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Sunday, May 31, 2009

Pre-E3 2009

E3 is coming, and hopes to nod more toward its glory days from before the past few years -- and it may just do that.

I'm looking forward to several things, and while there are lot of predictions out there, I'm keeping mine fairly small and fairly me-centric.

And while I'm going to comment on some of the rumors out there, I'm not going to chat up anything I may have knowledge about thanks to my day job -- that would be bad form, and this industry has enough problems with loose lips.

First up and close to home, I'm excited about four titles powered by Gamebryo tech from Emergent Game Technologies that will likely be making a big splash next week. Two will definitely be on the show floor, two are likely, and I'm not going to announce any of them until they make their debut. And we have some long-time and new licensees that will be doing some exciting pitch work at the show, but I won't talk about that, either.

See, I'm starting out as a tease.

Here's the big presser line-up:

  • Microsoft conference – 6/1, 10:30 a.m. Pacific
  • Electronic Arts conference - 6/1, 2 p.m. Pacific
  • Nintendo conference – 6/2, 9 a.m. Pacific
  • Sony conference – 6/2, 11 a.m. Pacific

On the big announcements front, I hope Microsoft or Sony do an announcement similar to Microsoft's disruptive Netflix announcement from last year. I hope Sony doesn't just announce they have Netflix, too -- because that would feel me-too(ish), and not as fun. It would take away from Microsoft's differentiation, though, so that would be a smart business move.

There are all sorts of rumors for peripherals or some other announcement from the Big M, which as a consumer I've been expecting for a while. Have you been paying attention to what feels like really liquid pricing on the current 360 camera, including dirt-cheap pick-ups for in-game bundles of it? Noticed the wireless headsets selling for nearly half of its MSP? Etc.

Maybe Microsoft will do something with convergence -- what can they do to leverage the PC, Console, Zune, and windows mobile platform across each other? We've gotten a bit of this with the announcement of Zune HD and the Zune Store being made available to 360 owners. That's good convergence, and the Zune is seriously under-rated. Maybe there's a Windows Mobile 6.5 or Windows Mobile Microsoft - says - it - doesn't - exist - but - get - real version 7 crossover opportunity? Microsoft's exciting challenge there is to not cannibalize any of those platforms (for example, intro'ing an iPhone competitor would hurt both Zune and Windows Mobile)

But really, I'd like to know: Where the #### is Live Anywhere?

Sony needs to do something. I can't get my head around Microsoft doing so well on the media catalogue / media convergence thing against Sony -- They have a freaking extra-dimensional monster closet vault of music and video, so why aren't they doing something with it? Is there some mistaken notion that it will undercut the value-add of the PS3 as a Blu-ray player?

I'd like to hear some big announcements on Sony convergence, and maybe that'll be PS3 / PSP (or rumored PSP Go) or PS3 / Sony Ericsson phone or -- dare I dream -- an announcement for a massive, unified Sony device synergy that is real and awesome. I don't think the "PS3 Slim" will be there, and I don't think it would be wise -- I think it would hurt PS3 sales, and unless they've done power and heat dissipation magicks, I don't think it would be a full-featured PS3, which could cause consumer confusion (and raise gamer ire).

Nintendo is going to be Nintendo, which you can take as you will. They will be innovative, their handhelds and Wii own the commercial consumer non-core space, and the company is still printing money, if a little slower than they were. I hope they surprise everyone with yet another new peripheral. And by surprise, I mean something that makes people say, "Wii remotes and nunchucks and Balance Boards and MotionPlus and Wii Speak, and everything else -- those are cool, but this, this I must have!"

I do expect some game coolness for Nintendo, but think it may come uncharacteristically from 3rd parties (I'm hoping the High Voltage Software Wii FPS The Conduit does as well as that developer and SEGA hope it does).

Despite a ridiculous amount of pre-E3 leakage, Microsoft is uncharacteristically under wraps, so I'm hoping for bigness, because they're talking a big game.

And I honestly am hoping for a bit of competitive rodeo, because Microsoft's presser goes first this year, and if you're Sony or Nintendo, how do you head off the under-wraps Microsoft?

Traditionally (besides having big stuff of your own) you take away the differentiators -- take away Netflix, or something. Maybe do more with Miis on the Wii than Xbox Avatars are doing -- but watch out, because I don't expect Microsoft to keep those still). Better, leapfrog the differentiators by announcing Netflix, and something like an XM exclusivity.

And someone needs to add a social networking component. (In a way that matters.)

