Browsing the blog archives for December, 2006

Line Rider

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Miscellaneous

Recently I ran across this little Flash game called Line Rider. It’s a simple concept, and reminds me of some early racing games that I remember playing. You design a track using basic pixel art and your character (the “Line Rider”) attempts to navigate the track. It’s a bit simple in that you have no control over the character, but that’s also part of the appeal. It takes real skill and patience to devise good tracks.

It seems that the Line Rider community has managed to make some pretty entertaining videos to show off their tricks and tracks.
The best of these is Line Rider- Jagged Peak Adventure. Classic moves, an amazing track, and a great soundtrack.

This next one, “Linerider Speed + Flips” is kind of hypnotic to watch, with the combination of the speed of the linerider and the music.

There’s apparently a couple of variants of Line Rider out there, which isn’t really a surprise. This next video is from a variant called Line Flyer, which apparently allows you to change the vehicle your rider uses and makes it very difficult to fall off. The video below, “Line Flyer Deathwish” is pretty entertaining, though I think the music is a poor choice.

As you probably noticed from the above videos there’s a bit of a tendency to subject the rider himself to a bit of abuse — It seems that some people make that their explicit goal, as in this video, “Line Flyer Loop de Trash.”

One last video for more abuse of the Line Rider…

I’m pretty tempted to make some tracks for this game and put videos up. Unfortunately I think the interface for track building is too frustrating to use — Couldn’t it just use B&W pixel art? Or, at the very least, have pixel-by-pixel control, including erasure, built in trajectory calculation, and built-in curve tools? Anyway, if you’re looking for something to play around with on occasion it seems like a fun little diversion. I wonder if I can use FRAPS to capture the video…?

EDIT 12/24/2006:

Above: Line Rider: Urban Run.

Below: Wormholes

Line Rider Supreme

May consolidate these updates into a new post later, hmm….

(Not) Selling Your Game Idea

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RPGs

I haven’t written about D&D in awhile — Our group went on hiatus for November when we realized that everyone was pretty much busy as far as scheduling goes. Ostensibly, we’re going to start things up again this month, but who knows how well that will really turn out. A few people did show up yesterday, and we had a bit of a talk about our games, but not enough to play.

One of the members of our group, the one who hosts all the time, is notoriously fickle. And, as I figured and feared, a month of not playing has given him some disruptive ideas. In particular, he wants to start his own, new group, kicking out some of our regular members for no particular reason that I can see. He’s also indicated that he no longer wants to play either of the campaigns we were playing (Spycraft and Warhammer-Fantasy-inspired D&D).

The latter I wasn’t terribly surprised about. For the past, say, four or five months he’s been talking about rewriting the rules to the Dragon Star campaign setting. Dragon Star is a third party campaign setting which, as you might expect, is kind of a mixture of fantasy and science fiction. It was published for D&D 3.0, but apparently there’s some minor rules glitches between 3.0 and 3.5 and D20 Modern that require fixing. Since he’s been spending all of this time and effort to modify the rules, he now wants to run a campaign in Dragon Star. I saw this coming a mile away and I tried to defuse the situation before it came to this point, but it seems like I was unsuccessful.

You see, the problem is I can’t say anything interesting about Dragon Star. The idea of playing a game in Dragon Star hasn’t been sold to me. Take all of the horrible triteness of high-magic D&D, throw it into space and introduce high-technology from D20 Modern and D20 Future. This is not appealing to me. Tell me what type of story you want to tell in this campaign. Tell me why it’s cool to have magic & technology, and why this isn’t game breaking. Tell me why it’s cool to have 50 different player races other than the fact that I can choose the most optimized race to make my character game-breakingly powerful.

