The Animal Farm

December 28th, 2005

Games for Christmas? Who’d Have Guessed

Last night Evan finished Gun, and today I tried out Fire Emblem and Batallion Wars. I’m ready to talk about them now.

Gun wrapped up nicely at around six or seven hours. The game is pretty fun, but it’s definitely a rental. You can finish it in such a short time span, and there’s not a whole lot to do - aside from some bland bounty missions - after completion.

Fire Emblem looks like your standard tactical strategy fare. The graphics are nice and colorful. There are no voice overs, and I admit I’ve become spoiled by the later RPGs such as Xenosagas. The strategy is, well, strategical. There’s nothing amazing within the combat, and certainly nothing setting it above Phantom Brave. The characters all seem pretty bland - you won’t find any Laharls or Albedos here. I still have quite a bit to play, and I’ve uncovered next to none of the real story, but I think it’s safe to say that there’s nothing mind-blowing here.

Battalion Wars seems pretty wild. It’s a real-time tactical strategy game where you command men on the field while you yourself control any given unit. It’s fast paced, and there’s always plenty of action. The graphics are easy on the eyes, with a cartoonish style that accentuates the thick, exaggerated accents of key characters. I’m looking forward to unlocking all the units and nifty things within the game. My only qualm is that sometimes my entire army gets wiped out with little warning, but that’s most likely my fault.

Snack attack!

December 27th, 2005

Chronic(what)cles of Narnia

It’s 3 AM, and I’m sacrificing sleep to tell you the tale of my Christmas. Sit down boys and girls. You’re about to get taken to a digital wonderland.

Things started off on Christmas Eve. There was a small party at Mom’s, where gift giving was done and such. Afterward, I played Mario Party 7 (ahem) with my sister for an hour or two before retiring to the dungeon. I say the dungeon because where I was sleeping was creepy as all get-out, largely due to the lighting. I cracked open my laptop and watched the last few episodes of Buffy, Season 6, which I stole from my sister temporarily. It was about 3 AM before I decided to stop, and I then proceeded to try and sleep. Try being the operative word. But no matter.

On Christmas day, I got up early and headed over to my grandparents’ place to intercept Dad. There was gift exchanging once again along with some general chicanery, which uniting families are wont to do. I then napped the rest of the day. At about 7, I crawled out of bed and putzed around the house, not really doing anything magical. At around 10, I went back and started reading Monstrous Regime. I was amused with this fine novel until around 2 or 3, at which point I slumbered.

The day after Christmas (yesterday, technically) I got up and, well, I’m not sure what I did until I sat down to watch 24. The show is pretty good. Not “I’m gonna rush out to buy the DVDs” good, but “I would kill half a day on this” good. Evan called around 5, and he and I went to the mall to spend Christmas money. We searched for a GameCube memory card, and the lack of one made me wonder why buying GameCube accessories was so hip so many years after its release. At any rate, I purchased Battalion Wars and Fire Emblem and was ten seconds away from either Four Swords or Wild Arms. We also rented Gun, which I’ll get to in a moment. After general shopping, we contacted Steph and Steve and met at the Mountain Diner. We went to Wal-Mart afterward, where I procured 5 containers of gummy bears, sacrificing one to Steph out of the goodness of my very soul.

Evan and I came back and played Gun, which was surprisingly good. It’s a bit of a cross between Resident Evil 4 and Max Payne which takes place in the west. So far the storytelling is top-notch and the gameplay is really good - offering up a lot of variety at every corner. I wouldn’t say it’s quite on the level of RE4, but I would say it comes close. And that’s only after a cursory glance - we could see that we were unlocking a lot of stuff, but we didn’t really have an opportunity to try all of it (and I didn’t have a memory card to save our progress). We’re likely going to give it a more thorough look soon.

So, yea, that’s my story. It probably wasn’t the digital wonderland I had originally said, but if you’ve read this far, I already suckered you into the whole thing.

Stop worryin’ about the price and sell me the product.

December 23rd, 2005

Class Reviews

I updated my class reviews in the Writings section to reflect my last semester. After reading over what I wrote, it looks like it was a pretty lackluster semester. I warn any professors that might be reading this site not to read the reviews, as it will likely hurt your feelings and engender a bitterness toward me that will adversely impact my performance in any future classes with you.

Good job, Zach.

Shaman is coming.

December 23rd, 2005

4.0 as well, Suckas

This is my second second semester in a row that I have gotten it, and it still feels pretty good.

