Archive for the ‘Games’ Category

For the love of videogames…

Tuesday, May 3rd, 2011

I have a love-hate relationship with videogames.

I love the possibilities, the opportunities, for creativity, for storytelling, for stretching the imagination in directions it could never go in real life. But I hate how the games industry has transformed over the last twenty-five years.

For me, gaming kicked off with miners running through caverns, dodging flying telephones, saws coming up through the floorboards, ants dropping boulders whilst avoiding butterflies, spraycans spraying pests on impossibly tall plants, men with jetpacs constructing rockets whilst killing aliens, the sheer randomness of the backroom creations was incredible.

But it didn’t take long for the businessmen to catch on, after all this was a nascent industry replete with investment opportunities and subsequent rewards. Art and creativity rapidly became business and cash cows. Out of these times grew Sega, EA, and many many more. The industry was born, and along with it both the marketing plan and the sequel.

Reading through a prominent games magazine at the weekend was enough to make my old Kempston joystick weep in its land fill site. It has been a topic of fierce debate over the years, about business both saving and ruining games, about the pros and cons of market-led development, but when you go through the list of upcoming releases, and every single game, not some, not most, but every single game is either a football game, a first-person shooter, or a sequel of a football game or first-person shooter, you can’t help but wonder where it all went wrong.

Thankfully the dearth of the smartphone has pulled us into a slightly different lane of the gaming motorway in the last couple of years, and people are having an opportunity to experience at least some of the potential inherent in last centuries madcap creations. The oftentimes simple creativity found in games like Doodlejump, Angry Birds and Plants vs Zombies at least have pretensions for freshness, and the use of the camera, gyroscope and GPS units have the potential to take things on a step again. But that is by no means certain.

Perhaps this is the start of a new era, an opportunity for “real new” and not just “new clothing”. I hope so. That magazine was more depressing than you can imagine, and nothing would give me more pleasure than to see over the next decade the games industry come full circle, back to its creative roots. With my impressions of the games industry edging towards the hate camp right now, I would give plenty for it to take a swing back to love again.

Update: And this is exactly what I meant. THQ posts 2011 losses, and what is the first headline we read? “THQ sales slump for FY2011, looking to successful sequels in 2012“. Something goes a little sideways, and straight away they’re looking to sequels to recover. Hardly a winning strategy for the long-haul, nor one to excite any potential customers.

Update 2: Oh and for the record, rehashing classic games on a new platform, but doing it so badly that no-one would go near them with a stick, is just as bad. C’mon people, you’re better than this!

Busy is as busy does

Thursday, October 14th, 2010

Apple caught me on the hop today. CapitaHD, the iPad version of the pleasantly successful iPhone version, Capita, was submitted to the App Store a week or so ago, and on recent experience I wasn’t expecting any sort of response for at least another week. Time, I thought, to tie up some loose ends, tweak some other projects, update the website and be ready for the green light.

Well, I’m not complaining. Their processes have proven as swift as they are true, and CapitaHD is now available for download on what has now become my most prized of household gadgets. If I had to choose between the laptop and the iPad, it might be a close-run thing. Even the kettle and toaster would be on shaky ground despite the usage they both get.

It’s actually been a tough birth this time around though. Not because of the technical light-bending that goes on to get these things done and out the door. In that regard it has been quite the contrary; moving everything over from the iPhone version actually went surprisingly smoothly, the additional screen acreage proving to be such a blessing for the gameplay that I actually ended up adding more polish just out of sheer adoration. No, the creation of CapitaHD just happened to come at a time when time away from work kept popping up (Rome is a delight at this time of the year incidentally), and contract proposals were being penned and meetings had. It can all put a kink in an otherwise extremely productive production house. Fortunately I now have some hugely-appreciated help in that regard so the delays should evaporate into the ether, or so I have been told. Not quite soon enough for CapitaHD to become my first (and hopefully only) victim of circumstance, but welcome nonetheless.

Of course the other knock-on effect of being away is not having been able to put pen to virtual paper. It’s easy to say that the travelling around shouldn’t make things hard when it comes to things like blogging, but, much as I love the iPad, when it comes to pulling together a post, the limitations of the little terrier come ripping round the corner like they’re chasing guinea fowl. Even using my bluetooth keyboard, much as it improves raw text entry, doesn’t do anything to allow me to efficiently cut/paste links, upload images, research notes… The long and short of it is, as soon as anything complicated is required, the MacBook gets fired up, with its trusty mouse, and fancy windowing shenanigans. Not even multi-tasking will change my mind; all I want from Steve Jobs for Christmas is to be able to turn it off on my iPhone. /stares forlornly at every single app permanently running in the background.

Anyway, CapitaHD is available now, so if you fancy a jot of 80s gaming nostalgia, or are looking for a strategy game that’ll work your brain harder than most, go pick it up. Or if you want to find out a bit more about it, you can always head here. And of course don’t hesitate to drop us a line at, or in the comments section should you feel the need. Don’t be shy, we don’t bite.

