Archive for the ‘Games’ Category

I’m Captivated – and in need of assistance

September 24, 2013

In just a couple of weeks – October 6-8, to be precise, the first Captivate conference is taking place in Austin, TX.

http://captivateconference.com/

Obviously, given that it’s in my home town and I’m speaking at the conference, I’m a tad prejudiced, but I think Captivate is shaping up to be something pretty cool.

For starters, there’s the thing that got me most jazzed in the first place – the cross-media nature of the event. Austin’s such a big games, music and movie town, I had a head-slapping moment when the organizers said they were going to try to bring those communities together, instead of keeping them at arms length from one another, the way most conferences seem to do. How is it no one’s done that before? Sheesh!

And now that we’re getting closer to the date, attendance looks like it’ll be good, there’ll be live streaming of events and even opportunities to get up on a stage and pitch startup ideas whether you’re an official speaker or not. (Don’t ask me how that’s going to work – I just think it’s cool.)

Anyway, given that we’re a week and a half away from C-Day, you’d think I’d have my talk all wrapped up and ready to go, but that’s not the way I work. Oh, I’ve got plenty of material, but I’d like to get some input and additional material from you folks before I get up on stage, locked and loaded and ready to talk.

So, whether you’re attending Captivate or not, I hope you’ll share your thoughts with me on Games Leadership. That’s the topic of my talk, and while I have a fair amount of experience to draw from and (shocking!) lots of opinions, I wanted to draw on the wisdom of the crowd here and get some thoughts from you.

Here’s kind of what I’m looking for:

  • Who are gaming’s leaders?
  • How did they become the leaders they are?
  • Is there a difference between creative and business leadership (i.e., between game direction and game production or between studio leadership and discipline leadership)?
  • Does the game business do a good enough job training, evaluating and growing its leaders?
  • Is anyone, whether in development, publishing or academia rigorously training game leaders? Who? How?
  • What have been some of the best (and worst) experiences you’ve had that could be credited to or laid at the feet of great (or poor) leadership? (And, yes, everyone who’s worked for and with me is welcome to gang up on me here… I’m tough. I can take it.

I’m even looking to talk about how leadership might differ when you move from medium to medium, so feel free to chime in on film or music leadership, too!

That’s just a sample – if there are other leadership-oriented topics I’ve left out, answer questions I didn’t even think to ask. Basically, the more data points I have, the broader the perspective I can take, the better the talk’s going to be. So share. Talk to me about leadership – good and bad… How one becomes a leader – sensibly and not so sensibly… What role leadership plays in game development and publishing and how that’s changed over the years. Help a guy out here, wouldja?

And if you happen to see me at Captivate, come on over and say Hi. It’s Austin. We’re friendly.

Thanks!

Warren

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GTA V. Great game? Probably. Great review? Definitely.

September 18, 2013

Want to read a great game review (great review, I mean – I have no opinion about the game yet)? Try this:

http://www.nytimes.com/2013/09/17/arts/video-games/grand-theft-auto-v-is-a-return-to-the-comedy-of-violence.html?pagewanted=all

Nice, right?

QUIBBLES
My only real quibble with Chris Suellentrop’s review is that he’s more forgiving of misogyny and the “fun” of virtual violence than I might be. Here’s Sam Houser on the topic of misogyny:

“I mean, I suppose we could have done it, early enough on – with a female character.”

Leaving aside the fact that Suellentrop was able to get one of gaming’s more reclusive figures to speak out, I think the discussion was about more than just player avatars – Suellentrop seemed to have been pointing out that all the female characters in the series are treated badly. But, hey, if next time around we get cool female avatars in a GTA game, that’s a win, right?

So, yeah, much as I like the review, I feel that Suellentrop lets GTA V off the hook too easily for its content “issues.” Of course, in the spirit of total honestly, that has to be qualified by the fact that I’ve always found it nearly impossible to get past the content and story choices the GTA team offers. I try, really, I try, but I always seem to find the content too much to bear, even when the gameplay is rock solid.

And in this case, Suellentrop makes a solid case for the gameplay, assessing it in highly positive (and likely accurate) terms. My squeamishness is easily countered. Feel free to ignore me on this…

THE IMPORTANT THING
The important thing is not who likes or doesn’t like the content, or even who does or doesn’t like the gameplay – the important thing is that this review told me everything I needed to know to decide whether to buy the game or not. And then it went on to tell me what place the game might play (sorry for the pun) in a larger cultural context.

Wow.

I read the review and knew to expect open world stuff on a whole new level, more options available to me than ever, great music, visuals that will blow me away, content that makes me go “ugh” and a story that makes me go “meh.” (Okay, I made those last two up – that’s me talking not the reviewers! Bad Warren!)

