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!