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Friday, September 30, 2005

More MS Speak

Just caught this tidbit off of Kotaku. MS Exec Robbie Bach is bragging about how half of 360 users will be on Live. The trick? Well, it depends on your definition of online:

But he's confident that offering the free "Silver" version of Xbox Live to 360 will ensure that around 50 per cent of purchasers will take their console online. That doesn't mean they'll be playing online, though - consumers will have to pay for a "Gold" subscription for that privilege.
-- Half of all Xbox 360 owners will use Live - Bach

Hey Bach, I'm not sure if you've done your research ... but the 360 is a gaming console. That means if I can't play online, I'm not really using XBox Live ... now am I? Normally when someone says they are going to give me something silver for free, I'd expect it to be a good thing.

I'm going send Bach a Christmas gift - a big sign saying "Enjoy Your Platinum!" slapped onto an empty box.

Call it MSInformation .... or just misinformation

Recently Microsoft and Intel made a joint announcement that they were backing HD-DVD for a variety of reasons. Unfortunately, some of those reasons were made on false statements, as Dell and HP have now illustrated:

"Microsoft and Intel's announcement erroneously indicates that HD-DVD has an advantage in a number of areas," they claimed, pointing to the chip and software giants' statement that HD DVD offers a greater storage capacity than BD.

As The Register noted at the time, Intel and MS' claim that HD DVD's 30GB capacity is better than BD's 25GB is nonsense: the two companies conveniently ignored the fact they were talking about dual-layer HD DVD discs and single-layer BDs.
-- Dell, HP slam Intel, MS' 'erroneous' HD DVD claims

The only legitimate problem I've ever read about Sony's Blu-Ray technology is that ... well, it's Sony's and being Sony it's more closed off than your average format. These are the people who brought us things like the Mini-Disc, and the Mini-Disc II: Electric Boogaloo (AKA UMD). However, this industry squabbling is going to result in a direct cost to the user or even more likely a slow adoption rate for technology already doomed to a slow technology rate (how many games are released today on DVD? Exactly ... ).

Course, the PlayStation 3 may change all that. Coming with a BD drive out of the box, there may be a pre-packaged demographic for the format who could care less what Microsoft or Intel lies about.

Fans and their films

I'm quite glad to see that Serenity is hovering at 77% on Rotten Tomatoes. The fact that Whedon gets the chance to make this film at all is simply an amazing testament to the fans it's created. Remember, though, Browncoats, that Universal has said they are up for making more movies provided this one generates enough profit. Vote with your wallets and see it twice.

Mirrormask isn't faring as well on the reviews, but if you're lucky enough to be one of the cities in it's limited release, I'd see it anyway. It's not like a Gaiman/Henson mashup was going to garner massive mainstream response - but seeing this movie adds more dollars that studios would be willing to spend on expiremental artsy projects with muppets. How can that be a bad thing?

Thursday, September 29, 2005

God Dropped His Bunny

Story at Ananova. Thanks FiringSquad.

A $100 Laptop for Developing Nations

By far the coolest thing I'll read today. has a feature on a joint MIT and non-profit project to create a $100 laptop suitable for developing nations. I'm a firm believer that the technology gap is real and a serious problem, so I'm happy to see efforts likes this being closer to reality.

Some SuicideGirls Pack It Up

According to Wired, there is some major brouha a brewing with some discontented Suicide Girls (repetitive, I know) deciding to part ways with the fem-friendly, punk-infused, tattoed company:

"The only reasons I'm doing this and I'm sticking my neck out is that people, especially females who are 18 years old and want to be a SuicideGirl, need to understand who they're representing," said 28-year-old ex-model Jennifer Caravella of San Francisco, who said she goes by the name "Sicily." "It's certainly not a group of women who are working together for this."
-- SuicideGirls Gone AWOL

Also see the blog UnPink for more (and also for the best use of the term "Jiggly Fall" ever).

Doom 3 on the CheapBox

I finally found my Doom 3 Disk 1 last night and re-installed it onto the CheapBox. The Girl and I have company for a week, so I didn't really get time to put it through it's paces ... but the bottom line is - it runs OK. I'm probably stuck on low quality mode, but it's hard to tell because I remember that opening scene would slow even my old rig. The CB seemed to get about 20-60 FPS as a steady range, with it usually hitting smoothly above 30, but that was just bouncing around the lobby and not killing imps. I'll post more as I find it.

In other news, Guild Wars still works in high detail, no AA, just fine.

And before anyone cringes, I still like Doom 3 gosh darnit. I do think id made some serious mistakes in the general design - largely inventory control. Personally, instead of the generic instant light everyone else uses, I would have preferred offhand grenades that could be swapped out for flares.

Let's Get Digital

Next Generation has two interviews of note when it comes to the concept of digital delivery. First is a chat with Greg Costikyan about Manifesto Games, where they manage to wrangle a few more details about how the company expects to float. Second is a talk with three different companies about how digital delivery might work for the market in general.

Now, I haven't tried Stardock's TotalGaming.Net just yet, but technically it seems to hit all the right buttons. It's relatively hands off, doesn't shove DRM down anyone's throat and keep things simple. I have used GarageGames to purchase their Torque 2D license and found it an excellent digital setup. Everytime I log in, I have a little list of licenses I've purchased and if I needed to download them again, I can.

Personally, I prefer either setup to Valve's Steam. Steam is way too intrusive of a design for me. I've even used's similar EXEtender application, and that's far less problematic than Steam. Steam is, I think, it's own worst point of failure. Anything goes wrong with it - installation, registration, etc. ... and you've lost everything you have ever transacted with it. That's too much pressure for a single application. The only thing Steam has going for it is Valve's fairly impressive library and the fact that it's the only way to access them.

However, I guess we should hand it to Valve for being the first major developer to attempt it. While indies probably have the most to gain from it, the whole industry is going to need to head this way - consoles and desktops alike. If anything, the five year estimation almost seems somewhat far out, considering all the consoles will be delivered next year with their own idea of a marketplace.

Wednesday, September 28, 2005

A Games Manifesto?

A little while back I had noted Dean Takahashi's speech on funding game development. Well, now it seems a couple of industry figures have taken up a bit of a serious response to that speech. Greg Costikyan and Johnny Wilson, who will be forming a new company, Manifesto Games:

Game industry veterans Greg Costikyan and Johnny Wilson announced today that they are joining forces to launch Manifesto Games, a new venture to build a strong and viable independent game industry. Its site will offer independently-developed games for sale via direct download--a single place where fans of offbeat and niche games can find "the best of the rest," the games that the retail channel doesn't think worth carrying. Three types of games will be offered: truly independent, original content from creators without publisher funding; the best PC games from smaller PC game publishers, including games in existing genres like wargames, flight sims, and graphic adventures; and niche MMOs.

Right now there's not much more than a placeholder website and chutzpah, but at least someone is, as Greg himself is putting it, putting his money where his mouth is. I'm tempted to offer up some free web services myself, although I'm not quite sure yet how this company will distinct itself from places like GarageGames or

Strange Bedmates

I know it's a bit of old news, but I'm still a little stunned that Palm is making a Windows based PDA. I had a fansite for the Pilot when it was first release, I've owned more than an average amount of Palm related gear over the years and I've always thought that fundamentally it was a great OS for handhelds.

So while I'm just shaking my head, ZDNet explains it better than I could.

Tuesday, September 27, 2005

Serenity Game Kinda Small

I can just hear Jayne growling, "It's kinda scrawny, don't ya think?"

There is a game licensed for the soon to premiere Joss Whedon space flick, Serenity, but it's not what any of us would have hoped. The movie, based on the much beloved but short-lived TV show Firefly, will only have a mobile game to it's name. According to GameSpot, it's not bad, but still ... that seems like a real opportunity wasted for a fictional universe as unique and fleshed out at Whedon's. Maybe Universal should try playing the genre game.

Chasing the Dragon

How many bloggers do you know would dare use a heroin euphemism to describe a religious movement? Well, it's early and I'm cranky. Those awaiting geekier and gamier bits should wait until tomorrow.

I'm talking about Intelligent Design for a moment. Simply because I keep hearing it on the news and to be honest, it's one of the more annoying things in this particular hemisphere right now. For proponents of this philosophy to deny it's religious in nature is simply disenginous. It's only a few steps away from declaring that "God" doesn't actually reference a Judeo-Christian deity (nudge, nudge, wink, wink). The fact is that there's a fervent minority in America who seriously want it to be an official Christian country. There's bible colleges teaching lawyers how to turn biblical law into real law, political action committees to spin their ethics into legislature, etc., etc.

