Tales of the Rampant Coyote
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Friday, October 28, 2005
 
A World Lost To Me...
EDIT: Man, I had no idea when I posted this late last night that Keith Parkinson - the brilliant artist who did the poster I mentioned below (not to mention all of the box covers for EverQuest, as well as countless fantasy book covers) passed away on Wednesday. Suddenly that poster is going to be a heck of a lot more sad to look at than the simple reasons I posted below. This is sad news indeed. You can read more here currently - it's the front page of Dark Sword Miniatures, no permalink yet.
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Man. So I'm digging around looking for a disc for an old game tonight, and I keep stumbling over Everquest discs from the original game and various expansions. In their jewel-box packages. The original EverQuest - the one I anxiously awaited the day I heard it announced in something like 1997. I still have the big EverQuest promotional poster by Keith Parkinson from 1998 hanging over my computer. I also found the Kunark disc, my registration code still stuck to it. Ah, Kunark. The first expansion. That one revived my interest in the year-old game. And Velious. And Luclin. And Planes of Power. The expansion after that was an online download only, but I got that one too. Fond memories all.

And I thought to myself, "Holy crap, I spent a heck of a lot of money on this game that I can't even play anymore."

Okay, TECHNICALLY I might still be able to play it. They've not shut EQ down yet. I cancelled my account around September 2003, after four-and-a-half years of playing. My characters might still be there, if I renewed my account. Maybe. But it's sad realizing my rogue isn't really MINE, he's sitting on a server at Sony if he's not been erased forever. I started him just after midnight on April 2nd, 1999 - my birthday. I'd started a couple of characters on Veeshan prior to that, but I ended up staying on Tunare.

I played a rogue because I love playing rogues in ANY game. And rogues were so incredibly freaking useless and busted in EQ the first six months or so it wasn't even funny. But I love rogues. I love playing them in any game. I thought the "Thief" games rocked because they captured the experience I wanted in playing a rogue so perfectly that they really WERE like a roleplaying game to me. One of my finest nights in EverQuest during those early months were when a bunch of us rogues got together in the temple of Cazic-Thule in a group because nobody else would have us. So it was almost an all-rogue group (plus a shaman) - the MISFIT group. And we found a way to make the game WORK for us.

It really sucked - we'd log in, right there in the temple, and try to find a group for 2-3 hours. While there were groups forming and re-forming all around us. We'd try and start a group, but the first person we invited would see we were a rogue and would immediately disband. After a couple of hours of this, we'd get sick of it, log out, and go play a secondary character or quit the game for the night. (And yet I'm remembering this whole thing FONDLY?!?!? The game SUCKED!!!! Well, keep going).

See, the problem with rogues in those days was that they didn't really have any abilities at ALL except for backstab - which would often hit for only 2 points of damage. But even those little 2 point hits would raise aggro to the point that no warrior could possibly taunt the monster away from you - he turned to you and proceeded to beat you to a pulp. And since he was facing you, you couldn't backstab any more. There was no "evasion" ability until after Kunark was old news. So you did no real damage after getting that first backstab or two in, and you died because you folded only slightly faster than the enchanter. The clerics eventually quit worrying about healing the rogue because there just WAS no way they could keep up, and they'd just figure they got a breather before having to heal up the party tank again. Rogues died a lot, and contributed virtually nothing to a party.

So anyway, we misfit rogues all got together, and discovered that - woah - with FOUR of us all backstabbing, the monsters would whirl around in a circle as the last person to backstab them would get the aggro. The shaman would haste us and keep us healed fairly well. With four hasted rogues going at full-tilt, we were clearing through monsters in RECORD time. Someone would yell "Add" - which meant another monster spotted us and was rushing to join the fight - and by the time the monster attacked we'd already dispatched our foe and were ready for the next one. The shaman commented on how AMAZED he was by the progress we made. We'd beaten the system.

Of course, we were afraid to announce our success TOO loudly, for fear that Verant would use that as evidence that the rogue class was "just fine." Fortunately, they didn't, and they did things like letting us hide and sneak at the same time (so we could actually move while hidden - what a concept), gave us better equipment, and gave us the evasion skill, and just ultimately turned the class into a powerhouse when played well. And that was all fun too.

