Gaming Steve

June 2005 Archives

June 29, 2005

Have You Played Atari Today?

Have You Played Atari Today?I never fully understood why during the hot humid summer so few quality games are released. Sure, we got Battlefield 2 and a few others coming down the pipe, but the gaming landscape is looking mighty bleak in the next few months. So it is times like these when I go back and play some games from the past.

Now when I mean "games from the past" I don't just mean those "older" games like Super Mario Brothers and Sonic the Hedgehog ... I mean old school, like Pitfall!, Yars' Revenge, Kaboom!, H.E.R.O., and Chopper Command.

For those of you reading this who just said to themselves, "what the heck is he talking about? I never even heard of those games!" then I think it's time that you spent a little bit of time learning about some of these classic games and fully understand what it was like playing a game where "you" were represented onscreen as a yellow dot. And yet, it was freaking awesome!

Perhaps the best place to start is by playing Activision's best game of all time, Pitfall! Pitfall! was created in 1982 for the Atari 2600 where you had to collect 32 treasures across 255 screens in less than 20 minutes. All the while you needed to solve puzzles, avoid snakes, scorpions, pits, crocodiles, rolling logs, and quicksand.

Sounds pretty cool, eh? It actually still plays great and is quite a challenge and, oh yeah, the entire game was programming using only 4K of memory. 4K of memory ... for an entire game experience ... all the graphics, sounds, controls, everything in a whopping 4096 bytes of memory. Think about that for a second.

Creating an entire game experience with such a limited amount of memory is almost beyond comprehension. Heck, I think my pen has more than 4k of memory! And when I was a kid I used to gladly spend hours of time playing these games, games which most people today wouldn't even seriously consider "real games", but what's really amazing is how many of these games still hold up today. Sure, they're no Metal Gear Solid, but they get the job done and they're still fun and challenging, which I think qualifies as a quality game experience.

I think all gamers should at least play or read about these games just too fully understand how insanely far gaming has come along in such a short amount of time. Heck, I just like reading about them to just remember what gaming used to be like when I was a kid. Some of the places I like to go include The Video Game Critic, AtariAge, and MobyGames. And let me know what you younglings think of Pitfall!

Posted by Gaming Steve at 1:00 PM | Posted to Classic | Culture |  Add this story to del.icio.us  Stumble It!  Submit this story to Digg!

June 23, 2005

Gaming Steve Episode 15 - 06.23.2005

Total AnnihilationSo the long, slow, hot days of Summer are upon us, what better time to listen to the latest show, where I cover:

  • Halo the movie ... the Microsoft way or no way!
  • More Resident Evil movies planned.
  • World of Warcraft keeps growing and growing...
  • The Matrix Online ... sold!
  • Don't buy this violent video game, even though it's not out yet and nobody has played it.
  • THQ to publish Supreme Commander, hell yeah!
  • Some interesting game releases this week.
  • GameTalk: How to get a job in the game industry -- Part 2.
  • SporeTalk: So ... now what?
  • Quicktake: Early impressions of Dungeon Siege II for the PC.
  • In-depth review of Kirby: Canvas Curse for the Nintendo DS.
  • RetroReview: Total Annihilation for the PC.
  • “Name That Game!” contest winner from last week, a new clip, and a new prize!
  • Plus some more random thoughts on playing older games.
Get the podcast from this page (87 minutes): Gaming Steve Episode 15.

You can also subscribe to the weekly podcast.

Posted by Gaming Steve at 10:00 AM | Posted to Podcast | Preview | Review | Spore |  Add this story to del.icio.us  Stumble It!  Submit this story to Digg!

June 17, 2005

Total Annihilation "Sequel" Coming Soon

Cover of PCGamerOne of my great joys is when a new gaming magazine arrives in the mail. Most times I find the cover story interesting, but very rarely does the cover actually make me react with a "holly crap, I need to open up this magazine and read this story right this second!" And that is exactly what I said when the latest issue of PC Gamer arrived in the mail yesterday. The cover story is about "Supreme Commander", the "spiritual successor" of Total Annihilation.

For those of you unfamiliar with Total Annihilation, it was a PC Real-Time Strategy Game released in 1997 and is often considered one of the best, if not the very best, RTS ever released (GameSpy named it the best RTS of all time). It was an amazing game that actually required real strategy to win and not just gathering resources faster than your opponent. Plus, there were about two million different types of units in the game (okay, the real number was closer to 250, but that is still an insane number of units), and yet it was still balanced. And to make the game even cooler when it first came out Cavedog (the developer) would release a new unit for the game every single week. Now that was a great game.

