Category Archives: Blog

Dofus does Teevee

What i realized from attending two Game Developers Conferences is that Americans seem to really have their heads in the sand when it comes to gaming trends and the “next big thing.” Companies like Blizzard have flat-out rejected the lucrative microtransaction payment model for online games, while Far East companies like Nexon and QQ are making a killing on them.

Cyworld

Cyworld makes more money than you.

Kid-targeted virtual worlds like Club Penguin and Webkinz were already making a killing by the time Raph Koster shocked the room at GDC 07 and said that Club Penguin does more business in North America than World of Warcraft.

It’s unlikely that many Americans, with their freedom fries and their hatred of the French, have heard of France-based studio Ankama Games. My colleagues and i in Canada have been following their work for years. They have some of the most eye-popping 2D artwork i’ve seen in all my life. While at E3 2006, i was able to snag a hardcover book filled with their artwork, and it remains a source of inspiration and drool to this day.

Dofus

For sheer visual appeal, Anakama Games’ Dofus is hard to beat.

But who knew they could animate? The exciting news is that Wakfu is being made into a teevee series. Buckle yourself into your chair and check out this Wakfu teaser video:

Three Startup Tips from GDC 2008

i split my time between MMO talks and entrepreneurship sessions at this year’s Game Developers Conference. The conference had a fair number of sessions featuring CEOs who discussed how they went from owning small startups to riding around in limousine hot tubs. i also attended a series of roundtable discussions called “Start-up Survival Stories”.

These talks actually turned into “Start-up Horror Stories”. Here’s a sampling of the hair-raising tales people told:

My receptionist embezzled tens of thousands of dollars from me and moved to a different State.

i licensed and localized a game from Korea, and my North American publisher went bankrupt. i couldn’t do anything with the game because i didn’t want my publisher’s creditors to take the license away from me.

After we’d built our studio and hired our staff, our investor pulled out and took off with the money.

And so on.

What i found really interesting were the rags-to-riches stories told by successful CEOs in other panels. It was neat to see the common threads running through these sessions, which i present presently as a present to you:

Equity does not mean equality. Four successful CEOs were assembeled for Lessons from the Front Lines: Startup CEOs share their Insider Stories. 4/4 CEOs agreed that when starting a company, it’s not always the best policy to give everyone an even split. What happens when, in a year or two, Founder A is doing 20% of the work, but enjoys 50% of the company equity? Crabby and opinionated Erik Bethke, founder of Korean virtual world startup GoPets, suggested that a keen lawyer can help you set up your company so that shares are handled more fluidly. Shares can be redistributed as time wears on to more accurately reflect the contributions of the founders.

Erik Bethke

GoPets founder and CEO, Erik Bethke

Hire good people. “i only hire people who are smarter than me.” So said Paul Wedgwood in his lecture Splash Damage: From Amateur to Triple-A in Five Years. This was echoed in a few different sessions as “‘A’ people hire ‘A’ people, but ‘B’ people hire ‘C’ people.”

Fire bad people. When the same four CEOs were asked what one mistake they learned from, they all said the same thing: they let poor performers stay at the company for too long. Get rid of people when it’s obvious that they aren’t a good fit for the company. There seemed to be a lot of untold, painful stories as the panelists winced and grit their teeth, imploring the audience to keep good personnel policies. Craig Sherman, adopted CEO of hit online community Gaia Online, said that this was tough to practice. He suggested paying outgoing staff more than their due to keep everything amicable, and to prevent ousted employees from bad-mouthing your operation.

Best of GDC 2008 – Best Panel or Lecture

Game Developers Conference 2008 is over and it’s time to return to the snowy North. Here are my picks for the best and worst of everything i experienced there.

Best Panel or Lecture

There were so many amazing sessions that it’s hard to pin one down. Last year, it was Damion Schubert’s “Writing Great Game Design Documents”, which i thoroughly enjoyed. It actually turned out to be the highest-rated lecture last year, and i can understand why. Unlike most of the other sessions, i used the information in Schubert’s lecture all year long since that last conference. Here’s an example of the wisdom imparted by Mr. Schubert:

5. Limit your use of the phrase “Man, this game’s gonna suck” in your GDD.

i keed, i keed.

