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Ah yes, those young, hip fellows at the bar, sitting together exuding an aura of inapproachability. No one can get close enough to point out that all of their lofty achievements have been achieved before, and even if someone manages to slip past their defenses they simply rewind time so the transgression never occured.
This makes me glad to be the sort of gamer that will joyfully sit next to anyone at the video game bar and start chattering away. It's not about who jumped first. It's that they jumped at all.
Jan 23, 2012
US cable TV network HBO has optioned the rights to make a fictional TV series based on forthcoming documentary Indie Game: The Movie.
According to Deadline, the film's directors Lisanne Pajot and James Swirsky signed on the dotted line at the annual Sundance Film Festival in Utah over the weekend, where the film premiered to glowing reviews.
Initial reports that HBO wanted to turn it into a half-hour comedy have proved wide of the mark, with a post on the movie's Facebook page today stating "HBO has optioned IGTM for the basis of a (fictional) series. It is NOT a comedy. It is NOT a sitcom."
Hollywood veteran Scott Rudin - whose credits include 2011 Oscar winner The Social Network, Moneyball, The Girl With The Dragon Tattoo, The Queen and Wes Anderson's take on Roald Dahl favourite The Fantastic Mr Fox - will reportedly produce. No word on potential casting choices, but the mind boggles.
It's worth noting that not every property that gets optioned by a network necessarily makes it through to full production.
The film follows a number of recent indie titles through development, including Super Meat Boy, Braid and Fez. Take a look at a trailer for the flick, which is due out later this year, below.
Jan 23, 2012
Shacknews - Alice O'Connor
HBO is limbering up for a television drama tackling the most harrowing and difficult subject it's approached yet: indie video games. It's early days yet, but the American cable channel has unexpectedly optioned documentary Indie Game: The Movie to make a half-hour series. And in true indie style, it's already been misunderstood.
The initial report from Deadline said that Home Box Office's series would be a comedy, raising more than a few eyebrows in the indie community. However, the original documentary's makers Lisanne Pajot and James Swirsky insist that's not the case.
"HBO has optioned IGTM for the basis of a (fictional) series. It is NOT a comedy. It is NOT a sitcom," the pair explained on Facebook.
The documentary follows the trials and tribulations of the developers behind Fez, Braid and Super Meat Boy. Presumably HBO's series will be inspired more by the tone and struggle than the developers themselves, though we must say James Van Der Beek would make a mean Phil Fish.
The series is being produced by Scott Rudin, who's backed The Social Network, Moneyball, True Grit, No Country for Old Men, and heaps of other fine things.
"The people involved, the network involved - all are, BY FAR, the best people possible to make this show," Pajot and Swirsky say. "We are ecstatic about the possibilities of working with this team. All you need to do is look at the list of HBO series titles & Scott Rudin's IMDB and you can see why we think this is a brilliant thing. We want to see this show happen. We want to watch this show."
Do remember that optioning something doesn't guarantee it'll be made, merely that it could. The documentary made its premiere at the Sundance Film Festival on Friday, then will have a theatrical release followed by the DVD. Here's a peek at it:
When we last saw the upcoming game from Jonathan Blow this summer, The Witness already looked like an intriguing experience. The way that Blow's game design interwove puzzles and environmental cues created a hypnotic level of immersion where you had to pay attention to a gameworld like never before.
As a result of updated designs from a partnership with architecture firms FOURM Design and David Fletcher Studio, the look of The Witness' world and the resultant immersion will get even deeper. In a new post on the game's Witness website, Blow talks about updating the aesthetics of The Witness from the blocky placeholder structures previously seen to newer models with real-world architectural details:
If you see the different civilizations that came to this island as embodying different philosophies; and you see the structures they built as representative of the way these philosophies led them to interact with the world; and you see further that when they replaced a site, it represents the rejection of some older worldview that they consider no longer useful, then perhaps you start to get some idea of the amount of backstory that can be encoded into the world, nonverbally.
Further down, Blow explains even more what's driving the re-envisioning of his project's look:
Having smart architecture, it seems, really helps this process work, brings it alive. If you build a game where people are supposed to pay attention to details, but the details are wrong or naive or just don't have much thought put into them, then at some level the game just won't work. Even if you don't know the first thing about architecture, you have been in enough buildings in your life that the deeper parts of your brain have distilled plenty of patterns about those buildings. Your brain knows the difference between a real building and a nonsense building that wouldn't occur in the real world. It can feel the difference in veracity between carefully-thought-out structural details - on the one hand - versus stuff that was just placed by a level designer to look cool.
