Cast for two

Friday, February 22, 2008

GDC08 Day 5

Last day at the Game Developers Conference. Skip if you're not interested in games.
First talk today was "Planning the Wii Menu: From PreLaunch to Wii Ware" by Takashi Aoyana. Picture taking nor filming was allowed. This talk addressed mainly how the Wii Menu was designed. The design rationale is:

  • Fun for the entire family
  • Something new every day
Some new features for the Wii Menu version 3 are announced:
  • Creating channels from games on the disk
  • Sending messages at specific times
  • Activate an Internet Channel when following a link
  • The rhythm of the blue led is inspired on the sound of a Japane bird (agrisu or something)
  • new photo channel icon

More info in Wired : "Nintendo's Takashi Aoyama Talks WiiWare".
The next talk was about "Super Smash Bros Brawl" by Masahiro Sakurai (from Sora Ltd). This new Wii title will launch on March 9th, 2008.

This talk focused on the characters in the game: the selection, the graphics and the motion of the characters. For more see Wired article "Sakurai Talks About Smash Bros. Character Roster" or Video Interview: Smash Bros.' Masahiro Sakurai

After this Nintedo overload, I went to "Dinner Dash Hometown Hero, Gourmet Edition : Postmortem, Where casual games meet virtual worlds" by Brad Edelman (CTO/cofounder Playfirst) and Kenny Shea Dinkin (VP & Creative Director Playfirst).
Dinerdash is a popular casual game that was downloaded 200 miljoen times. The Hometown Hero version is about user generated content:

and about episodic content:

and they claim it works:
  • More then 50% from the Diner Dash Hometown Hero transactions come from sub-5$ items.
  • Playfirst users who have only bought sub-$5 items are growing significantly
  • 57% of Diner Dash Hometown Hero purchasers are first time buyers who never had purchased in the $20-obly business model
  • Diner Dash Hometowm Hero is the fastest selling game on
  • Episodic content is popular and drives strong sales - they've released 1 new restaurant/story per month since launch

And now for something completely different "Python for technical Artists" by Adam Pletcher. You can find the Python script and the slides on Volition website. I tought that this talk would explain how you can do artistic stuff with Python but it turned out it was about how to do repetitive stuff for artists.

Next talk was "Metaplace Postmortem: Reinventing MMOs"
by Raph Koster (President, Areae, Inc.) and Sean Riley (Lead Programmer, Metaplace).
I was quite interested in the concept of Metaplace but this talk focused more on the design of the technical architecture of Metaplace. Basically, they use web technology to democratise the development of MMO's. The idea is kind of cool but it remains to be seen if it will work out.

Thursday, February 21, 2008

GDC08 Day 4 Awesome

Another day at the Game Developers Conference in San Francisco. If you're not interested in my experiences at GDC just skip the posts with GDC in the title.

I started they day with a panel: "The future of story in Game Design" a panel Deborah Todd, Denis Dyack (Silicon Nights), Mary DeMarle (Eidos), Matt Costello (id Doom), Metthew Karch, Michael Hall (Timeshift) and Tim Willits (id soft, Doom). Most panels are boring but this one is the exception that confirms that rule. There was strong controversy that made the panel fun. The conclusion was that game writers/story tellers should be part of the overall game design from the beginning.
Deborah Todd was involved in several games for kids and wrote a book "Game Design : From Blue Sky to Green Light".

Next, I went to the keynote "The next 20 years of gaming" by Ray Kurtzweil (picture below).
Ray Kurtzweil
I bought Rays book a few year ago but I didn't like it. Some I putted my expectations low for this keynote. It turned out that his presentation was even worse. He skipped a lot of slides, he had no new message, it was not about games and he was not inspirational. He was explaining what Spore was about, you can image how he didn't know his audience. Cleary a miscast by gdc. To bad.

"Halo vs. Facebook: the emotions that drive play" by Nicole Lazzaro (author of "Why we play games together"). Last years presentation was realy interesting. I also think that a social approach to games is a very important angle to understand games. So I was curious what this presentation would bring. She compared Facebook with Halo from an emotion point of view. Nicole believes there's a lot of potential for gaming in Facebook. One of her points is that current Facebook games are only about ping. If the ping triggers some threshold in the social fabric a viral wave is created that grows quickly but then dies. In games like Halo, there is ping and pong and hence a sustainable conversation can emerge.

There was a critic that a social comparison of an social platform like Facebook with Halo is a bit unbalanced and of course favors Facebook.

"Creating Spielberg's BOOM Box" by Louis Castle (Electronic Arts) Boom Box is a new game from EA for the Wii. The game concept is: "A software toy maximizing the Wii's controller with the compulsion loop of destruction and creation".

It looks like the free game Phun is something in the same direction.

