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Friday, June 08, 2007

Wikicrawl: "Villain Of The Week"

Another reason for using this format is that it is convenient for writers to supply a continuous and varied amount of challenges for the protagonists to overcome. One perceived "flaw" to continuity-based series is that, if the show is based upon a single dominating plot device (ie: defeating a single reappearing adversary), then should that plot device ever be resolved, the series would supposedly "end". Conversely, if the plot device is not resolved eventually, the premise of the show may become stale. Therefore, a lack of major continuity is often thought to be a convenient solution.

However, in recent decades, many American series have shifted away from this style. A prominent example is the DC Animated Universe, which is covered from Batman: The Animated Series to Justice League Unlimited. While the former series was mostly episodic, with only moderate continuity between episodes, Unlimited is very continuity-heavy--even making continual references to past series. Other American series (both live-action and animated) have also adopted more plot-based continuity. 24, Lost, Gargoyles, and The Sopranos are shows that placed varying levels of importance of continuity while Buffy the Vampire Slayer and Angel mixed both the villain of the week stories with complex, season-long storylines.
-- Villain Of The Week [Wikipedia]

Thursday, June 07, 2007

Game Play: Oblivion

The main concept of the Elder Scrolls series of games is one of those aspects of role-playing games that most game developers gave up long long ago - provide as much world as possible and let the gamer sort it out. Even notable breakout titles like Ocarina or Grand Theft Auto seem small in scope compared to Morrowind, the third in the series. Oblivion is essentially an extremely tweaked Morrowind. Liked Morrowind? You'll probably love Oblivion.

I got a few hours in last night and I'm already moderately hooked. I would like to hit Nightfall this weekend and write a comparison of the two - but it will be hard to tear myself away from both this and Guitar Hero II.

Still, I have a couple of complaints from my early visits. First and foremost I wish Bethesda would create the same kind of ingame time demo that the Lost Planet demo had. There are loads of tweaks you can apply to get the best performance out of the game and when you need to restart for half of them - it becomes meddlesome at best. Right now I'm going with high resolution, no AA and am going to try and figure out how much detail I can maintain. Apparently "tdt" in the console will cough up the framerates. Consider how much of the gameplay is eye candy orientated, being something of a "wandering" game - being able to max out the beauty seems somewhat important.

The second thing, and this is one of those tidbits I would never actually expect a developer to think of including, is the nature of character creation. I think they have a great system, but some of it is trial and error and while you can technically learn skills outside of your class, it seems harsh on novice players to pick classes/skills/traits on a "that sounds neat" basis.

Rather allowing flexible retcons on a character, though, I'd rather have the ability to maintain multiple characters in the same world. My real caveat to starting a new character is having to go back and remap this huge world. So when you go find a tavern, for instance, it would be great to have a location where you could make a new character and swap them out. I'm sure this swings all kinds of smackwise into quests and the like - but it would allow me to play with multiple class builds without starting all over.

That said, I love the game. And Oblivion has custom class creation, so at least when the class I'm stuck with is "Pirate Lord".

Debating BatJack

Apparently Penny Arcade considered it for the next PAX:

Well, let's be frank. He disputed the terms of the debate, which were set by the event organizers. Since he didn't get his way, he preferred to take his ball and go home, so to speak, firing off a tirade of angry emails to a number of gaming media sites. My previous post covers the initial email he sent out. In a subsequent email, Thompson said, "I believe what happened is that they thought I would never accept the debate offer, and they planned to use that for p.r. purposes."

However, Jerry "Tycho" Holkins tells a bit of a different story. In an interview at, when asked if the debate with Thompson could still go forward, Holkins said, "I doubt it. We prefer to work with adults."

Holkins also expressed the thought process behind keeping the event under a media 'blackout.' To show how far PA is from being the sinister, First Amendment snatching demons that Thompson made them out to be, Holkins said, "Before any other concern, it is our deep desire that no person be trampled to death at PAX. Given the human density of last year's show, it seemed as though a Jack Thompson panel would create some dicey situations from a safety perspective. We asked that Jack not discuss the event for these reasons."
-- Penny Arcade Speaks Out On Aborted Jack Thompson Debate [FileFront]

My take is that Thompson is a media whore and putting him on any stage, in front of any mic or near any camera is merely feeding the beast. I can respect the desire to get him out of the soundbite arena and into rational discussion - but the man has shown a repeated disregard for facts and logic. Even when interviewers have gotten him into a relaxed setting - he still refers to game developers as sociopaths and defends grandmothers who buy their nine year old kids Grand Theft Auto (same interview, of course - the Chatterbox one I think).