When I got my hands on The Witness this summer, the incongruity of the game's landscapes struck me as being on purpose. Were these structures from different dimensions? Were they meant to symbolize different states of consciousness in Blow's mysterious new adventure game? Now that Blow's offered some insight as to how interconnected the whole design of The Witness is going to be, it sounds even like it'll be a singular experience when it comes out… whenever that is.
Architecture in The Witness [The Witness]
Nov 30, 2011
Lisanne Pajot and James Swirsky's upcoming documentary Indie Game: The Movie will be making its debut at the well-regarded World Documentary Competition at the Sundance Film Festival in Park City, Utah.
The documentary follows three independant game developers— Fez's Phil Fish, Edmund McMillen and Tommy Refenes, aka "Team Meat" of Super Meat Boy renown, and Jonathan Blow, who created Braid and the upcoming puzzle game The Witness. Kotaku's own Stephen Totilo played and was impressed by The Witness recently.
You can watch the trailer for the movie here—given its subjects and style, it certainly looks like it will shine a light on the process and artistic potential of games. Its debut at Sundance in January should help bring awareness of indie developers and indie games to a large new audience. Congrats, guys.
Nov 18, 2011
Super Meat Boy completely won us over with its slightly icky take on the good ol’ platform genre. To celebrate its first anniversary, the game has been released as part of a huge bundle on Steam, which includes the original game, Aquaria, Bit.Trip Beat, Bit.Trip Runner, Braid, Gish, Machinarium, VVVVV and World of Goo. You’ll also get the music tracks from Super Meat Boy, Braid, Machinarium, Bit.Trip Beat and Bit.Trip Runner. That’s a whole bunch of indie gaming right there, and it’ll only set you back £17.89 ($28) - or £1.78 per game. Oh yeah, it also includes Half-Life 2, for some reason.
Oct 5, 2011
Has Xbox Live Arcade really peaked, as World of Goo creator Ron Carmel yesterday argued? No, analysts have told Eurogamer.
"But Microsoft should take a look at Ron Carmel's piece," declared Billy Pidgeon of M2 Research, "which eloquently makes the case (and backs it up with data) that XBLA has peaked for a specific group of independent developers who are responsible for high quality games that outsell the average XBLA game.
"Sony is acquiring more unique content for PSN, and in many cases it's exclusive content, which will cost Sony more but will clearly differentiate their online games store from XBLA and other competition."
"In terms of digital games delivered through a home console, Microsoft will continue to be the market leaders," stated Jesse Divnich of EEDAR.
"I am not disagreeing with Mr. Carmel, I believe some of his points are valid and any digital service provider has its own restrictions and hurdles. Not every game is the right fit for every service.
"We certainly are seeing some fracturing among developers, and Xbox Live and PSN are no longer the only option for game distribution."
"That doesn't sound right to me," said Michael Pachter of Wedbush Morgan, responding to Carmel's claim. "If anything, there are more titles than ever, but we haven't had a Braid or Limbo so far this year.
"As the 360 price comes down and the installed base continues to grow, there should be a significantly larger addressable market for XBLA games, so I think it continues to grow."
Ron Carmel surveyed 200 independent developers. His results, which he admitted weren't sacrosanct, showed dwindling support for Xbox Live Arcade. Part of this is due to laborious XBLA constraints. The other part can be attributed to the rise of PC, Mac, iOS and Android gaming. Billy Pidgeon said that "viable alternative marketplaces" are "good news for developers and gamers both". Whereas Xbox Live Arcade and PSN are "predictable", he said, other markets can be "risky".
"Indie games are like indie songs: most of them suck, but the ones that don't are unique and deserve to be bought, played, talked about, discovered and awarded."
Billy Pidgeon, analyst, M2 Research
Divnich said the investment in social and mobile gaming "is not necessarily at the cost of XBLA and PSN titles". There's greater flexibility there, but "the recipe for success is not as established".
"Of all the online games markets," added Pidgeon, "I think Steam may have the best offering for gaming enthusiasts so far. The PC is the ideal platform with the most reach, Steam's timed specials help games sell more but hedge price erosion, and it's a great experience for gamers who use it.
"Nintendo's online shops are getting better, but still have a long way to go. The App Store has got great reach, but the best games get lost in the crap and rapid price erosion is a given. Android download stores are the worst, with all the downsides of the App Store and none of the upside due to fragmentation."
Apple has made iOS an easy platform to develop and publish for. One of Ron Carmel's suggestions was for Microsoft to make every Xbox 360 a dev kit, and relax the submission process so that more content can get through. Xbox Live Indie Games already does this, to a degree.
