Friday, September 30, 2011

The plumber

Woke up, went to work, got myself some coffee, parked my ass on a chair, turned on the laptop, scratched my balls, checked the email... holy butcrack.

Wow. &, a blog about, yep, Indy games, got notice of T22. Suddenly a lot more traffic on this crappy hole on the WWW, a dozen of Youtube abonnees + jokes, and some articles about T22 on these websites.

I'm shy by nature and hate to stand in the spotlights, but having this attention on your (life)work is great. Got to correct a few wrong assumptions though!


...Skyscraper in the Soviet Union...

I mentioned the word "Soviet era style" several times. But... T22 is not really in the Soviet Union. The theme is certainly related, not only on the map design, but in the end the story has not much to do with Stalin & comrades.

...You play as Robert...

Thanks for the name suggestion! But honestly, Robert is a real-life person who is busy designing the player. The protagonist himself has no name yet! But I bet Robert is pleased!

...Then what the # is the game about?!...

Uh... It's hard to tell without spoiling things. The whole story and game is one big quest basically. All I can tell is that you are a caretaker doing jobs for the boss in a big (sort of Soviet style) skyscraper indeed.

And after a while, you do want your freedom (back). So the player, codename Robert, wants "to break free. God knows, God knows I want to break free." "I've Fallen in love"... wait, that's Queen. No love for Robert here!

And yep, the building is pretty much abondon. You'll try to puzzle/search your way out, which makes it a bit different than a zombie slasher or action game. But that doesn't mean you won't get your hands dirty eventually! Be prepared to be affraid, very affraid.

The demo movie is a bunch of scripted events btw. The game itself should give freedom. You decide where to go, when to go, and what to do if something happens. But hey, I wasn't that far programming ;)

...The sound hurts my ears / too much blur...

The sound, SSAO and motion blur are making havoc in this movie indeed. Partially because unfinished business, partially because of the cracky framerate. The movie was recorded on a somewhat older videocard (GeForce 8800) with FRAPS killing the CPU in the background. It made the sound go berserk, and the motion blur even nastier as the deltaTime between 2 frames was relative big.

...I'm a Plumber...

That would be pretty romantic right? Not sure if "a plumber by trademark" means I'm doing a proper job, or actually being a plumber? Too bad. The truth is, I can barely hold a baco. Never ever ask me to fix your toilet, unless you want a sinflood! In real life, I'm programming operating systems for pharmaceutical machines, warehouses, and my sweet 30 ton babies:

...Out soon...

Oh dear :) Don't want to spoil the party, but this game won't be out anywhere soon. Since we try to put the visual standard pretty high, and the T22 world is going to be kinda big, there is sh~tload of work to do. Programming the engine further, and having some maps, models, textures, sounds and animations would be nice too.

Do you remember the famous words "When it's done!". Well, that game is "done" all right. I'm going to say the same :) But seriously, the current target is forming a team, rather than creating the game right away. I can dream all I want, creating a "big" game with just a few hobbyists is not realistic.

So let's see if we can ensemble enough talented people to create a game in our spare time... Or at least make a good start, and then look further to get this baby on a more professional level. Doing this Blog and demo movies are part of the strategy; hopefully it attracts talented people!

That still sounds like a little boys dream, and... yes, maybe it is. So what? It doesn't mean it's impossible. The people we have here now are capable to create a game like this. The only problem is the lack of manpower so far. Let's show those bastards you don't need a 30-trillion budget to create a good game!

Ever thought about sending this pitch to a publisher?

Yes, but the project is still pretty premature. As said, a team too small for mass production, lot's to add to the engine (including fixing the motion blur! ). First things first, then we'll look further. At this point, I simply can't promise anything to an investor. Unless we work 400% on it maybe, but I don't think the other girls in this house would appreciate that :)

What to expect anywhere soon then?

