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Saturday, January 27, 2007

Super Columbine (Almost) Wins Documentary Award

Check this out:

On Tuesday, January 23rd, 2007, I demoed the game for an actress. Brian Flemming, the director of "The God Who Wasn't There" happened to be standing behind us. He got into it, and evidently got the other jurors for the Slamdance Documentary Award into it, because they're going to give it the Best Documentary Award.

A - game - is - going - to - win - a - documentary - award.
-- The Breakthrough I Dreamed About [via King Lud IC]

Seems like a compromise. Sidestep the controversy a little. Give the nod, not the prize. Give some recognition that people involved in Slamdance have judged the game to have some merit.

But sadly:

This award, not officially authorized by Slamdance itself, was to be given to Ledonne in the documentary category for the manner in which the game meticulously portrays the killers responsible for the shooting at Columbine High School in 1999.

However, just before taking the stage, Slamdance festival director Peter Baxter informed Flemming and two other jurors that the game had "music clearance issues" and would not be allowed to receive this recognition. Despite Flemming's protest, this award was not allowed to be given to Ledonne for SCMRPG.

Yoink. Yikes. Seriously, Slamdance, that's kinda messed up. While I made some peace with Slamdance's disorganization when I couldn't get them to respond to an email when I submitted Carter - this just adds another layer of chaos to an already chaotic ordeal.

I think from all this comes one simple truth:

Games can be an art form. If someone out there would be willing to accept them as such.

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Thursday, January 25, 2007

The FUD Of Sony

Kotaku points to a article on the fog of FUD surrounding Sony and the PlayStation 3. I can't help but to point out the irony there.

I don't entirely agree that the fog around the PS3 is entirely of Sony's making. As I've pointed out, the blogosphere has a history of misreporting Sony during the lead up to the PlayStation 3. Microsoft often says that everyone likes to beat up the guy on top - and in this case ... it was Sony. Logic wasn't often applied where a good old kicking could be used instead.

Consider this: Sony's launch was virtually identical to the 360's. Except that to date, there isn't a flood of PlayStation 3's blinking red and refusing to work. Now compare articles between the launches.

Still, Sony shares a lot of the blame. Their PR has just been a complete nightmare. It's like they hired Dante, Atilla the Hun and the scientist from Robot Chicken to handle public affairs. I mean - fake blogs? Instead of talking about the PS3's features - they insisted everyone would want one because it's a "supercomputer".

I've seen supercomputers. The PlayStation 3 is no supercomputer.

Course, as often with sound and fury - this probably signifies nothing. The slings and arrows of the gaming media don't entirely represent the gaming population (as evident by the utterly contradictory "nobody wants this" and "kid runs into poll to get one" memes). The PlayStation 3 will probably have a similar launch cycle as the 360 (except, perhaps, Sony will be honest about their numbers). It's not going to resemble the quick success of the PlayStation 2.

And so, despite what the FUD says, the real problem is this: can Sony gather a compelling enough library, with sluggish sales, to accelerate the growth? It's a chicken and egg scenario. Studios want large demographics to justify large dev budgets - but you need flagship titles to draw in the demographics.

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Employment War Story

Tales of employment and unemployment seem to be flying around me - so I thought I'd share a little campfire story. This occured back when the dotcom burst was well into effect and I was largely concerning myself wilth playing Sega and trying to find another job. As many know, finding another job can a job on its own. I had my own system - a collection of post-it notes which started from the answering machine and scattered upwards the wall like a Staples employee desperately trying to make smoke signals.

Search the net, submit resumes, make some phone calls and return some others. Most of the interviews I had weren't with employers but recruiters. Recruiters, however, were having it just as bad as we were. During one phone call the phrase "You don't understand how bad it is out there. It's a nightmare. There's just nothing left for a guy like me anymore." wasn't uttered by me but rather by the guy trying to get me a job.

Rarely a recruiter would call me first. Even more rare was it someone other than a clerical staff who had been perusing HotJobs. I get this call from a fairly large Chicago recruitment firm - from the recruiter himself. He's excited, he just saw my resume, he thinks I've got great experience, he's got loads to tell me, he's got lots of solutions for me, he wants me to come in as soon as I can possibly make it happen.

Needless to say, my schedule was pretty flexible and I went to go see him a couple days later.

