28 March, 2011

System Shock Video Talkthrough Launches

written by Blain Newport on Monday, 28 March, 2011

YouTube play list for online viewing

MediaFire directory for downloading

That is all.

27 March, 2011

Assault Down Memory Lane

written by Blain Newport on Sunday, 27 March, 2011

Chris and I recently played DooM for the first time in half a decade or so. Even with some frame rate hitches and only playing two player on maps that are better with three or four, I had a great time.

I remember a psych teacher at Sierra College talking about a study where subjects who had experience with marijuana were given joints to smoke and asked to rate the experience. Subjects reported getting just as high with joints that had the THC removed as with normal ones, raising the question of how much of the experience is or can be learned behavior as opposed to chemical reaction.

There's definitely some learned behavior involved with my reaction to DooM. I enjoy being goofy. I enjoy blasting enemies. But DooM reverts me to a younger state of mind and kicks all of that stuff into a higher gear. I don't just enjoy pulling off that hard earned kill, I hunger for it.

At any rate, it was a special experience, so I decided to upload it.

Part 1 (download)

Part 2 (download)

Part 3 (download)

Part 4 (download)

16 March, 2011

System Shock Prep and Thoughts on Let's Plays

written by Blain Newport on Wednesday, 16 March, 2011

Hey hey, kids! Not too much has gone on in blog. It'll continue to be slow for a week or so. I'm spending a lot of time reading about System Shock. I would like my video talkthrough of the game to be better researched than previous ones.

If you don't care about the walkthroughs, or Let's Plays in general, stop reading now.

Boring History of My Research Process

For Heart of Evil, I think I read the text file that came with it and a little bit of the author's web site (which was taken down during the walkthrough).

For Blood, I don't remember doing any research at all.

For Republic Commando, I got lucky and caught an interview with the game's director and lead designer Tim Longo that came out around that time. I think I poked around on Wikipedia a bit, as well.

For Gunman Chronicles, I also don't remember doing any research.

I think I did some research for Shattered Steel, but a lot of that was finding technical articles on how to get it running. :P

For The Witcher, I watched all of the Making Of videos that came with the game. I didn't even take notes.

In one sense, that was good. I'd rather the game did most of the talking. But there's often still plenty of room for trivia or anecdotes later. Almost every game bogs down / tries to fill time at some point. This raises the issue of...

Entertainment vs Documentary
The goals of entertainment programs and documentaries aren't mutually exclusive. Documentaries need to give the audience a reason to care about the subject matter, and good storytelling is key to that. But there seems to have been sort of an arms race in the Let's Play community to add pizazz to the videos. Some people have fancy animated intros with pictures of themselves in them. Some tell lots of jokes and use their best radio voices. Some videos even have four people sitting around commentating on recorded gameplay to give a sort of live forum discussion on the game as it's being played.

None of these things are "bad". The nice thing about the internet is that it lets everyone make and consume the content they most want to make and consume. Even if you want to see a playthrough of a PC only game like The Witcher, you've probably got half a dozen choices.

For me personally, adding pizazz is what game shows and bad video game networks do. If a section of a game is dull, I want the viewer to experience the dull. If it's a recurring theme, I'll fast forward or edit out the future dull bits, but I want to make Let's Plays that are about the games, warts and all.

That said, I saw an X-Com LP on the forum where forum members volunteered to lend their names to the game's notoriously short lived characters. Then they waited nervously to hear what happened as their namesakes were sent out on night missions to investigate downed UFOs. Whoever thought of that had a good idea, and if I liked strategy games, I'd steal it. :)

10 March, 2011

Demo Impressions: Guns of Icarus

written by Blain Newport on Thursday, 10 March, 2011

Guns of Icarus is a 3D browser game about defending a zeppelin from air pirates.

You run around on a ship with plane engines on the back, held aloft by a zeppelin. Then planes attack and you have to run around to different gun emplacements to shoot them down while also repairing your airship's components. If you fail to keep your zeppelin or rigging intact, you die. If you fail to keep your engines intact, you stop moving, which means you can't escape your pirate attackers. If you fail to keep your cargo hold repaired, you won't be able to get upgrades for completing the segment.

