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Blogged Out: The Subversive Life

In his latest 'Blogged Out' column, veteran UK game writer Jim Rossignol takes a look at the world of developer blogging, including thoughts of procedural Subversion, from Introversion, and bot subversion - more tongue-twisting inside!
Welcome to 'Blogged Out', the news report that looks at the world of developer blogging and the conversations being had with the community at large. This week: Introversion, extroversion and bot-subversion. Hint Of Tron Clearly my job would be a whole lot easier if everyone were as blog-happy as British indie developers Introversion. The chief programmer for the tiny company, Chris Delay, has begun to blog about the development process of their new game, Subversion. Delay doesn't want to make promises for gameplay styles and feature lists, instead his aim is to talk about the process of development, and particularly the programming experiments he's been working on during these early stages of the game's creation. The tiny Introversion team relies on Delay for most of the programming and art, and their small budgets mean they can't afford to bloat up and pay for expensive artists to create content. Instead they have to develop smarter techniques for creating things procedurally. Delay explains: "I could hire an artist to sculpt a mountain surrounded by some hills, and he could work for hours carving out caves and rock faces and etching detail into the surface. The more detail I require, the longer my artist has to work and the more it costs me. As the years roll by, the bar is gradually raised and the amount of detail required for todays models is extraordinary - the time and money required goes up every year." "Alternatively, I could write a few hundred lines of code and generate the entire mountain and hills procedurally, using fairly easy to understand mathematics. I can control the amount of detail I am generating - more detail doesn't cost any more to produce than less detail." These kinds of approaches are what will make independent development feasible in the long term and, as you'll see if you take a look at Delay's early demos, it doesn't have to skimp on attract visuals. You might not be able to generate Lord Of The Rings, but you can get something with a hint of Tron. Word Science A few of my acquaintances greeted the news that prolific author and comics captain Warren Ellis was writing about Second Life for Reuters with some skepticism. They thought that perhaps it was too late for someone else to wade into the pool of Second Life commentary (which becomes deeper with each passing day), especially someone 'outside' the industry. But I can't help feeling that what Ellis actually came up with was one of the most solid pieces of commentary of recent months, with some insight into what makes the virtual world so virile and unruly. He takes a look at griefing, and at the dominance of the Graefs; the couple who rule land-ownership in Second Life with their avatar Anshe Chung. Ellis concludes of the Graefs' spat with news agencies over coverage of a penis-shower griefing at a public event: "With the incident last month they've gotten a hard dose of the real world, and there'll definitely be more to come as Linden Labs continue to crank up the PR machine. The most celebrated figures of a world that's been essentially a closed community for three years probably haven't evolved the best coping skills for the sudden glare of global publicity." I'm hoping that Ellis will keep his skeptical glare firmly fixed on the issues that really make Second Life interesting, and help keep the over-excited news agencies from taking the hype too far. Charging Pet Finally this week, I was intrigued and amused by Tom Betts' account of an encounter with a gold-farming bot in World Of Warcraft. His subversion of the bot's activities is particularly entertaining: "I watched for a while, the routine was the same; set pet on target, wait for engagement and then fire the usual cycle of arrow skill shots, set pet to next target and loot. Being a druid I have a handy instacast spell (Moonfire spam FTW) and since her next target was always fairly obvious due to the charging pet, I decided to tag the mob each time. This meant that every time she made a kill, I got the credit as I had hit the mob first. I got fairly skilled at this, using the bot as my own private power-leveling service and wondering how long it would take for the operator to notice." [Jim Rossignol is a freelance journalist based in the UK – his game journalism has appeared in PC Gamer UK, Edge and The London Times.]

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