Monumental Get Another Grant

6 01 2009

http://flickr.com/photos/warrenh/2319200193/

Monumental Games recently moved offices in Nottingham, acquired half of Swordfish Manchester as it got into trouble, and now have another £140,000 grant. This time it’s from Northwest Vision and Media, and they were eligible for it thanks to taking on the extra office in a different region. That’s probably a happy but unintended outcome rather than a plan, as there are plenty of other reasons for Monumental to have acquired Swordfish Manchester and it’s not very long since they did.

It’s comparatively rare for games companies to take advantage of this kind of thing though, whereas it’s fairly common for film production all over the world. Good to see developers acting smartly even in the downturn, as we’ve previously heard a lot of cynicism from studios about readily available government support.

(CC image of coins by Warren H)





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.





Monumental Games Funded with £300K

24 09 2008

East Midlnads based Monumental Games have won £300,000 of funding from the Technology Strategy Board, they announced yesterday.

It makes a lot of sense, as networked technology is looking like one of the safest bets in games at the moment.

I do wonder if Rocco wrote this or it was written for him, as press release quotes often are:

Project Chairman Rocco Loscalzo (CTO of Monumental) praised the approach of the Technology Strategy Board. “This is the first year that the Technology Strategy Board has invited applications from the Creative Industries, and it is encouraging to see recognition for the contribution made by such industries to the UK economy. This award for Collaborative Research and Development has enabled us to kick-start a commercially viable but inherently high-risk project, and we can’t wait to get going with our partners.”

Either way, it’s fairly progressive for a games company to class themselves under “creative industries”; most stay pretty aloof from the label because they see it as only applying to small, local artisanal businesses.

(CC image of monumental forehead by Salemek)





MMO Behaviours, Bruce Sterling at AGDC

19 09 2008

Bruce Sterling gave a keynote at the Austin Game Developer’s Conference, and Rudy Rucker quickly posted a transcript of the talk. He manages to use a set of nonsense words to illustrate how the present regards the past, presenting his talk as someone from the future talking about our present. The entire thing is entertaining and worth reading, but one part in particular stuck out to me:

The other question they ask—if they’re smart—is, what is that I did not see? What was I NOT thinking about? What is that blindsided me? What is that I couldn’t see in my industry? The future development I just didn’t understand. The wild card, the black swan.

Well, I can tell you about that problem.

[…]

Entertainment is fun. Am I correct? I’ve gotta be. If it’s no fun, obviously it’s not entertainment. It’s one of those phony game educational applications that kids have to be tortured to use. You definitely want the users to have fun. That’s the definition of your industry. That’s what it is all about.

Except for three kinds of people. They’re not fun people. They’re not even users. They’re abusers, you might say, because they don’t obey your rules.

First, gold farmers. Rip-off artists. The excluded. The black market. The pirates. […]

Second, griefers. […]

Third—and these are the weird ones—the convergence culture people. They will play your game all right, but they play it while using six or seven other kinds of media. They don’t make any distinction between the media they use. They use the networks as a meta-medium. They don’t play the roles in your role-playing games.

People play roles in Dungeons and Dragons because that is a paper game, it’s like little theater for the home. People play roles. You don’t see D&D people passing each other text messages and looking for cheats on wikis. Convergence people are metamedia people who are looking for meta-fun. Not your fun.

New and emergent forms of game are dependent on new and emergent forms of play. Not enough of us are looking at these trends, least of all developers who mainly have their heads down in the trenches producing AAA code and art assets.

The picture at the top of this post is a mount in Age of Conan, inspired by this video of a griefer with a horse. Cut down, shown without context as in that video, we tend to find griefing hilarious, yet if it’s done to us in game we tend to be outraged.

As a behaviour, it’s probably only been on the radar regularly for less than a decade. We’re not even close to understanding it, though along with others it is being studied. Videogames are a fascinating lens to look at ourselves through, and doing so may give us some clues about the future.





Packrat: Game Creates Ripples on Facebook

17 09 2008

Techcrunch highlighted Facebook app Packrat on Monday, which seems to be causing a bit of a disturbance there. In a piece titled “Facebook Isn’t A Social Network. And Stop Trying to Make New Friends There”, Michael Arrington writes:

A big part of the game is “stealing” cards from friends, and so a lot of users add other users as friends so that their cards can be obtained. The application’s popularity has also led some users to create Facebook accounts for the sole purpose of playing the game.

Some of those accounts are now being disabled by Facebook, according to this discussion forum on the application site.

What’s curious is the email sent from Facebook to one deleted user, which states that Facebook isn’t a social network (it’s a “social utility”) and isn’t meant to build large groups of new friends. Instead, Facebook is meant to reinforce “pre-existing” social connections

The game revolves around collecting, earning money and stealing inventory items. A continual stream of new and fairly slickly produced new content perpetually plugs into the old framework, while old content expires and becomes irrelevant, unless you can collect it fast enough.

I tried it out a few weeks ago, and it really does reach the heights of grind and tedium usually reserved for MMOs. As such, there’s something weirdly compelling about it, so much so that Facebook have evidently performed some contortions around their terms of service to nip a potential and unintended community in the bud.

Packrat had the potential to become a trojan MMO, embedded in Facebook and incurring loads on their servers. Games are a very strange behavioural tool, and I think Packrat shows we only have a very superficial understanding so far.

