‘Notes on Halo’ — by Mark Wallace

28 04 2005

An excellent piece in yesterday’s New York Times by computer game writer Mark Wallace on “New Games Journalism,” his term for the narrative, experiential approach to describing the effect of the game on the player.

As games becomes increasingly immersive the old-fashioned “previews” that currently make up mainstream game reviews are giving way to a much more subjective, emotional approach that explores the way games interact with “real” life.

I believe the question of what is forbidden and what is not as regards virtual fantasy and interaction with avatars and characters who are indistinguishable from “real” people will become a flashpoint for moralists and politicians seeking to legislate acceptability.

I think they’ll be about as successful in doing so as the record industry was at stopping music piracy.

At the end of Wallace’s article (below) is a nice reading list enabling further exploration of New Games Journalism.

Notes on Halo

Most reviews of computer games cover only the bells and whistles: how quick was the action, how cool the villains, how original the story line.

Over the last year, however, a handful of gaming writers have been bringing a more personal touch to their work, using a narrative, experiential approach that acknowledges the effect of the game on the player.

Their young genre even has a name: New Games Journalism, after the New Journalism of the 1960’s and 70’s.

The seminal tract was an article by the 33-year-old Ian Shanahan, using his screen name, Always Black, in the February 2004 issue of the British magazine PC Gamer (which has been the house organ of New Games Journalism).

“Bow, …” – the second word of the title was a racial epithet – described the mechanics of the online game “Jedi Knight II: Jedi Outcast” (pictured above), and also recounted how the epithet of the title, typed by an opponent many miles away, altered the course and meaning of a simple light-saber duel.

That article inspired Kieron Gillen of Bristol, England, to write – after a long night at the pub with a few game-scribe friends – a blog post that has become known as the manifesto of New Games Journalism.

While the genre takes games as its subject, Mr. Gillen wrote, “what it’s really talking about is the human condition.”

It manages to do that quite well.

“Possessing Barbie,” also by Mr. Shanahan (who is better known by his screen name, Always Black), describes a sexually charged encounter in the virtual world known as There, in which the author grapples with questions of virtual transgression and desire – and how they might affect his relationship with this real-life girlfriend, who’s on her way up with the afternoon tea.

According to Mr. Gillen, 29, who has been a games journalist since he was 19, articles by writers like Mr. Shanahan, Jim Rossignol and Tom Chick (who writes for QuarterToThree.com and is one of the field’s rare American practitioners), reflect how people experience games more accurately than the “previews” that are the meat and potatoes of the gaming press.

“If you’re telling your friends about getting blown away in a game, you don’t say, ‘My character died.’ You say, ‘I died,’ ” he said.

“That’s the weird magic of games. You do feel involved in something that’s actually happening to you.”

NEW GAMES JOURNALISM: A READING LIST

“Bow, …” by Always Black (PC Gamer, February 2004). http://www.alwaysblack.com

“The New Games Journalism Manifesto,” by Kieron Gillen. http://www.alwaysblack.com/blackbox/ngj.html

“Possessing Barbie” by Always Black (PC Gamer, December 2004). http://www.alwaysblack.com/blackbox/possessingbarbie.html

“All About Eve” by Jim Rossignol (PC Gamer, October 2004). http://www.eve-online.com/files/pcgamer_eve.pdf

“Saving Private Donny” by Tom Chick. http://www.quartertothree.com/inhouse/columns/82/





Not long before iGames

28 04 2005

Hollywood was apparently paying attention last year, which was the first year that the worldwide video game market’s revenues (US$24.5 billion) exceeded revenues from movie box office reciepts. Of course, various Hollywood players have tried unsucessfully to break into gaming before, but this time it’s serious. Mercury News is reporting that multiple Hollywood studios are now trying to get into gaming in one way or another, e.g. buying development houses, or starting their own game development houses.

