Microsoft @ GDC 2008
Posted on Thursday, February 21 2008 @ 05:20:57 Eastern
Keynote. Highlights. Info!
Host: John Schappert. Corporate Vice President of LIVE at Microsoft.
Venue: Large auditorium. Espanade Ballroom. Ginormous screens with XBOX 360 logos all over them. And some abstract display with circle patterns. All stages need geometric artwork. That’s how they roll.
Schappert says he’s stepping into the limelight for the first time as a Microsoft representative. Welcome, n00b.
He starts sharing his history (loves Desert Strike for SNES and Madden '02 for Genesis) but really wants to say, "I'm a gamer, too! See, we've got common ground! Don’t boo me!"
According to Jupiter Research, the game industry has made $18 billion this year in revenue in just the United States. Not only has it already surpassed box office sales at the movies, but now the industry has exceeded even the music industry on a global scale. The crowd applauds while a cocker spaniel strokes a 360 controller against a carpet.
Ever since he was a child, Schappert explains, he had an inspiring poster with the words "We See Farther". Except the jumbo-tron behind him displaying the poster says, "We See Further”. At this point, I’m learning too much about John.
$250 million was spent on Xbox Live points alone. No statistics on how many of those points were spent while drunk.
Microsoft wants to give more exposure to amateur designers, announcing an initiative for a democratization of development tools (which they have done with the XNA development kit) and a democratization of game distribution. It’s all very “you scratch my back, I scratch your back, you give me money, I free you from the Nazis”.
Then a dude with a British accent and wearing a Big & Tall suit comes out, introduced as the guy who can benchpress 400 lbs. I forget his name, but he can benchpress 400 lbs.
Declaring the industry’s need to tap into the potential of new design talent (the “talent pipe”, if you will), Microsoft’s weightlifter reveals the arrival of Xbox Live Community Games. With it, creators like James Silva, the winner of the "Dream Build Play" contest, can showcase their awesome creations - in this case, the robot-slicing-samurai hack-‘n-slash Dishwasher. Along with other titles such as Jelly Car, Rocketball, Culture, and Proximity HD, it will help launch the new section in our Xbox 360 dashboard. In fact, some of them should be available… now.
Oh, and you can also play transfer some of the games soon to arrive on Xbox Live Community Games to your Zune.... … … … excitement?
Then bang! Legendary game creator for the Dead or Alive and Ninja Gaiden series, Tomonobu Itagaki, walks onto the stage like the rock star that he is. He quickly introduces the first level of Ninja Gaiden II, which is slated for June 3. His translator takes the controller and guides… “Please reconnect the controller”… ugh… the crowd waits… waits… and guides Ryu to the temple of sacrifice. Battling upon a grey, barren wasteland with deep pits, he flips, evades, changes weapons and ninjitsu spells, and skillfully carves up fleshy beasts with robotic arms into sirloin. Mmm... ninja-sliced beaststeak... my favorite kind.
Save points now have… “Please reconnect the controller”… Damn it!… Microsoft, use new batteries!... You can afford them!… Itagaki taps his foot… wait… wait… now have a feature that allows players to record their gameplay footage to their hard drive and upload them to leaderboards and the like. That way, players can see how the best players in the world get through the game, and if the sequel is anything like the first, you’ll probably need to.
Mr. Peter Moly-overhyped-Fable-neux then waltzes onto the stage with TWO NEW FEATURES FOR FABLE 2!!! First, a mini-game - some combination of roulette and craps. His favorite number is 17. He rolls three dice. They add up to 17. No kiddin’… But, ah, that’s not the surprise. The mini-game will be out on Xbox Live Arcade before Fable 2 is released. Que? That’s right, players can become millionaires before they even press start.
Second, dynamic co-op. Molyneux plays a female character. Gasps through the audience. (I’m not really surprised?) She’s been married for five years. Had a baby boy. (No, there isn’t a labor mini-game.) Hasn’t been home for six months.