Personally, I'm an agnostic. I try earnestly to be respectful of all beliefs because I believe the divine and supernatural is, by definition, somewhat incomprehensible to us mortals. I understand that faith crosses this divide and am generally, if anything, impressed by people's beliefs. Course, I also think faith is a personal thing and get really annoyed when people try to sneak it into the water supply.

For those who haven't been watching the story unfold, Intelligent Design is essentially Creationism minus any specific God. Whereas Creationism teaches that God and only God has the authority and contract labor to create the stars, the moon, you and me ... Intelligent Design merely says that the stars, the moon, you and me are too complicated not to be the result of an intelligent agent. What that agent may be, ID doesn't suggest.

And that's why Intelligent Design is not a scientific concept.

Carl Sagan once purposed that one limit of accepting a hypothesis is that it must have a testable parameter. His example was having someone come over and say "A fire-breathing dragon lives in my garage". OK, so you ask to see it. But the dragon is invisible. OK, so have it breath fire. Well, the fire is invisible too. Maybe we could try to see it infrared? Well, the dragon ... and it's fire ... is heatless. And so on down the road until this person denies any actual method of testing for the dragon, but insists on it's existence.

ID actually takes a step backwards from the dragon example. It just says there is something in the garage, but they won't even tell you what. You don't know if you're looking for dragons, elves, aliens, thunder gods or whatnot. They say, "there is a rock in my garage and something really smart made it". Instead of applying new facts to explain it's potential untestability, the ID proponents merely say "we don't know, because we don't really know what it is".

Accepting that as scientific thought is nothing less than taking steps back towards the Dark Ages. Imagine being able to hand in a Chemistry exam explaining that in fact, it's phlogiston all along that creates the fire. Your chem teacher would rightly ask for your evidence to prove you right, but by ID's train of thought - you simply say, "No, you prove me wrong". Your chem teacher would probably explain about energy tranfer, exothermic reactions, etc., and your response would be "but phlogiston makes that happen. Because clearly all that is too complicated to happen on it's own."

I for one hope my country hasn't gotten to the point to let that into the classroom.

Monday, September 26, 2005

There Be Dolphins In Those Waters

I only wish I was making this up:

It may be the oddest tale to emerge from the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina. Armed dolphins, trained by the US military to shoot terrorists and pinpoint spies underwater, may be missing in the Gulf of Mexico.

Experts who have studied the US navy's cetacean training exercises claim the 36 mammals could be carrying 'toxic dart' guns. Divers and surfers risk attack, they claim, from a species considered to be among the planet's smartest. The US navy admits it has been training dolphins for military purposes, but has refused to confirm that any are missing.
-- Flipper the firing dolphin

That would be a great way to go though. Imagine having "Assassinated By Killer CIA Dolphin" on your tombstone.

China Must Be A Magic Place

Recently, my Zaurus went missing. I think some idle hands may have done away with it. I had just gotten used to using it as a music player at work, so I was a little bummed. However, The Girl and I just got these fancy new cell phones and mine, a Nokia 6230 labels itself as able to play MP3 files.

There are two basic impediments to using your phone as an MP3 player. One is storage, but thanks to the wonders of modern technology, one can get a 1GB MMC without having to take out a loan anymore. The other issue is a little more problematic. That being that as an MP3 player, the 6230 has no headphone jack.

Nokia does make a "fashion" headset for this purpose. Of course, it's almost impossible to find. Also, if you're like me you might be a little picky about how it feels then it might be bothersome that this is like, the only headphones in the world that you can use.

Unless, apparently, you live in China. Because I found off of eBay a Nokia branded adaptor which does nothing provide the missing jack. A trip to Target to find a pair of Koss most similar to the ones that ran off with the Zaurus, and I'm now listening to songs off my phone as I type this. Now, from everything I can see on the net ... this adaptor should even exist. So I can only assume that in China, people have magic. And they can use that magic to get things from alternate dimensions or possibly even the future.

The adaptor even has a little button on it. When I click it, it advances to the next song. It's almost creepy.

Naturally it's not the most robust thing in the world in terms of features, but the sound quality is quite good, better than the Zaurus for sure. In fact, my only complaint is that it may a little loud at even it's lowest setting. I haven't figured out playlists yet, but I usually just hit random anyway. Basically I have the iPod Shuffle from hell, empowered with Chinese magic.

You're Not Fooling Anyone

OK, blogger and gmail seem to off their their freakout kick at least long enough for me to run through the comment spam and get delete them.

For future spammers, a few notes:

#1 - It's a bit suspicious when I get eight emails from five different people in the same second.

#2 - It's also a bit suspicious when they all claim to have blogs under some unknown entertainment news site.

#3 - When one of them thanks me because the fact that the PlayStation 3 may be kitten powered because it's hard to find solid coverage ... I tend to not buy into it so much.

#4 - Likewise, when someone compliments the quality of my comic book coverage under the headline "Superman's A Dick", I don't think you've read very carefully.

I really don't get these people. Does any of this crap actually work for them? I still get two or three jerks trying to register their online poker sites as Unreal mods, even though it won't result in a single link for them. I bet if these jackasses spent half the time trying to create legit content that they do spamming, they might actually be able to move out of their mom's basement.

I don't mind people making note of their blogs, if it's relevant and they actually have a real blog of course. But watching bottomfeeders chew away at the Internet is always annoying.

More Monday

Jesus, keeps flaking out and apparently some new entertainment news site just comment spammed the hell out of me.

Definately a day I should have stayed in bed. If comments disappear later today, now you know why.

Monday Monday

I just had a four paragraph blabberfest about Guild Wars, beer, and X-Men Legends II ... and blogger ate it. So here's the short version. Too much beer. Too little sleep. CheapBox much faster now that anti-virus tamed. Games good.

Friday, September 23, 2005

Firing Squad Builds $600 Game Rig

Ok, there is this: Firing Squad has a feature on building a gaming PC for only $600. So if you don't believe in the power of the CheapBox, you might listen to them. Personally, I think there is a huge market for this. If someone like Dell or Alienware offered a $500-$700 game box that could handle modern games, I bet it would sell like crackers during Christmas.

URL fixed


Eyes blinking and caffiene crashing, I'm totally swamped in AJAX related expirements today and if I get four minutes of free time I'm mostly likely to simply micronap. Or perhaps I'm still bummed that last night the CheapBox kinda choked on FEAR and crashed on Guild Wars, who knows. Best things I've browsed today are Penny Arcade's astute observation that what many people refer to as a mod simply isn't (hint: Counter-Strike hasn't been a mod for years and years and years now) and Brinstar notes that VGL has tour dates again. So there's that.

Thursday, September 22, 2005

Doom 3 Meets NetHack

DungeonDooM is the kind of mod I wish I had written. Random dungeons, player classes and missions? Sweet.

Quake Based Mutants

I don't normally repost from Blue's that much, but here I can't resist. The old school commercial mod, X-Men: The Ravages of Apocalypse has been released for free, along with the source code. So glad to have the CheapBox by my side now to try this out.

For a side conversation, check out Unfettered Blather's excellent dialogue on mods and copyright.

Some Thoughts on Guild Wars

Just because it's my current obsession which is eating the hours I would normally be devoting to making my top-down 2D shooter epic ... doesn't mean I don't have a small wishlist of changes I'd like to see for the game.

I dunno how, because this isn't really a complaint about any of the frameworks they currently have in place ... but I do feel an odd kind of sameness with my characters in Guild Wars. Perhaps I was spoiled by the amazing character generator in City of Heroes, which I grant wouldn't make much sense here, but especially running around Pre-Searing, I kinda feel like players don't stand out much. Maybe it's because I don't have a cape or just because I haven't played enough to craft a lot of armor though.

I do like the dye system though. Maybe a starter pack of dye would be good, but I like the user-based vanity economy. Whisper has a vial of silver and I have no idea if I should sell it or use it.

Merchant Me
Trading needs a better front end. So many people wander around the towns with Willing To Sell or Willing To Buy chats that it gets distracting and confusing. Better would be if players could simply hit their inventory, select items they'd like to sell and maybe a starting price, and then they get an icon over their head. Potential buyers could then peruse them like they normally do merchants. I've had several profession specific items that I wouldn't mind selling to people at a low cost, but the hassle of gabbing around town to find a buyer just never really seemed worth it.

Looking For Quest
In a similar vein, it seems like it could be easier to find pick up groups for the area quests rather than the story missions. The story missions aren't too hard because if you're in a town where there is one you can just look for someone without a full group and try to jump in. But if you're looking specifically for aids to a quest in towns without one, you end up having to do the same town crier impersonation. Guild Wars has a great PUG community, but the interface isn't quite up to speed with the rest of the game for it.

