Monday, April 26, 2010

The Tools Of Combat

I have newfound respect for the video games Half Life, BioShock, and Team Fortress 2. I was recently browsing in a hardware store, as manly men who do manly things are prone to do.

While there, I discovered that they sold wrenches and crowbars. When sold in a hardware store, the assumption is that they will be used to somehow aide in building, repair, and the opening of crates. In the aforementioned video games, they are in aide of bludgeoning.

Okay, you can use the wrench in TF2 to build and fix things, but that doesn’t mean it isn’t also used to bust some heads.

My assumption with those games has always been that the wrenches were of exaggerated size, and that the crowbar was dangerous mostly by virtue of its teeth. I believed they were sturdy and handy to have, but ultimately not that big or heavy.

I was wrong! They had 24 inch long aluminum wrenches weighing 12 pounds and 36 inch long crowbars with definite weight to them! I know 12 pounds doesn’t sound like much, but (CAREFULLY) try swinging that around sometime. These could definitely be used as strong weapons.

My first thought upon making this discovery was that the characters in these games must be badass muscle men, which is a little weird when you consider Gordan Freeman, the world’s alpha nerd. Anyone who can swing these things endlessly and without effort must hit the gym a lot.

My second thought involved TF2 Engineer cosplay with an actual wrench at a future convention, which was immediately followed by thoughts of me being thrown out on my ass by convention security.

Assuming, of course, they can get past my sentry.

Friday, April 23, 2010

My Perfect Game

I've recently expressed by medium of tweet my interest in Monster Hunter Tri. My interest was born out of the perception of an open environment that acted as a sort of living ecosystem and sandbox elements that would allow me to explore, soak in the scenery, and basically do whatever to my hunter's content.

Since then, I've watched some videos and read a review or two, and I've gotten the feeling that while it's probably a good game, it's most likely not the gameplay experience I was hoping for.

This got me thinking. There have been several times in my life when I've thought "this is it! This is the game I've been waiting for!" only to, of course, be disappointed. Fable, Oblivion, Saints Row 2... They're all fun (except for maybe Oblivion), but none have lived up to my expectations.

So what would be the perfect game for me? (Keep in mind the "for me" part; I'm not claiming this is an objective view of a good game)

1 - Environment

I want a huge open world that rarely, if ever, interrupted by loading screens. The draw distance should compensate for technical limitations in a way that doesn't break immersion (I'm looking at you, Oblivion). There should be small towns and cities of varying scale and a huge wilderness to explore. When I don't feel like sight seeing, there should be fast travel methods that do their job without breaking immersion.

While I am aware that the environment can't go on forever and there have to be cut-off points, I'd prefer those come in the form of something along the edges that one simply cannot pass. It might be a bit forced at times, but simply not being able to move beyond an invisible wall is annoying, and if I can see a place my character should logically be able to get to, I want to be able to go there.

Do not stop me from walking off cliffs, either. No invisible wall should be between my character and purposefully or accidentally falling off of that cliff. It's one of the most immersion-breaking things an environment can do in a video game.

Given my personal tastes, I would prefer a fantasy setting with magic and a wilderness that is mostly alive and well cared for as opposed to high tech and/or post-apocalyptic.

Closest I've experienced to right: World Of Warcraft. I would prefer this be provided in a single player experience, but my favorite thing about that game was simple exploring its world. In fact, it does everything I've listed above. It doesn't do everything I'm going to list, but on this subject, I have yet to see a game do better.

2 - Player Abilities

LET ME JUMP. I grew up on side scrollers and not being able to jump makes me feel like I have a weight around my neck keeping me down.

Melee and ranged attacks should be available, as should super cool special abilities (ideally fueled by magic). There should be genuine reasons to choose one weapon type or spell over another. I should be able to unequip all of my weapons and bare-knuckle box if I so choose.

Among the magic abilities, I want spells that transform opponents. Turn them into animals, weaker enemies, allies, change their genders, whatever. This is a subset of magic that should be available and I give World Of Warcraft props for its sheep spell.

I don't want to have to pick a class, or a species, or anything else that amounts to "you can do this but not that." I want access to everything I'm willing to earn and to be able to learn every ability should I be willing to invest the time. In short, I don't want to be pigeon-holed right from the start.

