Weighty news to get through today, the heaviest of which is Sony’s attempt to recreate the Metaverse from Snow Crash. Phil Harrison’s keynote address yesterday revealed the company’s designs for its online initiative, dubbed "Home." Essentially, the service combines the concepts of virtual worlds such as Second Life with online matchmaking for Sony games, providing customizability and functionality to the user. Two words come to mind: "unnecessary" and "cool." I’m pretty fond of the slick, menu-based system Microsoft’s got in place for Live, but Sony actually making an effort to foster community kinda hits me in the happy glands. The demonstration/marketing video is alive and well at GameVideos.
On to one of my favorite topics in Christendom: the role of narrative in gaming. We’ve got not one, but two interesting takes on the subject coming out of the Game Developer’s Conference. The first is from Warren Spector, in which he downplayed gaming as a storytelling medium, instead declaring that "Games are not about their stories … Story is just a context for player action and player choice." The second spiel comes from Susan O’Connor writer for Gears of War and BioShock. Her speech was a bit more concrete than Spector’s abstract theorizing, though she did venture into the realm of the soft sciences to explain that gaming narrative works off of mirror neurons, or the firing of learning patterns in the gamer’s brain that match those that would fire were they performing the tasks onscreen. Then she snapped after having her neurons conditioned from too much Grand Theft Auto and murdered the entire audience.
Don’t think I’m going to let you slide back into the realm of the concrete, yet, because I’m not. First we have to discuss Crush, or "That PSP Game With The Same Mechanics As Super Paper Mario." The puzzle/platformer title has received some positive attention at the GDC, culminating with a lecture in experimental game design from lead designer Alex Butterfield. The man discusses some heady stuff, which only makes me more excited for the game’s release. Often the mere suggestion that a designer has written a treatise to accompany his game makes my heart pump a little faster. I love treatises.
Now you can get your hands dirty with real, tangible news. Such as this tasty morsel: Peter Jackson is working on an episodic Halo game with Bungie. Though the film adaptation of the (thinly plotted) game has stalled, Jackson is still working in the younger generation’s touchstone sci-fi universe. Microsoft already has a great episodic distribution model in place with Live, though details about how the game will reach its players have not yet been announced. There is also no timetable set for the game’s release. In fact, there’s nothing much apart from the poetic juxtaposition of "Peter Jackson" and "episodic Halo game." Ezra Pound, eat your heart out.
Alongside the Game Developer’s Choice awards (where Gears of War was the big winner) come the Independent Games Festival Awards. These are the accolades given to the best indie games of the year, with significant cash prizes for the triumphant developers. This year, Bit Blot won the grand prize for the oddly-soothing Aquaria.
Finally, your daily dose of distraction from IndyGamer blog, with part two (or three, depending on how you look at it) of their top forty shmups (shoot-‘em-ups) of 2006, all freeware, and all for you.