Rockstar in Movies

22 09 2005

Rockstar’s UMD Documentary.
GTA publisher premiering low rider film on PSP.

Looks like movie distributors aren’t the only companies excited about the prospects of UMD video; Rockstar Games have announced Sunday Driver, a documentary film about low riders that will premiere on UMD later this year. UMD is the new propreitoty ‘mini-DVD’ like format that stores the film, tv and game content PSP users will buy from the shops

Director Carol Strong has worked with Rockstar Games to show what life’s like for the The Majestics, the Compton/Watts chapter of Californa’s low rider car club. “Our goal was to create a film with the same cutting edge, uncompromising cinematic content that we strive for in our games. We are extremely proud of Sunday Driver as an evolution of the Rockstar brand into film,” said Sam Houser, President of Rockstar Games.
New markets for games producers? or should I say content producers?





Fine art and games

21 09 2005

Landscape paintings by a group of 19th Century American artists have been the unlikely source of inspiration for the look and feel of the new Harry Potter video game

Growing up

Concept art of the Triwizard level (Warner Bros copyright)

“The aesthetic is growing up,” explained the game’s art director, Alex Laurent. “Earlier games were aimed at a younger audience so the game had to grow up with the films.”

Mr Laurent is a relative newcomer to the world of games. He joined Electronic Arts (EA) a year ago, coming from George Lucas’ Industrial Light and Magic.

As visual effects director there, he worked on titles like The Mummy, The Day After Tomorrow, Star Wars: Episode 2 and Minority Report.

For the Goblet of Fire game, Mr Laurent wanted to apply some techniques of the film business to recreate the brooding atmosphere of the film.

He found his inspiration in the world of fine art.

/BBC.co.uk





Now THAT is a review

21 09 2005

From KG:
“Review of Quantic Dream’s fascinating Fahrenheit which I wrote for The Guardian. Long-form review, of about 1000 words. There’s also some additional material I wrote about the games which lead to Fahrenheit – Omnikron, Shenmue, Grim Fandango and The Longest Journey.”

For a respected national newspaper to run a full-page review of a videogame, for no other reason that it’s a new videogame that’s worth talking about is completely unprecedented. While it’s experimental at the moment, it’s an ongoing thing. Long-form intelligent writing about videogames, weekly, exactly the same way they’d cover other pop-artefact. If you want to talk about cultural acceptance of games, this is as big a step as there’s ever been.





Revolution controller: Am I the only one?

20 09 2005


At the Tokyo Game Show, Nintendo revealed the new controller for their next generation console – the “revolution”. Mainstream, fun, gaming for everyone. Innovation, and ideas. Well personally I would call this the nail in Nintendo’s coffin. People seem to confuse innovative with different. Its a remote control. Yes it has a gyroscope. Yes it is instantly recognizable, but people don’t want games to be the same as ….. fill in blank.
Games is about control, it is about difference, its about fun.
The biggest revolution of the next gen, will be wireless controllers. Paraphrasing Jonathan from Giant (and lego star wars success) “People will pick up a controller, flick to their xbox, play 30/60mins of games, and switch back to tv or web” controllers uncoupled from the black/silver box under the tv will change the ways games are played. CABLES=GEEKS=UNCOMFORTABLE.

Ok people don’t like controllers, or remotes, my wife scans 100’s of channels to get to 257 rather than remember the number, or use favorites. But this will alienate Nintendo from the “Games Industry” there will be MS and Sony in interactive media big budget space, and Nintendo games – bongos, fishing, zelda, and dogs. A new market, a niche, an innovative playground for technical ideas perhaps, go on say betamax, or laser disc.

So personally (back on topic) the controller will mean more fun for Nintendo fans (and there are a lot of them), more Zelda rubbish, but really the mainstream will not be picking up a remote plugged in to a joystick. The future is more and more looking like a 2 horse race for the interactive gaming market.

The Facts, IGN news
* D Pointing. Sensors understand up, down, left, right, forward and backward.

* Tilt Sensitive. Controller can be rotated or rolled from side-to-side.

* Buttons Included. Has a trigger on its backside, face buttons, and a D-Pad.

* Multifunctional. Has an expansion port which can be used with different types of controller peripherals. Analog stick with two trigger buttons planned for left hand.

