Friday, June 23, 2006

Fight Club

I tend to be bad at chopping these things down to a reasonable length when I'm tired; it's bed-time but I wanted to write this with the movie fresh in my mind. I apologize if I ramble. If you're not interested in an extensive movie review, and you're not worried about spoilers, don't read the full post. If you're not interested in a movie review and you are worried about spoilers, maybe you should skip this entry entirely.

So, at a friend's reccomendation I went out and rented Fight Club. It's spinning here in the PS2 under the TV next to the computer where I'm typing this. I wanted to quote the commentary (not sure whose) of what I found one of the more powerful and dramatic scenes of the film:
This is the kind of scene that uh, I don't know... only people with no sense of humor saw as... negative.
This is a pretty good way to illustrate that I don't "get" these films, especially given that people find my sense of humor almost absurdly broad. When I say these films, I refer to Fight Club, Jarhead, and Full Metal Jacket; for brevity I lump them into the "pointless antisocial" genre. Antisocial films feature a main character who tends to have a sort of disillusioned outlook on life with antisocial tendencies. This character serves as the center of the action and plays the role of narrator (as these are adapted from books and tend to convey a lot of information via literal narration). At his side is a violently antisocial person who has a rather radical, extreme view of his environment. At the periphery are normal folks like the boss, the drill sergeant, the squad leader, etc., who are at the same time "the man" who doesn't get it and a very personal character who can act as "the everyman" who just as much doesn't get it. A critical irony of the genre is that this type of film doesn't lend itself to explaining anything to the everyman moviegoer, but instead making sure that he continues to not "get it":
Most films um, do tend to wrap things up thematically in a bow and, and let you go out in the theater, knowing exactly what the message was that you were supposed to take from this... and when films that muck around in these kind of ideas resolve, in some ways ambiguously and, and dump a lot of it in your lap and say, "You have to sort through some of this this yourself and figure out what it means to all of you; what components of it you agree with, what components you disagree with," you know people get very uncomfortable; people don't like it.
Great, you admit to doing something people don't like, and you don't actually have a point of your own. See why I use "pointless antisocial" as the genre title? It's not only the main character, it's the film motivation. There's no point and it's not supposed to be entertaining. This is a bad mix for a film, I think.

What bothers me is that I never see a clear motivation or goal for all the hubbub. Max Payne, he loses his family in a rather brutal and overtly traumatic manner. His entire outlook for the two games is suspended on the premise that his life took a turn just a little too sharp for him to handle. These films start with the symptoms in full swing: the protagonist shows up to military training with no real desire to serve, or hasn't been able to sleep for 6 months, and that's the start of the movie. Looking further back might be boring, perhaps, but I just can't tell a motivation without something more concrete. A movie about how someone is unhappy because they are clinically depressed and/or insane does not meaningful drama make. That's like making a real-time 2-hour movie about a fender-bender that occurs at the 40-minute mark; good for you Mr. Artist, that's sorta like real life I guess, but what's your point?

Spoilers for the rest of the post.

I was also thrown off by all the gender-related implications, under the surface; things about how Fight Club is for men only, how dissenters within and without to Project Mayhem are castrated, how the one, tragic casualty of the movement is Bob from the testicular cancer support group - the guy with the "bitch tits"; how it could be worse: a woman could cut off your penis... I just know that being from a book, this is some huge statement about society.

People. Writers. Authors. Enough with hinting about gender roles and shit. It was interesting with Freud, it was done by the 70s, and it's old. If you want to say something about gender roles come out and say it and don't make a god-damn riddle out of genitalia references.

I'm also no chemist, but I could tell the recipes for explosive materials were bullshit, and it was a little distracting from the immersion. Apparently they talked to a bomb squad who wanted them to change it so people wouldn't do it in their own homes, so I guess I understand. =
One thing I have to give the film is, like Max Payne 2, you need to watch the film a second time to recognize details like the bullet-hole in the van windshield, or waking up on airplanes.

You might argue that, after all the above, I can't deny that the movie made me think. Thing is, I think all the time. I'm a big ol' box o' thinkin'. The problem is, I didn't come away from all of this with any sort of interesting conclusions. I managed to squeeze something out of Panic Room, and I got nothin' here. Overall it was a typical movie that pulls up to moderately cool with its awesome style.

OK, so there's the film, but it reminds me of a very unique conundrum for a game: unintentional roleplaying. Let's say, the big hook of the game is that the protagonist is schizophrenic, and the goal of the game is to figure this out. How is this possible? Remember, the goal is to figure something out. Like an adventure game puzzle, the solution (the player's condition) cannot be known, or the game is moot. So, how do you make it compelling?

Your hook is a secret. It sounds totally unmarketable, doesn't it? How do you sell a game where the goal is to discover what makes the plot interesting? This is distinct from split-personality games like the third new Prince of Persia game (wow I mentioned all 3 already) or any game where you swap characters during play. This is a mechanic of plot, you see.

I think if anyone wants to put a meaningful story in a game, they have an obligation to make the plot itself a mechanic or an aspect of a mechanic; otherwise, why use games as the medium?

So anyway, if anyone reads this and has a good idea to tie this game mechanic into something more immediately compelling, please comment. If you can remove the above aspect and still have a fairly complete game/story, it doesn't count; the hook then becomes whatever you make up, and the mental condition is just a surprise ending (doesn't affect the game mechanics at all).


Sunday, June 18, 2006

Yes, game design is a career.

I've read a lot of things, from people both inside the industry and out, that game design is not a career. I find this sort of thing very naïve. What about all the people credited as designers; what on Earth did they do, if not that?

People who claim game design isn't a job take a very specific definition, which is almost always implicit for the listener: Someone who comes up with overarching game concepts. This is akin to saying that "photographer" isn't a job because anybody can take pictures with a camera. There's more to it than that. There's lighting and positions and color balance. There's digital re-touching and printer settings and ink tones versus RGB computer tones. Have you ever been to a tourist spot, and someone asked you to take eir picture? Did you think about any of the above? Aside from keeping everyone inside the shot, not likely.

