Tuesday, December 28, 2010

Zero Frags Left?

Hmmm. This post has been a long time coming. Indeed, while I have hinted at it and beat around the bush with semi-related discussion in the past, this post is something I actually am concerned about for the future of gaming and my general interest in it. I am also not incredibly tired or drunk (I think), so you can safely assume that what you read here is actually what I am thinking. So, equip your Hats of Ranting (+1 to rage generation) and prepare to listen to a grown man piss and moan about seemingly trivial stuff in as callous and pretentious a manner as possible. Well, sort of.

In gaming society today, there is (as I have mentioned many a time before) a slight disconnection between a large number of the major game developers and the PC as a gaming platform. Simply put, the PC is not considered to be the bread and butter, default, go-to platform for making a game anymore. Make a game on a computer you may, but for all intensive purposes it will probably end up being on console. Or on a hand-held. Or on a damn phone. The point is, unless you are an indie developer going through Steam or Blizzard Games, making big titles exclusively for PC (i.e. console ports later) is not considered profitable. A good part of the reasons for this is due to piracy. The general nature of the gaming PC is to provide an open and customisable platform, which inadvertently allows tech savvy people various options for playing a game illegitimately. Write an executable crack, tamper with some config files, adjust network protocols etc. You don’t and can’t do this on a less open, less sophisticated environment like a console. So it is unsurprising that even major players in the market, such as Microsoft, have such a strong foothold in terms of where and how they want to drive the consumer market. They have even publicly stated their stance on developing for the PC, releasing ‘facts’ that both bewilder and stun long time PC gaming fans such as myself. Gotta sell those Halo copies somehow I guess…

I’ve mentioned all this before, so I won’t bring it up in depth again. The main point of this article is quite simple. I miss arena shooters. Seriously. Inside my favorite genre of gaming it would easily be my favorite sub-genre of FPS. The last true arena shooter in my honest opinion was Unreal Tournament 2004. UT3, while good, was a step back from something that could and should have evolved into an epitome of gaming skill. Instead it was tacky, sluggish and tailored for … you guessed it … console players. It has now been 7 years since any form of successor has risen from the ashes of continuously slower, tackier, repetitive and outright boring FPS games. The problem? I don’t think it’s going to change. Games like Call of Duty and Halo are considered the norm nowadays, and why? Their game play is anything but intense. The decision making processes one makes in combat during these games are simplistic and primitive. These kind of games have come into fruition at a time when the console market exploded around them and so they have been branded as the benchmark. The true arena shooters of the past are either forgotten or simply unbeknown…

Now I’m talking about the multi-player, deathmatch/CTF game here, not the single player narrative bull crap everyone cares so much about (and plays once and forgets). The feature component of any FPS game should be that visceral, physical feel to the game play that the player is engrossed in. A good arena shooter (i.e. any shooter that has deathmatch/CTF/domination game modes) should push this experience to the limit. You should be able to literally ‘feel’ your actions and behaviors and intrinsically understand how they affect the current game state for you, without even thinking about it. Your gaming avatar and your control over it should be like a natural extension of your body. The funny thing is, even since the days of Doom and Quake this has been achieved. The level of control given to an adept player just feels … right. You get used to it and the sky literally becomes the limit. A true arena shooter doesn’t impose degenerative rules or chance based game play elements designed to add catch-up or random elements to the game. It should have strong, predefined rules with few restrictions and multiple features to accelerate game play, not hamper it. What the fuck am I talking about? Well let’s see...

It seems that today, most people are content with their control of their FPS character alone. Aim and move, shoot some dudes, jump here and there. Congratulations, you are a casual player. In a not-so-recent article by a dude called Shamus Young (yeah, he has a proper blog) I would personally rank you at about the Duke 3D or Quake level. Why? Well, because that’s where you are if you think your handle of FPS games is good if that’s what you can achieve. There is (or at least there used to be) so much MORE to FPS games than just that. The best way I can describe this is if I draw up some comparative scenarios, so let’s do that:

Scenario A: I’m playing Modern Warfare 2. I have spawned with the best weapons the game currently allows me to use. I just got hit a few times while running past an open doorway. I’m still alive, but I got hit up pretty bad, indicated by the amount of blood on my screen. I have nowhere to escape to, but if I wait a few seconds for my magical invisible health bar to refill, I can come back round the corner and spray the piece of tinfoil the enemy is hiding behind with ½ a clip of overpowered 1 shot headshot, 3 shot body kill machine-gun fire. I aim down the sites to perform this action, severely limiting my view and movement speed, but somehow making me fire 3x more accurately (because I am now aiming a gun). Said enemy dies quite epicly. He also respawns and comes looking for me as I attempt to camp in a similar position. After several engaging moments of looking down a corridor, the enemy appears once again and I again shoot him full of lead. I decide to stay at this vantage point and repeat this activity on several more opponents until I run out of ammo. I then use grenades, for even faster/louder results. When they run out, I then get up and attempt to knife someone with my 10 yard instagib melee button, successfully at first, but dying moments later.

Scenario B: I’m playing Unreal Tournament 2004. All I have is my starting weapon and a sniper rifle. I just got hit a few times while running past an open doorway. I’m still alive, but I got hit up pretty bad, indicated by the low valued numeric symbols on my HUD. I have nowhere to escape to and don’t have regenerating health, so I’m pretty fucked! However, I know my movement speed is my greatest tool. I attempt to double dodge-wall jump back across the open doorway, firing my sniper rifle at the first sight of enemy I see. I surprise my foe with my random aggressive choice of movement and remove his head in the process. I take a tiny bit more damage and am now nearly dead. I want to find health as I know the next engagement with an enemy will be my demise. I move quickly but carefully to the closest known location of a health pack. Unfortunately my previous opponent must have predicted this decision and although he has inferior weaponry, is now guarding the only access to the health pack. Desperate, I make for an alternative route, but as he has full health and I have almost none, I die in the process. AS I DAMN WELL SHOULD!!! I respawn, quickly, and decide my best course of action is to gain a firepower advantage. I head to the rocket launcher, keeping in mind where I think he is and where he could possibly be at this point in time.

I probably sound like a bit of an elitist here, but let’s briefly detail the differences in these two situations in these games:
  • In MWF2 I spawn with all the equipment you need and have regenerating health, completely taking out the need to prioritize control of parts of the map for various pickups. You run around, shoot people and camp at good locations to kill them instantly with your instagib-machinegun. The ability to shoot through walls negates the need for me to orientate myself appropriately, turning fights into a spray fest. Enemies that die fast/instantly remove the need for me to carefully wear down the opposition to deliver precise killing blows where necessary. Camping in an advantageous, hard to reach location is beneficial for ambushing unsuspecting opponents, especially as I am aiming down the scope and have the RNG machine already in my favour. Although I move slowly, so does everyone else, making hitting people generally quite easy. Grenades and knife usage grant me incredibly easy kills, sometimes without even aiming. I am, overall, a terrible FPS player, but because the skill ceiling in this game is so incredibly low I am actually doing very well. Against people both worse and better than me.
  • In UT2004, I spawn with the worst weapons in the game. They are situationally viable, but generally speaking, I will get outgunned if I don’t grab something better. Not having the best weapons or regenerating health makes me want to control parts of the map where they exist. This is not easy, especially when other players are doing it as well. People move quickly and have multiple movement options other than just walking/running. They are hard to hit, but so am I making fights more about skill in aiming and less about luck. Not having regenerating health makes the game balanced around how much damage is effectively done in an engagement. I can/will kill someone, even if it takes me a few tries. However it will not be easy. Besides moving quickly they could still have better pickups than I, so I need to take control of that aspect as well. Camping is illogical. I need to think ahead of my opponent and do what I think they would be doing in the same situation. Or sometimes … what they wouldn’t be doing. The skill ceiling in this game is so high, I am sometimes overwhelmed by both the number of things I can/should be doing and the fact that while I am an excellent player, there is still someone out there who is better than me.
… This is just deathmatch. I could bring up other game modes like CTF, but I don’t think it is necessary. I hope from these small descriptions you can begin to see the differences in game play these two games offer. You may argue that MWF2 is not an arena shooter, but what else is there to compare it to nowadays? The truth is MWF2 is simplistic and uncomplicated. UT2004 is not. In fact, in a game like UT2004, you begin to let your intrinsic nature take over when the game play starts moving and flowing like a battle where you have total control. You begin to pull off extraordinary feats of skill, such as stuff like this, which would be accusable for cheating! They probably would be nowadays, but 7 years ago it would have been normal. Maybe lucky, but definitely routine. UT wasn’t the only game though. Even Half-Life and TFC had the components for making extraordinary arena shooter moments, which I think brings to attention the most important aspect about these games in general. You may design a game, perhaps unintentionally, to have a conceived level of control that players will have. If you let this control run a little bit rampant, impose less rules and boundaries on what people can do, then you don’t force people to play in the same box as everyone else. If you let players own creativity and flair come into existence during play … then you can allow players to achieve incredible things such as the following, and be one step closer to making the perfect arena shooter.

