The O to the I

For some time now I’ve been fascinated by the idea that we might one day “jack in” and interface directly with the content on our computers. I feel strongly that by creating alternate realities (and replacing our work day commutes and material item purchases with digital equivalents) we might actually save the world. I think game makers are,without really thinking about it, laying huge amounts of the foundation that will make virtual reality a real-world reality. So when I read “scientists extract images directly from brain” I got really excited. We already have the input – ways of pumping digital info directly into the brain. With this, we can have output. And we’re on our way to a truly interactive VR experience. Cool stuff.

Grimm Episode 15 – The Pied Piper

Rat Hole

Rat Hole with Poo

Grimm episodes just keep on coming! You might ask yourself, “How do they do it!? How can they release week after week of awesome, original, episodic content?” Because we’re a machine my friend. A machine. Oh wait, that was last week when “Iron John” was on offer. This week it’s… let’s see… rats! Lots and lots of rats in fact, as Grimm perturbs Piper in Episode 15, “The Pied Piper of Hamelin”. Eeek!

And like any good Grimm episode announcement, this one is accompanied by a review from our old friend David Craddock at BigDownload:

“The Pied Piper isn’t the best Grimm entry, but it is one of few episodes that deviates from its typical formula. Even those familiar with the tale will enjoy racing to the end to see what American McGee and his Spicy Horse cohorts have in store for the children, and those unfamiliar with the story will have even more reason to push forward.”

Not the best, but not the same. Hey, not bad!

Head over to GameTap, Stimulus, or TryGames and give it a nibble. You might like it – even if it is a bit cheesy.

Doom turns 15

I can measure how long I’ve been in the industry by the age of DOOM. It was just before the game was released that I was invited to id Software to help in testing the near-final product. And just as DOOM was released that Carmack invited me to join full-time as a tech support guy. From there myself and Shawn Green pushed ourselves to carve out more interesting niches within the company – so that by the release of DOOM II my title had changed from ‘tester’ to ‘level designer’ and I’d actually managed to contribute a hefty amount of the game’s total level content. Fun times! Destructiod is running a typically bitter commemoration: The Dicks of DOOM

Grimm Episode 14 – Iron John

Iron John

He said he’d be back!

Another week, another Grimm, another review. Episode 14 revisits the tale of “Iron John”, a convoluted, confusing, and somewhat dissatisfying tale in its original form. Of course Grimm is all about getting satisfaction and it seems the duller the original tale, the more interesting the Grimm result. John Callaham over at Big Download seems to agree and says,

“It’s been a long time since I have genuinely enjoyed an episode of American McGee’s Grimm. That’s not to say that any have been terrible, but rather that the formula seems to have run its course. American McGee’s Grimm: Iron John doesn’t stray far from the established mechanics of the series, but the way it deviates from the titular fairy tale, as well as how the world changes based on direct player interaction, makes it an enjoyable casual adventure.”

Mr. Callaham’s “dissatisfaction” with some of the more standard episodes is understandable. Grimm as a game has been finding its feet, exploring different game play ideas, and all the while trying to keep the promise of fresh weekly episodic content. Delivering on some areas of this promise is easier than others – innovating on game play can be difficult once the concept gets locked into a core mechanic.

I think a large part of the fresh infusion of cool new ideas has come out of the increased involvement of the studio’s latest Creative Director – Ben Kerslake. With fresh blood comes new ideas and the results are obvious. You can see for yourself in this latest and greatest episode.

Remember, episodes of Grimm continue to be offered for free on the day of launch (for 24 hours), and are then available for free to Gametap subscribers. You can also find Grimm on other download sites like Stimulus and TryGames.

Shared Knowledge = Healthy Growth

The Ruins 1

Paths to Knowledge

Just read an interesting blurb over at videogamer.com in which Wheelman Creative Director Simon Woodroffe comments on one of the biggest challenges in making effective use of off-the-shelf engine technology. He says:

“… you know, the biggest factor that hasn’t been touched upon in recent articles is the shared knowledge. We have 600 to 700 devs, all with Unreal experience, all working for the same company, all of whom can talk to each other. When we hit a problem, we have more people working on the engine than anybody – by a long way. And we have a massive pool of resources to draw upon. At least one team has dealt with pretty much every feature you might want in a next-gen game. Which means that we, as designers, are in a great position – because we can actually build games to be games, not just technology showcases any more,”

Now there are two things I find interesting about this. First that James Orry, the guy writing the article, decided to turn Simon’s insightful comments into mudslinging – by giving the article this headline: “Midway: Secret game looks ‘better’ than Gears 2”. Ahem. That’s not the point. But then videogamer.com isn’t Gamasutra, and perhaps we shouldn’t expect anything different from a news site targeted at gamers, not game makers.

Next, I’d like to say “amen” to the idea of shared knowledge! Be it within a development studio where there are multiple teams, or within a publishing organization where there are teams spread around the world, or within the industry – between two “rival” companies who are using the same technology. Honestly, I think the industries “lack of sharing” is one of the biggest spoilers to rapid advancement of games as an art form.

Think about it this way: When film makers get together to do their thing they pull together a “one time use” team made up of the best people they can get their hands on. People from all over the world converge on a project – a DP from London, a Director from LA, a Writer from Sydney, and a whole crew of visual effects people, technicians, lighting people, etc, etc. Each and every one of them bringing unique and valuable knowledge from their personal history of making films.

Compare this to the game industry where people don’t bounce around project-to-project and where our toolsets might vary widely from studio to studio and generation to generation (of code and hardware). In an environment like ours it makes sense to pool our knowledge and share our resources – especially when so many of us are using a common tool like the Unreal Engine.

Epic does what they can to foster this sort of sharing with their UDN (Unreal Developers Network). But developers and publishers could and should go one step further by pushing their knowledge, their tools, and their solutions to interesting problems and challenges out to communal repositories. Who wouldn’t love to “harvest” the latest and greatest tricks from recently released titles? And why not? Once a cool concept is released in a retail product other are going to do their best to copy it. Nothing is truly proprietary for long.

Our goal as an industry is to entertain. We do that by making the most immsersive and compelling entertainment products possible. And doing so requires a huge wealth of knowledge which every team in the world possesses bits of pieces of. Sharing knowledge with each other would help our studios, nurture the industry, and ultimately deliver better games to audience.

We do some pretty amazing things as individual teams – imagine what we might do as a unified industry force.