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01/28/2007 - 02/03/2007

Triple Dog Dares for Indie and Mod Developers

February 02, 2007

My Wii needs batteries. I love a good email as much as a good challenge, and I got both from GameSpy reader Starfyre, who actually wrote "I Triple Dog-Dare You, Fargo!" as the subject line. He responded to the comments from one retailer that I posted yesterday, saying that 80% of games are crap. But rather than whining, Starfyre wants to take action:

"The games industry is, despite its efforts, slipping on its creativity... And you're bringing up the need for more creativity in the gaming industry all the time (as are most gamers)... Well, I'm daring you to do something about it. GameSpy has a decent amount of clout in the gaming industry, as well as connections. Also GameSpy has another thing, dedicated readers who obviously have their own opinions.

My dare is this: Have GameSpy run a contest to see what creative ideas would-be game designers in your fan community can produce. Get some video game companies to look at them, and through a combination open fan vote and closed developer vote, pick out the top potential budding designers and match them up with game companies who are looking.
Game Ideas vs. Execution:
Starfyre is on the right track -- Let's stop complaining and start making better games! -- but I don't think ideas are the problem. Every year I talk to probably a hundred game developers (or would-be developers) at the Game Developers Conference, and what you find is that there's no shortage of great game ideas. Right now, I guarantee thousands of people reading this probably have semi-completed game design documents on their hard drives. Brilliant, creative, wild ideas that are aching to see the light of day.

The problem isn't finding original ideas... it's building them. Modern big-name games with their incredible graphics are labor-intensive to produce, not to mention expensive. The companies who can fund these projects take huge risks with each release, and are understandably hesitant to fund a project that's unproven. That's why the shelves are full of sequels. So does that mean creativity is dead? WRONG!

Fortunately many really original game ideas don't require tons of expensive production to pull off. Let me tell you a story about Keita Takahashi, a young Japanese student who wanted to bring some fun and whimsy back into gaming. He had a crazy idea for a PlayStation 2 game and had to build it himself before publishers would even begin to look at it. Somebody at Namco finally gave it a try and immediately offered to publish it, despite (or maybe even because of) its goofy, chunky graphics. The name of the game was Katamari Damacy, an instant hit.

Another great example is the guys from Armada Online, one of the indie games I featured in this week's FilePlanet Spotlight. Frustrated that the industry wasn't allowing them to make the game they wanted, the designers teamed up and made it on their own. The result is a massively multiplayer space game whose 2D graphics conceal some really deep gameplay.

My Double-Dare to YOU:
Nobody is going to make Gears of War in their garage. But somewhere out there right now is the next Katamari Damacy, and only one person can make it happen: YOU!! The tools for building games have never been more accessible. Check out the free engines available at GarageGames, go scope out Microsoft's XNA Game Studio Express, or start modding existing game engines like the very powerful Half-Life 2. I triple-dog dare you. I triple-double-quadruple dog-dare you.

My promise in return is to give quality indie games and mods their due here on FilePlanet.com and elsewhere on the GameSpy/IGN network. You make the game demo, we'll make sure people see it. You've got the idea, we've got the audience. Make it happen! Mail Me to let me know how your project is coming along.

Meet the FilePlanet and IGN Team at GDC:
Speaking of which, if you're an indie developer or a mod developer who will be attending the Game Developer's Conference in March, I'd love to meet you and talk about your project. Mail me and we'll set up a meeting!


Today's Geek Stuff:
Mod News:
Hardware Links Courtesy of Voodoo Extreme:

Posted by at 9:51 AM PST
Edited on: February 02, 2007 9:54 AM PST

"80% of the Games Created are Crap!"

February 01, 2007

My Wii needs batteries. In a lot of ways, the videogame business is like any other -- you create a doohickey that people want, and you sell it to people. Or, you sell it to a retailer, who sells it to people. But in a lot of ways the business has its own quirks. For example, if you build a bench and try to sell it to someone, the bench is still a pretty good bench even if it sits in a store for a year. Not so with games -- last year's games lose a lot of their value. It always kills me to see an absolutely amazing game sitting on a bargain shelf a year later. Another quirk is videogame hardware, which is usually sold at a loss with the hope that companies can make money back on the games. (The exception this generation is the Nintendo Wii, which Nintendo can sell at a slight profit.)

