Tales of the Rampant Coyote
Ye Olde Archives. Visit the new blog at http://www.rampantgames.com/blog/ - and use the following feed: http://rampantgames.com/blog/wp-rss2.php
Ye Olde Archives. Visit the new blog at http://www.rampantgames.com/blog/ - and use the following feed: http://rampantgames.com/blog/wp-rss2.php
Wednesday, March 30, 2005
Python vs TorqueScript - Cage Match Anyone?
the Game-In-A-Week project continues. And I'm getting nervous, because I'm nearing the 30-hour mark and the gameplay isn't in there yet. But I'm still trucking along, documenting as I go.
One thing I've realized during this project is HOW MUCH PYTHON RULES. Last night I was doing some very tricky, ugly code on this game (all in Python), and I thought, "Man, this is almost taking as much time as it would take for me to do it in C++." Then I realized that this surprised me BECAUSE I'd been going along so incredibly quickly up until this point - 2x to 4x the speed of development in C++. And I've only got about 18 months of Python experience, as opposed to about 15 years in C / C++.
I've been making an assumption that Python might not be appropriate for a larger project. Out at Symantec we did have a pretty large testing framework built on Python. I heard that Eve Online was done largely in Python. And I saw that Josh Ritter was able to port his whole game "Minions of Mirth" from a custom, Quake-2 based engine over to Torque in just a few weeks due to the fact that most of the game is written in Python. So maybe my assumption is incorrect?
I've got a major project in mind for development in Torque in the near future (I've got a smaller Torque project currently under construction that's temporarily on the shelf while I work on "Hackenslash!"). I've been a little intimidated by the scope of the thing. Now that I've seen the power of Python, I've started considering how much easier it would be if I wrote the core game in Python, binding it to Torque via TGEPython or something a little more direct.
I'm trying to look at the pros and cons of Python vs TorqueScript. At the core, the two languages offer a lot of very similar, time-saving features for development - they are both object-oriented, with typeless variables and no real need to worry about memory management. TorqueScript is built into Torque, which means you get some obvious improvements in run-time optimization and the fact that you don't need to create some kind of Python distro to go with your game. I've got a greater familiarity with Python, but my comfort level with TorqueScript is going up steadily too. Python has a greater range of support via libraries and community code. It's definitely a richer language, but that doesn't matter if you aren't using all those extra features. One of the big things I'm really taking advantage of right now is Python's support of dictionaries, lists, and other sequence types --- I haven't explored whether or not TorqueScript supports similar functionality (or if it can be emulated / constructed pretty easily).
Anybody with experience in both care to chime in?
Sunday, March 27, 2005
Game In A Week - Halfway Point
It began with a mini-rant (what, me, rant?).
My boast was that if you gave me a week, a machine with a fresh install of Windows, and an Internet connection, I could put together a reasonably fun, enjoyable game. No, nothing spectacular - if I could do something great so quickly and easily, I'd be rich. But the contention was that there's enough free / public-domain / open-source code and content available on the Internet now that it's very possible for independent game developers with an extremely tiny budget can put something together.
Well, Tom Bampton (of Game-In-A-Day fame) called me on it, and added an additional restriction - it had to be done using a basic API and not a full-featured Game Engine (since some of what's out there could crank out a boring, derivative game with just some tweaks of content - that'd be cheating, right?)
Well, there's no WAY my boss would give me a week off to do this. So at first I blew off the challenge (after all, Void War was done more-or-less from scratch with extremely cheap tools & content, so I've paid those dues). But the more I thought about it, the more I thought it would be a fun Game-Fu exercise. I thought about what I could do, but doing yet another Space Invaders / Breakout game didn't excite me very much.