* A second tech-Demo movie is targetted end this year. Not a "cinematic" horror movie like before, merely a showcase of the Radar Station map we use to test objects.
* A third horror-gameplay movie is targetted somewhere next year.
* A (simple) website end 2011 / begin 2012
* In the meanwhile, collecting more people. Currently we are looking for 3D environment mappers, environment concept-artists, possibly 1 more audio dude(tte), and a texture artist. In 2012 we'll be needing an animator as well.
* When the team is big enough and oiled, we'll start creating actual game content.

"Julio Iglesias is in charge of the concept art?.
You mean the singer?"


What color of underpants do you wear?

Transparent-blue or with a panda print.

Halflife2 / Source MOD

No, it's not a Source MOD, neither using another engine such as UDK. it's all coded in-house. And Yes, quite some contents from the first demo movie are from HL2 indeed. Not that I wanted to, but how the hell is a plumber/programmer to create those textures and sounds then? Creating that monster (and animating it) required the maximum of my programmer-art skills. Got to start somewhere. Can't attract good people if I show stuff like this!

Excuses, got to play dirty sometimes. The next movie however will have our own textures and sounds though. In fact, pretty much most screenshots on the Blog from this year are using our own texture sets.

"This stupid video made me broke my Shift key"

Apologees, we'll send a new one.

...Amnesia / Penumbra...

T22 is quite often compared to Amnesia. And that's a good thing! They managed to put down a f#cking scary game with limited horsepower as well. Though it's not inspired on Amnesia. Never heard of the game until recently when one of the team members gave me a link. As a matter of fact, I don't know much horror games anyay. Only played a Doom3, a few Silent Hill's and Gamecube Resident Evils. And Amnesia made me poop my pants. Isn't that ironic?

The gamestyle is a bit similiar though. In Amnesia, instead of fighting, you run for a single enemy that wanders the area. A lot more terrifying if you ask me, although the ability to defend yourself once in a while would be nice...

... The fat lady at the end of that Demo movie, wtf?...

That was just a joke, putting that photo of my girlfriend there. No, Polish women aren't that fat :) Though this woman is as flat as a 2D sprite as well.

Thank you all for reading and your (positive) feedback. It makes it all worth! Back to work now!

Saturday, September 24, 2011

Compressor, Part 1/2

In case you are a programmer or texture-artist, you probably have heard about DDS files or texture compression. But if you are like me, you may have skipped all those articles. Pfff, compression, who needs that? Bitmaps and TGA files work for me, Pixel-data is pixel-data right? Besides, I've been taught that compression makes the quality worse, and reduces the performance because in the end, your pixels still have to be decompressed to a raw format. So what's the point?

Well forgive my ignorance. Guess I'm still traumatized because 12 years ago, I couldn't figure out why my sprites had jaggy pink edges when using JPEG files. Oh yes, the compression did that. But although the quality / performance arguments are valid, texture compression actually gives some nice possibilities. In this post, I'll write about using DXT compressed textures in your OpenGL program, and the DDS file format that can store this format.

1. For beginners: (de)compression
For starters, as the name sais, compression is a technique to store (large) buffers of data with some tricks to reduce the size. When it comes to images, we usually have a big array of bytes. In a classic RGB (24 bit) image, each pixel takes 3 bytes. 8 bit for red, 8 bit for green, 8 bit for blue. Some images also have an 8-bit alpha channel, which makes the total size of a pixel 32 bit. Calculating the total buffer size is easy:
.....width * height * pixelSize. 512 x 512 x RGBA8(32 bit) = 1 MB

Cool, but 1 megabyte for a pretty small texture is huge (1 floppydisk!). Older photo camera’s would have their SD cards full after just a few clicks. So, that's why JPEG is often used. JPEG uses Huffman encoding, which is based on the probability a certain piece of data (pixelcolor) occurs. If we only have 20 different colors in an image, we can index the pixelcolors with a 5-bit (=32 possibilities) code. Further compression can be done by giving frequent colors a short bitcode, while rare colors get a longer code. Well, for a way better description, check this.

