In addition to looking at the lighter and weirder side of the game industry, System Update provides the latest information on weekly console updates, DLC, game-specific updates, and other game-industry flotsam and jetsam.
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Gamers, analysts, and by now, even hermits living in the Outback, knew that Sony went from gaming behemoth to another fish in the pond since E3 2006.
But guess what? They're baaaaaaack.
The Sony keynote delivered by Phil Harrison at the 2007 Game Developers Conference was exactly what the company needed to re-establish itself as a gaming giant. The announcements of Home and LittleBigPlanet were the types of things gamers had expected to hear about a year ago, but as the old adage goes, "better late than never."
Even just waiting for the keynote to begin, the crowd could tell that something was up--that this wouldn't be another Sony keynote like the ones from E3 2006 or Tokyo Game Show 2006. This would be the Sony of old, the one that wowed the audience at its E3 2005 press conference.
Among the faces I happened to spot in the crowd were Keiichi Yano, the creator of Elite Beat Agents and Gitaroo Man, Joseph Olin, president of the Academy of Interactive Arts and Sciences, and even Reggie Fils-Aime, president of Nintendo of America. And of course, DS owners were furiously sending entertaining (and obscene) messages back and forth to each other over Pictochat.
About 10 minutes before the keynote began, Sony staff threw gigantic soccerballs into the crowd which were bandied about like beachballs at a baseball game--with the intent being to knock the balls into makeshift goals set up on the flanks of the stage. Giant screens kept score of the "game," which was a heated match between team A (a portion of the crowd on the left) and team B (a portion of the crowd on the right). If you're keeping score at home or had money on the match, team B won.
That was a glorified example of audience participation--a key component of Sony's strategy moving forward. The buzz phrases "user-generated" and "emergent gameplay" were used about a billion times during the keynote, but they were backed up.
Home, the PS3's answer to Nintendo's Miis, Microsoft's Xbox Live and achievements system, and Linden Labs' Second Life, is a free service designed to foster communities among PS3 owners in a virtual world populated by corporate-branded virtual items and locations (hey--the Home service is free). The audience was clearly impressed with the seamlessness of the software, which allows gamers to bowl, play arcade games, hang pictures (customized of course), furnish their own digital apartments, and more.
However, the real darling of the presentation was LittleBigPlanet, a game from the makers of Rag Doll Kung Fu, now under the studio name of Media Molecule. The game is LocoRoco on steroids, or hallucinogens, or probably both. The word 'cute' doesn't do the game justice, nor does the phrase 'totally fricking insane and fun.' At it's heart LittleBigPlanet is a fancy tech demo showing off an incredible range of physics, but on the surface it's an adventure created by the player--and that player will range in age from 5 years old to 90 years old. I haven't heard applause like that which followed the LittleBigPlanet demo in a long time.
Miyamoto and Nintendo, it's your move.
To watch the Sony keynote in its entirety, watch the video.
If Silicon Knights' president Denis Dyack had his way, anyone who was involved in game previews would be out of a job. That may be putting it harshly, but Dyack believes in presenting a game in its completed state.
Dyack's next game, the Xbox 360 title Too Human, was conceived in 1993 but is only now in full development. Other games put out by Silicon Knights include the excellent Eternal Darkness: Sanity's Requiem for the GameCube, Blood Omen: Legacy of Kain, and an unannounced project with Sega.
The game vet was in San Francisco as part of a GDC session on how to keep independent developers independent, and GameSpot had a chance to catch up with him to talk about the latest on Too Human, how the press should approach games, and whether we'll ever see another Eternal Darkness game (hint: it looks good).
SAN FRANCISCO--This morning, the two-day GDC Prime, a parallel event to GDC which presents a single, executive level track of presentations, launched with a media breakfast. In addition to some nationally known reporters and editors, including Dean Takahashi of the San Jose Mercury News and Chris Morris of CNN/Money (center photo, Takahashi on the left), the low key nosh also collected a crop of new- and old-school movers and shakers from the game industry.
