That's IT Microsoft! (360 dash rant)

I think it's pretty fantastic how Microsoft has continuously failed to apply any of the feedback they have received over the years regarding the Xbox 360 frontend. It started out bad but functional, and has become the modern portrait of bloat and design by committee. The crowning achievement of the previous iteration was hiding Mark of the Ninja, a Microsoft published game, behind so many steps of search and scan that people didn't realize it was available to buy, so we'll start there.

Mark of the Ninja was a highly anticipated game. It had generated a significant amount of buzz, and touched on the stealth genre, which rarely receives such lavish attention. It was on my calendar. On the day, I turn on the system, to discover ads for music, film, and DLC downloads for a game I didn't own. There was practically zero discoverability on launch day, requiring users instead to tab over to the games tab (no MotN there either), open the arcade tab, and pick it from there.

The previous dash apparently had no mechanism for delivering actual news, OR the news was curated in such a fashion that even Microsoft published games didn't bubble up to the dashboard front. As far as I can tell the latter is the case for almost every issue the 360 dash has had the past years: An emphasis on advertising over curating content tailored for the user.

It's really cool to go to the game DLC tab and "discover" nothing but advertised DLC for games I don't own you guys!

I can scarcely contain how distasteful I find the way Microsoft has handled the 360. Purchasing an expensive piece of hardware and accessories, purchasing video games at a premium - A "HD premium" of $60, one of the most self destructive things the games industry has ever done - and even paying a monthly fee for online play, Microsoft have milked the 360 userbase in a thoroughly disgusting fashion. It's the culmination of the corporate idea of "games as a service", taken to the darkest place where exactly nobody wins.

Sony offers actual games as part of its PlayStation+ service, an initiative that started out looking like an attempt at repeating the Microsoft cash grab, but has over time shown itself to be a legitimate boon to the users. Microsoft offers puny discounts (really, really puny discounts, like barely discounted DLC for age old games) and still drown you in a barrage of advertising.

Destructoid's Jim Sterling accurately summed up the abominable Kinect as being "built on a foundation of lies", and I don't feel off expanding that notion to Microsoft's entire console strategy. They have exploited every opportunity to squeeze a few extra bucks out of its user base, and their reasoning for doing so is wafer thin nonsense at best, and outright offensive at worst.

It doesn't make things better that the 360 dash, even with the most recent update, is pitiful stuff. It only takes a second to realize that the wide spread of tabs and "tiles" is hopelessly bound by the dogmas of Microsoft's Windows 8 push, and has little interest in actually servicing the user. Even the minute details, like the front-end language, for me, being in Norwegian and the system language being in English, drive the sense that the 360 dash is haphazardly bolted on top of something never intended to carry it. It's not only disrespectful to users who pay Microsoft richly for the privilege of using their games service, but actually disrespectful to the legacy of the Xbox 360 console, a system that has given us some truly amazing gaming experiences.

For me, the 360 will be remembered mostly for how Microsoft drove the user experience into the ground with advertising, and did their best to disconnect me, the owner, from the content running on the system.

I can only say I'm happy Sony and Nintendo still remember they are toymakers and gadgeteers, that they must remain so to stay alive, and that they still operate on the stage of history, and not the fumbling corporate cash grab to see who can get Netflix and Facebook on their "games console" first.

Fuck you Microsoft.

Why is Innstillinger capitalized, but none of the other options?
Why is Innstillinger capitalized, but none of the other options?
So the top and bottom options aren't localized, but the middle option is localized to
So the top and bottom options aren't localized, but the middle option is localized to "mine fester" which translates to "My parties". Uhuh.
This search option is never localized throughout
This search option is never localized throughout
So what's it gonna be? Søk i spill or Søk i spill?
So what's it gonna be? Søk i spill or Søk i spill?
The entire social tab seems to have escaped the localization team
The entire social tab seems to have escaped the localization team

For a company that charges $40k for patch submissions you'd think they gave more of a fuck about their own QA.

