Halo – The Movie

Video games morphing into movies is nothing new, but I am following the Halo movie developments with great fascination. Yesterday it became official; Fox and Universal closed a deal with Microsoft to put the mega hit video game on the silver screen, Variety reported.

I’m fascinated with Halo, the movie, because I’m a fan of the game but also because it interests me as a pop culture phenomenon and from a marketing perspective.

It’s no surprise to anyone who has followed Microsoft over the years that the company tried to play hardball over the rights to the Alex Garland (28 Days Later) script. It makes sense, too. For a property whose two versions have generated more $600 million in sales, it is only logical to want as much control as possible over related products. One of the reported stipulations to the rights was that production of the film would take place under the auspices of Bungie Studios, the Microsoft-owned developer of Halo.

Looks like Microsoft didn’t get the control they were looking for, though. According the Variety article, Microsoft "is now guaranteed extensive consultation on the project, but won’t have approval over any elements." Rather than having creative control, Bungie employees will serve as creative consultants.

Considering the robust sales for the Halo franchise and the video game’s nearly fanatical following, the built-in audience for the film is significant. The fans of the game are practically a self-generating buzz machine. Hard core gamers are frequent contributors for online forums where they discuss all aspects of the game. The built-in communication features of Halo using Xbox Live helps gamers create buzz amongst themselves. The Internet is rife with speculation about the movie, with people wondering if Ridley Scott will direct and Ed Harris and Samuel L. Jackson star in the movie.

The nature of the Halo fan base helps explain why two Hollywood studios would agree to take the rare step of collaborating on a movie.

The thing to remember is that most people think Microsoft is a technology company. But it really isn’t–at least that’s not their expertise. Sure, they sell software but they excel at marketing it. Microsoft is less a technology company than a marketing firm.

So look at the timing. The movie is slated for a Summer 2007 release. Microsoft’s next-generation video game console, Xbox 360, will be available for this holiday season, probably in November. Halo 3, which will be designed specifically to take advantage of the new high-definition capabilities of the Xbox 360, is scheduled for release in the second quarter of 2006. And that gives it just enough time for sales to taper off for the release of the movie to boost additional sales. I wouldn’t be surprised to see Bungie develop additional maps and/or vehicles specifically tied to the movie and available as a download through Xbox Live.

Halo The Movie should be a textbook case in marketing convergence with each product driving sales of the other.

eXpensive Xbox 360

Microsoft has announced the pricing for their next-generation console Xbox 360 and it’s gonna be mighty expensive.

In order to offer a more attractive price point, they’ll be releasing two versions of the console, the Xbox 360 and the Xbox 360 Core, at $399 and $299, respectively.

The Xbox 360 will include the Console, a 20-gig hard drive, a wireless controller, an Xbox 360 faceplate, a headset (no word on whether or not it’s wireless), a component HD AV cable and ethernet cable, an Xbox Live Silver membership and a Media remote control. Also note that there is only one controller.

The Xbox 360 Core will include the console, a wired controller, a faceplate, an Xbox Live Silver membership and a standard AV cable.

GameSpot quotes a securities analyst who calls the $299 price point a publicity stunt: "They’re doing it to say they are launching at $299. The hardcore guys will absolutely not buy the $299 model…only a complete idiot would buy the $299 model." 

Can’t say I disagree, especially when you consider that you’ll need a hard drive if you want to play your existing Xbox games on the console.

Game Informer just wants to know how much the whole thing will realistically cost.

So do I. So when I saw the price points and looked what each console came with, it was clear I’d have to buy the $399 model. Okay, so that’s $400 bucks for the console, I’ll need another controller, so throw in another $40 for that, I don’t have to, but I’ll want to go wireless, so that’s another $100 for networking adapter. That’s $540, so far.

And I still don’t have any 360 games. Sure, with my $400 model, I’ll be able to play my old skool Xbox but, damn, when you got a new tricked out toy, you really gotta go full out and see what it can do. There are two games that I would want to play out of the 360 (X)box, if you will: Madden 06 and Ghost Recon Advanced Warfighter. At sixty bucks a 360 game, that’s another $120. We’re up to $660, ad some tax, and we’re looking at nearly $700.

