Blitz 3D

2 12 2008

http://flickr.com/photos/barron/2253769108/

Midlands game company Blitz today announced new tech for making 3D games. That GI.biz piece links a few other announcements of games companies going into 3D tech. I wonder if it could actually catch on?

This kind of thing really excited me as a child, until I realised the only way to experience it at the time was in theme parks. Next to real roller coasters has to be the worst possible place to show off this kind of technology.

Lately my local multiplex has been offering some films in 3D for a few extra pounds on the price of a normal ticket. It had novelty value, but that seems to be it. Though people seem to have less of a problem wearing dorky NHS style glasses in the darkness of a cinema, after a screening of Beowulf in 3D I nonetheless heard them remarking quite caustically on how obviously things were made to stick out of the screen to emphasise the effect.

I have strong doubts about stereoscopic 3D on screens, but also suspect that interactivity could overcome all of them. For instance, Johnny Lee Chung’s head tracking 3D using slightly modified Wii hardware offers a much more striking effect than a traditional film, and people are developing technology to create 3D using standard TVs.

Would FPS playing be improved when playing with a true stereoscopic picture? I bet.

(CC image by barron)





Virtualisation, Dematerialisation

14 11 2008

http://www.flickr.com/photos/monkchips/2886907177/

James Governor has written a fascinating account of his visit to Microsoft’s Virtualisation team, who are attempting to simulate as much as the possibly can. It has potential to improve both the efficiency and the greenness of businesses, as James puts it:

Moving Atoms has a cost. I have recently started talking about Bit Miles as a Greenmonk narrative, defined as is the carbon cost associated with moving a good or creating a service that could instead have been delivered digitally. Bit Miles offer us a moral imperative to digitize: a simulation of the world is a beautiful opportunity to rethink and potentially dematerialize business processes.

Why not Supply Chain Simulator ™, which would pull together all of your plant information (pulled in from OSI, say), where your people are located (Peoplesoft), and how you move goods and services (SAP) around the world? An organisation could begin to run really deep “What If” scenarios about the energy costs of their businesses with simulations like these. But what would really make these models sing is the fact they’d be visual and immersive. Telling is rarely as effective as Showing. What would a low energy manufacturing business look like? With virtual technology we could maybe work it out.

Quite revolutionary stuff for Microsoft, and leaning heavily on their growing expertise in games. Another related post I read yesterday is “Who Stole My Volcano? Or: How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love the Dematerialisation of Supervillain Architecture.“, which compares the opulent fortresses of Cold War Bond villains with the briefcases and phones that their modern counterparts work from. The utter difference in philosophy and power is obtuse at first, and utterly alien to the old guard, yet is accelerating into an unstoppable force.

I’ve been fascinated with the dematerialisation of physical objects ever since starrting to read Bruce Sterling, notably his book Shaping Things, which looks at the tendency of physical products to become information, ultimately existing as specific kinds of data that can be instantiated in the real world.

While AutoCAD is still the standard for architectural design, all the designers I know who use it regard it as outdated. The tools and skills that game developers use are up to the minute, and stand a good chance of being extremely relevant to the world in much larger ways, not only in terms of simulation, but also designing and producing physical chunks of it.

(CC image from MS Virtualisation studio, by RedMonk Red)





Emote Launch First Game

24 09 2008

We’ve only had a vague idea of what UK based Emote are up to until now, as they’ve been keeping their technology close to their chest, only demoing it behind closed doors at GDC this year.

Some details on their first project are now coming to light though, with Develop reporting on a collaboration with Avalanche on a hunting title:

Online social games start-up Emote has announced that it is collaborating with Swedish studio Avalanche on a new free-to-play online title.

The title was first unveiled by Develop via interviews with the Emote team in April 2008.

Called The Hunter, the game seeks to build an online community of game hunters, able to use the social interface to post blogs and images of recent kills as well as collaborate in tournaments, challenges and competitions. The online nature of the title will see Avalanche regularly adding new content, and plans to actively encourage its community to share ideas and suggestions for new features.

We’d so far heard that Emote’s platform would enable players to interact with the same server from a lot of different platforms. The project above reads as social networking for hunters, kind of like Facebook crossed with Nike+ in terms of functionality.

How long before they can feed the interface back to hunters in the field, turning it into augmented reality?

(CC image of easter-egg hunters by Lyle58)





The Art of Digital Distribution

1 09 2008

(Above: Preliminary artwork from the development of Braid)

It’s unprecedented: The Daily Mail have given a gushingly positive review to a videogame, Braid. The Daily Mail, of course, has been at the front of many a “ban this sick filth” campaign against nearly every controversial game of the moment. As Destructoid put it, “British tabloid in game-liking SHOCKER!”.

Anecdotally, even my older brother, who only rarely plays games and hates most of them, watched me do a speedrun of the game this weekend while I explained the story to him. At the end, his words were “This is a significant piece of work”.

Since it’s a 360 exclusive, many will have to wait until the PC version of this is out, and luckily it’s likely to have fairly low system requirements. In the meantime, Gamasutra have an article about the development of the game’s art style, going from the basic programmer art through many iterations to the final product. It’s an interesting read, though a little fragmented due to originally being a series of blog posts. There are more in the same series there.

