08 November 2007


Max Payne

So with the much delayed release of the PS3 version of Stranglehold I got the Collector's Edition sent from the USA. After having some issues with the delivery company giving one of the two parcels to the wrong address (and they would have given the other one, the one with the game in to the wrong address too had it not been for the fact that the person didn't pay the customs duty tax) I got the parcel and could play the game. I've been really enjoying it, it's not the best game ever made but if you wanted the gun play from Feng Shui (or I guess HK action films which it is based on) in a computer game this seems like a good place to find it. I'm a bit disappointed with them stating the game is in 1080i on the back (though that might be the movie) as it isn't and my PS3 doesn't seem to like doing 720p correctly on the HDMI->DVI link. I'm also disappointed that the movie can't be played unless you start it in the game (though I knew you couldn't play it on a standard Blu-Ray player) mainly becuase it lacks the great controls the PS3 has. It also is the dubbed version with no other language or subtitle options.

Saying that it was still worth the wait (rather than just getting the XBox 360 version) for Hard Boiled. It's still, IMOHO, the best Hong Kong action film I've ever seen.

23 October 2007


Orange Box

Anyway I'm still failing to blog. I've got half a write up of a weekender in September (which was awesome) and such to finish, at the rate I'm going I'll have another one to write about as well. To add to that it has taken nearly a week to actually post this rather than have it in draft.

I've been busy playing games; notably The Orange Box and Company of Heroes: Opposing Fronts though with a bit of Civilization IV thrown in for good measure and trying to finish my second Neverwinter Nights module which is going fine but still needs quite a bit more done.

After The Orange Box was released I stopped playing Team Fortress 2 and moved to Portal first instead. It's short but it's really, really, good fun. I love the sense of humour in the game, done mostly through the voices (it's amazing how something like a turret can seem silly just by adding some dialogue to it) and the ending was delightful. Some really strong scriptwriting, which is strange for a puzzle game. Though I haven't finished Half Life 2: Episode 2 it reminded me of what fantastic pacing Valve stick in their products. The diversity of game given its basic first person roots really shows off the designers skills. One minute you'll be driving around at breakneck speeds and the next you'll be holed up in a house trying to fight of a force of Combine, or trying to craw through a trench to avoid turrets. A lot of the fights seem really re-playable too with lots of choices about trying to out-manoeuvring you opponents (or get in a car and try and run them down). I noticed that Zero Punctuation covered this, his take is awesome.

I've had some really good matches on Company of Heroes as well. The two new armies have been really interesting to play with. I love the Panzer Elite, their fast play is a different style to the entrenching that I probably did more in the original but it works really well. What didn't seem to be working well was Relic Online servers that seemed to be having issues getting anyone logged in, it was funny to see the game names move to something expressing annoyance at that fact though. It really annoys me that they don't have any sort of direct IP connect or other fall back. Will they still be supporting this game in 10 years? I was, a fair while ago, playing Total Annihilation (which has only recently be crowned by Relic's games for me). Their online lobby is long gone, if it hadn't been for direct IP stuff we'd have been screwed. It's good to provide people with backup in the event that your service isn't working.

Other random news that I was reading was Halo 3 being blamed for slow month at the cinemas. Halo 3 was predicted at around 3 million sales over the first 12 days in the US. With a population around 300 million this accounts for around 1% of the population that might be staying at home instead. Are you sure the reason people aren't going to the cinema is because there isn't anything worth watching on at the moment? (Speaking of which after I failed to post this I watched Resident Evil: Extinction... humm).

08 October 2007

It's Been A While...


So it's been a while since I've posted, I've put a few things into draft but I just never get the time to finish them. I'll try harder :D.

Anyway I was going to post some drivel about how great Team Fortress 2 and how awesome other games are is but I'm going to post some other drivel instead about the new PS3

So a new PS3 model is out. This one is cheaper, which is great. What's awful about it, though, is the lack of any backwards compatibility with the PS2. Apparently it no longer works due to the removal of the Graphics Synthesizer, the final PS2 hardware component in the PS3. This is bad for me because it means that Sony will probably take focus away from their backwards compatibility which means less titles will be ported. This is bad for new consumers as there is a great range of PS2 titles that they won't be able to play on their new console. This is terrible for Sony because they've lost the plot. Seriously if they don't see the PS2 as a potential in road to the PS3 then they've been so consumed by their own hype about the next generation that they can't even see the fact that the Wii is destroying them in terms of market share. I had a plan a while back to give my mother my PS2 for her birthday and buy a couple of the casual games she might enjoy on it. I'm sure my parents, with the HDTV they have might be looking for a Blu-Ray player at some stage. The PS3 would be a great all around upgrade option from the PS2 except now it isn't. The PS2 has a huge install base, why the hell are they throwing that away?

I found the quote:

The new model is no longer backwards compatible with PlayStation®2 titles, reflecting both the reduced emphasis placed on this feature amongst later purchasers of PS3, as well as the availability of a more extensive line-up of PS3 specific titles

fascinating since I got my PS3 in July and most of the things I've been playing on it is PS2 games. Maybe it's that September bunch that are all about the new games but for me throwing away the extensive back catalogue of games that's on the PS2, along with the general confusion surrounding the different PS3 models (3 with varying levels of backwards compatibility in the US) makes me think that Sony aren't really sure what direction they are going in. Whether they can put in complete software emulation for the new breed I don't know, they certainly don't claim they have any plans to.

Update: Actually Edge's online thingy managed to chase this up:

The sheer numbers of PS2 titles available, together with the increased complexity of using a software only solution for each and every title means that to ensure accurate software emulation for the majority would be technically challenging, time consuming and costly.

Obviously they've done the number crunching and felt any increased sales of PS2 games aren't worth their while; or any PS2 to PS3 cross-sales aren't worth pursuing. It's a shame as there are still a few PS2 games I've got on a to buy list and the fact that they are discontinuing the lines that have the ability to play them means if I do need to get another PS3 then I'd be screwed.

21 September 2007

Oh Goody, Reinstalling Windows


Argh! So I got a new Graphics Card yesterday. It's sort of a stop gap solution before I finally join the ranks of PCI-E and I was hoping it was going to fix the crash issues I have with Source based games. I followed the suggestions found on Valve's site with no luck, I figured maybe it was an issue with my old graphics card's memory. One upgrade later and the new graphics card with the recent driver from ATI's site installed later and I started Team Fortress 2 again. About 3 minutes later it crashed with the same issue. Damn!

Then hidden in the mists of the steam support site there was the fact that Games freeze when running on ASUS motherboards. Oh, I've got an Asus board, maybe that's been it all this time. What's the fix? Upgrade your BIOS? Right you are. Apart from a brief time spent trying to get DOS to work for the firmware tool (before realising it was the wrong firmware, glad I didn't try to flash that on) I upgraded it on Windows.

Everything seemed to go fine except when I went into Windows it just rebooted at the end of its load. Nothing logged or anything, it just constantly did that. I could get into Safe Mode and I could load a Ubuntu Live CD just fine so it didn't appear to be a borked BIOS. I figured I'd try restoring Windows from the disc. Bad move! That copied the files went to the now finding your devices bit and crashed out. Then it would go back in, try and find the devices and crash out. It would do this until I got suitably annoyed. Which wasn't that long after it started.

Next up was reinstalling Windows from scratch. That went fine, obviously whatever driver causing Windows to crash and burn wasn't there in the first place. Great! A fresh version of Windows with none of the patches, apps or games on. Time to start the patching and installing again! Yeay. I was on SP2 when I had finished for the evening. I installed the newest GC drivers and that caused the machine to crash (maybe that was the problem in the first place but strange it only happened after the motherboard was upgraded). Rolling back to an older version seemed to work fine, at least I hope it is.

After all that, 6 hours later with my evening gone, I started up Team Fortress 2.

It crashed.

10 September 2007

Top 10 Essential RPGs Follow Up

Lots of Dice

Jay recently posted an article about when great games cease to be great which I think is a bit related to the essential RPGs post a bit back. It seems linked to me as the initial question, which perhaps I failed to answer in my post, was What games do you feel that someone really should be familiar with to be considered an expert... on the subject of CRPGs? I pondered this because I'm not really certain that someone needs to have played Final Fantasy IV to really know about the Active Time Battle system that was used there-in. It's been used in other games subsequently, I many cases better, and someone who played a derivative is no less aware of this technique than someone who played the original.

