Monthly Archives: October 2006

One of Those Annoyances You Don’t Want to See…

Game production is filled of “little annoying things that take lots of time to fix”. I’ve just experienced one of them. I’m making a prototype level to experiment how “triggers” or “special points” (such as “player spawn” or “special item”) can be placed to the game using 3D World Studio. I have “bases” in the level and I’ve painted some textures on terrain to also learn the level building tool.

Look how neat everything looks in 3D World Studio…

(You can click the images to view full sizes)

… and see how it looks in game (Blitz3D).

Uh… this is bad. I hope that I’m doing something terribly wrong or that somebody at Leadwerks support forums knows how to deal with this.

These type of small problems are quite typical in game production, and usually there’s a solution for every problem. Some take more time to solve, but in the end there’s usually some clever way to handle things. At least I have high hopes for it…

Edoiki Progress – Deals, Deals, Deals…

Yesterday I wrote about rabbits – or using same code in different games, today I wanted to mention what’s been going on at Edoiki development.

I have contacted one Finnish company (not games company but linked to games) whose producer said “yes, this is interesting – tell us more about the game” on the phone. In the past I’ve heard “Sorry, not interested” or nothing from companies so this makes things more exciting – this is the first time I’ve actually managed to talk with people in such positions.

The outcome of these negotiations will have impact on game design: if these people want to make deal with me then they will have some control over the game.

I have no idea if we end up making the deal. I’ve got the “no” many times in the past, but that doesn’t mean I couldn’t ask again. After all, I have nothing to lose. The worst thing that could happen is that they say “no” – and I continue development. Great, no problem with that. On the other hand, they could say “yes” – and that would be great too. There’s no way I can lose, so why not try?

Catching Two Rabbits

In the past I quoted a zen story where it basically says that “if you do too many things at once… nothing gets done”. I’ve been working on Edoiki and also with Morphlings.

I have quite good framework (for network / multiplayer gaming) done and I’ve read more articles about networking and programming multiplayer games than ever before. I’ve planned the engine to work so that the same network code can be used in both games. Previously I had a poor structure on how to handle network traffic – I simply added new stuff without thinking the impacts too much. Now I’ve made the code much more nicer and I’m pleased with the results. I can use much of the code for both games and I’m actually starting to make some level testing to see how things work out.

In English this means: When I’m progressing in coding the other game – or updating the network code – that means the other game gets improved as well. I can also reduce testing time (for network code, not gameplay or level testing) as the both games use the same underlying technology.

Maybe I can catch two rabbits…

Let’s Steal From the Rich People

I talked with one guy about games piratism (=copying/distributing/using illegal copies of games). One of the arguments he made: “If I don’t buy legal copy, the big company won’t lose that much money”. He also pointed out that he wanted to support small studios.

But it strike to me like… basically he was saying that it would be okay to steal from rich.

Like, if there’s some millionaire it would be okay to steal 1000 or 10 000 euros from him “because he is so rich that it wouldn’t matter that much to him”. When I presented it this way he said “Well, I know what you mean but…”.

Why is it “okay” to steal digital products, but it’s not okay to steal money from rich guys?

Blogs Roundup #5 – “Interesting posts…”

Have you noticed how often people use word “interesting” when they point to some sites from their blog? I know I do it often, and have noticed many other sites to do the same. What is the reason for this? Perhaps we simply need more interesting words to use…

Oh well – here’s the fifth other (interesting – naturally) blogs roundup.

  • GameDevMike – His title pretty much says it all: “News, opinions, articles, tips & tricks on game development with an Indie twist.”
  • Mansion – very new blog from a Finnish guy (with a cool hat).
  • Big Toe Software Blog – Game development studio’s blog. Updated regularly.
  • 71/78 – Gamer’s blog.

That’s it folks, check ‘em out.

Multiplayer Level Design Constraints

Pascal Luban wrote an article: Multiplayer Level Design In-Depth, Part 1: The Specific Constraints of Multiplayer Level Design. Luban covers issues that should be taken care when designing multiplayer game levels. Yesterday I wrote about world building tool so this article comes close to what I’m doing at the moment.

Here’s some parts I found quite interesting:

What are the main points of a multiplayer game that eats up bandwidth? First there is character movement and animations. In most multiplayer FPS games, character animation is very limited. What characters do most often is run, jump or crouch. But in games such as the multiplayer version of Splinter Cell, the wealth of animations is at the heart of the game.

