Put That Freakin’ Sandwich Down!

So I had to go to the doctor yesterday. It wasn’t anything major, just needed a prescription.

The nurse couldn’t weigh me on the normal scale because I was over 350.

This is the most I’ve ever weighed. I gained a lot while I was unemployed and now it’s time to get rid of it. And I’m going to be using this blog to help me. I’m going to post my weight every day. You guys will be able to see whether or not I’m following my diet; I won’t be able to hide it.

I’m sick of this. Being overweight affects every aspect of your life, because it drains away all of your energy. It gets in the way of everything you want to do.

Time to put this thing away once and for all.

The Final Fantasy

We’ve got two Final Fantasy games coming out later this year: Final Fantasy III and Final Fantasy XII.

Final Fantasy III is a remake of of the original Final Fantasy III for the Famicom. It was never released in the United States…probably for good reason. The first three Final Fantasy games all had the same plot: the Crystal chooses four young people to be heroes who then sally forth to defeat the Big Bad. The games differed in the name of the Big Bad, the world the heroes travelled through and the system by which the heroes gained in power, but plotwise the games were exactly the same…you even fought a lot of the same monsters in all three games.

(Historical aside: this was what made Final Fantasy IV such a revelation to gamers. With IV, all of a sudden you had heroes who already had names and personalities and actually said things. You didn’t start with your entire party intact; instead you recruited members into your party as the game progressed. And the game had a storyline beyond “kill the big bad”. FF IV set the tone for the Super Nintendo iterations of the series, which of course culminated in the superb FF VI.)

The new FF III is a complete remake being released on the Nintendo DS. It’ll have an expanded storyline and prenamed characters who speak, so it’ll be much more like a modern Final Fantasy game.

And I’ll be honest: I’m looking forward to the release of Final Fantasy III on the DS more than the release of Final Fantasy XII on the PS2. Why?

Well, because Final Fantasy XII is apparently some sort of action-adventure game set in a hybrid fantasy/sci-fi world with the name “Final Fantasy” on it. Square honestly doesn’t know what to do with this series so they are reinventing it with every new game with disastrous results.

Final Fantasy III, on the other hand, will be a true Final Fantasy game. And it will be the last one ever made.

I Live!

I’ve been unwell with various badness for the last four days or so, which is why I haven’t been posting. I’m feeling much better now.

Star Revolution is coming slowly. The thing that is stopping me is that for the last three or so programming sessions I’ve been stomping bugs in my GUI system rather than writing new code, which is getting old fast. Hopefully I’ll get that debugged this weekend and if I push hard I might even finish the whole combat prototype. Wouldn’t that be nice?

Chunky Pixels, Part II

First off, thanks for all the responses to my previous post on this subject! I’ve been doing a lot of thinking on the various ideas you guys gave me.

Dave and Wynne, the vector idea would be a really good one if the game was space-only, but since I want the player to be able to land on and walk around on planets, that kind of breaks down. So I’m looking for something else. Thanks for the idea anyway.

Now I am going to reveal something. I have already decided that after I finish Star Revolution, my next project is going to be Inaria II. It’s going to have a real 3D engine, using technologies I am developing for Star Revolution. And I had already decided that I wanted a specific look for Inaria II, a look I first saw in Exult.

Two pictures in this case will be worth a thousand words. Here’s Ultima VII at double-res (640×400). (Click each image to view it at full size.)

Ah, Ultima VII.  The last truly great Ultima.

Now here’s the same scene (still at 640×400) with the HQ2X image filter applied to it:

Mmmmm.

When I first saw a version of this filter (called Scale2X) in Exult I was very attracted to it. It doesn’t make things look blurry like most filters do. The tone and composition of the scene are still very apparent, but the blockiness has been smoothed over. I especially liked what the filters did to the trees – they almost look like watercolors now.

And just for the record, here’s how Inaria I would have looked with the HQ2X filter applied to it:

Woohoo!

