Tuesday, 25 January 2011

Borderlands

I wasn't playing modern PC games for a long time. It's too much of a hassle, installing some GBs in your hard drive, getting into the game, calibrating tons of controls and then not playing it. So, I used to play old stuff and emulators because it's easier to set up and the controls are simple and you might finish a game in half an hour. So, if I review a modern PC game I have been playing it means something. Because I rarely have the motivation to install and play one. The last good FPS I loved on the PC is Return To Castle Wolfenstein to give you an idea how away I am from hardcore (not casual or indie or emu) PC gaming. Also, there were two recent PC games I played too much the year that passed (and I still play). One is Test Drive Unlimited and the other is Borderlands. Nuff said!



I see that Borderlands has created a fan base on the internet. And I see lot's of people hating it. This happens a lot with succesful games that miss that something and you think they are overrated. Many people find Borderlands boring. It's exactly the opposite with my case, cause I find it extremely addictive. Needless to say that I play the single player mode only, while most people say the game is worth for it's multiplayer. I can't imagine how that will be!

Ok, I will start for the bad points and I agree with some of the haters that something is missing. And then I will go on with what makes Borderlands so unique. They say there is no scenario, just pointless missions. There is some kind of scenario unravelled here even though it's not very strong. This is not important though to enjoy such kind of game. You are a treasure hunter on planet pandora, being lured by some kind of guardian angel to go into the search of a legendary vault that is supposed to hide some alien technology. There is some progression on the story, you find a young scientist called Patricia Tanis, there is Atlas corporation who wants the alien technology for itself, etc. And some side missions that sometimes have some relation to the story, like collecting audio tapes that people left that tell the story (like the Patricia Tanis audio tapes) and some other stupid missions like collecting bottles of beer and such stuff. The ending is not that good, maybe leaves you with expectations for another sequel, maybe not. But the scenario is there to fill the gap and it's not supposed to be important, there are also humorous elements in it and funny character presentations. But it's there, it doesn't suck entirely as people say.

Ok, the annoying stuff that I agree with. Lot's of side missions where you have to go somewhere and find some stuff scattered around, like "Oh, those bandits have stolen my cigarretes, go find them" and such. But if you just love moving around and mowing people done and getting loot then the punny missions are just the motive to go at some place and do that and then finish and go back to collect your reward. Such side stories existed in Fallout 3 and Oblivion too. Then, having to run around from one far side of the map to the other far side to collect something for a mission can be boring, although you have some vehicle you can use for faster travel too. Oh, and those signposts where you can teleport at different location. One sidenote, in the DLCs (aka expansions) that were released for this game, there are no teleport posts to move around, I don't know why they did that and it's very annoying for example in General Knoxx's Secret Armory DLC where the distances are vast (but you always move with the vehicles) - a very good DLC anyway.



What makes Borderlands good is how it combines the FPS and RPG elements together. It's more focused on the hilarious FPS action (with some sense of humour and funny cartoonish style graphics) rather than RPG itself, but borrows some of the most addictive elements of RPG games. You won't find any serious role playing in here, all you will find is what made the Diablo series addictive. Constant leveling up and ability increasing and (drumroll :) LOOTING!!! This is the single thing that makes it addicting for me. You can either kill enemies and they randomly drop loot, which can be money, ammo or weapons, shields and special items. Or you can find these stuff by opening chests. We are interested of course in chests that contain special weapons and stuff, not those ammo chests because you always have plenty of them.

There are any random combination of weapons (some say 1000000... number I don't remember) in the sense of being a pistol/revolver/SMG/Rifle/Sniper/Bazooka/Alien but each with random characteristics sharing, like different percent of accuracy, recoil, damage, reload speed, etc. So, you might find something totally funny, like a rifle with very strong damage but firing so slow like a fucking pistol or a powerful shotgun that spreads the shots so widely that you can't hit anything over one meter of distance or an SMG that fires X2 or X4 shots at once and there are also elemental powers attached to some of the weapons like fire, shock, acid or explosion damage and way much more funny stuff. What might come into your posession is so vast that it's such the excitement when you find new weapon chests scattered around. And there are also many different 3d models/styles of weapons and different weapon manufacturers that affect differently some of these elements. Well, most of the times there is some balance in what you find, so you end up with 95% of the weapons being already worse than what you have which you go and sell in vending machines (another place to find and buy weapons) till you reach higher levels and find more interesting gear around.