What sort of stories should you tell in Dragon Star? Tell me that. Is it supposed to be like Star Wars, with the players taking on the roles of rebels against the Dragon Empire? Are we supposed to be agents of the Dragon Empire working to suppress a rebellion from the Drow/Humans/Whatever? Are we supposed to be military officers who fight off the “Aberration Threat” of the Illithids and other Underdark creatures? Are we part of a minor house or planet in the Empire that’s reaching to increase its status? Each of these has a different theme, but I’ll be darned to say what sort of theme a campaign in Dragon Star would have. Don’t tell me that it’ll have all of these elements — The fact that we’ve got magic and technology and a million races and a million planets means that we’re already covering way too much for a compelling narrative. Pare it down and make me care.

If we’re going to play rebels against an Evil Empire, why not play Star Wars? If we’re going to play as future cops, why not play Star Trek? If we’re going to play horror, why not play Call of Cthulu? Any one of these systems appeals to me more than Dragon Star. I know them, I’ve played in them, watched TV shows or movies about them, read about them. It takes something special to get me to want to prefer something new and unknown over these — So what’s special about Dragon Star?

It seems like the idea here is basically to combine the extreme brokenness of high level magic with the extreme brokenness of high technology. We’ve run similar high-technology games in the past, and it’s simply too damn problematic to have a character with a belt of Cryogenic grenades of 8d6 cold damage, etc, at level 1. Magic is more balanced in play, but when you get into enchanting technological items or using magic (such as haste) to allow you to use more technological items, you’ve got serious problems on your hands. I know right off the bat that this is going to degenerate into Monty Haul extremely fast… Maybe I can still put a stop to the madness before it begins.

Keys to Unreal Tournament 2007’s Success

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Games, Unreal Tournament

Ran across this gem on the Epic forums. Reposting it here since I agree with pretty much every point made and it’s coming from someone who’s not just another nobody.

The Keys to UT2007’s Success
I don’t post on these forums, so as a brief introduction to those of you who don’t know me, my name is Brenton Sellati a.k.a. “Khyron”, and I was an active member of the original UT99 competitive community from 1999-2003. I competed in many tournaments, both online and LAN, and at the high point of my competitive success placed 3rd nationally in 1v1 Deathmatch at the World Cyber Games 2001 Los Angeles qualifiers, and then 5-8th at the World Cyber Games 2001 in Seoul, Korea. I’m not trying to say I’m better than anybody, but that I have played longer and logged more hours in UT99 than most people on the planet, so I do have some degree expertise in making the statements in this post.

It’s indisputable that no Unreal series game has had the success of Unreal Tournament 99 in creating an active competitive community—in fact, none have even close. Like many other UT99 players, I was EXTREMELY disappointed in the game play of UT2003 and UT2004, and as much as it pains me to say it, myself and many others have become disillusioned by Epic’s failure to create a new incarnation of Unreal Tournament equivalent to that of the original game, and harbor only a shred of skeptical hope that the story for UT2007 will play out any differently. In 2002, I made a similar post to this one on these forums and Mark Rein personally contacted me over the phone to discuss the issues I raised; I was supposed to be flown to Raleigh to test UT2003 myself, however this never materialized. If you happen to read this Mr. Rein, I’m open to another go around, and I hope the lackluster track record of UT2003 and UT2004 help convince you of the validity of the issues I raise.

There are two critical areas of UT2007 game design which need to be addressed: one is the game play itself in terms of weapon selection, function, and player movement, and the other is the incorporation of standard community-building social tools such as a built-in IRC client and World NG Stats tracking.

I’ll begin with the weapons and game play analysis:

UT99 Rocket Launcher vs UT2004 Rocket Launcher : GOOD

This change was okay. The fact that you could load up 6 rockets in the original Unreal Tournament was a little bit excessive—the amount of area you could blank for tons of damage from a six rocket volley made the gun a little bit too powerful—you could shoot down a good sized corridor and hit anything for massive damage with minimal aim. The increased speed and reduction to a maximum three rocket volley was a good change.