My original list has some games that, personally, were great landmarks in my CRPG experience but aren't particularly fine examples of the genre or bring anything new to it (such as Phantasy Star III). Someone who wanted to learn from previous RPGs would probably do better to look elsewhere for solid gaming experience. The immaturity of the genre in the early years perhaps lead to very primitive story-telling technique and, as I'm no longer a teen, I'm not sure how well these games will hold up to scrutiny. I've certainly found that playing through some of the early Final Fantasy games on the GBA. Bad UI only furthers to put annoy people who have come to expect a smoother play experience from their games. Of course in the article about great games ceising to be great Jay argues the opposite, that it is fun. I'm quite sure that some games will never lose some of their charm. Perhaps the storyline is still strong and the mechanics bearable enough to put up with continuing or maybe nostalgia over the game drives me to play it where a new player would give up (maybe the best way to test this is to try a few of the games others listed that I haven't played and see if I enjoy them).

Of course if it isn't the mechanics that we are playing the old games for (if we argue that just an awareness of those mechanics rather than the origin is enough) and we are happy enough with the concept that most RPG plots are variations of a big list then what do the old games offer us? Perhaps nothing more than the right combination of mechanics and plots with a story that keeps us involved and characters that appeal to us (for whatever reason that is).

Looking back at my list most of the games there are because the characters appeal to me (Baldur's Gate II, Final Fantasy VII and Planescape Torment); the setting appealed to me (Arcanum, Fallout 2 and the creepy System Shock 2); the storyline appealed to me (Star Wars: Knights of the Old Republic). Leaving Phantasy Star III (which, along with the first and second, brought me into the whole CRPG), Neverwinter Nights (which didn't have the same level of emotional depth as Baldur's Gate II but was the first game to bring a good multiplayer CRPG experience to me) and, Oblivion which appeals to me on so many levels, maybe it hits the exploration part just right (I love it but I can't quite place why, perhaps a few years will tell whether this really is the case). So maybe, with that in mind, old games still appeal just as much to us because they are as strong, for all the right reasons, as new games are.

31 August 2007

Backwards Compatibility: An Update


I previously through in some of my thoughts on Backwards Compatibility, I finished God of War a while back on my PS3. Yes, I know that it seems silly that I got a PS3 basically to play upscaled versions of PS2 games on but God of War didn't work in my PS2 properly (and it's freakin' awesome). Anyway was given a 1 dot thing out of 3 dot things which basically means that it Should play on PLAYSTATION®3 with noticeable issues. If that's what 1 dot thing means then well done Sony's backward compatibility team. There were some artefacts generally at loading and a couple of times in the game but that was it. On the other hand playing Prince of Persia on the XBox 360 (which is binary in its compatibility) had it running in what looked like less than 4:3 ratio, suffering slowdown and crashing. Since my girlfriend was playing it at the time I ended up going for the (cheap) PC triple pack which also means I can play the other two as well.

We'll see whether I'll filled with rage again depending on how God of War 2 runs since I've ordered that. It's not listed on their Backwards Compatibility list but others have had some success according to the unofficial list; I'm pretty sure Sony should keep their own list up-to-date though. Ah well if it doesn't work I can always hope my PS2 fares better with the sequel than the first game.

I'm too busy playing BioShock at the moment to really care :D.

Oh and since it is vaguely related the very funny Zero Punctuation covers the console war.

Update: I've now played God of War II but, at the time of writing, it isn't listed in their backwards compatibility list. Now there are some games I have that I haven't tried but you'd think Sony would check out their new titles and add them to that list since I nearly didn't buy the game based on the fact that the fact it isn't there suggests it doesn't work. No problem yet, it seems to run beautifully.

22 August 2007

The March of Progress


I recently took part in the Valve's Steam Summary which basically just posts your system information to Valve. They then post that online which is probably a good cross section of the slightly higher end of the game playing market (I expect Steam users are probably a little bit more hardcore gamers than a standard cross-section). Looking at the results it appears that my machine is at the lower end to mid end of the spec (there are a few people who appear to be running Steam on toasters). One of the reasons that I love consoles is the lack of upgrade cycle (well there is an upgrade cycle for a new console but it is a much slower cycle). However the fact that I do some development means I still want PC games that have editors rather than their console variants and the fab thing about upgrading your PC is suddenly a bunch of your games look better (I'd love to run Company of Heroes at full graphic settings).

I gave Bioshock's demo a go on my 360 and then my PC and... well lets just say I'm going for the 360 version. I suspected as much when my machine just hit minimum specs for the game and Rainbow Six Vegas (another Unreal3 game) doesn't run great either. A while back Kotaku posted the system specs for Stranglehold which, among other crazy specs, required 2GB of RAM. I'm already planning on going for the PS3 version but looking at the Steam survey (at the time of writing) 4,650 out of 1,092,762 have 2GB or more of RAM. That's less than half a percent, it's not exactly a storming market, is it? There is something to be said about it not mattering how good your game looks or plays if no one can actually play it.

16 August 2007

Play Games With Other People


I've not been a fan of Gamespy's Lobby system (I mentioned this in a post a while back) so I wasn't overly delighted to hear that the next Unreal Tournament is using it. Using it for PC/PS3 cross play is fine but since I'll probably get it on the PC (for UnrealEd and, given my PC spec, the inability to play it) then I can't wait to have a user name produced by randomly mashing a keyboard (though saying that my PS3 tag and XBox 360 tags have resulted in nearly the same pain) and happily knowing that it doesn't link to any other friends list I built up from other games using the GameSpy system.

I haven't tried the PS3 multiplayer system as it stands now. I've seen it identify my contacts are online but I haven't actually tried starting a game with it. I'd be interested to know how well it works. For my PC I looked at Playxpert (which I didn't have any contacts for but seems fine) and Valve's Steam Community (beta) which also seems great then it seems a shame that we can't use one of these. Of course Epic might choose to interact with such APIs so that you can seamlessly go from your desktop straight into a match you've been invited to, it would be great if they did.

Basically I feel that if a bunch of tech heads take half an hour to work out getting over the network, sorting out logins and actually getting to play the game then it doesn't hugely bode well for the growth of a multiplayer community.

13 August 2007

Top 10 Essential RPGs

*Big* D20

Over at Tales of the Rampant Coyote Jay listed the 16 Essential RPGs. I thought I'd give it a go myself, there is quite a bit of overlap with his list but then it's likely that there would be. I've also only done ten, I've been conditioned to base 10 scales though I salute Jay and his hexadecimal ranking :D.

Baldur's Gate II
Though I enjoyed the first Baldur's Gate I also found it deeply frustrating. The second one changed all that. The character interaction with members of your party was mature. I don't mean that they talked about rude things, I mean that your party turned to you for advice, they had conflicting emotions and opinions about situations. Often I'd be playing through the game hoping that one of my party members would start their next conversations (indeed I changed the heartbeat or flags at times to insure they would). Your character felt like it was an influence on the world around it, that your actions mattered and the game brought you in.
Final Fantasy VII
The Final Fantasy series has long been at the top of my list. I guess VII stands out, in part, as it was the first I played but also for its solid story and good game system. I really enjoyed FFVIII and FFX and FFXII wasn't bad but I think one Final Fantasy game is enough for the line-up.
Fallout 2
I'd start by saying that Fallout 2 had a bigger impact on me than the first one. I picked up a Fallout pack that included them both so I played them at roughly the same time and, I felt, the second one had the edge in character interaction. The post-apocalyptic setting and the dark humour of the games really made it one of my top RPGs of all time.
Planescape Torment
Unlike Jay I have played this game. It's an amazing game that focuses on the story of the central character, a man who wakes up on slab in a morgue. It's got some interesting philosophical dialogues and solid story.
System Shock 2
System Shock 2 is genuinely creepy. It's probably the first game that put me on edge about the sounds in the ship around me. Some people might not consider this an RPG but I think it has the same level of story development as many of them along with stats, so what more do you want? It's immersing and involved and had me more emotionally attached to the stories of the crew members than many more traditional RPGs have ever succeeded with.