Anyways, I’ve been working diligently on ZT over this break. I haven’t gotten nearly as much done as I did last week, however, because there are other things I like to do while I am at home that I don’t get to do at school. I finished the camera for the game. It isn’t some hi-tech fancy camera like you would see in an FPS, but it is perfect for my game. It allows for rotation about what it is focused on, and for panning motion from one focus object to another one. I also allow the flowing aspect to be turned off for a quick jump effect, just in case we needed it. I am currently working on the “Wildlife manager.” This little manager will handle all the various fauna in the game to try and give the world a more lifelike feel. We are talking hives of bees, flocking birds overhead, and random animals that do their own thing until Zakarus gets close enough, then they scurry off away from him. It isn’t really going to be all that complex, but it will add life to the environment.

Anthony and Steve, my writer/static artist and main artist respectively, have really taking a liking to the game as well. Both have produced some amazing work that just makes this game seem all that more real. I still have my doubts of it getting finished, as it has been an ongoing project for almost 7 years now, but this one seems a lot more serious. We have all grown since its humble beginnings, and it has potential. Here is an excerpt of the hawtness Anthony has recently produced, it is from the description of a major area in the game:

“Long ago, in the age before creatures when Pyrus’s flames still engulfed the land, the god Krag took control of the planet’s massive tectonic plates and rammed them together in the north. Planning to use the resulting split in the earth as a mountainous and rocky home, he slammed them together with such force as to create a huge jagged line of mountains. The beautifully feminine and wispy Goddess Gail, however, saw this as an opportunity to make a home for herself on this red-hot planet, and somewhere to control the winds that would blow over its surface. Using her cunning, unrivaled by the other Gods, she exhaled an endless breath from her bottomless lungs. The breath carried the piercing, sustained shriek of a whistle on its invisible wings, and was so deafening as to disorient everyone else whose ears it caught. The constant, endless wind she erupted from herself traveled into, through, and out of every crevice and valley in Krag’s mountain domain, making his stay there unbearable. With a rumbling grunt and an extraplanar curse, Krag conceded to his rival Gail, leaving her to her tricks in the mountains she had won.”

Like I said, the hawtness.

Well, the next couple of days are gunna be hectic, so I doubt I will get much done. Have a Merry Christmas everyone!

~Zach

December 22nd, 2005

4.0 Again, Suckas

How I got an A in both Database Design and Compiler Construction is still slightly beyond me, but I am more than pleased.

Also, a formal apology to the developers of FOX: It seems you do have a full class reference. While it could do to be a little more descriptive, and some more code examples would be greatly appreciated, you’re still doing better than I had originally given credit for.

I saw King Kong yesterday. It received mixed reviews from my friends, but I won’t elaborate on the discussion on grounds that those friends are legally retarded. Go ahead and see it. It’s a bit slow in places - an understatement I’m prepared to take heat for - but it entertains throughout.

Also, I feel I should elaborate on my last post a little. Adelphia sucks. Their service has been consistently down for me throughout the break, to the point where profanity was liberally applied in describing the Adelphia CEO. Daredevil is, well, really bad. The worst superhero movie out, and I can say that because I wholeheartedly refuse to see Elektra. But it is completely blown away by Charlie’s Angles: Full Throttle. Full Throttle is the type of movie you only watch on a dare. It’s the one you rent side-by-side with Gigli and From Justin to Kelly to see if you “have what it takes.” I know people don’t appreciate the movie reviews I do here (a criticism, by the way, you can stop providing because I genuinely don’t give a damn), but I’m telling you, if you watch Full Throttle, you’ll regret it later.

I’d like to address in this post the “games as art” debate that has been rippling across game development sites for a while now. Ebert - the glorious and reputable man that he is for some reason I’m still researching - decided to say that games can not be regarded as art (that’s paraphrasing from Penny Arcade, so I may have gotten some of the details wrong). I’d like to ask the question: how? Practically everyone will concede that graphic art is a form of, well, art. They will further concede that music is artistic as well. And storytelling is another art. So how is it that when you put them all together, what you have is not somehow art? Is it because there’s an engineering backend? Is it because there’s a cohesive whole independent of the sum of its parts, which loses its artistic value when interactivity is thrown in? These do not convince me as reasons. I fail to find a significant reason why games aren’t art without semantically arguing the definition of ‘art’ to the point where useful debate vanishes. If someone can give me another viewpoint, I’d be happy to discuss it.

I was raised in the Bronx, Weslie. This is something you wouldn’t understand.

