Thursday, July 29, 2010

Introduction to Starcraft and Heidegger (Part 1)

(This is a two-part essay on Starcraft II, why it is great, and its relation to Heidegger's writings on technology using Sirlin's excellent write-ups for a Starcraft class. It is aimed towards relative novices who don't really play Starcraft multiplayer.)

So one day, I was playing Starcraft II against some dude. We were both Protoss... and it wasn't going well for me.

He had all these "Stalker" spider-robot-things that shoot ranged lasers / can teleport short distances instantaneously. It was kind of hopeless for me: he shoots lasers at me, I run towards, he "blinks" away -- repeat.

This is micromanagement -- high-frequency, repetitive actions that require a high APM (actions per minute) to maximize a unit's flux, or ability to inflict damage.

He had to teleport away carefully, at just the right time, to maximize the laser-shooting while staying out of range of my units. If he teleported too late, my units would catch-up and kill his units. If he teleported away too soon, his units would barely have any time to acquire a target and fire.

In doing so, he was also kiting (as in, a kite) my units away from my base, as his Stalkers teleport further and further away and my army chases after them. It leaves my base utterly defenseless. He has a second army waiting. They charge up the ramp to my base...

Sunday, July 25, 2010

A rose by any other name...

So there was a recent Unity game revealed, "Pirates of New Horizons," and it looks pretty sweet but over at Mapcore we started being jerks and picking away at the awful, awkward-sounding title.

That got me thinking -- in contrast, "Sins of a Solar Empire" is one of the greatest video game titles ever. Here's why:

It just sounds awesome. The "S" of Sins and Solar together, the "aa" in "a" and "sol-A-r", and the "RR" in "Sola-R" and "Empi-R-e" -- in literature we call this effect "sibilance" (sss), "assonance" (vowels), and "consonance" (consonants) respectively. These combined effects make the title roll off the tongue nicely, at least with fluent American English speakers.

Thursday, July 22, 2010

The Oil Blue: how someone took all those silly panel puzzles from Resident Evil and made it interesting

What if someone took all those ludicrously involved and improbable mechanical maintenance panel puzzles from the Resident Evil series and turned it into a game? That'd be Vertigo Games' "The Oil Blue." And it's surprisingly good. (These impressions are based on the demo.)

The visual design? Purple gradients everywhere. Love it. The sound design? Buttons and panels have satisfying clicks to them. Fantastic. What about the gameplay? It's multi-tasking to the extreme. You have to press buttons to extract oil with various machines, all working at the same time.

The closest analogy I can think of? Oil drilling is like cooking a dinner for 10, as quickly as possible.

Wednesday, July 21, 2010


1) Fantastic movie.

2) I'm scared because it's going to dominate popular discourse on "levels" as psychological architecture. Before, it was an idea relatively unique to video games -- specifically, the awesomeness that was Psychonauts, complete with subconscious censors that try to kick you out, etc. -- but now? Psychonauts will be ripping off Inception. Radiator will be ripping off Inception. We are all now in its shadow.

And that scares me because, quite frankly, I don't think I can craft an experience as satisfying as that film.

Hell, now I feel like I'm ripping off Inception. I wonder why. Did it plant something in my brain?...

Friday, July 16, 2010

Dragon Age: Origins is the First Game About Gay Marriage + The Power of Mods

(I was waiting to see if the Escapist cared for an article pitch based on this blog post, but they didn't, so now I'm just going to ahead and post it.)

Dragon Age is the world's first commercial video game about gay marriage.

... and now with that incredibly misleading and generalizing hook, let me explain:

So I tricked Dragon Age: Origins into temporarily thinking my dude mage was female to trigger a gay romance with the dashing knight Alistair (and for anyone wanting to do the same, it works pretty seamlessly, just get the mod at Dragon Age Nexus) -- and the result was an oddly tragic playthrough with inadvertent commentary on gay marriage. (Inadvertent because I had to use a mod to get this reading of it.)

I mean, Dragon Age has plenty of other gay shit in it: lesbian dwarves, a threesome, two bisexual romance options, etc. And this is all the intentionally designed LGBT content that BioWare saw fit to implement, which isn't a complaint because this is probably as "progressive" a major commercial Western RPG has ever been. So kudos, BioWare.

But none of that "intentional" gay content compares to how rewarding I found Dragon Age when I hijacked Alistair's sexuality. So, this is how a gay romance with Alistair goes (minor spoilers await -- then you'll get another warning about major spoilers):

Tuesday, July 13, 2010

p0nd (update! mirror!)

The greatest Flash game ever. A masterpiece. Make sure you inhale / exhale in-time with your character in order to experience the full effect.

