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
Thursday, September 29, 2005
We're getting ready to make the (relatively short) trek back home today. I didn't manage to do any fishing, which I was really looking forward to. Tuesday was the day, in spite of my cold, but we had thunderstorms all day. With illness, weirdness, and uncooperative weather, I can't say this was an ideal vacation. Alas, considering my track record, I can probably say it was a pretty typical one. However, we caught Cedar City during the Shakespearean festival - and so yesterday we caught a production of The Foreigner. Not a Shakespeare play, but one of the funniest plays of all time, and my favorite. With that, visiting relatives, and seeing some incredible scenery up in the mountains, I can't say it was a bad trip.
I've been able to put a serious dent in some of my game development tasks thus far this week, which has been nice. I complain a bit about working with the Torque engine - especially for a single-player game. But there are two huge advantages to it - it's relatively mature (fewer bugs), and it's got a very large and supportive community.
During the final stages of Void War I was working psycho hours trying to get the game done. I'd find myself idly surfing the net occasionally with this little subconscious wish that someone somewhere had written the remainder of my game, and posted it up in the public domain. Silly, but when you are sleep-deprived and stressed you get weird fantasies. Fortunately, with Torque, when I'm having difficulties or I need to implement something new, about half the time I can do a search (with GarageGames' new-and-improved search engine) and find some resource or forum post that comes pretty close to addressing my issue. It can be pretty convenient (distracting, too, if you aren't careful!)
Another awesome utility which has really helped out is TorqueDev (now getting re-christened "CodeWeaver"). Now, it's nowhere near as fully-featured as Visual Studio (but it's pretty much been a one-man show, without the hundreds of man-years put into it like Visual Studio has). But for working with the higher-level, more abstract scripting language for Torque, it's a real life-saver, if only for it's IntelliSense-style hinting and completion alone. It's still in Beta (or "Delta" as the author calls it), and it's got some serious funkiness with the authorization / registration piece right now. But it's already a seriously handy tool, and it's likely to be a "must have" for Torque development when it's completed.
Tuesday, September 27, 2005
Games - A New Hope?
So I'm here on vacation, visiting beautiful scenery, catching up on some reading (FINALLY finished the Cuckoo's Egg, which I borrowed from Steve Taylor of NinjaBee a YEAR ago), getting some amount of coding done on my game, and fighting off a pretty nasty cold.
Besides the cold, and keeping the children from climbing the walls, one of the challenges here at my in-laws is my wife's grandparents. Specifically, her grandfather. It's been only a year or so since he was diagnosed with Alzheimer's Disease. I've known him for several years now - I have had a few political arguments with him, and he was encouraged me as I was finishing college with how much respect he had for me getting my degree, and how he felt confident that I was going into a good career field and that he knew I would be able to take good care of his granddaughter.
Now he's living in a half-dream state, as near as I can tell. He gets lost in the house, not sure how to find his own bedroom. He is on anti-psychotic medicine, and hallucinates about seeing food flying off of plates and his wife keeping imaginary boyfriends. It's unbelievable how far he's been reduced. As I said, my nearest understanding is that his brain is floating in and out of a dreamlike state, and as in a dream he finds it impossible to make simple connections of people and time, and takes for granted impossible fantasies occuring around him.
I read somewhere (a blog?) about how one woman managed to show few signs of Alzheimer's disease while she was voluntarily teaching a mentally handicapped relative for two years. For some reason, that no longer became possible, and after that the onset of symptoms came upon her very rapidly. I did a little bit of Google-ing tonight, hoping to find a reference to that article, but instead found several other articles confirming that staying mentally active can help reduce the effect of aging on the brain, and may delay Alzheimer's Disease. Good nutrition and physical exercise are also an important part of this.
But for exercising the brain... can you think of any better way to do this than games? If you believe Raph Koster, then fun is the feedback the brain gives while successfully absorbing a pattern --- in other words, learning. Whether it's learning the best way to beat the Episode 2, Mission 2 map, or mastering the left-right-left-right-A-B-A-B timing to pull off a mega fire repeating kick, or improving upon your build strategy in an RTS, the spawn timings of a new zone in an MMORPG, or even learning to predict which set of three jewels to connect would provide you with the best chance of getting enough moves to finish a level - it's still learning. It still keeps the brain mentally active.
