Global Game Industry News Blog

Tuesday, February 26, 2008

New Hope for Broader Collaborative Efforts in the Game Industry?

[Cross Posted from IShotTheCyborg]

Yes, usually I am writing about how no one in the videogame industry is sharing much. This time, however, I am happy to be writing about a new collaborative effort amongst one game company. Fitingly, its the same company that back in 2003 wrote about how much they benefited from a similar sharing opportunity. The following is a quote from the original Gamedeveloper Magazine Postmortem for Ratchet and Clank:

Sharing technology with Naughty Dog. ... Naughty Dog didn't want anything from us other than a gentlemen's agreement to share with them any improvements we made to whatever we borrowed plus any of our own technology we felt like sharing. In an industry as competitive as ours, things like this just don't happen. (Price 2003, pp. 55-56)

So perhaps a little "gentleman's" head nod toward Naughty Dog in all of this as well. Personally, I'm ecstatic to see this kind of thing beginning to happen. Its about time really. In their own words:

Joystiq - GDC08: Insomniac opens up to dev community with Nocturnal

At a GDC press conference, Insomniac Games (responsible for Ratchet & Clank and Resistance: Fall of Man on PS3) has announced a ground breaking initiative to open up their technologies for the development community at large. Through the "Nocturnal Initiative," Insomniac Games is attempting to break the common development practice of keeping technological advances a close-guarded secret. As they noted, "developers spend resources solving problems that have already been solved."

PR Newswire - Highly-Acclaimed Independent Videogames Developer Insomniac Games Announces 'Nocturnal Initiative'

"The Nocturnal initiative is designed to encourage greater communication and information sharing among the development community because it will ultimately enable us all to create better games at a lower development cost," said Mike Acton, engine director, Insomniac Games. "And, in the end, it's all about making great games."
"We feel that the time has come to share what we have learned, and learn from others to improve our solutions to the common problems that present themselves when making a game," said Geoff Evans, an Insomniac senior tools programmer who helped develop and launch Nocturnal.

Insomniac is allowing developers to use elements of its proprietary third-generation PLAYSTATION(R)3 (PS3(TM)) tools chain source code for any purpose, for free. Source code makes up the technological building blocks that drive software development. It is often closely guarded by companies as they create their technology. However, this has led to many functions and pieces of code being re-written time-and-time again, wasting resources across the industry and ultimately affecting consumers' gameplay experiences.

There is an important distinction to be made between unique problem solutions that really give you a competitive edge and just being intellectually stingy. Thus far the game industry by and large has been parsimonious. I do not really know if this kind of initiative will have enough momentum to change the game industry, but I certainly hope so.

I'd love to see an emergent set of standard APIs and protocols which could be supported on numerous platforms. It would make the lives of developers much more predictable. Console manufacturers in preparing their new devices for the market could ensure that these base level technologies were supported. Of course now I'm waxing hopeful rather than realistic.

Nocturnal Website
Insomniac R&D Pages
Gamasutra Coverage

Price, Ted. 2003. "Postmortem: Insomniac Games' Ratchet & Clank." Game Developer Magazine 10.6:52-60.

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Wednesday, February 20, 2008

Biological Determinism, Gender, and (Video) Games

[Cross Posted from]

Well, I’m supposed to be revising my dissertation, but now that the New York Times has blindly picked this up, I can’t really help myself. I first stumbled upon this article a while back on Joystiq.

Joystiq - Science Says: Men’s Brains get More ‘Reward’ from Gaming

The study, which looked at 11 men and 11 women, asked participants to play a simple territorial point-and-click game while hooked up to an fMRI machine. The men in the study showed much great activity in the brain’s “mesocorticolimbic center,” which is associated with reward and addiction. … Yeah, yeah … tell it to the Frag Dolls.

Yeah, and tell it to the ladies I coach hockey for. “You just can’t enjoy it on the same level as us boys.” Not a good idea. I love the fact that the NY Times doesn’t even manage to pick up on a fatal flaw in this study, which even Joystiq commenters notice: sample size. I INTERVIEWED more people in my dissertation research and my research is qualitative. They managed to examine only 22 people, 11 boys, and 11 girls, all, “young adults.” Not to mention that fMRI research is one of the most unproven areas of brain research.

Which instantly begs the question: Isn’t the brain a complex feedback driven device? Wouldn’t age and training impact this? How do young children differ from young adults and adults from young adults? How do the brains of self described “gamer girls” differ from those of the other young adults? Perhaps to be addressed in a future project, but state those limitations NOW.

This study really becomes an excuse for letting women and girls slip through the cracks. “They just don’t get it. Add more bouncing boobs!” Think I’m reading into this to much? Check out the lead researchers comments:

Science Daily - Video Games Activate Reward Regions Of Brain In Men More Than Women

The findings indicate, the researchers said, that successfully acquiring territory in a computer game format is more rewarding for men than for women. And Reiss [the lead researcher], for one, isn’t surprised. “I think it’s fair to say that males tend to be more intrinsically territorial,” he said. “It doesn’t take a genius to figure out who historically are the conquerors and tyrants of our species-they’re the males.”

Reiss said this research also suggests that males have neural circuitry that makes them more liable than women to feel rewarded by a computer game with a territorial component and then more motivated to continue game-playing behavior. Based on this, he said, it makes sense that males are more prone to getting hooked on video games than females.

However, the brain is a social organ. It’s “neural circuitry” is both biological and social. It’s circuitry is developed over time through experiences with an outside world. Yet, this argument falls back on a biological deterministic argument. Boys are just better wired for this. Go cook and gather girls. Women were flayed if they acted like boys when all the conquering was going on big guy.

What about girls and women who are raised in environments where it is OK to be competitive? I suspect there is a reason that the majority of the women on the USA Women’s Olympic Ice Hockey Team grew up with brothers that played hockey and parents that encouraged them to pursue it. Just this weekend my ladies had referees telling them that, “If they weren’t careful they might hurt themselves,” because they were skating too fast and playing too hard.

But, “science” says they just don’t get it, their neural circuitry isn’t right.


NY Times - “Patterns: A Video Game, an M.R.I. and What Men’s Brains Do”

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