Sunday, August 31, 2008

Red Alert free; hurricanes

If you haven't heard already, EA's letting anyone download the original Command & Conquer: Red Alert for free today at this site. You can also get Red Alert 2 "free" if you pre-order Red Alert 3. I'd say that's a hell of a deal for folks who were already planning on buying Red Alert 3.

If you've never played a Red Alert game, I can't say I'm sure you'll enjoy the original (just because it's so old), but it's definitely worth trying. The only RTS series that compares in popularity is Starcraft. Red Alert was my favorite RTS until I played LOTR: Battle for Middle Earth 2.

edit: I tried for hours to get the original Red Alert working on my Win XP -- the Win 95 version and the DOS version -- but to no avail. I give up. I hope you have more luck with it.

On another note, hurricane Gustav could knock out my internet for a while.

I live just north of Houston. Right now, Gustav's aimed for New Orleans (city of my birth), but I've been watching hurricanes long enough to know that the weather forecasters are only making educated guesses and this thing could turn at any time. Even if Gustav doesn't turn, it might spin out tornadoes here or drop enough rain to knock out the power. I'm too far inland to worry about it, really. It's the people on the coast who need your prayers, but I'm just letting you know I might not update this site for a while after Monday.

If you're one of the folks evacuating or travelling through Louisiana right now, be aware that gas stations are running out of gas and not all of them will have more delivered anytime soon. Some relatives of mine just drove back to Houston from Mobile. Ironically, they said I-10 was alright (they travelled in the middle of the night), but Texas is diverting traffic around Liberty and other areas. 1960 east of Houston (the route I usually take to 90) is closed off.

Hurricane Hannah's looking like it might hit the Florida keys soon.

May God keep you safe.

Thursday, August 28, 2008

Encyclopedia of Life

If I was a game designer, I'd bookmark the Encyclopedia of Life project. Encyclopedia of Life is an ambitious taxonomy project, hoping to catalogue every species on Earth into a single index. The variety of life in our world is truly endless, and this is a great way to get ideas for creature design... not just visual design, but behaviors and abilities.

I've mentioned Blogger Play and TerraGalleria before. Studying reality is a great way to find inspiration for all aspects of game design.

Wednesday, August 27, 2008

the Netflix-360 deal

This Netflix-360 deal ain't all it's cracked up to be.

When I first heard its announcement during E3, I was excited. I love to watch movies, and I already stream movies through sites like Hulu. I've been using Blockbuster to rent movies by mail for many months, but I figured I'd gladly switch if I could watch more movies through Netflix via streaming or downloads.

Alas, there's a catch.

I've been trying Netflix for the past month to find out if they're really just as good as Blockbuster; to figure out if I want to switch. It turns out Netflix already allows members to stream movies if the membership plan includes it ($14 per month gives you unlimited streams, in addition to mail rentals).

The catch is only some movies are offered for streaming... and most of those movies suck. Oh, there are some real gems (like The Taking of Pelham One Two Three or The Riddle), but most are shoddy B-movies and stuff you'd probably never watch if it was offered any other way. Odds are, this is the same content that will be available to 360 users.

Screw it. Blockbuster still seems like the better deal to me. They've got an exclusivity deal with The Weinstein Company (Hannibal Rising, 1408, The Last Legion, The Forbidden Kingdom, etc). And they just added their own download program... which is both better and worse than Netflix streams. It's worse because Blockbuster doesn't offer a subscription add-on to download movies, as Netflix does; you have to pay to rent each download. But it's better in that you can purchase movies via download (good movies); and those are cheaper than DVDs, of course. As long as you have a big external hard drive, as I do, that's not a bad deal.

It seems to me that all forms of electronic media are gradually merging. The Netflix-360 deal is a step in that direction, but also shows how far we are from the ideal for now.

roles by discovery

This is a great new take on the MMO concept.

The third paragraph of that article is what really interests me. Just like in any other MMO, players will form a loose community by taking on complimentary roles. But unlike in most MMOs, those roles are not coded templates which players are forced to choose. Players will choose and shape their own roles, often discovering them by happenstance. As a result, there will likely be a lot of room for individuality and enough dynamics to allow many fresh play-sessions (a long-lasting game).

If Cities XL turns out well, I expect MMO developers could learn a lot from it in this regard.

Tuesday, August 26, 2008

tactical skills

Having more than one use for a skill can make that skill so much more enjoyable.