Elder Scrolls IV: Oblivion
As Ray stated many consider Morrowind to be a better RPG. However I think Oblivion's quest system is better sorted which means I can better manage actually getting through the varieties of quests and side-quests there are in the game (even still it has take me many, many, hours to get through it). Graphically it is beautiful, and though not something that should be a factor in this compilation, does add to the feeling of an immersing world and made me continue to want to explore the setting.
NeverWinter Nights
NeverWinter Nights represents two main things for me. Its development tools are great fun to work with (I'm designing a module with it at the moment) and it was the first RPG I really took online to play with friends. That experience was great. The single player though, felt a little like a step back from Baldur's Gate II. In part just having one henchman rather than a party didn't feel as good. I can see focusing on both single and multiplayer experience might well do this though.
Star Wars: Knights of the Old Republic
Yet another BioWare game but with a good set of characters and a great story (ok, I admit I didn't see the plot twist coming and was pleasantly surprised when it did) with the Star Wars universe background but not directly linked to the films setting I was a really enjoyable game.
Arcanum was somewhat a flawed game in its execution. Buggy and rough around the edges but I really enjoyed the magic against technology clash and the Victorian steampunk setting.
Phantasy Star III
Phantasy Star was probably my first real introduction to computer RPGs (along with Rogue). I'm actually not sure how well it has aged. I bought the first three as a pack for the GBA and I found the user interface so bad that I had difficulty playing it. Plus, often, it resorts to you needing to talk to everyone in a town just to find out what to do next. However I loved the way it was about generations of a family (including branches of who said character is marrying) and at least tried some attempt at political intrigue rather than just there is a super-villain who hates everything (though it has that too).

So there you go, what would other people place in their top 10/16 RPG games that should be played?

09 August 2007

Rack Mounted PS3s

I was interested to read that Warhawk server cluster is using racks of PS3s. The obvious dig is that Sony just has heaps of PS3s lying around their offices. Seriously though, I get that you don't have to rewrite/recompile your code to work on other systems and can just use the same retail version you are giving the consumers but surely there is a better way to do it than this? I mean the cell processor was designed for rack mounted servers. I remember the reading about a cell based blade a while back, you'd think this would be a good way forwards for them.

Furthermore your interface either has a web system (which I doubt the released version has) or you have to get some poor sap to hook the system up to a screen to alter settings.

Anyway it just seems a waste, to me, to have something that includes components for graphics acceleration and a blu-ray drive to be used to run the headless job a dedicated server has.

07 August 2007

Casual Games

Soarin' Queue

This post was in draft for some time, I basically felt it was some half formed thoughts. It still is... I'm hoping for the other half soon :D.

I was waiting in the Soarin' ride queue at Disney's Epcot a few weeks ago. It was quite a long wait but was entertaining due to the fact they had some cinema screens set up with games on. Basically they just used a machine vision system to try and pick up on the general movement of the crowd to play some games. Some involved trying to keep thing in the air or breaking objects apart. Others involved racing using a consensus system to determine if the crowd is tell the bird to fly in a particular direction. It was enjoyable but more interestingly it was fascinating to see how many people were getting involved in it (though I guess a dull queue is pretty much the best way to get a captive audience).

It must be interesting developing games like this, designed to be played in the space of a few minutes that should be accessible to all. Of course their were points it seemed to be failing to pick up on people's attempt to play the game but then we aren't paying for it. Currently the Wii seems to be suffering from the controller just not having the fidelity for some games, better design will probably address this (not in increasing the accuracy of the controls but just insuring the games take this more into account) but perhaps that doesn't really matter. After playing Wii Sports I may not have found the controls perfect but the nature of the games never lead that to being a problem. I've recently been playing Super Rub-A-Dub which uses the SIXAXIS controller. Again the control system isn't exact but that's part of the fun of it. As long as that doesn't become a point of frustration then it is fine.

There is quite a debate in the games industry about this. With the current success of the Wii lots of people have looked more at drawing in the casual market. Gamasutra recently had some analysts opinions on what the other systems need to do to pick up the casual market. However The 1up Yours podcast, I felt, made a good point that Sony should probably be looking to position the PS2 as the casual games system. With EyeToy, Singstar, Guitar Hero and Buzz they can push a cheap entry system with a bunch of casual games already available. With the exception of Guitar Hero I think all these work fine on the PS3 ensuring that they can continue to push that system as well (as the upmarket version that also includes a Blu-Ray player and such). Perhaps that extends the life of the PS2 beyond what Sony really want but it also provides a system cheaper than the Wii to push at the casual market that could provide Sony two areas to move forward in.

05 August 2007

The Festival

Zombies on a break

People in Edinburgh are lucky in the fact that we get the festival at our doorstep every year. Of course often we are too busy moaning about tourists being everywhere to actually attend any festival events. I think actually enjoying the festival yourself is a great way to alleviate this. I've done festival events in years gone by but I'm trying to do a few more this year (though I still haven't booked them). Unfortunately the Edinburgh Interactive Festival doesn't seem to be running any public talks as it did in past years (just cheap short talk events rather than paying a fair chunk for an event I'd have to take a few days from work to go to). Though the talks they are having do look interesting and fairly diverse.

Anyway so hopes that I can attend more than three shows this year. I'm just back from seeing Famished, a Victorian zombie musical, which was fabulous from start to finish. With my girlfriend's interest in the Victorian era and my interest in zombies then it was an obvious choice and even with high expectations I came away really enjoying the show.

01 August 2007

WTF with Cables

Macbook Connection to HDMI

Please note: I've been recently learning all about the world of different video outputs and such. It's actually really dull and, for some reason, I've been inclined to blog about my woes as some form of cathartic release. This might be real dull reading.

So I got a HDMI to DVI connector for my Playstation 3 yesterday. I've been using component up until now but if they ever decide to use the ICT and if I want to up-scale DVDs (and my TV seems to have issues with ones not up-scaled over component) then I'll need to use a digital connection (actually with DVDs you can do it over VGA as well). So I plugged it in and set it up and noticed that the image had been shunted to the right by maybe 10cm. So you got a bit of the right hand image on the left hand side of the screen. This was very annoying. I looked around and checked out my screen settings but short of changing it to 4:3 (for a widescreen resolution, humm...) I couldn't figure out how to get 720p to fix. I tried 1080i and even 1080p where my TV will correctly downscale the image and display correctly. This would be fine by me, and, at first, testing a few things seemed to go fine. Except for the fact that Resistance: Fall of Man and Motorstorm only run at 720p so the image shift problem resurfaces when playing these games.

So unless I constantly switch back to component when I want to play these games or buy a new TV (I'm blaming my TV for this one) then I'm just giving up on the digital method and switching back to good ol' component again. Hope I don't find myself needing to watch DVDs on my PS3 any time soon.

Update: Except for the fact that my A/V system can't put both component videos into the same selection as two optical audio outputs so I can't tie my audio to my visual unless I use regular audio (and lose Dolby Digital). Arrrrrrgh!

31 July 2007

Pay For This Service To Pay For Other Things

Pile of Money

So I recently read that a magazine is to sell coverdisc content via Live. So we pay for a subscription to XBox Live to pay for a demo of a game they are then hoping that we buy. I guess it is a result in the magazine offering something in exchange for an exclusive demo from a publisher (be that cheaper advertising or such) and they are looking to recoup that expense. But really; Microsoft are just happy to let this happen, to charge for the demo for games for an online distributed medium? It's interesting as Penny Arcade were saying a while back:

After downloading something like six demos last week, to go to the store and buy them was a bizarre anachronism.

I wonder what Tycho thinks of now paying for a demo on Live! instead? Now I know that you don't have to pay for Live! to get downloadable content but the fact that we pay for the service in the first place would imply that you get some value for money rather than paying for things that are a way of tempting you into a purchase. It will be interesting if publishers feel that this puts them off signing exclusive deals (after all if the main purpose of your demo is to sell a game and people get annoyed at the fact the demo is been charged for will that negatively impact game sales). I expect that, post exclusive, the demo would be made available for free from the publisher. Furthermore I wonder whether Microsoft will frown on the Official XBox Magazine doing things like this?