First, despite having a standing appointment a few days in advance - the guy wasn't in. He would be in later, the secretary said, and I could wait in the lobby. So I waited. And I waited. And I waited a little more. I think in total he was about twenty or thirty minutes late.

He shook my hand and told me he wasn't going to see me. Instead, he was going to have someone else talk to me. No reason given. Just the way it was. And then he disappeared.

A few minutes later his replacement, whose name I honestly forget, came by to show me to his office. He was older, had a kind of grey and white mustache and beard, smallish glasses and a suit that didn't quite fit. His office was a tiny affair - crammed from one wall to another with filing cabinets and papers strewn here and there. Not atypical for a recruiter - although many of the ones I knew were more organized.

He asked if I had brought my resume. Of course I had (several copies) and I handed him one. That's when the barrage started. He scanned through the first few bits and announced, "No, no, this is all f--king wrong."

I was a little taken aback - but figured maybe it was just a random utterance. Just some coffee related Tourrets. Or something.

"Nobody wants this f--king stuf anymore. Nobody. Those f--king guys. What the hell? You worked on ... what is this?"

He pointed to my work with ATG's Dynamo. I said, "Dynamo. It's a server? It's kinda like JSP."

"Never f--king heard of it. And this?"

"DHTML. It's. It's a way of using JavaScript."

"Right, JavaScript. Can't f--king shake a tree without getting JavaScript these days, you know?"


"What about salary?"

I handed him another paper with my previous salary and what I would request. Having just gotten a raise before the crash, the second number was significantly lower than the first. This didn't seem to register with him.

"You f--king kidding me? Kid, nobody ever paid that kind of cash for this sh-t. F--king nobody."

"Well, yeah they did."

"Well they f--king don't I'm telling you."

"I lowered it - you know - because of that."

"Well, f--king good, because I'm f--king telling you this just ain't f--king feasible, if you know what I mean."

Yeah, I knew what he meant. I'd spent about forty days and nights trying desperately to get people a lot more familiar with the industry than this guy to get me interviews. I knew exactly what feasible meant.

"Let's see what we got," He said and swiveled his chair to his computer - an aging vanilla colored machine. He plunked his fingers slowly and some kind of custom app came up.

"Oh those f--king guys. They can't keep this f--king stuff working. Not at all."

"Well, maybe I should go?"

"No, no, look. Look. I know some people. People know me. Leave this with me. I'll make some calls. I should have two, maybe three, interviews for you by tomorrow. End of the week at the latest. Friday. We'll call you by Friday."

I shook his hand and left. I never heard from him again and I certainly never called his agency again.

Wednesday, January 24, 2007

Make Your Own CCG

Ah, the wonderful fun you can have with Big Huge Lab's flickr toys. Meet Psycho Sink Kitty - Water Element Card and Terror From The Not So Deep. Via The Brother

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Developing Games? Be A Geek.

So my advice for any aspiring members of game development is pretty simple. If you’re a nerd, keep being a nerd.

Watch trashy sci-fi movies. Read comics. Watch the entire run of Stargate. Be able to quote lines from Doctor Who until your friends want to murder you. Immerse yourself in the book and movie versions of Lord of the Rings. Study the Matrix. James Bond. The whole range of John Woo movies. Be able to explain the mathematical underpinnings of gun-kata in Equilibrium.
-- Aliens, John Woo, and Stargate: How To Research A Game

That's Chris Avellone of Obsidian Entertainment (and Fallout 2) fame.

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Writing For Games

The Average Gamer links to a great interview with sometimes game and sometime comic writer, Gordon Rennie:

When you approach developers looking for freelance writing work, you’re often met with total
indifference or polite astonishment, as if the idea of hiring a professional writer on their games has never occurred to them before. Look at the games industry recruitment sites and see that ads for writer vacancies are as rare as hen’s teeth.  The latest Edge had a careers supplement to coincide with the London Games Fair; pages and pages of features looking at every kind of job skill involved in games development.  Well, except for writing, of course.  Despite what’s said in public, it simply doesn’t seem to be something many companies value.
-- But It's Not ART... [ScottishGames]

There's also a great jab that most writing needs are fulfilled by "a level designer, mission scripter or a pal of the producer’s" - which I have to giggle because the only game (dev) writer I've known was ... a pal of the producer. Course, he was also a great writer - but I still get to giggle.

