Thursday, March 30, 2006

Mix 'Em Together - Then You've Got Something

Well, fuck. The GDC has come and gone, and there's not an awful lot to say. Both keynotes I mentioned being interested in last week turned out to be reiterations of what we already been told so far. All in all, it was a real lackluster year for the GDC. So, forget that - I'm not going to rehash the same info you've been reading all week. Two of my current favorite games in the open source scene - Sauerbraten and GalaxyMage - got updates this week. Read on for details.

The latest release of Sauerbraten has two main features. The first - the addition of the Grenade Launcher - finally has me understanding what the whole "Physics Edition" business was in the last release. Although the projectile it fires doesn't exactly look like you would expect it to, it does act how you would expect it to. It's definitely a fun weapon to play around with, especially bouncing grenades around corners, but I have noticed that, at times, there is quite a distinct "skating on ice" effect when the grenade is moving across the floor. I'm sure this will be taken care of in a future release.

The title of this release is "Shader Edition", which gives you a pretty good idea of what the other major new feature in Sauerbraten is. This one, of course, doesn't have any effects on game balance or anything else besides the visual aspect of the game, so I can't really say I feel too strongly about it. Your weapons, as well as the various powerups and various static meshes peppered throughout the levels are all shiny now - that's it. I've noticed that mesh heavy maps take a performance hit from the new shader effects, so it's something mappers are going to have to take into consideration.

GalaxyMage basically has one major update for this release - Network play. Sadly, this mode isn't fully implemented yet. When selecting multiplayer you get a nice unfriendly screen asking you to input the IP address of the server you want to connect to. I've talked about this before, and my opinion on the matter hasn't changed any since the last time I mentioned it. I have good faith that the GalaxyMage team will pick up the slack and tack on a server browser some time in the near future.

Even if they do, I doubt I'll ever experience GalaxyMage's multiplayer mode. In my eyes, this type of turn-based strategy-RPG gameplay just doesn't seem to work in the online world. I'm sure this is an area where opinion vary wildly, but I just can't see it. At the moment, all the multiplayer mode means to me is that I had to install Twisted.

Well folks, that's it for this week. I've no idea what's coming down the pike for next week, so we'll just see what happens between now and then.

Thursday, March 23, 2006

GDC '06 - Part 1

While writing last week's post, I completely forgot that the GDC (Game Developers Conference, for the uninitiated) was going to be happening this week. The aforementioned conference makes up the bulk of this post, but not the entirety. Warning - there are a whole lot of links to Gamasutra, which may require you to register at some point. You can probably use BugMeNot, but honestly I'd deem Gamasutra as a register-worthy site.

First things first. Reaffirming that good things can still happen to good people, Darwinia won the top prize at the Independent Games Festival Awards - something I was hoping would happen. The awards ceremony's bigger, louder brother - the Game Developers Choice Awards, was basically swept by three games. Shadow Of The Colossus was the big winner, an event I have absolutely no problems with. Nintendogs and Guitar Hero were the other big winners, with Psychonauts putting in a small appearance.

On to the GDC. There were two major keynotes at the event yesterday, the first of which was the Sony keynote. Phil Harrison was the main speaker, although there were quite a few others showcasing PS3 demos. Apparently, what was shown was not that different than what we've seen and heard before, but there was a very interesting tidbit thrown out in the Q&A session after the keynote - the PS3 will be region free. Not the system itself, of course, but the software. That's great news already, but it gets me wondering if it will play PS1/PS2 games region-free as well. Not being a mod chip type of fellow, this could finally give me the chance to get my hands on some imports I've always wanted.

The next keynote speaker was Ron Moore (Slashdot link so you can see Cylon misspelled as Pylon), formerly of Star Trek fame, who is now working on Battlestar Galactica. It didn't have an awful lot to with games, from the coverage I've read, but it does give me a long-awaited opportunity to mention who much of a Battlestar Galactica fan I am. The original show I watched for the same reason I watch MacGyver - the cheese factor. The new one is just, well, I don't know what to say except that it's the only show on television I try not to miss an episode of.

That's it for now, but there are two keynotes of interest going on today that I'd like to cover - Satoru Iwata with some info on the Nintendo Revolution (I believe that keynote is going on as I type this) and Will Wright (Spore, man, Spore!), so if I get the chance, I'll be back later today with more on those. Otherwise, you'll get more GDC goodness next week.

