Monthly Archives: March 2010

No not Snowcrash, Modern Warfare 2 updates

The last few hours have been about the release of an update to one of the most popular online games of recent years. Modern Warfare 2. The update, or “stimulus package” as it is entitled is a new collection of maps to engage in multiplayer matches online. The pressure that Xbox Live was put under and the Modern Warfare system, must have been very intense as the game is still highly played and clearly most people were geared up to download it and to spend 1200 Microsoft points on Xbox Live (though that seems a little steep for 5 maps).
DLC is an interesting approach to keeping a game alive, the game becomes a framework or container for us to be sold new virtual goods. People often assume virtual goods are t-shirts and posters but this is highly engaging virtual content.
What is also interesting is that the levels will feel different each game. This is because of the unknown factor of other people and of variations to the games, team deathmatch, capture the flag etc that give a different dynamic every time.
What we end up with is an event in virtual space, with some other people joining in and a degree of structure to the event. It may be twitch reaction shooting and situational awareness but it is an important interaction to help inform the non game virtual worlds.
One of the levels features an oddly spooky mannequin factory that in Snowcrash you might consider these are avatars of people with lower end kit and connections to this virtual world.
MW2 dummies
Actually they are just scenery. Though when you come barrelling into the room tuned to shoot at anything human shaped they are a little disconcerting en masse.

The only way is up – Just Cause 2

Recently I have been exploring the new free-roaming island based game of Just Cause 2 on the 360. I was a fan of the original and anything that features a high degree of independence of action, not just on the rails story appeals to me. There is an interesting dynamic in such games though, that in not following the story all the time it feels as if you may be missing out, not doing as you are told. This may be my legacy of gaming in that much of what we have grown up doing has been to follow a plot. It is akin to listening to the radio rather than picking your own playlist on an MP3 player. The latter is rewarding but the former is much easier and my just lead you to some new piece of music you had not considered.
I have to say that Just Cause 2 has an immense map. You have 400 square miles of map to explore. Very importantly though that is not all, there is very much a use of height in this game. Buildings and mountains can all be traversed, and subsequently jumped off again with some fantastic base jumping elements. In addition you can take to the skies in helicopters, jets and commercial airliners too. Even without the use of the upcoming 3d it manages to generate a fantastic feeling of vertigo.
Just Cause 2
Another feature of a sandbox environment is the ability to deal with things in inventive ways. Your character features a grappling hook that does the basics such as hanging out of a helicopter even higher in the air.
Just Cause 2
However it also is able to be used as a tool by attaching both ends of it to things and using physics.
A prime example was when my car ended up on its side propped against a tree, yes I was driving up a mountain in a “I wonder if this will work moment”. It was an obvious thing to do to grapple the car, attach the other end to a very large rock and see what happened. It righted the car. It then made me feel I had been clever and inventive dealing with a situation of my own creation.
There are somewhat dubious references to the imagery of the gulf war in that the islands dictator has large statues dotted around the island. Part of your destructive game play means you can attach the grapple to the statue and then to a vehicle and attempt to pull down the statue.
Sandbox games are the closest to what we see in virtual worlds in crossover terms. Just Cause 2 is a single player game, in part because the destruction you create is really personalising your island. However the balance between “give me something to do” and “I am just going to find something to do” may be something the VW providers and content creators need to consider in helping people find a narrative, either social or business related.

Getting organized at a legal level.

On Friday I was lucky enough to be asked to join a panel at a Governance in Virtual Worlds event in SL. It was hosted for Sandra Day O’Conner College of Law Arizona State University by the guys at World2Worlds
We were there to discuss “are the trappings of place-based governance the best model for virtual worlds? Given a choice, do people prefer corporate-style management to political government? What are the opportunities and perils of each model? Are hybrid forms evolving in virtual practice?”
It is always interesting to be a panelist or presenter at hosted events like this, as just as in a physical venue it is no always apparent the amount of organisation and attention to detail the goes into getting everyone where they need to be.
Kim/Rissa and John at World2Worlds (and the rest of the team) were busy all the time during the event.
From the initial elements of having a reception for panelists and attendees complete with catering
event catering
to the more technical challenge of the panelists being in a specific Skype chat as well as in SL in voice to help bridge and mitigate any voice issues and broadcast what we had to say to the web. The initial gathering for this was akin to a green room at a physical event where we chatted and got organised before taking to the stage.
I am often struck with how people can assume that online means easy and no effort, when in fact the effort required is the same from the organizers. Getting the agenda sorted out, dealing with people turning up, advertizing the event (based on a track record of doing good events), getting the great audience that we had to come along all take time and persistent effort.
World2Worlds always do a fantastic job and so a huge thankyou to them from me.

