Cathode Tan - Games, Media and Geek Stuff
logo design by man bytes blog

Friday, May 13, 2005

360 Thoughts

No, there wont be that many (har har) ... but the 360 is getting plenty of attention, so here are some basic thoughts:

Big guffaw here by Microsoft. Huge, huge error in judgement. Microsoft has done such a remarkable job of keeping their normally acidic corporate image friendly to gamers that it's actually stunning to see them unveil such an important product through means that much of their demographic finds annoying and occasionally insulting. I didn't see the special, but the general consensus is that it was too cool for the likes of us. Apparently the XBox 360 is 100% A-list.

I don't think that's what MS intended and I would expect to see some damage control from them. I think E3 will be focused squarely on gameplay to compensate for this. If they were smart, they'd pair E3 with some public net events and torrent feeds to appease the hardcore geek crowd that they just managed to sideline. Do a live IRC chat and get some cred back, MS.

It's going to be powerful, no questions. Microsoft is taking the hi-def thing very seriously, as indicated by a healthy amount of RAM for both the system and video card. Sony and Nintendo simply have to take notice of those numbers. I mean 10MB of DRAM on the card? Microsoft was taking notes from developers who have obviously grown tired of fighting the memory crunch of consoles for years.

The processors sound beefy as well. The Xbox 360 will be able to display eye candy above the PC market for months if not a year after it's launch I'd think, as the original XBox did.

The 20GB HD surprises me as does the lack of a higher capacity DVD drive. I think both will come back to hurt Microsoft unless I'm missing something. 20GB for a machine which will need to store game info, saves, and is also supposed to hold multimedia? That will fill fast. And the DVD capacity is an easy win for Sony and Nintendo ... and we all saw what happens when the game media is increased with the first PlayStation.

Wireless + corded controllers ... I didn't think wireless would become standard just yet because it makes more money sense to sell them as after market items. A good move though, wireless controllers are much more living room friendly, and making them USB chargeable is smart. Hopefully this will become standard for wireless controllers in the future.

It's not that I don't find the slightly curvy white motif unappealing, it just doesn't seem to jive as well with Microsoft's "take the games seriously" image. I expected them to stick with the black or maybe go with something like a brushed metal. I suppose this does make the "360" distinct and forces consumers to see it as a completely new product. The home button on the controller seems smart, even despite this "Ring of Light" nonsense.

What I'm not sure about is whether the world needs customizable faceplates for their consoles. Yeah, I know there are some people making plenty of cash from console skins, but I think it's really a minority that ponies up for that kind of item. Not that I guess MS has much to lose on it.

I think this is where Microsoft will make the inroads. They've been very developer friendly and very user aware. I think they'll be successful when it comes to building a community around their product and make their integrated software pay off when it comes to getting online and having fun online. Sony and Nintendo both have much catching up to do when it comes to that, and I think MS will up the ante with the first 360 sold.

I'm probably still not going to be lining up to get one, but I never get the next gen consoles when they first appear. I think Microsoft might be in for a bit of a shock when Nintendo and Sony do their product roll, but there won't be any big armageddon this generation. Sony will remain ahead, Microsoft will still take a loss in profits to establish a solid market share, and Nintendo will play a bit of a wild card between the two.

If anything, PC games will suffer the most from the 360. As developers look more to cross-platform development, the PC games will be left behind somewhat in terms of percieved quality. The design will be constricted to consoles as opposed to always trying to max out the PC hardware.

Hopefully this will mean a possible entry point for indie developers on both the PC and console market. With a shrinking line of titles, PC gamers might be more willing to embrace smaller studios and Microsoft will be quick to try out ideas like XBox Arcade on their new hardware. In fact, I'd predict this will be another area that Microsoft outsmarts Sony and Nintendo. While the other two catch up on online services, Microsoft will beef up their smaller, cheaper, more downloadable game offering. I mean, games on demand has been a grail for some time now ... I don't know why people haven't figured out that smaller, simpler games with heavy replayability weren't part of the equation sooner.