Trading Cards
Take a lesson from Phantasy Star Online. Since that game was console based, everyone had a business card. If you wanted to remember a person for later gaming, you could easily trade cards. When you looked up the person's card later it would also tell you additional information about their online status other than just on or offline. The current system works, but it could be far more streamlined and robust. I should be able to click on someone, swap cards, and then late on click on their card an know where they are, if they're on a quest, etc ...

Lag Monster
This is probably my personal problem and not a rampant one, but I occasionally get burdened with crippling lag. I'm convinced it's nothing on my client now because I've had several blissful nights of lagfree fun. Now, lag with an MMO is obviously just a terroritorial hazard, but ArenaNet's "instanced" versions of the world seem like they should be able to handle it. If I'm reading my trace right, I'm heading out to LA still for data ... maybe NCSoft could appropriate a few Midwestern servers?

Minor stuff. Beautiful game. My only other complaint is that it should be less fun, so I'd get more work done.

FEAR on the CheapBox

So how does the demo of Monolith's latest, greatest engine run on a computer valued less than $500? Not bad, actually. F.E.A.R. (which I still think if you name your unit something like that, you're just asking for trouble) auto-detected the video settings to be fairly medium, 800x600 with medium details but no AA. That proved to be slightly optimistic. The framerate seemed mostly OK, but just that slight sluggish that can give one a headache from staring. So I reduced the shadowing from trilinear to bilinear and the shaders to minimal, and it seemed to run just dreamy after that. Clearly not going to drop any jaws compared to a $2,000 rig ... but still plenty pretty.

I didn't get too far into the demo. Died once, went on to Guild Wars. I will go back and try it again, it's definately got some potential. The engine is quite nice and they definately got some spooky going on, but I was finding the enemy AI to be very odd at times, almost like I was chasing frantic children rather than trained supersoldiers.

Game Tunnel Rounds Up August

Once again, the merry band of thieves over at Game Tunnel offer up some reviews of August indie games. Included are War World, Little Gods, Axiomatic, Desperate Space and more.

Wednesday, September 21, 2005

Asian Girls Kick Robot Ass

Or something like that. Apparently the only two women to enter a Korean robot battle are the ones who have managed to sweep it. The competition, "which aims for world peace using robots", is known as Robo-One and is dominated by male contestants. Kim Jin, 23, and Kim Eun-hye, 20, have entered a robot named "Hera" who apparently excels at rolling on the ground and throwing it's opponent. Hera and it's controllers made it past the prelims but it seems an errant reset button knocked them from the finals.

Civ IV Team Shouts Out Tonight

Sid Meier and some of his crew for Civilization IV are going to appear on a GameSHOUT Roundtable at 9:00PM EST tonight. Firaxis was briefly my hero when I learned they had the X-Com license rights, but to date they haven't done anything about my need to squawk orders to squaddies in Simlish.

Tuesday, September 20, 2005

GameSpy On Location With DOOM

According to GameSpy, DOOM might not suck as a movie after all:

One thing remained clear through various interviews and roundtables we've attended this year, however: everyone associated with the film, from the team at id Software to all the actors and production staff, are keenly aware of the bad rep videogame-inspired films have gotten, and are all eager to buck the trend. While we haven't seen the final product and don't know ultimately how it will turn out, one thing became clear: DOOM is not going to be your average videogame flick.

I was with my brother in Decatur this last weekend and we both agreed - we're not buying it. We both honed in on the images from the trailer where they simply took the first person shooter to the cinema a bit too far, imposing a gun onto some shakycam footage of someone emptying ammo into random CGI creatures. It looked just like a video game, only grainy and dull.

2006 Independent Game Festival Entries

The entrants for the upcoming IGF have been posted, and it's quite the assorted cast: Doom 3 mods, Arkanoid clones, fighting games, tigers and bears ... oh my. The first person to download and play them all gets an invite to Kate Moss' next party, if the rumorvine is to be believed (hint: it's not).

Talk Like A Pirate (Arrrr!)

PvP celebrates.

Mercenaries for Cheap

I just noticed that Mercenaries: Playground of Destruction is only $20 off of GameFly. Seriously worth it. Out of all of the "free roam" games (is that becoming a genre?) that have come out in the wake of Grand Theft Auto, Mercenaries had a very unique feel in both design and gameplay. Plus, it had a lot of explosions.

Monday, September 19, 2005

GP2X With SDK Via Pound Based Economy

GP2X, the Linux powered gaming handheld, is available to order for those of you who pay for goods using those standard British notes. Of particular interest with this console is that it comes with it's own SDK:

The GP2X is totally open to development from anyone, commercial or amateur. Yes really. We're heading back to the classic Amiga days of development.

With a free GCC/Linux/Windows based compiler and SDK you really can begin to make software and games for nothing, not only that - we will offer source code and guides to getting started.

If only I had faith this would capture a sizeable demographic. Finally, someone sees some value in making a truly open platform console and gets it into boxes ... but of course it's in the highly contested handheld market where it will probably get buried in the hype of a PSP accessory or an even smaller version of the GameBoy Advance.

RIP John Hall

Jamie Fristrom's blog bears the sad news that game developer John Hall has died of cancer, apparently while finishing Ultimate Spider Man. John kept an extensive blog concerning his fight with melanoma and according to Jamie, he kept working on the game as much as he could. May he rest in peace.

Why Is Financing Game Development Hard?

Dean Takahashi is a long time game journalist who has written multiple articles, a blog with the San Jose Mercury News and a book about the development of the XBox. At a speech to conference on video game investment, he's asking a simple question to the crowd. Why is it so hard to get funding?

One assumption that has been a barrier to funding game companies is that it’s all over. It’s all played out. Electronic Arts has the console market all locked up. Look what happened to Sega when it tried to go up against EA in sports. Now EA has something like 20 percent of the market for platforms like the PlayStation 2 and the Xbox. This is a big deal, if you consider that Intel has only about 15 percent of the chip market. But scratch the surface and you’ll see that EA has plenty of strong competition in companies like Activision, Ubisoft, THQ, and Vivendi Universal. EA has stumbled during recent months, missing its numbers as its tried and true, conservative formula of making sequels and games based on Hollywood brands is looking a little tired. So there’s a big gorilla in the market. But is that enough to scare everybody away from the biggest market? The answer is that if you look closely at some of the executive departures from EA, you’ll find that some of them are going into competition with EA.
-- Why Is It So *&@#$% Hard To Finance Video Games

Dean ticks off more than a few excellent points, including the real size of the video game market (not as close to movies as rumored) and the pros and cons of making investments only "sure" bets like Halo 2 (or similar "sure" bets like The Sims Online). Largely he places the blame onto a series of "disconnects", which many gamer have heard about from other malcontents. The lack of synergy between publishers and developers, VC groups and major game companies leaves the games industry at a disadvantage. An insightful read into the trends that underscores the issues about hardships in getting good games out there.

Sunday, September 18, 2005

Why Nintendo Gets It

GamesFirst has a decent persepctive on Nintendo's direction with the Revolution:

Nintendo "gets" it. Microsoft and Sony don't understand that a new generation of gaming machine does not automatically beget a new generation of gaming. A "next" generation requires a significant change in gaming itself. Gamers care about hardware and hardware generations only insofar as those generations mark major changes in the way games are made and played. Gamers care about framerate only insofar as framerate is connected to the limit of a player's reflexes. The interaction of technology and creative expression and experience is complex terrain, which often understood in a highly intuitive array of impulses on the part of gamers. This intuitive understanding of the relationship between tech and game leads easily into fetishization of game hardware: Witness the hip NES controller belt buckles sold in mall shops worldwide or the Xbox 360 faceplates. All tech-dependent art forms fetishize the mechanical aspects of their practice: photography, computers, sports, music. In each case one can see similar devotion to the objects and implements of the practice on the part of the practitioners.
-- Why Nintendo Gets It, or Why Sony Should Start Trying

It underpins the view with a brief history lesson. I'm rather inclined to agree. In fact, I think we're going see very mirrored competitions when it comes to the Revolution versus the PS3 that we've seen with the DS and the PSP. Nintendo may be quite able to keep their market alive even without having to bridge the hardware gap.

I do wonder, though, what would happen if someone comes out with a motion device for the other consoles. Is Nintendo hinging it's future on a technology which others will easily adapt and clone? Not unlike say, analog control, rumble packs and shoulder buttons?

Friday, September 16, 2005

This is how a Revolution begins

With a hum, and not a whimper?

