Wednesday, 29 August 2007

I'd rather have a S.T.A.L.K.E.R. than a Bioshock

I like to keep track of other games development blogs. Two in particular stand out, Introversion's blog (the developers of Darwinia, Uplink and Defcon) and another game in progress, Infinity Quest, which is developed at the moment without funding.

What they both have in common with roguelikes is a love of procedural generation of content, which I'm sure to write more on. Procedural content generation in game, in particular, storing the whole world map in a seed is what powered Elite and a lot of other games in the 8-bit era. These games feel a little more expansive then much of what is produced these days - its riskier to not be able to reliable control and censor the whole game space, as I've mentioned previously, and I think its something modern game publishers have shyed away from (With the exceptions of Will Wright and arguably Deep Shadows, who developed Boiling Point). Even Bethesda have turned away from the incredible world-spaces of Daggerfall to the more limited and limiting Morrowind and Oblivion and now Fallout.

As amateur and independent games developers, I think we have a responsibility to explore these sorts of spaces left behind by the modern game publishing world. Dwarf Fortress is the best example of a new breed of games by independent developers, and luckily one that parts of the games journalism and games criticism communities are starting to recognise. These games have communities built around them while they are still in alpha, they have developers who directly interact with the community instead of hiding behind a publisher and, unfortunately, they tend to have lots of bugs.

Infinity Quest has just released a new video showing the power of this. Go watch it here. Stick with the somewhat boring first half - there's a nice surprise in the second half, especially if you haven't been following the development so far. I think you'll be inspired by it.

Tuesday, 28 August 2007

The Mushroom Dialogs - Part IV

Please start with part one then read parts two and three.

=== A Short Cut to Mushrooms ===

To whom it may concern,

Farmer Maggot, or as he styles himself, Mr Maggot Esq, is
a pompous and boring old fool who needs to be put out of his
misery. His misinformation campaign about the safe and deadly
properties of mushrooms hereabouts has cost more than one
adventurer their life, and don't have any regrets about re-
turning the favour to Mr Maggot in kind.

So here's the skinny: as you've no doubt discovered, many
mushrooms appear in patches which need to be subdued first
before you are able to harvest the mushrooms in turn. These
newer breeds appear to be able to launch the spores at a
distance - I'm not sure that this was the best idea to breed
them that way, but it seems to have increased the virility of
the patches themselves, so that you can almost always harvest
a mushroom or two, and usually a good collection of spores
as well.

The spores, you can throw in turn, and they explode just
like potions, but with an effect similar to the original
mushroom patch. You can keep these spores in your quiver,
which hopefully you've learnt how to use elsewhere, and its
a great idea to keep a few of these around, particularly for
those pesky faeries which are otherwise so hard to kill.

The mushrooms themselves can be used in a variety of ways:
you can eat them, but they're usually poisonous, or at least
the ones dropped by most mushroom patches are. This means
the best bet with harmful mushrooms is to apply them to
an edged weapon, arrow or bolt, and use them against the
enemy. Mushroom coatings are 'nerve agents' which mean that
they only affect living monsters, but otherwise they are
similar to potions in how they work.

You can throw mushrooms, but only an enemy stupid enough
to pick them up and eat them will be affected, and many
insects have built up a resistance to ingesting them.

As for the 'changing colour every season' nonsense, this
only appears to happen for mushrooms that don't grow big
enough to be threatening in patches. If you find a mushroom
patch, and you can harvest mushrooms from it, you'll see
these are the same colour every season from now until we
all travel to the West. You can use this as a good guide to
what not to eat, at least when you start out.

There are useful mushrooms around, and most of the harmful
ones are dropped from patches, so once you've learnt about
mushroom patches, you can experiment with a little more

- M.B.

You'll probably want to read the Magical Bag dialogs next.

The Mushroom Dialogs - Part III

Please start with part one then read part two.

=== An Authoratative Guide to Mushrooms - Postscript ===

For the would-be adventurous types, who would endeavour to visit
my farm uninvited, trespass in my cellars and steal Mrs Maggot's
best pies, please note that I have secured an additional guard
dog to accompany Grip and Fang on their wide-ranging, ravenous
and otherwise unwelcoming run of my property.

I've not yet thought of a suitable name for him. My initial
thoughts were Tinkerbell, but he seems a little more feral than
the others and perhaps something closer to his beastial nature
is appropriate.

I am also offering a reward for the capture, injury or otherwise
hindrance of one M.B. and his accomplice P.T. who seem to have
taken a liking to my mushrooms out of proportion to the regards
of their own physical wellbeing and safety.

- Mr Maggot Esq.

The Mushroom Dialogs - Part II

Please start with part one. I've removed the ASCII art accompanying this. You can find the original here.

=== An Authoratative Guide to Mushrooms - Part II ===

=== The White Mushroom ===

Pictured here, the White Mushroom can be
found in chilly caves and cellars in the
Hobbiton region. While I cultivate some
of these for professional reasons in my
Nearby farm, you should not attempt to
trespass as this is one of the many
dangerous varieties of mushroom I keep
in my cellars.
The White Mushroom is also known as
Agaricus refrigeratus due to the chilling
effect that its spores has. I am
investigating the use of this mushroom
for the preservation of food, in particular
Mrs Maggot's best pie dinners.

You can find out about more mushrooms by purchasing my authorative
and illustrated guide (in colour) which will soon be available from
my publishing agents at a very reasonable price.

- Mr Maggot Esq.

The Mushroom Dialogs - Part I

I'm in the proces of writing in-game tips for Unangband. Here's one sequence of these tips. Currently and former Angband players may find this amusing as well.

=== An Authoratative Guide to Mushrooms ===

Mushrooms come in a variety of colours and flavours, which can
change with every season. Your only reliable guide to mushrooms
is Farmer Maggot's Mushroom Emporium, where you can find the
latest and most fashionable mushroom flavours at affordable
prices. Do not eat mushrooms you find in the wild.

A forthcoming illustrated guide in colour will also be available
from my publishing agents in due course.

- Mr Maggot Esq.

Sunday, 26 August 2007

Statistically speaking, redux

Following up on my earlier article about stats in roguelikes, I thought I'd post from the revised help-files about exactly how stats affect game play in Unangband. I'm breaking a few conventions with my implementation, but take care to notice how each stat can help both warriors, spell casters and often archers or throwing specialists.

Strength is important in fighting with weapons and in melee
combat. A high strength can improve the amount of damage
done with each hit. Characters with low strengths may
receive penalties. Strength is also useful in tunnelling
and in carrying heavy items. You may find some weapons
too hard to use if your strength is not equal to or greater
than the weapon weight in pounds. Finally, strength improves
the range of thrown weapons and firing from slings and bows.
The firing speed from crossbows can be improved with a
sufficiently high strength.

Intelligence is important in improving your accuracy with
weapons both in melee combat and fired or thrown attacks as
well. A high intelligence can also reduce the chance of
breaking thrown weapons or fired ammunition, so is very
useful for archers and particularly for thrown weapon
Intelligence also affects the spellcasting abilities of many
spellcasters. Intelligence will affect the number of spells
you may learn each level. A good intelligence can also help
with using magic devices, picking locks, and disarming traps.

Wisdom is important in both physical and magical defense.
A high wisdom will increase your overall armour class, whilst
a low wisdom will penalise it. A good wisdom can also help
to improve your chances of resisting magical spells cast upon
you by monsters. A high wisdom will increase the number of
spell points you earn at each level for the majority of spell
casting classes.

Dexterity represents your manual dexterity and coordination.
A high dexterity may allow a character to get multiple blows
with lighter weapons, thus greatly increasing his kill power,
and will increase his chances of hitting with any weapon, both
in melee combat and at range. Dexterity is also useful in
picking locks and disarming traps.
Magical spell casters, such as mages, artisans, rangers and
warrior mages require dexterity to assist in the casting of
their spells - a high dexterity will decrease the overall
failure chance of spell casting for these classes. Wearing
gloves will however penalize magical spell casters however.

