Kellee Santiago (thatgamecompany) Joins Ouya

Ouya has announced that Kellee Santiago has joined the company as DBF (Developer’s Best Friend). She’ll be heading up the company’s developer outreach. Santiago is best known as cofounder of thatgamecompany, the creators of Flower and Journey. In the official announcement, she said:

Oouya gets it. This is the first console company that really understands how important it is to remove the barriers to development. By freeing up the development process, Ouya is opening up new doors in console gaming.

This is a big score for Ouya. Santiago has a great reputation within the gaming business. Ouya will be leaning on independent and small developers to make games optimized for the system. Those kinds of companies will feel like they have a sympathetic ally in Santiago. Journalists view her as an “indie darling,” so it’s additional press for the company too.

What do you think of Ouya hiring Kellee Santiago? Will she help differentiate the company from others that are trying to console-ify Android?

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Coffee Talk #570: The Ewing Theory and Videogames

As a Bill Simmons fanboy, the “Ewing Theory” is far more relevant to my life than any scientific theory. When Simmons posted a column revisiting the Ewing Theory, I started thinking about it in videogame terms. Obviously videogames are larger team efforts than sports are, so some of the principles of the theory don’t apply, but it was a fun exercise. Over the last week, I asked a bunch of friends if they could think of any videogame franchises that improved when a “celebrity” developer moved on or left the team.

The most common answer I received was the God of War series. A lot of my friends feel…more

Welcome to Coffee Talk! Let’s start off the day by discussing whatever is on your (nerd chic) mind. Every morning I’ll kick off a discussion and I’m counting on you to participate in it. If you’re not feelin’ my topic, feel free to start a chat with your fellow readers and see where it takes you. Whether you’re talking about videogames, Shia LaBeouf getting booted off a Broadway play, Floyd Mayweather, Jr. switching from HBO to Showtime, or celebrities wearing pajama pants, Coffee Talk is the place to do it.

As a Bill Simmons fanboy, the “Ewing Theory” is far more relevant to my life than any scientific theory. When Simmons posted a column revisiting the Ewing Theory, I started thinking about it in videogame terms. Obviously videogames are larger team efforts than sports are, so some of the principles of the theory don’t apply, but it was a fun exercise. Over the last week, I asked a bunch of friends if they could think of any videogame franchises that improved when a “celebrity” developer moved on or left the team.

The most common answer I received was the God of War series. A lot of my friends feel that the series reached new heights after David Jaffe left the team. The answer surprised me. Part of it is because I hold Jaffe in high regard and part of it is that I believe the series simply progressed. Of course Cory Balrog and Stig Asmussen did wonderful jobs directing the next two God of War games, but I believe the series would have improved similarly with Jaffe at the wheel. (Hmmm, now I want to rewrite the song “Jesus Take the Wheel” with the lyrics “Jaffe Take the Wheel.”) While I understood their points, I don’t think it was a “Ewing Theory” situation. God of War definitely got better, but I don’t think it was because of David Jaffe taking a different role (II) or leaving the team (III).

A few people mentioned John Romero and the Quake series. I understood this argument morebut felt that the older guys I spoke with still had Daikatana on their minds. That said, Tim Willits and Graeme Devine definitely took the franchise to new heights.

Now it’s your turn! What videogame franchises can you apply the Ewing Theory to?

Wargaming Buys Gas Powered Games

Wargaming, the makers of the popular free-to-play World of Tanks and World of Warplanes, has announced an agreement to buy Gas Powered Games, the creators of DemigodDungeon Siege, and Supreme Commander. Gas Powered Games recently made some news with its Kickstarter pitch for Wildman. The beleaguered company was facing financial issues and had to let several employees go to stay afloat, while its fate was in the hands of Kickstarter. Gas Powered Games CEO and founder Chris Taylor posted a teary and heartfelt video explaining the situation. Thankfully, the company was able to find a financial backer in Wargaming.

Now here’s the part with all the quotes! Let’s start with with the excellent Chris Taylor:

Wargaming growth in recent years has been tremendous, and we’re looking forward to joining one of the fastest growing gaming companies in the world. I’m sure our experience and expertise will help us contribute even more to Wargaming’s global success.

And here’s one from Wargaming CEO Victor Kislyi:

Gas Powered Games’ heritage and development pedigree shows us just how valuable an addition Chris and his company will make to the Wargaming family. Gas Powered Games has a long track record of providing incredibly engaging AAA gaming experiences and we can’t wait to start working with them.

I’m thrilled that Gas Powered Games was able to find a solution. Hopefully, the developer will be able to rehire everyone that was released. And hopefully the partnership is everything the company needs and wants. I’m a huge fan of the Gas Powered Games and, especially, Chris Taylor.

On the other side of the deal, it’s interesting watching Wargaming move and shake. The company’s purchases include Day 1 Studios and BigWorld Technology. All signs point to bigger and better things from Wargaming, including a console invasion (presumably full of tanks and warplanes).