So, can people make a living being a game designer? Well, now we start getting into trouble, because there's not structure in games like there is in hollywood. When most people think of a game designer, they envision a movie writer/director 2-in-1. This is accurate in many cases, but it's actually a very dynamic area (as all creative sides to any multiperson production are):

In many (most?) circles, they go the film route; the writer is called the "designer" and the director is called the "producer". In others, the producer did both, but is called the designer. Or, he did both and is called the producer; in many cases, no designer is credited.

The bottom line is: I don't have ideas for games very often. Give me a design doc for YOUR game, and a team, and I'll turn it into a good game. Most people would say this means I want to be a producer, but if you talk about "game production", people think you're being vague, so I have to default to the term, "game design".

So, yes, people, no matter what company you work for, the design is tucked away there somewhere. Even if no one is payed to do only that (i.e. they're also the scriptwriter), or you design by commitee, there's game design in there somewhere. No design, no game. The existence of the game necessarily means that a person or persons designed it.

This is not something anyone can just do; you can't go up to someone on the street and get a solid game. That's going up to someone on the street and asking them to take your picture. It might be fine on the whole, but don't expect anyone to buy your vacation photos.

There's more to it than that.


Friday, June 16, 2006

HL2 was a very unique experience for me.

You may read this if you are so inclined, as to why someone didn't like HL2. My response is more or less something I've been meaning to put into words for a long time about that game, so I decided to post it here as well. It's too late at night for me to be doing copy-editing, so the raw response-form follows.

The word "cinematic" gets thrown around a lot, but for HL2 and its Episode 1 expansion, I think it is more appropriate than for any other game I've ever played. Though it lacks cutscenes and doesn't play out like an interactive movie, the general style of story-telling is so much like that of a film that I never became embodied as Gordon Freeman; that's just where the camera happened to be.

In a typical 3rd-person game - let's say a platformer - the character's attitudes and motivations for the story's development are more or less independent of what the player would choose. The expectation for a first-person shooter is usually different, because seeing out of the character's eyes makes it immmediately unlike what one usually experiences in a book or a theater, and instead what they experience as their own selves.

In HL2, however, I see it as more of a device to hide the plot from the player. To hide details of a plot just beyond the reach of the audience has time and again proven itself a powerful and engaging storytelling mechanic, and HL2's camera achieves it in a way that a film cannot without getting a little nauseating. By putting the camera on Gordon's nose and keeping him silent, there's no telling what he's thinking in any given situation. The end result is that - aside from his credentials as an MIT gradutate, what he's accomplished as a scientist, and what has happened to him in the course of the games - we don't have any clue about Gordan Freeman as a person.

I think Valve is brilliant to make a "genre king" out of a story whose main character is someone we still know basically nothing about. No one has ever mentioned that Gordon regularly drinks coffee, or is prone to changing his hairstyle, or has a bad relationship with his father, or any other such detail. Alyx has mentioned in HL2, "You don't talk much, do you?", but this is as obvious after an hour or so of gameplay as his goatee. The character defies development.

The critical difference is that other FPS games with silent player-characters, like DOOM 3, F.E.A.R., QUAKE 4, etc., give the player a premise and a generalized template upon which they may go out and blast things as appropriate to the genre. The story plays out much like it would in a hollywood blockbuster, and the player-character himself is more of an observer on the narrative. In HL2, because the surrounding cast makes so few assumptions, the player-character no longer necessarily shares the player's status as an observer, but we can't tell if he is or not. The typical gameplay is there, seperately, but the single greatest tenet in the FPS - so great as to make up the first two letters in the genre's initials - is used as a mechanic to turn the storytelling on its head.

The most critical details of the story are that which we least have the capacity to observe, while the supporting roles are more visible (and thus more important to plot development) than the protagonist. I wasn't told how to feel; I was told how the surrounding actors feel, and expected Gordan (not me, Gordan) should also feel. The lack of confirmation in Gordan's feelings is what really kept me spellbound. For all we know, Gordan is an asshole; he could be a racist who secretly hates Alyx and her father; we have no idea.

Other shooters are married to the idea that the player-character is a roleplay of the player himself. I'm inclined to believe that HL2 was intended in much the same way, but for me, Gordon remains as much a uniquely non-self character as Mario or Solid Snake.

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Friday, June 09, 2006

MGS3 is one of the worst games ever.

Metal Gear Solid 3 fails on many points, but why don't I just give you the play-by-play?

First, Snake. This #1 big-time American super-spy is like a regular spy, only badass. He smokes cigars and won't put on his oxygen mask when the plane is about to depressurize.

He gets on the ground and that's when he discovers he had no equipment. He didn't bother asking about his loadout BEFORE he was in the middle of cold war soviet territory. Also, the mission is planned to be 4 hours, max, and he has a calorie bar... and a few minutes are spent explaining that he'll have to kill wild animals and eat them. Oh, I forgot to mention: this is all taking place in a swampy jungle in Asia. In radio range of the arctic circle. Something doesn't add up.

Once you thoroughly hate the plot, characters, and script - which is just great, considering this game is so full of cinematics as to be worthy of the title "interactive movie" - you finally get to the gameplay. Here's how it went down:

Area 1: No enemies. Snuck up on crocogator of some sort. Shot it with tranquilizer. Moseyed on up at a leisurely pace with knife to skin and cut out meat for later consumption. 10 seconds or less after tranquilizer hit - as soon as I got in melee range - captain toothy wakes up. He is not groggy at all, I can assure you. I almost die in the knife fight. These are the best fucking tranquilizers ever.

Area 2: Tried to sneak up on someone to neutralize. Got caught. Died. Tried again. Got caught. Ran past everyone to the next area. Soon died, but restarted in the next area, as though I had by any means completed this one.

