Sunday, November 30, 2008

Desert Bus

So these guys are playing this totally rad game, Desert Bus, for charity. The more money they get, the longer they play. All proceeds go to Child's Play. For every $20 you give, you get an entry into their Rock Band 2 raffle.

I'm patched into their 2 live feeds. Riveting.

Saturday, November 29, 2008

TF2 Fun

One of the reasons PC gaming should never die: crazy user generated stuff.

Found at Rock Paper Shotgun.

Thursday, November 20, 2008

Hello, old friend.

I'm going to post this before going back to Valkyria Chronicles for the rest of the night.

GWJ podcast and they jokingly mention a fictional miracle drink that will allow you play games while you sleep. Yes, with this drink, you can function normally and take care of responsibilities while also managing to play all the games you want to!

I could have used this while playing VC last night around 11:3o. I was driving my squad through the treacherously flat desert under heavy sniper fire. Curse my job. One more turn.

Hold on, why's Norman playing a JRPG? Doesn't he hate those things?

I've said how much separating story from gameplay is a misuse of the medium. But damnit, I'm having fun with this game. I guess it's my love of military tactical gameplay. I mean I really liked Company of Heroes. VC's also coming at the perfect time. Between flexing my level creativity in LittleBigPlanet and improving my skills in Rock Band 2, I've been itching for the one thing lacking in both those experiences. A solid single player experience.

VC is a good game and there are those who agree. But I don't totally buy into Tycho's infatuation with the game. It's fun, but it's not art. Again, I'm saving that for another post.

VC is war like only the Japanese could do it. We start the game and there are trucks getting blown up, civilians getting shot in the back and a town militia running to their aide. A literally shocking juxtaposition to the whimsical art style and dialogue that proceeded the violence. Then the protagonists involved in the fighting go home and have tea. Later in the story, they find a baby pig.

And inspite of all this I can't stop playing the game. I guess I should stop being such an art snob and just enjoy what's fun. Not let a few bad apples kill my expectations for a genre. Oh JRPG, how long has it been?

Sunday, November 16, 2008

LBP: Honeymoon's over.

Down times 3

There's a reason I haven't been playing much LBP for the past week. I just can't seem to muster much enthusiasm for the game anymore. It's because of all this moderation business.

I understand Sony and Media Molecule need to cover their asses. Marvel's lawsuit against NCSoft over the City of Heroes character creator proves that even user generated content can be a touchy legal subject.

But it just seemingly goes against the spirit of LBP when I hear about all this corporate and legal stuff.

To make it all worse, quite possibly THE most inventive and unique user level so far, Azure Palace, was pulled. I just can't help but feel all that enthusiasm I had for creating things drain out of me.

A rep from Media Molecule has responded. But really. There's something broken here. MM and Sony need to figure this out before they lose their entire community. I know I'm not up to finishing my level anymore. Why should I when it could get pulled for no obvious reason?

Monday, November 10, 2008

War games

I was reading James Ransom-Wiley's reflections about Call of Duty: World at War's demonizing portrayal of Japanese troops. I haven't played the game, but what Ransom-Wiley describes of the first 5 minutes doesn't seem far off from portrayals of Nazi troops in some games. Is it really ok to demonize Nazi's? I mean yeah, they did the Holocaust, but does that mean that every single German soldier in WWII a heartless monster? I guess it makes sense in an action movie, Rambo kind of thing. Perhaps later in the game there will be a more human portrayal of Japanese soldiers. The heavy metal of WaW's launch trailer suggests otherwise.


Now I'm not going to assume that this is 100% what COD:WaW is about. I shouldn't judge a game before it's even out. But I guess Ransom-Wiley's thoughts just make me think how much I hate how action movies turn violence and war into things to be idolized and relished. I think some people believe that all games are nothing but bubble gum action movies. I guess that's one of the challenges facing the games medium in it's struggle for mainstream acceptance and the covetted label of "art".

It all reminds me of Medal of Honor performance in Video Games Live. When Mr Tallarico came on stage to introduce the piece, he first asked whether there were any veterans in the audience. Then he said to respect those veterans, "we aren't going to show any footage from the game." Instead we were treated to a series of photographs depicting the struggle of both soldiers and civilians during that time. Set to the orchestral piece, I couldn't help but be touched.

