Games * Design * Art * Culture

Tuesday, December 19, 2006
Game Developers Change Light Bulbs
Q: How many game designers does it take to change a light bulb?
A: No, no. Players change light bulbs. We just create incentives for them to do so.

Q: How many producers does it take to change a light bulb?
A: Changing the light bulb isn't critical path, so don't expect it before beta.

Q: How many programmers does it take to change a light bulb?
A: That code hasn't been checked in yet.

Q: How many art directors does it take to change a light bulb?
A: Does it have to be a light bulb?

Q: How many artists does it take to change a light bulb?
A: Three. One to model the light bulb, one to texture-map the light bulb, and one to animate the light bulb.

Q: How many Q/A people does it take to change a light bulb?
A: Content issue/Non-critical. In the previous joke, this was artists. Is that a problem?

Thursday, December 14, 2006
Two Cheers for Geometry Wars. Certainly not Three
Gamepro, which as far as I can tell HAS NO SYSTEM FOR PEOPLE TO COMMENT on their inane maudlings, says:

"...the poster child for XBLA originals is Bizarre Creations' Geometry Wars: Retro Evolved. Released with the launch of Xbox 360, Geometry Wars showed a skeptical world just how cool original yet classically styled downloadable games could be. It plays like a crazed combination of all-time classics Asteroids and Robotron: 2084, with your lone, triangular spaceship pitted against literally endless hordes of nasty geometric shapes.... The level of onscreen carnage is legendary; never has a game had more spectacular or over-the-top particle effects, showing that even simple games can be flashy"

LOOK. I love Geometry Wars. It thrills me to the bottom of my soul and makes me want to dance for joy that so old-school, so retro, so simple, so cool a game has become the commercial success it has. Go Geometry Wars, go. We need more like you, we need to reawaken the bun-counting morons who decide what gets published today that there's more to gaming than franchise extensions and licensed crap.

And YET.



"never has a game had more spectacular or over-the-top particle effects"

Oh god.

These people are... I was about to say "morons", but that would be uncharitable. Let us say insufficiently knowledgeable.

Jeff Minter

ABA Games

for that matter, Endless Fire

...I could go on.

But what's the point, really?

The shmup has a long-standing, superb, and lovely history of development and extension in the largely non-commercial market; I've linked to one such, but I don't imagine I'm even marginally knowledgeable about the dojin Japanese audience for shmups, and there's a Western tradition as well, as Minter (and nullpointer) demonstrate.

The miracle of Geometry Wars isn't that these guys innovated; the miracle is that this old-school genre actually worked on Arena, that it was possible to find a market for a type of game that others had pioneered and polished. And lets give credit where credit is due, fellas; that innovation occured on open platforms. XNA, my ass.

Step out of your blinkered console-dweeb mindset, understand that a game you like has antecedents, and don't ascribe to ab novo innovation what is clearly due to ut sequlae imititation of older, and in many cases superior, forms.

And for what it's worth: Our shmups.

Monday, December 11, 2006
Promoting with Viral Games
So the folks at the Themis Group have implemented a little Flash game called Death Star Designer, as a promotion for Ubi's Star Wars: Lethal Alliance. I like the basic concept (who doesn't want to build the galaxy's most powerful battle station?); the basic implementation, though is "spreadsheet + leaderboard." You've got a trillion credits to spend (flashback to GDW's old Trillion Credit Squadron, and I'm sure that's intentional--Alex Macris, Themis's CEO, is an old tabletop gamer). After you spend them, you 'submit' your plans and get a report on flaws in the design. In a sense, it's no win; even if you plan optimally, there are always going to flaws (I'm sorry, Lord Vader, but a trillion credits isn't enough...acck... choke). But your design is scored, and you can see how it stacks up against other designs.

Richard Garfield once said that you could design a compelling game just by tacking a leaderboard onto 'rock-paper-scissors,' and I suspect he's right.

Meanwhile, today's Times has an article on a new "big urban" game based on the Sopranos, developed by Area/Code Games. Area/Code previously designed ConQwest, a similar game to promote mobile services from Qwest. Area/Code is a venture founded by ad exec Kevin Slavin and Frank Lantz, who previously designed games for R/GA Interactive, GameLab, and others. The basic design looks similar to ConQwest, in that it's essentially a mobile treasure hunt; you find things related to the game that have semacodes (2D bar codes) on them, take a pic with your cameraphone, and upload it to the game's server to prove that you were there.

When we talk about 'advergaming,' we normally mean little Flash games to drive traffic on a sponsor's site, but maybe these two are part of a different trend--one that tries to promote a product or service by creating a game that is itself potentially viral and newsworthy. (ARGs, at least the commercial ones, are another example of course.)

In general, I tend to have a skeptical view of the role of advertising dollars in anything--advertising depends on mass, which means catering to the lowest common denominator, hence the wasteland that is broadcast TV. But then, two of the most interesting and innovative game styles to appear in recent years--ARGs and "big urban" games--are inherently advertising supported, and we can at least hope that other novel game forms will emerge from the admixture of viral games and advertising dollars.

Life Imitates Art?
Given my last post, I found this ruefully amusing:

Improprieties Found in Take-Two Stock Options: After conducting an internal investigation into its stock options practices, publisher Take-Two has found improprieties related to stock-option grants, documentation and accounting...

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