Single-City Games

I fell victim to the office plague this past week and ended up spending a beautiful weekend indoors; So, this post as well as half of my Netflix queue was the result. I kind of wanted to do a series of posts on both world building as well a case study of several of the games cited in this entry as well as several others: Return to Krondor, Baldur's Gate II and a couple of others are also single city games widely regarded as pretty decent. But I don't think I have the time or interest to play through some of those games again, since it has been so long. Anyway, I think that city settings have been a fairly popular tabletop RPG setting; Either as a part of a larger campaign or some sort of one off story. But how well do they translate into video game narratives and what is needed in order to craft a good city?

Video games RPGs, unlike their pen and paper brethren obviously do not have the luxury of an imaginative game master to make up new and interesting things throughout the course of the campaign. The game engine must fulfill that roll; Often with many limitations. One of which is the challenge of creating diversity within a smaller environment. Typically, most large game cities only have about 4 or 5 "zones", perhaps up to 10 if you include surrounding areas and stuff like that. Fewer areas should in theory mean that more effort needs to be placed into making each area feel unique.

Happy 8th Birthday Linode

  • Posted on: June 28, 2011
  • By: Keiya
  • Category:

Sweet! I had missed this bit of news somehow.

Celebrating our success includes you, our customer.  In honor of our birthday we are increasing disk space on all plans by +25%.  This is available now to both new and existing Linodes.

I've been hosted on handful of services and so far, Linode is the only one that I have been almost 100% satisfied with in terms of both product delivered and support received. Though to be fair, I think my needs had outgrown a shared hosting environment when I had switched over. But still, no retarded billing issues, no outages other than one or two issues with the datacenter isn't too shabby. Keep up the excellent work! Also, I have more disk space on this account than I know what to do with at the moment. Suggestions?

Impression: World of Tanks

  • Posted on: June 25, 2011
  • By: Keiya
  • Category:

Not really a review, but just a blurb on something that I have been playing on-and off lately. World of Tanks has been brought up in casual conversation every so often over the past couple of months or so, but I have always dismissed or forgotten about it. I finally had a chance to take a closer look at it while I was on vacation last month. So for those who don't already know what it is, World of Tanks is a fun free-to-play (freemium) PvP MMO about well, tanks.

You start with a small selection of WWII tanks (3 total: US, USSR and German). Choose one and fight in a team of 15 against another team of 15 tanks. If you die, you can exit the battle and start another match with another tank while the other match finishes. Each match yields a certain amount of experience and credits depending on how well you do. Experience points can be used to unlock different tank upgrades in which you use credits to buy. Each upgrade is specific to that particular tank. It's a bit grindy to say the least. The catch, at least from what I can tell is that the later upgrades take a fuckton of time to grind out, less-so if you purchase some of the premium content with real-life cash. But, it's something that I can easily pick up and set down with very little investment.

The UI and controls are fairly straightforward. There's not that much of a learning curve; I mean for the most part, you move around, shoot things and/or die. Dying seems to be something that you end up doing a lot early in the game. Graphically, it is fairly nice looking. I mean, it's not Crysis, but I was impressed with how polished and nice looking it was. For some reason, I was under the impression that WoT was some schlocky looking freebie game. I'm not sure if it's really my thing, but it's free and something that I can play with friends.

Oh, the starter tanks suck. The game is more fun once you get a tank that can actually aim and move more efficiently than a potato.

On Books and Such

So I have been in the mood lately to participate in activities other than gaming and sitting in front of the computer; Thus the lower than average WoW and gaming activity (other than my short Witcher binge). I don't know if it's because of the lack of AAA titles, the return of longer days, or just being a grown-up :P. Probably a combination of all three. I haven't actually raided in several months. I suspect that I will get the 'itch' sooner or later but for the time being, I'm enjoying doing other things on certain evenings.

Anyway, Game of Thrones is an exceptional television program and you should all watch it if you don't already. TV series and books based off of fantasy novels usually trigger my cheese-radar, but I really am quite pleased with the way this series has turned out. It follows the book closely and the casting, production value, etc are so far above anything else from that genre. The downside though is that, every single other fantasy television series looks like absolute junk in comparison. There's only one episode left, what the hell am I going to fix on next?