* Wireless. Totally wire-free. Currently there are no details on the max distance, source or power, or otherwise.

* Rumble Built-in. Included as a standard in all the controllers.


Ok a few others who are more polite:
David Perry
President, Shiny Entertainment

I’ve been fielding interview questions on this new Nintendo controller for a while now, and besides the obvious stuff, I’ve been personally hoping for Nintendo to offer custom game interfaces.

Meaning when a developer designs a game, they can very easily design their own interface at the same time. Their interface component would then (at a very low cost) be included in every game box. (Imagine a small “interface’ block that clips in the front of a normal controller.)

The main controller (not looking like a remote control) would be designed so you simply plug in the component that came with the game.

Nintendo talked about controllers having too many buttons and turning off non-gamers.

Fair point, but if they honestly have a problem with too many buttons, then this solves that too. For example, on the faceplate that comes with a simple game, they could actually get rid of all unused buttons by not replicating them. If however I want a more complicated game with 10 buttons and a throttle slider on the faceplate for a Mech game, no problem.

This solution covers many needs.

The faceplate can also contain artwork (for that game) and tips, like “FIRE” written under the fire button. Trust me, that will help newbie gamers!

Can you imagine how excited, and then let down I felt when I found out Nintendo nearly delivered this!

I feel a lot of innovation in the original arcade games was increased by the freedom of designers to create new interfaces for their game at the same time. Think Pacman vs. Tempest vs. Missile Command vs. Star Wars vs. Lunar Lander. All radically different but the interface definitely added to the fun.

After toying around with this Revolution remote control, and after fighting my grandparents off it, my prediction is that people will be looking to buy a “normal” controller to plug in.

So thanks Nintendo for trying. I actually respect the effort a lot!

People that know me, know I love big thinking and I LOVE innovation, but I still dream of the day when hardware manufactures stop trying to surprise game developers and actually invite a group of them to brainstorm on the hardware.

It would be a great marketing scoop for them (being designed by the top ten game designers in the world), but it would also deliver a bloody cool console / controller.

Oh well, just five more years and we can try again.
—Really good point from EGM

Demian Linn
Reviews Editor, Electronic Gaming Monthly

It’s a risk, but it’s a smart risk. If Revolution launched with just a conventional controller, it’d offer competitive graphics and Nintendo first-party games—in other words, it’d be in about the same position GameCube was in this generation. But now, Revolution may appeal to more casual or even non-gamers, along with core gamers who are looking for a genuinely new gameplay experience. If Nintendo can really bring a large chunk of non-gamers into the fold, it would be huge—but that’s a big question mark.

Nintendo has always excelled at making its games just feel right from a control perspective, and I’m sure its first-party games are going to do some amazing things with the new controller. Not so sure about third-party publishers. The DS has attracted some good third-party exclusives, but Revolution titles will require a much bigger investment. I hear Nintendo will also offer a “sleeve” that you can slip the main controller into, which will allow for a more traditional button layout; that is absolutely necessary, and it better come in the box. I’m all for innovation, but there’s no need to reinvent the wheel, throw the baby out with the bathwater, or…well, I can’t think of another cliché that works here. Revolution owners are going to love their gyroscopic rhythm-action-fishing games or whatever, but that doesn’t mean they won’t want to play Splinter Cell again.


David Cole
President, DFC Intelligence

Despite its reputation for being old school, Nintendo has quietly been one of the most innovative major game companies in recent years. The new Revolution controller definitely fits the innovative bill. My 13-year old son really got his interest aroused, he said “this is crazy, they are using a remote control to play games.” We will have to reserve full judgment until it is tested with actual games. However, the concern with something new like this is that it will appeal mainly to an enthusiast crowd and alienate the mass market who can be very reluctant to change their comfortable game playing habits.





Rumor Mill: News Corp. and NCSoft?

19 09 2005

Beijing-based gaming exec Bill Bishop posts on his blog that he’s hearing “strong rumors” that Rupert Murdoch’s News Corp. is in talks to buy NCSoft, publisher of the huge Korean virtual world Lineage, as well as City of Heroes and most recently Guild Wars. Bishop notes:
The price would be high, but strategically it might fit with Murdoch’s plans to get big fast in interactive media . Clearly News Corp likes gaming, as evidenced by the hefty price they paid for IGN.
How reliable is the report? Bishop is currently CEO of Red Mushroom, an MMORPG publishing house, but was a co-founder and general manager of of CBS MarketWatch until it was bought by Dow Jones last year. It’s a “grain of salt,” but a tasty one from a media veteran.





