Aspyr announced some layoffs today, which makes it the next in a line of many game developers who just aren’t able to make ends meet anymore. Aspyr wasn’t really a fully fledged development studio, though, they were more known for doing PC to Mac ports. More recently, Aspyr has been doing console to PC ports.

Aspyr is one of those companies that people just seem to like. Most Mac enthusiasts have a great deal of respect for Aspyr, because for years they were the only people porting good games to Mac. Now that the market is changing, Aspyr seems to have run out of luck. Everything is easier to make cross-platform now. Most games are made with the intention of being cross-platform at release, much unlike Aspyr’s method of porting already successful games.

With the amount of talent in the company, and amount of respect people have for Aspyr, I would hate to see them go under. Porting games is a losing business, now, though, and I really don’t know how viable Aspyr would be as a company. Fortunately, there have been reports of Aspyr planning to start making some original games, which would allow them to pursue the more traditional developer path. With any luck, Aspyr may turn this loss of employees into an entirely new business model.

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Game Preview: Dark Dominion

December 11, 2008

Zach L, over at Dopterra, has released a short gameplay trailer for Dark Dominion, his upcoming platform adventure.

I happen to have had the pleasure of playing through most of the game, and I’m very excited for it. It includes branching paths, lots of cool bosses, and is full of cutesy insect characters that my girlfriend can’t get enough of. I will be keeping everyone updated as to the release status of Dark Dominion, but word on the street says to expect it sometime in January.

Are Gamers Relevant?

December 10, 2008

Recently, EA has had to grapple with the problem of making good games that don’t deliver the sales numbers they expect. EA, who’s name used to be synonymous with corporate greed in the industry, has really turned around this year and delivered some original IP with innovation to match. Recent releases like Dead Space and Mirror’s Edge are praised by critics, but EA is not doing as well as it was.

This year, EA has shipped 17 games with a Metacritic score of over 80, compared to 7 last year. So, if they are making better games, why aren’t they making more money? The answer to this question lies in the fact that the “hardcore gamer” is not a relevant market anymore for big companies. Sure, there are probably millions of people who are pretty deeply interested in games, but this number will always pale in comparison to the number of people who just play games. For every person playing Counter-Strike competitively, there are probably four more who play for a bit in public servers now and then. For every person who preorders a collector’s edition copy of a game the day it comes out, there are many more who will simply buy it when it is convenient to them. Video games are a mainstream industry now, and orginality and good gameplay will not always mean success for a game. As more and more people play video games, the market of people who actually follow and care about the industry is becoming less important. More and more games are being released, and they are getting crappier and crappier.

Now, those of you who are well-versed in game industry history will probably realize that this is a bit like the industry situation before the big crash in 1983-84. However, it seems people do learn from their mistakes. Market saturation isn’t really a problem anymore because the barriers to developing games is so high now. The developer-publisher relationship that we have now, didn’t exist like it does now. The games industry is in the hands of a handful of big companies, and these companies are out to get the money of more than just people who consider themselves gamers. They want everyone’s money.

Right now, the industry is stuck. Games are being made that offer small amounts of innovation, but anything done is very incremental. For example, Gears of War can be considered innovative for its use of cover. It was one of the first games to pioneer a cover system, and one of the first to do it right. People have been hiding behind objects and shooting at each other for about as long as guns have been around, though, this shouldn’t be something to get too excited about. This means that it took almost 15 years from the first FPS games(Doom, Marathon, Wolf 3D) for someone to finally add the ability to hide behind stuff.

This lack of innovation stems from the fact that most publishers don’t want games that will only appeal to people who are good at or interested in games. They want to sell as many games as possible, and they are willing to let gameplay suffer. It’s no secret that in game development, more time and money is spent on art assets than any other area. The general public has to be tricked into buying these mediocre games by fancy explosions and bump-mapping on walls. There are attempts at innovation in the industry, but overall, our industry is producing crap. Even the games that are generally accepted to be great games, simply aren’t as could as they could be (Assassin’s Creed and Call of Duty:World at War, I’m looking at you).

Because video games are viewed largely as a source of entertainment, the mainstream aspect will probably never go away. Publishers and developers both need to realize that game quality is lacking, and that they can’t keep stifling innovation in an attempt to make more money. People may be buying cheap rehashes of previous games(Call of Duty:World at War, you again), but can this last forever? How long can you ride on the coattails of a successful franchise?

