Crowded Field, Modest Diversity Slowly Implodes Industry

by Eric-Jon Rössel Waugh

Originally published in, I believe, the August issue of Play Magazine, split into a few blurbs across a two-page spread. I thought it rather worked in that format.

While everyone is freaking out about the economy, some trends are older and more reliable. Over the last decade, as the game industry has become big business and budgets have skyrocketed, yet everyone has continued to produce more less the same material, more and more groups and individuals have had to compromise. Continue reading “Crowded Field, Modest Diversity Slowly Implodes Industry”

Five That Didn’t Fall

by Eric-Jon Rössel Waugh

Part nine of my ongoing culture column for Next Generation. After the popularity of my earlier article, I pitched a companion piece about companies that had lived past their remit, yet technically were still with us. On publication we lost the framing conceit and the article was split into five pieces, each spun as a simple bottled history. In turn, some of those were picked up by BusinessWeek Online. Here’s the whole thing, in context.

A few weeks ago we published a list of five developers that made a difference, helped to shape the game industry, then, one way or another (usually at the hands of their parent companies), ceased to exist. One theme I touched on there, that I got called on by a few readers, is that although in practical terms all the listed companies were indeed defunct, several continued on in name (Atari, Sierra, and Origin), living a sort of strange afterlife as a brand detached from its body.

This was an deliberate choice; although Infogrames has been going around lately with a nametag saying “HELLO my name is Atari” – and hey, why not; it’s a good name – that doesn’t make Infogrames the historical Atari any more than the creep in the purple spandex with the bowling ball is the historical Jesus. (Not that I’m relating Infogrames to a fictional sex offender – though he is a pretty cool character.) The question arises, though – what about those companies which live on in both name and body, yet which we don’t really recognize anymore? You know who I’m talking about; the cool rebels you used to know in high school, who you see ten years later working a desk job, or in charge of a bank. You try to joke with them, and they don’t get a word you’re saying. You leave, feeling a mix of fear and relief that (as far as you know) you managed to come out of society with your personality intact.

The same thing happens in the videogame world – hey, videogames are people; all our sins are handed down. This article is a document of five great companies – that started off so well, ready to change the world – that… somehow we’ve lost, even as they trundle on through the successful afterlife of our corporate culture. And somehow that just makes us miss them all the more. Continue reading “Five That Didn’t Fall”

This Fortnight’s Releases (May 1-12, 2006)

by Eric-Jon Rössel Waugh

Weeks thirty-eight-and-nine of my ongoing, irreverent news column; originally posted at Next Generation

Game of Early May:

SiN Episodes: Emergence – Episode 1

It’s kind of weird; back in mid-1998, everyone was waiting for SiN – then the very day it arrived, Half-Life sprang out of nowhere, and took all the attention. That didn’t stop SiN from becoming a cult hit; it’s just hard to escape such a poor case of timing. Over the past eight years, the game has built up a reputation as perhaps the pinnacle of the old “Duke Nukem“-style FPS, before Half-Life changed everything. Traditional genre fans, who just like to charge forward and shoot stuff, have been waiting a long time for a sequel – and here it comes, via the Half-Life 2 engine, via Steam, and via the episodic template that Valve has set out.

This first episode brings back all the major characters from the 1998 original, to do much the same business as before: run forward and shoot. The difference is in the method; aside from the obvious enhancements in physics and envionmental interaction allowed by the Source engine (and the consequences thereof), the game now automatically adjusts itself to the player’s skill level and playing tendencies. If you get good at head shots, apparently, enemies might start wearing helmets. According to Ritual, the game will take experts about as long as new players to play through.

Emergence, being only one of at least nine planned episodes, will only last about six to eight hours; on the other hand, it only costs about eighteen bucks. Something tells me this episodic download thing is going to take off. It’s almost like a revised take on the early-’90s Shareware scene. The difference with shareware was that people got a whole episode for free, then typically had to pay full price for another several episodes. Now you pay pocket cash up-front for each episode. Same thing; just reorganized for efficiency on both ends. Tie in Steam, and you’ve even got the return of online distribution. It’s obvious, in retrospect.

Now if only we’d come up with this ten years ago – if we’d just adapted and kept up with the Internet – just imagine where the PC development scene would be today. Continue reading “This Fortnight’s Releases (May 1-12, 2006)”

The Localization of Counter-Strike in Japan

by Eric-Jon Rössel Waugh

Taninami, a thirteen-year veteran of Namco’s arcade division, was assigned five years ago to find a solution to the Japanese “network game problem”. Whereas the US has enjoyed about thirty-five years of network connectivity, online games have never really caught on in Japan; for some time, received wisdom placed the blame on a nonexistent or comparably obscure architecture. And yet, now that broadband is prevalent, the market still barely exists.

So why is that, Taninami asked. Flipping the question around, he then asked what makes network games fun. He concluded that pleasure comes in part from the game itself – provided it’s a good game – and in part from the company the player keeps. He called this situation a “relationship of multiplication”: if the opponent fails to play fairly, then the game fails to be enjoyable. As far as Taninami was concerned, that social angle was the biggest problem.

As Taninami had a limited budget, he figured there was no point in wasting resources on development, when there are already so many well-made games available; instead, he poured all of his attention into the network aspect, conducting reams on ridiculous reams of research on how to ensure a fun level of competition. For the game, he selected Counter-Strike, due to its popularity elsewhere in the world. He asked Valve for a license to promote the game in Japan; they said okay and everything was in order. Almost.

( Continue reading at GamaSutra )

Xbox 360 Launch Analysis

by Eric-Jon Rössel Waugh

Originally published in some form by Next Generation. Doesn’t seem to be up anymore, and I don’t remember if anything was changed.

Xbox marketing chief Peter Moore has done his job well enough, declaring the 360 launch catalog the “best lineup in history”. Of course, most people see through at least this level of hubris. Just for fun, though, let’s take a stroll through the lineup and see just how it adds together.

A quick glance will show four main categories of software: new games actually developed with the hardware in mind; pared-down PC ports; spruced-up console ports; and the prettiest versions of this year’s disposable sports games. Continue reading “Xbox 360 Launch Analysis”