Sunday, August 31, 2008

No Pax for me :-(

The forces of the universe continue to conspire against me, and I'm not making it to Pax again.

Sounds like it's really exploding in size, and it looks that way too. Jason's posted some pix showing just that, plus goat spotting!

Friends Mark, Jane, Andre and Rob were all speaking on a cool panel I'd like to have chimed in on, about whether casual is 'killing' core games. Sorry I missed it.

Meanwhile, I've got to get back Mother of All Spreadsheets... [grumble]

Wednesday, August 27, 2008

Monday, August 25, 2008

Evolution of retail

photo.jpg, originally uploaded by Kim Pallister.

Having not set foot in a retail game store for some time, I found myself at Target recently.

Holy balls! Look at the PC game shelf! Approx 1/3 traditional PC hardcore fare (not shown), 1/3 kids & adventure (e.g. Dora, Nancy Drew, etc - also not shown) and 1/3 $20 casual download titles.

Once the domain of Mumbo Jumbo and a couple others, now every downloadable title to have proven itself beyond a given threshold (not sure what that might be - 100k units? half that maybe?) graduates to physical retail.

I wonder whether this is a nice secondary market or whether it's "the big leagues". I'm guessing the former, but who knows!?

As an aside, it's interesting to see their box designs. Most of these games had to sell themselves on a name and a 60x60 thumbnail. The luxury of a big cardboard box lets them mix it up a bit.

Thursday, August 21, 2008

It's Bizarro Internetz time!

The Internet is a conundrum of opposites!

  • Competing Loanwords! GD Mag's Brandon Sheffield argues we've reached a Graphics Plateau. On the other hand, Crytek's Cevat Yerli argues we're at the beginning of a Graphics Renaissance! While both make some valid points, I'll side with Yerli. I've heard the 'mips fatigue' argument for 15 years, and it's graphics variant for at least the last 5. We still have *very* far to go in graphics, and in computing for that matter.
  • I posted yesterday about Cliff Harris' concluding that DRM was bad for business. Id's Todd Hollenshead apparently thinks the evil lies with platform vendors, who won't bake DRM into their platforms. Do we really have to learn the painful lessons that the music biz did, for ourselves?
  • Apparently we do. Hey, we can NOT learn from those lessons even better by hiring on RIAA legal beagles. Ugh. No opposites there, just bone-headed behavior on both sides of the pond.
It's all too much to ponder. Probably best pondered while sweating in a sauna, cause that's where all tech talk happens, right. Warning. Footage of pudgy nerds talkin' mobile gaming. You have bene warned. (seriously though. I like that it's pretty out of the box approach to pitching. Then I like nothing else about it. shudder. Those guys should seriously check their image)

Wednesday, August 20, 2008

One way to get to the root of a problem...

Awesome post up by Positech Games' Cliff Harris, in which he, when trying to figure out why people pirate his games, decided to ASK THEM, via his blog.

The comments back were detailed, thoughtful and enlightening. Cliff also outlines a plan to take action based on the feedback received. Put another check in the 'DRM does more harm than good' column:

1) No more DRM

I only used DRM for one game (Democracy 2) and it's trivial. It's a one-time only internet code lookup for the full version. I've read enough otherwise honest people complain about DRM to see that its probably hurting more than it help's. I had planned on using the same system for Kudos 2, but I've changed my mind on that. I have also removed it from Democracy 2 today. I now use no DRM at all."

It's a cool read for a bunch of reasons. Check it out.

Monday, August 18, 2008

Hey EA! Your innards are showing.

I was pointed to this article in adweek about how EA Sports is launching a new "Freestyle" brand aimed at delivering more casual sports fare, for the Wii as well as other platforms.

While it makes sense to target that as a market, does it make sense for a new brand? Couldn't EA Sports Freestyle titles compete equally well under the EA Casual heading?

Perhaps it does, but I'd wager that there was also some internal politicking at work, and that what we're seeing is the creation of a casual brand that doesn't have to reside in Kathy Vrabeck's EA Casual shop. If they are going to create answers to Wii Sports, etc, then will the expertise really come from the Madden team or the Casual team or from Blueprint?

Anyhow, I could be off base, but the announcement smelled a little of office politics to me.

Look at the unit(s) on that guy!

photo.jpg, originally uploaded by Kim Pallister.

