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

Sunday, April 1, 2007

Vacations over, gaming recap time.

I go back to work tomorrow to start on the next project. I am actually pretty excited, quite a lot of work has been done already by some of the Santa Monica team towards getting our PS3 technology in place. When I get back in tomorrow there should be PS3 devkits everywhere and lots of excited / apprehensive artists and designers starting to get used to working on the new console.

I spent my break doing some driving, some snowboarding and lots of house remodelling. But I also got some time to play a few games. Like a lot of people on the GOW team, I play a lot of games. Some of it is 'research', but most of it is just an alternative to watching TV.

Here is a little list with some random comments about what I played in the last few weeks. I know Cory got into trouble for daring to not like the Wii, so FYI, opinions are like assholes, everyone has one, and this is mine.

  • Flow - Pretty, relaxing, Kind of short but makes a great screen saver even if you aren't actually playing it. Motion controller isn't really doing it for me. Gave me some ideas about how to set ours up to make it less painful though.
  • Lost Planet - Gorgeous engine, I think their technology is better than Gears. However, the art style is not as commercial. Bad cutscenes as well, they look great but the writing and dialog is poop. Enjoyable game, I should really get around to playing the multiplayer a bit. Capcom's tech is about the best of any released game I have seen on next gen so far, they are on a bit of a roll. Dead Rising was my favorite game last year.
  • Zelda: Twilight Princess on the Wii - Yeah, this just isn't doing it for me. I played Ocarina of Time when it came out originally and I liked it a lot. This just doesn't really move things along much. The Wii Controller combat just feels bolted on. I keep going back to this for an hour or so to see if I can find what I am missing that everyone else digs so much. Not having any luck with that so far. I am in the same camp as Cory at the moment, Wii just isn't doing it for me yet .. only takes one game though.
  • Worms on Live Arcade - Damn this is still a great little 2d game. I played this to death when it came out on the PC way back when. My girlfriend and I had a few games of this again and its still just as much fun. Its nice to have this on arcade, its the kind of game I will keep playing every now and then in a dull moment.
  • Crackdown - This is a great first title from Realtime Worlds. Its really cool jumping from building to building. You feel just like a super hero. Its a bit of a one trick pony though. I did finish it, but there was stunningly little variation in the mission designs. The vehicles were kind of useless. I got the impression that the next game they do on this engine will be really stunning. Its got all the hallmarks of a well judged first step in a plan for world domination. I can really appreciate games and teams who don't bite off more than they can chew and lay a good foundation for future work. This feels like one of those times. I will be buying there next game for sure.
  • Viva Pinata - Meh .... got this one for free from a buddy. It just wasn't for me. Lets just leave it at that.
  • Call of Duty 3 - Got this one from a friend as well. I really thought I was done with World War 2 shooters. I wouldn't have bought it, though did play COD2. However, it was surprisingly good. I did get a chuckle out of there button press mini-game things. They reminded me of a certain game ... can't think what. No idea if they did get inspired by GOW ... its not like we are the only ones doing it .. but it was pretty funny anyway. It ran at a very decent frame rate, looked like it was actually hitting 60 in parts. Some of the battles with tonnes of your fellow troops alongside you were really well handled. Mo-cap was good, I especially liked the riding in the truck scene. The Mo-cap in that bit was very very well done, really convincing. We don't use much Mo-cap in GOW so its valuable to see it done right.
  • Castlevania SOTN - I must be some kind of heathen, cos' I really can't see what all the fuss is about this game either. I played it for a couple of hours but I couldn't even get past the first boss. We have a couple of fans of this on the GOW team so I asked them if I was missing something. They just kind of shrugged their shoulders and told me to level up further before fighting him. I haven't been back to it though.
  • Rainbow 6 Vegas - This is another game genre that I wasn't sure about playing again. I played GRAW when the Xbox 360 first came out. It was kind of OK .. not really my cup of tea. This kind of fell into the same camp. The cover mechanic is really well done in this. In some ways its better implemented than it was in Gears. I do really think thats the way ahead for FPS shooters. Its so much easier to do character development and the like. I decide to try an play it in 'Realistic' mode which was probably a mistake. It got pretty damn frustrating at times. The Vegas settings were nice, lots of bloom and blown out lighting. The rest of it was pretty pedestrian. The ending pissed me off, if you thought the cliffhanger ending in GOW2 was annoying, try playing this game. Overall, this genre is just way to formulaic for me now I think. It would be good if they spiced things up a bit with some better bosses or a bit more variation in the level design on enemies.
  • Jetpac on Live Arcade - More retro 2d. Cool, colorful and arcadey fun for only $5. You can't go wrong. It gets really hard really fast though. Wow, I am having trouble getting to level 30 ... what the hell is level 128 going to be like. This will probably be another game I will keep pecking away at over the next few months. Gotta love the small games on Live Arcade. Can't wait for more stuff to appear on there and the Playstation store as well.
  • Earth Defense Force 2017 - this is the gem of my holiday break game playing. I had absolutely no expectations for it. In fact I hadn't even heard of it until I saw Phil, one of the other GOW programmers, playing it on Live. I asked him what it was and he was kind enough to lend it to me. Its like a cross between Ant Attack on the ZX Spectrum from 20 odd years ago and a Godzilla Movie, but done in a Crackdown style environment. Tonnes of different weapons, skyscraper sized enemies. The production values are a little low rent, but the destructable city is very cool. The fact that you get a rocket launcher to destroy the city, right from the start of the game, was a good decision as well. It also has some fantastically cheesy dialog from the horde of soldiers who accompany you. ' Go back to space where you belong'. It has good sense of scale as well, taking down some of the really big ships is pretty satisfying. Its never going to be a mass seller, but I would thoroughly recommend it for some cheesy fun. Its broken up into nice 5-20 min levels as well, so its easy to play in small doses. Nice game.