UT99 Minigun vs UT2004 Minigun : BAD

The weapons in UT99 were significantly more damaging than those in UT2004, and a lot of the truth in this statement is taken from the significantly watered down UT2004 minigun. While this gun was arguably a little bit too powerful in UT99 when placed in the hands of a skilled player, the strength of the other weapons compensated well enough to keep it from being completely unbalancing. In UT2004, the minigun isn’t strong enough to double as both a ranged (primary fire design) and melee (secondary fire design) weapon effectively, limiting its versatility. The UT2007 minigun should have about 80% of the damage capability of the UT99 version and the primary and secondary fire modes should function nearly identically to the original.

UT 99 Plasma Rifle vs UT2004 Plasma Rifle: BAD

The plasma was diluted the same way the minigun was. It should also be brought back up to do approximately 80% of the UT99 version, and the primary / secondary fire functions should remain unchanged. I am personally not a fan of the spiraling animation of the gun’s secondary fire because it makes it more difficult to track other players in open space, however this is probably the best counter-balance to increasing the gun’s damage potency to original levels.

UT99 Sniper Rifle vs UT2004 Lightning Gun: GOOD

This is, by the far, the best weapon change Epic made between games. The UT99 sniper rifle was the most unbalanced weapon in the game. A very fast rate of fire, incredible damage potential, and no tracer allowed players with good hit-scan ability to completely overwhelm players with even marginally weaker aim. Gitzz, the undisputed international dueling champion of UT99, is a perfect example of the sniper rifle’s potential for abuse: Gitzz was only moderately skilled with all other weapons besides the sniper rifle, however he built his entire game around this one gun and was able to completely dominate the dueling scene because of it. Imagine going for the jump boots with 150 shield belt and 100 health on Deck16][ and being dead in under 2 seconds from two head shots because Gitzz was by the rocket launcher portal with a sniper rifle. The slower firing rate, still potent firepower, and tracer of the lightning gun make it a much more balanced weapon, and should be kept the same. The UT2004 incarnation of the sniper rifle, with the puff of smoke is great as a nostalgic throwback, but it should be included only through a mutator because the new incarnation of the sniper rifle is just that: nostalgia.

UT99 Ripper vs UT2004 No Ripper: BAD

The ripper was one of the most overlooked guns in Unreal Tournament. It had the unique ability of allowing one to attack around many corners with the primary fire, and was also a great melee weapon because of its juggling ability using the secondary fire’s knock-back effect. Game play isn’t really hurt by not including the ripper, but it would be improved if the original gun were to be put back in with its original functionality unchanged. The ripper’s functionality is unique to the Unreal franchise, and I personally feel UT2007 could only benefit from its return.

UT99 Shock Rifle vs UT2004 Shock Rifle: BAD

The shock balls in UT2004 move much slower than those in UT99, and the power of shock combo explosions was also reduced. The reduction of the shock combo explosion was a good move; it was a little bit too powerful in UT99. However, the speed and the size of the ball should be brought back to original levels—a faster moving shock ball means that the gun is harder to use in close range melee, but not impossible for skilled players, which is the element of skill it should have, while also making the gun more versatile in making long range attacks and prediction shots. The UT99  UT2004 port of this weapon wasn’t horrible, but I think after both versions have been around for years, the fact that the UT99 one was more widely accepted should be a sign that this gun was taken a step in the wrong direction.

UT99 Translocator vs UT2004 Translocator: BAD

This change single handedly ruined UT2004’s chance at having a good CTF community. The only problem with the original UT99 translocator was its original ability to fire with no delay, allowing players to exploit its telefragging ability. This translocator abuse was a key tactic of the prolific (and successful) UT99 CTF Clan MurderDeathKill {187}, and was fixed through a patch. This patched translocator was perfect: it took players SKILL to effectively transverse vertical terrain (think getting up to the redeemer on Facing Worlds) or avoid attacking players. The UT2004 translocator, with its “charges”, tracer, and huge launch distance really hurt the game play of CTF and is one of the main reasons UT2004 CTF never went anywhere. The UT99 translocator served its purpose more or less perfectly and needs to be brought back.