Could elderly gamers be at a reduced risk of Alzheimers, or the other natural effects of aging? Studies and anecdotal evidence certainly indicate this is possible. If so, we as gamers and game developers have a potentially massive higher calling! Not that we should neglect our dominant market (which still remains younger males), but we should really be trying to get the seniors on the X-Box! Or on their computers, playing bridge online with other people that they can have chats with using dirt-simple voice over broadband. Or get them fragging each other in UT - whatever it takes.
Maybe making games geared more for seniors? Casual games? Are there certain games that might provide better mental stimulation and activity than others? It's impossible to know without research. I'm just throwing the suggestion around, not really sure where to take it. But the idea that with all the flak that we get over kids supposedly getting turned into mindless gun-toting killers after playing GTA and the like, it's nice to think that there's a real opportunity for us to do some good and that our creations may really help people.
We should really give this more thought.
Monday, September 26, 2005
Well, I am on Vacation now. Almost on cue, I got sick. Wonderful. Last night, I went to bed early with a fever and chills (I was hot on the outside, freezing on the inside). Fortunately the fever broke sometime shortly after midnight, and I woke up with my side of the bed cold with sweat. And then the cold symptoms hit in full force.
Unabe to sleep any longer out of discomfort, I got up and booted up the laptop which I had purchased with the express purpose of staying connected during this vacation (also for demoing games and so forth remotely). I was in such a state of mind that I played games first rather than doing any development - got myself thrashed as the Americans vs. the Japanese in Rise of Nations. I was mysteriously more victorious doing a small amount of work on writing my game. Maybe. When I did a full recompile for this machine, my elusive "Heisenbug" went away. Is it really gone, or simply in hibernation? I don't know. We'll see if it reappears here, or on my home machine when I merge my code back in.
I slept much of the morning, then went with my in-laws up to visit Cedar Breaks. Wow. The trees are all changing colors right now, so it was an absolutely awe-inspiring trip. I was doped up on cold medicine during the trip, so maybe it contributed to the dreamlike quality of the mountain. All I can say is that pictures don't do it justice. Not in the least.
And now I'm back to getting back to the game. Yes, for me, a vacation means programming. I'm nuts. But compared to the type of work I have to do for the day job (also programming, of a sort) it's a welcome relief. Hopefully this code will be short-lived enough that I'll be able to enjoy the rest of the week.
Friday, September 23, 2005
Utah Indie Meet and Stuff
Last night (Thursday) was the Utah Independent Game Developer's meet at the Ninjabee offices. We're trying to do it quarterly - the next one will be in January, we think. Anyway, it was really good meeting with everyone again. I felt kind of embarassed that there was so little of my game to show off and solicit feedback on. By January, I hope to have a lot more to show.
I am on vacation from work for a week as of tomorrow. Most of the time will be spent down in Cedar City, but I'm taking my laptop with me so I can continue game development work while there. We've been in massive crunch at work lately, so it's been very hard to do any kind of game dev work on the side.
Right now, I'm dealing with one of those really annoying bugs that shows up only in the retail build, but is completely fine in the debug build. One of my professors in college used to refer to these as "Heisenbugs," so I've picked it up. The very effort of trying to observe the bug causes it to change and move.
Labels: Indie Evangelism
Wednesday, September 21, 2005
Why Is It So *&@#$% Hard To Finance Video Games
Cross-blogging goodness... I really loved the transcript to Dean Takahashi's speech at the Video Game Investor Conference (I didn't even know there was such a conference) and thought I'd pass the link along. This is a very well-thought out and unbiased discussion of the issues AND opportunities for investors and game-makers alike to get together and make dreams happen (not to mention money)
There are some very interesting things he suggests here that I never heard about (like the German tax shelters for people wishing to put their funds into entertainment).
The quote from Jim Rose from Talonsoft was really the thing that piqued my interest - that they could break even on a game that sold as little as 15,000 units. WHY IS THIS SO IMPOSSIBLE TODAY?
Well, yeah, I kinda know the answers to this one.
#1 - It's NOT, you can go to Shrapnel Games or Matrix Games and see a bunch of lower-budget wargames that are still plugging away, making (I am GUESSING) modest profits on modest sales numbers. The indie game community is alive - not WELL, but alive and slowly scratching out an existance - on this model. How does it WORK, though? I don't know. I'm hoping to figure it all out.
