Tuesday, February 28, 2006

Shake The Can

Dear Mr. Ecko

After careful consideration I have come to the conclusion that your game Marc Ecko's Getting Up: Contents Under Pressure is a terrible game. I am inclined to be somewhat forgiving, being that this is your first game design. However, The Collective should know better, since their work on the Buffy games was a sight better than this lump of completely misdirected potential.

In the future, though, here is some advice, should you proceed down the path of game design once more:

1. Read a book about game design, more specifically stage pacing and control schemes.

2. Take your initial concept in its barest form, break it down completely and ensure that every aspect of that core concept is fun and achievable.

3. In a game focused on tagging, the combat should not be (A) so annoying and (B) so prevalent in every single section.

4. Also, a result of so much combat is the overuse of the exact same character models over and over, sometimes utilizing what gamers derisively call a palette-swap. We know this trick and, almost overwhelmingly, hate it.

5. It is generally considered poor form to have time-intensive, complicated levels and then require players to completely start those levels over should they die from environmental hazard or aforementioned combat.

6. Bosses are no longer a necessary element of videogames; If you must have bosses, please don't give them repetitive, unblockable attacks that frustrate the player until they want to choke you. Yes, you, Marc Ecko.

7. It is perfectly okay to have the main character move at different speeds, instead of just an awkward half-walk/half-run.

8. Players don't need a constantly-running tutorial. Try and put all the basic functionality on the frontend and leave it at that. And on that note, try to make sure that more advanced functionality flows naturally from simpler forms. Think Jeet Kune Do.

9. Forcing players to enter "intuition mode" in order to uncover their goals is both unnecessary and a hindrance to play. You may have thought it made the game more challenging, but you were completely wrong. It would have been perfectly fine to have a floating icon, or even a faint stencil show up in possible tag locations; Gamers would have understood.

These constitute
the bulk of my complaints against your game, Mr. Ecko. I admit that, for a few levels, I was drawn in by the theme and found some of the play aspects compelling. But the flaws soon became more and more obvious, failure more and more intolerable and the actual act of tagging, the crux of the entire game, more and more tedious.

If you should turn
a decent profit on your gaming endeavor and happen to turn an eye toward making a sequel, I do humbly offer my consulting services.

Best to you and yours,

--Johnny Pi

Monday, February 27, 2006

Graf, Tag and Toys

My Interior Monologue

Concerning the game Marc Ecko's Getting Up: Contents Under Pressure Could This Title Be Any Longer?

Decent intro. From this point forward, all games need to license decent face morphing technology -- it's damn creepy when jaws move like they're on hinges, all marionette-style.

Nice big 3rd-person character. Hints of The Warriors. Okay, very similar. Almost too similar. I'm getting dizzy from the deja vu.

The graffiti system is both simple and annoying. The motions don't feel natural.

You should be able to work into an easy rhythm, but the animations are far too stilted. Also, you have to be in the exact right spot in order to begin a tag or else you get the dreaded "I can't do that" (or some variation thereof) voice.

The combat system is merely adequate. The roll dodging is great fun, almost reminds me of capoeira (Only the Strong, anyone?).

But really -- you're there to block, then attack, then block, then attack. Unless your enemy uses an unblockable attack which, if you didn't see it coming, will hit you no matter what. Plenty of health drinks scattered around, though, which is convenient.

Good branding, if you like that kind of shit. Which I don't.

There are iPods scattered around that unlock the soundtrack. Also, some brand of camera with which you take pics of tags for your black book (shows how well the marketing worked, I can't even remember the brand of the camera).

I suppose the branding fits with Ecko's shit, since he's all about the brand, but the few taggers I've met would deface his stuff just as much as the next corporate whore's, so make of it what you will.

The mission structure is linear. And hand-holding. Seriously, I know the moves already. I understand. Thank you. You've been way more than helpful.

I hate playing a game like this, where you know they've squandered the promise of their concept and you're coming up with improvements in your head a thousand-a-minute. It's not that the game is bad, there are fun elements, it's just that the play isn't as fluid or playful as it should be. And there is far too much combat. It should be about avoiding combat, avoiding getting caught or cuffed. Maybe that comes into play later.

Okay, I've turned the game off. It's a renter, for sure. That's the final verdict.

I really wanted to see a game more focused on navigation. Lots of prime tagging spots, points to rack up, maybe even defenses to breach.

I wanted a game more parkour than rumble.

**Le sigh**


Reviews of Books I Have No Business Owning: A Possibly Ongoing Series Part Two

3D Games Real-Time Rendering and Software Technology by Alan Watt and Fabio Policarpo

Oh, man, how did I get ahold of this one?

And what did I expect to do with it?

True, there is a CD-ROM attached to the back cover with an old version of the Fly3d engine on it, and they spend some later chapters discussing said engine, but in the end you're paying for a basic introduction to 3d math and pages of stuff that you can find free on the Internet.

It's not quite the humbling, godawful math orgy of the last book, but it's definitely not made for coding lunkheads like me.

There is a possibility
that if you are an intermediate programmer and you want a 3d engine to tinker with then this book might suit you.

