Wednesday, December 8, 2010

Meet Buck

Meet Buck from TeamCerf on Vimeo.

Always a fan of stylized visuals. Had to share this beautiful short.

Monday, November 29, 2010

Irvin Kershner - Thank you to one of the greats

 Like many people of my generation, Empire Strikes Back was the movie that taught me that in life and art, the good guys do not always win and the world can be a dark place.  That was a very profound lesson for an 8 year old, particularly after the escapist fun of the first movie.

Empire had it all, presenting spiritual philosophy from Yoda that as I got older, came to embody real wisdom wrapped up in the Force mythology.  This movie like no other, shaped my passion for storytelling that deals in the moral grays and ambiguities of the authentic human condition.

It also has one of the best plot reversals in movie history, and one of the best lines, that was improvised by Harrison Ford as he was being dipped in carbon.

The director of that movie was Irvin Kershner, who passed away today.  I, and many others, owe him an immeasurable debt for giving such a creative gift.  I cannot overstate the importance of witnessing such a dark epic at such a young age.  Star Wars taught the value of fantasy, Empire showed reality and the intersection of the two.

Irvin, the force will live on..always...

Tribute movie by Roger Nygard, from documentary The Nature of Existence.

Wednesday, November 24, 2010

Le Royaume - beautiful animated short

Le Royaume from S├ębastien Hary on Vimeo.

This beautiful short is from one of my favorite Animation Schools, Gobelins, based in Paris, France.

Thursday, November 18, 2010

What Makes a Good Designer

This video over on Escapist gives a fantastic primer for those interested in the field of Game Design, on what skills you need.

Much of it resonated with me, particularly the importance of good communication, not being precious about the value of your ideas and the need to have a breadth of life experience outside of our immediate pop culture from which to draw from.

If you are interested in being a designer and Star Wars is a hugely influential movie in your upbringing for example, then you owe it to yourself to see The Hidden Fortress, and to read Joseph Campbell's The Hero with a Thousand Faces.

In response to the above video, my good friend Tadhg Kelly has posted an insightful article on Gamasutra that I also love.  In it, he disputes the myth that ideas are cheap.  The debate of the power of Great Ideas vs Great Execution is one that is often waged in game design circles (and is going on right now in Tadhg's comment thread.).

For myself, I don't think it's an either or debate.  You need both.  Anyone can have a great idea, but it takes a good creative to recognize the value of that idea and be able to retain it within, while working through various iterations (execution) to bring that good idea to life.

I always say the only bad idea is the one that you keep inside and never share.  Particularly when brainstorming with a group, never be afraid of what may come from spouting out what you think may be a bad idea.  'Bad' ideas naturally expire when they outlive their usefulness, but in giving them some life, they may laterally bring us to another great idea otherwise undiscovered.

So really, there truly are no such thing as bad ideas!

However, being able to sift through ideas to find the nugget of greatness and having the further curiosity to explore, iterate and execute on that idea is definitely the sign of a great designer.

As is the ability to discard an idea when it has outlived it's usefulness.

Finally, a good friend of mine called Dave Filoni, gave some of the best advice for creatives I ever heard, and I've adopted it as kind of a maxim.  It was something he was told by George Lucas, while creating Season 1 of the Clone Wars.

At every step, they were in uncharted waters trying to achieve something technically and visually on a scale that had never been achieved in TV animation and they would hit a wall they would think was impossible to get over.

So I'll leave these words for anyone who wants to be a game designer but may feel intimidated, or for the experienced designer that has a great idea but is unsure if it will work.

"Don't be afraid!" 

VGA Awards - my 2 cents

So Spike TV announced their nominations for this years VGA awards.

The VGA Awards are growing in pop culture prominence and its great to see a televised event that gives recognition to the people who create videogames.  I think that the VGA's can play an important role in helping promote our medium as an important and valuable cultural force.

But I find the categories a bit of a mixed bag. 

Should we really be creating awards categories according to a game genre or a platform?  Why do we give an award for a game that isn't even out yet? (most anticipated game) and do we really need multiple categories for people doing voice over for games? 

I believe the VGA's could do a better job of calibrating the categories to recognize artistic merit, creativity and innovation, as well as give props to individual contributors in the fields of art, design and engineering.

Here are some awards categories that I would love to see in future VGA's.

Best Art Direction

Replace 'graphics' category with this one.  Graphics is such a generic term that to me is a holdover from the days when technology advances were the primary factor in determining the artistic merits of a game. 

