Diablo

Diablo 3 has just been announced by Blizzard. The details are at http://www.blizzard.com/diablo3/

Wow. It looks great. I’m SO excited. And it won’t be released for at least a year, perhaps several years. 🙁

Of course, I waited a long time for…the previous two versions, too. Oh, yes, I’m that old, and older still. 🙂

It was ’97, and I saw some hype about it in a gaming magazine. I realized instantly what was going on. Someone was making a rogue-alike, but with cool graphics!

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Roguelike

Random dungeons? Different character classes that play differently? Scads of monsters, spells, weapons, armor, potions, altars, traps, chests, and unique items? Rogue-alikes like Nethack, Moria, and Angband had all of those in spades. I knew people who had lost entire college semesters to them. A graphical version was gonna be great, I just knew it.

And it was, but not as I expected.

As it turns out, this was exactly what the dev team was looking to do, and the product was going well. Like all rogue-alikes, it was turn-based and single-player (though Nethack had pioneered an online leaderboard), but the publisher asked for changes to both.

Real-time play and online multiplayer were both hacked in (and the resulting code was nasty). The product was released, and it was a BIG hit. Years later, when they made Diablo 2, they continued the hit gameplay, but designed it to be online and real-time from the start, of course. They also added more more more of everything.

Diablo 2 was a huge hit. To date, including all versions and the (single) expansion pack, Diablo has sold over 17 MILLION copies. Blizzard would have been set even if they’d never invented World of Warcraft.

I never played Diablo 1 or 2 in multiplayer modes, and I would have been just fine with a turn-based version, but it seems clear that those two changes had a huge (positive) impact on its popularity. Turn-based, single-player graphical rogue-alikes are a very popular genre in Japan, but such products never took off in America. My wife loves the Japanese rogue-alikes, with their cutesy graphics and very old-school mechanics. I can explain how Diablo is just another rogue-alike, but the real-time, blood and guts play turns her off. Oh well. 🙂

Here’s a PVP comic strip from that time: http://www.pvponline.com/2000/06/30/fri-jun-30/

http://www.blizzard.com…
http://en.wikipedia.org…
http://www.pvponline.co…

I can has talk?

Among my copious and varied qualities, I occasionally speak at developer meetings and conventions. I’ve decided to gather the videos and materials of these presentations here:

http://talks.eochu.com/

I’ve been a big ham my whole life, so… although I’m a standard nerd introvert, I get a lot of positive energy from speaking. It’s fun to prepare, it’s fun to do, and it’s fun to have people in the hall afterwards talking about it with me.

The talk I gave most recently was "How to Make a Game Like Space Invaders". I wanted to target it at beginners, plus I wanted to steer clear of any one particular development solution. But in doing so, I felt I had more to say than could fit in sixty minutes of presentation, so it would up being more of an overview than I’d hoped.

Still, I’m thinking about creating a whole series of these talks, "How to Make a Game Like…", and post them on YouTube. Or at least portions of them.

In past years I also gave presentations at the Austin Game Conference and the Texas Indie Game Conference. I’ll try to add the materials for those to my new website soon.
http://talks.eochu.com/

Gahhh!!! Beginning, cross-platform dev solutions…

I’m mentoring a couple of high school students this summer, so I think it’s important that we find a development environment that we can share (so they can code at home, and I can check their work). One of the boys has a Mac, though, so that’s a complication.

And because of that, I’m not finding a wide variety of solutions.

We’ve looked at BlitzMax, which…
fills our needs excellently. Unfortunately, each license is $80, and the kid’s parents are hemming and hawing about that expense.

I’ve been researching PyGame, too. It’s free and cross-platform, but an examination of the website shows that it’s much more complex to install than BlitzMax was. Plus it doesn’t come with a cool IDE or a debugger (though, with even MORE fiddling, you can get an IDE to work with it).

There are other solutions, each with their own drawbacks and troubles. Nothing is magically easy. I MADE a shared development environment using LUA and DirectX ( http://learning.eochu.com/ ), but it’s not cross-platform.

Well, I guess I’ll keep lookin.http://learning.eochu.com/

Mindless fun

I’ve been recently showing some old game prototypes to some new faces, and I’m recognizing a pattern.