Well, one of the little (false) factoids that go around in the indie game dev community is that indies can't do RPGs. Mainly this is more of a "white lie" told to the endless stream of dreamers who imagine they can exceed the latest Final Fantasy epic with a dedicated team of three and a budget of $200. I always contend if you scope it down, it's quite doable. Spiderweb does okay, after all, with some definite "old school" independent RPGs. I whipped out probably a half-dozen kinda-sorta complete RPGs in the Commodore 64 days (when games like Ultima, The Temple of Apshai, and Wizardry ruled the roost). So, deciding the challenge of simply creating a game from scratch, with no budget, in a single week wasn't hard enough... I decided to make am RPG out of it.
I decided on Python/PyGame because they are 100% free - anybody can use it - and I had some professional experience working with Python. PyGame I'm barely familiar with at all, but it's also 100% free, using the SDL, so it seemed like a good idea at the time. It's pretty much a solo project - though my brother has contributed some tunes he composed and performed for grins.
Now, this may simply prove some people's point that "it can't be done," as what I've got at the halfway point (just over 20 hours into my 40), as it has terrible programmer-art so far, but here's my "RPG - from scratch - in a week" project so far: HACKENSLASH! - an Old Skool RPG.
It's sort of an Ultima / Apshai-esque title right now. No, it's not going to give Diablo a run for it's money. We'll see how far I get in the next 20 hours. Rooms, items, characters, and features are being displayed just fine; navigation between rooms (and up / down stairs) with the mouse is working, and I've got a simple menu system working.
I am also keeping a pretty detailed hour-by-hour journal of what I'm doing, where I'm going, and why I'm making the decisions I'm making in development. Sort of an example of the game-development process (with all the mistakes and ugliness) in fast-forward mode. So if this fails horribly, maybe there can be some lessons learned that can be applied to a larger-scale project.
Regardless, this is a very fun experiment for me, and if at the end of 40 hours all I have is an education, it is still time well-spent.
Thursday, March 24, 2005
One of the things that formal Computer Science education taught me was that Code Is Evil.
I was primarily a self-taught programmer. I tried taking computer courses in High School, but they were very strict about taking the courses in order… you couldn’t take the Advanced Course (and learn useful languages like Pascal and COBOL) until you took the intermediate and beginner course. The Beginner Computer Course was taught by a very nice lady who only barely knew more than her students. It was almost totally useless to me, and so I quit taking the courses after that.
Now, during my self-taught years prior to college, I never learned to fear code. Oh, I would sometimes find myself reading my own code from months before – and I’d swear that I must have written it while under some form of demonic possession. So I guess I had an inkling that code was evil. But I never feared it. Back in the day, we had magazines with game programs in them – in order to play the games, you had to type them in by hand, copied out of the magazine. If you made a mistake, you HAD to understand the code well enough to find the error and fix it. The programs were in interpreted BASIC (sometimes with machine-code subroutines - now THOSE were a bear to debug!) – so the comments actually slowed down the execution. As a result, comments were few and located in specific areas where they wouldn’t slow the game down. You couldn’t afford to fear code.
Then I went to college, and received the proper, disciplined, formal training in software engineering. I learned lots of very useful stuff there, but I was also infused with an attitude that CODE IS EVIL and should be feared. All the “proper” programming practices that you are taught are designed to mitigate the Evil That Is Code. It’s all good, useful stuff, even in the real world – learning to avoid “magic numbers” (nobody looking at it later is going to have a clue why you are multiplying your results by 47.5), add lots of comments comments, good and consistent indentation style, data-driven architecture, etc. But there’s this attitude that program code is a foreign language no matter how experienced you are, and that you need to minimize the need for people (including yourself) to actually read the stuff later. There’s this huge emphasis on up-front design because going back and changing existing code later is fraught with peril.
So, years later, I worked on a “somewhat” XP (eXtreme Programming) development shop for a few months. XP’s motto is “embrace change” – it’s an agile development process that throws a lot of the stuffy conservative attitudes towards programming out the window. More than I’m comfortable with, actually – I guess I’m stuffy and conservative. But the truth is that a lot of what WAS taught at the universities (things may have changed since then… my education is over ten years out of date, so I’m a fossil) doesn’t survive the realities of modern software development.
