Browsing the blog archives for August, 2006

UT2007 Gameplay Footage

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Games, Unreal Tournament

A few days ago I posted a link to a UT2007 trailer that had just then been released. Turns out, there’s an unedited shakycam version of the footage being played at a convention in Germany. The original trailer was roughly 2 minutes long, this version is 4 minutes longer, for a total of 6 minutes.

Unfortunately the quality is such that you can’t really tell much of what’s going on, but it certainly looks like they’re changing around the gameplay from Onslaught substantially. The player in this video hits two power conduits and only one powernode – I’m not sure what the purpose of these conduits is, but it’s different at least. You can also get a sense of what the layout of this level is like — seems fairly small, in actuality, although it’s possible the Necris team is just zerg rushing towards the Axon team to provide good action footage.

Ageia PhysX and Cellfactor

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Games, Technology

Lately I’ve been spending far more time than I should admit browsing forums on the internets. I was visiting one of my favorite anime forums when I saw a discussion on “Cell Factor!!!” I’d seen a demo of Cell Factor, which is a First Person Shooter game that requires an Ageia PhysX card, about six months ago. At the time I didn’t think the game warranted even one exclamation mark, much less three, so I was intrigued to see if it had improved.

For those of you unfamiliar with the game, here’s a video of Cellfactor in action:

Another, more recent video:

Now, I started reading the thread on this game, which began with one forum member acting like he was Moses descending with the ten commandments. “This forum,” he proclaimed, “Has managed to miss this game, so I have taken it upon myself to spread the word of the next revolutionary game due.” I wish I were kidding about this, but, alas, the forums of the world are overflowing with intellectual lepers.

Does Cellfactor look entertaining? Sure. Is it revolutionary? Hardly. The game looks like a faster paced deathmatch in Half-Life 2 style, except instead of using the gravity gun to pick up and toss single objects, you’re picking up and tossing ten or twenty objects. As visually exciting as it may be to see a Gravity Grenade pulling in a hundred boxes, barrels, and pipes before exploding, when I think about spending an extra $300 so that I can see an order of magnitude more rigid bodies interacting I’m just not excited. Any game is going to perform better with dedicated hardware components, that’s a given. Is the gain here worth the cost? is the question that needs to be asked. I say no.

There were a number of other people who jumped in the thread, making similar points. I honestly don’t know anyone who wants to buy another card for their computer. Trying to remain competitive with your processor and graphics card is already impossible. For games to require a further card would be the final nail in the coffin of big-budget PC gaming, as far as I’m concerned. The original poster responds, getting more and more angry at the skepticism expressed by myself and others. How dare we question the next revolution in gaming? By now the whole thread’s turned into a flamefest and I can’t even understand why. Who wants to pay for an extra card for what looks like merely an excuse to litter play areas with superfluous crates, pipes, rocks, and other clutter? Do game developers really need excuses to put more boxes in games (possibly the most cliche thing in First Person Shooters)? Why are gamers advocating for hardware components they don’t even own? It’s boosterism for a phantom cause.

Here’s a video of Cellfactor running without PhysX:

I think that’s pretty damning about the need for this card. Sure, it’s only one character manipulating this environment and there aren’t any AI enemies running around taking up processor cycles, but it just goes to show what is possible in a single-player environment (where, I presume, physics-based gameplay features would be more relevant — At least in first person shooters).

Does anyone think that we’re going to be seeing the need for dedicated PPUs (not ones integrated into a GPU)?

Classy Characters, part 2

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Games, Guild Wars, RPGs

Guild Wars has six core classes: Warrior, Ranger, Monk, Elementalist, Necromancer, and Mesmer.

The typical archetypes for the genre are, naturally, Warrior, Thief, Cleric, and Wizard. Thus the mapping isn’t entirely one-to-one. We have some splitting up and merging of roles. For example, the GW Ranger is a hybrid of typical Warrior and Thief roles. The GW Ranger has traps (Thief), a ranged combat focus (Thief), but is physically strong (Warrior) and can be built as a passable Melee combatant (Warrior). Warrior obviously maps onto GW Warrior, and Cleric maps onto Monk. That leaves us with three character classes derived largely from the Wizard archetype: Elementalist, Necromancer, and Mesmer.

