games


Virtual goods for marketing engagement

As I blogged on epredator.com I am very much looking forward to the driving fest that is Forza Motorsport 3 (Xbox 360) this month. However I was just struck by how interesting and experimental some of the marketing in and around the game is. Forza is not just about driving but about the cars as content. User generated paintwork and art on the cars are tradeable as are specific tuning setups. The car is the container for the content. Many games recently have allowed early downloadable pieces of content custom to a particular provider or pre-ordering allowing you access. This particular example is a twist on that. (I am not saying its a first, but its certainly not the norm)
So the offer is that if you go to a blog article and comment by joining in on the “What are your top ten driving songs” you get to receive this Zune branded Audi when the game is released.
Zune Audi
So we have a marketing stream that is engaging us to join in on a blog, but talking about music as it relates to cars, and is “sponsored” by Zune the Microsoft music player. On receiving the car we then have a Zune advert, that is in fact limited edition, that we may choose to use in online races. This being an example of owning the 3d content, but being able to atleast show and use it with other people who don’t own it. Also the songs will start to form driving playlists on the Zune marketplace.
In exchange for being interested and sharing, we get to feel engaged yet also become the advertiser for the Zune. It does not leave me feeling exploited or sold too, its a great pattern, and now I am blogging about it. UPDATE: I forgot to mention the irony or otherwise that I opened my iTunes when compiling my list of top ten favourite driving tunes for the competition entry.
The article if you want to join in and have an Xbox Live Gold account is here

The prize for innovation in avatar interopability goes to ….

Codemasters Colin McRae Dirt 2 on the Xbox 360
I was taking a look at the latest incarnation of off road console gaming. Codemasters Colin McRae Dirt 2 on the Xbox 360. The previous Dirt game was brilliant and it looks like this is going the right way too. The demo is even packaged with voice overs from Ken Block and Travis Pastrana indicating it is a demo (i.e. not just a disabled functions as with most demos).
Having had a blast around an excellent simulation of a Baja track and then an even more impressive and stunning rally stage set in Morroco I was thinking about how this mirror world, and the purity of the experience as a simulation blended with fun and some interesting game related features (such as rewind when you total the car) would not be one to have any quirky avatar or non car related expressions of personality in it. I often use Forza 2 (soon Forza 3)(as here in 2007) as an example of how expression and customization of things like cars are done in context and that interoperability is a social and branding activity more so than a technical challenge to move data from one environment to another. “We don’t want our avatar from X, wandering around in Y as it will break the atmosphere”, “yes but we can”.
I happened to pop into the demo customization options and selected something that said avatar as a cockpit customization. I was amazed, amused and impressed when on the replay of the hectic drive I saw this.
Dirt 2 - Embedded Avatar
My personalized xbox avatar dangling from the mirror, swinging around with ragdoll physics in car. It s such a subtle little idea, yet I was surprised. There in this real yet fun off road driving simulation, where mentally I was the driver of the car in overalls and helmet, hurtling and sliding through the desert, I was able to reference back to a little bit of my more global system wide visual persona. My predalike dreadlocked avatar with his new virtual t-shirt.
It did not break the spell, it fitted. The avatar was embedded in world yet not interfering with it. Well done to the Codies !

Whilst this feature was on the 360 I am sure there are equally interesting features on all the other versions it is out mid September (which whilst i am on the subject all the games that get release pre-xmas are always in mid September which make it mighty annoying when the predlets want to by me a birthday present for the end of August!
Colin McRae: Dirt 2 (Xbox 360)
Colin McRae: Dirt 2 (PS3)
Colin McRae: Dirt 2 (PC DVD)
Colin McRae: Dirt 2 (Wii)
Colin McRae: Dirt 2 (PSP)

