Friday, March 30, 2007

Trend Watcher

Update: Via 'How To Change The World' (Guy Kawasaki's blog) a link to a new Trendspotting site called TrendHunter. I haven't played around with it yet, but adding it to my ToDo list. :)

One of my earliest blog posts was about trans-media trend watching. I noted:

I have a pretty good idea of where to look to track these trends as they apply to games. For movies, TV, books (etc) I have less of an idea. Harder still is to track trends across multiple mediums.

A few days ago my friend Ken pointed me towards a site called PSFK. It has quickly earned a place on my daily 'must visit' list. An excellent way to keep your finger on the pulse of whats new and cool around the world and across a variety of media. Highly recommended.


Exploring 2.0

A while back I blogged about a great youtube video that explained the core concepts behind 'web 2.0'.

I find it interesting that some of my most technology savy friends -- people who grew up using computers, surfing the web, and even programming -- still are in the dark about some of the best and most fundamental features of '2.0'. (RSS feeds, for example, seems still to confuse).

Today I read this article on wired that led me to this very interesting initiative -- 'learning 2.0'. From the site:

Listed below are 23 Things (or small exercises) that you can do on the web to explore and expand your knowledge of the Internet and Web 2.0.

I think this 23-step process should be required reading (or, really, required 'doing') for any aspiring bloggers and could be a good way to introduce your parents to 2.0.

Labels: ,

Tuesday, March 27, 2007

What is wrong with this picture?

You have to read this to believe it.

A new would-be game publisher called Brash Entertainment has started talking about its plan to take the gaming world by storm. I must be missing something, because so far they have what seems to me like the perfect recipe for disaster.

To wit:
  • Executive team includes "Thomas Tull, executive producer of the new blockbuster movie "300," and dot-com pioneer Bert Ellis". A 'movie guy' and a 'web guy' does not a killer games executive team make.
  • They plan on "producing 60 to 100 [branded games] over the next five years." Even with 100% outsourcing I have a hard time imaging they'll be able to scale up to that level of project management and find enough solid, consistent development partners.
  • Shovelware is basically written into their manifesto. "Even a bad video game, paired with a good movie, can be very profitable...The safest, most lucrative way to sell a video game is in tandem with some kind of movie that is already heavily marketed". Take everything negative that has been said about our industry in the last 5 years and you'll see two major themes: games are too violent, and sloppy branded fair that is rushed to market to cash in on a license gives the industry a bad name. These guys seem to be building their business plan around one of the most loathed realities of our industry.

In their defense, Gamasutra has posted an update to this initial story that would seem to lend them a little more credibility.

Apparantly, though, I'm not the only one who thinks this whole thing has the potential to become another Phantom. If nothing else I would say Brash should have been more careful in how they chose to first communicate their existance and plans to the public. The MSNBC article is hardly generating the sort of positive buzz that I would imagine they had hoped for.

Labels: ,

Friday, March 23, 2007

"Hiring with your heart on your sleeve".

One idea I've had for a while now is to open up my personal blog-roll a bit for the world to see. I don't have the largest roll in the world, but I feel I'm developing an interesting collection of blogs that might appeal to visitors of this blog for a variety of reasons. Of course I have a lot of gamedev/gamebizdev blogs that I frequent (some of which I've permanently linked to on the sidebar) but I regularly visit some others that are less connected to my work yet very interesting.

Given the relative popularity of my last post I thought I'd start by pointing you all towards an article called 'Hiring with your heart on your sleeve', the latest from Austin Hill on his blog: BillionsWithZeroKnowledge. A few choice quotes:

The number one job of any leader is talent development

Hiring top players, who have the intelligence, passion and are a cultural team fit in the right positions is the single biggest leverage a management team has in building a successful company

Top talent is never looking for jobs. Jobs need to hunt out top talent.

First and foremost I like this blog because Austin often talks about subject matters that are important to me - a would-be team leader with a desire to truly be worth of my title. He has some excellent posts on leadership, business and entrepreneurial spirit in general and a few innovative talent-attracting strategies of his own.

Additionally his is one of the most visually pleasing blogs I frequent. He uses videos and images liberally, but they are very profesionaly integrated and really give value to his posts rather then try to cover up a lack of meaningful content. His blog inspired me to try and use images and video on my own blog more, I'm far from his level of polish, but its amazing what an embedded youtube video can do to make a post feel more rich.

Finally, Austin is a native Montrealer with a strong focus on the Canadian entrepreneurial scene, and given that the chance is good if you're reading this you too are from Montreal, you should check out his blog if for no other reason then to support one of your own!

