Sunday, August 10, 2014

Look at you...

Little blog, you are still here. And look at you, just like I left you.

A blank canvas with so much possibility.

I could tell you all about the Fez. Whose game plays with perception.

What about Broken Age, the living storybook?

Adventures in Persona, the high school simulator?

The ever popular Journey, a parable of life?

Countless titles deserve a look, a slice of attention to talk about.

But, that is just it. Talking about them.

I'm going to change the focus of this blog.

There are already enough people willing to speak about games, about how good they are or how bad they are. But, there are never enough people to talk about the state of them, from a strong moral perspective.

Oh, I will still point out a good game here and there. But this blog is going to be used to further my aims as an interactive fiction (art) specialist. There are many great games that don't fit that criteria.

So, thank you those who have read my blurbs, I look forward to sharing more in the future.

Thursday, August 4, 2011

Dreamfall

Based off of the very highly rated "The Longest Journey," Dreamfall picks up right where it left off. Two worlds exist in parallel one another, but unknown by the majority. Stark and Arcadia are science and magic respectively. On one side flying cars and futuristic skylines, on the other dragons and castles. Ragnar Tornquist is no pushover of a writer, either. The science fiction is grand in scope and chilling in philosophy. The magical side as an excellent lore and a delightful storybook feel. Both sides feature moral dilemmas that unfold beautifully throughout this fleshed out and fairly long adventure.
       The meat of this game is the conversations. The characters have delighfully human discussions and unlike many other games with unfolding plots I never found myself saying "Why doesn't she realize...?" Actually, to be honest I found myself exclaiming that very question when the character would actually ask the taboo questions, realize the truths I knew as a player. This game does a delightful job of delivering what you want in a story.
       The second major activity of this game is the series' signature puzzle solving. It is straight forward and rewarding. I was only stumped once, and that was quickly remedied. It is a highly polished and story driven affair and works nicely. The third and fourth attractions don't benefit from this same praise.
        In concept it is neat to be able to actually swing a sword as a warrior and adds to the overall feel of the game and characters (I dislike puzzle games where you merely have sword for show and need some grandiose excuse to actually pull it out), however, swordplay is not one of this games strengths. Combat is a chore that leaves you wondering why they bothered. Stealth missions also follow suite, being frustrating and sometimes unbelievable. It does add to the story "She snuck by him" but perhaps this is best just insinuated at times. It isn't as horrible as the fighting, but still needed more attention to work fully.
         Away from the negative stuff, this game is very enthralling. The world(s) are entirely fascinating and the exposition through character is some of the best in any game.
         There are some moral warnings I regret to say. One of the characters in particular has a terrible (terrible) mouth. Sex also used as an overtone throughout, though never actually seen or participated in in any way (not even any graphic clothing). Everything IS presented in a remarkably true to life fashion. Some people are clean and wholesome, and others are slime balls, making it a blast to converse and traverse.
         If the above (which I am attempting to clean up in my version, though no word on whether it is feasibly possible exists) bother you than stay clear and read up the storyline elsewhere, but if it doesn't bother you, affect you, or discourage you, if you can weight the fascinating art above the incorrigible, I would recommend it. It definitely isn't for everyone and I was offended at certain points, but they do a wonderful job of isolating and making those characters take sole ownership for their particular behavior. Have fun!

Wednesday, June 15, 2011

The tablet of gaming

Ladies and gentlemen, it finally happened. I am the proud owner of a tablet pc. No mamsy pamsy Android Honeycomb, either. this is a Windows Tablet. Alright, if you aren't guffawing yet you should be. Windows wasn't designed first and foremost with tablet users in mind. However, because there are no cut corners on a Windows Tablet, and provided you have the horse power you can have the full functionality of Windows frollicking around with you in an easy to use format. This particular model does not disappoint.

The Acer Iconia Tab W500 sports a dual core processor That Puts the competition To shame, But it need} to! This is Full windows we are using. As such the system comes standard with 2 GB of DDR 3 RAM and, most delightful of all, a dedicated AMD Radeon 6250 via the Fusion APU. This means a lot of power in a very small package. This is where this article is going (you all knew it!) This means this thing packs a wallop for gaming. Can an Ipad run Heroes of Might and Magic 5 or Half Life 2? I don't think so, and since I already own these they were instantly accessible right out of the box. Tested so far:

Heroes of Might and Magic 5:
This was my first eye opener for the power in that little fusion chip. Supposing you don't tax the CPU too much by choosing a gargantuan map this game will run at the highest settings gracefully. I was very impressed with it's framerate and functionality on a touch interface, but if it seems a bit much for your fingers you can always connect the included keyboard dock and instantly have a viable alternative input. Wowsers.