Looks like Christmas will only come for me this year.

The Problem With HUDs

When reading about the soon-to-be released video games King Kong and Ghost Recon Advanced Warfighter, it occurred to me that both games were attempting to overcome the same problem: The disruption that the Heads Up Display (HUD) gaming interface causes to the realism of the gaming experience. Particularly in first person shooters, the HUD’s persistent presence is a constant reminder to the gamer that his experience is an artificial one.
If game are to progress to the point any science fiction reader or sci-fi movie buff expects them to, then the problem of the HUD must be overcome. A screen with a superimposed map and health bar and weapons/ammo inventory floating in the corner mimics no reality we currently experience. The information the HUD provides is crucial to gameplay but game creators must find a more clever or creative way to present this information to the gamer in a way that it does not interrupt the realism of the game experience.
The solution that Michel Ancel took with Ubisoft‘s King Kong is to remove the HUD entirely. In an interview in the August issue of Game Informer, Ancel observed: "I think it’s creating something different by having nothing onscreen…We don’t need a big arrow showing you the danger in this direction." See GameSpot’s interview with Ancel.
In Kong, for example, when your player is harmed, his vision blurs and turns red. That’s a far more natural method of conveying health status than a persistent health bar.
Ghost Recon Advanced Warfighter takes the opposite approach, solving the HUD problem by making the HUD central to the story. As an advanced warrior, you will naturally be viewing the world through a high-tech set of goggles. Ubisoft has decided to make it obvious that the gamer is looking through the eyes of the soldier’s goggle, and then lays all the traditional HUD information within that natural context. (View GameSpot’s video trailer of the game to see exactly how this looks. The video clip also reveals the very nice touch Ubisoft include of augmented reality)
Both approaches are sound but, more importantly, the are a conscious indictment of the artificiality of the current use of the HUD.

Madden 2006 Is Out

The media blitz has begun.

Actually, it began quite some time ago but it has stepped up now that Madden NFL 06 is in stores. I unfolded my Star Tribune this morning and saw on the top banner of the front page a Madden-generated Ken Irvin (why Ken Irvin, I don’t know) next to a headline of "Madden ’06 – One thing’s for certain–it’s got game."

Inside the paper, on the front page, below the fold of the Metro section, was the article "Twin Cities mad for Madden"

Last night, the NFL Network aired a show called the Making of Madden. It was an absolutely fascinating look at how video games such as Madden are made and how they produce the stunning realism for which they are known. Fortunately, you don’t have to get the NFL Network in order to see them because they are online at NFL.com: Watch it online in parts 1 and 2.

The reviews are in and, as you might expect, they are all pretty favorable. IGN.com says the game is great but that EA hasn’t outdone themselves this time. GameSpot gives the game an 8.2 rating largely because they’re not sold on the addition of the Quarterback Vision feature. But the leading video game publication, the Minneapolis-based Game Informer, gave Madden NFL 06 a thumbs-up, saying "Many questioned the fact that EA may lighten up on the innovation factor since they’ve wiped out the competition, and they’ve got the next generation creeping up on them, but fortunately this is not the case." 

The EA Tiburon team even released a special video featuring Florida Governor Jeb Bush laying a wicked hit on his brother, President Bush, on route to a touchdown. The video was produced as a surprise for the Florida Governor when he visited the Electronic Arts studios in Maitland, Florida.

Madden has also become a launching pad for new music and this year’s soundtrack features such bands as the Foo Fighters, Hot Hot Heat, and Godsmack. You can listen to the soundtrack at the Madden 06 site.

Yesterday, KFAN had an Electronic Arts representative on the P.A. & Dubay show talking about Madden 06 and he claimed that the Vikings would be one of the top teams to play this year because of their improved defense. Sweet.

