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2012.11.30

Steambox

More and more rumours emerge about the videogame console from Valve. Famous about their online game store Steam, Valve is a some time investing in emerging technologies and ideas. But is a new videogame console needed? There are already three players now with major investments in hardware and the dispute is famous for being very very hard. Sega, Panasonic and even Apple tried and can tell you more about it.

Valve has being preparing it’s terrain for some time now. It recently launched (which means that they were already working internally long before) the Bigpicture feature. It transforms the classical Steam interface in a more Television fashion. It is also designed to be controlled via a remote control. But they have never satisfactorily answered the question: who would put a giant PC case in the living room, right next to the TV, just to be able to play?

According to these news, the machine will feature a Linux. It is aligned with recent declarations of the Valve president, Gabe Newell, saying bad things about the new Microsoft Windows. Linux is free and flexible and recently is gaining an unprecedented track with Android phones. Also, Gabe knows that Microsoft plans to launch a service very similar to his Steam, selling software in a centralized way. Survival measures.

Steambox

Valve has also working with Linux. They recently announced that Steam itself will work on Linux and accept Linux games. A beta is in progress. But except for indies, there are no relevant games for the system. Valve must itself to port some own games (Left 4 Dead, Team Fortress, Half Life and DOTA franchises) to show the path and prove the market viability. Once they do this, many other developers might be encouraged to follow. But it will take a while though. Unlike Windows and closed console systems, Linux on a broadly used machine is yet a niche.

Game engines and middlewares must be prepared also. Valve probably is working on porting it’s Source engine to Linux. Rumours say that a second version of their famous middleware is being cooked. Another demonstration of commitment of this strategy. Epic’s Unreal engine, Unity, Id and other middleware players are announcing compatibility with Linux. They noticed the movement, lead by Valve’s Steam but not exclusively attached to it.

Steambox

But how a traditional software company will enter in the computer market? Well, Microsoft already followed this path creating a whole hardware division to actually manufacture Xbox. It is a very risky and difficult movement. Electronic manufacturers like Samsung or Nvidia have much more expertise and would have much more success doing this path. Rather, I predict that Valve would follow a similar strategy adopted by Google and its Nexus brand: designed done in house but the actual machine is done by third parties. Valve would just set partnerships with pc manufacturers to create stylish mini PCs with top notch pieces like graphic card and processor. We would see several versions of Steambox shipped in waves, like smartphones and tablets, experimenting new features on each iteration.

PC should finally be considered a first class console.

2012.06.01

Gaming Industry: Game Over

Gaming industry is very risky business, just like any other entertainment industry. Generally players have to bet in a very narrow set of products, which demand high volumes of investments. If we think it thru for a project manager perspective, we have a very very very risky business to invest. These companies invest mountains of money in very few products that we very weird correlation on quality/

Big investments

Latest graphics, motion capture, Hollywood actors for voice overs all cost money. Trucks of money. Like films, the AAA titles consume millions of dollars to be built.

Small portfolios

Because the volume of money required to create a game is very bulk, the companies that want to great a portfolio (publishers) have to choose the projects very carefully and criteriously. Even that, they can only concurrently create a very narrow range of games. Essentially they have to bet on very few horses to generate very large amount of money to finance another cycle. The problem relies on the worst scenario: the current bet do not pay out. The whole company puts itself in a very dangerous financial position.

Game is Art

But the final analysis must consider games as art products. You cannot follow a formula to make people to fall in love for your product.

Gaming industry game over

Now always they pay off. The recent cases of THQ and 38 Studios illustrate this. 38 studios, the makers of the very good Kingdoms of Amalur: Reckoning, recently backrupted. The company took around 100 million from the government to create a AAA title, but the game, while selling well, didnt sell the amount needed

Gaming industry game over

THQ invested in few AAA titles that demanded loads of money. When the failure rate rises a bit, the whole operation start to be financially compromised.

Gaming industry game over

Homefront, unfortunately, will be remembered as the milestone for the THQ’s potential fall. Unfortunately because it was a critically acclaimed game (at least it receive good greats), but due external reasons it didnt sell well to the point that compromised the THQ cash flow.  Homefront was being considered the cashcow internally, the new IP that would generate loads of money, safetly. But the forecasts were nothing but dust.

