February 25, 2013

PSNews a few days late and a dollar short.

I neglected to mention the playstation meeting. Most likely due to the fact it was highly underwhelming / disappointing. It was relieving to finally have hard facts confirmed and a nice look at everything but honestly nothing came as a surprise and it just didn't have the real flare I'd hoped it would. It certainly didn't push me towards actually reserving one or being a launch buyer. I am happy the price is lower than the expected 500$ mark but honestly I'd be happier still if it were closer to 300$ to which I end up practically slapping myself when I consider the actual hardware and what it would cost to make an equivalent pc. However I also turn right around when I realize that I effectively could build such a system with parts already on the market and that brings me pause given that I expect console hardware to exceed all PC hardware at launch and stay that way for at least 3 months at face value. Which is to say I expected ps4 final details to be closer to double what they are. I will take the moment to remind you however that console games have direct level hardware access which means ps4 games will look substantially better than pc games for quite a few years at least.

I look forward to seeing more about the ps4 and launch titles, revisions among other things. I really am still hoping they finally make the controller ever so slightly larger or at least make the handles longer because honestly my large hands haven't felt comfortable holding a playstation controller since I was a teen. Granted I've grown accustomed to it over the years but that doesn't mean I don't appreciate those after market controllers mad catz used to make with the long handles and turbo functions with rubber grips... I still have mine actually although it's falling apart now. That's one thing I've always appreciated about xbox is simply the controller felt beyond comfortable and it's like a natural extension of myself it's just so right. That's not to say I don't like everything else about the controller or have any other real issues I just hope it's finally a little more comfortable.

I had a group of around 20 or so friends in the nearby area come over for a viewing party at the time and that's when it kind of sunk in that I have more of a social life than I realized and I was strangely hyped about the social integration announcements they had but it faded quickly after I realized how little I actually would use it. I still appreciate it being there, and it will get used it'll just take me a while on the uptake of getting in the habit.

Then there is this loyalist code for 10$ on psn that's been going around. Sadly I didn't get one but several of my friends at the party did and we had a long debate on how they were determining "loyalty". We established it wasn't money, didn't have to do with playstation plus, or the network downtime, or a large number of other things. In the end we didn't actually decide on anything our best guess was that it simply was random or was based somehow on the number of games played and hours or potentially which specific games were played and when. I'm still debating the idea but it would be nice to have an official post somewhere to reference.

I'm also planning out an elaborate easter hunt this year in which all the eggs contain gold coins and inviting basically every gamer I know to come join in. Though obviously that's a ways down the road the idea came from when one of my friends stumbled across the strange fact I had a few gold coins in drawers and pots around my house. Though obviously the question is how did he just happen across this, and why the hell did I do that in the first place, but all the same it gave me an idea so I'm running with it.

Last but not least is that I finally realized why G4 is changing so much and it isn't much of a surprise. I've been aware of the NBC buyout for a long time but I only recently became aware of the fact they have an entire "rebranding" plan in the works to turn it from, and I quote, "from geek to chic" *gag*. Honestly I've been a huge fan for a very long time, enough that I still remember sarah lane as an AOTS host and the other tech tv show she co-hosted. I remember cinematech and nocturnal emissions and all of the great programming they had before the infinite reruns of cops. I remember some of the early ninja warrior runs and when it was first announced. I remember shows like cheat instead of cheaters, filter, and the different game competitions a young kevin narrated on that show he helped make. I won't make it out that G4 was ever really this shining tower of golden genius for gamers and geeks to worship, but it was one of the only networks you could confidently watch and be proud that you were a gamer. I feel that just slipping away now. Given this final violent push I've officially canceled my TV subscription as literally the only reason I had it was for g4 as I got all my other tv needs from the net already and the same for the news, now if I ever really just feel like watching g4 I'll find another way. There's all kinds of programs out there for watching live tv without subscriptions and places like justin.tv were people are streaming their tv anyway I'll just grab it there. Not of course to mention the official podcasts or site.

Scratch that other last but not least nonsense that was far too depressing an ending and I prefer to end things on a happy note. Too bad I can't think of one, so a question, which video game character would you marry if you could?