Mobile exploits with BoulderDash

Wednesday, August 4th, 2010

ScreenGrabIPadBD copy.png

When I started iPhone development, the learning curve was relatively shallow; I knew Mac development well enough, and ten years of writing games and tools gets you knowledgable about a whole host of languages and technologies from C++ and DirectX through to 3D engines on the XBox and file converters in Perl. But these handsets are different in a host of ways, and I’d never touched OpenGL before.

To get myself up to speed writing on the iPhone and the OpenGL graphics pipeline, I looked to my gaming past to find something that I wanted to play on the handset. That something ended up being BoulderDash. I grew up playing it on the Commodore 64, and still love it now, there just wasn’t a perfect version for the iPhone. It ended up being a great project to start from scratch, and actually, a great one to finish. It was a real labour of love, never intended for release, which is why it used all the sounds and graphics straight from the c64 version, but boy did it turn out well. Not only does it play identically to the c64 version, it even came with a persistent level unlocking mechanism as well as a high-score / fastest times table. Very neat indeed.

I started iPad development shortly after they arrived on our shores. The iPad and iPhone share operating systems (give or take a few tweaks), but I thought it worth taking something I’d developed for its smaller cousin and porting it across to get a feel for the issues. The perfect candidate? BoulderDash. First on the iPhone, and now first on the iPad. Quite fitting I thought.

I was struck by a few things. Firstly, how quick and easy it was to get an already completed iPhone app up and running on the new hardware. I guess the sharing of the OS helps, but still. The only major issues in fact were the ones you’d expect: the graphics were too small, and the screen layouts broken. It took me roughly six weeks to go from zero to a complete ready-to-release version of BoulderDash on the iPhone, but approximately 3 days to port it to the iPad up to the same standard (along with a few additional bug-fixes along the way). That’s very cool indeed.

The other thing that struck me was just how exquisite the game actually looks and feels on the bigger screen. I really do love the iPad, and there’s some great games for it, but to create something yourself and see it rendered in such finery really is something else. So much so that I’m actually considering releasing it under DigitalOrigins in some form. Even if I have to replace all the sound and artwork and change the name to something like DiamondRush (which I actually rather like), I think it would be worth having this in the hands of people so that they can get some enjoyment out of it.

Perhaps now is the time to commission some artwork. Anyone up for the task?

Is gaming beginning to run out of ideas?

Wednesday, July 7th, 2010

This was a question posted in a recent discussion on LinkedIn. I enjoy these discussions. They often throw out a plethora of views and opinions, many worth taking note of. And of course I am fortunate enough to be endowed with a smattering of industry knowledge that can lend grist to the mill. So, my take on gaming running out of ideas?

Well, the simple fact is, the games business is now far more about the “business” than it is the “games”.

Way back in the 80s when the whole gaming shebang kicked off, backroom boys were writing games that they wanted to write, then selling them to the highest publishing bidder. Elite, one of the most famous, was originally a labour of love of Braben and Bell, before being bought and released by Acornsoft and Firebird et al.

But since then, AAA projects have simply grown too big and too expensive to be developed by two college kids in a garage. Because of this, funding is typically required to take teams through from beginning to end, and such funding will, in all likelihood, need to be repaid, usually with interest. So, the less risk with the project, the more likely it is that the funders will get a return on their investment.

And such risk is the milk on the cornflakes of marketers, managers, lawyers, financiers, people to whom the latest blockbuster game, with cutting edge ray tracing, full physics, and orchestras blaring out in Dolby surround sound, is simply a sku, an RRP, a target demographic and a sales forecast. In all my years I found very few that actually played games, or had that much interest in what their company was actually producing. And to be fair, this is no different to any other industry, after all, what financial controller really cares about the internals of the EMU that sits in the submarine engine they’ve just funded? (thank you Discovery)

So the bigger the business has got, the further away the “creatives” have got from the people steering, funding and controlling the ship. And they have people they need to answer to, and so do they, and so on. So, is it any wonder, when the ships are so big, the funding so large, the risks so great, and so many people need to be kept happy, that companies such as EA and Disney stick to tried and trusted formulae? Not at all. But does that mean the games industry is running out of ideas? Of course not. The flash, mobile and social spaces are all throwing out fresh, new ideas ten-to-the-dozen, and even in big business many interesting new ideas get through the net; back when I was working for Gremlin and Infogrames, my team were fortunate enough to be able to develop and release Hogs Of War at a time when all the other teams in the studio were producing sports games.

There’s always something new and interesting out there, and we as interested parties have two choices; we can keep our eyes and wallets peeled, supporting the less mainstream releases as much as we can (here’s looking at you Ico), or we can take a step out of the corporate machine and head out on our own with only our wit, creativity and development tools to guide us towards creating the Next Big Thing.

Either way is perfectly fine by me.