Simply put, the industry is slowly disenfranchising its core market, and I don’t think that gamers will put up for it much longer. While a industry-wide collapse is probably not likely, I don’t predict that people will look back on this time favorably in the history books.

So, are gamers relevant? Do we make a difference in the industry that we follow? Yes. We are still recognized as a large source of revenue for the industry. Ultimately, it is that core audience that can make or break a game, and to be a true part of the industry, we need to evaluate ourselves as game players and purchasers.

There are many gamers who buy most big name games simply because they feel they have to, and this needs to stop. The term “gamer” should not refer to someone who goes to Gamestop regularly to snag their preordered copy of whatever big name title just came out. I consider myself a gamer because I care about video games. I want to see and play the best video games I can, regardless of who makes them. The mainstream industry has the power to create some awesome things with today’s technology, but the pursuit of money is keeping these things from being realized. The industry is refusing to acknowledge its core demographic, and if this continues, I can see a lot of unhappy gamers looking elsewhere for their games.

So, what can gamers to do stop this? Don’t buy games. If you suspect that a game might be mediocre, don’t buy it right away. It usually only takes a few days for everyone to know if a game is good or not, but gamer culture tells us that we have to have the newest games right away. A prime example of this is Kane & Lynch, a notably mediocre game that has gone to sell over 1 million copies. I bet that if everyone who preordered or purchased the game at release waited a few days, this number would be about half that.

In our free market society, ultimately the buyers have the power, especially with a nonessential item like video games. If enough people stop blindly buying games, the industry will eventually get the clue. If not, then the mainstream game industry will eventually turn into what the mainstream film industry is today, a joke.

Digg this post.

Midway’s new game is supposed to look “as good if not better than Gears 2” according to a creative director. I recently discussed what I think Midway needs to do to stay viable in today’s industry, and this is exactly the opposite of my advice. This is not a problem Midway can just hype away. They are a company in significant financial trouble and need to address these problems with a real business plan.

Playing the same “huge hype” game as other big publishers just isn’t going to cut it. Anyone who knows anything about the game industry should be rolling their eyes at this. Midway will most likely end up as the new Interplay.

PETA has entered the video game world. Apparently, the new Cooking Mama game really pisses them off. So, in order to protest Cooking Mama, they have made a parody of the game. To make a long blog post short, I will simply tell everyone that the the game is kinda stupid and not really worth playing.

The game has you clicking around the screen to pluck and remove organs from a turkey. The turkey is rather cartoonish, and the game combines this with excessive gore use to try and make a point. It doesnt move past basic mouse controls, but you can’t really lose the game, and don’t have to replay levels that weren’t fun the first time.

I think it’s great that PETA recognizes games as a legitimate means to make a statement, which I totally support on one hand. On the other, though, I don’t really identify with PETA, as there are far worse things that go on in this world than turkeys getting killed. Where are our games about genocide in Africa or games about our failing economy?

Persuasive games are a pretty new concept, and while PETA is recognizing the fact that games can influence people, I really don’t think that they get it. The game sucks, and by simply making a gory parody of an existing game, they aren’t really accomplish anything. PETA, if you really want to make a game that makes people think, make something original, and make it good, otherwise, stop soiling the name of video games with your half-assed attempt at a game people will want to play.

Oh yeah…Happy fucking Thanksgiving.

Destructoid posted a little article on how Ensemble, developers of Halo Wars, is claiming that their console control scheme is going to be better than a mouse and keyboard. This is a plain lie, and in many circles is also called “bullshit.” Ensemble is going out of business as soon as Halo Wars is released, and any employees are being paid extra to stay onboard. This sounds like just some “clever” PR move to try and sell as many copies as they can to lessen the financial damages caused by closing a studio.

Not to be a skeptic of console gaming, but I highly doubt that this will be that magic game that finally revolutionizes console RTSes…keep looking.

Free Flash Game
Play A game of visual composition

A game of visual composition (I’m not sure if that’s the final title or not) is a project by agj. It is reminiscent of a click & drag puzzle game, but instead of patterns of 3 or 4, the goal is to fare well against graphic design standards.

By applying basic graphic design parameters, like symmetry and rhythm, the game throws out the traditional point system for traditional concepts of design. You can see how well you fared once you complete your design, but it is somewhat difficult to figure out which icons represent which standard.

