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Consoles and OSS

By Farq Q. Fenderson in Op-Ed
Thu Nov 09, 2000 at 01:53:53 PM EST
Tags: Software (all tags)
Software

I've been reading a lot of posts from future-developers for the Indrema, a gaming console that uses familiar (Intel) architecture and runs Linux as the OS.

Some people wish to develop opensource console games for the Indrema, but somehow this doesn't work as smoothly as you might expect.


A major issue is that the commercial strategy of a gaming console is different than that of PCs. Indrema, for example, can't allow "just anyone" to write Indrema games willy-nilly and publish them for free. The games must be certified.

OSS developers are having mixed reactions, the fact that they must get certified strikes many as absurd (why do I have to pay to release a free game?) and even more daunting to some is the fact that they must buy a dev-console ($500-$1000) if they wish to test their games on the actual hardware before they get them certified.

There are many complaints that the system is unfair to OSS/Freeware developers because there's too much cost involved in producing titles that won't earn any money. Some have said that the dev-consoles are "artificially inflated" and expressed some disgust. I think I heard something about a conspiracy, too.

There's nothing you can do about certification. If Indrema didn't require certification, then why certify? Sell your games and pay no royalties even! But Indrema can't allow that, and it's not simply to make more profit, but for the fact that they sell their standard consoles at a loss -- they have to make money on certification and royalties alone.

This is why people speculate that the dev-console is "artificially inflated", so that gamers won't buy it to play uncertified games. While true, there's also the fact that a gaming company can be expected to have the funds to purchase a dev-console, where a gamer won't, which would justify selling the console at cost, instead of below cost.

Indrema can't change these facts, nor can any other console company, this is the way the console market works. Perhaps if the consoles were sold for profit (imagine the cost? buy a PC) then certification and dev-consoles could be done away with -- but that presents another concern, the quality of released games. So, it never really ends. I think Indrema's doing a really good job (although their mailing lists could use more "official" comments from John Gildred, et al.) and I intend to purchase my dev-console the moment it's available.

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Consoles and OSS | 20 comments (16 topical, 4 editorial, 0 hidden)
How do they propose enforcing this certification? (2.66 / 3) (#1)
by Precious Roy on Thu Nov 09, 2000 at 09:19:15 AM EST

A major issue is that the commercial strategy of a gaming console is different than that of PCs. Indrema, for example, can't allow "just anyone" to write Indrema games willy-nilly and publish them for free. The games must be certified.

And how does Indrema force developers to certify their games? Is it just the threat of litigation (something that certainly never stopped the underground community) or will they put some kind of sanctioned watermark on the media that the system knows to look for at bootup (which can probably be circumvented, e.x. Dreamcast and PSX)?

I (unfortunately) had to vote the story down because it made no attempt to address this.

Well, "how" is not the point. (3.00 / 2) (#2)
by Farq Q. Fenderson on Thu Nov 09, 2000 at 09:24:39 AM EST

IIRC, It's an encryption scheme and there's a good chance that it can be circumvented, I know.

But that's not really the point. The to-be developers are not raising issue because the certification is implemented in a given way, but because it's mandatory.


farq will not be coming back
[ Parent ]
It's only mandatory if they can make it that way (3.50 / 2) (#6)
by Precious Roy on Thu Nov 09, 2000 at 10:07:20 AM EST

But that's not really the point. The to-be developers are not raising issue because the certification is implemented in a given way, but because it's mandatory.

It's only mandatory if they have a way to force people to follow it. If it is encryption, they may have some recourse under the DMCA (which is still on tenuous legal ground)... But just saying "If you want to develop for us, we have to certify you" really isn't all that meaningful if they have no way to punish people who decide not to.

Previous systems had the advantage in that they weren't easy to develop for, and you damn near HAD to have the proprietary dev-system to write the games. From my understanding, the Indrema may not have this limitation as a result of its processor/OS. Therefore, why should programmers be worried about Indrema saying "certification is mandatory" unless there's some sort of legal backing for making it mandatory?

