Name That Game!

Now why didn’t I think of this? The best thing about doing it this way is that you can’t Google a screenshot.

Well, never let it be said that I don’t steal every good idea I see! Welcome to our first installment of Name That Game! And there’s really no sense in doing this if you’re not going to do it right, so we’re starting with a toughie.

(Right-click and choose “View Image” for a full-sized version.)

What the hell is THAT?

I’m looking for the name of the game and the name of the studio that developed it. The prize? A shoutout on my next video blog! Good luck!

Halo Wars

Doh. I really think Ensemble has dropped the ball on this one.

For one thing, this feels like something mandated from above, rather than something they came up with on their own. “It takes too long for Bungie to make a Halo game,” I can hear the Microsoft execs saying. “Surely we’ve got another studio who can be working on another Halo game somewhere….” Hell, it’s conceivable that Microsoft ordered Ensemble to get working on this because they knew that if they didn’t, they wouldn ‘t have anything Halo-related to show at X06.

Second thing: the FAQ states that this game is an RTS and it is 360-only. I’ve never felt that real-time strategy games belonged on consoles. Of course, I’ve never felt that first-person shooters belonged on consoles either, which is why I never really got into the Halo games.

Third thing: this is why Microsoft stepped on Halogen. Which is fine, its their right, but they did it in the worst possible way – with a cease-and-desist right before Halo Wars was announced. Very ham-handed, and just the type of thing that can create a fan backlash.

This will probably end up being the first Ensemble game that I don’t buy. Which makes me sad.

A Crunching Sound

Sorry about the brief updates, but we’ve less than two weeks to go on our project here at work and the hours are long. I’ve got a surprise for you guys coming in the mail, and I will have another video blog for you Saturday night. So stuff’s gonna happen, just stick around.

New Game Development Articles

Well, new to me, anyway.

While I’ve been working on Sandworm (my One-Page Game) I’ve been learning more about the Windows console application functions. While these aren’t really hard to use, example code is always helpful and Microsoft provides very little. So I’d been searching both the internet and Google Groups for more information on the assumption that I can’t be the only person using this stuff. But I hadn’t really found anything.

So Sandworm was almost finished when a Google search on the WriteConsoleOutput() function pointed me to an article I really really wish I’d found before I started coding. The code this article provides is much better than what I’d written, so I’m incorporating it. And anyone else who wants to write a console application should read it. It even includes an ASCII table!

And Sol has written a set of tutorials on immediate-mode GUIs. If you’ve used his SDL tutorials you know he’s an excellent writer, and immediate-mode GUIs look better to me every day (you’ll recall I used one for my combat prototype).

Yesterday

And then something strange happened…I describe it as “the best week’s work I’ve ever done in my life”. It was something I started on a Monday morning and finished on a Sunday afternoon; it was a game that was written in a week start-to-finish. And that was what was so nice about the industry back then – you could just do that. You could sit down and bang out a game; 3.5k of code didn’t take a lot of time to fill.

And I wrote this game. I was very fond of Centipede, but Centipede was too cutesy for me, with its flower gardens and little centipedes – I wanted something more hard-edged for this game.

I actually had the name of the game before I wrote the game; I’d been up at a computer show in London and they had posters for this new Harrison Ford film that was out called Blade Runner. So I saw the posters and they had this very distinctive font that said ‘Blade Runner’ at the top. But I didn’t want to use ‘Blade Runner’ because my game wasn’t anything like Blade Runner; it was a game based on this grid so I thought, “Hey, I’ll call it Gridrunner.”

So I wrote it and I thought it was a very nice little game, but I didn’t think that much more of it, really. And I sent a copy out to my friends in the States who were distributing my games, and one night I remember the phone going at about four o’clock in the morning. I crawled out of bed and answered the phone and it was this guy from Human Engineered Software, and he was ranting! He said they loved this game and had been playing it for hours and I should stand by to make quite a lot of money, and I thought, well, it’s just this silly little game I made in a week, but okay, fair enough, and I put the phone down and went back to bed and went to sleep. Got up the next day and thought I’d had a weird dream where I was sure they’d said that this game was so good I was going to make loads of money! But it turned out he was actually quite serious and they turned it into a cartridge and it did turn out to do really well! It was the first major success for Llamasoft. It was number one on the VIC-20 charts in the States which was really surprising, and made me enough money to keep me going for several years.

Like I said, the best week’s work I ever did in my life. I wish I could have another week like that!

– Jeff Minter, from his “History of Llamasoft” presentation at Assembly ’04

Now, I could go into a rant here about how games were better in the old days, but I don’t really believe that. True, there were some fantastic games made back then, but there was also a bunch of crap that nobody remembers any more.

What I will say is that modern software development has become very abstract, with layers upon layers upon layers upon layers, and this is simply the worst possible thing that could have happened for game development which really has to go straight to the hardware in order to be fast. So we get APIs that do touch the hardware directly, but because they have to play nice with these abstracted operating systems we have to jump through all these hoops and do things like raw memory writes just to put a damn pixel on the screen. And God help you if you forget to set your pitch and your width correctly…

This is why I like making and playing little text-mode games. I’m honestly fascinated by things like Roguelikes, even though most Roguelikes frustrate me because they are too damn hard.

And of course, the company that could have given us a very straightforward game development API because they control both the hardware and the OS refuses to do so because they hate gamers. Well, screw you too, Apple…see if I ever buy an iPod.

And this is just the Price that Must Be Paid in order to do modern game development (at least on the PC). It’s difficult, and it’s going to stay difficult for a good long while. But in the end, we do it because we are compelled. And it’s not like there aren’t any rewards…