July 2005

Microsoft embraces indy game devs.

The great news is that Microsoft not only has a plan to allow developers to purchase a devkit directly from them, but a free Prototype Kit to allow anyone to test their XBox code on PC hardware! Read it here! The bad news? It was announced in 2000, before the XBox launched, and to my knowledge a single kit was never shipped by this program. I’ve scoured Google and have found no mention of anyone working with these programs. I can’t find any mention of them ever coming to fruition at all. It seems they were announced, a few individuals (sometimes people on one forum with one post) showed interest, and there was an internet-wide unspoken agreement to never mention them again. What became of it? I’m not sure, but my guess is the it is the direct precursor to both the XBox Live Marketplace and XNA.

Back in January of this year I actually emailed Microsoft about this program, and much to my suprise, I actually got a human response! Score one for Microsoft’s customer service! I emailed:

I’m looking for information about the XBox Independent Developer Program. All I’ve been able to find on it are mentions of the original press release (http://www.microsoft.com/presspass/press/2000/Nov00/XPKPR.asp). Was this program scrapped, or is the XBox Prototype Kit still available to independent developers as part of XBox’s Registered Developer Program?

I’m emailing on behalf of myself and four associates, the majority of
whom have graduated from Full Sail: Real World Education
(http://www.fullsail.com). A large reason we’re interested is
because of the possibilities that we see for small development teams
in the XBox Live Arcade.

If you are able to give me any information that may help me, or are
able to point me toward someone who could, I would greatly appreciate
it. Feel free to email me back at this address which I check daily,
or contact me by your preferred means.

Followed by my name/number/address/etc. The reply was as follows:

Mr. Bridges,

The program you mentioned is no longer in operation. We have a Registered Developer Program, but it is only open to established studios. While you would be unlikely to be accepted into the Xbox Registered Developer Program, there is a viable alternative for smaller and/or independent developers. The Xbox console is built around DirectX, and any expertise you develop using DirectX on a Windows PC will be of great use on any future work you may do on Xbox. Other advantages to developing for Windows are the ease and low cost of access to tools and hardware. I would encourage you to develop prototypes using Windows and DirectX and to use those to interest publishers in your work. The DirectX SDK and a wealth of developer resources may be freely accessed at http://msdn.microsoft.com/DirectX.

Thank you for considering the Xbox console as your development platform and good luck with your efforts.

Scott xxxxxxxx
Microsoft Corporation

So basically, “No, you can’t develop for XBox hardware, go program for PC.” But I don’t blame Scott; it’s not like he cut the program, right? (I’ve got my eye on you, Scott.) And I appreciate his info about Direct X, even if I already knew it. He was as helpful as he could have been. I see this and say “Well, okay, let’s make a game and shop it around for publishers. No doubt some of them are going to be making XBox Live Arcade games anyway. Maybe they’d look at our stuff. And my friends, whom I thought were as gung-ho as I was, decided pursuing individual careers would be best (and as of this date, one of us five has a job programming. They’re all great guys, mind you.)

But now I see Microsoft is building the X360 around XNA as opposed ot Direct X. Hey, why help the gaming industry out for free when you can instead charge people to be stuck with your code? Code that Microsoft possibly won’t support in a few years if the X360 and their constant framework changes are any indication.

(After this and the ‘Someone Bitchslap Greg Costikyan‘ post titles, I’m really going to try to cut back on the sensationalistic titles and instead rely on my wit, I promise. Wish me luck.)

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I call BS.

San Andreas recalled? If hardcore pornography was submitted for approval by the MPAA do you know what it would receive? An NC-17. Why? That’s the strictest rating that the MPAA has. How about in the case of music albums? Oh, wait, they don’t have age-limits. They only have one sticker that is absent if the album is completely wholesome (in a mind-numbingly pointless way.) What in San Andreas would require someone be 18 years or older to purchase that they could not get at the age of 17 from a film? Anyone? So why is 17 years old inappropriate for people to buy this game at? I’ve seen posts calling this decision ‘saddening’ and ‘out of hand’, but it’s more than that. It’s complete bullshit. And the worst part of it? It’s all voluntary.

