Category Archives: Industry

Dedication (and an email account)

…are what you need.

psx_wipeout.pngJust a quick pointer for anyone who’s ever fancied being a world record holder: Guinness are accepting nominations for new gaming records from people who think they can achieve them live on the big screen at this year’s GameCity. So, if you know you have some obscure, unbeaten claim to gaming fame (I’ll give anyone a run for their money of fastest lap of Altima with the TV turned off) this is your chance to claim international glory. Head over to sign up here.

People in Glasshouses…

Edinburgh ’08 report:

Number of things I said that made the internet angry that I regret: 2

Number of things I said that made the internet angry that I don’t regret: 19

Number of things I said that would have made the internet really angry if it had been in the room at the time but it wasn’t so phew: 487,943

Number of people I promised I really would get a ‘Margaret Robertson is full of shit’ T-shirt made: 3

Gosh,  Edinburgh’s lovely. I really ought to know that by now, for all sorts of reasons, but it still takes me by surprise every time. But it was great to get a chance to load up on plain bread, and see a bunch of old friends, and catch up with all the Dare students as they all get one step closer to taking over the world.

The rather ramshackle slides for my rather ramshackle talk are here (sorry, 13 meg pdf or so, somehow). Fair disclosure: the notes represent what I had been planning to say if I’d had rather more sleep rather than what I actually managed to blurt out on the day, so apologies if they don’t mesh very well with what you heard. A lot of people have been asking me for the Patrick Redding talk, which you can get here, and really, if you’re only going to read one of them, read his and not mine, because his is properly brilliant.  Thanks again to EIF and Dare for inviting me up: good games, good people, good beer, bad weather. God, I miss Scotland.

Ah, good. The sea.

Brighton SeaDevelop ’08 report

Lost:  my voice, one earring, one suspected-knock-off, only-slightly-insanely-expensive, 60W MagSafe power adapter (now recovered), one phone USB cable, one bag of clothes (left in a taxi, returned 2 hours later by extraordinarily kind taxi driver)

Most coveted thing face-off: giant Space Invaders commemorative 100 yen coin vs Animal Crossing Happy Room Academy catalogue

Brighton restaurant recommendations:  breakfast – Bill’s for scrambled egg with pumpkin seeds on top and juice brilliance (thanks, T!);  lunch – Bankers for fish and chips (thanks, R!); dinner – Pintxo for delicious peppers and amazo-rasperry/coffee freddo things (thanks, me!).

Unforgettable moment face-off: swimming in the sea with Charles Cecil vs four-man The Final Countdown Band Bros.

New personal best: talking so much my tongue got blisters.

Best new skill learned: how to get an elephant into a fridge.

Cheers to everyone who lasted the distance to come to my talk – super quick’n'dirty slides-with-notes are here. Thanks to Owain for inviting me along, and to everyone who fed my brain-hamster with new ideas.

Home at last – my E3 verdict

Home from Birmingham, that is. My E3 verdict? Glad I didn’t go. By all accounts it sounded tame, contained, and underwhelming, although interesting to see that PSN rather stole the show with The Last Guy and Fat Princess and a better look at PixelJunk Eden, which I’d already made my mind up to love long before the screens started trickling out, but whoosh! and yay! and ooh!

No, I’ve spent the last week (and will spend next week) going round a much nicer, friendlier, and more exciting game show which is rather quixotically based – simultaneously -  in Dundee, Birmingham, Dublin, London and Brighton. And it’s got shorter queues and better sandwiches than E3.

It’s Dare To Be Digital, the UK’s leading student game-making competition, now in its 9th year, with 17 teams, based in five cities, all of whom have 10 weeks to make a playable prototype and which seems to be over-flowing with an embarrassment of good ideas. Channel 4 is the main sponsor this year, so as part of my work with them I’ve been running around poking my nose in, having a chat with the teams, and getting to play their games. I’ve been round about half so far, and I’ve genuinely been more excited about what I’ve seen there than anything that came out of E3. With the possibly exception of the life-changing  Duke Nukem Trilogy trailer.