#2 - It costs so much just to get the consumer's attention now that the return on 15,000 units wouldn't even begin to cover your marketing costs. As Dean quoted in the article - Play Big or go home. But does it have to be that way?
Labels: Indie Evangelism
Monday, September 19, 2005
Caffeine Withdrawal - Day Four
Thursday morning I had some caffeine (soda) on a nearly-empty stomach. I ended up getting all jittery (as I often do when I have caffeine on an empty stomach). I didn't have any more the rest of the day, and Friday morning I woke up with a bad headache. Probably caffeine withdrawal. I figured if I was already suffering from it, I may as well roll with it.
Sunday I had another bad headache that lasted all day. Probably a combination of not getting enough sleep the night before, and the fact that my body was probably pretty caffeine-free for the first time in a couple of years (a state it's only rarely been in since my last years of college in the early 90's) - and so it's natural I developed some kind of dependency. I don't drink coffee or tea, so the caffeine levels I was used to weren't that high.
But it had gotten to the point where the stuff really didn't help me stay awake or anything. So what's the point? Now it's been four days, and I'm feeling back to normal - maybe even better than that. Now that I'm over the worst of it, I don't see any reason to go back to it at all. Of course, most of the free drink at the office is caffeine-laden, and I'm also trying to avoid (not completely eliminate, just avoid) aspertame. So I'm mostly drinking water.
In Game Development News - well, there's really not much to talk about. This weekend was crunch mode at work as we had a code freeze at midnight Sunday night. I ended up working through the weekend, and didn't get much done on my own projects. Last night I finally had some quality time to spend on the game, and I spent almost all of it trying to fix a nasty bug which only occured in Release mode, not debug. It was caused by ... drum roll please... yet another synchronization error between server and client within Torque.
Torque is a stellar choice for doing a multiplayer game. But while it gives you a lot of stuff "for free," it adds a lot of headaches when it comes to doing a single-player game... you still have to deal with multiplayer issues, which really increase the workload. I can't say it's a BAD choice for single-player, but I really wish there was a more streamlined way to handle things if you have no plans to make it run in multiplayer.
I've heard that their roadmap for version 1.5 is going to clean things up a lot, but they still haven't gotten 1.4 finalized yet. *Sigh*.
Friday, September 16, 2005
Got me one o them thar 'lap tops'
I've been wanting a laptop system since... well, since the idea of gaming on a Laptop meant having a 486 with a CD-ROM allowed you to play Command and Conquer. Their relative lack of upgradability (and high sticker price) made me hesitate for oh - about a decade.
Tonight, my new(ish) machine arrived - a Dell Inspiron 6000 with ATI x300 128meg video. And a DVD-ROM. It's not really a gaming machine (as krufty as my desktop is, it's still a more powerful gaming box), but it'll hopefully allow me to do development and show game demos on the road. That'll be kinda cool.
Now I just got to put together enough of a playable game for it to be usable as a demo on that little box!
Monday, September 12, 2005
Why Battlefield 2 sucks.
I really love Battlefield 2 - but I hardly ever play it these days.
Why? For the same reason I quit EverQuest - it takes too dang long to get into a game. The only time I devote an entire evening to a game is for our weekly Neverwinter Nights games - beyond that, I'm in game-development mode and take my game-playing breaks in little increments here and there.
By the time Battlefield 2 is loaded, has FOUND a server that hasn't become overcrowded before I have joined, has synched up, downloaded the mission, verified that I'm playing with a hacked / cheating copy of the game - half the time I've devoted to taking a break playing a game is GONE. So I keep finding myself putting some other "quick fix" disc in the drive.
Heck, I can even jump into City of Heroes, pulp a few bad guys, and maybe even finish a mission during those blocks of time. Why can't I jump into a Battlefield 2 game the same way?
If BF2 wasn't such a resource hog, it might be tolerable just to leave it minimized while I continue to work away (or surf the web) until it's done doing all it's loading, synching, and validation.
I think developers overall underestimate the pain of load-times in games. This isn't 1984 anymore - I shouldn't have to have the patience of Job waiting for my 1541 floppy drive on my Commodore 64 (or worse yet, the ancient tape-drive) to shuttle the bits off media. Maybe I'm becoming too much of a casual gamer. I don't know if the load times have hurt sales of Battlefield 2 very much. But will it hurt future sales? Will there be other gamers like me who have partly given up on the game, and might not be very enthusiastic to purchase the upcoming expansion when there are competing games on the market?