Smart huh? However, compressing the image has three main disadvantages. First there is usually quality loss. You probably have seen blurry blocks in JPEG images, especially when the color contrast is low. To put it simple, most compressed images NEVER reach the quality of a raw format (such as BMP or uncompressed TGA / PNG). Then again, if the resolution is big enough, compression settings are ok, and/or the small details don't really matter anyway, the loss is acceptable.

Second problem is the decompression-time. It simply takes some more time to convert the cryptic pixelmess to a raw format. Your video-card needs to produce raw (RGB 8-bit) pixeldata first, before the monitor can show it. Compare it to translating a Chinese movie to English. First a translator has to write down the English subtitles or do voice acting before it can be shown on TV. This process takes some time.

A third little problem is the compression itself. Just like decoding, encoding takes some extra effort as well. Luckily computers are fast these days, so you won't really notice. However... it's not fast enough to do many textures on the fly while rendering a game. This is why it usually happens "offline":

1.- Create your image (photograph / paint / capture raw data)
2.- Compress it in whatever file format
3.- Load in your application
4.- Decompress it back to raw-data
5.- Use (render) it.

Usually some quality loss is acceptable.

2. Compression & realtime Graphics
So far, the only main advantage of using compressed images, is the reduced space on disk. You can't just load a JPEG and send it to the video-card texture memory right away. Nope, first you'll have to decode the data, then send a raw buffer of colors to the video-mem. So in the end you are still using the same amount of memory, it took extra time to decode, AND you lost quality. In other words, screw JPEG or any other compressed image format for graphics.

But wait. Things have changed a bit. Video-card memory has grown a lot last 10 years. From 32 MB to a gig or more. Unfortunately, games grow even faster. We want ultra-high res textures, and LOT's of them. Using all those textures at the same time requires quite a lot memory space, and bandwidth. Bandwidth? Imagine 10.000 hungry fat guys. You need 100 mcDonalds trucks to transport hamburgers. If all those trucks need to travel through a tunnel at the same time you get traffic-jams. Wouldn't it be nice if a single truck can carry more hamburgers, ending up with less trucks?

So, the graphic masters came up with compression algorithms specially designed for video-cards. I'm a newbie here as well, so I can't tell you the fine details, but you may have heard about DXT1, DXT3, DXT5, S3TC, BC1..7. Each of them is a compression method. Picking one is a trade-of between quality and space, and it also depends on what kind of image you want to compress (a normalMap, a simple blurry texture, a grayscale image, transparency yes/no). The compression ratio can be up to 1:6, which means a 1MB texture becomes ~170 kb.

The way the pixels are trashed together, is compatible with OpenGL / DirectX. That means you don't have to decompress the pixeldata first, before sending it to the videocard. No, you can send the packed buffer right away. That means the video-memory will be spared as well. Decompression happens on the fly by the hardware. I'm not sure if there is no performance penalty at all, but it seems the hardware can read compressed data just as fast as raw data. In fact...
you can even boost the performance! Remember the mcDonalds trucks? Since you need to transport less data on the buses, there will be less bandwidth issues as well. Now you probably won't notice this is you were only using a few textures anyway, but complex scenery such as a FPS game can benefit... Up to 20% according to some!

So far only 10 different textures are used in this snapshot. Or well, actually 20 as most objects also use a second or third image (normal/emissive/specular/height Map). Most textures have a resolution of 512x512 or 1024x1024, RGBA. So in total, there would be around (1024*1024 * 4(rgba) * 20(textures) = 80 MB of texture data pumped around every cycle (mip-maps, shadowMaps and deferred buffers not included). With compression, we can reduce this to ~20 MB.

Another cool detail is the loading time. Since you don’t need to convert stuff, and your harddisk or Blu-ray has to read less bytes, streaming goes faster. Who doesn’t like fast loading times? Tower22 streams maps and textures in the background while playing, so faster streaming is certainly nice.

