Category Archives: Tech

The Best Original Games of 2009 (On VentureBeat)

Franchises. Sequels. Big summer movie games. Despite the glut of that familiar games that crowds retail shelves each year, gamers witnessed a respectable outpouring of original titles in 2009. Developers know that making a new intellectual property isn’t easy, and most publishers won’t take risks on them often. But creators, executives, and gamers all know the reward of making a successful original game is worth the most satisfying endeavor. After all, Call of Duty Modern Warfare 2, Grand Theft Auto IV, even New Super Mario Bros. Wii were all once original gamess. Here are my picks for the best new original games of 2009.

Who made the cut? Check VentureBeat.com for the full story.

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The Monetization Game: Moore calls current gen a burning platform

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This past Saturday I had the chance to moderate the keynote panel at Play: The Berkeley Digital Media Conference, an annual Haas Business School conference that covers a variety of tech, media, and business issues. It was a gorgeous day to be back at Cal where I graduated, and in a nice added touch, Cal stomped UCLA down in LA.

The keynote panel was entitled “The Monetization Game,” and the panelists included Peter Moore, president of EA Sports, Neil Young, president of ngmoco, and Kai Hwuang, co-founder of RedOctane, plus little ol’ me.  The topic was as broad as they come: How is the video game industry changing the way it’s monetizing the sales of games?

I brought an outline that ranged from discussing the emergence of social games, smart phone games, retail versus digital distribution, next generation consoles, the recession, death of the music genre, and more. we had one hour to discuss it all, and we covered almost everything in front of a 90% packed auditorium. IGN, Games Radar, and Kotaku covered it.

Here are their stories:

IGN: EA: Core Business Model a ‘Burning Platform’

Kotaku: Talking Points Brought to you Mostly By Peter Moore

Kotaku: Guitar Hero, Madden, Eliminate Play the Money Game

GamesRadar’s page was broken tonight. I’ll update their link when it’s back up.

There should be video of the conference available in a few days, too. I’ll post the link when it’s ready.

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Scribblenauts game developer makes a risky bet on being original

Everyone loves original games. But few developers take the risk of making them in the video game industry.

Enter Jeremiah Slaczka, the creative director at game developer 5th Cell, dropped out of high school in his junior year. Working with his partner Joseph Tringali, he made a string of licensed cell phone games to get their company off the ground. Then they decided to risk everything they had to make an original video game called Drawn to Life, and they did it again with another game, Scribblenauts.

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In 2006, while living with his parents in Bellevue, Wash., Slaczka successfully pitched the game Drawn to Life to THQ, one of the biggest makers of video games. The drawing game was an original Nintendo DS handheld game that went on to sell more than a million units. Drawn to Life spawned a sequel and a spin-off, rewarding the studio with success and empowering Slaczka to proclaim 5th Cell would never work on a licensed game again.

In the video game industry, Slaczka’s proclamation is bold. For many developers, it’s just a pipe dream to work on their own original titles. The hit-driven video game industry, like the movie business, regularly relies on sequels and licensed properties to generate sales. This year, after a slew of recession-leery publishers have pushed their games out of the competitive fall lineup, only a few original games remain.

One of those original titles belongs to 5th Cell. Scribblenauts, the company’s fifth DS game, is an innovative puzzle-action title enabling players to use tens of thousands of words, which turn into objects to solve puzzles. The inventive Scribblenauts won best original and best handheld game at the E3 game trade show this year by the Game Critics Awards. The game shipped Sept. 15 to mostly positive reviews, scoring an above-average 81 on the review aggregator, Metacritic. Here’s the story of how the company survived, first by making crappy mobile games just to get its foot in the door, and then eventually investing everything it could in making games that nobody else was doing.

See the full story at VentureBeat.com.

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The Rise and Fall of Dreamcast (on Gamasutra)

In this ten-year Dreamcast retrospective, Gamasutra looks back at Sega’s last effort in the console market through interviews with former president of Sega of America Bernie Stolar, former Sega of America COO Peter Moore, former SOA Vice President of Communications Charles Bellfield, and former vice president of Electronic Arts, Bing Gordon.

For a console that broke entertainment retail records, made the Guinness Book of World Records, and laid the blueprints for today’s online-centric consoles, it’s striking to think the Dreamcast’s lifespan was shorter than nearly any console in video game history.