This is definitely a game which almost flirts with the possibility of “edutainment,” something a lot of people aren’t exactly sure can be done well. Because it is based off real design concepts, hypothetically, if you are good at graphic design, you should be good at the game. I think it would be interesting to see if that holds true. Using a game to measure someone’s skill in a field is an idea I really find interesting. It’s essentially applying a real world skill in a virtual world. I would hardly consider “whooping ass in Tekken” a skill, and would like to see more games that rely on real world knowledge.

A game of visual composition is something that is being worked on fairly frequently, and I really hope to see what it will become. I personally think it would be cool to integrate a way to export the designs you make for use as icons or banners.

The Future of Midway Games

November 23, 2008

Midway Games is currently in jeopardy of losing their listing on the NYSE. Midway hasn’t been doing too hot for a while now, and usually, as in the case of Interplay, when a company gets delisted, they go under soon after. I actually live within walking distance of the Midway Games HQ in Chicago, so this news hits somewhat close to home(sweet pun, yeah).

Sadly, Midway’s biggest problem is usually itself. They are seeing some good returns on smaller scale, more casual, games, but still spending huge amounts of money on titles like Stranglehold, which was decent, but nothing special. At best, Midway has been providing mediocre games. The most recent Mortal Kombat games were very entertaining, and very replayable, but at the same time, they were nothing revolutionary. Midway is pouring money into average quality games like Area 51 and Hour of Victory when they should be taking this opportunity to innovate.

Midway is a small publisher when compared to giants like Activision Blizzard, or the internal publishing of Sony, Microsoft, or Nintendo. They are not even in the same league as EA, who has cut off any competition in the sports game markets. The closest competition Midway really has is THQ, and they are having financial troubles of their own. Midway cannot afford to compete within the AAA scene, and needs to invest its money elsewhere.

There has been mention of Midway attempting to start up a casual games portal, but there are already established players in that market. If Midway wants to viable, they need to do what they have been doing for years, make console games…except, now they are going to have to make them well.

Midway Games can be successful if it stays in the console market and produces GOOD games. If they put half the money into game design and gameplay that they do into graphics and advertising, Midway will stay in the game. Take the katamari series, for instance. It was a relatively low budget game that definitely came out past the PS2’s peak. However, it was incredibly fun, and proved that a game could be successful even when the next generation loomed.

I know Midway can make great games. They have pretty much proven themselves to be pretty solid over the years. My advice to Midway is to quit trying to keep up with the other publishers and just make something that people want to play. Midway Games is responsible for so many games which have been influential in the industry, and I am one person that would like to see them stick around.

The Case for Used Games

November 20, 2008

Soren Johnson has come to the defense of used games.

I am glad to see another perspective given from someone in the industry. Most people are quick to throw Gamestop under the bus and use it as a scapegoat, but there are far worse things that deprive developers of money. The industry needs to rid itself of the publisher-developer relationship. The sooner this happens, the better off the industry will be.

Game Review: Oiligarchy

November 19, 2008

Freeware Flash Game
Play Oiligarchy

Oiligarchy is probably the best persuasive game I have played to date. You essentially take control of Big Oil right after orld War II, and turn the oil business into a global scale pillagefest. The game mimics real life in the fact that you can give the government money to allow oil drilling in Alaska, or to wage war in Iraq so that you can drill there, too. In this sense, Oiligarchy does a great job of turning real aspects of the oil industry into game aspects. For example, I understand that real oil economics isn’t just basic supply & demand, but, for the purpose of the game, it gets the job done while keeping it simple.

oiligarchy

The best thing about Oiligarchy is its message, and how the game almost plays itself. The oil industry is a horribly flawed one, and is definitely not sustainable. The better you exploit resources and make money, the sooner you will become unable to meet demand. Oiligarchy really nails this point, because even if oil is used at a sustainable level, it is still not a renewable resource. One of the largest industries in the world is becoming obsolete, and all the people in charge can do is delay the inevitable collapse.

The odd thing is that when making a game like this is that the ultimate goal is for the game to become irrelevant. The creators made this game to expose the oil industry for the horrible scam that it is, and if we ever reach a point where we are independent from oil, this game will serve as only a reminder of what once was. While the game will still contain the same message, any contemporary relevance will be gone.