Sunday, January 29, 2012

Hermits of Gaming

There's a lot of interesting statistics floating around about how much of various games people complete on average. Generally these statistics indicate that some infinitesimally small amount of gamers actually get anywhere near the end of games they play. Ergo, developers should make shorter multiplayer focused titles. I'm here to say that whoever is taking this data at face value isn't seeing the big picture.

To start with let me say three words - rental, return, reuse. Gamers don't finish games if they don't have the time. Next hot title coming out soon? If they don't finish by their self-set deadline then that's that, back to GameFly, Gamespot or the game shelf. Chances of them digging that game out again later are also slim since they want to play the latest thing so they don't feel left out of the social scene. Well...that's all fine and dandy but don't forget that this group of gamers and the types of gamers that participate in online surveys, hang out on message boards, and generally  are very highly visible don't represent all gamers.

I'm not going split hairs and say what a casual gamer or hardcore gamer is because such labels aren't terribly useful. Instead let me put it this way; there are a lot of gamers who don't actively participate on gaming websites or give out personal data with regards to their gaming habits. Lets call them hermits. Now the point I really want to make here is that gamers in it for the social experience tend to get the limelight while hermits (people who view gaming as a solo experience) tend to have a much lower degree of representation. So, the methodology of lots of these gaming statistics is seriously flawed because the data gathering methods aren't properly taking into account the psychology of a lot of people who play video games.

How much does this alter the statistical charts? I don't know, but I'm certain that whatever percentage that you read or hear is wrong. Which is a bummer since a lot of people seem to accept them as fact.

Sunday, January 22, 2012


With the debut of the next installment of in the Resident Evil series (a.k.a. Biohazard 6) a lot of speculation has been going around as to what characters will appear in the game. Some of the cast are easy to spot (Leon Kennedy and Chris Redfield), some less so (Ingrid Hunnigan), and then there are a few new faces in the trailer as well as some unknowns. There's some speculation that the guy with virus immunity is Alex - the brother of Albert Wesker. It's been suggested that his female companion is Ashley Gram or possibly Rebecca Chambers. I've even heard someone speculate that she's a grown up version of Sherry Birkin. Ada Wong has also been confirmed to be in the game by Capcom.

New and old faces aside I have high hopes that my all time favorite Resident Evil character will show up in some capacity though. In case you don't know who I'm talking about he plays a very minor role in the series. Yup, you guessed it - The Merchant! "What'cha selling? What'dya buying?" It's great! I love'm just pulling your leg. Hunk is my favorite character in a very Star Wars...Boba kind of way. Even if he only appears in some kind of mercenaries mode I will be satisfied, but should he appear in the story line itself then I will be ecstatic. Considering the viral marketing slogan "No Hope Left" I think it wouldn't be hard to squeeze him in since his Biohazard nickname, Shinu-gami, usually translates to "Mr. Death", "God of Death" or even "The Grim Reaper" in English.

Thursday, January 12, 2012

If Dark Souls Had Mods...

It seems a lot of people out there really want a PC port of Dark Souls. The idea has merit, particularly with regards to potentially improving frame rate issues in places. Talk about possibly doing Skyrim style modding has me less excited though. Don't get me wrong Skyrim has some great mods it's just that the most banal stuff tends to be the most popular. So, for kicks I decided to make a hypothetical list of the most popular mods for a PC version of Dark Souls:

  • "Perky Nipples" mod for Quelaag and her sister.
  • "No Helmets" mod for Siegmeyer, Seiglinde, Ingward, Shiva of the East, and Maneater Mildred.
  • An obligatory "Lightsaber and Giant Purple Dildo Weapon" mod.
  • An "Anime and J-Pop Hair Set" mod for character creation.
  • A "Bust Size Slider" mod for Gwynevere. Note that the smallest setting is original size.
  • ...and of course the number one most popular mod would be an online hack that griefers use to invade you even when your in hollow form. Let's call it the "Middle Digit Red Orb."

Tuesday, January 10, 2012

Deceptively Complex

When it comes to video game graphics often times the most common things we encounter in reality are some of the hardest to create in-game. So much so that even now with three decades of entertainment software development experience much of what should be taken for granted still stumps the greatest minds of the video game industry.

Take wind for example. Aside from a lot of smoke and mirror tricks the only game series I've played that really took this weather phenomenon into account was Zelda. Kind of strange when you consider that the cartoon visual ascetic of Wind Waker doesn't exactly demand a realistic depiction of air currents. Then again the fact that Nintendo designers tried to tackle the ethereal problem of wind in video games might be why Zelda: Wind Waker is one of the best received games of the series since its 16-bit days.