Set XBox up teh FBomb

Here is a lovely rant on the XBox unveiling aptly titled "GAF Blogs E3 » WTF??? (warning, curses within)":

Oh, yeah, they showed some people going to Rare's studio to get motion captured for Perfect Dark Zero, including one of the twins who co-founded the XBL clan PMS. Then they got to play a round of team death-match on the game in front of the crowd and the cameras. So, what do we see from it? About 10 seconds of game footage (if that), and the rest of the time is the cameras were showing the people who were playing the goddamn game.

It's pretty harsh ... but sounds completely deserving. It's funny that during the XBox lovefest which has been this week to hear such a rabidly antagonistic look at the presentation - but seriously, the guy's got a point. Have video games become so much of glitz that when you reveal a new console ... you show only the glitz and none of the video game? That's bad. Really bad.

Hollywood Funding

"There are entrenched funding mechanisms in Hollywood that support $70 million movies," Spector said. "The movie-funding model is going to come to gaming, it's just a question of when."

Developers uneasy about new game consoles [C|Net]

Story Versus Profit

Stop what you're doing and go read Man Bytes Blog's Sing it to Me One More Time. It's a brilliant dissection of yet another lamentation of the current PC industry:

He then goes on to talk about his company’s history and how, in their pursuit of making more money, the quality of their games started to decline. I think the lesson there is pretty self evident. True, we need to make a living doing this, but if you really want to make games, living the life of a rock star seems more distracting than productive.

I mean bam. He also does a wonderful job of covering aspects of the indie movement as a reaction to the big industry, profit-orientated games. And of course what's especially sanguine about that is that if anything what indie games need right now is exposure. Mods get more attention than indie titles most of the time, and while I'm all for mods getting press ... they're a dead end when it comes to creating a truly viable alternate market. You just can't pitch under someone's tent without paying the rent.

How Some Reviews Suck

I said before that I agreed with the notion that above anything else, reviews should try to be factual. I want to know the details about the game far and above someone's witty banter about how much they loved or hated something in the game. Let's take Shining Tears as an example. Here is a quote from IGN's review:

To be fair, though, the two-player mode can actually be pretty fun if you treat it as a competition. Who can kill the witless enemy bastards the quickest, who can grab the most loot, and who can rack up the highest chains can turn into an entertaining exchange between friends. If you approach it like that, then Shining Tears does have some addictive qualities to it.

Sounds great right? If you were interested in the game for it's coop feature, then this sounds like a big plus. In fact, from the sounds of that it makes it seem like the coop mode might compensate for other shortcomings. But wait. Here is RPGamer's take:

If the player chooses they may take a trip to a "mirrored" world to gain additional levels; this allows characters other than Xion to be chosen and levelled up. A second mirrored world is also accessible providing that two different save files from two different memory cards are available.

Yeah. That's right. In order to play this coveted 2 player mode you have to A) advance far enough in the single player game to unlock a mirror and B) grab a second memory card, start a whole new game and then use that to trigger the second player.

No, it's not the worst thing in the world ... but it is one of the worst coop setups I've ever seen implemented. Compared to X-Men Legends which allows people to jump in and out of the game during a mission, Shining Tears is obnoxiously complicated. I assume this will also mean that if The Girl and I want to upgrade characters, we will have to play off our seperate cards. Annoying.

More annoying though is that I researched this game. But the IGN, Gamespot and Gamespy reviews all left this detail out and completely whitewash the two player as superior to the single player. RPGamer describes it perfectly, and AllRPG and GAF cover it fairly well.

Details people. Wit is nice, but give me the damn goods.

Thursday, May 12, 2005

All I can say is...


I mean, at that point - why bother playing the game at all? And if MMO's are so addictive, why are people willing to shell out even more just to get past the first part of the game?

OK, so I guess I could say more ... but I'll stop here.

Blast from the Past

While doing a bit of research I stumbled upon Badger's Room. Definately worth a look for anyone who remembers just how cool "table" arcade games were. Now there's a coffee table I'd like to have. The history and evolution pages are especially some great arcade trivia stuff.

Unreal Buys Reality

Strange as that sounds, it's true ... Epic Games bought out the Reality Engine and hired the programmer of that engine, Tim Johnson.

