Tag Archives: Bidness

Bad Apple: How the iPod Touch is Built to Break

Two Christmases ago, i bought an iPod Touch 2nd generation and a MacBook to pursue iOS game development.

Recently, the battery power on the iPod has been dropping dramatically. This week, it stopped charging altogether.

iPod Touch battery doesn't last past two years

i took the device to the Apple Store, where the Genius™ in the back told me that the iPod’s battery “is consumable”, and that two years is pretty much the upper limit of use that i could expect from the device.

He offered me exactly one option:

  1. Pay $69 (about a quarter of the price of the device) to swap it for a new one with a fresh battery.

All-Consuming

These two devices are the first Apple products i’ve ever purchased. i’ve been hearing for years about how user-friendly the company’s products are, and how they have a mind toward building green products (i believe their latest laptop is made from wood chips and rabbit pellets).

i can’t think of anything less user-friendly than a 21st century device which does not allow its owner to replace its battery. The battery is “consumable”, yes … but consumption implies that i can replenish the consumable, and consume it again.

i consume food on a daily basis, but once the food in my fridge runs out, i replenish it with new food – i don’t pay a quarter of the price to buy a new fridge.

Imagine a world where we were unable to replenish the power supplies in our devices. Car’s battery died? Pay a quarter of the price to trade it in for a new car. Video game controllers? After a few weeks, you need new ones. Watches? Remote controlled cars? Hearing aids? Despite it being a simple process to swap in a fresh power source, all of these devices would become defunct.

Antique chest

This is a millennia-old piece of technology which, once purchased, can last for hundreds of years. It’s built with a consumer-friendly design that enables the user to open it and get at its insides without voiding his warranty.

Green and Greed

There are two angles to this issue: green and greed.

Apple’s design decision to prevent users from being able to replace the battery is an environmental no-no. i’m sure they’ll do all sorts of wonderful things with my traded-in device (like throwing a new battery in it and selling it as refurbished, or planting it to grow an Apple tree or whatever), but because i feel like Apple is ransoming my use of the device, i have half a mind to throw my defunct iPod into the ocean, specifically aiming it at a dolphin’s face. Perhaps i’ll dip it in crude oil a few times first? Apple’s locked design of the device is environmentally unfriendly.

manatee

Apple makes me want to kick a manatee in its junk (if i could FIND its junk)

Perhaps more transparently, this is planned obsolescence at its ugliest. To specifically design a device that lasts only two years is irresponsible at best – insidious at worst. Apple knows darn well that after two years, an iPod customer will likely have made a significant temporal, financial and emotional investment in the device – purchasing iTunes apps and songs, sinking time and money into certain iOS games, and integrating the device into his lifestyle (public transit and toilet time, most notably). Squeezing another 25% of the device cost from the customer every two years is a solid way to pad company coffers.

Not a Fan

When i slide the back of my Nexus One Android phone open, there’s a replaceable battery staring back at me. When it gives up the ghost – hopefully beyond the 2-year mark – i can choose to purchase a new battery from either Google or a third party, at significantly less than 25% of the phone’s price ($10 or less on eBay – that’s 2% of the device price).

Apple has its fans, to be sure, but i’m not willing to sacrifice basic consumer control over the utility of my devices for a few shiny logos and a high-profile (yet environmentally irresponsible and ultimately consumer-hostile) brand.

UPDATE

i didn’t mention it in the original article, but things started to go South once i installed the iOS4 update for my device. Suddenly, the battery lasted one hour instead of the days of juice that it used to provide. i mentioned this to the Apple Store guy, who swore up and down that iOS4 has no effect on battery life. He actually made me feel like a bit of a fool for even bringing it up.

Enter the Internet:

So it appears that, non-replaceable battery notwithstanding, the iOS4 upgrade may have devoured whatever juice the “ancient” 2-year-old battery had left in it. i’ll pay another visit to the Apple Store tomorrow to see if i can’t get this sorted out.

ANOTHER UPDATE

Today i returned to the Apple Store, ranting and raving and foaming at the mouth. Craftily, i told the salespeople that i wanted to buy an expensive iPod Touch, but was concerned because the battery wasn’t replaceable. How long would the device last? One guy said “WELL over 2 years … possibly 4 or 5 years.” Hmm. But then a girl i spoke to said that it depends on my usage.

