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06/10/2007 - 06/16/2007

Fiery Physics Foreshadows Fun

June 15, 2007


Fwoom! Lots of cool stuff to talk about this weekend. Let's kick it off with some Internet flames that you can actually enjoy:

Check out these amazing fire and water physics rendering simulations!

What you're looking at are pre-rendered simulations that are freakishly realistic. You can almost feel the weight of the water or the heat of the fire. Even the most graphically advanced videogames today have flames that look like flickering sprites when you compare it to this stuff. Of course, the question is, when will video games be able to render something like this in real-time? The answer is: sooner than you think! At the rate that the cost of RAM is dropping and the rate that processor power is increasing, the graphics you see here are going to be happening in real-time by the next console generation.

In fact, I wouldn't be surprised if the PS3 was capable of rendering something similar, once developers figure out how to use the full potential of the Cell processor. I'm not sure how much power would be left over for gameplay, though. Anyways -- flame on!

World of Warcraft Matures

I said, Fwoom!WoWInsider.com asks: why are people leaving World of Warcraft? Are they? The website cites a chart on WarcraftRealms.com showing a decline in prime-time player activity since the release of the expansion. And MMOGData.com, the tracking site I blogged about yesterday, shows World of Warcraft subscription numbers finally leveling off after unprecidented growth.

End of an era? Hardly. For one thing prime-time usage is expected to fall thanks to longer daylight hours and Summer weather -- "Look out your window!" one user commented. But more importantly, World of Warcraft has finally eased into the mature phase of an online game's lifecycle. From here on out, the battle isn't just about gaining new users. It's about managing churn, providing enough new content to keep core users while at the same time (and many companies forget this!) ensuring that the game is still appealing to newcomers. It's important to have a steady influx of new blood to offset the losses.

With such a massive install base, World of Warcraft is ideally suited to settle into a long and prosperous life. It's not going anywhere anytime soon -- look at Ultima Online, which is getting a complete graphical overhaul on its tenth anniversary. (Play the Ultima Online: Kingdom Reborn Beta here on FilePlanet). I'm not exaggerating when I say that WoW will be going strong for decades. Download the World of Warcraft Trial and see why if you've never played before.

Sword of the New World is Calling You!

Don't make me fwoom you.The eagerly-anticipated MMO beta is now open. Play the Sword of the New World Beta! I blogged about Sword of the New World in detail the other week, so all I'll say is that there are three good reasons why this sucker should be part of your weekend's agenda:

1. Incredible graphics. You'll be stunned by the cityscapes and character detail. Plus the theme -- a kind of fantasy colonial age with muskets and rapiers -- feels fresh.

2. Multi-character control. Playing three characters at once completely changes the MMO experience. Take some time to get used to your different character's abilities, and before long you'll be adventuring with your scouts auto-healing and your ranged attackers backing you up automagically.

3. Wild multiplayer. Definitely come into the beta with a few buddies. You and two or three friends can get your parties together and it's like an instant raid. Completely over-the-top!

Check out the beta and bring on the good times.

      -Fargo

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

Posted by at 11:39 AM PDT
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Massively Multiplayer Games: Let's Run the Numbers

June 14, 2007


I has a flavor. So who's the top dog in the MMO crowd? Sure everyone knows that Blizzard has around 8.5 million users with World of Warcraft. But what's the next biggest game? Or the third biggest game? What's the most popular free-to-play online game? It used to be that the website MMOGchart.com was the only place to get some comparisons and verified numbers, but it hasn't been updated in a year.

This left a black hole in my heart.

To my rescue comes Phil 'Vortal' White, an MMO industry veteran who now runs his own consultancy. White has picked up where MMOGchart left off, assembling his own confirmed numbers to create MMOGData.com. Check out the total number of MMO subscribers or the contribution from each game. View WoW's dominance in the over 100,000 subscribers chart or see how fantasy is king in the genre breakdown. Some of the graphs are admittedly a little hard to read, but you can always download the excel file if you want to crunch the numbers yourself.

White won't add any data to his chart until it's been confirmed by at least two sources. This makes the going difficult, as reported in this essay he wrote for our sister-site RPGVault. To quote:
It has been a bigger task than I thought... there is just less and less public information available now - why is this? In the movie industry, you can get the box office numbers from lots of different sources, but not for MMOGs; it is still all hush-hush, and with World of Warcraft redefining what is a commercial success, it gets even more difficult. -Phil White
Hopefully the industry will loosen up and be more open with the numbers -- having good data allows more and more people to invest in smarter games, instead of blindly guessing at what the market wants. Yeah, you heard me.       -Fargo

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

Posted by at 11:17 AM PDT
Edited on: June 14, 2007 11:18 AM PDT
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The Next SimCity Will Go in a Whole New Direction

June 13, 2007


I has a flavor. SimCity remains a gaming legend for good reason. In an era when so many games focused on destruction, it actually allowed players to create. And in an era where "simulation" meant "fly a plane or drive a tank," SimCity showed that simulations can do much more ... and more importantly, that they can be fun for your average casual player. But most important of all, SimCity numbers among the first of the open-ended games -- the only goals for the player were the ones you set yourself.

This theme carried through to later versions of the game, from the venerated SimCity 2000 all the way through the most recent SimCity 4. SimCity set the tone for Maxis and even game designer Will Wright's career.

So, when EA announced that the latest version of the SimCity franchise will go in a wild new direction -- and will be developed by a completely different team -- the gaming world let out a collective "UHWHUH?" Check it:

This screenshot of SimCity Societies is best enjoyed while making motor-car sounds with your lips. Thank you.

