n-Space Blog

For the record…

Posted in Editorial by Dan O'Leary on November 22, 2011

It seems I caused a bit of a dust-up at the end of last week with a post on Facebook about a 70% review that the Official Nintendo Magazine gave our most recent release, Call of Duty: MW3 Defiance. Now that the smoke as cleared I thought it would be helpful to recap the facts for anyone interested…

The Official Nintendo Magazine’s review score of 70% was not an issue. As I stated in a response on Facebook:

Every blog has a right to their opinion. TONM’s 70% assessment is nothing to complain about. My point there is simply that game journalists should understand that it’s not the developer’s decision what platform to support a game like CoD on. This is our 5th CoD DS and arguably our best. The team would happily do 5 more, and would love to sink their formidable 3DS chops into it as well. Sadly, that is not our choice. Sorry to our friends and supporters at TONM if that offended. We respect your publication enough to expect more.

Chris Scullion, author of the OPM review, Games Editor for the same and by all accounts a solid citizen, was kind enough to do a detailed response on our FB page as well. He understood the source of our frustration exactly and addressed it as such:

Hi guys, I wrote the ONM article. By saying it’s “a shame n-Space wasn’t ready to make the step up to the 3DS yet” I should have perhaps added the qualifier “in Activision’s eyes” because I obviously do understand the industry (I wouldn’t have been able to last six years at ONM if I didn’t) and understand that in situations like this you make the game you’re contracted to make on the format chosen by the publisher.

When I meant “ready” I wasn’t referring to your ability, I was referring to the assumption that moving the game to 3DS would require a revamp of the game engine rather than a slightly modified version of the engine used in MW Mobilised and Black Ops DS, and that to get the game ready to launch at the same time as those on other formats – which have the benefit of an existing engine to work from – would be a difficult undertaking for any studio.

It goes a bit deeper than this, right to Activision’s expectations for the 3DS platform. They know what kind of sales to expect for a given install base, how much revenue that will create, what the production / marketing / distribution / manufacturing costs associated are and, ultimately, whether it is a money-making proposition in the end. That is an entirely different and separate discussion than the assessment of a studio’s technical capabilities. Those two hurdles, and several others, have to be navigated before any project gets green-lit. Through it all, it is the publisher’s sole decision to chose a partner and fund development.

ONM has a long history of supporting our titles and giving the CoD DS series solid marks. We appreciate their support and enthusiasm for our titles. I would never share a review of one of our releases on Facebook if I didn’t feel it was a fair overall assessment, or that the score was not representative. 70% is a good score and Chris had many good things to say about the title. That did not go unnoticed. Unfortunately I focused on the 3DS reference and was unnecessarily snarky about that.

Then there is Kotaku… Having just read their “Gut Check” review of the product, I responded in kind. Thanks to Brian Crecente and Evan Narcisse for at least giving it a chance. They are entitled to their opinions and recommendations. But to Mike Fahey, who, as a “journalist” and “game reviewer” had this to say:

I’ve not played Modern Warfare 3: Defiance for the Nintendo DS, and I don’t need to. Just go to YouTube, searchModern Warfare 3: Defiance, and look at any of the uploaded videos. That is not pretty. No.

I say shame on you. And shame on Kotaku for passing that off to it’s readers as one of three opinions expressed in any review, no matter how half-assed high level. Sadly, it’s this kind of outrageous commentary and attitude that has become part of Kotaku’s schtick, and it seems to be working for them. Great. Go there if you like, but I choose not to if I can avoid it. This is one instance that I couldn’t and felt obligated to say something about it.

In the end, Kotaku will keep doing their thing and n-Space will keep doing ours. As I said on FB, “We speak from the heart here. Sometimes more [than] from the brain. Of any game sites, Kotaku should understand.”

The big irony here is that folks would get so bent out of shape when I post an overly snarky 4 word comment about a website that prides itself on exactly the same attitude. Move along, folks. Get off the internet and play some good games – there are a ton on the shelves right now, Call of Duty: MW3 Defiance included!