Me:Very well – i pay $400 for the device. How much usage does that get me, at maximum abuse? 3 months?
Her: Probably more than that, but i can’t say for sure.
Me: You can’t say for sure that i’m going to drop $400 on an iPod Touch, and it’s going to last longer than 3 months?
Her: Okay – probably longer than 3 months.
Me: How long? 6 months?
Her: i can’t say for sure.
Me: So $400 won’t even buy me 6 months with the device?
Her: It all depends.
Me: Depends on what? Don’t you have any benchmarks?

By that point, the “Genius” at the back was calling my name. As a (fake) new customer, though, i don’t think i would have made a purchase with such a non-committal answer. At least lie to me, lady. You’re in sales, after all.

i went in hollering and carrying on and telling them that the iOS4 upgrade had destroyed my battery. One Genius had to step in and, in his smoothest “i’m a very very cool dude who works at the Apple Store and check out my awesome tattoos but they’re too obscure for you to understand” voice, he asked me to calm down. Said that iOS4, while very hard on the battery and probably a bad idea for iPod Touch owners to install, had nothing to do with my device’s battery dying. Completely unrelated.

i asked him how an ill-advised upgrade that destroyed battery life could possibly be unrelated to a battery-destroying issue. He said it was pure coincidence that my battery happened to die after i upgraded. i reiterated that after i installed the iOS4 upgrade, my battery life began to rapidly decline over a period of two weeks, going from holding a charge for days, to holding a charge for an hour. He said that when the batteries degrade, they do so very quickly. i called bullshit.

They gave me options. A battery replacement was $99. The other guy jumped in and said they don’t actually replace the battery – they give me a new device, and that would cost me $89. Both numbers were a chunk higher than the $69 mystery figure the “Genius” had offered me one day earlier. i felt like i was playing The Price is Right.

The other “Genius” offered to wipe my device and install iOS 4.1 on it. “Genius” #2 told me that any time i used wifi on the device, i’d have to shut it down by putting the iPod into airplane mode before i pushed the Sleep button. There was still no option to disable the “always-on” wifi problem that iOS4 introduced.

“Genius” #2 also mumbled something to his colleague about there being a software bug on the recharge screen when it showed one red stick, which mine did. Funny – it was the first i was hearing of it.

So i told the guy to go ahead with the reset. He wiped the device, and upgraded to iOS 4.1. Suddenly, the device started to hold a charge. i went home and plugged it in, charging it fully. It took much longer to charge this time, instead of the half hour it took when it was suffering from iOS 4.0. Wifi is off. The battery is draining at a normal, pre- iOS4 rate.

Apparently, iOS4 is not an issue for older iPod Touch devices until Pope Steve says it is. Until then, ranting and raving and demanding satisfactory service in the face of a conflicting and ever-changing customer service response is the only way. You need to be a modern-day Galileo to convince Apple that the universe does not revolve around their company.

But now that my months-old Pocket Frogs saved game file is lost forever, there’s very little compelling me to use my iPod in the near future, charged battery or otherwise.

STILL ANOTHER UPDATE

The HTC-made Google Nexus One phone that i lauded in the original post – the one with the replaceable battery – stopped charging a few months after the warranty expired.

Canadian Vortex Game Competition Named a Scottish Team as its Winner

In 2009, the Vortex Game Competition used municipal and provincial Canadian funding to award its top prize to a Scottish game design team.

We followed up on allegations made by CultureGET, a news blog that covered the event, and found that last year’s Vortex winners, Alex Quick and John Josephson, likely had nothing to do with the creation of the winning game.

Alex and John keep their cool after winning the $4000 Vortex Competition top prize, which included industry mentoring and a distribution deal.

The Facts

Here’s what days of online research turned up:

  1. Colour-Coded, the winning entry, was created and developed by a team of five developers in the UK called the Pixel Pirates.
  2. Colour-Coded won the UK-based Dare to be Digital competition in August 2009, two months before the game was entered at Vortex. As a result, the game was nominated for a Scottish BAFTA award five months after Vortex 2009, and also appeared at the Scottish Game Jam in early 2010.
  3. Neither Alex Quick nor John Josephson are listed as members of the Pixel Pirates team on the Pixel Pirates front page, team page, or team photo. They are not mentioned at all during the team’s year-long development diary.
  4. The plan by Alex and John to continue developing Colour-Coded in Toronto with a team of five developers, and the Pixel Pirates’ alleged sale of the game IP to Alex and John and detachment from the project, is similarly never mentioned on the team’s very public development diary.

