Saturday, August 26, 2006

Rampant Flashbacks

I finally watched Carmack's presentation at QuakeCon. He mostly discussed the fun of hacking on new and differnet platforms, how parallelization is inevitable but is also an extreme engineering chore, and open sourcing older engines.

He brought up an interesting point - he mentioned he was suprised that no one has yet launched a commercial game based on one of his GPL'ed engines. At first I thought how... unique it was for him to want someone to capitalize on something he dedicated his life to then gave away for free. Then I started to wonder why that was. True, everyone took the sourced engines and ported it to every platform under the sun. That's nifty. But it is somewhat surprising that no one has launched a commercial game on an engine that's not only free but definitely tried-and-true in the marketplace.

In the latest GDC Radio podcast about marketing departments versus developers, they mention how modding or using an existing engine to prove a game concept is usually a quick way to demo something and prove a game function. Carmack also talks about that, mentioning how the mod community is very important and can realize all sorts of gameplay without the huge R&D. However, he also mentions that mods are (or at least their total conversion counterparts) are becoming increasingly rare, probably because the emphasis has now shifted to content creation, and without a team of artists it takes exceptionally long to generate good looking content.

It's interesting to sit back and watch the trials of the CrystalSpace community and how it mirrors... or at least proves... the difficulties in independant game development. They recently had their first international developer conference, and it was interesting the topics that were discussed. It seems like only in the past year has the emphasis really been content creation and building working demos. The engine is absolutely fantastic, but now it's the sweat and tears of taking a title the rest of the way. Take a look at the projects page for CrystalSpace and compare that to the number of titles actually completed (or at least still actively maintained). It's tough to get off the ground.

All this talk of the original mod community and Doom made me a bit nostalgic for my roots. For the hell of it I fired up my good ol' Doom installer... and took it for a run.

Seeing that ol' DOS installer brought back a rush of old memories... if I closed my eyes I could hear the hum of my Acer 486/66.

Friday, August 25, 2006


A Penny Arcade eposodic gaming title. I crap you not.

There can be none higher. Everyone, turn in your compilers and heightmaps. The battle has been won. And Gabe and Tycho carry the prize.

Thursday, August 24, 2006

Darwinia's Defcon

I was so uber-psyched about Darwinia it was ridiculous. I was hopelessly addicted to Introversion's Uplink, which is still by all measures a great game, I was sure Darwinia was going to be the culmination of my being. Alas, mere weeks after I started playing, I stopped. It just didn't grab my attention enough to warrant stealing away the little free time I have.

Now the press is showing the same ridiculous anticipation towards Defcon (check out the trailers), Introversion's latest brainchild. It seems to keep the same sort of nihilistic layout, UI and score that Uplink had, which is perfect for the isolated, distant war machine they're hoping to portray. But my Darwinia experience keeps me at bay, wondering if they're going to get this one right.

Looks like Uplink with warheads. If that's what it ends up being, this may just be another hit.

A Brief Tangent on Printing

Every so often, there's a weird lil' Windows twitch that I'm called on to support. Here a printer connecting to a Samba print server was taking for-freakin'-ever to spool documents to the remote queue - along the lines of 90 seconds at a time. It wasn't a pause due to an IP resolution or the like... instead Windows was sending massive freakin' amounts of traffic across the line. I'd evesdrop using Ethereal and hear tons of noise... absolute floods of SMB traffic.

I love the Samba listserv posters. I really do. They had traced this back to an issue where Windows XP will open the properties of not just the printer you want to send documents to, but every other printer on the server. Get one bad apple, and you're sent into a backfill of network requests.

Luckily they had found the way to get rid of this brute interrogation by hacking off a few registry keys, which saved the day. But its another minor annoyance that leeched time away until my very being was sucked dry without me noticing.

For those wondering, it was basically just a matter of hacking off the entries in HKEY_CURRENT_USER\Printers\DevModePerUser and HKEY_CURRENT_USER\Printers\DevModes2.

Back to our regularly scheduled program.

Wednesday, August 23, 2006

Xbox 360 Indie Development?

Rocky pointed me to an interesting announcement (first seen on Gamasutra, then expanded upon later) that Microsoft will be releasing a special "XNA Game Studio Express" - which from what I can gather is a rebranded version of Visual Studio Basic and DirectX bundled together. Their selling point is offering the "XNA Creators Club" for $99 - which sounds something akin to the Microsoft Developers Network (MSDN) for independent game developers.

Now, this would make sense if they allowed you to have an easy-to-use build and test environment for the 360. But instead it appears their way for copying code to the Xbox is uploading all your source and content to the KreatorsKlub, compiling for the 360, then obtaining it via Xbox Live. "Games developed using XNA Game Studio Express cannot be shared through a memory card at this time."

