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On The Trendiest Concepts In Game Design

simoniker posted more than 10 years ago | from the in-the-mode dept.

Games 50

Thanks to the Guardian Gamesblog for its post discussing some of the 'trendiest' concepts currently infusing the world of videogames. The author notes: "Like every other entertainment sector, the videogame industry is prone to sudden fads and fashions that seem to spring out of nowhere, take the scene by storm, and then disappear only to be replaced by more advanced technologies, or better ideas, or something really silly", before pointing out trends such as 'sandbox gameplay' ("Sandbox is the new 'non-linear' - a favourite buzzword for open-ended game design... the dole office is full of unemployed end-of-level bosses") street racing games ("All the big driving genres - arcade, rally, F1 - have been done to death, so developers, already fascinated by crime and edgy urban themes, have turned to street racing"), and 'historical accuracy' ("Once the preserve of sad PC strategy titles, history has become a major videogame theme.")

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Hold on... (3, Funny)

sevensharpnine (231974) | more than 10 years ago | (#10018535)

Not all trends are bad! Remember full-motion video? That sure revolutionized the game industry.

Re:Hold on... (1)

FlipmodePlaya (719010) | more than 10 years ago | (#10018593)

I didn't get the impression trends were bad from it... I don't think it meant to imply that.

Re:Hold on... (1)

YOU LIKEWISE FAIL IT (651184) | more than 10 years ago | (#10018744)

Remember full-motion video?

Mmm, Night Trap and Make My Video. Who could forget?


Re:Hold on... (1)

sharkey (16670) | more than 10 years ago | (#10018795)

Of course! You don't finish playing "A Fork in the Tale" and think, "Wow! They'll never top that!"

Re:Hold on... (1)

iMMersE (226214) | more than 10 years ago | (#10021433)

The best concept I've ever seen, is producing a second-rate web-based game, and then blatantly plugging it on slashdot by putting it in a sig.

The next big thing (1)

Slurm-V (513189) | more than 10 years ago | (#10018637)

Having absorbed this information and passed the sand/racing/historical coaxial data structure through my Trendo-O-Mogrification device I can confidently predict the the the next great game icon will be none other than...Speed Buggy! []

Normal mapping vs. bump mapping? (1)

oskillator (670034) | more than 10 years ago | (#10018646)

Can any 3D folks out there tell me what the difference is between normal mapping and bump mapping? I mean, different representations of the data aside, aren't they both used for the same purpose?

Re:Normal mapping vs. bump mapping? (5, Informative)

Slurm-V (513189) | more than 10 years ago | (#10018672)

Wikipedia to the rescue []

Re:Normal mapping vs. bump mapping? (1)

Slurm-V (513189) | more than 10 years ago | (#10018718)

And for those who can't figure out how to type in normal mapping in the wikipedia search bar - here's the other link []

Re:Normal mapping vs. bump mapping? (4, Informative)

MBCook (132727) | more than 10 years ago | (#10018900)

Basically normal mapping is geometry, bump mapping is lighting.

Bump mapping is used to make a surface look more 3D by making the small details get light differntly (like the grout between bricks). It gives the illusion of depth. The problem is if you view across the surface, it's still just a flat surface.

Normal mapping actually changes the geomety of the object when it's rendered. So while the effect might end up looking the same (probably not, but they could be used for the same kind of thing), when you look across the surface, this time it's not flat, it's actually 3D.

Now that's a lousy way to use it if all it does is the same as bump mapping. Do the little tiny bumps (like on bricks) really matter that much? Wouldn't bump mapping be faster? Yes. But normal mapping lets you do more. You could edit the normal maps on the side panels of a car in-game to "bend" it so that it is dented because it was hit by another car. You could use slightly different normal maps on all the soldier in a game so that they are all the same model, but seem to have slightly different faces, body structures, etc. It allows some interesting stuff, which bump could, at best, hint at.

Re:Normal mapping vs. bump mapping? (3, Informative)

badmanone (806884) | more than 10 years ago | (#10019139)

Actually you're half right.

Normal mapping isn't doing the geometry stuff, that's displacement mapping. Something that isn't yet available (I don't think) in hardware (No, not even on a 6800 GT ULTRA SUPER DUPER). This is not to be confused with Virtual Displacement Mapping, or Holographic Mapping, or Virtual Holographic Displacement Mapping (all of which are the same thing). They involve offsetting texture coordinates based on the camera position and angle to make textures APPEAR as though the actual geometry is being displaced, when in fact it isn't (see the cool Unreal Engine 3 video for an example).

