Category Archives: gaming

I’m a gamer, so I will naturally talk about games.

streaming schedule

So, last semester I dabbled with streaming a bit with my friend Luke, aka BlueWales73. We had a ton of fun doing it, and while we didn’t really have more than one or two viewers in our few test streams, we felt like it’s something we want to keep doing.

While we’re not doing it trying to get a ton of viewers or anything we still think that it’s good to set an actual streaming schedule so that at least we are consistent. Who knows, maybe people will watch in the future.

As of right now the plan is to stream Tuesdays and Saturdays, 8-10 MST. You can find those on my twitch channel, or if you follow me on twitter I always tweet a link whenever we start streaming.

I will also likely stream at random times as well, but those aren’t going to be on a schedule or anything, since some weeks will be busier than others.

customer feedback and early access

Just before the holidays I completed my penultimate semester of college, in which one of my classes was on Software Business, in particular about starting one. One of the most important things we talked about in the class was customer validation before you begin making the product. Before you write the software you find out what it is that the customers wanted. In the course of the class we formed groups that acted as start-ups and we did surveys to find out if people would actually buy the software we were going to make. (Most of the groups were just in it for the grade, though a few were planning on taking their business ideas beyond the scope of the class, for which I applaud them. I was certainly not one of them.)

The point of the exercise was that before you put a lot of effort into making a piece of software you should figure out if people will buy it, and what they’ll be willing to buy it for. As Steve Blank said “No business plan survives first contact with the customer.” So, better to have that contact before you invest time and money into that business plan.

This also applies to the game industry. When you are making a game you want to make sure the game is fun to play, that the mechanics work and that your players understand your story. As you make the game, though, you get blinded by your own bias and you become unable to see the flaws, the things that might be unclear, or the things that might not be so fun. In order to make sure you have the best game possible you want to get outside input. Just like in the software industry many companies will do an alpha or a beta release.

In comes “early access”. In the past year we’ve seen more and more games starting to get released under the early access system, either on Steam or through their own sites. The idea behind these games being released in this way is that developers can get player feedback so that the game can be even better.

Cube World, being developed by Picroma, currently in alpha
Cube World, being developed by Picroma, currently in alpha

From the Steam website:

We like to think of games and game development as services that grow and evolve with the involvement of customers and the community. There have been a number of prominent titles that have embraced this model of development recently and found a lot of value in the process. We like to support and encourage developers who want to ship early, involve customers, and build lasting relationships that help everyone make better games.

This is the way games should be made.

There is merit to this, and there are success stories that show that early access to a game can help the game develop into something great. Minecraft, for example, exploded in popularity during it’s alpha and beta releases, giving the developer Mojang access to mountains of player feedback. It’s a game that continues to evolve even today, each new release adding more to the game.

Unlike a pre-purchase of the game you get access to it immediately, and from the get go you can play the game in it’s current form. However, both pre-purchase and early access come with one inherent problem:

You are buying a game that is not finished yet.

When you pre-purchase a game you are paying for something before it has come out. You have no idea, and no way of knowing, if it is any good. With early access you are paying for a game that is in progress, but you also have an opportunity to be a part of the game’s development, which is a unique opportunity. However, you have to keep in mind, the game isn’t done yet.

Hearthstone, Blizzard's digital CCG, currently in closed beta.
Hearthstone, Blizzard’s digital CCG, currently in closed beta.

There will be problems, there will be crashes, there will be changes, there will be bugs. As long as you understand the risks associated with purchasing an early access game then there isn’t a problem. Getting early access to a game is a great opportunity, however, early access in itself as a business model is doing damage to the gaming industry.

Not everyone understands that the game isn’t finished yet. When the game is released to the public in an unfinished state it effects the way that people view the game. When the crashes and the bugs happen those become what are focused on, and it does damage to the game and to it’s development cycle. People who were at first excited about the game coming out start to lose interest, and the game can die before it’s even finished.

If you want to be a part of the process, if you are interested in seeing the game in it’s early stages, if you are willing to put up with the problems and the crashes and the bugs than by all means, by that game in early access. I myself have played a number of these early access games. The important thing to keep in mind is this:

The game isn’t finished yet.