Craig Allen, founder of Spark Unlimited, design expert Mark Cerny, Eidos tech boss Julien Merceron, and Junction Point founder Warren Spector chatted up the journalists on hand. GDC program director Jamil Moledina started his day at the breakfast, as did Acclaim's Howard Marks and Dave Perry (photo at left, Marks on left). Best known as the founder of Shiny, Perry is currently working on a number of projects for Acclaim, including 2Moons and Project: Top Secret.
Mark Long of Zombie Studios chatted up a graphic novel-to-game project he is working on, and there was the constant chatter surrounding Sony and the day's Phil Harrison keynote. "Why doesn't Sony just fess up say the launch was a failure," one industry source asked rhetorically. "Not their style," was the response from another. Also attending the breakfast were Hal Halpin, founder of the Entertainment Consumer Association and Ian Bogost, assistant professor at Georgia Institute of Technology (pictured at right, Halpin on the left).
At the end of the breakfast, held at the W Hotel, the invited journalists made their way to the exits as GDC Prime is a journalist-free event. Not that those on hand took it personally, given the plethora of sessions yet to cover at GDC's main digs, Moscone West.
SAN FRANCISCO--San Francisco bar and grill Jillian's, literally across the street from Game Developer Conference's ground zero, Moscone West, tonight was the scene of one the event's first major parties. The three-year-old East Meets West booze-infused shindig provides a meeting ground for speakers and press from Japan to mingle with their stateside counterparts.
While most of the conversation was inconveniently off the record, there was much chatter that focused on the Phil Harrison pre-brief that ended just as the EMW event began. Dozens of journalists that had signed non-disclosure agreement just 90 minutes earlier were spilling the beans--well, maybe just a bean or two--to anyone who would listen. Not that it mattered to the determined drinkers lined two and three deep waiting for their libation of choice from the bar.
The gathering was attended by about 250 mostly Japanese-language speakers--with bilingual types such as Q Entertainment CEO Shuji Utsumi (center photo, left) and Guitaroo-Man designer Keiichi Yano (left hand photo, on right) among the few who could cross the language divide with ease.
Others spotted in attendance included Yano's iNiS colleague Masako Harada (center photo, right), the company's CEO and president; Q Entertainment founder Tetsuya Mizuguchi; Grasshopper founder and Killer 7 designer Goichi Suda (right hand photo, on left); former Shanda exec Monte Singman, now with Radiance; Yukiko Miyajima Grove (pictured, with Yano), formerly of the GDC organization and one of the individuals responsible for the focus GDC currently has on Japanese developers; Stephanie Tang (pictured, with Suda), CMP conference coordinator, now managing the efforts behind CDC China; former GDC director Alan Yu, now with EALA; design guru Mark Cerny; Gordon Bellamy, newly hired Double Fusion exec; and Microsoft exec Rich Wickham.
With the Game Developers Conference set to kick into high gear Wednesday, Microsoft spent Tuesday running members of the gaming press through a gauntlet of informational sessions about its upcoming lineup of games. One such session featured Microsoft Casual Games product unit manager Chris Early discussing the future of Xbox Live Arcade and showing off upcoming titles like Jetpac Refuelled and Boom Boom Rocket (which Early said will sell for 800 Microsoft Points, or $10).
After the traditional statistical recapping, Early mentioned a few things about Live Arcade that, while not exactly secrets, might not be common knowledge, either. For instance, Early further explained the move to increase the Xbox Live Arcade game size limit from 50MB to 150MB.
In formally announcing the size limit change on Monday, Microsoft said the new limit would give developers "greater flexibility in game design and [expand] the opportunity to add advanced game features while still keeping games compact." However, Early told at least one session of the gaming press that Microsoft hadn't anticipated how far over-budget developers would go optimizing their code in order to bring their games in under the limit. Going forward, he expects most games to weigh in between 50MB and 100MB, but noted that Microsoft will still grant exceptions to the size limit on a case-by-case basis.
