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Wednesday, February 28, 2007

Warner buys Microsoft video game composition publishing rights

I saw this Wednesday night at Music 4 Games -- Warner/Chappell Music (publishing arm of Warner Music Group Corp.) just bought the rights to claim, administer and license music compositions owned and controlled by Microsoft.

This includes past works like Halo 2 and Jade Empire, and future works (Halo 3, possibly the Mass Effect score, etc.).

I can see why Microsoft would do this, and it's a huge opportunity to get a big dog in the industry to push for additional distribution, profit, and protection opportunities.

My question is does this impact Sumthing Distribution, who was doing this for Microsoft? I mean, video games aren't their total portfolio, but I've got think they (especially Halo) is a big chunk.

(As a total aside, I had the Sumthing Distribution site open while writing this, and they have a jukebox playing their stuff. A track from Perfect Dark Zero came on, and I got pissed. Not because of the soundtrack; because of being reminded of the crappy launch game.)

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Junction Point about to announce something?

OK, the title may be a bit of a red herring, but Austin-based Junction Point Studios, Inc. is still being pretty enigmatic. They've just signed a "new creative deal" with publisher Vivendi Games. The Game Developers Conference is next week. With E3 going away, developers and publishers need a place to announce stuff (and people like GDC director Jamil Moledina are saying PS3 owners will be "very happy" after Phil Harrison's March 7 keynote).

And Junction Point's founder / owner and "Game God" Warren Spector is doing a lot of interviews lately.

But just so the interviews don't get lost in the shuffle (and because they're more useful and concrete than my rumor mongering I'm doing above), let's talk about the interviews.

You can get insights into one of the great game designers / story tellers / visionaries in the February issues of both Game Developer and UK magazine games.

Like I said in my Steve Meretzky post, getting insight from folks of this caliber to me is nothing short of a gift. Though I've read a lot of stuff with Spector, there are still quite a few nuggets in both of these interviews.

They're all largely in concert with the mission statement for his studio:

"Junction Point Studios, Inc., founded in January of 2005, is an independent
developer of innovative console and PC games that focus on player-driven,
improvisational gameplay in the context of strong, traditional narratives. The
company's goal is to tell stories with players, not to them, allowing them to
craft their own, unique experiences through in-game choices."
Spector's philosophy seems to be an intelligent middle ground between largely story-less sandbox (a la Crackdown) and games on rails, even with great story (a la Half-Life).

His idea is to not create a sandbox game, but multiple little sandboxes, for which he decides the linkage relationship, and is responsible for "all the acts [and purpose for] why you do things":
"The key for me is letting players explore those little narrative chunks on
their own. I'll determine why it's important that you get through the door, but
how you get through it, what happens, and whether you kill, talk to, or ignore
everyone on the other side belongs to you."
While he somewhat eschews linearity, his philosophy does mandate a framework, rooted in narrative -- but not bogged down in story telling.

He's boiled it down to the three-act narrative framework:

"... the first act is to set the scene, introduce the characters and the basic conflict. And by the end of Act One, you have to get the hero -- or player -- up a tree, get him into trouble. Act Two is to throw rocks at the hero, really make the problem worse. And then, in Act Three, the hero gets out of the tree through force of will or through direct action. And then there's a little epilogue where you wrap up all the loose ends."
Deceptively simplistic when laid out, this brilliant reductionism isn't without its problems -- you've got to create a story that is driving and engaging, but leaves free will; options that can be handled by the less creative, and maximized by the overly creative gamer.

And that means games need to be their own thing, something about which Spector is passionate. They're not an R-rated movie (Gears of War), and though they're often derivative, they don't have to be, and shouldn't be ("Who in their 20s or 30s gives a darn about being the last space marine on a space station who has to stave off an alien invasion?").

(I just realized this is in essence the artifice for cutesy RoboBlitz.)

Bigger, Spector argues titles just for play and diversion aren't the end game (or at least the only value) -- "Games are about testing ethics, allowing people to challenge their own ethical and intellectual beliefs."

Building better people through games. Seriously.

And while he uses the term "sandbox", he means something much more complex, much more challenging, and much more stretching.

Interestingly, he thinks it's for developers to push this change in games, not for gamers to demand it -- because they won't. I'm probably butchering this, but his statements are almost akin to a product company creating a market for a product they want to create -- though I'd argue Spector has higher motives.

I'd be curious as to what he'd say about Okami, or the upcoming Bioshock.

So read the articles. There's even more there. Good stuff, this.

As an aside, Spector doesn't care so much for MMOs (but his wife is a WOW addict).

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Tuesday, February 27, 2007

The Hollywood business / development process ...

As part of my day (and night, and weekend) job, I manage software, services, and development teams at the Enterprise level.

I've been meaning to write about this for some time, but this recent blog post from JC Barnett, "Do as the Hollywodians" [sic], motivated me to do it.

Barnett does a good job (as far as I can tell) of breaking out the video game development process (or asset pipeline, or business relationship) in theory, versus in practice, versus what could work -- the "Hollywood example".

This third development model ("The system of tomorrow"), though a bit simplified, is something that has merit, along with challenges.

Interestingly, I think the proposal lags a bit from a US perspective (Barnett is in Japan), which may be due in part to geographic limitations (they're a little further away from Hollywood), and in part to cultural constraints (which comes out in the "Cons" section of the article).

Also, this is the "Business as Unusual" mentality that is the foundation for Wideload Games (check out the excellent postmortem on Stubbs the Zombie: Rebel Without a Pulse, which I reviewed here).

And it's kind of the model it looks like new publisher Gamecock is going to support (depending on who you ask).

And, honestly, it's not that far from development at BigHugeCorp (mine or others), where a Product or Marketing group (analogous to a video game publisher) is trying to get things made as cheaply and professionally and as completely as possible. They honestly don't care whether that's done by an in-house team, via domestic outsourcing, onshored, offshored, or if it's one or multiple companies.