The only question remaining is whether or not there will ever be another one?

Sunday, December 19, 2010

My noob Banner Designs

When I did Creative Industries at QUT, I did not really enjoy it. I only did it for about 1.5 years and I didn't like it for a ... variety of reasons, most of which I won't discuss here for the sake of not turning this into a rant. While many of the reasons were to do with my own personal problems with how the Faculty was run/managed, one of the primary ones is that I simply wasn't that great at it.

That's probably a bit of an over-exaggeration. I was mediocre at it. Using Illustrator, Photoshop, After Effects and the various 3D and audio/video editing software was something I quite enjoyed and, although I thought what I was doing was great (as it sometimes was), more often than not it would be regarded as ... mediocre (as it was most of the time). There were people who, for whatever reason, were considered (and were) better at it. So, after awhile I decided this wasn't really the type of work I wanted to get into as it was and always had been more of a hobby for me.

Also, some of the people were fucking douchebags.

Anyways, back on topic. Since I have started this stupid blog of mine, I have gone through quite a few header/logo designs. It has never really been because I was unhappy with the prior one, its more just because it gives me something to do. However, each and everyone has a small history or tale to them, describing what my interests were at the time of their design.

(God I am going to hate myself for doing this...)

The first and longest one to be used was basically supposed to be my two main characters in WoW. Razial and Laizar, both Undead, were Warlock and Warrior respectively (sif she is a Deathknight). The semi-naked pink woman with wings is Bronlissa, Razial's Succubus. She has seduced many a foe while I hadoukened firey death in their direction, from level 30-80. Succubi are awesome, by the way. Other than that, there really isn't much else to it. This was the banner I used when this blog was still for a unit at QUT, talking about game design.

The next one was the beginning of the whole new redesign ... thing. I dunno, I was probably incredibly tired (or drunk) when I made it. Just like I always am whenever I post something on here. I think what was going through my mind at the time was to figure out a way to get 3-4 things combined from different universes and not make it look goofy. The idea would also give me a 'template' to work from, which wouldn't take long to edit as the idea is already in place. Basing the idea around a crosshair in a game I would segregate the quadrants into ... well you have eyes, you can see the damned thing. It's got some Evangelion, some Quake 3, some SFIV, some code and something from Aliens. And yes, Asuka's boobs are enormous. That's why I picked it.

The third one didn't stay up for long. I can actually say I wasn't happy with this one at all. Maybe because it was too similar in content to the second one, but it just didn't give off the right vibe in my opinion. Besides the upskirt upside-down Chun-Li and the nightelf with the enormous rack, their wasn't really anything being said about wtf this blog is about. Which is funny because I don't even know what it is about right now.

The fourth one was actually one I spent a little bit more time on. Instead of just slapping images into each quadrant and rotating it slightly, I chose to implement some of the things I learnt to do with 'leading the eye'. The Unreal Tournament symbol in the background is the focus point of this effect, with the text supporting its circular design. The images themselves were meticulously placed so as to carry over this eye leading business, but probably could have been done better. Raziel, Akuma and a scene from Street Fighter X Tekken were all new, as well as Kerrigan from Starcraft. SC2 was coming out at the time. Seemed only logical to me.

I am probably cutting myself short here when I talk about how easily these are made. They take about 30 mins, most of which is me looking for stupid pictures to put in. Although there isn't much difficulty involved, thinking about how colours and orientation can affect an image is a big thing. Although I am still not happy with this one (text is off), this is probably the most colour and contrast abusing one so far, making pot smoking hippies happy (I assume). Elements of both Marvel Vs Capcom 3 (Morrigan) and League of Legends (Mordekaiser) are new with Akuma and Asuka making returns. Funny how their names are both similar. I've also got this whole ... popping out thing going on. Looks alright I guess. And yes, Asuka's ass is hanging out a mile. That's kinda why I picked it.

Ugh. You can probably tell when it comes to the whole artsy-fartsy side of things ... I really just don't like talking about it. It's not that I don't care, it's just that I really don't get the whole idea of pretending something that someone has done is so incredible, especially when taken out of context. You know that art piece about the black door with the red outline? I can't remember who did it, but when I heard people carrying on about it in Gr 9 art class (yes, I did art back then), I think I cringed a little. It was a black door ... with a red outline.

Anyways, that will do for the moment. Might come back here and spew some more words when I get this bad taste out of my mouth.

Monday, December 6, 2010

The Hand of God

Gaming has been rather … well I wouldn’t say uninteresting, but certainly slower than normal for me lately. Maybe it is because I haven’t bought a game in many a month or the simple fact that as I am becoming older, simply playing and being interested in the medium is becoming less prevalent. It’s not a bad thing, I guess.

I guess I should mention something university related every once in awhile. The most noticeable thing that has occurred in that area lately would easily be the conference I attended in Wellington for four days. At the Australasian IE2010 this year from the 21st – 23rd of November, I presented my honours work from the year before in front of roughly 40 people, most of which were probably rather uninterested. I met some interesting people and had a few job/study offers from random dudes. Except for another student presenting his topic on sketching in RTS games, I think my topic was certainly much more on the technical end of things (as opposed to conceptual and creative design). Being incredibly tired and disoriented, I ended up treating the presentation much more like I would tutor a classroom of students. Although I relied heavily on my notes, I was strangely much more capable of tackling questions and situations than I previously remember myself being able to do. The many weeks of talking, describing and arguing with students is probably paying off, boosting confidence and general social/discussion skills for the better. It’s a useful thing, I guess.

Apparently the Cataclysm is coming. One day from now to be precise. Ah … World of Warcraft. The fun, immersive, distracting timewaster I have tried to slay many a time in the past. But like all good mobs, its respawn time is short enough for most people to simply stick around until it rears its beautiful, disgusting head once more. Sitting on the fence is the name of the game here. I am simply not convinced. Too many times I have played this game only to have everyone I know either doing their own thing or having no interest in doing things together. PUGging with randoms is the same thing as soloing to me now. It is rather absurd considering how massively multiplayer it is supposed to be. For the first time though, I feel I am completely able to resist the urge, having both more important and more interesting things to do. Besides the possibility of rated battlegrounds … it is exactly the same thing as the previous three iterations. No amount of fancy ‘world changes’ and ‘new spells’ are going to convince me that it isn’t about pressing buttons to get purples. I say I probably won’t be playing it now, but in three weeks I will probably be squawking some WoW jargon to a friend, complaining about an instance.

It is true, but the game I have still been playing the most is good ol’ League of Legends. A free, quick, easy, simple game that everyone should do themselves justice and play. Lately I have been expanding my character roster to include various support and tanking roles. The more important of these roles would be Shen, my first true tank and a rather challenging character to play. By now I have played dozens of games with him and I don’t think I could have tolerated doing PuGs without him. You see, I was kind of spoiled from level 1 by starting off doing 5v5s with 4 of my friends. Generally speaking, they were already above average at the game (debatable, yes, but still). I ‘grew up’ with these people, talking of balanced team comps with sensible numbers of tanks, support and ranged and melee damage dealers. Initially, our rather terrible tactics evolved into more structured and sensible strategies that we derived over the course of several games together. Warding, jungling, timing and positioning became more a matter of instinct and natural group cohesion having it imposed and executed progressively more efficiently, over time. Vent also helped a lot.