Yeah, but it's all about the games, right?

Right! (I'm lying, but the games are cool.)

What am I stoked about?

Besides the Gamebryo titles I hint at above (and genuinely, as I'm off the clock and out of shill mode), here are some of the titles or rumors I'm looking forward to.

Modern Warfare 2. Infinity War is top-notch. The previous game was fantastic, and this one continues on. And despite the reveal in Game Informer Magazine, they claim "big surprises" are still in store for this title. I hope we learn those at E3.

Crackdown 2. I don't think this is on anyone's radar for E3, but a sequel to one of the better games on the 360, after a premium theme randomly popped up for purchase? C'Mon, show me some super-cop love.

Dead Rising 2. Sure, the games not going to be shown, but the US arm of Capcom will likely be in attendance, so maybe it will. I so dug the first game, despite hating the save and escort mechanics. I really thought it was an indicator of what next-gen gaming could be, and it sounds like the sequel -- as long as gameplay is pushed as hard as raw polys -- could build on and explode that legacy. Plus we should all be practicing for the inevitable.

BioShock 2. If you don't know why, you haven't played the former. Go do that then come back and apologize.

Assassin's Creed 2. Sure, it was a bit of a super-polished more intricate period-piece Crackdown, but it was a rocking super-polished more intricate period-piece Crackdown.

New Splinter Cell. Ironically, wetworks dude Sam Fisher has gone dark in the real world, too. Ubi says he's back, so show him to us, and make us uncomfortable. Very.

God of War III. We need next-gen sacrilege on the PS3. It will move consoles.

Halo ODST will be there (it's not E3 without Halo), but I hope there's more excitement about it then announcing an attractive female actress as part of the voice cast. Maybe also give us an update on the Peter Jackson Halo effort (or tell us it's dead, so the mourning can begin).

Capcom could surprise and delight me with a new Marvel vs. Capcom (it's my fantasy, dammit), I wish Epic would update us on what People Can Fly are doing, they may announce Cliff's horror game (though the rumored PS3-exclusivity seems like an ungrateful thumbing at Microsoft for the the Gears and Gears 2 successes).

I still hold out hope that the 3D Realms is doing a masterful Duke Nukem feint, thought that's feeling less and less likely.

Shooters Singularity and Brink have me intrigued, given Raven's and Bethesda's / Splash Damage's pedigree (respectively).

I'm losing interest in Borderlands, and I want them to change my mind. Lost Planet 2 doesn't have to do much pwn me, because while I can't articulate it, the first game pwned me too.

Aliens vs Predator will be there. And it will rock. I listen to my gut on this one (just before it's used as a footstool for a chestburster).

And while the cinematics and roster aren't as big as the previous title, Marvel: Ultimate Alliance 2 will be in my library, so I'm excited for more info that shows me this is doing comic books right again.

Mini Ninjas from Eidos looks cute and fun.

From EA, I don't think Brütal Legend can fail, so I hope it doesn't. Dante's Inferno is interesting, and I want my spiritual successor Dead Space Extraction to do well. Because I'm that kind of dad. Dragon Age: Origins needs to show me gameplay, I'm fanboy nervous about G.I.Joe, and I'm curious about Spore Hero. I go back and forth on The Saboteur.

I'm hoping Painkiller: Resurrection fits my previous guilty pleasure, but it'll probably make me upgrade my PC to do it.

I want A Boy and His Blob and Flip's Twisted World to be good for Majesco and for platformers.

Maybe the last 4 years have been good to Huxley?

Marvel Super Hero Squad may make me buy a personal Wii this fall. Wish they'd hire me for voice work.

I want Valve to wow me. I've got an itch in the back of my brain about a team that is using their tech that had some promising stuff, and it escapes me now. The itch tells me I'm mildly iterested if it's them.

On the more dark-horse(ish) front, BlActivision's been teasing an "all-new" game -- what if it was exclusive to one console? Square-Enix has teed up new games -- exclusives?

What about a 360 MMO?

And I want Heavy Rain to cross the uncanny valley. And build a bridge so others can follow.

And now I'm rambly.

It's going to be noisy, and I am concerned publishers will try to take advantage of the eyeballs to push everything -- not just their top-tier offerings. Think movie tie-ins, other licensed fare, and non-AAA sequels. That may take away from the good stuff, and the sleepers (who can ill-afford it).

I think E3 still suffers from an identity crisis (is it a consumer or industry show?) but maybe this year will help it suss out what it wants to be when it grows up.