What are games really teaching us?

Last night I was in London at the Dana Centre for a session on What do games really teach us. It was mainly a panel session with
John Kirriemuir from Silversprite (a fellow metaverse evangelist)
Pat Kane, author, The Play Ethic (and singer with Hue and Cry)
Sophie Blakemore, video game designer (and TV presenter)
It was facilitated by Gareth Mitchell, Presenter, Digital Planet, BBC World Service.
The event was Nintendo sponsored so there were lots of booths with Wii’s and various games for people to experience. Also curated and put together as part of a series by the good Dr Aleks whose TV show Virtual Revolution got a good few mentions in intros 🙂
The first part of the evening was to go and play some games. This was interesting, but as I am a gamer and have played most of them already I left the many people who did not seem quite so game aware to get on with it. Though I did get thoroughly beaten up on boxing, I guess my heart was not in it 🙂
Gareth was very keen to promote the use of twitter, and the #danacentre hashtag. I ended up overhearing a couple of guys saying whats a hashtag, so I helped them out with some free social media consulting 🙂 The hashtag was up on a rolling display on the main screen. So as often happens at these events it becomes hard not to grab a little screen time with the odd tweet hear and there.
Gareth (@GarethM) was keen we sent questions to him and also jokingly said we could heckle him as he had never been heckled before on twitter.
I was sat with my good friends Giannina and Ren and it turned out we were kind of the SL mafia in the room.
We were also tweeting a lot and responding to the request to heckle! I think most of our direct tweets got read out though Gary seemed reticent to say “epredator” but did say other peoples handles. However, its all good.
The panel did a great job of informing the audience of some concepts and anecdotes around what games are and where they stand. This was of course to a mixed audience, professionals and gamers such as us in the SL mafia and some people to whom everything was a surprise I should imagine.
In discussion around task based games and completing and winning missions and the formulaic nature of many games Pat was very vocal and passionate about needing to push the art form forward. An Avant Garde set of games not designed to be popular and commercial for the sake of it. It is in these we will see richer ways to reflect and rehearse. Clearly this relates to the play ethic and his concern as to how those boundaries of ethical decisions are being created for us to rehearse.
Sophie mentioned America’s Army and how whichever “side” you are on the enemy look like the apparent enemy of America. Which forces people to take on a certain perspective.
John covered a lot about how virtual worlds and free expressive sandpits are a huge area for education. The ability to try things out not just in a packaged game but as experiences extends how we can learn from games.
Somewhere along the line Eve-Online got a mention, primarily for their economy and then with the audience joining in saying how they have real pyramid schemes in there by some nefarious players. We nearly got all Daily Mail. Ren was busy laughing at some of it, heard it too many times before and he decided to reveal his true identity by ripping open his shirt as I tweeted anyone need to know about Eve talk to RenZephyr.
Super Eve
As much of this is my chosen field, and also one I frequent as a pastime this was more like watching a popular film but sat with some friends. Still a good event and I would interested to hear what the others less tied into this world thought.

