More confusion

So, Scott Miller thinks Valve is not a good route to follow, with quotes like "I’m not a big fan of using Steam, because I’m not a fan of a strong competitor of ours having access to our download stats and revenue totals." or "if Valve doesn’t do well for a game or two, Steam will get cut before their internal game development". Then, the same day, Prey gets released on Steam. At full price, when the boxed game is already selling 50% off in stores.

Microsoft releases a new 360 update with "Improved support for HD video output over VGA, including 1080p resolution", but many gamers all over the place report that after the update, their VGA screens no longer work. Some reports also talk about the console failing to work again after the patch, something which already happened with the previous patch.

Speaking of Microsoft, two days ago they also announced that "the credit card associated with your [XBox Live] account is required to match the billing address and country your account is set up in." Two small details: 360 owners are known to move to other countries, but there is currently no way to change the country you selected when you created the account. Or you might live in countries not listed in XBox Live account’s country list (Iceland, Israel, Colombia…), and therefore have to select some other random country instead. I’d like to believe this change is limited to buying video content, but apparently it affects any operations on your account’s credit card, including Gold subscriptions and buying games in the Marketplace.

Some days I feel like I don’t understand things anymore.

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Gears of War

I finally had a few hours to sit down and play the game through to the end. It is very good, probably the shooter I’ve enjoyed the most since the original Halo. The technology is brilliant, the levels and firefights are very well designed, and the production is fantastic. It’s a lot of fun to play, and brings a fresh approach to the genre. It takes a while getting used to the controls, movement and cover-based fighting, but the first Act does a good job of teaching you all of that without being too easy.

I’m looking forward to replay it on Hardcore difficulty. I also tried cooperative mode for a bit, and it is a blast, the game is really thought with this in mind. I hope that cooperative becomes a must-have feature in this kind of games from now on.

There are some complaints, like the lack of variety in color palettes, a very short single player campaign, or the randomness of the end fights in Acts 4 & 5. But the game as a whole is memorable. If you like action and shooter games, you can’t afford to miss this one.

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The Next Gen

Gears of War is really good. The PS3 has launched, even if with very limited units and a number of problems. The Wii is out in force. It’s going to be hard to not spend a LOT of money this xmas. 🙂

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Some people have emailed me to ask if "what they have heard" is true. Yes, it is: this Christmas I will be leaving Pyro Studios. Unlike other veterans, I’m staying in the games industry; I have already accepted a job offer outside of Spain, which means I will be doing a lot of packing in a couple months.

Leaving the company at which I have worked hard for the past eight years was a hard decision, but in hindsight it was inevitable. I wish them the best of lucks in what they’re trying to achieve. No matter where I am, a part of me will always be rooting for their success in particular, and the consolidation of a viable Spanish games development industry in general.

In unrelated news:

– I’ve added a link to Baktery’s new web comic Anthony & l33t.

– In Wired you can find an interview with Orson Scott Card about his new multi-format project "Empire". As hard as I find to stomach some of his political views, he’s a brilliant storyteller, and he knows a lot about videogames.

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When things don’t go as planned

I just came back from having dinner with Enric Alvarez, the CEO of Mercury Steam and currently hard at work on Clive Barker’s Jericho. We shared a roundtable a couple weeks ago in Art Futura, but didn’t have much time to talk there. Great food and even better conversation. Although it’s not been easy for such a small studio, they seem to be doing a great job transitioning into the fabled next-gen.

So before heading to bed I drop by The Escapist, and see the following stream of news:

"Valve has revealed that Episode Two and the included Team Fortress 2 and Portal games have been delayed from February to Summer, 2007."

"Gears of War Has ‘Zero Innovation’ According to EA Executive."

"EA has announced that the PS3 version of NBA Live 07 has been cancelled. Oblivion has officially slipped to next year and Sonic the Hedgehog has also been delayed."

"When asked by the Uk’s official PlayStation magazine about the European PS3 launch scheduled for March, [Phil] Harrison shied away from making any promises."

"PS3 Online Misses the Boat."

The games industry is a strange place. 🙂

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XNA Games Studio Express

I sat down today to check out what’s inside XNA Games Studio, the platform which Microsoft touts as the future of bedroom games coding (well, sort of). It’s still in beta 2, and it doesn’t support XBox 360 executables yet, but it works fairly well. I ported my old C# game experiment without much pain, and you can check the results here. Don’t expect a lot of polish in the code or the actual game: the platform is still beta after all, so I didn’t want to spend more than a few hours with it. You will need Visual C# Express and the XNA Game Studio Express in order to compile and run it.

The subscription model they are going to use for XBox 360 XNA development is likely to put many people off. There’s plenty of bedroom game development communities going on already, so I’m not sure this XNA thing will become a big success, but we will see how far Microsoft wants to go with it.

Here are some links to XNA sites:

Edit: There’s a video montage showing a few homebrew games and then some material by Torque and the XNA demo teams.

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After waking up somewhat early, I sat down and tried Defcon by "the last of the bedroom coders" Introversion Software. The game’s premise and visuals are fascinating: an RTS about global thermonuclear warfare, with a graphical style borrowed from tactical displays (as seen in movies like the inspirational Wargames).

After a simple and clear tutorial, you can start freeform games in a multiplayer-oriented fashion. There are no campaign or missions, but you can make games versus AI. A timer pushes through 5 distinct defcon phases which represent unit deployment, movement, initial engagements and finally full-scale nuclear launches against cities and military targets. The game’s speed can be increased in a very intuitive manner to push through periods of non-activity. Final scores are determined by civilian casualties, since it is pretty much impossible to completely eliminate an enemy.

The learning curve is steep because of the game’s truly strategic nature: deployment decisions in the beginning can severely affect the final outcome. This will likely put off many people wanting a more direct and "twitchy" experience, but the more patient strategy fans should love the need to consider ranges, timing, intel, and the need to balance military / civilian targets and offense / defense forces.

With such a limited set of units and features, Introversion has done an excellent job creating a deep game where every decision counts.

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