# CLICKABLE CULTURE WEBLOG #
(TEXT-ONLY VERSION)
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Onward and Upward
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by Tony Walsh on September 3, 2008 @ 9:57 pm
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I've been blogging for 9 years this month. Well, maybe 8 considering I haven't posted much since my baby arrived. She's a year old now, and her blog has withered as well.

Here's the deal: I'm not likely going to be posting at Clickable Culture any more. Instead, I'll be moving the conversation to the Phantom Compass blog, where I'll be talking less about myself, and more about the kinds of things my game-making company is up to and interested in. On the plus side, you'll get less navel-gazing meandering. On the minus side, you'll get less navel-gazing meandering.

Hey, if it's meandering you want, I do it 140 characters at a time on Twitter.

Longer-term, I'll be migrating on-topic entries and articles from Clickable Culture over to the Phantom Compass blog, but plan to keep the rest of the Clickable Culture content right where it is. Comments will be locked on the older material eventually.

Thanks for your patronage over the years, I'm not dead, I'm just running a company :)

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Spam Headline Uncovers ‘Productive Play’ Dungeon
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by Tony Walsh on August 26, 2008 @ 11:13 am
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Got the following spam email today:

"BREAKING NEWS: Video Game Designer Forces Children to Play Mini-Game for Lunch Money"

At first I thought it was an auto-generated email, but then I searched for the phrase on Google and found the real article (or a copy of the real article). Summary: Game designer tests out game mechanics on his family members.
"Mr. Neil's wife says he finally crossed the line when he made their children put the families CD's back into their proper CD cases in order to earn lunch money for the day. The task had to be accomplished before the school bus arrived at 7:30 a.m."
Evil taskmaster, that Mr. Neil.

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ScreenBurn at SXSW Game Design Competition
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by Tony Walsh on August 19, 2008 @ 12:10 pm
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I've joined the SXSW ScreenBurn advisory board for a third year, and will be helping with the public panel selection process. This year, ScreenBurn seems to be wrapped a little tighter into the Interactive component of the festival, and is bound to get more exposure as a result.

ScreenBurn announced its first game design competition yesterday, aimed at "emerging designers," who merely have to write and package/present a 200-word pitch for their game. The contest opened yesterday. Semi-finalists will be announced in mid-January 2009. These semi-finalists will then construct a 3-minute slideshow presentation that graphically illustrates their concept. Finalists will be chosen to present at the event after the jury reviews these slideshow presentations. There is no fee to enter the Game Design Competition, however, each person may only submit two proposals.

Wish I could play along, I've got a back pocket bursting with ideas. Oh, wait. Those aren't ideas...

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More iPhone Gestures, Please
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by Tony Walsh on July 21, 2008 @ 9:25 pm
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Despite being a surprisingly liberating piece of technology (in terms of getting me away from my desk where I can actually think about things), I'm still grouchy over a handful of iPhone oversights. Number one at the moment--the stunning lack of a copy/paste feature. Which leads to a few related thoughts:

1) Why does the iPhone, a mini-computer, insist on pretending its just a phone?
2) Let's please have a toggle between "Power User" and "Hapless N00b."
3) More iPhone gestures, please.

I get that the screen is small. I get that there aren't supposed to be buttons all over the place. But for us interactive-literate types, why not provide another layer of functionality? For example, at least one iPhone app I've heard of erases something when the phone is shaken gently back and forth. Nice. More gestures, please. And not cop-outs like plain old sliding or dragging, either. Here's my proposal for copy/paste:

Put your finger on the thing you want to copy, keep your finger down, and draw a "C" shape. The thing is copied. Then, put your finger where you want to paste the thing you copied and draw a "V" shape. The thing is pasted with a couple finger-flicks. Was that so hard? Christ.

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Free iPhone Games Are Awful:  Strategy?
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by Tony Walsh on July 18, 2008 @ 4:27 pm
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Nearly every one of the dozen or so free iPhone games I've downloaded and tried are just plain awful. Most are barely games at all, or are simply slight variations on classic (boring) games such as Pong or Simon.

I had (seemingly incorrectly) understood there was some sort of quality bar that Apple set for its first round of developers. Clearly the bar was set very, very low. I don't understand the strategy here: my entire outlook on iPhone games and small developers is now tainted. Why pay for a game if the free ones are terrible? Is Apple trying to boost the major brands by allowing this indie crap into the App Store? Confused. Disappointed.