Gaming industry game over

It basically answer the question several gamers make: why game makers keep build sequels? Now you know…

2012.01.10

Skyrim

The traditional Elder Scrolls game is now back with Skyrim. This takes place in northern lands. Snows in a lot of places. But the fire of the dragons might warm the players.

tES 5 is the Bethesda masterpiece. Every single aspect was updated and enhanced. Combat is more fun. The story infinitely much better than Oblivion, while still feels very cliche. It’s an improvement. However, it is still very very awkward and worse, totally dull sometimes. It is for me the biggest weakness in the Bethesda Softworks team.

Skyrim

The game so big that you can spend days, weeks and even months without exploring the whole map. It adds an lot of value to the final offer. However, I bet that less than 25% of all players will see the end of this game. It’s so huge than at some point you will be tempted to restart and make different choices. Graphically, it is amazing. With all settings at the max, you will definitively be impressed. I was more shocked when Oblivion was released; it was more ground breaking. But Skyrim is beautiful and you will face some situations in which you will catch yourself with your jaw opened.

Skyrim

The same can be said about he bugs. The programming could not foresee he amount of situations that players put the character into. The result is an YouTube full of funny videos. But it is another Elder Scrools tradition: crazy and sometimes irritating buggy situations. It’s almost a positive asset.

Skyrim

Most of the mini games are now fun. But I still feel that the most of the decisions that we make in the game, in terms of the storytelling aspect, are quite inconsequential. In the gameplay, however, is creates amazing branches based on what gamestyle you prefer.

Skyrim

It is a masterpiece. A bit of the same, if you already played tES game before, but is still amazing. And it have dragons!

Gamespot:

  • Better Than the Sum of Its Parts
  • Get More Than Your Money’s Worth
  • Great Sequel, Great Story
  • Outstanding Visual Design
  • Sucks You In+ Variety
My Rating: 9
Metacritic: 94
2011.12.01

Batman: Arkham City

Jezz, what a great game. I must confess, flat, that it impressed me much less than the first installment. Several features, scenes and the general feeling was already known. Is takes a lot of the buzz and the fun, but what is left is so good that it is still one of the top games i ever played. What impressed me upfront is the level of detail. Batman Arkham City is a product of a gigantic effort and thought. The city is full of small surprises.

The story now is less impressive than the first game. Too many characters, villains in fact, are presented and compound the main story. But to patch all then into a single thread, the rationalization is left aside. The human villains are very plausible, like joker and penguin. But the more bizarre and monster like guys forces the story into a more a too much incredible way. Suddenly Batman stops chasing a psycho mass murderer and stats dealing with a assassin from centuries back, living by a coincidence in the city undergrounds.

Batman arkham city

Graphically the game is top notch. I would question a bit the excessive amount of colors that populate the city, regardless the argument that a place like that would normally be full of neon colors. The rest is gorgeous. I loved the humor -sometimes a bit dark- of the dialogs. Alfred almost always mocks Batman for being so good so smart so invincible. Joker, probably my favorite bad guy ever, is also a star.

Batman arkham city

The voice performances are amazing and convincing. In the artistic point of view, there is no much more to say than WOW.

The gameplay is very very good. Easy enough to not let the flow stops but hard enough to keep you engaged. The plethora of gadgets is a bit confusing, but they make sense in the general situations. Puzzles are rational, challenges are well places and well executed. I tend to buy and play great games due the fact I do some research before the acquisition. This game is a candidate to be one of the best games I ever played.

PS: Time to time I give my computer a clean installation of everything, formatting the hard drive. Guess what? I lost the saved game coz i forgot to backup this one! jezz, I’m soooo pissed. I was really near ending.

Gamespot:

  • Just Right
  • Oh Snap!
  • Outstanding Gameplay
  • Outstanding Visual Design
  • Sucks You In
  • Superior Animation
  • Terrific Voice Acting
My Rating: 8
Metacritic: 9
2011.06.13

The Witcher 2

You can read my review about The Witcher. I loved the game, mostly because the huge personality that the whole product. Characters with a unique spirit, non conventional story, choices that cannot be placed in the simple black-white gradient, adult theme, and the complements go on… For those that agreed with me, great news! The Witcher 2 is all of that, bigger and better.

