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Chris Franklin
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I did a new episode type thingie. This time I talk about Grand Theft Auto IV. Unfortunately most of what I say this time is sort of self-evident, but I felt it needed to be said. I'm working on a new video that's even better than this one, just you wait.

Long post entirely comprised of ranting, whining, bitching, and moaning about Errant Signal follows. Disregard.

So I'm pretty happy with the Mirror's Edge episode. I think the snark levels were kept at a minimum, the whole thing stayed more or less on point, and it was still at least somewhat entertaining and/or informative.

But it's also on track to be one of the lowest performing episodes in months. Part of that was because I had an enormous run of good fortune with my FarCry 2 episode coming out just before the game was featured as a Midweek Madness game on Steam, and with recent episodes being linked by Terry Cavanagh and Alec Holowka. For those events I am quite thankful (as well as for anyone that keeps watching for some reason!). Unfortunately, for whatever reason reddit (my primary source of viewers, such as it is) decided to downvote my submission into oblivion this time around. You win some, you lose some.

That alone isn't so bad, but this same week my YouTube account got flagged incorrectly by their Content ID system. I keep a YouTube account around under the assumption that in terms of raw, potential viewership, being on YouTube is far more likely to get people see these videos than posting one-off links on Reddit. This is doubly true since Blip.TV refuses to consider Errant Signal worthy of a "Show Page" or let it show up in their internal search results.

Despite saying my account is not in good standing via Content ID, when I click on the link that is supposed to explain which videos received matches I get nothing. No videos have been taken down, and no DMCA notices have been filed against me, no videos show up as Content ID matches. As far as I can tell it's a bug. The result is that while my account is still in good enough standing to post videos, I'm back to their arbitrary and limiting 15 minute cap on anything I can post there. Since the Mirror's Edge video clocked in at 16:05 or so, I'm now out of luck. Until (or, rather, unless) they fix the bug, YouTube will only be able to receive exceedingly short episodes going forward.

Fun aside: did you know that YouTube has effectively zero human support? They have a forum run by users where users can half-guess at answers to other users' problems, and they have a "Helpdesk" with the most common answers to the most common problems. There is no phone number to call, no e-mail address to write to. As far as I can tell my account has been inappropriately flagged but it doesn't matter - there's no one to reverse it. The account's just another casualty in the ongoing copyright wars.

Bitching and moaning about slights by Blip.TV and YouTube aside, I'm struggling to think of a way to push Errant Signal forward from here. There's always room for improvement in production values, of course, and I absolutely could use an investment in a proper shotgun mic to improve sound quality at some point. But what I really mean is how to expand my viewership in a way that isn't some sleezeball, bullshit ad campaign. As appreciative as I am at everyone who has ever linked to any one of my videos (and I really am, even at that guy at Obsidian that called me a pretentious maker of essays that answer their own questions), it's becoming increasingly clear that word of mouth isn't going to drive this little venture. I'm not making snarky pisstakes of games that can go viral - if anything I've been toning down the snark. Reddit has already proven itself a fickle mistress with regards to whether it deigns a video worthy of acknowledgement, and YouTube is looking like a dead end unless I want to start working with a more compressed format.

At this point the show feels like it's at some sort of weird crossroads - it's reached a point where it's found its voice, more or less, but it hasn't found its audience (if, indeed, one even exists for the show). And I'm not quite sure how to rectify that.

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New video! This week I talk about Mirror's Edge and what it means to be an experimental new IP from a major publisher.

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I haven't watched it in a while, so I decided to rewatch Chris Crawford's Dragon Speech. Honestly, it's as poignant as ever - although, having been shot in 1992, the game references are increasingly dated. Harpoon isn't exactly lighting up store shelves these days and I'm not sure CompuServe is really something anyone signs into anymore.

If you were ever morbidly curious about where some of my philosophies on games and game design came from, Crawford was an undeniably influential figure (to me and many, many others). If you've got an hour or so to burn (and hey, look at that, tonight U.S. citizens have to by law) take a look:

Part 1 - The Dragon Speeh Part 1 of 5 "Dream Well"
Part 2 - Chris Crawford: The Dragon Speech (part 2 - Interactivity)
Part 3 - Chris Crawford: The Dragon Speech (part 3 - The Genesis of Art)
Part 4 - Chris Crawford: The Dragon Speech (part 4 - Characters)
Part 5 - Chris Crawford: The Dragon Speech (part 5 - Chaaaaaaaaarge!)

Note also that this was recorded before the whole "Chasing the Dragon" drug metaphor from South Park. Also realize that this was Crawford declaring that 'depth over breadth' and sequelitis choking the artistic integrity of the medium in '92 - a year before DOOM even came out.

For those of you who have seen the Dragon Speech, I offer this new video that I didn't know existed - a meeting of the minds between Jason Rohrer and Chris Crawford. It's sort of awkward - it's clear Rohrer thinks very highly of Crawford and that Crawford remains highly skeptical of games not ostensibly "about people," regardless of how much love and effort and expression goes into them - but it's still worth a watch if you're a fan of either designer's philosophy.

