Goin’ Home

•July 17, 2014 • 6 Comments

Guess what?

I’m moving back to Austin.

Like, next week.

About a month ago I had an opportunity to interview at Aspyr Media. Yes, the same company that laid me off. They have since backed and filled, shedding unprofitable original titles to return to what they do best – ports. It was nice to hear this because I didn’t really harbor the company any ill will.

Now, I wanted to nail this interview so I did a lot of prep. I bought books on programming interview questions and did countless exercises to remind myself what the difference between public and private inheritance is. In the end, I thought I did okay in the interview, but I didn’t know if a) they’d hire me and b) if we’d be able to work out the mechanics of the move back.

But then they contacted me and told me they wanted me and…it was just the sweetest thing. The heavens parted and light streamed down. Of course, there was a lot of other considerations that might impede our progress back, and I worried that I might have to go back myself and bring the family back later.

But then stuff started to work out. And then it continued to work out. And then it continued to continue to work out.

And now the lease is signed, the truck is rented and we’re starting to pack in earnest. By next Wednesday (God willing) we will be back in Austin, and we will never leave again.

I’d like to publicly thank Ian Bullard for his help; he was the one who told me about the opportunity at Aspyr. My younger children will finish growing up in Texas where they belong and my older daughter will now have access to the greater opportunities a larger city (with a major university) provides.

More updates as the day approaches!

Pinball Arcade

•May 20, 2014 • Leave a Comment

(Note to Fargoalians waiting for a Fargoal update – you will be served. Yes, you will. You just wait.)

In the meantime, I ran across this thing called Pinball Arcade.

Now, I had never been a big fan of pinball. Every time I played a pinball game it was over within moments, the balls caroming randomly off everything. I felt like I had no control and that the ball was attracted to the outlanes like they were magnetized or something. I never got it.

Then, while YouTubeing, I ran across this video of a guy absolutely owning a pinball game called The Machine: Bride of Pin*Bot.

It became clear as I watched this video that this game was complex and subtle, with many objectives to fulfill and many different ways to score. It also wasn’t nearly as random as I thought pinball games were and definitely rewarded skill.

It was also emulated, which appealed to me. Anyone reading this site should already know about emulators. Right? There’s tons of them. NES, SNES, Game Boy (Color) and Game Boy Advance, classic arcade games, the original PlayStation – all these platforms have been solved, with emulators providing experiences indistinguishable from the originals. If you’ve got a super-hot computer, you can even get near-perfect experiences with GameCube and PlayStation 2 emulators.

But unlike an electronic platform where you just emulate the CPU and memory and all the games suddenly start working, each pinball game must be emulated individually. The guys at Farsight Studios have to get a working machine (or a non-working machine and restore it to working order) and then spend months translating the machine’s internal workings, LED display and programming into their system. And of course they desire to be as accurate as possible.

This is more than emulation – it’s preservation. There are millions of working SNES machines in existence; you don’t need an emulator to play SNES games. By contrast, a very popular pinball machine would sell about five thousand units. And when all five thousand of those machines are gone – either sold for scrap or junked or just left to rust in a storage unit – then the game ceases to exist.

Unless it’s been emulated.

So I looked up Pinball Arcade and discovered that you can play it on practically any electronic device known to man. There’s a PC version (through Steam), PS3 and Xbox 360 versions, and versions for iPhone, iPod, iPad and Android devices. And they all play practically identically.

At this point, Farsight Studios has emulated almost thirty pinball machines through Pinball Arcade. They are living up to their name, doing the work of the gaming gods and making sure that these games do not die when the machines that contain them do.

You can download a version of Pinball Arcade on whatever you happen to have and it comes with a free boardTales of the Arabian Nights. You can then buy boards in two-packs or buy whole seasons of boards for a lower price.

Give it a try; it may just change your mind about pinball like it did mine.

