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Tycho / on Wed, Mar 16 2005 at 4:30 am

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The Word Is Terror

You can look up my statistics in Halo 2 and see that since the night Half-Life 2 was released on Steam, I haven’t really looked back - and today I’ll be made to suffer for it.  I am scared right now and want only to be held.

I don’t doubt that every conscious enthusiast of our passtime has read the dark prophecies collated in the Book of Costikyan - Greg Costikyan being a sort of gaming renaissance man who has done some of everything.  The money quote I keep seeing pulled out of his GDC presentation is something about Nintendo’s President Iwata cutting a gamer’s heart out, or some such.  It’s a flashy line, but kind of asinine, which of course means we love it - but I’m glad to see that at the end of the transcript he admits that it’s somewhat egregious.  For those of you who haven’t read his piece, it’s not very long, but here’s the gist:  vastly more potent hardware equals more development expense means the functional end of innovation in retail gaming.  He’d know better than I would.   

The reason I brought it back to the comment he made is that Nintendo said something like this before they launched the Cube - that upping the ante on processing power was a kind of evolutionary dead end - and this concept has continued in their public statements, perhaps even intensified.  Of course at the time, they were pilloried for those comments.  Then again, Nintendo’s innovations recently involve blowing on consoles and, in the future, new ways to rub.  Time will tell if blowing and rubbing are where it’s “at.”  There’s an obvious joke here, and I’m scrupulously avoiding it. 

Returning to the actual discussion, Nintendo’s comments were not well received by our people.  It gave the machine a reputation for being underpowered, which Crystal Chronicles and Resident Evil 4 clearly defy.  We don’t always know what we want, in aggregate, but by and large we do want more.  And until the infamous EA_Spouse transmission, it was probably not apparent that our appetite for larger polygon budgets was actually killing people.   

It’s a problem the industry is approaching in different ways, but two of them are fairly high profile.  You have, I hope, see what the new Unreal engine is capable of in raw terms - but listening to the commentary on the videos you hear that the technology includes a means to develop gameplay that is completely “hands-off” as regards valuable, limited programmer hours.  You can hear Mark Rein discuss this facility, called “Kismet,” in a recent interview.  This technology is apparently the Microsoft Game Studios’ choice for internal development.       

Will Wright has another approach, which probably won’t surprise you, because he is Will Wright.  What might surprise you is that the best article I’ve seen on Spore is on Gamespy.  Please check out the screens made available at The Ludologist.  Once you have done so, keep this is in mind:  every creature, really, everything you see has been either dynamically generated or player created, and the game is attached to a database which (with tricks inspired by the demo scene) stores the civilizations of thousands of players at around 1k apiece.  I guess you could say that he is making us do the work, but honestly, it’s a job I’ll take on. 

(CW)TB out.

how the mind does shout for rest

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