Part 1: Into the Night with Jason Rohrer and Chris Crawford (part 1)
Part 2: Into the Night with Jason Rohrer and Chris Crawford (part 2)
Part 3: Into the Night with Jason Rohrer and Chris Crawford (part 3)
Part 4: Into the Night with Jason Rohrer and Chris Crawford (part 4)
Part 5: Into the Night with Jason Rohrer and Chris Crawford (part 5)

Rewatching these is enough to make me think I might want to do a video about the Dragon Speech itself. There's so much Crawford foresaw; so much he's dead right about. But the whole 'games about people' philosophy still bugs me... maybe another day.

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New video! This week I'm taking a look at Bastion. And also trying to stay positive, because it seems so difficult to do on the internet these days...


Super-plus-fun commentary for G+ friends:

This episode was a nightmare. I learned a lot, but man did it hurt. First of all, if you've watched the episode and sat through the credits, you'll see just how many sources of footage I used. This is part of why the episode took so long to finish. Getting that footage from so many different sources - even when some of them are just Netflix and YouTube - is extremely time consuming. And tedious.

Then there's the fact that I bit off way, way, way more than I could chew for the script. Bastion is a great game - probably the first really great game I've covered - and I felt the need to cover so many different aspects of it. I wanted to highlight the amazing art assets and music composition. I wanted to point out the brilliant pacing and game length that is refreshingly brief while providing enough meat to appease serious gamer types. I wanted to discuss the story, then kick about what it could mean. I also wanted to go on a small rant about how there are so many negative and vitriol-fueled internet videos, why they are that way, and yet how I'm still sick of it. All in a 15 minute video. It was entirely too much to tackle in a single go. Part of what made the Advertising episode work was that it was laser-focused - I had my attention on one single point. This comes off as schizophrenic and a little bit ADD. I realized it about halfway through the editing process - the flow wasn't there; I would segue violently from one topic to the next without fleshing out anything in particular. But at that point I had already invested so much time and effort that to go back would be a major hurdle.

Finally, the whole literary analysis thing... I'm torn on whether that was a grand failure or not. It falls pretty flat, watching the video, as I ended up rushing through my arguments and skipping key points of the game (I'm absolutely certain I'm going to catch shit for skipping on the "pickup/leave Zulf choice). I also run the risk of making an ass of myself - I'm not a literary critic; I'm not trained in the fine art of rhetoric; I'm not properly equipped to approach a game like this without coming off like a jackass with fourth grade level analyses. So, you know, I'm afraid of coming off like Tim Rogers. At the same time, because of the time constraints I didn't have the ability to approach a fully formed, strong argument for my reading of the game. It was a jumbled mess because it was squeezed into the back seven minutes of a sixteen minute video. An entire video dedicated to how Bastion is an allegory for a man recovering from a breakup might have had legs to stand on. I think when a game can stand up to an analysis it's a worthwhile pursuit to explore those themes and ideas thoroughly in my discussions. So it didn't work here, and I'm hesitant to try it again.

It might be safer to just stick to making fun of bad games and using them to rail against a bloated, broken industry that keeps a creative medium in shackles. I'm way better at self-righteous anger than emotional, pleading interpretations of games, anyways. And that's what's got me a little upset - that my grand experiment to do something positive was sort of a failure. I'm walking away from this not thinking that I've proved that you can do a positive, happy spin on games, but instead understanding more deeply why few if any do.

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I know this is old, but with the silly hype and wankery surrounding the pending releases of Battlefield 3 and Call of Duty I think it provides an appropriate perspective.

Wrote a big... thing.... over on reddit regarding some of the implications to the "pay-for-an-alpha" business model from the Indie Stone fallout. But since reddit is currently downvoting absolutely any discussion on the topic that isn't driven by pitchforks, torches, and a holier-than-thou attitude I thought I'd post it here, if only because it is SO MUCH TEXT that I demand someone read it:


I think there's a lot of angles here - some lessons from the failures on behalf of Indie Stone, and some takeaways about community expectations and the difference between indie developers and AAA game studios.

The first, biggest takeaway is this: Do not monetize until you have something to offer. When Minecraft launched with its pay-for-the-alpha model, it was already a pretty popular 3D lego sim that let players build all sorts of neat things in the environment and explore a procedurally generated world. Subsequent updates were promised, but Notch made it pretty clear that you were buying the game as-is. While you were eligible for all upgrades up through release and could see the promise of where the project was heading, you were effectively acting as an early access beta tester and/or angel investor to support the game's further development. Note that there's nothing wrong with this as long as it's clearly conveyed as such.