But I have questions:

  1. What companies basically follow this model?

    I suspect, besides the beforementioned Wideload / Gamecock, there are other companies already following this model. I suspect Critical Mass Interactive ("both a video game (or 'interactive entertainment') developer and an outsource provider to developers and publishers") follows this model.

    And if it's not the model Foundation 9 Entertainment is following, it seems like it should be (and could be an awesome double threat, when partnered with the consistent, high-caliber core and ancillary skills those attached development studios could provide each other).

    And then there are companies like The Animation Farm, who both employ this model (at least to a degree) in their outsourcing downstream, and are in turn a piece of the asset feed upstream for development houses or publishers who employee this model.
  2. How do the models compare?

    Much like there are varying applications and flavors of development methodologies or philosophies (scrum, Agile, RUP, ad nauseum), how does, say this model compare and contrast to the The Animation Farm's model, compare and contrast to the Wideload model, compare and contrast to ...
  3. Are there challenges with and concessions from development methodologies / philosophies?

    Speaking of various applications and flavors, are there challenges with this model in the context of scrum / Agile development methodologies (and other iterative methodologies in particular). If so, what are the concessions (either to this "Hollywodian" development model, or to the scrum / Agile development methodology, or to the asset provider model, etc.)?
These are far more than just academic questions for me.

As I consider making a change from my current BigHugeCorp kind of gig, I'm trying to marry my Enterprise development and outsourcing background, video game aspirations, Biz involvement, and federation of independent development and QA resources (yeah, I've got peeps, and we're arguably more Romulan than Federation) into something more appealing than a hideous, multi-headed monster.

And more powerful. More powerful beyond words ...

I want insight.

So if you know something (and are willing to share), contact me through my Website (or directly if you already have that contact info).

I'm looking forward to hearing from someone who knows....

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Monday, February 26, 2007

Improving XBLA

A lot of folks have been beating up on Microsoft's Xbox Live Arcade (XBLA) lately (, Evil Avatar, etc.).

So, what's up, and what needs fixing?

In a nutshell, folks are upset about the quality and lack of XBLA titles. This is looking far worse in the context of Sony's Online network and Nintendo's Virtual Console (VC), where they're releasing 2-3 quality games per week.

In practicality, this is how it sometimes plays out:
Nintendo owners: "Wiiiii! Wii just got 'Zelda'!"

360 owners: "WTF? Root Beer Tapper?"
And while I'm a 360 owner and Microsoft / XBLA fan, I'm also not just a gamer -- I'm an enterprise services manager, which has required (at multiple times) my management of portfolio items at the domestic and international level. So I have some background in this kind of stuff (though this is obviously for a different vertical market, and a lightweight version of a formal portfolio refresh proposal, because, um, it's free).

First, to get a couple of things out of the way.

I would argue the recent exodus of Microsoft XBLA execs Ross Erickson and Greg Canessa is not that big of a deal. Shifts at that level happen on a regular basis, and while it may have some impact (or be borne from) XBLA heartburn, I don't think it's causitive or directly resultative.

Secondly, portfolio management, and even the development of "just" XBLA games, is not trivial. We're talking a 6-9 month lead time (at least). That said, I'm not letting Microsoft off the hook, because the competition got their XBLA-equivalents right.

So, what to do?

Stuff like Alien Hominid HD (this Wednesday!) will do wonders (and Castle Crashers?)

Here are some specific things that will help robustify the portfolio offerings:

1. Classics should be carefully assessed, in case they should be ancillary, rather than primary, releases
I'm a fan of the classics, but games that I already got to play a la Midway Classics (vol. 1 and 2) on the original Xbox should be ancillary, not primary releases. Don't get me wrong; I'm
grateful for things like multiplayer live Gauntlet, but the reviews for the games as a whole speak for themselves.

2. More high quality, original marquee games
Things from Rare and Electronic Arts (Boom Boom Rocket) will likely help in this area, but the caveat is to not leave smaller developers out in the cold.

3. Formalize the Indie/XNA Express opportunity
I'm not saying Indies should necessarily drive XBLA, but the XNA Creator's Club is a serious differentiating factor for the Xbox 360, and the recent Xbox Live Marketplace content on this is encouraging.

Other opportunities in this area include options like the following:
  • Opening up the platform to include peer payments (maybe even analogous to the "Donate with PayPal" option in the PC ShareWare world)
  • Tiered (peer) voting that advances XBLA/XNA Express games into "regular XBLAnd", or to maybe the upper tier of games "available to all XBLA Creator club folks" (as opposed to Friends list participants), or to a new category

Cream rises to the top.

4. Find Microsoft's differentiating catalog
Nintendo is doing quite a bit with Sega, Hudson, and (oh yeah) Nintendo catalogs, so Microsoft needs to reward Xbox 360 love from companies such as Capcom, who have games like Lost Planet and Dead Rising, and tremendous back-catalog

5. Translate upright arcade games to XBLA
This is a new area to mine, with arguable higher quality graphics and more challenging gameplay. Think Strider, Golden Ax (could precede Secret Level's refresh of the franchise this year), and so on.

6. Aim for the lucrative, semi-niche markets
As an example, At Comic-Con this year, announce Cadillacs and Dinosaurs; Captain America and the Avengers (arcade, not SNES); Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles (arcade, not SNES; and this is probably in the pipe already); The Punisher
(1993 arcade). Titles would be dependent on success numbers for the arcade at the time,
married to current franchise data.

7. Leverage the license whores
OK, this sounds derogatory, and I genuinely love them, but Marvel is amazing. And they have 3 theater films and between 2-6 direct-to-DVD properties hitting this year. "They'll work with virtually anyone" (go to a Wal-Mart and tell me I'm wrong).

