buzzcut

GDC Day 3: Seriously, they Have Games Here

Mar
12

If you go to swimming pool convention, do you go swimming?

My guess is that you just stand around with a bunch of balding men with deep tans and talk about filters. But I really don’t know.

At GDC, the whole idea has been to talk about games. This is the place that people who make games come to talk about making games. Playing games is sort of a tangent to the whole thing. When your work in making games, you can’t really justify playing them at a work event.

But when your job is to write about games, then playing games counts as work. Which is an oxymoron that no one wants to talk about. But it is also a situation that has lead GDC over the years to start to look like a mini-product expo for your journalists. PR people are as good as time share salesmen at figuring out how to talk you into paying attention to what they have to offer.

So I look at games.

Although iPhone users have created an entire new class of smug casual gamer player, I can’t help but envy their access to a new game called Qrank (www.qrankthegame.com). Sign up for free and every day the game downloads a new board of 20 questions. Answer them when you have time—waiting in the elevator, while zoning out on a conference call or pretending to be busy while waiting for the bus. Speed matters and throw in some power ups to make it interesting and you have an enjoyable trifle to pass the time. Invite your friends to compete and things get interesting. The game makes it easy to create leader boards of your Qrank-enabled iPhone buddies. Since it knows how long it took your girlfriend to answer the same question earlier that day, you can seed arguments about intellectual supremacy long before you come home from work.

Starting arguments with technology is cool. But if you want to get a real brawl going, you’re going to need more people. And since your iPhone knows where you are, it can let Qrank look for other trivia fans in the neighborhood. And by neighborhood I mean bar.

Bar quizzes have grown in understandable popularity over the years and people drinking need something to do to feel productive while throwing back rye and ignoring phone calls about getting in home to take Sissy to ballet. And the apparently endless availability of slacker guys with scraggly bears and horn rimmed glasses to host the quizzes have made them into a barroom mainstay.

Qrank, would like a piece of that pie, and be the game that people play in the bar.

Once they port the game to other platforms (Android, Blackberry and Facebook versions are in the works), I’ll be ready to drink to that.

GDC Parties

Mar
12

Do you want to know what the best part of a GDC party is?

You are not there.

If you were there then you’d just be standing around, talking to the three or four people you might know. You’d be getting drunk because you don’t have much else to do. And you’d be trying to figure out how many of those free meatballs you should before you leave. Eat too many, and the next party might have something better and you’ll feel bad that you filled up on meatballs. Don’t eat enough and you’ll be sucking limes out of your gin and tonic because that party has nothing at all to eat.

But it doesn’t matter. Once the parties are over, once the hangover clears, you’ll have been at that party. It won’t matter that you probably could have done something useful with last night. Because you did do something useful. You got invited to a party. And that means someone cares. It’s like there is a God and he really wants you to be happy. So, he made a party for you.

The problem is, he made this party for a whole bunch of people. And they are all bumping into you and getting in your way when you need a drink. These other people are clearly more important than you. They know people. They get to go past the rope at the PlayStation 3 event and play in a special area, for special people. You have to stand around with all the other people. It’s like being a seat filler at the Oscars. You’re just decoration. And then you start to worry that they will find out and replace you. Surely, there is some one better at filling up space than you. And that’s when you figure you should have drunk that glass of wine they offered you at 3:30 in the afternoon when you got to the event. Your nerves are shot. You at least need to pretend like you belong.

If you’ve been doing this for a while, you learn some survival techniques, though. You pull out your notebook and jot down a few things. Notes. Story ideas. Anything. Just look busy. Look like you care. Pretend you are at the party for a reason.

Eventually though, you just become a student of the parties themselves. There’s a science to parties and a culture of parties. And since you really don’t want to go to bed, you start thinking about the nature of parties. Sad! But true.

At least you weren’t there. You can imagine that it was actually fun.

GDC Day 2: Super Ball!

Mar
11

Any culture that gives you hard candy to listen to someone tell you about software has lost track of something.

What, I’m not sure.

But wandering the stiff wonderland that is the GDC Expo, you pretty much expect that if you want a bite-sized Snickers or a free t-shirt, you’re going to have to pretend to be interested in someone selling middleware, or payment services, or call center support or super balls.

I’m sure that that there are perfectly reasonable people selling useful things at the Expo. But if you want to know what people care about, they care about giant gerbil balls that you get inside, mount a pair of VR goggles on your head, grab a gun controller and wander around in a 3D world and shoot things that are probably Martians. Or aliens. They’re bad, whatever they are. And you have to shoot them.

Guy Dubord might have lamented the society of spectacle in the 60s. But the dude should not have shot himself in the heart so long ago. He really needed live to see the superball. Then he would have shot himself in the eyes.

Get your own VIRTUSPHERE from www.360virtualventures.com

GDC Day 1: Your Monitor is Lame

Mar
11

I’m an individual, just like everyone else.

Not so long ago, the appellation “gamer” meant you were a part of something special. The blessed. The ones that got it. Being a gamer was more about not being one of the zillions of people that were not gamers. And as a part of the zealotry that fuels any missionary, we the gamers proclamed endlessly that games were awesome.