Sports MMO part 2

16 09 2005

Continuation of the sports MMO market

“There are more similarities between sports games and other genres than would be immediately evident. While golf and baseball games have “down time”, games like football (and soccer), hockey and basketball are pretty fast paced with a lot of action. These games have elements of both action games and platformers (try playing defensive back in a football game. A well placed jump is the difference between an interception or giving up a touchdown). There’s more than that. As psu wrote over at Tea Leaves, football is also a tactical RPG (a Roundtable submission). Another Roundtable submission, Only a Game looks at Sports and RPGs (great minds think alike, right?). So they are more genres than meet the eye in your average sports game.

Further proof? Look at the gameplay of any “career mode” in a sports game. Tiger Woods, in particular, is nothing more than and RPG in a polo and knickers. In your classic RPG you control the main character as you fight the bad guys, do good things for your village, gain levels and experience points and buy bigger swords with all the gold you earn. As you progress, you face increasingly difficult obstacles and adversaries. That’s a simplistic description, but you get the idea. Change a few things and you have the character progression in Tiger Woods. You make good shots, you earn money (XP) with which you upgrade your skills and buy better golf clubs. You start off playing low ranked pros and imaginary golfers (rats and giant spiders). Eventually you move up the ranks and play the likes of Phil Mickelson and Tiger himself (dragons and giants). It’s all there. And it’s not just in Tiger Woods. It’s in most sports games now. There’s the Heisman mode in the new NCAA Football game (Dynasty mode is more of a Manager Simulator. Genres galore!). ESPN’s 2K games also contain similar elements (”The Crib” in ESPN NFL 2k5 and “24/7″ in ESPN NBA 2k5) . The goal? Be strong, powerful and acquire phat lewt.

Wait, did I just describe a sports game or World of Warcraft?

That’s where I see the genres could meld and where online gaming could go – the convergence of MMORPGs and sports games. The more I thought about this, I saw not only the mixing of RPG elements and sports elements, but other genres – specifically, simulation games and “tycoon” type games.

I mentioned Shot-Online as the most promising game on the market right now. It’s an enjoyable on-line golf game in its own right. But there is so much more that could be done to make it a great MMO golf game. What if, instead of using the money you earn to buy upgraded skills you could “invest” in real estate. (a-la Second Life) After buying enough real estate, you could use the in-game course designer to design your own golf course. You could entice other gamers to golf your course by making it fun but difficult to play on, you could hold tournaments with in-game and real life rewards. Then the “tycoon” part kicks in. You could sell your own club merchandise, sell in-game housing for other golfers to live on your course, have players become your course pro to attract even more golfers. The possibilities are limitless.

One problem certain sports games have that golf doesn’t is being able to make it fun for everyone to play all the time. Football especially. Five guys on offense and at least four guys on defense play in the trenches. Not a lot going there, video game wise, but that’s where games are won and lost. I equate linemen to healers. No one likes to play the healer in a MMORPG but they are absolutely essential to the sucess of a party. The same with linemen in football. The trick is to make it fun to be a linemen. Let’s thrown in another genre – mini games! Some sort of mini-game could built in to determine if he is able to hold his block (of course the defender would be participate in a similar game). Something football-oriented. The mini-game would have to be more than just a button mashing contest (not that button mashing is bad!). If you can make it fun, not everyone would have to be the quarterback or free safety, getting all the glory. If you are a good linemen character, people will want you to play on there team! That will be the real trick for making the game successful. I’ve heard of stories where the outfielders in the MMO Baseball Game chatting while the inning progresses. Not exactly fun, if you ask me.

Racing games, and NASCAR in general, seem to be another possibility to include other genres. Not only would their be drivers but you could involve pit crews (mini games, again. Think Puzzle Pirates) and mechanics (think trade skills). A racer could have a garage full of cars that need maintenance and upkeep. There could be track designers here, as well. There’d also be room for artists to trick out your car. A racing sim has MMOG written all over it. And it’s not just the racing aspect of the game that would be the draw. There’d be enough genres to go around!