We should reward artistic merit based on artistic vision.  For example, if I was voting I would give the award to Limbo this year, for creating such a uniquely beautiful, atmospheric and stylistic visual game.

Innovation In Design
It would be great to see an award that recognized the risk taking inherent in pioneering a new gameplay mechanic or mode that truly helped push the medium of games forward. 

An example for me would be last years game Demon's Soul, with it's implementation of the ability to see other player's footprints and messages when playing single player.

Technical Achievement Award
An award to a Technical Director, engineering team or programmer that created something groundbreaking or supremely well executed in engineering. 

As someone that is technically challenged at the best of times, I don't feel suitably qualified to reference a specific game here!, but I'd say that Kinect is a truly innovative piece of hardware that offers a (flawed but groundbreaking) glimpse of the future.

Most Engaging Narrative
It's disappointing there is not even a writing category in the VGA's, but as well as writing, I think an award for narrative would be a worthy category.  Because of our unique interactive nature, games engage the player in an emotional journey by co-opting and unleashing our own internal narratives. 

Well crafted games tap into our own imagination and allow us to expand and create our own dialogs about the experience we are having.  Last year, my experience playing Far Cry 2 took me on an internal journey into the Heart of Africa, that had me thinking about the political and social history of that continent, whereas playing Costume Quest this year connected me with the imagination and sense of wonder that a child has and reminded me of my own child fantasies and self-constructed mythologies from my youth.  Both experiences engaged me at a deep level.

These are just a few categories that could help the VGA awards reward true accomplishments in our field.  I'm sure there are many others.  What would you add?

Monday, October 25, 2010

Fan made Sonic Magic

Sonic was one of my favorite games on Genesis and still a game I bust out now and then on emulation, most recently I picked up the iPhone version.  I had been excited about Sonic 4 but was left disappointed by the floaty controls.

That said, this new fan made game just blew me away. I'm not sure how long they'll be allowed to keep it up before the lawyers come knocking but you can download it at their web site.

Most impressive is it's the work of only 2 people using the Unity engine.  I'd have to say, this might be the best thing I have seen on Unity yet.  The talented duo go by the monikers Pelikan13 and Mercury and deserve solid kudos for such a beautiful realization.

Monday, October 4, 2010

Costume Quest from Doublefine

A few of my old LucasArts friends are at Doublefine but that's not why I'm posting this video.  I'm posting it because this is such a rad concept.

Since the first time I heard of Costume Quest; Kids during Halloween on an RPG jaunt through their neighborhood fighting REAL monsters, it was one of those 'can't believe noone thought of this before (me included!) moments.  Pure genius.  And the art style, being directed by Tasha Harris, is absolutely captivating.

I also love the new direction that Doublefine has taken, in embracing the digital space and developing smaller contained experiences.  I think this is where Tim Schafer and gang will find their audience and hit that sweet spot between critical and commercial acclaim.

and another's going to be interesting to see what comes now that Tim and Ron Gilbert are once more back together again.  Which reminds me to do a quick plug!  Come to IndieCade this weekend, where Tim gets an award from Ron, and yours truly is on a couple of panels!

Costume Quest comes out on 20th November for XBLA & PSN.

[UPDATE Oct 25 2010] I bought it Day 1 on XBLA and LOVED it.  The game delivered everything it promised to be.  I was never a huge fan of the over-complexity of turn based RPG combat but this presented it in a simplified fan way. 

The length of the game was just right for a downloadable, it was fairly easy to play but short enough that the charm never wore off.

This is one of those games that inspires me to keep making games.  Something that presents such a magical imaginative world that reconnects us with the child within. 

The only thing missing is that its CRYING OUT for 2 player co-op.  I think with co-op it could have been a perfect game for parents and children to enjoy together, much as the Lego series has been. 

As it is though, a wonderfuly sweet game and one I definitely recommend!

Monday, September 6, 2010

IndieCade 2010: show info and an announcement

This years IndieCade Independent Games Festival is being held in Culver City October 8-10.

I highly recommend fans of independent games make the trip and here are some reasons why.
  • It's a great way to come and get hands on with independent games and talk to the creators, all in a nice relaxed environment.  The festival itself is spread out over a number of cool art galleries all within Culver City.  A perfect way to spend a couple of days browsing around, very different from the packed intensity of GDC. 
  • There are a great series of panels and talks in which the intimate setting tends to involve the audience much more.  Check the schedule.  Last year I attended one debate that took place in the outdoor patio of a local bar, with drinks service and comfy cushions.  Very civilized!
  • The organizers are all great people and worthy of your support.  One of those people this year is me!  I am very honored to have been asked by the co-chairs, Richard Lemarchand and John Sharp, to moderate a panel and also organize this years Microtalk series!

