Saturday, March 31, 2007


I went ahead and bought
a special offer for an Eidos three-pack on Steam for a little over fifty bucks.

Three games: Just Cause, Project Snowblind, and Rogue Trooper.

Just Cause --

I was looking forward to this game. Until I played the demo and found the control scheme absolutely horrible. But I heard it was improved before release.

They fixed that, almost (they needed a lot more customization, especially for sensitivity). But then, that's not really the problem.

The problem is that it stutters constantly. Every five seconds or so there is a noticeable hitch. No matter how high or low I put the graphic settings. Running a google search on 'just cause stutter' brought up plenty of hits, so it's definitely a known issue. The official forums have several posts on this problem, with no response whatsoever from a representative. No word on a patch. How this wasn't caught by QA or by official reviewers boggles my mind.

Which brings up some interesting questions: How much does Valve do in terms of vetting the games they sell on Steam? Did they ask about any outstanding issues? Did they research possible problems and get a guarantee of a future patch? Were they counting on any continued support at all?

This is a new game from a major company. The last time I saw support ignore a game to this degree it was Vampire: Bloodlines, and that's because Troika went out of business.

As for the game itself . . . well, it's GTA in the tropics.

Also, if you can believe this, there isn't even an attempt to have the characters lipsync during cutscenes. Half-Life had puppet-style mouth movements almost ten years ago.

So that's one of my new rules - you can't call your game next-gen if you don't give your characters the barest semblance of lipsyncing.

Project Snowblind --

Okay, it's the gameplay and art style of Republic Commando mixed with a Deus Ex theme. It is The Future and you are an Augmented Soldier and you get Nano/Bionic Implants and Cool Guns. It's all shooting gallery, objective-hop and really satisfies my finger when it gets itchy and triggery.

I have a soft spot for second-tier FPSes. This kind of game is like bran, it goes right through me and cleanses my gaming colon gummed up with RPG storylines and RTS tactics.

Sorry for that image.

Rogue Trooper --

Based on a comicbook that I had no idea ever existed.

The all blue guy is a little strange, but if I could accept Dr. Manhattan then he's okay by me.

This is a third-person shooter with some great visuals and a decent amount of fine maneuvering necessary to complete objectives - using cover, flanking, sniping, taking over mounted weapons.

I haven't gotten into it enough to pronounce any kind of judgment, but thus far it is both ludically familiar and thematically novel (obviously if you're familiar with the series you will have a different reaction to the material).

The one problem is that Steam does not like to launch the game. I typically have to restart my computer and then it loads fine. It's not a deal-breaker, but enough to limit they time spent playing.

Thursday, March 29, 2007

Notes on The Marriage

As usual
, Corvus hits a lot of points that had struck me after playing The Marriage by Rod Humble.

I like the way that sounds, Title then Author. More games should do that, instead of American McGee's Re-tooled Gothed-up Children's Story X. Maybe we'll see Spore by Will Wright on a box cover.

But I digress. A lot.

So I present a bulleted list of minor judgments:

1. The Marriage does what it sets out to do.

2. It sucks. That is, it's no fun to "play." Maybe if this were 14,000 BC and you showed it to a local artist who just finished daubing charcoal on a cave wall it would be impressive and elicit grunts/clicks/howls/intonations of approval and worship.

3. Number 2 doesn't matter very much.

4. Who cares about Rod's wife? That doesn't matter, either. It's not called Interactive Metaphor For Rod Humble's Marriage.

5. On the other hand, I think that Mr. Humble's intent is very important to the piece:

"The game is my expression of how a marriage feels. The blue and pink squares represent the masculine and feminine of a marriage. They have differing rules which must be balanced to keep the marriage going.

"The circles represent outside elements entering the marriage. This can be anything. Work, family, ideas, each marriage is unique and the players response should be individual..

"The size of each square represents the amount of space that person is taking up within the marriage. So for example we often say that one person’s ego is dominating a marriage or perhaps a large personality. In the game this would be one square being so large that the other one simply is trapped within the space of it unable to get to circles and more importantly unable to 'kiss' edge to edge.

"The transparency of the squares represents how engaged that person is in the marriage. When one person fades out of the marriage and becomes emotionally distant then the marriage is over."

This seems straightforward enough.

