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I care because you do

Somewhere around level... 55? - a few weeks ago at least, I lost most of my interest in World of Warcraft, and stopped playing it every single day. The nice weather had something to do with it.

Today I started out at 59-and-a-half, and because people started snickering behind my back, I suddenly became motivated to get the whole topic of XP over with once and for all. So in an epic 3 hour stint, and with the help of some extremely nice friends, I power-levelled to level 60, the current level cap. I got there at 23:56!

So now I can quietly do all the high level instances, do quests to follow the story, etc. etc. And maybe check out that PvP thing the kids are wild about, not to mention Battlegrounds.

Although I doubt I will get back to several hours a day soon (I once played an average of 7 hours a day...). I tend to like things a lot, then get bored. It took longer to get bored with WoW than I expected, but I think it pretty much happened a few weeks ago.

So, more time for posting here? Maybe. Except I got these really cool new cookbooks, and I want to try out the recipes... How hard can it be to make boeuf bourguignonne?

EA previews next-gen content

Just found this in my Drafts folder. I wrote it a while ago: obviously the news item this was inspired by has long been superseded by the next-gen revelations at E3. But my point is, I hope, still valid.

At the recent Credit-Suisse First Boston Technology Conference, Electronic Arts, further pushing its status as the games industry’s leading protagonist, showed some images it claimed are representative of what next-generation home consoles will be capable of.

EA spokesman and CFO Warren Jensen presented two images, one of Madden and one representing future Need for Speed software, both renders of projected graphical output.

"Imagine that the characters in a football [game] will be capable of showing real emotion," said Jensen. "That's what's going to be possible with the next generation of technology."

That's the whole article at - all that's missing are the screenshots, which are pretty pre-rendered screens. This is only newsworthy because it's EA saying it, and because it's happening now (I refuse to take this seriously).

Any major developer must be doing more or less the same thing: think of what is probably going to be possible, let artists do mock-ups showing how cool that would look, keep it pinned to everyone's walls. It's a good way of setting a stretch goal. (See also what I wrote about the Killzone 2 video recently.)

At least, for visual quality. This is going to be the first generation shift where the diminishing returns should become pretty obvious to everyone (see here for another opinion). As was pointed out by Jason Rubin a while ago, an Xbox game looks better than a PS1 game to a degree that it impacts the experience, but apart from that games haven't changed that much. We're used to 3D now, we know what works, we can crank stuff out pretty quickly. It's mature. We have new gadgets, such as the Eye Toy. We have online if we want. What will be the USP for next-gen? HDTV? Whoop-dee-doo.

More on this later.

The PR war continues, aided by the clueless

Robin has linked to some bizarre articles on what Microsoft and Sony were showing at E3.

Gamesradar states:

PS3 demos confirmed as fakes

nVidia spokesperson confirms hardware is unfinished - demos cannot be real


Microsoft isn't entirely faultless either, however, with playable demo units on the E3 show floor - which at face value appeared to be running on the displayed Xbox 360s - in fact, being powered by Apple G5s and Xenon development units behind the scenes.

Um? Just because it's not running on final hardware doesn't mean it's not 'real'. (Of course, I don't think the movies Sony showed were 'real', but that is not the point.)

And OMIGOD!! the Xbox 360's devkit looks like an Apple PowerMac lol! Obviously Gamesradar is written from a secluded cave. This was a widely-reported rumor - I hesitate to use the word - at least a year ago. I almost envy them, except I like running water and indoor plumbing.

So what is "the great Xbox 360 E3 hoax"? Is the article in fact uncovering a genuine hoax? In fact, no.

[...] this console's only just started – this is just the beginning. Its games, once developers have sat down and spent a decent amount of time with full development kits, will just get better and better.

Who writes this stuff? This is just wrong on so many levels. It's as if this were the first console generation transition the world has ever seen. Maybe it's the first one to get noticed in that cave.

So, Sony and Microsoft do more or less the same thing, however in Sony's case this means their demos are fakes, while in Microsoft's case it just means their final games will be even cooler. And this on a site with a URL ending in ''. Jeez, I thought these kind of stunts only happened in U.S. politics.

I can't believe I'm getting worked up over clueless games journalism.


I've been asked not to write a post that simply says "I know I haven't updated in a while", so I won't.

Still, how awesome that the word of the day for May 25th 2005, i.e. my birthday, is 'artifice'. If that isn't a sign from the gods, I don't know what is. Thanks for finding that Stéphane!

My addiction to World of Warcraft is slowly abating. It is being replaced, rather ungeekily, with an addiction to sunlight and light physical exercise. Soon I will be unable to use this complicated machine with all the fancy buttons.

Before it's too late, let me dig through the many comment-worthy things I've seen fly by the last few weeks.

