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Doom and gloom - follow-up

Tobe gently pointed me towards the comments section of Greg's below-mentioned blog entry. A small extract:

So, it's not [EA]'s fault. It's easy to pick on them because they're the big bad suits. It's always been the market rule that larger companies take less risks because they have less to gain and more to lose. So, with that in mind, it's really the fault of smaller publishers like Dreamcatcher and JoWood who produce crap like Maximum Capacity Hotel Giant or Nightcaster II, or [insert favorite Myst-wannabee title here] which would, no doubt, sell no better than some of these independent games. To Dreamcatcher's credit, they have attempted branching out but it seems they lack a good eye (Gore, Hegemonia).

THOSE companies are the ones that need to be courting the indie game designers, not EA or Eidos.

Well, I'm not sure I agree, but as I'm currently working for JoWooD, I'll pass on the news. And hey, Neighbours From Hell is plenty innovative (relatively speaking), and it could have been an indie title ;)


Well, some innovation at least: at E3 2002, Sony announced the EyeToy, a widget that allows players to use a USB web cam as an input device for the PlayStation 2. It was presented to the public at this year's CeBIT, currently under way in Hannover, Germany. There are about 15 to 20 EyeToy-games in development, and the device will be sold in Germany in July 2003.

(From MCV Online.)

Update: Augh! Sony showed this at GDC and I missed it! :( Bah.

Doom and gloom

Greg Costikyan has a very heart-felt (and profanity-laden) blog entry about this year's GDC, and about the current state of the game industry. Basically, he feels frustrated about the lack of innovation and creativity in the gaming industry, a topic which the industry in general and Greg in particular have been talking about for a long time, and that this is building towards a crisis.

It's true that this topic was more visible than in other years. Jason Rubin of Naughty Dog said that better graphics will no longer allow you to differentiate from your competitors; the only directions he sees are innovation or attachment (making a sequel or using a license). Guess which ones he thinks publishers will be prepared to pay money for? Chris Charla of Digital Eclipse Software held a lecture about how you can be creative even while making a game based on a licence (and I have to say it's well-argued). Warren Spector apparently said something similar during the game design keynote. Greg's mention of Will Wright is all the more sobering when you realize that Will experienced a lot of resistance to The Sims.

(Interestingly, Chris Crawford predicted a crisis along these lines around 1996, when he left the industry.)

The lack of innovation and creativity are very frustrating. When you're inside the industry, it is so very easy to get used to it, and it is hard to determine whether the small signs of improvement are just that or just feeble, futile glitches. When something blindingly original and not entirely unsuccessful appears (sadly, usually in other mediums) you are reminded how complacent you have become.

I won't try to analyze the whole situation here and now, just make some random remarks:

  • The people with the money won't pay the people with the ideas because of the high costs and the high risks. Costs are on the rise, because certain low-risk investments (think of Vice City's soundtrack) can increase sales, and because low-risk developers are expensive. Risks are on the way down, because high-risk developers are going out of business.

  • The industry does not yet know how high quality, innovative game experiences are created, or that they are worth paying for. Otherwise there would be more experimentation going on (game design R&D), there wouldn't be so many titles that fail because of relatively cheap flaws (say, bad story or bad localization), and people such as game designers and writers would have a higher status.

  • Developers are not as creative, or as aware of how to reach a sufficiently big market, as they could or should be.

  • There still is no reasonable way to make money from innovative, low-to-mid-budget games. In fact, due to the rising costs of AAA titles and sales skewing towards these titles, the situation is getting worse.

Food for thought.

By the way, the "entry from some Japanese guy whose name I don't catch, who has something he claims is PSII email software that plays like some bizarre rap dancer with a synthesized voice rapping the text you enter, and a character bopping about swishing a Japanese calligraphic paintbrush and spattering virtual ink about the page" is called Mojibribbon and was designed by Masaya Matsuura, designer of Parappa the Rapper and Vib Ribbon. Read about it here and here. And it puts paid to the tired old idea that console games are less innovative than PC games - a topic for another blog entry some day.

