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Black Desert Online #1: Strange But Cool

By Shamus
on Thursday Apr 19, 2018
Filed under:
Retrospectives

It’s been a while since I played an MMO, hasn’t it? And I’ve never played one quite like this before. I’ve mentioned Black Desert Online a few times in the past and nobody really took much of an interest, so I suspect most of you are indifferent to this thing. But I’ve never let indifference interfere with my blathering before, so we’re going to spend a month with this game.

Over the past couple of weeks I had a blast in Black Desert Online, and then I stopped having a blast and the whole experience felt more or less like a waste of time for reasons I’ll get into later. But first let’s talk about what drew me to the game.

Familiar Yet Strange

White people in Medieval clothing on cobblestone streets with Tudor architecture and a temperate climate. This is about as European as you can get.

White people in Medieval clothing on cobblestone streets with Tudor architecture and a temperate climate. This is about as European as you can get.

Black Desert Online is a Korean MMO and almost everything about it is strange to me. The design is strange, the release schedule is strange, the business model is strange, the setting is strange, the interface is strange, and the dialog is strange. I can’t tell how much of the strangeness comes from the developers and how much comes from its home culture. Note that in this context, “strange” does not mean “bad”. It’s just, you know, unexpected.

I understand that Korean games are ridiculously grind-y by reputation. When I hear something described as “grindy”, I think of the ancient past of 2002, when I played Dark Age of Camelot and the most expedient way to level was to stand in the same spot and farm the same cluster of mobs for an hour. Black Desert might be grindy, but it’s not that sort of grindy. Maybe it’s grindy by the standards of kids today, or maybe it breaks from the norm set by other Korean MMO titles, but it’s not a grind in the sense of killing the same monster 60 times in a row.

The strange thing about the release schedule is that they didn’t immediately target the North American market. They went for South Korea first (which is pretty understandable) in 2014, but then in 2015 they released in… Japan and Russia? They finally got around to North America and Europe in 2016 and South America and MENA in 2017.

This isn’t a complaint or anything. It’s not like North America is automatically entitled to get stuff first. It’s just an unexpected choice because NA is often thought of as a very lucrative market so developers like to target it as soon as possible. Conversely, Russia is often a low-priority market because it has a reputation for being a difficult place to operate. I wonder if this unorthodox release order means the usual conventional wisdom is no longer true. Is Russia an easier place to do business? Is North America not as lucrative as it used to be? Or does Publisher Kakao Games have other practical / logistical reasons for pushing NA and Europe off for a couple of years?

Continue reading »


 
 
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The Witcher 3: The Geralt Question

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

Last week we advanced the Novigrad storyline, and I had a specific reason for doing so that’s turned out to be a bust.

You see, this part of the Novigrad storyline involves trying to track down the vanished bard Dandelion through a list of his now-abandoned romantic dalliances. One of these was with a Nilfgaardian noblewoman named Rosa var Attre. Rosa is a swordfighting nut, and Geralt at one point gives her fencing lessons with a wooden sword. In previous playthroughs, I could’ve sworn you got to keep the wooden sword afterwards, because I remembered keeping it as a comedy item to use occasionally. However, they either changed this for some reason or my addled memory got the Rosa var Attre wooden sword mixed up with the “prop sword” you use in a much later quest.

This is a great tragedy because I was hoping to use the wooden sword. Swords have instant-kill animations when used on foes knocked down by Aard or stunned by Axii, and certain monster trophies give Geralt a certain percentage change to “dismember” (ie, use one of the instant-kill animations). The thought of one day chopping the heads off the terrifying warriors of the Aen Elle with a wooden sword was very tempting, but alas it is not to be. I may just give myself the weapon with the console, once I figure out to my own satisfaction whether that counts as cheating or not.

I wanted to mention these at least once. The loading screens have these cool comic-looking images that keep you up to date on the main plot. I always like when a game takes the time to do something interesting with its loading screens.

I wanted to mention these at least once. The loading screens have these cool comic-looking images that keep you up to date on the main plot. I always like when a game takes the time to do something interesting with its loading screens.

