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Friday, June 17, 2005

Meet Jen Taylor

Over at GamerGirlAdvance, bowler took his ball and went home when I pressed him for the actual numbers about voice acting and sales he mentioned. Apparently the fact that he didn't have them was somehow an insult to him in some weird Internet logic. Naturally, he tried to lay down the last word and suggested he was arguing something different:

I never said that voice talent wasn't valuable. I said it came second in importance after gameplay and design. If you're arguing with this point, you're arguing that it's at least equal, or better.

Actually what he said was: "I hate to say it, but the industry has numbers that prove that voice actors don't drive sales". Which infers that voice actors don't effect the bottom line of a video game. In other words, that they aren't valuable. No one thing drives the sale of a video game. San Andreas didn't sell through roof just because it was notorious. Or that it evolved some pretty crafty gameplay. Or that they pushed their engine to the limit and put more gameworld than ever before. Or that it had some extremely talented acting and directing for the cinematic ... it sold well because of all of those things.

bowler also tried this one:

The fact that you're arguing this point is just driving home the feeling for me that you don't even understand the concept of game design. Movie license titles come with the major voice actors. It wouldn't be much of a license without them.

Which is actually inaccurate. Games license the franchise and then negotiate for the voice actors. Although it's somewhat true because more and more contracts do tie actors to other forms of media on their roles, including video games. But this is a more recent development ... because voice acting very much drives sales for these titles. Fans of a show/movie/whatever want to know that they'll hear a familiar voice to go with those polygonal versions of the character in question.

Somewhere in the middle, bowler tried to pass a list of games that he feels prove his point, as they didn't sell a single unit based on voice acting. Which I guess if you want to define it as voice acting alone might be accurate, but my point is they sure didn't sell on gameplay alone either. Some of his choices are pretty interesting. For instance, Grand Theft Auto III, which is one of the earlier examples of utilizing a wide cast of Hollywood talent in a game. That title alone includes Joe Pantoliano, Michael Madsen, Michael Rapaport, Debi Mazar, Kyle MacLachlan, and Robert Loggia. Did Rockstar spend money on these actors because they just like to smell dollars burn? If they didn't think that hiring these guys would help drive sales then why spend all that money?

A handful of other odd choices include God of War, some Mario games and Halo. Personally, I am finding Kratos' scratchy voice central to the game. Kratos is voiced by T.C. Carson, who has a long history of voice acting and is quite talented. On a side note, God of War is narrated by Linda Hunt, who among other things has won an Oscar.

And then there's Halo and Mario Sunshine. Both of these titles feature Jen Taylor, a voice actress talented enough to handle both Princess Peach and Cortana. In some ways, actually, Jen's work as Cortana probably makes her the most recognizable female voice in gaming today.

And whether bowler likes it or not, those kinds of things do help sell a game.

Thursday, June 16, 2005

Give Me Liberty or Give Me A 360

There is this big boiling noise somewhere on the internet over the topic of Microsoft censoring it's MSN China offerings. I could, right now, send a flurry of links on it your way - but A) you've probably already seen them and B) I'm having a bit of a caffiene crash right now. is asking gamers to boycott the XBox 360 to show Microsoft how we do things in the good old U S of A.

Now I first stumbled on with the whole Demuzio affair and completely respect the kind of work they're trying to do over there. Course, we should point out that Microsoft lost a gigantic bundle of cash on the first XBox and is planning on losing a marginally smaller bundle of cash on the 360. They win out in the end by cross-marketing demographics and writing off a big old loss from their taxes. If you really want to annoy Microsoft, go buy a Macintosh. Not buying a 360 might actually save them money, although it would probably dampen their living room domination plans for a couple of days.

The Revolution is Falling

But for the Revolution to not support HD is kind of a death sentence. By the time these boxes hit the streets, everyone is going to have at least 720p LCDs in their rooms. Are you going to visit your friends with 360s and PS3s and then come home to glorious low def? I don’t think so.
-- gizmodo

I do love gizmodo ... but please. Isn't this a bit of a stretch? Personally, I'm not going to have an HDTV by next Spring. 90% of the people I know have never mentioned HDTV to me. Of the remaining 10%, maybe half of those actually care about gaming.

When these boxes hit the streets, HDTV will still be pulling itself up by the bootstraps trying to make itself the standard. Eventually it will probably get there, but somehow I don't foresee my game collection suddenly going obsolete just because the calendar hits April 2006.

I'm willing to entertain that graphics are an important aspect of gaming. I think declaring everything sub-HD completely uninteresting in the span of the coming year to be a stretch. Nintendo is making itself quite clear that it's not trying to compete with Microsoft and Sony on their terms, which is pretty smart. Let's wait to see what they've got before declaring them dead on arrival.