Turner Broadcasting Systems has hit on a novel approach to making money in games (also covered here), an approach that builds on Ted Turner’s own experience with Turner Classic Movies. TBS has licensed over 300 PC gaming titles from 17 different publishers, and will offer them via a download services called GameTap. The idea is that you subscribe to GameTap for a flat fee, download games, and play them until you either get bored or your subscription runs out.

GameTap’s launch lineup hasn’t yet been released, but it will apparently be made up mostly of “classic gaming” titles, like Pac-Man, with a smattering of newer titles thrown in for good measure. The service will then add a few games per week as a way to keep people signed up. (TBS’s decision to base the initial iteration of the service older gaming titles that are out of circulation is a classic example of a company taking advantage of “the long tail.”)

This sounds like a great idea, as long as the DRM isn’t too crippling to use. I could see this service easily eclipsing a single-company service like Valve’s Steam, which was beset by legal and technical problems at launch. The TBS approach has a number of advantages, first for consumers, because it provides more content for your subscription dollar than a single-studio service. Game studios would benefit, too, because they wouldn’t end up competing directly with their own offline distributors, as was the case with Valve. Finally, smaller game studios would have an easy way to reach a large audience, if TBS decides to carry their titles. And I don’t see why TBS wouldn’t carry more obscure gaming titles alongside bigger ones, because it doesn’t cost them anything extra the way it would an offline retailer.

One niche that could benefit greatly from TBS’s online distribution approach is Mac gaming. Outside of an Apple Store or the odd MicroCenter, it’s tough to find Mac gaming titles. While GameTap is Windows only, if they get the DRM, distribution, and pricing issues right, then they could either move into the Mac market themselves or provide a good model for a Mac gaming imitator.





Burning down the House

22 04 2005

My ideas for the edinbugh games festival:
an open letter to the industry:

after much thought and deliberation i think i have it.
it terms of contrevsial, intersting, provacative and deliverable i’ve got it.
“the need for a british games institute” a call to arms
“film is dead, long live games” (hard to substantiante, and maybe dangerous?)
leading on from the screen digest research, connecting elspa’s statement last week, and tiga’s ongoing work now is the time to strike.
i would present a rallying call to the troops as well as a wake up call to the government people who are present.
The BFi was created for the film industry in the 1920’s under indentical market conditions, now is the time for the games industry
post presentation, i could be supported by you, roger, richard from olsberg, others for a round table.
all in a burning down the house style.
a rant
a passionate opinion
bring on the revolution.

Context: Computer Games Culture and Economy

Introduction

In the past two decades Computer games or “Interactive Leisure Software” developed from a niche leisure acitivity into a global cultural phenomenon and economic sector. As children, teenagers and adults spend more time playing computer games on their consoles and PCs, global industry turnover in the computer games industry has come to exceed that of the international theatrical film industry.[1]

Gaming culture

Computer games have become more engaging as well as demanding a more complex understanding from parents, governments, players and the industry alike. Gaming is a pervasive leisure activity with games consoles and personal computers often being based in children’s rooms – it is therefore, similar to television, difficult to control by parents or government. While the narrative of computer games so far has often been based on linear stories from film and television, games developers are working on creating new modes of play that will in the future be linked to a multitude of narratives from a diverse range of media scapes. Moreover, the increased Internet-connectivity of new consoles and personal computers have introduced multi-player scenarios, where the so far solitary activity of gaming is replaced with interaction between different players from different locations. Gaming, therefore, has developed into an interactive mass media activity and it is vital to understand this phenomenon from a cultural, social and economic perspective.

Games industry

According to a report – published on behalf of the Entertainment and Leisure Software Publishers Association (ELSPA) – the latest official figures show that UK-based games companies recorded a positive balance of trade close to £200m. The UK games industry now employs 22,000 people – up 7.5 per cent on 2000.[2]

In the UK, there are two sides to the computer games industry. While foreign companies run growing UK branches which are commercially streamlined and managed on the basis of economic rationale, the independent sector is a “Cottage Industry”. Independent developers create computer games due to their interest in gaming and often dismiss or lack business skills such as financial management or project management. As is the case in other creative industry sectors, the result of this is a slow decline of independent production activity in the UK. While the industry at large is thriving, major games publishers prefer to develop their games in-house or increasingly commission developers outside the UK. As a result, British independent games output shrunk by 6 per cent in the past 4 years. The independent games developers association TIGA has therefore called for more government interest in developing the industry, by for example, offering location incentives for developers in the UK.

