Games * Design * Art * Culture


Thursday, September 29, 2005
Design a Logo, Win an Xbox 360?
So I'm going to take a page from Phil Steinmeyer's playbook... He recently ran a competition to design a logo for his new company, New Crayon Games, offering a PSP to the winner. He got quite a lot of entrants--and I'm not all that enamored of the logo he chose, but some of the other entries were quite nice, and hey, tastes vary. I'm offering an Xbox 360.

So here are the rules:

1) Deadline is October 15, noon EST (though I reserve the right to extend if it necessary.

2) Logo should include the text 'Manifesto Games'.

3) To win the prize, you'll have to sign a release assigning all rights to Manifesto. If you don't win, you keep the rights to your image.

4) E-mail the entries to greg +at+ manifestogames +dot+ com. File size under 200kb if at all feasible. Any format I can open in Photoshop is fine, but I'll want the winner to provide either a scalable version or a large version suitable for print publication. So do the original large, send me a smaller version and keep the big version in case you win.

5) I'm not going to do much in the way of art direction here, but keep in mind what we're trying to do: Make noise, rouse rabbles, revolutionize the industry, support creativity and innovation. I'm certainly open to drawing on revolutionary imagery, and red is probably (though not necessarily) the dominant color, but keep away from the hammer-and-sickle... Other sorts of revolutionary imagery (liberty caps, Marianne, storming the Winter Palace, the Prague Spring, Luther nailing his theses to the door, the Boston Tea party) might well work. But don't feel compelled to go this route, either. And if you do go this route, try to work a game reference into it too (dumping CDs into Boston Harbor? well, maybe not, probably too complicated).

6) If you're not in North America or Europe, and its hard or difficult to ship an Xbox 360 to you, I reserve the right to send you the cash equivalent. (And yes, if you're in Europe, I'll buy it from a European retailer, so you have the right regional version.) Also, if you =prefer= the cash equivalent, that's fine, just let me know when you win.

7) I'll try to answer any further questions--put 'em in the comments

8) If you're in the US, I'll need your SSN, and might need to get you to fill out a W-9.

9) I will likely put up a page on the Manifesto site with all entries for people to comment on, but the final decision is solely that of Manifesto Games. I'll award a prize even if we don't end up using any of the entrants.

10) Obviously, I can't actually get an Xbox 360 until it's released--and given the fact that some retailers are saying they're already out of stock on their pre-ordered units, it's possible that I can't get it shipped until some time thereafter. We'll do our best, but it's possible that it might wind up getting delayed. You can always take cash if you prefer.

And yes, I see the irony of using a console as a prize for a company that's PC-oriented... but hey, we're all gamers here.



Oh--one other thing. A number of people have commented that the Manifesto Games website design sucks. Indeed it does; I've never claimed to be a graphic designer.

So here's another (less rewarding) sorta contest; if you want to redesign it, go ahead. View source, change it as you wish, keep the text the same, email me your redesigned pages. Less time on this; October 9, noon EST. And no cash prize, either--but do put your name (or company) in the ADDRESS bar (site design by xxx), and we'll keep that up as long as we use the same design. (Which, if it conflicts with whatever logo we choose, might not be long... but hey.)

Thanks in advance to everyone who takes a stab at either of these.

Update: A minor thing: it would be helpful if you'd include your name in the filename (or as Author in Properties) to make it easier for me to track who submitted a logo--not a requirement, but it would be helpful.

Also, Phil Steinmeyer writes: "Anyways, I stole the logo contest idea from Mike Boeh at retro64.com (see http://forums.indiegamer.com/showthread.php?t=4031), who probably stole it from someone else - I hope it goes well for you - I'm sure you'll get lots of entries."


Knee Deep in Email
Well.... The response has been overwhelming. Literally so, in a way; I've gotten more email in the last couple of days than spam (and my email address has been on my site in mailto: urls for a decade, so I've been spidered and am every spamlist in creation, it seems). I've been knocking it down as fast as I can, but I still have something like 40 emails open in Eudora--basically the ones that are going to take thought to respond to. This is, to be sure, important, because every one represents some contact that may be of value to us (well, except for the ones that say "Rock on, dude!" or alternatively "why do you hate console games so much, you evil, evil man" [short answer: I don't], but those are at least easy to respond to). On the other hand, its a distraction from doing some of the other vital things at the moment, like trying to organize the (amazingly large) number of people who've volunteered to help with tech development, and riding herd on the lawyers to make sure we get incorporated quickly.

