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6:02 AM on 06.28.2009

Untapped Potential: On Placing Products

I've never really understood the outrage that arises in gamers when they believe someone is actively trying to sell them something. I'm talking about product placement, the practice of inserting images of a product into a game with the intention of drawing attention to the brand. It's not new, but it'ssurprisingly uncommon in games and even more shockingly unpopular.

Don't get me wrong, I don't really like adverts either. I don't sit down in front of my 360 and wonder what brand of toilet paper Big Daddies prefer, or ponder the carbonated beverage of choice for the discerning Jedi Knight. But I recognise that it's increasingly difficult for companies, specifically those sinking huge budgets into their game, to turn a profit and that allowingNestlť to stick a couple of chocolate bars into the in-game stores and billboards represents an attractive source of funding. Hell, let's not forget the Cool Spot games, the protagonist of which was actually part of the 7-Up logo!

Folks, it doesn't get much more blatant than this! Regardless of the blatant commercialism, however, I thought the game was a pretty decent platformer. Oh sure, it dated a lot quicker than Mario or Sonic but, for the time, it was a good game.

Squaresoft (as it was known at the time) also dipped their toe into the advertising pool, allowing the characters of Final Fantasy IX to endorse Coca Cola in Japan:

Granted, this was not an in-game product placement, but it was a well-established, respected development house and publisher allowing proprietary characters to be used to promote another company's product. This was clearly a golden opportunity for Squaresoft, to use their popular characters to earn themselves a hefty (I hope) chunk of Coca Cola's vast advertising budget. Does this dilute the Final Fantasy brand? I doubt it, but I daresay it helped pay for the development of later titles in the series.

Other games have employed limited product placement. Some subtle, some less so. One interesting example was that of Theme Hospital. I don't know if they actually got paid for it, as I've heard rumours that it was more an homage than an ad, but they featured the logo of the Kit Kat chocolate biscuit on their vending machines:

If this wasn't a paid ad,then it should have been. It was a well-placed advert that was not intrusive or distracting and, most importantly, was appropriate to the setting.

That an advert fit the setting is essential. If Coca Cola had made an actual in-game appearance in FFIX, it would have been a jarring, immersion-breaking sight: completely out of place in the high-fantasy setting. Some games lend themselves so product placement more than others. Dead Rising, for example, would have been an ideal candidate for such advertising. It is set in a mall. Come on! How more commercial can you get? Would a scene such as this one have any effect on your immersion?

I'm sure they would have made more effort to blend it in. Seriously though, for little or no impact on gameplay and immersion, Capcom could have collected a modest sum of money to put towards promoting the game or sink into a new project. How can this be considered a bad thing?

Now, Iím all for limited product placement, but some companies do take a slightly dubious approach. Battlefield 2142 featured in-game billboards on which the publisher could post targetted advertising. This means that the game included spyware-ish elements to watch the browsing habits of their customers in order to generate ads tailored to each individual.

I see the attraction for games publishers and advertisers in employing a targetted approach to advertising. It makes so much more sense to focus on serving ads that the individual would actually be likely to care about and take the time to look at as they pass by. But to turn your game in glorified spyware does not seem a particularly good way to do it. This move caused a great deal of animosity amongst fans and although it represented a new revenue stream to fund development, it did so at the cost of public good will.

I'm not an economist. I've never run a business. I can't give you figures or anything of any real use beyond my opinions and photoshopping of corporate logos into videogame screenshots. What I can tell you is that it really does seem that games companies are missing out on a source of income that could, if done sparingly and with thought to public image, prove invaluable in surviving this tough climate and continuing to produce quality entertainment products for our consumption.

TTYL, and eat fresh!

Eat Fresh!


8:33 PM on 06.26.2009


This is the first time in a long time Iíve been really excited to get my hands on a new game. Iím currently in the process of downloading Blood Bowl and, man, I canít wait to give it a spin!

Iíve been really looking forward to this game, based manly on my love and adoration for the board game itself. Iíve long been a Games Workshop fan and really need to find the time and motivation to paint up my Nun team.

Anyways, download almost finished! Woot!   read

7:08 AM on 06.26.2009

Adding a Random Element to Your DToid Blog

I'm a naturally indecisive person.