3. The Idea of a National Games Institute

Along with the growing significance of computer gaming in the UK – both with regards to its cultural impact on society as well as regarding its economic importance to UK plc. – emerges the need to facilitate a multitude of relationships, support programmes and information exchanges. For example:

· As government learns about the economic promise of a thriving games sector it needs to understand how best to support the industry;

· Independent developers require up-skilling in many areas ranging from basic management skills to learning about newest industry trends in the UK and abroad;

· Computer games is a new industry that requires investment and support services;

· Global publishers and small developers require a forum that facilitates information exchange between the two groups; and

· Children, parents, government and companies all need to better understand how players interact with computer games content.

In short, in the games sector, there is a real argument to be made for the establishment of an institution similar to the British Film Institute or the Design Council – organisations which foster sector culture and advance the understanding and literacy of industry practitioners, government and citizens. Moreover, as recently established media support organisations such as FACT in Liverpool have increasingly started to gap the bridge between cultural support and business support, there is an argument to be made for equipping a “Games Institute” with business and management support and training remit.[3]

In the UK, the games industry is not primarily based in London but in the UK regions and nations. The East-Midlands, East Anglia and the West-Midlands all boost an impressive list of computer games companies. This uncommon decentralisation of the sector provides a chance to establish a sector support organisation with national reach and ambition in one of the nations and regions and to support government’s drive to foster economic and cultural development outside the capital.

with help from Olsberg


[1] The industry is valued between $10 and $18 billion. Theatrical film is often valued at $8 billion (San Francisco Chronicle (11/2004), http://www.sfgate.com/cgi-bin/article.cgi?f=/chronicle/archive/2004/12/18/MNGUOAE36I1.DTL)

[2] The Register (03/2005), http://www.theregister.co.uk/2005/03/18/uk_games_industry_appeal/)

[3] FACT, for example, runs incubation services next to housing a range of interactive media art exhibitions and organising community outreach programmes





British Games Institue

21 04 2005

This will be my new job. once i work out how to make it work.
The UK games Industry needs help. help from the government.
like the film council, or the design council.
the anwser is the BGI.
it will be based in a posh new building in lemington spa or derby
it will house an incubation facility, culture development, business development support, post graduate teaching, and a research lab.
it will be funded by the dti, dcms, nesta, skillset, and as many others as i can think of
and i will be in charge.
it will revolutionise game development in the UK





MCV explanation

4 04 2005

I am going to use my blog as an MCV archive list.
each Friday when MCV arrives I hope to highlight the key articles, and store the MCV’s.
then if I need to find something I can just search my blog. Genius huh!





Industry steps up to the plate when it comes to classification

1 04 2005

Publishes rather than any forced legislation are changing our industry when it comes to the mature end of the wedge.

“Supported” by the dti and DCMS (who are “protecting our children” thank god ) this is an extract of their comments:

All computer games, which are rated 15 or 18 by the BBFC (British Board of Film Classification), will carry a description of content on the back of the packaging and age symbols will double in size from May. This is similar to that already found on DVDs and videos. Only 1.6 per cent of computer games are rated 18 but they account for eight per cent of sales.

Culture Secretary, Tessa Jowell, said:
“Parents need to know what games their children are playing. This is why from May all new games will carry clearer labels which will spell out the content of a game.
“Not all parents have grown up playing computer games – it can be difficult to understand that you might be allowing your child to play the interactive equivalent of Kill Bill. Now there is no excuse.”

Where do we find an interactive equivalent of Kill Bill???





This is what happend at GDC 05

1 04 2005


A nice double exposure picture from journalist Jon Jordan.
His other photos