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Site News

Movies October 11th, 2004

Man On Fire was a serious let down; another decent story and acting ruined by excessive stylistic fireworks. Hellboy's case is simpler: it's ok but not particularly good in any area.

Game design... October 10th, 2004

Over the past months (years), I have spent a lot of time thinking about how much time we devote to stuff that doesn't make the game better, and how many things that could be done to improve the games are missed, left out or cut. That's a difficult and huge topic, of course, considering most developers are not stupid.

Then along comes this article. I almost stopped reading when Walter Kim states that "It’s my belief that the problem of story and game fusion is part of a larger problem in videogame development: object-oriented programming". Thankfully, he quickly clarifies that he's trolling his way to make a point, and ends with "Production pragmatics are gratuitously dictating the course of design before any design work is even done." Which is dead on, of course. He doesn't offer much in the way of enlightment, but he provides a very useful point of view. Recommended reading. The emphasis on experience, emotion (and crying as the ultimate proof) and storytelling are quite fashionable. But, while important, I doubt they're really the crux of the problem. It's easy to say "many games have bad narrative" and "many games fail", and then establish a correlation. But no. Many successful games do not have a meaningful story. Not every game needs one, or even benefits from having one.

(Minor pet peeve: Facade keeps being brought up as a significant example of sucessful game narrative - I do not even consider it a game!)

Related to this, I recently noticed that the foremost spanish game development web site Stratos doesn't have a single forum dedicated to game design. Hmmmmmm. I consider art and programming to be fundamentally solved problems when it comes to games; not meaning that they're easy or fully discovered, but that they are no longer the bottleneck that prevents many games from reaching their potential. Design, production, market appeal and business present much bigger problems across the board.

  • Design: we still have enormous trouble addressing all the important issues during the design phase. Being able to produce a game from a complete, coherent and sensible design document is still a distant dream to most of us.
  • Production: managing the team, planning and running a development effort. This area has received a lot of attention, and input from more established industries, so it should become the next "solved" problem.
  • Market appeal: Too many games are still developed that fail to catch the interest of the market. Marked cultural differences across countries, and developers ourselves, make this harder to figure out.
  • Business: Funding, company structure, strategy, cost-effectiveness... with so many studios closing doors during the past two years, it's obvious that this problem is far from solved.

The there's the topic of quality. Not just as in "Quality Assurance" (AKA "bugtesting"), but as a measure of effectiveness and attention to detail placed in every aspect of the game. In particular, those aspects related to how the player perceives and interacts with the game (what I hope Walter means by "player interface"). That's the hardest to design, plan and evaluate by people who are spending every waking hour for several years in front of an incomplete version of the game. Question: would quality improve across the board if the members of the development team were rotated regularly? If so (and I believe there's some truth to this), what prevents us from doing it? I assume consistency in the vision, availability of the right skillsets (how many good AI programmers do you have?), and cost of getting up to speed are the main roadblocks. But the question still is: does your process include making sure that every aspect of the game is as good as it can possibly be? Are compromises and shortcuts being taken only when absolutely necessary? Is there a constant process of finding holes and figuring out improvements? Can you afford that when pressured by deadlines and resource limitations? How do you find, encourage and keep focused the people that can do that?

In my experience, most development teams are aware of where their game is coming short. Whether we can, or want to do something about it is a very different matter.

Let's blame the publishers. :)

Redesign! October 9th, 2004

I did it to celebrate the first 10K visits. This new design is similar in structure to the old one, but a lot cleaner, a bit nicer, and in PHP in order to add functionality over time. Forgive me if some links in older news don't work correctly.

Commandos 2 dinner October 8th, 2004

A bunch of people from the Commandos 2 dev team got together for dinner, here's a shot of the event.

D70 October 3rd, 2004

I bought a D70 + Nikkor 18-70 DX f/3.5-4.5. I just couldn't resist. Heh.

Photos October 2nd, 2004

I started a collection of my cooler photographs, you can find it here.

