USA Games News

July 19, 2010

Introduction

Welcome gamers,
It has been a long time since we have put out a news release, and as
lots of things have been happening behind the scenes we felt it was
time to give you all a bit of news. We have some good news and some
bad news. So we’ll give you the bad news first.
As many of you know we were planning on a possible early fall release
date for Mysteries of the Ancients. Now, it appears we will have to
push our expected release date back even further do to some things
happening here on the personal side. As usual it is just another case
where things come up and take priority over developing games.
Normally summer time is a busy time for us do to the fact the weather
in Ohio is much nicer and we can go outside swim, play ball with our
kids, go to weddings, cook outs, etc. All of that is all part of the
normal summer time craziness we have to deal with. However, this
summer looks like it is going to be more crazy than usual do to the
fact my wife and I are having some problems with our apartment
management over the cost of our rent. Our three year lease is up this
month, and now management wants to raise our rent to a price we really
can’t afford. On our current budget. So we are currently out apartment
hunting and looking to see if we can find something we can comfortably
afford on our current income. We don’t know how long this will take,
but it could take a while to find a place we like. When we do find
something we like it is going to take even longer to move and get our
lives back in some kind of order. As a result of this madness game
development is officially on hold while we get things squared away
with our living arrangements.
The good news is that thanks to the past six months of constant
development and testing the new C++ version of the Genesis Engine is
more or less stable for future game development by us. That means once
things settle down I don’t think it will take long to add the
additional levels required for Mysteries of the Ancients and add some
sort of registration method.  It is more a case at this point of
finding enough time to get it done. I for one am very eager to see
this project to completion. Not only to be done with it to settle the
pre-order situation that James North left behind, but we’ve been
working on developing some new ideas for games. New ideas that really
haven’t been done before in terms of accessible games.
For example, I have always been personally interested in comic book
super heroes ever since I was able to read comics in the mid 80’s. It
goes without saying that the mainstream game industry is filled with
such games based on super heroes like Batman, Superman, Spiderman, and
more recently Iron Man thanks to the new movies. Occasionally game
companies like Nintendo will create their own super hero icon such as
Megaman that becomes very popular with gamers. However, with
accessible games so far there really aren’t any games that features an
action hero that could compare to Megaman, Batman, Superman, whatever.
That’s where we come in.
Obviously, do to copyrights we can’t just use an existing super hero
from DC Comics, Marvel Comics, whatever but we can freely create our
own cast of action heroes and super villains that perhaps incorporates
some of the same powers and abilities of existing super heroes. We
just have to be careful to create an original character, original
name, and back story for that character. After all I personally know
that DC Comics and Marvel Comics have legally been copying ideas from
each other for years without getting into copyright infringement suits
over it.
For example, in Marvel Comics one of the principle X-Men heroes is
named iceman. His special power and ability is to turn things into
ice. In DC Comic’s one of the Justice League International heroes is
named ice. She basically has the same powers and abilities as Iceman,
but the storyline and character bio is different. It is different
enough that neither company has gotten into a copyright infringement
suit over it. It is all basically about knowing where to draw the line
legally and how much you can copy before it becomes a case of
copyright infringement.
The same principle applies with game companies like USA Games. There
are certain super heroes and super villains that are so generic the
same basic idea could b borrowed without really causing any legal
problems provided the author used a good bit of his or her own
originality in the creation of that super hero or villain.
For example, my wife and I took our son Shaun to see Iron Man 2
earlier this year. As we watched the movie I got to thinking how
generic the storyline for that particular Marvel super hero is.
Basically, beyond the fact we have a wealthy arms inventor, Tony
Stark, who builds a special suit of high-tech armor and calls himself
Iron Man there is nothing very unique about the storyline at all.
There have been other armored super heroes like Mantas or Commander
Steel who uses a high-tech battle armor to fight super villains the
same as Iron Man. So creating our own cast of super heroes like that
is quite possible.
Essentially, this brings us to the heart of the matter why I
personally began USA Games Interactive. I didn’t want to create
another accessible game company that comes out with another card,
board, or Space Invader clone. I wanted to see this company grow,
explore new possibilities, new ideas, and try and take the accessible
gaming market in a direction where the mainstream market has been
going for years.  One way to do that is by creating storylines and
characters that can be used in future titles and adventures the way
the mainstream developers have with Megaman, Mario, Lara Croft, etc.
Add to that an engine that includes a lot of mainstream features and
we have something that takes us beyond what has been done so far in
terms of accessible games.

