Skip to main content

Changes at a previous employer

This is probably not of interest to most people, but the CEO of my previous employer, JoWooD Software Productions, is stepping down. Read all about it.

Update: I just read in this German-language article that JoWooD has closed two development studios: Wings, developer of Soeldner, and JoWooD Ebensee, developer of Industry Giant. The manager of the Ebensee studio was a co-founder of the company (and one of the few people who knows why the company is called what it is). A mere two years ago, Industry Giant was the flagship franchise of the company.

From the article:

Für die Produktpipeline des Unternehmens ergeben sich daraus allerdings keine negativen Effekte. Die Strategie von JoWooD sieht eine Fokussierung auf wenige Genres vor. Strategie-, Simulations- und Rollenspiele stellen hierbei den Kernbereich der Genres dar.

Which means:

This will have no negative effects on the company's product pipeline. JoWooD's strategy involves focussing on the strategy, simulation and role-playing genres.

Which makes a lot of sense given that Industry Giant is a fast-paced action game puzzle game dating sim  text adventure um. Maybe that doesn't make sense.

EA signs ESPN licensing deal, rolls out new Death Star

After signing an exclusive 5-year deal with the NFL (and an exclusive 4-year deal with the AFL), EA has signed an exclusive 15-year deal with ESPN.

Read all about it over at Kotaku, Video-fenky.

This basically means Sega / Take Two's ESPN sports games series, the major competition to EA's cash cow, is in trouble. And it probably means EA will raise their prices again. Which should pleases EA's shareholders, because the industry didn't do as well as expected in the US in December 2004 (something worth it's own blog entry), and that includes EA:

Need for Speed Underground 2 has been a major success for EA, with the title selling 11 per cent ahead of last year's version, but overall the company's performance was poor - with dollar sales down 19 per cent year on year, thanks largely to the lower selling prices for its sports titles.

While we're talking about EA's recent business dealings, let us not forget EA bought Criterion last year, and they've gotten a lot of bad press over the way they treat their employees.

And while referring to the purchase of a large stake in Ubisoft that many people, especially people at Ubisoft, consider a hostile move, EA Europe boss Gerhard Florin said:

"That's not hostile," he concluded. "In our industry, one doesn't make hostile moves because our value lies with people."

The latter comment seems disingenuous. Many of EA's decisions make sense, at least as business decisions, and in the short term. But EA's reputation, never that great to begin with, is now rapidly going down the drain. They're becoming the evil empire of our industry.

Should they care? Maybe. More about that later.

San Andreas, the methodical way

Kotaku writes:

Some guy wired a PS2 controller to his computer’s parallel port. Then he had it run through all of the button combinations at high speed to find all of the cheats for Grand Theft Auto: San Andreas.
How wonderfully methodical. The cheats can be found here. These guys also claim to have looked at the source code, although I'm sure they mean disassembly.

The first PSP virus

Eurogamer writes about Planet Moon's first PSP game. It has a fascinating multiplayer idea:

"As well as a single-player mode, Infected will also take advantage of the PSP's wireless multiplayer functionality, and should put an interesting spin on things as, in addition to just blasting each other, players will be able to create a unique avatar which then spreads like a virus through the handhelds of players who lose to them. You'll then be able to check your rankings and see how far your virus has spread amongst your victims."
How cool is that? Non-Internet-based P2P game token exchanging. You could take that idea a lot further if you wanted to.

DS update

Remember that DS I ordered? Yeah, right, of course you do. Well, DVD Box Office had trouble getting them, but, today at 4PM I got my shipping confirmation email. When I checked the courier tracking, I discovered that they'd already knocked on my door at 11:30AM... Now that's fast shipping... Not the only recent case of tardy emails from DVD Box Office. Oh well, tomorrow I'm picking it up, and the customs fee is quite reasonable. Yay.

Update: I have it in my grubby mitts, and it looks like I've evaded the Man... I mean, customs. So far I've paid 160 Euros.

Emotional input

Some time ago, I was thinking of a problem that Aubrey touches on in one of his recent comments: how can you make emotional input emotional?

It's not that difficult to create an intellectual system for inputting emotions. Say, the mood-o-meter: select 'happy' from a menu to indicate you're happy. It's been tried a couple of times in the history of mankind. (So when I say it's not difficult, I mean one can sort of see where to go, even though nobody has done a good job of it yet and you'd probably have a really hard time convincing any company to invest money in it. But anyway, that's a different entry.)

So how can you make emotional input emotional? How can you make a half-way decent attempt at capturing the honest emotion of the player? I came up with something that's obviously flawed, but that I nevertheless find fascinating. Imagine a dialog screen where you see two people facing each other from the side. Imagine you're controlling the person on the right. You're using some controls, the arrow keys or something, to select phrases from a list. Normal conversation interface stuff. At the same time, you're using the X axis of the mouse or an analogue stick to control your conversation 'stance'. Basically, we're looking at conversations as power struggles. You can either lean forwards to become more pushy and domineering, or backwards to give in to the other, or try to stay centered. (The other person's movements might affect your stance, so there could be a balancing element. You could also add some simple resource management, to simulate poise or energy. I never developed the idea very far.) You would of course see the stances of both characters: they would lean forward and backward, changing their posture, etc.

The core idea is that an analogue, short feedback loop input mechanism should allow for very intuitive emotional input. A secondary, but crucial idea is that a horizontal physical movement is mapped to something that also intuitively feels horizontal.

Obvious flaws are that there's nothing really logical to map to the Y axis, and a dialog system entirely based around domination, while promising, is also gimmicky and not generally usable.

Dialog systems, now there's a topic for a million blog entries...

I think Phil Harrison once mentioned that the PS3 should be capable of more advanced image analysis than the PS2, and that it might be possible to detect emotions, so maybe we'll find another solution in a few years.

Short feedback loops

So I have this half-written blog entry lying around, and somewhere in it I write:

One useful way of looking at a game is to separate the presentational (what things look like) from the functional (how things work).

The brain has a way of absorbing the functional, of creating a model of it. Think of how you become one with a car when you drive it, how you can sense small vibrations and derive information from it, how you 'just know' how to do something, how you talk about your car as 'I'. Your nervous system is extended - literally, depending on how cyborg-ish you want to look at this. You have a model of yourself-driving-a-car, just like you have a model of yourself-walking, yourself-using-a-text-editor. The same goes with games, on various levels. You absorb the game's controls, it's rules, it's structure.

This is related to yesterday's entry on distortion. (The entry was called 'distortion' because in some language - French? German? - there's an expression 'professional distortion': what happens when you see everything through the lens of your work.)

(This is also related to Scott McCloud's explanation of why smiley faces work - our model of our own face is very simple, much simpler than a picture of a face. But I digress.)

I like the connection Robin made with rewards - at least, that's how I understood her reference to opportunism. It means that apart from user interface theory and psychology in general, one can tie this to Skinner's behaviorism as well, if one were so inclined. Perhaps Noah could think of some interesting connections as well.

But the why and the how of this phenomenon are distinct. The 'why' is, for instance, the fact that a given action or event is pleasurable or positive, like collecting stuff in Katamari Damacy. The 'how' is the extension of the nervous system through the use of an interface with very short feedback loops. In other words, something that resembles our organic bodies.

I think the short feedback loop is key. I don't think this would work well in a turn-based game. (On some level it would, but that's the level of the user interface, button clicks for commands etc., which would probably still use short feedback loops, unless you're doing play by mail.)