I still have a couple of things on my pile to play as well, Motorstorm is one of them. Haven't played a racing game in a while, so that should be fun.

Anyway, thats quite enough gaming fanboy crap for one blogpost.

Wednesday, March 28, 2007

The End Begins ..... no, for real now.

Its been a couple of weeks since GOW2 came out in the US. This is my favorite comment on it so far. Its the one I am going to frame anyway! Its from Penny Arcade in case anyone didn't know.

Its also started up some thoroughly fascinating debates, absolutely the best of which is this on the Newsweek Blog of N'Gai Croal.

Its very interesting watching your own game get critiqued, which is what the best reviews are about. I used to absolutely hate English Lit at school where they made us study Shakespeare or Charles Dickens. I enjoyed some of the books, just not the over the top dissection that was necessary for good grades. I was always convinced that we were being made to read far more intentions into the writer and his motivations than he had when he was writing the book in the first place. Now I am not saying that GOW is like Shakespeare or Dickens, but its probably the closest I am ever gonna get, so bear with me. Being on the other end of it, I guess I can see merits in it when its as well written as N'Gai and Stephens critique. In some cases they know us better than we know ourselves. I have to conclude that they are both right about us.

Stephens point was that we played it safe, didn't break enough new ground, didn't have the same emotional depth of character as the first game. N'Gai's retort can be summarized as the game was more of the same but with better 'construction' and pacing. But he thinks that this is still an advance and who cares if you are having fun.

At the start of God of War 2 we had a meeting of the Leads on the team where we were asked the question of whether we wanted to do a 'mission pack' or a true sequel. I argued strongly for a true sequel as did some of the others and that is the direction we ultimately took. Everything is an evolution though, especially when you are making a sequel. We definitely took into account the critiques of God of War 1 when working out what we were doing for 2. Bosses, game length, re-playability etc. Then there are the confines that you force upon yourself to keep it finishable. We knew we couldn't re-write the tech that we had to choose carefully what to add making sure we didn't break what worked already. The character was established and the fans of the franchise have expectations, for all the work on the technology, I sure didn't envy Cory's job of following up the story of the first. But I thought the reveal of the identity of the narrator and some of the cutscenes of the Titan war were pretty compelling stuff. In the end, its my opinion that we did end up with a more perfected version of God of War, better paced, better art, more combat depth and replayability. But I am acutely aware, and I know I am not alone in this, that we are going to need to do something pretty fucking cool on PS3. Its looking like we will get to make the trilogy that we always wanted to, we are 2 games into making something I am very proud of and I'm excited at the prospect of the 3rd.

And just for some counterpoint, my favorite troll review from Metacritic, he gave us a 3/10. I wonder what games he thinks are worth 8 or 9?

While GamesTM have sold out to the mighty pound signs, Edge keep their reviews real and to be brutally honest this game is shite! Not Americas most wanted territory, but after the initial qualities the game throws at you its plain downhill after that. Seriously gameplay has moved on from this dog turd, pity Sony haven't realized it!

PAL 50/60Hz, Tearing, 480P etc

This is just a quick post to answer an issue I keep seeing come up on various message boards and now in some comments. Its in regards to some mistaken perception that a game runs 'slower' in PAL than NTSC.

This post is a comment on my previous entry :-

Why o why couldn't you guys leave a 60 Hz mode in the game for us PAL users? It makes me so fkn pissed of that our version is over 17% slower than the NTSC one.

And the big problem is that there's no way to import the game because I don't have a credit card.

Is it really that hard to include a 60 Hz mode. I know you have to work hard because of all the arrogant Europeans refusing to use the english language but is it reallt THAT impossible? The GoW series is ruined for me because of this simple reason.

