Monthly Archives: December 2008

Left 4 Dead freebies giveaway

left4deadshirts

If there’s one thing better than walking the offices of one of the greatest game development companies in the world than it is walking the offices of one of the greatest game development companies in the world and walking away with freebies to give away! I am of course talking about Valve and three (unfortunately not four) Left 4 Dead – the most awesome zombie game in the worldmerchandise shirts.

To win, you must submit a 2000-word report with at least 4 academic references on why shooting zombies with friends is so fun. No I’m just kidding, but you still have to show you’re a fan of the game. To be eligible to win, submit a comment below with a URL to your Steam profile showing you own Left 4 Dead. For example, here’s mine. Contest ends Wednesday, 18 Dec 2008 (PST).

P.S. Two of the shirts are XL and the other is M. If you’re a Smurf, please avoid entering.

Update: Please don’t worry if your comment does not show up immediately, because you’re all posting links the spam catcher is filtering everything. I’ll eventually approve them all.

Update 2: Congratulations to JL Picard, Elton M. and Nicko for winning the shirts.

Announcing the winner of HP Magic Giveaway

Another year is coming to a close and one lucky person is going to score the ultimate holiday present. Seven days ago this website launched one of the 50 HP Magic Giveaway contests which has attracted over 4000 entries. Besides the guy who decided to spam 1123 entries with sequentially numbered Yahoo emails, the odds are pretty good considering the prize pool value. Even better if you used Windows Vista.

Without a further ado, the winner of the contest is Mark Stephens (@gmail.com). Everyone else wins a novelty thumbs up.

Thanks all for participating and special thanks to HP and Microsoft for organizing such a awesome competition at this time of year. Remember, there are still many chances to win at some of the other 50 blogs who are still running or yet to run their contests. Happy holidays.

Microsoft sells standalone Windows Vista (RED): Dec 15

It looks as if Microsoft’s customized version of Windows Vista Ultimate for the PRODUCT RED project is no longer exclusive to Dell as it was announced earlier this year in January. Amazon recently began listing a product titled “Windows Vista Ultimate with SP1 Upgrade (Project Red Edition)” to be released on December 15, 2008. The Dell version of Vista RED came with 6 wallpapers, screensaver, two sidebar gadgets and a Dreamscene, all of which has since been posted to many downloading websites.

As some of the RED customizations in the Dell computers were specifically branded for Dell, I’d imagine there could be some newer additions to this package to make it worth while, but then again, Ultimate Extras has taught us how little can be done.

At a retail price of $219.95, twenty dollars off the recommended retail price of $239.99 for Vista Ultimate but seventy dollars more expensive than Amazon’s sale price of $149.99 has me a little concerned how poorly this will do in such economic times. On the other hand, giving a PRODUCT RED gift definitely scores you karma points.

Update: The official PRODUCT RED website confirms this and also indicates a couple new wallpapers has been added to the mix.

Update 2: Students are also able to take advantage of a special offer to buy Windows Vista Ultimate (RED) for $64.95 at The Ultimate Steal.

Microsoft Research “Kodu” (Boku) in-depth preview

Whilst on campus this week, if there’s only one thing on my mind besides Windows, that would be Boku. Codename “Boku”, final name tentative (yes they are aware it’s not pleasant in Turkish), is a Microsoft Research project aimed at making it easy and fun for young kids to learn, understand and apply computer programming skills in the form of games.

Most videos of Boku shown so far has been quick montages with menus flashing faster than a loud nightclub, so below is a short 7-minute video I recorded with Stephen Coy (of Windows Vista screensavers and Psychedelic visualizations fame) who works on Boku to give a slower demonstration of how one could build a constructive game in Boku.

I’ve been excited about this since it was first announced at Microsoft Research’s TechFest in 2006 so it’s been more than 2 years in the making. Whilst you might think two years is an awful long time to build a game, but it’s only worked on by four people and two contract artists. Development wise, what else is really interesting is that the game is built with the publically available XNA Games Studio so in fact any hobby programmer could have built this.

