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The Best of YouTube: Raycevick

By Shamus
on Sunday Feb 18, 2018
Filed under:
Random

This week I discovered Raycevick, a YouTube channel dedicated to retrospectives, primarily focused on shooters. I know some of you have nudged me in the past to check this guy out, but I didn’t get around to it until this week. I’m only about halfway through his catalog so far, but it’s really solid stuff.

Like Joseph Anderson, I often wish our tastes were more similar so I could get more out of his videos. Aside from Spec Ops: The Line (which he covered last summer) I haven’t really paid much attention to military shooters. Sure, I occasionally sampled them just to keep track of what the genre was doing, but I’ve never been a fan and to this day I still get the lineages and developers of the tentpole series confused. If someone mentions Battlefield, Call of Duty, Modern Warfare, Medal of Honor, Black Ops, Ghosts, Rainbow Six, Bad Company, Ghost Recon, Splinter Cell, or Infinite Warfare, I usually have to consult Wikipedia to remind myself which ones are core titles and which ones are spinoffs from which other onesAlso I tend to get Company of Heroes mixed up in there, even though that one is a strategy game.. But Raycevick knows his shooters and his videos offer a lot of great insights to the history and nuance of these games, even if they all tend to blur together for me.

The one video I want to highlight is Be Your Own Consumer:


Link (YouTube)

I suppose this is another way to express the now-familiar tension between companies who make money to make games and companies who make games to make money. But it’s still an important point and the more people that make it the more I can enjoy my feeling of smug self-satisfaction and superiority over the suits at the major publishers. And you can’t put a price on self-satisfaction.


 
 
Comments (17)



Wolfenstein II Part 3: Legacy Problems

By Shamus
on Thursday Feb 15, 2018
Filed under:
Retrospectives

Before I start picking at Wolfenstein II, I should point out that I don’t think it’s a terrible gameAside from the PC technology problems I talked about last time, obviously.. A lot of these things might seem trivial or nitpicky. “Hey, if the game is good then who cares?” But this is less about griping about a terrible game and more about chastising a series that seems to be settling into some bad habits. Let me repeat my main points one last time:

  1. I think this game doesn’t really deserve to be rated so much higher than its predecessors.
  2. We’re now on the third entry in this series, and so a lot of this stuff should have been solved by now.
  3. While the story isn’t terrible, it’s also not nearly interesting enough to justify the length of these self-indulgent cutscenes.

So when I mention a problem, it’s not because it’s some unforgivable sin against game design. It’s because I think there are things that could have been better. Please try to keep this in mind while reading this series, because I’m not going to put one of these “I didn’t hate the game” disclaimers around every piece of criticism.

Cool? Cool. Let’s do this.

Continue reading »


 
 
Comments (148)



This Dumb Industry: Charging More for a Worse Product

By Shamus
on Tuesday Feb 13, 2018
Filed under:
Column

I really like Extra Credits. I think their analysis of Metroid: Other M is probably the most level-headed and constructive take on the game. Their Open Letter to EA Marketing is the most damning analysis of EA’s marketing behavior, and is greatly bolstered by the fact that they’re not trying to create some rage-filled rant to appeal to angry fans but are honestly trying to show how harmful these practices are to the industry in general and even to EA itself. Their analysis of what went wrong with the animations in Mass Effect: Andromeda might involve a bit of speculation, but along the way you’ll get a great education in just how complex modern animation systems are.

I often agree with the show, and it’s pretty hard to make a weekly column out of “Yeah! What that guy said!” There are tricks you can use to pad something like that out to a 3,000 word essay, but those tricks are very, very, very, very, very, very, very, very, very, very, very, very, very, very, obviously obvious. So despite my admiration for their content, their videos just don’t work as conversation starters for me.

But last month they posted Games Should Not Cost $60 Anymore – Inflation, Microtransactions, and Publishing. It makes a lot of points I disagree with, so now we’ve got something to talk about. Yes, I’m aware this behavior is one of the reasons I get a reputation of being overly negative and nitpicky. But look, I’m only criticizing the show because I’m a fan. There are lots of popular YouTube channels out there that I don’t like and don’t care about, and I don’t waste time arguing with them. On this site, we criticize because we loveOr sometimes because we’re angry..

Continue reading »


 
 
Comments (321)



How Many Words 2017

By Shamus
on Sunday Feb 11, 2018
Filed under:
Random

Last spring I decided to measure my overall output on this site. Now that we’ve wrapped up 2017 I thought I’d update the charts and see how things went last year.

