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Friday, February 04, 2005

Maya Angelou

Your skin like dawn
Mine like musk

One paints the beginning
of a certain end.

The other, the end of a
sure beginning.

Thursday, February 03, 2005

Brief Pause

I'll be incommunicado after today for almost a week. I'll be in New York. If anyone is in New York, look me up. I'll be the one without a hat.

Now isn't a good time to die, boss

I finally took a break and played on the Republic Commando demo a bit. I was probably anticipating this demo a bit more than the usual joe because Commando sounded remarkably similar to my original design goals for Unreal Defense Squad. That goal was to allow a player to think about a squad-based strategy in quick order ... in other words, allow the "squad commander" to react to the environment smoothly enough to get their squad into position.

It really seemed like Commando would be that game, which made it easier to abandon that design for the current turn based one. Now before I speak too harshly about the demo, let me say that the production values of this game are simply through the roof. Everything oozes of quality, from the models to the textures to the voice acting. The dialogue doesn't skip a bit, the HUD is easy to learn and the weapons feel really solid.

Unfortunately, that's doesn't alter how different it is from how I perceived it from the ads/previews. I really do try and ignore hype, but I can't help to think I was kinda told something different than this game offers - but I might have just romanticized it in my head. Basically the game boils down to moving your mouse around trying to find hot points to command your soldiers. That pile of barrels might be a good sniping point, or it might not be, but you won't know until an icon tells you.

If it is a good sniping point, rest assured you should use it as such. See, your magic helmet knows what is going to happen in a situation before you do, and only suggests actions which will directly aid you. There isn't so much of a choice of strategy here as simply figuring out which one the developers laid out for you to solve. Many times this seems like it will require figuring out which spot on the wall they meant you to place a charge. All the while limitless enemies spawn to rattle you.

Weirder still is that your squad seems to have limitless amounts of bacta to revive a player, but not to heal when they're simply limping around. This means once you're down, you're probably going to do down again. You can't even be proactive about bandaging.

This might sound damning, but it's really not. I think Commando will be a good game in the long run. I'm glad to see a developer change up the basic ratmaze shooter design with some clever interactivity. I think if the player is willing to play along, the game would be very enjoyable.

It's just hard for me to play along when I'm pointing at the rubble the mercs are using as cover and thinking ... if you'd just place a charge there, we'd have a way out AND a lot of dead mercs.

But I guess your way works too.

Tuesday, February 01, 2005

Well, that's disappointing

Just scanned through the IGN review of Cops 2170, a turn-based strategy that just got released. It's not particularly flattering to say the least. Apparently the interface sucks, the mechanics suck, it's not much fun and the production quality is cheap. The reviewer offers a few forced plus points in the music category and pats the developer on the head for not having too many typos. Ouch.

It's pretty scary to read such a thing while developing a turn-based mod for Unreal. I like to think the mechanics are coming together, but it's easy to get narrow minded about that sort of thing. It's the same reason why you let someone else read your essay before turning it in. You've written this thing, stared a this thing and lived with this thing. You know it like you know your girlfriend - and not the one night stand type of girl, but the shares your toothbrush because she knows you won't mind kind of girl.

I don't understand how turn based games keep managing to get it so wrong when they have relatively good examples to steal from. Between Fallout and X-Com, a lot of the bases are covered in terms of what works and what doesn't work. Of course as I say that, Unreal Defense Squad isn't following that mold exactly either. Part of this isn't my choice - there are limitations to taking an engine for a first person shooter and chopping it into time units. Part of them are my opinion, like the feeling that turn based games needlessly hide under complicated menus and interfaces. I'm trying to make a turn based tactics game that still has a bit of shooter's soul to it. One that you can pick up quickly and play quickly.

But it's also disappointing to see this because turn based games have gotten such a bad rap for so long. Real time is just so darned trendy and it's easy to think of it as the natural evolution of Turn Based Strategy, but they're really completely different fish. I'm not going weigh one against the other - but I've played both and they don't feel like playing an advancement over the other. They seem like completely different games to me. TBS has room to advance in many ways that have nothing to do with throwing out turns themselves, but as long as we keep getting titles like this, it will continue to be the ugly stepchild of strategy gaming.

Jonathan Swift



Monday, January 31, 2005

Tapwave versus the Man. That man being Sony.

Call it kismet, but shortly after my desire for a portable and social gaming platform that I could develop for without taking out a loan of my house (which would be interesting to say the least, since I don't own it and only pay rent for the first floor), I have an online discussion with someone about some C++ functionality. Knowing most people only via Unrealscript, I asked what he was doing - and he was developing for the Tapwave Zodiac.

I remember the Zodiac coming out and I kinda remember thinking about getting one. Then it sorta came and I never heard about it and through pure lack of peer pressure I more or less forgot about it. I'm a bad boy. I ended up getting a Game Boy Advance. Seriously, I suck.

If you think I'm being overly dramatic go do some googling on the product. Words like impressive are bandied about like pez and reviewers seem to just get sucked into the device. It's far more functional than the GBASP or Nintendo DS, with robust MP3 and internet apps right out of the box. It's more of a PDA than the PSP will ever try to be, built right on top of Palm OS (and for anyone who remembers the old Palm Fansite Hijacked ... that was me, so you know I feel about Palm devices). It's got two ... count em two SD slots which will allow you to massively upgrade the thing. It might not have the graphics of the PSP, but it's definately no slouch - the ATI chip nestled inside seems to be able to pull off graphics edging to the DS level of nifty. You might be afraid that a PDA you'd never heard of had zero games for it - but you'd be wrong. Duke Nukem, DooM, Tony Hawk - they've all made appearances. And if you do get a hankering to develop for it - Tapwave seems more than friendly about helping you out ... and it won't cost you the purported $15,000 for a PSP SDK.

I'm seriously contemplating getting one. But it will be a shame to see Sony come in and crush it like so many grapes.

The Zodiac costs over $250, over $300 for the high end version. See, Tapwave is a company of just a few joes and they don't have a diversified multinational corporation to subsidize their hardware. I'm sure if they could jam the power of an XBox into your fist and only charge $50 for it, they would - but my guess is that the only banks that would fund such a venture have direct ties to offshores and sharks.

But just because it isn't the most powerful gaming handheld on the market doesn't mean it might not be the best. Sony might have the slicker, meatier product - but they also hold all the cards with it. You have to go through Sony to develop for it. PSP has custom OS with a more or less clean slate ... unlike Palm's massive library. The Zodiac sounds far more rugged - no flying discs here. Zodiac has a slick bluetooth implentation. Oh heck, I could go on forever. Basically the Zodiac sounds superior in nearly everyway but three. 1) It's more expensive. 2) The graphics aren't quite as robust. 3) It doesn't have the massive juggernaught which is Sony behind it.

So right here and now these guys get my vote as underdog of the year.