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Grand Theft Auto: San Andreas

By Shamus
on Friday Jul 27, 2018
Filed under:
Retrospectives

I think this one is easily the highlight of the Grand Theft Auto franchise. While writing this series, I played just enough of the other games to get the screenshots I needed, but San Andreas pulled me in and got me to hang around long after I had captured the required images.

The world is immense, the gameplay is packed with interesting things to do, the story is slightly less dissonant than is typical for Rockstar, and the humor is better than it’s ever been. (Before or since.) Same goes for the soundtrack. There’s even a light dusting of sim / RPG gameplay where it allows you to build up the protagonist’s skills and physique. You can be skinny, pig out and get fat, or hit the gym and bulk up. All of this is driven organically by your in-game behavior, which means all that time fooling around in the open-world stuff is actually making some long-term progress.

It’s not a perfect game, but there’s a lot to love.

Continue reading »


 
 
Comments (63)



Welcome to the New Site

By Shamus
on Wednesday Jul 25, 2018
Filed under:
Rants

If you’re reading this, you’re seeing the site on my brand-new webhost. We knew this had to happen sooner or later. Six months ago I migrated to 1 & 1 Hosting, and their service was so spectacularly bad that I concluded I would need to move before my one-year term was up. The only thing that differentiated their service from sabotage was the fact that they billed me for it. And then two months later my site went down again.

I know you’re probably sick of hearing me whine about hosting problems. For those of you backing my Patreon, I know this isn’t the kind of content you’re hoping to see. I promise I’m trying to return this place to normalcy as quickly as possible.

Usually I pay for services a month at a time, and when I do I always feel a little guilty because I know I could save a lot of money if I went with yearly billing. It would figure that the ONE time I decide to roll the dice and pay for a year in advance, it would blow up in my face. Still, I can’t let sunk costs keep me at 1 & 1 any longer.

For the curious, here is the straw that broke the camel’s back: Continue reading »


 
 
Comments (86)



This Dumb Industry: Red Shell

By Shamus
on Tuesday Jul 24, 2018
Filed under:
Column

This is a crazy story right out of a (admittedly dull) cyberpunk novel. Someone discovered that a bunch of PC games were using third-party “spyware” called Red Shell. There’s no way to know what information Red Shell was sharing, but it it had evidently been running inside of a lot of games for some time without being noticed.

People made a fuss on Reddit, the story gained some traction, and many developers began patching Red Shell out of their games. Some of them did so without comment, while others downplayed the move. The patch notes either failed to mention Red Shell at all, or they simply said “Removed Red Shell” without elaborating on what Red Shell was or what it was doing.

A few companies made official statements. A ridiculous number of them claimed that while Red Shell was included in the install, it had never been active and don’t worry about it we’re getting rid of it anyway you can trust us we’re dedicated to security etc etc etc.

This story has been simmering for a month or so. It was quickly picked up by Polygon, Wired, and PC Gamer, but it didn’t seem to make many waves at the time. I didn’t hear about it until 2 days ago.

As of this writing, the story is still developing. New games are being discovered to include Red Shell, and previously discovered games are patching it out and doing PR damage control. A few games got ahead of the curve and patched it out before being noticed.

Continue reading »


 
 
Comments (132)



Diecast #219: Andromeda, Dark Souls, Spec Ops

By Shamus
on Monday Jul 23, 2018
Filed under:
Diecast

As a reminder, if you want to see SoldierHawk’s Dark Souls Funtime Joyride of Adventure Merriment, check her YouTube page.


Direct download (MP3)
Direct download (ogg Vorbis)
Podcast RSS feed.

Hosts: SoldierHawke, Shamus. Episode edited by Issac.

Show notes: Continue reading »


 
 
Comments (79)



Grand Theft Auto Vice City

By Shamus
on Friday Jul 20, 2018
Filed under:
Retrospectives

It takes about 20 years for childhood nostalgia to mature into a product for adults. The 1950s-based programs Happy Days and Sha Na Na both came out in the the 1970s. That 70’s Show came out in the 1990s. 1980s-based films Boogie Nights and The Wedding Singer seemed to jump the gun and arrive a few years early, while Wet Hot American Summer, Hot Tub Time Machine, Adventureland, and American Psycho arrived right on time in the first decade of the new millenium.

The Cultural Echo

Nothing says 1980s like neon colors, pastel suits, and cocaine.

Nothing says 1980s like neon colors, pastel suits, and cocaine.


It’s easy to see why this is. You grow up in a particular decade. Twenty years later you’re well into adulthood. You’ve got disposable income and strong memories (good or bad) that can be leveraged / exploited for emotional appeal in a story. The 20-year echo isn’t some strange cultural phenomena. It’s just basic economics.

Technically this means we should be hip-deep in 90s nostalgia right now, and that’s not really happening. Sure, some of the really major elements of the 90s like Ninja Turtles are being revisited, but that sort of thing isn’t anywhere near saturation and 90s callbacks don’t seem to be a safe bet the way 80s callbacks were a decade ago. If anything, we seem to be lingering in the 80s. Maybe because the 90s sucked? What happens in the next decade? Will 90s nostalgia show up late, or will we skip the 90s and jump right to new-millennium nostalgia? I have no idea.

