Word of mouth

Apparently, Hollywood is scared to death because they can’t make crap and get rich like they used to. Lynda Obst points at videogames and other distractions (your guess) as reasons why teenagers are not as interested in visiting the movie theater and digesting their latest piece of shit. Gasp! Could teenagers have suddenly become smarter? Surely not.

The secret that is about to kill the movie industry turns out to be word of mouth. Woah! The idea is that, with the very quick methods of communication available today, all the marketing power in the world can’t make a turd sell well beyond its opening night. If people think a movie is crap, they will tell friends in a matter of hours and the movie will instantly tank.

The conclusion: Movie studios are going to have to work hard at making good movies for people who want to pay to watch them, instead of cashing in on cheap thrills for kids. Hopefully she realizes (although it’s not clear) that a whole generation of adults in our 30’s now also prefer to play a good game rather than watch a bad movie.

Of course, game developers must not lose sight of the lesson, lest we make the same mistake. According to many, we are already in the same boat as far as the crap-O-meter is concerned.

The article is equally irritating, humorous and interesting. The story about how the Doom movie took a nosedive after opening night is particularly thrilling.

Posted in Uncategorized

The Inside Man

What a wonderful, entertaining and intelligent movie! I’ve never been a fan of Spike Lee, but with The Inside Man he manages to disguise as a "standard" cop movie what really is a diatribe about deception, racism and how everyone can be fooled by appearances and preconceptions. The movie has many characters, but with just a few lines of dialogue, they all communicate a lot about their personality, background and motivations.

A masterpiece of the rarest kind.

Posted in Uncategorized

That time of the year

Back home from work at 23:30 (that’s 11:30pm for you americans)… hm, yeah, it must be that time of the year. I’m not travelling to E3 this time, and I can’t say that I’m terribly sad about that. I mean, it’s always cool to get some hands-on experience with new stuff, and see old friends sweating behind closed doors in the epic fight against sensory overload. But the media coverage for E3 has grown so comprehensive, that I would expect to come back and the people here had seen things I hadn’t even heard of on the showfloor. This year Microsoft will kindly provide even more material via XBox Live! Doesn’t get more convenient than that.

For developers, during the weeks leading to E3, it always becomes tough to balance keeping your steady progress in the internals of gameplay, logic, optimizations, etc. with the need for including as much flashy, memorable and NOISY stuff, as well the appearance of polish wherever your project is still underdeveloped. But making the effort to work to those details is worth it if you have a reasonable plan that took the event into account. It’s never perfect, and the aftermath of wrapping up an E3 demo is usually filled with unwinding pieces of code and content that you hacked during the last days.

So, to any colleagues burning the midnight oil these days, best of luck and have a great show!

Posted in Uncategorized


So I sat down and spent a few more hours with the Oblivion on the 360, trying to enjoy it. And I’m almost there! Almost… but not quite! I realized that I was reliving the Everquest 2 experience (and Black & White before): a game that is interesting and has many things to do, but I end up not having fun doing them. A game where I like some bits of the graphics but never stop feeling like it’s all just cardboard cutouts. A game where every time I want to do something, I find some bureaucracy is required.

The world has day/night cycles and people go about their lives accordingly, but they often don’t fit into my private playing agenda, unless I force myself to follow those cycles too. It is initially impressive and immersive, but I always end up feeling immersed as an observer, as a spectator, as a participant, but not as a player.

Automatic level scaling means I can do things in whichever order I want, but also that I never become very powerful compared to how I was in the beginning. I’ll never be able to go back to a previously rough spot and just rip them apart for revenge. I’ll become a hero through my participation in the quest lines, not out of sheer power improvements. Level progression becomes a strange annoyance instead of one of the main indicators of advancement (indeed, a friend finished the main quest at level 2). They should have simply taken levels out of the game.

The interface is brilliant, but still fails to put in my hands the power of a very complex character sheet, with dozens of spells, scrolls and potions. With only 8 hotkeys for everything (4 of them very unreliable) and which can’t really be used while moving, I fight the interface more than I fight the creatures.

So… what kind of game is this, what’s the key to its success? Is it fun? Is it interesting? Is it impressive? Is it hype? If nothing else, it’s a huge world with many choices of things to do, and a bunch of predefined content lines to provide some guidance and goals.

Posted in Uncategorized

Kenta Cho speaks, you listen

Little Mathematics has recently interviewedKenta Cho. He knows how to make beautiful, engaging and unique games, he releases them for free including source code, and he does it all out of sheer love for the classic shooting genre.

And of course, he loves Geometry Wars on the 360. 🙂

Posted in Uncategorized

Emotion in games.. again!

Dana Massey writes an excellent article on The Escapist about the recurring topic of emotion in games. I had some comments about it:

In truth it’s a simple problem and Dana touches on it with great insight: most games rely on being a series of challenges that HAVE to be overcome. The attention of the player is forced into success or failure, where failure interrupts the narrative and emotional experience. In a way, it’s like having to pass a test after each chapter in a book. Would you be so immersed in the issues of the characters and situations if you always had that concern in the back of your head? "I’m sorry, you can’t experience Act II in Hamlet because you haven’t truly grasped all the implications of what happened in Act I." Your enjoyment and emotions would turn into an academic study of the play, which is why so many "forced readings" in teenage literary studies fail to transmit the beauty of the art (sometimes it works, and it’s an important part of general education, but I’m sure you’ll recognize the feeling).