So if E3 has left you a bit deflated, and you’d rather be fantasising about being a spring-loaded, magnetically-armed, bitmap-trailing, colour-coded, shoe-tree battling, origami-folding photographer than trying to get excited about Tomb Raider Underworld, then head over to the website and send some votes and encouragements to the team you think looks the most promising. The games will all be available to play at Protoplay from 10-12th August in Edinburgh, so you’ll be able to see for yourself whether or not I’m over-stating the case that it’s in these kind of environments that the interesting stuff is happening.

springoo origamee

weedunkshutterbug

vegeme1

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champloo

Playing with history

Edge Online I don’t usually post about things from the past, but I couldn’t quite let these comments on the Next-Gen/Edge re- branding go unrevised. It’s understandable that Colin’s got a bit muddled, since he wasn’t involved with Edge at the time, but it’s not quite right to say that Edge had ‘never much bothered with the web’. It certainly isn’t how I would characterise the great deal of hard work that went in to the old Edge Online – initially from Jim Rossingol, and then latterly Brandon Boyer, as well as a number of Edge staffers over the years. Thanks to their efforts and general brilliance, Edge Online was one of Future’s most successful blog-based sites, and much loved by many, including me, even though it’s very un-British to admit to loving the things you make yourself. When I moved up to editor it wasn’t part of my remit any more, and it lay mostly dormant for a while before Next-Gen stepped into the breech. I’m sure the new Edge site will prove a huge success, but I’ll always miss the old one, even if I won’t miss laboriously hacking out all the wrongly-coded quotation marks. And it’s nice to have a chance to say thanks to Brandon and Jim and Steve and Ben and Duncan and all the other excellent chaps who made it such a uniquely omnivorous, considered, accurate, eloquent and wry place to be. The new crew have a lot to live up to.

Hallo Utrecht

baywatchcreatures NLGD conference report:

Swag haul: sweet fisheye camera, sisal friction mitt, two new T-shirt ideas, another Euro plug adapter, Smints, biros.

New big ideas: control and freedom are opposites; puzzle and strategy games are the same genre; creativity is best enhanced by limiting tools not increasing raw materials; games are disproportionate feedback loops.

New English words: aboutness, enculturated, Spornography.

New Dutch words: bluff (bluff), zwanger (pregnant), burgervader (mayor), success (good luck), slagroom (whipped cream).

Life-changing top tip: the thing that plugs into a MacBook adapter is secretly just a vanilla figure-of-eight cable, so if you’re feeling brave you can leave cable *and* country-plug-adapter at home, and just cannibalise something in your hotel room.

Unforgettable moment face off: discovering I’m exactly the same height as Ralph Baer vs popping my Rock Band cherry on a gold dump truck in the town square.

I’ll post slides and transcripts and stuff shortly, but for now, here are the games from my talk on Wednesday (links for playable stuff, fun for offline stuff):

God Hand (silly)

September 12th (solemn)

Braid (small team)

GTA IV (large team)

Cat On A Dolphin (rudimentary)

Bioshock (lavish)

Gravitation (emotional)

Dual N-back (abstract)

Perfect Cherry Blossom (reacting)

Advance Wars (planning)

Metal Gear Solid 4 (creator led)

Spore (user led)

And here are the del.icio.us tags I’m using to keep track of all the games, books and sites people recommended to me while I was there:

NLGD2008readinglist

NLGD2008playlist

NLGD2008linklist

Thanks to the NLGD team for running such a slick event and looking after us all so well. And thanks to all the exceptionally nice people who I got to drink and talk and think with.

Magistri Ludi

You Have To Burn The RopeI’m a juror for Indiecade, a roving festival which celebrates, promotes and rewards independent games and their designers, which means I’ve been horribly remiss in not publicising the call for submissions for their 2008 tour. If you’re a game-maker who isn’t funded by a major, ESA-member publisher you have until April 11th to check out Indiecade’s exceptionally hospitable eligibility criteria and get your game submitted. And if you’re not a game-maker, but you’ve spotted something of late which you think deserves to be paraded round the world and showered in glitter, then lose no time in firing off an email to its creators encouraging them to get involved. I’ll be doing just that to Kian, who made the epically satisfying You Have To Burn The Rope, which if you haven’t played, you should at once. Me? I’m off to watch a video.