Area 3: Read Area 2; exact copy.

Area 4: Actually was heard and managed to hide until the person thought he was hearing things, which was satisfying at this point. Snuck a ways into the area past a few people. Carefully looked around for 20 seconds or so to ensure no enemies were about, before leaving cover to get over a wall. Detected the instant I stand up. The game has made it clear that running past everything is no longer an option, so I try to run and hide a few times, but they see me more or less instantly in every single hiding place. I manage to tranquilize one person near the start of this area, then I die. As I "continue", I take 5 steps and see the tranquilized person, still asleep.

This is when I turned off the console. Aside from missing the point of video games - that you need to play them, not watch them - what game that is there, is an absolutely terrible one. This is the sort of gaming you expected in the days of the NES. And not even from the good ones.

Let me return to the point of games vs. movies. In paper and film, the more detail in your story, the better. This provides immersion. The opposite is true in games; if you want to immerse the player, make the plot vague. Give him side quests. Let him wander around doing whatever. Don't have every single character fully establish their every aspect before the player does anything. Don't force the player to operate by stealth in a jungle area that is, at the largest, the size of a living room. Immersion in non-interactive medium is about details of plot. Immersion in interactive ones is about details of environment.

You can't achieve the perfect amount of dramatic effect when the timing (and ideally the responses) are up to the player, and I wish developers would stop trying. Same goes for anime-RPGs like Suikoden and Wild Arms. It's not a TV show, it's a game. Let me play my character how I want to.

Examples? Half-Life 2 + episode 1. Now that's a charged story... and the player's character never talks. Not even at the player's discretion. There's no list of options of what to say, no talk button... he just never talks. Despite this, the story is more compelling than these other cinematic games. This is because the player character's head never says something that the player himself is not thinking. This is a rather critical aspect of an immersive shooter, in which the plot necessarily revolves around the player character's head. In other games, having the player character speak is fine. Prince of Persia: The Sands of Time is a good example. But keep this stuff to a minimum. In the aforementioned, the Prince and his accompanying Princess give a huge chunk of their dialogue shouting to each other across the room, while the player continues to solve puzzles or do whatever he wants. This way, the dialogue can progress and the characters can develop, without forcing the player into some scripted set of motions that remind him: this character isn't you. We can take control away from you any time we want and there's nothing you can do about it. We'll let you know when you can play your game again.

Finally, skippable cinematics have their place, but it's more of an admission that you can't think of any good mechanics to progress the story, without going into movie-mode. The truly great games do not need skippable cinematics, even when played by someone who doesn't want a more detailed plot than "shoot; kill."


Monday, June 05, 2006

Just who plays medics, anyway?

I can understand why people like warriors, but give me a priest any day. The more power is put into healing, buffs, debuffs, etc., the better. I suppose you could work out a game where everyone was a hybrid of support and solo combat, thus everyone would get about the same number of kills, but that's just not my bag.

If I want to go around killing stuff blindly, there's the shooters from id software, or console action games. It gets old fast and, while it has a certain amount of visceral entertainment, it lacks a certain strategic quality. Warcraft 3's Blademasters and the like lack a certain underhanded, dastardly element. If I have 7 allies and we're facing 8 opponents, I don't want to be the guy who evens it out - I want to be the guy who adds 50% power to those 7 so that we wipe the floor with them. Evasion and distraction are the hallmarks of the support player - self-heals, hiding, shielding, what have you - that's the sort of sneaky, cunning gameplay which - ironically - you just can't get out of an RPG rogue or a unit that makes itself invisible. Hiding and back-stabbing is easy when you can turn invisible and then backstab for +50% damage. Hiding when your own power is to protect and heal others is the kind of PvP that gets my brain working.

Other people are only dissuaded from this because they can't take on other people face-to-face, and aside from perhaps making them feel cowardly, that always, always hurts their score. Thankfully we're beyond the point in the history of games where kills are the only thing that got points, but if you go pure defense, there's usually little chance of topping the rankings, depending on the game. This I can understand, because defeating the enemy is the bottom line... but when so many people in closed games pray that a lagging opponent will disconnect - adding a free win and removing the point of playing the game at all - it suddenly becomes very clear that vanity points put a large skew in how people choose to play.

I say "vanity points" because the game records one person as the "best" player on the team, but without the support actions of some of the lower scores, the overall victory of the team might not have been possible. The bottom line is the total score of the team, regardless of who gets what portion of that score. In some games, the "score" can even be partially or totally independent of the winning objective!


Saturday, June 03, 2006

Mission Statement.

Last updated August 24, 2006

I think that there's really not enough resources for good commentary about game development except what you get from interviews with actual developers. This kind of bothers me because, well, I'm not a developer myself... For the time being, at least. I love to read what other people think about game creation, and there are sources for that, but I always want more.

Thus, this blog. My hope is that somewhere, some day, someone just like me will waste an entire day of their life going through the 2 years of archived entries here. If that happens for just one person, on top of the permanent record it provides me for later review, it will have been well worth-it. (In this regard, it's already some of a success!)

My commentary and opinion tends to side with Will Wright and Penny Arcade's Tycho, with surprisingly few exceptions, so perhaps you know where I'll usually be coming from, unless you don't know those people. I have to warn you though: as you are probably an average person, this blog might too cerebral for you. Not cerebral in the sense that you're too dumb, but in the sense that your enjoyment of playing games versus analyzing them is probably much higher, proportionally, than mine.

This blog will have game reviews, but they will be a little unlike what you are used to, unless - like I said - you read Tycho's PA news posts. These are expositions about mechanics and industry, and don't typically have numerical ratings. More often, this blog will talk about interesting things in games, mostly on the horizon or current, sometimes looking back. Be it mechanics within the games, industry trends, development news, what have you, if something catches my eye, I will comment here. That's the goal for the overall body of work... But I'll digress periodically, should something engage me in a similar fashion.

