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In the Real World

I really need to stop promising that I’m going to post more often.

Third iteration is well under way, I should have it done before the end of this month is finished.  Major mechanic changes in it excite me.  The game feels like it slowly starting to actually take shape.  It’s interesting to see how fair it’s diverging from my initial prototype.  Already planning more earthshaking changes for the fourth iteration.

The third iteration would probably be out already if it wasn’t for the fact that I now am employed as a software engineer.  Which means I code all day and then come home and code some more.  Sometimes I get wild and do some sprite editing.  The roof is really on fire here.  I wish I felt worse about the fact that my social life is currently homeless in some dumpster.

More later at some point.


A Shepard of Black or White in a World of “Grey”

So I just finished Mass Effect 2.  The gripe train is ready to leave the station.  Today though, we’ll be talking about the Paragon\Renegade system.

(WARNING: This will contain spoilers)

The two meters of rage

So ever since Dragon Age, Bioware has been on this dark and edgy kick lately in trying to include morally ambiguous situations in their game.  Which is fine, doesn’t thrill me but as long as it’s executed well I don’t have any problems.  Except that the game punishes you for not going fully one way or the other.

Here’s what I mean.  You amass a large crew of varying alien races.  Tempers are going to flare as this diverse population butts heads and old grudges come to a boil.  Fine.  There are two of these situations where after completing two loyalty missions for the characters, they end up in a catfight that you need to mediate.  NPC conflict?  Sweet.  So far so good.

Except you can only resolve it in the best way possible if you have either a perfect paragon rating or a perfect renegade rating.  Which would have nutted me if I didn’t do some ahead of time research.  RAGE.

Some people have claimed that they have resolved these conflicts with less than a perfect rating.  AFAIK, this was not the case for me or for many other people.  In other words, if you already used up most of the content playing situations case by case instead of lock-stepping to a single tune, you are screwed and people are going to die in the final mission.  I actually replayed some missions 5-6 times over to keep checking if I needed anything less than perfect to resolve these conflicts.  For those players wondering, to stop Miranda and Jack from fighting, and to convince Zaeed to stay despite screwing over his revenge plans, I needed a perfect paragon score or so close to perfect that I could barely see the margin between my bar and completion.  I ended up having to scour the galaxy for every last bit of Paragon points, and even then I barely managed to top out my meter right before the final mission.

What bothers me also is that these character conflicts are literally thrown in the player’s face.  NPCs interact with each other so little outside of the scripted scenes that its hard to gauge how bad the animosity is before it’s too late.  Which strikes me as bad design.  Since the mechanic is never introduced to the player in a gentle manner, the player has no idea what to expect.  Bioware really should have done a better job at showing the build-up between NPCs and that only mediation from the PC is keeping things in check.

However, what makes this entire paragon/renegade system irritating is that the player is unable to play things case by case in a morally ambiguous world.  They *have* to play entirely in one shade or the other to achieve the best possible outcome.  This strikes me as cognitive dissonance.  It also strikes me as a veiled attempt to coerce the player into playing through the game 2-3 times to make up for the brevity of the main campaign.  It’s a cynical assumption.  But the inclusion of a new game+ feature not included in past Bioware games, as well as achievements for  completing this game twice, makes me suspicious.

Really Bioware, why bother with the entire “work with the morally ambiguous to do good” story if you aren’t even going to allow the player to explore that nebulous region?


Second Iteration Complete!

Wow, huge milestone done.  I still have a hard time believing I just sent out versions of this to be tested.  Feels surreal.

Some things I’ve learned from this experience:

– Perfectionism is a goddamn monkey on my back and I need to find it some bananas to keep it occupied until the polish stage.

– Everything must be tested is a mantra I need to chant to myself on a daily basis.

– Don’t make any assumptions about how things work.  Lift the hood and start poking around.

– Collision Detection makes me asplode.

– I have an issue with deadlines slipping.  I need to plan and execute faster.

– I love doing this sort of thing. =D

More later.


looks like we’ll know if androids dream of electric sheep

Seriously, this creeps me out:

But there’s no getting around the awkward facts of the former Bell Labs Artificial Intelligence researcher’s creations: Roxxxy and Rocky are a couple of talking, touch-sensitive, anatomically-correct sex robots. The thing that separates them from their inflated and silicon brethren are their personalities, Hines says.

“What we’re trying to do here is replicate many emotional states,” Hines tells me. “Not just erotic, but also laughing, sleeping, you know, tired, all of those. You cannot create the intonations in a computer generated program to make it sound like somebody is tired, so we had to build a library of voice files that provide what is required to create the level of realism we are looking for.”

There’s something I find inherently distasteful about simulations and other pieces of technology that attempt to recreate life in a digital setting.  I think it has to do with the fact that I like to believe that I am not the just the sum of all the arcane laws of science.  That I am not something that can be deterministically reproduced once we fully know the workings of our bodies, minds, and environment.


I don’t play enough games

During one of my meandering sojourns though the net, I came across this article:  The 26 Major Advantages to Reading More Books and Why 3 in 4 People Are Being Shut Out of Success.  Immediately, I found myself struck by the following point:

10. Improves creativity – by reading more books and exposing yourself to new and more complete information, you will also be able to come up with more creative ideas. As a personal example, I read many, many books on IT Networking. So often, when IT Admins are stumped with a problem, I can come up with a creative (smack your head simple) solution that isn’t written anywhere. But the reason I can do that is because I have read so many books on the subject, I can combine lessons from all of them into new solutions.

The connection with games is that playing games is cheap, uncontrollable design iteration.  By playing games, I can explore the ideas of other people without having to think of them myself.  Also, I don’t have enough conceit to believe that I’ve thought of every good design idea.  So I’ve decided to play more games, more often, and see what people in the world are doing.

I also plan on writing more.  To do this, I’ve decided to start updating this blog on a more consistent basis.  Frankly, I haven’t done much writing since I became a CS double major and its been showing.


Another milestone coming up

Man, it’s been months.

I’m happy to say though that I have begun actually building the levels for my second iteration of the prototype.  I almost want to call it an alpha build as I have added so many changes that it barely resembles the first iteration.  I’ve lost count of how many man hours I’ve spent on this project so far and in some respects, I’m somewhat surprised that I’ve toughed it out this long so far.

Anyways, time to keep my head down and keep plugging away.


“Ball in a Cup” Technology

(click on image for article)

“Mind Flex” is a new toy being hawked by Mattel that allows you to control the pictured ball with the power of your mind.  Essentially, you place the headset over your cranium and then using the sheer force of your massive brain, you direct the ball through various obstacles.  Check out the article for a demonstration video.

I thought two things immediately when I saw this:

1) The future is here.  Okay, baby step to the future, but still pretty neat-o.

2) This is the most pointless thing I have ever seen.

As far as design principles go, this ranks right up with catching a ball in a cup and bouncing a ball off a paddle.  Granted, this is a toy probably meant to be sold to the screaming 8-year old masses, and thus probably wasn’t designed to be all that  deep.  But that doesn’t change the fact that in the end it doesn’t mean anything.  It’s a reminder that technology without proper design is a glittering lure.  Design gives technology a purpose.

Then I thought, “this device reminds me so much of how I feel when I play games these days: hollow”.  When will we no longer be content with jumping through digital hoops?


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July 2018
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