Koffdrop’s continuing adventures in objectivity

WARNING: This is a post about Nintendo. That is all.

So, there’s a few things that are still floating around my head with regards to Nintendo, Revolution (or whatever it will now be named) and, of course, gamers. Firstly, let me talk to you about a concern I have that includes all three of those topics.

Imagine it’s 50 years ago and you own a black and white TV. You read in the paper that a revolution is coming – COLOUR is on its way to TV. “Amazing!”. You’re excited, you talk to your TV-watching friends. Your friends are excited. The potential is huge! There is endless talk of how shows will look and you all decide that you simply can’t wait to watch all your old black and white programs on your colour TV.

Hang about. What’s the point of thinking in black and white? You should be thinking in colour! Right?

So why are gamers thinking in black and white? Those staunch supporters of the Revolution, those gamers who’ve neither seen it with their own eyes nor held it’s controller yet somehow KNOW the future it will have – those gamers typically back up their statements with how Nintendo’s machine with become the best platform for first person shooters (FPS). Explanations spew forth on how the controller will behave and entire control schemes are devised to demonstrate how, say, Half Life 2, might be easily controlled via the Nintendo remote. The problem is that, they’re so caught up in this train of thought they’re unaware of the fatal error they make: they’re thinking in black and white.

You cannot justify a forthcoming revolution by demonstrating how it will repeat recent history.

If Revolution supporters are arguing their case by stating how gaming will go into new and unexplored territory then what is the point discussing decades old games? An FPS on the Revolution amounts to nothing more than an FPS with a tweaked control scheme. A revolution? Hardly.

“Look at my great new TV – its got a huge screen, its got remote control!”
“Yeah, but all the programs you watch are still in black and white”

Here’s a challenge to Revolution supporters – don’t tell me how I can play my old style games on this box of tricks. Doing so does nothing to convince me it’s a better product than anything already on the market. Insisting that it is by showcasing how old ideas can be tweaked just demonstrates how easily you miss the point of this being a revolution, of being new, of being different. But to convince me, you’re going to have to make me imagine something I’ve not imagined before. You’re going to have to work hard at that. You’re actually going to have to think.

This isn’t a criticism of Nintendo – this is a criticism of unthinking Nintendo loyalists. The best way you can prove me wrong is to rise to the challenge. Don’t take the most obvious, easy route. Show me what you’re made of.

[and breathe]

Recently, there’s been some less-than-glowing feedback of the Revolution from some fairly large players in the industry. Mark Rein, VP of Epic and chief salesman of Unreal technology gave a pretty damning statement against the machine. I have no doubt that some of his attitude is coloured due to his business with Sony and Microsoft. At the same time, I’m not prepared to dismiss him as a ‘moron’ as so many gamers suddenly have. Unreal engine technology, whilst not necessarily exciting for you as a user of the end product is pretty damn important. It’s middleware and, with today’s lengthy projects and expanding costs, middleware is absolutely crucial to 80% of game development. Leading techonolgy middleware such as Unreal Engine is often developed in conjunction with hardware technology. Epic speak to Nvidia, they share technology, the exploit each other’s knowledge. Mark Rein isn’t some kid who wrote a couple of games in SEUCK. This is a guy who understands the correlation of software to hardware development – particularly in the field of emerging technology. I do believe there is some personal interest and political bias in his statement but his words should not be dismissed just because they don’t sit happily with gamers.

Just as significantly, a news article has reported that THQ, a successful third party developer with enough weight to garner some fairly major licenced properties, has suggested that 20% of their development resources will be directed towards Revolution development. Now, on the surface, this seems to be pretty bad news. On the whole I’d say it’s fairly generous. Consider the three current gen systems. Does Gamecube represent 20% of the Western market? Absolutely not. Whilst 20% is clearly less than one third, it’s considerably more than Nintendo might be worth on a strict development-to-sales ratio. In essence, it’s a reflection of Gamecube’s performance and THQ’s faith in Nintendo. Some feedback has suggested “well, they don’t need as many resources as the Revolution will be based on Gamecube development kit and will be easier to program for than the PS3 or X360”. Whilst I can’t dismiss the comments about that challenges of developing for PS3 hardware I utterly dismiss a gamer talking about how easy or complex game development might be. Sounds harsh, I know, but gamer’s can’t even grasp how much they don’t know – let alone accept they’re ignorant.

