Friday, December 22, 2006

Happy Holidays

I don't expect to have much computer access over the next week or so, so I'll wish you all a Happy Holidays (am I PC or what?) and a wonderful New Year. I've really enjoyed this little blogging experiment of mine over the last three months and certainly plan to continue in 2007. I'll strive to find things worth writing about that will encourage those of you who visit regularily to continue.

Thanks in particular to David, Kim, Clint, Patrick and Steve for posting comments, linking from your sites and generally making me feel special. ;)

Tuesday, December 19, 2006

Tiny Subversions - Developer Blog

When I first started this blog my target audience was entrepreneurs, particularly those interested in '2.0' ideas, user-created content and community-powered web services in general.

In time though it has evolved to something much less precise. This blog is now just a brain dump of elements that interest me. Community and web services still appear from time to time, but I also write occasionally about the actual industry I work in (shocker!).

The great benefit of writing about games and game development is that I seem to attract the occasional developer to the site. Just a short while ago one such developer, Darius Kazemi dropped by and left a comment on my post from last week re: Bowmaster Prelude. Darius has a Blog called Tiny Subversions. A quick search through his site revealed Darius to be the author of "The Big Man On Campus: Effective Networking in the Game Industry" (link and link).

Is it okay for me to say that I'm impressed? I read and liked the article in the career guide (yes, even though I'm in the industry, I still like to read what others have to say about breaking into game development) so find it serendipitous that Darius would then visit my blog.

Monday, December 18, 2006

Gamasutra on a role

Time for another link dump, but this time all of the articles come from Gamasutra. I thereby dedicate this blog posting to the best game developer site around. Here's to you, Gamasutra!
  • The CEO of Ubisoft Montreal (my boss) Yannis Mallat was interviewed last week to discuss his vision for the studio and game development in Quebec in general. One point I'd like to reinforce from this article is the quality of the graduates from the Campus Ubisoft program. We have three such graduates on my current project and all of them are performing well above expectations. They have the passionate and drive of "juniors" but hit the ground running from day one. I'll hire from Campus again as soon as I next ramp up.
  • This week's 'Ask The Experts' question is 'How to become a Producer'. This isn't the first time I've seen dev sites try to answer this and I generally find they come up short. Practise being a leader, manage a large project, work your way up the food chain -- rinse, wash, repeat. I can't really blame them, though, because it is a difficult subject to sum up in a few hundred words. The one point I often see missing that I have found very important in my job as a producer (perhaps paramount) and seems to be common amongst others in this role is a combination of 'Strength of will' (that is, the ability to push something through to your team that you know to be important) and 'humility' (for example, the ability to recognize your own weaknesses and delegate around them). Additionally I take issue (again, perhaps unique to Ubisoft Montreal) to the claim that becoming a Producer requires a company change because Associate Producers are rarely promoted internally. I'd say nearly half of Ubi Montreal's Producer team were Associates first. It very much depends on the role of the Associate at the company in question, but here they are often Producers in almost every way save title. If Ubi used the 'Co-Producer' title in the credits, many of the Associates here would deserve the rank.
  • Finally, Raph Koster has announced the founding of his new company, Areae. Given's Raph's visibility these days I'm sure the 'sphere will be buzzing with speculation regarding just how different from Second Life Areae's flagship title will be. I can't wait to learn more, but I think I'll leave it to David to try and decipher the clues that are, evidently, scattered around the Areae homepage.

Friday, December 15, 2006

CrowdSpirit -- Crowdsourcing meets Electronics

This morning I came across a new company called CrowdSpirit. Their ambition is to take CrowdSourcing and apply it to retail electronics:

