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Blog Bits #2

I think I'm definitely going to have a weekly "Blog Bits" post, as a way of posting about things that I want to write about, but can't write enough about to make a full blog post about.

1. Auckland Game Works Meeting on Sunday

The final AGW meetup for the year is tomorrow (Sunday), 12pm at the RvB bar on K'Road. It's also one of the last chances for the Kiwi's tale collaborators to meet before the competition deadline, so I'm hoping to get a fair bit of feedback about what needs to be done before we finalise the competition build. I'll also be posting a second beta version just after this.

Speaking of feedback, I don't think we've got a single feedback form back yet. Please guys, it'd really help if you downloaded the game, played it for awhile and then emailed the form to the enclosed address well before the competition deadline, the links for both are just underneath the button bar above. If you happen to be in Auckland at the moment and are interested in game development, why not come along? More details are here

2. Enter the Matrix

Back at Armageddon, I picked up a copy of Enter the Matrix for Gamecube for five bucks. I figured it might be pretty good; Since it's a hybrid third person shooter/beat-em-up, set in an anime inspired cyberpunk universe, and received mixed reviews from critics, I thought it sounded just like Oni, one of my favourite games ever. But no, so far the game is really awful. The first half an hour of the game involves running shooting up security guards in a Post Office. But not just any Post Office, the most dull and drab post office imaginable.

Fighting seems to revolve around button mashing to pull off completely random karate moves, which looks kind of cinematic but not only does it make fighting Guards really easy, if my avatar doesn't do exactly what I expect in response to the buttons I'm pressing, it kills my suspension of disbelief. Oh, and it has one other feature I hate to see in any game, you automatically heal when you're not being hurt.

3. Competition Update

The Retro Remakes competition is rapidly nearing it's end, as evidenced by the above countdown timer I shamelessly stole from Ovine by Design. Some entries have been trickling in already, the one that surprised me the most was a remake of SEUCK, which was a basic shoot-em-up creation engine for C64.

Should be great fun and I'm tempted to see if I can do a Commando remake with it, but don't be surprised if the Internet becomes flooded with generic shmup's made with the tool. Probably the competition entry I'm most looking forward to is Ovine's remake of Bruce Lee, which was a brilliant platformer for the C64. The graphics are very slick, and I'm hoping the remake keeps the most notable feature of the original: Having a second player control one of the henchmen (which can be used to aid or hinder Bruce on his quest).


NZ Story Remake Dev Post #13

It was a little bit late, I know, but finally, the beta version is out =D It can be downloaded for a limited time here. We would really appreciate it if you filled out the playtester's form and mailed it to us as well. Note that this not the final version, although most levels and features are in place, there will no doubt be a few changes between now and the competition release in a fortnight. Anyway, not much else to say! Knock yourselves out.

Blog bits

1. My partner Kirsty is now an Auntie!

Her sister gave birth to her first child on Monday the 24th. Both Mother and Daughter are doing well. Kirsty insists this somehow this makes me an Uncle, but I'm deeply skeptical of this!

2. 48 Hours of DooM Marathon

Matthew Gatland (previously interviewed on this blog) and some of his mates ran a DooM Marathon, playing through DooMs I through III and Quakes I, II and IV within the space of last weekend. This was a charity event set up to raise money for Child's Play. They had a live stream going and I was able to watch them briefly during their Quake II run. There's more info on the event here.

3. I got Roger Moore's autograph last Friday!

He signed my copy of his book My word is my Bond during his worldwide book promotion tour. I have mixed feelings about Roger Moore's time as Bond, he was never credible as a secret agent and his films were light hearted and wildly implausible, but some of them that I disliked when I first saw them (especially Moonraker) are now growing on me and I look back on them fondly.

Especially since we've now had years of dark, gritty Bond thrillers staring Dalton, Brosnan and Craig! Roger Moore himself was always great, probably smoother and funnier then any other Bond, and his modern day work for UNICEF is highly admirable. Kirsty and I will be going to see Quantum of Solace tonight.

4. More Acer Laptop Woes!

The same Acer Laptop that I complained about numerous times before went into servicing again. The power-pin on it broke somehow (Which I presume must be incredibly flimsy since neither Kirsty or I were rough with it) and since that isn't covered under warranty, I had to shell out approx $125US for it. Still, their repair was done in well under a week (Compared with about 46 days last time) and since the repair cost is a lot lower then buying a new laptop with similar specs I guess it was worth it. There's also some sentimental value attached to it since I used it to create nearly all of Derelict. Hopefully it'll behave itself now or I'll make some more angry blog posts!

