Wednesday, August 31, 2005

Back for the first time. (or, Job Prospect 1)

Got back from my Maryland job interview on Tuesday at about 9:30ish pm local (Eastern, as I'm in Georgia.)  And I'm not sure how it went, to be honest.  It didn't go bad, but I didn't kill'em like it was Def Comedy Jam or anything.  Sort of that 'meh'-ish middleground.  But from that hour or so I spent in a room with them, they seem like a really good bunch of people.  I'm one of those folks who believes that someone you can entertain is someone you can work with.  (And vice versa.)  At least that's my theory based on my non-gaming-and-only-twenty-four-years-of-life experience.  And of course, they haven't offered me the job or anything, they just flew me up for an onsite interview that lasted three hours tops.  (I'm kinda worried that flying me up and sending me back after three hours is a bad thing...  But I dunno.)

It's an entry level programming job.  The company ports cell phone games and mentioned some sports titles as examples.  Okay, that's where it goes a bit 'out there' from what I expected or wanted.  I mean, I'm not above sports games.  I'm not really a sports gamer, but I appreciate the work put into'em and the love shown by fans.  And I'm not above porting.  I just like the idea of having the choice to pick your platform for games and I think it's a worthwhile job.  But that whole cell phone thing...  Am I taking my preconceptions about cell phone games (ie: they suck,) too far?  Would I let it keep me from putting my foot in the proverbial door?  I once touched on many wannabes failing because they become closeminded to the point of only loving particular IP or companies, but is choosing against a platform the same thing?  My brain says yes.  It's stupid and if they do offer me the job I should fall to my knees and thank them.  Even if it's no dream job it's experience.  And it's a job programming, unlike my current job which isn't even programming related.  Of course my heart's still being a whiny bitch about it.  I guess I'll be okay.  I'll strangle it down with some Chinese food.  It's not like cell phone games have nothing to offer.  I'm curious about the Elder Scrolls Travels games for the Nokia NGage.  I mean, even Carmack's doing cell phone games.  They must be cool, right?

(Don't you just love how I've rationalized not wanting a job offer that I quite possibly won't be offered?  Oh the ego.  :D )

Monday, August 29, 2005

Wish me luck.

And not just for getting a solid posting schedule going.  Not only did I want to update Wednesday and get a Wed/Sat schedule going, (unfortunately personal issues pop in the way.)  But my planned interview for Saturday also had some issues come up, so I didn't even have anything to update with there.  And finally, I won't be updating this Wednesday (maybe not Saturday,) either.  I'll be spending all day Tuesday on an airplane going to/from a job interview.  Maybe I'll be able to change that title to 'Inside Looking Around' or something like that soon.

Saturday, August 20, 2005

Upgradable consoles? My ass.

Being in television news as I am, I've been a news-junkie for quite some time. So I'm constantly check out link-sites like Evil Avatar and Blue's News. The only news site I actually take time out of my day to read for original content is Next Generation. Yes, it's really that good. Not to say the others don't have shining moments, but I find Next-Gen consistent and more 'industry-based' than 'player-based'. So when I saw that they had a story on developer's opinions on the two types of XBox 360s being released, I was naturally intrigued. So, I clicked.

When Dave Perry (of Shiny Entertainment, whom I'm sure is a cool guy,) said "The PC model is the example, giving gamers the experience they are happy to pay for. Xbox 360 actually beats the PC as there's a common high-quality 3D baseline, so you can only go upwards. I hope Microsoft enjoys the experience from this strategy and truly opens up the model for Xbox 720. Meaning if I choose to add extra features or enhance features, I can do that. (Faster hard drives, more texture memory, physics chips etc.) Fingers crossed." my jaw hit the fucking space bar. (And my tongue even rolled out and typed in "WTF?!" before pressing enter.)

But seriously. Upgradable gaming machines? They have those. They're called PCs. You don't think that some would consider Windows XP the 'base' computer model? "What about Win95?" you ask? Hell, why stop at '95 instead of 3.1? The problem by saying "The PC model" is that just like PCs, some games will require certain modifications. Then we're right back where we've been with PCs. I mean, it's good that Dave likes cool toys and can afford them, but there are reasons why people have gravitated towards consoles over PCs. Not having to worry about setting shit up and installing it is a
decent one, I'd assume. And I mean, this isn't just me. In response to Dave, Tycho of Penny Arcade fame (and a reluctant voice of gamers everywhere) said "made my blood run cold." And I don't know the guy, but he does carry that 'I'm largely a cold-blooded mother fucker' attitude around to begin with. (Love ya, PA guys.)

But Tycho's simple math is undeniable.
$340 = X360, and a $40 memory card.
$400 = X360, the $60 difference of the HDD rather than memory card, the $15 difference of a wireless controller, a $20 headset, and a $30 remote. Oh, and backwards compatibility on "top selling" titles. Not to mention a better cache, etc., on games that support it.

