Sunday, December 20, 2009
Wednesday, November 25, 2009
Be sure to check out value-add Black Friday ad aggregators like BFADS (link is to the video game section, but check out other categories as well), and deal mainstay CheapAssGamer.
There are some great deals from last Sunday through this weekend, like $15-20 off just released games (Left 4 Dead 2, Borderlands, etc. at Target), amazing bundle deals (like an Xbox Live Arcade unit with Guitar Hero World Tour and free shipping for $199 at Amazon), and Xbox titles from $10-$25, but you need to be watchful to scalp stuff quickly or you're SOL (ask Mom to explain the acronym).
Me? I've already picked up things like the Tekken 6 LE version (with the Hori wireless fighting pad) for the price of the game alone, and will likely run around to get some cheapy games as stocking stuffers. Maybe.
Apologies again for punting on the Black Friday list this year -- things'll settle down once I relo.
Monday, November 09, 2009
- Call of Duty: Modern Warfare 2 (360, PC, PS3) -- The sequel to a mondo game is a mondo game of its own, and the biggest of the week -- if not the year. We play every Monday and Wednesday nights.
- Phantasy Star Zero (NDS) -- As an RPG franchise, I really dig Phantasy Star, and Zero looks to rock the Nintendo DS. At around 20 hours of story / gameplay per character (and three characters), this game'll likely take up residence in my handheld, now that I'm finally wrapping up Chrono Trigger.
- Dreamkiller (360) -- I'm unabashedly a Painkiller fan (on the PC). Dreamkiller looks to be a spiritual successor to that game (complete with eastern European dev team), with a creepy, supernatural hook (psychiatrist goes into crazy's heads, a la an FPS trope, and ... erm ... cures them). Works for me!
- Dragon Ball Z: Attack of the Saiyans (NDS) -- Dunno if this one will work. I still keep trying to finish Dragon Ball: Origins, but the freaking 10-minute, non-skippable intro pisses me off, so I play it rarely. Still, I'm a franchise fan.
- Dragon Ball: Raging Blast (PS3, 360) -- I think DBZ: Burst Limit was really under-rated, and if you played this demo on XBL recently, you may agree that this frenetic 3D fighter might be the next Saiyan evolution. Or, you may not. But you're probably wrong.
- Final Fantasy XI: Ultimate Collection (360, PC) -- Granted, on the PC it's the "Vana'diel Collection 2010" ('cause that'll get you the ladies), but whatever. It's the MMO version of the FF universe, and while it's been patchily received, this rendition will have the base game, all four expansions, and all three add-on scenarios -- all for less than twenty bucks.
- Braid (PS3) -- If you missed this solid little indie title on XBLA, then PC, now's your chance on PSN. It's a fun, hearty little platformer that does a better job than some full-box titles. Sure, it might be a little over-rated. But genuinely good games are.
- WorldShift (PC) -- Pretty sure this title, from Crytek-purchased Black Sea Studios, is actually powered by Gamebryo tech, since development was fairly far along before the acquisition. It's a good-looking RTS / RPG online / offline hybrid.
- Rogue Trooper: Quartz Zone Massacre (Wii) -- OK, this one actually came out way earlier this year, but seeing it inadvertently included one someone's list for this week gives me an excuse to tout it again. I so liked this PS2/PC/original Xbox game, and gushed over it. Twice. Now, with my yearnings for a next-gen update, I kind of got my wish, as it's as it's polished and available for the now-gen Wii. No new content, per se, but if you missed it the first time, find an inexpensive copy. Go nuts.
Wednesday, October 28, 2009
- $12 (20%) goes to "Retail"
- $5 (8%) goes to "Marketing"
- $10 (17%) goes to "Cost of Goods"
- $33 (55%) goes to the "Publisher"
- "Spot on -- nice job!" (or, conversely "Too accurate, please do not share")
- "Not even close to accurate"
- How do these numbers compare across console versus PC titles?
- Do the percentages stay intact between a $60 MSP 360 or PS3 title, compared to a $50 Wii title?
- Where do the first-parties (Microsoft, Sony, Nintendo) get their piece of the pie -- from the "Publisher" slice? Is it spread throughout?
- What happens to the percentages in a $30 "budget" title?
- Where are the cost savings and additional expenses in a digital distribution only model (Publishers, for example, are (arguably) largely in the risk management / brokering business, so how do the financial risk model change when that entity isn't involved)?
- What about royalty models?
- Are first- or third-party marketing development / discretionary funds "on top of" the "Marketing" budget?
- How do the numbers change (or do they) based on geography, or cross-geography development and publishing?
Tuesday, October 13, 2009
And it probably helps to understand three quick things:
- Each of these areas would have a breakout underneath them (e.g., "Retailer" has facilities overhead, employee salary / benefits, etc.) that defines their monetary success criteria.
- What these categories include.
- How this percentage breakout varies on a case-by-case basis (which is partially why the numbers bother me).