Case in point: My WAR sorcerer had an area-of-effect root spell. It doesn't always root every enemy around me to their position, but it has a good chance to. Anyway, I found three uses for that one skill just within an hour of RvR.
  • stop an injured enemy from retreating to safety
  • save an ally from pursuing enemies
  • delay a group of enemies just long enough for my allies to regroup or reach a more defensible position
That tactical element quickly made the root spell one of my favorite sorcerer skills.

games and ... stamps?

This is ridiculous.

Ridiculous, but brilliant. You just know everything on that site's going to sell like hotcakes.

By the way, I just realized that the WAR beta will reopen around the same time as Spore's release. If that's not malicious torture, I don't know what is.

I have two games pre-ordered at the moment: Spore and Fable 2. There's a ton of other great games coming out this fall and winter that I want, but that's all the money I have free for gaming right now. I'd consider switching my Fable 2 money to WAR so I can join my Casualties friends, but I've already downloaded the Pub Games and so feel obligated to stick with Fable 2. To be honest with myself, I'm going to have to wait on a lot of great games.

The other games on my "must have" list which are due out soon:
  • Warhammer Online
  • Dead Space
  • LOTR: Conquest
  • Fallout 3
  • Gears of War 2
  • Saints Row 2
  • Star Wars: The Force Unleashed
  • Far Cry 2
"must haves" due out in '09 or '10, I'm guessing:
  • Diablo 3
  • Starcraft 2
  • Project Offset
  • Red Faction: Guerilla
  • Command & Conquer: Red Alert 3
And here are the games that have yet to convince me, though I'm watching them with hope:
  • Backbreaker
  • The Agency
  • Godfather 2
  • Bloodbowl
  • Goldenaxe
  • Halo Wars
  • Borderlands
  • Rise of the Argonauts
  • Saboteur
  • Left 4 Dead
  • Sacred 2
  • Tom Clancy's Endwar
I've probably missed a few games. Anyway, counting Spore and Fable 2, that's ten games ($50-60 each!) that are due out in the next four months and I'm certain I want to own. Red Alert 3 is scheduled for "Winter 2008", but that means EA's only hoping at this point. My sympathies with all of you who are feeling the same pinch.

Monday, August 25, 2008


The guys at EA making Dead Space have come up with a pretty interesting marketing ploy. Basically, it's web-based 3D detective mini-game in which you can explore one room of the spaceship Ishimura to learn some Dead Space backstory and enjoy a miniature drama involving two of the ship's employees (a security worker and you, the geeky organ replacement surgeon who is infatuated with her).

It's also a contest to win a free copy of Dead Space, but what really makes it interesting to me is how relevant it is to the retail game. Like Bioshock, Dead Space relies heavily on atmosphere, and this mini-game provides a small taste of that. Be sure to have the audio on, because that's what really makes this worthwhile. If you spend more than just a minute in the mini-game, you'll be surprised by what you hear.

This isn't your average marketing scheme. It includes a surprising amount of voice-acting (well done, too). And elements like the computer's AI personality draw you into the sci-fi setting. EA's planning on adding something new to this every Monday until the game releases.

It's a cool and original idea. I hope other developers come up with marketing like this.

no original ideas?

Absolutely, there are original ideas. And Waldo said it best.

Human beings can't create (make something from nothing). We can only invent (use pre-existing materials and concepts to form new objects), but there's always more to be discovered in this way.

Music is the best example. With only 12 notes (in the West), musicians continue to explore new ground. Not just new twists on old styles, but new styles and flavors, new instruments, new progressions and flairs, etc. It's simply amazing. Just thirty short years ago, nobody had heard anything like Korn, Tori Amos, or Guns 'n' Roses. When my parents were young, nobody had imagined an electric violin or computer-modulated singing.

Like with anything, most works fall somewhere into the realm of the ordinary, the flawed and trite. But some will always break free of that.

A non-gaming writer I like, Father John Richard Neuhaus, often talks about "the cult of the new". Especially in our time with such rapid developments in all aspects of society, many people make the mistake of equating newness with quality. New does not equal good. Many of our best inventions are refinements of old works, because no work is ever perfect. Still, new can be good; and new is always possible.

Don't give in to cynicism. I'm no technosoph or utopian dreamer. Our capacity for progress in this world is limited, but there's always so much more to do. So much more.

