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January 2008

Do you feel lucky, punk?

C01a No More Heroes treats you like a gamer. Straight up. It makes two big assumptions about you from the moment you insert the disc: 1) You love video games with every ounce of your being; 2) You're getting a little sick of video games.

No More Heroes is a game full of game. All the little things--the menus, the load screens, the maps, the save system--everything works, looks and sounds like a skewed, junked out, lo-fi version of a game you've played before. It's a compendium of game references, in loving homage and deconstructed parody. When Travis Touchdown looks you in the eye and says "It's game time!" it is both an invitation and a declaration of principles.

C03a No More Heroes goes full tilt and fully expects you will keep up. Aside from a short combat tutorial, the game doesn't waste time explaining itself. Toilet means save, the D-pad controls the camera, and Blueberry Cheese Brownies...well, you'll figure it all out by yourself - because it turns out that this game makes one final assumption about you.

It assumes you have a fully operational brain in your head. The left side gets the pop culture in-jokes; the GTA riffs; the jaggy 8-bit / Tarantino / Otaku aesthetic; the Mexican wrestling and French soft-core porn allusions. The right side gets the visceral gore-fest, the furious input-timed two-handed combat; the hyper-stylized final kills; the pounding music; the brilliant flashes of color and light.

Who knew we were so smart?

No More Heroes is full of cocky exuberance, just like its lanky homicidal protagonist. Travis is a modern pop Otaku descendent of the lean and sociopathic "Man With No Name" from Sergio Leone's Fistful of Dollars trilogy. Sexy-mean and lonely and cynical and deadly...and ever so slightly feminine. Some of director Goichi Suda's (Suda 51) shot angles and editing style (especially in the Dr. Peace battle scene) appear lifted right out of a Clint Eastwood showdown (though Dr. Peace's gun looks to be straight out of Dirty Harry).C08a

Of course, No More Heroes contains many such cultural references--both intended and otherwise--and the game invites the curious player to create a sort of virtual bibliography of resources. Suda's acknowledged cinematic inspiration is El Topo (1970), a Mexican film (clearly influenced by Leone) in which a gunfighter is urged by a woman to defeat a list of professional gunmen to become the best gunfighter in the land.

No More Heroes proves this story can still pack a punch, but there is more to it than that. El Topo used the framework of a western to explore bigger issues (like every great western). More than anything, El Topo is about a man's search for Enlightenment. And so is No More Heroes. I'll leave it to you to decide if you agree.

By the way, Suda's twisted, inventive, and thematically ambitious Killer 7 is also about a search for Enlightenment. Apparently this guy must think he's some kind of auteur. The audacity.

You might be annoyed by the wonky motorcycle control. You might wish the desolate town felt desolate on purpose, rather than neglected by the designers, and you might wish the citizens were more than unintended roadkill from your unsteady bike. You might even wish the whole experience felt a little less formulaic, linear, and predetermined.

C05 You might wish for all these things, but get over it. No More Heroes is what it is, and defiantly so. For that, I love it even more.

I have more to say about this game, and I look forward to saying it soon. In the meantime, for an insightful look at No More Heroes from a designer's perspective, I highly recommend Steve Gaynor's excellent essay on his blog Fullbright.

NanaOn-Sha keeps keepin' on

Newoldraisinsdt I've emerged from my recent frolic through second-childhood where I played and savored chef d'oeuvre music/rhythm games PaRappa the Rapper and Gitaroo Man. (Spoiler alert) The moment in Gitaroo Man when U-1 lays down his guitar and refuses to fight Kirah, followed by their overdriven guitar duet of The Legendary Theme, is one of my favorite moments in any video game. Music, narrative, gameplay, and character all come together in one rousing and resonant instant. Yes it's a silly, poorly stitched together, cliché-ridden story with giant logic gaps. No matter. It's magic.

Before I move on for good--I'm now playing No More Heroes, which is WAY beyond moving on; it's more like landing on an alien planet--I want to draw attention to a couple of items. First, a rare interview with Masaya Matsuura, creator of PaRappa and head of the pioneering music game development house NanaOn-Sha. Among other things, Matsuura talks about his creative reunion with PaRappa artist Rodney Alan Greenblat to create a new music game for the Wii. See? Sometimes prayers are answered.