- Retailer: The (usually brick-and-mortar) establishment from which you buy your game -- so think of it as the money Best Buy gets when you by a $60 game.
- Marketing: Discounts, game returns, and retail cross-marketing (Toys "R" Us gift cards and exclusive action figures, etc.).
- Cost of Goods: Cost of getting the goods sold, which includes making the game disc, shipping the games to the store, translation, and anything else directly related to production, and distribution of the game package.
- Publisher: According to Thomas, "It is generally accepted that most publishers receive $30 to $35 per game sold before they run into overhead, development and marketing costs."
"We spent less than $10 million to make Gears of War. Somewhere between nine and ten million dollars. People are always saying that making next-generation games is really expensive, and we’re saying, you should license our technology."
Now, I acknowledge these numbers are a little problematic, in that they're theoretical, and there's a bit of an apples-to-hand-grenades comparison of the $60 MSP price point of a title, and the $33 publisher portion of the pie placeholder I'm using.
Monday, October 12, 2009
Dreamkiller (360, PC) -- There need to be more, frenetic, memorable PC first-person shooters, a la Painkiller (not related to this title, other than it looks like it's unofficially "inspired-by"). So, this title has my interest because of that, and because I've been carefully watching ASPYR and it its evolving business model over the years. I hope the game does well on PC, and while I hope for the same on 360, I expect it to falter as it goes up against top-notch FPS offerings like Modern Warfare 2, ODST, and even L4D2 -- but especially against Serious Sam HD on XBLA, which will provide that same super-frenetic action, with über polish and a fractional price point.
South Park Let's Go Tower Defense Play! (XBLA) -- A South Park tower defense game? Brilliant!
Lucidity (XBLA) -- LucasArts brings a new platformer to the XBLA platform? Brilliant!
A Boy and His Blob (Wii) -- I'm a big fan of the original, and the absolutely beautiful nature of this new one has me really excite. I own a Wii, but play very few games for myself, but Q42009 will likely change that.
Friday, October 09, 2009
Monday, October 05, 2009
- Natal buy-in -- Nay say as you will about motion controllers (I won't), but the train has left the station, and Microsoft for one is truly making it core to their business (I don't yet feel quite the same about Sony's offering, which doesn't even have a name yet). To add weight to the tech, at TGS Microsoft paraded 7 big-gun Japanese developers who are supposedly bought into Natal. This included Capcom's head of R&D Keiji Inafune (Dead Rising); Namco Bandai's GM Yozo Sakagami; Tecmo's Keisuke Kikuchi (Rygar); Kojima Productions's Kenichiro Imaizumi (Metal Gear Solid 4); Sega's Toshihiro Nagoshi (Monkey Ball); FromSoftware's Masanori Takeuchi (Ninja Blade); and Konami's Naoki Maeda.
- Epic Games expands to Japan -- Sure, it's largely a support organization, but there's now way it's going to stay that way. And with top game dev talent in-country (and with recent, hefty, in-country game dev layoffs), the makers of the Unreal Engine are well positioned to make use of ground forces to directly address local game tastes, and conceivably work more closely with Japanese-HQed Sony and Nintendo.
- Nintendo Wii price drop -- I'm not sure what I found more interesting -- Nintendo's price drop of the Wii to $199, or their brilliant timing of making the announcement during Sony's TGS press conference (which felt a bit lackluster anyway, and really lost live-blogging steam once their competitor's price drop was announced).
- Square-Enix and billing innovation -- This was interesting, and got poo-pooed by a lot of gamers. Since I'm a financial services tech guy who moved into the game industry, and spent years in my previous life trying to push gaming payment solutions (I was told, "there's no money in that"; so I left), it's good to see a high-profile company raise awareness of the infrastructure innovations that must happen for games to evolve -- it's not just about hardware and game design innovation.
- Universal video capture for 360 games? -- This one slipped a bit under the radar, but, allegedly, a gamer made a sideways comment about not building vid capture functionality into their game -- "... why work on something that the platform holder is already developing".
Video capture, by itself, doesn't really float my boat (what is with me and boats, lately?) -- but theater capture (a la Halo 3) does. Why? Because this kind of capture captures (erm) the game data -- not just a video feed of the game being played. This lets you do all sorts of wicked cool things like play the scene over and over from multiple angles, from multiple cameras, speeding up and slowing down motion, etc., with a negligible memory footprint (especially when compared to raw video).
Make that available in the Xbox XDKs for developers, and not only do you have cool functionality for gamers, but really useful stuff for game devs as they debug, test, and iterate on polishing their titles for gamers. This is tech on which to keep an eye.
- Games -- Hey, I'm a gamer, so even if things weren't new, per se, I get stoked for new content for titles I like. For me, this included Snoopy Flying Ace (Snoopy versus the Red Baron on XBLA); Ni no Kuni (NDS RPG from Level-5 Studio (freaking) Ghibli); Dead Rising 2 (zombie games are not "old and busted"); Crackdown 2 (sequel to one of the most underrated games evahr); Alan Wake (I will not lose faith in this game); New Super Mario Bros. (co-op Wii franchise goodness); L4D2 (what is with this franchise? There are so many things that should make this not work, and I. Can't. Get. Enough.); and Dante's Inferno (a classic-made game; I hope it's success signals a Watership Down RTS).