Though I have no practical experience in the industry (psst... that means where money is invovled), I have a long history of interest in game playing and game development. More info about me is sprinkled among the rest of the blog, but suffice it to say that I'm a very easy-going person, except where my principles are directly challenged.

At any rate, you can know why I act like I know so much about this sort of stuff, having never worked a day of my life in games: it's all I ever do. I love games. I don't love games like most people love them; I love them like a devoted beta tester loves them. Choose, if you will, for some X game purchases to be free, or to have some quality time with a developer or studio of your choice. If you choose the latter, you are probably, probably in the right place.

Why "play.create.connect"? Well, the formatting just looks cool, really. The words are my interests with regards to this blog: I play games, I like creating game content, and the internet is nearly my sole connection to gaming news and resources. The name is a little obscure in that regard, because all of the more direct names are taken on * by blogs with terrible grammar and two entries (just like most blogs, no doubt).

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The start of something new...

I always like undertaking new proejcts, because for every 99 that don't take off, there's always one that does. All posts prior to this one were written on a forum of like-minded people without any intention of being published to a blog, and have undergone little editing. I think they show a good sample of my writing year-to-date.

From here on are writings that may or may not have been written specifically for the blog, but probably had the blog in mind.

Battlefield 2142: The not-model/textures are actually not too lame!

Unlocking has been massively increased as a game feature, which ROCKS. They dabbled in it and I guess the player base was smart enough to tell them it was awesome, which seriously endangers my general boredom with the series. In addition to long-term unlocks, you must unlock your unlocks on a per-game basis by scoring points. Thus, the function you provide you team or squad is defined in a limited manner each game, without limiting the overall gameplay like an MMOG. This is an "unlock anything" sort of deal which remains balanced as far as I can tell, unlike HL2's Age of Ascension mod or HL1's Natural Selection mod (Combat mode), both of which suffer from "first to level 2 gets teh highest scorezor of the game" tendencies because unlocking is sequential and necessarily more powerful than the previous unlock in almost all cases.

Unlocks are NOT just weapons; in fact, there's a huge number of weapons and items for each class (in BF2 terms). There are 2 items, 1 primary weapon, and 1 other sort of item (I think this slot is only for squad leaders, maybe), and they can all be mix-and-matched within the class you are playing in any combination you wish. There's 4 classes: Recon, Engineer, Assault, and Support. Recon is typical sniper with a freaking cloaking device (better than most games but no-fire while on) which will make climbing ladders WAY less risky; Support probably has both medical and ammo; Engineer probably both mines/repairs and anti-tank munitions. Squad leaders have unique items like recon cameras that float around, and destructible squad beacons which replace the leader-spawn system of BF2 squads and don't force the leader to play so defensively.

One new fascinating game type involves two MASSIVE flying aircraft carriers; travel is facilitated by pods that freaking rocket you around the map or up to the enemy titan (carrier). This is a huge improvement over finding out that your spawn point is no longer critical and spending 5 minutes running to the next area with no vehicle. Less running, more gunning.

This titan game mode involves familiar control-points which are 2-minute-timed missile luanchers which weaken the enemy titan's shield. Once the shield is down, the titan can be boarded (primarily via pods but also aircraft), at which point 4 control panels or something has to be blown up, which leaves the "core" open to attack. Core go boom, team go lose. Looks very cool, especially with the squad beacon mechanic of spawning.

Also of interest is that there's a (permanent?) record - globally accessible - of who a given player has killed with the knife, and how often. Apparently there's TONS of medals and records available like that (player look-up was recently added to BF2:SF - an expansion I never bothered buying - but it's just a patch add-in and can't be well-implemented outside of a game's real development cycle). I have no doubt that people with big e-balls with provde me with lots of kills by trying to sneak up behind me with a cloaking device for that permanent record of having knifed me.

My Half-Life 2 Episode 1 review: buy it right fucking now.

(Written June 2nd, 2006)

Basically take whatever you thought of HL2 and apply it to Episode 1; that's the rating for the game. Unless you never played HL2, in which case you should avoid this until you have, since you should be familiar with the weapons and enemies and such. (There are no new weapons and only 2 or 3 new enemies, so overall it's just an extension of the original game.)

However... Immediately after playing you should play again with developer's commentary on... HOLY SHIT. This kicks so much ass I can hardly believe it.

It provides a detailed look at the challenges faced and you come away with a lot of info. I just finished the first setting (4-6 maps, wasn't counting), and already this is some of the most fun I've ever had with a game.

Included are problems/benefits/solutions/stories about: graphics, level design, NPC interaction, character development, timing dialogue so as to give a sense of urgency elsewhere when Gordon might be most likely to respond (if he actually ever spoke), potentially gameplay-invasive exposition, cinematic sequences, getting the player to notice events at critical times while retaining freedom of movement and camera, working with playtesters, the balance between dynamic and scripted AI and events, and making scripted events seem less-so.

Of particular interest is how problems arose in play-testing which either ended up being a benefit (DOG's head movements), or led to different level design (3rd Ball-socket bridge). The ball-socket discussion is especially fascinating to me because, except for Journeyman Project (a short and - today - rather uninspiring game), I have never finished a single commercial puzzle-adventure game in my entire life (ok 2 or 3, but with LOTS of cheating), because no matter how much I look around the same areas and manipulate the same objects over and over, I never think of the one critical solution. The commentary about ball-socket puzzles shows both a unique approach to puzzle-building (building up complexity slowly with unique emphasis), as well as the massive importance of play-testing. Many changed aspects I found myself thinking, "Yeah, if I were a play-tester, I'd have assumed the same thing!", or, regarding both ball-socket and ball-tube sequences, "LOL That's the approach *I* thought of, I didn't know about the other ones!" Play-testing yielded all likely approaches by the player, and Valve then made all likely approaches either possible, or explicitly impossible (to which the player was immediately aware). Impossible solutions were never allowed to be ambiguous (i.e. "Well, maybe it's possible how that I have access to this new X..."), which I think puzzle games severely lack.

