Did a bit of cleaning out my backlog of browser games. Some highlights: No-One Has to Die is a cute browser-based puzzle game by Stuart Madafiglio; its shallow branching story is neatly integrated into the puzzle. Ending is an abstracted puzzly roguelike by st33d; there’s intentionally no wait action, which might be the only way to keep it a puzzle? To me it just feels like arbitrary busywork replacing the wait, which isn’t awesome.
Less progress on my shooter backlog; I haven’t even got to Dishonored yet, to say nothing of Bioshock Infinite. But that hasn’t kept me from the commentary. Rab Florence says why are we so defensive all the time, that Infinite’s violence is more necessary & worthwhile than a hundred other games that weren’t being jumped all over last week (or was it the week before?); Tim Rogers says the violence gets in the way of having a nice look around, among half a dozen other things: the most interesting, to me, was when he went off on a whole tangent about how obviously they were trying for an American Ico but got scared off and just made Elizabeth invincible, but if they had, here’s how he would have done it. In great detail! I’m not sure why book or movie reviews that talk about the book or movie they wished they were reading or watching instead make me angry but when it comes to games it’s a useful and entertaining design exercise.
And I played a bit of Torchlight II; it was on sale, and they’ve just released their editing tools. I promised myself that before I make any more random dungeons I’ll look at how Torchlight does it, though I don’t think I’ll be doing any in the near future. They played up their traditional stats-and-skills system as a contrast to Diablo III’s streamlining, and it angries me up all over again. If only D3 hadn’t dropped the ball on the story and the auction house and maybe the servers! Torchlight’s pretty fun in all the moments when you aren’t spending skill and stat points; it’s a worthy Diabloalike. Bonus points for the pet alpaca.
Raph Koster brings up the mechanics thing and makes Robert Yang really angry; he sees the whole “what is a game?” question as an move, perhaps unintentional, to keep people marginalized and step on their political message.
Andy Schatz, creator of Monaco, points out that indie games are all growed up: “It’s not so much that indie culture has changed, but the industry has moved in the direction that we’ve been trying to push in. Which is really cool. Like I said in the IGF intro, we’re not The Clash anymore. We’re Green Day.”
I’m with them, temperamentally if not professionally. I was raised on Mario and computer games of the old old school, and yet by the time I was out of college and actually making games, the world of games was different. AAA games desparately wanted to be legitimate, and that meant being like movies. Regardless of brow height: critics and scholars knew how to deal with story, and would fudge their way around the actual experience of play in order to extract a narrative. Back then “but is it art?” was the tiresome and useless definitional question used to generate more heat than light. And so people turned to pixel art and cheap tools like Flash and Game Maker and made games that were about all the things they thought had been lost: jumping on heads and random dungeons, strict tests of reflexes and serendipitous interactions between independent objects.
But it wasn’t that long ago! Maybe the indies have won, or been coöpted—and Minecraft’s certainly done a lot—but it still informs a lot of my thinking about games. To the extent that people are defensive about mechanics and gaminess, I suspect that’s where it comes from.
[simultaneously, it seems, we’re having a critcal backlash vs. bioshock infinite; i’m not sure if or where that fits in to anything.]
[dan cook has his own take on the history, which feels oddly focused on how games have been professionalized]
Holy crap! Ancient Workshop (James Brown) is making an origami editor. As he says in his blog, it started out as a game in which you’re made out of origami, and the editor got more and more honest and then at some point it just became the game.
I’m impressed; I can imagine taking so many shortcuts along the way to something you’d call an origami game. And the translucent paper is a nice touch.
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.)
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.
Path of Exile’s in open beta, has been for a few weeks now. I’m wary of the promise to “do right all the stuff that Diablo 3 does wrong,” because people usually mean locking you into terrible builds that you chose before you knew what they did when they say that.
But they do have a sphere grid. A sphere grid! (and an interactive version; they’re not half-assing it.)