Another issue that isn’t genre related is equally important in solving – how do you organize enough people to hold a game and then keep them interested? Most games will last a half an hour or more. MMOGs have great communities (witness the PvP and PA WoW guilds) but there are also a disproportionate number of players that are just flat-out jerks. Dealing with them is an issue. Keeping people from dropping just before they lose will be a pain. But there are also great communities built around sports teams. I’m sure the community would take over and root out the bad seeds.

There’s a lot more than what I’ve listed here. I could go on but I’ll spare you. It’s obvious that genre blending is fun! Funny thing is, there really isn’t any genre blending going on. Any good game already has elements of numerous genres without even knowing it. There are just some genres that need to be formally introduced to each other!!”
Go to http://www.buttonmashing.com for more ‘fanboy’ news.





Sports MMO – Got your boots, fancy a kick about?

11 09 2005

With England suddenly sports superstars again, I have been researching sports games, and found this coverage of sports MMO’s by buttonbashing.com

“A while back I mentioned I had been playing a Golf MMORPG called Shot-Online. Since then, I’ve been back for a round here and there and my overall impression of S-O is that it’s an ambitious game that is fun to play and actually has players that are fun to be around. It got me thinking about Sports games as MMORPGs. Or at least MMOGs. Call them what you will, but I’ve seen them mostly referred to as MMOSG (Massively Multiplayer Online Sports Games). I wondered if there were other games out there trying the Massively Multiplayer genre of gaming. I also thought about where this “genre” of games could go. We already have online sports gaming that’s been relatively sucessful but I think there could be more. I don’t think role-players and sports fans are that far removed. They both pore over their players “stats” and play to their strengths while shoring up their weaknesses. The MMO “sphere” is ripe with possibilities.

This is a two-part article. The first part will be what I’ve found while I’ve looked for games that fit the MMOG mold. Part two will be some thoughts I’ve had and where I think this could go.

A Massively Multiplayer Online Sports Game? Why not? Any sport is a competition. Every competition needs at least two people to compete. Then there’s team sports, where many people are competing. Multiplayer, baby!

First, a couple of assumptions. The number of “sports gamers” probably wouldn’t equal the rest of the “gamers” if you were to divide them into two groups but there are a lot of them. There are A LOT of kids out there who own a PS2 for the sole purpose of playing Madden. Sure, those guys play other games like the occasional NBA Live, Tiger Woods, or NCAA game. But these guys can’t be bothered with Ico and Katamari Damacy. There’s Super Bowls to be won! They love their sports teams and they love their sports games.

You could probably break sports gamers into two groups, as well. You’d have the “casual” sports gamer who’s played thousands of Madden games but barely touched the “Superstar Mode” or the Dynasty Mode. The same could be said for the other sports. They like to play the game and can’t be sidetracked with things like drafts and trading. These guys would also be more inclined to play psuedo-sports games like NFL/NBA Street, Hot Shots Golf, etc. The other group of sports gamers are hard core. These are the players that have spreadsheets of statistics plotting the stats of the last ten simulated seasons to see if the video game stats are tracking actual real-life stats. These guys play rotisserie baseball, holding drafts in hotel conference rooms. I’m not saying either side is better than the other. But both expect certain things from their sports games. Some expect fluid animations and knock-out graphics. Others want reasonable simulation results and bases on balls. MMOSGs can accomodate both groups of players. I’ve looked at what’s out there right now and offerings that are on-deck (it’s gonna be hard to resist the sports cliches. There’s so many of them!) and then offer some thoughts about where things can go in Part II.

Baseball
I start with baseball because there is actually a MMO game in beta. Netamin (partnered with ESPN) are working on Ultimate Baseball Online. I have a copy of the beta on my computer but I just haven’t had a chance to install it. UBO offers everything you’d expect from a baseball game, only with other real players. You can read more about UBO here

There is also another baseball offering called “Small Ball” which is a little more “Fantasy Baseball” oriented, but it allows you to create and train your team and then play other teams. From their website:

SmallBall gives you your own team. You train your players and decide what positions they play. Then, when you’re ready, you challenge other teams. You are the coach, manager, and owner…
The strategy of SmallBall is deep. Your players grow and evolve. Over time you get to know each of them, their strengths and weaknesses. As you observe their abilities you will determine how to train them.