This is yet another perspective on something everyone kinda already knows. The question I'd posit is ... we all know people will buy a game with decent gameplay but poor storytelling. I mean, sure, we say we want both - but can we prove people will buy a game with poor gameplay but great storytelling? I'd half-heartedly say Indigo Prophecy was that game ... although I don't think that's fair to the gameplay and honestly the story wasn't that great.

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Roguelike Wiki

I'm finding that roguelikes enjoy a pretty active community. Check out the Roguelike Wiki for examples of new developments and news. It lists dev updates, gives overviews of 7DRL events (7 Day Roguelike - kinda like the "make a game in a day" contests), overall roguelike themes and ideas. I'm also now officially lurking on the roguelike dev and announce newsgroups.

In dev news, I think I've nailed down a backstory that will work. It's not Tolkien-esque, actually more of a blend of sci fi and fantasy if anything else. Now ... must ... figure ... out... combat.

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Tuesday, January 23, 2007

M.U.L.E. Board Game

Someone, way back when, took the concepts of the classic game M.U.L.E and converted it to board game format, dubbing it L.L.A.M.A. in the process. Brilliant stuff. Sadly, the rules never seemed to make their way onto the site.

There is, however, a game called "Q.U.L.E." from Wilcot Group, a free board game in the same vein.

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Dev Diary: Strange Little Dungeon

Things have been going well with the web-based roguelike - enough so that I'm getting a little tense. There has to be some kind of crazy roadblock ahead. Some kind of bizarre technical problem that keep me from simply sitting down and coding. I keep thinking that something will be more complicated than it actually turns out.

I've got basic lighting and line of sight. Line of sight proved so simple, I'm embarrased it intimidated me at all. It works just as anyone would expect - it walks a line from the player to the point it is trying to light. If it hits an obstacle, it stops and doesn't light that area. It clicked once the lighting code was working - that the two would be instrinsic to each other. It's not identical to a lot of stock roguelike engines - rooms do not autofill with light. Instead, players cast ambient light and the dungeon can have independent light sources. If you want to make dungeons darker, reduce the ambient light. If you want to make it daytime, make the ambient light huge. Certain objects, like walls, once seen will be "remembered". This way players can backtrack easier if they want. This might also be an option to turn off for dungeon designers, I'm not sure (there will probably be an automap as well).

It's a strange little dungeon right now. You can open doors (and light reacts properly) but you can't close them. You can kill monsters, but they can't kill you. Also, you can't walk over their corpses. You can look at chests, but you can't open them. It's essentially a gallery of half-measures and futile actions.

Next up is probably combat.

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TV Watch: Heroes - Psycho Mom Walking

My biggest complaint with the first season of Heroes was that it couldn't find any sound pacing. Some episodes felt like they needed to recap every little detail while others would have characters popping in an out of cities at heartbreak speed. The story felt uncomfortable with itself and unable to adjust to its many characters.

Now, the show seems to be finding its stride. It makes inshow references without worry. Conversations will carry a point and move the story forward. Characters seem to be able to make connections without being hurried ... or blabbering on and on (yes, we get it - the kid's special, move on).

And dang, the show has Doctor Who on it now (although is it me or does he have a larger nose?). How could I not watch it?

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TV Watch: Battlestar Galactica

Spoilers, spoilers, bish boom bah.

Wired's Table Of Malcotents makes a pretty sound case for Starbuck being a Cylon. Starbuck's "destiny speech" might be my least favorite scene with her, but otherwise I thought "Rapture" was pretty strong. The overall ending felt a little deus ex machina (How did they all get back to the ship on time? They just did!) and I'm still a little fuzzy on Cylon mysticism (the lost tribe left a map for a supernova that would show the faces of huh?) but I love the military action and the Dwalla and Starbuck scenes were pure candy.

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Monday, January 22, 2007

Gruesome Stupidity

Someone has posted a six-minute tape of excerpts from a Sacramento radio show from the morning it  held a now-famous "Hold Your Wee for a Wii" contest.

A contestant named Jennifer Strange tied, apparently of water intoxication, after taking part.  Now,  according to news reports, there's word of a pending lawsuit, there might be criminal charges and the station sacked 10 people.

The excerpts are amazing. At one point, a female voice asks, "Can't you get water poisoning and like, die?" and "Maybe we should have researched this."

