Saturday, August 30, 2008

Brain Training: 80 weeks in UK top ten

According to, the video game Brain Training, on the DS, has been present for a total of 80 weeks in the UK top ten.


I suppose it confirms that many people are idiots, right?


So am I for this free advertising. X[

Friday, August 29, 2008

The Path of Least Resistance

I can’t help smiling at the idea of wealthy leaders sitting at the top of their towers of glass, having the resources to buy your house ten times a week, and being convinced that only enough blunt force will curb the modest into behaving like a nice little sheep.

In a way, they are not imaginative. They’re lazy people, as they go for the easy route. They use hamfisted reprehension and are not short of applying the most absurd and over the top penalties to silence the guilty:

The game makers have appointed the law firm Davenport Lyons. This week Isabela Barwinska, an unemployed mother of two, became the first person in the UK to be ordered to pay damages to a manufacturer. She must pay more than £16,000 to Topware after downloading Dream Pinball through a file-sharing site.

I am in no way trying to condone piracy, but there are extremes at work there, and neither are correct.
I merely want to add more to my initial rant. I said I’d try to tackle some solutions. Surprisingly coming to their senses, EA heads now think in such ways as well (a rather dissenting song from what Peter Moore was trying to say in May, although we could sense a level of *cough* crypticism *cough*).

The point is that no matter our monetary resources, as a whole, we are like electricity: we always aim for the path of least resistance.
In this case, we should say we generally follow the principle of least effort.

People don’t want to bother with complicated verification systems. They don’t want to bother with drivers, guides, cables and what have you. They don’t want to have to subscribe and fiddle with internet formulas.

The trouble is that piracy makes acquiring illegal copies for nothing very easy (following a modicum of patience and efforts), and no one will ever beat that with the most restrictive Big Brotherish security system.
Even if your system is not of that vein, people see it as such.
Wasting millions in DRMs when most of them fail in the following week is equally absurd.

If you still wonder why DRMs suck, then pay a visit to Defective by Design. It is a down to earth documented and active community opposing the nonsense of DRMs, and they have a point.

So what do we do then? Well, we try to understand what the solutions against piracy could be.
Obviously, you have to make legally acquiring games an easy process, reassuring people by letting them acquire a legal copy without choosing between the last Rock Band and buying nice lumps of red meat, as it’s been two weeks since you’ve been able to afford more than pathetic sausages and water to your kids.

As such, I believe in lower prices. Entertainment for the masses? Oh… well… a double edged sword we have here.
But let’s be frank, shit has hit the planet worldwide, and I’m speaking about the rich countries here, not those where buying a game is not even present at the bottom of a tertiary list of low priorities for the next two decades.
That said, some people do their best to feed the idea that lower prices wouldn’t help. It’s rubbish. Although relative, they clearly would, but if only supported by other measures.
These same people are often heard saying that pirates (a broad term) wouldn’t buy your game no matter what. In other words, they never were customers, and never will.
That’s disputable. I think that if that lady, sentenced to pay £16,000 for downloading that extremely innovative pinball game, could have easily reached and bought it for a very few pennies, she’d have probably done so.

It should be as easy as making a phone call. You know that when you pick up your phone, in 99.99% of cases, you’ll be loosing money. Why not use that system to buy games? See a game you like in a catalog? Send a SMS or give a call, give your address, no useless talking, and voila, you receive your game in two days, on a small disc wrapped in cheap plastic. You don’t pay more, just the communication, which a percentage is distributed to the publisher and the developer. You may want to add a password at best, but that’s about how far it gets. Your phone number is, by default, made public and attached to your address. Therefore the operation to obtain a copy of a game should be devoid of any trouble.

It should be as simple as saying WANT on the phone.

On the other end of the stick, just keep that call short but make it a bit more expensive than usual for the customer, according to the price of the game (be sure to make it clear on the catalog) and that’s it. It works in very similar ways for mobile phones after all. Why not for households?

But maybe such an intuitive system already exists?

One of the issues these days is that to fight piracy, many are thinking that gaming, PC or not, should be dependent upon an Internet connection.
I totally reject this option (as per Stardock’s ninth rule --which itself is full of irony, considering the deal signed with Steam and its internet-dependent verification system). It is not a solution. You should be able to buy a game, then trek the mountains you and your laptop, sit somewhere in the wild and install the game.
It is rather obvious that such an idea has only gained popularity because of the thriving MMO business model (booby trapped games). It certainly does not mean it’s intelligent.

Ads and downloadable content have been mentioned as other solutions.

Advertising, either in game or orbiting the game’s core in a way or another, is a solution. Simply put, the powers that be keep telling us they have solid numbers about piracy. Therefore, they can obviously estimate how many people they can potentially reach with ads placed in all copies, including illegal ones.
A new aspect of the war would probably be making it sure that even an illegal copy comes with ads, but we never said it would be easy!
Of course, the idea of putting ads in games is also to reduce the price of them, even maybe make them almost free, but that’s stretching it quite a lot here. A reduction in prices would be a good thing, assuming sales would follow.

Downloadable content is also another solution, but we already were having glimpses of studios (Sony and their racing games) providing light weight versions which would only be completed with a proper amount of money.
In a way, it would be acceptable if the vanilla version of the game was cheap, and the price of extra content, from useful to mere goodies, was not abusive.

Of course, piracy wouldn’t be such a problem if production budgets were not so ridiculously high and if more people could buy the games. PGC may partially solve the former, while I foresee any daylight to cast upon the later.

We really need to sell more games and content, having as many games as possible reaching an equally vast amount of people. This is where smarter and more generous bundles would help.

Finally, here’s an interesting list of articles to read at Ars Technica:

You want to know why? Pirates give indie game dev an earful

PC game developer has radical message: ignore the pirates

Game developer wants to learn from pirates, asks them "why"

The Showdown: is SecuROM a deal-breaker for Mass Effect?

Thursday, August 28, 2008

Video games lookalikes

There are some funny comparisons over there. I love the Austin Powers / Miyamoto one. :D

DS games: The mandatory (cutesy) narrative

Short: There are many (Nintendo) DS games coming with absolutely childish, abysmal, forced and most unexpected backstories.

I had fond memories of Bubble Bobble, so I picked Double Shot. Bang! Stupid story. Who cares if Flip Flap and Flop come from soap land and have lost something I can't even bother to remember?

I tried Kirby and Mice thing, and dang, they did it. I loved the art and gameplay in Kirby games since day one. That said it's also obviously geared at kids, and the scenario is adequately retarded... since kids are retards. You didn't know that I bet... the evil penguin has robbed Kirby's piece of cake! So Kirby goes to Mr. Penguin's castle, kills a million creatures on his way to vengeance, just to get back his well deserved (?) dessert. The irony of this is that your enemies will often drop cakes, fruits and other candies as you bash them to sparkly death, but I suppose the cake which Kirby was about to dissect had something special. Vindicative? Well, Kirby's an adventure game, so the presence of a plot is acceptable here. It's just that it's downright retarded. But there's not much to take seriously here. It is, after all, a game for kids in all possible aspects. The trouble here is that it seems to permeate to games which are the less likely candidates you would have thought of for such narrative styles and the even more forced presence of (mediocre) storylines.

Where it gets really bad, it's for puzzle games.

A (not so) better example: Prism, way of the light, or light your way... pff.
Again, some retarded scenario for such a game: the biiiig evil monster eats the light falling into a black hole or some similar nonsense, so you must help the gobots or whatever, who also live in that hole, to survive by feeding them light generated by other fuzzy creatures. Oh my.
The "plot" itself wouldn't have been worth a thousand gallons of vomit if it didn't treat you like a two neurons twat chained down in your parents' basement and still wearing diapers.

