Sunday, December 31, 2006

If you give me an empty fish tank, there will be a subconscious need to fill it.

Within a 3d MMORPG there lives a character. Because of this players level and accumulated wealth, this character has the ability to buy or build a virtual home. A place to store trophies and phat loot. A place to improve upon and show off their power and prestige. A place to call home. What if that home came standard with an empty fish tank? Right there, up against the wall, this large tank of water just bubbling away. There it is, in glorious tank-dom. I don't know about you, but if I had a house that came standard with a fish tank, I would want a fish in it. Now if I go over to the fish tank and click on it, a menu could pop up and ask me if I wanted to buy a fish for only .99 cents. With each fish purchase, I would get an endless supply of fish food. Sounds pretty reasonable right? I could select my new little pet and give him a name and a cute little gurgle that he would make each time when I select him and there could be a description of where he came from. This fish will grow and change over time. The fins will become taller and more beautiful. A sim-like personality will develop. But who wants just one fish? How about two so the first one is not lonely. It is a big tank you know. And maybe I want some of those tall seaweed grass thingies (ChaChing) and maybe an underwater castle (ChaChing) and I gotta have that treasure chest that has that skeleton laying on it(ChaChing)! Each fish could have a different AI behavior. Some fish group together, some like to be alone. Some eat up the algae, cuz you gotta have one of those otherwise you tank will get nasty and your other fish will get sick. CHA-CHING!!! Who can resist a fish tank? Not me. Who doesn't love fish tanks? I could choose from 20 unique fish, how cool is that! Better yet, what if once every 3 months, this MMO releases a limited quantity of NEW never before seen fish? Oh the madness! You think I'm joking? Decorating ones space and collecting are some of the most addicting hobbies in the virtual and real world. Micropayments! They are on their way, in a big way. All I'm talking about is a stinkin' fish tank that came standard in my house. It makes me wonder what other things could come standard in a virtual home? By the way, don't forget to feed your fish otherwise they'll die and it will cost $1.99 to bring them back to life.

Saturday, December 30, 2006

Seeds & Magic Beans; Ideas or visual representations of potential. PART ONE

I have been thinking a lot about MMO's lately. Not of the traditional MMO's that are out there like WOW, DDO, or Everquest, but of an MMO that I would like to play. One that would not require me to invest 90 hours a week. I'd like some kind of play space that I could own and control and change and allow others to see these changes. A space that would allow me to set up scenarios, puzzles or story lines that I could put out there for others to play around with. Part of the appeal of sites like "My Space" or just creating a blog is that these things provide a framework for a person to post their thoughts, ideas, likes and dislikes which can include music, links, photos, etc and then throw them out there into the void to see if anyone responds. Kind of like shouting out at the top of your lungs at the edge of the Grand Canyon and yelling "HELLO?" You may hear your echo for a minute or two, but the excitement of hearing someone out there, somewhere, respond.."hellooooo" is pretty cool. Making that connection that you might not have expected might draw you in to find out who that person is that responded to you. It's this hook, or notion that a simple thing like this could draw you in made me start to think of additional things that could do that, but within a MMO play space.

SEED: A source or beginning;
Imagine if a stranger ran up to you one day and handed you a small leather pouch and told you, in winded breath, that what was inside of that pouch were some magic beans. Each bean has different magical properties and even he was unsure what each bean would do if planted. A second later that man collapse and dies. Oh the mystery, the drama! Would you plant those beans? What would each day bring if you did. How would that bean grow? What would the plant look like? What fruit would it bear, if any? What magical properties would it provide? What dangers or benefits would come of planting that bean. Would these questions provide enough incentive for you to return to the pot to water and check up on it. Would you take care of this seedling each day by making sure it had the appropriate sun light and minerals? It would only take 5 minutes a day. Would you be curious enough to make that kind of time commitment? The idea of the magic bean is a hook.