(Thanks, Ryan.)

Status upgrade

I've only ever seen Takeshi Kaneshiro in Wong Kar-Wai's excellent Fallen Angels, but he's quite a famous movie star in Asia. Also, he played the starring role in Capcom's Onimusha series on the PlayStation 2.

Onimusha 3, to be released one year from now, is set in modern-day France as well as medieval Japan, and co-stars Jean Reno. Takashi Yamazaki, the writer and director of Returner (also starring Takeshi Kaneshiro, and featuring a hilarious trailer) will take care of the CG movies, together with Donnie Yen, who did the fight choreography for Blade 2, among other things.

Check out the Onimusha 3 trailer to see what Jean Reno looks like in real-time 3D. His role does not seem to require a large array of facial expressions. But then, this is an action game.

On the bench

This article on Tom's Hardware Guide gives an excellent overview of the brouhaha around the new Futuremark benchmark and NVidia. It sounds to me as if NVidia is doing whatever it can to kill the impression that ATI overtook them in the 3D hardware race - unsuccessfully, I might add.

With Jason Rubin saying at GDC that, starting now, improvements in graphics are giving diminishing returns in mass appeal, and Microsoft saying they're not going to do another DirectX for another couple of years (until Longhorn ships in 2005 or so - about the time we will be hearing about the next console generation), it's going to be interesting to see how this affects the 3D hardware industry. Apart from displacement mapping, which has not yet become a standard element of either hardware or software, all improvements since the introduction of pixel shaders have been incremental and evolutionary. We've had all-hardware implementations of OpenGL for some time now, the Silicon Graphics workstations of legend (10 years ago) have long been overtaken, and games are only just now starting to use pixel and vertex shaders (due to game development cycles that are about twice as long as hardware development cycles, and the need to support an ever-broadening spectrum of hardware).

From hell

The game I worked on last year, Neighbors From Hell, has finally been officially announced. You have to sneak around the house of your horrible neighbor and install practical jokes while he's not looking. It's a concept that should hopefully appeal to a pretty broad audience. Transforming it into a game turned out to be harder than expected, and we finally came up with a mixture of adventure-type object combining with timing-based action. The great graphics, animations and sound effects make the whole into a fun experience, both for us to develop and for people to play. At least, we hope it is, but the reactions during our playtests were quite positive. The game took nine months to develop.

The game already has a fansite.

Seamus Blackley on wrongness

GameSpy has an article about a speech Seamus Blackley gave at DICE, where he outlined what was wrong with developers, publishers, and the relationship between the two. Some of it sounded familiar but can't hurt being said on a regular basis. Some of it sounds like just the niche his new company is meant to fill, but that's a chicken and egg thing.

Kudos to him for staying cool when I greeted him with "You're Seamus Blackley" in an elevator at the Fairmont. "That's what people tell me" is not a bad answer. Too bad I never heard the end of that story about the car at LAX.

(From Spectrum.)

Travel report

Here I am in the heart of bloody Silicon Valley and I can't find decent free web access until the end of my trip :(

The GDC, which is where I am as I write this, has been pretty good so far: I've met many people and have had many excellent discussions. It is so good to recharge my interest in the industry and to touch base with all the people I only see once a year; or, in one memorable case, I haven't seen in over ten!

Will Wright's session, where he recapitulated about seventy years of science in one hour AND managed to link it to games was the best so far.

That's all I'm going to write: more when I get back after the flight from hell, although mercifully it'll be better than the flight over here. Which means, logically, that San Jose is hell.


I've had a cold for the last week or so, and it's still not quite gone yet, despite the impressive amount of chemical and biological warfare that has been deployed against it. Colds and flues have been going around in Vienna.

Tomorrow morning I'm off to the GDC for a week or so, and that is always a big stress on the ol' immune system. So it looks like fun times ahead.

In any case, I probably won't be updating this blog for a while.