Tuesday, November 6, 2007

Another one bites the dust

I have had this image hanging around on my hard-drive for the right opportunity. I guess its now or never! Word has hit the wires that Cory is moving on from the God of War team. Its a pain, as it is in any job. Losing key members of the team is a blow. But God of War is about more than any one person and the team will continue to work hard to make more great games in this franchise. Now we are looking at shuffling around some responsibilities to fill the hole that exists. Its not exactly fun, but its also not the first time that any of us have had to do this.

I just did a quick count looking at the original credits list for God of War 1 and realized that more than 30 of the people on that are still working here on #3. Amongst many others, that includes the entire programming team.

Best of luck to Cory in his future endeavours, which i am sure will not include spokesmodel for a popular hamburger chain.

Tuesday, October 23, 2007

Red Wind

“Those hot dry winds that come down through the mountain passes and curl your hair and make your nerves jump and your skin itch. On nights like that every booze party ends in a fight. Meek little wives feel the edge of the carving knife and study their husbands' necks. Anything can happen.”

—Raymond Chandler, "Red Wind"

Its some unsettling days in LA this week, the Santa Ana winds are blowing and its hot and dry as hell. Theres a number of fires raging in Southern California affecting a lot of my Sony colleagues especially in San Diego. Joel Taubel, an AP on the God of War team got a nasty surprise on Sunday waking up to the smell of smoke. He has some really ominous shots of the sky ... it looks like a Hades level.

I am spending my evening looking nervously at the hillside next to my house. This photo below was taken by my gf about 3 months ago when there was a minor brush fire on it. The helicopter was on the scene in 15 mins and put it out. Theres no way we would be that lucky if it happened today. Heres hoping the Santa Ana winds go away tomorrow.

Thursday, October 4, 2007

Alive and Kicking

If you check on the left of this blog to the products section there are a whole load of demos from the late 80's and early 90's that were the first real products I worked on. Some of these were done while I was at school ... all of them were done before I got a 'real' job. Writing a demo took an stupidly large amount of time. Some of them were multi screen with menus linking them all together. They went through a bug checking process, feedback from friends in the community .. the whole deal. They were major undertakings and way better experience to get me ready for the process of finishing making a video-game than University.

Many of the people who were in the scene at that time are now making a good career out of writing video games. I know of quite a few working at companies like EA, Microsoft, Sony etc. In fact one of the other guys from my demo crew is now a Technical Director at EA. I even was lucky enough to hire someone else from the french demo scene at Sony. He was one of the programmers on God of War 2.

I hadn't really paid a lot of attention to todays demo scene for many years. But recently I saw a demo called 'Debris' by Farbrausch ..... holy crap its good. I guess I shouldn't be surprised that in the same way as the games being made now are immeasurably more complex than 15+ years ago, so are the demos. But still ... holy crap. Heres the YouTube link, but if you get a chance download it and run it on a PC, its way more impressive running on a PC.

They have a web page as well . I don't even want to think how much time some of this stuff takes them to put together, its really very slick, great music etc.

Heres another, I think the latest.

Amazing stuff, I sometimes wish I could go back to doing this but I don't know how I would keep myself in Sushi and Ollie in Diapers.

Friday, August 3, 2007

Small pink bundle of fun

Time has flown by the last couple of months. After my initial burst of enthusiasm for blogging real life got in the way. Or to be more exact, a small pink bundle of fun got in the way!

My son was born on May 24th ... and all that crap that people with no kids laugh at about it totally changing your life turns out to be completely true. I have gone from having trouble getting up at 8:30am to go to work, to managing 4am feedings with relative ease.

I have been working at Sony for a long time now, 8.5 years. All that crunching on GOW for the last 5 years or so meant I had a lot of holiday saved up. So I was lucky enough to take 6 weeks or so off to spend with my S.O. and our new son. Its the longest time I have had away from working, or even thinking about work in a very long time. It was really nice. I have developed the art of playing video games while he sleeps on me. It does pretty much rule out playing Wii games or anything that actually uses the Sixaxis. I bet no designers considered that scenario when designing control mechanics!

Heres a quick list of games I played over the last couple of months:-


Tomb Raider Legend - Excellent update. I always though Tomb Raider was rather overrated, with the exception of the first one. I know that Toby Guard was a consultant on this one so I have no idea if that is what helped .... obviously it takes way more than one person to make a great game. They introduced lot of nice little button mechanics to make moving around faster. Some nice puzzles. The combat still sucks balls, but it was an enjoyable game.