A woman calls to warn the hosts about the risks of water intoxication, but she's ignored. Strange, meanwhile, seems chipper but reports having a headache and an expanding belly that reminded her of being pregnant. Not too long later, she was dead.
-- Water Intoxication Death: Tale of the Tape [Wired]

I keep reading the updates on this awful fiasco and keep coming up dry on what to say. I thought the guy who thought it was brilliant to place empty chairs in front of crowd of people wanting a PlayStation 3 was a prizewinner for stupidity - but this really, really sinks to a new low.

Yeah, water intoxication is not widely known about. But it's not that rare. And even if it was so remote that only doctors knew about it - that the radio station would first oblivously skip consulting one and then having the show laugh off free medical advice? It's a level of incompetence that simply boggles the mind ... or moreso, it's outright scary. It's frightening to think that any group of people could be so dumb as to risk the lives of so many people in such a short period of time. It's stupidity so tight and dense as to be lethal.

Unless the liability form Strange signed included a paragraph on the dangers of water intoxication - I'd say the Strange family may well be the owners of a slightly used radio station when this is all said and done. Hopefully the outcome will be severe enough against the station that future shows will think ... at least once ... about what they do in the future.

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Let Your Wii Meet Your Mac

Wii Transfer is OS X software that allows you to:

• Share MP3 music and pictures to your Wii over local network — new in version 2.0.

• Convert movies for playing in Wii's Photo Channel.

• Copy movies to SD card automatically if connected.

• Browse and convert iTunes video podcasts from within Wii Transfer.

• AppleScript support for automated conversions.

• Backup saved game files to your Mac automatically.
-- Riverfold Software - Wii Transfer

Nice. Found via TUAW. Not being a Wii owner, I don't know how well this would replace AirExpress or Apple TV - but it would be interesting to find out. According to the FAQ, you can't export anything encrypted in iTunes and for movies you have to transfer via a card ... but this is $14 ($9 until the end of the month) and the Wii is cheaper than ATV...

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Will Vista Kill Off Indies?

The Guardian Gamesblog asks (by way of a few others including /.) if Vista's new Game Explorer will shut out the little guy. The theory is that the new Game Explorer allows for sorting out titles by ESRB rating ... a rating many small games simply don't have and therefore would vanish from the Explorer. A sound theory, although seems a little premature to kick the OS for something so severe when it hasn't launched - especially since Microsoft has shown recently, with movements like XNA studio, to be mindful of the plight of indies.

Either way, this sounds like the wrong solution for the problem at hand. If you want access to your DeathMatch 3000 without the risk of Little Tommy learning what a frag is - a properly locked down multi-user OS is the way to go (and not exactly a new idea). If you didn't know the ESRB rating of your game was before you bought - it either shouldn't matter to your situation or you're being an idiot. This seems like a needless framework designed for the sole purpose of giving Microsoft a talking point when it comes to charge that game companies aren't doing enough.

Update, OK - as debated below, not such a sound theory. Lots of holes. What about demos? Could the Game Explorer be so encompassing that it leaves no other avenue? Why couldn't an indie developer just use an installer which installed like any other non-game app?

I still firmly think it's a bad overall concept. I don't see how it could be a poison pill.

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Good And Evil In Angband

I love this - because I think it's actually a constant point in similar games:

What *I* want to know is this: who is *really* the good guy in *band? Morgy sits clear down at the bottom of that place & never bothers the townsfolk at all. Neither do the other monsters. OTOH, the player is *always* killing off townsfolk--even 'pitiful looking beggars'! He's so psychotic, he can't push his way through a crowd without killing someone
(something even the monsters can do, as they push weaker ones out of the way; though they do kill their fellow monsters by accident, trying to kill the player). Heck, the player can't be very nice--he even kills off *angels* ... Go figure?
-- Angband moments we want to see (found via The Unangband Development Blog)

The Girl and I officially declared war against the "Conspiracy of Barrels" that must be behind some kind of evil in dungeon hack games like Baldur's Gate and Champions Of Norrath ... since the heroes are constantly intent on destroying all such containers with extreme prejudice. At one point during Justice League Heroes it seems just justified to attack the "good" guys just to keep them from trashing the place (and in that game - you don't even get anything really ... it's just habit). Lego Star Wars features Jedis which ransack the local bar in search of coins. Just like this poster above, while playing Angband I routinely stab townsfolk because it is so much faster than walking around them.

Is this an important component of immersion - or just a side effect of the genre's setup?