8. More adventure games
I'm doing more research on this, and though it seems counter to XBLA's "jump-in / jump-out" philosophy, I'm finding significant overlap between the casual and adventure gamer demographics.

9. Don't worry about cannibalizing
I think there's a fear that too many Xbox Live Arcade titles will take sales away from retail offerings. I think it's unfounded.

If that's a concern, Microsoft should perhaps be more concerned with their 50-plus downloadable demos taking away from retail sales. In practicality, I think an abundance of casual games opens hardware sales and repeated online sales to a new demographic, the demos may cause them to get into retail games, and the hardcore will play everything.

I realize there are other factors of which I'm not aware (maybe there are contractual obligations with Digital Eclipse to do a certain number of games, etc.). And this is a much smaller note and lacks the data I'd normally put into a portfolio refresh proposal.

But like I said, it's free.

I actually suspect XBLA will see the fruition of a portfolio change very shortly. Let's see how many of my ideas they pick up (or how many the competition picks up).

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Friday, February 23, 2007

Brits shafted on Sony PS3 backwards compatibility?

So this is interesting.

Sony criticized Microsoft's backwards compatibility on the Xbox 360 (software emulation on a title-by-title basis).

The US version of the PS3 seems to be doing OK on the backwards (forwards?) compatibility front, but the EU version looks like a different story:

From a press release from SCEE that came over the wire today, announcing the EU PS3 specs:
"The European PS3 will feature the Cell Broadband Engine™, 60 GB hard disc drive, Blu-ray Disc player, built-in Wi-Fi connectivity, SIXAXIS™ wireless controller. It also embodies a new combination of hardware and software emulation which will enable PS3 to be compatible with a broad range of original PlayStation® (PS) titles and a limited range of PlayStation®2 (PS2) titles."
When a company uses "limited", that's a rarely a positive sign. Though the release does state, "Some additional PS2 titles will become compatible on the PS3 system through regular downloadable firmware updates."

It'll be interesting to see how the PS3/Xbox 360 fanboys/haters spin out on this.

As a total aside, have you ever compared the SCEA Website to the SCEE Website? Yikes.

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Thursday, February 22, 2007

Recap of the "Get Into The Austin Game" mixer

I made it to the "Get Into The Austin Game" video game mixer for a few hours tonight.

The presentation part of the evening didn't really have any new, earth-shattering info, but Amaze Entertainment's Rodney Gibbs is an entertaining (and despite the self-deprecation, deftly talented) emcee, so it was painless.

The content was largely a super abbreviated portion of the "How to Break Into the Game Industry" conference I attended almost exactly a year ago.

But the meat of an evening like this is meeting new folks and refreshing relationships, and that went well, if a little low-key.

I met Jason Hughes from Naughty Dog; audio and post prod dude Benjamin Martin (yes, he got a copy of my voice demo); designer Patrick Moran (also from Amaze Entertainment); and touched base again with Tamir Nadav (now a designer (WOOT!) and still an incredibly "passionate, pleasant guy"); and Rodney (who just seems like a nice guy with whom to go to coffee. Or for a pint or few).

What was different about tonight is I usually go "just" as a voice talent. But I'm also a technical director for enterprise software and services (which means I'm a big gun software / service / project / personnel manager), so I took the opportunity to drill into folks about the kinds of questions in which I'm interested on that front.

Questions like, "OK, you're doing a library for the Sony PS3 SDK, so ..."

  • How does that get released to Sony?
  • What does the certification process look like?
  • How do they do interoperability testing?
  • Since you can't test every permutation of every development house's application of your library in the SDK, how are bugs reported back to you?

Or, on the licensed IP front:

  • What's the percentage of original to licensed IP that you do?
  • What's the ratio of development budgets for a licensed versus non-licensed IP?
  • How does profit sharing differ?

Or, on revenue models:

  • Yeah, I'm sure it seems frustrating that you don't get to share in as high a royalties return when the publisher does well, but by choosing to take money up front (and assuming you stay in scope / schedule / budget) you're guarateed a more stable revenue / profit model, regardless of whether the publisher markets the game adequately.


Don't know why I wasn't having these conversations before. Probably because I didn't want to scare folks off from hiring me as "just" a voice actor; but, whatever, they're not hiring me for that.

And it was validating that I know my stuff, and it applies to other vertical markets. Now to just get them to admit that.

As an aside, Jo's Coffee is a nice little venue on that reclaimed West side of 2nd street. I hadn't been there before. Nice digs.

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Steve Meretzky on board games

Steve Meretzky is one of my heroes. Seriously, besides being behind one of my Top 5 games of all time (Planetfall -- What? Floyd? NNOOOO!), Meretzky is one of PC Gamer's "Game Gods", an amazing designer and writer, and seems to be an all-around pleasant guy.

Over at GameDaily BIZ, Meretzky is talking about how the game industry can learn from board games.

He's got some good things to say about avoiding industry creative stagnation (or, as he says, we "seem to be in the midst of a long contraction"), and as a business guy, I like his brass tacks take on funding experimental projects:
"...when you're planning your product roadmap for next year, you can still throw
$10 million at Squad of Heroes V, and $25 million at Trolls 'n' Treasures
Online, but also toss in a million here or there for something more offbeat;
just think, if that low-budget game turns into a hit, the ROI will be
I'm curious as to what Meretzky would think about the upcoming XBLA translation of the Settlers of Catan board game.

And any guy who is as erudite as Meretzky and advocates more social drinking as a part of video game community building is tops in my book.

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Video game "Breaking into the Industry" mixer (02/22)

If you're in Central Texas, there's a video game "Breaking into the Industry" mixer Thursday (02/22) at Jo's Coffee, 7-9 p.m. (Jo’s Coffee is at 242 W. 2nd St. in Austin.)