Guitar Hero II - These guys hit the motherlode and its made them deservedly rich. I never was really interested in being in a band or anything like that when I was a kid. But this game just makes me laugh when I play it. Really pretty awesome. As soon as it moves to 5 buttons though, I am screwed. I would appear to have no real dexterity!

Motor Storm - Kind of pretty racer, nice physics on the crashes ... for the first few times.... then I was just mashing the button wanting it to be over. The load times are excruciating though, I have a thing about long loads. They pretty much stopped me going back after a couple of hours of playing it.

Splinter Cell: DA - I got a free copy of this from a buddy, Meh .... its Splinter Cell. Nothing to see ... here move along...

Catan - Used to play this as a board game with friends. Its a good conversion of the game. But the AI, even on hard, was laughably easy to beat. I tried to play on Live but the whole thing was completely flaky and you were usually playing against AI within 5 mins since everyone had been dropped.... Not a great experience.

Command and Conquer 3 - I never played a RTS on console before since up to now the screen resolutions were really not up to it and this is the kind of game that really needs a mouse. It took me a while to get used to the control scheme and it certainly never was as good as on a PC, but overall I did think this was pretty good. The graphics and gameplay were well up to par, but it saddens me that EA probably paid all those trendy TV show stars a fair amount of money to do a really lame acting job for the cut-scenes.

Pacman CE
- I would never have guessed that you could update Pacman and while keeping it essentially the same game, make me get totally hooked on it for a week. Very nice update, really as good as everyone says. I think I will get my son to play this ina a couple of years.

Xevious - I bought this in a fit of nostalgia ... and I should have just left it as a memory. Once I had bought it I remembered that I stopped playing it as soon as Xenon came out shortly later...

The Darkness - I am really getting pretty tired of FPS games .. but this managed to bring some cool story telling devices and cool visuals. Given my distaste for loading screens, I thought hiding them behind little character monologues was an effective way to go. Some of the models and dialogue were pretty good, but the lip-sync was horrible. I really like the stealth tentacle mode and it was pretty fun to pin people from 30 feet away.

Super Stardust HD - A really good PSN shooter. A modern day asteroids. Its the best shooter I have played since Geometry Wars with the same .... Must beat my friends highscores..... thing that GW had going for it.

Overlord - Nice game, sort of Dungeon Keeper meets Pikmin. I read some mixed reviews but I thinks its one of the more original games thats been out on 360. I am really enjoying it. The Gremlins things have really amusing personality.


On the God of War front, various people from the team including me are keeping an eye on the PSP game, doing our best to ensure its in the spirit of the games we have made at Santa Monica. The PSP version is being handled by Ready at Dawn and I had the chance to play the demo this week, the same one you could register for a while back. We always spent a lot of time making sure our PS2 demos were gonna hook you in and the RAD team has certainly done a fantastic job of staying true to that. I really couldn't believe some of the stuff they are making that little PSP do. They nailed the controls now, it felt like GOW, looked like it .... awesome. I was so happy to see it.

Alright, nuff crap, I will try and not wait 3 months for the next post.

Saturday, April 28, 2007

Gene Rodenberry is turning in his grave

One of my co-workers posted this YouTube clip around work last week. Its of someone trying to use Vista's voice recognition software to write a perl program. 30 (in fact 40) years ago, thanks to Star Trek, a lot of people would probably have expected that this would be an easy thing to do.

It made me laugh a lot and it kind of fits neatly in with some major events in my life. You see, in a few weeks I am going to be a dad for the first time. Its pretty exciting and nerve wracking. Its got me thinking about my own childhood and the era in which I was born. Its certainly a very different world now than it was in the early 70's. I feel like all of us that were born around that time got pretty damn lucky as I doubt that there have been many more exciting or fast moving periods of history. My dad said to me that just being born into an era where you are the wrong age to get forced into any major wars is already the best start you can get. So I certainly lucked out on that one and I just have to cross my fingers that this will be true for my kid as well.