Or should I cite Meteos Disney Magic? ... -_-'

There's like a good many of such games with just pointless and embarrassing stories I gladly skip.
The question is why? The colours, the tone, all is there to make you feel you're part of a Teletubbies machiavelic spin-off.

Well, no surprise, it's the DS. Good games on it, but there's a price to pay.

Tuesday, August 26, 2008

Guillermo del Toro talks about gaming

You can read it at Edge. Del Toro talks about his upcoming Hellboy movie and what he thinks of video games.
Did I say that design of Edge's website was nice by the way? OK, white is pretty much de rigueur these days, but it's pure and that makes a nice place to go to.

I wasn't much aware of the director's view on video games, so what he said surprised me.
It's the open identification of games which goes beyond basic quotations of Pacman, Galaga and Pong that is knee-jerking, refreshing, and he's very current on this stuff. Oh yes, he did cite them, but this was just the beginning. The old memories you know.
He looks like a sentimental geek in many aspects, which doesn't preclude him from having a tooth for vision and beauty.

Best bits, for sure:

There was a Japanese game called Gadget that was very influential on movies like Dark City and The Matrix.

Well, if that's one of the reasons I love Dark City, maybe I should try that Gadget game, even if nostalgia could have an influence on his actual appreciation of the decades old design. However, who said this was bad? It's not like he said he was about to make a Galaga movie.

How far have games really come since then?

They’re an incredible storytelling tool, one that filmmakers should embrace instead of reject. In the next ten years, they’ll yield a couple of narrative masterpieces.

Which allows me to jump onto a parallel topic. There are good essences about the film industry which should serve as inspiration for ours, notably the way projects and teams are managed until a product is finished and people, resources and funds are moved onto the next one, but there are aspects of it which we should stop trying to mimic. Yet many times, you'll hear figures from the video game industry pointing to the film one for the wrong reasons.

There are only two games I consider masterpieces: Ico and Shadow of the Colossus.

Probably easy games to cite as you don't get much points anymore for doing so among gaming circles, but that's a whole different story for people not traditionally associated to gaming.
Now, sure, it's still a matter of opinions in the end, and some people may find those games boring and tepid.
My own list would clearly include many others, even stuff like R-Type Final, but that may just be me.
Anyway, I think it's still something incredible having such a famous director being capable of naming games such as GTA IV, Sonic, Kirby, Bioshock, Resident Evil, Silent Hill, Devil May Cry, etc. When said person even adds Ico and Shadow of the Colossus, it's all the more baffling.

How much influence do you think your gaming has had on your movies?

A lot. Videogames use art direction, colour and storytelling in a very pure way that a lot of movies have forgotten.

Just think of the implications of having del Toro uttering such words.
Video games shape his style to a considerable degree.
Now think of the delicious irony of movie critics and newspapers praising del Toro's works, while selling their drivel as part of their war on video games.

EDIT: Edge's recent extra on this article made me realize that I skipped one of the most quotable lines of all:

The first Silent Hill was so beautiful, almost like a Lynch, Polanski or Romero type of horror experience.

Tomorrow I'll start building the man a statue. Ivory, gold and all that.

Sunday, August 24, 2008

Stanley's Invaders! and collateral damage

I don't need to tell you the whole story about the recent uproar, notably at Kotaku (and more here), that's rocked our little world, following Douglas Edric Stanley's Invaders! showing at Leipzig this year.
All the (American) gaming world is ablaze and largely obfuscated.

Since there are rumours about Gamasutra deleting comments, I feel entitled to quote myself here, just in case, after dropping a stone over here...

There is a message to read through this. As I have understood and as it's been repeated all over the Internet, in a period when there's not much to say about video games, we can read the following:

"The more you shoot them, the more they keep coming. It is not productive. You still loose, in the end."

This, of course, hardly applies to any complete war strategy, if you think about it, only because there always are basic limiting factors to any conflict. Morale, pride, survival and mere numbers. Once you destroy them, the war is over.
Yes, you can win, in a certain way, by annihilating all of your enemies, right down to the point where you need to make the boldest moves and bomb houses, destroying the civilians before they can turn into soldiers.
There's been that short game on this theme, as you had to fire rockets on some random Middle East city and see the population keep turning into "terrorists" as you kept filling the screen with death and more craters.

There is one thing sure here; the game Invaders is certainly not the best to pick for this kind of message, notably because the whole and correct message itself, once all parts have been considered, reads thusly: "don't bother".
Yes, don't bother against the invaders, and you can see how this is terribly wrong on all possible fronts. There’s little surprise, then, that this attempt at criticism is a failure.
It only helps to fuel antagonism and false ideas.
The sarcastic Game Over message punctuated by “Support Our Troops” has to be read “send more”, like handkerchiefs. More people to the grinder!

But the execution is downright horrible, since the final message can be read the following way:

Don't bother picking arms as your rights are being scoffed at, don’t bother fighting back as your beloved ones' bones and blood are turned into mortar, part of a sinister and cynical construct.

This does not apply to 9/11 only.
In fact, 9/11 is probably the less relevant event to pick if you wanted to forward such a message.
Much better examples are to be found across this lovely planet, during the recent years.
Countries in Africa... East Europe... or even Lebanon... you name it.

This man didn’t properly appreciate the game’s entire mechanic, as it’s about resistance.
A fundamental rule that drives the play is “resistance is futile.”

He awkwardly uses it for his political message, which I think is close to what I highlighted at the top of my post.

The game’s message has never been “stop bombing aliens because they’ll come to haunt you and level your cities, as retribution.”

Unless I missed an obscure official backstory about the origin of the Invaders conflict, courtesy of Taito, maybe?

Ah, artists... tss tss.

EDIT: Wait, can you feel the hypocrisy? It's called World Trade Center, by Oliver Stone and featuring good looking ladies (yeah, because fat chicks would have just made the towers collapse sooner).
I bet your bank account is the ultimate frontier.

Wednesday, August 20, 2008

Boosting Wi-Fi: Linksys’ Range Expander

The broken network

For years I’ve been yelling like crazy anytime my ethereal connection would suddenly (and rather frequently) loose gallons of information across the volume of my house, lost in a limbo, surrounding us and penetrating us (eek!).
I’ve been eyeing those signal boosters for quite some time, and back then, they were damn expensive. But better times have come, and I made the decision to acquire one of those boosters, which act as relays.

I’ve noticed that all other laptops, all using a combination of B and G protocols, had no issue to receive and send data no matter where, regardless of the unfavourable location of the router. However, my own PC and its Asus Wi-Fi card (WL-138G V2), always lagged behind. The black sheep of the lot if you want. I’m no expert in networks, and I though the card would solve all problems after trying several and truly mediocre Wi-Fi USB keys.

That along the fact that the provider’s box was particularly erratic in its automatic IP addressing, so I had to pass everything on manual, giving a specific IP to each machine and playing around protections.

It was time to change the situation.
So, I cracked the purse, and went for one of those magic relays. I bought the following model, the Wireless-G Range Expander (WRE54G), but only after reading a lot of stuff on internet. Anytime it gets technical, I always spend hours being sure that I’m not going to flush my hard earned money down the toilet. As usual, you get mixed feelings. Some people it’s mediocre but you don’t know if they’re idiots who couldn’t tell a mouse from a shaver, others say it’s fantastic but you don’t know if they are network übergeeks either.

You finally go by instincts and consider that most of the reviews are positive, and that Linksys is a division of the renowned Cisco.

Fast forward to the day I decide to open the box. The manual is rather enigmatic. Shit. The reviews said it was extremely simple to install, but sorry, things seem just too easy to make sense.
I started reading the sort of folded flyer which serves as a manual.