Speaking of which, I’d be remiss if I did not point out that the updated Vikings 2005 Roster I made after free agency and the draft to reflect the Vikings current roster, was…disastrously wrong. I clearly don’t know what ratings formula EA uses, because I gave my rookies far too high player ratings, as many of you astute readers pointed out. Check out IGN.com for the 06 player ratings.

Xbox Video Gaming Chair/Racing Wheel/Joystick

What racing games need is a full-sized, ergonomic video gaming chair that requires no configuration with your favorite game.

This is needed is because the video game racing wheels on the market don’t quite cut it. I’ve tried both leading racing wheels and both are disappointing in a some significant way. I tried them on Need For Speed: Hot Pursuit 2, Need For Speed: Underground 2, and Burnout 3: Takedown.

With the Logitech wheel, you are supposed to be able to use it on your lap, but there is nothing to keep it from sliding off your legs when taking a hard turn. Also, the Logitech video game racing wheel does not have a shift stick, which pretty much sucks if you like to drive manually.

Comparitively, the Mad Catz video game racing wheel has a shift stick but for the life of me, I could not get it to properly down-shift with any of my games. The Mad Catz racing wheel does have little wings that you can pull out that fit around your thighs and keep the wheel from sliding off your lap during hard turns, which gives it an edge over Logitech. The Mad Catz foot pedals have a more realistic feel than Logitech’s foot pedals.

Both wheels have nothing to prevent their foot pedals from sliding when used on carpet, forcing the user to use some heavy object to keep them in place. Logitech has the only wheel that uses force feedback technology, but only on their PS2 version. Both Logitech’s and Mad Catz’s wheels require significant tinkering with both the wheel and your game’s controller configuration in order to work optimally.

Gamers need a realistic wheel for their racing games, so this is what I propose: Take an ordinary office chair and turn it into a racing wheel/gaming chair.

It would have all the functions of an office chair–pneumatic lift to adjust to leg length, ability to lock/unlock the lean-back function, ability to swivel the chair, and arm rests that can be set in the up or down position.

Take this chair and add an arm that could be lowered down in front of you–with a tilt function–that has a steering wheel attached to it and includes controller functions. On your right-side would an arm attached to the bottom of your seat with a stick shift that you could raise up or tuck out of the way if you wanted to drive with automatic transmission.

Attached to the bottom base of the chair would be a platform upon which the pedals–gas, clutch, and break–would be attached.

Obviously, the entire thing would have to be wireless in order to avoid annoying entanglements.

Ideally, the thing would be plug and play with your favorite game, so you wouldn’t have to waste time configuring your games.

With current wheels priced in the $60-$150 range, I think you could go as high as $200-$250 for this gaming chair and they’d sell briskly. At the $250 range, you could offer a universal controller chair that had a normal controller for non-racing play and a joystick for flying games.

The benefits such a universal video gaming chair/controller would offer are obvious when you consider how it would work for a game like Grand Theft Auto: San Andreas, where you often go from on-foot gameplay, to driving a car or boat, to flying a plane or helicopter. As of now, you must use an ordinary controller for the game, and so you need to use only the tools that a standard controller offer you: buttons and triggers.

But if you could use a universal video gaming chair/controller with the game, you could seamlessly use the control devise most appropriate for your current gameplay: If you’re walking, you use the standard controller. If you’re driving a car or boat, you use the steering wheel, shift, and pedals. If you’re flying, you use joystick.

Right now, the standard controller for video games is an awkward user input device that is entirely unrelated to how people perform their corresponding video game actions in the real world. The controller itself is a persistent reminder to the gamer of the artificiality of the video game world, thus obviously reducing the realism of the game itself.

A universal video gaming chair/controller would be a step toward making the controller more natural and thus enhancing the realism of the gaming experience.

Madden Vikings Roster – 2005 Draft Picks

Okay, I’ve finally gotten used to the idea of the Vikings without Randy Moss and I’m so excited about the team’s renewed emphasis on defense and since I don’t want to wait till August for Madden 2006 to be released, I created a new Madden Viking Roster that reflects their offseason signings. So, now I’ve got Smoot and Sharper and Cowart and Harris and Williams and Taylor and even Edinger but I don’t yet have the draft picks. I tried importing the draft class from NCAA Football 2005 but, believe me, it’s more trouble than it’s worth. So if you want to update your roster with the Viking’s 2005 draft picks, you’re best bet is to use Madden’s Create A Player function.