AFAIK normal mapping and bump mapping fall under the same category. I think there is a "simple" bump mapping based on just a single value (heightmap), with normal mapping being an extension of that.

Someone with more knowledge than I can expound...

The answers you seek lie within (3, Informative)

Anonymous Coward | more than 10 years ago | (#10019300)

Bump maps are textures that use only black and white (for lower / higher values, respectively). These textures give a small illusion of depth on an object, like the previous posters example of the grout between bricks. It cannot be used for anything large, because the lighting information is very basic.

Normal Maps are an extension of bump mapping in a way. Instead of using simple black and white images they use the red, green and blue channels of a color texture to capture the directions that varying surfaces on an object face. A "normal" is the direction that a polygon faces outward, and the term Normal Mapping comes from the Normal information contained in the texture. When a light hits a normal map it takes into account the direction that some surfaces were facing on the original, higher-detail model, and shades the pixels to create the illusion that the flat surface is actually composed of many different faces.

Both Normal Maps and Bump Maps use flat polygons for the most part (or as low detail as possible).

Displacement mapping is actually used in games today, but usually in the form of height-maps for terrain. Displacement mapping will probably never be used on actual models for the most part, because unlike Normal and Bump maps it can actually create more polygons when applied to a surface, and therefore would not be a good idea for fast and efficient real-time rendering.

I hope that answers your questions and I hope I got everything right.

Re:Normal mapping vs. bump mapping? (1)

MBCook (132727) | more than 10 years ago | (#10019313)

Crud. You're right. Oops. I thought that might be wrong after I posted it. Oh well. It's still a cool effect, just not the one the question was about ;).

Re:Normal mapping vs. bump mapping? (2, Informative)

Klowner (145731) | more than 10 years ago | (#10019584)

Displacement mapping is doable nowadays, just use the surfaces depth value plus the added depth from the bump map, and adjust the Z-buffer accordingly, it can be done.. Along with a little parallax mapping. In another year it'll be a totally common effect seen in games :) fun fun

Re:Normal mapping vs. bump mapping? (2, Informative)

jensen404 (717086) | more than 10 years ago | (#10020211)

A pixel in a bump map represents the elevation of that pixel.

A pixel in a normal map represents the angle/direction (normal) that the surface at that point should appear to be facing. When the lighting is applied, it is calculated using that normal, relative to the actual orientation of the underlying polygon.

The problem with normal mapping is the lack of parallax.

a rather disappointing list (4, Insightful)

IshanCaspian (625325) | more than 10 years ago | (#10018656)

Most of the items on the list seem to be the inevitable result of our current progress with respect to graphics technology...we are advanced enough for moderately complex real-time physics, but not so advanced that we can swing real-time ray-tracing, etc.

I'd say the real trends are things like episodic gaming, MMORPG's, the leveling treadmill, the limits of player interaction, etc. In short, the things that we actively choose, not those that are dictated to us by the limits of our technology.

Re:a rather disappointing list (2, Interesting)

FlimFlamboyant (804293) | more than 10 years ago | (#10018867)

That IS a disappointing list. When I opened it, I was half-expecting a list of trends in game design (which it *kinda* touches on in a couple of points). I wouldn't call "bump-mapping" a trend. I'd call first-person shooters a trend, if not a grossly worn-out one (IMHO). If you want to come up with a new trend, then please bring an original game concept to the table, not just a new way of making the same-old-same-old look better.

But I guess games are like movies. Eventually all of the truly original concepts are used. Somewhere I read that there are only like 15-20 truly original movie plots, and that every movie is a derivative of one of them. So it goes with games as well, I suppose.

Re:a rather disappointing list (3, Interesting)

MBCook (132727) | more than 10 years ago | (#10018915)

I agree. Physics isn't some cool feature someone invented, it's something that we can finally put in without it ruining performance. We've all noticed at one time or another in a game that the boxes on the wall don't move when shot at, or a person can walk across a telephone line without it bending or breaking. That's all wrong (in physics) and so you might notice it. Sure you could have put the physics engine from HL2 into the origional, but how many computers would have been able to play it at more than 2 fps when it was released?

You're right, the list isn't much in the way of trends in gaming. You want a trend? Trying to make a game out of any sport with the word "extreme" attached to it. That's a trend (even if a sorry one).

