Oldskooler Ramblings

the unlikely child born of the home computer wars

Programmers: Deeper understanding of video games?

Posted by Trixter on January 11, 2006

Being a programmer for two decades has given me a special insight into video games; because I know how the majority of them are programmed, hardly any of them feel foreign to me. I may not be a master at any one particular game, but I can definitely pick them up quickly.

This has led to some chuckles along the way. Two games popular around the house lately have been Need For Speed Underground 2 and Ratchet: Deadlocked. In NFSU2, you can use a simulated GPS to continuously point an arrow to your destination so you can find it easier. When you first select the destination, it pauses for a few seconds with the text “Searching Connection: Unable to contact Satellite”. Sounds like a cute simulation, yes? Because I’m a programmer, I know what’s actually happening: The pathfinding algorithm is slow and taking a few seconds to plot the quickest path to the destination. The programmers of NFSU2 masked that pause with the “Searching Connection” message so the user wouldn’t see it as a flaw.

As for Ratchet: Deadlocked, there is a 2-player cooperative mode where you can play through the game with a friend. If the two of you get too far away from each other while playing, the game threatens to blow the both of you up if you don’t get closer to each other again. While this looks intentional, I have a very strong suspicion that it is there to mask a limitation of the game engine — such as, if both players are too far away from each other, that’s too much geometry for the engine to cache and fling around.

I’d be curious if anyone else notices things like this…

5 Responses to “Programmers: Deeper understanding of video games?”

  1. There are always the curious magic numbers sighted in games: Max 255 rupies in Legend of Zelda; various games whose highest possible scores are 655,350 or 6,553,500; I seem to recall that the experience points maxed out at 65,535 in the NES Dragon Warrior.

  2. Here’s an item from Seanbaby’s review of the N64 title Superman 64:


    ‘…the entire world is covered in a dull green fog. The game calls this “Kryptonite fog,” but it looks suspiciously like something they put there so they didn’t have to draw more than a couple buildings.’


  3. Trixter said

    Yep, that’s a very very common trick. Bullfrog first popularized this (where it was patently obvious, anyway) with Magic Carpet. Doom and Ultima Underground did this earlier to an extent, but it wasn’t as obvious :-) as Magic Carpet.

  4. ZoFreX said

    As far as modern games go (my area of expertise, yippee!) Doom 3 was accused of using lots of twisting corridors to mask the “fact” that the engine can’t do big areas well – a rumour which Quake 4 has done to brush aside.

  5. Trixter said

    That’s a shame, since it would certainly explain Doom3’s crappy level design :-) The levels themselves look fantastic, but I got pretty tired of always being in twisty little passages, all alike.

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