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From books to games, anyone? February 25, 2011

Posted by Cesar in gaming me, thinking me.
Tags: , , ,

The other day I was thinking about this: what electronic games came straight from books? It doesn’t count if the game is just vaguely inspired by a book setting, like the Rainbow Six series, or if the game is based in a movie which is based in a book (anyone thinking Lord of the Rings?). Ah! And comic books / graphics novels don’t count either.

Mind you, I never googled for results either (although I did research the games I found). So instead I posed the question to many of my friends, including several game designers, and I was surprised to find out that the answers never come easy. It is hard to list games that fit the criteria. Many of the mentioned ones are old school games, like the text-based Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy and The Hobbit. Modern games are much harder to find. It seems like books now get movie versions before the games industry takes a stab at it. However, it is still possible to find some, like the successful The Witcher.

Pinpointing the reason for this small number of direct translations from books to games is very hard. It seems like it was easier 20 years ago, but that might just be because the games were so much simpler: a single programmer fan could be enough to spawn a text adventure back then. But even that is not obvious, the numbers I got in my survey are too small for any conclusive analysis.

Below are the titles I got, I still can’t believe I found so few. If you remember any more, disagree with one or if you simply have a theory on the subject, let me know in the comments!

See you space cowboys…

Pursuit of innovation February 1, 2011

Posted by Cesar in thinking me, working me.
Tags: , , , ,

As usual Mathew Sakey had an interesting column last month . He writes about innovation in games and analyzes the concept of innovation itself, making a split between the conservative innovation we tend to see in most AAA games and the wild innovation we so rarely have a chance to appreciate.

The idea made me look at the industry as a whole and try to place the development team in that system. Although passion-driven, the games industry is still an industry, and as such it has a very strong financial component we cannot ignore.

It is true that developers now have way more efficient means to reach the market without a publisher, a development studio or even a team. Indie developers can publish games on Steam, Apple Store, XBox Live Arcade and others, all very valid options to share game experiences with the world.

But in the end, the vast majority of the content players will enjoy comes from professional developers plugged into the games industry production chain, which includes development studios, first party publishers, third-party publishers… you know the drill.

So when we look at innovation in indie games, it is fair to expect anything. There are no strong strings tying indie developers to market fluctuation, advertising, sales, development time. On the other hand, when a development studio works on a project for a publisher, all these factors come into play and true innovation becomes a greater challenge for the team.

And this is what I want to talk about. The fact that the standard game production chain involves so many factors other than gameplay and immersion does not mean innovation is not an option. Instead, it means the development team needs to evolve and adapt in order to be truly creative. While we can’t deny the industry wants profit, it is also true that profit can come from innovation. It is up to everyone involved to come up with a new idea and sell it convincingly.

If it wasn’t for this creative effort, we wouldn’t see some amazing games like ICO, Shadow of the Colossus, Indigo Prophecy, the Katamari series, Heavy Rain and many others. I know, I know, these represent an extremely small fraction of all games produced since, say, ICO was released. And the industry could use a bit more. But these games and studios prove my point: it is possible.

It is certainly a factor that the industry itself many times presses developers against innovation, but we cannot ignore the fact that there’s still some wiggle room for those willing to adventure in less known territory. If you have a good idea, try it. Sell it right. If it doesn’t sell, maybe you need to explore innovation in another direction that suits the company better. No developer should simply drop an idea and blame the world. Look at the picture above: we can’t control what happens inside the pipeline. But someone has to drop the ideas at one end to see what will come out on the other side.

See you space cowboys…

The PS3 hack and the freedom umbrella January 13, 2011

Posted by Cesar in gaming me, working me.
Tags: , , , , , , ,

Another year, another post. I went back to Brazil for the holidays (it was great!) and came back decided to keep up with the PostAWeek challenge. Let’s see what happens, this is my first entry.

What got me the most interested during my vacation was the PS3 hack drama. As a computer engineer, I find the whole subject very interesting. It is amazing what these guys went through to hack a piece of hardware like the PS3. Even though the security system had a significant and easy to avoid flaw (this is a good start on the subject), finding it required serious skill from the notorious George Hotz, aka geohot, and the chaps from fail0verflow.

As a guy who likes math, programming and puzzles to an extreme, I can easily see the appeal of searching (or should I say researching?) for such hack. It is a huge project which demands a very deep knowledge of the field: digital security systems, cryptography and other theory heavy subjects. And on top of it all, success is highly dependent on creativity, insight and tenacity.

Unfortunately for Sony, that’s not all. The uncovered security breach is embedded so deep into the system hardware that apparently there’s no way to prevent it through firmware updates. Now that the security key is known, no matter what Sony does the hack can be redone. Sony denies the allegation, but while Sony shouts without arguments, fail0verflow’s explanation seems solid.

Anyway, from a programming point of view, I think this guys are fantastic and deserve applause. However, I can’t help thinking of the big picture and, all things considered, I’m not so sure I like geohot and the others all that much.

Both geohot and fail0verflow are firmly against piracy. They say their only goal is to be able to dual-boot Linux + GameOS and be able to develop for the platform. Hotz claims the efforts to hack the PS3 were only intensified in face of Sony’s decision to remove support for OtherOS from the console. I confess I never even considered playing with the PS3 hardware, by the time I got it support for OtherOS wasn’t there anymore. But it was definitely a nice feature that any interested programmer would love to use.

On the other hand, the implications of the hack for the industry are considerable. Sony will now have to deal with the issue actively since there seems to be no way to truly avoid the exploit. I could be wrong, but we are probably looking at more frequent updates and the eventual ban of consoles from online space. But that’s the smaller of the problems. Piracy rate will probably increase considerably, making the PS3 a less desirable platform for publishers and, as a consequence, for developers. It shifts the stability of the ecosystem, every investment in the PS3 a little less safe.

It is very hard to tackle the problem from a legal standpoint, if anyone can explain what rights a PS3 owner has, please do! What I can say is that while it seems fair to demand and pursue the ability to develop for Sony’s console, it doesn’t seem right to cause so much trouble to manufacturer, publishers, studios and ultimately consumers that invested in the PS3. Not everything is meant to be public, some things are better off encrypted. Throwing everything under the umbrella of freedom and claim the right to information is just as dangerous as it is easy. As sad as it is, the good intentions of an individual cannot be translated to humanity as a whole; we cannot forget that homo homini lupus, there’s always someone looking for profit at the expense of everyone else.

Ultimately, geohot’s intentions don’t matter. In face of his discovery, some very few will indeed dual-boot Linux + GameOS quietly from their homes and just enjoy free access to the Cell processor. The vast majority, however, will use it to play all sorts of illegal software on the console, considerably stimulating the pirate software industry. Let’s not pretend otherwise.

See you space cowboys…

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