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Noteworthy: FusionFall Wrap Report

February 25, 2009 Leave a comment

The Project
FusionFall is a high-quality, browser-based MMOG that takes place in a re-imagined Cartoon Network universe. It is the ultimate crossover, with characters from classic shows like Dexter’s Laboratory and The Powerpuff Girls and more recent ones like Ben 10 Alien Force.

we knew we wanted to build a game that was as universally loved as the cartoons it’s based on. To this end, we began looking for the perfect partner to help us make one that could be successful both here in the US and abroad.

From a story standpoint, you play as a boy or girl helping to fend off Planet Fusion, a giant mass of planets that is trying to absorb ours. Of course, you will have help from Ben Tennyson, the Powerpuff Girls, Samurai Jack and the Kids Next Door along the way. Because the threat is so huge, even some of the bad guys offer their assistance.

IGN: Cartoon Network Universe: FusionFall Wrap Report

Check this out!!  I still say (no matter the bugs or scaling, etc) that this is one of the most interesting MMO experiences for tween demo to date – simply because of the scale of the project (multi-multi IP’s & styles) and the complex nature of the gaming system.  It’s worth exploring, understanding, and reading insight behind – because a lot of the backend thought processes on this could redefine the way some entertainment IP’s approach the VW experience.  It’s worth playing to see if you build any connections between what has been said, what they could do in the future, what they should have done, and all the in-betweens of time & logic.  The whole adventure – from start to finish, with all the ups and downs, could probably give someone an entire thesis on the art of youth & gaming & web.

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Chaotic continues on the Multiplatform Approach

February 19, 2009 Leave a comment

Online, Chaotic has surpassed Magic’s popularity, according to figures provided by each. Magic the Gathering has 150,000 registered players, its website says, while 4Kids Entertainment executives say the Chaotic website, www.chaoticgame.com, had attracted 1.25 million registered players since its launch.

Bryan Gannon, chief executive of Chaotic USA Entertainment Group, a San Diego technology development company that is 4Kids’ partner in the venture, had a ready explanation for the game’s soaring popularity. “The codes are built in the card, so there’s an exact duplicate in the digital world,” he said. That allows players to trade, battle and build creature armies interchangeably between the physical and online card games.

Chaotic’s success coincides with a relatively strong video game industry, which enjoyed 11% sales growth in 2008 despite layoffs, the credit crunch, the mortgage crisis and the recession.

4Kids announced Friday the fall release of the Chaotic video game for various consoles, including Nintendo’s Wii and DS, Xbox 360 and Playstation 3.

It helps that Chaotic is cheap. 4Kids has integrated its 48-card Starter Deck (usually priced at $14.99 in stores) with the online game at no additional cost.

Chaotic’s mix of online and real-world success hasn’t gone unnoticed.

Last month, Sony Online Entertainment acquired PoxNora, an online trading-card game that involves free play at a basic level with additional premium subscription and purchasing costs for cards and game pieces.

This spring Sony plans to launch a physical trading-card game for Free Realms, a multiplayer online trading-card game, under a licensing agreement with Topps.

“It’s a huge revenue driver, and we’re just beginning to explore it,” said Scott Martins, director of development for Sony Online Entertainment. “It’s a way to keep our readers engaged.”

Chaotic creates new order in trading-card games – Los Angeles Times

It’s kinda fun to watch this from a far.  After working at Star Farm for so long, and becoming OBSESSED with multiplatform blitzkriegs from creative IPs, I can’t help but find them still intriguing and inspiring… trying to blow out a world for a fan to thrive within throughout various pathways.  NICE.  Chaotic, as a cartoon, is fun and I dig the style of animation (reminds me a bit of what is happening with 6teen and Total Drama Island– which is still one of my faves at the ‘mo).

Dude, card play… I’m telling you, kids love it.  If you want to know what kids are doing – ask a camp counselor this summer.  We see the top 3 favorite toys, because kids bring them – and if they’re socially acceptible/popular, ALL KIDS PLAY WITH THEM continuously.  I learned everything I know about Pokemon from cleaning up cards and getting scolded for saying the names wrong, and back in the Tomagotchi stage?  Oh man, I used to have to babysit 5 – 12 tamagotchi’s at a time while my campers were at swimming lessons or playing in the lake. 

I miss those days….

