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Sovereign is dead

Sony's massively multiplayer real time strategy game Sovereign is dead after 4.5 years in development.

I heard in 2000 that it was sent back to the drawing board (after it had already been announced) because the game's design did not take bandwidth costs into account.

Power law

I could make an attempt to link this article by Clay Shirky to interactive entertainment, but I won't. I think it's highly interesting for a number of reasons, some of which do involve Pac-Man and its progeny, but you better decide for yourself:

A persistent theme among people writing about the social aspects of weblogging is to note (and usually lament) the rise of an A-list, a small set of webloggers who account for a majority of the traffic in the weblog world. This complaint follows a common pattern we've seen with MUDs, BBSes, and online communities like Echo and the WELL. A new social system starts, and seems delightfully free of the elitism and cliquishness of the existing systems. Then, as the new system grows, problems of scale set in. Not everyone can participate in every conversation. Not everyone gets to be heard. Some core group seems more connected than the rest of us, and so on.

Prior to recent theoretical work on social networks, the usual explanations invoked individual behaviors: some members of the community had sold out, the spirit of the early days was being diluted by the newcomers, et cetera. We now know that these explanations are wrong, or at least beside the point. What matters is this: Diversity plus freedom of choice creates inequality, and the greater the diversity, the more extreme the inequality.

In systems where many people are free to choose between many options, a small subset of the whole will get a disproportionate amount of traffic (or attention, or income), even if no members of the system actively work towards such an outcome. This has nothing to do with moral weakness, selling out, or any other psychological explanation. The very act of choosing, spread widely enough and freely enough, creates a power law distribution. (My emphasis.)


Adrenaline Vault has an article on the sociological aspects of driving games. It's pretty interesting.

Driving games have always been about the fulfillment of socially sanctioned male fantasies.
I would expand that to: games are about the fulfillment of fantasies. Forget "socially sanctioned": transgression is a powerful fantasy, and therefore a major cause of controversy. GTA3 is an obvious example, but think of Tony Hawk: you ride around places you're not supposed to (high schools, airports), break stuff, and freak out the squares. The game I worked on most recently fulfills a common fantasy of taking revenge on an annoying neighbor.

Identify people's dreams, illicit or not, and you can create a compelling interactive experience for them. (It's also a good way of thinking about game development: a dream is a high-level concept that you can use to decide what to do and what not.)

Go to a good news agent and look at the magazines, especially those aimed at hobbyists. Identify the expensive hobbies (preferrably involving a little technology so that there is no fear of PCs or consoles): there's your market. Railroad Tycoon appeals to people who like model railroads, Soldier of Fortune appeals to gun nuts. Perhaps there are some untapped market segments right around the corner.

Sir yes sir

USA Today has an article on DigiPen, one of the best-known computer game schools in the US. It's hard to get your press more mainstream than USA Today, so don't expect incredibly deep insights. But it's interesting to see that this shows up on their radar, and how they report on both the school and the industry.

Region locking under fire

A court case taken by Sony against an Australian man for providing and installing mod chips has backfired spectacularly on the company, with the company not only losing its case but also triggering another probe into the legality of its region protection system for software.
Read the rest here.

I can understand that companies want to stop erosion of their world-wide product release strategies, but region protection always hurts the heavy users. Region protection is a pain in the butt.


Innovative PR

"Primal Art is an exciting initiative from Sony Computer Entertainment UK and the ICA, offering an intriguing insight into the world of contemporary art and its impact on video games.

Modern video games demonstrate unprecedented levels of sophistication and creativity. The creation of the richly inventive imagery in today's high-tech games involves a mix of traditional skills and advanced techniques. Primal Art aims to demystify this unique creative vocation with a schedule of fascinating public seminars, and to highlight the "state of the art" with an attention-grabbing exhibition of related work.

Seminars will be taking place throughout the event where visitors will be able to hear interesting talks from the artists and designers behind some of the UK's top video games.

A special public exhibition during Primal Art will show off original artwork from the Primal project, together with pieces from students at top UK universities and submissions from the general public. A panel of expert judges will award a prize for the best work at the event."

Talk about asset re-use.


Innovative input

"Konami has released the first screenshots from Boktai, the Hideo Kojima-designed RPG formerly known as My Sun. Very few gameplay details have been released at this time, but we do know that the game cartridge will incorporate some kind of sunlight sensor that will affect the gameplay depending on how well lit the player's surroundings are." (My emphasis.)

(From Gamespot.)

Warren Spector on Deus Ex

Last week, Gamespy did an interview with Warren Spector on Deus Ex: Invisible War.

"GameSpy: Games are becoming harder and harder to pigeonhole into genres, and Deus Ex leads the pack. Do you think it'll become necessary to create entirely new ways to classify games?

Spector: I think from a development standpoint, categorizing games... who cares, whatever. Call it whatever you want. The marketing guys sure would like to be able to categorize stuff. And interestingly I think the increased attention being paid to games in universities and colleges around the world now is going to result in people trying -- and succeeding, frankly -- to put games into categories. So I think you're going to see more precise language describing games, and you're going to see more people thinking about this. But I don't think it's going to impact developers much at all. We don't think "Let's make a shooter / role-playing / strategy game..."

GameSpy: ...With card-battling elements!

Spector: Yeah, there you go! So I think you're going to see it, but the developers aren't going to lead the way, and aren't going to think about it much."

It is important to distinguish between genre (the classification of games) used for development, and genre used for audience segmentation (i.e. what is used by retailers, marketing, the press, etc.) The first is design shorthand, the second tells you something about your competition and the expectations of your target audience. Confuse the two, and you limit your choices for no good reason.

Today, Gamespy published an interview with Harvey Smith and Ricardo Bare, again on Deus Ex: Invisible War.

Both interviews discuss game design in general and in Deus Ex 1 and 2 in particular. I recommend reading them.