Friday, May 27, 2011


There are a few reasons I haven't talked about all these game design ideas that are circulating via buzzwords. Things like "videogame choice", "innovation", "non-linear", "difficulty rather than punishment", and others, will not only serve to strengthen the possibility that I be written off as another bandwagon jumper, but also serve to allow me to write about subjects that probably exhausted their entertainment value very shortly after they became circulated via buzzwords.

This doesn't even touch the fact that I think there is way more to making a good game than any of the ideas listed above, or ideas in your buzzword dictionary. Many great games don't even employ a lot of these ideas. I referenced this in my System Shock 2 review.

So, you're probably thinking something to the effect of "Okay, so you don't like buzzwords. Any Dilbert reading geek deosn't." You are correct, and my intolerance of buzzwords is only a very small part of the point of this post. Since I hate them so much, and I'm sure all of you are yet still dying to hear what I think about these ideas as a game designer anyway, (and because having buzzwords on my blog will make it get more search hits), I've decided to cover all of them in one article. It may stretch out over more than one post, but at least I won't have them floating around on my "write about this" list. ;)

Let's start out with a nice popular one. How about choice? Videogame choice isn't one of those old arts that has merely been forgotten. In fact, back when the first electronic games were being developed, designers didn't have the choice of having choice.


The first games were simple things like Tennis for two, Pong, Asteroids, PacMan, etc. None of these games present the player with choice in their role or anything other than how they avoid death and defeat the opponent. This isn't criticism. Choice is not a crucial element for a good game, and apparently it isn't a crucial element for a popular game either, based on how many games that present you with none and still impact the market and sell for years.

Of course, I feel this way because my favorite game(System Shock 2, which I linked to my review for above) has no choice in it at all. It's still a good game.

All in all, choice can be good. That is, when done right. A binary choice at the end of the game, is not done right. Now something like Mass Effect 2, where the game is riddled with choices from beginning to end, is better. Note, it's not perfect. There are plenty of inconsistencies or other problems with Mass Effect 2, but lets face it. Mass Effect 2 was a successful game, and a good game. One of the reasons, was because of the choices it allowed you to make.

Thusly, I admit that videogame choice is actually a good thing. But only with the note that it is not completely necessary, and that you need to do it right.

Now lets talk about innovation. In all honesty, I would be more receptive of this idea if all game design related discussion didn't center around it. Yes, I agree that coming up with creative things in your game that set it apart is important. It may even be crucial in may cases, but it isn't always. I'm going to hit you over the head with Mass Effect 2 again. ME2 didn't really innovate much, it basically took a great idea, and tried to improve the gameplay that centered around it. ME1 was innovative though, which probably had a lot to do with ME2's success.

Innovation isn't something you can put in a box and carry with you. There is no recipe for innovation, and no step by step guide. Innovation is important, but there are much bigger risks involved. You have to look at this from the perspective of a big company too. They aren't going to spend millions of dollars developing an innovative game if they're not pretty sure it will succeed.

That said, innovation is only successful when it's aligned with the market. You can have the greatest new idea for something that has never been done before, but if the market doesn't  want it now, your innovation will do nothing for you.

So yep, innovation is good. It is only so important however, and always more risky than cranking out something you know everyone will buy.

So, I've talked about innovation and video game choice, but what about this whole "non-linear gameplay" thing? Well, that basically means you aren't strapped to taking the same path through the game every time. It means there is more than one path to the end of the game. You don't have to do the same set of challenges in the same order every time you play through.

My opinion of this is very similar to my opinion of videogame choice, given System Shock 2 wasn't completely linear. It can be good, but isn't essential. The biggest advantage of non-linear gameplay is that it increases replay value. Someone can play through the game more than once and have a totally different experience each time. This is great from a gamers perspective, but maybe slightly less great from a distributors perspective.

Sure, the gamers get twice as much gameplay, thats great right? But distributors know they can't get away with charging double for their game just because it's non-linear. They have to rely on using this technique to hit a bigger audience and charge only so much more for the game.

I guess that about covers the most popular ones for now. It may be that my writing brain can't think of the others right now, but they would have to go in a second part anyway, as this post is stretching out a little long.


Tuesday, May 24, 2011

First CD album: The Experiment

After quite a bit of work, I've finally finished up my very first CD album. It is available for download right now, in MP3 format, here:  DOWNLOAD

The album cover:

Track listing:

All this music is done in LMMS with all free VST's and samples, except for track 9, which was a project I started in FL using Nexus and Zeta, and imported into LMMS when I became converted.

The goal of this album is to expand my knowledge of LMMS and music in general. Most of this music sounds good, and all of it is here to demonstrate or experiment with some kind of algorithm, instrument, chord progression, style, or whatever.

A lot of this is also available on my Youtube channel, where I will probably gradually be uploading the rest of it before collaging it in a playlist.