Early also touched on Microsoft's efforts to bridge the Xbox Live Arcade between PCs and Xbox 360s. Beyond letting PC Uno players face off against Xbox 360 Uno players, Early said Microsoft plans to offer bundled versions, so that a customer can purchase both the Xbox 360 and PC editions of a game at a discount. However, he said the logistics had yet to be worked out.
Finally, Early addressed the somewhat inconsistent flow of Xbox Live Arcade releases. He said Microsoft would stick to releasing games only on Wednesdays, but did say he could see a point where eventually the company would be releasing multiple games each week. That point isn't likely to come soon, however. While there are more than 200 Live Arcade games in development, Early said the publisher has no backlog of titles that have passed certification at the moment.
Making a game based on one of the most anticipated movies of the year and one of the most iconic superheroes of all time can build a lot of pressure. Activision tasked developer Treyarch (Call of Duty 3) to make the upcoming Spider-Man 3 game for multiple platforms. Add to the mix the fact that Spider-Man 3 will be the first next-gen game for the webslinger, and you're looking at a lot of pressure.
GameSpot News talked with Chris Archer of Treyarch about the upcoming game at the Spider-Man 3 preview event in San Francisco.
Microsoft invited GameSpot News down to the fancy Clift Hotel to get a hands-on look at the upcoming PC and Xbox 360 game Shadowrun. Here, Tim Surette sits down with the general manager of FASA Studios, Mitch Gitelman, to talk about the game and its unique features. Mitch loves to make games and he loves to talk about Shadowrun.
It took some doing, but we squeezed in this conversation with Supreme Commander designer Chris Taylor. Thanks, Chris, for stopping by. Best of luck with the game. - Curt Feldman
The kids over at NeoGAF--the Star Wars Cantina of game forums--are at it again. They've gone ape on a bunch of photos from an internal Microsoft marketing meeting showing Xbox Marketing Chief Peter Moore rocking out with Guitar Hero II. :
this one is my (Tor's) favorite:
Having created franchises like Donkey Kong, Mario, and Zelda, Nintendo's Shigeru Miyamoto has been a big name in the industry for a long time. And if you've read one interview with the man in the last 20 years, you've pretty much read them all.
He likes new challenges. He likes innovating. He likes to make games that anyone can play. If the interview is from 2001 or later, it might mention how he got the idea for Pikmin while he was gardening.
CNN today posted a transcript of Miyamoto's recent appearance on Talk Asia, and while much of it reads like a "greatest hits" of the developer's previous Q&As, there are some interesting passages where he might be doing more than reciting the same answer he's given 100 times before.
When asked about why Nintendo hasn't jumped headfirst into the profitable world of violent games like Grand Theft Auto, Miyamoto replied, "My personal thought is, and I think it is the same with Nintendo, that before thinking about how to handle violence in video games, I think it is important to think about pain people feel. For example, you would not laugh at people with disabilities. There are bullying problems in Japan. Looking at the overall picture, it is important to understand and feel the pain that people might have. We make our games based on that philosophy, using means other than violence."
Talk Asia host Anjali Rao also asked Miyamoto about how he deals with fan feedback, noting that gamers are rarely restrained in offering their opinions.
"This is a difficult subject," Miyamoto confessed. "If a fan makes a suggestion, I will often put it in my mind, and I will take in whatever comment I feel is useful. But I make my own predictions of how a user might react to the games I create, and I would say I am sensitive to whether those reactions are in line with what I predicted. People generally have different views and opinions about anything. So I would only listen to whatever information is useful for me. It is interesting to hear what other people say. But instead of reading the blogs, I would rather stand behind a person playing the games and sense how the player is reacting to the game--whether he is unhappy with the games, or if he is having fun. I can feel all of that directly. It is more useful for me to do that than to read what he thinks of it."
Keep checking the GameSpot News Blog for more stories from every corner of the gaming world.
