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Thursday, December 30, 2004

Dev Night Diary: Filling out a framework

My online pal Wong and I like to compare notes on how we generally get nothing done. It's really not fair because both of us love to write frameworks. We love to write the core foundation to prove that if you can get x to do y that you actually do end up with the evil stepson of a hamster.

Our problem is that once we prove the hamster's existence, we don't do very much with it. We have this framework, but then some other shiny thing (like Half-Life 2) distracts us and we're off to prove something new again. This time I'm trying to do it differently, and actually finish this mod before moving on to anything new. I'm actually forcing myself to scale back and not scope creep the hell out of things. By sticking to single-player and trying to write this firmly in the Unreal Universe (which is a poorly cobbled affair as it is) I'm making the goal a bit easier to hit.

Last night I really started to fill out the framework. With some new tricks in UED I can make dark maps in a few minutes, so I'm taking some choice ones over. I started to add in new enemies, new weapons, etc. And then I was reminded why I don't usually take anything this far.

Because it shows you all the problems in your framework. I think I broke three distinct things just by using them. Sigh. Oh well, it's mostly working now and it's slowly starting to feel more like a game.

Tuesday, December 28, 2004

Holiday Half Life

So now post holiday I can finally bite into the full version of Half-Life 2. Definately enjoying it. The most impressive bit is that this still feels like Half-Life. I never called that one. I had assumed that with the Source Engine that you would see a new feel to the game, like you did with UT2k3 and Doom. Not sure what they kept around, but the movement and "inner loop" (Epic's term for the interactions closest to the player, like weapon handling) ... still feel like Valve's classic.

And Valve still does some of the best set pieces in the industry. Some of the way the world interacts in these scenes makes HL2 feel more like a play than a game.

Still, I have to repeat the statements below. I'm amazed by the similarities between this and Doom 3 that everyone bitched about. Let's ... silly flashlight. Check. (sorry people, a $2 flashlight from a gas station has more juice than Gordon's ... WTF?). "Classic" monster AI. Check. (while the "squad" tactics were revolutionary in HL, they've grown pretty predictable now). Sweet monster movement which ends in rudimentary attack. Check. Check. (If the leapers don't remind you of Doom's imps, you're playing with your eyes closed.) Monster closets? Monsters respawning behind you? Monsters spawning from seemingly nowhere? Check, check check.

I'm by no means saying HL2 is a bad game ... it's a very good game. And definately there's a differential ratio at work here ... HL2's flashlight mechanics are less annoying than Doom 3's because the flashlight isn't as necessary. The monster closets are less noticeable because they are less constant. Etc., etc. Still, it's interesting to watch gamer perception.

I haven't decided if I'll mod for HL2. After getting UDS done, I'd consider it. Be interesting to do a City 17 Police mod in the same vein.

Wednesday, December 22, 2004

Blizzard ate my friends

Strangest thing about having online chums who suddenly discovered the World of Warcraft. Every now and then, they just disappear. One more time and I'm sending out a large dog with whiskey around it's neck.

Tuesday, December 21, 2004

Monster Closets and Head Crabs

Playing the Half-Life 2 demo made me realize - Monster Closets are here to stay. Monster Closets are those parts made famous from the original DooM where you would enter a room, a secret door would open up and wham - apparently three hungry imps had locked themselves in a pantry.

Course, in HL2 they don't seem to be closets per se - but walking around Ravenholm it two things became apparent: every room probably has a corpse in it somewhere, and that corpse will get up to eat you. There also seemed to be a nearly unlimited source of the creatures from somewhere, even though I swear I was stone cold trapped in that hallway.

I just think it's fascinating that everyone bitched about Doom 3's use of them when it seems that HL2 is just as guilty, if only more subtle. I will say though, that the grav gun might be the most gimmicky thing I've seen in an FPS for a while - but it's also one of the most fun. Valve is to be commended for an excellent use of third party physics, something games like Deus Ex 2 proved isn't as easy as it sounds.

Monday, December 20, 2004

Dev Night Diary: Fight or Flight

I swear, I won't just be posting DND's. But the holidays make it slow to do news crawls. Anywho, my latest problem with UDS involves the fact that the Enemy AI seems to have only two modes: fight or flight. This basically turns the rounds into one of two things: either a bum rush or chasing down an annoyingly elusive enemy. The goal is to make it somewhere in between. The cause is that in normal deathmatch, enemies charge you if they're feeling brave, and then run for health and equipment if they've been hurt. UDS removes the equipment, so the bots never have a reason to turn back around and fight. So they just keep retreating. This is especially annoying because the current control setup forces you set a destination for your squadmates, slowing you down.

