Wednesday, January 19, 2011

Wargames - A Video Review

My final task for this module involved creating a short film focusing on war themed games and how their depictions of certain aspects of war comply with or violate the Red Cross guidelines regarding 'acceptable' wartime practices. This video is best viewed in HD 720p, please click anywhere on the video to go to the youtube homepage to allow HD playback. Comments appreciated!

Friday, November 26, 2010

XBOX Kinect: First Impressions

So this morning I picked up what could very well be the last available Kinect in Dublin. According to their sites, Gamestop, Game, HMV and PC World are all sold out of the Kinect at time of writing, as are almost all Argos outlets in the city. Luckily for me, there was ONE left in Argos in Nutgrove when I checked at 9am. I reserved it online and went about my morning errands. Around 12:30pm, I hopped on my bike and swung by Nutgrove. 

When I gave my reservation number, the guy at the counter laughed and told me that 9 people had already been in looking for them and had asked at the counter even though the order terminals said it was out of stock. As he told me this, a lady a few people behind me in the queue swore and left the store. I grabbed the rare bit of kit and cycled home with it balanced precariously on the handlebars.

What follows is a breakdown of the next 40 minutes or so.

13:02 - Box is unusually hard to dismantle. There are two separate cartons within the main box, both holding connected (ahem) parts of the Kinect. It took a few minutes for me to figure that out, but once I did it only took another 2 minutes to get the unit and cables out of the box.

13:07 - Wow, the Kinect is a lot bigger than it looked in pictures. About 10-12 inches I'd say. This means it draws a lot of attention to itself if placed on top of the TV, which by the way can't be achieved without the special TV mount kit which isn't out in Europe yet. 

13:09 - I have an old 360 so the special Kinect cable won't work, I'll have to use the provided USB adaptor. Now my 360 has an ugly black cable sticking out the front of it.

13:10 - Kinect fully installed (below TV), 360 powered on

13:11 - Dashboard update is required

13:13 - Kinect software needs to be downloaded

13:14 - Kinect interface opens, performs sound checks for about 2 minutes to determine ambient noise levels and measure output from surround sound system. I don't have surround sound, so all channels are outputted from the TV speakers. Why can't I just specify Stereo?

13:16 - 6-8 FEET OF SPACE REQUIRED??? Who has that much room in front of their TV? Kinect has me standing where I would expect to stand for it. That's too close. I take a step back, now I'm in the 'GOOD' position. I take another step back and I'm in the 'BEST' zone. Unfortunately, I'm also pressed against the sofa, which is pressed against the wall. 'GOOD' it will have to be.

13:19 - 'GOOD' is only suitable for single player apparently, I'll need another 2 feet of space if I want to play with another person. Balls.

13:20 - Ok, the Kinect is installed, configured and set up, I'm ready to play. 360 needs another restart.

13:21 - I pop Kinect Adventures into the tray and launch the game. Adventures is the only Kinect game I have at the moment, Everything except the dancing game looked boring and my budget doesn't stretch another 50 euro at the moment.

13:23 - I like the mode of selecting options, you hold your hand out and guide the icon on screen to the option you want and hold for two seconds. It's a little clunky but I soon get the hang of it.

13:25 - Adventures launches me into the Rafting mini game straight away. This is the game which made me want a Kinect, and it's as good now as I remember. Unfortunately, standing in the 'GOOD' zone has placed me right under the lamp in my living room, so possible brain damage occurs seconds into the game when I jump. I take a step forward. The game yells at me for being too close. I take a few steps back and find the magic area where I have enough room to move without breaking something or hurting myself.

13:28 - Raft minigame complete, I'm taken to the main menu and I get to pick a game to play. I try the leaky window game.

13:29 - Apparently all I have to do is hold my hands over the leaks for a second and they're repaired. I'm sick of this after repairing 2 leaks, so I quit.

13:31 - Let's try the Rallyball game. Apparently all I have to do is block incoming balls with my body and limbs.

13:33 - This is more like it. The Kinect tracks my body really well. At the start of the level I'm standing with my arms folded across my body, and Kinect displays my avatar this way from the off. It detects when my knees are bent, my arms are hanging and if I tilt my head in either direction the whole screen leans a little with me. Very impressive. Rallyball is quick to pick up and for the first time since opening the box I'm actual smiling. In fact, I have a big shit eating grin. plastered across my face.