Meet the Pixel Pirates. Clockwise from top left: Sean, Nanna, Murray and Liam. Absent: Faye. NOTABLY absent: Vortex 2009 winners Alex and John. [photo taken August 3rd 2009 in the UK]

Eligibility Doubts

These were the Vortex Competition 2009 eligibility guidelines:

II ELIGIBILITY AND APPLICATION REQUIREMENTS

1. Eligibility

a) An Entrant is:

i) An individual person or team of persons (with the majority of the group being Canadian citizens), who is or who are Canadian citizens or residents; or,

ii) A legal partnership or a corporation established under the federal laws of Canada or the laws of a Canadian province or territory, and which is resident in Canada.

If the two Canadian winners are (generously) considered team members, despite having no apparent involvement in the game, the team is still comprised of a majority of UK citizens, and so does not meet the first eligibility criterion. Of the five Pixel Pirates, only Murray now lists a Canadian address, in British Columbia. Vortex organizer Sari Ruda confirmed for us that Murrary is a UK citizen.

The Question of Incorporation

Failing the first criterion, the team needed to have a Canadian corporation or legal partnership to be eligible for the competition. I asked Alex and John whether such a corporation existed, and neither winner laid claim to one.

In asking the two winners and the competition organizer about the apparent eligibility error, I received conflicting responses. Alex told me that at the time of the competition in October 2009, he and John were speaking “on behalf of” the Pixel Pirates team in the UK.

For his part, John claims that he and Alex had been working with the Pixel Pirates to commercialize the Colour-Coded prototype for nine months, when development was supposed to continue in Toronto with five local developers. Given that the game’s prototype development cycle ended in August 2009, and that Vortex was two months later, it becomes difficult to see where these nine months could have fallen.

John said “The original members of the Pixel-Pirates had moved onto other projects and job opportunities, and would not be involved in the production of the game.”

I contacted Pixel Pirate Liam Wong to verify this. Liam initially agreed to answer my questions about Vortex, but later failed to respond. Liam’s Twitter message, in which he agreed to be interviewed, seems to have been deleted.

A Year is a Long Time to Remember

Vortex organizer Sari Ruda said, surprisingly, that Alex and John did have a Canadian corporation that actually owned the Colour-Coded IP. This is information that neither Alex nor John offered when I spoke with them, despite each being asked the question directly, twice. On my second request, Alex pleaded memory loss:

I’ve told you everything I can remember about the vortex competition last year. As I mentioned in my last email, I have been out of contact with John and the Scottish team (with the exception of my friend, Murray) since shortly after Vortex ended.

Despite having “moved on”, the Pixel Pirates managed to maintain the Colour-Coded production blog for an additional year, showcase it at the 2010 Scottish Game Jam, and appear in person to accept a Scottish BAFTA nomination for the game.

The Pixel Pirates get gussied up to accept their BAFTA nomination for Colour-Coded in March 2010, five months after the Vortex competition, despite Vortex winner John Josephson’s claim that they had moved on. Not in picture: Liam. Still notably absent: Alex and John, Vortex 2009 winners, alleged owners, and supposed majority Canadian developers of the game.

Responsibility

All of this raises the question of who was ultimately responsible to ensure Entrants’ eligibility. The 2009 guidelines state that by entering, Entrants warrant their own eligibility. As a check and balance, the competition organizers may request proof of eligibility from the Entrants. After organizers confirm eligibility, the competition’s judges have the final authority in declaring an Entrant eligible. Alex said:

“At the time of presenting Colour Coded at Vortex, we made it clear that we were doing it on behalf of the ‘Pixel Pirates’, which was the name of the UK team I had contact with. This didn’t seem to be an issue for judges and everything went ahead.”

In the email response from Sari, where she asserted that John and Alex had both a Canadian corporation and ownership of Colour-Coded, and were therefore eligible to enter, Sari unnecessarily added:

“We (the organizers) were not involved with the choice of the winners in any way. Only the judges were and we were not on the panel and had no influence on any of them during the whole of Vortex or spoke to any of them while they were deliberating at any time.”

