Thomas Dolby Debuts The Floating City Transmedia Game

Best known as the singer/synthesist behind the Top 5 smash hit She Blinded Me With Science and as the co-inventor of the Beatnik polyphonic ringtone engine, Thomas Dolby today announced his latest creation: The Floating City is a rich transmedia game with a living world that changes and reacts to player contributions via web browsers, social networks, smart phones and iPads. The Floating City is now open for registration {link no longer active} and gameplay commences on June 22 at 5 p.m. GMT (1 p.m. ET in the U.S.). Players from around the world will form tribes and collaborate to earn free music downloads, merchandise and concert tickets. The leading tribe will even win the right to stage a private concert at which Thomas Dolby and his band will perform his forthcoming album in its entirety. Completely free to the public, The Floating City is a casual game that hooks you into building a whole story world with your tribe as deep as you want to go. Targeted at players of all ages, diehard fans of the five-time Grammy nominated songwriter will be delighted to find that The Floating City integrates characters, places, and objects named in every one of his albums going back to the beginning of his career. The Floating City is set against a dystopian vision of the 1940s that might have existed had WWII turned out a lot differently, says Dolby. A global energy experiment went haywire, the Earth s magnetic fields have been reversed, and the planetary climate system violated. Science has betrayed us: now what must the species do to survive Survivors explore a fictional Google map, forming tribes and trading relics amidst a bizarre sea-going barter society. As they struggle to unravel the enigma that is The Floating City, players can haggle over merchandise and music downloads including brand new songs from the much anticipated CD ‘A Map of the Floating City,’ Dolby s first album in 20 years, which will be released following the climax of the game. This is a brilliant concept, said writer/economist Steven Levitt. It s a cross between Freakonomics and Burning Man, with a back-story that would have made J.G. Ballard proud.

Feature: Our Continued Affair With Catherine

Last week we talked about the Catherine badge stuffer with Atlus creative designer Jeremy Cail. This week we talk about localizing the game, the booth design for Atlus and considerations in the way box art is prepared for the U.S.

[a]list: Catherine images are all over your booth, which are in the front of the Concourse Hall. How has the game gone from being a “Japanese only release” to being what seems to be Atlus’ biggest title of the year?

Jeremy Cail: The more we saw of it, the more we wanted them to bring it over. We have an art book for the game, and we were just getting more art from them. We have special art in the art-book that we haven’t used for anything yet. But yeah, the more we saw of it, we were starved for more. [The Persona team] can be very protective, they wanted to make sure it was present the right way. But as to how it’s grown… I don’t know! I think it’s the artwork itself, which is very eye catching. You can see just about as much of Catherine as you want, but some of the most provocative art is Vincent! Why is he in underwear, why does he have horns and why is he in this strange dream world?

Inside of the Atlus booth.

You know, we had another discussion about the artwork on the OST CD, though ultimately the face on the CD in the U.S. version is Catherine from the Japanese CD. We know our fans want the same thing they have in Japan. Michiko Shiikuma, principal designer of the game for Atlus, was keen on making and preserving a certain sort of style. It’s tough, you see so many ways to use an element, but ultimately you have to talk to Japan about it, and often they’re like ‘don’t do that’, but sometimes they surprise us.

[a]list: What’s the response been like to the “Love is Over” collectors edition of the game?

Jeremy Cail: We like doing [collectors edition stuff] a lot because it can be difficult for a gamer to part with their money, but we wonder what is the extra thing we can do to make them interested We knew [Catherine] was going to be big and we couldn’t avoid doing something for it. Ideas go around, people throw around different ideas, the whole marketing team is on it, saying ‘yes’ ‘no’ ‘maybe’ or ‘you’re insane!’ We looked back into the game to see what we could give, the t-shirt in the set is something that Catherine wears in the game, so its a tip of the hat to those that pay attention to the game.

Catherine Japanese OST and artbook.

[a]list: I love the name for it by the way, taken from the ‘game over’ screen.

Jeremy Cail: It’s an interesting turn of phrase that wouldn’t be thought of by English speakers – it’s one of those great byproducts of Japanese development!