But all of that being given, the thing I found most compelling, was as Suellentrop put it, the game “evokes and satirizes the anxieties of 21st-century life. There’s a fake Facebook (LifeInvader), a fake Twitter (Bleeter), a fake Apple (Fruit), a fake Kickstarter (Beseecher), a fake “50 Shades of Grey” (“Chains of Intimacy”), even a fake Call of Duty (Righteous Slaughter 7, a first-person shooter game that advertises itself with the tagline “The identical art of contemporary killing”).”

Oh, yeah, I’m in. Facebook as LifeInvader? Twitter as Bleeter? That kind of self-consciousness and cultural awareness are right up my alley – just what it takes to crank a game up to 11. A less well-conceived and executed review might not have twigged me to all that was going on in the game; this one did. If only all game reviews were like that!

So, I’ve read the review. I’ve thought through my history with the series. Will I buy and play GTA V?

Yeah. Sure.

You kind of have to if you call yourself a gamer or game developer, right I’m just hoping I can get past the content this time…

REVIEW AS CONVERSATION-STARTER
Whether you’re a curmudgeonly developer, a gamer, a parent, a reviewer or a game-hating politician, go read this review. At the very least it’ll make a great conversation starter. And we need more adult conversation around games – the way they play, the ideas they express and their place in the broader media/cultural world.

And that conversation doesn’t have to end with debate about the merits of a single game. One might just as easily use it as a jumping off point for a discussion of my current fave topic – the state of games criticism today.

SERIOUS CRITICISM IS ALIVE AND ALMOST WELL
Thanks to many of you, I’m starting to find that the kind of writing and thinking I see in the New York Times is more common than I thought, There’s more quality games criticism out there than I expected. Sadly, if unsurprisingly, most of it is found on gamer-oriented websites, which still leaves the NY Times as one of the few outlets – maybe the only one – that reaches normal humans. But, luckily, the Times critics are doing a fine job.

And that leads to what I consider to be a Big Question…

A BIG QUESTION
Does either Stephen Totilo or Chris Suellentrop have a large enough body of work – more importantly, a philosophically coherent body of work – to justify a collection of reviews in printed or ebook form?

Such a collection, with an introductory section outlining the critical foundation supporting all the individual reviews, could be our “I Lost It at the Movies,” our “Confessions of a Cultist,” or our “The Private Eye, The Cowboy and the Very Naked Girl.” (And if you don’t know those books, look ’em up.)

Someone should publish that book. Now. I’d blurb that book in a heartbeat. Heck, I’d write the foreword, if anyone asked! And then I’d start bugging Totilo and Suellentrop to tackle the little job of writing the games version of “The American Cinema.” At this point, there’s no one I’d trust more to do the job right.

A BIGGER QUESTION
Back to GTA V – anyone know whether I should play on Xbox or PS3? That’s one thing Suellentrop and the Times didn’t tell me!

Responses to my last Games Industry International column

July 26, 2013

Hey there! It’s been years since I’ve posted anything here – let’s not go into why that is, okay? – and I have no idea how regularly I’ll be posting anything in the future. But I had something to say and this seemed like the place to say it.

See, over the last few months, the fine folks over at gamesindustry.biz have given me some of their website to sound off about pretty much anything game-related that happens to get my shorts in a knot. And, as if that weren’t enough, they’ve even given me some space to respond to comments about all that ranting and raving.

But recently I gave them two columns in a row covering different aspects of games criticism (see “sorry state of”) and rightly suggested that, rather than respond to comments – making it FOUR times I’d written about the topic – ahem… It might be time to move on to other things. When you put it that way, it’s hard to disagree!

So I’m  working on a new column… having nothing to do with games criticism (promise!). But I’m like a dog with a bone and couldn’t leave readers of my last column with the last word. So I asked the GI folks if I could post my responses somewhere, they said yes, and here they are – responses to responses. Enjoy. Feel free to rerespond. If I get enough reresponses, I may chime in again. Who knows? We’ll see how it goes.

Before I get to the meat of things, I want to remind people of something I said when I started writing for GI in the first place – I said I wasn’t interested in pontificating or telling anyone The Truth about tough issues. That’s still true. The column was – and is – supposed to be about issues I don’t feel I fully understand and about questions for which I have ideas but not answers. (Not that this means I won’t pontificate at all – I like pontificating!)

Anyway, looking at the responses to my first three columns, I suspect some readers are viewing these things as lectures rather than the dialogue I intend them to be. That’s clearly my problem, as the guy writing these things, not something I can lay on readers, but, still, it’s something worth restating, I think.

(You know, now that I think about it, dialogue between writer and audience isn’t far removed from the virtual dialogue between developer and player in all the games I’ve worked on. That’s actually kind of cool…)

Okay, that out of the way, on to the column comments and my responses:

Many of you said that our medium has no need of a Roger Ebert or anyone of his ilk.
First, let me explain one thing – I do not believe games criticism literally needs a “Roger Ebert.” Where did anyone get that idea? I wasn’t trying to say we need “celebrity critics” or “big names,” as one magazine editor opined in a response to my thoughts. I do think we need a cadre of people whose work bridges the gap between reviews and academic writing. That’s all. Plain and simple – at least I thought so.