13:38 - Working up a bit of a sweat now, off comes the hoody.

13:42 - The mountain of work waiting for me is calling, so I reluctantly power off the machine. I can see getting a reasonably good work out if I kept up Rallyball for more than 15 mins.

My initial impressions of the Kinect? Pretty good. It's hard to tell how long the collection of mini games in Adventures will keep me occupied alone, but I'd imagine the novelty will wear off after a few hours. Hopefully there'll be more decent titles out soon. The hardware itself is pretty cool, I like being able to control things with gestures and voice commands. Microsoft really crippled the device my requiring such a large play area but that's something that probably won't affect most people's experience so it's possibly not fair to knock it on that point. I'm having friends over tomorrow so I'd say that will be the Kinect's opportunity to shine; a few beers will perfectly set the group up for arm waving hilarity (provided the thing will track more than one person in the 'GOOD' zone). Trip report to follow.

GameMaker and the pitfalls of game design

Having spent most of yesterday working through relevant gamemaker tutorials, I've now reached the level of beginner. This project is a lot of work for someone with no experience designing games, but I'm having a lot of fun designing assets. Today, I decided to shell out for a paid tutorial based on Owen's recommendations. I'm glad I did! I bought a GameSpark Tutorial (found here on platform game development for the princely sum of $10, and it's made a huge difference. I have more confidence with the software and I'm looking forward to trying out some of my new skills with the sprites and backgrounds I've been fiddling with in Photoshop. I'm still not sure how I'll be able to integrate the Katamari style gameplay that I pitched to the class, but I've a few things to try out that might allow me to implement these features into my alpha. Only 5 days left!

Monday, November 22, 2010

LEER: Game pitch

Wednesday, November 3, 2010

Board Game

It's a bit late coming at this stage, but if you get a chance you should head over to the blog for a board game I'm working on with 3 others, Battle for Eden. We're quite close to completion of the game, but the blog should give an idea of how it's evolved from the initial idea to the final iteration.

A Mega day for my console collection

This morning I bravely ventured to Dorset street to collect my new (old) Sega Megadrive from a nice old lady in a hardware shop. A total steal at €40 off! I lugged it back across the city in a cardboard box, defying rain and curious stares on the bus until it was safely back in the screen tools room in college. Included in the sale was the console and all required cables, 2 controllers (one official, one third party), 2 decent games (Sonic 2, Mickey Mania) and a collection of random sports titles released between 1990-1995 according to the carts. With everything unpacked, I enlisted the help of my good friend Alan and set about rigging up this piece of gaming history.

What followed was a 40 minute exercise in frustration. Myself and Alan engaged in a highly technical examination of the Sharp Aquos HDTV which mostly involved fumbling blindly between the TV and the wall in search of the correct input port. Alan maintained that all TVs must come with an RF input in order to allow those with standard arial as their broadcast receiver to actually watch their TVs. I was unconvinced, but then a stroke of luck located the rogue input hidden away shamefully in an alcove placed as far away from the standard port hub as possible. 

Megadrive plugged in, game inserted, we eagerly took our seats and powered on the console. No joy! The TV needed to be tuned in. As the Hertz and the minutes crawled by we began to despair of ever getting the console working. This was almost as scary as the prospect of doing the actual work we had planned for the afternoon... Suddenly, the screen flickered to life and we were greeted with one of the most iconic jingles in the gaming world:


The next hour was spent revisiting childhoods and getting ridiculously excited about low resolution textures, a stretched aspect ratio and noticeable performance issues in multiplayer modes. We thoroughly enjoyed a few games of NBA Action '95, despite the awful production values and dodgy sound, before settling into the main event: Sonic 2 multiplayer battles. The exercise proved that it doesn't matter how old or low tech a game is, it can still be enjoyed even stripped of the sheen of nostalgia that made me purchase the console in the first place. 

The original Sonic games worked because they were simple and hugely playable, something which can't be said about the recent offerings from Sega Studios and Team Sonic. The release of Sonic 4, a HD return to the original side-scrolling format of the older games, shows that Sonic's best moments can be found on the retro sega consoles and haven't been recreated with the same success since then.