September 29, 2010

At the moment I’m reading a book called Linchpin, by Seth Godin. It’s all about how smart I am. Well, not just me, it would be about how smart you are, if you were reading it. I’m only about a third of the way through it so far and suspect the book will turn on me at some point, but right now it makes me feel pretty good about myself.

One thing that has thrown me is this diagram…


It’s a great Venn diagram, for sure, but I’m having some trouble with it. You see, I’ve always seen myself as Perseverance with a little bit of Charm…


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Why Aren’t There More TV Shows…

September 27, 2010
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Before you jump out of your seat and point out that, if there were anymore TV show, then that would mean we have to clone ourselves to have enough people to watch them, either that or we train dogs to be influenced by advertising, have jobs, earn money and buy crap… Sorry, I need to start a new sentence before I use up my quota of comas. I’m not suggesting we have more TV shows, or at least not more hours of them, just a show that replaces one of the ones that already exists. I love TV but I find it hard to pack it all in, and often end up half watching it, while half working on the laptop.

TV is awesome and you knows it...

What I would watch fully though, is a show about the different games that are played around the world. I am not aware of such a show and I do regard myself as an expert on the content of the goggle box, I have the square eyes to prove it. Read a fuller description of my idea here.

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Google Games and Branding

September 25, 2010
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Last month at GDC Europe I attended David Cage’s talk. Without consulting my notes I couldn’t tell you exactly what the talk was about, although I took away many disparate details, all of which were mighty interesting. However, the most important thing for me was his reasons for pushing himself as a brand, rather than the game or even the studio. His reasoning was that it made good sense; if he became the brand then his studio was free to make any game it liked, as long as it had his name attached it would have a good step up in the market.

Google, I think you missed something...

This coincided with much elevated Google talk about its gaming platform. This talk seems to be mostly focused on the technical virtues of what they’re trying to do, but I think they’re missing a trick here. For sure, you have to supply quality systems if you want developers to make games using your wares, and there was a time when I would have argued that this, plus attractive pricing, was all you would have to do in order to have a successful platform – make good platform, people make good games, happy days. Then the Dreamcast was launched and that view was proven false; that was over a decade ago.

Now I don’t claim to have all the answers to that problem but I do have an idea that would allow game developers to leverage a much greater presence on a platform, which would mitigate some of the search quagmiring that has happened with iTunes, and give Google a very clear differentiator in the market.

To have presence you need to work on your brand, but if you’re a small developer, with a low output, then your lone product becomes your brand. Who makes Doodle Jump? Erm… the Doodle Jump guys? This is fine if you make a successful game that sells bazillions and you’re happy just maintaining that game, but what if you have a good game that hasn’t quite made it? Realistically, you roll your sleeves up and make another game, and hope it does well. If it does then you can probably get some traffic for your original game, as players look for other games made by you. It can take a long time to build a brand this way, just as it would take a while to build a house if you were baking each brick one at a time. For independent developers with shallow pockets this can be crushing.

Now imagine a platform that has brand management cleverness build into its distribution channels. If independent game developer were able to group together to share a brand then their block presence would be good for all of them. It’s important that you don’t confuse what I am proposing with anything remotely resembling a publisher. Some publishers have very high quality thresholds, but they are machines with quotas to fill and they are naturally prone to having to let the occasional bad apple through. With co-operative brands the quality would never have to slip because the co-operative simply wouldn’t let a game go out under their brand if it wasn’t up to scratch, because all the members would have too much to lose. It’s also less likely that this would be the case in the first place – developers are competitive with their peers, they will work very hard not to show themselves up in front of them. With a co-op of quality only one game has to hit the big time and all the others in the brand can bathe in knock on sales.

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September 24, 2010
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I don’t really need to write a post today, I’m just going to tell you to go to this post on Matt Warren’s blog. Trust me, it’s great.

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Difficulty Curves Start At Their Peak

September 23, 2010
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A few months ago I was reading about economics, something I studied many years ago but not to the level I wish I had. In economics you get to draw a lot of graphs that don’t use specific numbers but do describe relationships between different things.

It occurred to me that I could take the same approach to game design. I started simple and began to think about challenge over time, for different types of game. My findings were a bit of a surprise but when I took them into work and presented them to my colleague, esteemed future racer maker Andy Satterthwaite, he pointed out that there was something I had missed, which was even more surprising – the thing I had missed, not the fact that I had missed it.

Now you’ll have to go read my post on Gamasutra to find out what these surprises were because if I just write ‘flat difficulty curve’ and ‘Satterthwaite Peak’ then your enlightenment level will be zero.

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Super Car

September 21, 2010

If you ever find yourself in a parlour game of some kind where you have to guess what my favourite car is then you’d better say the McLaren F1. I might try to trick you and claim it’s the Vauxhall Chevette, but I’d be thinking longingly about the F1.

The McLaren F1 - I once had a dream that I owned one. I was grumpy for a whole day after waking up...