It's fantasy for people who are not normally into fantasy in a similar-ish way to how Battlestar Galactica is science-fiction for people who are not normally into science-fiction. The overall story focuses on social and political intrigue rather than the fantasy elements (dragons and magic). It's not quite hard fantasy, but it's pretty  fantastic. The book and show compliment each other rather well; if you haven't seen/read one, I highly recommend doing so. It's an excellent novel. I've actually only read the first book in the Song of Ice and Fire series. I think I will start on A Clash of Kings since I just finished the series that I have been reading.

Speaking of which, I have greatly enjoyed both the Farseer and the Tawny Man trilogies by Robin Hobb. I recommend her books if you enjoy epic fantasy and that sort of thing. Oh and, eReaders are pretty great. They solve every single problem that I have had with traditional printed media.

Post Response: The "Japanese Game Decline"

This post was interesting and spurred some interesting conversation on Kotaku, Destructoid, etc:

Because we merged with Eidos and had games like Tomb Raider, Deus [Ex], and Hitman, as a company we were able to keep face. But the decline in Japanese titles was almost humiliating. This has been a week where I worried daily about how we can fix this.

Ironically, Japanese titles were what attracted me to video gaming back in the late 80’s and early 90’s (look, I just dated myself, hah). We had a Nintendo before we had a personal computer. Much fun was had playing Mario, Final Fantasy, Mega Man, etc. Good times.

His post seems like a fair concern, though perhaps a bit of an exaggeration. We can probably though, all safely say that Square Enix’s slice of the market is in decline based on the quality of their latest releases but the entire gaming industry? Eh maybe so maybe not. I have a sneaky feeling that the Japanese titles that are decent aren’t being localized over here because they are either deemed too niche or just didn’t sell well enough in Japan to justify the expense. Square Enix's problems more-or-less seems to be a problem with the way Square Enix handles things.

Then again, for every clever JRPg and clever Japanese puzzle/attorney game, there are at least a dozen crap-ass filler titles. I really wish that certain Japanese game developers would stop catering to fanboys and weeaboos. Please cut it with the games pandering to Western audiences, but made by developers who do not understand what Western audiences want and what the current trends are. Also, especially stop the moe shit; It’s creepy and borderline pedophilia.I really love games that retain the Japanese aesthetics and culture but aren’t afraid to push gameplay boundaries. Worry about the writing, gameplay and art direction, not if a game is going to be too “Japanese-y”. Besides, I am of an opinion that a legitimately good game story surpasses cultural boundaries.

I just don’t feel that the Japanese gaming industry as a whole have met the maturing tastes of gamers as a whole. The average age of the American video gamer is 37 years old, having played for 12 years according to fairly recent statistics (side thought: what does that study consider gaming? If stuff like FarmVille is included, that stat is bullshit). That statistic is actually up from an average age of 33 in 2006 (also from an ESA study). Teenagers with super powers saving the world have a very limited appeal to that demographic. If anyone has a similar study for the Japanese gaming market, please link it. Very interested in reading that.

Though to be fair, a similar argument can be made of the Call of Duty series or any number of popular shooters. I love them all to death, but even I am getting a little bit tired of nitty-gritty, gray area morality shooters done in a brown color pallet. To be even more honest, I am thinking that the BioWare style choice RPG system is starting to wear a little thin (I love love love your games but they are kind of all the same). Gaming fads come and gaming fads go; Move with them or fall into obscurity. Who knows, 12 year old bishounen pony superheroes could be next year's thing...or not. Different strokes for different folks I guess.

The Witcher 2: Assassins of Kings

  • Posted on: June 11, 2011
  • By: Keiya
  • Category:

The Witcher series feels a bit like an unpolished jewel. There is just so much that I like about it; The setting, the mythology, the story, the characters, the atmosphere, the art direction - but at the same time, there is so much that can be improved in terms of gameplay and design.  For what it is worth, you don’t really have to play the first game in order to enjoy the Witcher 2 (per se), though I would definitely recommend doing so. The prologue does a fair job at introducing the characters and overall setting, but not being familiar with the world and its players will put you at a disadvantage, especially since your saved data from The Witcher can be imported.