It’s fairly easy for me to make gameplay that lets the player get "into the zone", and just play mindlessly for a while. BUT, I know a game can’t rest solely on that kind of mindless "pick-up-and-play" gameplay; there has to be something deeper, doesn’t it?

Everyone’s going crazy for….the new Boom Blox game for the Wii. That has the mindless fun of fiddling with a bunch of stacked blocks in a 3D physics engine. Then, to round it out, the developers created a huge library of game modes (knock down the castle, DON’T knock down the castle, knock down multiplayer castles, etc).

One could argue that the GTA series started with the mindless fun of driving around an open-world city, and then layered on a whole bunch of game modes and "missions". If so, then this post is also about a game design method that I’ve remarked on before, where the developer starts with a basic gameplay mechanic, like driving around, and then layers on a bunch of gameplay modules, like shooting or gambling or changing clothes. Aside from GTA, I also noticed this structure in Animal Crossing.

If so, what’s the best (and most efficient) way to add that extra depth? Once you’ve got a game that is a hunk of mindless fun, do you just add powerups or special zones or game modes until completeness is achieved?

And how important is the extra stuff? does a hunk of mindless fun constitute 50% of the whole game? 20%? 90%?

Thanks for helping me puzzle this out.

Game cameras

Third Person "over-the-shoulder" games are ubiquitous. Every 3D platformer since Mario 64, every action game since Tomb Raider, has such a camera.

And, to one degree or another, they ALL suck.

Not the games; I’m talking about the camera. I was just watching a review of Ninja Gaiden 2, and once again the reviewer points out how the camera just can’t keep up with the action, or keeps falling behind scenery, so the player dies horribly ’cause they can’t see what’s going on. NG2 just came out! You’d think modern games would know how to make the floating third-person camera work properly, right?

Well, for a couple of years now I’ve had a theory that… third-person cameras are fundamentally broken, and we will NEVER be completely happy with their behavior. I feel there are three reasons for this.

First, I’ve certainly made my share of such cameras, so I understand the algorithms that one would use to code such a camera. BUT, when players encounter a third-person camera, they don’t like to think about the camera itself; they believe it should work just like cameras in the movies (and a third-person camera IS very "cinematic"). But a movie camera is very carefully placed in the scene by a trained human director, and not in real-time, either. So if we’re looking for a camera algorithm that does as well as a human director in all cases, we’ll be looking for a long time.

Second, the "camera" of a 3D game is surprisingly limited. The image on your screen is (at best) 45 degrees of your view, not the 360 degree field of view we have in real life. But Thom, you say, we don’t see in 360 degrees! What are you smoking? Well, you’re right, except that we have swiveling eyeballs, necks, and shoulders, and precise control over them, so we can turn our eyes (cameras) quickly and feel like we can see everything around us.

First-person cameras (FPS games) feel very immersive and natural because we’re substituting our mouse hand for the neck movement, but we still have enough control to look around quickly and build that virtual 360 degree view. Third person cameras, in contrast, give us very little control, very little ability to look around, especially in the heat of combat.

The third reason for my theory is simple; I’ve never found a game review that was totally happy with a third-person camera. The range seems to be "not bad, a few problems" to "utterly dreadful, I can’t play", and since so many games have had a third-person camera, you’d think a developer would have found the magic combination by now.

Having said all this, many games have an acceptable third-person camera, or at least a camera you can forget about while you play. I don’t remember fighting the camera in God of War, and Psychonaughts actually did some really interesting things with its camera. Resident Evil 4 and Gears of War both embraced a very usable fusion between third-person and first-person. But I would argue that the games with the best third-person cameras have very carefully constructed levels and artwork, all designed to minimize camera shortcomings. To get the best behavior out of a third-person camera, developers often have to modify or even sacrifice other aspects of the game.