The surprising thing to me about XP was the lack of fear of code. XP de-emphasizes comments and written documentation, as these elements become outdated but “code is always current.” The emphasis on refactoring, self-documenting code, unit testing, pair programming, lack of detailed design, and so forth are all stem from an attitude that Code Is Not Evil, Just Wild But Tamable. It’s not the enemy. The attitude I got back from XP was that programmers should not be afraid of their own code – or anyone else’s. Program code is our medium of expression, so we should dive right in and go for it. XP programmers are not afraid to jump in and completely change things in their code – in fact, it’s built right into the entire methodology – after all, change is part of XP’s motto.
I found the experience and attitude extremely healthy to me in the last year or so. I found that this attitude removed a mental barrier from my brain that had been put in place by professors and TA’s over a decade before. The biggest difference I’ve noticed is that I’m less worried about jumping in and modifying existing code, and I’m less concerned about programming to insufficient specifications (and in my career, I can’t recall any time I’ve really received “sufficient specifications – especially not in games.) My productivity has increased, and I was able to approach a complicated third-party code base (Torque) with a bit more gusto and confidence. Now, I’m still a big advocate of including lots of comments in code (code can tell someone what you are doing, but not why). I’ve started adopting a few of XP’s processes to provide a bit more of a ‘safety net’ for rapid development and change, but otherwise my programming style hasn’t changed much. Just my attitude.
I’m just embarrassed that it took me so long to stop worrying and love the code. Fear inhibits action (well, unless your flight reflex kicks in, I guess), and fear of code is a miserable impediment as a programmer. If you are just learning to program, you’ve probably heard a lot of stuff about how complex and difficult-to-understand it is. Don’t be intimidated! It will slow your learning if you have this voice in your head saying, “This is too complicated.” Throw off those shackles! Embrace Code!
Monday, March 21, 2005
Ah, a Lan Party
The other night, we had a LAN party after work at the office. I haven't had one of those in a long time. I forgot how fun it was.
We played Unreal Tournament 2004 - everyone but me ended up buying a new copy of the game to play, but there were no regrets. In fact, everyone who played commented on how we need to make this a regular event. Most of the guys hadn't played UT2004 before, but some were veteran RTS players. They got a little confused on Onslaught mode --- though everyone did reasonably well on offense, defense sucked across the board. Next LAN party should be better.
The cool thing about the LAN party that I don't see in online games these days so much is the whole chat-session afterwards. The killer thing about multiplayer games is chatting about them afterwards, who got who, explaining your defeats while bragging about your succeses, and so forth. You get that a bit in the Massively Multiplayer games - the persistant universe and community of regular players gives you a chance to swap stories about your shared experiences.
Back at SingleTrac we'd often get into big multiplayer games of ATF (Advanced Tactical Fighters) Gold, Rainbow Six, Starcraft, or whatever else the game-of-the-month was. We'd joke that it took us two hours to play a one hour game... an hour to play it, and an hour to talk about it afterwards. Flight Sims and RTS games were really good for this, as the 'stories' are longer and more involved. In FPS games, it's more of "what I was doing when you blew me to bits that one time" type commentaries. It's all good though.
Contrast this with... well... Battlefield Vietnam. I really like BF: Vietnam as a game. But online play is an empty, hollow experience for me. I rarely play, unless invited to play by a friend. When I do, I'm playing with strangers who I'll probably never meet again. There's no feeling of community, for me. Heck, most of the servers have team auto-balancing enabled, so the guys you are buddying with right now are likely to be enemies after the next person dies, so you really don't have time to really care. Human players are more devious and interesting than the (horribly bad and uninteresting) AI --- and that's about all I can say about the experience.
Labels: Mainstream Games
The Matrix Rebooted
I loved the first Matrix movie. It's possibly my favorite movie of all time. However, it's harder to watch now - it's been cheapened by the sequels. Now, I didn't hate the sequels. I enjoyed them - but they were just okay popcorn flicks. Sorta like the Star Wars prequels. If it weren't for their legacy, they'd have sold a bunch of tickets, been high on the DVD rental sales for a while a few months later, and gradually faded into obscurity. But their predecessors were such cultural events, their failure to live up to their heritage tainted them.
