Friday, April 21, 2017
Those are just a few examples of films that were interesting to me in terms of what they could have been rather than what they were. It's unlikely that any of those three scripts will ever be conceived as a motion picture in their original form, but perhaps those lost and buried concepts could see the light of day in the form of a video game.
Friday, April 14, 2017
|Internet piracy may not exactly be legal,|
but it is paradoxically non-profit
"What's the big deal?" you might be wondering. People sell used games all the time through E-bay or upscale pawnshops (usually referred to as "Gamestop"). True, but I'd argue that the majority of the games you see for sale at those stores were trade-ins or simply the result of people getting rid of stuff they're never going to play again. Steam codes being sold on websites such as G2A though are more often than not an online fence for scammers and thieves.
|Steam trading cards? CS:GO cosmetics? |
It's all bitcoins to me...
Online credit card theft is a serious problem, but the thing is once the thieves get the info they need they have to find a way to turn it into a quick profit (before the owner figures out what's up). One way to go about it is to hit up an online retailer and purchase digital copies of video games in the form of download keys. Then quickly put them up on G2A for cheap. By the time the credit card owner blocks the charges the thieves have already laundered their ill-gotten gains...hang on though, it gets worse.
Saturday, April 8, 2017
For one, the game developers like to use the term "psychosis" to describe Senua's mental illness. The problem is psychosis, by definition, can mean anything from trivialities like a child's imaginary friend or night terrors to dire issues such as schizophrenia or hypothyroidism. Each classification has it's own particular set of symptoms and subcategories. Schizophrenia, for example, has five separate subtypes including "paranoid," "disorganized" and "catatonic," each of which has its own rigorously defined set of symptoms. I get the impression that the developers of Hellblade (at least initially) simply read a bunch of articles about what it's like to experience various kinds of psychosis and thought, "Hey, this is creepy and interesting. We should totally make a game about this sort of thing!" The problem is, it becomes a kind of insanity blender that doesn't have much to do with real mental health issues. Of course, that's fine if the source of the madness is supernatural in nature, say in Silent Hill or Call of Cthulhu. However, the devs have taken great pains to make the game feel authentic. They've gone so far as to bring on two Cambridge professors (one a historian and the other a psychologist) as consultants. Even Senua's character model has been meticulously detailed all the way down to her fingerprints.
|Hallucinations are influenced by personal experiences,|
but have shared aspects between individuals as well.
|Close your right eye and focus your left eye on the black spot. |
At a viewing distance of about 6 to 8 inches from your monitor
the "+" symbol should vanish from view.
What tastes or smells good to one person might be foul and disgusting to another depending on how each individual's brain interprets olfactory data. Even eyesight has this to a degree. The human brain is constantly trying to apply patterns to visual data and fill in the blanks. A really easy way to demonstrate this is with the blind spots we all have due to the way our eyeballs connect to the optic nerve. The reason you don't have a blank patch in each eye's cone of vision is because your brain automatically compensates by guessing what's there. In the case of someone suffering from dementia, they are increasingly unable to apply patterns leading to a decline in cognitive function. Meanwhile a schizophrenic applies patterns haphazardly resulting in wildly incorrect interpretations of external stimuli. Personally, I'm curious to see what the game developers do with this sort of phenomenon in terms of puzzles and atmosphere - ditto for 3D sound and the controller rumble.
Sadly, story-wise I don't things are going to end well for Senua. Effective antipsychotic medicines didn't exist until the 1950s. Worse yet throughout most of human history the extremely mentally unwell were subjected to "treatments" such as bloodletting, trepanning and a variety of trials by ordeal involving water. None of this helped, and in most cases did considerable harm. Regardless, fingers crossed that this turns out to be a psychological masterpiece (albeit inevitably tragic in nature). If the developer's track record is anything to go by it's unlikely to be a very long game. My guess is six hours tops. That might be good thing though all things considered. I just hope the time spent in her messed up head feels worth it.
Saturday, April 1, 2017
In the debut trailer for the game, the narration explains that the Old Ones built towers that reached the sky. This might be an exaggeration, or it might not. Amongst some of the text files that players can find scattered about the world, several mention a project called "Far Zenith." Much like the Zero Dawn project, it was an attempt to preserve humanity in the face of its imminent destruction by the Faro Swarm. Instead of going underground though, the idea was to use a spaceship called the Odyssey to relocate to a neighboring star system. Sadly, it was a total failure due to an matter/antimatter power generator accident while exiting the solar system. That might make it sound like a dead end story-wise, but in order to build something like the Odyssey, I think there would have to be pretty extensive infrastructure setup in orbit around earth. Things like an space elevator connected to a ring habitat and geosynchronous assembly yard would definitely be within the realm of possibility. Here's the kicker though, "why would anyone go up there?" As it turns out there could be a very good reason to do so.