    • The panel is on something that I am very passionate about, Funding Models for indie games.  We have a great panel, including Ron Carmel (of 2DBoy and recently launched IndieFund fame), John Hight, who oversees all the amazing PSN games at Sony, Jane Pinckard, blogger, former journo and biz dev impresario for Foundation 9 and finally, Jesse Vigil, groovy indie developer for Pyschic Bunny as well as a co-founder of new indie publisher Codename Games.  The panel is on October 8th at 1pm.  I think we have a great mix of people and it should be a spirited conversation.  Hope to see you there!
    • The Microtalks are a series of short, rapid fire presentations on the future of indie games.  We're still in the process of finalizing the participants but this also promises to be a funky, diverse and fascinating talk.  It takes place on Sunday at 10am.  If you've never attended a Microtalk before you will be in for a treat and if you have, well you know why they are so popular!
  • The conference is very affordable!  Prices start at $10 and go to $95 for a full conference pass.  And this money is going to support all the great independent developers, that are being flown in from all over the world to have their work showcased.
So what are you waiting for?  Go to the IndieCade website and get your tickets now.

See you there!

Tuesday, August 3, 2010

Thoughts on Development

A former colleague of mine recently asked me some questions based on my experience running a team.  I thought the answers might be useful for somebody else so I'm posting here.

-What are some of the key pitfalls that you have learned from creating original IP as part of a large company?

It’s always a challenge creating something original within a large organization. Large companies are inherently risk averse, creating new IP is inherently risky. Attempts to mitigate risk (focus testing, market analysis, creating rigid processes for the creative process) can often strangle the creative process. This is why being small, hungry and far away from the mothership is preferable.

Another challenge is assembling a team that can be comfortable with the loose, organic flow of early development. I have seen people who are great in early concept development and people who are fantastic in a well defined production phase but its tough to find people that can be a part of the whole phase.

Don’t scale the team too fast, keep the team as small as possible in the early stages to give yourself time to really figure out the foundation of the concept.

-In your opinion, what creates success when creating and executing on original IP?

Think of the old adage ‘plant a seed watch it grow’. There was a great talk on NPR last year about creativity. The guy discussing this question said something I really took to heart ‘when you plant a seed, you don’t dig it up every week to see how it is growing’. Creativity gets nurtured at the early stages by putting together a key group of talented people, have them work on something they are TRULY passionate about, provide them with the time & resources they need, and then being there to SUPPORT them, not impede them. When this basic foundation is set, magic will happen. Autonomy and ownership of what is being created is key. See Dan Pink’s TED talk on the science of motivation.

-From a production standpoint, I know creating original IP can get out of hand, what production constraints would you set up front? The scope of original IP can get so out of hand, that I feel it is important to take it one step at a time while ensuring that key stakeholders understand that this process is iterative.

Keep the team as small as possible for as long as possible. Make sure you are doing gameplay prototyping and using that as your ‘design exploration’ Don’t focus too heavily on documentation. Use wikis, basecamp, google docs or anything that can live ‘in the cloud’ so that it’s easily accessible to the whole team. I think it’s key that the partners (publisher, investor) understand that the early phase is for exploration and not expect you to make long term project commitments at this stage, you need to discover what the project is going to be.

Do regular playthroughs, make sure the whole (small team) sits down regularly and reviews the work that they are each doing, sharing ideas to improve. Work needs to be exposed as much as possible not stay hidden on someone’s machine. On my team we had daily standups, 2 week sprints and the team themselves really owned the work they were doing.

Plan the project so that you have a minimum set of features that you can ship with and an optimum set. Make sure that you clearly know what the goal is of the project, time, budget or quality. If it’s time/budget, schedule by prioritizing and delivering the core feature set earlier in development than the gravy, and be prepared to cut judiciously early so you have time to make sure that core set is awesome. You don’t want to ship a wide feature set where everything is mediocre. If it’s quality, then stakeholders need to know that scheduling is not exact and build in margins of error (i.e. 15% contingency) within the time & budget. If the stakeholder wants all 3 to be equally important...look out!

-What kind of milestones would you setup to ensure the success of creating original IP?