6. Despite Mr. Humble's generalizations, the game isn't about The Marriage. But it can be about A Marriage. Maybe he should change the name.

7. Perhaps you had a different interpretation of the game; This is okay. Just don't pretend that it says anything about Mr. Humble. It sure as hell says a lot about you, though.

8. Without the context - which Mr. Humble was reluctant to provide - there's just not much there, but this hardly means it is a "failure." So much of art requires divorcing the content from the intent. Consider the paintings of Jackson Pollock - what makes his paintings matter is that he means them. Mr. Humble means it, too.

9. Elaborating on number 8, try giving the piece a different title - "Grief" or "Explorations of Parliamentary Procedure." Change the colors of the pieces. Make some go slower or faster. Does the metaphor remain unchanged?

Tuesday, March 27, 2007

Game Creation on a Whim

Begin Dream Sequence:

I'm sitting at my desk in a bad mood - maybe something at work or an argument with the wife - and I want to sublimate some of this emotion in a creative way.

I can write - load up Celtx or OpenOffice or even Notepad and just start typing. Or put together a blog post. Heck, maybe just grab a Post-It and start putting words down.

I can draw - there's Paint on the computer or Inkscape or I can grab one of my sketchpads and doodle to my heart's content.

I can pick up my guitar and, even without plugging it in, pick out some riffs or blast through some chords.

But the one thing I can't do - yet - is tinker with gamemaking, not with the same ease.

There are two threads to this dream.

One is the desire for a program that makes it truly easy to assemble non-specific games. Getting a blank canvas and going through a huge database of objects and animations and interactions and laying out how they interconnect, testing right from the engine, plugging in code changes that work by selecting object associations. In short, something that has a relatively short learning curve but allows the flexibility and creativity of other programs. A game-making instrument, if you will. Visual, easily-modifiable, instant-compile, fuzzy.

The other is the desire to have a way to make games in the moment. Hence the first desire. As I said, I want an instrument. I want to sit down at my computer after tripping on LSD and assemble a rough cut of the videogame equivalent of Purple Haze. Or a way to capture depression in interactive form. Or joy. Or ecstasy. Or righteous anger. A basic way to put together a game based upon emotion while still in the throes of that emotion, the way Stairway to Heaven was hashed out in one night and only tweaked come recording time.

Maybe there are certain people using certain programs able to prototype in a small amount of time. But I've yet to see a program that handles things organically, that treats a game like a succession of steadily-more-refined sketches or whittling away at a clay block.

Things like Spore will probably be the tech to push toward this program in my mind.

Someone will get it made someday.

Faster, please.

Sunday, March 25, 2007

Spoke Too Soon

Issue #3
- Vista does not support my Lexmark printer at this time. In fact, my printer is one of the last to be supported. I'm assuming this is because the company focuses on getting their business printers up to speed (even though businesses are probably not the most likely to early-adopt) and then they focus on their home printers.

The end of April is the ETA for the drivers.

Going to try again tomorrow to hook the printer up through my wife's computer (running XP) despite the fact that the software didn't seem to like her DVD drive the first time (it showed the installation disk as blank).

Issue #4 - I have a Sony External DVD burner, a DRX-820U. My PC thinks it's a USB Mass Storage Device (maybe it is, technically). The software doesn't correct this error. The Sony firmware upgrade does not install at all (it restarts your computer automatically and tells you to run the upgrade once it restarts. When you run it after a restart it tells you the same thing - do NOT believe it the second time).

I solved the problem (sort of) by going into the Device Manager and selecting DVD/CD drives and telling it to look for new hardware after unplugging the USB cable from the back of the drive and plugging it in again. I don't know why that worked, but it showed up almost immediately.

I have no idea if it will actually burn disks.

Of course, my computer still tells me it's a Mass Storage Device and that I can Safely Remove Hardware.


I'm pretty sure that I could have avoided a lot of these issues if I had a dedicated server. Vista has no problem connecting to a computer running XP, but the other way around is apparently impossible.


It has been said that technology helps us save time. This is clearly a lie.


To be fair, WoW and Half-Life 2 run beautifully, Celtx, OpenOffice, and Inkscape installed with no hitches, and the whole presentation is smooth and clean.