GameStop Sucks

•May 12, 2014 • 1 Comment

I mean, I knew this. Right? Deep down, everyone knows this. Penny Arcade has been called GameStop “glorified pawn shops” for years and it’s true. But sometimes I want a game that’s been out a while and I don’t want to wait for it to come in the mail and I may not want to pay full price and…you know. Excuses, excuses.

Well, a few months ago I was in the market for a PS3 (to replace our stolen one, may the thieves rot in hell) and I wasn’t in the mood to pay full-price. So I succumbed to temptation and went to GameSpot.

I had another motive besides price – I wanted to see if I could find an older one with backwards-compatibility. All my kids have old PS2 games that they would love to play again (like Amplitude, Katamari Damashii and the Spongebob Movie game) so it seemed like an older “fat” PS3 would be a good buy.

And it was! The hard drive was only 80 gigs or so but I’ve never found half a terabyte necessary on a console. We got it home, set it up and started enjoying all the PS3 games we hadn’t been able to play for years, like Fat Princess and Scott Pilgrim vs The World. I also bought Kingdom Hearts 1.5 Remix for my son and the Ratchet & Clank trilogy for everybody. (The appeal of Ratchet & Clank is universal.)

Then, about two weeks ago. The PS3 died while my son was playing Kingdom Hearts. Now, we had just turned the thing on so heat wasn’t the problem. Attempting to turn off the PS3 and then turn it back on resulted in a green light, then a yellow/white light and then a continuous blinking red light. We never get video. Heck, we can’t even get the Kingdom Hearts disc out of it now.

So I did my Google-fu and found out that on the old PS3s, the continual heating and cooling cycle would eventually cause the CPU or GPU to separate from the motherboard, thus rendering the whole device inoperable. There are YouTube videos that will show you how to disassemble the unit, reattach the chips and then put the device back together, but most people warn that this fix will only last a few months before the chips separate again.

“Well,” I thought, “this is annoying, but there’s a fix, hopefully if I do this it’ll last longer than a few months. I just wish it had happened during the 30-day return period…”

Penny. Drops.

GameStop already performed this procedure on this PS3. They bought it broken, “fixed” it themselves with a fix they knew wasn’t permanent, and then sold it to me knowing that the device would fail, but would probably last longer than the return period.

So, because I didn’t pay $100 for an extended warranty (which would have driven the price of the device so high I may as well have bought a new one) I now have to nursemaid this thing and hope my fix is better than GameStop’s.

GameStop sold me a piece of hardware they knew was defective and would quickly fail and there is nothing I can do about it. Except never shop there again, which is exactly what I intend to do.

On This Day, Twenty Years Ago…

•May 12, 2014 • 1 Comment

On this day, twenty years ago, my wife Jamie Salter and I were married in the Justice of the Peace’s office in Austin, Texas. It wasn’t a shotgun wedding; I’d already decided I wanted to marry Jamie. But it was…hurried along by the news that our first child, Megan Salter was on the way.

Any regrets I have about the last twenty years are purely on myself. I regret getting overweight and the resulting health problems it caused. I regret moving to Michigan; it turned out to be a disaster for my family. I regret that even though things are getting better, we’re still not completely financially secured and we’re still not where we feel we belong.

Jamie has been at the root of everything great that has happened to me over the last twenty years. She brought me out of my painfully introverted shell. She made me believe a woman could care about and love me. She gave me the experience of being a father. She is the reason I was able to work for Origin Systems, both because she had a contact in Origin’s HR department and because she continually encouraged me to apply when I was sure I had no chance. She gave me two more children, both of which have been blessings, and has stuck with me through thick and thin.

I love you, Jamie Salter. I always have and I’m not stopping any time soon.

Get Ready for Name That Game 100!

•May 9, 2014 • 1 Comment

Once upon a time, a long time ago, there was a magazine called Games Magazine.

(Okay, technically it still exists in an online-only format, but I fear it is but a shadow of what once was.)

GM did everything. They’d review board games, video games, card games, RPGs, you name it. Some issues came with complete boardgames inside, usually ones designed to use existing gaming pieces. Every issue came with “The World’s Most Ornery Crossword Puzzle”, a staggering full-page grid with several pages of clues. They also always included logic puzzles, word games, trivia – you name it. If it amused, you could find it in GM.