Unfortunately, the Gamasutra interviewer dominates the session with a few too many of his own observations, but Matsuura manages to squeeze in a few thoughts on the Japanese market:

We have to keep increasing the chance to make more unique titles, but for us it's getting much more difficult because the game market -- especially in Japan -- is still very conservative. Many people know that the DS has very unique titles, like Brain Training, or something like that, but it's not for younger-aged market. It's kind of older people, like me. So, about the young aged market: still very conservative. So these kinds of things are very important for us.

...we have to focus on the worldwide market simultaneously. At the start of development, there are many developers that don't have to care about the overseas market, because the Japanese market is powerful enough to keep their business. But, now it's not so powerful. Actually, the offers to make new game titles are getting increased from the overseas publishers...So we had to think about American kids or European kids... (laughs)

All very interesting. But if you visit the NanaOn-Sha website, more precious treasures await. There you will find the following credo under "What is NanaOn-Sha?"

The concept of NanaOn-Sha distills into ‘Shaping Fun’.

Unfortunately, it is not the case that the world is overflowing with fun experiences. However, real fun only comes when people come together with an honest desire to enjoy themselves.
NanaOn-Sha wishes for a world overflowing with fun, and to that end we work day by day creating products that can bring smiles to anyone, and any society.

And if you play the accompanying flash movie, at the end of the 1-minute sequence appear the following words:

It's been said that
'Creative activity is like lighting a match in the pouring rain.'
Singing with a happy colorful umbrella,
NanaOn-Sha will continue to burn the flames of inspiration
For the next generations

Do you suppose they have any openings?

image from artist Rodney Greenblat's website Whimsyload

Opting out of the snark

Sarahsilverman Game journalism has been under the microscope lately, and for good reason. Bloggers and professional journalists (I'm purposely avoiding the question of whether there's a distinction between the two) need to be concerned when our integrity is impugned, and the whole Jeff Gerstmann affair has troubling written all over it.

Despite all the hubbub, I'm not terribly concerned. It seems to me it's virtually impossible to get away with much nefariousness in the continually updated, interconnected world we're working in. A million eyes and ears are out there keeping watch (for better and worse), and even a slight alteration in a re-posted game review is immediately noted and compared to the original version stored on somebody's hard drive. It's telling that not even hyper-secretive Steve Jobs can prevent unofficial Apple blogs from revealing just about every new product before it's announced these days, despite his best efforts.

As far as game reviews go, I don't believe in objectivity, so I don't fret about them either. I can find dozens of reviews and forum discussions on just about every new game released, and I'm comfortable with the variety of viewpoints and perspectives I can find among them. Bloggers have essentially obviated the gatekeepers, and I believe we're all better off for it.

So, I'm not troubled by the stuff a lot of people are concerned about these days. What troubles me is the snark.

What's the snark? I define it as the persistently cynical, dismissive tone of many game blogs and their related podcasts. It's the de facto perspective that says everything sucks, basically, unless we can generally agree that it doesn't, at which point it will be acceptable to say it's cool. Detached derision is the standard-issue expression of thought, and genuine affection or sentiment rarely allowed.

I don't read many non-game-related blogs, so I don't know if the snark is specific to us, but I find it all very tiresome and dispiriting. I love playing video games. I love writing about them, even the ones that disappoint me. Video games make me smile. I'm not embarrassed about that. They make me feel joyful. It saddens me that so few blogs capture this feeling...or permit themselves to express it.  My guess is that most bloggers are no less enchanted by games than me, but they have chosen to adopt what Leigh Alexander calls "blogger tone -- cynicism, exaggeration and theatrics."

Too bad. As it often does, non-conformity suddenly looks a lot like conformity when you take a few steps back.

One of my readers recently observed that I too often overindulge in my enthusiasm. That may be true. I'm rapturous lately about Gitaroo Man, for example, and I often use this outlet and my podcast to express those sentiments (mixed, I hope, with some thoughtful analysis). I think I've been rather tough on certain games and designers as well, but it's never been my goal to tear down games or the people who make them, and I'm not terribly interested in writing angry blog posts about games I don't like.

I certainly don't intend to be a scold--and I could write columns on all the terrific game blogs I admire--but I wonder if we can be a bit more clever, a bit more positive (not Pollyanna), and do with a little less snark?

If, despite my plaintive plea, you decide to stick with the snark, at least try to elevate the form. See above photo for inspiration.

