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Dec. 8th, 2011

Bar-sur-Loup Provence France

Congratulating DEVELOP magazine

I guess it doesn't matter, but nowhere on the list of jobs did the DEVELOP annual salary survey include "Writer," "Narrative Designer," or anything of that ilk. Not that it's the most important role, but you'd be surprised how many dev studios do actually use writers. Apparently, some players (those crazy guys and gals!) actually think that having professionals craft the plots and people improve a game.

What will they think of next?!

Seriously, I realize that adding that kind of thing just makes a complex survey more difficult, and after all a writer can just call his or herself a "designer" because it's like, you know, all the same thing, right?

In fact, I'll be petitioning the BAFTA and the WGA to stop those goddam awards and get their noses out of our industry, because everyone knows that the only thing that this writing stuff does is make a developer's job more complicated. And who needs writing anyway when you have such great graphics and destructible environments?

I mean, Michael Bay clearly doesn't have any use for writers on his films, and look how much cash he rakes in!

So I just though I'd be the first to congratulate DEVELOP for their refusal to kow-tow to the Chris Avellones, Eric Wolpaks, Marc Laidlaws, Rhianna Pratchetts, John Gonzalezes and Andy Walshes of the game world who just add a lot of stuff that none of us really need.

Way to go, guys! Keep up the good work!


Sep. 12th, 2011

Bar-sur-Loup Provence France

Bad managers asking the wrong questions, number 367

Guillaume de Fondaumiere, founder of the studio that did Heavy Rain, just gave an interview where he complained about the used game market and how it was eating into his profitability. In fact, he said that the one million used game sales represented a loss to him of between €5 and €10 million.

Wow. There is so much "gaaa!" there I'm not sure where to start.

Dude, 3 million people played your game. 2 million of them paid a price you yourself say is "...probably too expensive..." to do so.

So, with a little clarity, let's ask the real questions:

1. How many of those extra million players would have paid full price if there was no other option?
- If my understanding of royalty rates is correct (~15% to the studio), de Fondaumiere is claiming that at least half if not all of those million players would have purchased it new at a €60 price point.
...okay, raise your hand if you believe that. And in Santa Claus.

2. What is better, 50% more people enjoying your product, talking about it, and wondering about the next one, or draconically trying to maintain a price point and margin expectation that is clearly out of line with what your customers are willing to spend?

Did de Fondaumiere stop for one second and think, "Maybe at €40 we could have sold 4 million? Or 6 million at €20?" In a business that has essentially zero variable cost and enormous network effects that is a serious question. Yet he shows no indication whatsoever that he is thinking about the price/reach/community trade-offs. In this day and age, that seems to be a critical question for a studio director given the evolutions in game distribution and pricing.

Jun. 20th, 2011

Pokemon plane

Clarion West Write-a-thon

Today marks the beginning of another Clarion West write-a-thon. For those of you who don't know, Clarion West (and the 2-3 other Clarion workshops) are six-week intensive courses dedicated to helping promising authors write speculative fiction. Admission is through application, and the workshops are taught by famous authors from the spec fic world.

The write-a-thon is an event that pulls together workshop alumni (around a hundred of us this year) with several goals in mind:

1. Get us energized and writing

2. Provide moral support for those in the program

3. Raise funds for the workshop (the most important part)

I'll be doing the write-a-thon this year (in spite of a hellacious schedule) both in order to get my own writing back on track and to try to raise money for a great cause and community. So please stop by the web site if you're curiuos (or if you want to give):

http://clarionwest.net/events_page/write_a_thon

I'll be doing updates over the next six weeks as the words begin to flow.

May. 25th, 2011

Bar-sur-Loup Provence France

Geek Dad

I just found a very cool infographic, so I 1) tweeted it, and 2) sent it to my kids. Here is the link in question:

http://www.ouramazingplanet.com/infographic-tallest-mountain-to-deepest-ocean-trench-0249/

Any time I run across science-made-understandable, or cool-Earth-facts, or science-made-entertaining, I like to share it and send it on. What I am beginning to understand is the importance that I attach to my kids also being touched by this bug. Because these things release happy brain chemicals for me, I assume that they might for others and should for my children. As a result, I am in a constant dad-struggle of trying to pique their interest and fire their imagination with lots of ideas and recommendations, but without being overbearing.

