Tuesday, July 31, 2007

We're coming to suck your blood give you video games

I've mentioned before that I work for PowerUp Games.

All the official announcements in official PR PowerUp language will be put on the Myspace page and Myspace blog. This blog is about me, not PowerUp Games. However, I work for Powerup Games, and in accordance with my culture I identify myself a lot by what I do for a living. Occasionally, you'll be hearing about PowerUp, like right now.

So, work. Brad (my boss) is on vacation, but I really, really need him to get back so we can change the copy on the website. I'd been adding friends on the PowerUp Games Myspace page and then I saw this beautiful bit of copy on PowerUp's homepage: "Get one of the most powerful game systems at least on this planet (like you didn\'t already know) and Blue Ray, a whole bunch of other amazingly powerful stuff and two teraflops of floating point performance. That means a whole lot of flipping fun. And other prizes and toys to make your friends jealous. Sign up and win today!"

So anyway, we're giving away a $599 gift card and all you have to do is sacrifice one of your emails to the spam gods or whatever and you're entered. I don't want too many people to see this copy (more particularly, without reading what I have to say about it), because as a gamer, and someone who is now writing to gamers, I am constantly reminded that you can count on gamers to not hesitate to blackball anyone or anything from the community. That is, if something is completely ridiculous, someone won't hesitate to laugh. Vehemently. I personally don't want PowerUp Games to be the kind of idea that started out well, then was obliterated by the criticism of the Internet's denizens, the kind so withering that high school students receiving the same type of criticism later go on to be regulars at the university counseling center. I mean, since PowerUp Games (technically) funds my ability to eat, sleep, and play video games all in the same place, I want it to succeed. Also, I think it's a damn good idea, one that will at least make a big impact on a corner of the gaming community. See, the people who play games and the people who make them don't interact very much. It's usually something like this lovely graph that I did not make using a free and basic Microsoft program:

In case it' s not clear: the rectangle represents the game publishers and developers, the oval represents the potential buyer. The rounded rectangles are the thought processes and decisions of the buyer.

The thing to notice here is that the gamer, or buyer, didn't say anything to the company before the game was made. Once it's made, it's made. But not if they interject before it's made. That's what we're hoping to do. Plus, many times a good, innovative game doesn't sell well, and if the word gets out that a game PowerUp Games is featuring is going to be phenomenal, you'll hear about games you may not have otherwise. This will make everyone in the equation happy.

That's what PowerUp is going to do, and that's what I think about it. We're coming very soon. As soon as we get the details worked out with some companies and we actually have the games, we will start getting our name out more, and things will get more interesting.

Until then, I'm going to try not to think about what "two teraflops of floating point performance" means.

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Monday, July 30, 2007

Little things

There is nothing quite so satisfying as when your wife says that it's most important that she use her transmute up, THEN make the cheesecake before we go eat dinner at my mom's house on Sunday.

It's funny what will brighten up your day.

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Wednesday, July 18, 2007

Sitting all alone in a dark room

The recent Manhunt 2 posting got me thinking about what gets gamers together and united for a cause. As a married male at the age of 25, I'm well on my way to being out of the gamers' loop for a variety of reasons. First, everyone my age is working or doing some other activity that isn't video games, and those that are playing are a bit younger than I am, and I have little in common with them. So, there's no one to play with. I can't afford many games or new systems. I managed to get along without games for a over a year once, but they are a part of my life again.

All video game players are often met with disappointment when it comes to their hopes and expectations for their gaming lives. Some gamers hope for a specific game, genre, company, or platform to turn out well. Some hope their preferred game becomes a success so that they'll have others to play it with. Some want to become good at playing them. Some want to make money by playing them. Some want to work in the industry. Some want the medium to become a legitimate tool for various purposes, which include but are not limited to political, functional, satirical, educational, and artistic. Some just wish that spouses, friends, family, and culture would accept them as a medium, and not just middle-class lazy leisure.

Unfortunately, most gamers have accepted the popular notion that regarding this lazy leisure, it's simply something the boys like to do to play. Like sports, but with fewer parties, no discussions at work, no legitimized special occasions that extend outside their immediate context like the Super Bowl, no talented players as celebrities, and no recognized leagues*, big or small.

They've accepted the notion that innovation in functionality and gameplay is simply inane when compared to the other things we use technology for. Like a phone or piece of software, but no buzz about how it changes our lives for good or ill, and little discussion on the potential or ethics of such technology.

The themes, characters, stories, and worlds of video games accept their labels as low quality and as coming from a lesser medium; good for a laugh or moment of nostalgia, but nothing more. Like novels, plays, movies, or tv series', only no awards, little or no academic scrutiny, and no recognition as having cultural value, and definitely given an eyeball roll at best if you mention a story (say, the story of Gordon Freeman) as interesting, original, and intense.

Fortunately, not everyone in society has accepted these opinions. Some disagree. Some prove them wrong. Others are already working to combat these notions. But it will take individuals and groups on all sides of the fence regarding every issue. Some aren't aware of just how low a status video games are accorded in these respective worlds, and to the casual gamer, I tell you that you must be willing to consider video games for their potential.

If you don't work in games or consider them important, there is little to do. For us common gamers, the only thing we can do is take the high ground. When it comes down to it, if someone mocks your love of, say, Gordon Freeman and his story, it is imperative that you not be ashamed. Because Gordon Freeman, like any other well-made character, kicks a lot of ass.

(*I recognize there are a lot of leagues and organized "esports", but none that are big news have gained stability. This may change in the near future, and The CGS has people hopeful, but I'm not holding my breath.)


