December 27, 2014

Quicktime events from a dev perspective

If there's one thing I unanimously hate more than anything in games these days it's quicktime events. This is both as a player and dev but my views as to why are different on each. So just a quick recap in case you missed any of the dozens of rants from zero punctuation, totalbiscuit, or omegaalphasins basically quicktime events *qte from here on out* are those annoying little popups asking you to press a button or you fail whatever you're doing. If it's god of war its whenever you kill something, if you're in mass effect its during a cutscene when you're picking a renegade or paragon option, in CoD it's that button you push to avoid getting your throat ripped out by a dog, and if you're in heavy rain well.... you're not playing a game you're participating in an interactive movie comprised almost entirely from quicktime events.

I would clarify that button mashing is different from qte simply because it's not a sequence of buttons or some carefully timed don't die button, instead in button mashing you pick one button or any button and you stick with it often the amount of times pressed doesn't even matter. While sometimes a qte can be a press any button situation it's usually a live or die scenario.

Qte just don't belong in most games even though almost all games these days have them to some degree. In some places they just feel really out of place and can often come without warning usually in a cutscene where you figure "oh it's mgs4 so I've got time to go and watch a movie, get dinner, and come back before this scene is done" when out of nowhere there's a random "press X to not die" probably just as a way to make sure you're not taking a piss break or getting a sandwich. Then you're stuck watching it all over again for another chance to fail. In an action game its so horribly out of place it takes you straight out of the game especially when it's something heavily skill based where you're making something as important as not dying as stupid as a qte.

Simply put qte is not gaming, its an approximated facsimile of interactivity to a scripted sequence of events that can rapidly and repeatedly end in a failure state. From a dev standpoint this is just lazy programming where you don't want to be bothered with figuring out how to design the game to make something happen you'd rather just have it happen in a cutscene that nobody can ever watch because they're too busy looking for buttons to press. I'll admit that it does take a lot of effort to make that happen and that qte is a shortcut but that doesn't make it an excuse. When I handled this problem I found a way to make the native controls function so that a player with skill could accomplish the given task. I know that the qte is meant as a handicap for the players without skill to still progress but damn it that's part of the point of gaming is that if you can't do it then get better and try again it's about self improvement. A qte doesn't require skill it just takes practice after you've failed a couple times then it's just simon says after you've memorized what to press. This is the cheapest in both literal and metaphorical ways to go about developing and dare I say a dishonorable shame on the company.

Qte shouldn't be used where they don't belong and my fellow devs need to get this message, if you can't afford to make it happen then don't substitute effort for a qte instead just make it a cutscne and call it good because that'll piss off the consumer base a lot less.

On a final side note, if I had no choice I'd implement qte as a press any button non specific and maybe have a free form combo system without prompting in which the player feels they're solving their own way through rather than having their hands held throughout.

November 22, 2014

My Amish Friend

Some times in life you meet the most fascinating people. I've had a friend for a little over a year now that I didn't realize outside of his quirky behavior simply had not experienced modern culture really in any form much less american media. He has had a sheltered life isolating him from most things that the average american 90's kid would know as generic trivia. So while he's book smart and dresses sharp in a classical sense if you ask him to do the macarena he'll look at you like you're talking jibberish.

I took it upon myself then to educate him on pretty much everything you won't find in a book and even some things that you might find in a book but lose a bit in translation of media. I gave this project of mine a name of "The US Department of Mandatory Media" in which the title accurately reflects the intent. My goal and design was to try and think of every possible thing I could that I think every person should experience in their lifetime as of today.

This meant showing him AC/DC, metallica, and various metal bands of all kinds, he was drawn more towards symphonic and melodic bands like Nightwish, and power metal like newer disturbed albums. He also took a strong liking to Dubstep and early Rap. I then started to catch him up on trends in pop culture through the years while also establishing a list of movies and tv shows and assortments of youtube videos. This content rather than overwhelming was like an addictive drug with an endless need for consumption. I've spent the last few weeks just showing him new material day in and day out and he can't seem to get enough. He managed to work his way through all of game of thrones in just under 2 days. He can't stop quoting the terminator movies and he's just soaking up all the content he can like an endless sponge. He finally realized this is a marathon not a sprint and went home today to prepare for next month.

I'm reaching out now to anyone who might have a suggestion of something they truly like and think its something everyone should experience at least once. I can be anything at all, you don't have to restrict yourself to music, movies, or tv, just share something that can be done almost anywhere by yourself or with a small group of people. If you're wondering what we've already made it through in that regard simply assume whatever you're going to suggest that we haven't as we've barely scratched the surface of everything he's missed out on in the last 20 years.

November 11, 2014

We were sick

So my computer caught a bad case of poweliks rootkit trojan whatever (w/e) you call it. This little nightmare has been bugging me for a few days. If anyone here is noticing a bunch of dllhoste.exe processes on their system and can't figure it out you might want to look in to it. I happened to likely pick this baby up on one of three gaming sites which I actually disable my adblocker for. While I disable it in many places such as when I'm reading blogs or certain sites I enjoy I can narrow this case down due to the fact I hadn't been to really any sites in the last week or so other than those few.

