Experiences in the community

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Gaming-II

This post is in continuation of the last post . The post would try to navigate some of the potential issues, challenges and opportunities that FOSS game developers will face.


Before I start, a disclaimer = I am no developer, just an outside observer, gamer who loves playing games.

FOSS gaming really started coming into its own in the last couple of years. There are many reasons for it. One of the biggest reasons perhaps may be the mainstream grudging acceptance by the general public, publishers and copyright activists of the creative commons/open content production and distribution methodologies.

Authors/Producers like Cory Doctorow and Nina Paley have turned sharing into an aspirational model. New and old places like Open clipart, Opengameart and bblendswap have given artists and musicians new places to showcase their art in a more relaxed atmosphere. Artists/programmers such as nicubunu are sharing the secrets of making digital art/creations. Openclipart logo
Osare logo Game engines like Osare (which is in heavy development) is also trying to create ecosystem for future game developers/publishers.

But along with all the good news, there are plenty of challenges, problems the creative and programming community has to overcome.

a. I see sites such as Openclipart and Opengameart having similar audiences. It would be nice if they could have some sort of integration between the two while still staying in their own unique way. The integration may be desirable in Competitions as Opengameart regularly does on some theme or the other while openclipart does not :( . If the competition to feature on both sites then more contributions would follow. One another option that should/could be explored would be archiving the art (clipart and gameart) on both sites so that a query in either site results in more probabilities by a potential user.

b. A more interesting and somewhat complex problem is to do with music. While Opengameart does have quite a bit of audio sounds they also need to partner with like-minded institutions like BBC World who gave something like 6.8 gb of royalty-free sound effects free and other such initiatives. I do have to state here that when BBC gave the royalty-free music few years ago there was no money involved and people could download it from their site itself. Now others are making money giving the service .

One of the issues which did come out is not all of the effects are/were of high-quality and some do require considerable cleaning . What is more complex is live mixing of music (adding more sounds, delaying the beat of sound) and things like that. Also having enough people sample the music is an issue (bandwidth comes a cropper here) . One music piece which I liked.

What would be interesting going forward is if there was a real-time visual differences showing between two revisions of a sound file. Something like trac shows for code. It would be fun as well useful to see a music piece being played and being able to delete specific sounds/instruments or add or delay some sound/instrument and then download the unique file. I am sure browsers, browser plugins and addon makers might be looking/dealing with this problem. There might also be need of better broadband speeds to achieve the same.

c. What also needs to be shared is the game production experience and issues the developer/developers might have and if any workaround worked for them. TSL game developers (the journal entries no longer on the site did a good job of explaining the steps to be followed in game development. Its a pity its no longer online. On the other hand Big Buck Bunny production has all kinds of production and interviews which would help the would-be game designers and game developers. Of course the movie production quality is high, but if game developers know the steps they hopefully know what shortcuts to take. Big Buck Bunny logo
Seminar_start d.What also has to be mentioned is how the developer needs to constantly involve the community for positive feedback. Dawn deserves a special mention that they give updates and also follow a release early and release often punishing schedule. While the game itself is in heavy development it definitely may be something to watch out in the future.

e. One thing to add here is quite a few start a gaming project and then leave it early/half-way due to work or such other commitments. Sourceforge has ample of such half-finished gaming projects lying around. I am sure that is case with other project hosting sites as well. What would be way better is if the potential game programmers and designers increase their participation on existing and upcoming projects. This way they would know if they can handle the time and other commitments that game development needs. Also they would gain sufficient knowledge, experience and karma which would definitely help in the long run. If you are able to get good karma/good reputation within the community then the chances of your dream gaming project grows exponentially. Getting artists and developers interested in helping you becomes much easier.

f. Sustainability :- While the above gives some view point on the development side what about making it sustainable. There are multiple ways in which money is and can be made.

1. E-commerce selling
2. Donation
3. Pre-selling the idea and making the game after a certain target is achieved.
4. Putting/Promoting the game through media/gaming CD’s
5. Opening the game for having multiple customized game content

While some of the above are pretty-straightforward some could use some more examples perhaps.

