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Thursday, May 27, 2004

POCKET ROCKET VS. GHETTO GATLING, WITH BOOTH BABES! (GAMING THE SYSTEM, PART VI)

Military vehicles and highly-militarized funny cars square off in a warzone and on an urban street with 3D Tanks, the project led by Hiro Pendragon. Due to a computer malfunction on the other side of the world, the vehicles in this turn-based combat game weren't entirely ready, at the time of my demo, but that didn't stop Nova Linden (armed and dangerous in the "Pocket Rocket") and Hiro himself (popping caps in the "Ghetto Gatling") from firing off missiles at each other, on opposite sides of the asphalt, and bringing the pain accordingly.

"The bullets are programmable," Hiro tells me later, "so once [3D Tanks version] 2.0 features are in, we'll be working on having different bullets for each tank. For instance, the Humvee has missiles mounted on it, so it'll be able to fire them. The 'Kalista Conqueror' has a spinning blade in the front, so its missile will be that." And even though the game is turn-based, each player has a ticking shot clock, counting down the seconds each player has left to aim and fire.

Hiro's co-programmer Adam Zaius is a Computer Science student in Australia, and as the deadline for the game entries neared, his computer fried at an inopportune time. But Hiro was there today to explain some of the code behind the game-- while offering a bit of sexy self-promotion.

"There are over a dozen distinct scripts being used in this game," Hiro tells me. "So it's been a lot of coding for three people, especially since only two [of us] code." [Milo Bukowski created the cars and the playing field.]

I ask Hiro how they scripted the missiles, and programmed them to record hits and take damage, and a highly technical explanation is unleashed:

"Basically," he explains, "we used voice channels of a high number, so when the control senses you firing, for instance, it actually does an llSay in a high number channel. And then the firing cone is in a listen state, and then rezzes [i.e., creates] the bullets. And then the tank being hit has an on-collision state, that deducts damage designated by the name of the bullet.

"Too technical?" he finishes, smiling. "Basically, everything in this game tries to know as little about the other objects as possible."

"So why use the [Second Life] audio channels?" I ask him. "That seems like a strange solution."

"It's an engineering design technique called compartmentalization," Hiro answers. "Linden Scripting Language (LSL) has no variable passing. So, for instance, if a bullet has 50 damage to it, the only way to let the hit tank know that it has been damaged is via a built-in command-- in that case, collision... I would LOVE if Linden Lab enabled a command like, llPassVariableTo(key target, list data), but I gotta work around that, since there is none."

Hiro expects the vehicles of 3D Tanks to be up and running early next week, with features added, over time. "Since this is only a one month trial of the game," Hiro tells, "just having three weapons to cycle through is enough. Should we get the land to move this elsewhere, I'd definitely love to see more features, more boards, etc."

Before I end my session, Hiro hands me some screenshots to promote his game, of the militantly saucy, babes-on-tanks variety. Besides the tanks, the images have nothing whatsoever to do with the actual game, so my first instinct is not to run them. After all, booth babes have become a standard promotional gimmick at the E3 game expo, and in the past, I've been critical about how they're over-used by the industry.

But then it hits me later: This is only the first Second Life Game Developer's Competition, and we've already got booth babes!

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