Favoured Paths

Vanguard, CoH, SWG – a quick thought to keep the beancounters awake at night

You know, in their heyday, popular novels and film were thought to be of little significance and treated with zero respect. Not thought to be even cultural forms, let alone art. The BBC neglected and destroyed miles of early footage by not bothering to store it properly, footage that historians and film buffs and many others would give their eye teeth to access now. And who knows how many penny dreadfuls never made it to this century in any form. Dickens’ work did. Novel writing made it to art status, so did film. (Countless types of popular music were “horrible noisy modern garbage”  in their day, let’s not forget that either.)

Video games are absolutely and completely an expression of this era, being new (as in unseen before), coincident with rising technologies, popular, and expressive of our current preoccupations and visual tastes. In a mere 50 years the games that have been trashed will be deemed part of history.

People, with some distance and the passage of time, will also see more easily that they were things of beauty and depth, artefacts created lovingly by the hands of many  – and then ‘alive’ and developing through the usage of many because unlike film or novels part of this cultural activity, video gaming,  is the active and direct participation of audience. It is not a passive form. Without players, there is no game – you can see where this is going! It is to be hoped that code and assets will be at least preserved in a place of safety for the future.  But most likely, like that BBC footage it will not be, plus the technology will change making frozen, stored games unplayable.

The preservation of what we play now is pretty much down to the semi-legal efforts of fans, (via emulators, tributes, fan art etc) who will keep the code current. Companies, who could be doing their bit by donating information and what part of code/assets they own won’t help, because they’d just die of greed if anyone else made any money (basically). Well that’s fine, they’re doomed to be that footnote: “game was not profitable enough and XYZ Company closed it.”

So before putting on the chancellor face (Nigel Lawson did a good one) and considering VG, CoH and SWG to be good riddance to bad profit, I suggest beancounters play one of their ‘how rich I’d be if…’ games and imagine, now that the deed is done, how much money they have said goodbye to, 50, 100 , 200 years from now, when what little code and assets they bother to preserve is no longer accessible to them due to the platforms having gone dodo. Not accessible to them. But still accessible to those that salvaged what they could.

The game they thought they killed will still lurk in the corners and bywaters of the internet, alive. (It’s quite cool).

I’d not put any faith in lawsuits and copyright either. The games will in all likelihood outlast the company/person that ‘owns’ them, will be dispersed and all over the place (such is the internet) and finally copyright laws are such a mess right now it’s only a matter of time before some drastic revision and adaptation – they might not even apply. I rather think the games as a service model is rickety too and pretty sure that’s going to be challenged/modified at some point

Sleep tight now, beancounters 🙂

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Categories: Vanguard

Goodbye Vanguard

Today the Vanguard Saga of Heroes servers go down for the last time, I’m quite sad about that. I had to wait to play Vanguard, because for a long time it wouldn’t run on my computer, but belatedly SOE put some work in, and then I could play it. I liked Vanguard a lot, I played it, and I’d continue playing it if it was still there.

I didn’t want to log in and maunder about feeling gloomy during the last few months. Today though, I logged in once on a random alt, and it was in time for one of their purple sunsets which seems just right, so last screenshot.

Lastvg

Fond memories then.

Categories: Vanguard

I enjoy playing this person! (EQ2)

Was thinking about avatar appearance and how it affects gameplay.  The Big Girl in EQ2 unfailingly fires my imagination. She’s normally very shy, but I paparazzed her just before a fight and managed to get a rare screenshot of her face.  Even when she’s hiding in a helmet though, there’s a definite sense of unique character and I can easily add to her story when I play

Warh2

so it isn’t all in the face. It’s the body, and the armour, the warhog – and the roughness of the graphics. I know this lady is going to be handy to have around in a battle and won’t be obsessing about her mascara running. And there’s that feeling of uniqueness – there are enough factors to her appearance that there’s unlikely to be too many of her running about. Together it all makes it really easy to pretend to be her character.

I do find the image below bland in comparison. It has a sort of Teflon effect on my imagination.  If looking cute under all possible circumstances even when gurning was relevant to the gameplay or story, I might feel different? Well actually, I’m not sure if that’s it. I’m not repelled or anything, just indifferent. Strange. Is it the cell shading? Maybe because I associate that with two dimensions and flat things that you can only look at but not interact with? Perhaps it’s the lack of detail in the clothes? This is kind of bugging me now.  I have no doubt I will get used to this style and it’s not a gamebreaker for me, but I’d love to know what triggers this disconnect.

