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Thursday, January 27, 2005

I Have A Daydream. Maybe a mini one.

It's not a big dream, or a glorified fantasy, or anything along those lines. It's just something I'd really like to be able to do some day. Developing games as a hobby instead of a profession certainly has a lot of disadvantages. Like no salary and very few people will ever even acknowledge that you ever accomplished anything. Course, there are lots of advantages - like not having to worry about budget or deadlines and being able to brag to your friends.

Sadly not a lot of my friends actually play the things I write. Mostly working with the Unreal engine and not many of them really adhere to it much. In fact, ironically the people I know the least are probably the ones who play the things I develop the most.

It would be nice to reverse that. In my daydream, I'm able to code and design on one box. Once it's running, I'm able to put it on another box, jam some controllers in it, hook it up to my TV and sit down on the couch and play the game with my girlfriend. In fact, in this daydream I spend half the day coding, part of the day drinking beer, and part of the day playing a game I made with a girl. I don't think there is a geek on Earth that wouldn't agree - that's a good day.

But is it crazy? I'm not sure. The chokepoint is this mythical box that can run PC code without alteration on a television ... with joystick support. There are few options. A modded XBox might work, for instance. A PC with a TV tuner/card is another choice. And then there's that Mac Mini that was just released.

The XBox is a hard choice because I don't like having to hack into someone's hardware just to do what I want. If Microsoft wanted me to be able to code for the XBox without knowing the secret handshake, they wouldn't have a secret handshake. The PCTV is a distinct possibility, provided a form factor that made sense could be negotiated. I don't really want a tower box to contend with. There is the advantage to the Mini - it's pretty much the perfect form factor. Problem there is that all my dev right now is on Windows.

Who knows, who knows. I'm likely to try by the end of the year though.

Wednesday, January 26, 2005

Poorly Crafted List of Gaming Demands

New Year. New Goals. New Demands.

Release X-Com for the Game Boy Advance I mean, it's only the best game ever made for one of the most popular platforms of all time. Do the math. Firaxis, Atari, I'm looking at you.

It's the AI, stupid Sorry, couldn't resist. But seriously, we get orders of magnitude better on everything else in gaming - graphics, sounds, controls, mechanics ... but 90% of the AI out there is still no smarter than we saw in Quake.

Release a new X-Com for the PC Yeah, there might be a trend here. Laser Squad Nemesis is great but limited, the new UFO series is from a different planet, and that leaves us with a WWII tactics game that apparently features giant Nazi robots. How is that I can stumble over ten different Tetris clones on the way to work, but I have to compile an decent emulator just to get back to this game?

If you're going Hollywood, do it right Fine, I can understand the big studios whoring out the tried and true, franchise orientated, innovation-bereft titles to fill the coffers ... but if gaming is going big studio, then let's take a page from the movie industry. Do one for the money, and then do one for the art.

Release a new X-Com for a console Told ya about that trend. The twist here is that making this for one to four players would be killer. Could still be turn based, where each players control different squads or responsibilities ... or it could work like X-Men: Legends. See, I'm flexible.

Stop with the slave labor It's time the industry started respecting itself a bit more. I don't think I really need to elaborate here.

Don't tease us, it's mean Anyone else tired of hype campaigns which begin a year before a title is released, often talking to length about features which haven't gotten a line of code to them? I'm guessing yes.

Nintendo and Sega: feel the love You're possibly the world's most innovative hardware company for games and possibly the world's most innovative software company for games. We've seen a bit of the magic on the DS. Make it work and keep it up.

Replayability, Replayability, Replayability The concept of PC titles having vast replayability seems to only be remembered in the RTS genre. It's been replaced in other genres, notably shooters, with modding - and we all know I love me mods. But that's doesn't excuse any genre from figuring out ways to games feel like permanent editions to our library again, instead of extended movie experiences.

Don't release Duke Nukem Forever Because honestly, that joke will never get old unless you do. Don't rob us of that.

Remember X-Com Seriously.

Ok, that's it for now. I might have more later.

Monday, January 24, 2005

I Heart Mercenaries

Well, love is such a strong word. I really like it though. This game pulls off emergence so effortlessly you don't entirely realize it's there. And they combined it with blowing the hell out of things, which every gamer keeps true to their heart.