And in the case of The Matrix, it seemed like a much better movie when you didn't know what Zion looked like, what eventually happens to Neo and Trinity, how cool lame and uncool Morpheus becomes, and when you believed Agent Smith was really obliterated and that the story was actually about the people and not the machines.
So here's my quick, 15-minute take on The Matrix Sequels That Shoulda Been. I've stolen at least one of the ideas here from a rumor that went out on the Internet shortly after the sequels went into preproduction. Now, these story ideas are probably even dumber than what was in the actual sequels - but so what. Nobody's paying me millions of dollars to make these, either.
The Matrix II: Ghosts in the Machine
Neo's ultimatum to the machines at the end of the first movie was no idle threat. In the last few weeks, Neo has been probing the nature of The Matrix, and has made two discoveries:
#1 - The "Crops" of humans are serving some other purpose for the machines: The law of thermodynamics means that they are still consuming more energy than they are producing - the production of energy by the humans is simply an attempt to conserve, not a power source. So what do the machines really want?
#2 - There is some sort of 'central command' to which the Agents are all connected. Neo's growing powers of reconstructing the Matrix in his own image means that, in theory, he could rewrite the programming of everything - the entire machine wold.
This last part has the machines working frantically against him. In desperation, they create a new agent - an agent containing a virus that is released upon the destruction of the host. Neo unwittingly rips open this new agent like a pinata, and shortly thereafter begins to feel ill. After returning to the Real World, he finds himself dealing with a dizzy spell. After a rest, he tries to plug back in --- and finds he cannot. This virus - somehow uploaded to his brain - is now inhibiting his ability to jack in (think Neuromancer).
Morpheus and Trinity go into the Matrix to try and hunt down a cure. They are met by one of the Oracle's "potentials." A harrowing adventure ensues, leading them to the cure program. But now they have to get it to Neo. Meanwhile, Neo brings his old skool hacking talents to bare against the Matrix to help them. Working from the Operator's chair, he begins to unravel some mysteries that he couldn't see before from the perspective of being jacked into the Matrix. With larger search and filtering programs in operation, somethiog horrible reveals itself to Neo...
... and in the meantime, Trinity, Morpheus, and the Potential are in a desperate chase. There are agents guarding every exit, and closing a net around them before they can get the cure to Neo. Trinity tells Neo to jack in. She and Morpheus split up - Morpheus leading the agents on the chase, and Trinity plugging into a laptop in another dingy, forgotten apartment. On the computer, she literally hacks into Neo's brain, uploading the cure program - and her world explodes. Briefly, she is literally inside his head, a pure mind-to-mind meeting.
Then Neo is back. He creates his own connection back to the real world, holding it open long enough for Morpheus and Trinity to make a hair-raising escape, agents hounding them at every turn. Then they are all back to the Real World. And Neo drops the bomb:
The human race wasn't enslaved by the machines. There was never even a war against the machines. The entire human race died out long ago, in a war against nations that escalated to complete armageddon - leaving only their sentient machines to inherit what was left of the Earth. And now, for an unknown reason, the machines are re-creating the human race from old DNA samples.
There! Maybe someday I'll take a stab at The Matrix III.
Now if only we could get the whole "Mitichlorian" thing explained away & forgotten about from the Phantom Menace.
And dang it, Han Solo never let Greedo take that shot!!!!
Tuesday, March 15, 2005
Hand me my walker already!
I know this is a blog from an "old-school game developer," but now I really feel old. John Olsen and I spoke to a bunch of boy scouts about careers in software development - and in game development - tonight. I asked how old these kids were when the first Playstation was launched (since that was the beginning of my career). For the most part, they were around 3 years old.