December 20th, 2005

Letters

I’d like to post a few open letters to various groups:

Dear Adelphia,
Consider not sucking.

Dear Everyone Involved With Daredevil and Charlie’s Angels: Full Throttle,
Haha. Hahahahaha. HAHAHAHAHAHAHAHA.

Dear Developers of FOX and Popcap,
Document your freaking toolkits better. I’m tired of searching through header files trying to figure out how to do something. Take a hint from Java, and fully document everything if you want your tools to actually be useful.

Dear Jennifer of DVD on TV,
Will you be my wife?

Sincerely,
Brian Sowers.

Nasty girl.

December 14th, 2005

Update on ZT

Okay, so this week I have been trying to make pretty decent drawable object code base for the new OpenGL version of ZT. When talking to Anthony( the once-again artist for the game ), we decided that just billboarding everyting isn’t enough. At first, I thought it would be acceptable, but Brian suggested that since I am using this powerful new tool to develop, why not make it so the user can rotate the map. I thought this was a good idea. I then realized that it would cause problems with my billboarding scheme. Houses, for instance, would have just been 2d objects in my world, and rotating around them would have given a really odd appearance to the game that I could not have. So I decided that I would make two kinds of objects, billboarded and 3d. The 3d objects would be broken up into pieces( pillars, if you will ) that each tile would contain one of. This sounded alright, as it is essentially how the game does it now anyway. But I got to thinking and thought, I wonder if the criss-crossed method that some games use for trees would look good? This method is essentially taking 1 2d object and drawing it once in the XY plane and then again in the YZ plane. For some objects, like trees, it does look really good, even better than the billboarding method. So now I was up to 3 object types, billboarded, criss-crossed, and 3d. I then thought, “signs and fences really don’t fit any of these types,” and decided I would make a 2d object that would not rotate with the camera. The object can be any combination of the 2 dimensions, so it allows for say.. bridges over water( albeit very flat ones ). So I was happy then. Then I remembered that it was a pain in the arse when I was using the map editor to have to place the 12 individual pieces of my 3×4 tiled house, so I made a 2d world object class and a 3d world object class. Both of these classes are drawn independantly from the tiles theys sit on, meaning that if one tile were suddenly gone, the piece of the object on top of it would still be drawn, this is different from the trees, say, as they are drawn by the tile, not the world. That really doesn’t matter, though, considering tiles won’t just go disappearing anyway. I am thinking that with these 5 drawable object types, I should be okay to implement any kind of objects that I want in my game. It will also make my map editor a lot nicer and more user friendly.

Speaking of the map editor, I have decided to make this version of it( whenever I get around to it, 3d picking is HARD ) a lot more scalable. For the 2d and 3d world objects, I am going to allow the loading in of textures for each one to be done while the editor is running, this way each house can be different. And I can also make the trees varying heights in the editor, so even though they have the same image being drawn, they can be different heights. This will allow for more variation in the trees. That’s a good thing. We already have variation in the trees already because Anthony and I think we should have several different drawings of say evergreens that the game will randomly pick at either run time or when the map data is written to file. Either one works for me, though the former might end up with observant gamers noticing that one tree suddenly became another when s/he left the map and came right back, probably not too big a deal though. So, right now I am thinking one tile’s entry in the map file might look like this:

That is the tentative data that any one tile will need. So if a map is 100×100 tiles, there will be 10,000 of these entries. That could get big in size. I might have to assign the file textures and drawable object textures a number for each path. Sorry.. babbling. Essentially once a tile is created, an opened file will be sent to it, it will read the necessary information from the file, then create it’s drawable object, the drawable object will then take from the file what it needs, and be done with it. This sequence should be pretty easy to put in place, so I am pumped.

I just gotta manage to figure out 3d object selection… bleh.

Okay, enough geeky-programmer speak. This week is finals week. Most people loathe finals week to no end. They study for what seems like an eternity and still think they will fail. I, on the other hand, decided long ago( when I was a freshman ) that if I got good grades on all of my tests prior to the final, then the final, which is just a review, should be easy. This ideology hasn’t failed me yet. There are some classes that I wasn’t doing so hot in and as such, I was nervous on the finals. This semester I had no hard finals, so I wasn’t really all that worried. I took all three of them with stride, and am now in Morgantown until Friday when I am done working. This is good and bad. Good because I like making easy money, bad because I don’t get to see my beeb. Boo to that!

