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Sound of music

There's a great article on Gamasutra on game audio, written by Andrew Boyd. He talks about: * the relationship between movie audio and game audio. * how games, both in terms of audio and generally speaking, are influencing movies. * some of the special challenges of game audio, with a concrete example of how those challenges can be overcome. * how the overall sound quality for the game Lord of the Rings: The Two Towers was achieved.

Finally, it contains some links to other articles on audio in general and the audio in Lord of the Rings: The Two Towers in particular.

War story

(I've previously posted this on a private mailing list, so stop me if you've heard this before.)

In the early nineties I worked for Thalion Software, a company which was somewhat legendary in Europe on the Atari ST and Commodore Amiga platforms. Because it was founded by and employed many former demo coders (such as me), their games were known for their high technical quality. Around 1991 we were approached by Rainer Bopf, a colonel from the German air force, who had written an Airbus A320 simulator for the Commodore Amiga. To the extreme demo coders that we were at that time, the technical quality was, bluntly speaking, bad.

But our managing director at the time saw something in it. He made a licensing deal with Airbus, Lufthansa and Jeppesen, the company making the aviation maps used by actual pilots, and marketed the game as a serious commercial (ie non-military) flight sim, aimed at an older audience, who wanted their fantasies firmly rooted in reality. The game came in a heavy box filled with a big manual and aviation maps. It became a huge hit, so huge that the MD at one point got up every two hours at night to feed the disk duplication machines which were running in his basement at home with fresh floppies. It became so huge that one weekend, the developers (us) had to come and help fill the boxes. So there we were, any of one of us top people in our respective domains, filling boxes. (If you ever hear me saying that "I did pretty much everything you can do in the games business", I am referring to that weekend.) If I recall correctly, the game sold over 250.000 copies, on Amiga and ST (and maybe PC), in the early nineties, mainly in Germany and the UK. There was even a players' conference in the UK.

One programmer, who is one of the most talented 3D engine programmers I know (he wrote the 3D engines for No Second Prize, Extreme Assault and Incubation), had to port this game to the Atari ST. I shared an office with him at the time. Do you know that Gary Larson cartoon with the devil showing the guy into a room in hell full of idiots with banjos, saying "And this is your room, maestro"? That's what that was like. It was heart-breaking.

That was my first experience with what I call the model railroad market segment. That (and all of the above) was not in any way derogatory, bitter, or sarcastic. It's a passionate group of people with lots of disposable income, and this game, with its realistic depiction of commercial air flight, spoke to their hearts.

Links: Rainer Bopf's homepage, which I've just discovered. It contains screenshots and the history of the Airbus A320 flight sim, which continues to this day. A lot of it is in German, but you'll get the picture.

Gamespot reviews Unreal 2

Read it here. Highlights:

Uh-oh: "Between each of the missions, however, there's usually a largely pointless intermission level in which you walk around your ship and talk to your crew. Presumably, this is supposed get you more involved in the plot, but the dialogue is bad enough that it'll just make you anxious for the game to get on with itself. Every conversation in the Unreal universe is an exchange of the worst type of sarcastic, tiny-cigar-chomping action-movie one-liners ("Go to hell, Dalton!" "I'm already there, toots!"). That is, until it comes time for each character to reveal his or her dark secret."

I know some of the developers, and they're smart people. It'd be interesting to find out what happened here (if anything: this is only one review).

Soundbite: "Even the cutscenes have cutscenes."

Part of DirectX 10: "[There's] the inevitable H.R. Giger-inspired biomechanical alien hive."

Clear signs the industry is going to hell: "Every couple of months there's a new winner in the competition to present the best flame effects, and this month we're proud to give the prize to Unreal II."

"Unreal II features the best-looking terrified scientists of any shooter to date."

Who's the customer ?

I feel there is a kind of commonly accepted idea that game developers have about who our customers are. To what extent is that idea based on reality? What opportunities are we missing because of a skewed image of our potential customers and what they want?

Then again, perhaps not everyone is missing those opportunities:

Best-selling PC games for 2002 (Source: NPD Group)

Rank / Title / Publisher / Release Date / Average Price 1 / The Sims: Vacation / EA / Mar '02 / $28 2 / The Sims: Unleashed / EA / Sept '02 / $28 3 / Warcraft III: Reign of Chaos / Vivendi / June '02 / $54 4 / Medal of Honor: Allied Assault / EA / Jan '02 / $44 5 / The Sims / EA / Feb '00 / $42 6 / The Sims: Hot Date / EA / Nov '01 / $29 7 / The Sims Deluxe / EA / Sept '02 / $41 8 / Zoo Tycoon / Microsoft / Oct '01 / $27 9 / Harry Potter and the Sorcerer's Stone / EA / Nov '01 / $26 10 / RollerCoaster Tycoon 2 / Infogrames / Oct '02 / $27

Market segments

In September 2002, I was surprised to find that there is apparently a significant market for Christian-themed movies.

Now I've learned that 2003 will see the second Christian Game Developers' Conference.

Chris Crawford was at the first conference, and apparently challenged the attendees to go beyond simply dressing up ordinary games with Christian themes.

There is also at least one company making Islamic edutainment. Have a closer look at the questions, or the last game, The Resistance. It's not uncontroversial.

(From Jesper Juul on the DiGRA mailing list.)

Life: the strategy guide

Common sense is surprisingly uncommon, so occasionally it's nice to see some basic aspect of modern life expressed well. Such as Why You Should Not Express Every Last Thought That Pops into Your Head to People You Really Don't Know. Beverly Cambron wrote a nice article on it over at Get In the Game.

"'Go f*ck yourself.' (Edited).

That's what the reply email said when the charming young man, whose name is now in the company's file, was turned down for a job."