But many, many thanks for the enthusiasm expressed. And also for the level of coverage:

And doubtless others I've missed.

More later....


Tuesday, September 27, 2005
Manifesto Games (or: Doing, Not Talking)
Last Friday, I resigned my position at Nokia.

It's time to put my foot money where my mouth is.

I suspect it will come as no surprise to those who've read the GDC Rant, my Free Play presentation, or my recent screed in The Escapist that I've been thinking a lot over the last few months about how to foster the development of a thriving independent games sector--and have come to the conclusion that it's possible to build a viable business to do so.

So I'm pulling the trigger. At this point, I have no funding, other than a little money myself; nothing ready to launch, either. But I do have a partner, the offered support of some other companies, a clear sense of what I need to accomplish in the next few months, and a draft (not a final one) of a business plan and financials.

This is, of course, terrifying; I'm leaving a nice comfortable job for an extremely early stage startup, with the prospect of no income for possibly as much as a year (or more). But there does come a time when you have to stop whining about things and try to change them.

The new company will be called Manifesto Games (there's a placeholder website here); its motto is "PC Gamers of the World Unite! You Have Nothing to Lose but Your Retail Chains!" And its purpose, of course, will be to build what I've been talking about: a viable path to market for independent developers, and a more effective way of marketing and distributing niche PC game styles to gamers.

At this stage, I would like to thank a bunch of people for advice and support leading up to this decision, including Eric Goldberg, Ben Palmer, Eric Zimmerman, David Heath, Kathy Schoback, Nathan Solomon, Alex Macris, Tom Kurz, Len Quam, Dalia Hierro, Andrew Friedman, Charles Ardai, Peggy Oriani, and the principals of Polaris Ventures. And, of course, Johnny Wilson, who will be joining me in the venture.

And I'd like to make another announcement: I'm going to be taking another risk, and blogging here about the whole process. One of my theories is that the kind of company Manifesto aspires to be must be utterly open to, and responsive to, its customers and prospective customers--that to build the kind of enthusiasm, commitment, and verve we need to succeed, and to make of our customers our own best advocates, we need to treat them as partners, and not (as so many companies do) as sheep to be fleeced. Thus, my intention as Manifesto becomes more of a reality, is to be as open as feasible about its plans, practices, and intentions--for management to blog frequently about what they're doing, and to participate frequently in forums with gamers. Since that's so, why not start the practice now?

Thus, I will be posting various documents here, up to and including the business plan and financials (when I'm happier with them); and I'll be talking about the whole process of fund-raising, site development, business development, and so on. This should, I think, be interesting for anyone who wants to understand what entrepreneurs do, what issues they face, and how they solve (or try to solve) problems; this is normally stuff that all happens behind closed doors, and I think it will be interesting to make it public.

Making it public may well bite me in the ass, at times--but on the other hand, it may also work to enlist others in helping us make the company work. And I should note that I won't necessarily be blogging everything, particularly if, say, a potential investor is uncomfortable having details of a meeting made public. But I do have cop-out language above, you'll note: "as open as feasible."

I will certainly be elaborating on all this over the next few weeks. But for now:

Please contact me if any of the following are true:

  1. You have excellent web development skills (PHP, Linux, Apache, mySQL, HTML--some or all) or graphic design skills, and are willing to work on something like this for, in essence, equity and air.
  2. You are an independent developer and/or publisher of games aimed at niche audiences, or the operator of a niche MMO, and are willing to offer a non-binding LOI announcing your willingness to work with Manifesto Games.
  3. You have strong game industry and/or e-commerce credentials, and are interested in helping us achieve our goals.
  4. And, of course, you think you might be interested in investing.


Wish us luck... We're going to need it.


Monday, September 26, 2005
GameGame 1.0
Aki Jarvinen has posted cards and rules for GameGame 1.0... which he pitches as an attempt to do for games what Understanding Comics does for comics: that is, to provide insight into the nature of games in a game, in the same what that Understanding is both "about comics" and a comic.

Thus, his cards are things like "Goal" and "Environment" and "Victory/End Condition." There's both a coherent set of rules for determining victory and a roleplaying element: players must improvise what the game they are creating is like, e.g., describing what their "Victory/End Condition" is--but they can only have one if they have the relevant card.

