Friday, March 17

Games I'm psyched about

Wow, game designers are outdoing themselves. Those of you who haven't kept up with computer game development since, oh, Mario Kart, do yourself a favour and check out these links:

First is Spore, a game currently being developed by Will Wright, the designer of The Sims, among others. Spore will take the player through an environment of unprecedented scope and variety. Beginning as a single celled spore and "ending" as a large race of space-travellers, the player can design any form of vehicle, building or organism along the way. The link is to the game's Wikipedia entry, from which you can access the flashed up website and a 35 minute demonstration movie with Will Wright.

Then we have .kkrieger, a state of the art first person shooter, with up to date lighting and other standard visual effects, that is 96kb in size. 96 kilobytes. That's the size of, oh, this web page. The game requires a fairly heavy duty machine to run, but if you have a computer less than a year old you'll likely have no problem. The visual effects of this game, as you can see from the screenshots, are better than a classic like Half-Life, but you can fit a dozen copies of the game on an old floppy disk.

Both of these games are heavily reliant on a developing technology, or rather a developing technological methodology, called procedural generation. Currently, games like Grand Theft Auto and World of Warcraft rely on digital artists to create the colours and shapes of all the objects in a game: buildings, cars, trees, people, whatever. The artist creates an image called a texture, and wraps this around a wireframe model of the object to create the illusion of a solid three dimensional object, when in fact what is actually generated by the computer is a series of two dimensional images linked together to cover up a hollow model of the object, like a sheet draped over a chair. The illusion often collapses during a game when the camera is forced to move inside a supposedly solid object, and the two-dimensionality, the flatness, of each texture can be seen. The point is, all of these textures are stored inside the game, on the cd or whatever, as rigid, unchanging, and fairly low resolution images, like a bitmap or .gif, and that takes up a lot of space, especially if there are dozens or hundreds of objects in the game. Consider the number of unique buildings you can look at in GTA: San Andreas, for example.

Procedural Generation does away with this rigid and space consuming method. Instead of relying on a prefabricated, stored image, a texture and its underlying wifreframe model will be generated at runtime by a complex algorithm, with parameters for colour, shading, size and shape, etc. A certain amount of randomness or adaptability is even conceivable, an impossibility in the current model. Instead of relying on the video card and stored image to put an object on the screen, the CPU will be in charge of creating or developing the complete object and sending it to the screen. Skilled coders who can model algorithmically the development of a tree, in the case of SpeedTree, or an entire species, in the case of Spore, or a landscape, or a city, or god knows what else, will take the important place in the game development process that artists occupy now. Because each object or environment is not stored as a fixed and unchanging element but is instead driven by code that allows for randomness and adaptability, we will begin to see in our games unforeseen objects and environments that come about as a result of the creative impulses not of the developer but of the player, and that is why I'm really fucking excited.


At 9:09 PM, Anonymous ryanm said...

I knew almost none of this before reading your thing.

At 10:04 PM, Blogger Brooks said...



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