As a reminder of how this works: WordPress doesn’t have a wordcount feature. So to get the number of words I write in a year I get a character count and divide by 6.6, which I determined to be my average word length. These charts only include my material, and not any of my distinguished guests. These charts are based on calendar years, not financial years or anything crazy like that. Read the original post if you want all the details.

Anyway, let’s get to the charts…
Continue reading »


 
 
Comments (47)



Wolfenstein II Part 2: Broken Technology

By Shamus
on Thursday Feb 8, 2018
Filed under:
Retrospectives

Like I said last time, my goal here is to illustrate how this game has a lot of overlooked shortcomings and half-baked gameplay systems that should be fully-baked by the third entry in a series. But before I can argue with the critics, we need to talk about the PC launch. So let’s get that out of the way. Let’s talk about…

Technology

To get the framerate up to playable levels, I had to turn the visuals down to 2009 levels of detail. And yet the game still struggles to keep up. Where is all the power going?

To get the framerate up to playable levels, I had to turn the visuals down to 2009 levels of detail. And yet the game still struggles to keep up. Where is all the power going?

The game launched as a broken mess on the PC. I’ve spent hours reading the forums and I’ve never been able to find a pattern in any of it. There doesn’t seem to be a single unifying problem that caused the crashes, headaches, slowdowns, glitches, and bugs. There were people with low-end hardware that could run the game and people with high-end hardware that couldn’t. The problems impacted both AMD and NVIDIA hardware.

I get it. Developing for the PC is hard. This is doubly true if you’re one of the first AAA games to use the new Vulkan API and you’re still working the bugs out. While I always insist that for $60 the publisher is obligated to perform the due diligence required to make the product usable for the customer, I might be more inclined to give the publisher a bit of slack if they had shown even a sliver of competence after launch.

The timeline went like this:
Continue reading »


 
 
Comments (149)



This Dumb Industry: Violence and Science Fiction

By Shamus
on Tuesday Feb 6, 2018
Filed under:
Column

Mr. BTongue (also known as Bob Case around these parts) just released a new video on videogame violence as a follow-up to his first video on videogame violence. This new video pokes at some longstanding flame wars regarding the American military, politics in games, the supposed obligations of artists to the societies they operate in, and diversity. But it’s also got some stuff about The Iliad in it and that’s always fun:


Link (YouTube)

I’m wary of pulling on any of the threads in his video. I think there are a lot of interesting discussions to be had here, but this ain’t my first visit to the internet. I know that before we even get started we’ll end up with some partisan announcing, “I HAVE STRONG OPINIONS ON AMERICA AND THE MILITARY AND I’M GOING TO MAKE YOU AGREE WITH ME BY DROWNING YOU IN OUTRAGE AND LINKS TO SOURCES IDEOLOGICALLY ALIGNED WITH MY POSITION.” And then we’ll end up in the same old Red vs. Blue ditch where all internet discussions go to die. As usual, a few people ruin it for the rest of us.

So let’s just skate past that stuff and talk about…

Spec Ops: The Line: The Discussion: The Return

It’s funny that Btongue brings up Spec Ops: The Line now, since we were just talking about it in the comments of the most recent post of Wolfenstein II. Some people disliked the game. In their view, the game traps you in contrived scenarios where you only have one option and many seemingly reasonable alternatives aren’t available. Then it turns around and condemns you for those actions, and seems to condemn you for wanting to play the game in the first place. I really liked the game, but I also understand where the critics are coming from.

Continue reading »


 
 
Comments (276)



Getting Over It with Bennett Foddy

By Shamus
on Sunday Feb 4, 2018
Filed under:
Random

A few days ago we got a new installment of Errant Signal where Campster talked about Getting Over It, which seems to be the game everyone was watching and nobody was talking about last month. (I mean nobody in the gaming press. Maybe you talked about it with your friends, but I wasn’t there for that. It’s getting less coverage than PUBG, is what I’m saying.)