Thursday, March 16, 2006

Consider This A Stew

Sorry about the missed post last week, this is becoming too frequent. As the title suggests, this is another hodge-podge post, sort of summing up what would've been mentioned last week and this week's happenings all at once.

First off - Final Fantasy XII was finally released yesterday (sorry about the 1up link). Of course, there are still many months to go until the game makes it out of Japan, but we're getting closer. This particular iteration has had more mixed feelings in the previews than any other Final Fantasy game this side of XI. Honestly, the game could score 1/10 ratings across the board and I'd pick it up without a second thought. When you've got the art director from Final Fantasy IX onboard, that's all I need to know.

I suppose that last week's missed post could be considered a blessing in disguise, as all you would have gotten is a short post about Triplex Invaders. Don't get me wrong, Triplex Invaders is an awesome "schmup", but there really isn't enough material there for a whole post. The game looks awesome, think Kenta Cho's shooters, but even more psychedelic. The game plays, well, like a shooter. The controls are tight, enemies are huge, and the explosion effects are satisfying. Throw in the fact that it's written in my language of choice, and you get a big thumbs up from me.

Things start to move faster at this point, so keep up.Sauerbraten has some more servers up now, and I've been playing quite a bit of the game. It's a bit of a shame that some of my favorite maps have yet to show up in a server rotation, but I keep logging on, hoping to see one of them loaded up. I tried to check out Stendhal, something I've been meaning to do for a while. The catch? I figured I'd run it on my old laptop, which apparently is not up to the task. I might have more on that next week, once I try it out on my main machine.

That's pretty much it for this week, loyal readers. With some more time on my hands, hopefully I can have a double feature up next week, but only time will tell. Anarchy Online can be a demanding mistress, for which an unheeded call can be disastrous. If I can break the spell of the siren song, there is hope.

Thursday, March 02, 2006

No, Not The Food

Sauerbraten finally popped up on the Linux Game Tome this week, with a release that actually came out late last month. Since it is, after all, the successor to Cube, every release is a reason for me to be excited. The engine has taken shape, so the next few releases should be when it starts to get "really good".

The download is listed as "Physics Edition", and I'll admit, I don't know what that means. At the moment, the gameplay feels nearly identical to that of Cube, but I'll admit I haven't found a multiplayer game going yet, so my speculation is based purely on the single player modes. Speaking of that, the few single player maps included in the package far outclass even the best of Cube's single player maps. It's still pretty much Doom with every dial turned up to 11, but that is hardly a complaint in my book.

Of course, as with it's predecessor, Sauerbraten's main focus is on the multiplayer game. The multiplayer maps (and there are already a ton included) are really impressive. While my two current favorites - "moonlight" and "darkdeath" have already been around for a while, there are plenty of new and impressive maps that have come out since the last release I grabbed. "metl3" has made its way over from Cube, and "roughinery", "serpentine", and "face-classic" have all been ported over from the UT series. "legoland", which is exactly what its name would suggest, is absolutely surreal. There are even a few maps, such as "ladder" and "spiralz" that exist simply as a reference for mappers. If you really want to see how promising the engine is, take a look at the sprawling RPG maps included.

The biggest additional improvement over Cube is the absolutely gorgeous lighting/shadow effects. The aforementioned "metl3" looks significantly better than its Cube incarnation as a result. "nmp7" is another map with some brilliant lighting. Some other minor tweaks include better particle effects and it seems that textures can now be "fullbright". Either that or it's just another case of excellent lighting.

Now, I find myself wishing for two things. The first and more easily attainable is for some more servers to pop up. I'm seriously jonesing for some deathmatch action to test out the playability of the new maps. The second is to see some other projects start up using the Sauerbraten engine. As easy as it is to create maps, it would be great to see some mods with altered gameplay come to the scene.

So, come on. Give this baby a download, and we'll get this party started.

Update: I've had a chance to play a bit of Sauerbraten online, and it definitely plays as tight as Cube. I still don't really understand the bit about "Physics Edition" - the only difference I've noticed is that the "bouncing" effect on stairs seemed ramped up a bit. The larger, sprawling maps definitely make the Instagib mode quite a bit more enjoyable since you can have a fun time with more than four players. We still need some more servers online so, if you're that type, fire it up.