pools out

So there’s no pools in Sims 4! People aren’t entirely happy with this.

I always come back to Raymond Chen on these issues:

Every so often, a component of the UI will get a major overhaul. When that happens, every other feature starts out at -100 points—even features that already existed in the old version.

This concept of -100 points was originally explained by Eric Gunnerson when discussing why the C# language has some features, but not others. The principle generally applies to any product design process. Every idea for a feature starts out with an imaginary deficit of -100 points. That means it has to demonstrate a significant net-positive effect on the product as a whole in order to emerge as being truly worthy of consideration.

Of course, a new game isn’t always a new version of software; Doom 2 is just Doom 1 with new levels and a (totally awesome) extra barrel on the shotgun. But sometimes it is. Certainly EA’s excuse is along the lines of “but look at all this other cool stuff!”

I myself am in the new features exciting, old features boring camp.

animator’s creed

Oh, god, the Assassin’s Creed kerfuffle. I’ve sat through so many versions of that argument. If there’s an easy way to do male and female skeletons and anims (at a quality level your animators will let you get away with) I haven’t seen it; we’ve always done it the hard way. Ok, the medium way: manual copy & paste with some amount of cleanup.

It’s worth doing! But that still means you have to do it.

I’m really not very professional at all, but there is one thing I take seriously: your assessment of how difficult something is should be distinct from your assessment of how worthwhile it is. Don’t say something’s too hard just because you don’t think it should be in the game. (As a programmer you find yourself saying “we can’t do that, it’s too hard” a lot; as a power, it can be abused.)

This is almost certainly not what Ubi’s tech director is doing in his role as PR guy, of course; he put the wrong thing on the list of potential features to eliminate so the game can ship, and now he’s trying to spin his way out of it. Or he’s being honest but he can’t come right out and say this guy notwithstanding the tools and tech he’s responsible for creating aren’t very good and everything takes more effort than it should.

more boring text crap

Here’s Raymond Chen on that RTL wonkiness; they’ve got a special test locale for windows that’s Backwards English, so they can actually look at text and see if it’s correct. In our PS3 days we had a version of the game in Pig Latin for the same reason.

Only vaguely relatedly, it took quite a bit of trial and error to get my iPhone back from Korean mode; the Settings menu is not friendly to the illiterate.

Apparently they’re using this tech in the new Metal Gear engine: you build clothes out of patterns (like real clothes!) then hang them on your characters. Their cloth sim is really convincing, too. “Oh my god I need this,” says Bradley, who’s already sculpted a lifetime’s worth of skate clothing. “But I will miss painting on wrinkles :(“

(Source: marvelousdesigner.com)

Using Fountain to write comics (and games?)


I’ve been fascinated by the possibilities of Fountain since it launched.

Here’s a long post where I talk about using it to write comics , complete with samples and a template. Enjoy.

Fountain’s essentially Markdown for scriptwriters, which sounds great. I’ve never written a script in my life, but I like Markdown! I use it here, even though Tumblr overzealously converts > to > and clobbers your blockquotes if you edit a post.

It’s basically a more humane version of the original wiki markup language, and comes from the same impulse: your source text needs to feel natural when read or written by humans. I’m still a little cranky that Wikipedia bloated and crappified its syntax, but it’s what everyone uses because Wikipedia.

But Johnston gets excited about how nice Fountain’s made scriptwriting, and wonders if it could go further:

I’ve opined for several years now about the lack of dedicated writing software for games. Different publishers (sometimes different studios within the same publisher) use entirely different bespoke software, designed for their specific needs and workflow pipelines.

Or they just use Excel. Excel, for heaven’s sake.

It’s a big old mess, but it’s also a tough nut to crack. Contrary to what you might imagine, a game script isn’t a movie script with more bald space marines. It’s a cutscene script, a branching systemic dialogue map, a level plan, a directorial aid, a barks database… so many things to so many different people, and none of them care about the bits they won’t use.

