Audio Conversion Love

I’m under a tight deadline for BastardBlaster, the game I’m building right now for the Guelph Game Jam, so I’ll share my quick and dirty way to convert audio files in Linux and using some Windows software with Wine.

The source music is music modules in the .it (Impulse Tracker) format. So, I used Winamp (running via Wine) to export as .wav files. From there, I used the MP3 to OGG conversion script on this page (modified a bit) to do:

./wav2ogg filename.wav filename.ogg

wav2ogg’s contents look like this:

[rocky1138@atlas Music]$ cat 
oggenc -o "$2" "$1"

Hope this helps someone in the future :) Note you have to have oggenc (vorbis-tools) installed in order for that to work :)

Now to do mp3s….

Know What? GameCube is $39 Canadian, new.

Go to Zellers and buy a GameCube. It comes with Paper Mario 2. If you’ve already got one, pick one up for your parents and get them WarioWare used for $15. It’s what I did this weekend and it’s been hella fun at the Rockefeller household this Thanksgiving :) You don’t even need a memory card if your parents are new to games since they’re just getting started anyway.

Grass-roots open-source gaming console?

Earlier today, I had a thought: What if a few of us got together to develop specs for a PC-based open-source games console that uses a bootable Linux-based game DVD for games?

I blogged about the awesome boot’n’play Linux CD before, but it still relies on someone to burn the disc and reboot their machine. Also, this requires gamers to (unless they have a unique set-up) sit at their desk and look at their computer monitor to play games. Finally, you always hope that the bootable disc supports your graphics or sound hardware.

Why can’t we put together some specs for a cheap gaming PC in a mini-atx case, include a TV-out card that has composite, S-Video, and Component output, and offer downloadable ISO game-packs from a website. The system can have a hard disk or can save the games to a USB memory card.

The goal is to make the gaming system as easy to use as, say, a GameCube.

Download the ISO, burn the disc, put it in the console and play.

We’re already half there — the games console could easily use the boot’n’play Linux CD I spoke about earlier. It kind of makes you wonder why this hasn’t been done already?

Remember Pre-CU Star Wars Galaxies fondly? Play it again right now.

Wait, what? There’s a few groups of dedicated people out there committed to the idea of emulating the original Star Wars Galaxies in full pre-Combat Upgrade glory. When I say emulating, I don’t mean some hack-and-slash wannabe game — I mean the original software you used to use to connect to Star Wars Galaxies just like it used to be back in the day. Imagine that.

Here’s how.

#1. Register in the SWGEmu forum to create an SWGEmu user

Head to this forum to create a user and password, which you will use to log into the game.

#2. Install Star Wars Galaxies.

This is the hardest part for most of us because usually one friend somehow ends up with everyone’s discs. Typically it’s me becuase everyone used to LAN this game at my house. If you have your discs, install SWG normally.

#3. Install Launchpad Enhanced.

After installing this program, go into the “Options” menu and set both your “Emu Location” and “Source Location” to be the same directory. This will update your Star Wars Galaxies installation to the PreCU format used by the emulator.

Enhanced SWG Launchpad

#4. Select the SWGEmu Test Center and login!

You can start to play immediately. Just pick a username and password, create a character, and buff. Enjoy!

SWG Screenshot

SWG Screenshot

For even more SWG Emulation information, news, and community discussion, head over to the Galaxies Reborn forums!

Games I Would Remake

In light of the recent release of the Quest for Glory 2 Remake , I wanted to do an “If I had a ton of money… I would make/remake these games” post. These are games that mean something to me — they have either touched my life in some way or I always thought they were overlooked by the gaming masses. Sometimes because of a glaring design flaw, sometimes because the technology just wasn’t there. Regardless, here’s the list (and it’s by no means final).

#1. Shenmue 1 thru 3 in one giant game.

Shenmue epitomized the Sega Dreamcast. Years ahead of its time, yet somehow not quite technically capable of doing what it set out to achieve. This epic game featured neat novelties such as being able to pick up and examine pretty much anything — even completely useless matchboxes. An intriguing story marred by awkward yet unintentionally funny dialog, this game is a good candidate for a new as yet unavailable virtual reality technology.  Imagine playing this game with full, modern graphics and a 3D headset!