The Sound of Your Voice

bowler over at GGA has made the statement that voice acting in games just don't really matter:

I hate to say it, but the industry has numbers that prove that voice actors don't drive sales. They just don't. And these numbers are what they used to make their decision on this deal. Kids don't go buy Area51 because David Duchovny or Marilyn Manson are in it. To be perfectly fair and use a cross-industry example, there's data that proves that nobody buys a sports game because of the cover athlete, either. It's a game. People buy them for the gameplay. I buy movies for acting, story, and directing. I buy games for the game. Story and acting is second. Supplemental, influential, inspiring, hell, sometimes even as good as a feature film, but second. If there ever comes a day when the actors are more important than the game, we've failed as a community of game developers.
-- Residuals vs Royalties []

This is all in a relatively belated response to Wil's statement on the SAG deal ... noted here about a week ago. I still think that making this into a developer vs. actors debate is going to miss the point completely.

First, let's talk about the value of actors. As mentioned below, I saw a Miyazaki film last night - and I'm quite glad that Disney shells out good cash for quality voice acting and directing. I still shiver about the days when anime translations were done by whoever the production company could afford while trying to cram some Japanese work into a kid-friendly American VHS tape. Likewise, I'm glad that video games have moved beyond the point where half the voices in a game was voiced by the studio's secretary.

Acting in games do matter. You could reframe the points made about how graphics do make for a good game in a very similar manner. Since games are becoming more and more cinematic, the need for professional acting in them will become more and more valuable. So it would be a bit odd for a game studio to say that they need to use the Unreal 3.0 engine for rendering to keep pace with current demands, but they've decided to use Joe Janitor for the voice of the main character.

And if I'm wrong? Well, then the market will win out. If SAG pushes for too sweet of a pot and they don't result in profitable games, then SAG members will start losing work. Now if publishers start using lower profit margins as a means to starve smaller studios, we've got a problem - but then that doesn't really seem to be the SAG's fault.

So if bowler's right and I'm wrong - the market will work it out. If game developers are underpaid and overworked ... well gee, we already have a problem with that. If game developers want a better deal, arguing with SAG probably isn't going to help.

Recent Impressions

The Girl and I saw Howl's Moving Castle last night. The chance to see a Miyazaki film on the big screen is something dear to me and makes me quite happy to live in a big city. Here Studio Ghibli gets a bit away from the more serious tone of Spirited Away or the much more serious tone of Mononoke and gives a simpler, less mature story. In many ways, actually, it's Spirited Away Lite. The main character get stuck into an world they didn't want nor do they understand, and there's a deep underbelly of learning about one's true self and you know, true love and stuff. Howl won't rank as my favorite from Ghibli, but it hits all their trademark goodness with some gusto.

It was funny to hear a father explain deus ex machina to his kids on the way out. Partially because he was trying to get a five year old to understand the inner mechanics of Greek tragedies and partially because Howl's Moving Castle doesn't really use any.

On the completely other side of the entertainment field, I finally started that God of War all the kids have been talking about. I think it's funny how GTA is the posterboy of all things wrong with gaming, and here I've ripped people in half, popped off heads and banged two women into a red glowy ball ... and I've only played the game for about two hours. I heard from someone that this game is the kind of game Sony won't let anyone make ... unless it's Sony itself. I do get the game's ... charm? Charm seems wrong for a game with this kind of unambigously mature content, but the combo-orientated fighting and minigame style boss fights does make it fun in a way that I think Dragon's Lair always wanted.

Pimp This

First, let's remind everyone that Corvus is hosting the next Carnival of Gamers in a week, so send submissions to carniegrue at for a chance to win a big, big prize*.

Second, I'd like to take a moment to thank for their dedication to keeping a solid list of the daily postings from within the gameblogosphere. They've had some mechanical problems, and I know they've been working dilligently to fix them. GBlogs works with only a minimal set of google ads and a tiny PayPal link alllll the way to the bottom of the site ... which many may not notice. Well, now you don't have that excuse. You know it's there. Go click it.

* prize available only in imaginary format **

** apparently not

Wednesday, June 15, 2005

Some PSP Cookin'

I feel I should be more excited about the PSP getting all homebrew than I am. This is probably because while I have a deep and unwieldy respect for the dedication and utter haXX0r skill required to get this kind of thing running, I know Sony will probably just do their best to squash it, and squash it quickly - when what they should be doing is embracing it, letting people burn games to sticks and releasing an IDE+emulator for Windows/OSX/whatever for better development. Because it seems like if you've got a console, and you've got pirates who will burn the games anyway, then you're just leaving the hobbyist/indie/amatuer developer out in the cold.


