Saturday, January 20, 2007

A Gamer's Return

During my time in Phoenix I have started playing video games somewhat regularly, which is something that I haven't done in about 4 years (because I didn't have time to). My brother has Windows XP on his computer, so I occasionally borrow it for a bit to play some of the games he has installed on his computer. I also brought my Playstation 2 along with a stack of 4-5 unfinished RPG games I have bought, but I haven't been playing them too much. Anyway, here are my thoughts on the games that I have played over my break.

Half-Life 2
This is a truly amazing games in all aspects. Graphics, physics (which are amazing to me), gameplay, and even (thank god!) the story were superb. It is so much fun to play, but a little disappointing that there is not a multiplayer online mode like there was in the original Half-Life (yes, I know there's Counter-Strike: Source but I'll get to that). The only other irritation is the hellacious long load times between levels. I could go to the kitchen, grab myself a snack, and come back to the computer and it would *still* not be ready. My brother has pretty decent hardware on his machine too, so I'm a little shocked at how long the loading time of these games have become. They are long enough that they can really disrupt the atmosphere of the game, which is very unfortunate in my opinion.

I actually played this game last year too, but near the end of the game I came upon a part of it that I could not pass. No, I mean I literally could not pass it; There was a bug in the game that caused it to freeze up and crash whenever I got to that point. It seems that Valve has fixed the bug in a patch, because I was able to successfully get past that point and complete the game without any problems this time. I was a little disappointed with the ending to the game though.

Counter-Strike: Source
I played the original Counter-Strike quite a lot during my first three years as an undergraduate. This version seems to play very similar to the original (for better or worse), with the addition of highly upgraded graphics and physics, two new guns, some changes to the buy system, and...not much else. Its still a great game like the original, it was just a bit surprising to me that it is just an upgrade over the original rather than a new game. Also, it took me some time to get to the point where I didn't suck. :) (I used to be quite good at the original CS).

One thing that bothered me very much with the game was the people I played with. Many of them were immature idiots. Some of them were in their early teens, which made me feel a bit awkward being 10+ years older than them. Some of them had very offensive images in their "spray-paints", mostly of pornographic nature. If conservative parents thought the "hot coffee" secret in Grand Theft Auto was bad, I can't imagine how berserk they'd be if they caught what was happening in CS games. There's voice-chat in the game of course, and in one game a person on my team would continually play a very loud, annoying tone which was broadcast to the rest of us and pissed the entire team off. We couldn't kick or ban the guy, nor could we kill him. Anyway, the point is: it sucks playing with assholes.

Battlefield 2042
I only played this game very briefly, but for the most part was not too impressed. There were tons, and I mean *tons* of bugs with this game. Enough that for certain patches, my brother said that the game was virtually unplayable for him. I didn't have very much time to understand the game, but I found the game hard to pick up (and I've played many FPS games before).

Star Craft
What, Star Craft? Didn't that game come out in 1998 or something? You're damn right it did, and its still an awesome game. I played many online SC games on (which I haven't done since 2000 I think) and it was a lot of fun, even though I got my ass stomped a lot. Once I started getting semi-decent though, it almost became addicting. I played 10 hours straight the other night and I had a blast doing it. There are some annoyances with playing online though. The servers are mass populated with Koreans, which aren't the most fluent English speakers in the world. It makes it rather difficult when you're partnered with a Korean or two since you have virtually no way of communicating with each other. There were a lot of idiot jerks playing this game as well. Sometimes they would incessantly make immature sexual comments, racist comments, berate homosexuals, etc. When it got very bad, I would politely ask that they cease insulting whatever demographic they were, telling them that I did not care to hear those types of things and that we should just play the game. Luckly, that usually seemed to shut them up.

One thing that I didn't like then and still don't like now about SC online is that just about everyone plays only one of two maps: "Big Game Hunters" or "Fastest Map Possible", which are resource intensive maps. I wish that people would embrace playing more of the official game maps as those, IMO, are much more fun since there's more strategy required.

