Winner of new contest will get to develop major game, designer says.
SAN FRANCISCO — Last week at the Game Developers Conference, I met up with Dave Perry, the designer who oversaw the creation of classic gaming character Earthworm Jim and made the most commercially successful “Matrix” games. He left the company he founded, Shiny Entertainment, last year, and I wanted to know what he was up to. There’s a lot, and none of it is what I would have expected.
He’s working on an “American Idol” video game, a wide-ranging talent-search-and-audition process that will crown an amateur as the developer of a major game. “One thing that happens a lot is I get e-mails from people saying ’Hey, here is a game design. How do I get this game design turned into a game?’ ” Perry explained. He tried one solution, creating a Wikipedia page where people could freely brainstorm and collaborate on game ideas (check it out right here.)
Then he decided he could make a game — and contest — out of it, which Perry’s calling the endeavor “Project: Top Secret” (the game is yet-untitled). He’s put out a call online for volunteers to collaborate online to create a game. He’s expecting 100,000 volunteers, about 100-200 of whom will become the core team. And here’s a prize to the person who shines brightest: “We’re going to take that guy and give him his own fully funded game to direct,” Perry said. “It’s the same thing as ’American Idol,’ and even better than the ’Apprentice’ prize, quite frankly. It’s the same as saying, ’Here’s a movie,’ to someone who wants to be a movie director. … There’s actually more to it. I’ll stick around [to consult].”
That’s one off-the-wall idea. Perry has more. These days he’s championing games for girls and has high hopes for the online game “Dance!,” which he’s directing for Acclaim. “It would be so much easier for me to go do a first-person shooter right now than it is to do a dancing game,” he said. “But I think that is a great experiment to see if we can get girls to show up.”
Perry said he’s directing six online games right now, three of which he’s making from scratch. “Full MMOs, my own design, doing what I want to do using interesting licensing or clever things that I think are going to be fun,” he said.
He’s also made a map that he describes as his “gift to the video game industry.” The goal of the online map is to include a pushpin for every game-development studio, and every games-related college and hospital that accepts game donations in the world. So far he has the U.S. pretty marked up (go here to see for yourself).
A guy that keeps busy like Dave Perry is also a guy with strong opinions. He’s too involved with too much stuff to not feel like he’s in the know. So listen up. He says game consoles will be done with discs maybe by PlayStation 4, but definitely by PS5.
“Trust me, the days of sticking discs into your machines and buying little cartridges those days are nearly over,” he said. It’s all online now. “The question is if the next generation of consoles is going to have a slot in them. The reality is, if it’s not this one [that abandons disc-based games], it’s definitely the next one. And that’s the end of it. We’ll be online only.”
He also thinks top-quality games may soon be free. That’s a convenient argument, given that Acclaim — the company he’s making all his games with — supports the popular Korean model of computer games that are free to play and that only charge players money to buy bonus in-game items. But Perry talks it up with a pretty clear vision.
Knowing all Perry’s activities and opinions, is it surprising that he has two business cards? They’re not for anything mentioned above. One card, shorter than the standard, is for his company Game Investors. Another, which is metal and shaped like an Xbox 360 controller, is for his company Game Consultants.
To keep track of all things Dave Perry, and to try to keep up with him, go to DPerry.com.
— Stephen Totilo
The Stock Report:
Once a week, Multiplayer provides a Stock Report that should give you a sense of what actually is streaming into the office and how companies are trying to grab our attention:
· Number of games at MTV HQ: 274
· Last three games to arrive: “Carol Vorderman’s Sudoku” (PSP), “Shining Force EXA” (PS2) and “2KSports College Hoops NCAA 2K7″ (PS3)
· Last system to arrive: PS3
· Last swag to arrive: 30 GB iPod to thank us for covering 2K Sports games and preview the “MLB 2K7″ soundtrack (we’re sending it back when we’re done)
Multiplayer: Peter Molyneux Talks Dogs, Love — And Being ’Dumb’
Game designer wants to make players genuinely care about playing ’Fable 2.’
SAN FRANCISCO — I didn’t say Xbox 360 game maker Peter Molyneux had been dumb. He did.
Last week at the Game Developers Conference, he and I sat down for about 10 minutes to discuss the first of the big three ideas he’s come up with for his development team’s upcoming Xbox 360 adventure game “Fable 2.” We talked about a virtual dog, one that will follow the player’s hero throughout the adventure, showing an unconditional love that Molyneux hopes will grip players and make them do something they’ve never really done before with a game: genuinely care.
I wanted to know where this was coming from. Molyneux, who is the head of the Microsoft-owned Lionhead Studios in England, has been making games professionally for about two decades, leading development teams to critical and commercial hits such as “Populous,” “Black & White” and the first “Fable.” He’s known for talking about all kinds of big ideas and interesting gimmicks. He’s always ready to suggest a new set of details that could make his next game the next big thing. But he never talked about caring before. He’d never bandied the word “love” around when talking about what he wants players to feel when they play his games. What woke him up?
