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Open source public domain library for parsing and rendering SWF movies

gameswf is an open source Public Domain library for parsing and rendering SWF movies, using 3D hardware APIs for rendering. It is designed to be used as a UI library for computer and console games.

It is written in C++, and compiles under Windows and Linux, using GCC and MSVC. It currently includes code for rendering with OpenGL.

It is currently being maintained as a semi-autonomous part of my personal tu-testbed project on SourceForge.

The biggest benefit of using SWF as a file format for game UIs is the availability of high quality authoring tools (like Macromedia Flash MX) and the large number of talented designers who have expertise with these tools. The SWF format is not perfectly suited for game UIs, but it's not bad, and my hope is that gameswf will help improve the quality of game UIs while reducing the effort that goes into making them.

I've been looking for something like this for years. Typically, you rebuild a GUI system for each game and you never make an editor, mainly for time / money reasons. And so you waste money and your GUI is never as good as it could be.

Macromedia weren't very understanding when I talked to them about it. "So you want a Flash rendering engine? For the PC? Er..." SVG could be cool one day, but the tools aren't there yet.

Others have done Flash players for games, but this is the first one I've seen that's open source. I haven't tried it out myself, but I have a good opinion of Thatcher's programming skills (plus he's a nice guy), so I have high hopes.

More thoughts on hoaxes

My previous post grew out of control, so I hacked it in two.

Hoaxes like the ones described below are, of course, nothing new. The Blair Witch Project (and, arguably, the websites for Kubrick's / Spielberg's A.I.) are recent examples, and older ones exist.

The effect need not be limited to a well-delineated work: it may extend into other media and spheres, and even merge into what we think of as reality. This can turn into a kind of decentralized work of art / subversion, where people who do not know each other contribute and it becomes impossible to tell hoax from reality. Think Hakim Bey.

Some games have tried to do this: The Light Files, written and designed by Lee Sheldon, is an "Interactive non-linear online mystery game.  Investigating the case of an impossible murder committed during the taping of a daytime soap opera, players pursued the story through clues uncovered at multiple websites." It was online from 1996 to 1998. And of course there is EA's intriguing but unsuccessful Majestic. Stéphane Adamiak told me about another game like Majestic, but I've forgotten the name.

Strange worlds, one click away

Here are two fine examples of worldbuilding on the internet.

The catalogue of UK Entrances to Hell is exactly what it says. It is an amateurish site, banner ads and garish colors and all, looking like a something about good fishing spots except it's about entrances to hell. Browsing through the deftly-named locations, a bizarre world is created in the reader's mind through the innocuous use of telling details:

"Benidormo is made of glass and is where the devil famously had both of his wrists broken by Sinbad 12 centuries ago. Benidormo has a heartbeat and a robot arm. Radiation trace: minimal"

"Reserved specifically for use in wartime, 54 can be submerged in three seconds and has barriers of thick steel in the approach corridors. Since mediaeval times the monks of Bersgedd Minor have focussed their assaults on the devil mainly here at 54, except during heavy rain, when they would prefer to attack the much less important Little Elwick. 54's tunnels to the Core have never been mapped, even by The Rice-Makers Dictatum. Radiation trace: negligible"

Because the information is so minimal and inconspicuous, and because the content of the site cannot truly be disproved (unless you live in the UK I suppose) the mind fills in the blanks and the illusion of browsing a serious site about a subject you apparently missed in the news and in history class is complete.

The other example is the House of Clocks. Have a look through the website of this quaint museum in Chicago.

Feels real, doesn't it? They sure have a lot of clocks. Now look where they are.

"The House of Clocks may be found at #12 Meat Street, in the Shambles district of Chicago."

An odd but plausible address, wouldn't you say? But perhaps there is more than meets the eye.

Now read the guestbook.


Cool, huh? Again, a plausible source of information contains hints to the otherwordly and mysterious. There is just enough to make you trust, not enough to make you disbelieve, and plenty to make you wonder.