Now here's the big one. The player ability I rarely see but breaks immersion every time it's absent. Simply put, I want to be able to grab stuff.

No, seriously. Being able to "touch" things is the most basic way a person can interact with objects in real life, and it being absent from games breaks immersion for me. If it's in the game, I want my character to be able to grab it and subsequently try to pick it up. Rocks, chairs, people, vehicles, horses, anything. My character might not be able to pick up whatever they're grabbing, but not letting them try is yet another thing that breaks immersion. Let my character try and fail to pick up that horse. Yes, they'll make an ass out of themselves, but the ability to try and fail at something like that makes it all the more real to me.

And while I'm grabbing things? Let me throw enemies at other enemies. That's always awesome.

Closest I've experienced to right: Overall, I'd say the 3D Zelda games. They fail in a lot of ways, but less so than other games. Oblivion might let you grab stuff, but I found it lacking overall in what you could do with said stuff once grabbed

3 - Bad Guys

One of the things that made me excited about Monster Hunter was the concept of an ecosystem. I like the idea of exploring a sandbox wilderness and witnessing a hunter-prey scenario playing out that I can either interrupt, sit back and watch, or simply ignore.

It would also introduce emergent gameplay strategies, such as shaking off a predator you're not prepared to deal with by leading it towards easier prey that distracts it. Not entirely ethical, but just that being possible would be incredibly cool.

Enemies should behave logically relative to each other. A bear and a boar should not be teaming up to try and kill me, and a humanoid bad guy should not be buddies with a wild bear (unless he's a druid or something). I would welcome a scenario where I'm fighting some random humanoid enemy when suddenly a big monster predator shows up and my foe and I become more concerned with taking it down than each other, or my foe simply runs away leaving me to either do likewise or fight the monster on my own.

Given that I can grab people in my perfect game, I should also be able to grab my foe, throw him at the monster, and run away. Unethical again, but cool simply by virtue of being possible.

I don't want every enemy encounter to feel like an epic challenge. There should be plenty of bad guys who are easily defeated so long as there aren't too many of them. Boss fights, on the other hand, should be epic, and I would like a way to re-fight them at will even if it is just an out-of-main-game menu option.

Closest I've experienced to right: You know, I'm not sure. There are plenty of games that fit parts of the criteria while failing at others. I can't actually think of a game that does the "not all the enemies are on the same side" bit (except maybe Monster Hunter, which I haven't played yet so I'm not certain). A lot of games probably fit the difficulty and boss fight criteria. I haven't kept up on Playstation games and therefore haven't played the God Of War games, but I'm betting they fit the latter half of my criteria.

4 - Character Customization

I don't want armor to determine what my character looks like. I also don't want class or stat-specific races to determine that. I want to customize to my heart's content as a male or female character, make them look human or non-human, and be able to change it up later and save multiple looks that can be variations of the same (such as with different clothes) or completely different.

Closest I've experienced to right: Champions Online, hands down. The only thing it lacks in this regard is the ability to switch genders between looks, which would be odd but this is my perfect game and that therefore needs to be an option, darn it.


I'm wrapping this up because I've just realized I could probably go on forever with this and I've already written more than I thought I would, but it basically boils down to is this:

An immersive sandbox fantasy game with a convincing ecosystem, lots of freedom to customize, fun gameplay and the ability to "touch" and interact with objects via a grabbing mechanism.

What would your perfect game be like?

Wednesday, April 21, 2010

Define "Wasted Time"

Roger Ebert is in hot water with gamers for declaring that video games can never be art. On the surface, I disagree wholeheartedly with this statement. I've actually played games that I feel are more concerned with art than fun gameplay, such as Fable 2. Granted, I enjoy Fable 2, but the game definitely feels like it's more concerned with fulfilling Peter Molyneux's vision than ensuring fun times had by all. That alone gives it a snooty art gallery vibe.

The thing is, while I disagree with Ebert's statement by my definition of art, do I disagree with his statement by his definition art? Art is in the eye of the beholder, after all, and what his eyes behold as art may not be compatible with video games. Are we even arguing about the same thing if we aren't in agreement on the definition, and does the entirety of what we're arguing about wind up boiling down to that definition?

