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Pre-Expo Coverage posted 3/10 at 11:29:58 AM PST by Kevin Hawkins

Thanks to our friends at Premier Press, we were able to obtain a few exhibitor passes, which allow us to go into the expo area while it's closed. With this newly found power, we decided to take it upon ourselves to provide some pre-expo coverage. Here are a few pictures from the expo's construction.

This is what the expo looks like before the booth babes come in. Yep, it all starts here.

This is how things look after a few hours of digging pieces out of the rubble.

While we were making our rounds on the pre-expo floor, we ran into our Premier friends setting up the Premier Press booth (the GDNet staff has written 5 of their books). Here's a shot of the lovely ladies.

Here's a picture of the Premier Press sponsored session summary for lectures GameDev.net is involved in at the GDC.

Game Design Workshop - Day Two posted 3/10 at 11:28:39 AM PST by Gaiiden

Today I returned for the second installment of the game design workshop. Our first task of the day was to spend a few minutes playing the 3 Musketeers game again to get it back in our heads, because next up was the challenge of taking the game and converting it to a 3- and 4-player game. Even more challenging was coming up with a rule set to allow the game to have 2-4 players. My group of six split up into two teams - one worked on the 3-player game while the other worked on the 4-player game.

The three player game was kind of tough since we had to figure out what the third player would be. One of the group members suggested that there be an assassin, whose goal is to hunt down the Musketeers. We also increased he number of Musketeers from 3 to 4, positing that there were originally 4 Musketeers and one died in the movies (at least that's what one guy said. And it worked well anyways so who cares :). So now we had rearranged the board to have the Assassin in the middle, the four Musketeers in the four corners, and he Cardinal's men filling the rest of the board. Here are the rules:

  • Assassin
    • Moves like a Musketeer except it swaps with Cardinal's men rather than killing them
    • Needs to kill 3 of the Musketeers to win
    • If he cannot swap with a Cardinal's man, he loses
    • Can not move on a diagonal
  • Cardinal
    • Moves into any empty square
    • Must line up all Musketeers on board in a single row or column to win
    • Can not move on a diagonal
  • Musketeer
    • Moves by replacing a Cardinal's piece and removing it from play
    • Wins if no Musketeer can move
    • Can not be killed by an Assassin if adjacent to another Musketeer
    • Can not move on a diagonal

This game actually evolved some very interesting dynamics as a result of the change in the mechanics:

  1. Since Musketeers can not be killed when adjacent to each other it brings into play the "All for One, One for All" credo.
  2. At the same time, bringing your Musketeers that close together is not something you want to do, as it makes the Cardinal's job easier
  3. As the Assassin is killing Musketeers, he's actually making the Cardinal's job easier
  4. The Cardinal still has the most manipulative power in the game, as he can funnel the Assassin and Musketeers away from each other using the diagonal strategy (see Day 1) while at the same time using the Assassin to maybe lure the Musketeers into a trap

Here's our 3-player adaptation of the 3 Musketeers game

Our 4-player adaptation really wasn't much of an adaptation. It turned out to be a war game, in fact. We used four 5x5 3 Musketeer game grids to create the board, and each corner held a player with poker chips as units. You used a deck of cards and always had five cards in your hand. The numbered cards 2-10 were used for movement, but you could only move a single piece 3 spaces, so you would have to divvy up the movement on numbers higher than 3. Jack to Joker was used as attack cards. When you moved a unit onto an enemy unit, you would lay down an attack card and the atackee would have to counter with a card of higher value to defend against your attack. If he plays an equal value card, then the defender then attacker draws from the pile and the higher card wins. That's the basic premise, anyways - the object of the game is to capture the other player's Cardinal (represented here by a chess bishop).

Here's our 4-player game. Basically the only holdover from 3 Musketeers
where the Bishop pieces representing Cardinals

Here's what the other groups came up with:

Group 2: Both their games revolved around mental patients, orderlies, and doctors. Group 2 must be jinxed (even if it's not the same group from yesterday) - I can never remember what the frik their games are!