#2. Syndicate

For a long time when I was in public school this was my favorite game for the Atari Jaguar. I loved the idea, the music, and the game-play.  I played Syndicate Wars and it was awesome, as well. I’d really like to see a sequel made with today’s graphics.

#3. Bonk’s Adventure

If game developers nowadays took almost any old-school platform game and converted it to 2.5D, it’d be a much more fun world for all of us. Bonk’s Adventure, in my opinion, would be near the top of the list of games to re-do in glorious 2.5D. In all honesty, I could see a remake of this game appearing on the Wii for today’s kids to play. Good stuff.

#4. Road Rash – 3DO/Saturn/PSX version

This game was hella fun in its day. It still is.  Where are games like this today?

#5. Transport Tycoon Deluxe / Locomotion

I know, I know. Locomotion is relatively new and it’s the spiritual successor to Transport Tycoon. But, what I’m envisioning is a huge graphical upgrade to the series along with networked play via the internet. Imagine a persistent MMO universe version of this game where players are continuing to build while you’re offline. A humongous world-size playfield: 30,000km with thousands of cities and villages. Perhaps that’s something for the creators of games like Second Life to think about. Instead of taking Transport Tycoon Deluxe and making it part of a persistent world, why don’t they make transportation a user-driven economy in large-scale persistent-world online social games? It’s more fun than chatting!

What Makes a Videogame Fun?

There are several important things that I feel are absolutely required when creating a fun videogame. Fun means so many things to so many people, but for the purpose of this article fun will be defined as a high level of enjoyment obtained by the player as a result of playing the game.

A lot of people look for things like graphics when playing a game. Some people could care less. For some it’s the music, for others, the story. I believe there are several factors that contribute to the fun level of a game and that the fun level is controlled both by how important those factors are to the player and how much of that factor is available in the game itself.

Let’s walk through the eight factors I believe contribute to a fun game. These factors are just that — factors. Think of them as a health bar. Depending on the game, the bar may be full for certain factors or completely empty for others. Rest assured, however, that having a full bar in each of these eight points will increase the liklihood your game will be fun.

The eight “fun” factors:

  1. Graphical Relativity
  2. Ease of controls
  3. Music
  4. Multiplayer capability
  5. Story & characters
  6. Replayability
  7. Nostalgia
  8. Innovation & Novelty

Let’s walk through each of them in detail.

#1. Graphical Relativity

You may notice that on this list I have omitted “graphical quality” and instead written Graphical Relativity. This is because over time I have noticed that the games that are the most fun to the most people are the ones that have graphics that match the game’s premise perfectly rather than overall graphic quality. This is blasphemy to the people with the latest and greatest PC or console hardware, but I believe it to be the truth.

As examples, I cite World of Warcraft, Team Fortress 2, and Tetris. All three of these games have graphics that are not state of the art but all are insanely fun. And popular. They all have staying power as well. For each of these games, the graphics are not the selling point nor are they a point of contention in the gaming industry at large. In these cases, the graphics fit. And that’s the point. It’s not the latest and greatest graphics that matter, it’s if the graphics fit the game.

Try to think of other games that are fun that fit this as well. Games like Crazy Taxi or Street Fighter 2. Can you think of any games where this isn’t the case? If so, are you sure that it was the graphical quality that made the game fun?

#2. Ease of Controls

The Sims was more fun than The Sims 2. On paper, The Sims 2 was a better and deeper game. Why is it that I could stay up all night playing The Sims but couldn’t spend more than an hour playing The Sims 2? Simple — the controls.

The controls for The Sims were intuitive and worked flawlessly. The controls for The Sims 2 were horrendous. That’s not the fault of the game itself, though, or its designers. The reason The Sims 2’s controls were poor was the move to 3D is in itself very difficult for game developers. How does one control a 3D camera without an extensive control scheme? Without some new form of hardware, doing this intuitively with a mouse may be impossible.