[ Parent ]

Issue.. (1.00 / 2) (#7)
by Farq Q. Fenderson on Thu Nov 09, 2000 at 10:21:14 AM EST

That's still not the issue I'm trying to cover. It's very worthy of discussion, but it's a different topic.



farq will not be coming back
[ Parent ]
Maybe so, but... (none / 0) (#18)
by Precious Roy on Fri Nov 10, 2000 at 06:50:49 AM EST

OK, so I may be completely barking up the wrong tree, so to speak... but it seems to me that without answering the question of enforcement, the issue you are trying to cover seems moot.

[ Parent ]
Certificate verification (4.00 / 1) (#13)
by ranulf on Thu Nov 09, 2000 at 11:34:39 AM EST

And how does Indrema force developers to certify their games? Is it just the threat of litigation or will they put some kind of sanctioned watermark on the media that the system knows to look for at bootup?

I had a look at the Indrema site the other day. It seems that they have their own X server (or at least a highly optimised version of XFree86 (Hmmm...) that requires the code to call a certain function before any graphics I/O is allowed. If that call isn't done, then the app. is terminated.

How this works in practice, I don't know. My bet is that if the checking is in the Xserver code, you'll be able to use any assigned ID over and over. So, there'll almost certainly be "warez" keys floating around that could be hacked into an app. If the certification was somehow tied to the binary, developers will get very frustrated if they need to re-cert. every release.

Whatever, protection schemes are made to be broken. Particularly where there's no kind of server-client challenge. I have no doubt that this kind of authentication won't hold up much of a fight.

[ Parent ]

console + free software = ? (4.16 / 6) (#3)
by Defect on Thu Nov 09, 2000 at 09:24:47 AM EST

I can't quite imagine the mindset needed to want to produce free console games. Game producers have problems staying in business when they develop for the PC, so they go over to consoles where there is a wider audience and they still have problems staying in business.

And the indrema is intel architecture, running on linux; if you're just programming for fun, why not just do it on a pc, and if you're deadset for programming on the indrema, then just deal with the prices, how can you complain?
defect - jso - joseth || a link
Why I want an Indrema (none / 0) (#20)
by fluffy grue on Fri Nov 10, 2000 at 01:08:20 PM EST

I'm annoyed to hear that you can't do hobbyist programming for the standard consumer console after all. >:( That said, I wanted the Indrema as a cheap DVD player and for the supposedly really nice GPU (it'd be fun to code on).

Before reading this article I was under the impression (based on Indrema's developer site) that you could develop on any old console, but to publish a game (i.e. commercially) you had to license through them in traditional means. Obviously they wouldn't make any money on open source/free games, but that's not the point, either - a big part of their setup is that commercial developers can have a sane (and easy-to-acquire) underlying OS and API (Linux and OpenGL, respectively) which would make porting from the PC simpler. Yeah, yeah, we've all heard that before (WinCE+DirectX for the Dreamcast, which are almost NEVER used, and the few games written for those suck badly, the only exception to that I can think of being Logic Battle Daissen, which isn't exactly a major tax on the hardware to begin with).

But anyway. Just because the underlying API is open doesn't mean that they expect only free(speech) software on the console. And again, it's got DVD playback... :)
--
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[ Parent ]

Indrema is DOA... (4.16 / 6) (#8)
by Carnage4Life on Thu Nov 09, 2000 at 11:00:14 AM EST

Articles like this one reconfirm my earlier assertions [on Slashdot, not here] that Indrema is a doomed console before it even leaves the gate.

Popular consoles are all loss leaders, meaning that Sony, Sega and Nintendo lose money on each console sold so that they can be priced affordably. They make up their losses by making game developers sign extremely restrictive licenses before being allowed to develop for their respective platforms.

If Indrema wants to be competitive with the current leaders of the console industry it must also sell its consoles at a loss and try and make up the difference elsewhere. Unfortunately this means that they have to find some way to make money off each game sold on their platform which runs counter to the whole friendly to the Open Source community attitude they are trying to display. Frankly, I cannot see how they can stay in business with such schizophrenic behavior.

