Archive for the ‘Game Development’ Category

Apple Pippin: Ahead of Its Time and Doomed Even Before the CD-ROM Booted

Monday, December 17th, 2007



“We think that Pippin represents the Next Generation of a lot of the things you’ll be seeing from Apple”.

That is eerily prophetic, as the parallels are clear between the Pippin and the Apple TV, and more so with the more widespread contemporary trend of the set-top media box.

And from a developer’s standpoint, this promotional video highlights a lot of the the same things that Steve Jobs extolled during the iPhone introduction — It’s running the full version of Mac OS! Development is easy!

However the parallels between the Pippin and the 3DO are also easy to draw, and it’s easy to see why the system failed.

A third party, Bandai, manufactured and marketed the device. It was developed in the pre-NeXT acquisition mid 1990s, a grim time for Apple. To start the device, you had to insert a system disc into the 4x CD-ROM drive and wait for a streamlined version of Mac OS System 7 to boot. The graphics were all done in a PowerPC native version of QuickDraw, a graphics API that in its more than 20 years of existence, never supported more than a 1-bit alpha channel!

So many nightmares.

But the kernel of the idea was good. And it’s especially ironic today as the Xbox 360, Playstation 3, and Wii are all running on PowerPC architecture. The Pippin’s PowerPC 603e is the forebear of these consoles’ brains.

Watch carefully, and you will see the Pippin port of Bungie’s Marathon in the video — a game which you can now play on XBox Live Arcade. Here’s a full list of Pippin software releases. And more information including full hardware specs is available on the Pippin’s Wikipedia entry.

Trekking Across the Northeast for Gamma 256 and Blip

Monday, December 3rd, 2007

I’m on my way back from New York today after a whirlwind tour of the Northeast. Kokoromi contacted me last week to let me know they’d be showing my experimental low resolution game, Standard Bits, at their Gamma 256 exhibition.

Gamma was the final event of the Montreal International Games Summit and it showcased 8 low-res games projected on giant screens at the city’s Society for Arts and Technologies show space, set to live performances from New York microtune artists and DJs. My friend Guy English (developer of Rogue Amoeba’s new Radioshift and former Ubisoft engineer) lives in the city, and he graciously agreed to provide a couch to crash on.

It all sounded too awesome to miss, so I flew out to New York and took a train up to Quebec. Let me just say, the French Canadian accent is truly bizarre — Fargo meets Inspector Clouseau.

The games could not exceed 256×256 pixels, and I had decided to go with a resolution of 100×54. To put that into perspective, that’s less than a third of the screen area in a pre-Leopard Mac OS X icon.

The main character is a single pixel, and the left analog joystick is the only control. The game’s environment is populated with entities that actively seek to attack you, as well as creatures that follow and protect you. You may also encounter ambivalent hazards and innocuous inhabitants going about their own pixellated business. The idea was to create a dynamic world with complex interaction while using very simple input.


Download Gamma 256 Build


Longtime Mac developers might recognize that the name comes from StdBits(), which was the low-level pixel blitter in QuickDraw.

Opposite my game was Alec Holowka’s Celu. and I was flanked by Jason Rohrer’s Passage on the left, and the lowest resolution game of the event by far, the 8×8 pixel Dodge Club to the right. TIGSource was well represented, with 4 of the 8 games on display coming from TIGS regulars, games such as Bloody Zombies, Petri Purho’s feast of zombie-cutting action and liquid blood dynamics which was placed wisely near the bar.

Though not the most graphically polished of the lot, Guy and I both took a huge liking to Mr Heart Loves You Very Much by TIGS regular Jimmy Andrews. It has a simple, fresh game mechanic that combines puzzle and reflex in a really fun way. And its svelte control scheme would make it ideal for something like the iPod Classic, or even the iPhone/Touch, making use of its accelerometer to change orientation.

Bubblyfish and the guys in Anamanaguchi (who both performed great sets) encouraged me to check out the Blip Festival in New York over the weekend, so I decided to extend my trip.

Blip was great. It was full of energy and crunchy melodies, with musicians from around the world. I captured some video from the iSight in my MacBook Pro which I’ll post when I’m more settled in back home.

One of the most surreal and awesome moments of the trip came when someone at a Blip after-hours in Brooklyn asked me if I’d played “Doomlaser’s Space Barnacle”. We ended up talking quite a bit and, hey, if you’re out there, I’d love to see the photos you took!! I think there’s a funny/terrible one with Paza Rahm (a Swedish Atari-ST afficianado who did an 8-bit remix of ‘Girl’ for Beck).

Paza and I got into a heated discussion about platforms, open source, and how government provided social mechanisms (or the lack thereof) influence cultural outlooks and output on both. He also gave me some new insights into why Sweden continues to allow The Pirate Bay to operate.