This is the main thing that makes this game addictive to me. But of course it's not the only one. The FPS/RPG mix is better to my liking than say Fallout 3 where you had to play with the turn based fighting mode (R.A.T.S.) instead of the real time because it was simply more effective and also you felt sort on ammo (this game is more focused on true role playing than action but it' still a good game but not as addictive as Borderlands for me). There is a scenario that I like as a concept even if it's not deep and just there to fill the gap, but the characters, the humour, the stylish presentation raise this up to a good level imho. If you like moving around in vast areas, enjoying good action and the leveling up/looting elements of RPGs like Diablo then this is for you. Don't listen to people who say this game totally sucks, it's not that bad, it's quite good in my opinion but that depends whether you will be bored with such kind of games or not (if there is a playable demo, try it first).

One last thing I forgot, you choose between four characters, each one of them have different special abilities. One is better with snipers and pistols and carries a sword while he sends a hawk down to enemies, another is the soldier who can set up a turret with a shield to mow down enemies, then there is the girl who can phase in another dimension and come back and likes elemental weapons and then Brick the monster who can punch people to death. So, if you finish the game with one character, you can play another one for an entirely different experience (there is a tree list of different abilities you can choose too). Till now I am playing with Mordecai, the guy with the sword and the hawk, because he had great style on the intro presentation and I also enjoy snipping :)

For me it's one of my most favorite games ever now! I hope more FPS will follow these RPG elements with such success.



p.s. Words about the DLCs. Dr.Ned's Zombie Island, small nice, with Zombies and purple colours and gothic atmosphere. Mad Moxxi's Underdome riot, this is a sequence of arena matches, too many of them, I stopped playing it at some time because it took me 6 hours to finish 3x25 rounds and there were 3x100 later(!!!), might catch up with it later, also it doesn't give you XP by killing enemies so it makes less sense. Then we have General Knoxx's secret armory which is one of the best DLCs, relies a lot on driving vehicles (3 of them) and have some nice ideas and a good finale. Killing the boss (which looks like the general inside a robot suit like in Avatar the movie :) you are into his armory where you set up a bomb to explode in less than 3:00 minutes and you are in a room with maybe a hundred of special weapon boxes with tons of loot, being extatic while your acomplish tells you "Hurry up, you have xxx minutes left" but you ignore and collect loot, LOL!!! And then Tartarus Station where you find Tanis again and she asks for robot parts and more robot parts and she has you complete a boring mission for several times (whyyyy???) before you reach a nice town with a railroad and take some more interesting missions. I wonder why these DLCs don't have teleport signs for their various locations as the original. Though they are generally smaller in size so except from the General Knoxx DLC, the others are ok. I am also hoping for a new Borderlands 2 instead of more DLCs. Maybe improving some of the stuff I don't like (I almost forgot, the Bazooka's sometimes pass through an enemy so you have to shoot for the floor and they still don't do much damage, ugh :P)

Saturday, 22 January 2011

Luck in games

I never understood Bejewled.

It's fun, you move jewels, jewels break and a lot of funny graphics, explosions, 3d tunnels, warps are happening in your screen per click.

But I don't get the concept. You can just click and make some random pairs and things break. What forces me to have a strategy to choose the right jewels to break? It seems random. Sometimes I loose because there are no jewel pairs to break. Are people thinking strategically which jewel to break in order to not be out of pairs after 20 plays? I don't get it! The only strategy I could think is to break the ones that are lower in order for more stuff to fall off and make compos. A puzzle game like tetris was based entirely on how you set up the 7 pieces that came randomly. You were building stuff, there was logic, there was skill. But what is there in bejeweled? Except if I am missing something..

There is an interesting article about luck in games that inspired me to write this post. It shows with pie charts how much skill, luck and other factors are there in different game genres. It also reviews the bejeweled case.

It also has as an example of luck, the funniest game video I have ever seen (if you exclude any video of big rigs of course :)



WTF?

Thursday, 20 January 2011

Demo/Game remakes

Just some little thoughts I had about remakes. Things like downporting some random popular demo/game on a retro platform.

I can't deny it, it's funny even interesting to run some of them. It's astonishing when you watch one of the most classic demos ever on a C64. Even the wild parodies of this demo were funny. It was extremely impressive to see Desert Dream on the C64 which was a quite good remake, much better in terms of quality and resemblance to the original than the SR port.

We used to dream about Second Reality 128, a rewrite for the Amstrad CPC 6128. I had this thing in mind, I would like to do it then, I even thought it would be fun and challenging to try to keep as close to the original as possible without sacrificing much speed. It would be fun to fit so many different parts in the limited CPC memory. Someone also told me that it's an easy way for making your demo famous. Second Reality 64 was a top C64 at Pouet for a long while there were much better demos even then. But that wasn't the matter, I loved the idea and I still love watching funny conversions from other sceners. But there is something that is missing..

Somehow I feel like I wouldn't like to start such a project today. Why try to recreate a classic demo for yet another time when with that effort you could make a big CPC megademo which will also be at least more original. I thought in the past that it would be interesting, I feel like at some points it will be boring. At least it's still funny to see other people doing this. I am not against demo remakes.