I think there are 2 phases that typically get stripped out of development that are critical for new IP.
  • Early stage world & character development plus gameplay prototyping.
  • Polish (true dedicated polish, not bug fixing)
Also, schedule lots of playtesting of the levels and integrate it into the level creation schedule. Make sure you have iteration pass time allocated for after each focus test.

Friday, July 30, 2010

Limbo has a Roy Lichtenstein moment.

Great example of creative appropriation.  Love this Little Big Planet take on Limbo.  There is true art in this...

Monday, July 26, 2010

Comic Con 2010

Tron bike on the showfloor
 I spent a great 2 days down at Comic-Con last week.  It's always really inspiring to see the amazing amount of creativity and passion that fans put into the creation of their costumes.  I also get super charged after spending a day browsing artist's alley and meeting fellow creative's working in the medium of TV, comics and feature animation.  It's a nice reminder of how much common ground we all have, even though the mediums may seem so different.

I didn't take a lot of photos so I've appropriated some from various sources (attributed) to help illustrate my time there.

Pascal Campion: photo from parkablogs
My friend Pascal was doing a brisk trade on Artist's Alley.  Check out his work and you can order prints here.

Next up, Brandon Ragnar Johnson, creator of one of my favorite books, Big City.
Eponymonstrous: check his blog
As a huge Ragnar fan, it was great to meet and chat with the man himself.  I purchased his new book Eponymonstrous, which I recommend and you can purchase it here.

Darth Javi
Had a great meetup with Javier Grillo-Marxuach, the amazing creator of The Middleman comic and TV series, who very graciously gave me some supportive advice about my own writing goals.

Went sneaker shopping with my old buddy Jesse Alexander, who as always was on point about where transmedia and entertainment is headed.  Jesse is one of the rare people working in TV and film that knows videogames intuitively, not just as a fan but as someone that is able to deconstruct what does and doesn't work for the medium.  I hope one day to see him contribute to the field!

I had the good fortune to work with both Javi and Jesse on a secret project a couple of years ago, in which we emulated a writers room as a way to break story for a videogame I was working on.  This was a fantastic experience and I highly recommend the collaborative writers room approach to anyone creating a narrative structure for a videogame.
l-r: Haden Blackman, Me, Dave Filoni
I also got to reunite with good friends from LucasArts, including Haden Blackman, he of The Force Unleashed fame, and Dave Filoni, director of the Clone Wars animated series, I remain inspired by the work they are doing and excited to see what there future work will be.  Two of the nicest and most creative people I had the good fortune to know during my time there, I learned a lot from just being around these guys.

Finally, shout out to one of my old Lead Designers, Aidan Scanlan, who I ran into and is now back at Bioware working on a very cool looking project he was demoing called Dragon Age 2!

See you next year!

Wednesday, July 21, 2010

Buy this game - LIMBO

Limbo was released today. I picked it up for XBLA for 1200 points. The game is a true masterpiece. Elegant in its design simplicity and a masterclass in how to deliver graphics, audio and game flow as an integrated experience to convey storytelling.

If you are a fan of artistic games you owe it to yourself to support this game. The commercial success of games like this, along with games like Heavy Rain, show there is room in our industry for a broader range of emotional journeys than the traditional 'summer blockbuster' fare.

More evidence, if any is needed, that our industry is really evolving as an art form. What a great time to be creating games!

Check the PlayDead website for more details.

Friday, June 4, 2010

Puppy Games - Revenge of the Titans

This game looks amazing

Go to the Puppy Games website to download the beta.

Love the pixel art!

Tuesday, June 1, 2010

Ed Catmull pt 2

I've covered Ed Catmull before but as a student of Pixar you can never stop learning.

Voice Synthesis for Added Realism

Impossible Mission came out in 1983.  The moment I saw this running in my local computer store was a watershed moment in my life, akin to seeing Star Wars for the first time.

The fluidity of the main character animation was amazing.  It was the first time rotoscoping had been used to give the character realistic movement (Jordan Mechner's Prince of Persia came out 5 years later).  Before that most games I had played had 2-3 frames of animation.

Another great aspect of the game was the storytelling.  The game had an evil protagonist and you were working against time to infiltrate the computers in his base, piece together puzzles and confront the evil scientist at the end.  It was a simple but effective construct that was an example of character driven storytelling that worked.

Another huge innovation was the use of speech in the game.  Who could forget the evil genius challenge at the beginning of the game.

"Stay awhile...Stay forever!!!"