They tell you to plug the RE (Range Expander) to the router with the Ethernet cable. However, the line that follows says that if you want to use the Auto config function, just place the RE next to the router.
Huh, OK. My network is set manually. I just have no idea how bad it’s going to go if I let a machine do stuff on its own, so I pick the first solution.
So I give it some juice.

Then comes the absolutely stellar paragraph:

If your existing wireless network has security disabled, proceed to Step 2: Using the Auto Configuration Button.
If your existing wireless network has security enabled, proceed to Step 3: Using the Setup Wizard.

Wait. Of course I have a security on my network for crissake! The router alone is supposed to be a protection. I use encryption keys. The whole network is set up manually, and the hotspot is invisible.
How the hell couldn’t there by any security?
Obviously, we need Step 3.

Enter dozens and dozens of minutes of fiddling with the laptop (how fortunate that I had one), plugging the damn RE, using the damn CD, trying various combinations to finally have the relay pick the IP of my laptop (it would have been wiser if that thing had not attempted to do that), therefore kicking the laptop out of the network. Of course I also forgot that poor old computer needed to be restarted once the connection was lost (activating, repairing and tweaking connections from windows doesn’t work, no matter the tool or the panel). Meanwhile, although having borrowed a perfectly valid IP, the Magic Wizard couldn’t connect to the network, probably because it was just too dumb to use the manual parameters it robbed from my laptop. Cheeky thing.
I ran ipconfigs a million, but the damn piece of plastic drove me mad. There, I pulled everything off the wall and plugs and stuff and ended resetting the RE to its factory settings.

So I had to go back to the other solution, and here’s how it worked for me and my manually set IP network. Much easier, may I say.

How I did it right

Put that RE next to your laptop, preferably sitting next to your Wi-Fi spot, then press that Auto Configuration button on the RE for six seconds (to be sure), and then open your internet browser on the computer.
Type the RE’s by default IP, (logically, enter the password provided in your manual, and then, from that first page panel, enter the other parameters manually (SSID, bridge, provided network address, etc.) and save that freaking stuff altogether.

You have the option to set the broadcast protocol on “B”, “G” or “mixed”.
“G” should work with most computers, it’s the superior protocol, and going for a pure option gives better results on all points.
I tried “mixed”, but it was rather terrible, laptops didn’t gain anything, nor did my own computer, and the RE’s option flickered on its own between “B” and “mixed” when I came back to the setting panel. So I put it on pure “G”, which corresponded to what my Wi-Fi card was meant for anyway.

I moved the RE next to my computer, and now, I enjoy a 100%, five bars perfect flux, either way.
Aside from the difficulty to refresh the setting panel after I saved it, the stuff now works perfectly, and comes with all the tools required to set it anywhere in your house. Walls, tables, anything.

Monday, August 18, 2008

Shigeru Miyamoto and RPGs

I'm still hesitating to order Power Up: How Japanese Video Games Gave the World an Extra Life.
I went around for reviews which would help me, and found a couple of informative ones, notably at Gameology. Unfortunately, it's been confirming some of my fears, and will certainly not help me make the jump.

In the advent that I may buy it someday, I'll borrow that quote from Shigeru Miyamoto, apparently found on page 88, about his view of the RPG genre (initially duplicated at Gameology):

I personally have a fundamental dislike of the RPG system," says Shigeru Miyamato. "I think that in RPGs, you are completely bound hand and foot and can't move. Only gradually, as your character gains powers, do you become able to move your hands, your feet…you come untied slowly. And in the end, you feel powerful. So what you can get out of an RPG is a feeling of happiness, but I don't think that is a game that is fundamentally fun to play.

Somehow, it's very understandable, in light of what he's been doing for all of his years, about how games have to be fun and simple, and easy to pick for immediate playful experiences.
The book seems to have its load of other crunchy details, so the final decision is still up in the air...

Friday, August 15, 2008

OMGZ Carrier Command 2!!

Sequels are not bad.
Sequels are not bad.
Sequels are not bad.

*opens an eye, glances at the shelves*

My god! Sequels are not bad sequels are not bad sequels are not bad sequels are not bad sequels are not bad sequels are not bad sequels are not bad...

A sequel to Carrier Command has been announced.
It is THE (t3H) game I'd have loved to work on for an update to the current generation. It was a fantastic game. I played it on both the Amstrad and Atari for hours.
The idea of cruising between islands with a nuclear warship at full throttle, only to arrive to destination and see that your colony had been devastated was paradoxically fun. Meeting the enemy cruiser was even better. You knew that with a good strategy, certain islands would be targets of choice, depending on the way your opponent grew his domination, so with a bit of luck and good timing, you could come in time and try to take it down.
It took so much time to rotate the ship and sail away that you could eventually deal sufficient damage to push it back before it could fully complete its manoeuvre, and eventually destroy it, but that was hard.

I really hope Bohemia Interactive Studio won’t screw up. There’s a lot of potential for multiplayer here. Wait for 2010.

EDIT: A rather spot on review of the game. It was just so complex and good, you have to consider the context.

Thursday, August 14, 2008

Fad boss says the Sega is not a Wii

In preparation to the arrival of MadWorld on the Wii, Simon Jeffery (SoA boss) decided to go shake some coconut tree at Edge (ex Next Generation), with the following trumpeting announcement (which we all knew about):

The Wii is a very cost effective platform to experiment with. There is a lot of crap coming out for the Wii in general.
If it’s not a good game, it doesn’t sell. That flood of crap will die down as publishers become more coherent.

Hey! Nice PR Simon.
I still find a lot of irony in that, considering the junk Sega has released over the last years.
I’m still not sold on the new Sonic Unleashed, called Sonic World Adventure in Japan. Huh, the more distant from the USA, the more sissy the name.

The Wii is a great opportunity for hitting hardcore gamers. No one is doing that.
With MadWorld from Platinum Games, we are trying to show that millions of Wii gamers want to move on to mature games.
They don’t have to have an Xbox 360 to do that.

Well, for the moment, yes, they do. That or the PS3.
What we see is, after all, Nintendo remembering that they still were there to sell the Wii and its rubbish platform balances because of legions of faithful fans.
I'd also question what's mature about slicing limbs and choppin' heads off...

“The Wii is just a fad” argument [is] very much disproven.

This only because of Nintendo’s knee jerking move which surprised everybody, although I think they were just pushing the inevitable, even after those repeated claims that the hardcore segment were to be dismissed.
Remember, the casual audience was clearly not going to support the console beyond more gimmicky additions. They’d be actually very shocked that their little posh universe would be raped by the inroad of such heretic violence on their own sacred lands:

It seems a shame that the game's manufacturer have decided to exclusively release this game on the Wii. I believe it will spoil the family fun image of the Wii.

The image indeed.

It's basically all they care about. That's the core of the buzz, it's about "mii too" demeanour.

They want to entertain that idea that they're not old but current, that they're playing video games too, they even have bet on the most successful console, which loves them (and their money) in return, a machine for a civilized age, gratifying their assumed flair and even their imagined superiority to gamers who still live in a metaphorical cave, clutched to primitive and violent steam machines, and this makes them feel warm and fuzzy inside, but it's superficial to the highest degree.

But the realities of business come. Pride is hurt.

The masquerade is over, for there will be blood on the hands of Wii owners.

Wednesday, August 13, 2008

Retailers & Bundles

A recent discussion at the Escapist’s forums drifted towards a subtopic which concerns a very old belief of mine, so I commented on it. Replying to forum member j-e-f-f-e-r-s:

If developers and publishers want people to buy their games, the simple solution is to make buying games a more preferable option to piracy. How? Well, there are a number of ways.

