I, Game Maker: 2008 in Review

As 2008 is coming to a close I wanted to take a moment to summarize what I have done this year to become a better game maker.

Start a blog about making games

I started this blog back in September and have combined Box2D, Lua, OpenSteer into the PopCap Framework to create a game play prototyping engine. Lots of this work is half done and not exposed to Lua but the beginnings are there. In 2009 I am going to develop the asteroids like framework more and then look at posting the code and continuing on from there.

First pass at vector art

First pass at vector art

Play games, write break downs

As I play games I am going to strive to write a bit of a design breakdown for each of them. In 2008 I have a bit of a back log where I don’t have notes, but here are the games I finished (made it through the storyline) in 2008 in ranked order by how much I enjoyed them:

  1. God of War: Chains of Olympus (PSP) – Amazing accomplishment on the PSP. I am shocked that this game is getting snubbed for PSP game of the year awards as it is a shockingly good experience executed superbly.
  2. Uncharted: Drake’s Fortune (PS3) – I was surprised by how taken I was with Uncharted. Great story and something a little new rather than just running and shooting. Brilliantly crafted.
  3. Syphon Filter: Logans Shadow (PSP) – Precise shooting on one of the most difficult control platforms. This shooting experience was so tight it makes me feel like I’m drunk playing Gears of War 2. Best combination of stealth shooting and action I have played.
  4. Call of Duty 4: Modern Combat (360) – I think most people love this game for Multi-player and I only played through the single player campaign which was also VERY solid. This game made me think of a new rule of “variety”. It offers three variations (Nuke Crawl Out Moment, Sniper Level and Shooting from the air) that give distinct different play experiences and make the entire experience more memorable. Brilliant and without that it would have been average for me.
  5. Crysis (PC) – Beautiful. Even though the game didn’t hold me completely this was simply beautiful and made me enjoy owning a PC again. I’m sad it didn’t sell better and I think part of this was due to over complexity in what you have to manage for a shooter. Gears simplified for the mainstream and Crysis was complicated and therefore less accessible (not just for hardware reasons!).
  6. Gears of War 2 (360)See my break down. A very good game.
  7. Bioshock (360)See my break down, love the design but the game didn’t capture me.
  8. Half-Life 2: Episode One (PC) – I’m thinking back on this and ultimately I felt this was a forgetable experience even though I had fun playing it through. Ending was weak and it felt like the reverse of the Half-Life 2 experience (weapon reveal in reverse).
  9. Turok (360) – Pluses: Dinosaurs, Grenades, Knives. Minuses: Uneven difficulty, uneven art quality.

Read up on games

The great thing about games is that even fiction books help! This wasn’t really a year for fiction for me and therefore I thought some of the books I have read might be interesting since most are somewhat game related. These are in order of when I read them.

  1. Painless Project Management with FogBugZ – This is a really good summary book of one of the most common sense, idiot proof and simple task/bug management systems around. If you like the keep it simple stupid mantra, FogBugZ and this book are a great combo.
  2. Zen of Code Optimization – I’m actually reading the Graphics Black Book but it is so big that I had to break out the completion of code optimization into one part. This book is ancient and I don’t think it is relevant to anyone but those of us that loved the ModeX days. Abrash is talented writer and if you are interested in assembly optimization…this is a classic.
  3. Programming in Lua – I wanted to learn a “glue” language and lua seemed like the best choice. I have read the book but I have not learned the language yet. I have to use this more and go over the book again. I think this book is well worth reading and Lua is a beautifully simple language that leverages its own strengths to provide major functionality in a small package. RECOMMENDED.
  4. Simplexity – I got this one on a whim and I think it is entertaining and barely applicable to gaming in that I think they are examples of simplexity. Games are “simple” simulations of complex game elements as well as being complicated if you break down everything under the hood. Since I’m striving to make making games simple, this book was interesting. Only for the science lovers out there.
  5. The Last Lecture – When I was 4 years old I wanted to become a professional video game programmer because of Atari 2600 and games like Yars Revenge and Phoenix. This book made me think back on what I really got into the games industry for and was a huge inspiration for this blog. I think everyone will be inspired by this one: HIGHLY RECOMMENDED.
  6. Droidmaker – I had the opportunity to see the author present this at a Siggraph event in Vancouver (and got my book signed!) with Dr. Alvy Ray Smith. The presentation shocked me in how little I knew of George Lucas’ impact on digital film making and games. I mean…I knew about his involvement in many aspects of the business, but I didn’t realize he was the catalyst for so many things. I thought he got involved AFTER the ground work had been layed rather than fostering an environment for the things to happen. For anyone that was influenced by Star Wars and wants to know how things like Pixar, Lucas Arts and THX are related this is a fascinating read. HIGHLY RECOMMENDED.

Movies and TV

I’m not going to bore you with a movie list. Instead I am going to say that I have in the last year studied the impact of having a child on my movie watching abilities and this statistic may interest some. In 2007 I watched 90 and in 2008 I watched 52. The scary thing in these numbers is that I count a season of TV as one movie and I watched way more of those in 2007. So I would say having a new born cut my TV time in half. It was well worth the trade off!
For those picky about details, I would say the best two movies I saw this year were The Dark Knight and Ironman. No real surprise!

Onward to 2009

Overall this has been a good year for getting hobby coding back into my life and I plan on really getting this going in 2009!

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