Another aspect is games. Everyone in the retro scenes is writting a remake of a classic game. Why? Because they love the original and they would love to watch it running on their favorite machine. But also it's more appealing to announce that you are working on a retro conversion of that classic masterpiece than any other random game.

I remember several recent Spectrum games found on World of Spectrum which were supposed to be remakes of classics. Mortal Kombat (and various versions), Civilization, Castlevania, Doom, Wolfenstein and others. Some were unfinished, some were too slow and bad. Some were at least impressive even if I wouldn't bother playing them.

There are also some interesting remakes currently being developed on CPC. Gianna Sisters remake, Elvira or R-type remake. Some of them are interesting and looking good compared to the original commercial releases. Yes, some of them are remakes of a game that already existed on CPC several years ago, games that were ugly ports from Spectrum and not rewritten entirely focused on the CPC color and hardware capabilities. Some of these remakes are trying to achieve exactly that, to show how a good Gianna Sisters or properly programmed R-type would look on CPC today. That's another case, taking an old game concept and rewrite it in the way it should be if the programmers weren't lazy. That's interesting.

But not my thing. I also had these dreams, how would be a remake of Metal Slug, Castlevania, Eye of the Beholder or say Grand Theft Auto (someone thought about that actually :) on the CPC? Another funny side is to take a game from an older platform and rewrite it for a modern computer. How would ghost n'goblins or commando or gianna sisters look like if they were coded for a modern PC? Some of these remakes make more sense and I have spent time playing them, not just because of the better graphics/sound but mainly because the gameplay and controls have been improved from the original.

For example take a look at Zub for Windows. This is a remake of an old Speccy/Amstrad game I didn't even know in the past. After I finished the remake I thought it was a very nice game and decided to download the Spectrum or CPC versions. The control sucked, for example when you jumped you couldn't change the direction on the air, a feature that exists in many modern platform games and makes it easier to control where you want to fall. In the Windows PC version you had full control of this. Another nice remake I enjoyed both on PC and gamepark handhelds is Giana's Return which is not even a remake, but a new game with different levels and graphics and sounds. This is another funny thing for a remake, to try to make for example Fruity Frank 2, Kung Fu Master 2 or Eye of the Beholder 4 for example. An imaginary sequel of an original game or something like that. I would enjoy this.

But personally, I am not even thinking about this anymore (I was thinking about Kung Fu Master 2 personally, because I have played the first so much). I think if I start working on a game I will be focused at creating something entirely on my own, not a remake, or a game based on a popular franchise, because I feel like doing something more original. The only thing my game will have to the classics is inspiration. I might like to make a game that has some similarities to a classic but with additional ideas and things done differently as I feel they would make a better and more addictive game. I am also interested in using some impressive tech in my future game projects for CPC.

I have been playing with a wolfenstein engine on CPC (just vertical wall span rendering at the moment) recently and the first thought that might come on your mind or people might suggest is, go make a port of the original wolfenstein game. But as I said no, it would be boring to just recreate the original maps as perfect as possible (also, things wouldn't be the same, maybe many textures, objects, too much memory needed) and then wolfenstein is a bit too straight forward. I was thinking about mixing wolfenstein action, scenario and some adventure elements. Just a first thought. But the point is, why just make a port of wolfenstein and not your own game with some interesting or impressive elements not found on the original?

That's how I think about it. If one don't want to code a precise wolfenstein or second reality port in his retro machine, at least he can do something different, more original and maybe even more impressive than porting the already existing stuff.

p.s. Work on the wolfenstein engine has been seized for a while. I have been busy with real life crap and other stuff and I didn't even worked for one day. Although, I am about to port it from PhrozenC to SDCC compiler soon. There is a possibility something (not a full game) will be released in few months from now but I don't promise anything.

Wednesday, 5 January 2011

Moving away from demo making

I have been talking about this issue a lot with my friends and maybe I gave a glimpse of my decision in some online forums but this is the first time I try to explain fully my view and the reasons of this sudden change.

It's been over ten years I started making demos and there was an obsession since the beginning which became severe in the sense that it made the whole process not fun and brought the opposite results than what one might want from a hobby. But that's not the main point here and it's also something I resolved by keeping a distance from the community and trying to focus on being creative for myself and not for the scene.

It's not the sole fact though that I was demotivated because of my obsessive attitude in the scene. There was something else in the process of making demos that could naturally demotivate you from being productive. While the half piece of making demos which is coding the effects can be interesting and fun, there is another part that can be tedious and demotivating. The fact that you have to connect all effects together in a specific way just to show off what you have done in order to please the community. You would also avoid releasing these effects as they are because the scene wouldn't appreciate them if they are not in a demo.