Final Fantasy XII
I bought this game shortly before I left Austin. There are some very good things about it, and also some very bad things. What I found most disappointing of all, and what is preventing me from feeling any desire to play this game, is that the story is a piece of shit. Not the story itself really, but the manner in which it is told. Dialogue scenes between characters are completely disjointed. There is virtually no character development and I don't even understand why 4 out of 6 of the main characters are even there. The only two characters that have motivation to take this quest are Ashe (princess who wants to restore her fallen kingdom to glory) and Basch (sworn knight who wishes to fight to get his kingdom back). The other four characters seem to be doing nothing more than "tagging along for the ride", and I hate that. This game has helped me to understand that the real reason I enjoy role-playing games, the real reward that I seek in them, is the telling of the story. I play the game to find out what happens next, but in FFXII I don't care what happens next because it either makes no sense, or its just completely random "oh, we need to go to the Feywood now".

I've put in about 50 hours into this game and I just continually feel no enjoyment out of playing it. I also feel that the game is much too complicated for its own good, which has made me realize another important fact about game design: "simple is good". I've taken this lesson to heart with some of the features I've proposed putting into Allacrost lately.


I fly back to Austin in just four more days. Its hard to believe I've been here a month: I still don't "feel the correct passage of time". Its hard to explain what I mean, but essentially I don't feel time moving forward, and I don't feel days passing (it has been this way for me even before I graduated in December). But when I get back, I think I'm going to install Windows XP on a backup hard drive that I have laying around unused so I can play games again. I just don't want to deal with the headaches associated with playing games on Linux through wine or cedega or whatever, especially when I'm sure I have one or two Windows CDs laying around somewhere. I'm also making fantastic progress on Allacrost lately, but I'll save that for another post since this one is already quite verbose (hah, that rhymed).

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Wednesday, January 03, 2007

New Year

I had a concurrent nightmare about grad school my first two nights of the new year. In this dream, I suddenly discovered that I didn't meet the course requirements to graduate just yet, so I had to take 3 more classes, which I was pretty depressed about in the dream. One class was some crazy mathematics class on differential vector calculus or some esoteric topic like that, another was digital signal processing, and the last was some neuroscience class. Why these specific courses were required by my degree, I have no idea. When I woke up both mornings it took me well over 10 minutes to realize what I had just experienced was a dream, and that I am truly and absolutely finished with grad school. But you know what? I still don't feel like I'm 100% done, because I have no document or status that says "yes, you graduated". They don't mail degrees out for another week or two! Seriously, what school can you graduate from but still not know for weeks after if you really graduated or not?

Luckily I didn't have that nightmare three nights in a row. Last night I had a series of some very strange and very interesting dreams. I don't recall them very well, but in one of them I was at some track and three girls came up and started singing to me in unison while holding giant beer mugs in each hand. The song they sang told me that they wanted me to go to Louisiana with them so that they could take a picture of me and strawberry lemonade (why we had to go to Louisiana to do this, I had no idea). Then after they finished their song, they pored the contents of their mugs on my bare feet, which became covered in red, yellow, and purple yogurt. Yes, that's right. I have dreams about girls singing to me about strawberry lemonade while poring yogurt on my feet. No, its not some sick fetish that I've been hiding.

I've started working on Allacrost hard-core again, which feels really good. I did some work cleaning up the scripting engine, then I started working on the new map mode design, I've been mopping up the sloppy mess that we call our video engine, and I've been writing more of the story as well. I'm well enough now that I can do a decent job with these things, but my mind still is foggy so its more difficult for me than it should be. The map code I'm exciting to do a complete re-design of, because the old code was getting awfully messy. The biggest changes I'm doing to it right now are adding in support for free-range movement to replace our old tile-movement. Basically what this means is: you can walk more freely rather than being forced to walk only from tile to tile. It's a little tougher to code than tile-based movement, but it will be worth it. The video engine is pissing me off though. The code in there is just so messy and it doesn't follow the code standard very well at all. The data types used don't make sense half the time (using floats to represent the number of pixels, for instance) and its just generally frustrating. The video engine works and works well, to be sure, but when it comes time to modify it or add new features, it can be a nightmare.

Well one of my resolution's for the new year is to stop using my blog as an ad-hoc "emo Tyler diary", so I'll just say that I'm feeling much better after two weeks at home, but still have a ways to go. :)

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