You can’t judge an alpha or beta game based on it’s current state. The game isn’t done yet, so don’t judge it based on what it is, but on what it can become.

Brothers: A Tale of Two Sons

I don’t say this often, but you need to experience this game. Everyone needs to experience this game. Why? Brothers is, by far, the most powerful game I have ever experienced. Do not watch Let’s Play’s do not read spoilers, do not look it up on wikipedia, you need to experience the game’s story yourself. Heck, you probably should just stop reading this review right here. Here, have a link, just go on steam and buy it right now, and play it.

In case that didn’t work and you need more convincing (or if you have already played it and just want to read my thoughts on it) let me explain why I am praising this game.

In Brothers you play as two brothers who are on a journey to find the tree of life to heal their dying father. The game has a very unique mechanic. You control both brothers simultaneously and use them to solve different puzzles. Brothers only works with controllers, which, for me, is normally a turn off, but in this case it’s completely justifiable.

While at first a bit disorienting, the control scheme feels natural and is fairly simple. You only use the sticks for movement, the triggers to interact with the two brothers, and the bumpers can be used to control the camera. While I would often get the two brothers confused and end up trying to move the wrong one, by the end of the game I mostly was able to keep them straight.

Brother is more of an adventure game than a puzzle game. The puzzles that are there in the game are not too difficult, but they keep you engaged and make good use of the fact that you are controlling two brothers. I would not describe Brothers as a puzzle game, it’s more of an adventure game. You, as the Brothers, are on a journey, and while there are some obstacles and puzzles in the way, the game is really about the journey.

And what a journey it is. The story is incredible, and without any spoilers, it is one of the most powerful stories I have ever experiences in a video game. The game is also visually beautiful.

Brothers is, to me, a prime example of the power of video games. What makes it wonderful is the fact that the mechanics go hand in hand with the story. There is no dissonance between the two, as you play as the two brothers on their journey you are being taken on a journey, and at least for me it was a journey I will likely never forget.

Even after playing through the game myself and watching my two brothers each play it still touches me deep in my soul. This game shows that a game can be powerful, that a game can tell a wonderful story (with no dialogue, by the way), that a game can make you feel accomplished, that a game can make you cry, that a game can change people. I will repeat myself again: You need to experience Brothers for yourself.

toxicity, anonymity, and the word ‘noob’

For some context take a look at this article on Polygon, which talks about online harassment and cyber-bullying targeted at game developers. A very good read, and it got me thinking about this topic.

Toxicity is not something limited to online games, but it is one of the places that it seems to be the most prevalent. When I look back on the last few times I’ve played online multiplayer games I can recall at least a dozen cases of toxicity. Trash talking, insults, cursing, blaming other people on your team, these are just a few of the ways that toxicity comes into place in these types of games.

Why? Honestly, what purpose does this serve? Why do we feel a need to be so toxic when we are playing games?

One of the last time I played Dota 2 I had a particularly bad experience with a particularly toxic player. I am still fairly new to Dota 2, and one of the problems (and one of the intriguing parts) of single draft is that you will often end up with a hero that you have never played before. This was the case, and as such I was floundering a bit. One player in particular got annoyed at me, and in the chat consistently berated me for every perceived mistake, including every time he died and I was nearby. (In one of these cases he claimed that I should have sacrificed myself so he could get away because he was losing too much farm or something.) Now, I will admit that I am not a great player, and I am sure that I was making a lot of mistakes that game, but the abuse (I do not use this term lightly, the level of toxicity was abusive) was completely uncalled for.

The thing I found very interesting in this case was that on our team this particularly toxic player had the second lowest level, had the least kills and the second lowest gold per minute.

In my experience I’ve noticed that good players don’t trash talk. Good players don’t need to blame others, they don’t need to get inside their opponents head, they just play their best and usually win. The players that resort to toxicity are generally not that great, to be frank.

