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Archive for June, 2008

Since the early days of Nintendo fever, TV networks have been trying to create programming with gamers in mind.  Makes sense.  After all, the potential audience for a game-centric show just keeps growing and is an advertiser’s dream with the full spectrum of ethnicity, a steadily widening age range and a lot more women paying attention in recent years.

A big problem is, the content has been pretty universally unwatchable.  There have been plenty of bad cartoons, the occasional odd game show, and even a few reviews/news/interviews shows with hosts that have run the gamut from pretty-but-uninformed to so-annoying-you-wish-for-their-demise.  The G4 Network promised 24 hours of games programming over a year ago, and they’re still filling afternoons with COPS reruns and reality shows like Ninja Warrior.

To be fair, there has been SOME decent gaming TV out there.  A few months ago, the Discovery Channel aired a fantastic 4-part miniseries, The History of the Videogame.  And I’ve always like G4’s Icons, which feels a little bit like VH1’s Behind the Music for game developers.  Only with less booze.  And I don’t think anyone on Behind the Music ever talked about how they got their start grinding it out in bug testing, but I haven’t watched that show in years.

One format that’s actually working quite well in Japan is Game Center CX. It’s a reality show that challenges its host, the affable Shinya Arino (“The Kacho”), to beat a different notoriously difficult retro game (usually an original NES title) and documents the entire process.  It’s such an ingenious concept, I can’t believe an English language version hasn’t been rushed into production yet.  Every single gamer can relate to this – we’ve all been stumped by a at least one ridiculous NES game.  And forces like crappy design, rental store late fees, and puberty kept many of us from seeing the endings of a lot of these “gems.”

The series is being subtitled in English, and all the narrations are being dubbed for an eventual North American DVD release.  Best of all, two episodes have been included in this year’s Asian Film Festival, going on now in NYC.  Be sure to check them out, and let us know what you think.

MYSTERY OF ATLANTIS – screens Saturday 6/28 at noon

GHOSTS AND GOBLINS (has anyone ever beaten this?) – screens Sunday 6/29 at noon and Wednesday 7/2 at 11:30 am

All screening are free of charge at the IFC film center.

Check out the show:

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This week saw the official kickoff for ‘s Will Wright’s Spore, as the Creature Creator module was made available on quite a few platforms. While I wouldn’t quite say it’s the games industry’s Chinese Democracy*, Spore’s had its share of delays since being announced (and winning the “Best of Show” award) at E3 2005.

I’m thoroughly impressed with the way EA/Maxis has managed to keep the community’s interest piqued over the course of Spore’s journey from cradle to shelves. Will Wright’s been fairly reclusive since the SimCity days, and his quasi-vow of silence endured even during the development cycles of high profile titles like SimEarth and The Sims, after his rock star status had been firmly established. The long runup to Spore, however, has yielded unprecedented glimpses into Wright’s development process, through the eyes of the absolute best writers in games journalism.

Under normal circumstances, gamers would have given up long ago on a title that had this many public delays. But Wright’s reputation, candor with the enthusiast press, and build-ins for additional platforms, like the DS and iPhone, have bought EA/Maxis a reprieve in this case. Just last week, Wright even weighed in on the “games as art” argument in this gem of an interview with GameDaily Biz.

We won’t know until September if all the anticipation was worth it, but for now the project originally dubbed “SimEverything” stands as a textbook study in how to premarket a huge, genre-defining multiplatform game.

*For those scoring at home, Duke Nukem Forever is the game industry’s Chinese Democracy. A dubious honor if ever there was one.

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In case you missed it earlier this week, be sure to check out this superb Wall Street Journal article on Tomonobu Itagaki’s sudden (and fierce) departure from Tecmo. He’s best known for stylish series like Dead or Alive and the revived Ninja Gaiden, both of which cater to hardcore fans without apology. Along with Hideo Kojima and Shigeru Miyamato, Itagaki’s one of a very few big name Japanese producers still active in the industry.

The fact that a dispute over a completion bonus led to Itagaki’s decision to leave (and sue Tecmo, to boot) shows that this industry still has a lot to learn about how to treat talent, especially if video game companies want to play in the same league as movie studios and music labels. When was the last time Steven Spielberg or Jay-Z had to sue a studio to get a bonus out of them?

Itagaki produced some really groundbreaking games during his run at the helm of Tecmo’s Team Ninja, and helped move plenty of Dreamcasts for Sega, PlayStation 2’s for Sony, and Xboxes (and then 360s) for Microsoft over the years. Love them or hate them, every one of Itagaki’s games had a unique voice and visual flare that was distinctively his. Is Tecmo so stocked with talent that they can afford to just let him walk out the door? Not likely.

The WSJ article touches on how Itagaki (and other visionaries in the industry) favors working with a smaller team of 100 or so programmers and designers that “get” the vision, rather than a small army of code monkies updating last year’s game and plugging in new graphics. The fact is, we need this type of passionate, creative producer to remain committed to building new, breathtaking experiences and expanding their original IP to draw in new audiences and keep influential, hardcore gamers in love with the hobby.

We’ve (hopefully) come a long way from the EA Spouse days, the novelty of producing games will wear off in time, and the industry needs to figure out how to nurture and maintain the creative people that keep it moving forward.

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I’ve long held that, out of all the major pro sports, hockey makes the absolute best translation to video games, and has ever since Blades of Steel on the NES. It was the first organized sport I played, and still one of my favorites to watch.

Big congrats to the Red Wings for bringing the Stanley Cup to Hockeytown once again! And if you happen to be reading this from Detroit, please have a drink for me when the parade comes up Woodward.

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