1UP has a great write-up of Nintendo's new controller. It's not likely to knock your socks off completely, but I'm actually pretty interested. Let's face it - very little innovation would have had the escape velocity to avoid the gravity surrounding the hype on this one, so unless it involved alien technology I think everyone was going to get a little disappointed. A motion detection one handed controller isn't going to make anyone feint, but it's not a bad step forward.

Essentially, if Nintendo has succeeded in their goal of creating an "everyman" controller then they've done something good. Also, they may have taken a lesson from the DS here and created a setup which will provide for truly unique exclusive games. Titles you really couldn't do just without the motion detection. It's not, I don't think, that the Revolution will be devoid of multiplatform titles. I'm going to guess that Nintendo has been smart enough here to be sure that the major genres will be playable with their wandstickthingy. I do wonder what it would be like to develop for something like this ... it has to have some odd input data. Perhaps it is no more than determing an X, Y and Z location instead of the usual two dimensions, but still ... while this hurt the potential of smaller studios getting on the platform? It's one thing to port from a gamepad on a PC to a gamepad on a console ... another with a magicstickamabob.

Or, on the same vein, will it be able to work with all of these classic titles the Revolution was supposed to give access to, or will they just sell NES and N64 controllers that fit?

Thursday, September 15, 2005

Primo on CA Bill

Primotechnology is running an editorial on the California legislation:

It's because no one wants to be counted as the one who voted against a bill, unfounded as it maybe, that might save the life of a child. As it stands, the bill itself only affects Californians under the age of 18; minors will no longer be able to purchase videogames by themselves. While this will undoubtedly enrage many teenagers, elected officals don't seem too concerned. The answer why is all too obvious. No one under the age of 18 can actually vote against them. They have nothing to lose with this demographic.
-- Dissecting California’s Violent Game Bill

Echoes of Demuzio, that's for sure. Blagoyevich here in Illinois has lost my vote over this kind of behavior, but the next step it write him a letter to let him know about that. And others have to write similar letters to their respective Congressman and let them know that this kind of legislation has no place in honest politics.

The only reason this has any traction is because these people think it's a feel-good topic that they can't get burned with. We have to remind them that a number of gamers are in fact over the age of 18 and will vote their mind.

Microsoft Kisses PC Games On Both Cheeks

Read into that what you will.

I know I'm on the slow side with this topic, so most people are probably familiar that Microsoft recently admitted to hurting the PC as a game platform and vowed to set things straight:

“We’re putting the ‘game’ back in Windows,” explained group manager Chris Donohue. “We’re over the hump with Xbox 360 so now ready to build Windows as a platform.”

And what will one of the most technologically capable countries in the world do to help out PC games? Apparently the main thrust is a sticker which announces that this game is indeed for Windows.

That should clear things right up. Because when I go into Best Buy, I'm constantly purchasing Mac games by mistake.

The thing is, what Microsoft really needs to do to help PC games is ditch the XBox. Two things are hurting the PC as a game platform. One is more stringent competition in the market with another console demographic to eat into sales. The other is cross-development initiatives which largely produce console-sized games for a PC market that wants, well, PC games. Perhaps if the 360 had a hard drive, I could see crossdev efforts being more even between the platforms ... but we all know how that went.

Then while browsing in the archives, I noticed this from the wise sage Ryan Gordon:

Gaming is an inevitability. When all the whores have run to the consoles because "it makes financial sense," the void will be immediately filled by independents that now have a worldwide market of powerful computers, a distribution channel on the internet, and no's not like people are going to stop playing games on their computers, regardless of what makes "financial sense" to the game houses.

Then I realize. Let them go. If all the big studios end up either moving towards consoles or simply creating portware for the PC ... let them go. There are plenty of people to take their place, more independents and garage enthusiasts now than in the history of gaming. PC (or Mac or Linux) gaming isn't anywhere, but as high profile games like Doom 3 and Deus Ex 2 get chopped down and subsequently vilified by the PC gaming community, indies who remain a little more oldschool when it comes of PC development will just have that much larger of an audience.

It's called parody, BatJack

Apparently our old friend Jack Thompson has gotten himself in a tizzy because Rockstar included someone with the initials "JT" on their Liberty City promo site. JT is never actually given a full name, but he is associated with the fictional group Citizens United Negating Technology For Life And People's Safety. The acronym for that is obviously not something you'd say to your mom. The whole thing is, however, quite funny.

Apparently BatJack has never been fully trained in the ways of parody law. Myself, having read comics for years now, am quite familiar with the concept. Really makes you wonder why people bother with law school anymore.

Wednesday, September 14, 2005

PSO Retrospective

Guild Wars keeps bringing me to mind of Sega's masterpiece on the Dreamcast, Phantasy Star Online. Yeah, the game has been ported over to other formats ... but I don't believe any of them will ever capture the magic of the first release. PSO was a child of it's time, when the Dreamcast was capturing the idea of consoles playing online before anyone else. Sega tried to make everything take advantage of the net, even if just meant tracking high scores. Now that seems almost banal, with Microsoft having juggernaughted XBox Live into the forefront of living room multiplayer ... but back then ... then it was inspired.

To illustrate the point - my brother and I used to connect just to chat because it was cheaper than a phone call and far more entertaining. Despite being lifetime geeks, PSO was really the first time we'd considered doing that.

So it was neat to discover this old Edge Review of PSO on (via Acid For Blood):

Connect and the combat dynamic falls into place. Those with guns generate cover for those using blade weapons, the casters provide healing and attacking reinforcement for both. Different team combinations bring different gameplans, experienced players help the weak, and items are divided fairly amongst the fighters. Naka-san’s hopes that players might fall out over stronger weapons go mostly unfounded, since PSO is essentially a co-operative game, and Edge has never witnessed a friendlier on-line community. Everyone watches each others’ backs. Everyone smiles when the dragon gets slayed. “Congratulations! > Alec Empire,” says the Japanese guy. Thanks. You too.

In an online world that followed Diablo, which was legendary for it's seedy culture of hackers and thieves, PSO was a playground. It was simple and fun just as much as it was secure and orderly.

It didn't last though. Notes on the review add the footnote. Eventually the online community shattered, the servers overwhelmed by mongrel packs of cheaters and children, but for a while PSO was idyllic. I wasn't around at that point, having left the game for other hardware at that point, but my brother was still around and reported that it wasn't pretty. Where the community was at one point solidly cooperative and helpful, it had been overrun by dupers and shysters ... such as people willing to trade you items that the servers would later delete when they discovered them as fakes. Instead of a great pick-up game experience, PSO was becoming a place to watch your wallet.

Haven't tried the new versions, nor did my brother. He plays offline on the GameCube now. So I don't know if the trend has reversed or not. However, Guild Wars has a remarkable PUG (pick-up game) culture and in the near future, Phantasy Star Universe is set to be released.

I don't think I'll ever be the kind of guy to spend hours grinding for levels or searching for specific items, but I'll go for the kind of experience that Sega so richly defined anytime.

Blues Brothers, Googlified

A blow by blow of Chicago events in The Blues Brothers, mapped out.

Square Camouflage

Awesome, there is a Kubrick toy of Solid Snake. (thanks insertcredit)

RebelStar First Impressions

Poor Rebelstar Tactical Command came into the house around the same time as Guild Wars, otherwise I would have already spent more time with it.

First glances are highly favorable. It feels like a mildly stripped down version of the X-Com experience with more JRPG style graphics. Not a bad mashup at all. I'm only going through the tutorials still, but X-Com fans will find a lot of familiar friends in aimed versus snap shots, overwatch events and strict visibility rules. I'm only guessing that the base management has been stripped since I haven't gotten any expectation above a Final Fantasy Tactics style of a mission based campaign. This might hinder the replayability a bit compared to X-Com, which was a delight to replay trying different strategies in the overall war campaign.

Humorously, I forgot I had pre-ordered it from Amazon, so I'll soon have an extra copy laying around. Will probably either auction it off or give it away here on the blog.

iPod Nano V GameBoy Micro

It's the battle of the tiny. iLounge has comparison shots of Apple's Nano and the diminutive GameBoy, and even strikes the interesting commentary that the form factor, which has left many of us scratching our heads, makes sense in the current micro-crazy consumer electronic market. Considering my new cell phone can just about stick into my ear, I think they may be on to something.

Tuesday, September 13, 2005

Make up your mind, ESRB

How could they annoy me more? Let's review public statements concerning mods made by Patricia Vance and the ESRB.

Considering the existence of the undisclosed and highly pertinent content on the final discs, compounded by the broad distribution of the third party modification, the credibility and utility of the initial ESRB rating has been seriously undermined

Furthermore, the ESRB calls on the computer and video game industry to proactively protect their games from illegal modifications by third parties, particularly when they serve to undermine the accuracy of the rating.

