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Category Archives: Gaming

My single New Year’s resolution for 2015


I’ve had a few thoughts on what I could do for the upcoming year.  There’s some areas I could work on to improve my software development, a range of different household tasks I could learn to do to keep a better home, or I could finally get around to learning a new language.  I’ve already been trying to do those first 2 things for a few months, and that’s not something that’s going  to change in 2015, and I don’t really a resolution that’s just more of the same (learning a language is something I’d like to come back to though).  Instead what I’d like to do in 2015 is make a video game.

In the past I’ve tried to make a video game several times, both with friends and by myself, but for one reason or another they’ve slowly petered out and stopped.  I’d like to make 2015 the first year where that doesn’t happen, and get something put together which I’m happy with.  I will say that I’m not doing this with the intent to make any money from it.  I don’t plan on creating the next Minecraft, and while I’d hardly say no to $2 billion, I don’t expect to make a single penny from it.  This is purely for the joy of finally completing a game I set out to make, and to get enough experience doing if I ever do want to try this professionally.

So here’s how I’m planning on doing this.  There’s a number of things that I need to sort out before I can get started.  First off, I need a concept and a rough design for what this game will be.  In the past I’ve heard of plenty about design bibles, and Game Design Documents, and while they certainly have their merits when you’re working with large projects with a hundred people working on them, the idea of one person doing that reeks to me of the same Big Design Up Front and Waterfall methods in software development that are pretty outdated.  As I’m just a team of one, without any experience designing games it’s not only unnecessary, it’s also pretty wasteful.  I can easily imagine spending weeks designing features for later in the year, but by the time I get there I might realise it just doesn’t fit with the rest of the game that’s been built.  Skipping out on design entirely doesn’t seem sensible either though, so I’m going to take an iterative approach, which can be summed up along these lines.

  1. Analysis – Figure out what I want to do.
  2. Design – Work out how I’m going to do it.
  3. Implementation – Make it do it.
  4. Testing & Evaluation – Did it do what it meant to do?

I’ll be doing “sprints” of 2 weeks going through all these stages, although this number might change over time.  I’ll also be putting together a roadmap of sorts with a list of features I’d like to create, and any pre-requisites needed, but these will be only speculative for all but the current and next sprint.

As I mentioned earlier, I don’t have hands-on experience with games design, so I need to do some research into game design theory, techniques and pitfalls.  Some of this I’ll be basing off my past experiences with games, trying to take Id software’s original approach and making a game that I’d like to play myself.  But there’s still a lot of things I just don’t know about.  Doing a little research around the area already, a good start will be reading through James Schell’s The Art of Games Design, which has recently had a new edition released.  After this I’ll be doing research on a case by case basis on any topics I feel unsure about.

I’ll also need to figure out how to use the all software involved in making this game.  For the most part this will involve learning how to use Unity, which seems to be the go-to choice for a lot of free and professional projects.  I’ll be working through courses on Digital Tutors, and filling in any gaps with various web articles and Youtube videos.  There will be other work involved though, like putting together some basic graphics to make the game playable.  I’m not much of a graphic artist, so I’ll need to do some research there to find out how to put together something that works well enough for now.  By the end I’ll have to see what I can do about improving them, but the focus for me is getting something that works first, then make it pretty afterwards.

I’ll be posting updates every few weeks or so, depending on how well that particular sprint has gone.  Most likely the first one will involve me learning to learn Unity and fleshing out the concept I have in mind.

 
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Posted by on January 1, 2015 in Gaming, Self-Improvement

 

January Challenge completed (sort of)


Well, that went surprisingly well.  I was going pretty stir crazy after the first two weeks, but somehow I managed to chug on through without (mostly) playing any games.  There was one moment of weakness/stupidity, when I followed a link in a forum topic somewhere and found myself playing a random adventure/RPG for 2 hours before I realised my mistake, but it was a little late to say it didn’t count…

One of the obvious results of not playing games is a massive abundance of free time.  There were a fair few moments when I just sat down after finishing something off and just ended up feeling a little lost.  Times when I’d normally start Steam, or boot up the Xbox, I just ended up sitting down not quite sure what to do next.  Can’t say it did too much for my productivity though, as I ended up spending a lot of time that I spent playing games just Cyberslacking instead.  Obviously I have some procrastination issues, but video games definitely aren’t the main problem there.