Friday, August 22, 2008

goals alone don't motivate

So I finally got around to watching the trailers for Command & Conquer: Red Alert 3. Just about everyone who has played RTS games since the genre's earliest days knows that Red Alert is one of the gems in the RTS crown, so hopes are high for any game that seeks to recapture that experience.

In RA3 (gamers love acronyms, right?), the graphical quality and visual detail are very impressive, the story sounds intriguing, and the scale of combat seems right for a Red Alert game. But you know what really grabbed me in the trailers?

That classic Red Alert music! Heavy metal guitar mixed with marching orders and a touch of techno. Oh yes. It's time to rock!

Music, more than any other artform, acts as inspiration. And inspiration is vital to any player experience. It's not enough to provide goals and some challenges to overcome.

It basically boils down to this: human beings are not defined merely by logic, by our capacity for reasoning. Emotion is every bit as vital to our being, and the purpose of emotion is to motivate. Every one of us sometimes fails to act in accordance with our own reasoning, and that is because logic is simply not enough.

Great music inspires. Wondrous and beautiful visions inspire. Deep and larger-than-life characters inspire.

Mathematical formulations fail to produce great works of art because art is math yet it is more than math... just as humans are logical, but we are more than logic. Calculations are often accurate, but they are not enough. A good game designer studies the science behind the systems, he pays attention to demographics and other statistical feedback, but he also steps back from all the numbers and the figures to look at his work with a child's eyes and a loving heart. He takes a moment to regain that child-like sense of wonder and asks simply, "Now, what would be cool?".

A wise man once said that anything worth knowing can be explained to a child. If you can't explain to a child why your game is worth playing, why your game is "cool", then it's time to start over. Goals and challenges are nothing without inspiration to pursue and conquer them.

Thursday, August 21, 2008

friendly differences

So Darren and Brent have been catching some flack lately for saying they don't think too highly of WAR. Today, Darren asks why anyone cares? Well, here's an answer. It doesn't apply to all people, obviously. Some have a bone to pick with those two. But then there's friends.

It's only natural to want to be able to share your joys with friends. When a friend doesn't share your excitement in something, sure, you can just accept it and move on. But people often like or dislike things because of expectations, and those expectations can sometimes be changed.

For example, for a long time, a friend of mine couldn't share my pleasure in bands like Badlands and Circus of Power. He gave them a good listen, hearing out full songs, but he just shook his head and said "no thanks". After a while, though, either his tastes or his expectations changed. He was saying how awesome those bands are and asked me for copies of my CDs.

Friends trying to change your mind doesn't necessarily mean they're insecure about their love for the game. Sometimes, it means they're surprised that you don't see what they see and they're hoping -- as good friends do -- that you might change your mind and join 'em eventually.

Wednesday, August 20, 2008

WAR is everywhere

This new cinematic trailer for WAR is quite simply the coolest video I have ever seen! Wow.

Why the hell don't people make feature films like this?! I mean it. Sure, it's an insane amount of work, but it'd be insanely popular with scenes like this and a solid story.

Of course, no Marauder would ever go down so easily. ;) Yes, I'm in beta, and my main is a ruthless Marauder:

Oh, and by the way.. that huge Chaos monster at the end? I saw that in-game last night!

After completing a quest in the troll mountains, reclaiming a mighty scepter and unleashing its power on an altar, Tchar'zanek himself stepped from the giant portal behind me and spoke to me! He basically congratulated me and said I was worthy servant of Chaos.

Again, wow. I stayed up waaaay too late last night (and have been paying for it, believe me), but that was the perfect ending to a long adventure.

If WAR has anything at all going for it, it's a kickass setting and quests that feel alive. Great job, Mythic.

Tuesday, August 19, 2008

how will cyberwarfare affect gamers?

Bruce Everiss raised the question. Russia is surely only one of many countries who have engaged in cyberwarfare already. The internet is ever-more influential on the daily affairs of citizens, let alone governments and economies. So the right question is not if cyberwars will affect gamers; it's how.

We're gamers, but we're not just gamers. We use the internet for other activities (shopping, billing, registrations, etc). But that's not the only reason I say gamers will be affected. There are motives to target gamers directly.

For one thing, intelligence and counter-intelligence organizations are sure to recognize eventually that online gaming is an excellent avenue for recruitment and misinformation. It's increasingly common for people to make deep personal connections with online acquaintances and extend their trust to those acquaintances, and the frequency of such connections crossing national boundaries is also growing.