I hate to say it, but the infamous Bill Clinton line "define sex" has the right idea. People are capable of arguing for absurd periods of time without really understanding the other side of the argument because neither side clarifies what exactly they mean by a particular key term. My presence during debates has a tendency to shorten them because I make certain both sides are arguing about the same thing as it's strangely common that they're not and I find it insufferable.

So what is Roger Ebert's definition of art? No idea. Seriously, I stopped reading early on. I looked at the length of the article and the number of comments and reached these conclusions:
  • Ebert's definition of art might not be compatible with video games.

  • What he means by "video games" could be limited to the games as a whole while ignoring the individual components, such as the graphic design, writing, music composition, etc. He could also be referring to some other particular aspect of the games that keeps them from fitting his definition of art.

  • Ebert simply hasn't seen the right video games needed to convince him.
None of the above are things I care about. If his opinionated view of what is and isn't art doesn't include video games, that's his right, and the amount of comments suggests a heated argument that boils down to semantics. The same applies to what is meant by "video games", and I would be surprised if there's actual clarification to be found either in the article or the comments. As for the last one, I have better things to worry about than whether Roger Ebert has played Fable 2.

I like Roger Ebert. I might not agree with him on many things and I avoid reading his reviews before seeing movies because I've found they're spoiler-tastic, but I like him as a person and respect his passion for movies. Nonetheless, I just don't care if he doesn't think video games are art. Our definitions differ, or he's an elderly gentleman who doesn't "get" video games, or both. It's ultimately not a big deal if we don't agree on this.

Wednesday, April 14, 2010

Fable 3: Most. Awkward. Game. EVER.

It's possible that Fable 3 won't be the most awkward game ever. Just because Peter Molyneux says you'll be able to do something in a game doesn't mean it's going to make it into the final product.

If what he's being saying lately pans out, however, you will be able to get it on with co-op partners.


Okay, this sounds cool and fun in theory. Friends can have a good laugh about it, couples can bring their romance in-game or use it as an unsatisfying substitute when one of them has had a long day, etc. It would also make Fable 3, as far as I am aware, unique among video games as a game where virtual sex with another player is actually part of the game and not simply something imagined via chat fields by people with a 30-day World Of Warcraft trial in the basement of Goldshire Inn.

Part of me wants to drop everything I'm doing and make an EGS:NP comic about it as the potential for jokes are astronomical, but another part of me is simply worried about this being included. I don't have any moral objections, but I know others will, and while the potential for in-game sexual harassment has always existed (I myself was harassed in Champions Online), the fact that virtual copulation could actually be possible in Fable 3 takes it to a whole new level.

Of course, Fable 3 will not be an MMORPG. If you're playing with someone, it's because you've allowed them to play with you. The game will no doubt be rated M, so in theory, everyone playing will be adults. Theory is a tricky thing, however, and I can guarantee there will be people below the age of consent playing this game. Does that become an issue? Wait, what am I saying? Of course it's an issue. It's one I haven't seen brought up, but it's definitely a huge frikkin'  issue.

What happens when an adult, knowingly or unknowingly, has a virtual affair with someone on their friends list who is underage? Is that a crime? Should it be a crime? Is the equivalent of "they were in a bar so I thought they were old enough" defense valid given the M rating?

What if someone asks for in-game gold beforehand? Is that prostitution? Can Microsoft points be gifted, and if so, can people effectively exchange real cash in exchange for in-game procreation? Granted, that seems like a horrible use of money given that the screen likely just goes to black with maybe a sound or two thrown in, but this is still one of those questions that will be asked by people other than geeky bloggers. Remember the turmoil over the Mass Effect sex scene? This entire concept makes that seem quaint.

I assume there's already an effective ruling on these issues given that, as with my Goldshire Inn example, one doesn't need the game's consent to engage in such activities. I suspect one could give a specific "place vs. person" court ruling answer to most of these questions. That said, would Fable 3 treating the virtual procreation as an authorized game mechanic make them liable when lines are crossed? Will it need its own terms of service independent of XBox Live to avoid such liability?

The number of potential issues that go so far as to bring up questions of legality make me wonder if this innovative idea is worth having and if the world is ready for it. The potential underage issue also leads me to wonder if this could backfire in another major way, that way being the ESRB slapping the game with an AO, or "Adults Only", rating. Given that most retailers refuse to carry AO games, such a thing would be financially devastating to the game and effectively require the removal of said content.

