I meant to post this last month during SXSW, but life got in the way:
Geneviève Cardin of Baroblik handed the above Guest Check to me after one of my two gaming panels, and I thought I'd post it for interested readers. I don't hear much about Alternate Reality Games and related interactives going on in non-English languages. Cardin is a French Canadian working on some interesting projects--right now, she's doing a billingual (English/French) ARG known as The Rivard Project. She permitted me to keep her email address in the above photo, and she's looking for ARG-makers in the Montreal area, so drop her a line if you can help.
For those without graphics support, here's a list of Cardin's projects:
Long-time readers of this blog will know how I loathe in-game advertising and how it is often rammed into games with ham-fisted clumsiness. This being said, I'm pleased to discover that in-game ads are coming to massively-multiplayer superhero games City of Heroes / City of Villiains (known as CoX in combination). Why am I pleased? Because those responsible for the move have obviously learned from past advertisers' mistakes and are being considerate of the players and the world they inhabit:
Ads will only be displayed in areas that had already featured fictional ads--not a major impact on the aesthetic of the game, and, arguably a method of increasing the world's "realism"
Most importantly, players can turn the ads off.
Players have been invited to submit their own advertisements for inclusion in the world. Great move, getting the players involved and feeling ownership over their environment--players are probably less likely to turn off ads this way
Ad revenue will bankroll further development of the subscription-based game rather than simply make the publisher richer.
Andrei Petrov wrote in to tell me that GameCamp Toronto 2 will be held Saturday, May 3, 2008 at the Bahen Centre for Information Technology. Billed as "Toronto's game development showcase," the free event is aimed at "indie game developers, professionals and aspiring students." I'm sure the organizers didn't mean to suggest that "indie" and "professional" are mutually-exclusive terms.
I didn't attend GameCamp 1, but Ryan Creighton did, and posted a brutally honest review about his experience. Here's hoping that the GameCamp folks learned something from their debut event--I already know they're trying to do a better job of publicity, which suggests they're aware of the earlier problems and are trying to correct them. Nothing wrong with errors if they teach you something.
The film is satirical in tone, but actually, worlds like Second Life which allow user-created content and real/virtual currency exchange are viable places for hiring out "sweatshop" labor, depending on what sort of work product you're looking for.
So-called "camping chairs," which pay Second Life users to linger in specific locations (known as "camping" in gamer parlance), pay a very low wage to workers in North America and Europe, but could actually provide a decent income in some countries. A few years ago, the New York Times reported that most Chinese gold farmers make under $0.25 USD per hour. The sweatshop featured in Invisible Threads pays in virtual currency equivalent to $0.90 USD hourly.
Indie warlord Jim Munroe informed his mailing list today that his Artsy Games Incubator is holding an open house in Toronto at the Mobile Experience Lab on Wed. April 23rd at 7pm. Writes Jim, "there'll be short presentations of the games we made using accessible tools... we're also inviting people in the indie games community at large to bring their games-in-progress to demo -- and no, you don't have to identify as an artist." Yes, but how do we define "indie?" And what if I'm not indie but I'm making an artsy game?
The third installment of the Toronto Game Jam was announced to mailing list members today. Registration is now open for the frantic game-making event, which runs May 9 - 11, 2008. From the call-out: "It's FREE and open to anyone in the world with a modicum of game making ability. Coders! Artists! Designers! Musicians! All are welcome." Sounds like fun, if you can stay up for 72 hours straight.
Lastly, the Second Skin virtual world documentary will make its Toronto debut on April 21 and 23. I make a 15-second appearance in the film, so I'm totally biased when I insist that you go see it--more importantly, help the filmmakers get the word out to local media so that the uninitiated flock to the film in droves.
Nothing to do at the airport right now except wait for the bar to open and blog, so here goes: I'm on my way back home from the 2008 Virtual Worlds Conference held in Manhattan. Overall, I think it was a worthwhile trip--next year will be more so once Phantom Compass is able to talk about and demo some of its projects.
Meeting the people behind the avatars. Some extremely friendly and fun gatherings.
1,200 attendees compared to 400 last year. Impressive.
Huge, mainstream business interest in virtual worlds, social spaces, casual games this year. It seemed like there were lots of potential clients in the crowd for those working in VWs and related industries.
Major interest in VWs for kids from numerous parties.
Sponsored panels resulted in a lack of diverse and interesting viewpoints. I didn't pay $600 watch an infomercial.
Weak moderation in most panels--to quote Star Wars, "Stay on target... stay on target..."
Weak speakers in more panels than I would have liked--unfocused, self-promotional, dull. Boooo.
Same speakers on multiple panels (in a few cases). There's no good reason for this.
Beginner-level subject-matter in most panels. Nothing for pros to do here except network.
Most players in the kiddie-world space aren't doing anything interesting. Everyone's building consumer-driven, status-based spaces--buy your way up the social ladder.
Despite the low points, it's likely I'll go again next year. Definitely to the meetups if not the conference itself. I'll be interested to see how VWC evolves--will attendance continue to grow? For the next year or two, almost definitely. Beyond that, who knows. This internet thing is just a crazy fad.
