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Article of the Week: “Man Plays Civ II Game for 10 Years” or “A Vision For the Future”

June 13, 2012 1 comment

Reddit user Lycerius posted about his decade-long game of Civilization II, in the year 3991. Only three factions remain: the Americans, the Vikings and the Celtic, earth is a nuclear wasteland, humanity is malnourished and harrowed by the ravages of war, and perpetual conflict plagues the land along territorial boundaries.

This is simply one of the coolest stories I have come across in a long time, in part because I feel that with ever-dwindling resources, it may actually be a bleak window into the future. Nearly 200 thousand years from now, when we have drilled the last oil, and harvested the last mineral veins, and burnt the last coals, and wildlife, forests and related professions like ranging and agriculture are dead, what will we do then? Will we look to the stars for our salvation? Will we mine the Moon, or other planets and their satellites? Or, and this is highly unlikely, we realize early on that we are being colossal idiots with our finite resources, that we need to conserve and preserve, and be more prudent with our fuel efficiencies and resource management.

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Article of the Week: “Anisotropic Filtering? Anti-Aliasing? Tessellation?” or “Here is What Those Terms Mean!”

July 20, 2011 Leave a comment

I came across this useful little post from the folks over at makeuseof.com a while back, and it had been rotting in my temporary bookmarks folder for some time.

If you have ever struggled with terms like anisotropic filtering, anti-aliasing or shader models while tweaking the graphical settings mid-game, this post is a great beginner’s guide to what these terms mean. In short:

Anisotropic Filtering

All modern games use mip-mapping, which renders textures farther away at lower resolutions to help frame-rates, anisotropic filtering helps reduce the blatancy of the visible between the hi-res texture close to you, and the lo-res texture further away.

Anti-Aliasing

Ever notice how slanted lines in graphics can seem jagged and pixelated. A higher multiplier in anti-aliasing helps reduce this jagged edge and renders a smoother line.

High Dynamic Range Lighting

HDR lighting increases the level of brightness rendered, so the game world presents it’s varying contrasts a bit better, as would occur naturally to the naked eye.

Shader Model

Shader model the shading language used to program shaders. It is constantly evolving and older cards may not support all the features of the shader model being used by the latest game.

Tessellation

Think of this as anisotropic filtering, but for polygons. Polygons closer to the player are rendered with high details (the count normally remains the same), whereas polygons much farther are rendered at a much lower detail-level.

Source: Five Important PC Gaming Terms Explained

Categories: Article of the Week

Article of the Day: “The Evolution of Gaming” or “Demands Evolution Complexity”

June 21, 2010 1 comment

The article of the day was this incredibly insightful look into the mind of John Riccitiello, CEO of one of the biggest powerhouse gaming companies of the contemporary gaming age: Electronic Arts. Add to that equation some very powerful writing by the great Stephen Tolito, and you got a fascinating read. The article is difficult to sum up because in typical Tolito style, it touches upon so many different points. But there are a two things that stand out, and I will try to summarize those here.

The most important point in the article is that fact that most gaming CEO’s actually don’t play video games at all. That is the practical equivalent of the President of World Bank utterly disinterested in global economies and the international monetary status quo, or if Micheal Dell was actually a cyberphobe. It makes little to no sense that someone who is responsible for a gaming behemoth have such little interest in playing said games himself, like when Activision’s Bobby Kotick told a gathering of developers that he doesn’t play video games. At the risk of sounding like a broken record, that is like if Steve Jobs kept promoting the iPhone, but used a BlackBerry instead. It’s retarded to realize that some of the biggest minds in the industry are merely driving the companies towards financial success, and they have no actual idea of what makes a game memorable, or, at the very least, fun.

Another point was somewhat along the lines of what Gordon said a couple of days ago about returning to some of his favorite MMOs, only to find them bland, almost prehistoric by today’s standards, and in some cases plain irritating:

“It’s not just Everquest that I’ve had this experience with either. Anarchy Online and Dark Age of Camelot were the same. I adored them when they first came out but when I briefly tried each of them again a couple of years ago, I just couldn’t get past how terrible they looked, how frustrating their UIs were and annoying the grind was.”

