Wooooooooooooooo!

It is Monday morning, my voice is gone and my ears are ringing because I went to Wrestlemania 24 last night. Not only was I at Wrestlemania, but I was in the second row, mere feet from the stage with my wonderful girlfriend. It was one of those incredible once-in-a-lifetime things like finding a four-leaf clover in the Grand Canyon while being attacked by a bald eagle during a blue moon. Rare and majestic. Only I paid a lot of money for the privilege and it didn’t involve talons. For others, the experience was hot. Literally.

When you are at the very front, you get to keep your chairs which is nice since they are fairly comfortable and come with a custom design. The downside to their value is that they bind all the chairs together in a row so people aren’t thieving them or moving them around. This leads to very little elbow room for the fans, which can lead to conflict.

So now that I am a Wrestlemania ringside seat veteran, I offer these courtesy tips to avoid conflict inspired by the guy who sat beside me.

Tip #1 – I am a stranger to you. While I am not unfriendly, I paid my money to see the matches, not to see your ratty circa 1998 Kane shirt or your toy championship belt both of which you are unreasonably proud. I honestly could not care less.

Tip #2 – Speaking of your championship belt, it is fairly big. Why did you bring it? Maybe you could wear it instead of constantly hoisting it into the air in front of my camera… or into my camera. God bless the protective camera strap. An permitted celebration involves throwing your hands into the air sans care, but be mindful of where your elbows are heading. Again, my camera.

Tip #3 – Wrestlemania is a marathon. Four and a half hours in the same seat. Some hungry patrons like to get food at the stadium. If you do this, try to put the refuse in the garbage can located at the end of the row rather than inches from my feet. If you choose to carbo-load before the event instead, maybe you want to lay off the more gassy foods like beans and cabbage.

Tip #4 – Since the distance between seats is roughly six microns, if you are one of the larger fans, (there are fat people who like wrestling, surprisingly!) maybe you could buy two seats, one for each cheek? That way, you have room to dance and thrust and I’m not getting molested by your rolls the whole time.

Tip #5 – The art of negotiation is nuanced. Usually, it involves you receiving something of value to you and the counterparty receiving something of value to them. If there’s an extra seat at the end of the row and you would like your buddy to come down and join you, offering your (closer) seats to the nice couple in exchange for a contiguous section of seats for you and your buddies may be a reasonable trade. An unreasonable offer to make is for us to “slide down” away from the ring so your buddy can join you.

Tip #6 – Sit down. Sit. The. Fuck. Down. How many times does that dad in the third row have to tap you on the shoulder telling you his kids can’t see because you are springing up thrusting your championship belt in the air like there is a Twinkie in it for you? Acceptable reasons to stand include: briefly taking a photograph, seeing the ring entrances (everyone stands), stretching your legs in between matches, leaving to use the restroom, fireworks are about to hit you, terrorist attack. Unacceptable reasons: you just want to.

I know we are all big wrestling nerds and it is very exciting to have such great seats, but by showing a modicum of decorum we can all enjoy the show together, especially when chanting together that Floyd Mayweather can go fuck himself.

Parking Wars, redux

I recently posted a bit about Parking Wars, the Facebook game that takes the electrifying feeling of parking your car and turns it into an awesome asynchronous,  real-time, insert-other-adjectives, social game. I just wanted to relate the story of yesterday’s parking misadventures.

On Thursday morning I check Parking Wars and see that my roommate’s girlfriend has ticketed him very early in the morning with the comment “See you in 20 hours”. Since I know she is a hospital nurse that works twelve hour shifts, I say “A ha!” and park my cars illegally all over her street. She can’t stop me because she’ll be at work all day! Mwahaha. Then I go into work with the smug sense of satisfaction that comes when you delude yourself into thinking that you are freaking brilliant.

When I log onto Facebook in the afternoon, I find all of my cars have been ticketed and removed! Impossible! It turns out my roommate had logged into his girlfriend’s account and ticketed me for her! The deceit is Earth-shattering. The Earth has been shattered by the deceit.

But isn’t the level of social engineering involved with this simple little game remarkable?

Is XBLA Adding Quality?

I’m waiting for my PS3 to get updated, so I have some time to kill.

I didn’t really give it a good think until the N+ devs brought it up, but has the Xbox Live Arcade has been riding the Suckage Express into Craptown in recent time?

I used to be a huge advocate of the service, having bought probably close to ten games in the first year. But I haven’t purchased an XBLA game since Carcassone despite having downloaded nearly every demo. Recently, I stopped caring enough to even spend the thirty seconds paying attention to what comes out every week, which I suppose is very bad for their service. I doubt everything that has come out has been bad, but has anything even been inspiring enough to warrant downloading? There isn’t too much that is radically new. In fact, most of the quality titles are remakes of old console games or conversions of board games.