Minor Technical Issues

Issue #1
- For some reason certain games cause my computer to emit an incredibly high-pitched whine at regular intervals. I am particularly sensitive to this noise. Every time it occurs I wince a little, then it goes away and I'm relieved, and then it happens again and I get the urge to smash something.

The whine appears when running Oblivion and Guild Wars.

It does not occur when playing WoW, which is to Blizzard's credit (people often wonder why WoW is so popular, and there are many reasons, but I think a big one is that the game runs on most of the major OSes from - at least - the past seven years - even, apparently, Linux via Wine - and loads up fine even in Vista without having to download support drivers).

From basic searches it sounds like the problem might be a video card fan. The fans are usually spinning at a percentage of their maximum and running intensive 3-d causes them to spin faster. If they aren't [seated properly/constructed correctly] then there can be a whine. I have no idea what I will do to fix this, other than NOT play Guild Wars or Oblivion.

That won't be acceptable for very long.

Issue #2 - The M-Audio Jamlab doesn't work with Vista. Just flat up will not install a few simple drivers for a USB port.

On their website they say Vista support is coming, but they don't even have Beta drivers yet.

I realize that in some sense this is still the early-adopter period. Maybe there were such major changes to DirectSound that the M-Audio guys need some time.

It still sucks.

Saturday, March 24, 2007

Now We're Cooking

on Friday - it was a blast.

The general tone is a mix of the comics, the cartoons and the movies. There was some trouble with the plotting but overall it was fun. They eschewed the wink-wink jokes-for-adults that some animated movies work in, which was probably a smart move.

Go see it.


My new computer arrived on Friday and I finally got it set up and the network kinks worked out.

It is a beast of a machine: Core 2 duo, 4 gigs of RAM, dual 8800 GTX cards.

I can't wait to give it a game in which to really sink its teeth.

Wednesday, March 21, 2007

Scooby Snack

Buffy fans can rejoice at the milk bone thrown out by Joss Whedon: Season 8.

Sure it's in comicbook form, but don't let that stop you from checking it out.

As usual, the writing is sharp; Joss Whedon doesn't just turn a phrase, he pirouettes it.

Wow, Pwned

In its roundabout way . . .

Via acid for blood (who's on my regular reading but wasn't on my blogroll . . . fixed) a story over on One Hundred Little Dolls regarding a post at Kotaku bemoaning the dearth of female videogame bloggers. OHLD completely demolishes the entire conceit of the Kotaku post.


There's a saying about making assumptions that might apply in this instance: "Don't make assumptions, please."

"While I think that strong woman writers who cover gaming are not proportional to the number of women playing games, the bigger issue it seems is that there aren't a whole lot of immediately recognizable female writers on the net. I think the ones out there now need to be more vocal perhaps, or maybe I'm just not reading the right sites."

I'm not sure this passage needs to be fisked, but a few points:

1. I get what that first sentence is trying to say, I think. But it's still a stupid point. Strong writers who cover gaming aren't proportional* to the number of people playing games, period. There's no reason to be gender-specific there unless you're also trying to say that there are simply scads of strong male writers who cover gaming - in which case you're wrong.

If there is any group of game writers proportional to the number of gamers it's the number of people who write obscenity-filled screeds about games, consoles, and companies on message boards.

*I'm also a little bothered by the use of proportional, because there's no specific information about what number of women gaming writers might be proportional to the number of women playing games. 1:1? 1:100? 1:1000?

2. "[I]mmediately recognizable female writers[.]" Does this mean he thinks it matters whether you can immediately tell that a writer is female? Why? I read a lot of blogs and am unaware of the author's gender on maybe 50% of them.

3. How does one be more vocal? Does he mean comment more? Does he mean beg bigger sites to link to you? What kind of self-promotion? A little hint would be nice (for all of us). Also, it's not anyone else's fault that you haven't noticed them.

4. You're not reading the right sites.

Some people are of the mind that the post's substance doesn't matter much since it yielded a rich treasure trove of links. I am not of that mind.

Anyway, I'll be going over the One Hundred Little Dolls list to find some new reading.


Not that anyone is wondering, but here's my basic method for adding links to the blogroll:

-If someone comments and I can click on their name and be taken to a page with a link to their blog, then I add them. If I've missed anyone using this method, just send me an e-mail. Hell, you don't even have to prove you commented. Sending an e-mail is enough.

