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OnLive + iPad = beauty January 29, 2010

Posted by Cesar in gaming me.
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onlive + ipad

Don’t fall for the picture. I put that together. But when I thought of it, I just had to share.

In one hand we have the iPad, a wireless device with 3G capabilities and a screen big enough for good input and interesting gameplay. On the other hand we have OnLive, a system that streams games, allowing players to enjoy high quality games while requiring very modest hardware requirements. Is everyone connecting the dots?

Let me just say this won’t happen. Apple wants people to use the App Store. But I would love to see OnLive and Apple making this work. Anyway, the doors are open and this merge of remote play + movement freedom will occur eventually, with or without the iPad.

Not that‘s something I would definitely want to buy.

See you space cowboys…

Apple’s new big thing: iPad games? January 29, 2010

Posted by Cesar in gaming me.
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Let’s face it: the iPhone hardware is nothing special.

In Brazil, it took us a while to get it and I only understood its success when I saw the App Store. Their slogan, “there’s an app for that”, is the key to the iPhone popularity. Apple made the App Store very accessible and pushed it really hard. As a result, the flood of applications made the iPhone an awesome device, much better than other phones/smart-phones with better hardware but far less software.

This Wednesday Apple unveiled their new product, the iPad. The iPad is a tablet and Apple expects to have with it the same success the iPhone had. Many predicted the same software based strategy would be used for the new device. And while there’s certainly competition, mostly with Windows based tablet PCs, I suspect a strong application base will make Apple prevail.

It is so much easier to find a bunch of applications you want, go to a store and say “I want an iPad”. The alternative is to find a bunch of Windows apps you want, research which tablet best suits your needs (RAM, HD, processor speed, screen size, video card, …), try to find a store that sells it and hope everything runs. And you will probably leave the store with the certainty that you didn’t make the best possible choice. Check this great video on TED. You’ll see what I am talking about (boy, this video deserves its own post. But don’t wait, watch it now).

But I digress. I want to talk about the impacts of the iPad in the games industry. So let’s talk about games.

Amazon recently announced they would be stimulating application and game development for the Kindle. Together with the iPad, it starts development for intermediate sized platforms, between smart-phones and PCs (let’s face it, a notebook is a PC). I don’t see a big revolution in game programming: everything indicates we’ll program games for the Apple tablet the same way we do for the iPhone. And the Kindle is not as powerful, most likely supporting simpler games.

That being said, the bigger screen and processing power will stimulate more complex game design. I for one like to exercise my brain as much as possible so more complex games, meaning probably more complex code, are a good thing.

Also, the software base for the iPad is already spreading its wings. Gameloft and EA presented games for the new platform, we know Unity will run on the device and Mark Rein, from Epic Games, vented the possibility of having Unreal Engine running on the iPad too. And in the end, if a lot of publishers decide to invest in the platform, we’ll have some great games, no doubt. And that alone should make the iPad a gaming hit.

At first I don’t think many will focus specifically on the iPad. After all, the iPhone base is too big and developers, specially smaller ones, are probably better off making games that run on both platforms. But if Apple succeeds and the iPad becomes the new big thing, it will certainly be a very interesting gaming platform.

I am probably already writing too much. If you want to check other takes on the subject, take a look here and here.

See you space cowboys…

d for the

Every day the same dream January 23, 2010

Posted by Cesar in living me, thinking me, working me.

Every day the same dream is an amazing game. If you’ve heard about it before, continue reading. Otherwise, I recommend you play first; it is very short, you’ll finish in minutes.

I found out about this deep and disturbing game at Tap-Repeatedly and was very… surprised at how the experience moved me. Every day is in all technical aspects extremely simple. That is a compliment and goes to show how games are unquestionably an art form. Even stripped from all graphical advances, realistic AI and complex controls, playing it is a touching and immersive experience (here I go talking about immersion again). I had had such feelings before watching short movies, never playing games.

Playing Every day made me think of two movies: Modern Times, by Charlie Chaplin, and Groundhog Day. There’s a tad of both in this game.