Music to my ears - the interactive soundtrack

Yamaoka43 Akira Yamaoka--composer and sound effects creator for the Silent Hill series--recently spoke to Game Developer Magazine about his signature work on the series and his plans for the upcoming Silent Hill 5. Yamaoka makes some interesting observations in the interview, including his opinion that American game designers have surpassed their Japanese counterparts:

I'm really impressed with the American staff and their technology. Their graphical and technical ability is amazing. There's a huge gap, actually. They're very advanced. I'm Japanese, and I think this is not just with Silent Hill but with the whole of the industry -- I look at what American developers are doing and I think wow... Japan is in trouble.[1]

Outlets like Joystiq and Wired picked up on that comment and posted stories on it, resulting in some lively discussion.

But I was more intrigued by another observation made by Yamaoka. He spoke about the possibility of interactive music in narrative games like Silent Hill - music that would respond to the choices and actions of the player:

Interviewer: In the Silent Hill series, for instance, most of the interactivity of the music and background is either just sound effects or two tracks of music--one that's just normal state, and the other that is when you're in the Silent Hill state ... Do you think that you could go even deeper than that, and make something more like your actions really affect how the environment works and reacts to you?

Yamaoka: Oh yeah, we could go way deeper. There's nothing to say that we need to just have static state changes all the time. There's no limit. You really should be able to make the sound respond to the players' actions or movements. It's not just like "battle music start," or "ambient music start" and then crossfades like you were talking about... I think it's really important to go beyond that. I keep thinking I'd like to have the games and the graphics really and truly agree with each other. But it's still a game. I don't really want to make it virtual, I don't want to emulate reality.

Sign me up! I want to play that game. The approach to music and sound design Yamaoka is describing could profoundly affect a player's experience in the game world. Obviously, creating an environment that's responsive to a player's actions and movements is an exciting proposition. But I'm equally intrigued by Yamaoka's remark "I don't really want to make it virtual, I don't want to emulate reality."

This remark suggest that Yamaoka is thinking about a soundscape that not only feels alive, but also has personality and expressiveness. Liberating the sound designer from the drudgery of sonically mimicking every creaking door and moaning tree branch could mean rethinking the whole purpose of music and sound in games.

What if your actions and movement in a dark mansion--coupled with character choices you make along the way--resulted in one soundscape, and my very different actions and choices resulted in a completely different sound experience? And what if this sonic palette was flexible and responsive enough to  speak to me, as it were, in ways similar to the method GLaDOS communicates with the player in Portal?

Games like Silent Hill and the Final Fantasy series have amply illustrated the atmospheric and emotional power of music to enhance gameplay, but they have done so within a pre-existing cinematic framework, mimicking Hollywood's approach to music and sound design.

Yamaoka is pointing towards another way for video games, and I am keenly interested to see where that way leads.

Brainy Gamer Podcast - Episode 8

Catsonradio2_2 Relax PC gamers, all will be fine; Gitaroo Man and PaRappa the Rapper are still crazy after all these years; and our obsession with reality - all in this edition of The Brainy Gamer Podcast!

  • Listen to the podcast directly from this page by clicking the yellow "Listen Now" button on the right.
  • Subscribe to the podcast via iTunes by clicking here.
  • Download the podcast here. (right-click and choose save)

Does pretty always mean dumb?

Masseffect2 Chris over at The Artful Gamer posted an essay the other day that got me thinking. It turns out, a piece I wrote a few weeks ago got him thinking, which provoked his post, which has me thinking again, and...well, you get the picture. Back in the old days we used to call this a conversation.

In an essay on Planescape: Torment I lamented the fact that its graphics engine hadn't aged well and tried to imagine a game with the narrative and thematic richness of Planescape inside a Mass Effect or Oblivion engine. Chris tried to imagine it too, and he didn't like what he saw:

Photorealism in games ultimately detracts from immersion and gives players the feeling that the story and characters are contrived and un-real. I suggest that immersion and dramatic investment aren’t a product of good technologies, they are a product of good artisanship.

When I play Mass Effect and Oblivion, I often find myself paying more attention to the technical feats of the 3D engines than the story itself. The first time I experienced this kind of technical distraction was when I watched one of the new Star Wars films. Gone were the Jim Henson puppets and scaled miniatures, and in their place were high-poly renderings of space ships and Jabba the Hutt. The 3D “photorealism” that George Lucas attempted failed miserably for me, and I spent most of my time distracted by imperfections in the animation and the rather stilted ways in which living and non-living characters interacted.

