July 28, 2013

Close Calls

The last couple weeks have been insane. I've started working on another game which consumed a lot of my time setting up a prototype for which I'm really trying to ignore so that I can get back to what I've already been working on for so long. It's one of my worse habits I'm trying to control. During this time I did a little traveling and while I had a great time doing so I'm a bit out of shape compared to all the walking I did and when I got back I was really feeling it. I managed to seriously pull some muscles and that had me laid up in bed all week in just excruciating pain. Coupled with a serious virus of some kind that had me running a fever, sweating my ass off, constantly vomiting, and so much more. I spent the last couple days in the hospital on IV antibiotics and some damn fine pills keeping me half way knocked out all day and night.

As to the new game idea I've been doing all kinds of interesting research and I couldn't help but notice some interesting details of russian history that just really help me put a lot of perspective on my understanding of world history. At the end of the Czars and the uprising of the communist party the royal families were basically causing hyper inflation of the money supply with workers not receiving any additional income it made every day expenses unaffordable. The working class in response had a revolution. I look at that and then look at today and must say that America looks vaguely similar to that era now in that the wealthiest families being treated like royalty essentially controlling the government are over inflating our currency to the point that our every day expenses are becoming unaffordable and we're still only being paid what we were before. I then consider how the working class established their new government as realize how America being the capitalist society it is was almost inherently bound to be threatened by this movement because the rich were undoubtedly afraid of the same thing happening here. This makes it easy to understand how they demonized communism and with leaders like Stalin it was hard to defend communism. Still While many comparisons can be drawn there's a huge difference between then and now.

As to more console news I'm just going to avoid talking about the next gen until it's actually out because xbox has once again changed their minds and with so much still in flux it's just best to wait it out at this point, they'll be out soon enough and I'll do my best to  cover details at that point.

I hope everyone enjoys their week, though I'm better I'll still be taking it easy for a while.

July 08, 2013

A Look At The Medic

People apparently seem to think our medic is going to turn out like a team fortress two medic or MAG something where it's just simple. If that were the case we'd just give the tools to everyone like they do in MAG. To some extent we do give you some medical tools but for proper medical treatment you're going to need an actual medic and anything we give you is basically to buy you time until one shows up. When the medic does show up it's more metal gear than team fortress. It is a slightly more complex role and it's not quicktime driven but it also doesn't require massive memorization. Most of your weapons are replaced with various tools for handling a wound. Being that it takes time you have to make sure to have your patient in a safe location before you operate though they will still be able to shoot.

So the average process runs kinda like this. You have an analysis tool to tell you what needs to be done. You then will extract anything inside the body which is more of a time bar than surgeon simulator but it does also have some slight interactivity to decrease the damage you do to their health. That's right you can hurt them while you're healing them potentially killing them or at least putting them in a kind of "DBNO" down but not out state. If that happens you have a revive tool which when you start out might be more like battlefield paddles but as your specialist skills and tech goes up that changes. After extraction you treat for any internal problems like poison, infection, bleeding, etc. You then seal the wound bandage it and get a move on. The end result restores some health based on how well you did and what tools you had available to you. Early on you won't completely restore all their health but you quickly get upgrades and additional steps for adding a nanite injection to repair actual damage or salves that restore health over time.

Really early on you're not going to have much at all you literally start with just your eyes for analysis, super glue and duck tape to stop bleeding seal the wound and bandage it up. It sounds very run down and that's kind of the point you learn to appreciate what you have and what you get by understanding just exactly what you start with. Some players will have their own items to help them out beyond your help or assist you in your job. For example some players have automated systems to restore their health slowly over time but they're dependent on vials of restorative fluid. You can refill their systems or temporarily make adjustments to it to rapidly increase their restoration. In the late game you can sometimes get away with just using what players already have or your own powerful tools to speed the process up to just a few seconds. Your late stage wound sealer isn't burning cauterization or super glue it's things like biofoam and liquid skin. Granted I make it sound more awesome than it really is. From a programming side and basic art it's just like a small fire extinguisher and a few behind the scene numbers and animation triggers. So realistically it could all be just the same. When I say it like that though.... it doesn't sound nearly as cool and that's kind of why we play games is that fantasy. This is about to spin off into another post... You get the idea in the end though is the progression is clearly there and it's not a weak link at any point it's quick clean effective and versatile. The game and function fine without the medic so even if you have a horrible medic it won't hurt your experience. The medic's job is primarily based on you surviving the fight and getting you in fighting shape for the next one.