XBox360 update – Bought the t-shirt

This week saw an update (a very quick to load one I should add) to the Xbox Live experience on the 360. As reported in virtual world news virtual goods are on the rise.
One of the key elements is that the avatars now have more than the free set of clothes to pick from, but instead have a range of items from 80 mspoints to 320 mspoints to adorn your representative online. For those of you who have not seen the 360 dashboard your friedns and contacts are always visible in avatar form as an integral part of the experience. When you play certain new games like 1 vs 100 the avatar is your representative in that environment. It is very much a blend of mii and ps3 home, but it is intriguing.
I thought I should try and buy a virtual item, though I kept it simple with this very cheap t-shirt. 50p or so I think it worked out as. As I have commented before these virtual items are the same principle as buying a mobile phone ringtone, except in this case you cant easily make them yourself.
Apparently some games will now be dishing out avatar kit. The problem comes from whether you feel you need a constant churn of looks or if you are happy to be recognised in some way shape or form. As some of the things are props rather than clothes this helps that problem go away, buying a light saber, a football or a chicken with a pulley (yes there is one) all augment your current look without altering it too much. Maybe one day there will be a proper predator look with the games in the pipeline. Sign me up for one of those please!
Avatar Xbox360 Virtual Items

So a few million people spending a few pounds each. That seems a reasonable business model?

G.I. Joe and the fat princess in PS3 Home, different views of the same thing

There is some cool content for G.I. Joe the movie appearing on PS3 home. A set of clothing parts in the threads store. This is great as I can now cover my face, in protest at not being able to have green hair for some still inexplicable reason.
It was great to see the G.I. Joe clothes spread through home in various combinations. Here I am a mix of white ninja, black ninja and wearing Star Trek original series trousers. An interesting combination.
GI Joe based avatar
Whilst I was on I noticed a new promo space for a game called Fat Princess. It was a cartoon themed environment with lots of statues matching the game. Interestingly it had a little mini treasure hunt Xi style. In the environment (whilst still populated with other users) you are able to hunt cake hidden in little bird cages and answer eight questions on the game. This is not state of the art gaming, but I did feel the need to answer. It is also interesting as your view of the space is actually different to that of others. i.e. you wont see the cake unless you are personally on the quest, on completing the quest the princess changes into the larger version of the princess. This is a reward, but for the individual player. Everyone else will be seeing you as an avatar in world, but the princess will be the regular princess.
Fat Princess
This concept can be tricky for people lost in the concept of a unified world. There is no reason to not see a completely different representation of a world to every other user of that world. Of course there is then the question of what it is you are all there at the same time for in the first place.
One other twist was that completing the quest, bothering to engage with the advert in effect, gives you a virtual object. In this case the royal throne to place in your own apartment.
GI Joe Ninja meets Fat Princess on Ps3 Home
So here I am, in my lightly decorated apartment (without the ability to upload my own pictures and videos as I live in Europe and SCEE cant seem to get round UGC legal issues), wearing my G.I. Joe cool costume (that doubles as a protest for no green hair) sitting in my Fat Princess virtual throne that I won by walking around an immersive advert with lots of other people (mostly all wearing G.I. Joe clothes).

Its a bizzare mash of brands, advertising concepts and customer engagement. Oh, its fun too πŸ™‚
A big shout out to Annie Ok for the showing the way with the G.I. Joe kit, previously doing Star Trek, Watchmen amongst others and also the Transformers Augmented Reality ( A film I only just got to see last week, but I loved it)

James Cameron – Avatar Augmented Reality

It has been intriguing to see and hear various bits and pieces about James Cameron’s Avatar project over the past few years. It has been kept pretty much under wraps. At the virtual worlds conference way back in September 2008 we heard the keynote conversation from John Landau with Corey Bridges of Multiverse which alluded to the role of multiverse in the project. Cameron and Landau being on the advisory board of Multiverse, though we know little more than that.
However these videos are appearing on youtube of an Augmented Reality component to the merchandising.
It also looks like markers on the card are used as buttons to cause actions when they are covered from view by a finger pressing them. Its very impressive I think you will agree.