Constitution is a character's ability to resist damage to his
body, and to recover from damage received. Therefore a
character with a high constitution will receive more hit
points and also recover them faster while resting. Spell
casters will also notice their mana increase with increasing
constitution. This mana reserve can be drawn on in times of
danger to allow the caster to cast additional spells. This
extra reserve of mana poses the risk of temporarily draining
or damaging the caster's overall health, so should not be
used too often.

Charisma represents a character's personality and physical
magnetism. A character with a high charisma will receive
better prices from store owners, whereas a character with a
very low charisma may be robbed blind. A high charisma
character will cause monsters to flee from him sooner, and
makes it less likely for monsters to use their ranged attacks
or to summon their fellow monsters - this makes charisma an
ideal 'crowd control' ability. Finally, charisma assists in
the control of summoned monsters and in the use of magics
that charm or influence monsters, whether the magic is from
a spell or magical device that the player uses, or from
the abilities of their allies.
Priestly spell casters, such as priests and paladins require
charisma to assist in the casting of their spells - a high
charisma will decrease the overall failure chance of spell
casting for these classes.

Agility is a measure of your quickness and overall altheticism.
A high agility will increase your overall speed, and a very low
agility will slow you down, even if you are not currently
encumbered. Agility also increases your overall defence against
physical attacks and helps greatly with protecting yourself from
some of the thieves that inhabit the dungeons. Indeed, if
the character has a high enough dexterity, thieves will
never be successful in stealing from the player.

Size is a numeric representation of the character's height and
weight. It directly influences these two abilities, and the
resulting benefit of larger height and weight also increases
the character's overall hit points. Size also greatly benefits
your ability to charge with heavy weapons, and can allow you
to achieve large amounts of damage with the heaviest of weapons.
Note: size cannot exceed your strength without slowing you down.
For every 2 points your size is over your strength, your agility
is lowered by one.

Friday, 24 August 2007

Speculation on MGS4 boss fights

Anyone for speculation on the additional boss fights in MGS4? I can definitely tell you that Hideo is going to be doing stuff with surround sound in these boss fights. You can't name them Screaming/Laughing/Crying/Raging without considering the aural aspect in the boss fights.

Hunch will be Crying Wolf will be an arena fight like Vulcan Raven and Fatman, but where you have to track Crying Wolf by its cries - probably because it moves too fast to follow by sight.

And this leaked video of a MGS4 boss fight only confirms my speculation.

Shooting yourself in the foot

Sometimes someone comes out and complains about features in Unangband, because they're not like the game they currently play. Usually, I take it on the chin, and attempt to accommodate what they suggest. But I recently had a new player complain bitterly (and amusingly) about a recent change to the Unangband code-base. From the change log:

- You can now damage yourself with bolt and (more importantly) ball spells.
Now, I will address a lot of what he/she's suggested. But I'm not going to take this particular 'misfeature' out, even if it loses me fans.

The reasoning behind being able to hit yourself with spells is multi-fold: Firstly, you get another way of testing if you have a particular resistance. Secondly, it makes wands of wonders properly risky, as opposed to just having a couple of effects that are dangerous.

But mostly, its because fireball is not that interesting a spell.

I mean, look at it this way. Bolt spells, you at least have to attempt to ensure that the target is in direct line of fire. Minor fire ball, which is unique to Unangband, is a mix of bolt and ball spells. It explodes at the first target in line of fire. Everything in line of sight spells are interesting because they force you to wade through lots of damage messages and lots of mana, and are (usually) only effective against a particular target type.

But fireball - at least the Angband implementation of it - is dull. Automatically hit anything in line of fire for lots of damage, plus targets adjacent to it. It at least has the redeeming and slightly balancing factor that it destroys stuff on the ground. But the too much junk problem in Angband makes this beneficial rather than problematic the majority of the time.

By making the player get damaged if they are too close to the fireball, there's at least a trade of between position and utility of the spell. There's no more standing at ground zero and fireballing a monster you should be meleeing to death or running away from.

That's why I like it.

Speculative table of MGS bosses

Anyone simply comparing the bosses between the bosses in MGS1 and MGS4 based on the similarity of their names should well do to read the following formal analysis of Metal Gear Solid 2: Sons of Liberty, particularly the analysis of the boss fights. Pay attention to the fact that Hideo Kojima likes to mess with your expectation of boss fights, and has done so since the original MGS1 fights.

Of course, no mention of the similarities could be complete without my own wild speculation. Its worth noticing that MGS2 had the least bosses in the series and MGS3 delivered more fights but possibly less variety (only 1 vehicle based fight). Much of the MGS1 and MGS2 speculative connections are elabourated more fully in the above analysis and I've only jammed them roughly into tabular form.

I'm sure you can argue for different positions for many of these. You could, for instance, swap the positions of the Sorrow and the End: I've placed them where they are because of the emotional association suggested by the Sorrow and Crying Wolf, but the End probably deserves the place better due to the connection with sniper-based fights, and the Sorrow with Decoy Octopus through the association of fights that don't really happen.

Metal Gear Solid

MGS2: Sons of Liberty

MGS3: Snake Eater

MGS4: Guns of the Patriots

Psycho Mantis


The Pain

Screaming Mantis

Decoy Octopus

The End

Laughing Octopus

Vulcan Raven


The Fury

Raging Raven

Sniper Wolf

Vamp (2nd fight)

The Sorrow

Crying Wolf

Revolver Ocelot

Vamp (1st fight)


Revolver Ocelot

Liquid Snake

Solidus Snake

The Boss

Gray Fox

Olga Gurlukovich

The Fear


Harrier Jet


Metal Gear Rex

Metal Gear Ray


[Edit: Anyone for speculation on the additional boss fights in MGS4? I can definitely tell you that Hideo is going to be doing stuff with surround sound in these boss fights. You can't name them Screaming/Laughing/Crying/Raging without considering the aural aspect in the boss fights.

Hunch will be Crying Wolf will be an arena fight like Vulcan Raven and Fatman, but where you have to track Crying Wolf by its cries - probably because it moves too fast to follow by sight.

And this leaked video of a MGS4 boss fight only confirms my speculation.]

Wednesday, 22 August 2007

Wii Fitness - A Primer

I've just posted on Eurogamer, because the new Wii Fitness is going to result in lots of people misunderstanding how exercise works and arguing whether the new Wii Fitness acts as a weight loss device. I'll going to go all off-topic on here for a second. As always, this does not consistute any kind of professional advice. Please seek medical advice before starting any kind of fitness training program.

Here's my posts:

@pac, lambtron, other people who don't know how exercise and weight lose work

"Gentle exercise for a long duration is always > short burts of intense activity."

"Not sure about that. I think the only way to loose weight effectively is a good diet and regular cardiovascular exercise."

Actually, you're both wrong. The amount of calories burnt during exercise is dwarfed by your body's post exercise consumption of calories (EPOC). This is elevated more by intense exercise, and even more by modifying your body's metabolic rate by increasing your lean muscle mass. Increasing your lean muscule mass by 1 kg is approximately equal to doing an additional 30 minutes cardiovascular exercise every day for free. So body building ~= sprinting > jogging > gentle walking for weight loss. Of course, jogging is still good for cardio vascular (aerobic) fitness. There's also the additional benefits of skeletal insulin uptake that occurs with intense exercise.

And in response to a follow-up post:

"My point was that Wii fit will not make you fit, or loose weight."

Actually there's a good chance that it will. The first 3 months of body building don't actually result in any muscle mass gains, simply because you are incapable of coordinating your body well enough to work the muscles hard enough.