UT99 Piston vs UT2004 Shield Gun: BAD

The replacement of the piston with the shield gun had horrendous effects on UT2004 game play and is, overall, the single worst change from UT99 to UT2004 besides double-jumping. It was meant to hinder the ability of a player with map control to continually spawn-kill opponents because it allowed just-spawned players to much more easily survive attacker pursuits. It also allowed flag carriers to absorb much more damage, and made it far too easy for a player who was on the verge of losing an encounter to put up their shield gun and retreat, frustrating the player who rightfully won the battle. The shield gun is a weapon which only improves game play when playing in assault / onslaught type game modes, because players often have to traverse huge open areas while prone to enemy fire. For CTF and Deathmatch game types however, the shield gun is extremely unbalancing because it destabilizes a player’s ability to maintain map control or follow through on killing blows, which is one of the key skills in being a successful player at top levels of competition.

UT99 Flak Cannon vs UT2004 Flak Cannon: Good

The flak cannon is one of the staples of the Unreal Franchise, and its transition from UT99 to UT 2004 was perfect. It still feels true to its predecessors, and I have no suggestions for improvement on this one.

UT99 Bio-Rifle vs UT2004 Bio Rifle: Good

The UT99 bio-rifle had very limited uses and if it was the only weapon you had, wasn’t very effective in defending attacks from other players. The UT2003 Bio-Rifle was a little bit too strong: the weapon did too much damage and the secondary fire moved too quickly, however this was fixed in UT2004 and I feel as it currently stands, the bio-rifle is as good as it ever has been.

UT99 Dodging vs UT2004 Double-Jumping : BAD

This change was BAD, BAD, BAD. The “dodge” ability is one of the game play aspects that really defined the difference between Unreal and Quake, and while it’s inclusion in the Unreal franchise was considered somewhat radical, it turned out to be very successful Unreal series signature favorite. Then came double-jumping, wall-dodging, etc. This is skill is gimmicky at best, and game play breaking at worst, depending on how you look at it. The wall-dodge-double-jump combination allowed players to move around levels MUCH faster than in UT99, wreaking havoc on the ability to estimate an opponent’s location and predict their next move. Levels had to be designed on much larger scales to compensate for this increased mobility, which explains the lack of small, compact maps like Codex, Coret, Turbine, etc, in UT2004 which were very popular in UT99. Close range dog fighting became much more about dancing through the air and bouncing off walls than anticipating where your opponent thought you were going to move and leading / predicting their movements yourself. Not only did this completely change, and I would say ruin, player engagement tactics used in UT99, but it also caused the style of maps themselves to completely change, further making UT2004 feel like a completely foreign creature to UT 99 veterans. Double jumping should be removed from standard game play and exist only as a mutator; the original dodge system worked perfectly and should be brought back as it was originally. The UT2003/2004 dodge-jump mechanic is the single biggest game play mechanic which made UT99’ers hate the feel of the UT200X series. Like the shield gun, this game mechanic is really only suited to modes like onslaught, and ruins conventional game types like CTF, TDM, and dueling.

Part 2: Community Building Social Tools

Built in IRC Client

I would not be here writing this right now if I had not, out of curiosity one Saturday morning connected to IRC for the first time ever–through my Unreal Tournament client. I never expected that the rabbit hole I continue to tumble down would have been this deep, but I’ve enjoyed the ride. It’s going to be impossible to grow a strong competitive community when the majority of the remaining UT99 competitive community resides in isolated, esoteric IRC servers. People who might otherwise have been interested in joining the community, like myself seven years ago, will never know about the competitive scene if there is nothing included in the game out of the box to point them in the right direction. UT99’s built in IRC client was the, I repeat THE main reason the UT99 competitive community surged to a size far greater than the modest community the original Unreal had acquired. Please, please bring back a built in IRC-client and default channel, or else no matter how great UT2007 is, a huge majority of the people who would’ve joined the competitive community won’t do so because they’ll never catch wind of its existence.

