"Lord help us all!" Dept.:
Comments by Stephanie "Bobbi" Bergman
Every week our associate editor takes on the big ol' pile of mail for your reading enjoyment...got something to say? Send it in. You just might win a swanky loonygames t-shirt. Letters are presented exactly as they are recieved.
The Rise and Fall...didn’t fall?
Subject: The Rise and Fall and Rebirth of the Hobbyist Game Programmer
Great article. Too bad it totally missed what is going on today and coming in the immediate future.
Yes, there is a great desparity between commercial games and current hobbyist efforts but this story totally ignores mod authors and the rise of free commercial level game engines.
First, some very good games have and are coming out from mod authors and mod groups. Without these hobbyists great mods like Team Fortress, Action Quake and the like would never exist. I dare say that in the case of Quake & Quake 2 numerous mods easily eclipse the somewhat lackluster "game" put out by the original commercial authors, id Software. Mod authoring is where most of the hobbyist game programmers now exist.
So what of the future?
1999 looks to be the beginning of the Renaissance of hobbyist game programming. Not since the beginning of the home computer age has there been a better time when the small garage developer could go toe-to-toe with their commercial counterparts.
Why? The rise of the free commercial level game engines.
Currently there are several free-use commercial level game engines available to anyone wishing to get into rolling their own games. The biggest and most promising of these is Genesis 3D from Eclipse Entertainment (www.genesis3d.com). Genesis 3D is a high quality 3D game engine with features on the level of Quake II and Unreal. Eclipse is allowing free use of their engine to anyone who wants to build their own games at no charge or royalties. There is currently quite an active and building hobbyist/wanabee community growing up around the engine. Although primary use of the engine is through C/C++ there are currently numerous community efforts going on to make it fully accessible through Visual Basic, Delphi and scripting languages. Eclipse is also considering releasing the source to the engine under a form of Open Source. Another new development is Eclipse's creation of Hollywood which brings the Genesis engine to the web.
Another up and coming free engine is Crystal Space (crystal.linuxgames.com). Crystal Space is an Open Source project being undertaken by a large group of contributors via the Internet. Although not as of yet complete (it's getting very close) Crystal Space already has ongoing ports to many platforms and contains a rich feature set comparable to any commercial level game engine. Crystal Space is released under the LGPL license which allows commercial as well as shareware/freeware use.
Lastly, there is the entire source, tools, art and sound file release of Golgotha from the now defunct Crack dot Com (www.crack.com). This gem features a commercial 3D outdoor engine, level editor, thousands of high quality textures, sounds and mp3 music. The entire game in development was released as public domain when Crack went under. Although the game part was far from completion, the engine is close enough that hobbyists could use with very little effort for their own works.
So I say hobbyist game programming is not dead. It's just beginning again anew.
A very interesting point made. I wonder...if the Golgotha engine, or the Genesis engine really could have the ability to compete in a market with the Quake and the Unreal engines (heck, the LithTech engine). As good as these engines could be (Golgotha aside, it’s the only one that was worked on full time), nothing can compare to having a staff full-time devoted to a project.
It would be quite a lot of fun to watch one of the free engines take on the other folks though, wouldn’t it? Here’s to hoping they can...
Subject: fo' da mailbag: additions to the "Fall of the Hobbyist programmer" article
one thing that was not mentioned in the (very fine, I might add) article is that the sad fact of the industry is, gamers are so ridiculously demanding that all the features they absolutely *must* have in games these days required huge teams of programmers or at the very least, a handful of geniuses. Every game that gets released today gets compared with what else is on the market and must therefore be at least at the same level as other current offerings or it will be panned by critics and gamers alike. If I, Joe Hobbyist, wanted to write a first-person shooter, could I, by myself, compete with id or Valve? Would my effort be able to top Half-Life? Would a game like Wolfenstein succeed today (ray-cast and sprite-based, none of this new-fangled 3-D stuff)? Doubt it. "Uh, that's like, old,. dude." So why put forth the effort? Even mods these days require a team; modelers, mappers, skinners, and programmers; code-only mods are frowned upon and require new eye candy to placate the masses, and even if I was talented enough to do it all, the mod would take forever for a part-timer to put out, and there are many features that most users have become accustomed to (flood protection, IP banning, not to mention the slew of tourney features in such mods as LMCTF) and would not enjoy the mod if they were not available. The little guy just does not have the resources to provide all that we as gamers demand, and that's a fact.
I can do nothing but agree.
Subject: Xenogears, Zelda and Metal Gear Solid
"Comparing The Greats"
It's really irritating to see "gamestory" valued over "gameplay". Though a good story often enhances gameplay, I was surprised to find it beating out the "core gameplay mechanics" of MGS and Zelda in your article. The more popular console RPGs typically feature the same (flimsy) gameplay structure -- A story interrupted by battles that tend to require little to no ingenuity or growth in gameplay to conquer (many battles are easily won by tapping one button on the controller).
