Cathode Tan - Games, Media and Geek Stuff
logo design by man bytes blog

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.