Monday, 9 December 2013

The Revolution Has Been Televised...

My grandparents remembered a time before television. My parent talked about a time where only one or two houses in their street had a TV... Black and white of course, with a whole three stations. I myself remember the hype when a forth station was added to this lineup only to be followed, some years later,  by a fifth. By this time our family TV was a whopping 28" and in colour with almost twice as much stations as it used to have, and not only that... I could also plug my VIC-20 computer into it and actually play games on there as well. Surely we were now truly living in modern times...

Oh how long ago that seems. Now here I sit in front of our modest 42" flat screen HD digital TV watching SKY and wondering if theres anything more interesting on NetFlics or LoveFilm, whilst typing this into one of our three tablet devices, and checking for e-mails and tweets on my smart phone. But if my teenage self could suddenly jump from then to now all this would be secondary, amazing, astounding, but secondary... Because underneath the TV sits a PS3. And there's an Xbox 360 and a PC in the bedroom, and what would I think when I switched ether of these, now aging, devices on - well, what would I think after wiping the drool away from my gaping mouth, that is?

Tuesday, 22 October 2013

Will iOs7 be the straw that broke Apple’s back?

Has the mighty Apple finally managed to slightly annoy its, traditionally very loyal, core user-base?
You may think their products are overpriced. You may get annoyed at their unnecessarily non-standard connectors, or become frustrated with their closed operating system and insular software licencing policies. But if you do then you probably aren't an ‘Appleite’ and definitely not on their target customer base.

Was the latest iOs7 upgrading a step too far for too many established users?
Apple has prepared a very successful business model through their plug-and-play approach to their systems, and I can see the appeal of these types of product to their target audience, who are for the most part, average non-technical consumers. But this time Apple appears to have missed the mark with the look of their new desktop. And in line with Apples own policy, the ‘look,’ along with simple no-fuss functionality, has always been one of the most important selling points.
Yes there were teething problems with the new operating system, then to be fair most new operating system have these, but this time a significant portion of the established user base seems to have taken a general dislike to the fundamental look and approach of the new desktop. Has Apple pulled a ‘Windows 8’ and pushed their vision of a modern desktop upon a consumer base that doesn't want it? A quick Google search would seem to support this hypothesis…

Friday, 18 October 2013

Different format, same game…

Or, when did competing systems start to run the same software?

If, like me, you are old enough to remember the 8Bit console and home-computer era  you will no doubt remember the slew of arcade game conversions, which steadily began to appear for practically every known 8Bit format. 
These various implementations were often rather interesting to say the least...

Some were remarkably good, others simply awful, but they all had their own very unique take on their parent game. 
This was largely due to the limitations and eccentricities of the various, and varied, hardware platforms of the time. But a not inconsequential part of the success, or failure, of these conversions was also down to the programming teams responsible for re-writing the parent, arcade cabinet, game for the home hardware.

 Both conversions and original games produced for multiple platforms during the 8, 16, and to a certain extent the 32Bit era were often all very different in their look, feel and playability. I'm not saying this was a good or bad thing, it’s just a fact. Sometimes the games shone on a particular platform, other times all the versions were equally as good or bad as each other. But they were invariably distinct, with the platform running the game being clearly obvious: except perhaps between a hand full of 8Bit Atari and Commodore 64 titles, but there are generally always some exceptions to most rules.

  There was a time when the PC lagged  behind its 8Bit contemporaries.     

Wednesday, 4 September 2013

Show me the money…

… Or why are so many Indie start-ups asking for crowd-funding?

Do you recognise the four games on the left? Well, a lot of people will, and all of them are independently produced  games, what are commonly referred to as 'Indi-Games.' 

But there are many levels of 'Indi' game makers... 

As you may or may not know, I've been dabbling in the wonderful world of no-budget PC indie games lately, and one thing I very quickly noticed was the amount of  individual start-up programmers and small two-to-three man teams that are now asking for up-front funds from crowd-funding projects like Kick-starter. Then they usually complain bitterly that nobody is giving them any money for their brilliant idea…
Well, not to be harsh or anything, but why should they? And more to the point why ‘exactly’ do you need it?

I've looked at quite a few projects, many of which seem to be nothing but an idea, and can’t for the life of me see where these asked for thousands would be going. Generally their case isn't helped much by the complete lack of explanation over where the money will be spent, and I have seen some very well laid out Kick-starter projects that explained exactly where, and when, each penny of the money would go.

To be honest I can't see that many of these projects are any more ambitious than some of my own. And I don’t need any money to develop those, just the will, a half-way decent computer, my brain, and some time… Although you’d be surprised how difficult it could sometimes be to get those things together in the same room and talking to each other.

Tuesday, 28 May 2013

Should story based action games be difficult?

