Saturday, February 24, 2007

The Arcade, the Artist and the Algorithm

Raph Koster pointed to this lovely set of images from artist Rosemarie Fiore, that are all long-exposure shots of old arcade games (mostly old color vector games, though Qix was a raster setup, IIRC).

It occurred to me that you could probably get similar shots by getting the source code to MAME, and either switching off back-buffer clears while doing some post processing on the back buffer. Not sure you'd have the same beauty in the final result though.

Tuesday, February 20, 2007

My GDC Sessions

For those interested, here are my GDC sessions this year:

Console/PC Distribution Gatekeepers (Kim Pallister, Microsoft; Jason Holtman, Valve; John Hight, Sony; Sandy Resnick, GameTap; Moderator: Simon Carless, IGF)
Monday - 11.15am - 12.10pm
This vital panel talks to the employees who evaluate submissions for some of the major indie game distribution channels on both console and PC, talking about how to pitch your game to get on these services, exactly what the gatekeepers are looking for, approaches to royalties, and much more.

Casual Games and Windows Vista: The Real Story on What It Means For Casual Games
Wednesday 12.00pm - 1:00pm
Vista provides casual gamers with a whole new games experience, enriched by graphics and features that were not possible on previous operating systems. Join Microsoft Casual Games for a deep-dive on how Vista benefits the casual game developer and enhances the casual games experience. This session will cover challenges and opportunities in development and distribution, and what it means for the casual games community.

Sharing Control: Moderator David Edery, Worldwide Games Portfolio Planner, Xbox Live Arcade), Raph Koster (President, Areae, Inc.), Kim Pallister (Microsoft), Ray Muzyka (CEO, BioWare Corp.), Matt Brown (Technical Director/Design Director, Maxis/Electronic Arts) Friday 10:30am - 11:30am
This year's GDC theme is "Take Control", but this next generation of gaming should be equally remarkable for its emphasis on broadband-enabled social systems, multiplayer games, and user-generated content. This panel will grapple with the benefits and challenges of *sharing control* with gamers. Issues include: how can developers involve consumers in the design process, how can user-generated content help and harm a game, what are the best ways to prevent "low quality" UGC from frustrating the community, and how can user-driven marketing be encouraged?

A keen eye might note both me and David are from MS and are on teh same panel. David didn't work at Microsoft when he submitted and organized the panel! Nevertheless, I promise to be a slight pain in his butt during the panel so as to remove any appearance of corporate favoritism :-)

An even keener eye might also note that I was scheduled to host the blogger's get together at GDC. Because of a conflict with the 3rd session above, I've had to hand it off. Darius Kazemi was kind enough to step up and cover that. He da man.

Come by the sessions and say hi!

If stoner doodles were animated

As Steve puts it:

If you’ve ever played Line Rider, you are completely owned by this video. Just give up now.

This is complete Line Rider pownage. It occurred to me watching it though that it was like a moving version of the doodles that stoners in high school (yours truly included) would draw on their notebooks (back when notebook meant paper, not a $2000 computer).

Sunday, February 18, 2007

Long time no update

Sorry blogosphere, I've been busy. Work, kids, wife, getting ready for GDC, etc.

I also have to admit that I've sunk an ungodly amount of time into Saint's Row on the 360 lately. Just an hour or two a day but it adds up! Anyhow, here's an update on that and a number of other games I've had some time with.

Saints Row:

  • Saint's Row is good, if you like the GTA-3 style sandbox games.
  • I thought the missions/story/writing/etc was pretty good. No one's winning a pulitzer, but hey, it's as good as other high end game titles out there.
  • I'm all for 'games for grownups', and with the language and content to suit it - where it helps the story. There were a few (not many) places where it was so over the top that it detracted from the story and felt more... adolescent. The escort missions (where you drive around a call girl and her client, trying to avoid the paparazzi while they get their freak on) were just over the top. Didn't add to it.
  • A couple of the aside-from-story activities (eg. Hitman, Chop Shop) felt totally like a needle in a haystack. Even more true for the music cd's and tag locations all over the city. There was little in the way of a feedback mechanism to let the player know they were on the right track. For example, Hitman should have let you ask passers-by (by shaking them down, bribing them, etc) if they'd seen someone, letting you do the time-based equivalent of a sonar ping; "he was here 3 minutes ago".
  • I finished the story long ago. The amount of work to mop up all the onesy-twosey 10 point acheivements is pretty high - so why won't I put it down?

Lost Planet:

  • Played it through to end of first boss. Maybe that isn't enough to judge it but...
  • ...I can't beleive people are rating this game as high as they are.
  • Writing is attrocious. I know some of it is 'lost in translation', but even that's not the whole problem. THe story right out of the gate is full of holes, and then they plug those holes with cliches. Ugh. It's laughable.
  • It's pretty. OK, that's good.
  • The enemy AI is crap. Boss fights (well, the first one anyway) feel very 1990's.


  • Haven't played it yet, but I *have* it. Maybe tommorrow.

Pacman, Ms Pacman:

  • I'm assuming you know these games. If you are an acheivment-chaser, these are pretty easy to bang through to get them all. I have 200/200 on Ms P, and 170/200 on Mr P. Getting all four ghosts with all four powerups on Mr P is pretty hard.

