Thursday, 21 January 2016

2.5D

Sometimes how specific terminology has come to stay make me furious. It shouldn't matter since it doesn't affect my life. But strolling through gaming or tech forums, I might end ranting to the air, search for other people hating the same terms, rejoicing in the thought that I am not alone.

Today it was 2.5D. I don't know how I have come here, maybe from articles defining raycasting, raytracing, raymarching, sphere tracing, remembering all those terms that are so intermixed with each other, sometimes even in graphics articles or papers. Later, on wikipedia talks about raycasting, people mistakenly calling Doom or Duke 3D raycaster based, also named it 2.5D. Although does it matter? What if we use the terms but then if misunderstood, describe in more words what we exactly mean?

2.5D. That's the problem with this term even between those who use it, which is used to describe various different cases of rendering and gameplay. They might be meaning 2d gameplay in a 3d environement (Trine series), 3d gameplay in 2d rendering (oldschool isometric games where you could still climb over objects and above enemies, e.g. Knight Lore), or games with 2D maps but 3d gameplay like Doom (about which, there are many misconceptions I'd like to discuss another day). And there is even misunderstanding of what they mean, for example some consider the new Mario World 3D on the Wii U to be 2.5D because sometimes the level design forces you to move through one axis. What they want to define is so diverse, that it's better to describe both it's gameplay and rendering in more detail than shoehorning it into one category.

I personally hate the term at all. It's meaningless. I read it was used as a derogatory term to differentiate classic first person shooters from later 3d polygon games. And sometimes I like to joke about it, talking about fractal dimensions and especially 3d quadratic koch surfaces (exactly 2.5D by Hausdorff dimension :).

It's isometric, so it must be 2.5D, right? :)


In fact, come to think, even the most modern 3D polygon games, what they really are, is projections onto the 2D screen. That's another way I like to mock this term. Your nextgen 3D games are 2D. Not even a half more :P

p.s. I read so much misconceptions about Doom that I will briefly mention. First, it's not a raycaster, no rays are cast to determine the wall rendering, not everywhere in the code. But the walls are still rendered with stretched column rendering just like wolfenstein. Then, people said you don't have control on the vertical axis. That's not true. While the maps have sections called sector made only by 2d vertices and having information for floor/ceiling height, all the things (player, enemies, items) have three dimensions. You can walk from a ledge and fall or climb stairs. They could easilly have added jump function in the game. Someone said there is autoaim when you shoot, which shows the limitations of the engine. It's not because of limitation. They could have done it. They just didn't have look up or down to aim the crosshair in one axis at the time because it would be harder for the gameplay. Also, there is an effect where you shoot a bazooka that hits a wall below a monster on a ledge but the explosion radius damages it. Just lazy coding. Monster has x,y,z. Your projectile too. Could do 3d distance or 2d distance like it does and another 1D distance check between heights of projectile and enemy. When imps throw fireballs at you from higher ground, the fireballs really move on a 3d linear path. Cacodemons fly above and below. If you shoot a bazooka on a higher place and later another monster crosses the trajectory below, it's not hitting it because it's above. At least, there is true 3d gameplay, things move in three axes and the 3rd axis matters.

p.p.s. Come to think, that's the best thing 3d graphics technology (no matter if real polygons or projections of 2d walls) has given us. Not more brilliant visuals, but an expansion of the gameplay space. Suddenly you don't scroll in front of a background, but you can discover things behind it, find hidden rooms from the other side, hide above or below, reach and attack from other paths, new views of the same data. Think Deus Ex. So many unique paths to infiltrate the same place. One could argue that you could have some of these things in 2d games but this has expanded a lot in the 3d space. That's another reason why it makes me mad to see another linear on-rails FPS with "brilliant" graphics but very restrictive paths. I could joke another time and mock modern FPS games by saying they take the 3D and restrict it in 2.5D. If we wanna play like this, Doom, naively called 2.5D, has more exploration and expansion of your 3D senses in terms of gameplay than your average modern FPS.

p.p.p.s. Yeah, I am ranting. I could be writing more if I didn't stop now..

Monday, 30 November 2015

Players should be bothered

Small rant, it still pisses me off that the gaming industry thinks more of the gamers like they are delicate flowers and they must not stuck in a game even for 1% of their time. So, we have "adventure" games where it runs more like a movie and they even force feed you the solution and then fill it with QTEs to make it look like you are in the action. And FPS/Action games where things are easier for the lazy player because you can just shoot mindlessly, yet god forbid if there is an alternative path in the extremely linear level and will make people get lost. You have "RPGs" where they simplify everything after every franchise because yeah, gamers are gonna cry.

And you have this eternal problem, for example you ask yourself why oldschool adventure games have died (well, one would say they are ..kinda revived, but pretty much a minority). And yes, there were the stories of pixel hunting and moon logic, things that nowadays adventure makes try to avoid, by simplifying riddles and having objects closer to your vicinity and designing puzzles that are generally more obvious and all that. I remember of some recent adventure games I played that in retrospective to the oldies they are much much easier in puzzles, yet I would still find myself stuck a bit sometimes. Because I realized that even with more simple adventure games, the player can still get stuck because his logic at a particular point of the game might be different than the developer's logic. As long as you have even the most basic puzzles, there is a possibility that at least some of your players will get confused. The only way to make a game where a player doesn't stuck is if it has basically 0% actual puzzles, basically to follow the Telltale games direction, where the illusion of acting on puzzles and fighting with QTEs is there and the handholding has reached a new low. Because there is no way like this that the player will get stuck even for few seconds and stop the flow of the story, which would be considered bad design.

