Monthly Archives: September 2005

Greg Costikyan in the Escapist issue 8

Death to the Game Industry?

Long live games!

That’s the eye catching title of a recent issue of THE ESCAPIST, a fairly interesting gaming industry and review journal, available online, for free, in PDF format. Do consider subscribing to it; it’s a great little rag, filled with catty observations about the (mostly electronic) gaming industry.

Althought the mission statement seems a little chi-chi:

The Escapist covers gaming and gamer culture with a progressive editorial style, with articles and columns by the top writers in and outside of the industry. A weekly publication, its magazine-style updates offer content for a mature audience of gamers, entertainment enthusiasts, industry insiders, and other “NetSet” readers.

Anyhoo, Greg Costikyan recently posted a very interesting (and long) diatrbie in the Escapist #8 entitled “Death to the gaming industry/Long live Games!” which I found interesting and engrossing.

Greg starts out by quoting “Designer X”

“The machinery of gaming has run amok… An industry that was once the most innovative and exciting artistic field on the planet has become a morass of drudgery and imitation… It is time for revolution!”

– “Designer X” in the Scratchware Manifesto

Not too surprisingly (if you follow Greg’s posted commentary here and there) Designer X is Greg himself.

Death to the Gaming industry is a long, well-thought out and presented article about the economic trends of the electronic gaming industry. Greg points out that development costs are starting to become overwhelming, mostly because of public perceptions about technology costs. “If the technology is available, then it has to be in the next game”… especially in the graphic rendering department.

Today, art assets (not programming) are the main cost driver. As machines become capable of rendering more detailed 3D models in real time, the market demands more detailed 3D models – and models are hand-created by artists using tools such as 3D Studio Max and Maya. All things being equal, a doubling in polygon count means a doubling in the amount of time an artist needs to spend generating the model – and a doubling in cost. Faster machines can push more polygons; more polygons means more cost.

Furthermore, the nature of the market and the narrowness of the marketing channel are causing a rise in prices and a dearth of availability. Costikyan invites us to compare the shelf load in a common book or music store with an electronic game store; in the former two you’ll see thousands of titles; in the game store, maybe hundreds. I’ve noticed this in the local “Gamestop” gaming store in my community; a relative balkanization of titles and formats, a diminishing of PC game choices, and compared to an average browse in an old Waldensoftware of a few years ago, fairly empty shelves.

Add to that (as Costikyan points out) a diminishing gaming population to buy the titles that do come out, and he thinks it’s obvious that our marketing and distribution channels are in for some trouble.

Where does it all lead? In Costikyan’s words:

The result is that the average game (not the industry as a whole) loses more and more money. The publishers make up the losses on the few games that hit.

Ergo, a certain critical mass much be reached (in form of capitalization and tempo of operations), to survive. Small time game companies (in his words) are simply “fucked.”

The solution? Again, from Cotikyan…

Spector is right. We must blow up this business model, or we are all doomed.

What do we want? What would be ideal?

A market that serves creative vision instead of suppressing it. An audience that prizes gameplay over glitz. A business that allows niche product to be commercially successful – not necessarily or even ideally on the same scale as the conventional market, but on a much more modest one: profitability with sales of a few tens of thousands of units, not millions.

Well, he’s discussing scaling back expectations here, and to some extent I agree. I mostly come from a boardgaming and miniatures gaming background (as does Costikyan, although he hasn’t done a boardgame in years). What Costikyan is describing here could be the prototype that board wargaming had to adopt when the distributorships dried up in the early to mid 90s. Perhaps customer interaction prior to the sale, along the lines of GMT’s famous “P500” program, or some form of consumer buy in to help the company cover development costs. And a great reliance of cheap, direct marketing channels like the Internet… who knows, maybe boardgaming has a good small-scale marketing model to emulate, Greg!

Attribution: All comments quoted in the above by Greg Costikyan, the Escapist online magazine, issue 8


There’s something horribly wrong with this algorithm

Which Fantasy/SciFi Character Are You?

I was expecting Smeagol, actually!