5. The Retro Remakes competition is over soon

The upload slots have already opened, and the competition entries should be available on or slightly after the 13th of December. I can't wait! The other AGW guys and I will have the Kiwi's Tale final beta version up this Sunday. Stay tuned.


The Escapist on Second Hand games

I really had no idea that gaming giants like Microsoft and Epic were taking efforts to curtail the used games market, but apparently, according to this article on the Escapist, they are.

The Gamestop CEO referenced in the article may make some good points (though obviously, he's biased because of his position) but there are other reasons why I think that any attempts by gaming companies, either through laws or software routines, to destroy the second hand games market will ultimately backfire and fail. Adding restrictive measures, such as DRM:

1. Reduces the value of the game.

This one should be blatantly obvious. Would you rather pay more for a copy of a game:

  • That you could install as many times as you like on as many computers as you own for as long as you want, but always have the option to sell if you want to.
  • That you can only install on a limited number of computers and has no second hand value?

Apple understands this concept. It's part of the reason why that songs on DRM-Free iTunes plus costs more then the DRM protected equivalent.

2. Reduces the moral cost of pirating the game.

Because what people are willing to pay for a game has slipped far below it's retail cost, or perhaps because they don't like the producer's "Orwellian" measures to stop piracy, a person who might otherwise morally object to pirating the game may reconsider. Is it any wonder, then, that heavily DRM protected Spore is probably the most widely pirated game in history?

3. Reduces the effort of pirating the game.

Because more people are pirating the game due to the above reasons, it becomes widely available and becomes far easier to pirate then a title that has only been pirated a few times. 

Spore has been downloaded 500,000 times through Bittorrent, I can only imagine that it would be incredibly easy to find enough seeds to have the game downloaded overnight.

It's called Perverse Incentives, people will ultimately do what they perceive as being in their own best interest, and trying to force them to change their behaviour can, and usually does, backfire.

It seems utterly, utterly absurd to me that even though nearly every other form of recorded entertainment in the world can be borrowed or resold - from books to records to films - games should somehow be an exception.


NZ Story Remake Dev Post #12

I know I said I would have posted the public Beta by now but.. it's still not ready.

The game, as it stands, is mostly complete. We have 13 levels out of a planned 16, and finishing the 16 by the competition deadline isn't completely outside of the realm of possibility.

However a few of them are lacking essential polish or are simply impossible to finish in their current state. There are also a few bugs and gameplay balance issues left to squash. Because there are so many outstanding issues with the game currently, it'd be pointless sending out a beta version because the feedback will point out problems we're already aware of. But, damn it, we will post a Beta by this weekend or by early next week though. I

n other news, Kahra Scott-James has provided an enormous amount of brilliant songs and sound effects for the game. Josh and Matt have been toiling away at their levels and crafting new ones, while Stephen has been churning out more great artwork. I have been adding a few more features to the code base, such as the boss fights and moving platforms (an essential addition to nearly any platformer) but now the feature set is essentially complete (finally!) and from here on out I'll be focusing refining the existing code rather then expanding it.

Well, gonna get back to work on it now.

The Escapist on 'Finishing Games'

Tom Endo from the Escapist wrote this post before. I thought that it, and it's linked forum thread, was very interesting. It has given me deep thought about gaming and game design, and will perhaps influence my future creations.

NZ Story Remake Dev Post #11

Two screengrabs from Stephen showing his new Tokoroa level in action. It's a rather vast level divided up into four quadrants, and it very closely fits the mould of the original game. It also has some quite nice graphical touches (such as saw-blades instead of the cliche spikes you see in too many platform games). S

tephen has also been doing quite a bit of work on art assets and additional levels recently, Josh and Matt are polishing their individual levels and I have been adding new features to the codebase while trying to squash old bugs. Stephen also informs me that he is talking to a sound engineer about getting new sound effects to replace the Atari 2600-esque ones that are in the game currently(!).

A bit of news came in a few days ago, the competition deadline has been extended by a week to December the 13th. While this means we won't get a chance to play the competition entries for another week (Personally I'm most looking forward to the remakes of Bruce Lee and the other one of Raid Over Moscow) this will give us a chance to polish, refine and add more content to our entry.