I will point out that this is technically my second album, my first being an unreleased album titled "Indecision". A lot of the music on it is too pitiful for me to put online, so it will stay unreleased. I have however, posted some of the tracks from it on Youtube, including WarGanes and my Vivamine remix.

So, lay on the comments and criticisms. ;)
Don't go easy on me. As long as you are constructive, say what it is that could be improved, and how I might improve it, be as critical as you want.


Monday, May 23, 2011

Comments on comments

So, how long have I been doing this? My old blog tells me the first post was on September 4th, 2010Thats not long, but it's long enough to have learned a lot. Anyway, lots of gooshy stuff about doing blogging. Blah, blah, blah, etcetera, etcetera, etcetera. You aren't here to listen to a speech about my experiences.

I'm here to talk about comments. I've always worked better when I had people showing interest in my projects. For example, I was having trouble getting myself to knuckle down and finish my Gibson screensaver. Then I posted about it on the Irrlicht forums. Only a few people expressed interest, but that little spark of publicity was enough to help motivate me all the way to the finish.

This blog serves two purposes: let me have fun practicing writing, and generate entertaining content for readers. I have trouble getting anything out when I convince myself that nobody would notice whether I wrote up that article I'd been thinking of tonight or next week.

What am I getting at? Well, it's simple. I'm encouraging you to comment. Especially if you want more content from me, comments will help motivate me to generate it.

If you are a regular reader, but don't have anything special to say,  fell free to comment on this post or any others indicating your interest and telling me what things you want more of. This will not only help me shape this blog into something people will enjoy more, but it will also motivate me to post more often.


Saturday, May 21, 2011

Making project progress

Have you ever started a project, and eventually came to the point that the project was just going nowhere? This has happened to me dozens of times. Sometimes, the problem is that you picked a project beyond your reach. Sometimes your schedule didn't agree with your project on terms of who gets your time. And sometimes your project slows down for reasons you can never find out.

In the case of Infiltrator, it's a combination of things. The reason that seems to plague me the most, is one I have chosen to express graphically:

(Click for larger size)

This odd little thing called school gets in the way of many many new game builders. There's really not much you can do about this, other than do your best to finish early and squeeze what little work you can in your schedule where it fits.

There are too many problems which are possible to have for one to even try listing or going over them all, so I won't waste your time with them. My biggest problem at the moment is actually a programming roadblock rather than some other problem. If you aren't a programmer, don't feel bad about not understanding the next bit of text.

The current goal I have is to integrate Bullet physics into Ray3D and use it in Infiltrator. I'm having a hard time getting things to compile. I basically recompiled Bullet and the IrrBullet myself and then proceeded to try to link it with my project. Suffice it to say I've spent more than a week trying to make it compile. I'm getting an assortment of linker errors saying it can't find things it should be finding either in the standard library or in the Dynamic libs which I have made sure I'm linking properly.

At any rate, Infiltrator is progressing a little slower than a broken legged snail trying to carry an anvil on it's left antennae. C'est la vie I guess. Whatever the case, I'm still working on it, and will post when I have more progress to report.


Thursday, May 19, 2011

Game Review: System Shock 2, part 2

As promised, I'm back with part 2 of my System Shock 2 Review. Last time I talked about weapons, research, items, RPG elements, graphics, and control schemes. This time lets kick off by saying a few words about the storyline.

I lied, I'm going to say quite a lot of words about this games story. SS2's story is one of love, space, beauty, betrayal, hackers, corruption, cyberspace, science, loneliness, escape, and tragedy. Literally. The most important parts of the story are revealed via cutscenes and emails which play in your head once you receive them. You can always replay and reread e-mails if you forget, thanks to your cybernettic implants.

PDA's scattered throughout the game contain many audio logs which reveal more information about the story and often other useful information. Keep in mind, this game came six years before DOOM 3. A lot of the things in DOOM 3 may have been influenced by this game, just don't feel like it's a lame ripoff, okay?

The story starts off simple enough. Nothing is spelled out for you at first. SS2 begins a few decades after the first game, with the Von Braun leaving earth to explore deep space and the Rickenbacker coming along to provide support in the event of a battle. One of the passengers on this ship is none other than the same hacker from the first SS game.

Something goes horribly wrong however, and the player awakes out of cryogenic sleep to a ship which has been turned upside down. (In some places, literally) The rest is a mystery which is slowly revealed as it continues to develop. As much as I'd like to, I'm not going into much detail to prevent spoilers. But the storyline of this game is a complex beast full of twists, turns and surprises which will keep you on the edge of your chair until the very end.

But enough about the story, lets talk about the atmosphere and levels. The levels in this game were probably designed very carefully. There were very few places that made you think things like "What is this easy chair doing in the walk in freezer?" which seem to be more rampant in other games. Some people found this game scary, but I only found it really scary in a few places. The lighting is always perfect for the mood while never obstructing the gameplay.

