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The Witcher 3: Novigrad, Part One

By Bob Case
on Thursday Apr 26, 2018
Filed under:
Video Games

Of the game’s three main questlines (Velen, Novigrad, and Skellige), I personally consider Novigrad to be the weakest.

This isn’t because of Novigrad itself, which as I’ve said is one of my favorite cities in all of gaming. Rather, it’s because the quests, which invovle finding Dandelion, unraveling a heist, navigating the city’s underworld, and finally taking on the Church of the Eternal Fire, are frequently disjointed and full of stray threads. During my first playthrough, I remember often losing track of exactly what I was doing and why.

I personally suspect that the entire area was the subject of significant last-minute cuts which required a rapid reshuffling the story. I say I “suspect” this because I don’t claim to have any inside knowledge of the development process – however, the suspicion is a strong one. There were many things here that made my “last minute scramble in development” spider senses go off: how the various figures of Novigrad’s underworld were introduced in more detail than their significance in the story seemed to merit, the detail invested in the buildings of Temple Isle (the Church’s home base), most of which were only seen in one cutscene, the rather wet-fart resolution of the whole “find Dijkstra’s treasure” quest (we just never find it, and we knew it was Dandelion all along anyway), and numerous smaller rough edges, some of which I’ll mention as we go on.

Temple Isle. You'd think that big tower in the middle, with all the flames would be important, right? But we never go there.

Temple Isle. You'd think that big tower in the middle, with all the flames would be important, right? But we never go there.

I’m not trying to dump on the developers here. The Witcher 3 was a massive game with massive ambitions, and given all that it’s a miracle it came out as polished as it did. What’s more, as I’ve heard more stories about the development of this game or that game, I’ve come to believe that one of the most important skills a game developer can have – and especially if you’re in a management position – is improvisation.

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Black Desert Online #2: The Honeymoon is Over

By Shamus
on Thursday Apr 26, 2018
Filed under:
Retrospectives

I loved this game. Then I was annoyed by it. Then I was offended by it. Finally I was appalled at it. Then I quit and wrote this series.

Let’s start with the small problems…

Voice Acting

What? Whatever. Just give me the quest and stop wasting my time.

What? Whatever. Just give me the quest and stop wasting my time.

The English translation of this game is atrocious. This means the English voiced dialog is atrocious. Typical forum-goers often accuse the developer of just using random people off the street to voice these characters, but I recognize some of these voice performers from anime and other videogames and they’re clearly talented professionals. This is one of those unfortunate situations where the actor takes the blame for the failings of the director or the writer. It’s pretty hard for a performer to make a line sound good when the phrasing is stilted and overly verbose.

Even the best actor in the world can’t do their job if the dialog isn’t clear about what their character is like, what the context of the scene is, and how the lines are intended to be read. This is the sort of mess you get when the actor is just handed lines to read and shoved in the direction of the microphone. Undoubtedly these people all had to perform in isolation without hearing the other characters in the scene, so it’s not surprising that everyone feels like they’re part of a different game.

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Pixel City Redux #3: Shader Rant

By Shamus
on Tuesday Apr 24, 2018
Filed under:
Programming

Last time I talked about making a special shader in Unity. It turns out that writing Unity shaders is a mixture of awesome and awful. But before we can get into that, we need to fix these buildings:

Bah. Close enough. Ship it.

Bah. Close enough. Ship it.

See, I’m going to be writing the lighting shader. My hope is that I’ll be able to use Unity to save me from the arduous task of writing my own shadowing system. I want buildings to be able to cast shadows on each other, the ground, and even themselves. But a cube doesn’t have any overhanging bits that might cast shadows on itself. So before I go messing around with shaders, let’s make some more complex buildings.

I don’t need to make the full building generator just yet. All I need is something complex enough to self-shadow.

Kind of amazing what a huge improvement it is to just add ledges.

Kind of amazing what a huge improvement it is to just add ledges.

I’ll probably throw most of this code away later. These buildings are stupidly primitive. There’s a triangle pair for every single window, there aren’t any “gaps” with no windows, the ledges all look the same, there’s no street detail, and there isn’t any clutter on the roof. But these buildings can self-shadow, which is what counts.

So let’s work on that shader…

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Diecast #207: Minecraft Scripting, Aer, Business Rant

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


Direct download (MP3)
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Hosts: Paul, Shamus. Episode edited by Issac.

Show notes: Continue reading »


 
 
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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?

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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.

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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)
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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:

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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++


 
 
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