Category Archives: Featured

Underlying and Invisible

Mr. Arms for Eyes

God of Game Theory?

I’m convinced that someone, somewhere, will eventually come out with a game wrapped in a package that is “pure” in terms of art, presentation, interface – something that boils down the essence of what makes a game a game. When I talk about the procedurally rendered universe of the MMO concept thrown out in a design meeting yesterday (two of them I guess), see merit in turning our internal, untextured “test maps” into a game concept, and witness the lasting attraction of “simple” vector graphic arcade games, this is what I’m thinking about:

In a sort of staring-into-the-cascading-numbers-of-the-Matrix way, I found myself looking past the visible aspects of the game and savoring the underlying, invisible mechanics of play. I mapped out the ways that my “lunge” could connect together disparate parts of a battlefield. I experimented with different chained attacks, and mused over the weird millisecond latencies of the button combos. I was no longer thinking about — or even noticing — the blood and guts or the razor-sharp adamantium claws. The game became pure physics and algorithms: Vectors, speed and collision detection. The gore had become mostly irrelevant.

That paragraph is ripped from this article on, where Clive Thompson is questioning the necessity of violence in video games (especially the over-the-top sort) … but I think one could push the argument even further and question the necessity of everything that doesn’t simply communicate the underlying nature of what’s being played.

I like his way of describing it. And it illuminates a truth about making games: Everything we do in terms of “content” threatens the underlying core of “game” – if done correctly, everything blends seamlessly. If not, then the best art/interface/VO/story in the world cannot salvage a damaged core.

Btw, I have no idea what the guy with arms coming out of his head has to do with any of this. But he scares the shit out of me, so I thought I better be cool and use his picture somewhere.

Shared Knowledge = Healthy Growth

The Ruins 1

Paths to Knowledge

Just read an interesting blurb over at in which Wheelman Creative Director Simon Woodroffe comments on one of the biggest challenges in making effective use of off-the-shelf engine technology. He says:

“… you know, the biggest factor that hasn’t been touched upon in recent articles is the shared knowledge. We have 600 to 700 devs, all with Unreal experience, all working for the same company, all of whom can talk to each other. When we hit a problem, we have more people working on the engine than anybody – by a long way. And we have a massive pool of resources to draw upon. At least one team has dealt with pretty much every feature you might want in a next-gen game. Which means that we, as designers, are in a great position – because we can actually build games to be games, not just technology showcases any more,”

Now there are two things I find interesting about this. First that James Orry, the guy writing the article, decided to turn Simon’s insightful comments into mudslinging – by giving the article this headline: “Midway: Secret game looks ‘better’ than Gears 2”. Ahem. That’s not the point. But then isn’t Gamasutra, and perhaps we shouldn’t expect anything different from a news site targeted at gamers, not game makers.

Next, I’d like to say “amen” to the idea of shared knowledge! Be it within a development studio where there are multiple teams, or within a publishing organization where there are teams spread around the world, or within the industry – between two “rival” companies who are using the same technology. Honestly, I think the industries “lack of sharing” is one of the biggest spoilers to rapid advancement of games as an art form.

Think about it this way: When film makers get together to do their thing they pull together a “one time use” team made up of the best people they can get their hands on. People from all over the world converge on a project – a DP from London, a Director from LA, a Writer from Sydney, and a whole crew of visual effects people, technicians, lighting people, etc, etc. Each and every one of them bringing unique and valuable knowledge from their personal history of making films.

Compare this to the game industry where people don’t bounce around project-to-project and where our toolsets might vary widely from studio to studio and generation to generation (of code and hardware). In an environment like ours it makes sense to pool our knowledge and share our resources – especially when so many of us are using a common tool like the Unreal Engine.

Epic does what they can to foster this sort of sharing with their UDN (Unreal Developers Network). But developers and publishers could and should go one step further by pushing their knowledge, their tools, and their solutions to interesting problems and challenges out to communal repositories. Who wouldn’t love to “harvest” the latest and greatest tricks from recently released titles? And why not? Once a cool concept is released in a retail product other are going to do their best to copy it. Nothing is truly proprietary for long.

Our goal as an industry is to entertain. We do that by making the most immsersive and compelling entertainment products possible. And doing so requires a huge wealth of knowledge which every team in the world possesses bits of pieces of. Sharing knowledge with each other would help our studios, nurture the industry, and ultimately deliver better games to audience.

We do some pretty amazing things as individual teams – imagine what we might do as a unified industry force.

Suddenly, it may be cool to be an American again

BDLA Poster 2

Foreigners Should be Afraid of Americans

This morning I stumbled upon an article, written by William J. Kole, an expatriate living outside the US:

VIENNA, Austria – She was a stranger, and she kissed me. Just for being an American.
It happened on the bus on my way to work Wednesday morning, a few hours after compatriots clamoring for change swept Barack Obama to his historic victory. I was on the phone, and the 20-something Austrian woman seated in front of me overheard me speaking English.
Without a word, she turned, pecked me on the cheek and stepped off at the next stop.
Nothing was said, but the message was clear: Today, we are all Americans.
For longtime U.S. expatriates like me — someone far more accustomed to being targeted over unpopular policies, for having my very Americanness publicly assailed — it feels like an extraordinary turnabout.
Like a long journey over a very bumpy road has abruptly come to an end.
And it’s not just me.

