Wednesday, October 26, 2005

Gamers or Game Developers

My laptop brick is completely dead, and thus, I am without a computer. Sadly, the brick in question is nowhere to be found in Australia, so I am waiting for it to arrive from the US. I am, as one might imagine, going completely insane. Also, because I do not like posting to pixelsea during business hours, my posts are a bit thin. I do apologize, and I promise some good, meaty posts when everything is back in working order.

In the meantime, I couldn't resist bringing up a particular pet peeve of mine, because I just saw it rear its ugly head, once again.

Please, please, please don't ever call game developers "gamers" when talking to the media. Yes, I know, "game developer" may be a long, cumbersome thing to say or type. I, as a game developer, will understand, from context, what you mean when you use the term "gamer," in place of "game developer." However, I guarantee you the mainstream media will conflate the two and/or will report about it in such a way as to confuse the public.

It has gotten so bad that when I see any headline about "gamers" earning money, I don't know whether it's going to be an article about professional game developers or professional game players (two very different things). You wouldn't say that "patients" were gathering at a medical conference, would you? Yes, certainly, all those doctors ARE somebody's patient, but that's not the capacity in which they're gathering. Yes, most of us game developers are gamers, but that's not the capacity in which we conduct business.

The same holds true for "gaming." We game developers don't earn money by gaming. Or, at least, I sure as hell don't. That is strictly the domain of professional gamers. Game developers earn money by making games. We should only say that someone is "studying gaming," if they are, in fact, studying the act, nature, psychology, or characteristics of gaming -- not studying game development. While some amount of studying gaming may be useful for game developers, the disciplines are not the same thing.

The 2001 Wired Article, Gaming: Too Cool For School? is a complete train wreck, with respect to this. Consider this quote:

"One gaming company head was enthusiastic about the program."

When I hear "gaming company," I think "gold farmers." Language, people!

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Monday, October 10, 2005

Six letter word and starts with "P"

In his latest diatribe to politicians, Jack Thompson said, "The best entity, then, to determine whether a video game is harmful to a minor, by virtue of its sexual and/or violent content, is a jury."

WRONG. The best entity to determine whether a video game is harmful to a minor, by virtue of its sexual and/or violent content, is a parent. Sorry, Jack, your ulterior motives are showing.

But, pointing out what's wrong with Thompson is merely raising a small voice in a very large chorus, at this point, so I really shouldn't waste the keystrokes.

I swear, I have a longer post coming. I just haven't had a moment to collect it.

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Wednesday, October 05, 2005

Verb: Acquire

So, Autodesk has bought Alias. Imagine, for a moment, if Coke bought Pepsi. That's what we're talking about here. Sure, there's Fanta and Softimage out there. You've got RC Cola and Lightwave. You've got Ramune and TrueSpace. You've got Jones and Milkshape. You've got that hippie stuff they sell at the organic food store and Blender. There's other stuff. But, we're talking about the big two.

It makes me vaguely uncomfortable.

My favorite question from the acquisition FAQ:

"Are there areas of duplication in Autodesk’s and Alias’ product lines?"

Gee, ya think?

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Wednesday, September 28, 2005


I would like to congratulate Greg Costikyan and Dr. Johnny Wilson for their new venture, Manifesto Games. I have a lot of respect for people who are willing to put their money where their mouths are. I applaud their pioneering spirit, and wish them the very best.

Thursday, September 22, 2005

La Mort de l'Ordinateur

My laptop is quite dead. Long and thoughtful posts will be delayed until I get it back in working condition -- which hopefully will be very soon.

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Wednesday, September 21, 2005

The Case For Pink

A lot of women hate pink. I am one of them.

Pink represents traditional gender roles. Pink represents segregation. It's that Pepto Bismol ghetto in the toy store where all of the Barbies and incontinent baby dolls hang out. It's that horrible dress you wish your Aunt hadn't bought you. It's froo froo and poodles and cheap perfume and Mary Kay ladies.

