Musings: A Little Familiar

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I’ve recently discovered I am a massive hypocrite.

I was talking to a friend recently about the still-in-the-works MMO, Crowfall. We were mostly talking about the inclusions of centaurs being pretty neat, since it’s rare to get a playable non-bipedal race in…well, anything. I get why this is, since the extra work in animation and models and game lore makes it a hell of an effort to include anything with four legs. It’s why even the ‘beast’ races in games tend to walk on two legs, have five fingers on each hand, etc.
This got me thinking about something: if given the choice, I ALWAYS choose to play as non-human in video games. Not for any special reason, I just find it really cool. I’m a human 100% of the time in my normal life, after all. Getting away from that and being this awesome cat/lizard/bird/rat/cow?/dog person for a little while and going on a whacky adventure is just really appealing to me.

My friend was of a similar mindset, but brought up a point I had never really thought about before, namely that it’s not just about budgeting; game makers also include human races because people relate to them easier. It makes sense, since you can probably relate to the thoughts and feelings of a human being easier than a lizard, for example.
Despite that, I found the entire thing a bit odd. In my mind, I couldn’t fathom someone NOT wanting to be the proud centaur race, or the warlike feline, or the hilariously tiny race. Just playing as the boring old human who I’ve seen a million times in every other thing ever just didn’t click. I was even more surprised by just how pronounced this effect was: there was a staggering THRITY FIVE percent (35%!) players using a human character in Guild Wars 2 at the time the data was collected, with the second runner being Norn, who were basically very big humans. Show in this handy visualisation:
http://guildwars2viz.com/
(Just as a fair warning, this table is now out of date)

That seemed crazy to me. That meant just over half of the player base had chosen the two most human looking races in the game, even in a game that allowed multiple character slots. It’s not like I don’t get the appeal, I get that it’s easier to immerse one’s self in a game if the character is reminiscent of themselves. It’s just seemed odd that not as many people were jumping at the chance to be these fantastical and exotic people.

However, this is where I prove I am a massive hypocrite.

I‘ve recently begun playing Total War: Rome 2 after stumbling across it. Like, REALLY stumbling across it: I was scrolling down my list of Steam games, and just saw it sitting there, despite the fact I have no recollection of how it got there. Even more confusing, it said that I had bought back in 2013. Maybe I bought it in a sale, and had promised to play it later? Maybe that one friend I have that’s super into Total War had gifted it to me, intending to coax me into multiplayer? Regardless, I decided to not let a perfectly playable game go to waste, and download it.
I was playing through the prologue (basically a three/four hour tutorial) when two thoughts struck me. The first was that my computer could really do with an update, since all the models looked somewhat off and the warning that the game was downgrading the graphics for performance kept appearing. The second was that I really missed Medieval II: Total War.

Medieval II: Total War was the family’s first Total War game, and those who cared to play video games really enjoyed it. The Steam account says Max and I have clocked in nearly a hundred hours, but that’s only after we actually got a Steam account, and probably not very accurate to just how much we loved playing this game. Much like other stories I’ve told, it’s worth mentioning we weren’t smart kids: when we played, strategies mostly consisted of telling every unit to charge and hope for the best. Still kind of is…

Anyway, I couldn’t put my finger on what was wrong. The game play was fun, even if the town micro-management didn’t really feel as fulfilling other instalments.  I found the Romans interesting, even if I still have no idea what they were saying half the time (I was promoted to by the Consul to be Proconsul, once, and I have no idea what that meant). I thought that the UI was suddenly a hell of a lot busier, and even a little counterintuitive at times, but that’s hardly a deal-breaker.
It was only after I finished the ‘tutorial’ and started the game proper that I finally realised what was wrong.

I…missed home?

Without really thinking, I had chosen to play as the Britain faction in the actual campaign, therefore choosing the faction of my own nationality.  Suddenly, I was really into it: all their talk of their pagan religious views and crazy warrior like lifestyles seemed super interesting. Instead of being on a ‘meh’ reaction to the people I was playing as, I was suddenly invested. I wanted to see this tribe of barbarians living in mud huts grow into the largest empire the world had ever seen.

