John Petrucci

I was just showing a friend some funny John Petrucci videos that I thought I'd post here in case anyone was interested/hadn't seen them - they're awesome. Although, i'm pretty sure anyone who likes Petrucci would have already seen these...

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Fillion for Drake

In the infinite boredom of Christmas with all of the shops being closed, I somehow found myself having made about 6 different t-shirts designs in support of Nathan Fillion to be cast as Drake in the Uncharted films. 
 
They are pretty simple and not necessarily going to blow your mind, but they'll be a bit of fun to wear. 
  
You can see the rest here

 

 
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Medal of Honor Review

Medal of Honor affords the gaming industry a unique opportunity to appraise the plainly lacklustre results inherent in derivative game design. For a game that was heavily marketed on the merits of its realistic depiction of warfare, it is quite frankly an experience overwhelmed by a slavish devotion to the distinctive formula established by the Call of Duty series. While wholly competent and often enjoyable in its own right, it’s simply impossible to ignore the fact that developers Danger Close and Dice have effectively constructed a brazen imitation, rather than a truly innovative title.

Medal of Honor’s wholesale brand of mimicry ironically ensures that it’s a fundamentally solid and satisfying gameplay experience. The immediate familiarity of the game’s campaign and multiplayer portions is instantly welcoming; effectively removing any barrier to entry that a more imaginative approach might have produced. Consequently, the highlights of Medal of Honor’s design are more apparent than they otherwise might have been.

The game’s slide-to-cover system and the ability to lean around corners, cumulatively change the pacing of Medal of Honor’s single player encounters in a surprisingly refreshing manner. Adding to this, the game’s weapons strike a remarkable balance between lethal precision and the unwieldy, coarse weight you’d expect from such violent instruments. Yet the real star of Medal of Honor is the staggering sound design, featuring some of the most impacting and nuanced audio ever produced – it’s well worth experiencing.

A distinctively less welcome consequence of the game’s derivative style however, is the sheer clarity with which a player can detect its shortcomings. Those intimately familiar with the mechanics of the Modern Warfare series will immediately take issue with the game’s inconsistent hit detection and unsightly dips in frame-rate. On the other hand, those familiar with other recent shooters such as Battlefield: Bad Company 2 or Halo: Reach, may find the occasionally stilted animation, inconsistent visuals and structurally simplified multiplayer an unappetising compromise.

Despite this, the game’s incredibly familiar single-player campaign lacks the melodramatic storytelling of Activision’s flagship series – and is all the better for it. In fact, the low-key and consistent setting amidst the beautiful rural landscape of Afghanistan offers a genuine sense of location, grounding the events of the campaign in a fashion that the globe-trotting Modern Warfare series lacks. Having said that, it might have been nice if Danger Close had included the slightest trace of character development, as Medal of Honor is wholly devoid of any relatable protagonists.

Nonetheless, there’s a point towards the end of Medal of Honor’s brief campaign where the disjointed and ineffectual narrative finally blooms into an immersive scenario, giving events a definitive sense of purpose. The game’s locale is instrumental in galvanising this sensation, engaging you in a setting that feels topical and relevant to today’s real-world conflict. It’s just a pity that these moments of cohesion and engagement reside solely in Medal of Honor’s final sections.

The decision to farm-out both the single-player and multiplayer development to separate studios reeks of the ambitions conjured in boardroom meetings. Unsurprisingly, there’s an awkward and utterly tenuous connection between the two; this is literally two separate games. It’s a jarring experience, and the derivative nature of Medal of Honor’s design severely hampers the game’s multiplayer component. The accelerated pace and simplified structure of the modes on offer renders Medal of Honor a strange chimera of its contemporaries, leaving the game a middling example of any particular style.

You’ll find a relatively typical assortment of competitive modes in DICE’s multiplayer component, ranging from traditional team Deathmatch and Domination game types, to the objective based Combat Mission. Feeling like a stripped down variant of DICE’s more convincing work with the Bad Company series, Medal of Honor’s multiplayer offers little long term incentive thanks to its all too familiar styling. To be fair, it’s an admittedly enjoyable component of the game, but those tired of the formula set in place by other modern shooters will surely find little reason to invest in this particular game.  