I had not intended to use this look for Star Revolution, and I hadn’t intended to get the look by using a filter but by composing my textures to provide the look…but the more I think about it, the more I feel that Star Revolution would benefit from the look. Hopefully I’ll get this darn combat prototype finished and can mock up some screenshots and you guys can see it for yourselves. I think it’ll give me the feeling I’m going for: high-resolution, but the world/universe almost looks like it’s made out of Lego blocks…I think that would be perfect.

I don’t think I’ve actually ever seen the HQ2X filter applied to a 3D scene before. This will be very interesting.

Chunky Pixels

While I got a significant amount of work done on the combat prototype for Star Revolution over the weekend, it still isn’t quite ready. So in the meantime, I’m polling the audience!

When I wrote Inaria, I used a 512×384 video mode. This is kind of low-res, and I did it on purpose. I wanted the pixels to be a bit…chunky. I wanted you, the player, to be able to see individual pixels. I did this because I wanted to evoke a sense of the older RPGs that I was honoring.

And last night I was reading Masters of Doom again during compiles when I came across this passage:

Richard Garriott, a.k.a. Lord British, the son of an astronaut in Texas, spoke in Middle English and created the massively successful graphical role-playing series of Ultima games. As in Dungeons and Dragons, players chose to be wizards or elves, fighting dragons and building characters. The graphics were crude, with landscapes represented by blocky colored squares: a green block, ostensibly a tree; a brown one, a mountain. Players never saw their smudgy stick figure characters attacking monsters, they would just walk up to a dragon blip and wait for a text explanation of the results. But gamers overlooked the crudeness for what the games implied: a novelistic and participatory experience, a world.

Inaria is a pointer to a pointer. Its blocky graphics are trying to evoke a previous style of game which, in turn, tried to evoke a world rather than accurately represent one.

Is that even possible nowadays? Quake started us down the road from evocation to representation and we’ve been barrelling down it for years, but will we ever arrive? And if we do, will it be possible for small teams to make the trip, or will it necessitate 50-60 people for three and a half years? That’s what Oblivion required…

And here’s the question that is pertinent to me…can we ever go back? Does this sort of evocation still work? And will it work even on newer players who have never played a game in 320×200? Who don’t know what VGA is?

Basically, I’m asking this: Do you think Star Revolution in a lower resolution will evoke older space opera RPGs, or will it just look really stupid?

Masters of Doom

I love this book. I think it’s one of the best books about the history of video games ever written. It tells how John Carmack and John Romero both got into video game development, how they met, how Id Software was formed, and how it all fell apart. The writing style isn’t quite conversational, but neither is it as dry as most histories; the book is very easy to read. It’s also thoroughly indexed and documented, just like a history should be.

The book has its critics. Some people mentioned in the book have stepped forward to say “That’s not exactly how it happened”. Which is fine; no history book is going to be perfect (and there’s no real reason to think that these people’s versions are any more accurate than what that actually did make it into the book).

But most people who criticize the book do so on the grounds that it’s not harsh enough on Romero at the end. They point to the author’s relatively even tone as he details Romero’s actions during the development of Daikatana (which, of course, is simply the same tone the author used throughout the rest of the book). They even point to the fact the author thanked Romero in the afterward for letting him crash at Romero’s place, thus proving his inability to be objective!!!1!!lots of exclamation marks! I guess the author should have dropped his objectivity, allowed his blood to boil, and thoroughly castigated Romero for trying to make a game. Jeez.

Anyway, the book is great. You should definitely read it if you have any interest at all in the history of PC gaming.

Dreamfall

Mental note: do not start up a new adventure game at 10:30 at night, “just to see how it looks”.

I started on Dreamfall last night. Dreamfall is an adventure game with a few action elements in it, and is the sequel to the widely praised The Longest Journey. It was developed by FunCom and published by my very own Aspyr Media.

The first thing I noticed about Dreamfall is that its keyboard/mouse control scheme is a crime against humanity. If you play this game on the PC, do yourself a favor and use a gamepad. Mine is actually a trusty green PS2 Dual Shock controller attached to a PS2-to-USB adapter, and once I got it set up properly the camera stopped whipping around wildly and the game settled down into a very nice control scheme.