+ Less space required on disk / CD-Rom / Floppy disk / Blu-ray / Tape
+ Smaller files are loaded / streamed faster as well
+ Pre-build mipMaps in DDS files make the loading even faster.
+ Less space required in the video memory
+ Less bandwidth required. *Could* be a performance win.
+ Less quality maybe... but you can use bigger resolutions as well!
- Quality loss. In some cases, compression is not worth it.
- Extra offline steps for the artists to produce compressed (DDS) files.

About the quality loss, this depends a bit. Matt(MJP) gave me some tips:

* Chose the proper compression methods
......- DXT1: Lower quality, higher compression, 1-bit alpha only(on/off)
......- DXT3: Better quality RGB, 4-bits for the alpha. Suitable for transparent ...... textures like foliage or a metal fence/grate.
......- DXT5: Suitable for images with smooth alpha channels or for normalMaps. Compress R and G, reconstruct B in shader.

* Use the right compression tool (nVidia, ATI, Microsoft, ...). Some do a better job than others, so carefully pick your weapons.

* You could pick a bigger resolution to compensate the quality loss, and still use less space in the end in some cases.

* Keep the option to use uncompressed textures, in case the quality sucks too much hairy balls.

Okidoki, but how in the name of SaintCrap can we make use of it? Consider three steps:
1.- Create a file with compressed image data... DDS files!
2.- Load the file in your program
3.- Create a (OpenGL/DirectX) texture using the compressed data

Next time, I'll tell you how to create DDS files, how to load them, and how to create an OpenGL texture using an (DXT) compressed image. Now it's time for beer.

Monday, September 12, 2011

Play on Player

Yea, my foot has been “restored”! Gypsum is gone, and now I can walk again (as if raped by a bull). Drink your milk boys & girls!

Movie-knowledge-check. A muscular robot? --> Arnold Schwarzenegger. That dude doing kicks and splits with a French accent; Jean Claude van Damme. The black man with that magical voice; Morgan Freeman of course. The simple guy telling his whole life story on a bus-stop bench; Tom Hanks. The psychopath shouting that Johny is here, Jack Nicholson. The teasing woman spreading her legs, Sharon Stone. "Can you fly bobby?", Kurtwood Smit. Roundhouse 360 kick; Chuck Norris.The little fatman with the big ###, uh, Ron Jeremy.

Just a grasp in the Hollywood Lucky Dip. And by now, the game scene also has an impressive repertoire of virtual actors. The jumping guy that looks like the earlier mentioned Ron; Super Mario. The medieval sadomachosism man with a whip; Simon Belmont. The fast blue hedgehog thing; Sonic. Hatatjapoerasturvat-something; Ruy from Streetfighter. "Your face, your ass, what's the difference?", Duke Nukem. The first polygonal breasted adventurer; Lara Croft. The chain-smoking sneaky grandpa; Solid Snake. That asswhipe stealing the princess every time; Bowser. The fairy-dude with the green hat; Link. Female bounty hunter; Samus Aran. The ninja with the skeleton head... Skorpion wins. The clumsy wannabe pirate; Guybrush Threepwood.

Now that my foot is ok, I can finally sport again. So here's a dressroom bench. It has been a while since I did a 3D object myself!

Not all games have strong characters with a complete biography, but creating a bond between game and player usually starts with putting down a loveable or interesting protagonist. A character being worth to pick up the joypad/keyboard. Cause, who wants to play a game with a stupid character anyway? Action hero's usually require a good look, a set of biceps and a doses of one-liners to make friends with the player. More serious games pass decorate the protagonist with a mysterious background. Lost your family, grew up in an underground sewer, shit like that. Who are you? Play the game and find out.

Yet other games manage to create a character that everybody instantly loves, such as Sackboy from Little Big Planet. Did you ever hear Mario talking by the way? We don’t even know where he lives exactly. Yet Mario is the most famous game-sprite in history. Some characters have that love-factor, others don’t. Now how about Tower22? What’s our plan to grab the player and drag him into the screen?