But that night in the party of rejects, managing to find amazing success by working the system like that ... wow. That was just one of those moments in time you wish you could relive.

Unfortunately, the big benefit of Massively Multiplayer games is also the bane - you can't get those moments back. They aren't frozen on a CD somewhere, they just spontaneously come into being with the right mix of people and situations. So while I feel a few pangs of nostalgia flipping through those old discs, remembering this and so many other wonderful, lost moments, I'm not actually tempted (much) to re-enable my account. That world from that night ceased to exist weeks later, with so many changes within the game. The world I logged out from the last time --- I don't even know if I realized it was the last time when I typed "/camp" (I can't even remember if I logged out in a safe place or in the middle of a dungeon somewhere) - that world just doesn't exist anymore. That world was made up of people, and those people are probably not there anymore.

Dang, I spent a lot of money on that game. But I can't really say I regret it.

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Thursday, October 27, 2005
 
Sucking Slightly Less
So - the Stomach Flu Diet! I tried it, and lost 4 pounds in just two days! Wow.

I mean, ugh.

Yesterday I was starting to improve - thus I was able to throw a blog up and finally export that Mosquootie that I was working on last weekend. Today I'm beginning to feel human again. My stomach is still not acting too keen about accepting solid food yet (or even too much water at one time), but I can actually function again. Go me!

I managed to get some texturing done on my cootie-bug. He's looking less like a cootie now. I gave him antennae, gave him a slightly rounder back, bulged out his eyes so he's got less of a ball for a head, and did a little bit of work on his legs. And I textured him. He still looks like crap --- but maybe if I don't make him THAT giant people won't notice the crap texture work... Nah. Gotta re-do his texture at some point. But it was a good learning experience. Now I get to try rigging and animation in Blender. Once I get a nap. And try once again to re-hydrate myself.

Cute, ain't he? Well, not as cute as the cootie-bug version, but hey - I'm a newbie. But I got the "mad cootie bug modeling skillz," as Dave Meyers said. So I got dat goin' for me - which is nice!

On the game coding front, I'm looking at ripping things apart before making too many more improvements. I had an experimental system for action queuing that sounded like a great idea in my head, but once I got it implemented and working perfectly, it turned out to be far uglier to use than I'd hoped. So it's gotta be stripped out. I'm not looking forward to that task, even though it's not going to be that big of a deal.


Wednesday, October 26, 2005
 
Will I ever NOT suck at 3D Modeling?
I used to fence - you know, the sport with the swords (well, foils and epees and sabers). It's a great sport, and EXHAUSTING. It's ridiculously fun, too. The only problem is that I suck at it. Oh, against other beginners I do okay... but man, the sport is so fast that even when I'm called upon to judge a bout I have a tough time seeing the order of the actions. Who attacked first and had the "right of way". That's an important distinction in foil fencing - he who established the attack, or correctly countered his opponent's attack and then attacked, gets the "right of way" and gets the point in the event of simultaneous touches. Which happens a LOT.

So I acknowledged that I suck at fencing. But that was okay. My goal, I told everyone, was to someday "suck less." I didn't harbor any illusions about being some great championship fencer. I'm not a teenager anymore, and I am not about to make fencing my life. But I could still improve to the point of being competent. I kept going to the club in an effort to suck less. Unfortunately, the club closed down and I haven't hunted down a new one yet, so I still haven't achieved that state of less suckage. But towards the end, I could see a very definite improvement in my abilities.

So now I'm learning 3D modeling. I'm using Blender. I've done some small amounts of modeling in the past - mainly very simple objects in Milkshape (I was very proud of my floating wrench pick-up in Void War. ) I managed to get a BOX modeled, textured, surrounded by a collision volume, and (with great pain and gnashing of teeth) exported from Blender into Torque. THAT experience nearly made me throw my game away and start over with another 2D game. At least in 2D, a picture is a picture. You don't have to worry about polygons with skewed textures, or the collision volume being inside-out, or all the crap you have to go through to export. It's a lot of work. But once I did it, I found that while it was a pain in the butt, it wasn't difficult. But all I had was a box. And not a particularly brilliant-looking box, either. I still suck.

