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.