“Partly it’s a realization of how dumb I’ve been as a games designer,” he told me. “I’ve been feature-led.” He explained how sequels usually get made: “You kind of come up with a shopping list of feature after feature. … It’s more of this and more of those, bigger ones of these and shinier ones of those. And at the end of the day that shopping list would do, but really and truly, if I really wanted to make a game that made a difference — that changed something — what should I be adding? It’s more than that shopping list.”
Molyneux’s new ingredient had to be love. He wanted that in the new “Fable.” Like the first game, which debuted on Xbox, the sequel for the 360 will let players choose their path as they become a hero of medieval times. Players will start their character as a kid, letting their moral and social choices shape the look and appearance of their character as they grow up.
As in the first game, players can get their character married — multiple times, to people of the same or opposite gender. “I want to allow people to be who they want to be,” Molyneux says when pausing to explain the choice to allow same-sex marriages, something the first game did as well but that most games don’t. “Obviously there have to be limits here: foot fetishes are not going to be catered for in ’Fable 2.’ There need to be limits in where we go to.
The key to caring might have been the kids that come from the straight marriages. But there’s a couple of problems with kids. For one: “You have to go visit your family, and that was a big problem. I wanted you to feel emotion in different places in the world. So it had to be something else.” Two: “It couldn’t be a person. People have agendas. They don’t really exhibit unconditional love. Children do … for a while. And then they develop a little bit older and they don’t.” So he decided on a dog, a faithful companion that will be with the player almost every step of the adventure.
Molyneux promises that the dog won’t be a nuisance. Players don’t have to worry about controlling it. It will walk, run or stay put when the hero does. It will attack enemies only when the player is attacking and won’t spoil the adventure by scoring the big kills for itself. It can get wounded, and it will limp to its owner for help, but it can be ditched if it becomes unwelcome. It will change in form to match the gamer’s style of play, turning more Doberman if the player goes evil. It will dash toward points of interest, eliminating the need for an onscreen map. The dog will, ideally, be a companion the player cares about and whose fate from game day to game day will elicit a real, emotional response. And it will be smart. The creature from Lionhead’s 2006 game “Black and White 2″ made the Guinness World Records for most advanced artificial intelligence in a game. Of the “Fable 2″ dog, Molyneux says, “This is 100 times more complex and more interesting.”
Molyneux’s pitch is that he’s scrapping his old ways to focus on this grand new gaming concept of love and affection. When pressed, he says he’s doing it because he doesn’t believe his own hype. “I’ve been in this industry a long time now and I’ve been lucky enough to make some games that have sold very well. And people have turned around to me and they’ve said, ’I really respect you. You’ve done some fantastic games.’ My first emotion is feeling guilty and thinking, ’I haven’t really, have I?’ “
That guilt fuels him. “It’s that building up,” he said. “I really want to make a great game, and how am I going to do that?”
Molyneux’s dog is the first of three big ideas he will be revealing about “Fable 2″ over the next several months. The game isn’t expected to be released until next year.
— Stephen Totilo
Multiplayer: Penny Arcade’s Tycho Talks Hype, Decorating Virtual Apartment
’We are trying our best to make a game that is not annoying,’ Jerry Holkins says of site’s upcoming RPG.
SAN FRANCISCO — What turns more heads on the show floor of the Game Developers Conference than an MTV News microphone? Jerry Holkins does.
The gamer/cartoonist/blogger is better known to his millions of fans at Penny-Arcade.com as Tycho. And even though he appears on that site as a cartoon character with hair, people recognized his bald head at GDC on Friday and flocked over to greet him.
Holkins was in town with Joel DeYoung, chief operating officer of Hothead Games, to discuss their collaboration on the upcoming episodic role-playing adventure game “Penny Arcade Adventures: On the Rain-Slick Precipice of Darkness.” We talked about the game and other GDC matters while gawkers gathered and a guy who calls himself the Game Jew and wears Mario overalls conducted an interview behind us. We were in the heart of … something.
Holkins and his site partner, Mike “Gabe” Krahulik, have always been frank about what they don’t like about new games. That played a role in MTV News dubbing them two of the 10 most influential gamers of all time (see “Playa Rater: The 10 Most Influential Video Gamers Of All Time”). So I was certain Holkins had a ready-made list of pitfalls he wanted his first video game to avoid. Well, not quite. “If you’re asking me whether or not I hope we make a good game, then yes, we are trying our best to make a game that is not annoying, that is not a pain in the ass, that can be played through in a reasonable time and is enjoyable from the beginning to the end,” he said.