29 Comments

Castlevania and linearity

Ever since I got to play the first NES version of Castlevania in the 80s, I’ve had a serious crush on the early incarnations of this game series. The name is perfect. It’s a game about killing Dracula, and to do so you have to single-handedly invade his castle and reach his evil tower where you will literally whip his ass to bits.

Look this up in the dictionary. I believe you'll find it under "Fucking awesome"

In my young mind, before games like Ninja Gaiden played around with more complex narratives, this was the most amazing story to be allowed to play. There is something to be said for simplicity and linearity that the early Castlevania titles exemplify:

As Simon Belmont stands outside the imposing gates of the castle courtyard, looking up at the dark castle looming ahead. This is his first opportunity to turn back. He passes through the eerily quiet courtyard, lit by a few lone torches. He reaches the entrance to the castle proper, and you, the player, make him walk inside. The gate slams shut behind him. The music kicks in. He is immediately assailed by panthers, bats and ghosts. Holy. Shit.

He fights his way to the end of the entrance hall, defeating a giant killer bat by throwing axes at it (you know you did). Then the gravity of his situation sets in.

Castle map from the Japanese manual

Linearity and the need to fight

The thing about Castlevania and the linear narrative that I like so much, is that once Belmont breaches the gate, there is no turning back. Every door slams behind him. He is being led inextricably towards the final confrontation with Dracula himself in the lonely peaking tower of the decrepit castle, and the path ahead is gruelling indeed. But he must fight. Simon has gone and gotten himself into this shit because it is what the Belmont family does. When Dracula reappears, the Belmonts must defeat him. That is what they are born for, it is what they do. Someone said every generation has to experience some sort of war, well, every generation of Belmont needs to experience some sort of Dracula.

As Castlevania titles and other games experimented more with freeform gameplay, the systemic complexity of the gameplay perhaps changed for the better, but as the impetus to fight became blurred. Since Castlevania became Metroidvania, the primary reason a Castlevania character fights is out of duty. There is no real gravity felt by the player. Just the battle, for the battle’s sake.

Other games “suffered” for me in this regard too. I’m not about to say nonlinearity is bad. I’m trying to say that linearity used well with purpose can offer the player a need to play that nonlinear games cannot. I’m not ashamed to say I haven’t completed a single Grand Theft Auto game, ever, though I’ve played them all and enjoyed them for their sandbox fun. Given such freedom, there simply isn’t enough need to go on.

So Simon goes to the castle, alone. First out of a sense of duty perhaps, but once that gate slams shut his path is clear. There is no turning back. There is no time to dilly dally around the place or “explore” or any of that crap. Either Simon dies, or Dracula dies. Death at the end. That’s all there is.

1 Comments

Oh lord.. That ending... (spoilers)

Do NOT read this if you haven't played the game through!

What is it with Deus Ex style games and really shit endings? 70% of the way through Dishonored I had an absolute blast, getting some really good Thief-style vibes (which I haven't had since Thief 3, and I've missed it!), and then they just throw it all down the toilet at the very last minute. That final mission is a joke.

I choke out Havelock, open the door and blam, fade to black, THE END. No conclusion to Havelock at all? And Pendleton and Martin are dead already? What happened? What happened to Havelock? How can you put me in a level with that amazing architecture, and then not use that architecture at all for the final mission?

And then you just tell me how I played the game. You can not give me all these choices throughout and then conclude by telling me how I played the game. I KNOW how I played! "This guy played stealthy. I guess he'll really enjoy hearing how he played stealthy!" No! No thanks!

And that credits song.. I couldn't skip the credits fast enough.

Oof. Just fantastically disappointing. Overall I'd say the designers got too obsessed with giving choices and not rewarding them.

67 Comments

Halo's story vs Marathon

This week's podcast discussion on the Halo story made me think about just how much a shadow Halo's story is of what Bungie did with Marathon.

That's not a slight. It's just repeating a lot of the same concepts that were defined in much greater detail in Marathon, especially AI behavior patterns and Rampancy. If you have the patience for it, you'd be glad to check out http://marathon.bungie.org/story/

3 Comments

First public footage of my game! Woo!