The point is, the 20-year retro echo is just the result of an entertainment industry chasing the dollars of the under-30 market. Which means that 2001 was just the right time for GTA to revisit the 1980s.

Continue reading »


 
 
Comments (101)



The Witcher 3: The Battle for Kaer Morhen, Part One

By Bob Case
on Thursday Jul 19, 2018
Filed under:
Video Games

Strictly speaking, The Witcher 3 has a prologue (in White Orchard) and three acts, which I guess is four parts total. More generally speaking, it has two parts: the stuff that happens before the battle at Kaer Morhen, and the stuff that happens after it.

The battle at Kaer Morhen is the first major emotional climax of the game. The second will come at the ending. This is an important bit for the game to get right, and in my opinion, it gets it right. Pulling this sort of thing off is not easy, as evidenced by the number of games that have botched it over the years. I’ll get into some examples in a bit, but first let’s set the scene: we finally have a way to find Ciri, Geralt and Yen’s adoptive daughter, for whom we’ve been searching this whole time. Avallac’h has secreted her away on a mysterious island called the Isle of Mists.

One of the things CDPR successfully pulled off – for me at least, on my first playthrough – was making me worry that Ciri might be dead. This is tricky territory for a game narrative to navigate. Obviously, the average player understands that it’s unlikely that a major character will die offscreen. And yet the world of the Witcher universe seemed wild and unpredictable enough that I did, in fact, worry about exactly that. I worried if Ciri was Uma (the weird baby thing), and that maybe the trial of grasses would kill her. Later, on the Isle of Mists, I worried if I would be too late to save her. There’s one particularly excruciating shot where Geralt finally sees her comatose body in a hut on said isle, and I imagine most players (or, at least, me) will have their hearts in their throats for it.


Link (YouTube)

(Then, they’re cheeky enough to throw in a teaser for Cyberpunk 2077. In this clip, the relevant part is at the 2:45 mark if you want to indulge in a bit of cheek.)

Ciri teleports Geralt and herself back to Kaer Morhen, and, since the Wild Hunt can track her when she teleports, we know they’ll be hard on her heels. Which is why, prior to retrieving Ciri, Geralt recruits various compatriots from the series so far to assist him in defending against their imminent attack: Eskel, Lambert, and Vesemir (his Witcher bros), Keira Metz (optional sorceress), Yennefer and Triss (non-optional sorceresses), Letho of Gulet (a heavy from the second game, one of my personal favorite characters), Roche and Ves (from the Blue Stripes commando group, also from the second game), Ermion (a druid from Skellige), Hjalmar (brother to Skellige’s new Queen, I wonder if Cerys shows up if you don’t pick her for Queen?), also from Skellige, and others that I hope I’m not forgetting.

The ragtag bunch of misfits is big enough that you can't fit all of them in just one screenshot.

The ragtag bunch of misfits is big enough that you can't fit all of them in just one screenshot.

Continue reading »


 
 
Comments (48)



I Made a Thing

By Shamus
on Tuesday Jul 17, 2018
Filed under:
Programming

People have been saying things like, “Hey Shamus, what happened to those programming posts you were doing. Weren’t you in the middle of a project? Weren’t you wrapping up a project? What’s going on?”

Here’s the thing:

A friend of mine has been working on a Minecraft-style cube world where the front end is built on C++ and the backend runs on user-editable LUA scripts. Early in the project I was talking about some of the techniques I’d used to generate blockworld caves. Then I figured it was sort of lame to just describe the structures I was talking about, and it would make so much more sense to show him. And hey, why not kill two birds with one stone? I’ll make a blockworld to demo the caves, and I could turn the process into blog posts.

Ooooh. Spooky! Sorta.

Ooooh. Spooky! Sorta.

But then I just kept adding to it. I finally got over the initial hurdle of working with Unity and reached the point where I could write code without needing to stop after three minutes of coding to do thirty minutes of forum-diving to answer simple questions. It was fun, so I kept going.

“I’ll turn this into blog posts when I’m done,” I lied to myself.
Continue reading »


 
 
Comments (41)



Diecast #218: British Panel Shows, Prey Ending

By Shamus
on Monday Jul 16, 2018
Filed under:
Diecast

Heads up: In the final segment of the show we spoil the end of Prey 2017. Also: Next week I plan to have SoldierHawk on the show again. If you have any questions for her, the email is in the header image.


Direct download (MP3)
Direct download (ogg Vorbis)
Podcast RSS feed.

Hosts: Paul, Shamus. Episode edited by Issac.

Show notes: Continue reading »


 
 
Comments (74)



Grand Theft Auto III

By Shamus
on Friday Jul 13, 2018
Filed under:
Retrospectives

This game is a technological miracle. It’s a miracle not just for what it can do, but also for the fact that the team was able to build it at all.