Built in World NG Stats

This was also a unique and critical element to UT99’s success. Not only could you view detailed stats on every game you played, but you could also check out the global rankings to see which players were ranked highest that week. This allowed good players to cultivate reputations—if you played against a top 10 NG stats ranked player on a public server and fragged them, it meant a lot more to you—it was like you killed a famous warrior. Furthermore, trying to reach the top of that list, and striving to be competitive with those top players is one of the key motivators pushing new players to raise their skill level. I don’t care if it forces you to raise the cost of the game five dollars, Global NG Stats or something like it needs to make a return in order for a resurgence of the competitive Unreal community to be realized.

Demo Recording / Playback

Demos are important because they allow players to watch the best of the best playing from their own point of view, as well as improve their own skills through replay analysis. I don’t know if it’s possible to prevent servers with slightly different file packages (e.g. different versions of CSHP) from breaking demo compatibility, but at the very least the inclusion of a .unr  .mpg or other universally playable media format converter would allow anybody to watch matches between top players, regardless of whether they even own the game or not. This would increase the audience which could potentially be exposed to the competitive community and would further aid in adding to its size and activity.

From what I’ve heard, UT2007 is an attempt at combining the best elements of UT99 and UT2004. This is my opinion on what a detailed list of what that combination of things should be if UT2007 is to equal or surpass the success of UT99. I hope any Epic staff reading this who are in a position to make some of these changes will give serious consideration to the suggestions I’ve laid out. UT2003 and UT2004 were not successful; they may have sold millions of copies, but in the eyes of the competitive community, they were both still-born dreams of a return to the glory days of Unreal Tournament. Having played both games extensively, I hope you will take some of the things I’ve said to heart, as I only want what every other Unreal series fan does: for UT2007 to be the most successful Unreal game yet.

– Khyron

Nightfall Arrives

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Games, Guild Wars

NightfallArrives1

Finally, after some three-odd three weeks of waiting, Nightfall has arrived. I took about fifteen minutes to take my main character from the continent of Tyria to Elona.

NightfallArrives2

NightfallArrives3

NightfallArrives4

Of course, with the holidays upon us, things are too busy to waste time playing a game. Damnit.

The Battlestar Galactica Drinking Game

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Culture, Miscellaneous, Visual

Watched the new Battlestar Galactica that came on last night. I really liked the episode, but it continues along what I consider a fairly bad trend of relying upon flashbacks to tell a story. The second season really suffered for it, mostly because it was springing things on us that were implausible given the way we had seen events play out in previous episodes. The year and a half gap between season two and season three gives some significant time to explore drama that occurred during that period, but I still think it’s rather sloppy to so consistently rely upon flashbacks.

While watching this week’s episode, even though I enjoyed it, I thought things were just taken to the point of absurdity. Hence I devised this little game to participate in while watching the show.

The Battlestar Galactica Drinking Game

-Every time a character other than Colonel Tigh has a drink on-screen, take a drink. Count multiple people drinking together as one person unless part of different scenes / groups.
-Every time Battlestar Galactica cuts to a flashback, take a drink.
-If the flashback is of someone drinking, take two drinks.
-If the flashback is of something that did not occur on-screen in prior episodes, take two drinks.
-Every time Battlestar Galactica cuts to a flashback of people drinking in a scene that did not occur on-screen in prior episodes, take three drinks.
-If Battlestar Galactica cuts to a flashback of anyone other than Colonel Tigh drinking in a scene that did not occur on-screen in prior episodes, finish your drink.

Wildcard Event:
-If an episode of Battlestar Galactica attempts to justify or explain how the characters have access to so much liquor while flying through space with limited supplies, double the amount you drink for each of the above occurrences.

If you’re still sober at the end of an episode then congratulations, you’re a Cylon! No human metabolism can handle that much drinking in an hour.

December

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Miscellaneous, Personal

It’s hard to believe it’s December already. Time is really slipping by so quickly…

In honor of the Christmas season, a bit of foreshadowing artwork…

Christmas1

Christmas2

More as the big day approaches.