This is of course just the beginning of a massive hype machine, but as it is Cameron I think we can all be pretty confident this will be an awesome cross platform experience.

Business is about people, people play games

Hence business is about games? This does not mean that business is about any highly structured rules based board game like monopoly, nor does it mean that it is about a counterstrike mission to capture a flag, though all of these do apply in some context to business. Instead it could be said that business is about the politics of people knowing one another a little better, for some that is to get the best form one another, for others it is to get the drop on someone and exploit a weakness.
In my move from intrapreneur to entrepreneur I am of course trying to understand which game it is that we are all playing. My observation is that it really is not any different either in or outside a large organization from the types of games that you play in order to get things done.
Interestingly a recent piece from Gamasutra at casual connect brought out some themes from a piece by Playdom VP of Game Design Steve Meretzky and Executive Producer David Rohrl, along with Hit Detection founder N’Gai Croal. This was of course to try and help people understand where social games fit into the landscape of the games industry. I fully agree with the trends identified in the piece, but I though I would apply these not to social games in AAA games industry, but to business as a game.

Trend 1: Virtual Worlds
Any organization of people, a.k.a. a corporate, is a really a virtual world. It has boundaries, access controls, terms of service. Metaverses help highlight this as people gather and form other corporate structures such as guilds.

Trend 2: Customization and Personalization
Individuals in a business all strive to either blend in or differentiate themselves, all businesses try to do the same in their market place.

Trend 3: Collections & Wish Lists
Aspirations of collecting rank, awards, accolades, prizes, end of year ratings all sit in regular business.

Trend 4: System Simulators
In games this applies to feeling some mastery over something other than blind luck. Being part of an system and seeing the impact of small adjustments is really the payoff.

Trend 5: Narrative
Established businesses trade on their brand, their reputation and what is means to engage with them. Companies place one another in a pecking order and treat competitors as the bad guys. This is all part of the story of business.

Trend 6: Making Missions More Interesting
Motivation for a team is important. Boredom and a feeling of worthless activity does not help a business grow. Making work interesting and challenging will always get the best from people.

Trend 7: Gift Invites
Come join our organization, as an employee or as a customer. We see this with all sorts of incentives to attract people to business. Vouchers, special deals, sales etc. all fit into gift invites.

Trend 8: Donations as Revenue
In many businesses it is regarded as “professional” when a salaried employee to invest more time and effort than is contracted to help the business. Asking customers for feedback, even with a potential prize for an answer, is another donation to a company.

Trend 9: New Horizons in Virtual Goods
I do not see any difference between a real and virtual good or product. A business has to provide something people value. If that is software, consulting, digital media or a car all business looks for new horizons for products.

Trend 10. Using Friends’ Gameplay Data
This would appear to fit with the old adage it’s not what you know but who you know. In all business relationships you will hear people refer to what others have done and where they fit in that social structure.

Trend 11. The iPhone and Social Games
How many businesses do not have a need for remote and mobile communications? In many ways it was the business user that caused the massive rise in mobile phone usage and the need to be permanently attached to the business.

Trend 12. Capitalizing on Player Resources
When someone chooses to work on a project, or with a business, or when a deal is made all parties involved are capitlizing on the existing resources of the parties involved.

So whether you are the largest corporation on the planet or the smallest would be startup you are in fact a casual game injected a global platform. The reach we all have now to organize and share is the same reach that is making social games so successful.
Just as the AAA games industry may have missed or turned its nose up initially to social games, AAA corporate business needs to make sure it does not turn its nose up to small interconnected business, or they may find themselves out flanks and their flags captured.

Ask me another – Avatar Quiz games wars.