Even so, my only real complaint about The Witcher 2’s overall story is that, I get the distinct feeling that I am missing out on something by not having read and really, not being at all familiar with the book series (sadly, not all of them have been translated into English *extreme sad face*). There are more than a couple of name drops and “who is that” moments that I am pretty sure were explained in the novels. It’s such a shame because from what I understand, the books are exceptional and describe a richly detailed world.

Witcher 2: Draug Fight Video

  • Posted on: June 8, 2011
  • By: Keiya
  • Category:

Here's another random Witcher 2 video from this past weekend. I even added a cheesy logo! I apologize for the random-ass song by the way;  For some reason, YouTube didn't like way I encoded the sound in VirtualDub for whatever reason and distorted most of the audio post-upload. I'd rather not re-encode and re-upload the video so I AudioSwapped it. There has to be a free or "free" video editing out there in Internet land that's less irritating to use than VirtualDub and Windows Movie Maker (while also not requiring the time investment to learn like most of the professional tools). Video processing isn't one of my geek areas of expertise, but I think I may make it one of my "side projects."

The Draug fight is not all that hard of an encounter on normal difficulty. In fact, I'm not sure that there's any particular strategy other than rolling around and whacking him with your strong attack. I'm sure that it's faster to use Yrden or something to attempt to trap him but whatever. I wasn't really expecting a one shot so I started screwing around to see what he would do.

System specs & settings: Windows 7 64-bit, core i7-860, 8GB RAM, 1GB ATI Radeon HD 6870, 1920x1080 resolution (recorded at half-size). UltraSampling and vignette are disabled and both shadowing options are at high. I turned on the bloom setting this time.

The Witcher

The Witcher is just one of those games that I have heard of but more-or-less ignored and never bothered playing up until this point. I really don’t know why that is, given my massive soft spot for any fantasy RPG. I suspect that the named had originally turned it off; I must have figured that it was a dumb game about witches or something. Anyways, I was wrong: The Witcher is an absolutely gripping, though flawed dark fantasy action RPG.  Despite interface and gameplay flaws that were quite frankly, more than a little irritating, I really really enjoyed this game and played it at an almost obsessive level (sorry for vanishing off of the internet guildies, real-life friends, etc lol).

The Witcher is based off of a popular Polish book series of the same name by Andrzej Sapkowski. Atmospherically, I think that one of the elements that sets The Witcher aside from most other fantasy games is that it is not set in a stereotypical happy cheerful fantasy world. The game world is a wonderfully detailed land riddled with despair, plague, religious fanaticism and bleakness. It is actually a more contemporary story than you would expect from a fantasy game, which gives it a little bit more of a unique flavor. At heart, it is very much a tale about racism, greed, terrorism and gray shades of morality instead of the standard heroic deeds and good vs evil fantasy fair.

My Desktop: June 2011 Edition

This post is totally not related to any gaming topic but, I am for once quite pleased with my desktop wallpaper. Though, I am not really sure how much I care about that sort of thing anymore, given that I almost never see my desktop nowadays (game/video in one screen, Firefox/working on something in the other). I really wish that a higher resolution image of the Star Wars painting existed somewhere. It looks fuzzy because I had to scale it up in size to fit my resolution.

You know, I used to rotate wallpapers fairly often back in the day; In fact I found an old ass screenshot from 2004 (posted on the right) while picking through stuff on an ancient Deviant Art account that I forgot had existed. If anyone bothers to find it, there are a couple of odd things posted on that account that I don't think I bothered uploading anywhere else. I wish I had more old desktop screenshots; They are a snapshot of anything that I was interested in from that point in time.

Witcher 2: Kayran Fight Video

  • Posted on: June 4, 2011
  • By: Keiya
  • Category:

I was playing with FRAPS again so I figured that I would upload a video to YouTube for once. The Kayran fight (on normal difficulty that is) isn't too hard once you figure out what to do. If anyone is having trouble, here you go: Immediately roll to the left and cast Yrden on the ground below where the smaller side tentacles hit the ground. Taunt the Kayran a bit, roll out of the when when he tries to bitch slap you and then whack on the node on the center of tentacle once it's pinned to the ground. Stay back immediately afterwards and stay away from his mouth, he kind of freaks out for a couple of seconds after the tentacle is cut. Ignore the large tentacles in the center, you they are untrappable.