(CC image by SCO)





Monumental Expands

2 09 2008

Nottingham, UK based Monumental Games are rapidly growing, having gone from 35 to 60 staff in the past six months.

We’re based in the same region, which has quite a gathering of large game developers (Rebellion Derby, Rare, Free Radical, Eurocom) plus a some smaller studios (Gusto Derby, Emote), but until now most of them have been clustered around Derby.

Many studio heads are complaining of rising pressures in the UK, while at the same time some studios are expanding. Many more, hit by the credit crunch, are currently not expecting to grow during the next year. The dollar rate is easing somewhat, but we’ve a long way to go before the UK industry is past the worst.

The Games Up campaign seems to have been quiet for the last month or so, peaking just before that with stories in the national press and the announcement of NESTA’s skills fund. I expect they’re preparing a lot more to be put out around the London Games Festival.

A lot of developers have been talking up the UK industry for the past few months. It’s difficult right now, but not impossible.

(Image: Football superstars, in development by Monumental)





WebWars: EVE

19 08 2008

Late last year was a season of highly polished AAA game releases, and the run out of summer this year seems to belong to interesting indie games. We’ve already had Braid and Echochrome, and upcoming is Flower.

Upcoming is also Webwars: EVE, which seems to be a casual take on CCP’s MMO, in which players compete to control websites. As Alice says, “It’s PMOG meets EVE!”

Which are both interesting projects in their own right.

I played EVE Online for a two week trial, and it was not only beautiful, but surprisingly deep and huge. I felt truly lost in a massive galaxy, rarely seeing the same players twice. It was a surprising mix of casual and complex, with an Alt+Tab friendliness that most games don’t have coupled with long travel times, leading to attention being on several things on the computer at once. However, the markets and character leveling were really very involved, calling for much advance planning and scheduling of play time. It was one of the first games to impress on me the quote Eyjolfur Gudmondsson gave to gi.biz recently:

alternate universes such as Eve’s are “real, but not reality.”

It is extremely interesting yet of course logical that CCP would turn EVE into a brand and spread it down into more casual territory.





KZero: Virtual Pursuits Breakdown

25 07 2008

KZero have an excellent visualisation of different types of MMO and what age groups play them. There are many there I hadn’t heard of, all neatly categorised. Follow this link for a full size version, and this one for a post by them breaking it down.

(via the infringalicious Wonderland 🙂 Note to KZero – people copying your stuff on the web is a good thing when they point back to you).





Google: Lively

10 07 2008

Google have finally launched a virtual world. People have been talking about this since the first google maps mashups, Sketchup and again with Google Earth.

What’s there so far seems pretty high quality, there must be some fairly powerful content creation tools to allow users to generate many of the rooms on show (there’s already a Linden Lab one).

It works with individual rooms, somewhat like Metaplace, rather than a consistent world ala WoW, which will almost certainly give it a lower bandwidth and processing footprint than a typical MMO. Everyone better watch out… not just Linden Lab, but Sony, with PSHome and Virgin with A World Of My Own. A lot of these offerings seem very similar, but I expect Google’s advertising model could crunch right through the competition.

I’ll be interested to see how consistent worlds stack up against the polyphony that’ll be found in things like Lively and Metaplace. I suspect that consistent worlds that people can become really absorbed into will still be able to command subscription fees, while the more random offerings will lead people to expect them to be free or ad supported.

Everything in Lively seems rather stylised and consistent from room to room at the moment, and I do wonder if that will survive in the torrent of user generated content. Will siloing things in individual rooms lead to consistent styles emerging, or will general taste still make it look like Second Life?

(CC image of Lively by ialja)





WiM Keynote, Raph Koster

11 03 2008

Paris riot

It seems far more downbeat than usual, but Raph Koster gave quite a negative keynote at the Worlds in Motion Summit:

He showed photos of Club Penguin, and glamorous Second Life characters with torn jeans — and then followed them with unsettling slides of Darfur and Haiti.

“I look at what we do and I say, god damn, we’re kind of irrelevant,” Koster said, pointing out the schism between virtual reality and the real world we know.

It’s not a very new point, though Jane McGonigal put it across in a much more positive way during her Game Developer’s Rant:

I’m not here to rant about game designers. I’m mad, but I’m not mad at game designers. I think that compared to the rest of the world, game designers pretty much have it all figured out. We’ve invented a medium that kicks every other medium’s ass. As game designers, we own more emotional bandwidth, we occupy more brain cycles, and we make more people happy than any other platform or content in the world. And if you don’t already believe that, if you don’t realize that we’ve already won, then you’re not paying attention to the staggering amount of time, energy, money and passion that gamers all over the world pour into our games every single day.

So why why have we won? Because as an industry, we’ve spent the last 30 years learning how to optimize human experience. We know that our brains are made for playing games. Recently, some of us have remembered that our bodies are made for playing games. And we’ve always known that our hearts are made for playing games. So as an industry, we’ve spent three whole decades figuring out how to engineer systems that fully engage our brains, and our bodies, and our hearts. And we’ve pretty much solved that problem – or, at least, our solutions are working better than other designed experience on the planet. So our systems work better than anything anyone else is making to engage human beings. And as a result, the way I see it, right now, we basically rule the world.

That’s the good news. But the problem is, we don’t rule the real world.

Where Raph says we have a moral obligation to attend to the world’s problems, Jane is saying we have the power to do so.

(CC image of a riot in Paris, from Daniel Meyer)