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03/11/2007 - 03/17/2007

Quick Update RE: Will Wright Keynote

March 15, 2007

Just a quick notice -- on Wednesday I blogged about Will Wright's keynote at the South by Southwest festival. A complete transcript is now available. In fact, here's another one, with pics. Enjoy!
Posted by at 4:38 PM PDT
Edited on: March 15, 2007 4:57 PM PDT

Your Opinions: Talking About Talking

March 15, 2007

I'm also a cartoon in real life. Earlier this month I blogged about in-game voice chat and asked for your opinions. I regret that the blog system we use on FilePlanet doesn't have an integrated comments feature yet; I received a deluge of mail, with lots of well-written opinions from across the board. As promised, I'll summarize the best responses here.

Talk Like a Robot!

First off, many of you pointed out the possibility of using voice modulation technology to address some of my issues. (You know, you flip a switch, and now everything you say into the mic sounds like a Robot or Darth Vader...)

[After pointing out voice modulation technology already in widespread use] "Your list of 'issues' with voice integration is relatively short, and easily surpassed with a bit of thought put into the system." -John Doe

"I get the feeling developers (especially MMO developers) will implement and refine voice chat. If I recall, there already is an app to toy around with your voice's pitch and timbre on Ventrilo, so it's not a stretch to imagine such features would be implemented so that voices would match the characters, possibly even with a certain degree of automation. The downside is that it could a whole new dimension weirdness.... that Human female Mage that sounds like a guy really could be a girl trying to sound like Dr. Girlfriend from the Venture Bros. Actually, that last bit about the Mage is kinda sexy." -AbsurdONE

True Story. Well, except for the part about the robot. And the guy.

Personally I don't think modulating voices fundamentally changes the problem. Instead of judging someone for sounding like a 12-year-old, I rush to judge someone because they sound like a robot version of James Earl Jones. In either case immersion suffers. That said, I agree that there are ways to address the issues I brought up.

People Act Like Jerks?

The anonymity of the Internet means people often act like creeps online. This problem is compounded when actual voice is involved. Of the readers who wrote in against voice chat, dealing with the jerks was the biggest issue:

"Seriously, voice chat put me off of playing Gears of War online. I fired it up joined a game and before the game had even started some foul mouthed @$$ was calling someone extreme profanities and my wife was giving me that wifely look that says 'Why the hell do I have to listen to all that just so you can play your stupid video game' look? Needless to say ever since then, I haven't even bothered to play Gears online." - Scurvycrow

"Conversations of offensive topics usually ensue in these channels 24/7. Parents should be banning this kind of activity in their homes. Fileplanet should be asking parents what they think about voice chat. Bottom line: Voice chat is offensive." -Alex

"Here's my issue, RACIST COMMENTS by those that have the ability to voice chat within a game online. I play quite a bit of CounterStrike Source online and I get so tired of people using the N-word that I sometimes shut my computer down and go do something else fun or simply play single player. I am an African American gamer and I have come to appreciate all people especially my fellow brother and sister Americans... I am all for in game voice chat, but I think we really need to try to be courteous of other players. This may be asking a lot because of the anonymity that playing online gives players but please Fargo appeal to your readers the necessity to be respectful of other players while they are on the Mic." -Quincy J. Whitfield

In my original post I noted that voice chat works best when it's consensual, meaning you have some control over who enters your audio space. Most readers seemed to agree that that was the best way to handle the jerk factor.

Breaking the Game Immersion

Readers also agreed that sometimes in-game voice pulls you out of the game fiction in ways that text chat for some reason doesn't. I don't think this is a deal-killer -- the pros of instant in-game communication outweigh the cons -- but I definitely wasn't the only one to note the problem.