Repeat for the other small tentacle on the left side then repeat the same series of actions on the right side small tentacles. At some point he will try to sweep you with one of the larger tentacles, leading to a series of quick time events. Click your right mouse button to grab on, then spam the left mouse button. Immediately after that start spamming your space bar. The QTE event for that bit flashes off really quickly. Once you hit the ground, head leftwards and climb the bit of fallen wall. Keep Quen up if you think that you will get hit.

By the way, for those who like this sort of thing, here are my system specs: Windows 7 64-bit, core i7-860, 8GB RAM, 1GB ATI Radeon HD 6870, 1920x1080. When FRAPS isn't recording, my average FPS is at around 40 to 45ish or so. Sometimes more, sometimes less depending on the environment and situation. My GPU temperature hovers at around 70 degrees Celsius, 100% usage, 39% fanspeed.

Settings wise, everything is maxed out at Ultra in this video except for the following: UltraSampling, vignette (I dislike the effect) and bloom are disabled. Both shadowing options are set to "high". I didn't see much of a difference between high and ultra. I am still up in the air about bloom; I like it when the sun is filtering through the trees in Chapter 1 and during many of the outdoors areas but it seems way overdone indoors and on characters. Also, setting smoothness to 0 in the .ini config file helped to reduce mouse lag.

The Cyborg R.A.T 7 Gaming Mouse

My old gaming mouse was starting to circle the drain a couple of weeks ago, leading to a somewhat urgent need for a replacement. Now to be honest, I probably could have done more to verify that the issue was not a driver issue or something like that but basically: Marginally busted hardware + sufficient mad money = new toy. After a period of careful deliberation, I settled on the Cyborg R.A.T 7.

The R.A.T 7 is actually very comfortable to use over long periods of time, which is nice considering that ergonomics and extreme customizability were key marketing points. This peripheral is one solid feeling mouse, as in, it has a metal frame instead of one constructed from cheap plastic. On the other hand, The R.A.T 7's solid construction makes it fairly heavy even with all of the additional weights removed. Keep that in mind if weight is of a concern to you. In any case, here are a couple of observations about the hardware that weren’t really stated in any of the reviews that I read. TL;DR: It’s a good mouse, I am very happy with it, though it may not suite your ergonomic needs. It's like a pair of pants, try it first if you can.

For how adjustable this mouse is, the palm rest isn’t all that big and does not extend out as far as I figured that it would; Which is fine for me, being a claw-gripper with average sized chick hands, but probably not so much of you are a large handed individual. Several male cohorts have confirmed this fact. Also, when the palm rest is extended out all the way, it jiggles a bit.

The buttons are fairly wide and seem to be designed for people who prefer to use three fingers to click (middle finger being on the scroll wheel). The width is perfect for me, since most other mice are too narrow to comfortable fit three fingers. If you don’t have sausage fingers or prefer to use a mouse with a standard two fingers grip, the R.A.T 7 is probably going to be uncomfortably wide. I also like the sniper button, though I wish it were located further back on the thumb piece so that I do not have to modify my grip to press it down. The profile switch buttons is angled in such a way that it makes it hard to see. I wish it also changed the LED colors of the sensitivity bar as well.

I really like the R.A.T 7’s scroll wheel: It is flat, wider than average, clicky, textured and loose. The scroll wheel was my primary point of contention with many of Logitech’s gaming mice: Some of the scroll wheels were either too “pointy”, way way too stiff or hard to press down without accidentally activating the side-scroll feature. The R.A.T 7 is absolutely perfect.

Earlier versions of the mouse had some z-tracking issue that was fixed by adding a filter on newer versions of the hardware (or something like that, I don’t have the link anymore). I haven’t had any sensor or any performance issues at all, so I am assuming that the issue is fixed. Also, despite being fairly complex, I found the adjustments straightforward and easy to perform without having to dig through instructions.

We will see how durable and finicky it is. In my experience, many issues don’t crop up until at least several months to a year of regular abuse. I’ve had issues with finicky laser mice in the past (which seemed to be related to an unclean mouse surface >_>).  Performance wise, it’s smooth accurate and everything that I would expect from gaming caliber mouse.