I took the ratings from NCAA Football 2005 as a basis for building my Madden Vikings roster that included the team’s 2005 draft picks. In the case of Erasmus James and Adrian Ward, however, NCAA did not have data, so I used each player’s draft scouting reports to create their ratings.

Here, then, are the fruits of my labor:

Troy Williamson: WR, #19, 6′-1", 203 lbs. South Carolina. Hometown: Jackson, SC.
Ratings: Overall: 92; Speed: 98; Strength: 56; Awareness: 88: Agility: 92; Acceleration: 98; Catching: 88; Carrying: 72; Jumping: 90; Break Tackle: 56; Tackle: 44; Throw Power: 40; Throw Accuracy: 40; Pass Blocking: 40; Run Blocking: 49; Kick Power: 40; Kick Accuracy: 40; Stamina: 92; Injury: 90.

Erasmus James: DE, #99, 6′-4", 263 lbs. Wisconsin. Hometown: Pembroke Pines, FL.
Ratings: Overall: 84; Speed: 76; Strength: 72; Awareness: 76: Agility: 68; Acceleration: 78; Catching: 52; Carrying: 40; Jumping: 72; Break Tackle: 40; Tackle: 80; Throw Power: 40; Throw Accuracy: 40; Pass Blocking: 40; Run Blocking: 40; Kick Power: 40; Kick Accuracy: 40; Stamina: 84; Injury: 86.

Marcus Johnson: OG/OT, #72, 6′-6", 321 lbs. Mississippi. Hometown: Coffeeville, MS.
Ratings: Overall: 89; Speed: 62; Strength: 92; Awareness: 88: Agility: 62; Acceleration: 59; Catching: 40; Carrying: 40; Jumping: 48; Break Tackle: 40; Tackle: 40; Throw Power: 40; Throw Accuracy: 40; Pass Blocking: 92; Run Blocking: 89; Kick Power: 40; Kick Accuracy: 40; Stamina: 85; Injury: 85.

Dustin Fox: CB, #37, 5′-11", 190 lbs. Ohio State. Hometown: Canton, OH.
Ratings: Overall: 93; Speed: 95; Strength: 59; Awareness: 85: Agility: 88; Acceleration: 94; Catching: 68; Carrying: 56; Jumping: 94; Break Tackle: 52; Tackle: 76; Throw Power: 40; Throw Accuracy: 40; Pass Blocking: 40; Run Blocking: 40; Kick Power: 40; Kick Accuracy: 40; Stamina: 90; Injury: 84.

Ciatrick Fason: RB, #35, 6′-1", 207 lbs. Florida. Hometown: Jacksonville Beach, FL.
Ratings: Overall: 89; Speed: 88; Strength: 74; Awareness: 76: Agility: 88; Acceleration: 94; Catching: 76; Carrying: 88; Jumping: 80; Break Tackle: 89; Tackle: 48; Throw Power: 40; Throw Accuracy: 40; Pass Blocking: 52; Run Blocking: 52; Kick Power: 40; Kick Accuracy: 40; Stamina: 88; Injury: 90.

C.J. Mosley: DT, #96, 6′-3", 305 lbs. Missouri. Hometown: Fort Leonard Wood, MO.
Ratings: Overall: 90; Speed: 65; Strength: 90; Awareness: 84: Agility: 68; Acceleration: 70; Catching: 40; Carrying: 40; Jumping: 68; Break Tackle: 40; Tackle: 86; Throw Power: 40; Throw Accuracy: 40; Pass Blocking: 40; Run Blocking: 40; Kick Power: 40; Kick Accuracy: 40; Stamina: 84; Injury: 90.

