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Friday, August 26, 2005

Beyond XCode

Apple has posted an article describing various Mac game building tools outside of the IDE XCode (which ships with OS X). They list all the ones I'm familiar with: Power Game Factory, Torque, Unity, and PTK. Certainly not indepth, but it's nice to see add this kind of information to their lineup.

They also link to a page describing gaming on different Mac hardware which is kinda neat.

Dev Day Diary: Atlas

Got to spend some quality time with UAC yesterday, although it really seems like I can start calling it Atlas. The name has stuck into a neuron and doesn't seem likely to leave. The premise is that a huge galactic tragedy left the worlds asunder and an entire civilization is now reforming within the confines of an enormous asteroid belt. Or something like that. There may be pandas. Details left uncertain.

Thankfully, Torque 2D's physics are pretty top notch. I've successfully created an expansive asteriod setup without bringing down my system. The asteroids are essentially a constantly shifting array that deletes rocks as they move out of range, but is replacing them just as fast. T2D's physics handles all the collisions and velocity changes and I've got code to handle explosions, debris, etc.

One of the ways I triage is by asking myself what my next biggest problem is. Right now Atlas has no real player scoring or player death or anything resembling actual gameplay. One would think that would probably be the biggest problem, but in actuality the fact that I have no decent method of displaying that kind of information to the user really trumps that. I need a framework to add in text, windows, prompts, etc. ... which is far more of a behemoth that simply ticking down a value on a collision.

Deities of Dimunitive Size

Not sure why I keep hearing about Torque 2D releases from TIGSource first, but apparently the unique breakout style game Little Gods has been released. It sports a nifty graphical style, powerups, and more. As someone at the GarageGames forums explained, "it's Pong with gods and god powers". I'll have to take their word for it since it's Windows only right now.


ishizume is a 3D semi-tetris game for the Mac. It's a bit of a color combinator meets falling blocks where you earn points by creating "klax" or sets of three. Simple, fairly addictive and even runs OK on my old Mac at work.

First Person Cinema

Alice has some screenies from the Doom movie trailer, and a link to see it for yourself. It seems some of the movie is shot a la Carpenter First Person ... except with a computer generated gun on the screen a la ... well, Doom. In fact, so much of the trailer is so obviously made to look like an FPS setup that it makes me wonder how much of movie itself is going to use this schtick.

I'm not sure it's a good schtick. Carpenter used it in Halloween to create a sense of tension, but to also keep his psycho killer invisible to the audience. You were seeing the movie through the perspective of the antagonist, but your focus was usually on his intended victims. Also, the killer is more monster than human - more of an emotion than a man.

That's not really what I want from my protagonist in a movie. I don't want them to be invisible. I want them to be a presence, not just a perspective. There's also a bit of realism at fault here. One of my problems with immersion in FPS games has always been - how many people would hold a chaingun by their head?

I think all they would have had to do is continue to lift from Ridley Scott and go with some HelmetCam or some other device in order to occasionally offer a different camera point. From the trailer, it seems like they're trying too hard to "get in the game". Hey, I liked Doom 3 a lot more than most people and even I don't want to spend a tenspot in order to watch someone else play it for two hours.

Thursday, August 25, 2005

From Doom To Gloom

Apparently NPR did a broadcast about video game flops, featuring none other than FlopKing John Romero (thanks gewgaw). I was kinda hoping Romero would find some redemption in Seven Sorrows, but since he's left that project I guess not.

I'll Be Damned

Darkwatch came from Gamefly recently. Oddly, it came before Haunting Ground, which was higher in my q, but there's been oddness between the Fly and the post lately it seems.

I kinda remember some early hype about Darkwatch, and then silence, and then I barely heard it was released. In fact, it was looking up some coop games that I realized it had been. Some might say that's a tad ominous.

To say that Darkwatch has taken notes from Halo would be putting it politely. Two weapon inventory system, off-hand grenades, obstacle orientated AI and even a ghostly female voice whispering in your ear. Flattery and all that, much of what they've lifted from Bungie actually works pretty well. They've also gussied up some impressive uses from the Havok physics engine.