[a]list: It’s interesting that this year there’s so many Western games in the Atlus booth…

Jeremy Cail: Our own company makes quality material, but it takes time! And they’re not putting out five games a year, so we’ve got to do other things! So we’ve looked at other things like Cursed Crusade and Rock of Ages, we let they have a lot of freedom. We were encouraged to emulate the independent spirit of our Japanese parent company and Rock of Ages is a good example of that sort of unique product.

[a]list: It’s interesting actually more playable games from the West in Atlus’ booth than from Japan….

Jeremy Cail: We can’t really demo Persona 2 here. People do play those RPGs, but what we’ve got are much more accessible; Catherine‘s the lure and we let people decide what else they want to see once there here. We have multiple videos running to show our entire line up but a lot of people would never come by if it was all Shin Megami Tensei.

[a]list: Did Atlus USA know that Catherine was coming to the U.S. before it was announced?

Jeremy Cail: We had seen hints of this very nebulous thing. We get messages like, ‘We’re talking about this game where you’re haunted by this crazy girl and it’s a puzzle game’ and we’re like ‘what the hell are they making ‘ We knew they were putting a lot of time into it. And six to eight months go by before we hear anything new so it’s a surprise to us sometimes too. We trust what they’re doing, the bigger challenge is figuring out how are we going to market to the U.S. We didn’t know how were going to market a puzzle horror game – that doesn’t exist as a genre! We ask them how they classify it, but it doesn’t translate very well.”

Outside the Atlus booth.

[a]list: I think there’s some elements of being past adolescence but not quite being an adult that people can relate to regardless of country of origin…

Jeremy Cail: It’s life in the fast lane! *laughs* There are certain common things that stretch across boundaries. They can relate to the experience of being trapped, so literally and figuratively that’s how the game evolves.

I liked what I saw so much that for Halloween this past year I dressed as Vincent! We always dress up as game characters for the Halloween party and take pictures but they had to black that out because the game wasn’t announced!

[a]list: Did the fan response to the game before it was confirmed for the U.S. surprise you?

Jeremy Cail: I don’t know, it’s hard to say because sometimes those decisions are made for us. There are plenty of things I’ve seen before that even thought it seems savvy, consumer response is maybe only so-so, but I think we’ve been surprised at its growth at its pre-orders. That makes us say ‘hey people are in to it.’ It’s been a pleasant surprise and it looks like people are warming to it.

[a]list: Ah yes pre-orders, one of the few objective measures of a game before it releases to stores.

Jeremy Cail: It tells retailers the story as well, and it helps us to work with them. We just try and make it look pretty. I want to make something that people will pick up and turn over, make something with a screen shot that people can relate to and get something out of.

[a]list: I’m sure that’s an interesting discussion right there over what to do with the cover art.

Jeremy Cail: When you look at [the box art for Catherine] we took at mentality of, ‘If it ain’t broke don’t fix it.’ But sometimes we don’t think the art will stand out for the game; you look at how people are getting excited but that image on the shelf just doesn’t pop. People might make certain assumptions about the game that may not be true. We looked at Persona 3‘s cover art years ago and we thought, ‘This is going to die on the shelf.’ It’s beautiful, but it didn’t stand out and nobody can see this thing looking at it from the top, rifling through a stack. There was a decision that we were going to make it ritzier and we reworked. It wasn’t popular with some people who knew the franchise, but some people who didn’t know Persona liked it; we ultimately went with the potential for the larger audience. The original cover came out on the back of the game box, so you saw the entire composition and I thought we made the right decision.

Japanese and U.S. box art for Persona 3.

[a]list: Ah, so you’ve worked on a couple of the Persona games.

Jeremy Cail: It’s funny, because I was familiar with the Persona series – I had been given a copy of the first game back before I even worked at Atlus and I remember that I didn’t like the artwork. So it’s ironic then that I would be give the opportunity to personally oversee the artwork for the cover of Persona 3 and Persona 4!

