Madden 09 Cover Athlete

Favre-1I know this is slightly delayed. I was in San Francisco attending a session during the Web 2.0 conference as well as visiting our friends at the Electronic Arts Redwood City campus.

As you may or may not know the Madden 09 Cover athlete was announced on the David Letterman show. This edition of Madden represents 20 years of Madden and what better way to celebrate than to put one of the all time greats on the cover.

Brett Favre is your Madden 09 cover athlete. So I guess no Madden curse this year unless you count a year without Favre for the Packers… Right Scott D?

Look for Madden 09 in August.

Game Review – Gears of War 2

logo_300When the dust settled on the original Gears of War release over four million copies were sold and some of the highest critical praise of any title on the 360 to date. So it is easy to say that the expectations around Gears of War 2 are pretty high.

Epic Games is the studio behind Gears of War 2 and the powerful Unreal engine. This engine powers some of the best games out today (Rainbow Six 2, Unreal Tournment III, BioShock and Army of Two) So a lot is expected of an in-house title from Epic.

What I have been able to gather Gears of War 2 takes place 6 months after the deployment of the lightmass bomb at the end of part one. This was not without consequences. While a small victory was won with the explosion a side effect has developed. “Rust Lung” it seems humanity is on the brink from both the Locusts and this new disease. Add to that the Locusts have a new weapon that can shallow a city whole and you begin to get the picture that Gears 2 focuses on more than the exploits of Marcus and team.

This leads to Jacinto. Jacinto is a small fortified city and similar to Zion in the Matrix is the last human sanctuary. With the threat of the new weapon the COG has no choice but to take the fight to the Locusts. This is where the game starts as Marcus and team will take the fight underground.

There are also some new members to Delta squad. While Cole and Baird are still a major part of the story they are no longer with Delta Squad. One of the new additions is Tai Kaliso, a more spiritual warrior and adds a new mystical dynamic to the squad. Also one of the main driving side story’s is the search for Dom’s wife Maria Santiago.

In terms of gameplay improvements the Unreal engine 3 is showcasing new features. Unlike other engines, Unreal does not follow the same versioning pattern. Epic stated the Unreal Engine is designed for the entire console cycle. The engine will feature new lighting techniques similar to cinematic lighting. The engine can now also render large amounts of enemies that act independently. Similar to Halo there is a lot of emphasis on water and soft body physics. The last new feature has more to do with your environment, specifically cover. Now similar to Dark Sector your cover can be chipped away leaving you open for attacks.

Not much will change though in how you interact with the team. The core cover/shoot mechanics remain intact. Active reloads are pretty much intact. But in the Halo model it would not be a sequel without new weapons (Hammer Burst, Gorgon Burst Pistol, Poison Grenade). And as the trailer showed chainsaw duels are a new element to the fun.

Being a huge co-op fan I was really excited to hear about the addition of drop-in drop-out options. Mainly your buddy can arrive at anytime and leave at any time without disrupting the flow of the game. This is big as before you would lose your session if your buddy had to go. The other major addition is the addition of multiple save files. While this does not seem big initially the ability to track against different files is a welcome addition.

One of the other fun co-op additions is that you can play on different difficulty settings. This is possible as when you split down individual paths at certain points you get to experience the difficulty setting you selected.

The popular COG tags of the first game have been dropped in favor of a BioShock style of object interaction. Basically you can collect personal letters and medical records to new COG tags that can actually be examined to learn about their fallen owner.

As it stands now the co-op is still limited to 2 players. It would be a welcome change to allow for 4 player co-op similar to Halo 3. This is the ideal scenario with a squad based shooter.

One of my main concerns is that Gears 1 was like a summer blockbuster. More focus on action vs. story. With sequels we sometimes get the over-story where the studio tries to make up for the perceived lack of story in the first edition with too much in the second. My most recent case in point is Final Fantasy VII: Crisis Core. I am not a fan of the interactive movie model of gaming. Not to say Gears 2 will go this route, but I did see that there is definitely going to be more focus on story this time around.

From an achievement standpoint a welcome change has been made to the system. You can now track your progress in both single player and multiplayer. E.g. If you need to make 1,000 headshots you can do it in any game mode vs. the 10,000 you had to get in multiplayer only.

Gears of War 2 will be available on Xbox 360 in November of 2008. In the meantime check out the screenshots that are available now. I can’t wait!!!

Proximity Marketing

apple-iphoneI recently attended a customer brand loyalty summit and saw some interesting things & met some very interesting people. One of the topics discussed during a networking session was the next progression associated with marketing and mobile devices.

A lot of us are glued to our phones (Or iPhones) as I have talked about before. With more and more consolidation of devices it is not a leap that the next progression will extend from the device being the primary focus of reach to incorporate other services around the device.

Soon your mobile device will go from being your portable music player/phone/organizer to housing digital coupons, boarding passes for flights and credit cards (bye bye wallet). This is already prevalant in tech-centric societies such as Japan, but with the mobile adoption rates at the highest they have ever been here domestically combined with an increase in the level of sophistication and comfort from end-users, more and more emphasis will be put on mobile devices.

From a marketing perspective this can become very interesting. We have seen the shift from mass marketing to individual marketing where the user is now king (or queen) in controlling the messages that they want to see. The next step in proximity marketing is to have users opt in to their likes and allow for the location or an event to market to the user when they reach a certain proximity to a location.

For example. I drink a lot of Starbucks. I can opt in that I like Starbucks. The next time I am driving/walking close to a Starbucks I might receive a ringback reminding me that I am close to Starbucks and a Grande Green Tea Latte might be good at this point in time.

This will not work for all organizations but it is the next step in how marketers and brands will reach beyond traditional methods and delivery and further incorporate technology while respecting the end-users ability to choose the messages that allow in.

Community Server 2008

On April 15th Telligent released Community Server 2008. Community Server is the platform that powers communities for the likes of Electronic Arts, Microsoft, Dell and the MySpace.com forums and is the platform of choice for thousands of community implementations.

In addition to the new release a new site now accompanies the release. The base URL has shifted from communityserver.org now to communityserver.com.

Community Server 2008 features some significant additions to an already robust platform.

Some of the new features include:

  • Groups/Social circles (Think micro-communities)
  • Enterprise Reporting & Analytics with the new Harvest Reporting Server
  • SharePoint integration (This is big!!!)
  • A full Web Services stack
  • Social Streams (Activity Feeds)
  • Media Galleries that can easily share content published within the community or external sources
  • Enterprise File Storage
  • Widgets, widgets and more widgets
  • OpenID support
  • As well as enhancements to the blogs and forums applications as well as a revamp of the control panel

Community Server 2008 is the best integrated social networking/community platform available. Not only from a feature and technology standpoint, but also based on Telligent’s investment in reporting and analytics.

As I have mentioned before one of the biggest barriers to implementing a social networking solution is the lack of consistent metrics. With Harvest Reporting Server we have taken a major step in providing a model to assist in the calculation of ROI around community.

Definitely give it a go. You can download the free express edition here.

Game Review – Dark Sector

dark sectorWhen I first read about Dark Sector in OXM a few months back I really liked the concept of the game. I had heard about the drawn out development cycles and the focus on the Glaive. (Think Krull). So when it recently launched I had to pick it up and I was not disappointed.

Dark Sector takes some of the best elements from games before it (Splinter Cell, Bioshock, Gears of War, Resident Evil) and adds to it by introducing one of the more unique weapons you will pick up in recent memory.

Story: Dark Sector follows Hayden Tenno, an elite black-ops agent sent on a dangerous mission into a decaying Eastern European city that hides a deadly Cold War secret. He is attacked by an unknown enemy, he awakens to find part of his body altered by an infection that has given him inhuman abilities. As you progress through the game you “evolve” by developing additional skills around your infection. Out of your infection is how you deploy the Glaive which is the 3 sided
deathbringer that turns out to be the highlight of the game.

Gameplay: Dark Sector feels like a conglomeration of some of the best titles of all time. It borrows from the Elemental (Fire, Electricity, Ice) aspects of Bioshock as well as the shiny item pickups. It utilizes cover and regenerative health just like Gears down to the pulsing read screen and it provides Resident Evil type moments while blasting through mutated humans and evil AI while delivering a compelling Splinter Cell like experience with the focus on black and white stylization.

In terms of gameplay the controls for character movement are not innovative. They follow some of the standard shooter configurations, running, taking cover and progressing in a very Gears like fashion. Also the melee action is a bit off as it is a one button press to deliver a blow, this is a bit hit or miss at times although this is made up for by the ability to “finish” your opponent with number of finishing animation sequences.

For the objective minded gamer you have the ability to search for or “research” various weapons upgrades that are scattered throughout the game. This has a double benefit as it is your standard scavenger hunt tasks that pay off in upgrades to your weapons. Think Army of Two cases combined with BioShock Power to the People upgrade stations. This leads me to one of my bigger complaints of the game and that is the lack of control over inventory management and upgrades. I was disappointed in my ability to cycle owned weapons and the deployment of upgrades.

The boss battles were also a bit disappointing. Not in the terms of the graphics as the Colossus charging you and filling your screen is impressive, but the sequence of the boss battles is very predictable which does give you plenty of time to line up your Glaive…

The truly compelling aspects of the game play revolve around the Glaive. It was surprising to me how much can be done with weapon. As you progress through the game you gain additional abilities such as the ability to imbue the Glaive with elemental aspects, control the Glaive in mid-flight, create a shield and solve various in-game puzzles with Hayden’s weapon of choice.

