Driving simulators

Something I’ve been idly wondering about on and off for a while is why there aren’t any decent driving simulator/trainers for PCs (or consoles). Surely there must be a market for this sort of thing? If you sold a package with force-feedback driving wheel, pedals and gearstick, together with a fairly up to date and realistic graphics engine (Gran Turismo 3 comes to mind immediately) for maybe £100, wouldn’t you get a fair number of sales?

Granted, it obviously wouldn’t replace the entire driving experience but it’d go a long way in teaching people the basics, and also clutch control, speed and so on. Add on a written driving test trainer and it’d be perfect. I’m a bit ambivalent about using a VR headset – I know that they’re cheaper these days, but I don’t know much about compatibility issues, or lag time and graphics.

The problem is that I can’t think of anyone who’d attempt this. Games publishers might view it as an unknown market, and the developers of simple ‘edutainment’ software simply don’t have the skills to pull something like this off. I wouldn’t imagine hardware being too much of a problem; you could just rebrand or bundle existing force-feedback peripherals.

DDR and iPod

I made my regular pilgrimage to the nearby bowling alley a couple of days ago to worship at the altar of the Dancing Stage Euromix machine they’ve got there (“I don’t want to go there just for DDR!” said I”), and was inordinately pleased to discover that you now get 5 songs for £1 instead of the previous 3. Needless to say, this saved my friends from hearing my ‘arcades in America are three times cheaper’ mantra again.

I think it’s because they’re going to get Euromix 2 in a few weeks, and also keep the old machine. If so, it’s a good decision. Well, of course I’d say that, but the game is very popular there. Anyway, after a enjoyable session playing double for 5 songs before bowling – a serious workout, let me tell you – I was very happy to get another go after bowling, because someone had left some money in it.

A friend asked me what would happen if I played against someone from Japan. I replied that I’d get beaten. Not badly, by any means, but people in Asia and California have a few years head start on me. I consider myself to be an above-average DDRer, but still nowhere near the dizzy heights of the best freestylers. Now, if Cambridge were to get a DDR machine, well, let’s just say things would be different…

One last thing about changing the firmware on my iPod to Windows; the iPod is now hot-pluggable, which basically means that it doesn’t crash my computer when I plug it in. It’s finally attained true magnificence.

Euromix 2

With the recent and long-awaited release of Dancing Stage Euromix 2 in the UK, I decided to have a look around the UK discussion forums for Dance Dance Revolution. A lot of people criticised Euromix 1 for having a dated interface and small song selection, but at the time of release it used the most recent Japanese game engine. Of course, a couple of years later it was dated – but now we have Euromix 2, which once again uses the latest Japanese engine and has an impressive selection of songs that will no doubt propel it to the top of the arcade charts, fuelled by the pocket money of scallies across the country.

It’s always amusing, reading the accounts of DDR players in the UK. Arcades over here are different from those in the US, and now that many arcades have DDR, they’ve attracted gaggles of young teenage, usually female ‘scallies’ who play the same (easy) songs every time and generally get in the way of the more serious players. A few quotes from UK DDR players:

“While half way through Max 300 [a difficult song] some slappers got on the other side taking the piss and swearing at me, then they tried to hit the arrows while I was stepping on them, man, playing any of these dancegames above standard level creates tension with scallies.”

“Damn, I need to find me somewhere I can play properly and not get abused and tormented by a buncha townies.”

“I call them DDR hookers, they’re scavengers, if you start failing you hear,”Can I do it for you?” and then you get “Can I have your last stage?”. Like I paid £1 for some other cheap slapper to play it for me.”

I don’t play DDR that much in the arcades, simply because the nearest one is about 20 minutes drive away. When I do get a chance to play I don’t usually encounter any problems from scallies who are thankfully thin on the ground at the places I go to. Contrast this with my experience in America, where arcades are uniformly three times cheaper than in the UK and the DDR players have skills years in advance of us…

Rez

Some good news in the lab, amidst all the unending software issues: one of the students may be bringing in Rez tomorrow (the famous self-styled ‘synaesthesia’ computer game) for the interests of ‘research’. Yeah, right. Naturally, I’ll have to demonstrate to the other lab members exactly how much research I’ve done into this important phenomenon…

DX2

I recently wrote a post in ARGN about the question of interactivity in mmoe-type games. Basically, I say that interactivity with respect to altering the story is overrated.