If the rating itself is being undermined by third-party modification, I think we as an industry need to figure out what to do about that.

What we're saying is that if you, as publisher, produce content that's pertinent to a rating, and leave it on a disc--risking that it might be accessed by a modder--then it's your responsibility. And if it undermines the accuracy of the rating, it's your responsibility.

The situation with Hot Coffee, it wasn't the [hacker's] modification that caused us to change the rating, it was the fact that this content existed on the disc and it was made accessible through modification, and was not disclosed.

ESRB remains concerned about third party modifications that undermine the accuracy of the original rating, and we are exploring ways to maintain the credibility of the rating system with consumers in light of modifications of this nature.

Well Christ on a stick, that's clear as mud now. First, the ESRB makes the modification an integral part of their decision against Rockstar. Then, they basically say it's not really so much their jurisdiction, but really the publisher's concern. Later, Vance backtracks completely and makes the modification sound almost irrelevant.

And now. Now, they're going to look into it some more. What the hell? The problem the ESRB has is that they bowed to public pressure instead of drawing a line in the sand. That line should be simple - what you do to your game is your business. If you download a porn mod, that's your responsiblity. If you buy your kid a device designed to hack PS2 games, that's your problem. If you draw naked bits on the screen with a felt tip marker, don't come a calling to us. The connection that Rockstar left content on the disc ignores the fact that someone willingly unlocked it to see it again.

In other words, nobody got porn on their game that wasn't asking for it. And that basic truth holds for almost every game out there. Look people, since I put that "nude patch" tagline joke on Cathode Tan, my traffic has doubled. So don't give me that "Rockstar is the devil corrupting us" crap, I've had people looking for ways to make Zelda naked.

You can hate Rockstar all you want, but anyone who saw the Hot Coffee mod did so because they wanted to see the Hot Coffee mod and willfully made it happen. I thought perhaps the ESRB had finally made it's distinction that they would only police content on a disc, but this constant flip-flopping makes me pretty unsure. And we're only one good porn mod away from giving it a litmus test.

Ascalon Burning

Most of my gaming life recently has been spent in or around Ascalon, the fair city of Guild Wars brutally assaulted by the evil Charr. In fact, after an all night on Saturday, I had a level 10 Monk/Warrior on my hands. Now, I've played two other MMO's extensively - PlanetSide and City of Heroes. The combined experience left me with the impression that as a genre, MMOs are fundamentally flawed largely in part by a monthly fee which makes very little sense.

Guild Wars has no monthly fee. So there goes that argument. So how about the rest of the game?

First, the good. Because there is a lot of good. One thing MMO's seem to be getting better at is creating deeper, richer worlds. One amazing thing ArenaNet has done is make the tutorial section of the world a real, hardcore, prologue. Prior the Charr attack known as the Searing, Ascalon was a lush and beautiful land. Post-Searing, it's more of a strip mine with an attitude problem. By starting out Pre-Searing, players are allowed to really take in the damage and magnitude of the attack. I can't imagine how much time and effort went into creating a large play area which is only present in a small portion of the game, but it's time well spent. ArenaNet has managed to create a fictional world with a backbone.

The gameplay of Guild Wars reminds me of a combination of Morrowind and Phantasy Star Online, which also happen to be two of my favorite RPG's. The real massively multiplayer portion of Guild Wars takes place in towns, which essentially serve as lobbies where players can trade, meet up, discuss missions, etc. Once away from the towns, teams are granted their own personal version of the game world without interference from other players or teams. PSO worked in a very similar manner, and in my opinion makes for much smoother gameplay than City of Heroes' similar but far more limited door mission concept where players only spend a small portion of their time in dungeons seperate from the world. For one thing, it allows for better soloing and makes it more acceptable to simply wander the world if one so chooses (although missions yield better rewards). But wandering around the very pretty landscape is often entertaining on it's own.

While still largely centered around the standard MMO design of clicking icons to activate skills/powers which require time and energy to recoup - the skill system is well designed and flexible. I currently have two load outs - one accustomed to cooperative team play and another for soloing or competitive play. You do get a real sense of tactics during some battles, where others just feel like you're waiting for the someone to die. However, some of the more intense battles make the action feel worth it, and cooperative play brings this out very well.

The bad? Well, the interface could use some work. You can't, for instance, swap out skills except in town which can make for some very embarrasing team moments when you confess you left your resurrection spell in your other pair of pants. Also, some visual and auditory cue for GUI events wouldn't hurt. I had a brief conversation with a new team wondering why we weren't starting, and he was wondering why I wasn't accepting until I noticed the small trade prompt in the corner window. During team battles, it can occasionally be difficult to select the target you really want, since there is so much happening in a small section of the screen. This has led to me occasionally pick up a treasure instead of casting a spell or accidentally neglect combat for a few seconds. For the most part, however, these issues are pretty minor and only serve as minor annoyances.

For as good as the mission designs are in Guild Wars, there are also some basic flaws. For one thing, the game world doesn't feel nearly random enough. Leave town and walk past a couple monsters, kill them, return to town and leave again ... and they'll be back almost exactly where you met them the first time. This gives a very artificial and after a while, stale, feel to the landscape.

While party NPC's are pretty top notch, non-party NPC's can be annoyingly stupid. Last night I was on a mission to save a squad of supply bearing warriors. However, when attacked these warriors would use that old strategy of simply standing there, thumb in ass, waiting to die. I ended up losing the mission as they simply perished, one by one, never lifting a finger ... or sword ... to attack the offending Charr ripping them a new one. Problems like this aren't catastrophic, but they can make completing missions more trial and error if there are foibles to figure out.

I've only had one application crash, although that was during a major cooperative mission, and the occasional attack of the lag monster. Largely, though, Guild Wars seems very smooth and stable.

For the most part, I love this game. It doesn't guilt me into playing because I'm paying for it every day. I can pick up and play for a half hour or an hour if I like, or I could waste a whole night or afternoon with it. The world feels deep, rich and interesting to explore. There's some glitches I'd love to see ArenaNet address, but this is definately an MMO even for people who might not normally approach the genre.

* Buy Guild Wars from

Heat Vented

I solved the CheapBox's overheating problem by salvaging one of the case fans from my old box and securing it to the back of CB's case by the use of twist ties. Gold twist ties to be exact. One molex connection later, and it played Guild Wars for a few hours without getting much hotter than room temperature.

I wish everything in life was so simply resolved.

Monday, September 12, 2005

My $300 Gaming Rig

This weekend The Girl had a dog related family emergency which required her to steal my keys, siphon gas from the neighbors and get out of Dodge before the posse arrived. Well, perhaps not that dramatic, but I did get plenty of time on Saturday to put the new Windows box through some paces.

The result? I took a $250 budget PC, bought a 512MB DDR Ram chip, and shoved my old 9700Pro, Audigy 2 and 120GB drive into the case. I also got a wifi card for easier networking. Here is the resulting box:

- GQ5090 Special w/ 2.66 Intel Celeron D
- 160GB HDD space (40GB with the 5090, 120GB added)
- 640MB 333DDR Ram (128 with the 5090, 512 added)
- Radeon 9700 Pro (w/ 128MB onboard VRAM)
- SoundBlaster Audigy 2

Now the cost to me amounted to about $300. I got the computer for only $200 (clerical error in my favor), had the parts laying around and only had to purchase a couple new things. The result? Surpisingly, it's a fine little gaming rig. First I installed Unreal Tournament 2004 and sure, I didn't play it maxed out ... it ran well under medium settings just fine. So then I installed Guild Wars. Guild Wars has proven to be the biggest shocker, as I'm running at full detail, 1024x768 without any slowdown. What I thought was hiccups before seem to be just the occasional lag one would expect with an MMO. I was even using 2x AA for a while.

So then I downloaded the Far Cry demo. Surely that would bring such a box to it's knees. However, it really didn't. I let it auto-detect the settings, and it chose some fairly middle of the road but very acceptable options and ran fine.

The only problem I had all weekend is that the box gets hot. The case just wasn't designed for the 9700 and it's less than optimal fan, and the additional heat builds up. I could probably get a better heat sink on the CPU, which I might anyway to reduce the noise (it's not terrible, a lot better than my last box, but compared to the mini it's distracting), but for now I just point a small floor fan towards it. That seems to help push the hot air towards the back and the box has been fine since. It really needs a side fan or some other means to vent.

If you really wanted decent gaming on the cheap, you could do it for less than $500. $250 for the 5090, about $80 for a 9700 Pro and $50 for memory brings it to only $20 more than the Xbox 360 Core system and memory card and much cheaper than most of the 360 bundles. Course, this rig won't earn you any bragging rights. The CPU is about as cheap as you can get, though fortunately most games seem to heavily rely on the VPU to do the heavy lifting. Still, eventually games will outpace it.

