Food for Thought: We Make More with Less

Thought I’d share this interesting macroeconomic article today. The summary, sans cool graphics, is:

  • Since the turn of the century, we mine and drain a lot less resources per dollar of GDP.
  • We spend a lot less of our total energy to make manufacturing basics like steel (the percentage has dropped, but we actually spent a lot more total energy to get the same amount of steel).
  • We use a lot less materials to get more efficient tools, like the computer, which is much smaller than in the ’80s, but ridiculously more powerful. It’s also interesting to note that there were only about 2 million units sold of the iconic IBM PC, while 150 times as many Dell Studio laptops were sold.
  • Unsurprisingly, despite increased efficiency, we consume lots more raw materials now than we did in 1900. Eight times as much, basically.

This chart shows the ridiculous growth in consumption, driven by inexpensive products and quadrupling population:

macroeconomic-excess

 

Note the ridiculous growth in fossil fuel, cement, and metals consumption. Food consumption looks here to have only doubled, but in this other chart, it’s gone up almost nine times. Meanwhile, cement has gone up 251 times and fossil fuels 16 times:

consumption

 

Other than the obvious question (who the heck is using all that cement?!?*), this raises a bevvy of other interesting questions that should get a game designer‘s brain churning, like:

  • what would our society look like if one of these materials were taken away, or if it were suddenly free?
  • what could we do to make and use these materials more sustainably?
  • who controls the production and distribution of these resources, and for what ends?
  • how are these materials produced and managed in your game world?

* China. 40% of global CO2 emissions are linked to the construction industry.

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Videogame Field of View

I came across an interesting inquiry on Quora recently, and thought I’d share it with you folks. The question: “In 1st person video games, why don’t they introduce peripheral vision? The angle of sight seems to be a lot less than our own angle of vision.”

I’ve had this complaint as well, in both first-person and third-person games (assuming we’re not talking about something exotic like a “peripheral vision mode”). Gears of War frustrates me because I feel like I can’t see the world since I’m zoomed so far in on the asses of the protagonists.

(I historically have the same complaint about Madden, although for different reasons: I find it ridiculous that I have to contort myself to see near-sideline receivers who are by default off the edge of the screen. Something tells me that Tom Brady doesn’t have this invisible receiver problem. Less of an issue in the HD era.)

This video from TotalBiscuit does a stellar job of illustrating the point. Skip to the three-minute mark to get right to the good stuff:

Here’s a shot from Gears of War. Your protagonist eats up about a sixth of the critical foreground screen real estate. If you played the game, you may remember the annoyance of larger levels where foes were shooting you from every direction while you felt like you were looking for them through a shoebox.

field of view gow

Compare GoW with this shot from Infamous 2. The avatar is smaller, the camera position is further back from the action, and you can see more of the world.

fov-screenshot

TotalBiscuit feels claustrophobic FOVs like GoW’s are due to game developers not caring enough about PC gamers. I think he’s on the right track, but IMHO studios do this extreme zoom-in/narrow field-of-view — and fail to provide options to alter it — for four reasons:

  1. Money (aka complexity). It takes a fair amount of risk for a developer to put in a feature that lets gamers change the field of view. Sure, a few lines of code could change the way the renderer works, letting you see more of the world. Sure, it’d be fairly easy to support that in the game UI. However, adding this option is a significant and fundamental alteration in a very complex system. Your game has to work equally well at all field-of-view settings, in multiplayer, on all sorts of wonky PC systems with wonky chipsets. This is kind of like making a game and a half instead of one game. And you’re doing this to satisfy PC gamers (large fraction of total market) who care about field of view and know what it is (much smaller fraction of the other fraction). Sadly, when the test department starts toying with the FOV option during crunch and filing dozens of bugs on how it crashes this mode and that mode, and causes everything on screen to look weird and skinny, and makes text in the game unreadable, your producer is going to ditch the feature like it’s covered in flaming flatulent warts. Assuming it got that far.
  2. Money (aka framerate). When you widen the field of view, more stuff renders. Guess what? This means that your hardware has to work harder and your silky-smooth framerate goes in the toilet. You can’t fit as many players into multiplayer matches. The big cinematic moments cause the game to choke. People definitely care about framerate. (People are a lot more blase about field of view.) Lousy framerates and stutters cause your game to tank.
  3. Money (aka marketing). GoW wasn’t exactly a critical or commercial failure. People loved the in-your-face action, and the screenshots look like an action blockbuster because you can see all the pimples on Marcus Fenix’s well-rendered butt. It’s annoying to those of us who are accustomed to seeing the game world, but GoW’s other innovations and high-quality graphics were enough to win over the others. Here are some reviews, emphases mine: “Huge, muscular combatants move like giant men wearing heavy gear, fine details are everywhere, and splattering blood never looked so beautiful… It just looks incredible.” – GamesRadar+. “…better than Halo… It’s a fantastic-looking, riveting, fire-first-ask-questions-never third-person shooter that manages to show you things that you’ve never seen before on a console.”- Entertainment Weekly. And, well, this one: “The camera is so good in Gears of War that I never once thought about it while playing. I can’t recall a single instance where it did not frame the action right, or hide anything I should have seen. – Electric Playground
  4. Gameplay. Grudgingly, I admit that GoW was a damned fine game, and that the tight field of view showed off those stellar graphics and made some of the action more fun, like close environments and melee attacks. A game like Infamous 2 requires a wider field of view because of the acrobatic nature of the gameplay.

That’s my take. I like to see the world in these kinds of games, and in the era of hi-def, we can have our cake and eat it in many situations. At the same time, we still see a lot of close-in cameras and narrow FOVs as new games try to out-scream the competition by putting you “in the action.” Hopefully that’s a trend that will die as we move forward.

Oh, and here’s the link to the original Quora conversation: http://www.quora.com/In-1st-person-video-games-why-dont-they-introduce-peripheral-vision

Why I Hate Stealth Games, and More

stealth games suckStealth Games and Why They Suck

Just got through playing a fair number of hours of Hitman: Absolution. It’s well-executed (ha ha) and smooth. I love how you can perform the right actions in context that you expect your hero to be capable of. But I hate stealth games.

I think we’ve all played our share of stealth games. Metal Gear Solid, Thief, Assassin’s Creed. Splinter Cell, and most recently Dishonored. These are all quality games, but stealth is just so infinitely tedious. I mean, why would I enjoy watching guards’ patrol patterns waiting for a chance to sneak by them? And there’s nothing I hate more than sitting in a closet waiting for guards to stand down from high alert.

Yeah, that’s how I want to spend my spare time: waiting for timed idiot NPCs to come off their hissy.

Why isn’t there a “skip hissy” button?!?

Stealth Games Are Like…

I think stealth games have inherited the mediocrity mantle of bad hunt-and-click adventure games. You know the ones: the games where you have to hover your mouse over every single pixel of prerendered 2D scenes, looking for the idiotic mouse tail or letter opener or whatever object you need to solve the puzzle you’re working.

Instead of hunting pixels, stealth games make you hunt locations for the perfect sniper perch, access tunnel, or sabotage opportunity. Unfortunately, unlike the hunt-and-click games, stealth games make you perform that hunt while sneaking around and avoiding swarms of hostile NPCs at the same time.

Folding@Home Leaves the PS3

In other news, we were saddened to see that Sony’s cut the ties to Stanford’s Folding@Home. It says here that 15 million users donated over 100 million computation hours to help research Alzheimer’s and cancer via the Life with Playstation app at the PS3 homescreen. What an amazing record of generosity for the Playstation community. It’s too bad it’s coming to an end, but with all the security and integrity concerns of the Sony monolith, it’s not surprising. Cheers to Playstation users everywhere.

An Indie Game Afternoon

Indie Game Madness at Fantastic Fest

Spent a chunk of the afternoon at the “Fantastic Arcade,” something I had no idea existed until a few weeks ago.

I was pretty impressed with the polish on most of these games, which are ripe and ready for DLC publication. Some of them are doubtlessly soon to hit Xbox Live and the Playstation Network. Here are some snaps of the most notable indie games my friends and I saw, but it was impossible to see them all in the time we had.

If you’re a developer on one of these games and want me to pull any of these images for any reason, or if you’d like a full review, just say the word.

