The Animal Farm

December 29th, 2008

Last Call

I’m sitting in the Amtrak station, a full hour and a half away from my connecting train, waiting oh so patiently while (not) discreetly oggling attractive passers-by. I’m on an insecure network; if someone takes over the site and turns it into a warez portal, well, we can expect the site to be better for it.

The holiday season was festive, provided festivals in your clan involve massive amounts of sleep followed by more sleep, interrupted by small portions of food before continuing this whole sleep fad. I’m making my way back to NC now, hoping this Amtrak experience does not mimic the last, which was a harrowing 13-14 hour journey that I probably haven’t complained enough about. It was bad. Really bad. Ok, I’m done.

I picked up Wario Land: Shake It, which is beautiful if not overly simplistic, but I haven’t played it enough to provide an informed opinion. I also procured Resident Evil: Degeneration, which managed to fly under my radar. I’ll be watching it on the train, and I’ll provide my impressions as soon as it is most convenient to me. Wait for it.

I played around with a random dungeon generator on the ride up. I’ve written a couple before - for one, there’s source code laying around on an old site, but it’s bad code. I made another for a cell-phone game which was a bit simpler, but the generated dungeons were not quite as robust. With this one, I’m trying to get decent efficiency (a quality both prior implementations lacked to some degree) while keeping the robustness of the first implementation. The basic algorithm is to pick a random room template, pick a random exit currently on the map, and try to fit the template over the exit. The biggest speed issue is making sure a room candidate does not collide with other rooms. Since I’m working with a large 2D array, there’s not much way around a brute-force check, though I can probably do a coarse bounding-box check over nearby placed rooms before doing the tile-by-tile check.

It just doesn’t compare to private practice.

December 23rd, 2008

The Failings of Public Transportation

Let’s be honest with ourselves. Depending on Amtrak to get you somewhere less than two hours late is akin to depending on a single man to solve the world’s woes. It’s a great idea but isn’t especially pragmatic. Depending on Amtrak to get you somewhere less than an hour late is like depending on an atom bomb to, mid explosion, become sentient and decide it just wants to sing folk songs and play the keytar.

So I missed my connecting train. Which in hindsight I should have anticipated, but I left myself room for a two hour delay (on a seven hour ride, mind you), and Amtrak managed to drop the ball.

I got on a Greyhound instead, which was… well, I won’t pick an adjective. I’ll just tell you what happened.

We get on the bus, and the driver gives some general info. A passenger asks a question, and the driver than spends the next five minutes talking about how that question was already answered, which the passenger would know if he listened. He goes on to say that Greyhound passengers aren’t listeners in general (with a little ‘Not That This Applies To You’ garbage disclaimer). Which might be appropriate were he a middle school bus driver, but seems highly unprofessional when people are paying for his services. On more than one occasion he berated someone for a question, and at one point he went on a small tangent about how he was a cop and someone was a little shady. It’s the kind of stuff that comes from people who haven’t realized that people miss things or want verification, but moreover a simple ‘yes’ or ‘no’ would’ve saved everyone a lot of time.

It’s this kind of crap that happens when companies don’t have any competition whatsoever. Customers can’t go to the nicer, more reliable service because there is none, and the rubbish service has no motivation to improve.

Time to arrive: 14 hours.

December 21st, 2008

Gears of Gilgamesh

Two topics in one. In this epic post, I will be speaking of Gears of War 2 (a game) and Gilgamesh (an anime).

Gears is pretty damn good. It’s basically the first game, but with bigger battles and a little more storytelling. Not particularly good storytelling, but it’s getting panned a lot more than it deserves. Perhaps the only failing is that it lacks the epic boss battles of the first - ie those frantic encounters with the Berserker where you’re trying to keep your head from being punched off. The co-op campaign clocks in somewhere around 10 hours and stays consistently good throughout. The other multiplayer modes add a lot, with Horde and Annex both being great, although I’d really like to see the Assault mode from UT4.

I watched Gilgamesh over Netflix during the course of a few nights, nights I would like to claim back were it not for the uncompromising flow of time. The anime is basically an assault on decent storytelling. Nothing outlandish, but nothing very interesting given the show’s relatively promising potential. Moves slowly, uninspired characters, that old dance. And I don’t know when cloning became hip, but now anything from Japan that doesn’t contain at least one clone isn’t meeting some sort of quota. And the ending is radically unfulfilling.

Meanwhile, there’s a Metal Gear Solid DLC for Little Big Planet which is seriously making me consider purchasing a PS3.

You seem rather chipper.

December 19th, 2008

New Crystal Chronicles

Brian, Ricky, and Szarko:

There appears to be a new Final Fantasy:Crystal Chronicles coming out for the DS and Wii that will support online play and be cross platform in that you can join a game from either system.