HOOK: Something that attracts attention or serves as an enticement;
A game should try to hook a person into playing, staying and potentially paying for additional content. The company making the game doesn't have to be sneaky about it like some net providers, or larger "traditional MMO's", but can do it in a playful way. Simply reward a player with something that will enhance their experience slowly over time. The Magic Bean is a perfect example. A casual player first must be introduced to a very small, very simple experience. An experience that might even feel trivial at first. It could even be as simple as a game of tic tac toe. (probably should be slighter more interesting, but for sake of discussion...) Once the casual player wins, and hopefully they win a game of tic tac toe, you present the player with a Magic bean planted in a pot as a reward and you leave a web link shortcut on that persons desktop that will lead them back to their magic bean pot anytime they click on the link. You make it clear to the person that they WON this thing, that it has magic powers and that it is going to grow into something interesting over the next few hours/day. It also tells you to feel free to return to this site at anytime to see it's progress. What this hopefully will do is plant a seed in the players mind to check up on their reward. If somehow you are able to get the persons email address, in a legitimate way, prior to the tic tac toe game, you might even be able to send out an email to the person that their plant is done growing and that they should see what it has to offer. The goal, especially in the beginning, is to draw that person back to the game, offer a new mini game, reward and hook, and repeat, allowing the big vision of the game to slowly unfold to present more situations and deeper game play options. Hooks like these have been used in traditional games for years, but the casual market is what I'm shooting for. The folks that don't have 90 hours a week to invest. Now the Magic bean is just one visual that can represent potential. A few others might include an Egg that is about to hatch, DNA, a Treasure Map, Key, an unopened present/package that was mysteriously delivered to you. Each one of these examples contains within it, potential if only pursued.

Tuesday, December 26, 2006

Voodoo Extreme awards Titan Quest with Best Art Direction for 2006!

Today was a very interesting and exciting day for me. Voodoo Extreme awarded Titan Quest with "Best Art Direction for a Game for 2006". As the Art Director on Titan Quest, I feel particularly proud of this. TQ was a bit of a sleeper title here in the U.S. and didn't get nearly the marketing budget or time for polish like many of us hoped, but we worked extremely hard to ship a great looking game. This recognition is especially rewarding considering those facts. This recognition is also important to me because when I was an artist making art, I would have a specific piece of work that I could point to and feel very proud about. After slowly being sucked into a management position I struggled for a long time with not having the attention or the pat on the back for creating a cool model or slick texture work. Rarely do people come to you and say you are doing a great job managing or that your art direction is really solid. I really struggled with this when I was the Lead Artist on Asheron's Call 2. I enjoyed the creative control, but missed the praise when a piece of concept that I had created was modeled and textured by another artists. It's not that I'm fishing for compliments, but it's important to feel like what you are doing is appreciated. Asheron's Call 2 did receive quite a bit of positive feedback on it's art direction, which made me feel good, but no awards or recognition from the folks in the industry.

TQ was quite a challenge from the start. When I was hired at Iron Lore I took the position as a Senior Artist. I needed a break from managing and was a bit burnt out with the "Design by Committee" philosophy that had taken over the art department at Turbine when I was working on D&D Online. Not looking to get back into management, I was very excited about being an artist again. Looking forward to creating some great models and doing some texture work. After a few weeks at Iron Lore, it became crystal clear to me that the Art Director that Iron Lore had hired was more knowledgeable about feature film pipeline, but not so much about the how things are done in video games. Iron Lore soon realized, as many of the artists on the team did, that this AD was not the right person for the job. After this guy left the company, me being the most senior person in the Art Department, was asked to help out while a search for a new Art Director was underway. I had no problem with this because I was pretty much use to handling many of the day to day running of the department anyways. After a couple weeks of managing the department, the project manager asked me if I would be interested in the position. My initial feeling was no. I didn't want the responsibility, the headaches and have to deal with internal political struggles; but after getting that knee-jurk reaction out of the way and allowing the bitter flashbacks from my Turbine days to fade, I reconsidered.

The art team at Iron Lore was enthusiastic and very talented. Half of them were new to the industry and the other half had 3-4 year experience. This was a really great group of guys. I don't want to get into all of the details of the monumental task it was creating TQ, but with any new company with a big vision, the scale and scope of the project was similar to that of an MMO when it came to the number of assets that we were expected to create. My challenge, as the Art Director was to establish visual guidelines for the project, create the art pipeline, work with the programmers to get the necessary tools and make sure that the art styles of 12 different artists all gelled into a single cohesive vision all without a story for the game. Pretty standard. Not to mention that 4 months of preproduction time was wasted by the previous Art Director. On June of 2006, after 2 years in production, many long days and nights, and after way too much consumption of pizza, Titan Quest hit the shelves and quietly faded into the background due to the media coverage of the new consoles that were about to come out. Nonetheless, I was very proud of what we had accomplished and what I had accomplished. I have come to accept that I actually like being an Art Director and can appreciate the day to day rewards that comes with the job. There are some days that I still wouldn't mind slipping away into my cube for a full 8 hours without having to go to a meeting or to deal with a creative dispute between the designers and artists, but then again I would not have had the opportunity to shape this project the way I did. I would like to thank the folks over at Voodoo Extreme for not over looking TQ because it didn't have "in your face Normal Mapping" or some of the other "NEXTGEN" effects that are frequently over used. Anyways, thanks.

Friday, December 8, 2006

My Blog.

Whoa. My Blog. I'm not quite sure what I'm going to do with this yet, but it should be interesting how this thing evolves.