Halflife 2 ran remarkably well considering its evolving engine. The new dynamic shadows ran silky. The game had a few slowdowns, but automatically recommended itself at the high settings by default, an impressive estimation. This game has to be run by the keyboard dock as there is no touch input for WASD.

The third title that shames less  capable operating systems on tablets everywhere is Beyond Good And Evil. The game runs smooth at the basic setup, but with a little tweaking you  can add some anti-aliasing and better shadows. At some points the reflective water scenea gave me some grief, but those settings can also be changed. I was impressed!

Those are just a few of the titles I tried. To put it straight everything ran, just some better than others. Bioshock, Knights of the Old Republic, and of course many of what you would expect: Plants vs. Zombies, World of Goo. Crayon Physics, Disciples 2.  All ran, most very well, others (Bioshock) would need a little tweaking and some just weren't good matches for touch interfaces. Regardless, show your colors, gamers! Play great games on your tablet!

Wednesday, May 25, 2011

I have seen places...

I feel as if I am writing after having been exiled in Kirkwall for a second time, shackled by responsibilities no one should have: the consequences of a hero. My fingers ache with the constant quiver of energy required to Ki force rock guitar witches into submission. And, my heart glows with the sparkle of the sun on distant streams of water as I reach into flames, pick them up, and lob them at a pack of ravenous wolves about to leap at me. My hiatus has been one full of worlds not yet experienced. Some of them look beautiful, other's draw you as a blue haired, big eyed, anime, but all of them offer rich, imaginitive experiences (I wouldn't settle for anything less).

It is true that some games require a little more imagination to make them marvelous then others. Two Worlds (the original) is such a case. As far as the game is concerned the storyline is something that you simply must fill the gaps in yourself. Though somewhat creative it is horribly told by voice actors who sound like He-man characters reciting shakespeare. The game world, however, is rich and beautiful enough to let you make your own story. What lies in that forest, over that hill, in that castle, across the water, is entirely up to you. As you wander the land you can almost forget your voice acting is ridiculous as long as your curousity is intact. It is an open, lovely place, and the voice acting does ensure one thing: The game has little to know swearing or mature content, which, for a fantasy that aspires to this scope, is a lovely thing.

Dragon Age 2 (again) is a game that requires little effort on your part to enjoy the writing. It is a well written interactive adventure that really hits you well with late game consequences. It is one of the first games in a fantasy setting that I can recall to have hit the chord of political intrigue so well. You never leave the city and its surrounding area, you simply focus on the unfolding drama there. A creative, well told story.
Guilty Gear X2 struck me as one of the best fighting games I never played from an era I barely remember. Crisp and fluid animations, zany, interesting characters (who are sometimes jaw-droppingly beautiful in their anime-ness) come alive and fight with combos, counters, and everything that makes fighting games great. And the execution is masterful. A satisfying six dollars to GOG.com!

A game for far more money didn't disappoint either. Steam released Portal 2 in the month of May. This game shines with character, characters, and style. From the first moments of the game to the last you will be intrigued by the setting and charmed by the characters. This is one of my favorite games, and together with its sequel one of the best ideas for a game I have ever experienced. With an almight portal gun and an almost anonymous character you interact with the world via tests and puzzles, some of which have unforeseen conclusions, all while the mystery of the portal gun's inventors (and their demise) is solved. I dream of teleportation, and this game delivers a setting where it is your only method of victory. Above it all, this game somehow remains clean and E rated in all it's depth.