I repeat, Final Fantasy Crystal Chronicles with online play for the Wii and DS. Who’s with me when it comes out?

Zach

December 18th, 2008

Hmm

Well, I guess I don’t really have much to talk about. I haven’t posted in a while though and I kind of felt a little bad about it.

I tend to gravitate towards Christmas-themed movies around the holidays mainly because that is what is advertised all the time around the holidays. I like a lot of them, too. Morgan and I rented Fred Claus because, A; it is a Christmas movie and B; we both really like Vince Vaughn. Mistake. Do not ever watch this movie because it is terrible.

I’ve recently seen Quantum of Solace as well. This movie I do recommend seeing if only because the action is fun to watch. The story is non existent through most of it, but the movie was really enjoyable.

WoW is still awesome. We raid now and I am very tired each morning because of it, but I love it.

I haven’t watched the last 2 episodes of Heroes. The series is decent enough for me to continue watching it, I just like to play WoW more. I have both episodes on the DVR and hope to get around to them Sunday afternoon. I’ve heard they are decent episodes, so I am a little excited about them.

Okay, no more mindless drivel.

~Zach

December 16th, 2008

GECK 2

Let’s talk about the Geck some more, because I’ve had more time to play with it.

I’m gradually coming to the realization that it’s borderline unusable. I say borderline because I know I’m going to stubbornly try, but I don’t expect a great deal of productivity.

Every time I drag something into the viewing window, it goes exactly where I don’t want it to go. Basically, that is always about ten units up and twenty units south of my primary structure (where ‘units’, ‘up’ and ’south’ are all left to the reader’s imagination). I spend more time dragging blocks around than I do placing them. Is there some trick I’m missing?

Also, I can’t save while the asset preview window (or any dialog) is open? What the hell is up with that? I don’t even know how someone could couple those two disjoint acts in such a way that they are mutually exclusive.

The preview window is a struggle on its own. It’s hard to get a good feel for any asset unless you’ve rotated it every which way. I’m not sure how they could’ve done this better, perhaps multiple viewports or making backfaces blended instead of invisible. Probably not a huge deal to their internal staff, but it’s a bit of a time sink for me.

Of course, the tool wildly unstable, crashing during simple operations and throwing up a barrage of warning messages about almost anything. I won’t give Bethesda too much grief about that. It’s a free tool, no doubt a slightly more polished version of internal tech, and it covers a lot of bases. I still have to wonder about the pain the artists endured on a daily basis and if it is similar to the pain I endure hourly.

That tupperware was delicious.

December 14th, 2008

GECK

Last night I had a chance to sit down with the recently released Fallout 3 editor. I have grand ideas of making some great MODs, but whether those pan out or not, here are some of my initial impressions of the tool:

(1) A tree view and a filterable list of assets doesn’t really scale. It takes me forever to find an asset I want.

(2) Having all the keyboard shortcuts near your left hand was a good idea.

(3) Why am I spending so much time building NavMeshes? My world is being built out of building blocks - it’s reasonable for those to have NavMeshes built in, and then provide me ways to cut around the clutter that I add. It might be tricky to keep the NavMesh optimal while allowing for cutting, but given that 30-40% of level building time is easily sunk into generating these, it’s worth it.

(4) A method for docking windows would be appreciated, yea? C’mon, it’s 2008. This should be standard in tools.

(5) It’d be great to bring in my own assets. I know it’s bound by the NIF format, and they can’t really give away Emergent’s plugins, but some kind of converter maybe? Still, it looks like I can bring in my own textures (and probably sounds; haven’t checked), which is nice.

Most of those are bad, but overall I’m pleased with the tool. Could use some more tutorials (maybe I should step up? It’s been so long since I wrote a tutorial). I’ve got plenty to play with, though.

Closed for renovations.

December 10th, 2008

Flowing Past

How does one represent the passage of time effectively in a game?

Most games just ignore it. Your average RPG, if progressing in real time, would likely take place over the course of (at least) a couple months. There’s a ton of travel, lots of resting, and oodles of events (OK, I ran out of good synonyms for ‘lots’). Still, after playing through, I get the sense that the entire game took place over the course of a day or two. Everything moves so fast and streamlined that it all becomes clumped together, like one big event.

Some games try to simulate it, which is to my mind worse. Sure, there are day/night cycles and a calendar, but quest givers will wait forever. The villain will sit in his tower plotting to destroy the world, but it must be a very intricate plot because he’s just finishing when you arrive, regardless of how many Fed-Ex deliveries you spent your time on prior. It just doesn’t work for a meaningful narrative.

