Wednesday, January 31, 2007

Do Good

I'm going to go way off topic here and write a bit about the power of the internet to do good in this world. If you haven't been introduced to any of the sites listed below, do yourself a favor and visit at least one (or all).

To start off, this morning a good friend of mine Ken Schachter (studio manager at Gameloft Montreal) suggested I watch a few videos from the TED conference. I had seen these TED talks lectures discussed on many of the sites I frequent (boingboing, for example) but had always put off watching a lecture all the way through. Today, based off of the strong recommendation of a trusted friend, I decided to be more patient and sit right through one -- I ended up watching 3 back to back (and have barely scratched the surface).

One talk I found interesting (in particular for its somewhat counterintuitive claim that combatting global warming should not be the world's top priority right now) was given by Bjorn Lomberg. I found a youtube version of it which you can watch below if interested.

The email thread in which Ken suggested TED had started out with him pointing me to a project started recently by a couple of friends of his called Gifter. The 'About' section of Gifter reads:

Gifter is a community experiment in social generosity.We want to see if we can
collect a million wishes from the Internet community and match those wishes with a million dollars of charitable donations.

Gifter is the brainchild of (amongst others) Austin Hill, founder of Zero Knowledge. Austin runs a blog called BillionsWithZeroKnowledge that talks a lot about his current passions: social entrepreneurship, philanthropy and online communities. One of his most recent posts was an interview with Tom Williams, a fellow Canadian entrepreneur who founded a company called GiveMeaning.

GiveMeaning is an amazing idea. Sort of a natural extension of the Microloans concept that won 2006's Nobel Peace Prize: when a lot of people give a small amount of money to those in need, some amazing things can happen.

Following the points brought up by Bjorn in his TED talk, I have used GiveMeaning to make a donation to one of the several HIV/AIDS charities listed.

I love the fact that a link in an email I recieved this morning led me on this chain of discovery culminating in a donation to cause in a form and fashion I feel good about. Today I used the web to Do Good.

Monday, January 29, 2007

Rupture Pt II

A while back I mentioned the fact that a new MMOG Meta-data service was in development called Rupture. It went 'live' (in a beta form) a few days ago and is available to play with for anyone with a WoW account. Check it out.

Seems like they took Xfire and married it with Allakhazam's Wow Reader. Not a bad marriage if you ask me. I'm curious to see if the uptake of this tool will have as big an impact on guilds as the ubiquity of voicechat (teamspeak, etc) had a few years ago. Most MMO guilds would likely find it impossible to operate these days without online voicechat (organizing raids via text would be a nightmare). I'm guessing no, since the services it offers seem to already be available elsewhere, but sometimes well-done convergence is all that is needed.

Tuesday, January 23, 2007

Harsh Critics

Gamers are harsh critics. It is pretty difficult to find an online gaming forum where participants are lauding Ubisoft's decision to take The Two Thrones, port it to the Wii focusing only on the controls but leaving the game content as is. At best I see people who maintain a neutral stance, witholding judgement until they see/hear whether the new controls really do indeed add value to the experience.

A few days ago I was asked to do a Q&A for POP:RS on 1up (read it here) and I said that RS is my favorite version of all POP games made. I meant it. I really do believe that the Wii controls add an excellent layer to the experience that simply cannot be reproduced on traditional controllers. POP gameplay translates very well to the Wii and I would jump at the opprotunity to do a new POP game from scratch for the Wii. Maybe someday...

It can sometimes be hard to read the critical reception of a project you were involved in when you believe (as I do in this case) that you really did the best job you could have given the project contraints. 'Ports' to the Wii are rejected on principle, it seems, which is unfortunate as I think people who didn't already play T2T (and even some who did) could be pleasantly surprised by RS.

Saturday, January 20, 2007

The Crossing

I have to admit ignorance on this one -- I had never heard of The Crossing before reading about it on 1Up this morning. I still haven't decided what I think about their "Crossplay" game mechanic, but it is certainly interesting. It feels sort of in line with some previous posts I've made re: user-generated content seeding other player's games. Executive Summary is that gamers playing a standard multiplayer deathmatch become the AI opponents of those playing through the game in the linear story mode. It is explained in much greater detail in the interview I linked to above, so dig a little deeper to see how they plan to get over some of the evident design hurdles.
Plus it has the art director of Half Life 2, uses the source engine, and has a pretty cool theme. The video below is a short trailer from Youtube. See a longer and prettier version here (and check out the first-person grappling hook action. hot).

Friday, January 19, 2007

Video Game Star

Lets start a betting pool: Who will be the first video game "developer" to appear on The Tonight Show?

My votes: (1) Will Wright (obviously) (2) Cliff Bleszinski (3) Jade Raymond (go Ubisoft!).

Tuesday, January 16, 2007

Ruin The Magic?

This post will likely resonate most with those in the game development industry, but I think it also applies to almosy any form of entertainment/artistic expression.