Man I'm so bad…

Group 3: These guys had a neat concept and I'll try my best to get it right… They had the same mechanics with the Cardinal and the Musketeers, however the third player they added had to use his pieces to create a bridge that connected two corners of the board. The only problem is that the pieces of this bridge had to be placed on top of Musketeers and Cardinal men, who are constantly shifting about.

You can just make out the stack of white coins just
off the board used to make the "bridge"

Group 4: I didn't quite get the whole point behind this game. It was a game of scale - the more players you had in the game depended on how the game was played. And the fact that the guy tried to explain all this in less than a minute didn't help either. (we were about to start running late for lunch)

Say again?

Group 5: These guys simply expanded the board of the original game to allow two extra players. Note how the pieces are set up. There are three different Musketeers all in the same start position if you shift the board up on a diagonal. Each Musketeer "band" has the same objectives as a normal musketeer, they must avoid becoming lined up by the Cardinal. However, in this game if one of each Musketeer gets lined up in a row or column, it will result in a win for the Cardinal. This means the three Musketeer players must watch each other's movements to avoid getting each other out.

This concept could also be expanded to add another
Musketeer player or two, or three…

Group 6: This group came up with a game similar to ours, except they had a French police officer running around the board instead of an Assassin. *cough cough*.

Look familiar?

They also cam up with a second game like us, with four players starting in four corners (this was starting to get rather lame) but they rushed through the explanation (we were like 10 minutes into lunch) and all I have for you is this shot:

Hey, this looks kinda familiar too…

After we came back from lunch we turned towards the process of breaking down a digital game into aesthetics, dynamics and mechanics. Until now we had been dealing with board games. So we started with Tetris and the entire room pitched in to come up with a slew of aesthetics, including the following:

  • Challenge - stacking the blocks to clear them
  • Tension/Drama - blocks fall faster; as blocks get higher things get more tense; waiting for the right block
  • Sensation - you get a rush of relief when you clear a lot of blocks at once; satisfaction at a high score
  • Competitive - getting a higher score than someone else
  • Accessible - easy to learn and pick up

Now, Tetris is a fairly simple game in terms of mechanics, so our next assignment was to pick a game that we at our table had all played and start listing various aesthetics of that game. After a short discussion we chose StarCraft and whipped up the following list:

  • Discovery/Tension - exploring the map, revealing hidden units
  • Expression - playing the race that best fits your style
  • Fellowship - online team play
  • Fantasy - expressed by its setting
  • Challenge - defeating the other player(s); defending your base from attack
  • Narrative - the single-player game told a great story

After everyone had listed their game's aesthetics (we had groups doing Quake, Dance Dance Revolution, PacMan, and Tony Hawk) we were then told to pick one and break it down into the dynamics that express that aesthetic and then the mechanics that create that dynamic. We went about the process the other way, however.

We picked Discovery/Tension and started off by discussing how a player discovers the map. From there we pinpointed the mechanic called Fog of War. We talked about how the Fog of War worked in the game: units, buildings and terrain were revealed by your unit's line of sight radius, but when the unit moved on, the Fog of War returned to hide all map features except terrain. Also, Fog of War prevented you from seeing Siege Tanks firing in siege mode from a distance or units on a ridge above you until they fire down upon you. The fact that you couldn't see the enemy units until they fire upon you builds the tension of the game. Also was the example that if your lone Marine spots an enemy lone Marine - he could start firing on the enemy and have a dozen more Marines appear out of the Fog of War. Oh no! Retreat! So from the mechanic of Fog of War we discovered the dynamic which creates the tension in the game's discovery.

Our last project of the day was another elective. This time I signed up for an elective where you choose a game and have to break that game down to a paper version. Sound impossible? Well, a lot of games today certainly are very complex, but in reality there isn't a game out there you can't somehow translate into paper given enough time and work. In fact the guy running the elective had, in the past, roughly translated the game Diablo into a card-based paper game (the battle portion of it anyway).