Of course, it’s no good to have a real concept of time, where things will go on around you whether you’re there for the party or not. Players should be allowed to play the game the way they want, without restrictions on how they invest their time. Nobody wants to be forced through the game to finish within forty-eight hours before the villain hatches his master plan. Further, nobody wants to have to play through two years before they can push through to the end (Persona 3 actually did this, though I’m not sure how long because I quit well before the end).

The question is on my mind as I think about a game that’s supposed to play over the course of an entire man’s life.

The solution I’m leaning toward, as artificial as it is, is to break the game up into disjoint chapters, where chapters jump ahead a few years each time. I don’t care for the disconnect this creates, but I can think of no other way to push the concept of time forward in a way that happens in game and that is also observable by the player.

Alternatively, I thought about just faking it. Occasionally sneaking in an ‘older’ player model and referencing events as ‘old’ even though they happened less than four hours ago in play-time. I don’t see that realistically working.

Really, of course, there is no game. This is a game idea that, even if I had the time and resources to dedicate to it, would fall low on a list of other ideas I’m more passionate about. But I think it’s an interesting question, all the same.

We’ve got all the time in the world.

December 10th, 2008

Brian on the State of the Union

Coffee shops on downtown Franklin Street are a joke.

First, you really only have two to choose from. Unless you count Sugarland, but I refuse to acknowledge a business that specializes primarily in gelato. Or the place right beside it, but that place is mildly scary and I think is actually a restaurant.

So that leaves us with Caribou and Starbucks. Caribou was a nice place over the summer, before the students arrived; I could go in with my laptop, get some tea, and do some work. However, in the last month, I have not been able to find a single place to sit, let alone something near an outlet. The students fill it so perpetually that the only way you have a chance is if you arrive at 5 AM and setup a tent for the day.

Then there’s Starbucks. I have no problem with the Evil Empire of Coffee, I’m generally a fan of Evil Empires as a whole. But charging for wireless is rubbish. Further, their network is insecure, so even if I did throw away my dignity, I’d likely be throwing my personal information with it. No, Starbucks. No.

And let’s not even talk about the prices. I don’t care what kind of economics pie chart you put on the table, it won’t be big enough to fully explain the gouging that goes on. It’s as though some mad evil genius realized people will pay for God knows what when they could make something (likely superior) at home for 1/10th the price. Is it the novelty of drinking out of cheap disposable cups?

I miss my surly, intimidating baristas and my hippy music, my silly pretentious discussions and my crazy artists.

Alert: Another post forthcoming.

December 6th, 2008

Rolling the Dice

It would seem that the Difficulty rating for drum tracks in Rock Band 2 are decided by taking a man, spinning him three times, and then dropping him off a cliff, measuring the song’s difficulty by analyzing the resulting blood spatter.

This is the unnecessarily long way of saying that it’s completely ehf-ing random. We have Ten Speed of God’s Blood and Burial, which is ranked five stars despite being criminally easy. Mostly, though, they - ‘they’ being the Harmonix cronies who never called despite receiving a perfectly stellar resume and that doesn’t make me bitter at all - vastly underestimate how difficult a song is. The Duran Duran songs, despite being more challenging than a fair number of the Who songs, only have a four star rating (out of a posisble Ominous Red Five Star rating). I nearly died beating Rio.

I tried watching Syriana tonight, and I emphasize the word tried because it’s one of the few movies I turned off before completion. The first major offense is that, even with my TV at its loudest volume, I can’t hear a damn thing, so even if they are making sense I can only catch that in the subtitled portions. The second is that it seems just a tad complicated for light viewing on a Saturday night. Or maybe it isn’t? I don’t know, I couldn’t really hear it.

I also plowed through the third season of Weeds, which is just a great show. The writing and acting have always been stellar, but this season they upped the comedy. Andy and Kevin Nealon (forget his character’s name; Doug, I think) are two gems. They did turn Mary-Louise Parker into a bit more of a ho this season, but it’s hard to be mad about that.

Oh, right, I nearly forgot, I also saw Transporter 3. I loved Transporter 2. I have a special place in my heart for movies that throw believability and plausibility out the window with zero apologies. Once Upon a Time in Mexico fills that role spectacularly. Anyway, Transporter 3 wasn’t quite as good, but it puts up a good fight. The action scenes are still spot on, with Jason Statham being the man I want to play The Deadliest Man Alive. There is the introduction of a completely retarded love sublpot (”Hey, I’m half your age, don’t speak your language all that great, and our interactions have been restricted to ’strip for me’ and ‘I want delicious food’, but I think this relationship is going to be pretty special). Anyway, if you turn the volume down every time the girl speaks, it’s a fun movie.

A man is only as good as the car he drives.