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Thursday, May 07, 2009

Gamebryo LightSpeed videos

There are new videos on the Emergent Game Technologies YouTube site, showing off some of the new functionality added in our Gamebryo LightSpeed product.

The videos are part of a series showing level editing in the new World Builder tool, data-driven entity and behaviour modeling for designers (in our just-added Entity Modeling Tool / EMT), and some Lua scripting shenanigans.

They're quick videos we put together for licensees and other partners prior to GDC09, and product manager Dave Bell is responsible for making them happen (and for doing the narration).

Not all of the videos are included, so it may feel like there are gaps -- but some of the videos are necessarily available only to folks under appropriate license or NDA.

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Wednesday, April 29, 2009

Triangle Games Conference

The Triangle Games Conference kicked off today (or last night, if you count yesterday's excellent IGDA Triangle chapter conference kickoff drink fest party).

There are five track sessions at the conference, offering something for everyone in the biz:
  • Game Tech & Programming
  • Game Design & Production
  • Games & Media
  • Serious Games
  • The Business of Gaming

Keynotes will be from Mike Capps ("What Makes US Epic") and Peter Tamte ("Please Publish Six Days in Fallujah" "Brave New World: The 3 Forces Re-shaping the Videogame Industry").

With well over 600 folks attending, and conference-goers and presenters from at least as far as Germany (the wicked smart and very pleasant tech guys from Crytek), the Triangle's inaugural games conference has turned into anything but "just a local event".

Emergent Game Technologies will be well-represented at the show as well, with architect Vincent Scheib giving a talk about "Rapid Prototyping Technology", VP John Austin sitting in on the "Breaking into the Game Industry" panel, and a bunch of us running around there today and tomorrow attending sessions and getting caught up with our industry brethren.

Hope to see you there.

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Sunday, March 22, 2009

Adam at GDC

I'm getting ready to head out to the Game Developers Conference, arguably the biggest industry trade show of the year.

We'll be launching our new product, Gamebryo LightSpeed, and demonstrating it in some pretty unique ways with a demo we built with the software suite.

I'm the product manager for Gamebryo, and the producer for this year's demo, so I'm pretty stoked for our showing this year. I also did the audio design, mixing, and VO, so if you don't like it, blame me.

If you're at the show, swing by Emergent's booth #5818.

I've said before, folks in the industry are talking about the industry's needs for rapid prototyping and rapid iteration -- but come by our booth so we can show you what it looks like in action.

I've also synched my Brightkite posts to my Twitter account, so if you're in SF and want to catch up, DM me if you're close, and I'll get the message on my phone.

Best of luck to all of us next week.

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Wednesday, March 18, 2009

Competitive Positioning

GDC is next week, we're launching a new product at Emergent, and the competitive positioning and borderline mudslinging is getting hot and heavy.

A lot of the rhetoric over the next few weeks is going to sound the same -- the industry knows a lot of the problems that need to be addressed. And there's a truism that says there are no new software implementations under the sun.

And while I do take issue with that assertion, even if it's true, I genuinely believe that the innovation is in the implementation, and there's plenty of innovation still to be had.

I'm incredibly excited about Gamebryo LightSpeed. Sure, I'm an EGT employee, so I hope I would be; but the truth is, I'm the kind of guy who needs to be passionate about what I'm building, and if I wasn't, I'd be looking for more exciting opps.

But like I said, the competitive positioning is ramping up, and while I hope this post is similar to my friendly back and forth with Brett Seyler over at GarageGames, The recent Gamasutra Terminal Reality / Joe Kreiner positioning interview -- I feel -- creates a good opportunity for me to talk about Emergent's particular business model.

The Gamasutra interview provides launching point fodder anyway, but Mr. Kreiner takes pains to call out EGT, calling some our statements "outrageous".

Oh, no he di'n't!

First, let's get a couple of things out of the way.

I don't know Joe, and so don't really have an opinion about him, per se. He's new to Terminal Reality and (as far as I can tell), direct licensing game development middleware, but seems to have a good (and well thought of) career at companies like Logitech and Cyrix. So he and I share some large-company background.

He also seems to be savvy, articulate, and polished (at least in print). All good things I look for with industry folks.

And outside of Joe, one of the things I'd like to get out of the way is our difference in business models. There are multiple game middleware business models, with the two I care about for purposes of this discussion being "middleware developer that also publishes a game", and "middleware developer that does not".