Firstly, game prices need to come down. A new game in HMV can go for nearly fifty quid. I could buy the Director's Cut of the Lord of the Rings trilogy, and it still wouldn't cost as much as Assassin's Creed. Ask any mother umming and aaing about getting their kid a console for their birthday, and the same answer crops up- "But the games are so expensive." It's easy to see why people resort to piracy, when going out and buying a game is such an expensive investment. I remember when Playstation games cost £25 quid. To me, that was a fortune. Now, it seems like pocket change.

Be careful through, by lowering a product's price, you also depreciate its value in the consumer's mind. They'll think of it as a cheap game. The only real good way to sell wagons of the game at a lower price is also to boost the marketing campaign to make it sure that people get that it's a good game.
In these days of poverty, you could even play it consumer friendly, with directly open messages about we sell the game at this price not because it's bad, but because we want you to have the power to purchase it for the full true experience.
Or something like that.

Secondly, why don't developers include more freebies with their games? Perhaps this may seem a little corny, but people love free stuff. The fact that piracy is a problem shows that by itself. Why not get Capcom to include a free poster, or some stickers, or some badges, or something with Devil May Cry? People love things like that, and last time I checked the Pirate Bay wasn't giving away free Glados posters with its Portal torrents. Things like this may seem inconsequential, but people love to feel like they've got a bargain, and extra goodies help this no end.

Yes, boxing has really been underappreciated. It would have been neat to buy DMC4 in a wooden dark box with metallic bolts which would have looked like it could house Ivory and Ebony.
Imagine buying Tron 2.0 in an Identity Disc, instead of some random square box?

Thirdly, why don't publishers negotiate more with retailers to make buying games a more attractive option? How about if you buy this game, you get a voucher entitling you to 10% off the next title you get in-store? Or why not use 2-for-1 deals to get rid of those surplus copies of Psychonauts you've got in the back room? Hey, here's another idea. You get bands turning up at CD stores to do signings, play gigs and promote their latest efforts right? Why not get developers to actually go out to game stores, demo their latest offerings for anyone interested, and sign any copies of their previous games that people may have brought along? People will have another reason to go to the game store, and who knows, maybe they'll pick up another game while they're there.

I'm going to tell you why.

Bundles are a secret weapon. I literally DREAM of the day you'll build your own basket at a brick & mortar retailer, have access to very low prices for hits the moment you buy more of them.
You should really get out of the shop with rich and complete packages, several games, offers, tickets for online services, significant reductions for future sales, plenty of goods, all that stuff.

Is what I believe in correct? I don’t know, I usually try to get empirical about it as much as I can. The experience here is everybody’s experience. It’s about purchase power.

My belief comes as such:

There’s a lack of faith in bundles.

Real ones. Not just mere associations of one console with some games. I’m talking of genuinely super packs, rich in games and goodies.
Let’s see, for years, I’ve been convinced that a good way to boost games sales was to pack above-average and greater products, of various flavours, into one big box, and sell it at a reasonable price.

Valve’s Orange Box is just an example of that. Oh, true, it does not contain anything really shiningly new, and the fresher element of it is Portal, but all of the stuff inside is of true quality, although a bit old to some extent.
Besides, the price is not exactly as low as I hoped it would be, but relatively speaking, it’s almost a bargain.
On a similar note, Steam’s game packs are equally good. It’s about time.
There have already been several retail packs released over the years, notably for the PC market. Lucas Arts has released a couple of good ones as well, albeit expensive.
In that, there’s only a shy beginning.

Not all is bad though. Eyeing a famous British retailer’s catalogue for a moment, I can spot an example of a good bundle for one of the next-gen consoles, with several good games plus an extra controller, and you do gain around £40.
But damn, that’s only £40 for buying so much, and the choice is, basically, buy it or don’t.

It needs to get further than those moderate attempts at teasing the consumer’s wallet.
Why not make much more of them?
Hell, why not let customers create their own bundles?

Put each game into a category, and thus let people complete their bundles as they wish. The more they buy, the more they can get as bonus content (or the less content costs).
Yes, as you noticed, you can buy a lot of stuff on the Amazons, but you’re not going to get any significant reduction of costs at all, until they decide what can be cobbled at reduced tags: it’s not always interesting, nor occurring that often, and in the end, there’s a stringent refusal to allow the consumers more liberty. In a way, there is no choice, it’s still very oppressive.

That’s not how market is supposed to work. People often forget that as long as there’s someone in front of you, no matter the importance of the store, you can always get reduced total prices, even at Wal-Mart, in theory. It’s just that a very small fraction of the population seems to dare doing it. There’s nothing wrong in that practice and it should not be limited to your small corner shop.

It’s a shame, because I don’t think people hate the brick & mortar shops that much. Internet orders are a great commodity, but there’s no that bizarre spirit which I both find absurd and yet joyful, the mere idea of being an unit of a society wandering down the streets or halls, eyeing booths and other shop windows, letting your curiosity and thirst fly around and take you by the hand towards an item you suddenly compulsively need to possess.
Being part of the flow, notably during those massive purchase weeks, you’re an ant, and you’re happy with it.

Past certain levels, even add bonuses, surprises, whatever.
Why not attach those average games to such packs, for one or two dollars, since you’re not going to sell them anyway one by one? I mean really selling them for near to nothing, instead of trying to lie to consumers and fail to sell them to people who know they’re not good enough?
Why not even make a formula where you register, so then each of the bundles you compose and present at the cashier are garmented with two surprise games for $2-3 more (quality being totally random, but being sure it fits with the ratings boards as far as audiences are concerned), just to make the packaging even more exciting?
You could either go for a total surprise (the retailer would either add games randomly or depending on stocks and how certain games sale) or ask for at least being surprise games belonging to a certain genre.

Sure, it’s going to be hard to get your consumers buying more stuff if they’re stuck to your average mindless and repetitive mob bashing item looting game…

Of course, this could be very naïve, once again (I’m really good at that sometimes). If things were so easy, so simple, and going on so kindly, we’d probably live in perfect a world in fantastic cities, without violence, degradation, nor segregation… hey, that’s why video games exist anyway, no? :)

Or maybe it’s time someone boots such a business, call it venture “Bundle it”, and see if it sticks.

Monday, August 11, 2008

Opening the valve

This blog is a curious monster, for which I cannot get fully satisfied by its design and function, although it serves its original purpose to honourable degrees.
One aspect of the system I am still unsure of is the ability to comment on what I say.
I didn't allow commentaries because I didn't plan to police any possible tantrum, empowered by the vacuous impertinence of some poor soul, that might creep through the cracks of my spirit’s fickle vacation.
I didn't even consider the plausibility of using the measly protection of foreign post pre-checking, but I think this is what I’ll resign myself to for the moment.
I clearly don’t want this to become a mess anytime soon, and this is my banana republic, but I'll allow you to drop a stone if you really wish to.

Sunday, August 10, 2008

Tron 2.0, TR2N, TWOn and MMOs

That’s it. It’s coming. Tron 2. Or more accurately, but not necessarily easier to say, TR2N, a very edgy name voted by Mickey’s fan club for the sequel to the brilliant and visionary Tron.

As always, the question is do we need it? There are always going to be fans cheering en masse, I could clearly be among them, yet a touch of objectivity is not hurting.