Ten years after 9/9/99, the memorable date of the launch of the Dreamcast in North America, Sega’s machine has left a lasting legacy in online gaming, retail history, and the sports genre. But the brief, fiery life of the Dreamcast was fraught with conflict, questionable executive decisions, and ultimately, a shocking and abrupt ending.

Check out the full article on Gamasutra.com.

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How Airtight Games started a console game studio with just $24,000

DarkVoid_image1In 2004, Microsoft canceled a sequel to its Crimson Skies game, prompting the game’s executive producer, Jim Deal, to leave the company to create a startup.

He and his team of four other ex-Microsoft game people had $24,000 of their own money and an idea to create an action-adventure game where you could fly. But that wasn’t nearly enough to launch a new console game, which is a near impossible thing for a startup to do these days.

Read the full story on VentureBeat.com.

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WTF? Video Games are Dying?

I got an email from an associate the other day about a mini video documentary called “Digital Trends Presents Players Only with Scott Steinberg: Video Games are Dead.” The headline irked me because to say that ‘video games are dead” is a shock-jock journalistic trick to get attention, and instead of watching, I ignored it.

The story is better than its gimmicky headline.

The story is better than its gimmicky headline.

A half dozen months back when Wired wrote that blogs are dead, I felt the same way (ugh, more gimmicky headlines), but I work in the video game industry and from all accounts, the industry is far from dead. So I went back to playing Resident Evil 5 with my son.

But while reading VentureBeat.com over coffee this morning I watched the whole piece, and the content of the story has real meat to it. Its author asks good questions and gets a surprising wealth of responses from industry designers, businessmen, and presidents, and analysts including Chris Taylor, Michael Pachter, the good doctors from Bioware, David Perry (yes, he’s my long-lost Irish brother), and more.

What’s it all about? The video game market isn’t dying, it’s changing.  From the popularization of online casual games to the iPhone to the immense cost of production, the video game industry is still in its teenager years and still sprouting. How exactly is the gangly, pimpled kid turning out? I recommend watching the video; it might surprise you.

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Marmoset Engine Revs Darkest of Days

Fight in the past with old and futuristic guns.

Fight in the past with old and futuristic guns.

No, apparently, the darkest of days isn’t the current economy.

The Darkest of Days is a new first-person shooter created by developer 8monkey Labs, which, as a special bonus, has named its tech engine the “Marmoset Engine,” after a little New World Monkey.

I also run IT!

I also run IT!

Phantom EFX, normally a PC publisher of causal games, is trying to jump into the rich and competitive first-person shooter genre this fall, and its hopeful ticket is the Darkest of Days, a story-rich FPS featuring time-travel set for release September 9, 2009 on PC and Xbox 360.

Playing the role of Alexander Morris, you’ll travel back in time to prevent a sinister group from trying to change history by using time travel itself. You’ll warp back into the American Civil War, World War I, and World War II in order to save key individuals–identified by a blue aura–from dying. Darkest of Days involves strategic gameplay that challenges gamers to approach situations by keeping certain key people alive. If you let certain key people die, you’ll change the future for the worse. Even more interesting, you can bring futuristic weapons back into the past in some fights.

8monkey’s “Marmoset Engine” doesn’t run on the Unreal toolset (it runs on monkeys!). It allegedly enables hundreds of non-player characters to flood the screen with no graphical slowdown, boasts advanced AI, and offers well-lit, lush, wide open environments.

How would you like to go back and change the Civil War?

How would you like to go back and change the Civil War?

“Working on Darkest of Days has been, without a doubt, the crowning achievement in both my personal career and that of Phantom EFX,” said Aaron Schurman, CEO of Phantom EFX. “The past few years, everyone here and at 8monkey Labs has been working incredibly hard to create this title, one that we feel will give gamers plenty of memorable entertainment and serve as a gigantic breath of fresh air into the FPS genre.”

For more stuff about marmoset, wallaby, and gerbil-powered tech engines, check out the Darkest of Days, Phantom EFX, and 8monkey Labs‘ Websites.

Kill everyone...except the guys with blue-green auras.

Kill everyone...except the guys with blue-green auras.

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