Methinks the lady doth protest too much. If Alex and John were eligible, as Sari claims, I can’t fathom why she would then try to wash her hands of the responsibility to confirm the eligibility of the Entrants in her competition, leaving the high-profile final judges, including UbiSoft CEO Yannis Mallat, holding the bag.

Possible Outcomes

The worst case scenario, and the one that the online record and Alex’s own admission suggest, is that Alex Quick and John Josephson were not eligible to enter the 2009 Vortex Competition.

If Sari and John’s claims pan out, then the best possible outcome is this: in the six weeks leading up to Vortex, two Canadians bought an award-winning Scottish-developed video game prototype and presented it as their own game, and subsequently won the competition.

For a competition that Sari Ruda increasingly strives to align with the business affairs side of the game industry, this best case scenario may be acceptable to some. But for the small and struggling game developers of Toronto who, based on the site’s misleading promotional materials, expected a game design competition, Vortex is at best a profound disappointment, and at worse, a disorganized sham.

Months after winning Vortex, Colour-Coded enjoys another moment in the sun at the Scottish Game Jam.

Limited Resources

Taxpayer dollars fuel the funds that made the 2009 Vortex Game Competition possible. These funds are limited, and should be spent on cultural events and activities that enrich and support the local and provincial game industry, including TOJam, the Hand Eye Society, the Toronto chapter IGDA, the Artsy Games Incubator, and newcomer GamerCamp.

The facts brought to light by the CultureGET article and which I expound in this article beg three results:

  1. The results of the 2009 competition must be revisited by the event organizers to ensure that the $4000 first place award and accompanying benefits are re-awarded to one of the five finalists who met the event’s eligibility criteria.
  2. Prospective entrants should give very careful consideration to their participation at this year’s event, which was rumoured yesterday to be canceled.
  3. Where applicable, the involvement of the City of Toronto, the Ontario Media Development Corporation and other sponsors in the 2010 Vortex Competition should be strongly reconsidered.

UPDATES

Wednesday October 20th 2010

In an interview with Pixel Pirate Murray Sinclair, Edge Magazine reported in March 2010 (five months after Vortex) that following the game’s ProtoPlay debut in August 2009, the Pixel Pirates team received “an offer to buy the IP,” and that Murray had moved overseas and was “in talks to found his own indie studio”. Contrast this with John Josephson’s claim that as of Vortex 2009 he, Alex, and Murray controlled a Canadian corporation that owned the Colour-Coded IP, and were continuing production with a team of five Toronto developers. Since the article was posted in March 2010, well after Vortex (and indeed, mentions the Vortex win), one wonders why the article didn’t say that the Colour-Coded IP had been purchased, and a studio had been founded.

Thursday October 21st 2010

Alex Wiltshire, Online Editor of Edge Magazine, confirmed that by the time the article ran, Murray “had already moved to Canada and was working with a local company.” Looks like the Edge article had some future-tense responses about events that had already occurred by the time the article went live.

Thursday October 21st 2010

i had a chance to speak with the Vortex organizers in person today. They are aware of the issue, and are working to resolve it. i’ll be sure to post their conclusions once i hear about them.

New Toronto Café Has a Board Game Collection to Die For

Last night, i had the pleasure of patronizing a new café here in Toronto called Snakes & Lattes, which augments the usual triple-foam overpriced fancy coffee fare with an enormous wall packed with board games.

The café is on Bloor Street West of Bathurst, quite nearby Honest Ed’s and the Pizza Pizza joint frequented by Scott Pilgrim and pals in the movie. i showed up on their second night of operation to find the place packed with people of (nearly) all ages. i’m not sure i spotted anyone over 45, but there was a surprising number of young teens and children in the place. Seeing children in Toronto is like sighting leprechauns – they’re so rare that you think you may have chanced upon some mythical creature that you need to catch up and strangle for its gold. (Unfortunately, despite my enthusiastic strangling, these kids were flat broke.)

