Sometimes you have to let go….

I updated my blog links today. I added a few and deleted one. The one was Scott Miller’s  “Game Matters” blog. Scott (in case you didn’t know) was co-founder of 3D Realms; the developer of the worlds longest still born game Duke Nukem Forever. Scott wrote some really interesting posts about the business of game development. Unfortunately the blog hasn’t been updated in a couple of years. It seems that it’s as dead and DNF. Time to let it go.

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Games industry lawyers

I have just updated my list of game industry law firms which you can find at http://www.obscure.co.uk/directory/directory-legal/. If you are/know of a games industry law firm that isn’t on the list please don’t hesitate to drop me at email via the contact page.

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Avatar

Avatar movie imageAvatar, James Cameron’s CGI movie extravaganza has struck a special cord with mainland Chinese viewers. The plight of the planet Pandora’s Na’vi people as they battle against a ruthless earth corporation intent on raping their planet of its mineral wealth (and in the process destroying the homes of the Na’vi) has been likened by some to the plight of those in China who are threatened with eviction for the sake of new civic infrastructure projects or to make way for commercial development.

Some internet forum users have suggested that the fight put up by the Na’vi might act as “teaching material” for China’s victims of eviction. – Unfortunately those under threat don’t have flying beasts and giant dinosaur style creatures to help in their battle against bulldozers, corporate greed and political corruption and their struggles more often than not end in defeat.

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Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Programmer

It seems that the the Russian’s weren’t the only ones to have high level spies operating deep within the UK government during the 80s and that TIGA operatives may also have been working undercover to protect the games industry for the last 25 years. (Which would be impressive as TIGA hasn’t existed that long). It would seem that either their agents sabotaged the passing of laws that restrict the sale of some video games or else the Thatcher government just wasn’t very good at actually passing laws properly.

According to a news story on the BBC website here the Thatcher government bought in the Video Recordings Act (VRA) in 1984 which restricts the sale of violent video games and films. However, despite “passing” the law they somehow failed to inform the European Commission and, as a result, the law is now rendered unenforceable until it can be passed again – a process that will take 3 months apparently.

Oddly, although those currently being prosecuted under the law can not be prosecuted the government is claiming that those already found guilty under the non-existent law will not be able to overturn their prosecution or receive financial recompense.

The government will now attempt to re-master the law without the infinite lives cheat mode.

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I have a game design…

It is fairly common for developers and publishers to receive emails from individuals outside the industry asking how they should go about submitting game designs. The short answer to that question is that you just email us a copy or stick it in the post.

Unfortunately the answer is not only simple it is also worthless, because the question is worthless. A far a more useful question is “why would you want to submit your design”. What is it you expect to achieve by doing so?

1. Do you want a job? If so then the correct path would be to apply to to the company by sending a resume, cover letter and portfolio – for useful advise on this check out the Breaking In forums of the IGDA http://www.igda.org/Forums/forumdisplay.php?forumid=44

2. Do you want some feedback on your game idea? If so then posting it in a game development related forum such as http://www.gamedev.net/community/forums/ would get you way more feedback. Developers and Publishers are almost always working their socks off to get their current game(s) finished so don’t really have the time to offer feedback on every design that comes through the post.

3. Do you want to hire the developer to make your game? Many developers are willing to talk to potential clients. If you have the necessary finances in place to fund a game development project (anything from tens of thousands for a small iPhone game up to $30 million+ for a Triple A game) then please feel free to email them more details of the proposed deal. Only if the deal is appealing will they want to see a design doc.

4. Are you hoping to sell your idea (or give it away in the hope that someone will make it)? – in that case I would direct you to this article http://www.obscure.co.uk/frequently-asked-questions/selling-game-design-ideas/ which explains why publishers and developers don’t accept game design submissions. Every developer out there is the same – more ideas than they will ever be able to make. – If you want to get your game made you will need to hire a development studio or make the game yourself (either as a hobby project or by getting a job in the industry, working your way up the ladder and eventually getting to a position where you get to decide what game gets made). More details on how to achieve either of those aims can be found at the web sites I mentioned above.

So, if you have a design doc just looking for a home (but have no industry experience) I hope the above helps you to better decide your next course of action.

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Gamer

Just spotted this trailer for the video game related movie Gamer. Obviously it is just a trailer but its central concept of gamers controlling real human avatars in a MMPG is quite interesting. The US army is already using robots controlled by remote users for surveillance in war zones. Gamer goes a step beyond to give users control over real people (in this case criminals). Would you play a game differently if you knew that getting shot meant that someone would actually lose there life?

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Twitter – tech vs life

rofl=meh/teh

rofl=meh/teh

This one is filed under Tech vs Life. The clue’s in the name…. twit.

Twitter is a symptom of our “need to be famous/gotta watch the celebrities” society. People actually think that what their doing is interesting/worthwhile and worth sharing with the world. It wouldn’t be so bad if these boring people actually posted worthwhile stuff but its all “I’m having a burger”. Sorry, I don’t care how funny or famous you are, the boring bits of your life are just as boring as the boring bits of my life.

The only person in history who should ever have been on Twitter is Albert Einstein. At least he could say something worthwhile in 140 characters – not that he would have come up with E = mc2 if he was busy tweeting. The rest of you? Go do something creative or worthwhile.