But after that experience, I suck less. I think. So now I want to tackle something trickier. I have a TON of content requirements (SCARY!), most of which I'm going to have to out-source to friends, associates, and hired help. But I thought I could try something kind of simple and start learning the ropes of adding animation. I don't dare start with a human-looking character. But I do have need of having a giant mosquito. So I figure I can do that... insects are simple, right?

So I spend a few hours trying to model a mosquito. I'm still having to battle blender getting textures to "stick" - I think I'm doing something wrong there. But I get the model together, and I throw together a colorful texture as a stand-in, and I arrange the model with my newfound technical knowledge of how to export an object from Blender to Torque.

With great joy and excitement, I put the mosquito in my game. Stand-in texture, no animation, just to see how it looks and works.

And he resembles nothing so much as a giant Cootie. You know, that preschool game where you have to build a bug? If I was doing "Cooties: The Computer Game," I'd be golden. But my giant mosquito was supposed to be all menacing and stuff. Maybe it was the colorful stand-in texture, and maybe all it needs is some tweaking. I sure hope so. But I was turning up my nose at some content packs earlier because they look "amaturish." Compared to my cootie - I mean, mosquito - they look awesome.

*Sigh*

It's a good thing I earn a living with my programming skills. 'Cuz I still suck at 3D modeling. But I'm going to keep at it in hopes to someday suck less. And in the meantime, I'm going to continue to be insanely jealous of you guys and gals who can whip out a beautiful, complete human character model in a couple of days.

FEAR THE GIANT MOSQUOOTIE!!!



Monday, October 24, 2005
 
Finished Kingmaker
I finished Kingmaker (the first of the Premium Neverwinter Nights modules I talked about last post) last night. Not quite as impressive at the end as it was in the beginning. But it was still a pretty good adventure, and well worth the money. The first two-thirds of the game contains a story of intrigue and deal-making as you attempt to win hearts and minds through effort and blackmail to win an election to become the Lord of a castle that you saved. But once the election has happened, all the current storylines and quests are dropped like a hot potato, and you have a very traditional dungeon romp awaiting you.

Not that this is a bad thing - I love a good old-fashioned dungeon romp as much as the next guy. I just wish I could have seen some more of the effects of my actions. One of my biggest complaints with computer RPGs in general --- and probably the hardest to fix in any game --- the NPCs have these wonderful scripts that make you willingly suspend disbelief and enjoy the game as a drama as much as you'd enjoy reading a book. Then, once they are no longer key to the plot, they become cardboard posters that repeat the same thing endlessly, even though what they are saying no longer makes sense in the current context. As an example, in Kingmaker, you have characters wishing you the best of luck in an election you've already won. This was true all the way back to the days when Lord British would say, "Greetings, welcome to my castle! How goes your quest?" when your characters were all dying of poison and starvation in front of his throne.

Not that I think I have a solution to that problem. It's tough enough for a skilled writer to make a character "come alive" on a page when he has full control of the presentation. It's ridiculous to expect the computer to do better. But I'll keep wishing.

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Tuesday, October 18, 2005
 
Neverwinter Nights Premium Modules
Last night I went ahead and purchased the Premium Modules from Bioware's site for Neverwinter Nights. A little over $22 for four modules. Granted, that's $22 over and above the over $100 or so I've spent on the original game plus the two expansions. Even so - I've gotten a LOT of gameplay out of Neverwinter Nights so far. I've been playing multiplayer every single week, and also downloading & playing a lot of fan-made modules.

Plus I wanted to support Bioware with this effort of creating high-quality "pro" modules. $22 seemed cheap for a good 50 hours or so of gameplay.

The new modules include some new voice-acting, new music, big hakpacks... oh, and big cutscenes. I didn't have much time to play, so that last bit was a little frustrating, as the module I started last night (Kingmaker) had a LOT of conversations and cutscenes back-to-back. But I do have to hand it to them... they managed to cobble up a pretty interesting opening adventure. You are with a group of very strange heroes, ready to stop the evil masked figure from taking a fortress and forming a great kingdom of evil. You stop him, but get caught in the counterattack, and slain. (This happens in the first ten minutes, so I don't think it's much of a spoiler). You are resurrected by a mysterious benefactor - stripped of most of your previous power (back to level 1 for you!), and you have the option of resurrecting only two of your four companions to rejoin you in life - to perhaps claim this kingdom for your own.

