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02/25/2007 - 03/03/2007

Let's Talk About Talking

March 01, 2007

I'm also a cartoon in real life. In a post on the Terranova blog yesterday titled The Inevitability of Voice, game academic Nate Combs talks about in-game voice. Nobody is arguing whether or not it's integral to the future of gaming. Microsoft's Xbox 360 makes extensive use of voice-chat (it's built into the Xbox Live framework). Ventrillo is becoming a de-facto voice tool for MMO games, while many developers are integrating voice chat into their titles (For example Eve Online just announced they're rolling it out on a test server.) This is a process that's been going on for years.

But is it really a good thing? I'll be honest, when I play World of Warcraft, the Barrens chat is bad enough -- I can't imagine if I actually had to listen to the other players. Plus, the believability of the world would be continually shattered: when my hot female Blood Elf friend opens her mouth and suddenly sounds like my emphysemic Uncle Stu, my suspension of disbelief is going out the window (along with my lunch).

And, as Combs and others have mentioned before, hearing someone's voice introduces all kinds of predjudices back into the online world that otherwise wouldn't exist. I'm totally guilty of this. If you and I want to adventure together and you sound like a 12-year-old over my PC speakers, I'm going to make some snap judgments about the way you play. I hate to admit it, but that's the ugly truth.

And what about ZOMG?

On the flip-side, there's an immediacy to gaming that you get with real-time communication. My favorite way to play games is with a LAN party (yes, I had one this weekend even.) Gaming becomes like a sport, with smack talking and team planning and side jokes and yelping. Organizing a complex attack that would be a total pain to plan using the keyboard is a cinch when you're in the same room together. It's the best way to play. That's what in-game voice does: it turns the Internet into a giant LAN party.

After wrestling with this issue for a while I decided that in-game chat should be handled consensually within games. That is to say, there's a wall of silence around each player, but I can choose to let my friends through to talk to me with their real voice. If I'm playing an MMO, I can choose not to listen to anyone until they're in my party. Other games already do this well -- Battlefield 2 has a great integrated voice chat where players can group up into squads and only hear chat within their squads.

How about YOU? Do you use voice chat in-game? Do you have any stories? Do you think it should be more restrictive, or less? What do you want to see in the future? Mail me and I'll post some of the best responses here.


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

Posted by at 10:41 AM PST
Edited on: March 01, 2007 11:00 AM PST

Interview: David Perry wants YOU ... to Design MMOs!

February 28, 2007

I'm also a cartoon in real life. [Digg this Story Here]

Earlier this week Dave Perry announced a new MMO project called Top Secret, produced in association with Acclaim. Here's the crazy part: he wants the game community to participate in the creation of the title, and he's looking for raw unproven talent to join the team. Then, the person who shines the most during the development of Top Secret will become the project director for Acclaim's next MMO. From unknown to design lead in the course of one game -- it can happen! Check out the Top Secret website for the full announcement.

The idea seems wild but is true-to-form for David Perry (who, as leader of Shiny studios, created classics like Earthworm Jim as well as more recent hits like MDK or Enter the Matrix). Perry has always been active bringing new talent into the industry. I grilled him for some details about the new project:

Fargo: What inspired you to go to the gaming community at large? Are you looking for fresh ideas, or just trying to mentor more people into the world of game development?

Perry: I've been mentoring students into the game biz for many years, but recently I've been trying some new ideas. In our 2Moons game (Game Info Page) we ran a competition to let the gamers be the NPC's in the game. Audio professionals gag at this concept. But what the heck, it's a game, it's about having fun! So we let them record their lines, and we have prizes for those that make it in. (Like special items.) Needless to say, some are horrible (with dogs barking in the background), but some sound like a studio made them. That's the whole point here. There's a huge mix of talent and we want to find a way to expose it.

The hard part is there's no book on this for me to read, nothing has ever been done on this scale before. So the planning has been complicated.

We also had a survey for 2Moons and for our Dance game. The response was simply amazing from the thousands that filled them out. Lots of really great ideas, and some ideas I really wish I'd though of! [Embarrassed] That's what really lead to this idea, and it was also caused by a reporter telling me that gamers can't innovate, so any game made by them will be average. They even quoted Lord British as the source, but I don't believe he would have said that. The reality is it's a numbers game, if 100,000 people sign up, and 1% do useful stuff, I'm still running the biggest development team in gaming history. If only 10% of that 1% are amazing, then I have 100 amazing developers. Not a team to poke fun at! Most teams of 50 have 10 amazing guys - if you are lucky.

So I'm quietly confident we will find people, we will have fun and there's just no way to lose here. They get builds all along the way, and all builds are free. So it costs NOTHING to join in this competition.

Fargo: MMOs are tricky, tricky animals. Do you think that someone without development experience will understand the gameplay issues and pitfalls of a massively multiplayer world?

Perry: To be careful we will start small. It won't be an MMORPG, it will be an MMO. So yes they're diving into deep water by having to design for massively multiplayer online gamers (all over the world), but they only need to make something fun. (So it will get as big as it needs to get.) When the winner is announced he/she will then be able to make another game (that will be their project), and hopefully work again with the people that impressed them.

We will have some celebrities pop up along the way to help out on voting... We will also have some other competitions running in parallel. I (as an example) need more staff for GameConsultants.com, so I will be recruiting right out of the Top Secret forums. I recently hired a girl exactly this way from the 2Moons forums. I just look for talent, and she has turned out to be amazing.

