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10tacle acquires 29 per cent stake in Climax... or does it?

This 10tacle press release, which starts off:
10TACLE STUDIOS AG acquired 29 % stake in CLIMAX Group Darmstadt, August 6th, 2007 — 10TACLE STUDIOS AG and the British developer CLIMAX Group Ltd. have entered into a strategic partnership to jointly develop computer and video games in specific genres. With this agreement 10TACLE STUDIOS AG has decided as well to acquire within the coming weeks a 29% stake in Climax Group ordinary shares.

led people to believe 10tacle was, well, acquiring a 29 per cent stake in Climax. And reasonably so: I sure thought that was what was happening.

It turns out this is not the case according to Karl Jeffrey, Climax's boss:

"The 29 per cent rumour was all based on as press release 10tacle did earlier in the year which was factually wrong and not approved by Climax," said Jeffrey. "I own 100 per cent of Climax, I have not sold or agreed to sell a single share to 10tacle or anyone else," he stated.

Well, that sounds like an amusing misunderstanding. I wonder what happened there.

"Hey Jurie," I hear you ask, "didn't you say you were doing some work for 10tacle?"

Yes I am. But I am actually very far removed from corporate HQ where this kind of stuff gets decided, so this was news to me.

Pre-registration for PAX 2008 has started

It is unlikely I will ever be in the US at the same time as PAX is held, and even more unlikely I will ever fly over just for PAX. So why am I blogging about it?

Gabe wrote a particularly nice post about PAX 2007, and it reminded me how large and positive an influence he and Tycho have, what with Child's Play and PAX, where gamers can come and feel good about being gamers. And they achieve all that while appearing to remain nice, down to earth guys. Plus they make a damn nice comic. Kudos to them.

Killzone 2 most expensive game ever?

Update: I have to say that the blog I link to here is either a very well connected anonymous insider blog or total BS. Reader beware. Still, it sounds plausible.

Here is some industry scuttlebutt about Killzone 2:

[...] that figure was actually €21 million ($30 million) and it has only gone up from there (by gone up i mean it has doubled to €42 million/$60 million). by the time killzone 2 comes out it will dethrone shenmue as the most expensive video game ever made. the game should have cost the former figure but guerrilla's managerial lacks any sort of financial or work allocation skills, the studio has high turnover and a few other things. because of this incapacity a nice portion of the team at studio cambridge is assisting in development. to top this off the game may be pretty but it's barely mediocre and past the point of no return. the september release date floating around will without doubt be missed if guerrilla sticks to their intention of not releasing the game until its done which will be early next year.

There is more, but not much more.

Killzone 2 is big, bigger than Guerrilla has ever made, and it is super-important to Sony, so the pressure will be enormous. It won't be the first nor the last title that is finished by bloating a team beyond decency. And that has to be expensive when your offices are in the center of Amsterdam.

I know some people working on Killzone 2. I think it will look great - really great. But I have no clue if it will play better than Killzone 1.

Game Focus Germany 2008: My impressions

Here are my impressions of the talks I saw at Game Focus Germany:

  • Greg Costikyan, "The Independent Developer Shall Rise Again".

    I could not have asked for a better keynote. My secret theme for the conference was "Thinking outside of the box of the core games industry", i.e. outside of multi-million PC / console projects developed for publishers, a topic I find particularly interesting for the German industry. Greg covered pretty much every way you can make games without dealing with publishers, and tied it all together into a coherent whole. You can download the slides here and read his detailed thoughts on the English talks at GFG here.

  • Jonathan Blow, "Programming is easy, Production is harder, Design is hardest".

    And once people were open to the idea that maybe they didn't need to work with publishers, there was Jon Blow to ask them why they were making games at all. He read Molley Rocket's mission statement in its entirety, and got applause.

    Ironically, Jon asked the same question that Bruce McMillan, former executive VP at EA asked at GDC in 2003: What is worth spending 3 precious years of your life on? Only Mr. McMillan asked whether you'd want to work on something that sells less than a million copies, while Jon asked whether it is worth spending 3 years coding (and dealing with Microsoft's certification team), rather than, say, feeding starving kids in Africa.

    Every conference needs an inspiring talk reminding people why they are in this business, and this was it. And yes, the title made total sense in the context of the talk. (Slides and audio can be found here.)

  • Stéphane Bura, "Inside-Out Game Design".

    Stéphane blew people's minds with a Will-Wright-grade talk on design theory. I need to chew on the slides (all 200+) for a bit - I may also need to read a dozen books - before I can really comment on the theory, but I applaud him for thinking very big. Also, kudos for being able to answer every question with another 10 slides, and having a great answer to the question "How do I use this when I go back to my project tomorrow?" (His answer was: "Please wait 25 years," but he made it sound convincing.)

  • Risa Cohen, "Zen and the Art of Production Maintenance".

    Risa described the things she looks at when auditing game projects and, being who she is, made the process sound like a nice long hug. Very interesting because it was very much from the core of the traditional games industry.

  • Noel Llopis, "Pragmatic game development practices for small (and not so small) companies".