They can't court the Open Source community (primarily people working on code as a hobby or in their free time) and expect that they can raise enough money to offset their loses from a bunch of developers who probably plan to give their games away for free, if they do write any. This is going to bea spectacular wreck a la VA Linux.



They are... (2.00 / 1) (#9)
by Farq Q. Fenderson on Thu Nov 09, 2000 at 11:12:53 AM EST

They *are* selling their consoles at a loss, it's the *development consoles* that they're not (or shouldn't be) taking a hit on.


farq will not be coming back
[ Parent ]
OSS game console isn't gonna be successful if... (2.50 / 4) (#10)
by darthaya on Thu Nov 09, 2000 at 11:14:32 AM EST

they can't come up with some revolutionary business plans.

Reasons:
1: Not many OSS developers can afford to get a dev-console and pay royalty fees.

2: Indrema is a new kids on the block with a lot of bullies like sony, sega, nintendo. Even microsoft will have to work hard to obtain a position in the market. Indrema is not offering anything spectacular other than the fact that it is a OSS game console, so there is not going to be many commercial game companies to make games for them.

3: Who is going to buy an indrema and leave it in closet and wait for the OSS game developers to write up weirdo games that can fit on a floppy? Game developing needs a lot of work and it is a highly competitive market with little customer royalty involved. If you suck , you are out.

4: Squaresoft isn't making RPGs for it. (ok, I am a RPG nuts. :)

OSS doesn't work for everything, anything. And jumping on OSS wagon with a lousy hardware isn't gonna make you big, either.

I think you missed a lot. (3.00 / 2) (#12)
by Farq Q. Fenderson on Thu Nov 09, 2000 at 11:27:33 AM EST

1. IIRC, developers for "free" games don't need to pay royalties (just certification.)

2. It's more than just a gaming console.

3. It isn't depending on OSS games. I'm hoping many commercial companies write games for the Indrema.

4. Okay, I agree, squaresoft rocks.


farq will not be coming back
[ Parent ]
Lessons from the Atari 2600 (3.00 / 3) (#14)
by paranoidfish on Thu Nov 09, 2000 at 11:36:29 AM EST

Does anyone remember the problem with the Atari 2600? Anyone with half a brain and some time could create a crappy game, burn it onto a chip and release it. There were some great games for the Atari 2600, but there was a hell of a lot of shit to wade through. Some weren't just bad games, they were very buggy too.

In comparison, every game released for Nintendos, Segas or Playstations has to pass certain tests, including rigorous paytesting by head office, certain design rules etc. For example, it is a Nintendo rule that at no point in a game can you be in a position where "suicide" is the only option. There are many others.

That's the reason the NES was succesful when many thought consoles were dead. Restricting development isn't just a profit model thing, it's also a quality thing.

2p



bugs (none / 0) (#16)
by ZanThrax on Thu Nov 09, 2000 at 03:39:12 PM EST

Let's not imply that the post-Atari consoles have always had bug-free games... Every console has some games that have minor glitches, or even major bugs. Each console has had a fairly consistent level of code quality, and it hasn't been the same from company to company either.

Before flying off the handle over the suggestion that your a cocksucker, be sure that you do not, in fact, have a cock in your mouth.
[ Parent ]

Tell that to the people who bought NFL2K (none / 0) (#19)
by Precious Roy on Fri Nov 10, 2000 at 06:56:00 AM EST

True, quality control is generally a Good Thing. People like buying console games that work, since they never exist on an easily writable media. Erego patching console games is not a viable option.

Then again, I remember a whole lot of complaints about bizarre things happening with NFL2K for the Dreamcast... other files on the memory units being inexplicably erased, selection menus not working properly, etc.

[ Parent ]

Certification... (3.50 / 2) (#17)
by PrettyBoyTim on Fri Nov 10, 2000 at 04:55:35 AM EST

Certification is free if you're going to release your game for free.

However, I don't think Indrema is going to make it. I do hope they get some units out though, as I want to buy a cheap gaming system - first thing I'd do would be to install Windows on it of course... ;)

Consoles and OSS | 20 comments (16 topical, 4 editorial, 0 hidden)
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