One final word around gameplay, there are elements of the game that assume you have played many games in the past. Meaning there is no additional guidance for where to go or what to do to advance the story in some spots. It doesn’t help that I am now dependent on the GPS in Army of Two :). In essence you are expected to “Figure it out” which is refreshing especially for a title that drives you in a fairly linear fashion towards the end objectives.

Weapons: Of hundreds of games I have played the Glaive is one of the best weapons I have had the opportunity to play with. I want to give D3 a lot of credit on this facet of the game as it is what you will remember long after Dark Sector goes back on the shelf. While this is a shooter with the standard array of weapons the Glaive is by far the most fun element. I really enjoyed the “AfterTouch” ability which allows you to take control of the Glaive upon release and “guide” it towards your target. You are rewarded with numerous animation sequences when the Glaive makes contact. You also have the opportunity to quadruple the power of the throw and essentially cut your enemies in half or decapitate them outright. This has one of the best achievements tied to it “double decap latte 15 pts” it is exactly what it sounds like… decapitate two enemies with one throw. Fun stuff :)

Online: The online version features two modes of gameplay. Infection and Epidemic. With Epidemic each side has one Hayden Tenno and all other players are support players from the game. The objective is to kill the other teams Tenno. Think Slayer with a focus on keeping one team member alive while focusing on the other teams Tenno. The second option is Infection. Similar to Halo one person is “infected” and has to kill or be killed. I thought the online mode was okay, I won’t be spending endless hours on the multiplayer as it is not as strong as Gears, COD4, or Halo 3, but it is different enough to at least give it a go.

Achievements: I like titles that allow for unlocking of achievement through actual gameplay elements without taking it to the extreme. A number of the Glaive based achievements can be completed during the initial gameplay and you could end up around 500 gamerscore points with a single playthrough. Some of the fun achievements were the “Jack the Jackal” (35) “The Finisher” (10), “HardBall” (35), “Greed” (10) and of course my favorite the “Double Decap Latte” (15).

Rating & Comments: I am really enjoying this game. There are a few minor elements that keep it from being an all time great but the unique aspect of the Glaive control kept me hooked throughout. I definitely recommend this title and give it an 8.5.

Pros:

  • The Glaive (Best weapon I have seen in a LONG TIME)
  • Everything you can do with the Glaive, Imbue elementals, Aftertouch, Area Destruction, etc…
  • Did I mention the Glaive
  • Aftertouch (Controlling the Glaive in mid-air after the throw)
  • Level Design (Felt a lot like Gears, dirty, grimy)
  • Finishing Sequences
  • Crunch of the Glaive/Decapitation/Severing

Cons:

  • Weapon swapping and upgrade application are a bit off
  • Boss sequences predictable
  • Lack of direction in certain areas
  • Story starts strong then wanes

 

Big Xbox Announcement

Microsoft has announced the following 4 new offerings….I am really excited by what’s to come!!! Announced today are the following:

– Xbox 360 Wireless Helmet
– Xbox LIVE the Board Game
– Xbox 360 Vintage Edition
– Xbox 360 Recon Edition

Wirelessboard game
vintageRecon

April Fools :)

OMMA & Social Networking

I recently attended the OMMA Global marketing conference in Hollywood, California. Some of the top talent from the marketing industry was there recently to discuss the current state of online marketing, media and advertising. The Event featured a number of session tracks that each followed a specific category (e.g. media, advertising, etc..) as well as an expo that featured a wide array of organizations from social networking providers to Perez Hilton.

The focus of this two day event was to discuss the latest trends and technology that can enable marketers to excel in the ever-changing media landscape. Hot topics were how to apply social networking solutions into campaigns as well as a strong emphasis on monetization of widgets.

Some very interesting data was shared during the sessions such as in 2008 the rate of consumer adoption of social networking to internet users has reached 43.5%. Meaning 43.5% of users are involved with some type of social network. The issue for marketers though is that only 5.7% of marketing spend is being applied to reach these consumers through their social networks. With consumer adoption continuing to rise it is only a matter of time before the marketing spend around social networking solutions will begin to close the gap.

The #1 reason for the difference in % is an inherent lack of standard metric consistency. The old guard of methodology based on CTR (Click-Through-Rate) is not working for defining value around Social solutions. Focus on Social Analytics means that a big step has been taken in providing consistency by focusing not on CTR but on the actual commuinty data by providing in-depth analysis of the latest trends that lead to successfully defining ROI on a given campaign initiative.

Another interesting topic that was discussed was that there is a lot of channel confusion. Meaning a number of marketers do not fully understand how to deploy social media solutions. There are a number of options. White label & SaaS Social Networking platforms, User generated content specific applications, etc… my recommendation is to find a solution that provides an integrated platform with a flexible UI that allows for flexibility to deploy the applications that are relevant for your clients needs but one that also has a strong reporting engine as consistent metrics are the key to defining a successful campaign. Also, depending on your client you may want to position a solution that scales to meet the potential demand.

Finally, one of the other hot topics of discussion around marketing and social networking was the concern around communication control. There is uncertainty about how to manage brand messages when deploying social media solutions. As Rob Howard has stated before, conversations matter. Your customers are going to talk about you whether you have a social networking presence or not. There are ways to control communication such as positioning moderated blogs instead of more collaborative applications where the organization is controlling more of the publishing and the user has less control over the brand. But ultimately we have found that transparency can be a very good thing for businesses as it can reveal a face to the brand that might otherwise miss the crucial connection with end users who are in even more control of the messages that they receive.

It appears that social networking applied to business is about to truly enter the mainstream in terms of marketing budget allocations as the consumers have spoken and shown that they are interested in this style of collaboration. The challenge for the marketers is to develop engaging campaigns that compliment the daily activities of users. One thing is for certain though it is going to be a fun ride!

Microsoft Outing Cheaters on Xbox Live

Major Nelson announced today that Microsoft has instituted new policies to further crack down on cheaters on Xbox Live. Major stated that they have already taken action to punish “accounts we have identified as the most serious offenders who have violated the Xbox Live Terms of Use by tampering with their Gamerscore and Achievements.”

This is a great move by Microsoft. It is frustrating as a gamer who takes my score seriously and all achievements were earned the old fashioned way. It is great to see that Microsoft cares about maintaining honesty within the community.

Microsoft is going to reset the offenders Gamerscore to zero and labeling the account as a cheater for the community to see. Moving forward these users can gain new achievements the old fashioned way but cannot regain their old achievements.

It is great to see that Microsoft takes this issue seriously.

Game Review – Army of Two

ArmyofTwo360packshotTo preface this review I want to state for the record that I really enjoy co-op shooters. So this review has a positive slant from the word go because I am a fanboy of any game that allows you to blow stuff up with your buddies in real time. Electronic Arts did a great job with Army of Two as it is just a fun game. If you want to have a good time blowing things up with your friends definitely give this title a go.

Story: You represent two Ex-Army Rangers who are now working as private contractors for a corporation called SSC. Through 6 campaign missions you will step jump, co-op riot shield, go back-to-back and co-op snipe your way through a legion of enemy AI, Heavies (Heavily armored AI) and quasi boss battles in addition to a number of extra objectives that will earn you cash. But enough about the story let’s talk about the gameplay.

Gameplay: Army of Two leverages some of the better elements of co-op game play. Similar to Crackdown, Gears of War and Halo 3 while building on what has been done in the past. You can interact with your partner in a number of ways.

The best tactic in tight situations is for one of you to power up your Aggro meter. Once full one of you will start pulsing read while the other becomes transparent. This basically translates to one of you will draw the enemies fire while the other can stealthfully take out the opposition. You can also enter the Overkill mode which slows everything down or speeds things up depending on if you were the initiator.

Some of the other fun partner based elements are the ability to swap weapons so you can focus on support and aggressive roles, as well as the ability to partner in a few other game modes including the co-op riot shield where one of you wields a shield while the other shoots, step jumps, back-to-back when overwhelmed by enemies and co-op sniping.

One of the more interesting elements is the drag and heal function. Like Halo and Gears your health will recharge while in cover, but adding to the revive option in Gears you can actually drag your fallen friend to cover while they can lay down suppressive fire while being dragged to a safe location for healing. This can also be an area for bragging rights or degrading your partner. E.g. let’s just say my friend Elijah earned the field medic achievement fairly quickly while playing with me :) call it aggressive game play or just the overall inability to evade bullets we will never know.

One of the best elements of the game is actually the enemy AI. Depending on the difficulty setting they will change positions when fired upon, flank your position and basically try to destroy you in a multitude of ways. I was impressed.

One of my only gameplay complaints is when I am standing next to an enemy (Similar to the issue in Crackdown) it is very difficult to get a lock on an enemy which ends up in spinning and shooting which is not the ideal experience (especially when you are going for achievements and already have the melee achievement).

Weapons: The weapons selection ranges from Primary, Secondary and Special weapons. Your primary is chock full of assault rifles and heavy machine guns while your secondary set includes pistols and SMG’s with your specials focusing on sniper rifles and RPGs. You have the ability to upgrade some of the weapons with additional elements not to the level of COD4 but can you “pimp” your assault rifle with gold in COD4? I don’t think so.