Atari was founded a couple of years after I was born and so I have been alive for most of the major history of videogames. I am sure that I would have just ended up doing something different if I was born when my dad was (The 30's). He is an Electrical Engineer (he built me a pong machine from a kit when I was very young), but he discovered computers late in life. He learned to program in C in his late 60's, I doubt there are many people who can claim that! I am very glad that the timing with respect to video games worked out so well for me. Doing something you actually enjoy for a job is pretty damn important. I wonder what my kid will think of my video games when they are looking back 30 odd years from now? God of War will be an antiquated relic in the same way we all look at Space Invaders now.

Now we have the Internet and Google, even 15 years ago it was impossible to see where that was going. Bill Gates wrote a book in 1995 called 'The Road Ahead' that pretty much failed to anticipate the Internet. I didn't think there was much point to it around then either, but at least I wasn't alone.

I have had a semi-jokey conversation with friends that Google is in fact the next stage of human evolution. Anyone with at least enough knowledge to use a computer, can answer most questions or find most facts within a couple of minutes. Its already impossible to imagine life without the net. For my kid, they will never know life without it. Computers and games are such a ubiquitous thing in my house that I can only imagine they will be using them from the point they sit in front of a keyboard. Just imagine what might be available to them in 30 years from now, maybe Microsoft (actually more likely Google) will even have worked out Voice Recognition by then.


I wasn't gonna write about the industry in this post, but of course theres been a bit of GoW related controversy over the weekend. It originally appeared in the 'Daily Mail' in England. I was trying to explain to my american colleagues what the Daily Mail was like. The best thing I could come up with was describing it as a paper for Joe Lieberman, Hillary Clinton or any Republican (By English standards it's a right wing paper). In other words for people who have never seen a bandwagon they didn't want to jump on, especially if it was something they :-

A) Didn't do themselves
B) Could use to distract from real issues / blame for there own inadequacies.
C) Wasn't of interest to anyone who might vote for them / buy the paper.

Thats not to say that Sony were exactly bright about doing this in the first place, but jeez does no-one watch 'Fear Factor' or even 'MythBusters'. The Daily Mail's method of using exaggerated moral outrage to sell newspapers just happened to fall on us for a day or so.

Edit 5/7/2007 :- So... yeah... Daily Mail.. Bastion of journalistic ethics.

Monday, April 16, 2007

Talkin' about the resolution

I am terrible at keeping secrets and I had to sit on a good one for the last month since GOW2 came out. Namely this one ... (Kotaku helpfully hosted the pic for everyone)

We were proud to get this into the game at the very last minute. I set a bad example though as I am always arguing for us to not add new stuff after Beta and I broke my own rule, bad programmer...

Its funny that the story could have actually gotten out a lot earlier if the journalists at the launch party had been paying attention. We were running around the Metreon Bar rebooting all the PS2's so it would look nicer on the Plasma TV's it was running on. I think the Journo's had been successfully distracted with the free alcohol.

Our marketing guys were nice and let us write a no bullshit little press release that is honestly a pretty fair reflection of why we hid it in instead of making it obvious. I tried to keep it relatively non technical and figured I would add a bit of extra detail on here.

So for what its worth:-

God of War 2 normally runs at 512 * 448, the 'HD Mode' runs at 640 * 448. Thats a 25% increase in Horizontal resolution. 640 * 448 is pretty much as high as you can run an NTSC Playstation 2 game. Gran Turismo 4 had a 1080i mode, but even that is a bit of a trick. If it wasn't running at 60fps, it wouldn't look any better than 480p. They switch between odd and even scan lines every other frame. We cannot sustain 60fps for the whole game, so it wasn't an option for us.

Our 'HD Mode' has to draw more pixels than the normal mode. This means that any place where we are 'fill rate' limited, the game will actually run a bit slower since it has to draw 25% more pixels. In places where the game is slowing down because its drawing a lot of particles or graphical effects, e.g. a big fight, it will slow down a bit worse in our 'HD Mode'. On balance though its probably only slower in a few places.

Now lots of games, us included, talk about 480p. In truth that doesn't actually mean we render 480 scanlines, we only do 448. This is because most televisions do not display all the scanlines. There is really no point in rendering them since no one will see them and you can use the processing time to do other things.

Its going to be the same on next-gen games. Everyone talks about 720p and 1080p, but in general a lot of games render a few scanlines less. This is also because the LCD and Plasma TV's don't render all 720 scanlines. Many more next gen games are fill rate limited, so you will see a lot of these tricks used to get that little extra bit of performance.