Now here’s the part where I’m supposed to make a joke about the Belarusian company’s acquisitions being backed by Russian mob money…but I’m much too afraid of the consequences.

Path of Exile Preview and Video Interview

Yesterday, I caught a demo of Path of Exile by Grinding Gear Games. The game is a free-to-play action-RPG that reminded me of an ultra-hardcore version of Diablo. The game also has features the reminded me of Final Fantasy VII and Final Fantasy X. The developer cites Magic: The Gathering and Call of Cthulhu as influences. Check out the video interview by Paul Semel above, as well as the screenshot gallery below.

One of the most striking things about the game is how customizable everything is. As you’d expect, armor and weapons can be upgraded. What’s really unique is that items like potion bottles and maps can be upgraded as well. In the case of potion bottles, the effectiveness and potency can be manipulated. As for maps, they lead to portals to secret areas; they can be upgraded to increase monster level and difficulty, as well as to give your character a gameplay advantage.

Armor, accessories, and weapons can be adorned with different gems that grant various spells and boosts. The developer noted that the materia system in Final Fantasy VII was an influence. Gems can be stacked for more powerful attacks at the expense of more mana (generally speaking). For example, a fireball gem can be armed for a basic projectile attack. It can be accompanied with a “fork” gem, which causes the fireball to split in two after it hits an enemy, allowing a single fireball to potentially hit three foes. The spell can be further enhanced by a “multishot” gem, resulting in three forking fireballs (say that five times fast).

The skill tree is a massive map of powers, passive abilities, and boosts, with each section of the tree specializing in certain types of powers. It reminded me of a much more flexible and diverse version of the sphere grid used in Final Fantasy X. While I wasn’t able to explore the intricacies of the skill tree during my short demo, I was impressed by its size and the amount of choices it gives players.

Another curious facet of the game is that there’s no gold. The developers eschewed currency in favor of a barter system. As armor, accessories, items, and weapons are modified, they become more valuable. Players can choose to stash items for future use, trade them to a generic in-game trader, or trade them with other players. I was told that in the closed beta, some players got so into the crafting and trading elements of the game that they spent more hours on selling goods than slaying monsters.

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Path of Exile hits open beta on January 23, 2013. The full release should be some time in Summer 2013. Be sure to watch the video interview for more details, including the Kickstarter-like system the developers used to fund the game. Find out why 176 gamers spent $1,000 to get cool and unique in-game items. Lastly, let me know what you think of the game. Do you think the hardcore gamers that were disappointed in Diablo III will find what they’re looking for in Path of Exile? Are you interested in trying the game?

Yasumi Matsuno Leaving Level-5

My morning started off with the depressing news that Yasumi Matsuno is leaving Level-5 and taking a long break from game development. Matsuno is one of my favorite game directors/developers of all time. He dazzled RPG fans with his excellent Final Fantasy Tactics and Tactics Ogre games before being handed the keys to the big car — Final Fantasy XII. As many of you know, FFXII’s development cycle was disastrous and took a huge toll on Matsuno’s health. I had high hopes that Matsuno would revive his career at Level-5, but his return to glory has taken a detour. Here’s the (translated) word from Gematsu:

I’m sorry to report, but due to personal reasons, next month I’ll be retiring from Level-5. Having finished production of 3DSWare domestically and in North America and Europe, it’s at a good point time-wise for me to retire.

Even though it was for a short period of time, I was able to work hard without any gross mistakes. I am extremely grateful for the gift of genial teaching I received from everyone. Over and over again, thank you so much. I plan on taking a break for a while. I’m very thankful to have your support from now on.

Well…that just sucks. While I hope Matsuno can find some peace and happiness, I selfishly want him to dazzle me once more with an epic RPG. I’m just going to sit here and vape while I patiently wait for another Matsuno classic. *pout*

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Coffee Talk #522: On Lorne Lanning and Alan Moore

The other day, I was reading this excellent GI Biz interview with Oddworld Inhabitants’ Lorne Lanning. As many of you know, I’m a big fan of Lanning and his company’s games. It was great hearing him talk about games after a hiatus from the business. It was awesome to hear that he appears to be stubborn as ever and that he’s still thinking about ways to empower videogame creators. Here’s a clip from the interview:

Welcome to Coffee Talk! Let’s start off the day by discussing whatever is on your (nerd chic) mind. Every morning I’ll kick off a discussion and I’m counting on you to participate in it. If you’re not feelin’ my topic, feel free to start a chat with your fellow readers and see where it takes you. Whether you’re talking about videogames, the exciting last day of the MLB regular season, T-Mobile USA merging with MetroPCS, or waiting for Thai NanoSIMs, Coffee Talk is the place to do it.