So when I finally got around to PuGging properly at around level 12+, I was flabbergasted at how terrible your average player actually was. If they were not disconnecting continuously or AFK, they were usually in a state of total idiocy. Overextending and feeding on both sides was rampant. The idea of jungling and warding was completely alien to them. Arguments about everything were the norm. No support. No covering of lanes. No teamwork. No selflessness. It was pretty much Team Deathmatch from a top down perspective. Also, if you lose, it is apparently the rest of your team’s fault and by no means your own.

So, entering this world of lunacy was a godsend with the character Shen. The ability to teleport to any teammate from anywhere on the map, remove possible enemies from doing damage for a short period of time and absorb a good chunk of it too allowed me to correct the all too frequent mistakes made by so many a team mate. My only wish is if I could do it on a much shorter cooldown and more reliably. Being an energy using character means you are frontloaded in ‘ability’ for roughly 3 of your 4 spells, but being energy reliant means you need to wait for it to recharge in order to use those abilities again, regardless of their actual cooldown. Not worrying about mana is great, but in a 10 second teamfight you need to choose your spells wisely (let alone have the energy to do them in the first place). This is really where the whole difficulty in Shen lies, having the energy to taunt at the right time and the foresight to gauge when you should try and kill someone.

Also his taunt isn’t so straightforward. If you use it to initiate you will taunt nothing but air. Its taunt range is less than the range indicated by the skillshot. You need to be close if not in melee range to effectively get it off (assuming it doesn’t bug and/or lag is taken into account). A clever team will simply disperse or run back from you, making the initiating process sometimes rather difficult. This unnecessary difficulty, as well as his teleporting shield Ultra has convinced me that the most effective way to initiate is to use what people term an offtank (or soak) as a proxy. Usually a tanky dps character that doesn’t have real taunting capabilities, sending them into the thick of the fray solo should bait the enemy into taking him out. The instant he is engaged, teleport on to said friend, grab agro off 2-5 people and force the teamfight to take place on your terms using your abilities as they were designed. Hopefully your dps have come in and engaged at this point.

Of course this process is rather theoretical, and though I have executed and pulled it off with often glorious results, with PuGs or timid teammates it can be quite disastrous. But it is for that very reason that I quite enjoy tanking with Shen. As difficult as it may be to get things working in order, when the planets do align (as they seem to do more often now than before) you can truly bestow the hand of god amongst friend and foe alike. The results are worth the effort:

“The souls of the righteous are in the hand of God, and there shall no torment touch them”

Thursday, October 28, 2010

Look at the pretty explosions!!!

People often ask me why I don't play TF2 anymore. I don't dislike the game at all. It is what it is, a fun, relatively easy to get into multi-player game that really should appeal to all FPS fans. I played the shit out of it when I first got it in the Orange Box several years ago now. I did have fun and played a wicked Pyro and Soldier at times.

But it didn't keep my attention forever and certainly not as long as some of my friends. As balanced and stylised as the game was, I always felt there was something missing, especially compared to TFC (the only TF game I played besides the Wolfenstein version). On first analysis you would simply say it is lacking two things:

a) A good chunk of game speed
b) Grenades.

Now that doesn't seem like much, right? The truth is, it really is. Game speed, whether it be movement (bunny hopping) or even projectile speed play a good part in what you can and cant do. If projectiles are fast but you are slow (even for a Soldier/Heavy) then your options for avoiding incoming damage are limited. You also traverse the map slower and the gameplay (in general) is not as ... frenetic (or something). Moving slowly, even for a Scout or Medic, is not as pacing if only other Scouts or Medics can do it. Simply put, choosing your class in TF2 really locks you into a definitive role where your strengths and weaknesses are incredibly obvious. Some may call this balance and excellent design, and I would have to agree. It is also ... a bit boring.

Grenades. You used to throw them and they would explode. You had your standard grenade, a really big mofo grenade (carried by the Heavy), concussion grenades and even nail spitting grenades (to name a few). I think the Medic and Pyro may have had some other interesting tools too, but whatever. They changed the dynamic of the game in ways you cannot imagine (unless you played it). Concussion grenade jumping was considered a skillful exploitation of game physics, pretty much allowing people to fly. Other classes could do this too, just not as well and not in such a ... conservative fashion (grenade jumping with a proper grenade is not really healthy). Nevertheless, you would sometimes see a bunny hopping Heavy go flying across the screen from a 'big mofo' grenade jump. It was awesome, hilarious ...

... and insane. This is probably what I miss the most about TF2. TFC was absolutely ridiculous. So much random crap happening with people flying and dying everywhere that it was almost impossible to not enjoy yourself. Hell, even dying was freaking awesome sometimes! I'm probably just a sucker for any game that has gratuitous amounts of nonsensical violence occuring so I may need to excuse myself when it comes to areas of apparent 'fun'. But hot damn, the memories of games that would turn into explosion clusterfucks, trying to push a flag through a crowded corridor one metre at a time were incredibly entertaining. Which reminds me! There is one aspect of TF2 that is sorely missing, something they never should have got rid of. Check this out:

Your hear that? You hear that beautiful music? That constant cacophony of explosions and bullets? That's normal in TFC! Sure, that video was a little over the top, but the lack of those explosions and heavy weapons fire is considered unnatual in TFC. People would laugh and say "wtf!?" when it stopped! I could sleep to that noise. All in all, I think that is what I miss about TF2 the most.

Oh I feel like another "State of FPS games" post is coming. Better put my ranting hat on again.

Note: Title of post is a quote from the character Tristana from League of Legends.

Saturday, October 23, 2010

Unleashing the Beast

As someone who is a fan of most competitive games and generally concerned about balance related issues in them, I often search out and watch e-sport type videos scattered on the realms of the net. At the moment they are usually concerned with fighting games, first person shooters and a little game called 'LoL', but there was a time when I would look for videos concerning other game types too (e.g. RTS, racing etc). I am not the sort of person that will meticulously analyse these videos as a method of improving my game as, to be honest, I don't really take gaming THAT seriously. It's a fun hobby which just happens to be related to my chosen career path, one that is looking more bleak every day in this country. If I learn a tip or two then sweet. Otherwise, my reasons for looking for these types of videos are purely for their entertainment value.

Fighting games currently take the cake for being the most entertaining as they show the most direct, in your face PvP action a game can offer. Once you understand the basic mechanics of a game like SFIV, its not hard to get excited about what is happening on screen as well.

The following video is time formatted to show only the relevant section (i.e. not 10+ mins).

Daigo Umehara, the fellow sitting on the left-hand side playing as Ryu, is considered Japan's best player. For those of you who don't understand what happened, he basically used Dhalsim's (stretchy arm dude) greater range to his own advantage, uppercutting his arms at max range and buffering into a super. Incredibly tricky and risky stuff. He is constantly pulling shit like this in these sort of tournaments, surprising (mainly) the western scene with moves people never even thought of. Also while of course, in typical Daigo fashion, remaining perfectly calm about it (-_-). His best example would be his fight against Justin Wong at Evo 2004, parrying a full Chun-li Super at 1 hitpoint. Most people nowadays have already seen this video, as it is considered a legendary moment in gaming, referenced (jokingly) on shows like Pure Pwnage and the like. If you haven't seen it, I would highly recommend looking it up.

Yes, this is an 'awesome sauce' post.

Thursday, October 14, 2010

Critiquing the critic

As I have probably stated before at some point, I have never been a fan of media critics. They are useful in a broader sense in terms of gauging the general popularity of something, but when it comes down to it, a critics opinion is simply that: an opinion. Just because they brand themselves as and like to think themselves as a critic does not mean that their opinion of something is of greater value than someone else's. Sure, they may have a much more educated analysis of something than the average person, but that is to be expected. It's their job. A job which, as the name suggests, purposefully draws upon the negative aspects of something with greater weight than those of merit. What is a critic if they do not criticise, afterall?