The witcher 2

The polish developers Projeckt CD printed a hollywoodian tone to the game. The storytelling element (both in game and cinematics) is superb. You really care about the characters and their motivations. Some characters that in the first installment were not that relevant in the game (but are in the book series that the games are based on), like Zoltan and Triss, in the second game they are relevant and very likable.

The witcher 2

Since Bioware basically imposed the good/evil dynamics, several games were created using the formula. But the witcher universe is nothing like that. Like in the real world, people are moved by complex motives: religion, politics, economics and even the mundane takes place. that, allied with (spoiler alert) the possibility of multiple endings (in fact, more that 1/3 can be different, depending on your decisions), and you will fill quite tempted to play the game a second time, just to see how things play out if you take other choices.

Graphically the game is nothing but true beaty. The same can be said about the sound and music. And all of them are relevant -so there is no filler stuff- and very well done. Textures, models and visual effects are top notch. Famous RPGs like Mass Effect, Dragon Age are not even close.

The witcher 2

But its not perfect. The menus are slow, difficult to select, the game ganerates hundresds saved games automatically and the turorial… the tutorial … the Trial by Fire, as they call it, was a wrong decision. It seems you are facing a boos as the very first contact with the game. I could also talk about the difficulty, that in the first thrid of the game is really hard.

The witcher 2

Have no doubt! The Witcher 2 is problably my favorite RPG game ever. I can go even further? top 10 games ever. Simply that.

My Rating: 9
Metacritic: 88
2011.06.08

Wii U

Nintendo just presented to the world the new console, which, by the way, several details were already known.

Wii U. Is the name of the new console. The name is a reference of We and You. In the paper, the idea is nice but after a basic field test, it reveals to be a terrible choice. The president of Nintendo of America, Reggie, said that Nintendo is now going to pay attention to the individuality after so many years dedicated on generating the gaming culture to a multitude of public.

The main attractive of the new console is the controller. It has a big tablet-like screen that receive a video stream from the console (it does not process anything). This means that one cannot play their games during trips or even at the backyard. It must be close to the main machine. Another curios fact is one one of this new controller will work on each machine just because it is like displaying another game for another TV. It will bring interesting effects to in loco multiplayer games for sure.

Note: the golf wiimote+wii u controller demonstration is embarrassing. I imagine someone actually putting the screen at the floor to see the ball from above. OMG

Despite the obvious excitement of all Nintendo staff, the whole product is should be considered more as a Wii HD (it will finally output HD video and have more competitive processing power). I personally doubt that major games will support the new controller like WE MUST. The rationale is simple: its too costy to design a product with a so limited scope.

Games are expensive to make. And spreading your product to the wind, selling to all video games, computers, digitally and physically would reduce the risk. But if you can only sell to Wii U due the exclusive controller, it would quite risky. It is not a coincidence that Wii exclusives are generally small companies or small products. Unless developer companies start to develop similar functionalities using alternatives tablet/phone/computer combinations.

Wii u

I am particularly skeptical about this move. I always wondered about Wii and DS merged gameplay, but betting it will be the future is quite strange. Well, Nintendo has a great pedigree about gimmickry.

2011.03.09

Bulletstorm

With the promise to bring back the fun to a popular genre – First Person Shooter -, the Epic’s Bulletstorm is a mess.

One of the main problems is the core idea: stimulate the user to perform vary the play style by using different weapons. The player now is psychologically forced to vary. And because this concept is presented and used in the main campaign, several times the player will stop to pay attention on the story – which will comment later – in order to

Several of the “skillshots” are too dependent on luck, like killing several enemies at the same time in a specific condition. It brings a lot of frustration. Its a immense TODO list to be executed.

The other pillar of the game, extensively advertised, is the bad language. Fun at the start, it becomes a annoyance by the end of the game because the player feels it is forced and unnatural.