Online: One of my biggest complaints of the game is with session timeout on the versus multiplayer. Out of 8 online sessions I only made it to the end of one session before running into server issues. I have confirmed other players have experienced similar time outs.

The main element of versus is to complete various objectives and earn more money than the opposing team of two. I felt as though there was more that could have been done here. One suggestion would be to allow for teams of Contractors to battle different enemy insurgents or Heavy’s or even sub bosses in a more team based approach like a traditional slayer match similar to GOW, Halo, and COD4. This would allow for more replayability as I am more likely to continually play a team based shooter than an objective based one.  To be honest this is one of the weaker elements of the game.

Achievements:  Your first play through of the campaign will most likely net you roughly 300-350 achievement points depending on if you are focusing on changing weapons once you receive the equivalent achievement. Note that even if you die and have to restart from a checkpoint your kills are registered so you do not have to start over. A number of achievements are based on achieving a number of kills with a specific type of weapon. Others are mission specific and there are a few that are tied to the online versus mode. I have been able to clear 700 points in about 12 hours of gameplay.

Pros:

  • You and a friend blowing stuff up
  • Aggro System
  • Enemy AI is impressive
  • Game Play Based Achievements
  • Ability to “Pimp” your weapons
  • Partner Elements (Back to Back, Co-op Riot Shield, Weapon Swap etc.)
  • Ability to “mess” with your partner (High Fives, Trip Them, Etc..)
  • GPS System
  • All weapons in a category will unlock once you clear certain difficulties

Cons:

  •  Online mode and lack of team slayer type options
  •  Weapon lock-on in close combat
  •  Vehicle Controls are lacking and feel forced
  •  Expected more interation with the environment (crumbling walls)
  •  Session timeouts in online versus modes
  •  Not enough money offered for objectives (If I were risking my life to disable multiple aircraft on a carrier while enemy fire surrounds me I would expect more than $6,000)
  •  Lack of a language filter (I am just saying…)

Rating: I give this a solid 8 out of 10 and a definite pick-up if you well have a friend that wants to play with you

Community Server 2008 Logo Unveiled

One of the fun parts of my job is that I work closely with our Creative and
Marketing teams in defining the direction of the various brands for our
products. After a number of cycles the team has unveiled the new Community
Server
2008 logo.

Community Server 2008

I am very excited about the progression of the brand over the past few years. I
feel like this iteration is a good representation of what Community Server is
all about.

Great work guys!

Telligent Voted One of the Best Places to Work in 2008

BPTW - 2008When I first heard the news that we were one of the winners of the “Best Places to work in DFW” (announced in the March 14th print edition) I did one of those cheesy jumps you would see in a very cliché movie. Person 1 gets great news/wins the game/something worth jumping about and then well… jumps… luckily that moment is not frozen in time nor will a dramatic montage highlighting random events that led to the jump be playing on YouTube anytime soon. Although you may want to check out our many Tellicasts

Luckily I was at home when I got the news and spared everyone from watching my
limited vertical leaping skillz in action.

In all seriousness it is a great accomplishment as we were selected out of 270 other companies and speaks to how we value our
employees and focus on providing a work environment that is not only fun but
allows for professional growth and personal satisfaction. It may sound like a
cliché but when we say we work hard and play hard we actually do.

Even as we continue to grow we look for specific personality types that fit the
mold of a Telligenti. If I were to summarize what makes a Telligenti it is
someone who is not only a rockstar in their discipline but someone who is a
humble team player. Someone who is willing to do what is necessary to ensure
that they not only deliver to the best of their ability but are always willing
to assist other team members regardless of group or title.

You will also find a person who is driven and goal oriented and always looking
to improve. Rob Howard our CEO recently summed it up by saying. “We are built
on the fact that our teams comprised of A level performers” meaning we want the
best-of-the-best. Individuals that have the positional proficiency and soft-skills
to interact efficiently within our organizational structure.

You will not find egos with this team nor will you find traditional divisions
that are prevalent with other companies (i.e. sales vs. delivery, etc.). What
you will find is a group of individuals who are all working towards the same
goal of developing incredible products and delivering the best solutions for
our clients while having a great time doing it.

One of the main elements that we as Telligent leadership try to ensure is that
our employees work environment is conducive to open communication and feedback, self-driven work schedules and the fact that the leadership of the company has a focus on maintaining our culture as we grow as well as ensure that decisions are about the well-being of our team members and not just the bottom-line of the business.

You can see it when you walk in the door. The CEO’s office is the same size as
all the others and our CTO resides in an open area with our interns. You won’t
find luxurious furniture, an executive break area or any other old school
vestige representing an organizational caste system. The focus is on the
individual employee not differentiating based on role.

In addition to the pranks (Cardboard RobRobbleheads), monthly Frag nights,
food and drinks throughout the week and occasional company outings . It is no wonder Telligent was voted one of the best places to work in DFW area by the Dallas Business Journal because it is!!!

Congratulations to everyone. You are a phenomenal team to work with!

Game Review – LOST Via Domus

LOSTI normally do not watch a lot of TV (Outside of The University of Oklahoma during football season) but my one obsession over the past few years has definitely been LOST. I have really enjoy the show and look forward to each new episode. The concepts and characters draw you in and I like that fact that at the end of each show I have more questions than answers and I am left to think about how it will all come together.

Being a fan of the show and an avid gamer it was pretty much a given that I would pick up the first LOST game title for the 360. LOST Via Domus is more of an adventure game with elements of strategy all tying into the LOST formula of flashbacks and intrigue.

I would definitely recommend watching at least the first three seasons before you play this title as there are a number of references that really would not make sense or at the very least be as interesting unless you have watched the show regularly.

You are in control of a new character to the LOST universe. He is a photo journalist who has lost his memory due to the crash of Oceanic Flight 815. You have to depend on a few familiar faces (Jack, Kate, Sawyer, Locke, Hurley, Charley, etc…) while you begin to piece together your lost memories to uncover your background by triggering flashbacks during character interactions. Of course it would not be a LOST game if you did not have confrontations with the elusive but deadly Smoke monster and a few run ins with the “Others”. The pacing of the game feels very true to the show.

Ubisoft Montreal did a good job with the level design as the jungle backgrounds look amazing. But for a game based on an island that requires trekking to various points the game is very linear with a limited area to explore. It was also a lot of fun to “enter the numbers”, explore the various Dharma stations and interact with the rest of the LOST environment in a more interactive manner.

Looking at the actual gameplay there are a few areas worth discussion. After just completing another playthrough of Mass Effect interacting with the LOST conversation controls seem very basic and almost lacking. It was fun interacting with familiar characters and the Ubisoft team did a good job of channeling the personalities of the characters. The inventory system seemed like an afterthought and the real purpose is to house items to trade for better equipment. And the entire game experience lasted maybe 7 hours with very little replayability.

The flashback sequences were done well but the only point of contention is that in order to trigger the full memory you must replicate a picture with your camera and this can be frustrating at times. Speaking of frustrating there are a number of mini games in LOST Via Domus. In true Bioshock fashion one of the main mini-games introduces the “Fuse” game. Similar to the hacking done in Bioshock you plug various fuses into the correct socket to allow the right amount of electrical current through.

Another mini-game is again similar to Bioshock in that you can take pictures of certain items to unlock achievements. Speaking of Achievements you can unlock all 1000 points fairly easily with limited replay required. Achievements are tied to level completion and other tasks during memory flashbacks and exploration.

Pros:

  • It’s LOST!!!!
  • Interacting with the LOST Universe
  • Level backgrounds are very well done (Especially the nursery in the Medical Station)
  • The game stays very true to the LOST mythology
  • The Smoke Monster
  • Easy Achievements
  • Mini-games

Cons:

  •  Really light adventure game
  •  Lackluster Conversation engine
  •  Inventory system subpar
  •  No more lighters or torches – seriously
  •  Checkpoint reloads force you to resort your inventory
  •  Actual action segments are very lackluster
  •  Extremely Short – 7 hours to get through the game

This game is definitely for the LOST fan. It misses the mark in terms of a good adventure title and the mini-games become a bit repetitive. But let’s be honest you will pick up this game if you cannot get enough of the LOST universe. For those that enjoy the show and like to game then I recommend picking up this title. Otherwise it would make a great weekend rental. I give the game 7 out of 10 and the show a 10 out of 10.

Dead Space

One of the other game titles that I am very excited about in 2008 is the new EA title Dead Space. It was recently announced that the game will launch on October 28th of this year and the games site DeadSpaceGame.com just launched.

Dead Space is a new IP launch for EA and is the first Sci-Fi Horror game that the company has ever launched. It follows Isaac Clarke and is a survival horror epic. Isaac, a space engineer who works for the Concordance Extraction Corporation (C.E.C), a company that repairs “giant mining ships”. His company receives a distress call from the USG Ishimura, a “Planet Cracker” class ship that takes dead planets, and destroys them to extract valuable ore for the company.

In the assumption that the ship has had a mechanical failure, Isaac soon realizes that this is no ordinary distress call. He soon finds that the ship has been overrun by a mysterious alien race. This routine check becomes a race for his life….

