game industry

All posts tagged game industry

Tony Hawk 9: Proving Grounds for the PS2 has passed first submission! Hooray! Yeah yeah Halo 3 blah blah… Meanwhiles, I've been moved onto the next unannounced project, and was brought on full-time. Finally, I get a chance to be in game design from pre-production, and there's a heck of a lot of work to be wrassled.

While I did get a small breather, I realize that game designers are essentially busiest at the beginning and the end of the development cycle. First to make the stack of rules and concepts that will be made… then later on to corral the shards leftover by artists and engineers into a seemly, playable, lump of broken dreams. I'm just kidding, but you get the idea. In fact, it's extremely exciting to wrangle ideas to appeal both to our client, who's given us their IP, their baby, and our internal machinations for such games as go-for-broke developers. Learning exec speak, crafting proposals that we won't hate ourselves for later, "prototyping" UI ideas, and just trying to capture the essence of an IP I don't fully understand, these are the challenges I'm learning from everyday.

Meanwhiles in the rest of the world, you've probably seen the froth in the stock market when the Fed announced an interest rate cut of half a point. I was careful to avoid trying to jump in recklessly when I saw how that day rose on such weak volume, and since the rally it seems like the traders have lost much steam. Chances are, we'll see another rate cut by the end of the year. Helicopter Ben's strategy will be to pre-empt recessionary talk with offensive injections of liquidity. Stock markets will rally until the weight of a collapsing housing market pulls it down. I will try to profit from it all.

As Tokyo Game Show raged into the land of the rising yen, I tried to skim off of the abundant Dualshock 3's rumble rumors by buying Immersion Corp. (NYSE:IMMR) stock. It didn't pan out. I got in and got out with a 4% gain, never looked back. These kinds of speculative plays, while fun, are dangerous even for people who think they know everything in their own industry. Caveat investor.

There was a time I greatly respected Silicon Knights. Once upon a time they were a brave developer putting out the likes of the nuanced surival horror game Eternal Darkness, and the honest remake Metal Gear Solid: The Twin Snakes. And of course they made video game vampires cool with Blood Omen.

Then they drifted aimlessly on the aptly named title Too Human, unable to finish, only to blame the game engine the way a shitty gamer blames his controller. Silicon Knights is now suing Epic for lack of 360 support on Too Human. But get this, the part that really makes me laugh is that they are claiming Epic sabotaged their support to put their resources into Gears of War.

Waaah.

First, if the lawsuit is successful, a huge precedent will be set that will essentially damn future engine developers for things not within their control. The specific issue was that Epic hadn't gotten UT3 ready for the 360, which was because they got their own dev stuff late. So poor customer service due to the realities of console development is now sue-able. Well christ, let's start suing Microsoft and Sony for making things too next-gen, I mean it's breakin' our balls right?

Second… sabotage? Oh I see, because Epic has absolutely nothing to gain if Too Human had been released with amazing UT3 driven graphics. Or I know, Too Human having twice the development time as Gears of War means it's twice as important, right? This is going to be the most difficult thing to prove in court, as there is a fine line between an Epic Games sabotage, and just imcompetent support.

In the end, there's just a couple words that throw water onto Silicon Knights' disguise, melting the witches into the pool of bullshit from which they spawned. Bioshock. Stranglehold. Huxley. Mass Effect. Rainbow Six: Vegas. Fury. None are Epic games. According to Silicon Knights, they all want to sue Epic too, but so far they've been pretty mum. Guess all that praise from the press makes it hard to file frivolous lawsuits.

Let me summarize with just four words what the jury is going to say: shut the fuck up.


I finished up Bioshock and it was quite a tour-de-force in game narrative, and deserves the kind of critique usually reserved for film and literature, even from the most ardent anti-“game-as-art” critics (read: Ebert). So I gave it a shot. Here is my effort at deconstructing the meaning of Bioshock.

Read it, would you kindly?

MAJOR SPOILERS

Continue Reading

We are five days away from completing the PS2 and Wii versions of Tony Hawk's Proving Ground, and I've barely had time to breath. It will be my first real game title, that first important notch under the belt. I'm very proud of all the hard work our team has poured into the game, and yet there is still so much more to do.

It both amuses and distresses me to read players talking about these games before the release. There is so much laughable misinformation out there. At the same time, we're trying our darndest to fight down the limitations of the current systems, smash in designs meant for next-gen systems, and make the mess work. Possibly even make the mess fun. Because these forum kiddies are who our multi-million budgets are trying to impress.

Either way, I can say I have learned to appreciate how hard a "simple port" can be to develop. I will never underestimate it again. People like to ask, after a game comes out, what the developers were thinking. How about if they even are thinking? I know I'm not. With every waking hour taken up by work, more work, dreams of work, commute to work, commute from work, and more work, it's tough to take a step back and just play. The XBOX 360 Elite I just bought after the price drop is sitting in my living room right now without a game, its sad little drive light a monument to the cost of making rather than playing games.


