Monthly Archives: May 2012

Borrowin’ Morrowind

So I’m a filthy stinking thief. Well, maybe. It’s complicated.

See, as you know, I’ve been playing through the entire Elder Scrolls series. Started with Arena, then moved on to good old Daggerfall. Both weren’t really an issue, since both were released as free downloads by Bethesda. There are some issues with arena, since someone out together a version of arena that worms Ike a charm and is utterly superior to tie official download from Bethesda that uses the CD version of the game that isn’t technically legal. But, honestly, its not like Bethesda is going to lose any revenue from that.

The next game in the series is the third main-series game, the widely-beloved Morrowind. It’s a bit different. It’s not being released for free. It’s still on sale right now. You can buy it on Steam if you like. But I didn’t! Nope, I did something so terrible, so evil, so reprehensible that one must shudder at the thought…

I borrowed it.

That’s right. I borrowed Morrowind. I have a friend of mine here in Toronto who is a big ol’ Elder Scrolls fan, and she already has both the regular and Game Of The Year version of the game, with all the extras. It even has the “creation kit”, which the Steam version very much does NOT have. I asked her about it, and she was happy to lend it to me.

So here I am. Playing a version of the game that I didn’t pay for. What perfidy! What horror! O, the despicable SHAME of it! I am clearly a wretched soul, thieving rightful sales revenue from the poor downtrodden Zenimax corporation!

Well, no. Obviously not. Borrowing a game is no more shameful than borrowing a DVD or a CD or a book. It’s also no more or less shameful than, say, renting the thing or buying it used. But that’s exactly the sort of thing that is being decried by so many developers and publishers and even media figures for some reason. The simple act of friendship that I benefited from is now so loathsome that entire digital rights management systems are being designed, implemented and enforced to prevent it from happening.

Certainly it’s the case with Elder Scrolls. I can’t do someone the same favor with, say, Skyrim, that my friend did for me. Even if I wanted to pass it along, and wasn’t going to be playing it myself, it’s linked to my Steam account. You aren’t technically supposed to be sharing or giving those to people. It’s against the EULA and TOS and whateverthehell other incomprehensible documents that lawyers serve up for people to scroll down through in sheer bafflement.

(People do share online accounts, naturally. But you aren’t supposed to.)

So I have to thank my friend—her name is Karen, by the by—for making this possible, and I really do regret that it’s so difficult to do the same favour for people. I’d love to lend Skyrim to a friend for a week or so to let them give it a try, the way that I used to lend people PC games and can still lend them console games, and books, and DVDs, and everything else. But I can’t. Kindness is the province of desperadoes. MORAL people tell their friends to buy their own.

Anyway, I’ve played through the first bit of Morrowind. It’s good. Really good. The graphics were great for the time, and are even surprisingly good now with a little work. But I’ll get to that next time, when I talk about Morrowind and modding. It’s kind of a crazy story, but it shows why open platforms matter so much.

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Kind of a test of WP reblogging here…but I also thought this was ultra-handy.

I'm Not Doctor Who

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This post is aimed at anyone who doesn’t know what all that crazy terminology we game geeks fling about actually means. Like any hobby, there’s a ton of specialist words, abbreviations and acronyms in there, and some are a little ambiguous, just to confuse matters.

So, then, here are some definitions, some of which you may know, some of which you may not.

2D — Usually used to refer to games in which the screen has no “depth”. Players can move up, down, left and right on screen, but not “in” and “out”. Also used to refer to visuals that are constructed using pixels (q.v.) rather than polygons (q.v.)

3D — Usually used to refer to games in which the player may move in a full three dimensions — up, down, left, right, in and out. Typically used to refer to games whose visuals are constructed using polygons. Nowadays also…

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Diablo 3 (Very) Quick Impressions

Clickclickclickclickclickclickclickclickclickclickclickclickclick….

…”goddammit I’m still not in!”

More clickclickclickclickclickclickclickclickclick…

…”goddammit, now it’s not letting me make a character!”

Even more clickclickclickclickclickclickclickclick…

…”and now it’s not letting me log in…oh, wait, nevermind, there it goes”.

A TORRENT of clickclickclickclickclickclickclickclickclickclick…

…”wait, WHAT time is it? GAD!”

Diablo 3 is, from what I can see, a gameplay experience that’s polished to a fine sheen. I’m not sure yet if I like it more than I do Torchlight, since Torchlight has a sort of earnest eagerness to please and indie charm that you just aren’t going to get from the Blizzard monolith. I do like it, though. Diablo’s just as compelling as it ever was. Getting rid of the skill trees was a stroke of brilliance, too, that takes away the stress of worrying about your “build” and lets you get to the part you actually want to play.

That said, there’s one bit that ISN’T polished, and it’s the servers. Folks, having to log into a single-player game is bad enough. Having said single-player game not let you log in because the servers are too busy is just downright perverse. I think I saw the entire Internet start screaming “YOU GOTTA BE KIDDING ME” in unison a few hours ago, and they had every right.

Sure, rocky launches for online-only games are normal enough, but this never needed to be an online-only game. The only reason it is is due to Blizzard’s terror at the idea that the game would be reverse-engineered by people looking to game their real-money auction house. It will be reverse-engineered anyway, of course; but in the meantime, you’ve got people who own a single-player game that they can’t play because the servers are overloaded.

The worst part is that tomorrow’s going to be worse. This was just the die-hards who were willing to stay up all night. In about 14 hours or so, those servers are going to get hammered like a fratboy on St. Patrick’s Day. Unless they take action soon, it’ll be a debacle, and the stench of it will hang over the entire game for a good long time.

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Zynga’s Monkey is TERRIFYING

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No, Zynga. No, I don’t think we will. We’ll be too busy hiding behind the sofa, thanks.

