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Monday, April 24, 2006


Where was I?

Last weekend I had the opportunity to attend a game convention that was practically in my backyard. It was more quiet than some that I've attended, but it gave me more time to chat with folks and (as always) learn a few new games. I actually brought a few copies of my Working Daze book with me (which has nothing to do with gaming, but the few folks brave enough to pick it up seemed to like it).

Small gaming conventions like the one I attended cannot succeed without the gamers that are willing to shell out the big bucks to come (sometimes from long distances) to play their favorite games. The challenge is to make that journey worth their while, usually by offering an experience that they cannot get by a regularly scheduled game at their local game store. Most often that experience is to play with players from other distant locations, which creates a sort of catch 22 situation, since one needs to get the gamers to come why would one come if he thinks the others aren't going to show up?

One solution is to go beyond the base - let folks from the local community know about the upcoming event (most local papers and some radio stations are more than happy to post notices about things going on in their community so folks have new things to try). To make that more successful, you have to make the experience more open to the casual visitor. Here's my radical idea - let them in free. In other words, it's free to look, but you gotta pay to play. That way folks can come in, see what's going on and if they want to try a game, they have to pay the admission. To make the admission worthwile, make sure there's plenty of free events (demos of games, etc.) going on 'round the clock. Save the tickets for the torunaments and signature events. That's the second thing to help bring in visitors. Have one or more events that make your eyes pop out and make you determined to return the following year to play (you couldn't play this year because it was sold out long before you heard about it) - that sort of thing. At Gencon I'd see this game played with huge fleets of Lego pirate ships that looked like tremendous fun to play. Of course, being one of the two biggest gaming conventions, Gencon was loaded with signature events - grand dungeon crawls involving huge, meticulously detailed castles and a team of runners with wired headsets making sure every monster and trap was being sprung at the right moment during the 4-day long event. Try doing that at your local gaming store every week!

Well, that's enough rambling for today. See you later!

Monday, April 17, 2006


Easter Eggs and Cows

I posted this week's cartoon a little early because it was Easter. For those of you who might have been hiding under a rock, all sorts of electronic media have hidden extra "goodies" for users to discover. Gauntlet Dark legacy has several hidden levels, including a barnyard and a model of the studio's offices. Pixar DVDs (Monsters Inc, Finding Nemo and The Incredibles) have a lot of extra hidden clips that require a bit of effort to find. These extras are called Easter Eggs, because they are usually a pleasant surprise that you have to hunt. In pinball, these are sometimes called DOHO (Documented Occurance of a Hidden Object) and the DOHO's frequently involve cows. This is because an early Williams pinball game about the Chicago fire had a bit about Mrs. O'Leary's cow and that bovine has been cropping up everywhere since. So when I started 3D Ultra Pinball for Dynamix, who was I to buck tradition? I built cows into the font that relays in-game information to the player, but they were never accessed. However, the cows can be seen in the other 4 pinball games, including Nascar Pinball. The last pinball game, Thrillride, made use of Hershey's chocolate syrup mascot. There have not been any cows in my latest game, though there are some pink sheep in Charlie and the Chocolate Factory. Hmmm, maybe it's time for a new tradition...

Last week's cartoon compared the points system in Microsoft's Live Marketplace to the ticket redemption system at an arcade. I was wrong. Evidently the gamerpoints one earns while playing XBox 360 games do not earn you anything at all! So it's still like an arcade but instead of tickets, they have a giftshop and you gotta pay cash. Glad we got that sorted out.

This weekend (April 21-23) I'm going to be a guest at Concentric at the Crystal Lake Holiday Inn. If you're in the area, be sure to stop by and maybe get a book signed or watch me work on the next week's cartoons or maybe even play a little Star Trek with me. It'll be fun!

Monday, April 10, 2006


Step Right Up!

One of the touted features of the XBox 360 is access to the online community which includes the XBox Live Marketplace. The Marketplace is where you can download demos and trailers of games and get additional content for the games you already own. This is something most PC owners enjoy for free, but Microsoft adds a new twist, making you pay to access some of this stuff. That's right, to access some of the content on the Marketplace, you've got to use points, which you can earn by playing games or purchase outright. In many ways, it's like the local arcade/pizza joint, where you get a pocketful of tokens which you spend on redemption games, which gets you a mountain of tickets that you can only exchange for a cheap plastic toy. Leave it to Microsoft to come up with a way to make us pay for something we used to get for free.

Monday, April 03, 2006


Still Nothing

You'll forgive me if I took the latest XBox 360 press release from Microsoft with a grain of salt. But it turns out that the joke was on me as this weekend saw plenty of new XBox 360 game systems in all of the major outlets.

The XBox 360 is backward compatible with the original XBox, meaning that it will still play games made for XBox. To make this work, however, the good folks at Microsoft have come up with a system where they will individually certify each game as backward compatible before they will actually allow the game to be played on the new system. Out of 752 games currently available on the XBox, they have certified a little over 200 titles. A quick glance at the list reveals a rather eclectic collection of titles, indicating that it's not a game's popularity that puts it on the fast track to certification, but some other factors (ease of conversion, perhaps?) involved. Otherwise, I'd have to assume that BMX XXX and Volvo: Drive for Life were much more successful than I'd previously suspected...

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