Rebranding Visual Studio, DirectX and an MSDN subscription as the "XNA Game Studio" is kind of a stretch... but hopefully it can lower the entry point of creating a development environment and let people focus on content creation earlier. And as any developer can attest to, establishing a build environment can be excruciating at best.

It is interesting, however, that GarageGames has started promoting its Torque engine for XNA. This can bring a serious producer of indie titles to the 360... and could definitely offer an interesting range of titles (and markets) to Xbox Live. If Microsoft would offer an easier way to test & prototype on the 360, they could see a huge influx of titles, and could easily become the indie hacker's platform of choice.

Saturday, August 19, 2006

Power Equals Work Over Time

Notice anything missing?

Our friends at Antec have had my PSU for over a week now. It started making a very high-pitched squeal when running, which confirms that the switching circuits (I think) started to go. So I sent it back for an RMA on Friday, and it arrived at Antec's door on Monday morning.

A replacement unit has finally shipped from California last night... but that means it won't be at my doorstep until Wednesday at best. And since my computer lacks any means to provide power to its wonderous self, I'm left with this suck-ass laptop with an ATI card that displays whatever resolution it damn well feels like, forget it if it's an awful 1024x768 on an LCD monitor that has a native resolution of 1280x1024.

Soo... all work that I need to do on my latest "projects" have slowed to a crawl. Crap.

Wednesday, August 09, 2006

The Enigma of TV Movies

Have you (or your significant other) ever been sitting on the couch, mindlessly watching an edited-for-network-TV movie, replete with commercials, even though you own the same, unedited, high-definition, 5.1 audio movie in your DVD collection? You may even offer to drop said DVD into the strategically placed player, mere inches below above TV, only to be stopped short because "they're just watching it because its on." Because it would be silly to watch it if it wasn't on.

It the very same enigma that means the living room PC will never take off, as so observed by Slate. A media center PC would mean finding the remote, switching to the right input on the set, navigating through a few menus, deciding on an option, then actually hitting play. The alternative is randomly navigating channels until you find a Full House rerun. Whilst you may have a more edifying experience with the former, the cerebellum would rather turn itself completely off and opt for the latter.

It's also the same reason why Internet Explorer owns the majority share of all browser traffic, in spite of its awesome list of well-observed glitches. It's why so many people play solitare on their PC. Hell, it's why Windows won the OS war. It's just on. It's already there, and installing/inserting something different would require the cerebellum to turn back on, and unfortunately 50 hours of mind-numbing tomfoolery at the office has beaten it unconscious.

If one wants to penetrate the vast sea of casual gamers out there, you have to make something easier to aquire than finding a DVD and watching it on the TV. Why are Flash games so popular? Bingo. Easier than a DVD.

Mebbe the next frontier isn't the game per se... it's the installer. Direct into your brain. Or whichever pieces of it remain working.

Friday, August 04, 2006

Distributed Development

Gamasutra recently released the conclusion to their two-part interview with John Baez, whose company The Behemoth created the 2D title Alien Hominid.

The interview largely focuses on how a small, naive start-up was able to "make it" (albeit still without making a profit) and the lessons they learned. They have even been able to make distributed development work - with two offices, and even individual developers, on opposite sides of the country.

It's an interesting contrast to the current "small companies don't have a chance in hell" talk that is currently floating around. Admittedly, The Behemoth serves a largely niche market, but they're fine with that. And they're still paying salaries. A company has gone alone, taken a title that no one wanted to touch, written it with decentralized developers, and published a title to the PS2, GameCube and 360. They also have merchandising to go along with it, banking on some very original intellectual property.

12.8 Minutes of Gaming

In the August 2006 Reader's Digest (shut up) I noticed the following ad on the penultimate page...

This ad for the Nintendo DS then goes on to push Brain Age, Nintendogs, Magnetica and True Swing Golf. Brain Age being, of course, the latest rage for casual gamers 30 and over.

It was interesting on several levels: a) this was in freakin' Reader's Digest, b) this was the first overt marketing pitch that I've seen specifically targeting the 30+ crowd, which of course is the demographic that not only is the most plentiful but has the most purchasing power and c) This is obviously Nintendo getting ready to position itself (quite intelligently) not on raw horsepower, but on gameplay and ease-of-use. This is in direct contrast to Sony and Microsoft, and stands to turn decades of console marketing on its ear.

Given how peeps not unlike myself are relegated to just a few spare moments a week, this could be the key to not only courting a new demographic, but changing the types of titles. AAA games will still have their niche, but it's back to being about the gameplay instead of beautifully rendered shrapnel.