When I talk about the "pink ghetto" sometimes, my complaint is largely that it is a place where boys (and certain girls) won't go, largely because of the aforementioned connotations. I don't like the fact that I, as a girl, felt perfectly comfortable walking down the aisles with 4x4 trucks and action figures, but that it would've been a crippling taboo for my straight male hairdresser to have walked down the pink aisle to look at a hairdressing-related toy, as a boy. I think someday, men need to be liberated, too. But, that's not what I'm here to complain about today.

I frequently hear women game developers complain that something is "too pink," or "too girly." They complain that they hate pink things or girly things, and behave every bit as much as though they cannot comprehend that anyone else on the planet could possibly like them. A friend of mine was horrified when her little girl wanted to wear frilly dresses.

Let me tell you something: There are girly girls out there, and there's nothing wrong with them. They aren't traitors against feminism. They aren't 1950s housewives. They aren't weak. They aren't stupid. My younger sister -- who played with Barbies, Strawberry Shortcake, and My Little Pony, as a young girl -- is a Lead Programmer, a mother, and a gamer. Women don't need to belong to the tomboy's club to be cool. Women who like pink aren't unworthy of my breath, my time, my consideration, and my marketing.

I've seen pink game consoles, pink hand-helds, pink toolsets, fictional pink case mods... all kinds of things. And I say, make more. When I was a teenager, I had a pink skateboard. Yeah, I hate pink. But -- you must understand -- pink is the grand territorial pissing of the female. The boys who so cheerfully tried to run off with our bicycles over the years didn't dare abscond with my skateboard. Pink says, "Damn it, this is MINE." A girl's brother will not fight with her over her pink Gameboy. He won't tell her it's for boys. He has no power over the pink. It renders him entirely toothless in his competition for resources.

Many years ago, when I was a young thing, I was at the county fair, and a bunch of folks were down on one end of the field, launching model rockets. Being the consummate geek girl that I was, I wandered over to see what was going on. There was only one woman there. She had a collection of beautiful rockets, all subversively airbrushed in pink and lavender. I remember thinking, "That's the coolest woman on earth."

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Tuesday, September 20, 2005

Update Soon

I apologize for my recent silence. Hurricane Katrina blindsided me, and I buried myself in other creative endeavors to clear my head. I'll be back soon. I have a few axes to grind, and some kettles on the stove.

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Thursday, August 25, 2005

Words, words, words.

I think that schools teach us to hate books.

When I was a child, books were my constant friend. By the time I graduated from high school, I didn't even want to look at the things, anymore. I have met many people in my adult years who either don't read at all, or tumble into that incestuous morass that is modern fantasy reading, never to escape again.

What happened?

We do not learn to appreciate wine by performing a chemical analysis of it. If we are to dissect a piece of music or a movie, it is only after appreciating the whole, and it is only to better understand the craftsmanship behind it, the influences that shaped it, and the ontological classification of the work.

Yet, we are handed our books with a pair of forceps and a scalpel. With cold calculation, we are to dissect every nuance, every image, and every motif. We are performing an autopsy on a cold corpse, carefully excising each organ, and weighing it upon a scale. Where is the beauty? Where is the life? How are we to appreciate this ruined carcass -- this butchered beast? The carrion birds have picked it clean of its meat. We are left with nothing but the bones, and a ghost of what it might have been. We have a vague impression of how we might have felt for it when it was alive, but we were never given the chance to know it.

It is a grave thing to lose one's love of reading. In this line of business -- making games -- it leaves us with a vile deficit. Our horizons become pinched at the edges, growing ever smaller. Perched in our rolling chairs in the wee hours, gorging ourselves on legal stimulants as we try to claw ourselves free from the bugs that clutch and gnaw at the edges of our creations, what windows do we have into the human condition, beyond those afforded us by the few like-minded creatures within rubber-band shooting range? Do we really know what it's like out there? Can we see with the eyes of the strangers on the morning train, and the hearts of the children drawing on the sidewalk with fat stumps of chalk?

We must open our blinds and let the words in, when we can. The time is there, if we remember where to look for it.

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Monday, August 22, 2005

Using Women to Advertise

I recently took two photos with my telephone in Central station in Sydney, Australia. They're crappy and low resolution, but you should get the general idea of what is depicted.