Wolfenstein 3D is older than these teenagers. Kinda freaky to realize this. For some reason I don't have a problem with the idea that the kids who really got blown away by Twisted Metal, Warhawk, and Jet Moto are now grown up and some of them are now working in the game industry to create the next generation of hit games. It's been a long time. But realizing that the current generation of kids who actually play games (and are more savvy to the current hits than I am) have no concept of the Nintendo-Sega war, or the magnitude of the Playstation launch in 1995, or a feel for what "Doomsday" did to gaming in 1993... It just makes me feel old.
On the plus side, they really got into Links for the X-Box. So it's not JUST about GTA and other violent games for these kids. A good game is a good game, and they were getting into it.
Monday, March 14, 2005
Evolution: Natural or Guided?
In Cameron Crowe’s excellent movie “Almost Famous,” there is a scene where legendary rock critic Lester Bangs (Phillip Seymore Hoffman) mentors young William Miller (Patrick Fugit) and warns him of the temptations he’s going to face as a journalist. He maintains that Rock and Roll is dying, slowly being killed by rock stars and record companies in collaboration with journalists. He warns, “These are people who want you to write sanctimonious stories about the genius of rock stars, and they will ruin Rock and Roll and strangle everything we love about it, you know? And then it just becomes an industry of... ‘cool.’”
I thought about this when I read an article in Game Developer magazine last week by Noah Falstein, a game designer with vast experience and expertise in the industry. His quote: “The coin-op arcade business in the 1980s may have been the most fiercely Darwinian game environment in history. New games appeared and thrived, or died in a matter of months if they didn’t have ample sustenance (quarters). After great early diversity, arcade games converged on a few successful formulas that ate up all those quarters and starved later games that didn’t follow the formulas.”
So ... bearing in mind the complaints about the stagnation in our industry... which is it? Is it a natural evolutionary process with generations simply emulating their successful ancestors, or is it actually the result of a corporate agenda to make it easier to grease the wheels of industry to facilitate a predictable assembly-line approach to game development?
Back to the beginning...
Nolan Bushnell’s first coin-operated game was Computer Space, based on the mainframe game “Spacewar”. The game wasn’t very successful. Bushnell didn’t give up on the idea of videogames entirely – instead, he took the lessons learned from Computer Space and tried again. He went for something simpler, more straightforward – quite possibly the most basic gameplay possible. The result was Pong, and it launched an empire.
The interesting thing here is that from a game-geek’s point of view, Computer Space was a superior game in almost every way. Pong was a total step backwards. But the audience wasn’t ready for it. Later, its day came – in the form of a game heavily inspired by it called Asteroids. In both cases, their success was met with a host of clones, imitators, and would-be successors. But they weren’t alone - the explosion of innovation from the early 80’s seems completely unattainable today. The arcade industry hit it’s stride, boomed, and went bust in about the same time period as the expected lifecycle of the Playstation 2. The “Commodore 64 Age” really only lasted about four years or so – yet we saw more incredible diversity on that platform in those four years than we have seen in twice that time on all major platforms combined in the last four years. No, not all of it was wonderful – any user of emulation software can tell you how much crap and clones came out of that time period. But it certainly seemed like a larger landscape.
So did we achieve some sort of evolutionary plateau where we are all happy with the parade of publum getting generated by the industry? Or is the market simply being manipulated by marketers and their press contacts so that we are now simply, "an industry of cool? "
I am going to cop out here and say, “Neither.” I think it’s largely due to the glacial pace of game development nowadays. Game development is getting slower and slower. Back in 1980 a team could go from drawing board to a complete, commercial product in a matter of weeks. Nowadays you can take that long just negotiating the contract and milestone schedule with a publisher. We are getting buried by our own creations – games are getting bigger, and the audience is more discerning and demanding than ever. This state perpetuates itself – as game budgets and development time skyrockets, publishers are even more risk-averse, so they’ll throw even more time and money into it to make sure that the game has every chance of winning on release… which in tern increases risk further and makes it ever more painful for the next game.