The game features some familiar aspects such as we learn the story of what happened through in-game assets similar to Bioshock, and the main character Isaac is not a soldier. He is a common man and his tools are his weapons which leads to simple, brutal and effective combat. He is no super soldier which gives his character a sense of vulnerability which adds to the games believability (If you call deep space mining and alien infested ships believable). This title is definitely not a shooter. You will be outnumbered and low on ammo so the main point is to survive.

Regarding gameplay, that is where this title will really excel. Since this is not a fragfest you might ask how will you “survive”. Simple… dismember anything that moves with your plasma cutter. Yes, you will sever arms, legs, heads and just about anything that protrudes from the alien “Necromorphs”. This as you can imagine is a very complex system as there are multiple animation sequences that have to be considered meaning that you can dispatch an enemy in a number of ways. So this is the element of the game that will receive the most attention from the EA team.

Definitely check out the site to view, rate, share and comment on a large collection of Dead Space media including screenshots, concept art and trailers. The site features a daily blog from the Dead Space development team as well as video diaries showcasing the games origin.

dead_space

Interview with Major Nelson

During GDC 2008 I had the opportunity to sit down and talk to Larry “Major Nelson” Hyrb of the Xbox Live team. Larry is the Director of Xbox Live Programming and is the author of one of the most popular gaming blogs on the web. Between posts, blogcasts and twitter Major keeps everyone up to date on the latest information on all things Xbox.

The focus of the interview was to get Larry’s thoughts on the keys to his success as well as his thoughts around social media and the future.

TheBlackFin: You have one of the highest trafficked blogs on the web today. What has been the key to your success?

Major Nelson: Since the beginning this has been about being a part of the conversation. With any blogging the ability to connect with the audience with relevant content is the key to success.

TheBlackFin: Describe some of the interesting trends that you have seen with your blog from the time you originally published it through today.

Major Nelson: The integration of the gamertag has been key since the beginning . The ability for gamers to publish their gamertag and tie in to the Xbox achievement system and publically display their gamerscore has been one of the most important elements to building community around Xbox gaming.

TheBlackFin: How do you think your blog has enhanced the Xbox Live brand?

Major Nelson: The blog has allowed us to have a conversation.  As one of the highest trafficked gaming blogs doing podcasts and blogging it has enabled real time communication. As you know this audience is rabid about information and they want to consume it in almost real time.

TheBlackFin: In your opinion… What impact has social networking and community in general had on the gaming industry?

Major Nelson: Social Networking has had a phenomenal impact on the industry. What a lot of people don’t realize is that Xbox Live is a premier social network. Everyday hundreds of thousands of users log on to play with their friends, compare gamer scores and connect with other gamers. With the integration between the consoles and Xbox.com it extends the experience beyond the console.  Also a lot of external applications are now picking up gaming data… you see different applications on MySpace and Facebook.

TheBlackFin: What publisher and game title has been successful in deploying a good social networking gaming experience?

Major Nelson: Without a doubt it would be Bungie and Halo. Online and offline what bungie has done to include the community has just been amazing.

TheBlackFin: What are your predictions around social networking trends and gaming in the next few years?

Major Nelson: I think we are going to see more of the game/web interaction like Bungie has done with Halo and Electronic Arts with Skate. Look at how they take in game data and spray it back to the web and allow users to collaborate with it. What Bungie has done is the tip of the iceberg. More and more publishers are recognizing the value of having a seamless experience between the game and the web.

Me with “the Major” @ GDC 2008
Tom Edwards with Major Nelson

GDC 2008 – Expo Day 1

GDC2008The 2008 Game Developer Conference has been a great conference so far. Most of the major industry players are here. Microsoft, Sony, Electronic Arts, Disney, Ubisoft, Activison and a host others. After the first few days of the conference focused on a number of sessions and events today marked the beginning of the Expo portion of the conference.

The technology that was on display was cutting edge and amazing. From motion capture demonstrations to the latest in animation technology including demonstrations by Natural Motion of their Dynamic Motion Synthesis Euphoria product which will be big role in the upcoming Star Wars: The Force Unleashed and Grand Theft Auto IV. To a host of demonstrations from organizations that are looking to take gaming to the next level. From brain wave centric gaming to you as the controller the evolution of gaming is close at hand.

G4 and the X-Play team are here broadcasting as well as Larry “Major Nelson” Hyrb. This has been a very informative event thus far and I look forward to tomorrows sessions, hitting the expo floor again and meeting with the EA team.

There will be more photos posted in the photo gallery soon.

Me with a Big Daddy from Bioshock
Tom Edwards with Big Daddy from Bioshock - Blog

Telligent Graffiti CMS 1.0 Now Available

Taking a moment away from GDC 2008, I wanted to announce that our latest product Telligent Graffiti CMS 1.0 is now available! You can download it here: http://get.graffiticms.com/

Graffiti is a lightweight, simple content publishing system you can use to quickly and easily publish a blog or an entire web site. It blends together traditional CMS tools like revision history and workflow with more modern blog-style publishing. Graffiti is available as both a free Express Edition as well as several commercial editions.

We’re also happy to announce the new Graffiti Marketplace where you can download new themes and functionality for your Graffiti site. We’ve already published several themes that were created for Graffiti 1.0. You can also browse and install new features from the Graffiti Marketplace all within Graffiti itself!

Thanks to everyone at Telligent as well as all of our beta testers and customers that have taken the time to try out this new product.

Building software is easy. Building easy to use software is hard. We think Graffiti is in the latter category. The team has spent countless hours working to make Graffiti really simple and intuitive.  We really hope you enjoy Graffiti!

Frequent Questions:

What is required to run Graffiti?

Graffiti requires Microsoft .NET 2.0 or later running on Windows or Mono* running on Windows, Linux, Apple, etc. Graffiti uses VistaDB as the default database but also support Microsoft SQL Server, Microsoft Access, and MySQL. More details here.

* additional announcements around Mono support are forthcoming. Full support of Mono should be available in the next release of Mono (1.9?) although Graffiti 1.0 has been tested with Mono v1.2.6.

How do Graffiti and Community Server work together?

They don’t. Graffiti is optimized for individuals and small groups whereas Community Server is optimized for large Enterprise social networking sites. For example, if you are running a single blog Graffiti is better. If you are managing more than 1 blog Community Server is better.

Is Graffiti free?

Graffiti is available as both a commercially supported product ($399 for 10 user license) as well as a free Express Edition designed for individuals.

How does user licensing work?

A license is required for each user that wants to publish content within Graffiti. There are no limits to the number of readers!

What is coming in the next release of Graffiti?

Stay tuned to graffiticms.com for details :)

Star Wars The Force Unleashed

StarWars - TFUThere are some great games on the horizon in 2008. There are two in particular that I am very interested in. The first being Electronic Arts Spore which will have it’s own post in the near future. It was recently announced that Spore will be released on September 7th.

The other title I am looking forward to playing in the summer of 2008 is the latest LucasArts title… Star Wars: The Force Unleashed. Take a look at the trailer.

The story occurs between episodes III & IV and is being guided by George Lucas himself and will revolve around your Jedi being a “secret apprentice” to Darth Vader himself. Your mission is to hunt down Jedi that survived the initial purge.

Being an avid Star Wars fanboy I am very excited about what is possible on the 360 when it comes to putting your Jedi to the test. The game blends the Havoc Physics Engine With the Euphoria AI engine providing the basis for character/force interaction you can already get a feel from the trailer of what we can expect. Look at how the Storm Troopers flail about as they fly through the air and try to grab objects as well as how the environment can just crumble at the seams. Also, who doesn’t want to be able to bring down a TIE fighter with your Jedi powers. And was that a Rancor in the trailer??? It looked like you won’t need a giant door or bone this time around. If the gameplay is half as good as it appears in the trailer then this is a definite pickup.

From a marketing perspective this title is going to receive a very large marketing push including in true Lucas fashion a full line of toys as well as publishing by Dark Horse. So be expecting to see and hear a lot about this title in upcoming months.

GDC 2008

GDC2008I am in transit to San Francisco to attend the Game Developers Conference 2008.

I look forward to the numerous sessions and networking as well as all of the latest and greatest gaming demonstrations during the expo portion of the conference.

On Wednesday I will begin my blog coverage of GDC 2008 as that is when the Expo gets underway.

On deck is an interview with Larry “Major Nelson” Hyrb discussing his thoughts about the impact of Social Networking and gaming as well as insight into the keys to success of his blog.

Army Strong

One of the things that has truly shaped my life and served as a foundation for me to be a truly productive, successful adult was my time in the military. In the early 90’s I entered the US Army Reserve early entry program. I was a junior in High School and started preparations for training after I graduated.

My first taste of active duty was basic training at Fort Knox, KY and I learned what it would take to become a soldier. It was more than the physical… 90% of it was mental toughness and understanding how to play the game. Growing up in a military household allowed me to take to the rigid structure like a fish to water. I was a member of the 2nd platoon Ironmen and we were rough and tough and invincible (at least in our 17 year old minds). Those 8 weeks were physically and mentally demanding but I loved every minute of it.

Next in my career was AIT (Advanaced Individual Training). I had always had an interest in medicine so I leaned that direction when selecting my primary military discipline. I was a 91B which was a combat medic. I trained at Ft. Sam Houston in San Antonio TX and it was a complete 180 from the 8 weeks of training I had just experienced. The focus was more on the classroom as we learned how to work as a team and serve our fellow soldiers by putting their lives and needs ahead of our own. It is a great lesson in humility and empathy for your fellow soldiers.