Labels: , ,

Monday, March 19, 2007

An offer you can't refuse

Update: This post is in no way meant to imply that Red5 contacted me with the recruitment campaign described below. I read about this, thought it was amazing, and am blogging about it -- nothing more.

Update 2: Kim Pallister read this blog. Seth Godin reads Kim's blog. Seth's blog gets a lot of traffic (and rightfully so -- man does he ever have a lot to say!) and he linked to this post of mine yesterday morning. I've recieved more visits in the last 24 hours then my accumulative traffic log for the life of the blog. Hopefully some of the new visitors will find the musings of a videogame producer interesting.

Update 3: I'm ashamed I neglected to link to this in my initial posting, but you can read all about Red5's campaign direct from the horse's mouth here. Check it out, and remember to support them when they release their WoW Killer.

So imagine you are sitting at your desk one day and a FedEx parcel arrives for you. Depending on what you do, just this fact might already have you excited, but regardless of your position, if you aren't expecting any deliveries the scene from The Matrix when Neo recieves the cell phone from Morpheus has to spring to mind. "What life-altering adventure awaits me when I open this up?".

So you open the box and find inside a series of 'Russian Doll' type nested boxes, each more beautiful then the last. Written on each box a section of what appears to be a riddle.

Of course, as you open each subsequent box the attention to detail in this package is sure to start to attract attention. Some of your coworkers would certainly be drawn to the affair and hover around to know more.

So finally you reach the fifth and last box, open it up, and find an iPod shuffle. But not just any iPod - this one is custom engraved with your name! There is also a small note informing you that a message is waiting for you on the iPod. Red Pill or Blue Pill?

So, turning the iPod on reveals a single track -- a personalized message that starts out: "(insert your name here), this is Mark Kern, President of Red 5 Studios and former team lead for World of Warcraft..".

Mark Kern is talking to you personally telling you why he thinks you would be the perfect fit for his new company, Red 5, and asking you to get in touch to discuss a potential job offer. And he is doing so in a way that has made you feel like the most valuable developer on the planet, worthy of significant investment in terms of time and energy to do nothing more then get your attention. Finally he has done it in such a way that makes no attempt at hiding his interest to your colleagues and bosses at your current place of employment.

So, what would you do? Would you contact him back to discuss further, even if you were extremely happy at your current job?

If you answered yes, you aren't alone. A recruitment campaign like this is undeniably flattering and powerful and is likely to have a near 100% response rate (at least in as far as getting in touch, if not necessarily accepting the position). The people at Red 5 who developed this campaign took everything they knew about developers in the game industry (likely to get and appreciate matrix reference. Check. Likely to be impressed by WoW credentials. Check. Likely to be intrigued by the enigma of the whole package and try to unravel the meaning of the riddle thus getting more absorbed in the total package. Check) and wrapped it all into a package that would be impossible to ignore. I am floored by the ingenuity and creativity of it all.

Read here for an account of one recipient who, interestingly, seems not to have taken the bait.

Labels: ,

Monday, March 12, 2007

Question on Emotions

At GDC this year, Peter Molyneux presented Fable 2 publicly in a talk focused on his ambitions (player feels unconditional love) and innovations ("the dog") for the game. There is plenty of coverage available in case you are not up to date with the details of his presentation, and you can get a pretty good idea of the specifics of his talk by watching his pre-GDC presentation on gamespot here (or watch it on gametrailers here).

One thing that comes up in all the coverage of this talk is the emotions that this dog elicits. What an amazing choice for emotional manipulation -- who can resist the sad whimpering cries of a dog injured to protect his master? Is there anything more heart wrenching?

...his animations were solid enough to endear him to everybody in the room. The way he limps towards you whimpering after a fight is heart wrenching and not just to those watching the game being played. If you leave your injured dog and head off for a drink at the pub, the dog will scratch its way to the front door and look pitiful as the rest of the folks at the bar react to the bloodied pooch.

...You are going to love this dog, promises Molyneux, and then he's going to die. That's right, at some point in the adventure, in service of the story, your pooch goes to the great beyond. Think about the potential rage in your own heart. - ign.

One often quoted line from his presentation: "If you care about the dog, I've got you."

Peter's ambition here is an amazing one, and I think the Lionhead team have made a very smart decision in choosing something they can 'easily' manipulate the player with. They may well succeed in their ambitions. I'm rooting for them, because I'd love to allow myself to be manipulated in games the way I have become accustomed to being manipulated with film. I like having strong emotional reactions to entertainment -- it makes it more fun.

