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


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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