On another side tangent, I’m still pretty much OBSESSED with Cartoon Network’s “Har Har Thursdays” – the most creative/bizarre/unique programs of all time (seriously, you thought Spongebob was goofy-off-putting when the show first launched?  Well, that sponge doesn’t have ANYTHING on Chowder or The Misadventures of Flapjack – they’re simply amazing).

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Another FusionFall Review

January 16, 2009 Leave a comment

One of the first things I noticed about the game was the interesting, intertextual and subtly reflexive way it plays with the idea of different versions of the same character. For example, in the first level of the game, Buttercup (of the Powerpuff Girls) sends you on a mission to save Dexter from “Fusion Buttercup” (the evil, Fuse doppelganger) who you then transform into Nano Buttercup (by defeating her), who then becomes your ally. This fluidity and intertextuality both refers to the way that children experience media branded characters in their own lives — as television characters, as many different incarnations of toys, as videogame avatars, and as the endless variations thereof the children themselves produce during imaginative play.

But the originality of the characters is soon overshadowed by the clunky game design. My first hour of play was plagued by server overcrowding, a bug that made it impossible to finish a specific quest, and full on browser crashes that repeatedly wiped out all of my progress in a particular level. This is likely more prevalent in the online free version than in the full-fledged software + subscription version that the free site promotes, but if CN wants to attract long-term subscribers, the trial version is going to have to run a lot smoother than it does right now. On the other hand, kids have been waiting so long for this game that it might not matter so much in the short term. Not to mention the fact that since so many of the other MMOGs for kids already on the market are similarly full of bugs and clunky-ness (I’m still looking at YOU Pirates of the Caribbean Online), the standards (and player expectations) among this demographic might not be all that high. According to Emily Claire Afan over at Kidscreen, more than 2.5 million accounts were created during the beta stage — so at least we’ll have a yardstick to measure its popularity against now that the game is live and running.

Gamine Expedition: CN’s Fusion Fall Launches

For some reason (perhaps my choices of play time) I haven’t had too rough of a time exploring FusionFall… however, my staff have had the same difficulties that Sara seems to be experiencing, and her acute review of the site in its early stages is dead on.

That’s the hard thing about first-launch.  Everyone is eyeing you (well, rightfully so with FF, since we’ve been waiting on baited breath for ages, with all the push backs on launch), and to be fair – it’s very, very difficult to come out of the web gate with a fully functional, nigh-on-perfecto performance for all.  Not to mention, trying a new concept with established (and much beloved) IP(s) of characters… that’s a tricky tight rope… and difficult to make everyone happy while still giving this amazing new experience.

However… good intentions for a great experience = amazing.  What else is amazing?  The follow through and execution on both functional & operational levels.

Often I feel a ping of regret when rambling about a new virtual world.  Why?  It’s new.  They’re just trying to get into the market – wham, bam, payment ma’am!  Off-set spending, ya know?  Users & proving concept is necessary to score money & more investment & licensing, which ultimately allows for the ability to build bigger, better, and give the users exactly what they want – at least that’s the lesson I’ve learned with non-household-name projects.

It’s amazing for me to go back to the Virtual Worlds that came out early last year (or even the year before).  They’re still, at heart, of the same context… but the improvements, choices, and play patterns have all changed in one way or another.

The sites that are unable to roll with the punches fast enough (or thoroughly enough)… those are the sites that we won’t see too much of, unless they just happen to be supported by golden wings of the wealthy angel investors.

Lots of people try to explain this early stage of bambi-walking (wobbly-kneed site just learning to walk, roughly) with a nice, clean term of “BETA.”  Sure, those of us in the industry know what Beta means, and bow to it with a certain amount of forgiveness & understanding.  But kids?  I asked a few big time online gamers… they thought it was a fish.

Basically, here’s the thing.  All these new sites – there’s stuff in it that isn’t necessarily of “high grade” execution.  Things that may not seem thought through, or well created.  We give those new sites their critical poo-poo’s.  We give those new sites the arched eyebrow of “this might be interesting in the future?”.  And we give those new sites pats on the back for the bits they’ve done well… right… pretty… flashy… fun.

The real label of success is this:  CHECK THE SITE IN 6 – 9 MONTHS and note the changes.  How well did the site take the commentary & restruction/recreate/improve?  Are they still around?  Do they have an audience of faithful and plentiful members?

If you’re still scrambling for members in 6 – 9 months, and you’re still scratching your head about why your project hasn’t become buzz worthy… chances are, you didn’t roll with the punches fast enough, and you aren’t engaging the audience in something they feel is necessary to their daily entertainment intake.