I tend to favor support-style classes, and so when I was creating my first character in Guild Wars I was looking for a support-style character to play. It’s obvious that the Elementalist in Guild Wars is primarily a “Nuker” a direct-damage spellcaster utilizing D&D Wizard spells such as “Lightning Bolt” and “Fireball.” As such I was primarily interested in the Monk, the Necromancer, and the Mesmer.
* The Monk is a healer, and that’s an obvious support class. At the same time, I find the Monk somewhat boring in that so many of his skills are geared only towards healing other characters. Monks also are severely dependent upon other characters to succeed. As I expected to be playing alone a lot, this was a significant downside to choosing this class.
* The Necromancer seems to be a class that is derived from Wizard and Cleric archetypes: It incorporates a limited amount of the D&D Wizard’s damage dealing capabilities with the D&D Wizard’s summoning magic and enough healing magic to manage the minions summoned. I tend to find that in many games summons become useless in the end game, as enemies become powerful enough to destroy your minions in one hit. I also didn’t care for the art style used for Necromancer characters.
* The Mesmer is described as “master of illusion, control, and domination” and “supporting the entire party in battle with powerful, mind-bending magic.” Interesting. I’m not entirely sure what all of this means, but it sounds like they make use of a lot of a D&D Wizard’s utilitarian magic like “Charm,” “Mirror Image,” “Weird,” “Glamer,” and all those other unique spells and effects. I also liked the art style of this character class the most of these three classes.

I settled on a Mesmer character and have been enjoying the class, but of late I’ve become somewhat dissatisfied with my choice. For all the talk about illusion, control, and domination the skills the Mesmer actually employs are quite limited and very little have to do with illusion or [mind] control. I also found that the description of the class as “supporting the entire party” to be largely incorrect. The Mesmer has a support-skill branch, “Inspiration Magic,” but Inspiration Magic almost exclusively benefits the Mesmer alone and not the party as a whole.

I enjoy the character, but it’s not what I was expecting really. What I was expecting were skills that were like these hypothetical examples:

MesmerSkill4
Skill Name: Invisibility
Description: You or target other ally become invisible for a period of time.

MesmerSkill6
Skill Name: Disguise
Description: Your or target other ally’s appearance, name, and class are disguised. Your appearance or the appearance of target other ally becomes identical to a selected member of your party. (Disguise a Monk as a Warrior, or a Warrior as a Monk.)

MesmerSkill5
Skill Name: Deception
Description: Targeted foe becomes deceived. Skills used by the target’s opponents are disguised as a random other skill. (Instead of seeing a Monk casting “Heal Party” he will see the Monk casting “Fireball.”)

MesmerSkill7
Skill Name: Mirror Images
Description: You are displaced in one of eight random directions and surrounded by up to eight mirror images of yourself.

MesmerSkill7
Skill Name: Mind Control
Description: You gain temporary control of target opponent, but are left defenseless.

MesmerSkill2
Skill Name: Astral Projection
Description: You leave your physical form and can venture out in spirit form, allowing you to fly, pass through obstacles and possess weaker creatures. Your body is defenseless while you are projecting your spirit.

MesmerSkill8
Skill Name: Polymorph
Description: You transform a target enemy into a harmless creature.

Unfortunately the abilities in Guild Wars are a bit more generic than that. For example, the skill “Conjure Phantasm” theoretically involves the creation of illusions that cause harm to the target. However, there’s no actual effect visible with the spell — no semi-transparent phantasms circling about the target, attacking it. What it comes down to doing is merely damage over time. While there are a number of unique Mesmer skills, too many seem to follow in the same format: damage over time, steal energy, interrupt an enemy’s action. What I was hoping was that the Mesmer would get a lot of the hard-to-define utilitarian spells in a D&D Wizard’s arsenal. Instead it seems the Mesmer only got a few of them.

For example, take a look at these mostly-duplicated effects:

Energy Burn – Spell. Target foe loses (Min: 4 – Max: 10) Energy and takes 8 damage for each point of Energy lost.
Energy Surge – Elite Spell. Target foe loses (Min: 4 – Max: 10) Energy. For each point of Energy lost, that foe and all foes in the area take 8 damage.