On the evidence of games like Mass Effect and Oblivion--and the woeful "Lucas has lost it" Star Wars episodes--I think Chris is certainly right. All these experiences take us on an awkward trip to Uncanny Valley, and it's easy to see how our imaginative evocations of 2-D sprite characters are more satisfying and less jarring than the wrinkled masses of polygonal tissue representing human faces in Oblivion.

I also agree with Chris' contention that real engagement is the product of solid dramaturgy. Tell a good story with compelling characters, and you're at least halfway there. As games like Planescape, Baldur's Gate, and Fallout have shown, we are more than willing to accept graphical limitations if they are in service of a role-playing narrative experience that hooks us. And as Steve Meretzky's brilliant interactive fiction games demonstrate, we actually don't need graphics at all.

But when I say "we," whom am I really talking about? My guess is that I'm talking about gamers like me and Chris - gamers who go back a ways to an earlier era of games, or avid young gamers who have taken the time to acquaint themselves with these classic foundational titles. Such gamers are essential--and they make blogs like mine viable--but they are a tiny fraction of the people around the world who play games.

This matters because we are not going to stop the photorealism train from barreling down the tracks. In fact, that train has already run guys like Chris and me over. Though we may agree it's a shame, game designers will continue to strive for ever increasing degrees of realism--particularly in narrative games--because that's what the vast majority of gamers want. But that's not the only reason.

Every form of visual art has seen a general trajectory towards realism. As long as it's possible to increase verisimilitude, artists will increase it. As long as consumers continue to translate "more realistic" as "more better," developers will continue to serve up the realism. Despite what reviewers say about next-gen graphics and games, we are still so far away from what people generally accept as realistic that I think it will be many years before video games reach the threshold that cinema crossed decades ago. But clearly, the video game industry's chronic case of film-envy only makes that realism train go faster.

History, however, is on our side. As we have seen in painting, sculpture, theater, and film, realism is not a final destination. Ultimately, it's just stop on the road. In the theater, when we proved we could tear down a real butcher shop and reconstruct it on stage complete with chunks of real meat (as Antoine did at the turn of the 20th century), there really wasn't anywhere left to go with realism. It's no wonder that this style of presentation was soon seen as passé, and experiments in expressionism and other forms of abstract theater emerged.

History has also shown that realism is hard to fake--it does require a lot of expertise, both technical and artistic, to film those spectacular car chases--but eventually we get very good at it. Today's films are extraordinarily effective at creating special effects driven sci-fi realism (an oxymoron if there ever was one), and video games will get there eventually, for better or worse. I would say games like Mass Effect lie somewhere on the realism scale near treasures like the 1950s drive-in B-movie classic Creature from the Black Lagoon. I don't mean that as an insult to Mass Effect. In fact, quite the opposite.

So I see your point, Chris, and I share your deep admiration for the richly immersive and imaginative worlds of text-driven games like Planescape: Torment. I also happen to think Chaplin's City Lights is the most perfectly sublime 87 minutes in the history of the cinema. But silent movies are gone forever...and so are games like Planescape: Torment.

Gaming's best underdog


When a player dies or fails a game level multiple times, typically one of two reactions occurs. 1) You curse loudly, condemn the game, and suppress the impulse to hurl the controller as hard as possible across the room (or maybe you don't suppress it); 2) You tap your foot and nod your head madly waiting for the intro sequence to finish so you can jump in and try again. This may also be preceded by loud cursing.

Gitaroo Man is a #2 game. It's hard. God almighty it is hard. But failure is just one perfectly nailed charge/attack/guard away from success. You just can't wait to get back in there and rock that guitar.

When it was released in 2002, Gitaroo Man was a miserable failure. Virtually nobody bought it. Even after it acquired cult-status among gamers (eBay currently lists a new original copy for $150), its excellent PSP remake managed to sell only 14,000 copies. Nobody believes high sales necessarily mean high quality--besides Jerry Bruckheimer--but it's difficult to understand Gitaroo Man's appallingly poor performance with game buyers.