So the hopeful goal is to a) get the enemy to use cover and stop bum rushing, b) force them to resuse cover instead of infinitely looking for powerups and c) append squad commands so that they will simply follow ahead or behind you.

Friday, December 17, 2004

Dev Night Diary

So there's this wonderful eclipse of time I get when I get home from my normal work, the girlfriend isn't home and there's little to do but code games (and take out the garbage, feed cats, make dinner - but let's focus on the positive).

I've been modding the Unreal engine for a few years now, starting with Bounty War for UT, which became Freehold UT, then the XXXpaks for UT2003 and then Riftwar for UT2004. My latest is Unreal Defense Squad, a single player design, although a multiplayer variant might follow, which shares heritage between the classic X-Com and Unreal's Darkmatch. Basically, you manage a squad of soldiers to take back a station from hostile forces which have this tendency to hide in the dark.

Last night I replaced the old flashlight with a new one. The old one was based on an early version of Frag.Ops's flashlight and while very pretty, would crash the game when ever the player would die (on death, you can take control of a bot's pawn and this made the flashlight code cranky). So I used a much simpler design which creates an object at the end of the player's line of sight which illuminates light. This has a couple of advantages. One, I can now place the control indicator - which tells you where you can order a bot around - in view for the player. Two, the bots correctly use the flashlight without even knowing it. Three, when the player assumes a bot's control, the code easily manages it.

I don't know how well this will work online or if it will lead to performance issues down the road. Time will tell.

The other task was to clean up some of the campaign code. In UDS, you alternate between running missions and doing management back at HQ where you can request new soldiers, read incident reports, etc. To make this seem realistic, the campaign reacts to how the player is doing - so it tracks missions won, lost, ignored ... or players killed, etc. I had an early version of this in, but it was ineffective in getting all the info. One function was calling Epic's code first, for instance, and that would actually remove access to the pawn in the game ... so I simply had to move this until afterwards.

I'm a little concerned with the complexity of the framework itself. It occured to me last night that it would be neat that if when the player loses a mission, the enemies collect the squad's equipment and that increases the chance of those weapons showing up in enemy hands later on. My first reaction was cool ... followed quickly by ouch.

The Worst of 2004?

Today will be busy, but there is always time for a steaming cup of bile.

Thursday, December 16, 2004

Right and Responsibility

OK, so here is the rant.

Illinois wants to ban video games for those under eighteen.

The gist is that they feel they are protecting them.

This would make them the most expensive babysitter in recent history.

Seriously, why is it in this country that the people to blame are never to blame? I guess our President is the ideal of this - a man with plenty to account for who doesn't think anything is wrong. Surely he wasn't responsible for reviewing reports before speaking to the public, right?

Think I'm making a stretch? Think again. This is American culture, and it's sad. I remember seeing a picture on CNN of a Japanese CEO bowing to a townshall meeting of a small city his corporation had wronged. I don't even remember what they had done. Some pollution or something. Regardless, it's something you'll never see on these shores. Here, it's "prove it" - not "I'm sorry."

How does this relate? Because parents are never responsible for their children when it comes anything outside of feeding and giving them a place to sleep and defecate. We blame schools for education, we blame MTV for teen pregnancy, we blame video games for violence, we blame, we blame, we blame.

Governor Rob compared video games to drugs in his announcement. Does that strike anyone else as odd? OK, Manhunt is a pretty violent and disturbing game. But it's not something you can shoot up in the back alley and get an addiction. Manhunt isn't going to impair your ability to drive. This is the same argument that brought us Tom Hanks in Mazes and Monsters, the movie that depicted how pen and paper role playing games cause schizophrenia and homicidal thoughts. See, it can't be the parent's fault because video games can be so evil and powerful that we need the government to help us.

Bull hockey. I saw The Hulk in the theater with about twenty screaming, terrified children because their parents were too lazy to read a single review, or see a single trailer, or to even care enough to remove their child when it's clear they're freaking out. Who's fault is that? Well, by Illinois Logic, it's clearly Lowes Cinema for allowing that parent to enter with the child. Because we can't expect the parent to know.

If I really felt that this was just to give parents a hand, I'd probably be for it. What this does in the long run, though, is absolve parents of any need to ask their kids about what they are playing.