Energy Tap – Spell. Target foe loses (Min: 4 – Max: 7) Energy. You gain 2 points of Energy for each point of Energy lost.
Energy Drain – Elite Spell. Target foe loses (Min: 4 – Max: 10) Energy. You gain 2 points of Energy for each point of Energy lost.

Power Drain – Spell. If target foe is casting a Spell, the Spell is interrupted and you gain (Min: 1 – Max: 31) Energy.
Power Leak – Spell. If target foe is casting a Spell, the Spell is interrupted and target foe loses (Min: 10 – Max: 25) Energy.
Power Spike – Spell. If target foe is casting a Spell, the Spell is interrupted and target foe takes (Min: 20 – Max: 102) damage.

Now, duplicated spells with slightly different effects offer you a nice chance to get exactly the sort of effect you want, but the entire skill list is full of mostly-similar effects. There’s a whole set of Mantras with one Mantra dedicated dedicated to each of the four elements — The redundancy and unimaginativeness gets a little old after awhile.

The problem here is largely that the Mesmer has a plethora of effects dedicated to causing pain for enemy spell casters. I’m not sure this is what I signed up for when I created this character. I find that my character is capable in most Player vs. Enemy situations, but Player vs. Player is much more problematic. What if the enemy team has no spellcasters, or is all spellcasters? The Mesmer has no way of handling more than one or two enemy spellcasters at a time, and no real effective means of handling a team without spellcasters. This wouldn’t be a big deal if builds like IWAY and VIMWAY and Blood Spike weren’t effective, but they are. And in a more general sense there’s always going to be one or another builds that are favored and classes that are negatively impacted because of that.

What can a Warrior do against an Elementalist Ward Against Melee? Very little, except stand around uselessly swinging away, hoping the Elementalist will be foolish enough to forget to renew the ward. Now — Lets be clear, we’re talking about PvP here, not PvE, which is usually designed to be fun and challenging but beatable. PvP is a different beast entirely, with a few highly specialized builds dominating the majority of PvP games played. I estimate a good 25 to 50% of all PvP teams are an IWAY variant. What if one-quarty to one-half of all PvP teams utilized Ward Against Melee? Furthermore, you only learn this after playing the game for a substantial period of time. Would you want to play a Warrior class when your hard counter is so prevalent?

Because most games don’t offer you the option to reassign attributes, or reclass your character on the fly, this is a substantial problem for classed systems. You either give up PvP or do your best to break out of your class mold, or delete the character and start a new one. Guild Wars is exceedingly lenient in that it allows you to do almost anything except change your character’s primary class without penalty, but most games aren’t like that. Even with Guild Wars, I’ve built up an attachment to my primary character and have my own, limited as it may be, accounts of victories and defeats had while playing… A vague feeling of characterization and a story. Deleting a character I’ve played for over a hundred hours is out of the question. (Not to mention that my latest efforts in earning titles are all character-specific and thus not transferrable if I create a new character.) Starting up a new character is possible if you have open character slots, but in the long run is no substitute for being able to “reclass” your character.

In the long run, I’d just prefer no classes at all.

Previous: Classy Characters Part 1.

Classy Characters, part 1

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Games, Guild Wars, RPGs, Technology

Over at Zen of Design there’s a new post on Classes that’s drawing a fair bit of attention. Discussion of Classed/Classless systems always draws a fair bit of controversy. The proponents of Classless systems are pretty populous and vocal, meanwhile game after game comes out utilizing classes.

Damion gives some advantages of classes:

* Easier to balance. It’s much easier to balance 10-20 strongly unique classes than an infinite realm of possibilities.
* Stronger power differentiation. Yeah, you heard me. It’s much easier to, say, make powerful ‘from stealth’ attacks for a rogue class if you know that rogue class can’t also mix that with godlike healing or invulnerability tanking. If anyone can do anything, you’re forced to water down all the powers, and everyone ends up somewhat alike.
* Stronger player differentiation. There were an infinite number of possible character builds in UO, SWG and M59, but all of them were dominated by ‘flavor of the month’ builds that completely overshadowed all of the flexibility players could have. There was tons of variety, but truly ‘competitive’ builds tended to be quite limited.
* Easier to fill parties. It is tremendously easier to say “Need a level 40 cleric” than to say “Need someone with 95% healing, 95% buffs, 95% resurrection and 95% anti-undead”. And much easier to make that information searchable on a ‘looking for group’ list.
* Tactical transparency. Player vs. player is a much more interesting and tactical experience when you have some idea going into a fight the approximate limits of your opponents. Imagine playing WoW where anyone can blink, stealth, firestorm or invuln bubble. Fighting ceases to become tactical, and instead becomes pure twitch.