Next

Categories: EQ2

Voxels! (EQNext reveal)

I’m still digesting the EQ Next reveal. There’s a lot to it. For me, two surprises and and one “hmm” and a general happiness. Surprises first!

Voxels come top of the list. I know they are using them already in Planetside 2, but using voxels to create a world and using voxels in the gameplay are two different beasties entirely and I was amazed and excited by this part of the reveal. I thought http://procworld.blogspot.co.uk/  was on my blogroll but it wasn’t (is now). It’s a blog I’ve been following for a year or two because I’m already fascinated by voxels and the journey described in that blog is a great read in itself (bedtime favourite of mine).

(Update: and a few hours later this turned up in my twitter feed: http://procworld.blogspot.ca/2013/08/everquest-next.html – well how fabulous! Heh, really chuffed about this for Miguel Cepero, and for meee. After reading about his Voxels for so long, I’m actually going to see the Voxel Farm in action! Oooh – and while I have your attention, here is my favourite quote from that blog: “The honest answer is I don’t know. I have a very demanding job, whatever little time I have to spare, I use it in this project. I only do it because it relaxes me. Some people count sheep, I think about voxels.”  I just like the image that conjures up.)

So, yes on voxels I’m agog for details from SOE, and agog to get my hands on them too.

…And springing fully formed from ‘voxels in gameplay’  (like Venus’ armpit hair), the other surprise is a second game. That completely blindsided me. Ooooooh. and Aaaah. So we have Landmark to look forward to this winter in which we can play with the voxeltools ourselves and make our own things for EQNext. Which in the half empty glass is cheap assets for SOE, and in the half full glass might be amazingly good fun, whoknowspossibly leading to fame and fortune. Woah.

The “hmm.” is I can’t imagine identifying with the characters they showed, it’s a taste/style thing. I thought they were very sugary and kiddie – very, very like a Disney cartoon in style. I like cartoon graphics in games, but there are all kinds of cartoons. For me that particular style comes with an inherent barrier. It’s a convention I personally associate with looking at, rather than with ‘identifying with’ – still, I’ve become accustomed to being inside worse avatars (!), so just have to see how it plays, (and everyone has different tastes – of course.)

General happiness from me about all this! All the ideas aren’t 100% all new and original, they just aren’t. And I think 100% new and original is a silly thing to be insisting on parrotlike anyway. Mainly interest comes from how things are iterated and built on, now and again something new does spring from the void, but mostly new things come from looking again at old stuff. Giving players voxeltools as part of the game is pretty  new and original anyway.

Other things in there we’ve seen something like – for example the large scale dynamic events look like quite a lot like the events we already see in other games, maybe on a larger, slower scale.  Multi-classing has been tackled in various ways by various games at various times, destroying the environment happens in world-building games etc – well it just depends how these things are done whether they come across as fresh and bold, or as a minor  variation that in hindsight seems obvious, or as a dead end, or as not much new.  On my reckoning Everquest Next as revealed yesterday is different enough to make quite a splash. Yay!

And Landmark will make an extremely interesting  pre-splash – I look forward to it.

Categories: EQNext/Landmark

So Graceful! (Guild Wars 1)

Occasionally someone does something very innovative and it goes preety much unexplored. I think this might be the case here, and easy not to notice when it’s not one of the fresh, new, sparkly games but an old one.

I held off writing this until I had played a few months with Guild Wars 1 on it’s automation mode. Automation mode. Hmmm. Well it means that the game systems and events are now automated, not supported by a team of dedicated humans any more. Guild Wars 1 runs quietly on it’s own somewhere, presumably attended to only if anything goes horribly wrong. Does it work? Yes. So far, perfectly.  Is it still fun – yep. Am I happy. Ohhh yes.

GWlog

It’s still there

After the the destruction of SWG, and CoH, both done with an unexamined hurr hurr “£business>playerbase” hurr attitude (cringe) this is  an absolute sparkly wonder. Don’t kill the old game, just… automate it – leave it for the fans to enjoy, build up some goodwill too (thus generating sales for new game).