Deathblob Story

DeathBlob 2

An online buddy’s funny post about finding a bucket of death behind his grocery store reminds me of tangentially related tale involving entrails and heads. Gather round the campfire kiddies! (cue campfire noises)

It was back in that magical time called the early nineties. The internet was new, podcasting not even a glimmer in my mammie’s eye. Instead, those of us with a yen, an itch, a driving desire to express ourselves either had public access radio shows or cable access TV programs. I was involved in both, briefly, creating a radio show called “The Cheese Shop” and a TV show called “Nick Reno’s Neighborhood” on FCAC in Fairfax, VA. Nick Reno’s neighborhood was all about horror and exploitation flicks from that golden age of cinema, the Seventies. The standard format of the show would be that I, playing the role of Nick Reno, would have on a friend pretending to play the part of a noted cinematologist and we would discuss the work of a certain director or actor, and we might add skits, or various stupid things as inserts (“Ned’s World of Smell”, “The Fucked Up Christmas Elves”, “Being Stabbed Lessons”, etc.). There was a pretty vibrant amateur film and TV production community around here at the time, so we never lacked for friends to hang with and make a Nick Reno show.

So, one Sunday we’re making a show on the films of the great Lucio Fulci. My friend Bob is there, wearing an outrageous white Italian style suit, his hair slicked back,and we gave him an eyepatch to look seedy (if the budget had allowed it, we would have had him sipping absinthe and smoking Gitanes). I was wearing my Nick Reno outfit (hawaiian shirt, cowboy boots, torn jeans, leather jacket). We were at Drey’s place– then a girlfriend, not long after to be my bride. As we were filming on the back porch, so we could see across the alley into the backyard of the house across the way. My eye kept wandering off from Bob’s discussion to a group of three people congregating in the yard involved in some activity.

Now, that house was loaded with a strange crew. As far as we could determine, no adult lived there, but it wasn’t Party of Five over there, no way. The police showed up on a regular basis to bust someone for something, usually with a controlled substance involved.

So when I saw them digging a hole in their backyard, and burying a large, oblong object wrapped in plastic garbage bags, well, it caught my eye. So I stopped the show, and had Mark the camera boy film them for a while.. acting the role of excited correspondent..

Did I mention these people didn’t own a dog? No, I didn’t.

Well, anyhoo, we got lots of great footage of the druggies burying something very suspicious, then we went back and filmed the rest of the show. If I recall correctly, Drey reported it to the cops and since a SWAT team didn’t show up to drag them off in chains I guess it resolved itself well enough. We never really figured out what they buried, or why.

I decided to make all that stuff part of the episode. I enlisted a friend, Eric, to play a “noted criminologist” and we found a nice patch of ground to dig a hole in (not in their backyard, but a place close enough to make it look that way in cut shots). The night before, I went out and dug a big hole there myself, cutting the sod to put over it again easily enough.

Then I went out looking for a goat’s head. Now, that’s not as easy as it might sound. There weren’t any farms thereabouts then, and there sure aren’t now in these days of urban sprawl. I would have had to have driven about fifty miles to find a farm with a goat on it, and they might have had an issue with me collecting it.

So I called a Lebanese butcher I knew of. He had supplied me with all sorts of offal and tripe for certain zombie scenes in an earlier movie and we had a sort of wordless rapport going. I called him up, and asked. “Hi, got any goat’s heads?” the answer was a laconic “Sure, five fifty. Come on over, we open until five”.

Who knew it would be that easy?

So I drove over and met the butcher… saying I was the guy interested in the goat’s head. He says: “please to wait four minutes right here”. He goes back into the locker and I hear: “BWANGGGGGG BWANGGGG BWAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAW” of a chainsaw starting up, and then “THUMP!” Out he comes, with a big old goat’s head wrapped in butcher paper, horns and all.

Who knew it would be that easy?

So we took it home and lovingly painted what we imagined were “satanic symbols” all over it (really, being a good Catholic boy, I just knew of the pentagram symbol but I had a wicca friend who naturally helped out a lot). Then we dripped red candle wax all over it and covered it up with a plastic garbage bag similar to the one we had seen the “oblong object” buried in.

We raced back to the excavation scene and reburied the goat’s head, staging (if I do say so) one of the finest moments ever to grace this nations’ cable access community.. the phoney lab technicians digging, the discovery of the satanic goat’s head… the closing shot of the concerned look on the “noted criminologist’s” face, as he shakes with a frisson of horror…

It might have been some of my best work.