Here you go, a sketch of the player by Robert. There is still some cloth shopping and cheese-grater work to do here and there, but we’re getting somewhere. Not that Tower22 has much to do with “Communism” or “Russia”, but we chose the Soviet theme as a design-code. Therefore the character needs a typical Eastern Europe / Russian look as well. I’m not a fashion queen, but after a couple of visits in Eastern Europe, I can tell a few details. First, most men have a normal posture. No body building bullshit (who can afford the sport school), and neither fat. Most people work too hard to become fat. Second, a lot of men have short dark or blonde hair, often flat on the head (because they wore a cap or didn’t have time to smear 10 kg gel in it). A little bit the “army” look. Having a “tough-guy” attitude seems to be popular here by the way; lot’s of youth are wearing army trousers, trying to look dangerous and stuff.

Now our guy isn’t a kid or football hooligan anymore, he looks a bit exhausted. Yes, although things are slowly getting better in these regions, people still have sort of an depressed look if you ask me. Maybe it’s Slavic DNA, but I guess being bored, or just tired from all that work is playing part here as well. Read the lips: “Life isn’t easy”. Men like our player don’t have time (and money) to trim theirselves a cool George Cloney beard, buy the latest fashion shoes, and enjoy life. Fuck that, he wakes up to work. Nothing more, nothing less. Now that’s the kind of look we from T22 Next Top Model are looking for.

Robert made a whole set of (3D) "sketches" to pick from. We chose this one, because it has the tired "fuck-off", yet friendly, look. Now Robert is busy making a real 3D version. That version will be slightly different, and with little details such as beard, elder-marks, maybe a little scar, oil smear, sweat... In the meanwhile I have to make a realistic skin shader one day.

Not 100% sure, but most probably, the game will be using the first-person camera perspective. In other words, who knows how the player really looks like. Ok, you will see him in mirrors or in a few cut-scenes maybe, but most of the time you can just as well imagine playing the game with Robocop or Whoopy Goldberg... wait the player has white male arms. Never mind, you get the point. You won't see the player that much, the looks alone is not enough to make you care about the player.

So there goes the "lovely" factor. We need something else to get a love-match. A vast amount of cut-scenes with Reservoir Dogs dialogs maybe? Meeeh... not that I don't like those movies, but our player isn't exactly a joking piece of thug. And even if he was, T22 is a horror game remember. The game is supposed to make you poop your pants, not to piss yourself because it was so hilarious. Many horror-game/movie protagonists are normal, frightened, very human boys and girls. Would Resident Evil 1 still be scary if you run/jetpack through the corridors with Duke kicking ass? No, we want a fragile, sensitive, weak girl/guy. Like the Silent Hill or (older) Resident Evil characters... Though Chris took a steroid cure as well, his arms were 6 times bigger in the last RE game. But hey, RE5 wasn't scary either.

Heather from Silent Hill3, and Chris Redfield (without motor-oil injections) in the GC Remake version. Now Chris looks as if he can defend himself, but the difficult camera positions, stiff controls and scarce ammo still made him vulnerable for a bunch of stupid zombies. And for good reason, otherwise the game wouldn't be scary.

Although anti-hero, it's easier to identify with such characters in horrific settings. The player does the same what you would do: miss your gunshot and run like a girl. Well, probably you would also lock yourself on the toilet, rather than exploring a haunted zombie infested mansion. At least that's what I would do :) Either way, both you and the player are in the same nasty situation, so that makes a bond. And in case of a first-person-view, it's even easier to imagine that your own person is the player. Hence, likely T22 will be using the "Link" method. The what method? Yep, "Link", from Zelda. Or whatever his name is, because the player can always enter his own short name at the start of the game. This character keeps his mouth shut, has little to no emotions, and even a custom name.

In other words, your fantasy has to "complete" the character. Like with books. Some writers describe more details than others, but in the end your fantasy has to picture how the characters and scenery looks like. That's also why book-based-movies can disappoint. Shit, my hero didn't had a beard and brown hair! And that girl was a hot blonde, not a small Viking! Well, some people like to use their fantasy, others prefer to get everything served in ready-to-swallow chunks. But since the horror-genre is for a more select group anyway, I trust on your fantasy.