I think both business models have pros and cons. EGT is very committed to not making games, Primarily because our conviction is we don't want to take resources away from developing our tech for our licensees. That means we have to guard against not getting too distanced from game development, but it's not the all-or-nothing scenario Joe says it is -- and it's certainly not that "Emergent's statements frankly show that they really don't understand game development".

He said we were making some outrageous statements. But I'd call this one of his "ludicrous".

Our employees, besides coming from enterprise backgrounds like me (Visa, IBM, Siebel, etc.), come from the industries that provide our customer base (video games, serious games and visual simulations, academic, and so on). On the games side, just a small sampling of the companies from which our folks come include the likes of Codemasters, The Collective, Criterion, Destineer, Electronic Arts, Hasbro, Microprose, Red Storm, Softimage, Sony, Turbine -- not a bad pedigree for a game industry company to have.

Adding to that, we also partner directly with several of our licensees, where they give us immediate feedback into what works and what features they need (and you're going to be seeing more of this kind of thing).

So that's our business model. Other companies (like Epic and Terminal) include in their business model a studio that make games, in addition to having teams -- smaller than what EGT has -- working on the engine tech.

There are some pros to that. I think the model works better for someone like Epic than Terminal, since Epic owns their IP (Gears is pretty slick), and can give those assets as part of an engine license, as opposed to Terminal needing to "have to remove the talent and any copyrighted items" from the Ghostbusters starter they intend to ship to licensees.

Indulging in some competitive positioning of my own, as a potential licensees of the Infernal engine, I personally would be concerned that Joe says, "we're focused on engine development, but we also have a studio side, so we're not necessarily dependent on that licensing income to improve the engine and survive."

To me, that could derail a company from focusing on creating good, solid, repurpose-able middleware. Which one is Terminal's core competency? Or are they just hedging their bets in a down economy?

Speaking of licensees, Terminal has some good (and personally respected) ones in their initial six. I do think it's important to call out Kreiner is candid these "existing licensees were mostly developers that were familiar with Infernal just from either working at Terminal Reality or with us on other projects". And, almost without exception, these are not licensees exclusive to Terminal as far as middleware engine licensing goes.

And Terminal has six licensees. Emergent is in the hundreds.

Now, I fully expect (and am excited to hear) more announcements from Terminal (and Epic, and Garage, and ...) on the middleware front at GDC this week and next.

You'll certainly be hearing more from us.

I think things are going to get very interesting in this space over the next several months. I, for one, am excited about the challenges, and welcome the competitive motivation.

To be clear, this post isn't at all meant to be a pissing contest (the problem with pissing contests is all parties get wet). This is just a response I felt is warranted by Joe's direct reference to EGT, and what I feel is an inaccurate (but purposefully chosen) characterization of our business model and our claims.

Plus it gave me a good springboard from which to post.

More next week.

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Wednesday, March 04, 2009

Gamebryo LightSpeed

I'm wicked stoked Emergent Game Technologies has finally announced our new product, Gamebryo LightSpeed.
We'll be launching LightSpeed at his year's Game Developer Conference, where you'll likely see me running around like a madman presenting, meeting with partners, and working with Customers.
We'll be unveiling more and more as we drive toward the formal launch in a few weeks, and you'll be getting more and more feature details in various press releases and interviews.
As background information, though, we're trying to offer better tech that makes it easier for people to make their games and other interactive experiences. Building onto (not just "bolting on") the success that is Gamebryo, we've spent the last n years to create tools and technology that let game developers stand up content quickly in a playable form to evaluate technology, assess level and asset look and feel, and gameplay mechanics, and rapidly iterate to change their game without recompiling their assets (art, world, logic, etc.).
And while we've been successful with Gamebryo on the engineering and art pipeline fronts, LightSpeed, in particular, introduces some new functionality and features for game designers of multiple types (gameplay, level, content, technical, and system).
Not only are we introducing new features and functionality, but we're introducing new tools that make it easier to do something with that functionality. So we're not just introducing the shizzle, we're introducing a way to play with the shizzle. (Or something.)
One particular reason I'm excited about this new product (besides finally being able to talk about something that's pretty much consumed me for a while now) is because I made the professional move into the games industry from where I was. I had a good gig, but I wanted to get good tech into game developers hands so they can make great games. I'm an avid gamer, and I wanted to be a contributor, in addition to a consumer (same reason I'm an actor).
Gamebryo enables great game making. Gamebryo LightSpeed does that in spades.
Stated another way, we took the awesome provenness of Gamebryo, and added much more awesomer to it.
More to come.

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