I’m quite surprised to hear that animations would consume that much bandwidth generally speaking. I’m sure this could be the case with Splinter Cell, but I doubt that animations itself consume bandwidth: couldn’t you simply use couple of bytes to tell which animation is wanted and what frame has occured. Movement/actions in FPS game are definitely top bandwidth eaters. Anyway, let’s proceed.

In a single player game, the player goes through a level with a single objective in mind, finishes it and passes to the next. He only spends little time in each level. But in multiplayer games, the players will spend hundreds of hours on each map. All map weaknesses will then be found.

Thus, design errors or bugs that allow cheating are revealed and exchanged among players. A second consequence of this hyper-use of the maps is the risk of player boredom if the map is not tactically rich enough. Multiplayer maps must support thousands of hours of play without letting the player feel bored. One year after the marketing of Splinter Cell – Pandora Tomorrow, thousands of multiplayer sessions were still being played every day, this is the same for other tactically rich maps such as some Halo 2 maps.

I think this is very true: in multiplayer games each map will be played over and over. There must be enough tactically rich elements.

typical constraint of the multiplayer level design is the consequence of the highly competitive game style that is specific to this type of game (except for cooperative modes). Since the essence of the multiplayer game is to crush the opponents, the players search for the most efficient tactics, whereas in a single player game, the players tend to play at their own pace and explore all the possibilities provided by the game.

What are the consequences? First, players completely ignore many game features (weapons, animations, specific map functions etc.), even if they show a real potential. They will only use the most efficient features.

There were some good tips:

  • Players will only use the most efficient features.
  • Players completely ignore many game features. (I think this is very important to remember: some of the map features might never be used at all!)

I still think this is bit exaggerated statement: “typical constraint of the multiplayer level design is the consequence of the highly competitive game style”. I’m different. Even when I’ve played against my friends to challenge and win, I’ve sometimes chose “style over efficiency” – this means that I like to send Mordor orcs even when they might be poor. Sometimes I simply won’t be using the most efficient troops just because there are units that are cooler (even when these cooler units lack power). I’ve heard other players having more challenge by using poorer troops to beat opponent. That increases challenge.

The fourth constraint is the difficulty in getting average or casual gamers to engage in multiplayer games. The reason for this is simple: nobody likes being humiliated by losing repeatedly to gamers that give you no chance. Playing against a human opponent generates a lot of tension and makes the game more exciting, but also increases the stress level of an inexperienced gamer.

Luckily there are very intelligent self-adjusting players. It is quite familiar to see hosted games using names: “Only N00bS” or “All welcome” or “2 Pro versus 2 Pro”. Ranks and this type of adjustments help beginners to get in the game, but also help more experienced players to get enough challenge.

At the moment, multiplayer games are reserved for the hardcore gamers.

I disagree.

There are plenty of casual multiplayer games out there. There are some portals that are filled with extremely casual multiplayer games. Even makers of World of Warcraft said that one reason for WoW’s success was the design for both casual and hardcore players.

Bottom line: It’s nice to see more articles regarding multiplayer games and even though I disagree with some parts I think Luban’s article is worth checking and recommend reading it if you are into multiplayer level design.

3D World Studio by Leadwerks – World/Level Builder

This week I’ve been quite busy finding proper tools for making levels. I got recommended to get 3D World Studio by Leadwerks. In one sentence: 3D World Studio is a professional and inexpensive world and level building tool. I tried the software and skyped the Leadwerks support and got some very friendly & helpful answers. I also liked the way there’s couple video tutorials available: those were most helpful and easy to check & learn.

I’m still *learning* how to use the tools and I’m bit clumsy with how to move and scale objects. Maybe it’s that me but for some reason the user interface does not feel 100% polished. Don’t get me wrong: you can do amazing stuff with the tool like like paint textures into terrains, add noise and smooth, light them, split, export and everything, but my first impression is that the user interface is not suited for me. There is a demo version available, and I recommend checking it and try moving, creating and scaling objects to get a feeling how it suits you. I remember I had big problems with getting used to LOTR: Battle For Middle Earth’s right click when in other games left click was used. After playing the game for while right click felt natural. I suppose this can be the case with 3D World Studio as well.

That being said, I bought the $80 version (digital download) – there is also a $120 version that contains lots of textures, models and other stuff to build a level. The reason I didn’t buy the expanded version is that most of those models are Half-life/Unreal Tournament/Industry/Sci-fi stylish – which don’t fit in my games projects. Notice: “most of them”, there’s also plenty of stuff like trees and plant sprites that can be used in other type of games. Check out the screenies at their website to judge yourself.