The mixer is sponsored by SXSW Screenburn, Austin Community College, and the Digital Media Council.

Here's a link to the event info.

Hope to see you there ...

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Saturday, February 17, 2007

Halo 2/Halo 3 timing could cause problems ...

Bungie and Microsoft are doing a lot on the Halo franchise front. Maybe too much.

Halo 2 is going to get new downloadable maps this spring (for Xbox 360 owners), from ex-Halo multiplayer guru (and new Certain Affinity founder) Max Hoberman.

And the Halo 3 multiplayer "beta will go live when it’s ready, which should be sometime this Spring" (emphasis mine).

So, is this potentially fracturing the Halo fanbase?

In his latest "Weekly Update", Bungie's Fankie O'Connor even says of the new Halo 3 control scheme, "After about ten minutes of play, it feels incredibly natural, with the lone downside that you have trouble adjusting when you go back to Halo 2."

Given the new maps coming for Halo 2 at the same time, that ... seems like it could beproblematicc.

But maybe not. Kids today can switch gaming context and control schemes quickly, so it might not be an issue. And more Halo isn't a bad thing for fans of the franchise, right?

But it seems like the marketing and timing for the two efforts needs to be closely coordinated, too avoid detracting from either.

And for reference, here are the changed to the current multiplayer control scheme ion Halo 3 (subject to change):
  • Click left and right sticks: Crouch and zoom -- just like H2, although there is a "toggle crouch" option, so that you can stay crouched until you click the stick again.
  • B: Melee attack. Note: B may also be used to activate a subtle, but nifty context-sensitive feature. [Adam: Cover mechanic? OR maybe pick up, a la Crackdown.]
  • X: Activate mysterious new feature which on the cool scale falls somewhere between "crouch" and "activate Fantanas on speed dial." [Adam: Again, cover mechanic, or something similar?]
  • LB: Cycle grenade type (you have at least three types of grenade now, so they must be cycled rather than switched).
  • RB: Pick up weapon / activate stuff / reload / use turrets and so on. [Adam: Replaces old X.]
    Note: If you hold LB while standing over a dual wieldable weapon, you'll pick it up in your left hand -- a huge improvement over the "Y" button in Halo 2. This doesn't affect grenade cycling, because you can still tap LB to cycle grenades, but you can't toss 'em while dual wielding anyway. So it's moot. After about ten minutes of play, it feels incredibly natural, with the lone downside that you have trouble adjusting when you go back to Halo 2. But more vitally, LB reloads the weapon in your left hand, individually when you're dual-wielding. [Adam: Independent R and L reloads? Nice!]
  • BACK: Calls up the Multiplayer "player menu" -- where you can mute jerks, see gamer data and so on.
  • START: Pause menu (which is translucent so you can adjust controls without losing track of what's on screen) and one or two other significant goodies we haven't revealed yet. From here you can also end or quit a game, naturally. [Adam: Like drop-in / drop-out co-op? Please?]
  • D-PAD: ... currently used to activate team chat, but that's very provisional. This is being given a lot of care and attention and is tied to other matters, such as your default settings and how team chat and proximity voice work.

For the full list of tentative Halo 3 controls, check out the latest "Weekly Update".

UPDATED: Looks like there's no cover mechanic, based on this exchange between Game Informer Magazine and Bungie Studios (requires Unlimited Access):

"You won't for example, see a new cover button in Halo 3. We've got one.
It's called crouch."

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Thursday, February 15, 2007

50,000(ish) served ...

I've been working through my 2006 Web traffic statistics for the last several weeks.

I sifted through all of the data my Web hosting software gives me -- weeding out duplicates and anomalies, search engines and Web spiders, pulling out anything I'm pretty sure is me or family. And so on.

And what I net out with is it looks like I had around 50,000 unique visitors last year to -- not total visitors (that's a whole lot more) -- but unique visitors. Which, honestly, is pretty freaking amazing.

Far and away, it looks like people are coming directly to my Website, with referrals being much lower. This means folks likely have my site bookmarked, are coming from Email or direct market mail, or are typing the address directly.

Second biggest area of entry is from people subscribing to my RSS feeds. Lot o' subscribers, which is good to see. People efficiently getting my info, which is nice, since one of my big goals for 2006 on the Web front was to get away from direct Emails and mailing lists (I'm mostly there). And that's just the people who come to my site from their RSS reader. For most of my blogs, I publish the entire post, so there's no need for folks to come to my site, per se.

As far as referrals go, I'm getting a lot of traffic from blog aggregators, acting biz-related sites, and (recently) links from friends', colleagues', and (recently) some professional Websites.

I'm also seeing some nice, regular traffic from folks. Not to out anybody, but traffic from game companies, production studios, and related industries.

Glad you're looking folks -- now hire me! ;-)

Truly, though, thanks to everyone for looking and listening.

Now, this year, I'm actually going to market the promote the Website and its sub-sites as product. Hang on to your hat ...

(This post is duplicated on both my Acting and Gaming blogs, since it pertains to the whole of

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Wednesday, February 14, 2007

Happy Valentine's Day!

Gamers everywhere can give related Valentine's to those they ignore for Marcus Fenix, Master Chief, MissingNo, etc. Bummer the quality's a little jacked:

VG Cats has some higher-quality Valentine's.

And then there's the holiday-themed comics from VG Cats and Penny Arcade:

Now go love someone besides yourself ...

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Bring back offline multiplayer!'s running a decent editorial, "Co-op Games: The Hard Truth", about offline multiplayer seemingly on its way out.

Though I've been touting "online co-op is the new hotness" for years now, I don't mean at the expense of offline co-op.