Gitaroo Man is the best, most fully realized music game ever made. Better than Guitar Hero. Better than Rock Band. Better than DDR. Better than Rez. Yes, it's even better than PaRappa the Rapper, and that's saying something. It accomplishes what it sets out to do in perfect unified style. Other games have better visuals, cooler controller peripherals, and bigger music libraries, but no game integrates all its elements into a package of pure delight more skillfully than Gitaroo Man.

Gitaroo Man succeeds for several important reasons, and key among these is its thorough fusion of story and gameplay. We talk a lot about this elusive synthesis, particularly with recent games like Bioshock, Half-Life 2, and Mass Effect, all of which have laid claim to breaking ground in this regard. As much as I admire all three of these high-profile titles, none of them integrates story, character, and gameplay as completely as Gitaroo Man.

Gitaroo2_3 Structurally, Gitaroo Man functions as a musical. Exposition, narrative and characters are delivered via dialogue scenes interspersed with musical numbers that function as "battles." These engagements aren't merely mini-games or cutscenes. Rather, they enable the protagonist U-1 to gradually realize his own identity and self-confidence. As the player builds skills and confidence, so U-1 does the same, and the music plays a pivotal storytelling role. The songs are terrific and challenging to learn, but unlike PaRappa, U-1 must overcome deep insecurities and in the process discover his own voice. It isn't just a matter of getting past a cook or a driving instructor to defeat a level.

A good example is U-1's confrontation with the Sanbone Trio, which he must begin on his own, without the help of his sidekick Puma. Another is the quiet acoustic level with Kira in which U-1 learns he can play beautifully without adopting the Gitaroo Man persona. These levels present unique challenges to the player too, and performing them as well as possible brings its own reward, distinct from the points earned or levels unlocked. This mode of play/performance is realized beautifully in the game, both in terms of U-1's progress and the player's. Gitaroo Man is a game that begs you to show off playing perform it, if you will.

I don't mean to suggest that Gitaroo Man reaches the narrative stature of a good short story or film. It's more akin to a stylish Saturday morning cartoon. But what I do claim is that its designers have set their sights on a specific target, and their game succeeds in reaching it. Gitaroo Man is a narrative game that nearly completely unifies its story and gameplay elements. Clearly, games like Bioshock are significantly more ambitious in this regard...but they are also failures in this regard. Wonderful, admirable, noble failures.

Psp_gitaroo_man_lives_2 I tried both the PS2 and PSP versions of the game and finally chose the PSP version for the widescreen visuals and the analog stick control. I have played many games on the PSP, and Gitaroo Man is the only time I have ever felt satisfied with the PSP analog nub. Koei may have tweaked the controls for the PSP version because I personally found it much easier to follow the trace line on that device than on the PS2.  With the exception of a couple of added songs for co-op play, both versions are virtually identical. The PSP version can also easily be found at a reasonable price.

I should mention that I have yet to finish the game. I'm stuck with Gregorio "Siegfried" Wilhelm III - that infernally vain gender-ambiguous Ziggy Stardust guy in the cathedral is more than I can handle. With more practice, maybe. But it could take awhile. I can happily report, however, that Ben-K the shark is (in my best Bette Davis voice) dead, dead, dead.

Play Gitaroo Man, or better yet, perform it for your friends. You and U-1 will put on quite a show.

Critical gaming discourse

Criticalgaminglogo2 I chatted today with Richard Terrell, author of an ambitious new blog called Critical-Gaming. Terrell believes we have yet to develop a sufficient critical discourse for games, and his blog is an effort to address that fact:

Because game design isn't taught in our colleges and universities, it doesn't have a centralized school of thought. The body of knowledge is scattered at best. For this reason, it is hard for a thorough understanding of game design and critique to become widespread.

I have started this blog in efforts to inform both gamers and non-gamers of the complexities of gaming and how it compares to any other art forms (music, literature, moves). Borrowing from literary critical theory, I am in the process of developing 8 primary critical modes for videogame critique. Classical criticism. Player Response. Structuralism. Deconstruction. Psychoanalytic criticism. New Historical criticism. Feminist criticism. Marxist criticism.

I did mention he's ambitious.

His latest project is The Bioshock Discourse, which is a flash-based branching presentation tree designed to compile key reviews, critical essays, forum discussions and other related information devoted to Bioshock in an accessible visual format. Very cool and very useful, especially as an historical record of the vigorous response to this important game.

You can check out Terrell's blog here.

Spread that game blogger love.