I wouldn't say that this is as compelling and interesting a work as Scott McCloud's, but it does look like it would be fun to play--and might well be useful in a game studies course.


Thursday, September 22, 2005
Dean Takahashi: "Why is it so fucking hard to fund videogames?"
Dean Takahashi speaks at the Video Game Investors conference.

Dean's probably best know for his Book on the Xbox, but first came to my attention when he was at the Wall Street Journal, and seemed to be about the only mainstream journalist writing intelligently about the game industry. (There are, thankfully, a few more now.)

    "The question I have is simple. Why is there such a mismatch between the capital needs of the video game industry and the investment that is going into it?

    ...
    "But if you look at the numbers here, something is wrong. There’s an $18 billion market for console software, but nobody wants to invest in it, unless they’re buying EA stock at some very high multiples. EA is so big at around $18 billion market valuation that a lot of the Hollywood studios can’t afford to buy it. There’s a $1 billion cell phone market, and a $2 billion online games market, and the investors are climbing over each other to invest in those markets.

    "I don’t get it. So why is this the case?"



Read the rest. Among other things, I didn't know that Dean was an old computer wargamer...

My take, incidentally: I think venture investors are right, not wrong, to invest in emerging markets like MMO, mobile, and downloadable games. Challenging the dominance of companies like EA and Sony in the conventional market would be incredibly expensive, and given the business conditions under which developers operate, investing in a developer is a mug's game. I think there are opportunities in terms of project finance--and we're starting to see some of that, by angel investors (e.g., the IR Gurus story). And there is unquestionably an opportunity for a company like Capital Entertainment Group--yes, they failed, but because they couldn't raise the money, not because the idea wasn't a good one. In other words, for a game-industry equivalent of Silver Screen Partners, a company that raises private money to co-fund games with publishers, or to provide development funding direct to developers in return for a share of revenues. Call it Phosphor Screen Partners.

But that's on the project financing side; on the venture side, neither a start-up publisher nor a start-up developer (nor expansion money to an existing firm) looks like a good bet to me. In mobile and online, you have more rapidly expanding markets (even if small today) where dominant players have not already been established.

Mind you, there are too many mobile publishers with too much money at the moment, and I would expect a shake-out in the next couple of years; and the casual downloadable market also looks like it's getting crowded to me.

So if I were an investor... or an entrepreneur... I'd be looking at something slightly different....

Oh, right... I forgot. I am an entrepreneur.

Ponder.


Friday, September 16, 2005
Random Stuff
I quite like Katrina: The Gathering (thanks to Stefan Jones for the pointer). Makes me think Lum has way too much time on his hands, though--tell him to get back to work, Mark.

Apparently Telltale Games, the same guys who are doing the Bone game in an episodic fashion, has acquired the rights to Sam & Max... That could be cool. I haven't played the first Bone episode, which is available now, though... Probably should, when I can find the time.

And apparently the "big innovation" of the Revolution controller is motion sensors. So instead of twiddling a joystick, you move your hand around. Used one-handed, like a TV remote. Okay, I guess. Essentially two control buttons, one under the thumb and one at the back for the index finger.... Or you can turn it on the side and use it like a NES controller, with a D-pad and a couple more buttons. A port on the bottom allows you to connect an "add on" to the controller--they show one that's a joystick connected by a cable, which they call "nun-chuck format". Ho ho.

Motion sensor controllers are actually kind of... obvious. Surprised it hasn't happened before--and since they're basically just another way to capture directional information, this should not, as I had worried earlier, make it all that hard to port to/from Revolution... You'll just use a joystick for the non-Revolution versions.

The scheme should make some game styles feel more naturalistic--I can certainly see that working in, say, a fishing or golfing game. But on the whole... less innovation here than the pre-announcement hype suggested, IMO.

Fargo plays Civ IV multiplayer... and it actually seems to work. Sure, even with the original Civ, I sort of wanted to play it with real people, but previous Civ multiplayer implementations have sucked... Essentially, you've got a game that takes 12 or more hours to play to completion, and it's hard to get people to sit around that long, and if you save, the likelihood that everyone will ever get back together at the same time to complete the game is remote. Also, it's turn-based, which meant that you spent huge amounts of time yawning while your opponents did crap, waiting impatiently for your turn. Evidently, Civ IV multiplayer solves this in the (fairly obvious) way: with what I usually call "turn-based simultaneous movement," meaning everybody plans their turn simultaneously and independently, then the turn is resolved once everyone has gotten their moves in. Much less boring, but also a considerable rejiggering of the way Civ has always worked; I'll have to see how it works in practice.