But figure this - a normal gaming rig starts at about $1,000 and can quickly get to $2,000. So at this price, even if you updated every couple years or so you're probably still keeping up.

Damn you, PCI-Express
Course, the real problem is AGP. Or rather, the fact that the industry has decided to toss it out. The SiS 661 motherboard the 5090 has can hold up to 2GB of RAM and can handle an Extreme Edition Pentium processor. However, both major card makers are already talking about not releasing AGP versions of their new cards.

Eventually, the cards would exceed the bandwidth of AGP, but that's just not the case yet. I got this 9700 several years ago and while it's definately showing it's age ... it's perfectly acceptable for even the most taxing modern games. However, since the industry has decided to prematurely move on from one standard to the next - the motherboard will have to be replaced once the current crop of video cards doesn't meet the need.

Fast and Cheap
It remains to be seen whether a box like this will be able to handle something like Unreal Tournament 2007. I would have to doubt it. But I am fairly confident that the usually "PC gaming is just too expensive" isn't as true as people make it sound. The box was good enough for an all-nighter in Guild War's Ascalon. And at least for a while, that is good enough for me.

Friday, September 09, 2005

The Genre Game

For Corvus' latest Round Table on genre, let's assign some homework.

Question 1. Choose Your Weapon
On the left are various franchises that may or may not have been made into video games. On the right are various genres that have been applied to games. Match the genre that you would feel best to complement the franchise and explain why. Every genre can only be used once. Special Rule: Genres may be mixed, in which case they only count has being half used. So if you combine the FPS and Adventure genres, you can still use both genres again. However, you can no longer use them by themselves nor could you re-use the FPS-Adventure hybrid. Grade will be based on largely on creativity and explanation of specific genre mechanics as to how they apply to the franchise.

1. Ghost In The Shell
2. Doctor Who
3. Scrubs
4. Stargate: Atlantis
5. Firefly (Serenity)
6. Fraggle Rock
7. The Last Starfighter
8. Black Adder
9. High Fidelity
10. Gattaca

1. First Person Shooter
2. Adventure
3. Platformer
4. Music/Rythm
5. Mini-Game/Party
6. Flight/Space Sim
7. Management Sim
8. Life Sim
9. Alternate Reality Game
10. Real Time or Turn Based Strategy

Question 2: Bits of History
Discuss the following genre mechanics in an attempt to determine their earliest implementation. Basically, when is the earliest you can remember these mechanics being used. What games are responsible for the basic concepts now vital to the games we play and how have they evolved?

1. Units having health points.
2. Enemies releasing powerups
3. Radar/Player Maps
4. Units having a selectable inventory
5. Buy Menus
6. Free-Roam environments
7. Lack of a singular player "score"
8. User definable content
9. Boss Fights
10. Save Game

Take as much room in the comments as required to answer the questions fully, or feel free to turn the page over and link to external blogs or sites if that's helpful. My answers can be found in the comment section.

When you're done, please put down your pencils and proceed along the Round Table:

Next Round Table

Corvus is hosting another Round Table, this time centering the conversation on genre and gaming. I've got my post ready and will probably post it up either this afternoon or in the morning. It's really long, so it's a good excuse to not blog for the rest of the weekend.

Dev Day Diary: Hardware

After my last encounter with the Post Office left my wondrous plexiglass rig a pile of plastic, I was glad to see that the cheapest computer in the world (and I got it for only $200) arrived safely. Before I even powered it up, I popped the case and started swapping out parts.

At first, I thought my jinx had followed me because I couldn't get any video out. I remembered an evil old HP I had (which committed suicide in Iowa a couple years ago) which required a hidden, undocumented, jumper swap for using the AGP slot and was a bit worried about that. But not even the onboard video card was working. On a hunch, I swapped my RAM out with the original and it powered up just fine. So I now have 1GB of SDRAM which is essentially a pair of ugly earrings.

Getting my old 120GB hard drive into the case was a bit of a chore as well. The GQ has this big metal lip which obstructs the 3.5 hard drive bay requiring a bit of brute force to literally shove the drive into position. Once that was done I had to disconnect the floppy drive in order to get the power cables to fit, but it's not like that's a big loss. Probably replace it with a media reader down the line anyway. The old 9700 Pro worked without a hitch and I took out the 56k modem card and replaced it with the Audigy 2, though it looked hungry for drivers.

So I need to buy some new RAM and probably a wireless card, though there is onboard ethernet so the latter is optional. After that, it should be a average game rig ... won't perform great until I replace that Celeron D. When the AGP X850 drops in price, I'll consider doing both.

But for now, I've got a Windows box again. I plan on picking up Guild Wars over lunch along with the RAM and a KVM swapper. I had considered getting a cheap LCD and using Synergy instead, and I may yet. I use a similar setup at work and it's really quite sweet.

I'm not sure when I'll start to port Atlas over. I've got the start on a GUI framework going and probably need to finish that. My biggest impediment is the custom C++ that will need to be recompiled, and I think the upcoming code push is going to include a lot of that. Once the GUI works, I need a buy menu, things to buy, and a way to sort inventory. Probably don't want to do all that in script.

I was going to get some Atlas screenshots, but I recently put in some placeholder graphics which aren't my own, so I'll wait to replace those first. At the rate things are going, I may have a demo by Christmas. However, it should be noted that from my modding days ... my estimates are usually off by a few months.

I Fought The Flood

Haven't talked about Katrina since I didn't really think much needed to be said on a gaming blog. I was considering donation options until Bungie made the choice clear for me. I'll probably continue to poke around relief efforts to see where a little cash or aid might come in handy.

I will say this however, if I may wax political for a moment. Anyone who doesn't see this as a vast failure of the federal government to handle a crisis needs to turn off Fox News for a few days and take a more serious look. The fact that post 9/11 FEMA has been largely dismantled, that an event which was predicted four years ago as one of the worst potential disasters for this country and that funding for an event like this has been squandered away on a senseless war and even more senseless pork projects is a condemnation of both the Bush administration and the ruling members of Congress. These shills have been caterwauling 9/11 like a rally cry since the day it happened, but when push came to shove - they weren't ready to saddle up. America, it's time to take a serious look at the leadership and perhaps suggest that some of them start looking for new jobs.

DevMaster Wiki recently added a wiki to their midst. It's pretty bare-bones right now, but it's always good to see something like this pop up. Any game dev gods who might happen to be reading this should probably poke by and see if they can add anything.

Thursday, September 08, 2005

Hot Coffee Goes To Fahrenheit

The US version of Indigo Prophecy, AKA Fahrenheit, will be censored from it's European release:

Apart from the titles, there are a couple of minor details separating Indigo Prophecy from the European Fahrenheit, as several of the game's 'adult' scenes have been removed from the American version. However, Quantic Dream claims that these edits won't dramatically affect the game.
-- Indigo Prophecy goes gold!

From some posts by a reviewer on Blues, it appears that the game's director David Cage previously claimed it was an ESRB reaction to the Hot Coffee fiasco. They requested that the content be removed to maintain the title's M rating as well as assured it would be deleted from the disc's content to avoid any mods from unlocking it.

I haven't seen the content in question, although there's some tips on how to get the version from Europe in that thread. It would be interesting to see if it's any racier than Jericho's vampy sex scene in Darkwatch (which was certainly more Showtime than Cinemax ... but still didn't leave much to the imagination ... except for possibly why Jericho kept his coat on ...)

Clearly though, Hot Coffee will continue to have a chilling effect on game development even now that the controversy isn't mainstream news fodder.

6 Indie Mistakes

This is old, but I completely missed it. Kuro5hin has an article up about the great common mistakes indie developers make when trying to create a game. It's insightful and well-written, but the debate that rages on in the comment section is equally worth the read. Debate aside, Chris (who himself has worked on published titles) is making some good points:

"I'm going to make an RPG with 3,000 enemy types, real-time combat, and a first-person shooter mode. And dancing, lots of dancing."

You have 2 designers, one coder, and a part time artist. You have the staff, in other words, to make Tetris. Be realistic about how much you can accomplish. Take your most basic game ideas, and make them smaller and smaller until they can't physically get any smaller. 3,000 enemy types? More like 3. An FPS RPG with an all-new engine? Make a top-down shooter in Flash. 100 hours of content? How about a game you can beat in 30 minutes?
-- The 6 Indie Mistakes

Much of his argument is, in fact, concerning resources - which is possbly the great divide between professional and garage studios. He goes on to add that doing things as a single individual is possibly the worst mistake on can make ... something I find a little humorous since ... I'm making that mistake myself. However in doing so, I can't completely disagree with him. In fact, were I doing this for actual profit instead of more as a hobby, then I probably not being going solo but rather hunting down at least a decent pixel artist and sound guy. So I'd say he probably makes his point a little too rigidly, but it's not off-base.