Friday, September 18, 2009
"This talk explores one of the more interesting puzzles of massively multiplayer game design: why do so many people choose to play these games alone? How should designers reach these customers? How important is solo play to games? Should game designers try to entice solo players to enjoy group mechanics like raiding, sieges or PvP? Or are MMOs destined to become 'massively single-player games'?"I've known Damion (casually) for years, and I'm constantly impressed by his digging into the tougher (and/ or more important) game design challenges, with concrete takeaways. I don't like to summarize his talks, because theres so much rich content there. But I will anyway. Check out is blog, http://www.zenofdesign.com/, for more of wisdom and wittyisms.
This talk was about the shift over the last five years in MMOs toward providing (really, requiring) solo play in addition to the "massive". He identified several types of "Loner" - both legitimate (personality type or good game design) and illegitimate (broken game states). Damion offered a large number of concrete design techniques that could help make great games (and avoid game-killing design mistakes)
Damion made an important observation that the "massive" is the differentiation for MMOs - "We can't compete in any other area". Despite this, it's not even an option to create an MMO without a solo aspect.
He also covered bits of psychology and usability -- like, many people don't want to learn publicly; but even more, they don't want to be embarrassed publicly.
Damion made some important real-world data analogies to MMO design (traffic, bars, casino design) that would serve game designers well to consider.
There are also gradations of solo players. Many people (like me) choose to play socially with friends, but solo if friends aren't online
Sociopaths, at their simplest, don't recognize social norms for the space they're in. But everyone who's new to a given MMO is a sociopath, until the designer explicitly trains them otherwise (you don't know the social norms for the new space until you're taught them, and they're ingrained). People who don't change or don't care need to be retrained, channeled, or booted.
From a game design perspective, being "a Loner" is OK; forced into being lonely is not, and is a borked game state.
Thursday, September 17, 2009
"In this post-mortem, WIZARD101 creator J. Todd Coleman discussed the challenges of making a kid-focused MMO, and the role of iterative design in discovering a games personality. How do you blend family-friendly characters, a cinematic combat system, and a collectible card game into a cohesive virtual world? Find out as the director discusses what worked (and what didn't) in KingsIsle's quest to introduce persistent world gaming to a new generation of gamers."The game is tween MMO that runs lightweight on a PC, it's an 8 Mb download, and streams.
- Personality (the game's got flavor)
- Combat (card-based)
- The World (The "spiral mechanic" - which allows for creation of oddly themed expansion worlds and side quests - is brilliant)
- The story (At the same time, there is a single narrative thread-- as opposed to the typical MMO trope of multiple mini stories -- that keeps things cohesive
Persistence? Respawning? Who cares? It's all about keeping it fun for the individual kid player.
The names in Wizard101 may be the greatest part of the game (Samoorai? Sherlock Bones? Meowriarty? Awesome.)
Combat is turn-based, cinematic, and uses a card collecting mechanic (the goal was approachable like Toontown, looks like Yu Gi O, plays like older Final Fantasy).
On the progression of the battle system, Coleman said they created a physical card game for focus testing with kids (sounds like they did a lot of focus testing throughout pre- and production). Next was a 2D prototype that let them further focus test the gameplay, and the AI. Then they did a canned cinematic to show how it would work together. Then they integrated everything.
What Went Right:
- Scope - 30 people, and linear play made for needing less assets
- Prototyping helped refine mechanics
- Digital download/FTP mechanism for distribution
- Minimum spec machine - Coleman asserts that kids get the lowest quality machine in a household; interestingly, he said this also enabled them to unexpectedly hit a chunk of the burgeoning netbook market
- Steady, ongoing launch (as opposed to running up to a launch, getting big numbers, then dropping off sharply)
What Went Wrong:
- Modular world building (bland, and the supposed re-use that drove the decision wasn't worth it)
- Micropayment model (not enough variety at launch, not enough price points at launch)
- Stats & Metrics ("too much is as bad as too little"; they had to many probes everywhere)
- Design for growth (technology is scalable, but the design is not; this is due to things like using % for growth rather than absolute numbers, which causes problems when you need to raise your level cap)
There are social differences in a kids MMO - like for kids, everyone is a friend - but it's different (they'll friend you, but they won't socialize).
They offer a family pricing plan (Yay! Console service providers? Can you please do this?)
"This session provides insight into how studios can gain project efficiencies by communicating more effectively and engaging in constructive conflict. Using the trials and successes at Next Level Games, learn how efficiency drops and work gets derailed when people work in silos, don't communicate or 'assume' they know what's going on. Getting questions on the table at the beginning and throughout the project, along with planning for more face time, creates efficiencies that will reclaim hundreds of lost hours. Attendees will learn how common sense and the commitment to applying these principles consistently will put their team in a better position to turn out a superior product. It may sound simple, but if it was so easy, why isn't everyone doing it?"Edoardo De Martin, Studio General Manager of Next Level Games, is an impressive fella. He was honest about his own experiences, shortcomings, and costs of genuine leadership (and the lack thereof).
