Mink Machine

The evolution of games

When I was a boy, computer games were widely considered to be merely a toy for children. We were the first generation who played a lot of computer games and the adults were just waiting for us to grow up, so we would stop this childish act and adopt to the normal society. Instead, it was the society that changed.

Commodore 64 was one of the home computers that accelerated the process and today people of all age and genders play games every day, whether it be to interact in global virtual communities or simply the pleasure of killing dragons for the loot.

One of the more obvious differences is the vast improvement in graphics. For instance, have a look at this evolution of the main character in the classic adventure game King’s Quest:

Kings Quest screenshots Comparisons of graphics from different Kings Quest games.

The left guy is Graham, introduced in 1984. Then there is Alexander, Rosella, Graham (again!), Valenice and finally Connor, introduced in 1998 (all graphics borrowed from Sierra On-Line). With the exception of Connor, they are all hand-drawn animated characters.

But in recent years, the development has greatly accelerated. Consider the following two images:

Warcraft screenshots Comparisons of same scene from Warcraft 3 and World of Warcraft.

The left screenshot is taken from a cut-scene of Warcraft 3, released in 2002. This frame was pre-rendered in a graphics package and featured in an off-game movie.

The right screenshot is the same location visited in World of Warcraft, released in 2005. That frame is actually in-game, rendered in real-time! (Nerd notice: If you enter this room in World of Warcraft and turn up the ambient volume, you will hear ghost sounds from the events that happened here in Warcraft 3)

A big leap forward, compared to the boring flat-shaded polygons I experienced back in 1992 in the world’s first virtual environment game. No wonder people love to explore virtual worlds when the trees look like trees and the sound of airplanes actually come from above.

Improvements such as these are one of the reasons that computer games are accepted by the general public today. Even blue-collar business men can be found in the guilds of WoW, using the networking side of the game while having a good time in Azeroth.

I wrote my first game in 1987, with a lot more to follow. Ten years later it ended up with a shoot-em-up in assembler. That game consisted of tens of thousands of handwritten lines of code, like this:

move.w (a2,d3.w),d7 sub.w (a1,d2.w),d7 move.w (a2,d2.w),d2 add.w (a1,d3.w),d2 move.w d1,d4 and.w #$fff0,d4 asr.w #1,d4 add.w d4,a3

Intriguing, isn’t it? Back then, such a simple thing as sprite collision was taking a lot of time and effort since this was before the birth of the graphic APIs.

Now, times are changing. Recently, XNA Express Beta was made available for public download. By using it with the free Visual C# Express Edition you can create games with C# in no-time, targeting both Windows and Xbox 360! As an example, check out this tutorial that demonstrates how you build a Pong game in a matter of minutes.

This feels like a software version of the Tower of Babel. I guess we will see thousands of modified tutorial games online in the near future, and some may even found their way to the Xbox Live marketplace. It won’t be long before Sony and Nintendo will try their hardest to counter this move. How to stop Microsoft on this one? Give away consoles for free?

In the early days, the games were so simple that a single person could write a game in a matter of months despite the arcane development environments. Today we have a small army for each game, where the development process involves concept art, movie making, special effects, sound labs and marketing on a scale rivaling even the Hollywood movies. If the young developers of today use XNA to find the way back to those small but addictive games, the future of gaming will be very interesting.

2 comments

  • avatar
    27 Nov, 2006

    Hittar ingen gästbok men ville bara säga: sjysst sida! Wish me luck med att fånga in och packa den där fjälluften :P

  • avatar
    29 Nov, 2006

    Tack, och lycka till! Glöm inte att ta med en stor håv. :)

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Reine is a web developer who enjoys caffeine-fueled urban traveling. More...

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