I also spent a lot of time thinking about the games I’d like to play, and apart from the random urge to go back and play a few rounds of Street Fighter 2 or remembering how much I liked certain sections of Bioshock, most of the games I felt like playing were ones which posed a challenge.  I touched on this a couple of years back when I noticed I was getting too caught up on earning achievements in games and less so on actually enjoying them.  Unfortunately I think I’ve gone too far in the opposite direction, and have stopped trying to go for anything too challenging, instead trying to get the most of the game in as short a time as possible so I can get on with something else.  I guess I need to find a balance of fun + challenging to really enjoy a game.  Right now, that game seems to be FTL, a roguelike (in spirit at least) with randomly generated sectors and enough different ships to make each playthrough different enough to be worth trying.  Since I was busy getting married I didn’t end up booting it until I got back home on the 5th Feb, but I managed to get my hours in and beat it for the first time yesterday morning (on easy anyway).  Another option is to just add more challenges into a game, such as the Nuzlocke challenge which sounds like it could make the Pokemon games fun to play again, and not just a chore for large parts of it.  I’m not sure whether I’d actually go back and replay the older ones, but if I pick up any of the newer games (or maybe check out Platinum which I missed before) I can’t think of any other way I’d like to play it.

The other half of my challenge, spending 1 hour learning and practicing the C# programming language, was a different matter entirely.  I managed to do alright for the first couple of days, getting in some time here and there to crack on and read all about Parallelism.  Then I became so swamped with wedding planning and other activities that I couldn’t fit a single programming session in edgeways.  I still need to do the exam so now that my wedding’s over I’ll be getting back to this, but it’s not going to be one of my challenges.

 
 

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Playing Diablo 2 with a modern graphics card


Recently I picked up a new laptop and among the usual series of applications that I set up I decided to throw in Diablo 2. I know all the cool kids are playing Diablo 3 these days, but I’ve spent a lot of time away in hotels and on trains recently, so I can’t really count on having a steady connection.

After going through the surprisingly simple process of getting the game through Battle.net I copied over my old saved games and booted it up. That’s when I noticed that it was barely chugging along on my shiny new laptop, even slower than when I was using my recently deceased 7-year-old iBook. It turns out that most modern graphics cards aren’t too great at handling the 2D graphics that Diablo 2 uses. Thankfully I managed to find a solution.

In short, the solution is to wrap the graphics handling up in something called a “Glide Wrapper”, which takes over the 2D graphics processing and does a far better job or it. In Diablo 2’s case a generous soul has written a custom one just for this called Svenwrapper . Just install this software then run Diablo 2’s graphics test (D2VidTst.exe) and set it to “Glide”. Now you’ll have the game running as smooth as silk. I’m not sure if it’s still the case, but back in the day the frame rate in single player is limited at a lower number than in multiplayer, so if you want it to look just a tiny bit nicer its worth playing a local multiplayer game, even if you just want to go it alone.

Note: Depending on your OS you might have a little trouble getting to respond. In my case running Windows 8 it did sod all until I told it run under compatibility mode using Windows XP.

 
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Posted by on November 9, 2012 in Gaming

 

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Auto-Backup your saved games


Those of using Steam probably already know about Steamcloud, the service which automatically backs up the saves for certain games.  The problem is a lot of games that don’t support this and probably never will.  So I did some digging around online and managed to figure out how to set up a system to do this for you.  It’s fairly easy to get working and once you’ve set it up for a game you don’t need to worry about it again.

The first step is to install a file backup/sharing utility.  There’s quite a few available, but I’ll be using Dropbox for this guide since that’s what I’m already using.

Once you’ve got this set up you then need to find where your saved games are held for each game. For some it might be a single file called “Been.sav” or “data.sav” (if it ends in .sav it’s probably a save file).  Or it might be a large number of files and folders, all within another folder called “Save”.  You can back them up regardless, but there’s slightly different steps for each type.

Either case you’ll want to copy the save file(s) somewhere into your Dropbox folder.  Then open up a command prompt (Start menu, then “run” and type “cmd”) and do one of the following steps for each computer you’re using.

