Busy

This week has been a busy one for me and the weekend will probably be worse. So posting will be slow. But I’ve made at least a little progress on Planitia, and the first demo should be coming up soon.

First Day of School

Summer vacation is finally over, and my son David couldn’t be happier. He loves school so summer was hard on him. He’d ask me every night, “School tomorrow?” and I had to keep telling him, “Not yet.”

But today he finally started first grade! It was pretty funny…when the bus came he practically dashed for it, as if he were afraid it might leave him behind.

I’m pleased to say that he learned a lot over the summer…he can read and write a good number of words. Just yesterday I watched him write the word “poem” in his notebook…I never taught him that one. I have no idea where he picked it up. He appears to be ahead of where he should be from a learning standpoint, and his social skills are improving. I think he’s going to be all right.

The Bioshock Demo

I wasn’t as taken with it as Tycho. The most obtrusive problem is the enemy design. In System Shock your enemies were programmed cyborgs which explained their simple enemy behavior. In System Shock 2 they were mindless mutants, which ditto. But the people in Bioshock are people, and I simply do not understand why every single person in the world is willing to fight to the death to kill me as soon as they see me. You can say, “Splicing drove them insane” except that there are several points during the demo when I hear splicers talking to each other rationally. Of course, as soon as they sense me, they turn into Quake 1 monsters and all I can do is shoot them.

Second flaw, in my opinion – very little backstory. Atlas starts barking orders at you as soon as you leave the bathysphere and tells you nothing about what is actually going on in the city. Yes, one of the charms of games like this is that you piece it together for yourself, but it’s just incongruous not to get ANY information from him…even if it’s misinformation. He doesn’t even tell you about plasmids; your character basically just walks up to a busted vending machine, picks up a syringe and plunges it into his forearm for no good reason (as far as he knows at the time).

The whole demo just feels kind of lazy, as if Ken Levine & Co are betting that you played previous Shock games and know the formula and thus they don’t have to spend time setting things up.

And one more niggling thing…the voice messages you get are vital both in terms of plot and to keep the gameplay flowing, and they are hard to understand because of all the “it’s a late 50’s recording device” scratchiness overlaid on them. I turned on subtitles, but that’s got its own problem…subtitles actually run ahead of the audio you’re listening to, which is annoying, and the only things subtitled are recordings and transmission – no in-game speech is subtitled.

The good? Goshwow, it’s pretty (though my computer can barely run it). The story does seem complex and interesting and there’s a suggestion on one of the voice recordings that Atlas is not being completely straight with us, so it may not just boil down to Ryan == Bad, Atlas == Good. Plasmids are fun. Shooting is fun (if the frame rate can stay high enough to make it possible). Holy crap the game is creepy in spots – excellent atmosphere.

I’ll almost certainly pick up the full game eventually…but unless the game improves immensely, I don’t think it’s going to beat System Shock 2 despite all the pretty.

Name That Game 29!

And now back to our regularly scheduled Name That Game. That’s right, I’m not cheating with this one, nor am I trying to make some sort of weird point about game development! It’s just “guess the game” time! Yipee!

This is another one of those games that about ten people played, but all ten of them loved. It came out in 1999 and failed not only because it was a third-person action-adventure game when everyone was going nutso over first-person shooters, but also because it used a unique rendering technique that caused certain parts of the game to appear quite pretty while other parts…did not. And it didn’t get marketed for crap either, which also didn’t help.

Jazz Jackrabbit!

Name and developer, please. Your reward? I won’t throw you into my torture chamber!

PS: Warren, I think you’ve been retired long enough. Feel free to resume guessing.

Viridian’s Video Blog – Dungeon Keeper

All right! Did another video blog this weekend…I am going to try to get into the habit of doing one a month. This one is about Bullfrog’s Dungeon Keeper.

If that video isn’t up yet or if you just don’t like YouTube, you can download the video blog here.

These things are getting harder and harder to do, and it’s basically because my standards are going up – and my time has gone down (stupid YouTube). So instead of just doing a “stream of consciousness” thing as I play, I actually had to write a script and do multiple takes that I edited together. Plus, the whole project got put on hold while I tried to figure out a way to record the video in high-res…which I eventually gave up on. I finally recorded it in low-res in DOSBox.

Hopefully I’ll get better and they’ll stop taking a whole evening to do. And I’m willing to take suggestions on what game I should do the next one about!

The Arsecast

The Arsecast is a podcast by Graham Goring that covers news and reviews of retro and indie games. I found out about the Arsecast a few months ago just as he released episode eight…in which he announced that he was stopping. So I didn’t feel the need to link him then. Fortunately he is continuing the podcast in a new format with Bob Fearon, and thus I feel secure that if I link to the podcast now there will be new stuff in the future.

Now, I try to keep the swearing and negativity on this blog to a minimum. Graham, being British, does no such thing. He glories in eviscerating bad games, usually with the foulest language possible. He is also quite effusive with his praise when a game merits it…though the language typically isn’t any better.

Needless to say, he’s absolutely hysterical. I can’t wait for him to review Planitia.

So go listen. Just make sure you’re eighteen. Or maybe twenty-one. Heck, sometimes I feel I’m not mature enough to listen to the Arsecast…

Cave Story

I’d heard that Cave Story was a stupendous free game from Japanese developer Pixel, but I only recently got around to trying it.

I want you to close your eyes and imagine. You’re ten years old again. It’s Saturday morning in the middle of summer vacation. Just last night your parents finally gave in and bought you that game that all your friends have been raving about for the last month. Your mother isn’t going to bug you; on the contrary, she’s looking forward to having eight uninterrupted hours to herself. You’ve just finished your bowl of Choco-Bombs and you’ve settled in front of the TV with your NES (or SNES, depending on how old you are). You plug the game in and turn on the console, picking up the controller with trembling fingers…

Do you remember? Good. Now go play Cave Story, because it will make you feel that way again.

(Get the Deluxe Package, it’s the easiest way to start playing the game. And use a gamepad if at all possible).

Planitia Update 23 – Washing of the Water

After a whole lot of work last weekend (and a lot of help from Ryan) I finally managed to get Planitia’s frame rate up and keep it up even when terrain morphing.

As much as I would have liked to put terrain.cpp to bed, I wanted to do two more things – make the terrain look less tiled, and make the water look more interesting.

So I did.

Look!  Blue mercury!

And I updated the demo so that anyone who wants to try it out can. Performance should be greatly improved, but there’s no new functionality (yet).

Now I need A* on the General. After that, no added features should really impact the frame rate. In theory.

I still feel I’m on track to have the first playable alpha version out by the end of August.