I saw a lot of this in the mod community. Plenty of idea men, very few implementers. Or as my old boss used to put it - lots of warriors, not enough weapons. Game ideas, design docs and even concept sketches aren't too terribly difficult to put together. Structuring that into a real project is a task that usually just leaves behind a handful of unfinished levels and some 3D models that still need proper animations.

With that said, I'll probably have a dev diary up later today.

Wednesday, September 07, 2005

Healthy Human Flesh Alternative

I really am not buying this one, in every meaning of the phrase.

RebelStar Dev Diary: Wrap-Up

Over at GameSpy, Jollop writes one last development diary, focusing on changes that happened while finalizing the design and development of the game. I'm seriously looking forward to a little action on my GBA from the guys responsible for Laser Squad and X-Com.

2D Tile-Based 360 Game Creator

No, it's not going to make games for the next XBox. It's an IDE into a 2D engine with 3D rendering. I'm not quite sure what to make of it, it's so new that even the makers are still cobbling together a demo and the website looks like it was cobbled together last night. Still, it uses Lua as it's scripting language and seems to offer some pre-boxed AI functions ... so maybe this is just what someone needs to make that new X-Com or Diablo clone.


Tiny little things will add up this week. The cheapest PC known to mankind is quickly flying it's way to the office, possibly bringing me back into the PC gaming fold (assuming all my old parts play nice). I haven't heard back about the plexiglass rig yet, but who knows how slow the Post Office will be about it (or if the buyer won't just "forget" to pay me).

I just exchanged a couple of emails to hand off to someone who will actually take the time to update it and try to get people to use it. I haven't disavowed Unreal modding just yet, but I have no idea when I'll return. As I suspected, the modding community shriveled a bit after Epic's Make Something Unreal Contest wasn't a stick to swing around any more.

Atlas is coming together better than anything I've worked on since Riftwar. I'm at work early today, so I might get home during the afternoon and try to lay out a serious GUI framework. It would be pretty simple, probably a one or two window modal display (think basic console menus). I have a lot of decisions left to make though ... like whether the game world will be completely random, completely pre-built, or a combination of both. Replaying Elite (via Oolite) has actually been enormously beneficial in reminding me of the kind of game universe that's possible.

Cyan closes it's worlds

I saw this bubbling up yesterday, but kinda wanted to give it some time in case it was a wild rumor mill brewing. Sadly, it's not. Cyan Worlds, responsible for the immensely popular Myst series, is getting out of the world-making business. I've never been a huge Myst fan myself, but you can't help but to have respect for the series and what Cyan was capable of doing. Myst was groundbreaking in many ways - although it's innovations didn't evolve with the changing market and the decline in the adventure genre as a whole. Uru Online would have been an interesting expirement to see, though. Here's hoping everyone lands safely.

Tuesday, September 06, 2005

Computer Powered By The Atom

No, not an atomic computer. Well, not quite. Apparently though, the Atom Chip Corporation is going to unveil a new laptop with their 6.8Ghz Quantum II and 1TB of solid state memory. Yeah. I have no idea what kind of pixies power that CPU and the idea of a terabyte of storage in a format that doesn't involve the wheel seriously confounds me. No real word on performance, but hey ... they need special suits just to use the whiteboard discussing it, so it must be powerful.

Lumines Creator IRC Chat

Head over to Idle Forums for the hookup on Ubisoft's IRC talk with Tetsuya Mizuguchi. He's the guy responsible for the PSP hit title Lumines as well as the Nintendo DS title Meteos. Apparently he'll be on tap around 2PM United Kingdom time, so if you're able to do the math on that time conversion and have an IRC client handy, check it out.

Do graphics really drive console sales?

Game Tunnel has taken a look back at how consoles and handhelds sell in comparison to their graphical capabilities. It's pretty interesting and for the most part concludes that one does not drive the other:

Following the continuing trend of 'first to market, fail to make it to the next generation' Sega released the Dreamcast ahead of the pack and though sales were above that of the Saturn, they left console business (noting the lackluster Xbox and GameCube sales, Sega may have pulled the plug on Dreamcast too quickly). Sony followed Sega to market with the PS2, Microsoft entered with the Xbox and Nintendo entered with GameCube, a system that fell a half step behind the Xbox technologically, but a full step above the PS2.

This generation also continued the trend of the strongest system technologically (graphically) not finishing first, though the graphic improvements were not as significant as in the previous generation (when gaming went from 2D to 3D.
-- Good Enough: Why graphics aren't number one

Course, the odd converse truth is that when it comes to software, I'd be willing to bet that graphics do indeed translate into sales. We've got this odd collision between what a company can successfully market in terms of a platform versus just how much eye candy a developer can wring out of it. It's not, I think, that gamers don't care about graphics ... it's just not the only thing they care about. Exclusive titles, deals with second and third party developers, hardware advances - the platform itself is a complicated object even before someone puts a game into the slot.

Did we peak with the SNES?

XYZ Computing seems to think so:

The main problem with the Xbox and the PS2 is that the games themselves are dropping in quality. While complexity is increasing and graphics are becoming more impressive, many current games simply have nothing more to offer than eye candy. Most of them are completely bereft of a plot, character development, or the indescribable characteristics which made early games so great, which, for lack of a better term, has often been labeled as "soul".
-- SNES- As Good As It’s Going to Get

The GATE offers up a great rebuttal, which I'm inclined to agree with. Hey, I've bemoaned the decline of innovation plenty - but simply decrying the entire set of libraries on the Nintendo 64, Dreamcast and Playstation seems completely off ... not to mention our current crop of machines. Heck, the Dreamcast alone blows the theory out of the water in my book. Somewhere between Shenmue and Soul Caliber, I don't think I've had quite the varied and highly excellent experiences on another single console.

PA Hates Jack Thompson, You?

Just in case anyone had any doubt, this shirt should clear things up.

Smash And Grab

Incredible Hulk: Ultimate Destruction came from GameFly while The Girl and I were out for Labor Day weekend. When we finally got a chance to crash on the couch it seemed time for some mindless, wanton, devastation ... so we gave the green man a go.

Largely the game is a total blast. Radical was clearly looking over Treyarch's shoulder when they developed the game as it feels a lot like the free-roaming action of their Spider-Man game. A very tight control mechanic helps Hulk jump, run (even on walls), and smash around his environment. Rooftop hopping, Hulk's favorite form of mass transit, is fairly easily learned but does take a few tricks to really get down. Fighting is all done via a fairly simple combo setup with a much needed focus/lock function to help Hulk keep track of the particularly nasty enemies. Hulk moves like a very fast truck and while trying to evade enemy fire, it's easy to get the camera turned around ... so the focus key allows the player to regain control just about as quick.

The game also sports a fairly well-designed upgrade system. You earn Smash Points by, well, smashing things, and you can spend them on new combos, power updates, etc. Unlike a lot of superhero games, it's not hard to pick and choose from upgrades which will really benefit versus ones that might not have much value later on.

The story seems pretty well done. The cutscenes are nothing to write home about, but the "Blanksky Files" give an interesting kind of narration to how elements of the plot are evolving.

The only minus so far has been the first boss battle. First, it all takes place in a relatively small circular room - completely antagonistic to Hulk's style of running and jumping. Second, Radical introduced what could have been an interesting "learn" feature from the boss. Use the same combo too many times and the boss will learn how to counter it. Unfortunately what this means is that even Hulk's basic moves quickly become bizarrely useless and a mechanism clearly designed to force the user to try different things goes to far and becomes a "gee, what combo haven't I used yet?" game.

Definately recommend though. We're considering purchasing the game, but I might just wait to see how many hours of gameplay we get. The side missions are largely well done, but I'm not sure they warrant a keeper on their own.

Explore Unity

Inside Mac Games has a pretty in-depth look at the game development studio Unity:

One of the stand-out aspects of the Unity application is that OTEE has managed to bridge the gap between the total neophyte hobbyist's app and the professional designer's app. Unity's GUI combines some of the best aspects of working in the Macintosh OS with the look and feel of a high-level creation engine. Editors such as Dimension3 make tasks like creating floors and walls for game environments much simpler than Unity, with pop-ups and buttons to guide the user through nearly every action. Despite this ease of use, there's a feeling of restriction when playing around with Dimension3. The lack of viewing control and freedom of object movement, while making it very easy to make a nicely square room, almost squelches the creative juices. With Unity there's a fuller range of editing ability that gives the impression that the application wants to get down and dirty and show everything that it can offer.
-- Exploring Unity

There was recently a showcase of widgets from their recent challenge on OTEE's site. It also just added Windows publishing to it's feature set, making it more of a contender to engines like Torque. Unity definately looks interesting, although since I've only seen really quick projects it's hard to get a feel for it's potential.