Game cameras

Third Person "over-the-shoulder" games are ubiquitous. Every 3D platformer since Mario 64, every action game since Tomb Raider, has such a camera._x000D_
_x000D_
And, to one degree or another, they ALL suck._x000D_
_x000D_
Not the games; I’m talking about the camera. I was just watching a review of Ninja Gaiden 2, and once again the reviewer points out how the camera just can’t keep up with the action, or keeps falling behind scenery, so the player dies horribly ’cause they can’t see what’s going on. NG2 just came out! You’d think modern games would know how to make the floating third-person camera work properly, right?_x000D_
_x000D_
Well, for a couple of years now I’ve had a theory that… third-person cameras are fundamentally broken, and we will NEVER be completely happy with their behavior. I feel there are three reasons for this._x000D_
_x000D_
First, I’ve certainly made my share of such cameras, so I understand the algorithms that one would use to code such a camera. BUT, when players encounter a third-person camera, they don’t like to think about the camera itself; they believe it should work just like cameras in the movies (and a third-person camera IS very "cinematic"). But a movie camera is very carefully placed in the scene by a trained human director, and not in real-time, either. So if we’re looking for a camera algorithm that does as well as a human director in all cases, we’ll be looking for a long time._x000D_
_x000D_
Second, the "camera" of a 3D game is surprisingly limited. The image on your screen is (at best) 45 degrees of your view, not the 360 degree field of view we have in real life. But Thom, you say, we don’t see in 360 degrees! What are you smoking? Well, you’re right, except that we have swiveling eyeballs, necks, and shoulders, and precise control over them, so we can turn our eyes (cameras) quickly and feel like we can see everything around us._x000D_
_x000D_
First-person cameras (FPS games) feel very immersive and natural because we’re substituting our mouse hand for the neck movement, but we still have enough control to look around quickly and build that virtual 360 degree view. Third person cameras, in contrast, give us very little control, very little ability to look around, especially in the heat of combat._x000D_
_x000D_
The third reason for my theory is simple; I’ve never found a game review that was totally happy with a third-person camera. The range seems to be "not bad, a few problems" to "utterly dreadful, I can’t play", and since so many games have had a third-person camera, you’d think a developer would have found the magic combination by now._x000D_
_x000D_
Having said all this, many games have an acceptable third-person camera, or at least a camera you can forget about while you play. I don’t remember fighting the camera in God of War, and Psychonaughts actually did some really interesting things with its camera. Resident Evil 4 and Gears of War both embraced a very usable fusion between third-person and first-person. But I would argue that the games with the best third-person cameras have very carefully constructed levels and artwork, all designed to minimize camera shortcomings. To get the best behavior out of a third-person camera, developers often have to modify or even sacrifice other aspects of the game._x000D_
_x000D_

Sick as a dog!

I’ve got a cold. Grr. Looking back on my blog, I see that I whined about having a cold at the beginning of the year, too. I think I’ll blog every time I get sick. It might give me a useful record about how often I get colds, and why.This time (like last time) I’ve just come back from traveling, this time to Austin. I had a great time with George, Linda, Brian, and Carl. I met Brian’s roommate, who really impressed me with his Toyota Matrix, but I’m still leaning towards a new Scion xB. George (coincidentally) had Ian and Harry (Harriet) over from Plymouth, England; they were a lot of fun to hang out with, too.

Carl really had some neat projects he’s working on. He’s building a new house on their farm, and now that they’re ready to sheetrock it all, he’s putting cat5 and other wires everywhere, to future-proof the place. He’s gonna build a central Linux server to control the environment and security systems. He’s also eager to get his hands on a new completely open-source Linux cell phone; cool!

Carl really had some good advice for me. He suggested that if I’m starved for peer contact, I should be attending every game development conference I can. I’ll be looking into that.

George also had some cool things to say. We found time to continue our discussion about my future. I told him I enjoyed being the guru on the mountaintop here in Cleveland, but at the same time I’m not ready to stop climbing. He re-iterated that I’m the best Thom he knows. Aww.

I presented my "How to Make a Game Like Space Invaders" talk to Brian; he appreciated it, and felt he’d learned some new things. But he’s squeezed like everyone else in this economy, so he focused on work and doesn’t have free time to act on it.

Now that I’m back in Cleveland, everything’s okay, except for the cold (travel virus, standard, 1 each). Anyway, I had fun, and I’m looking forward to the next time!