In "My first MMO" Dave Jones (of Grand Theft Auto, Crackdown fame) presented his new upcoming game: APB. A lot of attention has been paid to free form personalistation. The realism of the character editor is realy awesome:

Wednesday, February 20, 2008

GDC 08: Day 3 : Become a "spornstar"

"A future Wide Open: Unleashing the creative community" by John Schappert from Microsoft (see picture above). The new features of the Unreal engine looked cool. They announced games for the Zune (Zune what ?). An important message was that they will democratize game development with the Xbox Live Arcade. They even talked about a Belgian game : “Little Gamers.” This is a 2-D high definition action side-scroller based on the famous Web comic “Little Gamers” created by Loïc Dansart, a 24-year-old software developer from Belgium.

"Procedural Music in SPORE", Aaron McLeran and Kent Jolly (in the picture above). This talk actually blow my head. They used open software, called Pd (developed at UC San Diego), to generate music. So instead of listening to a track, in Spore, you're listening to a program. The program reacts, and hence the music, on events in the game. Very cool.

"Pollinating the universe: user-generated Content in SPORE", Caryl Shaw from Maxis.

It looks like Spore is the internet made easy. Basically they took over known internet community facilities to stimulate communities around Spore. The trick to hide the procedural stuff as payload in a PNG file is very clever. I remarked that one of the contributor to the sporepedia had as nickname "spornstar". Hence a new name for somebody who want to know everything about the Spore game and the title of the blogpost. Spore will be released on 5 September 2008 in Europe and a few day later in the States. The reason for that is that the market for PC games is bigger in Europe then in the States.

"How heroes are Made: A collaborative Approach to Serialized Content in a Transmedia World" by Jesse Alexander. This talk was cancelled. So I went to:
"Wii Fit : Creating a brand new interface for the home console", Takao Sawano from Nintendo.

My first experience with the Wii Fit was not instant fun. So my initial enthousiasm about this tempered. Bye, bye, Narnia.

iBand : nice music with DS + Iphone

Tuesday, February 19, 2008

GDC08: Day 2 : "easy is shit"

The Moscone West building at night where the Game developers conference is held:GDC08 conference in the Moscone West Building

I started the day with the keynote from Nokia titled "Play with Anybody Everywhere - context, the new paradigm for gameplay". He had a couple of interesting statistics concerning the usage by the "mobile technology leaders". Voice is used 12% of the time. Wifi covers a third of the data. 52% is browsing. Browsing on the mobile has become a key experience. He also told that the map is very important as user interface and providing context. So, well done Google Maps ;-) . He shows the manhattan that was made by the Nokia Research center in 2006. It's a combination of webified storytelling and a photohunt combined!

Next talk was a keynote about casual games by Microsoft. The talk was very bad and I left it halfway.

After a skype session with the kids back at home and some work, I joined the casual game tutorial "Refining the casual game". First talk, again by Gabe Zicherman about "The new demographics of casual games". So who is the casual gamer? According to Gabe:

  • 50% female
  • 75% 35-60 year
  • 30% income> 30%
  • 40% college educated
  • 20% retired
Then I joined the talk "Casual games are dead" by Eric Zimmerman. The subtitle was "Long live causal games!". He quoted his uncle with : "easy is shit" hence the title of this blogpost.

In the afternoon, I first jumped in "The paradox of play: the challenge of measuring what game players learn" but left that panel after twenty minutes to go to "Iphone and beyond: a new hope for mobile gaming" by Tom Hubina (who's defenitly is a PC and not a mac). Here's some infoporn about the Iphone:
  • 4 million sold worldwide
  • 95% go online (source: AT&T keynote in Barcelona)
  • 0.17% browser share compared to other browsers combined 0.07% (Source: net applications)
  • Iphone search 50x up (Source: Google)
One of the drawback for making Iphone/touch games is the lack of sound in the browser. A list of games for the Iphone/touch is Apple Web App list.

Next talk was "Wolfquest" by David T. Schaller (eduweb). The subtitle is "Designing a serious game for an unserious audience". The game Wolfquest has been made with Unity 3D and is a wildlife simulation game. The vision is to build a real game, that is addictively fun, that has a realistic 3D world and novel gameplay. What struck me was that a big part of presentation was about "fantasy and reality", probably hardly readable in this picture of a slide:
Fantasy and reality"Striking Gold: How kids' Worlds took the crown" by Paul Vanover (Disney Online), Lane Merrifield (Club Penguin, now Disney), Jason Root (Nickelodeon) and Kyra Reppen (Neopets) (in same order as in the picture)
Panel about kids worldThis was a panel with the people from the "ketnetkicks" of the USA. There was a concensus that it was about "listening to the kids" and about participation in the conversation with them.

