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Member Since 13 May 2001
Offline Last Active May 19 2015 08:41 AM

Topics I've Started

Can a gaming-related television station actually thrive?

07 November 2010 - 08:04 AM

I don't really pay much attention to gaming news or "gamer" lifestyle products, but I came across a sidebar link to a story on Joystiq about DIRECTV dropping G4. This got me to thinking about the prospects for a true, gaming-oriented television channel and what business model(s) could make it profitable.

First, we have to accept that G4 is not a gaming channel. It's sole remaining gaming-oriented show is X-Play, and many appear to criticize that for the lack of depth in its coverage. Code Monkeys was canceled 6 episodes into its second season. Attack of the Show is simply an internet/nerd/college culture variety show, with very little true gaming focus. The rest of the channel's line up consists of reruns of Cops, Cheaters, Unbeatable Banzuke, Ninja Warrior; new shows Campus PD, It's Effin' Science (what?); and junk like The International Sexy Ladies Show. Given this assemblage of late night slackervision trash, it's unsurprising that DIRECTV called out G4's status as "among the lowest rated networks based on the latest Nielsen data."

I'm not a gamer. I play video games, but not very many. I am fascinated by video game development technology, but I am not a game developer, either. I work as a software developer and I contribute to an open source project in my spare time, but my real passions are with media. So this news got me to thinking, What would a sustainable gaming-oriented TV channel look like?

In the comments on Joystiq, someone mentioned video blogs like Rocketboom, and, indeed, this is where I would start. However, I would deviate significantly from the accepted model and start by targeting game developers, particularly independents and aspiring professionals, and hope that the proven pros would come along for the ride, too. I would prepare a series of video podcasts on technical, design, artistic, ethical and political issues pertinent to game developers, reasoning that all game developers are gamers to some degree and most gamers look up to game developers and would want to know what they think and how they do their jobs - how they create the games they play. Editorially, I would focus on commentary rather than news, since a video resource is virtually bound to be less timely than pure text plays. For instance, having a Charlie Rosen-style show where game artists, software engineers, producers and executives speak, occasionally in panel or round-table format, on the peculiar technical, artistic and ethical challenges and rewards of their discipline and industry, and retrospectives on social, cultural and technological shifts and breakthroughs that have had significant consequences for the industry.

High production values. Non-didactic staging (these are not "tutorial" shows). A preference for philosophical perspective, mining areas of rich debate. Absolutely no reviews or previews.

That's right, no game reviews, or even hardware reviews. Instead I'd have in-depth discussions of specific attributes, features or design decisions of a game. There are already an abundance of excellent review resources, including video reviews. The objective here is not to compete with suppliers of services for needs that are already being met but to fill in the gaps where content is lacking and to develop a sustainable business model to bring that content to the widest possible audience in a mature fashion.

For the web, the revenue model would be advertising and subscription, with subscribers seeing few/no ads. Once proven, the initial attempt to migrate to TV would rely on On-Demand service. Rather than launching as a general-purpose channel and hoping the various cable and satellite providers decide to add us to their Basic Cable tier, I'd launch as a $3 to $5 monthly on-demand package. Having this small, focused audience with specific revenues and likely much higher levels of engagement (especially if content quality is world-class) should provide an abundance of high-value feedback on what works and doesn't, allowing for refinement of the product before attempting to launch as a Basic Cable package.

That's my pipe dream this afternoon, and I figured I'd share. Back to lurking... [smile]

Tom Bissell's "Extra Lives" asks, Are video games a massive waste of time?

15 June 2010 - 03:39 AM

Over on Slate.com I came across an article about a (new?) book by Tom Bissell called Extra Lives in which he ultimately wonders whether video games are a waste of time. Far more interesting to me, however, is this pair of paragraphs by Slate technology writer Farhad Manjoo:
When he looks at video games from a critical distance, Bissell is concerned mainly with their lack of narrative meaning. Games ask us to save the princess, save the country, save the world, save ourselves—but no one plays games to achieve those ends. We play for the puzzle, for the physics, for the sense of being embedded in a fully realized world. Indeed, for me, the "story" usually seems like filler, even in games like Grand Theft Auto and RDR [Red Dead Redemption], whose stories are smarter than the rest of the video-game pack. RDR begins and ends every mission with cleverly scripted movielike "cut scenes" that provide some explanation for why your character is doing what he's doing—but the game also lets you skip the scenes, which I usually elect to do. Thus I can't really explain why my character is doing what he's doing. The real answer is he's doing it because I am making him do it, and I am making him do it only because I am having fun.