Single save file:

For single files you’ll be using a little utility called “fsutil”.  This comes pre-installed on Windows XP (and Windows Vista and 7 as far as I can tell) so you don’t need to install anything extra to get it working.  What you need to do is type the following command into the command prompt, swapping in the location you want to store the save file, and the location that the original file was held at.  You need to make sure you remove the save file from the original location (make sure you’ve backed it up first!).

C:\>fsutil hardlink create "new location" "old location"

For example, to move my Sonic 3 saved file to my Dropbox folder, I would type out something like this:

C:\>fsutil hardlink create "C:\Dropbox\Saved games\Sonic 3\sonic3.sav" "C:\Program Files\Sega\Sonic3\save.dat"

As you can see, the files don’t have to share the same name.  Now both of these files actually refer to the same file, it just has 2 different names and locations.  Practice with a few .txt files if you want some practice before just diving into moving and deleting your saved games.

Save folder:

As far as I can tell, there’s no built-in program for doing this in Windows XP, so you’ll need to get a (free) program called “Junction” which is available from Microsoft (There is a built-in version for Windows Vista/7, but I’ll say why I’m not using that later).  Using Junction isn’t much more difficult than using fsutil, except you have to first navigate to wherever you’ve stored the Junction program.  The easiest way to do this is to copy to your main C:\ drive, then type “cd\” into the command prompt.  To set up the link between the folders though, you type the following

C:\>junction "new location" "original location" 

So if I wanted to back up my Baldur’s Gate saved games folder I’ll type something like this

C:\>junction "C:\Dropbox\Saved games\Baldur's Gate\" "C:\Program files\Black Isle\Baldur's Gate\Saved games\"

And that’s that.  Just like when you’re backing up a single save file, it doesn’t matter if you name the directories anything different.

mklink for Windows Vista/7:

If you’re using Windows Vista/7 there’s a built-in program you can use called mklink.  This does the same thing as junction, only you don’t have to go to the same folder every time you want to use it.  However, it doesn’t let you run it on an administrator’s account, so you have to create another user account with the ability to create symbolic links.  That makes it a bit too lengthy to cram into this post, but if you’d like to check it out you can follow these links to find out about mklink and how to get it working.

 
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Posted by on May 11, 2012 in Computing, Gaming

 

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Nerdy Show


Today I’m going to talk about my current favourite podcast/community.  It’s simply called Nerdy show and it’s a 2-3 hour weekly (occasionally more frequently) podcast series that, as the name implies, covers a number of very nerdy/geeky topics including video games, comics, webcomics, Minecraft and music, especially of the Nerdcore variety.  They cover several different topics in each episode, usually themed around a central topic such as a recent video game, movie or the like. These are interspersed with some pretty awesome music somewhat related to the topic at hand and generally find their way onto my iPod’s playlist before too long.  Their podcast has only been running since 2009, but they’ve already interviewed quite a few big people in the various industries they cover.  This includes people such as the legendary Rob Paulsen, who’s voiced at least one character in every cartoon you’ve ever loved.  Steve Blum of the supremely gravely voice who’s voiced such well-loved characters as Spike Spiegal of Cowboy Bebop.  Weird Al Yankovic, probably the best known name in parody music.  Mark Waid, writer of a number of well-known comics including an excellent run on “The Flash” and currently doing pretty damn well with Irredeemable over at Boom studios. And many, many music artists, way too many to list here, but it includes names such as The Protomen, FreezePop, Brentalfloss and Adam Warrock. Not only this, but they also run the yearly Nerdapalooza festival, the place to be for anyone who’s anyone in the nerdy music biz.

The thing about Nerdy Show isn’t just the podcast and the guys and girls who produce it. It’s about the community. The sort of community who frequently create works of truly insane magnitude upon their Minecraft server. These include things such as a 1/4 scale of the Battlestar Galactica, featuring a choose your own adventure story to decide whether you’re really a human or a frakking toaster. The SG-1 facility from the Stargate SG-1 TV show with a working Stargate that takes you to straight to Abydos. A recreation of the Serenity from Firefly with all the rooms shown within the show and about a billion different sprites and monuments from various other shows. There’s even a Pompeii villa in there.