At its most basic level, espionage in gaming communities can take the form of misinformation. We've all seen how easy it is to light the internet up like a firecracker with a simple, unsubstantiated rumor. Rumors about gaming are relatively harmless, but propoganda is a powerful element of warfare. Even if you place faith in the ability of online communities to dig for truth, you know how stubborn and close-minded people get when it comes to politics. Facts aren't everything in propoganda.

At the more sinister level, espionage in gaming can mean recruitment. Recruitment can be as simple as getting some immature 10-year-old excited about "fooling" all of his friends with misinformation, or it can be as complex as total conversion. Not everyone's careful in their doling of trust, and some people are yearning for a cause. Especially in today's world, there are plenty of individuals who rebel only for the sake of rebellion. And just like with software piracy, those participating in espionage often don't have to see or even hear about the people they hurt.

I was going to list some other motives, but that's already enough to get my point across, right? Gamers will be targeted, eventually. It's probably already happened.

Monday, August 18, 2008

Lazy Days

My song "Lazy Days" is on iTunes now.

It's not a professional recording (professionally mastered, at least), but it's cool all the same. Months ago, a small company called Quickstar Productions contacted me and offered to place this song of mine on their next Chill Out acoustic compilation album (the picture above is from a different album of the same series). I don't expect to make much money from it. The main benefit is exposure. Aside from showing up on iTunes, Quickstar will be promoting the CD to various radio stations, labels, managers, and other industry folks around the country.

I'm hoping to record one of my metal songs soon for Casualties and Warhammer Online, a song called "A Season For War". Creative versatility is my greatest gift with music. I can compose in any style. So if I get that recorded, I'll link it back here so you can hear how various my songs can be.

Anyway, I hope you like it.

edit: I just listened to the iTunes preview for the first time, and I wish they had started the clip from a different point. It's really a riff-driven song, in my view. I grew up on early 90s rock like Metallica, Alice in Chains, Skid Row, Pantera, Ozzy, Pearl Jam, etc. So most of my music is riff-driven. Anyway, you can catch a little bit of that at the end of the iTunes clip.

Thursday, August 14, 2008


I have a great appreciation for chance/luck in games. I played a lot of boardgames and poker growing up, and those games tend to involve as much or more chance than skill. Monopoly, Sorry!, Chutes and Ladders, Scrabble, Life... countless boardgames have proven that there's a massive market for games in which the roll or the draw is king.

Complete randomness is not good. Spinnerbox, one of Fable 2's three pub games, is a terrible game. It's basically a slot machine. Slot machines can probably be found in nearly every casino in America, if not the world. The game is certainly popular, but I don't think that's because it's fun. It's addictive -- that's not the same as fun. If the reward was not monetary, I doubt anyone would play the game. It's the concept of money for nothing that's attractive. The anxious anticipation of winning quickly fades for most as the game is replayed. People stay for the money, not the game. I could be wrong, though.

So anyway, 100% chance is bad. But chance doesn't have to be a small part of gameplay. Luck can be the heart of a very popular (profitable) game.

And chance doesn't exclude choice. One thing Monopoly and Diablo 2 have in common is that player choice occurs mostly in reaction to uncontrolled events (dice rolls and loot "rolls"). The same happens in epic literary adventures; characters respond to, rather than cause, major events.

Tuesday, August 12, 2008

one skill, ever expanding

Cameron brings up the question of whether or not RPGs, particularly MMOs, must have such a prolonged learning curve. It's great to not overwhelm players with too much at a game's beginning, but not so great to drag advanced gamers through slow and tedious skill-building before they can really let loose and fully enjoy the game.

One idea is that the skills a player starts with can have an increasing variety of uses as gameplay progresses. This way, you can start a player off with a full repertoire, yet the gameplay still begins simply and becomes increasingly complex.

For example: Start a player with a fireball spell, but nothing to burn besides enemies. Next, provide flammable objects. Then provide flammable + collapsable objects (i.e., start a fire to cause something to collapse on the enemy). Then, provide enemies with AI that causes them to run into their allies when aflame. It's just one skill (fireball), but that skill has an ever-expanding number of possibilities.

