March 31, 2006

Game shots

Crytek's new engine looks amazing. And what better vehicle for it than yet another first-person shooter. I hope it's a better game than Far Cry, which had everyone rating it 9.5/10 purely because of the jungle and water graphics.

Sin Episodes proves that you can take a great engine and make something mediocre looking out of it. I remember playing the demo a long time ago and feeling mildly humoured by the graphical style. This time they've taken Source, changed the character models and modified the weaponry. For all intents and purposes, this game otherwise looks like Half Life 2, given a goofy makeover and bigger breasts. And murlocs.

The Revolution specs were apparently leaked yesterday or somesuch, and now there's people taking sides on whether it'll be worth getting. It's the only console I'd consider picking up out of this generation because Nintendo will endeavour to make unique experiences, and history is doomed to repeat itself with PS2 and XBOX, especially the former. The aim of those two is to outstage each other in marketing, not making innovative games. The only thing that really changed this round was the ability to render more polygons and pixel shading; your ability to make enjoyable, different games is not increased by rendering or CPU power. We reached the necessary memory and storage cap with the last generation. All you've done is provide developers with the ability to make more geek porn, wasting years of development on making rendering engines.

Gentlemen, it's time for another video game crash.

I am in no way saying that I don't like games looking good, but we've got an unhealthy focus on screenshots, and thanks to broadband, game trailers. Somewhere we have to remember that you can't play screenshots. The core game logic that runs most titles these days would be lucky to be ten percent of the codebase, and probably even less than that of the total development time. There are more artists making high-res textures and UV mapping than programmers writing core game logic.

I loved Half Life 2, but reduce the core game idea down to basic principles and you end up with:

  • use variety of guns to shoot enemies that block your way.
  • occasionally solve puzzles, some involving physics, that block your way.
  • get to the next load point, repeat till end credits.

Integrated physics make Half Life 2 stand out, simply because it plays such a part in the game. Consider the role of the gravity gun though; what was the first thing you did with it? You shot something with it, essentially making it a another gun, albeit with toilets as ammo. (Consider how little granularity the gravity gun gave you in interacting with objects. I know this aspect can be improved — movement of the gun independant of the player's viewport would have enabled using objects as shields a lot more — but eventually, your interaction is still limited by your input device.) So you've got this great thing that fires random objects. But does it change anything at all, game mechanic wise? No.

Readers paying attention may be shouting, "but it's the storyline, the atmosphere, the character interaction that made the game".

The storyline deserves to be applauded. It's great. Very movie-quality. Hold on, we're not playing a movie. When did you make any character-defining choice whatsoever in the game? I'm not talking "oh, I'll walk in through the east gate instead of the north" kinda choices. When did you decide you'd had enough of Alyx, leave her to the smiling Combine soldiers, and join Dr Breen for tea and crumpets and world domination?

Video games have seldom stepped outside linearity. The very idea of true emergent gameplay could quite understandably scare a game developer to death. It means either a nigh-infinite amount of storage and art resources or a way to generate content on the fly, which could mean a looser grip — or even letting go — of the thematic reins. And predictably there's some opposition amongst players who don't like to have oppressively huge choices. Tycho from Penny Arcade makes a point about his light case of RPG OCD in the recent game Oblivion, and it's true — God, I've stood around in World of Warcraft trying to decide what to drop. I still haven't made my mind up as to what leatherworking branch to take yet.

I've become so accustomed to not making decisions in games that when it comes to one, I'm kind of lost. When I've chosen a path in RPGs it's because I've thrown caution to the wind and gone with what sounds good. The inability to decide is caused by curiosity and the regrets of consequence — what's going to happen on the path I don't choose? Will it be something cooler? Will I miss out on something?

But if you give the player enough choices, you liberate them from regret and they start looking forward instead of back. Their path becomes unique and full of promise. The challenges they face will always have a corresponding 'motivation to overcome' because the player has formed their own goal. Choices become fun: now you're doing what you enjoy instead of experiencing scripted events.

Back on topic. This started as a monologue about Revolution and the lack of innovation in big-brand gaming and somehow turned into a plea for a free-reign game.

I'm all for the new controller and the focus on new ways to interact with games. At first I thought "God, how will I play Street Fighter on that?". And then I realised that if I wanted to play Street Fighter, I've already got a PC, a Dreamcast, a Saturn, a Megadrive, and a stack of emulators. What use is another identical Street Fighter game? Same goes for first person shooters; I've played through 50 of them. Not many of them were unique enough to warrant a day's play.