The original Halo's co-op campaign -- the entire thing played at a buddy's house -- is what got me to buy an Xbox. And the first time I was ticked the feature was missing was in Doom 3. Now, that latter exclusion may be due to the graphical pushing that wouldn't let you replicate it times two (and forget times 4), but what's the deal with Xbox 360 titles?

I mean, I get together virtually every Monday night and game with a bunch of guys in the same room. Sometimes, we even network a few Xboxes and 360s. There's something great about smacktalking in person, catching up on life in between beatdowns, drinking select beverages -- it's like Old School LAN Parties Evolved.

And now, on the 360, we're kind of stuck with just Halo 2 as an option. Great game, but it's getting tired.

Gears of War is fantastic for it's online and offline co-op (and drop-in/drop-out is a great feature extension). But if you want to do adversarial multiplayer on the same box, you're out of luck.

And same-screen co-op missing from Crackdown is a real bummer to me -- and I think would push the title from really good to great.

From the article:
My friend and I were walking down the street Sunday and I was telling him how much fun Crackdown was. Then, absent-mindedly I said, "Come over later tonight and we can play co-op!" "Can I do that?" he said? I looked at him in astonishment, and realized no. We couldn't just hang out at my house and play. He would have to buy a copy, own a X360, and go back to his house to play. posits the missing feature may be due to developers "still racing to get over the learning curve of a new system. They're dealing with HD graphics, triple-core processors, and the new rather complicated world of the next-gen systems."

Which is generous. Talking to some game developers, they freely admit the lack of functionality comes from laziness, a choice to prioritize the functionality lower, or the feature dropping off as schedules get crunched. (I'm sure this doesn't apply to all games; a game like Gears may push the 360 too hard to do 4-player split screen).

But I'm hoping this doesn't become a self-perpetuating trend. I like getting together with friends, playing a good game, and being in the same room. And I like the option to do it online, too (ahem, Halo 3).

If I can't do 4-way multiplayer on my same box with Halo 3, I'm going to be seriously pissed.

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Monday, February 12, 2007

Take-Two, please rethink "Manhunt 2" ...

Dear Paul Eibeler:

The "Hot Coffee" scandal. Grand Theft Auto. Take-Two Interactive.

You're company is not exactly known as a paragon of virtue in the gaming community. However, a lot of the industry and popular frustration with Take-Two is not just in opposition to your right to make "edgy" content.

It's in response to the damage you've done to the game industry, its perception in the mainstream culture, and the work you've caused other people fighting battles -- battles you made tougher because of your poor decisions. It's about you stepping up and being more accountable and professional and responsible.

I have an industry colleague who doesn't work for you, but was wearing a GTA T-shirt at last year's E3. He had things thrown at him. This was from people within the industry.

To be fair you've made (or at least published) some good stuff I've enjoyed over the years. I don't even have issues with GTA, per se.

And while I'm totally looking forward to titles like The Darkness, your stunts make me wish the game had a different publisher. If a top-tier game like The Elder Scrolls IV: Oblivion arguably suffered unnecessarily as fallout from your antics, I hate to see shining star Starbreeze Studios put at risk.

So, just be really careful with this whole Manhunt 2 thing.

I mean, you need to be careful, anyway. But the timing -- and your track record -- makes your handling the timing and release of the title even more important.

From a recent forum post of mine

"We're at a tough place in gaming, and we're getting nailed constantly in the
mainstream press and court system for being violently or sexually explicit. And
now, our greatest advocate and president of the ESA, Doug Lowenstein, is
stepping down."

On his way out, Mr. Lowenstein had some tough words for you. Though he never named Take-Two, GTA, or "Hot Coffee", only the obtuse don't know he was wagging a finger at you.

I'm not saying you shouldn't make the game, necessarily. I am asking you to handle it carefully.

I'm glad you're "proud to announce Manhunt 2", but keep in mind, you're actually going to release a game that uses fodder for snuff films as its schtick during the onramp to an election year. Some of the likely contenders for the presidential and other races have a history of attacking video games. Add to that your targeting Nintendo as a platform -- a platform with an inarguably heavy family market connotation -- and your care and handling of this title is critical.

I'm a gamer. I'm a responsible enterprise software professional. I'm a media professional and active proponent of First Amendment rights.

So, I'm one of many asking you to do a 180. Reverse some of the damage you've done to your colleagues, and become an actively supporting member of the ESA and ESRB efforts.

And stop choosing to hurt the industry of which you're a part.

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Bungie blesses us with the “A-Hole Button”

In the latest "Bungie Weekly Update" from Frank O'Connor, he teases the new "A-Hole Button" that'll be part of Halo 3's functionality.

Let's use Frank's words to both describe how this works, and to appropriately describe the S.O.B.s on whom we'll be using this (emphasis mine):
'Anyone who’s played MP on Xbox Live knows the following is true: Teenagers, plus anonymity, plus microphone = idiot.... The "A-Hole Button" in Halo 3 lets you exact instant, silent vengeance. These kind of vocal buttmunches, as it turns out, are exactly as fun to play against as normal people, as long as you can’t hear them. So now, you simply press a button (back button, for the moment anyway) and up comes the score list with everyone’s tag on it. The right stick lets you highlight the miscreant and you can then instantly mute them for the rest of the game. These morons continue smacktalking anyway because they can’t help themselves, but if you don’t have to listen to it, you can simply enjoy killing them over and over again, knowing that as their Ritalin wears off and their frustration builds, it’s less and less fun for them.....Any muted player you have selected in your Xbox Live account overrides Halo 3’s new system, but that should actually enhance the choice of maroons you’re editing out of your gameplay. Best of all, it means fewer wasted or frustrating gameplay sessions. We’re doing our best to come up with lots of smart solutions for stuff like this, but honestly, we can’t be parents to some of these poltroons. We’re much more concerned with giving you guys the tools you need to silence them.'
Nice. If you're like me and spent any time on Halo 2, the chatter from some of the random match-ups on Live make you seriously question how these folks are going to survive in society. Unfortunately, it's not just limited to teenagers.