Saturday, September 03, 2005

OS X Elite

Someone who goes by the handle Aegidian created a remake of Bell & Braben's classic space trading sim Elite for OS X, of which I'm sure a couple of you are familiar. Called Oolite, it's a pretty masterful reproduction of the original with only a few tweaks here and there for modernization. The graphics especially have an overhaul and now ships sport different skins, objects have lighting effects, etc.

Best of all - it's released unthe Creative Commons License and has the full source code. So if you wanted to use Oolite to create a free version of Privateer, or make a networked version, or well .... whatever ... there ya go. I played the heck out of it last night and found myself thinking near blasphemy of ways to update the gameplay, but fortunately I'm probably too busy to attempt such heresy just now.

Friday, September 02, 2005

Scantily Clad Pixels

I love insert credit. Where else would I find such gems as Miniskirt Cops and this. I'm not even sure what that is, but since it seems to feature a tatooed woman sword fighting in her underwear and a cowboy hat, I know I want it.

Warning though, that will try to resize your browser, here is a link to the SWF directly if that helps.

Segmented Markets

Another one of those topics hot on the mumblevine these days is the pros and cons of Microsoft's decision to offer two 360 models. The Technology Suits offer this perspective on it (thanks GameDev.Net) which isn't particularly earth-shattering but manages to ask some interesting questions:

In the end, the feature race between Sony and Microsoft will have pushed the price of the “full package” next-gen console (whether all-included or base with accessories) beyond the price of all but the hardcore gamers or those with ample disposable income.

The important thing to remember is that the industry needs to pay attention to the casual gamer if it wants to substantially grow fixed game sales. By segmenting the consoles, Microsoft has begun to do this. The “full package” will still be available to for the typical gamer, but a cheaper version that meets the needs of the casual gamer will also be available.
-- Should Console Manufacturers Segment Consoles

There does seem to be an interesting paradox. The price of the coming console generation doesn't really seemed aimed at the casual gamer, but the casual gamer is apparently the NASCAR dad of the gaming industry these days.

If that's the case ... that the casual gamer is the coming cash cow ... wouldn't it make more sense to develop a cheaper, less able, more user friendly console rather than a more expensive, powerful, decked out one? Is this Nintendo's strategy after all?

PS3 Dev and 360 Physics

Gamasutra has a feature on PlayStation 3 development from the GDC which talks in brief about the tools and capabilities one would expect from the dev kit. It sounds like they are decking out their SDK with Havok and Novodex physics as well as integrated support for Epic's Unreal engine (though no free license).

On the flip side, 1UP mentions that the 360 won't be able to handle all of PhysX capabilities, notably lacking the "fluid based technology". Which is probably more notable in press releases than really impacting a game, if one were to lend a guess.

However on a side note, Mark Rein offers a rosy hard drive-less picture of using Unreal with the XBox because I guess they've designed their streaming technology to handle optical mediums just fine. Bet some developers were wishing that optical tech had an acronym other than just DVD though.

Slated with Myst V

XGP Gaming has brief interview with Ryan Miller, Game Director for Myst V. The conversation revolves around Slate, a handwriting recognition technology which is apparently integral to the new game:

Without the Slate, the story that drives Myst V simply would not work. The Slate will be an integral part of every player's experience and the driving force as they progress toward their goal. Without the Slate, it would be impossible to learn the stories and failures of the past, unravel and understand the present, and, in the end, determine a proper course for the future. After all, it is the player who determines how the game, and thus the series, ends.
-- Ryan Miller

I tried the demo on the mini last week. Interesting, and I'm sure there will be a lot of draw for fans of the series. It sadly didn't run that great off the mini's meager specs, which is a bit of an odd turn for a game which started out mostly as a HyperCard application. My problem with the Myst series is that I always felt like the interface was the game, and putting everything into 3D hasn't really resolved that much. Still, it's neat to see them playing around with ideas like Slate, so maybe my brief tour isn't doing it justice.

WiFi Camera

Nikon is building the first cameras with Wifi. They can connect to any computer on their network. I'm assuming that means any computer reachable on the net in general or else I don't see why don't just use BlueTooth.

The Girl and I recently got those nifty new phones and have been trying them out around town. Moblogging is kinda fun, just point, click and send. So I can definately understand the appeal of doing this with a high-end camera. Although technically I could just take my Powershot's CF card, shove it into the Zaurus, swap some files and then email it from there. Actually, we going out to a lodge this weekend that apparently has WiFi in their lobby, so might be doing just that.

More Nude Demands

Add "Battlefield 2" and "Tomb Raider" to the list.

OK, Tomb Raider is obvious. But Battlefield 2???? That gives soldiering on a completely new angle.

Thursday, September 01, 2005

Carnival Is Up

Head on over to AFK Gamer for the fair.

XBox 360 Dev Details

Gamasutra has some notes from a recent presentation Microsoft gave at GDC Europe concerning new aspects of developing for the 360. There are some interesting points - for instance, the 360 Guide is different from the Dashboard in that the Dashboard is a stand-alone environment before the player enters a game whereas the Guide runs concurrently with gameplay. There's also some facts about player achievements which will be part of every profile:

As well as these more general options, one of the most interesting elements of the Xbox 360 player profile is its title-specific data, which is created and managed by an individual game, and includes achievements, in which the game decides what in-game elements are worth rewarding, as well as points allocated for completing each achievement. These achievements will be viewable on the player's own machine, but also over Xbox Live and on the Web, and those playing will be able to compare achievements with their friends.

There will be a minimum of 5 'achievements' per game title, set by the creators of that game, but if desired, the developer can set up to 50 achievements. Since a gamer will have an overall cumulative score over all the games that he plays, each achievement can have a score associated with it, up to a total of 1,000 points for the game. He told attendees that Xbox 360 developers can also hold back points from the 1,000 total if they want to associate some with downloadable content or updates, but those points must be tied to accomplishments within the updates - it's not possible to simply give people points for buying extra content!
-- Integrating Xbox 360-Specific Features Into Games

It also goes into specifics about framerates and resolutions. Sounds like some additional overhead for anyone developing 360 content, but some definate wins for the gamer as well.

Free Naked Models

Why go searching for Guild Wars sex mods when you could just make your own? The Open Source 3D Project is offering free high-polygon human models to help get you started. Oh sure, you could find other uses like modifying them for most any human character you might need in a game ... but where's the fun in that?

Develop Excellence Awards

If the video game awards you're familiar with don't have enough tea and crumpets for your liking, try the Develop Excellence Awards instead. They're aimed to "seek excellence in every facet of the UK and European development business, from new start-up studios to multi-team in-house developers". Big winners were David Braben for overall legendary status, Rockstar North for most talented studio people love to hate and Traveller's Tales for Best Use Of License with LEGO Star Wars (much deserv'd).

Video Game Writerrr*

* to be sung to the tune of "Paperback Writer"

J.T. Petty isn't a name you're probably familiar with, but if you've played Prince of Persia: Sands of Time or the first couple of Splinter Cells ... his work probably is ... he was the writer. has write-up:

Like Petty, many game writers come from — or still primarily work in — other fields. They say the process of writing games differs markedly from their other work. "In motion pictures, you would hire a writer, and he'd go off in a dark room someplace for a few months and turn in a script," said Dooma Wendschuh, 28, who, along with writing partner Corey May, also 28, has written two video games and is contracted to pen six more for Ubisoft. The two dub their duo SekretAgent Productions and are working on several feature films, including the Guillermo Del Toro-directed "The Wind in the Willows."

Video game writing is a much more team-based effort, requiring active involvement with game developers. "The games are so nuanced and complex," said May. "I can say: 'He walks into a room and something explodes,' but the designer might say, 'You can't do that.' " The level layout crafted by the designers might not allow it. Or the programmers might not be able to allocate processing power to create a big enough explosion.
-- Know 25 Ways To Say 'Ow, My Eye'? Put That On Your Résumé

I know someone who got a couple brief gigs writing for games and it's not a bad deal as industry jobs go. Should I ever get bored of figuring out cross-platform cross-browser frameworks, XML transports, and the exciting and daring mechanics of three-tiered architectures ... I'd consider trying to give it a whirl. Had the World Wide Web not spun around town, I'd probably still be fighting for a English professorship somewhere.