And who is the mysterious benefactor?

Anyway, pretty interesting stuff. And for cheap! Bioware might not be indie, but they are adopting the indie mentality with this direct-distribution of content made by a small "live" team. I'm anxious to play!

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Comedy Gold!
Man. I've already devoted two (?) blog entries to Jack Thompson, which even on this remote little blogpost on the edge of nowhere is more exposure than he probably deserves. But the guy has been given plenty of rope, and his hanging all credability he might have had - so who am I not to allow him this luxury?

http://yro.slashdot.org/yro/05/10/18/1516223.shtml?tid=123&tid=153&tid=10

I just wonder what the likelihood of any of this making it to the maintream press will be? He's alienating his allies, painting himself as a soldier in the trenches of WWII battling the Nazis (the entire game industry is apparently Nazis), and calling himself a "footsoldier of God." But in the meantime he's probably still gonna get more slots on 60 minutes labeling all games "murder simulators."

Oh, well. I've already voiced my opinion on the matter. I question if some games should even be played by ADULTS. But call me crazy, I kinda believe in giving people their freedom to choose. If I think my daughter can handle watching (or reading, even better!) The Fellowship of the Ring, that should be my call, not a government's.
Wednesday, October 12, 2005
 
The Origin of Fun
There's a great article in this weeks issue of The Escapist entitled, "The Conquest of Origin." Recommended reading for ANYONE remotely interested in game development. Particularly the description of how we went from being a hobby industry full of cool ideas and energy to ... well, as Lester Bangs put it in the movie, "Almost Famous": "An industry of 'cool'." Clones, sequels, and pretty graphics covering a lack of substance.

One of my most prized possessions is the book, "The Official Book of Ultima," by Shay Addams. I picked it up in '91 or '92 at an "inverse auction" at the BYU bookstore as they were liquidating inventory. I think I got it for somewhere around $4. I was on a newly-wed college-student budget, so that was not a trivial expenditure. I took it home, and didn't really look at it for a couple of days, but then I dug in and was enthralled. I was already hooked on Origin's Wing Commander game at the time, and I don't remember if I had already played Ultima 7 or not. But the thing that I enjoyed the most about the book was not the walk-throughs of the first six Ultimas, but the biography of Richard Garriott and his company, as well as the design and development that went on behind the scenes to create these games. Maybe that's how I knew I wanted to create games for a living - I thought the development stories were more exciting than the games themselves.

(Here's a hint to game guides today - don't just be about full-color photos and tips that you can get for free off the Internet. Put stories of its development behind it. Put in some details, charts, design philosophies that could only come from the developers. Put in stuff that can't be figured out after only an hour of playing the game.)

I'd already talked to my wife about my attempt to get a job with Origin after college. I'd talked to an HR representative at Origin about the prospect - she told me what things they look for on a resume, and also assured me that finishing my degree was entirely optional. That made me a little cautious. As I got closer to graduation, I heard rumors that Origin ran something of a sweatshop, and that they didn't use many college grads because the pay was lousy. With a wife to support and plans of adding a new person to our family in the relatively near-future, that slowed down my plans to relocate to Austin. As it turns out, I found a few videogame companies here in Utah, interviewed, and found myself happily employed at a brand-new studio named SingleTrac.

And SingleTrac was doing a cool space-fighter game that had me thinking of Wing Commander - albeit more of a 3D R-Type style game later called Warhawk. Not to mention the car-combat game that became known as Twisted Metal.