Snakes & Lattes Tuesday night crowd

The Snakes & Lattes Tuesday night crowd

i saddled up to the counter and ordered a hot cup of jasmine green tea, the perfect choice having just cycled through 30 degree heat with high humidity (i didn’t notice that they had cold pop until much later). The tea tasted awful, which is less a criticism of the café, and more a criticism of tea … the stuff is supposed to boost my metabolism, but it tastes as if i’m licking a tree.

For the first little while, i stood like a dope holding my mug. The joint was so packed, i couldn’t find a place to sit all by my lonesome, so i wandered by the absolutely enormous collection of board games and perused the titles.

Snakes & Lattes game collection

i struggle for the right words to describe Snakes & Lattes’ games collection; the term “boner-inducing” comes to mind. This is about half of the café’s library.

This place has everything, from classic strategy games like chess, checkers and go, to well-known stand-bys like Monopoly (in many different flavours), all the way up to the kind of games i enjoy – European board games like Settlers of Catan (which is like Monopoly, except it doesn’t blow ass). The more “serious” Euro games sat on the shelves, in and amongst the well-known titles, lying in wait for some unsuspecting patron to say “Let’s try Agricola!” or “I wonder if Power Grid is any fun?” It’s a sly strategy of a clever pusher, like lacing cupcakes with smack.

i was pleasantly surprised to see a number of games i’d completely forgotten about, but which brought about a flood of nostalgia, including the two “toy” games 13 Dead End Drive from the 90’s, and Fireball Island from the 80’s, both of which got played while i was there.

Snakes & Lattes Fireball Island

Seeing Fireball island made me want to slap on a pair of ALF underoos and drop the needle on a Jem and the Holograms record.

Eventually, i accosted a couple at their table. They were playing Lost Cities, a two-player game that’s found its way to Xbox Live Arcade. i insinuated myself into their game, so i suppose the first game i played at Snakes and Lattes was “cockblocking”. Once they’d finished playing and i’d successfully killed the mood with my sweat-swathed face, now completely overheated from the bike ride and the tree-licking, we cracked open a copy of Ticket to Ride, another table-to-Xbox conversion.

Snakes & Lattes Ticket to Ride

Note:no relation to the Beatles song, except that everyone hums it when they’re about to play.

The evening progressed delightfully from there. i ordered a gingerale and cooled down, while we laid track across a tabletop approximation of industrial America. The café officially closes at 11 PM on weeknights, but we didn’t clear out until closer to midnight. If you pay the shop a visit, be sure to leave enough time to finish your game. The good-natured owner, a friendly Frenchman named Ben, tolerated us and our suggestions for new games (despite his already killer collection), but it was apparent that his girlfriend and business partner Aurelia was tired and overworked from an apparently exhausting opening. i hope she lasts the week!

Snakes & Lattes Ben and Aurelia

(Between us, i think she’s a goner)

Ben will likely get very tired of people suggesting games he doesn’t have on offer. i found out that he doesn’t like expansions, which is a shame because some games only become playable with their expansions. Ticket to Ride Europe, for example, fixes a number of problems with the original game. When asked if he’d consider selling board games as well, Ben said he’d think about it.

i can see the fervor over Snakes and Lattes dying down as the café moves past the positive press surrounding its opening, but i hope it will develop a loyal enough fanbase to stay open through the bitterly cold winter months here in Toronto. i very much enjoyed my visit, and am excited about making a return trip.

To show your online love, you can Like the Snakes & Lattes Facebook page, or follow @snakesandlattes on Twitter.

We’re Doomed

Spellirium

So we shopped Spellirium around at the Casual Connect conference in Seattle this past week, and the consensus was that the game was good … for them to poop on.

Category Exclusivity

i’ve been billing Spellirium as a “word puzzle/adventure game hybrid”, or “Jim Henson’s Labyrinth meets Boggle.”

Hoggle

Er – that’s “Boggle”, not “Hoggle”.

To the casual games portals and bidnessmen i met at the conference, the phrase “word puzzle game” was tantamount to box office poison of Carrot Top-ical proportions.

Said one acquisitions director for a well-known casual downloadable games portal, “word games don’t do well.” He cited the only three word games he’s ever known that did do well: Scrabble, TextTwist, and “to a far lesser extent”, Bookworm. Apparently Bookworm Adventures, Spellirium’s kissing cousin, didn’t even rate.