It's when you depart from those mechanics that the game slips a little. For one thing, the only thing they seem to have stolen from Valve is a laconic main character. Cutscenes are in full force and are sometimes not very pretty. They don't resemble the game engine sometimes, they occasionally break the action and sometimes even feel a little non sequiter. There are times that the AI defaults into morbid stupidity, even keeping their back to you while you plugging them in the back.

What Darkwatch adds to the table - a unique power system, choices between good and evil, and the occasional horseback battle - is something of a mixed bag. The good/evil paths don't feel tied to the story and there isn't much opportunity to play with the possibilities - so it's unlikely it will add much to replay. The horseback missions are well developed, even if the starkly vacant backdrop makes it feel unfinished. The power system is probably the best concieved as obviously some real thought went into their design and I haven't noticed any yet-another-physics-demo powers yet.

Overall the production value is quite good - the designs and artwork are extremely attractive on the PlayStation 2. Not God of War pretty, but fairly close at times. I haven't gotten far into the game yet, but the missions and level design seem at least average. The whole horror/western mashup is done pretty well. It's a twist of flavor for a genre dripping in science fiction motifs.

Basically, Darkwatch is easily worth a rental. I've added it to my library partially due to the cooperative mode, which I collect obsessively. It's a solid start for a franchise with just a couple of stumbles. I'd love to see a sequel with better cinematics, improved AI and more innovative mission design ... just so long as the art and new mechanics can come along for the ride.

Playgrounds of the Self

After the Post column, I decided to do a little more looking on Christine Rosen. She recently wrote an essay for New Atlantis entitled Playgrounds of the Self, and is a much better read. Rosen runs a long gamut across the video game culture, pointing to people from Robin Hunicke to Liz Wooley (probably about as diametrically opposed of a pair that you could find). It's also a much more balanced tone. She takes Johnson to task over Everything Bad is Good For You, but isn't out to simply attack games or paint them as villains:

Gee, in other words, is eager to put the Xbox in the sandbox. “Games encourage exploration, personalized meaning-making, individual expression, and playful experimentation with social boundaries,” he enthuses, “all of which cut against the grain of the social mores valued in school.” He argues for a “new model of learning through meaningful activity in virtual worlds as preparation for meaningful activity in our post-industrial, technology-rich real world.” But Gee doesn’t show us how these virtual gaming skills are actually transferable to real-world situations. Like the authors of Got Game, Gee is hopeful that they are transferable and convinced that they will improve children’s educational experience. But wishful thinking is not the same as evidence, and evidence is certainly needed when such broad claims are being made on behalf of electronic entertainments. Although Gee’s research suggests intriguing possibilities for new educational tools, we must first answer the question of their effectiveness before we put a video game in every classroom. And we must grapple with the evidence on the other side of this equation. As William Winn, who heads the University of Washington’s Human Interface Technology Laboratory, told the authors of Got Game, gamers really do think differently: “They leap around,” he writes. “It’s as though their cognitive structures were parallel, not sequential.’” Lost amid the enthusiasm for gaming, however, are two questions: Does “different” mean better? And what, in the end, are games for?

Highly recommend. She might be a moralizer, but Rosen gives us an educated and nuanced view of video games which you aren't likely to find around the mainstream press.


The Washington Times is running an Op/Ed piece on children and games. It's sadly poorly written:

The most problematic "progressive" toy is the video game, preying on the sensibilities of the young who play them by the hour. Some are educational and researchers suggest they can contribute to hand-eye coordination. Some wise men even defend the violent games as a substitute for aggressive behavior, acting as sublimation for scary thoughts (as in fairy tales). But the Big Bad Wolf by comparison is a fluffy puppy.

Most of the column is written in such short and overly broad reaching statements. She describes San Andreas as the best selling game which "soon fell in the hands of children" and deserves notoriety due to "it's pornographic images". Course, to date I have never seen anyone shore up any numbers on how many "children" (notice, she didn't say teenager) have actually played GTA, and I played all of San Andreas and saw basically no pornography.