I'm not sure yet whether the (nameless) T22 player should talk or not. For one thing, there's not much company in that damn building anyway. But if the Boss gives a phone call, it would be silly to reply with silence. Other than that, our man is about 33 years old, normal functioning, and prefer to work with his hands. He's not a genius, neither dumb. An average, working-class (Russian) Joe, or should I say Dimitri or Jaroslaw? You didn't really plan to work in Tower22, but your hands were needed to take care of the building...

More barrels. Sergi is busy doing all kinds of IKEA object(sets). Boxes, barrels, beds, lamps, and so on. We need stuff to decorate that empty building with, right?

So let’s see… We have a non-hero, possibly without a name, that doesn't talk (much)... A prototype, normal human being. The type of guy who drops himself in the sofa with his stinky socks and a beer after work. Good to identify yourself with, but isn't that a bit... 'bland"? How about the mysterious background?!

Well, it would be stupid to spoil everything right here - right now, but let me say the player does have sort of a background. No, your parents weren't murdered. No, you didn't got raised in a spooky orphanage. No, you don't have CIA/KGB chips in your head. No, you didn't do ninja school. No, you don't suffer hallucinations after a mortar hit in Vietnam. No, you are not looking for your family. And no, you can't shit lightning-bolts from your arse either. So what the hell IS he? Play the game and find out :p

Saturday, September 3, 2011

Damn, still looking good!?

Wow! Doom is finally legalized in Germany! National Day! I guess most German gamers had their illegal copy on 5 floppy disks anyway, but those bans on violent games... sigh. You know what I think about games & violence:
Forbidding violent games?

But about Doom. If you tell the new generation of gamers about "id Software", then don't expect ringing alarm bells, twinkling enjoyed eyes, or hours of nostalgic talk. At its best, they might remember something about “Doom III”. In my opinion a very good game, but in the shadows(literally) of more innovative games of that time, such as Halflife2 and Farcry. Doom3 was well, 20 hours of shitting your pants & brainless shooting in darkness. Good enough for me, but not a shocking new formula.

New cars versus Grandpa’s unbreakable steam-tractor
Maybe they also noticed all the fuzz about that game "Duke Nukem Forever", which made the old boys nervous the last 15 years, but turned out to be a piece of . Conclusion of the new generation: we old bastards got stuck in history with Duke and Boom, or whatever that game was called. No doubt it was fun back then, but it’s time to move on. We old bastards on the other hand keep telling that games are shit these days. Like grandpa claiming his old steam-tractor is still superior to those modern machines equipped with electronics that nobody understands.

Nostalgia is a strong thing. Mark my words, you new generation wannabe-gamers (2000..anno now) will be complaining in 10 years as well. Telling everyone Call of Duty: Modern Warfare was way better than all those too-easy-4-hour-crap-virtual-3D-iMotion games we may meet in the future. As usual, everything was better in the good old days. Ask Alexander The Great, and he will confirm.

Nintendo & Wii tries to tickle the Nostalgia, using a different marketing strategy: Good old fun for the whole family (including labrador)... Too bad that they can't(don't want) get rid of their kiddy status. Asides from Nintendo's own series, most of the Wii games are weak excuses to wrap shitty stuff without immersion in a game-package, relying on the overrated Nunchuck. Simple, uncomplicated fun? Maybe, but not enough to hook this old gamer.

OT, Sergi made a sink... Don't know what to say more about sinks, but we need them.

Less serious, more fun
Now, who is right? Is nostalgia blinding us, or do we really have a point when complaining? All right, some nuance first. Doom was made in an era where good-looking quality games were scarce. Hence, it was one of the first "3D" games! Duke was the first game with boobs, humor and cities to explore instead of boring stone corridors. So titles like these would quickly rise above the average, had little to no competition, and got declared holy by the game-popes.