– Gordon, The Point Of No Returning To MMOs

Riccitiello resonates these view in his own way:

“When I played games a decade ago or 15 years ago, I was a lot more forgiving,” he told me during our interview this month. “Part of it was, if you could sort of simulate [something] in software, almost anything, it was the first time you saw it. If you could just pull off the technology and engineering, you didn’t necessarily need the same artful insight, and you certainly didn’t need the polish. A lot of it, if you remember games going back to like GoldenEye on the N64, is that we remember them as a lot better than they are.

Stephen Tolito, The Unexpected Gamer Who Runs EA

Both viewpoints essentially cover the same debate. Video games have evolved in every facet, from gameplay, to technology, art direction, sound design, graphics and so on. The change has been so markedly drastic in the last decade, that if we were to go back to our favorite games from just ten years ago, we would be sorely disappointed because our sense of what makes a game memorable and fun and exciting has metamorphosed over the course of time.

I have one recent example. With the imminent release of StarCraft II, I decided to load up my StarCraft I Battlechest and replay the campaigns for the original game and its expansion, so I am fully in tune with the events leading up to the second game. What I found instead was a dated game with bland graphics, poor level design and cookie-cutter units with predictable gameplay. Bear in mind that the game was truly revolutionary when it first game out, so much so in fact that it is played competitively to this day. But I was turned off. After about an hour into the Terran campaign, I was typing in cheat codes to skip missions themselves just so I could relive the story without trudging through the trouble of actually playing the game.

The bottom line is that what was the norm yesterday is no longer true today. What once excited us about a game visually is no longer acceptable. If we see clipping errors or graphical glitches in a game like Crysis, which, until 15 years ago, was an unimaginable technological feat, we immediately feel turned off by the ‘lazy’ developers. We take things for granted. We nitpick. We comment on the most anal aspects of gaming, that until a few years ago, didn’t even exist. Are we being too harsh? Maybe, but that is the price of evolution.

We are at a stage in video gaming history where titles are visually richer, the stories are intricate and complicated, the gameplay is revolutionary and complex, and the bar is being perpetually raised higher. It is a time of great innovation and inevitable letdowns. And as the evolution shapes and morphs our experience and expectations, so must our criticisms evolve to better guide the ebb and flow of contemporary video game development.

Article of the Week: “Game-to-Movie Conversions” or “Chesty Jake Ain’t No Persian Prince”

June 8, 2010 Leave a comment

CNN.com had an editorial up today penned by Scott Steinberg, head of video game consulting firm TechSavvy Global, as well as the founder of GameExec magazine and Game Industry TV. He also recently penned a book, Get Rich Playing Games, and runs a not-so-modest-sounding blog called “The Video Game Expert“. [Sidenote: I can’t find a website for TechSavvy Global, GameExec magazine or Game Industry TV. Am I missing something here?]

The article is a candid look at the tumultuous and frangible relationship between the gaming industry and Hollywood, and why is it that no one can seem to bring a successful video gaming franchise to the silver screen without it seeming more like a retarded afterthought than an respectable adaptation. The article also explores some concepts without much proof to the support the arguments, such as juxtaposing ‘dense, layered, movies’ against ‘one-dimensional video games’, essentially painting a fairly categorical black & white picture of the two obviously different and unique genres.

It’s worth a read, just to get some additional perspective into what a self-proclaimed video game expert (the video game expert no less) believes the biggest problem with video game to movie adaptations. Take a few minutes to read it here if you’d like. If you are pressed for time, I have provided a short list of bullet points below for your convenience:

  • Movies based on video games stink.
  • Things often come down to money, as studios will green-light best-selling games for silver screen adaptation, instead of making the decision based on a franchise with the most cinematic potential
  • A compelling universe and a fascinating cast of characters are what most video game adaptations lack
  • Most game-makers give development preference to multiplayer modes or better graphics, than spinning a compelling yarn
  • Very few studios have writers working full-time
  • Plot serves as a device in video games to drive players from one action sequence to the next, and not necessarily to tell a compelling narrative
  • Most game-makers can’t capture the subtle nuances of films like ‘Juno’ or ‘Lost in Translation’
  • God of War III is a compelling narrative and a literate piece of work
  • Movies are complex, dense, layered; video games are one-dimensional
  • Movies are passive; video games are interactive
  • The gaming industry is slowly finding its roots by investing in storytelling again