Partner on stage is a bald sword-slinging warrior. Both kill some goblin-like creatures for experience and gold. They visit the woman’s home. Son is surprised to see her. Husband is surprised as well but doesn’t want to talk to her. Bald warrior shoots husband in the head. He laughs. He dances. He flexes his biceps. Molyneux wants to “tug at our heartstrings”, but our evil laughs are tugging instead.
Then the doorway to center stage turns neon red, a heavy mist fills the air, and a silhouette of a man cranking a chainsaw-gun into the air appears. The angry sound of the motor screeches across the auditorium, pwning everyone’s eardrums. Cliffy B of Epic Games, lead developer for Gears of War, emerges with a smile. Apparently, some rumors are true… he’s cool and compensating.
Oh yeah, trailer for Gears of War 2. Trailer is nothing special. Just a lot of hyper-masculine silhouettes on a red background. Something more important? November 2008. Release date. I jots that downs.
Finally, Cliffy B heads back into the manly mist. Probably to kill some Locusts.
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Learn The Way of the N+
Posted on Wednesday, February 20 2008 @ 16:03:39 Eastern
Indie games tend to get the shaft - a tight budget, little attention from large corporations like Microsoft whose priorities understandably lie with the dollar, and a constant fear of being cancelled. N+ overcomes these restrictions - not that its developers didn’t deal with getting the shaft, but that even as a small fish swimming with the sharks, it has managed to get its name out. In fact, it will be coming out for the Xbox Live Arcade today. Quick as lightning, eh?
To an anxious crowd at the Independent Games Summit during the 2008 Game Developers Conference, Mare Sheppard (Metanet Software Inc.) and Nick Waanders (Slick Entertainment Inc.) gave their advice and recounted their experience developing their bite-sized ninja platformer. Many indie games, despite their continual commitment to innovation - which nearly all gamers clamor for - hardly see the break of day. Needless to say, a few attendees furiously scribbled on their notepads during the session.
Mare Sheppard, a part of only a two-person team for Metanet Software Inc., first spoke about their luck and hardships. As an extremely small Canadian company based in Ontario, Metanet did not have much clout to convince Microsoft to get N+ on the market, but on Xbox Live Arcade, that prospect becomes more feasible and commercially viable. She advised indie developers to secure a loan, or even better, a grant (Canada supplies plenty), particularly since it has among the best royalty deals, there aren’t many financial risks, and the developers could retain their IP, copyrights, and their souls.
Metanet also didn’t have to start from square one. N+ is essentially based on the original arcade-style N, except modernized with collision, physics, multiplayer, next-gen graphics and sound, and a smoother difficulty curve. A simple 2D platformer, N+ has a black ninja leaping over obstacles in a retro, geometrical environment, avoiding traps, lasers, and everything the level throws at him. One hit and the ninja is dismembered into the pieces he’s made up of. Metanet already had 250 levels at their disposal; all it took now were the bells, the whistles, and a new stylish presentation. Ninjas like to look their best.
To accomplish this, Metanet combined forces with Slick; that is, it outsourced. That word has a negative connotation, but outsourcing is sometimes necessary for smaller companies. This is especially in the case of Metanet, which had 56% of its costs on N+ come from production, marketing, testing, QA, office costs, hardware, and localization alone. Getting the project done swiftly is a priority.
The key is to make the partnership deliberate and synergistic: a collaborative partnership rather than a work-for-hire contract or simple license deal. Sharing royalties with both parties is also important so that each is equally invested in a successful final product. Most significant is that the developer thoroughly understands what makes the original game work, a person like Slick’s Nick Waander.