Monday, August 11, 2008

variety of rewards

Someone told me yesterday about a study, which they heard on TV news, that claims to show that non-monetary incentives are generally more effective than cash incentives for motivating employees. The theory is that employees are already making money, and most people are more apt to get excited about a different kind of reward (tickets to a sports game, for example) than an extension of the same reward (more money).

If that's true, then we could expect the same psychological pattern in games. Generally, you'll get more bang out of a different kind of reward than more of the same.

That seems right to me. Variety of rewards is always good. The hard part's ensuring every reward can be appreciated by all.

Casualties of War

I've added a link to the new Warhammer guild I'm a part of, Casualties of War.

Half the bloggers I know are members already. I normally avoid guilds like plague, but this one's a bunch of people I respect and the guild is devoted to fun (rather than grinds and server domination). These are people who acknowledge that non-virtual life comes first, and we're just sharing a great hobby together.

The guild's not restricted to bloggers. So if you're interested, check it out.

Keen and Graev have also started a Warhammer guild. Theirs will probably be great too, but it has a slightly different focus than ours. If CoW doesn't suit you, take a look at that one.

I have to say, I'm excited about finally getting to game with so many folks from our little blogosphere. Hope to see you there!

Saturday, August 09, 2008

stuff I listen to (and write/play)

Tipa seems to have started it. Then Kanthalos picked it up. Now it's my turn to share some tunes I like, mostly from bands that never made it that big.

"Outlaw" by The Scream (audio only):

I wish they had a video for other songs on that album, like "Tell Me Why" or "I Don't Care". The singer, John Corabi, went on to make a kickass album with Motley Crue in their short period without Vince Neill. Here's another song from that album. Some say it's the best album Motley Crue ever made.

"High Wire" live by Badlands (takes a moment for the video to kick in):

Badlands' self-titled album and Voodoo Highway have some of the best rock guitar ever, and the whole band's good. Jake E. Lee also played for Ozzy on songs like "Shot In the Dark".

"Losin' Your Mind" by Pride & Glory (the video shortens the song):

Nobody's had more influence on my guitar style and songwriting than Zakk Wylde. Ozzy's got a knack for finding incredible guitarists. No More Tears, Ozzmosis, Pride & Glory, Zakk's Book of Shadows, and the first few Black Label Society albums are all amazing.

It was a shock when I found out that Zakk was good friends with my other favorite guitarist, Dime Darrell of Pantera. If you've never heard "Hollow", you're really missing out:

I've got a Dime tribute song that I'll have to give a proper recording sometime. When he died, myself and many others were surprised to find ourselves tearing up over this guy we had never met. A phenomenal musician.

"Crazy Love" by Gruntruck:

To be honest, I've never been able to explain why I love Gruntruck's Push album as much as I do, but I listen to it more often than almost any other album. Simple, but awesome. I recommend it to any fan of grunge. YouTube also has the video for "Tribe", from that same album.

And finally, you can find a video of "Heaven and Hell" by Circus of Power here (there's no embed code). I wish there was a video for "Swamp Devil". I stumbled onto this other Artimus Pyledriver song by the same name while looking for it. Pretty cool.

Needless to say, I love to hear rock, metal, and grunge with a Southern flavor. That's pretty much sums up my own style.

You can find my music here. It's permanently linked on the sidebar. Unfortunately, I rarely take the time to record things well, and I'm usually too shy to belt out the vocals to do them well, but the site at least gives people a taste of what I do. My greatest gift with music is adaptability -- I can write in any style -- but whether or not there's much variety on my site depends on when you check it. I'll have a song on the next Quickstar acoustic compilation album, like this, due out sometime in the coming weeks. The song's called "Lazy Days".

Oh yeah, on one of the songs up on my site, a ballad called "Her Story", you can hear the vocals of someone you know.

Friday, August 08, 2008

a lesson from Beijing

After watching the opening ceremony at the Beijing Olympics, I'm reminded of how a different beauty emerges from large masses of people as from groups and individuals. Over two thousand drummers synchronize their actions to create an awesome spectacle that's simply not possible in any other way.

Games are increasingly able to include vast numbers of objects and characters -- coordinately directly or indirectly, or acting separately. Keep in mind that sheer numbers can change aesthetic and narrative possibilities. Through masses, you can create experiences for players that are essentially different from encounters with individuals and groups.

Thursday, August 07, 2008

mana (resource management)

Why do magic systems always rely on resource management (mana)? I don't dispute that it's a good system. But why is it the only system?

