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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.

Wednesday, August 31, 2005

Alternate Reality Killed the Radio Star

So I just finished the BBC ARG Jamie Kane. As a genre, Alternate Reality Gaming is still pretty nascent. It relies heavily on an active community willing to help inform people about invitations or game starts (called rabbit holes by ARGers) and frequenly on that same community to solve puzzles brute force style. A kind of distributed detective if you will. This all feeds into the viral nature of ARGs and why they generally serve as a kind of guerilla marketing.

Jamie Kane is really a very different beast (no pun intended). The game is easily accessible via the BBC's website and offers very simple largely flash-based, mini-games in lieu of complicated logic puzzles (which the ARG community still chews through in an extremely rapid manner). Rather than gamemasters which monitor the success of the community and manipulates factors of the game accordingly, Jamie Kane moved along at a very steady pace aided by the chatterbots which comprised it's characters. Largely a daily interaction between a fake emails, fake messageboard, a fake instant messenger, and a fake online program ... Jamie Kane is designed around a solitary experience to give players about 20-30 minutes of entertainment within that cycle.

In some ways, this has to be a major turnoff to the serious ARG devotee who requires a serious challenge of combing through websites looking for wildly obscure clues and comparing notes with fellow serious ARG devot, it was ees. The community is half the fun in a normal ARG as you build and dismantle theories about the mysteries. In Jamie Kane though, everything is laid out for you by the fictional characters and they just need the occasional helping hand.

Still, it's hard not to wonder if Jamie Kane doesn't offer some serious lessons for the genre. Prior to trying out this game, I don't think I would have reacted to the suggestion of an ARG aimed for the 14-16 year old market with much more than some random blinking. The complexity of some ARGs is one of the things that becomes a barrier. Sure, they're great for viral marketing, but sometimes it's hard to feel involved with a large group of people all trying to solve puzzles. During the middle part of ILB, it was very possible to log into the Unfiction forums only to discover that every bit of new found info had been picked through and every puzzle solved. Then of course ILB finished with a payphone scavenger hunt and only people within certain physical locations were really terribly active in the game.

Jamie Kane, on the other hand, allows each player to play equally. There's got to be a compromise here. Content which is perhaps a little more mature, puzzles which might take longer to solve and more sleuthing but at the same still focused on the single player. It's hard to imagine who it will all work out though, when the examples are really very opposite from one another.

In the end, congratulations are in order for the Jamie Kane team. It was a very polished job. I had the occasional problem (like when Greta refused to talk to me just because I said "blimey"), but for the most it was without a hitch and top notch. Hopefully they'll try something again, maybe for a more adult audience.

First Evah First Person Shooter

A lot of people say "Doom" and get chastized by some other people who say "Wolfenstein 3D" which in turn get chastized by someone who drags up some other vector game or early id experiment, until someone finally brings up:


CGM has a great retrospective:

When MazeWar's network packets were slimmed down to work across the primitive Internet of the 1970s, MIT and Stanford got into some very heated battles. This is evidenced by the MazeWar man page, where it claims that the game was banned by DARPA from the ArpaNet because "half of all the packets in a given month were MazeWar packets flying between Stanford and MIT."
-- The First First Person Shooter

Brief List of Nude Demands

Here are the games that people have been trying to find nude/sex patches/mods for ... and failing to do so when they land here:

Guild Wars
World of Warcraft
Unreal Tournament 2003/2004
Half-Life 2
Grand Theft Auto (all of them)
Sims (1 & 2)
Neverwinter Nights
Star Wars: Galaxies
God of War
Leisure Suit Larry (version not specified)
Playboy: The Mansion

I keep waiting for LEGO Star Wars to show up, but thankfully nobody has stooped that far yet ... although I swear there was a Mario game in there I've forgotten. The last three seem just silly, though, considering the content which is already in the game. Cortana is a fan favorite, that is for darn sure, and Guild Wars is a very common request.

The Carnival Approaches

Remember, it's not too late to get your submissions in.

