Archive for May, 2013

As anybody who reads my blog regularly will know (which I guess is probably pretty close to nobody) I’m a big fan of American Football, and therefore I’m also a fan of the Madden computer games. However, even I’ve noticed that the product they churn out year on year is very similar, so I’m reluctant to pay full price, and usually wait a while before stumping up for the new version.

Anyway, in the last version, which my sister in law bought me for Christmas (thanks Jem) you can upload a couple of pictures of yourself into the game and map them onto your career players. So here I am:

My wife said it looks like me when I was younger - erm, thanks

My wife said it looks like me when I was younger – erm, thanks

There has been a trend recently for engaging your users and allowing them to upload their own content, and I think these results are pretty good, but they pale in comparison to what it seems will be coming. A week or so ago I blogged about a GDC session from Activision where they detailed how they were rendering next generation characters, with extremely detailed textures (1000k x 2000k – that’s 2,000,000 pixels and god knows how many channels for just one face!) with very impressive results.

Is this the face of what next-generation character generation will look like?

Is this the face of what next-generation character generation will look like?

The face above requires a massive amount of graphical assets, and that means it comes at a massive – and probably unsustainable cost. What does this mean for games? Only a handful of studios will be able to afford to compete with each other in the triple-A market, where they will use characters of this fidelity. The rest will have to move away from even attempting realistic looking games. Does that mean more quirky solutions like Borderlands, or more unique games all together, that rely on gameplay over graphics?

Another interesting point to make is the pursuit of emotive characters. All those years ago when Electronic Arts set themselves the lofty goal of a game that you would be emotionally involved enough in to make you cry and these new characters are edging even closer. Sadness is a far more subtle emotion that excitement or anger, or even fear but with more believable characters could invoke a more empathetic response. It makes me scared for what’s going to happen to that dog in Call of Duty: Ghosts.

Anyway, if you’re particularly interested in that here’s a pretty picture of the results and a link to the (probably illegal) video from the session itself.

Ken Robinson at TED

According to Wikipedia Sir Ken Robinson is an English author, speaker, and international advisor on education in the art. I’m a big fan. I could rant for a very long time about education, engagement, why creativity is important, why specifying mark scheme and sometimes assessment itself is a bad thing and how learning is not something that is done to you, but I won’t.

Instead I’ll just post this link to another great TED talk from Sir Ken Robinson.

I’m lucky, because I get a lot of freedom in what I do. Sometimes I get it wrong, and sometimes I hope I get it right. Rob thinks that we’re doing something right simply because we worry about this sort of thing, which is comforting.

I hope you enjoy the video.

Next Gen Xbox Announced

Yesterday I watched the much anticipated next generation xbox reveal. Rumour has it that the Xbox 360 was so named because Microsoft didn’t want to be behind the times by releasing Xbox 2 to compete with the Playstation 3. The next XBox was generally labelled XBox 720, and a few days before the reveal I had read that it would be called XBox Infinity. Now we know that the next Xbox is promised to be the “ultimate all in one home entertainment system” will be called XBox One.

Evolution of the XBox Logo

Evolution of the XBox Logo

In terms of technology and marketing there weren’t very many surprises. At Uni we’ve been expecting the next generation consoles to evolve to be always on media centres for a while now, so smug faces and chufty badges all round. It seems to me that XBox are really trying to compete with the upcoming smartTVs, and I think they might win. I’m not sure that a competitive market will allow them their goal of diverging to “one happy box”.

XBox One

XBox One

For developers there wasn’t very much new – like the PS3 and the Vita I would expect at least one of the XBox One’s 8 cores to be unavailable for developers, and be dedicated to running the responsive OS. I was hoping for some more about the architecture, and in particular how memory will be moved through the graphics processors but I’m not surprised that that sort of detailed spec was left out of a press release. I don’t understand how kinect is meant to be using Time Of Flight. I just don’t think that is feasible with such a short distance between the sensors. I have no idea what “impulse triggers” are but they sound interesting. I know valve have been looking into measuring other metrics through the controller to try to gain more info about the player, but I expect impulse triggers just means a finer level of control over rumble. I’m very interested in how smartglass can be used as a core multiplayer game mechanic but I doubt many developers will exploit that until the vast majority of users are using tablets alongside their consoles, if ever. The DVR capability is good news for gamers, because if a game is released with any sort of bug it will be uploaded to the internet on release game. Developers will be punished for releasing games that are unfinished.

I was impressed with the amount of integration of social media, and I was VERY excited about the NFL deal they announced. I wonder if that will be available in the UK. It would certainly renew my interest in playing fantasy football, although I stopped playing years ago because it was taking up too much time, but by sealing this *exclusive* NFL experience I think Microsoft may have just snatched a big chunk of the market in the US as well as Europe.

Exclusive early DLC content for Call of Duty will do a similar thing for the hardcore gamers. The CoD Ghosts trailers looked very, very pretty. The character models we’re very comparable to what I saw at GDC where I put the high resolution down to the fact that the whole of the processing power was being used to render a single person. You have to keep a pinch of salt on stand by because this is still a marketing exercise, and not necessarily representative of gameplay, but I was impressed none the less. It was also good to hear the game designers talk about emotional gameplay. It seems that the tech I blogged about recently about next gen characters, and in-particular wetness and redness of eyes, and soft particle based tears will be put to good use, and there’s nothing like adding a dog to play the human angle!

There’s another issue with the CoD trailer, or rather the cost of making a game like that. It’s too high. Where do these ridiculously high resolution textures and models come from? Are the created by artists? Are the generated procedurally? Are they scanned from real people? Probably all three, but however they are created that means the cost of making a game is going to rise. That probably means more dlc to squeeze gamers for every last drop of cash. Ubisoft reckon that there is a market for 10 triple A titles a year. I would expect that means that many games companies will look to mobile or tablet games instead. Perhaps models will get re-used. When Final Fantasy – the spirits within was released there was talk that the star character “Aki Ross” could act in other unrelated CGI titles. Could that happen in games? If we’re willing to believe that Bruce Willis can be John McClane in Die Hard and General Joe Collins in G.I. Joe could we accept that a character model in Call of Duty also appears in other titles?

There was no mention of anything for Indie developers, although there was a mention of casual games. I’m not sure that it will happen, but I wonder if there will be any cross publishing opportunities between the Windows 8 market place and XBox One. It’s probably more likely that Microsoft have decided that indie isn’t profitable enough. It’s clear to see that they are focused firmly on bringing XBox One to everybody; movie buffs, telly addicts, sports fans, casual games and hardcore gamers.

Since the reveal the general reception seems to be negative. People who care (gamers) are criticising the XBox One because it’s not a games machine. No. It’s not, but typically advances in consoles are judged by graphics. The gap between the last generation was almost twice as long as the previous gap, but I think we’re coming very close to the limits of what it is reasonable to do in graphics, and we need assets and textures at resolutions of more than a pixel per millimetre. Triple A titles are barely profitable as it is. If we want them to continue we have to either accept an increase in price (either at POS or through DLC) or we have to accept companies making money through other revenue streams (Advertising, Product placement) or the size of the market has to increase. That’s why the next xbox is a tv tuner/hdr/phone/social media app AND a games machine.

Overall I’m excited enough to have to keep reminding myself that I shouldn’t be and it’s just a marketing pitch, but I think after Bioshock Infinite, Batman Origins and GTA V I’ll be retiring my 360 for an XBox One.

Word count, 1094 words – I’m allowed 10% over, right?