Random Thoughts

I know that things have been quiet lately.  The holidays are coming soon and there will be a rush of games coming out; one of them could be that TFB game we’ve been so curious about for so long.

Last week, I discovered that Budcat Creations was closed down by Activision Blizzard on November 16.  Some of their recent include Band Hero, various Guitar Hero games and Blast Works.  After this announcement, there was rumor that Budcat was still active.  However, from what I have read, their contract has ended with Activision.

On the same day, Activision announced that in 90 days, they will make a decision their contract with Bizarre Creations.  Some of their recent games include James Bond 007: Blood Stone, Geometry Wars, Project Gotham Racing, Blur and The Club.  Activision can choose to sell, restructure, layoff and close.  Activision has stated that Blood Stone and Blur were not commercially successful.  Bizarre is still open at the time of this posting.

Both of the above events are sad to hear.  I apologize if I sound repetitive, but this is another case of “video game politics”; as a gamer, it shocks me that 2 studios are in great risk and at the same time, I am ignorant of the marketing and business side of this industry.  I wish everyone in these 2 studios the best of luck.

I remember CEO of Silicon Knights, Denis Dyack said in an interview that with the hundreds of games released each year, it’s not possible to play all of them, review all of them and still make  make profit from all of them.  Dyack states, “There’s too much product and the only that’s going to change is through consolidation: Fewer and better games.”  Silicon Knights is currently working on X-Men: Destiny with Activision.

Denis Dyack Interview

Dark Quadrant

A while ago, I received an e-mail from Mike Renwick about a mobile game he is working on with a friend for the iPhone.  It is a space combat game that is inspired by Star Control II.  It is currently a work in progress and shows a lot of promise.

Kohr-Ah Marauder used as a placeholder ship

It is powered by the Unity engine.  With the success of iPhone and the iPad, it really makes me consider getting one of these products to experience first-hand how strong Apple really is in the mobile market.

One cool thing he did was used a third-party service to turn one of his 3D models into a physical form.  Maybe we can turn those 3D models and images and turn them into those physical 3D forms we always dreamed of.

It’s another example that the science fiction and space combat is not dead.  If the Dark Quadrant is successful, maybe we can expect a sequel in the future.

Check out the Dark Quadrant blog.  Thanks Mike for taking the time to write to me about this.

EDIT: Made a revision and added a like to Mike’s Twitter.

Mike Renwick’s Twitter (@runonthespot)

DreamWorks & THQ

DreamWorks & THQ join forces.

Anyone who has been following the occasional TFB news is aware that their current game is not a movie-license game nor is it Star Control.  Activision actually gave TFB more time to work on the game and polish it some more.  From what I’ve read, it’s one of their biggest projects yet.

We’re so excited to find out what it is and when it’s coming out.  It’s so nice to know that it’s not Madagascar or some other movie tie-in.

What I should have asked is “What about the contract between Activision and DreamWorks?”  I recently saw a trailer for Penguins of Madagascar for Nintendo DS, published by THQ and developed by Griptonite Games.  The dev studio employs nearly 160 people.

I discovered that on December 2 2009, the contract between THQ and DreamWorks was announced:

"THQ Inc. (NASDAQ:THQI) and DreamWorks Animation SKG, Inc. (NASDAQ:DWA) today announced that they have entered into multi-year, multi-property licensing agreements granting THQ the exclusive worldwide rights to develop and publish video games based on DreamWorks Animation’s upcoming animated feature films..."

"The new agreements grant THQ exclusive worldwide rights to publish interactive games based on these DreamWorks Animation properties for all console and handheld systems, including Xbox Live Arcade, PlayStation Network and Nintendo Wii Virtual Console, and wireless devices."

- THQ Investor Relations, "THQ and DreamWorks Animation Announce Multi-Year, Multi-Property Video Game License Agreements"

There we have it. Activision is no longer responsible for publishing DreamWorks Animation movie tie-in games. THQ has exclusive rights for all consoles. This is another clue that whatever TFB’s next game after their current project will not be based on a DreamWorks Animation game.