I somehow whined and wheedled my way into getting sent to the 1995 Computer Game Developer's Conference (before they dropped the "Computer" part, and just became the GDC, with an emphasis on console games). Though it had nothing to do with what I was personally working on at SingleTrac, I couldn't resist going to a session sponsored by Origin. They were still flush with cash from their recent purchase by Electronic Arts, and were on top of the world. Richard Garriott got up and showed a video of the big massive LARP-style Haunted House that he did every other year. Then he talked about how cool Origin was, how many projects they were taking on, how they were willing to provide money and expertise to small game companies (he pointed to Warren Spector's work managing Looking Glass on the Ultima Underworld and System Shock games as an example). He emphasized how they had a LOT of money now and weren't afraid to spend it. He also showed off their latest game, Bioforge, which looked a heck of a lot better than it played.

Then Warren Spector got up - he was the guy I really wanted to hear from, no matter how much I loved Richard Garriott's Ultima games. Because Warren was the guy who produced the Wing Commander and Ultima Underworld games, which had totally blown me away and made me want to go into game development professionally. He also had been in the dice & paper RPG industry, which was also near & dear to my heart. He talked about what KIND of games Origin was interested in investing in, and he said that what "really gets my shorts in a knot" was 3D, first-person-perspective games. Newfangled technology and all. And then they invited us to visit them at their hospitality suite.

This was a great year for the conference - the best year that I attended. It was still small enough that they had a "Hospitality Suite" night where you could wander all over the hotel and visit other companies in their suites. They'd show off what cool stuff they were working on - or show you what cool tools you should buy or hardware you should support, and bribed you with swag and all kinds of gourmet food. I remember IBM had pasta bar, and one company offered such dishes as scallops wrapped in bacon. Origin? They had pizza and beer. I don't drink, but I happily pestered Richard Garriott for one of their cool T-shirts. Unfortunately, when he introduced us to Warren Spector as he walked by, the best I could muster was, "Hi, glad to meet you." A wealth of knowledge available in these two legendary game designers, and that's the best I could do. But it was crowded, a lot of people clamoring for attention, and I was too modest to be an irritant. Nevertheless, Richard Garriott was extraordinarily gracious, attentive, energetic, and just plain cool.

A few years later Origin pretty much imploded under EA control. I read something from one of the leads (lead programmer?) on Ultima 8 - where he said he pushed hard to meet deadlines imposed by management (mainly EA), and learned later that your heroic effort to meet deadlines is forgotten, but the fact you came out with a buggy, poor-quality game is remembered for a long, long time.

I never played Ultima 8 or 9... I have Ultima 8 somewhere in the closet, almost completely unplayed. I don't even know if the saga of the Guardian was ever wrapped up --- he was set up to be such a great bad-guy in Ultima VII, and he was a constant looming presence in Ultima Underworld 2 and Ultima 7 part 2. I didn't even play Ultima Online - in spite of anxiously waiting for it for a couple of years - because I was too busy with work when it came out, and then I heard tales of extremely laggy servers and annoying PvP "ganking." But it survived, and lives still, I guess.

I just wish that I could see another Garriott-designed single-player Ultima again. Highly unlikely, but in this twisted industry, you can't ever really say never.

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Sunday, October 09, 2005
 
Videogaming on the Decline (again?)
The game-related bit from a recent Piper Jaffret survey:

"The students were also surveyed on video game products and other consumer electronics. Results of the survey point out 79 percent of student households have at least one video game platform and 58 percent of students stating that they are occasional game players (playing at least monthly). In addition, 65 percent of student households own Sony's PS2, 50 percent own Microsoft's Xbox and 26 percent own Nintendo's GameCube. GameStop was recognized in the survey as the leading retailer for pre-owned video games with 60 percent market share and 29 percent market share for teen video game purchases. The survey also pointed out that 75 percent of teens say their interest in video games is declining and 78 percent indicated they spent less time playing in 2005."

What does this mean? Heck if I know. Nintendo has commented extensively about how videogame sales in Japan have been in decline - now, a couple of years later, is it happening in the U.S. as well? Nintendo's stance as to the reason why was something I'm not entirely in agreement with (but they've been in this biz a lot longer than me, so I fully acknowledge that I could be wrong) - that flashy graphics aren't enough of a gimmick to keep players coming back for more. So they are inventing new controls to be the next gimmick. (The use of the term "gimmick" is me putting words into their mouth, BTW).

