business

Bloomberg News is reporting that PalTalk Holdings Inc. of New York has paid about $200K for patents belonging to Mpath, which reportedly had discussions with Microsoft once upon a time about technology for "ways to control interactive applications over multiple computers". PalTalk is now suing Microsoft for violating those patents; they say MS had discussions with them and found the technology "very valuable".

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...and what they are not doing is investing in original intellectual properties.

Actually I think that entire phrase is a contradiction in terms, at least in terms of how Microsoft can invest in something. Invest, in their case, means buy, and once something has proven itself worth buying it's no longer original.

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We have a well defined, carefully orchestrated, properly planned universe to explore not exploit.

--Frank O'Connor, July 2008, GameFocus

I can tell you that if you could think of a game that would work with a party atmosphere that would not gut the franchise, or milk it, we would think about it, seriously.

Jason Pace, January 2009, Videogamer.com

What's next? January 2009, Microsoft announces Halo Kart, Halo Halo Revolution and Halo Smash Brawl?

What part of a "party atmosphere" game in the Halo universe could possibly be exploration and not exploitation? How about a nice clear line in the sand now, not just "we know what we're doing"-- how about a laundry list of what you won't do? Promise us no karaoke, no karting games, no minigolf. Please.

RTS? We'll see, the demo is out any minute.

MMO? Don't blame them for trying, although I think something like this is just a lot harder to execute than a shooter, and the further away the franchise gets from Bungie the harder it is to execute.

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Thank goodness Sony is a Japanese company, because they can at least claim that English isn't their native language when someone points out the nonsense in claims ilke the latest regarding PlayStation 3 sales.

Things start out fairly innocuously:

"In terms of units, it is true that PS3, as compared to last year, is slightly worse, but on a full-year basis we believe we are on track to sell the 10 million units that I said at the beginning of the year."

Okay, that's not so bad. Specious perhaps, but possible. After all, the fact that 2008 was not as good a year for them as 2007 doesn't necessarily mean that 2009 won't be as good as they are planning. It would strongly indicate that, given that presumably they predicted that 2008 would be as good or better than 2007 (which they did); and if that prediction turned out to be wrong, might not this one, too?

Then they start digging:

"...Relatively speaking, [compared to] the growth of other platforms, we are behind, but it's not the case that we are not meeting the target."

If they are behind the other platforms but still meeting their target, this means they were planning to be behind at this stage? I think that's not true. I seem to recall that initial projections from Sony for the PS3 included catching up to MS and the Xbox 360's one year head start fairly quickly, and in no way included getting trounced, month after month, quarter after quarter, by Nintendo, a competitor that many commenters gave up for just about dead last generation, myself included.

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BioWare CEO Ray Muzyka's advanced the possibility that someday gamers would play games on one ubiquitous console. There are "valid reasons," he says, why the market would trend that direction, with the exception of "Sony, Microsoft and Nintendo maybe having some issues with that [as] they might want to continue their platforms."

You think?

This has come up before, and I'm pretty sure that it was Muzyka behind those earlier remarks also. I find it hard to consider the idea anything but the most fanciful of wishful thinking. Bioware makes great games with huge amounts of content, and their efforts would be greatly simplified on a number of levels if they could target a single ubiquitous platform.

The problem is that the benefits for such a scheme are asymmetric, and skewed sharply in the direction of the content producer, offering little or no benefit to platform owners or gamers. If BioWare makes its games for several different platforms-- say, Xbox 360, Windows, and the Sony PlayStation 3, it means that gamers have a reasonable amount of choice for gaming platform and can still assure themselves of access to BioWare games. Reducing the number of platforms BioWare has to target might make developing their games less expensive, but it seems extremely unlikely that this savings would be passed on to gamers in terms of lower title prices. After all, with only a single ubiquitous console platform, there is no longer any choice-- if you want to play a BioWare game you'd have to use that platform. If you don't want to, tough luck. If anything, standardizing on a single platform would likely increase prices (although the higher prices rose, the greater an opportunity there would be for someone to enter the market and therefore blow your "single platform" market right out of the water by undercutting you.