So why mention Ebert at all (and why will I almost certainly continue to do so)?

That’s simple, too. It’s because I thought I needed at least one example of a media critic whose work went beyond simple “It’s great/It sucks” thinking, someone whose name and work might be recognizable and worth caring about, whether you agreed with his pronouncements or not. I figure most people aren’t familiar with the current New York Times critics or the New Yorker folks or pretty much anyone who writes for some of the more serious film magazines out there. And I suspect most of you (not all, but most) don’t know who Pauline Kael was, or Judith Crist or Andrew Sarris, let alone Manny Farber or, going back even further, Hugo Munsterberg, Vachel Lindsay and Harry Alan Potamkin. Ebert is an example or the sort of thing we need, not specifically and literally what we need.

Even though I didn’t always agree with Ebert when I was living in Chicago, his base of operations… Okay, cards on the table, I rarely agreed with him. But even when I thought he was nuts, I always respected the fact that he had a point of view, against which I could measure my own ideas about film and, in that way, predict with some accuracy which films I might like. Ditto for Pauline Kael and Judith Christ, two writers whose work didn’t make me a fan, but whose work clearly demanded respect.

FWIW, I was always more of a Sarris/Farber fan with strong positive feelings about Thompsen and a guy named Robert Warshow. If you don’t know who these people are, check them out – I bet their work is somewhere online. (And, yes, I’m aware of the irony of sending you to the Internet when I’m arguing for more print exposure…)

Anyway, I wasn’t trying to say we need Roger Ebert, or that you should like the same people I like. I was just trying to say you should seek out critics whose work you do like, and from whom you can learn about the games medium. Oh… wait… Those people don’t exist. Not in sufficient numbers and not in the right places with the right placement.

(Oh, yeah. One more thing: I’m stunned no one pointed out the irony of citing Roger Ebert as an example of what games criticism needs when he, along with his TV partner, Gene Siskel, pioneered the thumbs up/thumbs down thinking I hate so much. You can thank me later for giving you another way to discount my entire argument!)

A lot of you took me to task for suggesting that games criticism needed to be on store shelves because everyone who might be interested is living online.
I certainly can’t argue that things are trending this way – just look at the trouble print publications and television are having these days.

But I think it’s premature to say “The net has won and anyone who says different is an old fogey. “

I’ll cop to being a bit of an old fogey, but old fogey-dom not withstanding, there are a lot of fogey-ish people like me. Sure, maybe “everyone” plays social games or mobile games. But very (very!) few of them are reading gaming websites. To reach them you have to go where they are, at least for now. And where they are is on the old media end of the spectrum. We can either wait until they all die or we can go after them now.

I prefer not to wait. Your mileage may vary.

Frankly, I don’t think this has to be an either/or proposition – you young whippersnappers can elevate the level of criticism online and other less snappy whippers can elevate the level in traditional media. Done. Everyone wins.

If you want to argue that gamers are the only ones who matter, sure. They… we… are online. But in saying that, acknowledge that you just don’t care about people out there who don’t care about games or who have what we might consider an inaccurate or limited view of our medium.

Personally, I think gamers could benefit from an education in critical thinking about the medium. But even if you disagree with me, telling non-gamers to take a hike – saying they simply don’t matter – is shortsighted, at best. We need and want them on our side. And that means finding them where they live, not expecting them to come visit us where we are.

Lots of you – even some who agreed with me, for the most part, suggested that critics of the sort I talked about were lucky to have forums like the Chicago Sun-Times or The New Yorker. Games lack such forums so it’s unfair of me to expect such criticism.
This is true enough, as far as it goes. But it doesn’t go nearly far enough. Think about it. It wasn’t ALWAYS the case that film critics (or television critics or even book critics) had easy access to an audience eager to lap up every bon mot dripping from their ruby-red lips.

Critics of new media have always had to fight for column inches, airtime or shelf space. It takes time to develop an audience for serious criticism. It takes people willing to fight for those column inches, for that airtime and for that shelf space. It takes people who think the effort is worthwhile when the cultural establishment and even media consumers think they’re nuts. Go back fifty years and you’d hear the same kind of nonsense about movies that you hear today about games: It’s just movies, right? Who cares about the movies as art form or cultural force? Well, now, nearly everyone does. Go back fifty years and almost no one did.

Only by ignoring or being ignorant of history can we say the movie guys had it easy, had ready outlets for their work. They didn’t. But they didn’t give up. Games, it seems to me, are at their own fifty-year tipping point. Time to start taking ourselves seriously, I think. Time to start fighting for a soapbox from which we can be heard.

A lot of you took my thoughts as a misguided plea for mainstream attention, or jealousy of other media, or medium-insecurity. Call it the “Mommy, Daddy, please love me” problem – something better addressed in therapy than in a GI column.
If I felt in any way that we need mainstream attention out of insecurity or something, I’d agree completely. However, I harbor no doubts about gaming’s position among the more traditional art forms. No insecurity here…well, not about that, at any rate!