He was a non-gaming leader poached into Black Box Games (then EA). Kudos to BB for recognizing talent outside the industry and hiring it into a senior position. Doesn't happen nearly enough.
Edoardo was actually going to leave the game industry and its burnout work ethos, until Next Level approached him -- and he said he wouldn't unless they did things differently.
This "differently" largely revolves around what Edoardo calls coaching, but not the touchy feely vapid non-coaching that tends to give the vocation and skill set a bad rap. What he described is akin to what I probably called mentoring leadership for the development teams I managed in past lives.
Other principals of his:
- Avoid the "squish" (neither upper management or staff are happy with you) - naiive guys take it, but good leaders leave
- Make then accountable (requires respect, integrity, constructive conflict, continuous learning)
- Lead through action (have an idea? Act on it - quickly and consistently)
(Then I had to leave. So I didn't get all the "how to fix its". I need to call Edoardo.)
"Design and implementation is only part of the process in running a massively multiplayer game. Maintaining the player base and achieving sustained growth requires a collective and consistent effort from numerous departments beyond the development team. This discussion will offer an in-depth look at the operational complexities of running a large-scale MMO, including some specific lessons Blizzard Entertainment has learned with World of Warcraft."This was the third in a 3-year Blizzard series, starting 2 years ago with a design principles, followed up a year ago with the business side, and this year with the development and operational side. I've been at all 3. There should be an achievement for that.
Interestingly, the Warcraft team was working on now-defunct title, Nomad. Ithink I'd heard this before, but seeing the concept art again made me whistful for what might have been.
The talk revolved around detailed descriptions, charts, and numbers of all of the Blizzard WoW teams. While all of that is hugely interesting to me, more interesting is Blizzard's cultural principle of building the organization (and each department, and each team) around the individuals - not just slotting people into rigid org chart slots (no matter how often they may change).
I jotted down a bunch of the numbers and detailed org charts, and might post those later (maybe; that takes work). But the main takeaway is the structuring principle above, along with a recognition of the sheer complexity of the company which requires several discreet business units - which are uniquely organized, and appropriately (numbers-wise) staffed to successfully accomplish their charter.
And this was just about the Warcraft organization, Diablo and Starcraft have equivalent teams. One cool tidbit was the concept of strike teams from other game teams making sure game teams aren't getting too close to their game - at the game's expense.
And despite Blizzcon tickets being sold, the event operates at a significant loss - but to huge marketing gain.
Wednesday, September 16, 2009
My final session of the day was "Making an XBLA Game in 6 Months: A Splosion Man Postmortem":
"Coming off the award-winning PC and Xbox Live Arcade title, THE MAW, Austin-based indie developer Twisted Pixel embarked on an unconventional XBLA title called SPLOSION MAN. In this in-depth postmortem, the lead programmer and lead designer look at how the splode-happy gameplay of the title evolved, including what went right and wrong during the project?s hyper-aggressive 6 month schedule, and lessons for indies wanting to make console downloadable games."
I'm a big fan of this game, so I was stoked to attend.
There were 4 full-time, 4 part-time people on the team for 6 months.
What went well: Iteration, Prototyping, Focus, Experience, and "One Level"
They had the game playable
The entire game is playable in the tools
"Ugly and quick"
Had room for only one in the schedule, so they chose "polish".
For milestones, they put harsh internal deadlines that were independent of the publisher milestones.
They made tough cuts (from 75 to 50 levels) prioritized, and (if necessary) re-prioritized.
Folks on the team were experienced, and people responded to that experience, check egos, and be open to criticism.
(Basically the vertical slice)
What went wrong
[I'll update this soon.]
"The line between what has traditionally been thought of as 'casual gamer' and 'hardcore gamer' has blurred considerably over the past few years, forcing developers to re-examine various gamer groups and their approach to marketing. Jon Radoff presents new behavioral gameplay data across multiple platforms and gamer groups, challenging the tired dichotomy of 'casual versus hardcore' and illustrating that gamers are more diverse than ever before. Providing analysis of current behavioral data, Jon will also help to answer the question of how to more effectively deliver and market a product to these various gamer groups."
While the info that the classification of games ("casual" versus "hardcore", etc.) isn't new news, Radoff had some great data, a la gamerDNA.com.
While not a hardcore user, I've been on gamerDNA since I think the beginning, and I have been continuously impressed with their broad scope of intelligent data collection and data mining, and what they do with it (have you seen their Twitter heatmap?).
Radoff separated gamers into different segments for discussion, like social gamers. Play time for guild members in an MMO, for example, is far far higher than non-guild members. In addition, social gaming shows up in unexpected places (like Rock Band, as opposed to, say, Guitar Hero 3).