And that's where I digress. Players should be bothered. Players should get stuck once in a while. If you want to avoid all distress and all you think is that good game design is a streamlined experience without troubles then you are giving a hollow experience to the gamer. It's the same with the FPS games. Let them click triggers and shoot extravaganza but without the exploration of classic FPS. They call Doom a labyrinth mess but Doom was well designed at some of the levels of Episode 1. John Romero once said he actually designed the first levels to have some distinctive characteristics that makes you remember the space. So, there are some stairs going up to the armor in the left, a window and four blue pilars in the center, a zig zag road later near the end, in such a way that they are very memorable and you know you have to go to this and that room with the specific architecture and details. There was thought put into it. And I am saying it because I have played some much worse Doom-clones at the time which were the real freaky labyrinths! But now you can't play an FPS that doesn't push you through the path or doesn't get so extremely linear, not allowing alternative design choices, because nooo... that's baaad design! And there is even a pointer telling you where to go and any door behind will close shut so that the player is not confused and go back, no backtrack allowed. Because backtrack==baaaad desiiign.

Fuck that shit! Well, maybe the gaming industry is going that way because there are millions now playing games and some of the people are more casual gamers in the sense that they want to come back from work and with little clicks on their controller they want to get all the cinematics and glorious graphics. I do believe that also the recent console generation brought all these trends. But what pisses me off is not that these new trends are more frequent, but that anything going to the other direction of actually challenging the player is considered some times bad game design.

At least there are developers who go their own way. Two recent games I adore for not going that way but also refining their gameplay in the middle ground (or maybe more tending towards challenging the player but with somehow more logical puzzles, so avoiding the sins of the old gaming era but still keeping it hard) are The Legend of Grimrock 2 and The Talos Principle.

LOG2 followed on the footsteps of the first one, but started you on an island and soon I realized that it basically gives you a non-linear open world where you can visit a lot of areas earlier and in different ways than the first playthrough and there are so many secrets to find and riddles that challenge you a bit but still keep being logical. It's like a proper balance between "We don't want to hold your hand" and "we neither want to have some very ridiculous illogical puzzles like in the past" and sometimes you have to leave a place and come back later and the solution might come or you might discover something else that helps you with that. I spent over sixty hours with that but it was a great experience at the end and I didn't mind the many times that I had to wonder around for few minutes being stuck on what to do next (I'd hack and slash random encounters in the meanwhile till I find some items or hints I missed before at different areas). I heard few people being frustrated of the puzzles because they wanted plain hack and slash, and still makes me wonder, should games be 100% streamlined experience without the player being bothered? Zero puzzles and linear paths means zero bothering, just mashing buttons and seeing cool spectacles. No,. I hope the few companies that don't follow, won't be influenced in the future by such.

And then you have The Talos Principle which is literally a first person puzzler in the likes of Portal but is something I enjoyed much much better than Portal for various reasons. Besides the very clever puzzles, which are although presented to you in a progressive way from very obvious riddles to gradually challenging new concepts and game mechanics, in a way that they are almost never unfair (there was the one that you had to stack a box over a sphere, seemingly illogical, but I prefer once in a while to be confused like that than 0% real puzzles) and gradually becoming more mindblowing, even though the game taught you well to start thinking in their logic. And the secret stars you have to think out of the box (literally) to get them. Besides that, there is a whole story filled with ideas about AI, virtual reality, ethics and other matters which created an experience that really blew my mind. There are some terminals between surreal scenery where you have to convince a computer that you are a human or discuss moral philosophy with another distant being which you don't know whether it's real or a bot. In one of the terminals, there is a letter of a dad to his daughter which basically say that she is free to explore the world and he doesn't have to hold her hand anymore, she has to explore and learn on her own from now on, like the game writers make secretly a mention to the handholding craze in the game industry.

Another funny mention to the handholding trend in gaming, can be seen in the new game I am playing now, Undertale. Which is quite an easy game, but the ideas in it are so unique that I get the recent hype.


literal handholding


p.s. Maybe I should just calm down and keep playing the few games where developers still get it. We are lucky there are still such developers. We don't need to simplify games any more, they are more than simplified already! There can be games that are both not easy but not unfairly difficult. Those two games for me have fair riddles but they are there and might make you stuck. I can never say they have bad design because one would stuck for 5 minutes, because they are well designed with modern standards, but never simplifying. But still that wouldn't satisfy many gamers. I hear of gamers who say "I am coming back from work and have only few hours to enjoy a game, I don't want to be stuck for two hours" or "I wish games were shorter". Well, do you want a game that let's you delve in it's world and learn the secrets of it, or just a movie experience?

Saturday, 31 October 2015

What I don't like about Telltale games.

Strangely enough, I haven't played yet one of the most popular titles, The Walking Dead. This was on the radar of all gaming sites as a masterpiece, not playing this would be like not living on planet earth as a gamer. I know, I know. It's on my Steam library now. I just didn't found the time or motivation to start it.

But I had to start playing some of the Telltale games. I read about them and have seen videos of people playing and was wondering at first where is the interactivity because I was watching long dialogues and nothing happening. No, I didn't watch some spoilers, I just tried to jump in parts of a video of Tales of the Borderlands or Game of Thrones to take a glimpse on how the gameplay is. I heard they were adventure games. I was always falling sort on dialogues with some brief moments of very harsh choices. Or maybe they are interactive movies, depending on who you ask.

And even more strange, I haven't played any of the Telltale games a month ago but was just finishing a similar game by another company that really touched me and really dragged me into it's world and it's characters, Life is Strange. I know. I know, what many people are just saying. "That game? That was very bad! Highschool drama. Cheesy dialogues. Bad lip syncing." even the very laughable "Feminist propaganda!".

And many people said this is a Telltale rip off. And I thought "Wow, if this is a rip off from Telltale style and I really like it, imagine how much I will like Telltale games!". Yes, at that moment, I was still an alien gamer on earth, having finished a Telltale "rip off" but never even played a single Telltale title, let alone the very awarded The Walking Dead.