03 July 2007

2 Years In

A couple of girls dancing in the rain, I don't know who they are either

I started this post a while back and, at first it focused on Southport June but I'll try and expand it a bit now since I realised I've been dancing for two years now and though I'd be a bit reflective on that.

I enjoyed Southport, a lot. Though I strangely was enjoying it as much for the social aspect as for the dancing. Don't get me wrong the dancing was great but I just felt I didn't do that much of it. I'm not sure why. Maybe I fancied being relaxed a bit as well and that lead to me talking more and generally sitting out rather than being on the dance floor all the time. There were some great moments though during the weekend; I forget how high the quality of dancer is at Southport. How most people there have a great sense of connection and musicality. I had some lovely dances with some lovely dancers and it's one of the few places I still get that high from.

I guess an annual review of my dancing makes me wonder how much I've come on from last year or whether my dancing has levelled out. Perhaps because of less of a drive to expand. I still want to learn new things but, at the same time, don't really want my dancing to become something I think about (while doing it) as at the moment its very automatic and that makes it feel better. I think that not learning as much also gives me the feeling that my dancing is stagnating a bit; maybe that's less the case for women who I dance with since they don't dance with me exclusively for the whole night but it certainly can feel that way for me. Possibly that has been a factor in doing more following and partner swapping (in my dancing) during MJ. My West Coast Swing has come on a little though not really in moves or such (where my knowledge of WCS moves isn't great) but more in technique.

I haven't really managed to get much Tango done. Indeed most of my experience is in the half-breed Jango. Still I'm hoping to actually attend lessons in a more committed way in the future. I love watching Tango and hope to learn it more myself.

I did enter into a competition as part of a team cabaret thing. It was quite hard work and a little stressful (like midway through the performance when the music cut out) but it was an interesting experience and definitely different from freestyle dancing. I don't know that I'd do it again (once might well have been enough).

Anyway this post seems to be taking a slightly negative tone. What's that about? I love dancing. I have improved and I hope that through the course of the next year I can continue to do so learning new things and maybe taking up different styles. I've met some new lovely people this year and continue to enjoy the company of people I met the year before. So for all that I've danced with Thanks, you've continued to make me love dancing and all the socialisation and fun that surrounds it.

26 June 2007

Google Talk Multi User Chat

Elephants talking... just two of them though

So I read about the fact that Google Talk now has multi-user chat from here and here. Unfortunately it is currently only on one of their web clients (though another Google user is redirected to the client) and it doesn't play with any standard Jabber MUC.

I was wondering if was a pre-beta slip release but since Google have just posted about it recently, then I guess not. It did benefit in one way, that is Google Talk users using other clients can now be invited into MUC chats which they couldn't before. I was talking about this on the jdev channel and someone suggested that Google might not be using XEP-045 but the fact that they now listen to invites suggest that they are. Perhaps it is something they can address in the near future. I'm happy using other clients most of the time but for other people who use Google Talk only it would be annoying to try and convince them to install Gajim or whatever.

22 June 2007

Game Reviews

Shadowrun Game Sunset

I was listening to the Major Nelson's Podcast which had an interview with Mitch Gitelman (FASA Studio Manager). Major Nelson talked about Shadowrun's reviews. The fact that a lot of the reviews very much enjoyed the game but then down rated it based on the price point. He was obviously unhappy with this, that the team's work was being put down based on the price point it came it at rather than the content of the work. He also stated that a film critic will rate a film based on how good that film based on its own merit rather than against some $10 entry cost.

It's a reasonable point though games, unlike films, do have different pricing schemes and that's bound to be a factor in a review. Perhaps the review should be done independently of the price and then that weighted in at the end. After all, the price is a variable factor, invariably people are going to find this game cheaper later in its life cycle. If they glance at reviews then they might be off-put by the ok scores when it's actually a great game underneath.

On the other hand I see the value-for-money factor as important. If someone sees a 9/10 review they might rush out and buy a game when the reviewer actually states something like the game is very well put together but it just cannot justify its high price point. Definitely worth picking up when it gets cheaper though. The person playing the game is then disappointed at just splashing out on something they played for a couple of hours (say) and stop trusting that site for reviews.

Anyway as it stands I'm not overly interested in Shadowrun. I've got lots of single and multiplayer games to play through. After playing Enemy Territory and the objective based gameplay therein; capture the flag and team deathmatch just don't really interest me that much anymore.

20 June 2007

Manhunt 2 Ban


So Manhunt 2 was rejected by the BBFC. The BBFC stated that the decision was not politically based but you can't help feel that is a part of it especially with comments like to issue a certificate would involve a range of unjustifiable risks, to both adults and minors.

Frankly I wasn't interested in the game anyway, I haven't played the first one and I've no desire to play this one, but I do worry about the repercussions of bans. First game companies need to tread lightly least they are unable to sell a game in countries (which given the ever increasing cost of games is a bad thing). Secondly it strikes me that we are regressing to a state where we need to be told what is and isn't acceptable for us to read, watch or play and that doesn't rest easily with me.

I was listening to the 1up Yours podcast (I think it was mentioned a couple of weeks ago) where one of the hosts mentioned that it didn't rest easy with him the thought of his son picking up a Wii controller and gesturing the actions of killing someone with a pen. I fully get that and I don't, for one minute, think these games should be played by children but if an adult does want to play a game like that how does it really differ from watching a slasher flick like Saw?

19 June 2007

Conversation Trees

Chit Chat

I recently finished a Neverwinter Nights module. I decided that module would have a sort of investigation feel to it. This resulted in a heap load of dialogue. In fact if there was one thing that became a drag during that module development it was dialogue trees. Often I'd look at the tree and realise that I had fallen into the linear trap. That is to say it read more like a script, the NPC says something, the player says something (not from a choice), the NPC replies, the player says their next bit...

Basically it became more like a JRPG with a very linear narrative. Where the player does little more than press the A button to continue. I have nothing against these games (indeed I love many of them) it's just they play like a novel, a railroad of story that the player hopefully enjoys but will reach virtually the same conclusion irrelevant of the actions of the player. This is not what I want in this game though, I want the player to be involved when choosing dialogue. I want the dialogue options to mirror things the player is actually thinking of asking. Finally I want to insure the player is given the chance of player the character in the way they see their character. That's something I didn't really manage to pull of but I felt it got better when I better planned the conversation and the points I wanted to pull across.

Lets take an example (not out of the game I just made), we have a plot where a man is pleading with the players to rescue his son who has been kidnapped by some orcs. His dialogue goes something on the line of Please <sir/madam> you have to help me get my son back. I don't have the strength to fight them myself. We want to cater for options in the way the player reacts to this, the three that stand out are heroic, selfish and evil. The first one says something like Of course! I will find these orcs and get your son back. the second has the player asking what treasure they'll get in return and the last one has the player being a heartless and turning him down. We should add a lesser type such as cautious where the player wants more details before committing (maybe that could be thorough instead). We might end that with the ability just to get out of the conversation tree entirely (ignoring the plot but maybe the player just wants to look at their journal) and jump to other points. Things like selfish will probably end with an accept/reject tree that cautious or possibly second plea in evil will (maybe the NPC will offer gold to the evil tree).

What is my point here? I ask myself that, often, but my point here is that we've outlined 4 routes for a very simple plot. Even then we can break these down further, for example why is the PC wanting to go the heroic route? Maybe they empathise with a farther who has lost his son, maybe they hate orcs, perhaps they just are that paragon of virtue that see the need to save the world in anyway they can or the evil character that is looking for redemption through their actions. If we gave conversation trees for each of these the size of our dialogue multiples quickly. This is a lot of work in terms of dialogue, scripting to record what options the player takes, quality assurance to test those. This is an even greater issue with voice acting and just how much needs to be recorded (and how much space that I can take up). It's no wonder, then, we see RPGs stick to a good/neutral/evil path in many cases; extensive dialogue can take an age to write and diluting your writing pool might dilute the key emotions or impact you want to convey with the core tree.

