Tuesday, January 29, 2008

game politics

This is a repost of my response to Julian's post here:

The reason so many politicians take wild stances against video games is because they're never offered a tempered, realistic view from anybody. Nearly everyone takes an extreme viewpoint, meaning that those politicians never hear real sense. Politicians will back off from condemning all games when gamers and game developers are willing to recognize that some games really do merit censorship.

The recent Fox News - Mass Effect debacle is a great example. I admire Geoff Keighley, and I think he showed patient restraint in that roundtable. But he said exactly what they knew he'd say. Regardless of whether Mass Effect was innocent of the network's charge or not, of course a game journalist was going to claim it was harmless, right? They might have actually listened to him if he said something to the effect of, "Look, I realize there are games out there that are sensationalist and problematic, but Mass Effect isn't one of those games."

It's the lack of a middle ground in such discussions that keeps everyone yelling at each other from the far sides of the field. If someone reasonable and well-placed like Geoff would just step into that territory, a civil and realistic discussion could begin between gamers and politicians.

Monday, January 28, 2008

the future of podcasting

Brent posted show #100 of VirginWorlds. Congratulations, Brent!

During the show, he asked about the future of podcasting. I have a couple thoughts on that.

First, I agree with Craig that video podcasting will become more common, and some audiences will prefer that while others will prefer the audio podcasts. Audio podcasts allow the listener to browse the internet or do something else on his computer while listening. That's great for many, but some of us can't pay close attention to the podcast dialogue if we're doing other things. And, of course, video podcasts can offer elements which audio podcasts cannot.

Second, I bet changes in technology will be a major factor in the growth and nature of podcasting. This is only the beginning.

The explosion of wireless internet applications we're seeing now will continue over the next five or ten years. In the foreseeable future, though i'm not sure when, automobiles will regularly include advanced, built-in mp3 players and comprehensive web browsers with satellite internet connectivity. First, we'll see more people using USB drives and such to transfer files quickly and easily between their home computers and their cars. Next, we'll see people downloading shows like VirginWorlds directly to their vehicles. Those vehicle media interfaces will even have the equivalent of RSS feeds, automatically loading your favorite shows to your car's hard drive whenever a new episode is released.

Podcasts are already common and employed by mainstream media networks (and not just the big gaming networks). But in ten years... look out!

By the way, Brent and Darren... If you think podcasts are difficult to put together now, just wait until listening to them in cars becomes the norm and panning becomes more important with the 4+ speakers. =P

Friday, January 25, 2008

action games and football

In football, if you lose a game, that usually doesn't prevent you from progressing to the next game (the next level). Your record stays with you, but it only determines whether or not you make it to the playoffs (extra levels). Football allows the player to experience nearly all content regardless of performance.

That seems to be a model that could be transferred to FPS games and Action RPGs.

Perform poorly against most of the foes of one level, and you can still progress to the next level. Doing well in most levels will unlock some extra areas, while winning all levels will unlock an epic encounter or something similar, but the game generally moves forward regardless. And, like a football season, level order is not static. The player might face the swamp level first, last, or anywhere in between.

Applying this concept of "progression independent of achievement" seems easy enough on the macro level, but I wonder if it could also be applied to individual encounters.

In (American) football, if countless plays in a game go badly, that doesn't prevent you from progressing to the next play (the next encounter). Winning plays affects the circumstances of future plays (such as field position) and the role one must take in the next play (offense/defense), but poor achievement does not negate progression entirely.

The last quality is what might be difficult to translate into games other than turn-based games. How do you encourage skillful play of individual encounters without punishing failure by ending progression?

NCAA Football '08 does this largely through a system of momentum. Perform poorly and your enemy gets the momentum, making progression harder but still inevitable (not merely possible). This system increases the opponent(s)' attributes and skills -- something easily translatable to other genres.

Like field position in football, it would be great to see the FPS/RPG player's actions in individual encounters affect the setting of the next encounter. An enemy might be blocking a slowly closing pathway; meaning the player can sneak past the enemy or fight through (not necessarily killing) to the opening, but must otherwise take an alternate route. Or actions in one encounter might affect the availability of environmental objects in other encounters.

Anyway, just the random thoughts of the day.

Friday, January 18, 2008

Usage-based internet fees and online gaming

That's right, Time Warner is testing the possibility of charging internet users for service based on individual bandwidth consumption. And listen to this:
The company believes the billing system will impact only heavy users, who account for around 5 percent of all customers but typically use more than half of the total network bandwidth, according to a company spokesman.
Do online gamers fall into that 5 percent?

If most internet users would save money from this new model and like it, and online gamers do fall into that small percentage, then online gaming's runaway growth could be slowed to crawl. Not only MMOs, but online console services could suffer.

I tend to avoid predictions of doom and gloom. Disasters do happen, but they're rare. But is there good reason to be afraid with this? It seems developers and gamers alike should keep an eye on this one.

Sorry about the long hiatus. I've just felt like I have nothing to say lately. Hopefully, I'll be posting regularly again soon.

Wednesday, January 09, 2008

strategy-only football

College football is finally over. I wish they would end the season on New Year's, like they used to do. Anyway, it's good to see an SEC team take the title once again. I was born in Louisiana, so LSU's probably my second favorite, after Bama (family tradition - a lot of my family's from the Mobile-Daphne area).

Over the past few days, I've wondered why I've never seen a strategy-only football game before. It might exist, but I've never heard of one. By strategy-only, I mean a video game in which you play as the coaching staff and have no direct control of the action.

Every football fan is an armchair quarterback. We love to criticize play-calls and suggest what should have been done. But not every football fan is an action gamer. Some didn't grow up with video games and don't have the training with console controls to play Madden '08. Others could play such action games, but prefer player-paced games. And still others are only interested in strategy.

So the absence of a football video game that is based entirely around coaching seems glaring to me. For the player to watch the action unfold in a realistic manner requires some deep AI, so perhaps we're only now ready for that sort of game. But, regardless of whether or not such a game could have been adequately presented in the past, EA or someone else needs to hop on this opportunity.

I know plenty of non-gamers who would quickly become gaming addicts if they could play Armchair Quarterback '09. =)