-I go over to Corvus' page, throw some furniture around, scream at full volume and generally act like I own the place. Then I use his blogroll as my own personal portal. If I see a new link on there then I click it, read some posts and, if I like it, add it to my own blogroll. That's right - I scavenge. I prefer to call it "utilizing the power of the network."

-On rare occasions I will find a new blog by running google searches on topics related to whatever I happen to be posting. But I'm generally not very happy with the results.

-I used to go to gameblogs, but stopped when I didn't see anything new being added. Now they appear to be restructuring everything. I wish them the best.

Monday, March 19, 2007


I think that
, as someone who wants to be designing games of my own someday, having a goal is important to my development. It would help me focus on certain aspects of game design at a deeper level - like choosing a specialty.

There are people who work on making fun toys or who chase after dynamic storytelling or push toward photorealism or ever more convincing physical simulation.

One thing that's in my head is largely an abstract at the moment, though becoming more concrete the more I work on planning out actual game mechanics and deal with the nitty-gritty stepwise calculations. No design ends up as smooth as the one in my head (of course).

Anyway, on to what I will call The Focus: I'm fascinated by the idea of merging human social/political/emotional interactions into an actual gamespace. I'm thinking The Sims, only instead of pictographs and Simlish you're swapping tagged and valued snippets - facts, arguments, music, smells - that determine . . . something.

I'm not looking to do some kind of 3d social space - I found Second Life to be far, far from compelling; Awe-inspiring, maybe, then horrific, then boring.

But I'm thinking more of actual stories that play out with some kind of beginning and end, only they incorporate real discussions.

If a game right now were to deal with Socialism, it would be at the broadest, most idealized level. A few simple characteristics, the way RPGs set up racial structures, uniform. But in that game about Socialism there would be nothing about social contracts or alienation from labor or the rumor that the foreman has been skimming from the till or strikebreakers jumping you and half-beating you to death.

In my system, each of those list members could function as a token with its own associations.

One might appeal more to intellectuals/upper-class/noble. One might be hopeful/working-class/metaphysical. Those characteristics don't have to reside together - after all, you could have a hopeful/intellectual. Or a noble/working-class. Or maybe something a little negative, a vengeful/prideful.

But of course, how to do this?

If I knew that for sure, I wouldn't be setting it as a goal for myself.

Now this isn't meant to be an everything-engine. But the system could be used in different games as a social system that does more than dialog trees.

Who knows, though? Maybe dialogue trees will end up being the better route.

One of the more specific ideas I have for this system is a game centered around growing a religion in a harsh desert climate. Talking to the locals to find their hopes, fears, dreams, nightmares, desires, lusts and then using your oratory to grow your followers.

Think Black & White, except you're deciding the actual text, not just the tone. "No pomegranates before Febtember." Maybe that would be an easy one to follow. "Don't breathe." Hopefully your followers aren't too fundamentalist.

The system of conversation wouldn't be the commands, but a way to influence people. And I want something that would be nebulous but responsive. You would learn who amongst your people is reliable and who is lazy. Maybe you want to keep the lazy but loyal.

I'm getting far away from myself.

But at least I've got something to pursue.

Tokenized information exchange with nebulous but directable consequences - and memory.

Sounds easy.

The Endless Comparison

Would you
rather play Metroid Prime or watch Catwoman?

Would you rather play Resident Evil 4 or watch Leprechaun 4?

Which contributed more to world culture, Pac-Man or Ilsa, She-Wolf of the SS?

Which had a better script, Knights of the Old Republic or Independence Day?

If you think about a great director - Spielberg, say - consider that he honed his craft on the back of almost a hundred years of technical, artistic and critical history. The first film camera was invented in the 1880s. By 1920 film was an art form on the rise, taking risks, learning its boundaries. By 1950 it had become the premier medium, with a voluminous body of criticism, different schools of theory and hundreds of thousands of examples from all over the world.

This means that videogames have 20-30 more years before a decent comparison can be made to films from the 1950s.

And Spielberg works in a sequential, non-interactive medium whose final output has to grab attention for, on average, 2-3 hours.

Let me be kind and assume that technology is progressing a little more rapidly each year and that our increased ability to communicate is driving innovation and criticism faster than in the early years of film. Even a conservative estimate would mean that in, oh, around 2060 games will be on par with the movies of today.

