Friday, September 3, 2010

More fodder for my argument

I've already mentioned in a previous post how graphically intensive Web-based games are just around the corner.

Some things that happened in the meantime: OpenGL 4.1 came out, consolidating the API over the desktop and mobile versions (means code is easier to port). Also, people are getting more creative with OpenGL ES, the mobile one:

Epic are, in fact, still crazy people.

Good God, that thing runs on a phone.

Tuesday, March 23, 2010

The Ultimate Guide to Game Enhancement

Here's a post I just made in the Rock, Paper, Shotgun forums. It's an idea that's been gnawing at me for a while, and I had to get it out. Seems like something that modern gamers could really use.

So I have this idea that I could use some feedback on. The current state of things:

Many, many of the games we fondly remember, although classics of the medium, are hopelessly technically outdated. I don't mean in the sense that they won't run on XP (but that too), I mean in the sense that their graphics are old (not charmingly retro), their user interfaces are clunky and unintuitive, and they do not use our computers to anything near their full potential (often not due to any inherent game engine flaw, but simply due to lack of any programmer foresight). Which means we enjoy them less than it might be possible.

Enter many fine people, fans of the games, who work hard and create patches and mods to drag the games into the modern world. But people seeking to replay the games (or the many who are just now playing the legends for the first time) are unaware of these enhancements, or find them hard to locate and/or apply. So the potential is there, but still often untapped.

My idea is this:

A single site (wiki, maybe) intended to catalog and maintain a database of games, with each game entry containing a list of patches and procedures intended to fix-up a game as quickly and simply as possible, so that whenever you want to play any old classic you can look for it in the database, follow the recipe, and then play the game secure in the knowledge that you're playing the absolute best version of the game that is currently available. This would not be ModDB - the patches would be exclusively bugfixes and graphics packs and such. The idea is to play the best version of the original, not change it. So stuff along the lines of the System Shock mouselook tweak, and all the many other SS fixes, or maybe STALKER Complete 2009. The ideal entry would be something like this Planescape: Torment fix installation guide.

Would you be interested in such a website? Would you use it? And most importantly, would you contribute to it? Not in the sense of creating mods, but simply adding existing mods and procedures to various game entries, which works much better when you crowdsource it. What do you think?

Wednesday, March 17, 2010

One small step for Epic

I've often idly wondered about the actual footprint/overhead of modern game engines, imagining that modern memory-rich gaming platforms have probably rendered them fat and resource-greedy. Turns out that, at least as far as Unreal Engine 3 is concerned, that couldn't be farther from the truth - it's a downright spry beast. So damn spry, in fact, that those mad fools at Epic managed to stick it onto the iPhone. Witness the madness:

Epic are crazy people, is what I'm saying.

So what, you might say. iPhone is an expensive toy, limited, not something you'd ever buy, etc. Why should you care?

You should care because they've got a version of the Unreal Engine 3 that works on platforms with low processing power and OpenGL ES graphics. Still not getting it? You know which other platform has low processing power and OpenGL ES graphics? The freakin' Internet.

The HTML 5 page coding standard that is starting to be widely used on the Net (supported by all modern Web browsers except the archaic Internet Explorer, and even IE will support it in version 9) will soon come with a companion standard called WebGL, an API for displaying hardware accelerated 3D graphics on webpages without plugins, which is heavily based on (and actually uses) OpenGL ES. Modern Web browsers also have lightning-fast engines for JavaScript, the standard Web coding language that WebGL is used from. Of course, JavaScript is still an order of magnitude slower than real compiled application code on a modern desktop CPU, but it's much more competitive against application code on an iPhone CPU.

Which all boils down to this: it will very soon be possible to create a UE3-class game engine that will run in your Web browser without any plugins. You know Quake Live? In a year or so you'll be able to do that without any plugins, and it will look more like UT2004.

The future's so bright, I gotta wear etc.

Monday, February 1, 2010

In which Tolkien doesn't roll in his grave because he got all of it from the Norse anyway

I find it fascinating how much I totally don't give a crap about Dragon Age. It's amazing, especially considering that I find the Mass Effect games incredibly attractive.

It may have something to do with the bog standard fantasy world. Was it Yahtzee who noted how ridiculous it is that there is such a thing as a "standard fantasy world"? We desire to escape, go to a new, fresh,  universe - but after a quarter century, the fact that it's always the same "new" universe in each game, with what amounts to a new wig, is starting to really get on my nerves.

Mature and gritty!

