This Week in Games: March 10, 2012
Phil Fish insults Japanese games, Peter Molyneux quits, the Assassin's Creed guy calls AAA games a "cancerous growth," and Jonathan Blow says you're doing it wrong. Plus Mass Effect 3, and a new iPad.
It was the Game Developers Conference in San Francisco this week. Everyone who's anyone in the field of game creation was in town to talk about the future of development, to look back at great moments from the past, and to celebrate the greatest achievements of the last year. You can watch our exclusive video of the Game Developers Choice Awards right here in the embedded video (it's an hour and 18 minutes long, just so you know). If you want to skip to the end…Spoiler Alert! The big winners were Skyrim (in the Game Developers Choice Awards) and Fez (in the Independent Games Festival).
The latter capped off an eventful few days for outspoken Fez creator Phil Fish, who made news when he said he thought modern Japanese games "just suck." Later that same night on Twitter, he clarified his position, saying "I'm sorry Japanese guy! I was a bit rough, but your country's games are f*** terrible nowadays."
"I'm sorry Japanese guy! I was a bit rough, but your country's games are f*** terrible nowadays." - Phil Fish
As you can tell, GDC is always great for some choice quotes and interesting news, and this year was no exception. Of note was something from Assassin's Creed 3 creative director Alex Hutchinson during his session "Designing Games to Sell," which came hot on the heels of his game's first trailer earlier this week. Hutchinson said he envisions two "dystopian" futures for the game industry. One, he said, is where the only games that sell are focused on analytics and are obsessed with making money. The other is what he described as a "massive arms race," where studios are "pushing for graphical fidelity and working on the sheer scale of games."
"We think about [this push] as kind of cancerous growth," he said, coining one of the most quotable comments of the event. "I think that will leave the AAA blockbusters as nothing more than the last of the dinosaurs." In other news, Hutchinson's employer confirmed that his upcoming AAA blockbuster Assassin's Creed 3 will ship for the Wii U this fall.
Speaking of Dinosaurs
During an unusual and suspiciously vague media event during GDC this week, EA announced the next installment of the venerable SimCity franchise, dubbed…wait for it…SimCity. Lucy Bradshaw, SVP at EA Maxis, commented, "It's been about ten years since we shipped the last true Maxis SimCity." There have been numerous reboots, rethinks, and throwbacks (like the awful version on iOS) since, but this is the real deal, it seems. After saying very little about the new game other than the fact that it would be released in 2013, EA then trotted out a series of "Game Changers" interviews featuring the likes of Davis Guggenheim, the director of the Academy Award-winning documentary An Inconvenient Truth, and Biz Stone, the co-founder of Twitter. Ironically, the prevailing sentiment on Twitter during the event was "WTF?"
If you're a fan of classic games, there were some awe-inspiring sessions during GDC that you can bask in the magnificence of if you have the time this weekend to watch our videos. First, Timothy Cain, the creator of the original Fallout, dicussed how his classic game was conceived and described it as "the game that almost never was." It was very nearly called Vault 13 rather than Fallout, and the Interplay marketing guys back in 1997 wanted to call it by the thoroughly unimaginative name Post Nuclear Adventure. Check out the full session here.
It was very nearly called Vault 13 rather than Fallout, and the Interplay marketing guys back in 1997 wanted to call it by the thoroughly unimaginative name Post Nuclear Adventure.
Gauntlet creator Ed Logg hosted a similar session in which he revealed that Gauntlet was inspired by both Dungeons & Dragons (like you couldn't guess) and the Atari 800 game Dandy, and that the whole thing was designed as a four-player game so that each individual cabinet could generate much more revenue than a typical arcade machine. His full session is right here.
If you love survival horror games, you should check out the GDC talk from Alone in the Dark creator Frederick Raynal, the man widely recognized as creating the genre many years before Resident Evil or Silent Hill. It is now 20 years since the first Alone in the Dark wowed PC gamers, but the conventions it established are still relevant today. You can check out the session here. Because of the live nature of the original content, you need to skip forward a little in this archive to get to the session. Raynal's talk begins at around the 13-minute mark.
Molyneux Quits, Inafune Teases, Cage Denies, Blow Says You're Doing It Wrong
Though not a GDC "event" of any kind, the week kicked off with the surprising news that Lionhead founder Peter Molyneux had left his job as creative director at Microsoft Game Studios' European division to work with a new, independent outfit. In a tweet, Molyneux stated, "I have left the lovely amazing Microsoft and Lionhead. Now for something really amazing, scary and brave a new company called 22 Cans."