Mysteries of the Ancients

Recently we have released beta 13 of the side-scroller version of our
popular game, Mysteries of the Ancients, and are currently working on
an all new 3d first-person version of that title. Do to the fact we
are in the process of moving we don’t really know when we will release
the new version, but hopefully it won’t be too long. It is just a
matter of having enough time to update the manuals, finish level 2,
and correct a few bugs that have popped up during in-house testing of
the game.
Ever since we mentioned we were working on the 3d version we have
received a number of questions on it. What kind of differences will
there be between the first-person and side-scroller versions etc. So
in this article we would like to give you a quick rundown of the
features that will be similar as well as a rundown on how the games
are different.
Essentially the games are very similar in terms of the same storyline,
same sound effects, same music, enemies, etc. The real difference here
between Mysteries of the Ancients and Mysteries of the Ancients 3D is
the style or format of the game. With a 3d format there are a number
of extra benefits such as a greater degree of movement than you would
ordinarily get with a 2d only format.
In a traditional 2d side-scroller like Mysteries of the Ancients you
only have four primary directions of movement left, right, up, or
down. That pretty much limits you to walking, running, jumping, or
climbing in one of those four directions. With a 3d first-person style
game there is much more freedom of movement. You can move north,
south, east, or west, up, or down. Plus turn 360 degrees in any
direction you choose to move in. As a result you can move forward and
backward, climb up or down, sidestep left or right, or jump in one of
those six directions. It certainly makes the game a bit more complex,
but adds a greater degree of realism in terms of combat and realistic
movement in the game world.
Another feature we are experimenting with in the new 3d version of
Mysteries of the Ancients is a simple pov, (point of view system,)
that emulates changing the camera angle in mainstream video games. In
mainstream 3d first-person games a gamer often has to change the
camera angle, what the player character sees, to target an enemy or to
bring something into focus. This is a feature often seen in mainstream
video games, but really hasn’t been tried before in an audio game.
This is probably do to the fact until now most accessible audio games
have been designed from a purely blindness perspective rather than
from a general mainstream perspective.
To give you an example of how this works imagine Angela walking into a
room and a flying harpy happens to be in that room. First, you would
have to use the left and right arrow keys to center the sound of the
harpy in your speakers which would be equivalent to turning to face
the direction of the harpy. Second, you would have to use the page up
key to look up, changing the pov to the up direction, and by doing so
Angela’s gun would follow her line of sight to the target. When the
angle of the gun is centered on the target Angela’s laser sight will
begin beeping letting you know that you have a good firing solution.
It is not really that hard, but  is slightly more involved than most
audio games out there right now. For those who don’t mind a little bit
of challenge this is certainly more interesting than just looking left
or right and shooting the enemy dead on every time. It requires a
degree of careful aiming to get it right, and is complicated by the
fact the enemies are constantly moving around messing up your aim on
purpose.
One major advantage with the 3d version is that the new traps are true
3d objects so there may actually be more than one solution to getting
passed a trap. For example, in the 2d side-scroller version of the
game the only way to get passed a chasm is to jump it. In the 3d
version you can still jump chasms, but some chasms will have a narrow
stone ledge going around the chasm. Allowing you to hug the wall and
walk the narrow ledge across the chasm. Since I haven’t added any
clues these alternative solutions are there it may take some gamers
some experimentation and puzzle solving to figure out some of these
extra solutions to getting passed certain traps and obstacles in
Angela’s way.
As far as keyboard commands goes I’ve tried very hard to keep the two
games as similar as possible so if you play one you wouldn’t have to
learn a bunch of extra keyboard commands to play the other. However,
there are some keyboard differences just because the 3d version has
several keyboard commands that aren’t available in the side-scroller
version just because they wouldn’t apply to that style of game. So
what I have done is adopt a first-person keyboard layout similar to
some of those I have used before in traditional mainstream games such
as Tomb Raider. If you have played games like Shades of Doom some of
these commands will seam similar to you while others might feel a bit
weird if you haven’t had any experience playing mainstream games. Here
is a tentative list of keyboard commands expected to be in the 3d
version of Mysteries of the Ancients.

Action Key: enter
Climb Down: control-down
Climb Up: control-up
Duck Attack: d
Jump Backward: alt-down
Jump Forward: alt-up
Jump Left: alt-left
Jump Right: alt-right
Look Down: page down
Look Up: page up
Next 90: control-left
Previous 90: control-right
Run Forward: up
Sidestep Left: shift-left
Sidestep Right: shift-right
Swim Down: control-down
Swim Up: control-up
Turn Around: down
Turn Left: left
Turn Right: right
Use Potion: p
Use Torch: t
Walk Backward: shift-down
Walk Forward: shift-up

As I said this is pretty par for the course. I have tried my best to
select the most natural and most comfortable keyboard commands for
this style of game.  Plus there is a logic behind the layout I have
chosen. If you want to walk use a shift-arrow combo. To jump use a
alt-arrow combo. To climb control with the up or down arrow. It makes
sense to me, but we will see how the community as a whole likes the
layout once the public beta is released.
Bottom line, that is the main differences between the side-scroller
and first-person versions. They will be other changes such as the
first-person version features multiple enemies per room, and things
are in a slightly different place do to the level design etc. However,
they are more or less the same game with a different format and style
of game play over all.