I wasn’t hot and heavy on Persona 4‘s cover art, but we were trying to push back on what the fanbase of the game had said the want. There was some bumming over Persona 4 being a PS2 game and I don’t think we published a PS3 game until…. gosh, was it 3D Dot Heroes No, it was Demon’s Souls. Anyway, we went title high on that. Japan often likes title low look, but in this case it was almost identical.

[a]list: I’m sure that’s a consideration dictated to by a lot of variables.

Jeremy Cail: A lot of times with the ESRB logo and our own logo low that forces us to push [the game logo] up a bit.

[a]list: Anyway, thank you for your time Jeremy and good luck with Catherine!

_ _

Interested in Catherine? Dig the new lineup for Atlus? Join the discussion on Facebook.

Infinity Blade Invades Japan On The Mobage Network

DeNA has announced that they are partnering with Epic Games and developer Chair Entertainment. The agreement will see Infinity Blade incorporated into their Mobage social gaming platform, which will launch on Mobage for iOS in Japan in Fall 2011.

Called Infinity Blade X for Mobage, this will be the social title is the first Mobage game developed with Epic’s Unreal Engine 3. It will be a free-to-play game with virtual goods with all the features of the original, with the ability to fight or collaborate with each other players via the Mobage network.

Microsoft Kinect Getting Interactive Ads

Microsoft has unveiled plans at the Cannes Lions International Festival of Creativity that are scheduled to go live by Spring 2012 by which users can use the Kinect to interact with advertisements while playing a game or watching a video. The new suite of advertising tools, called NUads (Natural User-interface Ads), will let users interact with ads on the dashboard or embedded in games and video content.

“When you have highly interactive people and a passive medium, they are interacting with their phone or their laptop while watching TV”, said Mark Kroese, general manager of Microsoft’s advertising business group. “[The new ads] create a natural way for the user to engage with the TV.”

“The new ad units really epitomized the level of engagement that everyone is working towards,” said John M. Lisko, the executive communications director of Saatchi & Saatchi.

Gamers can send messages about an add by saying Xbox Tweet or find out more information by saying Xbox More to receive an email. TV ads will let users say Xbox Schedule which will send a text message to the user’s cell phone at the right time, they can say Xbox Near Me to get a map to the nearest retailer on a phone and finally players can wave their hands and vote on various advertising polls.

“These sorts of ads are appealing to marketers because the same material can be re-used from television. What we’re seeing now is a technology environment where marketers can deliver more sophisticated ads and they don t have some of the hurdles that in-game marketers and in-game publishers had,” said Paul Verna, a senior analyst at eMarketer. “It’s a level of interactivity that suggests more possibilities than we ve seen up until now.”

Wii U Controller Considered As Standalone System, Says Iwata

A lot of people upon seeing the Wii U controller think that it would operate as a portable gaming unit on its own, though it does not. According to Nintendo CEO Satoru Iwata, making the controller operate separate from the Wii U console was on the table.

“During the roundtable discussions there were such arguments about should we make it capable of being a standalone system or should we make it work only with the [base console] system,” Iwata quipped. “We came to the conclusion that this controller is only going to show the images generated and processed by this hardware unit – and sent from the hardware unit wirelessly. That means sharper graphics. A battery couldn’t do that.”

The LCD screen was also separate from the controller like the Dreamcast VMU. “Considering how expensive screens were then, it did not make sense to have this big-sized LCD,” he said. “We would not have been able to come up with a reasonable price point. We had not decided when we were going to launch the new console [at that point], but we knew we needed to be flexible.”

Source: Gamasutra {link no longer active}


Duke Nukem Ex-PR Man: ‘Do Not Vent On Twitter’

Jim Redner of the PR firm The Redner Group lost his 2K Games account over an angry tweet responding to some reviews of Duke Nukem Forever. Given hindsight, Redner clearly regrets the decision.

“It was an emotional outburst. I was venting. I would like to believe that I would have handled it differently if I had been thinking. Normally, I would have contacted the writer directly to have a conversation about the review. I do not support the act of blacklisting. I do support choices. I hope that you will see the difference between the two during the course of the interview,” said Redner, who added, “Do not do what I did. Let me be clear, do not go on Twitter and vent.”