Link (YouTube)

If you missed it:

Getting Over It is a game seemingly made from random crap from the typical asset store. That’s the equivalent of making a movie using only stock footage. The game embraces this hodgepodge approach to design and makes it central to the game’s visual aesthetic. You play as a nameless naked man in a black cooking pot who uses a sledgehammer to pull and shove his way up a gargantuan mountain of trash. That’s no story, no characters, no context, no score, no unlocks, no save points, no enemies to fight, and no achievements to earn along the way. There’s just you, your hammer, some really fiddly climbing controls, and Bennett Foddy’s calm narration ruminating on difficulty and punishment in games as you ascend to new heights and tumble back down in bitter defeat.

I haven’t played it. I’m pretty sensitive to frustrating challenges with big setbacks as punishment. I’d get too angry to have fun. But like a lot of people, I enjoy watching the game. It’s a cruel task with a lot of pitfalls, where the environment is engineered to make falling down a deeply costly mistake. In fact, let’s look at the map of the whole game:

(Spoilers?)

Continue reading »


 
 
Comments (66)



Wolfenstein II Part 1: Introduction

By Shamus
on Thursday Feb 1, 2018
Filed under:
Retrospectives

This game came out to critical praise. The trailers looked good. Outside of the technology problems on the PC, there’s wasn’t a lot of negative press. But then the game was 50% off just one month after release, which isn’t something you normally see with successful games. Yes, that was a black Friday sale and those are always a little crazy. But even so, I didn’t see any other 1-month old AAA games going on that sort of deep discount. Was this an anomaly, or was the publisher struggling to sell this game?

I have no idea, but after playing through a couple of times I can say there is definitely something off about Wolfenstein II.

Continue reading »


 
 
Comments (179)



Database Abuse

By Shamus
on Wednesday Jan 31, 2018
Filed under:
Projects

The conventional wisdom is that WordPress is really database intensive. I’ve never seen an official critique of it or a proper comparison between WordPress and some other CMSContent Management System or publishing platform. This is just the sort of thing I see dismissive blowhards say on forums or StackOverflow. “What did you expect? WordPress puts a heavy load on a mySQL server.” I never really questioned it myself.

But last week got me thinking about it again when I tried to move this website to DreamHost. Is WordPress really that bad? How many dB queries does it take to create a single instance of the front page? How does that compare to other platforms?

Continue reading »


 
 
Comments (116)



What’s New?

By Shamus
on Tuesday Jan 30, 2018
Filed under:
Notices

Besides sulking, ranting, and pacing restlessly while my site was down, I spent the last several days updating bits of the site that have been neglected for ages. Most of this is probably only interesting or useful for new readers, but just in case you’re curious what I did:

There’s a new front page. Yeah. When was the last time anyone looked at that thing? I don’t even know.

Also, I updated the favicon for the site. I liked the old one because it was a blue die, but it looked terrible when mashed down to 16×16, which seems to be the norm these days. The new one isn’t as cool, but it’s more visually clear.

I’ve revamped the System Shock novel. Some PHP updates broke it ages ago, but now it should work as intended. Also I got rid of the archaic IFRAME-based design.

Heads up, you’re not at the end of the post. The next thing after the jump is an image of the thing we usually see below a post, which makes this feel like the end. But keep scrolling.

Continue reading »


 
 
Comments (75)



1 And 1 Equals Zero

By Shamus
on Monday Jan 29, 2018
Filed under:
Rants

Well, it’s been half a year since I added something to the “rants” category. I guess we’re due. I should warn you that while I normally try to keep things civil and family friendly around here, this post is going to be pretty raw. This last week has been an ordeal of frustration and dismay and I’m pretty fucking salty about it, is what I’m saying.

I’m sure you noticed that my site was down for almost a week. This is the longest stretch of downtime my domain has experienced since I launched it in 1999. Blame for this is divided thus:

To be fair, you could probably bump my blame percentage as high as 6 or even 7.

To be fair, you could probably bump my blame percentage as high as 6 or even 7.

First, some background: There are two parts to webhosting. One, you need someone to hold onto your domain name. Two, we need someone to host your files and databases to make the site go. These two things don’t NEED to be hosted by the same company, but in the past I preferred to keep them together to keep billing simple. My wife runs a lot of sites and a lot of domains. She uses a different service, but we like to keep the total number of hosts and registrars as low as possible so we don’t have a bunch of chaos trying to figure out what bills go with which sites / domains. Putting my domain and web hosting on the same account seemed like a perfectly reasonable thing to do.