More Interesting Ps3 Home content

I ended up back in PS3 Home again this weekend, mainly to take my predator AV for a walk again. There were some significant updates. Most notable was the XMB style navigation replacing the graph paper and tiles map that we had before. It is certainly quicker, though had a hint of Fisher Price about it.
GAME stores in the UK had a brand new space, primarily about banner adds and game trailers, though they had a hop across some buttons mini game that is really hard to complete, but if you do you get a spacesuit AV to show off.
Game home
In general its a moonbase
Game on home
I had a great encouter with a fellow Yautja. Of course with these custom AV’s there is very little personalisation. However we stood and kind of gestured and bowed and saluted followed by some take turns break dancing. A funny moment.
More important than the game space though were some purchasable more dynamic “apartments”. The basic lost apartment or treehouse are ok but you cant do much with them, the odd bit of furniture, and as far as I know in Europe we are not trusted to share our own photos and videos in our rooms. Which makes them…. well… pointless and boring.
The first one I tried was a nightclub, a large space called musicality.
Musicality apartment
This space has a stage with 4 sets of instruments on it for you and friends to mix sequences and loops.
Rocking the drums
I quite like these sort of multitrack music sequencers so having a multiplayer version is great. I have not spotted how to buy the extra sample packs but the space does include a t-shirt shop. Some interesting integration.
The next space that turned up is a London Pub. Which does what it says on the virtual tin. Its a bar, seats, fire dart board and toilet. Some nice animations out through the window with some london red buses zooming past. The darts games and wall mounted tv for high scores and friends scores is a great touch.
London pub home
It also featured a built-in web browser at the till behind the bar and you can ring the bell for time.
It was of course interesting and amusing to find myself doing this in a virtual world.
Toilet training
Maybe there is an interesting future emerging for Home now, though they should hurry up I think.
One final great change is that the standard movie theatres in the main square now are real spaces. Previously you entered and a flat screen showing some seats just blocked the view of streaming video. It was very poor. Now it is a space, with seats and you can sit with people, i.e. a shared experience at last!

Heavy Rain – Heavy Narrative

I hope this is spoiler free in talking about Heavy Rain.
In all the DotGovLabs games workshops we have had discussion around narrative and how a game experience needs that in some form. Heavy Rain has come up a lot in that as a prime example of both story and character engagement. We also have often ended up talking about fun. Often in the fun discussion zany, wacky, quirky, frivolous are the natural partners to that. However we have also all been discussion challenge, and how solving something hard, achieving a complex task is rewarding and fun, but in a different way.
I had read a lot about Heavy rain, seen the pictures and heard others say how unusual it felt to engage with. Last night in a 4 hour stint I could not put Heavy Rain down, and there is a lot more to come story wise it would seem.
It certainly pushes some emotional buttons for me as a parent and has an air of intrigue about it that is not quite a horror film style fear but its suitably slow pace give you a lot of time to think and reflect of whats going on.
Heavy Rain
The acting in this form both the technology of the facial expressions to the brilliant voice talents blended with a varied set of camera angles and film style techniques have certainly moved this sort of story telling forward. It has clearly learned and extended its predecessor Fahrenheit, but cranks up the emotions even more.
The game mechanic is very simple, and is a serious of twin stick gestures at vary speeds or slightly more complex quicktime “Simon Says”. When something more action packed than walking around investigating happens you are bounced from you reflective and pondering mood into an almost panic. Its all adrenalin, but seems to be a different flavour flowing.
The plot has a central character and I felt I was in his shoes, though it was not too big a leap to segue into the other characters just as in a back story in a film. Feeling sorry for the character and wanting to help yet wondering if he is the one that needs help is key to this story.
At points when you think things are just settling down a curve ball is thrown and one of the most unpleasant levels I have played was what seemed to be a hallucination of all the crowds in a train station as static dummies, paused in time, slightly greyed out. You have to walk through them and as you touch them they crumple to the floor. It actually reminded me of the Modern Warfare 2 infamous airport scene, there innocent civilians are cut down by the team you have to work with and you can do little about it, its a shock, but more of a single moment out of context with the rest of MW2. Here in Heavy Rain, there is nothing you can do about the people either, you know its a dream, the panic of the slow chase you are in and watching people drop like flies will stick with me for while. It’s very spooky.
I am really looking forward to getting through this story now, likewise seeing how the apparent choices make a difference in the long run, at the moment if its making a difference its very subtle.
One last think, I love the FBI agents desktop AR. Roll on when we have that for real, great virtual world crossover.
***Update After several solid late night sessions I finished Heavy Rain last night. It certainly picked up the pace and told an intriguing story. There were moments I gasped and felt a variety of emotions form revulsion to relief and an undercurrent of sadness. Spending that much time with so few characters makes this feel like a TV mini series rather than a film. I usually wander from most games before finishing them as over the years the endings have let me down and I have felt it better to leave the thing hanging in the air as a great memory. This one though…. absolutely needs to be finished. What a great piece of entertainment. Thankyou Quantic Dream