I agree completely that for years the cooler, more detailed graphics have been the driving force in games. For all the talk of gameplay (and arguments over what that word really means), when people vote with their wallet, it tends to go towards the prettiest pictures. That's not the entire equation - otherwise Hollywood would have taken over in the mid-90's when FMV technology became a reality like they tried to do. But each new generation of graphics is becoming less and less impressive to the jaded consumer. ESPECIALLY when the new games coming out are merely graphical retreads of the same game that has been pumped out for the last five-to-ten years.

But did people quit reading books because the novelty of books wore off? No. Granted, a bunch of people never bother to read because there's more passive media available (the television in particular). But look at the feeding frenzy that surrounded the last Harry Potter releases - proof that there's still some powerful life left in that medium! Yet it's nothing that couldn't have been written thirty years ago - the written word hasn't depended upon technology much since the invention of the printing press.

are we going to continue to slave videogames to technology for success? Now that we're hitting the stage where the average player can't discern the qualitative difference in a scene from three-year-old technology and the latest technology (nevermind those differences doubled our budget to create!), are we going to run out of ways to show players something they've never seen before?

I don't think that's necessary. Yeah, I think we'll have a tougher time sustaining the growth in sales we are used to seeing. But that one simply CAN'T continue forever - I mean, if 79% of student households have videogame consoles already, there's not a lot of room to expand that particular market. Your maximum growth is 20%. You either need to branch out to other markets - foreign markets and different demographics - or you need to think twice about doubling the budgets of next-generation games.

Of course, the poll could be incorrect as well. And it could simply be indicating the usual slump that occurs just before a new generation of consoles hits the market. So who knows?
Wednesday, October 05, 2005
 
Jack Thompson to write video game legislation?
Well, for a while, it seemed like the game's industries favorite paranoid, lawyer Jack Thompson, had been asked to draft legislation for banning sales of videogames containing certain content for the state of Florida.

Now, I'm something of a prude. I am not really not thrilled by gratuitous T&A, gore, or profanity in my games. I think it's pretty juvenile, personally. I love a game with good, "mature" subject matter, but my definition of "mature" differs a little bit from the rest of the world. I enjoy a game (or book, movie, TV show, etc) that might deal with things like love, sex, revenge, angst, death, tragedy, and yes --- even violence. But I don't need it slapped onto the screen in full high-definition pixel-shaded glory for shock / exploitation value. If games had the same rating system as the movies, I'd prefer a "PG" or "PG-13" rating on my games, thankyouverymuch. However, the movie rating system and the ESRB game rating system are pretty warped and messed up anyhow - but that's a tangent I won't go on right now.

That all being said, I'm generally opposed to the legislation getting introduced in some states banning the sale of certain videogames. Especially anything Jack Thompson might draft. I am concerned about how that might restrict sales of unrated games (since getting a game through the ESRB rating process is prohibitively expensive for most indies), and I am concerned about how that might restrict games that might have mature themes (enough to get an "M" rating) but aren't in the same category as, say, GTA or a Mortal Kombat game. Think "Schindler's List" as compared to, say, "Booty Call." Already we have games that arbitrarily close off potential actions not because of technical limitations, but because of fear that allowing the player to do certain things would bump the rating. I worry how many stores, fearing fines, will just drop sales of "M" rated games entirely (undoubtably what Thompson & other legislation-drafters are hoping for), and games will once again be dismissed as "kids stuff" instead of a potentially serious medium.

And I'm worried that the government is taking over responsibility that should belong to parents. Yes, it's been demonstrated that many parents have been either truly slacking in their responsibilities, or they truly see nothing wrong with their 10-year old watching rated R movies and playing Grand Theft Auto: San Andreas. Does this mean your oh-so-competent government with its one-size-fits-all mentality should step in and take over?

Fortunately, it looks like the whole Jack Thompson thing might have been yet another delusion of his mind (like imagined death threats from gif images). This article claims that Jeb Bush's administration is denying having contacted Thompson at all. Hopefully if it did happen, it's becoming politically so embarassing that whatever Thompson pens won't go very far.