It's passing the girlfriend test, though by the skin of it's teeth. Without the ability to wander around setting hookers on fire a la GTA, it's harder for her to burn off the frustration of the occasionally difficult combat system. Still, being able to wander around the countryside and play factions against each other, all the while lighting the place up in style - well, it's easy to get accustomed to that.

At the same time, there's a few frustrations. I don't really feel like my merc is capable of building anything as opposed to being this constant lone wolf. I miss the trend GTA was moving into of getting a house, owning a car, etc. I'm not saying a white picket fence would be appropiate, but it would be nice to have a carport to store that tank in. I can see why they went this route for balancing reasons, easier to keep the player a bit in check if they can't amass their own personal army, but it still feels a bit vacant in that category.

Most impressively is somehow you can still tell that this is from the guys who did Desert Strike, Jungle Strike, etc. There's this wonderful marriage between that classic gameplay and the fresh start of GTA-like wanderlust.

Well played, Pandemic. Looking forward to Destroy all Humans!

Sunday, January 23, 2005

Battle Royale: UT2004 versus MMOs

There are lots of things I don't understand about gaming these days, but the latest must be the zeal in which Massively Multiplayer gamers are willing to subsidize for what the average gamer wouldn't even stand for if it was free. And what's really odd is that these are often the same people.

It's like lots of people love to hate Doom 3. But if id had only made it possible for a thousand people to wander around hell and upgrade their Plasma Gun Craftsmanship, all would have been forgiven. Even if not everyone could actually log into hell. See? It doesn't have to work, you see, it just has to promise to work massively when it does.

And if that makes any sense to you, please let me know how. So, how do these two things compare? Let's look.

Unreal Tournament 2004Typical MMO
Retail PriceAbout $50.00About $50.00
Monthly PriceNone$10.00-$15.00
Online features32 player max, hundreds of different servers.Thousands of players online concurrently
Online StabilityRock SolidUsually flimsy
Online SecurityDecent, few problemsVaries. Some have zero problems, others suffer from common problems inventory cloning, leveling scripts and character hacking.
UpgradesFree bonus packs, free patchesFree patches, "non-mandatory" content packs costing $20-$50.
User modificationsAt least a handful of high quality mods, hundreds of user based projects, completely free tools to develop out of the box.Nothing. Nada. Zilch. Never will happen. Unless that MMO is Second Life.

OK, one could read that and say that I place an undue weight on user modifications - but I look at the wealth of gaming the UT2004 offers for free, which is itself limited really only to the energy of the user base playing it ... against the rather random ability to play the core game while still paying for it every day ... and I simply scratch my head.

I hope Guild Wars is successful, because right now I'm thinking the only reason MMO's are an attractive business model is for companies to trick gamers into digging into their pockets again and again and again and again.

I would also argue that there are things about an MMO that I'm going soft on. For instance, when Sony decided that PlanetSide was working the way "intended", they changed the core gameplay. And then they changed it again. And then again. Now that means that when someone reads a review of the game and decides to buy it - they could be buying something completely different. Sony could decide PlanetSide is just a rally race, and the gamers would just have to suck it down.

And when security goes wrong in your typical FPS, it can ruin a server, or in really grand cases effect the whole online community. But private servers and LAN games would still be fine. Security goes awry in an MMO, that could be it. The fat lady has sung, and took that fourty hours of level grinding with her.

I'm not saying MMO's are evil or inherently wrong. I think it's an interesting genre that I hope expands and evolves. I just think that if gamers assume that a) We will always pay a monthly few, because of server costs and b) These games will always be technical infeasible that the genre will have little reason to evolve. The problem with a) is that many companies work after market and don't charge a monthly fee for it (as shown by bonus packs, new modes, levels, etc.) and b) is self-defeating because some MMO's have been capable of stability.

An online chum and I were thinking of what it would take to do Minimal Massively Multiplayer, or an MMO network that ran off a normal MO framework. Maybe if we got that running, and Epic included the UT2004RPG mutator in every box ... they could just start charging a ten spot every thirty days?