For your reference, I’ve listed below the releases on XBLA over the past year. If I say something snarky about your game, don’t take it personally. I don’t have the time to be diplomatic about every game listed. As someone who has made a very… *ahem* poorly received/executed game himself, I know how there can be extenuating circumstances that conspire against you and your team. Don’t take it personally. Keep coming up with ideas.

Date Title Metacritic Verdict
3/12/2008 Bliss Island 44 Paying for it is not a good idea – IGN
3/12/2008 Brain Challenge 60 It’s a mobile phone game ported to XBLA. Out of place.
3/5/2008 Rocketmen: Axis Of Evil 57 An arcade shooter. Let’s see how many we get.
2/27/2008 Trigger Heart Exelica 63 A very short arcade shmup with no hook. No one will play it once Ikaruga comes out.
2/20/2008 N+ 82 I’ll be honest, I don’t get it. But others seem to eat it up.
2/13/2008 Discs of Tron 42 Broken arcade port.
2/13/2008 Commanders: Attack of the Genos 73 A neat little turn-based strategy game. I approve.
2/6/2008 Poker Smash 80 Sounds terrible, but is actually one of the most new and refreshing games on the service.
1/30/2008 Chessmaster Live 76 Fantastic if you love chess. I don’t.
1/30/2008 Rez HD 89 A quality game, but I wasn’t the hugest fan of the original.
1/16/2008 Boogie Bunnies 54 Shallow puzzle game #2
1/9/2008 Omega Five 73 Another shmup. Hooray.
1/9/2008 Tron 43 Broken arcade port #2.
1/2/2008 Metal Slug 3 78 Quality shmup. But another shmup nonetheless.
12/26/2007 SpongeBob SquarePants: Underpants Slam 55 [E]xercise in tedium – IGN
12/21/2007 Sensible World of Soccer 81 Quality soccer remake.
12/19/2007 Tempest 47 Broken arcade port #3
12/12/2007 Arkadian Warriors 59 Uninspired dungeon crawl.
12/12/2007 GripShift 72 A kart racer I actually missed out on trying. Note to self.
11/28/2007 Asteroids/Asteroids Deluxe 55 Broken arcade ports #3 and #4
11/21/2007 Undertow 75 Uninspiring action/shooter that I didn’t get.
11/14/2007 Screwjumper! 40 Best left unsaid.
11/14/2007 Shrek N’ Roll 49 It’s a game for kids but apparently not a good one.
11/7/2007 Switchball 78 See also: Marble Blast Ultra
11/7/2007 Word Puzzle 44 Not broken. But who green-lit the concept?
10/31/2007 Mutant Storm Empire 76 Mindless.
10/24/2007 Battlestar Galactica 55 Another arcade shooter.
10/24/2007 Exit 75 Great art style, but the controls don’t work.
10/17/2007 Every Extend Extra Extreme 77 A different experience. What we are looking for.
10/17/2007 Speedball 2: Brutal Deluxe 64 Brutal is a good description.
10/10/2007 Puzzle Quest: Challenge of the Warlords 87 A quality port. Too bad I’d played it out on DS by time it was released.
10/10/2007 Yaris 17 I try to say nice things, I really do. Okay… how about this? It deserves better than a 17.
10/3/2007 Tetris Splash 53 Have you played Tetris before?
9/19/2007 Geon: Emotions 59 Not great, but I give respect to the idea. Needed more iteration.
9/12/2007 Sonic the Hedgehog 2 82 A port that isn’t completely hosed.
9/5/2007 Cyberball 2072 41 A port that is completely hosed.
9/5/2007 Fatal Fury Special 63 Arcade port + boring beat-em-up
8/29/2007 Streets of Rage 2 76 See above.
8/29/2007 Super Puzzle Fighter II Turbo HD Remix 83 Quality port. But still a port.
8/22/2007 Space Giraffe 68 Garbage for pseudo-intellectuals. It’s baaaaaaaad. (Get it? A llama joke?)
8/22/2007 Street Trace NYC 45 Looks good next to Space Giraffe, but not that good.
8/15/2007 Ecco the Dolphin 53 Port port porty port.
8/15/2007 Hexic 2 72 I only enjoyed the first one because it was free.
8/8/2007 Track & Field 63 I hated this game on the NES and I hate it now.
8/1/2007 Marathon: Durandal 63 Nausea-inducing. Literally.
8/1/2007 Spyglass Board Games 54 Thanks, grandpa.
7/25/2007 Wing Commander Arena 51 Hey, look, another arcade shooter.
7/25/2007 Super Contra 60 Broken port #700
7/18/2007 Bomberman Live 84 I can say nothing bad about Bomberman except that it is a played-out idea.
7/18/2007 Yie Ar Kung-Fu 51 Broken arcade port #1011
7/11/2007 Golden Axe 68 Broken arcade port #1101
7/11/2007 Sonic the Hedgehog 77 I’ve seen this somewhere before…
7/4/2007 Missile Command 63 Broken arcade port #e^7
6/27/2007 Carcassonne 78 A delightful Euro-boardgame
6/20/2007 Band of Bugs 67 I give NinjaBee points for being somewhat original, if not successful.
6/13/2007 Prince of Persia Classic 82 A pseudo-port, but excellent.
6/6/2007 Pac-Man Championship Edition 83 Reinvent one of the greatest arcade games of all-time? Okay. Textbook example of how to remake what could have been a simple port with some bells and whistles.
5/30/2007 Mad Tracks 62 Not good.
5/23/2007 Rush ‘n Attack 58 Russian attack? Broken arcade port #i
5/23/2007 Xevious 56 A classic for sure, but better games have come since.
5/16/2007 Aegis Wing 58 It was free, but it also didn’t take any risks. And it was a shmup.
5/16/2007 Soltrio Solitaire 59 Solitaire!!!!
5/9/2007 Double Dragon 57 How many games in a row can we have between 55-59 score?
5/2/2007 Catan 81 The best example of XBLA integration of a classic board game yet.
5/2/2007 Centipede/Millipede 55 Damnit Catan, why’d you get in the way? We had a streak going. Broken arcade port.
4/25/2007 Pinball FX 68 Neat camera integration, I suppose. But it is still pinball.
4/25/2007 Eets: Chowdown 77 Excellent original content.
4/18/2007 Gyruss 56 I think this belongs near Catan.
4/18/2007 3D Ultra Minigolf Adventures 66 A yawner, although they do try some interesting stuff.
4/11/2007 Boom Boom Rocket 69 Not excellent execution, but I love the effort.
4/4/2007 Luxor 2 70 Son of Luxor. You got tired of Zuma a few years ago though. It’s in the action-puzzle games retirement home with Snood and Dr. Mario.