Pointing to the point of points

In the government and games investigations and workshops I have been doing recently we have had a lot of discussion around points systems. I wish there had been time to show people Jesse’s video all the way through to help understand where this all may go.
Very often in considering using a game or game mechanic it seems to be considered as a self contained unit. Whether that is the basic premise of the games industry in shipping a CD or with the Facebook game genres that can regarded as an evolving service.
None of these consider the concept, as used in Alternate Reality Gaming, of distributing the narrative, experiences and interactions across multiple products and services that may already exist.
It is mainly due to our conditioning of how we have had to consume media, i.e. lets watch this film now, and the need potentially for us to chunk and classify our time and experience. However, for those of us that are increasingly thin slice multi-tasking blending social, family and work in a fluid cross platform way it may be that we are more open to points systems and achievements layered on top of our current personal life stories?
As an example I mentioned that I tweeted my achievement of filing my first years company return. I had decided that felt like
a) something to be proud of
b) something to let friends and family know that feeding edge was still on track
c) remind any detractors that I am still pushing forwards

Clearly for people not running a business filing a company return may not have a comparable achievement, but for my fellow startups, even though their may be at a different time in the year they may pick up on that and feel a sense of being in this together.

Simple points in games, scores, money, credits etc follow the same principle, though until they are published or shared outside of the game environment their value could be considered less. Though equally they become the currency of that circle of acquaintances and provide the “in this together” factor.

These rewards and achievements across multiple systems become very personal rewards, humans are reward driven. If it is possible to double up on a reward by combing it with others or placing it another domain to get a kick from it again whether it is from a pure game, a family event or achieving a business milestone then we should?

In sharing photo’s on flickr we are doing that too. We see something, an event. We capture it and feel a sense of achievement and then in showing it to others we get another pay off. With online of course someone may view and comment many years later so the pay off can be ongoing.

I find it a hugely interesting motivator and one that I keep seeing the patterns in across everything we do. Likewise the keeping an achievement to yourself works, knowing what others don’t. Another mechanic that we can attempt to tap into in interacting with people.

Restaurants Vs Home Cooking, Distributed Vs Local

I have been wrangling with explaining how a business or idea can be spread across user generated content platforms with as much impact as attempting to create a platform of your own.
The social and technology landscape that surrounds us right now has fundamentally shifted opportunities for people to get things done. If you want to do something there probably is a place, space, server or service where you can experiment with your idea without the need to invest huge sums of money and hours of effort in getting the entire full featured gizmo up and running.
Businesses that suggest they are going to inject themselves into the places where people already are, in particular in online activities are often viewed as a little odd. It is part of the reason people get confused by virtual worlds like Second Life. There is the business of Linden Lab in creating the tools, running the servers etc. However there is also the creativity of the residents and users of the places in that world. Those people are able to experiment with ideas of how to interact in a virtual environment without having to build an entire one. Likewise people who want to experiment with how to build one and run one can now also do that due to the open source Opensim.
That is not to say there are not huge rewards for those platforms and middleware providers that make it easy for everyone to do the thing that they want, but presence in another place makes a great deal of sense. If your core business is story telling why should you need to bother about how a light shading technique is coded in a 3d engine.
I think we have always had this concept, but for some reason its got lost in attempting to compartmentalise business ideas. If you are a RL shopkeeper you do not tend to build the shop and the street it is in.
Baby squid
The exciting thing is that both concepts can co-exist. Just as restaurants and people cooking at home are really the same thing, but just there for different levels and quality of experience.
So thinking about explaining a truly web distributed experience over user generated content platforms on the web is more like considering cookbooks and utensils for the home market, spread in lots of different places, used in lots of different ways as opposed to the very focused, very local experience of a restaurant.