Tuesday, September 06, 2005
"Pigeon-holed"
I have just read part one of your article Death to the Games Industry. I must say that it is the best article on this subject matter that I have come across. It was a very interesting read and I can not agree with you more. Basically, my thoughts and feelings put into words. I am still somewhat fresh to the industry; almost finished with a second title in just about 2 years as a professional designer/environment builder. The first title, an expansion pack to Call of Duty for the PC, and now a new Call of Duty title for the current-gen consoles. Both titles had production cycles of under a year. Working for Gray Matter Interactive studios,( which is owned by Activision ofcourse and formerly known as Xatrix Entertainment ) on my first title was an amazing experience as I was fresh to the industry and felt more then fortunate to have the opportunity to work for a developer which I followed for quite some time and very much admired. Recently, we( Gray Matter ) have been absorbed into Treyarch and had to move from our private studio building into the very heart of our publisher where our team of 27 people more then trippled in size. This was due to the fact that we did a great job on the expansion pack from both the sales side and word-of-mouth/reviews. Now it seems that we are forever pigeon holed into this WW2, FPS genre and are basically a video game factory, pumping out the same thing with a different story, title after title. I share your frustration on the subject of poor compensation in terms of royalties for the content that we, the developers, create. Just to see the publisher fill their pockets with our well disserved money from our crunch-time soaked piece of art. On this title, we have been in full crunch for over 7 months now. And I am so fed up as I helplessly watch a one time, very talented and moderately independent, external developer get more and more corporate by the week. I hate seeing new guys who are brimming with talent and superb ideas come into this company only to be broken and so quickly turned off by this now ridiculously unfair and unjust industry.


ESR on Death
Eric Raymond (or perhaps I should like to this writes:



    I read your rant on the creative collapse of the games industry with
    great interest. There are enough parallels with past degenerative
    trends in software development (remember the "software crisis" flap
    of the early 1990s?) to make parts of your essay read like an echo
    of history that I lived through and struggled with.

    It looks like you have reached the place that Richard Stallman and I
    and a few others among the most forward-looking software developers
    got to in the mid-1980s, when it became evident that our only escape
    from creative death was to try to take back control of our art from
    the suits. (Credit to Richard: He understood this sooner and more
    clearly than I did.)

    The good news for you is that we *won* our fight; the open-source
    movement and some related ideas like agile programming revitalized
    software development. The hard part of the struggle with proprietary
    software is behind us -- we've enlisted a critical mass of big players
    like IBM to our side, we've captured Wall Street and the movie
    industry. The State of Massachusetts just banned proprietary document
    formats, and so many national governments have written open-source
    procurement requirements that new converts aren't news any more.
    Vendors like Microsoft are increasingly on the defensive.

    If our experience is indicative, you have a hard road ahead of you but
    you *can* prevail. Some big caveats, though:

    (1) The technological preconditions have to be right. It took about
    eight years after I first began to grok the problem (that is, not before
    1993-1994) for Internet access and computing power to become cheap
    enough to sustain open-source development on today's large scale.
    Your bottleneck is different from ours, not so much ability to build
    and test as ability to market, so your critical enabling technology will
    be different. Maybe blog networks like Pajamas Media are part of your
    answer; I don't know.

    (2) You have to find a business model that scales. For open source it
    was service contracts, the trusted-provider role, and patronage by
    large users. Those are not going to work for a product with as short a
    shelf-life as a game. Perhaps some variant of Street Performer
    Protocol
    will serve your needs?

    (3) Somehow, you need to find a way to make the financial mass of the
    incumbent players irrelevant. We did that by assembling a developer
    network of *volunteers* orders of magnitude larger than they could
    afford to hire. But I don't know if the bazaar effect can be applied
    to game design.

    I think you can count the open-source community as allies and
    sympathizers. Many of us are, like me, long-time gamers ourselves.