So with this in mind my group set out to make a paper version of Doom. We came up with the idea of the level being laid out in a pyramid shape so that it would funnel the player to the Boss at the top of the pyramid. Each card in the pyramid (a "room") could either hold a monster or nothing. There were two types of monsters, big and small. Additionally, placed on the room cards were item cards. The game items were guns (pistol, shotgun and chaingun - you always have a knife), ammo, health, armor, and a pair of binoculars that let you look into an adjacent room to see what's there. There were also blank item cards. Unfortunately, by the time we had gotten this far there was no time left to playtest it and work out how many hit points the monsters had (although the higher up on the pyramid you go the more powerful the monsters would become via some multiplier effect on the monster's hit points), how much ammo you start with, etc. Even though we never got to really play the game, our progress showed us that a paper version of Doom is indeed possible to some extent.

Ahhhh! Scary monsters!

Here's what the other groups came up with (we were Group 5 this time around, by the way):

Group 1: These guys chose roughly the same path as us, choosing to do Quake. They had gotten about as far as we had - they had most of the game broken down but no chance to actually play it. Although their map is way cooler than ours, I'll give them that.

Judging from the board they seemed to be going for deathmatch

Group 2: Ah ha! I remember these guys! This group did a Mortal Combat adaptation. Each player had several attack and defense cards and a special move card unique to that player. They had dice lying around so I assume that's how they chose their moves. Someone asked whether they had fatalities but they said no. Shucks. I don't know more about the gameplay since we didn't really have time for any lengthy description from any of the groups..

You can see by the cards that they pretty much
had all bases covered… 'cept fatalities

Group 3: These guys, believe it or not, did Tony Hawk. If you look closely at the cards on the table you can see that it's a skate park, with rails, a half-pipe, jumps, etc. One cool thing is how they managed to model the idea that as you do trick combos and they get more complex, there's a greater chance that you'll crash when you land and lose all your combo points.

the Tony Hawk skate park

Group 4: These guys did a Half-Life frag fest. Since time was again short all they had to give was a brief description. All play was simultaneous, not turn-based, which they said was a lot of fun as you ran around the map. And since your player could point in certain directions, you couldn't always line up a shot with another player to frag him (see the arrows in the picture).

look at the cards lying around to get an idea of what the game played like

Group 6: These guys did Mario Brothers. Their game was simple enough for a quick but thorough explanation. There are two piles in the game, one holds actions like Jump, Run, etc, and the other holds obstacles like Goombas, Turtles, Gaps, etc. So if you came up against a Goomba and had a Jump action card, you would use that to jump the Goomba and move on. A Gap card might require a Run and Jump card to clear the chasm. After all the obstacle cards have been overcome there's a final Bowser card, which you need a bunh of cards like Run, Jump, Fireball, etc to beat and win the game.

I was impressed at how they broke this game down actually

At the end of it all I was left feeling rather exhausted. I don't think I've ever really applied my creative juices this much in two full days. I walked away after creating no less than four games with my groups, and analyzing at least six. I also walked away with a much better idea of how to construct games and properly tune them to match their aesthetic goals. Would I recommend this tutorial to others? Definitely. It's a fun a rewarding experience for anyone, not just designers (I'm a programmer, after all). If you missed it this year than you can catch it next year as it goes into its fourth iteration.

Charles River Media Party posted 3/10 at 11:26:54 AM PST by Gaiiden

Charles River Media had it's second annual Author Appreciation Party this year at the Fairmont hotel. I was invited for my contributions to the book Game Design Perspectives. There were plenty of people I was eager to meet, so I packed my camera and headed over. Here's a pictorial of the event.