Not all gamers enjoy resource management.

Just as it can be fun for players to have no energy limits on their melee actions, it could be feasible and fun for players to have no energy limits on spellcasting. In fact, all of the features of melee combat systems could be applied to magic. For example, whereas a strong attack at the wrong moment can leave the player open, the wrong spell at the wrong moment might do the same.

Melee combat has taken so many forms over the years. It's sad that magic is almost always approached the same way.

Tuesday, August 05, 2008

art pacing

Diablo 3 developer Jay Wilson had this to say about Diablo 2's art:
"One of the things that’s key to “Diablo II” — and I’ve gone through and done timing on it — it changes environments every 15 minutes, and every 45 minutes they give you an environment that looks completely different than one you’ve ever seen before. And when they change environments, the contrast is huge. It’s like I’m in green lush fields, and now I’m in the darkest dungeon you’ve ever seen. I’m in a bright sandy desert, and now I’m in a completely dim mummy tomb. There are these vast shifts in look, and it’s one of the things that keeps people interested in playing the game."
That's a great observation. I can't think of another game that comes close to that frequency of major setting shifts. Learn it. Love it.

Monday, August 04, 2008

Montessori learning in Spore

If you buy a child one game in this year or next, buy Spore. It's an inherently educational game and teaches many lessons.

As a child, Will Wright was educated by the Montessori method. Montessori learning is basically learning through experimentation; self-directed interaction with objects and relationships. This is the sort of learning that permeates Spore.

Players intuitively learn through their experiments basic concepts of structural biology; how the shape, size, and orientation of various body parts combine to form aptitudes and behaviors.

In the tribal and civilization stages, players intuitively learn basic concepts of government. They learn about resource management, the necessity of defense, diplomacy, and civic engineering.

In the space phase, players are exposed to the first detailed 3-D model of space -- an achievement significant enough to earn Wright an invitation to demonstrate Spore at NASA. Kids and adults can be exposed to concepts like black holes, quasars, asteroid and ice belts, and perhaps the many phases of a star's life cycle.

Of course, like with any teaching tool, some guidance is good. For example, Spore begins with the panspermia/exogenesis hypothesis guess. When your child asks you why scientists would think the possibility that life began elsewhere and arrived on Earth via meteors is any more credible than life beginning here on Earth, you can say, "Because scientists can be idiots, too."

More generally, Spore provides inspiration for learning; enthusiastic questions which parents and teachers can use to open broader or more detailed lessons. After a child has equipped his or her creature with horns, spitters, plating, or claws, you can use that to open discussion of the countless defense mechanisms not included in the game. As children paint their creatures, you can introduce them to concepts like camouflage, feathers, or exoskeletons. No matter what they're playing with in Spore, it's a great occasion to point out the wondrous variety of life and beautiful logos which pervades our universe.

Spore is one of the best examples of potential for educational games. Like trips to museums and zoos or time spent out with nature, it can be an invaluable inspiration for learning. Learning should not always be fun, but it certainly can be.

This sort of educational value is an important part of the future of video games as they become increasingly mainstream. No work of art or product is free from social responsibility.


I live by Houston and there's a potential hurricane (tropical storm) on our doorstep. It probably won't be that bad, but a similarly small hurricane in 1983 knocked my family's power for a week. So I'm just letting y'all know that my internet might go out tomorrow.

It's following the same path as that 1983 hurricane that hit Houston, but that doesn't mean anything. As a lifelong Gulf Coast resident (I spent a lot of summers in Mobile, AL and Perdido Key, FL), I've been watching hurricanes my entire life, and the only thing that's certain about a hurricane is that nobody knows for sure what it's going to do.

Weather forecasters mainly rely on statistics. Hurricanes can build up or die off quickly. They can turn sharply and unexpectedly. I've even seen one come onto shore, stop, back out into the Gulf to regain strength, hit shore again, stop and build up again... and drop an insane amount of rain in the process. While large hurricanes are a hell of a lot more deadly than small ones, small ones can be full of tornadoes and downdrafts. Thankfully, I'm not in a floodplain.

Anyway, if I don't lose power, there will be another post tomorrow. To be honest, I'm looking forward to the hurricane. I love thunderstorms.

procedural pictures

This is simply awesome. It's a procedurally created creating picture of leaves during a spring rain, which means the animation is dynamic and ever new. You can find its creator here.

How might games benefit from procedural pictures?

