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The Fat Man on innovation

George "The Fat Man" Sanger has written a book on game audio, called, um, "The Fat Man on Game Audio". There's an excerpt here, which talks about setting one's goals higher than... well... wherever it usually seems to be.

On one game to which I had been assigned, I was asked to do "normal game music" (which, for this kind of game, meant Techno) and when I suggested some different approaches, I met with a brick wall. The developer actually wanted not to do something that was unlike other games. I was asked, "George, did it ever occur to you that there is a reason that all movies use the same kind of sound for certain types of scenes?"

Extreme close up: The Fat Man's face remains polite.

Zoom in, fade to flashback of The Fat Man at USC Film School, sweating his nuts off studying film and music with every bit of devotion he can muster. Split screen. The game developer who asked the question is gargling beer at a frat party, and he's still wearing diapers. He shouts out drunkenly that he wishes he could be just exactly like John Travolta, then he passes out in the punchbowl. Fade back to The Fat Man's face, and zoom out. Reality begins again.

Quite amusing. And a familiar experience, even if you didn't sweat your nuts off at USC Film School.

John Carmack on Doom 3

Computer And Video Games has a preview of Doom 3, including an interview with John Carmack. It may require registration for full reading. Some excerpts:

When it was time to look at the Doom 3 stuff, I investigated five different directions for rendering post-Quake III. Some of them would have given much higher quality renderings of static environments. It's not an exaggeration that we can do photo-realistic renderings of static environments and move through them. But, when you then paste dynamic objects on to those static scenes, they're clearly in this separate plane. You've got your moving thingy and your environment. And I thought it was more important as a game technology, which is about interactive things, that we followed this other opportunity. Instead of pursuing ultimate detail on the environments, we could unify all the lighting and surfaces, which is the big thing for Doom 3. So that was the core decision to be made, and I look back at that and, more than any other game I've done, I think those initial decisions and the initial technology layout were exactly right.


There was an important paper that came out at SIGGRAPH a few years ago by someone at SGI [Silicon Graphics]. He presented one real-time renderer and he presented something that showed the decomposition of Renderman shaders into multi-pass stuff that required floating-point and pixel stuff. It was amusing because I remember people completely discounting that paper, which I think is going to be looked back at as one of the most seminal things in interactive graphics. People were saying the Renderman shader was ridiculous - it took 500 passes to do this simple shader. People just hit this number - 500 passes, and clicked it out of their brain as not relevant. But a pixel in Doom 3 may have 80 textures combined on to it.


And I think the push for people to innovate in gameplay - I'm not sure that I particularly agree with it. You don't go around constantly coming up with new basketball games.

In other words: real-time Pixar in 5 years.

(From, via Tobi. And thanks to Clemens for copying the interview so I could put excerpts in here.)

Rants on Edge, academia

The Wall Street Journal mentions the Level Up conference in an article asking: Are Videogames Ready To Be Taken Seriously By Media Reviewers? (From Game Girl Advance.)

Some choice extracts:

British games monthly Edge is getting kudos from both game makers and academics for its higher-brow coverage of the industry.

Don't get me started on Edge... It is a sad indictment of our industry that this counts as a serious magazine. Ever since they were unable to remember what the flag of Germany looks like, many, many years ago, they have lost all credibility in my eyes (and who can forget the classic Lionhead article screwup?) But well, they preview games other mags don't, and that's what counts. (In related news: things may not be going well at Edge.)

The debates between camps of researchers -- like the "narratologists" and "ludologists" -- are impenetrable for outsiders. But some conference papers are more accessible, such as those concerning policy debates on topics like game addiction and the violence often portrayed.

It sometimes seems to me like all academic output on video games is either incomprehensible, or concerns topics which are already being broadly discussed inside the industry, e.g. violence.

I hung out on the DiGRA mailing list for a while. There are some smart people there, but no smarter than in the industry. Practically all of them approach games from the angle of some other subject or medium. If they're not looking at games as a strange kind of novel or movie, they're fighting for the right to have games treated as a full-fledged medium in itself - only to then dissect them using pretty much the same methods as the novel and movie people. I can see no practical use in it (and I've said so on their mailing list and have not been convinced otherwise).

Having said that, this is only my experience based on limited interaction. I'm good at learning new things and domains and I honestly wanted to see if people in the academic world were doing some serious thinking on game design, but I was disappointed. The academics I've talked with, generally very nice and very smart people, just don't seem to be interested in improving games the way I am.

At least in my case, I am not surprised that, to use the WSJ article's quote of Chris Crawford, "The academics are rushing to study games, and the industry doesn't much care."

Level Up

There's a big conference on computer games happening in the Netherlands right now. Serious thinking about games... the Netherlands... why am I not there? It must be my impatience with academics. Do I really want to hear about holistic theories of fictionality? The ideology of interactivity? Although it's fun to see at least three lectures on Grand Theft Auto, and some people I like and respect will be there too, I think I would get too irritated. Plus, it's pretty expensive.

(I noticed Jason Della Rocca is going. Jason, saying Utrecht is just outside of Amsterdam is like saying Chicago is just outside of New York ;)

GTA Double Pack Xbox launch

By the time you read this the GTA Double Pack for Xbox should be out in stores in the US. I haven't read any reviews yet - just commentary from really, really fanatic Xbox fans... Oh well, that should soon change (I mean the reviews, not the commentary).

Chris Crawford

Chris Crawford has been in the news recently. Joystick101 did an article on him. The closing remark:

Chris Crawford is blazing a trail toward more vibrant, meaningful games. On behalf of those waiting for a holodeck, I hope he remains a shrewd rebel.

indicates to me the author has not really grasped what Chris is trying to achieve. Hint: it doesn't concern photorealistic graphics.

Simon Carless (who seems to single-handedly run Slashdot Games) interviewed Chris for Gamasutra.

I very much liked the following:

There's getting to be a lot more formal academic study of games, with academic projects such as Serious Games and attempts by Doug Church, Noah Falstein and others to lay out specific elements of game design in The 400 Project and others. How formal can you get before over-pontification sets in? And how far into documenting game design have we, as an industry, got? Well, there's already a great deal of nonsense floating around. Some of the people approaching games from the field of semiotics leave me utterly baffled, and there are a bunch of new media people who seem intent on defining games in terms that have nothing to do with games. Some of them flatly deny the importance of interactivity. So we've already got plenty of academic bull flooding the airwaves. Fortunately, we also have plenty of interesting and useful academic work being done. The problem is not with academics; it's with the refusal of some academics to take games on their own terms, and their insistence on viewing games through old microscopes.

If Chris doesn't get semiotics, I'm not worried.

Chris has also written two books recently: Chris Crawford On Game Design, née The Art of Computer Game Design, Second Edition, and The Art of Interactive Design, which was previously called Understanding Interactivity and came in a much less impressive cover. I shamefully admit I still haven't fully read either book.

(Chris is not the author of Happiness Is Everything - a common mistake.)

He remains controversial, but, even though I do not agree with everything he says, he is still the guy who has written more high quality essays on game design than pretty much everyone else put together. If you haven't yet, I urge you to read the library at his website (see the link on the left of this page).