3DS One Month In…

Posted in Editorial by Dan O'Leary on April 23, 2011

today’s blog entry comes from Studio Creative Director, Ted Newman…

This blog entry was originally going to be my personal impressions of the 3DS after its first week on the market. Fortunately, I’ve been pretty busy at n-Space writing all kinds of other docs, so this article sat on the back burner. A week turned into two which turned into three and now here we are at nearly a month since the US launch of the platform. My impressions haven’t changed exactly, however they have evolved a bit.

It sure is pretty

n-Space was lucky enough to have received 3DS devkits shortly after E3 of last year. With so many of us being blown away by the 3D screen and the overall capabilities of the system, it was great to finally have kits in-house. But March 27th 2011 marked the first time many of us had a chance to sit down and spend time with a production model of the hardware, the launch titles, and the final version of the in-game interface.

As soon as I started up the 3DS, I was immediately impressed with the presentation. Nintendo has a special, even magical way of putting the player at ease. The Home menu is simple to navigate, pleasant to look at, and easy on the ears, with soft, gentle tones and bright, cheery notifications. Right off the bat, I was smiling.

There’s a lot to play with!

I don’t think anyone expected so many built-in games, tools, and toys to be included with the system. That first week, many of us spent more time noodling around with AR Cards and StreetPass collection and raiding Faces than we did playing any of the launch titles.

But with so many other 3DS owners around me every day, there was no shortage of games to try out. I dabbled in just about everything, but spent the most time on the two titles that excited me the most – Steel Diver and Pilotwings. I remember playing Steel Diver WAY back at E3 2004 and thought it was a great showcase of what made that system unique, but for years I wondered if it was destined to becomes one of those great tech-demos that should have been developed into a full title but never was. I was happy to see its return and very pleased with the results.

Pilotwings brought me back to the good ol’ N64 days of peacefully gliding through the air or gingerly landing a jetpack on small, circular targets. The 3DS follow-up was exactly what I was hoping it would be. But oddly enough, Pilotwings gave me the most trouble when it came to focusing on the game in 3D. It was the only title that had me dialing the slider back or even turning the 3D effect off entirely from time to time. With everything else I’ve played, I was surprised at how much I used the 3D, keeping the slider on full the entire time.

A slave to the green light

Get your StreetPass on!But what surprised me most was how well Nintendo pushed me to power on my 3DS, leaving it asleep in the dock on my desk or carrying it with me anywhere and everywhere I went.

With other handhelds like the DS, DSi, and PSP, I’d go through my honeymoon phase of playing it every day for the first few weeks or longer, but then my interest would wane and become divided between that and other gaming outlets like consoles, iOS games, etc. But no other handheld has ever made me put it in my pocket before heading out to lunch – or grab it before going to a meeting on the other side of the building – or stick it in my back pocket as I went for a quick walk around the parking lot. For the first few weeks, I carried it with me everywhere I could, driven by this strange desire to generate footsteps, collect puzzle pieces, and build a wardrobe of goofy hats. StreetPass was one of those features that had a few people scratching their heads when it was first announced. But now those same people are walking around the office twice a day, waving their 3DS around as they try to make new connections.

StreetPass even inspired some friendly competition. Shortly after release, Dan and I visited Full Sail here in Orlando to see some student presentations and give a talk about n-Space. We both went armed with our 3DS systems in Sleep mode, hopeful that we wouldn’t be the only ones. To our delight, we proceeded to pick up stray Miis as we walked around campus, both of us periodically (if not frequently) checking for the little green light that indicated a StreetPass had taken place.

By the end of the day, Dan and I were comparing the number of collected people. Dan even accused me of being “very competitive” which I never thought I was. True, I was thrilled when I had collected 1 more Mii that he somehow missed – and it’s also true I considered powering off his sleeping system when he left it unintended on the podium during our presentation – but me, competitive? No way!

As much as I was impressed with StreetPass and Nintendo’s support of it with the built-in software, I was equally disappointed that more games didn’t support the feature at launch. Simple things to share like ghost data or high scores for Pilotwings or Steel Diver would have been great.

It was after that trip to Full Sail that Dan started thinking about a way to do a meet-up of 3DS owners in the Central Florida area, with the sole purpose of making more StreetPass connections (who’s the competitive one now?!). As we started brainstorming about how to organize such an event, we stumbled across the StreetPassNetwork.com site and learned that we weren’t the only 3DS owners excited by this feature and looking to use it to its fullest potential.