The article goes on to describe the uneasiness that has gone along with being an American abroad during the past 8 years. It’s a feeling I’ve become all too familiar with – and perhaps felt even more acutely because of my name.

Over the past decade I’ve traveled to distant part of the globe, seen exotic places, and met a carnival of interesting characters. These adventures (often something as mundane as a business trip to Tokyo) are punctuated frequently by the introduction of my name:

Me: “Nice to meet you, my name is American.”
Them: “Yes, I am Japanese. What is your name?”
Me: “American. My name is American.”
Them: “Yes, but what is your name…”

These roundabouts eventually resolve in “them” getting it, and me wondering just how many cumulative years I’ve spent sorting out that my name really is “American”. After so long it has become standard routine.

But one thing in this routine was never standard, always telling: The reaction after the realization that a person in the world might be named “American”. And this reaction was something that changed with time. Ten years ago there was joy, amusement, and even a degree of respect. “Wow, what a cool name. Your mother must have been very patriotic. You must love America.” And so forth. Then 9/11 and the Bush Doctrine. And people’s perception of America, and what it meant to be American turned very, very dark.

I had more than a few “I spit on your name” events, some people who simply asked, “Why would your mother do that to you?”, and plenty of discomfort and uncertainty about what to say. What do you say to a guy whose name is born from that place where everything is going so wrong? One girl commented, “That’s stupid.”

And I had to agree. I was one of those who had said, “If Bush is elected again I’ll leave the country” – and I did it. Ironically, it didn’t save me from the fact that things were going so wrong back home, it made it even more obvious. America’s image and the concept of Americans in general suffered severe damage in the minds of people in “the rest of the world” (which, btw happens to be most of the world).

Lately I’d been thinking, what to do if things don’t change back home? Change my name? My middle name is “James”, and that’s handy when I want to order pizza, but that’s not want I wanted – a name for ordering pizzas. I liked my “old” name, the one I had before Bush tanked its value.

So, you might say I had more than political interest in this election. More than a desire for “change”. We all want that. We all need that. No, I wanted my name back.

William Kole’s article continues…

Overnight, Americans did something their harshest critics in Europe have yet to do: elect a person of color as head of state and commander in chief. That gives U.S. citizens some bragging rights, even if a lot of us would just as soon eschew hubris and embrace humility.
I’m a marathon runner, and I have a red, white and blue singlet that I’ve seldom dared to wear on the Continent. Marathons are difficult enough without enduring catcalls and jeers from spectators.
But my best friend and training partner — who is French — just gave me his stamp of approval.
“Will you wear your Stars and Stripes shirt now? You’re allowed!” he told me.

At last. William can wear his Stars and Stripes again.

And so can I.


Chinese Gaming Boom

China is a fun place to be a gamer. If you aren’t buying 360 games on the street for 10RMB, you’re downloading them from P2P and sharing them with your buddies at work. We had to put a stop to that latter practice at the Spicy Horse offices – we found some of our guys were transferring 100s of Gb per day. Yikes. Regardless of how Chinese gamers get their hands on games, one thing is clear: Gaming is HUGE here.

As if the point needed further making, the following article posted on today:

Niko Partners today revealed the results from a report on the Chinese video gaming industry. The 2008 Annual Review & Forecast Report on China’s Video Game Industry says that China’s 46 million gamers spent $1.7 billion on online games in 2007, an increase of 71 percent compared to 2006. Looking to the future, online revenue is expected to be $2.5 billion in 2008 and $6 billion in 2012, increasing by roughly a third every year.

“China’s spending on games is up thanks to their booming economy,” said Lisa Cosmas Hanson, managing partner of Niko Partners. “14 million hardcore Chinese gamers play online games more than 22 hours per week. They play online, LAN, and single-player offline PC games in China’s 185,000 Internet cafes and increasingly on their PCs at home, thanks to falling prices and higher disposable income.”

That’s a lot of hours spent playing games. The (un-)funny thing is how these stats only track (basically MMO) online play. Console and PC gaming are huge, but so far no one’s paying for it. The culture doesn’t support it – neither does the market. Even if you wanted to buy a legit game – you’d have a tough time finding one.

The situation is far from hopeless. World of Warcraft and online-only Chinese games are amazing examples of the market potential. Just don’t put something in a box and expect it to avoid being pirated. This is a country where you can buy fake everything. Soy sauce made from hair, bamboo shoots made from chopsticks, and fake boiled eggs made from… I don’t want to know what.

To honor Chinese gamers and their warrior-pirate ways, here’s some Chinese warriors from an upcoming episode of Grimm:


Ni hao! If I told you what episode of Grimm then I’d get a sock stuffed in my mouth. Just enjoy the image and don’t ask questions! Wo bu yao wen ti!