29 March 2007

User Generated Content

Random Sims Image From Online

I've been working on a little RoboBlitz map/mod thing for the last few weeks (obviously not constantly, otherwise I'd really hope to have finished by now). Now Unreal Ed isn't bad by any means but level design is really something that really need to put some time into learning. BSP is probably the most difficult to work with given when you've place it it becomes very difficult to alter it. Mess up a chunk of BSP and you can spend hours fixing it again. Anyway though I've been enjoying it it certainly doesn't have the same entry level feel as, say, the NeverWinter Nights Editor had (though I'm still to finish something using that; which will be my next project).

A couple of upcoming games though are taking much more advantage of user generated content; namely Spore and Little Big Planet. In the case of Spore it populates the planet with creatures other users have generated to insure that your creature is neither entirely at the top of the food chain while it having ample food it can find. It's not to say that they won't make it a challenge for your creature(s) to hunt as in a survival of the fittest concept then your creature may have to evolve to hunt as it needs to (assuming it needs to hunt at all).

In the case of Little Big Planet they are generating levels using User Generated Content. You post your level (which can be created with more than one author at the same time) and other people pop along and discover it. I'm sure like YouTube and such there will be a lot of content that is of disputable quality; they've obviously thought of this and added a rating system. Anyway it looks like an enjoyable game, if only for the fact that generating the levels in the first place looks fun; I've never posted any of my The Movies films but I've enjoyed creating them.

I can't help but wonder if this will make developers a little lazy when it comes to actually including a game in their game though. Rather than spend the time developing some concrete game you just hand the sandbox tools to your users and let them make a game for you (this post was inspired by one of my friends wittering about Web 2.0 stuff). Of course if the toolset is as easy to use as they promise then you'd think if it succeeds at being a good game then the developers would probably find it fairly easy to produce good content using the toolset during development.

This does seem like a good, and natural progression, if I had the ability in The Sims to link to a friend's neighbourhood and have their Sims interact with mine along with getting new houses based on some of the best houses other people have generated (and you can do both of these, just not dynamically in game) then I probably would use this feature. Though this still doesn't really incorporate a social aspect; that is to say that though you may start a game to find your Sims have made two new friends you are still not really interacting with any other players.

At the same time I see that there will always be a need for well executed level design in a game. I'm sure there are a lot of really good NeverWinter Nights modules out there but I have a lot of games and can spend my time playing something of with a professional level design rather than hunting through user generated stuff hoping to find something that can entertain a group of us in multiplayer.

All-in-all a bit of both seems the way forward.

20 March 2007

Google Buys Game Advertising Company

Silent Hill

A short one on Google's acquisition of Adscape (I found it on GameIndustry.biz). I'm not looking forward to yet more adverts in games (you can see my thoughts on it in my old gaming blog) and again the are using, as all advertising in games PR people state, that they can do so while maintaining a high quality, engaging user experience. Still it is better than advertising is not only nice to have, but it's an essential component to create the fiction of being there which implies that it's really about building a user experience not getting money, oh no. Still any excuse to link to this fine PA comic.

Time Consuming Activities Here We Come

How was I not aware of an online CCG player? It has DoomTown (the Deadlands CCG) of which I used to play all the time. Unfortunately the decline in the game also resulted in a decline in players. Hopefully a more global coverage should insure that there are a couple of players online. I also downloaded Mythos which I used to play in days of old (but I only owned a couple of decks of).

Interestingly now that it doesn't require me buying cards and I can have as many of a given card I want it feels weird doing deck construction. The lack of constraints or collecting is noticeable. Perhaps it is also the lack of a physical card, of looking at a name in a list rather than seeing your cards laid out in front of you and picking given actions.

Ah well, I'm certainly looking forward to some games.

14 March 2007

Sony Just Making Stuff Up?

Well pretty much everyone in the gaming field talked about Sony Backward Compatibility. Sony announced (on apparently its semi-official blog) that the situation is changing every day, but on March 23, we expect the list to include over 1,000 PS2 titles (at Three Speech). That sounds okay, yes? I mean the PS2 has a lot of games but you'd hope some of the major titles were in that. Well today I was reading that European PS3s will be able to play up to 1,200 PSone and PS2 (from IGN). Now I don't want to go all 1984 on you here but we were already expecting complete backwards compatibility with PSOne games anyway and those two statements are completely different. Indeed a quick visit to MobyGames suggest that there are 1243 Playstation Games so does that mean we are getting -43 PS2 games supported? Great!

Anyway it's not a big deal. Come March the 23rd we'll find out just how many games are supported at launch (and since I'm not getting one at launch that's not really a problem for me).

Episode Content

One of my friends was wittering about episode content based on playing Sam & Max. Valve have episodic releases with the current Half Life 2: Episodes but, in all honesty, their release schedule is so erratic and long term that it doesn't really feel that way. I suppose part of the problem, if it really is a problem, is that they expand the engine as well as produce content; obviously adding to the development time. As much as that, perhaps the Source Engine toolset just doesn't really support rapid content development (I've used it but not enough to really get a feel of producing things quickly). Sam & Max seem to have much more predictable schedules (monthly by the look of things), kicking it at a smaller price for less gameplay. It seems a sensible way to do things; the consumer is getting a game (even if it only part of a larger, spanning, game) for the cost of a cinema ticket or magazine and the developer is insuring that they can continue to pay their staff by having a monthly revenue stream.