The whiz kids over at Xbox-Scene have posted a handy-dandy spotter's guide which lets you determine--at a glance!--if you have one of the new, ultra-quiet BenQ DVD drives in your 360. If not, sucks to be you:
As Entertainment Software Association president Doug Lowenstein said farewell to the gaming industry at his D.I.C.E. presentation last week, he admonished pretty much everyone involved with the industry. He slammed publishers who made violent games and then didn't go public to defend them. He slammed the gaming press for sloppy reporting and giving Jack Thompson too much coverage. And to make sure he didn't miss anyone, he slammed was pretty much everyone in attendance at D.I.C.E. (and by implication, gamers at large) for not being more involved in the politics of gaming by joining the ESA's Video Game Voters Network.
On the first count, I agree with him. If Take-Two wants to make a fortune off Grand Theft Auto and rattle cages with controversial content, it should be willing to stand up and explain what possible artistic value their games have when overprotective and out-of-touch legislators come knocking. It shouldn't just make a mess and expect the ESA to deal with the entire cleanup.
As for the media, Lowenstein was half-right. Generally speaking, it is sloppy. It needs cleaning up. It needs more maturity. It needs people more willing to actually do the job right.
But in regards to Thompson, the gaming media could ignore the man entirely, and I'm convinced he'd still be plenty happy with the attention he received from the mainstream press, concerned parents, and legislators. Thompson constantly resurfaces in opposition to the industry and is taken seriously (at least for a time) by parent watchdog groups and politicians. That makes him a threat to the industry's interests, and as a result, that makes some of his actions newsworthy.
I'm also incredibly uncomfortable with a field of mature, thorough, competent reporters (like the sort Lowenstein implored us to become) coming to a mutual conclusion as to the newsworthiness of a story or an individual, and quietly imposing a group ban on coverage of Thompson. I'm doubly uncomfortable with it happening at the behest of the ESA, an organization we are supposed to cover impartially. Even if an agreed ban on coverage of Thompson would be effective (which I doubt), the collusion of media outlets in determining a subject's newsworthiness would set a filthy precedent.
Finally, there's the admonishment of people who sit on the sidelines and don't lend their voice to the industry. This is where I have a big problem with Lowenstein's speech. If you're inspired to do so, taking political action to defend the gaming industry is indeed admirable. But it's not mandatory.
I understand that it must have been frustrating for Lowenstein to see message boards light up with outraged comments from gamers every time a new state ponders gaming legislation, and then see that the outrage dies as soon as the poster's half-formed diatribe is submitted. But don't put me on a guilt trip for not signing on to the Video Game Voters Network, and don't tell me I'm a bad gamer for not forfeiting my own voice to whatever the ESA's grassroots political organization wants to do with it.
The ESA has a wealth of fine deeds in its history, and serves some absolutely crucial purposes in the industry. However, it isn't real big on transparency (see the cloudiness of an ESRB ratings process that gives Oblivion a T for Teen before launch and an M for Mature months later, why it spends money to influence online gambling laws), and it's not interested in the betterment of gaming; it's interested in the betterment of its publisher membership.
In many cases, the two goals are one and the same. Any sort of legal restriction on the sale of M-rated games would be bad for publishers' business, so the ESA comes down hard against it. So in the biggest picture, anything that's clearly catastrophic for gaming is likely to be really bad for publishers' profit, and you can count on the ESA to fight it tooth and nail.
However, there are a lot of gray areas in which the ESA's interests don't necessarily fall in line with yours or mine. Laws requiring retailers to post signs educating parents about the ESRB are a hassle for retailers given another requirement to follow, but if they don't directly affect the publishers' interests, the ESA takes a neutral on those matters.
And then there are the labor laws in California. The ESA said it spent over $100,000 over the course of three months just to get "interpretive guidance" from the state's labor department about overtime laws. Given the lawsuits sizeable California-based publishers like EA and Activision have faced over allegations of mandatory excessive overtime for their employees, the ESA likely isn't lobbying for these publishers' employees to get better treatment. Even if they aren't lobbying for specific laws, spending that much on interpretive guidance is like asking "So just how badly can we bend these suckers over a barrel before it becomes illegal?"