"This is one of the most suspect things about the game form," Bissell writes. "A game with an involving story and poor gameplay cannot be considered a successful game, whereas a game with superb gameplay and a laughable story can see its spine bend from the weight of many accolades—and those who praise the latter game will not be wrong." What's the solution to this quandary? Should games invest more in story, in an attempt to bring us narratives that are on the level of those of the other popular arts? Or should games abandon story—is the video game, as a form, simply incompatible with traditional concepts of narrative, and must game designers instead find other ways to invest their creations with lasting meaning?

I happen to feel that narrative is typically awkwardly shoehorned into games, with elaborate backstories provided for the character you're supposed to be playing and an on-going plot for the conflict you're embroiled in, but none of which is necessarily vital to play (in most games) or viscerally experienced in and of itself. In fact I've argued that games should have little more than bare premises, leaving the players to create their own emergent narratives - and there's evidence to suggest that this is precisely how tons of people play sandbox games like the aforementioned Grand Theft Auto and Red Dead Redemption.

Ultimately, though, I must admit: the (already little) time I spend sitting in front of a computer or television playing video games (or watching TV in my case, although not movies) does feel wasted. Not so much because I think the activity is inherently wasteful as because it's ridiculously inefficient: apart from the fact that I could be "getting things done" (including socializing), there's the fact that your classic video game is structured around repeated failure before advancement to the next level, although titles like Joe Danger (PSN, Hello Games), among others, allow you to advance in any order and to retry areas/levels at your whim. My PS3 sees way more use as a DVD/Blu-Ray player and Netflix client than as a game console.

Your thoughts?

Implementation Strategies for Extensible Application (plugin API)

19 May 2010 - 02:42 PM

I normally ask these kinds of questions on #gamedev so I have near-immediate turn around, but my current internet access solution doesn't appear to free port 6667, and as I've taken a Facebook hiatus for now, I can't put the question to the regulars that way. (Yes, they're all my FB friends - Promit, Washu, Superpig, jpetrie, benryves and many more. You guys rock!) [smile] (Hush, Washu, you'll get your articles/reviews when I get my freedom from West Africa! LOL)
I have an application which currently has a primitive plugin API. We're looking to make it considerably more robust, which has me thinking about how to best structure the application-plugin data bridge, particularly for rich types with associated behaviors. In a previous incarnation of the application, a dynamic link library containing the object code for all "core" types had to be linked against each plugin, guaranteeing the availability of all implementations. This... smelled to me, for lack of a more detailed technical objection, and I refactored that out. However, that introduced a number of constraints on the nature of the application-plugin bridge: now plugins could only be defined in terms of pure abstract types, necessitating some reworking of various types within the application core to express the correct interfaces. Is this wise? Is this idiomatic? Does this potentially introduce more problems than it solves? What is the most robust strategy for implementing a plugin architecture with the ability to communicate reasonably rich (POD) types? Our application is built on Qt, and all plugins must link against Qt anyway so we can use a number of Qt types with value semantics (and/or pointers to them) for data exchange; is it that much better than linking against our own DLL/SO and directly using our rich types? What do the SDKs for plugins to, say, Photoshop or Office do, if any of you know? I'm starting to think that removing the "core types" DLL was a mistake, which I have no problem admitting if so. Any insights, pointers and advice are all very welcome. Thanks.

Hi guys

08 May 2010 - 01:40 PM

Been about eight months since I logged in to GDNet or even checked the site. Silvermyst and I were talking on FB and he said the input box was acting up so he'd finish up on GDNet, and then I decided to delete my FB account entirely... LOL. Anyway, thought it'd be rude to just pop back in and start posting like I never left. A quick update: * I left the US for Nigeria in December of last year, planning to visit family and spend maybe six weeks. I'm still there. * I'm an uncle! My sister had a baby boy (her first) two weeks ago. He's cute. * The situation in Nigeria is stable, despite the Abdulmutallab attempted bombing in December, the intrigues around the health of the former president and his death this past Wednesday. * I'm looking at establishing my own animation studio locally, though I'm not 100% committed to staying yet. Infrastructure is poor, security is a concern from time to time, and I'm bored out of my mind when I'm not stuck in traffic or in yet another fruitless meeting. Any questions? [smile]

GDNet at the Movies: District 9 is NOT an Apartheid Allegory. It is much less.