So even if you managed to beat him on points - which would be hard because the man has no problem researching obscure events and then presenting them just twisted enough to make his point (like saying that a Senate report listed games as a factor in violence while neglecting to mention it says they're a negligible factor) - but even if you did he would simply return the favor by twisting the event itself into a media stunt (just as he has already done here).

The man is not a vehicle for rational debate on the topic. He is a self-serving talking head who makes his living coming up with shocking soundbites for lazy news outlets like Fox.

Try and keep him in the dark for as long as possible and perhaps he'll have to get a real job.

Microsoft - Running Out Of Replacement 360's

Officer Ravitch discovered last Friday that his Xbox 360 died on him in a classic New York "You gotta' be frickin' kidding me!" moment. He loves his Xbox 360, it's his "favorite system," but the "constant breaking down is amazing" to him. He called Microsoft, as he's done three times before. This next console will be his fourth since the 360 launch. He bought the $60 two-year warranty after his last failure and also received a 50% repair discount after arguing the last time. Microsoft support told him he'd have his box by Tuesday. After not receiving a confirmation that this Xbox 360 coffin was sent (which he received the last time he did this), he decided to call support again. They informed him his box wasn't sent because "the service department is running very low on boxes, so it will take a little longer than expected to get that box" out to him. Ravitch was shocked. Is Microsoft getting back so many defective systems that they don't have a fresh supply of coffins anymore?
-- Anecdotal: Microsoft low on Xbox 360 coffins [Joystiq] via FileFront

Microsoft needs a hardware revision. They needed one last year.

Wednesday, June 06, 2007

Nightfall Vs. Oblivion

Perhaps in response to the disappointing Silverfall demo, I added Nightfall to my Guild Wars account last night. Actually, I accidentally created a new account in the process. Not sure what the ramifications of that are - though I guess I probably lost my existing buddy list. Oblivion should also be arriving in the mail post-haste, so I don't know how those two will compete for time.

Which may be moot since I'll probably still be playing Guitar Hero II whenever possible. Work is really cutting into my quality game time these days.

Game Play: Silverfall Demo

I was just trying this out real quick and for a while, somewhat liked it. Silverfall is a pretty straight up Diablo style RPG with loads of clicking and running around. The demo I played didn't have any graphics to write home about but at least played smoothly for the most part.

Then I died. Silverfall may feature the worst death mechanics of any recent RPG (I've played). When you die, you magically respawn in nothing but your undies. A tomb exists where you died that holds all of your stuff. I think maybe you get to keep your gold - maybe. To get all your stuff back, you have to run back to the tomb and retrieve it.

This isn't too far off the mark of some semideath mechanics employed by other games - except when combined with the normal AI and interface of the game. As you approach whatever hoarde killed you in the first place, they'll aggro and swarm and essentially make it impossible to retrieve your goods without fisticuffs. Three times I tried to run around the group (my tomb was on one edge of the group) and get my gear back - each time I kept punching wildly into their midst. Even once when I could have sworn I had highlighted the tomb first.

Meh. It might be a decent enough game, but not something I'd be paying full price on - especially compared to other offerings (including the free version of Dungeon Runners).

Tuesday, June 05, 2007

Game Play: Guitar Hero II

A grand birthday present from The Brother, The Girl and I commented yesterday while plugging everything in that we might be the last two people on Earth who haven't had the experience of rocking out to this game.

I couldn't quite coax her to grab the slightly tiny plastic guitar controller to try it out, but I'm still thinking that her fling with the rythm mode on Raving Rabbids will win out in the end. Had throngs of people not vouched for this game - well, quite honestly that guitar might have been the thing keeping me from the game. I mean, having played quite a bit of Amplitude - what do I need with a novelty controller? The similarities are undeniable - it's like Harmonix did a save as and then found a toy guitar to tack on.

Course, that turns out to be such a wildly narrow view of the evolution between Amplitude and Guitar Hero. Like the slow but steady changes that happen between Liberty City and San Andreas - Guitar Hero proves that it is a game being developed by someone who truly understands the mechanics and underpinnings being worked over.

The guitar controller resolves most of the problems with playing a game like Amplitude using a standard controller. It gives players a logical reference point of control that lets you just concentrate on the music itself. It completes a loop between user and interface unlike most anything else out there - because you aren't thinking in terms of circle, triangle square - but hammer on, fret, strut, wammy.

No, playing Guitar Hero won't make you a Guitar Hero. But it will make you think a bit like one. Not completely, perhaps - but at least a paradigm shift away than playing without said controller.

I got through easy mode last night and thankfully - am just warming up.