Bookworm Adventures

At a reported development cost of over $700k, Bookworm Adventures is the casual downloadable industry’s Ishtar.

i did my research before embarking on this project. i knew that word games don’t sell. i even wrote that fact into our business plan. i was quick – perhaps too quick – to point out to him that there are no other word games quite like Spellirium. i wasn’t just shilling, though – honestly, no other game i know has tried to combine an early-90’s LucasArts-style adventure game with a word puzzle mechanic. All other word games i’ve seen have been just the mechanic, and that can get old quickly. Even Bookworm Adventures, with its worm-on-monster battles and its levelling and inventory systems, didn’t do story. Story is not a blob of text you frantically skip after the title screen, or an explanation of how Character X has to retrieve the Magic Y.

Bubble Bobble

Note: this is not “story”.

i also tried to explain that Spellirium does word puzzling like no other game. We’re really stretching this simple mechanic to its farthest logical limits – you’ll be spelling words to paint pictures, navigate mazes, move objects, balance balls … in many of our modes, spelling words doesn’t even matter. It’s crazy, it’s creative, and i think players are totally gonna dig it.

Spellirium modes

We’ve already produced and playtested over twenty unique variations on our main game mechanic, seen here in prototype phase. One of the goals of Spellirium is to ensure that the puzzling is constantly fresh and surprising.

Idiocracy

The casual games publishers do not dig it. “Anything that involves thinking”, they said, “is a non-starter.” The same acquisitions guy told me that one of our other games was “too cerebral”, and followed up by saying “i don’t wanna say that our audience is dumb, but … ”

And i won’t say that either. i’m sure that the Big Fishes and the iWins and the Gamehouses have more than their fair share of dim bulbs buying games from them. But i think the real challenge for us with Spellirium is finding the right audience. The casual downloadable audience is mostly female, and mostly older, and they play games to escape. Spellirium is not an escape in that clicky-gemmy, findy-object kinda way. It’s escapism in that “i’ve been transported to a fascinating and fun other world where there are characters who are more interesting than anyone i know, and places more vivid than i’ve ever visited” kinda way.

Bejewelled

i actually feel like i have to escape Bejewelled whenever i’ve played. Is this lunch break ever gonna end?

Luna-cy

i was never more dismayed during the conference than when i attended the talk by Luna Cruz from Boomzap, who talked about economizing story in her game Awakening: The Dreamless Castle. Look: i know i’m a wordy writer, and i know the Spellirium script could use trimming as badly as those ladies from the 1970’s skin mags. So it was with great hope that i sat down to hear Luna’s talk.

Awakening

(Awakening: Not to be confused with that movie where Robin Williams gives drugs to all those old people.)

Early on, Luna said “We really needed to find a way to simplify this cut-scene and get the most important information out in as few lines as possible.” i was all ears. But then: “The original cut-scene had six lines of dialogue, which we knew was way too much for our audience, so we worked really hard and gave it a lot of thought, and cut it down to only two.”

You cut it down to – guh. What? How many lines? And you say six lines was too much for your audience to bear? i have to say six lines of dialogue before i can even establish one of my characters’ names. i was going to approach Luna after the talk and ask for her advice, but i began to worry that she’d look at one of our cut-scenes and start vomiting on me uncontrollably.

But let’s compare. Here’s the entire story of Awakening:

*** spoilers ***

A princess who can’t wield magic wakes up in a magic-imbued world and must escape the castle, with the help of a magic mirror and some ornery trolls who were sworn to protect her.

And here’s just the backstory to Spellirium:

*** no spoilers ***

In the future, a young apprentice journeys with an ill-fated monster to find his missing guardians, using a dangerously magical device to battle enemies and to overcome challenges.

Luna can tell her entire story in the same space that it takes me to write a synopsis of Spellirium. We’re dealing with apples and oranges here. Which suggest to me that the audience, likewise, is like apples and oranges.

Spellirium storyboard

Three panels from a Spellirium cutscene.

What Sort of Gamer Plays Spellirium?

The suggestion was repeated to me by a number of people at the conference, when i asked whether i should just scrap Spellirium and take up pork farming: i need to find the right audience for the game. So what sort of gamer plays Spellirium?

What sort of man reads Playboy?

The pervy sort. Next question.