The other day, I was reading this excellent GI Biz interview with Oddworld Inhabitants’ Lorne Lanning. As many of you know, I’m a big fan of Lanning and his company’s games. It was great hearing him talk about games after a hiatus from the business. It was awesome to hear that he appears to be stubborn as ever and that he’s still thinking about ways to empower videogame creators. Here’s a clip from the interview:

Rather than having to have 1.5 million units in the opening week or suffer death, now if we have 50,000 sales and we’re still in business. People are still employed and we’re able to keep making content. When we released box product we would get 20 percent of the revenue. After that 20 percent paid back the entire development budget, if it was still selling at $60 we would start seeing $7 a unit. Because of the bricks and mortar, the plastic, the manufacturing, the gas involved in taking games to the store, the store itself and all those extra costs — not one of those costs makes a better game for the player.

If you’re the gamer, where do you want the money of the game you’re buying to go? I want it going to help make more games. But the majority of that money is not going to games in the boxed product market.

The tone of Lanning’s comments reminded me of someone, but I couldn’t place my finger on it right away. The feeling I got from this interview was that this is a man that loves videogames and loves the creative process, but is fed up with the videogame business. Then it hit me. Lorne Lanning is just like comic-book scribe Alan Moore! Like Lanning, Moore loves the comic-book medium and the creative process, but has often been frustrated with the business of comics. Here’s a Moore quote from Bill Baker’s Alan Moore Spells it Out:

I love the comics medium. I pretty much detest the comics industry. Give it another 15 months, I’ll probably be pulling out of mainstream, commercial comics.

Although Moore is best known for his works published by DC Comics, he had numerous conflicts with the publishing giant and found more freedom with smaller, independent publishers. Similarly, Lanning has had numerous clashes with big videogame publishers. He believes that digital distribution will give him the creative freedom he wasn’t able to enjoy with Microsoft and EA.

Lanning and Moore are both supremely creative individuals that aren’t cut out to deal with the establishments in their respective businesses. They both recognize that the suits take advantage of the creatives and that there must be a better way. Through smaller publishers, Moore found a way that allowed him to make money and create freely. Hopefully digital distribution will enable Lanning and Oddworld Inhabitants to thrive once more. The videogame business would be better and more fun with a flourishing Oddworld Inhabitants.

Ray Muzyka and Greg Zeschuk Leave BioWare

I was sad to hear that Dr. Ray Muzyka and Dr. Greg Zeschuk are leaving BioWare. The company is one of my all-time favorite videogame developers. I’m an ardent BioWare fan because of the company’s great games, but also because of the BioWare doctors. They’ve always been very good to me, and I’ve always appreciated their time, conversation, and tolerance for my idiocy. I’m excited that they’re pursuing new things, but I’m bummed that they’re leaving BioWare. The company won’t be the same without them.

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Rumor: Ray Muzyka and Greg Zeschuk Leaving BioWare?

There’s an interesting rumor going around that BioWare-founders Dr. Ray Muzyka and Dr. Greg Zeschuk are leaving the company. I don’t believe that rumor just yet, but I’m dreaming about the possibilities. As many of you know, I am a huge fan of both of these guys. They’re just talented, intelligent, and super-nice people.  They also helped make some of my favorite games of all time. When Marvel Comics coined the term “homo superior,” I’m pretty sure it was in anticipation of the BioWare doctors. They’ve both done well for themselves and they don’t need to work again; part of me dreams that they miss the creative freedom and nimbleness of running a small company (vs. being part of EA) and will start a new studio.

While you’re thinking about the possibility of BioWare without the BioWare doctors, why don’t you revisit this tribute video of the two from the night they were inducted into the Academy of Interactive Arts & Sciences Hall of Fame? In addition to Dr. Ray and Dr. Greg, it features the legendary Bing Gordon, Cerny Games’ Mark Cerny, Incomniac Games’ Ted Price, Gas Powered Games’ Chris Taylor, Blizzard’s Frank Pearce and Paul Sams, Microsoft’s Don Mattrick, and more.

What do you think of the rumor of Dr. Ray Muzyka and Dr. Greg Zeschuk leaving BioWare? Would you like to see the guys start a new game studio?

Source via Massively

Diablo III Interview: Jay Wilson Game Director

RPad.TV caught up with Blizzard game director Jay Wilson to talk about his work on Diablo III. Wilson spoke about attracting new fans to the Diablo franchise while keeping longtime players happy, his favorite character class as a designer, his favorite character class as a gamer, the last month of development, and more. Special thanks to Stephanie Gutowski for conducting the interview!

Diablo III Interview: Christian Lichtner Art Director

RPad.TV caught up with Diablo III art director Christian Lichtner at Blizzard’s sweet launch event. Lichtner talked about his approach for the game’s art design, the technical leap from Diablo II to Diablo III, his favorite monsters, and more. Major thanks to Stephanie Gutowski for conducting the interview!