Nintendo said well before the Revolution was anything other than vapourware that they expected little in the way of third-party support. This was presented as a positive statement. That Nintendo could handle the demands of developing for their new console but they thought third parties wouldn’t be up to the challenge. Apart from the arrogance and conceit of such a statement it is hype, spin and bullshit. Third parties are, in essence, parasites. The attach themselves to the platform that’ll garner the best return for their investment. That’s not a criticism, that’s how it is. Now, if your platform has the smallest market share and least retail exposure then it’s likely that third parties won’t see you as attractive as, say, Sony. If you care to add being arrogant and stubborn as a company into the mix, the deal looks even less attractive. Additionally, if you release a statement that suggests that thrid parties aren’t as capable as you (whilst hiding the fact that you treat them pretty badly) then it’s only going to sour the deal even further.

Saying something and doing something else cuts both ways – this shouldn’t be forgotten. If Nintendo are going to suggest lacklustre third party support is down to Nintendo being too cool or radical instead of, basically, being a bitch to work with and not very rewarding then you can expect a similar mentality back. There’s been a wave of well publicised feedback from third party developers that have been presented on sites like IGN and subsequently pimped accross Nintendo forums as some proof of vapourware superiority. Sure. It’s nice when people say nice things about you. But it doesn’t cost anything to say something. As with the N64 and the Gamecube – we’re seeing lots of praise. Are we going to see lots of product? Will history repeat itself? It’s too early to tell. But I’m already hearing of disgruntled developers being dictated to by Nintendo about the sort of content they’ll have to include in their products to show off the Revolution’s controller. It’s seems like a lot of hard work for a very uncertain reward.

So, may ever-present challenge to gamers is to think more. Don’t assume an industry veteran is a moron because he said something you don’t like. Don’t dilute your arguments by confusing tweaks with originality. Don’t take your wishful thinking as gospel and for God’s sake, don’t EVER use sales stats or system specs in your argument unless you’re a business analyst or a programmer.

On a lighter note and as a reward for those of you who read this far I can tell you that the image at the start of this post is concept art for Super Mario Strikers. Looks suspiciously chav’d up to me.

The importance of being new

Isn’t it nice when you feel that a company is bending over backward to be nice to you?

Obviously, it doesn’t happen very often but it’s worth noting the times when it does: My mobile phone tariff is with 02, my service provider was Singlepoint. I didn’t have issues with either of them. Recently Vodafone bought Singlepoint and I became a customer in limbo. I would try to resolve a query with 02 and they’d direct me to Vodafone. Vodafone would direct me to 02. I felt very much unloved and like an outcast.

So I gathered some bills together and checked what I’d be paying, checked Voda’s tariffs and took my service off O2 and got the equivalent package with Vodafone. Now I’m no longer sitting on the fence and they kissed my feet and offered me this and that and lots of other tempting and shiny things that they didn’t need to. One of those shiny things is my new handset – the Sony w800i. Now, I’m not exactly out of touch with technology but this thing is NEAT. I’m very happy to have a $400+ phone given to me for free. Now, I just need to dig up all my great old game MP3s and load them into the phone’s 512mb memory and GEEK OUT!

Sony invites you to design games

I’ll let the Eurogamer article do most of the talking:

Sony is inviting both amateurs and professionals to submit game ideas for the PS2, PSP and PS3. The winner will receive acess to a studio and development team, project funds and living expenses, and of course the unparalleled joy of seeing their very own game on shop shelves.

This isn’t the first time Sony has run such a competition – previous winners include the creators of Devil Dice, Bombtastic and Doko Demo Issho. But it is the first time entrants have been invited to submit ideas for PSP and PS3, rather excitingly.

Fancy giving it a shot? Well you’ll have to wait until November 15, since that’s when the ‘Let’s Play a Game’ competition website will launch, via which you’ll be able to send in your application. The closing date for entries will be some time in February 2006. It’s not yet known whether Jack Thompson will be entering.