Yes, being politically active and letting legislators know how you as a gamer and a voter feel about restrictions on the medium is a great thing. Yes, gamers should be more active politically. Yes, the VGVN is one way to do that. However, if you're going to turn your voice over to a third party (and whether or not you should even do that is debatable), you may as well make it one that's looking out for your interests on the surface. If you're EA, Activision, Sony, or Microsoft, then yes, the ESA is definitely the group for you. But if you're just a gamer, look into the Entertainment Consumer's Association. If you're a developer, hit up the International Game Developers Association.
Whatever you decide to join, make sure they know what you want them to lobby for; otherwise you're just a name and an address that they'll use to get whatever they want done.
LAS VEGAS--Later in the day on Thursday, I caught up Rand Miller, one of the legends of game design (currently focused on the imminent release of Myst Online: Uru Live, playable on GameTap). I noticed Rand slipping in and out of almost every session and wanted to know what he thought of the presentations. I was shocked to hear this was his first D.I.C.E., and even more shocked to realize that meant Rand had never been asked to present at the event--a significant opportunity for the D.I.C.E. producers to tap as they think about the 2008 speaker lineup (...hint, hint).
I've always enjoyed speaking with Rand. Being based in Spokane, he's far enough away from the various epicenters of game design (the Austins and San Franciscos and Seattles) that his references and metaphors are broader, less predictable than your average game developer. A conversation with Rand reveals ideas and creative approaches to games that are individual and unique.
LAS VEGAS--One of the pleasures of attending the D.I.C.E. Summit is the opportunity it gives one to bump into the very best creative minds in the game industry. Before the first session began on Thursday, I spotted Ultima creator Richard Garriott (though he prefers to talk about Tabula Rasa these days...no surprise there). I asked Tim Surette to grab the camcorder, then I got Richard's attention and asked him to step outside for a brief interview. --Curt Feldman
Sony Online Entertainment held their launch party for the MMO Vanguard: Saga of Heroes on Wednesday in San Francisco, so I decided it best to snap a few pictures and let you see them. Perhaps you blow them up to life-size and pretend you were there.
Unlike most industry events, this party wasn't catering to the press like they were a collection of extreme thrill-seekers, hip-hoppin' clubbers, or complete nerds to the Nth degree. Held at the very versatile open space Terra near the Bay Bridge in San Francisco, SOE took the opportunity to combine the launch of the game with the onset of an art tour, featuring the work of late Keith Parkinson, fantasy artist extraordinaire (okay, so maybe it had some geekiness). If you've ever seen D&D books or bought an EverQuest game, then you've almost certainly seen his work.
But the real question is: What was the food like? There was a strong Mediterranean theme, but there was also sushi, tri-tip, and some surprisingly delicious chocolate cake that Craig Beers pushed on us.
Last week, a South Dakota teenager killed his mother with a sword, injured three others, and was killed by police officers responding to the call. (One of the officers was among the injured parties.)
I first heard about this in an Associated Press story forwarded to me by Jack Thompson with the subject heading "Gamer, obviously." The Associated Press story makes no reference to gaming at all, but does say the teen apparently collected swords.
That e-mail was followed up shortly by another one from Thompson, this one a copy of something he apparently sent to the police investigating the matter. As he has done in other cases of teen violence, Thompson told the police to look for violent games in the teen's home, citing them as a likely trigger for violent behavior. And as with almost all of his missives, Thompson managed to not-so-casually mention his numerous TV appearances in which he talked about violent games.
The deaths are obviously tragic, and Thompson's attempt to predispose the police investigation to a particular finding is both unsettling and unfair to the victims and their families.
However, the reason I'm writing this blog post is not to gripe about Thompson and his tactics. I'm not even writing it to mock him for referring to Mortal Kombat and Diablo as "knife-killing games" in his letter to the chief of police. This excerpt from the letter is the reason I'm writing this:
"Re: Sword Killings
Dear Chief Schmitt:
I am an expert in the above type of attack, as I appeared on 60 Minutes and roughly 80 other national television programs as to such incidents."
That's right. Jack Thompson is a sword killing expert. Do you think he puts that on his business cards?