If you really just want the basic info of how it's going to play in game testers have been able to complete a treatment in 5 to 7 seconds depending on how careful they are with any extractions that may be necessary. Players health bars are relatively substantial to begin with, armor and shields only help that along so the role of the medic is fairly important and can significantly sway a battle. Some late stage medics can even repair armor damage as well. As to layout and method right now there's basically bars on either side of the screen designed to look like part of the HUD that have listings for various related things to do. So for example fixing a broken leg you'd highlight the leg, select alignment holding the corresponding button, splint, bandage and then move on, it's not the best solution but it's fast and relatively effective in this case. Later on some items might be replaced with better alternatives or maybe adding painkillers but it's the principal of it that I'm explaining.

July 02, 2013

Types of Gamers part 1

While there are enough types of gamers out there and equally as many classifications to the point we could write entire books on mere fractions of them in this particular part of the "types of gamers" series of articles I plan on writing I'll be discussing types from a hardware perspective. It seems to me there are only a select few companies that understand that your average gamer doesn't just play only one game on only one format. It's as though companies assume for some reason that a ps3 gamer can't possibly play on the xbox or pc, let alone a handheld or phone.

Some companies however like sony understand the desire for portable gaming as well as in home. Being able to link your psn account with steam is one such symbol along with vita. EA for all their faults at least allows you to register your accounts and tie them to a single account within their service. Bioware has faith you'll actually buy their products on multiple hardware and will save you some money by giving you dlc codes to use from one to another, something which I would literally kill to have on call of duty or skyrim.

The thing is I end up paying for a dlc once and I hate having to buy it again and again and again between consoles and pc.

These are exceptions though as from the broad spectrum of the market you often hear statistics about how many gamers there are and where they are and what they're playing on. Many of these reports read as though these gamers absolutely don't ever play on anything else, as though those angry birds phone players don't also play it in their browsers at home. They treat each instance as a completely separate entity as though you quite literally not only are not but could never be the same person buying or playing the same game across different platforms. So in effect those 220 million cell phone gamers don't own a single console or pc of any kind. Then those 300+ million call of duty players don't play anything else ever. Then those insane number of xbox live gold members are never the same person with multiple accounts and of course they don't have cell phones. You add it up and they estimate that somewhere upwards of 500% of the total world population according to the last set of census statistics all play video games. It's completely ludicrous and so foolish I can't even begin to comprehend some of the things I read or hear from people on the subject.

I won't delve into that nightmare right now though I may save it for another occasion. Suffice to say incompetence runs rampant in this industry for no good reason. It's a reasonably good bet that your average gamer has 1 preferred hardware that they do a majority of gaming on and I'm not refuting that at all as you kind of have to have at least one to really call yourself a gamer. It doesn't matter if it's an outdated console from the 80's it still counts, even if they're not releasing games for the hardware anymore. It's an equally good bet that your average gamer has access to at least one additional platform if not more. For example it's reasonable to assume that a vita owner has a ps3 and that at some point most xbox users also had a ps2 at the same time for a while if not still. As a generation fades from limelight it tends to find a new stage in which gamers tend to grab up that older hardware and thus right now even more and more gamers find themselves having a ps3 and a 360. While that may not be any kind of majority I would say given the prevalence of smart phones and the x1 and windows 8 pushing "smart glass" so hard that it's likely most X1 owners will have a smartphone they play games on. I'm also willing to take a leap of faith that a respectable percentage of those 220+million smartphone gamers have a console or pc they also game on.

