Tuesday, June 22, 2010

Uninvited Guest; Livestock Upset

So I just came early to work today at 22.00 and found the front door to our warehouse ajar. Thinking that perhaps some of our pets had escaped, I became a bit worried and carefully entered our damp dwelling.

Carrying a meat hook (someone forgot to tidy up last night?) I walked down to the cellar and saw that there was a mess at one of the table. There where also strange sounds coming from the cages and I had to use the cattle prod to calm the critters down. I counted them all twice and all stock seemed to be in place, allowing me to take a sigh of relief (we used to be six people in Frictional you know!).

Then I noticed that some of our notes, parchments and scrolls where missing. A thief! I also found a match lying in the mud on the floor, confirming that (most likely) one of the many hobos had sneaked in. This kind of confused me though, since I thought they learned their lesson last time in a quite tentacular way. It was also strange that they would take papers; I was not aware that they could read (perhaps nature called?).

Oh well. Now it is back to work, have some stuff to disect and refine. Just wanted you all to know abut this shady business in case you hear something!

Hmm.... now where did I put my essential salts?

Food and Character Labels

According to this study in Pediatrics, children are more likely to choose food with a 'Shrek' or other character on the label than ones without. This is something food marketers were well aware of. Also, interesting in the study is that the 'Shrek effect' is lower for healthy foods than unhealthy ones. That is all very well but then, the study's authors making a flying leap into policy:
Overall, our results provide evidence that licensed characters can influence children’s eating habits negatively by increasing positive taste perceptions and preferences for junk foods. Given that 13% of marketing expenditures ($208 million) targeting youths are spent on character licensing and other forms of cross-promotion, our findings suggest that the use of licensed characters on junk food packaging should be restricted.
In fact, the study shows no such thing. It shows that labeling can induce a preference for less healthy foods but it says nothing about whether that will lead to more consumption of those foods. That depends on price and also on parental-child relative bargaining powers which can easily mean that a Shrek label allows parents to negotiate a lower consumption of unhealthy foods.

To be sure, it may be that the Shrek effect implies all of the problems the paper conjectures but that has to be studied directly. For instance, is it the case that when offered a deal between 2 carrots and one Shrek labeled 25g chocolate versus 1 carrot and plain labeled 50g chocolate, the children always the latter? What precisely is the rate of exchange? We need to know that before jumping to policy conclusions. 

At the moment, the study does explain why unhealthy foods may attract labels while healthy ones do not. So it is a useful contribution to the business of food marketing.

Sunday, June 20, 2010

Formula Pixar: Toy Story 3

In 1995, my soon to be spouse and I saw Toy Story. It was a great movie in its own right but I recognised then that it was also a great reason to have children. We had one by the time Toy Story 2 rocked around but she was too young to come to the cinemas. She was not too young to have herself a Buzz Lightyear and being able to soon chant, "to infinity and beyond."

So it was a great pleasure to be finally able to take all three children to see Toy Story 3. Pixar have done it again. It is hard to put my finger on just what they have done. The characters are now fully realised and familiar but are still of great interest. The plot is a natural and touched on all of the themes from the previous movies including existential angst and divided loyalties. And then throughout there is a layer of comedy that, for the most part, only adults would appreciate. Suffice it to say, this movie is perhaps the first to 'get' Ken (of Barbie and Ken fame) and it is worth it just for that alone. Put that together with a tightness of composition that is error free (well, virtually error free as I am not sure "not suitable for children 3 or under" toys should be given to toddlers), and there is unlikely to be a better movie this year.

Pixar have never failed to have a hit. It is a creative legacy that now surely exceeds that of the early Disney. And the fact that they can carry it through to a third movie in a series -- which, let's face it, no one ever seems to manage (save for Harry Potter or Lord of the Rings) -- is a testament to a winning formula. These movies come around once a year at the moment and they will have our money each time.

Saturday, June 19, 2010

Beta - The End is Nigh

This week we reached something that, not too long ago, was a merely distant dream:

Amnesia: The Dark Descent is in BETA

This means that the all needed assets are completed and that it is possible to play the game from start to finish. What is left now is just a bit of polish and minor additions. This does not mean that all is good and we can just relax though. The game is still rough around the edges at places and require quite a bit of work. However, we no longer have to worry about getting new things into the game. Now we can just focus on what is already there and make it as nice as we can.

It is quite astounding how far the game has gotten. We started out making the first proper content around two years ago, and since then the amount assets have just continued to grow. Looking through our project files I counted a total of:
106 Music files
1202 Model files
1533 Texture files
856 Sound files
This was just a very rough calculation though so I have surely missed a few. Also, there is still stuff left to add, so we are not done just yet!

It is also worth noting that this does not mean that a demo will be out shortly. For that you have to wait a few more months I'm afraid. However, we have sent out previews to a few places and some first impressions have started to drop in:

IGN thought that "Amnesia could be the scariest survival horror game in quite a long time".

Adventure Gamers said "I can already assure horror fans that another unsettling, potentially-pants-peeing adventure awaits".

Ripten pondered if it "might just be Frictional Games’ best title".

Gamer fill confessed that "I had to (yes, had to) turn Amnesia off after a short hour of play, so as to give my nerves a rest".

TGDB said "Het spel zou best wel eens één van de engste survival horror games in tijden kunnen zijn". Which I am not sure exactly what it means, but according to babel fish it was quite positive!

To hear things like this from an early preview (consisting of around the first 1/3 of the game) is extremely motivating and makes us very happy. Now we just need to make sure the full game delivers as well! More previews should pop up now that E3 is over, and be advised that they might contain spoilers.

Thanks to all who have supported us so far! We are very close* to a finished game now!

*An offical release date may or may not be announced next week.

What's the deal with the rubber bands?

A few weeks ago:

"Dad, can we go to the store? I need to buy some rubber bands."

"We have plenty of rubber bands. What do you need them for?"

"Daaaad, these are special rubber bands. They aren't just circles but all sorts of shapes and colours."

"So what you are going to use them for?"

"We put them on our wrists and occasionally swap them with other kids."

That piqued my interest. When we got to the store, I found that these were the most expensive rubber bands in the history of the planet (clocking at at 20 cents a piece). And at no point were they intended for normal rubber band use. Suffice it to say, this is what pocket money was for.

It was a marvel to me. The company that created Silly Bandz was Brainchild products; specifically, Robert Crock according the website. They had clearly stumbled across massive profitability and it is hard to understand how. But all these elementary school kids are walking around with 30 rubber bands on each wrist. It is both ridiculous and ingenious at the same time.

But it gets better. At the moment, Silly Bandz are the most traded item on eBay -- reminding me of Beanie Babies in an earlier day. They have become a collecting phenomenon selling for 10 times their  original retail price in some cases.

Usually these crazes are trading cards. In my day, everyone had a Coca Cola YoYo but that craze was usually short-lived on account of the danger posed. The potential is there for rubber bands too but, at the moment, they are so valuable that the kids don't seem to be weaponising them yet.

[Update: some school kids' insights on Silly Bandz]