The closest she gets to citing a source is quoting the remarks of one Christine Rosen, a senior editor for New Atlantis - which states it's mission as "an effort to clarify the nation’s moral and political understanding of all areas of technology". Christine is a self-desribed "moralizer" ... so I'm not sure why we should be surprised that she found her first experience with a first person shooter as violent and graphic. We should be surprised that people have decided that a single person's perspective on a medium they are unaccustomed with to be evidence.

Course, here's the kicker:

In the spirit of full disclosure, I write this on my laptop from a deck overlooking beautiful Currituck Sound on North Carolina's spectacular Outer Banks, with my grandsons Teodoro, 9, and Enrique, 6, a few feet away, lost in their LEGO Star Wars video game. Delight is written across their faces — and mine.

Well, at least that game is rated E for everyone. Course, Episodes III wasn't ... wonder if she snuck them into that...

Sony Overhyping PS3 Cost?

CNN Money seems to think it's possible. They cite the PSP's much touted price rumor that turned out relatively false (even if many retailers managed to spike it with bundles) and the timing of Sony's release. My guess? Sony probably won't hit the traditional $300 point. In fact, there's little reason to now. I'd guess they go for below $400 for the main unit and an reasonable bundle being under $600.

Then again, Sony hasn't been shy of trying to sell high cost consumer electronics in the past, and Microsoft assuredly isn't making the 360 expensive because they want it to be expensive. Like all good things, we'll just have to wait and see.

Wednesday, August 24, 2005

Revolution Tilting

Guardian Gamesblog questions questioning the rumor that the revolutionary aspect of the Nintendo controller is just force feedback married to a gyroscope. Then they seem to question that. Inquisitive lot, the British.

I agree. Well maybe, I'm still confused on the question. Here's the thing. Would that really be so un-revolutionary?

Imagine holding something about the size of an opened DS or perhaps a tall PSP in your hands. Now all overt movement could be handled by tilting or rotating the pad, while controls on the pad offer a variety of optional commands.

For instance, in a first person shooter, you could look around by tilting the pad, but move and shoot with the buttons. In a driving game, the pad could serve as a wheel. Third person games could have either camera control or motion, etc. Depending on the implentation - it could be a really user friendly and versatile input method.

Course, it might also just make a gamer look like an idiot waving his hands around on the couch. But I'm guessing Nintendo would have their people look into that.

Your Neil Gaiman is in my Jim Henson

The Girl and I stumbled on a preview for MirrorMask while watching Steamboy last night. With a guy like Neil Gaiman working on the story and the Henson studio running visuals, comparisons to Dark Crystal, Alice in Wonderland and the Labrynth are easy to make.

My God, it's full of shmups

The Independent Gaming Source has been pulling out all the stops on finding and reporting indie shoot-em-ups. Including an interview with Axiomatic, details about Flatspace II, a configurable shooter and bad Kenta Cho jokes, there's more shooter goodness than you can shake a powerup at.

Glad To Be Wrong

In an interview with ZDNet, Patricia Vance finally clarifies the ESRB ruling:

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.
-- Sex, Lies, and video games

I've been following Vance's statements since the ruling and that's the first time I've heard her pin it almost completely on the undisclosed content and not the modification. It sounds more like the ESRB is signalling modifications which only make existing content accessible, and not add or modify existing content.

She might be drawing a finer line in the sand than she can defend, but at least she's drawing it. She also brings up the oft-ignored fact that the issue of undisclosed content didn't really have any precedent ... a real thorn in the "Rockstar be evil liars" theory.

This is my sigh of relief.

Google gets IM

Google apparently just launched Google Talk, an IM service. I'm not sure how this fits into their plan of ruling the world with well designed, network friendly, giant robots - but I'm sure it does somehow.


Wired has an interesting piece on the recent Classic Games Expo. Highlights include that Generation NEX that just got slashdotted (a little late, guys), modern day Intellivision ports and rewiring old controllers for USB. I love retro, even if the desire to pull out the 2600 wanes a little bit every day. Still, you gotta respect history, lest one forgets and all that.

