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Saturday, October 06, 2007

For Sunday: Left 4 Dead Trailer

Hey, it's October. Time to get our scare on.

Pong Versus Hanafuda

I made a quip over at SVGL that the problem with Western gaming narratives was that Western games are pinball, Japanese games are comics - and while I hold that the statement is partially true - the history isn't accurate. In actuality, we created Pong off an oscilloscope (though the game industry has roots in pinball) and Nintendo started life making card games. Not that it really matters.

If you drift through Wikipedia's excellent history of video games, you'll see everyone was trying different paradigms and some of them included narratives. Concepts of a protagonist, storylines and art were intermixed. Whether it be Mario's quest against a large gorilla or Dirk against the dragon ... stories were something people tried.

The real question, I think, is why did the Western narrative genres ultimately fail? Adventure begat Zork which begat Hitchikers' Guide To The Galaxy (the game, of course, I don't mean it inspired the novel) - which was one of the most immersive pieces of interactive fiction ever created (not to mention one of the more frustrating). The IF version of HGTTG is a story with real characters you feel in touch with - and yet the closest we get to this these days is Indigo Prophecy. Which, OK, wasn't a bad game all in all - but not a great story.

On the flip side of things, Japanese RPG's - with their cutscenes and characters - flourished. OK, sure, Dragon's Lair and all of its cousins had mechanics which barely surpassed rock, paper, scissors in terms of game dynamics and the interactive DVD market of the good old Sega days is something of an embarrassment.

Maybe Pong and Hanafuda references aren't so off. We created games in a lab while Nintendo was playing cards. Sitting across the table from someone shouting "koi koi" is a bit different than wiggling knobs around. Maybe the problem Westerners have with accepting games as art is that we never really designed them as such. Certainly plenty in the industry can see the distinction - but your average movie reviewer is still think in terms of knobs, flippers and buttons.

Old History Lesson

While trying to find some of my old AJAX game posts, I finally found my original etymology of the 'no rental rumor' that was blasted against the PS3 for over a year and was even reported by the LA Times.

Ah, good times.

More On Adobe AIR and AIR Games

I don't really get the opportunity to get wrapped up into a single technology. I don't get the luxury. Closest I got was the fact that Crate & Barrel (my previous employer) was a .Net shop. So I got to consistently dabble in C#. In general, though, a lot of web development is a using whatever pieces you have available. When I got to Model Metrics, though, their focus is to establish themselves as Flex and AIR enablers for and hence I was very much encouraged to dive into that technology.

That said, I'll probably also be coding with C#, Saleforce's Apex, AJAX and PHP by the end of this month.

But Flex, and especially AIR, is really sticking with me. Many might try to dismiss AIR as simply "Flash on the desktop". There's a couple problems with this concept. First of all, AIR isn't Flash on the desktop, it's Flex on the desktop. And while Flex results in Flash - it isn't really Flash like at all. Flex closely resembles AJAX style development by dividing the interface into SGML documents (in this case, Adobe's MXML whereas AJAX relies on HTML), with the glue language being ActionScript 3.0 - which is essentially an extremely mature version of JavaScript (they are both based on the ECMAScript standard, but AS3 has stronger typing and object support).

So kinda like how Silverlight doesn't compete with AIR ... well neither does Flash.

AIR provides a cross-platform runtime for developers with largely a web-based background. However, I think that tricks people into thinking it is mostly good for grabbing databases and shoving forms around them. It is good for that, but it's essentially applicable for any desktop application.

So why aren't there any games>? I think there are, actually, a handful, but not much. Now part of this is because the existing libraries and sample code aren't well suited for game development. There's not exactly a lot of demos on proper collision detection or determining client-side frames per second. But the potential is there - and having beaten my head against the DHTML/AJAX side of things for a while, AIR is mighty attractive.

And I gotta say - Adobe is bringing on a might big game here. The next generation of design tools, like Thermo, and the new design for MXML components that should make Flex far more versatile - is exciting.

Right now I'm working on an app called Freeway which uses a lightweight version of the iTunes/podcast model to share AIR applications. Essentially it's a handler to create RSS feeds for your apps, a PHP script to aggregate those feeds, and a reader to track them as well as the ones you've downloaded. I'm playing with Freeway first as a kind of AIR primer, but also because if it got used then it be easier to communicate publishing with other AIR users and developers.