As I progressed through my career a few moments stand out… winning the battalion soldier of the year in 1996. Receiving my sergeant stripes at the age of 20 and probably the thing I am the most proud of which are my jump wings.

I had a rare opportunity that is normally not available to a US Army Reserve soldier. As a member of the University of Oklahoma ROTC program as well as a member of the US Army Reserve I was able to secure a spot to attend jump school at Ft. Benning, GA. This was the toughest 3 weeks of training of my life. Upon arrival there were 300 members in our class. By the time we were finished only 125 soldiers completed the course.

From the hours of physical training in saw dust pits to the actual jump training on how to exit the aircraft, land and control your chute it was a physically grueling experience. Nothing compares to the few moments of calm after you exit the aircraft and clear the prop wash of the C-130 and your chute is fully deployed. There are a few seconds as you look out at the sun on the horizon that the world just seems to stand still… then reality or rather gravity comes into play and you land like a sack of potatoes.

I look back fondly on my military experiences. I made great friends and even more importantly I learned what it would take to be successful in all aspects of life.

A blast from the past… that is me in the red beret next to my best Army buddy Adam shortly after I finished Jump School.

Adam & Tom - Army - 700

Nike Super Bowl Event

Tonight was the Nike Super Bowl Event and it was the highlight of the trip thus far. A special thanks to BK for the invite and introduction to AD that made the trip for me. Basically any athlete that is associated with Nike Football or will be associated with Nike Football was at this particular event along with Nike corporate as well as a few of our friends from Microsoft.

The list was impressive: Adrian Peterson, Ben Roethlisberger, Jim Kelly, Warrick Dunn, Desmond Howard, and T.J. Houshmanzada to name a few. Others in attendance, Alice Cooper and Cowboy Troy.

When not focusing on business I spent time talking to Sooner Alumni and current Chicago Bear JD Runnels and current OU TE Joe John Finley and of course with Adrian Peterson. For those that don’t know me I bleed crimson and cream and the opportunity to meet one of the greatest Sooner running backs of all time was worth the trip.

Tom Edwards with Adrian Peterson - 640

Golf with The Gridiron Greats

Besides Madden Bowl XIV yesterday it was day two of assisting the Gridiron Greats cause. The morning brought a very moving press conference with 50 Gridiron Greats, 35 of which are Hall of Fame players. They gave moving testimony as Mike Ditka, Gale Sayers, Daryl “Moose” Johnston, and Michael Irvin all spoke about why this means so much to so many former players.

Later in the day brought the Gridiron Greats Golf event where the grand prize was a pair of Super Bowl XLII tickets. During the awards ceremony I had the priviledge to speak with Mike Ditka, Jim Marshall, and Jan Stenerud about their thoughts around the current situation facing those players left to fend for themselves.

This has been a great experience in that the passion that these men feel for this issue really comes through in their words. There are times when tears begin to gather and emotions start running high. These men, especially the older players paved the way and made the game what it is today. They gave their bodies and did not receive the generous salaries of today’s players. It is amazing how much this organization has accomplished in just one short year. It will be interesting to see where this goes.

Mike Ditka
Ditka 2 - 640

Jan Stenerud
Jan Stenerud - 640

Madden Bowl XIV

Madden Bowl - XIVTonight was the invite only Madden Bowl XIV put on by the Electronic Arts Tiburon team. It was a great event. A number of NFL stars squared off to see who would be the Madden Bowl XIV champ. Kellen Winslow Jr., Willis McGahee, Marshawn Lynch, Chad “Ocho Cinco” Johnson, Jason Whitten and others all virtually took the field to see who would win the coveted Madden Bowl trophy.

After a few rounds the finals came down to Willis McGahee and Marshawn Lynch. McGahee took home the coveted Madden Trophy 43-7.

The event was being blogged live by Will “Raczilla” Kinsler, Madden community manager.

Will Kinsler - 640

Also, It was great to hang out with Mike “MJ” Johnson (Below) and Reg Hamlett of EA Sports and all of their associates during the event.

Tom Edwards - MJ

Halo Expanded

halo-booksWhile flying to San Francisco today I will be reading The Flood book 2 of 3 in the initial Halo book series. Normally I read business related books discussing the latest on management, marketing, sales and leadership. On occassion however I like to read something…. fun.

Being the avid gamer that I am and growing up on a healthy dose of Star Wars and all things space related it is not a stretch that I like Sci-Fi fiction. When I was a pre-teen I read every Star Wars book I could get my hands on. I really liked the fact that the books expand on the core themes of the movies but took on a life of their own.

I really enjoyed the recent Halo 3 release and to this point had only played through the various titles not thinking about the how, when and why the story took place when it did and how the characters became who they are in the game. I had recently picked up a gaming industry magazine and it had excerpts from all 5 books and I was immediately hooked. I went out and picked up the initial 3 book set and tore through the first book within a couple days.

I won’t go into a lot of detail around the actual contents, but if you are a fan of the game and are looking for a fun read I would recommend picking it up. After the Halo series I will turn to the first Mass Effect prequel titled Revelation.

Super Bowl XLII

gridironIt has been confirmed that I will be going to Arizona for a week of events for Super Bowl XLII.

I will be supporting the Gridiron Greats assistance fund. The fund was created by Mike Ditka, Willie Davis, Harry Carson, Gale Sayers and others. The fund benefits retired players in need.

The Super Bowl XLII events will bring together the largest gathering of NFL legends and Hall of Famers to date. Some of the attendees will include the likes of Earl Campbell, Barry Sanders, Lawrence Taylor, Marshall Faulk, Gale Sayers and over 50 others. This is a great cause and we wanted to provide support by offering our products and services.

The week will be filled with events which will include Mike Ditka’s Gridiron Greats dinner of champions, Gridiron Greats Golf Event, Celebrity Poker Event and a Gridiron Greats Super Jam and I will bring you blog coverage from the various events as present and past NFL players blog about the events on our platform.

In addition to the Gridiron Greats there will be the NFL Experience theme events,  an invite to a Nike Event and an invite to EA’s Madden Bowl (Thanks MJ) that will also be on the agenda.

It should be a great week!

GDC 2008

GDC2008I confirmed today that I will be attending the 2008 Game Developer Conference February 18-22 in San Francisco.

I am very excited about attending as outside of the networking and expo portion the key areas that I am interested in are the business and management topics of “Make the Community Part of Halo” and advertising and games.

The “Make the Community Part of Halo” discussions are very key as it talks about the bungie.net experience and how they worked to make community an integral part of the game itself.

I have worked with Microsoft Game Studios, Ensemble Studios and of course Electronic Arts on the Skate and NFS ProStreet titles fall along the same lines. So if you are attending the event let me know and we will schedule some time to sync during the conference.

Mike Ditka’s Dinner of Champions

Today kicked off a series of events here in Scottsdale, Arizona. I am here to support the Gridiron Greats throughout the week for various events. Tonight kicked off with Mike Ditka’s Dinner of Champions. With over 50 NFL legends in attendance this was one of the largest gatherings of NFL HOF players all to support a very worthy cause.

During the event I served as the blogging admin for http://blog.gridirongreats.org and assisted various NFL legends including Gale Sayers, Mel Renfro, and Tim Harris as well as other NFL players such as Daryl “Moose” Johnston, Andre Reed, and Kyle Turley discuss their thoughts about the current issues facing retired NFL players today.

Mike Ditka
Tom Edwards - Mike Ditka - 640

Gale Sayers
Tom Edwards - Gale Sayers - 640

Daryl “Moose” Johnston
Tom Edwards - Daryl Moose Johnston - 640

CES 2008 In Closing

It is great to be back in Dallas! CES 2008 was a great event. From the Bill Gates hilarious “last day video” to all of the robots, gadgets and celebrities. CES is a definite must attend event for any tech/gadget lover.

Being the avid gamer that I am I was disappointed that there was not a larger presence from the gaming industry on hand for the event. The show was dominated by Home and Audio products. There was a “gaming showcase” area but it was mainly filled with resellers and start-ups. There was not a lot to be seen. Granted CES occurs after E3 but it would have been nice to have more of a presence. The only major studio that I saw was Activision and they had a very small presence at the event.

One of the most impressive sites of the show was a “life size” version of the Autobot Bumblebee on the showroom floor. The level of detail and the scale of the piece definitely made you take notice.

Tom Edwards with Bumblebee

The only issue if you can call it one is that you definitely notice that there are 130,000 people in a confined space. There are times when you are pretty packed into a small space all vying for a glimpse of the latest and greatest but you have time to see all that you want to see.

Until Next year… Viva Las Vegas… Thank you… Thank you very much!!!

Tom Edwards with Elvis

CES Day 3

Coming to you live from Las Vegas at CES 2008. Today was another good day. After some early meetings with the Microsoft Vista team and the High Tech team it was on to the convention floor for additional networking.

There were 35 football fields worth of booths and exhibits. There was a very large focus on Audio and Home Theater with some of the best booth experiences coming from Panasonic, Samsung, LG and Sharp. Others went for sheer size…. Sony, Microsoft, Intel and HP all had significant space dedicated to them. There were some truly amazing products and innovations. LG had the thinnest flat screen television that I have ever seen and the war between Blu-Ray and HD-DVD was being waged on the showroom floor. I will be posting a number of photos from the event in the photo gallery soon.