Recently I’ve been prompted on YouTube several times if I want to use my real name instead of an alias on my channel and in comments. I’ve turned this down, but it make me question the motivation to this push. YouTube comments are most certainly one of the few places on earth where you can find almost incomprehensible amounts of ignorance, stupidity and toxicity. I think if people would read their comments aloud it would stop a lot of it, but I think there is an entirely different cause as well, at least for the toxicity part: anonymity. On YouTube you hide behind a username, no one has any idea who you are, and when hiding behind a mask it’s really easy for our ugly sides to come out.

I personally think that if everyone on YouTube were to use their real names it would stop most people from making toxic comments. Of course, there is a whole slew of privacy concerns with that, but I think that it would at least alleviate a large amount of toxicity on YouTube.

When we play online games, we are essentially hiding behind a mask. We are known by our usernames and gamer tags, and in a way those become an entirely different identity, and in a lot of ways disconnected from who we are in person, and a lot of people really aren’t worried about soiling that second identity because it’s distinct from them. This is another root of toxicity, this idea that you are anonymous online.

It needs to stop. There is no need for it, and it just harms the gaming community. There is a reason that gamers are not taken seriously in society, why when it’s discovered that a political candidate plays World of Warcraft it is heavily criticized and becomes news. We as gamers are perceived an immature, toxic and disconnected, and a large part of why is that this sort of behaviour is so common in online interactions. Are all players that way? Not by a long shot. Enough are, though, to make this a serious problem.

I wanted to finish off with one more point. There is a word that float around in the gaming community, a derogatory term that I feel needs to be buried once and for all. This word is ‘noob’. In no other activity that I know of is it a bad thing to be starting. In almost every other social activity and/or social circle/group that I know of people are happy when new people show an interest. Every time I am at the game store playing Magic the Gathering I am really happy to see someone there playing in a draft for the first time. In my experience people are more than willing to help the new player learn the (admittedly) complicated rules of the game, to help them feel welcome, and to get them to want to play more.

However, a brand new player jumps on to Dota 2, and immediately everyone in the game is yelling at them, calling them a ‘noob’, and telling them to go home. How is this alright? I don’t understand why some gamers are so quick to try and chase away anyone who wants to share in their hobbies? It doesn’t make any sense to me, and I have a strong urge when I hear (or see, as the case may be) the word ‘noob’ to punch the perpetrator in the face. It needs to stop.

DnD personality test

Interesting little test that a friend of mine posted about on twitter. Here are my results:

I Am A: True Neutral Human Bard/Sorcerer (2nd/2nd Level)

Ability Scores:
Strength-9
Dexterity-13
Constitution-11
Intelligence-14
Wisdom-10
Charisma-12

Alignment:
True Neutral A true neutral character does what seems to be a good idea. He doesn’t feel strongly one way or the other when it comes to good vs. evil or law vs. chaos. Most true neutral characters exhibit a lack of conviction or bias rather than a commitment to neutrality. Such a character thinks of good as better than evil after all, he would rather have good neighbors and rulers than evil ones. Still, he’s not personally committed to upholding good in any abstract or universal way. Some true neutral characters, on the other hand, commit themselves philosophically to neutrality. They see good, evil, law, and chaos as prejudices and dangerous extremes. They advocate the middle way of neutrality as the best, most balanced road in the long run. True neutral is the best alignment you can be because it means you act naturally, without prejudice or compulsion. However, true neutral can be a dangerous alignment when it represents apathy, indifference, and a lack of conviction.

Race:
Humans are the most adaptable of the common races. Short generations and a penchant for migration and conquest have made them physically diverse as well. Humans are often unorthodox in their dress, sporting unusual hairstyles, fanciful clothes, tattoos, and the like.

Primary Class:
Bards often serve as negotiators, messengers, scouts, and spies. They love to accompany heroes (and villains) to witness heroic (or villainous) deeds firsthand, since a bard who can tell a story from personal experience earns renown among his fellows. A bard casts arcane spells without any advance preparation, much like a sorcerer. Bards also share some specialized skills with rogues, and their knowledge of item lore is nearly unmatched. A high Charisma score allows a bard to cast high-level spells.