So we have a lot of shmups, a lot of arcade ports and a lot of sequels to games we’ve already played. If we are looking for new designs and experiences that we either haven’t played at retail or haven’t already played on XBLA or the web, we have a very narrow market. And if we are looking for these original ideas that were also executed well, then we get even less from which to choose.

Now, Metacritic scores in handy chart form:

XBLA Stats

Now compare that to the Metacritic stats for all X360 games:

XBLA Stats

You see that insofar as Metacritic can be used as a barometer for quality, there is an obvious lack of top-tier games getting through the XBLA channels compared to quality titles getting through retail channels. The issue here is that XBLA was supposed to be a shepherd of good titles; that the ideas that retail missed because of its reliance on publishers who are risk-averse and ideas that could be hatched on a shoestring budget could find life on that service. What we have is retail mark two, which is exactly what the N+ devs were saying. It’s nice to back that up with data.

When I see devs kibitzing, I usually just take it as a singular event – that people are venting after a long cycle. I certainly do it. But this vent is different. It is absolutely spot on as commentary. We aren’t getting a Castle Crashers every week. We aren’t getting a Braid every week. In actuality, we are getting top-tier games on a less frequent per release basis than we do in the old-fashioned retail channel.

I of all people know you can’t just cater to the hardcore folks and only come out with titles that satisfy our nerd gamer fetishes, but the service should at least be able to come out with more daring items on a per release basis that the press-discs-and-ship-them-around-the-world model. That way is so twentieth century.

Self-Fulfilling Prophecy

Heh.

Step 1: GameSetWatch posts an article on how reviews are automatically tainted by inherent biases at base levels that ultimately reflects on final scoring and drowns overarching points and criticism using Smash Bros. Brawl as an example.

Step 2: Article gets linked on Kotaku and highlights the criticism of Brawl instead of the argument.

Step 3: Fanboys who don’t know how to read start commenting on the Kotaku post on how the review was biased instead of on the points of the article.

Favorite quote:

High percentage of total content to unlock – In what way is this a bad thing? Everything should be unlocked from the start? That’d be dumb. There’d be no reason to play any of the modes at all

Uh… maybe because games themselves should be fun rather than a grind to unlock the next carrot? I know we are all so used to the hamster wheel of WoW and all…

Fanboys. Can’t live with them. Can’t turn a profit without them.

Park At Your Own Risk

Most Facebook games are garbage. Zombies? Yeah, nothx. And Adver-games? Watch me hover over my “Ignore” button in anticipation.

So I felt this tension when reading about Parking Wars on Ian Bogost’s latest Gamasutra article because it sounded really fun. The premise of the game is that you need to park your cars (stay with me now). Each of your Facebook friends playing the game (plus three strangers picked at random) get five spaces. Spaces have restrictions on them such as “No Red Cars Allowed”. You gain money by parking your car in spaces over time, but lose money if your friends see you parked illegally on their street and decide to give you a ticket.