Instead, the rapid strength gains you experience at the start of adopting a weight training program are the result of increased neuro-muscular coordination. The same kinds of neuro-muscular coordination that the Wii Fitness uses.

The initial weight loss you experience as a part of training is partly the result of 're-activating' under-used muscle groups, and using them more, which results in a higher metabolic rate. For instance, many people find it really hard to activate their rhomboids (muscle group in the middle of the back) without being conscious of them. Once they've done a few weeks worth of back training, these muscles can be activated more easily and correctly used.

I think you'll find that these initial gains will also be present for people who use the Wii Fitness.

@lambtron: You can usually increase your lean muscle mass about 1 kg per year, so agreed that it requires a lot of dedication. I disagree with you that it shouldn't be a realistic target. I think a year of regular of regular resistance training (3 times per week) is a realistic target for most people to be able to achieve. Of course, once they get on 'the path', they're unlikely to want to stop after a year. If the Wii Fitness gets them 3 months into it, then more power to Nintendo.

Btw: While I'm all for weight training, if you think us as a games community is a sad and pathetic bunch of individuals, try meeting some of the hard core gym junkies out there. High prevalence of depression, teenage acne, social misadjustment, anger issues, short-man syndrome etc that makes gamers look like paragons of the community
Slashdot Slashdot It!


Apparently the real way to set up a games blog is to get the best writers in the games industry writing about games and have lots of pictures. That's what Game Tap and Rock Paper Shotgun both think, at least.

Luckily Game Tap managed to stuff it up by being so obnoxious to use on any platform other than Windows and Internet Explorer, that I've decided to remove them from my links section. I'm not sure about Rock Paper Shotgun though. They sneakily advertised on Eurogamer, have writers I like reading, and their Shotgun vs. Paper strategy is good enough to stop you being able to play the 2nd game in a best of 3 match.

Anyone interested in writing on roguelike game-design, feel free to drop me a line. As for the pictures, I'm in art discussions with the creator of xkcd.

And while we're at it, when is the next issue of the Roguelike magazine coming out?

A Funny Theory

I've got into a brief discussion with Raph Koster on his blog on reversing asymmetric games if you're interested. I've of course gone widely off the original topic, which is quite interesting in itself, and started arguing about whether, in a single player game, you are playing against the computer or the original game designer.

I know of Raph by reading some of his work on Terra Nova and because he gets name dropped quite a bit on Gamasutra and Sirlin's blog. I should really read his major work so far in the game-design field. I've steered clear of it because it sounds a little dry and academic: I mean 'A Theory of Fun in Game Design'. I feel like all the colour drains out of the world just saying it...

My bad. I'll go order it off Amazon now.

Tuesday, 21 August 2007

Statistically speaking

Stats are a great convention in role-playing games. They allow players to distinguish between strong fighters and smart wizards, wise priests and dextrous thieves, with a minimum of effort and as a game mechanic directly feed into the class and skill-based systems that I have discussed previously. Dungeons & Dragons has its Str, Int, Wis, Dex, Con and Cha, Fallout has its SPECIAL system, and so on. I bet 99% of you know what the D&D terms I just wrote are abbreviations for, without necessarily having played the role-playing game itself, because the stat systems have become an equal convention in computer RPGs.

There's a recent discussion on, started by the new maintainer of Angband about making Cha (short for Charisma, for those of you who don't know) more important. The Cha stat at the moment just affects the prices in shops in-game, and has little impact once the player starts getting a multi-million gold piece purse. Andrew Sidwell has (correctly) seen that there's not much of a point having a stat that is useless for most of the game, and the suggestions made have fall into either getting rid of the stat completely, or increasing its in-game utility (or a radical few suggesting no change at all).

I've got a slightly different perspective, having gone through a similar thought process for Unangband. A big part of the problem is that for a large part of the game of Angband, there are no interesting choices to be made around stats. Stats are affected in 3 ways: various monster attacks can drain your stats, and force you to buy stat recovery potions; you can find potions of gain stat in the dungeon, which permanently increase your stat; and you can find various items which increase your stat while you are wearing the item.

And most of the time, there's only one sensible option. There is little to no incentive to not drink a potion of Intelligence for instance (although Andrew has added some potions from Eyangband which increase one stat at the expense of another). You may end up with choices around which stat improvement item to wear, but it'll almost inevitably be a ring of Con, along with (maybe) a spell stat item. The only points at which stat choices are important is character creation. And its not a particularly interesting set of choices there, either, because each class finds one stat so much more useful than the others.

Unangband has a different way of doing stats. In Un, each spell casting class has 3 separate stats that affect spell casting: for learning spells, gaining mana and reducing spell failure %. All stats are also useful for warrior type classes: e.g. Int reduces the chance of thrown (or fired - not yet implemented) items breaking and increases to-hit, Wis increases armour class, Cha does 'crowd control'. There's two different stats that contribute to player hit points (Con and Siz) but each has differing side-effects, that makes warriors prefer Siz and spell casters prefer Con. There's an additional stat Agility that adds to speed.

And there are no stat gain potions: instead you gain a set number of stat gains every couple of levels to distribute as you wish.

But how did Angband end up in a position where a game-play mechanic doesn't have much of an in-game impact. Stats are made to seem so important in Angband that a fair amout of screen real estate is devoted to displaying them. And Angband is not the only computer RPG out there that makes this decision.

A key point to make, is that stats are an RPG convention and its possible that like other conventions I've attacked, they may not make the most sense in a computer game setting. Stats are a great short cut to starting to develop a character for the purpose of role-playing, and as I've pointed out previously, not a heck of a lot of role-playing actually occurs in computer games. And more importantly, they are a way of distinguishing different characters from each other.

So why have stats in a single-character game at all?

Stats kind of make sense in games where you control multiple characters. You want to differentiate each character as much as possible, and if you've already agreed with me and got rid of classes and skills in the game, then stats are probably the only way you have of doing this.

But in a single player game, you don't need to make this distinction. You're you, and your distinguished from everything else in the game by virtue of the fact you don't have to kill yourself or pick yourself up (Or as I've seen in some .sig files: roguelikes are about killing letters to collect punctuation).

So the primary functions of stats are useless in this environment. Instead, you should be directly exposing the game-mechanics to the player. If a ring of Strength (+3) gives +5 to hit and increases the character's carrying capacity by 25 lbs, call it a ring of Strength (+5 to hit, +25 lbs) instead. At the start of the game, roll-up carrying capacity, to-hit and to-dam bonus and spell failure chance directly. You don't need to worry about these abstract and ill-defined concepts of stats to confuse the player.

All you end up doing with stats is forcing the player to understand and memories tables of numbers in order to figure out the weird and non-intuitive stat break points that you've developed as a part of the game.

So get rid of stats completely. Statistically speaking, I'm sure you'll feel even more liberated.

[Edit: as usual, there's a big follow up discussion in here]

Slashdot Slashdot It!

Saturday, 18 August 2007

And on the gripping hand...

Its worthwhile pointing out that so much of what I just said feeds into concepts central to Orion's Arm which is one of those places on the net that is filled with so much goddamn content it becomes impossible to read, except in short bites.

And its a great primer for Charles Stross and makes you think Iain Banks has been cribbing his ideas from somewhere...

How much is my soul worth?

I still reeling from something I just read on Slashdot. Its quite relevant to Unangband, but probably not in the way you're thinking.

I'm going to post the whole comment, assuming that since it was posted as an anonymous coward, the post is effectively in the public domain. If I'm wrong, please correct me, and I'll remove it and just link back to the original article [Edit: Just to clarify, a PAD file is a way of describing your shareware software so that you can contribute it to software distribution sites, like Tucows].