But when the lights came back up I also couldn't help but think about Tallarico's words earlier in the show. To much cheering from the crowd, he boasted that the Video Games Live concerts were here to prove that video games are art. And yet here you are, not showing gameplay from Medal of Honor because it's as shallow and unrealistic as Rambo. VGL only really proves that video games have good music written for them and that music by itself is "art". But we already knew that. The mainstream population generally accepts music as an artform. No amount of showing gameplay during the performance or screaming about Halo will prove that the amount of "artistry" presented in the music is also presented in the game.

Am I saying that video games aren't art? No. I wouldn't call myself a connoiseur of the medium if I believed that. So what makes video games art? For that matter, what makes art art? What is art? I should touch on that in another post before I rant on for too long here.

I guess what I'm waiting for is the Saving Private Ryan of war video games. A game that uses the medium's strength of emotional, interactive storytelling to convey the horrors of war. Not boil it down to testosterone fueled fun.

Saturday, November 8, 2008

LBP: When players die.

A few nights back my friend Mike and I were playing some user created LittleBigPlanet levels. We jumped into one of the Shadow of the Colossus tribute levels and we reach a part where we have to ride our sponge horse, Aggro, across a bridge. *Spoilers* The creator was obviously trying to emulate Aggro's pivotal fall down a chasm because as soon as we reached the end of the bridge it disappeared. Sponge Aggro falls into the spikes below, dragging me and Mike with him. Now in hindsight we were supposed to jump off at the last second. I could go on about how bad that was in level design terms, but that's an entirely different post.

What I'd like to focus on in this post concerns what happened after we respawned. Not only did the creator not put a checkpoint before the bridge scene but on our trekk back to the bridge to try again, we found that the bridge does not respawn. Not only that, but an entire portion of the level was missing. Obviously, the creator didn't expect anyone to die at this point in the level inspite of the entire lack of indication that the bridge was going to disappear.

It's a disturbing trend I've been seeing now and then in user levels. I've run into a similar problem while creating my own level. A section involves hanging from a sponge trapeze thing as shown in this blueprint I made at

If the player drags the trapeze sponge thing all the way to the other side and makes it, then all's well and we can move on. However if the player dies and spawns back on the left side of the fire pit...

Well, now we have some trouble, don't we? The player went back, but the trapeze sponge didn't follow them. At this point, you can expect the player to become frustrated, go back to their pod and never play your level again. Perhaps they will also leave your level a nasty rating.

But how do we resolve this? One way would be to make an emitter of the trapeze sponges, but then you've got to implement a complicated set of triggers going back and forth. Respawning a sponge when the player spawns and killing the sponges stuck on the other side.

A simpler solution is to attach elastic to the trapeze sponge's bar to pull it back when the player lets go of the sponge.

So we want the elastic to be really low strength. Strong enough to pull the sponge back but weak enough to not impede the player while they're pulling it across the hazard. LittleBigWorkshop's blueprint tool is interesting, but kinda rough. As you can see, it's hard to represent exact things like where to attach the elastic.

Tuesday, November 4, 2008

Social gaming in 2008

Internet and video games. Who woulda thought?

I'm playing Little Big Planet in ways I've never played games before. Ever.

No, I'm not talking about all that fancy creation mode stuff. I'm talking about turning on my PS3 and having at least 2 or 3 people I can play the game with. And this isn't some hardcore shooter where we all the planets have to align in order for us to have fun. I'm jumping into games with my friend and his "non-gamer" sister. My sister and her boyfriend(who happen to live in a different city than me). We're just casually moving through levels, having fun without even trying.

This experience is enabled by the online capabilities of these current gen consoles. The constant connection to the internet. Knowing what your friends are playing by glancing at the buddy list. Even before LittleBigPlanet launched, this connectedness of game consoles was setting my expectations. However inconsequential it might seem, seeing what your friends are playing and them seeing what you're playing has some sort of psychological hold on me.

Connectedness is even making me play PS2 games less. Loading up PS2 games on my PS3 causes the console to enter an emulation mode. Meaning no friend list capability. No one would know what I was doing. How horribly solitary.

Over the course of a few weeks last month, most of my PS3 owning friends had bought PixelJunk Monsters. Though the game had online leaderboards, there really wasn't a way to interact with everyone. LBP's release a few weeks later answered all of my prayers.

Comparing contemporary gaming to my middle school days of sinking hours into Final Fantasy or GTA 3 alone in the living room seems so primitive.

I know to anyone who owns an Xbox360 this must be news from 2 years ago. But my little clique of PlayStation fanboys over here is just now catching up.