19 August 2009 - 01:09 AM

In the days leading up to the release of Neill Blomkamp's directorial debut, I became aware of a recurring piece of lazy analysis. Blomkamp, you see, is South African, and District 9 is set in Johannesburg and features an alien race segregated from the general populace. Preview after preview dubbed the film an "apartheid allegory," which I found questionable under both the legal and social contexts. While District 9 is clearly a reference to District Six, that's not what the film is about. It was like I could see the review arithmetic at work: South Africa + discrimination = apartheid. That's unfortunate, because it applies a bias that precludes the larger questions that District 9 raises - though, ultimately, they are neither that interesting nor that novel. Obligatory spoiler warning, so if knowing anything about the story or characters of a film before watching it ruins it for you, you should probably stop reading now. Ordinarily, I am the sort of guy who can enjoy visceral but "empty" entertainment on its own merits. This summer, however, Transformers 2, Terminator: Salvation and G.I. JOE have sorely tested my resolve. Perhaps I approached District 9 with a more critical eye than usual, or perhaps the pre-release hype proclaiming it as "very, very good" raised my expectations. I wasn't exactly disappointed, but I wasn't blown away, either. I saw the film on Saturday, and at first I felt certain that I would write a review. When I began to marshal my thoughts to essay, however, I realized that the film didn't say anything. It doesn't deliver enough of an interesting adventure with classic "good" and "evil" arcs, it doesn't revolve around any one ethical issue, it doesn't introduce any scientific thinking that is central to its plot. It's just a very competent interstitial, which perhaps speaks to Mr. Blomkamp's long history in advertising. The film inverts the common alien invasion by having the "invaders" easily overpowered and subjugated, despite their superior technology and likely superior physical strength and durability. The aliens are (eventually) placed in a designated area and prohibited from venturing into the rest of the city, which is the origin of the apartheid refrain, I suppose, but that's just the beginning of the story. The film develops from there to touch on other things, in all cases lightly and insubstantially. I like that the film isn't set in the cities typically presumed to be important or relevant enough to warrant alien contact - New York, Washington, D.C., London, Paris, Rome. Why Johannesburg, though? The film never says, and, really, it doesn't matter why. It's just cool that it is, because it opens up opportunities for lots of characters with interesting names, interesting accents and interesting perspectives. The world around the alien encampment is turbulent, somewhat chaotic at times, alive with palpable "African-ness." Even better, none of the central characters is an American expatriate on an African safari. No, these are South Africans and Nigerians, Wikus van der Merwe and Fundiswa Mhlanga and Obesandjo. The special effects are appropriately subtle for the aliens and nice and punchy for the weapons. The characters are interesting, and you're quickly drawn into Wikus' struggle to stay alive and return to normalcy, as well as "Christopher Johnson's" desire to protect his son and return to his home world. The problem is the final third of the film, which resolves nothing. Christopher manages to return to the mothership hovering overhead and then presumably head for his home planet, but he leaves all of his fellow aliens behind. Wikus manages to stay alive, but he's fully mutated into a "prawn" by the end. The aliens are still relocated, MNU is still massively influential and powerful (in fact, Fundiswe is thrown in jail for revealing MNU's illegal genetic research)... If I wanted to watch a documentary of ineffectiveness, I'd watch C-SPAN. Of the various premises touched upon earlier in the film, none is carried to a satisfying conclusion. The final confrontation is between a minor bureaucrat and a mercenary, but neither vanquishes the other - a perfect microcosm of the film as a whole. District 9 is a pretender. It wears the garb of science fiction, but it lacks the genuine philosophical consideration of the human condition that marks the best science fiction; it really is a space opera, but without the grandeur and sense of fun that pervades the best of those - think this summer's Star Trek, or the original Star Wars trilogy. District 9 is too grimy, too covered in muck... too pedestrian.