Opposingly, neither the Witcher nor the Witcher 2 were meant for families. These games are more of a personal conviction, a novel that should be read and passed to the worthy player. These games offer a world that is uncensored in its themes and presentation. As such I can't recommend these games to moral and sensitive people in any of their available forms. I won't play them without a large dose of editing and a preparation of personal meditation and reflection before hand. You will hear every swear word, see unedited breasts, and fight gruesome battles. Why play? The story, the tone, the world is one of, if not the most, refreshing in the ages of Role playing and you feel immersed in it. You feel part of it. This is a place where you truly become the main character, and in a roleplaying game that is the ultimate request. These games are very, very well written. The potential to express  your morality and ideals is ever present, but the repurcussions ruthless. When no one is perfect is helping them ever a good thing? This game makes you ask yourself if being kind is really what you want to do. It removes all game-conventional forms of reciprocation. You choose to be good merely because you are a good person, regardless. You become a character in a world that you are inextricably a part of, and these are flawed humanoids you are dealing with.
*sigh*
Some great places to visit, up there, and some marvelous ways to do it. Journey well.

Thursday, March 17, 2011

Graphics for all!

When I discovered the key to having beautiful and absolutely surreal experiences in worlds not my own was the power of my graphics card, my desire to understand them became insatiable. That path led me through story and article after story and article, and even to this day I don't  fully understand them. However, because of that lust for computer knowledge I have gained much more than just information on graphics in particular, but  in all associated avenues. I highly suggest you computer savants begin your journey into the world of knowledge too. It not only broadens your respect for modern graphics, but your respect for the details in life that inspired them. For now, though, I wish to offer aid to those who understand little, but wish to have a simplified (Perhaps very simplified) article from which they can take basic answers.

What makes a game fast? Pretty? That shimmery effect when you walk out of dark tunnel into the light? Blur as you move? Edges crisp and smooth? Why is my game so skippy? All of these questions I sought answers too, and then I changed that knowledge into terms I would understand. I will share what I can. Post questions afterwards if you have any particular questions and we can work through it together!

We'll divide our approach into two major groups and then cover the details:

Number 1: Pick your side: There are two companies that produce Graphics chips as of 2011: Nvidia and ATI (AMD). Your preference is completely opinion in most cases (some games will show differing performance, but most won't). After you pick a make, you must pick a model. Many companies make models. Whether you want EVGA, Sapphire, ASUS, MSI, HIS, Gigabyte, or any of the others (I often get lost in the names) is up to you, but I propose two quality companies: EVGA and Sapphire (Nvidia and ATI cards respectively) as excellent choices.

Number 2: Pick your price range/performance. This can be difficult. Depending on who you ask (the enthusiast or the budget minded gamer) you will get different suggestions.

     If price weighs more than performance you can pick up some very cheap cards (30-70$) that will perform basic functions and simple games. This type of card represents the minimal user. The user who doesn't want to game necessarily, but wants fairly sharp performance on their computer. However, if you want to play a game and revel in the beauty of the world, the crisp scenery, the thousands of motions and objects on the screen, you are going to move up to the next level: the budget gamer cards.
   
     Budget gamer cards range from $90-200 and produce some astounding bang for your buck. You can now access sharper images and smoother frame rates and experience city streets and magical forests in beauty and awe. Because graphic cards have jumped in power even the cheaper (GTS 450: 130$) cards can produce amazing effects in games that may have seemed daunting before. Dragon Age: Origins and Mass Effect 2 can both play smoothly on the highest settings with the right system and just one of these cards, and for many that will be enough. However, for the highly discriminating (I fancy myself that way) there are other options.


     Enthusiast gamer cards: There are many ways to play games. Enthusiasts will not stop until they have pushed every setting to full power and can walk away  with a ballet dancer's grace. These cards ($200-800) Will usually require you to upgrade your existing power supply and perhaps motherboard (depending on your setup). In some cases this category involves buying multiple cards (even budget cards) and linking them together. This is called SLI for Nvidia, and Crossfire for ATI, and requires their selective motherboard chipset (as mentioned above).
In this category you will see nothing less than pixelated excellence. Some games (Dragon Age 2) will still stutter, and this will make you angry. This is the games fault. Please don't throw your thirty pound graphic card at me.
Why are these cards better? We will talk about it below.

Things to consider technically when buying a graphics card:


1. The first thing beginners will look at when they look at a brand new video card is the graphical RAM. Just like your computer motherboard, your graphical card will sport RAM. This RAM is specific to one thing: buffering and producing beautiful graphics. This takes quite a load off of your computers internal RAM. You can find differing amounts of RAM on your video card, and this is where your first important choice will lay. Cards range (nowadays) from 256 MB (Yuck) all the way up to the ridiculous 4GB (Gigabyte, or 4000 MB) cards. The general excellence you should search for is 1 GB. It is a great place to start and provides plenty of headroom for your games.