What I was trying to say is that, to mature and grow as a medium, we need to stop talking only to each other. We need to draw people into our sphere from outside. We need people, gamers and non-gamers (well, mostly gamers!) who can help us understand how what we do instinctively can be done more consciously and, yes, better than we can do it ourselves.

We need to reach outside our sphere to continue to grow our audience by explaining to the unwashed masses how wondrous games can be. Heck, if nothing else this might get politicians, pundits and preachers (to say nothing of the courts) off our back!

One familiar refrain from readers of my last column was “How can you say all games criticism sucks? Don’t you know about website X, magazine Y or book Z?”
Misunderstandings like this are always the fault of the writer not the reader. I’ll own that. But, to clarify, I was not saying that all games criticism sucked. Not at all. I even tried to name some folks I thought were doing a pretty good job. What I wanted – and still want – is more, more, more. I’m greedy! And I think there’s room to stir a new kind of criticism into the mix.

By way of example, let me go back to my days as a young and ever so serious movie buff. I had strong opinions about movies… personal preferences about the films I loved and hated… But reading the work of people like William K. Everson and Kevin Brownlow fired an appreciation for silent films… Reading John Grierson and Jack Ellis made me look at documentaries in new ways. Reading Ed Lowry and, yes, Roger Ebert, forced me to look at exploitation films and B-movies as if a veil had been lifted from my eyes.

(Note that I rattled off a whole new list of names there – the world of film criticism is full of serious mainstream critics. Give me time and I can name a bunch more. Try that with games and you’ll run out of critics in a real hurry…)

As a consumer, increased knowledge led me insist on different kinds of work. As a creator, I was inspired, maybe even forced, to create different sorts of things than I would have otherwise. These writers taught me things I might never have learned on my own – things that changed the way I thought about movies. They’ve even affected the way I think about my work as a game developer.

Finally, some of you – not many, but enough to bring it up here – think things are just fine as they are.
Obviously, I disagree with this or I wouldn’t have taken up so much of your time and GI’s web space!

Look, by all means, continue to write reviews, all you reviewers out there (with upgraded standards, please!).

By all means continue to explore the semiology of games, all you academics reading this.

But most of all, I urge those of you who want to grow as individuals, as consumers of the popular arts (not just games) to start seeking and demanding more. There are critical models we can borrow from other media until we create some new models of our own. Let’s take some lessons and change ourselves, our medium and, yes, even the wider world outside our little corner of the world in which we live.

Hyperbole? Maybe. But I don’t think so…

Oh, and to the guy who said something along the lines of “Before you write about something learn something about it,” I’ll just say this – talk to me in 30 years, kid. No. Seriously. I really hope I’m around in 30 years to be talked to. Look me up and tell me if you still feel the same way you do now…

Comic Con!

July 10, 2010

Well, I guess since the news is up on the official Comic Con 2010 website it’s okay for me to tell everyone I’ll be in San Diego in a couple of weeks to talk about the game and… wait for it… Disney Epic Mickey comic book action!

I’ve been working with Peter David… okay… let me repeat that… I’ve been working with Peter David! (Have I said recently what a lucky guy I am? Oh, yes, I am.) So I’ve been working with Peter David and some really talented artists on comic stories for a while and can’t wait to talk about it.

If you’re planning on attending San Diego Comic Con be sure to stop by our panel on Saturday, July 24, from 4:30-5:30, Room 9. Here’s the description from the Comic Con website:

Disney Epic Mickey— Warren Spector (creative director, Junction Point — Disney Interactive Studios) and Peter David (award-winning comics writer and author of upcoming Disney Epic Mickey comics) share their insights about bringing the world and characters of the Disney Epic Mickey video game to life in two media — video games and comic books. Warren and Peter explore “Wasteland,” a world of forgotten, retired and rejected creative efforts from the Disney archives, and discuss the joy and challenges associated with writing for Mickey Mouse and his “brother,” Walt Disney’s first cartoon star, Oswald the Lucky Rabbit. The panel includes discussion, gameplay demo featuring never-before-seen areas, concept art, previews of comic pages and Q&A.

There’s been some talk about doing autograph sessions, too, but I don’t have any details. Hey, I can’t imagine the Comic Con crowd wanting my autograph but Peter David? That’s a different story! And we might have some art talent with us, too. Anyway, I’ll post something when I know more.

I’ve never attended Comic Con before as anything but a fan. This is going to be fun!

E3 2010 or “Two Rooms, Eight Walls and the Coolest Thing Ever,” Part 5

June 26, 2010

Okay, so what could top the 3DS at E3? Well how about the response to Disney Epic Mickey?