I don’t think any franchise has ever gone through a more drastic change in such a short timeAt least, not a POSITIVE change.. In 1999 Grand Theft Auto 2 was a technological throwback, a stale mid-90s game with dated visuals and clunky gameplay. And then just two years later we get GTA III, a cutting-edge game with motion-capped cutscenes, solid voice acting, an immense 3D world with a stunning draw distance, tons of content, rock-solid car physics, a huge soundtrack of fictional radio channels, hours of cutscenes, varied gameplay, a working day/night cycle, serviceable shooting mechanics, and all the impressive pedestrian, law enforcement, and traffic simulation the previous games were known for, only now operating in a 3D space.

Even more amazing than the monumental leap in technology and production values is the fact that the developers absolutely nailed it.

Continue reading »


 
 
Comments (82)



Welcome to Steamworks

By Shamus
on Tuesday Jul 10, 2018
Filed under:
Projects

Over a year ago, my game was approved for Steam Greenlight. At the time I said:

The good news is that Pseudoku has been approved on Steam Greenlight. I could technically begin selling the game right now. (Well, after filling out a bunch of paperwork, but you know what I mean.)

When I mentioned a “bunch of paperwork”, I had no idea what I was in for. I’ve spent the last nine months or so trying to clear that hurdle. The loop went something like this:

  1. Fill out a bunch of forms to document that I am who I say I am.
  2. Wait a couple of weeks.
  3. Get a generic rejection message saying I didn’t provide the right information, or the information was incorrect.
  4. Puzzle over the forms, trying to guess where it went wrong.
  5. Go to the bank, or download some PDF forms, or snail-mail the state to get some information changed.
  6. Wait for these changes to go through.
  7. GOTO 1

Most of the blame probably belongs to the state I live in, which is still stuck in the mid-20th century when it comes to starting a business. Their website is perpetually broken, so you have to correspond with them via the postal service. All of their forms are designed with the assumption that if I’m a small business then I’m going to be operating a commercial storefront and selling doughnuts to people on Main Street or whatever. There’s literally no way to correctly fill out these forms because I’m running a business out of my house but selling goods globally, and the system can’t comprehend that kind of micro-global setup. Add in some confusing forms, obtuse error messages from Steam, a couple of bank errors, some confusing legalese, and a couple of mistakes on my part, and it took us nine months to accomplish what a lot of developers accomplish in a weekend.

It’s been ages since I looked at the Pseudoku codebase and I can’t even remember where the project left off. A friend of mine converted the rendering backend from OpenGL to Direct X, which will hopefully solve the strange problems I was having. I’ll probably do a public test soon and see what needs to be done.

Of course, if I ever do another game like this I’ll just use Unity. Now that I’ve crawled up the worst part of the Unity learning curve, getting stuff done is pretty straightforward.


 
 
Comments (37)



Diecast #217: July 4th, Google Drive, Raytracing

By Shamus
on Monday Jul 9, 2018
Filed under:
Diecast

I hope to have SoldierHawk on Real Soon Now. Send in any questions you have for her / us. The email address is in the header image.


Direct download (MP3)
Direct download (ogg Vorbis)
Podcast RSS feed.

Hosts: Paul, Shamus. Episode edited by Issac.

Show notes: Continue reading »


 
 
Comments (42)



Shamecast: Mass Effect Andromeda

By Shamus
on Sunday Jul 8, 2018
Filed under:
Notices

I really did intend for this to be a more positive stream. I deliberately aimed for doing a quest I liked, but then some open-world busywork got in the way and I spent most of the two hours just picking at things.


Link (YouTube)

Mass Effect Andromeda is a hot mess of a game, even after all the post-release patches. But underneath the technological jank and cringy dialog are some really good ideas. I’ll be doing a full retrospective on this series at some point in the future, but for now if you want to talk Andromeda with me the best thing to do is just stop by and say “Hi!” in the chat during a stream. I plan to do another stream this coming Wednesday. I’ll have more details later in the week.


 
 
Comments (70)



Artless in Alderaan

People were so worried about the boring gameplay of The Old Republic they overlooked just how boring and amateur the art is.

 

Quakecon Keynote 2013 Annotated

An interesting but technically dense talk about gaming technology. I translate it for the non-coders.

 

A Lack of Vision and Leadership

People fault EA for being greedy, but their real sin is just how terrible they are at it.

 

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.

 

Ludonarrative Dissonance

What is this silly word, why did some people get so irritated by it, and why did it fall out of use?

 

Hardware Review

So what happens when a SOFTWARE engineer tries to review hardware? This. This happens.

 

Push the Button!

Scenes from Half-Life 2:Episode 2, showing Gordon Freeman being a jerk.

 

How to Forum

Dear people of the internet: Please stop doing these horrible idiotic things when you talk to each other.

 

Bad and Wrong Music Lessons

A music lesson for people who know nothing about music, from someone who barely knows anything about music.

 

Zenimax vs. Facebook

This series explores the troubled history of VR and the strange lawsuit between Zenimax publishing and Facebook.

 

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:
Fallout 3

A long-form Let's Play of a classic that's probably overrated, and certainly dumber than it needed to be.