Browsable Games

16 01 2009

zork

I read on Gamasutra today that the classic, harsh text adventure Zork is returning as a browser based MMO. Similar things have already bee attempted, such as the bot running classic text adventures at the Idle Thumbs Forums, and they’re a good place to go if you want a quick look at just how obtuse and punitive these games could be.

Not only does this seem utterly bizarre, but they’ll probably have to dumb it down to make it acceptable to a modern audience.

Everything seems to be heading to the browser right now. I was shown a demo of the hugely impressive Unity engine at an academic conference last summer, developers like FlashBang have been consistently knocking out interesting games with it, and the company is attracting talent.

iD currently have Quake Live in beta, and it’s basically Quake 3 running in a browser. There have been similar demos out for a while, for instance an only occasionally up demo of a simple Unreal Tournament level running in shockwave was doing the rounds a few years ago.

Some of the first FPS games to lead into professional gaming leagues, that required a pretty hefty gaming rig a decade ago, are now simple enough to pipe through a browser. This is going to be an incredible new thread by which to acclimatise people to gaming, as well as encourage invention. How long before games like Katamari Damacy and De Blob appear online first?

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Pong Music

15 01 2009

http://www.flickr.com/photos/mknowles/3134373590/

An aesthetic diversion today, BIT.TRIP BEAT is a Wiiware title taking Pong mechanics and turning them into a beautiful retro, pixel-art music game:

(via Offworld, CC image of ping pong balls by mknowles)





Virtualisation, Dematerialisation

14 11 2008

http://www.flickr.com/photos/monkchips/2886907177/

James Governor has written a fascinating account of his visit to Microsoft’s Virtualisation team, who are attempting to simulate as much as the possibly can. It has potential to improve both the efficiency and the greenness of businesses, as James puts it:

Moving Atoms has a cost. I have recently started talking about Bit Miles as a Greenmonk narrative, defined as is the carbon cost associated with moving a good or creating a service that could instead have been delivered digitally. Bit Miles offer us a moral imperative to digitize: a simulation of the world is a beautiful opportunity to rethink and potentially dematerialize business processes.

Why not Supply Chain Simulator ™, which would pull together all of your plant information (pulled in from OSI, say), where your people are located (Peoplesoft), and how you move goods and services (SAP) around the world? An organisation could begin to run really deep “What If” scenarios about the energy costs of their businesses with simulations like these. But what would really make these models sing is the fact they’d be visual and immersive. Telling is rarely as effective as Showing. What would a low energy manufacturing business look like? With virtual technology we could maybe work it out.

Quite revolutionary stuff for Microsoft, and leaning heavily on their growing expertise in games. Another related post I read yesterday is “Who Stole My Volcano? Or: How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love the Dematerialisation of Supervillain Architecture.“, which compares the opulent fortresses of Cold War Bond villains with the briefcases and phones that their modern counterparts work from. The utter difference in philosophy and power is obtuse at first, and utterly alien to the old guard, yet is accelerating into an unstoppable force.

I’ve been fascinated with the dematerialisation of physical objects ever since starrting to read Bruce Sterling, notably his book Shaping Things, which looks at the tendency of physical products to become information, ultimately existing as specific kinds of data that can be instantiated in the real world.

While AutoCAD is still the standard for architectural design, all the designers I know who use it regard it as outdated. The tools and skills that game developers use are up to the minute, and stand a good chance of being extremely relevant to the world in much larger ways, not only in terms of simulation, but also designing and producing physical chunks of it.

(CC image from MS Virtualisation studio, by RedMonk Red)





Google to Buy Valve? (UPDATED)

17 09 2008

(EDIT: Apparently, Google are not buying Valve, but I’m suspicious. Both companies seem to have been fairly evasive, with Valve’s “This is 100% rumour” not being a flat out denial, and Google refusing to nix the speculation. Nicholas Lovell reinforces the quote from Kim Pallister below: Content doesn’t make much sense for Google, but Steam really does. It’s possible that early talks for the acquisition of Steam have mutated into an uncontrolled rumour about buying Valve. This would explain just why the rumour has bitten so hard, with at least one news editor I know stating their sources are certain something is, or was, going on).

It seems Google might be entering videogames in a bolder way than anyone expected.

I’d been meaning to post a follow up to the part of this post on Google getting into Games. Kim Pallister blogged some thoughts on it a few days ago, saying:

I don’t think believe the content publishing business – where specifically I mean publishing to mean “the business of funding and otherwise aiding the production and bringing to market of content” – is something that fits within Google’s DNA.

Kim often has pretty good analysis on his blog, and I found this convincing, but the Inquirer reports that Google is set to acquire Valve. Within hours it’s been linked to by MCV, Develop, EDGE, Rock Paper Shotgun, and C&VG among others. This rumour is biting hard because it’s surprising yet makes sense. The official line from Google is a highly suspicious, or improbably mischievous, “no comment“.

Of all the buys Google could make, as one of the few developers big enough and forward looking enough, Valve are a good fit for them. In the long run, Google ownership of Valve, and more specifically Steam, could be a massive factor in prying PC gaming dominance away from Windows, and integrating AdSense with more than just casual or web games.