Patented Insanity

Ever wonder what would happen if people in the past had been as big as twerps as everyone else?

What if Eugene Jarvis had patented a "system for detailing objects surrounding a player in a tactical and real-time manner". I mean, how many games today have some kind of radar system?

Or if MIT had patented a "method of handling gameplay mechanics between two or more players simultaneously within the same domain of virtual structures"? Well, I guess multiplayer would cost a little more to play these days, now wouldn't it?

Or if Will Crowther decided to patent "an interactive text parser to deliberate decisions between objects remember in software and human inputted words and/or phrases"? Well, perhaps Adventure wouldn't have spawned such a great genre after all?

Nintendo has filed a patent for a Insanity System, wherein players may go more crazy for encountering strange situations they aren't prepared for or equipped to handle. In other words, it's precisely the same mechanism used by the pen and paper Cthulhu RPG since it's conception. Unlike, say Ralph Baer, who owns the first patent on a home video game, we aren't talking about hardware here. There's no diagram of an Insanity Machine. Nor are we talking about source code (which is protected under it's own licenses and copyright).

We're just talking about a concept. Not a terribly original concept either. In fact, once you boil it down, the patent isn't even that much different from your standard health system. Encounter bad situation unprepared - lose health. Be prepared, keep health. A sanity system is exactly the same with a few different parameters.

By trying to patent a concept which has the possibility of being a staple for horror genre games, Nintendo is threatening the creativity and evolution of such games. They're laying claim to an idea in what can only presume is an effort to keep others from using it. Now go back to the examples above and ask yourself again ... what if others acted the same way?

Video games are like literature in that over time, they borrow from each other quite liberally. This allows the entire medium to move forward. Patents like this can only stifle game development as a whole. For one thing, it starts to make game concepts the domain of large companies who can afford the kind of lawyer capable of writing a phrase like "...preferred embodiments of the instant invention have been described herein, it is noted that various changes and modification may be made, as one skilled in the art will readily understand from the description of the invention herein. Thus, the description of the invention herein is not meant to be limiting to the true scope of the invention".

Keep that up and modders won't be able to bother to go around inventing things like Capture the Flag. I don't think I would have bothered experimenting with three team play, or mixed akimbo systems, or new turn based interfaces if I had thought that someone else would have gone and payed a lawyer to control those ideas. Concepts that are free and clear will force developers to adopt them, improve them and move on. Concepts which are caged to one owner will end up being niche ideas that will eventually be forgotten.

Dev Day Diary: It's a game!

So, I have rocks in space, a ship to shoot them, shields to protect the ship, ore to collect and ways of dying. I have a setting, I have game dynamics, I have a score and I have risk. So it's a game now, right?

Technically, yes, but it's a very suckass one. However, it's the most I've completed in a while, so it feels pretty good. I need to add an outpost or base and then work out the store mechanics, which should help flush out the rest of the framework I need to start setting up factions, enemy ships, missions, etc., and essentially the rest of Atlas which will make it actually fun.

Unfortunately, I found Pixen to be unsuable beyond 64x64 images. It just freaks out. This is fine for a lot of the graphics in the game, actually, but when I'm trying to design a large structure, it's just not very realistic. So I'm trying a few other proggies. I tried the vector-based Inkscape that Corvus recommended, but it's not friendly with Tiger (it thinks I need X11 ... I have X11). I had just started to play with Intaglio, a similar program, when the allergy medicine kicked in and rendered my brain fairly useless.

On the hardware front, I think I can get a cheap AGP and DDR based PC which will take most of my equipment. Right now I'm looking at a $250 Celeron D based workstation, which when I'm done with it will have 1GB RAM, a 9700 Pro, an Audigy and a 120GB drive. The D is definately a bottleneck, but reviews I've read are far more favorable than I imagined, and I can probably at least run the games I need ... even if they won't be pretty. It's better than spending $700-$1400 and basically having duplicate HD's or RAM ... or an mboard that won't take the 9700.

Worst part is noise. I do love the silence of the mini.