So what can we do? Can we generate dialogue trees semi-automatically in some places while still conveying the character we created? Can some NPC voice work be computer generated rather than voice acted?

14 June 2007


Prince of Persia Magic Circle

Since Prince of Persia was pretty much the game to bring me into the gaming scene I was overjoyed at its remake on XBLA. I'm loving the remake though it does show just how much more easy games have generally become. The amount of times I messed up a jump or such is surprising. Unlike Sands of Times there is no undo button, you just watch the prince slam against the floor and die. Likewise the traps don't just knock of a bit of health, they kill you. I tried to think back to when I first played the game if I survived any better than I do now and my answer is nope, just as bad as I did now. Indeed back then I used to skip a few levels so I didn't run out of time. This time, apparently, when I run out of time it's not the end of the world.

I've loved the recent Sands of Time series and I'm looking forward to the next instalment in the series. As for the XBLA, it's well worth checking out. It's unforgiving, but great.

10 June 2007

Backwards Compatibility

I was looking for an image to use related to backwards compatibility somehow but during a search on the tag Console I found this one and I loved it so I went for it instead.

Anyway for those of you who don't keep track of my current console ownership I don't have a PS3 currently. I'm thinking of getting one at some stage, possibly when White Knight and Final Fantasy XIII are hitting the shelves until then I'm resisting (don't get me wrong Resistance looks good and I'm liking the look of things like Little Big Planet but they don't quite have that draw yet). I'm also still in a little bit of a huff over the whole European Backwards Compatibility thing.

I pondered this for a while, then I finally did some counting. Roughly 80% of my PS1 and 70% of my PS2 games have any level of compatibility with 40% of both having a "no problems" compatibility level. This compares to my XBox 360's 60% compatibility with original XBox games (though that suggests that all those games work without problems). My DS is 100% compatible with my GBA (though you can't use multiplayer anymore) and if I had a Wii then that's apparently 100% compatible with my GameCube titles (which there are a few that are awesome). Cynical "the Wii is two GameCube's" remarks are fine, go knock yourself out. Well done Nintendo anyway.

I've come to realise that the percentage of games working isn't really as important as what games work. There are certainly a few titles I'll probably never return to and a few that I'd really like to see work. I think the XBox 360 is in a really strange position given there is no way to transfer your save games to it. I haven't completed Call of Cthulhu: Dark Corners of the Earth, for example, just because I can't be bothered starting it again and I can't be bothered using my original XBox to play it on. I own PGR3 but I liked PGR2 for similar reasons to what Endie outlined. I'm also bothered by the fact that the latter two Prince of Persia titles don't work. That series is awesome and people should have the chance to revisit it later down the line (also with the classic Prince Of Persia coming out on XBox Live Arcade then people might pick up the rest of the series).

The PS3 allows me to copy all my save games across, which is great. As much as I love many of the Final Fantasy games I don't want to start them from scratch again. Its backwards compatibility bothers me though. I guess, in part, because it was promised in the first place and for Europe to become some forgotten third market doesn't really make me feel like I should care about the console. Sony is part right, a new console is about the next-gen games but there are some gems in the PS1 and PS2 collection that should not be so lightly forgotten about. The lack of Shadow Hearts bothers me. I'm also really not convinced about this Should play on PLAYSTATION®3 with noticeable issues rating Sony has. Noticeable, does that mean that very occasionally the text goes a bit crazy or that most of the type you can't play the game? Finally you've got to love their advice:

  • You avoid connecting any non-essential USB peripherals to your PS3
  • You avoid the use of "60Hz" and network modes (which may experience noticeable graphical corruption not present in the main game)
  • You should skip optional FMV sequences (a small number of games have graphical corruption in one or more video sequences).

Seriously? So I shouldn't run it at the native refresh of my TV, I should unplug everything from the PS3 and, if I can, I should skip any of those optional story telling cutscenes. Thanks for the advice!

29 May 2007

Poké... what?

I bought Pokémon over the weekend. It's the first time I bought into the series. It got good reviews and a random dungeon bashing grinding game seems well fitted to some mindless actions when you are on the bus or whatever. So far it seems exactly what I expected. The graphics are ok (I've seen better on the DS) and the sound is appalling (they might well have just copied the original sound files from the GBA). However what you'd think should be a casual, mass market, appeal game it seems a little lacking in features. One of the big things, for me anyway, is that you get into a battle with a Pokémon (through random encounters or trainer battles) and I've got no idea what type the other Pokémon is, what its weaknesses are or which of my Pokémon I should use. When you catch a Pokémon you get information about that creature and its types but there is no way to consultant that during the battle and that's a complete failing as far as I'm concerned (unless there is a way and I haven't found it). I can't be bothered learning the 200+ different Pokémon and what their types are, I don't have the commitment invested in the game to bother.

Still don't think this won't stop me playing it just that I'll often think oh so that bizarre circle thing was actually a bug Pokémon, silly me.

21 May 2007

We Can Live Free Or Die Hard... As Hard As We Can

So I'm about to embed video; an experience that makes me feel dirty but for the sake of sharing this fine music video with a plot synopses of the Die Hard films it's worth it. I found it really funny and also a good reminder of what happened in the films (I should note that there is swearing in the lyrics if you are offended by such things):

Also the full title of the forth film is Live Free or Die Hard which is just wrong. Do you not see the problem with this? I've got the first three films in my alphabetised DVD collection and L is no where near them! What if I buy the DVD? What am I to do? Maybe if they named it Die Hard 4: Live Free or Die Hard I'd be happy though I'm aware this is a little tautological. Apparently the 4th film might well be called Die Hard 4.0 in the UK (presumably so they can have the patched 4.1 release for DVD or the 4.2.12985 build when they realise they forgot to include a menu option). Of course Die Hard With A Vengeance then gets in the way; but I might be willing to bend the rules a little bit like I did with the Lord of the Rings trilogy. Alternatively I might have a Blu-Ray/HD-DVD player by then so get it on that format and, since they've got different size cases than DVDs, they'd probably live somewhere else.

Please note for anyone starting to read my blog or whatever I'm not normally like this, honest.

19 May 2007

That's How To Do A Collector's Edition

Not only do you get the fine cover art on the Collector's Editor of Stranglehold (I think it is awesome anyway) but you also get Hard Boiled in HD on the same Blu-Ray disc (Stranglehold is based on the same central character as Hard Boiled). If Sony wants way to show off what their platform is capable of then this is a fine thing to push. I don't have a PS3 mind but things like this push me a little towards it (I've got an XBox 360 and it's coming out on both platforms). Furthermore the lack of regional locking on the PS3 (though maybe not on the movie) means that if it is a staggered release I can just get the US version anyway.

Anyway I have to say I like the idea it's really good use of the technology; I suppose it helps that Hard Boiled is one of my favourite films.

18 May 2007

Voice Chat

Cups for Voice Over IP

I was reading Zen of Design's Voice Chat Ready To Come Of Age? article and then Raph Koster's Voice vs text article. They are both interesting reads about using voice chat though I would state that Raph's list, though good, seems to fail to pick up on voice being able to happen concurrently with actually being able to continue to control your character whereas, generally, typing takes you away from the ability to control your character. Damion's list of myths and problems is well worth a read too. Of course they both cover it with regards to MMOs rather than FPSs which tend to be slightly more critical in terms of relaying information (I say slightly because it is still critical in MMOs too).

Voice Chat has vastly increased my enjoyment of online gaming through using Teamspeak for a lot of the games I play and my experience of XBox Live. First it makes games with friends feel more like LAN parties with real time abuse and comments coming in. It makes tactical games much easier, trying to short hand enemy locations in America's Army was a pain when, by the time you've given the information it became irrelevant; playing Enemy Territory with Teamspeak meant we could quickly provide information about the enemy. Finally just on a play social aspect my first experience of Project Gotham Racing 2 on XBox Live was wonderful. Just socialising while playing, chatting to people in some surreal Sunday drive experience was great (it's a shame my experience went down hill from there).

