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05/06/2007 - 05/12/2007

Storytelling and Games: A Serious Look

May 09, 2007


I has a flavor. This week I'm off to the Online Game Developer's Conference in Seattle, Washington. Expect new blog updates on Monday! Meanwhile, to keep you occupied: I've written this essay about storytelling in games. With funny squiggly pictures!

Here's the deal: The games industry is struggling to figure out a new language for blending classic storytelling with interactive gameplay. Gamers and especially industry writers and bloggers complain about the lack of story in games, but the issue is always framed in strange ways. Often commentators are ill-informed. Sometimes I think people miss the point.

What I've done is dissected the various ways people can use gameplay to tell a story, including examples from twenty-odd years of gaming history. I compare and contrast the gaming industry to Hollywood or television. And I take a look at what's being done with regards to story in games and where we're going next. It's pretty deep stuff, but hopefully it's still a fun read.

Read About Storytelling in Games and Mail me your comments!       -Fargo

Today's Geek Stuff:
Mod News:
Hardware Links Courtesy of Voodoo Extreme:

Posted by at 11:47 AM PDT
Edited on: May 09, 2007 11:49 AM PDT
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Thoughts on Random Level Design

May 08, 2007


I has a flavor. Let me just lay this out on the table: TeamFortress 2 is the PC game I'm most excited about this year. Yeah, you heard me. More than any MMO, more than any other shooter. Crysis? Bah. Gimmie a chaingun or an engineer's turret, I'm taking the week off. See you in the flag room.

One of the features that people haven't talked much about is the ability TeamFortress 2 has to generate 'random' map layouts. No, not full random maps from scratch, but something that'll feel similar from a gameplay standpoint. It works like this: when players select the "Hydro" map, there are two teams fighting for control of four points on the map. When the map starts, the game randomly picks two of the points to be the points of contention (one assigned to one team, the other given to the other), then closes off the rest of the map. You get a nice, tight, quick battle. Once one team captures the enemy point, the map rearranges itself to focus on the captured point and the next randomly selected point, and so on, until one team controls all the points and the enemy base.

It's not truly a random map, but the random starting points and different possibilities for how the map will play out give it a lot of replayability. Check out the GameSpy Hands-On for TeamFortress 2 or the latest IGN TeamFortress 2 Preview for more details.

Have some!
TeamFortress 2 makes me tingle in special places.

Truly Dynamic Random Maps:
So, why don't we ever see first-person shooters with genuine random maps, generated completely on the fly before the match begins? It seems like an awesome idea, a surefire hit game in the making... But it's not as easy as it sounds. There are two reasons you don't see many games like this. First, your modern first-person shooter has such an incredible level of graphical detail that every map has to be painstakingly hand-crafted -- players expect every location to look completely unique. Randomly-generated maps with today's technology would be somewhat more generic, and wouldn't hold up to that kind of scrutiny.

But the more important reason is simply technology. The way 3D engines have worked -- for over a decade -- is that maps have to be pre-calculated in advance so that the game knows which parts of the maps players will see from any given location. This is time-consuming and has to be done beforehand. Anyone who wants to write an engine that randomly creates maps has to basically re-invent a new game engine from scratch.

But hold the phones -- somebody is! Hellgate: London will have randomly generated map layouts. Check out my GameSpy article on the technology of Hellgate. The team at Flagship studios is doing exactly what I said. They've rewritten the book on game engines. Time will tell if the randomly generated environments are as interesting over the long haul as handcrafted levels, but given what I've seen of the game so far, players will be too busy gleefully blasting away at monsters and collecting loot to care. We'll have to see if Hellgate: London kicks off a mad rush for other game designers to solve the problem of random 3D level design.

      -Fargo

Today's Geek Stuff:
Mod News:
Hardware Links Courtesy of Voodoo Extreme:

Posted by at 11:00 AM PDT
Edited on: May 08, 2007 11:01 AM PDT
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Speculation Swimming Around Upcoming Blizzard Announcement

May 07, 2007


I has a flavor. A company like Blizzard with a track record for hit games makes waves like a battleship wherever it goes. Rumors are swirling in the company's wake, with word that Blizzard was going to make a 'big announcement' at the Korean World-Wide StarCraft Invitational Tournament.

Computer and Video Games Magazine is convinced that the new announcement will be a StarCraft massively multiplayer game. Speculation was fueled when Blizzard Posted several job openings for a Next-Gen MMO. Meanwhile, the crew over at Kotaku speculates that Blizzard will be announcing either a console MMO or some sort of mobile-gaming initiative. Everyone's got a story...

So what is Blizzard up to?

For one thing, I'm skeptical that the company would announce another MMO game, particularly since some of the key people haven't even been hired yet. Blizzard normally holds back on announcements until the product is ready to show the press in preparation for launch. Besides, there's no rush: World of Warcraft continues to gain steam here and abroad. That product will continue to be a solid performer for at least the next ten years and probably beyond. There's no hurry to introduce people to what's next. Is is possible that the next expansion may be announced, although this would be a strange venue for that.

It's far more likely that Blizzard will talk about some non-MMO titles in development. Word in the game development community is that Diablo III has been in the works for some time -- maybe the public will finally get a peek. It's likely that the next Diablo will have even more online elements, given the success of WoW and the legacy of the franchise. (If you consider the item trading economy on Battle.net to be part of the game, Diablo is in some respects Blizzard's first "massively multiplayer" game).

Of course, announcing a Diablo sequel at a StarCraft event is a little wild, especially in the middle of a country of rabid StarCraft fans. So maybe a StarCraft real-time-strategy sequel is set to be unveiled. The timing would work out, since Blizzard's last RTS was released in 2002 and I suspect they're still big fans of the genre over there.

The Korean Invitational event is May 19th-20th, so keep your ears open and you'll hear all the news then. I would also anticipate more big announcements from Blizzard at the BlizzCon Event scheduled for August.

      -Fargo


Posted by at 11:11 AM PDT
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