It’s just under a year since this announcement was made and it makes me wonder what Activision will do to continue pushing their games to the market.

What do you think?

Joystiq: THQ gains exclusive rights to Dreamworks game tie-ins
THQ Investor Relations - THQ & DreamWorks

Project 6014 Demo - Gameplay Part 2

For some reason, I had some serious issues recording with Fraps. The introduction slides recorded fine since there was no user interaction.  The moment I recorded gameplay, the frame rate dipped to single digits whenever sprites started moving.  I even tried using a much faster computer and the same issues occured.  Eventually I lowered the resolution to 320x480 and the frame rate was much better.  I’ll have to look into this some time later.  I’ll record the next videos without any filtering enabled.

One thing that I started to do is take notes.  I did it when I started playing Star Control II for the first time.  The artwork is really nice and the Earthling bridge looks great.  The color scheme of their uniforms is based on the ending of SC2 which shows the captain wearing a full uniform.

I talked to the Chmmr and went to Sol to find out what happened with regards to the Shofixti transmission.  The Chmmr mention their natural ability to receive hyperwave broadcasts the same way we can hear sounds.  I created a few ships in preparation for some good old fashioned space exploration.

The Project 6014 demo can be downloaded at http://forum.uqm.stack.nl/index.php?topic=4863.0

Also check out dczanik’s DeviantArt page.  It contains some cool Star Control art which was used in this mod.

Project 6014 Intro

I just wanted to write something very quickly about Project 6014.  The demo has been released by the hard-working Project 6014 team.  I have seen other mods where the ship stats are modified to create new strategies and I think this is the first one I’ve seen with an entirely different campaign and additional artwork.

One of the first things I noticed is the starmap is completely different.  This would be a good time to remind everyone that the starmap is searchable! When in the map screen, press / and type the name of a star system; press tab to switch between different star systems that start with the same letters.  It’s a great time saver.

Keep in mind this is the demo, the full version is in the works.  I am definitely supporting this.  This can inspire more people to make more UQM mods which is a great way of extending Star Control II’s legacy.

So check it out.  There’s plenty of new artwork to see and so much to talk about.  I just started playing the game and it’s a must for anyone who loves Star Control and wants to play something new that’s based on it directly.

Thanks to the Project 6014 team (Cedric, Erjh00, Benjamin,Jakko, Dczanik, Eli, MMcGillSmith and Abovetheruins) for working on this and I am excited to see more in the future.

Project 6014 Demo Released
Project 6014 Page on Google Code

Brief Thoughts on Activision

I remember when I first started this blog, I wrote overly-positive  comments about how powerful and open minded Activision is.  I didn’t want to say anything bad and at the same time I wanted to find some kind of way to stay neutral.  Video game politics are still new to me and 99.999% of the time I rely on video game blogs for news about the video game industry.

To this day, Activision remains notorious for pushing sequels to multiple platforms.  Bobby Kotick eventually took over as CEO and became one of the largest third-party video game publishers in the world.  Activision would later continue thriving and merge with Blizzard and Vivendi (who owns Blizzard) to form Activision Blizzard.  Both halves of the merger can still operate independently.

The most recent things I remember writing about Activision is Bungies 10-year contract and Infinity Ward’s dispute with them over royalty payments.

The reason why I am bringing up Activision again is because there have been some articles popping up about them which I missed.

"Virtually all of our studio heads are serious, responsible people," he [Bobby Kotick] explains. "They want to make great games, they want to do it the right way, and I think one of the benefits we have [with] being a big company is that we don’t have the same pressures of, 'Oh, we have to have it out for this particular quarter.' There’s not a studio at this company that will tell you: 'Activision is forcing us to get the game out.'
‐ Ben Maxwell, "Kotick: EA Is Suffocating Studios", Kotick: EA Is Suffocating Studios

This is similar to what happened to Toys for Bob.  However, Kotick’s statement feels biased to me.  They worked hard on their super secret game and they were given more time to work on it and do more with their project. I have no idea of Kotick had any connection with giving TFB more time to work on their project.  In summary, whatever TFB is working on, whatever took place during development and whatever factors influenced the producers to give more time, this project is very promising and only makes me even more excited to find out what it is.

