KAZ: Pushing Product Placement

After reading on arstechnica about a new documentary called Kaz I was psyched to watch it. I’m no console player, but Gran Turismo is a household name by now. 😉 The documentary is about Kazunori Yamauchi the producer of this legendary game series. It promised insight into the thoughts and ambitions of a perfectionist mind funneled though the game making process to produce one of the most acclaimed racing car simulation games out there.

But what I went to see was utterly disappointing!

I expected insight into the process of capturing the “soul” of complex machines–that cars have undeniably become–and how they managed to produce a “piece of art” (in a visual and “feeling of realism” sense) so that they each car they put into the game feels and acts subtly, but recognizably different. I expected something along the lines of creator’s vision, technical process and production anecdotes (very much like the Oral History of Street Fighter 2).

How do you capture the very tactile nature of car racing and delivering it through a gaming console?

How do you deliver the sense of speed and deafening sound into the living room?

How do you make this livable so that people really think they have tasted a drip of the real experience?

Wouldn’t this be interesting to know?

There have been very different but good examples set by companies like Blizzard or id Software when it comes to this. (I’m only counting one-way communication here. so only videos, talks, interviews, etc.)
I loved the battle reports before StarCraft 2 came out or interviews with game director Dustin Browder talking about balance changes and giving insight into their weighing and thinking in the process.
On the other side you have people like John Carmack do after-the-fact (sometimes very technical) analyses of games his company produced on both very specific or very broad game development issues.

I have seen several documentaries that try to capture the fascination of gaming from the players side (e.g. The King of Kong) as well as some that try to show how certain very prominent games were made (e.g. Indie Game, Minecraft).

But this is nothing like any of them. It is a string of sterile interviews, shots in random (“industrial” looking) sceneries, with people (at best) vaguely related to the game, the industry, racing, the film or anything.

  • There are a bunch of random interviews with arists/crafts(wo)men neither of whom is involved in gaming or racing or anything todo with the movie.
  • Product placement
  • Interviews with a young racers and their families and trainers who have basically nothing to do with the game.
  • Pointless and empty phrases by car company representatives, etc. (e.g. Kevin Hunter makes me cringe)
  • Product placement
  • Endless adulation on how successful the GTAcademy is, without really going into how they actually recruit and train drivers
  • Irritating camera action (e.g. useless depth changes in interviews), superfluous shots and scenes just for product placement
  • And the list goes on …
  • Did I mention the product placement?

The only glimpse of how the game was actually made were in two short scenes: where they show how they digitize tracks and an interview with one of the games’ visual designers working on a track’s scenery.

The interviews with “Kaz” are interesting if it wasn’t for the over-the-top and totally artificial settings. There are also some rather bizarre outdoor shots with him in a forest and in a traditional around-the-corner restaurant. They seem like they were forcefully inserted to create the facade of a “happy” and “balanced” person … which seems odd … having a rough idea of the kind of mindset in both the (Japanese) corporate and the general gaming world.

It seems they were desperate to make one of the biggest game company’s largest and probably most expensive game productions look like a inspiring one-man handcrafted artsy garage project.

They basically failed really hard to portray it like an indie game (in spirit). The blatantly obvious and nonsensical product placements didn’t help either. So for a film trying to capture “feeling” it is a rather “over-engeneered” PR tool. Basically Sony achieved with KAZ what Morgan Spurlock couldn’t with The Greatest Movie Ever Sold.

So thats why I’m angry … there is no feeling, no emotion, no insight in this film … it’s a piece coming out of a soulless marketing machine … sadly …

Intriguing Serious Games

I don’t know how people come up with this, but I’ve come two very interesting games that pick up topics you wouldn’t immediately think of. I haven’t played them yet, but I’m intrigued by the concepts.

Papers, Please! puts you into the shoes of an immigration officer at an airport of a fictional country. You have to examine visa applicants and finally granting or denying them entry. You earn money from how many people you correctly admit or reject. And you need the money to pay for your own expenses: rent, food, heating, medicine. Screw up and you won’t be able to afford them.
This puts you into a difficult spot. Your performance doesn’t only affect the live of the person you’re examining, but yours too. You learn that (surprisingly)  You’re swayed between concern, duty, diligence, suspicion, courtesy and cynicism … and you get why border are no laughing matter. :/ I think the review on Arstechnica captures the feeling well.

In Blackbar is a different twist on puzzle games. You get to read mail between two fictional people with parts blacked out. Your task is to reconstruct the blacked-out parts. It’s as simple as that. You get drawn in into the story between the two and you need this context to deduce some of the parts. It feels creepy. :/ TUAW has a nice review of it.

Jonathan Blow: Game design: the medium is the message

Jonathan Blow shares his insights into why free-to-play games are a step back in the evolution of entertainment. He basically talks about what constraints of the medium (structurally) influence film plots and game play respectively. He draws an interesting parallel between free-to-play games and the “commercials and syndication” based monetization model of 70s and 80s TV series.

Highly recommended! 😀

Fixing Bioshock’s Language Settings

I got myself Bioshock 1 and 2 during Steam’s Summer Sale and just came around to play it.
After installation I found out that the game was in German (while my Windows and Steam are in English)!?!? … I hate dubbed films and games!

Sadly Bioshiock doesn’t allow you to change the language in the settings menu so I had to look around. After piecing together information from several 5+ year old, outdated forum posts I found the solution.

  1. Close the game
  2. Open C:\Users\<Username>\AppData\Roaming\Bioshock\bioshock.ini
  3. Find the  [Engine.Engine]  section
  4. Set  Language=int  (“int” is for international i.e. English)
  5. Save the file and restart the game

Everything should be in English now. 😀

Old Games’ Source Code

Fabien Sanglard has written an interesting drill down into the recently released source code for Doom3. He tries to reason why certain things are the way they are and also had a few of his questions answered by John Carmack himself.

There was news about the source code for the Prince of Persia game on Apple II computers restored from a set of ancient floppy disks. There is also a great quote on why going through the trouble of restoring/releasing the source code of those games is something worthwhile.

“Because if we didn’t, it might have disappeared forever.”

 

Video game source code is a bit like the sheet music to a piano sonata that’s already been performed and recorded. One might reasonably ask: If you have the recording, what do you need the sheet music for?

 

You don’t, if all you want is to listen and enjoy the music. But to a pianist performing the piece, or a composer who wants to study it or arrange it for different instruments, the original score is valuable.

 

It’s possible, up to a point, to reverse-engineer new source code from a published video game, much as a capable musician can transcribe a musical score from listening to a performance. But in both cases, there’s no substitute for the original document as a direct line to the creator’s intentions and work process. As such, it has both practical and historical value, to the small subset of the game-playing/music-listening community that cares.