Got the funky flow?

In the rain or in the snow
Got the got the funky flow
All you ever need is to be nice and friendly
All you ever need is to be nice and friendly

Parappadrive_2 PaRappa the Rapper is a game full of whimsy. It exudes a zestful balance of childish exuberance and funky cool. Try as they might, Guitar Hero and Rock Band--PaRappa's music/rhythm game descendants--fall well short of achieving the individual flair that permeates PaRappa the Rapper. Primitive by today's standards, PaRappa still manages to cram a whole lot of fun into a relatively short game.

The goal is to help paper thin PaRappa win the affections of Sunny Funny by learning to rap his way through several tasks, like learning to drive, working at a flea market, and baking a cake. You help PaRappa rap by pressing buttons in time with the music that appears on-screen. Match it well and you move on. Fall out of rhythm, and you fail. Once you've passed every level with a rating of "cool," PaRappa can rap on his own, freestyle. It's here that the replay value of the game goes way up.

Kick! Punch! It’s all in the mind.

I struggled to time the button presses in the PSP version of PaRappa. The manual recommends using headphones, but for some reason I had better luck listening through the PSP speakers. A certain rap-zen state is required to pass through each lesson. I found that if I failed more than 3 times in a row, I would never succeed in that session. Walking away, relaxing, and returning to the game usually meant success on the very next try for me. I also found that, no matter how alert I felt, I could make no progress whatsoever after 1 a.m.. Returning to the game after a night's sleep made me feel like a PaRappa champion, succeeding within the first couple of tries.

I think the FAA should require every pilot to bake a cake with Cheap Cheap the Chicken before takeoff. Succeed and you fly. Fail and you're grounded. Flight delays? Don't blame PaRappa.

When Jet Baby loves
She loves all of the children
She never lets them cry
As she sails through the sky
To save us from what fails us to make us love

Just what is it about Japanese games like PaRappa and Katamari that make us smile at their charm and silliness, while other games that try to be "whimsical" make us blanch at their cloying effort to be cute (sorry Viva Pinata)?

I think it has something to do with a total lack of self-consciousness in the art style, music, and character design. PaRappa isn't campy fun. It's quite the opposite. It creates its own absurd universe and revels in that perfectly delightful self-contained environment. PaRappa presents a loving embrace of this fanciful world, free of irony or snarky winks at the camera. You can resist this and likely find it all childish and stupid, or you can give over to it and enjoy the simple lovely ride.

By the way, somebody forgot to tell PaRappa's female driving instructor that only the male moose has antlers...Or maybe they didn't.

Do you know why we stopped the car again?
That's because you just got your license.

If you haven't already, I encourage you to try PaRappa the Rapper. Do not, however, play it late at night. You will probably fail, but even worse, you will *never* get those songs out of your noggin as you lie in bed staring at the ceiling. And don't get discouraged if the game kicks you around a bit. Just keep reminding yourself, "I Gotta Believe!"

Now it's on to Gitaroo Man!

Lionhead diary filmmaker responds

Mainimagefable_4 Shortly after posting my recent piece on Lionhead Studios' video diaries promoting Fable 2, I received an email from Sam Van Tilburgh, community manager and in-house filmmaker at Lionhead who created those videos. He wrote to share his views on the diaries and his reaction to my post. We have since exchanged several messages, all of which have been friendly and quite useful.

I asked him if I could post our original exchange, and he agreed. So here is Sam's message followed by my reply, both unedited. I want to express my gratitude to Sam for considering the comments in my post and for responding in such a thoughtful and collegial way.

Hi Michael,

Please allow me to quickly introduce myself; Sam Van Tilburgh, working for Lionhead Studios and the one responsible for the “lubricious and self-promoting” video diaries! ;)

I just wanted to take this opportunity to share my views about these diaries, as a reaction to your blog entry on The Brainy Gamer. And elaborate on why I think they are honest, pure and simple. Ok, admittedly the quality of these videos don’t shout ‘simple’ but that’s simply because I studied film at college (my degree). You can’t expect me to create something of inferior quality… but even so (and as the sole person at the company who’s involved in making these videos) I think I am right in saying that these are honest.

None of the senior bosses here at the company have creative or editorial input, only after the video is done do they get to see the final version. Of course they worry when I show the game in its current (none-finished) state, of course they worry when I include soundbites of people saying they’re facing “major technical difficulties” while developing the game etc…. This is something you’ll never hear from the PR or marketing departments, there is no spin on any of it.

