Friday, September 22, 2006

DS Development

Out of sheer, morbid curiosity I decided to see what it would take to actually develop an authentic DS cartridge. As the panelists at GDC's Burning Down the House rant suggest, Nintendo is rather tight-fisted with development tools. The process of obtaining development tools requires Nintendo's explicit approval, and it appears none shall pass without a few cartoonish platformers under your belt.

To a point I can understand it... I just wish Nintendo was more open to third-party development. The open-endedness to a myriad of third-party development is what gives Microsoft and Sony all the additional market exposure. They just have none of the schwag. I guess it's Nintendo trying to reinforce their "brand," but if independent developers are supposed to be the saving grace of the games industry, how are they going to keep Nintendo's platforms afloat?

I looked at the technical details of DS cartridges as well as the DS hardware itself, and it seems like it would be a fun platform to develop on. The problem seems to be in the manufacture of the cartridges, and the on-the-fly dynamic encryption the cartridge uses during communication to the unit.

Yes, there is a mature homebrew community for the DS, but that's not what I'm looking for. Getting people to run an installer is tough enough... but trying to have a multitude of people try something that requires a piece of hardware to replace cartridge headers, a flash memory interface, a screwdriver and paperclip crammed into the right hole at the right time is waaaaaaaaaay too much.

Looking at the current state of console homebrew this don't look to rosy on other platforms, either. The PSP requires downgraded firmware but is a bit easier to work with since it aims to be more of a "portable convergent device" than anything else. The other modern handheld platforms... wait... there are none. Well, there's the GP2X which was pretty much designed to be a conduit for independent development, and I respect that, but... well... eh. It just doesn't have the look or immediate marketability to the public at large.

So the bottom line is there's no real chance at marketable, independent game development on the DS. And while it's easier to deploy an independent title to a PSP, it is only narrowly more so. The PSP does have a removable Memory Stick as well as a Web browser, which gives it the advantage of being able to easily move files from a server to the console. But it's still not to the point where you could legitimately sell your indy title on a web site for $5 a pop.

Sunday, September 17, 2006

DS Craving

For the two weeks, ever since Alon retold his story of giving away ten billion DS Lites, I have had an odd, irrational craving to own one. I have no freakin' clue why.

Now that the next round of console wars are coming to a head, I've been watching Wii and PS3 news with tepid anticipation. When I'm at home, I really don't have any free time. But the 12.8 minutes ad must have imbued itself into the part of my brain that rationalizes irrational purchases - because I came to the realization the only console I'd have a chance playing would be a portable one.

Now it's not like I just figured out what a DS is. Or that I was unfamiliar with the titles currently out there. But for some unknown reason a confluence of the form factor, Alon's giveaway and the realization that my time is transient all gave me this unprompted hankerin'. Now all I can think about is how I don't have a DS. I don't even necessarily need one. But dammit... somehow the irrational rationalization neurons are firing in freakin' overdrive.


I wonder how terrible of a process it is to become an "authorized developer".

Sunday, September 10, 2006

Gamer Shame

I just saw this notice posted for a local school about their computer education program:

...goals are accomplished by using age and developmentally appropriate software. No video games or movies are used in the enrichment program.

So... we're saying video games and movies can't be educational?

Now, I totally realize there's a valid point behind what they're saying. Some parents may let their kids log a little too much time in front of World of Warcraft or ye olde boob-tube. But still, this reinforces a stereotype that video games feed the dregs of society.

In the fantastic Gamasutra Podcast, GDC Radio's Tom Kim interviews Computer Gaming World's Jeff Green. It's a great interview about the media portrayal of the gaming industry, and Tom covers a great topic during a couple of instances: gamer shame.

One thing that Jeff brings up several times is that he's excited that Microsoft's new rebranding efforts, including his relaunched magazine, will start pushing gaming more into the mainstream. Jeff mentions numerous times how he's hoping the new marketing initiative will allow gamers not to "feel like they're shopping in the adult DVD rack" of their local outlet. Jeff brings light to the fact that games often feel like they're being judged while buying games... as if they're doing something unseemly.

It's true. I can't place my finger on why, but it's absolutely freakin' true. Do you know how long it took me to come out of the closet about being an indy game developer?

They mention an New York Times article by Seth Schiesel (forgive me if I got the name wrong) where the industry itself has an image problem - and often doesn't project itself necessarily into the mainstream. Instead, the "hard core" gamers are outsiders, but people who watch "Lost" for eighteen consecutive hours are considered considerably mainstream. Everyone is hardcore about something... just some things are less "geekish" than others.