I still haven't played this one but it's my next on the list, but my impressions from Tales from the Borderlands is this. This is one of the funniest games I have ever seen, very good plot and characters too, amazing presentation, really witty dialogues, it's exactly how you would do a correct addaptation of the original Borderlands games style, humour and characters to an adventure game (or interactive movie, whatever you consider these games to be). Marvelous, brilliant,... but left me cold.

It left me cold because there is something very off-putting to the way they handle interactivity. Maybe it's this special kind of game which is not exactly an adventure game in the traditional sense but more of an interactive story, something similar to Heavy Rain or Beyond Two Souls on the PS3 and a bit evolved with many dialogues and choices. Maybe it's just that kind of game and I don't like it the same way I don't enjoy sports game. I love story games, I even enjoyed games that are considered non-games, like Dear Esther or Gone Home. But not so the recent Telltale games style, which might be outrageous considering that there seems to be no gameplay at all in the so called "walking simulators" than a Telltale game.

For me, it feels like the Telltale game I tried (and I believe it doesn't change in Walking Dead and more of their titles) is how simplistic in your face it is. How it totally takes control from you and then tries badly to convince you that you are the one who is playing. To me it feels like it's mocking the player, it oversimplifies the already simplified yet it presents it to you like you have a choice. I am not talking hear about choices not matter at the end, I do understand that it's a very hard problem to make a vast tree of choices taking you to exponentially different outcomes in video games and I don't feel the same with many players who for many titles think "Hey, it gives you choices, but nothing matters at the end, except from a final dual 'go with this or go with that' challenge at the end. This never mattered to me, because I know how difficulty is to give exponentially unique endings after a vast tree of choices.

But it's how it totally tries to be a movie rather than a game, first of all with the dialogues. There are long sequences of dialogues which is good for a story, but a few times you get choices yet there is a timer going so fast that you don't have time to even read your choices sometimes. And guess what, if you don't answer, the dialogues will move on like a movie, because yeah modern gamers would think it's so unrealistic if you had all your time to give an answer like classic adventures, while in real life if a character talks and you don't interrupt, the plot and dialogue will move on. And fine, it's just an alternative way for dialogue interaction, something different they tried but I really don't like to be pushed to answer, I don't like an adventure game or interactive fiction that goes on it's own and doesn't let you breathe.

And that's the least of the offenders. It's when they give you "control" that I feel I am mocked. Yeah, after a 20 minutes dialoguefest I finally can control my character. In a very restricted camera, very small environment and with the most easy riddles I have ever seen. And I don't mind easy riddles, most recent adventures even those of the traditional style have quite ridiculously easy riddles if you ask a hardcore adventurer. But the riddles in the very few restricted sections where I could finally move my character where so obvious with the single object I need nearby that it's like they won't to convince me that "Hey, this is not just an interactive fiction, there are some adventure game elements in there" but it's just some clicks for me so that I progress. And not only that, they have to point you at it like you are such an idiot to even think of that! I really despise this era of gaming where companies have to make the games more and more easy because maybe they are afraid they will drive the gamers away. And how would adventure games evolve in this mindset if the user has to stuck for half an hour in the same place, or if it doesn't have the flawless progression of a movie? Telltale games.

The most recent example is when there was a rumble of obstacles that my character was not strong enough to lift, and when I found that out after clicking on the rumble, before I can think whether I should make a lever or ask my robot to lift them for me, it shows a cinematic where my character and this robot looks at each other, like they tell you "hey, just go ask the robot for a lift!". They even needed to tell me that obvious thing! Or when you have an inventory so that we consider this is an adventure game actually, but you can never drag one object to use, but if you had to use a screwdriver to some object to solve it, suddenly there is a second icon with just exactly the screwdriver below the look icon when you hover over the object. The game gives the solution to you like you are the most stupid gamer and even if it didn't it was already so obvious. Oh and don't start me about QTEs. QTEs is the equivalent of we want to show you an amazing action sequence but give you the impression it's you who did it, so yeah mush some more button we throw at you like a Pavlov dog just to progress. Why don't I watch a movie then? Imagine watching your favorite Anime, but every once in a while the M$ Clippy would pop up asking you for an imaginary choice, killing your immersion, not being sure whether you watch a movie, interact with a game or neither.

And say I don't mind about fast paced dialogues or forced QTEs. The fact itself that this thing moves like a movie and in few occasions have you solve pseudo-riddles in a very restricted environment without even being able to truly rotate the camera yourself and really explore the level and find things for yourself is a downer. And that's what Life is Strange didn't do. In LIS you have a 3rd view camera of your character but she can rotate and move freely all over the place, look at various objects and read material that relate to the story which you have to discover yourself, look at places, check every corner, talk to characters that stay there for you, not being forced into this though. There is talking in Telltale games and there is the chance to Look At objects but these are very minimal and few, always in your path, there is no sense that you are actually there in the world exploring for yourself and learning it's secrets alone, without anyone pushing you, without anyone showing you the solution. Telltales adventures just by restricting the camera so that you only find the interactions you have to do to progress, steal this feeling from you, and at some points no matter how good the story is, it makes me forget I am in this world but rather that I have to do these chores to progress, give an answer out of three fast, find out where I should click to progress.

And the riddles in LIS, while I must confess are quite simplistic by purist adventurers standards and even more, they are there for  you to explore. They are not always given to you at the same proximity in a room, you have to use this special time rewind ability (yep, there is also no real inventory) or find clues in your notes. There are few times that I got stuck for a while, but what did the game do? It didn't point me to the right direction in my own face before I even decide how to solve a riddle. I do remember when I was trying the same things, the 3rd time the main character giving me some subtle clues. This is not a bad thing, if you get stuck, an adventure game to give you subtle and not direct clues on what to do next. But the way this Telltale game I played did it was outrageous, I didn't even had the chance to decide for myself before getting stuck, not that it would be possible.