Posting anonymous for not ending up on everyone's Freak-list ;-)

Two years ago I did a freeware Breakout/Arkanoid clone... for Windows *looks-to-the-ground-in-shame*. I made a small site, putted some ads on it (hey, the game itself had 100 levels, 10 music tracks, nice graphics and was absolutely free) and I submitted my
.pad to around 100 sites (1-by-1, I learned about those padfile-autosubmitter programs like 5 minutes after I was done.) Anyway, I leaned back relaxed as I watched the thousand dollars of Adsense-revenue everyone was talking about to come in.

Then I woke up. Although around 500 people already downloaded it from my site on the very first day, almost no one of them even saw an ad because most of the freeware-archiv-sites and the like were just linking directly to my installer. Ok, should have see that coming.
I edited my
.htaccess file redirecting everyone trying to download the file from outside my page to the index.html. HAH! Take that!
Ad impressions and clickrate increased dramatically and so I leaned back again... until one day later. It stagnated. Again. Totally.
I looked up a few of the sites I submitted it to and figured that since they couldn't get free hosting from me anymore, they were just hosting the game themselves now, next to their ads of course.

Ok, fine. I polished the game up a bit, just enough to call it 1.1, and added a license that would forbid to host the file.
I wasn't too surprised that they just updated their links and continued to host it on their sites but I tried to email them about it. I got some automated responses. Some guys said that it is not possible to forbid other sites to host freeware in the United States (maybe they were right, what do I know? I'm from the other side of the World.) Most of them didn't respond at all and around 5 guys basically told me fuck off - and oh yeah, I did.

I felt used, and angry, and I knew I had to do something about this unjustice. I thought about hacking their sites and posting sodomy-scandals on wikipedia about their owners and stuff like that (but I didn't do it, it was someone else... no really)
But then I thought, Hey, most of these guys have some amateur frontpage-site or some badly used CMS with some crappy logo of a smiling dog or something. I can do that better. Much better. In fact, I had the system of a fully automated site with a webcrawler looking for
.pads, autogenerated reviews and awards so people would link back to it suddenly right on my mind. And then I did it. I wouldn't say that I invented it but I didn't know of a similar site at the time. And yes, I cloned it to various domains.

Long story short, my network generates around 2500$ ad-revenue a month today, which is a lot of money over here, and I have a clear conscience. It is perfectly legal, I pay my taxes.
I just figured, why should I cry about people making money on the internet that way and waste my own talent making just some small games and tools and working 9-to-5 programming databases when I could not only be "one of them" but instead do it even better? You only live once and I can now spend money on things that enrich my and my family's life that I couldn't afford before. For me it's just the making-money-method-for-nerds of our days. If you are in front of the monitor hacking stuff anyway, you might as well make some bucks with it as long it's still possible.

Looks like I had to get that off my chest or something but I really don't look back. Now let me put my fireproof vest on while the flames strike upon me (from the people actually reading it before it gets modded down.)
Now, I'm also in the position of publishing a game, which I've spent a huge amount of time on. I'm doing it, not for love, nor money, nor fame, but because I enjoy working on it in my spare time. This particular article was a great read-through because it points out a lot of the issues around syndication of share ware and freeware games. I'm sure when I'm more confident Unangband can sustain the harsh glare of light in the real world, I'll be writing up a pad file and distributing it out to the thousands of software distribution websites. And they'll make lots of advertising revenue syndicating my game. In the mean time, I'm responding to the target audience directly with insightful and penetrating marketing methods.

I started off writing this with the expectation I'd end up talking about how the duplication and re syndication of content would end up making life difficult for Google, and we'd end up having to set up networks of trust to allow us to know which software to download, which games to play. And I'd like to point out to any Google engineers reading this, that before you cut me off from the Google ad program, that you should probably subscribe to the PAD directory, as it sounds like this is very amenable to analysis of link scamming. Another poster points out:
I mean seriously this is nothing new. Most of these sites just browse through the PAD directory and add your application to their directory. Usually I get them in groups of emails which leads me to believe that for the most part it's just one person creating multiple repositories. The ranking is probably random based, I don't always get fives. (Hard Rock 2)
In fact, Google, you should probably just get into the wild west of the free software distribution business and clean it up.

But the above Slashdot post has given me an insight into exactly how much money I could be generating developing a content re-syndication engine myself, and filling the Internet up with duplicate content. And I'll end up building a better website than anyone else out there, because I'll be using wild and crazy innovations like using the user agent string to actually offer the user the relevant software for their platform and dynamically determining whether to offer a torrent or an http download depending on whether the torrent tracker has seeds for the particular download (Why, oh why, does no-one else do these things?).

So why don't I?

I'm running ads on this blog, but I believe I have to be careful when discussing why to avoid violating Google's Terms of Service for advertisers. And I'm lucky to be in a position where I'm earning more than $2,500 US a month, although that kind of revenue for what probably amounts to about 2-3 months work total, is not something to be sniffed at. But I ultimately believe that the revenue from advertising model is an inadequate and a little soul-destructive. I've yet to see any compelling advertising on my blog. It's mostly because I use a lot of game based vocabulary which inevitably kicks up a lot of advertising about love potions. If I was talking about monkeys or sea gulls or the kittens, it'd be a different story. And I could equally start talking about iPhones or which ever keyword that 'blog-vertorials' are targetting themselves at, to direct traffic to a sister site and pay my way through ads.

But it seems to me that trading content for advertising is going to have a very detrimental effect on written communication, similar to the 'chilling effect' on journalism. And if you suddenly start getting money for saying or talking about particular things, you'll end up tainting the way you think and behave, not just in the written realm, but in your personal life: how you maintain your friendships, relate to work colleagues, talk to strangers. Truth and trust will be the ultimate casualties.

And I can see this getting worse with Facebook and other social networks. There are lots of smart people, and there were plenty at the Edinburgh Interactive Festival, who are figuring out ways to monetarise these networks, and when they figure out that the most effective model will be to use agents in the network to sell products, just like Amway, but scalable far larger and transmitted far faster, you'll end up in a position where your trust in your friends is eroded because everyone you know will have some kind of financial commitment in talking to you, recommending something to you, drawing your attention to the latest fad.

So how much is my soul worth? At least $2,500 US a month. How much is yours?

Friday, 17 August 2007

Summoning veils and blood debts

I wrote a little while ago about various strategies for play-balancing monster summoning, in an article Summoning the Borg. While I haven't come up with an ultimate solution, I'm going with a timer based solution for the moment, where the summoner has a short time-out and the newly summoned monsters have a longer timeout, before they can cast another summoning spell. Called 'summoning veil', this prevents the monster from penetrating through the astral plane to summon allies until it recovers.

This summoning veil also benefits you as a summoner. Summoned monsters can escape through the astral plane, unless they are blocked by the summoning veil. So monsters that you summon will stay in this existance until the veil is lifted.

Or at least that's the in-game explaination. Because, of course, the summoning shoe is on the other foot. I've added player based summoning spells, and I need to balance those as well.

Luckily, I can artitarily prevented player-summoned monsters from summoning again without feeling too guilty, which means that the same exponential growth patterns that I discussed in the previous article don't apply. By adding a timer, I can prevent a player casting a summoning spell, resting to recover mana, and then casting another summoning spell.

However, I've also allowed plenty of spells to recover mana much faster than that. So I need another balancing strategy. A lot of Angband variants reduce the maximum mana that a player with summoned monsters is allowed, and this works well. However, it'll require implementing link lists across monsters, or reference counting or something equally fragile and prone to breakage. It also cuts down on a precious resource (mana) that magic using players desparately need - probably a bit too much.

Conceptually, I can add something similar, and perhaps more interesting, by not reducing the maximum mana, but by giving the player an incentive to keep their mana high, or rapidly incur increasing risk. I call this 'summoning debt'.

If a player summoned monster dies while under player control, the player will incur a summoning debt equal to the power level of the monster. Initially, this is paid out from mana. However, if the player has insufficient mana to cover the debt, they will pay out it out in blood. The blood debt is higher than the mana debt (1d3 hit points for every mana point), and can result in the player dying, if they are too far in debt to cover the costs.