Having to remove content and test to make certain the game still functions properly is a costly proposition in and of itself, but avoidance of an AO rating is pretty much a necessity. If this mechanic is effectively a guaranteed AO slap to the face, someone needs to spare the programmers and play testers some grief and break the news to Molyneux.

In spite of all this, I do like the idea of being able to do more in video games, and I would be thrilled if this feature could be included without it being a big deal. I would probably never use the feature myself, but its presence and lack of opposition to its existing would be a sign of progress and tolerance. I just don't think that's going to be the case. I think I'm going to see things like "FOX News chastises Fable 3 Sex" and "parents call for ban of Fable 3" in my RSS feeds.

What do you think? Are my concerns valid? Should this feature be left on the cutting room floor?

Sunday, April 11, 2010


Thanks for the intro, Sinistar.

I've been posting less the past week, and it's primarily been due to three factors: having a cold, finishing my taxes, and prep-work / script editing of the next EGS storyline.

Frankly, though, it was mostly the taxes. They were actually easy to do, but I have this stupid anxiety when it comes to filling out government forms that makes it way more of a hassle than it has any right to be.

Something else I'm up to is submitting more stock images to Shutterstock. I have some images on there already (hence the watermarked Sheep), but it's the sort of thing where it doesn't really pay off unless one submits a lot of potentially useful images. As such, my goal is to submit an average of one image per day. I say average because it's probably best to submit several related image at a time to increase their potential usefulness to people.

That said, it might be worth keeping an eye on my Shutterstock gallery. The images have to be watermarked due to the nature of the site, but I'd like to think that doesn't keep them from being amusing.

I haven't been doing much in terms of the Princess Bride review. With a cold screwing up my voice and other tasks of higher priority, I might do a written review and make the video when it's convenient. It's not what I want to do, but it is the most sensible course of action. Besides, there are a ton of other movies I have to get to, and at this rate I shouldn't work under the assumption that I'm going to make videos for all of them.

Wednesday, April 7, 2010

Bowser Bait?

Click image for 960x480 version. 1920x960 version on DA (download for full size).

I couldn't resist doing a followup image as it would give me an excuse to draw Bowser, and I love how Bowser looks and have wanted to draw him for years. I'm not sure why I hadn't. Come to think of it, I've barely drawn any of the Mario characters in spite of wanting to. Why was I depriving myself?

As a kid, the idea of transforming into various things interested me (shocking, I know). Thanks to the media I was interested in, a bizarre amount of time was spent imagining myself as a turtle-like being. Seriously, between the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles and the Koopalings, it's surprising that turtle-like beings are so underrepresented in my current drawings and comics.

I'd also say it's odd that I choose Charmander over Squirtle in Pokemon, but dragons win over turtles. That's why Koopas are so cool; they're BOTH. That, and the Koopalings had magic wands in Mario 3, and I think I was simply born thinking magic wands are cool.

Which isn't to say I approve of princess-napping. As a kid, I had this annoying tendency of liking a lot of bad guys and imagining them being friends with the good guys, which would often include the Koopalings (this is how bad fan fictions are born, people). My action figures got along much better than they should have, though there was always some bigger threat they had to work together to beat so at least I had some excuse. It wouldn't hold up now, but dude, I was in elementary school. Cut past me some slack.

Of course, I didn't have Mario toys. There weren't any action figures of them to buy, at least as far as I knew. After learning how to make home-made clay in school, however, I tried to make my own Koopa figures. I made an acceptable Larry Koopa figure, a less acceptable Ludwig, and Bowser... let's not talk about my attempt at making Bowser. It... it did not end well.

Speaking of which, they have Mario figures now. I own some myself, but the only Bowsers I've seen have been stuffed animals. Are his spikes that hazardous? I'll wear mittens, whatever, just let me buy Bowser!

...Okay, wow. I thought I was gonna post the image, maybe have a paragraph and be done, but I guess I'm a Mario Bros fanboy. Who knew. I'm going to go save me some princesses.

Monday, April 5, 2010

Mama Mia!

The full version of this image is 600x600 pixels, so it's twice as large as what I tend to post here. Larger version at DA Account.(download for full size).

Yesterday, aka Easter, I foolishly joked on Twitter about drawing Princess Peach in a bunny suit and holding a Yoshi Egg. This was a joke, but then I wanted to draw it.