Fortunately, with the support of friends and family, I eventually overcame my disappointment. Seeing Zoltan again helped. For those that haven’t played the series, Zoltan is one of Geralt’s dwarf friends who’s shown up in all three games. Zoltan is also an avenue into understanding my own answer to what you could call the “Geralt question.” The “Geralt question” is basically this: does Geralt suck?

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Pixel City Redux #2: Unity Week 2

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

On the first day(ish) of the project I made a working proof-of-concept demo. Today I’m going to pull a Nightdive by throwing everything away and restarting the project in Unity.

This isn’t as stupid as it sounds. I’m only a day or so into the project, so I’m not going to be throwing away a lot of code. Also, I think writing something in C++ and then re-writing it in C# is a good learning exercise. A year ago I took a swing at learning Unity. The problem is that once you’re done with the tutorials, you need to start making something real. But this leaves you with a three-pronged problem:

  1. Learning a new programming language.
  2. Working in a new programming paradigm, with strictly enforced object-oriented design structure.
  3. Trying to solve this new problem. (Whatever it is that I’m currently working on.)

That’s a lot of unknowns to juggle. Things go wrong all the time when you’re programming. In a situation like this if I do something and I don’t get the result I expect, I won’t even know where to look. Yes, maybe there’s a flaw in my design. But maybe the design is sound, but I’ve somehow expressed it incorrectly in the C# language. Or maybe that stuff is fine but I’m misunderstanding Unity. Even trivial problems can take ages to sort out if you don’t know how to find them.

But re-writing something I just wrote is a pretty good exercise. If nothing else, I’ll know the logic is sound.

Continue reading »


 
 
Comments (57)



Diecast #206: Another Funeral for Half-Life

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

Yes, SoldierHawk is back for another funeral for another doomed series with a bad ending. I swear we’ll talk about something happy / satisfying one of these days.

I wonder if she’s played KOTOR 2?


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

Hosts: Shamus with guest Brittany. Episode edited by Issac.

Show notes: Continue reading »


 
 
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Wolfenstein II Part 11: Beating a Dead Panzerhund

By Shamus
on Thursday Apr 12, 2018
Filed under:
Retrospectives

So the gist of this mission is that Frau Engle flew the Ausmerzer to Hollywood California so she could appear on the Jimmy Carver show, which is obviously based on The Tonight Show with Johnny CarsonCarson took over the Tonight Show in 1962, which means this is about the right point in the timeline.. He’s going to interview her on the show and talk about the time she executed Terror Billy.

Based on this setup, you’d think she’s going down to the surface, right? Like, Carver must have a studio in Hollywood and that’s where she’s going. But when you get to the control room of the Ausmerzer you find out it has a copy of the Carver set. Or maybe Carver runs his show from the Ausmerzer? But then why did the ship need to go to Hollywood?

Revenge. Sort of.

Are these two really supposed to be the final boss? Because we faced a bigger mech like five minutes ago. The only thing that makes these guys the ULTIMATE THREAT is their HP, and we can't see that.

Are these two really supposed to be the final boss? Because we faced a bigger mech like five minutes ago. The only thing that makes these guys the ULTIMATE THREAT is their HP, and we can't see that.

This is one of the reasons the ending feels so abrupt. The “final fight” wasn’t telegraphed at all. Two nameless robo-Nazis drop in and we kill them with no ceremony or buildup. After that we sort of blunder into a TV studio and the end of the game without realizing how close we were to Engel.

BJ’s allies all show up. He’s taken control of the Ausmerzer and shut down the automated defensesApparently you can’t shut off the anti-air systems without an access code only kept on Venus. This seems like a TERRIBLE security system, but whatever., so the rest of the rebels can land their chopper on the roof. They all meet up in the TV studio and his allies point guns at the TV crew to make sure they keep broadcasting.

BJ slips into the theater. Carver and Engel are doing the show to an empty room. It’s just the band and some camera guys. The audience is all cardboard cutouts. BJ slips in and executes Engel with an axe to the face on live television. The good guys win. Game over.

