Tuesday, January 30, 2007

The Game

I have decided that it is time to explain The Game. I have already begun spreading it around uni teaching it as it was taught to me by Chris and as was taught to him and so on and so on.

The aim of The Game is to forget you are playing The Game. If you remember you are playing The Game, you have lost The Game. You cannot win The Game. No one can. Everyone in the world is playing The Game, just that some of them might not know yet. If you remember you are playing The Game, and lose The Game, it is your duty to inform everyone around you, and irritate them by making them lose too. There is a five minute grace period after someone loses in which no one else is allowed to lose, in order to let everyone fully forget about The Game.

You will find after a while playing The Game that certain things will trigger losing. These can include: seeing the person who taught you The Game, certain objects - for me bananas, melons or cheesecake, seeing Lost on TV, hearing a song by rapper The Game or talking about any kind of game.

Enjoy :)

Sunday, January 28, 2007

Week 17: Game Engines

A game engine is the core software of a game with real time graphics. They will control tasks such as rendering the graphics, physics, animation, scripting and networking, and can help make game construction easier, faster and cheaper.

Developers can choose to construct their own game engine to suit their needs or can purchase an existing engine such as the Unreal engine. Developers can also purchase 'middleware', engines which can be tacked on to an existing engine to provide a different function. Examples of these are the Havok physics engine, which can be used to control ragdoll physics, and SpeedTree, which can procedurally generate trees once given examples or specifications. Both of these examples of middleware can save developers time.
Developers can also develop their own middleware and swap and share amongst each other. I seem to remember Naughty Dog and Insomniac sharing their weapon engine and environment creation engine.

Subtractive and Additive are terms used to describe the way a level is created within the game engine. The Unreal Editor for example uses subtractive creation. The game level begins as a solid block and the user uses brushes to carve away shapes. The brushes have many different qualities, and can add solid, semisolid or nonsolid objects to the game level. However this method can cause problems and lead to crashes in the editor due to the way the brush effects are memorised. Using mesh objects such as those created in 3D studio max can help to solve the problem as they are easier to process.
An additive level editor begins as a blank space and is then built up rather than being carved out.

The advantages of using an existing engine are that you know it works, it's ready to go and only needs minor adjustments, and you can focus on the artistic elements of your game. However, the engine may not do exactly what you want it to and your game will have to work around the limits of the engine with its gameplay. If you build your own engine, you can focus on exactly what you want your game to achieve, can make the code as complex or simple as you want and have the option of selling the engine later, ensuring more money from the game.

The key issues for next gen engines appear to be based around light and shadow. New dynamic shadow and light mapping is being developed for the Source engine, and the Unreal 3 engine site boasts of its support for four methods of shadowing techniques .

Tuesday, January 23, 2007

I was thinking earlier about how you get a lot of film to video game conversions, and a lot of book to film conversions, but not a lot of book to video game conversions. The only ones I can really think of are the Hitchhikers guide to the Galaxy text adventure game, and a couple of Discworld games. But then again, Hitchhikers was never really one format to begin with, and Terry Pratchett is notoriously picky about who can do what with his books.
I say this because I was thinking about how the Hungry Cities series of books would work as a game.

I've just finished reading them, and they honestly blew me away. They're about a post-apocolyptic world where leaders have decided to move their cities around to keep them from being attacked. The cities have huge jaws on the front to devour smaller towns or static settlements. The materials they gather are then sorted by people in the gut and used to extend or maintain the city. Due to the movement of the cities, the earth is constantly churned up, and no vegetation grows. A group called the anti-traction league have settlements in the Himalayas, and want to restore the Earth to its green state.

There is a lot of scope for a game here, either sim city style, managing your moving city: Where do I use the new materials? Where should I hunt next? Who should I trade with?
Or perhaps as an adventure with the two main characters, Hester and Tom. Between the first and second books they go adventuring on the Bird Roads - paths taken by trading airships. This leaves a lot of scope for players to visit all the cities they could wish to without upsetting any plot balance. You could play through the first book and then adventure in the Bird Roads.

This sounds so fun. I'd play it! Fortunately, Wikipedia says that "It's rumoured that Peter Jackson has displayed an interest in making the Hungry City Chronicles into an episodic video game for Xbox 360." But then again you can't trust everything on Wikipedia.

Sunday, January 21, 2007

Week 16: Game Cultures

This one is really interesting for me because it's only when I sit down and think about it that I realise how much of my life revolves around game cultures. In 2000 I joined a chatroom called pokemasters on mIRC, a chat program. The chatroom was obviously dedicated to the topic of Pokemon, it being the height of the craze. The chatroom was the child of a larger site, which is still here, although missing a lot of the content that used to be there
My handle was Pikachuinapeartree as it was festive and I stayed a member of that chatroom for many years, long after the chat about pokemon had died off and the room had dwindled to a few hardcore members.
I met many friends in that channel. Some of them very close real life friends, some of them I never actually met up with. Me and my friend acquired boyfriends from the channel who we went out with in real life.