In my mind, the narrative is that Mario is out on a mission, and Princess Peach is helping by providing Yoshi eggs. Which, of course, begs the question: what the hell is Mario's mission? Peach is clearly not captured by Bowser, so... what? Was Luigi kidnapped? Some foe from the Mario RPGs who doesn't care about Peach?

I have no idea. This image of a princess ruler of a mushroom kingdom in a bunny outfit who is handing out dinosaur eggs that hatch out full-sized to assist a stocky plumber who can jump twelve feet into the air and teleport through pipes has somehow managed to confuse me.

Sunday, April 4, 2010

My Name Is Dan Shive. You Read My Blog. Prepare To... Um... Read More?

I have finally seen The Princess Bride. I intend to record my thoughts on it tomorrow, and make the video during my leisure time over the next week (as opposed to playing video games or hopscotch).

The video itself will mostly be narration with still images that I've drawn or appropriate stills from the movie, but there is some animation planned. This isn't intended to be a huge task, so what animation there will be will be limited, but I will do my best to give a good presentation. Most of what I want to animate is my avatar as the host, which is relatively simple given that I'll be using Flash and will essentially be posing a puppet. The hardest part is the lip sync, but that's actually not that hard to do in Flash. It's just that it's about as tedious as watching paint dry.

Given yesterday's sound test, I'm going to go ahead and get right to working on this review over making the "How To Draw A Dragon" test. I already know what I need to know, so I'd rather leave that on the back burner and get the review done first.

Saturday, April 3, 2010

YouTube Sound Test

The embedded video (one instance of "hell" being said) is simply the previous post in audio form with comments from the nerdy squirrel avatar thrown in. It was a test of many things, one of which being conversion of stuff made in Flash to something I can actually upload.

This image looks a bit blurry because I wound up sizing up the video with the solution I used, which wound up involving Windows Movie Maker to make a "DVD Quality" version before the final web one. Not perfect, but it's worked well so far.

By the way, it's worth noting that this was all one take with no do-overs and I was dumb and didn't turn my head away while taking breaths. Well, not "dumb", really, given that I was testing the pop filter's capabilities, but it's something I should do for future recordings.

I'll eventually try out recording with the software that came with the mic. I recorded and edited this via Audacity, and it's not perfect. I mean, it's really good and miles beyond what I was able to get before, but I detect some minor issues. This may be just me listening to it too much and the fact that my computer's speakers are in the monitor (i.e. not the best), but then one of the reasons I'm posting this sound test is for feedback.

Oh, um, considering I WANT feedback, you may be wondering why I disabled comments on YouTube. People wondering this have clearly not spent much time reading comments on YouTube.

This mic is great! Wait, what's with the--NOOOOO~!!!

The new microphone is great. I tested it by an open window and still barely got any background noise, and what I got should be nothing Audacity can't handle. I also got a new pop filter, so I should be ready to test everything.

Should being the keyword because apparently mic stands are different in Europe and the makers of this microphone apparently felt it best to pre-install the European adapter screw thus making it incompatible with the stand it came with until I can figure out how to remove it which I am finding exceedingly difficult as there is no tool in my possession designed for this purpose and the microphone can't stand on it's own once the USB cord is connected and even if I drive back out to Guitar Center to buy a separate stand I will still have to contend with removing the adapter because I'm betting they don't sell European stands and even if they did why would I buy one short of assuming all future microphones I may own are going to be European and that's not even taking into account the fact that something like that is probably low in supply and demand so if they did have one they'd likely import it and sell it for more so what the hell why did this thing come pre-installed why couldn't they have left that decision up to me?!

Seriously, an adapter is an extra "you might need this, but the majority probably won't unless they're traveling" sort of thing. I appreciate it being included, but I don't understand why it came already screwed in there. It looks like it could be taken out with an over-sized screwdriver, but I don't think I have a screwdriver with this huge a tip. Heck, I don't think I've ever seen one with this huge a tip. The gap is, like, nickel-sized.

Anyway, I'm sure I'll figure something out and I'm pleased that I will finally be able to record with some measure of quality, but I find this particularly ridiculous. If you know why they packaged it this way, please put me in my place and tell me, because right now I'm just baffled. There was room in the box for it, but I guess they might have saved a tiny amount on plastic per unit sold by having it screwed in there?