Another interesting thing to me was Alyx's behavior. In most games, your partner constantly urges you forward when a sense of urgency is called for. As might be expected, playtesting revealed that players found Alyx's urging absolutely f***ing annoying. Eventually they changed her attitude to one of trust in Gordon to set the pace, which makes far less sense from a traditional story-telling perspective and far more sense from a player-operated-story perspective. I'm sure you can think of examples (Like the faerie Navi in Orcarina of Time) of the nagging NPC, and I'm glad Valve decided that, no matter how awkward the behavior seems, it's better than saying something about what to do every 20 seconds for 10 minutes. On the other hand, when a specific event is expected of the player rather than linearly progressing through the level, Alyx is quick to remind you ("Go back and get the next group!"), which is hardly annoying when you know what you're doing and saves loads of aggrivation when you don't.

For people who are likely to read this, who are interested in game development, this thing is a must-buy. Valve is a company of uber 1337 pr0s (they don't even read resumés - that clan is invite only lolololol), and if their products didn't already shine brilliantly with the quality of their work, the description of their perspectives and processes certainly does.

Long live Valve. Someday, most all major games will have developer's commentary, jsut as sure as they have difficulty settings and save files. The abundance of DVD Director's Commentary audio tracks is a predictor of things to come in games.

Spore Info.

(Written May 17th, 2006)

Will Wright at GDC '06 keynote speech - full speech costs money to download. Not about spore but it provides a small bit of insight to how Wright works. Overall I find him a very kindred spirit, even if he looks a little creepy. =P The "communication of interest" and "content wars" topics were especially interesting to me.

The page above mentions that Spore got the "Game Critics Award for Best of Show when the game debuted at E3 2005. Spore was also named Best Original Game, Best PC Game, and Best Simulation Game." Apparently they could have released it a year ago and it would have kicked total ass. Maybe they spent the last year on this trailer (and they didn't even bother to make new creatures). On the plus side, there's some way-cool sceenshots of possible creatures on the official site, including the vary first creature 2.5 years ago: the Debug Squid. =P The non-screen info is sparse and only useful if you never watched the Google video of spore at GDC last year.

edit: I got an e-mail advertising a free game trial (more in new topic), which coincidentally led me to this. Apparently a new high-level PvP zone in City of Heroes/Villains is an alternate dimension of the most densely-populated zone (which is only of non-social interest to brand-new characters): Atlas Park. By controlling "temporal nodes", players can retroactively claim past victories for good or evil, changing the features of the zone (i.e. whether the person holding up the globe in Atlas Plaza is the hero Atlas or the villain Lord Recluse).

another edit: I got an e-mail from Dark and Light just now. Apparently it's getting to the end of its development cycle and the big ol' establishing beta is coming to a close. I call it establishing because this is a very "open" sort of game which would be utter chaos if they went commercial with no community. although we're not talking total freedom, there's a lot involved in the craft and political systems, which definitely catches my eye. In a nutshell, there are aspects of society which players directly create; in older online games this has been merely part of the economy through loot and later crafting; now there will be (they hope) a huge amount of political conflict as well as physical and economic, using a sort of feudal hierarchy system Which roughly equates to lords, knights, and serfs (although the serfs maintain autonomy and liberty; they merely pay tax to him whose land they are using at the moment). I might have it a little wrong because I mostly skimmed the linked page and other related pages.

Those who have played class-change-heavy RPGs will have a good idea of the class system: citizen, then 4 branches (warrior/archer/healer/nuker, I forget the names), which each have 3 or 4 branches, each which themselves have 2 branches, making something like 20-30 final classes. To their credit, each final class is about as unique as they can possibly be; for example, there's one which is devoted to providing area buffs to allies, while doing some tanking. I'm disappointed though that there's no classes which specialize in mercantile or politics; they've kept them seperate so that your class is independent of what you can craft how well or what holdings you can have. Though it's a charming concept, I find it touches a little too close to reality; at some point gamers are going to admit that real life is not as much fun as games and they want some of their skill on paper as a number, instead of what they can actually do themselves.

What, you thought I was done editing? hell no. I was browsing the Penny Arcade archives. In retrospect, I now understand how Jesus got confused. Well, time for bed.

But I still haven't tried my Auto Assault free trial yet, so you know what? fuck bed. FUCK BED.

More E3

(Written May 12, 2006)

Apparently lucasarts has been working on pwn technologies for the past few years. Be on the lookout for:

A Star Wars game which has "molecular physics". The emphasis was that based on the material, stuff busts apart super-realistically. From the way he was talking about it, it sounded like there was a lot more to it than he was telling. From a purely speculative stance, I picture it working, based on his rought description, something like re-building a model whe it's destroyed, putting a new vertex at the point of destructive impact, then busting it apart. Again, I just made that crap up. But it sounded like the end result is what you'd get with the preceding method. The short clip they showed had 3 spaceships blowing up, but it looked just like every spaceship that's ever blown up in a 3d game ever.

An Indiana Jones game wherein all animation aspects, rather than being merely tweening from animation to ragdoll and back, are actually operated by an AI "nervous system". A ragdoll could try to protect its head while smashing into something, for example. I saw a very short clip on TV (10 seconds or so) wherein Jones threw a mobster against a car, and he was falling as a ragdoll, but at the last moment shoved his hands out to the ground to catch himself, and then got up. It looked very cool. He was shved against the car again and was dazed. He remained slumped against the car for the rest of the clip, clearly still in ragdoll mode but slightly lolling is head around and sort of tensing around his body like you'd expect a suddenly injured person to do.

Regarding Super Smash Brothers: Brawl, what do they do with the series when they run out of synonyms for "fight"? lol. As for characters: We need some SquareENIX dudes in there. Crono with Cyclone, Lightning, and Spin Cut would rule (I don't remember Spin Cut much because It's so totally obsolete with the rainbow sword and confuse, but IIRC it adapts well to a typical up+B recovery move). Confuse would make a good throw, too. Although, Pikachu already has a Lightning that acts exactly the same. Whatever, Robo would kick ass too.