IndieGamesCon Speakers

GarageGames has announced their line up for the next IndieGamesCon. Speakers include Ryan Gordon on OS X development (you might recognize Ryan from here), Microsoft to discuss the 360 and GarageGames president Mark Frohnmayer will be giving the keynote. My favorite bit of the press release has to be:

Early registration is online and costs $195 for a three-day pass, including sessions, t-shirt, food, LAN parties and beverage of choice ("beer") for those registering before September 16th. Space is limited, so reservations will be on a first-come, first-serve basis. Registrations after September 16th will be $250. More information is available at

Hehehe. "Beer".

Post Post Office

At one point, the government employee had me pick up my package of broken materials - quite heavy one at that - and re-weigh it. This was because she wasn't sure if the postage they charged actually amounted to $1,000. Naturally, it actually was. Earlier in the day, she had also tried to inform that she might not file the claim because the package was improperly packed, because I had used PayPal and because the box had not been marked fragile.

The last one I'll grant her. The box indeed had not been marked fragile. It also had not been marked "Please do not drop from extreme height". Or "Despite appearances, this is not a soccer ball". Or "Guess what, big boxes might be heavy. Get a friend." I explained to her that plexiglass was, well, relatively sturdy stuff and not prone to ripping in half on it's own. Nor had I ever seen such damage to a motherboard in all my years of working with computing and added something to the effect that for the most part, heat sinks are designed to "stay attached".

In the end, this woman really had no business debating any of this. It's not her job. She's not the claims officer. She's got nothing to do with the insurance side of the mail, save from filling out a form properly. Which would have taken one hour and forty minutes less time if she had just been polite about it. In the end, she filled out the form anyway.

I just wonder when it became OK in society to argue with someone about something you just broke. She never denied it was the Post Office's fault. In fact, it says it right on the form. If a normal, well-adjusted, person went into a china store and broke a plate ... I don't think they would argue for two hours about the kind of stand the plate used and that they should consider a sign next to it saying "Be careful. China plates are susceptible to gravity."

Mike in Hawaii has been a champ about all this. Apparently the rig cost him about four grand to build originally. I honestly have never seen a computer put together more thoroughly with so much quality, he just put the best into everything. Thanks to some carelessness, it's essentially rubble. Instead of a sorry, the USPS offers an argument. Government can be fun sometimes.

Tuesday, August 23, 2005

I Have No PC Karma

The plexiglass rig arrived at the post office yesterday. The whole thing started a bit odd because the office mailroom said they couldn't pick it up. So I went to get it over lunch and then opened it up when I got home.

The first thing I noticed was that parts of the plexiglass were cracked, and a couple pieces had actually broken off. OK, so, not pretty. But not that bad. But then I noticed this:

Anyone who has popped open their toaster to see what's inside may have just cringed. See, there's something missing there. And that would be:

The heat sink. That would be the same thing that I was trying to replace on my old box and ending up breaking it. Apparently I wronged some gypsy woman and now have a heat sink curse. See, heat sinks are supposed to be very tight against the cpu to transfer heat directly. When this heat sink was unceremoniously removed (probably when the package was dropped or thrown), it took most of the bracketing along with it.

Making it very difficult to put back on. In fact, this particular motherboard seems to use white plastic screws for the mounting that don't appear to have any desire to be removed. I rejiggled every connection on the board, swapped out the video card with my old one and even tried setting the box on it's side to keep the sink as tight as possible ... finally getting the box to boot, but it eventually just overheated and crashed.

Thankfully, the seller was wise enough to insure it. So now the post office can pay for what they broke.

Maybe I'm just meant to be a Mac person.

Monday, August 22, 2005

Fall Prospectus

I'm offering up the following for required reading of Wasted Time 101, fall semester. These titles are coming up in the next couple of months and I hope to chew through them by the end of the holidays. Now, remember, I'm not a GameCube or XBox owner, so those topics aren't covered. My apparently large and heavy PC is awaiting for me at the post office, however, so it made it just in time for classes.

X-Men Legends II
The Girl and I were big fans of the first one. Seriously some of the best designed coop missions on any console, ever, even if they do pull off annoying sections where it's solo only. This is the kind of game that I almost wish they would make smaller, cheaper, episodes about every four to six months.

RebelStar Tactical Command
Please, it's an X-Com style game, made by the makers of X-Com, on the GameBoy Advance. Not owning this game is really just not an option. It doesn't sound like it has quite the open ended gameplay of X-Com, but at least they haven't turned their back on turn based strategy.