(Taken from VentureBeat.)

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Humber Indie Bundle!

Well, with a name like that, how could I not go?

Yes, I saw a mention by Toronto’s illustrious Hand-Eye Society that the students from the Game Programming class at Humber College in Toronto were doing an open presentation of their final “capstone” projects. They’d already presented their works-in-progress at the Society’s “level up” event, which I’d missed, and I was really interested in seeing what new  developers were interested in and focused on. Since this is becoming a BIG game-creation town, there’s fairly good odds that these guys could end up being developers on big titles pretty soon.

‘Twas a good time. Granted, a lot of them seemed a bit confused as to why this “outsider” was there playing their games and peppering them with questions as to their design choices, but they all seemed to be really interested in showing off what they’d made. The general presentations on their choices and challenges were often as interesting as the games themselves; it’s always neat to see an unvarnished look at the nuts and bolts of developing games from people who aren’t being put through a PR filter, and who are still learning about and surmounting challenges.

The thing that really jumped out at me? “Unreal and Unity are a really big deal”. Sure, there were some people who developed their own engine. Game after game after game, though, were made using these middleware creators’ tools. I know that they knew how to make an engine; I checked Humber’s curriculum, and it’s on there. I doubt they’d shie away from it, either; these aren’t designers, they’re developers, so they aren’t going to run away from a bit of programming work.  It felt like they were simply picking the best tool for the job, and leveraging the work that’s gone on before. I really, really liked that.

I feel like one of the reasons game design still comes across as an adolescent expressive form, instead of a mature one, is the fact that we’re still having to invent and re-invent the tools necessary to make them. Creating games is always going to involve some kind of scripting and coding, of course, but the way things are right now is roughly akin to a filmmaker having to build cameras, lights, and everything else from scratch every time she decides she wants to make a documentary.

That’s why I welcome this development so much. It just makes more sense for gaming to have its equivalent of an off-the-shelf camera. Unity, Unreal, and higher-level tools like RPG Maker and Adventure Game Studio are filling in that gap. In the long run, creators will be able to focus on being creators.

Anyway, here some of are the games I saw:

Quarantine TO: I gravitated towards this one because, hey, home town. What I saw was an interesting early take on zombie games: switching them from the normal first-person or over-the-shoulder view to a dynamically top-down view that was really (and intentionally) reminiscent of Grand Theft Auto. It was really simple, like most of the games there, and didn’t even have attack animations…but I ended up playing it for a fair while nonetheless.

The fact that it had full music and voice acting(!) helped. most of the games there were either silent or aurally simple.  The presentation of the game was engaging, too, as creator John Ziolkowsky eschewed the tired Powerpoint slides for a rousing and entertaining Q&A.

Block Academy: This isn’t one that I got to play. Pity. I was REALLY interested in it. It’s an iOS “augmented reality” game that uses a small card to superimpose a 3D puzzle game over whatever surface the camera’s pointed at, with the movements controlled by moving the camera itself.

The rules seemed a bit esoteric, but the presentation was riveting. It showed me—and the rest of the audience—the promise of augmented reality gaming. That’s the big story tied into the whole Google Glasses thing that’s going untold; the social networking applications of augmented reality aren’t half as interesting as the gaming ones. Developer Kyle Halliday made something really cool here, and I hope I get the chance to try it out someday soon.

Planet Towor: This is one of the ones that made me really conscious of the engine transition I’d mentioned earlier, as it’s a Tower Defence game made in the Unreal Engine (of all things). Developer Devon Harpley said in his (interesting) presentation that he was encouraged not to do up his own engine for this, and it turned out that he didn’t need to. Using Unreal for something like this is a bit odd, and presented some challenges, but it came out looking pretty solid for a student game.

Gameplay was solid, too. Devon deliberately chose to avoid the standard “waves” of normal tower defence games for a semi-continuous flow of baddies along the path, which added a fluid and frantic feel to the game that I often don’t get from tower defence games.

Capstone Temple: Definitely the best-looking game of the lot. In a show where a lot of the games featured very primitive shape-based graphics—which makes sense, since these guys are developers, not artists—creator Jaleel McDowell employed a friend’s artistic skill and his own modelling acumen to build something that looked like a solid indie title, at the very least.

He also put together  a REALLY impressive trailer for the thing: cheesy and over-the-top in the vein of the best RPG trailers, it really stood out among the more basic gameplay footage reels. I actually had to duck out of a conversation with Jaleel because he was about to be pounced on by obvious industry recruiters. THAT’S how impressive it was. The action-rpg gameplay held up, too: it was a bit loose, but still engaging.

Finally, Paper Wings. Developer Kanghee Lee used Unity to put together a really fun little mobile game. It was a simple race between two paper planes to pass through rings in an egyptian-themed environment. The simplicity made for easily grasped mechanics, though.

The gameplay was fun enough, though I’m still not sold on mobile gaming that requires you to move the screen you’re using, but what really worked was the local mobile-to-mobile gameplay in Paper Wings. In an age where all multiplayer seems to be internet-based, it’s a pleasure to play a game that uses local networking to create local multiplayer. Really, really want to see more of that. (Maybe when iOS incorporates NFC?)

There were many more; some (but not all) of the interesting ones that I also didn’t get to try were were built-from-the-ground up wargame called Tank Commander, a Portal recreation called Teleportals, and an interesting ARPG called Legend of the Elements.  I hope to give more a shot soon, if they’re shared online, or maybe at future Hand-Eye events. Meantime, though, I’ll just say that it was a fun event, I was glad to be there, and look forward to the next one.

(By the by, if any of the Humber capstone students read this and have playable versions of their games online, by all means let me know and I’ll give it a shot.)

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