There seems to be enough reference in the back to suss out what different systems do, though not a lot on different implementations or extensibility. You'd have to figure that out on your own; And by the time you did you probably could have written your own engine from scratch.

But, really. You'd be better off messing with Crystal Space or Open Scene Graph.

And I'm better off sticking with Harry Potter.

Sunday, February 26, 2006

General Malarkey

Went and saw
Night Watch (Nochnoi Dozor) last night.

There was a lot to like and not too much to dislike. Which means I'll definitely be there for the sequels, should they come to the States.

I was impressed with the vibe of the film. The magic isn't wand-waves and clean white lights, it's bloody and gritty and messy and dangerous. It felt very similar to the novel Bad Magic.

The bad things: a little too long because of multiple flashbacks; the end felt a little anti-climactic (even though it is part of a trilogy); there was a very stupid videogame plot device.

Anyway, recommended (my sentences are clipped and possibly incomprehensible at times -- this is due to muscle relaxer, or such will be my excuse).

I was almost entirely certain that Night Watch would be snagged for a videogame license and, sure enough, a game is nearly finished. Hate to say, but it looks interesting. Good for them.

Link dumps:

Roma Victor
. An MMO that looks to get by on donations. Supposedly they have something almost entirely ready for release. May be an interesting take. I'm quite interested in moving away from the usual swords-and-sorcery hackfests.

In fact, there is something seductive in using MMOs as ways to play through parts of history -- and there are plenty of rich sources to mine for gaming ideas. Plus, maybe kids would learn something. Pfft, probably not.

Gods and Heroes: Rome Rising
. Wait, what? Another Roman-themed MMO? If their promise of being able to control a whole team pans out, could be a must-try.

Too bad Imperator got postponed.

And if you want to a glimpse into how not to make an MMO, check out this anonymous interview concerning Age of Mourning.

That is all.

Sunday, February 19, 2006


Things are starting
to level out now. I actually have today off, which is a small step in the right direction.

The sheer pace of getting the game out to the undeserving public is exhausting to the core. The typical reaction of videogame fans when one says, "I work in QA," is, "Wow, that's like the best, easiest job ever!" It is neither the best nor the easiest. It does receive the lion's share of the negative feedback, however, and that makes it all worthwhile.

The Halo movie has snagged Peter Jackson as Executive Producer and rumors for a director center on Guillermo del Toro (Hellboy). I can't say I'm disappointed at all with those choices.

I'm by no means a fan of Halo. My reaction to the whole franchise is lukewarm. I remember watching the original demo movie with a Banshee flying half a mile straight up in the air and then strafing over gorgeous water . . . and then the game dropped and the best I could muster was a disinterested shrug.

However, I could definitely see Halo being one of the first videogame-based movies to legitimize the whole endeavor (I'm trying to think of any thus far . . . and blanking). I'm not sure exactly what I myself expect from adaptations except maybe a passing attempt at faithfulness to the basics of plot and characterization and tone.

Which may have been a good reason for Doom's poor reception. Why change the plot? It's simple, it's stupid and it works.

I had the same feeling watching Spider-Man 2 when they set up Dr. Octopus' tentacles as some kind of nanite-driven corrupters. Why? Stupid. Unnecessary.

Why do moviemakers feel the need to take juvenile material and further dumb it down?

And how do they do it? An experimental dumbing-down machine, driven by free ignorance? Rewrites from Fox News viewers?

Monday, February 06, 2006

Book 'Em

Reviews of Books I Have No Business Owning: A Possibly Ongoing Series

3D Game Engine Design by David H. Eberly

Do you love page after page of mathematical equations detailing the intricacies of three-dimensional geometry? Followed by reams of pseudocode that glance over various aspects of 3D Engine programming?

I don't.

Of course, it's all my fault. The book isn't advertised as anything except a math-intensive look at the subject. For some reason I latched onto the subtitle: A Practical Approach for Real-Time Computer Graphics.

Practical Approach?

Here's what "practical" must mean in this context: If you are completely familiar with 3D engines and have constructed a few of your own then you might be able to use this for reference. Except that the math seems to be in that nebulous middle-ground -- worthless to novices and worthless to pros.

Also, the book's from 2001 (my copy is, at least), so its utility is by now much diminished. Sometimes I pick up the book, thumb through it, struggle in vain to make sense of the delta symbols and then close it with a thump.

Seriously, I have no business whatsoever owning this book.


Another successful Carnival. There's almost no way a Carnival could not be termed a "success." So long as one is posted it fulfills its obligation. Sweet deal.

It was certainly nice to see my hits rocket up. Maybe I've picked up a few now-and-then readers as well.

But I'd like to register a complaint. Where were the trolls? Almost 1,000 hits and nobody stops to leave a scathing, "wut a fag" or a well-reasoned and acerbic, "e/n poster, stoopid fanboy, san andreas sucks."

I'm so disappointed. Even the comments on slashdot's site were tame. They discussed the content of the articles and sometimes even posted "sane and rational" arguments of their own. What a madhouse!

My faith in the ability of the Internet to spark people into hair-trigger diatribes has been thoroughly shaken.
This may take some getting used to.