Illinois to ban violent video games for minors

Though I heard this on NPR first,
Evil Avatar
gets the link since I'm already ranting over there. This stuff boils my blood. Not in that cartoony steam from ears way either. More later, too busy right now to comment. I've got some lengthy responses in the EA thread already.

Wednesday, December 15, 2004

2005 Prediction #1 - Fewer sequels, more franchises

In reading all of these interviews with gaming types saying that costs are rising, the market is getting more particular, the little guy is subsiding, etc., etc. - there was one trend in 2004 that rings out - sequels breed disappointment.

Specifically, sequels to gaming classics that took a while to arrive and now come with new graphic engines and major gameplay decisions. Doom 3, Half-Life 2, Halo 2, Theif 3 - all of them fell prey to this. My guess is that gaming studios are going to get tired of feeling sting and what we're going to see more of is simple franchise evolution. Like the difference between UT2003 and UT2004 or say, the Splinter Cell series. I'm certianly playing semantics here, but it makes sense that if a company is going to invest a lot of resources into new technology - they might not risk that on one of their precious brand names.

Imagine if Ion Storm had released something called "Cyberpunk Soldier" instead of Deus Ex 2. Nobody would have been expecting the genre-bending depth of the original and they could have escaped much of their post-demo bad press about the game. True sequels are big bullets. If you miss, you just cost yourself a lot of cash.

I'm sure there is a Halo 3 in our future. I doubt Doom 4 is coming around the bend. Quake 4 is - but only with a lessonbook based on what happened to Doom 3. Epic will be continue to follow the Madden formula until Unreal Engine 3 is ready for travel - but even then I'm guessing they'll make a game which isn't a UT one (perhaps still in the very loosely defined Unreal universe however).

Classics might start remain just that.

We made you. So you like, owe us. Now go make stars.

Well, my King impersonation sucks, so here are some Katamari Damarcy 2 screenies to make up for it.

For the interested - here is my list of things I think they should change for the sequel:

That is all.

Most Disappointing Triple A Title of 2004 (?)

One of my big concerns with the gaming culture is that it's desire for the best game in the world to be even better will eventually end up devouring itself. As we push gaming companies to be bigger, make better, things get more expensive and as noted below - we push out the little guy and probably innovation itself. As innovation dies down, gamers still demand better graphics and things get bigger and innovation dies a little again. Eventually it will get to the point where the only games that can afford a marketing budget to make a profit will undoubtably be beautiful, but safe and formulaic.

So may I herald the fact that Gamespot has nominated two major titles for Most Disappointing that it had previously rated 8/10 and 9/10 respectively as an omen? I speak of Doom 3 and Halo 2. Now I haven't played Halo 2 because I don't own an XBox (they're too big, too Microsoft - let's not get into it). But I found Doom 3 to be fun, scary and very pretty. It didn't wow me like the original did, but it was certainly worth my dough. From what I've read of Halo 2 - that makes even less sense.

I wonder how much id makes on titles versus licensing. At this point, I kinda expect one of the major 3D engine studios (Valve, id, Epic, Monolith, etc) to go pure middleware and leave the appeasement up to someone else.

The psp is falling?

If you listen to the ground, you'll hear the fast spreading rumor that PSP's are junky defective toys that will kill you by ejecting their discs into your chest shuriken style.

This is all based on a handful of reports being shot around blogs at rapid speed. They seem to be exclusively based by import junkies and it seems that by trying to twist the PSP in half, it may have a violent reaction. I know I would.

So, I guess the fact that some people who had brand new, never mass produced before, portable electronic devices express shipped over a ten hour flight can't try to snap it in half while playing is news.

I guess. I'm not too concerned with the PSP until it gets here in March, and I can see a price tag with it.

Tom Kidding

Tuesday, December 14, 2004

The Hard Road for the Small Guy

In this HomeLAN Fed interview with Epic president, Mike Capps, he puts it simply for the road ahead on game technology:

Building competitive engine technology has become extremely expensive, so more shops will be licensing engines rather than building their own. The balance of power (and the budget) is definitely shifting from the programmers to the content artists. When characters are 6,000,000 polygons instead of 200, and scenes are 200,000,000 polygons instead of 50,000, the amount of work for the art staff just skyrockets. And those increased expenses will lead to even more consolidation in the industry, and an even harder road for the independent or start-up studios.