Water and fluid dynamics are another aspect of games that has never really been depicted in a believe manner. From Dust managed to depict water on a grand scale thanks to recent improvements in CPU processing power, but when it comes to an on screen individual interacting with liquid H2O the DLG Hydrophobia is the only one that comes close. Sadly, water is pretty much the only thing good about this game. Maybe the developers suffered from tunnel vision? And as a follow up question why isn't there a single game studio that understands crushing darkness and cold increases with underwater depth?

Improvements in lighting and particle physics have helped fire enhance its look in the world of video games, particularly in titles like Far Cry 2. Unfortunately a major byproduct, smoke, is still lacking. Sad really...smoke has played an important role in the history of war and is even mentioned prominently in Sun Tzu's 2200 year old book The Art of War yet all these war-themed video games drop the ball with regards to this aspect of man's first great weapon.

Four-Legged creatures are fairly difficult to animate. Just ask the developers of Red Dead Redemption. Horses don't move the same as dogs which in turn don't move the same as bears. Ever wonder why there aren't many games that feature elephants, large birds, or certain types of insects? It's because humanoid creatures are much less likely to get hung up on world geometry since they are more vertically oriented.

Foliage or more specifically leaves and grass tend to be very resource intensive to render onscreen. Because of this a lot of designers resort to using deceptively simple textures which seem okay in the distance, but under close inspection look extremely fake. Crytek made it their mission for a while to crack this nut and to some degree they were successful. Since then other companies such as Naughty Dog have followed suit, but sadly I still see a lot of trees in games that look like they were made by Lego.

Video game characters must really burn through the hair spray because if I got a dime every time I saw a character with gravity defying helmet hair I would be a rich man. Even depictions of long hair tend to come off as several textures chained together or worse yet clip like crazy through the characters clothes or shoulders. It's sad really...I can think of a few characters like Geralt from the Witcher 2 which have well-rendered hair, but other characters he interacts with end up with hoods, hats and stubble instead. So, consider this final entry the next big hurtle in gaming - realistic hair! Chances are the first game to really pull it off probably won't even get much recognition for it.

There you have it - wind, water, fire, four-legs, foliage and hair. They may be common enough in our daily lives, but in the digital world they're illusions within illusions and tricks within tricks designed to fool the eyes even more so than the rest. I'm not much into Zen Buddhism, but I can see why its devout followers have such an appreciation of the natural world. So much of what we see in gardens and parks is far more complex than most people give it credit for. Unless of course your a game which case mother nature has probably given you a few harsh lessons in humility.

Tuesday, January 3, 2012

Full Circle

I'm going to start off by saying that despite the title this blog post has nothing to do with the Xbox360. If your wondering what "Full Circle" is referencing I promise you'll understand by the end. So, what am I getting on about? In a word - Podcasting. It's a new year and I thought I'd begin it with a bit of sharing with regards to five websites that present news on the game industry in a manner that doesn't bore you to tears:

Epic Battle Cry
These three guys are good if you need a pick up, like puns and listen to heavy metal music. Their voices don't grate on your ears. As advertised they give a no bullshit view on things and as a result tend to keep it under an hour. Their spin off podcast (The Axe Factor) isn't nearly as good unfortunately.

This Week in Games
In sharp contrast to the above, this podcast is much more of a downer. The two speakers tend to focus on the business side of the industry though which is what separates them from the pack. Other than that be prepared for a lot of grumbling as well as doom and gloom. Good to listen to if your a cynic or just like getting a weekly dose of pessimism.

Giant Bombcast
Usually four members, this group is pretty diverse in what they like which makes for an interesting spectrum of opinions and view points. They sometimes get distracted by movies, music or food, but even then these diversions can be entertaining in their own right. Expect to spend a lot of time with this colorful crew though because sometimes they go on for two hours or more.

Invisible Walls
The number of people here varies a lot with many guests coming and going on a regular basis. Generally this podcast involves a lot of arguing. Much like a no-holds-barred debate show these guys like to throw down on hot topics and just about any game related controversy they get their hands on. Stupid things are often said, but don't worry people in the comments section make that blatantly clear to anyone who actually cares.

Unlike the previously mentioned, "8-4" is a biweekly podcast based out of Japan and as such focuses on the Japanese game industry. It also has (surprise!) a girl speaker. Unfortunately she doesn't speak all that much. Partly because she's running the sound board, but more so because I don't think English is her first language. Some of the guys can get tedious to listen to after a while too. That said if you want a decidedly Asian view on the games industry by all means give this a shot.

It's interesting to think that my grandfather and his father before him most likely sat down in front of a radio to listen to discussion programs about sports, politics and the topics of the day. Then with the advent of TV that faded until the emergence of portable MP3 players and the internet. Now, I find myself doing what my ancestors did nearly a century ago. It just goes to show you the more things change the more they stay the same.