February 22, 2013

Bang Your Head

It's friday and even so I'm not sure I'll survive the week at the rate I've been going. Ignoring the fact I haven't really slept since tuesday I find myself surrounded by idiots and it's driving me insane. I'll get back to them in a second. Aside from my regular game work I happen to be playing with a friends tablet and it's like it's mocking me. I don't ask for much but try getting flash to work on an android tablet requires a deal with the devil signed in blood. I'm normally the go to tech guy and yet this garbage I've been dealing with even when I upgrade it from 2.1 to 2.2 (froyo right?) after having also tried cupcake, eclair, and jellybean and none of which playing nice either I simply am on the verge of giving up and forcing ubuntu on it. I won't backtalk google too much here but they should honestly allow direct downloading of apk's on pc's without the hassle. Once I finally got flash up and effectively running I couldn't get any other browser on there for some stupid reason it just wouldn't install no matter the version. Including xscope, skyfire, firefox, etc. I'll play with it some more tomorrow and if I don't figure something out by then, then my friend will simply have to forgo the android marketplace / google play and deal with the ubuntu repositories which for what he wants isn't that bad.

Moving onward and back to the people I find myself in company with. I ended up listening to nearly an hour long argument over classic movies and actors in just the most repetitive way. It was a verbatim circle of dialog on the same points and neither really knew what they were trying to say much less how to say it. Eventually I chimed in that I got what they were trying to say which is that back in the day it was more about the actor than the character they played and thus it was things like "james dean in" rather than "james dean as" it was about scenario and context rather than character building. The counter to that was basically that said actors like james dean had more talent regardless of the fact they upheld a given persona across all films. For example with bruce willis being a bald cop in probably half of all of his movies you could say the specific characters he played didn't really matter so much as it was basically him selling the movie rather than the story selling the movie in some cases. Somehow the argument was basically that this means they were a better actor and that movies have now improved beyond that where as you can see from my bruce willis example not included in the argument that this isn't entirely the case. The one side was basically hearing "he looks the same all the time" and interpreted it as "he never changes his look, you can always tell it's him, there's no costume" or something similar and went on a tangent about how robert deniro always looks the same, or mark wahlburg, etc. The other party basically heard "the superstars of black and white movies were the best actors of all time and it's impossible for anything to ever be better" and interpreted it as "actors these days couldn't act their way out of a paper bag and don't qualify to be superstars because they're too flexible in their roles, they have no conviction". Honestly listening to them drone on I couldn't take it anymore.

Then there's a nice little party I had yesterday that I thought was going damn well until it started to wind down. During the party we'd made a BaconBlivion Cake, the kind of thing that Epic Meal Time has wet dreams about. Basically you take a bacon weave and you stuff it down in a bread pan, you take some pork loin wrap it in bacon and deep fry it, then top it with more bacon, then a layer of pulled pork, we happened to go with buffalo wild wings honey bbq sauce on the pulled pork, another bacon weave, candy bacon, and a glaze, and bake it all some more. I think there was more to it at the time but it's a little fuzzy right now. One of my buddies went a step further and made a bacon weave cup, a 3rd dimension next level bacon weave tactic, and deep fried it to the point he actually could hold liquids and drink from it without it leaking. Anyway while we're enjoying this awesome creation of ours someone mentions flawless victory and at the time I thought we were all gamers here, so everyone would get it right? Apparently not and so the one other guy who I didn't really know that well but he's a friend of a friend and we'd played some games together before, he asks what skrillex has to do with anything. The dead silence in that moment should've been a clear give away he didn't understand what he'd just said. he then proceeds, instead of admitting his mistake and lack of understanding, to defend his position that "flawless victory" is from a skrillex song, which while I will admit it was used in that "reptile" dubstep mix he did or even if you want to go so far as to call it a song, it's not the source, we all tried to explain to him how reptile was a mortal kombat character and how "flawless victory" was from the game when you won without taking any damage. Which btw if you noobz out there didn't know is how you unlock reptile, by beating I think 10 or so matches with flawless victories until you see the sleigh over the moon and complete the additional challenge, you then fight reptile. Youtube it if you don't believe me it's serious business. We all then proceeded to school him on mortal kombat by breaking out the old genesis I had in the closet and firing it up. This however was not before my brain tried to reject the reality it now found itself in by violently bashing my head into a table.

