Browsing the blog archives for June, 2008

Diablo 3 Observations and Wishes

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Games

From the gameplay trailers I linked in my previous post, there a number of interesting looking changes … and even more interesting questions. I’m going to make a couple comments and also weigh in on what I’d like to see in the full game based on impressions from Diablo 2.

-So far we know of two classes, the Barbarian and the Witch Doctor. The Barbarian is the same concept, and many of the same skills, as the Barbarian from Diablo 2. The Witch Doctor looks to be a retooling of the Necromancer concept with a bit more “flavor” thrown in than a generic guy who likes death and reading books. Neither of these were hugely popular with me in Diablo 2, so I’m not all that excited by them.

-It’s said on the official Diablo 3 site that there will be five total classes. I’m hoping we’ll see the Paladin class return, but ideally with some major improvements in functionality. Paladin builds in Diablo 2 usually ended up being glorified spellcasters, which is a shame since they were supposed to be melee fighters with strong party support abilities. Other than that: I expect some kind of spellcaster class, and some type of ranged specialist class.

-Speculation: The art trailer shows what looks to be a druid holding a snake staff. We will either see a Druid/Paladin hybrid, or a Druid/Sorceress hybrid. A Druid/Paladin hybrid could be quite interesting, since it’d mean shapeshifting and pet summoning would be added in to the defensive/supportive playstyle of the Paladin. Quite interesting. I also expect an Assassin/Amazon mixture, possibly using the Crossbow.

-The official website also says that characters of any class may be male or female. This is a nice change, since Diablo 2 had characters locked in as either male or female depending on class. I wonder if there will be any further character visual customizations. Diablo isn’t an MMO, so I don’t expect much, but simple hair and skin coloration would be pretty neat.

-From the gameplay video we can see that the “belt” from Diablo 2 has been replaced with a full-on skill bar ala other modern MMO games. This is a good move, and pretty obvious given the success of this model with World of Warcraft. My biggest hope with this associated change is that characters will be encouraged to use more than the one or two skills that were typically used in Diablo 2. I want the actual gameplay to look like the gameplay videos shown, i.e. with characters running around, utilizing a variety of skills to turn zombies into paste. What I don’t want to see is a repeat of Diablo 2, where every Barbarian is constantly using whirlwind ad nauseam.

-I can’t tell from the gameplay video (too small), but I am not sure whether the idea of potions has been done away with entirely or not. I’m hoping not, as I think potions are an important part of the gameplay (a PANIC! button). That said, I do like the idea presented in the gameplay video of having enemies potentially leave behind floating health pickups. That’s an elegant way to handle restoring a player’s health without stopping the game in the way that potions can.

-On a related note: I’m really hoping that Diablo 3 downplays the significance that Life and Mana stealing items had in Diablo 2. Life and Mana stealing was absolutely essential in Diablo 2, and while it existed in Diablo 1, it wasn’t an outright necessity. I’d much rather have the gameplay resemble Diablo 1 in that respect.

-Another good change I’ve noticed is the change to the inventory so that all items take up a single inventory space. It’s so much nicer to know that you’ve got so many spaces in your inventory, and can pick up that same number of items. Much less of a hassle than trying to fit in the 6×4 bow into your inventory with the 1×2 tomes and 1×3 quivers. If gems or runes make a comeback, stacking same-type gems and runes should be essential (if we’re not given an outright gem/rune-bag). If potions are in, hopefully they stack. A potion belt only really needs two slots: Health and Mana potions.

-Hopefully inventory management is improved in general. More storage space. Less crafting items that sit around in storage waiting for that one rare drop to finish them. Diablo 2 never got this right. Gems took up way too much space for too little utility. Runes improved on gems, but even though they are yet another space-consuming craft item, Blizzard never increased storage space to compensate.

-The talk about dynamic environments and increased interactivity in the form of quests is interesting, but I’m a bit skeptical. Typically the extent of dynamic environments in games involves shooting barrels and triggering landslides in predetermined areas. More quests is nice but … I’m not sure it will be a substantial change in the game. Not that I’ll complain, of course. Too much of Diablo 2 consisted of running around virtually empty areas with a few roaming enemies. Always having some kind of objective besides “I’ve got to find the next waypoint,” is good.