"CrowdSpirit, a Scottish-French venture, focuses on harnessing the power of crowds to allow inventors and adaptors to take their products to market. By involving end-users in every aspect of a product’s life-cycle, the company aims to start a revolution in manufacturing by creating electronic products driven and inspired by customers’ wishes & expectations." -- Urenio
My father proposed a very similar idea to me a few months ago and I scoffed at it (sorry Pops!). My concerns at the time included:
  • Visualization tools -- are there any? Are they shared between all users? How do you ensure compatibility between the tools that different collaborators use?
  • Investors -- when you invest, are you investing only in the idea, or can you see who worked on it? If a given collaborator with an excellent track record is involved in a project, does that make it more investment worthy? Would publishing individual track records go against the grain of crowdsourcing in general?
  • 'Step 4' in the CrowdSpirit system: "Customers purchase products thanks to the CrowdSpirit Supply chain. The community ensures the product support and recommands products to retailers" -- I haven't seen this in action, of course, but it seems a lead of faith to me to assume that just because a user had a small role in the development of a product that they would necessarily buy it or recommend it. To me, this seems to be creating a business model off of lead users -- people who will be so passionate about the service that they will not only participate in the design of the product but also purchase it and push it to be carried by local retailers. Given what we know regarding the percent of active users in '2.0 communities', this seems risky.

Thursday, December 14, 2006

Bowmaster Prelude

Another excellent and addictive Flash game, this time care of my brother in law. Bowmaster Prelude has a very simple mechanic ('pull back bow', release arrow, hit enemy) and will be instantly familiar to anyone to has played any 'Tanks' or 'Worms' clone.

What makes Prelude special, though, is the RPG element added that gives it an extra level of strategy and a 'level grind' high familiar to anyone who has played a MMOG. After every level, you want to spend your hard earned coin to upgrade your weapons and see how they effect the next round. I lost a whole morning to this game.

The simplicity and addictiveness of this title and Winterbells (see directly below) make me long somewhat for the days I was in the mobile space. Prelude, unfortunatly, wouldn't translate very well into mobile (at least not that I can see) but Winterbells would work perfectly. If someone isn't already trying to contact the developer to seek out mobile licensing rights -- they should be.

Update: I fixed the broken link to the game. Apologies. I hope someone out there took the time to google the game on their own and enjoyed it.

Monday, December 11, 2006


I love it when my web surfing turns up a find as beautiful as Winterbells.

The link came from JayIsGames and i highly recommend the game for a few minutes of SGA (soothing game action). :)


On the JayIsGames site there are people bragging about their scores in the 8 billion+ range. What does that say about me as a gamer? :)

Thursday, December 07, 2006

Gaming By Proxy

I think this subject has the potential to turn into a longer more thought-provoking post, but I want to start small and work towards something deeper when I have more time.

Also -- fair warning: As is my habit I make some sweeping generalizations here. If you feel attacked by this post then quite simply it doesn't apply to you. ;)

I wonder how many of the 'woes' of today's game development industry are caused by the following simple trend: the longer one works in the game industry (more experienced, more influential, etc) the less time one has to actually play games (married, kids, demanding workload, etc).

On average, I would bet that if you took a representative sample of developers working on a game and measured their 'casual play time' (that is, time they spend playing a game other then the one they are developing) that number would be less then one might think. Perhaps even less then the average playtime of a random sampling of 13-25 year old males (in North America, Europe, Japan, etc).

So my theory? Game developers don't game -- they game by proxy.

Gaming by Proxy means we read the reviews, we see the screenshots and movies and we speak with friends or colleagues who might have tried it out. In short we do everything possible to learn about the game in question other then to actually play it ourselves. On the surface we seem well versed on the game in question. I've lost count the number of times I had interesting discussions about games I only played by proxy. People rarely question whether or not I've actually played the game in question, but if the conversation gets deep regarding mechanics or a specific encounter, my ignorance becomes evident. I know I am not alone.

Now this isn't really a fact that I can critisize. No one has time to play all the games that come out, and the gaming industry is certainly not the only one that sees the consumption of media by proxy. Instead this is meant simply to point out this unfortunate reality of life: we loves games, so we decide to get closer to them by getting involved in their creation. In doing so, we run the risk of becoming distanced from the very things that led us to this industry in the first place.

I don't know a single game developer who would say they have the time to play all the games they'd like.

Some areas I'd like to explore further in the future:

- Does this trend apply to the 'casual' space as well? Depending on your definition of casual games it could be argued that a casual game can be played digested and appreciated through much shorter play times. Does this mean that developers of casual games are able to stay much more in tune with the state of their niche of the market as a whole? Debatable given the sheer quantity of games that could be called 'casual', but worth thinking about.