I recently got some time on the new avatar based quiz games on both the Xbox 360 and PS3 Home. Both of these are significant in bringing console casual gaming to a wider audience. They also have a slightly different flavour in how the Avatar represents you in the game.
First up is Buzz on Ps3 Home. Something to do in Home is always going to be interesting. There have been some great events, the ARG Xi but they are only fleeting, or like Xi very involving but run for a short time.
Buzz takes the multiple 4 question format that has appeared on the consoles and even in a schools edition and drops it into Home.
It has always had a TV game show format, but in many ways that is dropped in this version. You do go to the Buzz studio and there are hints of TV, but essentially you and all the other players use their avatar position to decide on an answer to a question. It is very Crackerjack “Runaround Now”.
Buzz Ps3 Home
There is a dynamic that if you don’t know the answer you can sort of “ask the audience” except the audience are the other players. In Second Life terms this would be the green dot effect. Flock to the crowd as they may just be right.
There is very little ability to see you avatar or those of others as most of the camera work is based on the buttons of th game as above.
However sometimes it zooms into the right answer and you may see yourself and have time for a little dance.
Buzz PS3 Home
I am in there somewhere with Blue (as still not allowed green) Spikey hair.
The other quiz fest is on Xbox Live and called 1 vs 100. This goes for an even more TV game show theme and pits you against the crowd to out average everyone.
You are dropped into a 30 minute game. You NXE avatar taking pride of place in a booth
1 vs 100 xbox live
The screen shows the questions and answers, but unlike Buzz it is read out by a hosts voice. This makes it feel more connected I think.
Also as you answer you get to level up and earn streak points that convert into tokens that let you skip a question every now and then.
It is designed to be a live game show experience too. At scheduled times there is a real live game show host (Taking it into the territory of those late night phone in quiz shows, but hopefully not to tacky πŸ™‚ ). The really live shows have prizes so that makes it more intriguing.
So Buzz has what seems to be user generated quizzes, is quite quiet and the expression of the avatar is lost into using position, but giving an interesting wisdom of crowds dynamic.
1 Vs 100 puts your avatar in a little booth, but you do see the others playing and it feels you are in competition. No doubt party play and other friend features will come into play as it grows. It is a long game (30 mins) to schedule into the day but it feels more exciting I have to say.
A welcome (and free so far) edition to both consoles I have to say.

Rock star game developers in Brighton

I just spent 2 days in Brighton just along the south coast at the Develop conference. This conference is for the games industry, of which there is a huge talented base of people here in the UK. Brighton is particularly well served too with games and related industry people, though the conference had people from all over the world.
Develop 09 Brighton

The first day I attended was a new set of tracks from the traditional game development case studies and deep dives. It was entitled Evolve. Very much aimed at trying to show the games industry that the world is changing and its not all shrink wrapped products and giant corporations. Hence, that was an ideal place to check out.

I am not specifically from the games industry, but I am a gamer and I think bringing games technology and virtual worlds to enterprise and education has been an unusual but growing niche. What I was struck by was that like enterprise the games industry has a lot of people who for various reasons have locked into certain ways of thinking and of doing things. This means that some of the great (though initially small) opportunities are ignored in favour of the more tried and tested and seemingly worthy approaches. The industry is obviously slightly more sparky and used to sudden departures from the norm, but as it is really just regular enterprise and box shifting to the money men it shares much of the inertia of other corporate environments.

This explains why the games industry has not dived into and all over corporate and social use of virtual worlds, why elements of social media and user created content are still rare in mainstream games. It will happen, but it will be the independents and mavericks that make it happen but niche innovation.

So what did I attend and hear?

Resetting the Game: A keynote by David Perry,

David Perry is of course a gaming name that resonates with me as a consumer, and it was great to see and hear him enthuse.

Much of what he talked about was the changes in the games industry brought about by digital distribution. In particular he was showingΒ http://www.gaikai.com/ the principle being that of Cloud gaming. There is still much speculation on cloud in general (or grid computing as we used to call it) however this is a clear crossover with every other industry. If your local processing cannot deal with something, or you local storage can’t keep something then with good network connections there is no reason to now process things elsewhere.

I do not think this is an either or solution, but a blended one. It will of course bring new ways to play and rent video game time, pay per play and per use.