On points number one through three I agree. All of these points have to do with issues of developing a game. It’s clearly easier to develop a classed game.

But I find points four and five unconvincing.

* It may be easier to “say” that you want a character of a particular class, but ultimately with a classless system you are more likely to find a character who has some or all of the desired abilities than in a strictly classed system. In Guild Wars parties can wait around for hours at a time for a Monk (or other build-specific character, but usually a Monk), and Guild Wars isn’t even a strict class system, as secondary classes allow any character to take most skills from another class.
* What Damion refers to as “pure twitch” is, in other contexts, called “Player Skill.” Guild Wars seems primarily geared towards Player vs. Player, but it doesn’t interest me that much as a Player. I’ve probably spent about 1% of my total time in Guild Wars engaging in PvP. Guild Wars is a classed game and, as such, it contains plenty of hard counters. Is it fun to see that, no matter how good you are as a player, unless your opponents are using a strategy that your particular class counters you are unlikely to be able to contribute much? Some people enjoy knowing that their one trick is pretty much a guaranteed win if the opponents are using a strategy that allows you to use it. I greatly prefer that all players be on even-footing in a Player vs. Player environment. Classed systems, by their nature, don’t offer this.

What it comes down to, then, is that it’s easier to develop class-based games. I don’t disagree with this. Classes also provide an easy frame of reference for people to think about. It’s easy to develop a character concept drawing upon past experiences of books and movies and other games. “I want to play a Warrior” or “I want to play a Spellcaster” or “I like playing Support roles” tend to be easily mapped onto new games. A Warrior in World of Warcraft is the same as a Warrior in Guild Wars. The Mage character in Diablo is easily understood as the digital counterpart of a D&D Wizard. The pitfall is that every game has their own twists on how these archetypes fit into the gameplay, and a game may not necessarily implement your chosen class in the way that you expect. When this happens it can be a particular problem because you now have significant time and effort dedicated into your character, but can do nothing to change his class to more fit the playstyle you prefer.

Furthermore, most games have at least one “unique” class that tries to put a different spin on things. Who can say what a Druid is? Usually it’s some manner of melee/support/spellcaster mix, but what of those three roles will any particular game favor? It’s impossible to say. Unless you’re really attached to the idea of making an ecologically-friendly character you’re taking a big risk that the class will not play in a way that you enjoy and that your time will be wasted on building up that character.

This post is getting a little long, so I’ll continue it in another post.

Navel Gazing

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Personal

So I was having one of my usual encounters with discorporation and dismemberment over trivial affairs that offer me no satisfaction whatsoever… And I got to thinking about how this reflects upon the extrapolated idea of AIs [within the GitS world] as primarily being “sexed” as female due to their function as subservient entities. Strange how such ideas don’t seem to hold much weight when the only thing keeping one going, persistent after hundreds of failures, at a task that is inherently unenjoyable, fruitless, and futile, is a set of social conventions. What was that about subservience again?

On another note, I’ve been getting a lot of spam lately. That is, a lot of spam [for me]. I estimate I received about 100 or so spam messages in the first three months of this blog. Lately I’ve been seeing about 10 every time I log in to check on the site, and am already up to 250 total spam caught within the past week. I’m wondering whether this is at all related to this trackback I received from “Anime Planet” on my GitS: Girls and Dolls post. I checked out “Anime Planet” and it certainly looks like a spam outpost, but I saw that Shamus greenlit their trackback to his post here.

Polismancy

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Culture, Politics

Awhile ago over at 2Blowhards there was a post about Mel Gibson, and one comment in particular by a commenter titled Brian came back to me recently upon seeing this more recent news item. A short summary: Rob Reiner wants Gibson to repudiate The Passion as anti-semitic.