Well, a variant of the Street Performer Protocol is being used by some for tabletop RPG projects--and Decision Games has been using a "pledge" program for some years whereby they solicit pre-orders for game ideas and don't embark on development until some level is reached. (Decision is a tabletop wargame publisher.) Of course, budgets for paper games are hugely lower than for even low-end digital ones; whether the model can scale to digital games is an open question, I think. But an interesting idea.


Saturday, September 03, 2005
Goodbye, Cyan
See here.

Guess even Rand Miller isn't immune.

Thanks to Eleri Hamilton for the heads-up.


Greg, You Ignorant Slut
Jeremy Townsend writes:


    First off let me say that I grew up playing Toon and the most excellent Paranoia. I just read your article on the Escapist webzine and I have to say I disliked it about as much as I liked playing Paranoia. I'll also say that I agree, the Games Industry sucks, but for entirely different reasons than those you gave.

    The standard complaints of higher costs are the same as they were during the jump to 3D back when the PS1 was around. Gaming consumers demand that high end commercial games be far more complex than ever before. Using your Doom 3 example, sure the core gameplay hasn’t changed much, but try playing that game in the dark for 30 min with the sound up and tell me the experience hasn’t been drastically enhanced since the original.

    I take issue with your indie analogy as well. I would argue that there are more venues available to indies than ever before. Mobile and web-based games offer great opportunities to small developers. I can make a Flash game in a week that would have taken a team many months to create just 10 years ago.

    You cite a lack of quality and innovation among retail games and I say you are dead wrong. Look at Resident Evil 4 and God of War, look at Windwaker and Mario Sunshine. Barring personal preferences of 2D vs. 3D, these games are hands down more satisfying than older games of those genres ever were. Animal Crossing is not innovative? Let me use the mic on my DS and ask my Nintendog if she is just a rehash of an older game. Let me ask my squad leaders in Battlefield 2 via VoIP how they feel about that while I order a covert assault on the left flank and call down artillery strikes on our opponents. As to your Bing bashing, tell me the success of the Sims did not take Will Wright by surprise. Tell me Burnout 3 has the same basic gameplay of Pole Position.

    I was aghast when I read your quip about EA raising the development bar and how it is a bad thing. Superior product is a bad thing? Franchise establishment is a bad thing? How does this follow since the most successful games, those that spawn franchises, tend to be of high quality? Did Paranoia suffer from the expansion modules and rules revisions? How do big game budgets hurt developers when most of a game budget goes towards employing them?

    I suppose as a game designer I just don’t care about working under a license. If you can design really cool game mechanics who cares what skins you wrap it in? Is it really such a crutch to have a movie tie in or some other flavor to help get your game into people’s hands? One day I hope to be a winning designer of a franchise based on original IP, but franchise design != game design.

    It amazes me how many designers say they have really cool original designs that would be a smash success if only it were marketed right. Total BS. Most original game ideas suck, straight up, and are totally un-marketable. Take Freedom Force 2: great game, but I’m sorry, generic super hero game #25 is dead in the water before it even hits the shelves. Many American designers wouldn’t know innovation if it slapped them in the face, and very few American developers could actually afford to develop true innovation.

    Poor Warren Spector, his last few games sold like ass so no one will give him 10 million to blow on the next brilliant flop. Is it really the fault of the business model or the inherent lack of marketability in the slow motion gameplay of Thief and the extremely specialized target audience of FPS/RPG Sci-fi conspiracy shooters?

    Lastly, creators only deserve to own their own work if they funded it themselves, and that simply isn’t realistic for large scale commercial games. If you want to own it, make it small. If you need 10 million to be innovative and you don’t have the track record of being innovative, you’ll just have to find the money yourself or give up the rights.

    OK I’m done dissecting your rant, so I’ll tell you what really sucks about the industry: it is insanely incestuous. Most companies are poorly managed, have terrible process, and even worse designers. Not only do they exclusively hire people who have been proven to create crap, they employ them for 3 years at a time to make more crappy rehashes. So yeah EA churns out games with small improvements each year but you know what? From a business perspective 3 games is much better than one and by the 3rd iteration the game is 10x better than another game some poor developers spent 3 years making.

    So I’ve been working my ass off to get in this industry for the last 9 years. I’ve been cultivating my design skills from the start, learning 3D arts, and even attending one of the top 10 universities to get my degree in Computer Science. I’m the proverbial artist-programmer you might have been hearing about. I can design circles around industry veterans and beyond that I could implement every detail of my designs myself if I had to. Guess how many of these noble small-medium companies offered me game design jobs? Zero.