Not so many years later, everyone knows that games are awesome and being a gamer is sort of like saying you are a sports fans. Sure pal. I am one too.

As a special sort of semantic solution, gamers just started calling themselves “hardcore.” And that usually meant that ether you played the same games everyone else did, just with more intensity and achievement-earning passion, or you made an effort to only love old 8-bit games that no one can really remembered all the clearly. Seriously, who really spends that much time thinking about N.A.R.C.?
The trouble with the new hardcore is that your mom’s PlayStation 3 she uses as a Blu-Ray player to watch Weeds reruns on Netflix looks just like the one that you spin your hardcore Modern Warfare sessions on. Game hardware has become a commodity and there is less and less that helps you the hardcore boast their dedication to playing games. Thanks to Judd Apatow, even being a fat slob doesn’t mean “hardcore” and instead that you’ll probably end up with a gorgeous girlfriend in some improbable way.

But I found out that the industry hasn’t completely forgotten about the lonely hardcore gamer. At least ATI hasn’t.

With the launch of their Eyefinity platform, gamers can hardcore to their mulit-monitor delight. Connect two, three, four, hell, six monitors and bask in the electromagnetic glory of your own personal picture window into gaming.

Right now, not a lot of games support the platform—Battlefield 2, Oblivion and Supreme Commander 2 are being demoed at the show. But expect more games to support the technology in the future. And count on AMD to keep promoting it. Because even though their tech shows up in popular gaming consoles like that the Xbox and Wii, the raw economics of graphics cards dictate that there is more money to be made in selling PC graphics card upgrades.

This inevitable collision of financial opportunity, a need for conspicuous consumption for the hardcore to tout and the somewhat mindless and relentless march of technological innovation has produced the super screen.

How many monitors do you have? Dude. Two is so lame. I got twenty.

GDC Day 1: A glass of wine, golfed from my hand

Mar
10

I can’t blame the girl who swiped the rich and earthy Beaujolais blend from my hand. She was just doing her job. Then again so was I.

She was arcing into a powerful backswing in the latest iteration in the Tiger Woods Wii game, I was doing the journalist thing which was prowling a painfully well designed wine bar in downtown San Francisco, eating appetizers, drinking booze and looking at games.

Sometimes the collision of PR and newsgathering can end in a splintering clatter and a big mess.
Picking through the pieces of my first few hours at the show, there’s already a few juicy bits worth pulling out.

This year, the show has self-organized its annual theme of greed around social gaming, as in: Hey! Look at all the money Zynga is making with Farmville, and Farmville isn’t even that interesting of a game. Apparently, after watching Club Penguin, then iPhone and now Facebook games earn insane margins, the game industry has decided to lump over to the casual game market and leave Call of Duty to stew in its own billions of dollars of earnings.

Themes, it seems, are always important. Because it tells you were the attention of the industry—a dull beast easily distracted by a crop of grass on the side of the road—might lumber. Remember a couple of years ago when MMOs would change everything? Yeah, I remember that too.

So without a more exciting big idea to run down, what’s a reporter to do? Talk to people, look in less likely places for stories and listen in the hall for the good idea that might actually be the next big thing.
Which is why I found myself a suite at the St. Regis Hotel checking out yet another Guitar Hero/Rock Band clone.

“Make yourself at home,” the press guy urged, even thought it would be impossible for me to ever feel at home sitting on a couch that probably cost more than my car. But I obliged. That way I could get a good look at the half dozen ¾ scale guitars sitting in front of an Xbox.

That’s weird. Those are real little guitars. They hand be a bright green one and a fiddle through a couple of riffs dimly remember from my days playing guitar in college.

“Not bad. This actually works pretty well.”

The developers nod. That’s the point.

Their new company is called Seven45. It was launched by parent outfit First Act, a company that makes the low cost starter instruments you might scrape your pennies together to buy at Target or Walmart.

A demo of the game play shows something that looks, at this point in development, a lot of Rockbandguitarhero. You match notes by strumming the strings and pressing down on the correct—and colored—fret. A small damper keeps the strings from ringing in game mode. But otherwise, it’s a functional, if awkward hybrid of real guitar and game controller.

Upping the difficultly, players have to match the correct string and the fret. Keep it up and pretty soon you are actually rocking out the light rock of Third Door Down. Plug the guitar into an amp, lower the string damper and you can strum out the basic power chord of some mid-tempo pop hit.

But just because you can maybe learn a little about guitar—build up some finger strength, develop a callous or two and just groove on the feel of holding a real instrument—don’t think this is some learning toy.

“We are not pitching this as an educational tool. This is about entertainment,” they tell me.

OK. But yeah, it’s a learning toy. And from the looks of it, one that just might work.
Remarkably, the game will be sold as a band game—meaning it will come bundled with guitar, microphone and drums—and it will retail at a price competitive with current band games. In other words, Power Gig: Rise of the 6 String will most likely cost something around $200.

Would be garage rockers of the world rejoice.

As for my wine, after grabbing another glass compliments of EA Sports, I noted that Tiger may not be out of the woods in his personal life, but he seems calm, cool and collected still fronting his videogame. And a new mixed martial arts games from EA has people all excited. Why? Well, there’s nothing quiet as exciting as a little videogame violence, wine or not.

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