Here is Brian’s comment:

But the main reason I’m siding (lukewarmly) with Gibson is because of comments like this one at Anne Thompson’s site, by someone calling himself “Bill Hicks”:

The conservative spin doctors should come to understand a basic fact regarding Mel Gibson’s situation: you are not in control of this outcome – we are. You can flood the press and internet with an apologist defense of Mr. Gibson, but his dilemma and “journey” will be over at a time and place of our choosing. We decided to not accept Mr. Gibson’s first apology because it was not sufficient. In forcing him to address the Jewish community, we attained our first goal: to have Mr. Gibson meet with prominent Jewish leaders to discuss his anti-Semitism. Once this dialogue has begun, rest assured that there will be 2 more press releases from Mr. Gibson in the future. One, he will directly repudiate the comments of his anti-Semitic father, Hutton Gibson. And two, he will apologize for the virulent and deliberate anti-Semitic content of his recent passion play, “The Passion of the Christ”. He will also reject the film and permanently disassociate himself from it as part of this apology. This is the path Mr. Gibson put himself on, and we have no intention of letting him stray from it. The alternative for Mr. Gibson is the end of his career. We’ve succeeded in forcing two apologies, and ABC’s decision to drop his Holocaust project. If he chooses not to complete his penance, we’ll ensure his movies do not get distributed through a series of boycotts that will make the entertainment business think twice about ever working with Mr. Gibson again.

Yikes! Gibson’s guilty of dubious opinions, but his enemies are revelling in the prospect of neo-fascist thugocracy. Which side is worse? “I have sworn upon the altar of God, eternal hostility against every form of tyranny over the mind of man.” Tom Jefferson said that.

I don’t particularly care about Mel Gibson, and the last movie I saw that he starred in or directed was Mad Max 2, but I do see this whole endeavor as an extremely shady deal. Talk about using religion as a cudgel, though…

Tarot Card Collection

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Art, Culture

From the files of not-BibliOdyssey I came across this particularly neat gallery of Tarot card images.

Some samples.

Tarot1Tarot2

Tarot3Tarot4

Tarot5Tarot6

I’ve been wanting to make my own custom deck of cards for awhile now. The major impediment, of course, is how to get images I’ve made or collected onto a set of typical playing cards. Beyond that, though, it seems like this is a great resource for the art itself, whether for inspiration or to use exactly.

Videogame Roundup

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Games

High-definition version of the UT2007 Trailer.

Via Digg.com we learn of the new king of bloat in the games world: Resistance, Fall of Man. Money quote from the article

The game, he said, currently takes up 22 Gigabytes of memory on a Blu-Ray disc, the new disc format supported by the PS3 that is one-half of a VHS-vs.-Betamax format war erupting between tech companies throughout the year. While the music and vocals in “Resistance” take up only about 1 Gigabyte of disc space, graphics, level data and programming code occupy most of the remaining 21.

Recently I found this series of videos on a game that seems to be called, for the time being, Project Offset. This is a Fantasy First-Person shooter that claims to be in development by only five guys. The graphics look amazing, but I’ll believe it when I see it. I have a tough time believing only five people can create a feature-length game with either current or next generation technology. If they can pull it off though… Wow, I’d love to get my hands on those tools.

This is a demonstration of the game engine:

Whoever uploaded the first video here didn’t want to allow others to embed it in their webpages.

A second video of Project:
Offset:

A crowd demonstration for Project: Offset.

Looking forward to seeing what happens with this Project Offset game, a sea change in the direction of the industry seems like it’d be appropriate right about now.

Ghost in the Shell: Stand Alone Complexes

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Anime, Culture, Technology

Via Digg.com I came across this article discussing, somewhat superficially, to be honest, the idea of avatars and physical form (chosen or not) in relation to an individual.

I probably shouldn’t be discussing this right now, but I’m two episodes away from finishing the 2nd GiG and I want to record my thoughts before they fade too much. Spoilers below, recommended to have seen the entire first season of GitS: SAC and up to episode 24 of GitS: SAC 2nd GiG.

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