This resonates with me, because I'm a very social gamer. If I'm not playing a single-player title, I'm playing a multiplayer title because I want to touch-base with people -- to reconnect.
He also suggested breaking games into thematic segments, rather than gameplay types. His example was Bioshock, which should essentially have been a core game, but had play trends more akin to Rock Band interest.
His follow-on was each game has its own segmentation (social versus non-social, thematic tastes, brand-loyal and genre-loyal, competitive).
Radoff showed some great data for Halo 3 that is gold for biz dev, community management, and marketing folks. For example, DLC caused measurable spikes in player interest, but not as much among genre or franchise fans.
Interesting side tidbit: of the top 10 games also played by World of Warcraft players were Fallout 3 and Warhammer Online. Interestingly, Left4Dead consistently charted as a highly also-played among MMO players
Since 5/31/2009, Twitter has had a 7.6% weekly compound growth in tweets about games. That is phenomenal data. Just think about the analogy of a mutual fund.
"In MMO development, companies can slip into habitual processes derived from targeting the same audience over and over. This session will explore Sony Online Entertainment's first tween/teen title, Free Realms, including market research, focus testing, business intelligence, online and retail distribution, and customer acquisition and retention strategies. Attendees will learn about the challenges and lessons learned when creating a full-blown MMO for kids together with a ground-breaking new business model; and how developers can re-educate their teams to move from stagnant and dated MMO design toward mass market success."
I like John Smedley - I think he's a sharp guy who's accomplished a ton for SOE and for the game industry (gamer gripes for Star Wars Galaxies aside).
To set context, Smedley shared some traditional MMO statistics (a la games like EverQuest) - like 33 is the average age of players, 85% are male, 15% are female, and SOE wanted to tap into more of the female / kid gamer market - thus birthing Free Realms, a free-to-play tween MMO, which represents a significant portion of SOE's new direction (DC Universe Online notwithstanding).
Free Realms is fascinating to me for a number of reasons.
First, I like the blue ocean(ish) aspirational aspect of the title.
Secondly, Smedley and a lot of the folks working on the game are family folks with kids, working to create a safe game that everyone can play. I appreciate they're working to keep it safe.
I like how serious SOE is about monetizing Free Realms as a free-to-play, genuine powerhouse of a worldwide brand, and paying attention to the significant differences in this gamer market.
To this end, they've really pushed formal usability testing (daily use of an on-campus focus testing lab, changing interfaces and user experience quickly to adapt to what the data indicates, etc.).
FR is a micro-transaction-based, with in-game items (clothes to pets to items that help your chosen profession, etc.), and I was surprised that they're doing back-end revenue share with retailers - which evidently is going very well. There is also in-game advertising, that seems to be tastefully handled, and largely within the Sony family.
There were also some compelling stats and anecdotes for the efficacy of TV ads for their target demographic.
Age breakdown of Free Realms players (to compare to traditional numbers above):
"Matthew Wegner and Steve Swink of Blurst.com (Flashbang Studios) discuss how it is possible to create games like MINOTAUR CHINA SHOP and OFF-ROAD VELOCIRAPTOR SAFARI in an 8-week production cycle. You'll be surprised to learn that each Blurst game includes a two-week prototyping phase, multiple publicly playable beta versions, rigorous user testing, and detailed stat tracking and analysis. Perhaps more surprising is the fact that each game is produced with the team working 10am-3pm, Monday through Thursday. It's AAA game development in microcosm; each game is an experiment, both in production and design. Come reap the intellectual benefits of the results of Blurst.com's rapid fire approach."
The company is 6 people, and they, for example, spent 4 months on one of their bigger games, Jetpack Brontosaurus.
But this 8-week production cycle as the norm (goal?) is impressive, and is broken into 2-week prototyping, 5-week production, 1-week launch segments. That's a wicked little amount of time, and the company has to be laser-focused to make it.
Granted, you can arguably do quite a bit with a 6-person company, but there are principles that apply regardless of company size. (Think "The Four-Hour Work Week" or "The Cluetrain Manifesto".)
Flashbang Studios really seen to have a holistic attitude toward the company and employee quality of life (cross-fit memberships, etc.), a ridiculous amount of fun and respect, and (outside-in) seems to be the kind of company to which all companies should aspire. That may just be due to Wegner and Swink, but as a company's leadership goes, so goes the company.
Blurst puts a lot of emphasis on higher-level working efficiency, high-intensity work blocks.
They implemented 10:05-3:30, Monday-Thursday work days for 8-weeks, which created intense focus and productivity (Fridays are Google-style personal development days).
I had to leave the session early, which bums me out, so I hope to catch up with the guys at the show later.
Tuesday, September 15, 2009
"How do you use your own website, social networking channels (from Twitter
through IRC and beyond), independent editorial content, and even pre-release
versions of your tools to build a robust community around your game before it
even ships? Wolfire's COO, John Graham,
explains in depth how his company has been building momentum around PC indie
title Overgrowth, what has worked, and what hasn't."