Its also true for the Playstation 2 and Euro TV's. In Europe the standard is 576P, but most people render only 512 scanlines. Unfortunately the 512 * 512 resolution that we render the PAL game already takes a lot more Video Ram than out normal 512 * 448 NTSC rez. To do the same HD Mode trick on the PAL PS2 would have needed 640 * 512 screens and there simply isn't enough VRAM (the 640*448 NTSC one only *just* fitted). Our SCEE Press team got a bit confused about why there is no HD Mode in the Euro release. But not enough VRAM is the real reason, its a bummer, wish we could have done it.

Alright enough resolution talk, I wanted to share a classic 'Internet expert' post that we found on the official Playstation boards after the release of the first God of War. It was printed out by one of the designers and put on the fridge at work where it caused a lot of amusement to all of us. Its kind of a geeky joke, but hey your reading a blog by a game programmer so what did you expect.

Re: God of War Demo Question

Progressive scan, from what I know (I may be wrong since I am talking about PC Progressive Scan), is when the disk basically reads ahead, alowwing the AI to anticipate your movement, allow the game 0 lag, and other features, as opposed to Tracking scan, which is basically scan only the location you are in, and nothing else.

Friday, April 6, 2007

Top of the World

Todays post is going to be completely not job related. This blog is going to probably mostly be about work and games and stuff. But all work and no play would be a dull existence so here is something a bit different.

When I first came to LA 15 odd years ago, I thought it was horrible. I arrived here after driving all around the South West US, San Fran, Yosemite, Kings Canyon, Vegas, Grand Canyon etc etc. LA was a big disappointment, I remember driving up the 101 to go to Universal Studios. It was hot, overcrowded, just awful. So you can imagine how delighted I was when I found that I wouldn't be working at Sony in Foster City (Nor Cal) when I moved to the US 8 Years ago. Instead it was going to be Santa Monica in West LA.

Now though, times have definitely changed. In fact I have spent enough time up in Foster City, to know that I would have hated it. LA on the other hand keeps surprising me. One of my hobbies is driving. I am lucky enough to have bought my dream car a couple of years ago, its made for the twisties. I am always looking for great drives where you can get away from the masses. Even with LA and its 6 million odd cars, its suprisingly easy to find them.

Just last week at the end of my break I went on a drive up in the hills. I had purposely been waiting for a super clear spring day. You often get them at this time of year, usually the best day is just after a rain storm. The wind blows all the clouds and any smog away and you can see for literally a hundred miles. If you ever came to LA on a day like that you may have seen some very big mountains off in the distance. At the very top of these are some enormous aerials. This is actually the Mount Wilson observatory.

The road that leads up to this is called the Angeles Crest Highway. I saw someone on message board talking about this road. They described it as one of the best drives close to Los Angeles. Its actually a pretty major road through the mountains. But a couple of years ago a major storm destroyed part of the highway and it has yet to be fixed. This destroyed section is about 35 miles in though. So that means 35 miles of twisty cool mountain scenery with almost no traffic on it, since it doesn't really lead anywhere.

The Mount Wilson exit is not very far along the road and the view from the top is pretty spectacular. You can honestly see for a hundred miles. If you take a look at this panorama you can see a small blob in the middle of the city. This is the enormous LA downtown. Some of the buildings are 70+ stories. You can't see it at all on the photo, but it was possible to see all the way to Santa Monica in the distance haze. Its the best view of LA I have yet found.

Driving further down the road, past the police speed trap (No one lives on this road and nobody commutes on it, so they were just there to make some cash) the road opens up into some beautiful scenery. It goes as high as 7000 feet in parts and the temperature was dropping the whole way. It was about 45 degrees at the top compared to 70 when I left the house. In fact there was still snow on the ground. There were lots of signs warning of Ice and the need for snow chains. I can imagine it gets pretty nasty conditions whenever a winter storm passes through LA.

All good things come to an end. This road will be even better when they fix the storm damage. It normally carrys on right up to 'Mountain High' which is a ski area pretty close to LA. There is even a nice little restuarant and Bar about 20 miles down this road called 'Newcombs Ranch'. I had some nice Lunch there on my way back. For now I would have to say this is the best drive I have had in LA. Its only about 20 mins from my house to the start of this road and I will be coming back a lot more.

Google Map Link