Saturday, September 09, 2006

Random Product Announcements

Among some recent product announcements that I found interesting:

  • Ubisoft is evidentally releasing a game based more on social interaction, rather than headshots. This may show that studios may finally be considering a gender more interested in strategy and social engineering than normal maps on chainguns.

  • Hack a Day got me mildly interested in Chumby. I have no real idea what the hell it is, but it appears to be imminently hackable. It's what attracted me to the Squeezebox, and that's proven to be a pretty sound investment.

  • One more corny Nintendo Wii catchphrase: the "Wiimake". Wiimake? Get it?!?!? HA!
  • Thursday, September 07, 2006

    Exactly How Many PCI-E Slots Does One Need?

    I'm pretty much hammering this subject into the ground, but then again so are component makers.

    Recently we saw Ageia's physics accelerator come to market as an add-on expansion card, astride your existing video accelerator and sound card. Next we saw the Killer NIC reviewed by IGN, a "network interface accelerator" which promises to offload the assembly of TCP and UDP packets to take load off the CPU. It's actually an embedded Linux instance, assembling your TCP stack instead of Windows. Windows just sends the Killer NIC raw datagrams, then the Killer NIC does all the work to disassemble the datagrams into bare signals over the wire.

    Now there's supposedly an accelerator in the works, the Intia Processor, dedicated to nonplayer character AI acceleration. It would offload AI processing from the CPU and instead have a dedicated API for pathfinding, terrain adaptation and line-of-site detection.

    So let's count the possible gaming accelerators here:
  • Sound (i.e. Sound Blaser X-Fi)
  • Video (i.e. NVIDIA GeForce)
  • Video (additional NVIDIA GeForce for SLI)
  • Physics (Ageia PhysX)
  • Networking (Killer NIC)
  • AI (Intia Processor)

    So that eats at least six slots, but if you have double-wide video cards, more like eight. Oh yeah, and you'll spend nearly $1,500 on just the above hardware accelerators alone.

    This is a cycle that repeats itself in the computer world, tho. Popular software algorithms become API's. API's become baked into hardware. The hardware becomes to inflexible and becomes firmware. The firmware isn't flexible so it goes into software. And on and on we go.

    But this hasn't necessarily happened for OpenGL or graphics acceleration. Why? Because there you're not baking an API into silicon, you're using a different type of processing unit altogether to solve a different genre of problems. Multiple vector processing pipelines can streamline linear algorithms much more effectively that complex instruction set CPU's. The same analogy can be made for floating point units when they were introduced along side elder CPU's that could only handle integer math.

    Not only that, we're looking at chip makers shy away from raw clock speeds and instead looking at cramming as many CPU cores as possible on a single die. This allows for every CPU stamped out of the factory to be a multiprocessor machine. Once API's become more threadsafe, this crazy specialized hardware will instead just be an API call sent to one of the four idle CPU's on someone's desktop.

    I think the eventual result of this crazy hardwareization (feel free to use that one) is that people are going to want to fit their algorithms into one of three processing units: the CPU pool (by "pool" I mean a pool of processors upon which to dump your asymmetric threads), the VPU (vector processing unit) or the FPU. The CPU & FPU have already become as one but as any C/C++ programmer can attest to, the decision to use integer based math as opposed to floating point math still rests heavily on the programmer's mind.

    Given people are already compiling & running applications on a GPU that have nothing at all to do with graphics, it's only a matter of time before chipset manufacturers come up with a way to capitalize on the new general purpose processing unit.
  • Sunday, September 03, 2006

    My Platforms are Still Supported: New Product Announcements

    A few interesting product announcements of note. First, it turns out that Assassin's Creed (which I mentioned earlier for its innovative reflection of reality) isn't going to be a PS3 exclusive after all - it also will have a PC version released. Good news for those of us who don't own, nor plan to own, a console to game on. I've lived in HD for about ten years now, man. Thanks anyway.

    To any point, this is fantastic to hear. I was psyched about how this title would handle physics, collision detection and character constraints, and I'm looking forward to picking up a copy.

    On a somewhat related topic, SPEC has now released SPECviewperf 9 for Linux. I think this is a fairly big deal - the fact that SPEC believes Linux is a platform that can handle actual intense rendering shows a level of confidence in the platform that everyone but NVIDIA has been slow to realize.