Even indies are suffering from long development cycles (partly because so many of us are having to do other things – like contract work or full-time jobs to support our game development habits). Is there a way out of this mess? Is it possible that we can get tools and processes to the state where we can go back to the days of explosive innovation, sending shotgun patterns of new ideas into the wild to see what connects rather than spending months and months of time trying to perfect an evolutionary improvements on older games?
Cranking It Up to 11...
If there were a quick and dirty answer to this thorny issue, I’d be executing on it right now. But it seems like a chicken-and-egg problem to me. It seems like there’s a non-trivial minimum threshold of production qualities and marketing effort that must be achieved to avoid a guaranteed failure. But in order to innovate, we have to be able to do it cheaply enough to absorb multiple failures (because – face it – innovation fails far more often than it succeeds). And finally – we need better tools by which we can measure the relative success of efforts – a magical crystal ball which we can gain immediate feedback on the worthiness of our efforts. Like dumping out the till of the arcade machines and counting the quarters at the end of a single day.
I suspect that a partial answer to this issue lay in the “Game in a Day” competitions that run from time to time (most notably Tom Bampton’s efforts with the GarageGames community). The idea is simple – a team forms and attempts to create a fully functional game in a 24-hour period. (which, by the GID rules, don’t need to be contiguous, but should occur within the same weekend). All tools for development, content generation, and metrics would have to optimized for this kind of development effort, particularly bringing a GID-style effort to a marketable product in a matter of weeks instead of months.
So what’s it gonna take to get us there?
Labels: Indie Evangelism
Saturday, March 05, 2005
Spring and... D&D?
Spring is in the air… the time when a young man’s fancy turns to thoughts of Dungeons and Dragons.
Okay, so I can be cliché and geeky at the same time. But it’s more of that whole sense-memory thing (like listening to some very memory-filled music while coding. It was in the spring of 1981 when I discovered the game. Some of the kids were playing it at school. The controversy surrounding the game was growing, making it feel a little illicit, and certainly driving its popularity through the roof.
I’d had the opportunity to thumb through some of the books, and I was completely propelled into a different world. The pictures and pedantic text evoked thoughts of fantastic adventures on alien worlds, heavy metal music in the background and sword-wielding heroes hewing their way through monstrous foes. I’d recently read the Narnia and Prydain series (as well as lots of science fiction), so the visions were fresh and compelling.
My parents got me the brand-new “Red Box” Basic set for my birthday on April 2, 1981. I played for the first time that afternoon, with a couple of friends from school. I didn’t understand the rules, but I had a blast. I played a hapless rogue who got poisoned by a giant spider – rescued at the last minute by another player (and a bit of rules fudging by the DM).
That first spring and summer was magical. I was a D&D Junkie. Since there were far more people who wanted to play than people who wanted to run the game, I ended up being tapped to be the “Dungeon Master” more often than not. As the weather was warm, we’d sometimes play on the back porch overlooking a ravine (Maryland is beautiful in the spring and summer). It was a great time.
The wild thing was that even then, though D&D was the excuse that brought friends together on a particular day, we usually only spent a part of the day playing the game. We’d play for an hour or two, take a break, go do something else for a while, and maybe (or maybe not) get back to playing the game. We didn’t really have a “campaign” that we continued from session to session – we’d play through part of a module, and then the next time we got together someone else would be DMing, and we’d have the same characters playing through something else entirely.
The funny thing is, after that first year I didn’t play nearly as much as I wanted to. Throughout most of high school I played maybe four or five times a year. I went off to college, and met a couple of girls who played D&D the weekend after I moved in, right before classes started. That Monday (Labor day), they woke me up with a phone call.
“Do you want to play D&D today?” one girl (Holly) asked me over the phone. I was still groggy and in bed.
“Uh, sure. Who’s DMing?” I asked.
“We were hoping you would.”
I stammered, wiping the sleep from my eyes. “Uh, sure, I guess so. I don’t have anything ready. What time?”
“We’re in the lobby of your dorm right now. We brought friends. As soon as you are ready.”