Yet, I dare to say games like Super Mario, Doom(1 / 2) or Duke Nukem still have a better thought-through design than many modern games. Whereas new games are taking themselves (too) serious with photo-realistic graphics and dramatic, cinematic gameplay, old games were more focusing on simple, yet challenging and very addictive mechanics. I finished "Double Dragon (SNES)" with my little brother about 5 million times, while I hardly finish new games these days anymore. At some point, I just lose interest. Even with quality titles such as GTA or Metal Gear Solid. Of course, that also has to do with my age, busy schedule, and being spoiled with too many good games last 18 years already. Chocolate cake doesn’t taste that special anymore after eating it six thousand times.

But when I'm in for a quick game, I usually start Doom or Red Alert, rather than newer titles. How come? Old rusty habits, or are these games really more fun? Both, I think. My major problems with nowadays games:

- It takes a while to get in the mood (complex story, slow build-up, learning all controls, ...). Not good if you don't have many hours of free time.
- But once used to it, these games are often (way) too easy.
- Not worth a second run. Once finished, they dissapear in the (virtual) cabinet.

Point 3 is typical for modern games. Their graphics, advanced scenery, teasers, and immersion usually keep you interested till the end. But the core-elements such as blasting foes or jumping platforms just isn't that much fun. Take GTA for example. Everyone loves the dialogs and exploring the city. But playing it all over again... Racing isn't that much of a challenge, neither are the simple shoot-outs where the computers does 95% of the aiming and cover for you. So what's left, are the dialogs and scenes you have already seen.

A game like Doom on the other hand brings you straight down to the action, 15 seconds after double-clicking \doom.exe. After 50 runs the AI and level-structure isn't really surprising either of course, but you can increase the difficulty to insane heights, and more important, firing the double barreled shotgun at an imp from nearby keeps satisfying, forever. These games are simple, yet brilliant and diverse at the same time.

A simple explanation for their good design might be the available time they got to tweak the levels and weapons. Now lot’s and lot’s of time is spend on making the maps and objects look good in the first place. High poly characters, huge libraries of textures, polishing the lighting, and so on. Making content for older games was simpler, so there was more time to test the maps. Where to put ammo, when to give a health bonus, where to place baddies. And if it sucked, maps or monsters were easy to scrap and replace.

More sinks! Btw, making this model + normalMap + specularMap takes more time than making a low-res sprite of a sink or toilet. Therefore it's harder to replace content, in case it doesn't really fit in the game.
Duke Legacy
I guess this is where it went wrong with the new Duke Nukem Forever… Too much struggle on making the content, too little testing, too much sweat/ego to scrap and redo things… As an old rusty gamer, I was a bit sad about the new Duke not being “Hail to the King baby”. DNF isn’t a bad game, and neither did I expect it to live up the hype. But it didn’t bring back old well-oiled shooter fun, and it certainly did not convince the new gamer generation. A mediocre product, nowhere near the old Duke achievement in 1996.

I already had sort of a bad feeling about it when seeing the few demo movies that were released throughout the years. Duke was struck by an identity crisis. Should he try to be an innovative, fresh game with modern elements such as sniping, driving vehicles and easy-gameplay (plenty of auto-saves, linear levels, lot's of hints, not too much enemies). Or should he stay with his core-business: shooting everything that moves & saving babes up tempo?

I wasn't there at the development, but it seems the creators got stuck somewhere between. Resulting in a game that is neither an oldskool-hardcore shooter, and neither a refreshing new game with superb graphics. It's frustrating difficult at some points, and too easy at the same time. It’s not long, nor short. It's a lot of firepower, but only carrying 2 guns and no mighty-boot at the same time. It's Duke humor but being-a-pussy-getting-killed-by-just-a-few-bullets at the same time. The enemies don't overwhelm you by intelligence, neither with big swarms as they did in the past. The pace was not slow & stealth, neither on steriods. The levels try to look good, but forgot the secrets, humor, freedom and fun that make you want to get the max out of them.