Now, don't skip this article yet: there is one more thing about the RAM you should know. It comes with a letter and number. The older cards, or the dangerously cheap, will give you DDR2 (Double data rate 2). It was once the fastest, and some computers still use it on motherboards (like mine), but the world of games pushed graphical RAM beyond that. It adopted a new name and soon became GDDR (G is for Graphical) RAM. Up came the twice as fast GDDR3 (Which motherboards are now adopting in its DDR form), and even that couldn't stay long. Now you should settle for nothing less then GDDR5. It is twice as fast (supposedly) as GDDR3 and blazes in games.
In summary: Gamers get at least 1 GB of GDDR5. But, this is not all you need to look for in a card.

Let's talk about speed. There are three speeds on most cards: Core Clock, Shader Clock, and Effective Memory Clock (A derivative of the Memory Clock speed). Integrated graphics (Like in laptops) can get really slow, around 400 Mhz for a Core Clock. A good Graphics Card can range anywhere from the high 600s to the 900s on the Core Clock, but the philosophy is always higher is better. The same follows suite with Shader Clocks:  1500s-high 1900s, and finally Effective Memory Clocks: 3000-4000 is good. 


If the previous paragraph was about speed, let's talk about how many lanes those speedy cards have to pack full of data. This is your Bit rating. Cheap cards will try to sell you the abominable 64 bit graphic cards. While 64 bit is all the rave for Operating Systems, don't fall for it with a powerhouse graphics card. You should settle for nothing less than a 128 bit interface, but the best cards will be 256 bit or higher (380+ is a mighty fine number from Nvidia). Remember. Never settle for 64 bit.


Next up is software support. Cards will usually tell you what special features they pack, whether it be 3d vision or enhanced video, but one of the most important features is which model of Direct X they support. Direct X is Window's (Microsoft's) way of allowing incredible visual detail through their operating system. Direct X 9 was one of the first big runners, and the older cards might still only support it today, but that doesn't mean you should go for it. In this day and age a basic card should at least support Direct X 10, and a budget or enthusiast card should full out support Direct X 11. Don't settle for less or your options will be lessened. You will open the graphical menu in a game and you will see more grayed-out boxes then a black and white checklist. And what are those wonderful features you ask? This is my favorite part!


Special effects vary, but some of the most notable in recent history have to be Anti Aliasing, Anisotropic Filtering, Reflections, HDR (High Dynamic Range), Screen Space Ambient Occlusion (SSAO), Virtual Sync (Vsync), Shaders, and Tessellation. Some go without saying, but I know my first time in a graphical menu was like a step in a candy shop. I had to try EVERYTHING, so I will see if I can ease your curiosity.


1. Anti Aliasing: Ever looked at a line or edge in a game and started moving only to see it start jiggling, jagging, and stair-stepping? This removes that effect. Crisp, clear lines on buildings, horizons, power lines, cables, fences. This should only attempt to be turned on by those with a budget level or up card (according to my scale). Basic cards will choke and die on this feature, but newer and more expensive cards eat this setting for breakfast. (Oh how I suggest the Nvidia GTS 450/GTX 550 Ti for the budget!)


2. Anisotropic Filtering. This setting effects the textures in your games (The pictures painted on shapes to make them look like something: like a mountain, a character, a tile floor, instead of just a blank white objects). Those textures have certain viewing angles designed for them, like an LCD TV. If you stare straight at them they might look amazing, but if you go to the side it probably won't be as sharp. If you go nearly level with them they might become unseeable or very, very blurry. This removes that effect. It adds angles of viewing to objects and makes them look clear and beautiful from anywhere. This is especially effective on floors, walls, and ceilings. Most cards, not just more expensive ones, can handle this smoothly. Not quite the machine killer (makes your game slow down) that Anti Aliasing is.



3. Reflections: Obvious, right? Look at water and want it to reflect the sky? The sky and mountains? The sky and people and mountains and trees and dogs and flecks of dust? Reflections can add an incredible amount of eye-candy to a game, but it effectively means you have to draw a picture twice, this can be harder on a machine.