The second thing I noticed about Dreamfall is that it is pretty – by far the prettiest game of its type I’ve ever played. The artists did a good job keeping the human characters out of the valley but still making them more realistic-looking and expressive than mere cartoons. The voice acting is also very good once you get past the cliched prologue. The world of the future it presents is surprisingly plausible, because it’s basically this world…only more so.

Now, that’s all fine and good, but is the game compelling? Um…yeah. It compelled me to stay up way too late seeing what would happen next, and I can’t wait to get back home this evening and play it some more.

Downsides? I played straight through the first two chapters last night and did not run into a single puzzle that gave me any trouble whatsoever. All to often, Zoë will actually tell you what you need to do. I know, I know, adventure games can’t be too hard if they are going to hit the mainstream (again), but at some point it would be nice to hit something I have to actually think about. I’m sure it’ll get tougher later.

Also the stealth and combat elements in the game are both trivially easy…why even put them in the game if you’re not going to utilize them well?

But overall, it’s off to a good start, and I haven’t even gotten to the…weirdness I know is coming.

IE HATE

I guess I’m going to have to recheck this site in IE every time I post, or else the menus are going to pop down underneath the content again. IE insists upon putting extra padding pixels in when it parses a CSS file beyond the ones I have already specified. So if you came here recently under IE and saw nothing but a blank white field, it should be fixed now. Maybe. For the next five minutes or so.

E3 Reaction

I watched all three press conferences live. My reactions:

Nintendo: By far the best of the three conferences. They managed to present a great sense of fun, starting the moment a grinning Miyamoto took the stage with a Wii remote (I guess I’m used to the name now) to conduct a virtual orchestra that was playing the Zelda theme. The only odd part of the conference was the fact that they didn’t announce a date or a price…even though both should be obvious. The Wii will ship in either October or (more likely) November, and will cost $250 at the most. Why not just go ahead and announce?

Nintendo is in a great position for this round of the console wars. First, they are at the bottom, so there’s nowhere to go but up. They will have the cheapest console by far, with the most interesting technology. And the Wii is basically just a souped-up GameCube, which means that GameCube games will run natively (no emulation or extra hardware required) and their third-party developers already know how to make Wii games.

Sony: Sony’s conference was literally “more of the same” – the same game types we already love to play, only with graphical improvements. The PS3 is going to look fantastic, and apparently every game made for it is going to be a dirty, grimy post-apocalyptic first-person or third-person shooter. The only innovation they actually have is the tilt control, which of course was added after they saw the Wii remote and doesn’t work as well as Nintendo’s version. Tilt control is one thing, but the Wii remote actually gives you what is effectively a mouse pointer – this was explicitly demonstrated in Nintendo’s demo of Zelda: Twilight Princess.

Microsoft: Boring, boring, boring. Halo 3 trailer was terrible. The crowd snickered at Viva Pinata, even though that’s just the type of game Microsoft needs to expand their audience. It’s telling that Microsoft is currently struggling to expand its audience out of the 18-34 male demographic while Nintendo, which already has a market across all demographics, is fighting to expand the entire gaming market. And in the end, I’ve got no sympathy for Microsoft here…they are simply reaping what they sowed with their “She kicks high” crap.

It wasn’t until near the end when they demonstrated how the Xbox 360, Windows Vista and cellphones could be integrated that I perked up. That type of close integration has been necessary for a long time, and it’s strange that a game studio is having to be the one that gives it to us. So at least Microsoft can say that it has truly innovative new technology, unlike Sony.

Microsoft has one big problem, though. They launched before Nintendo announced the Wii remote. Sure, they can still make a controller with tilt features, but it won’t be standard in the box and thus developers won’t be able to rely on it being there. Now, it’s possible that Microsoft will come out with a tilt controller and push it hard and it’ll effectively become the “standard” 360 controller. Sony was able to do this with the Dual Shock controller for the PS1. But it’s going to be tough.

Big winner: Nintendo, though if they had just announced date and price it would have been a Flawless Victory.
Second: Microsoft. They truly innovated with Live and now they are extending it even further.
Loser: Sony. “We’re afraid to try new things! We’re going to give you everything you already play with better graphics! And we’ll charge you six hundred freakin’ bucks to do it!”