[UPDATE] cool interview with Dennis Caswell on the making of the game.

Monday, May 17, 2010

Drive - Dan Pink gets animated

I've covered Dan Pink and his talk on Autonomy, Mastery and Purpose before but had to post this as it's awesome. An animated version of his talk.

Sunday, May 16, 2010

Frazetta - Inspiration, 1928 - 2010

I know its been a few days but I wanted to post a selection of my favorite Frazetta images since his passing last week. Such a prolific artist and so influential on the games industry. You can see the hand of his work in everything from the epic Bioware games to the periodic Conan titles to the anatomically detailed character model for Batman in Arkham Asylum.

Rest in Peace Frank Frazetta.

Saturday, April 17, 2010

Punk, Hip Hop & Videogames

With the passing of Malcolm MacLaren last week I just had to post one of my favorite tunes from his work with World Famous Supreme Team. Although Malcolm McLaren's biggest (and most controversial) contribution to music was as part of the Punk movement and his work with the Sex Pistols, his interest in Hip Hop was real.

As a Hip Hop junkie growing up in the 80s, I loved the passion, fierce independence and amazing creativity of this powerful youth movement that was not (at that time) supported by the established industry but regardless was pushing creativity and invention in every direction.

I guess every generation has its own youth movement, that brings a powerful voice to challenge the status quo and bring change to the established way things are. Hip Hop Culture was mine.

Malcolm McLaren was also a fan of at least one aspect of videogames, writing an article in 2003 championing 8-bit music. In an interview for Swindle magazine, he said;
There was some anarchic element in the culture of early interactive video games that inspired them. They wanted to grab that sound and use it to express music of their own kind. They love those machines, the consoles, the Game Boys. They weren’t ass lick or as well programmed back then. There was a rawness in the sound and imagery. They produced a sound that had a connective spirit to the world of punk rock, because it was so DIY, equally disobeying of overly slick productions, equally trying to deconstruct and get down to the roots and rawness, equally using source material instruments that they aren’t necessarily in control of. That world, to me, was the next stage.

To all those aspirational indie game makers, this is your time, your movement. Make a real change in the world with the games you make.

And in the spirit of this post, I'll mashup my point with a quote from Robert Kennedy in a post about Punk and Hip Hop!

“There are those who look at things the way they are, and ask why... I dream of things that never were, and ask why not?”

Thursday, April 8, 2010

Two of my favorite things collide - 8 bit invasion of NYC

I tweeted the link to this but its so awesome I had to post it here too. This video is created by Patrick Jean for One More Production.

Friday, April 2, 2010

TED Talks: Jane McGonigal

Apologies for the delay in my pt2 thoughts from GDC. It's coming but my new independent life has been keeping me busy! In the meantime here is Jane McGonigal's great and inspirational talk on the good and importance of games in our real world.

Thursday, March 18, 2010

Cave Story - A love that spans continents

The story of this games development is pretty well known by now but is such an inspirational one, and with the Wiiware version due soon I wanted to give it some props.

Daisuke Amaya (AKA Pixel) created the game, on his own, over a period of 5 years. A PC version released in 2004 (download here) . There is an interview with Pixel here, that gives you the background.

I also found this beautiful little interview piece on on youtube, about how Tyrone Rodriguez and Daisuke Amaya worked across continents to bring the game to Wiiware. (thanks to for the link).

Check it out! Be Inspired!

The Wiiware version comes out next week (March 22nd). For more info you can check the official website.

Wednesday, March 17, 2010

GDC Inspiration Pt 1 - The Indies

Last week was GDC and a great time to take the pulse of the industry.

The previous year, all the heat was around casual and iPhone. This year the big buzz was the incredible growth of casual/social games, with a certain amount of fear as to a perceived threat of facebook games to the wider medium.

My take is different. I think this was the most inspirational, exciting GDC I have been to. One that represented the diversity of our industry, from the amazingly consistent quality of big budget games last year, to the increasing prominence and growth of the amazing beautiful indie games scene, to the explosion of social games that show that gaming is something for everyone.

I feel that our industry is on the cusp of a major evolutionary step.

In fact Will Wright spoke of this in his ‘secret’ keynote. Describing us as poised at the beginning of our own Cambrian Explosion.

I have a lot of notes from various talks I went to so I'll be breaking them up over a series of posts over the next week or so.

Here is my Indie update from GDC.


I went to the Ron Carmel talk about IndieFund. You can find an excellent writeup of the talk here.