This is one thing I like in classic adventures. And also games adapting the first person view but are not necessary shooters (I actually quite like the first person perspective for adventure games and games generally inspiring exploration). They just throw you in their world and let you discover things. You can just stare in a background or scenery for half an hour, pondering what's there next to do. Not exactly the kind of game for people who are hungry for content in the least seconds spent. They might hint things at you but never throw the solution so blatantly in your face. And they never restrict you in a fixed camera with few clicks to progress, they let you explore all around you even if 90% of the items are just there for the character to Look At and get witty comments that are irrelevant to the main game. Telltale games kill that feeling, although they would be great for small anime movies following on the story of already existing franchises. They really do that part very well, if you remove the forced interactivity.

And maybe you will tell me I played the wrong game. Maybe I should play The Walking Dead because it's more dark and emotional. And yes, I believe Borderlands has a witty style, and The Walking Dead will have a different style and I know from one game and few other "let's play" video glimpses (I didn't saw spoilers, just jumped here and there) in their titles that The Walking Dead and Game of Thrones and Wolf Among us will have amazing presentation, good dialogues, characters and story. I am planning to play them and recently bought all their collection in Steam. But I am very afraid that even in Walking Dead or other more serious titles, I will somehow lose the immersion. I will feel like a Pavlov's dog, mashing buttons to progress, never being able to really explore the surroundings and find things on my own and really get into my character's boots. Mostly because they are doing this one single thing, they take control from you. They try to be like a movie.

Many critics said videogames shouldn't try to mimic movies so hard. There are other interactive ways to tell a story. Be subtle. Let the player discover things on his own pace. I enjoyed games that are even not considered games like Gone Home or Dear Esther, way more than the Telltale games I played so far. Just because they let me walk and stare at the scenery for minutes, letting me go back to revisit places, discovering subtle clues in the environment and easter eggs, no matter if there was no actual interactivity. I felt like I was inside their worlds even just for 2 hours of play and I would "play" them or "walk" them more times again. I felt the same with Life is Strange, it left a mark on me and I still remember the locations and characters and all subtle details of the story. I don't feel this as much in Tales of the Borderlands while near the end of the game, even though they depict perfectly the characters, style, background story and world atmosphere of the original FPS game.

p.s. While I don't like to comment on this, is Life is Strange "feminist propaganda"? Is it the same with "Gone Home"? No. I didn't felt that really and nothing really killed the enjoyment of the game for me. There are some tropes in the game that could remind someone in a lesser degree of things feminists say (or let's say modern era feminists) or maybe this is just girl talk. But even if it was, why not think of this like they give you control of a character that just have these traits (and really Max is ok, it's her friend who is more radical and annoying) and you are playing along these lines and hear girls talk about these things sometimes, in the same way you would play a game where the hero is an anti-hero with a dark past or maybe believes in things that you don't personally like. If you dislocate yourself for a while and just think that you live the inner world of Max with her own thoughts/feelings and nobody is trying to preach you anything then maybe you would be able to enjoy a game more. (This actually reminds me of this priceless Onion news article ). This from someone who is a bit more supportive with Gamer-Gate than anti and recently discovered that some feminists are scary, although doesn't want to be involved much into this discussion (yet).

Tuesday, 4 November 2014

What is a geek? An imagined reality.

Times have changed. There is an oversaturation of geek culture. Geeks are everywhere. The Big Bang Theory is cool. Even non geeks watch it and celebrate the existence of geeks. Several years ago, most people were genuinely claiming that being interested in geeky interests is unhealthy. And most of the time it wasn't their opinion, it was an acquired opinion of the general consensus of the times. Today, this has shifted to geeks being cool, sort of. I will explain what I mean by this "sort of" soon.

Another thing that happened is that the stereotype is not holding anymore. The overweight, lazy, living with their mother, without a girlfriend one. What a lie! The majority of geeks you see talking about these things look quite normal most of the time. So normal, it makes me feel alone and betrayed. And that would make sense, because nowadays someone being interested in comics, sci-fi movies, games and that is already considered a geek and it was always the case anyway. But think that gaming or reading comics or watching movies does not require any special effort or brains. It's not the same as being a programming or electronics geek (and they do call this a nerd) where you really need to dedicate effort and have patience to reach the point where you make some really creative stuff. Thus, I have more respect for geeky cultures on our creative side, rather than the general music/game/film/arts fanboy culture, where anyone could invade nowadays, from the nerdy looking guy to the good looking girl. I am even curious why this hasn't happened before? Why were people so reluctant to at least game? Was it that hard that made you a no lifer? Why now?

But then again, bear with me. As a demoscene programmer, I met a lot of people at demoparties. Also having many programming friends in real life. Most of them look cool enough. Some might be overweight but so can be anyone outside a geek culture. Many of them have girlfriend or families. They pass on as regular people with just some special interests. And I am happy for them. I just want to point out, that even in the more hardcore programming communities, people are really looking just like the rest. If at gaming and sci-fi communities it could be explained why people are not looking nerdy enough (since gaming, everyone could do it), you still wouldn't expect it in coding cultures. So much for stereotypes! Maybe I also pass for normal and I have a wrong idea about myself. But I do know that I am the exception even inside the demoscene, a lot of these stereotypes are true about myself. And was it ever true? Did the demoscene ever consist of lifeless girlfriendless nerds? The average age of sceners have increased anyway (maybe because the older grandfathers are here and we don't get many young people anymore), it used to be full of teenagers (so, it was normal someone at age 15 didn't necessarily have a girlfriend) and now maybe it's around the age where many people already have jobs and/or a family. You can't say..

Meanwhile, the so called geek culture as portrayed by media, have grown up so much. We have comicons and cyber athletes and companies trying to capitalize on the nerd craze and all that. And everyone is into. It's interesting in one way, how this has evolved and I'd love to observe where it will go. But everyone is into. And because of that, you find people that you like and a lot that you might not. Look for example the gamer-gate, I would never expect something in the narrow, geeky and so cryptic (in the past) gaming community would become such a big news. Everybody is in, and now a hobby that was hidden from mainstream in the past, is invaded by politics, feminism and all that. Something that nobody would care in the past. But then you have the effect of what I call the gaming mob. Everybody is into it, from the shy guy, the common joe and the arrogant psychopath asshole. You can't be a gamer or a geek anymore and have someone who sends rape threats be at the same imaginary category they made for you twenty years ago. These guys could be the same ones who would bully you in horrible ways at school in the past for being different.