Well it appears that the prayers of thousands of RTS fans everywhere has finally been answer by Gas Powered Games. Supreme Commander is being published by THQ and is due out for the PC next year. Definitely check out the latest issue of PC Gamer to view the RTS goodness.

Posted by Gaming Steve at 9:00 AM | Posted to PC |  Add this story to del.icio.us  Stumble It!  Submit this story to Digg!

June 13, 2005

Ancient Video Game Commercials Unearthed!

Someone either has a lot of free time on their hands or is clinically insane, but over at GameAds they have over 2000 video game commercials for you to check out. Everything from the insanely old (the TV commercial for the original Vectrex(!) system), to the moderately old (my favorite "Genesis Does What Nintendon't"), to just the other day (Episode III commercials).

Make sure to check out just about every single "top rated" commercials, including the extremely strange/bizarre Japanese TV commercials. And that French Resident Evil 4 commercial? Big ... Time ... Freaky.

How long do you think it's going to take me to watch all 2422+ commercials? I guess I'll find out...

Posted by Gaming Steve at 12:00 PM | Posted to Random |  Add this story to del.icio.us  Stumble It!  Submit this story to Digg!

June 9, 2005

Will Wright Interview Wrap-up & Transcripts

Spore UFOFor those of you listening to my last two podcasts where I interviewed Will Wright and members of the Spore development team, you can now find completed transcripts for both parts on the site. Again, I apologize for the poor sound quality during the interview, so make sure to check out the transcripts. Both transcripts can be found in my previous posts, but here are some links as well:

Interview with Will Wright and the Spore development team -- Part One

Interview with Will Wright and the Spore development team -- Part Two

Once again I want to personally thank Will Wright, Lucy Bradshaw, and everyone else on the team for inviting me.

Oh yeah, this just in ... The Game Critics Awards (the closest thing to an official E3 award) has named Will Wright's Spore the Best Game of E3 2005, as well as Best Original Game, Best PC Game, and Best Simulation Game. No big surprise to regular readers of this site, I can only imagine the buzz Spore will receive next year when it will actually be shown on the floor...

Posted by Gaming Steve at 12:00 PM | Posted to Spore |  Add this story to del.icio.us  Stumble It!  Submit this story to Digg!

Videogame Voice Actors Come Back Down to Earth

It's official: the two unions representing videogame voice actors withdrew their insane demand of receiving residuals based upon sales and have accepted the offer made by videogame publishers. Just yesterday, the Screen Actors Guild (SAG) and the American Federation of Television and Radio Artists (AFTRA) counted the mailed-in ballots from their members and apparently they did not have enough support to authorize a strike. Instead they accepted a three and a half year contract which increases several of their previous benefits.

I am still amazed that the members of these unions really thought that they had a snowball’s chance in hell in getting residuals, considering that the programmers, artists, and people who actually spend several years of their lives creating the game itself rarely, if ever, receive residuals. Voiceover work usually takes a day or less to complete and isn’t exactly the most grueling work in the world. And when was the last time you bought a game specifically for the voiceover? Yeah, that’s what I thought…

Anyhow, here is a list of the increased benefits:

  • An immediate 25 percent increase in minimum wages from $556 to $695 for a four-hour session for up to three voices with increases in subsequent years, bringing the daily rate up to $759.
  • Double time pay after six hours (previously ten hours) for three-voice performers.
  • A 7.5 percent increase in contributions to the unions' benefits plans, bringing the rate up to 14.3 percent.
  • 15-25 percent gains in rates for remote delivery and integration.
  • Payment to actors for reuse of performances in promotional films longer than 12 minutes.
  • A specified rest period for each hour spent recording.
  • Payment window shortened from 30 to 12 business days.
  • Pre-work notification to actors performing in stressful sessions.

The offer still needs approval in committee, but if approved, it will last until December 2008.

Posted by Gaming Steve at 11:00 AM | Posted to Random |  Add this story to del.icio.us  Stumble It!  Submit this story to Digg!