In other words, more cost to game houses makes it harder for those without a bundle of capital in the corner to make something competitive. This is a pretty standard technology model. A Netscape executive once agreed with me that trying design internet software was a bit like selling crack except far less profitable. Game expectations ballon every year as the software houses like id and Epic push out eye cocaine.

Let's take a gross example of how this impacts gaming. One of Daikatana's (many) problems was that by the time Ion Storm had designs and offices and thing really moving with a demo of the game, id had already started showing off Quake 2 eye candy. Ion Storm tried to keep up, and looked what happened. Heck, do I even need to mention Duke Nukem Forever? Do I? I didn't think so.

And there's the flip side. Look at the gamer responses to Deus Ex 2, Doom 3 and even Half-Life 2. Even with the best visuals in the world gamers aren't satisified without a solid game behind it. So Ion Storm, id, and Valve can barely keep up with itself.

How is the little guy supposed to compete?

I'm not sure, unless they have some serious trick up their sleeve, they should even try. You don't necessarily need the most photorealistic skins over the highest polycount monster to develop a good idea. And by looking at IGF Finalists of this year, I'd say there's a lot of potential for the theory. Katamari Damarcy is hands down one of the best games I've ever played in my long geeky life, and those graphics really kinda suck. And thank god, Katamari Doom 3 would be too distracting for my eyeballs to track (not to mention too hard to find things to roll over without a flashlight). I just played the Gish demo, and I can't see how specular lighting (whatever that is) would improve it.

Midway goes all playmaker on EA

Various rumor mills are churning that Midway will respond to EA by hiring a writer from the Playmakers show and making a game (assumed via the Blitz franchise) that has nothing to do with the NFL. Smart move, Midway. Give yourself some creative freedom and let the NFL deal with their new bedmates.

Dark Game Anyone?

The guys behind DarkBASIC are releasing a C++ SDK for their API. Pretty nifty. This and Blitz interest me as potential stepping stones between modding and amatuer game dev.

Cooler Talk: Sims VS GTA ?

We had a lunchtable conversation that surrounded around one thing: which is more violent ... Sims or GTA? I'm not really leaning to the obvious. I've seen people do way more sadistic stuff in Sims, and unlike GTA - there is absolutely no feedback from the game that what you're doing is wrong (aside from the obvious symptoms of death, crying, etc). At least in GTA someone sometimes tries to stop me when I cap someone for denting my car. Though in GTA I guess an AK-47 does render that moot, so perhaps it's a tie.

More on EA == Evil

CNN's Game Over would seem to agree that this NFL deal was fairly evil.

DOOM Scriptwriter "explains"

Dave Callaham explains that it's all hollywood's fault that his movie script has little to do with even the flimsy DOOM backstory. Seems a bit shifty to me - trying to explain that we shouldn't worry because the film will have all the important elements of the DOOM plot (aside from backgroud, characters, plot or monsters??)

Hollywood must be pretty messed up then. Like I posted on - set in mars, have some teleportation stuff get messed up and star Bruce Campbell. Jeebus, how hard can this be?

EA Global Domination++

Apparently only EA can legally use NFL teams now. That's gotta be a major blow to other NFL game players like Sega and Midway. Not sure how to read this as anything but a bad thing.

Last night, I killed a hooker

Or how good is Grand Theft Auto: San Andreas. Yeah, I know - making a maiden post on GTA for gaming is kinda like a fishing magazine having a first cover that says "Marlin - Cool or what??" ... but the girl and I have been vacationing in San Andreas for quite some time now.

GTA:SA tacks on nearly everything I love about a really good game. It shares a heritage that dates back to Defender but is normally championed by titles like Zelda: Ocarina of Time  and Deus Ex. Yeah, yeah - we now have emergence as a buzz word. But it's not just that. Here you have a game that also includes a sense of inner game evolution. That is, the game gets better as you play it. As you dig into the game, you're rewarded with more choices and more perspectives. This is generally inherent in the RPG genre but not really seen much outside of it. This is where Deus Ex  succeeded but Deux Ex 2  somewhat failed. The augment system in DX2 felt much more like a schtick than integral to the experience.

GTA:SA is famous for it's violent nature. Yeah, there's no bones that the game is unabashadly mature - but it's in such an over the top manner that we shouldn't confuse it with taking itself seriously. That's the leg up the franchise has over Manhunt  or JFK Reloaded  - it gives you many clues that it's in on the joke while these other titles make it seem like they're simply challenging you to be depraved.

So hurrah to Rockstar. I'm set till Christmas.

Cathode Tan II

There is nothing to see here ... yet