Utrecht

Here I am in Sunny Utrecht, Netherlands (also known as Holland). The trip so far as been amazing and positive. The only real downside (from the point of view of this American) is how much walking one has to do!

Seriously, I find it hard to imagine a better place to be in a foreign country. Most people here speak excellent English, and the Dutch language is close enough to English that every sign and product label is a fun sound-it-out puzzle. The people are all thin and nice; even the street beggars are extra-harmless. The shops (winkels) are all just like in the US; grab something, bring it to the checkout stand, exchange money, walk out.

I’ll be here ’til Sunday. Then it’s back to the US of A!PS. Yay, my 100th post on this blog!

Outlander (2008)

Sometimes you go to the video store, rent a bad monster sci-fi movie just ’cause the cover looks good, and bring it home. Sometimes you watch said movie, are blown away, and wonder, "Where the hell did THIS come from?"

Outlander, directed by Howard McCain, is amazing. Go rent it right now. It’s way gory, fair warning. But it’s just so amazing.

Kainan’s ship crash-lands in a lake on Earth, 400AD. His ship brings with it a Morwen, the most beautiful and interesting alien-dragon I’ve ever seen. Everything after that is Beowulf, more or less, which isn’t a bad thing. The production values are superb, good acting all round, and did I mention how awesome the monster is?

Procedurally Generated Content (the failure of the promise of)

In my previous post, I talked about Sony’s controller/EyeToy tech, which I saw demoed at the 2001 PS2 DevCon. I said it was the SECOND most memorable presentation of the con.

What was the MOST memorable (for me)? I’ll tell ya.

The last presentation of the show, the most senior Sony guy got up and showed…a running demo, of clouds moving across a sky casting shadows on hilly terrain. He then said, "This is all procedurally generated. Nothing was pre-generated. This demo loads no textures or other data."

He proceeded. "This is the future. Today’s machines are getting so powerful, and content for them is getting so expensive, that your old ways of developing games aren’t feasible anymore. Procedurally Generated Content is the only logical way forward. Today’s games cost 1 million dollars and 30 people to make. Do you really want to spend 20 million and 150 people to make a game in the future? No, that’s absurd.

"Take this message back to your studios. Procedurally Generated Content is the future."

I never forgot that, but apparently I was the only one.

Sony Motion Control

I’ve watched the E3 presentations of MSoft, Sony, and Nintendo (thanks to G4TV). All three presented their latest motion-based control schemes. Nintendo recommitted to Wii Motion Plus. MSoft wowed with their Project Natal. And Sony brought out a couple of guys to demo their stick+EyeToy tech. Which is real? Which will win?

I have inside information.

Old info, yes. But still inside.

I saw Sony’s tech, in a…more primitive form, back in 2001 when I attended the first PS2 Dev Con. I was working for Acclaim on the All Star Baseball project, and they sent all their coders to the Dev Con in California. We all got cool shoulder bags (I still have mine).

During the con, there were tech demos, tutorials, and presentations. The second most memorable was a demo of the camera technology (later called EyeToy ), with special attention to how the PS2’s SIMD (Single Instruction Multiple Data) opcodes could be used for incredibly fast 2D signal processing. The guy giving the demo (I honestly don’t recall if he was the same guy doing the E3 2009 demo or not) showed real-time video effects like greyscale, sepia tone, posterization, all the fancy/cheesy video filters we’re used to.

Then he brought out the toys. He held up a green ball and used it to mirror a virtual ball on the screen. THEN he brought out a couple of sticks with primary colors on each end, and demoed a virtual sword, morningstar, and lightsaber. The dev crowd went wild. He got a couple of standing ovations; the best reaction any presenter had gotten. We were all certain that Sony would be providing a lightsaber game within a few years, and a high-quality, low-latency one at that.

This was 2001. What the hell happened, Sony? Why did you drop this ball and let Nintendo pick it up? Even back then, the tech I saw was more precise then the Wiimote.

Now that you know what I know, how do you feel about Sony’s demo? Of all three companies, I’m most sure that Sony has a controller that REALLY works as advertised, simply because these guys have apparently been working on it for 8 years. Will Sony bring it to market and make great games? Well, did they do so 5 years ago?

Nintendo’s waggle stick kinda works, and is in consumer hands now. Their device also has tremendous mind-share. If Sony brought one out tomorrow, I doubt any amount of marketing money could make a dent in it. "Sony has a stick, too? Oh, I didn’t know that."

MSoft has a very old business model, called Embrace and Extend, which Natal is a logical part of. Unless Natal’s technology starts stinky and stays completely stinky, MSoft will continue to improve it, and will never give up on it no matter how much money they lose. MSoft’s giant pile of money allows them to stay in a game until they get their act together and win, even if that takes 10 years and 10 versions.

Now that I think of it, I wonder what Sony was thinking even demoing their tech. As good as it is, it’s just an embarassment. Sony apparently doesn’t care that they had the best tech first, and let their competitors win anyway.

On avoiding "grind"

I found an interesting link off the Ascii Dreams blog. It’s a monograph on avoiding "grind".
http://benhem.com/games/wayfarer/puzzles.htm

It’s angled towards rogue-alike gameplay, but its concepts are applicable to any game that has grind (bashing the same old monsters over and over again, robotically, to achieve a short-term objective).

Myself, I don’t see what the big deal is. "Grind" is a pejorative term for a style of game I played to distraction 25 years ago. Seriously, the original RPGs (ultima, wizardy) were almost ALL grind. And we…LIKED it that way! Darn kids!

Seriously, this "grind" concept shows how far we’ve come, and the direction we expect "good gameplay" to evolve. It also shows something about us (the players and the developers), and what we care about.

I suspect this concept is wrapped up in a phenomenon that I and others have mentioned; the fact that we as older, experienced game players and developers no longer get what we used to get from games. I often lament that I find it much harder to feel "grabbed" or "wrapped up" in a game than I could as a boy. We humans are SO good at pattern recognition and analysis and meta-analysis; it’s impossible to leave well enough alone and just enjoy the game on its face. We been there and done that.

Still, the article is thought-provoking. http://benhem.com/games…