This was a decent little session, though it's probably better couched as case study of a small (4-person?) indie studio figuring out what worked and what didn't, and how they used what works.
It was interesting, not least of which because it's an be an advocacy for a formal PR function within an indie environment.
Graham's a sharp guy, and it's impressive to see what the team has done to build buzz and put out useful content for their community. I'd really like to understand the details and timeline of their core business, technology, and game, to have context on how the PR maps to the reality of the project.
Someone needs to do an in-depth case study on there guys (they'd totally do it).
The session was "How To Operate Your Indie Game Business - For Fun And Profit!":
"One of the most stable indies out there, Ninjabee has made a large number of very diverse games for digital download. They?ve released games from CLONING CLYDE to A KINGDOM FOR KEFLINGS. These games were developed for XLA, WiiWare, PC, and iPhone. The down-to-earth Fox, talks about how NinjaBee can maintain the creative indie edge and still stay in business. He discusses how they handle contracting vs. self-funded games and compares development and success on various platforms. Hear tips and tricks on pitching your games to publishers or getting them approved from gatekeepers like Microsoft for XLA and much more on practical matters of interest to every indie game developer."
Brent Fox, from NinjaBee / Wahoo Studios, was a wealth of knowledge.
Starting out in weird way -- talking about the employees, all of their young kids, their need for insurance -- had a purpose. There is a higher need (speaking from experience, sometimes desperation) to provide for families that forces a company to run itself like a business and drive to profitability faster than what indie studios of a bunch of single folks might do. The game industry has been slowly moving this direction as the workforce matures, any way. Slowly.
(Blergh. The rest of this post has been deleted. I'll try to find it or reconstruct it from my notes.)
"Building a strong narrative for video gaming's largest army of super heroes
requires a unique fusion of writing techniques, tools, and production
strategies. Join Lead Writer Evan Skolnick and Narrative Designer, Jonathan
Mintz, as they take a deep dive into storytelling for a modern, large-scale
Action RPG. You'll learn how they worked with the team to plan the narrative,
develop the game's characters and world, and integrate story with gameplay
They'll share best practices for creating and organizing the wealth of content
that modern games require - along with some hard-earned tips about pitfalls to
I wanted to attend this session not just because I'm a franchise fan. I was curious how the team was going to tighten the gameplay and cutscene storytelling depending on who you pick for your teams (a challenge in the first title), while ratcheting up the mechanics (a la the fusion mechanic) and maturity level, complexity, and player choice and cost.
Secondly (and work-related), I was curious as to how the narrative design informed the tools and production pipeline (more on that later).
Evan Skolnick, lead writer, and Jonathan Mintz, Narrative Designer were the session speakers, and did a stellar job of speaking, keeping content moving, and answering questions.
Vicarious Visions had a roughly 120-person development team for the project, which took
2.5 years to make, and adapted
It sounds like VV and Marvel did a good job of adapting Marvel's "What If" trope to the stories, and have better represented the two sides of conflicts so that no one's "wrong" and the player can honestly "choose a side".
VV has done some smart stuff with handling in-game conversations, and I really dig in concept the implementation of their dialog tree.
I had a pretty good sense of what the Narrative Designer's role was, based on conversations with Jonathan after MUA1, but the team has really refined the role, and genuinely leveraged the Narrative Designer and Lead Writer roles in a collaborative division of labor whose sum was greater than the parts.
On the tools side, they created an Excel tool for the Writing Workbook, for the mission designer, lead writer, and narrative designer. More than just a project plan, this has a very slick multi-purpose XML output, used to create text-to-speech placeholder audio, VO scripts, gameplay pacing, descriptive text cues, etc. Very nice process.
They also used that data to prioritize mission scope, complexity, and features to avoid headaches (or at least as many). Coming out of a formal requirements background, I was impressed with their application of prioritization to mission structure.
Surprisingly, there was a very nice mini-post mortem as part of the presentation -- very cool, given the game shipped today.
Aside -- I also got to chat with DB Cooper, one of the best voice over professionals in the business (and one of the most accessible and gracious), and AGDC is one of the places I get to see her in person each year. She's good peoples. Even better to run into her since a con call made me miss her session (damn you, toy job that keeps me employed!).
"Having created the Bit.Trip series for WiiWare to significant acclaim, Gaijin
Games has melded retro game design aesthetics with a unified, holistic-feeling
style to create games with a special feel. In this design talk, Gaijin Games'
Art Director Mike Roush discusses how they created the retro-infused series,
giving tips on standing out on WiiWare and how to intelligently mine classic
gaming for a unique look."
I use "kicked off", but it more like shuffled along.
I like Gaijin Games and those folks (and what they've accomplished), but Roush is pretty relaxed, which isn't the best for an early morning game development talk (hey, it was also his first presentation of the type, so he gets a lot of slack).