So where am I going with this? Back to the beginning on the article in which I mention the companies that already support multiple consoles to some slight extent. The real future of gaming should be universal linking across platforms. I would absolutely love to easily find friends from other platforms. For example I was talking with a friend on steam about last of us on the ps3 and neither of us knew the other had a ps3 account and we spent most of the day having a blast after that. Then there's games like skyrim I buy on pc and xbox, and quite simply put having to spend money on season passes like I did with borderlands 2, or various dlc packs repeatedly gets annoyingly expensive usually forcing me to have to pick which version I end up playing long haul and actually investing in rather than allowing me to simply play how I'd really prefer. Sometimes I want to game with some friends, other times it's different friends, sometimes I seek the satisfaction of the xbox achievement or the psn trophy over the steam achievement. Often in cases like skyrim it's that I want mods and extra user generated content I'm simply not allowed to have on consoles. Before you jump on the word mods let me remind you that it's not a dirty word in the gaming world at all, for us console players "mods" usually mean "cheats" like auto aim, map hacks, infinite killstreaks, invincibility, etc, where as for us pc players it means better textures, new features, new render modes and graphics options, new control interfaces, entire new maps and tons of content. Often the user generated content gets picked up by the developers and released as their own to the console players. In skyrim a clear example of this would be the vampire and werewolf perk trees which were literally user created content carbon copied to the consoles. Skyrim following in the tradition of elder scrolls games has an open mod resource community creating all new quest lines, stories, and turning an already 300+ hour game into a 900+ hour game. I've literally clocked well over a thousand hours in oblivion with all the mods that were available for it, and more for morrowind, and my skyrim experience is while complete from the traditional perspective, really only just beginning.

The reason I'm mentioning this now is as time goes on this is a more and more serious problem. We didn't really have to contend with dlc until late in this generation where suddenly it was the real selling point of a game compared to the game itself. Then already stats show up saying "well the sooner you get dlc the better because people simply won't buy it 6 months down the road" and so we end up getting tons of day 1 dlc. Then as the next generation moves in it doesn't matter if you have the game or not you can't play it and all that dlc goes to waste. Perhaps you've even decided now to forgo consoles and pick up a pc, but now all that dlc is gone and even if you replace your entire library you're faced with paying for the dlc all over again and unless it's on sale it's full price, a non fluxuating eternal price. That 30$ season pass, 8 years down the road is still 30$ even if the game which was once 60$ is now 5$ any day of the week. Now you lament the fact you ever got the dlc in the first place and wonder why the developers want to be so greedy they won't let you the "loyal customer" that bought the game twice, have the dlc you already paid for once for a game that's probably not selling as well as it used to. While in a rare occasion you might email a dev asking for a codes and they might be kind enough to set you up with one it's not a regular thing and unless they recognize in their system that your email has registered their entire library of games across all platforms including re-releases that doesn't happen often.

All I'm advocating here really is a unified platform with which to link all these game profiles and reduce the clutter. Each developer and publisher has their own special account they want you to have for just their services and adds more usernames and passwords you don't want to bother remembering for something you might not use that often and usually doesn't carry many benefits. I'm almost willing to bet if you could sign into steam, psn, xbl, origin, uplay, and any other platform you can think of using your existing facebook account alone you probably would. How many of you use your google account or facebook to login to a site rather than whatever your associated account username and password is? The convenience factor is there, it helps keep track of a lot of things and makes it easy to find your gaming friends wherever they may be. It might seem like I'm just reiterating the same thing here but I really want you to understand the concept that LESS IS MORE in some cases, and in the case of accounts and DLC that is certainly the case. Bethesda learned that fewer yet larger dlc packs sold substantially better in fallout 3 and many tiny ones did in oblivion which they partially learned with knights of the nine vs shivering isles. Keeping customers happy letting them play across platforms is another thing companies like Sony are learning that if you can play your games when, where, and how you want you'll be happier for it and they'll get more business from your glowing reviews. Can you imagine how big of a launch halo will have on steam if they announce that in addition to new missions they'll also give anyone with an XBL account access to any and all dlc they've already paid for? Comparing that to the kind of launch it will have without such an announcement which will still likely be enormous. Right now you can finagle EA to sometimes give you the mass effect dlc you already have if you've bought it for multiple platforms and also bought dragon age and other games they've sold, same going for battlefield 3. Realistically though they should just offer it right out the door like bioware. Seriously if you have your account registered with bioware and link your gaming profiles you can generate a usable code with no hassle from their site, it's one of the most beautiful things I've ever had a gaming company do for a consumer without anyone having to ask.

In summation gaming companies need to learn that cell phone gamers and console gamers are not exclusive, there's a lot of overlap, they're not different customers they've often the same and we should have access to what we buy if they've already gone through the trouble of making it available across platforms.