Taktshang Goemba: the tiger’s nest.

27 March, 2011 (06:21) | Life | By: Olivier

Sunrise at Taktshang Goemba

Taktshang Goemba, Bhutan’s most famous monastery. Allegedly the place where guru Rinpoche landed on the back of a flying tigress to introduce the kingdom to Vajrayana Buddhism. Four hours hiking up the mountain.
Totally worth it!

Taktshang Goemba

The land of the thunder dragon.

26 March, 2011 (04:58) | Life | By: Olivier

Rinpung Dzong, the fortress on a heap of jewels

After a difficult year, I managed to squeeze in some much needed vacation and headed out for the remote kingdom of Bhutan, in the Himalayas. For years I had wanted to visit this tiny country  (only 660k people), having heard of their concept of Gross National Happiness and seeing so many beautiful pictures and movies coming out of it. And so, after a gruesome journey of 22 hours from Paris through Hong-Kong, Bangkok and Dhaka, I finally landed in Paro.

It would be nigh impossible for me to describe this land and its people, so deeply infused with myths and magic yet valiantly trying to move into the 21st century. However, the pictures probably speak for themselves:

Ta Dzong, the old watch tower Archery: the Bhutanese's favorite sport Kyichu Lhakhang - 13 Old lady at Paro's market A monk inside Rinpung Dzong Farmers nearby Kyichu Lhakang One hundred butter lamps

GDC 11: impressions.

28 February, 2011 (21:22) | Games, Life | By: Olivier


– Iwata-san gave a depressingly sad Keynote. Sad in the sense that I admire many things about Nintendo but can’t help feeling they are in complete denial. My friend Dustin Clingman may disagree but I’m afraid Nicholas Lovell nailed it exactly right.

Hazard didn’t win the IGF Nuovo award. But *it should have*.

– Frank Lantz gave a really good talk entitled “Life and Death and Middle Pair: Go, Poker and the Sublime”. It is a clear articulation of where the peculiar beauty of these games resides. Don’t miss it if you have access to GDC Vault.

– On the other hand, Brian Moriarty’s talk – though brilliantly delivered, as always – was nothing more at its core than an appeal to authority. He was basically arguing that his definition of art is the valid one and everything else is kitsch. Isn’t it funny how these conversations about art always end the same way?

– Consoles are nowhere, metrics are everywhere! It was impressive to see how many talks were dedicated to metrics and how few about console development compared to previous years. This phenomenon is well illustrated by Jesper Juul’s twitter tag cloud analysis. Also, it was interesting to hear that the most metrics oriented developers are now using the gambling industry’s term for “high wield clients”: whales. They obsess about attracting and retaining them.

– Many indies claimed they would join our GDC surfing session, but in the end they all chickened out and it was just Mike, Jason and myself again! :)

– Last but not least, we had a couple of successful tests of our upcoming game in the Yerba Buena Gardens…

Global Game Jam 2011.

31 January, 2011 (19:20) | Games, Life | By: Olivier

One hell of a weekend

Global Game Jam 2011 was the biggest so far with 169 sites in 44 countries or 6580 jammers making 1481 games in total.

This year’s theme was “Extinction”. We were 70 in Paris (hitting our site’s security limit). See all the pictures here. After 48 feverish hours, we ended up with 14 games – doubling last year’s number!

Appetite for Extinction
Colors War
Dark Naze
Don’t Win!
Extinction des feux
Follow the White Light
Game Extinction
Light Cylinders
Light Extinction
Master Beer
Tweet Uranus
VR Escape

The Paris event was also well covered by the media: lemonde.fr, Nolife, Canard PC, Gameblog, Jeuxvideo.com, jvn.com, Canal+, Le journal des jeux vidéo, 3DVF, AFJV, 20 Minutes, Console + and PC Jeux.

Thanks to all who participated and see you all next year for GGJ 2012!


The Art of Game Design

27 December, 2010 (09:03) | French, Games | By: Olivier

L'art du Game Design

Un post pour signaler la sortie en français aux éditions Pearson de “L’Art du Game Design“, le livre de Jesse Schell.

