while I was walking in to work this morning, there was a broken water pipe in the irrigation system for the building next door. torrents of water were sheeting out of the flowerbed and flowing across the empty parking lot down towards the road. it was almost like a miniature stream complete with rapids and as I waded through the water I had the most vivid flashback to a valley that we tramped through high up near the U pass in fiordland.
kind of saddening really that the closest I've come to that natural beauty recently has been a burst irrigation system. but once the project is complete I plan on taking an extended vacation, probably back in new zealand for at least part of that time. and there is a great deal of gorgeous scenery in northern california and washington, which I plan on enjoying once I get myself some transportation.
speaking of washington, how about this whole microsoft thing? well, my feelings about the whole deal have mellowed greatly over time. initially, I was more than a little shocked, like everyone at bungie I'd imagine. but the more I talked to alex about the reasons for the deal it became apparent that this wasn't quite as cut and dried an issue as anyone would like it to be.
on the plus side, there's no doubt that the x-box is a totally unique system to develop for. it's hard to overstate the raw graphics power of the system that nvidia's put together to drive the video side of the box, and unlike other next-gen consoles there aren't any huge technical hurdles that have to be cleared before your developers can start writing for it. granted, there will always be problems associated with using dedicated hardware, but you can start writing code today on a conventional PC that writes to APIs that will actually exist on the production box. contrast this with the highly specialised vu0 and vu1 arcanum that must be mastered before you can produce any halfway competent ps2 title, and you can quickly see how ms can get away with not having final hardware as far before launch as the ps2 had to be.
of course these benefits would have been available to bungie as any other third party x-box developer. but by moving to redmond and being literally in the same building as the hardware, os and tools guys, bungie have the opportunity to really influence the development cycle for x-box at every level. will this actually come about? I can only assume so. during the twenty or so minutes that we were there on our trip, we got to speak to michael abrash and several other members of the tools development group, and there was definitely a feeling of flexibility just in that brief meeting.
the other parts of the plus side are pretty obvious. microsoft's marketing muscle is just astounding; they say 'jump' and every computer store in the world asks 'how high?' - quite a change from the struggle that bungie has faced to get their product into the channel, even despite consistent high quality and an excellent sales team. their resources are virtually unlimited; most projects at ms have roughly twice the staffing and many times more funding than the corresponding bungie projects. and, their test teams are some of the best in the games industry.
if only things were perfect! but bungie as a wholly owned subsidiary of microsoft is hardly the company that I signed up to join. let's face it, microsoft's in-house offerings in the gaming arena haven't exactly been stellar, and there is of course a lot of dark history behind how they've gotten where they are. however, with the recent spinning-off of a real games group away from the broader consumer entertainment division, there's a lot of positive thinking about the future going on at the redwest campus.
but don't take my word for it; read what ed fries (head of microsoft's games group) had to say in an interview he and alex seropian gave ign. after coming back from the trip up to redmond, I felt a lot better about the whole deal. it was made abundantly clear to us that microsoft's intentions are to retain bungie's internal structure in every way that they can, and to even start adopting some of our development practices in their other internal teams if things go well. my gut feeling is that these intentions are honest and that they'll remain so for at least some time. further down the road it's entirely possible that the status quo will fall apart, but for the time being everyone seems to be lined up behind the idea of bungie studios.
if only the fans could see it that way. of course they can't be expected to, but nobody at bungie believed me when I said that I felt we'd probably lose between 80-90% of our fan base almost immediately. and the reaction of the myth and halo communities was just as violent as I thought it would be. most of these people just aren't interested in understanding bungie's situation in terms of economics and in terms of game development; practically none of them even have the terms of reference to grasp the situation, the dangers or the opportunities.
that would be true for bungie's acquisition by any console company. but a significant and vocal minority of the bungie fan base is strongly tied to the mac as a gaming platform, often in an almost evangelical fashion. never mind that the mac is just a collection of software and hardware, and as such is merely a tool. these people are content to project their feelings onto bungie - the great defenders of the mac as a games machine; after all, weren't they showing halo as part of the keynote at a macworld expo? most of these fans hate microsoft irrationally, basically because by identifying with the mac they can be the elite gamers of the world that don't stoop to using other rubbish.
more power to them. for the most part, the commotion in the halo community seems to have settled down for now. many of the aforementioned microsoft-haters have left already, and everyone else is waiting impatiently to see if their keep halo on the pc and mac petition succeeds. at the time of writing, it has 22,000 signatures which has certainly been raising some eyebrows around here. I guess we'll just have to wait and see how much of an influence it has on the halo team. I certainly really don't want to see halo drop the possibilities that are available on the pc and mac platforms.
trouble is, one of the main advantages of becoming an x-box developer is that we get free rein to really hammer its polygon hardware. the difference in capabilities between today's pcs and the x-box is roughly an order of magnitude, and it's three or four times greater to step down to today's macs. while scalable content is definitely where the gaming industry is going, it's a big headache to deal with. you can probably push about two to three times as much content on the high-end if you don't have to worry about the low end. and that's not even counting radically different features like nvidia's pixel combiner engine. x-box is a huge draw card for a cutting-edge graphics engine like halo's. plus, the networking, control and user-modification features that are available are totally different on the console to those on a workstation. trying to make the same game for two such separate platforms; well, it would be a huge challenge. personally, I hope that jason and his team take it on, but we'll see.
amusingly enough, microsoft have a generous allowance available for employees to undertake work-related tuition. so I can probably get them to pay for my phd enrolment fees at otago (said degree, by the way, being totally and utterly stalled right now). who would have thought?
the prospect of physically moving up to seattle is an appealing one. I like seattle a lot more than the great san jose area; there's less of a chance that you'll walk down the street and see someone tapping on a palm pilot, or notice that the guy at the next table at a restaurant is working in visual C++ on a laptop. plus the climate is a lot cooler and has more variety, something that I really miss about dunedin. I'm even wondering about the possibility of buying property up there, just because tax laws in the usa give you serious, serious benefits for doing so. there are some gorgeous places for ridiculous price tags, but after cruising around for a while the rents seem more affordable than here (of course!). the only hurdle will be that I'll definitely need to drive around up there. but I figure there should be time to solve that one in between gaps in frantic coding for oni.
ah, oni. things are coming together very well right now - we have another milestone a week from today, which is the main AI milestone basically. I don't think I'm going to get a lot of time off for rest and relaxation until everything is up and running smoothly. and so far every indication has been that they aren't right now, and won't be without a great deal of effort. sigh.
sorry for the monster of a news update, but I had a lot to get off my chest. it would be nice to write a special rants / articles page for these monolithic brain dumps, but again that takes extra time. maybe next week. always next week.