And sometimes they’d get really deceitful. Some issues would include puzzles that weren’t even identified in the table of contents. If you were clever and scanned every page, you might be able to find a hidden message that, when decoded, described yet another puzzle. Sometimes they would even make a contest out of this, giving prizes to the first people to figure out there even was a contest.

I loved Games Magazine and I miss it a lot.

So I’m going to pull out all the stops for NTG 100. Be prepared. There will be puzzles within puzzles. There will be hidden clues. There will be red herrings. Many games will be involved but there will only be one right answer.

And yes, just like with NTG 50, there will be a prize.

Needless to say, this will be more fun the more contestants we get. So spread the word far and wide – think you got gaming trivia chops? We’ll see. We’ll see.

More on Fargoal 2

•May 8, 2014 • Leave a Comment

I’ve been asked how working on Fargoal 2 will impact the developent of my own games, specifically Planitia. The answer is that since this is paying work, it would be inappropriate of me not to give Fargoal 2 my full attention. So work on Planitia (and Zeta and Chitin and all the other little projects I’ve got going) will be suspended until Fargoal 2 is done, just to make that clear.

On the other hand, while I’ll be posting a lot here about Fargoal 2’s development, I’ll also be doing my regular commentary/review/Name That Game thing.

Speaking of which…

The next Name That Game will be number 100. My intention is to create a series of deadly traps that my readers must go through, each deadlier than the last, until finally a single victor emerges who must then fight me in a gaming trivia contest to the death! I’ll stream the whole thing on Twitch.tv, of course.

Hang on, someone’s muttering in my ear.

(So I can’t put people in deathtraps for my own amusement?)

(And we couldn’t afford to construct them anyway?)

(And it wouldn’t be fair to have someone challenge me in a video game trivia contest, since I’m the best at video game trivia?)

Okay, that’s out. Aaaand of course it was just a joke. In case this blog post ever shows up in court.

I’ve got an idea on what to do for NTG 100, though. See the next post.

Greetings, Fargoalians!

•May 5, 2014 • 3 Comments

(To my loyal readers: I’ve been kind of keeping a low profile recently because I had something in the works and now I can finally talk about it!)

Hi there! I’m Anthony Salter, and I’m the new developer for Sword of Fargoal 2. I’m incredibly excited to be on this project and if you look around the site you’ll be able to see why – Fargoal is just the kind of game I enjoy.

My first encounter with Fargoal was at a friend’s house back in the…I’m going to say late 80’s. See, I didn’t have a Commodore 64 of my own, so every once in a while I’d go spend the night with my friend Dennis and we would stay up all night playing games on his. That’s where I first encountered Sword of Fargoal, and though I didn’t have long to play it, I enjoyed it – especially the sound effects.

But when you’ve only played a game for two hours 25 years ago it might not stick in your memory so much. So I completely forgot about it…until the CRPG Addict started playing it. His writeup of the game was excellent, and that’s where I found out about the Kickstarter for Sword of Fargoal 2. It had already passed at that point so I couldn’t contribute.

And that’s where things stayed until a few weeks ago, when a friend of mine named Ido Yehieli mentioned that Sword of Fargoal 2 needed a programmer. I’d been wanting to get back into game development so he recommended I email Paul Pridham, the current programmer.

So I did, and I had a perfectly pleasant exchange with him. And eventually he recommended a phone conversation with the project leader, Jeff McCord.

Wait. Jeff McCord. Why did that name sound familiar?

That’s when I realized I was going to be on the phone with the creator of the original Sword of Fargoal. He hadn’t sold the license or farmed the game out; this was his show.

So, after an initial phone interview (in which I may have fanboid just a bit) and a series of follow-up email back-and-forths, here I am.

I think Sword of Fargoal 2 is a great game already and I hope that I can improve and polish it and get it into shape for its initial release. And after that…who knows?