#3. Music

This factor is not one that many people think of when describing a videogame. Sure there are examples you’re probably thinking of right now. Zelda, Mario, Final Fantasy… But, isn’t that the point? Why are all of the best and most fun games the ones with the best music?

Something to chew on.

#4. Multiplayer Capability

The ability to play against other players (when done correctly) will (depending on gametype) immediately increase the fun level of your game. Some games even require it. Consider the following example: Super Mario Kart for the SNES. Super Mario Kart without the ability to play against friends would be a completely different (and ultimtely boring) game.

Most gametypes benefit from multiplayer capability, but for others it is almost better to be without it. For example, Morrowind as a multiplayer game would not be Morrowind. For better or for worse, the Morrowind we know and love would not exist in multiplayer. Considering that it’s my favorite game, that would suck and I wouldn’t change a thing. I would be open to a completely separate multiplayer Elder Scrolls game, however.)

#5. Story & Characters

The story and characters used in the game, no matter the gametype, lend to its fun value. As in multiplayer capability, some games require deeper characters than others. But, who says a football game can’t have character development?

Put simply: The more relevant your characters are to your gametype, the more likely your game is to be fun.

For example: Duke Nukem. As a platformer (and later as a 3D game), Duke Nukem is what made the Duke Nukem game series. A Duke Nukem game without Duke is Crystal Caves. Exactly.

#6. Replayability

I believe the desire to replay a game comes from two factors: The desire to enjoy important emotional impacts the game had the first time around and the opportunity for having the gameplay change from the first time you played.

To exemplify the first desire, Final Fantasy VII comes to mind. The game is inherently linear in design. You start in Midgar and end in.. well. I don’t want to spoil it. But, players will replay this game years later to enjoy the deep emotional impact they had while traversing the story the first time, not because they may be able to change the plot.

As for the second desire: This is common in competition-based games. I again call upon Team Fortress 2. Even if you played 1,000 games of pl_goldrush, it’s unlikely that you will have the same things happen twice. This sort of unpredictability is key to increasing the game’s replayability factor.

#7. Nostalgia

This factor is similar to replayability in that you are replaying a game because it brings back memories of what it was like the first time (or another memorable time when you were playing). There are two ways you can take advantage of nostalgia when developing a game.

If your game is new: Pay homage to similar games that inspired you to create your game. If you are making an adventure game, put some references to Quest for Glory or King’s Quest in there. People will associate your game with games they have enjoyed in the past and by reference will enjoy your game because of it.

If your game is a sequel: Take the best parts of the original game and make them shine. Don’t “improve” them as that invariably changes them. By changing the things that made your original game great, you run the risk of alienating people who are playing your sequel because they loved those things. What you want to do is accentuate those selling points.

Compare stealing equipment and items in Morrowind to Oblivion. Oblivion undoubtedly has a deeper and more realistic stealing mechanism when dealing with items and people in the game. However, there are several key things that were changed that makes stealing a waste of time, thereby ruining something that made Morrowind great. Namely, the fact that you cannot place items somewhere and return to them later unless you buy a specific house and the fact that no one has anything good to steal unless you’re at the highest character level, by which point you are done the game.

#8. Innovation & Novelty

Innovation is grouped with novelty since in the gaming world they are the same thing. When Nintendo goes to make the Wii 2, how many people will be excited that they use a remote control with a motion sensor?

However, the first time around this sort of thing can open doors and bring fresh people in. Being able to play games like Doom and Duke3D over local networks in schools and at home was a novelty (though it had of course been done before, it really was the first time I had experienced it myself). Think of when Pong was first introduced. They single-handedly created the arcade industry.

So, what have we learned?

Clearly having a healthy balance of all of these fun factors helps to make a videogame fun. It’s important to not rely on having a large amount in one of the items then neglecting the rest, as that game will be remembered as not being fun but having feature X. The goal is to focus on fun. Fun sells. Fun builds franchises. Fun builds memories.