Root Beer Tapper:

  • I haven't given this one much of a chance yet, but I'm curious how well I can get used to the controller. Tapper in the arcade was always a button-up/button-down dependant game, where the button was effectively replaced by a keg-tap-lever type of controller. The button might have been better mapped to one of the analog controllers?

OK. Back to GDC planning. I'm doing 3 sessions there. More on that in the next day or two...

Thursday, February 8, 2007

Shareware Espresso: Coffee without the DRM

There's a coffee shop startup in Kirkland (a stone's throw from here) started by Ervin Peretz, a programmer at Google, which has been making the news because of their pricing: They don't have any.

Just a black metal lockbox. Order your mint double mochachino extra foam, then just decide what you ought to pay for it and put some money in the box. No one will peek at how much you put in.

Through his "voluntary payment" cafe, Peretz is poised to become the Robin Hood of the Starbucks set. Using an efficient, low-overhead business model and narrow profit margin, he figures he can finesse the largesse of well-off latte lovers to cover the tabs of the less fortunate. The idea emerged during a booze-fueled debate in a Saigon bar, where Peretz and a colleague had traveled to blow off steam after a period of long hours at work.

OK, any entrepeneur whose business plan was devised "during a booze-fueled debate in a Saigon bar" has my official stamp of approval! I like the guy already.

Will be interesting to see if it pans out. In a high-end neighborhood like this one in Kirkland, it's likely it could work. Would the same thing fly in a rougher-around-the-edges urban area, likely not.

I can't help but think that there's some similarity here to the no-drm music sites starting up. PC usage is of course far more anonymous, but there's there's some similarity in the cost/convenience side of it. 99 cents for a song is pretty reasonable, as is $2-3 for a latte, or $10-$20 for a premium casual game.

Is there a demographic equivalent to the high-end neighborhood in the coffee case? If you shipped casual games without DRM, would the bulk of the paying customers CONTINUE to be paying customers? Esp if you could somehow make payment easier as a result? I dunno.

Tuesday, February 6, 2007

Web 2.0 - The Machine is Us/ing Us

Everyone on the web will link to this, because it's the most concise explanation of Web 2.0 seen to date, and is entertaining and inspiring to boot.

Crowdsourcing: New name, same old story

Robin posted a link to this Wired story on "Crowdsourcing". While the word is a clever portmanteau and play on 'outsourcing', after reading the article, I don't really feel there's anything all that new here.

This is yet another story of disruptive technology (in this case, the internet & online community technologies) allowing new business models to rapidly displace incumbents.

The first example they discuss is iStockphoto. In this case, it's Internet + online community + cheap professional grade digital photography combining to disrupt the stock photography business. (More on this in a minute)

The second example include user-created video content. America's Funniest Home videos was perhaps the advent of this; with the proliferation of cheap camcorders. The current 'wave' of sites and soon network shows taking advantage of this have just added Internet + community to the disruptive technology brew.

The also look at examples of 'crowdsourced' R&D and menial problem solving. But in all cases, it's the same thing: The internet solves the distribution of labor problem, and the community tech solves the 'how to connect to the right person on the internet' problem.

New name, but its the same old thing. No different than when the word processor displaced the typewriter, or (to use my favorite Guy Kawasaki example) when the advent of refrigeration displaced the ice harvesting business.

Now, back to the iStockPhoto example, there's another interesting lesson here. From the article:

"In 2000, Harmel made roughly $69,000 from a portfolio of 100 stock photographs, a tidy addition to what he earned from commissioned work. year his stock business generated less money – $59,000"

And they are implying that the stock-photo side of his business will eventually go to zero. Note though, that his commissioned work business, at least as far as we know, is unaffected.

There's still value in the service side of his business. It's the product side that's been commoditized.

Monday, February 5, 2007

Feb Carnival of Gamers is up

As of a few days ago. I only just now noticed it. Check it out here.

Sunday, February 4, 2007

We now return you to regularly scheduled programming

Bonjour Blogosphere,

Apologies for going dark for a while, but I had a bunch of things line up on top of each other that kept me fairly busy.

As stated in the previous post, my son Matthew was born just over a week ago. He's a delightful little fellow who's actually pretty low maintenance; at least when compared to our experience with preemie twins. Alisa's doing most of the work (alas, I am without the means to feed him), but I've been shuttling the twins to school, swimming lessons, etc. Had a nice outing yesterday taking my daughter to Fry's for the first time. "Daddy, I LIKE that big tv!". *sniff* *that's my girl*

However, I've not been exactly idle from work at the same time. I had a bunch of Vista-enhanced casual games being released in time for the Vista launch; a bunch of work in getting some Vista-related developer documentation together, and was helping with a bunch of the aspects of getting our crew ready for the Casual Connect conference (F.K.A 'Casuality') in Amsterdam this coming week, even though I don't get to go this year >:-(

On top of that, I upgraded my home dev machine to Vista RTM, and have the SW set up to join the XNA Creators Club, should I ever get around to dusting off my coding chops.