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Posted in Gadgets & Tech, Tech Vs Life | 2 Responses

Frank Herman (RIP)

fherman1I was really saddened today to hear that Frank Herman passed away on March 30th 2009. “Big Frank”, as he was affectionately known, was a major figure in the early days of the video games industry. As one of the founders of Mastertronic (with Martin Alper and Alan Sharam) he pioneered budget video game sales in the UK and the company also became the exclusive European distributor for  little known Japanese gaming systems the Sega Master System and Sega Megadrive (Genesis to you Yanks).

Mastertronic (and its Sega distribution rights) were sold to Virgin in a deal which saw the founders of Mastertronic continue their involvement and it was while Frank Herman was working with Virgn Games that I was fortunate enough to first encounter him. I was Development Manager at the then fledgling SCi whose games were being distributed by Virgin Games. Over lunch and in meetings I got to know Frank who was not just a hard-nosed & savvy business man but also a man whose hand-shake was his bond. He was a  real pleasure to do business with and a font of wonderful industry stories relating to the early days of the games industry.

Sega eventually sought to take control of their own destiny by buying back the distribution rights to their consoles from Virgin Games. Again Frank was integral to the deal and part of the package for the new Sega operation, taking on the role of Managing Director of Sega Europe. In later years he moved on to head up GT Interactive’s European operation and, despite retiring several times, continued his involvement in the industry by assisting various start-up companies as well as consulting for the big players.

Frank was an inspiration to work with and a wonderful person to be around. He was a deal-maker of the highest order and I am sure he will be missed by many.

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OnLive investors out to lunch?

The revolutionary game streaming system OnLive was announced at GDC this week and has prompted a flurry of press about the future of the games industry. Their presentation was ultra slick and all the right buzz words were in place.

Cloud computing… tick

End to piracy… tick

Ground breaking video compression… tick

Streaming HD video… tick

Thin client… tick

Play top end games without having to buy a top end rig… tick

The last of those is obviously aimed at potential end-users. Those people who would love to play high end PC games without the cost of buying/upgrading a high end rig. Just imagin “owning” a top of the range rig for just a low subsciption payment. Sounds too good too be true doesn’t it?

Moving on I think the other items are aimed at a different target demographic. Not the cost concious/cheap/poor gamer but the rather more affluent potential investors. As mentioned above it had the slick launch/presentation and all the latest buzz words, so what are the odds they already have a bunch of investors lined up ready to sign up if OnLive successfully gets through this GDC launch?

I think the odds of investors biting are good but the odds of the service delivering are rather less so. Like the “Leet rig on the cheap” concept that is going to attract end users the technology claims just seem too good to be true. I am sure the system does work in the lab – under controlled conditions. Sadly however the real world doesn’t much care to be controlled and neither does the Internet.

Video compression/streaming – they are talking about being able to compress and stream video far better and faster than anything currently on the market. Not a little better…. way better. Download any streaming video on the internet and there will almost certainly be a delay before it starts as your system buffers the video. It does this because the Internet isn’t a stable delivery platform… not even close. The buffering allows the video download to get ahead of your viewing so that when there is a lag in the download you can keep viewing smoothly and then, hopefully, the video download will catch up again when the connection quality returns.

Of course you can’t buffer game play because the game has to react to what you are doing with the controller now, not 5 seconds ago. So, even if their video compression is as good as they say it is, the Internet isn’t. The ability to provide a stable, close to real-time video stream at the quality they are proposing simply isn’t something they have control over. This sort of problem might not be an issue with something like a turn based game or an adventure but anything with an element of twitch control, such as a racing game, platformer or shooter will suffer badly when the quality of the connection drops. Far worse than current games that only need to transmit small amounts of 3D data.

The other issue with OnLive is that they are using a sledgehammer to crack a nut. Yes, cloud computing probably is the future for many games. Run your game on the server, prevent or reduce piracy, eliminate stock problems (you still sell at retail but the box just has a redmption code for a download) and remove the need for (obvious) patches. However all this can be done without the need for a giant (some may say Science Fiction) leap forward in video compression and a complete overhaul of the internet.

I am sure this service will make it to market in some form and I am sure that some games will appear but as for it being the future…. far from it. Personally I think it will be a phantom memory in a few years.

As usual the guys at Penny Arcade have things pretty well nailed.

http://www.penny-arcade.com/comic/2009/3/25/

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Skype – tech 4 life

skype_logoFiled under Tech4Life – the VOIP (Voice Over Internet Protocol) video-calling software Skype is one of those bits of tech that has made a real positive impact on my life. I recently relocated to Hong Kong to live but am working with a company in the UK and attending Monday morning management meetings. A few years ago that would have entailed a really brutal 12 hour commute or the use of a time machine. Now they take a laptop into the meeting room and load up Skype and we are cooking with gas. In fact the team in question are, as I type, attending GDC 2009 in San Francisco and we have just had a quick video update on various topics before I turn in for bed and they head out for breakfast.

I have been working remotely with clients for a number of years and I have to say that video conferencing makes a huge difference. It is so much easier to communicate when you you can hear and see the people you are talking to. This is especially true for distributed development teams where you need to give feedback (constructive criticism) to a remote team mate. Email and text based IM just isn’t as good in situations like that for transmitting the nuances of what you are saying. It’s far easier to take offence when a message is in email form than it is when you can see and hear the person offering up the critique.

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