Hellboy was finally released in Spain. It was fun, not great but well done and reasonably original. I'm also watching the TV series Alias on DVD, didn't hook me in the beginning but it improved a lot.

Master course September 22nd, 2004

A few months ago, Pedro González contacted Pyro Studios to request our involvement in a Master Degree in Videogames that he was trying to create within the Universidad Complutense de Madrid. You can check the site here. At the moment, I'm acting as technical coordinator on the Pyro Studios side, and involved in the areas of Software Engineering and Game Architecture. The University team is enthusiastic about the project, and the Pyro people that will participate are all scared to death. :) Seriously, it's going to be a great experience for us, and I hope for the students as well.

Movies, photography September 19th, 2004

Latest round of movies includes:

  • The Bourne Supremacy: Good story and an amazing car chase, but rushed ending and the worst camera shaking ever. My friend Unai felt dizzy as we were going out of the theater. Better than the first, which I didn't like as much as the TV original.
  • The Chronicles of Riddick: Great visual design and pretty fun during the first half, but goes downhill to a boring ending.
  • Spartan: Oh yes, the my favourite 2004 movie so far, and one of the best political thrillers ever. For some reason, many people find it boring or uninteresting, I guess you need to be in a certain mood in order to enjoy it.
  • Mar Adentro: Once again, Alejandro Amenábar proves that he's the only decent spanish moviemaker right now. The movie tells a worthy story, has great acting and pace, beautiful music, and is perfectly crafted. I hope it enjoys great commercial success.

Ok, I admit it. I'm an amateur hobbyst when it comes to photography. Hobbyst because I enjoy putting some effort in order to take a better picture; amateur because I'm pretty clueless. :) Ever since I bought my Nikon Coolpix 995, the ability to experiment with different settings and retouch in Photoshop has got me hooked. Some time ago my friend Talsit explained me how polarizing filters work, but I had never bothered getting one for my camera. However, the amount of touching up I had to perform after dumping this summer's photos, convinced me that I had to improve my technique and equipment. I saw Nikon's new D70 model and was tempted to move to SLR (reflex), but it seems a waste to spend so much money on a new camera without having really explored the options available on the 995.

So I went and bought a UV filter and a polarizer, then experimented a bit. Here are some examples of what a polarizer can do: reduce reflections, increase contrast in clear sky, and reduce the bluish hue I was so used to removing in Photoshop. The polarizer is stacked on top of the UV filter, which causes noticeable vignetting at the widest field of view, so I'll have to be more careful when I use this setup.

Yeah, I think waiting another year before buying Digital SLR equipment will be a good idea. Great stuff like Sigma's 18-125 DC lens will be widely available and prices should have gone down a bit. I could buy the much-praised Nikon SB-800 flash now, although it needs a bracket to be used with the 995.

PS: Doom 3 is scary. TRULY frightening. Buy it.

Patents, Carmack and Creative July 27th, 2004

Check out this post. It basically explains that iD Software has had to agree to implement Creative's EAX technology in order to be granted permission to use the stencil shadow technique commonly known as "Carmack's Reverse". Yes you read it right, Carmack does not have the right to use a technique that he helped develop, explained, made popular, and is named after him. The patent was filed after Sim Dietrich from NVidia talked about it in (irony again) a Creative Labs developer conference.

I don't think I need to explain why I'm so angry at this sad event. I have always had very good relations with Creative; they supplied sound and 3D hardware and developer support, both privately (to me and my brother) and to Pyro, but this is a very bad move by Creative. I guess in truth it's just business as usual, but I don't have to like it.

Open Source, The Chronicles of Riddick June 27th, 2004

Straight out of Slashdot comes the link to The Open Source Paradigm Shift, an excellent essay by O'Reilly on the nature of Open Source, not as a set of strict credos and licenses, but as a different context in which opportunities for business have emerged. The essay distances itself from more combative postures, and explores the reasons why Open Source makes sense in itself (as opposed to "is better than" philosophies). A very interesting read.