Tuesday, July 17, 2007

I think I hate the news

I regret being so heavily involved in journalism in high school and am glad I didn't learn more about it in college. There's so much selling. If it's not interesting, it's not interesting.

On the front page of Gamasutra today I read the following headline: Survey: 83% Of Casual Gamers Embrace Ad-Supported Games. I'm surprised that this many actually want to, and then I think: aren't they already filled with ads? Casual games are already filled with ads. The controversy now is over regular games having ads. Right?

The article just says "According to the latest annual global survey on casual gaming from Macrovision, 83 percent of respondents said they would be willing to watch a 30 second ad to play a game for free", and then goes on for another 299 words to say some more stats, who did it, and what some people had to say about it, all of which are very obvious things that no one cares about.

So I wasted my time. I just get tired of sifting through all the junk. Of course, I guess I should be nicer and focus elsewhere. I mean, I like Gamasutra. Yahoo, your days are numbered.

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Friday, July 13, 2007

You Can Count on Blizzard

Starcraft 2 may be the most anticipated video game in history. And not just in Korea. Blizzard made an unprecedented move by releasing footage that didn't just show units, but explained their special abilities and which units counter which, and why.

I'm not going to speculate about the units and strategies. Whoever you played in the first one is who you'll likely play in the second. There are a lot of new units, but at the same time—do orcs cast bloodlust?

What I will speculate about, though, is the timeline. To do this, I will look establish some points we can learn from Blizzard's release history of PC games. I will contend that Blizzard has been doing the same things for a long time and that from these things, we can predict a rough release schedule.

Blizzard philosopies

The first trend we need to realize is that Blizzard always has to top itself when making sequels. They’ve stated it, and they back it up with their release history. Everyone wanted Warcraft 3 to be Starcraft 2. Blizzard knew they’d need a lot more time. They tried to buy it with Starcraft: Ghost and Warcraft 3, hoping it would satiate Blizzard fans. Koreans still maintained a monotheistic faith in Starcraft and Starcraft alone.

The second trend to notice is that Blizzard does not commit to specific release dates. They know better, and are honest enough to say it will be released in a quarter instead of a month. With Starcraft 2, they haven’t even said which year it will be released. We have waited a long time between initial news and releases for all the games we hear about.

A third and often unnoticed trend is so important I must also point it out here: they make low risk, consistent and infrequent attempts to expand outside of their current franchises. They don’t want to be stuck making only Warcraft games. Or Starcraft games. Or RTS’s. They already know that the success of franchises, when milked too quickly, simply creates a hollow, average consistent success, one that doesn’t make for great games or great profits. Blizzard doesn’t want to be EA, with Battlefield, Command and Conquer, or Madden games coming out every 1.2 years. They want to make more money than that.

Blizzard’s pattern

Like movie sequels, so go video games—it’s hard to beat an original. Look at the timeline again: Warcraft 2, Diablo, Starcraft, Warcraft Adventures, Diablo 2, Warcraft 3, Starcraft: Ghost. They used to want to be able to go A, B, A, B. With the exception of Diablo 2 (which wasn’t as successful a franchise as Starcraft or Warcraft), it never worked well that way. Look at the two failures: Warcraft Adventures and Starcraft: Ghost. They rushed too quickly to make something for Warcraft and Starcraft. Their games are too damn good to give them only one title’s breathing space. Try two, or in the case of Starcraft 2, three, with expansions for all.

When a Blizzard game is much more of a success than anyone (including Blizzard) imagined, they know they don’t know how to top it. Now that they’ve learned their lesson, what they do is let a franchise rest for a very, very long time while they hope to make another new success with new ideas, because new ideas are much easier to make succeed than old ones are. All they’re really doing is diverting your attention and grabbing your money in another way until they can give you the World of Warcraft they were claiming to have or the Starcraft 2 you really wanted. That’s why Warcraft 3 wasn’t like Starcraft, because people wanted it to be Starcraft 2. But only Starcraft 2 can be Starcraft 2.

With lesson learned, when they made Warcraft 3, they made sure it isn’t like Warcraft 1 or 2. Instead of yet another RTS, they released World of Warcraft because they knew that Starcraft 2 was the only RTS that anyone would be willing to accept, and Warcraft 3 would be the only non-Starcraft-2 RTS that would be accepted. This is why Warcraft 3 took seven years to follow Warcraft 2, and why Starcraft 2 is taking more than 10 years to follow Starcraft 1.

So this is what we can expect—since they’re still hiring key staff for the Starcraft 2 team, you can count on it being a while. People will expect to see Starcraft 2 at the end of 2008, then hear it will come out around April 2009, then find out it will be released in August, October, or December 2009.

And everything else, like World of Warcraft?

Other projects are harder to predict. Will there be another expansion to WoW? Illidan seems such a big character that there can’t be more material, but remember—if people are still playing it, Blizzard will keep making material for it. Kel’Thuzad (if you don’t know who he is, go play the single player WC 3 again) is in an instance, too, remember. The only prediction we can safely make is that it will be a very long time before Blizzard releases another MMORPG. WoW will be around for a long time. The price will stay the same for a long time. There will be many more patches, big and small. Also, Arthas is probably going to stop by.

Blizzard has shown us they’re not afraid to drop projects—there may be another announcement in there. The next game that isn’t Starcraft 2 will be a bombshell. Will it be the expansion into mobile gaming? Or will it be a new franchise out of nowhere, the way Diablo was? And will it end up coming out before Starcraft 2? I don’t know.

If you’re playing Starcraft 1 to “prepare” yourself for Starcraft 2, you may need to cool down. The terran section of the website won’t be opened this summer, nor the protoss one completed. We have at least a year and a half. Still, everyone agrees--“it’s about time”, indeed.

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