SS2 is one of the few games to provide a good balance between rewarding explorers and making the game take too long if you expect to win. You don't have to go over everything with an electron microscope, but you can still check behind that extra door for a handy icepick which will make a hacking job easier in the future.

The atmosphere is mysterious, forbidding, and very uneasy. Enemies respawn in places from time to time, so you can never feel completely safe. Well actually, there are a few places in the game that are safe. Even if you realize you are safe there however, you just feel like a rat trapped in a box.

The cyberspace visuals are fairly good until the last level of the game, where they are just awesome.

The gameworld in SS2 is, like the first game, persistent. This means the game isn't just a dull trek through levels all of which are just going from entrance A to exit B. You will constantly be travelling all throughout the entire gameworld fulfilling different tasks and solving puzzles. It's even to the point where you can drop that extra medkit you don't have room for on the Engineering deck, come back for it later from MedSci, and it will still be there rather than mystically disappearing.

The voice acting in this game ranges from passable to amazing. Key characters seem to have better voice acting than extra's, which makes sense. The voice acting project would have had to be huge though. There were a LOT of characters, and probably more than 100 audio logs spread around the game, not to mention the voice acting in cutscenes and in e-mails.

The sound effects are okay, and the music is probably the best video game music I've heard yet. It changes to match the situation, but it doesn't tell you when you are and aren't about to have enemies jump out from behind a corner and kill you.

The mini-games are something I can't claim to be an expert on. Or, at least the ones you have to use a game machine and cartridge for. But the other minigame, I know. Basically, in order to hack something, repair something, modify a weapon, or whatever, you get this nifty circuit minigame.

Yea, it's basically just mixing the mini-games from the first game together and dumbing them down a little into one game that applies to everything. In the first SS, you had to master several minigames each of which were useful for different things.

Yes, one thing I didn't like about SS2 was weapons breaking down. Over time, all weapons eventually wear out and must be repaired. This also requires you to play the minigame. But, you have some chance of destroying the weapon so that it can never be used again. You could just save before you try to repair a gun, but that is still nothing but a roadblock to enjoying the game. And yes, you can buy and hunt down repair tools which are good for one use and repair a weapon without fail, but I mostly found this a nuisance.

So, all of these things come together to give you the final presentation. Lovable asthetics, convincing and unpredictable story, fast paced action, clever puzzles, strong acting, persistent world, well expressed  atmosphere, and awesome music all make this game stand out to me.

I know what you have been thinking the entire time you've been reading this review. I didn't bring up that "choice" buzzword we've been hearing about so much in the industry. You actually have no choice whatsoever in how to plot unfolds or which side your character takes in this game. True, I like videogame choice, but this game is living proof to me that choice is not a necessary ingredient for a good game.

Anyway, let's make wit da final score.

Final Score: 9.5/10

The only things holding the game from a perfect 10 are the weapon breakdowns, and the fact that technology that could do the game justice didn't exist yet.

Now, this is my favorite game. This is also the game I have given the highest rating to. You will find that there are various other people that loved this game. And yet, I don't think we'll see another title in the series. Don't get me wrong, I would LOVE a SystemShock 3, or a remake with modern tech, but I don't think we'll get one. Firstly, everybody has already decided that SS is a done deal which has been replaced by things like BioShock or Deus Ex. Second, SS2 didn't get that many sales. Third, looking glass died and has only recently come back to life, although their state is dubious.

I'd even remake the game myself, but I think there would be major IP problems there. And no, I'm not planning on it, and I have other projects going on right now anyway.  ;P

So, SystemShock 2 is a great game, I recommend you play it(provided you don't disapprove of it) and enjoy it. But please, don't hate it for it's graphics or it's being to much like DOOM 3.


Game review: System Shock 2, Part 1

It's been awhile since my last review and I've nothing else to write about, so I have decided to review one of my favorites.

Yes, you all knew this was coming sometime. I'm reviewing System shock 2. I'm doing the sequel rather than the series' first game because I like it better. Really, this is a sequel which is actually better than the original. People always say that about games and movies, but this is the only case I've witnessed so far in which that claim was true. This is my favorite game, so my review will probably be positive, even if it's final score doesn't hit 10.

I know this game has various hi-res texture packs, mods, and more, but I played the old school version. Thusly, the old school version is the one I'm talking about whenever I say something that changed with the newer mods.

I'm sticking to my no spoiler policy, but you should play the first game first. The second is full of references and such which make for a much more enjoyable experience if you have at least read all about or watched the cutscenes of the first one. System Shock 2 can stand on it's own, but you can still improve an already awesome experience by playing the first one.