Picture, if you will, the following hypothetical situation: as a game developer, you are sent to a conference (E3, GDC, etc) to represent your company. At some point you find the time to wander the show floor and come across a title that floors you. The inner geek in you goes wild and you find yourself reverting to the fanboy that initially motivated you to enter the industry in the first place. In short, you cannot wait to play this game. Sound familiar? Of course it does -- for most of us, we wouldn't still be developing games if we had totally lost this passion.

Now imagine that you meet someone from the development team of that game. Not too hard, really. Game developers are generally a pretty social lot, happy to talk shop with fellow geeks. Still nothing unfamiliar here. As we gain greater experience in the industry I'm sure we all find our contact list of developers growing.

Final step, a friendship develops (or, perhaps, the contact in question has very loose lips). Suddenly things that aren't supposed to be shared start coming out: development horror stories, issues with management, long hours of crunch, etc. We've all heard these stories a thousand times in our industry, but what happens when we start hearing them from people developing the games that we most passionatly want to play?

As a player and developer, where does your allegiance lie? When the highly anticipated title finally ships, does the fan in you win out, or the developer? Do you purchase the game and rationalize to yourself: "well, I want my friend to get a bonus for all his hard work, so I should buy it to help ensure good sales"? Or, conversely, does the developer in you win out: "I really want to play this game, but I don't want to support the sort of development horror I know went into the creation of this title. If I refuse to purchase it, I'm doing my part in taking a stance against these practises".

My bet is on the former. Game developers make up only a tiny minority of the total market for a title, and the knowledge of what went into its creation is certainly not spreading to the mainstream. Why deny yourself the pleasure of enjoying a game when you can't really make a difference in your defiance...?

Knowledge of what went into making a game can be an Inconvenient Truth, indeed.

Friday, January 12, 2007

One Button Gaming

Some years ago, I had a brief but passionate affair with an excellent Warcraft 3 mod called 'Tower Defense'. It made for excellent multiplayer gameplay, was extremely quick and easy to pick up and had enough depth to keep me coming back for several weeks.

Today on b3ta I came across a flash version of Tower Defense that I've just spent the last 45 minutes playing (I got to level 27. Can anyone out there top that?).

If anyone from the mobile or casual (*ahem* Kim *ahem*) space is reading this, if you haven't already done so, take a look at Tower Defense as an excellent example of 1-button gameplay done right. The core concept is very simple and easy to grasp, the controls and be dumbed down to the most basic of input devices, but there is plenty of depth available. Throw in multiplayer and controlable heroes (as in the WC3 mod) and you have something that can keep the attention of casual and hardcore players for hours.

Update The always excellent Jay Is Games did a review of this title a couple of days ago and the forums show some good strategies. My ego always falls about 5 notches after reading the forums on JIG as these people always have stratospheric scores.

Thursday, January 11, 2007

Tag, I'm It.

So, David Edery just tagged me with the 'Five Things'...thing. I know some bloggers reject this form of 'pollution', but I don't know enough to find it distasteful, so will happily play along. Thus, the five things you might not know about me:

  1. I am a passionate amateur carpenter (which, I guess you could theoretically have devised if you looked at my user profile...but I digress). A few years ago I needed a hobby and something creative in my life, and my childhood fascination with wood and machines came flooding back. I took a few part-time courses at Merlin Wood in Hudson, Quebec and to date the largest piece I've made is a 'Welsh Dresser' that looks surprisingly like this one. I then made matching bedside tables for my sister's wedding present that were heavily inspired by this. The whole 'Japanese/Shaker' aesthetic is very pleasing to me and I plan to make a dining room table for myself in this style next.
  2. For years I was set to become a musician. My father was a professional musician most of my life and got me hooked on drums at an early age. I attended an arts highschool called F.A.C.E here in Montreal (stands for Fine Arts Core Education) where I performed in a variety of bands/orchestras. Had I not gotten hooked on computers thanks to a grade 11 science fair project, I would likely have applied to the McGill Conservatory and pursued music as a career.
  3. I first met my wife in grade 7. We dated for one weekend, then she dumped me. Obviously, I've forgiven her.
  4. I recieved my B.Sc in Computer Science from Concordia university with a software systems specialty (which is a fancy way of saying I focused on programming rather then hardware). Initially I was in their co-op program but dropped out after the first year - my grades were so poor that the only co-op jobs available to me were data entry clerk type posts. I can honestly say that Raph and Ultima Online almost caused me to fail out of school. At the time I was the Guild Leader of an online gaming group I founded in 1996 called 'OSC' (which, incidentally, is still around and active). As a side note, it turns out that I am the worst programmer on the face of the planet, and quickly got into project management. As they say, those who can't do, Produce.
  5. I taught Aleksey Vayner everything he knows. Everything! I am _the_ model of personal development and the inspiration to many around me. okay, this last one is a joke, but I ran out of ideas. Sue me.

