Archive for the ‘Industry’ Category

The Next Generation

December 29, 2010

What has kept me following the real-time image industry, if you will, all these years has always been its rapid evolution, the way it constantly reinvents itself through iteration of hardware and software. How everything looked so much better on Amiga 500 after using and getting accustomed to Commodore 64’s visual offerings. The continuous iteration is in the core of the real-time medium, and really the magic and transcendental purpose of it, as in technology at large.

How come, then, it feels like the evolution of the real-time image has been plateauing in the past few years? What is it so different now than, say, five years ago?

It’s the decline of the exclusive high-end PC –gaming, what’s different.

For instance, judging by trailers and screenshots, the upcoming multiplatform Crysis 2 is clearly a step down in almost every possible sense from its three-year-old PC exclusive predecessor, Crysis. It really is, and no amount of post-processing (of which there’s plenty) can hide that uncomfortable fact. And the sole reason for that is the long obsolete console hardware Crysis 2 is primarily developed for. Consequently, I have next to zero excitement towards Crysis 2, which said aloud sound equally sad as distressing.

So, we are now in a situation in which high-end PC hardware is practically a generation ahead of the console counterparts, but without any decent software to take genuinely advantage of it. Instead of getting another Crysis, we get poorly optimized console-ports, such as Call of Duty: Black Ops, which perform often nowhere near as they logically should on a fair PC.

Without the high-end dedicated PC –gaming, we have no more messianic games looming in the horizon, exciting and inspiring us like Doom, Quake, Half-life 2 or Crysis did at the time. PC supposed to be about pushing the boundaries of the medium, not sweeten up console-leftovers with ridiculously expensive hardware.

All things considered, I hate to say but it seems there really will be no major, groundbreaking developments happening in the video game space until the next console hardware cycle emerges, which may or may not happen somewhere in 2012 at earliest. It’s like consoles have taken real-time imagery as a hostage, and we, the enthusiasts, have no options but to wait on their next move.

Back Off

December 2, 2010

I wrote earlier about the problems the freedom of choice poses on real-time medium, and how every video game has a sweet spot in which it looks optimal. Polyphony Digital, the developer of the Gran Turismo series, CEO Kazunori Yamauchi must have read that piece since in the newest installment of the series, Gran Turismo 5, the game takes arbitrarily and without any subtlety a portion of that freedom away from the player – a decision motivated by vanity and fear.

See, in certain conditions, GT 5 politely instructs the player to move away from the car before “taking a shot” in the otherwise gorgeous and print-quality-images-producing photo mode. GT 5 is acting like a bodyguard pushing paparazzi away from a declining star who just couldn’t fade away with dignity.

But why on earth GT 5 would pull a stunt like that?

One part of the reason stems definitely from the crazy “over thousand cars” premise, which inevitably led to the standard-premium division, making majority of the car rooster look like something out of Playstation 2, or even a generation earlier. Yes, it’s indeed the standard cars of which GT 5 doesn’t allow people to take pictures up close, which amusingly gives away the fact that even Yamauchi himself acknowledged that there was something fundamentally wrong with putting low-definition assets in a Playstation 3 game with a highest profile to so far.

Second part of the reason can be found from the mere existence of the Internet. Without the Internet, Yamauchi wouldn’t have had any problem whatsoever with people taking unflattering screenshots of his game for their own enjoyment. But thanks to the Internet, no stone is left unturned (and unshared in the age of the Net) when the hardcore audience starts dissecting every possible flaw the much-hyped game may or may not contain. Kill your idols, and so forth.

It’s interesting to see if this kind of screenshot-limiting becomes more of a standard in the future, where developers may turn more paranoid of how their game will appear in screenshots posted in hardcore forums, like NeoGAF. It’s common knowledge that gaming press even today receives strict guidelines from publishers if some poor soul wants to use manually taken screenshots as an illustration, and my understanding is that for that very reason reviewers often end up using glossy PR-shots purely out of convince.

Of course, in the PC side of the gaming, such limiting endeavors would not go far, but as the gaming by and large is constantly drifting towards walled-garden approaches, like gaming consoles and AppStores, a developer-dictated screenshotting could indeed become a valid scenario somewhere down the line.

But let’s hope not.