Unless you're like me and think it's all bunk and the comparison doesn't even make sense.

Which was better: X-Com or The Wild Bunch?

Friday, March 16, 2007

Why Do This?

Dear God of War 2 team,

I'm glad you spent millions of dollars making a great-looking, fun-to-play action platformer for the Playstation 2. I'm not as glad that you insisted on filling it with bloated, unskippable cutscenes. I'm also not happy with the fact that you cannot adjust the difficulty without starting a new game, something that then requires sitting through the long, unskippable opening sequence just to find out if the difficulty is acceptable.

But the worst thing, the most inexplicable thing: Why spend millions of dollars, thousands of hours, crafting a cinematic last-gen masterpiece without putting in an option for subtitles?

In case you're wondering why this matters: "Does anyone know if God of War 2 will support captions or subtitles? It wasn't very fun for me to have to read transcripts on the computer while I played the first game. And before you ask, yes, I'm deaf."

Almost 100% of movies and tv shows have captioning. It is standard for media. Except, for some reason, in the videogame industry, where it remains something put in at random.

It's stupid and makes no sense.

Subtitles. Standard. Make it happen.

Sunday, March 11, 2007

Try It, You'll Like It

If anyone has
any familiarity with Gamemaker, then you may be happy to know that version 7.0 is out. Also, development has been taken over by YoYoGames - hopefully with the result that there will be faster dev time and more resources devoted to the community.

We're going to use Gamemaker in the Game Design class I'm attending, so I went ahead and bought the Professional version (it's only 20 bucks). The Pro version basically makes certain things much easier - including a built-in particle system.

The community thus far seems a little more engaged than the one for Blitz3d (largely because the B3ders seemed to move over to BlitzMax, the Mac dev software). Though the comparison isn't quite fair since these are two very different programs.

Gamemaker's strengths are in the top-down and side-scroller realm. 3-d is possible, but you'll have to program a lot of functionality yourself and are better off with Darkbasic or Torque. The learning curve is pretty small, though I can't really recommend the tutorials on Gamemaker's own site - they, to put it mildly, suck.

I would stick with the help file and the Game Maker Community messageboard.

I've also ordered two of the books on the market specifically geared toward Gamemaker: The Game Maker's Apprentice and Basic Game Design & Creation for Fun & Learning. I may put up evaluations when those arrive.

As a test I sketched out a rough block, scanned it in, did some editing in GIMP and then exported to .gif. After that it took only a few button presses to get my hand-drawn art into a room. I threw in a snowman as a player, gave him movement functionality and tested the game. Voila! Big ugly penciled blocks and a snowman. Pretty cool.

The hardest thing is scaling everything properly and selecting the borders so that the player surface doesn't look awkward. That and trying to properly animate anything when your experience is close to zero.

Still, it's a great introduction. Some of the games coming out are great throwbacks and it's a great opportunity to learn the entire game development process on a small scale. It also gives me a greater appreciation for the complexity of those old school games, especially when I consider that they didn't have access to a handy little tool like Gamemaker.

When I finish something I'll be sure to post it.

Flatworld Breaks Out

It's always interesting to see
new game mechanics crop up simultaneously in different titles.

With long development cycles it's usually not a result of out and out plagiarism (though that happens with the inevitable knockoffs).

There are two games on the way that utilize a way to 'fold' the video game space from 2-d to 3-d: Super Paper Mario and Crush.

Now I'm not saying that these games are the first to use this technique. A lot of innovative systems come from obscure, independent sources that filter to the major developers by word-of-mouth. So I wouldn't be surprised to learn about an indie title with the same concept.

I'm fascinated because now instead of having to struggle with explaining the concept of multiple dimensions it is now possible to demonstrate precisely what we mean. Our children are going to be grasping constructs that were, thirty years ago, restricted to departments of higher mathematics.

If you combine the mechanic used in Crush with the time-manipulation of the Prince of Persia series, then you have a game that gives the player the ability to interact with three of four dimensions (2-d, 3-d, 4-d).

How would you create a fifth-dimensional gameplay element? Would it consist of playing the same level in different ways and having to manipulate all of those multiple dimensions in order to unlock forward progress? What about nth-dimensional gameplay? A game of Spore that allows you to create parallel timelines? The Sims with time travel, where every attempt at creating a paradox splits the timeline and spawns an altered universe?

