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Brings new meaning to the word… January 24, 2008

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When I was just a tot, I got a chance to play a very high-tech virtual reality game that some guys were running in Boston’s Quincy Market. I don’t remember what it was called, but you basically climbed up onto an enclosed pedestal while wearing a bulky headset and holding something a lot like the nunchaku controller. The controller was responsible for movement and firing while the tilt of your head controlled your POV. Obviously at the time it seemed like I’d just stepped into some totally wild science fiction of the year 3000 shit. Even today, however, that sort of interaction is missing from our home computers and consoles. Would it surprise you, then, to learn that the technology for very similar (better?) experience is sitting in many homes across the globe? Behold mortals, what one determined geek can do with the Wii Remote.

My latest intfic… December 18, 2007

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intficFor the final project for New Media, I decided to go back to an earlier idea I had before “The Wretched Hive” that concerned itself with death. I thought about how many text games ended with player death, but none that I know of began there. So this was my concept when I began “You Have Died.” I wanted to evoke images of Planescape: Torment, another game that took an unusual approach to death. In YHD, you begin as an ethereal spirit, ascend “into the light,” and then enter a library filled with a cast of oddball characters. Conversation is the main play mechanic, with “x (name)” and “ask (name) about (topic in bold)” being pretty much all you need to complete the game. There are six different endings, depending on what books you read and which you found intriguing enough to ask about. I tested it pretty thoroughly, so I don’t think there’s any game-stopping glitches, but the walk-through is available after the jump.

New Media Principles:

Digital: Check. Modularity: All you need is a program to play it .zblorb files and it will work on any machine. Automation: Well, the game automatically plays with you, but it doesn’t allow for user creation of content, although that’s exactly what Inform is for. Variability: Check. I coded 6 endings, from simple epilogues to a chase/fight scene. You can progress through the Library any way you choose, out of the four compass directions. Transcoding: The game transcodes the act of reading a book into a digital experience, minus paper cuts.

(more…)

Guitar Heroics December 11, 2007

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I enjoy fiddling around with GH from time to time, but I’ve never brought myself to the actual investment point. 80$ for a game is a threshold I cannot cross, regardless of how much I want to be/already am a rock star. Still, I understand the draw, and also the perils that face those who plunge the depths of their soul for the resolve to master the game’s intricacies. Indeed, my father is a highly accomplished real musician, and I felt his scorn burning holes in my back as I clumsily strummed away at Monkey Wrench. That jabbing remark of “Why don’t you play a real instrument?” is in many ways echoed by the “Why don’t you make real money?” or “…friends?” or “…dysentery?” heard throughout gaming history. Tycho proposes that this argument is flawed from the start: that the simulation of the guitar has the potential to become a source of music creation. His points are valid and persuasive, but he seems to be overlooking, or at least downplaying, one very important thing: playing a live instrument is cool. This is not to say that a new generation of Guitar Hero born musicians will not spring up, on the contrary, I believe they may. But the real deal, the drums and the strings and all of it, will never lose its prestige over the simulation, just like Wii Golf won’t replace country clubs.

Mass Effect December 11, 2007

Posted by jmoran21 in Games, Uncategorized.
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One of the most hyped games of the fall was my biggest reason for taking the 360 plunge last month. Predictably, I’ve fallen victim to its siren song, and would gladly pursue the Geth to any number of backwater worlds for hours on end. Since Bioware is behind some of my favorite games (KOTOR and Baldur’s Gate 2 for example), I had high expectations for their first next gen effort. And while they seemed to have pulled a Molyneux on some really cool features, (dynamic interruptible dilogue, full control over party- err, squad-members) overall the finished product is gleaming, and may be the best storytelling, if not story, I’ve ever seen in a game.

Biggest change from previous Bioware titles: fully voiced protagonist. This makes a huge difference in how you perceive the game. First off, you spend a lot of time staring at your characters face, which makes it much more sensible to go with the default, most highly polished visage for your avatar. If the voice acting sucked, this feature would be worse than useless, but this is not so, luckily. In fact, as many reviews have stated, I find myself slogging through combat just to get to the next dialog tree. The elegant wheel of choices gives you just enough information about your next lines to make a semi-informed choice, but keeps it simple enough to be useful, as well as interesting to listen to.