Avec “Game Design Workshop” de Tracy Fullerton et le faussement naïf “A Theory of Fun” de Raph Koster – qui restent à traduire – ce sont les trois livres qui me semblent indispensables dans la trousse à outil de tout apprenti game designer. Des livres clairs et pratiques qui distillent l’essentiel de ce qu’il vaut mieux savoir avant de se lancer.

En toute transparence : si j’ai eu le plaisir de participer à la relecture technique de la traduction française, je ne l’ai pas fait contre rémunération mais simplement pour la satisfaction que cet excellent ouvrage soit publié en français. C’est donc en parfaite indépendance que je vous en recommande la lecture. Pour l’amour de l’art !

Essen 2010.

31 October, 2010 (16:57) | Games, Life | By: Olivier

Essen this year was huge!

Essen 2010

Of course it is supposed to be the world’s biggest board game fair, but in all my years going there I’ve simply never seen that many people. Games seem to clearly increase in popularity. This was also noticeable from the publishing side as there seems to be more games available every year. The production values have also considerably increased these past two years: many games are now beautifully illustrated and some even have exquisitely carved figurines – such as Funforge’s Isla Dorada. It’s becoming harder for amateurish looking games to come out.

I got to play Richard “Magic: the gathering” Garfield’s upcoming game King of Tokyo. Although I loved the concept and the illustrations, I found the game itself a bit unsatisfying. Not that it’s bad – it’s a clever mix of card drafting, king of the hill and push your luck mechanics – but, for me, it didn’t really translate the awesomeness of huge creatures battling over Tokyo.

So this year’s Essen left me with a fear of the “looks over game-design” syndrome. Maybe the board games industry is taking a (bad) hint from the video games industry? Let’s hope not!

Extra life.

31 October, 2010 (13:57) | Life | By: Olivier

It’s been more than 5 months since my last update. The reason why is that at the end of last May my father suffered a severe brain stroke that left him over a month in a coma, on the brink of death. He’s better now but still very fragile and far from having completely recovered. Needless to say this has had the effect of a tsunami on my life and I’ll have to deal with the aftermath for a long time.

Still, I somehow feel incredibly lucky: people don’t get a second chance after losing their loved ones.
But I did.

Ryzom: Free as in Freedom.

7 May, 2010 (09:42) | Games, Life | By: Olivier

A tree-planet, covered with lush vegetation. A tribe of tall blue aliens that live in close relation to nature. Strange humans with guns and futuristic technology. You know what we’re talking about, right?


We’re talking about Ryzom of course, the science-fantasy world I helped create 10 years ago with my previous game company, Nevrax. Our original intention at the time was to release all the code we were building as Free Software. Unfortunately things don’t always go according to plan and I left the company in disagreement before the MMO was even finished.

Many years and many owners later, it is my immense pleasure to announce that Ryzom is finally Free-as-in-Freedom. And not just the code in its entirety (server+client+tools under the AGPL) but also the complete datas (under Creative Commons by-sa).

As far as I know, this is the first time in game history that a *complete* commercial MMO that cost many millions to make is released for all to use and tinker with. For this, we must of course thank Winch Gate Properties Ltd – the current owner – but also Vianney Lecroart, one of the first programmers at Nevrax, whom I know first hand was instrumental in making this happen. During all these years he never stopped caring about Ryzom and the ideals that founded it and for this he has my deepest gratitude.

This is an event that has been 10 years in the making.
The game might be old and have many flaws nevertheless I feel great pride and joy today.
To me, this counts as a dream come true and I hope it helps spawn many new dreams and creations.

Long live Ryzom !

Boro art.