Secondary Class:
Sorcerers are arcane spellcasters who manipulate magic energy with imagination and talent rather than studious discipline. They have no books, no mentors, no theories just raw power that they direct at will. Sorcerers know fewer spells than wizards do and acquire them more slowly, but they can cast individual spells more often and have no need to prepare their incantations ahead of time. Also unlike wizards, sorcerers cannot specialize in a school of magic. Since sorcerers gain their powers without undergoing the years of rigorous study that wizards go through, they have more time to learn fighting skills and are proficient with simple weapons. Charisma is very important for sorcerers; the higher their value in this ability, the higher the spell level they can cast.

Find out What Kind of Dungeons and Dragons Character Would You Be?, courtesy of Easydamus (e-mail)

console wars redux

An update on the Xbox One, they’ve apparently gotten their heads screwed back on tight, and got rid of a lot of their DRM stuff. Pretty much every point I made in the original console wars post has been rescinded. Well, everything except the nonsense about the kinect, which alone makes me prefer the PlayStation.

So, with this new Xbox 180 does it change my opinions about the new Xbox? Not really. The fact of the matter is that this move is too little, too late. While it is nice to see that they are listening to the backlash from fans and the media, I still read a little bit of a slap in the face from Microsoft. Originally they were going to give some nice features as well, such as being able to share your Xbox live account with family members. That is really nice, and for a family with more than one gamer in it, that can save some money. However, their not going to do that anymore, at least that’s what it looks like. When I read their update (link at the bottom of the post) what I hear is “Well, we were going to give you all these nice features to try and make up for our attempt to screw you over with DRM, but since you don’t like the DRM we’re going to take all of those away now because you don’t deserve them.”

Honestly, I’ve had about enough of Microsoft. First they go and make Windows 8 (which they are still trying so desperately to force everyone onto tablets), and now this whole mess with the Xbox.

You can read the whole Xbox One update here.

console wars (aka: why, if I were to buy a console, it would be a PS4)

I am, primarily, a PC gamer. Growing up as a kid we were never allowed to have video games in the house. The closest I ever got to owning a console when I was a kid was when I bought myself a Game Boy Advanced (remember that thing? That feels like forever ago) with my own money that I saved for a few months. It wasn’t until I was in college that my parents bought a Wii (note: after I moved out) which they bought mostly because of Wii sports, which they of course got bored of within a week or two. So, growing up most of the gaming my brother and I did were Star Wars: Rebellion, Age of Empires, and Duke Nukem I & II.

Fast forward to about a year and a half ago. I needed a new laptop for school, but at the same time I wanted something powerful enough to play games on. Well, at the time I couldn’t afford a gaming laptop, so I got one that could fulfill all of my school and programming needs and decided I would build myself a gaming PC once I could afford one, which ended up being last summer, and I did see that it was good.

Ok, now back to the topic. Basically what it comes down to is I am primarily a PC gamer, however, having a console has it’s advantages. I’ve been thinking of getting myself a console for a little while now, and of course with the recent announcements of the PS4 and the Xbox One I figured I would put my thoughts out there. For the sake of this discussion I am going to ignore the WiiU, mostly because it came out a while ago and I’m also thinking about getting one for two main reasons: I already own some Wii games and I really want to play the new Smash Brothers.

So, onward to the two new consoles that were just announced, and to why I won’t be buying an Xbox

Always on DRM

If you have read much of anything on my blog you probably know I am pretty anti-DRM, and this is probably my biggest issue with the Xbox One. For those who don’t know, what this means is that in order to play the Xbox One you are required to have an internet connection. Once every 24 hours your machine has to check in to Microsoft’s servers to make sure that nothing funny is going on.

There are a few problems with this system. For one thing, not everyone has internet. Even among those who do have internet, not everyone wants their console connected to it. Now, granted, an internet connection i s required, but not everyone cares.