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The Witcher 3: Grinding and Griping

By Bob Case
on Thursday Apr 12, 2018
Filed under:
Video Games

Last week we ran into an enemy I couldn’t beat, and resolved to go back to Velen and knock out a few levels first. I ended up knocking out two, because I’d forgotten how slow leveling is in the early game. EXP is just hard to come by. I nip back to White Orchard, and the first quest I do is one where I help a Temerian guerilla recover medical supplies from an ambush site. My reward? Eight XP. Eight. If my calculations are correct, and I believe they are, that’s a single digit number. Even early on, it takes several hundred XP to level up. This might take longer than I thought.

So I traipse around White Orchard, hitting up every place of power for the free skill points, and do the “Devil by the Well” contract. Still only level four. Back to Velen, I do a fairly long and involved quest where I’m reunited with Letho of Gulet, one of the villains from the second game.I’m a sucker for callbacks to previous games in the series. Then, three horse races east of Crow’s Perch, then fist fights in three different villages, then the “Woodland Beast” contract, which requires me to kite Alghouls around a stand of trees for like ten minutes. Still only level four. At this point I’m wondering if figuring out the leveling curve was something of a last-minute scramble for CD Projekt.

Finally, I'm around civilized people who appreciate the finer things in life, like punching.

Finally, I'm around civilized people who appreciate the finer things in life, like punching.

Finally, out of ideas and with so much of my quest log way above me in level, I do the thing I’d resolved not to do: I start grinding out monster nests. When I started this series I promised to not just gush about the things I like but also to bellyache about the things I didn’t. Well, here’s some of me fulfilling the second half of that promise: combat has never been CD Projekt’s strong point.

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Pixel City Redux #1: More Pixels

By Shamus
on Tuesday Apr 10, 2018
Filed under:
Programming

The programming bug has bitten again. This is bad. I’ve got other writing I need to do. My Wolfenstein series ends in two days. If I don’t get the next series done then you folks won’t have anything to read on Thursdays. Still, this project got stuck in my head and after a week or so of not working on it I realized I wasn’t getting anything else done because I was spending all my mental energy just trying to not think about this. Now I’m hoping that if I put a few days into this I’ll be able to think about other things.

A lot of things brought this about. My time with Grand Theft Auto V has got me thinking about the problem of crafting urban gamespace and the terrifying expense and complexity of the problem. My friend Paul got me thinking about programming again. Out of the blue, a couple of people sent emails mentioning or asking about Pixel City, a project I did way back in 2009. Also, I’ve recently played Left 4 Dead again, and that game was one of the inspirations behind Pixel City.

If you never saw Pixel City, it was a programming project where I tried to fake a city using nothing but black cubes and lit windows. It turned out okay:


Link (YouTube)

I want to do a next-generation version of this that can be explored on foot. (Or at least, from ground level. I doubt I’ll make actual walking mechanicsSpoiler: Wrong!..) I’m not trying to make a game or anythingThis is still true.. I just want to make a city using nothing but code.

I also want to mess around with some rendering tricks I’ve been thinking about. I like the idea of taking a full-color scene and crushing it down to EGA or even CGA color levels. Maybe experiment with dithering? I’m just curious what that sort of effect will look like in motion.

Goals

It’s important to set goals now so that when I fail to meet them later we know which parts of the project I’m supposed to be ashamed of. Here’s what I’m shooting for:

Continue reading »


 
 
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Diecast #205: Kerbal Space Programming, Unity, C#

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

The title is not a typo. This is actually about programming for Kerbal Space Program. For those of you who’ve been missing out on the programming content around here: Your time has come. We talk about programming on the Diecast, and then tomorrow I have a new programming series starting.


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

Hosts: Paul, Shamus.

Episode edited by Issac.

Show notes:

01:20 KSP Modding

26:08 Unity game Engine

43:57 Programming in C# versus C++


 
 
Comments (41)



Me, Myself, and MeWe

By Shamus
on Sunday Apr 8, 2018
Filed under:
Personal

Have you heard about MeWe? It’s selling itself as the “next-gen” social media platform. More specifically, it’s trying to be the anti-Facebook by promising it won’t do data harvesting or sell your personal info. So I tried it. But before I talk about the Twilight Zone strangeness I encountered, please enjoy this barely-related rant on the current state of social media:

Destructive Curation

Facebook is so played out, even the jokes about how played out it is are played out.