The voice actor wants their lines in screenplay format, but doesn’t care about techie stuff like level notes. The designer placing dialogue triggers wants an Excel table and line numbers, but doesn’t care about arty stuff like VO parentheticals. And so on.

The thing is, once you do that, your text isn’t one-dimensional anymore! And if you draw up a list of two-dimensional text editors, your list starts looking like:

  1. Excel

A one-dimensional source text that you can apply various transformations to is a good second best.

This is a problem for programmers, too. Code is arranged in long files, but conceptually it’s a bunch of 20-line chunks that all refer to each other in an arbitrary order. Someone made a prototype code editor that actually dealt with code like that—imagine sticky notes with arrows between—which kind of blew my mind, but I don’t think it ever turned into anything real. (it was also based on Eclipse, which, ugh.)

ETA: It doesn’t mean it’s not worth trying! Markdown’s great, and being able to write a text that you can read at a glance but is also valid input into the machine would be really nice. But you need to be really careful about what you add or the markup could overwhelm the text and you’re back in Wikipedia land, all the drawbacks of code with none of the tool support.


Patrick Wyatt’s saga of programming Warcraft and Starcraft continues; he’s in fixing bugs and shipping territory:

Some bugs were related to the development process itself. The Protoss Carrier regularly lagged behind other units because it had its own way of doing … everything. At some point in time the code for the Carrier was branched from the main game code and had diverged beyond any hope of re-integration. Consequently any time a feature was added for other units, it had to be re-implemented for the Carrier. And any time a bug was fixed for other units, a similar bug would later be found in the Carrier code too, only more devious and difficult to fix.

It was worth it, probably? Carriers are the best!

But this decision bit them in the ass and kept on biting: keep the square grid from Warcraft 2, and just put diagonal art on it. They were always almost going to ship, so they could never afford to spend the time to do it right, and just slapped hacks and bandaids on until it finally worked well enough.

Which has got to be frustrating. Not only frustrating to live through, but…I’ve been there: you’re stuck with some tech that isn’t quite right, an engineering decision made for a different game that you have to keep working around in increasingly cumbersome ways. But you power through and release something mediocre, knowing that if you’d just done it right from the start the game would be better off for it. But this is Starcraft! Perhaps the best game ever of all time! The alternative might be even scarier: maybe code quality just doesn’t matter.

(except that it makes your lives more pleasant while you’re working on it, of course.)

Latency Mitigation Strategies

Carmack sums up his thinking on latency, particularly in a VR context:

If large amounts of latency are present in the VR system, users may still be able to perform tasks, but it will be by the much less rewarding means of using their head as a controller, rather than accepting that their head is naturally moving around in a stable virtual world.

All the parts conspire: LCD displays are slow (and TVs are worse); parallel processing lets you draw more frames at once but with each frame taking longer; input devices trying to be helpful hold on to input for a few ms to smooth it out.

His big insight is that the most important latency is between when you move your head and when the ingame camera updates and renders, so you can split off that part of the input from the moving and shooting parts and keep pushing it further forward in the frame. At Quakecon he talked about sampling it again after you’ve simulated the frame but before you start drawing, but now he’s talking about how even after you’ve drawn the frame there’s depth info in the pixels so you can skew them to match head position just before or even while you’re displaying the final frame to the user. Is that even possible? My brain hurts.

Alice: Ubisoft's plan to change storytelling in video games

Activision, from time to time, had teams down in LA that they called Central Tech and Central Design; perhaps there were others. Their job was to research new technologies/design concepts for use by the various Activision studios. Every so often they’d send us powerpoints, or critique our stuff, but overall they didn’t really matter to our daily lives. Maybe it was a decent idea that never quite got enough buy-in from the studios to work; maybe they were understaffed and never really developed their offerings enough to be usable.

But here’s Ubisoft, trying to make Central Story work! It’s probably useful to have somebody caring about it, and maybe they’re more centralized than Activision—it would be hard to be less—and so they have a shot.