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Electric Sheep Builds Its Own Flock
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by Tony Walsh on July 17, 2008 @ 9:49 am
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TechCrunch reports on the release of WebFlock, a hosted, in-browser virtual world service offered by The Electric Sheep Company. Formerly Second Life-obsessed (weren't we all at one point), the company brought a number of major brands into the overhyped virtual world (such as Major League Baseball, LEGO, and Starwood Hotels). Now, the Sheep have cut out the middle-world by starting up their own.

Because WebFlock is Flash based, it's accessible by over 90% of the web browsers out there: in other words, everyone can get in easily (unlike the recently-launched Google Lively, which requires a large plugin download and only runs on Windows-based PCs running Internet Exploder). Gotta like low barriers to entry.

Sheep CEO Sibley Verbeck reportedly puts the price of basic private-world hosting at "under $100,000" for a year of service. Well out of the range of any but rich corporations. Showtime is coughing up for the service, bringing an extension of its L-Word TV property to WebFlock after a successful splash in Second Life. I suspect many major brands will follow suit, as controlled spaces are much more attractive than "anything goes" sandboxes.

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Phantom Compass Partners With IT GlobalSecure
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by Tony Walsh on July 8, 2008 @ 4:38 pm
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I'm happy to announce that my company Phantom Compass has partnered with IT GlobalSecure to offer security features integrated from the ground up into our digital and cross-media games. Phantom Compass is in the business of "productive play," and with IT GlobalSecure, we're going to be able to offer our clients and end-users expertly-crafted safeguards against hacking and exploitation. What's the good of a "serious" game if it hasn't accounted for security? From the press release:
Social gaming is growing rapidly and faces increasing security challenges: educational games include high scores that can be hacked, advergames and social games collect sensitive personal and demographic information, and many games need secure payment processing. The partnership between Phantom Compass and IT GlobalSecure brings the best in innovative game design and security to our clients and their customers.
Thanks to IT GlobalSecure's Steven Davis (author of the fantastic Play No Evil blog) for his support. With IT Global Secure, my company can offer a level of secure game data and systems design that other boutique developers aren't even thinking about, let alone capable of offering.

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EA Grabs Your ‘Spore Creature Creator’ IP
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by Tony Walsh on June 28, 2008 @ 2:35 pm
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Talk about harshing my buzz. Electronic Arts is going to let us design creatures with its long-awaited Spore game and stand-alone Creature Creator, but in using the game and creator, we agree to hand over all rights in our creations to the megalithic publisher, including the right to "further modify" the creations. So much for using Spore as a sketchpad for creature concepts.

In my legally-ignorant view, EA should have no IP rights in how I assemble the building blocks it supplies. That's like LEGO claiming ownership over everything we build, or Adobe claiming ownership over images run through Photoshop. The way I see it, creature designers are creating new IP with a tool set they paid for--why should we give EA our work, except for the exclusive purpose of sharing with other creature creators in the way the game was designed?

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Where Is Dr. Horrible’s Blog?
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by Tony Walsh on June 26, 2008 @ 5:45 pm
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Joss Whedon's latest side-project appears to be a made-for-the-internet musical romp about "a low-rent super-villain, the hero who keeps beating him up, and the cute girl from the laundromat he’s too shy to talk to." It's called Dr. Horrible's Sing-Along Blog. I just learned about it today.

Note: the official site does not actually contain a blog.

Disappointing! Inexplicable! Bam! Pow! Joss, I realize you've got zillions of rabid fans ready to lap this thing up, but how cool would it be to pave the way to a blog-related video series with, you know, an actual blog? Maybe there is a blog, and I just can't find it. I'm thinking of an in-fiction blog here, not the behind-the-scenes sort of thing. Let's get a glimpse of this latest Whedon universe from the first-person view of Dr. Horrible. Joss, if budget is an issue, I'm sure we can work something out.

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Dipping Into Toronto’s Flash Pool
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by Tony Walsh on June 26, 2008 @ 10:23 am
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Toronto's Flash user group 'FlashinTO' held a public meeting last night that included brief presentations from a handful of local Flash designer/developers, including yours truly. Although I've been working the new media trenches here in Toronto for almost 15 years, and have been working with Flash since version 2, I'm way out of the loop in terms of who's doing what with Flash locally (aside from my clients and a few others). Glad to have had a chance to get a bit up to speed.