So...why?

Because I believe people should never stop learning. Because I believe that knowledge should be shared. Because I believe that we must constantly strive to accept and understand and challenge ourselves. Because, most of all, I want my kids to believe this as well.

We'll see how it works with Zoé and Louis. There are promising signs; they both devour good YA SF literature, and Louis decided on Monday that he was going to learn to start programming in QBASIC. They both ask a lot of questions, and they don't let me get away with half-answers.

On the other hand, they often roll their eyes when I do things like send them cool infographics about the topology of the Earth.

The good fight goes on...
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Oct. 29th, 2010

Bar-sur-Loup Provence France

Visions 2020

 
Thanks to Rick Novy's editorial excellence, the new anthology coming out from M-Brane SF will include a story I wrote. The title is "teh afterl1fe" (spelled exactly like that), and if you know me, and what I'm doing, and how I spent a lot of my leisure time in 2009, you'll have a pretty good guess about the content and the point of the story. Hopefully, however, my twist on it in my words will bring some unexpected pleasure.

You can pre-order the book here, and given that most of the writers in the table of contents are far better than I am, it's not to be missed.

Jul. 17th, 2010

Bar-sur-Loup Provence France

"Short Games, Long Stories"

I wrote a brief article for the IGDA Newsletter (link below) about writing stories for casual games. The point of the article was to toss out some ideas about ways to approach casual game writing, rather than try to write a "how to" guide.

Basically, I recommend (against my better instincts) using traditional story structures and stereotypical characters in order to simplify the player's task of digesting the plot. The analogy that I used in the article, and that I really like, is the "gutter" in comic strips. That white space between two panels has nothing in it, but the human imagination fills in everything that could have been written there. In much the same way, all you need to do to create a story is to suggest where you are in the story arc and what the characters are thinking; there is no need to be more explicit than that. The player's imagination is more than capable of connecting the links and filling in the details.

Hope you like it.

Short Games, Long Stories

Jun. 27th, 2010

Bar-sur-Loup Provence France

Clarion West Write-a-thon

I'm in it again this year, with hopes of a somewhat more productive effort than last year (when pretty much the only words I wrote were in the e-mail requesting that they sign me up).
The idea behind the Write-a-thon is that alums of the workshops write, and donors offer whatever they can based on the goals that the writer achieves. Donations can be for the whole effort, or for the weekly goals, or whatever else seems appropriate. The money goes to Clarion West, a non-profit organization that runs a yearly six-week intensive speculative fiction writing program.
My plan is to complete one short story per week, just like the workshop participants do. So far, with week 1 down, I have finished re-edits on a piece I did for an anthology. The title is "Teh afterl1fe," based on which you can probably guess a lot about the story.

Jun. 11th, 2010

Bar-sur-Loup Provence France

How to watch the World Cup of soccer

  1. Visit a non-US site in order to get information from a place that takes the sport seriously. The BBC is good; goal.com is fine. There are many of them. ESPN is not recommended.
  2. Pee first. Unlike US football, soccer does not break for a few minutes every fifteen seconds. It breaks every 45 minutes (except for fouls). Note: US broadcasters tend to ignore this reality; watching the 1990 world cup at my brother's house I missed a goal because there was a commercial break. A "Broadcaster, please" moment.
  3. Relax. Unlike US football, where you watch with intense concentration for a few seconds then can then go wax the car, soccer is watched with little concentration but in long doses. Open a beer (if you're rooting for the UK or Germany), bottle of wine (France, Italy), or Coke (if you're rooting for Atlanta, which doesn't have a team, so you're not actually watching soccer).
  4. Learn what the "offsides" penalty is. This will take care of 98% of your "WTF happened that guy was about to score!" moments.
  5. You cannot use your hands in soccer. This should help you understand the remaining 2% of your "WTF happened that guy was about to score!" moments.
  6. Dig in for the long run. There are 32 teams and a month of games; this isn't some best-of-seven wham-bam-thank-you-coach.
  7. Don't set your hopes on the US. Not that they don't have a good team, but when bookies rank them outside the Top 10 you better be ready for some disappointment. Remember: Bookies care more than any other human beings about how well the teams do.
  8. Think about calling it "football." Why? A sub-list:
  • It is actually only played with your feet.
  • The other 7 billion inhabitants of the world call it football.
  • Your neighbor who speaks Spanish calls it football.
  • I call it football, and it's my blog.
Gooooooooooal!