The first two days of GDC are home to the summits – clustered lectures strung along a certain theme. i chose to attend the Worlds in Motion Summit this year, because i had already been to the Casual Games summit. Anyway, it looked like the Casual crew were getting comfy. Their schedule listed the same speakers talking again and again throughout the two day Casual Games Summit. And get this: the first session was called “Intro to Casual Games”. The second session was “Intro to Casual Games Part II”. Puh-LEEZE. Get a job, guys.

The Worlds in Motion’s chair, Leigh Alexander, was a self-aggrandazing egomaniac (it takes one to know one) who had to introduce herself before every session, although the room’s turnover rate was low. Despite this, if Leigh was the one responsible for booking the summit’s speakers, she did a great job (with some exceptions).

Get On With It

This year, two sessions stood out in my mind: Treat Me Like a Lover by Margaret Robinson, and Let Me Win! Best Practices for Approachable Game Design by Katie Stone-Perez.

Katie’s “Let Me Win!” talk began with a provocative opening volley befitting a Microsoft-sponsored session: if the player doesn’t finish your game, he’s less likely to buy your sequel. The speaker backed her point up by showing the kind of data-mining MS does on its XBox 360 players:

This is Joey. Joey played Call of Duty 3 on his XBox 360, but as you can see from his player profile, he didn’t get many Achievements in the game. He also hasn’t played the sequel.

Meanwhile, he got all 1000 Achievement points in Viva Piñata, AND he bought Viva Piñata Party Animals (poor, poor Joey – ed.).

If you didn’t realize that Microsoft is carefully scrutinizing its Achievement infrastructure like this, i hope you’re enjoying your latest adventure in Gullible’s Travels.

Call of Duty 4 vs Viva Piñata

As this side-by-side analysis clearly demonstrates, Joey is a pussy.

note: In Joey’s defence, let me point out that the speaker likely chose a Viva Piñata because it sounds easy. If you’ve ever played the game, you’ll know that Viva Piñata is a very complex and challenging simulation. If Joey actually did get all 1000 points with no help from GameFaqs, frankly, he’s a bona fide badass.

Easysaurus Rex

The speaker went on to talk about ways to make your game easier. For example, if the player tries three times and can’t defeat your T-Rex boss, maybe the T-Rex picks the player up and throws him over the wall into the next level.

Immediately, the blue-blooded gamer in me raged “Yeah! And why doesn’t the T-Rex chew up the gamer’s food and regurgitate it into his mouth for him, huh? WHY DOESN’T THE GAME SUCKLE THE PLAYER AT ITS WARM COZY VIDEO TEAT?? HUH????”

i calmed myself down by hyperventilating into a paper bag. When my ire had settled, i thought through it calmly and rationally. She’s right, of course. i can count on 400 hands the number of games i’ve had to abandon halfway through, either because i reached a stopping point, or because i’m a weak sissy girl-baby and i can’t play video games worth a damn.

Here’s my latest unbeatable T-Rex: i’ve stopped playing the original Phoenix Wright: Ace Attorney because i’m stuck in an endless line of questioning with one of my witnesses. She states a series of truisms like “the sky is blue” and “water is wet”, and i’m supposed to object to one of them and show the court evidence to the contrary. i have no idea where i’m supposed to speak up to further the plot, and the judge keeps saying “Why don’t you repeat your infallible witness testimony, ma’am?”

Phoenix Wright

I object! (to the lack of an in-game hint system)

Stupid game. i actually do wish a T-Rex would pick me up and throw me into the next courtroom, where the guilt is a little more obvious. An OJ trial, for example.