    Guess which company offered me a job as a next-generation game designer on an extremely high budget game? Guess which company I am designing innovative gameplay for? Yep, that most hated nemesis, gobbler of companies and freedom, EA. I never even considered a job with EA while searching, but then I looked past all the fanboy hate, the mega-corp flames, and the threats of 2000 hour work weeks. EA has actually been making quality, feature-innovative games lately, and the quality of life at my current studio is way better than at any other company I interviewed with.

    My apologies for the epic length of this note and the hostile tone. I have tremendous respect for you as a designer, but I just can’t let your article go unchallenged. You are right, the old game industry ways are doomed, but I say: good riddance.


1. Yep, we've been complaining about higher costs and the pressure they place on developers for years now. But the complaints aren't wrong; the fact that they're long-standing perhaps indicates that there really is a problem, yes?

2. Did you really enjoy playing Doom 3? Can't say I did. Same old same old. And you can't see a damn thing when it gets dark. Dumb game design, IMO. The original Doom was a revelation, though.

3. Yes, the tools for quick game creation have gotten better. And yes, it's nice that there's a market for casual downloadable games--you can't really sell this stuff at retail any more, and it's cool that people have figured out how to sell games to a market that didn't buy them before. On the other hand, that market has quickly gotten stereotyped, as well: awfully hard to sell anything that isn't a pick-three puzzle game. Though kudos to Play First for trying. But if we're looking to that market as an outlet for creativity, it's not going to work.

4. Increasing budgets != superior quality. And franchises are not necessarily bad things in themselves--but they're a trap, too. E.g., I very much wish Frank Herbert had written at least one decent original novel in his later life, instead of yet another installment in Dollars of Dune. And anyway, there's a limit to how long you can mine the past... Is anyone actually looking forward to another Tomb Raider title>?

You're right, though, that it often takes two or three tries to really nail a good idea down. Of course part of the reason for that is the nature of the current development process; unless you're Blizzard, you are not given the time and freedom to test and refine adequately. With a $10m budget or such, of course you aren't; the publishers want you to ship, now.

5. "Poor Warren Spector, his last few games sold like ass so no one will give him 10 million to blow on the next brilliant flop." Yes, the Deux Ex sequel sucked--I wasn't in on the meetings with Eidos so I can't really say why. But the first one was pretty decent. And in general, Warren hasn't specialized in big budget, big expectation titles; most of his ouevre consists of games with relatively modest budgets by the standards of the day, and almost all have earned out. I doubt he wants $10 mil for his next title. He's also one of the few producers in the industry who actually know how to manage a project--do remember that when the rest of Ion Storm was blowing huge amounts of money on dreadful crap, his studio was the only one to pull out a winner.

6. I'm glad you're enjoying your time at EA :). And I hope some day you'll take the skills, experience, and contacts you gain there, and strike off on your own to do something cool.


Dukes of Hazzard
Steven Wartofsky writes:


    Hey, Greg, did you have to pick on ME?! Sigh.... yes, I did a Dukes of Hazzard Playstation game. Yes, it was mediocre. Yes, it sold phenomenally in spite of that. Mea culpa. There's a MUCH larger tale to tell beyond the easy surface pickings of those facts, though, if anyone ever wants to have a beer with me over it.


    BTW it wasn't a "crap" license -- there's a real audience out there for Dukes of Hazzard stuff, and even Gran Turismo had "the General Lee" as an attractor car (and Dodge Chargers are featured in games like Midnight Club 3: DUB edition and the like). While we lived near/in the South, in NC, and I traveled around with my family for outings and brief vacations, you'd be astonished how many high schools down there still have teenagers with hopped-up orange Chargers parked near the school on a sunny day.