Meanwhile I've been having a nasty cold I caught from some friend of a friend and everyone that caught something from her last time was sick for months afterward. Thankfully this one seemed to pass by quickly but in my immune weakened state I then caught an extra 3 infections with wildly different symptoms and my doctor finally gave me some heavy duty meds to completely destroy anything that comes my way and boost my immune system back up a bit. Now that I'm in fighting shape maybe I can get back to posting again.

In the mean time if you have the same poweliks problem my solution was Rogue Killer. so check it out if you need the hand or just think you've got something else nasty on your system that malwarebytes can't handle.

October 31, 2014

Branching Storylines the dev perspective

Not every entry in this series is problematic or controversial. In fact this was one of the best examples of team building I experienced in my process. The idea for branching storylines was practically a given when I first started with concepts and it was only a question of how far I wanted to take it to the extreme.

I found that some concepts are far to wild to run with and the cutting floor is much harder than an early cut. I originally had an idea for using D&D style decision trees where during dialog you could use your triggers and shoulder buttons to select an alignment then your face buttons for the choices. The team jumped on it with new sub teams for each alignment generating an overwhelming amount of content.

Then came time to make it a reality with voice actors and game scripting to make it all work. Sadly we found almost immediately that the amount of dialog and options was going to be massive and yet we kept trying to find ways to make it more efficient and keep as much as we could. In testing we found even with visuals on screen to help players most of them picked the same options over and over leaving plenty of content unheard. When we asked them why it sounded like the quality of the writing was uneven so certain choices were just inherently better. Even with revamps though it turned out some options were just out of place in a given scenario.

I then questioned what kind of a game I was really making. I knew from the beginning it was going to be a somewhat linear storyline and the primary point of the dialogue tree was to show that choice was really just a facade and that some things are meant to happen or are unavoidable. At the same time I didn't want just a linear style action game especially with all the other content we'd already started to produce.

Then came the hard choice of deciding how to change the decision trees and what scripts to cut. I had our testers pick which options they liked most and narrowed down our choices to a bland single page multichoice system more in the style of quantic dream games (beyond two souls, heavy rain) than bioware (mass effect, dragon age) and eliminated the morality of it all completely stripping out alignment. In some cases we completely removed choice simply because our testers unanimously agreed on a single option and thus we made it an automatic response.

I think everyone understood when I announced the cut that it really was necessary and while the implementation was far from perfect it wasn't the actual problem it was more of an identity issue of what the game really was and how the system itself was out of place. My future recommendation is that if you're going to include dialogue trees, seriously consider them in advance and don't do voice acting till you've already tested everything else.

October 26, 2014

Racism in game from a dev

This is another entry in the series of dev problems. While I didn't have nearly the problem with racism complaints as I did sexist complaints it still came up. Mostly it was over linguistics and word selection. I didn't go into eubonics or any nonsense and for the most part things were fine on paper it was in development that this really came up.

Similar to how it was with sexism I had complaints that a character was black or was too black and if I changed it to white it became "why isn't this guy black?" and this was before we even had a script. Later on it was revisions to the script  over and over till finally I switched the character to white and nobody complained about the script then so I switched the character back. I found it was better not to give anyone a color or face until the script was universally approved for content then I'd assign models and voice actors.

When it came to voice actors there was a whole different story for another article unrelated to this I might have to write, but basically actors wanted to switch characters and in some cases didn't like other actors for some reason. Once I had the voice actors and some pre-vis of the scene it was the expected problems of people saying the voice was too this or too that or was implying something that wasn't there which led to dozens of retakes until it was perfect. The real hard part was getting people to separate the quality of delivery and the content which was sometimes meant to be offensive.

Part of the game was intended to include racism. It's not out of place or forced it's a very natural inclusion yet it sparked some conflict within the group leading to a few members leaving. That's probably one of the harder things to deal with especially as an indie dev where every member is invaluable. This wasn't racism for the sake of it, it was racism with a purpose and a message which I was thankful most of the team members understood.

The strange thing was the only complaints I had about racism were about strictly black characters. No complaints about any of my content for latin, asian, european, or otherwise. There was an unrelated complaint about a french character but it wasn't racism related. I thought that either that says something or it's a huge coincidence. Either way while the headache around racism seems to be much smaller and shorter lived it can be so much more painful than dealing with sexism.

October 10, 2014

Sexism and Sex in games from a dev

This will be the first in a series about challenges that comes up as a developer. These problems and questions tend to come up in all the different phases of development often repeatedly and I thought it's worth discussing.