The stereotypical identity of the geek is lost. That's when it became mainstream and every kind of person thought it would be cool to get into it. It's similar to computer becoming mainstream. For some strange reasons, if in the past you even were into computers or consoles, even if it was just gaming and not doing the real brainy stuff like programming or even building a PC from scratch, you still qualified as an immensely crazy weirdo. It wasn't in. Now computers are in, but the average users does not understand or appreciate what's behind that box, yet facebook, smartphones or gaming are pretty trendy subjects. At least now they don't look weird at you when you tell them you are a programmer.

And strangely enough even the majority of programmers, from low level coders to web developers, are usually pretty normal looking most of the time. I think the reason for that is, first of all even the crazy geeks are humans and want some companionship and intimate relationships sometimes, secondly there is always some kind of social pressure against being the asocial weirdo or somehow there is a force that pushes everyone to try and resemble more the most accepted ideas we have about being normal. So, it will either come naturally to you, sooner or later. Or maybe you will just struggle and feel so alone even inside a so called geek community. Meanwhile, as this huge cloud of geek subculture emerging in the mainstream starts covering everything, geeky subjects will fuse with the average joe and the common pressure to be a little bit more "normal" or more like the rest of the people who are also into these stuff. Most true geeks might actually take the bait and try to fuse a bit with the other side as a necessity, not feeling inferior their culture being invaded by regular people. So we now have the idealized picture of the guy who does everything. The geek guy or hacker type who is also doing good with the other sex and dresses in classy or cool ways. The few guys who somehow doesn't get through this is frowned upon and there is double pressure nowadays to both resemble something like a genius (which is mostly artificial and success alone in the media is enough) and somehow be all cool and outgoing. I am not saying that it's impossible or not a cool dream. But it's as hypocritical as a parent pressuring it's child to study all day long, get the best grades, be the best of the best, while at the same time blaming him for being too introverted or not having luck with girls. And that unexplained pressure from both sides makes you want to quit and disregard society as a whole. I, for once, can truly understand how the otaku phenomenon surfaced in Japan. I am with these people, giving the middle finger to this oppressive culture. I am even entertained with news in Japan and around the world panicking about the youth people caring less about mating, totally laughing at the people who even wonder what's wrong with these kids nowadays.

Sadly, we still frown upon the true stereotypical geeks. The introverts. The shy persons. The depressed. The fat people. The asexuals. The love-shys. But somehow we want to have a "geek" culture. While disregarding people who suffer from all these characteristics, because we don't want them to remind us of the ugly side of being a geek.

It's uncommon today, almost a taboo, to even have the idea that somehow with many of the above quirks you are still a person that should be respected and understood. Instead even in this "geek" culture infested society, the most typical ideas are about getting the geek approval while disregarding the ugliness of it. Things like "Yeah, I am a geek and geeks rules, but you shouldn't be socially awkward, fat or introverted and that's what constitutes a dork". We think we are just right, choosing the good things from both worlds and that we have the right to patronize and judge other poor souls for not being geeks and normal at the same time. We like to sound geeky and cool at the same time or rather maybe trendy in modern age (because many geek subjects are now more mainstream and easily accesible) and still consistent with a good social image because it's still uncool if you aren't very social. But these few poor individuals who still haven't made it and feel marginalized in this geek culture infested world, are not so because they voluntarily chose this life. And there are other serious issues that have nothing to do with geeky subjects. Hell, there are fat people, love-shys or introverted who might not have much to do with any geeky subject (but everything can be a geeky subject, so it's hard to prove). Extreme sensitivities, tamperament, psychology, even biology might have played a role into all these. The special interests come ahead, not always as a way to cope in my opinion (I have a natural fascination for ideas for the sake of ideas rather than people sometimes).

So what is a geek? Are the stereotypes real? Maybe not even in the past.Was it uncommon to get into geeky subjects? It was in the past. But not today. And many of these subjects could be easily invaded even in the past but for some cultural I guess reasons it was unpopular then. Isn't "geek" just another stereotypical word? Or "nerd"? Or the disrespectful and dividing "dork"? Didn't we once feel proud (or not) of being called "geeks" because it was supposed to be this minority of special people doing what everyone else was avoiding in fear of being marginalized, while coping with our real self-esteem problems and special sensitivities and all the bullying and such? They just called us this and we took it and elevated it into a status. Now, the modern culture has stereotyped this in BBT and everyday talk, but it's just a replica, a ghost of what it used to be, a crude joke of a bully society who wants to look cool and openminded at the same time, but all it does is just mimicking the trends yet still frown upon everything that is deviant from itself.

That's why I disregard the word "geek". I am pretty confused and pissed about everything. From how things have evolved yet we still cannot be tolerant and cannot get out this idea of being "normal" as defined. How we had a cultural explosion of geek media, everyone wants to be a geek, yet frown upon "uncool" people. And because the word geek is an imagined reality, the same way that "normality" is. We are scared people, trying to resemble the common norm, judging all others who fail to do so. People still think and act in the same shitty ways. Geek culture has just overridden our society without society to change.

