El Laberinto Del Fauno

I just watched the movie El Laberinto Del Fauno (Pan’s Labyrinth), by fantasy film master Guillermo Del Toro. What a wonderful movie! It is a dramatic and at times gruesome fairytale set in the aftermath of the Spanish Civil War, with stunning visuals and a gripping story. One of the best films of this year, which sadly won’t get enough worldwide attention due to it being recorded in spanish.

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I just bought Doom on the 360 Live Arcade Marketplace… Ahh the memories! As a port it’s quite cheaply done, doesn’t even properly support 16:9 screens, and they certainly haven’t touched any gameplay, graphics or features. But the old magic is there: maze-y levels, secrets with disguised hints, cheap scares, and LOTS of baddies to rip apart! Raw, unadulterated gameplay, without catering to mundane things such as "story", "realism" or "coherence". 🙂 All that would soon change with Lucasarts’ Dark Forces, and a few years later Half-Life would complete the evolution of the FPS genre.

Since most of us back then played with keyboard (I only knew two mouse users), the analogue controller proves quite natural. I still hate the digital pad, most of the times when I open the map I also accidentally switch weapons! I was surprised to see Mike Abrash credited, I thought he had joined Id Software for Quake, not Doom. It is also interesting to see how times have changed: the original game gave away the complete first episode, whereas the 360 Arcade demo only offers the first level.

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Online Distribution and DRM

Scott Miller used to praise online distribution of games, and Triton as the future king of the hill. I guess he was a bit hasty: Triton has apparently shut down operations, and left Prey (and their other games) buyers out in the cold.

This highlights the biggest issue with Digital Rights Management, online distribution, and the concept of consumers having to buy not only the goods, but the right to use them: to what extent should the law bend to protect the sellers, rather than the buyers? When people wondered aloud about their ability to play Half-Life 2 in the future, if Valve and Steam ever went tits up, the reply was "that wouldn’t happen, and if it did, they would prepare a solution in advance." Well, if you want to delude yourself into thinking that Valve can never disappear, let’s see how that works out for companies that are not as rock solid.

For now, like it or not, illegal copies of Prey are a safer way to play the game than a number of legally purchased copies. As someone else put it: "when you make common behaviour illegal, you turn common customers into criminals." Should companies be required to provide guarantees if they want to sell a service or a license, rather than a finished product?

Interesting times.

Edit: 3D Realms has announced that they will mail boxed copies of the game to everyone who bought the game through Triton. A good conclusion to this particular episode, but the questions still stand.

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Software development, Agile and Google

Via Joel, I ran into this excellent article and discussion: "Good Agile, Bad Agile." It’s long and detailed, but very humorous and energic. It attacks the "official" approach to Agile Development and Extreme Programming, and then moves on to discuss how Google’s process is vastly superior to anything else.

Obviously, what works for Google may not necessarily work for other companies, other products, and other markets. What company could afford to run a beta for over two years, and not be laughed at? How many companies can pretty much create a new market, and define the rules by which it works? What companies have had the chance to build up from large amounts of purely speculative investment? And, more importantly, it is unclear how sustainable the whole Google business and development models are in the long term.

A few quotes if you still haven’t jumped to read the article itself:

"that’s how both Extreme Programming and Scientology were born."

"The basic idea behind project management is that you drive a project to completion. It’s an overt process, a shepherding: by dint of leadership, and organization, and sheer force of will, you cause something to happen that wouldn’t otherwise have happened on its own."

"Traditional software development can safely be called Date-Oriented Programming."

"Google isn’t foolish enough or presumptuous enough to claim to know how long stuff should take."

"With nothing more than a work queue (a priority queue, of course), you immediately attain most of the supposedly magical benefits of Agile Methodologies."

It’s now up to you to read the whole thing and judge for yourself. All I can say is that I tend to run game projects in a way that shifts from the plain old waterfall approach of strictly separate stages, into a spiral model where results and future steps are fed back into the process, and ending with… yeah, a reasonably prioritised queue of tasks that need to be completed. However, I take to heart the Agile mantra of "always have something that works." Or, if not always, then at least "make sure you know when, and why, you don’t have something that works."

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Wii bits

Ars Technica ran an article entitled "How the Wii was born." Nothing earth-shattering, but it’s a nice read with a bit more details about the design decisions and philosophy behind the hardware.

Kim Pallister also offers some doubts about the Wii pricepoints and launch strategy. I can’t entirely agree with the specifics, but I do with the overall idea that perhaps a bit more agressive pricing might help a lot. We’ll see in a few months.

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