Everything he said was inline with what I had expected the fund to be about, but this is an exciting development for the industry. If they can be successful it may start attracting more capital to our industry. It's also great to see the successful Indies coming together to provide a channel for the next wave. This is one of the most amazing aspects of the Indie scene, there is a sense of togetherness and community that comes from everyone pushing out and trying to make it on there own.

One part of the talk that puzzled me was Ron's claim that Publishers are investing too much into indie games. He says that Braid & World of Goo cost in the $120k to $180K range and that Publisher investments of $500k-$1M were risky and destined to lose money.

I do believe that a lot of Publishers have been burnt with their early experiments in XBLA but I don’t believe it’s related to budget but rather quality of product. Braid would have made money even at $1M dev cost. It sold because it was a great game. To pick 2 other XBLA hits, I don’t believe that Castle Crashers or Shadow Complex could have been developed for $200K and they have been commercial and critical successes.

I believe whether you are developing a $200K game, a $2M game or a $20M game we are living in a time when only best is good enough. Regardless of cost, you need to be best in your class.

It’s possible to develop a great game for $200K, as both Ron & Jonathon Blow have shown, but there are other game experiences that are going to require bigger teams to deliver. The market on XBLA is going to continue to grow and will ultimately support games with bigger budgets.

Moving on, the IGF booth is one of the highlights of GDC for me. Each year the games are getting more and more polished. What’s really clear too, is the rebirth of 2D. It feels like perhaps we’ve explored 3D gaming as much as we can and now we are in this process of rediscovering old gameplay that had been lost a little bit. There are 2 games I want to talk about, very different and yet I believe, there are universal elements that tie them together...


Wow. What a beautiful game. We had looked at the early concept video for this as an inspiration when we were in pre-production on Lucidity. Then no new information came to light but at GDC I got to play it. Check out some footage from the GDC build here. It’s coming on XBLA in the summer and is a Day One purchase for me.

What really blew me away, however, was that it’s been developed over a period of 3 years, with a team of 8-16 people! Wow! I don’t know what the man month costs are like in Denmark but that would run about $2-3M to develop here in the States.

Could this be the most expensive ‘Indie’ game ever?

Joe Danger

Fantastic game. Absolutely polished and just reeks of FUN at every level. Check out the trailer here. Amazing to know this has been developed by 4 people. 3 programmers and one artist. Met Sean Murray and he was a super nice guy. It’s been announced as coming to PSN in the summer.

I think this is going to be huge. It’s like Trials HD, crossed with Sonic, crossed with Little Big Planet, made by Pixar. Sean himself is way more humble about its chances. I really admire what they have done in staying true to their vision and not letting anyone come in and knock them off course.

Both Joe Danger and Limbo were stand-out games for me. They were both amazingly well polished and brilliantly executed. They were also very very different, showcasing the diversity of game experiences that the indie space is delivering.

This got me thinking, what makes a game truly 'Indie'?

  1. Is it Self-Funded? Joe Danger is self-funded. Flower is funded by Sony and wins IGF GOTY.
  2. Is it budget? Limbo clearly has a budget that even Publisher funded XBLA games aren't spending.
  3. Is it the Conceptual Premise? The indie 'feel'? Joe Danger is a nakedly commercial, fun game whereas Limbo reeks of 'indie' emotion and artistry.

I can imagine there will be fierce debates on this to come, much like the 'Are Games Art' debates of previous years.

Joe Danger may not 'fit' the notion of an indie game because of its bright sense of fun and mainstream sensibility, but these guys made a game they WANTED to make and they completely self-funded it. (Interestingly, I've heard that Limbo has benefited from some significant Arts Funding from the Danish Government)

Personally, I subscribe to the belief that Kellee Santiago eloquently vocalized at GDC, that Indie Developers don't have to suffer for their art. Developers need to eat, need to pay mortgages and support families and there is nothing wrong with the support for that coming from a Publisher or private investor.

It is the intrinsic motivation to create an interactive experience that comes from the heart, one that reflects the creators personal passions and voice that, to me, makes a game 'Indie'.

For the Hello Games guys, that's Joe Danger, for PlayDead that's Limbo. I'll be celebrating that diversity with my $$ when both games release.

More GDC updates to come soon!

Sunday, March 14, 2010

LucasArts - A Fond Farewell

After 3 years at LucasArts the time has come for me to move on. It's been a fantastic experience for me. If I could go back and tell my 10 year old self this was in my adult future maybe high school would have been a lot more tolerable!