But first and foremost, let’s watch that trailer again:

The two light cycles are duelling in a richer arena, which offers much more options and requires much more skills than the old plane in a box we had in Tron.
Looking at the updated, slick and futuristic designs of the environment, identity disc and light cycles, the message is rather clear: the universe has evolved a lot since Tron defeated Master Control.
It’s still dark out there, or in there actually. There’s a storm ahead and a menacing sky looming above the arena.
There’s more flexibility in how and where the road gladiators can morph into a vehicle now, has observed since the blue player, looking like he’s trying to escape, does the transformation thing in midair after executing a high jump.
The bikes have headlights and light stripes which can be switched off for some stealth pursuit, as well as folding out aero fins to break faster. The moves are far more fluid and the bikes can jump. They are quite real in their physics now. But the most important part of all, the trail walls, are still there, as deadly as ever. The arena itself is multi levelled, complex and has different sections, some being out of your typical SF racing game we’ve been served with for more than a decade, including transparent platforms hanging above the void, while the other section is akin to a path carved through a natural canyon. A fucking nice map. ;)

Talking about the players, they’re more like avatars, all CGI, up to the face, and I think it would have been better to use the same method from the original film, with of course the polish of compositing from this new century.
Oh well…

You can see the irony here, in how the graphics of the game are not light years ahead of what the current generation of machines can prove now, while it was the case when Tron was released.
Of course, this could add some credibility to the mix, but it looses points on the mystery side of things, a point I’ll detail later on.

In terms of plot, it may appear that the film ignores Monolith’s clever game, Tron 2.0, even if the film shows something which might appear logical, in that the bike racing should have been more modern in the game, mirroring the evolution of game design as technology grows. On the other hand, Monolith probably wanted to give the players the chance to play classic bike race as it used to be back then. Maybe they should have proposed both, a modern style racing and the classic arena one, which would have been dubbed as retro within the machine world.

Now, following the game’s plot (or lack of thereof) would be a bit hard, or nonsensical. Still, that’s more or less typical Hollywood for you. While films like Avalon, ExistenZ and Nirvana did pay a good deal of respect to the video gaming lore, it’s a different story there, never mind if this franchise was the best suited to actually pay homage to any game related content already produced beforehand. I wouldn’t really be bitter if Tr2n would reject all ties to the genuine video gaming lineage started by Monolith’s opus, but that’s still another form of irony for you.
Not everything seems to be ditched, though. The new light cycles are a slight upgrade from the old ones, freed of the closed canopy, and are much less extravagant than the super light cycle from Tron 2.0.
Monolith’s arena, although as basic and flat as the original one, had a legit exit towards a path exploiting the volumetric plausibility of a 3D environment, like the unauthorized off track zones in the film.

Plot wise, the technology in Tron was already far fetched and implied impossible realities, not in what could be done in the future (safe for the sort of beaming pad), but what was possible back then. Computers, high technology and servers were all part of an ensemble which didn’t endanger the suspension of disbelief to the degree it might today. Decades ago, computers and internet were not so well spread than they are today. The obscure setting of having a super corporation like ENCOM housing, in its basement, the live experience of a whole digital universe was pure fantasy, sheer magic, but it worked.
The less you know how it works, the more divine it is. Ignorance can indeed be bliss sometimes. :)
Right now, I’m not sure this aspect of the universe will remain as solid as it did years ago.

But maybe the updated world of Tron will speak to us in a different way. Maybe the fact that we have virtual universes, like Second Life, will actually reinforce the credibility of the film’s universe.
Mind you, the idea of having sentient programs feeling love and hatred within a virtual reality is still pure gibberish, but it’s cool nonetheless, and even if today, we’re invaded by life sapping MMOs, none manages to deliver the essence of what made Tron’s digital reality so unique.

Yes, Tron was about MMOs and genuine emotions down there, decades before they’d become a sort of semi-reality, and we’re not even there yet. In that, Tron is a cyberpunk precursor on the silver screen.
In such contexts, evil is always present in a form or another. This time, Flynn seems to be part of some nasty action going on.
Yes, that's right, Jeff Bridges is back.
So why is his behaviour so ambiguous? A most interesting question. Why he’s in the VR and seems to live a jaded existence there is puzzling. Maybe something went terribly wrong on the real life side of things. After all, we know nothing about the state of the world. Imagining what Flynn’s life could have been after his return to the real world is an essential key to the understanding of his attitude. He’s probably been considered a nutjob by claiming that “programs have rights!” or “I nearly banged a spyware who loved me” you know.
Or something else entirely. The whole bleached Nintendo-like white room where he’s seen sitting in a meditating posture, almost supervising the race, just has you wonder what the hell he’s doing there. He surely doesn’t seem to take much pleasure in the destruction of a player. Maybe Flynn has been taking his hero status too seriously… but it was so real, who could blame him?

I also wonder how far they’ll push and diversify the functions of Tr2n’s virtual universe. Probably far enough to warrant a new and richer Tron game.
One of the main motives behind this new movie could be to revive a franchise in order to launch a big game. There’s just too much neon signs pointing to this opportunity, and surely too much money to make, if Age of Conan and World of Warcraft are anything to go by.

Should we expect some awkward name such as Troniverse? :P

Final point: in the dialogue between the defeated blue player and yellow player, who looks like a younger Flynn, blue player tries to gain pity by protesting that it’s just a game, but younger Flynn calmly gazes at the horizon, before answering “not anymore” and giving the hapless blue player the final blow.
For some reason, I understood “got to be more” and I thought this sounded better. The real line sounds much more like a random movie poster tagline.

Truth is, I’m terribly excited like a squealing little bit over this new one. Yes, I know, I’m not really helping Hollywood questioning their lack of originality there.

Finally, you may want to read this article about Tron 2.0, and get a look at this excellent page about the making of Tron.
Syd Mead worked on the design for both film and game, one can only hope that he’s onboard for this adventure as well.

Friday, August 08, 2008

Come on Turrican!

How it started

Back in April 2007, we were told that Factor 5 returned to the cave, dug some skulls and bones, and unveiled an ancient franchise they had lost a long time ago. Turrican.

Woah, I couldn’t have been more excited by the news.
Oh but there was a catch, and I think it’s time for me to talk about it.
By picking quotes…

We've been concepting quite a bit internally. That's another universe creation thing. I was looking at Metroid Prime's reinventing of a franchise that had been out there for quite awhile, and we're facing the same thing with Turrican.
There's aspects of the old games where people will feel betrayed if we don't transform them into the next generation. On the other hand, there's other stuff which is simply cheesy, let's face it. I don't think gamers will accept those things anymore. It's a fine line to balance.

Yeah, 2D was all about world exploration in our games, but also about scale. That is one of the things we've transformed into our 3D games, where it's all about scale from macro to micro. I think some of these elements actually do apply, and they're quite different from what you've seen, say, in Metroid, which has a very rigid design.

One thing not to forget is that Nintendo has been sure to make the Metroid franchise a hit success, keeping it alive with extremely sophisticated mechanics in each single game. Nintendo never left the franchise in a deep coma state for years. They’ve always kept it on the front. They had the power to do so as well.

Now, the similarities between Turrican and certain aspects of Metroid are striking, notably between Turrican’s starfish / roller blade mode and Metroid’s morph ball. Metroid has always been expanding those mechanics and making them even richer game after game, offering more opportunities of play and action. One single example would be the bombs dropped in Metroid often used to reveal passages and jump higher through proper coordination, while the bombs of the Turrican suit in disc mode didn’t do more than damage enemies.
Turrican lagged behind in other departments. Bionic Commando had a grappling hook. It was a key and great feature. So for some reason, it found its way into the SNES iterations, Mega Turrican (Genesis version of Super Turrican) and Super Turrican II. Not a bad thing, surely, but not what we’d call a revolution neither something original.

When I look at the games I played decades ago, most of them wouldn’t stand a chance now, unless they were released within the limited confines of Virtual Consoles, XBLAhs and other PSNs. Of course, back then, fields were vast and wild, with genres unexploited.
The action was great, the collection of crystals compulsive, but that’s some very hardcore stuff there, and the action itself wasn’t exactly supported by what we could necessarily call visually jaw dropping sceneries. They were correct, but that’s all. They, above all, served their main function, which was to provide territories to explore, but in themselves, they didn’t make much sense.
That and the fact that the universe seemed to be a mish mash of about everything SF of that time.