"My main gripe is the way it can suddenly pull you out of your immersion in the game. If I'm getting owned during a really wild fps match the last thing I want to hear is the cracking voice of some 12 year old telling me how I can't hit the broad side of a barn and making me want to give him a time out!" -Crosshair

"When I read the text I put what I think they might sound like to it, the tone and manner. But if I have to hear their real voice my imagination is shattered. Theres no RP left in the RPG then." -Christopher Vanucci

"Unless I'm actively engaging in PVP I want nothing whatsoever to do with voice chat. Why? Because, as you said, it's the single biggest killer of immersion out there. In a game like EVE it's not so bad. But in EverQuest or WoW or EQ2 or Lord of the rings or DDO? No way in heck would I be on a teamspeak/vent server." -Elnator

Other Issues

Two of my readers from overseas pointed out various other problems, with either language or bandwidth:

"I don't like game voices, because people tend to think if it's possible to speak, then you MUST speak... I'm not a natural English speaker, I'm from Argentina, so I speak Spanish. My pronunciation is really bad and I can't understand some English accents, because I'm not used to them....On the other side, I can type and read extremely well ... I'm perfectly happy with the speed of written communications for MMORPGS, where combats aren't instant, there are no one hit kills (or at least there are really few), but it seems I'm a minority." -Gustavo Campanelli

Mistirious wrote from the Netherlands, complaining that his Internet connection isn't always rock solid. "If I have to sacrifice precious Internet speed and/or fps for voice chat... In some games I wouldn't mind, but in other I would just be pissed like hell..." -Mistirious

So What's the Final Word on Voice?

If I could've gotten all of you guys into a room to talk it out, we'd probably reach two conclusions: 1. It would be a hella party and 2. in-game voice chat has a lot of issues but most of them can be worked out. I've got a dozen letters here from people saying that despite the problems it sometimes causes, there's no way they could coordinate a World of Warcraft raid without a voice chat server. There's an immediacy to voice communication that you just can't get around -- game developers can do things to mitigate the problems, but it's definitely worth continuing to incorporate into titles.

And that's the word on ... words.


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Posted by at 11:27 AM PDT
Edited on: March 15, 2007 11:33 AM PDT

Will Wright: Computers Should Play US.

March 14, 2007

I'm also a cartoon in real life. It's a crazy time of the year. The Game Developer's Conference ended just as the South by Southwest (SXSW) Music and Film festival began. SXSW takes place in Austin every year, which also happens to be ground zero for a lot of quality PC game development. So it was only natural for a little bit of the gaming industry to spill over into the hip SXSW show.

That's how game designer Will Wright ended up giving one of the keynote speeches. You can find a write-up of Wright's keynote speech here on Gamasutra or here on C|Net. What's great is that speaking at SXSW gave Wright an opportunity to talk about games in a non-gaming context -- he got to loop back and talk big picture about things like story and character. If you want to talk about games as entertainment, what makes them so different than movies?

Wright made two very interesting observations here. The first is about the type of experience you get from games but not movies -- he related the story about him delivering a devastating beatdown to his creature in the game Black & White until it started sobbing uncontrollably. He caused that! "I've never once felt guilty watching a movie," Wright admitted. Games can engage you in deep ways.

His second point was that movies tell stories to people, but games allow people to tell stories. And here the games industry -- at least in my opinion -- still falls short of its potential. Wright envisions a day when games do more. "We can teach the computer to listen to the story that players are telling,” he explained. I'm hoping we'll see some of this with Wright's upcoming game Spore. The final phase of the game Spore is totally open-ended: you can soar around the galaxy being whatever kind of species you want to be. Will the game respond accordingly, tailoring your experience for you? I think that's what Wright is aiming for.

It's an exciting time for gaming. A couple days ago I blogged about how developers are looking at user-generated content. I think between that movement, the connection of consoles online, the rise of casual PC and mobile gaming, and the ease of downloadable content are all coming together to allow for a lot of experimentation in the industry.

It's about time!


Today's Geek Stuff:
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Posted by at 2:41 PM PDT
Edited on: March 14, 2007 2:42 PM PDT

Preserving Our Videogame History

March 13, 2007

I'm also a cartoon in real life. If games really are a genuine art form, then the clock is ticking when it comes to preserving gaming's history for future generations. After all, the games industry only started in (arguably) 1968 (with the development of the Magnavox Odyssey), or 1962 (when Spacewar! was built for the PDP-1), or maybe 1958 (if you count Willy Higinbotham's Tennis for Two as the first videogame). People who kicked off the art form are still alive today, and some of the original systems are still around. Ralph Baer showed off the original 'Brown Box' prototype of the Odyssey at the Classic Gaming Expo as recently as 2000. He had to solder a couple pieces into place in order to get it working again, but it did actually play.