Activision wants the same thing every other company wants: Profit.  I know that there are non-profit companies, but that is another story.  I agree that Activision pumps sequels to franchises to multiple consoles.  They go as far as to get multiple developers working on different versions of the same game.

Have you heard of a game called Rage?  It is under development by Id Software.  It was originally pitched to Activision, who rejected it.  As a result, Id pitched the idea to EA who accepted it.  During development, Id became acquired by ZeniMax, a publisher that also owns Bethesda.

Although, I don’t entirely agree with pumping sequels and movie-licensed games each year, it is profitable and that’s why they continue to do it.  Technically, it’s consumers who encourage these types of strategies.  I would love to see more original intellectual property titles directly from developers.  It’s just that Activision wants low-risk investment returns.

I know absolutely nothing about about the relationship between TFB and Activision other than they’ve been working together for 5 years now.  At the moment, I’ll write more about Activision if it’s interesting enough.  I still want to be aware of Kotick’s business strategies.

Archon on NES

It’s no secret that Archon has been ported to multiple consoles.  One of the ports I wanted to write about was the NES version.  It is straightforward port containing a 1 or 2 player mode like the other ones.  This version also has a demo mode where the player can watch the computer control both sides.  It’s a good a way of seeing what kind of strategies it can use.  From what I’ve seen, this version isn’t the most popular version of Archon.

Although this is a straightforward, I found some information about the developers that may interest some people:  This port of Archon was developed by Bullet-Proof Software and published by Activision.  Free Fall Associates (now Free Fall Games) still owned the rights to Archon and otherwise had nothing to do with creating the game itself.  Bullet-Proof Software’s most popular games are without a doubt, Tetris for the Game Boy and NES.  In addition, they are one of the most popular games on both consoles.    The original creator of Tetris, Alexey Pajitnov still owns the rights to Tetris and can be licensed through a holding company.  It makes me wonder about the connection between Free Fall, Activision and Bullet-Proof Software, and TFB eventually making games for Activision.

Inside of a repro cart.
One of my first attempts to set up a repro cart.

Recently, I wanted to take a shot at reproducing a working NES cartridge using only new parts.  I know that it’s possible to take an existing cartridge and replace the ROM chips.  I didn’t want to wreck any existing games, so I ordered a repro board, case and lockout chip and a bunch of ROM chips I could write to.  Ultimately, I spent more than I thought I would and I failed at my first few attempts.  In summary, I eventually created a reproduction of Devil World, a game that has never been released in North America due to Nintendo’s strict policy towards religious references at the time.  I also chose it because it also didn’t need any additional chips to solder.  I wanted to recreate an Archon cartridge, but as of this writing, waiting for parts to arrive in the mail, burning ROMs and checking if it works properly made this little project go longer than it really should.  I definitely learned a lot about how various cartridge configurations and showed me how relevant homebrew groups and retro gamers really are.  I believe this is the first time I learned about retro video games through hardware.

Archon Classic – Light Campaign: Vagabond Archers

(Video removed)

This is the third level in the light campaign.  I find it ironic that I utilized the archers more than the knights despite the fact that plot is about the knights rescuing the archers in a burning village; their ranged attacks really gave me an advantage.  I tried using the knights and they died.  After watching the recording, I realized that I didn’t maneuver as well as I should have and I didn’t pay much attention to the player stats  It’s hard to see in the video, but if I select a unit, it tells me information such as health, strength and speed.  I will make sure to use different units to keep things interesting.

I am also starting to realize that it is essential to keep track of the light, dark and neutral squares and how they never stay the same.  I also noticed that the computer can insist on staying on dark squares while I insist of staying on light squares.  It makes me think of square dancing.