Failures can happen. The history of Turrican is not all shine and glam. Some of the biggest mistakes surely being trying to turn the game into an adaptation of the movie Universal Soldier, but ending with an absurd hybrid with no soul nor sense, to say the least.
Besides, although being a dedicated SNES player, and fan of Turrican, I can’t recall hearing much about the Super versions.

Updating play from 2D to 3D (B.A.D.)

Putting this media coverage point aside, we really need to tackle the most important question which will decide of the success or death of any future iteration of Turrican:

Does Turrican fit in the 21th century?

The expression "it’s about time" could hardly convey more topics than it does now.

Factor 5 surely don’t want to do a Rygar 3D, right? Not that it was bad, but somehow a great deal of the original game’s bizarre and minimalist ambience seemed to be lost en route, probably butchered by what some execs thought would please new audiences. When you look at the game, the universe doesn’t really feel that different from any other random action game.

There has already been an attempt at moving the game to the 3D front, but it never saw the light. The odds are great. Think of Metal Slug going 3D. What the fuck, really?

I know I’m going to sound like a fundie in what follows, but there are realities to consider.

We know that we’re very likely dealing with a strong business move there. Budgets are not the same, and the mitigate success of Lair on the PS3 has not really helped the ex-German studio.
So they attempt some voodoo on Turrican.

If they move it to the 3D world, they have to acknowledge the existence of monsters, and future ones.
The land of action has been hit hard by Halo and Gears of War. Pseudo-realistic stuff with sometimes a gritty edge, this is not Turrican, and yet that’s what the audiences are served with.
Now you have to put cover in each single game, physics and things I probably some other staples.

Trying to revive a long dead franchise and strongly altering key elements of the past is extremely risky, up to the point you wonder why simply not make that a whole different game?
I’m concerned about the modification. It’s not angst, just some slight itching anxiety down the back see.
Will the game play like SDK? Or Earth Defense Force 2017? Go figure, the trip to the kingdom of 3D will be most difficult.

See, if you’re going to call it Turrican, it will only move the bowels of people who’ve played these games when it was live. This means grown gamers dragging a good deal of nostalgia. The new players probably know shit nor care about the franchise at all.
So that’s a steady process, and you really need to check thrice the definition of faithful in your dictionary.

Factor 5 would need to find a way to make a workable grappling system if they were to keep the SNES system. Unless they have some super idea in the back of their head, the system could already feel dated and would obviously be compared to the new 3D Bionic Commando’s system.
One of Turrican’s most important game mechanics, the cannon fired in swivelling mode all around the avatar, was entirely dependant of the 2D view. How does this translate into a 3D environment?

While I’m certain this mechanic would have been perfect for another 2D game, I’m not sure it works for a 3D one, nor how we would retrieve the origin of the system in the new form weapon, which could surely become some omnidirectional gun, by moving a cursor across a sphere. How would this be any different than a thousand games already released by now?
How is that interesting, since other than those aspects, Turrican as a whole doesn’t offer much functions that makes it different.

All is this worth the hassle? How couldn’t it end like a clone of Metroid?
They’d need to add a lot of stuff. Would it still be Turrican though?
Again, why keep the dusty name?

I’m extremely tempted to say that Turrican 3D is a nonsense, at least for the moment.

Does the franchise even need to move to the 3D realm yet?

Shouldn’t it be wiser right now, for Factor 5, to sharpen their knives on the traditional gameplay, just to see if they can do it again, and make a solid 2D game?
It just makes sense, really.

Austin Powers?

After the concerns about the transfer of 2D mechanics to the 3D world, we have to consider the franchise as a whole, the universe, the design, and see if all that would still work these days.

Factor 5 thinks that there’s a major barrier to break there, that of so called cheese. You know, stuff that is outdated and feels embarrassing nowadays.

OK, so just answer to this: Am I living on the same planet where another Superman movie was released two years ago, with the same guy wearing a flapping red cape, sporting a big yellow S on his torso, glued his hairs with amniotic fluid and flew in tight blue pantyhose? Just… please. Couldn’t it be cheesier than this?

The film cost at the very least $270 million… O.O … and still grossed $391,081,192 in more than four thousand theatres across the world.
If there’s a market for that, I’m sure there’s a market for those who cherish the fond memories they closely keep within their hearts.

Cheese, as they put it, is not always a killing blow to the success of a franchise.
That’s coming from a new Battlestar Galactica fan. I have vague but pleasing recollections of the original show, but I know I only watched it with a passing interest when we’d miraculously catch it on TV, and the family wasn’t that much hooked on it anyway… however, Buck Rogers or Space 1999, the story was entirely different, don’t ask why.

More concretely, there’s a shit load of cheese in Farscape, and it’s great. There’s also a great lack of cheese in the new Star Wars stuff, which is largely why the new films seem to be so empty, because a totally assumed level of cheesiness what was made the films what they are.

Turrican, besides, is not pure cheese. In fact, the cheesy elements aren’t that numerous. You don’t need to turn Bren Mc Guire (the hero's name) into a turbo testosterone mound of muscles you know. Mc Guire originally was a young charming lad with a funny hairdo serving in the United Planets Freedom Force and a memeber of what looked like a sort of boys band.
Maybe updating the combat suit’s design a very little? I don’t even know if it’s necessary. I can see it coming from miles away, slick, shiny, with more Japanese fins sticking out of the back, more stupid glow here and there, and even more super menacing look.
It still look at Darth Vader’s stupid helmet and insect eyes and the mouth grid which looks like something I’d pee through, and it’s loved by millions.
Probably because when the character works, such details become trivial.

Is it nostalgia speaking? Surely, there has to be a lot, but the universe would loose a lot by following the contemporary trend of making everything darker, edgy, robotic and slick.
There’s something teasingly boombastick about the aura of the classic Turrican and its action.
This is actually a force of the franchise, one that sets it apart.
All pulp SF back then had tints of disco in it to some degree. Disco is still very catchy.

Seriously, if the 2D gameplay is definitely addictive, I don’t think you’d have too much to fear about the style of the game.

The game, however, would be greatly awaited by the old fans, and that’s an enormous responsibility. In my opinion, going for a classical opus first would be wiser, if only to probe the waters, see if it stick to the wall, and if yes, then think about developing the franchise with a 3D lineage, while keeping 2D iterations on portable consoles.

After all, talking about developing 2D games is not absurd. A new Megaman, old style, is in the works, people are perfectly happy with that.
Megaman is a solid franchise that doesn’t need to move to the 3D plane (yes, Megaman 3D, or Legends, or even X7, as we should call them, were just pure cash-ins to surf on the 3D wave, Megamans in name only). The days of the Playstation crusades and conversions are long gone, and people are getting used to play 2D games on machines which cost a hundred meals.
We’ve been served with a good number of 2D games lately, notably on the DS and PSP, and very good ones by the way, like Ultimate Ghosts n’ Goblins, an amazing and gorgeous gem on all points, which approached the difficulty intelligently, by providing an entry level adjusted for modern standards, while keeping truly super hardcore difficulties.
It had to deal with the critics of people not understand why the game had such an unforgiving jump system, but that’s part of the franchise, that’s how it’s played. Despite all the harsh criticism the game took from rather ignorant reviews, this game scored very well, and did grab high scores across the whole gaming press.

Besides, the franchise enjoys a lot of fan revivals and remakes. And two games for mobiles phones. All in 2D of course.

But there’s more to look at…

Victory themes for a space hero

The music, that constant paradox of often being treated last in games and yet mattering most.

I feel guilty to talk about it at the end of this article, since I treasure music in games as much as the gameplay, and I’m literally convinced that it’s what made the Turrican series so great.

Turrican would not be Turrican in the hearts of old gamers if not for Chris Hülsbeck’s escapist themes.