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Jonathan Blow, One man creator of the oh-so-pretty Braid platformer, as amazing for its interesting gameplay as its surreal visuals, says, essentially, that videogame stories are bad and probably wouldn't get much better with better writers since trying to tell a story in a game is a bad idea. One might wonder whether he's paraphrasing film director John Huston, who famously remarked, when asked about the "message" in one of his movies, that if one wanted to send a message, one should use Western Union.

One similarly might imagine that if you were to ask Blow about the story in his games, he'd say that if you want to tell a story, you should make a film. Or, perhaps, write a book. Seeing at what some triple-A titles have become-- long cutscenes with repetitive gameplay inserted instertitially-- one can't help but admit to at least some truth in the idea that there's something suboptimal about the way narration and gameplay are currently being combined. The flaws of the method get a pass when the separate elements are well executed in otherwise popular products. When either or both is weak, the combination itself makes the whole enterprise seem foul. In some games, one so dominates over the other that it is a wonder that anyone bothers; I tried the demos of a couple of JRPGs over the holiday break, the first ones I've ever played, and was amazed to find that the first hour or so of each of them consisted of scripted, in-engine cutscenes with no choices and player interaction limited to pressing the green button to advance to the next scene. Where's the game, I wondered.

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This remark from Valve's Jason Holtman is the analysis of game piracy that I've been waiting to hear someone utter for years: the idea that copyright infringement needs to be analyzed from economic rather than purely legal or moral standpoints. It is, essentially, the market telling producers that something is wrong, and that smart producers should respond in a more productive way, rather than seeking legal redress or technological methods of copy protection.

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HBO and the HBO forum have both provided links to an editorial by "William Usher" at Cinema Blend about how Halo is killing console gaming.

So now that this specious attempt to nab page hits has worked, there can be little further damage that I can do except to examine the author's premise and see if it holds any merit. For the most part, it doesn't.

When you have to start off your article by saying "this isn't Halo bashing" it's not a good sign. Not because Halo doesn't deserve thoughtful criticism. It does. It is not a perfect edifice placed on Earth by some deity for the entertainment of humanity.

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GamesIndustryBiz has put up the second part of an interview with Bungie's Brian "SketchFactor" Jarrard and Luke Smith. Here is part one.

Sketch remarks therein that Bungie has complete freedom to choose the publisher and platform for their new intellectual property-- property that Microsoft does not own. Microsoft does own Halo, and Bungie has a team working on the Halo 3: Recon expansion, due out next fall.

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GameCock, famed interrupter of awards ceremonies, holder of funerals for tradeshows, and publishers of games by Wideload such as Hail to the Chimp, have been acquired by SouthPeak.

SouthPeak published last year's Two Worlds RPG on the PC and 360, a game that was widely criticized for failing to live up to the high standards set by Bethesda's similar game, Oblivion.

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According to the intertubes, Microsoft is forging ahead with Halo using a new internal studio. Forming the team are Ryan Payton, formerly of Kojima Productions and the producer of Metal Gear Solid 4; Corinne Yu, former technician at Gearbox; and at least two former Bungie employees: writer Frank "Frankie" O'Connor and animator Nathan "bentllama" Walpole.

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What started as another one of those rumors within the span of a day became a confirmed truth: following the release of the upcoming Halo Wars RTS game for the Xbox 360 console, Ensemble Studios, known for the Age of Empires RTS series of games for Windows, will be shuttered. A new studio, like Ensemble part of Microsoft Games Studios, will be formed to support Halo Wars. Employees releated to Halo Wars will be offered spots in the new studio; those currently working on the project have been offered extra incentives to continue working on it through release.

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According to Major Nelson's blog, Halo 3 and COD4 have done the top ten topsy-turvy trick again. Call of Duty 4 is on top (for the moment) and Halo 3 is playing second fiddle.

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Bungie president Harold Ryan tells Variety how to be swallowed by Microsoft and emerge unscathed. Some highlights: thoughts of going independent went back 3-4 years, the preparations went back more than 2 years, and one of the driving reasons was the freedom to work on non-Halo titles.

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Bungie President Harold Ryan denied claims by Microsoft's Don Mattrick that he laughed and acquiesced with the publisher's decision to indefinitely postpone Bungie's E3 announcement.

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