So I’ve been playing some relatively modern and mainstream games lately, and it’s obvious they are all very-much story based and designed to be completed.
The thing is some parts of some of these games seem to unnecessarily bog-down the progression by being harder than the vast majority of the game.
Now, don’t get me wrong. I like arcade games with a high difficulty curve, but these are action games, designed to be completed within a certain time-frame.  I think the problem occurs when you get a boss stage or level that seems to grind the game by forcing you to play through it again and again before you can progress the story, or when a certain part of a level is suddenly and unexpectedly hard. If you aren’t used to hard game-play it soon becomes infuriating rather than challenging, chiefly because it is holding you up from progressing in the all-important story.
I know some people have complained about mainstream gaming becoming increasingly easier and designed to be completed (the walk-through game, as some have called it) but if it is a story based game I want to be able to hack/slash or shoot my way through that story without coming up against an inappropriately placed hard grind – whether it be a boss or a particularly difficult part within a level. I can see how this could be interpreted as bad level design.
I don’t think the idea of a ‘walk-through game’ is inherently bad. Surely it’s the experience that matters most, and these games are generally designed to take a set number of hours to complete. So any sticking point is just that, a point where you are stuck and unable to perform the main goal of progressing through the story.

Friday, 22 March 2013

MUD in your Eye…

To those who don’t know (is there anyone) MUD stands for Multi User Dungeon.
As a games genre, it has been around from the very beginning of on-line gaming, and almost from the beginning of multi-user gaming.

MUDs are predominantly multi-user text based adventure games:  the type of thing that is now referred to as ‘Interactive Fiction,’ although that label is generally reserved for stand-alone single player games.
The term MUD was originally coined in 1978 by Roy Trubshaw; a student at Essex University, in England; who wanted to make a multi-user version of the ‘Zork’ text adventure games he had played on the university systems. Although Trubshaw wasn’t solely responsible for developing the game to the form it was most widely known, and played, in he did coin the phrase and lay the groundwork.
People will disagree about what exactly happened next, but arguably the MUD game got its first major break when it was released on the pre-internet subscription-based ‘CompuServe’ dial-up computer network.
Both prior to, and after, the commercial  ‘‘CompuServe MUD’ release most MUDs were, and continued to be, run as hobbyist systems.

These hobby-MUDs were invariably run from Dial-up Bulletin Board Systems (or BBS for short) and although these were free to use accessing them often involved hefty call charges.

Saturday, 16 March 2013

3D Runes – and a return to 2D gaming...

I remember first playing Runescape around a year and a half to two years after its inception, and even at that time there were those players that complained about the 'old-fasioned 2D graphics' the game used.

But nowadays it seems the old Runscape game, now referred to as the 'original' version, is being reinstated due to popular public demand: in fact it was by an overwhelming player vote...
So it begs the question, are these the same players that were complaining about the 2D game in the first place? And if not, who or what has changed?

I remember there being some reticence and concern from a small percentage of the 'veteran' players when the 3D version was first announced, but on the whole it was very much greeted as a good thing by the community. Although even then, some players still complained that it looked 'too old.' I can only assume this was in comparison with the platform specific MMORPG programs of the time.

So what has changed? Runescape is now massively more popular than it was back then and has become something of an on-line browser-based gaming stalwart. But surely that means that the vast majority of its players are 'new' at leasty in terms of not being around when the original 2D version was at its peak. So why the overwhelming desire to see it return now? Perhaps with the proliferation of 'realistic' 3D games available now people don't see 3D as the 'magic games-playing formula' that they once did. Maybe the rose-tinted 3D glasses are beginning to slip. Is opinion maybe now becoming split or polarised between two camps, or is the playing-filed just settling down after the 3D explosion, and becoming wider and more encompassing again? Personally I think it may be a bit of both.

Tuesday, 26 February 2013

Programming language fan-boys (and girls)

Wow! I’ve been programming in one form or another all my working life (20+ years) and had no idea that such a thing as the programming-language fan-boy existed until I recently started looking into which language would be best used to program an independent computer game.

I was using C#.Net at work lately and I've just discovered the XNA tool-kit, which can be used to develop games for MS Windows, Windows phones, and the Xbox 360... And I have access to all of those.
After a quick play; it isn't busy at work lately, we’re waiting for a systems upgrade before starting the next project; I can definitely say I've developed a bad case of 'shiny object syndrome.'