As for being summarily dismissed from 2K Games services, Redner said, “I contacted them when it first went down. I apologized for my actions. I actually recommended resigning the account the night of the incident.  I think their Twitter post dismissal added fuel to the fire, but they needed to instantly distance themselves from theRednerGroup and our comment. It required quick action on their part. We spoke after their response was issued and I assured them that I supported their actions, not that it mattered. I still do support their decision. If the shoe had been on the other foot, the end result would have been the same.”

Source: IndustryGamers {link no longer active}

PlayStation Home: One Million Visit Sunny Aurora

Publisher nDreams has said that the PlayStation Home virtual environment Aurora has been visited million times in just six weeks. The virtual archipelago within Home allows players to enter and play games for free, win rewards and purchase islands of their own, with options for a free Aurora Orbrunner as part of the PSN Welcome Back program.

“We’re very proud of Aurora and the success it has had so far. We certainly didn’t expect to have so many visitors in such a short timeframe,” said nDreams CEO Patrick O’Luanaigh. “The space itself is still in a very early stage; we have so much more planned for Aurora, and we’ll be adding to it regularly. We’re huge proponents of virtual worlds and believe they offer a great way to escape from the stresses and strains of real-life without having to jump on a plane. And we believe that the next decade will see rapid growth in the number and the quality of virtual world experiences available online.”

World Of Warcraft: Cataclysm Enters China July 12

The Chinese MMO market is an important one for Blizzard and World of Warcraft, though the company has has some difficulties with being timely, bringing the Wrath of the Lich King expansion to China nearly 2 years after it launched in other parts of the world. However, they revealed that the latest expansion Cataclysm will release July 12, little over a half year since it’s release in other parts of the world.

“We’ve always appreciated Chinese gamers’ passion and support for World of Warcraft, and we’re excited that they’ll soon be able to enjoy all of the great new content this expansion has to offer,” commented Mike Morhaime, CEO of Blizzard Entertainment.

iPad Developer: Prices Low Because App Store Highly Competitive

Take-Two CEO Strauss Zelnick recently asserted that tablet devices could support a $30 – $40 price point for games. Paul O Connor, Brand Director for developer Appy Entertainment, respectfully disagrees.

“Price points aren’t lower on iPhone because of five minute games — our latest game, Trucks & Skulls NITRO, clocks in at six hours-plus for $0.99, and our metrics indicate players return to Trucks several times a week, with average sessions longer than five minutes,” said O Connor. “Prices on iOS game are compressed to free or $1 because this platform is at the center of the most competitive entertainment software market in history. Surviving here requires a new kind of thinking that, frankly, most of the console industry has been unwilling (or unable) to achieve.”

“Display size is a consideration in game development, sure, but drawing a direct relationship between screen size and depth of play is like saying ‘movies can only be robust and entertaining when viewed on an IMAX screen,”noted O’Connor. “A larger screen can make an image more engaging but if your game isn’t designed to take full advantage of this new, connected (and unique) touch-driven platform, then all a larger screen is going to do is amplify the shortcomings of your game.”


City Of Heroes Declares Freedom For All

NCSoft and Paragon Studios has announced that City of Heroes will be making the transition to free-to-play. Free players will be limited to level 50 and two characters, current subscribers can access the full game and get 400 Paragon Points for in-game purchases per month, while returning players retain and content they already purchased, including expansions and characters.

“Freedom is about getting more content into the hands of our players, whether they are subscribing or playing for free,” said Brian Clayton, Executive Producer for Paragon Studios. “To do this, we ve looked at City of Heroes from the ground up and focused on three ways to enhance the experience by giving our players more choices, greater rewards and the best content we’ve ever produced. And for the first time ever, players can choose to enjoy more than seven years of content for free.”

“After an unforgettable seven years, the City of Heroes franchise remains the world s most popular super-powered MMO, and we re excited to continue that momentum with Freedom,” added Clayton. “Through City of Heroes Freedom, we will be delivering more content to players than ever before, while continuing to expand the ever-evolving City of Heroes storyline and legacy.”