I think integration in games is fantastic too. Though some people might use Teamspeak to gain an advantage having the absence of Officer Corpses (where a dead player uses their situational awareness to advise their living counterparts) in Enemy Territory changes your tactics (for the better). Having a party in Halo 2 and playing a game and then floating away from the rest of the players to be left with your own friends again is really good for some post match chat (while you are waiting to connect to the next game).

16 May 2007

The Fire It Burns In Me

I went to the Ceroc Blaze event which was excellent fun but other dancers there and some of the classes I went to made me change a fairly fundamental part of my modern jive. I'm yet to decide whether that change is for the better or for the worse. Previously my Modern Jive dancing has been getting fairly slotted but, as of my weekend away, I decided to try and make it as slotted as possible. I've taken a bit from West Coast Swing, that is the follower gets priority of the slot and it is up to the lead to get out of the way. However for more modern jive like rotations I move the follow off the slot but try and insure that she ends up back on the slot when we've finished that bit.

It was attending Marc and Rachel's classes that really inspired me to do this. They are a very slotted couple and watching them dancing only reinforced the benefits of dancing in a slot. I'm not sure, at the moment, whether moving to this has resulted in my dancing becoming a little dull (possibly in part while I figure out what moves really work for this style or not) however things seemed promising. Lots of ladies certainly seemed to enjoy our dance so that speaks favourably.

It was interesting to see how this fitted in on a more regular freestyle night (which I attended yesterday). Most of the time the skills of followers at weekenders are higher; they can adapt to different dance styles better. I was worried that what was possible at a weekender just wouldn't be practical on the less experienced dancers (as a cross section) you'd find in a regular freestyle evening. I was delighted to find this wasn't the case. Some women certainly would rotate (or just move off slot when they returned or span) but it was possible to move them back on slot as part of the dance and it would insure that, generally, you'd always keep the slot.

On another note about the weekender I was really inspired by the spinning skills of one of the dancers there. He could probably do about three spins in the time I can do one (and could do nine or more spins in a dance). I watched his spinning technique when I had the chance and I'm looking forward to practising more. I tried last night and could get a quad spin in (which is probably the higher point of my abilities) but I need to work on it more.

Apart from losing my voice and maybe a little complaint about the accommodation the weekend was really good fun and well worth it. I'm looking forward to my next one.

09 May 2007

The HD Format War

CD with water on it

I've been a bit interested in the HD-DVD/Blu-Ray format war. When I say interested I mean I'm interested in when it is over so I can just buy the one player and not care.

Therefore I found the report that Hollywood movie studios and the ongoing battle between the Blu-ray and HD-DVD formats will ultimately decide which next-generation home console becomes the most successful (from GameIndustry.biz) a surprising prediction. Because, honestly, I think the current console war will determine the winner of the movie format war.

Seriously, most people I know with a HDTVs are gamers... though, I guess, half the people I know are gamers (the other half are dancers). We care about high definition format for our games and, yes, we want our movies to be high definition too but I still think it is a long time coming. My guess, for the movie war, is also Blu-Ray but then that's because every PS3 sale is a Blu-Ray player sale too. Microsoft aren't risking the same all or nothing on the XBox 360 and therefore every sale of a 360 isn't a HD-DVD player sale. Blu-ray gets more market penetration as a result of this and that slowly moves into the general consumer market.

At the same time the high definition movie scene is still very much at the early adopter stage. I've got a HDTV but the prospect of paying £25 a title instead of the, often, £5-£10 for a DVD doesn't really compel me to move into the high definition film market at the moment. I'm sure, in a few years, the market will look much the same as it did when VHS was being phased out by DVD but until that point I'm in no rush to get on the bandwagon.

03 May 2007


Photo of a camera taking a picture

I might well be suffering form some dizzy moment at the moment since I'm sure I posted about this before but I couldn't find anything so I'm just going to carry on as if I didn't have a feeling that I've posted about it before.

I thought I'd talk about the photos and images I tend to put up with each of my posts now. With the exception of a couple of posts all the images are from Flickr under a Creative Commons license. I insure that I link the image back to the source (this is also a requirement by Flickr but it also just seems polite). It's a fabulous resource and I love hunting out images to use.

I've also taken from a couple of other sources and in those cases I copy to my Picasa Web Albums and reference the source. These images are, most likely, under copyright though and I really only hope it is ok for me to use them.

I just thought I'd post about this since I've had a couple of comments about the photos I've included. I'm glad you like them.

02 May 2007

Neverwinter Night Map Making

D&D map

This month I'm focusing on getting a Neverwinter Night module out of the door. I had started it a while back but I pick up the levels I made again and started building on them.

The first thing I did was crop them.

I'm not quite sure why I was so much in favour of larger maps last time (it was a 12x12 tileset I was using for the main area). The first thing I noticed when I kicked into the level was just how long it took to get around the castle. That wasn't going to do at all so I moved things around a bit (since cropping will take off a chunk of your map) and reduced it to a 10x8 map (it's really a few tiles less than that). Still a bit worried about how big it is even now though; it's not being used for random battles throughout the area and therefore having a large map serves no purpose other than to lose the players in it or waste their time looking for the right person to talk to. This isn't interesting gaming and I'm still thinking of what I can do to further counter random wandering in the game (I'm hoping that I won't feel the need to further resize the map) while at the same time not just making the NPCs sit around in the same location all day. I want to be sure that, if my scripting and dialogue are good, the game won't be dragged down by poor map design.

30 April 2007

Subtitles In Games

Sign Language

I was reading an article about putting subtitles in games. It is a request I fully understand (though I'm not deaf) if only to give the player the option of turning their speaker volume down. Obviously in the case of people who can't hear it's essential to their ability to play a game. I remember in Prince of Persia: Sands of Time there was a point where you needed to hear the sound of running water to pick the right door. I was stuck on this for a long time due to not having my volume up enough and not getting that audio cue I needed to progress. Eventually I checked an FAQ site and found I needed to hear it. For me that was annoying but a deaf person would need someone to guide them through that; a simple visual clue as well would have solved this. There would also be points where the prince was talking and you couldn't hear it over the sounds of some circle saw beside you. It stopped the story being as complete for me but meant a deaf person missed out on the story pretty much entirely.

The article asks who can be contacted about this. It's a good question and for console games I'd suggest that Sony, Nintendo and Microsoft are the leads in this. I don't think they should stop companies publishing without subtitles but they should try and promote subtitles as much as possible. Obviously we can't achieve similar goals to what the web accessibility initiative is trying to achieve: games aren't semantic, we just can't remove visual or controller requirements (though even then you can insure things like checking your colour setup and customised controls) but, for most games, voice and other story audio can be displayed (through subtitles and graphics). Whether the companies could then take it into their own hands to warn people about the lack of subtitles (or, I suppose, to go the other way like DVDs and list it as a feature).

I noticed there is a site called Deaf Gamers that reviews games with that in mind. It would be great if this didn't need to exist and deaf gamers could buy any game with confidence that it will have provisions for them.

26 April 2007

Adaptive Music

Piano taken by  Andreas Reinhold

I was reading an article on Defining Adaptive Music which is well worth a read if you have a few minutes. I've studied a bit of music in my past and, I guess, my interest in dance invariable knocks on to an interest in music too. The article, as its title suggests, attempts to define adaptive music; much more in the theory rather than practice.

A few years ago I had a Gravis Ultrasound (what am I talking about it's well over 10 years ago now). That soundcard had much, much, better MIDI handling than my current onboard sound card. Decent MIDI synth is expensive; requiring a chunk of dedicated hardware. People who want it, for music development work, spend a lot on a top of the range soundcard; everyone else just gets some off the shelf card that has fairly poor support. Games now tend to use MP3 or similar files for their tracks; they are small so you can fit a lot of them in a reasonable sized game (though they are no where near as small as MIDI data); there is a CPU cost associated with playing them but it's relatively inexpensive. This means unless you want your game to sound poor on most peoples hardware you want to go for compressed audio like MP3.