Gettin’ Sexay with Margaret Robinson

For her part, Margaret Robinson opened with a provocative tale of sharing a bath with her new lover, which turned out to be the DS version of Advance Wars. Meh – it was still kinda hot. i’m ashamed to admit it, but for the whole first half of Maggie’s talk, i sat there wondering if she was a good kisser. It was probably her UK accent.

When i snapped out of it, i found she had a few profound things to say. i’ll paraphrase:

Imagine a game where all of your cut-scenes and story exposition were available to the player right off the top of the game. Any new player could watch the whole story from start to finish without actually playing your game. (Pause for effect.) That idea makes many of the developers in the room uncomfortable, and yet we’re somehow not uncomfortable with a game that the player might never finish. The player might never see those cut-scenes or experience the story that we put so much hard work into, but that seems to be okay with most of us.

An excellent point.

During one of these two lectures, a lady stood up and introduced herself as the site manager for an online women’s game review magazine. She said that if one of her readers can’t finish a game and see all of its content, she should return it to the store as a defective product.

It’s an entirely new way of thinking for me, but i’ll give that a tentative … amen?

You’d never rent a movie or pick up a book and expect to miss the ending because you’re not smart or crafty or skilled enough to get through it. Why should we endure that kind of punishment from a game? i’m all for rewarding the players who were smart or crafty or skilled enough to experience all of the content without my help, but after attending these two sessions, i’m a changed man.

i am a reformed game developer. i will forever strive to make my games forgiving, loving, accessible and approachable to the throngs of hot young women who clamour to play them.

IADT – Rest in Pieces

i heard a wonderful rumour this past week that infamous scam school International Academy of Design and Technology, which gets a lot of play on sites like Ripoff Report, is closing its doors in March 2009. A quick look around my trusty Internets confirms it. i hope you will join me next March in dancing on whatever grave it winds up in.

RIP IADT

You’d think that after fleecing students for multiple millions, they could afford a nicer headstone?

This is like finding out that your cats can talk, or that vegetables are made of chocolate. i am so happy to see that this con is finally ending, but a little upset that it took so long, and that it ended without newsreel footage of white men in suits getting their heads pushed into the back of a squad car. It’s also a letdown that so many kids fell prey to the school’s technological wiles over the year. i was not one of them. i’ve never had that much money to squander foolishly, thank God.

So what are we left with? As for Toronto, we have a growing number of colleges and now Universities who are trying to ensnare high school grads with their “Game Design” courses. i’m actually on the advisory board for a few of these. In at least one program, the students’ final project is a walk-through of a first-person shooter level using Unreal Engine 3. That’s game design? Really? i’d thought that a game design program might end in something that has the feel of more of a um … like a game, really. You know? Something interactive, like games tend to be?

If you are unlucky enough to have been lured by this latest “Game Design Program” bait by the for-profit college sector, let me recount to you a conversation i had with one of the program heads of a Southern Ontario college that shall remain nameless:

Me: Unreal Engine is sexy and everything, but if you want these kids to be able to feed themselves after they graduate, why don’t you teach them some more Flash courses? This city (and the planet Earth, as i later found out at GDC last week) is desperate for people who can use Flash. It’s easier to break into, it’s easier to make a quick buck doing freelance, it’s easier to find full time employment at a reputable firm …

Program Head: Oh, no. No no no. No – we’re not here to help these kids find jobs.

Me: You’re uh … you’re not?

Program Head: No! Hahahha. No. They’re here to explore themselves and really … really feel a sense of their own creativity and artistic awakening.

Ahem. i ask you, College Students of Today: are you paying thousands of dollars in tuition and living on beans and toast so that you can “feel a sense of your own creativity and artistic awakening” ? Or do you want to learn some marketable skillz and get PAID, yo? Get your “bling” and your “rims” and your “bitches n ho’s”, and all that other stuff you young people are into.

Thought so. The next time you think your college is in the business of advancing your career or teaching you what you need to know, give yourself a reality check: it’s a business like any other. Take your education into your own hands and make sure you learn something that will pay the bills.

Freebie: “Bitches n’ Ho’s” would make an excellent snack food name. Take it – it’s all yours.