Facebook is so played out, even the jokes about how played out it is are played out.

I realize that selling personal info is the most egregious sin that SM platforms perpetrate, but it’s not the one that annoys me the most. What really bugs me is the algorithm-driven “curation” of content. Both Twitter and Facebook became significantly less interesting to me when the platform began “helping” me by showcasing content it thought I wanted to see and burying content it assumed I didn’t care about. It’s true that I never left comments or pressed the like button on Aunt Edna’s cancer treatment updates. But I didn’t engage with that stuff because… well, you don’t always need to say something, you know? But those updates were still important to me. It’s also true that I’d sometimes hit the like button when cousin Jimmy posted something humorous, but that doesn’t mean I come to Facebook to find funny images.

But those are the assumptions that drive the Facebot, so that’s what I saw in my feed. Over time the important family updates vanished and were replaced with a really shitty version of Imgur. Yuck. I can still see updates from family, but I have to go to each and every family member’s page / feed and view it directly. That’s a lot of trouble and a lot of clicks to find out there aren’t any updates, which means I revert to the pre-SM behavior of “I’ll just assume someone will email me if anything really important happens.”

I have the same problem with Twitter. I’ve turned off every type of “help” I can find in the settings, but I can tell it’s still doing some level of curation. I’ll refresh the page two hours after my previous visit, and I’ll still see the same handful of mega-popular Tweets from major organizations / famous individuals featured at the top, and the dashed-off thoughts of my friends and colleagues (which is what I’m here for) will have vanished into the snowstorm and can’t be found anywhere in the timeline.

If my brother Tweets, “Shit. Just got a flat.” then I want to read that, even if he only has six followers and nobody in the world “likes” the message. I’m not here for your creepy-ass Orwellian algorithm-driven popularity contest / outrage generator. I just want to see what’s going on with my friends and family. Twitter is still useful to me as a way to broadcast updates to my audience, but as a source of information it’s completely useless.

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Wolfenstein II Part 10: Party Time

By Shamus
on Thursday Apr 5, 2018
Filed under:
Retrospectives

Note: This post is going to show both gore and nudity. Together. I’m going to share a particular screenshot from the game and I don’t want to undercut the point I’m making by censoring stuff out.

Just, you know, be aware of this if you happen to be reading at work.

Party!

Damnit, game. Do I REALLY need to know that there are 17 unread tutorials right now?

Damnit, game. Do I REALLY need to know that there are 17 unread tutorials right now?

Once BJ gets back from Venus, everyone throws a party. The team gets drunk and acts silly. It’s a fun scene and sort of hints at the stuff that goes on around the submarine while you’re off doing all the work.

Having said that, this is a really odd thing in terms of tone and story structure. This is like the rebels throwing a party just before assaulting the Death Star. This is the point where most stories bring our heroes low with self-doubt, personal loss, or internal conflict. Normally you’d expect the writer to remind us of the stakes, or even raise them. If the stakes have been large and abstract before now (the city is in danger) then this is where it would become personal (your partner / parents / dog is in danger) and vice versa. Maybe the writer would spend some time to drive home just how bad things have gotten. Show us how terrified the villagers are, or how much the hostages are hurting. Remind us of the personal drama that made our hero begin this journey in the first place.

This story hit the emotional low point at the two-thirds mark when BJ lost his head, and then we did the fetch quest to Venus. It’s fine to have an unconventional story structure if that’s what you need. Having a party at this point isn’t strictly wrong or anything. The rules of storytelling aren’t written in stone and having a party before a big battle is a real thing some people do to take their mind off the stress.

The problem is that we’re going into the last stage of the game and it doesn’t particularly feel like it. You can have an unconventional structure, but you still need to maintain the sense of tension that pulls an audience through a story.