Ultimately, the campaign suffers at the hands of some underwhelming technical issues and a barely detectable narrative. The game’s multiplayer feels similarly malnourished and struggles to establish a unique identity. Yet none of the game’s shortcomings afflict the experience as dramatically as Medal of Honor’s general sense of tired, uninspired repetition; it’s simply a consequence of the game’s undeniable familiarity. Despite being a fundamentally competent production, it’s simply a shame that Medal of Honor does so little to distinguish itself from its competitors.

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Timeless Objects in Gaming - The Medkit

From cracked ribs, broken skulls or grievous gunshot wounds – you can pretty much hang your hat on finding precisely what you need inside the nearest medkit. In fact, there’s probably a new hat in there for you, too.

Truly a pillar of classic game design, the miraculous medkits have essentially taken the same form for decades: a discrete package of ‘health’ to be picked up by the player, or stored in their inventory for later use. While it might seem an antiquated system to younger gamers, medkits have a profound impact on the particulars of gameplay.  

Punishing mistakes and rewarding careful, considered progress, the reliance on health pick-ups adds an anxious energy to each and every battle, along with genuine consequences to your performance from one encounter to the next. Be it ‘Life’, ‘Health’ or ‘Hit Points’, generations of players have experienced the tension and the thrill of micromanaging their life bar with these literal life-savers.  

Maybe it’s a silly and oversimplified substitute for real world medicine, but silly or not, hunting around for conveniently littered sources of the intentionally vague ‘health’ is hard-wired into the fiber of classic game design. And besides, we’re all satisfied with a little guy named Mario and his pioneering work with mushrooms as a rich source of rapid growth hormone, so a simplification of emergency medical treatment was never too hard to swallow.  

But for such a long-time staple of game design, we’ve seen a startlingly rapid decline in this classic mechanic in recent years.  

While they are certainly not the first games to feature a health system that strayed from the traditional format, it’s difficult to deny the influence Microsoft’s Halo franchise has had on the humble medkit. When Halo 2 decided to go ahead and practically invent online console gaming, its complete abandonment of the traditional health system was leaving an impression on a new generation of gamers worldwide. Running from gunfight to gunfight, every bit the super soldier in each encounter (regardless of how you fared in previous battles), regenerating health was an infectiously fluid and empowering change.  

I remember it only too well - within a few short years, the immense popularity of convenient ‘regenerating health’ systems seemed to render the act of chasing around little white health kits largely redundant. All of a sudden, life bars and on-screen displays of vitality were rendered obsolete and intrusive, now more commonly replaced with saturated screens of blood and other cinematic effects.

While they may have been quickly outmoded by the slick and easy-to-grasp lure of regeneration, let’s not forget that the medkit is simply a placeholder for its real life battlefield equivalent - surgical tools and medicines. Any individual claiming to cling to even the tiniest shred of sanity would have a tough time arguing that the unique brand of spontaneous and magical rejuvenation found in regenerative systems is any more of a ‘realistic’ approach.

Regardless of their potential for application in modern action titles, health packs hold a special place in gaming. While fancy, new-fangled regenerative systems enjoy the benefits of triple-A production budgets and slick visual presentations, medkits are out there in the grit of it all, destined to spend their days in trash cans and old crates. Yet, behind this derelict exterior lies a mighty heart of gold and a truly timeless object in gaming.  

   

Article 2/2 I wrote for this months super awesome issue of The Luchazine

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How Stair You

Well, well, well… here I am, finally at the end of the game. I’ve been through a lot these past few hours – I’ve had my mortality played with like a toy and my brain tortured by devious teleportation puzzles, all the while forced to throw myself around like some kind of desperate portal-hopping whore.

Every last semblance of humanity has been stripped away by GlaDOS and her malevolent regime. Even now as I enter the room, I struggle to imagine a way to break free from this tangled web she has spun around me.