Story aside, I think there's also some room for technical improvements. For one the water physics could use another pass, particularly with regards to how it interacts with things moving into, through, and out of it. Lip Syncing and facial animations (while not as bad as Mass Effect: Andromeda) could stand some improvement, as could the way robotic herds operate. Instead of remaining in at set zone, think it would be a lot more interesting if they migrated across large portions of the map. This might make it a bit harder for the player to find particular types of robotic animals, but I think the problem could be circumvented by having hacked Tallnecks constantly update the player via moving map icons. I also have this idea of a nomadic desert people who shepard robotic camel/turtle robots that have a big tank (or two) of fresh water on their backs. Being able to ride a Sawtooth would be cool, or even more awesome - a Stormbird. Fighting against ape-like robots in the jungle or forest might be fun as well. Although that last suggestion might be a bit too on the nose given the name of the developer that made Horizon: Zero Dawn. Regardless, I look forward to seeing what the come up with next.
Wednesday, March 22, 2017
This is where durability and weapons come into the picture. When you think about it, having a sword that can only be swung so many times isn't all that strange. After all, guns in video games almost always have limited supplies of ammunition. Once exhausted the firearm becomes (nearly) useless. So what is the issue with melee weaponry? Well...there's a key difference here in that you can find and grab more ammo for a gun easy enough in most games, but reconstituting a sword is usually not such a simple process. Sometimes this kind of repair work can be done in the field. In Betrayal at Krondor players could apply whetstones to blades, oil to bow strings, and hammers to armor in order to maintain their gear. However, it was inevitably a losing battle. Because of diminishing returns, weapons and armor would eventually break requiring replacement or expensive refurbishment by an NPC vendor. Adding to the headache, repair items had a limited number of uses as well. The Souls series utilized similar mechanics with weapons and other equipment becoming worn out from combat. Here too items could be used to rejuvenate battle-damaged gear, or a cost could be paid at certain locations for a full restoration. Sadly, these kinds of maintenance mechanics in games tend to subtract from the overall experience, rather than add anything meaningful to it. The same can be said for how they are implemented in most survival crafting games. I think Factorio is a great game, but having to periodically make a new pickaxe because the old one broke from wear and tear is a pointless nuisance. Some would argue that it's more realistic, but I'm not so sure...
I can't say I'm an expert on metallurgy, but when it comes to iron there two basic ways to go; high carbon cast iron (which is hard and brittle), or low carbon wrought iron (which is softer and more resilient). Obviously, neither has a clear-cut advantage, which is why skilled weaponsmiths try to combine the best of both types of metal. Take your average katana, for example, the edge is hard iron to make it cut better, but the backing is soft to make it so the blade is less likely to break. Steel is obviously the ideal metal, but it's fairly labour intensive to make and the knowledge of how to do so wasn't widespread until after the end of the Middle Ages. Hence, blades tended to chip and dull over time. In video game terms though this sounds like swords should have a base damage rating with a renewable "sharpness" damage bonus that slowly goes down as the weapon sees use. Instead, most systems have weapons remain perfectly fine until some arbitrary numerical value hits zero at which point they suddenly become useless. It's a bit silly, but that's not to say medieval weapons never suffered from sudden catastrophic failures.
Corrosion, microscopic cracks as well as impurities or imperfections could (and frequently did) lead to a broken blade. During the Dark Ages it happened so often weapon design was informed by it. A good example is the viking era sword which is easy to identify by its rather flat looking point. This might seem like an odd choice considering it reduces the effectiveness of stabbing attacks, but the reason for it is a thicker tip is a lot less likely to get snapped off in combat. In fact, there are a number of special defensive weapons such as parrying daggers, jitte, and sai that are specifically meant to catch an opponent's blade with the intention of breaking it or removing it from the wielder's grasp. Completely accidental breaks were also common. It's easy to imagine a scenario in which a sword gets stuck in something then bent at a weird angle. The most often referenced incidence I've seen in historical accounts though is blades being broken over helmets. It makes sense considering mail and leather absorb impacts to a degree while helmets were usually solid pieces of metal that deflect or outright stopped incoming attacks. By the time plate armor became widely worn on the battlefield though most weaponry had gone the direction of oversized needles and can openers (rather than long-edged weaponry). So, let's try to apply some of this to video games.
