Ambition and Compulsory Design in Animal Crossing

by Eric-Jon Rössel Waugh

The thing about portables – and not everybody cottons to this – is that people use them differently from other game systems. You cradle them in your hands, within your personal space. You drag them around with you, pull them out of your pocket like a dime novel, then snap them closed when you step off the bus. Where console and PC games ask you to set aside blocks of your time, portables fill the cracks in your day.

All of these situational dynamics, and the psychology lurking behind them, inform the basic checklist for a portable game.

( Continue reading at Game Career Guide )

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”

Spore: Pre-Production Through Prototyping

by Eric-Jon Rössel Waugh

Maxis Senior Development Director Eric Todd shifted foot to foot as Namco’s Keita Takahashi slowly gathered up his notes and folders, grin plastered to his face, slowed by the occasional autograph hunter. It seemed like every time Takahashi thought he was ready, he realized he had failed to retrieve something else. Eventually he cleared off the podium and exited stage left. Just as Eric Todd stepped forward, to belatedly start his lecture, Takahashi swooped by again to collect one last article before dashing to the hall doors, seeming suddenly preoccupied. Todd blinked at the audience and introduced himself.

“Prototyping”, Todd declared, “is the heart of a virtuous pre-production cycle”. He explained the premise of the lecture – that he would be discussing the value of experimental models before dedicating one’s self to any one approach to a software problem. He then explained that the following would be an “advanced” talk, that would assume you already knew what he was talking about – so he wouldn’t hold back in his explanations or references. Todd rattled off a list of books that the audience might do well reading, to better understand what he was about to say – none of which, it turned out, were altogether necessary.

( Continue reading at GamaSutra )

The 2004 Game Developers Choice Awards

by Eric-Jon Rössel Waugh

I watched the Academy Awards for the first time, a few weeks ago. The MPAA’s screener ban (instituted in part to cut down on indie competition, under the ruse of piracy prevention) had apparently backfired, as the 2003 nominees consisted of perhaps the most well-chosen bunch of the right movies, for the right awards, that the Academy had ever selected. I thought, hey. Why not.

After an hour and a half, three hundred commercials, Billy Crystal’s singing, Billy Crystal’s unfunny jokes, Billy Crystal’s just-this-side-of-unkind remarks to Clint Eastwood and others, endless Hobbit awards, and Billy Crystal, I wandered away. I now thought I understood, first-hand, the general antipathy for award ceremonies.

With this in mind, I was unsure what to expect when I walked into the IGDA Game Developers Choice Awards. I had read about the Gunpei Yokoi ceremony the year before; that had sounded unconventional and sincere. Yet: it was still an awards ceremony. How long could I tolerate the pomp, I wondered.

( Continue reading at Insert Credit )