This kind of competition has occured before. Most recently I recall the BBC inviting people to submit simple game concepts that would be turned into a brief Shockwave Flash game. I was an active member of a gaming forum at the time and I let people know about that competition. The response was very interesting – nearly everyone decided it wasn’t worth their effort.

I’ve already seen some feedback to Sony’s invite and it echoes the “not worth my time”, “they’ll just steal my ideas” attitude that I saw before. I’ve also seen comments to the tune of “Hah! Sony have no talent so they’re doing this!” from your typical forum troll. Yes, of course there’s going to be conditions about what control and finance Sony have based around the winning entry. The winner won’t turn into Miyamoto or Will Wright overnight and they won’t be made an instant millionnaire. On the other hand, for those genuinely interested into getting into the games industry or seeing the development process from game concept to final product, it’s a prize that you simply can’t put a monetary value on.

People rarely appreciate just how difficult any creative process is. I tend to think of their behaviour in ‘before and after’ terms. Let’s say that GAME X is going to get a sequel. People can speculate as to the features and they can look forward to its release. Often, when GAME X: The Sequel appears a wave of criticsm will come from gamers who will say what a bad idea some new feature was or how they’ve changed an existing feature too far from the original. This sort of thing is human nature, I’ll concede to that. It’s very easy to criticise something when someone else has thought of it – it’s much harder having the idea in the first place.

To anyone who has ever criticised a game by saying “This is bad” I would encourage them to think further. Why not have *constructive* criticism? Why not say “This is bad, it would be better if…”? It’s a great deal harder to do, it requires more effort and more consideration. It’s easy to criticise, it’s harder to give constructive criticism, it’s hardest to come up with all the ideas in the first place.

By having a stab at the creative process yourself I can guarantee you’ll learn a lot. At the very least, you’ll have a better appreciation of just how difficult it is to create something new. This doesn’t apply to videogames alone. Music, poetry, fiction, websites, news reporting and plenty more are all things we may take for granted as a viewer or listener. We probably criticise them without even knowing it. The instant you try to create a website or a short story you’ll start to understand and appreciate the work that goes into them.

So, if you’re one of those critical gamers, I urge you to have a stab at this. What’s the worst that can happen?

Trueplayerz – Update

My holidays are ending and so I return to the keyboard. I’ve just come back from spending the day in London at the Trueplayerz event hosted by Joystick Junkies.

In truth, I went with no intention of participating in any tournaments. The main attraction was to meet up with a handful of individuals with whom I’ve spent a fair amount of time chatting about games and such. They were all absolute stars and I’m genuinely thrilled to have met them in the flesh and spent some time with them in person.

The event itself seemed fairly decent. Huge projection screens running the tournament games such as Burnout Revenge, Halo 2, Capcom Fighting Jam and Fifa 2006 and plenty of game-pods provided by EA to allow pretty much everyone with the chance to have a go on a game of a slightly wider range. Being held in a club there were few seats, a bar (selling drinks at premium London prices) and a constant rumble of bass noise coming from *somewhere*. The organisation of the event was a little haphazard but it’s something I’m sure will get tighter in future events.

The girls from the PMS gaming clan were there in force and looking great but, I’m sorry to say, you young male gamers totally justified your image problem today. A knockout combination of hoodies, bad skin and lacklustre facial hair just doesn’t do you any favours at all. I may be an old grandpa of gaming at 32 and perhaps I’m just out of touch with the kids but there’s a lot that can be put right with a razor, soap and water – scruffy just ain’t nice!

Sooner or later the Trueplayerz website will have photos of today’s event and you can judge for yourselves.

Regardless, good gamesmanship, a generally good attitude of friendly competition and everything being done for a good cause. Trueplayerz, give yourself a pat on the back.

How to avoid looking stupid

Before you accuse one person or company of copying another – make sure you know who had the idea in the first place.

PREDICTION: As Ubisoft announce their plans to launch Dogz on to the GBA it’s clear that they’re capitalizing on the immense popularity of the DS’s Nintendogs. Nintendo loyalists across the globe will berate the cheap tactics of Ubisoft and their blatant disregard for Nintendo innovation.