And I know it’s easy for someone (namely me) to talk trash when they have nothing on the line, but at what point is it the job of Rockstar to coddle every child that may possibly play their game? Obviously even they shied away from releasing the actual content for people to play. Think about that. Rockstar said “okay, this is too much.” This is the Rockstar that said killing people in GTA3 is equivalent to Pac-Man eating dots! (And they were right.) Come to think of it, I’m not disappointed about all of this uproar about the content. I’m disappointed that Rockstar was so quick to buckle. And I’m downright pissed that Rockstar didn’t include it from day one. I’m pro-“entertainment with sick and twisted shit.” Requiem For A Dream was an amazing movie. Go ahead, give it the AO rating. People will still buy it. It’s Grand Theft Auto for Christ’s sake.

In an interview over at Cathode Tan, Jeff Freeman (a designer with Star Wars Galaxies, and more impressively a parent,) best summed up the the problem by talking about the attitude of most parents. “I can’t stop my little children from playing 37 hours a week of Baby-Killer 3, because I don’t understand this little letter on the box it came in!”

In fact, Mr. Freeman even goes on to make another great point in his blog about abolishing either the M or the AO rating. Why differentiate between 17 and 18 at all? Y’know, I like that Freeman guy. Hell, I’m tempted to go buy Star Wars: Galaxies in support of such a common sense attitude. Wonder how much I can trade in my copy of San Andreas for…

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The pants in the gaming family

This whole post is more or less a look at another post, this post. David Jaffe, designer of the fantastical PS2 game God of War, made a post a few weeks ago regarding a Deconstruction Group he sat in on. The Deconstruction Group, in David’s words:

It was started by the head of the Academy of Interactive Arts and Sciences along with two other key industry folks (one is a game writer, the other heads up the USC game department). Every 3-6 weeks the group takes over a game company’s conference room in So Cal (this week it was Naugty Dog), invites a bunch game industry folks, and has a few USC grad students play the key parts of interesting and popular games. As they play, the indsutry types network and chat and discuss the game, while the grad students deconstruct the game, explaining what worked for them, what did not, etc….It’s a really cool idea and helps those of us that are sometimes too busy making our own games to explore the newer titles. It’s also a nice time to meet up with people in the biz, say hey to old buddies, and make new ones!

Sounds like a great concept to me. He goes on to say “God of War was lots of fun to see being played, chat about,etc….BUT it was when Psychonauts came up that sparks started to fly.” And a discussion about developer’s rights ensued. He goes on to say “those publisher execs are right in that consumers purchase brands, not games made by specific teams or by specific designers….but they are only right FOR THE TIME BEING….” My God this guy needs to spend more time with Dave Perry, Jason Rubin, and Scott Miller. The time is now! Seize the day! Etc!

Of course the “knock-out punch” in my book is Jason Booth saying “It allways cracks me up when publishers say that branding the developer dilutes the brand of the title. If that were the case, then they wouldn’t put “EA” on the box at all. Try pitching that to them.”

The moral of this post? Just a bunch of questions. The Deconstruction Group is a great idea, and I have to wonder how common such things are. And seriously, what are some developers thinking? “It’s okay if I don’t get credit. One day people will recognize our genius on their own?!”

I mean, most casual gamers I know think that EA makes all of the games with ‘EA’ on them. Good job developers. Since Atari you’ve done little but give yourself over as indentured servants to publishers for the glorious opportunity to work in games. As a result, when Atari crashed publishers came around and bought everything for pennies on the dollar and they continue to do it today as a course of normal business that it’s quickly forgotten. EA bought Criterion for $48 million. You don’t think Burnout, the upcoming Black, and Renderware are worth that much? It’s like someone wanted to get rid of Criterion.

And how scary is it when developers are okay with EA saying “having your game associated with you will hurt the game,” but I and others like me, folks who wants to get jobs desperately, have huge issues with applying at EA?

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