By Dean Mathias
have a problem. I've been playing games on my Pentium-200 with a Voodoo1 card. I'd like to move all the games I've been playing to my Pentium II-300 and get a new 3D card. I'd like to do more than just re-install the games and start over, I'd like to move over all my saved games and other data too. I was smart enough to purchase a second hard drive for my computer that I've dedicated to only installing games. With any luck, I'll be able to move that hard drive into the Pentium II-300, re-install the games, to make sure any Windows stuff gets added to the new compute, (and hope they don't clear out my saved games in the process) and be back where I was before. I already know some of the games will be a problem because they store some of the player information and game state information in the Windows registry. I'm computer savvy, so I should be able to get into the registry and pull out the information needed by these games and import it into my other computer. Still, I'll most likely be stuck re-configuring my keyboard settings for each game.
I read on the Internet yesterday where someone killed a guard in Half-Life who was needed to open a door in order to continue playing the game. Unfortunately, his last save game was after the killing and it would take around 8 hours to get back to the same spot. He decided to stop playing the game until he had the energy to go all the way back through the game to that point.
My collection of PC based computer games is well over a hundred and continues to rapidly grow. Problem is, I rarely go back and play any of those old games because I have to start over each time I install them. It would be fun to go back and load up some of my old Civilization scenarios and play them again, but they don't exist. I never finished all the scenarios in Mechwarrior. I'd like to finish the game, but I'm overwhelmed with the idea of starting over again, just to get back to the last 3-5 scenarios. Unreal only gave me about 10 slots to save my games, I wanted more. I wanted to save at the beginning of each level so I could go back and try different things in each level. Same goes for Sin. The action based outcomes are intriguing and I've love to save at lots different spots so I could more effectively explore the outcomes. The SimCity games let me move my cities around in individual files, but I've since lost them in the shuffle of moving around between computers over the years.
I'll be traveling to my parent's house for the holidays. There isn't much to do at their house, but they do have a nice computer that I can play games on. I wish I could easily dump some of my saved games on a disk and take them with me. Upon returning, I could reload them onto my computer and have maintained the progress I made. But I can't.
I have it written into my original design document…it was 12:15 am March 12th a few years back. That was the moment it became clear to me what the solution to the problem was. It was the culmination of years of frustration, combined with some recent demonstrations I had seen of non-game related ideas that coalesced to form the inspiration. The time was right for the next natural evolution in the game industry...a generalized architecture into which all computer games could place their game play generated data: saved games, statistics, scores and more.
That was it, simple, elegant and complete. It is too obvious…in hindsight!
Self doubt forced me to keep the idea to myself for a long time. In time, I began suggesting the idea to my game playing friends. Without exception, they all agreed it was something they would love to see games use. As I've demonstrated the technology in operation, the response is even greater. I've yet to encounter anyone who finds no value in the idea.
I continued to question…why hasn't this been done before?
The answer is actually quite easy...in hindsight. The intense push to enhance the visual appeal, add content, improve AI and other in-game aspects didn't leave any minds thinking about how other out-of-game aspects of the game play could be used to enhance the experience...particularly one seemly mundane as saving game data!
An individual game company couldn't develop this technology. Why is id Software going to use LucasArts' storage system, or why is Interactive Magic going to use Acclaim's system. A game company is going to look after itself first and foremost and will make sure their games and brand are plastered all over the system. In order to effectively provide a common solution for all games, a bit of an outsider is needed, a company who doesn't have a vested interest in the success of any set of games, but whose success is dependent upon providing a comprehensive, robust and compelling technology. The danger of multiple "universal" solutions to the problem still exists, unfortunately. If each game company (or even publisher) develops a solution, we still have about the same problem. We need a single provider for such a technology!
I've seen bits and pieces of the idea suggested in some games. SimCity places each city into a single file, and I can have as many as I want. C&C: Red Alert asks if I want to keep my saved games when I uninstall the game. Problem is, most games don't have any solution and those that do, solve it differently from each other. This places a tremendous burden on the game player that doesn't need to exist.
The benefits of using a common game play data storage architecture are too numerous to mention here, but here is a taste.
The LAN Party
Drag and drop your game configuration from your home computer into a backup file. Show up at the party and drag and drop your settings onto the LAN computer. Boom, you are off and playing without any re-configuration headaches.