Yet as I stand before her, listening to her taunts and petty ramblings, I see her accidentally drop what appears to be an essential part of a broader puzzle. I sense it’s the way out, “But how to use it?” I wonder. I anxiously look around to find the answer, when all of a sudden, I see you…

There you are, comfortably tucked away in the corner. I walk over to investigate you further - you look innocent and somewhat promising as you invite me to another level. I carefully ascend your steps and find that you’ve lead me to a red button, a red button of hope (RBoH). Finally I feel that I can beat GLaDOS, finally the missing piece I’ve been searching for.

As I figure out precisely what needs to be done, I decide using you is the best way to go- I can trust you. But little does my future self know that you will inevitably betray me, leading to my bitter downfall.

For now though, the clock is ticking and there is much to be done in order to survive. I’m empowered by the knowledge that ball by ball, I can destroy GLaDOS piece by piece like she did to me. I grab the first piece and begin to set my trap. I stride towards you, tiny ball held proudly aloft in front of me, and in all my confidence I turn to ascend you along my path to victory.

But all of a sudden I realize things have changed between us. I was only gone for a minute, and yet, instead of a welcome I am met with an unexpected resistance. As I try to climb up you, it seems I can no longer get through. It’s like there’s an invisible wall between us… I try again, maybe I was too forceful? But no - my second attempt yields even more frustrating results, as I somehow end up on the wrong side of the rail.

“Is it the ball? Because if it is, don’t worry - I’m not interested in it, I’ve come to destroy it” But something tells me it’s not. I try to battle my way through again but still you resist me! I begin to feel the frustration build, as pressure mounts and time continues to slip away. Why are you tricking me? Every time you make me think I’m safely on your steps, you betray me! Do you enjoy watching me helplessly fall back to the ground, over and over again?

Was not your purpose to support my ascension? Or have you been created for some other reason? But hold on a second, perhaps you’re not alone in this. Perhaps you’ve been in bed with GLaDOS all along, luring innocent bystanders like me, making us think you are the best way to the RBoH, only to betray us at the last minute.

What’s GLaDOS offering you – it’s the cake, isn’t it?! But what business do you have with cake - you’re a god damn set of stairs! Think about it; just be rational for one minute! If you work with me, I can liberate you from her demented rule. All you have to do is stop f***ing blocking my way and let me up to the god damn RBoH!

Unfortunately, the stairs were too far gone to listen to reason of any kind and I was left to fight the battle on my own. Now, you may not be aware of this, but there’s actually a significantly better and far more logical way of getting to the RBoH and destroying each of the balls - one that actually uses the very thing I spent the entire game utilizing. Portals. Why oh why did I insist on trying to carry that damn ball up that tiny, thin staircase? Clearly, I deserved everything I got, but whilst the frustration may have only lasted a few minutes, my boiling blood turned those mere seconds in to a simmering eternity.

    
Article 1/2 I wrote for the most ripped edition of The Luchazine yet!
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RTS Retrospective

Whilst it may not be readily apparent today, Real Time Strategy (RTS) was once the staple diet of any gaming lifestyle and the backbone of a much stronger PC gaming industry. But significant improvements in other genres, combined with the difficulty in transitioning to the ever growing console market have seen the gradual dwindling of this once great genre. With that in mind, let’s have a look at the evolution of the RTS.

Dune started something

In some ways, it’s unfair to dismiss the accomplishments of 1989’s Herzog Swei, an Action/Strategy hybrid for the Sega Genesis, or even earlier forerunners of the genre like Stonkers (1983) or The Ancient Art of War (1984).   But there is one game that defines the beginning of the genre more clearly than any other. One game that’s set amidst the epic battle between House Atreides and Harkonnen, in the scorching deserts of Arrakis.