I enjoy the thought of these societal turds yabbering off into the ether, with me none the wiser.

So bless, you, Bungie.

Speaking of "bless, you, Bungie", check out the pict of Alta pimping the new "I *heart* [Master Chief/Cortana]" T-shirts. For whatever reason, one of the sexier things out there.

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Saturday, February 10, 2007

Cliff Bleszinski interviews

Gears of War dominated Thursday's AIAS awards. And Cliff "CliffyB" Bleszinski is the mad skillz rock star designer behind the current Xbox 360 (and, apparently, industry) powerhouse title.

So it makes sense to see what Bleszinski has to say about what made the game successful, what needs work, where the industry is going, and what he's up to (among other things).

Fortunately, there are a couple of really good recent interviews with him that do just that.

For me, the better one (because it's relatively pithy with more boiled-down content) is the Game Informer Magazine interview. Good stuff about co-op and his mindset in the face of pressure and expectations.

Secondly, there's the interview with Bleszinski, which is massive (8 pages), but is well worth wading through the content.

If you like inside assessments of game design, marketing, and the state of the console and gaming world, these two articles are well worth your time.

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Friday, February 09, 2007

Transformers game details

I'm pretty sure the Michael Bay Transformers movie is going to rock, and Activision has finally revealed some details on the game tie-in.

It's not the RPG I said needs to be made, but it is being made by Traveller's Tales, the geniuses behind the LEGO Star Wars franchise.

The game'll be out this summer (as will the film), will ship on PC, PS2, PS3, Wii, and Xbox 360, and though the Autobot compaign will closely mirror the film, the Decepticon campaign "puts a spin on some of the critical moments in the film", according to producer Andy Burrows.

Optimus Prime, Megatron, Starscream, Bumblebee, and Ironhide at least are among the playable Transformers, each has their own set of special skills/abilities, they will transform (which will "be as intuitive and as useful as a punch, a run or a jump"), environments are fully destructible , and combat mechanics are affected by scale and weight (and include ranged and melee combat).

Even cooler, in addition to the movie robots, Traveller's Tales makes sure to "pay homage to some popular G1 stars throughout the game."

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"Gears of War" dominates D.I.C.E. Awards

Last night, the 10th Annual Interactive Achievement Awards (IAAs) had a common theme: "Gears of War rocks."

The game -- arguably snubbed at the pop-cultish Spike TV Video Game Awards -- picked up eight awards, including Outstanding Character Performance - Male, Outstanding Achievement in Animation, Outstanding Achievement in Art Direction, Outstanding Achievement in Online Play, Outstanding Achievement in Visual Engineering, Action/Adventure Game of the Year, Console Game of the Year, and Overall Game of the Year (taking the title from The Elder Scrolls IV: Oblivion, who took it from Gears at the Spike VGAs).

The best part, though, may be that the award for Outstanding Achievement in Online Play was presented by Phil Harrison (Sony president of worldwide studios), and during his acceptance Cliff "CliffyB" Bleszinski made a dig at Sony by touting the Xbox 360's robust online capabilities, then leaving the stage without even acknowledging Harrison -- who, to his credit, took it all in good humor. You can't write moments like that.

For the full list of winners, see the IIAA press release.

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Thursday, February 08, 2007

Austin Game Developers Conference 2007 (Sept. 5-7)

The CMP Game Group announced this year's Austin Game Developers Conference will be Sept. 5-7.

Though they've more "confirmed" than "announced", since the conference is at the same time, location (Austin Convention Center), and has the same advisory board as before CMP acquired it and the Game Initiative in October of last year.

Whereas last year was a mix of concurrent conferences and conference tracks, it sounds like this year will be 4 discreet tracks, "loosely modeled after the successful elements of previous [conferences]". This includes online games, audio for games, writing for games (hopefully this year will have fewer anti-voice actor writers) and a new "People's Choice" track.

In addition, there will be a two-flavor job offering at the conference: a "Career Seminar" (for students and job-changers looking to jump into the new-for-them game industry vertical); and a traditional Career Fair (for experienced game developers). (If Electronic Arts does build its rumored studio in Austin, this would be a great place for them to recruit.)

Jane Pinckard replaces Game Initiative's Chris Sherman as the conference manager, so she's got shoes to fill, but sounds up to the challenge:
"We're looking forward to the chance to improve upon the great work that has been done in Austin, and to grow the community and the event while maintaining its core values."
Check out my summary of last year's Austin Game Developers Conference.

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Wednesday, February 07, 2007

New (quieter, faster) DVD drives in the Xbox 360s is running a story about Xbox 360s (at least some of them) manufactured from November of last year onward having new DVD drives.

Older Xbox 360s used Toshiba-Samsung and Hitachi-LG drives -- "the sources of the 360's characteristic whirr" (and a chunk of console's refrigerator-like sound, though the massive dual heat sinks likely share a portion of the blame).

The new DVD drives from BenQ "are significantly quieter and are based upon a Philips design superior to others employed in Xbox 360s."

Though not definitive, the new drives seem to meet two of the primary concerns of gamers:
"Owners of Xbox 360s with the BenQ drive have reported significantly quieter
operation and slightly quicker load times."
So, this is good, and once the stock of old drives is fully exhausted (and fully replaced by the BenQ drives) AND the 65-nanometer CPUs are released in the Xbox 360 (chips are smaller/cooler/cheaper than current 90-nanometer), we're potentially looking at quieter, cheaper, more robust (fixing the overheating sensor, etc.) and/or more feature-rich (a la HDMI or larger hard drives) Xbox 360s.