Papo Y Yo

This charming game was a little rough around the edges, but has some promise. This shot shows one of the best sequences, where you (the little boy) lift a cardboard house, only to see a full-sized house on the opposite side of the gorge rip out of its foundations and hover in the air, mirroring the movements of the cardboard one. The protagonist also works with a little robot, reminding me of Ico gameplay, which the producer acknowledged as an influence.

Journey

Coincidentally, this game, another Ico-influenced experience as far as I can tell, was right across the aisle. I think our new pal Lauren said it’s from the same devs as the indie game Flower. Gorgeous minimalist art design.

Sideway

My friend Daniel was especially impressed (as was I) with the innovation of this title. You play as a graffiti character, and when you pass between, say, sidewalk and wall, the perspective shifts and suddenly you’re looking at a new set of Mario-esque challenges and rewards on that new plane.

Closure

Reminiscent of a top-notch Flash game, Closure’s gameplay seems to focus (ha ha) on the challenge of arranging floodlights so they properly light your path ahead. The moody grayscale environments and character design add to the flavah.

Fez

Like Sideway, this is another Paper Mario-esque game that puts rotating/alternating 2D gameplay in a 3D context. Very popular with attendees, featuring attractive yet chunky 8-bit style graphics.

Game Wall Decal of the Week

Got Boring Walls? Blik Has Your Back

game-wallSo… maybe you’re one of those people living in a sanitarium-esque place with white walls and not a single thing to amuse the eye.

That’s where this brilliant decal set from Blik can help. It’s based on a Threadless tee. The best part, I have to say, is the ragged bag edge that mirrors the ghosts’ sheet feet.

Are Games and Workout Machines Crossing Over?

Will Your Next Game Console Make You Sweat?

A recent article about exercise equipment with gaming features caught my eye recently: Nexersys, a new Austin-based workout machine maker, is pointing out that videogames and exercise equipment are reaching convergence. It’s worth taking a look at this crossover phenomenon.

Fitness is a huge industry, and entertainment is already trickling into the gym. People want flat-screens on their treadmills to take their minds off their workouts. Other gym equipment taps into natural competitive instincts with simple videogames.

At the same time, gaming has always been a hotbed for accessories that extend the fantasy, from lightguns to plastic guitars to the Wii Fit. Maybe a device like Nexersys’ iPower — a striking simulator with seven punching pads and an LCD monitor that provides training and feedback — is the next stage in the crossover.

Action Games Are Getting More Active

Have you been jumping up and down in front of your TV lately? A lot of folks have been, now that Sony and Microsoft have tossed their motion-sensing input systems into the market.

One caveat in the “gaming workout” or “exercise gaming” sector is the form factor. It’s hard to control safety and ergonomics when gamers can be playing in all kinds of environments. Nintendo certainly experienced some amusing embarrassment in this regard when reports of Wiimote-flinging destruction caused them to issue safety wriststraps.

Traditionally, these kinds of games have been a better fit for the arcades, simply because the equipment for sensing a game player’s movements wasn’t available on a computer or game console. Dance Dance Revolution, Time Crisis, House of the Dead, all arcade draws. The arcade was the home of novelty input devices. Now, as arcades are fading into oblivion, that barrier has been shattered.

A Better Experience?

Although there’s a masochistic pride in mastering the universe with two tiny plastic joysticks, I believe most gamers would rather dominate with lifelike actions than with a controller. Some would argue that motion sensors and “exercise gaming” are the next stage in a button-mashing, casual-gaming flaming descent into the Great Sellout. However, these new methods of gaming are new and — in the case of the Wii, Kinect, and Move — tantalizingly well-distributed. If the market is big enough, these games can be as hardcore and diverse as any we’ve experience with a controller or keyboard. Motion-sensing gameplay has the potential to introduce all kinds of new ideas and gameplay.

At some point, though, the pleasure in realism starts to break down. Few gamers want to run 26 miles at Murchison High to get the track and field high score in their Olympics game. And should games require players to crawl on their hands and knees to sneak up on foes in the next Metal Gear game? Would you ask your mother to crawl around to play a game? Would you want your Nexersys machine to punch back? It’ll be interesting to see how game designers handle this problem as the games mature.

Will Nexersys and other workout hardware makers like Bowflex and Nordic Track horn in on Sony, Microsoft and Nintendo? I wouldn’t put money on that particular angle. But if Tony Hawk can make his own custom skateboarding controller, why can’t these muscular brands get in on the action?

