Offworld, Left 4 Dead Intro

4 12 2008

Left 4 Dead

Offworld was also recently launched by Boing Boing, and along with Rock Paper Shotgun appears to be a stalwart and interesting games blog that updates a lot yet is above the standard of typical games blogs like Kotaku and Joystiq.

One of the posts that caught my attention the other day was this one about Left 4 Dead’s intro video. I’d picked up on the approach it took to the game, but not that it was a tutorial. I think that’s an excellent bit of insight.

Tutorials don’t necessarily have to be interactive: give people the right information and space to play together and they’ll generally figure things out. Nonetheless, many games take the patronising approach of “This is the button to jump. Press the button to jump! Well done! you just jumped! Now creep. This is the button to creep. No, don’t jump on that. Go back and creep. I’m not letting you do anything else until you do as you’re told.”

The “shopping list” approach to the Left 4 Dead video in terms of introducing the enemies and game mechanics is the kind of thing that make s a TV show or film look lazy and unfocussed, but I think it works exceptionally well for expressing a videogame through passive media.

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Encroachment

12 11 2008

http://flickr.com/photos/stoic1/2741922393/

More news of non-games companies moving further into videogames this week. Tomy announced that they have a 50 year old catalogue of IP, and intend to take it into games publishing for current consoles and handhelds via a new Tomy publishing label. I’m sure I don’t need to remind anyone that toys and non-electronic games are exactly where Nintendo started and worked before going anywhere near videogames.

Meanwhile, a new patent by Apple reveals, potentially, that they may incorporate motion control into the Apple remote. As that VentureBeat piece points out, it’s wouldn’t necessarily be a huge technological step to start offering games though the app store and Apple TV, and it makes sense when the Wii has created a market.

This could go in all directions. Places like the App store can encourage indies to work via digital distribution, but a proliferation of more traditional businesses could also lead to an explosion in work for hire (and another cycle of publishers marketing departments thinking they can design games…) as well as exposure to new markets.

(CC Dingbot photo by Stoic)





UK Games Archive

30 09 2008

I’m pleased to see this being set up by one of my local universities; I was present for the launch of GameCity and the announcement of this:

An archive to preserve the history of videogames is being set up by university experts.

Nottingham Trent University says the global videogames industry is worth about £22bn and steps are needed in order to record its development.

The archive will be housed at the National Media Museum in Bradford and put together by researchers from Nottingham Trent University.

The collection will include consoles, cartridges and advertising campaigns.

The archive will chart the history of videogames from Pong in 1972 to present-day blockbusters.

A lot of people won’t appreciate just how necessary this is, yet as Dr. James Newman points out countless works from other media have been lost over time due to a lack of these kind of efforts. A minority of people in the comics community have been agitated for years over the lack of a similar archive for comics, while important indie work piles up and gets forgotten.

Despite similar efforts for film, plenty of celluloid film has simply rotted away, and that’s somewhat due to it languishing under copyright law for decades at a time. That games are a retail product will no doubt make that less of a barrier to collecting and archiving important games and the media surrounding them.

(CC image by Brainless Angel)





Aerosmith: GH Worth More Than Any Album

18 09 2008

Interesting and rather provocative quote on MTV Multiplayer, from CEO of Activision Bobby Kotick:

“[Their] version of ‘Guitar Hero’ generated far more in revenues than any Aerosmith album ever has,” said Kotick. “Merchandising, concert sales, their ability to sign a new contract [have] all been unbelievably influenced by their participation in ‘Guitar Hero.’”

An Aerosmith rep was not able to confirm Kotick’s statement by press time.

Obviously, this needs a pinch of salt.

Nonetheless, games are syncretic media, and ascending. As such, we can expect them not only to adopt practices from other media industries, but to start eating up parts of the industries themselves.

(CC image by justj0000lie)





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.





Guillermo del Toro Talks On Games

29 08 2008

In terms of film, the past decade has seen a lot of token interest in the games industry, with various directors producing turgid cash-ins on successful games.

Interest in games is now culturally entrenching though, as demonstrated by Guillermo del Toro in this interview:

How much influence do you think your gaming has had on your movies?

A lot. Videogames use art direction, colour and storytelling in a very pure way that a lot of movies have forgotten. I have a 12-year-old daughter and we play together, but unfortunately she’s more into Sonic and Kirby. We should embrace games not as a separate universe from movies, but develop the stories using both media at the same time. And I think we can.

Care to put a date on that?

The industry is incredibly slow. It’s like a dinosaur. It turns much slower than its culture. I think the content is going to develop itself through viral construction like the internet, online moviemaking and so on.

The interviewer unfortunately seems to be a soft touch, especially when it comes to Ico, Shadow of the Colossus, and Bioshock. I’m sure there’s plenty more to find out there, but nonetheless it’s encouraging to see a director talking about games and not come across as if they’re reading from cue cards. Legitimate interest in games from other fields is quickly going to increase and run a lot deeper.





Infovore: Playing Together

28 08 2008

Tom Armitage has given a talk on games and social software entitled “Playing Together” at NLGD and also at Develop. We unfortunately missed it at the latter because we were running Games:EDU a couple of rooms away, but Tom has now posted text and images.

It’s a really broad ranging talk with some great thinking on what humans are and how we use games. It moves through the kind of social circles we engage in, how social software has drawn on playful experiences to cater to those, how people in turn find new ways of playing with things and each other, and what videogame designers might be able to learn from all of this. The large structure makes it difficult to quote from, so I suggest you go and read the whole thing.

And what do you discover about Nike+? You discover there’s a metagame to it. People start syncing late – filling up their run data and then only syncing at the last minute – to disguise how much they’re doing. They mess around!

Nike+ is ticking so many of our boxes: it’s asynchronous; it’s designed perhaps best for small groups; it turns running into a social object, putting it online. It’s a really great example of future for social play.

And it goes where I am: it’s a game that I don’t have to learn how to play. I already know how to run.

(CC image of volleyball by flyzipper)