-As far as overall wishes go, I’m really hoping that Blizzard steps back a lot of the grind that they built in to Diablo 2. For example you had about a 0.0000001% chance of ever getting really good gear unless you purposefully did hundreds or thousands of raids on bosses known to drop good loot. Diablo 1 was much more forgiving with giving out good items. I think Diablo 3 can straddle the line there by making “good” items fairly easy to get in normal play, and reducing the difference between “good” and “the best.” If a good sword does 50-75 damage and gives you +25 to all elemental resistances, and the best sword only does 51-76 damage and gives +26 to all elemental resistances, then the difference between your average player and your obsessive compulsive grindomatic player will be pretty small, yet the average players don’t get shafted and the grindomatic players have something to work towards.

-On a related note with the above, I’d like to see Diablo 3 scale back the levels from 100 to 50. You could beat Diablo 2 with a character in his 20’s or low 30’s. After that point, the entire game was grinding through the higher difficulty levels just to continue to get more experience. I would much rather have characters cap out lower to reduce the grind factor. I want to be level 40 by the time I beat the game on the first playthrough, and if I want to grind for 10 more levels after that just to gain experience, I should be able to. But it shouldn’t be 70 levels of grinding after beating the game. After all, there are five character classes to play. Repeated playthroughs of the game should be encouraged by having people explore different character classes or character builds, not level grind.

-Probably my biggest issue with Diablo 2: Character respeccing needs to be allowed. Preferably with little to no penalty. The single biggest reason why I stopped playing Diablo 2 is just because, patch after patch, characters that I had meticulously planned out from level 1 to level 100 became weaker and weaker as Blizzard tweaked skills, monsters, and everything in between. Since I’ve begun playing Guild Wars I’ve come to the conclusion that character respec is a human right, so if Blizzard does not include it I may have to protest by standing in front of an angry Tauren stampede. This is my single biggest wish for Diablo 3, so I’ve got my fingers crossed.

Diablo 3 Announced

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Games

So, yesterday Blizzard announced Diablo 3.

Here’s the cinematic trailer:

The artwork trailer:

The gameplay trailer (part 1):

Who knows when this is coming out … But if it’s late 2009 as I expect, then it just may be the final stroke in Blizzard’s plans to conquer the world. First Wrath of the Lich King, then Starcraft 2, then Diablo 3 as the final nail in the coffin. Looks like it’s a pretty good time to be a computer gamer.

Windows into Mac, part 2

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Technology

Continued from part 1.

There are a plethora of reasons why Window Management is easier on Windows than on Mac OS, but I want to home in on one aspect in particular: The Windows Taskbar and the Mac OS X Dock.

I remember when the Dock debuted in OS X, hearing that it was a human interface disaster. And, a few years later I started using it. The Dock is one of those features that looks really great on display, but when you sit down to actually use the thing you quickly realize its limitations.

When I started using OS X many years ago, Mac computers were still using standard-size monitors. Lately, however, all Macs come with these widescreen monitors. I’m still not quite sure what the supposed benefit of a widescreen monitor is supposed to be over a standard screen. Is having less vertical space but more horizontal space really all that useful? I seem to notice that vertical space is a lot more useful than horizontal space, particularly if you do a lot of reading. But I digress. So every new Mac comes with a 16:9 monitor, and at the top of the screen we have a 50px high menubar, and at the bottom of the screen we have a 300px high Dock, immediately taking up a sizeable amount of vertical real estate on our display.

Here’s a picture of the Dock in a standard install configuration. You can pretty much envision the usable screen area as consisting of 75% of the area between the menubar and the dock. The sides also need some wiggle room since you need to be able to stack windows and use the scrollbars.

Starting OSX Desktop

Yes, the Dock can be moved to the side. Yes, the Dock can be shrunk in size. Even at the smallest size and shoved off to the side your Dock will still take up ~5% of your screen. If you shove the Dock over on the right side of your screen you’ll get the added benefit of having it constantly overlapping your window scrollbars, so the left side is pretty much the only realistic option.

So what exactly is the Dock useful for anyway? Well, it does two main things: It stores icons for commonly used Applications, and it stores windows that you’ve minimized.