I also expect publishers, developers & headhunters will be watching closely and making offers to people that shine. This is fine by me, as the overall exercise is to reveal the talent that's out there. So if you are a talent scout, please don't feel you need to lurk around, it's OK. We can make a thread for you, so you can chat to the talent directly, maybe even answer some questions for them.

Fargo: How will this work? Will people submit ideas based on a theme, or will the theme of the game be chosen based on the best ideas?

Perry: For game #1 I will set the genre, I will also toss out some ideas to start conversation (for example I have a pretty amazing licensing deal for audio on offer - can they make any interesting use of that?), we will discuss all kinds of challenges I will make to the team, then where it goes from there, we can't predict. We will use formal development paradigms, and will follow prototype development and milestones, including beta testing etc. So they are certainly going to get the chance to show any skills they have!

Fargo: This sounds wild! Thanks for taking the time to answer a couple questions -- I'm really curious to see how this turns out.

Perry: So am I.

Digg This!


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

Posted by at 9:46 AM PST
Edited on: February 28, 2007 10:13 AM PST

Commanding, Conquering, and Games as a Cultural Statement

February 27, 2007

I'm also a cartoon in real life. So it's finally here, the Command & Conquer 3 Demo! This is the biggest news to happen to strategy gamers since... well a couple of weeks ago when Supreme Commander launched. It's a good time to be a gamer.

Download the Command & Conquer 3 Demo

When I first saw a sneak-peek at the game at E3 last year, the developers said they were trying to make the game setting a little more relevant to what was happening in the world. It's an easy connection to make: Nod has its roots as a terrorist organization, and it's not hard to find analogies between the GDI faction and America's own well-funded and well-meaning (but not always effective) war machine.

But now we can finally take a look at the game itself. Obviously, Command & Conquer isn't meant as a social statement or some sort of political message -- it's here to entertain us. But even in the demo, you can't help but feel an eerie familiarity as news broadcasters scramble to make sense of the attack on the Philadelphia. Reporters duck and cover in city streets while debris rains down from above... it's almost a little haunting.

Of course, in Command & Conquer, the GDI can immediately retaliate by blowing tons of stuff up with gleeful abandon. If only the real world were that simple! Better yet, if only I had an Ion Cannon. That's right. The California Department of Motor Vehicles would have to answer for that parking ticket I got at the LA airport last year.

Speaking of Ion Cannons, the new demo doesn't hold back. Give it a download!


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

Posted by at 10:44 AM PST
Edited on: February 27, 2007 10:45 AM PST

Play MMOs? Feel Used?

February 26, 2007

I'm also a cartoon in real life. The website Gamers With Jobs has posted a groin-kick of an 'anti-review' for the game Vanguard. (You can also check out the GameSpy review for some more mellow commentary).

The GMJ piece has the kind of grumpy but hysterical curmudgeonry that I haven't seen since GameSpy's Old Resident Cynic Column, including great little gems like this commentary on the sorry state of the MMO biz:

"The whole damn genre has run off the rails and become a parody of itself. Click the button and a gamer-treat rolls occasionally down the little pipe activating neurotransmitters in the brain that beg endlessly for more tiny little gamer-treats." -Elysium

But while most of the editorial complains about the state of the game, the real meat of the argument comes late in the piece, when Elysium bemoans how gamers are expected to pay for an unfinished game:

"Sigil essentially comes to the consumer as the third investor in the process of the development cycle, and that is not just a terrible way of doing business, but an irresponsible step in the wrong direction for complicit consumers." He goes on to add: "Your job as the industry is to create product, and then, and only then, we buy it." -Elysium

These comments cut right to one of the things that makes an MMO different from other gaming products out there. What, exactly, are you buying with your monthly fees? Elysium makes it sound like an outrage that gamers are funding the game development, but step back a second and think about it -- of course you're funding development. If my subscription fees were just going into pure profit I'd feel I was getting hosed. As gamers, when we play an MMO, we enter into a kind of unwritten contract with the developer: "I enjoy your product, here's $15 bucks every month for you to both maintain the servers and support as well as to add additional content." Yes, we are a third investor. And most of us are willing to tolerate some bug-fixes as part of that.

Of course, the other end of the bargain is that we have to get what we originally paid for. Elysium's point is that Vanguard is hopelessly bug-ridden, confusing, and unbalanced (among other things). He claims it just plain shouldn't have been released -- that people are paying for playing in a beta. Whether that's true or not depends on your opinion of Vanguard. Here at the FilePlanet H.Q. we've got a half-dozen guys who love the game, flaws and all -- they've created multiple characters and talk at lunch about the best PvP builds or which areas to explore. Whereas if I stroll down the hall to talk with the GameSpy editorial peeps, none of them are playing Vanguard at all. (Most, like myself, continue to return to World of Warcraft over and over again).

So is someone being ripped off? Only if you want to be. Grab one of those free 10-day trial cards off of a friend who has Vanguard and try it for yourself (we're working to get a downloadable free trial here on FilePlanet.) Decide if the slow-paced, tricky, dangerous, and yes -- still buggy -- world of Vanguard is for you. Then decide if you'd like to contribute to making it a better place with your monthly fees. As gamers, we vote with our dollars. Make 'em count!


Posted by at 11:05 AM PST

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