The Chronicles of Riddick videogame has taken many gamers and game developers by surprise, since it may be, as one of our artists put it, the first time a videogame is substantially better than the movie it's based on. Brilliant visuals built on the techniques that Doom 3 still needs to deliver, a well thought-out story and great atmosphere, plus a clever mixture of gameplay mechanics proven in other games... what more can you ask for? Kudos to Starbreeze for delivering what, in a different marketing context, could have been a Half Life-killer.

More random thoughts May 30th, 2004

So I went to watch The Day After Tomorrow, and had a great time. The plot and characters are as simplistic, cliched and as shallow as it gets, but that's not the point. Emmerich will never create interesting characters, but he is good at coming up with situations and describing them with a great sense of tension, and total mastery of the special effects necessary to display those situations in an engaging and spectacular way. Critics like to bash him for not being an artist, but if you think about it, Asimov's characters were rarely interesting in themselves, either. A few mistakes and strangely placed scenes in the final edit of the movie, as well as some of the worst CGI wolves ever created, devalue the film's formal quality, but in truth, who cares?

Mentioning Asimov brings me to another issue: the upcoming movie I, Robot. The classic collection of stories about the way robots and humans could interact in the future, seems to be turned into a thriller / monster movie. Strangely, I am not that angry about this as most other Asimov fans will probably be. I loved Contact with a passion, despite deviating quite a lot from the original book (in fact, I think Zemeckis' version of the story is better). I guess I'm happy to get some familiar material and experience another approach at it. I wouldn't be particularly interested in a movie depiction of most of Asimov's robot stories, so I see this more commercial interpretation of them as something to look forward. Alex Proyas has directed some very original films before, so it is fair to expect this to be something different from the run-of-the-mill sci-fi thriller. But then, even someone like Tim Burton perpetrated the Planet of the Apes abomination, so we'll have to wait and see.

I also notice I haven't named what I consider to be one of the best games of the past months: Painkiller. All out monster carnage, a great "kick-ass" attitude in everything, from weapon recoils to ragdolls, music, and boss sizes. Subtlety is totally absent. Turn off your brain, and prepare for a great adrenaline rush. Lacking a more popular setting and approach will hurt it sales, but for many of us this game will be a great experience.

Back from E3, the highlights of my visit were: a private show of "F.E.A.R." from Monolith, "Unreal Championship 2" on XBox, Killzone on PS2, the PSP, "Devil May Cry 3" (which seems to go back to the roots), the kickass graphics in "Everquest 2", the scenery graphics of "You Are Empty", the confirmation that Nokia's N-Gage is a total disaster of a game platform, and... well, not a lot more. Few surprises, a number of very well produced games ("Prince of Persia 2", "Brothers in Arms", the sequels to "Call of Duty" and a few more), no next-gen announcements, and a very crowded show.

Got to brush up the graphics design of this site, for no other reason that it still feels very coder. But I'm a coder at heart, not an artist, so don't expect miracles. I recently put together a small website for our Asheron's Call 2 allegiance Darkness Unleashed, and feedback about its design has been positive.

Why it's cool to make videogames May 27th, 2004

We got a very interesting letter at work. It basically reads:

Dear Praetorians developers:

Despite being a 10 year old kid, I know how to play Praetorians fairly well, I'm not saying I'm an expert but I'm a good player; I have a doubt, it is the "skirmish" (single player) when you go and choose the units you can set different symbols as you know, you can also set the same sign to another player so they are "allied"...

And here comes my question: Would you be so kind as to tell me the commands you can ask your allies? I only know one which is: "I need help!".

Sincerely, signature here

For me, Praetorians is the best strategy game I know; it's excellent, magnificent, perfect, fantastic, excellent decorations, etc...

There you go, instant ego-boost of the highest magnitude. This kind of positive feedback does wonders for one's motivation to endure the pains and hardships of game development.

