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First news of Doug Church's new project

Newsweek has an exclusive article about two of the games that are being made by Electronic Arts in collaboration with Steven Spielberg. The second one, code-named LMNO, is executive-produced by Doug Church, who joined Electronic Arts about two years ago. It sounds intriguing:

The second game, code-named LMNO and made for Xbox 360 and PS3, can be described as "North by Northwest" meets "E.T." —if E.T. were female, grown up and, um, hot. You don't play as the girl, however. You're an ex-secret agent, and the bond that you forge while on the run with the computer-controlled woman—good, bad, indifferent—determines the nature of her special abilities and the ways in which she'll assist you. Says Spielberg: "The challenge is, can the game have an emotional impact on players while they are actively manipulating the world?" Based on the clever ways in which he and EA are extracting a genuine performance from their digital Eve—complete with eyes that widen, lips that curl and translucent skin that lights up in different colors to express her quicksilver moods—we think Spielberg's got yet another hit on his hands.

(PQRS and LMNO... I like project codenames. Too bad this scheme doesn't scale.)

Very smart to focus on making one character more believable. Knowing Doug I expect that the game will be heavy on AI, and that the AI will serve the player experience. Making the artificial character an alien is a good way of dealing with the uncanny valley, and working with Mr. Spielberg (especially with the 'E.T.' connection) makes that palatable. Try pitching it without that.

Even before I heard Mr. Spielberg was involved, I tried to somehow join that project - one of the few cold calls I made when looking for a new job last year. Obviously, it was an extreme long shot and didn't work out (and I rationalize wonder if I would have liked EA, and LA, and working on a project that has as big a name as Spielberg involved). Still, AI and storytelling, that's still pretty much my dream project.

We will see if it's fun. I admire many aspects of EA as a company, but after The Godfather I no longer underestimate their ability to turn promising ideas into something that is somehow less than exciting (which is why I haven't reported on their upcoming Simpsons game, even though what they're doing sounds cool). I wonder how much Doug has been able to influence that.

(Via roBin.)

Will Wright's TED Talk: Toys that make worlds

Will Wright held a talk at TED 2007 called 'Toys that make worlds'. The video of that talk has just been posted on I haven't seen it yet myself, but if it's like some of the talks Will has held at GDC over the years, it should be excellent. From the description:

In a friendly, high-speed presentation, Will Wright demos his newest game, Spore, which promises to dazzle users even more than his previous masterpieces. Here Wright encourages users to create not households, as in The Sims, or cities, as in SimCity, but the entire universe, from single-celled life forms to galactic physics. While guiding us through his mesmerizing beta, Wright shares his thoughts on Montessori schools, Darwinian theory and long-term thinking, emphasizing, throughout, that Spore is not so much a game as an opportunity for discovery -- "an imagination amplifier."

Trusty Bell Exceeds Sales Expectations in Japan

About a year ago I blogged about Trusty Bell, a Japanese game for the Xbox 360.

I have since learned that it is not just a game about the composer Frederic Chopin, it is a game about a dream Chopin has three hours before dying, which takes him to a cel-shaded world filled with people with incurable diseases. To which I say: awesome! And like all games in the dream-before-dying-incurable-disease genre, it has a complex combo based battle system.

According to this Gamasutra column, Trusty Bell was number 1 in the Xbox 360 sales charts.

Ah, Japan... saving us from boring military / special forces settings, one game at a time.

Update: By the way, it's called 'Eternal Sonata' over in the West.

Simon Carless on Matthew Smith and Jet Set Willy

Simon Carless has written a great article about Matthew Smith, mysterious creator of two landmark games for the Sinclair ZX Spectrum: Manic Miner and Jet Set Willy. Mr. Carless (who occasionally reads this blog - hi!) also writes about how Smith disappeared from the face of the earth (apparently he joined a commune in the Netherlands), then came back. But he never made another game... I still remember reading the ads for Attack of the Mutant Zombie Flesh-Eating Chickens from Mars (Starring Zappo the Dog).

Additionally, I learned about the cool mods for the Jet Set Willy games that have been made over the years. 'The Hobbit' as a Manic Miner mod? 'Lord of the Rings' set inside Jet Set Willy? I love it. Formal constraints can be so much fun.