Game Play: Star Trek Tactical Assault

Tactical Assault is a Star Trek game for the DS which doesn't feature much in the way of tactics but is something of an assault. While the overall concept and mission framework is decent and gives someone the feel of having been handed the command of a Federation starship - combat is basically just a hideous button mashing affair while strafing repeatedly against a target. It's jarring, actually, to go through these mission and dialogue pieces which make you act like you are in the captain's chair ... only to be reduced to a boring polygon shooter.

Rent with severe caution - this one is rated meh.

Shadowrun on XP? Don't bet on it.

Ah yes, once again Microsoft shoots us XP users in the foot. Shadowrun is getting mixed reviews, although to be honest I think the biggest complaint 360 users have with it is that it isn't Halo 3 ... even if they won't admit it.

Course, it could be the finest shooter ever made - but I won't know because Microsoft is too busy trying to force everyone onto Vista. This is despite the fact that Vista drivers still aren't quite on par with XP or how well or if games run in general. Microsoft doesn't really care, see, just like they've been ditching the original Xbox, their love for XP gamers has clearly run its course.

I mean, I've only used XP on like three different gaming rigs and purchased countless of titles for the platform. But I know, I know, what have I done for them lately, right?

Now a company comes along to say that they'll help run Vista games on XP. Just preorder the title through their Amazon link and when they get the tech to let you run it, you'll be able to download it. Obviously I love the idea - and double points for biting their thumbs at Microsoft for this practice ... but I'm not exactly rushing to preorder (or order) a game with the hopes that someone will beat Microsoft at their oldest game in the future. Best wishes to Falling Leaf, but call me when you have something. I'd rather pay a premium for a download than make that bet.

Thankfully developers who want to sell as many units as possible, like Capcom and Epic, will continue to support XP gamers for at least the near future ... and probably a while past then. Whether the market will go a way that will force me into Vista remains to be seen, but these tactics are only making it less likely for me ... not more.

Monday, June 04, 2007

Yourself In The Third Person

Through the magic of the Avatar Machine:

What i like about Avatar Machine is that, like the One Eye Ball but unlike several similar projects i've blogged in the past, it's not just about coming up with a nice, funky, geeky project before everybody else, it is also a very eye-pleasing work. I love the way that the designer pushed the concept further by making the user wear the costume of an avatar, i imagine that it allows observers to participate (albeit in a much more discreet way) to the experience. So i asked design student Marc Owens to tell me more about the work.

How does it work technically?

The system works in a very simple way. The user wears a body harness, which has three 2m long aluminium rods protruding from it, to form a type of tripod. A wide angle pinhole camera exists at the point where all three rods meet. The camera is pointing directly back at the user. The video footage being recorded by the camera is transmited to the monitor inside the headset so it can be viewed by the user. Therefore the user can see themselves in the third person, from head to toe on the monitor interface.
-- Avatar Machine [we make money not art]

Trippy. Be sure to check out the rest of the interview at that link.

Battlestar To End With Season 4

Slashdot confirms the fluctuating rumor of Galactica's end - detailing a press release which states creative reasons for ending the show "on their own terms".

I think it's probably a good idea. If they want to extend the franchise, spinoffs will probably do more justice to the storyline than trying to stretch this one out. Lost is a great example of what can happen to your premise when you do things like add Nikki and Paolo into it.

Long Slashdot Discussion On Game Engines

A recent Ask Slashdot post covered indie and open source 3D game engines ... and the usual torrent of opinions rushes forth. Some interesting discussion, though, about the pros and cons of several engine.

Personally, I'd just like to reiterate my public desire to see Epic follow id's suit and try and open source one of their older engines or produce an indie level license for the Unreal 2 (which powers UT2004) technology.

Sony Phone Rumors

Sony's mobile phone division is apparently looking at a gaming-centric phone, a market that so far has had a history of failure, of which Nokia can easily testify to.

A patent from late last year shows a device that looks something like a PSP retooled to work as a mobile phone. The screen on phone can flip 90 degrees to make it look ike a slim PDA, or the phone can be turned horizontally to have a landscape mode screen orientation and a control set much like a handheld gaming device.

This discovery comes soon after the announcement that VOIP functionality on the PSP was to be officially supported by Sony, last week.
-- PSP gaming phone spotted

Times like that make me wish Apple would team up with an existing game powerhouse. An iPhone design/touchscreen that can play PS1 games which I could buy off iTunes? *swoon* Sadly, twill not happen. Still I find it a little bizarre that gaming phones in general aren't more popular. Phones are almost closer cousins to handhelds than PDA's. Easier to control a game with a lousy numberpad than it is to do about two thirds of the PIM functions.