I know multiplayer games are a pain in the butt to do right, and you have to do a LOT of validation to prevent cheating - which ruins the game much faster for everyone than long load times. But dang, DICE and EA - can't you drop the load times by a bit? Say, an order of magnitude?
Labels: Mainstream Games
Saturday, September 10, 2005
The Difinitive List of Playstation 1 Games ... NOT!
1UP.COM just put up their list of the "definitive dozen" games that were the "pivotal representatives of what the Playstation was about."
Read it here.
WHAT?!?!? Jumping Flash made the list, but Twisted Metal 2 didn't?!?!? What a rip-off!!!
Aside from that, it's hard for me to disagree too much with the list. My favorite games for the PS1 were Final Fantasy VII, Tetris Plus, Midway's Arcade Classics (Arcade-perfect versions of Defender, Joust, Sinistar, and Robotron baby!!!), Tomb Raider, Final Fantasy VIII, Suikoden, Toshinden (particularly the Japanese version - it wasn't the greatest great game, but I had a lot of fun playing it, and my wife got pretty good at it too...), Crash Bandicoot, and Wipeout.
Of them all, though, Final Fantasy VII was the one that blew me away. I was used to American-style RPGs - big adventures like the Ultima series (Ultima VII in particular - what is it about the seventh in a series?!?), Eye of the Beholder, Ultima Underworld (another of my all-time favorites), the Gold Box AD&D series from SSI, the Wizardry series, Diablo, and Daggerfall.
I'd played the NES Zelda, which wasn't much of an RPG (arguably, neither was Diablo), but I'd really had no experience with Japanese RPGs until Suikoden. My wife and I adored that game. Then FF7 came out, and that game literally became our entertainment for a month. We quit watching TV - after the kid was put to bed, we'd play Final Fantasy 7 for a couple of hours. Awesome game. It was magic.
Labels: Mainstream Games
Thursday, September 08, 2005
SingleTrac Music Archive
I've already established that I'm a game-music junkie. I'm really weird that way.
Over the weekend I stumbled across a cassette tape Sandi Geary made me back in January or so of 1995 containing the first-pass versions of music for Twisted Metal and Warhawk. I'd totally forgotten about it. The Warhawk tunes were mostly the same, with few differences from the final version. Twisted Metal had some major changes to it - the city park tune was a lot more "busy" with sound effects, screams, and so forth. One tune didn't make it in the final game - but it was resurrected a year later as the Paris tune in Twisted Metal 2 (with some major modifications - including the twisted version of "Frère Jacques."
Since I have a (mostly) complete collection of SingleTrac games (my PS version of Twisted Metal 2 is MISSING - a neighborhood kid borrowed it and managed to only return the case, and we never saw it again. I had to use a PC version), I thought I'd go ahead and rip the CDs for my listening pleasure and motivation at home and on my new Ipod Shuffle. It reminds me of the thrill of creating games the first time back in those heady days of '94 - '96. Great stuff. Our music really kicked butt back in the day - game music was still mostly MIDI stuff, barely a step above beeps and boops. We were among the first to use recorded music professionals in high-quality Redbook audio.
An interesting side note I heard from my fellow troublemaker, John Olsen: Since almost all of the music for our games were done on Redbook audio, that meant they could be played in a regular CD player (thus my ability to convert them to MP3s). That qualifies them for being audio CDs, and thus eligable for winning gold / platinum album awards from the RIAA (before they became such a hiss and a byword these days...) So Sandi Geary, who was the head of all the audio for our games, was able to send away and get awards for having four (?) platinum albums - for each of our games that sold over a million copies. Because yeah, everyone bought 'em for the music! Being able to play Twisted Metal and Jet Moto was just a bonus.
So for the idly curious - here's what I pulled up. Over 5 hours of music, total, from 10 games:
Twisted Metal (1995)
Twisted Metal 2 (1996)
Jet Moto (1996)
Jet Moto 2 (1997)
Critical Depth (1997)
Rogue Trip (1998)
Streak (1998 - I think)
I'm missing the Snowmobile Racing and Snowmobile Championship 2000 games on the list - those were "Second South Studios," a budget games division of SingleTrac. The music for those games were licensed, so they might also be heard in, say, a car commercial. My first exposute to doing games on the cheap!
