That's right, it's so amazingly rare, but there are a few programmers out there that started out with the idea that that they would learn how to program and become the next John Romero (creator of Doom for those too young to remember). I fell victim to this fleeting dream, and began buying books like "Learn C++ in 24 hours" and "Write video games in 10 days" and other crap titles like that. Some of them were better than others. When I was 10 and working on my state of the art TI-99/4A home computer learning basic I set out to write a video game. Remember writing this program?
10 PRINT "COWBOY IS COOL!"Eventually I learned about cool things like subroutines, then started buying books and magazines with game source code. That was the shareware of the 80s. Countless hours were spent typing in source code from various magazines just to play a game. Sometimes I understood it, and sometimes not so much. Eventually I struck out on my own, attempting to write a Battleship game. Graphics on the TI were brutal, but it helped me learn Hex at a very early age.
20 GOTO 10
In my 20s, I revisited, and finally finished Battleship. My first Game! Woohoo! It was somehow easier in C++, plus I had the advantage of mode 13h (320x200 DOS based graphics, 16k colors, as I recall.) It was pretty cool, and the computer actually beat me several times, even though it took random pot shots until it found a ship. That was until I lost the source code in a hard drive crash. I wasn't much for making back ups back then.
Today, I've become obsessed with the XNA Game Studio. I've written about this before. I live and breathe in C# every day now, and am a .NET evangelist of a sort. It's not an official title. I took a stab an writing a game using the DirectX SDK, but wasn't very successful. To be honest, game programming is an entirely different type of programming than business application programming, which is what I do every day. I'm a bit out of practice at it, and there's a whole lot to learn. It doesn't stop me from still craving the satisfaction of coding a game like when I was a kid. The promise of being able to code a game that can be easily deployed to an XBox 360 or Windows platforms using the same tool was really exiting, and it's free! Totally free! God Bless Microsoft!
So I downloaded and gave it a shot, but Dell's lack of foresight on the design of my PC forced me to buy a less than desirable graphics card, making game development difficult at best. About two weeks ago, I finally broke down and bought an XBox 360. It's about time I got a next-gen console. It's my first XBox. I had a Playstation 2 for console gaming before.
First impressions: Wow! My HD "compatable" TV is finally showing HD pictures for the first time since I bought it. Woohoo! I'm high tech now baby! It was about $350 for the unit. I wasn't able to get the elite version, which really bummed me because the Elite came with the 120 GB hard drive, which I was pretty sure I was going to need. I knew enough to avoid the Arcade version like the plague. Next stop: extra wireless controller. Wow, it comes in Elite version black. If I can't get the Elite XBox, at least I can get the wireless controller. $49.
XBox Grand Total: $400. Hey, we need some games. If I'm gonna pay that much for a console, I need something to play. It can't be All development. Besides, I'm not that good. Halo 3, Lego Star Wars for the kids (mostly), Ratatouille (also for the kids, mostly), and it comes with Marvel Alliance something or other, and Forza 2 something or other racing game. Cool, that should keep me busy. Total: $120. XBox Grand Total: $520. Starting to sting a little. I rationalize it to myself by saying "okay, I've got an expensive hobby, but it could be worse. I could race cars and have to buy a $100,000 race car."
I get home and can't wait to hook it up to the PC and start deploying sample code I've downloaded to try debugging an XBox 360 game over the LAN. Hm, doesn't work. I'm missing something. Check the docs. Oh, need to download the XNA Game Connect studio on the XBox. Surfing the XBox marketplace, there it is. Download. Downloads fast. Very nice. Hey check this out, game demos and arcade demos are already on the hard drive. Some of them look kindof fun. Hey! My hard drive only has 9.9 GB free! WTF! It's a 20GB hard drive and I just freaking bought it! Figure it out later.
It's downloaded. Hm, still can't connect. I'm still missing something. XNA Game Creators Club membership? Doesn't sound so bad. Go sign up somewhere on a website, right?
$99.00?!? WTF?!? Ninety-nine dollars?
That's right. You can develop on the PC all you want, but if you want to develop on the XBox, it costs you a $99 annual membership in the XNA Game Creators Club. Breath slowly, must... slow.. heart... rate... *sigh*. Oh look! A place for me to enter and store my credit card information right there on the XBox. How handy....
XBox Grand Total: $620. Okay, it's all working now. Create and build the sample apps and deploy to the XBox: IT WORKS! WOOHOO! I set a break point and it actually HITS IT! WOOHOO. Play around with few tutorials, they all work. This rules, and somehow seems worth the money. I made a little program following a tutorial where I show a space ship and can fly it to the left, then fly it to the right. Oh yeah! Well, it's a start. Okay, I can live with it. Let's try out some of the games I just bought. Hey look XBox Live options. That's how you play online. I'm used to the Playstation model, which is if you can connect to the Internet, you can play on line, but the XBox doesn't work that way, oh no.
Your brand new XBox comes with a XBox Live Silver membership. That sounds pretty good, but a little digging lets you know that the XBox Live Silver membership is free anyway, and it gets you exactly dick. If you want to play online, you have to have the Gold membership. Gold isn't for the people who want to play in tournaments, nope. Gold is for anybody who wants to play online... period. Admitedly, they had different options for membership, and they went something like this:
- 1 month: $8. (8X12=$96).
- 3 months: $30 (20X 4 = $80).
- 12 months: $50. (really the only economical choice, eh?)
Microsoft points are very interesting. So far I've listed prices mostly in the format of $8 rather than $7.99 because that's an ancient marketing trick that drives me insane. It's not seven dollars, it's eight. Microsoft points are the same thing, but taken to the next level. They currently work out in plans like this:
- 500 points: $6.25 (6.25/500=0.0125)
- 1000 points: $12.50 (12.50/1000=0.0125)
- 2000 points: $25.00 (25/2000=0.0125)
- 5000 points: $62.50 (62.50/5000=0.0125)
XBox Grand total: $752.50 (tax not included <homer>stupid taxes</homer>).
Race car is more expensive, Race car is more expensive, Race car is more expensive, Race car is more expensive....
The points system is very interesting though. Each point is worth 1.125 cents. That means if you buy something for 800 points, you might be tempted to round off to 1 cent=1 point, in which case you would get $8. Wrong. 800 cents X 0.0125= $10. Misleading if you don't do the math. At least I knew how much I was spending. Halo cost me 1200 points. That's $15. Not so bad when you consider the used copy at the game store was $20, but still, it looks like $12 but it's not. It's that old marketing trick taken to a new level.
At any rate the madness stopped there. Except for a burning desire to run out and purchase Call of Duty X because the demo was so freaking cool, I think I'm done sinking my children's college fund into my gaming habit for a while. I'm a little piqued at Microsoft for the "Nickel and Dime" you to death method of console gaming they've created, but overall It's still the best gaming experience I've had in a long, long time. That's the love/hate part of the XBox. I love it, but hate that it's sucking all my money.
My gamer tag is at the bottom of the site, if you ever want to blow the living crap out of me at Halo 3. I really suck. I don't remember picking as gamer tag, but it seems like the sort of thing I would do, so it must be me. I was once a member of the DNRC (Dogbert's New Ruling Class). At anyrate, everything there is stuff I've just done so it is me. I might change it though....