Other presenters included Andy Tipping of Mischief Media, Tim Willison of Oddly Studios, Tom George of DesignAxiom, and a dude who gave us a preview of an in-browser media viewer called "Radar." Good to be able to get a nice cross-section of what's going on around town, and meet some folks Flashing it up in Toronto.

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How Do Web Game Monetization Venues Compare?
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by Tony Walsh on June 13, 2008 @ 3:26 pm
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Ryan Creighton of Untold Entertainment is doing a little experiment to compare an array of monetization venues for his Flash-based mini-game Two by Two. He'll be trying to drum up cash using Kongregate, J2Play, Newgrounds, MochiAds, Flash Game License, Addicting Games and finally Armor Games. Thanks to Ryan, I get to see how a very simple Flash game makes money (or doesn't) across the various venues.

So far, Armor Games rejected Two by Two completely, but at least they did it within 24 hours. I think Ryan's experiment is definitely worthwhile, but it's not exactly going to tell us how 'any' Flash game would do--we need more test-subjects. Maybe later this year I can repeat his experiment with one of Phantom Compass' upcoming Flash games.

On a related note, I've been running Google AdSense text ads on a suite of re-skinned and tweaked games (I didn't design or code any of them), and probably make about fifteen dollars a month on click-throughs. Nothing to write home about, but I haven't exactly optimized the pages for ad-space--and the games aren't very good, either. Maybe once AdSense for games becomes a reality, there'll be easier cash to be made.

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Back From BAVC’s ‘Producers Institute’
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by Tony Walsh on June 9, 2008 @ 3:08 pm
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I had the privilege and pleasure of mentoring 8 teams of talented and open-minded documentary filmmakers last week as part of the Producers Institute for New Media Technologies for BAVC in San Francisco. This is the second year in a row I've been invited down to share my game design experience with the Producers Institute. While last year was a fantastic experience as well, this year focused on projects acting as catalysts for real social change--this emphasis sets the Producers Institute apart from other cross-media labs and workshops I've participated in over the last couple of years.

Most of the work I do is commercially oriented, so it was a nice change of pace to work with people with a genuine interest in positive social impact. I spent most of my time consulting with Susana Ruiz (best known for creating Darfur is Dying) and her team--they're working on a game about the death penalty, imprisonment and flaws in the U.S. justice system. Not only is the game "about" these issues, but Susana's company Take Action Games specializes in actual results--what can a game motivate people to actually do? Darfur is Dying showed that game play resulted in communications sent to the U.S. government. It will be interesting to see what positive action this latest project will result in.

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Jumping Through Hoops
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by Tony Walsh on June 5, 2008 @ 5:20 pm
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Had a fun chat with Erik Loyer this morning while breakfasting in a hotel restaurant. We were discussing how Portal forces the player to jump through the designers' hoops--it occurred to us that in Portal's case, the expression "jumping through hoops" becomes quite literal. Insert collegial chuckling here.

Also had the chance to meet up with security expert and game-guy Steven Davis last night over dinner. Much discussion of tabletop gaming's relevance to digital games and other frothy matters ensued. And then I had to run back to help out at BAVC's Producers Institute. Insert whip-cracking sound-effect here.

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Catch Me in San Francisco May 30 - June 6
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by Tony Walsh on May 27, 2008 @ 8:14 am
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At the end of this week, I'll be flying from chilly Toronto to chilly San Francisco to reprise my role as a mentor for the Bay Area Video Coalition's "Producers Institute." Last year's institute brought teams of brilliant and enthusiastic documentarians together with a squad of knowledgeable mentors under the nurturing guidance of BAVC's staff to explore the intersections of linear narrative and designed interactivity--I expect this year to be just as productive and energizing.

On June 3 I will be moderating a panel entitled "The Gaming (R)Evolution" as part of BAVC's Innovation Salon series, featuring panelists Cathy Fischer (ITVS Interactive), Alice Petty (Discover Babylon Project), Susana Ruiz (Take Action Games), and Richard Tate (HopeLab). The main topic of discussion will be so-called "serious games" and their application towards social good.

While I'm in town, I should have some time to meet up--drop me a line if you're interested in grabbing a drink some evening. [tonywalsh at phantomcompass dot com].