And I’m very relieved they did this! I love this game. I want it  to still be around.  It is what it is, mind – pared down to essentials: on rails pve, a bit confining to be on a path – no buildings you can go into, you can’t climb the mountains etc. But it is incredibly beautiful, it runs like a dream, you can have a lot of fun with builds and the music is lovely. I have never tried the pvp yet (I’m still slowly playing through the campaigns), but others in my family have and I’m told its pretty decent pvp at that.

On the money side GW1 is a perfect example of how to sell things – a good product at a fair price (look ma, no hoogledy boogledy). There’s not much more to selling things by the way. Make sure people know you exist is in the mix for selling things too, and a way to deliver (distribution). Few more bits ‘n bobs. But nothing like all the jazz hands and contortions we’re seeing this year by marketing teams. Actually, about that: I do sometimes wonder if studios mistake the process of making money for A Game – A Game in which they attempt to outwit their playerbase. That would explain some of the complicated, untransparent, frankly weird things they do to part us from our money. Conflating profit with stealth based pvp against the customers.  Could be, could be.

But then I’m irritated with “monetization of players (see last post)” just now, so might be imagining things. Back to Guild Wars 1. I do not play this lots and lots. I amble in, usually when tired, play a section of a campaign  or try out a build and feel soothed and pleased, and have enjoyed myself thoroughly by the time I log out. I’m sure I’ll try the pvp sometime. Will there be anyone to play with? Well, now that you mention it – yes. There are not loads and hordes of people, but I do see people around. Plus I can always bribe a handy teenager (pizza!) to show me the ropes, eh.

It’s Wintersday around now, and so far all the automated festivals have been fine. You know, I do also get a strange sense of Arenanet lurking/watching –  not sure, might be that active imagination of mine. But I am certain it’s not (at this point anyway) anything approaching abandonware. More like… a very innovative experiment.

If it works it has some quite interesting implications. It means there’s no need for the unceremonious axing of old games we sometimes see when a studio wants to promote a new game. It means it’s perfectly possible that our children and even grandchildren have a better chance of playing the things we are playing now.  And they do quite like exploring the past. Legend of Grimrock was a surprise success here, and led to tryouts of Might and Magic (alas didn’t run). Text based games are played quite compulsively too, and GoG is regularly trawled for likely entertainment. I think Arenanet’s automation mode is a big step forward, and it would be lovely to see more things like it. I have never seen the commercial sense in alienating a loyal existing customer base.

Categories: Guild Wars 1

HotS City, Killer Flowerpots (Wurm)

This is actually a fruit salad. I didn’t play a lot of anything in June because of the move. Only Wurm really, just to see if I could (ie check the interenet in this flat is ok). There were flowerpots to make – I managed one! And my Exodus Alliance decided they needed a challenge, so now I’m a HoTS. Which means I can write bits about PvP except everyone is paranoid about spies.

But I’ll secretly try to screenshot a tile of mycelium! Except I’ll ask the mayor first if it ok.

Categories: Fruit Salad, Life On Wurm, Shorts

(sparse) Wurm 1.1 update

It’s kind of hard to comment because see I had this big lunch, and last weekend I didn’t have a proper weekend, so I … um…  did try to log in, but Wurm wouldn’t load. And then I fell asleep. And then I woke up and managed to log in if I disabled GLSL shaders, but the server went down almost immediately. So I can’t really comment but!

From the forums: info on the new stuff

As is normal for Wurm, we aren’t told exactly how the new things work, the idea being that we discover things ourselves (there is debate about this strategy – who knows what are bugs?). This time around it seems we are pooling our knowledge – what a good idea – here is a very useful thread:

http://forum.wurmonline.com/index.php?/topic/82598-wurm-11-what-is-new-and-how-we-can-make-it/page-2
As an aside this thread has (well, I think so) quite fun pictures, but I think those are bugs. The website has had an update and looks much cleaner now – at least I can comment on that!
http://forum.wurmonline.com/index.php?/topic/82691-rock-shard-analyzing-in-wurm-11-knowledge-and-speculation/
I was wondering when Wurmian Balance would turn up: (Every time you add something good, nerf something that was ok = balance!) http://forum.wurmonline.com/index.php?/topic/82622-new-farming-system/page-4
V
hopefully this will turn out not to be too dire. It’s good in a way that more people are beginning to notice the Wurk/real-life balance is off. Chores ingame can’t take this much time without becoming a problem.
http://forum.wurmonline.com/index.php?/topic/82639-how-can-we-mace-new-staffs-with-gems/

I hope the GLSL issue can be resolved because without water reflections, Wurm just doesn’t seem right 😦 I quite envy some of the buggy textures though – the carpet one on walls is awfully nice!

