Tuesday, March 23, 2010

Now in 3D

Nintendo has just announced that the next version of the DS will feature glass-less 3D graphics. As several people around the web are guessing just how they are going to pull this off, I found this video showcasing an I-phone app called "Word Fu"

Sadly, the game play isn't getting very good reviews but the technology is pretty cool. It's worth taking a look just for the tech.

However, all of this talk about 3D in games and movies has got me thinking about whether it is really "the next big thing" - which leads me to the logical thought about 3D movies. I think I saw EVERY theatrically released non-porn 3D movie that came out in the 80's. (There's a really good list that includes everything including theme park rides and IMAX movies here)

This includes:

The wretched Spacehunter: Adventures in the Forbidden Zone

The awful MetalStorm: The destruction of Jared Syn

And the truly terrible Treasure of the Four Crowns.

There's something magical about an object coming right out in front of your face. I still remember being mesmerized by the floating potato/asteroid from the beginning of Captain Eo. (Why take it from me? Grab your red/cyan 3D glasses and watch it for yourself! By the way, They're showing Captain Eo again for a short time at Disneyland. I've got to go check it out!)


But 3D was just a gimmick used (twice!) by desperate movie theater owners to lure audiences away from their TVs. The battle is as the internet, gaming and TV draw modern audiences away from the movie theater. How long will the 3D phenomena last? Until audiences get tired of paying extra for it, I'd guess.

So what does this mean for gaming? I was reading a thread about 3D technology and a game developer quipped that "all games are 2D anyway" - which is a good point. 3D doesn't matter unless we are using it for more than visuals. Right now, 3D just means that you can see depth or maybe the sides of objects. (If that's all you need, then check out the cool Nvidia glasses that can convert any game to 3D with little to no work from the developer.)

I hear you say "It will help the player become more immersed in the game!" I retort with games are already immersive enough. People are starving themselves to death while playing video games! How much more immersive do you need it to be? While I don't think 3D is anything more than an enhancement to a game, I know (OK, I hope) that the industry is smart enough to treat it more than "Dr. Tongue's 3D House of Wax."

What will it mean to truly make 3D games? Here's some thoughts:

1) Games play is based on depth perception. This is tricky because video games have got really good at eliminating the need for depth perception. Think about a video soccer game. In soccer, depth perception matters alot. You use it to estimate how close the ball or an opponent is from you, how far you are from the goal so you can gauge the strength of a kick, how far down the field you are going to have to run and for how long before you get to where you want to go. Games have successfully boiled soccer down to this:

Granted, there is a lot missing from this version of soccer, but the basic gameplay and feel is still there - moving up and down the field, passing, getting into position to score, trying to block/intercept an incoming shot.

So how is a full 3D version of soccer going to play any better? Not with the addition of a 3D camera. The above version shows me more than my human eyes could ever show. I can see the position of the ball, all of the players and their relationship on the field at a glance. Other than getting outside and some exercise, the video game soccer game is a superior version to reality.

So really, what I'm getting at is, developers will have to answer the question "What games will be best for 3D?" Not everything will be best for 3D although I'm sure we'll see every a 3D game in every genre at the next two or three E3s.

I think a good game to showcase depth in 3D is something like Operation.

Operation requires having to move the tweezers past the electric buzzer layer. That layer matters because to touch it means failure. Depth becomes part of the challenge, not just something to make things look prettier.

2) Games will have to utilize the concepts of "behind", "above", "below" and "around". But games already do this functionality pretty well. Many games allow the player to examine a 3D object in the game world or inventory by moving and rotating it around in space and video gamers have been used to moving around in 3D space since Castle Wolfenstein. But what about the manipulation of objects? I'm not talking about Hidden object games (which I predict we'll be seeing many games use the "lift up and examine" mechanic until we're sick of it.) I think the real advancement will be in the building and creating space. Think of it, you can have a complete collection of 1000's of virtual Legos to build and create with without having them scattered all over your house and stepping on them with bare feet in the middle of the night.

Sadly, we're going to see alot of 3D Hidden object games as a by-product. While I have nothing against these "games", I don't think of them as games. They're more like puzzles - things to do when you can't go outside to play. Expect to see the "lift up and examine" mechanic to be over-used until we're sick of it. And another thing, ultimately, how much reality do we really need in our games? ">Sony Move demo video. Sure making a map appear out of thin air and lying it down on a virtual table is cool, but the more I think about that video, the more I wonder do we want to replicate reality?

3)Complimenting the simplification of reality - because of technological limitations, video games are excellent (not just really good, but excellent) at reducing real world actions into simple controls. I don't know about these motion controllers. I've made several Wii games and the more the development teams worked on them, the less motion controls they built into their games. Video game controls are a brilliant design in efficiency. They allow you to do very complex moves with a minimum of effort. Look at God of War for example. While the player can pull off some pretty complex combat moves, severely complex moves like killing a boss and mundane activities like opening doors and chests have been reduced down to a simple button press at the right time. Compare that to Heavy Rain which takes simple activities like opening a refrigerator door, walking up a hill or starting a car and makes them complex player actions with multiple stick moves and button presses. Players are over the Wii motion controls already. Is Move or Natal going to re-excite or will they react to it the same way people react to the Wii? A part of me believes that players want their games to be real-looking but not real-playing.