June 6, 2005

Gaming Steve Episode 14 - 06.06.2005

Spore Oceanworld

Here it is, part two of my interview with gaming legend Will Wright where we talk more about Spore. In addition to the interview I also cover:

  • Sony ships 90 milllllllllion PS2s.
  • Microsoft just loves losing money on the Xbox.
  • Anti-game bill nearly law.
  • Nintendogs causes DS sales to soar.
  • Blizzard keeps on banning.
  • GameTalk: How to get a job in the game industry.
  • SporeTalk: Part two of my interview with Will Wright (Warning: This is pretty hard to understand, but the complete interview transcript is listed as well).
  • In-depth review of Fire Emblem: The Sacred Stones for the GameBoy Advance.
  • RetroReview: Conker's Bad Fur Day for the Nintendo 64.
  • “Name That Game!” contest winner from last week and a new clip.
  • Plus some more random thoughts on the future of PC gaming.
Get the podcast from this page (87 minutes): Gaming Steve Episode 14.

You can also subscribe to the weekly podcast. To view the transcript of my interview with Will Wright select "continue reading" below.

Here is the transcript of part two of my interview with Will Wright as well the members of the Spore development team.

Gaming Steve: So you showed like black holes, quasars, things like that?

Will Wright: Yeah.

GS: Are those there just for fun? How do those affect the game? Or are you not sure yet?

WW: Well, I’m not sure how far we’ve gone down this path but we have already prototyped models for all these things. I can show you the prototypes here … we have a huge numbers of prototypes.

GS: I mean it was cool even when you just “went over them.” [with the mouse-cursor and they animated]

WW: Oh yeah. This is our prototype of a black hole and stuff. This is basically our general gravitational simulator. This is also how we would simulate the formation of new stars and planets. So basically I have this little world where … let’s see … there is actually space-time warpage here, that’s the grid showing. I can actually go in here and sculpt/drag space-time. Notice as I drag my cursor here I am actually gravitational tracking across time to form larger and larger maps and I can actually create a star in here. This is also how we might simulate a black hole. We can actually generate entire planetary systems from these tools right here.

Chris Trottier [Spore Designer]: More questions!

WW: Yeah, we probably shouldn’t dive into this too much. This is also how we would build a nebula. So if I was interacting with nebula and wanted to initiate a gravitational collapse… But again this is stuff we prototyped, but we want a good simulation though. Now how much is actually going to be entered into the game, we’re not sure yet. You know, because there are other areas which have higher priority than this. But I do want these things to be a toy -- you want to grab hold of something. But I’m not sure if it’s going to quite that deep or not.

GS: So how many worlds are there per galaxy? Hundreds? A hundred thousand?

WW: Per galaxy?

GS: Yes, per galaxy.

WW: Oh, well, there will be probably well over a hundred thousand. I mean, far more than a player could ever visit. Which is why there is no point to having another galaxy. If there are going to be thousands of stars in a galaxy there is no way that one person in their lifetime could ever visit them all.

GS: I just wanted to know if you could, like, conquer the galaxy…

WW: Now consider like The Sims/The Sims 2 web site. How many houses or families are uploaded to The Sims 2?

Caryl Shaw [Producer]: A day?

WW: Or just total. How many do we have total?

CS: Uploaded or downloaded?

WW: Uploaded? I mean, how many to be totally have?

CS: We probably have around 70,000 Sims right now.

WW: Okay, so now those are Sims that people went and uploaded from the game. They said “I’m going to upload this”. This game is going to automatically be uploading stuff. The player isn’t going to have to be deciding to do this.

GS: So how is that going to work? A lot of people have been worried about that…

WW: That is an opt-in thing too. You can turn that off.

GS: People are worried that if they don’t have Internet connectivity how is it going to work?

CS: We can manage that, we do that in The Sims now. So that shouldn’t be that difficult to manage.

GS: So are you just going to have a massive library or will the computer going to be start enough that the AI can create new creatures, planets, so that you can keep playing…

WW: Well keep in mind that the content is extremely compressible. One of these creatures compresses down to around 1K. So since these things compress down to like 1K that means on your CD within one megabyte we can store thousands and thousands of creatures even if you’re not connected to the Internet. So we’re going to have a local database solution to everything. So if you have no Net connection you can still play the entire game, it’s just using the local database of content rather than getting off the Web. So it’s not network required.

GS: So that’s a big “no”… So how do you find out about, in other words, if you look at “Okay I know this guy, I’m playing with my friend and I want to see all of ‘Dave’s’ creatures,” is there a way for me to take my friend’s creatures and see his and vice versa?

WW: That’s a Caryl question.

CS: We are interested in being able to offer that, we think that people will really get into pride of ownership of creation and there is a certain amount of notoriety that comes along with participating … so that the good creators keep creating.