Wonderland gave the first heads up I saw on 42 Games, a kind of Hitchhiker's WarioWare mash-up flash game thing. Insanely addictive, although it interestingly shows some odd bugs (for one thing, play it on a fast machine, because my G3 couldn't keep pace and two, sometimes Deep Thought asks me "undefined" ... which might be part of a joke I guess).

Excuse Me a Moment

I normally refrain from posting anything remotely political here, because this is supposed to be funtime, not badgering on any kind of national issues or waving of flags or such. However, I can't pass this one up. So please, if you think you're likely to be even remotely put off or offended or just plain bored by any kind of political statement from any side of the spectrum, just skip this and our normal broadcast will return soon. I'm not looking for a fight here, just want this off my chest.

"There was massive neuronal loss," said Thogmartin, chief medical examiner for Pasco and Pinellas counties. "The damage was irreversible."

Thogmartin added that "no amount of treatment" could have repaired the damage. Because of the brain damage, he said, she was blind."
-- Schiavo autopsy finds "massive" brain damage, no abuse [ - June 15th 2005]

"I question it based on a review of the video footage which I spent an hour or so looking at last night in my office," he said in a lengthy speech in which he quoted medical texts and standards. "She certainly seems to respond to visual stimuli."
- Bill Frist [ - March 19, 2005]

That guy is such a jackass. HIV can be passed by tears? Diagnosis via video tape? It should be noted that for that speech, Frist declared he was speaking "more as a physician than a Senator." Anyone who abuses their former profession to cowtow to voting demographic or is so incompetent that he get something so blatantly wrong - should be fired from both jobs.

Superman's a Dick

The Girl just sent me this great series of Superman being a complete jerk. Some are just brilliant. I didn't even know Lois Lane had her own comic, but apparently the running theme is that she can't please Superman so he'll just marry Lana Lang and tie her to some train tracks. Ah, how I yearn for the days when comics were innocent.

Brief History Of Graphics

While looking for some background on the use of the photorealistic graphics in games (short version? blame Myst), I found this:

Rendering (shading) were discovered by Gouraud and Phong at the University of Utah. Phong also introduced a reflection model that included specular highlights. Keyframe based animation for 3-D graphics was demonstrated. Xerox PARC developed a ``paint'' program. Ed Catmull introduced parametric patch rendering, the z-buffer algorithm, and texture mapping. BASIC, C, and Unix were developed at Dartmouth and Bell Labs.
-- Short History of Computer Graphics

Goes from the 60's to around 2000, so it's missing some modern points. Humorously it ends: "You should expect 3-D modeling and video editing for the masses, computer vision for robotic devices and capture facial expressions, and realistic rendering of difficult things like a human face, hair, and water. With any luck C++ will fall out of favor."

Dungeons & Dragons Artist Dead at 56

A university professor involved with "D&D" development helped Sutherland find his way to Tactical Studies Rules, at the time an emerging Wisconsin publisher of "D&D."

Sutherland's illustrations include the famed scene of a dragon, a wizard and a bow-flexing knight on the first "D&D" boxed set that brought the game into the mainstream. Images on the covers of "Dungeon Masters Guide" and "Advanced Dungeons & Dragons Monster Manual," were his as well. Sutherland also worked as TSR's artistic director, but felt more at ease doing his own illustrations.
-- Dungeons & Dragons illustrator, Minneapolis native, dies [] via BoingBoing

Dave's list of illustrations for that seminal RPG is quite long. Apparently he is also the father of the wemic. My brother and I were just looking at Vault of the Drow this last weekend, in fact. He had been diagnosed as terminally ill and had an auction to help pay for the bills and leave an estate. As we talk about graphics in computer games, we shouldn't forget the impact of graphics in paper games as well. David's illustrations helped capture the imagination for a game which was all about imagination, and his artwork was instrumental to the process.

Best wishes to his family.

Tuesday, June 14, 2005

Graphics Matter

And they are all saying the same thing: “graphics don’t matter – what’s important is game-play!” and then they go on to cite some game that they played that had really bad graphics that they enjoyed because of the game-play, as if that singular example should become some sort of example for the industry at large. As if they have single-handedly locked upon the uber-truth of the games industry, the well kept secret at the back of the very well-guarded dragon’s lair. Well, sadly, I have to stand here and tell you that they do, in fact, matter. A lot. Perhaps as much as game-play itself.
-- Got Game, "Graphics Don’t Matter (and other assertions)"

I've only perused Andrew's blog a couple of times, way too few by the look of it. According to his bio he is is the founding faculty member of the Game Programming Concentration within the Department of Information Technology", which probably leads to a lot of "you do what for a living?" when he goes to parties.