In Xenogears, we see the same deal. It tries to make up for this redundant style with the "combo" system, and though it's a treat to watch, it has little meat to back it up. I never saw the face of battles change significantly because of it. I played Xenogears for about 35 hours when I realized something -- I was "playing" a goddamned book. I'd sometimes go on story arcs that lasted longer than 30 min. without even controlling my character -- Just watching in-game cinematics and tapping "X" for the next dialogue balloon. At least it was a surprisingly decent story for a console RPG.
A good novel has more story and in this case, nearly more gameplay than Xenogears (page turning is easier than "X" buttons). Assuming I spend the 60 - 80 hrs on Xenogears it often takes to beat a console RPG, can I really say the story I read/saw was worth the time I could have read 3 - 5 novels, or one good novel and a game of Zelda (hell, Pacman)? Unless the battle mechanics in Xenogears make up for it (please don't say they do), it hardly seems worth the effort.
I think how a game plays is more important than how it reads. I write as a preemptive strike, before everyone agrees with you.
I think I need friends,
Well, I agree with you. :)
I do think the loonster underestimates the power of gameplay...while the stories in Half-Life and Shogo blew me away (given, I was impressed it had that much story for a first person game), the loon was unimpressed. No matter how good a story is, if a game stinks, it stinks. I recently played a game, ack, can’t remember the name. Anyway, it’s a racing game. Normal, simple, you have cars, you run over little thingy’s, thingy’s give you ammo so you can blow the other cars away. And along with that, came this HUGE storyline about supercomputers taking over the world or something. You wouldn’t even know the story existed unless you opened the manual, it was only by chance I saw it. Now, neat story. Interesting concept. What it had to do with the game is beyond me. Oh, and the gameplay was boring. So a very poorly done game. I think you need a good balance of the two...a story alone can’t make a game.
My editorial got quite a lot of reactions, from one extreme to the other.
Subject: your editorial
Let me start by introducing myself. My name is Camille, and I'm a female gamer. I've been 'at war' with pcxl for some time now. I was initially disgusted by 'babe-o-rama', the name says it all, doesn't it? But, when they actually posted pictures with full nudity I decided that enough was enough. I managed to have those pictures pulled down in under 24 hours. The 5000 subscriptions thing wasn't in response to any financial difficulty, it was in response to me threatening to inform the agencies that handle PR for the girls that their images were being exploited without licence. Why they decided 5000 subs would make them powerful enough to take on Madison Ave heavyweights is beyond me, but that was their response.
That is, in a nutshell, the history of my involvement. I was waiting for the new year to pass to see if they would take down 'babe-o-rama'. I thought that maybe the 5000 sub plan was for them to have a way of taking it down while saving face (you are no doubt familiar with the male ego). It also appears that another site is doing the same thing. http://www.ugn3d.com has a new section called 'babe-o-vision' or something similarly stupid. I believe this is another Imagine Media sponsored site, but haven't confirmed that yet. It appears that the web code was lifted straight from the pcxl site at any rate.
My plan for the future is to let the world know. I have been compiling a list of email address for various media sources. I'm sure that someone out there besides you and I would be outraged by the content of these sites. I currently have appox. 200 addresses, but if you have any or have any leads as to how I could find more I would be very appreciative. I would also appreciate any suggestions you might have. And, if there is any way that I can be helpful to you, please let me know.
I think Camille says all that is needed here. This article has taught me the depths to which some people will stoop when they feel they have been offended...rather than handle this in a rational manner, some decided to engage in some childish, and, well, illegal activity. Personal attacks never serve anyone well, and I will have no part of it.
It is, however, a rather sad lesson I’ve learned. Immaturity is everywhere, and never be suprised how it shows itself.
Oh, and if anyone wants a message passed on to Camille, just e-mail me.
Subject: What's in a name?... What's in a community?
PlanetQuake (in it's original pre-empire form) I don't see anything in that name that implies that this community is male or female, but wait. GameGirlz.com. We've become gender specific. Why? With the animosity of the internet in the first place, why is it neccesary for anyone to segregate the two sexes? Who is to know who is male and who is female and why should anyone really care? In a community already growing in complexity why have yet another way to distinguish one person from the next? Must there be a Half-Life Women's Forum, or Shogo Women's Forum? How is that so different from the regular Half-Life and Shogo communities? Why must you fight for a recognition that is not neccesary to be a part of an already large community? Why must we be more aware of the physical characteristics of the people around us? Why can we not be solely aware of a persons personality and leave it at that? Will we soon be seeing Black Quaker's Forums springing up?(I use this only because blacks are historically the second most widely segregated "minority") Are not Black/White/Asian/Women/etc "Quakers" all the same? Do we not all have one thing in common? Can we not celebrate just that, and not these other trivial differences? Maybe I have a lot of questions. Maybe I'm trying to enlighten you in the socratic method.