The first of these, storing icons for commonly used applications is typically what ends up taking up 80-90% of the Dock space. Your default Mac configuration will have the Finder, iTunes, iPhoto, iMail, iMovie, and so on and so forth. Probably a good 15 items to start with. Some of them you can’t ever really get rid of — The icon for the Finder is pretty much always going to be in the Dock, since the Dock shows running applications and the Finder is (almost) always running. If my own experience is any guide, a user’s Dock gets more and more cluttered as he accumulates more programs he needs to use.

The problem with this is that the Dock can only realistically accommodate so many icons. Probably about 50 along the vertical at the smallest icon size. 50 icons would be pretty acceptable, if the only icons shown were those in use. But the Dock isn’t designed to only show programs in use, it’s meant as a quick-access tool for starting programs, and it’s really easy to accumulate another 20-25 programs you use and turn the Dock from this snazzy-looking thing into a muddle of indistinguishable program icons.

Windows also has a tool for displaying programs for quick and easy access. It’s called the Start Menu, and it takes up about 1/10th the space the Dock does, and can display hundreds of items instead of fifty or so before becoming too cluttered to use. The Start menu utilizes this magical invention called a “Menu” that can pull out when in use and retract when not in use. It’s pretty cool. At one point, if you were really in the mood, you could do something like this with the Dock by making a folder and putting a bunch of program aliases in the folder, but Apple has apparently decided that using menus is verboten on a computer, and so now if you do this you will get, in essence, a much larger Dock pop-up over your whole screen. Wonderful.

The second thing the Dock is useful for is storing “hidden” windows and tracking what programs are open. The latter is a bit of a corollary to the first, since generally speaking, a program that’s open is also going to have a window open.

It’s been something like a decade since I used an OS9 computer, but I do recall that the Applications menu handled the tracking of open programs in a much more elegant and utilitarian way. While the Dock insists on displaying the icon of every program that is open, in a string along the Dock, OS9 had a single icon which represented the program that currently had window “focus,” which also served as a drop down menu for switching to other open applications. It’s too bad this feature seems to be gone, as it was space-conscious and faster than the Dock.

A new problem has also been introduced in the Leopard version of OSX…

Leopard Stars

Previous versions of OSX indicated “open” applications via a black arrow next to the application icon. Leopard has switched to a new icon which is best described as a “glowing orb of indistinguishableness.” As small a thing as it may be, it’s quite irritating that Apple has chosen [yet again] style over substance. Not only is the new “active application” icon (the circle) harder to see than the black arrows, but it’s easily confused for a background element, particularly when using the default desktop image of a nebula and stars.

As for Windows, it really isn’t that much better in this area. Windows does do a fair job of presenting most applications that are open to you up-front, but some applications, for unknown reasons, go in different parts of the Taskbar, and it seems quite random why some go in some places while others don’t. The inconsistency here is the main problem, as there’s no real visibility issues or excessive focus on visual flair over usability.

The feature that most distinguishes the Dock from the Taskbar is the handling of “hidden” (or otherwise) windows. You see, the Dock only stores hidden windows. The Taskbar will store windows, hidden (aka minimized) or not. This seems like a subtle distinction, but in practice it has major implications.

Lets assume one has two programs open. For example: Photoshop and Firefox. Both of these programs typically run in a full-size window or full-screen, so in a single-monitor setup you have to decide which program will be at the forefront at any one time. On a Mac, if you are working in Photoshop and want to switch to Firefox, you must make the Photoshop window smaller, move it out of the way, find the Firefox window, then click the Firefox window to bring it to the forefront. In Windows, if you are working in Photoshop and want to switch to Firefox, you must click the Firefox window in the Taskbar.

The difference being, because your Firefox window was “open” and not “hidden” the Dock did absolutely nothing for helping you to manage the open windows. In other words, unless you’re in the habit of minimizing every window you ever shift focus from, the Dock isn’t going to assist you. You must manually take charge in OSX by managing the size and placement of open windows. And this isn’t generally a huge hassle, but having to do it all is rather inconvenient when I shouldn’t have to.

Now, again, presumably the Expose feature added in some other version of OSX allows you to do this – But a keystroke is definitely not as intuitive as building it into the graphical user interface. That is what most Apple fans rave about, anyway, and here it is, doing something that’s critical to day-to-day usage less well than Windows.