Even though the deadline has been extended, we have been aiming to produce a final beta version by the end of this weekend. After having meeting with the guys I'll do a blog post on Sunday evening (Sunday morning for almost everyone who lives West of Asia) that will contain a download link.The download will have a playtesters form for anyone who would like to contribute to the game.

Note that this won't be the complete game, we're likely to be adding new levels, enemies, weapons, vehicles and secrets right up until the day we upload the competition version. Even then, we're probably likely to do a non-competition version later (possibly with Mac compatibility and multiplayer)

NZ Story Remake Dev Post #10

The Shark and Stingray, the two underwater villains featured in the New Zealand story remake, were added into the game on Sunday.

Stephen worked on the artwork while I coded them in; the behaviour code isn't fully there (they don't do anything but swim left and right) but they're still a nice touch to have in the game. Other then that, Stephen, Josh and I have been tweaking and fine tuning our levels. Stephen has also been churning out some great backdrop artwork, while I have been tackling a few bugs here and there.

Over the next week I'm going to focus on adding the boss and arena levels to the game (two each) as well as doing some graphical refinements, such as adding an animated intro screen, and maybe even working on the final credit cutscene.

I am aiming to have the game at a final beta stage by either next Sunday or the Sunday after it; leaving at least a week for beta testing. We may not get the planned 16 levels done by the time of the competition but we're certainly not ruling out a more complete post-competition release. Less then a month to go! Time's a getting short and there's still a big backlog of things to do, but the game is looking better now then it ever has before. Stay tuned.

Raid Over Moscow remake

Coming out soon after Red Alert 3, Andrew Layden has finally released his version of Raid Over Moscow at Retro Remakes. It can be downloaded here.

The original Raid Over Moscow was one of my favourite games as a kid, I even once made a playset out of Lego very vaguely resembling the Kremlin level, complete with the patrolling tank! The game was hugely controversial in the 1980's, particularly in Finland for it's Anti-Soviet message (This may have subconciously influenced me to this day!).

As discussed on the blog previously I failed to remake it myself, so I'm glad to see someone else has finally released theirs.

All of the segments from the original are intact and play almost exactly as they did before:

  • The world screen where you can watch the Soviets nuke the US and Canada (if you can be bothered waiting five minutes)
  • The Hangar screen where you have to fly your Stealth fighter out of a Satellite without hitting the walls!
  • The attack run, where you have to navigate Russian streets without being hit by Tank fire or missiles.
  • Attacking the silos, where you have to blow up the Soviet headquarters without being shot down by Fighter planes or hit by ground fire.
  • Invading the Kremlin, where, on foot, you have to blow up half of it (along with Snipers and Tanks) with a Rocket launcher!
  • The Reactor Room, where you have to throw a bouncing explosive disk at a robot to make Moscow explode!

The game plays pretty well, and is almost instantly accessible to any Raid Over Moscow fan. On my second try I ended up being blown up inside the nuclear reactor which was actually as far as I had ever managed to get in the original. Though one thing gameplay wise I was disappointed in was the lack of 3D elements in the attack run; The original featured bridges you could fly over or under, but since there is nothing like that in this version there is very little reason to increase altitude.

I find controls a bit awkward, there is no way to change the defaults and the action button is Right Control, which is an uncomfortable place for my left hand to be while my right is on the Cursor Keys. I would find the game a lot more comfortable to play if you could use Left Control instead.

Presentation is clearly not the remake's strong point, there are some nice pseudo-3D objects and backdrops but most of the game looks like a mid 90's Klik n Play title done with MS Paint. Still, it isn't eye straining, and it's good to see that the author did all of the artwork himself instead of relying on sprite libraries.

There isn't any music in the game, but that can be forgiven because the original game didn't have music either (I always thought Moscow would have been a great song to feature in a remake).

Overall it's a fairly good diversion, especially for a ROM fan, but I think there are fairly obvious areas for improvement. Soon we may see another ROM remake, in development for the Retro Remakes 2008 competition, and I'm very interested in seeing how the two compare. I don't think I'll ever resurrect my remake project, but, considering this one was developed on and off over six years (!) we'll see.

Earok interviews Matthew Gatland

Matthew Gatland is an indie gamer and fellow AGW attendee. A few years ago he released a commercial puzzle title, which, unfortunately, wasn't a success. I was interested in finding out why and I thought that an interview with him would make a great blog post, as well as having invaluable advice for game developers looking to make their first commercial title. So here it is.