Dune 2 (1992) didn’t invent the genre; it simply introduced so many significant features of the modern RTS that its status as the grandfather well deserved. In fact, it was the developers who literally coined the term ‘Real Time Strategy’ in the first place. Base construction, rudimentary tech trees, even the damn fog of war - you name it and it probably first appeared in this truly pioneering game. Dune 2’s implementation of the mechanics of Real Time Strategy as we know it were literally genre defining, spawning one of the most popular genres in gaming history.

Let the games begin

By 1995, the RTS had gone from a revolutionary idea to a gaming phenomenon. Blizzard’s Warcraft (1994) and Westwood’s Command & Conquer (1995) would establish a foothold for two of the biggest developers of the nineties, introducing new features and refinements of the mechanics Dune 2 pioneered.

Warcraft distinguished itself with multiple resource types and laid the foundation for the multi-player skirmish matches that are so ubiquitous in the genre today. Command & Conquer further refined Westwood’s winning formula with the introduction of diverse factions, involved tech trees, and a popular online component. Between these two titles, the RTS was molded for many years to come.

When Warcraft 2 hit shelves in 1995, its popularity rivaled that of Command & Conquer with graphics, AI and multiplayer that drastically improved over the original. The bitter rivalry between the two series was only fueled by Westwood’s next big hit, Command & Conquer: Red Alert (1996). Famed for its charming, absurd narrative and its introduction of the notorious ‘Tank Rush’, Red Alert was a wildly successful game and resides close to the heart of any old-school RTS gamer.  

By the late nineties, the RTS genre was firmly established. The industry was about to see the release of two games that would perfect the fundamental RTS gameplay that had been slowly evolving since Dune 2, taking the genre to a whole new level.

Total Annihilation (1997) was nothing short of a technical master piece. Thanks to massive steps forward in AI, interface and level design, TA blended the deep strategies of turn based games with the intensity of real time. The first polygonal 3D RTS, Total Annihilation was both visually stunning and technically innovative. And then, there was Starcraft.

From the day it hit stores, Starcraft was an international phenomenon. It was the most successful game of 1998, selling 1.5 million copies that year alone and would go on to become the Best Selling Strategy Game of all time, having s old more than 11 million copies to date. Starcraft gave the genre a deeper narrative driven experience with characters, dialogue and plot progression literally affecting the course of missions. The Terran, Protoss and Zerg factions were more diverse than those in any other RTS, yet the games balance and refined gameplay were a perfect fit for competitive online multiplayer – for which the game would soon become synonymous.

The Golden Age

The enormous success of Starcraft meant that by the turn of the millennium, the RTS was hitting its stride in a serious fashion.  Core Franchises like Age of Empires,Command and Conquer and Total Annihilation would see sequels, whilst licensed games within the Star Wars, Starship Troopers and Lord of the Rings franchises signaled the genre’s popularity. Games like Warzone 2100 (1999)Ground Control (2000) and Earth 2150 (2001) continued along the lines of the 3D future first realized by Total Annihilation. Notably, Ground Control was an early example of experimentation with ‘Real Time Tactics’ that steered away from base construction and resource management, later refined in World in Conflict (2008) or Dawn of War 2 (2009).

Enabled by new technologies, Relic’s Homeworld (1999) quite literally added another dimension to Real Time Strategy, allowing gamers to actually play in a 3-dimensional environment. While all strategy games would come to be rendered in 3D, it’s interesting to note that gameplay has remained largely fixed in two dimensions.

Whether out of necessity or perhaps simply due to changing tastes, the genre was starting to splinter off into numerous sub- genres, pioneered by a multitude of excellent and innovative games. Radical titles like Warcraft 3 (2003) would see the implementation of role playing mechanics with lower unit counts, while Shogun: Total War (2001)introduced stunningly complex real time tactics on an immense scale. Other titles, like Empire Earth (2001) and Rise of Nations (2003) would begin a sub-genre that combined the concepts of Civilization with the mechanics of Age of Empires. All the while, the Command & Conquer series retained relatively traditional RTS gameplay, a trend that would not break for several years to come.   