The talk boiled down to leveraging all parts of a team (art, design, programming) as joint stakeholders in pre- and production to make a high-caliber indie game in 3 months (impressive).
The talk was too light on actionable details, but Q&A opened things up a bit -- like a little more process detail as to how the team resolves collaborative deadlock (domain experts can trump in their areas). Etc.
"Want to know what?s sparklingly new and fantastic in the world of independent games? Using his sekrit underground contacts, Indie Games Summit Austin board member Brandon Boyer (Offworld) will look at the top technical and gameplay trends out there, with plenty of audiovisual reference to games and experiments that enchant or confound."
The session revolved around Boyer playing various indie games (Spelunky, Glum Buster,Alpinist, Time Donkey, Captain Forever, Tuning), and taking about why they are significant.
I'm a big fan of indie titles, but this session was tedious. It would have been better served with pre-packaged video and narrative explanation ("Spelunky is significant because of it's procedurally generated levels").
I am glad Boyer showed titles like Time Donkey, to show the diversity and ambition in indie game development. Also, the indie community needs to get the attention of publishers, and the diversity, adoption, and demonstrative community excitement is key to that.
It was very cool to see Cactus's not-yet-released new platformer, Tuning.
As a very cool surprise, Polytron's new title, Fez, was demoed for the first time. It's a 2D/3D platformer, with a game story concept similar to the classic book, "Flatland". Very slick, innovative game mechanics.
Monday, September 14, 2009
Saturday, September 12, 2009
Catch up with us while we're in the Capital City, and contact me if you need to.
A few new games are out (or will be relatively soon).
Hidden Path Entertainment's Defense Grid: The Awakening, out for a while on Steam, is now out on XBLA. I've fawned about (on?) this game before, and it's now doing well on Microsoft's service, too.
Wednesday, August 26, 2009
Monday, August 24, 2009
Batman: Arkham Asylum ships Tuesday (tomorrow), and since it looks like the best Batman video game
since …*, it feels like I should call it out, and in particular, this deal from Toys “R” Us.
While buying the title at TRU gets common folk a $20 gift card, Rewards “R” Us Members get a $30 gift card instead -- if you are a member and pick up the game between 10 a.m. and 2 p.m. tomorrow (which is also Tuesday). The program is free, and you can enroll here.
TRU is also doing “buy one, get one half off” on Wii and DS titles this week. So, if you’re a mixed household, you could get Batman, then 6 hours later use your $30 for Imaginz Paramedics and Imaginz Emergency Intubation (caveat: these are not really games; yet).
If you go this route, check the videos carefully. It's probably fine, but I've done these DVD offers in the past, and passed on them because the two-pack versions didn't have the special features (interviews with Bruce Timm, voice sessions, etc.) that really made the purchases valuable for me.
* To be fair, 1989’s Batman: The Caped Crusader on the Atari ST and Amiga was really good. It was probably published by Ocean Software and/or Data East, depending on the platform. It's been a long time.
Monday, August 17, 2009
Wednesday, July 29, 2009
Wednesday, July 22, 2009
Tuesday, July 21, 2009
That said, I am excited for a number of upcoming titles on multiple platforms, for a bunch of different reasons. Maybe some of those reasons match yours.
Below are my brief lenses for my games excitement.
Professional: From the toy job perspective (game engine and tools product manager), I'm looking forward to a number of titles from my licensees on the PC, Xbox 360, PS3, and Wii. Many of those I can't yet talk about (bummer), but I'm looking forward to a big ol' "boo-yah!" when I can.
Armchair analyst: As an armchair analyst, I think there are some games that will make some commercial or artistic waves, and hopefully push the market forward a bit.
Gamer: And as a gamer (and personally playing on the 360, Wii, and NDS), I've got a bunch of titles competing for my
Check out the list below. They're roughly in chronological release order, but dates may change, I'm not the publisher driving the title's release, I'm probably missing some big ones, blah blah blah.
And be sure to use the comments section to tell me titles to which you're looking forward.
Monkey Island: Special Edition (360) -- Have you not played this classic? Well, LucasArts is milking its back catalog, and its back-catalog rocks. Pick up this re-imagined gem on XBLA, and fall in love with the adventure genre all over again.
BioShock & The Elder Scrolls IV: Oblivion Bundle (360, PC) -- Do you not own these two great titles? Stop reading, go out and pick up this $30 two-fer pack (wait for it ...) right now. Why are you still here?
Bust-A-Move Plus! (Wii) -- Make fun of me if you want, but Bust-A-Move is an IP favorite of mine. I'm looking forward to this title for mindless, frustrating, puzzling.
Holy Invasion of Privacy, Badman! What Did I Do to Deserve This? (PSP) --Letting handheld players build their own levels is a dicey prospect, but if it's pulled off right, the mechanic and the art and humor style of this could be a platform-seller.
Marvel VS Capcom 2 (360, PS3) --OK, so it's not so much a re-imagining as a re-release, but this 2D fighting XBLA release brings one of my favorite Xbox titles back, and I'm looking forward to getting my tail kicked by twelve-year-olds while I dutifully espouse the merits of Captain America and patriotism.
Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles: Turtles in Time Re-Shelled (360) -- This re-imagining of the TMNT arcade cabinet (not the SNES version with the additional content) looks wicked slick. If you picked up the previous XBLA release for peanuts on Amazon recently, you shouldn't feel too angry about paying for this new, slickly skinned version. This is part of Microsoft's "Summer of Arcade", which could be subtitled, "The Summer of Wicked Expensive XBLA Titles", but at least they're quality wicked expensive XBLA titles.
The King of Fighters XII (PS3, 360) -- Fanboy franchise power in another high-caliber fighter; I'm curious to see the final units numbers.
Fallout 3: Mothership Zeta (360, PC) -- I've resigned myself to the fact I'll be playing Fallout 3 forever. More content equals more playing. Anytime I don't know what to play, I put in Fallout. And now I'm going to go off-world. Suh-weet.
Wolfenstein (PC, 360, PS3) -- I *heart* the classic forebearer of the FPS, and now that BJ's back, I'm going to be blasting. Not just for the name of the hero, but because the shroud mechanic sounds cool.
Phantom Brave: We Meet Again (Wii) -- The title that arguably busted open the strategy RPG is finally coming to the Wii, enhanced and expanded (more story, different UI, updated graphics, and new characters/ inventory swag / skills).
Batman: Arkham Asylum (X360, PS3, PC) -- I am a comic book fan; one hoping for the first Batman game that doesn't make me angry. This combo stealth actioner may finally be it. I'm worried its "Teen" rating my undercut the edge, but we'll see.
Professor Layton and the Diabolical Box (DS) -- A co-worker got me into Curious Village recently, and now I can't wait for all of the titles in the franchise. Think beautiful, (non-stereotyped) Japanese animation puzzler on the DS, and you're part way to the awesome.
Metroid Prime Trilogy (Wii) -- All three Wii Metroid titles in one place, with the excellent control scheme from the third game brought back to the first two. It's in my Amazon wish list, so buy it for me.
Bayonetta (PS3, 360) -- Here's an over-the-top third-person actioner that has a new level of WTF written all over it. It's stylistic, seems to make no sense, vids make it look buttery polished already, and I dig that heroine's hair suit is not because she's hirsute (the first is kind of sexy; the second most definitely would not be).
Mini Ninjas (360, PS3, Wii, DS) -- Awe, cute mini ninjas, anthropomorphism, a Samurai Jack vibe, and the fact that ninjas are cooler than pirates? Arr, that's gold, that is.
NHL 10 (PS3, 360) -- I'm a hockey fan. It's off-season. So, normally I'm sad, but Electronic Arts and 2K Sports are duking it out for the most fantastic hockey treatment, and I win.
NHL 2K10 (360, PS3, Wii, PS2) -- I'm a hockey fan. It's off-season. So, normally I'm sad, but 2K Sports and Electronic Arts are duking it out for the most fantastic hockey treatment, and I win. I think 2K will win on the Wii and PS2 fronts.
Marvel: Ultimate Alliance 2 (360, PS3, PS2, Wii, PSP, DS) -- Loved the first game, and the second will hopefully be even more polished. I am nervous Raven's not at the helm, but Vicarious Visions did a ton on the first game, so the second is probably in great hands (looks like the CGI cut-scene budget is smaller, this time around, though). Plus some folks at Marvel have promised me this game is going to rock. They promised.
Scribblenauts (DS) -- Hrm. "Puzzle platformer game with 200 levels" doesn't quite do this justice. You write words. The words become objects. You use the objects to move around the levels and solve puzzles. Oh, yes you do.
The Witcher: Rise of the White Wolf (360 PS3) -- I hear bad rumblings this has been canceled. I hope not. A grown-up RPG on the consoles? Freaking finally.
Halo 3: ODST (360) -- Yeah, I can not get away from how much I am a Halo fan. While my clans have sickened me on Halo 2 (I bought a 360 for a reason), Forge and 4-player co-op keep me coming back to Halo 3, and ODST looks to have a fun game mechanic (innovative flashbacks), great story, more maps for Halo 3, a cool firefight game mode, and a beta key for Bungie's mysterious Reach project. And Peter David is writing the ODST comic book commercial
Kingdom Hearts 358/2 Days (DS) -- Single and multiplayer franchise expansion to the DS. Sqeenix plus Disney. Roxas and Axel as playable. Yippee.
Borderlands (360, PC, PS3) -- Teased for so long, with a recent shiny new coat of paint, I have worked hard not to lose interest in this one. Gearbox has earned their place in the industry, so I'll likely pick up this game just to vote with my dollars as to how to do it right, and I'm guessing the game will live up to the studio that made it.
Alright -- that's the list for now. Now comment, dammit!
Hey, I just realized no one ever sends me review titles anymore -- What up with that?
Maybe it's because I moved, and they don't have my new address ...