If we use the recently released Breath of the Wild as a template you'd need a system that accounts for quality, condition and type of weapon as well as the hardness of the point of impact. Degradation and the risk of a broken blade depend on these variables each time the player hits something. In other words, Link should be able to slice up a bunch of unarmored Bokoblins mostly trouble-free, but by the same token is taking a big risk hacking away at a Stone Talus. As is, I think the weapons in this iteration of Zelda are deliberately incredibly fragile in order to encourage players to use everything they can get their hands on. It's not a bad mechanic, but it would probably be more at home in a side-scrolling brawler than an action RPG.
Wednesday, March 15, 2017
Enter The Legend of Zelda, one of the longest running franchises in the history of the medium. Needless to say the writers over at Nintendo love to tell (and retell) the classic hero's journey. While it can be said that each part stands on its own, thematic and visual elements resurface in subsequent iterations, creating a kind of continuity between various entries in the series. This has led to a lot of speculation amongst fans that there might be a metanarrative loosely binding the entire IP together. It's easy to dismiss all the theories and ideas presented on the internet as pure speculation, but hints sprinkled throughout the games themselves have implied that there is a recurring cycle tied to the Triforce. In particular, it's three components are always represented by three distinct characters; Princess Zelda (Wisdom), Link (Courage), and Ganon (Power). In all the games thus far each character has always been bestowed with the same piece of the Triforce, but what if that were to change? Let's look at all the possible arrangements:
Obviously the first possibility is the default, while possibilities 2 and 3 represent a role reversal and gender swap respectively. Much how an actor (or actress) in Cloud Atlas plays radically different roles from one life to the next, possibilities 4 and 5 are unusual in that they cast Zelda in the role of a villainess. It's something I like to think of as "The Lion, The Witch, and The Wardrobe" situation (named after the movie or book, take your pick). The most outlandish arrangement to me though has to be the sixth and final possibility. Not only is Zelda the heroine and central focus of the story, but she is up against a villainous Link with Ganon(dorf) in a supporting role. What would this normally antagonistic character be like in such a situation? Would he be an wise old hermit living a quiet existence in some remote corner of a vast desert? Or would be a royal spymaster, playing a deadly game of intrigue in the court of tyrannical Link the Usurper? Perhaps he could be the deposed but rightful heir to the Kingdom of Hyrule? In which case he might be trying to regain his throne with the help of a courageous girl garbed in green. Needless to say, there are a lot of interesting interpretations even within the realm of a single possibility.
Changes to The Legend of Zelda formula have always been incremental and gameplay focused. In some cases this has necessitated slight alterations to the basic story structure, but ultimately it has always been about the protagonist (Link) defeating the antagonist (Ganon) and saving the damsel in distress (Princess Zelda). Suffice it to say, I think Nintendo should really consider mixing things up a bit more in the story department. If nothing else it would give them a nice new jumping off point for the inevitable sequel to Breath of the Wild.
Wednesday, March 8, 2017
que slo mo walk toward the camera
Of course the big question on every arm-chair duelist's lips is "who would win such a hypothetical fight?" to which the correct answer is "whichever side does the best job of maximizing their strengths while minimizing their weaknesses." You can argue and debate forever about whether a katana is better than a bastard sword, or whether harring foes with horseback archers is more effective than a flanking charge with lancers, but the simple truth is you're quibbling over clipped copper pennies when the gold and gems here are the minds and bodies of the people equipped with all that gear.
|Teacher, is this going to be on the test?|
So, which do you use and when? It depends largely on your capabilities and those of your foe. If there were a surefire technique everyone would use it, which would mean it's is no longer a guaranteed way to win. One of the basic axioms of melee combat is "every attack has a counter, and every counter can be countered.
In his treatise "The Art of War," Sun Tzu wrote "all war is based on deception," and by extrapolating that and applying it to hand-to-hand combat we can conclude that doing something an opponent isn't able to anticipate might very well be the key to victory. In other words, you don't become Miyamoto Musashi by doing what's expected. Turning your back to an opponent, even for a split second is generally considered a bad idea (for obvious reasons), but I've seen more than a few UFC fights won by doing exactly that. "Amatures!" is what many professional fencers might say not realizing that a lot of the love taps that count as hits in their sport of choice wouldn't even put a dent in the combat effectiveness of a well armored adrenaline-fulled foe. Sure, powerful attacks are slower than a quick flick or jab, but sooner or later you got to commit; though knowing when is the best time to do so, is the tricky part.
|They set us up the bomb?|
You said it, pal...
Oh well...maybe someday they'll make a sequel that cleans up all the issues that surround, what is at its core, one of the best approximations to date of face-to-face medieval combat. Maybe they'll even give it a more appropriate sounding name. Hmmm...I got it - For Justice!