E3 2006 (Mostly Wii)

(Written May 10th, 2006)

The most impressive moment for me was the tennis match between Nintento Executives and Scott Dier, a fan who won an AOL-sponsored contest to play the Wii first. This was impressive because if ever there was a moment where Wii had to work, it was here. They showed tremendous confidence in the Wii controllers and systems to put their executives in the position of playing it live before the world. The fact that Scott, a newbie to the Wii system, could pick it up instantly and play it fairly well, was a powerful testiment to the wisdom of Nintento's disruptive technology, and their assured continued success.

That's called CONFIDENCE. I also hear Sony's price tag is 500-600 US$. The gist of their statement was, "We can charge any fucking amount we want and you fuckers will buy it, because we rock your shit like that." In light of that, and the fact that I dont' like the XBOX360's business plan, I'm definitely getting Wii ASAP.

Here's the show on the new Zelda game from their stage time: lol internet
If you want to watch in windows media instead of quicktime, change the last 3 letters in the URL from "mov" to "wmv".

Also of interest at E3 from what I gather tonight is Battlefield 2142. Sadly, it looks like they're pushing their "omg graphics rush kekeke" strategy from BF2 to the limit, meaning my current machine won't be able to play it well enough to be any fun.

There's a new Super Mario Brothers for DS, called... New Super Mario Bros. How creative. It uses a lot of wacky new stuff. Think less like the original and more like SMB3 or Super Mario World. It's going to have very nice, crisp 3d graphics that look great on the DS, with classic 2d scrolling gameplay. Definitely something to pick up if you have a DS.

The Wii offering is Super Mario Galaxy. It looks really lame but I've been wrong before (Super Mario Sunshine), so we'll see. It seems like Miyamoto can do no wrong.

Not enough Mario? Three words: Super Paper Mario.

There's a new game for 360 called Sonic the Hedgehog. SEGA's got big balls re-starting the sequel count over a 3d game which also features Shadow and an even lamer-looking newcomer. All signs point to suck.

No news on it so far, but this has me VERY EXCITED:
"Project Wiki" is a casual, fairy tale based MMORPG with intense levels of cooperative interaction. The relationships and actions of each individual player directly influence the entire "Project Wiki" world and all of its elements. "Project Wiki" incorporates an adaptive system enabling the decisions players make in quests and missions to contribute to the individual personalities of characters, including what they wear and their facial expressions. "Project Wiki" will deliver a lively, creative and interactive online game play experience in a whimsical and charming environment for PC.
I'm sure I don't have to tell most of you that this sounds like a dream come true for me. No hardcore gaming, casual only, but that's a safe plan: less encroaching on existing MMO player bases, and easier to make the Wiki format work in a new medium. We'll see what happens. The same company is also producing an MMO shooter based on UNREAL3 called Huxley and "Soul of the Ultimate Nation", which from their bragging, sounds like something close to either guild wars or diablo 2. read: fantasy RPG, online, very fast getting a group and getting to the action.

I don't know anything about it but there's a game called WTF: Work Time Fun. lol

Speaking of odd games, ever played The Ship? It's a Half-Life mod. On the site was their hopes for someday, somehow, turning it into a commercial product. They got their wish. The ship comes to steam June 21st. If you like "murder mystery" war3 maps, you owe it to yourself to check it out. There's a lot of gameplay factors, but basically each player has to kill another random player. Your goal is to find your target and kill him discreetly, trying not to be found and killed first by your hunter - who you can't identify except by your wits.

I used to clean out arcades with my skillz in Tekken Tag Tournament, so you can imagine my disappointment in Tekken: Dark Ressurection. From the 2 gameplay trailers of 6 or 7 battles, it looks like Tekken 5. It has extremely minor graphics improvements, new levels, Armor King, and some chick with a terrible fighting stance who got her ass kicked without pulling off any full move animations, but all in all it's just like Tekken 5. Many of the levels were re-hashes of 5's levels, no returning characters (even armor king) displayed new moves, there's no new mechanics, and Roger Jr., although a great one-shot character, shouldn't be around anymore. NAMCO's never been afraid to transfer Tekken move lists to new characters, so why not someone that makes sense, like the original Roger?

Neversoft has finally done what it's promised for years and made a new Tony Hawk engine which I presume doesn't have the corner-exploit bugs of the last 4 games and will ruin all my fun. Most glitchers were dicks about knowing more than other people though, so no great loss. They said they would have to skip a year to get the engine done. Instead they spent 3 years on it alongside their other games, so now they have a new engine and still have their annual release. I don't know how they managed it all. So far I've sent 3 annual letters about how I'm not buying their games anymore until they put back in the option for a game host to observe (currently only clients can observe). That really makes or breaks the series for me. An odd quirk, but from my limited knowledge, I don't see how it's a technical problem. I mean it was there and then they took it OUT. Of course, it might be a problem now that they have a new engine.

Jesus is here

(Written May 14th, 2006)

My Uncle is in pulmonary (lung medicine) and just told us this story:

An old woman, 90 or so, falls unconcious in her nursing home and ends up in the emergency room. They get her stabilized but she's in a coma and no one has a good idea why other than the fact that she's really old. They get a tube down her throat and hook her up to a respirator and she's stable and whatnot.

An indeterminate amount of time later, my uncle is called in to check up on her breathing, so he drives over. As he approaches the room he hears a woman finishing what sounds like a big old long-winded prayer, and sure enough is a woman by this old lady's side. After finishing the prayer and my uncle comes in he's checking the respirator and the woman starts saying, "Jesus is here (old lady's name), don't worry, Jesus is here. Don't worry Jesus is here. Jesus is here (name), don't worry." On and on and on and on and on in the sort of high-pitched, sing-song voice you'd use to reassure a young child. So my Uncle's now using his stethoscope and trying to listen to her lungs to make sure they're OK, and this woman is going on and on, "Don't worry, Jesus is here."