As for the five people I'm supposed to tag in order to help spread the love, that will have to wait until I get home and update.

Monday, January 08, 2007

Face Generator

This is fun!

Sunday, January 07, 2007

Google, take this idea please.

So I'm on a little bit of a Google kick today. ;) I don't think anyone from the big G reads this blog, but maybe that will change.

The web can sometimes be a cyclical beast. An image or video gets posted, does its little viral thing, makes the rounds, then disappears. As viewers become less passive and graduate into participators, we also often see remixes of said images and videos that can extend the life of this little slice of entertainment. Sometimes they disappear for good -- othertimes they get reposted a week/month/year later and get a second wind.

Each image/video on the net could theoretically have a unique fingerprint calculated and assigned to it that would differentiate it from all the other images out there. Something as simple as a hash of the pixel colors/ratios (over time if its a movie), perhaps (although I'm sure a real implementation would be much more complicated then that).

If Google were to run its spiders through its massive database of images and videos to create these fingerprints, it would be in a place to mine some interesting data out of the life-cycle of objects on the web.

As a google user, we could find out when an image was first posted on the web, and where. Who _was_ the first person to post that bouncing-breast gif animation you see in a thousand forum sigs?

As a marketer, you could track the spread of your viral image/video campaign. Search according to the above mentioned fingerprint, find the first instance (the 'seeding' that would have been done by your own organization) and then look through all subsequent hits with their time/location stamps to track how the campaign spread.

Finally, in line with my comment above re: user participation, a smart algorithm to calculate the fingerprint could also identify inherited images. If 85% of the image/movie is the same but the other 15% had been modified, google could say with some level of certainty that the second hit was a child of the first -- perhaps someone edited it, 'remixed' it, added some text in a word bubble to add a funny caption, etc. Again, probably something researches and marketers alike would find valuable in tracking how participation helped extend (or not) the life of a viral campaign.

I know I would find this an interesting tool. Hopefully one of the big brains at Google has already thought of this and we'll all have a new toy to play with soon.

Google Video + Adwords

I've blogged before about the inevitable addition of google adwords to google video. Much like the explosive growth of in-game advertising, I expect context sensitive embedded web-video advertising to become a fact of life within the next few years, and few companies are as well poised to make this happen as Google.

Well, according to a post I just read on boingboing, it has begun. The latest Charlie Rose interview with a noted Physicist by the name of Lisa Randall looks to have embedded google adwords in several places in the video.

Now I'll admit that I couldn't actually find the embedded adds. I skipped through the video to many different locations but didn't see anything, so perhaps google has already pulled them down. I trust boingboing, though, so can safely say that either those adds are there, or they were.

Either way, though, I'm sure we'll see more of this very soon.

Tuesday, January 02, 2007

Big Brother Co-op

First, a happy New Year to you all. I hope your holidays were restful and relaxing and that you're ready to tackle 2007 head on!

For my first post of the New Year I want to discuss an idea for co-op gameplay. The inspiration for this comes from Castlevania: Portrait of Ruin.

For those of you unfamiliar with the game, it is a pretty standard action platformer in the oldschool castlevania vein (guy with whip runs jumps and whips the undead) but has added an AI support character who dutifully follows our hero around when summoned, supplementing his physical attacks with her magical abilities.

At any time in the game you (the player) can summon or dismiss the support character to your side (she magically teleports in and out instantaneously). You can also toggle between controlling either of the two characters at any point -- the second character will switch to AI mode, or disappear if dismissed.

The game features a co-op multiplayer mode where each player controls one of the two characters. I did not try it yet (I should and will) but I'm assuming it is 'traditional' co-op - that is, both players have full control over the characters' abilities and movement. How the developers handle the camera if there is a disagreement over which direction to go is, of course, an issue that anyone developing a co-op game has had to face at some point...

What I'm wondering is whether or not there is a market (and any existing examples of) a "Big Brother" style of co-op, whereby the support character is playable by a human partner but with limited control.

Taking POR as an example, the AI could still control the movement of the support character, ensuring she was always following behind the 'main' player but would not do any forms of attacks -- those would all be under the control of the second player. The "Little Brother" could feel engrossed in the gameplay and story simply by pressing the attack button at the right time, allowing him to participate much more actively without slowing down the progression of the game.

My wife occasionally likes to watch me play action adventure games where she can get into the story -- Resident Evil 4 was a favorite for a while -- but when I put the controller in her hand she was petrified and hated every second of it. If Ashley had been implemented with this Big Brother Co-Op system in mind, my wife could have happily participated in the story without becoming overwhelmed.

Is this a mechanic that has been implemented in other games that I am unaware of? If a game offered _only_ this form of co-op, but not the more standard 'complete control' format, do you think there would be resistance on the part of consumers? Do people play games with a non-gamer watching and wishing they could participate?