There is also the fact that certain critics already will have a point of view prior to reviewing something anyway. As we are all human, favouring certain genres of film, music or games is something we cannot avoid. Do you expect that say ... a critical review of a fighting game to be of significant quality if the reviewer is not a fighting game fan? What if you did want a less experienced reviewer to give their opinions? Should their negative or positive experiences have any sway over your own thoughts and opinions? The answer should be no. As a free willed conscious entity, you have the right to make your own decisions about things. As you should do whenever possible.

Even the popular Zero Punctuation critical game reviews should not be taken seriously, if at all. Mr Croshaw's approach in his video reviews are meant to be for a particular purpose: entertainment. Without his witty, nihilistic approach to poking at what he perceives to be flaws in games and the gaming industry, I doubt anyone would find them particularly funny. While I do find the majority of them to be entertaining and may even agree with the fellow on various points, there are things that I do think he is wrong about. Which is fine. I have opinions about things, many of which I bring up in this blog. However I don't expect you to agree with me at all, nor would I care if you didn't.

I was originally going to steer this post towards the whole 'entertainment as art' side of things, especially how games are not seen to be, but I don't think I will anymore. The simple reason being is that, having thought about it, I don't really care. If games are not considered art, not even the individual components that make up a game (models, music, textures etc), then so what? It is not like it is a bump in the road the gaming community needs to convince of either fixing or of its general existence. Games are about fun, and if art does not equal fun than I couldn't care less about it. Whether it is someone's opinion whether they are or aren't shouldn't affect how or why you play them.

What originally did inspire me to make this post was having just watched the movie Centurion, a recent film that was not granted much attention. Without giving away the plot, everyone I had talked to who had seen it (not many) said it was average, and reviews on Rotten Tomatoes and IMDB would have you agree. While I won't admit it was the best film I have ever seen, it was definetly better than other films which scored higher on these websites (e.g. Robin Hood). In my opinion, anyway. While it had your stereotypical evil and betrayal dudes/dudettes and a very predictable storyline full of ... average dialogue, it wasn't the sort of film that took itself overly seriously. Some parts were even funny in a terrible sort of way. Plus, it had Imogen Poots in it for a few minutes. I've always had a thing for blondes, but after seeing her in 28 weeks later I have definitely been keeping this actress under my radar.


So I guess the idea of this post is that, generally speaking, you shouldn't blindly take anyone's advice on something. Particularly if it is something you already have a strong gut feeling about. You can't truly form an opinion about something until you try it for yourself and until then, your opinion is kind of void. However, even after having formed a solid opinion, your beliefs don't and shouldn't override someone elses. They are your ideas, and as long as you came upon them via your own means (and not someone elses) then you can voice them as strongly as any 'critic' should. They can't tell you what you do and don't enjoy.

But hey, don't take my word for it. Make up your own mind!

Monday, September 27, 2010

To kill a Mordekaiser

League of Legends is a game that has kind of been picked up on the run by some of my friends and I. I was never a big fan of DotA (translated: not very good at it), so my skepticism towards LoL when I first started playing it was quite high. Needless to say, it is an improvement over DotA in almost every way, which is not a surprise as it is made by the same people who started the mod in the first place.

It is a lot of fun, something our group of professional facerollers will agree upon. Having known absolutely nothing about the game at all prior to playing it, I was impressed by the way it slowly breaks you in to the mechanics and features the game has to offer. Better yet, it is a game that >5 of us are playing at once, something that has not occurred in ... well ... ever! It is also obvious that we are all getting better too.

However, me being me has chosen an odd way to go about playing this game. Without explaining/spoiling the finer elements for new players (items, stats, runes etc), I have this strange idea that owning one of each specialized type of character and learning to play them properly is the way to go about things. I am probably not alone in this decision, but I do realize it can work both for and against your favour. Well, at least initially. By playing a specific character well means you will know the strengths and limitations of that character, and can get a feel for their performance. However, at the same time you never really learn about the other characters save fighting against them or doing some research (both of which I admittedly do a bit of). So, at least at first, you will still find yourself in some hairy situations that you may consider unfair. What is important to realize is that most of these times, you have brought this on yourself, and there is always something you can or should have done to prevent it. This includes both in the game and out of the game.

One of the first characters I purchased was Mordekaiser, of whom I was incredibly pleased with. All of the research and playstyle analysis I did could not have prepared me for how much fun it is to play this walking wall of steel and spikes. His character role is vague. He has no native crowd control. His direct damage is pitiful. He has virtually no escape options, save for simply slugging it out and hoping for the best. He is incredibly susceptible to ranged characters, especially those that can kite well (e.g. Ashe). His abilities scale terribly with Ability Power (some of the worst ratios in the game). In essence, he isn't really a tank, but unless you gear him to be you don't really get far in a game (i.e. you die).

So what the hell is he good for then? If he can't CC, do good direct damage, tank or even run away, how, you ask, can I possibly enjoy playing this seemingly useless character?

Well, first of all, he pushes like a freight train. Full of lead. That's on fire. Put him in a lane and he will eat everything in it if it is void of enemy players. Put an enemy player in it and he will still push it. Put another enemy player in it? If they are both melee and shit ... he will still push it. Put 3 in? Alright, that's a few too many, but you get the picture. Usually I don't like pushing a lane at all unless I really need the gold now or I can see 4-5 enemy champions somewhere else in the map. Prior to level 14-ish enemies, sitting under your own tower is the best way to guarantee your survival (unless they are tower diving). But when we need to push, Mordekaiser can certainly move the pain train along, killing about 90% of minon waves in his wake. This may seem not to be all that useful but I ask you, when you are killing a tower, what is the tower shooting at? Most of the time it will be your own minions. If you can push 2-3 waves of friendly minions under the enemy tower it is as good as dead.

Besides map control, there is another, more deceptive reason. This may not be so much a trait of Mordekaiser as it is so much something I do in general when laning against my foes (usually solo). However, Mordekaiser's passive ability, being a temporary shield which charges when he does damage (which synergizes well with his abilities) allows him to do it much more efficiently. The term could be described as Obfuscating Stupidity, but I prefer to simply call it 'pretending to be shit'. Purposefully getting too close, walking the wrong way, attacking nothing but air, wasting your cooldowns, reacting far too slow etc. Most of these actions will get any other hero killed, but with Mord, providing you do a little bit of ability damage, you can take a few hits, still push your lane and come out even. Usually the enemy player/s will get cocky. Overextend a bit. Take a few tower hits now and then. As you pretend to panic and (apparently) desperately try and kill the enemy minions to save your lane, you will inevitably push and end up meeting them in the middle. Where they will always end up trying to gank you ...

... at which point you flick the switch and fucking blow their faces off! A Mordekaiser that has been feeding on minions (full shield) and has all his cooldowns up is about the worst 1v1 fight I can think of outside of fighting a Warwick. Hell, even in a 2v1 situation it is bad. Probably worse as your shield will charge that much better (2 aoe targets instead of one). He wont kill you straight away, often making him bad for attempting ganks. But being ganked, where the enemy is committed? Plenty of time to deal his short cooldown, consistent damage. Most of the time I will get a kill employing this technique. At worse I will chase them off and let them think about their actions for awhile. I would like to think this style of combat would confuse most enemy players and hopefully demoralize them on repeated failed attempts. But I guess I can never really know.

This has all got me thinking about how I would actually kill a Mordekaiser if I happened to be laning against one, especially if they were being an asshole like I do. The truth is, having played him, I know exactly what would kill me. Doing damage to him every now and then is pointless as more often than not you will just strip a bit of his shield. Attempting to bring him down face to face as a melee character will probably result in your death (unless you are like dps Garen, Warwick or Bob). Unless you are a ranged kiter or a heavy nuker, you don't have much of a chance.