Lucy Bradshaw [Executive Producer]: That’s pretty cool.

WW: Yeah, you see my octopus?

GS: So the UFO…

WW: Yeah.

GS: So that is creatable too?

WW: Yes. It’s in the vehicle editor.

GS: Wait, just so that I can write this down once and for all. You can make the creatures?

WW: Yeah.

GS: You can make the buildings?

WW: Yeah.

GS: You can make the vehicles?

WW: Yeah.

GS: You can make the UFO?

WW: Yeah. You can make the cities.

GS: You can make the cities.

WW: You can make the plants.

GS: A lot of people ask about that.

WW: That’s something that will be unlocked later. When you get to the UFO level one of the things you can research is genetic engineering. Once you get that you…

GS: Yeah, people are asking about that, they want to be able to take people and mutate them and change them.

WW: Yeah. Once you research genetic engineering you get the creature editor for free, you can build whatever you want, like this. You can also start engineering the plants, design whatever weird plants you want. One of the advantages of our editor is that is we can take whatever you design and take parametric variations of it So you design one tree and then it will do all the different varieties of that same tree – tall, short, curves…

GS: I was wondering about that because when you were building the cities, the different sections of the cities, it was working real well when you were adding to them.

WW: Yeah.

GS: Diplomacy, how will diplomacy work?

WW: [Will displays a document diagramming the diplomacy matrix] This is still kind of a fairly rough design … basically, depending upon your culture and their culture there is a matrix based upon these sliders… There is a three-dimensional matrix of how emotional or imperialistic social creatures might interact with these separate beings. And between that matrix it will basically come out that they are very arrogant towards you or they are very fearful of you and in fact you’ll need to build in this general region in order to have a stable relationship. You do actions with them before you actually even talk to them by giving them things or just doing things on their planet, but they might interpret these things as hostile. So I might give them a gift to make them less hostile depending upon their culture, I won’t know what these sliders are until I start interacting with them. Then once I establish communication then there is a very kind of bad translation where I get rough sense of what they’re saying that gets better over time.

GS: Oh, so you can’t even understand the language at first?

WW: Until I play the “Close Encounters” game with them successfully, then I invent a basis for a shared language. At that point they can start giving us missions or offering us things or offering us alliances and stuff.

GS: So in the single-player is there actually going to be a point? Is it going to be like … well, I saw what you did in The Sims and then The Sims 2 there were goals and all you did was unhide them in The Sims 2.

WW: Yeah.

GS: Are you going to do something similar in Spore?

WW: Well we are going to have several meta-goals at the space level that you know, depending upon how you play the game it’s going to actually attempt to steer your towards the powers that your earn. So if I play very altruistically I will find it that much easier to at the space game to conquer the galaxy. If I play very diplomatically at the space game it will be much easier for me to go around meeting new races, establishing relationships and alliances. I might build a federation like “Star Trek”. Or I might go play the “Uplift” game which is where I go to wild planet, drop a monolith, and bring a creature to intelligence and go back and see what they built. I might want to play the “X-Files” game where I abduct alien creatures and collect them and cross-breed them or whatever. I might want to play “War of the Worlds” where I just go around and blow people up for the hell of it.

GS: Yeah, it seems that a lot of people want to play that one.

WW: Well that is why we basically want to keep it a single-player game, or a massively single-player, but because it’s single-player the player can still be the hero … can be the god and blow up things if they want without ruining anybody else’s experience. So we’re trying to get the best of both worlds.

GS: So the city types … you showed a really cool organic city and then there was the technology city, is there an “archetype” for the cities?

WW: We actually have this guy, Christian, who did a huge number of conceptual drawings for us and we are actually deconstructing these and basing the parts that we give the player – these are some world pictures – these are the type of worlds we want the players to be able to make in the editor.

CS: A bunch of them are hanging up on the walls too so you can see…

WW: Yeah, so if you take a look at some of these, these are conceptual drawings of the type of planets that we want players to be able to make.

CS: Like that one over there…

WW: Yeah, that one was the conceptual drawing for the organic city. Over here these are sort of like creatures, plants, and so … we are actually dealing with these things sort of at first conceptually and then deconstructing them and figuring out what kind of parts to give the player to able to build a world like this.

GS: So there is going to be “archetypes” or you’re not sure if there are going to be “archetypes”?

WW: Well, I’m not sure what you mean by “archetypes”.