In God of War NTSC we use what is known as a variable frame rate. It runs at 60 fps as much as possible but if there is too much going on on-screen, it gracefully drops the frame rate. However one second in game time still lasts one second in the real world as we dynamically adjust how much to increment the game clock for every frame. This frame rate dropping is also what causes the tearing. Tearing is worst when the game is almost, but not quite running at full frame rate. We decided this was better than switching between 30 and 60, a contentious decision but I am 100% sure its the right one for the play experience.

On the PAL version we make the game run at 50 Frames Per Second. But every second in the game still lasts a second. It doesn't run slower at all. I am not sure where you got that impression, probably from the boards? If you compared them side by side, they would look identical. Actually the PAL version would look a bit prettier since the NTSC standard is crap at doing RED, it bleeds out. But anyone playing the game would not do it faster on either version.

One other subtle advantage of running in PAL is that you actually get less screen tearing, since the game has slightly longer (1/50 sec vs 1/60) to prepare each frame. And finally the screen resolution for PAL is slightly higher than NTSC to satisfy the PAL TV standard.

The main reason we don't include a switch to make the game be playable at 50 or 60 fps, is that we specially convert all the movies to work at 50 FPS (Actually 25 in an MPEG vs 30 in the US) In order to make everything look as good as possible, we render the movies out at 50 fps to make sure they will look as good as possible on PAL TV's. We also have special versions of the Normal and Widescreen movies that are compressed from full resolution source material, so we reduce the artifacts of the compression wherever possible. Believe me we are really anal retentive about this stuff. Probably way more than we need to be.

Finally there is 480P. I know that a lot of people get pissed about this one as well. The reasons we don't do it on the PAL version are connected to the stuff above. There is no PAL 480P definition that I am aware of. 480P calls for running at 60 HZ. This means that we would have to include, or convert in real-time, the movies to run at 60. That would effect the quality of the MPEGS too much to be acceptable for the vast majority of people who will not play in 480P.

So sorry if you feel like you are getting a bum deal, if you consider less screen tearing, higher render resolutions, 6 languages etc as being bad!

Tuesday, February 27, 2007

Last week of school!

The rest of the God of War 2 team started a break about 2 weeks ago, but for a few 'lucky' select individuals the fun continues for a bit longer. A bunch of the programmers, the european producer, the HUD and Shell guy ... we all get to carry on working on the PAL version. I see lots of post on the boards from Europeans wondering why they always get the shaft on release dates so I though it might be interesting to explain what happens for the Euro release and why it takes us a bit longer. If your easily bored by an overabundance of tech detail, this might not be the blog post for you, so be warned!

For GOW2, our Gold date was about 3 weeks later for the euro version than the US. This is already a lot better than the original God of War. In that case Europe dragged its heels on some decisions so we ended up all having our break before we even started. This time we made a decision to try and get PAL done asap. So what is involved?

First, PAL TV's run at 50Hz compared to 60Hz in the US. All of the movies needs to be converted from the 60Hz (30 Movies Frames Per Sec) to 50Hz (25 Movie Frames Per Sec).

Second, you have to hope your programmers made allowances for multiple languages. Fortunately on this score we are working with some mature tech and we already did this for GOW1. However, there are always some wrinkles.

For a PAL release you have to do the EFIGS languages. This stands for English, French, Italian, German and Spanish. That covers the majority of the major Euro market with obvious apologies to the Benelux countries. Look on the bright side Benelux, you all speak amazing english from an early age and make English people like me, with crappy language skills, very jealous. On this occasion Sony Europe asked us for one extra language, Russian! That is a fun one, it has a completely different alphabet and is completely illegible and unintelligible to westerners. Its more like doing Korean or Japanese in that sense. So all the text has to be translated. In many cases the German for a particular phrase will be much longer than the original English, so all the formatting has to be worked out again. In fact this can lead to the HUD needing to be re-laid out and this actually just happened on GOW2 today.

On GOW1 we picked the language that the game ran in by looking at the language setup of the PS2. But with the addition of Russian, we couldn't do this. Since when the PS2 was made 7 years ago, they didn't include Russian. So a language selection screen had to be added at the start.

Next comes all the voice overs and spoken dialogue. God of War has lots of actors, earnestly speaking their lines. Because its a very story driven game we chose to translate these properly, no subtitles here. This means that we have to fit 6 times the amount of spoken audio on the disc compared to the US version. So lots of re-compressing of movies and relaying out of the disc gets done, to make everything fit and still have the seemless loading work. And of course, our musicians and audio guys didn't actually finish the mix and voiceover work until the end of January, so some of the final translation recording couldn't be done til then.

Last game we had to make content changes to the game for Sony Europe, as they were a bit uncomfortable with some of the scenes. The guy in the cage was the main problem, for anyone who played it. This time no changes were requested, which was cool, so this didn't slow us down.