But he's not the only nut in the bowl.
Monday, October 03, 2005
 
A couple of Classic RPGs
It's no secret to anyone who reads this blog (all two of you) that I'm a big 'classic' game fan. Not everything old is good - I think the rate of crap to good games is still pretty much constant for our industry - still about 20:1. But I like to go back and mine some of these old games for ideas, since it seems that things were a bit more experimental back then. There were a few more original concepts sandwiched between the parade of clones.

So last week I attempted two forays into very old (and very different) worlds - Final Fantasy 3 (which I think was FF6 in Japan), and the original Wizardry: Proving Grounds of the Mad Overlord. I'm still reserving my opinion of FF3, but I find I am playing it for FUN rather than for research. That's a good sign. However, after having played FF7, FFX, most of FF8 (still on my list to complete), and a smidgen of FF2 and Chrono Trigger... the similarity in the gameplay among all these games gets old after a while. The same strategies get used with a few variants. The storylines and characters is what saves them - they are delightful as always.

The criticisms that get leveled at all games in the series apply quite well to FF3 - it's so linear and story-based that it's sometimes barely a game at all. You can play with a level of passivity that's somewhere above reading a book but far below the level of engagement of a multiplayer UT2004 match. I don't know if that's necessarily a BAD thing so much as a taste thing - a lot of people get pulled into the FF games precisely because they ARE so low-stress and easy to play. Since I'm now an indie, which has started getting (regrettably) defined as "casual game developers," I'm kinda mindful of how important simplicity in a game can be.

Wizardry had me hooked for about three hours on Saturday. It's still fun, but MAN.... It's easy to see why games didn't go mainstream in 1981. The interface for this game is extremely arcane by our standards 25 years later. Actually I think it was reasonably arcane even in 1981 - knowing that you had to go to the Edge of Town to create new characters, then go to the pub to form your adventuring group, figure out why your character wasn't qualifying for any classes, dealing with a random point allocation to determine how strong your character would be --- funky stuff. Many of the strange concepts were lifted wholesale from the dice & paper Dungeons and Dragons campaigns I have little doubt they two creators played. It was an initial foray into trying to replicate the "D&D Experience" on the computer.

It also shows that some elements of that experience should have stayed at the coffee table where they belonged. Things like character aging, or having to send a "rescue party" to recover dead characters (with no "save game" other than backing up your floppy). Though that last has returned in one form in MMORPGs --- while nobody looks forward to said "Corpse Recoveries," they do make for some dramatic and interesting adventuring.

Wizardry I was surpassed in pretty much every way by later, greater games developed for beefier systems. Games like the SSI "Gold Box" D&D series, the Bard's Tale games by Interplay, Dungeon Master, Eye of the Beholder, and other successors really accepted the torch and took it to new levels without missing anything important in the core design. There's no great reason to play Wizardry I today except for historical interest.

Except, well, it's still mildly fun. But I'm not certain I'm willing to play it to completion.

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Saturday, October 01, 2005
 
Serenity Takes Wing
I saw the full, finished version of Serenity last night. It's really hard to point out differences between this version and the "90% complete" preview I saw a few months ago. There were no major changes (except for the addition of a real soundtrack).

The expository intro didn't bug me so much this time, and actually Inarra's role didn't seem as minor as my first viewing - though I don't think they changed anything there. I think they tightened things up a lot with editing. In some of the expository scenes, they added some more cut-aways to show more instead of talking heads. A couple of the action sequences seemed REALLY tightened up - with special effects added and cleaner editing to really show what's going on a lot more clearly.

In other words, Joss Whedon really polished it up nice. It was a great show before, but now it sparkles. Serenity rawks.

Unfortunately, it's going to have a problem just getting people to see the show. We went out for ice cream with friends after seeing it, and the girl attending us asked what movie we'd gone to see, and we said, "Serenity." She said, "Oh, who's in it?"

Ummm... nobody. Sure, Nathan Fillion and Gina Tores are big in my book, but most people don't know who they are. And Ron Glass has been doing stuff FOREVER but he's not got star power for drawing in an audience. It's biggest draw is that it's got Joss Whedon-subtitled-"The Maker of Buffy the Vampire Slayer" behind it.

I hope that it succeeds in spite of this, because I really want to see more of Serenity and her crew.

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