It is worth remembering, of course, that were it not for the original Dogz games produced on PCs and consoles over a decade ago it’s very very unlikely Nintendogs would ever have been thought up in the first place. And yes, the Dogz games pre-date Tamagotchi and Pokemon too. In fact, the first instance of a virtual pet was in the mid 1980’s with Activision and David Crane’s seminal Little Computer People:

Nintendogs, 20 years ago.Nintendogs, 1985

Understandably, Nintendogs is appearing on the newest hardware with the most innovative of controls (assuming you never used Dogz on a pocket PC in the last 10 years) and will obviously look prettier than the original concepts of the design from decades past. So remember the usual N-tard blinkered yelp of “Well, all company X does is nick ideas and make them look pretty on newer hardware” when they attempt to hide their ignorance and bias.

I sincerely hope every gamer in the world proves my prediction wrong. 🙂

Joystick Junkies – True Playerz – October ’05

It’ll be one of those ultra-rare times when I actually leave the house to do something vaguely sociable! I hadn’t heard of this until yesterday when a friend mentioned it to me. It’s a gaming tournament being held in London’s West End where the proceeds of the even go to the charity of the winner’s choosing. I’ve not been to any of the JJ organised events in the past but I know they’ve been around long enough to know how to do this sort of thing properly.

The entry cost is £5 for playerz or £3 for spectators. I’ll most definitely fall into the second category as I have difficulty beating a computer, let alone a motivated and skilled human opponent! However, I always enjoy a good display of solid gaming skills so I’m confident I’ll have a giggle.

I’m also really looking forward to meeting up with a handful of the folk that told me about this and rubbing shoulders with some people who’s opinions I respect and admire.

The Trueplayerz website can be found here.

Think before you respond

There’s a big debate over the suitability of playing FPS games on the Revolution with equally strong arguments for and against. The problem is that it’s missing the point entirely – if the Revolution is insisting on being the brand new way to play then there’s going to be trouble. If the gamers are still thinking about playing FPS games and all those other established genres then there is no need for a revolution.

I said that. Yes, I know quoting myself on my own site could be regarded as being somewhat pretentious but I’ve very good reason to believe that a number of people who have read that paragraph didn’t digest it properly or simply have problems comprehending simple English.

To respond to such a statement by telling me why the Revolution could become THE platform for FPS games is to demonstrate an utter lack of comprehension as to what I’m actually talking about. I do have a nice little metaphor that would help explain things in very simple terms but I don’t really think I want to help these kind of people out. They either get it or they don’t.

To those of you who did understand what I said, regardless of whether you agree with it or not, congratulations! You’re officially not morons!

DISCLAIMER: I’ve assumed English is the first language of those that read koffdrop.com. This is a sweeping generalisation and I shall use it frequently. Other sweeping generalisations of mine include: moron, fanboy, IGN reader and cretin.

A confession

I’ve been a bad, bad man. I should be punished. I’ve been involved on nasty, sordid, filthy acts that I wouldn’t normally admit to.

That's Hugh that isYou might be a little confused by this confession. Perhaps a more high-profile scenario will help you understand. See the guy on the left? That’s Hugh Grant. Celebrated English fop, bumbling fool, stuttering idiot. The American’s just love the stereotype of the British he portrays and he’s built a fairly solid career out of it. Fair play to the guy. And that woman he’s with? That’s his ex girlfriend Elizabeth Hurley. Generally regarded as a bit of alright and certainly not unattractive in the populist media definition of the term. All in all, Hugh’s doing alright.

But who’s this? This is Divine Brown. She is not a glamourous hollywood actress, she’s a prostitute. For some reason Hugh decided free rumpy with glam Liz wasn’t what he wanted that night and he sought the pay-for-play services of Ms. Brown. Unfortunately for Hugh, he got rumbled and it all got rather public and messy. When the news broke, your typical bacon sandwich eating, van driving guy would say “Huh? Why’d he want to go after something cheap and nasty when he’s got that stunna Hurley keeping his bed warm at night??”. And, on the whole, the rest of us would wonder the same thing.

But I understand Hugh. I can now see where he’s coming from. No, my marriage isn’t over. I’m talking in gaming terms (of course). I’ve got heaps of triple-A titles in my collection, I’ve been playing Katamari Damacy for a few days, I’ve got Half-Life 2 on my hard disk. I’ve got my Liz Hurley games – but I’ve been inextricably drawn to slumming it with the Divine Browns of the gaming world. I feel no shame in enjoying Burnout: Revenge. It’s a fine racing game coming from a solid pedigree of racers. It offers cheap thrills and guilty pleasures. Who can ask for more?