Seriously, I mull over decisions as long as possible. It's not always a weakness: important decisions demand due consideration. Choosing a blog banner might not be so important, but I still find myself dithering over what to use, It would have to be one of my favourite games, however:

This was a problem I actually faced when setting up my non-DT blog. The solution I came up with was to implement a random image script, allowing me to use three or four (currently twenty five) different banners on a random rotation. Scroll up to the top of this page and hit refresh a few times. You'll see how well it works.

Go on.

I'll wait here.

Cool, isn't it? If you'd like to do this yourself, it's actually quite simple. You will need to download the PHP script and place into a folder with a selection of images, like so:

It's really as simple as that. All that's left to do is to actually use it. When posting an image, you must link to the php script instead of the image file, which will then redirect to a random image in the folder.

Hopefully I'll get to see people having some fun with this on their own blogs. If you're giving it a go, please leave a comment so I can take a look!


edit: I should have mentioned, the script itself came from a friend, after I explained what i was trying to do. I didn't mean to misrepresent anything.   read

9:10 PM on 06.25.2009

Evolving Design

This (very image-heavy) entry was inspired by an excellent article by Bulletmagnet in which he discusses the community that built up around the site several years ago. He also explains that his own role in the community was primarily as a card maker.

I shared a similar experience in the same community. I too took an early interest in cardmaking. My very first pieces were saved as some proprietary format used by Microsoftís now-defunct Picture-It Express. I would upload these bloated files and wonder to myself why they refused to show up online. Yup, I was an idiot, I know. The early stuff is long-lost to the ether, so I canít show you any truly cringe-worthy stuff. I did manage to find some older, quite bad pieces, however:

Blurry, badly cut, badly positioned, slightly dodgy number placement, low image quality and the old, slightly wonky and unbalanced templates. Not actually that bad for the time they were made, but still, weíve come a long way baby!

It didnít take all that long for someone to redo the templates to clean up the wonky balance, grainy backgrounds and very rough numbers. They were then redone again several years later by a player with the username, Stoicism. his latest revamp is, in my opinion, the perfect interpretation of the classic FFVIII set, cleaning up our previous versions and giving up clearer, sharper templates for our cards. Here are a few later examples of my cards:

Now, as wonderful as the classic templates are, people began to get more adventurous, adapting and theming the templates and often going so far as to create their own from scratch. Some were very interesting, but most were just small changes to the existing templates. These adapted templates were often the worst and I decided that for my own attempts, Iíd try to make then from scratch. It couldnít be that difficult, could it? Here are a few of my earlier attempts at creating own template sets:

Yeah, ouch. Again, they arenít really that bad, and I maintain that theyíre a lot better than most others at the time, but Iím just not happy with how most turned out. The first of the above examples is rather boring, as I just started with a solid block and cut bits and pieces out until I had something I considered Ďcoolí at the time.

The second was a template for more difficult to cut images. Instead of cutting out an image and putting a coloured background behind it, I put coloured orbs on each side which would change between red and blue in the same way as the traditional backgrounds.

The third is one of several templates based on a series of Zelda wallpapers. The templates are nice, and Iím really happy with the backgrounds, but Iím not sure how practical this very thick border actually is, even though I spent a lot of time cutting it down from my original, much wider one. Itís also visually very Ďloudí and distracting.

The fourth border, like the first, used no source images for the border. Itís completely original and very simple. I think it looks very good and the grey version is even better, but I had no examples of this handy. The background is also scratch made, using various photoshop filters to arrive at the effect. The set was intended for a Neverwinter Nights deck, hence the numbers using the NWN font.