So with what looks like a slow, struggling recovery, I may be wrong about the stock market's resilience. It wouldn't be the first time. To be honest, fancying myself a technical trader, I've never been very good at the buy-and-hold game. Accumulators probably had a ball with this dip. I took it as an oppotunity to accumulate high dividend stocks. I am no baller in this arena, and I will not play the rebound on a court I don't know. I'll remain cautious, and more importantly, I will not regret gains I might miss out on. That's my style, I'm stickin' to it.

After Nintendo's amazing financial statement came out, Sony follows up with equal aplomb… in the form of pompous bullshit. It's shocking that Sony CFO Kobuyuki Oneda said:

"Actually, because the number of units [of PS3] sold was not as high as we hoped, the loss was better than our original expectation,"

Ignoring the massive costs of R&D, support, and over-manufacturing, let's just think about the sheer illogicity of this spin. If I were the worlds ugliest hooker and had my legs spread on the street next to a bedpan with "five bucks a fuck" scratched into the rim, I'm less of a slut than the rest since no one would be taking me up on the offer.

Get real.

Meanwhile, I am trying very hard to find an Xbox 360 to buy, probably an elite. I've already pre-ordered Bioshock, and I'm just waiting to see if the system price drops on August 12th. This coming gaming season is going to be unmissable, and the raving reviews of the 300 HD-DVD makes my wallet suicidal.

We had a great movie summer this year, but after E3, it looks like we're going to have an even more amazing holiday season for games. Some the ones that really caught my eye:

Call of Duty 4
Echochrome
Mass Effect
Super Mario Galaxy
Boogie

Also amazing was the Wii Fit "game" that Nintendo introduced, causing me to seriously consider picking up more shares in their stock. Their ability to make disposable fads never ceases to amaze me. Or maybe I'm just so shaken by the prospect of Metroid Prime 3, Smash Bros. (this year!!!), and Zelda: Phantom Hourglass. But even more amazing was EA's admission that "we are boring people to death." Games like Boogie and EA Playground are spreading the crepuscular rays of hope that the industry's great heartless game factory has a human pulse.

And although I keep swearing not to, I can not help but criticise Sony once again for it's utter disrespect for gamers. Hot on the heels of Microsoft's announcement of an awesome retroactive 3-yr warranty for the 360, Sony decided to drop their own bomb. Playstation 3, the 60gb version, is shedding $100 off its tag. Brilliant right?

And then Hirai tells us that that SKU of the PS3 is no longer in production. How disingenous can they get? If that kinda of bait-and-switch is what they think E3 is for (remember the original Killzone 2 trailer? See the latest in comparison), then they've truly lost their minds. And if they haven't, that would be even worse.

I finally got the call today that I've been waiting my whole post-kindergarten life for.

I remember the early days of that life tediously typing up QBASIC programs from my 3-2-1 Contact! subscription so that my hand formed around the anvil of game creation. I remember ostracization bouncing off my rebellious little hide as I spent my grade-school recesses drawing intricate Megaman levels on paper, and then taking a childhood friend through them with my dirty pencil, asking him what actions he'd want to perform, or killing him and taking his life, or granting him weapons and powers with a quick sketch. Then I'd scribble over enemies as he killed them, or flicked the graphite on paper to simulate random shots in our wild tank battles.

I programmed. I learned level editors. I learned Maya, animation, modeling, and all other forms of CG baggage. I wrote, promiscuously. After college, I was paid way too well to work on reknowned projects. I experienced big productions, met bigger talent, people who go on to win Oscars and start companies and pump out innovations. I was never happy.

Am I spoiled to say those opportunities were, to me, sacrifices? Am I a brat? When I spoke about my involvements, people would say "wow, that's awesome!" I tried very hard to agree. But in my mind, the whole time, my heart was still set on being a game designer. And it wasn't even because of my incredible love for games. Nor my idolization of the industry.

For a time, I wanted to be an inspiring schoolteacher… fancy that! But that wish belies my desire, my insatiable pleasure, in getting people to change their perspectives, and defend the underdogs. To challenge assumptions, smash stereotypes, twist prejudices. In education, you can do that. In game design, you can do that to anyone in the world, and done well, they'll enjoy it. Sometimes I feel typecast myself, and the momentum of being a constant contrarian overwhelms me. But there is no better platform for constructive skepticism than games.

It was genetically imprinted into me to spend my waking moments and sleepless nights deconstructing the games I play, and constructing the games I want to play. It's not ambition anymore, it's an extension. Sometimes I am fearful, especially when I play a game and can't see it anymore. I only see the code, the art being drawn from the reservoirs of memory to be displayed for my manipulation. I see statistics rumbling with calculations to keep me maximally addicted. How games are still fun for me is a question I'm afraid to tackle.

Today I got a call from Page 44 Studios, and will be starting as a junior game designer there after the wedding. I am ecstatic. I feel as if the sacrifices were vindicated, even as I feel ashamed for calling them sacrifices. But sometimes it's just not about money, fame, or success. It is about following your calling, or risking your sanity ignoring it. I can't wait to work harder than I've ever had, because Confucius reminds us that choosing a job you love means not having to work a day in your life.