GS: Well in other words are there going to be like ten “base-types” like maybe a technology, or an old technology, or an organic…

WW: No, we have in the building editor about a hundred blocks that you can mold, stretch out, and then combine in whatever format, you can mix and match them, they’ll adapt.

GS: So it’s freeform?

WW: Yes.

GS: It’s whatever you want it to be?

WW: But the collaborative filtering works like Amazon, so it looks at everything you ever bought or built and it says “what are some things that match your style?” So now it now offers those in the shopping catalog. So even when back at the creature level, once you’re building a creature, and you get to the city level, it will try to pick building with match the style of your creature based upon what other people put together. So in some sense the computer is learning to understand the player and customizing the game specifically for the player.

GS: So can you fly?

WW: Yes. You can build a flying creature but have to have…

GS: But can you have a flying society?

WW: Yes.

GS: Could you? Could you have cities in the sky?

WW: No, the cities … flying creatures still build on the ground. They just fly to move around.

CT: Did you give him a meteorite?

WW: No I didn’t.

GS: Oh is that the surprise?

WW: Here have a meteorite.

GS: I heard there is a surprise.

WW: Meteorite fragments from Arizona.

GS: [Will hands me a small meteorite fragment] Ooh. Very cool. So what about the resource types? What the heck are those little things up there?

WW: Oh those are just stand-ins.

GS: Oh no, on the top [pointing to the various bars on the upper left corner of the Spore screen].

WW: Oh like here?

GS: Yeah.

WW: Those are just stand-ins, but that’s about what the complexity of the interface is going to be. At every level we’re going to like three things that really matter. Like at the creature level it’s going to be your hunger, your energy, and your health. And that’s all the sliders you’ll really need. At the tribal level it will be population and food. So at every level we want to have just a very clear primary feedback which will be three sliders. How we looking at time?

CT: We’re getting there…

GS: So does it work … you become sentient, you have a tribe…

WW: Yeah.

GS: And then are you competing against other creatures that are different species…

WW: No.

GS: Or is your species the dominant species?

WW: Yeah, when you bring a species to intelligence it is now the intelligent species. You are now competing against other cultures of your species. But at that point they start being culturally very diverse, so your guys might be peaceful and they’re warlike and you’re economic and they’re cultural…

GS: Alright, everyone asked it … you don’t have to give me an “official launch date”. Is it coming out this year?

WW: Fall. Fall '06. Thanks for coming by Steve. Sorry it was so rushed.

GS: Yeah, thanks again, I’m sure I’ll be seeing you at GDC as well as other places.

WW: Yeah. We’ll be reading your site.

Thanks again to Will Wright and the entire Spore development team for inviting me to their behind-the-scenes preview of Spore!

Posted by Gaming Steve at 11:45 PM | Posted to Interview | Podcast | Review | Spore |  Add this story to del.icio.us  Stumble It!  Submit this story to Digg!

June 1, 2005

And ... we're back!

Sword of VermilionOkay, I think I finally got over E3 and I'm ready to start posting on a regular basis again. Also now that E3 is over we'll start actually getting "real" gaming news instead of the 37th "news article" about the Xbox 360 MTV special.

So what am I going to write about ... the Xbox 360 of course! First up, it seems that GameStop has actually listed Halo 3 as an upcoming release. Right now it's listed as a "pre-release ETA: 6/1/2006" and at a price of $59.99. I'm sure this is nothing more than a placeholder for now (I still remember when World of Warcraft was listed on the EB Games site for over two years before it actually came out).

Next up, Joystiq has word that the Xbox 360 will launch on November 2, 2005 along with games that have a MSRP of $59.99. Wow, that is expensive. Nearly everyone I know already buys most of their video games used, factor in a $10 price hike across the board and I have a feeling the used video game business is going to really take off ... big time.

Of course, I still remember spending $79.95(!) in 1989(!!) for the Sega Genesis game Sword of Vermilion (which was a piece of crap). And did you know that the original MSRP for Warcraft I was also $79.95! So when you compare the Xbox 360 game prices to those ancient games they're a steal! Damn, I should work for the Microsoft PR department.

And finally, something which has nothing to do with the Xbox 360 at all -- my next podcast. Look for part two of my interview with Will Wright within the next week. Until then ... just 50 more weeks until the next E3!

Posted by Gaming Steve at 11:00 PM | Posted to Xbox |  Add this story to del.icio.us  Stumble It!  Submit this story to Digg!