As an aside, I took the templates from number four and the number set from three to have a little fun with Link:

Of all the custom templates, the most impressive was Kasí Triple Triad Realms templates, created for use in a spinoff game combing classic Triple Triad gameplay with several RPG elements. I saw these templates and utterly adored them. Here are some of Kasí original sample cards:

Amazing. These are still stunning templates and itís real pity that the game did not get made. It did, however, inspire me not nlyto up my game in designing my own templates, but also to work towards my own spinoff site. At the birth of TTX there was a short-lived sister site, mainly used to test code before it got added to TTX, called TTMon, based on Pokemon and general anime. I actually preferred this site to TTX, mainly because the site had a more open, minimalist design built on white, rather than black. It used the classic TT templates. I do not have any cards from the original site, but I do have a standard template card I made a few years later, just to give you an idea of how they looked:

They look ok, but in working to relaunch TTMon, I decided that custom templates would help set the site apart from the parent site TTX and establish a unique look for the game. I knocked together some rough ideas, but it was actually a patterned desktop wallpaper created by Moonlady, one of the TTX admins, that really got me going. I used this patterned background for my own card backgrounds and to texture the borders. It was a simple pattern and produced some basic templates that although quite primitive compared to later incarnations, were well received by the community:

Basic but functional. I was quite happy with the borders and backgrounds, but was not particularly happy with the numbers or the elements. I resolved to make the numbers more characterful and to design a new set of elemental symbols. The next template sheet demonstrates these new components:

Oh. My. God. Those elements are so fugly. The numbers I love, and apart from some slight adjustment, they remain the same to the final templates, but those elements are just hideous. I have no idea why I kept them around for so long. Look at the ghost one! Itís like a fried egg! Another issue was that everything was so flat. There was no depth to the cards, which didnít work well with my intention of adding overlaps to the edges of the cards. I was trying to imply depth through the overlaps and it did not look quite right. As such, my next step involved adding a little more detail to the borders themselves:

The lower two borders, those for card levels one to five and six to seven, were thinned slightly and give a slight bevel to imply depth. The upper templates were completely redesigned, drawing on the experience and feedback I had accrued in developing and presenting the earlier versions. The most work was put into the level ten border with the large embedded pokeball. I was extremely happy with these new templates and turned my attention to the elements and backgrounds. The elements Iíd designed were, frankly, awful. I tried, but could not come up with anything better. In the end, I went through the mini sprites and picked out a selection of Pokemon who, to me, best represented each of the elements. Pikachu for thunder, Koffing for poison, Dragonite for dragon and so on. The backgrounds used the same source image, but zoomed out a little further to give a slightly more complex, higher resolution image. These were more visually pleasing on their own, but as part of a card, they were too Ďbusyí and distracted from the subject image. I decided to try a new source image:

The starry sky background was a big breakthrough. It really made some nice looking cards, was simple yet interesting, and just looked damn good:

I was pleased with this but there were a couple of issues raised in feedback. Fist, the image is a little dark in places. The Pokemon that took up a lot of space tended to be quite difficult to discern identify as red or blue due to only dark areas being visible. The white dots also made it often look as though the subject image was badly cut out with bits of background still stuck to the edges. My solution was actually to remake (not reuse, but remake at higher quality) my Neverwinter Nights set background as seen earlier in this post:

And there, done, I was happy. It only took about three and a half (probably more) years of tinkering and starting and restarting the actual deck, but I had templates I was happy with. I did tinker a little further, adding a Limited Edition template fixture and playing with the idea of using the pictured Pokemonís own mini sprite and showing element via the three-letter element code used in the actual videogame:

The change to the elements was still not definite when I finally gave up on the deck. This happened shortly after our then-parent site TTv3 shut down It was a real pity that it shut down as v3 was the last good, innovative and well-intentioned TT site and on going under, it took with it three sub-sites, including TTMon.

We did consider trying to branch out on our own, but Iím no coder and had already decided it was time to move on. Before I end this, I have two last things to cover. One is the adaptability of my templates, and the other is the branding of TTMon.

The templates were designed to be used on a site featuring not only Pokemon cards, but cards featuring other games and cartoons. Here are a couple of the alternative versions I produced as experiments (ignore the text on Dende, that was for someoneís sig):

I was very pleased with the flexibility of the templates and I was rather looking forward to playing around with different themes for different decks.

Iím not going to comment too much on our branding/site design, but I do still have a few images showing the evolution of our branding from the early, banner through to the late development forums and the idea for a renamed site:

TT Chikara was intended to take the ĎMoní out of the title, separating us from the idea of a pokemon-exclusive site.

I hope this has been somewhat interesting and sorry itís been so image-heavy.

CIAO   read

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