It struck me during this weekend that there weren’t really many propositions that would make a game entering the market at £10 look good or desirable next to £50 new releases like GTA IV. Am I a snob for thinking the idea of a £10 price point in brick and mortar retail kind of smacks of the cheap multipacks of Spectrum cassettes to be found littering cash and carries during the late 80s? Indie games can’t possibly hope to compete in the AAA arms race, and as a result it’s likely that a rack of boxed XBLA titles would create a bargain bin perception.

Digital distribution is the perfect medium to bring indie games back to the fore and reward experimentation though. Braid, Castle Crashers, RezHD, and Pixeljunk Eden are all things that have caught my eye over the past month, but in the past 5 years of my gaming there was very little in the same vein to be had. As a result, in one month since signing up for xbox live, I’ve spent more on games this past month than I usually do in most. There are PS3 titles I’d be buying digitally if I owned the one in our house too. £40 – £50 price points lead me to contemplate AAA purchases carefully, and I don’t make many. £10 for something that will keep me and a housemate entertained for a quiet weekend is a steal.

Digital distribution is a strange current where technology and culture mingle and drive each other. In the case of music, there’s an absolutely overwhelming amount of content, but with games, it’s still fairly easy for a single one to stand out and be remembered. I feel quite privileged to be able to observe a new form of media adapting to new technology.





Shock and Awe

18 07 2008

Great quote today from Ben Feder:

technology is at a point where developers don’t have to shock the audience to amaze the audience

(CC image by CarbonNYC)





Third Party 360s?

27 06 2008

http://flickr.com/photos/shaymus22/113418923/

Normally, I wouldn’t bother posting something on the basis of a rumour, but this is the most interesting one I’ve heard in a long time:

We’ll tell you what’s up with Microsoft: new hardware options. It may sound totally insane — trust us, we did a double-take the first time Qmann whispered it in our ears — but word has it that Microsoft may begin allowing third-party manufacturers to create Xbox 360 hardware. And we’re not talking about peripherals, people; we mean hardware that runs 360 game discs created by someone other than Microsoft. It’s a novel way of dealing with that red ring issue, don’t you think?

I think this would quite literally be a stroke of genius.

It would greater enable hardware to adapt to the end of five year cycles through convergence with other devices, e.g. a Blu-Ray 360, or whatever is around in 2 – 4 years time. It seems like a next step from the multiple SKUs that Microsoft has been offering, from the Core to the Elite. TVs, set-top boxes etc could be sold as “360 capable”, sneaking the hardware into all kinds of other sales.

In this respect it’d be the opposite approach to Sony with the PS3: Instead of a high end console that does many other things, licensed 360s could be whatever people primarily wanted, with the capability to play games also in there.

It would mitigate problems like the Red Ring Of Death, while also offloading a lot of Microsoft’s customer support to licensees of the technology. It would allow all kinds of platform tweaks and revisions, ala firmware upgrades for Blu-Ray players. If Microsoft were getting license fees and even royalties, much of the worry about attach rates and marketing would be passed on to third party manufacturers.

It would further help to shed any residual nerdy image gaming has, because manufacturers are likely to try all manner of convergence and aesthetics. This would be especially apt for Microsoft, who have a “men-in-suits” image themselves while many customers for the Xbox are still imagined to be fanboys and stereotypical teenage gamers.

It was an open yet standardised specification coupled with some proprietary technology that allowed the PC to be launched and become such a dominant platform (Though the legal cloning of IBM’s proprietary BIOS probably helped to propel it even further).

Licensing of 360 technology seems a little too good, and too lacking in conservatism, to even possibly be true. Microsoft own the chips this time round though, and could do it. On the downside, the opening of such a platform would probably work in favour of piracy. Nonetheless, Apple, Microsoft and Sony, among others, have all been talking about the convergent future, and money is following. Multiple SKUs and interchangable faceplates seem like a mere stepping stone on the way there.

(CC image: 360 in the fridge by shaymus022)





Phones and Motion

19 06 2008

Sony motion sensing phone

I’ve spoken before about Bruce Sterling citing mobile phones as a “technological black hole”, sucking in a long list of other devices and putting them in our pockets (You can see the talk he raised this in here, about 12m 50s in). Gaming devices are going to be no exception.

We’re a long way off having a phone that can plug into an external display and run games well, but convergence is inevitable. While each new step can easily confuse people at first, the trailing edge catches up until a given form makes sense to people, or fails altogether.

Sony Ericsson’s new motion sensing phone is yet another thing pushing this trend forward, as are the games demoed on the iPhone at Apple’s developer conference last week.

Of course, both of these companies are attempting to capitalise on the popularity of the Wii, but it shows the growing involvement of other sectors with games is spreading beyond the purchase of games companies, and into more deep rooted involvements and collaborations.

Mobile developers have had a difficult time for the past few years, with clunky interfaces, lack of standardisation and weak hardware meaning mobile gaming has been a footnote on the portals of European network operators, earning a pittance in comparison to call charges and ringtones. It’s become a chicken and egg problem, with the lack of attention attracting shovelware while at the same time damning well crafted games.

Better displays, processing power and motion sensing could prove to be the factors that tip mobile gaming into the mainstream. While these phones are nothing on the PSP and DS, they’re certainly surpassing previous generations of handhelds.