Mobile Moving Games to a new beat : Dance Fabulous – Mark Ollila Nokia

Mark was showing the evolution of a freeform dance game on Nokia devices, featuring custom avatars, your own music collection and a mix of rhythm action pattern following and just expressive dance in a range of styles. Nokia Dance Fabulous also features a new artist Cindy Gomez who when the project started was right at the start of her career, and being featured in the game turned out to coincide with a blended discovery of her work by the media. Dave Stewart is all connected into this as he is a Nokia advisor, so it make an interesting cross platform story. (Mark handed out a few Nokia mirror balls after his talk and apparently my Ed Hardy t-shirt attracted his attention as I got one.)
Green Spikey hair biker

The last session before Lunch was

20 Great Innovations in Casual, Social and Mobile Games That You Should Steal : Stuart Dredge, Pocket Gamer

Stuart is a gaming journalist and writer and admitted up front there were more that 20 things in his slide deck. For those of us who work and experience social media this was very much a validation of the sort of things we say about how to engage people, how to start small, how to adjust on the fly, how to tap into leveling up and bragging. He pointed out a few interesting trends such as the Spymasters and 140 mafia’s of the world, and that these principles should not be ignored in order to make what they call AAA games titles.

A common theme across the day(s) was that there was a massive base of people being able to just deliver and publish content now with facebook, web apps, iphone, unity3d, etc.

Most notable and funny was of course the conversation about Rainbow Poo in Pet Society. Pet Society is a casual/social pet based game. It has developed a cult following too. Whilst this seems to many people an odd expression of a way to reward use of a system people value things that happen with their pet. Certain conditions and unknown actions have led to some special excretions from the pets. (Given there are more than one physical kids toys on the market this may start to seem less strange). The digital asset that is rainbow poo is very rare, rarity brings value to those that care.

After a great lunch with Ren (Renzephyr) Reynolds, Jim (Babbage Linden)Purbrick and Dave (nanodave)Taylor talking all things metaverse. Imperial College’s healthcare project featuring on the Second Life home page amongst other things. This was great as it was a grounding and crossover with the rest of the people, of whom I knew many names and faces but I was more of a consumer than part of the industry (have to rectify that I think!). Jim is part of the advisory council for Develop and had pushed for the Evolve conference to try and extend peoples knowledge.

Next up.

How Social Networks Will Change How You Make, Play and Sell Games Tomorrow : Kristian Segerstrale, Playfish

This was a very passionate and evangelizing pitch from a very successful company in the online casual games market. Kristian was very clear in explaining the the business model and the opportunities to engage with people across social networks and related platforms is very different to the shrink wrap AAA title. This part of the industry is usually online, and is able to capture huge amounts of data and statistics on usage. It was this data that Kristian was clearly indicating had to be considered. Knowing what people liked and disliked through data analysis was what the new marketing professionals in the industry had to come to understand. It is knowing what is happening almost live that allows the various games to evolve. They can evolve because of the way they are delivered. Start small but prepare for big seemed to be a message. One that I totally agree with. Elements of free to play, generating dedicated fans and then gaining money from that to sustain the business is important. Playfish of course do Pet Society (See Rainbow Poo above).

For me this was a busman’s holiday, it is a case study, as with some of my previous work, of engaging with people and driving things across various platforms. Kristian was also acting as a guardian for the industry, reminding the other companies to not make spam as that will kill the industry. Act with integrity, make people happy not annoyed. You can already see some lazy marketing efforts across social media and casual games. I believe we will manage to bypass those by ignoring them or finding ways to filter things out.

Launch Your Game Across Multiple Mobile and Social Platforms Without Killing Your Team Chris White, Glu Mobile
This was primarily about dealing with the complexities of going from low end java phones to Iphone and Android and how the there are porting considerations. It was interesting that one game was ported to Android in about 2 weeks by a new hire who was a good programmer and picked up the java source and learned the android platform.
Another consideration that Chris covered was the move into a facebook flash game and how you cannot simply port mobile to web. This was an interesting direction change. It used to be people talking about how they could get their games and content onto a mobile. This was a mobile company trying to come back the other way.