(prediction: it's going to go viral in, like, 5 hours)

Saturday, July 10, 2010

On Game Reviews + Games Writing + Sports Writing Is Cool

Did anyone else read the "Blacklight: Tango Down" review at Eurogamer? My god. I mean, I don't intend to bite the hand that feeds me, and I definitely don't want to defend a game I haven't played / looks mediocre anyway, but I'm afraid I'm going to have to risk an ungrateful nibble here:
"All the major functions are present, correct and mapped exactly where you'd expect to find them."
So it copied Halo's control scheme on the X360 -- or, as we would say in PC-land, it has keyboard bindings! Awesome.
"The sprint feels a bit sticky..."
I don't know what this means. When you sprint, you stick to surfaces? When you sprint and let go of the button, you continue to sprint? When you sprint, sticks fly out of your screen and poke you in the eye?

Must game controls necessarily feel responsive, or can they be "sticky," whatever that means, by design? (e.g. in Team Fortress 2, the Heavy's slower aiming / movement when firing the minigun) Would you criticize the Heavy Weapons class for moving too slowly, or the Scout for moving too quickly, or the player character in the Graveyard for handling like a shopping cart -- when it is all by design?

If a playtester ever told me that the "sprint feels a bit sticky" or that I had to "tighten up the graphics", I'd probably stickily sprint off to the front of the nearest speeding bus.
"... but the genre basics are pretty much as they should be."
By using the word "but" after talking about sticky sprinting, the reviewer flags this as a compliment. I thought the problem was that this game was too average, and now suddenly it's good that this game follows conventions? And why is it necessarily a strength that the game keeps to "genre basics"? The tone of this review keeps going back and forth between "not different enough from AAA games" and "not similar enough to AAA games." Which is it?
"... it's only really co-operative in the sense that you're playing alongside other people." 
I understand what the reviewer means, but still -- this is an amazingly dumb thing to say because cooperative play means... well, playing alongside other people. It's like saying "it's only singleplayer in the sense that you play by yourself."

But here's the part of the review that originally got me thinking, "what the hell is he talking about?!"...

Thursday, July 8, 2010

GeoComp2: Demon Pigs Go Hog Wild, by Charon + the brief and unremarkable history of the non-photorealistic FPS

(GeoComp2 posts feature Quake 3 levels with outstanding geometry inspired by modern architecture practices; unfortunately GameSpy deleted the original GeoComp2 pages, so these blog posts are an attempt at creating a historical record.)

Demon Pigs Go Hog Wild, by Charon, is an extremely difficult-to-find anomaly from the competition. (Fortunately I've tracked it down for you.) It seems like the community spontaneously forgot about it upon its release and it never really garnered much play -- which makes sense, as it's calculated to be utterly disorienting, using only 2 colors to create a strobe-like effect as you move through the level. (EDIT: I'm told Fileplanet is shutting down, so I'm mirroring the ZIP on Dropbox.)

It was an experiment more than anything, using the new cel-shader functionality that Randy "ydnar" Reddig (fun fact: he also worked on Marathon Infinity and designed an Adam Foster-esque easter egg for it) implemented in the Quake 3 level compiler tools Q3Map2.

The result is an aesthetic that emphasizes the rhythm of lines and silhouettes, and serves as one of the earliest (and probably best executed) uses of a cel-shading style in an FPS. Charon only used two colors, and yet his level is still pretty readable: you can discern walls, floors -- the ribbing on a recessed wall indicates a jump-pad at its feet -- and the bold white chunks of wall serve as potent landmarks. Exposing the net of triangle mesh along the floor and walls was also an inspired touch; a lesser designer (like me, maybe) would've painted a black and white tile texture or something instead.

Of course, it's still pretty unplayable... BUT. Looking back, it's understandable why there was a brief period of experimentation in this direction. It was the promise of something new...

Saturday, July 3, 2010

GeoComp2: Neorganic Epiphany, by Dubblilan + notes on CQB and "slicing the pie"

(GeoComp2 posts feature Quake 3 levels with outstanding geometry inspired by modern architecture practices; unfortunately GameSpy deleted the original GeoComp2 pages, so these blog posts are an attempt at creating a historical record.)

Neorganic Epiphany, by Dubbilan, is blobitecture / "parametricism" with a "Miami Vice" sensibility. The floorplan isn't what makes this level special -- it's a decent central arena plan with a handful of small side atria that feed back into the middle. But the style does make one rather important difference in gameplay...

See, most arcade DM maps -- especially those in the BSP era -- are rather blocky, due to the nature of BSP construction. It's easier to manipulate rectangular shapes than curved, slanted shapes. This is mirrored in real-life construction practice with four-cornered rooms and long, straight planes for walls that meet other walls at 90 degree corners...

Offered without comment.