Big retailers and chain stores like Wal*Mart sell so many games that they can get away with muscling publishers around in order to cut costs. But smaller retailers can't throw their weight around. In short, they're screwed. And one of them just got fed up.

Online retailer DVDEmpire made some headlines this week when the company announced that it was giving up the game sales business, blaming industry greed and unfair market practices. The company also pointed out that "80% of the games created are crap." (That's a direct quote!) You can read the full diatribe here. But in short, DVDEmpire is bailing out of the business because games are a hit-driven industry, and an online retailer can't take advantage of that if it gets games days after they're available at stores, can't support a return policy, and can never sell at a discount.

If you're a regular reader of my columns, you probably already know what I'm going to say. The answer is online distribution, baby! Online stores (like our own Direct2Drive -- yeah, that was a plug) where you download the games don't have to worry about shelf space or warehouses full of boxes, so they can offer a huge catalog, and price it appropriately. (Right now most publishers want to keep online prices the same as what you'd see at retail, but someday that may change.) As for console games, people are getting used to buying smaller games online with either the Xbox 360 or the Wii. Future generations of consoles will likely come with huge media storage centers built in so you can download full games just as easily, or even stream in content one episode at a time. I can smell the future from here.

And I don't believe that 80% of games are crap. It's more like 60/40, right? Okay, 70/30 on a bad year.


Today's Geek Stuff:
Mod News:
Hardware Links Courtesy of Voodoo Extreme:

Posted by at 9:44 AM PST
Edited on: February 01, 2007 4:45 PM PST

99 Most Desirable Women and Other Great Numbers

January 31, 2007

It's how you become awesome. In honor of sister-site AskMen.com (or would that be brother-site?) and their annual Top 99 Women feature, I'm taking a look at some other big numbers to start off the year. "Why Only Name the Top 99 women?" you might ask. "Who's the 100th?" The answer, of course, is that my wife is ineligible 'cuz she's already taken. WHAM! Did you see that? I just scored some MAJOR points with her that I plan to cash in next month when I forget Valentine's day. Let's look at the numbers:

99 Most Desirable Women: Every year AskMen.com compiles this list -- partly based on your votes -- of the hottest celebrity women around today. See if you agree with the combined might of an Internet full of testosterone.

49 Most-Wanted Games of 2007: GameSpy's annual countdown looks at the most eagerly-anticipated titles of '07. Why 49? Why not 50? Because my wife -- wait, that doesn't work.

10 New Games for Xbox Live Arcade: Microsoft has announced a slew of new and classic titles, from the board-game staple Catan to the crazy indie game Eets to the arcade classic Root Beer Tapper. Personally I think small downloadable titles are just as much of a defining feature of the next-generation of consoles as the sexy new graphics. TeamXbox has screens of all the upcoming games.

10 Predictions for PC Gaming: The IGN.com editors attempt to see the future! And by the future, we mean the rest of 2007. Find out what they think the odds are on a the Duke Nukem game and nine other fun future factoids.

1 Point! One lousy point! That one point will determine the Super Bowl if IGN Insider's predictions are correct. Watch as the Insider Team predicts the Super Bowl using Madden NFL and find out who won.


Today's Geek Stuff:
Mod News:
Hardware Links Courtesy of Voodoo Extreme:

Posted by at 12:06 PM PST

Smackdowns from Another Planet

January 30, 2007

It's how you become awesome. Hopefully you've noticed by now that We highlighted the Indie MMO Armada Online in this week's FilePlanet Spotlight feature, where I looked at some of the best downloads from the 2007 Independent Games Festival. Armada Online is an entire space-based massively multiplayer game, with upgradeable spaceships, multiplayer missions, and brutal player-vs-player combat alone or in teams. Download it and see for yourself.

The community at the Armada Online website was psyched to have the game featured, but they smacked me down for one piece of advice I offered new players:

"Team battles are good for newbies because you can support the winning team just by mining minerals and picking off smaller aliens at the fringes of the battle."