The last few games on the list are pretty obscure. When we lost Sony's marketing muscle, we discovered how little the QUALITY of the game really mattered when it comes to success. Streak was, in my opinion, a clearly superior "next generation" title to Jet Moto, but it languished in obscurity - the best game nobody ever played (I wasn't on the team that created it, so I feel relatively unbiased about my opinion). I have heard tell that part of the problem was that it was just TOO dang hard for players - I admit, I could never get past the middle-tier races myself. I actually didn't play much of Rogue Trip - it's got the gameplay of the Twisted Metal games and then some - and was VASTLY superior to Sony's attempts to create "true" sequels in-house - but it didn't have the same "feel" and mood that I loved in our earlier games. The grossly fat "Big Daddy" just didn't have the mystique of the enigmatic, charred-face psychopath Calypso.
Outwars - man. Long, sad story. That game just got no love from ANYBODY after we were bought by GT Interactive.
I need to try and convince Matt to make MP3s of the Void War music so I can put them on my I-Pod. Though it usually takes a couple of years AFTER the game ships before I can stand listening to the music again. Matt did an awesome job, and I the music was far beyond the average indie-game fare.
Labels: Indie Evangelism
Sunday, September 04, 2005
Indie RPG Craziness
What's really a little frightening is how many of my tasks right now are running parallel to work I did earlier this year on a quick & dirty "Game In A Week" exercise called Hackenslash. My new game is 3D, much more sophisticated, more elaborate, and is going to take me the rest of the year just to get the core functionality in place. But except for some issues like the 3D camera handling and the specifics of how areas are rendered (which Torque does for me, mostly), you can almost pull my task list directly out of the latter half of my development diary for Hackenslash. There's so much different between them, yet certain things have to be done when you are doing a game within a genre. Making a game is making a game - it's just a difference of scale and overhead (and the amount of management required).
In a previous blog entry, I bemoaned my transition from the "Blue Sky" phase of development. It's pretty sad bidding farewell to all the things your game Could Have Been as you settle on the limitations of a concrete product. But there's an incredible joy you get hitting the stage of the process where your game begins to resemble a game - the late-prototype phase I guess. Your ideas begin taking form, and you can catch a glimpse of your dream taking form.
I've got a heck of a long way to go. But it's looking like it will be a fun ride!
Thursday, September 01, 2005
Reeling From Katrina Aftermath
It's hard to get my brain around how such a major US city - and one so rich in history (by U.S. Standards, at least) could be effectively wiped off the map in about 48 hours. Mother Nature has reminded us once again that our very existance is suffered by her whim. It's at least not nearly as catastrophic in terms of human lives as the tsunami several months ago. But my feeling of shock is pretty much the same.
I hear our President talking about "Zero Tolerance" for looters, and people calling to "Shoot looters in the head." But then I see images of people looting food and BAGS OF DIAPERS. That might not be civilized, but that's not profiteering from disaster. But there are people who thought all they were in for was a rough few days without power and repairing storm damage. AND many people who had no choice but to stay, because they had nowhere to go and no means of transportation. Now their very survival is at stake. The police forces there seem to be trying to do the right thing - I heard how they actually stopped the looting in one store and began just distributing the food for people One police officer allowed people to take shoes from one store IF they fit. Reasonable responses to desperate times. I wish more leaders showed such level-headedness in the face of disaster. Yes, there are some people out there who are turning savage, shooting others (including a policeman and national guardsman trying to evacuate survivors!), and trying to steal and horde what they can. And it's getting worse. These guys need to be stopped any way possible. But blanket statements and zero-tolerance policies aren't what they need.
I also heard a story about the manager of one of the better hotels. The guests didn't have access to transportation when the evacuation notice went out - they were stuck. So the hotel manager had everyone fill their bathtubs and sinks with water. He moved them up to the fourth floor. And of course he opened up the full resources to everyone. Smart job. So while the guests are still stuck and not very comfortable, they are at least out of immediate danger and have food & water (and alcohol, apparently!) to last them until rescue arrives. The hotel manager deserves a medal.
My brother has put up the website http://www.homeflood.com as a sign-up board for people who wish to provide aid - particularly to house victims who have lost everything. They will eventually be providing a signup for people to help transport victims as well. Several families have signed up already.