Who knows. Maybe the next time we hear about “gaming” and “exercise” in the same breath, the story won’t be about childhood obesity but instead life-transforming fitness.

Game Cover Showdown: Motorstorm

Videogame Cover Art One-on-One

The MotorStorm team at Evolution Studios just posted their cover art for the new MotorStorm Apocalypse. They’ve got two covers, one for the EU and one for the U.S. Same game, two covers.

Why do marketing teams do this? Well, for one, there are different requirements for the labeling and legalese. But also it’s well-known that certain approaches do better in different regions. Sadly, in my opinion, the demographic studies seem to indicate that, when selling an over-the-top racing game in the U.S., your goal should be to look like a generic traffic jam with a generous dollop of asphalt crumbles, flames, and (especially) motion blur. The EU version is more cohesive, dramatic, and most importantly, sharp.

Here’s the art – take a look and decide for yourself. EU on top.

game cover-eu

game cover-us

Want a PS3?

want a ps3

PS3 Photo

Tower of Sony Playstation 3 computing power, anyone?

Suggested Use

I hear that Kim Jong-il has networked five thousand of these together to plot trajectories for a new Earth-to-Jupiter interplanetary expedition. They are looking for mutant ladies of the night.

Now Really

And no, commenting on this post will NOT win you a free PS3. I just thought you folks might enjoy seeing this excess. My old roomie bought them as prizes for long-term participants in a University of Texas Austin research study. She says it caused a few raised eyebrows at the checkout at Fry’s Electronics.

Can You Be-Gleeve It?

The Gleeve: Frog’s New Power Glove

So Frog Design has a new unstructured-play concept called the Gleeve. Cool concept that lends itself to horrible blog puns and nightmares of Nintendo’s abortive power glove.

I think it has potential, although the description does seem a little light on details. I’m not about to criticize a simple introductory post for lack of structure, but I do want to plant a suggestion in the Froggies’ heads — a little structure can be a good thing.

It might be premature to proclaim the complete death of imagination. I’m sure there are kids right now, sitting in an empty lot or on a baseball diamond, making up their own games as I type with nothing but enthusiasm and body language. However, attention spans are short and a blank canvas can be as intimidating as prison bars.

If I were in the Frog’s shoes, I’d package that product with a few addictive, premade games that have prominent tunable characteristics or several radically different rulesets that invite experimentation.

Or better yet, I’d hire a game writer/game designer to make those games. :)

I also found this diagram in the Fast Company announcement quite thought-provoking, although I don’t know if I’d rank the Sims as more open than a mod. Click to see the full size image.

Rapidfire Review: Sengoku Basara

Hi, videogame fans. Today we’ve got an update for you about the PS3 title Sengoku Basara: Samurai Heroes, or SBSH. (It’s also been converted into an anime and a manga title.)

I’m still trying to recover from the discovery that this game was developed by Capcom, not Koei, because it smells, tastes, feels, and plays just like a “Dynasty Warriors” game, except with a squirlier camera.

Dynasty Warriors is an evergreen (or interminable, depending on your perspective) series out of Japan in which you play a hero on a vast battlefield, “leading” your army to take strategic camps as part of a larger battles. Each stage basically plays out like capture-the-flag as you try to hold camps and eventually win the battle. The scale of the battles can be invigorating, with dozens of AI characters on screen, but DW has been criticized for its relatively simplistic “button-mashing” gameplay. Frankly, I think the series would be fairly well-accepted if this same formula had a different IP behind it — a Marvel comic book, for example.

Anyhow, SBSH is very similar, even down to the sheeplike AI of the minor NPCs, who have a tendency to trot around the battlefield and stare numbly at their opponents, waiting ages before taking tentative stabs using their weapons. At first I thought the difficulty on SBSH was cranked down, because I got most of the way through the first level in the demo without ever taking damage. Then I encountered the first major boss, who immediately used his nijitsu skills to split into three devilishly nimble selves, none of which dissolved when first being hit. No, these chaps were definitely tangible. I passed them on the second try, but only after limping around the level and scarfing up all the healing and magic powerups I could find.

SBSH isn’t terribly impressive except for its slavish imitation of DW. Save your ducats for the real thing.