But back to the podcast. One of the many things they do includes a monthly Dungeons and Dragons adventure, titled “Dungeons and Doritos”.  They tell the tale of the misadventures of a group of 4 adventures. Vimak, a hulking Goliath weilder of natural magic with a remarkably Russian accent and a wolf-bear companion. Jamela, a Dragonborn cleric with a habit of externally monologuing her actions. Jen’Ifir, a Tiefling Warlock seeking ultimate power and doesn’t mind sacrificing her fellow companions to get it. And finally there’s Chair, a Dwarf who used to be a chair until a wizard got involved. I’m not sure anything I could say could satisfactorily explain Chair, he really needs to be experienced. Later they’re joined by Bartholomew, a dashing swashbuckler and rogue and Lefty, a former pirate queen. Their adventures make up some of the greatest RPG adventures I’ve ever listened to, readily rivalling the Penny Arcade/PvP ones in my opinion. They recently started a new set of adventures from episode 11, so that’s a good jumping off point if you don’t fancy starting right from the beginning.

To sum it up, Nerdy Show is pretty freaking awesome. I’m bit saying everything they produce is brilliant, but that’s been the case so far.  If you’re into anything Nerdy whatsoever you really owe it yourself to listen to it.

Links:

The main Nerdy Show page:
Nerdy Show

The most recent Minecraft Build-a-thon, featuring all of the amazing Minecraft creations mentioned above:
Minecraft TV Build-a-thon

Episode 11 of Dungeons and Doritos, a great jumping off point for new listeners:
Dungeons and Doritos

 
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Posted by on November 6, 2011 in Comics, Gaming, Minecraft, NaBloPoMo, Podcasts

 

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Skylanders


You might have heard of a recent game/fad known as Skylanders.  Don’t worry too much if you haven’t, its one of those things that either passes you by entirely or ends up firmly embedded in your radar.  Skylanders, full title “Skylanders: Spyro’s Adventure” is an Action-RPG and the most recent game in the Spyro the dragon franchise and comes from the creators of Star Control 2 and Pandemonium.

The interesting thing about this game isn’t that it has an engrossing story our solid combat mechanics, but how you choose the characters to play as.  With the main game you get 3 action figures, 1 of Spyro and 2 different Skylanders, and the “Portal of Power”.  You plug the portal of power into your console then place the action figure of the character you want to play as on top of it, simply swapping it with a different figure if your character is defeated, or if you just feel like playing as someone else. Essentially this means that the number of lives you have depends on the number of figures you own. There’s also certain areas of the game that you can only access using certain characters.

So how many different characters are there? 32 on my last count, but they could always release more as DLC. So far every single one of these is already on the disc, you’re just not able to play them until you buy the action figure for it. Since they come in packs of 3 and cost £20 a pack you’d think that gamers would be raging about this all across the internet, but there’s actually very little rage to be found regarding anything other than how hard done of them are to find. It seems that people are instead prowling different stores for missing figures and store exclusives to complete their Skylanders collection. And at around £250 for the entire set (just for the one hand remember) that’s nothing to sniff at. While the game was originally targeted at younger gamers it seems to have that sweet spot that appeals to both gamers and toy collectors alike. Even more so for the hardcore collector crowd as it seems you don’t actually need to take the models out of the packaging to use them, leaving them all in mint condition.

One nice thing that they’ve done is while the game itself is available on different consoles, the figures don’t seem to care which one you used them with. In fact the character saved data is stored on the figure itself you don’t have to worry about your saved data and you can take it to friends houses for multiplayer gaming on a current console and keep all the levels and upgrades you’ve built up. This is speculation on my part, but I wouldn’t be surprised if you can use the same figures in future games, alongside the new batch of characters that
I’m sure they’ll release. In years to come it might not be too uncommon for fellow geeks to have a several shelves just for their Skylanders collection, with internet forums occasionally debating the pros and cons of particular ones.

When I started writing this post I had no intention in getting into the Skylanders, and I hope that for the most part that I can stick to my original plan. But the more I think about it, the more I can see myself maybe getting into it as a long-term investment.