Warren Spector, the designer of Thief and Deus Ex, both groundbreaking games when it comes to player interactivity, said in Edge that he wanted Deus Ex 2 to exhibit emergent behaviour with its non-player character AI. No more scripted events, he said, we want the game environment set up so that interesting and varied things just happen. And this makes perfect sense to me, to have increased player freedom within levels.

But once the level is over, the interactivity stops. The game doesn’t ask the player, ‘So, where should our hero go now?’ and I think this is so for a few reasons. Firstly, it’s extremely difficult to design in this sort of interactivity beyond the level stage. Secondly, I don’t think it makes for a good story. It makes for a choose-your-own-adventure, and not withstanding the fact that I don’t think many people like that sort of thing (people still go to the non-interactive movies, after all), I stand firm on my belief that pre-written stories tend to be best. Yes, of course you can have a certain amount of flexibility within the story if you’re doing it in real time and trying to respond to players (e.g. RPGs, mmoes) but the overall story should be planned out right from the start.

I was re-reading Microserfs by Douglas Coupland the other day, and it was set during 1993/4. In one section, the group of programmers go to a conference about the different types of games that are being developed. They mention interactive stories, and say something interesting – people want to be entertained, they don’t want to have to choose what happens next in the story. Every time some new genre gets developed, the whole argument about story interactivity is rehashed.

Habitat MUD

Rich emailed in to tell me about a Japanese MUD called Habitat that has over one million users. This MUD was started in 1990 by Fujitsu and upon a cursory inspection appears to have one of the most complex game communities around; Habitat even had its own Yakuza-run casinos! (note that Habitat was originally developed in the US by Lucasfilm in 1987. Also, many of the pages online about Habitat are no longer available, so use the Internet Archive to follow up missing pages).

An MMORPG called Lineage apparently has around four million active players, but it doesn’t have anywhere near the social or political complexity of other much smaller games, so clearly numbers don’t count for everything.

I don’t think that Habitat can be easily compared to recent AI-like mmoes, though. It seems that Habitat is, like most MUDs, driven primarily through interplayer interactions, and that there is no centrally dictated narrative. This is not a criticism; different styles of mmoe serve different needs. However, AI-like mmoes concentrate more on a strong central narrative which players work around, and this provides an altogether different experience to a traditional social MUD. In fact, as several people here have pointed out, they’re quite similar to role-playing games writ large on the Internet.

What was the point to this post, beyond the fact that there’s a cool Japanese MUD called Habitat? It serves to show that AI-like mmoes have a long way to go before they can match the popularity of traditional (and comparatively old) MUDs, and that they are qualitatively different types of mmoes. I have this image in my mind of MUD developers being intricate watchmakers, carefully constructing and tweaking their creations so as to make sure they work as smoothly as possible with the least amount of intervention. Developers of AI-like games would be frantic administrators, attempting to lead artists, authors, designers and actors around the clock in response to players demands – a much more hands-on approach. But this is of course a facile analogy; there’s a broad spectrum of MUDs and AI-like games. Hmm… I can sense a possible article here…

Puzzle Bobble

Six player Puzzle Bobble Online! And it’s completely free! While it’s a bit difficult to decipher the Japanese webpage, it’s easy to find a download link. Given that I’m leaving for San Diego on Thursday and it’s a 7MB download, I might pass until I get back home.

Civ 3 democracy

The Apolyton Civilization 3 Democracy Game. This combines two of my gaming loves – Civ3, and mmoe. The premise is that over one hundred people are democratically playing a game of Civilization 3, electing a cabinet, detailing a constitution, forming numerous political parties and even newspapers. It sounds a little far-fetched but at only 14 turns into the game the participants are having a busy time discussing what to do with their neighbours, France (consensus: destroy them with extreme prejudice) and whether founding a city in a jungle was such a bad idea.

It wouldn’t be possible to do this sort of thing with many games other than Civ3, due to its complexity and richness; likewise, any alternate reality game or mmoe must have a certain level of detail and complexity in order to allow a community to grow up around it to carry the game forward.

Sid Meier

Sid Meier (creator of the Civilization games) had this to say about massively multiplayer games: “It’s a new, exciting, but at the same time repelling world. I don’t know. Really.” Absolutely.