Ultimate Spider-Man
Treyarch's excellent city based superhero gameplay with an updated, cel ... er 3D comic-inking technology engine and and all sorts of other goodies. Count me in.

Quake 4
It will have better multiplayer and single player than Doom 3, if the guys around the shop are to be believed. To be honest, I'm not entirely sure if this won't just be yet another shooter ... but I'm an id whore - so what do I care?

Serious Sam II
Sixteen player coop for god's sake. I'm not even sure that's such a good idea, but I can't wait to see someone try it out. Sam is a great franchise and Serious is a great engine, so it's hard to pass them up.

Elder Scrolls IV
The Elder Scrolls series has always been a noble effort to bring a non-linear CRPG to perfection. There always some kind of technical or mechanical hitch (who didn't use a fly cheat in Morrowind at some point?), but I will always come back for more. I spent a lot of time just wandering around Morrowind, thankful that someone took the time to piece together such a treat.

Indigo Prophecy
Mystery adventure on the PS2. OK, I know by the default that doesn't sound all that great ... but someone is really trying to do a mystery adventure for a console. Someone has gone back to the adventure game genre, took a serious look at it, and is trying to create a more modern incarnation. Now does it sound great?

We Love Katamari
I loaned the original to a co-worker and I'm not sure I'll ever see it again. There is now an empty place, directly behind and to the left of my right ventricle, that requires filling.

Rockstar's Upload 4

In between their day jobs of kicking puppies and stealing the Baby Jesus from his crib, Rockstar is offering up their fourth annualy media contest, Upload. Entries in short film, fiction, DJ mix and multimedia presentation can upload for judging and a chance to win cash prizes ranging from $3,000 for most categories to $5,000 for the short subject film award. Notable judges include DJ Pooh, who wrote the infamous San Andreas and Jonathan Nolan, whose short story was the basis for his brother Chris's Memento (which was robbed at the Oscars for best adapted, btw).

Deadline is Sept. 30th. Considering entering the short fiction if I can either rebuff an old story or get a decent idea by the end of the week.

Sunday, August 21, 2005

IGN loves babes

When a games industry media giant covers a really important issue like, who will be the model for Everquest's Antonia, how many pictures would one think might suffice for that event? Ten? Twenty? Fifty?

Try 178. 178 pictures of women wearing the exact same bikini who all roughly look the same. It's a bit hypnotic and apparently can create some kind of spasm of the old shutter trigger as well...

Weekend Geekery

I tried moblogging from downtown on Friday, but the few wifi spots I could find didn't seem to jive with the Zaurus. Granted the Berghoff is probably not the highest tech spot in town and Millenium Park was just wishful thinking.

While my brother was down, though, the old Nokia 6100 killed of it's battery just shy of two hours. This prompted a much needed trip to the Cingular store. I got a Nokia 6230, which quite as it sounds is almost identical to my old camera except with all the fixings, bluetooth probably being the most important to me. The Girl had originally made some noises about wanting a Treo, but the cost gave her a bit of a fright, so she was about to just go the cheapie vid camera route ... until she saw that Sony Ericsson 1.3 megapixel which is, according to the sales rep, "really a camera that's a phone." At that point I'm rather amazed she didn't just rip the demo from his hands and run out the door. In the long run, she did end up with a more tricked out phone than myself, although she doesn't really want to admit to it.

Today I'm going to spend most of the day working on UAC. I just got the rock generators working, which makes it a virtually unlimited asteroid belt. It doesn't have any real collection routine though, so I'm sure it's a time delayed performance hog right now. I've got another working title for UAC (Untitled Asteroids Clone), but I want to make sure it feels right before I start using it.

Next I got to get the reticle code cleaned up, and then just make ship collisions/etc., work correctly. I haven't decided what the "core" of the gameplay for UAC will be, before I'm willing to release it. Definately asteroids shooting, but likely an outpost base to at least buy supplies (did I mention there will be only one life per game?) and possibly 2 player support as well. With the plexiglass PC rig coming next week, I might actually get a PC build in as well.