This 'summoning debt' gives a player a big incentive to treat their summons well. If they can keep their minions alive (such as by using wands of haste monsters and thrown healing potions), the player can freely use their mana for other spells or summons. However, if things go wrong, they go wrong fast.

And that's what Angband is all about.

Wednesday, 15 August 2007

Live blog - 19

(Martin Lownde) I want to look at beautiful pictures of beautiful things like I see on television. Gaming has got there with the technology and there's very little stopping us from doing this.

We work with great talent and with fantastic artists, we do intellectual property creation and management, and we do commercial marketing and strategy. We work across music, sport, fashion, entertainment, drama.

What we've done with American Idol is revolutionised the music industry in America. 19 artists have sold over 50 million CDs in the US. That has bought us into other areas, such as managing sport talent such as David Beckham. We now manage Team England, the Beckham Academy, Honda My Earth Dream.

Fashion: Claudia Schiffer, Victoria Beckham. TV: So you think you can dance, Popworld. The Idol brand is worth $2.5 billion worldwide, 46 million viewers tuned into the US.

We've got brands, content and great talent. In the past, we've always been reliant on someone else to deliver our content. The beauty of digital entertainment is that we can now have a direct relationship with our audience.

Two examples of digital control: Songwriter application. You upload a song of your creation and the final song will be sung in the final by the winner of Pop Idol. Not only is this user generated content, but it is a great A&R tool.

American Band and Myspace. We've created an online tool which allows people to upload a video of this band, used as an A&R tool to allow us to judge who goes on the show.

Where are the fish? 165 million Internet users in the US (similar number in the EU), 137 in China. 3.25 billion mobile users in the world.

(And facebook obligitory mention)

We will be launching tv channels on the Internet to control our own brands.

Itunes is a boring shopping experience. We will be bringing a lot more an entertaining experience to the process of buying music in the next 6 months, that touches on the experience of going to a record store.

We will be working with the social networking environments to get our audience.

There are very few distribution barriers to any of the experience we want to deliver. Lets get back to the imagination, not through the business of technology.

Legal and business affairs are playing catch up in this environment. Rights management is complicated and we need to find a new legal framework to do this in. Sharing can seem counterintuitive.

The solution to consumer entertainment is keep up their expectation of pace of change. Users are impatient - "why can't I share this with my friends?". Lets give tools that enable it, and lets make money off of the process.

Partnerships are crucial to 19 moving forward. We need to work with partners to distribute our content: we can deliver IP, content and talent but we don't build in house. We can't employ all the people to make our ideas possible. We are looking for new partners to develop our brands further.

New experiences are being launched in the next six months: new online drama, there's a lot more in the sports arena which we have to bring them alive, why is going to the top shop online site so boring, we want to create new environments for music to be enjoyed and listened to.

Tuesday, 14 August 2007

Live blog - BBC

(Simon Nelson, Controller, Portfolio & Multi-Platform, BBC Vision)

Good afternoon. I've only been in my current job for about 6 months - previously with the BBC including interfactive parts in radio. I've been trying to get my head around all sorts of television related issues. Today I'm talking about theories on what the BBC and game industry have in common, how can we make the BBC more playful and collaboration between the BBC and the wider entertainment industry.

(Aside: He's using elements of play. )

Contrary to popular announcements, I'm not announcing anything new.

We're in a world now where there are no monopolies on our attention. (Big brother screen) Younger generations are not watching as much television. If you're born in 1989, you watch 12 hours a week compared to 18 hours for your parents. We can't be sure that we'll ever return to these levels. The BBC loyalist is getting older.

The games industry is very similar, in a newer model of that boat. My wife and I used to play games together instead of watching television. But my current life stage is as time poor as I've ever been.

A recent US study said three quarters of teens said their attention for games is declining. However, you guys are way ahead of us, in adapting to this new audience.

This aging of the original audience allows us to reach new demographics in new ways.

What can a broadcaster learn from these bad experiences?

BBCs own game history began in 1982 with the BBC Micro. It helped spawn a generation of bedroom coders.

The portal was closed because its value for audiences was outweighed by negative market impact.

We've had some experience in creating these immersive experiences alongside our existing content. This means of engaging audiences which brought in an audience 64% under the age of 30, which is much younger than the demographic for the programs linked to this content.

The BBC has also functioned as a resource for intellectual property for the games industry. e.g. Little Britain (Eurogamer review highlighted here).

(Diagram from book Rules of Play) Games / Play / Ludic Activity. Example of Frisbee as Ludic Activity.

This is something we're seeing widely on the internet at the moment (Slide of Playful web). The "obligatory facebook" mention - about 50,000 players every day get the zombie activity. These nothing particularly interesting about the zombie application. But these things are frisbees.

(Provides an example for I'm in like with you.) This is a place where you have fun creating your own frisbees and have fun throwing them.

(The final battle - Paul Denchfield. An ARG game with Frozen Indigo Angel as the keywords.)

Part of our new approach at the BBC is to create more social objects that can be used interactively across the Internet. That allow us to participate, create and share objects we want to watch. We need to find ways to use our content and broader expertise to stimulate audiences to participate, to grow up around the content we create.

(1. Creating games from worlds / creating worlds from games.) We've been turning BBC fictions into interactive entertainment for some time. Shows like Heroes are epics that play out through the web, in comics and on TV and fans dissect these and create a narrative more effectively than the content producers that create them.

(Example of life on Mars) This show excited a huge amount of debate, speculation and fun over the internet, little of which was created by us. The biggest world that we have is probably inhabited by the Doctor. Sometimes its irreverence that works the best (Lego Starwars example). It relies on a creative partnership that we'd have to take to another level. While television creation is a core competency of the BBC, but games creation is not.

(Example of Signs of Life & Endemol) - (Plays signs of life promo)

I'm going to finish with Adventure Rock, developed with Larian studios. Children will be able to wander around an island filled with CBBC content. (Shows adventure rock preview - its sold more like the Matrix, which is a little weird. Static over voice overs etc. Lots of double-jumping).

Q: What's driven the BBC's strategy on this? Is it the lack of participation of younger customers?

The history of this space, at least on line, has been over the last 7 or 8 years. We have a mandate to innovate, and this is part of this. And we attempt to create richer spaces around the content that we already create.

Live blog - panel on protest virtual worlds

(Ren Reynolds)

(Jessica Mulligan)

(Hilmar Peterssun)

(Jim Purbrick- Linden Lab CTO who I spoke to briefly yesterday. Apparently they're recruiting)

(Stephen Reid - NCSoft Europe)

(RR) 139 million Neopets users. 50+ m Maple Story. We've talked very much about how happy and nice these worlds are, is that you get a lot of protest in these things, from governance, game mechanics, political process and griefing. People try to run virtual worlds as a service, but people playing the game view this as a community.

Should Sony be controlling what people say in homes?

(Hilmar) I'm going to use this opportunity to go a little bit deeper into the concept of emergence and how we have been thinking about this for a long time. [Brings up accusation of cheating by players]

We have been planning democratically elected community representatives for a long time, and you need a venue to discuss societal issues in the world as they grow bigger and bigger.

We use emergence in various places in Eve, for economy, for constructing the world and so on. Social emergence has been studied extensively [Dunber and the Dunber number]. Interpersonal relationships are maintained by picking lice out of each other's hair. It boils down to this. This is the neocortex processing power. The predicted groups size for humans is 147.8.

There is a very step group size fall off for corporation size at about 250 people. What Dunbar says is to grow beyond 500 people you have to install some authoratarian figures into the community or build some defined structure into it.

Alliances in Eve are essentially a family of corporations. [He likes the lice picking analogy] We have example of alliances growing up to 16,000 but most are 5000 to 6000 members. When we are faced with massive alliances, the people who lead these alliances control Eve more than we do.