When the Nintendo DS trailers came out, there was a demo of a Kirby platformer that blew me away. Kirby stood on a hanging log bridge, and the player pulled the middle log downward using the stylus, and let go. Kirby went sailing up into the air. I rewound the video. Wow. It's like Kirby is a physical object that he's interacting with. That's something I've never felt before.

posted by Andrew

March 30, 2006

Quickie before bed

I don't think anyone knew it existed, but I used to have a site called Eldalambë.com. Roughly translated it means "Elvish language". Predictably, it was a site built to host LOTR and Quenya-related tengwar writings, although after the site was finished I only ever made two postings on it. I liked the design simply because I didn't have a clue what I was doing with absolute positioning.

Nevertheless, I've put the contents back online: Eldalambë. You will need Tengwar fonts. There's a link for them given at the bottom of that page. Please also note the description of Internet Explorer as a POS. This has not changed since, and will not change with the release of IE7.

I'll fix that horrendous example of code buggery soon.


Another quick tangential thought from my earlier post about distributors lying about their movies: Code 46. What follows is a general warning. I watched the trailer for this over a year ago and lunged at the shelf when I saw it on DVD. I wish I hadn't. Anyone wishing to see this film should watch the trailer immediately afterward for possibly the biggest contrivance ever. Fast-paced science-fiction thriller, my arse. When Michael starts taking potshots at characters during the film you know it's not good. This movie's trailer was a complete lie.

PS. Do not watch Straight Jacket, ever. If it means a permanent loss of function, so be it.


posted by Andrew


As the morning grinds on my music gets more angsty.

One of my favourite bands of late is 30 Seconds to Mars. I loved a lot of the tracks from their first CD. When the second album came out I bought it from Amazon as soon as it came out. It's a fundamentally different CD from the first, in scope and style.

I'm a great fan of Tool and A Perfect Circle, some Tori Amos stuff, most of Garbage's work (Bleed Like Me was terrible), and pretty much everything Evanescence has put out. To be honest, a lot of the music I listen to is closer to mainstream than woah-out-there music, but then even the term mainstream depends on your location and the kind of demographic you associate with. I avoid most techno, hate jazz, cannot stand any homie rap shit and R&B makes me want to hurt puppies. The dying strains of boy bands just make me shake my head in disgust (well, with the single exception of Maroon 5's Harder to Breathe, which I'm not very proud of). Friends of mine listen to ambient trance, euro pop, The Beatles, ABBA and Korn. We're an ecclectic bunch.

The first 30 Seconds to Mars album had a science-fiction bent that influenced the lyrics and the emotional feel of the music. I'm not sure of the genesis of the whole theme, but it made the band unique and gave a strange 'remoteness' to some songs. Sometimes it felt as thought the singer was completely outside the song, looking in from the perspective of the listener. I still don't pretend to know what Buddha For Mary is all about, ignoring the obvious religious reference. A very polished rock/electronic album with great vocal talent, but a few songs a little hollow.

The second album lost the sci-fi theme and became much more emotionally connecting, with a wider variety of material and more quiet vocal moments. Of course, the lead song from the album is the loudest and most emo of the lot, but once Attack finishes the two star songs of the album come out: A Beautiful Lie (also the album's name) and The Kill. I heard the first on the band's website before I bought the album, and kept going back to hear it again.

It's a consistent album, with the exception of Was it a dream, which is an immediate letdown after the first three tracks. I'll admit that it took a while to warm to the whole thing, unlike the first CD, but then I'm pretty finicky and music has to have something special to get a thumbs up from me. I generally need more than a beat and words to be interested, and I don't pretend to understand people who say things like "I love all music!", because that's entirely alien to me. I have to feel empathy in the tonal structure or the lyric's message to enjoy it.

I started this post just to talk about music, and it's somehow turned into a review, or even worse an advertisement. Not intentional. It kinda shaped itself.


so I run and hide
and tear myself up
start again
with a brand new name
and eyes that see
into infinity


lie awake in bed at night
and think about your life
do you want to be different
try to let go of the truth
the battles of your youth
cause this is just a game
it's a beautiful lie


Well, it's 9:47am. Time to go finish Footfall. :P

posted by Andrew

General rambling + books + politics

How embarrassing. I’m sitting here at 2:30am, listening to the Thunderpuss remix of Mary J. Blige’s No More Drama on headphones. Next is Madonna’s Easy Ride.

  • mood: funky
  • beverage: Solo
  • headbops per second (average): 1.3

Did a bit more work on the log site — not visible work, but CSS fixing the Old Blog page. I still have to turn a few hours into the gallery design.