Bulletstorm

The story, i must say, is terrible. ALL the characters try to look bad but be good ALL the time. The players' character best friend, the cyborg Ishi, thru the WHOLE game goes back and forth saying “Ow… the pain is huge. The computer is trying to dominate my mind”… we simply not buy it. I would say that the 4 characters of the game are among the worst I ever seen.

The visuals are amazing. Even with a modest pc you will still get a fantastic looking game. The loading time are impressively quick and there were only few times when the framerate dropped. Unreal Engine showcase.

The curious part is that the game play is actually good. If the player were not “forced” to worry with the long TODO list, it would be much better. I didnt play the multiplayer yet, but if it follows the chaotic formula of the single player campaign combat, I think people will like at first but the annoyed soon.

Bulletstorm
My Rating: 6
Metacritic: 82
2011.01.10

2010 Art Review

2010 was a great year. This was a not typical year for books. The list is quite short. This list is what I could remember.

Games

  • Most, but not all, I finished
  • 3 Cards To Dead Time
  • Agatha Christie: And Then There Were None
  • Agatha Christie: Murder On The Orient Express
  • Amnesia
  • Assassin’s Creed 2
  • Borderlands
  • Cities XL
  • Civilization V
  • Darwinia
  • Dawn Of Discovery
  • Democracy 2
  • Donkey Kong Country Returns
  • Dragon Age: Origin
  • Epic Mickey
  • Europa Universalis III: Heir To The Throne
  • F1 2010
  • Fallout: New Vegas
  • Fifa 11
  • Gratuitous Space Battles
  • Harvey Teh Attorney
  • Kirby: Epic Yarn
  • Little King Story
  • Mafia 2
  • Mass Effect 2
  • Need For Speed: Hot Pursuit
  • New Super Mario Bros
  • No More Heroes 2
  • Rock Band Beatles
  • RUSE
  • Settlers 6
  • Settlers 7
  • Shatter
  • Super Matio Galaxy 2
  • The Saboteur
  • The Secret Files: Tunguska
  • Thief
  • X-Com: AI

Movies

  • 2012
  • Alice In Wonderland
  • Alien 3
  • Aliens
  • Angels & Demons
  • Avatar
  • Bounty Hunter
  • Brüno
  • Clash Of The Titans
  • Crazy Heart
  • Escape From New York
  • Fantastic Mr Fox
  • Funny People
  • Ghost Writer
  • Gosford Park
  • Green Zone
  • Halloween
  • Harry Potter And The Deathly Hallows Pt 1
  • Harry Potter And The Goblet Of Fire
  • Harry Potter And The Half-Blood Prince
  • Harry Potter And The Order Of The Phoenix
  • Hot Tub Time Machine
  • Imaginarium Of Doctor Parnassus
  • Inception
  • Inglourious Basterds
  • Kick Ass
  • LA Confidential
  • Law Abiding Citizen
  • Murder On The Orient Express
  • Near Dark
  • Paprika
  • Paranormal Activity
  • Prince Of Persia
  • Princess Mononoke
  • Pulp Ficiton
  • Robin Hood
  • Shanshank Redemption
  • Sherlock Holmes
  • Shutter Island
  • Taxi Driver
  • Terminator Salvation
  • The A Team
  • The Blind Side
  • The Fisher King
  • The Silent Warrior
  • The Sound Of Music
  • Time Bandits
  • Twilight
  • Up
  • Up In The Air
  • Where The Wild Things Are
  • Zombieland

TV Series

  • Death Note
  • Fullmetal Alchemist 1-10
  • House S6
  • Lost S6
  • Naruto 1-20
  • Mad Men S01 S02
  • Breaking Bad S01

Books

  • Some of them I used the audiobook
  • Brave New World – Aldous Huxley
  • Butcher’s Hill – Laura Lippman
  • Dramatica
  • Screenplay – Syd Field
  • The Alchemist – Paulo Coelho
  • The Blue Ocean Strategy – W. Chan Kim And Renée Mauborgne
  • The City And The City – China Mieville
  • The Comic Toolbox: How To Be Funny Even If You’Re Not – John Vorhaus
  • The Murder Of Roger Ackroyd – Agatha Christie
  • The Murder On The Links – Agatha Christie
  • The Naked Face – Sidney Sheldon
  • Y: The Last Man – DC Comics
2010.12.03

Unity 3D 3

The new version Unity 3D engine was just released and Im really excited.