Playing by the numbers

chainfactor I admit it: I like sums. My desk is covered in bits of paper covered in scrawled estimates of tick rates, mana effiencies and crit stats. Actual maths has always daunted me, but sums? Sums are comfort food for your brain. Soothing, repetitive, reassuring – it’s really just a different kind of doodling, except when someone walks in on you, they apologise anxiously and walk away impressed with your industry. My doodles have never impressed anyone.

So what could be better than sums? Sums in games, of course. You may have spent your summer enslaved to Plupon, or already be wrestling with Add ‘Em Up, in which case you don’t need me to tell you how hypnotic adding up can be. But if you’re yet to fall under their sway, or are looking for a new numerological overlord, then may I point you to Chain Factor? What at first sight is yet another block-dropper is actually a rather subtle puzzler, asking you to match the digits on each disc with the number of discs in each row or column. All your usual strategies are completely irrelevant here, so switch off your Tetris/Puzzle Fighter/Baku Baku instincts and prepare to feel the blood flowing to entirely new bits of your brain. The only tactic I’ve definitely sussed so far is to use the ’1′ discs to hammer away at exposed grays at the tops of towers. For some reason this reminds me very strongly of smashing eggs on the tops of bald people’s heads.

It’s rare to find a free Flash game this good, this fresh, and this polished – please do have the sound on when you play. And that seems to be due in no small part to the vehement passion of its developers, as revealed in the game’s FAQ:

The games industry is poised on the brink of a profound transformation. Games have the potential to be the most powerful artform ever invented, an unparalleled medium for the exploration of dynamic interactive systems and the expression of complex emotional, social, and political ideas.

But the creative power of games is being held hostage by the conservative forces of the marketplace. For years, the mainstream games industry has fed us a steady stream of lowest-common-denominator drivel: brightly colored mascots scampering around childish fantasy lands; hyper-violent, testosterone-soaked war simulators; vacuous, marketing-driven movie spin-offs; and the endless grind of mindless, massively-multiplayer treadmills.

Chain Factor offers an alternative: an independent game designed outside the traditional channels of development and distribution and driven by a singular vision: put the power back into the hands of the players and let them create the game they want to play.

Stirring stuff. But, turns out after some proxy Googling (thanks, B!) that this post should really be called Playing by the Numb3rs, because Chain Factor is actually part of an ARG spawned from CBS’s maths-detectives show of the same name. A recent episode, Primacy, centered on a fictional ARG, and a range of tip-offs and related adverts have followed in its wake. Play long enough, and anomalous things start happening. I won’t spoil it, just in case you want to follow the experience for yourself, but there seems to be a wiki growing up here, if you enjoy the meta-game of watching everyone else play more than playing yourself.

It’s almost a disappointment to discover that it’s corporate-fueled, rather than the work of plucky indies, but then you realise that the developer’s call to arms, rather than being empty invective (or deliberately tongue-in-ARG play-acting), it’s probably a very fair point. Under normal circumstances, Chain Factor would be an unusually good, unusually polished Flash freebie, struggling to get noticed and barely making money. As it is, it’s unusually good, unusually polished, finding a wide audience and paid cash-on-the-barrelhead by CBS. It may not be quite the process you imagined when you read ‘an independent game designed outside the traditional channels of development and distribution and driven by a singular vision’, but you have to admit it qualifies on all fronts. I look forward to some interesting developer interviews once all the alternate reality cats are out of the game bag.

I’m assuming strawberry

You’ve got a “smart yoghurt” by about 2025, and we did the calculations, and we reckon that it’s possible to make a yoghurt with roughly the same processing power as the entire European population.