While this was the biggest headache I've really had as a developer outside of setbacks and conflicts. In the early development stages I took serious consideration of what types of characters I would have and how they would behave. One character I thought I would have written to be a little flirty and another to be a quiet and clingy type while the others were fairly standard. Turned out even in early stages the question came up of what this would say about women in general. I tried to explain my side only to realize my side apparently didn't matter and arguing was futile at best. I charged ahead though with the mentality that providing context and keeping it low key would be least offensive and things might be fine. I also considered adding a small sidequest for romance of which I also considered the bioware route of including an illicit scene that was still very pg which got scrapped in the favor of a more unspoken romance expressed through gestures and looks, very subtle material.

Outside of the game I questioned why I insisted on finding women to help in the process as an actual goal as opposed to "just post and see who wants in" kind of mentality. Not to be too obnoxious about it but I simply had easily 10x more complaints about every facet of the process coming from the women than the men and more requests to change key elements of the game. If I'd approved even a quarter of those requests it would've been an entirely different game. So like a good dev I kept them all written down and am working on a new story for that as a just in case. The flip side of that is of course the fact that it worried me how the men basically just did what they were asked and apparently didn't look for ways to improve. I can understand trusting in me hoping that I know what I'm doing or not wanting to corrupt the artistic integrity but it's better to speak up than leave me in the dark.

Once I finally got in production and started getting scripts and art together suddenly it's like an explosion of accusations about what a sexist I am for every little detail. It had me concerned to the point I spent easily over a week just trying to please everyone with revisions. I'll admit the first revision of "flirty" read more like slutty once it was read out loud to me by one of our voice actors, and maybe the original costume designs were too form fitting but after a few days I just thought at this point they were pissed that I chose to use women in a combat situation. So on the 4th day I came back with designs for men telling everyone no women in the game at all and they were double pissed that I wasn't going to include women as main characters anymore. I thought it was hilarious how many really wanted at least the medic to be a woman compared to the sniper or other roles. Honestly at that point I'd already dealt with so many complaints. Here's the short list: she's too fat, skinny, boney, round, curvy, big breasted, too small of tits, too small a waist, too small feet, too big a head, too big of eyes, too long hair, too short hair, too long fingers, too long legs, she's too short, and oh so many more. I had well over 50 different designs up for voting each of them taking roughly an hour of work to complete and not one of them came close to making a majority happy. So I asked for everyone to pick their favorite parts and send me the list with a basic number guide for each body part and which picture and do it that way only to find most of them didn't know what they wanted. Suddenly all the complaints of a feature being too big or small didn't matter when they realized there was every size from non-existant to the moon they settled on the original which they complained so much. I don't mean picking the actual original but using number guide voting the result was identical to the original which just left me with a kind of facepalm moment.

Then we finally get to making the 3d model and it's basically the same thing all over again but in 3d which means things are suddenly too round or too jagged or unsymmetrical. In this case we were actually renting a 3d scanner for the day and I asked everyone to volunteer to step in the machine prior to the unveiling of first character models and I then pointed out how I'd used a part of every member of the team pointing out their particular part on the model and not a single complaint was had. Though I'm not sure the exact reasoning or logic behind how that works but I must say human psychology is a funny thing at times.

I can only imagine how much hair I would've lost if I'd decided to include even a suggestive fable like sex scene. Though in playing through my own game I kinda still want some of the characters to hook up so maybe next time around.

October 03, 2014

Why pc gaming feels better for consumers and devs

Its no secret I love pc gaming as both a player and a maker. But why? you ask. Well let me tell you.

While its true that there is some chaos from having so much hardware to contend with that's also part of what makes it great is how much control you have over your system. When one thing fails you don't have to wait to send the whole computer in for weeks and months for repairs you can just open up the case and swap out the hardware as soon as you get it which can be as quick as a trip to staples, best buy, or a local computer shop, or a few days from newegg if you're more patient. It's also not some ambiguous red ring or yellow light and an ominous e79 error, it's usually straight forward. If it's a hardware problem it's easy to find out which and quickly check. If its software its still easy enough to diagnose and fix with a quick google search with a worst case scenario just being starting from scatch by formatting which has become wildly fast and easy to do with a little experience.

Then there's the multitude of services. While we may complain about origin or uplay or now this new glyph and others like desura I'd take any of them any day over a console because I can pick up new hardware at any time and get my games quick and easy from a known library without tedious searching and it'll work right away. No worrying about backward and forward compatibility and emulation unless the game is truly ancient in which case it's quick and easy. Meanwhile on consoles I have to hunt and search to find what I own with almost no way to organize my content once I have it. I don't have to worry about premium services on pc either to be given permission to play my games with my friends over a network I already pay other people for. Just to be explicit here, on the consoles you're paying your internet company to use the internet, then you're paying sony and microsoft for permission to use it with their hardware which you already paid for. You could argue that some of it is server cost and such but you know they're making huge profits off of these premium services. Though I will take a moment to say ps+ is amazing and has so many free games all the time on all their devices that I don't mind paying them 40$ a year for something like 100 free games a year or more. ( Here's a list of what they've given away )