Gah!!!! Well, the rest, as they say, is history. I played more D&D that first year of college than perhaps the entire six years previous to that. One of the “friends” that Holly and her roommate brought that day ended up my best man at my wedding. Another guy that was there that first day ended up being a long-term friend, and actually hired me to come work for him last October. A very pretty girl that I had met before joined our gaming group the following semester (at my invitation). A few years later we were married.
And we still have our gaming group that plays almost every week. And our kids are starting to play now, too. It’s Geeks: The Next Generation. But what it ultimately STILL comes down to is having an excuse to spend time with good friends. And it’s still a great way to spend a nice, warm Saturday evening.
Thursday, March 03, 2005
Wargames and Indie Games
Last night, I watched the movie “Wargames” with my ten-year old. She’d heard the classic sound clip of Joshua asking, “Would you like to play a game?” and was curious. I started feeling really old explaining to her about floppy disks, acoustic-coupled modems, wardialing (named after this movie), and the pull-off tabs on cans that were obsolete a good year or two before the movie actually opened. It wasn’t half as strange as trying to explain to her the Cold War and the specter of a full-scale nuclear war which her parents all grew up living with. Of course, she gets to grow up in a world with very real fears of smaller-scale terror.
Besides the nostalgia factor, I found myself amused by the whole hunt for the unreleased games “McGuffin” that launches the story. Now in 2005, there have been some very public attacks where pre-release source-code for highly anticipated games (Halo 2, Half-Life 2) has been stolen. Of course, David Lightner in Wargames only wants said games for his own amusement, and if he has any nefarious plots for distributing them to everyone and their cousin and effectively ruining this new up-and-coming game company it’s not mentioned. After all, he’s supposed to be our sympathetic, misunderstood hero. He just wants to play these games before he can buy them, right?
That sounds kinda like shareware. Except in 2005, it’s a lot harder to even GIVE away free demos of your game on the Internet. It’s a different world now. In fictional David Lightner’s day, with one of these brave new computers with disk drives by IMSAI, even a game as boring as typing in names of cities to watch them get nuked in monocolor low-res graphics could thrill both a nerd and his technologically-challenged athlete girlfriend.
In the beginning of the lifecycle of new gaming hardware (whether it’s the Apple II, Sony Playstation, Nintendo GameBoy, or X-Box 3), ASSUMING it reaches a critical mass of market penetration, you get a nice little honeymoon period where being the first to market gives you a gigantic edge. But when that passes by and the market matures and saturates, you are back to fighting for attention amidst a sea of competition. Kinda like the PC game market is now. That’s part of why publishers are so excited for the release of the next generation of game consoles – it’s not that they are thrilled so much about the technological possibilities; they are looking forward to being able to have a clean slate with little competition from older titles again.
So where does that leave the indies? Besides chasing emerging technologies like mobiles, what can we do? Are we pretty much screwed? I don’t think so. Other industries have managed to survive well enough selling products that don’t have built-in obsolescence and reliance upon technology to provide innovation. There are an unbelievable number of movie and book titles that come out each year, and those have to compete with many past products. Yes, they have their own problems – problems our industry is going to continue facing as we mature. Last night, I watched Wargames – a movie over 20 years old – and the sales of that movie are still competing in a very small way with what was released in just the last 12 months.
But there’s an incredible amount of room to innovate and to create games that are first of a new category. Now, while I love original and unique game ideas, the market has shown that people don’t respond too well to sudden changes. But innovation within a category --- pushing traditional barriers in gameplay, storyline, interactivity, and concept. Where are the romantic comedies, the buddy-cop games, the psychological thrillers, the murder mysteries in computer games? They are proven categories in other media, but we’re mired in the same sci-fi shoot-em-ups and generic Tolkienesque fantasy hack-and-slashers, traditional sports, match-three-bubble-poppers, and historic war strategy ruts. Yes, these are cool and fun genres, and I’m certainly guilty of wallowing in the same comfort zone with my games, but maybe we can stretch ourselves a little.
Labels: Indie Evangelism