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Someone Spent Twenty-Five Bucks On This Post
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by Tony Walsh on March 4, 2008 @ 5:58 pm
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Some poor bastard paid twenty-five bucks to send me a very nicely-produced clue-package for an Alternate Reality Game, presuming I have time to unravel a ball of yarn. Guess what: I don't. Lucky for you, Despoiler already did. I got the exact same package*, so just hop on over there to view the contents.

Dear Mystery-Package Sender,
You missed on three counts.
1) I'm busy running my own company, and don't have time to play your game.
2) I don't pick up my mail as regularly as you imagine I might.
3) I don't publish a news outlet for ARG-related matters. These days, I barely publish at all. So I'm not exactly worth approaching.

Additionally, I got an email from the makers of the game yesterday that almost ended up in my Spam folder, and was ultimately a wasted effort. I didn't care to rummage through the email contents. There's a link to a video there. I didn't check it out.

Clearly, Mystery-Package Sender is shooting in the dark--I wonder who else might have been targeted. Despite my indifference to their game, they still got free buzz out of me. Twenty-five bucks well spent, I guess.

* Update: Ok, looks like my photos aren't the same. All the more tragic I don't have time to scan and post them.

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For The Record:  Walsh on Writing Alternate Realities
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by Tony Walsh on February 29, 2008 @ 1:01 pm
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The Austin Chronicle published an article about games and storytelling today, written by Joey Seiler, frequent contributor to Virtual World News. I'm quoted in the article, and while I won't go so far as to say the quote was out of context, it doesn't reflect what I would have said given the context the quote now appears in.

In the article, I talk briefly about extending the Halo game universe across multiple media, but neither I or the article mentions the groundbreaking Halo Alternate Reality Game known as "I Love Bees." As an ARG writer and designer on the award-winning Fallen and Regenesis games, I am well aware of this precedent, I just didn't think to mention it in the interview, although it was obliquely referenced.

My interview, in its original context as an email thread, follows for the record.

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Quick Gaming and Gender Links for 2008-02-24
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by Tony Walsh on February 24, 2008 @ 6:19 am
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The Retro Roots of ‘Champions Online’
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by Tony Walsh on February 22, 2008 @ 5:42 pm
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I can't wait to try Champions Online, the MMO adaptation of Champions, my favorite superhero role-playing game (the kind you play sitting around a table). It looks like Cryptic, the developers behind the excellent superhero MMO City of Heroes, is using everything learned from developing good heroic character-creation and game play and fusing this with a time-tested, highly-flexible rules system--City of Heroes Evolved, if you will.

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Clickable Comments:  Logins Temporarily Broken
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by Tony Walsh on February 9, 2008 @ 9:00 pm
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One of my readers kindly pointed out that logins aren't working on Clickable Culture--both new and old accounts are affected. I am working on a fix, and will post an update once things are back on track. My apologies to those who've attempted to leave comments lately--the system's behaving badly.

[Update: Logins are restored. You must have cookies enabled for the system to work as expected.]

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Linden Lab Launches Department of Public Works
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by Tony Walsh on February 9, 2008 @ 10:09 am
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Looks like Linden Lab is getting back into the content-creation business. According to the company's blog, its new Department of Public Works will attempt to beautify and improve the virtual mainland of Second Life by repairing broken land, expanding certain existing "builds" (such as a city area), establishing "better gathering places" and adding "themed builds."

It's been many months since I've spent any appreciable time in Second Life, but from what I remember, the mainland looked like God had eaten a yard sale, a carnival, a suburb, a stack of porn videos, and the entire cast of the Transformers movie before barfing all over the virtual landscape. Doubtless any concerted effort to improve the landscape will be welcomed by most virtual-world residents as well as contribute to the retention of new users (who are increasingly becoming aware that Second Life ain't the only game in town).

If I understand the Linden blog correctly, the company will be using volunteer labor comprised of known content-creators to execute the Linden vision: "We will provide the team with specific build projects and will oversee progress before taking ownership of the content once work is completed." What happened to that dusty old tagline "Your World, Your Imagination?"

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Game Design Quick Links for 2008-02-09
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by Tony Walsh on February 9, 2008 @ 6:19 am
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Games, Work, Play, And Collaboration:  Quick Links for 2008-02-04
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by Tony Walsh on February 4, 2008 @ 6:24 am
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Games and Moving Pictures:  Quick Links for 2008-02-03
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by Tony Walsh on February 3, 2008 @ 6:21 am
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‘Second Skin’ Trailer Debuts Today
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by Tony Walsh on January 29, 2008 @ 3:41 pm
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Since 2006, I've been following the adventures of the team at Pure West--filmmakers researching and journaling MMO game culture for a documentary which would come to be called Second Skin. The team's blog gave a behind-the-scenes look at the trials of the documentarians and their evolving subject-matter, but I was fortunate enough to meet the filmmakers first-hand during one of their many journeys across the U.S., Canada, and overseas. These guys weren't just trying to cash in on the swelling interest in MMOs, or exploit players as objects of curiosity or ridicule--it was clear their mission was to seek out and reveal some compelling human stories at the intersection of real and virtual worlds.