"The Xbox Live Indie Games market seems a waste of a good opportunity," Pidgeon went on to say. "What should be a showcase for indie games is more like a swap meet.
"It's worthwhile to let anybody make a game with XNA, but there should be a 'top shelf' for the best independent games. Indie games are like indie songs: most of them suck, but the ones that don't are unique and deserve to be bought, played, talked about, discovered and awarded."
Nicholas Lovell from Gamesbrief, in a lengthy dissection of Ron Carmel's piece, accused Microsoft of "artificially trying to restrict consumers to a limited number of choices, similar to a retail store". Whereas Carmel had hope Microsoft could turn it around, Lovell isn't so sure.
"Ron is relatively upbeat about the future, if Microsoft adopts some of his ten-point plan. I am less so," Lovell wrote. "I think that the company is stuck trying to recreate the limitations of the physical distribution market, rather than embracing the opportunities created by the digital market.
"I was going to say that I hope that I am wrong, but I'm not sure that's entirely true. The sooner the world becomes more open, the better."
Oct 4, 2011
World of Goo developer 2D Boy believes Xbox Live Arcade "peaked" last year (2010) and that "Microsoft is not yet aware of this".
Studio co-founder Ron Carmel surveyed 200 independent game makers, some of which are responsible for significant - but undisclosed - XBLA titles.
He discovered that more developers want to make PSN games now than titles for XBLA. He also found PSN and XBLA seventh and eighth in a list of target platforms for 2011. The most popular was Windows, followed closely by Mac, iOS, Linux, Flash/browser and Android platforms.
Nearly three quarters of the developers surveyed said ease of working with a platform holder was paramount - followed by installed base and platform suitability.
When asked about specific platform holders, the majority deemed Steam, Facebook and Apple "very easy" to work with. Sony's PSN majority, like Google's Android, was "so-so". Most people found WiiWare "difficult", whereas Microsoft's XBLA was "excruciating".
"Given that ease of working with the platform owner was voted the most important factor in choice of platforms, it becomes perfectly clear why XBLA, despite being a very strong channel with a large audience and huge earning potential, is dropping in popularity among these developers," observed Carmel.
"But if things keep going the way they are, and XBLA keeps losing talented developers, I believe the diversity of games available on XBLA will diminish, quality will suffer, and revenue numbers will drop as players start to move away from an unremarkable portfolio of games. We will see a lot more 'genrefication' and big publisher franchises."
"XBLA is no longer the king it used to be. Microsoft is no longer in a position to demand exclusivity now that PSN has more developers and is growing."
Ron Carmel, co-founder, 2D Boy
"Once players start to leave in large numbers it will be too late to turn things around," he added. "Given that it takes at least a year or two to make an XBLA game, no developer would want to start working on one knowing that XBLA is declining in popularity and could be significantly weaker by the time the game is ready.
Carmel believes full-scale gamer "migration" away from XBLA is "a few years away", which allows "more than enough time for XBLA to change course".
To this end, Carmel shared "10 Things Microsoft Can Do To Improve XBLA".
- Create a fair contract that doesn't require negotiation. "It's the most exploitative, one-sided distribution contract I've seen. We each waste months of our time and Microsoft's time negotiating the same stuff out of the contract, over, and over again."
- Solve the content discovery problem. "The platform owner needs to make it super easy for their users to buy software."
- Stop requiring independent developers to publish through MGS. "Every other distribution channel allows independent developers to self publish, without a producer, and I see no evidence that having a producer on a game makes it better."
- Drop the TCRs, make updating easy. "TCRs add months to a game's development time that could be better used polishing the game."
- Get rid of the exclusivity requirement for independent developers. "XBLA is no longer the king it used to be. Microsoft is no longer in a position to demand exclusivity now that PSN has more developers and is growing."
- Drop the greenlight process and open up development to everyone. "Players judge the quality of a platform by the quality and quantity of the best games available on it, not by the average quality of all games."
- Make every console a dev kit. "It may require a lot of work, but there is nothing stopping Microsoft from doing this as well. This is actually one of the reasons Microsoft is the console maker best-poised to undergo this transformation."
- Automate everything. "With the App Store, everything is automated and a developer can release a game without ever talking to a human."
- Drop the ESRB in favor of a self administered rating system. "It takes weeks, and thousands of dollars, to get a game rated by all the domestic and international ratings agencies needed to launch a game globally. The ESRB in particular is a nightmare to deal with."
- Make avatar related requirements optional. "I don't know a single developer who wants to make toys for avatars. It's not fun and it inflates the game's budget."