All the previous features continues there: great asset integration (several 3D, 2D and sound file formats), programming scripts, grate IDE. But know the visual performance is better, even with the new features enabled.

Pre baked lightning is now included by default. It allows to create amazing scenes that most of the lights pre rendered. It allows the video card to work on other stuff, like shaders. Speed is also better the inclusion Ambient occlusion package. It analyses the scene/map previously and checked what parts of it will not appear depending on where the camera is and saves the information to be used in realtime. The performance gain is huge.

The animation manager is also a great plus. It seems very much like video editing, with curves and keyframes. It is now very nice to program the animations, specially for designers.

UDK (Unreal Development kit) is also gaining a lot of attention of the media, but with a feature set somewhat similar (again, 99% of the game makers are not even capable of using the engine fully), it is quite a irresponsibility to accept the license that makes you give 25% of the profits to Epic (and after paying your distributor, marketing, etc…).

2010.09.10

The New Business Scenario for Games

There was a time that making and selling games was simple. puf…. old times. The last years opened several options. The amount of variables now can be a bit overwhelming and inevitably will make people get the wrong conclusion. A lot money to be made and to be lost!

Indies

The indie movement is officially in vogue. World of Goo, Limbo, Amnesia, Darwinia… they made, together, quite some revenue and receive amazingly good critics. The small financial risk, the creative independence to explore some bold choices are all elements of its rise.

A important part of the emergent trend of indie games is the access of good middleware. Unreal released the same award winning engine that power AAA games in a indie-kinda-friendly license. UDK, its name, is impressively complete. Torque continue to expand. Unity 3D 3 is better then ever and even big fishes are using it. The cost of AAA tools reduced so much that the “limited only by our imagination” cliché is now more true then ever.

The new business scenario for games

Handheld

Recent data indicates that the handheld (game-only devices) market is in decline, mostly because the smartphones are now powerful enough to host not only Tetris and Bejeweled but full featured 3D games. Some games for iPhone and Android are really impressive. And because the distribution costs are really a tiny fraction from a full console distribution (Apple store and Android Market only charge a small percentage), the market is dominated by indie companies, that have a better development cycle ans scale.

The new business scenario for games

Browser

Zynga, by generating more revenue with FarmVille than Facebook entirely, proved that casual gaming can be lucrative and be a big-company business. But like the new handheld scenario, its flooded by low quality titles made by indies. Zynga also proved that micro-transactions can be considered as a serious option. Several big 3D engine suppliers are creating browser plugins so more high quality games can be placed in a internet only environment.

Consoles

With the new motion controllers and online strategies, consoles are living a new good era. The prices are going down and they are getting even more popular on south american, asian and eastern european countries. The problem in this segment is the high competition in the AAA tier. The production cost is so high that is getting more and more common to read about studios being closed or rearranged after one single bad-selling project.

Cloud

The most surprising things on gaming, almost unbelievable, is the use of external computing for gaming. OnLive is already live and sells games as service: they run the game in their computers and you only need a monitor and joystick/keyboard. No need for a top-notch computer or console. The games could be even played, at full power, in a tablet or old computer.

The amount of computing power needed is enormous. And I mean it: I cannot think that they invested less then billions of dollars in several data centers. The paradox is the servers are all in US, the very market that games prices are lowest and piracy is not a major issue. Brazil, Russia and Europe would be much more receptive to this model, but i dont think the cost would ever pay off…

The bottom line is: for major companies, the “several studios working on a single franchise ratter than several franchises being developed by a single studio” mantra will still apply. Call of Duty and GTA will continue to generate millions. But I foresee the rise of several small and mid sized companies that will focus on niches pointed above. Zynga is one of them. I believe that there will be a quite a number that will make the break even point and grow simply because the market size expanded and entry barriers lowered.

Goog luck.

The new business scenario for games