Monday, November 7, 2005

Random Notes from Mr. Fever

I’m sitting here in plaid bathrobe, drinking tea in my nearly empty house. Just imagine a somewhat scruffy Arthur Dent and you’ll get the picture. Due to a rather poorly timed illness, my move out to Seattle having been delayed by a week. I’m left with Civ IV, a web browser and handful of new home loan applications. Yes, I am a dangerous man for the next five days.

Track backs
Lostgarden.com has been mentioned on several sites that I frequent rather regularly. If you haven’t stopped by, check them out.

  • Gamasutra: Best game development site ever.

  • games.slashdot.org: I feel like I’m starting to be a regular over there. Luckily with the new bandwidth package, my site no longer goes down at the smallest mention.

  • Raph Koster: I rather envy the turbulent, but fascinating experience he must be experiencing over at SOE. The rules shift that is happening with SWG is a precursor to the virtual Revolutions of our modern time…major shifts in governmental policy followed by violent public outbursts. These transitions have occurs hundreds of thousands of times throughout human history. Their scale and significance is only increasing in the online worlds we build. Luckily, most players aren’t French and only rant on forums.

  • The Long Tail: If you aren’t familiar with the long tail concept, head over and check it out. It is one of those brilliant ideas that are remarkably difficult to build out in practice. All I can say to the casual games folks who live by it is that portals are the new retail storefronts.

  • DROD: I also wanted to put a yell out to Erik who does some fine work on a title puzzle/dungeon crawl indie title called DROD. He’s experimenting with some of the market concepts I mentioned in my Learning from Touring Bands article. He has a dedicated community with a large focus on user created content and an interesting ‘massively single player’ system of building community. Good stuff.
Essays
I have approximately a half dozen essays in various states of disrepair. I know a blog is supposed to be impromptu and exciting, but I’ve come to realize that my rough drafts are considerably rougher than what most people consider comprehensible. A few that come to mind include:


  • Designing an Advergame: Some thoughts that go into design a game as an advertisement.

  • From Donkey Kong to Mario 64: The process of extending a prototype core game mechanic into modern title. This will not be about Nintendo products in case anyone was wondering.

  • The stage gate product design process applied to game design: (Warning, this one is likely to turn into a book at some point. :-)
If any of these sound exciting, drop me a note and it may give me enough mental energy to finish them off.

I’ve been getting some nice feedback from folks at Austin Games and Serious Games Summit. Overall the comments are “Good, long articles that deal with subjects in-depth. Did I mention long?” I worry that I may be causing eyestrain.

Random disappointments
I have been waiting in intense (perhaps even frothing) anticipation for the release of the destined-to-be-great Weird Worlds: Return to Infinite Space from the heroic folks at Digital Eel. Unfortunately, it is currently only available on CD and not for direct download. Since I’m in the middle of a move, encountering such a retro distribution scheme puts a crimp in my plans.

It is strange how rapidly I’ve come to depend on electronic downloads. The games stay safely on my hard drive, my backup software manages all the save files just like any other bit of data. There’s no physical clutter to worry about and most of the time I end up giving more money to the actual developer instead of the inevitable middle men.

So it is with a distinct sense of melancholy that I slip the CD of Civ IV into my CD drive and dream wistfully of a time when games finally leave the physical world behind. Oh, to have WW:RIS downloading in the background at this very moment.

Sigh.

Gameface news
I’m still keeping tabs on Anark Gameface and heard recently that they had just uploaded the October release. Anark Gameface, for those of you who haven’t checked it out yet is a solution for building game user interfaces, a traditionally dreary and thankless task. If you haven’t had the pleasure, building a UI is far worse than it sounds.

The sweet part about it is Anark Studio, the authoring tool. Basically, the artist gets to build the UI using a tool they love and the programmer just needs to hook up a basic kernel to the game engine. Then they get to wander off and do more important stuff (like not be the artist’s bare chested man slave)

I’ve been meaning to write up an article on the economics of art tool development. Suffice it to say that no development team’s internal tools will ever get to the level of polish that you’ll find in a dedicated tool like Anark Studio. Artists are too damned picky and you’ve got a game to build.

The new version has some lovely Lua-based scripting and well as a set of drag-and-drop interface components. Right now, it is best suited for console titles and there are some great titles in the works using it for the PS3, Xbox 360 and others. If you are building a front end or even an in-game UI, this is the way your process should work.

Empower the artists using powerful, highly productive, easy-to-use tools. That is a game development mantra worth repeating for the next decade or two.

Take care
Danc.