Armada Veteran TripX shot back in the forums:

"No. Please do not do this, you are not helping! It's obvious the writer is talking about the Crystal and Crabs near the Starbase. A player is infinitely more times valuable out in the field, than helping our Harvester level by mining." -TripX

Having spent more time fiddling around with the game, I gotta admit TripX is right. Once you understand the basics of moving your ship around and firing your weapons, your best bet in a team game is to go right into the thick of the fight. Your level 1 ship is meat for the grinder if you engage the enemy alone, but the way Armada is designed, groups of even low-level ships are devastating. Tag along behind a high-level player and he or she will be grateful for the help and the combined damage you can throw down. You might also be able to use some of your ship's technologies -- human ships, for instance, can repair the shields of friendly vessels. That's welcome help in any prolonged battle. So suck it up and get into the fight! Read about the game and then Download Armada Online to start playing immediately.

Speaking of MMO Games...

On the other hand, if you're looking for big epic fantasy roleplaying, Vanguard hits store shelves today. (You can also Buy and Download the Full Version from Direct2Drive). GameSpy.com just posted their initial impressions of the game, along with a yellow "Wait on it" verdict. (GameSpy's full review will be posted after those guys really kick the tires).

In short, Gerald from GameSpy loved the graphics (provided you can run the game with all the details on -- few people can) and reported that the servers have been going up and down but are mostly stable. He pointed out that group battles will last a long time and that the game all but forces you to group beyond a certain level. He didn't like the 'floaty' feel of the movement but loved some of the interface elements, including the tools for managing crowds of monsters. Read on for details.

Here at FilePlanet most of the team has made Vanguard into a nightly ritual. Every moment of downtime is spent arguing over the various pros and cons of the various classes and the best PvP strategies. There are still some major issues with the game, but most hardcore players find enough here to keep 'em hooked.


Today's Geek Stuff:
Mod News:
Hardware Links Courtesy of Voodoo Extreme:

Posted by at 10:23 AM PST
Edited on: January 30, 2007 10:24 AM PST

Rumor Mill: A Google Virtual World?

January 29, 2007

It's how you become awesome. Last week when I blogged about the virtual world Second Life, I wrote: "I think Second Life is a little too awkward to use to crack the mainstream, and if you ever log on, it's too hard for a new player to find the good content." Read into that and you can see that the door is wide-open for someone to make a simplistic, user-friendly virtual world. In the same way that World of Warcraft took the pioneering work of Ultima Online and EverQuest and made it easy for players, someone can take the work of pioneers like There and Second Life and go big. If you're an entrepreneur, you probably smell money.

That's probably why this rumor about Google developing a virtual world keeps popping up, much like a zombie from Dead Rising. The noise first started with This Business 2.0 Column. Business 2.0 was just connecting the dots: Google already has Google Earth, a phenomenal toy for cruising around the planet via satellite photos and data. In a brilliant Web 2.0 flavored move, Google then released SketchUp, a simple 3D modeling tool, for free. Users can use SketchUp to create 3D models that they can then place on the Google Earth map, thus populating it with landmarks. Business 2.0 surmised that Google isn't far from creating a metaverse, an idea that persisted even though Google itself isn't saying anything.

The rumor mill fired up again last week as bloggers discovered connections between Google and a group of former There engineers, as well as a Chinese company building digital avatars of people. This, combined with Google's rumored acquisition of an in-game advertising provider, has fueled the rumor.

I admit that Google is in an interesting position to make something happen in the virtual world space. The company has the reach to touch people worldwide, it attracts the best engineers in technology today, and it has a reputation for building solid, easy-to-use, no-frills products that appeal to non-techies. Potential issues that would be serious problems for many companies -- like bandwidth or server farms -- would be trivial to Google. It's conceivable that the company could create a virtual world product that's simple for even casual users, and you have to imagine that a search engine giant like Google would know how to make sure people found the most interesting content within that world.

But this isn't a trivial project. Google Maps is an impressive piece of software, not a real-time shared virtual space. Adding real-time interaction that can support players from all over the world -- that's not something the company can just throw together by combining these separate pieces. So until Google actually formally announces a product, all this discussion is just blanking. ("Blog Wanking.") And yeah, I'm as guilty as anyone else.       -Fargo

Today's Geek Stuff:
Mod News:
Hardware Links Courtesy of Voodoo Extreme:

Posted by at 10:34 AM PST
Edited on: January 29, 2007 10:35 AM PST

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