“XBox 360 Marketing: A Saga of Shame” or “The Allard Has Two Faces”

Dateline, America: In preperation for the launch of the XBox 360, Microsoft totally overhauls cuddly XBox lead designer J. Allard into a lean, mean, stylish, shaven, earringed, soul-patched XXX-treme-inator (the soulpatch is most visible on this lovely 320dpi image, suitable for framing).

Dateline, Japan: The Japanese XBox 360’s “coming soon” ads forego any sort of gameplay footage for the suggestion that buying a 360 is like entering an empty room where white people and black people magically appear and dance with you, while you kick out phat jams on a magical floating turntable.

Dateline, America again: On a tour of XBox HQ, Engadget is shown “J Allard’s XBox 360“, which the man himself has personally plastered with expensive boutique stickers, including Hello Kitty dressed as Paul Stanley (I had originally thought she was dressed as Jem until I chiggity checked my riggity references) and Doraemon wearing an energy dome, nevermind the fact that, being the lead designer, J Allard would have a black developer’s XBox 360.

Dateline, U.K.: Britain’s “coming soon” XBox 360 ads also forego any gameplay footage (except a couple seconds of some soccer player playing soccer), focussing instead on dirty, homeless-looking 20-somethings rambling about using the 360 to look at pictures of “b-boys and breakers and your honeys” while people breakdance in the background. More 360-stickering occurs, with some random stoner talking about how putting stickers on his 360 makes him feel “human energy”, and some skater talking about how he can put stickers on his skateboard, and change out the wheels and trucks, exactly like the XBox 360. Good thing, too, since I totally can’t pull off any of my sick lip tricks with the crappy plastic wheels that my XBox 360 came with (disclaimer: I didn’t actually buy a 360, and openly laugh at those who have, and try to justify spending $400 to play Geometry Wars).

To be non-partisan here, the PSP’s “coming soon” ads also showed no gameplay, and featured someone who was not Bam Margera riding in a shopping cart, and the “coming soon” Revolution ads just featured people swinging the controller haphazardly (but at least they showed the controller). Maybe this is some sort of “post-ironic” advertising, where marketers are past the point where they know we’re on to them and winkingly let us know that they know we know. Maybe now it’s just implied that all advertising is ironic, and winking is passe. Or maybe the marketers just have no idea what they’re doing, and think “the kids” call girls “honeys” and like to collect stickers.

Special thanks to Geek on Stun, U.K. Resistance (who’s just like Geek on Stun but with funny accents), and Engadget for doing all the work for me so I could just string it all together with half-assed witty commentary and call it a blog post.

Best mainstream video game article EVAR

True Crime: New York City claims to have modelled the most realistic Manhattan ever, based on over 11,000 photographs taken by 6 location scouts. Putting that claim to the test, The New Yorker Magazine sat two professional New York City tour guides down with the game. They were overall impressed with the level of detail, but along the way they had the most fun “doing the things they couldn’t do in real life”, like hailing a cab by firing a gun into the air, and beating the crap out of the Naked Cowboy. You know, the stuff M-rated games were designed for; letting adults have fun doing things they know they can’t do in real life. At no point in the article are any of them apalled at the violence, or worried about the effect it might have on children; they know that they’re the target audience, and they have fun with it. The article also includes the unintentionally risque exchange:

“Wouldn’t you love to see Beaver Street that empty?”

“And that wide!”

Sega’s very own angry Chuck Norris

Sure, we could place the blame on inferior 3D hardware, a lackluster library of games, or being rushed to market before the rest of its generation of consoles, but the real reason for the Sega Saturn’s failure in the U.S. was the absence of Segata Sanshiro. A parody of a Japanese judo movie from the 60’s, Segata Sanshiro appeared in numerous Saturn ads, roaming the streets and indiscriminately pummeling anyone doing anything besides sitting at home and playing with their Sega Saturn. Dancing, baseball, anything. Sadly, not all of the Segata Sanshiro ads are available on the site, but there are enough to convey the wonderful feeling of the whole campaign.

Geez, why doesn’t America have more ads about adult men beating children senseless for going outside to play instead of staying in and playing video games? The first person to take that question seriously and try to answer it will receive a personal pummeling from Segata Sanshiro, or a reasonable facsimile.

Thanks to Kotaku for the link.

Update: Even more Segata Sanshiro goodness is available here on Google Video! Hooray!

Bad Dudes are conspicuously absent

This is old news to us cutting-edge, “in the know” hipsters, but it has occured to me that not everyone is that cutting-edge, so this might be new to some people. Inspired by Namco X Capcom, the crossover tactics game that came out in Japan in May, a couple of animators decided that their favorite, underdog game companies deserved their own crossover tactics game too, and created a fake trailer video for DataEast X Sunsoft. Although most of the games featured never made it to the U.S., there are plenty of recognizable characters, particularly Karate Champ, Magical Drop, Blaster Master, and Karnov.

And no, before you ask, there will never ever actually be a DataEast X Sunsoft game, unless you yourself make it, at which point you will be branded the coolest person ever.

Independent? We named the DOG independent!

Alrighty, here’s one of the posts where I talk about my half-baked and reactionary thoughts of the moment, and then everyone gets their panties in a bundle, and then later I change my mind, and everyone calls me a hypocrite, and it haunts me for the rest of my life. With that caveat, I’d just like to say that Alien Hominid represents a major turning point in the development of “independent games”, and I don’t mean that in the good way everyone else does.