So, that’s the current deal! To any new readers: I’m glad you’re here, and I’d be honored if you stick around. I talk about game development, review games sometimes and run a (semi)-weekly gaming trivia contest called NAME THAT GAME!

Name That Game! 99: In the Original Klingon

•April 30, 2014 • 5 Comments

A lot of times games get retitled for foreign markets. Sometimes this works, sometimes it doesn’t. And sometimes it’s hilarious.

Here are seven games created in Japan and very popular in English-speaking markets. I’ve given you the literal translation of their Japanese names; can you tell me what the English name is? (Just to be clear, these are all console games and several of them are NES games.)

1. It’s a Wonderful World

2. Turnabout Trials

3. Devil’s Castle Dracula

4. ZERO

5. Downtown Hot-Blooded Story

6. Myth of Light: Mirror of Palutena

7. Beast King Chronicles

Good luck! If you win, I’ll give you a free copy of my game, Deeds Of Minor People As They Battle Against Gods.

Jacqueliene J. Benton Little

•April 30, 2014 • Leave a Comment

My grandmother, and my children’s great-grandmother, passed away on Wednesday, April 23, 2014.

I do not have a single negative memory of my grandmother. We called her “Nanny”. Traveling from our home in Macon, Georgia to visit her in Warner Robins was always one of the highlights of my youth. While she didn’t have a lot of toys, she had a big backyard and, better yet, bordered the local high school outdoor football field.

My mother would tell me stories about how she and her sisters would go out there after games and crawl around under the bleachers looking for dropped money. My sister and I never found any ourselves but it always felt adventuresome to crawl around in that enclosed space looking for treasure and sneaking into the control tower.

Huh. And this was years before I started playing D&D…

Nanny was a very traditional Southern woman. Even after she divorced her husband and began working for herself she still made a lot of time for her family, especially us grandkids. She was old enough and respected enough to earn the title “Miss Jackie” in the community. She loved to cook, and many of my favorite memories of her involve eating the copious amounts of treats she made for us. And when Thanksgiving came around, wow.

After my family moved from Macon to Virginia Beach, VA, I fell out of touch with my grandmother. I can give all kinds of excuses – life was hard, I was working two jobs and going to school, I’m a male and thus have trouble expressing my feelings, etc. But I shouldn’t have let it happen.

And then I took my solo trek to Austin and became even more self-centered as survival became my priority. I hardly thought about Nanny, much less talked to her.

When my oldest child was very young, I took my entire family back to Warner Robins to catch up with everyone. Nanny seemed to be slowing down but was still in her right mind. She loved meeting Megan and she told me that she was proud of me.

I would only speak to her again briefly until our move from the accursed Michigan to Florida. On our way down we made time to visit her in her home. By now I had three children, and the oldest was almost eighteen. Nanny loved seeing them again, but I could tell from her difficulty getting around and the fact that one of her daughters had moved in with her to care for her that she might not last much longer.

And last Wednesday she breathed her last. I’m just very grateful I got to see her one more time and that she got to see three of her seven great-grandchildren.

Goodbye, Nanny. I will miss you.

Name That Game 98: I Have a Name, If Nothing Else!

•April 16, 2014 • 5 Comments

Continuing the theme of the last Name That Game, we’re now delving into the realm of (potentially) memorable characters with fairly generic names. Why?

Well, there are lots of games out there that allow you to customize your character, sometimes even going so far as to allow you to be male or female. But then these games have a problem – if you don’t know what gender the main character is supposed to be, how do other characters in the world address him/her/they/it?

Most games get around this problem by either referring to your character by their last name or by some sort of title. As the player, you should get used to this because you’ll be hearing it a lot.

Below are ten names that games use to refer to genderless (or gender-selectable) player characters. Can you name the games they are from?

1. Shepard

2. Boss

3. Hawke

4. Alex D.

5. Hacker/Employee 2-4601

6. Alpha 1

7. Avatar

8. Viridian

9. The Nerevarine

10. The Courier

Good luck and have fun!