If you don't know who Curt is, go away, become wise in the ways of history, and return.)

The Maynard, MA-headquartered game development studio is a machine of creativity and proven-ticket-producing industry folks.

There's Brett Close as President and CEO (probably so he doesn't get bored), who helped build the Midway Austin studio (and has done it at least a couple of other times, with EA-LA and VR1).

There's Todd McFarlane as the Creative Art Director and Concept Artist. Todd's a self-espoused "pop-culture machine", and I'll totally give him that.

There's R.A. "I killed Chewbacca and gave you Drizzt Do'Urden" Salvatore as Director of Creative Content / Storywriter (sorry about the Drizzt spoiler).

There are also super respected games industry folks like Scott Cuthbertson, Chaz Sutherland, Brian Jones, Steve Danuser, and on and on.

They're working on an MMORPG (yeah, so's my grandma).

But they're going to make it big. They're going to make it good. They say they're keeping the basic formula simple (Toddy actually said that; that's saying something for Toddy; wonder if he hates being called "Toddy").

They'll also be looking at media intersection with wireless and comic books and other media. I'm sure they'll be looking at licensing (pfft, it's McFarlane -- are you surprised? Dude just opened a McFarlane store in AZ).

I'm excited to see what they produce. I know of these guys, and know a few of them (a little).

They're in my family's stomping grounds back East. They know their stuff. Brett knows the importance of running a studio without burning out everyone in the studio.

Good times.

Check out their Website. Look at the handful of carefully timed news stories ( even has videos of 'em). Feed your cursor the green monster on the site (I'm thinking of turning it into a drinking game).

Tuesday, August 07, 2007

ArtSpark game showcase (Wed.)

Three new indie games are going to be shown off Wednesday night in Austin (Texas; not Indiana, Minnesota, Nevada, Oregon, or Canada).

Part of the ArtSpark Festival series of showcases running August 2 through 12, and including theatre, visual art, and video games.

I plan on being there tomorrow night; if I can get past being nasty sick (but at least I'm not contagious anymore).

Here's the skinny for Wednesday night from the Website, which you should check out for all of the week's offerings.
Three new video games will be unveiled on Wednesday, August 8th at ACC’s Highland Business Center, located at 5930 Middle Fiskville Road. Attendees will have the opportunity to meet the developers, learn about their visions, and play the games. The reception at 6pm and presentations will begin at 7pm.

Admission is free and open to the public.

Lusorium' s The Palimpsest
The first thing Doctor Faktor remembers is looking up through the leaves of a twisted tree to see the sun reflecting off of a card. As he reaches up to grab the card, a sense of panic rushes through the doctor but he doesn't know why. Doctor Faktor studies the tarot card he has picked up and moves toward the only house in sight in hopes of regaining his memories. In The Palimpsest you are thrust into the role of Doctor Faktor where you explore the house, use the scattered tarot cards to solve puzzles and connect the clues to find the secret to the Doctor's past.

Super Awesome Team's David's Folie
David Fortisante was always an outcast. Whether he was mutilating bugs as a child or sketching images of violence involving his classmates, people would tend to keep their distance. David didn't care. He had the voices. He had his own friends. Ever since he's been at St. Mary's though, there have been less voices. Maybe the medications are working... or maybe they've been chased away by his new friend named Fellow. Let the other kids laugh at his imaginary friend. David's got a plan to sort them out, even if it isn't his own

D.O.D.'s Circadia
A persistent virtual world and point-and-click adventure game inspired by the art, memories, and soul of Jose Miguel Alvarado -- set in a dystopian future and that future's parallel dream world. Users will log on to our virtual world, inhabit an avatar of their very own choosing or design, explore a variety of locations, collaborate artistically with other users, and go on an adventure to Save The World if they like. There will be something for everyone in this virtual universe. Minigames for the action and puzzle lovers, adventures for the story-junkies, epic battles for the Role-Playing-Dork-Heads, driving, flying, boating, hunting, gambling, hitchhiking, Et Cetera Ad Nauseum. Sweet dreams!!

Xbox 360 price drop (Updated)

Microsoft announced starting Wednesday, the Xbox 360 will be cheaper.

The Elite model will be $449 (down from $479), the "Halo Limited Edition Xbox 360" (when it is available in September) will be $399, the standard (was "Pro" or "Premium") will be $349 (down from $399), and the core ("why?" version) will be $279 (down from $299).

The reason? Madden 08. Seriously. Microsoft is looking to scalp PS2 owners looking to upgrade.

So why not drop the Core model down a full $50, to make it even with the Wii's price? That would have been fun....

UPDATED: The $349 Standard / Pro / Premium will soon have HDMI standard. So, if you were waiting for a price drop to buy this 360 SKU, you may want to keep your eye out for a box that has an HDMI logo (probably sticker) on the outside of the box -- for the same price. (These versions may also have other enhancements, like 65NM chips and quieter hard drives, but that's still to be verified.)

Sunday, August 05, 2007

Comic-Con mutterings

There are a few items of possible interest to gamers on my other blogs.

Check out my parodic nod to the cool new Halo ActionClix game, and the gaming-related goodies in my various Comic-Con daily summaries.

Friday, August 03, 2007

QuakeCon happenings ...

Wow, things are flying fast and exciting at QuakeCon, id Software's love-fest for all things id.

First, they've finally announced their new game, Rage, which will be a first-person shooter adventure thing. id's CEO Todd Hollenshead summed up the game:

"It's more than just a first-person shooter, we will show vehicles and racetracks, driving and racing elements," he said. "It is an action-oriented game but with a lot of adventure elements. It will be story driven, but you can also choose your own route to go through things."
Perhaps even more exciting, the game will built on the new id Tech 5 engine, which makes the promise to "allow a developer to create games for the Mac, the PC, the Xbox 360 and the PS3 simultaneously by using identical media for all four platforms". If the promise holds out, this is huge.

Why? Because you don't need separate development teams for each port, and you effectively quadruple your target platforms and quarter your resources (that is, mathematically; after living through a lifetime of "write once, debug everywhere" Java realities, I'll wait until the end of the year when they start licensing to other folks).

Also announced was a free web-based version of Quake 3 multiplayer, dubbed Quake Zero. Free, and supported via in-game ads.

And the fragfest classic Quake Arena will be coming to Xbox Live Arcade.

On the partnership front, id and Valve Software have signed an agreement to make most of the id library distributable on the Steam distribution service. The full list is available on

As far as the Hollywood connection, Hollenshead said id Software did license film rights for Return to Castle Wolfenstein, and Roger Avary (Silent Hill, Beowulf) will be writing and directing the movie. Not badmouthing the Doom movie, Hollenshead did say they wanted to "learn to do things better". (Good thing they didn't ask John Carmack his thoughts.)

Allegedly, "B.J. Blazkowicz" will remain the name of the lead character in the film. Hope they call him whatever "B" is short for, or "Beej", or something.

Check out's posts tagged "QUAKECON07" to see more QuakeCon news.

Thursday, August 02, 2007

Halo / 300 video

You've probably seen this video, but the simple intersection of "Spartans" both in the Halo game and in the film 300 make it work pretty well.

Wednesday, August 01, 2007

"Project Offset" update

Continuing my once-a-year update on the Project Offset game (allegedly for PS3 and Xbox 360), take a look at what is hopefully gameplay footage. Looks friggin' nice.

No dates, yet, and no response yet on my promptings to the do voice work. We'll see.