That in itself is another game culture influence. My friend's boyfriend, who we shall call wormania for now as that was his handle for a while, was a very hardcore gamer. He played for high scores in a lot of different games. At one point he was seventh in the world or something for the high score in the home run contest in Super Smash Bros Melee. Number one in the UK I think. He also played a lot of Halo. As my friend was not a gamer at all, it was hard for them to relate sometimes. They did find a way of gaming together eventually through Runescape, a terrible free MMORPG.

I've just had a big discussion with the boyfriend (who I coincidentally met through the internet) about high scores. My gut reaction with high scores is to consider them a bit sad and a waste of time, but why? Athletes who train all their lives just to shave a couple of milliseconds off a world record time are just the same. They are dedicating themselves to something that, in the great scheme of things, is really not that important. I suppose on a primal level we recognise physical achievements as a desirable trait, whereas virtual achievements aren't quite there yet.

What cultures am I part of? Well not many at the moment, seeing as I have no internet gaming in halls (Grrr!). However the one I miss the most and really enjoyed for a long time was the Wacraft 3 custom game scene. It's pretty similar to mods, you have a game editor where you can come up with your own games. It's how the legendary tower defence games were born, using the different defensive towers from the game and customising them further.
Here is a flash version of the Element TD. Imagine it with better graphics and played against lots of people all talking to each other and calling each other noobs and you basically have the warcraft version.

I suppose I was also part of the fanart culture for some games. For Pokemon certainly, although I'm not showing any of my embarrassing art. Some things I would just copy the artwork for practice, I found a lot of Golden Sun, Spyro, Crash Bandicoot and Jak and Daxter copy stuff in a folder when I had a clearout. And also some more original stuff for Ratchet and Clank. Thankfully I don't get obsessed with it like some people. They call themselves 'fuzztakus' and basically fawn over Ratchet because he is fuzzy. They scare me a lot.
Go here if you dare.
This one is by me and I'd like to think is semi-decent:

Monday, January 15, 2007

It's kind of disappointing how few people on my course know how to use a library. Or actually want to use a library at all. People would rather 'own' book than 'hire' them which I can kind of understand. But I like having so many things in one place that I might never think of buying, or might never consider reading unless I'd seen it on a library shelf. Plus why would I buy something if I wasn't sure I'd like it? I've read plenty of books that I've felt were terrible, but because it's borrowed I haven't really lost anything.
Plus the fact that my Mum works at a library so I can get all the great stuff like DVD rental for free...

Sunday, January 14, 2007

Week 15 The Games Industry

How is the games industry doing? Well, in financial terms, pretty well. Gamesindustry.biz reports that the Japanese games industry is up by 125 percent, and also that sales of games are driving up sales of hardware in the US. The games industry also has a higher annual growth of wages than the film industry, at 17.4%.

For some employee views on the industry, I went to Gamasutra's blog section. Here we find industry employees discussing the advantages of procedurally generating in game objects as opposed to modelling them, how to report in Second Life for Reuters, use of technology for dramatic effect and discussion of how to incorporate plot into MMORPGS or whether it should even be done at all. Employees within the industry all seem passionate about making better games as well as games that make money.

Challenges facing the industry at the moment include producing and marketing games effectively for women and use of the new motion sensor technology brought in by the Wii and to a lesser extent by the PS3. David Gardner from EA commented on the BBC website that the games industry is still not reaching its full audience, but that producing games like The Sims or MMOs where players can focus on relationships can help to overcome this. The presence of women within the games industry is gradually increasing and is now up to 10%, but it may be a while before this filters down fully to the games themselves.

It is still early days yet for the technological possibilities brought in by the Wii, but it has inspired many within the industry to look to the future. I can't remember who it was said by, but someone from the Sony team said in Edge magazine that perhaps by the PS7 they would be looking at biotechnology for a fully immersive experience.

Another challenge faced by the games industry is that of continuing negative press. On East Midlands news earlier in the week there was an incident where a boy killed another boy with a hammer in a Manhunt copycat style killing. The boy was known to be obsessed with the game and the parents of the boy who was killed were calling for all violent videogames to be banned. Thankfully the Leicester MP responding by calling for age restrictions to be better enforced rather than calling for a blanket ban. http://news.bbc.co.uk/1/hi/uk/3936237.stm

There is unfortunately little educational mainstream coverage of games or the games industry. I went to the Game On exhibition at the science museum over the holidays and rather than seeking to educate people about the creative and technological processes behind games, the exhibit was more like 'Here are some random consoles and games we dug up... now go play!'
However, there are examples of the industry and games themselves being taken seriously. The BBC has run articles on Second Life, and as previously mentioned, Reuters have a station there monitoring the in-game economy.