Archon Classic - Light Campaign: The Hunt

I finally got back to playing Archon Classic again.  I use Fraps for recording gameplay.  With screen recording software, it’s important to have a powerful computer with plenty of storage.  In addition, it is crucial to have software that can convert the raw recordings into a format that is much smaller, retains the same quality and compatible with whatever service I am using it with; in this case, Viddler.  I am using VirtualDub to crop and combine the video clips into one, and Windows Media Encoder to convert it to a smaller WMV format.  I’d like to thank everyone who gave me advice about what software to use.

Anyways, I really like the campaign so far.  The previous iterations of Archon that I’ve played, the only way of playing was only the board and all the pieces arranged on opposite sides like a chess board.  The difficult could be adjusted or two people can play against each other.  The Conquest campaign in Archon Classic was originally on the iPhone and I think it make a good transition over to PC.  It is compatible with the Xbox 360 controller which works well.  However, I am usually playing this on different PCs, so I usually use the keyboard so I’m not moving the controller around every time.

I haven’t honed my Archon skills yet and these campaign missions are giving me an opportunity to get used to various strengths and weaknesses.  I still need to get used to light and dark squares and how they alternate over time.

Star Controller Turns 2!

Star Controller turned 2 on August 4th.  I know it was two weeks ago.  I’ve just been so busy with personal stuff (e.g. new job) that I had to change the way I manage my time.

So much has changed in a single year.  For one thing, we have info about Toys for Bob’s super secret game.  Paul Reiche shared with Lukipela that they were given more time to polish their project and do more work with it.  He even mentioned that there were some potential info leaks which were quickly plugged.  It was also confirmed that “Above and Beyond” is not their current game.  This rumor started from a blog called Superannuation who discovered the title and referenced Star Control with a link to Star Controller.  Superannuation is an information-sleuthing site that collects information related to video games.  Some of the posts include interesting domain name registrations from publishers.

It’s only a few more months until the Holiday season when more games will emerge.  This is when we will start hearing about TFB’s game.  In other words, the waiting game continues.

There are some indie sci-fi and fantasy games that have caught my interest.  In addition, I know I haven’t mentioned Archon Classic in a while and I’ll start recording some gameplay footage.  There’s a lot of stuff I haven’t delved into yet.  I know it’s been released on Steam as well.

A very interesting post showed up on the UQM forums about something I wanted to write about here:  People were selling The Ur-Quan Masters on eBay.  I do not like or support this since it does not benefit the UQM team.  I have nothing against Ubuntu or Mozilla selling their own products since they benefit from sales.  To keep it simple, there are a bunch of legalities that can make selling free software for profit legal.

Personally, I have a small grudge towards eBay.  I tried to sell an Action Replay for GameCube.  It was taken down in less than a day because it was an unlicensed product which can make the console do things it is not supposed to do.  However, I see hundreds of these products like this on sale that make it to the end of the time limit.  In addition, it is acceptable to sell unlicensed NES games (e.g. Tengen Tetris, Hot Slots, Shinobi, etc.)  However, if I sell a reproduction cartridge of an unlicensed game that is clearly labeled as such, it will be taken down; an unlicensed game can still have copyrights.  I have seen auctions for illegal items which were not taken down after I flag them.  In summary, I continue to use eBay to buy and sell things occasionally and I wish they would enforce their rules more fairly and give users a chance to justify themselves and get a clear answer as to why their particular auction was removed.

In conclusion, it’s been 2 years and it makes me think of how much as changed in that time.  I remember last year, I mistakenly thought they may have been working on Madagascar Kartz.  One thing that caught my attention was a racer called BOB in one of the trailers.  I thought it was a nod to TFB.  It turns out it was B.O.B. from the Monsters vs. Aliens movie which was included in this game.  And don’t worry, I’m still here.  For those who use Twitter, I can be followed through @starcontroller.

Someone going insane trying to discover the meaning behind Toys for Bob
AHH! Madagascar Kartz
EDIT: Added Paul Reiche’s Twitter.