It was only after I stopped to reflect on this did I realize what a massive hypocrite I am. Here I was, judging others for not picking the exotic choices in other games while simultaneously retreating to the familiar British countryside as soon as it became an option. I turned down the chance to lead Rome, to lead Egypt, to lead any number of other great empires that changed the world because I wanted to ‘lead’ from my own backyard. It was probably for this reason that I loved Medieval so much, since we nearly ALWAYS chose a faction that was close to home (or the Holy Roman Empire, but that’s because I liked the black and gold aesthetic as a kid).

After all that nonsense…Yea, I can sort of see where people are coming from with the ‘play as a human’ angle a little better. I still think that any game that takes the time and resources to offer diversity sound be supported, and that non-human races still kick ass in all their glory. Hell, the people at Total War are making a Warhammer game that I’m super excited for since it lets me play as marauding Orcs with crazy death magic.
But at the same time, I can understand wanting to play as something or someone you can relate to. A lot of this just comes down to simple player choice: you should be allowed to do or play as you want, since that’s what you find the most fun. And sometimes, we all want something that’s a little more familiar, whether that’s being a squishy human, or leading an army through the rolling British countryside, it’s always up to you.

Off topic: I survived college!

Today is a good day.

I picked up my college results yesterday, after a long few years of hard work. I won’t go into too much detail, but I’ve definitely got the results I aimed for, and I can’t ask for more.

I’ve got a lot to do, and lot of hard work ahead, but right now I’m just happy that I did everything I could.

Massive thank you to all the teachers who put a lot work in to make sure I didn’t screw up, and to my family for being omni-supportive.

This is a much more relieved Oliver signing off.

Musings: mechanical weaknesses into strengths

Musings: Make your mechanical weaknesses into strengths
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I’ve had video games on the mind (spoiler: most of these are going to be about video games), in particular on the vast difference been mechanical power between now and the old systems.

I was digging through a box of old memory cards, and was slightly taken aback from the proud display of “1 Megabyte” on the front of some of them. The actual size wasn’t what surprised me, since back then game save files were often Kilobytes (!) big, but how it was an advertising point. Now-a-days, if a PC or console’s memory isn’t large enough to fit every single game made in the 1990’s onto it, it’s consider poor hardware. And yet here’s this humble little one Megabyte memory card confidently displaying its power, once a power house of its day.
It was both amusing and kind of frightening; just thinking about the difference in tech formed in such a relatively short amount of time was kind of mindboggling. Mostly because, despite the lack of mechanical power and freedom, some of the most genre defining games came out in the mid nineties and early 2000’s. And then THAT got me thinking about what provoked this musing: that developers often worked around these weaknesses to make them strengths.

Take Silent Hill* one and two for example. The real-time graphics and environments were much harder to implement then the traditional pre-rendered backgrounds of the same era, and due to this the draw distance was severally limited to hide the texture loading and rendering. Without this severely limited view, however, we might have never had the now iconic fog of Silent Hill, an oppressive presence felt throughout the entire game, hiding who knows what kind of monsters. It’s become so iconic and important that its absence in the “HD rerelease” of Silent Hill 2 was met with almost universal criticism.

An even bigger example would be from the Metal Gear franchise, which supposedly got its stealth mechanics from hardware limitations. When ‘Metal Gear’ was developed in Japan on the MSX2 (don’t worry if you never heard about it, it never really got the advertisement it needed in the West), the hardware couldn’t support the number of enemies and bullets necessary to make it a decent action game. The story goes that Kojima decided to reverse the idea: rather than being a high octane action game, the player would instead be encouraged to AVOID enemies, using a then revolutionary idea of guard sightlines and detection. Making clever use of mechanics (such as making the player quite fragile, enemies tough but apparently short-sighted etc.), Kojima made what was for all intents and purposes the first stealth game.