Which brings us to some of the subtle technical crap that we have to do. PAL TV's operate at a different resolution and frame rate than US TV's. So we have to make allowances for this. This means bigger screen buffers and a re-arrangement of video ram. Also PAL runs at 50fps instead of 60, so we have to make sure this doesn't introduce any issues.

And then we get to testing. Obviously we already went through test for the US version, but now all the new translations need to be tested. Plus any given set of 40 odd people playing the game will find new stuff.

The final disc should go off to Europe tomorrow *fingers crossed*. So in about 6 weeks or so (I don't actually know the exact date) you should be able to play GOW2 in Europe compared to 2 weeks from now for the US. As a Euro type, I feel bad .... but *hooray* 2 more days and I get to go on holiday! Whoo hooo.

Wednesday, February 21, 2007

Times have changed, but much stays the same.

Its nice to finally be done with God of War 2, it really was sucking up all my time towards the end there. I am now getting a chance to catch up on some other projects within the Sony Family. Today I got a chance to talk to the programmers from 'That Game Company', they just finished a great little game called 'Flow'. It goes live on the Playstation Store tomorrow.

None of them has made a commercial game before as far as I know. They are fresh University Grads who got a deal based on a some Flash Games they made while at USC. They have the same enthusiasm and creativity that I remember from the demo scene 15+ years ago. What is amazing is that they got here via a university course that actually appears to be making a reasonable job of getting people into the games industry.

In 1989, at my parents behest, I went to university to get a computer degree. By the time I went I already knew that I wanted to make games for a living. It didn't look like a very viable career though and I took my parents advice and went to Manchester University to get my 'back up plan' degree in case it didn't work out. The University certainly had no respect or time for video games, I had to do stuff that interested me disguised as something sensible in order to get good grades. My final project was 'Simulation of Insect Vision', I did it because it let me use the only machines in the department with decent graphics capabilities.

The demo scene, not university, got me my start in video games. A couple of people from the Atari ST demo scene started a company in Germany called Thalion Software. As a way of paying my way through university, I wrote a game for them called 'A Prehistoric Tale'. It wasn't very good, or very original. But I was totally hooked. As for the university degree, it came in very very useful over the years. But most useful of all when I wanted to move to the US. That H1B visa would have been a damn sight harder to get without it.

Its cool that people like the Flow team can make a proper start, doing things they really love, at university. Games are not looked down upon in quite the same way any more. Many parents now will go on the web and look up game careers and find that their kids could make a good go of it. I got a chance to speak about God of War to a games theory class at USC last week. I am not sure if it was exactly the same class that the Flow guys came out of, but it was in the School of Cinematic Arts at USC, so probably similar. It was fun, talking to the students in that class as well as to the Flow guys, has somewhat renewed my faith that games are gonna keep going in some interesting directions and there are more ways than ever of getting your start.

Saturday, February 17, 2007

Bright Shiny Object Syndrome

It seems reasonable that my very first real post on this blog is to explain the name. 'Bright Shiny Object Syndrome' is a term used to explain the process that I've observed in a number of different game designers I've worked with. BSOS is where the sufferer comes into work on any given morning and is utterly convinced of some feature or change that has occurred to them while ... playing a game ... watching TV ... going to the movies .... reading a book .. a comic..

Suddenly everything is clear!

If they are in a lead role and have any kind of sway they can put into motion tasks, changes, R&D and all the things that a well oiled team will do to support an idea.... The only problem is that often this will be replaced by another good idea or just wither and die, at the point which the sufferer notices another bright shiny object in something else.

Obviously in amongst all these bright shiny objects are some real true gems. Games don't get made by accident and someone, often multiple people, had to think of every single feature in any game you play.

Its become pretty obvious to me that developing ways to support this random creativity without letting it get so out of control that the project falls into mediocrity is the way to go in game development. I did a talk on this at GDC 2006 called 'God of War: How the Left and Right brain learned to love one another'

Link to my 2006 GDC talk.

Its a set of power point slides that describe the tools we used and the realizations we came to while making the original God of War.

It seems like it might be a good name for this blog, since I would imagine that I'm probably gonna do a bit of rambling on whatever seems important when I get up in the morning.

Friday, February 16, 2007

Joining the 21st Century

So I finally made a blog... I think its the end of project blues thats got me. I don't seem to know what to do in the evenings when I get home.

Its been an interesting little nostalgia trip putting together the links on the sidebar here. I got my start in programming making demos on the Atari ST. Believe it or not, someone has archived all these and you can still download them and run them on emulators. There were demos that I don't even really remember writing. I guess I shouldn't feel bad, it was 20 years ago!

I am not really sure whether this blog is going to have a point or if its just gonna be a collection of ramblings, who knows. But at least I finally managed to join the 21st century.