However, my fear (and herein lies the question) is simply that in having Peter tell me that I'm supposed to feel emotion and have him explicitly state that the developers are trying to manipulate me with this dog, I will unconsciously harden myself when playing Fable2 thus weakening the experience. I'm not complaining about the over hype potential either (for which Mr. Molyneux is somewhat infamous for). I don't think this is an issue of over-exposure but rather Peter 'tipping a card' that should have remained hidden.

What do you think? When Fable2 comes out, do you see yourself being able to be absorbed by the experience and allow yourself to forget that the emotions you may be experienced were predicted and publicly communicated months in advance?

Labels: , ,

Friday, March 09, 2007

If you've been reading this blog for a while, you probably know that (1) I really like Toblo (2) the team lead of that project, Steve Chiavelli, is a friend who occasionally drops by and leaves comments to some of my posts.

If you didn't have the good fortune to attend GDC this year, or were there but didn't attend the GDC Awards, please take a minute to watch the recording of the ceremony. Jump to the 10 minute mark and watch Steve represent the Toblo team in accepting the award for best student game.

But then be prepared to have your geekiest heart strings pulled as Steve takes the opprotunity to propose to his girlfriend, Brittany Aubert, live on stage in front of something like 5000 people.

Steve -- that was awesome. Congrats on what must have been one of the best nights of your life!

Labels: , , ,

Tuesday, March 06, 2007

Warren Specter Interview

Gamasutra recently published a very interesting interview with Warren Specter, head of Junction Point studios.
I read a lot of developer interviews and this one is easily one of my favorite. Warren speaks intelligently and passionatly about advancing the state of our art in realistic ways that really speak to me.
Some choice quotes:

The end goal for me now isn't for me to allow players to play a movie, ride a roller coaster ride or provide a sandbox so they can do what they want, but is to find the compromise where I can have a dialog with each player virtually. That's what's exciting to me.

Then there's what the audience buys. One of the big reasons I'm such an advocate of games education and university programs about game development and analysis is because I think we need to change the way our players think. [...] I want players that demand more of us.

Another point is that if you're going make a game that allows players to make significant choices that puts them in control of a narrative or of a character in a simulated world, you do have an obligation. You have an obligation to show the consequences of choices.

and my personal favorite -- one I believe very strongly in:

...but what really needs to happen is that the universities, the writers, and the critics have to pick up that ball and say “look, games can be more than they are now. Here's how games work. Here's how games can be more, better, or different now.” I think 10, 15, or 20 years from now you'll see people graduating from game development, analysis and study programs all around the world with an understanding of what games can be and they'll start demanding things from the industry that it had better provide.

And now, as a way of reinforcing just how far our industry has to go before it reaches this holy grail, I offer up these two commercials for game design programs currently being offered (note, I don't believe these to be representative. These are clearly extreme examples but too humorous not to post) :

Labels: ,

Friday, March 02, 2007

The Restaurant

When I was first starting on my current project over a year ago I was looking for a Lead AI programmer. When I'm finally able to start talking about this game I'll be able to explain some of the development challenges we've faced and why having someone with a strong background and track record in AI was paramount.

One of the candidates I contacted was Jeff Orkin, refered to me by David Edery. Jeff is credited as a 'Senior software engineer, AI' on F.E.A.R and spoke about the very impressive AI of that title at GDC (the material from his talk can be downloaded here).

Jeff recently contacted me to try and help spread the word for a research project he is currently doing called 'The Restaurant'. Ripped from his site:

The Restaurant Game is a research project at the MIT Media Lab that will algorithmically combine the gameplay experiences of thousands of players to create a new game. In a few months, we will apply machine learning algorithms to data collected through the multiplayer Restaurant Game, and produce a new single-player game that we will enter into the 2008 Independent Games
. Everyone who plays The Restaurant Game will be credited as a Game
Designer. It's never been easier to earn Game Designer credentials!

I love this idea. I love the 'google image match' feel to it (when you connect, you are randomly paired with a partner and each give goals that help teach the AI); I love the '2.0' element of it, both in terms of collaborative tuning of the AI and collaborative play testing. Finally I love the communal credit idea -- making a meta-game out of the game's credits since only one player will be credited as the 'Lead Designer'. So smart.

Please download 'The Restaurant' and help spread the word. Digg it, Bookmark it on and help spread the word. This project deserves the community's support.

Labels: , , ,