I don't have any ideas as yet, but I probably will be writing something using this system, if just to see what I can come up with, so I’ve decided to give writing my own Indi game a decent go. I’ll probably write it to work on windows to begin with and maybe try to get it on to xbox-live or something. Although unlike a lot of the comments I’ve read on various message boards, I’m going into this with my eyes open, and with realistic expectations.
 I do currently program commercial programs for a living, just not games ones. I have learnt a lot of languages over the years, as and when I needed them, but haven’t really given any one system much more credence than the others. I do have a personal preference for older (lower level) non-object-orientated stuff. I mostly use just now, and sometimes find myself fighting it more than using it. C# seems to be a bit better, because I think it gives you a bit more freedom in your code, but I still find these object-based very high level languages restrictive. Then again, I program a 30+ year old video games console in assembly language (machine code) for fun, so I freely admit that my view may be slightly scued in this.

Thursday, 21 February 2013

100% Machine Code Games!

   I remember, back in the 8Bit home-computer days, when this was the marketing cry for ‘quality’ games, or supposed quality at least.

When home systems like the ZX 81, VIC 20; and to a lesser extent the later ZX Spectrum, and commodore 64; ruled the home-computer markets, and first generation consoles like the ATARI 2600 were just becoming seen as ‘old hat,’ written in machine code was seen as a majour selling point. There had originally been an initial glut of games written in some form of BASIC, as the language was generally included on the ROM of most home computers, and was designed to be easy to understand and quick to pick up. Now don’t get me wrong, I’m not dismissing Basic in any way, shape, or form at all here. This was undoubtedly the introduction for many people, of a certain age-range, into a career in the IT industry. And the current IT workforce has a lot to thanks these systems for.  But back then it was all about programming games, something most people with a home-computer had attempted to varying degrees of success.

Thursday, 7 February 2013

A Review of NeverEnd. (PC)

I’ve decided to have a look at those quirkier or somewhat left-of-centre games that got panned in the general press and internet review sites. 

First of all I intentionally picked a few games that I had never heard off, which consistently got low reviews from the main media sources, and then I did some internet research, before playing them with an open mind whilst remembering the on-line and in-print comments.
I intended to see if I thought all these games are genuinely awful, or if there is possibly something more to the general review trends? After all there’s truth to the old axiom ‘know your audience.’

Me, well I’ve absolutely no idea who reads this stuff: So this one’s for you Anon...

Panned Games - Review 2: NeverEnd.

The second game on my ‘Panned Games’ list is NeverEnd, an old-style fantasy based RPG game for the PC.

This one got a Metacritic score of a whole two stars, then came the usual, band-waggon jumping, derogation on YouTube and various other 'games fan' blogs.
It subsequently gained a bit of an anti-fan following in certain gamming-circles.

But was this deserved?

 The lead character is female, but not necessarily in a ‘Cor look at them pixles,’ Lara-Croft type of way...

Following thw fall of the evil Enakhaan, the  powerfull wizard Sarthaan - banished all non-human magical beings to another realm, amongst those that were driven from their land were noble warriors and mages from the race known as Auren. Now, only a few remain, lost in a world that hates them.
Agavaen is a young Auren, living as an outcast and travelling with a band of thieves.
Her magical powers are starting to grow and now, aged 20, she is beginning to wonder what her future might hold.
And so says the blurb, but what does this mean for game-play? 

The game is played over a series of fixed viewpoint backgrounds, some of which scroll as you move the character through them. Camera angles, and distances, vary from scene to scene, in much the same way as the original Resident Evil games did, although the overall feeling here is much more spacious, although some internal locations do give a good claustrophobic feeling.
This is basically a pseudo 3D third-person RPG adventure game, set in a fantasy world populated by the usual characters, but the plot does have a decent story-arc and progresses at a steady pace. None of the plot puzzles are too obscure, and although the story progression is fairly linear you do need to put some thought into it in order to advance. You also need to continually level-up during the adventure, but again this is fairly even paced and experience should accrue steadily as you progress through your quest. I only had to stop and ‘train’ in order to proceed on a couple of occasions, and then not for very long. The story is fairly involved and relies on puzzles just as much as levelling-up to proceed, with enough side quests and interactive characters to keep it interesting. You can also gather a party of fellow adventurers to help you out with the fights, this 'party' aspect is handled well enough, with some characters being integral to the plot and some not.
I’ve heard this referred to as a ‘Girls Game,’ apparently in a derogatory manner, although I’m not sure why. The lead character is female, but not necessarily in a ‘Cor look at them pixles,’ Lara-Croft type of way… Although some of the characters aren’t exactly dressed for winter.

Thursday, 17 January 2013

Will 2013 be the year TV Console gaming changed forever?

We’ve already seen TV-Top gaming creep into the living room with the release of the OnLive TV console, and we've heard of the proposals to include streamed on-line gaming options in future TV-Top Video-Streaming media devices…

But, with both Google and Steam getting ready to release their own TV-Top games consoles, should we all be looking forwards to the advent of a completely new wave of, console-like, gaming?