I know early adopters sign on for some risk, but this appears to be the second iteration of Microsoft making a bad initial decision on DVD-drives for their console (Thompson drives in the original Xbox had a higher failure rate than subsequent Samsung, LG, and Philips drives). It sounds like they learned, and at least started with derivations of a couple the latter (though Thompson actually makes a lot of these drives for these folks, which are then re-branded, even though they're the same drive).

Regardless, the Xbox 360 is improving for new purchasers and "second 360 sickos" (which I may become, depending on the feature sets (if any) of the new Xbox 360s ;-) .

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Tuesday, February 06, 2007

Welcome to the CAPCOMunity

Capcom, the powerhouse behind such powerhouse franchises as Devil May Cry and Resident Evil, and Xbox 360-exclusive love Lost Planet and Dead Rising, has launched a new portal site:

The site is geared toward Capcom's "increasing presence and involvement with core players and fans, unifying the [company's] many diverse brands and titles in a single spot on the web."

And, it's taking advantage of the Portal/Portlet technology craze. Worse things have happened.

This is a single source for "fans to gather to discuss everything Capcom related", and'll have blogs (company and fan), news, forums (hopefully with a higher caliber of people), product sites and jumping points to focused game/franchise sites, and (in theory) fan art and fiction sections (soon).

I'm pretty stoked about this, not just because of Capcom's storied history in the industry and recent success, but because I'd like to see more excitement and support of a company for it's larger body of good work.

This is as compared to pockets of fanboyism towards one title or franchise, and lack of support to other titles from the same company. This can actually be damaging to a company and the caliber of games we get as gamers; think strong sales for one title (Devil May Cry), and lukewarm for another in a separate quarter (Street Fighter), that causes the company to scale back (not related, but think closing Clover Studio), and effects the quality products we as gamers want to see.

In creating support for a company as a whole, they're able to build popular support for their products that benefit each other, and the company. Hopefully, it also is an outflowing of the enterprise view of the company's portfolio management.

Good move. Good times...

CAPCOMunity Website

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Monday, February 05, 2007

Indy developers getting squeezed out of XBLA?

There's some good stuff coming out for Xbox Live Arcade (XBLA) -- and some of the newly developed games (like Cloning Clyde) are top-notch, solid, and have great game play.

Now, big publisher / developers like Electronic Arts and Rare (owned by Microsoft) are developing games for XBLA.

Which is great, and as a gamer, I'm looking forward to the games.

But I wonder, does this squeeze out independent developers from playing?

Take the Rare effort, for example. Nick Burton (Kameo software engineer) says a 10-person team is working on the effort. An effort from a established studio with Microsoft backing. And the game from #1 publisher EA(Boom Boom Rocket)? That's got to have corporate focus and muscle behind it.

Add to that Microsoft recently upping the XBLA title limit from 50MB to 250MB, and some additional development is arguably needed (though it may or may not be linear).

Does this squeeze indies out of the game, or at least make it harder for them to compete? Does it make it more difficult for their concepts to be heard, because they're vetted in the same pool as the big dogs?

Since the XNA Studio Express/Creator's Club/Community Content processes for the Xbox 360 haven't been hammered out by Microsoft yet, indies don't yet have that secondary option -- and many arguably have higher goals, anyway.

I hope Microsoft is looking at a broad and deep XBLA portfolio -- otherwise they're going to get eaten by the Nintendo Wii's Virtual Console (VC) offering, with its huge breadth and depth of first-party (and Sega and Hudson) titles.

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Saturday, February 03, 2007

And soon, "Halo" underwear

Microsoft and Bungie Studios both said it -- they're turning Halo into a franchise.

There were the novels. And the toys. Then there was the graphic novel. Then the Halo Wars back-to-the-Halo-roots RTS video game.

Now, WizKids Games has announced "Halo ActionClix" -- a new addition following their successful HeroClix and HorrorClix collectable battle games ("collectable miniatures game"/"CMG").

I'm a big fan of the WizKids HeroClix (mostly the Marvel and short-lived Indy sets), HorrorClix (and the AVP version), and the fantastic MechWarrior sculpts, so I'm stoked to see what they do with the Halo universe.

These bad boys will be in retail in September 2007 (probably with 1-3 weeks either way), with prerelease figures at San Diego Comic-Con (July 26 – 29), where more announcements will be made, too.

Read the press release here:

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Friday, February 02, 2007 forum abuse (UPDATED)

As a quick recap, on January 24 I posted on the off-topic forum about my disappointment with a less-then responsible "news" story ran about the Pope's recent statements about video games. (Read my previous post here.)

It wasn't supposed to be a big deal, and I wasn't expecting it to be well received.

Even though I didn't do any follow on comments to my own post, and the post (listed at the bottom of this post) wasn't inflammatory, I got the following message, and I'm banned from
"You have been banned for the following reason:

Date the ban will be lifted: Never"
If you go to the post and comments, you can see that my original post was deleted by forum staff member "Dutch" (Xbox Gamertag Clarknova), and he banned me, arbitrarily:
"Aaah...I love it when Pikachu gets his detective skills on.

*bans snapple*

I'm hungry. What to eat?"
"It was just a lot of snapple babble."

After 4 attempts each at TeamXbox and IGN entertainment, I sent a request to Clarknova today, asking if he had time to discuss why I was banned.

His text IM response:
"I honeslty can't remember what it was about. I also like to keep LIVE and
TXB seperate, so if you have a problem in the forums than PM me
I told him I preferred to keep the two separate, too, and if he could unban me, I'd gladly send him the same request via the forums.

Coincidently (I doubt it), shortly after contacting Dutch/Clarknova, I got a note from Teddy \"-1313-Evil_Homer\" Pierson from (after 7 days of being ignored), saying:
It says your account was successfully linked to a known perma
user. There is nothing that can be done.
This is garbage. They're trying to make this go away. Dutch/Clarknova's posts captured above show this was an arbitrary ban, and now they're trying to justify it. I registered almost two years ago, and never posted until this one forum post -- and that was all reflected in my user history:

So, I'm hot about this, because I don't like stupid abuse of power. And I don't like liars. And I don't like being slandered.

