Archive for February, 2008

The sin map

February 27th, 2008

Forbes’ guide to the most sinful cities, arranged by sin.

Congratulations Denver on being chosen #1 for Lust.

Strange coincidence

February 27th, 2008

The trailer for Wall-E set to the soundtrack for the trailer to The Terminator.

Not a perfect fit, but given there’s no apparent editing it’s quite uncanny how well it all fits.

In case you were wondering…

February 27th, 2008

Up to this point, I’ve written a little over 56,600 words in this blog.

That’s a little over the minimum length of a novel.

Why isn’t the computer game business more like films?

February 26th, 2008

Just last week Electronic Arts offered $US 2 billion to purchase another publisher, Take-Two.

This is part of a continuing trend in the computer video game business, with the really big publishers consolidating. In some sense, this is a lot like the film business – the big studios make up a very substantial proportion of the total turnover of the industry.

But the big difference is with the next level down. In the film industry almost everyone is a contract player – directors, writers, and actors all move from studio to studio, only settling at one studio for the amount of time to make one or two projects. But in the games industry most of the ‘talent’ is permanently employed, staying with the company for many years.

This is odd – in many respects the requirements are the same. Video games are expensive undertakings these days – $10-20 million to produce, millions more to market and distribute. This is still well short of the cost of a major movie, but the gap is closing.

In fact, the structure of the video game industry looks a lot like the movie industry of the 1930s. The studio system lasted until the vertical integration of the industry was stopped and a single tycoon (Hughes) stepped in. At present, much like the 1930s film industry, the video game industry has a few stars (which, in this case, are the intellectual properties like Halo or Quake), and most people in the industry are relatively anonymous.

So what will change? My guess is that it will be the rise of the talent.

At present there isn’t a single famous video game writer, and only a couple of famous ‘directors’ (the analogy isn’t perfect, of course). In fact, if you look at the industry’s Game Developer’s Choice Awards the nominations for writing, art direction and so on only mention the game, not the actual writer!

That’s slowly changing. The enthusiast press has been paying attention to the project heads for a while, and is starting to pay a lot more attention to the writers as well.

Once people know the names, the names can ask for more money. A few people can do this now, but as the media pays more attention, more people will become famous (at least in the video game world), and they’ll start to move from project to project in search of better money.

And once that happens, then the game publishers are going to start to look a lot more like Hollywood – they own the IP for some of the series, and they bankroll the whole thing. But the people making the games aren’t usually tied to any one publisher, and they move around a lot more than is the case now.

And this will be a really good thing for games, because the best talent will be recognised appropriately, and the best projects will attract the best people.

Coming Soon: Speed Racer

February 26th, 2008

The directors of the Matrix go very strange in this film based on a cartoon.

The style of this looks superb. I think it’ll be a huge flop, but incredibly enjoyable at the same time.

Worried about your carpets?

February 26th, 2008

Try installing this floating chair.

I’d love to know what this feels like to sit on – it’s hard to imagine what it would be like. I also wonder what kind of magnets you’d need to have in order to sell this safely in America.

Speaking of things that look like guns

February 26th, 2008

A spice gun.

This would definitely make cooking more fun!

Before Computers

February 26th, 2008

The vaguely menacing Curta mechanical calculator.

Beautiful design, but there’s something about it that makes it look a lot like a gun of some kind.

More compact packing

February 26th, 2008

A survival kit in a barrel.

Slightly more sensible than the furniture in a crate from last week.

Criticising computer games

February 25th, 2008

I was struck by a really interesting post by Greg Costiykan on the difference between reviews and criticism, and the absence of real criticism of computer games at present.

Most people aren’t very interested in ‘criticism’ per se. Pauline Kael was one of the most influential film critic, but I’d imagine there are third teir reviewers for small outlets who are more widely read than she was. Most people are interested in the consumer reports side – is this a good example of the type? Should I go and see/buy it or not? And for computer games the outlets are very much in that mode.

As an aside, I’d note that ‘Criticism’ has become one of those over-loaded words. I think that when most people hear the word, they think of the dictionary meaning:

the art of evaluating or analyzing works of art or literature.

It’s hard to think of a review of anything but an analysis. But there’s this additional, academic definition that a lot of people use: Criticism (a cousing of Theory). Which is where a lot of the points Greg Costiykan makes come from. So I think it’s a little unfair to say that reviews aren’t criticism – in the everyday sense of the word they certainly are.

But there’s still a really substantial point here – there are schools of Criticism for film, novels, poetry and other art. Why isn’t there one for games yet?

(Another aside: Computer games, as a mass market medium, are around 30 years old. The most common major theories of film didn’t arise until that medium was nearly 60 years old).

It’s a really good question.

Part of it is simple immaturity. And I don’t just mean that the industry is young. The industry sells to young people, who are really not the best audience for formal Criticism. This has changed a lot recently, but it’s still a big part of the media that surrounds the games market. We have 1Up, which is a lot like Empire, but there isn’t yet an equivalent to Framework.

Another part is the very real question about whether video games are art or not. Personally I think they can be, much like any other artistic medium, but the difficulty of the question has meant a lot of people who are interested in Criticism end up diverted into that question first.

And a final part of it is academic snobbery. Most Criticism today is the product of Arts faculties at universities. And I suspect most of the faculty members think of video games as a childish pursuit beneath their attention. Without the grounding in some of the pointless pursuits of academic Criticism (such as deconstruction) it’s hard to make your criticism sound like Criticism.

There’s a lot to be gained from having some better understanding of what works and what doesn’t in games, and the ways that they are put together. Some formal Criicism could be a really good thing for the maturity of the medium. I hope it happens. And I hope we can come up with a better theory than Auteur Theory.

Because Auteur Theory really sucks.