Then there's our shining example of what digital downloading of games should be, Steam. Non intrusive, always improving, frequent sales of both new and old content, the power to know exactly what you have and if you have it ready to play available on multiple platforms with seamless integration and the power to play a game you've already paid for on multiple systems with family sharing and multiple OS' if you like to dual boot. The ability to buy and send gifts and activate codes for your games so you can buy them from stores outside of steam. While consoles have codes they're for their respective stores, you can go to gamestop and buy say journey and get a code for psn but it's notably different from say going to gamersgate and getting a code for steam, in particular I can buy a game from desura and get a steam code as well, try getting your copy of Call of Duty to transfer from xbox to playstation and tell me how that works out for you. Then there's mini games around community events and groups which are easy to access and track natively within steam, as well as more rewards for your purchases. The so called xbox missions are blatant money grabs when compared to steam trading cards which sadly are barely more than a way to get people to spend more money.

Many pc enthusiasts go gung-ho for keyboard and mouse, while I understand it I also have an xbox controller plugged in for some games because keyboard and mouse isn't always the best option if we're being honest. But do you think you can get an xbox controller to work on a playstation or vice versa? You see pc doesn't discriminate and doesn't punish you for not wanting to be exclusive.

Then as a dev you don't have to worry about all the restrictions that come with trying to publish on a console or how greedy they are or the frustration you often have when trying to work with their stores which are clunky slow and unresponsive at times with errors that can kick you right out of the app. You're also free to make patches and adjustments without paying absurd fees and it's so much easier to add community support options as well as allowing modding which the consoles are deathly afraid of. Skyrim just isn't the same on a console after  you've played with just a couple mods on pc. Then there's realtime debugging and changes you can make on pc which once it's on the console you really can't work with it you just have to take notes and fix them once you're back on the pc. Even when you're using their emulation software to test the game on your pc you can't make changes while playing because they impose the same restrictions as they would with the hardware.

Speaking of hardware on the pc as a dev you don't have to worry about hardware restrictions as much, you have to be conscious of what the average consumer has so you don't end up making crysis so powerful nobody can play it at max for a decade but the fact that you can make it so there's room for future upgrades is so much better than knowing the hardware will never change and being hard limited to what it's capable of now. Instead you can design for the future and build games to be amazing and then wait for those that are interested to get the hardware to run it properly while in the mean time toning back settings so it can run in the here and now. You're also free to work with new and developing technologies years before consoles see them. Take for example PhysX which was originally an ageia tech and a stand alone processing card before it was adopted by gpu's to be an alternate mode and then implemented as a software solution for games which then still waited longer before consoles could properly utilize it. Then there's simply the fact you can't actually program on the hardware itself on consoles everything you'll ever do is on the pc so why not just keep it there. The only thing a console should be these days is a virtualized OS on dedicated hardware, free to be swapped in and out at a whim. I see a future where playstation, xbox, steam, and others occupy the same hardware as a multiboot option. That is simply inevitable in some form given enough time.

What about the ability to code down to the hardware on consoles? You say. Well let me direct you to GCN architecture solutions from AMD which allow your system to share resources with other hardware. Combined with new and improved HSA technology and the new Mantle API which is vastly superior than DirectX or OpenGL on modern machines. Mantle was designed ground up to take advantage of multiple cores in a system and properly leverage the power of a GPU. As compared to the ancient API's of old which rely on serialized thread processing and have simply been given patches and add ons to try an emulate proper advancements to utilize modern technology but are now clearly showing their age bottle-necking performance because of inability and ineptitude  rather than overhead. Consider batch processing alone where each time you need to call for a model and its textures and other properties each of these issues a batch command call and after around 10,000 of these in a short timeframe most api's start having a hard time processing everything and can slow down if not crash. Mantle on the other hand has been proven capable of handling over 100,000 batches in the same timeframe without a problem. What does all this mean? It means I can do more with what I have in fewer iterations without worrying about overhead as much. I don't need to pull off programming tricks of loading multiple textures in a single batch as if they were one and combining elements I'd rather have separate. It means graphics can look better, physics can handle more objects and forces and dynamic interactions. It means we can let the GPU monster out of the cage on pc just like how we can on consoles. (If you really want to know more about mantle keep on eye on this blog in a few weeks I'll be discussing it in detail)

I find it hard to describe the intangible difference I have experienced as to how superior pc is as a developer and a consumer. At every turn it's just easier, cheaper, faster, better, more rewarding, less restricting or more freedom depending on view, and more, I just can't see any reason to develop for consoles aside from the single advantage they have of knowing exactly what hardware you'll be dealing with which is itself a double edged sword knowing that the hardware will never change.