The game looks nice. There aren't enough steampunk games, in my opinion, so I appreciate the setting. Even though there wasn't anyone using it for me to test, the game has a multiplayer mode, which I suspect would be chaotic fun.

There are definitely areas to improve upon, though. And as an exercise in game design I thought I'd list them along with proposed solutions. (If that doesn't interest you, just look at the pretty picture and move on.)

The preceding picture demonstrates a source of confusion for me, the gunnery feedback mechanism. I don't appear to be hitting the plane, but the little red X keeps popping up with every shot which makes me thing that maybe I am. But sometimes planes die very quickly, and sometimes they die very slowly, which leads me to believe the red X doesn't mean much.

Suggestions: If the red X means the attack caused damage, perhaps it could also indicate amount. I think the easiest way would be through transparency. If the X just barely shows on a weak hit, and only becomes fully opaque on a strong one, that would help. Also, an "out of range" icon when looking at distant targets with the Gatling gun would have helped me better understand its limitations.

Introducing Game Mechanics
The game introduces new mechanics as they happen. The first time you use a gun, the game pauses and you see its stats. When a component is damaged, you get information on what it does and why it's important to keep it in good repair. In a complicated game this is a great way of keeping players from being overwhelmed. They only get the information when they need it. But in Icarus it consistently felt like I got the information after I needed it.

Plus, it would often pop up while I was in the middle of a heated combat, so I'd often click through to get back to what I was doing, which meant I never learned the finer points of the game. Should I prioritize repairing the engines because I'll be attacked forever until I get to my destination, or is that the worst possible thing to do because new waves of enemies will be spawned by my forward progress? I HAVE NO IDEA, AND PLANES ARE ATTACKING ME, AND EVERYTHING IS ON FIRE!

Suggestions: I'd try introducing any new parts that can be damaged before play starts. That let's the player know to anticipate trouble with them, give due consideration to protecting them, and take a few seconds before the attackers appear to get an idea where they are. Otherwise they have to deal with being under attack, learning the function of a new component of the ship, being told that component is on fire, and having to go find that component all at the same time.

It would also be nice to be able to get information on upgrades from the upgrade screen. How do I know if I want a super Gatling, super cannon, or Tesla gun if I don't know what they do?

Other Feedback Mechanisms
First off, I very much liked that the HUD for the game features old fashioned analog displays. They definitely add character. But they weren't always easy to read.

Suggestions: The distance to destination display seemed like a thing I should be checking a lot, but it was always a blur when I glanced down at it.

I'm probably just old, but a large print version might be nice. They seemed pretty small at 1920x1080. Also, the first three digits are really the important ones, so if could you set them apart somehow, maybe by making them black on white, that could help a lot.

Again, I like the design of old fashioned indicators, but I got confused trying to remember which was which in the heat of battle (especially when repair icons were on top of them, like in the picture). Adding a small empty space on either side of the cargo bay gauge, so that the gauges were grouped by ship location, might be enough. It might also help to swap the zeppelin and rigging gauges with the engine gauges (at least for people who are used to reading left to right, top to bottom).

And finally, it could add a lot to the feel of the game if there were damage related sound cues. I remember listening to enemy shots hitting my airship and thinking it would be helpful if I knew which part they were hitting. I imagined little *pop whoosh*es when they hit the zeppelin, rope snapping sounds when they hit the rigging, metal pings for the engines and wooden *thuck thuck* sounds as the cargo bay takes hits. That might be too much effort, and it might be a confusing cacophony when under heavy attack, but it seemed like a good idea in my head.

07 March, 2011

Bye Bye Video

written by Blain Newport on Monday, 7 March, 2011

I posted my videos here in the blog because I was excited to be doing them and so you folks would know what I was up to, gaming-wise. For The Witcher, I put together over thirty two hours of decent quality video in eleven months using tools I hadn't even heard of. I'll always be proud of that. But the truth is it's not the content most of you come here for. So I'll leave a link to my YouTube channel in the sidebar and occasionally post keepalives here to let you know when I start a new one or when there's a story behind the story I feel like telling. I may still post a video once in a while. But for the most part, the blog will be about my thoughts on games.

Thumbs up? Thumbs down? Deafening indifference?