Total Annihilation won’t be remembered as a pinnacle of emotion in games, but it’s interesting that Chris Taylor decided to experiment in that area: if you fail a mission, you can still move on to the next one. You don’t need to feel stuck, you don’t need to be anxious and concerned about your success, you can let go of your worries and just play the game as comfortably as you can. The missions themselves played in the standard manner, but I found it a really interesting and engaging concept.

Another experiment, this time self-imposed, was playing Unreal 2 in god mode. At some I had become so annoyed by the long load times, that I just went ahead and used the cheat. Woah! I still tried to outplay the enemies and puzzles, but the attitude change was astounding… I was experiencing the game rather than fighting against it. The game had no subtle emotions to transmit, but I’m damn sure I would have been much better prepared to experience them in this fashion.

Those two examples come from the leftfield because neither was aimed at improving the emotional or "higher art" elements in those games. As dynamics, they are also quite pure. Taclking the whole problem of what to do when you remove the requirement for success in the challenges is, as you say, a very compelx topic and one that easily brings production nightmares. That’s why I like to isolate aspects like those I described.

The classic emotions elicited by games are: fear, anxiety, frustration, surprise, attention, desire, and the usual range of sensory or thought overload. You are too busy for anything else to take place inside your head.

Games like ICO and Shadow of the Colossus have all of those, but they cue in other ideas like empathy, awe, mistery, concern and devotion. They do so probably more through what they don’t do: they don’t keep you necessarily busy and overloaded with activity; They don’t explain every little bit; they surround you by an environment and a pacing that oftentimes lets (encourages!) your mind roam free to ask "Where did all this come from? What happened here? Who was here before me? Why does this have to happen?" While you play, a part of your is left alone to think, wonder and create a unique internal experience which you can relate to, because you created it.

Another interesting read on emtion in Shadow Of The Colossus can be found here.

Posted in Uncategorized

Oh, the GDC stuff!

Guess I never got down to post my notes… actually, I haven’t written most of them yet! Ah well, it’s not like I promised anyone. 🙂 Keep checking the Archives page because they have added many new slides.

Halo 2 is a fantastic game. I only played it halfway through when it first came out, so I took the opportunity to replay it to the end. The story ended up confusing me with the twists and jumps, but the very fact that I was paying attention says a lot about how well presented it was.

Currently reading The Game Design Reader and Patterns in Game Design, both quite interesting.

Posted in Uncategorized

More 360 games!

Tomb Raider: Legend demo: Surprisingly good! I’ll play the full game after Easter, although I doubt I’ll finish it. I enjoyed the first Tomb Raider a lot but eventually grew bored with the puzzles, and never really played the rest. After the series went downhill, this one goes back to the roots. It seems to have more combat and physics-based puzzles, and might very well prove to be the best Tomb Raider. Plus it looks gorgeous.

Burnout: This is the racing game that has nearly destroyed my appreciation for "real" racing games. It looks brilliant, is instantly fun and playable, moves fast as a bullet, and just feels great. The menu interfaces have a lot of punch, but I somehow feel more comfortable with the ones in the PSP edition. It is incredibly rewarding, although some people may find it too shallow.

Ghost Recon: Advanced Warfighter: The heavyweight release on the 360. Visuals are quite detailed and have a lot of personality, although the city just doesn’t feel like Mexico; everything seems smaller than in the real world, and it’s all too static, lacking the presence of civilians in such a heavily populated city. Small debris, dust, leaves or paper trash thrown around by the wind, or even just rats and other critters, would go a long way towards making it less of a scenery and more of a real city where people used to live. Gameplay is solid and has a good amount of options for tactics, but it’s a bit too slow paced and repetitive. I soon found myself reverting to trial & error to locate enemies and solve situations, because staying under cover all the time while you detect every enemy on patrol (or just plain hidden and waiting to jump on you) became boring after the first mission.

Oblivion: While I can appreciate the amount and quality of the work that went into creating this huge game, I just can’t get interested in playing it. Another example where I just prefer more action-oriented gameplay, I suppose. I find the outdoors scenery visuals fantastic, but the rest of the graphics (character close-ups in particular) look quite fake in their not-real-but-not-cartoon style. Everyone is going nuts over this game, so if you are interested in it, then chances are it will fulfill all your expectations.

Games on the 360 are apparently making all predictions good. After the ok-ish first wave, there’s a solid and polished offering of sports, shooters and racing games. Each one is clearly more detailed and better looking than their current-gen equivalents.

The Live Arcade selection keeps growing steadily with nice little games for the more casual or oldschool player. However, I think the rigid Dashboard interface is soon going to become insufficient to handle all the content in a comfortable way.

All in all, the 360 right now is a great console for any gamer that is not strictly expecting something new and different.

Posted in Uncategorized


Noticed today in Gamasutra that there’s a Postmortem for Galactic Civilizations 2. The article is very interesting and the team should be proud of their accomplishments. They mention how the first game sold quite well but they failed to receive a good chunk of their royalties due to publisher Strategy First going bankrupt.

Then, in the news section of the same site, I see that Strategy First just acquired small studio Malfador Machinations. I’m sure there’s an explanation for things like this, but damned if I know it.

In another funny coincidence, nipples are (not) showing up everywhere!

Posted in Uncategorized