But, my friends, that’s only scratching the surface. On my memory card you can find saves for such indecently low-brow stuff such as Evil Dead Regeneration and Mortal Kombat: Shaolin Monks. Yes, I admit it! I’m playing these games and I’m LIKING IT. They’re trashy, they’re dirty, they’re the two-bit hookers that hang around in the darker alleys of Gaming Boulevard USA. But goddamnit, eating caviar everyday gets boring. Every now and again I need the rough, nasty, cheap, sordid, guilty pleasures of playing shamlessly tacky games that speak to the superficial gamer in me. The gamer that delights in seeing blood spraying across the screen whilst using rag-doll physics to depict the dismemberment of the monster I’ve just thrown onto some conveniently placed spikes. The gamer that doesn’t care for well-structured storylines or quality voice acting so long as the explosions are pretty and I can double-jump and do easy combos.

I don’t care, I’m shameless. I’m the toff that’s been eating the finest food for months on end and got bored the incessant blandness of high quality five-course meals and table manners. Like all of us, I wanted a cheap thrill, I wanted the guilty pleasure and the delight in slumming it with the plebs and low lifes. There’s a need that cannot be fulfilled by quality and class and that need has been growing in me for some time.

I want my gaming Pot Noodle and, by god, I’m getting it!

This weekend I was mostly playing..

Albatross 18. For some reason I really really enjoy golf games on computers and consoles. I don’t really know why, I just always enjoy them! From the days before the 8-bit classic of Leaderboard and early PC games of PGA Tour Golf. It was even one of the few activities I can recall sharing with my father – that of playing Jack Nicklaus on my 386, silenty competing against one another as we ignored the failure of our relationship.

Cheery thoughts eh? 🙂 Regardless, Albatross 18 is far more of your Everybody’s Golf / Mario Golf type game than Links or Tiger Woods style simulation. As such, you can expect the overall rules of golf to apply with some added flair and creativity thrown in for entertainment value. You can use items that modify your player’s performance on the next stroke such as increasing the power of their drive by ten percent.

Albatross 18

Performing certain tasks well earns you Pang. For example, if your driver has a range of 230 yards but you drive for 245 yards, you’ll be rewarded some Pang points. Additionally, you earn points for perfect shots (max power, max accuracy) and completing games. Pang points can be spent outside of the gameplay area by kitting out your player with clothes, clubs, items to be used in game (such as performance modifiers) and even different player characters.

The game has a great personality and is thoughtfully designed and laid out. There’s a number of things I really liked about this game that I didn’t seen in other golf games such as Shot Online.

  • Shot Clock – Each player must play their shot within 40 seconds
  • Lie of the green – Really well presented and perfectly understandable. Some golf games really screw this bit up!
  • Control – Nothing’s too complex and you can play the core game using keys if you prefer
  • Music – Spot on! Cute and twee without going into the sugar-rush style of games like Bust a Move
  • Atmosphere – Quietly reserved. There doesn’t appear to be mad rampaging fanboys being assholes. Maybe because it’s not an FPS?
  • You can opt to play 3, 6, 9 or 18 holes which equate to games ranging from 15 minutes to two hours. A nice touch!
  • The game has the most endearingly animated paper bag I’ve ever seen!

The game does have a few quirks however. Firstly, it requires Active X to run. Once you’ve installed the 160mb client app and choose to launch it the game will take you to a browser page where you click on a large “Start Game” graphic. The thing is, due to the need for some Active X component you can’t do this from a non-IE based browser. Clicking the graphic in Firefox did nothing. A minor niggle but a bit of a concern if you don’t know about it. I also found that the program closed my newsgroup reader whenever I ran it – which meant I lost any updates since the last time I’d shut the program down gracefully.

Albatross 18 is in beta and is currently free for all to enjoy. Check out the site and, if you’re on in the evenings, add “Koffdrop” to your buddy list and we can play a few holes.

http://www.albatross18.com