Modern times has a direct relation to Every day: Chaplin’s movie is also a critic to the massification of modern life.

In Groundhog Day, Phil Connors, played by Bill Murray, lives the same day over and over again, oblivious as to why that’s happening to him. The repetition acts as a metaphor to the stagnation caused by the main character’s life style. In a scene in the bowling alley, Phil asks two locals, “What would you do if you were stuck in one place, and every day was exactly the same and nothing that you did mattered?” One guy replies, “That about sums it up for me.” That right there explains the connection. The magic power that makes Phil live the same day every day only brings to the surface the drama both the locals in the movie and the character in Every Day the Same Dream experience by simply living their lives.

In both movie and game, the break from the repetition that plagues existence comes from self-improvement. They represent a search for enlightenment and offer a valuable lesson.

If you still haven’t played the game, do it now. And go rent Groundhog Day. You won’t regret it.

See you space cowboys…

Cogs in the Brazilian games industry machine January 22, 2010

Posted by Cesar in working me.
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brazilian flag + marcus fenix

Gamasutra recently published a great article from Divide By Zero CEO James Portnow. In the article, Portnow makes a very interesting analysis of Brazil as an ecosystem for the games industry, investigating aspects from law and taxation to technical quality and piracy.

If you are just looking for the conclusion, here it is:

Now is the time to get into Brazil. The margin is right. If I were a betting man, I’d say the odds are about three to one that the Brazilian industry never gets off the ground. But at the same time, I’d say the return on resources invested in Brazil at this point will be at least ten to one if the industry does get past its infancy. I also believe that foreign entities have an opportunity to better those odds of the Brazilian industry becoming successful.

I find the probabilities he estimates very interesting. It’s like analyzing pot odds in poker: in a nutshell, it means he does not think his pair of 8s will win, but if it does he’ll get much more than he put on the table.

While I do agree with most of what is in the article, I believe some remarks are in order.

First let’s talk about piracy. It truly is, like Portnow says, an elephant in the room. In Brazil, every time there’s a debate about the games industry, the subject comes up. It is almost boring. I think Brazil will not bring the numbers down any time soon to be honest. And to expect the government to drop taxes on external games to something that would cause an impact is a distant dream. That being said, I noticed a significant improvement with the new generation of consoles. No one bought original PS2 titles. On the 360, however, I believe the piracy percentage is better. Unfortunately, like someone mentioned in a comment on the aforementioned article, most of these purchases are made from stores that get their products illegally across the border. Nonetheless, while it is still a crime, it puts some of the money back into the games industry (probably in Miami somewhere) and I think that represents an improvement. Microsoft also officially distributes 360 games in Brazil. I don’t have the figures, but I would love to know how that’s going.

Anyway, even a small drop could make the market very interesting, as the base of gaming platforms is very significant. Mexico also had a high piracy rate, above 90%. When NAFTA came and games became cheaper, it dropped to around 80% if I am not mistaken (if someone has the exact numbers please let me know. I couldn’t find them). And while that’s still a huge percentage, those 10-15% meant a huge increase in sales, enough to get the Mexican games industry going.

I found it very curious, however, that Portnow didn’t talk to Abragames. It doesn’t matter if you agree with the association actions or not, it is an important organization that could have added even more depth to what already is a great article. I also had the pleasure of working at TecToy Digital and went back to visit one and a half years later. Boy did they grow. They are behind the Zeebo platform and are a sound example that game development can go very well in Brazil.

The other interesting point I would like to have seen in the article was the 2008-2009 financial crisis. It had a major impact in the Brazilian games industry and the waves are still propagating now in 2010. I fell victim to that, when in 2008 Gameloft shut down their development studio in São Paulo as a measure to cut costs during the crisis. And I know other game studios struggled with the lack of new projects. For that reason, I would say the industry in 2010 is still crawling back to where it was in 2008. So when you look at the industry now, you have to dig deep to get past the crisis ripples and see the actual potential for game development in the land of Samba and Bossa Nova.