How Social Networks And Emerging Platforms and Technologies Will Re-Shape Gaming’s Oldest Genre Struan Robertson Gutso Games
This was one of my favourite presentations for crossover. Struan was explaining how sports games and sports experiences can be enhanced with technology and games.
Why was this so good? Well Struan mentioned Wimbledon and Hawkeye, real life data and how things could be done with it ( in the Q&A I had to come out of stealth delegate mode and say that not only was it highly possible but that was precisely what had happened in 2006). He also covered Augmented Reality potentials. I don’t need to write much more other than I think we were most definitely on the same page and I would recommend listening to him if you are in the games industry. He is right on the money!

I missed the next session as I had to go and find my hotel, but I was straight back for the closing keynote by David Edery, Pincipal, Fuzbi

The Long Tail and Games: How Digital Distribution Changes Everything

On David’s site he has posted his ppt, I had already blogged some time ago about his great book Changing the Game: How Video Games Are Transforming the Future of Business: How Video Games Are Transforming the Business World and we had been introduced to one another by Wagner James Au. So once again I felt a connection with the content and the presenter.

David was pointing out that the Long Tail of digital distribution is still influenced by the market demands and that the gate keepers and ing makers are still able to make a hit a hit in a sea of content.
He also talked about how an eco system without a gatekeeper or trusted source will be flawed.
David was also very clear that just having exceptional quality will not make a game or experience a mass market success. This is of course a common problem. People assume that great things will happen because they should, either by effort or quality of idea. This was really a rallying call to sensible and engaging marketing, even as a small startup you have to make friends and enagage.
It was also bang on the money that many of the elements of the current games industry are completely missing enablers for Long Tail at all. Whilst some games are engaging with ratings and UGC, shared experiences etc the consoles are not really built to deal with it. They are all aiming to get there, PS3 Home, XBox NXE are trying.
Unity3d, Flash and Torque also got a mention aswell as iphone for indie developers to just get on with it.
I should add to that Mark Rein from Epic was sat behind me, a brush with rock and roll stardom. Though he seemed to be happy to comment out loud with various exclamations. I guess you cant argue with the success of Unreal engine can you? Still I hope that dave realized the noises and sub heckling was not from me but from the person behind πŸ™‚

Then it was a an evening’s entertainment across at the Linden Lab party with some great conversations with everyone. I still never get to talk to everyone as those gathering inevitably we get into some deep conversation. So hello to everyone. We then retired to the Koba Bar somewhere for Credit Crunch cocktails and some interesting conversations about the games industry, and also certain other larger companies and their attitudes and policies. That though is not for blogging as its off the record conversation πŸ™‚

Day 2 kicked off with a change of pace and some new delegates, as this was now the main part of Develop not Evolve.

Online Functionality for Your Next Game? Why Not Go 100% Online : David Jones Realtime Worlds
David Jones is somewhat of a legend and he admitted he seldom did conferences. (Though to be fair he has rather a good new development to plug so it really did make sense).
He has been the driving force behind some of the best and my favourite games of all time. So I switched very much into Fan Boi mode for his pitch. Lemmings, Grand Theft Auto and Crackdown. Anyone one of them would be enough for a wow! you did that! but all 3 is fantastic.
He explained a little about his history (being of my age this all made sense) ZX 81’s etc. He said that he liked to build games that made people laugh as some point too. It was good to hear this history, but even more exciting to hear about where he is taking APB his new game.
The game is a cops and robbers free roaming persistent online experience (my words not his). There is a great article here with actual quotes on gamesindustry.biz
For me the things that stood out.
The avatar customization was tremendously powerful, Dave indicated the problems of needing to be able to distribute customizations in a MMO environment but that they had to compete with the likes of Forza2.
The game is based around celebrity to. It is actively designed to let you become famous in game for various things.
I loved the trailer video because it also featured the brilliant Imelda May in the soundtrack.