There are several points in here that one can readily agree with, such as the fact that movies are a passive activity, whereas video games demand interaction to be qualified as such. Or the fact that most game studios lack full-time writers, which makes little to no sense, considering literally every game is driven at its core, but some form of narrative. I also belong to the same camp which believed that Hollywood foolishly green-lights any franchise which has done moderately well for a silver screen version, without paying any heed to actual cinematic potential. Resident Evil is a great video gaming franchise, but translated to the silver screen it becomes two-dimensional, hollow, almost devoid of any personality or substance, overly-saturated with jaw-dropping stunts and rampant CGI. And somewhere along the process, you lose sense of what made Resident Evil so popular in the first place: survival horror. Couple that with the Matrix-style of the upcoming fourth adaptation, and you will start to see what a terrible idea this series of adaptations was.

Back to the editorial at hand.

Steinberg then starts spewing some conjectural arguments, pudding with no proof in it if you will, that I either completely disagree with it, or it infuriates me on a primal level, or both of the above. The most frustrating of these unfounded arguments was the statement that movies are complex beasts, providing the viewer with unprecedented depth and powerful narrative open to interpretation; whereas video games are largely one-dimensional, devices that focus less on central narrative and more on fringe elements such as multiplayer modes etc. Mr. Steinberg, with all due respect to the “one billion people” who have sought out your consultation services, that makes about as much sense as a squirrel in a cardboard suit playing Beethoven’s Fifth.

In his attempt to cement his argument with no factual basis and ample generic quotes from people in the video gaming industry, Steinberg forgets to consider one important element that may often lead to flopped video-game-to-movie-adaptations: a complex narrative to begin with.

Consider a game like Mass Effect. Aside from the central narrative of Commander Shepard representing the human race in a universe that is largely mistrustful of the species, against the backdrop of a rogue agent acting under the control of a powerful being of aliens spooling up for their newest galactic genocide mission, there are subtleties and side-stories and undiscovered nuances that set the game apart from its competition.

Take the Krogans just as an example. Here is a warrior race that mass-procreates and thrives on conflict. To combat their spread and inevitable conquering of other species (post-Rachni Wars of course), the Turians introduced the genophage, a genetic disorder that only allowed 1 in 1000 Krogan babies to survive. This forced the Krograns to become ever-protective of their species, eliminated their numerical advantage on the field of battle, and produced a new species from the ashes that was tougher, stronger and more resilient than their ancestors. This is but one, severely summarized version of a single side-story in Mass Effect.

Continuing the Mass Effect example, I clocked in close to 60 hours in the first game, and over 45 hours in the second game by the time I was done. That is over 100 hours of combined playtime in the Mass Effect universe. While I am curious to see what kind of an adaptation they come up with, I sincerely doubt it will be able to capture the essence of what makes the Mass Effect universe so special: an intricate, multi-faceted, multi-layered story with numerous inter-connected stories, all spooling into their own respective yarns. The series has already spawned two full-length novels, and a graphic novel.

So when Steinberg claims that movies are the complex genre, and the video game genre is what needs more than a single dimension, I have to vehemently disagree. I can agree with the fact that a lot of video games lack the central narrative that should serve as the backbone and not as a marginalized afterthought. However, this doesn’t change the fact that for games with incredibly powerful narratives, such as Mass Effect, Elder Scrolls, or World of Warcraft, the exact opposite is true. There is no silver screen adaptation that can capture the true essence of these worlds in a 90-minute movie laden with eye-popping special effects and record-shattering stunts.

The rule that applies to books, also applies to complex, narrative-drive video games here. I can’t really think of a book that was faithfully and compelling transformed onto a powerful story in Hollywood, save, maybe, Watchmen. (Don’t say Lord of the Rings, that wasn’t a 90-minute flick, it was a 11-hour-23-minute saga, and only then was Peter Jackson able to capture a fraction of Tolkein’s universe).

The bottom-line is that video games, although still suffering from an acute shortage of dedicated staff writers, is by no means a ‘one-dimensional’ interactive beast incapable of achieving the complexity modern cinema can produce. In a lot of cases, the contrary holds true, and Steinberg should recognize that.

“Preventing Desensitization Through Sensitization” or “GTA Continues to Drive Video Game Violence Dialogue”

April 14, 2010 Leave a comment

Why is it that every time you hear about violence in the context of video games, Grand Theft Auto manages to rear its head without fail. It is almost as if the internet gods have eternally linked the GTA franchise with the concept of violence as a result of video games.