"XBLA played a pivotal role in the popularisation of independent games," concluded Carmel, name-checking N+, Castle Crashers, Braid, Limbo and Super Meat Boy.
"Microsoft proved that indie games can be million sellers on consoles, and then sat on its laurels for half a decade as more nimble and innovative companies like Valve and Apple took the lead.
"I would love to see Microsoft rise to the challenge of adapting to new digital distribution landscapes," he wrote. "More healthy platforms means more interesting, creative games that push the limits of our medium."
Video: World of Goo.
Sep 28, 2011
Jonathan Blow, developer of Braid and upcoming indie game, The Witness, has been talking to Edge about the negative effects that focus testing can have on games development. He uses Portal 2 to illustrate his point.
We spoke to Gabe Newell about the lengths Valve go to to create a polished experience last year. Gaze tracking, pulse rate, and skin galvanic response all come into it. Blow says a testing environment that thorough can potentially erode player's freedom: "Valve very deliberately focus tests its games, and see how people react to situations, and refine the game to that. When you start to do that to a puzzle game you start to get rid of the puzzles."
According to Blow, Valve's heritage and extensive playtesting techniques can result in restrictive gameplay: "Part of the way Portal 2 ended up seemed to be due to what happens when you have a group of game designers that make games like Half-Life 2, which are quite heavily linear, and then put them on this other game."
Jonathan would have opted for greater sense of freedom even if it resulted in a steeper learning curve: "To me, a game about portals should be inherently nonlinear. If you don't make a non-portal surface at all, it means I can go from any place in the world to any other place. What would it mean to design a game around that? It might be a much harder design problem, but to me that's the excitement.
"I couldn't help feeling, playing the game, that they're fighting the portals all the time."
The indie developer also stressed that developers are entitled to their own design ethic, and that his motivations might be completely different to the PC behemoths: "I'm trying to provide opportunities for experience, whereas Valve is looking for the optimal experience for you to have. And that's fine - very valid and legitimate. But if every game becomes that, then we're missing something."
"When you give people freedom, you're giving them the freedom to have a bad experience as well as a good one," he concluded.
Do you value a streamlined experience over player freedom? Let's talk in the comments. For the latest on The Witness, pick up the latest issue of Edge.
Sep 9, 2011
Pinball FX developer Zen Studios has jumped to Microsoft's defence after Super Meat Boy maker Team Meat savaged the Xbox 360 manufacturer.
In a podcast published on Gamasutra, Team Meat recounted its difficult experience with Microsoft and doubted it would ever work with the company again.
Zen Studios, however, feels the Microsoft bashing isn't fair, and told Eurogamer not all developers feel the same way about the company.
"They [Team Meat] totally have the right to talk about it," Mel Kirk, Zen Studios Vice President of Marketing and Public Relations told Eurogamer this morning. "It's terrible they had a bad experience like that. Where we're coming from is, when is enough enough? Let it go already.
"There are good things happening there and we're a company willing to stand up and stick by Microsoft. They were a great partner for us. They've done wonderful things with helping us with Pinball FX 2. If we can just get a message out there that we're willing to stick up for them, that's really what I'm trying to do."
A Twitter row of sorts erupted after Kirk sent press an email questioning Team Meat's motivation for speaking out about its experience with Microsoft. Braid developer Jonathan Blow waded in, telling Zen Studios directly: "trying to discredit Team Meat's negative experience is not cool."
Kirk rejected this accusation, however. "I'm really not trying to discredit their experience," he said. "The email left our press box without the 'not for publish' on it. It was meant to get inbound requests to do controlled interviews and control the message. Obviously this turned into something totally different. I'm not trying to discredit it. I'm just trying to put it in perspective. I'm not saying they're lying. I'm not trying to say they're making it up."
Zen Studios' experience with the Microsoft Game Studios' published Pinball FX paints a different picture.
"It's not evidence of a trend," Kirk continued. "I'm at liberty to speak for [Gunstringer developer] Twisted Pixel. They absolutely had the same type of experience as us and have a great working relationship with Microsoft. They would totally second our sentiments and echo what we have to say. There are a bunch of other studios as well. We've maybe broken the ice here. Hopefully there will be others.
"There are a few companies that had a bad time, and then there are a whole bunch of us over here who are having a great time and will continue working with Microsoft."
Kirk concluded: "Game politics are notoriously messy. We're a very negative industry at times towards each other. I don't want to be negative to Team Meat. I don't want to belittle their experience. I just want to simply say, Zen Studios has had a very good experience with Xbox Live Arcade, with our producers, with our team there. We're grateful for that experience. We feel like we owe it to them to stand up and just say, hey, we had a good time with you."