Just then the old lady's eyes start to flutter a little and eventually they open. She looks up at my Uncle. The first thing she hears is "Jesus is here." The first thing she sees is my Uncle, holding a stethoscope to her chest. My uncle doesn't look much like the stereotypical Jesus but, out of my whole family, he looks far and away the most like Jesus.

I lol'd. My uncle is Jesus.

Yay for control

(Written April 19th, 2006)

I love controlling stuff. If something is not mine (neutral or another player's), and I make it mine, I get a huge kick out of that. Cities in Advance Wars DS. Gold mines in War3. You name it, I love controlling it.

This goes way back to a demo disc on my old mac. There was this game called Chaos Overlords that I fell in love with, but I could never buy it because the company went out of business or merged or something. Anyway, I found it a while back on Abandonia (windows), and I swear I almost cried with joy. This game is genius.

(EDIT: oh, installation. It's easy: just unzip anywhere and right-click->Properties the program and set to run in Win95 compatibility mode. Run as-is.)

You and 5 opponents run crime syndicates in a city split into 8x8 sectors. The goal of the game is variable but you always benefit from controlling the sectors as well as influencing extortion money/benefits out of the 3 sites per sector (condos, clinics, arboretums, research labs, etc.). To accomplish this you hire various gangs and order them around. The complexity of gang actions and statistics is spot-on; just complicated enough to get your noggin working without making you go "aw screw it I'll just hope I'm not missing something major".

There is a full manual with the game, which is nice since I didn't have one in the demo and had to figure it all out by trial-and-error. The 6 players can be any permutation of human (hot seat, direct networking) or AI, with 4 difficulties (goon is great for learning; criminal will be beatable every time by the time you have a good handle on the game).

The most important thing to remember when learning is: double-click icons. You can double-click any item, gang, or sector site, and it will pop out with statistics and a sometimes-useful description. Early in the game your combatants should have marks in Fighting or Martial Arts, so that they can come into play immediately able to fight without expensive equipment, while later in the game you'll need to research advanced equipment and have gangs with high marks in Blade or Ranged. If you can't afford to equip them yet, go for only cheap gangs and Martial Artists! Do that and you'll have a solid foundation to learn the ropes yourself without being obliterated.

Oh, you can hire gangs by dragging them from the lower-right onto any sector you either control or have a unit in. You can swap a potential hire for a new choice by clicking the red X by their picture. You can only make one hire/X per turn. You can drag stuff around a lot; to easily move gangs, to change your player color, to order gangs to influence sites, or what have you.

1337speak in games

(Written April 15th, 2006)

In City of Heroes there's a mission boss called "Teh PwNxx0rz!" (spelling mught be off), who has the exceedingly rare (for all I know, unique) trait of saying something when he defeats a hero; namely, "PWN3D!"

Now I'm playing Mario & Luigi: Partners in Time, and fairly early on I run into a pair of turtles, evidently mind-controlled by their helmets. One states: "AREA RESTRICTED. ALL NOOB INTRUDERS 2 B HAXOERED BY US L33T HAMM3R BROZ.!", to which the other follows: "WE R TEH SHROOB [shroobs are the bad guys] ALLIES. WE ROXOR U AND THEN ROFL. THEN U AM CRY. WE RECIEVE ORDERS THRU ANTENNAS ON THESE L33T HELMETS. THEY R HOTNESS. WE MUST OBEY ALL ORDERS. WE LIKE 2 PWN NOOBS 4 TEH MASTER SHROOBZORS. U = NOOBS. BROZ. = L33T. PREPARE 4 TOTAL PWNAGE. WOOT! WOOT! WOOT! WOOT!" They then abduct adult-Mario and adult-Luigi with a machine, leaving the babies behind. They move into attack position, and one says: "NOOBZ STILL R NOT PWND. CONTINUE PWNERSHIP UNTIL ALL NOOBZ R PWND." The other recaps the conversation: "TEH ESCAPE IS IMPOSSIBLE. WE R 2 L33T. WE OWNZ JOO. U WILL GET FLATZORED BY R L33T HAMMERS."

Now, besides the fact that one is an MMO and the other is quite possibly the hardest RPG I've ever played, I think they stand as solid examples at the pervasiveness of internet culture; it's one thing for people to know it, it's another to have such confidence in it that you include it in your game in an extremely overt way, to the point that players could be hypothetically befuddled by an entire character introduction, as above.

wikipedia GIF

Sony is fail at MMORPGs

(Written March 26th, 2006)

OK let's see... EQ2, matrix online, and star wars galaxies are all infamous for sucking balls... panetside is not infamous, but nevertheless sucks... and EQ1 is old.

Oh, lookie here: they're selling the 5 of them for forty dollars. That's right; they admit that each of these games for 1 month isn't worth ten bucks apiece. That's not marketing for subscriptions; that's desperation.

Additionally, EQ2's classes are getting hauled over so that you don't wait until level 20 to start being unique. Instead of saying, "shit we need to make the early game more compelling," they said, "shit we gotta pull another star wars galaxies and lose any unique aspect we have over City of Heroes, World of Warcraft, and even our own fucking old EQ, which is still running."


Mega Man shooter...?

(Written March 7th, 2006)

So I've been 1. Playing Star Wars Battlefront II, in which a franchise is turned into a battlefield-style FPS, and 2. Watching a few Mega Man game speedruns, and I was thinking, I can see why megaman hasn't been an FPS, but maybe it's not being looked at from the right perspective.

Rather than break the good mechanics by converting the platformer to first-person format straightaway, perhaps the mechanics should be shifted from a single-player story-driven game into something more like the Battlefield/Battlefront games. Maybe "Robot Wars" pitting the 2 robot forces of the "X" series against each other? NPCs could litter the battlefield as non-master robots that defend the team's base as well as occasionally dropping powerups as in Battlefront. Meanwhile players would choose classes as per BF games to fulfill certain roles.