So, for the indie gaming set - you might check it out.

Lovecraft IF

Infocult sends up offers up a few Lovecraft IF links, including (thank you Nick) one to Randolph Carter. Sexy Videogameland lights her brass lantern along that way as well.

And yes, I am still looking into doing something more along these lines. I'll probably use AIR to accomplish it. No, the irony of doing a text adventure in a Flash-based environment does not escape me.


On MAKE Magazine:

Jason writes -

The Atari Punk Console is a simple electronic music circuit that you can
easily put together in a weekend. The original concept was created by
Forrest M. Mims III, writer of Getting Started in Electronics. At ...
Read Full Article, Atari Punk console

That just redefines badass.

PS3 and 360 tighten their distance

On Guardian Unlimited: Gamesblog:

According to MCV, sales of PS3 and Xbox 360 are 'within a hair's breadth of
each other' in terms of total number of units shifted this year. However,
although PS3 made a promising early splash, Xbox 360 has fought itself...
Read Full Article, PS3 and Xbox 360 'neck and neck' in the UK. Wii scarce again

So Sony is catching up with Microsoft. Nintendo is still outpacing everyone. The Cathode pad might become Wii-enabled next week, if I can take time to scour the city for the mythical console. Lunch table talk at work is that it is in supply right now, but don't wait until the holidays.

Takei Now A Rock In Space

On Slashdot:

ineedbettername writes "In recent news, the International Astronomic Union
has decided to rename the asteroid "1994 GT9" to 7307 Takei in honor of
George Takei, the actor who played Sulu in Star Trek. He now joins the ranks
of other famous sci-fi ...
Read Full Article, George Takei Now an Asteroid

I think I actually adore George's post-Trek work far more than his days of Sulu.

Tuesday, October 02, 2007

Adobe MAX Midway Point

I haven't been to a proper conference, workwise, in something near a decade - so being at MAX is a bit of a trip. Adobe just acquired Buzzword, a most interesting online word processor. They also announced more online services like Share, which seems like it would be a cool way to distribute documents online, but the beta doesn't seem to be giving me any love right now.

Most fascinating, however, is Thermo - announced today with no release date, sadly. Thermo allows you to take Photoshop files (properly layered) and convert them into Flex apps by redefining the layers as components. It's seriously one of those apps that once you see it, you wonder if it won't change your workflow in a positive way of the like you'd never want to leave again.

We've had a chance to show our Accelerate4Pharma application, which runs on Adobe's AIR, during a couple of sessions. I got a chance to talk briefly with James Ward and confess that once I was something of a Flash hater, but now am pretty much entranced by Flex.

I'm cobbling together an AIR app which, should I actually finish it, might help find other AIR applications and organize them via RSS feeds. I'm still at this point where any excuse to code something is a good excuse and it will force me to try something new (like using RSS feeds as a datasource or cleaning up SQL handling for offline data).

Right now I'm huddled in a hallway stealing some electricity, though. The actual accomodations here at McCormick can be a mixed bag. Nice rooms, no outlets. In fact the general design theme seems to be to keep chairs away from outlets at all costs. We found a bench next to an outlet, but the outlet was dead.

To boot, wifi and cell access are dodgy at best. Someone is still looking for the DHCP server, I think.

Monday, October 01, 2007

At Adobe MAX This Week

Work has sent me to Adobe's conference, MAX. Sitting in the general session now. I'll poke my head out when I can. Pics to arrive shortly.

360's New Clothes

Or, CPU as it were:

We've been waiting and waiting, and after months of speculation, a hardware revision, a couple limited editions, and even a new SKU, it looks like Microsoft is finally shipping "Falcon"-equipped Xbox 360s with 65nm CPUs. According to the eagle-eyed posters in the official Xbox forums, Halo edition 360s from lot #734 appear to be the first machines with the new chips, and the time-honored method of peeking inside the case with a flashlight should confirm you have the latest and greatest once you get your baby home.
-- 65nm Xbox 360s starting to trickle out?

I wonder why Microsoft would make this so invisible, so off the radar. Are they afraid that by confirming they've updated the CPU - they'll kick off a round of debate on the design flaws which cripple 360's in the first place? If so - seems like a pretty bad strategy ... we already know these flaws exist, so why not just tell us when you fix them?

Then people like me might take the console more seriously.