We got these guys as gifts. Free stuff! Yea!
Francois Dominic Laramee (Secrets of Game Business, Game Design Perspectives) chats behind Geoff Howland, who looks on as Eric Dybsand (AI Wisdom) no doubt chats about AI stuff. Just to the left of Eric is Mark DeLoura (Game Gems).
My publisher Jennifer Niles having a chat with Steven Rabin (AI Wisdom), who just flew in and showed up lugging along his suitcase
These books were all represented at the party
Jeff Lander (Game Gems), the guy with the hat, chats it up with fellow authors
Steve Woodcock (AI Wisdom) caught in the act
Mmmmm fooood....
Dustin Clingman (Secrets of Game Business), on the left, chats with fellow Full Sail instructors and authors
Francois talking with Charlie Cleveland (Game Design Perspectives)
David Pallai (in the center), President of Charles River Media

The Lamest Party Ever posted 3/10 at 8:18:39 AM PST by John Hattan

(TAN's Editorial Comments Appear In Blue And With Improper Capitalization)
There are times in life where words simply fail and are inadequite devices to convey a message. Like saying "Mount Kilimanjaro is quite a hill" or "Kelly Osbourne is quite a brat". While those predicate nominatives may be technically correct, they utterly fail to capture the scope and breadth of the subject they are describing. The contemplative Buddhist who finally reaches enlightenment after decades of meditation never just brightens up and says "It feels kinda like I just ate a pan of really good fishsticks" because there simply aren't the words.

So just accept that just saying "The Lamest Party Ever" in the subject doesn't begin to touch the depths of lameness I experienced. To misquote Star Trek, "For I have climbed the mountain and touched lame".

Anyway, enough foreshadowing. We had finished our day-two tutorials around 6 pm. Dave and Kevin were going to head to the ATI party and TANS was content just to return to his hotel room. (Let me give you an idea of what these parties are like: you stand around, talking to the people that you already know and occasionally try to get in on conversations that people you DON'T know are having, thus annoying these people. As you might imagine, I find this to be almost as lame as the nVidia bus experience.) I was stuck in the middle. I didn't RSVP the ATI party but figured I could tag along with Dave and Kevin to see if I could talk my way in. I'd talked my way into an expo-staff badge earlier, so I was strangely confident in my gift of gab. Dave and Kevin were hemming and hawing about the possibility of me tagging along. Dave is a quiet and gentle soul (read: he's a complete puss)(true dat!) and was unwilling to tell me right out that he was blowing me off. TANS was already on the bus back to the hotel. Suddenly fate intervened. A large yellow-green double-decker nVidia bus-full-o-babes parked itself in front of the hotel bus. The babes promised a fine night of bar-hopping and fun if we'd go with them rather than the hotel bus. I was all for it and, after hearing the offer, so was TANS. After a bit more cajoling of the others leaving the convention, we had about eight guys in the bus, along with four babes, an nVidia guy, and the bus driver(I found the Bus Driver pretty cool. I spoke to her while John tried to find a bush to pee on.). I was trying to throw myself into the spirit of a night of bar-hopping with booth-babes. TANS was a bit more tentative, taking a wait-and-see attitude towards the fun.

We circled the block a couple of times looking for more potential partiers, stopping here and there. While "Bawls" soda-pop was plentiful, there was no alcohol on the bus. nVidia-guy said he needed to stop off to buy some beer, and we took an early stop in front of the Fairmont. Shortly after, nVidia guy returned to tell us that his boss had told him that they were forbidden to buy us beer, but we could buy our own beer if we wanted. We made a second stop at a random intersection. TANS and I hopped out and walked about two blocks until we found a beer-buying place, disappointed in the lack of free beer but still quite hopeful that there was fun to be had. I bought a '40 of Red Dog, as it satisfies my soul which is apparently divided between being white trash and a homey. TANS bought a 12-pack of Miller(High Life--the champaigne of beers) for himself and a couple of 6-packs of Mike's Hard Lemonade for the girls (because TANS is no freshman in the college of love)(chickies like fruity-type drinks). We returned to the bus to find that the other guys who had come on at the center had bailed, so it was just the booth babes, driver, nVidia-guy, TANS and myself.