This is another game I haven’t tried yet but hope to soon. This type of game has more of a “Fantasy Sports” tilt to it than an actual video game.
Football
Let’s get this out of the way first. I lived in Spain for two years. I know what fútbol is. Barça was my team until Figo left for the enemy. But I play football. Not American football, just football. We might not put our foot to the ball as often as they do in fútbol but this is our sport. Soccer will fall under a different category. Unfortunately, there isn’t much going on out there in the way of a MMO football game. There’s Unreal Football, which “is an online multiplayer browser-based turn-based football strategy game where users assume the role of head coach and compete against each other in virtual football leagues.” Not really what our casual gamers would look for.

I think football has the most potential. Call it the Madden effect. People love to play video game football. Hopefully we’ll see some MMO football in the future.

Golf
Of course Shot-Online is currently the reigning champion of the MMOSG world. Based in Korea, the game is a basic golf game with MMOG options like forming groups to golf, buying and trading new equipment, chatting, and tournaments. The game is pleasing on the eyes and ears (the soundtrack is smooth). Since it is a Korean game, it comes complete with absolutely atrocious English translations. I would offer my translation services free to simply translate their abuse of the golfing vernacular.

The community I’ve interacted within S-O has been pleasant. That’s something I’ve noticed about non-FPS online games – most gamers are actually cool, not 14 year-old potty mouths. This is important because playing with others is important. Why? S-O is an RPG-style golf game, so sinking birdie putts earn you experience points. One interesting thing S-O has done with the community is to reward grouping – the more golfers you play with the more XP you earn. And level differences don’t matter. If you’re a level 10 golfer with a +20 handicap you can still group with a level 45 ringer who sports a -5 handicap. When he birdies a hole you also get XP. You are getting rewarded for his good play. I think that is a great way to not only foster a healthy community but weed out the morons. Shot-Online may not be Tiger Woods Online but it does online golf (an online golf RPG) very well.

Other Sports
I consider football, golf, and baseball to be the heavies (in that order) for sports video gaming. For completeness, however, I would be remiss if I didn’t mention some of the other sports that have large followings as well.

Soccer, of course, is much bigger across the globe than it is here in the States. We play it and enjoy it but not with the passion they do across the pond. I was surprised that there isn’t a lot of MMO soccer gaming going on. There is a “fantasy” soccer offering called Hattrick but I just don’t think these will cut it for the majority of sports gamers. It looks like it has promise but it’s appeal has to be pretty limited.

I see a lot of possibilities for basketball. Right now all I could find is a game called Charazy Basketball Manager which again falls into the “fantasy” management genre. Basketball is untapped. Think virtual dunk competitions, a la NBA Jams. “Is it the shoes?”

There is actually a hockey offering at kiekko.tk, a Finnish website offering online Hockey action. I’ve read that it’s actually not all that bad. Hockey’s never been my thing. I haven’t played a hockey game since Blades of Steel.

Racing
While I argue that racing is, in fact, not a sport, others would vehemently argue to the contrary. Who am I to argue with hundreds of thousands of NASCAR Fans? In the MMO realm, Auto Assault has been heralded as the first MMOG that features automobiles as the focal point. While the game includes racing, I don’t think AA would fall under the sport category.

However, if we turn our attention to our Korean gaming brethren again, we’d see that racing fits very nicely into the MMOSG realm. Kart Rider (use IE for this link, it is hosed in Opera) is a simple kart racing game on the surface but is actually becoming quite a cultural phenomenon in Korea. It also appears to be an unabashed Mario Kart rip-off, but whatever. What is amazing about this free MMOG is that people are actually being sponsored by companies to plaster logos all over their Karts. Sorta like that racing thing we were talking about, our friend NASCAR. Sponsoring a gamer to ride his virtual go kart around a virtual track with your virtual logo displayed prominently? Amazing. (That reminds me of a Mitch Hedberg quote: “Man, you must really like Tide”)

So that wraps up my review of the current state of MMO Sports Games. I titled this post “MMORPG Sports” because I envision most MMO games have RPG elements, but that’s not necessarily always going to be the case. I think we’ll see a little bit RPG and a lot of action and fun. If they can make standing in the outfield fun. And that’s what we’ll talk about in Part II, if it’s actually possible to make this fun. I think it is, but we’ll see. “