MP3s are fairly difficult objects to play with though. They aren't very well suited to adaptive music. Sure you can fade one out and fade another in; you can play one over another to, say, keep the baseline while you change the treble (assuming three audio files here). You can change the pitch and such but your options are fairly limited. It's not to say you can't do it at all. The article mentions Mozart’s Musikalisches Würfelspiel describing it as:

In Mozart’s combinatorial Musical Dice Game, parts are generated a measure at a time by rolling dice to pick randomly from a table listing multiple potential versions. The number of potential variations of this piece of music is so large that any waltz you generate with the dice and actually play is almost certainly a waltz never heard before. If you fail to preserve it, it will be a waltz that will probably never be heard again.

In this case each piece could be recorded onto different files and the same random method could be used to generate the given track for, umm, a Waltz scene. In a similar way perhaps it is possible to include the fast bass line of some battle music with the music of a safe location such as a town as a juxtaposition between what the player recognises as a safe location and the fact that, for some reason, a battle is going on there. Of course the audio engineers might just write another score that mixes the two and has it as one file: until there is a large permutation it is probably more efficient to have multiple files with only one playing at a time rather than have less files (possibly) with multiple files playing at the same time.

It could well be that the best place for innovation in this field is in consoles like the Nintendo DS which, as far as I know, uses a synthesizer. So what do you think? Do you think that we've missed the boat for major innovation in the area?

19 April 2007


I've finished my first level/modification for RoboBlitz :D. I'm not releasing it yet as I'm using it to apply for a job for now but I will release it in the future.

I had some problems with some of the end scripting (in terms of getting it working to my satisfaction) so it took me a little longer than expected. Also, even though I consider it finished it still has a couple of minor bugs (which I don't think I can do anything about so I'm ok with them) and I feel I could do more with the lighting. I'm hoping to move on to other things just now and maybe revisit this at a later stage.

At first I had a fan in the level (which I lined up and it looked beautiful), added in rotation, and started the game and bounced of its huge collision model (which basically is a large polygon lump around the fan). I remembered that they had a fan in the Kismet mini-game and wondered how Ecnassianer did that. Looking at it he just had turned the collision model off! Something that I couldn't get away with since it would be pretty obvious when the player went through it. I could have turned it into a Matinee driving the fan, turned off the collision model and added in blocking volumes but that was more time than I really wanted to spend on it at the moment so I missed it out. I would have known about the casual collision model if I pressed the C key except I've found, and it is a known issue, that it can cause your machine to reboot if you use an nVidia card.

My lighting skills aren't quite up to scratch either. I added a nice red/amber/green start light which is nice but beyond that the lighting in the map is pretty basic. I couldn't seem to get more defined shadows and I'm not sure if that's because I'm using a skylight that lights all the areas or not. I'd like to play around with this more but I'll going to get some feedback on the map first and see what people think.

My first impressions of Kismet (the high level scripting language used in UnrealEd) seems alright though one thing that bugs me, as a programmer, is that you can create subroutines; that you can set an input and an output along with variables it takes (all of which appear to be passed by reference) but to reuse this you need to create a copy. Now the copy is just that, an independent copy that can be changed with no reflection on the original. This can be handy at times, such as when creating a copy with intent to alter it, but really what I want is a blueprint sequence that I can create references to. This way by updating the sequence I update all things that use it.

For example: I have a sequence that checks a Trigger the player has just crossed; if it is in the right direction it increments to the next trigger and prints a message and plays a sound. Now say I want to replace the comments with an custom UI dialogue. I've got to find every reference waypoint and change the code on them. It's sloppy coding and I'd prefer to avoid it. Saying this I'm still to check if you can, by saving to a package, create a new component in Kismet which will just be generic. Otherwise you could create an event in UnrealScript which would do just this but if you've already written it in Kismet it seems a pain to need to translate it to UnrealScript.

I also discovered that there doesn't seem to be a way to restart the level properly (that is to reset everything to their default state). I've coded it so that it restarts in a controlled fashion but the pickups will have been picked up and things that have been knocked over will stay that way. It's something I can live with so I'm happy to let it be.

All in all I'm happy with the way the level has turned out; I think it plays pretty well and I'm happy that I could do something with the engine that feels different while still not attempting to make sweeping changes to it.

Multiplayer is coming to RoboBlitz which I'm interested in for two reasons. First I'm hoping my next map can be more of a multiplayer map and secondly whether my current map could be adapted to work with multiplayer. I shall have to see when the code is released.

17 April 2007

Feng Shui Roleplaying XML Stuff


I ran a game at the Student Nationals a bit back. Anyway I quickly hacked out an XML document and XSLT script for Feng Shui characters. Here's an empty character sheet as an XML document and an XSLT stylesheet that transforms it to HTML. I also included an Old Master (ish) archetype as an example.

Hopefully the empty one should be fairly obvious where to put the values. Keep the preprocessor directive in as it means, if the stylesheet is in the same directory, that browsers can use it to render the document as HTML (I used XSLT 1.0 for this reason). The XSLT also includes embedded CSS for styling the document, including some Mozilla specific multi-column stuff. All of this might not make sense to someone who is using it. If it isn't drop me a comment/mail/IM and I'll try to explain it to you (I'm currently working on the basis that it will only be used by me but thought I'd offer it to all anyway). Finally it is under the creative commons license (by attribution, share alike) so feel free to modify it etc.

Creative Commons License
This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 3.0 License.

16 April 2007

Weekend of Dance

Couple of Swing Dancers

Boogie Nights had a mini-weekender thing in Edinburgh this weekend which I went along to. I know it has been a while since I've really talked about dance on this blog; suffice to say I'm still dancing and loving it but feel less inclined to blog about it than I once did; but I just felt inclined to post a little about this event.

The first workshop was with Nigel Anderson. He went back a little to basics with keeping simple footwork patterns (a step per beat) and insuring that that is the basic step you do as the foundation to build more complex footwork on. For those of you that know Ceroc (which is a company with a particular style of Modern Jive) you'll know that they teach virtually no footwork. I've heard argued, a few times, the merits of teaching a step-per-beat footwork pattern in Jive and how it helps beginners have some build a framework. I can see the benefit though part of the reason I love Ceroc is its simplicity and accessibility. I think making it initially complex would put many people off. We had some nice moves to begin with that focused a lot on a close hold frame and using the connection. At times I wondered, however, later on how much of some of the moves we were learning I'd use. We learnt a Backhander but it was basically the swing version with a lot of momentum and space used. Indeed quite often, later in the workshop, he talked about elasticity in the dance, moving to the full extent of your frame and using the momentum almost to the degree that I assumed we were learning Swing. This isn't a bad thing but I'd say my style is leaning more towards a constrained, West Coast Swing or Tango feel and they go for a more restrained dance. However I'll try integrating some of that stuff when faster tracks come on and see how it feels. He finished with American Blues which felt too much like ballroom and not enough like blues to me.

The evening party started with a Swing Rueda, which basically involves dancing to a caller's moves and switching partners on the fly. Nigel was teaching and calling this and he did a fantastic job; it was really good fun and really got the people on the floor involved. I think doing more of that sort of stuff at the beginnings of parties would make me less likely to turn up late. I'll skip a bit ahead in the evening's events to the cabaret which was really interesting as it was a sort of history of dance with Nigel talking about the styles that emerged (and why they emerged) and then them performing a quick piece. I was especially impressed that most of it was just unplanned freestyle on their part and the number of dances that Nigel knows. I did feel their dig at Ceroc (when they got to the eighties) as a bit unjustified especially given the heavy Ceroc background of the audience. Anyway it finished with an impressive solo routine from one of the West Coast Swing teachers and went back to freestyle.

I had a really good time in freestyle; it feels like it has been a long time since I last was at a party event (it hasn't really been that long) and there were a lot of people there I haven't dance with in a while so it was great to get some dances with them. There were, however, nearly twice as many women as men there and at the same time as feeling overworked (I didn't get many breaks) I also felt sorry for all the women that seemed to be sitting out often. I worked hard to get around as many as I could but I missed quite a few that I wanted to dance with or never got around to a second dance with many I wanted to.

