Zen Of Design

The design and business of gaming from the perspective of an experienced developer

Month: November 2004 (page 1 of 3)

Death Creates the Grind

Dundee has a pretty good summation of how death penalties are getting lighter with time, and why.  (Damion notes: this link is now dead).

Thought I’d throw out one additional thought: Your death penalties create the grind. Continue reading

We’re Stupider than Hollywood

Back in 1977, Star Wars made summertime the best time to release an action film, and Memorial Day has become money movie day in the states. If you can, you launch your big budget extravaganza on Memorial Day. That gives your movie the biggest chance to succeed. But that being said, the movie companies aren’t stupid about it. They know that even an avid movie fan rarely spends more than 2 hours in a movie theatre any given week.

In 1999, Star Wars Episode I decided it would release on Memorial Day. Rather than everyone try to dogpile on that day, every other movie decided to cede the coveted Memorial Day release to the big dog. The lone exception was Notting Hill, a chick flick marketed as a movie mom could watch while the kids were geeking out in the next studio over. Can you imagine geek movie history if The Matrix had decided to release the same weekend?

So what does this have to do with us? Well, we, in the games industry, are collectively stupid, that’s what.

Continue reading

WoW’s Impressive Trajectory

Earlier this week, I pointed out how hard it is to get a congealed community to scatter. Blizzard has found a novel approach to the problem.

Link courtesy of N3rfed, who like many, is astonished by WoW’s announcement of having 200K accounts and 88 servers after two days. And I must admit, that’s a hell of a trajectory. I note that a lot of people that I didn’t think played MMOs are picking the title up. The game has the potential to be a true phenomenon.

Should we be surprised? How many RTS titles were there? And by how much did Starcraft crush them all?

Still, whether they’ll reach 1M will depend a lot on how sticky the game is, and how well they support the service. Given their team spent Thanksgiving putting up 46 new servers, it would seem they have clue.

Picking Our Battles

More on free speech and games. Back in the day when the recording industry was butting heads with the PMRC, I lamented that 2 Live Crew and their ‘As Nasty As They Wanna Be’ album was the one that was making all the news. Why? Because it sucked. It’s hard to get the music appreciation troops riled up about a genuinely lousy CD. Continue reading

Annual Ritual of Trying to Scare All the Congressmen

It’s Christmas-time, which surely must mean that it’s time of year for goody two-shoes parents to save us from ourselves and scare the hell out of parents that can’t afford to track every $60 dollar purchase their kids make.

The MediaWise Game Report Card was released today, with great fanfare, on Capitol Hill. You can read this relatively dry summary, or go to Wonkette to see the picture that’s worth a thousand words (NSFW) Or, to quote the Fleshbot story (with pics) which is the source of Wonkette’s blurb:

No, you weren’t hallucinating if you saw naked boobies on C-SPAN this evening while flipping channels (since it’s unlikely you were actually sitting there watching it): uncensored, unpixelated clips from the M-rated “The Guy Game” and “Leisure Suit Larry: Magna Cum Laude” were shown to a bored looking audience (including Senators Joe Lieberman and Herb Kohl) as part of a National Institure for Media and the Family briefing on its annual MediaWise Video Game Report Card.

Yep, those are real, FMV mammaries and that is on fact on C-SPAN. In a perfect world, the FCC would fine Lieberman AND the media watchdogs.

While all this is going on, Buzzcut just talked about being a panel member on an anti-gaming conference panel for the Interfaith Council of Corporate Responsibility with a helpful list of the 10 Games Most Likely To Make You Kill Your Parents in a Satanic Ritual Under the Blood Moon. For those curious, the list is:

1. Doom 3
2. Grand Theft Auto: “San Andreas
3. Gunslinger Girls 2
4. Half Life 2
5. Halo 2
6. Hitman: Blood Money
7. Manhunt
8. Mortal Kombat
9. Postal 2
10. Shadow Heart
11. America’s Army (special bonus devilspawn!)

For anyone who truly cares about games and/or the first amendment, you should read Buzzcut’s article. It will fill you up with enough righteous indignation about the issue to last you a while. For example, many of them had no experience actually playing the games they gave negative ratings to:

I followed up with a simple question, “Who on this panel has played which of the games?”Burke answered first, “I haven’t played any of them.” She backed up her willful ignorance of the games by suggesting that she didn’t need to read Soldier of Fortune to know that she was opposed to its glorification of killing. “I think it’s an irrelevant question,” she concluded.