Vehicles or moving stuff doesn't surprise anyone anymore. But back then, this "metro" was a (also technological) highlight!

As said, it's not a bad game. But the new generation that compares it to Crysis or Deus-Ex will be disappointed by the many shortcomings; the game excels in nothing, and Duke’s silly poop-jokes won’t fix that either. Then, we older games get disappointed by the lack of challenge, not killing 100 pigs per minute, and boring level design. Yes, it surprised me that most of the scenes you have seen in 10-year old demo-movies, such as the casino, hoover dam, and cowboy stuff are still in the game. You can't tell me that it took fourteen years to finish those (few) levels... The problem was likely something else: it missed the simple yet addictive and aggressive gameplay that made the 1996 release so brilliant.

I think 3D Realms realized this very well in a pretty early stage. The fun isn't just there when firing a rocket at a bunch of aliens flying with a jetpack. But instead of having Duke-balls of steel and starting over from scratch, they grasped with the ideas & content they made so far, and tried to improve what they got. But probably this was a mission-impossible. Having spend so much blood, sweat and tears in their product, 3D Realms probably didn't want to scrap and disappoint their fans. But at the same time, they might have been too ashamed/unsure to release the game in its current shape. That's where 2K-Games interfered, by putting Gearbox on the Duke. Not to make it a better game, but just to make it sellable, finally. I understand their choice, yet it's a pity to witness the downfall of our old hero.

Roots, bloody roots
I’m just speculating of course, but it seems they took a few fundamental wrong decisions. Once they got behind schedule, being surpassed by better engines and other innovative games, they probably had to adjust their selling points as well. Making a copy of ’96 Duke 3D with improved graphics wouldn’t be enough. At least, not according to publishers that want to sell the game to a wide audience. Times of nonstop brainless shooting, 30 + 2 secret levels, and hard difficulty settings were over. Who to please? The old loyal fans, or the new generation of gamers? Probably they tried to please both, and that’s exactly what made the game fail I think.

In my humble opinion, Duke should have been more like its predecessor. That sounds lazy, but trying to be new and better is near to impossible these days, especially in the shooter genre. Duke wasn't going to steal the hearts of new gamers anyway, there are simply too much players out there now. (Virtual) heroes are just as easily forgotten as they rise these days. So why not going back to the roots, making a decent shooter game. Fast, aggressive humorous action, heavy weapons, whole armies of foes to shoot. A big bunch of fun-levels, not bound to realistic rules or a complex story. And a difficulty setting to separate the men from the boys.

For 2011 standards, that would actually make quite an original game. Hell, I dare to say it would even be fun with 2.5D (but High Quality) sprite graphics. Damn, that would look good. Or least original. Maybe the newer gamers wouldn't be interested... then again, Retro 2D Mario sells again, and I'm pretty sure there are plenty of old grumpy guys that haven't played a good old shooter since Halflife1, in their experience.

Little teaser for Demo2...

Ok professor, how about Tower22?
What design rules would Tower22 follow? Well, neither of them. Horror games are a complete different genre. The target is to give you just a single-ride, with complex & difficult gameplay. But a ride you will never forget because it was so goddamn strange/weird/unique/scary. Like Silent Hill or the older Resident Evil games did. However... I would love to make a 2.5D Duke Nukem, Command & Conquer, or beat 'm up like Double Dragon!

Talking about games, do you have a top10 (old or new, doesn't matter)? In random order:

0- Super Metroid (SNES)
1- Crusader: No Remorse (PC)
2- Doom2 (PC)
3- Halflife (PC)
4- Goldeneye (N64)
5- Zelda (SNES, N64, Majora's mask in particular)
6- Resident Evil Remake (GC)
7- C&C: Red Alert (PC)
8- GTA: San Andreas (PS2)
9- Red Dead Redemption (PS3, hey, that's a new game!)
10- Super Mario (Bros 3, World, 64... and I likes the Wii ones as well)

My top 10... counting from 0 ;)