Friday, March 09, 2007


For a long time I've been
wondering how Tom Morello (of Rage Against the Machine) manages to do all those absolutely insane things with his guitar. So I did a little research.

Take a look at Tom's setup. It's pretty simple. He only uses a half-stack (since most venues provide extra amplification, a full stack really isn't necessary). A few common pedals. Mainly the Crybaby Wah, a Whammy pedal, Reverb Delay, and EQ.

The trick, then, to a lot of his sonic experimentation is a little thing called a kill switch.

Instead of one volume knob, his guitar has two, one for each pickup. He turns the volume all the way down on the top and all the way up on the second knob. There's a toggle that controls which pickup is active. When he flicks the toggle it's as if you were cutting the sound on and off in rapid succession, the same way a DJ might use crossfaders.

Here's a YouTube video for anyone wondering what this sounds like (sorry I can't embed the video - for some reason YouTube won't let me link my blog).

He uses this effect in more ways than you might imagine. You can feed the sound back into the amp or rub your hands across the strings or just slide barre chords up and down the neck.

Now, you might be thinking that a kill switch would be a pretty cool thing to have on a guitar, and you'd be right. They must be pretty common, huh?

Wrong. Turns out the only one I can find is the Gibson Les Paul BFG. This is a nice low-priced Les Paul - only $1,000.

The other option is to wire up your own. I'm considering it, but wary because an improperly grounded circuit can fry your electronics - or you.*

After that, all you need to do in order to play like Tom Morello is practice eight hours a day.


*My first electric guitar, a Fender Squier, has always been a little iffy internally. That's what I was playing when my band played a classmate's high school graduation party. It had rained earlier that morning and we were outside. The extension cords were tangled and possibly a little torn. During one of our songs ('Eggman' by the Beastie Boys, I think) my hand began to tingle. Every time I plucked a string with my finger or palm-muted a riff I'd feel a burning.

Finished the song. Felt the strings. Got shocked. Felt the strings. Got shocked. So I learn at about the same pace as a lab rat. We replaced the extension cords and I swapped out guitars, completed the set. Hardcore.

And dumb. But you can't just stop a Beastie Boys song in the middle.

Wednesday, March 07, 2007

New Look

I simplified
the layout - a lot. I can't figure out how to incorporate my old logo, which is a disappointment. Maybe I'll try to whip up a new one. The nice thing about upgrading to the new blogger options is that certain things are incredibly easy to change without mucking about with html. But I couldn't figure out how to arrange pictures inside of the header or footer (which don't allow you the leeway of the other widgets).

I like being able to put links into dropdown boxes. My sidebar was getting way out of hand (a problem I've noticed on just about every single blog out there). I don't know why that's not a standard widget. Dropdown lists and attachable/detachable pop-up boxes would be useful.

I'm also disappointed that they haven't made an easy way to construct a more fixed layout (specifying the space between elements). I'm sure you can do it in the code but I haven't messed around with the widget code yet, which is like html but completely different.

Thursday, March 01, 2007


In a
post earlier this month I lamented the lack of decent low-price authoring software on the PC (as compared to Macs).

Corvus suggested I check out Celtx.

Oddly enough, I had already. There was a copy of the program sitting right in my Programs menu. An old copy. From last year. Sometimes I forget what I download.

I vaguely recall not being happy with the program.

But I have since revised that opinion. Many versions later this is easily one of the best editing programs for anything: novels, screenplays, poems, notes.

The best part is that it's free.

The coolest feature is the ability to upload your work as public or private. Public and you can get feedback from all the other people using the program. Private and, well, you can't. But regardless, uploading allows you to sync your files on any computer that has Celtx installed. This is completely awesome.

The developers listen to the community and seem to be eager to place new features but also selective in order to avoid feature creep. The program is stable and fast.

The only function I've found myself wanting is a way to strip formatting from a body of text. I do lots of cutting and pasting from gmail and it comes with a lot of stray bits. The only way I've found to avoid this is pasting to a separate Notepad file and then cutting and pasting from there, which is not convenient at all. It's possible that I just haven't discovered that option yet.

So thanks, Corvus, for reminding me about this program. I've already begun transferring a large bulk of my writing and started in on a second draft of my first novel.