Now for some questions and answers of my own. Is PcAccelerator really part of our community? I don't think so. Do I visit their site? Yes. Why? To get a laugh. Do I read their magazine? Yes, it's one of the few gaming magazines that I feel reviews games in a way that I would review them, or at least I seem to agree with most of their reviews. Maybe that is why I like them, but am I not human to want to read something I agree with? Do I consider any of the other gaming magazine sites out there to be part of "our" community? No, generally not. Pioneer's such as Blue, Redwood, and the staff at Planetquake are the core of the community. The sites such as Loonygames, Gamegirlz, and other secondary sites are part of our community. All the "geocities" type sites are part of our community, but print magazines, no. They have an impact, but mostly on the people outside of our community. Then it becomes a much larger issue that is outside of our community. Our community is too small to have an effect on such a large, external issue. We can become larger, and try to impact those external issues more. Where do you take someone that is new to our community? You obvioulsy don't show them PCXL. I wouldn't even show them PcGamer. I would however show them Blue's News, and Planetquake, but first they need to be shown the games. That is our focus, that is our common bond, that is our reason for being in said community. Maybe Stephanie "Bobbi" Bergman should take a more pro-active stance on getting more people into our community in general instead of trying to define her place in it. Educate people beyond the pring media. These added people will help repair our already fragmented community. We as such a relatively small community can not afford to fragment ourselves further than the industry has itself. If Ms. Bergmanu seeks to fragment the community further by bringing up this controversy, please have her bring it up somewhere else. While this article alone will not fragment the community the attitudes taken in it could. Loonygames has a reputation of well thought out, and generally civilized editorials. Why she should seek to introduce an old subject that is not really community centric I do not know. It has little bearing on this community as a whole, and I think most readers of Loonygames would like to read about something other than her personal crusade. If I want to hear female-centric news I will go to GameGirlz or some other such female oriented site, but I won't primarily because I don't need a female slant on news that is not orientated at either sex. There are ways to be part of the community and there are ways to leave your mark on the community. Ms. Bergman has started to leave a mark, and I personally don't want it there. If she wants to take the day to day gaming news and orientate it towards women then fine, but she can't complain when the other 75% of gamers don't go to her site. We certainly won't complain if she doesn't come to a male oriented site. There is where the problem begins though. There are plenty of sites out there that neither cater to male or female consumers. There is no need for a gender orientated site, but Ms. Bergman seems to think so. There is room for everything though, and our community is tolerant.
I would consider my self an average reader of Loonygames, and an average member of this community, and in this community first and foremost I am a "quaker". What are you?
Ryan "Novus" Harris
PS: I debated as to if I should put something else down here, and obvioulsy I have decided to add some extra tid-bit of thought. This letter is in no way complete. There are a plethora more issues that I just couldn't include if not for the sake of the length, than because they didn't mesh into the already convoluted flow of the letter. Maybe that very fact lends to the point of fragmentation being detrimental to the community.
I am a gamer. I am a woman who exists within this community. I have never been known for keeping my mouth shut, so why start now?
Issues that don’t concern the majority shouldn’t be brought to the forefront of communities? Should I point out some other issues that didn’t concern the majority until someone within that minority pointed it out? Segregation existed for years, as did slavery. Primarily because of opinions like yours...;things are fine, so why do I have to hear about stuff that might upset me?’ I think we’re all better off without slavery or segregation, don’t you? Or would you just rather not hear about it.
I do find it funny, however, that someone would try to dictate the content of a publication I write, weekly, two columns for...say that I do not belong writing for this publication because I have written one article that was slanted in a direction he does not approve of.
Gender oriented sites, and the like are not something I am entirely comfortable with, because I believe in a fraction of what you are saying. However, it always takes an extreme pull from one direction to pull things back to center. So consider me pulling.
And the winner of this week’s t-shirt...someone who got the opinions, and then went and got the FACTS. If only everyone could be so intelligent to form their own opinions.
Subject: Thank You
Your editorial opened my eyes to how many gamers are actually female. I was visiting various IGN sites and stumbled upon PCXL.com's response to your editorial. In it they said that you misrepresented information. To be exact, you had said 25% of game players are female and they argued 2-5%. They stated that even the IDSA had facts to prove this. Well after visiting www.idsa.com i found out that females play online games more than males, 31% of console gamers are female, and 38% of PC gamers are female. I had no idea that the statistics were this strong in favor of females. As a budding game programmer myself this is very useful information. Thank you.
My pleasure. Although I had no idea the numbers were that high, the 50% number I had mentioned referred to Yahoo Games and the Zone...card games and stuff. Those numbers are amazing. Hey Ryan...look how much a part of your community we are!
|Credits: MailBag logo illustrated and is © 1998 Dan Zalkus. The MailBag is © 1998 Stephanie Bergman. All other content is © 1998 loonyboi productions. Unauthorized reproduction is strictly prohibited and not nice.|