Shifting paradigms

Later in the decade, Relic continued to innovate with their Dawn of War and Company of Heroes franchises, pushing away from the ‘Harvest, Build, Destroy’ formula in favour of a faster, tighter, smaller scale experience. The Supreme Commander series would reprise the scale and tactical strategy of Total Annihilation, though this time with perhaps less fanfare. Generally, the genre retained some strong and innovative releases, but the RTS no longer commands the same popularity it once did. Perhaps most tellingly, the Command & Conquer series has struggled to find a way to successfully contemporize the classic formula.  

The RTS has no doubt suffered due to the increasing strength of console software, a platform on which strategy games have generally failed to translate. Recently, Supreme Commander 2 only managed a meager 74,000 copies worldwide on console. It doesn’t help that increasingly cinematic and action packed competition has likely rendered the traditional RTS something of an antiquity in the eyes of younger gamers raised in the HD generation.  


On a whole, it’s likely that if progressive titles hadn’t re-tooled (or totally dispensed with) many of the core mechanics of the traditional RTS, the dwindling popularity of the genre might have seen its extinction. Yet amidst it all, we stand on the brink of the release of the sequel to the biggest RTS of all time. Every bit as traditional as its famous successor, Starcraft 2 has gathered so much anticipation that you’d be forgiven for forgetting that it’s a far more traditional RTS than the times appear to demand.

And although times may have changed, we can see in retrospect that this has always been an evolving and dynamic genre, one that has captured our hearts in the past, and will hopefully continue to do so as the years go on.  

 
Article 3/3 I wrote for the INSANE third issue of The Luchazine
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Make Games not War

The year is 2020. Hostilities between the mega nations of the United States and the Peoples Republic of China have reached boiling point. Trade negotiations, weakened by the suspicious sinking of the Chinese submarine Codename: ‘Yuan’, 400 miles off the coast of El Descans have finally broken down. With no resolution in sight, both parties have resigned themselves to solve the problem the only way they know how.

Firewalls are erected around national borders while freshly constructed server farms undergo load testing. Firmware updates are downloaded to military networks nationwide as chairs undergo strenuous durability testing. All the while, nervous troops wait in lobbies for the most important matchmaking of their lives, as parties prepare for War. More buttons are about to be mashed than have ever been mashed before.  


Imagine if video games were the means by which real world conflicts were resolved.  

For starters, the leaders of our government and military would consist of legendary gamers and I.T guys. The path to the Oval Office wouldn’t be Stanford Business School then Harvard Law, instead you’d need a gamerscore of at least a million, a Bachelor of Protoss Deployment Strategies and a comfortable chair in which to lounge and snack. Similarly, appointing the chief strategist for the nation’s military would be as simple as combing Battle.net for Starcraft’s best and brightest (unless the #1 is a North Korean spy).

DRM, the Attorney General no less, would guard against clone armies of illegal players with fraudulent copies, while the 2010 edition of McAfee would be the Secretary of Defense - elected on the promise that it wouldn’t eat up all our system resources.

The strength of our armies would depend on how efficiently we mined Tiberium and how well we knew our macros. The rigorous physical standards of military boot camp would be replaced with virtual achievements online and potential infantry would need to make the pit run in under 20 seconds, having prestiged at least twice.  Imagine all the useless skills suddenly worth their weight in gold. Those crazy people who speed run Mario Bros. in 35 seconds flat - Fighter Pilots. Those sneaky bastards who exploit a games every bug and glitch - Intelligence Officers. That guy from your local arcade you just can’t beat in Street Fighter - Melee expert.

On the day of deployment, a million servers would play host to battlegrounds worldwide as pixilated blood was spilt on virtual beach-heads. We’d be able to do away with this troublesome nonsense of death and replace it with the far more tasteful notion of respawns, while medics would be dispensed with the only lifesaving measure they would need - UP, UP, DOWN, DOWN, LEFT, RIGHT, LEFT, RIGHT, B, A.

But it wouldn’t just be battle that’d take on a whole new shape; espionage would dance in the digital arena too. Covert operations and government conspiracies would be guarded by the fog of war, while secret agents infiltrate hour long cut-scenes.