All of which is probably outweighed by curiosity. Why the ban in the first place? If you read my post below, and the comments on TeamXbox, you'll probably agree those are the less tolerant, more abusive statements.

UPDATED: Clarknova sent me an XBL text message this morning:
" I remember. Snapple."

At least he's consistent.

Here's the original post again:

Poor TeamXbox handling of "Pope Condemns Violent and Sexually Explicit Games"

By: adamcrei
04:09 PM PST
Views: 20


I'm bummed to feel like I have to post this.

I'm disappointed with the treatment of the "Pope Condemns Violent and Sexually Explicit Games" pseudo news story ("pseudo" as portrayed on and other sites, but I'm posting here).

The lack of respect for a world political/religious leader and the acerbic commentary aren't needed, and are pretty irresponsible:

"The head of the Catholic Church wants you to educate your child like we were in the 19th century.
"We guess the Pope won't like Marilyn Manson or Grindhouse, the Quentin Tarantino/Robert Rodrí­guez exploitation film.

"Will the Pope like Gears of War's Destroyed Beauty concept and the chainsaw executions? We don't think so."

Understand, I'm not Catholic. And I think this was probably one of those topical things that was fed as an agenda item and then included as part of the Pope's address, but the game culture and "press" handling of it -- including -- is pretty poor, and counter to painting a positive image of gaming and gamers.

Are all games bad? No. Are all games good? No. Are all violent games OK? No. Is there artistic merit in some pretty hardcore stuff? Sure. Is this hazy intersection of culture and morality easy, and is there a "clean win"? Heck, no.

We're at a tough place in gaming, and we're getting nailed constantly in the mainstream press and court system for being violently or sexually explicit. And now, our greatest advocate and president of the ESA, Doug Lowenstein, is stepping down.

Which means the rest of us have to step up.

Which means we can't willfully mishandle things like this, as small as they seem.

And the writer knows it. I noticed comments are turned off. There was either a flood of bad comments after the poor posting and unprofessional lead-in, or he turned off comments in advance, not wanting to face accountability or feedback on his lack of professionalism.

I'm all for autonomy for, but this is maybe where some parental oversight could come in handy. Pull stunts like this a few more times, and I expect that oversight will be mandated.

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M.I.A. games ...

IGN's got a decent article on games for the Xbox, PS2, and GameCube that are missing in action, and any updates they could track down. While candidates for this kind of feature are probably near-limitless, they hit some of the highlights (and common threads are "Acclaim bankruptcy" and "Lionhead Studios").

Here are my comments on a few of the titles.

100 Bullets -- Here's a game that had some opportunity, but that opportunity probably sailed when Austin-based Acclaim tanked, and then games like The Punisher and Hitman came out. Based on the Brian Azzarello comic book of the same name, the game was decently down a path of completion when Acclaim went belly up (and it had some great art assets from Austin-based company The Animation Farm). Unfortunately, it sounds like the D3 Publishing GBA/DS/PC/PS3/PSP/Wii versions don't share anything with the previous effort, and an Xbox 360 version isn't yet mentioned.

Citizen Zero -- This was an MMORPG that looked like it was actually going to happen for the XBox, and didn't. Microsoft's got some cash on the line for this one, and it would be a prime candidate for an Xbox 360/Live Anywhere PC dual release, so we'll see if we hear something about it later this year.

Fallout 3 -- Rumors have actually been rolling around this one lately, and we may hear something from this fan-favorite franchise announced for the Xbox 360 later this year.

The Movies -- AKA "One of many missing Lionhead Studios Games". Seriously, I love the concept, but a console port of this PC title would be a beast, and I don't think your target audience is as plentiful on the former as it is on the latter.

The Red Star -- Another comic-book inspired Acclaim game, but this one was actually "complete" when the company tanked. Jack of All Games picked it up, and will be releasing it for PS2 only this month. Given how bad the Xbox demo was, I'm not that sad. Which is a bummer, since the source content is so good.

StarCraft: Ghost -- This Blizzard title had a lot of fans and industry folks buzzing (the title graced a ton of cover stories), but seems to have gone by the wayside. However, Blizzard's waking up to needing to be more than a one-trick pony with World of Warcraft (though, admittedly, a very profitable one-trick pony), and there are rumblings of new StarCraft and other IP offerings from the company to be announced soon.


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Thursday, February 01, 2007

2007 ScreenBurn Festival (March 10 - 13)

The ScreenBurn Festival, introduced at the 2006 SXSW Interactive Festival is returning in 2007, with an amazing line-up, content, and a chance for some quality free play.

The Sims creator Will Wright will be keynoting, and among the more than 130 SXSW Interactive panels, there will be 20 panels on video game topics ("Austin, Massively Multiplayer Game Development Capital of the West?"; "Getting Girls Into The Game: Designing and Marketing Games for Female Players"; "Serious Games: Can Learning Be Hard Fun?"; etc.).

Other speakers of note include Bioware's Gordon Walton, NCsoft's Linda Powers, and Sony Online Entertainment's John Blakely.

March 10 and 11 will also see the free-to-the-public ScreenBurn Arcade, "which will feature gaming tournaments, as well as new games and technologies not yet released in a free to play public setting". This'll be free and open at the Austin Convention Center.

I'm glad to see this doing so well, and not just because it's video game related. I've been attending SXSW Interactive, and I'd argue it was losing steam up until 2006, and I think the ScreenBurn Festival is a big part of the resurgence (or it's coincidental, but it's more fun to give props to people).

I'll probably be there this year -- hope you are, too.


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