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The Witcher 3: Dad Games

By Bob Case
on Wednesday Apr 4, 2018
Filed under:
Random, Video Games

Before we continue with the main quest, I’d like to take some steps to advance the game’s biggest and most elaborate side questI’ve decided to run this whole ‘Gwent is the main quest’ gag deep into the ground, and there’s nothing you can do to stop me.: the search for Geralt’s adoptive daughter Ciri.

I'm normally not a fan of Improbable Fantasy Eye Colors(TM), but I have to admit Ciri's eyes look pretty cool.

I'm normally not a fan of Improbable Fantasy Eye Colors(TM), but I have to admit Ciri's eyes look pretty cool.

Now for an aside that concerns games and their presumed audience.

Without going into exhaustive detail, at some point in the eighties the game industry collectively decided that they were going to consider young boys to be their core audience. I’m quite familiar with this, since I was on the receiving end of it, and am pretty close to the bulls-eye consumer for this model. I played Super Mario Bros. and Zelda when I was in elementary school, Wolfenstein and Doom when I was in middle school, and Final Fantasy when I was in high school. At some point I played Fallout, which detoured me slightly (though permanently) off the beaten path, but broadly speaking their whole “market to young boys” thing definitely worked in my case.

This strategy was the product of an industry trying to find its legs again after a painful crash. But what started as a temporary tactical move calcified into habit, and the (AAA at least) games industry has kept making and marketing games mostly towards me and people like me ever since. Of course, now my generation is well into its thirties, so I guess it shouldn’t come as a surprise that starting around five years ago a new kind-of-genre has emerged that I’ve come to call the “Dad Game.”

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This Dumb Industry: This is Why We Can’t Have Short Criticism

By Shamus
on Tuesday Apr 3, 2018
Filed under:
Column

This is a strange gig. I spend more time thinking about, writing about, and reading comments on videogames than I spend playing videogames. A lot of this job involves arguing. Not the nasty stressful kind of arguing. I mean just general disagreement and confusion. “Oh I can’t believe you like this / how can you not love this” kind of disagreement.

As you work to be understood, you’ll naturally be drawn towards writing longer and longer criticism. I think of it as the Joseph Anderson effect. You might only have 800 words of criticism on a subject, but if you’re trying to avoid arguments then it’ll take you another 12,000 words to support your thesis and harden it against predictable dismissals.

When you’re a new critic, it begins with a simple naive statement of opinion:

“I didn’t like Shoot Guy III.”

But that’s not very interesting. Your review is short and there’s very little for anyone to think about. The whole thing reads like a list of likes and dislikes: I like the shooting, I didn’t like the wacky fast-talking animal sidekick, I thought the zeppelin chase was cool, I thought the ending was dumb.

So then a reader will ask why you didn’t like those things. And yeah, that’s a fair question. So in the future when you write your reviews you spend a little more time describing where the game fell short.

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Spoiler Warning:
Deus Ex:Human Revolution

Is this a masterful improvement on modern shooters, or a dumbed-down bastardization of its predecessor? Can it be both?

 

Bowlercoaster

Two minutes of fun at the expense of a badly-run theme park.

 

Dead or Alive 5 Last Round

I'm not surprised a fighting game has an absurd story. I just can't figure out why they bothered with the story at all.

 

Hardware Review

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

 

Steam Summer Blues

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

 

If Star Wars Was Made in 2006?

Imagine if the original Star Wars hadn't appeared in the 1970's, but instead was pitched to studios in 2006. How would that turn out?

 

PC Gaming Golden Age

It's not a legend. It was real. There was a time before DLC. Before DRM. Before crappy ports. It was glorious.

 

Spoiler Warning:
KOTOR

Knights of the Old Republic. It's charming, odd, glitchy, and captures the feel of classic Star Wars better than 90% of the Star Wars games out there.

 

Crysis 2

Crysis 2 has basically the same plot as Half-Life 2. So why is one a classic and the other simply obnoxious and tiresome?

 

The Best of 2012

My picks for what was important, awesome, or worth talking about in 2012.

 

Batman v. Superman Wasn't All Bad

It's not a good movie, but it was made with good intentions and if you look closely you can find a few interesting ideas.

 

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.