Links:

The Giant Bomb podcast was responsible for teaching me most of what I know about Skylanders, so it only seems fair to provide a link back to them. The specific podcast in question can be found here:
http://www.giantbomb.com/podcast/?podcast_id=256

And the main Skylanders website:

http://www.skylanders.com/sky/game-features

 
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Posted by on November 4, 2011 in Gaming, NaBloPoMo

 

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On Sequels and Spiritual Sequels


It’s a question that gets asked almost immediately after any popular game released, “Are they making a sequel?”.  If it was successful enough the answer is inevitably a yes.  The problem is that the game in question doesn’t always lend itself to having a sequel pushed into the already established story, with perhaps some of the characters from the first game getting killed off or otherwise having their personal story nicely wrapped up. So what’s to happen then?  Just make up a bunch of new important characters that nobody had ever felt fit to mention beforehand?  The example that jumps to mind here is BioShock 2, which is already an interesting case as the series was itself a spiritual successor to the System Shock series.  Not really surprising considering that System Shock 2 and the first BioShock were made by the same team, but I’ll get to that later.

The problem with BioShock 2 is that the entire cast from the original BioShock, minus 1 or 2, were all wrapped up in such a way that there was little to no way they could be put into the second game.  So what happened?  A number of new characters appeared out of nowhere that were apparently around the entire time, but were never mentioned by anyone else despite their supposed importance.  The one character who does make a return only appears in one scene then is never heard from again. The end result is a game that’s somewhat ok, but ultimately falls flat on its face as it fails to hit any of the same spots that the original BioShock managed to. What would have been better would be to take what made the original game so great and make an entirely new game out of it, which is what Irrational Games are doing with their next game, Bioshock Infinite, which borrows some of the ideas from the original and build a completely different setting and story with them.

Then there’s series like Deus Ex which, before the recent release of Human Revolution, consisted of one great game and one horribly mediocre game. What exactly made the first game do great is still hard to narrow down, with even the developers not being entirely sure themselves. Somehow though the recently released prequel, Human Revolution, managed to far exceed the previous attempt to continue the series and resulted in a game that’s on par with the original. How did it accomplish this? By NOT trying to cram as many characters and other plot elements from the first game as possible, but by simply taking the essence of what made the first game great and making something entirely new with it. It in the end I’d argue that it doesn’t even need the Deus Ex name attached to it, but I guess that without it there wouldn’t have been much incentive to make such a game on the first place and if they had it wouldn’t have sold nearly as well. That’s marketing for you I guess.

In a similar vein there’s spiritual sequels, which try to take what made the game that inspired it good and make an entirely new game from it, with perhaps just a few subtle references to the original material. While in principle this sounds like a much better idea it can lead to games where there’s no incentive to play beyond “it’s just like that other really great game that I really liked” and often get labels like “Halo-killers” slapped on them. Usually this is the case when there’s no connection between either the setting or the development team, but this can vary pretty heavily. The UFO series for example was heavily reported as trying to be the spiritual successor to the then dead X-COM series and while it managed to succeed to a certain degree it just didn’t feel enough (not for me anyway). Arx Fatalis tried the same thing with Ultima Underworld too, achieving similar results. The problem here though is that they managed to imitate the aging series a little too well, making it somewhat unwieldy for gamers nowadays. I have a great fondness for that game, but I couldn’t happily recommend it to anyone who isn’t already a diehard Underworld fan.

It occurs to me that I’m starting to make all spiritual sequels sound bad so let’s talk about one of the best ones, BioShock. BioShock was developed by a group known as Irrational Games and was released back in 2007. This same team were the ones responsible for bringing us the phenomenal System Shock 2 and was essentially a spiritual sequel. Rather than take place aboard a space station infested by a variety of alien beasties it was instead set in a massive underwater city called Rapture filled with crazies. Instead of being a trained soldier stationed aboard said space station you were instead a rather unlucky passenger who’s plane crashed in the ocean, not too far from Rapture’s entrance. You get the idea. Most of the aspects that were System Shock were changed completely, but the important ones, the atmosphere, the solitude, the simultaneous feelings of claustrophobia from being trapped within such a deadly place with no escape and agoraphobia from feeling so small compared to the sheer vastness of your environment densely populated with foes around every corner. It was almost perfect. Like many games though, it had its flaws, the final stages of the game especially, but then so did System Shock 2. Regardless its still in my mind three best example of how a spiritual sequel should be done. Which is why I’m looking forward to Bioshock Infinite, the sequel that’s closer to a spiritual sequel to a game that was the spiritual sequel of another sequel. Considering the team and their past work, I’m expecting great things.

 
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Posted by on November 2, 2011 in Gaming, NaBloPoMo

 

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