And he’s entirely serious. I particularly like how he says ‘a yoghurt’, as though he’s thinking of a little pot of St Ivel Shape, with an info box showing calories, carbs, protein and IQ.

Other than being worryingly full of low-fat sci-fi and low-rent analogies, Ian Pearson’s view of what will happen next, formed as part of his work as a futurologist for BT, hits on one interesting note: what happens if the power of PlayStation is used not for finding a cure for cancer, but for finding the password to your bank account?

It is getting to the point now where the next generation of games consoles have one percent of the processing power that your head’s got. If you connect those together, and they are designed to be connected together from the ground up, then you have the capability to link millions of consoles together, and since people don’t care about security very much on those sorts of platforms, they are absolutely ideal networks to be made into zombie machines. If that happens, you can leverage all that computing power to try and decrypt messages to try and hack into bank accounts, and use all of that power to launch enormously powerful denial of service attacks, which can’t happen today because they don’t have enough computing power.

When the Xbox launched, the air was full of dire prognostications about how wrong it would all go when your drive needed defragmentation, yet I’ve seen very little about what might go wrong when you plug your Wii or PS3 into the unrestricted internet. I’m not the right kind of geek to know how resilient the PS3′s Linux-based OS will be to viruses, or how much proprietory protection Nintendo’s systems give the Wii, but you don’t need the brains of a yoghurt to see that both must be big, fat tempting targets for those who amuse themselves by spoiling other people’s fun.

Google folds

I’ve just noticed that Google has embraced The ESP Game, which you may remember from prehistoric days. You can play Google’s version here, but if you can’t be bothered, the long and short of it is that it’s an extremely rudimentary game which gets pairs of players to co-operate to agree on tags which describe images they’re shown at random.

I don’t know how long the Google version has been running, but the highest scorer, currently jessicapierce, is sitting on a cool 20389900 points, which, through some highly spurious voodoo-arithmetic, I estimate to represent just over 15 days continuous play. That means she (or he) has spent 45 working days plugging away at this thing. Which nine working weeks, which is two and a bit months, which is enough to make you cry sand. All just to improve Google’s image search results and therefore increase its competitive advantage. I hope she’s got shares.

It’s interesting for about a thousand reasons. One is that it’s more evidence for the fact that Google as a company is beginning to get its head around the potential of games (an idea we covered in a recent issue of Edge). Another is my consistent amazement at how even the crappiest of games are capable of exerting a hypnotic pull on their players. World Of WarCraft is taking all the flack at the moment for being addictive, but it’s amazing how rarely people talk about games like Bejewelled and Weboggle (on which, at least, Tracie-Greacie’s 24-7 reign of vocabulorational terror seems to be over) and the frightening number of hours players can rack up on them. The games industry doesn’t seem to have quite got its head around the problem it’s facing from the addiction scaremongers: whether or not games can properly be described as addictive, we’re about the only vice that tracks, and then publicises, the total amount of time people spend indulging. Can you imagine the flack TV would have attracted if it had published the WatcherTags of the people who clocked in the most hours? If bars had internationally tabulated high-score tables? If Cadbury gave out S-Ranks for fastest consumption?

Like it or not, games make the mundane, the repetitive, and the joyless into narcotic, irresistible pleasures. When I’m grinding my healers in Disgaea 2, I know that what’s going on is no different, computationally, than what our accounts department does every day. There’s a spreadsheet underneath all those buxom valkyries and accident-prone Prinnies. I work my way through a stack of invoices (or enemies), alloting enough money (damage) to pay them off (death!). I pile up all my resources (characters) into one account (tower) in order to maximise the interest (EXP) I receive. Games, all in all, are just maths made palatable. Once employers realise this, there’s no reason why all repetitive work couldn’t be played for points.

But here’s the thing. What if they’ve already realised? What if you’re already doing their work by playing your games? Sony’s made a big song and dance about taking serious advantage of the ‘super-computer’ they hope to put in your living-room. But what if, for PS4, the super-computer they really want to exploit is the one sitting on the sofa, not the one under the telly?