The reason why I think they are honest is that they simply show what goes on, on the development floor, without it being a slick and over-produced video by the marketing department with the sole purpose to sell the game. Don’t get me wrong, there is value in that as well but to say they’re not honest or pure is a bit unfair imho. I wanted to show what it’s like to be working on a game the scale of Fable 2, to show the other people behind the game and not focus solely on Peter Molyneux. Hopefully you can see the value in that.

Thanks for your understanding and best of luck with your blog!

Best regards,



Dear Sam,

I want to thank you for your message and for taking the time to help me understand your thinking on the video diaries. It's helpful to know more about your background and your process for making them. I can certainly understand why a person with a film background would put all those skills to use on a project like this one.

My post was prompted mostly by the claim on the Lionhead website that these videos "aren't overly produced marketing videos." Looking at them and considering their content and overall style, I think they're mostly indistinguishable from the kind of straight-ahead marketing we see from companies all over the map - from Nike to NBC. The fact that they aren't overly slick or full of CGI tricks simply suggests a marketing strategy in line with where many companies are going these days - a more personal, "get real" approach to promotion that purposely looks less "professional" but requires a significant amount of professional work to produce. My guess is that these videos--which are exceptionally well done, for what it's worth--required a significant amount of time and effort from you to produce.

I honestly have no problem with Lionhead hyping Fable 2 and building awareness for it in the months leading up to launch, and I tried to say that in my post. It just seemed disingenuous to me to claim that they weren't, essentially, straightforward marketing from Lionhead. I realize the "video diary" format has a more informal style--and it's refreshing to hear developers talk about problems they're working to solve--but the overwhelming message of these videos is clearly "Fable 2 will be an awesome, groundbreaking game" and nearly everyone we meet explains how or why that will be so.

In the end, to be completely honest, I am also responding to the, at times, overwhelming hype emanating from Mr. Molyneux over the years, and I'm sure these video diaries piqued that particular impression in me. He is a gifted salesman, and I truly admire his aspirations for video game design and innovation, but I personally felt a bit lured into some of his rhetoric in the past and was greatly disappointed by the rather wide gap between the promises and the reality of his games. I'm sure my response to the video diaries was contextual in this regard.

I hope I have been helpful in clarifying my point of view, as you have been, and I'm sincerely grateful for your interest in my post and your thoughtful response to it.

I would be delighted to post your message, unedited, on my blog with your permission. I think it would be a useful way to shed more light on the diaries in general and your work on them. If this appeals to you, let me know...or if you want to send me a different version to post, that's fine too. If you prefer to keep our correspondence to private email, I will understand and respect your wishes.

Again, thanks very much for your message, Sam. Best of luck to you and all your colleagues at Lionhead.


Time to put away childish things? Nope.

Parrapa_4 I've devoted a lot of time in recent months to some pretty heavy games: Bioshock, Call of Duty 4, Mass Effect, Persona 3, Half-Life Ep. 2 - all contain fairly significant amount of angst, violence, and suffering. Nothing wrong with that, of course--and I know I'm the one often whining about the paucity of video games for grown-ups--but sometimes it's nice to lighten things up a bit and revisit the more playful side of video games.

How else to explain all the fun I'm having lately with PaRappa the Rapper? With only a tinge of self-indulgent guilt, I've been swept completely into the surreal Colorform wackiness of PaRappa and his friends PJ Berri, Sunny Funny, Katy Kat, and Cheap Cheap the Cooking Chicken.

I'm ashamed to admit it, but when PaRappa first arrived on the PS1 in 1997, I avoided it like it was some kind of Playskool toddler game. I'm sure I was too busy with "real games" like GoldenEye and Total Annihilation to be bothered by a stupid looking music game with bad box art.

Ignorance doesn't usually pay off for me, but this time maybe it did. I'm glad I didn't play PaRappa back then because I don't think I would have appreciated it the way I do now. Call it second-childhood, midlife crisis, or sleep deprived newborn caretaker syndrome--whatever--for some reason right now is the perfect time for me to say "I Gotta Believe!"

Gitaroo Man arrives in the mail tomorrow - another game I've never played. Clearly I'm a lost cause. More on both games--and my slow decline into dementia--soon!