Interesting. The RE was fairly unknown though apparently somewhat technically impressive. It might have given smaller companies (for instance, the makers of the Unreal mod Frag.Ops had moved to it, will now have to pony up for Unreal at a "discounted price") more options.

I love the guys over at Epic, but are they becoming the Microsoft of middleware engines?

Remember Jack?

Our good friend Jack Thompson will be taking his ignoble fight to the White House:

If the video game industry is allowed, unchecked, to continue to raise our children, then at this pace pretty soon “No Child Left Behind” will morph into “No Child Left Alive.”

President Bush’s oft-repeated mantra that the answer to the entertainment industry’s assault upon our children is that “parents need to be better parents” is an insufficient firewall against the above outrage coming to a school near you.

CONTACT Jack Thompson at 305-666-4366 for additional information.

No Child Left Alive. Catchy. Completely delusional wacked out psychotic, but catchy. Anyone care to jingle Jack for that extra information? I understand he's very conversational with gamers (if by conversation you'd accept belligerent and rude).

Link found via codemonkey uk.

Take me back. It will be better this time. Honest.

I can't help but be cynical when people gush in previews about another upcoming Shiny developed Matrix game. I mean Earthworm Jim was kinda nifty, but Shiny's track record doesn't exactly follow their name, if you get my meaning. Enter the Matrix was a sloppy mess of a game with a few interesting mechanics overrun by a hundred clumsy ones.

Apparently the codependant response is justified by the fact that A) You get to play Neo and B) they've somehow managed to fit hundreds of Agent Smiths on the screen without killing the framerate.

A) I really don't want to play Neo. His story is written and already overdone.

B) It's not like this is the first time Shiny has impressed previewers with flashy technology:

"When we introduced the RT-DAT engine to the world, it took the industry by storm. They never expected that it was only the tip of the proverbial iceberg of technology that's behind the game!" declared David Perry. "There isn't one thing that any other game out there is doing that we haven't incorporated into the game's engine: volumetric lighting, tessellation, polygonal deformation, streaming audio & video, portal technology, animation interpolation, skeletal animation, the list goes on and on!"
-- Shiny's David Perry

What happened to that game being previewed? Messiah for the PS2? Oh right, it was cancelled.

Fool me once...

Robot Sex?

The Girl just sent me an email pointing to this story about self-reproducing robots. Not quite as fun as a fembot, in fact more downright creepy. Didn't Stargate SG-1 teach us anything? Replicating robots only lead hijinks involved evil clones and temporal bubbles. Seriously, and they call themselves scientists? The nerve.

Slightly Guilded

Since we've raised the hurrumph level on game reviews, I gotta say that I found Tom's review of Guild Wars to be pretty awful. Despite giving it a 9.0, he seems to spend almost the entire review complaining about the game, and it really seems like he's just comparing it to all the other MMO's he's played (which I guess is a lot):

Then there's the matter of having only 8 slots in which to put your chosen spells. Compared to, oh, World of Warcraft, this is a joke. Considering that your character will have up to one hundred and fifty spells by the time he or she reaches Level 20 (the current cap), giving us only eight slots is either torture or genius--I haven't decided which.

Problem here is that ... not all of us have played quite as many MMO's as Tom has and so we're left having no idea what the heck he's really talking about. Personally, I want to know what there is to like in the game, but Tom can't seem to muster that without complaining still:

So there are a lot of things to like about Guild Wars, but it's not quite the complete package. It excises tedious travel, but the pursuant joy is hampered by getting bogged down fighting low-level monsters sometimes. Combat is much more satisfying than elsewhere, but I feel like I need one or two more slots for my spells. There's always at least one spell you need but will only (hopefully) use sparingly, like Resurrection. The compass map is quite handy because you can scribble on it, but it doesn't display the names of your party members when you mouse over their dots. A monk also can't resurrect or heal another player's pet.

See what I mean? He can't say anything nice without following it up with something to bitch about. He spends much of the review bitching about this game that he apparently really, really liked. It's like he's got guilt from being away from WoW or something.