I have used the tool only for some hours so I cannot give a rating for the tool. At the moment I think there’s need for some improvement in user interface & usability while most of the technical features are done very well. I really recommend checking the big list of features. There you can find lots of important info about whether to get the software or not.

I’ll give a final judgement in the future, but meanwhile: if you are struggling with how to do levels for your game or consider getting a world/level builder, then check out 3D World Studio.

“Free Magazine” Is Not “Now For Half-Price”

Here’s a phone call I had some days ago:

Caller: “Hi, I’m calling from blablabla. We’d like to congratulate you – our loyal customer – by giving you free magazine! Balbal bla bla… isn’t that nice? blabla blah bla…. free …bla blah bla.” (for some time)

Me: “Well, that’s nice…”

Caller: “So, now you can get 6 months magazine subscription for free…”

Me – thinking: “Now that’s really nice.”

Caller: “…All you have to do is to order the magazine for 12 months, and the first 6 months will be free…

Me – interrupting: “No thanks, I already get couple of magazines from you. Good bye.”

How stupid they think we customers are? Free magazine and giving 50% discounts are absolutely two different things. I don’t mind getting ads – I actually like the way for example amazon.com sends me occasionally an email about “books that might be interesting for you” or “the price of a book in your giftlist has decreased”. I think it’s nice that some companies ask permission to give targeted ads which might be actually useful for me. I also like if I get free stuff (who wouldn’t) for being a loyal customer… but I don’t like to be lied at just because I’m a loyal customer.

Two things would have happened if the caller had said “discount” instead of “free”

  • It would have saved caller’s time: he spend lots of stuff trying to explain that they are giving something for free when in reality they weren’t. If he would have told about discount in the beginning, I could have immediately said “Sounds good, I’d like to hear more” or “No thanks, not this time”. It would have saved his time so he would have had more time to call some other people who might been interested.
  • It would have saved my time – now I listened his speech as I thought they were really giving something for me (this is actually first or second time when some magazine caller has made this type of offer – so this is pretty new tactic in my case). When I see something “FREE” in the Internet, I most likely reject it, and I’m heading towards the same direction also with these magazine callers… so they are really just hurting their own business.

I like to order magazines, and sometimes these magazine callers actually call at perfect time – and sometimes those magazine ads are sent at perfect time. I have no problem with that. But I dislike when somebody is saying “it’s free” when in reality it isn’t.

How this works in game business?

The same way.

If you offer something for free, I’d like you to remember what you are offering for free. Giving free games is different from giving free game demos to test.

Online Multiplayer Games Programming Resources Are Hard to Find!

I have been looking for proper multiplayer games programming resources. I started a thread at indiegamer.com and asked Insiders about this. I was quite surprised to see that there aren’t so many (high-level) network programming articles or books available. Much of the stuff that’s available deal with low-level stuff like “how to send and receive packets”.

There are exceptions of course, and here’s couple of pretty good resources:

By looking at articles, it looks like multiplayer games (network) programming has not changed that much. Naturally we have many more network libraries available and don’t have to start from scratch, but even then: the same basic concepts for handling player input and network traffic that were used years ago are still used today – to some extent.

Lips Syncing

I saw a fun thread at indiegamer.com about lips syncing. Guys at Ovogame said that they’ve done a lips syncing application. Basically this means that a talking head’s lips move in sync with sound.

I tested the application right away and even recorded my own “test.wav” to see if the app can really handle custom made stuff. I was quite impressed when I heard the lips moving in sync when I was speaking Finnish!

The app is not finished yet and not for sale yet, but their initial pricing structure is like this:

  • Professional: 1000$
  • Indie Dev: 150$ (GP note: now… who said indies aren’t professional ;)
  • Indie Dev: 35$ + link to www.ovogame.com on your site + game credits + 1 free copy

The $35 price tag (with links/credits and stuff) doesn’t sound like a bad price for this, and if you really need this sort of stuff then $150 doesn’t sound bad either for indies – especially when if it works with 3D stuff as well. According to them: “At the moment I can only demo it in 2D (sprites) but soon it will also work perfectly in 3D.”

Anyway, check out the site if you need lip syncing. I presume this stuff could be used not just in games, but also in applications.

Thumbs up for ovogames.