Wednesday, December 15, 2010

Collaborative games

One of my early pet projects for my previous employer was a simple network 3D viewer.

The idea was to try to make a collaborative tool for artists or level designers.
What the project could do was very simple: spawn 3D objects somewhere and see each other moving around.
Unfortunately I didn't have time to continue on that and it never evolved beyond that level.

Nowadays, the success of Minecraft is obvious and it reminds me again that collaborative editing effort is somewhere into the future of developing games.

Of course, some ideas should never be stretched too far. For example, programmers tend to believe that procedural solutions can make artists less useful, or possibly even irrelevant (!), while some may see Minecraft and the Phun physiscs sandbox as a recipe to make any kind of game.

Of course most actual games will always need skilled artists as well as programmers.
But it's still important to push forward this sandbox kind of idea.. which personally has always fascinated me, and that is becoming so much more relevant now.

I wish I put more effort into this before, but on the other hand, I admit that I could never predict what people would be able to do by simply stacking blocks together.
I see editing tools as very sophisticated instruments able to give all sorts of features and user-interface goodness, levels of undo, etc. Instead, with Minecraft, people seem to be able to build incredible structures without even using copy & paste !
This is a bit like writing a novel using something with less sophistication than Windows Notepad..

I honestly still don't quite understand this myself.. is and how much planning and trial and error goes into building such structures (there are some tools to import and export data.. but in most cases it's just people stacking blocks one by one).

All this also confirms my theory that "big pixels" are here to stay.
As much as screen resolution improves and, more generally, computers allow to blur digital with analog, easily distinguishable discrete elements, be that pixels, Lego blocks or virtual 3D blocks, are still useful and attractive.

When I see Minecraft, I also think about Second Life.. which in a sense had better graphics, but the bar for editing the world was still too high, and so it left its users busy buying and selling and simulating sex (which is apparently the main driving factor of the game).

So, Second Life's inability to grow was due to the hedonistic tendency of the game. Which ultimately is less rewarding than the ability to express creativity and develop things.. even if they are made of big blocks.

mumble mumble