Your deathblob tale for the day!

Your moment of Zen for the day

A picture’s worth a thousand words, ain’t it?

A Simple but effective hidden movement/activation/fog of war system

Nifty Stuff

First of all, I didn’t create this. I noticed it being used by Bob McDonald (an old Booz, Allen and Hamilton colleague who lives in the area) at NOVAG’s recent GAMECON one-day convention. So kudos to him for making such a streamlined and excellent concept. Bob was running Chain Reaction demos from Two Hour Wargames at the convention. (Chain Reaction reviewed here)

I am somewhat interested in Chain Reaction as it is the engine upon which ALL THINGS ZOMBIE is built, and having just received that (and having a lot of problems the reaction rules in that game), I was interested in learning the “guts” of Chain Reaction. First thing I noticed were these funky little paper kennels Bob M. had constructed, some of which with figures inside:

(click on the pictures to get a zoom in view)

Bob explained. He had created a very effective and simple hidden movement/activation system by keeping the REAL figures hidden (see the photo) from the view of the opposing side, and instead putting decoy tokens on the board. Bob’s “theme” for this game (the demo was set in a Pulp-era urban setting) was “dogs and cats” from a dollar store.

Here are the tokens in action, showing hidden (or DECOY!) forces moving on the board, cats on one side and dogs on the other. Nobody is sure what is what and who is who.

Now, there’s nothing new about using tokens for forces in wargames.. it’s almost as old as the hills. Bob M. used a variant of this idea way back in the day when he was using little pieces of camoflauge nets (in scale) to represent hidden forces when he was teaching tactical lessons to army officers. In fact, if you think on it, those clever little metal soldiers are just that– token representations of actual forces.. but this idea was cute and clever and elegant. I don’t think I’ll be using cats and dogs, per se, but I do think I’ll adopt something like this for my Lilliput game, to bring hidden Lilliputian forces onto the battlefield.

Here’s the battlefield with real figures on it:

Hey, lookee here!

Conquest of the Empire Saga Concluded

Going out for the paper this morning, this is what I found! Hey, wait, what’s written on that sticky note? Reckon I can just make it out if I click on the picture to zoom in…

I beat the Reaper another year! Wheeeee!

Aha! Photoblog is working again…

I’ll take all of them, please…

In da beer aisle Anne say: “Dat Malt Liquor…it make you CRAZY…!”

(that’s about as “inner city” as whitebread suburban Northern Virgina can get with the beer choices in a typical Giant food store)

Fortunately, the old standbys were ready for my birthday dinner request…

Dad’s blowhard tendencies are well known…

Despite his many faults, we might still love the big lug…

The saga continues

I just checked in with package tracking. Apparently the reindeer sled team did a handoff to the Pony Express somewhere near Yakima. Should be any day, now…


I could make up nine jokes about this, but I lactate

MILKMEN: Fathers who breastfeed

attribution: copyright Laura Shanley..

Pegasus: the Battlestar Galactica Finale for this season


Original Ralph McQuarrie production drawings for the original show

In terms of sheer cool factor, the season ender for Battlestar Galactica delivered in spades. Perhaps, just perhaps, the best show they’ve done yet. I won’t give away too many obvious spoilers here, but I will comment on the episode, so if you don’t want to have some things revealed, scroll down or up.

First of all, the new Battlestar was everything I imagined it would be. Amazing eye candy (it’s far more modern and up to date than the Galactica), plus a small bubble of martial law in space… e.g., I knew that they would be the more “professional” outfit between the two ships and that conflict would arise from this (I didn’t forsee how quickly!)

At the end of the episode, we have a situation brewing that I think the writers will have a terrible time trying to get out of. Let’s just say relations between the two ships are pretty bad at the moment, and somebody is about to start shooting.

With that said, here are my comments that I’ll share with those in the know:

1. Step back a second and look at things from Commander Kaine’s P.O.V. From her perspective, her actions are not only justified, they are proper.

2. Captain Lee Adama might be a great CAC but he is also the Admiral’s son. It does stink of nepotism. It wouldn’t be tolerated in any Navy I know of today. Kaine’s actions in moving him to her crew make sense in that context.