22 April, 2010 (12:57) | Life | By: Olivier

The great volcano Eyjafjallajokull having seen fit to grant me an extra week in Japan, I was able to treat myself to the Boro exposition at the Amuse Museum in Tokyo. I am quite fond of Mingei in general but Boro is particularly close to my heart. Over the past couple of years, to the dismay of many friends with differing tastes, I have even started collecting a few pieces! However, none of it is anywhere close to what I saw on display today:

Bodoko closeup

Boro means, quite literally, rags. This style of patchwork originated at the end of the 19th century in “snow country” Tohoku – at the north end of Japan – where not only was it too cold to cultivate cotton but, to make matters worse, the samurai class had forbidden the commoners from wearing it altogether. So the peasants had to weave their clothes and bed covers out of coarse hemp. When the prohibition ended, at the end of the Edo period (1600-1868), cotton slowly found its way up from the south. To the destitute farmers, it was so precious that they would carefully save and reuse any little scrap of textile, at times even re-looming the threads with hemp. They called the resulting quilted cloth Saki-ori: tear-woven… It was their most prized possession and often the only dowry a young woman would have when she married.

I am hard-pressed to articulate why Boro resonates so strongly with me. Part of it is its unassuming Mingei beauty. Part is the pain, the life of hardship that permeates through the fabric. Part is its historic relevance.

Perhaps even more importantly, Boro is the purest expression I have found of Wabi-Sabi. In Japanese aesthetics, Wabi-Sabi is said to be a beauty of things imperfect, impermanent, and incomplete. It is a beauty of things modest and humble. It is a beauty of things unconventional.

A shashiko kimono

Boro is undeniably Wabi-Sabi.

Interestingly, one could touch all the pieces at the exhibition. Any self-respecting westerner curator would scream in horror at the thought of hundreds of hands groping the fragile, century old sashiko kimonos! But in this case it seems to me that touching the textile is not only necessary to emotionally connect with it, it is also in tune with core tenets of Wabi-Sabi:

Corrosion and contamination make its expression richer. It solicits the expansion of sensory information. It understands that to everything, there is a season.

Nothing ever lasts…

(With many thanks to Leonard Koren for his most excellent book on the subject)

Hatsune Miku.

21 April, 2010 (08:43) | Games, Life, People | By: Olivier

Here’s a story: a big corporation wanted to write software that could replicate a singing human voice. To do so, it needed samples from real singers. Fearing they would be rendered obsolete if the software could clone their voice too well, the singers refused. Thus, the corporation had to develop the software using samples from well known actresses instead of professional singers. And so it did…

Sounds like the pitch for a bad cyberpunk novel, right?

Except the story is true. The big corporation is Yamaha and the software – known as Vocaloid – is licensed to smaller corporations who then sell it as “voice packs”, complete with a name and a face such as Hatsune Miku – from Hatsu (初, first), Ne (音, sound), and Miku (未来, future) thus meaning “the first sound to the future.”

Hatsune Miku

Listen to her launch single (warning: J-Pop inside!), or her greatest accidental hit the “Levan Polkka” (fan made) or even the theme song from Mario Bros or Tetris.

Decent singing for a computer – it holds a lot of promise for the future indeed – but nothing really earth shattering yet…
So all of this would only be mildly interesting if it were not for this surprising fact: Miku is a huge hit here in Japan!

It really dawned on me while walking around Akihabara (the otaku district in Tokyo) this evening. Around 08:00pm, after work, grown men and women waiting in a queue to play the recently released “Project Diva Arcade”…


…look closely: these are not kids nor crazed teenagers. They are well behaved, twenty to thirty, salary men and women…


…who just desperately want to play the arcade version of a PSP game featuring Miku Hatsune and her songs!
In fact she’s all over the place. In the streets, in the stores, from the anime shops to the UFO catchers:


It’s Miku everywhere!

But I don’t really understand why… As a singer she’s barely decent, as an anime character she’s nothing out of the ordinary and the game is just an average rhythm game. So why? If anyone reading is well versed in otaku culture, I would love to hear a coherent explanation for this surprising popularity.

So far the only theory I could come up with is that her success is largely due to the fact that people can make her sing whatever they want. Fans can create their own songs with her voice and share it all over the internet. This gives them a sense of ownership over their idol that might justify her meteoric rise.

Hatsune Miku, future of the music industry and first UGC star?

EDIT (11/10/10) – This story keeps getting better: Miku now goes on live tours!