I think reviewers should express their opinions in reviews, but I think they should try to be clear and concise about it. Readers aren't really interested in the reviewer's overall experience, they want to know the guts about what the game is like. Here I'm left with a game that's supposed to be really good, but I honestly couldn't tell you why from the review.

Get Primed

If you get a moment, check out the Alpha Prime Teaser site. It's sounds like it might take an almost Paradroid angle to an FPS, where you'll be able to control various robots to solve your problems, but to be honest it's hard to tell with the information provided. Even if that angle is ignored, it looks fairly atmospheric and might avoid the FPS rut that even the likes of Half-Life 2 seems stuck in.

Dev Day Diary: Collisions

I've been harassed by a couple of old Unrealers about the PC still being down. There's two facts about this case. 1) It's been an expensive couple of months and I can't really rationalize spending a few extra hundred right now. 2) The Mini has been completely sufficient for development and without the distraction that SWAT 4, Guild Wars and all that Unreal modding I left undone - I'm actually getting a lot done. 3) There are new CPUs coming out, which should push down prices overall.

What have I gotten done one might ask? Well, shoving an XMLRPC server into an iTunes visualizer isn't easy as it sounds actually. Oddly, iTunes visualizers aren't designed to be servers. Nor are servers designed to be visualizers. However, this provides me with a powerful, flexible and potentially easily cross-platform method of having Torque-powered games get live iTunes audio feeds.

The two things in my path right now include the Early Adopter status of the Torque 2D engine and myself. T2D has the potential for some advanced collision methods, but most of them just aren't in place right now. Now, I've got like five designs for music-orientated games in my head. I've started two, but the second one I've completely redone as I've coded it. It was originally supposed to be a very, very simply design that I could finish in about a week. But as I sat staring at the convulsing spectrograph, it seemed too simple. And by simple I mean ... boring. So I just started to goof around with placing objects and seeing what happens.

It's now extended into something an audio platformer. You'll have a little dancing guy which you can control, jumping around on plaftforms which respond to the spectrograph. Your goal is to knock out the "interference" (also the working title) which is descending from above before it takes out the spectrogram itself.

Yeah, I know ... I hate plaftformers. But this is more in design with say, Jumpman than say Jak and Daxter. The design won't assume you have pixel perfect reflexes ... in fact it will assume that you'll just keep jumping around to the music.

Platforms are bit of a hangup in T2D right now, but I think I'll be able to rope something together. I just hope I don't have to rewrite it when the next major release hits. Again, perhaps I should just use idea #3 and table this one. See what I mean about being one's worst problem?

Wednesday, May 11, 2005

Deathmatches marked, mapped, graphed

Some while back when I was still attending the BeyondUnreal forums I pointed someone in the right direction for some UnrealScript help. She was writing a mutator to track deathmatches into a graphable format. Why would one do that? So that you can create stuff like:

Check out Alison's online presentation of her project "Marked for Destruction". It's a pretty kanifty example of converging data into approachable art forms. It's also just neat to see someone who asks for help on a forum actually finish something :). If it catches your fancy, watch her blog for more.

Sly 3D in ... real 3D

According to IGN, Sly will ship with 3D glasses. Wonder how Gamefly will adjust to that? Any rate ... it's trying hard to shirk the "gimmick" angle:

Instead of just a little gimmick of seeing a game in three dimensions with lots of pieces flying towards the viewer, this feature will help players out as well. Dodging lasers will be easier with some depth perception. For the collectors out there, there will be some objects that can only be attained in the 3D mode. Of course, there will also be levels that will be designed with 3D in mind just to provide a fun and unique experience.

C'mon. It's a gimmick. And you know what - that's really OK. It's a very cool gimmick and it's good to see people trying things like this. Anyone remember Leather Goddess of Phobos and it's Smell-O-Vision?

What I've always wondered is why someone doesn't use similar technology to seperate out multiplayer screens on one monitor. Yeah, it would take some creative art production and design, but it would be neat to play a strategy game off a console where your opponent had no idea what you were plotting.

Evidence A

Please examine this image to the right. It's from a game called Cold Winter, which IGN just reviewed. Now, I'm not knocking the review. Not saying it's off-base or anything. However this image is apparently indicative of a 6.5 on the IGN scale, which in scientific terms is something of "slightly above average", but academically we all know that a C+ isn't going to make your parents happy.