The old saying goes that ‘challenge breeds excellence,’ and I think that can be applied here. When presented with an obvious limitation and problem, some developers get creative and find ways to make those weaknesses into strengths.
I should clarify that I don’t think negatively of the LACK of limitations in today’s systems: expanding one’s power and options is more often a good thing then a bad thing. I’m just offering the viewpoint that we shouldn’t let the power today’s technology define what can and can’t be done. As several very good games have proven, when there’s a will, there’s probably a way.

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For those interested in sources, part of the Metal Gear design philosophy can be seen in Kojima’s interview with NowGamer, found here (in addition to several other big name interviews; it’s quite an interesting read):
http://www.nowgamer.com/before-they-were-famous/
*Also, take a moment of silence for the untimely cancelation of Silent Hills. We never saw you fulfil your full potential, but you will be missed, game that could have resurrected the horror game genre.

Musings: The ‘joys’ of yesteryear

Recently, Max (the best non-identical twin brother a person could hope for) and I got stuck back into Final Fantasy IX (9). This was for analysis/review purposes, so expect something on the other site at some point, but also because it’s one our favourite of the Final Fantasy games.

Max and I share the opinion that there is a golden trio of Final Fantasy games: VII, VIII and IX.
I don’t mean to say the others are bad by any stretch, just that we both love those three to death in particular. We played the ever living hell out of them as kids, despite the fact that we weren’t smart enough to figure out how to save; we’ve become intimately familiar with the first couple of hours of each game, though.

Out of that golden trio, IX always stood as my personal favourite. I love me some fantasy settings, and while the futuristic and fascinating worlds of VII and VIII are impressive, the varied races and locations in IX always gripped me more thoroughly. Not to mention the playable cast are a colourful and ultimately lovable bunch, with fairly realistic motivations and desires.

(Though, Quina’s expression haunts me slightly…)

It was because of this that I was giddy when we booted up the old Playstation 2, sat down, and got ready for of a tale of princess, a thief, and a LOT of attempted/successful genocide…

Things were pretty great for a while. The FMV’s were showing their wrinkles but not to a disastrous degree, the character models were still pretty (if more polygon-y then I remember), and the backgrounds…

Good lord, they haven’t aged a day. They’re still as colourful and vivid as I remember them being. I understand that they’re difficult and ultimately expensive to make, but a part of me regrets that pre-rendered backgrounds have faded from use in modern videogames. These things are damn near ageless, and the care and time put into making each screen unique shows through.

Anyway, things were progressing smoothly. Max and I rediscovered the joys of a Final Fantasy card game (Triple Tirade is good, but Tetra Master will always have this special place in my heart), and were determinedly hunting down all of those early game freebies.

Arms full with early game potions and cure items (but lighter on a few cards), we finally came across our first Moogle save point. Another thing I greatly liked about IX: the save points were adorable and full of charm.

Naturally, we saved, and move on with-

…Why was the memory card not being recognised?

More than slightly perturbed, we fiddled around with the memory card for few seconds.
Still nothing.
I broke out the spares we had lying around, trying a few in the second slot.
No reaction.
I tried to jigger them around a bit, thinking maybe they were placed oddly.

And accidently hit the reset button.

For a long few moments, we simply stared at the Playstation’s booting up screen.

We hadn’t exactly gotten far, but the fact remains that I just erased whatever progress we had made. Including all the time spent scrounging for items and several card games.

We eventually laughed the whole thing off, and said we’d have another crack at it another day, hopefully after finding a way to save our progress. We weren’t naïve kids anymore after all: we actually wanted to make some progress, damn it.

So, in summary:
We’re greatly enjoying rediscovering a childhood game that still holds up to this day, but we’re also rediscovering the faults in the tech from that era, and I’m rediscovering to be careful where the hell I put my fingers.

Hopefully, I should have something review/analysis based up regarding the experience on the other site, which in turn should hopefully be up and running in the not too distant future. It’s probably going to be on Freya, knowing that she’s still my favourite member of the group even to this day, but we’ll see.

Thanks for taking the time to read this idle musing, and I wish you a good morning, afternoon or night.