I talked to so many people – easily in triple digits – and got to see even more playing the game in the booth (as I ran from the Disney area to somewhere else). And by the end of the show, we’d been nominated for at least 22 awards – won 15, lost 2 and there are still, as of today, 7 we’re waiting to hear about. Go Mickey! Go Junction Point team! I don’t want to brag (too much!) so, for a full rundown on what happened – and to stay on top of what’s to come – check out the Junction Point and Disney Interactive Studios web pages or, maybe even better, go to the Facebook pages for Disney Epic Mickey, Junction Point and Disney Interactive Studios. Oh, and there’s even a Disney Epic Mickey You Tube channel, and of course David Garibaldi‘s stuff, too. Tons of cool stuff to see!

Finally, before I forget (as if!), this year’s E3 will live on in my memory as the E3 where I GOT TO MEET SHIGERU MIYAMOTO AND STAN LEE! IN THE SAME WEEK! I’m pretty sure I jibbered like an idiot on both occasions – definitely had to put my head between my knees briefly on meeting Mr. Miyamoto… and I vaguely remember telling Stan Lee I was NOT a stalker at least 15 times… which, of course, branded me as a stalker immediately. Sigh.

Both gentlemen lived up to my expectations and then some – in my experience, heroes usually do. (It’s what makes them heroes, I guess.) These are guys who changed my life – Mr. Miyamoto’s work pushes me to do better in my own… And Stan Lee introduced me to a world of heroes and villains I still live in today. I remember vividly buying Fantastic Four #13 (The Red Ghost issue) and Spider-Man #2 (The Vulture!), back in 1963 and having my 8-year-old mind blown. Getting to tell Stan Lee about that was priceless.

(BTW, if anyone who was at the Nintendo Press Conference rehearsal took any pictures of the magical – if embarrassing – moment when I was introduced to Mr. Miyamoto, please get in touch. I’d sure love a photographic record of a real career highlight!)

So that’s it. My E3 experience. All I have to say is this:

Best.

Week.

Ever!

If you feel like it, let me know what blew YOU away at E3 this year – remember, I saw almost nothing!…

E3 2010 or “Two Rooms, Eight Walls and the Coolest Thing Ever,” Part 4

June 25, 2010

Nintendo got 3D right – righter than anyone else. Ever. By far. Think about the 3DS – just the basics:

  • No glasses required!
  • No image degradation or color saturation loss compared with 2D displays!
  • Parallax control so viewers can adjust the images so the 3D effect is perfect for them, not for some average person with an average distance of 2.5 inches between his/her eyes.

But that’s just based on the basics, as I said. Wait, there’s more. I was backstage at the Nintendo Press Conference on Tuesday, June 15th, and as each new 3DS feature was described, my jaw got closer and closer to the ground. It’s a game machine… it’s 3D… it has a gyroscope and accelerometer built in… It has Wi-Fi connectivity and shares data with other 3DS’s in the background… It has a 3D CAMERA!… and it PLAYS 3D MOVIES WITHOUT GLASSES!… I swear if they’d said it was a phone, too, I would have dashed back onto the stage and snatched the prototype and run like the wind! I half expected to hear it would tuck me in at night!

When I got my hands on the 3DS at the show, I was blown away again. The feature set sounds good but the proof is in the pudding – in the product. And Nintendo’s got some mighty tasty stuff coming. Pilot Wings – incredible. Nintendogs – even cuter than before and more engaging. Kingdom Hearts, Resident Evil, Metal Gear Solid – gorgeous. Kid Icarus is coming back plus there’s a Mario Kart, plus a new Zelda(!!!!!)! Not a bad set of games to brag about as you’re launching a new piece of hardware. And there was a tech demo, shooting game that was probably my favorite thing of all. The movie trailers were outrageous – best 3D visuals I’ve seen. Tangled looked great and How to Train Your Dragon was a revelation. Both were sharp, clear, convincing. Every title – movie or game – was a hardware-selling brand, each one looked cool and each was genuinely enhanced in some way by the 3D effect.

The 3D effect is basically perfect. I mean PERFECT. And the games and movie trailers shown on 3DS were stunning, enhanced and flat-out cooler than they could possibly have been in 2D. I was on the fence about 3D when I entered the Nintendo booth. By the time I left, I was floored.

I was completely wrong about 3D. Not a fad. Not going away. Here for good – and that’s a good thing. Nintendo deserves to sell a gazillion of these things. And I want the first one off the line!

As a consumer, I’m in. Sign me up. Price no object (or not much of one). As a game developer, well, sign me up for that, too. How do you design a game that really exploits stereoscopic 3D? Beats me… How do we take advantage of a 3D camera built into a gaming device? No idea… How do we integrate gyroscopes and accelerometers into control schemes? Got some ideas but nothing solid… I mean, how could anyone NOT want to play with this tech?

I’ve been hoping something like this would come along since Origin and Looking Glass supported VR headsets in Wings of Glory and System Shock back in the mid-’90s, but I never actually believed it would happen. Well, it’s happened. The Nintendo 3DS changed everything for me.