September 26, 2014

The argument in favor of the New Gen Consoles

Some of you may remember a harsh rant on the new consoles not long ago with a somewhat substantial list of complaints. Now I sat down as a developer and thought about it from a budget point as well as R&D and many other facets and considered what I would've really done myself if I'd had the power to jump in the console war.

My big complaints were about all the new tech coming out. This is also the biggest counter, is simply that it's new which means low adoption and more overhead cost for development for what would ultimately be an inferior product given first gen tech. In comparison all the hardware being used now is veteran with high reliability and manufacturing process which also allows for top efficiency and low cost development from both hardware and software perspectives. With added overhead from the hardware to do more we can focus on better products. To break it down I'll enumerate with some detail what I really mean.

4k UHD for example is one of my biggest current fetishes for hardware and as eager as I am for hardware to support it not everyone is ready for that jump and what is available is a little bit pricey for the average consumer. With few displays being able to handle this much less handle it cleanly (for example man displays use two chips to process data for different sides of the screen effectively making it two different displays in a kind of extended mode) this means that even if the other hardware was there viewing would be an issue which could also come with any number of future headaches. The hardware itself would add such an exorbitant cost that it would make the 800$ ps3 launch look cheap if they'd went that route.

When I complained of DDR4 I also hadn't thought about production cost and first gen inefficiencies for an otherwise minimal gain in performance and capacity. If combined with the hardware necessary for 4k content the cooling alone would mandate a substantially larger console size. All these elements adding to development and production cost and more which eventually lands on the consumer to pay for which just wasn't going to happen twice in sony's case and xbox certainly wasn't going to take that chance after seeing what it did for sales between ps3 and x360.

In regard to the inclusion of SSD's I hold firm that they should've included at least some small amount of high speed storage solution even in a minimal capacity to accentuate the ram. Imagine even a small 8gb volatile unit designed for temporary storage to offload from the main drive for use of a given game while it runs. The load time on the next COD map would save us so much time wasted on a loading screen. The price has come down enough at this point that they could've included something minimal without much added cost and almost no development cost. Though I am happy that they do officially support ssd's with an easy swap process, it still would've been nice to be included from the beginning. Hell even a hybrid drive would be sufficient.

The same holds true for display port which wouldn't be hard to include next to an hdmi. Of course sony wants to be stubborn though given that hdmi is proprietary for them but even the 360 started including them towards the last revisions of the slim and it's not like display port has the royalty cost hdmi does, so it really wouldn't hurt to add it. I hope they include display ports on the next revisions.

Then again after all this I've written enough in favor of the new gen already this is really just a proper explanation of the hardware decisions they made. My previous posts handle everything else. So it's time for a small follow up now that the consoles are out.

I'm proud to say even though we're only barely into the new gen sony is making good on its promises and many psn titles are backwards/forwards compatible though xbox finally decided to turn off the cameras which for those unaware were still on even when the system was off taking pictures when they weren't supposed to. In the case of one of my friends he got banned for having sex on his couch with his GF when the console was supposedly off it was taking pics and uploading them to M$ and when he found this out he almost sued them until they somehow convinced him for a free lifetime of xbl gold and like 300$ in ms points.

I finally got my hands on a vita. Sadly sony is treating it like a bastard child even though I find it surprisingly awesome and basically take it everywhere I go. the Near app has actually helped me make a few new friends as well and there are a lot more games than I thought available. I actually have almost all the vita games available because they came free with ps+ which I've had for a bit now and I gotta say there's a lot of good games in there. I'm also pleasantly surprised to find trophies for the same games don't stack on the vita which means I get two platinums for mgs3 on psn.

Of course after all this I'd still take a pc over the consoles any day. Though that's for another post.

September 19, 2014

Homebrews and CFW

If any of you reading have a psVita and you've ever wanted to carry around your old games now is the time to get a custom firmware (CFW) after this last weeks huge exploit release all be it poorly timed if you were looking forward to the new official firmware (OFW) update anyway.

What is this nonsense? basically a CFW is a custom shell to a given system and can be used to do things the developers of a given console probably don't want you doing or simply aren't allowed to let you do from a legal standpoint. In this case on the vita it has a natively built in psp emulator to play psp titles which we can manipulate to give us access to the whole psp system with some work. We can then modify it to do things the psp was never meant to do such as emulate and play older titles from older consoles. In my case I love my old SNES and the zelda game I have for it and link to the past works amazing as a portable game it's like it was meant for a handheld. So I put my SNES collection on my vita so I can play it wherever I go and put away the old console because now if I get the itch it's quick and easy to just get into it and play. No dealing with setup and finding everything and whether or not the cartridge is going to work without some effort.