The Second Skin trailer makes its debut today, and I'm not excited about it simply because of my brief on-camera appearance :) I feel like this will be a topical, socially-relevant documentary that will make a lasting mark. Something that may end up as course-material some day (certainly I'll be buying the DVD). The filmmakers clearly poured their blood and sweat into Second Skin, and at first glance, it really shows. Congratulations to the Pure West team and everyone (it seems like dozens) they interviewed. I think you have a hit on your hands.



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Captain Of A Rocket-Ship
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by Tony Walsh on January 22, 2008 @ 9:52 am
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For the past 14 years, I've been freelancing under my own name, but in 2008, I've become the founder and first employee of Phantom Compass, an interactive development studio involved in both pre-production service-work and end-to-end internal product development. I'm already involved in one collaboration and one co-production in the proposal stages.

In only 10 weeks I've gained a new understanding of and respect for the challenges new media producers here in Canada face--certainly I see my clients in a new light, and now that I'm involved in producing my own IP, a host of previously-unexplored aspects of business development have come to light. As owner of my own studio, I'm now eligible for a variety of Canadian funding programs, tax credits, and other boosters. Most importantly, I'm running my own ship and can initiate my own large-scale projects. I will be opening up all available communications channels next month and reaching out to friends, associates, and strangers to see what opportunities might be on the horizon. Talk to you then.

So, how does all of this affect Clickable Culture, a blog I've been hammering at since 1999? Realistically, the number of posts here is likely to decrease (which is why it's a good idea to subscribe to the feed). Clickable Culture will now serve as the public-facing research blog of Phantom Compass, which probably means less articles and more short-form thoughtbubbles. Phantom Compass will soon have its own blog, which will be a bit drier than Clickable Culture, a blog I like to think of as shot from the hip. Pow!

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Harmless Espionage You Can Carry Out At Home
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by Tony Walsh on January 10, 2008 @ 11:01 am
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A couple of projects I was involved with late last year are now fully operational. Although each project was for a separate broadcaster, each puts the player in the role of a secret agent. Must have been something in the air in 2007.

The Border: Interactive, which supports the new CBC TV series The Border, was produced by White Pine Pictures in association with Stitch Media, and is comprised of a series of narrative-driven mini-games. I'm pretty sure this is the first major project launch for Stitch Media, founded by Evan Jones, former Creative Director of Xenophile Media. As Game Designer on The Border: Interactive, I worked closely with Evan and his team during the pre-production phase, developing high-concept game ideas into executable design documents. Jam3Media worked with Stitch to develop the games in Flash.

M.I. High, a CBBC TV series, is now supported by an episodic web-game. I helped out as a game design consultant on the project, but I can't say more than that until I hear back from my client.

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Case Study:  Bringing ‘Warcraft’ To The Tabletop
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by Tony Walsh on January 8, 2008 @ 11:18 am
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Gamasutra features a fascinating rundown of what was involved in bringing World of Warcraft to the tabletop as a role-playing game. Written by Luke Johnson of White Wolf, the article identifies "content" as being the biggest challenge in extending Warcraft's world--apparently, Blizzard wasn't comfortable giving White Wolf freedom to invent their own Warcraft lore. Johnson explains the process:
  1. We would write the books [...] making stuff up when necessary.
  2. The good folks at Blizzard would check the manuscript to make sure that a) everything in it was consistent with both their vision of the Warcraft setting and the information that had already been presented in some other format (the video games, the novels, and the like); and b) that we didn't add anything that they didn't like.
  3. The writers would then alter the manuscript as per Blizzard's requests, and we'd return to step 2.
Sounds painful, doesn't it? It's a shame a reputable game maker like White Wolf wasn't given more freedom to expand the Warcraft universe. Blizzard might own Azeroth, but that doesn't mean it has a grasp of what works for tabletop role-playing.