Finally, my experience as a game developer in Brazil, specially when helping with recruitment, is that Brazil has a long way to go in a whole cultural aspect associated to game development. Until recently (I’m talking 2004-2005) the industry was so small it wasn’t considered a career option. That means students fresh out of the top universities in Brazil were getting to the market lacking the drive or the background to jump right into game development. But that’s slowly changing. With that cultural change alone, with the undergraduates knowing the number of opportunities in game development is not so small, we should have a pretty qualified work force. The quality of the computer science/engineering courses in Brazil is well known and a reason to be proud.

So all in all, I have more faith in the Brazilian game developers than James Portnow. I think the cards on the table are low and that pair of 8s has a good chance of winning the pot.

See you space cowboys…

Happy anniversary January 17, 2010

Posted by Cesar in living me.
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anniversary candles

Mariana called me at work today (yes, I know it is Sunday) and reminded me it’s been one year since we arrived in St. John’s. We left Brazil on the 16th and got to the Franklin Hotel on January 17th, 2009.

Boy, was it an eventful year. Crazy trip, new city, new culture, new weather, new people, lots of snow.

Then I broke my wrist, had surgery and recovered (thanks Doctor Rockwood!).

We then released CSI for the DS and I started on a new project.

Mariana on her side got a new job, then moved on to a better one and started taking courses at Memorial University.

We got two kitties: Sushi and Sake. And then after two months we realized Sake was a boy! Afraid for his identity crisis, we changed his name to Tsume (very manly!) and started treating him like a boy. He’s a bit rebellious, but he’s ok.

During the extremely short St. John’s summer, we went on a boat to see whales. It was amazing. Then my parents came to visit and we went on a road trip through Newfoundland, it was really cool. Very impressive landscape.

Mariana and I had our first Halloween in North America (far more interesting than in Brazil) and even though it wasn’t snowing, there was a lot of snow on the ground for our Christmas party!

It was great. May the new year be as much fun as the one that ended. And hopefully it won’t involve another broken wrist.

See you space cowboys…

About stonecutters and game developers January 16, 2010

Posted by Cesar in working me.
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When my parents came to visit us here in St. John’s, my father told me a very interesting parable Peter Drucker used in many of his seminars about management:

A traveler, walking down a road, came upon three stonecutters working in a quarry. Curious as to what those three men were working on, the traveler approached the first one and asked what he was doing. The stonecutter turned to him, sighed but smiled a little and then explained, “I am cutting stones trying to make enough money to support my family.” Feeling very little enlightened, the traveler walked to the second worker and asked the same question. The worker turned angrily, as if the answer was obvious, and replied full of pride: “I am a very skillful stonecutter and I am cutting the most beautiful, uniform and smooth stones in the whole country.” Still no wiser, the traveler made his way to the third worker and once again asked what he was doing. The worker turned to him with a smile and answered: “I am building a cathedral.”

The first one, just trying to earn a living, is the classic uninterested worker who does his hours but no more and performs his tasks at an ok quality never looking for improvement. You can count on his work, but when push comes to shove, that’s not someone you want to rely on to get the job done. The most dangerous kind is the second. These care a lot about quality but their priorities are all wrong, as he is only worried about his own work. Of course the ideal is the third worker. He thinks of the big picture, he understands his work is just a necessity to get the cathedral built. His work is not the final goal, the cathedral is.

I brought this up because we see the three kinds of stonecutters every day. But the second one is much more common in creative environments, where every task can be over thought, become more complicated than it should be. The games industry is one of these creative environments: it is easy to get carried away by the current algorithm or art asset you are working on and forget that’s just a small piece of the game. I think we all have days we work like each of the three stonecutters. Some days we just can’t focus, others we are consumed by our own stones and forget we are building cathedrals. It is not easy to see which one better defines us in everyday life. Nonetheless, it is still important to always try and be like the third worker. It is good for productivity and leads to personal improvement and to a far more pleasant work experience.

So… the Stonecutters in the video have very little to do with the parable (although it is a fantastic Simpsons episode and song! Check it out), but can you guess what kind of stonecutter Homer Simpson is? Not too hard, eh? Which stonecutter are you?