I suggested that most developers had similar goals. He replied, laughing: “I would be surprised if that were the case.”
Holkins and DeYoung wouldn’t say much about the game. They promised a trailer will be released this week. Holkins mentioned the game wouldn’t have random battles from unseen enemies, an old RPG staple many think is passé. And Holkins promised the game wouldn’t be for the kids. “We expect to earn our M-rating very handily with that one.”
He had a question for me, wanting to ask about “Super Paper Mario,” a Wii game that has emerged as something of a surprise. The game hadn’t been playable anywhere outside of Nintendo until GDC, just a month prior to its April 9 release. I hadn’t played it. That got us talking about hype cycles, and whether a game not being playable for the press until just a month before release is a good thing or not. It turns out the topic would come out of GDC in other ways, when game developer Denis Dyack recorded a podcast with the editors of Electronic Gaming Monthly. (Listen to the podcast here.) “You can simply run out of enthusiasm even for something you’re really looking forward to,” Holkins said.
Holkins hadn’t spent much time on the show floor, which would attract a small gang of autograph-seekers and photo-takers as the interview wound down. He and DeYoung were taking meetings all week. What word did seep through was about Sony’s newly announced virtual world, PlayStation Home, which left Holkins, a PS3 skeptic, bowled over (see “Sony Unveils Big PS3 Secret: Gamers Get To Go ’Home’ “). “We were super-impressed,” he said. “Basically they had a hardware launch for Christmas, but it almost seems like the philosophy of the product isn’t really being executed until a full year later.” He’s already dreaming of his virtual PS3 apartment: “I can see us doing micro-transactions and purchasing a [virtual] Sony Bravia for our house. They’re going to make money hand over fist.”
As we wrapped, the Game Jew wandered off. The MTV mic got packed up. And the line of people who wanted to talk to Jerry Holkins, one of the most influential gamers out there, got a little bit bigger.
— Stephen Totilo
Multiplayer: Nintendo’s Miyamoto On One-Handed ’Mario,’ Miis In ’Zelda’
Designer also has philosophical message for MTV audience.
SAN FRANCISCO — The ground rules were weird: I could interview the most respected game developer in the world, Nintendo’s Shigeru Miyamoto, last week at the Game Developers Conference, but I couldn’t ask him any questions about the future. Nintendo reps said an impending stock offering prevented company employees from making any forward-looking statements.
So last Friday I met up with Miyamoto wondering how we’d avoid talking about the future. I’ve interviewed him a few times already, and we’ve covered plenty of issues about the past. I wasn’t interested in the standard Nintendo boilerplate about creating the DS and the Wii to encourage innovation. I’d heard that all before.
When I entered the hotel conference room, he was waiting with Bill Trinen, the head of game localization at Nintendo of America and the man who usually translates for Miyamoto. Miyamoto was eating some ice cream. Maybe we could talk about that?
I’d read a comment from Miyamoto that I was curious about. In an interview on the official Nintendo site he said: “I remember saying more than a 10 years ago that people who want to play ’Mario’ with one hand needn’t play it at all.” These days, Miyamoto is a champion of games like “Wii Sports” that can be played almost entirely with one hand. Has his thinking changed?
“A lot of people who at that time were saying they wanted to play ’Mario’ with one hand were really talking about wanting to lie down and with one hand just play ’Mario,’ or play ’Mario’ with one hand while doing something else,” he said. “My intent was: I created ’Mario’ to be this world where you connect with the TV screen and enter this world as Mario. … So what I was saying is that if you wanted to play ’Mario’ as something to do on the side, then I really don’t think you need to play ’Mario.’ “
I was ready to move on, but he had something to add: “If there was, say, a ’Mario’ game you could play with one hand that was still an immersive world where you could make that connection, I think that would be fine. But even with ’Mario Galaxy,’ which we’ll be releasing this year, it’s still a two-hand game.”
I cast for something random and, surprisingly, got a bite. I wanted to know if Nintendo had considered incorporating the popular Nintendo Wii player avatars, the Miis, into the console’s launch title, “The Legend of Zelda: Twilight Princess.” “The ’Twilight Princess’ team [has completed] development,” Miyamoto said. “With the popularity of the Miis, they’ve been having fun just fiddling around with Miis in the ’Twilight Princess’ engine. This is something our development teams do all the time once they get done with a game and start thinking about other ideas. It’s kind of funny because you can see Miis running around in the [’Zelda’] world of Hyrule, but there’s no telling that would ever actually come to fruition. It’s just our team members having fun and taking off some stress after a tough development cycle.”