Please, please, let it be the success it deserves to be. And all you TV manufacturers out there (or Sharp at least), get with the program and let me buy a TV that’s as cool as Nintendo’s little game machine. I know there are issues with view angles on parallax barrier technology, but come on, get cracking, solve the problems and let me give you a bunch of money so I can have my 3D, okay?

I should stop. I know it. But the 3DS is – seriously – the coolest hardware I’ve ever seen at E3… It’s nothing short of magical, both in the effect the stereoscopic stuff had on me and in the way the tech works. Not that I really understand how it works – not yet anyway! The 3DS was – dare I say it? – almost Disney-like in the magical feeling it evoked in me and I suspect you’ll have a similar reaction when you get your hands on it. And note that I said “when,” not “if.” That was no accident. Trust me – you’re gonna want and you’re gonna get a Nintendo 3DS.

Okay. Let me catch my breath. Two more things tomorrow and then I’m outta here and onto other things. (I’m really going to try to keep this blogging thing going from now on!)

E3 2010 or “Two Rooms, Eight Walls and the Coolest Thing Ever,” Part 3

June 24, 2010

On to day 2…

The show itself was a lot like Monday. I spent right around twelve hours each day (obviously, I started before the show opened and kept going after it closed!) in a room in the back of the Disney booth or a room over at the Staples Center – hence the title of this post. Get it? Two rooms… Eight walls… Running from one room to the other. That was my E3…

(And, may I just say, being in the Staples Center during the NBA finals was both cool and frustrating – cool, in that I could look down on the court and contemplate running down there for a quick pic and a probably takedown by a security guard, frustrating in that I was constantly reminded about the hoop fanaticism of which I would NOT be a part later in the day – no finals tickets for me!)

Anyway, 12-ish hours of interviews and demos each day on Tuesday and Wednesday. No breaks. Ate breakfast and lunch with cameras in my face. All I saw of the show was what I could see running to the rest room or running to some on-camera interview in someone else’s booth.

Just to be clear, I’m not complaining! The fact that I was so busy was a reflection of how well-received the Disney Epic Mickey game was. I haven’t experienced anything like that since Deus Ex.

Okay, so I’ve explained the “Two Rooms, Eight Walls” part of the title. What about the “coolest thing ever?”

Easy.

Nintendo 3DS!

Holy cow.

The last day of the show, I actually got out of the Disney Interactive booth around 4:15. I knew I was only going to get to see One Thing at E3. And I knew it was going to be either Deus Ex: Human Revolution or the 3DS. Though it pained me to make the call, the 3DS got the nod.

All I can say is “Wow!” Okay, I lied – I can and will say a lot more than “wow.”

The 3DS changed my life. Seriously. I can be pretty stubborn and when I decide I know something or I’m right about something, I don’t often change my mind. Well, I just want to say I’ve been completely wrong about 3D all my life. I never got it before. Until now. Until the 3DS. Check back tomorrow and I’ll tell you all about it.

E3 2010 or “Two Rooms, Eight Walls and the Coolest Thing Ever,” Part 2

June 22, 2010

Last episode, I said I tell you what my E3 was like. Well, that’s easy. Basically, I saw nothing at E3 this year. Well, literally, I guess I should say “almost nothing,” but I’ll get to that later.

Monday, the day before the show opened, I could have walked around the show floor while everyone was setting up, but instead I found myself doing a couple of interviews (including one two hour, on-camera thing that was a ton of fun. I can’t talk about that one yet…).

But the big deal that first day was a rehearsal for the Nintendo press conference at the Nokia Theater. Talk about a thrill!

First, just walking out on that stage, where American Idol finalists sing for 7000 people and all, was fantastic. You don’t want to know how many times I was asked if I was nervous or scared. The honest answer is “no.” I love talking to people about games, whether it’s one person or thousands. It was just an incredible scene and ended up being as much fun as I expected it to be.

Frankly, one of the reasons it was so exciting and fun was Nintendo. Everyone at Nintendo, from the very top of the organization to the guys in the trenches, was incredible. The feeling of family, the sense of being on a mission, the development-centered culture was palpable. I have no idea what it’s really like to work at Nintendo, but if the outward projection of the company’s culture is anything like the working environment… well, let’s just say I have a richer understanding of why Nintendo games look, feel and play the way they do. Joy and positivity in the environment must translate to similar quality in the work, right? I should be so lucky as to create an environment like that at a studio of my own someday!

And the really cool bit? Everyone I met that first day at the rehearsal made me and Adam Creighton (the Junction Point producer, who drove my demos), feel like a part of the Nintendo family and contributors to the company’s mission. That was really special.

Anyway, from the Nintendo rehearsal, it was over to the Disney booth to rehearse for our own on-stage demos – two 15-ish minute demos a day, followed by a show by Disney Fine Artist, David Garibaldi.