Kara is not our next game. It's not the character, it's not the world, it's not the story. … We do things in a very strange way here, things that have nothing to do with the games we make.
Molyneux, creator of Dungeon Keeper and Populous, as well as the Xbox-exclusive role-playing game franchise Fable, co-founded Lionhead in 1997. He set up the studio after leaving Bullfrog, which he had founded 10 years earlier and sold to Electronic Arts in 1995. Lionhead produced the god game Black & White under his direction, as well as the first Fable game, before being acquired by Microsoft in 2006.
Elsewhere in the land of big names: Influential Mega Man designer Keiji Inafune said he is working on a new PlayStation Vita game. Well, he implied it. Speaking during a session titled "The Future of Japanese Games," Inafune said that new hardware pushes developers creatively, and he noted that he has been working on the PS Vita before stopping to note he wasn't supposed to talk about that. So. There you go.
Heavy Rain fans were thrilled by a new PlayStation 3 tech demo shown by Quantic Dream boss David Cage midweek. Much like the "casting" video that was released ahead of the studio's ambitious adventure last year, many assumed that the futuristic riff on character creation was a preamble for a sci-fi title in a similar mold to Heavy Rain. Not so!. "Kara is not our next game," Cage later stated. "It's not the character, it's not the world, it's not the story. … We do things in a very strange way here, things that have nothing to do with the games we make. But I think that's a part of the DNA of the studio, and hopefully something that people like about us--they never know what they're going to get!"
If, like us, you enjoy hearing Jonathan Blow talk about the trials and tribulations of game design, you'll love this interview in which he explains how mainstream game developers are getting it wrong, talks about whether games should actually be fun, and (in response to those comments from Phil Fish earlier) ponders the state of the Japanese games industry. Here's the full thing.
Weekly Next-Gen Wrap-Up
As promised last week, here's a quick wrap-up of the week's next-gen console news:
Remember all the fuss about the possibility of an Android-like (or 3DO-like) Steam box being revealed during GDC? Yeah, well that didn't happen. However, the company admitted it was building "boxes," but their immediate purpose was for testing the company's Steam Big Picture user interface mode. This new mode will let users play Steam games on a PC connected to a television. "We're always putting boxes together," Valve's Doug Lombardi said. "Going all the way back to the Half-Life 1 days, we built special boxes to test our software render…it's just part of development." Color us disappointed. Unhindered by this revelation, Valve also made news this past week for being worth a lot of money. Over $3 billion if Forbes is to be believed. To unearth Valve's worth, the magazine spoke with unnamed "industry insiders," equity analysts, investment bankers, and technology analysts. This makes Valve co-founder and managing director Gabe Newell one of the richest individuals on earth. Newell owns more than 50 percent of Valve, indicating a personal net worth of at least $1.5 billion.
"The beginning of the end for conventional consoles." - Neil Young, ngmoco
Following on from last week's news that Microsoft was showing the next Xbox to a handful of select developers, this week we learned that (contrary to previous reports) the new box will ditch optical media in favor of some sort of interchangeable solid-state card storage. It's not clear whether or not it will be proprietary or a common format like SD, but our bet is on the former.
In case you missed it, Apple released the new iPad this week, packing a more powerful processor, 4G connectivity, and a stunning 2048x1536 display for the same price as the iPad 2. Many of the developers in attendance at GDC were excited at the prospect of a new device that now packs power comparable to that of the Xbox 360. Ngmoco CEO Neil Young told us that it could signify "the beginning of the end for conventional consoles," noting that a new iPad streaming to a TV through Airplay offers a kind of experience that is perfectly adequate for the masses and that it would no doubt inform whatever the next generation of devices would strive for. Perhaps there's further credence to that Xbox tablet idea from a while ago?
Mass Effect 3 Was Released
For many of us the biggest deal of this past week was the release of Mass Effect 3. EA revealed that it shipped 3.5 million copies of the game this past week, and it was met with considerable critical acclaim. The title is currently enjoying a Metacritic score of 94, despite concerns from many gamers about its weak ending, and day-one DLC. There have also been some altercations around the game's homosexual content. For a deeper exploration of this, check out Kevin VanOrd's editorial on the subject.