Obviously the logistical cost of producing and transporting products to shelves is general a big chunk of takings which is why digital distribution methods go hand in hand with this. I was reading an article about Digital distribution being the only way for indie developers. That makes sense and, as a consumer, why would I want to pick something up in a shop when I can just download it online? (I get the ownership of media reason, and that's what put me off digital distribution for a while but as long as you feel you own the digital copy and it won't just vanish if you have a hard drive crash then I was fine with it). I'm still pretty much just using Steam for my downloads, I guess it's an application I'm happy with. Still me not branching means I haven't picked up Sam & Max yet.

12 March 2007

Gaming On Sunday

So last night I played some computer games with a couple of friends and my brother (all of whom, it seems, are absent in the blogsphere). I finally got around to trying the multiplayer of Dawn of War which was good fun. Due to the network setup though we could only play 3 at a time (as we couldn't get my brother's machine, on the same network as mine, to talk with GameSpy). I got beaten, a lot, but it was really good fun when it was working. It took a while for us to get there though. Now getting network technology that just work isn't an easy thing to do, and I appreciate that, but the lobbying system from GameSpy honestly seems to go out of its way to make life hell.

First I need an account, that's cool I've got other games that use the GameSpy network. Oh no, each game needs its own account, my Civilisation IV registration doesn't work with this one. Obviously that username will be taken leading to me setting up yet another username that I need to remember (though it does remember it, I just hope I don't need to reinstall). Furthermore the registration process just seems borked, if you take too long it will just fail, if you go for a username that is already in use it will just say you've entered the wrong password (even though you are creating an account). Finally when you get in you are treated to a lobby system where you can find your buddies, maybe, if they are in the same room. Of course you have to find out what their random username is since they've had to create new accounts too. Finally, with Dawn of War we discovered that you could play an expansion pack against the original but GameSpy's system treated them as two different games so you couldn't if you wanted to use the lobby.

I get that Microsoft's GamerTag system works because of the closed nature of the XBox. That allows you to do things like register a friend and have that person as a friend irrelevant of what they are playing. It would be good to see a friend playing Dawn of War when I'm playing Civilisation IV and just be able to join them in the game. Steam works a bit like this, by entering a friend's email you can send them an invite and they have only one username and it is the closest I've seen to the XBox's system in terms of usability. I get that you don't want to be handing your email address out to everyone though I'd find anyone I'd generally want to mark a friend I'd be happy to, and some unique address, like an email address, seems to make a lot of sense from a user perspective because they only have one login to remember. Of course then you'd have an alias that you made up (non-unique) for a game, the master server could hold the email address and the game servers would get a derived unique reference (so they can still ban a given user, say, but not know what that user's email address is).

We still need a service to tie it all together though. XFire is attempting to achieve that but, the problem is, that it is still a closed system (and the interface is hideous). Using something like XMPP we could build it on the back of IM technology (and the likes of MUC could be used as the basis for a lobby). Gamers Own Instant Messenger is attempting on doing status and in game messenging but it and User Gaming offer little more than informing people what games a user is playing (though a link to the server might well be enough for someone else to join). Of course XMPP might well be able to use Jingle or such to sort the network stack to start the game. I think XMPP would need to be further extended to become a gaming platform but then that's exactly the sort of stuff XMPP is designed to do.

08 March 2007

GDC and Stuff

I've been following the Games Developer Conference a bit. I mean given how many computer game sites I'm subscribed to that comes as no surprise. Anyway I'm still to get around to watching the video The Evolution of RPG Development Roundtable Roundup which sounds really interesting (since I have a big interest in RPGs as a whole).

There was an interesting talk called Why Does Everyone Like World of Warcraft?. I've never really played MMOs much, they are things I've shied away from due to their recurring fees (for most of them) and their time consuming nature (because I have enough games taking up my time as it is). However I'd say one thing this didn't seem to go into (and the article might not be entirely representative) is the critical mass effect. I've been tempted to join World of Warcraft as a few of my friends who I see less frequently have set up a guild and it would just seem cool to do some quests with them and such. Apparently, according to the report, American gamers (which, apparently, are representative of Western gamers) often join guilds to make friends. Well I didn't want to make friends by joining a guild rather to maintain links to a group of friends (alright I admit that it is a group of dancers :D).

I also read PS3's power will be untapped for years which blames Sony Hardware Team for making the system difficult to understand. Maybe Sony should focus on insuring there is a usable and well documented API then, I also fail to see why "in a couple of years the system will look/play great" should be an incentive for me to buy one for say, umm, the next couple of years.

07 March 2007

RoboBlitz Tutorial

So I wrote a tutorial for RoboBlitz Matinees over at Naked Sky Entertainment's Wiki. Basically matinees are ways of scripting events and cameras. I'll expand it soon to cover some more ground. I started it because I had to look at levels to work out how they created matinees (including working out how to attach a camera) so I figured I'd save others the pain. Anyway working on these things then thinking of scenes in Gears of War (like the beautiful one where there is a combat going on in the background while the commander is explaining the situation to someone else) and realising just how much work must have been put into them.

If you found the tutorial of interest then do let me know. I guess knowing people actually read them helps motivate me to write them :).

06 March 2007

The End Of "The Blog Of A 'Passionate' Dancer"

Well I've had a good year and a bit with my dancing blog but, at the end of the day, I don't get much time to write in it any more. I used to record moves there but I don't tend to get time to type those up. I still love dancing but I'm not sure how many people want to know how I was ill at Southport, that I had a great time in Glasgow last week, that Tuesday night Edinburgh was alright for a change or, that I had a silly but fun end of month party which I seemed to improve my swap dancing (noticed how I subtly did an update there anyway). I'm sure I'll still talk about dancing from time to time but I've moved it to this blog. I won't bring in all the old posts and it won't be so frequent so that people who are here for other things get bored (or more bored).

I'll always tag my dance things with Dance but if you are using RSS then their is no way, currently, on Blogger to filter for a given tag in RSS.