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I Heart Nintendo

So I've been buying and playing way more games lately - more than the year before, and that was already a record year compared to 2002. And now I find myself playing Paper Mario 2 on the Gamecube at home, Legend of Zelda: The Minish Cap on GBA on the way to and from work, and Legend of Zelda: Four Swords on Gamecube and GBA with Tobe during our lunch break. Before I was playing Minish Cap, I played Mario & Luigi Superstar Saga.

Each of these games is insanely great in many different ways. I'd write more, but I'm at home and therefore I must play Paper Mario 2.

Meanwhile, Halo 2 and GTA: San Andreas are gathering dust. And Metroid Prime 2 is shipping soon. And so, hopefully, is my Nintendo DS...

Update: *sound of screeching tires* Tobe and I may have discovered a deadlock in Zelda: Four Swords. Our investigation continues. My order of Mario Golf, Mario Tennis and Donkey Conga is pending.

Update update: We've found the solution, although it looks like there's still a potential deadlock. (Curse all those single-player walkthroughs.)

Failed cocktail robots

Happening now: Roböxotica 2004 // Festival for Cocktail-Robotics, organized by Viennese cyber-art thang Monochrom.


What are cocktail robots? I don't know, I don't care. It's hard to imagine it not somehow being cool.


In the study of technological development, focusing attention on the failure, the error, the breakdown, the malfunction means: opening the black box of technology. Science and Technology Studies (especially Langdon Winner and Bruno Latour) have convincingly demonstrated that the widespread inability to understand technological artifacts as fabricated entities, as social and cultural phenomena, derives from the fact that in retrospect only those technologies that prove functional for a culture and can be integrated into everyday life are “left over.” However, the perception of what is functional, successful and useful is itself the product of social and cultural, and last but not least political and economic processes. Selection processes and abandoned products (developmental derailments, sobering intermediary results, useless prototypes) are not discussed.

Thus, from the perspective of technology research, it seems especially productive to devote attention to lines of thought and attempts that cannot be so easily integrated into the metanarrative of technological progress. This means bringing those processes into the foreground that demonstrate how technological development is a process in which technologies are cross wired as material-semiotic artifacts with social processes.

And that makes an amazing amount of sense. Which promising branches of game development were stopped too soon, went underground, died off, missed their market window, were eclipsed by something bigger, but not better? This is obviously related to game archiving - think The Underdogs, Digital Game Archive, etc. etc. What a fascinating subject. More on this, some day when I have the time to do the research.

Ubisoft's Sprung for the Nintendo DS

I just noticed that one of Ubisoft's three Nintendo DS titles is Sprung, "the game where everyone scores", the game with "double the love". Yes, it's a dating sim.

I can't think of any dating sims developed in the west in recent history (there are, of course, plenty from Japan, and they tend to be quite naughty).

Given the occasional discussion about romance and sex in games, I think this is a very cool move on the part of Ubisoft. The premise of the game sounds a bit like a bad MTV show, but "bad" in this case doesn't mean "not fun", and keeping a finger on the pulse of pop culture is a smart move - way smarter than using another cliched fantasy setting.

Even though the gameplay seems simplistic, I hope the game is fun, and has some success.

Update: This is a weird one. Thad points out in the comments that someone involved in the development of Sprung has a blog (among other aspects of Internet presence). But then I find out that this person has an idea for a game called Thaddaeus Frogley (scroll down). Insert your favorite conspiracy theory here.

Bad stress, part two

In May and June of this year I stopped posting regularly to this weblog, apart from the occasional indicator that I was still alive. Finally, in June, I wrote a post about bad stress that explained what had been going on.

Somewhere around mid-August, my posting frequency dropped again, and it hasn't picked up much since. (My foolish attempt to distract my dear readers with a second blog has only resulted in doubling the questions about why I haven't been updating.)

So now it's time to revisit that bad stress post.

I wrote:

At the start of this year, I was made producer on a new project at Rockstar Vienna. Rockstar's confidentiality policy being what it is, I won't be able to tell you anything about it until the well-orchestrated PR campaign has started.

Being a producer on a Rockstar title is a daunting thought, what with the huge sales numbers, the critical acclaim, and the intense attention to whatever the company does. This project also has a larger team and budget than what I've worked with before. But oddly enough all of this is not really a source of stress for me. Optimism is the hallmark of a producer - you have to be optimistic to believe that something great can be produced from nothing.

Much of this is still true today. However, managing a project of this size and duration did eventually become a major source of stress for me, and after several months I came to the conclusion that in the medium to long term it would be bad for the project and for myself if I were to continue as producer. So I decided to step back.

As you can imagine, this was not an easy decision. Thankfully, I work for a very solution-oriented company, so the whole process of dealing with this has been very smooth, and the new situation is better for the project. But this is a complicated period for me, involving many positive and negative emotions, and a lot of thinking and rethinking.

The Incredibles, Polar Express, the Uncanny Valley, Pixar

I've stumbled across a little cluster of blog posts and news items about The Incredibles, the latest Pixar movie and Polar Express, the latest Warner Bros movie, starring Tom Hanks in something like five roles. Both of them have come out at pretty much the same time, both of them are fully animated using computer graphics, but one of them is photo-realistic, and one isn't. Also, one of them is a major hit, and one isn't.

Comic industry blog The Beat looks at the two different visual approaches, and mentions the Uncanny Valley theory, which basically says that if you get very close to full photorealism, there will be a point where characters suddenly evoke negative emotional reactions. This is one explanation for the relative failures of Final Fantasy: The Movie and, in this case, Polar Express.

The games industry also makes strong use of computer graphics, and there is a definite trend towards photo-realism. We're not that far behind the pre-rendered movie industry in terms of the technology we use - in fact, given that many games contain pre-rendered cut-scenes, we're right there. So this is a risk that affects us as well.

Note that I'm not advocating photo-realism: a simple way out of the Uncanny Valley is to do what Pixar does and just not go there, instead pursuing a breathtaking individual visual style. But many people in our industry won't or cannot make that choice.

The Beat wrote a follow-up blog post, which says, among other things:

Fast facts: THE POLAR EXPRESS did about $2.5 mil on its opening Wednesday. Estimated budget for the film: $265 million. That's DOLLARS.


Many, many more news items, reviews, and comparisons of these two movies can be found on
Luxo, a blog entirely about Pixar.

Another reason why this whole discussion is relevant to the games industry is that Pixar has somehow managed to make a string of six movies that have been hugely successful, both critically and commercially.

Long-term, continuous success is one of the biggest challenges in any creative industry. In Hollywood, where, as William Goldman famously said, nobody knows anything, huge companies work like investors: they diversify their investments, hoping enough of them will become huge hits that then pay for the duds. It seems to work pretty well, at least financially.

The games industry appears to be much more punishing. I'm not going to go into how this manifests itself and what the causes and effects may be - that's another post - but any developer has to try to achieve the highest quality, and do so consistently for long-term survival.

Examining successful companies like Pixar may give some interesting ideas. I actually had a link about exactly that subject and I can't find it... But perhaps Pixar's success cannot be replicated by mere mortals - an eerie mirror of the Nietzschean subtext of The Incredibles.

Update: For the Ayn Rand subtext of The Incredibles, read this.