Open G3D

A few days ago we mentioned our intentions to eventually release an
open source version of our Genesis Engine called Open G3D.  As many of
our customers know we had written a rather extensive version of the
Genesis Engine in  C# .Net targeted towards Windows platforms running
Microsoft’s .Net Framework 3.x.  When we discovered Microsoft’s .Net
implementation of their DirectX technology, Managed DirectX, was buggy
and was no longer supported by Microsoft we decided to rewrite the
game engine in standard C++. That not only solved our problem with
Managed DirectX, but resolved a number of other problems such as
having to use an up to date obfuscation tool like Dotfuscator to
protect the game executable from being cracked, or having the end user
install a number of .Net dependencies on their computer. Just to run
our games. However, those problems aside the C# .Net version of our
engine is still a fairly advanced game engine, is fairly stable over
all, and there is nothing saying we can’t upgrade that engine to use
something like SDL .Net and continue to use it to write some games.
It is true that SDL .Net does lack some features that DirectX has such
as support for force feedback controllers, is unable to change the
frequency or sample rate of sounds on the fly, etc but the one thing
it does have is cross-platform support.  If I converted the .Net
engine to run on the Mono Framework for Mac and Linux and incorporated
SDL .Net into the engine Open G3D could be used to create free
cross-platform games that would run on Mac, Linux, and Windows
platforms with only minor modifications necessary to run them. Plus by
making it open source any .Net developer skilled in C# .Net could
upgrade the engine and create new builds of the engine for Mac, Linux,
or Windows as technology changes and so on. This makes it a community
effort rather than the work of one man or one company. I’ve seen a lot
of nice things done through open source development and I think that
with interest in Mac and Linux games slowly on the rise it is time to
create some sort of engine and game development tools that can easily
be ported to all three platforms. In other words create something that
will open up those platforms to future accessible game development,
and will be freely available to anyone  who wants to buy a Mac or
Linux system and create his or her own games.
The other advantage to converting the .Net Engine to Mono and opening
it up to open source game development is the C# .Net language itself.
A lot of game engines like BGT use Angelscript or Lua to wrap the core
of the engine in a scripting language that makes it easier to use and
program. That’s alright as it simplifies the development process, but
with C# .Net you don’t really need a third-party scripting language to
wrap the core of the engine because C# .Net itself is like a scripting
language.  C# .Net looks similar to C++ or Java, but that’s where the
buck stops. It only has a handful of reserved words you need to
remember, most of the core functionality of the language is contained
in classes in the Mono or .Net Frameworks, and C# .Net handles various
things such as strings way easier than a language like C++. All that
makes it a language very friendly to newbies, and is cross-platform if
you use the Mono Framework and the Monodevelop IDE.   So I think Open
G3D has a lot of possibilities once we get a chance to upgrade the
engine and create a cross-platform version of it.
Finally, the other reason I’m excited about Open G3D is I believe it
will give me a little more freedom in some of the kinds of games I
create. I’ve got a couple of games in development using the .Net
Genesis 3D engine such as an accessible clone of Star Trek Elite force
and one based on the Star Wars Jedi Knight series, but neither are
commercially viable projects do to copyright law. I’ve been wondering
for quite some time how to release these games without getting sued
over it, and at the same time giving this community games like that. I
believe using an open source mottle may help with this endeavor. It
still may be skating on thin ice legally, but as long as the software
is free and is not being marketed as a commercial product there is
little more that they can do to me than to ask me to remove the game
from my website. If they do that they still lose because the game and
the source code is still out there and anyone can install, compile,
and run the game with or without me. That’s one of the powers of open
source, and free fan fiction in my opinion.
Even though the copyright laws are pretty specific what you can and
can’t do with a trademark or copyright things like free fan fiction
and open source are challenging existing copyright laws all the time.
Several companies like Lucas have taken fan fiction authors to court
over using the Star Wars trademark and characters and have lost due to
the fair use section of the copyright law. Companies like Microsoft
have tried suing various open source developers for copyright
infringement, most recently the Mono Project over the .Net technology,
and haven’t had a good time of it. They often lose more than they gain
in cases like that, and I think that if we are going to try and use
any kind of copyrighted material we have to try and keep everything
open source, free, and protected by the fair use section of the
copyright law as best we can. By using a free and open source engine,
releasing our games as open source, I don’t think there is a whole lot
those commercial companies could really say or do beyond telling us to
take the games off our website. That’s no big deal as I’m pretty sure
everyone who has a copy still will pass it around to their friends
anyway, and since they have the source code they can modify it,
upgrade it, whatever. The perfect geekware for gamers.
Over all, I think what Open G3D means for us as VI gamers is the power
to build games and modify them as we personally desire. If someone
were to create  a really killer version of Halo for Windows I could
grab the source package, change a few environment variables, recompile
it for Linux, and run it on a different operating system than it was
intended for. It means we, as gamers, have a certain  freedom to do
with the software what we want instead of having to be stuck with the
game’s original design, platform, keyboard commands, whatever. All of
it is in theory customizable through the open source nature of the
engine and games. I suppose depending on what kind of license we use
even commercial games would be possible too, but that is something to
consider down the road. For now, though, I’d just like to see
something that will open up Windows, Mac, and Linux platforms to
accessible games through a single technology that is free and easy to
use. I hope that Open G3D can be that technology.

Sincerely,
Thomas Ward
President of USA Games Interactive

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