As a consumer I much prefer being able to play everything from a single device, part of why I've always loved my pc gaming is I didn't need to have a dozen different pieces of hardware floating around to play different games. If the day ever came I could repurchase any of these games on my vita I'd do it in a heartbeat. Hell I've known since back in the ps1 days that ps1 discs are pc rom format so I can just put them on the pc and run most of them without even needing an emulator they just work natively (FF7, MGS) and most ps3 users apparently didn't realize that either that they'll work fine on a ps3 regardless of ps2 compatability. I have yet to check on my ps4 so I'll have to get back to everyone on that but I'll be sure to mention it at some point. Supposedly they're working on it and in the mean time there's psNow and rumor has it some discs already work while officially they're not supported so I'll just need to do it myself and see. In spite of knowing though about these discs when I saw FF7 and 8 on steam I didn't even wait for a sale or price drop I jumped on it. When halo comes out I'll be all over that as well. If suddenly steam added a retro market to play all the old titles I'd be all over it. It's a damn shame how much money publishers are missing out on as well as developers simply because of focusing on the now and ignoring nostalgia.

Though as a dev I understand that there's all kinds of licensing issues as well as how the markets are competing with each other and thus don't want pc players forgoing a console by making these titles available. I've said before though that I see the day we all sit down on a unified hardware structure with swappable OS' in a virtualized system allowing us to play whatever we want however we want without worrying about hardware and paying more for extra consoles. Though it'll be a far way off considering profit margins on consoles in the long run. That's part of what makes everyone angry about CFW's as well is because they know they're effectively losing money regardless of if it was money they never would've gotten anyway, though their main concern is losing money on active titles they could still earn through legitimate means. That is to say a CFW on a vita sadly can be used for piracy of psp titles which they still make money on if you buy the game like you should. They're less concerned with the homebrew I imagine and only slightly concerned with emulators for older consoles because these are things they wouldn't make money on anyway. While its true a homebrew has earning potential from sales and distribution on the platform the titles tend not to meet their so called quality standards and thus wouldn't make much money even if they were officially released titles.

What do you think? Do you have a CFW and some emulators, if you did what kinds of games would you have stocked on it?

September 12, 2014

A man of many hats

So most of this blog has been from my work and as a dev with some insights on my views as a consumer and a rare post as both. I thought this was to separate my blog from the many consumer based game blogs out there. Now I see combining the two should be more of a focus as neither stands out on their own for me now.

This is my official return to regular posting after my long hiatus. During this time I would like to say it was self discovery that brought me back or reinventing myself. The truth being I'm roughly the same as I ever was simply with more life experience in the past few months.

The recap of my time off is basically my going around to conventions and seizing opportunities. I managed to sell most of my work while retaining some of the IP rights to reuse my material in the future. And on an unrelated note I was sued for a bill I paid years ago and that's been fun so far. I still have one court meeting left to officially resolve everything but all the paperwork and evidence is in so I'm feeling good about it.

July 13, 2014

The Future Platform

I often rant slightly about the current gen for it's poor timing given how dramatically things are shifting in computer tech this year. I'm also on record about various ideas of what could have been done or should have been done and what I think of pc gaming and digital distribution. With my general discontent I'm often asked "well what would you do then since you have all the answers?" in as condascending of a tone as they can muster. My answer is the best of both world and as much of a reduction in the flaws as is possible with such a combination.

To elaborate on what I see for the future generation of gaming platforms as I will describe shortly. First however I shall lay the foundation to explain my logic. This current gen was in planning for a long time and most of the developers of both teams saw the landscape changing in gaming and tried what they could to adapt for the future they saw knowing they would be inadequate. Which is why when this current gen released they already starting planning an entire new generation with both sony and xbox quietly stating that the next generation after this one would come much quicker than the last. In a previous post I elaborated on a number of technologies I had expected to see in this generation that simply are not present. The unfortunate problem at this point though is even if the next gen fixes all of the problems and complaints I have with ps4 and x1 there's still one major problem I can't get past which they'll likely never fix. That problem is that there is a console war in place with waring factions on both sides and even within console families there isn't much support or cross-play. While consoles move to less hardware dependent virtual OS to allow for future upgrades making backwards comparability almost guaranteed for the future and moving closer towards being dedicated PC's and Steam making it's own OS to be more like a console the fact remains our games are still land locked. Steam might let us play our games under different OS on different machines, but not on consoles, and games from one console don't play on another even if they exist on it. There's the added development costs for releasing on multiple platforms and gamers are stuck picking sides or going broke trying to play both sides. Content on one console won't transfer to another making you not only buy the game twice but all the dlc as well if you decide to hop platforms. Some games with system crossplay or upgrades like ps3 to ps4 and vita sometimes require purchasing the game all over again instead of just an upgrade cost.

So what do I propose to solve these problems? I suggest combining forces. If xbox and sony teamed up on developing a single console hardware platform they could both release their OS on the same machine and players wouldn't have to pick a side, and we might even be able to add SteamOS as well and just keep adding and opening up the market for other similar OS's. Perhaps peripherals are still different having a sony style or xbox style controller but being able to play your games across multiple platforms without having to buy them multiple times. Add the option for dedicated hardware upgrades or expansion kits if they're really needed perhaps taking an idea from a new modular design system to add hardware as needed. This unification of the gaming world would be revolutionary, unfortunately however it'll likely only ever be a pipe-dream. Then again now we have things like NeoGeo that plays all the old cartridge games... so maybe it's not that far fetched?