You have the “Let It Ride” dynamic of seeing your illegally parked car increasing in value. Is my friend going to sign on and ticket me? Should I move the car? Or should I keep going? The bonus here is that since the streets are operated by your friends, you can use inside information to your advantage. If I know my roommate is asleep, I know I can park on his street with impunity. But what if he wakes up before me and checks Facebook?! It is compelling. The same tension arises when you see someone parked illegally on your street. I could ticket them now, or I could wait for the ticket to go up in value. But if I wait too long, they could move their car and I’d lose out on the ticket revenue. (EDIT: And if I ticket now, their car will remain unparked until they log in again which presents an opportunity cost to your friend!) This is such a simple mechanic leads to a very interesting dynamic.

All of this is to advertise some ridiculous A&E series that follows around meter maids. Now, if I was given an assignment to make a Facebook advergame based on that premise, I’d likely have spun my wheels for quite a while and probably come up with total crap. But the consummate professionals at area/code never disappoint. It was quite a surprise seeing their name attached to the project after I was already addicted since they also created my favorite Flash game of all time.

Simple Idea + Leveraging Platform Strengths + Iteration = Success

On Pitching Ideas

I haven’t posted in a while, which is anathema to the purpose of having a blog – that is, to keep myself writing. But I have been writing/creating like mad here at work. I’m paying back my GDC free ticket by adapting for Tiburon Damion Schubert‘s awesome talk on writing game design documents. While the talk was full of great information, the presentation itself left a lot to be desired. (Text-heavy slides, etc.) I learned so much in adapting the talk that I feel less like someone regurgitating info for an audience and more like an expert on the material. I highly recommend Garr Reynoldsbook on presentation design for everyone that ever has to make a presentation. If I ever make a Designer’s Library post, that book will most certainly be included.

I’ve pitched about six projects in the last year, which must start to annoy the Executive Producers here, but if there’s one virtue worth pursuing in pitching, it is persistence.

One thing I was recently complimented on by a coworker I respect is that when I suggest ideas, I have a philosophy behind it. I sort of take that as a requirement to putting forth ideas, but since it involves a modicum of intellectual rigor a lot of folks (everyone’s a designer) don’t like to do it.

What I mean is this: Let’s say you are a designer on a racing game. You go to the producer and say “I need someone to make the cars more chrome.” You will probably get a “Huh?” at best or “We’ll put it on the wish list” at worst. But that is the sort of items that get brought up as design changes all the time. When pressed for an explanation, you usually get “I just think it would be cool/better/etc” as a response. And while that may be true, it is very tough to sell your idea that way. So now instead of going to the producer and demanding the cars get more chrome, what if you said “You know, the cars don’t feel as fast as they do in other racing games. I have some ideas on how we can make the cars look faster.” Then you can pitch giving the cars more chrome, lowering the camera, adding blur or whatever.

Walking through a problem with someone and giving them options (with your own commentary, naturally) gets people to look through your eyes and makes them feel like they are solving the problem too rather than being confronted with a demand which can often cause defensive reactions. I’ve found it to be a valuable technique.

Moving onto pitching whole projects. You have to know your material inside and out. That means knowing the sales and Metacritic of competing products, the amount of manpower one needs, and a reason why the product needs to be made. That last part, I think, is missing from many pitches and I always start with that first. The whole point of your pitch is to get people to agree that the product needs to be made. Starting from any other point or ignoring that issue entirely sows the seeds of a weak pitch.

Naturally, this is all contingent on to whom your pitches are directed. People have different priorities, so sales/Metacritic  or competing brands may be unimportant (imagine pitching Katamari Damacy!) but if there is one thing every pitch needs to share is a compelling central reason for the idea being pitched.

That’s all for today. Root for Pitt, folks.

Teaching Teachers

I’m hoping this gets linked all over the Internet today, but Clint Hocking has posted an invitation to the folks who want to ban Bully that is the most rational, even-handed and thoughtful approach to this book-burning video-game banning debate I’ve ever read.

It’s pretty obvious to me (and likely anyone whose played the game, which, interestingly enough, Clint hasn’t) that the outrage is based on the faulty assumption that Bully = Grand Theft Auto + School. It’s easy to make that assumption. The creators have made some morally reprehensible games in the past and the bullet list on the back of the box reads similarly to GTA: open world, free-form, missions, factions, &c. But once you play the game, you realize that while many of the mechanics are similar to what’s going on in GTA, the main character isn’t some sociopath insisting the player act out some repressed sadist fantasy. The game shouldn’t have been called something as provocative for the media as Bully. I think that is 90% of the problem.

But I’m preaching to the choir. Click the link.