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Games, Values, and Learning
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by Tony Walsh on January 7, 2008 @ 6:21 am
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If games are good teachers, what do/could/should games teach? Here's a quick dump of topical links relating to this theme:

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PSP Gets Skype Integration
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by Tony Walsh on January 6, 2008 @ 8:18 pm
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Sony will roll out Skype services for its latest PSP handheld game console (the slim, lightweight one) through a software update scheduled for late January. According to an emailed press release, the software update will allow PSP owners with WiFi access, a microphone, and a Skype account to make and receive free voice calls, manage contacts and presence, modify their Skype account settings, and make use of the SkypeOut (place calls to non-Skype phones) as well as SkypeIn (receive calls from non-Skype phones) services.

While this is fantastic news for anyone who already has a slimline PSP, I'm not sure it's going to push PSP sales in general. As the ill-fated N-Gage phone/game console showed us, there doesn't seem to be much interest in a game console which doubles as a phone. Skype services are only available wherever WiFi hotspots are, so coverage isn't exactly ubiquitous in most parts of the world. I don't really see how the inclusion of Skype helps the PSP brand, either--is it a game console (its game library is weak), a media player (its original movie format is dead or dying), or a communications device (only where there's WiFi)?

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Quick Gaming Links for 2008-01-06
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by Tony Walsh on January 6, 2008 @ 6:23 am
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Quick Links for 2007-12-31
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by Tony Walsh on December 31, 2007 @ 6:19 am
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DS Game Content Fueled By Wireless Hotspots
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by Tony Walsh on December 30, 2007 @ 10:31 am
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Metro Wardive, a homebrew game for the Nintendo DS handheld console, reads the names of surrounding wireless hotspots and converts them into in-game enemies and levels. This allows the game content to change significantly based on the player's real-world location (I can only think of one mainstream game that does this).

Judging by the game's description, it seems that real-world travel is actually encouraged by design (at the very least, new game scenarios are revealed through travel)--with the right game mechanics, Metro Wardive could be used as an incentive for physical activity (walk or run from hotspot to hotspot) or urban exploration. The mind races, even if the feet do not.

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Eleven Fit Teens Fail Wii Fitness Test
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by Tony Walsh on December 30, 2007 @ 9:54 am
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MedPage Today reports that Wii Sports, a game for the Nintendo Wii console, wasn't found to contribute to recommended daily exercise standards set in Britain, according to a Liverpool University study. Nintendo has been hoping its console would be seen as a fitness aid, releasing the Wii Fit controller and Wii game in Japan earlier this year (due out elsewhere in 2008). A number of academics, researchers, and consumers around the world have been looking at the console as a potential fitness device, with varying results. A Canadian hospital is even using the game console as part of a physical rehabilitation program.

The Liverpool study--ironically, funded by Nintendo's UK marketing arm--might have dashed the game-maker's health-hopes if it wasn't for the fact that only eleven subjects were reportedly involved. The teens--six boys and five girls--were physically fit to begin with, and were studied playing only two games: Project Gotham Racing for the Xbox 360, and Wii Sports. The study found that active games like Wii Sports burn about 50% more calories than passive games like PGR, but that ultimately this only represented a 2% increase in energy expenditure in a typical week.

I'm no scientist, but it seems clear that a larger-scale study might be in order. A more diverse, and larger group of subjects; a wider range of games, particularly some which could be considered more active than Wii Sports. In my own experience, playing 30 minutes of Raving Rabbids on the Wii reminded me how atrophied my spaghetti-thin arms are. While the Wii may not appear to affect fitness levels according to this study, I'd rather play an active video game than a passive one, and I suspect most parents would rather buy an active video game for their kids. Perhaps the next study will involve the Wii Fit peripheral, hopefully with more promising results.

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‘Electric Sheep’ Herd Culled
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by Tony Walsh on December 21, 2007 @ 11:03 am
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Second Life's largest third-party developer became substantially smaller earlier this week. The Electric Sheep Company cut 22 staffers on Tuesday (reportedly about 30% of its workforce), as announced by COO Giff Constable, and reported by Sheep client Reuters. Unofficial blog Second Life Podcast broke the news on Monday with word that the Sheep's planned Virtual World Ad Network was also canned. According to Constable, the company will continue to work on its OnRez client software and shopping site as well as "some other cool initiatives."

I'm not surprised at the news. Although I haven't been able to follow Second Life like I used to, my impression is that business interest in SL has been waning, barely a year after a boom for metaverse developers. Since that time, it seems the developers with the most sense are investigating other platforms rather than concentrating solely on Second Life.

Having met a number of enthusiastic Sheep staffers in the past, I found the company reminiscent of a 1990s Dot Com--seemed like folks were being hired left and right. Although the timing is really unfortunate, trimming staff and refocusing the company is the sensible thing to do--lessons learned from the Dot Com Bust.

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