So here is my list of 5 ways to kill a mockingbird:
  1. Crowd Control. Silences, stuns, snares. Anything to keep Mordekaiser from chaining his abilities will eventually kill him. If he cant keep his shield up he will flop down dead in seconds.
  2. Kiting. This is a given, but if you are ranged and can afford a Rylai's or Frozen Mallet, this will get you a kill on Mordekaiser. Eventually.
  3. Anti-tank items. Almost every guide I have looked at suggest making Mord tankish, and having played him I tend to agree. With that knowledge, stacking Magic Penetration (or Armor Pen, depending on what he is doing) as well as items like Madred's Bloodrazor will allow you to drop him much easier in team fights and solo.
  4. Get him in the jungle. If you are going to gank Mordekaiser, try and do it in the forestry. Pushing lanes he will have >50% shield at least. Walking around between lanes he will have none. Makes sense to me.
  5. Ignore him. Honestly, unless he is rolling a Frozen Mallet and a Rylai's Scepter, he isnt going to catch you, and if he does, he is just going to bonk you on the head a few times before you get within safety. With no CC and no decent direct damage you really have very little to worry about.
But you best be careful in a team fight. Oh my!

Note: League of Legends is made by RiotGames which can be downloaded from their website here.This post has merely detailed the ins and outs of one of the current 60 characters in the game, many of which have unique playstyles. I highly recommend trying this game out. Being free, you have nothing to lose and nothing to complain about.

Friday, September 10, 2010

It flows from heaven to the soul

Something I haven't really noticed much but only really thought about recently has been the musical score in games and how they affect the user experience. It may just be the games I am playing, but very few games in the last 5-6 years have had any sort of memorable soundtrack to me. No scoring that really captured the mood of the game play and enhanced it to its full potential. A lot of the music you see in games today is mostly orchestral (or orchestrally themed). I have no issues with orchestral music by any means. In fact I consider it to be the pinnacle of live human performance, with such a concentrated and condensed selection of skilled musicians. The thing is I am not sure how well it translates into the average gaming scenario, especially when it is recycled so many times.

When you are playing a game, and I actually mean playing, not watching a cinematic, you are only acutely aware of the music in the background. You are not (and shouldn't be) focusing on the music to any extent. Even in a music game like Audiosurf or Guitar Hero, you are really just reading instructions on screen and responding to them hand-to-eye. The more difficult a game becomes, the less you will focus on the music in a game. However at the same time, the easier it gets the less concentration you need to apply to the game play and the more the music seems to stand out. If the game is boring, you will be focusing on aspects other than the game play (such as audio and visuals) which will bring further attention to their possible inappropriateness.

Ever watched a movie where there is supposed to be a romantic scene between two primary protagonists (usually at the end of a typical Hollywood film), only to find yourself either laughing or rolling your eyes? Chances are you weren't enjoying the film up to that point anyway and found this combination of symphony and 'kissing scene' to be just stupid or over-dramatic. That is because movies, like games, have a state of 'flow' to them. Ideally you want your watchers/players to sit directly in the middle of flow, between extreme annoyance (or tension) and extreme boredom. The most enjoyable session of game play for a player is also found to be in this state. It is of my opinion that within this state, the appropriateness of the music will come into fruition with the ability to either make or break a game.

But enough of the psychology. Lets talk about some interesting music and pretend this blog is just about cool shit and not me ranting on about my crazy ideas for once:

Super Metroid - The Jungle Floor

Besides Samus being one hot bunny in cybernetic armor, her games (at least the old ones) had some really catchy tunes. I remember playing this game on the SNES a LONG time ago, but hearing this track again brought a tear to my otherwise cynical eye. To be young again, free of difficult choices and ignorant of the (mostly) bull crap things which makes up the world is something I think a lot of people want in life. Or at least some of the time. This song brings back faint memories of exploring an abandoned space station, looking for a lost Metroid, with that base slowly coming to life in an Aliens sort of way. There was fear, there was tension but most of all there was adventure. If I remember correctly, this one short track captured those emotions perfectly and is one thing I will give Nintendo for doing right. They sure knew how to make a Metroid game, back in the day.

Dark Reign - Track 5

When you mention the game Dark Reign nowadays, most people will either give you a quizzical expression or immediately think of Auran dispersing over the unfortunate failure that was their last game, Fury. Dark Reign was released at a good time, but its primary competitor Total Annihilation was slightly better. But slightly less than totally awesome is still pretty awesome. From memory, the game offered a very robust A.I system, allowing you to spawn units that would move and fight on the battlefield the way you set them. To expound, you could tell a group of Tachion tanks to fight defensively, continuously moving and patrolling randomly and returning to base to repair themselves when they were damaged. They would then go off and fight again. Battles were immense, almost matching the scale of Total Annihilation at times. Not to mention the story was pretty darn good too, probably the best one for a strategy game at the time (vs TA and SC). On top of all this, it had an incredibly moody, almost tribal like quality to its soundtrack that suited the game well.

While I enjoyed Dark Reign as much as I enjoyed other strategy games (again, I am not prone to favoritism), what I find most astonishing is that it was an Australian game. I don't mean a game made by an Australian team under the wing of an American company, I mean an Australian Game's company game. Our best game, both technologically (for the time) and sales wise. I am disappointed that Auran went under after Fury as I imagined and had hopes to be working there at this point in time.

Soul Reaver - Credits

Another game that I enjoyed for its musical score was the original Soul Reaver. The Legacy of Kain games is a series that is very much under-appreciated in nearly every way I can think of. First of all, the game is essentially about vampires. It's about vampires, but not in the culturally accepted emo/goth, love story, atrocious way that people seem to enjoy watching (Buffy, Twilight etc..). The vampires in this are beasts! Call them mutated, call them highly evolved, they are butchers of humankind and relentless in their methods of our extinction. It is a dark and evil world, not full of awful poetry and bad haircuts. Yes, the Soul Reaver universe is very much an apocalyptic Earth, if it actually was about Earth that is. Long story short, you play as a deceased vampire who is the cross between a zombie and a ghost. You struggle to hold yourself in the physical plain of existence. The ability to morph between the physical and spectral realms (where time stands still) opens up a new world of strategy and problem solving. You think Portal was a challenge? Try playing it with things trying to rip your face off! It was an adventure game and a hard one at that.

It also needed a soundtrack that suited the theme of the game, and not just the universe it was set. The problem solving and navigation elements often required high levels of thought and creativity, especially before jumping into a pit full of ghouls. The tracks were therefore dark and foreboding but had enough pace to them to keep the player thinking and on their toes. I think the team at Crystal Dynamics could not have made a better soundtrack.

UT - Foregone Destruction

Unreal Tournament's Forgone Destruction. It is almost impossible for me to listen to this track and not have the sound of the announcer booming "Headshot!" from somewhere in the back of my mind. If you listen to this track by itself, you probably imagine a journey through some sort of mystical fantasy realm. You would not think it could be used for one of the goriest FPS games of the time, yet when combined in the space-themed CTF map 'Facing Worlds' you would be shown otherwise. The thing about this track is that it is exactly the sort of music in a game that sits well within the balance of flow. You don't really notice it when you are playing, but the simple lack of it deteriorates the experience significantly. Essentially this song is that map and vice versa. It is action oriented but also calms you somewhat when playing. You play well, you don't get angry, you have fun. It is also obvious that the people you are playing with are experiencing the same thing. There is a simple reason CTF-Face is the single most played CTF map ever, at least when NgStats still existed.

The same can be said for a large number of Unreal Tournament tracks (e.g. DM-Deck16's Godown). Synthesized and very basic they may be, they generated that certain 'feel' that UT used to have over other shooters (like Quake 3). They were slick and stylish and made you think and feel that way too. It is for that reason that I have always had a great reverence for the game as it gave me a means of escape and relaxation from the bad things that were happening in my life at the time. Things I would like to forget.

There are plenty more examples I can throw at you (Homeworld, Rez, Red Alert) but I think I have got my message across. Maybe I was just more of an audiophile in my youth, but I am yet to encounter a game that had audio tracks as memorable as any of these games.