To me, “independent” means “DIY”; it means someone holding down a day-job, or being a full-time student, or (worst of all) living in their mom’s basement, while pursuing their passion, “begging, borrowing, and stealing”, and wearing all or most of the hats, because they can’t afford to hire anyone else. In the end, after they’ve poured their blood, sweat and tears into the project, they have something that’s truly their own, and literally “independent”, because they didn’t depend on anyone else to make it happen. To me, it means Robert Rodriguez making El Mariachi, which he funded by volunteering for medical experiments, or Pixel taking five years to make Cave Story, because he was holding down a full-time job and raising a family at the same time. Independent comics hold true to that ideal, as does most independent music. Independent movies, however, are rarely anything even approaching “independent”, and I’m worried that independent games are headed that same way.

The first “independent movie” I remember hearing about was Reservior Dogs, which cost $1.2 million and starred Harvey Keitel. Did Quentin Tarantino save up that $1.2 million while working as a video store clerk? Did he cut a deal with Keitel to waive his late fees if he’d star in his movie? It’s a great movie, and Tarantino’s a talented guy, but there’s really nothing “independent” about it. Call it “low budget”, but not “independent”. Likewise with Sundance and Cannes, the “independent” film festivals that primarily show multi-million-dollar “independent” films, and are closed to the general public.

So here’s the crux of the biscuit: as a literally “independent” game developer, who has a full-time job and has to save up his own money for any expenses incurred in making games, it made me angry that Alien Hominid was not only accepted into, but also won HALF of the awards at The 2005 Independent Games Festival. Just like Reservoir Dogs, I think Alien Hominid is an awesome game, and Dan Paladin and Tom Fulp are very talented guys. But also like Reservoir Dogs, the game cost $1.3 million to develop, which was financed by a production company that broke off from Capcom, and financed full-time jobs for Tom and Dan to work on the game. Gish, which won two of the other three awards, had a budget of $5,000. That’s one two-hundred-and-sixtieth of Alien Homind‘s budget. The main draw of the IGF for many entrants is that the winners get A WHOLE THOUSAND DOLLARS, which means a lot when your game cost $5,000 of your own hard-earned money to make. When your game cost $1.3 million to make and was financed by an external company, that “IGF Winner” is just another logo to put on the cover of the game, just like the “Sundance Select” and “Palme d’Or” logos on DVD cases. It also sets a very nasty “whoever spends the most money wins” precedent that drives away potentially-great but low-budget games. If the IGF wants to become the Sundance of games, then I guess that’s their perrogative, but I was really hoping it would lean more towards Tromadance. Maybe that task will fall to one of the other members of the “indy games” community like TIGSource or GameTunnel. This year, in a fit of supreme optimism, I submitted my own $1,000-budget game to the IGF competition, in the hopes that Alien Hominid was just a fluke and this year the competition might be a little more… you know, “independent”. I know that I, just like the entrants last year, certainly couldn’t compete with a $1.3 million game, but I feel I have a fighting chance if the other competitors are in the same general budget-range as me.

At this point, one of the following things will happen:

  • The Utopian Scenario: The indy gaming scene will realize that when their indy gaming friends make it big, they’re still their friends but they’re no longer indy. Dan Paladin and Tom Fulp both contributed a lot to the indy gaming scene before they made it big, just like Tarantino contributed a lot to the indy movie scene when he was working in a video store and teaching amateur filmmaking classes in his spare time. In fact, I think that in time Dan and Tom will be seen as “the Quentin Tarantinos” of indy gaming, especially if they use their newfound powers to continue to help their “still indy” friends (which New Grounds certainly does). The indy gaming scene will adjust, and indy games will return to their “independent” roots. When the next Alien Hominid shoots an indy developer into “the big time”, we’ll all see him off at the docks of Indy Gaming Island and wish him well now that he’s no longer “just indy”.
  • The Dystopian Scenario: Things will continue toward the independent movie model, every major game company will start their own “independent” arm that makes games on “only $10 million each”, and everything under that will be “hobbyware” that players will expect to be completely free because, after all, you spent less to make it than even an “independent” game. When’s the last time you paid money to see a movie with a “less than independent” budget? That’s what I’m talking about.
  • The *topian Scenario: It’s possible under both of the above scenarios that the term “independent game” will come to mean medium-budget, break-out games like Alien Hominid, and some other term will start being used to describe most of what is currently indy, like “garage” or “doujin”. At that point things will return to normal, and there will just be a new tier of game budgeting.
  • The Killer Robots Scenario: I will receive the designs for an unstoppable robot army in a dream, think it’s actually just a really cool case mod, build it, and eradicate all human life completely by accident.

The future of indy gaming is in your hands!!! (cue rock music)

Wow, that was a lot longer than I thought it would be.

Update: A while after I wrote this article, I found this article by Ian Bogost, in which he clarifies that The Behemoth crew actually did finance that $1.3 million themselves by selling one of their houses, and mortgaging another (and probably dipping into New Grounds’ profits). This certainly defuses a lot of the arguments in this article, and puts them well within the traditional definition of “independent”, but I thought I should leave this article up anyway, since it still illuminates the HUGE disparity among the “indie gaming scene”.

PANTALITY!

I know what you’re thinking. Your jaded, internet-savvy generation has seen it all. You use the goatse image on your Valentine’s cards, and sing the “Uncle Fucker” song with the whole family every Christmas. That whole upskirt fighting game video was shocking on Thursday, but it’s almost been a whole week since you saw that, and at this point it all just seems so passé. It’s a good thing, then, that they’ve released ANOTHER VIDEO of nothing but a wide and creative variety of “pantalities”, or else you might have fallen into a coma from all the shock-less banality of the modern world. It also looks like the game itself will be available at this Winter Comiket, if you’re somewhere around Tokyo and into those sorts of things.

Thanks to Kotaku, Joystiq, Wired, the PA and SA forums, and all the little people for bringing sweet sweet traffic to the Inverted Castle.