Alignment: True Neutral A true neutral character does what seems to be a good idea. He doesn't feel strongly one way or the other when it comes to good vs. evil or law vs. chaos. Most true neutral characters exhibit a lack of conviction or bias rather than a commitment to neutrality. Such a character thinks of good as better than evil after all, he would rather have good neighbors and rulers than evil ones. Still, he's not personally committed to upholding good in any abstract or universal way. Some true neutral characters, on the other hand, commit themselves philosophically to neutrality. They see good, evil, law, and chaos as prejudices and dangerous extremes. They advocate the middle way of neutrality as the best, most balanced road in the long run. True neutral is the best alignment you can be because it means you act naturally, without prejudice or compulsion. However, true neutral can be a dangerous alignment because it represents apathy, indifference, and a lack of conviction.
Race: Elves are known for their poetry, song, and magical arts, but when danger threatens they show great skill with weapons and strategy. Elves can live to be over 700 years old and, by human standards, are slow to make friends and enemies, and even slower to forget them. Elves are slim and stand 4.5 to 5.5 feet tall. They have no facial or body hair, prefer comfortable clothes, and possess unearthly grace. Many others races find them hauntingly beautiful.
Class: Sorcerers are arcane spellcasters who manipulate magic energy with imagination and talent rather than studious discipline. They have no books, no mentors, no theories just raw power that they direct at will. Sorcerers know fewer spells than wizards do and acquire them more slowly, but they can cast individual spells more often and have no need to prepare their incantations ahead of time. Also unlike wizards, sorcerers cannot specialize in a school of magic. Since sorcerers gain their powers without undergoing the years of rigorous study that wizards go through, they have more time to learn fighting skills and are proficient with simple weapons. Charisma is very important for sorcerers; the higher their value in this ability, the higher the spell level they can cast.
Probably someone out there's already mentioned this, but the Google Docs spreadsheet application shares a few features with virtual worlds. I've been using the Google Docs quite a bit lately to work with my distributed team, and the spreadsheet seems to really shine in terms of worldy potential. Here are the features:
Controlled multi-user environment: Simultaneous usage by multiple persons. Access is controlled by the person who created the spreadsheet--users can be set as collaborators or just viewers.
Presence indicators: All users sharing the spreadsheet are informed of the presence of others in the form of a chat window, temporary notifications, and a mobile avatar (see next point).
Real-time text chat: Plus voice if you use Skype.
Unique, mobile avatars: Each user is represented by a uniquely-colored outline on an individual spreadsheet cell. A simple avatar, but distinct, and user-controlled. It can move around the spreadsheet.
Spatial relationships between users: My avatar can be beside, above, or below yours.
User-generated content: All Google gives you is a blank spreadsheet. The users add the content. I don't think it's possible to add proper graphics to a spreadsheet, but it is possible to color a cell and to add colored text to a cell. It is also possible to lock rows and columns, which could provide a visual effect.
Dynamic content: It's a spreadsheet, so it's possible to put formulas into cells which rely upon and affect other cells.
Inhabitable zones: A spreadsheet can have multiple pages ("sheets"), allowing users in the same spreadsheet to occupy distinct areas--each area is visible only as a tab until clicked, allowing a mild degree of privacy, and a sense of "travel" between sheets.
Persistent world: A Google spreadsheet endures over time--it is a "live," changeable, but persistent environment which remembers its state after the users have logged out.
Communication with outside world: Users can opt to be notified by email when the spreadsheet has been changed, on a global, sheet, or cellular level. I believe a Google Doc can also be embedded in a web page.
Certainly a Google spreadsheet is not a fabulous virtual world, but I see potential for socializing and play there. The barriers to entry are definitely very low, and content creation is easy, too.
[Update1: added real-time chat to the list. Update2: added spatiality to the list.]
As I mentioned during a recent SXSW panel, one of the shortcomings of MMOs is a lack of meaningful personal history (i.e. the world doesn't remember you). Sean Duncan provides earlier thoughts on a similar note, quoting a piece by a WoW Insider writer.
Matteo Bittanti: "There is a growing interest in capturing the essence of gameplay as a performance, gameplay as it is manifested on the faces and bodies of 'those who play'..." I'm thinking about game-faces as unconscious storytelling devices...
Handsome, fit men in brightly-colored tights. What's not gay about 'City of Heroes?' Blurb about indie forum catering to CoH's GLBT community (a community officially recognized and supported by the game's publisher).
From the abstract for Jeremy Douglas' dissertation on Interactive Fiction: "...aesthetic and technical developments in IF... are analyzed in terms of language... narrative theory... game studies / ludology... and filmic representation..."
Imprisonment and in-world punishment as a recurring story in MMOs. Proposition: Let's put troublemakers in prison. Response: I'd do crimes just to see what prison was like. See: Second Life cornfield .
Garneau: "What’s the subtext of your game? What is it really about?" A good question for designers, but a better one posed to players. An easier question to answer for simpler video games--Pac Man is easier to explain than Paper Mario, isn't it?
I'm about a hundred internet-years late on this 24-hour-old story, but here it is: Linden Lab founder Philip Rosedale will step down as the company's CEO, becoming full-time Chairman of the Board. In an official blog post about the transition, Rosedale wrote that he will "focus on product strategy and vision, continuing to design the right kind of company, and being an effective communicator and evangelist about Second Life."
I'm not really qualified to comment on Rosedale's move (I'm no business analyst), except to note that it follows Linden Lab's long-time CTO Cory Ondrejka's departure from the company late last year due to philosophical differences. It's curious that a replacement for Rosedale wasn't secured before the announcement--the choice of a new CEO will say a lot about the future direction of Second Life as a technology and social platform.