I met so many interesting, driven, and friendly people on the trip that it’s hard to process. At Gamma, Standard Bits was played constantly from 5:30 pm until after midnight when the event was shutting down and people, both in and outside the games industry, gave me some very inspiring feedback.

The game isn’t in a completely finished state, but if you’d like to try the build that was played at Gamma 256, you can download it here. It is a Windows executable, though it will most likely make it’s way to the Mac soon.

The Gamma photos were taken by Ivan Safrin. More are available here.

Thanks to all the Kokoromi people for hosting such a cool concept and event. I loved Montreal and I’m looking forward to spending more time up there if you do one next year,

Super Mario Galaxy: A Visual Tour

Tuesday, November 13th, 2007

I picked up Mario Galaxy last night and have been enjoying it, both as a game, and also picking it apart technically. The level design really stands out in how it consistently surprises you with creative platforming gameplay.

But what’s more interesting is how Nintendo is using the modest Wii hardware to achieve its graphical effects.

I could never quite tell from the YouTube previews, but it appears Mario’s using something like stencil shadow volumes to handle all its shadows– which are always projected in gravity’s direction. Unfortunately this technique means unsmoothed edges and a uniform brightness for all shaded areas. Side effects include moving platforms whose shadows suddenly blink onto surfaces when they approach, and suddenly disappear as they pass.

An element that Galaxy uses all over the place to great effect is something like a fake rim lighting shader. From what I understand, the Wii isn’t fragment shader capable, so maybe they’re faking it by setting an independent directional light aimed reverse relative to camera for each rimlit object? I’ve read a few things about the Wii’s Register Combiners and TEVs, and I wonder if they’re using them for pixel shadery purposes.

It’s all that lighting around the silhouettes of objects that helps give the characters and environments that signature plastic pop.

The fur shading is fairly nice as well, and I wonder how they’re doing it on the Wii hardware, whether it’s an actual shader, or they’re doing tricks rendering a multilayered shell of increasingly translucent polygons like in Shadow of the Colossus

Anyway, I am really enjoying the game so far, and the art direction is top notch. It’s also great to play Mario along to a live orchestral score — too bad Nintendo didn’t make the switch in time for Twilight Princess.

The shadows are the only real graphical let-down. It seems like they could be doing something more clever with the alleged crazy fill-rate on the Wii. Blurred textured shadow maps for near geometry or something? Also, multisampling would be nice, but playing on a standard def tv is forgiving.

I’d love to hear other people’s insights into the graphics behind the game. The rim lighting shading is something that could be easily applied to indie games looking for some eye candy punch…

Good Games are Hierarchies of Attainable Goals

Thursday, October 18th, 2007

Kyle Wilson has written an insightful article called The Flow of Intentional Gameplay, where he picks apart survivalism and goals in videogames. He makes the case that good gameplay hinges on the player having readily identifiable goals at all times, and that games like Half-Life 2, and consoles like the Wii are successful because they are good at doing this.

Very interesting read. [via GameSetWatch]

Space Barnacle: What a Terrible Fate… to be Reborn in Space

Friday, September 28th, 2007

I’ve been hard at work for approximately the last month, creating a game. Space Barnacle is the end result: an ultra-violent pixellated platformer modeled in the 8-bit style.



The project came about as a result of a B-Game Design contest, hosted by the excellent Independent Gaming Source community, and writing it has been some of the most fun I’ve ever had in game developemt.

I wanted the game to feel like a long-lost budget title, perhaps developed for the NES or Commodore 64 somewhere between 1989 and 1990. Thus, the native resolution is 288×180 pixels, and most of the characters are a mere 16 by 16 pixels square.

My friend Kevin shared pixel art duties with me, and we tried to work from a limited 55 color NES palette. But we took some liberties, taking advantage of additive blending, parallax scrolling, and particle effects for blood and vomit explosions.

The music is composed entirely of chiptunes in Amiga module format, emulating the sound of the Commodore 64’s famed SID chip, and we were lucky to be able to include compositions by Reed Richards, among others.

In developing the engine, I was intrigued by the approach of Knytt, Within a Deep Forest, and Lyle in Cube Sector, which all used the rapid development environment, Multimedia Fusion.

Coming from a background of Mac OpenGL development, building a game in this environment was quite a shock. It both saved time, and caused endless frustration, as the method for logic control is completely insane.

In the end, I’m pretty pleased with what we came up with. We’re not done working on the title, and I’d really like to come up with a solution for an OS X port. I’ve been trying to hack together a little encapsulated Wine Binary Launcher for the game– sort of a low-rent version of Cider. This would have the added benefit of potentially bringing some other great indie games to the Mac.

Until then, Windows users can play the game natively, and Mac users can play pretty adequately through CrossOver, which has a free 60 day trial.