I don't want to be a "geek" anymore. Excuse me for a moment, I am gonna hang around with some people at the psych forums. Poor people with better understanding of suffering. Hmm,. people who don't talk about geek subjects but real human matters. That must be! (If only they didn't fight with each other sometimes. Aarrghh... human nature! I mean, otherkin trying to expose anotherkin. How much more cognitive dissonance?)

p.s. I am still kinda proud to be a coder though. And a scener. Even if I am still failing the "normality" test compared to most other people in the scene. But at least, from a perspective of mainstream, the demoscene and programming can never become common ground. Because sitting your ass down and patiently manage to learn programming and keep on with it, is not the same as getting involved playing games or reading comics or whatever. It's more fulfilling even and sort of gives you some kind of identity.
p.p.s. I wanna state that I have nothing against "fake-geek girls". It might have looked like this because I disregard this geek culture craze. It's everywhere, regardless sex. I am also not gonna judge you for not being a geek guy/girl because you look more "normal" than me. I am only expressing some thoughts in these blogs but in real life I want to avoid conflict. And what you do is what you do, games are fine and fun, it is a huge culture on it's own (even if irrelevant with the stereotypes anymore), play and let other play.
p.p.p.s. About gamer-gate. I used to be a bit more siding towards pro. Maybe because I am not so much fan of the radical feminism invading everything, also such political correctness in gaming sites and especially how much they have exploited this into a drama for their own gain. But at the same time, I am sad with some of the attacks from the gaming mob. The same game mob have harassed some game developers in the past and as a programmer too, this infuriates me. Put in contrast what I've also said about how easy it is to just get into gaming and how much more patient, creative and clever it is to be a programmer. I might be snob here because I am also in the programmer's club, but you get my point. The gaming mob with every kind of person versus the few individual more creative and even more professional developers. Which would you chose?

Friday, 23 May 2014

Graphics are abundant.

Graphics. Graphics graphics graphics. Graphics graphics graphics, graphics graphics. Graphics.

This is a rant about graphics. This is a rant about the gaming community. I am not gonna tell you that graphics don't matter or graphics don't matter that much as gameplay does. You've heard that already and some people surprisingly don't like it! But I want to review a bit the craziness about graphics, how insane it became since the last gen (PS3, Xbox360 era) and rant about how it affects the game industry.

You would argue: "But hey dude, wasn't it always like this? Didn't we have the same discussion since the 8bit era? Wasn't this always what some gamers craved for?". Yes. Although in the past things where more pure, graphics never reached the kind of realism that is a game changer in the industry. Graphics have become so amazingly good that people are blinded by them more than ever. Unless because there are a lot more gamers and game forums and everyone is whining about this, then it's easy to see the absurd.

I was curious about the new Wolfenstein game (which I preorder just for the Doom 4 beta btw :). And so I was looking at various gameplay videos and at one point I dreadfully decided to read the youtube comments and see what people think about the game itself. Did they liked it? Was it too short or too linear or too much of the same typical FPS? And in my surprise, a lot of the comments where like "Why aren't the graphics next gen? Why are they so bad? Bad graphics = bad game!". I was like "What the hell are you talking about? Did you like the game? Would you suggest someone to buy it?" and the replies where graphics, graphics, graphics, graphics. Whole paragraphs whining about how bad the graphics are (which they weren't, they were not something extraordinary not seen before (aka nextgen), but where really really good (more than enough, abundant) and did the job) and concluding that the game is bad, without a single mention on gameplay (or even sound, story). Maybe those graphics whores always existed, we just didn't have youtube then. But it just strikes me. People are getting crazy about not being 1080p (I guess they bought the PS4 or Xbox One just for the graphics) and at the same time making fun of the WiiU with it's "cartoonish" graphics. It's all that matters to them.

But you know, I was thinking, how does this affect the gaming industry? More development time spent on perfecting the graphics and less on gameplay. You will argue that it was always like this and I wouldn't disagree. But things have evolved and now in order to aim for the state of the art you need more effort and resources. I was reading a discussion that maybe games focusing on multiplayer are killing the single player experience because devs are focusing more on the MP part. And you have "campaigns" (as they call them now) that are 4-8 hours of gameplay. But I think the reason is the huge amount of work a team needs to do to make a level map. Think how much easier it was for a game modder to make a Doom map (even better a wolfenstein 3d map) and how much more time and effort a level for a modern engine needs (unless you want to do something blant that looks like PS1). Hell, some of the games are even like hollywood movies! Notice some trends that got popular since the PS3/Xbox360 era. Quicktime events. Games that are basically interactive movies, beautiful graphics yes, but you just have to press X, O, square or triangle to proceed. Heavy Rain, Two souls and such. Some games have partially short action gameplay and at frequent intervals quicktime events. I fucking hate that! But it's perfect for graphics whores and people who bought one of these two consoles just to stare at the graphics. That's why we don't get a really good, challenging or lengthy single player experience (besides few exceptions) but most gamers are sattisfied by half-ashed interactive movies with glorified graphics. I don't see many people crying about this, and maybe that's what sells.

But at the same time I realize. Graphics are abundant. This is an important realization. Just right now, chose a random game of five years ago. Serach for the best games of some year in the past. 2008? 2005? I don't care. Some of you might think that the graphics are outdated but I digress. They are more than enough. Graphics have progressed so much that if you go back two generations they are still really lovely to stare at and do their job more than good! Yes, you might not see nextgen, they might be outdated by today's standards, but they are not dated. Maybe the first few generations of 3D graphics where too crude to look at (but I will still appreciate and play some) and you can see that now if you go back, wondering how you were playing with such low detail (especially evident in N64 with the really lowres textures and filtering was making them more blurry and hard to see at distance). But I can stare in a later generation few years ago and marvel. And that is beautiful and nice, how much we have progressed. So much that maybe few gamedevs will decide to focus more on the gameplay content since the engines we have now are really doing a good work. But will they follow this road? The problem with game whores is that they want to see more and more of the progress. They bought PS4 not to see what we already can see on PC, but something new never seen before. But graphics are there at the edge and sometimes they are so loaded, like you have games with tons of DOF, glow, bloom, HDR, smokes, particles, shadows, whatever that you can't see anymore what's on the screen. All this drowning of the visuals in graphics seem like more and more heavy high tech shit to bat shit crazy graphics hogs.