There was a time when I used the hope of owning one as motivation to work hard. However, it clearly didn’t work, or at least it hasn’t yet, and it would seem that by the time I have saved enough pennies for one of these speed wagons three things will have come to pass:

  1. I will have probably passed away
  2. There won’t be any oil left run the thing
  3. Jay Leno will have bought them all

So I have moved on from all that V12 carbon fibre monocoque nonsense, supercars are passe, after all.

Jay Leno re-enacting the time he ate a rare Bugatti Atlantic...

The man in charge of the F1 project, the inestimable Gordon Murray, seems to be thinking that supercars are out of fashion too. He and his team have turned their genius (they’ve just earned those wings in my view, read on) with a whole new automotive project that doesn’t involve speed. Instead, they’ve designed a way of making cars that requires factories that are only 20% the size of the ones we have today.

If they don’t all get Knighthoods then I’ll never sing God Save The Queen again.


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Cash for Trees

September 20, 2010
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In the mail on Saturday I received a silver airpoints card from Air New Zealand. This card means I get a few privelages when flying, which is nice, but it also means that I have notched up enough miles in the air for me to have to at least look into carbon offsets.

But offsetting is a murky world where it seems only a fraction of your money does the job it’s meant to, such as planting some trees. The lion’s share goes to shareholders, admin and wheel greasing. Even then the project might fail.

This strikes me as a sub-optimal use of my hard earned cash. I don’t really want my money to be another scoop of caviar or one more spread of faux gras on a fat cat’s cracker. To my mind, having any kind of corporate body touching this equation is a bit like BP selling devices for soaking up oil spills.

I want trees planted but I don't want fat men in suits to surcharge the system...

What I really need is a place I can go online, where I can find folk that want to plant trees but don’t necessarily have the cash to buy the sapplings. (I can’t just plant trees myself because I live in a rented house.) It would be a kind of ‘sponsor a tree’ program.

Is that too simple to work? Is there too much faith in the system. What do you think?

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Postal Strike

September 19, 2010
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This isn’t the post I’m meant to be posting. I have another post all ready to go, waiting in the wings, or actually the draft section. But I can’t post my post, so I am having to post this post instead.

In a nutshell, I am waiting for Revver to finish doing its thang attaching ads to a video I have slapped on there. Why I am using Revver and not the tube of you is a short story that involves misguided ambitions of a million hits, and associated wealth. As it is I appear to have made about 79 cents (US mind you, not NZ or less, HK) over the course of nearly four years. Why ambassador, you are really spoiling us.

Of course, I could post the media onto Designomicon (which, it should be noted, is the site, and not some weird name I call myself, if I was to call myself something with ‘design’ in the name then it would be Designodocus… now I wish the blog was called that) but that would cost money! Not that I realised that until I tried to do it and found out I’d have to pay to upgrade the site. I was wondering how WordPress made money.

Anyway, hopefully the next post will be the planned one. In the meantime you could always enjoy a nice game of Beggar My Neighbour.

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No Fire Last Night

September 17, 2010
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I am happy to report that I wasn’t awoken by any house fires in the area last night. This was in contrast to the night before when, at 4:30, I was stirred by a weird cycle of sounds that made me think of fireworks: First a fizzing crackling rolled around and then there would be a cluster of two or three snap cracks at a much louder volume. I ignored the noises of oddness as best I could and then thought I should investigate, in case it was a tree breaking up in the high winds and threatening to skewer our house with one of its sagging limbs.

Looking out across the small horseshoe valley that our short road and two others curve around, there was an orange ball starting to grow. Even without my glasses I could tell it was a fire, there’s simply something unmistakable about that brilliant dance.

When Rach arose I went and found my specs, and we watched as the flames got higher and higher, bright enough even at distance to make my face flicker in the glow. A huge dark cloud spewed into the sky and the air began to fill with a thin haze. Has someone actually called the fire brigade, we wondered, while watching someone’s wooden home being devoured.

Then we heard a fire engine’s siren and saw its lights. Within a couple of minutes the blaze was clearly under control, virtually gone from our perspective.

It took only ten minutes from me first hearing the roar and crackle of the fire to seeing it climb into a wall of flame, and then be doused almost out of existence.

A couple of hours later the heavens opened and a torrent of water poured from the sky. Nice work nature, best work on the timing though.

Judging by the lack of news reports, no one was seriously hurt. Suffice to say, it’s new batteries in smoke detectors time in chez Braun!

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Frozen In Time

September 15, 2010
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In Norway the receding ice sheet is proving to be something of a bonus for archeologists, who are finding some ancient and splendid finds, nicely preserved in the millennia old ice.

"Cold" or "Cool" - You be the judge...

It occurs to me that you could make a game based around plundering these finds, where you find more and more sophisticated items. It would be an adventure mystery, where you uncover records of the civilization that left these artifacts behind. Eventually you discover that this lost, technologically advanced, people died out because of global warming, which led to a snap ice age and extinction.

It would be a bit like HP Lovecraft meets The Day After Tomorrow, perhaps with a dose of Monkey Island to lift the tone at times.

This post also appears on my Blue Lei blog.

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