Now I’ve WAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAY removed myself from the original point of this ramble.  FusionFall has done some amazing things, and they still have work to do (don’t we all, hahaha).  There are other sites out there that are nigh on a year old now that STILL have functionality & operational issues for a site that has kick-arse content.  You have to solve the problems that break the fantasy of your site as quickly as possible, if you can (it’s a harder job for some than others, based on tech choices).  And then you have to build upon the world itself – play patterns overall.  Then build upon events & new changes/additions that have a slight ‘temporary exclusivity’ feel.  Then keep offering the community what it wants, blended into the context/concept of your IP.

Tall orders, but that’s what we all bought into when building playgrounds for imagination, dreams, and community.

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Wowza: FusionFall

January 14, 2009 1 comment

Well, ladies & gents, the time has finally come for CN briiiiziiiiliant minds to release their much anticipated MMO of ginormity.  And ya know what?  Gorgeous.

I was lucky enough to sneak several peeks in the past, but didn’t feel right spilling any beans.

I do have a lot to say about this monster of a project (and it’s good), but I encourage you to go check it out for yourself first.  Carve out a bit of time, because the tutorial & the registration take more than the average 2 minutes, and I would recommend spending the time watching the videos that promo along the way.

Although I don’t know all that goes on in the backend of things, or big that Big Red Curtain of the Wiz, but I have had enough conversations with the powers-that-be and other amazing individuals over at CN to know that they’ve had their safety-brains screwed on tight for quite some time, and good on them for making a safe experience the foundation for a fun experience.

Anyone had some time zapping & hanging out with #1 or Dexter?  What do you think of the MMO-game play?  How do you feel about the blend-o-cartoon-styles (I think this might be their biggest fan issue… I was already confused by Dexter’s slim/tall figure, but content-specific things like this get nit-picky and aren’t always as important as the overall play, etc)?  Do you feel like the game appeals to the kind of market they’re seeking to attract?

Cheers for now, peeps.

Heads UP: Dragon Ball Z MMO

November 8, 2008 Leave a comment

We’ll tell you about the new MMO veterans that 38 Studios has poached from other developers, how Tabula Rasa has adjusted their camera angles, and the Dragon Ball and Shin Megami Tensei MMOs that will be making their way to our shores in the next year. But regardless of the news of the day, we all know what this incredible moment in history is about; Change.

Video Game News, Geek Stuff & Gadgets – The Feed at G4tv.com

Le sigh.  It was only time before this found its way to the MMO landscape.  Oh, DragonballZ… how you confound me 😉

If you HAVEN’T discovered the MMO podcast/videocast from G4, I do hope you take a gander.  I love it, watch it every week on itunes, and appreciate the serious levels of MMO (and beyond) geekdom it both loves & hates (self deprecation is a blast).

It’s funny, just as the host (Casey) mentioned DragonballZ, I thought to myself… oh dear, wonder how long it will take for Naruto to jump on board the MMO train… two seconds later, Casey too makes a comment (heh) on Naruto (no Naruto MMO at this time to my knowledge, anyone wanna make bets?).

Since it’s Friday, and I can’t help but always sing this song when I see anything regarding DragonballZ, I bring to you the I’m a Cucumber song (thank you, Brak & Adult Swim):

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Cartoon Networks LUVS UGC Multiplayer Action!

August 19, 2008 Leave a comment

Cartoon Network Debuts Eight-Person Multiplayer Gaming

with Ben 10: Alien Force Bounty Hunters

 

First CartoonNetwork.com Game to Allow Four-Player Team Battles or up to Eight-Person Free-for-All

 

Cartoon Network New Media today launches Ben 10 Alien Force: Bounty  Hunters, a free real-time multiplayer battle game that lets online Ben 10 fans square off as rival alien bounty hunters seeking to be the first to grab the ultimate weapon in the universe: the Omnitrix.

Available for play at www.cartoonnetwork.com, Ben 10: Alien Force Bounty Hunters features three different battle settings, nine weapons and four power-ups.  Players suit up in an online lobby system then fire up their virtual jetpacks and match up with thousands of other online gamers for one of two selected game play modes.  “Free-for-All” lets players battle individually in matches of up to eight players.  “Team Battle” mode lets two teams of up to four players take part in each battle, racking up collective points for the win.  Players earn experience points (XP) from playing that will eventually let them advance ranks in the gaming environment.