Game design, assuming your game has some kind of narrative context, involves creating a fictional world in the head of the player. These sites show some effective techniques for doing that.

I found the Entrances to Hell on memepool, and in Neil Gaiman's excellent journal, which is where I also found the House of Clocks.

The level 32 warrior has no clothes

This is quite old by now, but I am still impressed by the way Progress Quest basically destroyed a genre by ridiculing it, just like the Comedian trailer destroyed corny movie trailers. After playing PQ last year, I immediately lost all interest in Dungeon Siege and Neverwinter Nights (which weren't out yet). PQ exposes the shallow meaninglessness of RPGs, the rut in which the industry has fallen. Apart from better presentation, I can think of no recent RPG which actually tries something innovative in terms of game mechanics. (Admittedly I haven't played all of the latest RPGs, such as Arx Fatalis or Gothic 2.)

Of course, there is the 'Looking Glass School', responsible for games such as Deus Ex, Thief, System Shock 2, etc. But although the creators of these games consciously employ RPG elements, due to their first person / simulation aspects, they are not generally perceived or classified as RPGs. Still, these games may ultimately be more important to the future of RPGs than the Baldur's Gate series.

In the mean time, we can enjoy the fun. PQ and the PQ Companion not only satirize RPGs but the whole scene around them. No wonder satire has always been feared.

Thought is limited

Jorge Luis Borges destroys the illusion of rational classifications:
These ambiguities, redundances, and deficiences recall those attributed by Dr. Franz Kuhn to a certain Chinese encyclopedia entitled Celestial Emporium of Benevolent Knowledge. On those remote pages it is written that animals are divided into (a) those that belong to the Emperor, (b) embalmed ones, (c) those that are trained, (d) suckling pigs, (e) mermaids, (f) fabulous ones, (g) stray dogs, (h) those that are included in this classification, (i) those that tremble as if they were mad, (j) innumerable ones, (k) those drawn with a very fine camel's hair brush, (l) others, (m) those that have just broken a flower vase, (n) those that resemble flies from a distance. -- Essay: The Analytical Language of John Wilkins

All classifications are true, false or meaningless - from the right point of view.

What games are like, really

In other words, like this. Or like this.

The discrepancy between simulated / game reality and consensual reality is increasingly being used in other mediums, such as the abovementioned comics or movies (and let's not forget The Matrix). Yet, although this interesting theme is becoming increasingly mainstream as games saturate popular culture, it is hardly exploited in games, apart from some brave exceptions.

And of course there are still more than enough games that feature ridiculous, yet unironic settings.

I have some ideas in this general area, both in games and outside. I'll try to develop them so I can post them here. Don't hold your breath.

(Many thanks to Tobias Mayr for being my betareader ;)

Women and games is the best site I know about women and games (Game Girl Advance is good too, but focuses less on the female aspects of gaming). Their content includes interviews (with Jane Jensen for instance), reviews, and various reports on the industry. I can't think of any site containing more industry commentary from the female perspective, and I (as a man) found I could read it without feeling guilty, embarassed or annoyed.

Personally, I am interested in developing games for people instead of for men or for women, but I think it's both positive and important that there is commentary from a broad variety of points of view. It will improve the quality of the games and the health of the industry.

(Update: No pun intended in "broad variety of points of view" ;) Merci Stéphane.)

Game articles in Wired magazine

My opinion of Wired magazine has changed over the years. I liked it, I hated it, then I liked it once more. I think I'm on the way down again.

Today I found this article, which includes little gems like:

Games have evolved from the one-problem, one-solution format, where players had to figure out what the programmer was thinking. Richard Garriott changed that with the 1997 release of Ultima Online. Get locked in a room? No problem. Unscrew the hinges or kick down the door.

What, Ultima Online invented multiple solutions to problems? Sheesh. Or how about this?

The programmers at id Software are developing a physics engine that will create real-time shadows for Doom III, the latest version of the popular first-person shooter franchise.

No comment.

The merging of big-budget moviemaking techniques and game development is interesting, and there are many things we can use to make better games, but this article is just painful to read.