Tangentially: there’s a bit in there about how one motivation for the Alice team is that they don’t want to fire people between projects. That’s one of the ways in which game development is radically different from Hollywood; it’s not to say that people don’t get fired, often in strikingly unfair ways, and frequently at or just before the end of projects, but it feels like layoffs.

The MineCraft problem: the PS4 and next Xbox need flexibility, not power

Ben Kuchera frets about the console wars:

This is something I call the MineCraft problem, and it’s going to be a much larger problem with consoles moving forward if nothing is done. MineCraft has sold over 9 million copies on PC as of January of 2013, and the game has sold over 4 million copies on the Xbox Live Arcade. All told, the game has sold 20 million copies over every platform, and that number continues to grow. I took my son to Math and Science night at his school last night and saw three kids playing MineCraft on tablets or phones. They discuss what’s happening on their respective servers at lunch. It’s a huge hit, and an innovative platform.

It also would have been impossible on any existing console.

MineCraft may have ultimately come to the Xbox 360, but the game breaks many of Microsoft’s rules. “It’s not that bad, somehow we managed to get in the contract that we can do free updates, which they don’t do. Somehow [Mojang’s Carl Manneh] managed to do that,” Markuss “Notch” Persson told me in an interview. “I think we managed to convince them based on the fact that it worked on the PC. So that’s how we did it, I understand why it happened. But it’s kind of… it’s a unique position to have.”

And free-to-play, he goes on to add; the console wars won’t be won in the hardware specs, but in the online store. I agree! But things can hang on for longer than you expect; we could have another console generation of the status quo, with pcs and phablets slowly eating a little more of their lunch.

Relatedly, my coworkers’ kids have finally aged into the Minecraft bracket. I keep hearing complaints like “can an 8-year-old get repetitive stress?” and “my kid doesn’t even watch TV anymore! all he watches is Minecraft videos.”

sanitize and canonize: the state of the console



God, it’s weird. I really have no way of telling if mobile gaming has killed traditional console and PC gaming or not. PC gaming at least feels really vibrant because that’s what I’m playing, though (vaguely corroboratorily) RPS’s end of year list is as solid as any year in recent memory….

I wonder whether the Ouya and the other Android consoles will succeed. It seems somewhat unlikely to me. I have a feeling that they’re going to end up being mostly used for emulation, and ports. I’ve seen a lot of people say “well, if Ouya doesn’t succeed, at least I can use it for streaming.”

That said, Android sticks are going down to $20 for the really cheap ones, so who knows what will happen.

Re:  the Wii U. Isn’t people’s lack of excitement mostly spurred by the low specs? People might be more excited about the next Playstations and Xbox.

BTW, what do you think of PS Vita and Steambox?

Yeah, I certainly have a hard time imagining myself buying an android console, though if there was enough software that used it I could see getting a controller for my phone.  For kids without a lot of money, though, it’s hard to beat the prices in the app store.

The Steambox is interesting?  Getting people to port their games to Linux might be a hard sell, and (though I haven’t been paying a lot of attention) its specs don’t sound that great.  I think the general purpose living room computer is a good idea, and I like the kinds of games you find on Steam.

It’s just another front in the whole ARM vs. Intel war.  My sympathies are with Intel, or at least the community of software that runs on Intel’s instruction set; Intel the company is by all accounts kind of awful.

I know one dude with a Vita.  He likes it, but I think the shortage of games is kind of getting him down.  It’s surprisingly large, and a lot of games, particularly ports (which I guess isn’t as big an issue on the DS) are confused about whether they should be using the buttons or touchscreen.

The specs aren’t very good on the Wii U, but I think there are other snafus. The marketing is confused, and it needs hours of downloading before you can run it the first time, and they never anticipated people wanting to transfer their downloaded games from their old Wiis.  But they do some cool things, too, like built-in message boards (with picture chat!) attached to every game.

So, yeah, like I said, I have no idea what’s going on.  For me it feels like it’s the store as much as anything that’ll define who wins and loses in the next generation; porting games between platforms just isn’t a big deal anymore.  But I can’t say I’m representative of console buyers.