Thursday, August 26, 2010

Why I hate Monopoly

I dislike Monopoly, and I am proud to say it. A classic board game invented by the Parker Brothers in 1935 (originally a derivative of 'The Landlord's Game' by Elizabeth Phillips) is a game about being the biggest asshole in the room. Oh yes, this game has made me cringe and roll my eyes in tedious, mindless repetitiveness for many years until the day my sister and I somehow both came to the conclusion that playing it was an utter waste of our time. People don't like to admit they hate things, especially when it comes to entities that existed in a 'high culture' or golden age of society. Holding reverence for classical things seems to give people a sense of importance and a feeling of being more civilized. Whether this be books, music, poetry or in this case ... board games, having respect for the aging and popular things in life qualifies you as a normal person in our glorious modern age of humanity.

For this particular case, Monopoly, I do not respect. I do not like it, and I will explain to you why.

1. It is slow
First of all, I have both won at the game and lost at it. Winning involved me being younger, less opinionative and more excitable, essentially being blinded to its flaws. It also involved everyone just giving up. Losing involved me being exactly the same, except me being one of the ones giving up. The giving up process usually took between 3-4 hours. Most of this time was spent looking at people moving various board pieces, counting their money or counting my own. Or in jail. It takes so long for things to get into motion and so long for anything even remotely resembling a winning condition to emerge that most people remember just how slow the game is and .. give up.

2. It is boring
For the most part, it is a game of attrition. Unless you are playing with people who are not solely relying on the action packed experience of observing a pile of cardboard and plastic for 3-4 hours, you are going to be bored completely out of your mind. Monopoly is fine if it is played with some light, off topic discussion, but mostly people are so engrossed in the experience of doing virtually nothing that they find conversation disruptive. They take the game so stupidly seriously!! You can pretend all you want that you are forming a winning strategy in the back of your mind, but you know you are in the same boat as everyone else. Waiting for your turn to roll so your heart can light up or flop when you land on a spot on the board. Which leads to my next point being that ...

3. It is driven completely by the roll of the dice
I am a Guru for games with skill and balance, and this game has virtually none. It is all luck. You could pretend to be the best monopoly player in the world and get trounced by a newbie learning the ropes with a consistent stream of unlucky dice rolls. Who lands on Mayfair first is not determined by you, and should you get it, you know you did absolutely nothing of worth to get there. Luck. It does not equal skill. And I think people know it, whether they admit it or not. Why? Because ...

4. The game encourages cheating and sleazy behaviour
A presence of luck sets off some part of people's minds that make them become cheating sleazebags. This is particularly true in games or events that actually do require skill and when a player KNOWS they are not going to win without cheating. Steroids in sports are the same as aimbots in FPS games (albeit a significant physical component). In monopoly this translates to giving incorrect change, overcharging, stealing or even innocently landing on someone's property and hoping they don't notice. These are all behaviours you would be fined and possibly sent to jail over in real life. Apparently these activities are "part of the game" and "how its meant to be played". If that's true then this game is sick and I want as little to do with it than I possibly can.

5. It is not a friendly game
Grinding your friends and family into the dust over hours of questionable game-play is sure to create tension. Conflicts can arise, disputes over properties and cheating and getting unlucky. I don't know about other people, but I don't like watching people suffer or be miserable for extended periods of time. This may be the hunter in me talking but giving your prey a quick and painless demise is more humane than torturing them to death. It is also honorable, showing a lack of negative emotion and some personal consideration for your foe, even in death. As much as I hate people in general, I don't like dragging out victories or defeats for hours on end. This just leads to more frustration and more bursts of unqualified glee for whoever it is who thinks they are winning. You are not winning. You are being a wanker.

6. It delivers a terrible message
People living in high society have traditionally had an incredible misunderstanding and under-appreciation for the working class citizens. Look at Marie Antoinette for a prime example. The picture of upper class rich bastards debating and competing for land which possibly houses thousands of citizens while sipping wine glasses and adjusting their monocles is an image I find incredibly disturbing. Depending on your point of view, actual real world monopolies can be a bad thing. Take Microsoft for example. Sure they have made a platform from which the average PC user can globally use and unite, but they completely control that sector of the market. Without competition they have all the say concerning the price of their products (i.e. ridiculously overpriced) and just what gets released.

Want an example? A recent project which was hoping to deliver cross platform gaming between Xbox and PC users was canned when PC users were found to be too dominant. Why? Well the only logical reason is because they want people to keep playing on the Xbox. This shuts down the market for a lot of PC developers in terms of demographics and forces players to play certain games on only one exclusive platform (i.e. Halo - Xbox). Because they control Xbox Live, the (paid) networking interface for the Xbox console, they can simply do whatever they want. There is nothing we can do otherwise.

7. Gambling
I hate gambling

8. It makes me want to punch people in the face!
This is really the main point of this whole post. For all the above reasons, whether people are oblivious to it or not, when I roll that stupid dice and land on your stupid property and have to look at your stupid smug face with its stupid smirk, I literally have to hold myself back from smashing it in. This game makes me incredibly angry, for all the wrong reasons. It is supposed to be a competitive game and yet sometimes there is nothing you can do from being slowly beaten down over time. It is different from the anger I will feel in say, a fighting game. I may tell my friends how much I hate them (jokingly) and how that round was total bullshit, but I know I could have done something about it if I was quick/clever enough. It is my fault. But in monopoly? The reason I am angry is not because of me. It's all on you, you selfish, cheating, poncy, arrogant bastard!

So that is why I hate monopoly. I have rarely enjoyed it. It is one of the few things I actually truly dislike. If you were to play it casually for an hour with some beers and light conversation some time then sure, count me in.

If not, then you are going to want to be real careful playing that game around me...

Tuesday, August 24, 2010

Anonymity of the Avatar

This post is a little... muddled, but whatever.

"I love Alma's red eyes. They make her sexy! Who cares if she is a child, she is dead! Fuck her all night long!" - Terminator, Action Trip video comments

I found the above comment by a rather vulgar Action Trip reader to be ... incredibly funny. Not because of the content of the matter, but because of the incredibly straight-forward and easy going manner in which this individual addressed his/her desire to fornicate with an underage girl. Or should I say, ghoul. I imagine your everyday soccer mum, not used to the horrible things people say on the internet, would find this behaviour unacceptable and demand that this pedophile be put to justice. For the rest of us, we just smile, shake our heads and read the next obnoxious comment...

We all know that what people say on the internet is not a good reflection of how a person behaves in society. Being anonymous is a shield, a big sign in red letters informing you to be a douche-bag. Hell, I've done and said offensive and terrible things online before so I am not exempt. For the most part it was actually pretty fun, letting the illogical, frothing-at-the-mouth cave troll side of the human mind come forth in all its glorious stupidity. And all its horror! I can imagine for some, saying completely ridiculous and terrible things can be a form of stress relief (or something). Although for some people, what they say may actually be what they believe/intend to be true :S

Anyways, this got me thinking about people's anonymity in games. I already know some people play games just to be tools. Ganking and corpse camping in WoW, a form of Schadenfreude in gaming format, is a prime example. But that is negative behaviour, reinforcing the idea of being anonymous. There are many other types of player behaviour when gaming, besides this. Some (and hopefully most) people play competitive games to do well, to the best of their ability. Some are genuinely helpful, serious in their attempts to make others understand and improve their game. Some are even so helpful that they may even turn the act of helping into a game of their own:

I think players of games are generally less inclined to be douche-bags primarily because they are required to interact directly with other people. They can be punished, so to speak. Assuming you are not cheating, any game mechanics you exploit can be turned on you. Anything you say in chat, no matter how offensive, is ignorable as it is not the focus of the game. This is of course unless you are actually a good player though (very rare!).