I worked with an amazing group of talented people. Some of the most talented, passionate developers I have ever known. Together we had a great team culture that allowed us to weather every storm. We never gave up and kept meeting each new challenge head on. The team carried me on their backs as often as I carried them.

We got to build a team culture built around the concept of togetherness, empowering everyones creativity and the idea that no one person is bigger or better than the team.

I got to spend hours with George Lucas, sharing my creative ideas with him, and enjoying his own enthusiastic ideas (the part that would have made my 10 year old self's head explode).

And we had success! Our team relaunched the companies interest in its Heritage, with the development of Monkey Island: SE, which has led to the recent announcement of its sequel, Monkey Island 2, led by my good friend Craig Derrick.

We also got to create Lucidity. For me, this was a deeply personal game. Creating a game around a little girl who's is on a 'metaphorical journey of dealing with the death of her beloved grandmother' is not exactly an established gaming premise but the company stood behind our creative muse and let us take it all the way through. It was a great experience and I'm proud of the game we delivered in such a crazy short development time.

As to what I will be doing next, as an independent I have some great ideas and a post GDC inspirational tailwind to carry me forward. Hopefully I will be able to announce something soon. In the meantime, to all my great friends and colleagues at LucasArts, thanks for the great memories!

Tuesday, February 23, 2010

DICE 2010: Richard Lemarchand on Naughty Dog's creative culture

Richard Lemarchand is a good friend of mine, and an amazing industry talent that I am often in awe of.
He gave a great talk at DICE this year, on Naughty Dog's culture that allows them to deliver such amazing games as the Uncharted franchise.

The talk starts at minute 5:40 of this G4 feed.

He discusses three critical pillars at Naughty Dog.
  • Empower the Team
  • Open Communication
  • Cross Discipline Collaboration
As Richard himself notes, the most radical aspect of this may be the steps they take to ensure team empowerment. Naughty Dog has a sum total of zero Producers on their team. That is not to say they do not do production, rather production responsibilities are devolved down amongst the teams and discipline leads. This means that the people creating and tracking deliverables, are the same people responsible for their execution.

This is the secret sauce.

Game Developers want to deliver amazing work, its why we all came into games. To create memorable moments takes passion. By giving the creator responsibility for the timely delivery, you maximize the efficiency of the work. The developer feels ownership of the date as well as the quality. They will strive to deliver as good work as they can in the time they have given themselve.

This is not an open invitation to take as long as they want. Having a tight knit team culture, as Naughty Dog clearly has, means that people have a sense of responsibility to each other. A team member is self-motivated not to be late, because it lets down friends and colleagues, who have there own dependencies.

At LucasArts, I created a team built on very similar principles. Ours were;

Flat Heirarchy - responsibility was taken on case by case, by whoever had the passion and was able to do the work. Anyone could own a major part of the games development. In fact we had an intern creating all enemy animations for one of our games by his second week.

Everyone Creating Everything - people had to be prepared to perform any task that might be needed to get the job done. For people who embraced this, it meant opportunity to develop skills in areas they would not typically get the chance to. Through this, a System Designer became a more rounded creative by developing level design chops. A concept artist became an Environment Artist and got to implement her artistry directly into the game. In every case, the results were awesome, largely due to the passion and desire for learning that the person brought.

Other tenets of the culture that were never formally written down but were implied and in constant practice, mirrored the pillars that Richard talks about.

So here's what I learnt from my own experiences. It works. Absolutely. No question.

This is why small indie teams are often so successful. They rarely afford specialist Producers, typically have to wear many hats, and work closely together, thriving or failing on how openly they communicate and work together as a team.

What is particularly impressive about Naughty Dog's accomplishments, is that they have been able to take this small team mindset and scale it up to a studio of 120 people delivering AAA big budget games. (By the way, I have heard that Valve similarly operate along the same governing principles).

I also think its important to note the value of what Richard describes as being 'led by artisans'. Game development changes so fast today that at some point, people who stop creating and start managing, start to lose track of the latest evolutions. I can't imagine a piece of them inside doesn't die, at losing the very thing that they loved that brought them to games in the first place. My Art Director at LucasArts was ADAMANT that a big chunk of his time HAD to be doing production work on the line. Similarly, my Lead Designer had been both a designer AND an engineer in past lives, and oversaw the design as well as making his own code tweaks to balance gameplay.