At this point came an event that can only be described as "sitting in one place for about 90 minutes". The bus parked near the ATI party, as they thought it'd be clever to hand our nVidia-logoed bits to the folks standing outside the ATI party. Problem was, there were only about three people outside the ATI party, two of 'em being security guards, so I don't think it had the air of zany spontaneity for which they were hoping. In any case, we sat in the bus. Later I headed up to the completely empty top floor of the bus (remember, it's double-decker) to call my wife, as they had the MP3 player pretty loud below. While talking to my wife, one of the babes appeared. I thought maybe she was going to work with me on how to make the bus do something other than sit in one place, but it turned out she was just annoyed that folks below were smoking. She seated herself about ten feet away from me just to ensure that there would be no interaction of any kind(I had a similar experience with the same "babe". i sat down in a seat in front of hers, and she moved back a seat. yes, she actually got up to move away from me.). After talking to my wife, I headed back down.

At this point the nVidia people, rep and babes alike, seemed to have crossed from flop-sweat into completely embracing their own lameness. The girls gave up on being wild party-types and settled in the back to exchange makeup tips. nVidia guy was apparently secretly ashamed, as he stopped making eye-contact with TANS and myself. TANS had finally had enough and instructed the driver to take us to the Denny's near our hotel. On the way back, TANS and I finally "got the joke" and the night went from being completely annoying to very funny. It had turned the corner. It was like watching a cheap old monster movie and suddenly seeing it not as something cheap and annoying but something unintentionally funny. We then started having great fun at the expense of everyone on the bus (except the driver, who was now our Best Buddy). We loudly laughed at was an exceedingly bad night this was, full of all the free beer that we were willing to buy and all the babes who were not quietly but openly annoyed by our presence.(John neglected to mention the part about how the nVidia dude shushed us so that he could hear what the chickies wanted to do about dinner) Shortly before reaching Denny's, I packed up all the Mike's Hard Lemonade, which annoyed the girls. The nVidia guy pretended not to notice that we were finally leaving the bus, busying himself inventory-ing the remaining soda-pop in the coolers.

Needless to say, the conversation at Denny's revolved about how much fun it was gonna be to tear nVidia a new one the next morning on gamedev.net. Hope you've enjoyed reading it.(for tonight, I have half a mind to find the bus and stand there, shouting at people: "DON'T GO! No, the girls do NOT get naked, nor do they even speak to you, unless your interests include make-up and hairbrushes.")


The next day TANS and I quite accidentally ran into the convention-guy for ATI. We all had a laugh about how very bad nVidia came off with their bus. He also told us that if he knew we were outside his party having a lousy time that he would've gotten us in and salvaged our evening (which would've been a much better end to the story, but you go with what you've got). In any case, he let us fondle the latest ATI card.

The remaining beer and Mike's Hard Lemonade went to Mason on Saturday in exchange for offering to box up and mail me the graft that wouldn't fit in my suitcase.

I got a somewhat angry email from a friend-of-the-babes who said that we misrepresented them as jaded women who wanted nothing to do with groping men-types such as myself and that they were actually very bright grad students who were getting their collective doctorates in quantum physics or somesuch other impressive science. And in response, let me make something clear --WE WERE NICE TO THEM!!! We didn't ogle them or touch them or be lecherous to them in any way. I'm 12 years happily married and TANS was just interested in sharing a beer or two then getting back to the hotel. At no point did we say or do anything inappropriate. We just wanted to have a laugh, mebbe talk about computer games, drink a couple of beers, and then get a ride back to our hotel room. We did absolutely nothing to deserve them actively avoiding us, yet they did anyway.

mGDC Day 2 posted 3/7 at 10:06:37 AM PST by Mason McCuskey

Second day at the MGDC! Several themes seem to be recurring throughout all of the presentations and forums. For starters, many people (publishers and developers alike) are worried about cell phone games that are just rehashes of the classic games we all know and love. Already, there are so many of these basic games available, and new cell phone developers seem drawn to remaking Asteroids or Breakout. Several different people stressed the urgency to do something unique, to embrace cell phone hardware, and to not assume that people just want to play Quake on their phones.