I like to think most people would avoid using 'cheap' tactics in gaming so as not to belittle themselves by once AGAIN using a dominant strategy. This is not always the case however as I found not so long ago in the terribly imbalanced and skill-capped multiplayer of Modern Warfare 2. Noob-tubing, the act of using a grenade launcher attached rifle in combination with the 'Thumper' M79 grenade launcher itself to guarantee yourself at least 4 near instant kills per spawn. Combine this with One man Army and you have a lot more chances. Grenades kill anyone, dead, at any range (except point blank) and at any health. I estimated nearly 70% of players in some of the last games I played using this 'strategy', sometimes with the argument "everyone else is doing it". You could argue that this is equivalent to the AWP wars that Counter-Strike turns into after 15 mins, but I disagree. You spawn from the very start of the game with Noob-tubing equipment in MW2 whereas AWP snipers must play for at least 15 mins, building up their cash for the ultimate weapon. Should they die, they lose it. That's called balance. It disturbs me that modern games developers have totally lost the plot when it comes to it in their games...

Getting back on topic, when you are playing games with friends or in real-life, you try not to be a wanker. People don't like to be associated with their gaming behaviours and disposition. You only have to look at the recent hiatus about Blizzard's real ID system on their forums to understand that. This is because it is either a) not what they like to see themselves as, or b) gaming is generally not seen as a positive thing in the eyes of others. It's still the 'childish' activity of immature people according to older generations. Hell you only have to ask my parents opinion of it to get an incredibly ignorant and biased view on it.

Most people in this world are genuinely good people, even if they don't know it. As ill behaved and awful as they may be online, whether through forums, chat rooms or gaming, they probably are not like that in the real world.

But then again, there are some people who are just ... jerks! Anywhere and everywhere.

Sunday, August 8, 2010

On Lazers and Explosions...

StarCraft 2 has a game within the game (greetings canine!). This game is called Lost Viking, an arcade game booth found in the Catina within the single-player mode. Despite what everyone keeps telling you, it is NOT a 'secret' game. It is placed directly in clear line-of-sight of the player, so anyone playing the single-player should stumble across it. Secrets are not placed directly in front of you.

Anyways, I decided to give it a go one boring night. Having given it about 10 seconds previously before stopping and continuing my campaign, I can honestly say it is a good bit of fun and shows off the modding capabilities of Blizzard's WarCraft 3 Mk II engine (yes, you know what I mean). The game itself is ... well I wouldn't say it is difficult, but it is definitely not a walk in the park. I had no idea what I was doing but still managed to unlock 3 achievements in one hit. The unlocking of those achievements (big display on screen saying you have unlocked something) are also what got me killed. The video below is this game in action. The player is not very good :S

I will probably return to play it at some point and get the 500,000 point achievement, but only because I enjoyed playing it. Achievement whoring is not something I really like doing in games and I personally think its a cheap method of creating re-playability. But that is something I will rant about for another time. My point is I enjoyed the 'mod' which paid tribute to many a Top Down Side Scroller (or Vertical Scroller) of yesteryear. It is a genre of gaming you rarely see being made anymore, which I find disappointing. I also would like to know why.

Depending on who you talk to, some people may regard these kind of games as mindless. You usually start in a ship that shoots peas and eventually deck yourself out with enough firepower to destroy the universe. Things fly at you, you shoot them and they explode. You also move around. Mindless? Well ... yes to a degree. They can also be incredibly skillful, relying on player reactions and destructive creativity in order to a) simply survive and b) achieve the highest score possible. Some can be so incredibly skill based they can even turn people off. A popular example of this is Ikaruga, a TDSS classic where players can morph between light and dark ship variants to either absorb damage or inflict more upon the same/opposite enemy colours. The following video is of someone playing BOTH players (1+2) in this game.

Yeah ... that. That was on Normal. I tried this with one ship and failed miserably. My neanderthal brain just could not grasp the concept of changing colour to absorb incoming enemy fire as I tried to avoid everything with very low success rates. I imagine with practice I would be better, but my first play session was definetly a slap into my gun-ho, 'shoot everything!!' face.

Anyways, these games are fun. Instant fun at that. Sometimes I consider the days before storylines and character development to be the true pinnacle in gaming awesomeness, skill and enjoyment. Historically these games almost seem to have been wiped out since the birth of the First Person Shooter. It almost appears that as games have become more technologically advanced and more like movies and books, the industry has tried to shed the skin of old relics regardless of their success and popularity. Thinking about this inspired me to download Raiden 3, a game ported from the PS2 to PC quite awhile ago. It still looks awesome, is very enjoyable and will possibly cause me to have a epileptic fit sometime in the near future.

So long story short, these types of games is the game type (lol) I intend on making sometime in the near future. It is the sort of game I have been wanting to make since the last year of my degree, instead of involving forklifts and tanks. A work-in-progress Alpha is currently on standby as things are sorted out. I would like to implement a more realistic control scheme in the form of keyboard movement and mouse/controller aiming but at this point it is not set in stone. Hopefully something significant can be completed before the end of the year.

Sunday, August 1, 2010

I Can D

This is sort of an 'awesome sauce' post, just a bit more wall-of-texty. Hopefully it crits you for at least a trillion.

I have always thought the guys behind Blizzard Game's cinematics do an exceptional job. I am sure they outsource a lot of it to some pwnage CGI company, but if it is actually done in-house, then that's even more impressive. Basically it has always been ahead of its time, even back in the day with the now terrible looking WarCraft 2 intro cinematic.

Nowadays it is no different. Having recently finished the campaign in StarCraft 2, I found the non-ingame cinematics to be quite impressive, just like they were in the recent World of WarCraft games. Especially in Wrath. They are presented well narratively and have a certain visual aesthetic to them that separates them from anything else. Some people even mistook the Arthas in the Wrath introduction before he summons the Frostwymre to be a live action actor!

If there ever was to be a film about either the StarCraft, Diablo or WarCraft universes, it should definitely be digital and at least contributed to by Blizzard's cinematic department.


Sunday, July 25, 2010

Jabberwocky Bandwagon of Unconcious Elitism

I'm not sure if the title of this post accurately portrays what I am trying to describe, and it is a little too late in the night for me to think properly and try and fix it. Whatever. The topic of this ... well, lets be safe and call it a rant now ... is simply about jumping on the elitist bandwagon of a game that appears to have wide community approval in some way or form.

That probably doesn't make sense, so I will use a few direct examples. Counter-strike. World of Warcraft. Halo. Starcraft.

All big games. All popular titles that many people play. All games that, in my opinion, are incredibly overrated.

Now if this was a forum post and not a personal blog, many a fanboy (or fangirl), without even reading the rest, would by now be hitting the reply button and appear to be fending for their lives in defence of their game they hold in such reverence. I expect I would get the full array of responses from "lol noob U sux" to more elaborate, well structured posts describing how "it is funny that you are obviously new to the game and not very good at it". As this isn't a forum, I'm glad I can completely disregard that step and move on.

So what the hell am I talking about? Besides the fact that I don't even know myself, I am mainly talking about a certain social quality your average gamer seems to exhibit. To describe this as simply as possible, I will break it into 3 steps or 'traits' of exhibition:
  1. Realize a game you play or used to play is incredibly popular (for whatever reason)
  2. Generally pretend or forcibly become knowledgeable on the game in various ways
  3. Argue that said game is the best of its genre and imply that people who disagree don't know what they are talking about. This can be because of inexperience or the fact that you are simply better at the game than them.
There was one point when I remember being a bit of an 'elitist prick' about the original Unreal Tournament. I would like to think I stopped that attitude a long time ago (grade 11) as I find I am generally trying to get people in to games I enjoy at a positive and comfortable pace. The most recent example/s being various fighting games that I am getting in to. Some of my friends are surprisingly good :).

Back on topic however, the attitude I described is something I have run into more frequently as time goes by, especially tutoring games related units at QUT. If you were to ever raise the question "What is the best example of RTS design?", you would get a plethora of people demanding that it has and always will be Starcraft. Some of these people haven't even played the game, or if they have, justify their small playing time as priceless experience and proof towards their unconditional justification. They will state that the game is incredibly popular and 'e-sport' level in Korea, so it must be good! If you disagree with them, you simply don't know what you are talking about or don't understand. You would even find that most of these people have played very few, if ANY other RTS games at all. Hence ... bandwagon elitism.