Now anyone who’s peeked at video games in the past 6 months would start drawing comparisons between Little Big Planet on the Playstation 3, and so did I. The Boku team is obviously aware of this and does not hide the fact that they love Little Big Planet. At the same time, they point out that Little Big Planet’s cool and compelling gameplay is based on their impressive physics engine, whilst Boku is about programmable behaviors and does not have a comparable physics engine.

As a result of building a XNA Game Studio game, they are able to publish to both XBOX360 and PC. Currently it is envisioned it could appear on XBOX via the Live Arcade, subject to alignments of the planets. On the PC, there isn’t yet a distribution plan but since the game is currently floating around just 200MB, most of which is audio assets, it shouldn’t be too hard to distribute. They will be working to distributing to schools first then the public. Check the website for release date announcements soon.

Speaking as something who dabbles in code but never learned programming properly, I can see the value in this game even if I were to just deconstruct and edit other people’s levels.

The new Microsoft Visitor Center

As a Redmond-virgin, I took the opportunity to check out the three Microsoft campus “must-see” destination today – Microsoft Home, Microsoft Center for Information Work and the Microsoft Visitor Center. Whilst both Home and CIW were both cool and still cutting edge, neither of which has had any major renovations for a while and there’s plenty of good coverage about what they involve, however the new Visitor Center just launched weeks ago so it’s still fresh. You can check out a gallery of photos above.

One of the most interesting installations of the new Visitor Center is the floating sphere with 3D projection. From what I could gather, it uses four projectors to cast a perspective-correct overlay on top of a large white sphere lifted in the air. Whilst it is similar to the installation at Google’s lobby with “live search terms”, this too seems to be “live” with popular Live Search queries appearing occasionally.

The other installation, more of an artistic rather technology showcase is a “video wall” that plays a pretty cool looking animation about the Microsoft experience complete with wall-to-wall mood lighting.

Both features are the works of an obviously capable design Seattle firm, Hornall Anderson. It shows in the turtle.

A peek into a legendary game company, Valve Software

If you’ve been following me on Twitter, you’d probably have noticed in the past couple of weeks my affection (exhibit 1, 2, 3 & 4) for Left 4 Dead. As a matter of which, I’m also giving away a copy of Left 4 Dead in the HP Magic Giveaway. When I realized Seattle (where I am this week) is also home to Valve Software, I knew I just had to go for a tour. And that’s what I did today with the help of office manager Katie.

Since Valve isn’t working on any new IPs or major projects, I didn’t get to play any upcoming games content (as some other tours have) however I was still able to linger with some of the best minds in the industry and a chance to handle a few iconic memorabilia, I learned a few interesting tidbits about Valve’s business that I’d like to share.

  • Valve has an extremely flat corporate structure. Titles were less applicable and everyone was equally valued as everyone else.
  • Their offices which span approximately three office building levels is the entire operation. Besides a handful of people, about 160 people works on-site where they develop code, create art assets, manage business and the Steam services.
  • All employees are senior level employees. To get into Valve you need an equivalent of five years of work experience. Having said that, Valve is a strong supporter of community mod developers which is a great way to get noticed.
  • Valve hires no dedicated testers. All developers/artists/business managers are all required to play the games. Valve also takes advantage of public gaming events to test games.
  • Apart from traditional offices which employees can request, Valve has “cabana” style offices that fits around a dozen or so people working on a single project since they can interact more easily.
  • The staff is like one big family. In fact, literally. All employee’s families are compensated to move to Seattle so everyone can be on-site. Subsequently, the company also organizes a wide array of activities to encourage social interaction and bond between “Valve families”.

If you’re ever in Seattle and are a genuine fan of Valve, I’d encourage you to consider emailing about a studio tour. Just follow the instructions on Gabe Newell’s FAQ. I don’t think there’s a more welcoming game developer with their fans.