For the future record of anyone reading this, if you realize you made a mistake, DO NOT, I REPEAT DO NOT! try to defend it, or yourself, you will fail, miserably.

This is only the end of a long week of significantly more severe stupidity. This honestly was the easiest nonsense I had to deal with this weak. In the realm of business I had several just vicious circles in which you can't get in without already being in basically and once you're in you realize you're in the wrong place entirely. Which wouldn't be so bad if it didn't take so damn long to get in to begin with. It would be nice to have some kind of warning sign or a list of faq's to read ahead of time. On top of which people I get the distinct feeling are trying to dodge me as they keep postponing or delaying or just missing appointments. In a few cases I do have the power to issue an ultimatum because I don't have to put up with their nonsense, I don't need them that much, but in other cases I just have to have the patience because they don't need me in the slightest and I need at least one of them which only gives me the power to tell them I could go to someone else which doesn't always work out so well.

Then sometimes when I'm dealing with these people it's obviously not clicking with them, either they don't get it or they're clearly not the kind of people I want to deal with. On the upside I do have one prospective investor that is willing to put up 50k if I can raise 100k elsewhere. It's not the greatest deal ever but it's a damn site better than anything else I've dealt with this week.

Last note of todays post being that I refined more of the skill progression system and did some slight balancing, on both games. I also fixed a game crashing bug on the auto allocation system in the top down shooter and finally added that graphical visualization I always promised.

February 18, 2013

Future Necessities

I've talked about procedural generation in the past and emphasized it's potential importance in the future. I've also discussed possible futures of the industry and what might be needed in those new environments. I still say that the future will be more focused on smarter development rather than simply adding more resources. To that end I would like to discuss specifically the limitations we'll face with our current forms of media and storage capacities. With the new power coming to us where we can create anything we can imagine and have it run in real time the problem becomes storage space. While it's true hard drives and their capacities are bigger and cheaper than ever and SSD's slowly replacing the whole market with their amazing speeds and ever increasing capacities we still are limited in things like discs such as blu ray which while it has an impressive amount of storage is also becoming obsolete. While I would appreciate things like delivering games on USB drives the fact remains digital delivery on PC is still going to be the primary method. If games like max payne are any sign of things to come, ignoring the fact they didn't bother to compress anything, I would say it's imporant to understand fully the power of procedural generation.

The insanely smaller file size and unlimited power of creation means you could for example remake the mass effect universe in a way that literally every habitable planet can be visited with many cities and a population for each with randomly generated missions and an almost infinite amount of gameplay. You could probably also reduce the installation size to a fraction of what it is without any loss in quality at all. Even if the entire game isn't done in such a way at least a hybrid could add substantially more content.

There's also the possibility of conversion technologies that can take your finished materials and analyze them and create algorithms for generating the same content while still cutting down on size. In addition other conversion tech out there might take your finished product and convert it to voxels and again reduce the overall file size without loss of quality. Not all voxel tech looks like minecraft, in fact some projects like euclidean  have some very detailed end results. In particular euclidean claims you can model like you normally would and their conversion system takes care of all the work so you're not adding any time to your development cycle and don't have to spend much time learning a whole new system or method. In particular I see a bright future for voxels once they start catching on properly.

The only thing that I would say is clear at this point is that the future of gaming is growing in complexity and unless we want every single game that comes out to eat huge chunks of our hard drives then we have to find a way to cut file sizes where possible without sacrificing content.

February 13, 2013

Mini Update

Completely unrelated to games today. A few days ago I learned Anette left nightwish and her 3rd child was due in march. They've been using Floor Jensen I guess for most of 2012 and somehow that just completely slipped under my radar until now. I side stepped the whole throwdown of who was the better singer between Anette and Tarja because honestly I loved them both. Anette pretty much knew better than to try and sing Tarja's opera based songs and had some great hits and really the band I was comfortable with still listening while Tarja went off on her own career. I happen to also be an After Forever fan so I'm familiar with Floor already and I've seen what she's doing in the band to which I must remark I hope to hell she finds her groove soon because she's doing it wrong. If she's going to be staying on long term she's going to have to respect Tarja's songs a little better and find her own groove in the band or it won't matter how much I like her other work I'll have no choice but to stop listening to a band I've liked for probably over a decade now.

