Happy New Year?

5 01 2009

http://flickr.com/photos/28481088@N00/3153656575/

2008 closed with bad news for the East Midlands, with Free Radical Design going into administration (Edge Online gave some of the best coverage), though so far it seems not liquidation. The gamers I know are quite shell shocked that they failed to find a publisher for Timesplitters 4, because they and those they know regarded its predecessors so fondly.

It was thought some staff would be retained, as was announced over Christmas: 140 people have been made redundant, and 40 have stayed on, with the administrators dropping strong indications that publishers are interested in buying the studio.

Codemasters and Monumental games were on hand during the company meeting in December, and it seems David Doak and Steve Ellis have left to start a new studio. These are very troubling times, with games booming yet games businesses struggling and risk averse, but some firms are still growing and, so far, doing well.

FRD was a massive indie to lose, but others are being set up. As well as Pumpkin Beach, Simple Lifeforms recently started up too.

(CC image of a new year bonfire by tanakawho)

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Sense of Wonder

11 12 2008

http://flickr.com/photos/trackybirthday/257419001/

I’ve been slowly (too slowly) working my way through these Sense of Wonder Night videos from TGS. It’s a great bunch of strange indie concepts and prototypes, including current belles Pixel-Junk Eden and The Unfinished Swan as well as a lot of more obscure prototypes, like Depict, where you have to reproduce things with a phone camera:

and Gomibako, which appears to be a Tetris style game involving shoving litter in a bin with physics, then setting fire to it:

(CC image by tracky birthday)





Indie Arcade

7 11 2008

War Twat

One of the events we ran in London last week was the Indie Games Arcade, which was a huge success. We showed a handful of interesting games, detailed at the linked page on our website.

The highlights were five or so developers from Beatnik Games coming down to continually run a Plain Sight LAN, and someone setting a staggering record of 1:40 and 1749 points on War Twat. All of our photos are on Flickr, and this page on our website has details of all the games along with links to them.

War Twat developer Robert Fearon and volunteer extraordinaire Andrew Armstrong have both written a bit about the expo and the indie arcade, here and here.





NC Allstars

14 10 2008

It’s just over a month since speculation surfaced on cuts at NCsoft Brighton, with the situation ultimately culminating in the closure of their dev studio with almost 70 redundancies as a result. Wired Sussex pointed out that the industry in the region is still quite strong, with many companies hiring in the region.

Some of the ex-NCsoft staff have also taken a very proactive approach to finding freelancing work. Not only did we see them brushing up their linkedin pages a few weeks before rumours started circulating, but they’ve also set up ncallstars.net, a simple but information dense recruiting hub leading to more information and contact details for various ex-NCsoft staff.

Marek Bronstring, formerly a game designer there, also says on his blog gameslol that some of the ex-dev team have been pitching their project to other publishers, it seems with the blessing of NCsoft:

We had a spectacular team at NCsoft and I’m happy to say that we aren’t parting ways just yet. We have been re-pitching our project to various investors and publishers with the goal to establish a new studio (that’s not our final URL or company name, but I like that logo too much not to link to it). NCsoft Europe has actually been very supportive of our efforts to keep the team together. While it sucks to be laid off, it’s great that NCsoft still wants us to succeed.

It’s good to see so much activity in the wake of such awful news, and I wish everyone formerly of NCsoft good luck.





Reduction in Reviews to Hit Indies?

13 10 2008

From the Introversion forums comes disturbing news that online game review sites may be cutting back on reviews. Money quote:

We’ve heard disturbing rumours from more than one source that major games websites are now cutting back on the number of games they review – and it’s games like Multiwinia that are getting dropped because there will always be hundreds of bigger games. If this is true and is widespread (as we are starting to believe), it has grave repercussions for all indie developers who rely on press reviews as their primary form of publicity.

Rock Paper Shotgun has a good overview of it all, including why games like Multiwinia struggle for exposure in print too, including flat out refusal from one magazine to review Multiwinia now or ever.

