• "I'm sorry to say that Demiforce is canceling plans for Onyx." This is a real shame, because I was somewhat excited that Demiforce wasn't just ramping up for "another game", and was instead building something that might benefit the platform. As it is: oh well. Those Apple T&Cs are killer, it seems.
  • "I was reading about arcades and how you'd have to queue to play popular games as well as follow rules like no throwing in fighting game or the others wouldn't let you play. This seems rather strange. The money cost must have gotten expensive pretty quickly as well. I'm not old enough to have been to them when they were around so I'm curious about what they were like." And then, 18 pages of wonderful gaming oral history; you'll be smelling the aircon and the chewing gum by the time you're through with this thread.
  • "The aim, then, is to explore what makes a good children's game, to consider how this oft-maligned market can sometimes reveal bad game design habits that we've been conditioned to tolerate, and to offer a guide to the best games for kids available now by looking at the four design areas that I believe are key to making a successful game for children." Dan Whitehead's roundup of games for children is really very good: some strong thinking, good comparative analysis, and best of all, parental insight. More like this, please, EG.
  • Wonderful interview with Marty Stratton and John Carmack on Quake Live; there's some really smart insight on development and business in here, and also some tidbits of Carmack talking code. Definitely one to mull over.

Far Cry: Instincts and viral social networks

03 October 2005

So at the weekend I picked up Far Cry: Instincts. It’s a very good game – pushes the Xbox graphically in ways you couldn’t dream (trumping even Riddick) and has a great fun set of multiplayer modes.

What’s really interesting, though, is that it has an excellent mapmaker. Far from letting you just move around tiles, it lets you mould terrain, build structures, and plan complex maps – and then play them online with your friends. It’s been really well designed – the controls are superbly mapped to the Xbox pad. It still takes a while to make a map, but it’s not tricky to make some quite complex ones.

Anyhow. When you’ve made a map, you “publish” it – this doesn’t upload it anywhere, it just seems to verify it with your online name (Gamertag, in Xbox parlance). And then you can host games with your friends, with your map. They will, of course, have to download it from you, but that takes a few minutes, and then everyone can play.

Here’s where it gets clever. When they come to host a game, they’ll find your map – which they just downloaded – is on their list of maps. So they can host a game with the map you created. And if it’s a good map, they may well do.

And so then everyone they play with gets to use your map. And so, if you’ve created something really good, it’s going to spread virally very quickly; players will say “this map is good, man, you should play it”. At its logical conclusion, as many people will have your map as the ones the game comes with, and then you’ve entered canon. Wheras PC games (which are usually very moddable) have a distribution network of the Internet, Xbox games don’t have the same freedom for downloading new content. So Ubisoft should be applauded for letting the players become one big viral network, in which they ‘catch’ maps off one another.

The game’s online implementation has the customary Ubisoft online flaws, but in terms of how easy it is to make brand new content – and, more to the point, how easy it is for that content to propagate based purely on merit – it’s really something special. I can’t wait to see what happens when the map-makers get really good…