But that’s not even the biggest problem with always on DRM. The biggest problem is this: We can’t trust Microsoft (or the publisher as the case may be for certain games) to always keep their servers running. What happens when my console tries to check in, and your server isn’t working? It means I can’t play my games until you solve your issues. It’s stupid. Steam uses a similar check-in system, but Steam at least has an offline mode.

The PS4 does not have a system like this in place, though the way that DRM is used for individual games is up to the individual publishers, so there is still a possibility for this sort of system with 3rd party PS4 games, but it is not system-wide.

Used Games.

This one is not really a big issue for me, as it’s been years since there has even been such a thing as used games for PC, so I’m just going to brush over this one. However, this might be a big issue for some people.

Kinect

I hate motion gaming. Hands down. I think that motion gaming alone almost ruined a whole generation of games. I mean, come on, is there really any proof necessary beyond Star Wars Kinect to prove that the kinect is nothing more than a gimmick with nowhere to go that does nothing but ruin perfectly good franchises?

The Xbox One will not run without the kinect. Granted, it comes with one, but the fact is I don’t want one, and the added kinect built into it just raises the price.

The tl;dr

If I buy a console, which again, is not for sure as I’m more focused on repairing my gaming PC at the moment, it will be a PS4 over the Xbox One. Hands down, no question about it.

first impressions: PyGame

So, I’ve decided that every time I use a new language or framework for the first time, I will write a little first impressions post about it.

This spring term I am taking a computer graphics class, CS 455 at BYU for anyone interested. It has been a really interesting class, and the projects so far have been both fun and informative. The latest project we were assigned to do was an Inverse Kinematics solver. If you don’t know what Inverse Kinematics means and you want to, you can read about it on wikipedia, but that’s not the point of this post.

We were given a framework, basically a starting point, using XNA that we could use for the project. Well, I ran into a little hitch there when the CPU in my nice gaming machine died. My gaming computer was also my only windows machine (I run Fedora on my school laptop). So… now what?

I decided I would need to learn and use a different environment, language and library to do the assignment. Being a big fan of Python I decided to try out PyGame, a library designed to help make 2d games.

This is, of course, a first impression, I have only spent about 8 hours total working with the system, but here are some initial thoughts after completing my first project in PyGame. First, a screenshot:

Screenshot from 2013-05-23 00:27:06

Syntax

Well, considering that this is a library for Python the syntax is, well, Python. That is a huge plus. Even if you are not familiar with Python syntax it is pretty simple to learn (unless you are an experienced C-related language programmer, then the lack of brackets and semi-colons might drive you nuts). It is a library that is simple to use for both experienced an inexperienced programmers. The entirety of the IK solver took only 155 lines of code.

PyGame itself plugs into Python like any other module. It provides a bunch of classes, methods and constants that make interacting with the game window really simple. Here is my displayPlanks method, which is used to draw all of the planks that make up the arm.

Before calling this method we already know where each plank is located as well as how much to rotate the image of the plank. We also know the position of the end-effector (represented graphically as a baseball). This method simply takes the image of the plank, scales and rotates it for each segment, and then prints all the planks and the baseball to the screen. All of that happens quickly and without a lot of code.

Documentation

The PyGame module is pretty well documented, and everything I needed was pretty easy to find as well. However, I must say that the color scheme used for their online documentation is pretty hard on my eyes.

Additionally, I was able to find some examples of some of my problems easily enough on google. There is also this free online book that is a pretty good resource to learn how to use PyGame, I only read chapter 2 and half of chapter 3, but it is easy to understand and is a pretty good resource for anyone interested to learn PyGame.

Power and Capability

This was a simply project, and I haven’t done a lot of research on this subject yet, but as far as I’m aware, PyGame is not designed to be a heavy-duty game development environment, so I doubt we’ll be seeing any best seller’s coming from it, but it’s simplicity definitely makes it worthwhile and capable of being a good way to prototype and make smaller games.

Conclusion

Again, this is a first impression, so if I have preached false doctrine, I claim ignorance as my defense. That being said, though, I was impressed at how simple it was to learn and build something with PyGame, and I plan to use it in the future for personal projects.

Here is a demo of the IK solver in action:

You can check out the source code for my IK solver on github.