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PocketClive for Smartphone 2002

Someone has ported PocketClive, a GPL'ed Sinclair ZX Spectrum emulator, to the SmartPhone 2002.

Which is a bit like MAME for digital cameras if you think about it.

Several curves are intersecting bizarrely here. The approaches and skillsets and game types that were prevalent 20 years ago are still valid, like bacteria. They just keep migrating to new low-powered platforms: in-browser Java, Game Boy, mobile phones. At the same time, all platform niches (mobile phone, PDA, console, desktop PC, fridges, etc.) keep becoming more powerful. And this allows emulators for old platforms to become viable.

So, about 5 years until we have XBox games running on our wristwatches?

Cheapass Games

Justin Hall, over at Game Girl Advance, has blogged about an interview with James Ernest, the founder of Cheapass Games. Cheapass Games make very nice (and often hilariously funny) board and card games, and deliver them in a highly minimalistic manner. They simply assume everyone already has tons of markers and dice and whatnot, and so they just don't include those. It makes the game a bit less fancy, but in a way also more pure. And of course it reduces the production costs.

Apparently their games tend to start with a theme and not with a game mechanic. I think this is an excellent way to approach games, and one that doesn't seem to be very prevalent in computer games, where a lot of people either tend to focus on the story or on the pure game mechanics (this was already happening before the academics got into this, in case you've been following the narratologists vs ludologists debate on the DiGRA list). The only person I can think of who has explicitly proposed this approach for computer games is Chris Crawford, in his Art of Computer Game Design (from 1982).

Mr. Ernest touches on another fundamental question of game development when he asks:

Who else is ever going to bring out a game where everyone is a taffy machine trying to gum itself up with squirrels?
Who indeed? And what a great marketing strategy. I find this heartwarming, in several different ways.

Half-Life 2

I'm sure that by now everyone has seen the Half-Life 2 videos that were shown at this year's E3. It caused a lot of excitement in our office, and like many developers who've been around the block a few times, we're a pretty cynical bunch. But those videos had us foaming at the mouth.

After having talked about it with many people and thought about it, here are my conclusions:

  • The Source engine seems to take just about any technology that people have put in game engines the last half decade, and turn it to 11, and integrate it really well with every other component and aspect. We're talking the latest shaders and rigid- and soft-body physics and water and shadows and lots of geometry and textures and breaking objects and material-dependent sound and AI and facial animation and streaming (probably), and content editing tools, and a broad supported hardware range. That's impressive.

  • All of the capabilities of the engine seem to be exploited by the content. In fact, a lot of the impact of the videos, in terms of graphics but also in terms of (expected) gameplay, are generated by the content, by the graphics and the level design. Level design is where all the various game development disciplines come together, and therefore this is the trickiest part to get right. The fact that Half-Life 2 seems to manage to pull this off to an astounding degree is to me the most impressive aspect of these videos.

  • The game makes a credible attempt at photorealism. Also, it does not seem to feature a setting that is too clich├ęd. It should be pretty accessible due to the lack of elves and leather space babes. Aiming at the lowest common demoninator in a shocking lack of artistic integrity... I'm sorry, I was temporarily overcome by cynicism.

  • This is the first time I can remember where a team worked on a game, a highly expected game even, for five years, and it was actually worth it.
I'm kind of looking forward to Half-Life 2.

Upgrade

The reason why I'm so glad that Half-Life 2 and also Deus Ex 2 are coming to the XBox is that these two games were the last reasons I could think of for upgrading my PC. My PC, which was a top of the line Dell way back in 1998 and which I've hardly upgraded over the years. Over the years I've grown increasingly frustrated with the downsides of the PC platform in general, and with Microsoft's software and business strategy in particular. So I've decided to switch to an Apple iBook (and, soon, an iPod).

I use my PC for surfing, email, writing, and some occasional programming. I hardly ever play games on the PC anymore, and so it makes no sense for me to invest the money and effort it takes to have a machine that can play games. I have a bunch of consoles for that, and they never give me grief with drivers.

So far, I'm very happy with my iBook. I need to get a real mouse and I haven't figured out all of OS X yet, but I'm enjoying the well-designed and well-integrated hardware and software. I don't expect that I will never feel tempted to curse Apple, but so far I'm glowing in smug self-satisfaction.

WarioWare Inc.

WarioWare Inc., or Made In Wario as it's called in Japan, is a game developed by Nintendo for the GBA. It is also one of the most insane Japanese games I've played for a long time, plus it has a highly innovative structure.

The backstory of the game, weird and kooky as it is, involves lovable rogue Wario wanting to become rich by developing games (ho-hum). It's all an excuse for presenting you with 200 mini-games, which all last about four seconds. That's right. Four. The objective of each sub-game is to figure out what the rules are, and then win it. The games recapitulate action genres, other Nintendo games, classic games, but sometimes are just plain weird in a Bishi Bashi kind of way (another classic). The presentation is between the games is lightning-fast and bizarre beyond words. I love it.

It sounds totally weird and counter-intuitive, but it's a ton of fun. Additionally, it must have been fairly easy and cheap to develop. It's a gimmick that's hard to apply in a general way, but who wouldn't want to have a fun, addictive and hard-to-imitate game based on a top franchise?

Here's the GameSpot review. The average review rating, according to GameRankings, is 89%.

Boktai preview

Gamespot has a preview of Boktai, the GBA game designed, produced, or otherwise associated with Hideo Kojima. It's an action RPG with a unique twist: the cartridge contains a light sensor. Sunlight falling on the cartridge affects gameplay - which, incidentally, is a neat copy protection method.

"The game detects sunlight via a sensor on the game cartridge. When the game detects light, it changes to reflect that. For example, when you're in an outdoor environment in the game and are outside with sun hitting the sensor, your gun will slowly recharge its solar battery, or you can speed the process up by forcing a quick charge. When you're in indoor environments in the game and have sunlight shining on the sensor, shafts of light will appear through windows, skylights, or other holes in the structure, which will let you recharge your gun while indoors. Though, while being able to keep your weapon charged in indoor environments is nice, sunlight plays a vital role when attempting to defeat the immortals. When you engage in a battle with an immortal, after dragging his or her coffin outside, you'll need sunlight to help power the special weapons needed to win, which pretty much forces you to play at least part of the game outside. While you can make it through the dungeons with judicious use of the Gun Del Sol, you absolutely have to be in the sun for a battle with an immortal. At the moment, there doesn't seem to be a way to fool the sensor, as we discovered in our various attempts to trick it with different light sources. So far, the sensor reacts only to good old-fashioned sunlight, so stock up on that sunscreen."

Weird input devices are cool. Additional gameplay dimensions are cool too.

Update from the innovation crisis

Update from the innovation crisis debate

Jason Della Rocca has posted his view on the innovation crisis debate started by Greg Costikyan after this year's GDC. Basically, he takes two charts from gameState Magazine (i.e. Edge magazine extracts sponsored by Renderware - hardly a good recipe for decent journalism... but that's beside the point here) and analyzes them. The results are positive.