Also, everyone seems to be waiting to see which way the US is going to go. Currently, there are two platforms (BREW vs. Java / J2ME), and several different philosophies regarding distribution and aggregation of games. On the one hand, there’s the BREW model, which offers a complete end-to-end distribution path – as a developer, you make a game, and then just wait for the checks to roll in. This is simple, but it’s also somewhat limiting. On the other hand, there’s the DoCoMo model, already a proven success in Japan, which is more ISP-centric: you, as a developer, are responsible for hosting content. This gives you much more flexibility, but with the added burden of having to maintain a site.

Branding is also a topic of huge debate. Does your game need to have the ESPN or Mattel logo to be successful? To what extent will cell-phone gamers download , say, the GTA3 game because they’ve played and liked the “real game” on their PS2? And how do you capture the GTA3 experience in less than 100 kilobytes? Only time will tell!

Advanced OpenGL Game Programming Tutorial posted 3/6 at 1:05:33 AM PST by Kevin Hawkins

More detailed coverage of the Advanced OpenGL Game Programming Tutorial will come soon, but for now we thought this picture taken at the tutorial best summed things up.

Summary: The content wasn't that bad, but the presentation itself could have used some work. In the end, we were disappointed.

ATI TKO Party posted 3/6 at 12:59:07 AM PST by Kevin Hawkins

ATI tonight announced the release of three new next generation video cards in their Radeon product line. Dubbed the Radeon 9200, 9600, and 9800, these three cards are meant to provide consumers and developers with a wide range of capabilities in an affordable price range.

The Radeon 9200 is meant to serve as a lower end card supporting DirectX 8.1 with 4 pixel pipelines and 450% better performance (an ATI measure). This card is now shipping.

The Radeon 9600 is geared toward the mainstream user with DirectX 9 support ("DX9 for all"), 0.13 micron manufacturing, 4 pipelines, 2 vertex engines, and a price range of $100-$200 in April.

The Radeon 9800, claimed the "fastest graphics chip in the world" by ATI's senior Vice President Rick Bergman, provides developers with 8 pipelines, 256-bits, a full floating point precision architecture, and full DirectX 9 support. "We have a damn good architecture," claimed Bergman as he showed off the cinematic capabilities of ATI's newest graphics powerhouse. This card will be released in April.

Several tests were shown with direct comparisons against NVIDIA's latest: the GeForce FX Ultra 5800. Probably the most convincing was the 3D Mark 2003 Game Test 4 in which the Radeon outperformed the GeForce FX with an average 27 FPS compared to 19 FPS, respectively.

After the announcement and a fair amount of marketing glitz, curtains were lowered, the music kicked in, and the party began. The party was actually quite good, and the food was delicious. As for the environment, they had a few dancers on podiums to keep all the developers focused on one thing, while a handful of attractive women walked around the party floor to flirt with the mass of men. All we can say is, we wish we had brought our camera!

If you would like more information on the latest Radeon cards, please see ATI's press release.

Update And if you'd like to see the actual video from the ATI party, you can stream it from here.

This Year's Coverage posted 3/5 at 9:15:41 AM PST by TANSTAAFL

This year I have taken it upon myself to cover the GameDev.net coverage of the GDC. All the staff is hard(ly) at work to bring you the greatest coverage that the membership dues you pay to GameDev.net can buy. Oh, that's right. You don't PAY membership dues. Screw you, then.

Here's a picture of John Hattan covering the GDC. You can see his deft fingers manipulate the keyboard speedily with great care and exemplary panache. Also, you can see from the picture that John is not bald.