See you space cowboys…

Immersion: other takes on the subject January 10, 2010

Posted by Cesar in thinking me.
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That’s what happens when you don’t have time during the week. Many posts at once. Anyway, this is just a quick update on immersion in video games, a recurring subject of the blog. Gamasutra recently published a very interesting article on the subject, by Michael Tomsen. If you enjoyed the previous talk about immersion in video games, take a look.

See you space cowboys…

Project Natal: changes and concerns January 10, 2010

Posted by Cesar in thinking me.
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Gamesindustry.biz recently announced Microsoft is dropping the internal chip from Project Natal. Even though there’s some talk about the move being related to making updates easier, it is clearly a move to drop costs. It is understandable, as the device must ship at a reasonable price to succeed.

However, from my previous experiences with computer vision solutions, this might represent a big drawback. Natal is not supposed to be a simple toy, targeting unique, exquisite experiences. It is supposed to act as a reliable replacement for controllers in many ways. Computer vision algorithms, like the ones necessary to process both texture and range data the sensors provide, require significant processing, specially if reliability and response time are big issues (as it is clearly the case).

That means not only old games will not get updates (because there won’t be a processor budget to spare for the vision algorithms), but also that new games using the technology will have to reduce processing somewhere else in order to make the system as responsive and reliable as it has to be.

Not all is lost though and I still have hope. I don’t think Microsoft would make this decision without some confidence most of the appeal will still be there. What I can say is that the presence of the range sensors (as opposed to a simple camera) means a lot of the algorithms can be much simpler than in texture only solutions. Tasks like background subtraction, for example, are almost free when range data is available. And pose detection, be that of the head, hands or the whole body, is also simplified, since the range information makes things less ambiguous.

But there’s also no question a dedicated chip would make the impact bigger and increase the usability of the device. Developers will now have to decide between keeping Natal functionality or improving AI and other gameplay areas.

In a related note, the article also mentions Microsoft is struggling with a 100 ms delay in the system. That’s a very common issue with imaging devices: just turn on your webcam and notice the lag. In a way that’s an even more serious problem than the drop of the chip, since a hardware delay cannot be fixed by software optimization alone, meaning no matter how simple the game is, the delay will still be there. But, again, there’s hope. The fact that it is a well known problem that MS is working to solve means it will probably not be there when Natal is released by the end of the year. Or at least that’s what I hope.

See you space cowboys…

I had to come to Canada January 10, 2010

Posted by Cesar in gaming me.
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cat burglar

Funny how life plays tricks on you sometimes, eh? I lived for years in Brazil. My parents place was robbed once when I had just gotten my NES for Christmas (luckily they didn’t take it!). And that was it. Even living in São Paulo, I never had problems.

I had to come to Canada to be robbed again. On Friday some small time crook (by the way there’s a great Woody Alen by that name) broke into our appartment and took our notebook and digital camera. My wife’s theory is that they found out we were from Brazil and wanted us to feel at home. Sounds like a pretty solid explanation to me.

Because of my nerdiness everything in the HD was password protected, so the bastards can’t get much information from it without some effort. So I lost some piece of software I was developing but it wasn’t much and we lost a lot of pictures, which is a shame. Thankfully, we are very good at turning lemons into lemonade. Yesterday I got a new and improved notebook, which I spent up till now configuring, and a new camera (again much better than the one I had before). So now it is all good.

I hope it doesn’t happen again though. There’s only so much lemonade I can take.

See you space cowboys…

Review for The Hidden Cases January 8, 2010

Posted by Cesar in working me.
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A quick update: IGN just recently released a review for CSI: The Hidden Cases, my first DS title! I am very happy with the 7.5 they gave it. It does not seem like such a high score at first, but if you look IGN criteria and other CSI game reviews, you’ll see it is a respectable accomplishment!

They even mention the new visual style and the gameplay engine as big improvements on previous games. Well done, team!!!

Anyway, I am very proud and just wanted to share.

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