- Does this have anything to do with the often-cited lack of innovation in the 'AAA' space? Are there people leaning towards the familiar (or iterative improvements) because some inspiring innovations in competitors' games aren't making it past their filters?

Tuesday, December 05, 2006

Christmas Help

My wife says she reads my blog. She lies. I can talk about her Christmas gifts here in complete safety without worrying I'll ruin the surprise, so I'm going to try and solicit a little help in finding a good gift for her.

I'd love to take my wife on a weekend retreat this winter to somewhere romantic around the Montreal area. A small romantic chalet near Tremblant (or really any mountain) would be perfect.

I know that the majority of the people who visit this blog are from the Montreal area (both of you :)) so I'm wondering if anyone has any first-hand recommendations of small, intimate chalets within driving distance of Montreal. Fireplace is a must.

Anyone able to help me make this a special Christmas for my special lady?

Update: Thanks to a recommendation of a friend, I decided to book a weekend at Le Windigo . Looks fantastic.

Monday, December 04, 2006

There be gold in them MMOG Meta-Data

So Shaun Fanning (of Napster fame) is launching a new service called Rupture that will pull data directly from your WOW client to create a meta-data page where you can host character info and do other interesting meta-y things.

Saturday, December 02, 2006

Aesthetic Trend

Via Joystiq I just came across this excellent looking game called SketchFighter. Mac only, unfortunately. Greatest feature: included level editor. I love the idea of designing my own 'doodle' aesthetic space shooter levels.

Funny how the sketch/doodle 'artistic direction' seems very popular these days amongst the geek set. Along with SketchFighter there is the excellent LineRider

I can't find the link, but I know that Steve (my friend who worked on the excellent Toblo game I blogged about a while ago) also did a SketchFighter beat-em-up platformer while at Digipen. I'll see if I can dig up the link.

Update: Steve dropped by and left the link to his sketch-aesthetic game in the comments to this post. It is called PaperChase and you can find it here.

Links worth following

One of the things that I find hard about blogging is the idea that there is value in simply posting links to things I find in my daily browse that are interesting. I always feel like it is a little presumptuous of me to assume that people visiting this site aren't already aware of said links and, in the worst case, that posting the links is a type of pride -- a "look what I found, aren't I cool" sort of statement -- that might betray my ignorance if in fact the contents of the link are already well known.

For that reason whenever I've found interesting things I usually hesitate to post them until I can find some sort of 'analysis' (however short) to compliment the link.

I think perhaps I've been just missing the point and perhaps have been jumping to unsound conclusions regarding the reading habits of this site's visitors. I'm going to take a cue from the page of David and try the occasional interesting link 'round up'.

Off the bat -- no promises of uniqueness or even mutual exclusivity here. Some of these links will be things I've found on sites like Game Tycoon, others will perhaps be a little looping, that is the contents of Link A will in fact contain Link B, but I'll list both in my wrap-up. What I do promise, though, is that if you are interested in the things I am (games, game development, future trends in games, communities, etc) these links will interest you.

And so...

- Henry Jenking's blog contains an interesting interview with the author of a game called 'Hollywood Mogul'. I haven't played it yet, but it seems to be an independently developed sims game in the same vein as 'The Movies'. I love the fact that a community has sprung up around this game to flesh out the areas that the developer dared not tread. Check out the message boards to get a quick idea of some of the user-created content that is adding value to the game.

- I pride myself for generally being up to date with the latest going-ons in the gaming space, so it is embarrassing that I didn't know about Game|Life earlier. Chris Kohler, the editor of the blog updates feverishly -- at least as frequently as Joystiq, and seems to have a lot of unique content (or at least unique to me). If somehow this blog isn't on your roll, it should be. Looking through the archives it would appear his first post was way back in October 2005, so there is over a year's worth of gems here.

- Finally, via both Penny-Arcade and Game|Life, I've discovered my new favorite casual game, Bookworm Adventures. I never would have believed someone could combine an RPG with a spelling game and make me care, but Popcap have succeeded. Game|Life, by the way, point out that the budget for the game was $700,000 which begs the question: "when does a casual game cease to be called a casual game?". If in the future we see games whose content stay casual, but whose budgets start to skyrocket, will they still qualify?