handcircus

Games and Interaction design

Saturday, January 07, 2006

Open source

As my forays (or perhaps bunglings) into more "proper" game development have continued, I've had a bit more time to play with Ogre, (thats Object-Oriented Graphics Engine), the open source engine thats rapidly growing in strength, support and community. And its a wonderful thing (I'm starting to grow concerned that I spend a lot of time posting things that I describe as wonderful. Although I suppose I wouldnt normally post anything awful unless I had quite a considerable amount of time on my hands).

Anyway. Its great. It contains pretty much everything you need out of the box to get building games. Great exporters from the most popular 3D packages. Cross-platform, great functionality with everything from shader support, stencil shadows, physics, BSP support, skinning, you name it. And being open-source, of course, its totally free.

What I find a shame, though, is the barrier to entry - that is the pre-requisite skills needed to take advantage of the engine - are so high. While it does all the hard work for you (by providing libraries of all these features rather than you coding them yourself), you need to have a rough understanding of how these things work in order to actually create anything. You also need to have solid programming experience, a good understanding of C++ and 3D graphics techniques. If you don't know what a float is or a vertex is, and don't know how to set up a compiler.... its totally useless. I know its only aim is to be a great game engine, which it succeeds in fantastically well, but it would be wonderful if anyone could take advantage of it.

As there is a growing consensus is that the games industry needs to attract more talent from outside the industry, where are the programs for the hobbyists, that make creating this stuff easy? Director attracted non-programmers at an early stage, but is now being left in a corner to rot and die. Virtools is a wonderful piece of software, allowing non-programmers to create fantastic software, but is so expensive and has such restrictive publishing options that its priced way beyond hobbyists. Flash seems to be the most successful platform for hobbyist game developers, producing such wonderful titles as Samarost and Banja (and is what I really first started making games in) but even that is moving in a much more technical direction, moving to proper object-oriented, strictly typed code. So far, the best examples I've seen are the products from Blitz, such as Blitz3D, which do seem to provide a great deal of functionality and speed, with a low barrier to entry, both in terms of price (its only $100 for Blitz3D) and programming experience.

But surely it can be easier still. Theres some great interviews (which I cant find the links to right now) with John Maeda where he talks about these huge technical barriers to the average user that are being put in place by technology creators, and of the need to break those barriers down, even if it means reducing functionality, if it makes the end product more useful. Keita Takahashi spoke of the need to attract more people from diverse backgrounds to the industry, and how can we do this? By giving them really fun, really easy to use tools. New paintbrushes to allow them to paint! Ogre is a great step in giving something really amazing and useful away, but lets build a layer on top of that to allow anyone who wants to to experiment and create and play and make wonderful things.

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