(CC image by Don Solo)





The Art of Digital Distribution

1 09 2008

(Above: Preliminary artwork from the development of Braid)

It’s unprecedented: The Daily Mail have given a gushingly positive review to a videogame, Braid. The Daily Mail, of course, has been at the front of many a “ban this sick filth” campaign against nearly every controversial game of the moment. As Destructoid put it, “British tabloid in game-liking SHOCKER!”.

Anecdotally, even my older brother, who only rarely plays games and hates most of them, watched me do a speedrun of the game this weekend while I explained the story to him. At the end, his words were “This is a significant piece of work”.

Since it’s a 360 exclusive, many will have to wait until the PC version of this is out, and luckily it’s likely to have fairly low system requirements. In the meantime, Gamasutra have an article about the development of the game’s art style, going from the basic programmer art through many iterations to the final product. It’s an interesting read, though a little fragmented due to originally being a series of blog posts. There are more in the same series there.

It struck me during this weekend that there weren’t really many propositions that would make a game entering the market at £10 look good or desirable next to £50 new releases like GTA IV. Am I a snob for thinking the idea of a £10 price point in brick and mortar retail kind of smacks of the cheap multipacks of Spectrum cassettes to be found littering cash and carries during the late 80s? Indie games can’t possibly hope to compete in the AAA arms race, and as a result it’s likely that a rack of boxed XBLA titles would create a bargain bin perception.

Digital distribution is the perfect medium to bring indie games back to the fore and reward experimentation though. Braid, Castle Crashers, RezHD, and Pixeljunk Eden are all things that have caught my eye over the past month, but in the past 5 years of my gaming there was very little in the same vein to be had. As a result, in one month since signing up for xbox live, I’ve spent more on games this past month than I usually do in most. There are PS3 titles I’d be buying digitally if I owned the one in our house too. £40 – £50 price points lead me to contemplate AAA purchases carefully, and I don’t make many. £10 for something that will keep me and a housemate entertained for a quiet weekend is a steal.

Digital distribution is a strange current where technology and culture mingle and drive each other. In the case of music, there’s an absolutely overwhelming amount of content, but with games, it’s still fairly easy for a single one to stand out and be remembered. I feel quite privileged to be able to observe a new form of media adapting to new technology.





Google Game Ads

14 08 2008

via Nicholas Lovell comes a rumour that Google are nearing a release of the in-game ad service they’ve been testing for a while. It’s most likely true given the recent release of Lively. Also, as Nicholas points out:

the opportunity for independent and smaller studios who fall below the radar screen of Massive, IGA or Double Fusion will be huge.

The current players of in game advertising are all chasing the short head while they struggle to create a big enough market, and it’s entirely possible that Google will eclipse them all with the long tail.





Kangaroo

9 07 2008

We’ve been boning up a little on Kangaroo, which is the working title of a video-on-demand player that will incorporate content from BBC Worldwide, Channel 4 and ITV (It’s slated to have the final name of “SeeSaw”).

It’s interesting in itself that three players with different business models and strategies are cooperating on a single VoD service, but the service itself will also allow different business models:

Users will be offered programming for free, rental and buy-to-own, with the intention that Kangaroo provides a “one-stop shop” for all BBC, ITV and Channel 4 content.

The most interesting thing we’ve found though is this blog post by Steve Bowbrick, positing that a referral to the competition commissioner, which has delayed it by six months, may in fact have saved it:

By then the entire market will have shifted again: just remember how different everything looked when Kangaroo was first discussed. Back then (almost exactly a year ago) VoD looked fairly simple: it was going to be a paid-for, walled garden kind of business with TV shows delivered in standalone applications, wrapped in heavy-duty DRM.

Now, led by the BBC’s second-generation streaming iPlayer, VoD looks very different: it’s free, it’s delivered in a browser and DRM is fading fast. The OFT’s decision has handed Kangaroo the opportunity to sit out the next six months of cock-ups and dead ends and time travel to a different context all together. Sure it’s risky (and costly) to sit on your hands for half a year in a fast moving business but the opportunity to watch the other early entrants tripping over their laces and going bust surely can’t be missed.

It’s a scary time for all kinds of media. A quote from the NESTA games industry event on Monday was “Innovation *is* the strategy now”, and this will surely lead to a very high failure rate accompanied by sudden scale changes (in both directions) for businesses. If that seems frightening, doing nothing is the one sure route to total failure.

Steve also points out that the OFT is unlikely to shut the service down, just specify necessary changes. The challenge was initiated by Sky, and its likely that any changes would mandate a degree of openness. So rather than being a standalone player…

It’ll be a platform to begin with. And it’ll probably be a tiered affair, with the investing partners’ shows featured at the top and the stuff from the great unwashed further down or out at the fringes.

There’s a lot more speculation from that point on, but:

a post-OFT Kangaroo looks like a whole different kind of place: Kangaroo 2.0? OpenKangaroo? Sky’s self-interested intervention might have a most unexpected result. It might turn Kangaroo from—let’s face it—a slightly desperate tactical response to the seething grassroots video revolution into a national asset: a focus for the UK’s creative community. The new Kangaroo might be a genuine British hub for the emerging layer of video creators occupying the space below the telly production indies who got their leg up from Channel 4 25 years ago. In fact, it might be ‘a Channel 4 for the rest to us’. I don’t know about you but I’m suddenly finding the prospect of an OFT referral much more interesting than I’d ever expected it could be. Fingers crossed.

Fingers crossed indeed.

(Creative Commons image by Unapower)