This preview of King Kong, and the various screenshots and movies, got me excited. It sounds like a very cool game. Too bad I can't read this article in the New York Times about the cooperation between Peter Jackson and Ubisoft Montpellier - where a friend of mine is game designer, salut Seb! Ça a l'air tres cool. It's not Beyond Good & Evil 2, but still :) There's another preview here.

Gamasutra has a report on the "The Path to Creating AAA Games" panel at this year's E3. It's about:

[...] designing a videogame that bridges the unfortunately rare gap between being very cool and selling a whole lot of copies
So they're saying that games that are very cool sell a whole lot of copies and that this is unfortunate? I'm confused. Anyway, read it for what Will Wright had to say, such as:
In discussing the traits of a good game designer, Wright commented that he or she must be a designer first, and a videogame player second. “But ultimately, at the end of the day, game design is an intuitive black art, just like in any other field. There's a certain amount of game design possibilities that will forever be unknown, and that keeps things exciting.” “It's like writing,” Firor added, “how can you teach that?”

Exactly - yet some people don't get it.

There seems to be an awful lot of speculation about whether the video for Killzone 2 is pre-rendered or actual in-game footage. My opinion was that it's pre-rendered: the lighting and the character animations are just too perfect. The latter was the biggest giveaway for me: the transitions and the reactions of the other characters to what the 'player' is doing are too good, and I'd be very surprised if anyone had really achieved that yet. It's one of the biggest obstacles to believability, and it's made worse by realistic settings and art styles.

I have since heard from people I trust that the video really is pre-rendered, no matter what "a rep from Sony" said. However, it is a great video, and a great way of communicating look and feel to everyone involved in the project.

In general, there were only very few PlayStation 3 videos that I believed to be actual in-game footage, and I wouldn't be surprised if a lot of them were not even running in real-time on a PlayStation 3. After the Unreal presentation, it's hard to tell anymore.

A person who, rather ironically, is intimately involved with one of the next-gen platforms pointed out this amusing game design rant. It has all the elements of a good rant: jokes, profanity, graphics, crates.

If only more gamers were to demand new genres:

Why isn't a there a spy game where we actually get to be a real spy rather than a hallway-roving kill machine? You know, where we actually have to talk to contacts and extract information and tap phones and piece together clues, a game full of exotic locales and deception and backstabbing and subplots? A game where a gun is used as often as a real spy would use it (that is, almost never)? Where's the game where we're a castaway on a deserted island and the object of the game is to find food and clean water and build a shelter, a game where we can play for one month or six months, because whether or not we get rescued is randomized? Where every time we restart we get a different island with different wildlife and vegetation and water sources? Where's the game where we play a salty Southern lawyer who has to piece together evidence to exonerate a black man falsely accused of murder, breaking down witnesses and spotting inconsistencies in testimony? Half of the gamers are now over age 18, and almost a quarter are over age 50. Where are the games for the old-timers? Where's the game where we get to play as Dr. House and diagnose mysterious illnesses while crushing the patient's spirit with cruel insults? Where's the game where we're a pre-op transsexual where the object of the game is to gather enough money to complete the operation?

What he said.

But innovation is not dead, as this preview of Okami shows. It appears to be a cool idea that is well-implemented:

Okami puts players into the role of a white wolf, the living avatar of the sun god Amaterasu, who is fighting to restore a world that's been spoiled at the hands of the legendary monster Orochi. Gameplay will center around a particular village of human survivors who Amaterasu can help in various ways, with each deed adding a bit more color back to the ravaged landscape.
Okami's adventures are brought to vivid life through highly stylized graphics meant to simulate the distinctive look of ancient Japanese "sumi-e" drawings, with thick black lines, pastel colors, and parchment-like textures. It looks like nothing else out there, and is stunning to behold.
However, the real fun comes from the innovative "celestial brush." Holding down a button pauses the game and "flattens" the graphics onto a piece of parchment. From here you can use a brush to paint onto the page, and when you unpause the shape you've drawn will cause some sort of interaction with the world.

It reminds me of Paper Mario and Zelda: The Wind Waker. Yum.

More later.

Time to get down

What do I talk about after my long, contemplative silence? What deep thoughts have germinated in my mind? What current affair has caught my eye? Bandai and Namco merging? Vivendi and Vale splitting up? Christian video games? No. I want to talk to you about the, excuse my French, dope music videos by Keith Schofield. His site features small images of old school video games, so it's totally relevant.

Be sure to check out "3 Feet Deep" by DJ Format featuring Abdominal & D-Sisive. Don't you wish there was a game like that in your arcade?

(Thanks Mike!)

Chris Crawford and interactive storytelling

Well, here is something, by way of Mark Barrett and Robin, that distracts me enough from trying to get to level 40 in World of Warcraft that I'm going to update my blog.

Two years ago, Greg Costikyan wrote a post-GDC entry on his blog that expressed a lot of the frustration that I think many people, or at least me, were feeling (even if I was a bit more optimistic than Greg). It looks like this year that honor may go to Michael Mateas, over at Grand Text Auto.