So 300 was amazing. The story and dialogue was predictably trite, but the shots were absolutely stunning, especially the long fight sequence in the first battle. Xstine went nuts over the painterly aspect of several shots, the ones that gave an illusion of no perspective points. I loved the claustrophobic set, complete with static props and painted backdrops.

The cherry topping it all was the total lack of political correctness. Asia! These terrorists are from ASIA! Promise! The film vomits patriotism, and makes no excuse for the need of violence to resolve all problems. While the speeches get long in the tooth, it provided ample ampules of adrenaline. So caricatured and comic it was that I don't seen how there can be a hang-up. I'm just surprised as an liberal an industry as Hollywood even let it reach the public.

As if timed by Zeus himself, God of War 2 comes out this week. Today in fact. In fact I don't know why I'm writing this and not picking up my pre-order from the store. I even prepared myself for this release by playing Golden Axe for the first time in a decade. I'm still a badass with the dwarf. While the AI is terrible, the game is still somehow fun, thanks to the visceral and unashamed action. Kinda like 300.

One last thing to check out is this jaw-dropping but heart-warming new game from the creators of Rag-doll Kung Fu. Most surprisingly, it's coming out for the PS3, not the Wii. While Sony's hodge-podge embrace of card-carrying "indie" developers hasn't impressed me yet, this one looks far more substantial than a Flash in the cell like Flow. Keep this up, and I might actually want a PS3. Provided it plays well. User-created content spawns more paupers than princes, and I've grown out of sandbox-style games. They're usually nothing but ludologized technology, and technology grows wearisome. Hurrah for LittleBigPlanet.

If there is one sector I feel comfortable making predictions in, it would be the video game sector, although the majority of it is really just a cluster of a dozen or so companies that publish for a much broader cast behind the curtain. It excites me everytime that this mini-sector is covered by market blogs, and this article is no exception. I like to read about an industry dear to my heart from the perspective of those less intimate with it. What the article says about EA‘s development difficulties with the PS3 and idealogical difficulties with the Wii, while not surprising in themselves, reminded my of how I’ve forgotten that companies are companies. Even in the business of creativity and play, the corporate speak is nothing new to investors.

That comforts me.

The game industry, for some betters and many worsers, has grown up. It’s leaving its roots in the basement of hackers. It is being held to a multi-national standard, ethically and financially. It has, despite its loss of innocence, become recognized.

And I dearly hope that, like books, radio, comics, television, and film before it, it will endure through its current phase, the scapegoat of political campaigns and modern vices, and enter the annals of pleasant anachronism. Only there is it safe to continue to work its influence as the world whirls around another threat. There, it will build better men.

Right now, the old guard thinks it ruins them. What about the teenage gunman who turns out, contrary to preliminary reports, didn’t own a single game? Or what about when the stepmother of a boy recently apprehended for the sport-killing of a homeless man opens herself and her story to Penny Arcade, telling the world that “Video games DID NOT make this kid who he was, and it’s unfortunate that the correlation is there.” Her story is haunting, even moreso if unheard.

As the year of the Golden Pig arrives, I hope that the industry will have great fortune, making it (and me) rich. Feng Shui experts proclaim this also a year of Fire on top of Water, a year of great conflict and volatility. With game legislation in furor, and the industry cycle starting anew under the duress of the console war, this will no doubt be one of the deciding years on the fate of games and their status among other media.

Yeah, ok, I'm finally done with the subject. It just feels so good to have seen this from miles away. The indulgence in criticism, vulturey I call it, really should be man's eighth sin. I've always felt the critical (and commerical) success of a console has always been linked to its controller. From the Atari 2600's emancipating joystick, to the NES' revolutionary gamepad, to Sega Genesis' sleek but uncomfortable three-button pad, to the classic SNES, to the alienating N64, to the re-classic PS pad, to the Buick-sized XBox controller that was slimmed to a successful "Japanese"-style precursor to its latest bit of perfection, and so forth.

So it comes as no surprise, then, as the sell through rate of PS3s declines on the black market and at retailers, Sony brazenly claims their SIXAXIS controller, an engineering marvel they claimed at E3 to have no gimmicks, had won an Emmy. They gloried in the announcement. They squirmed like a teenager rolling in a vat of oiled Maxims, and prematurely immaculated their product. A day later, they recanted, saying they had jumped the gun. The Emmy was given not to their SIXAXIS, rumbleless from the Immersion spat, but to the PS One controller, in conjunction with Nintendo. Ouch! Holy wax-affixed feathers, Batman!

On the bright side, video game publisher stocks took flight today. Pity I got knocked out of my Activision stop, but it was a high stop and I'm happy with the trade. I've been watching Sony stock too (SNE) but it seems like there is too much weakness, despite breaking out of its channel. But news about poor sell-thru, which isn't really news to anyone who's gone to Best Buy recently, cast a big glaring sun, daring them to rise higher on their borrowed wings.