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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

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…

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…

The can opener and the games industry November 16, 2009

Posted by Cesar in gaming me, working me.
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I feel bad for the first canned food users. Although canned food has been around since 1772, the first can opener was invented only 80 years later! So I suppose the real first can opener was the hammer and chisel. It was hard work to eat back then!

But in 1855, in the UK, Robert Yates started changing the world when he patented the first can opener. The mechanism was similar to the one on the left of the picture. And it was already very practical! A similar design was  unbelievably popular in the military since World War I, because it was really easy to carry and to use.

However, for some reason, mankind was not happy yet. So we continued working on our can openers until in the 80s we got to the very popular design we have today, that opens cans from the side using rotating wheels. But I have to be fair: the invention from the 80s was only an update to a design that was created in the US by William Lyman in 1870.

Was that enough? Of course not. As easy as it was to open a can, mankind decided it was still too much effort. Since the 30s, many electric can openers were developed, from handy small ones to big, fast and very impressive ones. So today if you think 30 seconds of continued attention and effort is too much to spend in front of a can, you can buy an electric one and just press a button. And probably watch for a few seconds.

Now here’s the interesting part: the vast majority of the can openers in stores nowadays open the cans from the side, creating dangerous edges. And the cut cans are not convenient to store after opening. Not only that, but you cannot simply open a hole in it, which is good for liquids. For that you have to buy a church key.

The simple can opener on the left of the picture, with the same basic design as the P 38, is practical, small, opens from the top and can cut simple holes if you want to. But it is really hard to find.

Games are also tools. And their purpose at its most basic level is to entertain. And they are also, in a way, can openers. The very first games were very simple, rudimentary, but got the job done. As technology evolved, they got more complex and, there’s no denying, more interesting. But mankind was not happy yet. Games continued becoming more and more intricate so that today, if you want to make a AAA title, you have to spend millions.

Recently, it seems the games industry realized the simple can openers were really good as well. And in all the complexity of the new models, some of the appeal of the old ones was lost. So not only Microsoft, but Nintendo, Sony and many others invest in platforms for the distribution of P-38s and other lever based, simpler, can openers. Cheaper to produce, cheaper to buy, easier to distribute. That heated the industry and many companies were created willing to develop really good and interesting but practical and simpler can openers.

That’s a very good thing. The extremely complex and expensive can openers offer something the simple ones cannot. But when the industry realized there was still space in the market for the basic devices, gamers got an option back. And it is a very good one.

Uff, that was a long post. I’m tired. So, if you excuse me, I will stop writing and go play Geometry Wars.

See you space cowboys…

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