Saturday, February 21, 2009

Half Life 2 the movie

Check out this wicked cool Half-Life 2 short. User generated content from indie film makers/fans The Purchase Brothers

Thursday, February 19, 2009

Making Lots of Pots

Jeff Tunn is a co-Founder of Garage Games and writes a blog called Make it Big in Games, that has many excellent insights for budding and practising video game entrepreneurs.

I particularly dig his latest post titled "Putting your game on OS-X and Linux is not enough", where he talks about the benefits of releasing an initial prototype version of your game concept via free to play platforms to test it out.

In one step, our game is delivered on over half of the platforms I mentioned above. In addition, we now have a great looking calling card and, hopefully, data to back it up, to allow us to pitch the heavy client platforms. Instead of going to Microsoft with a demo or a pitch, we can go to them with data that says our game was played by 7MM people that loved it and are looking for the next version. If you think about it, that is how Flow, Line Rider, and even the Behemoth guys got onto the heavy client platforms, although I don’t think they were thinking about that when those games were originally created.

This game 'lite' release for free strategy allows you to gather feedback on your game, turn consumers into (free) focus testers, future purchasers and community evangelists by engaging them in the process of making your game.

Here's an old story from the book Art & Fear that I think is relevant to Jeff's point.

A ceramics teacher announced on opening day that he was dividing his class into two groups. All those on the left side of the studio, he said, would be graded solely on the quantity of work they produced, all those on the right solely on its quality. His procedure was simple: on the final day of class he would bring in his bathroom scales and weigh the work of the "quantity" group: fifty pound of pots rated an "A", forty pounds a "B", and so on. Those being graded on "quality", however, needed to produce only one pot - albeit a perfect one - to get an "A".

Well, came grading time and a curious fact emerged: the works of highest quality were all produced by the group being graded for quantity. It seems that while the "quantity" group was busily churning out piles of work - and learning from their mistakes - the "quality" group had sat theorizing about perfection, and in the end had little more to show for their efforts than grandiose theories and a pile of dead clay.

If you are making a small game, don't be precious about your 'idea' and get caught up on making that 'perfect' retail version. Get it in front of people, gather feedback and iterate!

Monday, February 16, 2009

Check out Knytt Stories

Check out Knytt Stories. A great little game my buddy Jens turned me on to. Created by Nicklas Nygren from Sweden.

I love the beautiful use of music and space to create a paced experience. The game resists the temptation to have 'action' at every turn. Simple game mechanics, simple graphics, simple execution, sometimes that's all a game needs to captivate a player's imagination.

There is also a game editor and active level creation scene. You can download additional user created levels here.

Saturday, February 7, 2009

Creating - the Ed Catmull way

Ed Catmull is the man. As one of the founders of Pixar and a past Lucasfilm alum, he's pioneered the art of fostering creative innovation & culture.

He wrote an awesome article in the Harvard Business Review a few months ago, titled 'How Pixar Fosters Collective Creativity' that I highly recommend if you can snag a copy. It's available here for $6.50.

If you don't want to stretch to the $6.50 then this article also on HBR covers some of the key points. One that particularly resonates for me is this -

Delegating power. Ed and his fellow executives give directors tremendous authority. At other studios, corporate executives micromanage by keeping tight control over production budgets and inserting themselves into creative decisions. Not at Pixar. Senior management sets budgetary and timeline boundaries for a production and then leave the director and his team alone.

Executives resist exercising creative authority even when it's thrust upon them. Take reviews of works in progress by "brain trusts" of directors at Pixar and Disney Animation. The rule is that all opinions are only advice that the director of the movie in question can use as he or she sees fit. Catmull, chief creative officer John Lasseter, and executive vice president of production Jim Morris often attend these sessions but insist that their views be treated the same way and refuse to let directors turn them into decision-makers.

Even when a director runs into deep trouble, Ed and the other executives refrain from personally taking control of the creative process. Instead, they might add someone to the team whom they think might help the director out of his bind. If nothing works, they'll change directors rather than fashion solutions themselves.

I absolutely passionately believe that this type of set up is critical. I was fortunate enough to attend a talk with Ed a few weeks ago and he also spoke to his personal leadership style in terms of his style of 'anti micro-management'.

He related a story of working with a new creative team. They presented a detailed plan with schedule and cost breakdown for their next project. He asked how many staff months they needed and they said 855. He told them (me paraphrasing from memory) "I'm going to give you one number, 985. That's how many staff months I'm giving you. I'm holding you to that and I don't need to see any other numbers from you, go make the feature.".

I love to see this level of trust put into the hands of the people responsible for their creative products. It's giving clear constraints and then stepping back and letting smart people figure out how to create something amazing within those constraints. This is inspirational leadership at work.

Here's an interview with Ed, at around the 2.45 mark he talks about the importance of trust in having the artists do the right thing.

In the talk I attended, he said something else very critical. Projects go south when people don't plan for change. You ALWAYS experience change in a projects life cycle. You should accept it, embrace it, and plan for it. This is why he gave that team the additional staff months, so they could plan for change and continue to iterate towards quality.