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