The game is PvP multiplayer but introduces some new dynamics. I liked the concept that if 2 people were getting away with murder too much then new players would be introduced to the mix such as 10 police to counteract. All the players of the game are people, players are the content. There are NPC’s as scenery of course.
Another thing that got a round of applause was a little music composition gadget in game. It lets you build a tune/jingle in an old school 8 bit tracker way and then use that to attach it events in world, like someone else’s death. So not only have you taken them out, but you play your theme over them. That can be a funeral march or (as demonstrated) a crazy clown like mario style jingle.
The player customization was also demonstrated by the video of the Obama they made, brilliant and exciting stuff indeed. Buzzed indeed! and a true gaming legend presenting the idea.

Playstation Home – First Term Report: Peter Edward

This session was Peter saying how Home was getting on and where it was going. It was interesting to see Peter pitch as I had seen him at VWFE a few years ago, when I was on a separate panel on enterprise virtual world use.

So Home has grown considerably. 7 million downloads, 3 million in europe and 6 million virtual goods bought (include free buy) in europe alone.

Peter showed some of the advances in using Home as a development platform to make interactive games and experiences to support other brands and properties. If you are a registered Playstation developer you have access to the HDK (Home dev kit) though it is a pity we don’t all have access to that in order to explore ideas with the LUA scripting. Whilst I accept they are gating the content and approving it.

Peter also was asked about the problems of the US content being much richer than Europe. There appears to be some underlying politics, but also a genuine element of needing to localize for multiple languages (which the US seldom needs to do).

I was intrigued by the comment that the ability to place your own content in you own apartment ( a feature I like in the closed beta) was available in the US but not in Europe for legal and moderation reasons. That is more than a little irritating.

It was great to see some of the positive things happening, the promotions of watchmen and star trek in world, and the EA Sports hub mini games and poker. All good stuff that may take Home past a lobby.

After lunch (where I got to talk to some great people) it was back to being a fan again

Designer Mash-up: David Braben and Dave Jones play Elite and GTA

As if it was not enough to have the creator of GTA sharing his thoughts and new stuff earlier this session brought in David Braben the co creator of Elite. Elite was one of the games that I suddenly realized back in the 80’s that there really was so much more to games than a timed 10p a go shot now we had home computers. Trading, exploration, dog fights, levelling up in space. Elite is an influence on my thoughts and formative years that really cannot be ignored.
This session was also introduce by William Latham! So it could not get more gamerati.
The two guys talked about their seminal games whilst the other played them on the screen. So Elite running on a BBC emulator and GTA actually running on Vista.
Elite on screen (and next to it)
Braben had some very cool insights into the 18 month process of building elite, being keen to get it out, but the publisher wanting to hold off until after the summer. Stats like it actually sold more copies that there were BBC micro machines as people bought copies to play on their school computer club machines. Procedural generation of the massive star system managing to fit the entire game into 40-50Kb as Braben pointed out the same size as a normal email these days.
Jones talked about the fact the top down GTA was based on pinball with a hint of pac man. It started as a tech demo and they made it into a game. They knew there would be controversy with the idea (it started as a cop game but they wanted to change it to perp). Their publisher BMG was used to rock stars, so they were happy to deal with controversy. They also had Max Clifford as PR for it. He made the call that as it was so cartoony and top down to not show it to anyone. That led to uproar and politicians/daily mail etc getting all het up, then seeing it they we disappointed. A brilliant image πŸ™‚
Watching Jones play Elite on the emulator was funny and as most of the audience had played it (and GTA) there was a common understanding of what had happened as a pirate zeroed in on him only seeing the scanner blip then a debris of his own ship.
In GTA Braben started chasing the odd pedestrian and chased one around and around which got a giggle.
It was interesting to hear the dichotomy that Elite was 3d in a world that only knew 2d at the time so got criticized for that and GTA was top down 2d in a world gone 3d and also got criticized, yet they are 2 of the most influential games in my gaming history.
This was a great session to have been a part of and I hope it got filmed (though I guess you had to be there).