Bounty Hunters gives our audience a real-time multi-player gaming experience in a kid-friendly setting,” said Art Roche, creative director for Cartoon Network New Media.  “We are very proud of the game and it’s great to be able to offer our fans an opportunity to safely communicate and play-all within an immersive and sophisticated action-based gaming environment that meets their high expectations.” 

Bounty Hunters provides multiplayer action and interaction in a safe environment.  Kids can safely play against each other and interact with teammates and combatants using controlled chat functionality.  Players can also chat with each other as they wait in a game room for other players to join, using only pre-scripted chat phrases.  Players are identified only by the screen name they select at registration, which also allows them to keep track of battle stats and earn points.

Bounty Hunters offers a rich multiplayer experience with high-quality graphics and environments, which requires a small one-time download to the computer, available on PC only.  Later this year, Bounty Hunters players will be able to earn Mini Match points redeemable in the Mini Match virtual world Cartoon Network New Media launched last month.

Ben 10 games currently dominate the top 10 most popular games at CartoonNetwork.com, holding six of the top 10 spots, including Ben 10 Battle Ready at No. 1; Ben 10: Alien Force Forever Defense at No. 2; and Ben 10: Savage Pursuit at No. 3.

Cartoon Network New Media’s May launch of its first game to harness user-generated content Ben 10: Alien Force Game Creator brought fans online in droves, and they built more than a million unique Ben 10 games in the first month alone, resulting in more than 70 million game plays during the same time period.

Ben 10: Alien Force’s April 2008 debut was the most-watched original series premiere in Cartoon Network history.  Ben 10: Alien Force began the next chapter in the continuing Ben 10 saga five years later when 15-year-old Ben Tennyson chose to once again put on the Omnitrix and discover that it had reconfigured his DNA and could transform him into 10 brand new aliens.

Cartoon Network Press Release

I’m telling ya… Cartoon Network rocks.

A) They know who their audience is, and what they want… while still releasing “hot” “buzzworthy” games.

B) I’m obsessed with Total Drama Island & The Misadventures of Flap Jack & Chowder > although all of them have slightly “interesting” themes/bits occasionally (but then again, so did Nickelodeon circa 90’s, and I loved them for it).  It’s a parents decision thing. 

C) Their “wedgies” are hilarious (the facial hair/beard grower for ‘Chowder’ is brilliant).

I don’t know WHAT’S in the water over there, but I like it! 

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GREAT interview from Virtual World News and Cartoon Network

August 5, 2008 1 comment

VWN: Have you seen any other patterns in the way kids are using Mini Match?

MC: We’ve only been live since June, so we’re still trying to figure out that patterns. They play a lot–that is something we noticed about other virtual worlds. After you’ve got in there and are playing for a bit, the thing you really do is play games and accumulate points. That should be easier. The other thing is that the avatar should stay the same. There are some communities where the avatar changes in different environments.

And they love mysteries. They love these environmental games we’ve included where you bump into an item, and you’re turned into an alien, things like that. We’ve added mysteries and puzzles like that all over, and we’re adding more. It’s like Lost, except for I’ll promise you that you won’t have have to wait for six years to find out the answers.

The other thing we’ve tried to introduce is a mix of modern fashion and a little bit of the fantastical. If you feel like looking like a pirate or alien or whatever or just layering your clothes, that’s there.

In one of our focus groups we looked at how boys and girls asked differently. Then the moderator asked them to enter the game. All but one girl had entered. The moderator went to make sure everything was okay. She said, “oh yeah, yeah. I just need to change clothes before I play.”

Virtual Worlds News: Q&A on Mini Match: Molly Chase, VP and Executive Producer, Cartoon Network

This is CHALK FULL of excellent tidbits.  It’s SO GREAT to hear CN talk with experience and understanding about their demographic. 

I wish I could ramble, elaborate, and story tell more right now – because this is just filled to the brim with gems… but alas, time escapes me.

I HIGHLY HIGHLY suggest you head over to VWN to read a bit more about how a company (Cartoon Network) assesses their audience, provides, and plans… I’m very impressed.

There’s always a difference between what Beta sites look like and what they have planned… For me – someone who follows this market so closely, it’s great to know that Mini Match – as exists now – is just the beginning.  I can’t wait to see how they use what they’ve assessed to the advantage of their audience, and what (if any) revolutionary things they bring up (which I’m sure they will, since the UI is already different than many sites).

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