The moment I realised I’m not a geek

I was attending a local meet-up of technology enthusiasts, and one of the people presenting was an experienced game developer. He had worked for a big games company in the US for years, and was now starting his own business as an independent developer. He preceded to talk about how games are made from first principles and about his experience as a games developer.

What was the first question from the audience? ‘What source control system do you use?’. The conversation then turned to favourite text editors. Really?? That’s when I felt out of place. I wanted to know how he would go about trying to integrate Unity with a native iOS UIKit Interface, what platform constraints the Xbox One has, the differences between developing for PS4 and Xbox One, but everyone seemed to want to ask trivial questions about infrastructure.

It made me think: There's a difference between someone who is interested in technology for the sake of technology, and this is why we see 15 year old games being ported to JavaScript, and someone like me who is fascinated by what technology can do that’s new. How it’s done interests me of course, but that’s not what matters. The world undoubtedly needs both types of people, but it did make me think: I’m not a geek.


Halo Master Chief Collection: Opportunity Missed

I’ve been playing the multiplayer for ‘Halo Master Chief Collection’ recently. It’s all of the original Halo games bundled as one, with Halo 2 remastered for the Xbox One. The other games have been upscaled, and the original Halo game brings with it the Xbox 360 visual update it received in 2011.

I was excited when I first heard that the online versions of all the games were going to be included, with every map that’s ever been added (I’m not one for buying DLC, so a lot of these were new to me).

Unfortunately the multiplayer side of things is one big opportunity missed. Rather than take the latest, most refined gameplay elements from Halo 4 and let you play in any map, the game actually loads the version of the game that the map originally came with. I know that might sound obvious, but I was looking forward to playing Halo 4 online, but in some of the revamped Halo 2 maps, or original Halo maps.

I’m sure there’s technical reasons why it wouldn’t be easy to do this, but the experience would have been far greater. At the moment if you join a playlist such as ‘Big Team Battle’, you could end up one of 41 maps, which could run in one of 4 different game engines. Your weapons look different, extra abilities aren’t available, even the height of your jump is slightly different. Why should a user care about different game engines? How are they supposed to learn the game when it’s different everytime, for no other than technical reason?


Want to play your favourite map ‘Ragnarok’? Roll the dice, you have a 1 in 41 chance.


That brings me to my other main complaint, which is that the playlists are too huge and it’s not easy to select which maps you want to play. Team Fortress Classic managed this back in 1999 by showing a list of games, their current map, and the number of players. Take ‘Big Team Battle’ again. This playlist has over 40 maps in it that could randomly get selected. How is anyone suppose to master a map (really get to know the environment, and all of it’s hidden features) when they’re getting one of 41 random chooses in each game?

I’m sure there’s a reason for this, the developers want to make sure a wide selection of maps get played perhaps? Maybe they want to reduce the complexity of the user interface? Whatever it may be, I think being able to choose a map is crucial. Players tend to gravitate towards their favourite maps (take 2fort and rock2 in Team Fortress Classic), surely this is vital feedback for what works? Yes, you can create your own custom games of course, but these only seen to be open to Xbox Live party members.

So in my view, this game is a massive opportunity missed. Buy this game for it’s single player modes, not for the multiplayer.

Xbox One – Initial Thoughts

I was lucky enough to be bought an Xbox One for Christmas, so I thought I’d post some of my initial thoughts.

The games look amazing

I have one game (Forza 5) and at £50 a pop I will likely only have one game for many months to come. That said, together with the new controller that has vibration motors in each trigger (lets you feel feedback from the brakes), speeding around Circuit de la Sarthe has never felt so real. Whether it’s being blinded temporarily by the sun, or seeing a glimpse of the driver in the windscreen, it just feels so real.

The Interface is Confusing

While I wanted to love ‘Metro’ on the PC, after trying it for just over a month on my main development machine, I had to revert to using Start8 – it didn’t work out for me (loved it on the Surface RT, however) – so how does it stack up on the Xbox One? My view is that it could work, but the current execution isn’t great. On the main screen the positions of apps move about too often, so it’s impossible to remember where anything is. After a while I realised the tiles on the main screen amounted to a ‘recently used list’ the with exception of the left and right columns, which are fixed. There’s no visual differentiation, barley any visual hierarchy (the currently running app is the largest, everything else just looks like it was thrown in) and so it all gets rather confusing. To get to Settings for example, you have to go to ‘My Games & Apps’.

Apps for the sake of Apps

No device these days would be complete without an ‘App Store’ – however the Xbox One has taken this to extremes. For example, if you’re in a game and you get an achievement, in order to see the full details of that achievement you need to leave the current game and open another app (complete with an awful “splash screen” which makes the effect of leaving one app and going to another feel even slower), if the Xbox 360 could do this, surly the Xbox One should be able to? Another example of this was when browsing the video store, in order to view ‘TV Deals’ I had to install the Xbox Video app. It seems a bit ridiculous that this isn’t just built in.

Kinect is impressive if still work in progress

Having Kinect recognise you and automatically log you in is very clever. The speech recognition however is limited. Unlike Siri on an iPhone you need to keep to a precise syntax, and it’s not very forgiving. Say to Siri “Hello my friend, could please turn on the Bluetooth thingamajig” and it will turn on the Bluetooth radio. Ask your Xbox to “switch off” rather than “turn off” and it does nothing. I really hope this gets improved. That said it is still very useful, especially the “record that” function that lets you record the last 30 seconds of gameplay and share it online. I can’t imagine using the Xbox One without the Kinect plugged in, it just feels like work in progress still. I don’t have any Kinect games, so I can’t comment on how good it is for games, which I guess is its main purpose after all.

Everything is fast and fluid, it multitasks like a dream

The Xbox 360 despite being able to render Skyrim at a decent frame-rate was seemingly unable to load a simple system menu without a few seconds delay. Game updates would block the entire interface and it just felt very sluggish, The Xbox One however always feels snappy. Even mid game I was able to press the ‘home button’ and get straight back to the Start Screen, compete with a smooth transition and sound effect. Subsequently opening an app such as Skype or Internet Explorer was very quick. I was also able to install a demo from the store and keep playing. I hope it doesn’t slow down over time, but this fluidity will do a lot to tempt me to use the Xbox One rather than the Apple TV or Virgin TiVo box to access Netflix or rent movies etc

The best is yet to come

I hope (and predict) Microsoft will keep updating the Xbox One as they did with the 360. I’ve only used it for a couple of days so far and you can only fairly judge a a games console after many months of usage. Overall I’m very pleased with it, and look forward to more exciting releases.