At any rate, Andrew makes the excellent counter-argument to the "Graphics Don't Matter" camp of game design, of which I'm probably at least an honorary member. However, read it fully before blustering because he makes the oft-missed point that, for instance, the graphics in Katamari are quite brilliant ... in other words his point isn't that photorealism is God* ... so listen to the professor.

* of course not, silly, God is superphotorealistic ...

Monday, June 13, 2005

AKA Icculus

Phoronix has an interview with Ryan Gordan, AKA, Icculus, whom I've referred previously as being a pretty smart cookie. Ryan's got even more to say about Linux, the Apple to Intel switch and games in general:

None of the games are rewarding. Is that bad of me to say? Game development has nothing to do with quality and everything to do with shipping what you can get away with. That's just how it is; I didn't make this horrible world.
-- Ryan Gordon [] (thanks BeyondUnreal)

Apple Little

I really think part of Apple's desire to move forward with Intel is Intel's success in making sensible laptop chips. The mini, the iBook ... these are machines which jive will with a "digital lifestyle". Make it portable. Make it hackable. Make it cheap. I'm certainly not knocking your powerhouse tower Mac ... but not everyone wants to shell out a few grand.

Course, this currently costs $2,000 ... but it's really the kind of machine I'd like to see Apple make. Small, Wifi, full OS with keyboard and touchscreen:

These things are teeny—235mm by 155mm by 31mm—and can weigh under three pounds in the right configuration. The model you're looking at here is a 1GHz Transmeta Crusoe-based system, the A33i; it comes with 512MB of DDR memory, a 1024x600 screen, and some flavor of Radeon Mobility graphics. There are also a couple of models based on the Pentium M "Dothan" running at 1.1 to 1.2GHz.

As if they Flybook weren't fly enough already, these things are also tablet PCs, complete with swiveling screens that are touch-sensitive. The screen will fold down to cover the keyboard and then rotate to the user's preferred orientation. The Flybook is then operating in tablet mode, complete with handwriting recognition.

--Flybook A33i [] (thanks Gizmodo)

Update: Talk about thinking little.

The Witch-Hunt

Thanks to for this link to this C|Net column on the Video Game Witch Hunt. Much of it is more warning sirens than anything you haven't read here already, although this should raise the fur on anyone who cares about where tax dollars go:

It's no surprise, then, that Clinton and other like-minded senators (Democrat Joe Lieberman, Republican Rick Santorum) are behind a bill to spend $90 million in tax dollars on a study looking at the "impact" of video games and other "electronic media" on minors.

Yay! $90,000,000 spent of researching a problem that nobody can even quantify. $90,000,000 spent re-hashing a sea of contradictory data that will either provide fodder for both sides, or be so tailored to what the sponsors will want to hear that's essentially government propaganda. Boy, we are smart. SMRT.


Thanks to Corvus I see that Zen of Design is asking for homework papers on "what is immersion". I'm not real likely to come up with much original today, so I'll play along here.

Immersion is suspension of disbelief - not for a narrative but rather for the gameplay itself. It's the slip differential between between simply playing a game and being involved in a game. We often make it sound as if immersion is really just the stuff of first person shooters ... but I disagree. I think I felt very much part of the game when I first played Asteroids as well. Shooters have a natural advantage in that the entire genre is geared to appeasing a person's egoistic desire to be the focus, but they aren't the sole arbiter. Anyone who has emotized their X-Com squaddies should probably understand.

This distinction, however, is one of the ways that I think most people get confused when they defend Half-Life 2 as having a good narrative. Gordon Freeman doesn't talk, they say, because Valve is "showing and not telling". Wrong, Gordon Freeman doesn't talk because Valve wants you to think that you are Freeman and therefore try their best not to provide any details to dissuade that belief. It is in fact neither showing nor telling but completely avoiding the point. While this does wonders for immersion, it's really not the best for narrative as suddenly the world's most heroic rocket scientist is a mute for no reason. Duke Nukem 3D might not have been a better game, but Duke was certainly a better character than Gordon ever will be.

Other Simple Questions

Desert Island Games?

1) A decent Rogue/Nethack game. 2) X-Com. 3) The Sims. 4) Defender. 5) Monopoly.

Oddly, these aren't really representative of a rainy day selection ... just ones that I could see keeping me from insanity. Bit sad there isn't a single shooter in the bunch.

And then Corvus had a book meme. This is a bit harder, as I'm no longer an avid reader, but:

Total number of books I own: a lot.
The last book I bought: Invisible Monsters.
The last book I read: Same.
Five books that mean a lot to me (in no particular order):
The Sound and the Fury. Stranger in a Strange Land. Collected Works of T.S. Eliot. Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy. Engine Summer. (brilliant use of narrative, highly imaginitive social commentary, simply beautiful, ingenious comedy, impressively thoughtful yet approachable science fiction).