System shock 2 came out in 1999, made by Irrational Games and Looking Glass Studios. Unfortunately it never garnered sufficient attention for another title in the series. Considered by many to have been succeeded "spiritually" by games like Deus Ex or Bioshock, System Shock 2 is still unparalleled in my opinion.

System Shock 2 takes the sword of FPS/RPG hybrid games just like the first one. In the original SystemShock, graphics technology was a huge barrier to the games presentation. This is much less the case in SystemShock 2, where the graphics are way better than bearable and the aesthetics are excellent. Still, I would love to see a modern remake with bleeding edge visuals.

The motion controls in SystemShock 2 are quite akin to those of an FPS game. You have the usual W,A,S,D, + mouse for motion and combat control, but this IS an RPG as well. Most of the RPG elements are played out in the MFD which you can access either by interacting with an item or jabbing the Tab key or whatever you tethered the action to.

In the MFD you can purchase skill upgrades, equip and unequip items, read audio logs and e-mails, repair broken weapons, modify weapons, upgrade weapons, research items, manage implants, use special items, and more. I will note, that you aren't tied to using the MFD to change weapons. Regular hotkeys are setup, and the vast selection of weapons available in the game has them running from tilde to past the 0 as apposed to your usual 1-0 or 1-7.

In addition to the large number of weapons in the game, many if not all of them have different types of ammo you can load them with, as well as modifications you can make to them for using different firing modes. This gives you a huge selection of weapon, modification, and ammo combinations you can use to take down different types of foes.

Different enemies can be taken down more easily with different weapons or ammo types. For example, armor piercing bullets in a pistol or shotgun will devastate a maintenance bot or security turret, but will prove almost useless against organic targets. But in turn, anti-personal bullets will shred a mutant or spider while having little to no effect on robots. This applies to weapons as well. For example, the viral proliferator is great against organics, but a shotgun is the better choice against robots.

In addition to weapons, you also have implants, armor, and patches.

Patches are star trek TOS styled medicine syringes. There are patches that give you health, patches that recharge psionic energy, patches that cleanse poison from your body, and patches that treat radiation. All of them are good for one use and only refill so much of a given property. As skill points in areas applying to the types patches rises however, so does the amount they refill upon use.

Implants improve your body while activated. You can only have one implant in use at a time, and as implants run out of energy they must be recharged with batteries you are carrying or at a recharging station. Implants have a variety of effects, some of which are boosting speed, increasing damage of melee weapons, increasing resistance to poison, increasing resistance to attack, etc.

Armor will increase your endurance to certain kinds of damage depending on the armor. Some armor uses energy, some uses psionic energy, some uses none.

Some items you pick up will be identified as unknown. You will then have to research them before you can know what they are or use them. Research takes time, but the higher the skill level in that area, the faster the research. You will also have to find various chemicals in order to research certain items. Different items require different chemicals. Labs spread around the game have these chemicals organized on shelves, and most of them have manifests you can pick up telling which labs have what chemicals. You need this because there are too many different kinds of chemicals to carry all of them around with you at once.

There is a huge number of items you will carry and interact with ingame, so listing them all here would be counterproductive.

So instead, lets talk about that RPG based skill system.

As you progress through the game, you will be awarded Cyber Modules for completing tasks. These modules can then be used at the upgrade centers found throughout the levels of the game to upgrade your skills. The skills are categorized into four main types which must be upgraded at separate upgrade centers. The four types of skills are Psi, Tech, Combat, and Stats.

One thing I don't like about RPG's is taking things that should be based on the players own skill and making them based on multiplying random numbers by a stat. In System Shock 2 however, it is MUCH more forgivable. The conventional wisdom is usually that no matter how well you aim, whether you hit or miss is based on your stats. In SS2 however, your stats merely determine how much damage your attacks do. The idea is that your aiming ability increases, so your attacks do more damage.

In all likely-hood, they couldn't have had the player aim for damage if they wanted to. The graphics were struggling to provide the visuals that were there, and several corners were cut. Many hacks were put to use to make the game run at a decent framerate. Adding complex collision detection and multiplying the number of hit areas available would be too huge of a bottle neck.

In addition to cyber modules, there are also a few OS upgrade systems to be found in the game, which will let you pick from one of several possible permanent upgrades.

Some give you new melee attacks, some give you more room to lug junk around, etc.

Wow, this is running pretty long. I haven't even gotten into the story, atmosphere, or level design yet. Tell you what, lets make this a two part review. I'll post this, get some sleep, and write the second part soon. ;)


Tuesday, May 17, 2011


I've been ranting forever about needing to move my blog, and I finally have. I won't be bringing my posts with me unfortunately, but there are plenty of new improvements over my old one.

You now have the power to post comments, the inability of which was a huge drawback of the old system. This one probably scales to your screen better, I get stats faster, etc.

My website is still there at, my blog is the only thing that has changed.

So, welcome to the new blog.