There is really not so much that CCP can do in controlling their world. Us as operators of virtual worlds are more like governments, than gods. If you cannot be ordered to have fun, you can't play our game is the wrong attitude. We are in the process of reviving the council of stellar management. People are going to be democratically elected through a proxy democratic voting system. These people will discuss future movements for the game in general, as well as controversial issues that arise within the game.

(JP) There are hundreds of people in Second Life who are earning their living in Second Life, which makes governance even more importance. We've been looking at resident governance in Second Life for a long time. Discussion on self-governance in 2004. We now have a public issue tracker. Despite the fact we've done a lot of reaching out to second life, we still have these petitions and protests.

First issue causing protests in 2nd Life is future residents. Tax protest was a change in governance. Gaming over market - Linden Lab as the company coming into competition with its residents. Telehubs - we tried to create these artifical communities by using telehubs which didn't work and we had to compensate for people who had bought land around these. Voice - the addition of voice caused problems for people who didn't want this to happen.

Another cause of protest is technology limits. Copybots - DRM by robot ruler. Umlauts. We accidentally broke internationalism in one update.

A third cause of protest is growth. We had to drop live help. Stipends. We bootstrapped a second life economy to give liquidity to the economy. We couldn't continue to give everyone free money which caused protest.

The fourth cause is real life. Gambling ban and sex. We are seeing now there are problems in second life where something is illegal in a jurisdiction, or legal (e.g. Copyright in China).

Linden Lab is a bottle-neck: we're trying to get out of the way. We're moving to let the users create the software as well as the content. We are moving towards a much more federated structure.

(JM) Citizens against the gods.
Citizens are about 1% of your total user base (MMOs, as opposed to virtual worlds). They look out for everyone.
Tribesman. 85 - 90%. Looking out for their microeconomy.
Barbarians - couldn't care less. The other 1%. These guys create 80% of the problems. They don't care about your rules or player justice systems.

We don't manage expectations well in the online world. World of Warcraft are horrible at customer service, there is just no managed expectations. Mushroom community management. 9 out of 10 virtual worlds there is no meaningful communication. Community says one thing, marketing says another. These really comes down to unfulfilled promises.

[Honest information, respect, instant gratification, vocal minority]
[Patrovsky's Law of the Karma Bank]

Live blog - post mo cap

I had a brief chat to Anna after the session, mostly to find out her opinion of New Zealand and working with Weta. FYI: My brother worked on Lord of the Rings as the army liaison whilst they were filming on the army land on the Desert Road. He's the army guy (trying) to order everyone around on the making of Return of the King DVD at the Black Gate.

Interesting fact I learned from her: to motion capture the position around the eye they use 4 sensors on the bottom lid. I'm not sure if they use separate eye position cameras or not. Should have asked.

Live blog - mo cap Q & A

(Asked a technical question myself about the acting - I've done a reasonable amount myself so was interested).

Live blog - mo cap

(Its all about Heavenly sword - 2 of the actresses from the game + chief creator. Missed names completely. MC is the women whose MC'ing the session)

(Chief creator) We wanted to focus on the massive storage and processing power to create dramatic performances. Similar to 300, in that its fantastical and draws from a lot of influences: Asian, Mongolian, Chinese.

(Anna / Nariko) She was born to a clan where a hero was prophesied to be born and she grew up in a clan fighting for her place. The Heavenly Sword, being meant for a diety kills anyone who wields it.

(CC) The game starts as a tragedy and becomes a love story.

(Kai) Kai is an absolutely fascinating character for a game and is such a quirky character that you might only see in other platforms. She is kind of a feral child from a young age, and then was found by Nariko and bought into the clan. She is a strange feral creature and lives in her own imaginary world and comes of age as the story progresses. She has a very close bond particularly with Nariko. She uses a cross and has her own fighting technique.

(All videos are played from a build of the game. It has an unlocked video features that they are playing from. They shoot a scene with Nariko and Kai. Kai has an annoying way of speaking - lots of overdramatic strings and significant-pauses-between-words. I suspect the cutscene leads into a section where Kai is the primary character. Kai talks about herself in the third person ala golum and looks a little like him.)

(Anna) I'm from NAIDA (Australia) and most of my work has been in film and television. I don't have a physical theatre background.

(Kai) I had dance training when I was younger and then ended up moving into classical theatre and physical theatre. Kai is quite a physical character.

(MC) What were you expectations coming to this process?

(Anna) Because there are so many cut scenes the game feels like a film script. I got a shock when we got to NZ and went 'oh this is the motion capture stage'.

(Kai) I didn't have much experience of the gaming world. With the help of Andy Serkis, who's an expert when it comes to motion capture.

(MC) Was there anything specific that you were looking at the actors for the casting process?

(CC) Andy and his casting agent did most of the casting. I was looking for the voice and body movements. I was looking particularly at the way the actors moved, particularly for the game, as well as the cut scenes to make sure that the actors moved the same for the animations in the game as well as the cut scenes.

(MC) Can you tell us a little bit about rehearsal?

(Anna) We had to keep coming in at the back of all these battles, and rehearsed all the cut scenes as well as all the action.

(Kai) We had these polystyrene swords.

(Anna) The game plays longer (Than two hours we took to rehearse this).

(CC) We're not going to release [the rehearsal footage we took]

[Shows Andy Serkis capturing performance video]

(MC) How important was total capture: face, body and voice.

(CC) For golum, they just had body capture, and they animated his face by hand. For Kong, they developed facial capture, but only within a metre box. When we got to Weta, they built a new stage for us, and it allowed up to five actors to interact and record both their voice, their face and their body. As far as an actor is concerned, it is more like a play or a television. This is the first time, in film or games that actors can play off of each other.

(Anna) It changed things completely, because otherwise it would have been a completely technical experience.

(MC) How was the direction like, how do you think motion capture was player, should be played by you?

(Kai) Kai was a very physical character and very stylised.

(Anna) Nariko was very straight and I found that even thought that you're being picked up by all these light sensors, you still have reference cameras in the room. Even though there is a reference camera and you are still playing in the round and I would handle it in a different way next time, treat it more like puppeteering.

(MC) So its more like acting in the round?

(Anna) Only once you see the after effects do you see what the potential in the room is.

(CC) You can't see the daily rushes, and this is probaby the first time the actors have seen the performance last year.

(MC) Were you able to get real time feedback at all?

(CC) As part of our rehearsal process, Andy arranged for body motion capture and every actor could have a live feed of them moving around. But we shot on video and so you could see yourself on video playback [but not rendered].

(Kai) Personally, I don't like to see the rushes.

(MC) In theatre or film, the last step is putting on the suit or costume. In motion capture you don't get that, so how were you able to get into character?

(Kai) We really had to use our imaginations entirely.

(MC) Was it possible to lose a sense of the barren motion capture studio? Were their moments you were method acting?

(Anna) Absolutely. Even working on a set, its incredibly distracting. So in actual fact you didn't have any of that and the bareness of the motion capture studio, you didn't have that.

(Kai) It often felt much more intimate than working on a film set. It was very intimiate and helpful because of that.

(CC) We even put a curtain up over the window into the motion capture studio.

(MC) How important was it to cast each actor separately? I mean, in games and CGI movies people are cast in multiple roles.

(CC) To be honest it didn't occur to me. We weren't too concerned about the physical apperance, more that they had the character right.

(MC) How many were in the cast?

(CC) Principles: Lydia, Anna, Andy, Stephen Birkoff + 2 others (his generals), plus Nariko's father (Ewan Stuart). This scene is very complicated. That's the beauty of motion capture, you don't have to be real. We wanted to create a house of horrors scene for the generals: every performance is heightened.

The character Stephen Birkoff came up with on set was completely different from the character we wanted to play. As every cast member bought more and more into their character, we ran it more as an improve.