~Zach

Time alotted for finals: 500 minutes
Time spent on finals: 55 minutes

Damn it feels good to be a ganster.

December 13th, 2005

Geniuses

Does anyone know how a light gun works? No, nobody does. Ask a person on the street how a light gun works, and they’ll probably say, “Um, well, it bounces light, and… shoot, I don’t know, B.” The prevailing theory is that there’s a light being shot out, and the gun gathers information on that light based on how it bounces. And that theory couldn’t be more wrong. What actually happens is, well, I can’t explain it. Just go to Wikipedia and look it up yourself. There’s some stuff in there about an electronic gun and some special diodes and my god.

And then there’s the concept of gimbals. These were used for navigation systems in planes and space ships to determine orientation. They were made out of gyroscopes and suffered a problem called Gimbal Lock, wherein you lose an axis of rotation when you rotate in certain ways. It’s messy. Reallll messy.

So, yea, turns out people were geniuses. I look at this stuff and think, “wow,” and they’re all like, “yea, we know.” My god.

Boop boop de doop.

December 12th, 2005

Revisiting Some Things

I gave Mario Kart a little more time, and I’ve warmed up to it some. The game still aggrivates me and causes me to use words that are, shall we say, unseemly. But I can now beat races, and I showed Mirror Mode who wears the daddy pants in the relationship. For those of you keeping score, I now wear the daddy pants in all of the relationships I currently manage. That’s a lot of pants.

I’ve been reading web comics regularly, and I’d like to say a few things regarding them. First, if you haven’t read Concerned: The Half-Life and Death of Gordon Frohman, you should. Second, if you’re still reading Megatokyo, why? Barely anything has happened in what seems like a year, and “humor” stopped being its focal point at around comic #3.

Have any of you see this Darwinia craziness? I played a small demo and was completely blown away. The artistic stylings speak of a better world, a better tomorrow. The gameplay is completely new and fresh, and I’m eager to see what a full version has to offer. The Independent Games Festival announced their finalists recently, and Darwinia was nominated in nearly every category it was eligible for. Dr. Fizzwizzle was nominated a lot too, but I refuse to play that on the grounds that the name is Dr. Fizzwizzle. Okay, I don’t really refuse to play it. I just wanted to sound rational and butch, and to that end, I think I did pretty well.

Okay, seriously, whose cute idea was it to put the speakers of my laptop on the front panel, where I sit my arms? If I weren’t so in love with this thing, I would complain. I would complain hard.

Regarding Cygwin: I’ve given up. Nothing good is going to happen on Cygwin. It’s just not a useful platform for getting actual work done. I spent over a week trying to compile Chromium with no results, and I’m giving up that route. Of course, switching over to straight Linux hasn’t netted me much success either. After fighting with OpenGL/glut for hours, I got the most cryptic error I had ever seen. What was intended to be a six hour work day turned into a three hour day when I said “screw this” and went home. It’s really frustrating, but I get a break soon, so I’m happy.

Good to have you back.

December 12th, 2005

Quest of the Dragon-Scythe:Zakarus’ Tale

Okay, so I think I mentioned porting my isometric RPG from flash, a 2d medium, to OpenGL, a 3d medium. I decided on doing this for a few reasons:

- I now know some 3d programming.
- When developing the spell system using particles, I came to realize that the number of particles I can use per spell is severely limited in Flash, about 150 on screen.
- I can now allow for rotation about the _Y using the character as the center. This means I can have fancier spell effects and allow for more cluttered maps.
- I can have better animations in the world( waves, blowing grass, etc ) because I have more power to do it.

It has some drawbacks as well. Selecting a tile either in the editor or for spell casting was a lot easier when I was only working with 2d coordinates instead of 3d. This is because the mouse is in 2d coordinates and my game is in 3d. I have read two methods of doing this. One is more mathy and the other is natively supported by OpenGL. The latter is more clunky, but has the most promise of working. So far, however, I have gotten neither to work. Brian once boasted that he has gotten the OpenGL selection to work, so I will pick his brain later this week on it.

Anthony has decided to work on the game again, and has produced some pretty sweet looking foliage and other obstructions. Through his input, I have decided to change the inventory and spell selection screens to be more point-and-click instead of menu driven and text based. I think it will be a lot more intuitive and even faster.

Sowas is right about Mario Kart:DS. While I still find the game phenomenal, Double Dash was perfect, there was no reason for them to loosen the controls. I also find that in the DS version blue turtle shells, or leader shells for the cool katz, seem to happen far more often.

~Zach