First, let's look at the Maxtor ad:

That's a woman, hugging a laptop. When I first saw this ad, I thought, "Wow, I don't think I've seen an ad more targeted to me in my entire life." I've definitely never seen an ad for a technological product which aimed so squarely at me.

Yet, nonetheless, though it's hard to tell from my low resolution mud, she's pretty cute. I can see her appealing to male viewers, as well. Either way, I felt damn sure Maxtor gives a damn about my money. Hell, I was even curious about their product.

Our second ad is for MAD Academy, a computer graphics school based in Australia:

Their website says, "MAD Academy graduates work in creative environments all over the world in game, TV, film and advertising production houses." All of the students profiled on the front page are men. With advertising like this, I don't think we can expect this to change anytime soon.

Why was this necessary? They're a graphics school. They could create all kinds of nice eye candy. This isn't even good looking.

We can put beautiful women in advertising without alienating half of the human species. Unfortunately, that requires more class than some people have.

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Thursday, August 18, 2005

The APA hits you for 1 point of damage

Today, the American Psychological Association decided that we shouldn't put violence in games marketed to children:

From the press release:
Based on an examination of the research that shows the negative influences of violence in interactive media on youth, the American Psychological Association (APA) today adopted a resolution recommending that all violence be reduced in video games and interactive media marketed to children and youth.

First of all, apparently, the APA doesn't keep up with current events. Second of all, I can't think of a single modern violent game that's rated less than Teen. The vast majority of games marketed towards children are, for the most part, far less violent than most of the cartoons I grew up with.

The APA goes on to recommend that we:
Develop and disseminate a content-based rating system that accurately reflects the content of the video games and interactive media.

Say, what a clever idea.

Now this recommendation is interesting:
Encourage the entertainment industry to link violent behaviors with negative social consequences.

I will, for the moment, set aside the disturbing echoes of the Comic Book Code in this recommendation, and instead bring up an old pet peeve of mine. For years, television stations in the US have had to edit blood, death and other consequences out of television programs that children or adolescents were likely to watch, because these things were deemed inappropriate for young viewers. This always annoyed me, because I felt that it was socially irresponsible on the part of the censors to allow untold amounts of empty gratuitous violence to play out on the screen, while at the same time, sheltering everyone from any of the the consequences of that violence. The American editors would -- I kid you not -- go so far as to edit new scenes into some Japanese shows, just to retcon the death of a deceased character. What the hell social good was this doing? Why hasn't the APA ever taken them to task about consequences?

However, the APA did say one thing I can get behind:
Teach media literacy to children so they will have the ability to critically evaluate interactive media.

I can't argue with this. Only, I would remove the word "interactive." Adults should be helping children develop the ability to critically evaluate all media. We could even develop a game...

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Wednesday, August 17, 2005

Haloscan commenting and trackback have been added to this blog.

I was rather hoping that Haloscan's clever automated Blogger converter would be so kind as to copy the old comments into the new system, but no such luck. I suppose I should've known better. I'll see if I can dig them up and copy them back in, soon.

Random News Roundup: Down on the Farm

Recent globe-trotter Bill Roper popped up in Leipzig this week, at the awkwardly named Games Convention Developer Conference. In his pre-conference keynote address, he had this to say:

"I'm going to get on my PC soapbox for a few minutes," he told attendees. "PC games are on the verge of a major market shift, as PC developers and publishers start to move from selling CDs of single-player games to retail outlets, to selling online games to those with broadband connections. We're already seeing primitive multi-platform games on the PC... Players want to get online and play."

Personally, I've never thought the PC platform was dead. If the larger game companies decide to ignore the PC, it doesn't matter. The fact is, the PC is the platform with the lowest barrier of entry for new developers. If the big guys ignore it, there will be dozens of smaller fish scrambling to take their place. A console's market penetration will always be dependent on the games available for it. PC market penetration is not dependent upon this. Moreover, PC hardware is not subject to the violent ebbs and flows of console hardware release cycles.

Well, that, and I'm a shameless PC gamer. Maybe I'm a little biased.