There was a lot to see as business was conducted on the show floor. I also had the opportunity to meet up with Larry “Major Nelson” Hyrb today as well as we discussed next steps regarding his blog. It is always great to talk to Larry. Be sure to check out his blog and podcast. He is the insider for all things Xbox.

Tomorrow will be my last day at the event and it will be the final push through the crowds of people and booths. It has been a great event so far and I look forward to talking to my targeted list of booths to close out the event.

Me with Larry “Major Nelson” Hyrb at CES 2008
Tom Edwards with MajorNelson

CES Day 2

Hello from Las Vegas. Today was another eventful day in Las Vegas. For most of the day I met again with the Microsoft High Tech Sales teams. Later in the day we did hit the expo floor here in the Venetian. The Panasonic “life wall” presentation was the most impressive of the day.

About 10% of the expo resides in the venetian but it was still as large of an expo as most standard conferences. There were all types of devices from Robots to data storage to replica Halo 3 plasma rifles. It was good to network and to see all of the great items. I have to say though there has been a serious lack of swag thus far. Of course with 130,000 attendees the goodies are few and far between.

Tomorrow we will hit the main expo hall. I will meet with Major Nelson as well as some other pre-arranged meetings. It should be a great day!!!

CES Day 1

Coming to you live from the Palazzo in Las Vegas… Day one is now in the books. Registration, networking and Rock Band were the orders of the day.

The focus of today was to meet with all of the Microsoft Sales reps that service the High Tech industry (~125 in attendance). After watching Bill Gates final keynote speech it was on to the Rock Band rock off. For those of you that don’t know Rock Band think Guitar Hero with drums and karaoke. We were to recruit members from the Microsoft to join our band and me and 3 Microsoftees made it to the finals. We put up the highest score of the night in the final during our set but ultimately lost the title (and the custom Zune prizes) to a team of seasoned Rock Band veterans. It was still a lot of fun though!

Tomorrow will be more networking with the Microsoft teams and then on to the CES expo hall as well as a meeting with Larry “Major Nelson” Hyrb of the Xbox team.

So far the conference has gotten off to a good start. Below is a pic of our “band” that’s me with the glasses on lead guitar :P.

Tom Edwards - CES 2008 Rock Band Battle - 1

How Much??? Really?!?

How much do we spend in the US on advertising? Well in 2007 we spent 283 billion dollars. Yes 283 billion. 

That may sound like a lot but this level of growth 0.7% versus 2006 puts advertising’s share of the 2007 GDP (2%) at it’s lowest level since the recession year of 1982. 

Even with an uncertain market advertising spend is projecting a 3% growth in 2008 fueled by the Summer Olympics and the Presidential Elections. Being interested in online spending I am very interested in the 2008 projections.

Below is breakdown of the 2008 projections. The data was based on a December 2007 report from Universal McCann’s Robert J. Coen as presented in the December 31st issue of Advertising Age.

  1. Direct Mail – $63B
  2. Broadcast TV – $48B
  3. Newspaper – $42B
  4. Cable TV Networks – $21B
  5. Radio – $18B
  6. Yellow Pages – $14B
  7. Consumer Magazine – $14B
  8. Internet – $12B
  9. All Other – $58B 

What may be surprising is the fact that online spending ranks 8th. Being in the industry our natural assumption is that online spending is in the top 3. With that said though this segment over the past few years has had double digit growth and is projected at a 16.5% increase from 2007. The next closest in terms of growth will be spend on Cable TV at a 6% increase.

The flip side is the reduction in spend on traditional mediums such as newspaper which is actually seeing a decrease of -1.8% of spend as compared to 2007 and Radio which is only seeing a 0.2% increase.

With the recent trends in online spending continuing to increase. The success of Google’s AdWords system and now with Microsoft commiting to a marketing focus now is the time to focus attention on the medium. 

This translates to very good news for online solutions and providers as well. Especially around social media based solutions. The need for social interaction with customers and users has now fully proliferated traditional business and the marketing dollars are now being fully allocated to deploying collaborative solutions as part of their integrated marketing strategy. I see this trend continuing into the near future.

CES 2008

2008 CESJust a quick note that I will be attending CES 2008 in Las Vegas. I will be at the event through Tuesday of next week.

Being the gadget guy that I am it will be a lot of fun to get a glimpse at the latest emerging technologies across a number of categories.

If you are going to be in attendance definitely let me know. Otherwise I will follow up with a review of the sights and sounds of this years consumer electronics show.

 

Viva Finata

FinataIt seems as though the pranks here at Telligent never end. Granted I may have occassionally pulled a prank or two but I was not expecting what happened today.

My team put together a lunch for the company on behalf of the sales & marketing departments. There was tortilla soup, chips, dip, cookies and to my surprise a Tom piñata complete with Starbucks and iPhone.

I got to take the first swing and let’s just say after the Oklahoma game last night in the Fiesta Bowl I was ready to unleash on it… the contents then exploded across the conference room floor.

I have to give the team credit! I was definitely not expecting this. Viva Fiñata!!!!

Nike Plus

Nike_plusHappy Holidays. I hope that everyone had a great Christmas season and a safe new years. With my recent gamerscore goal now complete I have switched my attention to something just as addicting… Running with my Nike Plus enabled iPod.

I really enjoy tracking and trending sets of numbers. Be it sales forecasts, gamerscore or miles completed. I thoroughly enjoy setting and exceeding goals so it was a natural fit to turn my attention to tracking my progress via my iPod.

The Nike Plus system works with the iPod nano. You insert a small receiver in your Nike Plus shoe or you can purchase an adapter to leverage the system with any type of shoe. Then you run. It is that simple. Leave it to Apple to make the process as easy as possible.

The system really allows me to continue to run consistently as I like to watch the graph continue to progress on a daily basis. So now instead of gaming I will be running but one thing is certain. Goals will be set and numbers will be tracked and analyzed on a daily basis.

30,000 and the Future

aunlockedOne of the best features that the Xbox team introduced was tying in-game achievements to a publically viewable profile. What this allowed was for you as a gamer to start building gaming “equity” over time that could then be shared and compared with your friends and others in the gaming community. This small detail has caused me to forgo the PS3 and only play the Wii with my son as I have been focused on increasing my gamerscore and pushing myself as a game enthusiast.

With that said, yesterday marked the passing of the 30,0000 gamerscore plateau. It took 135 days to go from 20,000K to 30,000K with an average gain of 74 points per day. So I thought I would take a moment and archive some fun facts since I started gaming on the 360 oh so many moons ago.

1) Consecutive Days Played Streak – 72
2) Retail Titles Completed – 11
3) World Gamerscore Ranking – 3734
4) World Achievement Ranking – 3398
5) Largest single day achievement gain – 39
6) Most points in a day – 1200
7) Completion Percentage (0 score games removed) – 53%
8) Total Games Retail(61)/Arcade (27) Owned – 88

Here is a breakdown of the top five games played by days played:

1) NHL2k7 – 55
2) DW Gundam – 53
3) Halo3 – 48
4) Lego Star Wars II – 45
5) Gears of War – 22

Moving forward I am going to put an end to my gamerscore addiction and start playing the titles that I enjoy as I have a stack of games that are waiting to be played and enjoyed. Mass Effect, The Orange Box, Rainbow 6 Vegas, FEAR, and COD4 Multiplayer.

I have and will always be a gamer to some degree. My focus is just shifting a bit :)

Game Review – Lego Star Wars TCS

starwarscompleteMy 5 year old son and I have enjoyed the Lego Star Wars series. It started with Lego Stars I on the PS2 then on to Lego Star Wars II on both the PS2 and Xbox 360 (100% complete). I even chose a Lego II achievement as the basis for the Official Xbox Magazine call out a few months ago.

So it should come as no surprise that I bought into the marketing hype and picked up Lego Star Wars The Complete Saga on 360. There are a few new levels, 10 more bounty hunter missions, arcade mode, new Lego city, power-ups, and challenge stages not to mention that all 6 story arcs are now nicely packaged in one CD with Xbox Live support this time around.

If you have small children and grew up liking Star Wars and Lego’s then this is a lot of fun. The “drop out” feature makes it very easy to assist first time gamers through tough spots as they make their way around this brick based world. The cut scenes are comical and keep the story moving along and the ability to play a level in about 20 minutes makes it appealing as there is a definitive end to the gaming session.

My favorite feature in this edition has to be the save and exit feature from the pause menu. Now regardless of how far you have progressed in the level, or if you are searching for that last hidden item you can easily just save and exit and all of the money and any special items (mini kits, red power bricks, etc…) are now saved. Before you would have to play the entire level through to the end to get credit.

From an achievement stand point I have been impressed with how the achievements have been presented. Previously it was mainly based on completing a level, then completing the level without dying for a majority of achievements. This time it is based more on gameplay such as the destroy 300 droids, or let the wookie win (pop the arms off of 25 stormtroopers).

The downside is the repetition. After playing through both of the previous titles it can be a bit repetitious as you know what to expect for the most part. Some of the new levels are welcome additions like chasing Zam Wessel on Coruscant or the new Gunship Cavalry level and even Anakin’s mission in the bonus area are fun and something different but for a majority of the game you are playing the same game.