While the galaxy’s worlds may be a little empty at times, it is way more expansive than the five-planet choice of KOTOR. Not to mention that driving around in the rover is eff you enn fun.

Xtreme Sculpture October 17, 2007

Posted by jmoran21 in Art, Uncategorized.
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Yesterday in New Media we took a whirlwind tour through the history of art. I felt like we covered a lot in one hour, but a lot of what we covered was in the first chapter of Understanding Comics. What broke new thought ground was a look at three dimensional art, such as this sculpture to your left.

Without knowing too much about art, I would say this sculpture is pretty good. What I like most about it are the metal rays descending from the ceiling. They’re illuminated by sunlight filtering in through a hidden window, and I love that concept of using the room and the environment to enhance the experience.

I think what makes St. Teresa special is that it goes beyond the normal scope of a sculpture and takes advantage of natural aspects of the third dimension, such as lighting and negative space. I think that any arena of creation will have these kinds of inherent benefits, but it takes artists a lot time to discover them. We take things like linear perspective for granted today, but I wonder what else we have yet to create that future generations will think we were blind not to see in the first place?

Int Fic October 15, 2007

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I have a confession to make: IF bores me. intficA lot of games bore me, actually; even very good games that I enjoy at first can get really old really fast. So despite my best efforts to the contrary, I’ve never gotten deep into an interactive fiction game in my life, let alone finished one. I know that this is my failing, a lack of discipline on my part that haunts my gaming life. This was quite a burden on my mind when I set out to create my own text game for New Media class.

I thought about submitting my first text adventure, created in QBASIC for my Programming Logic class. It was a simulated lightsaber duel based on KOTOR, with the player being able to attack, parry, or use a medkit while their computer opponent randomly chose its own action. It was basically an elaborate rock paper scissors game, but I created it for myself as part of a grand scheme I had for creating an action-text-adventure. In other words, I was challenging my own preconceived notion that a text game can only be about puzzles and logic by injecting a certain amount of strategy and chance. Obviously it was really boring to play, but maybe someday I’ll continue on with that concept for myself.

 What I ended up creating with Inform I call “The Wretched Hive,” a nod to Star Wars I picked when I started the game and it was still in its original setting of a dive bar. It evolved to something quite different as I worked, both because of my creative process, as well as the limitations of the software and my unfamiliarity with it. My goal was to get the player to take the simplest route to victory on their first play through and end up getting themselves killed, only to think about the finale a bit harder the second time through and win through trickery and deceit. The environment is oversized in order to fit the context of the assignment, and the coding for the end game was tough to get a handle on, which forced me to make the climax a lot simpler than I intended.

 So what did I learn about IF from my experience? It’s not that IF is boring- it just depends on the compatibility between the writer’s thought process and the player’s. So for me, someone with a thought process capable of baffling many of the best educators and doctors in the state, it’s just hard finding IF that suits my taste.

Linear Progression September 16, 2007

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Todd Howard, executive producer of Fallout 3, has answered some questions from the ravenous pack of bitter old-school gamers that developer Bethesda politely refers to as a “community.” Aside from scrumptious morsels about specific gameplay features, he also discusses the ways in which F3 follows its predecessors in eschewing certain conventions:

16. Will the structure of the Main Quest be more like Oblivion, where you had to perform a series of tasks in the right order to progress, or more like the originals where most of the progress you’d do consisted in gathering information, which was not a pre-requisite in order to end the game? [Thomas Stehle]

Closer to Fallout, in that you can actually skip entire parts of the main quest in Fallout 3 if you stumble across important information on your own. We debated that, but in the end, I think that’s a positive, and has a better feel then an artificial barrier that feels too “gamey”, and it’s something I liked about Fallout 1

The Fallout series was way ahead of its time in many respects, and I’m glad to hear about how Bethesda intends to carry on in the same spirit. It always bothers me in games when I encounter the linear quests, such as gathering relics to battle some boss-creature. I’m ready to fight Umarill the Unfeathered now, damnit! I don’t need any enchanted gauntlets!

The best example of this concept (other than Fallout) is Chrono Trigger, which lets you battle the final boss of the game in the first 10 minutes, or several other points throughout the story, giving you plenty of chances to win and forgo the rest of the narrative. It just so happens that most games that allow you to end the story early are so well made that you choose to continue playing anyways.