The question may come, well how did I find out about all of this? Simply put I found out about Imaginaerum wine from a fellow nightwish fan and simply wanted to order some for myself out of curiosity. I am of course now eagerly awaiting the entire crate I ordered of 20 bottles.... I went a little overboard I know but it was basically the only way I could get it at all. At least I'll have plenty to share and a little to store long term see how it ages after 30 years or so....

Any nightwish fans reading this? Tell me your thoughts on the possibility of Floor coming on long term and how she's done so far. Feel free to duke out who you think is the best singer, I don't like comparing Tarja's perfect opera voice to Anette's pop but even so given the nature of the band I will always love and remember Tarja but honestly at this point I wouldn't change a thing.

February 12, 2013

Some People...

So time for some true stories from down under. I might not have been busy 100% of the time and in what little down time I did have I chose to go out and see the sites aka visit the bars and enjoy myself slightly. By enjoy I don't mean drink as after all the only enjoyment that brings me is embarrassing aussies when I outdrink them. Instead what I find most entertaining is watching the people in the bars. I could see who's together, who should be together, who is too embarrassed or nervous to make a move when they should, etc.

Word of warning, this one is slightly graphic, don't read if you're easily offended by words.

I take the time to remind you of two things. First of all I'm not that altruistic I'm of the opinion that sometimes the best way to help someone is to let them get what's coming to them and if I intervene it makes them weaker, aka what doesn't kill you makes you stronger. While that's not true of everything or a first stop it's the best way to quickly sum up my position. Secondly is that my friend I normally visit is in melbourne not sydney or some other part of aus, no real significance there other than a reminder.

So I'm at a bar perhaps 2 blocks from my friends house and I'm having a grand time, really interesting people, and the night had actually introduced me to someone who's fairly intelligent so I'd had a great conversation up to this point. Then I'm watching a situation develop with my new friend and we're so alike that at the same time we said something about popping some popcorn to watch the show. Basically we both noticed how the stance of this man and woman turned very aggressive, their postures and gestures basically told us this wasn't going to end without violence. Being who I am I'm inclined so simply watch them beat each other to death and enjoy myself while doing so rather than stop it. Then the most hilarious thing happened, someone else did try to step in and they both started wailing on him and suddenly it was like everything was better they had some weird pent up aggression that just needed to be worked out and it probably had nothing to do with the other.

Low and behold these turned out to be my friends neighbors and so later that night we both get to listen to that angry make up sex. The only particular thing of note outside of the standard dirty talk was a hilarious moment me and my friend couldn't help but laugh at when the man screamed "look at me when I'm fucking you".

The next night I'm out again enjoying myself when guess who I see at this completely different bar. The woman from the night before interestingly enough without the man. I decide to approach and start a conversation given that I'm normally comfortable enough starting conversations with complete strangers and here I have a decent story to share it's a much better start than most. Turns out I would regret that ever so slightly. I offer her a drink which she's all to eager to accept and I proceed to mention that it turns out we're neighbors and she promptly cuts me off with this little line "do I look like your shrink? no? then why are you talking to me?". wow.... SHUT DOWN that's probably the best and also the meanest shut down I've ever experienced. I do manage to get the rest of the story out and she warmed up we carried a conversation for a while and as I'm about to move on her boyfriend shows up. More precisely he approached us as apparently he had been there some time watching. He had some misconceptions about what we were doing and though it would be a good idea to take a bitch shot at me when I wasn't looking like I'd just walk away from that. I won't share any other details beyond that because I don't know what the international laws are regarding the situation and I really would like to visit my friend again in the future. Suffice to say I did not take it well and I did not simply walk away and what happened to him was probably for the best.

On a side note my beard smells funny today, not sure why though I have a few ideas. I also had a camera returned to me while I was down under and it turns out I'm a bigger freak than I realized when I saw some videos I took with it a few years back. Any of you ever have that happen? You look at your camera or some old files a few years later and just it hits you how much has changed and learn something about yourself you didn't realize was so true till just then?