We talked about the feeling at Nintendo these days and whether Miyamoto has rewarded himself at all for the company’s accomplishments. You can see his responses in the video that is linked to above. Usually I end interviews by asking the interviewee if there’s anything else they’d like the MTV audience to know. That tends to elicit answers that plug products one last time, often with a focus on music. Miyamoto, however, decided to answer with a forward-looking statement about life:
“I’d always been told growing up as a young child that America is a country that always is taking on new challenges, and that is something Nintendo has been doing. My feeling is that the more you take on a new challenge and the more you sacrifice in trying to accomplish that new challenge and the more hardship you experience trying to overcome that challenge, the more that you grow as a person. Really, I like the idea of trying to do things differently from other people. My advice to the MTV audience would be, don’t just continue to pursue the same fads that everyone else is doing. See what you personally can create and what you personally can bring to the world instead of following down the path that everyone else seems to be following. The more you can step off that path and be your own person, the more you’re going to grow and the more that you can experience in the world.”
— Stephen Totilo
Multiplayer: Is It Really A Game? Sony Exec Answers PS3 Home Questions
Phil Harrison opens up about new virtual world.
SAN FRANCISCO — At the Game Developers Conference, I twice attended a presentation given by Sony Computer Entertainment Worldwide Studios President Phil Harrison about the PlayStation 3’s new virtual world, Home. Harrison gave the speech to the media Tuesday night and delivered it again to a few thousand GDC attendees Wednesday morning at the Moscone Center. And then he and I sat down for 10 minutes to talk about what he left out.
Some of our conversation went rapid-fire. I asked him Home questions about outdoor locations, cars, motion control, connections to the PSP and the number of PS3 users that will fit into the service’s various virtual rooms.
We also talked about where the service came from, what it used to be like a couple of years ago and what the point of it really is.
The PlayStation Home service, which launches in the fall, will drop each Internet-connected PS3 user into a virtual world split into lobbies for meeting people and player-private apartments for hanging out with friends.
Players can add trophies to a hall of fame, marking their accomplishments in the PS3 games they’ve played. That made the service sound a little like a game to me, something in which players will be competing to have the best stuff. But Home also lets people simply hang out and watch videos together in virtual movie theaters. That sounded like a non-game, like “Second Life.”
So I asked Harrison, how much of a game is it? “We don’t want it to be a game in the traditional competing sense where you are going to be playing and beating or battling the users,” he said. “We want it to be a very social space that encourages community creation, social interaction and offers a springboard for you to then go and play games.”
I wanted to know where this service was made and how it came about. The biggest ideas in game consoles have long come from Japan (birthplace of Nintendo concepts and the PlayStation brand) or America (home of the Atari and the Xbox). Harrison is based in London, where he’s been champion to such unusual successes as the karaoke PlayStation series “SingStar” and the game-show game “Buzz!,” which uses a buzzer instead of a controller. Sure enough, the unconventional Home has roots in the U.K. “The 3-D experience is being developed in London, but it’s based on some core technologies from both Tokyo and San Diego,” Harrison said. “So it’s actually one of our most interesting global collaboration projects.”
It also turns out that Home wasn’t always going to be for the PS3. “It actually started life as PlayStation 2 and was going to be a way of creating a very simple 3-D lobby system that could connect a bunch of games together,” Harrison said. “And then when we started to explore it and realized the power of it, we thought actually this should be a platform initiative and this is something we should bring to all PlayStation 3 games and all PlayStation 3 users.”
I would later hear grumblings from some independent game developers who think PlayStation Home looks too clean, too corporate, too cold and lacking in charm. When I was talking to Harrison, my reservations were more specific. To pick one out, I asked him about the prospect of linking up with a friend over PlayStation Home and sitting our avatars down together in a virtual movie theater to watch a movie clip downloaded from the PlayStation store. Why wouldn’t we just watch the video directly on our TVs? Why mess with watching it in a virtual theater?
“We’ve actually experimented with this and it’s quite compelling to be stood with your character in front of a video wall talking about what you’re watching,” he said. “That combination of community and content merged together into the same experience is actually really quite fascinating. And we’re not entirely sure where it’s going to go yet, but it’s a very positive start.”
At a meeting of game bloggers on Thursday, Harrison spilled a little bit more. He revealed that the avatars in Home will have no collision detection, meaning they’ll probably walk straight through each other. This would limit the “griefing” of one person bumping another person around, which happens in some online worlds. He said he wanted to reveal much more but held his tongue. Announcements will come in the spring and then in July, he promised. The doors to Home will be opened one at a time.
— Stephen Totilo
About this column: The average gamer doesn’t have the time or cash to experience one-tenth of the games that come out every week. Collectively, the MTV News team does — and then some. With games streaming into the office each day, we see a lot, we play a lot and we remember a lot. We want to tell you what we’re playing and what’s worth caring about it, and we’ll do it every day at MTV News: Multiplayer. To follow the column daily, bookmark multiplayer.mtv.com.