Old school physics? (3, Insightful)

MachDelta (704883) | more than 10 years ago | (#10020295)

Ever hear of a game called Tresspasser? It was released back in 98 (same year as HL), and had a far more detailed "physics engine" than anything at the time. Only problem is, the game was a horrible, buggy, steaming pile of dog feces (i've seen it on more than one "worst games ever" list). But physics were semi-possible back then.
The crappy thing is, Tresspasser kind of scared developers away from doing physics engines, lest they pull another tresspasser and completely fuck up their game. It wasn't until recently (starting with UT2003, AFAIK) that the big boys of the industry said "no, we can do this right". Suddenly, physics is a buzzword and a 'new thang' instead of being 5 years old and still evolving.
I suppose the only good news is that detailed physics are probably here to stay now, and should get better as the industry keeps fueling their evolution.

Re:Old school physics? (1)

Anonymous Brave Guy (457657) | more than 10 years ago | (#10029106)

I suppose the only good news is that detailed physics are probably here to stay now, and should get better as the industry keeps fueling their evolution.

I guess it depends on what level of physics you're talking about. Total Annihilation was, AFAIK, the first RTS game to use somewhat realistic physics in its game world. As a result, placing your artillery on higher ground really did extend the range, and hiding behind a hill really did protect you from line-of-sight missiles.

However, given that the TA-based conversion mentioned on this board the other day adds in things like craters in the map after big explosions, obviously the original wasn't 100% on the physics and some people still want a more deformable game world. I guess more realistic physics is still a big driver then...

Sandbox? (4, Funny)

MagicDude (727944) | more than 10 years ago | (#10018800)

Is sandbox really a good term to use for video games? Maybe it's just me, but when I think of sandboxes, I think of something that's gritty and irritating to my eyes, usually full of crap, and that after you're done playing in it you haven't accomplished anything.

Re:Sandbox? (2, Informative)

Sigma 7 (266129) | more than 10 years ago | (#10018870)

Is sandbox really a good term to use for video games?
It is, but not in the context used.

Traditionally, a "sandbox" in a computer is an isolated portion of a computer where absolutly anything can happen but is incapable of inflicting damage on either other computers or on other parts of the system. This is quite similar to the honeypot concept.

In a video game, a sandbox is a free-style area where anything can happen without having to worry about outside effects or changes to the outside. Normally, such a sandbox is used if you want to experiment with how monsters can react or to play with each individual item within the game to see their results.

This is different than the context used in the article, where such "sandboxes" are free-for-all stuff that *DOES* impact other portions of the game. For example, the Grand Theft Auto - if you shoot everything in sight, the cops will go after you more. This is not an ideal sandbox envrionment as there isn't really a way to isolate your experimentation (aside from saved games, but those technically don't count.)

Re:Sandbox? (4, Informative)

EnglishTim (9662) | more than 10 years ago | (#10021062)

> Traditionally, a "sandbox" in a computer is an isolated portion of a computer...

Actually a sandbox is traditionally a box filled with sand, and is often used by children for playing it with little toy diggers, spades, buckets and the like. Sure, in computer science circles it may mean an area where you can play around without harming the rest of the system, but that really only applies to computer science. If you're talking about gaming it makes a lot more sense to refer to the free-form play aspect of sandboxes.

Re:Sandbox? (1)

talaphid (702911) | more than 10 years ago | (#10034323)

It's the same thing. Think about it, who put you (as a toddler) in the sandbox, why did they get the sandbox, and why did they put you in it? It is a well known fact taht toddlers are the most destructive force in the known universe, that parents have gotten to the point where they like owning stuff they'd like to keep more than a week, and perhaps it might be good to isolate the two, by putting one in a sandbox.

If you want a nasty program (toddler) to run around without damaging your system (house) you put it in a sandbox.


Re:Sandbox? (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 10 years ago | (#10018872)

It's a great term to use - there's plenty of people who would describe GTA3 in exactly the same way.

Re:Sandbox? (1)

vjmurphy (190266) | more than 10 years ago | (#10018897)

So, basically, you are saying it IS a good term to use for video games.

Re:Sandbox? (2, Insightful)

gauauu (649169) | more than 10 years ago | (#10018916)

Is sandbox really a good term to use for video games? Maybe it's just me, but when I think of sandboxes, I think of something that's gritty and irritating to my eyes, usually full of crap, and that after you're done playing in it you haven't accomplished anything.