Now I don't dislike Starcraft, or any other games for that matter. Or Blizzard, really. I think hating something that doesn't really affect you, assuming you can avoid it entirely, is stupid. I eagerly await it's sequel but I will freely admit I am not a fanboy. So me using it as an example in this next point has nothing to do with what the game is. This point is the game's unwavering popularity.

Some people like to think the game made it to where it is all on it's own, but I can tell you now, luck and force of will by Blizzard did more than you think. First of all, the timing and theme of the game were perfect. People were just getting into the sci-fi insanity of Total Annihilation and Dark Reign at the time, and releasing a Warcraft-esque version of the style was very appealing for audiences. You can argue that Blizzard stole many an idea from the Warhammer 40k universe (Protoss = Eldar, Terran = Space Marines, Zerg = Tyranid), a universe which had long been established beforehand, but that is a debate best left for someone who actually cares. At the time, Korea was also exploding into the wonderful world of inter-networking and so, in cafes and libraries all over the country, a particular game was necessary to test their now renowned networking capabilities. The game was fun and addictive, so it is quite understandable if a nation feels a certain connection to a game that in a sense, brought them into the light.

Then there is the fact that Blizzard patched the shit out of it. Still a little company at the time, cradling their new moneymaker and listening to the community was a good call in terms of its longevity. Something like over 15 patches, 5-6 of those being major balance changing additions. You show enough dedication and support to something and people will automatically assume that it must be good. The West caught wind of it's Eastern popularity and (slowly) followed. People say it's the best game ever, so more people play it. The rest is familiar territory.

The game did not introduce any revolutionary concepts or mechanics to the genre besides being (nowadays) a well balanced execution of the tried and true formula. It is not the only game out there that requires high levels of player's skill and speed in an RTS format. It just happens to be the most popular. If you were to ask a fanboy "What is it exactly about Starcraft's actual game components that make it successful?", your response would most likely be gameplay elements that exist in all games, both modern and old, that simply don't have the hype and religious fanbase behind them that Starcraft has. You will hear things like "Starcraft, now there's a game!" and have everyone in the room sagely nod their heads and stroke their beards in agreement without questioning it or understanding why...

So I guess my point after all this is that there are things in life that are really quite trivial (such as games) that are revered for qualities that are either overrated or incredibly commonplace. Some of these things (such as games) don't really matter, but should this attitude be expressed towards other aspects of life like religion or politics, then things can and do get out of hand. I guess I would just like people to think for themselves more often than not, instead of simply jumping on the Jabberwocky* Bandwagon of Unconscious Elitism.

Jabberwocky - a term used to describe something that no one really knows what it is, but whom deny ignorance of its true purpose. Also a nonsense poem about a monster by Lewis Carroll in his novel 'Through the Looking-Glass' written in 1872.

Monday, July 19, 2010

Ultrakill LAN 2010!

Thanks to everyone who came to the recent Ultrakill LAN! While slightly all over the place with people arriving randomly/not at all and indecisiveness on games being played, I still consider it a success. It is good to know that LANs with >10 people are most definitely still possible. The following is a compilation video of some of the footage from the LAN. While it is unfortunately mostly from my PoV (client side demo recording :S), I have not discarded the many embarrassing and comic moments of me either doing something stupid or getting fragged by various people.

This is just a low quality temporary version for the moment. Not going to upload more than 100mb while I am not at uni :). I have a 500mb HQ version if anyone wants a copy themselves. I am considering making a redux version should I spend the time working out some demo recording tools so I can make the video look more awesome, but we will see...

Official LAN picture (courtesy of Panics):

I was hoping for a total number of 12 people and managed to get close to that with 11 at one given point. In any case, it is the largest 'friends only' LAN I have hosted. However, should something like it happen again I might insist we hire out a hall or larger room somewhere instead.

As long as people remember to bring a chair, fold-able or otherwise...

Wednesday, July 14, 2010

↓ ↘ → ℗

Oh em eff gee! Possibly the greatest video ever:

I will freely admit, playing a Street Fighter game has seriously warped my mind ... but I wouldn't have it any other way. For those wondering wtf they are looking at, just look at the HP bars for the majority of the fights. Some of the moves in this are downright hilarious/ridiculous and definitely epilepsy inducing (something I should be wary of).

If only all of life's problems could be solved by throwing flaming balls of plasma at them, the world would be such a better place ...

Tuesday, July 6, 2010

Something wicked this way comes...

E3 2010 is over. I paid about as much attention to it as I usually do, mainly seeing it as a medium for various technology and games related companies to advertise their mediocre, unoriginal and sometimes terrible products as revolutionary and innovative. While some bits of media did hold my attention to higher than usual degrees, some seemed a little lacklustre and not very well thought out (e.g. Sony's Move and Microsoft's Kinect campaigns).


Certain games have piqued my interest however and are making me think ahead about what I will be doing/playing a year from now. I will be upgrading my PC when Crysis 2 hits shelves, being the benchmark game for the next generation of gaming, but what components should I be looking at? I have recently revisited both GRID and Crysis (the original) on my PC which both ran slightly worse in Windows 7 than they did in XP 2-3 years ago. This makes me think about the performance differences DX11 could have and the graphical horsepower I will need to run games smoothly on a modern OS. Memory wise, 4GBs will be the bare minimum and with at least decent DDR3 speeds and clock rates (all unknown at this point). Quad core or Dual core? Should I try a SLI/Crossfire setup?

These questions all bare a familiarity to me when I made my gaming PC over 3 years ago, a machine that has lasted me to this point (and admittedly still works fine). It will undoubtedly take me into a fourth year (at which point I will retire it), however the hours of research, benchmarks, comparisons and opinions will inevitably take place several months from now. It should be something I look forward to, but at this point in time I see it little more as a bump in the road towards playing more games that do not truly satisfy my gaming needs.

The truth is, although I look forward to certain titles, part of me knows they will just end up on the shelf to my right, collecting dust alongside so many others. They will entertain me for maybe a week or two, some maybe a month, but they will never be what Unreal Tournament, Half-life, Quake 3, Total Annihilation and Red Alert were back in the day. The problem is I know exactly why...

There are too many games. For someone like me with a genuine interest in so many types and genres and the technologies used to create and run them, these games do not hold my interest for any great length of time. I am never 'stuck' with them like I used to be back in the day. There is also the fact that the vast majority of these games are not actually anything new. Oh they may offer some fancy new weapons or gameplay mechanic for killing your foes, but really, when every game does it, it kind of becomes expected lest it fade away amongst the flow of similarly done games.

There is also the fact that many of these games, particularly First Person Shooters, are evolving gameplay features that eventually become hybrids of each other. The 'ironsights' evolution is a classic example. Why does every FPS game need to have ironsights? Aiming a real gun (which I have performed countless times) is so incredibly different then what is portrayed in games it is almost laughable. Especially when using a scope. Unless you are a cyclops, aiming down a rifle in a game does not look or behave anything like it does in reality. So why attempt to emulate this feature again and again? Why burden an already slowing down genre (in terms of game speed) to badly portray this need to aim a rifle like a 'real soldier'?

Cover systems are another thing. It kind of started with the original Gears of War, but it is hard to place with so many other games borrowing the idea. This need to point out, focus and lock players into a messy system of hiding behind conveniently placed chest high walls and peek-a-boo corners is revolting. What happened to simply pressing crouch or even having lean buttons, or better yet, making a player's character actually move fast enough so their pudgy ass doesn't get blown off every time its hanging around a corner? Needing to press a button to sit behind a wall and then behave differently (take less damage, never die, cannot be seen etc) is incredibly unrealistic and something that should be abolished.

To an extent I do know the reason behind these control nerfs that are now seen as 'features' in the industry. Console gaming. But I won't bring up that point again, at least not in this post...

Nevertheless, I will end this post off on a good note. Although I think Rage, Crysis 2 and Bulletstorm will be both less appealing and successful than their respective companies previous franchises/titles, there is still hope for the genre of fighting games and RTS. Mortal Kombat is coming back and looking as gory as ever, and MvC3 is definitely something worth looking forward too. RUSE is also looking quite promising and should add a new take to an aging RTS scene.

Sooner or later, time will tell ...