    Noel explained why you need to be pragmatic when picking your working methods and used the example of his current two man company, Power Of Two Games (I forgot to ask him what they plan to do when they hire a third person). I recognized a lot from the internet development I did last summer (which I should really blog about). Hopefully it made people in the audience question some of their assumptions about which tools and practices they use.

  • Doug Church, "Player Expression: Central to Gaming".

    In this great talk Doug went back to the core of interactive entertainment and talked about how we should give players more means to express themselves. I totally agree with him, and this is something I want to explore in more detail in a future blog post. (Greg's write-up of Doug's talk explains why: I love the concept, but I disagree with the term player expression.)

  • Mike McShaffry, "The Third Person Camera For Thief: Deadly Shadows".

    I know Mike as an experienced game programmer, but he is actually more involved in production these days. And when I say 'these days' I mean 'the last eight years'. Still, he gave a super-detailed presentation about the third person camera in Thief: Deadly Shadows, full of videos and diagrams. Third-person cameras are notoriously tricky and it was great to see it explained so clearly.

    His slides are here, and here is what Mike thought of being in Germany for the first time. (I am afraid it will be hard to find a company like Arkane there.)

  • Kevin McGinnis, "MetaRock! The Creation of Interface Art in Rock Band".

    Kevin had the talk with the best graphics, but well, that's his job. He gave an in-depth look at the user interface graphics of Rock Band. I couldn't watch all of it as Thad's talk was on at the same time, but I now know that making good head-up displays take a long time and that Rock Band is taking wayyy too long to be released here in Europe.

  • Robin Hunicke, "Collaboration FTW: What Game Studios and Game Studies can Learn from each other".

    Robin's talk presented the history of academia-industry relations from 1995 till now, from her experience as an AI researcher who is now designing and producing at EA. It came from a very different point of view which I hope broadened some horizons about what game development is about.

  • Stéphane Adamiak, "Core Casual Gaming : how soccer moms came to play RTS games".

    Stéphane presented an overview of the casual games market, including casual MMOs, virtual worlds and widgets, from the point of view of Goa, France Telecom's online gaming arm. He also won the prize for working for the biggest company: France Telecom's 200.000 people makes EA look like a startup.

  • Thaddaeus Frogley, "Inside the Unreal Networking Model".

    Thad gave a detailed talk about how the Unreal engine handles networking. Ironically, it appears few people in Germany use the Unreal engine. Even though I only saw half of it, I came out with a clearer understanding of how to do real-time synchronization in games. I particularly liked the communication patterns he presented.

  • Matt Miles Griffiths, "Tell me another one: Why the importance of story-telling in games is over-stated".

    I was only able to catch half of Matt's talk. I actually disagreed much less than I thought I might: Matt presented an idea somewhat similar to Chris Crawford's process intensity versus data intensity, and he had the sales numbers to back up why process intensity is better.

  • Erik Simon and Oliver Staude-Müller, "Kooperation statt Kleinkrieg: Gute Beziehungen zwischen Publisher und Entwickler als Grundlage zum Projekterfolg am Beispiel von Anno 1701".

    Yes, that talk was in German. Oliver was the project manager on Anno 1701, which was one of the few AAA games to be developed in Germany recently (OK, I guess Crysis counts). Erik was the head of development at Sunflowers, the publisher. They described in detail how the developer-publisher relationship they built allowed them to finish a big title on time and under budget. They made it sound easy, but it is amazing that they were able to work this way.

And that's it! All in all I am incredibly pleased with how it all turned out. I got to schmooze and listen to great talks, and everyone seemed happy about the results.

This post will be updated as more slides become available, and I will write an additional post or two about some other aspects of the conference.

Update 1: Added a link to the slides and audio of Jon's talk.

My progress in Assassin's Creed

So last night I played some more Assassin's Creed. First I remembered I could climb stuff so I ran around and practised fleeing from guards. Then I did the pickpocketing mission again and it was, in fact, ridiculously easy. I guess I forgot to press LT the first time.

I then immediately failed the next mission: interrogation. I vaguely knew I had do something with some dude talking near a tree somewhere (NEAR A TREE - thanks Ubisoft). I could hear a dude talking quite clearly, but when I came near him and I was told to press LT to start the interrogation mission, the game targeted a guard standing right next to the talking guy. I tried multiple times. Little triangle over his head, funky cyberspace sparkles over his body: This was clearly my target. So I followed him and since I couldn't find an 'Interrogate' button, I punched him. This annoyed him and his two dozen pals, so I ran off. I tried again in a quiet alley and hey presto! I killed him. Wait. Um. Press LT again. Another guard targeted. I figured this was not what the game wanted me to do.

So, you need to get close to a dude. Then when the game says: 'Press LT to start the interrogation mission', press LT. The game may tell you you are too far away. Or too close (too close to interrogate someone?). But once you've started the mission you can target the right dude instead of random guards. It's a bit like GTA's side missions, only awkward.