Jun. 1st, 2010

Bar-sur-Loup Provence France

Lightspeed!

John Joseph Adams' new e-zine launched today, and it's a beauty.
It's e-book friendly and has a great layout (thanks to the awesome web design of Jeremy Tolbert), but what's best is the fiction (thanks to editor/slush readers Christie Yant and Jordan Hamessley [@thejordache]). Clarion co-detainee Vylar Kaftan has the lead story, and it is as great an SF-built love story as you could want. Vy has been writing consistently great stuff since I met her in 2004, and this one is worthy of the lead page in a great new on-line Sf destination.
So go, read, and become instantly cooler.
www.lightspeedmagazine.com


Apr. 19th, 2010

Bar-sur-Loup Provence France

Why Ebert Still Doesn't Get It

It has been some time since Roger Ebert's first claim that video games are not art, and he has come out with a second diatribe supporting the same statement. In this case, he writes his essay as a response to Kellee Santiago's TED talk. Poor Santiago, who didn't realize that she was debating rather than presenting.

Personally, I don't really care about Ebert's definitions of art, nor do I particularly like the games that Santiago recommends as examples. In fact, I chortlingly agree with Ebert when he refers to the story in "Braid" as something that "...exhibits prose on the level of a wordy fortune cookie."

But he's still wrong, and to me the reasoning is still pretty simple. If I write a short story, one can argue that I have committed art. In public, no less. When I create characters, narrative, story arcs and moments of drama, that is art. Perhaps not high art, perhaps not fine art, but certainly art. When game writers like Marc Laidlaw or Richard Dansky write a non-game novel, they are writing art. And yet, when we put these same skills and the same craft into a video game, suddenly it is not art anymore. Dude, where's my art?

Suddenly, the illustrator who does graphic novels or posters or book covers and is now doing games, isn't doing art anymore. Somehow to Ebert the collective creation of all these artistic minds is less than the sum of its parts; we start out with talented artists (I'm not necessarily including myself in that) using their skills to their utmost, and manage to end up with non-art. Sub-art. Pseudo-art.

Which of course, if you think about it, makes absolutely no sense.

It's an uphill struggle to talk to someone like that about games, because it is difficult to explain the artistic nature of games to someone who has not played one. Until a person grapples with a game like "Passages" or "Flower" (which Ebert does not understand... because he has not played it) it is unlikely that they will understand some of the subtler effects of a game. Guess what? I'd have a pretty free time arguing films weren't art if I'd never seen one. Or if I'd only seen stuff by Michael Bay.

Ebert also goes off on tangents that are nothing short of bizarre, for instance stating that Stravinsky, Picasso, and Beckett were not trying to communicate ideas to an audience. Why? Because Santiago says that games do that, and it is why games are art. Therefore, in Ebert's world, other forms of art cannot do that. Mr. Ebert, if you do not believe that Picasso wished to communicate ideas to an audience in order to engage them I have one word for you: "Guernica." But gosh, what am I thinking? It would be ridiculous to even fantasize that Beckett wrote plays because he had, you know, ideas to communicate.

Ultimately Ebert decides that art is some indefinable thing that occurs to imitations of nature as those imitations pass through the artist's soul and become something indefinable. He ends up  admitting, after all, that we know what is art and we can define it because it is a matter of taste.

And there we have the crux of his argument. Video games are not art, because Roger Ebert does not like them.

I shall, respectfully, disagree.

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