Panel Crossing Over: How Working With Other Industries Can Improve Your Games and Your Bottom Line
Alex Amsel, Jamie Campbell, Adam Russel and Chair Margaret Robertson provided an insight into a creative networking experience called Crossover Labs. The point of the session was to remind people in the games industry the need to engage with other industries (in this case mostly TV and film) to understand one another’s thoughts and processes, but also to get the sort of seeds of ideas that come about when separate industries combine.
I was impressed by the passion that the panel had for the experience. As I was there to cross over with this part of the industry it all resonated. Equally the techniques used and the mashing of people together is pretty much what caused the virtual world industry to blossom. I asked the question if the process used had been adjusted and exercised in virtual worlds and online in order to extend it. That led to a long discussion afterwards.
It is well documented that we use elements of the virtual world to aid in communication and sharing of ideas and opening peoples minds to new thoughts. So watch this space I think.

The Art of LittleBigPlanet – A Big Medley Kareem Ettouney and Mark Healey
This was another rock and roll moment. This brilliant presentation had the co-founders of Media Molecule explain the though processes and creative hurdles that faced them trying to get to the absolutely brilliant Little Big Planet on PS3.
Once you play LBP you can look at what they have day and see that it fits and in some ways you may say “oh thats obvious” but like all brilliant design you almost don’t notice it.
They explained that once they came up with the notion of Hand Made the rest followed from there.
It was also interesting to see the team dynamic. It looked as if Mark was the more edgy and Kareem the more grounding. It reminded me of Liam and Noel in Oasis. They even alluded to where they had the odd massive falling out over some of the ideas.
One telling anecdote was Mark creating the spongeworld previz video. Showing a character interact in teh 2d/3d way with the physics. That worked so well that some of the publishing execs only wanted spongeworld to be developed. So too good a previz can lock peoples ideas too early.
The decisions to end up with menus and icons when they had wanted to keep them out was based on trying to use the in world tools and it getting too much hassle, so as Mark said windows and icons were tried and tested so they gave in. Kareem pointed out that the designers came up with a felt pen look which blended so well with the handmade feel.
They covered the strange and fantastic results of a User Generated Content environment. Users of the system creating things that the team did not think were possible. That seemed to be a real buzz for them.
There was also some discussion about the recent new hire they had in their small team of 30, based on some fantastic work by a fan. His attention to detail and creative thought showcased through his levels.
LBP is particularly amazing in our house as my daughter is a fan and is able to enjoy building and playing levels as much as my peers. The fact that my good friend and long time gamer Mike (who runs MIST Susuki) and I played at the same time as my daughter for several hours and no-one got bored. That was amazing.

So that was it, I had been in the presence of some huge figures that have influence my life and now my kids. It is also an industry that was the reason I started programming because of (back in the 80’s) but somehow fell into corporate enterprise. My journey via the web, virtual worlds and social media and now an entrepreneurial life has led me back.

So look out πŸ™‚ epredator is on the hunt.

Being a delegate : Brighton Develop

Yesterday I got my pass/ticket through to the Brighton Develop conference. I am attending the Evolve sessions on the first day, and then the first day of the develop track. I am excited about going to this as for the first time (probably ever) I am going to an industry conference but not as a speaker or booth person. This means the only obligation I have is to Feeding Edge and myself of soaking up the entire thing and getting to know yet more people in the industry. As I see the virtual world industry and the games industry as very much on a collision/merger course seeing who is doing what fits nicely on this companies mission.
So as per usual if you are there come say hi or track me down. I wont be hiding in any corners, though if the weather remains this hot I may have to just carry my leather jacket πŸ™‚
Heading for Develop 09

Update: It will of course mean I will miss the excellent Southampton based @tuesdaytweetup at Dock Gate 4 so hi to everyone remotely.