    Oh well, pet peeve o' mine. Hi, Greg. (wave/smile)


If it sold, it sold, I guess. And doubtless my attitude results from the fact that I'm an effete New Yorker, even if neither gay nor Jewish. It was a moronic TV show, an idiotic movie, and personally I'd rather do a game promoting intelligent design or New Age mysticism or international communism (I'm purposely trying to suggest ideas that it would actively nauseate me to work on). But well, chacun a son gout


Friday, September 02, 2005
Walter James Au's comments
James Au is one of my favorite game journalists, the author of a slew of articles for Salon, and currently, among other things, "embedded" in Second Life as a chronicler of the goings-on therein. He writes:


    I'm gratified to see your GDC rant is getting wider play in The Escapist,
    and seeing it there gave me an idea-- would you be interested in seeing
    one of the games you own (on any platform) created and self-published in
    SL? Since you visited Second Life, there's been some pretty amazing game
    developers getting involved with creating in-world games, some of whom are
    making real money off their sales (since they retain the IP rights to
    'em.) I got Doug Church to come in and judge the latest game developer
    contest we run, and him and Robin were pretty blown away:


    http://secondlife.com/developers/contest2005.php


    If you're piqued, I can introduce you to established Resident builders,
    and try to match you up with folks who want to work on translating one of
    your games into SL. (You guys can work out how to profit share/etc, if
    you want to sell it.) My personal interest in this (other than seeing
    more cool games in SL) would be a series of stories for my blog, "Can
    Costikyan Burn Down the Game Industry from Second Life?" or something like
    that.


Short answer is Nope: SL's scripting language is close enough to a real programming language that, if I were motivated to develop an indie game at this point, I'd do it in Java or Blitz Basic or even good ol' reliable C++, and not limit myself to SL's somewhat limited subscriber base. But yes, some of the games at the URL you link to look pretty cool, and I'm intrigued that people are doing this.

And as far as I know, I still have a valid SL account, although I'd have to hunt to find the userID and password...


Comments on Escapist Article
The Escapist has no forum for comments. This strikes me as particularly odd, given that Themis, which runs it, also runs the Warcry Network of community sites, and is an expert in community management. There are interesting comment threads at Slashdot and HardOCP, but I thought I'd post and respond to some comments I've gotten in email.

Jasper Whannell writes:


    I just wanted to say that I just finished reading your article and it was very powerful and spoke volumes to me. I'm not necessarily the target of all of the speech, seeing as I'm more of the gamer rather than the creator, but I've born witness to the decline of quality in games over the last several years. I wanted to say I think there may be one exception, and it may end up being the future of games at this point, and that is hand-held gaming system, mostly the Nintendo ones. They're limited in capacity for art by having much smaller amounts of disk space, so you don't need nearly the art investment... and the games are largely going to have to be FUN over graphics, or people simply won’t buy them. Some of the games I've enjoyed the most over the last couple of years have been gameboy games, and I think that their popularity is anything but waning. The next generation of consoles will be so powerful that it's not hard to imagine an era of no video games but first party titles and EA games. Of course creativity will be stifled as you mentioned, and the variety will only get less. Here's hoping that games can continue to be FUN and not have to worry so much about graphics!

    p.s. try out "Etherlords II", unfortunately located in a bargain bin near you, one of the most fun PC games I've played in ages. Who would have thought a RTS card battle game wouldn’t sell well???



Yes, budgets for handheld titles are lower... Yet while there are some great handheld titles (Advance Wars, anyone?), the reality is that this market is even more license-driven than the home console market. I think that may change a bit; licenses have been so important because the demographic skews considerably younger than the home console market (GB has always been seen as a boy toy), and both PSP and DS are being marketted to an older demographic. Which may mean more sophisticated titles.

And certainly DS is the most innovative piece of hardware we've seen for some years, and with Nintendogs and Electroplankton, Nintendo is certainly trying to foster innovation. This kind of hardware innovation is a problem, in a way, however--let's assume that Revolution, say, really is quite different in terms of player controls and other features from Xbox 360 and PS 3. Given the budgets for console titles, publishers want cross-platform titles in order to maximize potential unit sales; if Revolution is quite different, porting a 360 or PS 3 game to it will be costly and perhaps impossible in some cases. And porting from Revolution to others may simply be impossible, if you really take advantage of Revolution's uniqueness. Thus, the temptation will be simply to drop Revolution support, meaning Nintendo may have a hard time getting third parties to support it, and we'll be left with Nintendo in-house product. Which will diminish players' eagerness to buy Revolution.

You see some of that happening with DS already--games that use the mike, the dual screen, or the touch-pad extensively aren't going to work on PSP (or GameBoy or N-Gage or Gizmondo), and so a lot of publishers have given a pass on DS development.

More comments as I get their authors' permission to post...



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