EDIT: And two seconds with a pair of scissors used in a MacGyver-esque fashion solved the problem. Ah well. Was still fun to rant.

Why Won't You Heal Me, DanShive?!

Something I've been wanting to do since snagging a headset (you know, the headset that isn't good enough for the videos I want to make), I've been wanting to play Team Fortress 2 again. It just seemed like there was something missing when I could only communicate via keyboard. When you're also using the keyboard to move and shoot, that makes communicating with teammates something of an issue.

First off, I STILL don't know if anyone could hear what the crap I was saying. I fiddled with the settings and did some tests, but I still simply don't know. Between the sounds of battle and other people on their headsets, I don't know if I didn't hear any acknowledgments of what I was saying because I was missing them, because people couldn't hear me, or because they muted me on account of my headset making me sound like nails on a chalkboard. So from a purely "testing the headset" perspective, I feel like I didn't accomplish much.

As for the actual play experience, well... it kind of sucked. I was playing Arena simply because it was easy to find games for it, and I was playing as a Medic as that's how I can be most useful in Arena (in pretty much anything else, I'm best utilized as an Engineer). I was quickly reminded of one of the major communication flaws in that game, and that is simply having no idea who is talking to me.

Okay, yeah, I know what their screen name is. It flashes in the lower right corner and I can recognize different voices. The problem is that the voice is associated with one of several other teammates, which is anywhere between 7 and 15 people most of the time with several of them playing as the same character class and switching classes between rounds (and even during rounds if not playing Arena). When someone asks me via their headset to heal them over others for the sake of strategy, and all they say is "Dan Shive, heal me!", odds are I don't know who the crap they are, where they are, or if they're right about being a priority, unless they're right there by me.

I should probably look into adjusting the settings. I currently have to look right at someone to see their name; maybe I can set them to constantly float above their heads, at least for teammates? I don't know. What would help, however, if instead of a "voice" icon next to the name of someone who is talking, Valve had it set up so an icon of the class they're playing as appeared. If I could instantly know that the guy who was talking was the soldier with the top hat, it would make communication one heck of a lot easier.

Friday, April 2, 2010

Son Of A...

So I've decided that I really want to try and do a good job with this whole video review thing and that the headset just wasn't going to cut it, so I ordered a relatively inexpensive, but well reviewed, microphone and a pop filter. For those who are unaware, a pop filter is something you put between you and the microphone to cut down on wind interference and "pop" noises from "p" sounds and the like.

Well, I'm still waiting on the mic, but the pop filter has arrived! ...And it has a hole in the screen. I have not even opened the package, and there is a hole in the screen. In fact, there are two screens in the apparatus, and both have a hole in the same spot. These holes are off-center and the screen may very well be capable of warding off pops, which would be enough, but I'm not even sure I should open the package to try.

Then again, I haven't tried the mic yet, and I'm expecting it tomorrow. Maybe it has some sort of unadvertised pop prevention built in and I'll be able to return this thing and get my money back without having to wait for a replacement to record anything. That could happen, right? Even though the packaging for the pop filter shows a mic that looks exactly like the mic I ordered, I might not really need it, right? Right?


Thursday, April 1, 2010

April Fools Bullcrap

April Fools can be a fun day, but it also results in a lot of stupid, simply not funny stuff. I logged into Deviant Art today to discover that all the user icons had been changed to things like Lady Gaga and Twilight. That's a little weird, kind of annoying and not really funny, at least in my opinion. It's made worse by the fact that they've basically done it before, except they gave people "I herd u like mudkips" icons back then. Not as bad, but I still didn't like it.

One reason I don't like the icon swap is because on top of not being that funny, it's something forced upon the user and possibly leaving them with an icon that represents something they hate. There are people who not only don't like Twilight, but are genuinely offended by the lessons it supposedly teaches young women. An icon swap for one day is ultimately not a big deal, but it's still a bit dickish to force someone of that viewpoint to use a Twilight icon for any period of time.

I'm repeating myself from Twitter, but It would have been fun and amusing if they changed up other graphics on the site, replacing their mascot with various funny images. It would give people something new and provide a fun meta-game treasure hunt for the site. The "haha your icon is co-opted and possibly something you hate" is less funny joke and more middle finger.