Point? Point is that there's nothing really wrong that I can tell from the screenshots except that it doesn't look as good as the wow candy we've all seen recently. So while some people didn't like Doom 3 because it was too dark and scary, it still raises the bar for everyone. The review very aptly points out the differences between the game's mechanics (good) and it's production values (not so good, except oddly the voice acting).

I couldn't get a read for how bad the framerate is. That would be a potential deal killer, but everything else is just indicative of how production orientated mainstream gaming has gotten. How the hell do people keep up with that? If me and some friends had put together something equivalent to those screenshots and people complained it looked like crap, I'd never stop groaning.

Like I said, I don't the review is wrong.

But I think it's an indication of what's wrong.

Our Tears Are Shiny

The Girl and I booted up Shining Tears last night, hoping for a solid bout of wacky cute two player action JRPG goodness.

Sadly, that trend I mentioned is prevalent in the game. Since we had rented it from Gamefly, we didn't have the manual and therefore had no idea that the appropriate way to start a cooperative game was to play through some of the single player.

OK folks, let's step back here.

Do reviews of the game say it's a two player title? Yes
Does the box say it's a 1-2 player game? Yes
Does it make any sense to hide a coop game under single player play? No

Cooperative play isn't a gimmick or a bonus. It's something people factor in when they buy a game. Sometimes (particularly for myself) it's the reason I buy or rent a game. A game like Shining Tears, which really took an effort to play around with how two different characters interact, is really missing the boat by short changing what could be one of the better features.

Developers should learn from Snowblind and Raven Soft. Look, couples that game together stay together. Don't mess with a good thing.

That's Really Smart

Thanks Independant Gaming Source for pointing out Project Nero, a Torque powered project utilizing a lot of big words:

The game uses the AI to allow simulated robotic agents to cope with changing environments and situations, and form adaptive tactical solutions. The end result is a game that adapts itself to the strategies desired by the player, while still allowing the AI-controlled entities to operate as autonomous agents.

They said Funkydilla

Funkydilla. It is a truly innovative rhythm-action game. You have freedom, choice and direction, and you can steer a path through the music. It can be different every time according to how you play because you can take the music wherever you like. On top of that, you can play it with only one button. User interfaces don’t get any simpler than that.
-- Zoonami FAQ

IGN's got a bit on Zoonami and basically puts a big post-it as one to watch on their forehead. Why? Well Martin Hollis is partly responsible for Goldeneye and Perfect Dark ... and if you're unfamiliar with those games then I weep openly for you. They've also gained PSP developer status, so watch your hands.

Tuesday, May 10, 2005

Lucas is a whore

Since we're talking about opinions and Star Wars anyway, let me make something clear before the deluge of Star Wars III game and movie rains upon us completely.

I think George Lucas is possibly one of the biggest whores on Planet Earth. I'm up for nominations about potential challengers, but from my perspective the field is clear, so to speak.

Look, if you're a big old Jedi fanboy who is right now brainlocked between what flame or defense or whatever to post, just go play with your lightsaber. Nothing I'm about to say matters to you anyway because you've long been sold on the idea that Star Wars is a gentle, nostalgic reminder of a simple yet visually grand epic can be told. Like the old television serials, but brought to life with modern splendor.

Fine. Personally I think the Star Wars legacy is about how an innovative film sold an audience on a somewhat what cut and dry story and instead of keeping hold of the grandiose nature that Episode IV began and Empire managed to scratch into, Lucas decided f' it, let's make some money. Jedi was all about selling ewoks and TIE fighters. It never really nagged me until old George started in with the sequels. Instead of offering a deep and interesting backstory with psychological thrills about the galaxy's most mass murderer ... we got midichlorins, scenes stolen from his own movies and some crappy dialogue about sand.

Here's the deal. I don't really care about the Revenge of the Sith because the Jedi are about to get what they deserve. You heard me. The whole premise is idiotic that this mega-powerful brat gets to stomp all over any kind of respect and authority and all the while people gasp as he "turns" to the Dark Side. Turns? More like glances, you gits - he was always dark. OK, first he was just annoying - then he was always dark.

