Kudos to Kodu!

On June 22, 2009, in Design, Games, Good Advice, by Steffen Itterheim

I’m really anxious to find out how this whole Kodu thing works and what you can do with it. Kodu is a game creation tool for Xbox Live Community Games, or Xbox Live Indie Games as it is now called. It is developed by Microsoft Research. From all i can see over the web it isn’t yet very popular and stays well under everyone’s radar, which is a shame and why i’d like to give it a little support here.

Just reading Kodu’s list of key features might give you the impression that it’s far from impressive. You get a few editors for Terrain, Paths and so on and it’s programming language works without the use of a keyboard. Personally, however, i fell this could really get a lot of people into actual game development without needing to learn all the technical details of a programming language or the target system’s hardware capabilities. It actually wants to make the development process itself as a playful experience. Just take a look at how Kodus iconic programming language works:

The next example is a bit more complex. Can you guess what it does? Hint: saucers are your enemies.

Click on the picture to get more information. In short, this raises a blue shield around your ship and as long as it’s running all saucers that bump into you get killed. Neat.

You can use it for parenting, too. This world’s creation was directed by a 5-year old.

And this screenshot shows the proof of concept for a 2D platformer.

So, in case i got you interested in Kodu, head on over to the Kodu blog to read up on their latest developments. And as always, Wikipedia has some background info on Kodu and explains the programming language.

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In the early days of this blog i picked on Mass Effect because i so much wanted to be in love with the Space Opera which it wasn’t. I decided to pick this game to pieces and blog about each aspect of the game i didn’t like, in order to further my understanding of why exactly i didn’t like it even though i had played through it. After 3 blog posts each going for some nervewracking detail i made a list of things i would still have to write about – and the list was over one page of bullet points – so at this point i stopped writing because given the level of detail i was looking for, i’d probably still be writing about it to this day.

Plus the ruptured anterior cruciate ligament (Kreuzbandriss) i had just 9 days after the last post stopped me from pursuing my blog at all for months. So i never picked up Mass Effect again. Neither did i pick on it again. That is, until now but fortunately, i can just redirect you to the best ranting about Mass Effect i’ve read and two follow-up posts Back on Mass Effect and How to have fun in Mass Effect, all by Krystian Majewski. He says what i’ve been saying ever since the game came out – it’s an unfinished, rushed product, period! Krystian puts it this way:

“Mass Effect is ALL filler. You can clearly see how the developers were desperate to create just STUFF in order to get their checklists done. So even in rather polished missions like Feros you get 4 fetch quests which can ALL be solved in ONE big room. You can clearly see how initially, there was a much more complex environment planned which had to be slowly reduced to this single room simply because there was no time for something more complex. In the end, there wasn’t even time for some basic tutorials.”

Fully agree! Plus i’ve worked on complex role playing games, so i know how this stuff comes to be and why it ends up like exactly that. You usually don’t cut out content that’s been done or is “almost” complete, maybe you’ve written the lines or even had them voice acted already. So you just put it wherever you can just so it stays in the game. On the other hand, maybe you’re bound by contract to deliver 4 side-quests on each main mission or having so and so many sidequests overall and in some cases that only leaves you with the option to just throw this stuff in. I’m not sure if that had to be the case with Bioware given their “perceived status of the RPG developer” but they too have to fullfil contracts and none of us knows their publishing partners and all the other business issues that create a pressure to deliver even if it’s not their best. What really, really astounds me is that Mass Effect is such an obvious unfinished product but it still ranks as one of the highest rated games on the Xbox 360 (#15 with 91%) – in my opinion undeservedly so. On the other hand it’s a good example of effective marketing!

The only grievance i have with Krystians argumentation on how to have fun with Mass Effect is that he says cranking up the difficulty to Insane makes the game more enjoyable. Having just pulled through the badly reviewed Terminator Salvation on Hard difficulty i would generally agree that playing even a “not-so-good” game on a hard difficulty – even if it may be unfair at certain times – makes it more enjoyable in general for a select group of people we tend to call hardcore. There is an innate satisfaction to be found by overcoming difficult obstacles and doing something very few people will even start with. However it has nothing to do with the game or it’s quality per se, in my opinion. It’s the sense of accomplishment that you feel when you advance past a difficult part of any game, and when you eventually finish it. It works in both directions – the excellent Call of Duty 4 on the hardest difficulty was a frustrating stretch a lot of times and on the hardest difficulty level it’s no longer about the game mechanics, level progression, story or scripted events – it becomes a game about the lucky shot, finding good spots the AI can’t get to, and other such trickery but mostly about pulling through no matter what. I grew up with games that WERE this way for a loooong time. So from time to time i can pull through such a game because it reminds me of the “good old days”. You know, just like your grand dad tells that same war story over and over again – even though he wouldn’t ever go back there again … or would he?

Oh, just in case you want to pick up on my own posts, they were about Mass Effect’s Manual Override, 3rd Person Camera and the dreaded Mako and can be found by clicking on the aforementioned links, obviously. The popularity of the Manual Override post specifically showed me that i’ve hit a nerve with that one – much to my surprise after several months that this blog didn’t see any updates there was frequent traffic going to that page. Currently, it ranks second on google for the search term Mass Effect Manual Override. This really surprised me given the no-effort and it did motivate me to pick up on blogging again. Now just see for yourself where it got me!

And speaking of Terminator Salvation, and playing through it on hard: yes, you can call me an Achievement whore but actually i think it’s not THAT bad if you don’t expect a Gears of War – which i happen to not like either … hmmm, i wonder, given the choice, would i rather play Gears of War or Terminator Salvation? I would have to give that some thought …

Krystian also posted his insights about GTA4: Devolution and Story to which i fully agree. We don’t need bicycles in a GTA which i’ve casually touched on in the only post i did after my soccer accident. Anyone who’s asking for frickin’ bicycles in a gangster game doesn’t know squat about good game design – ok, admittedly rude but that just had to be said because these are the people – given the chance – who will feature-creep your project into a heavily delayed, feature-laden, cryptic mess of a warthog (pun intended) no one really wants to play – except for the designer himself and a few like-minded people. That’s how Saints Row came to be. Well, maybe not, i don’t really know but as gamer i noticed the lack of vision with which this game got made (better, bigger, more is NOT a vision). Saints Row 2 is still a fun quick fix but it hasn’t nearly the depth that GTA offers.

I want to enjoy a game and i haven’t enjoyed a GTA as much as GTA IV – and i’ve been a fan from the start of the series which i bought after reading a 6/10 Grand Theft Auto review because i just knew that that’s a cool game. Boy was i ever right. I haven’t been so damn right since i first layed eyes on the DooM shareware game at a friend’s place and my immediate reaction was “Quit the game NOW, copy it, then you can get back and play it, i don’t want to see any more of this – i HAVE to play it!”. Ten minutes later i was on my way home to enjoy this pearl of a game – it also started my game development career but that’s for another post.

Would you hire this guy as flight controller?

On June 10, 2009, in Oddities & Fun, by Steffen Itterheim

Youtube user wjdforme achieved over 10,000 landings in the iPhone / iPod Touch megahit Flight Control. He’s been at it for a week putting in a couple hours each day. Amazing!

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