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What’s Wrong With the World, Tom Waits?
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by Tony Walsh on May 21, 2008 @ 10:19 pm
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Tom Waits (long-time hero of mine) on Tom Waits (also a long-time hero of mine):
Q: What’s wrong with the world?
A: We are buried beneath the weight of information, which is being confused with knowledge; quantity is being confused with abundance and wealth with happiness. Leona Helmsley’s dog made 12 million last year… and Dean McLaine, a farmer in Ohio made $30,000. It’s just a gigantic version of the madness that grows in every one of our brains. We are monkeys with money and guns.


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Donkey Kone
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by Tony Walsh on May 20, 2008 @ 11:22 pm
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Apparently Donkey Kone is an ape who will punch you in the face with a fistful of ice cream. Something tells me Nintendo had nothing to do with this.

[Update: I'm not the only one to have spotted the elusive Donkey Kone truck.]

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Quick Links for 2008-05-12
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by Tony Walsh on May 12, 2008 @ 6:32 am
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Policing Role-Play In ‘Age of Conan’
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by Tony Walsh on May 3, 2008 @ 7:54 am
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The operator of the upcoming adult-oriented Age of Conan MMO intends to establish strict rules about role-playing on designated servers, according to an official community bulletin. This might be great news for role-play enthusiasts, but I have to wonder if AoC's operator has a plan to police and enforce its own proposed rules. Any such plan must involve human moderators at some point along the chain (software isn't smart enough for the job), which is an awfully costly investment in role-playing, if you ask me.

Names from outside the 'Conan' universe (as in, from another fantasy universe, such as Pokemon) are not allowed. Names from inside the 'Conan' universe (such as Conan) are also not allowed. Neither are derivatives or sound-alike names. Out of character chat is to be "avoided." Making fun of role-players is not allowed. Using role-play to justify immersion-breaking actions and exploits is not allowed. Interfering with in-progress community-driven role-playing events (such as a wedding) is not allowed.

These rules are setting the game operators up for major headaches. A good rule is one which doesn't need to be discussed--it's simply incontrovertible. These are bad rules. Not only do they require human supervision, they are open to interpretation. Who's going to moderate player names, and when will that moderation occur? How much out of character chat is acceptable, and when is it acceptable to speak OOC. What if the sight of weddings drives my character into a berserker rage--isn't it about my immersion, too? What if my entire clan of players has an in-character grudge against that wedding?

Unless the rules are tightened up, enforced transparently, frequently and consistently, the whole system's going to spiral out of control. Transparent enforcement (i.e. we see who was busted for what, and how the policing or punishment was carried out) and frequent enforcement are expensive. Consistent enforcement is sure to be a joke--I can't even go to a bank and get the same answer about the same question from 5 different tellers.

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Is The Cartoon Network Confused, Or Is It Just Me?
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by Tony Walsh on May 1, 2008 @ 1:57 pm
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Clipped this from a Cartoon Network email I received minutes ago, talking about how awesome its upcoming FusionFall MMO is going to be:
"How is FusionFall different from other online games out there?

The biggest difference is that we are combining two play styles: platform gaming with RPGs. That hasn't been done before in an MMO and it's really exciting."
Hasn't MapleStory combined platform gaming with RPGs in an MMO format since at least 2005? Someone tell me if I'm wrong, this Cartoon Network assertion is making me dizzy.

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‘City of Heroes’ Welcomes User-Generated Adventures
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by Tony Walsh on April 28, 2008 @ 2:06 pm
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City of Heroes Lead Designer Matt Miller revealed today that players of the four year-old massively-multiplayer superhero game will soon be able to craft and deploy their own adventures using a built-in toolkit.

Miller wrote to the CoH community:
Similar in concept to our character creator, it allows you, the players, to create missions and story arcs for your characters and others to participate in. You’ll be able to pick the map, villain group, and objectives, as well as write the dialog and any clues needed for the missions. When you are satisfied with it, you can upload it and have other players across all servers play it and rate it. Fame will come to the players whose stories rate the best overall.
Overall, it's great to see CoH publisher NCSoft invest in this function--certainly for a four year-old game it's one of the few ways to freshen it up aside from injecting in-game ads into the comic book world. I wonder how the user-submitted content will be moderated: will NCSoft be able to stop users from creating inappropriate or IP-infringing content? Who determines what's inappropriate? And can NCSoft avoid another Marvel-esque lawsuit?

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