I can always cross my fingers that Apple will consider trying to match Windows’ functionality in this area, but I’m skeptical that’s even possible using the Dock model. After all, the Dock’s ideal place is on the left side of the screen, which makes it a less-than-ideal place to display text. And even assuming Apple decided to make the commitment to improving their GUI by having the Dock hold all windows, hidden or not, you’d need identifiers to distinguish between open windows (aka “text”) quickly and easily. The Dock is really poor at displaying text, and since it’s such a space hog it’s icons, especially for windows, are frequently so tiny they’re indistinguishable.

Windows into Mac, part 1

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Technology

Lately at work I’ve been forced to juggle both Macs and PCs. I have several years’ experience using Macs, but I’ve been working exclusively on XP-based PCs for the past couple of years, so it was a little bit of an adjustment going back. What’s been interesting to me is getting a fresh perspective about what works and what doesn’t work about the Mac or PC. Also of note is that the last version of OSX that I used was 10.3 and some of the newer machines have 10.5 installed, and there are some differences there.

Fair warning – I’m an “advanced” user and so if you only use your computer for checking email and browsing the web, chances are you may not notice or encounter the same issues as me.

What’s interesting to me about going back to Mac OS after an extended period of time using Windows is that Windows ought to be called something like “Microsoft OS” Mac OS really ought to be called “Windows.” Because, while Windows has the eponymous windows, windows are actually a lot more integral to the Mac OS than vice versa.

What do I mean by that? Well, if tomorrow Microsoft came out with a universally downloaded virus patch that would affect all Windows computers in the world and caused every window to run full-screen … As long as the Taskbar remained intact I don’t think it would hugely upset things. On the other hand, if Steve Jobs decided tomorrow that windows were passe and that he was moving Mac OS to an all-full-screen window mode, except for the file menu and the dock … Your typical Mac user would be in deep, deep trouble.

So, to me, it’s pretty obvious that Macs are a lot more integrated with this user interface philosophy of “windows.” Which I’ve noticed, since I have been using them regularly again, makes it kind of troublesome to use the Mac since as a graphical user interface (GUI) it’s frankly just inferior to Windows for managing windows. And, I mean, I enjoy using Mac OS since I can open up a shell and do everything I need to pretty easily. But it’s ironic because everyone always talks about the Mac OS GUI, and that’s the weakest link in my opinion.

Why? Well, here’s the big one. Window management. This is something that I’ve come to notice myself doing quite a bit of in OS X. And this is something I remember doing quite a bit of in OS X. And after some observation, it’s something I’ve come to notice myself not doing in Windows XP. Even understanding that my XP machines are “worn-in,” so to speak, while the Mac machines I’m using may not be, I’ve noticed that there are some reasons why window management is always part of the stock Mac OS experience, and why it’s not for Windows XP. I’m going to try and explore this in a bit more detail later.

Manga Multimedia

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Anime, Culture, Technology

Been awhile since I posted anything, so I’m going to pick up from an earlier post I made on Bleach — I didn’t want to totally dismiss the series out of hand having simply watched the anime. After all, anime is usually pretty debased compared to the manga versions. It’s entirely possible that the Bleach manga could have had fantastic artwork compared to the anime, as some of the comments on the YouTube version intimated. So I did a little searching and actually managed to find some of the Bleach mangas online.

One of the bad trends I noticed was people usually put these manga comics to music. I turned off my volume, as I really don’t care about hearing YouTubeKid99’s favorite song of the moment. But at some point after watching a couple of these, I turned my sound back on and was surprised — The chapters I was looking at actually had some thought put into the music choices, timing, panning of scenes and pages. Pretty cool stuff, even if it is for a derisible power up manga.

TonyCHRYSA in particular seems to post some awesome, well-composed videos. He’s the source of the video at the top of this post, and most of the others that I watched in order to get a feel for Bleach as a manga as opposed to an anime.

These videos didn’t change my mind about Bleach — The manga has the same poor art quality and general power-up fantasy substitute for a story as the anime. But I do find it interesting how people on YouTube can invest the time and effort into these black and white comics to set them to music, pace the video, do special effects, and so on and so forth to turn what you’d normally expect to be a simple visual experience into an almost-interactive one.