May 13, 2014

what's taking so long?

In the true newb fashion I thought I'd be done in a matter of months and now it's years later with no true end in sight. The fact of the matter is almost all of the work has been done on my own without much outside help except once in a blue moon when I find myself with spare cash to pay someone for something specific. Yes it's true I have a basic build that's up and running but it's still so broken that to even call it a proper alpha would be just short of an outright lie.

That having been said what have I been doing the last couple months? I've been selling off chunks of what code I've done so far to other developers and shopping out the rights to the games. I'm not giving up by any means rather handing it off is more of a means to an end. The games will still get made and by people that have much more experience. Realistically I probably should've done this much sooner. What about kickstarter? True I could go that route and I would be able to afford to work how I really want and get things done, but it wouldn't have the same effect as putting it in the hands of truly experienced developers that will know what to strip out or add in for maximum effect.

What does this mean for the blog? It means I start new projects and elaborate on them while detailing what's happened to what I've already done. This blog isn't going anywhere if I can help it. Not to mention the games themselves haven't been sold off yet and I'm going to keep working on them until they are. With any luck I'll be able to keep working on them after they're sold too.

So what have I done with the games since my last post? I've brought back the old mech's as a clutch game mechanism which is to say they only show up at the end of each match as game changers in an attempt to swing the battle for a last minute come from behind victory possibility. I also brought back the stock system in a manner I finally think will be free of complaints. Namely most loadouts use the existing system and special flare items that don't have game impact aside from visual are the only things the stock system is really useful for right now. It functions more as a mini metagame and not as a real mechanic. I've also added special items with other equivalents that can be bought in other ways, these special items are one time purchases that can be re-used. You might think of them as similar in nature to the blueprints from dust 514 without the expense. I've made a few other tweaks here and there and worked on removing some of the game crashing bugs but otherwise that's all the major news.

From here I plan to work more on teamwork mechanics because the current system breaks down at more advanced skill levels and becomes a lone wolf game again which is not what the game is about. Hopefully when I finally get teamwork mechanics done properly it won't be an elmer fudd situation where I find out I turned the shotgun around the wrong way.

March 08, 2014

An Exercise In Creativity

A question I've gotten a couple times is how I manage to spam so many ideas. My usual answer is creativity or something similar to it. It's no guarantee that any or all of the ideas are good but it's better to filter out the unnecessary that than to struggle at adding new material, at least as it relates to my method for working. I manage to come up with so many ideas by having the ability to link otherwise unrelated objects and how to improve them. It's the concept of taking any idea and simply playing with it to see how you could change it then seeing of you think it's better or worse.

One classic example is building your own card game using standard materials. Grab a standard 52 playing card deck and a pair of dice. Now make a new game you've never heard of before, write down all the rules and ideas behind them, then organize them and present them to someone and have them play your game. It's very basic but helps in the fundamentals of design and helps you learn to think creatively.

Another method I like to use is taking a random concept from a game and then building an entirely new game around it. This is usually video games but it can be any game. The more ridiculous it sounds when you say it out loud the better it probably is as a source of entertainment.

February 16, 2014

new features

it's been a long time since I made any real posts about the larger title I've been working on and quite honestly there's so much that's changed now it's hardly even the same game anymore
however since the new code has been compiling for over a week I figured now is a good time to try and do some kind of an update

side note, I'm seriously considering using some of the budget on some kind of server farm to compile next time because it's literally been compiling for over a week and is only just about to finish in the next few hours or maybe early tomorrow

we've completely rebuilt the networking from ground up and to test extreme scenarios we've been using simulated traffic in addition to our volunteers so we can really see how plausible it would be to have massive players in smaller areas like we were aiming for. So far we almost managed to get 700 players roughly 128 of which were real and the rest were simulated on a smaller map where players were basically shoulder to shoulder and moving around and the network could almost handle it from a movement perspective. Sadly once we had half of them shooting it completely crashed. We're still condensing information down to absolute bare minimums. In a larger map with real space to move and narrowing down what information each player needs for their area we managed to get the same number of people most of which were shooting and all we had was some nasty lag but only a couple of dropped connections.
 Basically packets currently contain location, direction of movement, and client side final calculations. Which is to say if a player shoots and hits or misses all that is currently client side because the servers can't handle it, the player's computer will determine from it's information if it's a hit or miss and then send that along to the server to pass around to relevant nearby players. Right now though information like trajectories or exact aiming isn't transmitted and there's no secondary checks so if someone shoots at you and misses all you get is a randomized bullet trajectory that's calculated from your position and the other player's position. I't stupid easy to hack though because if you find a way inject your packet with something that says you killed player x then that get's sent out to everyone and you could kill everyone on the map without even shooting so we're going to have to work on that soon. Though in terms of maximizing use of packets I must say final calculations of saying if a player hit or missed and having everyone else calculate details of what that means is really quite efficient.