So, the half part is about pure creativity focused on the process, the joy of coding and experimentation, but the last part is solely focused on the result, working hard not because it pleases you but for finalizing something in the way the scene would appreciate it. Someone said that the scene is like a role playing and this part of demomaking reminds me of this. You stop thinking about coding, you stop focusing on pure creativity, you work hard so that you reach the point of releasing the damn thing without any interest in the creative process anymore but only the obsession that you have to be active in the scene or the reception you will get from people who will see your demo.

Let me give you a little example. My recent experiment of coding a wolfenstein engine for Amstrad CPC (See a first preview here) was following my newer view of how I want to be creative. It wasn't made for a project (especially not a demo one). I was motivated purely by my curiosity to see if I can make a fast wolfenstein renderer and how it will look like on CPC. At one point I decided to release a preview of it on youtube (inspired by those "look, my wolf engine on C64/Atari/Spectrum/your platform" vids). I initially blocked the idea because of an unwritten law in the scene. Well, mainly the CPC scene and any retro scene where brand new effects and world firsts count. It says that one shouldn't release a preview of his effects because it might not be fun/a surprise later when it appear in his demo if people have already seen it in the preview. And then I said, what the heck, first of all I didn't made this for a demo, then why shouldn't I show my work?

And then I thought, why coding demos for a much smaller audience, working hard with the sole motivation that maybe ten people (that is on CPC) will appreciate your work, also been affected by the unwritten rules and the mentality of the scene which tells you how your demo should be and what you should do or not do? Why losing focus from the pure creativity while being mentally stuck in this role playing game called the demoscene. Why not code the same things but for a greater audience? Why not moving to coding for other projects where you can totally focus on the process itself rather than doing it for a community? Why not games and apps since they are also more interesting and complete.

Let's talk about the last sentence. What do games or apps have that demos don't? Check what happens when you finish a bunch of effects and then you decide to connect them into a demo. The code is a linear script of which effect after which transition after which effect to show. It can be a rather tedious work with only motivation to release (get rid) your leftover effects and show off to the scene. Before starting your next demo production. A vicious circle. Also, it's dispensable. Since you know that when you finish the demo you abandon this code, this part of the code is the most ugly and unorganised ever. You won't need it after all in your next productions.

One would say that also a game has some interesting tech and then the boring part. But it's not that boring in my opinion. The game logic which let's supposed it's equivalent to games as what part scripting is for demos. It's more interesting though because here it makes sense that this part is well written and organized and you do this having in mind that this is an engine that you can reuse in future projects. While the linear demo scripting is dispensable as long as you release the damn demo. Except if you make an engine for demo scripting. But most people like me write the demo script in hand each time for a new demo from scratch.

Most parts of game making seem to me like a more interesting process where you don't think too much of the final result and the reception but every day you write some code it feels like you are building something that evolves and makes sense. In a demo, even if one enjoys the demo scripting process, it doesn't feel like something that needs a strict structure, definitelly not something that makes sense, e.g. after the plasma comes the rotozoomer and then a 3d scene, you can't easilly put these things in a structure as you can think of a game with it's entities, enemies, items where each one is connected to the other. One thing, I kept wondering why didn't I moved to C++ coding soon enough and kept writting mostly C code. I realized something, that demos didn't need a strict OOP design! It's just a serial show of effects, not something that would need structure, like a game with it's entities and rules. In demos you throw away your effects in a presentation in order to please a community. In games you build something that evolves into a big machine. That's the big difference that makes me want to code something else rather than demos.

The most funny thing is that I used to be a very enthousiastic person thinking that the demoscene is the holy grail but now my view has taken the opposite direction. I hated listening to people saying "Why make demos? Demos are useless? Why loose your potential on something like that instead of coding games or apps?" and I still disagree with them because one shouldn't define what he cannot understand as useless. But it's such an irony that at least I now come to their words. Not because I don't like demos (I still do), but because there is a whole new world out there, technically more interesting, more motivating and also a bigger audience to appreciate your work, while I have been sticking for so long in a small unknown community with it's own rules and it's "release next demo to be a scene super star" role playing game.

I am still a part of this community though. I still like demos even if I lack the proper motivation to be part of the whole process. I keep looking at demos, adoring what the community does from time to time, having a different perspective though. I will be keeping a distance from demo making except if I am really motivated to work on a demo (because you never know, moods are changing), I might still visit some parties, talk to some people about demos, take some part in the scene but less frequently and never if I am doing this without pure motives. From the time I started having this shift of view and applying it in my creative moments I was happier and felt I resolved my dissatisfaction with the demoscene and my obsessive nature with releasing demos. I now want to move on.

The demoscene is a small village. A nice village indeed. There is a new world outside for me though. I need a change.