3. There is more than one instance of insubordination (from both Adama Jr. and Starbuck), one incident involving holding a pistol to a superior officer’s head, and another involving him getting punched in the face. This is merely a commentary from my point of view (I know this is fiction written by Hollywood writers who are civilians), but in any military service I know of, striking or threatening a superior in front of witnesses is often a capital offense in wartime. The best they could have hoped for in the American military of today would have been a small dark cell somewhere, chains and bread and water. Think I’m kidding? Look up the Code of Miltary Justice.

4. Even though I find Sol Tigh to be one of my favorite characters (for some perverse reason) I also think he’s a disgrace as a military officer. He is often drunk on duty. He questions orders and bullies subordinates. He is profoundly lacking in imagination and lets his wife do his thinking for him more often than not. At least he admits he is not fit for command. My opinion is that (had the scriptwriters permitted it) Kaine probably planned to quietly move him to a non-critical position on her ship and replace him with a more effective XO from her ranks.

5. Accident or not, a superior officer from the Pegasus was killed in a fight with crewmen from the Galactica. Think about what any military you know of would do in a similar circumstance.

6. And perhaps the most sensitive issue.. the treatment of Cylon captives by the Colonials. Well, the Colonials are not schoolgirls, and the Galactica has done its share of atrocities, including spacing one Cylon and shooting another captive down in cold blood (and the shooter got a slap on the wrist for it). The depiction of the near rape scene of Valeri wasn’t pleasant by any means and it took some guts to air this (it’s very clear what the interrogating officer is about to do). However, consider what level of mercy is owed the Cylons? They started a war of genocide against humanity, which the humans are fighting at a severe disadvantage every day of the week. There’s no excuse for treating a prisoner that way in OUR framework of viewing things, but maybe if you were in THEIR shoes, you’d think differently about an enemy that is about to wipe out your entire race?

Hands up if you thought the Abu Graib situation might have had a little influence on this episodes’ script? Hmmmm????

In any event, I think the writers have a tough row to hoe to get out of this, but here’s my thought on how it might be done. President Laura is the de facto head of the civilian government, correct? She therefore has the right to promote or demote military officers, if she chooses to exercise it. She could possibly promote Adama to be a… what.. Fleet Admiral or something, and that would compel Kaine to comply to his orders. It’s a cheesey premise, but I don’t see any other way out other than to have the deux est machina development of a full-scale Cylon attack happen right at the moment when both sides start firing.

Can’t wait ’til January!!!!

More Package Tracking

Tally HO!

I just checked with FEDEX, and they told me Conquest of the Empire had moved on from China and was heading for the Western Hemisphere at high speed.

Mind you, my birthday was last Friday, but let’s not quibble!

Aldie and Derk from BoardgameGeek

I listen to the occassional podcast from Boardgamegeek— formerly the program was called GEEKSPEAK and now BOARDGAMESPEAK (why, I cannot fathom, unless they caught a little flak from KUSP Central Coast Public radio which runs a podcast program with exactly the same name).

Anyhoo, I’ve been listening to these characters for a year now and have never seen any depiction of them on Boardgamegeek… which made me wonder whether they are a pair of derformed mutants or just camera shy. So I was pleased to find an actual picture of them at the Kublacon website.

They’re not so unpleasant looking (I say this in a manly, heterosexually un-threatening way)… what a pity, I was hoping for the mutant theory.

Hey! Hey YOU!!!!

One WEEK LEFT in the dice tower contest. Hurry up, and I mean it when I say “tell them that Mister Nizz sent you…” They’ll understand what I mean!


Game Designers at their worst

That wacky Canadian lesbian, Sonja, has created perhaps the most interesting Geeklist I’ve seen in a while on Boardgamegeek. It’s called “Designers at their worst”. Everyone remembers Martin Wallace for AGE OF STEAM and STRUGGLE OF EMPIRES, but who recalls his low-rated SECRETS OF THE TOMBS? Everyone adores Reiner Knizia for TIGRES ANd EUPHRATES, SCHOTTEN TOTTEN and RA, but who remembers the dismally rated MEMO STREET?

Very cool list, and with some surprises!

Check here

Your moment of Zen for the day

Canadian Style