Fun with Scalpels

The British Heart Foundation has released a game in which you can perform heart surgery. Far from the Microsurgeon game I played on my Intellivision untold aeons ago, this is a little education Flash game that demonstrates various heart procedures, complete with a detailed set of surgical tools. Unfortunately, from a quick play-through, it doesn't seem that the gameplay is very challenging or deep. In fact, I'm not entirely sure how you can screw up, short of running out of time. I'm sure that they intended this to be fun and accessible for as wide an audience as possible, but I can't see many people over the age of six staying interested in it long enough to learn much.

Barney Backhoe

Bold Games is making two kids' titles based on the John Deere license. Yes, that's John Deere, all-American tractor manufacturer.

From the press release:
Bold Games’ new Welcome to Merriweather Farm game shows Johnny Tractor and his friends plowing, harvesting, and taking care of the animals on the farm, while Busy Days in Deerfield Valley features Danny Dozer, Barney Backhoe and friends hard at work digging, lifting, and helping out around town.

Now, believe it or not, I'm not posting this here to make fun of it. On the contrary, I've been wanting to see more construction-related games for kids. I think, if done properly, they can be very positive and educational. But more than that, kids -- even many girls -- are totally fascinated by construction. Many of the construction-related games that have been released so far have been problem-solving games. I think it'd also be good to create games where kids can actually, well, build things. Yeah, I know, crazy idea.

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Tuesday, August 16, 2005

Game Head: Sam Spade

As an exercise to stretch my brain, I often look at things in the world around me, and wonder, "How would I make this into a game?"

Chris Crawford has said:

"Verbs are all-important in game design. They are the allowed actions, the permissible commands that are available to the player. A good set of verbs allowes players to do everything they would need or want to do."

Last night, I watched "The Maltese Falcon." A Sam Spade game should be more than just punching and dialog trees. As I drifted off to sleep, I thought, if a player were Sam Spade, what verbs are available?

I quickly brainstormed a (partial) list:
Walk, mock, fast-talk, punch, slap, kiss, argue, threaten, smoke, flirt, confront, dirty-trick, demand...

Why on earth do I have smoking in there? Sam seems to smoke when he's flirting, or when he needs to calm his nerves. Sam is a passionate, very id-driven guy. Suppose Sam has a passion-meter. When he's arguing or feeling threatened or used in some way, his meter would go way up. When his passion meter is high, he's more likely to threaten, confront, punch, or slap someone. When his passion meter is low, he's more likely to mock, fast-talk, dirty-trick, or flirt. He kisses women, regardless of his spirits, though he seems most fond of going for the bracing, passionate kiss.

So, Sam is investigating his case, but the options available to him will vary by mood. A player can control his mood by the choices he or she makes. More than one approach is likely to get a player around a certain impasse, though there are a few dumb things you just don't want to do. Sam can mock and fast-talk the police, but it's a really bad idea to threaten them. One way the player can deal with this is to light up a cigarette when the cops show up, so Sam can mellow out, and not blow his top. Amusement also calms him down, so a little playful mockery may be in order, as well.

Are you angry Sam or rakish Sam? Or are you somewhere in-between?

Monday, August 15, 2005


At the prompting of a friend, I have decided to bite the bullet, and begin a blog about game development. Yes, yes, I already have a blog elsewhere, but I usually avoid talking shop there.

So, I may as well introduce myself:
Hello, I'm Tess. I'm the Lead Programmer for a small game development house in Australia. I'm not originally from Australia, but for some reason, they put up with me, anyway.

I am not a designer. I am also not a sociologist, a psychologist, an ethicist, an economist, a criminologist, a doctor, or a lawyer, but I am an insufferable know-it-all, so don't be surprised if I have something to say about these topics on occasion.

Mostly, I'll be talking about the game industry, game development, women in the industry, machinima, and game engineering. I will also occasionally be ruthlessly regurgitating material from other game development blogs, so I can comment on it at length, without crowding the spotlight. I will try to post something every day, when I can, but crunch time is crunch time.

So, kick your shoes off, while I put the kettle on. We've got some things to talk about.