Tuesday, August 30, 2005

Test Drive A Mac Mini

For a limited time, Apple is letting people take home a Mac mini with a thirty day satisfaction guarantee. Don't like it, just return it.

So far, I've been thrilled with mine. It takes up less room than my external DVD writer and is quiet as all get out (I actually have been able to tell when my code is underperforming by listening for the fan!). It's not going to light the world in fire in terms of speed, but I'm not ashamed to say that I was able to run around with the Halo demo over the weekend. It wasn't the prettiest belle at the ball, but at least we were dancing.

EDIT: Sorry, my first take on this was misleading. You pay up front, but can return any time in the thirty days for a full refund.

Bad Nintendo

I'll deal with you later. Too many thoughts on that one to post right now.

Robotech: Shadow Chronicles

How is it that I have to stumble on this from IMDB? Apparently Harmony Gold is releasing a new Robotech series. Most anime geeks I know have kind of love/hate relationship with Robotech. For lots of us it was right up there with Voltron for helping introduce the medium, but for many it was also seen as a butchered editing of existing anime movies. I for one still have heartstrings for the franchise.

Oh, that Big Red One

One reader we shall refer to as Ralph (since that's his name) has pointed out that the Big Red One is a moniker for the First Infantry Division as well as movie starring the leader of the Dirty Dozen and Luke Skywalker. So that answers that. Learn something every day. Thanks, Ralph.

Times on Games Violence

The New York Times has a quick article entitled The Claim: Violent Video Games Make Young People Aggressive which does a decent and balanced job of debunkery:

But a separate study, also published this month, concluded that violent video games have no "long-term," or permanent, effects on aggressive behavior. The study, by a researcher at the University of Illinois, was among the first of its kind to follow two groups of people for a month, some randomly assigned to play violent video games and some not.

In the end, the study's findings may be more in line with public opinion. On the day its findings were announced, a jury in Alabama reached a guilty verdict in the case of Devin Moore, who killed three people when he was 18 and as his defense blamed the video game "Grand Theft Auto."

The bottom line they draw? "Studies generally show that violent video games can have short-term, or momentary, effects on children, but there is little evidence of long-term changes." Now, was that really so hard? It follows common sense thought, there's no reason to be overly alarmed about video games and yet it obviously is something that a concerned parent would note. In other words, there's a bit for all sides from this conclusion and it has the handy benefit of being both rational and honest.

Sad that means so little people will probably pay attention to it. How long until some lawyer gets in front of a camera and announces that the PlayStation 2 causes brain damage ya think?

Valve Bemoans 360 Hard Drive

Apparently Gabe Newell had some choice words for Microsoft concerning their video game development and their decision to make the 360 hard drive optional:

Look, I spoke to some people at Microsoft, and as I said, I can't point to a single feature in Vista that I care about that solves problems for us at all. And I had the same conversation with the Xbox 360 guys. It's like, Xbox 360 doesn't make my life any better, and in fact, it makes it a lot worse, as you're telling me I can't count on having a hard drive.
-- Gabe Newell: Xbox 360 Makes My Life Worse

Not terribly surprising since that's what the mumblevine has been saying since the Core System was announced. Having dealt with Microsoft's "revolutions" in the web development world for years now, I wasn't expecting much from Vista or XNA than some prettied tools and a lot of marketing speak myself. Microsoft still probably has some of the best developer tools on the planet, but they've even better spin doctors.

Most notably, quotes like that make me think that it was really smart of Sony to release after the 360. Hopefully they are taking notes about the price, the dev tools, the hard drive, etc., and it pushes them to make a better product.

Survey Your SiN

The makers of the upcoming episodic SiN remake want to know what you think about multiplayer ( thanks bit-tech ). The new SiN game will be mostly single-player, but it sounds like they're getting towards the end of the initial development and are probably gearing up for the netplay side of things. It's a fairly extensive survey, getting down to such nit and grit topics as web-based stats and keybind preferences.

Oh Holoholo

Try saying that three times fast.