Michael makes many points that are worth commenting on, and I will do so later. But first a more personal issue.

Down in the comments, Chris Crawford writes:

Yes, the years of failure have sapped my energy. I don't have the energy to work 10 hours a day on it as I once did. I work for a few hours, then my mind wanders. It takes enormous discipline to sit down and force myself to continue working on a project that the entire world — my wife included — thinks an utter waste of time. I take no creative joy in my work, nor any optimism that it will ever produce the results I hope for. I work now out of towering stubborness, and out of desperate fear of the thought that my life's work — and therefore my life itself — has been an utter waste of time. I'm like a shipwrecked sailor in a rubber dinghy thousands of miles from any possible rescue, stubbornly paddling forward because there's nothing else to do but die.

I remain absolutely certain that interactive storytelling can and will be achieved. Many of the arguments I witness on the topic no longer excite my attention, as I have long answered most of those questions to my own satisfaction. First among these is the "plot versus interactivity" debate. I solved that problem 15 years ago, published the solution, and nobody seems to have noticed it. Fine. They'll figure it out someday. There remain serious problems to be solved, but I no longer consider any of them to be killer problems. They are what physicists like to call "engineering details".

So when others say that they are losing interest or getting discouraged, I can surely second that emotion. This is not an easy problem. It will not be solved by a few brilliant strokes of genius. It demands the solution of a number of gigantic problems. I believe that I have found one approach that solves those problems. I can see others making progress on very different strategies that seem promising. This is going to be a long, hard struggle. But make no mistake, someday we will plant our flag at the top of this mountain. If my role is to be the dead body holding down the accordion wire far below the summit, so be it.

So, a little personal history. At the spring ECTS in 1993, while I was a level 3 beginning game developer working for a small company in Germany and there still was a spring ECTS - remember the ECTS? - Richard Garriott gave me Chris Crawford's telephone number. (For many years, this was my ultimate name-dropping story.) I called Chris, we talked about game design, he recommended that I read the journal he was publishing, the Journal of Computer Game Design, later Interactive Entertainment Design. So together with my good friend Erik I bought every single back issue and a subscription. (Most of the material is now available online.) This had a great influence on my development as a game designer, and I still believe that no-one has written as much quality material on game design as Chris. In fact, if I hadn't read all that, I probably would have written a lot more, and it would not have been very good.

Chris and I kept in touch. I met him in person in Utah in 1994, and I visited him a couple of times in San Jose, meeting his charming wife and his many pets. We met at the Rotterdam Film Festival in 1996 (which started a five year run of me going back to the Netherlands once a year to watch twenty movies a week), and there he told me something along the lines of: "Jurie, you're a smart kid, I want you to be working on interactive storytelling in five years time." Since I'd missed my personal goal of making the Citizen Kane of interactive by age 26, I agreed.

And I missed that new goal too. But interactive storytelling is basically what I've been wanting to do even before I started making games for a living, when I was a demo programmer in the late eighties. Chris's obstinacy and frustration are a more intense version of my own. Even though I took a safer, more circuitous route, pretty much every career decision I've taken was to get me closer to somehow being involved in interactive storytelling. I've seen my share of failures and frustrations, and yet, because I am apparently a stubborn, unreasonable optimist who won't take no for an answer, I keep going.

During all that time, there was always Chris's inspiring example. He has dedicated himself to this endeavor for a ridiculous amount of time, making a huge personal investment. Who was I to call myself stubborn compared to him? I never quite worked up the courage to take the big step and focus on interactive storytelling full time, instead of, ah ah, trying to change the system from within.

This is the first acknowledgment of the cost and the frustration I've seen from Chris (as well as the first acknowledgment that there is more than one way to skin this particular cat). Perhaps perversely, I think it's a good thing: it would have been bad if he had never shown this human side. Nevertheless, I hope it doesn't mark the end of his involvement in interactive (so far the signs are good.)

Like Chris, I think interactive storytelling can be done, it will be done, and it's terrifyingly hard. But why try doing something easy? I can't think of a more fascinating quest than trying to create a completely new artistic medium. Onwards!

Update: Robin has posted a bit more about this topic. She's better at the touchy-feely stuff than me:

So here's me fessing: reading his words really gave me pause. First because… it's… Chris - who has always been a huge source of inspiration (he is heavily quoted, for example, in the first chapter of my thesis). Second because he has always seemed so…. incredibly, inhumanly stubborn and focused - at times, despite his own best interest. Reading such a frank account of his doubts and struggles was just… a bit disarming.

What she said.

And changing perceptions of the industry over time, that's a highly interesting topic of it's own.


Better than WoW?

Here is an interesting off-line game. It's multi-player, soloing is not fun. I play it occasionally. It's not very well balanced, and there is some griefing (though preciously little PK-ing). However, the rewards can be very satisfying.