So it turns out that Assassin's Creed is a brittle, tangled mess of interface modes. It also has a metric ton of different gameplay elements. Saveable Citizens. Scholars. Vigilantes. Viewpoints. I am not quite sure how to recognize all of these things. I do know that the legend of the map has something like 3 columns of symbols. Seriously. I can barely tell where what is due to the cool styling, but it sure has a lot of different symbols.

I am also having some trouble understanding the setting. I work for some organization in some country. It appears they have a creed. They also have a big honking castle, and get attacked early on, but they protect the citizens of the town outside the castle and repel the invaders. So I am guessing they are good guys and they sure aren't secretive. So which organization do the guards in town belong to, and why do they try to kill me when I look at them funny? Either they are on my side in which I am totally not finding it funny that they're messing with me, or they are not on my side, in which case: Dude! I am with the people that protect this town! Where were you when the Templars attacked? Cut me some slack! I am picking this guy's pockets for a good cause! (Don't ask me what it is, I have no clue why picking one guy's pockets leads me to interrogating some random other guy.)

And why do some guards find me suspicious on sight (unless I walk slow) while others assume I am just a regular guy? I have absolutely no clue. And Ubisoft's choice of frame story, while being cute in general, makes it hard for them to just have a narrator tell me what's up.

Overall I have to say that so far in Assassin's Creed I am having trouble figuring out exactly what situation I am in and which tools I can use to achieve my goals.

How Goldman Sachs made money from the sub-prime mortgage crisis

Last year, as I am sure you have heard, there was some trouble in the U.S. sub-prime mortage market. Lots of financial companies on Wall Street lost billions, except Goldman Sachs (WSJ article, Guardian article). columnist Michael Lewis draws an interesting conclusion from this:

I can't think of another example of a big Wall Street firm saying so clearly through its trading positions as Goldman Sachs did over the past year that it thinks the rest of its industry, including its own people, is a bunch of idiots. They have obviously designed their firm to take into account their idiocy -- without ever having to put too fine a point on it.

(Ironically, making billions while everyone else loses money may actually get Goldman Sachs in trouble.)

This has very, very little to do with games, but I found this a fascinating story. I find it interesting how industries and big companies deal with situations like this. (I may find this a lot less interesting if civilization collapses due to this, but well, we'll deal with that when we get there.)

(Via Kottke.)

Hiive Books: The ZX Spectrum Book - 1982 to 199x

I just found out about The ZX Spectrum Book - 1982 to 199x, a book about the greatest 80s home computer of all time, the Sinclair ZX Spectrum. Which, incidentally, was my first computer at age 13.

The book seems to consist entirely of descriptions of the great games that were released on this platform. Even though I can read about (and even download and play) these games on the web and I would have loved to have seen more than just game descriptions, I feel compelled to buy this book.

It was written by Andrew Rollings and published by the enigmatic Hiive Books. Enigmatic because the link from Andrew's bio is broken and the main page only contains a logo. But that may be because Hiive Books is apparently just Andrew. Regardless: self-publishing is great, and book like this are a great business idea. Go Andrew!

(The poor, deluded souls who spent the 80s trying to have fun with Commodore 64s, permanently stunting their intellectual growth in the progress, may be interested in The C64 Book - 1982 to 199x.)

Quick opinions of some games I've been playing

I've played a couple of new games this weekend. Well, new. New to me. Here are my impressions based on about an hour or two per game:

  • Zuma. Nice, if a bit low-res. Lots of interesting feedback and risk-reward aspects. Move the mouse away from the center and you can be more precise, but it takes longer to aim somewhere else, etc. I pretty much finished the 60 minute trial period. I wouldn't mind playing again, but I don't want to pay $20 for it.

  • Peggle. Another nice casual game. I was surprised something requiring so little skill could be fun, but then it's basically Pachinko, so why should I be surprised? This game has the best level complete feedback I've ever seen. The production values are really nice. Again, I would play more, but not for $20.

  • Mass Effect. My initial impression is negative. The story was meh to me. I was hoping for a well-developed sci-fi setting, but somehow it is not compelling. I found the UI annoying and cumbersome, and the levels unreadable. I literally got lost the moment I set foot on the first planet. How hard is it to turn the characters the right way at the start of the level? However, the unreadability might be because my flat-screen TV was set to the wrong mode. I will give it another try. Maybe I will grow used to the UI as well.

  • Assassin's Creed. Looks great, and kudos to Ubisoft for making the story a bit more complex than it needs to be. However, I just failed the pickpocketing mission twice and I am still angry. I had to read the manual to find out what 'Low Profile' means - it means walking around without pressing the right trigger, i.e. 'not High Profile'. The pickpocketing target is insanely jumpy and I have no clue how to pick his pockets. Once detected I couldn't find a single hiding place and being cut to pieces by my own colleagues (what the hell is that all about?) was preferable to running around like an idiot. What a waste of time. I also found the controls overly complex. Press this trigger, than that button, then find out you can and should release them by jumping to your death a couple of times. Gah.

What did you think of these games?

Update: I just remembered Penny Arcade warned me about Mass Effect. Also: all Assassin's Creed FAQs say 'just pickpocket the guy'. Thanks. Thanks so much.