When you go to a webpage, there’s a multi-step process that takes place. First you request the domain from your DNS: foobar.com. Then the DNS serverYes, I’m aware that this is a case of RAS syndrome. goes, “Say, who is in charge of the domain for foobar.com? That’s AlyxHosting.” So then it asks AlyxHosting for the IP address where you can find foobar.com. AlyxHosting replies with an IP address where you can find the site. Let’s say: 12.34.56.78.

It turns out that 12.34.56.78 is owned by the webhosting company BarneyHosting. BarneyHosting sees the request come in at 12.34.56.78 for foobar.com. BarneyHosting has a great big datacenter full of machines in racks. It knows that foobar.com is stored on machine #19 in directory /user/foobar/www/. So then it looks in that directory and sends you the files.

This explanation is simplified enough that I’ve probably pissed off a bunch of professional sysadmins, but there’s no way they’re more pissed off than I am. Let’s move on and hope they forget about it.

Continue reading »


 
 
Comments (90)



Welcome To the New Site

By Shamus
on Wednesday Jan 24, 2018
Filed under:
Notices

If you see this post, then you have joined me on the new webhost. Welcome. If you look around, you’ll notice everything is basically the same. That’s actually kind of disappointing, considering the work it took to get us here.

(If you’re curious, I went with 1And1 Hosting. Seems pretty fine so far. Good speed. The control panel makes sense, although it has some annoying upsell features I keep bumping into when looking for controls. I got the low-level access I wanted and I even managed to use the Linux shell without killing anyone. I’m so proud of myself.)

What’s really strange is that there are still people seeing the old site. They can’t see this. The old blog is still running, even though I can no longer get to it. I can’t moderate the comments or post updates back there. The people left behind are like the folks that end up trapped in ghostly Silent Hill: Inhabitants of a purgatorial realm that have no idea they’re trapped.

I’ve still got a bunch of fussy housekeeping to deal with. I’ve taken the Wolfenstein post and pushed it off until next week. I’m sorry this entire week has been nothing but boring maintenance announcements. If it makes you feel any better, you should be able to edit your comments again. I mean, there’s no content to talk about this week, but if there was just imagine the typos you could fix!

The forums should return soon. Let me know if you’re still missing any features / plugins.

UPDATE: I’m doing the domain transfer now. I thought this would be quick and painless, but aparently it can result in days(?!WTF!?) of downtime. Hopefully it goes quickly.

(I don’t know why I’m posting this, if the site goes down you won’t see it.)

UPDATE 2 DAYS LATER: I fully retract any endorsement I gave this host. If you signed up for their service based on my recommendation, I sincerely apologize. I’m monumentally unhappy with how they’re handling things. I’ll have a more complete rant up once I’m done fighting with them. I’m torn between dropping them and moving to a new host, or staying with them and hoping nothing else goes wrong. On one hand, I don’t want to move AGAIN because I can’t tolerate any more downtime. On the other hand, my account is only three days old and I’m already feeling angry and powerless. How much worse will they treat me once the “money back guarantee” period is over? So I dunno.


 
 
Comments (83)



Starcraft 2: Rush Analysis

I write a program to simulate different strategies in Starcraft 2, to see how they compare.

 

Project Octant

A programming project where I set out to make a Minecraft-style world so I can experiment with Octree data.

 

Trekrospective

A look back at Star Trek, from the Original Series to the Abrams Reboot.

 

A Star is Born

Remember the superhero MMO from 2009? Neither does anyone else. It was dumb. So dumb I was compelled to write this.

 

Trashing the Heap

What does it mean when a program crashes, and why does it happen?

 

Another PC Golden Age?

Is it real? Is PC gaming returning to its former glory? Sort of. It's complicated.

 

Spoiler Warning:
Mass Effect 2

What happens when you take a smart game with bland mechanics and turn it into a bland game with servicible mechanics?

 

Spoiler Warning:
Metro 2033

A videogame adaptation of a Russian novel about living in the metro system after the world ends. Successful or not, it's completely unique among shooters.

 

Spoiler Warning:
BioShock

A confusing game that's really smart for a shooter, but kind of dumb compared to its RPG-focused forebears.

 

Steam Summer Blues

This mess of dross, confusion, and terrible UI design is the storefront the big publishers couldn't beat? Amazing.

 

Overthinking Zombies

Let's ruin everyone's fun by listing all the ways in which zombies can't work, couldn't happen, and don't make sense.

 

Project Button Masher

I teach myself music composition by imitating the style of various videogame soundtracks. How did it turn out? Listen for yourself.