Once obvious answer is settings. I don't know what they're called, but film directors once commonly used landscape paintings to create grand scenes (like the backgrounds of theater plays) without having to relocate the whole production team. Film director John Ford used such backgrounds in all of his movies with John Wayne. In the film Darby O'Gill and The Little People, Disney used a combination of such paintings and mirrors to create fantastic illusions of scale. You don't see this technique in films so much since the advent of computer technology. But it can be seen in many games, like Hellgate: London and Assassin's Creed.

Procedural pictures might be useful wherever you would normally place a background picture. I don't know how much time and thought it takes to make a procedural picture (ask axcho), so I can only guess that the rewards might sometimes outweigh the expense. But such basic procedural generation is light on processing, and the possibility of including a dynamic, animated background without burdening other systems is certainly attractive.

As backgrounds, procedural pictures would be particularly useful in areas that players will return to often: log-in screens, banks or vendor shops, inventory screens, etc.

I'll try to think of less obvious possibilities later. Any ideas?

Friday, August 01, 2008

Jedi in MMOs

Should players be able to play as Jedi in MMOs like SW:G or Bioware's upcoming game? I think SW:G originally had the right idea: allow players to become Jedi, but make Jedi rare (i.e., not available to all).

As Stéfan points out at MMOCrunch, the first Star Wars: Battlefront was fun without playable Jedi. It sold well enough to earn a port, proving there's a market for Star Wars games that aren't Jedi-centric. In fact, some players (like Stéfan and I) feel that the first SW: Battlefront is actually more fun than the sequel.

On the other hand, players do enjoy being Jedi when not everyone is a Jedi.

SW:G proved, once again, that people generally enjoy lotteries in games. The possibility of unlocking a Force-sensitive slot was like the possibility of looting a Legendary item in Diablo 2: epic, near-unattainable goals raise excitement while players focus on other goals.

The problem with the pre-NGE game wasn't that not everyone could be a Jedi. The problem was that, six months after release, not a single Force-sensitive slot had been unlocked. The basic idea was right, but it was executed poorly.

The trick is finding a way to ensure some Jedi slots are unlocked within the couple months, yet keeping Jedi numbers to a reasonable limit even after years of play.

I might be wrong, but I don't see how that's possible through an achievement system (i.e., players can find how to acquire a slot and work toward it). The main problem is that sort of system encourages grinding... the effective bypassing (waste) of content to reach a goal; the player is blinded to the journey in pursuit of the goal. Even if the content is fun and worthy of enjoyment, players will still rush through it and miss its appeal because they perceive playing a Jedi as the core game.

Some degree of chance is necessary. Unlocking a Jedi slot doesn't have to be completely random, but there has to be some uncontrollable (and fair) element.

Regardless, I would place a hard cap on the number of Jedi per server, just in case. Designers can't predict everything.

edit: Eureka!
It occurs to me that playable Jedi don't have to be an either/or scenario! Force sensitivity can be a graded reward... similar to how Diablo 2 has Legendary items, Unique items, Set items, etc.

In the Star Wars films, not all Jedi have equal power. Also, different Jedi seem to excel at different Force-related skills. So another option for a Star Wars MMO is to make only the most powerful Jedi exceedingly rare while allowing many players some degree of Force sensitivity.

These degrees of Force sensitivity could affect both type and power of Force skills (degrees of power should be reflected in animations, and not just stats).

Also, some players could potentially acquire less-powerful but unique skills. Using the Force to create an illusion, for example, would not be a particularly powerful skill, but most Jedi/Sith would not have access to it and it could be fun.

As I've said many times before, content doesn't have to be experienced directly by a player to improve his or her game experience.

edit: Some commentators over at Massively have pointed out that a Star Wars MMO could also have different Jedi classes and factions. That's not how I would do it, but I agree that it's probably what Bioware's going with if they're basing their game on KOTOR.

IOUs are not good business

Don't give gamers IOUs. Just surprise us.... and email me when the surprise is ready, so I don't have to keep checking your stupid site. =/

Delays lead to apathy. I would have bought S.T.A.L.K.E.R. if they hadn't dragged it out so damn long. Darkfall has lost me the same way. Don't advertise uncertain dates. Keep your internal milestones to yourselves, for pity's sake!

That site for the Civ: Revolution bonus content originally said something like "end of this month", which has now been changed to "shortly".