Funny button seen at Siggraph. Auteur will remain anonymouse :-)

If you get it, you get it. If you don't, well, keep surfin'. Nothing to see here.

Armored Core Floor

photo.jpg, originally uploaded by Kim Pallister.

Long-time readers of my blog may remember our trials and tribulations with moles destroying our lawn when I last lived in Portland.

We had sod put into the back yard of the new place and decided not to mess around. This is a pic of the 1/2-inch metal cloth mesh I laid down before having the sod put in.

Lets see the little buggers chew through that!

Friday, August 8, 2008

Braid & Indie 'Escape Velocity'

[OK. Last Braid post for a while, I promise.]

I checked out the Metacritic score as of this morning, and it's weighing in at 92, which makes it the top rated XBLA title, and the #10 ranked title of all time, just nudging ahead of Mass Effect, a multi-million dollar title from a large team. Braid cost under a quarter million.

[Update: A few people picked up on this post, and the WSJ one saying Jon invested $180k of his own money into Braid, as concrete evidence of the development cost of the game. I should clarify: Although I had some involvement with Jon, I have no idea what it cost to make the title. That's his business, and up to him whether to disclose. Secondly, my *estimate*, having given it some thought, are that its much higher in total. Likely more like $300k-$400k. Jon's $180, plus an unspecified amount borrowed, but let's assume it's a significant amount, plus the costs that MS covered as advances on royalties for localizations, ratings, etc. Jon talks about some of these here. Anyhow, if you look at it as a $400k dev cost, that's still about 40k unit break-even. More if you consider the tax issue that Jon mentions. And let's not forget that 'break even' isn't the goal, or at least it shouldn't be.]

Now Metacritic is useless in many ways (e.g. there are interweb thoughts on MC scores of Wii not being indicators of sales; or MC scores being too harsh on XBLA titles, etc), but it's still followed closely by console manufacturers and publishers as an indication of what does well and what to aim for.

Which means that people are going to be looking at Braid and trying to emulate it/follow it. This is not unlike how Geowars inspired a publisher/platform vendor thirst for small two-stick shooters (e.g. I courted Everyday Shooter for some time as a more 'arty'/indie title, but Sony wanted the title far more than I did. There are a ton of other examples, both good and bad).

I think there'll be a few misguided publisher/developer/console companies that look at Braid's success and say "we need painterly-rendered platformers with time mechanics!", but I think they'll be small in number. They'll also be wrong in pursuing those as root causes of Braid's success.

What I think is shining through, and what I think the majority of the industry *will* get, is that Braid's success comes from the delivery of a game containing an undiluted form of its creator's passion and vision. Which is, IMHO, what the overused "Indie" moniker is really all about. It's not about small teams, small budgets, or "wackiness". It's about artists taking the vision in their minds eye, and wringing it out in blood, sweat and code.

And if you think about what might happen if the companies in the industry actually take that to heart, well, that's interesting.

If it were to mean a willingness to fund, pubisher or otherwise support titles, while acknowledging that their success will come from completely relinquishing control to those with the original vision, well, that'd be good for 'indie' games now wouldn't it? It would mean 'escape velocity' for indie games, where the metaphor refers to the gravitational pull of the mainstream and the dollars that fund it.

Of course, at some point, those converations within those companies will start to include words like "risk aversion", "focus group", "market trends", etc, and then it'll be hard to stay hands-off, but one can always dream.

Braid mention in Wall Street Journal

In addition to the glowing reviews of the game, WSJ has a nice write-up here with some background on the game's development.

Wednesday, August 6, 2008

Braid is out!

Braid has *finally* released on XBLA.

I only had a few minutes to play at 5am this morning before heading out, but was so happy to see the final product.

I believe it's one of the most beautiful things on xbox360, and I also believe it's THE most beautiful thing to happen TO xbox360. (Metacritic scores up so far seem to agree)

Congrats to Jon for seeing his vision through, and for keeping nose to the grindstone for SO long (I first talked to Jon about it at IGF 2006, so he started 2005?2004?). I stand in awe of his passion for the art.

Monday, August 4, 2008

Peek inside Larrabee

A Siggraph paper on the Larrabee architecture went live today, so there's press aplenty about the details we've given.

Still lots is hush hush, but those curious can read the paper here.