3. Pre-selling the idea and then making the game after a target (financial amount) is reached :- Blender Foundation has had quite a history of raising money for its Open movie projects. In fact I would encourage you to check out Ton Roosendaal wikipedia page . While you are there also check out the progress on Sintel the game.

The above is only possible if the producer/programmer/designer the main person who is driving the initiative has earned respect, reputation in the community.

5. Opening the game for having multiple customized game content :- This is way too easy to explain. There are way too many games where having level editors (to create customized levels) and video game modification toolswhich go a long way in enhancing what can be done with a game. It does involve investing more time but once done it can do wonders for the game. While there are many games, one of the examples I want to share is the example of a commercial game ‘Sims‘ which was published by gaming company Maxis circa 2000. Apart from its nice graphics and open-ended gameplay without any violence they did one big thing. They were also open in the sense players could add third-party content using the Sims Transmogrifier and more recently (relatively) GIMP and other software. Apart from taking an enormous risk at the time as there was not so many non-violent games (apart from Myst) the third party content creator system made it possible for large sections of the society (read women) to create content. In fact many women jumped on the bandwagon and made themselves fame and fortune. Most of the women followed a mixture of gratis and commercial objects on their websites. It would be misnomer to say it was only women but needless to say there were more women than men who were into designing stuff. Overall it made the game more enjoyable and repeatable. Needless to say, this phenomenon has been later used by many MMORPG to desirable effects as well.

One of the problems which do and can plague after a game is finished is moving on to the next version/revision as many mods could be tied to a particular version/revision. This is the problem with the development of Freedink which I have explored before.

Tools :- Some FOSS tools for game creation are :-

1. Inkscape
2. Gimp
3. Synfig and not the least,
4. Blender (check out the progress of Sintel game as well)

You would also find a huge list of Free game engines at wikipedia.

Distributions :- This is something which is rarely talked about. The FOSS world is made of something called distributions where you have maintainers who deal with something called package management. What they basically do is listen to end-users who use that particular distribution and if they have ideas and suggestions for a package, in our context a game say, dawn they either solve the issue or can and do act as interlocutor between the end-users and the upstream developers (the guys actually developing the game) . Many a times they are and can be a great source of help as they put up patches (which improve the game) or put up some art or do word of mouth publicity . Also they can and do help in porting the game to different environments. It is a sensitive relationship as a good relationship means more users happy and the environment happy while a bad thing obviously does not help.

Ideas :- While there are dime a dozen ideas I have every week, I frankly have neither the expertize nor the patience that is and would be required in a project like this. I know for sure that we have such rich history and such a huge repository of Indian literature covering all sorts of genres, just using any of those ideas and putting your own spin on top of it could be great. If there are artists, it would be great if some of them could put up some of our Indian utensils or/and Indian classical instruments in OGA (Opengameart) . One could also add the sounds of both the utensils (being opened, being shaken and being thrown about) and music of the instruments. They would be great addition to existing content.

Trends :- One of the biggest trends right now is social gaming which everybody is aware. While I don’t really play Farmville I know many of my friends who do get up at 0600 hours (IST) to give water to their plants to have optimum crop. Few other trends seem to be 3-d gaming (lot of hype although right now), mobile, motion-sensing (this is a winner for sure) and casual gaming (pretty huge in itself) .

Further reading :- You could try some of these books and attending workshops where some game developers share their mistakes and learnings with you. At the end of the day, you have to take the first step.

Conclusion :- While there are many challenges and its clearly not for the faint of the heart, but if their is dedication, time mangement skills and ability to take risks the rewards are pretty good.

Update 30/05/2010 :- While I gave info on some game engines, there are of course some not so notables which do get left out. jcrpg is one of such potential rpg game engines. One can look at youtube videos and search for ‘open source game‘ with search with parameters and find many more games and game editors not listed here. You could also see many more videos of games on youtube by looking at quodop’s contributions.

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