Ed Catmull has said something about the culture at Pixar that they know they are doing there job right if people go into a room and solve a problem and he only finds out about it after the fact. The scale of the projects are so huge they NEED people at the lower levels to be making independent decisions. This emphasizes the importance of devolved decision making that comes with a flatter team culture.

In many ways this is how a successful military operates. Command sets the objective and then the men on the ground take on the responsibility of how to get the job done, based on what obstacles they see ahead.

Some additional thoughts.

You HAVE to have everyone on the team to buy into this concept. Your job leading a team, is to find every way to unlock people's passions. Its this passion that leads to greatness.

What I have found is that giving people ownership, a sense of there own destiny, and as Dan Pink says, a "sense of Mastery, Autonomy and Purpose" will time and time again give results more creative than a top down command and control organization.

Oh...and one last thing...Naughty Dog have never missed a ship date!

Sunday, February 21, 2010

Jesse Shell - Is our life just one big RPG?

This talk has been causing a big buzz coming out of DICE last week. Jesse Shell talking about how gameplay will increasingly be part of our every day lifes.

Some of these themes have been touched on before. David Edery talked about gameplay in other products, as part of a talk he gave at last years Develop on How Digital Distribution Changes Everything, Maybe, but that makes Jesse's talk no less entertaining or instructive.

I particularly enjoyed the theory about peoples hunger for authenticity, as our world increasingly becomes more and more focused on virtual world relationships, objectives, currency and meaning.

For anyone interested in where gameplay design may be heading watch this talk.

Wednesday, January 27, 2010

AAA Indie & the shape of things to come

My friend John tipped me off to this new game in development called Interstellar Marines, being developed by Zero Point Software out of Denmark and using the Unity engine.

At first I was impressed with how they were pushing the technology, making a competitive looking FPS game with only a small (8 man) team. But then what I found really interesting was their development philosophy and strategy for funding the game whilst retaining independence.

From the website, Zero Point describe themselves as 'AAA Indie'. They explain this as;
1. AAA Indie is AAA games done independently from publishers
2. AAA Indie is the gamer and the developer, no one else
3. AAA Indie is development with open doors, so gamers can track games in development
4. AAA Indie lets the gamers 'vote' for the games they want to play - simply by expressing their interest
5. AAA Indie is open for anyone with a dream a the will to deliver on that dream
First off, I love 3, the open kimono approach to development. I've discussed this approach with fellow game makers. Could there be a way to engage and build a community by opening up the development process, exposing it to that community and even soliciting feedback throughout the dev cycle? Well they are doing it. I will be fascinated to see how it works out and hope it succeeds.

As I checked out the site more, I became more and more impressed. These guys are not just building a game. They've build a robust infrastructure to attract and engage community and most critically, solicit investment dollars from the community to fund the development of the game!

I have talked about micro-funding game development before, and there are few examples of this in the game space. The Zero Point gang seem to have really thought it through and implemented some strong hooks into their development site to make it a compelling investment. Some highlights for me;
  • You can contribute between $5 - $39.99 to the development of the game
  • $39.99 gets you special 'Spearhead' status, preview access to content and beta deliverables, and free copies of the game when (if) they ship. They limit this to 75,000 people which, even though I doubt they are in danger of hitting that number, gives you an extra feeling of exclusivity in singing and feeds that impulse to get in 'while you still can'.
  • You get a personal logon profile, which gives you status on the forums and allows you to save progress and achievements on the server. Similar to Rocketbird Revolution but one step further.
As an indie, I'd love to see these guys succeed in developing a community funded game. I believe this funding model could open up new opportunities to get games made in an industry that desperately needs a broader range of ways to fund game development.

I signed up for the Spearhead package and look forward to seeing what my investment helps brings to market! Viva AAA Indie ! :-)

Thursday, January 14, 2010

Videogame stats

Videogame Statistics
Source: Online Education

Always a sucker for good graphics, and stats.

What Motivates Us

Dan Pink gave a great TED talk on what motivates people, that I featured in a previous post.

Yesterday he was interviewed on Forum, a public radio program on KQED, talking about what he calls Motivation 3.0.
  • Autonomy - feeling trusted to do the work and giving some degree of freedom about how to get it done.
  • Mastery - a sense that the work is providing learning opportunities to grow.
  • Purpose - a sense that the work being done has a higher purpose that we can feel passionate about.
There is much here of relevance for the games industry!

I also recommend his book Drive: The Surprising Truth About What Motivates Us.