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Many, many of the games we fondly remember, although classics of the medium, are hopelessly technically outdated.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.