The highlight for the weekend for me was Catriona Wiles West Coast Swing workshop. It went back to basics, like WCS classes are so prone to doing. I felt a bit sorry for those down from Aberdeen or up from London who are more experienced WCS dancers and were, perhaps, expecting a more intermediate level class. It was highly beneficial for me though taking some fundamental moves and going into much more detail about WCS techniques and concepts. It was pretty tough going (and a few of the things taught were in opposition to things I'd been previously taught) but I feel I got a lot out of it. At the end I thanked Cat for the class and she said I did well but I tend to place myself quite far away from my partner where I could just angle slightly to be out of the slot and be closer to my partner (on, say, a Left Side Pass).

Finally, in case there are people waiting for computer games updates that, for some reason, read through this whole post. There is a track I love dancing to: Louis Armstrong's A Kiss To Build A Dream On; and it occurred to me recently that I have heard it used somewhere before. It was, of course, the opening to Fallout 2. I wonder whether my love for that song was based on my love for that game. Anyway for those of you that haven't played the game I found the intro on YouTube.

03 April 2007

Hardcore And Casual Gaming

Hedgehog with a controller

I was reading Dancers Can Be Hardcore, Too (linked from Kotaku). It's about what makes a hardcore and casual gamer; it's a really interesting read if you are into game development.

I, currently, am in the Recreation zone on XBox Live. The reason I picked this, event though I do play a fair number of games, is both my hope that the demographic that are in this are a more mature group and my desire to specialize in one game is lesser than that of someone who would be in Pro. I pondered how this linked to the suggested model; if it links at all or is really a parallel thing that states I want to play against more mature opponents and I'm looking to have a good time and not learn every mechanic in a game. For most multiplayer games I am a casual player. I split my time between them and, for the most part, I play online when some of my friends are up for playing the same game.

On the other hand Damion stated: If, when bored, your default play choice is the game or genre in question, you might be hardcore which seems true of RPG games for me. I've poured hours into many of them and I took some holidays to play Final Fantasy XII when it came out.

My girlfriend doesn't really play many games at all but she has been really drawn in by games like Feeding Frenzy and New Super Mario Bros. (which she recently completed). She has played a few other games but she hasn't really been taken with many others. Feeding Frenzy has a fairly easy control system and is easy to get into; there isn't many rules to learn and the designers are very good at introducing new concepts at the right pace for casual gamers. She has tried other games and, perhaps they weren't intuitively designed or maybe they just didn't capture her interest in time but she stopped playing them.

Of course the relative complexity of a game will be ignored by people who have more interest in it. Championship Manager seems to be a spreadsheet with a football themed interface yet people who have no interest in number crunching or strategy games will spend hours pouring over numbers and figures to optimise their team. The theme and subject of the game has bought the developers additional time with these players; players who are willing to struggle with an uphill learning curve based on the fact the game is based on another interest of theirs.

When I was at the Edinburgh Games Developer Conference in 2004 Will Wright did a talk about the upcoming Sims 2. He talked about the objectives (desires/goals) that each Sim has. Achieving those objects gives the Sims points which can send them into a super happy state and also allow you to purchase special items in the game as rewards for your achievement. He mentioned this was added in, from the lack of anything like that, to draw in your traditional hardcore male game playing audience; that they are less interested in having open ended, unquantifiable, achievements and more interested in having specific goals that they need to finish to progress to the next stage. Fascinating that, when he stated that, it clicked that that was one of the things missing in the original Sims for me. Stating that; that's more attempting to capture a specific gamer demographic. These people could be casual Sims players but what they are looking to achieve in the game differs from that of other players the game appeals to. When we refer to Hardcore players are we really talking about goal oriented players? Nerfbat certainly thought this had something to do with it.

Perhaps, then, it is just a confusion in terminology. Games, to be widely successful, need to have an ability to be picked up and played while also providing enough depth to capture people's interest in the long term (effectively to create hardcore players for that game). Some games, that have scoped their market appeal to a smaller group might increase the entry level complexity for the sake of not overly simplifying (most turn based strategy games might do this; their market is mostly established strategy games players though you might see them attempt to appeal to, say, a real time strategy market). Perhaps it is more important to identify what your target demographic is as well as Damion's double-coding of a game to appeal both to the casual and hardcore demographic of that market (possibly with some overlap to markets outside your scope to try and bring new players in).

Finally I leave you with Damion's Just because you like dancing and socializing doesn’t mean you’re not hardcore. I find that great to know :D.

02 April 2007

Roleplaying Events and Dancing

Oblivion Screenshot by CoreBurn

This is going to be one of those more traditional blog posts about what I've been up to and such. It might well be of interest to no one.

I ran a Star Wars game using the Feng Shui system at the Student National Roleplaying Event Thingy. I found it good fun and the adventure I wrote seemed to survive contact with the players (mostly) so it was fine. I wrote a little XML file and stylesheet to render Feng Shui characters. I shall post it up here in the near future. Some people might find it useful.

Post nationals on Sunday Dr Sordid; Silicon Owl; me and another man, who isn't into this whole web thing, went out for a meal and random chatter that was fairly grown up; reminding me that we are now grown up and talk about things like pensions. Umm, yeay?

Saturday night I was supposed to go out dancing but the day had drained me a little and I never actually made it out of the door. I had that point where I thought if I'm not going to go out now then I'm not going to make it out and that point passed. I then was kicking myself that I didn't go out and dance. I've been finding my dancing is getting a little to repetitive for my own liking. In part I attribute that to not turning up to lessons much at the moment. I think if you feel you are progressing, learning new things, then it makes it seem like you aren't going through the motions as much. Of course, as has been mentioned, a follower will dance with many leads so she probably won't see it that way (your lead being different) so it's only in your head... not in the heads of others.

So I've been playing a bit of Oblivion again recently, finishing the main quest and switching to my second character. I bought Shivering Isles, the expansion pack. I've been enjoying it so far though I've found it not overly different from the main game even though you are meant to be in the land of the insane.

29 March 2007

User Generated Content

Random Sims Image From Online

I've been working on a little RoboBlitz map/mod thing for the last few weeks (obviously not constantly, otherwise I'd really hope to have finished by now). Now Unreal Ed isn't bad by any means but level design is really something that really need to put some time into learning. BSP is probably the most difficult to work with given when you've place it it becomes very difficult to alter it. Mess up a chunk of BSP and you can spend hours fixing it again. Anyway though I've been enjoying it it certainly doesn't have the same entry level feel as, say, the NeverWinter Nights Editor had (though I'm still to finish something using that; which will be my next project).

A couple of upcoming games though are taking much more advantage of user generated content; namely Spore and Little Big Planet. In the case of Spore it populates the planet with creatures other users have generated to insure that your creature is neither entirely at the top of the food chain while it having ample food it can find. It's not to say that they won't make it a challenge for your creature(s) to hunt as in a survival of the fittest concept then your creature may have to evolve to hunt as it needs to (assuming it needs to hunt at all).

In the case of Little Big Planet they are generating levels using User Generated Content. You post your level (which can be created with more than one author at the same time) and other people pop along and discover it. I'm sure like YouTube and such there will be a lot of content that is of disputable quality; they've obviously thought of this and added a rating system. Anyway it looks like an enjoyable game, if only for the fact that generating the levels in the first place looks fun; I've never posted any of my The Movies films but I've enjoyed creating them.

I can't help but wonder if this will make developers a little lazy when it comes to actually including a game in their game though. Rather than spend the time developing some concrete game you just hand the sandbox tools to your users and let them make a game for you (this post was inspired by one of my friends wittering about Web 2.0 stuff). Of course if the toolset is as easy to use as they promise then you'd think if it succeeds at being a good game then the developers would probably find it fairly easy to produce good content using the toolset during development.

This does seem like a good, and natural progression, if I had the ability in The Sims to link to a friend's neighbourhood and have their Sims interact with mine along with getting new houses based on some of the best houses other people have generated (and you can do both of these, just not dynamically in game) then I probably would use this feature. Though this still doesn't really incorporate a social aspect; that is to say that though you may start a game to find your Sims have made two new friends you are still not really interacting with any other players.

At the same time I see that there will always be a need for well executed level design in a game. I'm sure there are a lot of really good NeverWinter Nights modules out there but I have a lot of games and can spend my time playing something of with a professional level design rather than hunting through user generated stuff hoping to find something that can entertain a group of us in multiplayer.

All-in-all a bit of both seems the way forward.