Ultimately, I'm sure 3D will bring some cool things with it and push visuals and game play towards reality, but the trick will be to remember that it's still just a game. To paraphrase George Lucas "A special effect is a tool, a means of making a game. A special effect without gameplay is a pretty boring thing."

Friday, March 12, 2010

We're number six! We're number six!

A co-worker pointed out that Maximo: Ghosts to Glory was voted the sixth hardest PS2 platformer over at IGN.com.

Not in the top five, but then again, do your really want to be in that top five? I'm happy with six.

I hate not being at GDC

The game developer's conference is going on RIGHT AT THIS MOMENT in San Francisco and I'm not there.

And I hate that I'm not there.

When I first started in games, I asked my employers to send me to the show (as many other companies do) and I was told by my bosses that "GDC is just a place for people who are out of work to go to distribute their resumes." I believed this nonsense for many years. Then one year, Capcom Studio 8 head Dave Siller recommended that I attend. He was very positive about the conference and knew it would be good for me.

(Thanks Dave)

And he was right.

While GDC is a really good place to distribute your resume (and check out the latest tech and see some really great student and independent games), the GDC at it's best is a way to hear some of the most important thinkers and creators in the industry talk about how they work, how they think, their mistakes and their successes. It's very inspirational and informative. Even the bad lectures (though you shouldn't feel compelled to stay through the whole talk if it's not helping you - there are too many other ones going on at the same time) can be educational as they provide great food for thought and conversation.

The conversations. That's actually the part I miss the most about GDC.

I have been in some great roundtable discussions that have been helpful to me in my career - being the same room with game developers I would normally never get a chance to talk to, discussing game development.

Even when sitting at one of the big round table in the main hall while waiting for a talk to start, I have been known to strike up random conversations with interesting people. One conversation literally lasted two days as the person and I talked through the night about making games.

(That slide needs more pictures)

So, if GDC is so great, why aren't I there right now? I intended to go. I even intended to speak at the show. I wrote and submitted a talk proposal that passed the first round of judging (it was called "Why I Hate Fun" and supposedly, it made one of the judges laugh so hard that he shot Mountain Dew out of his nose) but it didn't pass the second round and to be honest, I knew it wouldn't. It was too thin on content and I knew it. I was literally thinking about asking the panel to remove my submission when they let me know the had passed. Not a surprise and frankly, a bit of a relief. (Which brings up the question - Why was it so thin, Rogers? Because I was literally spending every waking hour I wasn't working or spending with my kids working on my game design book.)

Actually, I'm fine with it not being accepted. It re-taught me a valuable lesson about being professional and being thorough with my work. When I didn't get into the show for a talk, I asked my work if they could send me and they just didn't have the budget for it. I should have booked a flight and a hotel room (or crashed with a friend) because I had a chance to get discounted tickets, but even that was too expensive and I threw out my back... blah blah blah. Now I just sound like I'm making excuses. Anyway, I miss not being at GDC. You just don't feel like you are taking part in the industry if you aren't there. And you bet your ass I'm going to be there next year.

At least I can read about it on-line.

Thursday, March 11, 2010


I love 2D games. I admit it, I'm an art-school educated snob who loves his games to have personal artist expressions. I like seeing "the artist's hand" in the work. I'm not a huge fan of pre-rendered gorgeousness. I'd rather have style over realism any day. In comic books, all of my favorite artists are ones with very unique styles like:

Kyle Baker

Mike Mignola

Kevin Maguire

Evan Dorkin

Ben Caldwell

What I love about Shank is that it has a very definite style and carries it all the way through the game. It's not out yet, but I'm based on what I've seen, I can't wait!

Monday, March 1, 2010


Back in the late 90's I became addicted to crack. Not actual crack that you smoke, but crack that some men call "Magic the Gathering."

If you don't know what Magic is, I'll wait while you Wiki it.

Ah, you are back. Good. I started playing Magic around the year it came out. I was a pretty early adopter. I didn't have a Lotus or a Mox, but pretty much everything else. The problem was, I have a little problem. Call it a personality disorder or an addiction. I had too much disposable income and not enough sense. I bought booster packs all the time. You see, games that have additional buyable content - Heroclix, Warhammer 40K, any CCG - they are all made to suck money out of my pocket. I had so many cards that a friend and I (another game designer - co-incidence?) used to play what we called "Iron Man" Magic - whenever a card was destroyed, we ripped it up. WE HAD THAT MANY CARDS.Then I had no one to play against. (even the Iron Man guy) Then I moved. Then I had no friends that played Magic. Then I had lots of boxes of Magic cards sitting around my house for over 10 years. Then I grew resentful of those boxes. Then I gave those cards away to a kid I knew who was interested in Magic. No more Magic for me. (By that time I was into Warhammer 40K)

So no Magic for me for about 12 years. I was cured.

Then came Warstorm. It looks like Magic, there are cards with elves and fighters and demons and orcs and they line up real nice and they even fight the game for you. And oh look, you can buy packs of cards or individual cards or decks just like Magic. And you can use "fake" in-game money or you can USE REAL MONEY to buy more cards. And you don't have to worry about storing them - because they aren't real! And I know have friends all over the internet to play against - and they don't even have to be on-line for me to play against them.

The end (or the beginning) to this story is that I am re-addicted to crack. It is virtual crack, but crack none the less.

Who wants to play?