Adrian Ward: CB, #47, 5′-10", 170 lbs. Texas-El Paso. Hometown: Oakland, CA.
Ratings: Overall: 92; Speed: 65; Strength: 62; Awareness: 86: Agility: 93; Acceleration: 95; Catching: 65; Carrying: 44; Jumping: 94; Break Tackle: 56; Tackle: 68; Throw Power: 40; Throw Accuracy: 40; Pass Blocking: 40; Run Blocking: 40; Kick Power: 40; Kick Accuracy: 40; Stamina: 92; Injury: 92.

Jonathan Nichols: PK, #3, 5′-10", 182 lbs. Mississippi. Hometown: Greenwood, MS.
Ratings: Overall: 99; Speed: 44; Strength: 40; Awareness: 88: Agility: 44; Acceleration: 44; Catching: 40; Carrying: 40; Jumping: 40; Break Tackle: 40; Tackle: 40; Throw Power: 40; Throw Accuracy: 40; Pass Blocking: 40; Run Blocking: 40; Kick Power: 95; Kick Accuracy: 86; Stamina: 90; Injury: 88.

Madden 2006

These are some things I hope Electronic Arts includes in the next iteration of Madden football.

FIRST PERSON MODE: I would love for Madden to have a first-person mode like ESPN Football has. It is the single biggest difference between the two games and if that’s a feature that matters to me as a prospective buyer, and I don’t know much else about either game, then it’s a no-brainer to chose ESPN Football because it’s less than half the price of Madden, as well. The point, obviously, is obviated if, with EA’s their new agreement with ESPN, eventually merges the two video games.

SELF-INDUCED UNSPORTSMANLIKE CONDUCT: Sometimes during a game I get really frustrated when the other team keeps stopping my offense or gains effortless yards against my defense. It is times like these that I really just want to pound one of the opposing players. I’d love to have the ability to take a cheap shot at one of my opponents after the play is over. Just, you know, a forearm to the chin or something. You’d be penalized 15 yards, of course, but it sure would be satisfying.

TURNING OFF MADDEN AND MICHAELS: I know this is probably heresy around EA’s office, so I’ll lower my voice during this part. Nine times out of ten I turn Madden and Michaels OFF when I’m playing a game. They both drive me nuts when I watch Monday Night Football for real but they drive me even more crazy in my video game. So I turn them off and turn the on-field chatter up. That’s an awfully thoughtful feature for us John Madden-haters. And the on-field chatter is really good. I’d just like some more variety as well as some variety from the stadium announcer—maybe mix it up with some music and the occasional announcement telling parents their kid is missing, etc.

VARIOUS BIT OF UNREALISM: Okay, these next two apply to a lot of video games, not just Madden, but they are two problems that should really get solved because they absolutely destroy the realism of any game. I think it has to do with the "physics engine," if you’ll allow me to use Game Geekspeak. I haven’t really noticed this in Madden but I have noticed in a lot of games (Medal of Honor: Frontline comes to mind) where a character will bump up against a wall and just keep on walking as if there’s not a wall there but, sadly, the wall is keeping him from going anywhere and he doesn’t realize it. What the hell? Idiot character. You can either solve the problem so he understands that there’s a wall there, or, more entertainingly, you can allow the user to blow him up. Just press X and kah-BLOOM! The other problem, and this happens a lot in Madden, is where two player walk through one another. And I know from experience that you can’t do that.

The following bits of unrealism are more cosmetic than anything: 1) Why is it that Randy Moss’ defender is never, ever called for interference when it’s ab-so-LUTE-ly clear that he was mauled? That’s unrealistic, especially given the officials new "point of emphasis" in enforcing no contact. 2) The officials challenges, whether initiated by the user or by the CPU, are random and sometimes so clearly wrong that they surprise even this long-time, jaded NFL fan. 3) The cheerleaders. Really. Since when do cheerleaders have sharp edges?!? Either make them realistic—and by so doing also make them hot—or get rid of them entirely.