There’s something special about the Turrican style. The chiptune and Van Halenish melodies… the industrial noises… the complex and varied themes I loved listening to in loop, the punchy rhythms, the upbeat songs and the dramatic mood inducing hues, all scored among the best original soundtracks ever made, and great sources for remixes and other covers.

It’s not without surprise that this music still enjoys great success and is played by symphonic orchestras (keep an eye on Symphonic Shades).
I tell you, the music is really one of the major essences which originally defined Turrican.
They literally pushed you through the levels.

Well, that’s for the computer. On the SNES, it’s a very different story.
How could all this fantastic material suddenly turn into such bleak “compositions”?
I don’t know why, it seems like Chris got severely restricted in his abilities or imagination, and aside from using bare variations of Turrican II’s Undirectional Fight theme for the main theme of the console titles mixed to pale shades of the pure and original kick ass themes of Turrican I & II, the rest was rather weak and typical console background techno noise for action games of that period.

So if somehow, they manage to revive the transcendental vibe of the old themes, then it’s absolutely going to rock.
There would be no shame using chiptunes to some degree, they’re in vogue.

Right now, we don’t really know if the new game has moved beyond the pitch stage. If yes, god knows what it’s actually looking like. I can only cross fingers in the hope that they don’t ruin it.

PS: I suppose that on the legal side of things, it turned out positively in favour of Factor 5 against Rainbow Arts and SoftGold, since they didn't speak of Thornado at all. They clearly said a Turrican sequel.

Tuesday, August 05, 2008

Quake Returns

I'm most curious about this.
Quake III Arena and its fabulous gameplay are being embedded within a web gaming service, called Quake Live. Q3 always had an amazing mix of high level technique and extremely fast paced arcade play which I've never seen matched in any other FPS thus far. Quake IV's MP replicated this gameplay, demonstrating that beyond the new textures, you don't fix what ain't broken.
It's not surprising, then, that it's been chosen for the online port. Its power requirements are extremely low now, but still looks ace enough. I'm wishing this to work, this game really deserves to live longer and be experienced by all. The community around this game was huge, plenty of good memories... besides, if the work from the mod community also makes the transfer to this portal, we're talking about a huge amount of top quality maps and models there.

My piracy is bigger than yours

I nearly forgot about that one. Sometimes, I create a new file, give it a name, relative to a given topic which I might expand upon or not, and sometimes they get complete enough to make it to the blog.
This one was seeded after reading an article at Gamasutra, wherein Cevat Yerli was interviewed and took the chance to provide his own figures about piracy. It had me tempted to lay down a quick commentary about piracy, and jump in to point a finger at those who use this industry’s leech token as a convenient excuse for their games doing poorly on the PC, although I plainly acknowledge the problem this platform encounters in this particular domain.
Then this rather vague and shapeless bag of bytes sunk deep into my folder hierarchy.

Until then. It’s back, and it’s not happy at all.
Two recent events had me fingers trippy. One being Capcom wagging the skull flag for their concrete solid explanation behind Devil May Cry 4’s poor sales, the other being Michael Fitch dropping the hammer in a last spasm of courage and honour to reveal how Iron Lore Entertainment was mercilessly slain. These two extra sources of information had me pull that article-embryo out of the jar and grow it some lungs, a stomach and a tongue, since I’ve found some stuff to feed it.

A Crysis

The first article starts with Yerli blaming lower than expected sales because of a piracy ratio of 1 copy sold for 20 acquired illegally. The point here is not to dismiss the existence of a virulent piracy plague, but to understand that piracy is not the sole vector of failure or semi-failure here.

First, Yerli recognizes that Crysis did sell well. Not super well, but well, or good as he puts it. However you can understand that a slight fraction of the piracy lore means a great deal of cash to Crytek.

Secondly, and that’s where he hit the crux of the problem, is that while the article was titled “Crysis Developer Puts Piracy Ratio At 1:20”, we learn about marketing mistakes which would be swiftly ignored by many, but which in my opinion are all the more important here.

These mistakes, which I think did have a greater toll on sales than generally thought, were two fold.

  1. Improper information regarding the game’s minimum system requirements, which for a game like Crysis, almost an engine with some game in it, meant much more than for any other game. Crysis was Crytek’s booth. I am not saying they’re not going to sell their engine because of these bumps in their plans, since people know more than well what it does (and that’s the second part I address), but a misshaped listing of power requirements strikes me as an awkward fault, one I wouldn’t expect from those who made a business creating a top of the art engine.

  2. Badly timed announcements, pre-releases and schedules. Basically, they poked their own balloon, dented the hype by showing too much of the game and too early, and then letting delays flatten the cake, so when it came out, people were bit blasé.

When you’re dealing with games which cost so much on production and marketing, it’s understandable that such errors could hamper the success of the product. Negligible? I don’t think so.
Of course, it’s easier said than done, and they can’t be held as the unique reasons behind the unsatisfying sales numbers.

Devil May Cry, Capcom Surely Whines

This news had a lot of people chuckling in front of their screen, cause here we have a perfect example of men in charge crying at wolf and, as such, literally trivializing the issue of piracy to explain the poor results they read on their statistic sheets.

Short story shorter, Capcom’s Svensson used the official forums as his soapbox to let his pain reach out, for Devil May Cry 4’s sales on the PC suck terribly.

Let’s consider the very simple problem we have at hand.
Have you played Devil May Cry 3 or 4 anytime soon?
Well, check Gametrailers or Youtube if you wonder what these games are about.

The essential idea everybody would agree on is that this beat’em all is a typical arcade game, fitting perfectly for the living room style of fun. So what kind of gaming machine people put in their living rooms?
Consoles (if you say a PC, you go out, NOW!).

Basically, they try to shoehorn a game within a hardcore PC niche, while it’s part of a genre which has always been tailored for consoles, little sisters of the legendary coin up machines.
Piracy has possibly played some role there, but pushing such a game on a machine where it literally feels out of place is bad thinking. It would be folly to expect such a game do well on the PC.

On this topic, it would be interesting to consider the sales of Final Fantasy VII, released in ‘98 for Windows (‘97 for the Playstation). The context was different, but piracy already existed.

CSI: Maynard

At the Quarter to Three forums, Michael Fitch (THQ) put down a legitimate rant about the danger of piracy, the issues of developing on the PC, the retarded people in the world (we all did at some point) and how all this dooms the PC, and apparently put a bullet into ILE’s head.
A good read, and I’m not even done with that 20 pages long thread yet.
I couldn’t agree more on the flood of ridiculous pro-piracy arguments you can read on the internet, it’s literally baffling. Yes, that’s part of the world wide idiocy he points out.
On the other hand, if people were wealthier…

OK, let’s pretend I didn’t say that.
It’s rather obvious that those who keep their time grabbing illegal versions are rarely going to pay for a game, unless you put a cop behind them. That’s also one of the arguments used frequently, and mixed to the rest, looses its factualness.
The real problem is that it’s becoming easier to acquire pirated versions, as well as more and more people are becoming aware of this particular fact and the existence of download channels.

So we return to square one, where people meet and wonder how they could grab the consumers’ attention and love.
One pseudo solution that often comes back is to make quality games, offer a better content and extra stuff to those who bought the game. Notice how pro-piracy people diverted from this theme by saying that since many games are not properly finished or whatever, they shouldn’t pay for it, notably because they don’t consider that the game meets all the content quality requirements they’ve been waiting from it.
So you know, instead of, well, not buying it because apparently they hate it so much, they believe they’ve hit an arrangement by pirating it. Of course, how obvious!

I won’t epilogue on the idiots who think they help companies by playing illegal copies. They don’t. It’s a myth they love to sustain. Good for them.
But I’ll surely continue on the topic of the quality of the gaming experience to point out what I consider a mistake, using a tool which leaves to be desired.