So this is still pretty early, but I feel ok enough about our current build to start teasing it. Woo!

It's a horizontal shooter (duh) for Android and iOS, and maybe Windows if we have the time to rebalance it for a gamepad. We're a 2-man team and it's our first C++ game (we're both Flash developers), so we feel pretty good about where we're at :-) This video is me playing through our current test level where we just dump in features as we complete them.

No audio in the game yet so I just dumped an old track I made over it and called it a day. Also pretty bummed that youtube doesn't support 60fps video without massive hax. Our game runs at a solid 60 on all targets.

1 Comments

My ongoing love affair with the Ka-50

When I first got into flight sims I was super invested in the A-10C. I bought the HOTAS Warthog stick and throttle, the trackIR5, and I dove face first into books about A-10 pilots. I didn't even particularly care about military jargon, now I "needed" to learn it because that was the name of the game. It wasn't about the Call of Duty power fantasy of blowing shit up, but more about figuring out something opaquely difficult and becoming somewhat good at it.

From the guys I fly with now, it seems like simming attracts technically oriented people. Not necessarily programmers, but we have medical students and mechanics and lawyers and dudes who in general seem naturally inclined to figure out how a system works and learning how to navigate it and apply it.

What surprised me was how much I loved moving my focus to the Ka-50 Black Shark. Maybe it's the Airwolf fan in me but something about a single-pilot attack helo triggers some attraction in me that I can't really explain. I've been flying the shark for so long now it's easily eclipsed my time in the A-10. It's a little counterintuitive; The A-10C is much more effective than the Ka-50, demonstrably. It's more survivable, it's easier to fly, it is better armed, and it has vastly superior avionics. The Ka-50 and its systems are poorly documented; You can't just jump on Amazon and buy a book or two about how it flies in combat. It's also one of the ugliest flying machines I've ever seen.

But I love it so much. I love crashing it again and again, messing up landings, gung ho Rambo style rocket attack runs (always fun, always fails). I love the moments where you absolutely nail the approach under cover, pop up under radar and get to plop missiles right in the middle of an air defense battery before they know you're in town. I love the panicked dives and canyon runs to avoid SAMs.

I'm sure people go on joyrides in the A-10, but taking a Ka-50 street level at high speeds is super exciting. Sometimes I load up a mission just to fly through downtown Batumi and practise circle strafes. In combat the Ka-50 is a stealth assassin. Off duty it's a drift racer. Sometimes it's hard to balance the two because it's always tempting to go crazy.

There's also something cool about how.. Shitty the Ka-50 is. The avionics sort of kind of talk to one another, but not always. Flight paths programmed on the moving map don't show up in the actual navigation system the autopilot uses. The GPS runs on different scales than NATO units so trading target data in co-op requires extra manual labor. For all its automation (a very aggressive autopilot indeed) there is constant demand of manual adjustment. Sure, you're asking the autopilot to automatically turn you to face your target, but the actual launch path of your missiles is offset to the left and right based on which hardpoint is going to launch so.. Prepare to fight the autopilot when you're lining up the reticle. When you do something you need to keep the consequences in mind, or you'll be asking a whole lot of questions mid flight you really don't have time for.

It's like the Ka-50 is filled with arguments. Every choice has a caveat, typically a big one. It is awesome, and I can't fully explain why.

No other games really do this. It's a big shame so few get to try this and get into it for real because it is rewarding like you wouldn't believe.

2 Comments

Backwards compatibility and downloadables...

Man I love me some Nintendo. But for every thing Nintendo does right, they do something just as wrong. The Wii never started "gathering dust" or whatever in my setup; There is always a time inbetween PS3, 360 and PC games where I want to disconnect from the world entire and play something, for lack of better words, Nintendo-y. So I picked up Skyward Sword again, and it's been a nice holiday of sorts (Zelda games do get drawn out as they go along; My remedy is to spread out the play sessions pretty thin).