I’m going to pack some clothings now, but I’ll see if I can log in again in a while.

Bizarre pictures (because I like them)

(quick update) more bizarre pics!
http://forum.wurmonline.com/index.php?/topic/82651-ati-card-wrong-and-ugly-textures/
http://forum.wurmonline.com/index.php?/topic/82662-black-trees/
http://forum.wurmonline.com/index.php?/topic/82643-summer-release-11-now-live/
http://forum.wurmonline.com/index.php?/topic/82668-11-problem/
http://forum.wurmonline.com/index.php?/topic/82670-chat-window-renders-as-terrain/

I really like some of  these pictures (should I worry?)

One thing I really do appreciate about Wurm is that you’re never a voice in the night. Post your technical issue and someone responds and tries to sort it out.

and …. Mr Bloodworth was back muhahahaha

http://forum.wurmonline.com/index.php?/topic/82695-photos-of-mrbloodworths-zombies-invasion/

Categories: Life On Wurm

So are we all ready for Wurm 1.1??

Eh? Eh? Well in my case I’m out of my house and into rented accommodation while the builders do their thang in 5 days time so I’m home getting the last of my barang packed up, getting stressy and will use Wurm shamelessly to calm me down via looong action timers, waits while things crash, a bugwatch, all the usual things that go with a version launch. If anything interesting happens I’ll post – and of course as a bonus you’ll have a blogside view of my pre-move nerves, you lucky things!

Categories: Life On Wurm, Oddments

So what to do? (Blender Game Engine)

Firstly let me say that if I was further along re-learning how to code, I’d try to help out with the BGE. At the moment I think my only possible usefulness would be as a guinea pig. Trying to change the direction of some big organisation is just not time and energy efficient given my current skillset. I hope it all turns out well, but just in case….

Remember that long time I spent researching before I even began PlanetGardenShed? Well most of it was looking at what joins to what. Blender’s big advantage remains the accessible source. I figured even if the Game Engine stayed stalled (as it was even then), I can look at the source generated by my Blender prototype and learn from it to build and extend my own solutions.

Commercial solutions to game creation with a free starter kit don’t appeal to me because I know I’ll be paying for them at some point, and I’m not planning big earnings to justify that. I’m doing this for fun. If it goes anywhere, fine, but it’s not an aim, goal or worry. I don’t care – basically. Earnings is cake on top of the cake!

People working with the Game Engine already find their own way when they hit some barrier (and there are many) to their workflow, so this is just one solution of many – it’s the direction I intend to take. Apparently assets created in Blender do belong to me to dispose of as I wish so I will. I will convert them to XML and use them from a python script, parts of which can then be optimised for speed to any extend required (via C/C++ or whatever else it takes). I’ve a long way to go before I can try it and see where the problems are, but that was the plan and is why I’m already learning python and will at some point start learning whatever variant of C I need to know in earnest (at the moment just messing about). It’s why there aren’t loads of GardenShed pics on the blog, just one or two. I’m mostly learning things, not creating things – plan to be doing that for ohhh, a year? two? who knows. I enjoy.

If anyone else is thinking about going this direction, here’s a good thing to read. Dredged from prior research and the reason I chose this direction, all beautifully explained in a sample chapter. I do not know if the book itself is up to date – mainly this just gave me direction – (the rest I can figure out myself):

http://oreilly.com/catalog/pythonxml/chapter/ch01.html

I’d be interested to know what other people are planning, if any happen to stop by here. I’ll still be hoping things work out for the Game Engine too and if I spot a way to help, I will. Blender remains a remarkable and wonderful thing which has enriched my life and enabled me to do things I never would have thought possible a year or two ago.

Categories: Blender, Blender Game Engine

Why it just refuses to die (Blender Game Engine)

In the new Blender Roadmap http://code.blender.org/index.php/2013/06/blender-roadmap-2-7-2-8-and-beyond/, it is admitted that not much time or effort has been spent on the Game Engine. Well, as with governments spying on ordinary people, many people suspected that it was happening but it’s still sad to see it confirmed. Starving the Game Engine of development and resources hasn’t killed it though,  just annoyed its users a lot.