By way of popgadget (which I stumbled on thanks to Brinstar) I found this site which sells Holoholos. Unfortunately the site is in all Japanese.

Holoholos, since you asked, are tiny shrimp which feed off of microscopic bacteria and are one of the few aquatic pets which require less maintanence than a betta but are more interesting than your average sea monkey. They're kinda sea monkeys on steriods if you will. A co-worker of mine had one on his desk and they're actually pretty nifty. Have no idea how to get one stateside though.

Big Red One?

Apparently Spark is suing Activision for lifting their designs from Call of Duty into Call of Duty 2: Big Red One. Which leads to the obvious question ... why is Activision calling the next Call of Duty the Big Red One?

Monday, August 29, 2005

Cathode Sitting

Oh, the delights of the Internet. I just got this in the old inbox:

Hi there,

I'm writing because I'd really like to link to your site from mine. I have a site dedicated to locating cat sitters all over the United States.

Hi back. I'm curious to the kind of cat sitter that doesn't know the difference between a furry, four-legged mammal with a fondness for herbs and a glass cone intended for the transmission of video images. The idea of paying someone to come by while I'm gone and making sure that my 32" television doesn't get into any mischief seems a bit odd.

But it gets better.

You can add your link to all 16,000+ pages of the site by filling out the form located here

PLEASE do not share that URL with anybody, since I am very particular about which sites get added to my related sites section and I don't want that form to get abused by link spammers.

Uh yeah. You know, my grammy used to have a word for someone who sent other unsolicited emails to sites that they've clearly never even visited. What was it? Was it ... a ... spammer? I believe it was.

Because I'm a kind soul, I won't post the link ... though I don't normally suffer such hypocrites lightly.

Coffee and Video Games - Your Healthy Diet

Nothing I love more than logging into a Monday morning to discover that my my coffee is a sound source of anti-oxidants (as a co-worker said ... those things that keep Larry King alive) and that my video games exercise my brain. Gimme something about beer and I'm on the road to being the healthist man alive.

It's Easter Already

I just stumbled on GameSpot's Greatest Easter Egg List.

Geek Buckles Get Geekier

NES Buckles is expanding their lineup to include such retro fasion statements as the Sega Genesis. As one of my old co-workers would say ... sometimes your fasion statement is really a question mark.

Jackass Video Game

Never having been a big fan of the show, it's hard for me to respond to the following without using a broad and snarky brush:

The lifelong San Rafael resident's audience was Jeff Tremaine, director, producer and co-creator of "Jackass," the popular MTV show about a group of zany stunt men and extreme sports enthusiasts with high thresholds of pain and rather unique ways of exploring that threshold.

Aldridge, the founder and chief executive officer of Sausalito-based video game publisher Red Mile Entertainment, needed to convince Tremaine and his colleagues that Red Mile could create a video game based on "Jackass" that would reflect the, well, unique tone and content of the show itself.

"These guys are some crazy guys, and they're going to want to see a game that reflects that," Aldridge said. "The game's got to match what those guys would like to see."
-- Game maker scores rights to 'Jackass'

I foresee the first ever minigame involving a shopping cart and a hill. I wonder if you get extra points for inadvertently cracking a skull. Maybe the special edition will come with a taser? I wonder how the ESRB will rate this ... "please kids, don't trying this at home?"

A Project Management MMO? A PMMMO?

Called "Mercenarie$ All," the new MMOAG is a strategic vehicle combat game where online players or "mercenaries" have to manage projects to gain resources to purchase more assets that, in turn, allow them to do more and take on bigger challenges. A demo for the game is now being developed in Singapore, and is expected to launch to the gaming world in 2007 in Mandarin and English languages. A Korean language version is planned to be available at a later date.
-- 3DS Max and Mercenarie$ All

Granted, vehicular combat is way more interesting that selling your average widget. While I imagine this is mostly just a bit o bad copy and might just be referring to your typical unit management ... it is an intriguing idea. Maybe after a bunch of questing around the Boardrooms Of The Dark Executive, one can earn the special Vorpal TPS Report of Doom.