February 06, 2013

What Makes A Good Story

I'm crossing a bit of my philosophy today with the more factual side of things. I'm deeply considering what makes a good story. Some might argue the best story is the most memorable regardless of quality or detail. I say that it's engagement. Regardless if your story is interactive, musical, literature, or movies if you can't connect with your audience it's just never going to be considered great. That's not to say it won't have commercial success or win awards but in the annals of history it'll be quickly forgotten and not many people will likely claim it changed their lives or is an eternal classic worthy of being shared for generations to come.

So the question of what is engagement comes about and what kind works best. Is it possible to have bad engagement? I for one think it's possible. I've been so involved with a story sometimes that just one piece out of place or slightly overlooked can drive me absolutely insane. I will also clarify I don't mean frustrated or annoyed I literally mean absolutely insane. For example if you watched the Showtime series Dexter when Rita was murdered while all the pieces fit something just didn't sit right. They pushed it off on trinity and it felt like it was someone pretending to be trinity, in particular someone with inside information on dexter himself and I seriously spun off into conspiracy land and probably wrote an entire book worth of possible theories before the next story came out and to this day it's an unresolved issue in my mind that I've simply had to move past. That kind of negative push on my engagement with the series has forever changed my views on it and I would say it might have even cost a very small number of viewers, outside of the viewers lost for cutting Rita from the show as julie benz does have quite the following and was a great character for the show though I understand she was removed out of necessity.

Really to me the best kind of engagement is personal investments in the story and characters if you can get the viewer, reader, or player to actually care about what's going on in the story or to the character then it doesn't really matter what it is that's going on. That's a major focus of many bioware games for example. The mass effect series focuses heavily on character development and they offer as many ways to connect the player with their character so that they create an emotional bond with the character which is how they're creating your engagement. Each choice gives you the sense of power that you are the one changing the galaxy and the party members you travel with have these rich backstories which are more easily absorbed when you get involved with the larger codex of information on the history or mythology of the game universe. It's an interesting psychological trick on how when you're overwhelmed with new information how the mind reacts. Then there's the common method used in movies and books of slowly revealing the history of the character usually in sympathetic situations so you feel for the character, really all the most successful media is probably playing with your emotions which they then use to manipulate you later on. One of the most brilliant and most powerful examples of this for me was Metal Gear Solid 3. You learn about your character John/Snake while you learn about these members of your team who for the most part are new to you. The game deprives you of most of your connections and forces you to rely on them for help in the form of information such as how to handle your current medical situation, information on enemies, tactics, mission objectives, and more during each time of which you tend to learn a little something else about the characters. In the end you have a comprehensive sense of who they are and a deep level of trust for them. Meanwhile the only person on the ground you're on friendly terms with you know you can't completely trust even though you're forced to and you know they're using you as much as you're using them. Your struggle has a measurable sense of progress in each part and you know your final objective for the majority of the game, however during the first section of the game when you're inclined to chat the most you spend a lot of that time building up a broken relationship with the only character that claims to know you. The cutscenes also reveal that you're both acting out of a sense of duty more than anything suggesting neither of you really want to do what you're doing. All of this culminates to a single moment in the game with such emotion and a regrettable sense of costly success out of absolute necessity. The game then proceeds to use the final cutscene to absolutely guilt trip you then with an ultimate sense of betrayal and reflection on how your greatest success is also your greatest failure. It's a very complex set of delicate emotions perfectly tied together in one of the greatest masterpieces of entertainment ever conceived.

Understanding how this was done is key to understanding how to create engagement with your target audience. I'm not talking about simply replicating it or anything of that nature rather I'm suggesting the underlying mechanisms of creating smaller attachments one at a time that build into a collective set which is in turn part of another set and how large manipulations of these sets can be used to create a very specific emotional state and that emotional connections with a story are a significant factor in engaging your targets.  The important thing to remember during this though of course is also that while my dexter scenario is backlash really it is possible to create engagements that have your targets actively hating the experience, the most prominent example of a negative engagement is when your villian is more sypmathetic than your hero in which the targets then are rooting for your hero to fail and the villain to win.