We tried to answer this question way back before production began by stating the obvious: people who play word games will play Spellirium. So we built a game portal called Word Game World and stocked it with word games leftover from the MochiMedia/Dictionary.com contest they ran last year. Here are the less-than-stellar results:

Word Game World Analytics

Yes – that says “40”, not “40k”.

The trouble is that now we found ourselves with the challenge of generating an audience for TWO properties. It makes more sense to just bring people straight to Spellirium, than to drive them to the game via the scenic route. That, and many of the word games people have made have turned out less-than-scenic, if you get my drift. (Yet another nail in the coffin for the genre – too many people making it look bad)

Beer Covers a Multitude of Sins

i got a hot tip from my fellow Christian game designer pal Grant Shonkwiler (who you’ll remember from our earlier post on the impossibility of Christian gaming). These days, Grant designs games for tabletop bar cabinets (like any good Christian would … i forgot to ask if he got paid in hooch). He designed a word game for his company that was a smash success with the audience, and offered that bar patrons love word games. It reminded me of Norm MacDonald’s old SNL Weekend Update punchline: Germans love David Hasselhoff. You hit the right niche with the right product, and you’re sailing.

Norm Macdonald

So what combination of Knight Riding and Baywatching will Spellirium have to pull off to find its Germany-sized pool of rabid fans? Here are some facts about what i *think* a Spellirium player is like. i think the game will appeal to both sexes, but i’ll use masculine pronouns for simplicity:

  1. He can kick ass at Scrabble. Don’t mess.

    Scrabble

  2. He does crossword puzzles on his way to work. In pen. He may even feel that British cryptics are far superior to American-style.
  3. He watches movies. Among his favourite films are Labyrinth, The Dark Crystal, The Lord of the Rings Trilogy, The Road Warrior, Twelve Monkeys, The Adventures of Baron Munchausen, The Princess Bride, The Last Unicorn, Dragonslayer, and The Goonies.

    movies

    movies

  4. He reads. He likes sci fi and fantasy. He may enjoy Douglas Adams, Terry Pratchett, Lloyd Alexander, J.R.R. Tolkien, C.S. Lewis, Terry Brooks, and Neil Gaiman.
  5. He plays games. He quite liked Puzzle Quest, Bookworm and Bookworm Adventures, digital versions of Scrabble and Boggle, Wurdle, TextTwist, LucasArts and Sierra On-Line graphic adventure games – possibly even Infocom text adventures or MUDs – as well as Out of This World, Beneath a Steel Sky and the Fallout series.

    games

  6. When he’s playing a game that has story elements, including dialogue or cutscenes or even blobs of text, he does not – does NOT – push the A button to skip. He becomes particularly upset if he accidentally skips story, even if he’s not particularly enjoying that story. If he’s gaming with a dumb jock fratboy friend who blithely skips past all the story sequences saying “let’s just play already, d00d”, he punches that friend in the throat. (Then he gets his ass kicked, because he’s a lover, not a fighter.)

i know, friends. i know. i’ve just described myself. (Or perhaps Jerry Holkins / Tycho Brahe from Penny Arcade – i’m convinced we’re the same person.) i am a little concerned that i have not paid enough attention to the needs and wants of the market, over the needs and wants of the me. i have not designed Spellirium as an ineffectual, casual click-fest with simple puzzles and two-line cutscenes. i thought, perhaps foolishly – perhaps arrogantly – that if i designed a game that i desperately wanted to play, there would be others like me for whom this game would be a breath of fresh air.

Ryan Henson Creighton

If the world was as full of me as i am of myself, i’d be a wealthy, wealthy man.

Was i wrong? Like chocolate and peanut butter, is our word puzzle/adventure game hybrid born of two great tastes that taste great together? Or is it born of two disappointments – an overly cerebral genre that repeatedly fails to perform in the marketplace, and an outdated genre that saw its best days twenty years ago? Should we finish Spellirium and bury it as quickly as possible, or should we keep working to realize our vision – the vision of a smart, funny game for well-read, literate players that melds two genres like no other game before it?

Spellirium player

Muffy and I simply *luuuurve* your game, Ryan.

i defer to your judgment and expertise. If Untold Entertainment needs to become a Hidden Object Game developer, please tell me now so that i can go get a lobotomy and get myself fitted at the Vagina Depot.

Word.

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