The Game Lifecycle (Today)
Install game, play game, buy new game, need to make room on hard disk, uninstall game, lose saved games, install new game, play new game, want to play old game, uninstall new game, install old game, start completely over. Yuck!
The Game Lifecycle (With Generalized Storage)
Install game, play game, buy new game, need to make room on hard disk, uninstall game, saved games stay, install new game, play new game, want to play old game, uninstall new game, install old game, start up right where you left off. Yes!!
The New Computer
Don't even think about it! Right now you need a screwdriver, have to know how to move hard drives between computers and pray to God something magical will happen when the drive is installed on the new computer. With a generalized framework, it is as easy as a few mouse clicks to transfer saved games and other data between computers.
As game developers, it is easy to lose sight of the non-technical computer user. I've had developers tell me how they package this and that up, export, hex edit and so on and so forth...stop! Not everyone who plays games has a degree in Computer Science. Have you ever watched a dad explain to their 6 year old daughter that all her Barbie files are gone and she has to make them up again on the new computer? I can tell you lots of tears are shed during this conversation!
Remember the Half-Life example from above. Wouldn't it be nice if he could have someone email him a saved game at the point he desired. Imagine web sites with downloads of saved games at interesting points in games. Blue's contest to find his tribute in Sin could have been posted as an easy to download saved game, rather than a screenshot. What about simply having enough slots to feel comfortable saving games at lots of places? Many homes have more than 1 person using the same computer, 5 or even 10 slots is not enough for multiple people playing the same game!
The benefits don't begin and end with saved games. A generalized framework can capture lots of data. For example, game playing statistics. Why not automatically capture the amount of time spent playing a game? Quake, Quake II and all its derivatives have third party log parsers that sift through and visualize the in-game playing statistics. Instead of placing the burden of file management on the game player, why not throw that information into a common storage. When I'm playing a golf game, why not store each of my rounds of golf so I can bring them up for later bragging rights. After I've finished an online game of StarCraft, I'd like to keep my stats and those of my multi-player opponents on my computer for evaluation. I want to see whom I've played against and how I performed...I'll know who to avoid in the future!
Once gameplay generated data is in a common storage and access to it is standardized, it will further encourage and promote community support of games. It helps reduce a barrier to entry some developers face. The result is to extend the life of each game for the game player by promoting community support.
A common framework allows third party developers to write programs that access the stored data. Game launchers in particular would benefit wonderfully from this...they always know where to find the data. No more fumbling through the registry or searching hard drives, or worst of all, asking me where things are! It allows developers to write migrators for game data. Migrate data from SimCity 2000 to SimCity 3000. A third party developer can write a migrator to put a SimCity into MS Flight Simulator, or maybe even make a Quake or LithTech level out of it. What about a migrator for saved games from one patch of Quake to the next?
It seems to me that game play generated data is considered disposable. As game players we have allowed ourselves to believe this. I say it is time to change our thinking! We should demand better care of the data generated during game play. I spent a lot of time creating it, there ought to be something to show for it.
Rather than allowing the data to disappear into space, it should be captured and we, as game players, should decide its worth. If I want it to stay, it will stay, if I want it to go, then I'll decide the time it should be disposed. In any case, I want the decision to be mine, I don't want all this data to be carelessly thrown around on my computer in a 100 different ways or floating around in space. Give me control of what I created while playing the game. A common framework allows me to move data between computers as I see fit. Once I know how to do it for one game, I know how to do it for all games, no more trying to decipher how each game works.
We are finally at a time where the computer game industry has begun to mature in terms of technology and mass appeal. These two combined have now created an opportunity for game players to reap the rewards. GameLogic has developed a technological solution to the problem of game play generated data. I had this technology developed because I want it in the games I play. I am asking game developers to help improve the overall game play experience for game players by adopting this technology. I'm also asking game players to encourage game developers to utilize this technology. In the end, we all benefit.
- Dean Mathias is the president of GameLogic.
|Credits: Guest Editorial logo illustrated and is © 1998 Dan Zalkus. This Guest Editorial is © 1998 Dean Mathias. All other content is © 1998 loonyboi productions. Unauthorized reproduction is strictly prohibited and not nice.|