What I liked about the game:
– Star Wars and Lego together can’t go wrong
– Xbox Live Support
– New Achievement Structure
– Save and Exit (Full Credit Option)
– True Jedi Status on either story or freeplay (Before had to complete both)
– Best game series for young ones that I have seen

Could Improve
– Repetition
– Cannot skip cut scenes
– Money pick up is awkward and not as tight this time around
– Not the most challenging game
– No character import this time around

Rating
I am actually going to give this two ratings. The first is for if you have children who are interested in gaming. In that case I give it a perfect 10. There is not a better gaming experience (Yes better than Mario Kart) for small kids who want to play an action adventure type of game. The controls are simple, the world is just open enough without frustrating smaller ones and the visuals are very appealing.

For the older audience concerned about gameplay and the like I would lean towards a 7. But don’t let the rating fool you. This is a definite pick up for anyone who is/was a fan of Star Wars or Lego’s and is a must have in your collection.

Next up is the upcoming Indiana Jones lego release and picking up the Lego Star Wars TCS for the Wii. This series is a definite holiday pick up.

iPhone Update

apple-iphoneWell it has been over a month since I picked up my iPhone and I have to say that I am still very happy with it. It has survived a dive into my infant son’s bathtub and after drying out works like a charm. I have been very happy with the performance and the AT&T network.

I have been impressed with the ability to view documents, select which voicemail I want to listen to as well as the safari browser. I can post to my blog via BlogMailr, read my RSS feeds, while listening to my music via the integrated iPod functionality.

As far as the naysayers stating the iPhone is not for business I disagree. I can access my corporate Exchange account, view documents, set global timezones, view maps, manage contacts and view Web content all from one device.

The only downside is around calendar management. You are required to sync via iTunes to update your calendar.

Retailers are also creating iPhone centric sites such as Amazon.com’s newly launched iPhone site. (Thanks to Scott Watermasysk for pointing this one out).

There are a number of great applications already from the iPhone developer community. From skinning apps to games and with an SDK on the way early next year even more applications will become available.

After testing for a month I have to say that I am very happy with my iPhone!!!

Introducing BabyFin III

I am very happy to announce that Grant “BabyFin III” Edwards arrived on November 26th to the tune of 8 pounds 7 ounces and after a very tiring week both mom and baby are doing well. I am in the Redbull/Starbucks phase where sleep does not exist and I am starting to develop an interesting twitch. He is definitely worth it!

Grant

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Why $60???

I still remember when I saw my first $60 price tag on a game. My jaw almost hit the floor. Now $59.99 is just what you pay for the latest title. Throw in the collector’s edition ($69.99) or the recent Halo 3 Legendary edition ($125) or the recent Rockbank release ($169) and you see the trend in gaming today.

So how did we get here? Where does the money go? Like any other product there is a breakdown of how the cash is spread around. Take for example a 360 title that sells around 500,000 units. $20 is to pay for the actual development cost of the game. This is everything from coding, level design, QA, etc…Then of course there is publisher overhead which warrants $9 of the $60. Next Microsoft licensing and manufacturing takes $12 for license (You know the Xbox 360 branding and Xbox Live stamps at the top of every 360 title). $7 is spent on advertising of the game. All of the POS materials, TV, magazine ads etc… the money has to come from somewhere right? The final take is the actual retailers cut of $12. This is your Gamestops, Best Buys, etc…

Now throw in strategy guides and downloadable content and the life of a game is now extended as is the profitability of the title. Take for example the latest EA title Need for Speed Pro-Street. It is the best example of a console game that leverages in game play with actual cash based (Microsoft Points) based extras. Don’t want to wait to get your dreamcar in the game? It can be yours for 200 Microsoft points. Not happy with your engine or injection system? No worries upgrade for 150 Microsoft points. It is a great move by EA to add this extra option. This also results in additional revenue for the title.

It will be interesting to see the continual evolution of gaming. I foresee a time when most of the content will be downloaded and the introduction of subscription models moving forward. We will have to wait and see.

Game Review – Assassin’s Creed

acOne word to describe this game… WOW!!! This is a great experience. Ubisoft Montreal (Prince of Persia, Splinter Cell, Rainbow 6) is the team behind this outstanding title. The open level design is visually stunning and the puppet system for directing the main character Altair (Arabic for “the flying one”) is probably the best aspect of the game.

The subtle differences between how you interact with the environment is what I really enjoy. You can scale tall buildings, interact with various people in the crowd and you have the option to go “low profile” and eliminate targets without raising too much suspicion. Otherwise you can go “high profile” for all of the world to see your handiwork.

The story revolves around using stealth tactics to eliminate 9 “targets” across 3 major cities. The cityscapes are some of the most visually stunning you will see in a next-gen title and you can interact with all areas of the cities. Prior to getting clearance to take out your targets you perform intelligence tasks such as eavesdropping,  interrogation,  or pickpocketing information while saving citizens and scaling tall buildings to further synchronize your map.

As you progress through the game you gain or “regain” weapons and skills. This is where the control system comes back into play. The subtle ability to counter and attack during combat is one of the most rewarding aspects of the game. Time it just right and you unleash an animation sequence that is impressive and different a majority of times it is activated.

You have the ability to choose your objectives and the order you want to complete them. You have a vast kingdom to explore and many side quests are available if you have the time. The visuals and open world presentation are what truly sets this apart from other titles.

The main negative at this point is that some of the intelligence tasks can get a bit repetitive as you progress further through the game, but the fact that the AI increases in difficulty as you progress through the game makes it a challenge.

The Good:

  • Story
  • Controls
  • Visuals
  • High/Low Profile modes
  • Open Level Design
  • Crowd Interaction

Could be Better:

  • Repetitive Tasks
  • Pacing Issues
  • Cannot forgo conversations once initiated

Overall:

I give it a 9.0. It is definitely one of the better games I have played this year and ranks with Bioshock and Halo in terms of innovation and I highly recommend it!

Other games I am playing this week include: Mass Effect, NFS Prostreet and Spider-man Friend or Foe (w my 5 yr old).

SMS & Marketing

SMS based marketing is definitely on the rise. Why is that? Well for starters think about this. There are 6 billion people on the planet. There are over 3 billion cell phones in circulation. That is equivalent to 2.5 times more cell phones than internet connections!!! That will definitely qualify as a potential market for advertisers.

How many of you have received a text based ad, more importantly did you respond? In the month of September alone 4.7 milllion people in the US responded to an SMS ad. That may seem a bit surprising. I know I was surprised to read that data. The trend is definitely on the upward swing as well. Response rates have steadily risen since May from 4.3 million to 4.7 million in September.

So if 4.7 million people responded, imagine the increasing number of text based ads. Currently a majority of the ads are from the mobile operators centered around their mobile phone service (Downloads, News, Entertainment, etc..) I expect to see an increase of advertisers focus on this medium. Especially with a generation of individuals who rely heavily on this style of communication.

So do not be surprised if you begin to feel that familiar buzz of your phone when you receive a text message and you look and there is some form of advertisement. Be prepared for more messages from your favorite or not so favorite advertisers are coming to a mobile device near you.

 

Teaching & Learning

January 2008 will be 5 years for me as an adjunct faculty member of Wayland Baptist University. Initially I taught courses such as Principles of Marketing, Market Promotion, Consumer Behavior and Global Marketing on campus. Now I am a member of the Virtual Campus focusing mainly on distance education around Principles of Marketing and Human Resources Management. Each Semester (4 semesters a year) I get two new groups of students and begin the process of introducing them to the various concepts and provide insight into the latest marketing theory.

After interacting with thousands of students from across the globe I wanted to take a moment and reflect on the impact that this profession has had on me. In many ways teaching a course really enables you to emerse yourself in the content. When you are a student your main responsibility is to comprehend the information that is presented to you. When you are on the other side of the desk not only do you need to comprehend the information, but you also need to be able to apply the concepts to real world scenarios that are relevant to your students to truly enhance the learning experience.

What I have found over the years is that students want the information presented to them to be relevant to their lives in some way. So this makes my job even easier as marketing impacts everyone on a daily basis. It would be very difficult to go through a day without some type of message either directly or indirectly trying to capture your attention. Radio, Television, Print, Online… no matter where you go you are constantly being reminded about various brands trying to maintain their position or gain market share against competitors. 

Many of my students own businesses and this allows them to have a better understanding of how they can reach their target audiences and understand the many facets of their envrionment (Political, Technical, Competition, etc…)

I am very grateful for the experiences and the interact with all of my students. Thank you all.

Game Review – Call of Duty Modern Warfare

cod4logoMy pick for this week was Call of Duty 4 Modern Warfare. I was very impressed by the campaign mode of this title except for the lack of co-op play. That would have made the experience that much better. Being able to hold down a position while your friend advances… but that is another story…

COD4 is a big step forward for the series as this is the first venture beyond WWII and the move is welcomed. The basic elements of COD are there… regenerative health, great weapons and frustrating points (you know what I mean…. the spots where you die around 20 times before passing through.) The graphics are first rate and the loading screens keep you interested.

I completed the campaign mode around 6 hours which is relatively short but the gameplay is impressive. You play between the British SAS and USMC and you travel to various hotspots between missions such as Russia and the Middle East. Infinity Ward did a great job (as they did with COD2) and this is a definite step up from COD3. The intensity of COD games of the past are there. The feeling of how am I going to survive this is there. The weapons are there and the story keeps you interested. Again the lack of co-op play downgrades the campaign, but it is fun nonetheless.