In that case, it's ABSOLUTELY a good term to use for video games.

Re:Sandbox? [flamesuit=on] (2, Funny)

mobby_6kl (668092) | more than 10 years ago | (#10018917)

"Sandbox" is also often used to describe the environment in which Java (and others) run.

[quote parent] something that's gritty and irritating to my eyes, usually full of crap, and that after you're done playing in it you haven't accomplished anything.

Fits perfectly. ;)

Re:Sandbox? (1)

Dark Lord Seth (584963) | more than 10 years ago | (#10019027)

Think of "The Sims". Someone needs to combine "The Sims" with a random RTS or maybe even space based RTS ( a la Homeworld ). Think about it, some random person build a nice house, a few more random people build more nice houses, make up for a pretty and lively neighborhood with people chatting, working and having fun. Then you can start an orbital bombardment on that neighborhood starting with a few salvos from your heavy cruisers, followed by several waves of plasma bombers...

Or, more seriously, something like "Sim City" and "The Sims". One person develops a town, other people build houses, businesses, etcetera. Random people would be able to "host" towns and players who build houses would log in as clients. Town can then cough up their own authentication systems ( ie, pay up, restricted access, something else... ) and be linked to other towns. Maybe it's an idea, maybe not. Sure as hell would be interesting to me, as long as people don't slap monthly subscriptions on it and make offline use possible...

Re:Sandbox? (1)

escher (3402) | more than 10 years ago | (#10019044)

(+1, Way To Farking Accurate)?

Re:Sandbox? (1)

unixbob (523657) | more than 10 years ago | (#10023196)


GDC (5, Funny)

LincolnX (700433) | more than 10 years ago | (#10018907)

The biggest buzzword at the annual Game Developers Conference this year was "Innovation".

don't forget (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 10 years ago | (#10018966)

Square dancing so rendy it never released a game :).

Dynamic soundtracks (1)

_|()|\| (159991) | more than 10 years ago | (#10019103)

I remember iMuse being a touted feature of X-Wing. With the wholesale adoption of digital audio, I imagine it's harder to implement. A soundtrack can add to the experience, but I'm hard pressed to think of a good example.

Re:Dynamic soundtracks (1)

Bastian (66383) | more than 10 years ago | (#10019312)

If I remember right, the way that LucasArts did it in the X-Wing series was to break the soundtrack into very small pieces, maybe four bars of music. Each chunk had a certain mood associated with it, and the game tried to detect when certain moods would be appropriate. Then, it would switch to the more victorious sounding pieces if you defeated a capital ship, somber ones if you lose someone on your wing, etc.

I assume they either put a lot of time into making sure that you could put any chunk after any other chunk without the music sounding bad, or creating a list of which chunks could come after a given one.

Anyway, I'm not sure what you mean by digital audio making it harder. The sound coming out of a video game is digital almost by definition. If you mean compressed audio like MP3, you'd probably get a performance hit from breaking the sound files into such small chunks, but modern computers are fast enough to handle it. It really isn't that big of a difference, since the X-wing games werent really dynamically generating music at all; they were just using a sort of heuristically-guided playlist shuffle.

Re:Dynamic soundtracks (1)

33degrees (683256) | more than 10 years ago | (#10019570)

Actually, many (if not most) games feature this type of dynamic soundtrack these days; usually it seems to be two variations, one that's played during combat and one in between the fighting. And speaking of X-Wing, one of the best soundtracks I've heard in recent times is for the game Freelancer; it's one of the only games I've ever played where the soundtrack actually stood out as being well done. I believe all the sounds were in a easily readable format (probably .WAV) so you could browse through them and see how the dynamics soundtracks were put together.

Re:Dynamic soundtracks (1)

Luigi30 (656867) | more than 10 years ago | (#10021058)

So that's why it sounded cut-up and pasted at times. TIE Fighter used the same engine. When you started, it would play the Imperial March, cut it off after 8 bars and play something completely different.

Re:Dynamic soundtracks (1)

moon-monster (712361) | more than 10 years ago | (#10021485)

Actually, DirectMusic [] (part of DirectX since version 7 or so) is not very dissimilar to iMuse, at least in concept. It lets you build blocks of music together, define transitions between them, and assign different 'groove levels' for them, so that the music can get more exciting as the action hots up, or you switch between 'moods', and so on. It's pretty good for creating dynamic soundtracks.