And then there's the cost to 'all' gamers, regardless of their choice. Do developers have the money and time to support two versions of a given console? It's apparently hell enough to port titles to three different consoles as it is. (I've heard mixed opinions on concurrent development.) And Lord knows many publishers/developers are happy going for the lowest common denominator. I don't think I have to convince anyone of that. Gaming doesn't need a more diversified gaming spectrum. We need standards. A new, and successful, 3D0.

Y'know what? If you read this and you are even remotely close to the fence that lies between Dave's opinion and mine, let me point to one last argument that is very convincing and won't take long to read. Here, read this.

Friday, August 19, 2005

What does a 'Rockstar' look like?

A game has been under assault recently and people are calling for an AO rating. A government tightens it's grip on art amid attacks on gaming and rather than buckle like a belt, someone fights back. I know that's a amazing thought to many gamers, but who is this mystery man? Marc Ecko. Take note, other gaming companies, this is how a rock star acts. It took 'sex' to get Rockstar in trouble. All it takes for Marc Ecko is paint. Yes, graffiti is the next target on those who think games are an inferior art form, if they recognize games as an art at all. But what evils does Marc Ecko's Getting Up: Contents Under Pressure hold that would require an AO rating? After all, Keep America Beautiful's Predisdent, Ray Empson said "We can't stop Atari, but we can warn local governments to what may be coming." Warn local governments?

Let me give you the quick recap of the game. It follows a graffiti artist, Trayne, who is pissed by the tightening control and exploitation of his government. He begins a one man revolution against it in the streets with the most powerful weapon he knows, communication. Sure his methods are unorthadox to many if not most, but anyone who denies that a painting is a piece of art because of it's physical location... God I hope you haven't bookmarked this site. I just don't have the energy or time in my life to even try to convince you that games are an artistic medium and worthy of protection.

Yeah, I wasn't surprised when I first saw Next Generation's story on groups asking for the AO rating. However I was amazed when NYC City Hall revoked his event permit for an outdoor art exhibition meant to coincide with the game's release, claiming it promoted vandalism. And I was utterly astounded when I saw him write a letter about it, and post it in his blog. I'll be damned. It's almost like some people out there make art they believe in. And they fight for it.

Marc Ecko plans to file a lawsuit citing the First Amendment, saying "... it's not an exhibition of criminal activity...I do not condone illegal activity. I'm not a provocateur...But I can't stand here and say that I condone censorship."

And even better yet, from his blog, "In the meantime, I will continue to focus on what promises to be an enjoyable day of free art and music for the city that is home to my operations and that so generously embraced our "Save the Rhinos" benefit concert in Central Park less than two months ago."

God I hope his game's good.

Mack Ecko's blog post about this:
Next Gen news story on calls for an AO rating:
Game Politic's covering of the story:

Wednesday, August 17, 2005

Rag Doll Kung Fu Interview

The Video Game Industry is an odd business. Our artists are often unknown, but when the game is a one-man-show, one can't help but be interested in the person. Especially when that game is something as cool-yet-quirky as Rag Doll Kung Fu. RDKF is a fighting game where the fighters aren't animated at all. Instead the player grabs them with the mouse and swings their arms, legs, head, and the fighters themselves around to fight with rag doll physics. Mark Healey is the man behind the curtain, and while it's a name you may not recognize offhand, you know his work. Assuming of course you've heard of great games like Fable, Black & White, Dungeon Keeper, or Magic Carpet. Mark was kind enough to take the time to answer a few questions.

Making a kung-fu fighting game itself is very cool. Everyone loves martial arts. But with Ragdoll Kung Fu you took it a totally different direction than other fighting games with your application of ragdoll physics for the animation and mouse-only movement. What was the inspiration for those ideas?
Actually, the game started a bit more like a traditional street fighter type game, (e.g. fixed sprite animations,) it wasn't until my mate Alex gave me some code for rope physics (he wanted me to put ropes in the game), that the game took a turn – ropes I thought – sod that, I can make characters with this!

I've never really got on with learning strange button combinations etc that you find in most fighting games, wanted something more direct, and logical – something that's easy to understand, but has plenty of room for becoming skillful at.

You're currently working at Lionhead, a developer that people seem to love or hate. Either way, people are passionate about you and the games you create. (Well, and passionate about Peter Molyneux.) But what's the day-to-day life like for an artist at Lionhead?
Well, it's a nice place to work, and I especially have a lot of freedom, as I've worked with Peter a long time, and he trusts me. Towards the end of a project though, people have to work long hours, which can be very tiresome (but this is the same in any games company).