Indie Stone/Project Zomboid struggled with this. They wanted funding first to ensure they could complete what was admittedly designed to be a fairly complicated game. They didn't have an alpha to give out - at least, not one that really had much gameplay to it the way Minecraft did. This is why PayPal and GoogleCheckout and others shut them down. And eventually they figured out a workaround that sort of halfway worked - sell one of their older, smaller games and have the promise of a free version of Project Zomboid when it was finished. When they finally did end up rushing out an Alpha to placate fans, it was light on content and was probably more of a distraction from continued development to placate paid customers. Be sure that if you approach this model you wait until you actually have something, and also that it's a game that supports iterative releases. Minecraft was fun before there were Ender Men and The Nether and procedurally generated houses. Is your game already fun and worth $8 for a preorder? Can you easily release iterative updates that don't kill your bandwidth? If not, introducing other people's money into the equation might just complicate things.

I mean, Braid could never have supported this model. Braid is so compact, so cohesive, and so complete in its experience that I can't imagine playing an alpha where only three of the five worlds were completed, the ending didn't exist yet, and temp art was used for half of the enemies. You need a game that is open and dynamic. Terraria is another good example, with new weapons, monsters, and craftable items being added regularly. Project Zomboid may well have fit that definition, but they jumped the gun on monetizing - they didn't even have anything to update for months. So ultimately, I think, this is a business model that works for specific types of games in specific at very specific stages of development, and while it can be really powerful in terms of spreading word of mouth and bringing in additional income to the studio it is absolutely not a panacea to the funding woes of an indie development studio.

That said, I think that the community needs to adjust its own expectations as well. I don't know if it's because there's such a lack of understanding about the development process or what, but gamers don't seem to recognize that there's a difference between four guys in a loft in England and the multinational organization that is EA. If I donate to a local band or invest in a Kickstarter to help a documentary I'm interested in, I feel like I've done well - I've helped to enable someone to create something of value. But that sense of acting as a patron of the arts doesn't really exist with gamers. The view isn't "I spent $8 in support of independent game developers and got a cheap alpha out of the deal!", it's "When the fuck is Notch going to release that content pack he promised for this game I paid $15 for a year ago?" Gamers are so inured by "games as a product" that they fundamentally reject the idea of "Games as a creative endeavor." Creativity breeds risk; it implies failure. Instead of joining these creative people in taking that risk, we condemn them for wasting our money.

I mean, seriously, I've never seen so many people so goddamned furious over a matter of $8. Instead of being depressed that we came together as a community to support a developer that unfortunately failed in their goals, the response was instead "Fuck these guys, I want my money's worth!"

The reason developers need to do things like sell an alpha that doesn't exist is that they don't have the funding to easily carry the game through to completion. There's the impression that because Notch managed to strike gold every pay-for-the-alpha system out there is a get-rich quick scheme designed to do nothing but generate revenue. This can't be further from the truth - a lot of time this is done literally just to keep the project afloat.

I mean, think of this scenario: What if the reason that they stopped development wasn't because of the robbery, but because they just plum ran out of money? It's entirely possible that investments of $8/pop over the internet isn't enough to support four people in England full-time. Would things have been any different? Of course not - there would still be the screams of "SCAM!" and the accusations of con-artistry and exploitation. The problem isn't that these people idiotically didn't have SVN, the problem is that the ultimate "product" would never materialize. And gamers, hostile to the idea of not getting the game they envisioned the alpha would turn into, stormed the castle with pitchforks and torches at the ready.

So I think it's going to take time for the community to reconcile the idea that an indie project can fail, and to recognize that early investment in a project with potential is just that - it's not a guarantee you're going to be getting the most badass zombie sim in the world two years from now, it's a financial lifeline to a project you support.

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I am increasingly wary of sites like Blip and Vimeo 'cultivating' content. YouTube is basically anarchy, but there's something to be said for anarchy. It certainly allows for a wider range of content of all levels of entry for all purposes.

What's really disconcerting about this is that it means your content is being used to sculpt someone else's brand - Vimeo is the 'artsy' place, Blip is the 'professional' place. And if you pay us $200/year we'll host your videos, we just won't let people see them. This is not a distribution model that favors artists and creators.

Out of boredom I did some calculations on The Sims Social. Buying energy at the lowest rate ($100 for 900 coins), when converted into in-game actions, means you're paying roughly $0.09 per action. Buying energy at the highest rate ($5 for 35 coins) is equivalent to about $0.125 per action (with some leftover coins making it slightly cheaper). That's a dime every time you want to watch virtual-you play guitar. Crazy.

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On one hand, this is (sort of) true. On the other hand, I'd like to think there's more value in a videogame than weapon skins and various flavors of hats. In-game content isn't equivalent to a game's value, and if you're not feeling edified by playing a game only because your character doesn't have the right gun model then you're probably not playing the right games. Or you're just excruciatingly easily distracted from a game's lack of meaning by shiny objects and e-peen prestige.

... Says the jackass with the unusual hat.
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