POST GAME INTERVIEW: You know what would be really cool? If you could be interviewed after the game. Here’s a way to add a new feature, enhance the realism of the game, hedge your bets on an aging broadcast crew who may or may not be out of a job when the NFL renews their TV contract and who, at any rate, will in the foreseeable future, be replaced by younger faces. Here’s the idea: You take Michele Tafoya as the sideline reporter and have her interview the Horsetrailer Player of the Game after the game. And you, the player, equipped with your microphone Xbox/PS2 headset, get to answer her questions. Example: "David, you threw for over 400 yards today, sixty-plus completion percentage, and tossed two touchdowns and no interceptions…were you in a zone today?"

"Well, Michele, I don’t know about that. I had a lot of help from my teammates blah blah blah."

But the thing is, you could save the interview…and upload it to the web. Which brings me to my next new great feature:

WEB INTEGRATION: The following ideas serve dual purposes: They are either new features or enhance/complement existing features and happen to be great ways to increase use of the EASports.com and therefore, are a great marketing tool because it would require registration to the site so EA’d get the users’ emails. I think the following features would help to both drive more online play adoption and more registrations at EASports.com.

Uploading Plays/Interviews: The only reason anyone would want to upload a play or an interview is so that they could show it to other people. And there’s your viral marketing. Give me the ability to upload X number of plays to my account at EASports.com so I can easily watch them from the site. I’m guessing the Madden demographic is in the twenty to thirty year age bracket but they have a significant teen demographic, most of whom do not play the game online. This is a way to encourage them to get online. It’s also a way to encourage them to interact with EASports.com. Two of teens’ favorite online tools are Instant Messaging and blogs. So give them an easy tool where they can cut and paste an EASports.com branded video player into their blogs that plays their latest Madden 2005 uploads or does a rotation of them. There would, of course, be links to EASports.com, Buy Now links, etc. Finally, give them the easy ability to IM their videos to friends.

You could even have an offensive and defensive play of the week from online tournaments, or whatever, and post those clips prominently on EASports.com. You’d be surprised at how important a Play of the Day would be for some of the people. Some people will give that much more effort to get the Play of the Day and when they do, you know they’re gonna let people know about it. More viral marketing.

Create A Player Online: One of my favorite features of Madden is the ability to create a player. I especially love the fact that the stadium announcer says "Erickson back to return the kick." What I don’t like is the fact that the profile for my created player has no photograph. Why can’t I just upload the photo I want for my created player and have it synchronize with Xbox Live and download it to my Xbox so it can be in the game. It gives new meaning to their tag line: It’s in the game! More like, You’re in the game.

Rosters/Historical Rosters: There are two problems with the rosters 1) the historical rosters are historical in name only and 2) the current method of using the controller is just too unwieldy to be useful. And that presented two problems for me that have not been solved: I wanted to create my own team and I wanted accurate historical Vikings teams but I don’t have the time, patience, or inclination to spend a year doing data entry on a controller in order to get my rosters the way I want them.

The historical rosters are a joke because the make no pretense to accuracy. Honestly, I was pissed off when I saw that not only did the 1975 Vikings not have Fran Tarkenton has their quarterback, but that their quarterback was number 5 and not Tarkenton’s number 10. Neither the names nor the numbers were correct on the roster.

So maybe the reason their historical rosters are wildly inaccurate and random is because of royalties to the people who played on those teams or the players union. That would explain the state of the rosters but the game suffers as a result.

Here’s a way around it: Give me, through my EASports.com account, access to an application where I can easily set my historical rosters. So, I can pick the 1975 Vikings team roster and set everything on it though the web site: Name, number, position, height, weight, player ratings such as speed and strength, bodily features, equipment, et cetera, just like I can do in the game, but instead I’ve got access to a real keyboard so it won’t take for bloody ever to get it done.

I wanted to create my own team with the guys I play actual football with on Saturdays. I should be able to do that online as well. A web site is a hell of a lot easier to use for such tasks than a controller.

Finally, after I’ve set my roster, let me share it with people so they don’t have to do all the work. You know that there will be people out there who will do the research on their own to get meticulously accurate rosters and then, if they have to share them, it adds value to the product and you didn’t have to compile all that information.