In other news, I'm looking forward to the movie The Day After Tomorrow. What can I say, I love it when they destroy cities in a movie. I went to watch Troy and was pleasantly surprised by both the movie and Brad Pitt's charisma as Achilles.

Dawn Of The Dead April 25th, 2004

Went to watch Dawn Of The Dead with my sis, both of us have a hard time convincing others that watching zombies is a cool thing to do on a Saturday night. I had high hopes due to the generally positive reviews. What can I say, we're the type of guys that enjoyed 28 Days Later, Resident Evil, Bad Taste, Romero's original, Tremors, etc.

We loved it. Totally awesome beginning sets the tone for the rest of the movie. We've outgrown the idea that sheer blood and fleshy stuff scares us, and this movie was perfect in that respect, to the point that the chainsaw incident did make an impact on us.

The movie doesnt create anything new, but it's very good rehash of everything that has worked well in other horror movies. That's all it takes for a movie to be well worth my money. Being a first effort by the main crew makes it even more of an achievement.

Babylon 5, Demovibes April 21st, 2004

Just finished watching the 3rd Season of the Babylon 5 series, and it was every bit as good as I had been told. Great plot, epic conflict, and a cliffhanger inspired by... a certain other galactic saga, I won't spoil it.

Check out Demovibes, a remix of demoscene tunes. Other interesting scene stuff includes Kkrieger, a jaw-dropping technical feat by Farbrausch. (have they changed name to The Produkkt?). Edit: Ryg contacted me to explain that The Produkkt is the name under which a number of people, Farbrausch members among them, are developing this game technology.

An ex-Pyro employee took over the Guestbook to express his feelings about his stay at our studio. I don't want to comment a lot on it, other than I appreciate his kind words to me, and I'm sad things didn't work out. Sometimes they don't, and the best we can do when that happens, is move on.

GDC and other stuff April 4th, 2004

Wow, it's been a long time since I last updated my page! Surely Asheron's Call 2 is a prime suspect for that, but I took about 2 months' break from it last year and still didn't feel updating the site, so there you go. I expect to drop out of the game during the next few weeks, anyway - there's so much you can do in an online game before repetition starts to cut your enjoyment. Besides, I really need to put a lot of time back into other types of games.

Last week I was at the Game Developers Conference in San Jose, and despite the lack of novelty, it was still a blast. Predictably, the highlight was again Will Wright's lecture on Design methodologies and approaches. Attending his lecture is like being passed by a Ferrari in the highway: you feel a mixture of envy, admiration, and a total lack of hope that you will ever be able to compete. Brian Reynolds' lecture on the interactions betweem AI and design was quite interesting too, but I may be biased because he complimented me on Praetorians during the short chat we had afterwards. Third in my list was the description of the production of Knights of the Old Republic. The common theme among those three lectures is the fact that you get more inspiration and motivation from them, than actual hard knowledge. For a number of reasons, I am more senstive to both motivation and inspiration than I used to. Ah how jaded and defensive do we get as life goes on... Expect some pictures and digital camera experiments from the trip soon. I was extremely disappointed by Warren Spector's talk on narrative and freedom, and felt totally cheated by seeing Peter Molyneux' lecture being turned into a marketing even for his next batch of games; the man sure takes his PR seriously. Not surprising, as Microsoft and Sony pretty much did the same with their media-savy keynotes on innovation and the future of games development.

Lots of bad stuff has happened in Spain over the past month. Terrorist attacks on our train system, and the general elections being heavily influenced by them, was a sad experience to endure. There's been a lot of knee-jerk reactions and mud slinging from both the general population and political figures, and that's not healthy. I can only hope that the storm passes soon.

Flipcode is being remodelled and thus is not the constant source of news that it used to. I miss it, and hope that Kurt gets the new site up and runnning as soon as possible.

Lost In Translation from Sofia Coppola, is a beautiful movie. Original, moving and entertaining.

Been listening to a lot of industrial music from Digital Gunfire. Recommended if you're into that sort of stuff.

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