Introducing SimCity Societies
Formally announced today, SimCity Societies (See the IGN News or read the press release) is in the development pipeline and is expected to hit stores in November. It's being developed by Tilted Mill Entertainment, the city-building design geniuses behind such titles as Caesar IV or Children of the Nile. (Prior to that, much of the Tilted Mill team worked at Impressions, creator of city classics like Pharaoh.)

The game is going in a new direction that'll allow you to totally customize not just the layout of your city, but the 'character' of it. You'll apparently be able to make everything from a candy-coated fantasyland to a brutal police-state, defining the whole tone and culture of your citizens. Fan of Al Gore? Build yourself a green-living utopia where everyone leaves a small environmental footprint. As the city planner you'll juggle your resident's stats: industry, wealth, obedience, knowledge, devotion, or creativity.

Yep, it sounds like a completely different game. The switch in developers and the change in tone has left some fans in an uproar, but I have faith. The crew at Tilted Mill are great -- these guys know how to make a good strategy game. And the screenshots (see above) look gorgeous. I'm eager to see what EA pulls out of its hat later this year.

Download Some City-Builder Games
Meanwhile, here are some of my favorite city-building demos:
Unfortunately, none of the SimCity games have demos. But, you can actually play the original SimCity online...

      -Fargo

Today's Geek Stuff:
Mod News:

Posted by at 11:38 AM PDT
Edited on: June 13, 2007 11:40 AM PDT
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id Software Shows Off Next Game Engine

June 12, 2007


I has a flavor. Just a couple of months ago I publicly lamented that Apple isn't aggressive enough in the games space. But I love it when companies turn around and try to prove me wrong. At the latest Apple Worldwide Developer Conference, game industry giants took to the stage in full force. First up, EA announced renewed support of the platform, pointing out that EA's customers were 'moving to the Mac in droves' (at least according to MacRumors.com). But then the bomb fell when John Carmack took to the stage and unveiled id Software's latest game engine, code-named Tech 5.

IGN has the news here and here, and GameSpy has a brief write-up, but for some tantalizingly blurry pics head over to This Tech 5 Writeup on Joystiq.

id chose to debut their new engine at a Mac conference because id's development team has been gradually using Macs more and more in the development process. But just what's under the hood of this new engine? The technology demo seemed to emphasize the textures being displayed -- over 20GB of textures spread across a vast and detailed racetrack. An id Software press release goes into specifics:
The new id rendering technology practically eliminates the texture memory constraints typically placed on artists and designers and allows for the unique customization of the entire game world at the pixel level, delivering virtually unlimited visual fidelity. Combined with a powerful new suite of tools designed specifically to facilitate and accelerate the content creation process, id Tech 5 will power games that contain vast outdoor landscapes that are completely unique to the horizon, yet have indoor environments with unprecedented artistic detail.

The new engine will work on PCs, Macs, the PS3 and the Xbox 360. It'll be on display at next month's Electronic Entertainment Expo, so we'll expect to see more then.

      -Fargo

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

Posted by at 10:17 AM PDT
Edited on: June 12, 2007 10:23 AM PDT
Permalink

Bishop of Manchester Furious with Sony

June 11, 2007


I has a flavor. It's true: Church leaders in England lashed out against the electronics giant thanks to scenes in the game Resistance: Fall of Man. As you might remember, one big segment in the game takes place around (and inside) the Manchester Cathedral. It's a real cathedral, and church leaders have been trying to curb gun violence in that area for years, so they were surprised to find that the title tries to (in their words) "encourage people to have guns[sic] battles in the building."

I first heard about the hooplah on the radio this morning, where the newsperson referred to the game as featuring "gunmen having a battle" on the property, which is one reason I think this story is appearing all over the news: nobody bothers to point out that the game doesn't depict people fighting people, but rather, people banding together to defend against four-eyed aliens from another planet.

Bless me father, for I have shot aliens, and mean to keep doin' it.
Resistance soldiers sight-seeing in Manchester Cathedral

Cathedral officials say they never gave permission for their grounds to be used in the game; Sony says that they sought (and received) approval through all the right channels. I'm sure we'll be hearing more.

Sharp-eyed readers might remember a similar PR storm over Rainbow Six: Vegas, when Las Vegas mayor Oscar Goodman announced he wasn't happy with the anti-terrorism game using his city as a backdrop.

What's it Mean for Gaming?
As games get more and more photorealistic, one of the main draws for games is the use of real-world locations. Back in the day Microsoft's Midtown Madness gave me a familiarity with the main streets of Chicago that was absolutely eerie when I first visited the city a couple years later ("Oh yeah, I remember cutting through this park in my Panoz Roadster...") Then there was the San Francisco waterfront, which I tore up on a skateboard in one of the Tony Hawk games. And now you have Grand Theft Auto IV (Download the GTA IV Trailer in HD!), which takes place in a breathtaking replica of New York City. If ever there's a game that's going to kick up controversy...

Of course, if videogame content makes city leaders and property holders nervous, and if getting permission to use real-world locations gets more and more difficult, then we won't be seeing real places in games anymore. It's different for the movie industry: if you wanted to film a cathedral scene, it's hella more expensive to build a fake cathedral set than to get permission to film in one. But with games, it's just as easy (if not easier) to design a generic cathedral level 'inspired' by a couple of real-world locations but not specific to any one.

Will all this noise over Manchester Cathedral mean we won't be seeing as many real places in games anymore?

      -Fargo

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

Posted by at 11:18 AM PDT
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