Tuesday, June 14, 2011

E3 2011

A few weeks ago, I received an amazing phone call that would change my life (for a week).

I became an IGDA E3 Scholar!

What's that you ask?

Let's break it down. First, the IGDA is an official support group for game developers. Here is their official About statement from IGDA.org:
The International Game Developers Association is the largest non-profit membership organization serving individuals who create video games. We bring together developers at conferences, in local chapters and in special interest groups to improve their lives and craft.
The Electronic Entertainment Expo, or E3, is the largest media gathering in the Videogame Industry. Every major game studio and platform holder uses E3 as a venue to announce their next big thing.

As an IGDA E3 Scholar, I got a pretty sweet deal:

  • Pre-paid E3 ticket ($500 value)
  • Access to the press events from Sony, Microsoft, Nintendo, EA, and Ubisoft.
  • Tours of several game studio booths on the show floor
  • A couple lunches with various game developers
  • Some 2nd floor access
  • A field trip to the CAA, and EALA
  • Doing all of the above in the company of 14 other IGDA E3 Scholars. 
It was the most epic E3 a person could ever hope for. I am extremely grateful to the IGDA for this incredible opportunity to network and learn from my peers. Below, in no particular order, are some of my most vivid memories from the event:

During a developers lunch, I spoke with an EA programmer about game engine architectures. My specific interest was what comes first in a professional GameObject class hierarchy: rendering or physics? To illustrate my question more clearly, would the class inheritance hierarchy look like this:
  • GameObject
  • RenderingObject
  • PhysicsObject
Or this?
  • GameObject
  • PhysicsObject
  • RenderingObject
The professional convention seems to be one of two things: they either both occur at the same level, or an object-compositional model is used, where a RenderingObject owns a PhysicsObject. The latter model is especially useful in games where a 3rd-party physics engine like Havok is employed.

Microsoft made a bunch of Kinect-related announcements during their E3 press conference, one of which was the use of Voice Commands in Mass Effect 3. I was giggling to myself as this was presented, as I had already beaten Bioware to the punch with my Voice Command game, The Bridge. We wrapped up that project last month. :D

For the record, the experience of physically speaking Voice Commands to a game character, and then having that character respond appropriately, feels really amazing. It will be a killer addition to the Mass Effect 3 experience that everyone should try at least once.

Tim Schaffer is hilarious.

Sony had a good press conference. The Playstation-branded 3DTV for $500 looked really damn nice. 

I managed to show my Bullet Time Ninja game in video form to quite a few game developers on the show floor. Reactions ranged from "pretty neat" to "omg that's really awesome!!", so I'm pleased as punch. :)

A few quick blurbs on games that I played:
  • Fruit Ninja for Kinect is everything that I have ever wanted from a Kinect game.
  • Skulls of the Shogan looks like a good Indie game. There are a few game design kinks, but I am optimistic that they will be addressed before release.
  • SkullGirls has the greatest art and animation that I have ever seen in a fighting game. Must buy!
  • Monaco is really fun, but I feel like the current pixel art is holding the game back. I had a difficult time initially learning what was important on screen. Some focused art direction will turn that game from Great to Incredible.
  • I was outright impressed by the new XCOM game. The art style is right on the mark.
  • Kirby Wii is the most fun Kirby game I that have ever played.
  • The Wii U demos were pretty neat. I have high hopes.

Videogames Live had a great show this year. The Chrono Trigger performance was beautifully done. Have a listen: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=UV2RKqmCs4w

Overall, this was the greatest E3 experience I have ever had. The IGDA is doing a great service for up and coming students. I hope future generations of amazing game designers get the same opportunities.

Thanks for reading,

Wednesday, June 01, 2011

Empires & Allies

I started my internship at Zynga Los Angeles last week. We are working on a cool game called Empires & Allies. I think it's the best Zynga game yet.

While most Zynga games have you building some kind of farm or city, in Empires & Allies you are building an army. Make buildings, produce units, and take them battle. There's a pretty lengthy single-player campaign, and you can also invade your neighbors and take their resources.

The most interesting part of this game is the incredible sophistication of it's economy. I have never seen a game with a remotely comparable amount of interlocked systems. Let's list out every resource there is:

  • Coins
  • Empire Points
  • XP
  • Energy
  • Wood
  • Oil
  • Liberty Bonds
  • Ore Types
    • Aluminum
    • Uranium
    • Iron
    • Gold
    • Copper 
  • Population
  • Neighbors
  • Units
  • Time - (a component to everything)

We've seen a lot of these resources in previous Zynga games. Let's talk about the new ones.
  • Wood: A resource limiter on how quickly you can make buildings. Simple enough, and quite clever.
  • Oil: A resource limiter on how quickly you can make military Units.
  • Ore types: The player is randomly given one kind of Ore type that can be produced within his or her empire. Players must trade with their neighbors to get other types of Ore. Ore is mostly required to produce certain kinds of units and buildings.
  • Units: The most significant new resource. Units you make can be taken to battle. When units die, they are permanently gone, and new ones must be produced.

The problem I have with many Zynga games is that after playing them for a few days, I amass so many buildings and resources, that I stop caring about my resources altogether. This is why I find Units in Empires & Allies so fascinating. A Unit is a resource that I can lose. The more I play the game, the more I burn Units in combat. In response, I deposit my hard-earned Coins, Oil, and Ore to replace them. It's a great cycle that will keep me running a tight economy for the lifetime of my gameplay sessions. Plus, units exist in several tiers. As I unlock new ones, I always have something to build.

Empires & Allies looks to be a fantastic addition to the Zynga portfolio. I am thrilled to be working on it.