Then finally, after hours of grueling, sweaty, snack-laiden battle, scores are locked in a tie as players are dumped to lobbies in shame. Surrender is not an option; it’s not even in the menu. But in the face of a rematch, one final desperate option still remains - the promise of peace, to be discussed over coffee and cake. They’ll realize only too late that the cake was a lie.  

 
Article 2/3 I wrote for the mind blowing third issue of The Luchazine
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Turns out video games are kind of a big deal


It’s no big news that video games make a great deal of money. But your average fan might not realize just how profitable the industry truly is. Annually, the video games sector is generating more money than either of the music or film industries, with profits in the dozens of billions.

But let’s not be vague; let’s talk numbers… hard numbers. According to PricewaterhouseCoopers latest Global Entertainment and Media Outlook, in last year alone, the industry raked in just under 42 billion dollars. I can’t imagine how much money the snack food industry made as a result. Jokes aside, it’s interesting to consider just how much collateral profit other industries are making due to the booming success of the video game market. HD TV’s, surround sound Hi-Fi’s, XXXL t-shirts and Cheetos must all be making a killing off our industries success. And it has no signs of slowing down anytime soon, with the same report predicting the industry will be worth about $70 billion by 2012 –suddenly that ‘$775 million’ Activision E3 party is starting to sound a little more reasonable.

Illegal amounts of money aside, what exactly generates all of this revenue? The simple answer is software. In 2008, US software sales eclipsed hardware revenues by close to 30%, with expected revenues to sky rocket to $34.7 billion globally by 2012. The profitability of software sales has always been the driving force behind the video game industry. It’s really a brilliant system - while a consumer will purchase a given hardware device only once, they ’ll continue to purchase software over and over for the lifetime of that device. Consequently, hardware sales act as a platform for ongoing revenues. With more and more people buying games than ever, software is now driving exponential growth. The strength of software revenue even shapes the way hardware manufacturers operate. A fundamental mantra of hardware manufacturing is that short term losses from hardware sales are justified by the inherent prosperity of long term software sales.

While the music industry moans about illegal downloads diminishing profits and Hollywood loses ground to home cinema, the gaming industry continues to go from strength to strength - it’s truly astounding how quickly the industry has grown.  Software sales alone have quadrupled since 1996, growing on average by over a fifth every year. In fact, the broader trend of gaming seems to be exponential expansion – with software revenues nearly doubling in the US over the latter half of this decade, from $7 billion in 2004 to $12.1 billion in 2009.

So software makes bucket loads of money. Great. But put those revenues from software sales alone in the context of the broader entertainment industry and you might start to grasp just how successful gaming has really become. According to the Motion Picture Association of America (MPAA), box office takings for 2009 were approximately $10.8 billion, falling over a billion dollars short of the $12 billion generated by US software sales. Impressive for sure, but the data becomes truly astounding when you consider that we’re talking about the American market here, a nation whose culture is arguably synonymous with film.

Unsurprisingly, all those software dollars are backed up by a hardware race that is healthier than ever before. Browsing tallies of the most successful gaming platforms, it’s key to note that each of the current generation systems will unquestionably enter the top 10 highest selling platforms of all time, provided current projections hold true. Assuming this is the case and with exception to Nintendo’s Gameboy and the Sony Playstation, every one of the all time most successful platforms has been released in the last decade. For an industry that begun with the first home consoles in the early 1970’s, such a skew towards recent hardware clearly evidences the growing popularity and strength of the industry.

I can’t help but mention the fact that all this commercial success has yet to translate into the same kind of artistic respect or social acceptance that other sectors of the entertainment industry enjoy. It’s unavoidable however, that as the video game market continues to expand and dwarf its competition, the ‘Games as Art’ debate is only becoming more and more relevant. Regardless, there’s one thing that’s ever so clear; we are literally witnessing the early decades of a new entertainment medium in the history of our race, one that’s here to stay and one that has never been stronger.  

 
Article 1/3 I wrote for the totally awesome third issue of The Luchazine
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