Translating any title into one that is ready for the Xbox Live Arcade is no easy task, as simple as the game might seem. Luckily, they already had a working reference point: the original N. Building a prototype in the less nitty, gritty language C#, creating in-house programs, getting the biggest problems - multi-player and localization - out of the way first, and outsourcing early so that the collaboration yields more constructive feedback all contributed to an efficient workload for a team of only three programmers. In fact, the basic build of N+ was completed in about two months, allowing for more iterations for tweaking and giving them an opportunity to get user feedback at a top-secret booth at PAX. They even had an interior designer, who had a different and valuable perspective from someone not embedded in the industry, help stylize its simple, silent-yet-deadly graphics.
Much of the process which takes an egregious amount of time, however, is usually not recognized by players and even critics. Outside of the predictable frustration of having to compete for Microsoft’s attention with larger, more profitable companies, there’s a lot of paperwork. Ratings submission requires a second-to-second, click-by-click, action-by-action breakdown of what happens with this, that, and this, and that. Just gathering and filling out all the forms Microsoft needs takes about four days, and certification can stretch to a “don’t take a vacation” amount of time if any bugs arise.
Other details are more visible but still underappreciated. Creating both a trial version and a full version of the same game takes a lot of attention; specifically, what features are enabled and disabled on-the-fly and what happens when a player upgrades to the Full version. Pop-up dialog boxes - when they appear and disappear, how long they appear, and the numerous languages they must accommodate - involves a lot of tedious gruntwork. The same goes for incorporating the numerous variations of multiplayer modes and connection types, so that everyone can play without a hitch.
That indie developers must confront many of the same obstacles as well-financed, well-established, well-oiled developers do, but without the security and power of an extensive workforce and bank account, makes them the equivalent of the small business in the gaming world. Sort of like us, I suppose. Just for them to have some semblance of an impact, they need to have an exceptional understanding of the pipeline of creating a game to take advantage of its relative agility to their multi-billion dollar contenders, beyond the competition in the indie market itself. They need to be as swift and strong as a lone ninja, and in that regard, N+ looks to deliver a stealthy deathblow.
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War but peace?
Posted on Tuesday, February 19 2008 @ 19:02:19 Eastern
Violence sells; peace does not (as much). Expectedly, if not sadly, this is the state of not just video games, but music, television, and most any mass entertainment medium. Some might say that this testifies to the savage and sinful nature of mankind, but it also point to man’s passion for drama and adventure, qualities that peace does not often lend.
Why such a heavily philosophical opening? Because games must have a broader selling point than just sadism, suggests a panel at the Serious Games Summit at the 2008 Games Developers Conference. Speakers Ian Bogost of Persuasive Games, Tracy Fullerton of the University of Southern California, and the representatives for Wild Divine believe that meditation, relaxation, and even transcendence is as valid and feasible as any high-profile corporate title.
It’s certainly a novel approach. Each panelist presented a project that asked whether gameplay could be derived from enabling players to be still, contemplative, and one with the body and mind. Could games actually cure and calm patients with ADD and ADHD? Wait... the general consensus of non-gamers (and likely most actual gamers) is that games cause ADD and ADHD. What about how addictive they can be? How children and adults can enter a euphoric, in-the-zone trance while playing them, tuning themselves out of reality?
Well, that may be true. But fighting against the grain has always been the struggle for serious game developers, undercutting the light-hearted jokes spread throughout the conference - the lack of funding and the battle against the current hegemony that nothing positive could ever come out of a game.
Still, that hasn’t stopped the development of commercial products, successful for what it aims to do, entitled Wild Divine’s Journey to Wild Divine and Healing Rhythms. Effectively aimed at patients with pain and stress-related symptoms and diseases, it incorporates a biofeedback system, two pads that are wire-connected to your fingers to the computer.
Similar to a lie detector, the system shows the player’s current physiological state. While players listen to instructional techniques on deep breathing and meditation, from "new age" luminaries such as Deepak Chupra, they will receive feedback on their biorhythms and know just how successful they are in the exercise. In fact, completing certain goals like breathing with the correct pace will make the game environment change: flowers bloom, rainbows appear, and mist dissipates to reveal a bridge.
