Why Don’t Replay Coders Use The Same Buttons As Everyone Else?

One of the standard features of racing videogames is the replay.

Oddly, it has proven remarkably difficult to get right though the reasons for this are pretty obvious. Most replay systems miss or diminish the best action or fail to make your heroic efforts appear heroic by using the wrong camera at any given moment.

The genre-leading replay system belongs to Sir Geoff Crammond’s legendary Grand Prix series. (What is Sir Geoff up to these days?) The reasons the replay system was so good? It tended to replicate the camera positions as used by the Formula One Administration that broadcast the races on television. The choice of cameras ran into double-digits. The action could be rewound not just dumped back at the beginning. However, these aren’t the most important reasons why the replay system in Grand Prix was so good.

Grand Prix 4 screenshot

The most important aspect was that the computer could intelligently choose a camera and the action to focus on with a mode that remains virtually unique in replay systems: the Director. At any point, you could press a button and the computer would decide what to show and how. It did this by looking at the flow of the race and highlighting a close battle or watching the leader complete a couple of laps or focusing on an accident.

Grand Prix 4 screenshot

I’m not saying that the replay system always chose the right camera but I am highlighting that a decision was made over which camera to use. In most replay systems, the camera choice is entirely arbitrary. At any given moment, the number of camera positions which make your driving look amazing are far less than the number of optimum camera positions. Therefore, most replay systems tend to not present your driving or any specific action with an optimum camera position. Grand Prix makes the strongest effort in any replay system to choose an appropriate camera.

The only thing the Grand Prix replay system lacked (that could have been reasonably added) was, funnily enough, a replay system. Television broadcasts follow the action but if something cool happens like an overtake or an accident, it is replayed from different angles. This never happens in any racing game replay. (The slow motion cameras in the Need for Speed series are not replays.)

Murray Walker

The Grand Prix replay proves such a remarkably convincing system that you could practice delivering a race commentary and pretend you were Murray Walker. It’s not as easy as it looks, er, sounds. Just ask James Allen. Which, I believe, requires a few quotes from the great man:

“…and there’s no damage to the car… except to the car itself.”

“and I interrupt myself to bring you this…”

“This is an interesting circuit because it has inclines, and not just up, but down as well.”

“Only a few more laps to go and then the action will begin, unless this is the action, which it is.”

“This has been a great season for Nelson Piquet, as he is now known, and always has been.”

“And the first five places are filled by five different cars.”

The mighty Grand Prix series replay function even did something else that a lot of replay systems do not: it used the same keys in gameplay and in replay to change the camera.

It is surprisingly uncommon for a replay system to use the gameplay key for change camera. Some games, like Colin McRae: DiRT and the Forza Motorsport series, use a menu to change cameras in the replay. Some games, like the Gran Turismo series, just use an entirely different button configuration (and make sure they don’t tell you about it).

The reason for this is, well, it’s not terribly obvious. The only explanation, and it is one that doesn’t hold any water, is that the programmers of the replay systems will frequently be entirely different from the main gameplay team.

Which leaves the question: why don’t replay coders use the same buttons as everyone else?

(Screenshots, erm, borrowed from Gamespot’s Grand Prix 4 coverage.)

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Why Don’t… Microsoft make original Xbox games run on Windows?

XBox  + xplogo  = $$$

As I understand it, the console marketplace makes it money from the software. Hardware manufacturers like Sony, Microsoft and Nintendo charge a license fee which is used to subsidise the cost of the hardware for the consumer. Over the lifetime of a console the size of the manufacturer’s profit is down to how quickly the hardware production cost can be reduced and the amount of software sold.

It seems to me, then, that the more software sold, the more profit Microsoft’s still-hemoraging Xbox division makes.

Is it possible to run original Xbox games on your Windows PC?

A medium specification Windows PC far exceeds the technical specifications of the original Xbox and the two software sets are closely related in many areas. Microsoft has also proved that Xbox emulation is possible as that is how their (pitiful) backward compatibility is achieved on the Xbox 360. I have no doubt that it is technically very possible to write an emulator that allows Xbox games to play on a Windows PC.

How much could it be worth then?

There were 665 million copies of Windows XP installed at the beginning of 2007. Other versions of Windows totalled 190 million. (Source: Gartner Dataquest via Forbes.com). Windows Vista has shipped 40 million copies to retailers / system builders according to a recent press release from Microsoft.

According to this article on Forbes.com, it is estimated that Microsoft charge an 11.5% fee for each game sold on the Xbox 360. Let’s say that was true for the previous generation of original Xbox games. Current Xbox games are available at an official $19.99 giving us a license fee of $2.30.

If just 1% of Windows XP users bought one Xbox game to play on an Xbox emulator, Microsoft could receive 6.65 million times $2.30:

$15,295,000

Perhaps that figure is a bit too optimistic. After all, a hit game is considered such after selling one million copies. So one million times $2.30:

$2,300,000

Still too optimistic? Let’s make it ten percent of a hit game, one hundred thousand copies.

$230,000

Nearly a quarter-of-a-million dollars for relatively little work and just a single game.

What about ten percent of all the hit games on Xbox. According to vgchartz.com, there were thirty-eight Xbox games that sold over one million copies worldwide. Thirty-eight times one hundred thousand times $2.30:

$8,740,000

Wikipedia reckons there are about 1,000 games for the Xbox. One thousand times two hundred and thirty thousand:

$230,000,000

Remember, that these figures are pure profit for Microsoft. The games have already been produced and marketed.

Is there demand?

This is highly subjective, of course, as I think it is a great idea. But what about the video-game marketplace at large.

Currently Nintendo sell old arcade games on their Nintendo Wii and Microsoft sell old arcade games on the Xbox 360. Sony sell PlayStation 1 games on their PlayStation 3. Bleem even sold PlayStation 1 games for the Sega Dreamcast. Most of the vintage arcade manufacturers also sell retro game packs for various consoles. It would seem that there is a call for retro-gaming.

Mister Slimm Says

I’d love to see an official Xbox emulator for Windows XP even if it isn’t a proftable business proposition. Would I pay for it? At budget-game price, possibly, but I’d think much more of Microsoft if it were free.

Though I am no financier and have no official knowledge of the workings of the video-games market, it seems highly likely that such an official Xbox emulator for Windows XP could only generate a nice profit and elongate the sales lifespan of their original Xbox library.