GDC'08 : Day 1

First, I went to the talk by Ralph Kostner in the "World in motion Summit" titles "Why Gamers should care about Virtual World". The talk had a new title "High Windows". I guess this talk is what they call "thought provoking" ? Next talk was by Peter Marx (Analog Protocol MTV). He said that 80% of the downloads of the client to install a virtual world never register on their server. Meaning that 80% of potential players have a problem with installation.
Then I listened to "The power of free to play" by Adrian Cook ( who has a blog :
His advice for games that want to be free was to be browser based (or having a small download) and to defere user registration as late a possible. He also said that the game "battlefield heroes" pushes the barrier on quality of free online games.

Next talk was by Gabe Zichermann ( of He said that Ebay, Facebook and Yahoo Answers are in fact online games. He said that Facebook is the McSalad of games. You can play games on it but it's not known as a gameplatform, hence is socially more accepted to be on Facebook. Like the McSalad is the excuse for the mom to take the kids to a McDonald. He said the strong point of Facebook are:

  • Really easy : effortless, 2D, HTML
  • Real: tangible benefit in real life (McSalad)
  • Free
  • Fun: socially - propagated story
  • Status: the ultimate fireplace mantle
He quoted some research that 70% of teenager girls prefer 2D over 3D.

Then I went to "Videogames to build & retain TV audiance" in the Serious Games Summits. Swen Vincke from Larian Studios gave a nice presentation about Ketnetkick from the VRT, the Belgian broadcaster. Another example was about a fiction program of Discovery Channel Canada about a space trip to mars. The game they showed was Race to mars. Another game was about Virtual Heroes.

I guess it was the chairman of the session that made a Marshall McLuhan quote from his book "Hot & Cool" (a book as old as I am): "It's misleading to suppose there's any basic difference between education & entertainment. This distinction merely relieves people of the responsibility of looking onto the matter."

We finished the day with:
  • "Facebook and the new web of social gaming" by Nabeel Hyatt
  • "Multiverse: From the field" by Rafhael Cedeno
  • "Habbo's Huge Success" by Sulka Haro from sulake (see picture below)

San Francisco, the narnia for geeks ?

On the plane, my collegue remarked that a lot of new teenager movies are somehow about the interplay between the real and the fantasy world. Think about "The Chronicles of Narnia: The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe", "Arthur et les Minimoys", "The Spiderwick Chronicles", ... The funny thing that occured to me, is that, in a way, I was leaving the daily reality in Belgium and was heading to a geeky fantasy world where:

  • everybody has an iphone
  • Google provides free Wifi with decent coverage and bandwidth
  • Starbuck allows you to visit the Itunes Store
  • a 3D measuring system in the Levis Store scans you body and manufactures a ideally fitting Levis for you in the store
  • ....
It was time for some reality checking. I first went to the Levis store on Union Square. No 3D machine at all. Somebody in the store had to measure me in the old fashioned way.

On our first free day in San Francisco, we took the caltrain to Mountain View. The idea was to walk to the Googleplex and check out the Google Wifi service. When we stepped out of the caltrain, I found the Google signal. As we walked to the Googleplex, the signal strength was fluctuating. So using a ipod touch as a GPS is maybe a bit to far streched. I guess you really need an Iphone for that.

I also often visit a Starbucks for a Café Latte or so. In most Starbucks, a screen is showing what Itunes tracks they are playing. The idea is that if you're interested in the song, you can take out your iphone or ipod touch and buy the song. Unfortunatly, my ipod touch can not make a connection with the Itunes Store. A Starbucks logo shows up in the left bottom corner but a message appears that says "Can't make connection to the Itunes Store". I tried it in several Starbucks with no success. I even bought a Starbucks Card. You can deposit some money on the card upfront and use it for later purchases. When I asked to the barista if the card was necessary to go visit the Itunes Store online they didn't know what I was talking about. They knew I had to buy a T-mobile card to use the wifi. That was already something. I guess Starbucks baristas will need some training as Starbuck will become the media outlet in the near future. Read the interesting article "Starbucks Deal Brewed with AT&T Has Hints of Apple" to understand that.

Friday, February 15, 2008

Leaving for GDC 2008

Finally, less than a day before I leave to San francisco. Me and my collegue are the lucky bastards that can attend the conference about interesting complex software applications (aka games ;-) ) GDC 2008. I hope to bring news here about Sony's Playtv, about Spore, Ipod Touch in a Starbucks, Google's Wifi network and all other new hot trends. Stay tuned.

Wednesday, February 13, 2008

Blogger in Draft announces Blog list

Blogger in Draft , the beta version of Google's blog service Blogger, aanounces a new feature. They provide a page element that you can easily add to your blog with blog links. The nice thing is that you can import the links to the feeds you read with Google Reader and make a selection out of them.

Uploaded with plasq's Skitch!

What is even more nice, is that the page element is not Javascript, but static HTML. This means that bots can crawl your page!