When it comes to massive scale weapons systems we use the above networking to do what I described which is send a few packets out saying all players within a given distance of a position take x damage, with client side calculating if they're in the area or protected by a defensive structure, etc.

While small groups of people can handle high level detailed graphics we've been having a hard time with our distance based level of detail when dealing with so many players the graphics can really take a hit unless you have ungodly system specs

we updated most of the sounds now that we found a decent sound effects guy, so there are a lot more sounds now and they sound much better. We opted for proceedurally generated midi to keep sizes small similar to our texture and geometry methods.

there's been a lot of balancing and smaller tweaks that I won't enumerate suffice to say the higher skill levels got slightly nerfed and the beginning levels have been accelerated to narrow the power gaps a bit across the board

we improved terraforming algorithms from larger weapons with such an ability which is seperate from structural fracturing which also got a massive overhaul for various new material types and definitions, stress patterns, weight allocations, etc

there are several new weapons  such as
the nighty night baby doll and goodnight kiss traps which are gas traps that knock out your opponent for a while unless they have a gas mask
a customized directional shield adjustment where you can pick where your shield is the strongest and to what extent
some new grenade types
a couple new accessories and more customizations for each, as well as a new related feature where you can see outside of matchmaking all the different gun combos your opponents were using and what you get killed by most often with suggestions on how to increase your defense against them.
the weapons system was also given a small overhaul for more components with subtle alterations of each and their overall effects as well as what are called "efficient combos" which give additional bonuses not immediately noticeable when you're just looking at component stats but that are noted in the gun description
there are other similar types now for "power combos" and "weight combo" which is to say if it's obvious you're going for most damage, or the lightest weight you may get additional bonuses to damage, fire rate, movement speed or a cut in a movement speed penalty if it's a heavy weapon,  and you can have multiple bonuses though you won't get the maximum bonus of a given type unless all components have those qualifications and the biggest bonuses generally are only of a single type unlike some components that may have multiple types but of lesser values.
I'm currently working on displaying all such values for that in each component description as well as a primary component enumeration in the gun description to know how many components of the gun have said bonus and how many components there are in the gun

I'm also working on a prototype forge section where you can create new components with randomized variables you can then modify to boost their values eventually leading to a total gun creation mode aside from the one now that just uses the exact same components across the board

macro information systems are also finally being built in to gather information on how and when players change classes, detailed gun info and combos, k/d's with verbose stats per class and per game, relative accuracy as opposed to absolute accuracy, and all the other details I listed for stats when I started this blog and listed concepts.

I know I'm missing so much but this covers a few of the larger broad strokes we did.

January 09, 2014

first week summary

I had an amazingly difficult time getting in on the mantle beta for developers and I somewhat regret throwing myself at it so hard. I'm still excited to see what other developers do with it, especially a big budget like BF4. From my perspective it's perhaps a bit more work than usual but it's just worth it and it certainly makes more logical sense so even if it's more work it goes much faster actually saving time. Though I don't have the specific need for it myself I see the potential and because it is so much better I'd still develop for it anyway if I had the budget for it. For now even though it's an open API to my knowledge nvidia still doesn't like it or allow it.

CES also started and all the news coming out from there is exciting as always. Though sadly when it comes to some of the more important hardware I care about things are fairly run of the mill. I'd love to hear something truly exciting about processors we're not expecting like more cores, more power, more heat, smaller form factor, etc. I'd love to just hear same performance for lower power.

Though we are finally hearing processors with ddr4 controllers and are supposedly being surprisingly stable in comparison to previous generations launches. MSI apparently finally has a good ITX amd mobo which has me excited even though I know I won't be getting it. They're also releasing ITX form factor graphics cards which is nice if you want more graphics than you'd get from an APU.

Apparently Dell might be first to market with a 4k OLED monitor, which is a little sad but at least it's something instead of nothing. Though from my experience dell monitors don't live as long as other brands and considering we're expecting a shorter lifespan on OLED to begin with this has me a bit worried.

hybrid hard drives are doubling in capacity which sounded nice at first until I found out the SSD space is staying at 8gb and they're just doubling regular HDD space so now we have 4tb regular and 8gb nand when the main complaint I'm sure was how small the SSD side was.

there's all kinds of CES news beyond this which I suggest everyone read. My last really exciting thing that comes to mind is some DSP controlled PSU's which I don't know why I never thought of that before, the basic explanation is that DSP is digital signal processing unit which is a digital controller to increase efficiency which leads to the new 80+ titanium above the 80+ platinum for upwards of 95% efficiency.

I'll probably post about these more next week. so what does everyone think about steam OS? anyone annoyed with it moving to UEFI only so quickly?