Both trends are extremely troubling, because while the long tail and digital tools may have ended certain forms of scarcity, much of the long tail is still pinned down to it. Development costs, even on small games, necessitate that sales migrate up the long tail to cover them. To do this requires a decent sized and intelligently applied marketing budget, and even the best marketers can’t successfully sell a game on the back of nothing. Business, even in virtual goods, is still pegged to a great many kinds of scarcity, and cutbacks at review sites threaten to recentralise a lot of trends and cultural mindshare.

For my part, as well as Rock Paper Shotgun I’d like to link to both Multiwinia and TIGsource. On the basis of things I’ve witnessed firsthand in comics, I strongly suspect that review sites are missing a trick by not highlighting the best indie games. The typical fodder of games over the past 25 years only became mainstream by the neglect of other markets. As shown at the links above, there’s a culture of people looking outside of that, and it could well become the real mainstream rather than a niche.





Emote Get £600K

2 10 2008

Midlands games developers seem to be well ahead of the rest of the country in utilising funding offered by the Technology Strategy Board. As well as Monumental being funded recently, Emote just announced £600K from them as part of a £1.3M project to improve AI in networked environments.

They are also apparently partnering with Imperial College London for the project. Not only is this a more intelligent approach than most studios take, Imperial are a heavyweight university for CS, with well respected courses that make students work hard. Kudos to Emote, who are only about 25 people strong.

(via Develop)

(CC image for this post by Nadya Peek, of a rather interesting AI project involving networked Darth Vader helmets apparently composing music. Youtube links in the Flickr comments).





Paper Protoypes

3 09 2008

Game Career Guide posted a truly excellent article yesterday, on teaching game design without computers. This kind of thing seems an ideal activity to do at secondary level. In fact, prototyping our own boardgames and RPGs was exactly what me and a bunch of mates did in our early teens, beginning with Space Crusade mods and also making up rules for an Advanced Heroquest set we got hold of sans rulebook. We quickly moved on to building our own dungeon crawlers, boardgames and RPGs.

There’s a lot to be said for paper renditions of game assets and prototypes. Several studios I know of cover their walls with printed versions of stuff to keep developers focused on what they’re making, finding in the past that just committing things to a server meant things disappeared into a kind of digital void. This would lead to a state where not many on the team had much idea of the scale of the project, what had been completed, and what remained to be done. Protoyping, it seems, can suffer in a similar way:

Students tend to identify “games” with AAA titles, rather than simpler casual games or games of 20 years ago (Tetris, Space Invaders). These AAA games are often terrifically complex, but they represent the kind of game most students want to produce. However, as a practical matter, most of them actually won’t go on to work for companies producing AAA console games; nor in an educational setting can they make such complex games requiring dozens of work years of professional effort.

All this complexity obscures the actual game design in the games. That obscuring complexity rarely exists in non-electronic games; furthermore, the students aren’t likely to design complex non-electronic games because they cannot expect the computer to take care of the details. Gameplay is a much more obvious element of non-electronic games than it is of video games. The result is that the student is forced to concentrate on the most important part

The article states that video-game prototyping tends to lead students into either story-telling or game production, resulting in the waste of a great deal of time on non-game design practice. It seems the lack of a representation of everything on a project can lead to a profound lack of focus. Typically, only producers have such a representation, but all can benefit from it. Non-electronic protoyping can create the right focus for designers.

Lego and components nicked from other board games are great resources for prototyping, as recommended in the also excellent Siren Song of The Paper Cutter (The article above links it, but the link is broken). Siren song indeed, it’s made me quite nostalgic for cattle abduction strategy boardgames.

Both articles are well worth the time needed to read them. At a time when game development skills have mostly become so complex they require a Graduate or Master’s degree as well as additional years of vocational training at a studio, paper prototyping offers a very accessible way for students at nearly all stages of education to get into and start discussing game design.

(CC image: Portal papercraft by a440. Bet that game would be difficult to prototype with paper).