I'm big on new realities. Planescape: Torment is one of my all time favorites, as are the Fallout games (haven't played 3, hope it's worthy - meaning, evocative). Zeno Clash was an instabuy. I have a soft spot in my heart for Albion, if anyone remembers that Blue Byte gem. The Void is coming up on my shopping list. And I can still recall seeing the first Baldur's Gate for the first time, and thinking, even as I gaped at the incredible Infinity Engine graphics, "Gee, that's not very innovative now is it?"

So come to think of it, Bioware have been doing it forever. Dragon Age is nothing new, in both senses of the word. All of it is lifted from elsewhere, as were its predecessors. But what about Mass Effect? Oh yes, utterly generic space opera pastiche. So why do I care? Maybe because RPGs are so starved for new worlds that even something as cliched as that seems fresh in this context? I doubt they'll be able to hold my attention past the Mass Effect trilogy though (if that).

It's kind of sad, really, that the most celebrated RPG maker in the world specializes in creating universes so plain and unimaginative. What does that say about us?

Monday, January 18, 2010

A fragment

This is more about tuning into the universe than any character work, I'm just trying a tone on for size.

[INT: Dixie Lady, a smallish, sub-10KTEU class orbital cargo transport. Bridge. A tight, almost cockpit-like space. Place for two crew, and two people present. The navigator's been here a while, the captain just came in. Then, suddenly...]

Captain? Captain. You - captain, look at this.

Can this wait until after my coffee, Dave? I'm not-
[She sees his face. She knows it's serious.]

Sensors picked it up 8 seconds ago. It's headed our way. It's too hot.

No, it can't be...

It's too hot. Coming straight at us. It's...

[She recoils a bit from the console.]
Motherfuck. It is. Fuck. Oh, my...

Deltavee is at max on an ortho vector, I just flipped us. I can try and shake it.
[He's talking calmly and sweating like a pig.]

Too fast. We're on a plate. It's not enough, not enough, not enough...
[She frantically casts about for an idea, hands squeezing the Con chair.]
Gimme cargo!
[The cargo manifest unfolds in front of her, a huge list.]
We're gonna dump it - oh God - and the water. No! The fuel! How much?

Eight point three tons, sixty percent. Now fifty nine percent. Engines pushing at one-twenty two, any more and the nozzles melt.

No, cut power! All of it, go to zero! Where's the comms laser?

Here, panel two. You're gonna shoot at it? I can't overload the laser...

I'm not gonna shoot, I couldn't even scrape it with this lamp. I'm gonna poke it in the eye. How do you get a continuous beam out of this?

You can't, you need diagnostics. 'Power diagnostics', pick 'emitter testing', you can choose a beam shape.

Is the cargo ready? What's the trajectory? And ready the fuel dump, K and L. You're gonna mix 'em and pour 'em over the containers as they come out. Flip the boat again. Is this the trajectory? Flip the boat, here - here, like this.
[A sketch on a nav screen.]
Then dump all of it at once. Blow the doors and dump it, and pour the fuel over. Can you dump fuel that way?

Yeah, there's a valve. How much?

[EXT: POV of the missile. Spacescape in infrared, bright dot of the Dixie Lady resolving into a detailed image. Suddenly, a glare from the comms laser rotating and pointing straight into the optical sensor. It whites out. The missile is blinded. Back on the bridge:]

Keep it open until I tell you to stop. Then you flip again and light the fuel with our exhaust.

Jesus, Anne! We're gonna die in a ship fire!

No! Dixie's ass is shielded, we should make it. Then push us into the cargo and match speed. Then switch the ship into standby mode, shut off the engine.

You mean try and blend with the debris? Will that work? We'll still be lit up...

How would I know? You got a better idea? Just do the thing! And hopefully the containers shine more than we do.

[EXT: Pretty CGI of aforementioned maneuver, lots of tension by the crew. Bridge:]

Looks like it's good, maybe... 

[EXT: The missile suddenly shatters into a million pieces, very deliberately and slowly moving away, creating a huge swarm of spikes. Bridge:]

Oh fuck. Oh God. Fu- 

[She's interrupted by a violent lurch sending them both flying towards the ceiling, and then a blast of plasma engulfing the cabin. They're gone.] 

[EXT: Looking at the Dixie Lady spinning in the metal rain, as hundreds of spikes tear through the burning cargo containers and the ship itself, dismembering it, the hull turning into plasma from the impact energy. The floating remains are pushed away by the spikes that keep impacting and transferring kinetic energy, until it all floats offscreen, and the rain stops. Now there's only darkness.]