My Wii is kinda busted. Fritzed vram, flickering pixels, whining disc drive, and I've been putting off getting a replacement because a) it's kind of a hassle and b) Wii U this year, and backwards compatibility right? Sweet!

Except I have a pretty strong feeling Nintendo is going to botch this thing in one of three ways, if not all three:

  1. My Wii downloadable games will not run on the Wii U. I'm one of those that actually bought a fair bunch, not to mention the virtual console stuff.
  2. My Wii downloadable games will not be transferable to the Wii U, given that the Wii and Nintendo WFC (what a name) don't implement "real" user accounts but rather key purchases by console. Hell, my 3DS "user account" barely feels like one.
  3. Nintendo will "remedy" this by allowing you some sort of repurchase-based solution. The fuckers.

I dunno guys. How do you feel about the prospect of moving your Wii usage over to the Wii U? I'm really worried I'm gonna have to keep my Wii around :-/

4 Comments

Getting into flight sims checklist

I've noticed there's always a lot of interest when the team posts flight sim related content, but not too much intent to try and follow suit and get into it. I think the general idea is that flight sims are comically difficult, and since they require some specific hardware to enjoy there's this nervous consensus that flight sims are for weird people.

It's important to know that flight sims are a broad spectrum of games, and not a single, defined genre. The necessity for specific hardware scales with your expectations as a player, but the baseline of a working flight stick remains key. What you bolt on top of that is entirely up to you; TrackIR is a defining part of the experience, but i've flown with excellent pilots who don't have one, so it is not a requirement.

I just want to write a short rundown of what you'd actually need to get into this, if you were curious.

Flightstick or 360 controller

There's no escaping it... You need one of these things, or you will not be effective, and your enjoyment will suffer as a result. Modern sims typically offer an Xbox360 controller scheme, and I used my 360 controller when learning to fly the Ka-50. Eventually though, the range of motion you get from a thumbstick simply isn't enough. Regardless on your choice of simulator or even your choice of aircraft, there will be a moment where absolutely minute motions on the stick is the difference between a botched landing or a round missing its target. This can sound dull to some, but I practise archery in real life, and a big part of the enjoyment of archery is fine control of your motor skills. Think of it as a subtler approach to something like a fighting game. It's accepted to get a stick for fighting games, because it is acknowledged that the skill is largely motoric. It's the same thing with flight sims; It feels amazing to be able to do super tiny adjustments confidently with no oversteer.

The most common modern stick, I think, is the Saitek X52, which seems readily available. Hopefully others I fly with like or can chime in on this. I picked up the Thrustmaster HOTAS Warthog stick+throttle, but I'm a crazy person, and I've found maybe having a more generic stick helps you get into a bigger variety of sims with less difficulty (the Warthog stick is an A-10 stick replica).

A fairly modern PC

PC flight sims are not necessarily visual tour-de-forces, as Brad described it. The hardware demands come from intense physical calculation on the CPU, depending on the sim, and as such a fast processor is the key. Most modern sims make use of 64bit processors. Having at least 8 gigs of RAM is also highly recommended. Any modern graphics card from the past couple of years will probably do you just fine.

A flight sim

This is where personal preference comes in. Do you want a super technical "study sim" clickfest where simply getting off the ground is a challenge? Do you want an arcadey shootybang with lots of planes to choose from, ala Ace Combat? Do you want a languid joyride without any risk of horrible murder?

An excellent entry point in any case if you are new to flying is Microsoft Flight; It's free to play, teaches decent fundamentals, and gives you a sense of the tempo of the thing. I'm a big fan of the Ace Combat series, and those games have a furious pace that has practically nothing to do with simulation; Jane's Advanced Strike Fighters approaches this accessibility, and is about 20 bucks on Steam now.