ILE used a specific (third party) library which contained a rather blunt anti-piracy system, checking out if your version was a legal one or not. If not, the game would crash at the first quest, bringing you back to desktop.
Plus another security, if not more.
The problem: people unaware of the mechanism behind this event thought it was a bug. The fact that only owners of an illegal version would suffer this coded crash is just a bit of irony for you, since this game was bad mouthed as buggy like hell by people who didn’t pay for it anyway. It seems this bashing somehow made its way up to certain reviews.
The damage was done, and Iron Lore Entertainment studio is down. But careful here, there’s not necessarily a correlation. I know absolutely nothing about the game’s quality either.

Still, the decision was disastrous, and the protection design stupid in a way.
You could always say that the library was limited, they had to deal with it and all that jazz, but you surely know that a single message explaining to the player that if the game crashes, it’s because of the security system, would have circumvented the backslash due to sheer ignorance.
Also, why not consider the eventuality of a another background program monitoring the running, and popping a message if it detects the game crashing precisely for the reason you know?

Oh but see, some think that if you openly announced why and when the code would verify the legitimacy of your game, it would make the pirates’ life easier by knowing where to look at for the crack.

You see nothing wrong there?
OK, let’s look at Fitch’s posts a little more in details then:

The research I've seen pegs the piracy rate at between 70-85% on PC in the US, 90%+ in Europe, off the charts in Asia. I didn't believe it at first. It seemed way too high. Then I saw that Bioshock was selling 5 to 1 on console vs. PC. And Call of Duty 4 was selling 10 to 1. These are hardcore games, shooters, classic PC audience stuff. Given the difference in install base, I can't believe that there's that big of a difference in who played these games, but I guess there can be in who actually payed for them.

Let's dig a little deeper there. So, if 90% of your audience is stealing your game, even if you got a little bit more, say 10% of that audience to change their ways and pony up, what's the difference in income? Just about double. That's right, double. That's easily the difference between commercial failure and success. That's definitely the difference between doing okay and founding a lasting franchise. Even if you cut that down to 1% - 1 out of every hundred people who are pirating the game - who would actually buy the game, that's still a 10% increase in revenue. Again, that's big enough to make the difference between breaking even and making a profit.

Let’s look at the numbers for Bioshock and CoD4.

Do these games belong to a genre which is not known for being a staple of the PC gaming lore? No, they’re both FPSes, and many, including me, would say that you never played a FPS until you’ve played it on the PC. Any excuse to dispute this statement will be sanctioned by death.
So obviously the fault is not in the games’ genre.

Are these games made of large amounts of suck?
Oh no, certainly not.

So what could it be?

Were the ratios solely based on sales numbers, or did they account the install bases?
The first case would correspond to comparing 100 copies sold on the 360 and 20 sales on the PC. You’ve got a ratio of 5:1.
But what happens if you work from the estimations of PC sales which correspond to a horse power range between mid to high gaming performance? I’m pulling a number out of the blue here, but somehow I doubt that the 360 has outnumbered the quantity of PC which can run Bioshock or Call of Duty 4 smoothly enough.
In this second case, considering the number of PCs sold, let’s say far more than 360s, even if both systems had “sold” the same amount of copies, relatively speaking, the PC would have done worse than the 360.

So we’d rather consider that sales numbers were opposed and only that, if we don’t want to allege an even bleaker situation.

Fitch cited, later on, the relatively functional and efficient DRMs behind Bioshock and Mass Effect. But if the numbers forwarded by Fitch are reliable, and that the low sales are solely related to PC piracy, then the PC DRMs are an absolutely pathetic failure. How could he hold them as examples of as security systems which still give hackers a bone to chew if at the same time, he points to piracy being behind the low sales of such games on the PC, notably after presenting the ratios of death?

These protections either fail at protecting the game correctly, or they rebut consumers from buying the game because of their rigidity. The second option, although having some certain truth to it, is relatively absurd if we start thinking it would so fiercely affect sales, so it only leaves option one: they fail.

It leaves a sour taste in the mouth of ILE staff, and something tells me that had the publisher or ILE had not bothered with such a strict DRM at all, as absurd as it may seem to some, this nonsensical ruckus would have been avoided. Where word of mouth matters a lot, a badly thought DRM can literally kill a reputation, and thus the sales.

This is why I have a difficulty to consider that with the huge piracy on the PC, a polite message box, telling illegal owners why their copy of the game crashed, would have saved the game’s face without sacrificing sales numbers to more piracy. I’d even make a wager that the removal of any DRM wouldn’t change much.

I feel sad for ILE, but a bit of projection and forethought would have probably prevented this.

Worst Bugs, top three:

  1. PC shutdown.

  2. Blue screen of death.

  3. Return to Windows.

Literally putting anything in your game that makes it look like it’s buggy to the bone is bad thinking. It will surely serve as an example, for studios to think of the consequences.

When the cumbersome shield doesn’t protect from a backstab

Let’s get other references. Game Set Watch published two articles, Opinion: Casual Games and Piracy: The Truth, and its follow-up. Most striking elements: crazy piracy ratios (92%) for their casual game Ricochet Infinity, and how fighting piracy with various methods, including the most efficient one being fixing DRM exploits, hardly records as a blip on the radar.
They conclude that after all these efforts, they only gain one more sale for a thousand illegal downloads less, these downloads being different than the ones where you try the game and buy the full version, we’re talking about downloading the full game here, the exact opposite of buying the entire copy.
They did get significantly positive results with the first fix, a DRM update. But that was the first fix, and the 92% of piracy figure is obtained after all four fixes, after nearly two years of fiddling or so.

Sidenote: You can’t help thinking how (not so) amusing it would be if DRM builders made sure games kept being pirated.

The real question is: since your games get pirated up to rates of 90%, why do you still bother with anti-piracy protections? Up this point, it makes no difference, it's a waste of money which is best invested elsewhere, and all securities get cracked anyway... and we've rarely seen an anti-piracy system which wasn't intrusive in the lives of consumers.

There’s a point to consider. While it appears that pirates won’t buy games anyway, when your sales are afflicted by piracy rates up to 80-90%, then you can be sure that those who bought the game would still buy it even if the DRMs were removed.
Let me extrapolate that these customers either:

  1. have made the effort to pay the game, despite the rampant piracy.

  2. felt more comfortable knowing they had a legit copy.

  3. didn’t care about the DRM.

  4. didn’t even know it was there to begin with.

Remove the DRMs and those confirmed and precious sales won’t suddenly shrink like a snowball in hell.

More than often, DRMs are a hassle, the hell on Earth, encumbering customers and making pirates laugh (most of the time). This has been going on for years now, be it afflicting music, films or games. Companies manage to sign deals with governments, which deputes call laws, to be sure that de facto criminals (you by default) pay for their future crimes, fulfilled or not. You get taxes on various memory supports and what not and nothing gets done for that.
That’s like a bad episode of the 4th dimension or cyberpunk mixed into one. But it’s happening today, right now because giant business machines think strictly vertically to face a problem, without actually trying to dodge the piracy arrow by smarter moves, and governments think they know what’s better for the citizens and basically end fucking them up.

OK, that’s fine brave man, but how do you boost sales then?

Well, dear reader, I hope you’ll enjoy my next trick, which I called “Weasel my way out by announcing a future post about it”.

Monday, August 04, 2008

No controversy please: Saints Row on Wii

So Dan Sutton believes that a game like Saints Row would gain nothing with a bit of controversy on the Wii? Not even on a console that sells like hot cakes?
Is this a joke?
Oh, wait, the controversy has already started, on a new level: preemptive controversy.
I wouldn't be surprised they'd execute a U-turn weeks or months in the future and announce the game on the Wii.