Perhaps on it's own Episode III will be a decent film, but it can't be part of a great epic because Lucas shot his wad trying to recapture the marketing lust of his other movies. He sold out his epic story, if he ever had one, to Mattel. So even if Sith avoids all the logical jumps, trite dialogue and unbelievably dull plot of the first two prequels - it fails before minute one because it's part of a flawed story.

I hope Lucas loves to roll around in a big bed of cash. He could have had a truly special series of movies, but kiddified them instead. Will I see it? Yeah, because my brother pointed out that we're of that odd generation that will get to see them all in the theatre on release. So I'll finish what I started. Even if Lucas didn't.

But in my heart, when I get to the theatre, I'll really be hoping just to see a trailer for Serenity.

Fallible Reviews

Brian sans kotaku gets into a bit of a debate with Kyle the VGOmbudsman over at the RedAssedBaboon about the fallible nature of reviews in gaming:

[11:26] Brian: but if you hand out a 45 percent to any game ANY you really need to justify it
[11:26] Kyle: but even if a game meets those, some people juts won't like it
[11:26] Brian: and if it completly disagrees with all of the other reviews out there, you're wrong
[11:26] Brian: :)
[11:26] Brian: lol
[11:26] Kyle: heh, a minority of one and all that

Which makes me wonder what Brian does for work all day.

But seriously, look at the difference between this IGN review and this Gamespy one. For one thing, we can definately rule out that Gamespy and IGN are in collusion for their reviews.

Not having played the game ... and not really intending to since all things Star Wars gives me a bit of nasuea these days ... I gotta say that while I don't disagree with Brian, I enjoyed the IGN review much more. The IGN review really gets into details about the game, citing extremely specific examples of gameplay mechanics which are farcical or annoying. The Gamespy edition is much more shallow and almost reads like it's an adaptation from a press kit. OK, perhaps that's a bit harsh ... but I didn't get nearly as much of a grip about the game than I did with Ivan's take on it.

Is IGN wrong? I think Kyle responds well. People keep reading reviews because they trust their opinions. I usually read several reviews if I'm questionable about a game to try and find specifics like Ivan reports. Whether or not I would have the same reaction to these mechanics is completely impossible for IGN to determine. All they can do is publish a review and if I play enough games where my opinion is counter to the what they post ... then I'll probably stop reading them.

Opinions on games don't mean much. I've heard so much nonsense about why X was so horrible (like, there were too many LEDs flashing on the gun model ... true story). Best you can do is take in the view and make a judgement for yourself.

Monday, May 09, 2005

Remembering GDC

Sometimes it's good to see a solid, sober account after the dust has settled. Course, sometimes the results are similar:

I suppose I should have seen this coming. These are folks who have to build games today, right now, under heavy budget and risk constraint. Although they’ve taken on some daring experiments, some which may succeed and others that have failed, I’m realizing they’re just not in a position to think too far outside the box, to push hard on innovation. That’s simply not a luxury available to them. (Or if they do have ideas, they’re not speaking about them in public.)

--Andrew @ Grand Text Auto

The Art of Quake 4

If you missed it on Blue's, you should check out this Gamespy interview about the art of Quake 4:

With this technology, basically, whatever you draw on your concept drawing, you can model and it can be in the game and look exactly like your concept. That's really exciting for artists -- being able to see your vision really come to life in the game.

-- Kevin Long

I've rambled to some length about how the push for big technology can have negative ramifications on game dev in general ... so it's good to get a solid reminder of the positive things this technology brings to the table.

GameFly offers free PSPs .... quietly

According to this news bit GameFly is offering up a chance for a free PSP if you become a new subscriber during May. There's virtually no real mention of this on GameFly itself, possibly because they don't want to annoy ardently faithful current subscribers like myself by showing off the truckload of PSP's they're tossing out.

Sunday, May 08, 2005

Minor Victory

That's iTunes running an XMLRPC server with a Torque client listening to the audio data.

Stay tuned to this space for more.