Meeting David at the Disney rehearsals was over the top cool. I have some of his artwork on my walls at home, and I’d already seen some of his magical dance/music/art shows on video (you just have to see him in action for yourself to get a sense of how incredible his work is…). I guess what I’m saying is I’m a fan and was really pleased to meet him and be able to tell him so. It’s hard to imagine anyone better-suited to the task of bringing some of the Disney Epic Mickey characters and locations to life in new ways. He outdid himself!

From there, it was over to a theater to catch a sneak screening of Toy Story 3. Yowza! There was much laughing and crying… I definitely steamed up the ol’ 3D glasses, and I’m not ashamed to admit it. Just pick yourself up and see it yourself, if you haven’t already.

That was Monday – interviews and rehearsals and Pixar’s latest. Day over. Saw nothing…

Tomorrow, I’ll talk about the show itself.

E3 2010 or “Two Rooms, Eight Walls and the Coolest Thing Ever,” Part 1

June 22, 2010

So, I know it’s been forever since I posted anything here but with E3 behind me, it seemed like a good time to get back in the swing of things. I can’t promise I’ll be the most regular blogger in the world, but at least now I can talk about the game I’ve been working on!

The word is out about Disney Epic Mickey, and in a big way. I couldn’t be happier. This week, I’ll try to tell you why.

Here’s the story of my E3 (or, at least, part one of that story, with more parts following the rest of this week):

Man, what a show! Though we announced Disney Epic Mickey, officially, at an event in London last October, and the good folks at Game Informer ran a big preview feature around the same time, this E3 was our debutante ball.

And what a ball I had!

The Disney Interactive Studios folks put together a killer booth – not just for Disney Epic Mickey, but for all the upcoming titles. I thought everything showed well – Disney Epic Mickey, Pirates of the Caribbean: Armada of the Damned, Guilty Party, TRON… I hope this shows the gaming world We Mean Business!

But, obviously, I was especially pleased about the Disney Epic Mickey area and the response to the game. First, a shout-out to the guys who put the space together. The Disney Epic Mickey area looked like a Mickey-fied version of the Walt Disney Concert Hall. Classy and appropriate. I loved our space.

There was some terrific artwork by a variety of artists hanging from the walls and Disney animators were in the booth drawing original sketches for people (and, man, you should have seen the lines for that!).  And, of course, David Garibaldi was doing the amazing art/dance/music thing that only he can do. I couldn’t have asked for more.

Apparently, neither could gamers! The place was packed all day, every day. I brought about a dozen people from Junction Point to man the booths and they did me, the game and themselves proud. I can’t tell you how much I love the Disney Epic Mickey team. The talent, passion and commitment the guys and gals showed at E3 was incredibly special – and completely typical of what the entire team delivers on a daily basis. Definitely one of the top teams I’ve worked with in my career.

As for me, well, check back tomorrow and I’ll explain what I was up to and what the title of this post is all about.

GDC 2009, day 2

May 3, 2009

Thursday, March 26th at GDC was more of the same for me — hanging out with friends, relaxing, attending some sessions… Here’s the lowdown.

First thing I did was hit Hideo Kojima’s design keynote.

Solid Game Design: Making the “Impossible” Possible
Hideo Kojima

I was introduced to Hideo Kojima once, at a restaurant where we both happened to be dining, but he was pretty into his sushi at the time, and I was anxious to get to mine, so I don’t suppose he even remembers. I certainly didn’t get a chance to talk to him and, so, figured I should take advantage of the opportunity to hear what he had to say this year. It ended up being a pretty interesting hour.

His key point was that game design is the art of The Impossible Possible — an idea I find pretty appealing. The talk was about the road he takes to make that happen. For him, making impossible things a reality takes an understanding of Hardware Capabilities, Software Capabilities and what he called Design Ladders (or what others might call “Raw Creativity” or “Designing Around Hardware and Software Constraints”).

In describing his creative process, Kojima talked about identifying a problem (e.g., Get a Character Over That Wall) and then coming up with a bunch of ways the problem could be solved. Eventually, he settles on the coolest solution and executes that solution. I was dumbstruck that he goes to the trouble of thinking up all those answers but then limits the player to only one. In other words, the concept of choice belongs to developers, in Kojima’s world, not to players! Pretty much the same approach I like to apply to design, but applied in a completely different way. My thinking is, if you’re only going to offer players one way to solve a problem, well, for starters, maybe you really want to make a movie… But, if you’re going to go to the trouble of thinking up a bunch of ways to “get over the wall,” as he put it, why not attach some consequences to different wall-climbing approaches and let players in on the fun? Clearly, you can’t argue with the guy’s success, but I can’t help thinking how much players are missing out on…

Anyway, the talk was structured around the history of the Metal Gear series. Pretty fascinating. He talked about each game in the series and how he tried to set a new, impossible goal for himself and the team with each one. Reminded me a lot of how Richard Garriott approached things when he gave me a crash course in electronic game design back in the day. But instead of Richard’s “scrap everything and build from scratch” approach, Kojima takes a careful, incremental approach to innovation, introducing just one new thing each game, building on the foundation of earlier games.