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Dev Diary: Let There Be (Or Not Be) Light

I had some pretty optimistic success recently with the web roguelike. I've kicked the performance problem (by logically working around the need to re-draw the map every cycle) and I've smoothed out the code for actually drawing the map in an online editor and then loading it into the game (although currently it supports only one map - so there's a whole file subsystem which needs to be created). So many of the main hooks - create a map, load a map, play a map - have the basics down. Combat is a mess, but there is in fact combat. Probably the next major system to at least get the groundwork working is character creation and management. Problem there is that I haven't defined the fundamentals of the actual game enivronment. Are stats number or die based? Will there be any classes or just skills? Etc.

I'm probably going to work on a list of desires before defining too clearly. I don't want the player to be constatnly working on item management. I want the player to be in control of the character design. That kind of thing. I'm considering using an "age" system to determine learning as opposed to outright experience, but that has a lot of details which conflict with the norm. So we'll see. I also have some notes on location based damage, but I can't tell if it's feasible or not.

In the meantime, I hope to figure out two major factors of a dungeon crawler: lighting and field of view. What can be seen and what can't isn't just an ambience issue - it's a strategy one as well. Fog of war, what's hiding behind that corner, is that beast still following me - these are factors which define your average roguelike as more than just a game of Pac-man with swords.

I'm kinda out on my own, too, because a lot of these systems that exists today are written in C with proper data structures. My data structure is JavaScript mirrored with HTML. Plus, I'd like to give quest designers the option of building something other than just rooms and halls - so I'd like more lighting options other than just "dark" and "not dark". Is this outside? Inside? Lit sparsely or evenly? Etc.

Of course, all of this is related to that ever present object in any dungeon - a door. If I can get a door to open and the contents behind to render as expected - that's probably my smoke test.


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DVD Watch: My Super Ex-Girlfriend

The thing about My Super Ex-Girlfriend is that it is precisely what you might think it would be ... predictable, overloaded with special effects, somewhat corny and still fairly funny. I can't strongly recommend it - but it is fairly enjoyable. One of those movies that relies heavily on the strength of the actors because often the super-powered sight gags aren't quite as good as intended. Thankfully with Luke Wilson, Uma Thurman and Anna Faris - the cast does great with what they have (undoubtably in part due to veteran director Reitman).

In short - funny, just not Ghostbusters funny.


Back In Norrath Again

To think it's been almost two years since I stepped into Champions of Norrath. The Girl and I considered a revisit when we played through both Marvel Alliance and Justice League ... well, multiple times. If we're going to replay something, might as well go for something with a little meat on the bones.

Champions Of Norrath is one of the best dungeon crawlers ever put down on any platform. You really have to look to Diablo for games which top it (particularly in the storytelling section). Graphically it pushes the PS2 to the limit. There is a decent variety to character creation and being able to mod weapons with gems allows for a wonderful array of items. It's long and deep with a great couch co-op feel for the genre.

The nuisances still remain. When I say "pushed to the limit", I mean it. The Girl lost a twin to her Ice Flame sword because the game got caught up on some tiling and refused to continue to load. We had saved it right before the big boss fight - but since we hadn't hit the actual load screen where most of the lockups occured - I hadn't thought to save it again. Plus, you'll spend at least a quarter of your time just on item management - more if you insist on picking up and selling every little thing.

Still, the game is a triumph - a point proven that even after all this time it's quite addictive to jump back into the fight again. We're going to go straight through to the sequel this time around.

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Sunday, January 21, 2007

Game Play: Galcon

Galcon may be best described as an "action strategy game". Action as in during one round, I simply gave up because I couldn't click nearly enough to keep up with the computer sacking my planets.

The mechanics are simple and take about five minutes to learn. There's a set planets which vary in size, allegiance and number of ships. All occupied (not neutral) planets produce ships; larger planets produce faster. To attack a planet, click from a planet allied to you to any other planet. If the planet is neutral, you can see how many ships defend it. Otherwise, you have to guess.

When either you or the computer (or another human, there's an online option I haven't tried yet) has no planets occupied and no ships - they lose. That's it. That's the game.

There's no diversity of units, no differing unit commands (although you can redirect ships), no way to force planets to produce more (though you do decide what percentage of ships leave when you select a planet), no alliances, no secondary goals, no nothing else. It's simple, it's extremely fast (you end up clicking furiously in response to the computer at times) and it's addictive as crack.

Registered version is $20. Worth every penny. Demo available for both Windows and Mac.

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