Overall, it's a great place to work.
You've been in the industry since ( claims) you did some artwork on the DOS version of James Pond 2: Codename: RoboCod. (It was a solid platformer that had an impressive two colons in the title!) Did you seek out this career in games, or was it something that you just 'fell into'?
I wanted to make games from the second I got my Commodore 64 at school, many years ago – I remember making some small games in basic, making cassette inlays and selling them to my friends – the first one was called agoraphobia, a text adventure with three locations, you had to escape, I seem to remember the solution involved flushing your self down the loo.

My first break came when I met a guy who was making games for Codemasters(they used to sell the games for 1.99 on cassette) – he landed me a contract to covert his spectrum game, K>G>B Superspy – which I did in a few months. (I have fond memories of my Mum phoning them up, and hassling them to send me some money, so I could pay my keep.)
I'd be remiss if I didn't mention that the game was first talked about back in March of 2004 with a planned summer 2004 release. Also the 'word' then was that the game would be free. Now there are reports of the game costing £10 ($18.) What happened in that time to push the game so far back? And did that have anything to do with the institution of a price?
Well, I never ever said the game would be free, I don't know where that came from, not me, that's for sure. And the release date, well, yes, you know how these things go – I never intended for it to become such a time consuming project – after the initial buzz that was created, I felt this pressure to make something really special – and I am very proud of the result; I've amazed myself. There's a hell of a lot in the game now, 10 quid is an absolute bargain, if you ask me.
Your releasing this brings together a lot of things that, five years ago, would've seemed too crazy to work. A modern game with a very barebones team and digital distribution. Personally, I love the idea of Steam. I think the money going straight to developers for their games is an obviously good one. And I think the fact that a single developer could make a game and have so many people looking forward to it is a testament to the power that a good idea still has in modern gaming. That said, where do you want video games to go in the future?
I would love to see all the corporate grey middle men banished from the industry, those that don't care about games, only about cashing in on factory produced crap. Anything that can help with that vision (such as Steam) has my vote. Making games with your mates can be so much fun, I think more should be done to encourage homebrew projects.
Thanks Mark. For both taking the time to talk with me, and for what looks to be a great game. I'll guarantee you at least one sale. Look for Rag Doll Kung Fu coming soon on Valve's Steam network! (Press release here.) (Game trailer, and excellent theme song, here.)

If any other nice people on the 'inside' would like to answer a few questions, feel free to drop me an email. I'd love to continue to develop these rusting interview skills.

Saturday, August 13, 2005

I'm right back...

After those messages.   No, I'm not some flash-in-the-pan blogger who's going to disappear.  You'll be reading my blog years from now.  I guarantee it.  But yes, I've been taking some time off from it.  I've been trying to line up a few interviews with folks.  After Josh (of Cathode Tan) had a good one with Jeff Freeman and Justin (of Get The Sugar) did a good one with Amanda Lannert, I've decided it's a good bandwagon to jump on.  I do like a good bandwagon.

Speaking of bandwagons, one I'll be jumping on is one piloted by Corvus (of May Bytes Blog).  The Gaming Roundtable.  So, by Thursday you'll be able to pop right back in here and get info on 'Innovation in the FPS genre' as seen by me.  And better yet, you'll be able to look around the table and get the opinions of other swell guys as well.  If you're interested in sharing your opinion, send an email over to Corvus.  His email address is here.  Again on bandwagons, let it be said, as sad as I am that my petition to get Jellyvision to make another You Don't Know Jack game was only signed by 26 people, I'm more saddened that no one said anything about it being a wonderful gesture while at the same time a funny slam on Kotaku's 'game editors tired of covering outrage' petition.  Then again, I still haven't solved Josh's puzzle from his hosting the Carnival of Gamers.  And he's giving away a prize, $50.

Oh, and if you're a bored developer, feel free to drop me a note if you want to do an interview.

Wednesday, August 03, 2005

No such thing as a 'final' Fantasy.

It's true. And not only will they never stop making them, apparently they will never stop remaking them. Yes, the latest rumor is that there's a chance that the Final Fantasy VII tech demo used to showcase PS3 software has gotten such acclaim that Squeenix is "not saying that a remake won't happen," to word it carefully. But dear Christ, why? I know, that's a dumb question. "Because people will buy it again." But why? Are graphics that important to everyone? I mean, I've already bought Final Fantasy IV and VI twice. Once the first time around, and the second for the sole purpose of being able to play them from here on out on my Playstations without having to drag out my SNES. (Though apparently the idea of 'backwards compatability' is limited to games, and not any progress I've actually made on those games. There are no memory card slots, instead we'll have to use Memory sticks a la PSP.)

Is it inherent that 3d games will constantly be revised until we reach photorealistic graphics? Or will it stop when the graphics finally reach par with the game's cutscenes? Of course, Final Fantasy 7 was 'the one'. It heralded videogames arrival to the mainstream like few other games for many people.