(MC) So this is much more different to normal game development.

(CC) Often, its because the director of the mo cap session doesn't know the context, or has to work with the levels that are already there. Because Heavenly Sword was half way through development, I could change the layout of the level and make the scene work better that way. With Andy as director and myself as game director, we were able to make these choices. We always made the choices based on the dramatic side. The dramatic side we treated as sacrosanct.

Live blog - Sony - Beyond Social Gaming

Jamie Macdonald: Good morning everyone. VP of development of Sony Computer Entertainment at World Wide Studios.

This morning will be a collaborative effort with Paulina Bozek (Singstar Franchise), Paul Edward (Playstation Home).

There is a large untapped market for entertainment experiences for groups of friends and cross generational groups. The term at the time I used was parlour games for the 21st centuary which now seems impossibly quaint. In contrast, but at the same time, we were also working on the very first playstation online titles. Football and Socom. These took the traditional view of online gaming at the time and worked incredibly well in its way. There was no sense of community or extended social network, and also no commerce. It did tell us that competition was an incredibly important part of the social experience.

Users now are not just passive users of creative entertainment but they now expect to be able to customise content. They are also more receptive to a commercial relationship as well.

The 4 Cs. Community, competition, creativity and commerce.

Game 3.0 focuses on the 3rd C, creativity.

(Paulina Bozek talking about Singstar) The last time I was at EIF, Singstar was a brand new game on the PS console. Its a social game with mainstream appeal. Since 2004, we have sold over 10 million units.. Over 300 million songs.

Singstar has always been very highly localised. We are releasing Singstar Bollywood, which we are very excited about.

The major inovation on the new platform is the Singstore. This is completely by My Singstar online. Very much engaged with the 4Cs.

Its very much clear that there have been some big media industry shifts recently. Players are be coming creators, and a lot of products that are actually tools. 57% percentage of media executives sited user-generated content is the top threat to media and entertainment industries (April 16 Accenture survey).

As games creators, we have to tried to respond to and embrace these wider trends. The online community platform we have built is an extension and a direct response to what is spontaneously happening already: users are already uploading photos and videos of their Singstar parties to you tube and flicker.

Competition is really what makes Singstar work offline: its about the dynamic of player participation.

These days, players are becoming co-creators of their experience. For us, the most important part of customisation (= creativity) is choice. The number one feedback we have is that the selection of songs we publish with each Singstar. Our ambition is to release with 100s of songs and add more than 50 songs per month.

Few people disagree that digital distribution will be the future of music industry. The death of the album and rise of the single. My play list is king. The itunes effect is an a la carte menu and in essence is an unbundling of content. Users do not want to pay for what they don't want.

Itunes is reportedly selling over 1 million tv downloads every week. Again viewers are choosing what they want to watch and when.

Singstar is at its very heart is a mainstream social pick up and play game and we have no plans to make it a deeper next generation experience. For us, unbundling the track listing and let the player choose. We now focus on a broad selection and allow the player to customise and personalize their experience. Online is a major part of the strategy.

We need to ensure that we meet the expectations of consumers. The delivery platform is really important. Part of the success of the ipod and itunes marriage is its accessibility and simplicity. The Sing store is completely integrated into the game. Many of the audience is not comfortable with the controller, which is why this was done.

In many ways, music games are leading the way in unbundling and customisation.

To complement the singstar we have built My Singstar online. By using a USB camera, we have made it possible to allow users to upload videos online. There is a major trend of lip sink videos. Credited to Numa Numa video, which has been viewed 14 million times. The second most popular viral of all time. And over 10,000 people have created their own versions of numa numa.

[Shows cut together clips of lip synching from youtube]

Over the course of Singstars lifetime, people are constantly sending us photos and videos of their singstar parties. There are already over 3000 singstar videos on you tube alone. People are already identifying themselves as singstar fans.

We realise not everyone is willing to upload their performance. We all recognise that there may be a small part of the community participating in creation, but the rest of the community is interested in what the community is creating.

Its not just important to create features about producing, but for features that are about consuming this content. Participation by rating, recommendations, comments, top 10 lists are really important. We have to learn how to harness the collective community to judge the content that is produced. Its no longer about prepackaged media contents, its about personal preferences, recommendations from books to trips to individual people.

(Peter Edward - director of PS Home platform group) There'll be no revealations about home technology today. However I will be sharing a little about the vision of home.

[shows GDC 2007 video]

Ultimately users will be able to purchase real world items from within home to be delivered to their doorstep. Home is a evolving platform, we don't know where home will be long term. In the longer term, once an engaged audience is there, there are revenue opportunities for all, including end users.

Being an evolving flexible platform, there are three keys groups: users, games and non-game brands.

For the user, the value of home is all about being able to share the experience with their friends, both gaming and non-gaming brands. Its about having a safe, reputable environment run by a trusted brand in which they can feel secure about making online transactions.

Community is all about communication with other users. In the longer term, we'll be implementing a fully featured social networking experience within home.

It is crucial that home caters for the competition component for users, by launching into the multiplayer game of their choice and by configuring the multiplayer experience they want for that game.

Home provides almost infinite variations in customising your character, and customising your apartment. In the longer term, users will be able to share other content that they have created: photos and videos themselves and user generation content tools such as their own t-shirt designs. We'll also be giving out tools to allow scripting, java minigames and so on.

Having a trusted safe platform, using the PS store interface which in the long term will be replicated in 3d.

By maintaining contact with the users for longer, publishers will be able to learn more about the desires and requirements for the user. Community focus with the IP, the game will be launch able directly from the game location within Home, and hosting of community forums.

Casual arcade and minigame experiences can be incorporated within the home platform, and users being able to launch directly into online experiences within the game. The ability to host tournaments and special events will allow maintaining interest in the game.

Publishers will be given asset creation toolsets to provide compelling and exciting experiences for the user. Publishers will be able to offer downloadable items: clothing, furniture using the already established playstation wallet and micropayment systems immediately. In future, full games can be sold within the game. Opportunity for revenue sharing with users to encourage placement of advertising within their spaces.

[battery problems on the PS3 controller they're using to control the presentation]

Home offers the opportunity to non-game brands. The connected PS audience traditionally has been quite difficult to get access to and is a demographic that is highly coveted. A virtual online experience is something brands have already experienced, but PS home doesn't contain the same kind of risk as the wilder west online experience. Longer term, web and mobile delivery will be incorporated into the home environment.

Initially, competition is all about sponsorship. Longer term, custom events. Branded spaces, objects, furniture and clothing.

[lots of pictures of redbull sponsership of various real world events]

Longer term, PS home will be a sales channel for physical goods. Home will be able to link into additional fulfillment changes and real world retail channels. YOu'll be able to buy a virtual item and then have the real world item delivered.

The level of ambition for home is high. "Home will be the most richly populated, most profitable virtual world, used every day, by every Playstation3 user" (quote from slide)

How to get into the games industry

My mistake - although the screenings are not starting until 11:30, there's a 'How to get into the game industry' panel happening at the same time as the first session. I can only hope its more earnest than the so you want to be a games journalist series of articles (that I'll have to link to later).

Day 2 of the Edinburgh Interactive Conference

We're in the Odeon theatre on Lothian Road today and will be joined from about 12:00 with the 1000 or so fan boys and girls who bought tickets for the game screenings that are happening as a part of the conference.

Sneaked into the theatre and watched the Sony speaker warming up the projector with a little UT3 and Heavenly Sword. He'll be presenting from a PS3, which makes sense - albeit not the most portable sense...

I suspect that since there's no power points around, the live blogging component of the coverage won't be as thorough. Might have to sneak off to some of the screenings instead.

