Friday, December 12, 2008

Xbox Live Community Content... Is the game worth $2.50?

I downloaded and tried three different Xbox Live Community Content games. They were:

  • Lines: A Lumines/Tetris derivative. 
  • Being: A 2d sidescroller platformer (derivative of Mario).
  • Weapon of Choice: Another side scroller that is derivative of some Japanese side scrollers where you move with one stick and fire in all directions using the other stick.
I ended up purchasing Lines for $2.50. It was a very relaxing game, had nice music, had a reasonable amount of polish, and a decent trial version. The other two trial versions failed in that they didn't let me see enough content and stopped abruptly after a certain amount of time (as opposed to after the completion of a level). This kind of "trialus interruptus" is lame.

Interestingly, Lines' trial version was time constrained -- but it gets a pass because the time constraint was part of the game mode "time trial". I was still able to play it through several times and achieve closure before deciding to purchase the full game -- which basically unlocked the "endurance mode". If I didn't already own Lumines -- and if Lines had achievements and leaderboards -- then I'd probably play a bunch of it. But given those two limitations I'm probably done with it after tonight.

I'll be interested to see whether there will ever be a critical mass of community content games and people playing these games to make this a cool component of the Xbox Live experience. Without lots of games and gamers, you can't really come up with a good way of collecting, aggregating, and distributing social community data. This means that you can't use social tools to surface relevant, quality content.

Little Big Planet & World of Goo...

I downloaded the World of Goo demo from Steam the other day and gave it a quick spin. A fun indie game that has roots in other indie ventures like Armadillo Run but with more polish. The game was reasonably accessible to someone like myself who has played less polished physics-based games, but I wonder if it could truly be considered a "casual" game for folks who don't play a lot of these kinds of games. The challenge ramp is quite steep and I imagine that some folks would require a bit more of a graduated introduction to the game.

As an aside, Steam could really use some lessons from Xbox Marketplace in terms of surfacing demo content. Getting to fun demos and try-before-you-buy content was a UI-laden experience. It shouldn't have been so hard.

Little Big Planet gave me and my fiancee tons of belly laughs. Online co-op will do this for a game that is otherwise not remarkably fun in any particular way. My biggest hope is that the folks at Nintendo (or Insomniac) take the basic idea -- a platformer world where any number of people can hop in and out -- and include fun character control and platforming challenges.

Jump feels floaty, non-responsive (at times), and generally lousy. The whole "let's add a z-axis" to the otherwise 2-d scroller makes for a very frustrating platforming experience whenever you need to move towards the front or back of the screen. Yes, the content is fun. Yes, we had a blast messing around in some of the levels. Yes, it was fun having other people drop into the world and play with us. But, man, I wish I was playing persistent world Mario or Ratchet.

On the plus side:
  • Party formation was a breeze... and was very useful. If another player left you could follow him wherever he wanted to go. Or you could do your own thing. Because it was hard to find user created content that would be fun to play (see below) we just trusted one of the online strangers we met to drive.
  • Emotions/Gestures worked pretty well. It was reasonably simple to hold simple "discussions" about how to solve puzzles by just moving around and gesturing with the d-pad.
  • There is some great user-created content out there. Moreover, when you finish playing a level your exit pipeline includes giving a star rating, adding descriptive tags, and having the option to add it to your favorites. In other words, it is really easy for users to provide feedback that is useful to both content creators and consumers.
On the minus side:
  • Text chat was annoyingly difficult to do.
  • It's hard to find great user-created content. This is mostly due to the fact that the team decided to sacrifice efficiency with "immersive 3-d navigation". When I'm new to the game, I want to find all the 5 star levels that are easy to moderate in difficulty. This is impossible to do. I needed to scour a planet and search each and every little spot to try and find some content that I might like.
  • I hate spending significant time on PSN as opposed to Xbox Live. All my friends are on Xbox Live. My game play is auto-blogged and my activities are updated in real time on my Facebook account. I feel very alone on PSN
I'm definitely going to play some more. And I'm also going to dig further into the content discovery tools available to players. I think that Little Big Planet, like Army of Two, provides a glimpse of the potential coolness of having an experience designed around co-op. What Little Big Planet adds is the persistent world where people are constantly "hanging out" and engaging in short 5-10 minute adventures (instead of longer missions that require more investment). This means that there is little cost associated with jumping into an unfun level (or a fun level with unfun people) because it is super easy to move on to something else very quickly.

Really, when it comes right down to it, Little Big Planet is kind of what PS Home should have been. Instead of a glorified chat room where people need headsets or keyboards, there should be lots of fun activities for people to do. And if they decide to go off and play some Resistance as a party, then power to them. Instead of talking about it, just have a room with 2 buckets. All players have 10 seconds to jump into one bucket (Resistance) or the other (Little Big Planet). Everyone completes a 10 minute excursion and is then dumped back into the lobby where the next two choices are presented. 

If people have fun playing together, then they form a party and do their own thing. People will end up socializing with folks that they had fun playing with instead of standing around and waiting for a game to start.

Thursday, December 11, 2008

Initial Experience: Playstation Home

I'll add more notes later... But the first (ironic) thing I noticed was that the "Playstation Home" theme that I downloaded and installed in anticipation of the open beta included a background image with lots of graphics and text.

The graphics and text naturally obscured my ability to read the download instructions when Playstation Home launched.

Sweet usability-related irony ;)

Wednesday, December 10, 2008


I really need to get back to blogging. Stuff on my agenda:

  • Downloaded a bunch of Steam demos that I need to play and jot down notes on. A tedious task (which reminds me I need to start my review article/presentation where I break down accessibility, community, and purchasing experience on Steam versus other places like Xbox Marketplace and
  • I need to kick my Kelflings addiction, finish Dead Space, and get back to my list of games. This includes Little Big Planet, Fallout 3, Gears of War 2, Lego Batman, and various others. I also need to decide what to do with No More Heroes and Midnight Club: L.A. I want to play more of both (research for the former, pleasure for the latter) but I'm just falling too far behind.
Part of the problem is holidays and commitments with friends. The other part is I'm in "ship" mode on one of the games I'm working on -- and another game is stating to ramp up... This means less free time in front of the console (or PC).

Oh, and I also want to figure out whether to play Left 4 Dead on PC or Xbox. I've got a bunch of friends playing the PC version on Steam... But I kind of prefer playing on my couch.

Double oh... I also need to dive back into Warhammer and WoW for some more research.

I think I need to quit my job.