And I am not even sure if most of them know what lies behind these engines. Most of them have learned to stare at visuals and argue whether they are better or not by single glances and intuition. They don't know the underlying algorithms and tech behind what they see (and since modern engines are drowned in too much features, even I can't tell you if one engine is richer than another) and so they haven't learned to appreciate and understand how amazing current engines are. They crave for more and more and appreciate less and less.

Hell, the funniest thing is that I am a graphics programmer and yet I don't get crazy about that stuff and I may even enjoy old games with "horrible" graphics. How is it possible? I should be the one becoming nuts about graphics! Yet I don't. Another joke, I recently met with four programmer friends and I realized again that most of us carry an outdated mobile phone (some of them are not even smartphones) and it seems counter-intuitive to the common person. How are you such a great geek and yet don't crave for the last gen? I see mostly non-programmer friends of mine speaking about the latest fad in mobile phones, while I get bored of the discussions or can't relate. See facebook. Someone would wonder how am I not really into facebook, since I would be the first person (as a geek) they would expect to be into it. Most of my geek friends despise facebook. Why do we differ? Fed up that these things that once where our world became so mainstream? Are we just hipsters that want to be different again? Or do we appreciate even the old technologies because we have a better idea of the internals? I am not sure. If you asked me, I wouldn't deny that I sometimes feel like a hipster, because everyone gloats about his mobile phones, but only me can program some good stuff for it (something that seems magic to most). But I also don't feel the need to really hook to the latest next gen fad for whatever reason. I will not feel like a lamer if I play some retro game on Amstrad CPC with "horrible" graphics, since I have an idea about the hardware and restrictions of the machine and thus I can enjoy playing it, being amazed on how they succeeded some of the stuff, even looking at it historically. A waste of time for some. As if they count good times with whether they were the first to play the most next gen possible, looking at the future, gloating at their star trek device (mobiles) and feeling modern.

I won't hide it. I feel like a hipster sometimes. I feel like they invaded my world. I stare at the mainstream and despise it. I think I am better because I code. At least I know my shit. I can appreciate the technology. I was there! And sometimes I cringe at their reactions. "Games are not mostly about graphics? How can you say that! Graphics is the first thing about games, it always was..". I laugh at their general direction.

p.s. Most of all I laugh at the new generation of consoles. PS4 and Xbox One, they are basically PCs if you check the specs, both AMD and at par with my current PC. And check most of the titles of this or the last generation. Titles ported from PC. I wasn't interested in PS3 or Xbox 360 at the time (except for some exclusives that never came to PC, maybe good reason to get a cheap ass used PS3 just to play these) because they were basically what the PC had to offer. It seems the same today. At least the Wii-U offers a unique hardware, a controller that many hated but may give a unique experience to some games using it well and the usual Nintendo exclusives I can't find on PC (Can't say it's original, yet another mario, yet another mario kart, Zelda, etc) so it's a lot of incentive for me to buy (when it drops, lol). Hell, the older generations of consoles where more interesting (even if I was never a serious console gamer, besides handhelds). I am collecting them for fun now. Each of them have a unique hardware, some had just a quad rasterizer (Saturn, 3DO), others more complete 3d hardware (PS1, N64), Jaguar had it's obscure programmable chips, even PS2 or Dreamcast had unique architecture, not a generic PC put in a box as of today. And much more of the games were exclusives. Each hardware was unique in the past (also home micros), something that is missing today. Console gamers are ranting about graphics, so I ironically become a hipster and tell them why don't they just get a PC?

Wednesday, 28 August 2013

Gaming girls, nerd culture, who gives a damn?

Just an entertaining thought I recently had: We go berserk about "OMG, a girl who can play games" or something. But today is the day of gaming and being "nerdish" and stuff is mainstream. It's no big deal. You can easily find girls in front of computers, playing games and such, or the other mainstream lamebook stuff. Or in my home country where the netcafes where crazy places like arcade rooms, not what you think, it was new years eve and you saw people on netcafes and that was weird. And really good looking girls too. It's not something crazy today. It even becomes mainstream.

And the full aspect of the entertaining thought was: Why are we getting surprised that someone can play a game? What's the fuzz of "Omg, I play zelda, I am such a geek!"? You are doing the easiest thing in the world!!! The easiiiiesttt thing in the wooorld!!!!!!!

You know when I play games? When everything else has fallen apart! When I can't work, I am too lazy to do house work, even too lazy to go out for a walk. There are many distractions and those have the form of the easiest falloff, like the path of the least possible energy, where things most easily go when you don't try at all. And gaming is one of the easiest paths of all! I am not saying that we shouldn't game. I love gaming! But it's just funny to think "OMG, that girl is a gamer, this is ingenious!". It's funny to be surprised. Anymore..

And that's the other entertaining fact there: Why, oh why, years ago it really was that special to even find male people into just even gaming? I mean,. it was so rare, that you could consider some writer on a gaming magazine like a god (while I would have considered this for some early programmers, having admiration for gaming gods is hilarious). Because nobody was into it! It was just so rare. You didn't need to be a coder. Being a gamer and maybe also fix other people's computers (No, I am not gonna fix your computer t-shirt comes in mind :) and you were a guru.

But why? Why didn't people got into gaming then? I mean, even just gaming. Is it because of non user friendly DOS and memory managers and IRQs and stuff? Maybe,. but it doesn't seem to me like a big deal. Ok,. things where harder, but games were always awesome. But you just had to learn how to setup your autoexec.bat and config.sys and that's it! No more brainiac stuff. I do believe it's the cultural thing mostly. It was uncool. It wasn't mainstream. If you were into it, you were either jokingly called a hacker by ignorant people or most of the times a nerd or geek in the negative sense.

But it just entertains me. I had something about coder girls and it's still inspiring but they do exist and why not? But gaming people being something worth attention? The easiest thing in the world!!! The last resort of my laziness..