Power absorbtion is one outstanding issue. On the one hand it's a critical factor of the MM games, but on the other, that's because it was Mega Man's unique ability. There are several options, my 2 favorite I can think of being:
  • Players all have unique abilities based on their class, which can then be augmented by hitting a button to absorb either the last defeated enemy or the one whose corpse you are near/facing
  • As per battlefront, a player is periodically selected to become the "hero" of their side (mega man, zero, sigma, bass, etc.), mega man being the only one who is actually less offensively powerful than a typical player, but becomes more powerful with each kill
I think a lot of the mechanics in MM would translate well into FPS format. Imgane sliding to cover feet-first in first-person perspective... I bet that would look cool. E tanks have already proven to be one of the most tactically engaging assets FPSs have, in the form of TRIBES 2's med packs. And unlike most platformers, there are precendents for limited ammo, pits/spikes to force players to watch their step, and complex architecture, usually focused around furturistic urban or fortress environments.

Make no mistake, I have no intention of starting a Battlefied 2 mod or anything, just thought it was an interesting idea.

LOL @ megaman 1 ending (saw a speedrun of it)

(Written March 06 2006)

Gotta love any game that informs you that a never-ending battle will continue until X happens.

MMORPG ideas

(Written February 7th, 2006)

First an old idea of mine: turn-based strategy.

Those who've played Final Fantasy Tactics have a good idea what I'm talking about here; Battles are distinctly seperate from the normal world (perhaps in their own tiny instance), and during your limited-time turn you must not only carefully consider your attacks, but also your movement and position as well; there is no lag interfering with measuring positions and so it is not only possible but critical to strategy that you try to stay out of the enemy's range or line of sight while setting yourself in a good position, i.e. higher accuracy from the side and higher still from behind. This has barely been explored in single-player games, and I think streamlining the process to an MMO-style character development and skill set would do much to expand the genre to be more accessible to people who aren't big fans of planning things 3 turns in advance with 5 characters.

Speaking of 5 characters, the second idea just occured to me and spurred this topic: parties. Typically in MMOs you play one person and form into short-term parties that never accomplish much together on the grand scale. BUT... what if you controlled an entire party, similar to classic single-player RPGs? The danger is that this would make teaming (or even pairing) with other players obsolete, but by limiting choice so as not to let the party be too well-rounded (i.e. it is socially forbidden for warlocks to long-term party with paladins), it's *possible* that this could be overcome. At any rate, at least it wouldn't be almost impossible to solo, as is the case in several games. Possibilities abound; you could hire/rent and release party members in towns, you could have a "base" where all your members wait in reserve for you to swap them into the party, etc., etc...

I think it would be fun to manage a simplified version of 3 or 4 MMO characters and be able to develop them all at the same time. Even better, just by teaming with 2 people, you can have a dozen little people all taking on a giant beast or swarm of enemies. Obviously both the graphics and interface would have to have much less depth than a typical MMO in order to make it manageable, but IMO the depth in multi-character development/combinations would make up for it.

Civic Duty: my favorite driving game.

(Written January 23rd, 2006)

This has been a good month for Civic Duty; my record is 7, but aside from that my scores all range 4 or less, but this month I scored 5 twice. Plus, I got 4 + a fat middle finger.

But what is Civic Duty?

It's a driving game. I used to do it for fun long before I developed it into a precise game and way, way before the game was called anything. To play Civic Duty, you need the following:
  • The ability to drive a car
  • A popular road for longer-distance travel through that area of town, with 2 lanes going your direction
  • moderately light traffic w/ a car next to you going no more than 5 mph over the speed limit
  • a complete asshole driver behind you (in the US, I estimate 10% of cars)
So, you can't play it all the time, but often enough that I made a game out of it.

The goal of Civic Duty is to make the car behind you change lanes as many times as possible without passing you. This is achieved by forcing the driver to percieve you alternately as the "slow" and "fast" car compared to the car next to you. At first this is a very simple game, but as your score increases it becomes a very delicate balancing act, as eventually the car behind you will not change lanes unless you make a huge gap between you and your chosen ally.

The name was eventually chosen when I was joking with someone that it was my "civic duty" to ensure that people were not speeding and thus endangering other motorists.

The terminology:
Any third-person noun, any derogatory name, or Target: The car behind you.
Counterpart: The car next to you, by which you are tempting the Target to change lanes.

Also note that if the Counterpart turns or changes lanes you must accelerate extremely rapidly to gain another Counterpart before the Target passes you. This is especially difficult in my 4-cylinder small SUV, especially since nearly all potential Targets get the most high-performance vehicle they can afford, often at the expense of all interior comforts or cargo space.

The game is basically over when the Target passes you, as they will risk life and limb to ensure they never see you again, however the game is not technically over until you park your car; if you are extremely lucky, circumstances ahead may slow down the Target and allow you to pass him in the faster lane, extending the game; but this has only happened once for me.

Whatever happened to FPS endings?

(Written January 6th, 2006)

WARNING: Spoilers about several FPS games.

So I just finished Quake 4 and it doesn't have an ending.

HALO 2 didn't have an ending. Half-Life 2 didn't have an ending. F.E.A.R. didn't have an ending. And now Quake 4 has no ending. Guess what fellas, it's only cool and unexpected if, say, 20% or less of big-budget shooters do it... i.e. not all of them.

I'm so tired of spending 8-12 times as long on a game as on a movie and still have no conclusion. For the record, all these non-endings (except HL2) sucked in their own right, besides the fact that it's overdone.

Even Lord of the Rings ended after 9 hours. If I spend double that on a game, I don't care what loose ends you leave open but the game's not fucking over if the ghost-villain-chick is on the helicopter, or if you give me a new assignment before the screen fades, or any BS like that.

This is ridiculous.