Regarding David Jaffe

July 31, 2010

If you had to single out only one game developer who’s still currently active, I’m pretty sure Eat Sleep Play’s David Jaffe would be it for many of us following the industry. But why is that? Jaffe’s track record is short but strong (God of War –series being the most known accomplishment) but not that strong. Still Jaffe sits in every other panel discussion and gets interviewed a lot more often than his peers, at least it seems like it.

My view on Jaffe is based on a very limited knowledge that I have of him, but either way, there is this one thing that comes across which elevates him in my mind above many other so-called celebrity game developers. The thing is, he hates bullshit and rebels actively against it. He really does, and sure, it can have its short-term disadvantages, but in the long run, I think it has been a major reason why he is so loved and respected among the peers, press and audience. Jaffe receives so much love and good will – which he deserves – from the industry that it’s almost silly, and I believe Sony acknowledged that and gave Jaffe for that very reason a special treatment at their E3 2010 press conference. Sweet Tooth delivered, but how about the new Twisted Metal? We’ll see.

Ok, Jaffe do have other qualities too that I for instance would love to possess, such as determination, playfulness, down-to-earthness and most of all, genuine gratefulness for silly things like the God of War –branded Slurpee. It would be hard to see Jade Raymond to go nuts over an Altair Slurpee on her video diary, wouldn’t it?

I truly believe bullshit can take you only so far, even if it can have some short-term benefits. However, I’m afraid that Jaffe is in peril to go overboard with his straightforwardness. To label and brand oneself so aggressively as an avid bullshit-denier can become self-delusional (and thus, bullshit) in itself in the long run, if not careful.

Maybe some bullshit is necessary after all.

Curious Case of Saleen S7

April 22, 2010

I happened to have installed three different games with basically the same car Saleen S7 modeled in them, so it was an opportunity not to miss to compare the models to each other. The games are SimBin’s GTR 2 (2006), Eden Games’ Test Drive Unlimited (2007) and Codemasters’ Race Driver: GRID (2008). It’s interesting to notice, how in span of three years polycount has dramatically increased, but also how different approaches developers have on modeling basically identical shapes. Polycount doesn’t include interior so that models would be more comparable in that way.

All this got me thinking if in the future, where there are no performance issues related to polygons any more, there will be a culture of sharing art assets used in games between the developers. In that way, developers could co-operate by licensing the same basic shapes (like S7 for instance) and there wouldn’t be a need to start every model from scratch. Understandably 3D models have to be currently designed from ground up into every particular context of use in order to optimize the performance. Obviously there are subcontractors easing developers’ workload already, but I’m talking about universal sharing and licensing system which isn’t, at least to my knowledge, there yet.

Notice the evolution of the tail lights, and different kind of trianglization  in the GTR 2 model.

Pussy Cat Ragdolls

April 21, 2010

Company named NaturalMotion introduced years back ragdoll physics system known as Euphoria, which simulates human muscle and nervous systems. I saw it back then as the biggest revolution in gaming since 3D acceleration, but what happened? Only two (2) game utilizes Euphoria at the moment, which are Rockstar’s Grand Theft Auto IV (if we consider GTA IV and recently published Episodes from Liberty City as one title which they basically are) and LucasArts’ Star Wars: The Force Unleashed. The third Euphoria game is coming out soon, which is also a Rockstar game, Red Dead Redemption. And the upcoming fourth one is something I’m  personally not that excited about, so let’s leave it that way.

It’s beyond my comprehension why Euphoria hasn’t taken off like it definitely should have. Nothing makes me smile more than the reactions of characters getting shot or run over in GTA IV, which sounds actually pretty horrible said out loud. Anyhow, it’s just frustrating to imagine, how much better experience, for instance, Assassin’s Creed would be with Euphoria in it. Or Modern Warfare 2 which has pre-industrial-age physics (Infinity Ward, you are better than that!). It’s just a sad situation of which makes it even worse that Euphoria has no real competition (quality wise) in the market. Havok and PhysX try their best, but sad to say they don’t play even in the same ballpark with Euphoria, especially PhysX with its springy ragdoll-physics. But those two are apparently easier and perhaps cheaper(?) to license and implement.

Just give me Euphoria in every game, plz.