Emotional is certainly not the only form however I would argue that it is likely the most powerful and among the easiest once you understand the principals. Creating a series of smaller connections however takes a lot of time and investment from your target which makes it one of the most difficult to pull off. Instead it's likely easier to go the movie route of larger chunks spread out or the bioware approach of blinding you with a see of new information so you cling to the bright and shining beacons of your allies. The quick and dirty is simply to provide sympathetic characters and situations the forcing them into positions where they must overcome adversity, potentially with an internal conflict on the nature of how they overcome the adversity presented. A more advanced tactic of that same scenario is where the internal conflict is the primary adversity. The simplest way to learn these sorts of things is actually something most films students have probably been told for decades. Simply watch everything and pick it apart, for gamers it's the same way, and even writers. It's easier to pick apart something that's already clearly broken so you can start with the bad stuff then work your way up. Part of what makes some of the better movies or games so great is that everything is so well blended where nothing stands out so you can't really grab at anything and pull it all apart because it's all interconnected.

Clearly I underestimated how lengthy this post would be. I'll have to make a part 2 discussing it further. Till then reflect on the above, not to end so abruptly however as I said I did not anticipate how much more I would have to cover and I can't really proceed further. If this seems broken it's because it is, I need a better transition. Something to consider....

February 04, 2013

Where I've been

I disappear for a week and look what happens. It's not like I was that out of touch and yet I come back and I found out my friends all held a dinner in my honor on the assumption I was dead. A habitual liar we all know not to trust what he says told everyone he ran into my sister who told him that I was dead among many other things and nobody bothered to confirm. I had cell phone reception in Australia would it hurt for someone to call?

Why was I in aussie land? well normally I go visit some old friends in the summer, however one of them called me and said they really needed me, being the guy I am I grabbed my travel bag which is always ready for such an occasion and I got on the first flight out. Turns out he really did need me and I'm glad he called, if he didn't it'd be a world of hurt for him I'm sure it was a massive shit storm I'd rather not go on about today. I was rather busy which is why I didn't take the time to write a blog about it, but I'm back now and sharing again.

It really was a surprise to my friends when I came over, surprise! I'm not dead! I really am disappointed nobody called to at least hear my voicemail... I am happy none of them tried to raid my house though and scavenge my property. It's not like I was even gone that long really.

On a more serious and much less funny note I would like to say airport security is still as annoying as ever. This whole "americans are the new terrorist" thing is bullshit. How the hell did things shift stereotype to being so lax on the traditional stereotype and screening every white face that goes through? It's not like they're any good at stopping any serious threats anyway if someone really wanted to get through they would. With enough thought you can probably get almost any kind of weapon through and that's no joke. I also still haven't forgotten about that pedophile nonsense a short while back. Convicted pedo's patting down kids, how can the system honestly allow this kind of nonsense?

On the only positive note to today's post I did make it back for the superbowl. I don't watch football often but I must say this one was definitely worth watching. Almost a new record for longest return instead only matching previous, this rookie quarterback, and that almost great comeback from SF I was so disappointed when they failed. Don't you just know someone got fired over that power outage though, man this isn't russia that shit doesn't happen here. I also laughed it up a bit when they were finishing out the game with "the final countdown" and was surprised to hear gangnam style, not to mention that ridiculous commercial feat. psy.

Before I left I managed to catch the recent batch of new movies, movie 43 wasn't that great but had a couple moments, I wouldn't recommend it though. Hansel and gretel was a great way to waste an hour I would suggest it if you're bored, and parker felt like it was a lot longer than 2 hours even though it kept up a good pace and I would definitely suggest checking it out sometime especially if you're a jason statham fan. I also watched silver linings playbook and that was nice, more of a couples movie really, I was surprised to see julia stiles in it but it was a pleasant surprise, bradley cooper was fairly convincing but I don't see him winning any awards unlike les miserables which I fully expect to take home a few awards, though if the awards already came and went and I missed them then w/e it's not like I watch them anyway they're usually BS anyway. I tend to just get recaps from friends that do watch and I almost never agree with the results. Now all I have left to see in my immediate future is great gatsby which I fully expect to be worth my time.

Final note is I was recently introduced to cryptex which is from as far as I can tell a dubstep artist, feel free to argue the exact w/e he plays, I happen to like it anyway and would recommend it to anyone that likes pendulum or glitch mob.

On my next post I'll be discussing what makes a good story.