Pretty interesting talk, but I’ve let too much time lapse and that’s about all I remember. Have to listen to the audio to refresh my memory!

Next I went to a talk about “physical play,” not so much because I’m all that into the topic (in fact, I wasn’t even sure what the speaker meant) but because I was intrigued to hear what a guy from MIT’s Media Lab might have to say to a room full of game developers. Turns out, it was a swell talk.

Physical Play: Siftables and Other New Forms and Formats for Interaction, Collaboration and Creativity
David Merrill

Merrill, an MIT Media Lab researcher (http://web.media.mit.edu/~dmerrill/siftables.html), talked about alternate control mechanisms (alternatives to keyboards or switches), from the Theremin to the mouse to multitouch screens to the Wii remote. The most interesting observation in his historical overview was that nontraditional control schemes work much better when there’s force feedback involved. Guess that makes sense.

The bulk of the talk revolved around Merrill’s own project – something called “Siftables”  (http://siftables.com/). Siftables are little square blocks, each with a tiny screen, motion sensors and proximity sensors. Each Siftable can perform simple functions on its own (displaying a word or a number or a mathematical symbol or a face) but — cool! cool! cool! — can respond to what other nearby Siftables are doing. (At the trivial level, think of the opening of the TV show, The Brady Bunch. A set of Siftables can recreate that people-in-a-tic-tac0toe board sequence and look at and respond to each other…)

The possibilities inherent in the Siftables idea are incredible. I want ‘em. Now. Merrill talked a lot about the educational possibilities and all but the “board” games you could create with these things would be incredible. Check out the website and you’ll see what I mean. We should all just start brainstorming now so we’re ready when Siftables take the world by storm!

Experimental Gameplay Sessions
Jonathan Blow et al

Okay. Have to calm down. Take a deep breath. Be rational. There. Better.

This was easily the high point of the show, for me. I was completely blown away. The level of creativity on display here was amazing.

First up, Jenova Chen (That Game Company) talked about the iterative prototyping process that led to the creation of Flower (a game that’s totally worth playing if you haven’t already). Like all of us, the Flower team tried all sorts of things — all sorts of mechanics and goals and challenges — before settling on their final, leisurely, nearly goal-free game design. If anyone doubted that iteration was the heart of game design or, at least, of game design in a world of unknowns and new ideas, this talk would have convinced you.

One of the speaker/demo-ers showed off his “4D game” — Miegakure — a game set in a four-dimensional space, unfolded so mere 3D mortals can (nearly) parse it. I barely understood what the guy was talking about and by the end of his brief talk and demo my head felt like it was going to explode, but, man, do I want to try to figure it out! Proof positive that there are whole universes (maybe literally) of new ideas to explore in gaming!

Some guys from an outfit called Hazardous Software showed off “Achron” — which looked to be a gen-u-ine time-travel RTS. Incredible. I’ve been wanting to do another time travel game since I worked on Martian Dreams but didn’t know how to pull it off. These guys seem to have done it. Just go to their website and check it out. Really cool.

I won’t bother with all the details (this is already going on too long) but I have to say I was especially inspired by Shadow Physics, Closure and Unfinished Swan. All of the presentations were terrific (and I hate to leave anyone out) but these three really did it for me on the gameplay, aesthetic and creative levels. The ways in which each used lighting, physics and rendering as gameplay tools should provide all of us non-indie gamers a little kick in the butt to ratchet things up, creatively. Simple, beautiful and at least potentially incredible games….

Basically, the whole indie scene is killing me right now. Something changed in the last year. If this session, and the IGF booth proved nothing else it’s that the indie game movement is really on the move. It’s not just  a bunch of guys fooling around or building their portfolios — it’s a bunch of talented, dedicated, professional developers making great, polished, playable games. I don’t know whether to root for them to get publishing deals (so they can keep making their own cool stuff) or whether to root for them to fail to get a deal (so I can hire them all!).

Frankly, as a player, I’m really drawn to indie games these days. World of Goo… Flower… Braid… Just great stuff. Everyone in the mainstream of games who attends GDC should try to squeeze into the perenially-sold-out Experimental Gameplay session — if not to be inspired than to be scared witless by the creative guys who are going to be stealing all our jobs if we don’t up our game dramatically!

(On a related note, there were a ton of games on display at the Independent Game Festival booth (http://www.igf.com/02finalists.html) worthy of note. Tag: The Power of Paint… Pixeljunk Eden… The Graveyard… Night Game… Blueberry Garden… Feist… Musaic Box… Amazing stuff!

Oh, and if you want to read more about the Experimental Gameplay Sessions (and find links to a bunch of games I didn’t get into here), check out this article from the Guardian by Aleks Krotoski. Reminded me of a bunch of games I neglected to mention that you ought to check out. Too many games, not enough time or space to blog about them all…

So that was day 2 — quite the inspiring day, actually.