And then I was inspired by this one, says about culture and stuff http://www.youtube.com/watch?feature=player_embedded&v=H7A5OgfP4NA although I didn't felt that bad about Big Bang Theory, and also I didn't exactly agree with his Borderlands review (Oh,. I didn't know though Jesper Kyd was behind the music. And big surprise, the art style and theme and even scenes are "inspired" (ripped? who cares..) from some unknown (to me) anime, codehunters. Wow! That's so close!

p.s. And I really like that meme!
p.p.s. Don't misunderstand, I don't want to be mean to girls into our hobbies though. This post is not about that..
p.p.p.s. If you love what you do, just do it. You don't necessary need to identify yourself with a title. But we do need that sometimes, eh?

Friday, 26 April 2013

Wikipedia

I am usually mad at common misconceptions that have somehow won people's opinions that they sound like self-evident. Ideas that you hear everyone reciting and just because everyone is saying that, it must be true. It's annoying how self-evidently these ideas are recited without trying to understand what they mean and how accurate they are, how strong they become because they are bound to be so now that everyone says so. And while they might have some merit, they don't feel absolutely so true if you try to make sense of them.

One common such idea that I am too tired to listen every once and then, when I happen to discuss something with a friend and suddenly mention "Oh,. I also read in wikipedia that blah blah...". And then he responds instinctively the same parroted words: "Wikipedia is not a reliable source, it's inaccurate, anyone can edit, blah blah..". Arghh!!! And what are the sources that you are proposing then? The local library? The university? Someone at NASA? What are the sources about specific subjects that you don't have direct access, and your best friend for that is the internet?

It depends on the subject. Of course I know the saying that you should not reference wikipedia in a scientific paper. Even wikipedia says so. Wikipedia articles are just a simple start up with a subject that also cites the original sources used. But the classic saying, "wikipedia is oh so faulty" occurs so robotically, like a Godwin's law, even when discussing about trivial information that are easy to verify or insignificant claims. And the absolute way they recite this saying gives you the impression that wikipedia is an extremely bad source of information, one of the worse on the internet. Which is not true, quite the contrary. Wikipedia is for me one of the best sources on the internet!

Why am I saying that? Whenever I hear about a new term, organization, person or anything I immediately reach wikipedia first. One would say, that is because it's good head start the easy way on a subject and then one can continue with linking to the references. One reason is this but there is more juice. Sometimes you can't be sure about something from different sources, because each source is opinionated or has different agendas. Wikipedia is maintained by thousand of users, each obsessed with different topics, trying to be as insanely correct as possible about each subject. Which of course can also lead to quarrels too, but it's resolved by several people and their different views might be blend (or not). It's as good as it can get given the nature of the internet. And sometimes you get a broader and more complete article where it says "The definition for this is A, but it's disputed by some other people, while that guy said it's C [citation needed]".

Search for example for the definition of hacking for example on the internet. Confusing! Information wants to be free, mentor's manifest, revolution,. no script kids they are, but there are true hackers, the others are called crackers,. confusing opinionated things, each site tells a different story. And that's where the wikipedia article shines! It says something like "1) Used to be the MIT guys, or a state of mind of creative people,. 2) then the computer hobbyists, 3) now the computer network intruders by the media,. etc. And these guys dispute the definition, while the other guys said about this, etc..". And then the history and then all the whole bunch of links and references. At least you get the whole image, what it is, what it was, what are the different opinions, how it changed through history, in a neat article that tries to be not too big yet covers the most important information for the basic understanding of the subject. Another example would be to learn about a company or organization you just heard about. Would you say that the best plan is to visit the organization's website? Of course, at first, depends on what you are searching too. But what if you want to have a more spherical objective view, rather than only positive promotion on the company's website? What if what you are searching is not "We have the best products, 20 years of positive experience, the happiest and most productive personel, blah blah" but raw words like "This company was started by that guy at 1980, in 1990 they produce that but didn't sell well, at 1998 there was a scandal with the CEO, blah blah". This is what I like in wikipedia! A good head start, raw words, factlike, no agenda towards only one direction, different views presented in a neutral way and additionally references to external link if you want to verify the facts.

When most of our sources come from the internet today (depending on the subject of course) and wikipedia has all these qualities (and if it doesn't, at least it's a good starting point) how can you say that it is a bad source? Then most of the rest of the internet are worse. Unless you believe that the internet itself is a bad source of information. Says the person who uses it everyday to read or spread information. How generic is that? The internet is you and me and everyone of us. It's like saying that people and their sayings are a bad source of information. Then what is left? This is the same as that old again robotic saying that users in Pouet are 95% illiterate and have nothing to do with the scene? WHAT? But Pouet is the ONLY such big demoscene community site where people come together, with discussions and everything! Pouet IS demoscene on the internet (but not in real life). Why do people say such things from mouth to mouth without thinking a bit? How can 95% at Pouet be irrelevant with the scene? And are the people who do these claims in the 5%? Then what the hell are they doing in a site that is 95% non scene related? I know that more than 95% who frequent there have produced something for the scene. But 95% of people kept reciting the same old song :P

Don't misunderstand me. I am not saying that wikipedia or the internet is the GOD. I am not saying it's 100% infallible. It's just as right as humans can be. When I am mentioning that I read something on wikipedia, I am not saying that it must be true. I am saying that I read something in some source (being the internet or not, it's irrelevant) and wondering what the other person has to say about this information. The stupid way would be to answer "The information is bullshit, because wikipedia is unreliable" and the more mature would be "I think this information is not correct because of this and that reason, regardless where you read it". Hell, it wouldn't even make the information more reliable even if I heard it from a person of high authority. It's like the old quarrels in debates, "I have 2 masters, 3 PHDs, I am the best in my domain, so you are totally wrong and stupid!" :P

Classic fallacy I guess, blaming the messenger instead of trying to understand and verify the message.