If you want to dig in deeper, it becomes a question of time frame. I've never been a fan of WW2 planes, but the IL-2 Sturmovik series is apparently super good and hardcore. I tend to favor study sims focusing on a single plane, so I'll buy sims based on what aircraft they are simulating; Right now I'm neck deep in the DCS series, namely DCS Black Shark (Ka-50 attack helicopter) and and DCS A-10 (the quicklook is probably notorious by this point). On the far end, there's the Falcon 4 BMS modification; Every time I watch youtube videos of organized multiplayer BMS flights I get the feeling that that's just too far even for me.

And that's it!

You need a PC, a controller, and a game. Getting into flight sims does not require you to leap head first down the rabbit hole. There is certainly a rabbit hole nearby, but the choice of jumping into it is entirely yours. You don't need crazy hats, dedicated rooms, or any of that jazz.

But are you a simmer..?

This is the big question though. There's no denying that flight simmers are a special kind of player; We savor mastery above all else. Learning to fly the A-10 made me read 2 books about A-10 operations over Iraq and Kosovo, and the flight manual PDF is always with me on my phone. The pleasure comes from climbing the learning curve, from constant improvement. It's comparable to that of a Starcraft player, or a fighting game player. We all crave improvement and mastery. The biggest difference, I think, is that with a sim the skilful operation (or lack thereof) of the aircraft is the biggest enemy. In multiplayer, which more often than not is cooperative and very friendly, we're all in it together. We ask questions, help one another, laugh at our own mistakes and share videos and screenshots of epic victories or wild fuckups. It's actually the friendliest community of gamers I have ever encountered, I think, because the emphasis is so clearly on cooperation.

It's one of those communities where players who are better than you are HAPPY to help you, because they get to show off their knowledge and skill. If anything has made me jump in, it's been understanding that the water is indeed fine: If you are going to mess with sims, you really need to get online! Join a community like http://flight-sim-fanatics.com, introduce yourself, ask questions. Hell, join the community before you even get a game. Your choice of community will likely inform most of the choices you make beyond that.

So yeah, don't be afraid to join up! It's undoubtedly a big wall to climb, but there are lots of fellow climbers, and the climb itself is a real journey.

4 Comments

Really struggling with the SSX soundtrack

My suggestion right now would be, if you already have some issues with what drum&bass and dubstep have become these days, you may want to leave SSX alone. It's that dominant a sound, and it becomes repetitive real, real fast.

Even the best tunes don't stand up to this kind of repeat play under these kinds of circumstances (such as, for instance, already being frustrated with a particularly hard drop), and considering how wildly formulaic drum&bass in particular can be, you'll be hearing the same generic intro or repeated drop over and over and over again.

I have to take breaks from the game regularly now, not because the game itself is tiring, but because the music drives me up the walls. Not all of it; There are some great tunes in there. But the repeat offenders, typically the d&b tracks, are really hard to stomach. It's a shame, because the game itself is super cool. It's like being given a decent 20 minute d&b mixtape; The first time you hear it, it's cool. Second time, still okay, no surprises. 10th time, you are dying for something else.

12 Comments

Local multiplayer and next gen consoles

I got SSX, partially for my girlfriend who was a big Tricky/SSX3 fiend in the past, and she's kinda shyed away from my "next gen" consoles in favor of the Wii for a lot of time. I figured a game like SSX would kind of take out some of her apprehension about next gen games.

I don't really know anything about SSX and multiplayer in the past, but my girl is really sad we can't really play together on the same system. On the Wii we play lots of games together, it seems like almost everything worth noticing on that system has lots of couch co-op or other such modes.

It might just be me, but considering how common co-op and indeed multiplayer has become in games, why does it feel like same-system modes has gotten shafted on the 360 and PS3? It kind of bothers me that these systems that take up such a big slot in the home have become such "personal" devices. It's honestly a bit incongruous with what a games system represents in the household. Makes me wonder if the next gen 360 or PS3 couldn't support a "family account" that worked as a kind of umbrella account for every user in the household; In this way, the whole house could work together getting achievements for the same game, I dunno. Some thing to allow everyone in the household to "share ownership" of a game.

How do you people feel about this? Personally I'm kinda tired of having super expensive games systems in my house that feel awkward to locally share with my friends.

3 Comments