Got my first comment (!). Thanks Brad. I’ll follow your advice and turn the text brightness up a little with the next CSS revision. Oh, and I’ll call you tomorrow night.

Michael’s current job has him getting up at 7am two days a week, so he hits the sack pretty early: at 12:30am. Heh. No matter how many times I see him off and home again, I can’t help thinking he could do with more sleep before an hour’s drive to Penrith.

Because of those two days a week, I have only my own company during most nights. His web-dev contract is for another two and half months, but then we’ll back to all-night World of Warcraft sessions and I might have a chance at watching an anime with him. Ironically, the work he’s doing is better done at home; half of it requires remotely using the code environment on our local server. His contractor is paying him to travel, then work slower than necessary over an unreliable connection. Somewhere, someone has to justify this decision. Maybe it’s the same people who gave Kim Beazley this great idea about mandatory net censorship.

Keeping true to my off-on-a-wild-tangent writing style, I think Labor’s moronic election promise deserves a bit of froth. I read that story, and, for the first time in my life, wrote an email to a politician. It wasn’t nasty, it didn’t involve dirty language, and it didn’t get replied to.

I wasn’t surprised when a few days passed without comment — I mean, he must be getting an email like this every ten minutes, even concerning just this topic, since the proposal is so moronic in the first place.

I focused on the political aspects of the decision because he should recognise these first. The technical problems are only there to be overcome, and somewhere down the track they will. But the privacy implications can’t be ignored.

Onto lighter topics we float. Last week was a javascript-editing frenzy, getting drag and drop code for Michael’s project working. The last problem left is the dragable “clear:left” quasi-element. I’ve yet to look at that, but basically all divs float left, and to get linebreaks we’re using clear:left, and we’ve made a fake ‘element’ that applies clear:left to nextSibling. There are issues here we haven’t invistigated yet, like all the bloody divs suddenly moving when the clear:left is yanked around with the mouse. I don’t know whether that’ll make for a usable WYSIWYG interface.

This week I’ve been reading Larry Niven and Jerry Pournelle’s Footfall. Since I read before bed on the Palm (using the green-screen backlight) my mental accuity isn’t what it should be, and it took me a few attempts at some paragraphs to recognise people’s names. The Mote in God’s Eye featured a character list at the beginning, as does this book, but Motie didn’t have four billion characters. As bad as it sounds, I’m reading this now for the story arc and exploration, aspects which drove me away from Arthur C. Clarke’s novels. In Clarke’s hands exploration consumes the novel to the point where the main character is solely a camera for the events. In Footfall it isn’t as bad, but it’s still hard to keep focus.

Speaking of great books, those into raw, hilarious, intriguing (and “queer”) novels are highly encouraged to get Joey Comeau’s Lockpick Pornography. I read the first few chapters online from a link on Dinosaur Comics, and clicked on buy with a speedy intensity I hadn’t felt in a while. The book arrived today, and as soon as I’m done with Footfall I’ll start Lockpick. I’m really intrigued to see where the book goes, since there’s so many contexts just in reach of its thematic. I don’t think it’s a book with a concrete political statement, and it’s certainly not a coming-of-age drama where characters could be savaged with a lawn mower but still find time to smile beautifically at each other in the final twenty seconds of the trailer (sorry, angst got away from me).


If you’re marketing a gay film, don’t call it a coming-of-age story. What kind of positive message are you aiming for if you can’t state directly what it is? You’re digging a hole you don’t need. American Psycho didn’t achieve cultural mindshare by describing itself as “one man’s journey to find redemption and self-forgiveness”. You aren’t directing a Bryce Courtney novel. Use the word “gay” and stop pandering to someone else’s underlying biggotry, you idiots.


So I’m really looking forward to Lockpick.

It’s 4:40am and I should do something else for a while. Bed calls, but I’m too mentally active.

posted by Andrew

March 22, 2006

Quick test of WordPress’ XMLRPC support

Just a quick post to see verify the XMLRPC feature. This means I don’t have to use the WordPress post editor and can use the Firefox Performancing extension instead, which feels a lot more solid.

posted by Andrew

A little more work, a fair bit of progress

The web log may not be finished but it looks a hell of a lot better. Next I’ll revise the colour scheme and sync the single post page, but first I’m going to bed.

The observant will notice I’ve changed the top left logo dramatically. Truth is I was going crosseyed with the blur. It was also taking up too much vertical space.

Ok, sleep time.

posted by Andrew