The replayability of this game is really tied to multiplayer. One side note for achievement fans, all achievements are tied to the campaign and not a single one is tied to multiplayer. Obviously with multiplayer you look at Halo3 as the standard from matchmaking to tracking your progress (service record) that keep you coming back for more. In my opinion this is where COD4 falls a little short of my expecations. The matchmaking at least for the free for all mode online is not ideal. You have newly minted privates getting owned by 4 star generals with upgraded weapons. I would have liked to have seen matching more on par with actual user levels.

The other issue with the multiplayer is the ease of kills without objectives. By ease of kills I mean you basically look at someone and they are pretty much dead or you will be. There are not a lot of opportunities to engage with someone for more than a second. That is one of the fun and challenging aspects of the Halo multiplayer, just because I see you doesn’t mean I am going to instantly take you down. Also the only options initially are team based or free for all slayer type engagements.

I do like the options to create a class to customize your weapons as well as the concept behind the weapons upgrades being tied to longer gameplay. The barracks section though is a little lacking. I look to the service record on Halo almost daily to see the breakdown of the days events, medals earned and review of maps to see where I can improve.

All in all I would rate COD4 a 9.0 and definitely worthy of your $59.99. Definitely give the campaign mode a go and be ready to have a high death rate on the multi-player, but it is still a good time.

Game Review – Guitar Hero III

Guitar-hero-iii-cover-imageThe game I am playing the most this week is Guitar Hero III. The first day I had it I played through 23 out of the 42 songs on career mode. I would not recommend doing that again as my hand is still numb.

I have to say that the Les Paul wireless guitar is a definite upgrade to the initial Xplorer version. WIth detachable faceplates you can change the look on the fly (Sold Separately). But the most impressive thing about the guitar is the feel. It is very natural with the button placement and just feels right. Being wireless is good as well as when you are thrashing about the living room you don’t pull your Xbox onto the floor.

There are some great songs including the Rolling Stones “Paint it Black” and one thing I was not sure about initially was the battle mode. As you progress through the career you encouter different “legends” such as Tom Morello from Rage Against the Machine and Slash of GnR and Velvet Revolver fame. This is also the basis of some of the competition via Xbox Live. Although watch out for the sudden death showdowns if you tie during a battle. Miss a single note and you could be done.

All in all I would recommend GH 3. It is still a fun game with new tracks and a new guitar and having Live access for career co-op or battles is great as that was definitely missing from GH 2.

Other games I am into right now are still Halo 3 and The Orange Box.

iPhone

apple-iphoneI have taken the plunge and traded in my Samsung Blackjack for an iPhone. For the most part I live on my phone so I had concerns around how the iPhone would support my e-mail addiction. I was pleasantly surprised by how easy it was to connect to our exchange server. Simply input the incoming and outgoing server as well as credentials and you are set up.

Activation was simple as it actually occurs through iTunes so your time in the retail store is minimal. So far I have been very impressed by the sleek design,but even more impressed by the multiple options in terms of functionality (iPod,Safari YouTube, maps, etc…).

For those of you waiting for the nextversion to “work the bugs out” I would recommend going ahead and taking the plunge. I am very glad that I did.

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One Console

While flying to San Francisco today I read an article that got me thinking… It discussed the fact that it is inevitable that a unified gaming platform is coming. It referenced past examples of commodification (when an item that previously was not a commodity becomes one). The primary example was the cell phone and how it started as a status symbol and they were expensive and all they allowed you do was make calls. Now they are small, play music, record video and for the most part are no longer status symbols… essentially a commodity. 

History shows that technology always becomes commodified and follows similar life cycle patterns. This is now happening with gaming consoles. Gaming consoles today do more than the market wants or needs. Now they serve as your media hub for movies, pictures, the web, etc… Once you reach the point in a products lifeccle where you are positioning more features than the market needs you begin to commoditize your offering. 

The current splits between systems also greatly impact publishers as they have to decide whether they are going to release a title across the major first party systems or go with a proprietary system and receive additional compensation. This model is counter productive in some ways as additional resources are utilized not in the creation or enhancement of the gaming experience but to ensure the game ports to the specific format. Also there is more content being released that is not necessarily competing directly with other titles on other systems. This in turn dilutes the publishers efforts as they are not receiving the type of market penetration that is conducive to larger profit margins.

In esssence these factors will lead to the inevitable which is a one-console future. The article stated that this would not occur because we want one but because the market cannot sustain itself. What would happen if this were the case? You would see a drop in hardware cost and an increase in manufacturers as this would de-emphasizes the importance of the hardware (Think TV’s in recent years) and allows game publishers with 100% market penetration which would lead to cheaper games as publishers would not have to split resources between two versions of the same game. This would also create more of a channel approach to distribution.

What are your thoughts? Is a unified console a reality? Can the market continue to sustain the current fragmentation? If it were based on the current generation consoles I would call it the WiS360… or the PSWii60.

CSDC Live Blogging

This weekend was the first annual Community Server Developer Conference. With around 100 attendees from all over the world discussing development on the Community Server platform as well as sneak previews of upcoming Telligent products it comes as no surprise that there are live updates from the event. 

Kevin Harder was keeping everyone not attending in person up-to-date via his blog. Here are the posts from Saturday morning session and afternoon and here is the post covering Sunday’s sessions. There was a lot of really good information around Community Server including dynamic skinning and theming, and many sessions highlighting items from the upcoming Community Server 2008 release including groups, widgets and the newly created CS web services stack. Other sessions highlighted our upcoming CMS Graffiti, and one of the items I am very excited about, Enterprise Reporting.

The sessions were recorded and will be available very soon.

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Shutout

nhl_2k8This post is short and sweet. For the past few years Rob, myself, Scott Dockendorf, and Kevin Cunningham have played the various Xbox 360 NHL 2Kx titles. (6, 7 and now 8). During this time Rob and I have teamed up against the duo of Kevin and Scott “The Butcher” Dockendorf.

The series have gone back and forth with one team gaining a lead in the overall standings only to have the series even again. But never during the hundreds of games that we have played together has there ever been a shutout… Until today.

Final score Rob/Tom (Calgary) 8… Scott/Kevin (Calgary) 0

This post is not to boast, but to capture the event in all of it’s shocking glory as we chronicle the never ending series of games and to serve as a humble reminder of the fact that yes Scott and Kevin… You were shutout on this day :)

Microsoft Marketing Services

Microsoft has a lofty goal. Within the next 4 to 10 years they look to have advertising account for 25% of Microsoft’s business. Based on recent revenue that would be upwards of $12 billion dollars a year. That represents a couple billion more than Google made in total last year. Think about that for a moment.

Why the sudden interest in advertising? Well to start you can look at the strides Google has made in the space with the AdWords model over the past few years. Combine that with Steve Ballmer’s view that there is an increasingly blurry line between software, media, and advertising and the fact that Microsoft spends $3 billion a year on advertising it’s various products and brands and you can begin to see why this is becoming such a central focus within Microsoft.

It’s great to have a goal, so the next question is how will Microsoft strive to achieve a 12 billion dollar yearly run rate? It will be a major transition going from a software services model to a marketing-services/audience company. It looks as though acquisition will be the plan of attack. Looking back to the recent acquisitions of Avenue A/Razorfish, AdECN, in-game ad serving company Massive and mobile network Screen Tonic shows the initial steps in this direction. There are also many rumors swirling that Microsoft is targeting a deal with Yahoo. Microsoft currently has a goal of 30% of the market where their current search share is 11% and Yahoo currently owns 23% whereas Google owns 56.5%. 

It is true than many agencies outsource the technology pieces and focus on being a strategic partner. Microsoft looks to be focusing on all sides of Marketing-services and advertising. Avenue A/Razorfish highlights the desire to learn more about agency style work while they simultaneously are working on gaining market share in online advertising. This is an interesting move considering that Microsoft is a very partner driven company to date. Product implementation and customization services are handled by Microsoft Consulting Services and various partners from the partner program. And currently Microsoft leverages the services of Young & Rubicam and MRM Worldwide to handle the advertising for its various lines of business. It will be very interesting to see how the acquisitions will go on the Marketing-Services side.

If any team can do it (funding and understanding of technology) it is Microsoft. They have always followed a second to the market mentality, or make it better and faster and endlessly market it. Agency style marketing is not in the corporate Microsoft DNA so it will be very interesting to watch over the next few years.

MySpace & Community Server

Over the past year we have been working with the MySpace.com team to position Community Server as the engine to the MySpace.com forums. Recently the MySpace.com team launched the Community Server powered forums.

From a scalability perspective this posed some unique usage scenarios as MySpace features 70 MILLION users. So when potential clients ask about scalability of the platform we can point to MySpace.com as the example.

The MySpace.com solution went through heavy optimization and is deployed across MySpace.com’s vast server farm to support that level of load. For our more traditional high load sites the CS product team is working to fork the Community Server codebase to introduce new best practices associated with high load communities that will add a lot of value moving forward. Look for this release to coincide with the Community Server 2008 release. 

In the following video our resident film maker Adonis Bitar has published the latest Tellicast discussing our recent partnership with GoDaddy’s “Metropolis” initiative and I talk about how MySpace.com is leveraging Community Server as well as some tips on which Community Server license makes the most sense based on your community size.

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