This might be why some of these games seemed to not fit with their criteria:

[Martha Burk, president of the committee] said the group picked games that were demeaning to women or depicted violence against women….

By not playing these games, this group falls into the debilitating trap of censorship. Hiding behind overbroad and inaccurate claims of conclusive evidence linking real world and videogame violence, this well-intentioned group misses what gamers young and old know—-context matters. Look at “Doom 3”, their number 1 offender. You don’t have to play that game for 20 minutes to grasp the spine of the narrative: Corporate greed and avarice has unlocked the gates of hell. You stand in path of pure evil and humanity’s last hope. Where is the violence against women? Where is the racial hate? Why is this game an immoral swamp? They didn’t play the game, so how could they answer?

And note: the organization is not trying to just keep these games out of the hands of your kid brother, they are trying to protect you from yourself:

[Burk] also added that she thought the games were not appropriate “for anyone.”

Buzzcut’s analysis of the situation is pretty spot-on. This group could be helping to educate parents about the existing ratings system, and on how to learn about games their kids are buying. They could be applying pressure on the retailers to increase usage of the ESRB ratings system, which the MediaWise group grudgingly admitted in their report card was working. Instead, they stoke the flames which scare parents. Note that Hitman: Blood Money, a game that isn’t even out yet, is on the list.

Note also that another recent game that rivaled Doom 3 in sales and allowed you to wall your lovers into your house, and paint a portrait of them as they panic, wail, and eventually die, starving to death in a puddle of their own urine somehow didn’t make the cut. Why? Because the people they’re trying to scare might own a copy of that one.

The IGDA does a marvelous job of fighting this fight for the games industry. ICCR, MediaWise and this crackpot all keep trying to make noise about getting video games censored because it’s good business for them – speaking engagements, appearances on CNN, donations from frantic parents. Any cursory examination of the law makes it clear that their fight is futile. Why? Because a game is, indeed, a piece of expression.

As surely as a good book or a painting can make you reflect and learn something about yourself, interactive entertainment offers a chance for interspection – only much, much more tangibly so. And a parent can actually watch the decision his kids make. Does your kid kill hookers, deliver pizzas or make ambulance runs? Does it occur to no one that this might be the most marvelous way yet to learn something about your kid?

Really. It’s obnoxious enough to make you think that this isn’t a parody.

Infogrames sells Civ 3 License

How stupid is this? If you had any hope of staying in the games market, why would you sell one of the true golden geese? Either Infogrames is really desperate, or the offer was unbelievably good.

I sure hope whoever has it still respects it in the morning.


The Perils of Alphabetical Server Names

According to who you ask, Worlds of Warcraft is either having a launch smooth as a baby’s butt, or a clusterfuck of imaginable proportions. Can you guess which server is complaining the most? Continue reading

Incredible Risk

As long as we’re talking about the Incredibles, I thought I’d point out a nice Onion AV interview with Brad Bird, Writer and Director of what may well be the best movie of the year (nod to Looka for pointing it out). In it, he explains why there’s precious little innovation in your 25 million dollar budget games. Continue reading

The Uncanny Valley

Intelligent Artifice points out that there’s an interesting discussion going on in the comics/CGI blogosphere. The question is – why has the Incredibles earned nearly 200 million dollars, whereas Polar Express has barely earned 2.5 million of its 265 million cost back on its opening day? Many blame the MoCap of Tom Hanks, which were able to capture all of his movements except for his eyes and lips, creating a uniquely eerie experience. Or, as ‘The Beat’ puts it:

[One] is a marvelous romp, the other, frankly, scares the shit out of us…the beds of American children are going to be soaked with anxiety pee after watching a creepy digital Tom Hanks shout “All aboard!!!”

The animation industry has a term for the point in which graphic animation looks so good, it’s creepy. They call it The Uncanny Valley, a theory first propogated by Japanese roboticist Doctor Masahiro Mori. Continue reading

How WoW is Not a Huge Marketing Mistake

In the midst of a fairly heated argument on Scott Miller’s blog about Diet Cherry Vanilla Dr. Pepper, an interesting question arose: Is Worlds of Warcraft one of the largest marketing blunders in gaming history? Continue reading

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