The Guardian, which has suddenly become my top source for all manner of bizarre video game related news, reports that primary school children between the ages of nine and eleven are being shown images of a violent persuasion from the Grand Theft Auto series, in an effort to prevent them from turning violent. The objective is to prevent the prevent desensitization from violence.

The children have to categorize images into “good real life”, “bad real life” and “not real” categories. The goal here is to provide a disconnect from the violence they witness on TV and in video games and categorize them as detached from reality. Seems like an interesting concept, until you realize that these kids are being kept from getting desensitized by sensitizing them to images of violence, which, one might argue, is a tad counter-intuitive.

Love it or hate it, Grand Theft Auto inevitably continues to shape the dialogue around violence and freedom of expression in (R-rated) video games.

“Further Proof that Farmville is Evil!” or “No One Cares About Your Stupid Farm!”

April 8, 2010 2 comments

This just keeps getting better and better. UK’s The Guardian reports the story of a 12-year old boy who first spent £288 of his own money, and then rang up £625 on his mother’s credit card to buy virtual equipment for his digital farm in Farmville. Despicable!

£288 + £625 = £913.

That’s almost $1,400, spent in under two weeks. Once again we have a blatant example before us, categorically proving that Farmville is corrupting our youth, emptying out bank accounts and one of the Prime Evils.

Jokes aside, Zynga, creators of Farmville of course offered the unimaginably original and helpful suggestion of “why don’t you password protect your computer?”What stood out to me was the mother’s insistence that Facebook and Zynga should shoulder some of the responsibility, that if Facebook notices a 12 year old spending close to $1,400 on a social game that Facebook facilitates, some red flag should go up somewhere. That sounds logical enough, coming from a mother who allowed her son unsupervised and complete access to her credit card! You go girl!

But the true tragedy of the story is that Facebook banned the boy’s account. Not that the boy’s splurge could be seen in any positive light, but at least he could use the virtual items and money he had invested in. Furthermore, not only will the kid be stripped of the slightest semblance of any social life during most of his adolescent years, now he also won’t be able to ogle at the cute chicks from his school through the relative safety and anonymity of Facebook. The humanity!

In related news, GameSetWatch now allows you to express your inner hatred for all things Farmville in style!

“Se7en Most Annoying Individuals in MMORPGs” or “Been There, Done That”

April 2, 2010 Leave a comment

RetroHive had a really cool list of some of the most annoying types of people you can come across playing an MMORPG, and I have to admit, I can’t much disagree.

  • “G2G My mom needs to check her email…” child: Most definitely. In fact I have come across a few too many of these individuals. There even was a time when I had to fend off an angry mother for being an ‘unnatural influence’ on her innocent, pre-pubescent son.
  • The Beggar: Anyone even remotely exposed to WoW is all too familiar with this guy. The Law of IronForge Begging states that the amount of trade windows that open asking you to give “lil’ goldz plz kthxbai” is directly proportional to the amount of shiny stuff you don.
  • Guild “Looter”: Gotta love this douchebag. These guys join your guild with the promise of seeing you through thick and thin. They then get attuned to some particularly difficult instance, or they receive a plethora of loot to upgrade their gear and then leave for a higher-end guild because that is what it would have taken to get in. There is a special place in hell reserved for people like these. Not only do they disrupt you guild, they also take away valued manpower, severely hampering your progression.
  • The Girl: *sigh*. Not a word out of you. You know who you are.
  • The Alt Looter: If I had a penny for every time I had an aneurysm because a guild-mate logged onto an alt, forcing you to wait before that boss encounter, just so that his alt could get the Ceremonial Dagger of E-Peem, I would have well over 10 bucks.
  • The Know it All: No comment, I think I fall quite squarely into this category! Ahem. Moving on! Nothing to see here!
  • Wife Aggro: This is the one that irked me the most. Man what are you 12? Can’t you work out some sort of deal with your own wife? If it is causing that much trouble in your marital life, then quit the game, no game is worth that drama! But please, don’t for the love of God, scream “Wide aggro, gotta go!” in the middle of vent during the Sapphiron encounter… when you are the fucking tank!

Anyone else got any particularly annoying archetypes?

Categories: Article of the Week