Day 1 of the Edinburgh Interactive Conference (cont)

Other than the interesting discussion on female gamers, I think the message coming out of this conference is that the industry is growing quickly, that its finding smarter solutions than television or Hollywood (often from necessity) for engaging with the consumer, and that the opportunities for growth require more than just AAA titles to be delivered.

Day 1 of the Edinburgh Interactive Conference

Well, that's day one of the Edinburgh Interactive conference. As people stream off to the free drinks, I'm sitting around trying to gather my thoughts interrupted only by another journalist interviewing the energetic Hilmar Peterssun.

The theme for the conference so far seems to be the convergence of the games industry and other media industries. Yves was brilliant and provided good insight of the direction that at least one of the industries major players. Another Ubisoft employee whose name I didn't catch who was talking in the conference on involving female gamers in the industry and it sounds like the direction that Ubisoft is taking with casual games is very much similar to Nintendos: casual games is probably wrong word. Short serious games is a better way of putting it. We'll definitely be flooded with a lot more games of the Brain Training genre. My Life Coach, My Word Coach, Horsez and so on are all Ubisoft titles moving into this space. She made the point that Ubisoft is not trying to sell to female gamers, they're trying to sell to lapsed or uninterested gamers, which contains many more females. The objections of this segment in the focus groups Ubisoft ran were centred around 'What can a computer game do for me?' and these short serious games are the way to answer that question.

I'll elabourate on the Games Actually discussion a little more. The chair seemed a little concerned about moving away from market segmentation, to a different model of viewing the gaming market, but the market segmentation stories the rest of the panel were interesting. Sevket Goezalan had a lot of good points to make but didn't necessarily make them the best way, about his experiences in setting up a gaming magazine for women (Play Vanilla). There is a hardened market of gamer girlz, at about 10% of the gaming market, who are currently served by the existing gamer related base and reacted very negatively to the women's magazine style publication that Play Vanilla is selling to. However, when he was able to get Play Vanilla in the women's magazine section, which is where it was targetted, the circulation was about 80% of what he expected, but the positive feedback from people reading it was very high. He thinks that the biggest barriers to their targets are the fact that distributors are not necessarily willing to put a gaming magazine in the right place in the store, and that women readers are more likely to pick up what they know or have been told is worth reading as opposed to see a new title, browse it and purchase it if it looks good. This suggests strongly that the market is there, it just needs to be tapped in the right way. He also said later when questioning Ian Livingstone, that he's got feedback that lots of girls would play action games (e.g. 1st or 3rd person shooters) if there were female protagonists they would choose to play. Ian was disappointing, as I also mentioned, and was clearly selling Kane & Lynch with an eye on the Hollywood cross-over. For someone who gained so much off the backs of a (virtual) female protagonist, he was strangely uninterested in trying the same again. "Some other company will have to do it" seemed to be his attitude.

Sean Dromgoole broken down the market segmentation by gender and age, and points out that female gamers are playing games through to their teens nearly as much as boys but have a much steeper drop off then men from 15 onwards. In the 24-29 segment, the same percentage of men and women play e.g. the drop catches up. In terms of market segment, he broke it down into 4 categories: Tom Boys, Girly-girls (he apologised for the name), Alternative/Independent and Girl-guides. Tom Boys are as likely as men to play competitively and like all the genres as much as men, except for violent games, where they are not interested. Apparently the girl-guide segment takes over all others as women age: concern for others, responsibility and maturity were the characteristics of this segment.

In terms of hours played, girls are quickly catching up with guys. I think we'll see that discussions around 'how can we capture the female gamer' will be non-existent in five years, and people can return to worrying about 'how to create a great game for the segment'.

And the winner is...


Edge awards

The game that has done the most to challenge expectations of what a game is, and to establish new standards of game excellence.

Last year has been an amazing year, with two new consoles, the Xbox 360 bedding down, the DS and PS2 still demonstrating

The last year did the most to show the variety that games can now demonstrate.

Nominees are:

Bit Generations - this is 7 individual games that only came out in Japan and have since been discontinued. Edge never reviewed them.

Canis Canim Edit - the rough ride it had on release was a bit unfair because Rockstar have the ability to bring popular culture from outside of games into games.

Dead Rising - one of the best movie re-imagining in videos games despite the fact its totally unofficial. One of the first games to generate what the next generation can do.

Defcom - another one that re-imagines a movie. An amazing way of telling very horrific stories through abstract game mechanics. You play it making brutally pragmatic decisions around the lose of millions of lives. An amazing independently produced game.

Final Fantasy XII - like the one for its ability to revolutionise a series of game and somehow turn around its very focused genre. Able to let players experiment and express how players like to play.

Okami - a very beautiful game but also brings the style into the game as well. A wonderfully accessible game.

Test Drive Unlimited - an amazing sensation of driving on real roads and a great racing model but when your online, other cars on the road can be real players.

Wii Sports - everyone has either had or heard stories about playing this video game over Christmas and about new ways of interacting with games.

Little disappointed

Not much there at all, in terms of revelation / content etc. I'm a little disappointed.

Live blog - Ian Livingstone

When I started off writing this, I was going to have this quite light-hearted. Since its nearly beer o'clock, I think I'll keep it that way.

Its hard to have a great character in a crap game. Clearly you can go for the ultra realistic characters or you can go the Nintendo route of the stylised characters. At the end of the day they are very important. I remember rolling up my very first character in 1975 and I had a lot of affection for him.

Film has taught us a lot about characters and dialog and we can start to talk about Hollywood. I'm not talking about 1st person shooters in this context.

From this rich pool of characters (And the UK is particularly fine at creating characters) (Aside: he's talking way too fast to get anything).

There is no guaranteed path from drawing board to fame. At the end of the day, if you're expecting a player to keep playing a role, you'll have to have a character who is interesting, easy to identify and likable.

[Plays video of characters over the years. He includes Elite, Gran Tourismo, Wipeout etc which I don't think particularly have great characters in. There's a typo on the release of Tomb Raider - listed as 1995]

Why are these easy to remember? [Shows shots from Hollywood. Daniel Craig as Bond, Snow White, ET, Superman, Wallace & Gromit, Spiderman, Thomas the Tank Engine, Kong, Yoda, Bart, Harry Potter etc. I think he's made his point. Nearly 40 characters shown.]

[Then games characters, Lara Croft, Gordon Freeman, Link, Mario, Sonic, Lemming, Pacman, Solid Snake, Space Invader, Duke]

What makes all these character resonant? If you get this right, huge financial revenues await you. Appearance, personality, name, background, dialog, voice, humour, facial expression, moves, story. For real people, the coolness factor.

[More bullet points: Different, memorable, cool, concept].

[Concept art: lots of choice, face / body / concept. Lock it down early. Target audience. Focus test.]

[What's in a name? Descriptive or whimsical? Target audience? Name + trademark = franchise.]

Lara Croft started life as Lara Cruz.

[Character background: personality, habits, beliefs, trademark moves]

[Kane & Lynch]

Kane started out a lot better looking and younger, but he was supposed to have had a tough life and been through a few war zones. Lynch looked good right from the start.

[Dialog: script writers, serious / humorous, emotion, film]

Looking to Hollywood again, we need to hire script writers. The concept of the dialog, and the emotion. Hollywood realises the importance of dialog and clearly its scripted and makes an impact on the audience. We should learn from them.

[Shows the clip a Few Good G-men]

[Voice: Matching, use professionals, catchphrases, people like people]

[Clip from Io technical demo]

[Mood: light or dark / backstory / sets the scene / film]

I think its interesting that Hollywood are looking more and more to our industry for content.

[Robert Mckee quote about true character]

[2 Kane & Lynch trailers - I think its a NiN soundtrack behind it]

[Intellectual property: sequels, franchise, valuable brand, leveraging]

[Lucozade Lara clip]

Lara Croft is such a big character she is able to survive parody.

[Kane & Lynch gameplay clip]

[We're running late, so only 1 question for Ian Livingstone]