At this point, this sounds like a lot of mystical hogwash held tight and warm in a Care Bears hug - not what most gamers are looking for to say the least. What, no chamomile, astragalus root, Siberian ginseng tonic for you? You’re just not in tune with your existential anima.
But this idea has much more relevance than the confines of an indie studio for serious games. The insurgence of the casual market, particularly on the Wii console, may turn the common attitude of peaceful games around. The much anticipated WiiFit features a meditative mini-game on the balance board, similar to the Amiga’s Joyboard used in Ian Bogost’s GURU Meditation on the Atari 2600, where a lapse in balance makes players fail. That’s right, it’s a game all about not moving. Your head has been smacked.
Even more unusual, The Night Journey created by the University of Southern California seeks to create a game about emotional transcendence, for the direct purpose of attempting to assimilate the most inappropriate quality associated with games… with games. It divorces most every notion of what a game is and can only be described as Citizen Kane in a blur shot, surrounded in quasi-Evangelion symbolic references, Myst-esque environment sound effects and noise, with the experimental radicalism of a Suda-51 on every known narcotic while watching the video from The Ring. A virtual hallucinogen - it’s what you always wanted.
Whether The Night Journey can actually make the player enter unholy nirvana is up for grabs, but the concept that meditation can’t make for intriguing gameplay should be dismissed. Sure, it doesn’t connect with what must people think of as fun, so it may not have much commercial viability alongside “Intense action!” titles lining the shelves at GameStop. Still, such an exploration into the definitions of gameplay ultimately debunks the notion that video games can be classified into the heaping mess of blood, sex, and gore that some would have you think they are. An appreciation of the medium is cultivated by widening its audience, starting with parents - with kids - with ADD.
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Passing the gaming torch.
Posted on Monday, February 18 2008 @ 20:50:39 Eastern
Perhaps more terrifying than your first year at the Game Developers Conference or your first year at Game Revolution (Resident Evil: Duke Edition is scary) is being a game design student your first year beyond of the protective walls of the classroom... read more...
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Posted on Friday, January 18 2008 @ 19:57:12 Eastern
Wow, now that\'s a lot of comments for not playing a game. I feel like Kathy Griffin walking across the dance floor at a bar and seeing the room divide into two camps. Of course, I\'m glad to see many people siding with me. I didn\'t think no... read more...
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The Second Sky - Chapter 1: The Old Spirit
Posted on Tuesday, January 1 2008 @ 15:38:24 Eastern
Disclaimer: I do not own Suikoden III. Konami does. This fan fiction is based on the characters and plotlines of the video game and the manga by Aki Shimizu. This story has been revised to begin at a different point; the prologue this chapter has rep... read more...
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Habit for a habit.
Posted on Monday, December 17 2007 @ 22:27:26 Eastern
Tap. Tap, tap. My foot
beneath the desk.
Straight and forward, it
kneading the bile
beneath my slacks,
my limbs, my sweat,
my nicotine dance.... read more...
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Rock Band Power
Posted on Monday, December 3 2007 @ 15:07:56 Eastern
It's been busy at the GameRevolution offices, but I somehow manage to find the time to rock out. It's been a challenge getting used to all three peripherals, and I'm almost completely satisfied with what I have accomplished so far. It's kept me mu... read more...
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Jeff Gerstmann, As A Fellow Critic
Posted on Friday, November 30 2007 @ 17:21:11 Eastern
Let me confirm that the rumors are all true. Jeff Gerstmann, senior editor for GameSpot, got fired, and his review for Kane & Lynch was indeed singled-out during his meeting with upper management. A credible person who shall remain anonym... read more...
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$870... Xbox 360!
Posted on Monday, November 19 2007 @ 05:54:16 Eastern
Wallet-sucking Shopping List:
Xbox 360 Premium
- Marvel Utlimate Alliance + Forza Motorsport 2 (included)
- 1 Wireless Controller
1 Extra Wireless Controller
Plug & Play Charge Kit
512 MB... read more...
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