You can still play the original Spacewar! as well, if you visit the Computer History Museum in Mountain View, California. Unfortunately, there's only one PDP-1 machine left in the world. We've come awfully close to losing treasures like these altogether.

That's how it really went down.

Along those lines, check out this GameSpy article, or this post in the New York Times, talking about creating a "game canon," a list of the most influential games ever created. The idea comes about thanks to Henry Lowood, the curator of the History of Science and Technology Collections at Stanford University. He's been working on preserving videogame artifacts since 1998. Together, he and a committee of game creators, academics, and journalists have put together what they consider to be a definitive list of the most historically and culturally important videogames of all time:

Spacewar! (1962)
Star Raiders (1979)
Zork (1980)
Tetris (1985)
SimCity (1989)
Super Mario Bros. 3 (1990)
Civilization I/II (1991)
Doom (1993)
Warcraft series (beginning 1994)
Sensible World of Soccer (1994)

I'm dying to know what you think of the list. It would be impossible to come out with a list like this absent of controversy -- although I think this is a great starting point. Spacewar! absolutely needs to be on there. I could make the argument for Star Raiders, as well. Zork is a little trickier -- I love Zork with a passion but isn't Adventure more significant as it started the genre?

Super Mario Bros. 3 is obviously a watershed in the history of Mario, but I would argue that Mario 64 was a more important game. When games made the leap to true 3D worlds, it was Mario 64 that demonstrated how easy it could be to explore a 3D space -- I don't see Mario 3 making that kind of impact on the industry as a whole. The Warcraft series is also a curious choice. Good games, for sure, but the series neither pioneered the genre nor took it to wild new places. Dune II generally gets credit for establishing the modern real-time strategy format, although for cultural significance StarCraft created a worldwide phenomenon and turned gaming into a sport for millions of Asian players.

Sensible World of Soccer was definitely a notable sports game, but I don't see how it could be elevated to this level. What about Intellivision's World Series Major League Baseball, which pioneered sports gaming in a dozen ways? And the Madden series, kicking off in 1989, was probably far more culturally and historically significant to the gaming industry than Sensible Soccer. I was also surprised that the original Multi-User Dungeon (MUD) wasn't represented, given the legacy of massively multiplayer games that MUDs spawned.

Plus... Pong. C'mon, Pong. It's Pong! The first bona-fide videogame hit, the first game ever to turn a profit.

What do you think about the list? Email me!       -Fargo

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Posted by at 10:20 AM PDT
Edited on: March 13, 2007 10:24 AM PDT

The Future of Gaming is ... You!

March 12, 2007

I'm also a cartoon in real life. One of the more interesting presentations at last week's Game Developer's Conference put the likes of Raph Koster and Dr. Ray Muzyka on a panel together to talk about user-created content. Check out the write-up on GameSpy.com.

There's no question that user-created game content is a major direction we're going to see the industry move. Obviously FilePlanet was started in part to support this movement. Then you've got a game like Spore, which is entirely built around gamers creating the game world. In another GDC panel, leading PC developers talked about how user-created content will help the PC game industry stay relevant in an age of connected consoles.

And I feel remiss in that I didn't blog about LittleBigPlanet, a nifty PS3 title Sony unveiled at GDC -- it soon became the talk of the show. Completely customizable, players in LittleBigPlanet would be able to dynamically create levels as they stroll around the map. Content players create would then be uploaded and shared online.

So, I don't need to tell you that user-created content will be huge -- we've known that for a long time. But what's interesting is that developers are still wrestling with how to best take advantage of this, which brings me back to the panel I talked about above. For instance: should you give players tools that are easy to use, so that more people can create things? Or do you want to make the tools more complicated and powerful, so that players can create cooler stuff? Also, most people accept that 90% of everything people create will be crap, so how do you make sure players can find the 10% that's good?

Nobody has solved these problems, but the best minds in the industry are wrestling with them as we speak. See what people were saying at GDC!


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

Posted by at 11:12 AM PDT
Edited on: March 12, 2007 11:14 AM PDT

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