The thing is that synthesized MIDI music doesn't sound anything like as good as a digital soundtrack recorded in a professional studio, so it tends to get overlooked. Doing something with pre-recorded audio would be pretty hard to implement without using up masses of RAM for all the audio snippets and so on, and it would be hard to transition gracefully between them all.

Real Olympic Game (1)

superpulpsicle (533373) | more than 10 years ago | (#10019578)

Someone needs to spend time to create the ultimate olympic game that's a non-button smasher. But include 50 events, and borrow old engines from EA or sega sports to include basketball, softball, soccer.

I want to see vollyball, ping pong, tennis, along with all the track & field etc. Have it go online.

What about.... (2, Funny)

UCSCTek (806902) | more than 10 years ago | (#10020108)

...the ultimate button-masher game! This is a game that rewards the player for pressing the buttons as quickly and randomly as possible. Kids will go crazy for it (ever seen one get near a piano?). Each household should have a copy of the button-masher game. Not only does it keep the kids busy mashing buttons (thus not mashing each other), but it generates zillions of RSA keys for you!

Re:Real Olympic Game (1)

Reapy (688651) | more than 10 years ago | (#10022622)

Yeah, I remember there was a really good winter games , game, I used to play. I totoally forget the name of it and who made it though. It had downhill skiing, ski jumpping, speed skating, luging, and i think a couple more. We used to spend hours with it, it was pretty good. It needs a remake.

Re:Real Olympic Game (1)

TransDermNitro (264204) | more than 10 years ago | (#10026685)

Epyx Winter Games maybe?

Also by Epyx : Summer Games I & II

I had them for the C64. I seem to remember them requireing you to frantically shake the joystick. I also recall they sold a microswitched joystick that was well suited for their games.

Epyx History []

Re:Real Olympic Game (1)

Reapy (688651) | more than 10 years ago | (#10032255)

That sounds like it was it. I think we only played the events that didnt require frantic joystick shaking and just timing and movment.

Dynamic soundtrack a fad? (1)

LGagnon (762015) | more than 10 years ago | (#10020119)

Sounds more like something we forgot for a while. We've had those since Super Mario Bros (remember the star song?).

Easy games? (2, Insightful)

AmiMoJo (196126) | more than 10 years ago | (#10020969)

I think the biggest trend in recent years, particularly from US developers, is to make easy games.

It seems like a lot of people just want a game that they can play through and finish without too much effort. More like an interactive movie than a game. If you get stuck, the mags are full of cheats to help you. Some games even have a special cheat menu now (Tony Hawks, Turok Evo etc).

Ideas (1)

robnauta (716284) | more than 10 years ago | (#10021028)

Sometimes someone has an idea, and other games use it. Then it gets forgotten again.
Colin McRae rally 3 had you drive some tests to get a rally licence before you could start championships. But CMR4 doesn't have it anymore.

Maybe this is a good thing, because I remember Driver, and its insanely difficult test in the parking garage that you had to pass before you could actually start the real game.

Re:Ideas (1)

GTRacer (234395) | more than 10 years ago | (#10021986)



- Driver's tests WERE pretty cool!

Trend-"y" suggests a temporary fad (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 10 years ago | (#10022005)

But (as with anyone) if the article's author knows enough to predict long-term trends in the mainstream, he should be a VC or trader rather than a journalist.

I remember when FPS and RTS games were labelled fads and "flavor of the month" genres, mostly by myopic proponents of older-style turn-based and/or isometric games who couldn't grok a future so radically different from what they were used to.

"Magic the Gathering" was being called a stupid fad by myopic proponents of older-style dice-based fantasy gaming, around the same time.

Sandbox as a trend... (1)

quantax (12175) | more than 10 years ago | (#10023036)

I think the author of this article is not very informed, because though sandbox games have been becoming more common, they are still very rare. The main sandbox game that I know of are GTA, Morrowind , X2 the Threat, and a small game called Flatspace. If anyone else knows of some, add em to the list, but I can only hope more people would make games like this as I tend to play them longer.

And the most annoying trend... (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 10 years ago | (#10030498)

Mini games. Goddamn mini games.

I'll never be able to play an RPG again without needing to dodge 200 lightning bolts consecutively to get some item to prove my life dedication to the franchise. Every single one of them. Goddamn mini games. Even KOTOR has that stupid card game. Make a real fucking game or just give up.
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