I’m a big fan of Artificial Intelligence in games. One of my most memorable moments in gaming was in a game called Wolfenstein 3D, by id software, when I was flanked by an enemy soldier who came through a side-door and killed me. I quickly learned that this was just a coincidence and that the enemy just used a random door, but the desire to create intelligent opponents stayed with me.
In 1999 I had the opportunity to work on a PC game to commemorate Pac-man’s 20th anniversary. The AI in the original Pac-man is impressive in both its simplicity and its effectiveness, and I have great admiration for the programmers of the original as they created an amazing game without the tools games developers rely on today. But I thoroughly enjoyed building upon the AI of the original to create opponents who could pursue the player, but also make ‘mistakes’ convincingly so as not to look stupid when it was really giving the player a chance.
After working on a few more titles, and contributing to a couple of books on AI, I had the opportunity to specialise in Artificial Intelligence and worked full-time on the AI systems for Ubisoft’s Rainbow Six: Vegas and Microsoft’s Hydrophobia. It was amazing to be able to concentrate on AI systems to make convincing team-mates, enemy and civilians.
I really wanted everyone to have a lot of fun creating AI with the Shoot Em Up Kit but the challenge was combining ease of use with flexibility. The solution was to provide a series of core AI behaviours, such as Chase or Fire, which each have a small number of settings to tweak, and then allow these to be combined to provide more complex behaviours.
Team behaviours are also supported so that enemy can be grouped and work together on a common goal, and NPC Generators allow AI characters to be spawned when certain conditions are met (time, proximity, maximum number, etc.).
With this range of tools I hope everyone will experience the thrill of seeing characters come alive and the strange sense of satisfaction when you are defeated by your own creation.
The recent Livingstone-Hope review addressed the need for better education in technology. Since this report a number of developers and hardware manufacturers have stated their intention to address this issue. In the case of Sony, this seems to be part of a wider strategy to try and get the Playstation 3 and its Move controller into schools.
ICT is being criticised by many for having become boring and irrelevant to school children. Yet many of these kids will choose to spend much of their evening using technology such as videogames, websites and social media sites.
Products such as the Shoot Em Up Kit contain a lot of educational aspects and can help people to understand concepts such as co-ordinate systems, vectors, physics principles such as velocity and mass, and the Behaviour editor allows people to build behaviours using logic and sequencing.
I know teachers try really hard to make subjects accessible, relevant and appealing to the school children. So perhaps the videogame industry needs to do a better job of educating the teachers as to what tools are available to them.
The games industry in the 1980s thrived from the technical achievements, imagination and diversity of games created by people who were dubbed 'bedroom coders'. Companies such as Codemasters and Blitz started out as kids creating games in their bedroom, as did ground-breaking titles such as Manic Miner and Ant Attack.
Over the years the accessibility of creating games has died away. Videogame graphics are powerful enough to require artists, coding requires learning complex languages and knowledge of a range of technologies, and game audio is often played at a higher-than-CD quality.
As covered in a previous blog, the size of team and the duration of a project can lead to frustration by the developers. However, such a large investment of time and money also affects creativity. Ideas are rarely quick to try out and budgets and schedules affect the decision to go ahead with an idea. It can become very tempting just to go for a feature you’ve seen work in another game.
The indie scene, with Flash and iPhone games, amongst other technologies, has been a move back towards the bedroom coder. But we hope the Shoot Em Up Kit will allow artists, designers and audio designers to experience the creativity of making their own games. Removing the requirement for programming will hopefully see the term 'bedroom coder' replaced with 'bedroom developer'.
I have been working in the videogames industry for almost 14 years now and have had the privilege of working with so many talented people. However, the size of team required to make a typical retail game now runs at over a hundred staff. Needless to say the more people you have working on a project the smaller the contribution an individual makes.
With a large team of creative people there are always a lot of suggestions made for every area of the game, often conflicting, and so the designers need to keep a tight rein otherwise the game will lose direction. And to see your ideas pushed aside and the game you will be working on for the next 18 months move in a different direction is frustrating.
I think the rise in the number of indie developers is partly fuelled by these frustrations. Games developers want to make games, not be given a list of models to build. Smaller projects allow that.
The Shoot ‘Em Up Kit is proving to be popular with games developers for their own projects as it allows designers, artists and musicians to work on areas which interest them using the same tools they use at work. Games developers, in my experience, are bursting with ideas and to give these creative people an outlet can only be a good thing.
Hi, my name is John and I'm the lead programmer at Tall Studios.
I've been working on the Shoot ‘Em Up Kit since its conception and have been responsible for a lot of the design.
I have worked in the games industry full-time since 1997, working as a Lead Gameplay programmer and, later, specialising in Artificial Intelligence. A few of the games I've worked on include Rainbow Six Vegas for Ubisoft, Hydrophobia for Microsoft, and the little known but award winning Pac-man: Adventures in Time for Atari, which is still probably the game I am most proud of.
The concept for the Shoot ‘Em Up Kit dates back way before Little Big Planet and other games with user generated content. The Shoot ‘Em Up Kit was created in response to some friends whose kids enjoyed designing games on paper but had no way of making those games. There was plenty of software which allowed you to program your own game, but that's no good to a 9 year old. When I was a teenager there was the Shoot ‘Em Up Construction Kit, created by Sensible Software for the Commodore 64 and Amiga computers, but there had not really been anything since.
User generated content has since become quite a popular feature within games. We extend the simple level building by allowing anyone to create their own artwork, music, sound effects or shader effects to give an unprecedented amount of possibilities for creating games without programming. People can use the same tools as the professionals, their cheaper or freeware equivalents, or a pen, paper and scanner.
It was great to see the ideas my friends kids had drawn on paper, but I can't wait to see them playing on-screen.