Another paragraph in the Roadmap serves to illustrate why this happened:

“On the positive side – I think that the main cool feature of our GE is that it was integrated with a 3D tool, to allow people to make 3D interaction for walkthroughs, for scientific sims, or game prototypes. If we bring back this (original) design focus for a GE, I think we still get something unique and cool, with seamless integration of realtime and ‘offline’ 3D. (quote) .”

and

“Instead of calling it the “GE” we would just put Blender in “Interaction mode”.

If starving it of resources doesn’t work, I suppose you can always try trivialising it and then absorbing it.

Again, I for sure and many others, thought this was probably how the Game Engine part of Blender is regarded – a neat little toy for artists, a frill, a grudgingly maintained prototyping tool for game makers –  but I’m afraid seeing it written down makes me realise all over again that I think they are chasing the wrong doggie.

The Indie scene is very lively indeed just now (as I predicted at begining of year) and showing no sign of slowing down. It is a bona fide growth industry now with a huge mainstream outlet (apps and handhelds, tablets, consoles) plus there is Steam and its variants, browser use is growing too. Tradional formats for Indie games are still going strong too like the pc. Small developers are now not so niche.And there is a LOT going on.

Indie is, in short, getting very big, very influential and creating a lot of money. It is painful to watch Blender deliberately missing this particular boat. This is a field it could easily have dominated if the effort had been put in.  Not bothering with the Game Engine was a bad choice. I am glad for the inroads into film, but film just isn’t growing as fast and big as development for handhelds and apps – and consoles. The Ouya should be along soon too.

Not dealing with the licencing issue didn’t kill the Game Engine either. Enthusiasts will go to the lengths required to sidestep this limitation, though in all honesty it should have been addressed ages ago.

Plans to subsume the Game Engine into Blender and redefine it as “interactive mode” has caused some debate as is evident in the comments on the link I gave and on various forums. Something of a hornet’s nest. Apparently this surprises some people. Well I think it’s good to get the issue out into the open at last. It’s about time the people at the top had a look at user demand, user experience and saw how their plans and outlook are regarded by Game Engine Users. I don’t see any need for vituperation, but honestly…. “interactive mode???”. It remains to be seen whether this will kill the Game Engine at last.

I hope not. I can offer some insight into why it hasn’t died yet, despite all efforts not to support or sustain it. It hasn’t died because there is a void, a market gap the size of the San Andreas fault, for just such a thing. Here is a magnificent, accesible graphics editor and creation suite, there is a vast crowd of independent game makers, and in the middle are some engines. Blender Game Engine sits in amongst this group like a little island. The others grow bigger and prosper whilst the one that fits best with the graphics stays small and ineffectual under a weight of apathy and quite possibly dislike.

The other engines, (I know, I’ve looked), are buggy/expensive/cumbersome/unsupported/untutorialised/undocumented/don’t integrate with other applications – sometimes all of the above. But most important, they aren’t in pole position to take advantage of Blender’s massive graphic power. What is happening is that game makers who like the BGE use it as far as possible then seek out their own solutions for all the things it does not address (and there are many). This means that the BGE never gets to be in the final credits, never gets to be the big name. It also means there are as many solutions as there are people looking for them. I also will be following this route. Another uncapitalised advantage being that the Engine’s source is accessible. That is such a plus for an Indie. At the moment, it’s a mess, but all this hasn’t killed the engine either, just fringified those who still use it despite the limitations and incredible annoyances of doing so.

It’s needed. That’s why it survives.

In my view, the Blender Game engine, with it’s old code needs a complete rewrite which would be a perfect time to sort out a serviceable licence. It should be integrated more closely with the graphics as planned, it should become feature rich, supported, sustained like the rest of Blender which already operates beautifully as a modular system. What has happened is that one of the modules hasn’t been worked on and has fallen out of step. This can be fixed. But the will clearly isn’t there.

If the Blender Foundation does manage to kill off the engine, something will spring up to fill it’s place simply because something is  needed in the position it currently occupies.

Film is all very well, but it doesn’t have the kind of big future that games do.  It’s amazing how well Blender otherwise covers the 3d field. It is easily used for visualisation, teaching,  a million other things. But on games the Blender Foundation is dropping the ball badly.

As in any gold rush. the people making most money (and publicity)  from Indie gaming are not so much the developers, but any company that integrates with their efforts. Publishers, platform makers, tool makers, publicists, lawyers etc. But apparently… not Blender.

Categories: Blender Game Engine

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