So what’s next?

We know n-Space is a special case. Not everyone out there comes into contact with a dozen of other 3DS owners 5 days a week, each one turning their system on at the start of the day and even walking around the office fishing for connections. Therefore the StreetPass experience featured in Mii Plaza was somewhat accelerated for us. Within two-and-a-half weeks, many of us had completed all of the puzzles and finished the “Find Mii” RPG not once but twice. By the end of week 3, my Mii plaza was crowded with 46 Miis, a quarter of which were sporting purple demon heads (sorry if that was a spoiler!).

All of us are hoping Nintendo is already working on (or even sitting on) new content to share via StreetPass. New puzzles, new quests with new hats, or even new game modes entirely would be a welcome surprise and put everyone here back in the habit of walking around looking for connections. Right now, my 3DS is on my desk sleeping and I can see the little green light it on, but it doesn’t have the pull it used to. Still, I have a few more games to try and a couple more to finish, but I have to admit I’m a little sad I don’t feel the need to grab my system before going to the bathroom (that sounded awkward).

That’s not to say we don’t care about meeting new people! On Saturday, April 23rd, n-Space is hosting what we hope to be the first of many StreetPass Orlando meet-ups, this one taking place at Downtown Disney [Event page]. We’re not only excited to make new friends and new 3DS connections, but we’re most interested in seeing what other people think of the 3DS and their experiences and specifically their impressions of StreetPass. As developers, the info we gather at an event like this will ultimately help us design the best features for the games we are presently working on and the many more to come in the future.

I only wish I had some puzzles to complete or new hats to collect…

Scan Me!

Alive and Kicking

Posted in Analysis, Editorial by Dan O'Leary on April 6, 2011

Six months ago I wrote about n-Space “hitting the wall.” In October of last year, a perfect storm of circumstances forced me to do the unthinkable – layoff the entire staff after almost 16 years in business. Things have changed a lot since then and it’s well past time for an update…

n-Space is still very much alive.

The week after the layoff many of us were back in the office, putting the pieces back together and finalizing deals to rebuild the company. We now have 5 titles in development – three on 3DS, one DS and one for 360 Kinect. We have rehired as many previous employees as possible, and picked up several new ones as well. Our total headcount now almost 60 and climbing, and we’re all very excited to share with you what we’ve been working on. Look for more on that front in the run-up to E3.

None of this would have been possible without the hard work and sacrifice of our staff who have, through it all, showed great strength and done amazing work. Coming back from the dead is hard to do and it left n-Space somewhat fragile, but with our reputation and capabilities intact. Later this year I intend to roll out plans for employee profit sharing and stock options, among other new benefits. Until then, irreverent t-shirts, carmel apple lollipops and an upcoming retreat are how I show my thanks for their hard work and undying support.

Disappointingly, but not too surprisingly, our recovery has received no significant coverage by the local or game media. It’s funny how quickly bad news spreads, especially in this internet age, and how many ignorant, hateful people rushed to dance on our grave that day. Sour grapes? You bet. Thanks to our fans, friends and family that have supported us through this challenge.

The industry seems to have turned the corner. <Knock On Wood>

Both DICE and GDC were very good conferences from a business development point of view. n-Space attends these shows to meet with potential partners, pitch concepts and discuss their upcoming development needs. We had nearly such 20 meetings at GDC alone, with a variety of publishers. All were anxious to place products on console, handheld, web and mobile platforms. This is a welcome change from the last two years, when meetings felt more like obligations than opportunities.

I believe that established independent developers like n-Space who have managed to survive the recent bloodbath are set to flourish. It’s not a return to normal, but establishing a new normal as the industry has fundamentally changed. Here are a few predictions / observations:

  • The traditional console and retail box product approach still faces many challenges in the coming years as consumers spend more and more of their precious money and attention in other spaces.
  • Mobile and browser-based gaming are here to stay, supported by powerful new price points and monetization methods. There are some really great games out there that cost absolutely nothing to play, unless you want to accelerate your progression, improve your character, etc. This isn’t something new, of course, but it is gaining a lot of traction as evidenced by TenCent’s recent $400m acquisition of Riot Games, creators of the popular multiplayer online battle-arena game, League of Legends.
  • Almost nobody in the industry, except maybe Nintendo, wants another console before 2014. Most are very thankful for the success of Kinect (especially Microsoft!) as it will extend the lifespan of the 360 and this entire generation. Expect to see Microsoft and Sony both delay a new console launch as long as they can.
  • 3DS is hot. Publishers see the staggering success of DS, with over 130 million units sold, and can’t help but get in line to support this platform. The hardware is awesome and the launch has been Nintendo’s best in history. The 3D visuals are very compelling and provide immediate WOW factor, but also create a dramatic improvement to the overall visual aesthetic and quality that lasts well past the initial impressions. Combined with the significantly improved graphical capabilities, the games look fantastic and the whole system totally delivers on the “magical” experience that everyone has touted since E3 2010. Look for more of our impressions in an upcoming blog entry.
  • Impressions of NGP are mixed. As gamers we love it – awesome hardware is something Sony does best and they have a great slate of titles planned. As developers with tremendous handheld experience we are rooting for it – more business opportunities and new challenges. As a business we’re curious how viable it is financially. Games will be very expensive to develop, requiring high unit sales to be profitable. Publishers will likely look to minimize those costs by porting PS3 titles, with as few changes / improvements as Sony will allow. I’m not sure the result will excite consumers enough to drive sales. A classic Chicken and Egg scenario may play out. Publishers we’ve talked to mostly share our position of cautious enthusiasm, but a few are enthusiastically supporting it.
  • Kinect is hot. Hotter than anyone (Microsoft included IMHO) expected. With more than 10 million units sold it has gone from niche accessory to bonafide success and a bandwagon that everyone is looking to get on. How long it will last is the bigger question now, but it’s clear that Microsoft is committed to it for both core and casual markets and retail as well as XBLA. If the sales trend continues and some must-have software titles emerge it could become a real force to contend with. Oh, and it sells 360s too. At Christmas 2010 my home 360 popped the RROD, sending me to secure a replacement before the family had new games and no system. The first three stores I went to were sold out! Impressive.
  • Next, next gen is around the corner. CryEngine, Unreal and Frostbite have all shown us what’s to come and it’s pretty amazing. I just wonder how our industry will bear the cost of development.
  • Apple may win it all. iPad 2 is a warning shot. Most initial analysis of its hardware have focused on the additional memory and dual core processor, somehow glazing over the fact that the GPU is 9x as powerful as before. That kind of jump is unheard of in a single generation. What would it take for Apple to roll that into iPhone 5? How about the next revision of AppleTV? Add App Store support and Bingo! You’ve got a $99 console with virtually unlimited games for $5 or less. Oh, and it also does anything else you want. Want more? There are rumors that Apple is looking to license AirPlay to TV manufacturers. No AppleTV needed – play games on your near-360/PS3 powered smartphone or tablet (using the devices touchscreen, gyro and accelerometers for WiiMote+ style controls) and push the video to your living room set. All of this could happen in the next 12 months. In fact, it will very likely happen, and maybe sooner. I don’t think there is any coincidence at all that Apple arranged to have its last big announcement at the same time as GDC, nor that WWDC 2011, their big annual developer conference, is scheduled at the same time as E3. Also expect more on this in a future blog entry.

The job market in the game industry is flooded with entry level talent.

As part of our hiring efforts, n-Space hosted a space in the GDC career pavilion this year – a first for us. It was a positive experience and worth it for PR and Good Will alone. Jen, Cheryl and Erica worked the booth for three long days and kept smiling throughout it. They met a lot of great people, collected some strong resumes, gave out n-Space t-shirts and carmel apple lollipops.

The overwhelming majority of candidates were entry level. Thanks to a recent surge in the number of schools selling the dream of a job in game development, there are a tremendous number of kids looking for a start in this challenging industry. I’m afraid this will end badly for many of them, who are often poorly prepared by opportunistic programs and are competing with many other experienced candidates affected by rounds of recent layoffs around the world.

If you are in this group, you better know your craft and be prepared to work very, very hard to make yourself stand out and get noticed. We’ll do a separate blog post on that topic very soon.

That’s all for now. Sorry for the long-winded post, but I have a lot on my mind after 6 months of silence. Look for more activity here from now on, with posts from myself and other n-Space staff.

Thanks for your interest in n-Space.