4.High Dynamic Range (HDR). This effect shows in some games more than others. If you stand in a dark tunnel and then walk into the sunlight you may notice you can't see anything for a while. It is too flushed and bright. This effect simulates such light tricks. It makes sunlight blur and shine and glimmer as you see it reflected off of wet rocks, rivers, lakes, and other such things. It also effects it's brightness as you walk into the day and stare at it, unflinching, like the action hero you are. It blurs it, it smears it across the screen and fills the sky with it. This is one of my favorite, most beautiful, effects.

5.Screen Space Ambient Occlusion (SSAO). What a mouthful. This, like HDR, effects light. If you've ever had a white shirt on and stood near a window as the sun hits you you may notice the shadowed wall next to you gets covered in white, reflected, light. This effect affects the reflected and missing light from any light source hitting any object on the entire screen. If you imagine a cloudy day and how the indirect light lights everything it is a good example. The light hits you, but not like direct light would. It is being filtered by other objects (like a white shirt onto an object  that would otherwise have no light). This is a killer feature for some budget cards and can drop framerates (game smoothness of play) heavily.


6. Virtual Sync is many a players whipping boy. Have low framerates? Turn it off. It doesn't do anything, right? Well, you neglectors of V, you may notice when you swiftly pan the camera up and down to look at the world it, for a split second, seems like someone took scissors and cut your screen in half. That is what Vsync prevents. When it takes to long to draw the next picture vsync slows you down so it has time. A fast graphics card won't be able to see the slow down, just the benefits, while it will still see jags if you turn it off.


7. Shaders. The word made players tremble when Doom 3 came out. Much like HDR and Screen Space Ambient Occlusion, Shaders make your game react to light. But unlike them it isn't creating the light that concerns it, but what your game does without it. In the above mentioned title heavy shadows were cast by players and objects as direct light hit them. If a light hit the side of your face it would streak your nose's shadow across your cheek. Heavy shaders (shadows) portray that. Depending on the game this can make or break the atmosphere, and depending on the card this can turn you into a slow motion deaths scene.


8.Tessellation. I mentioned earlier that one of my favorites effects is HDR (I have a favorite effect!). I developed that favorite years ago. my most recent favorite, however, is Tessellation. So, try this. Take a large piece of paper and cut it into four squares. Now, try and make a circle out of those four squares. Angle them, turn them, it still won't look like much of a circle. Now, cut each of those four squares into one-hundred little squares and try again. Now it probably looks magnificently round. That is one of the big things what tessellation accomplishes. New levels of round! But, wait, there's more!
   Alright, take one piece of paper with a detailed picture of a mountain on it and try, without bending it, to make it have the hills and valleys and detailed little gulfs and pocks like the picture, but. Make it look three dimensional (WITHOUT BENDING IT). Can't? Now, cut it into four hundred little pieces and using glue (and imagining that it could instantly stick and stay in place) try it. It is MUCH more doable (though for the small details you might want to try five gajillion pieces). This is also tessellation. Take a flat texture of a brick wall and shade it up all you want, but when you get flush with it it will still be a flat wall with a detailed picture. Apply tessellation and the bricks suddenly become REAL. They jump out at odd angles and uneven proportions. Tessellation, from a picture, builds the wall by cutting and reshaping the pieces of the picture according to the art that was drawn on it. In this way incredible amounts of detail are shown. Not just individual bricks, but where the mason pulled them from the mold and the scratches and scuffs. All of them now three-dimensional, not just a picture, but drawn and covered objects that really take shape in the world around them. This is big, fellas. This is big. This feature is only for Direct X 11 cards, and this feature is a killer for most budget cards.


There are many other effects also, and lots of little things about these, I don't know about or am still studying, like diffusional depth of field and Anti-aliasing transparency, but that should be a good start and plenty of knowledge to begin with I hope! Thank you for reading, and happy shopping, gaming, and world hopping!

Tuesday, March 8, 2011

What can I do with a netbook?

     The possibilities are almost without limit. A Dell Mini 10v is a capable little machine, despite the specifications.  One quick (or not so quick) upgrade to 2Gb of RAM and you are on your way to many worlds diverse and beautiful.
     I have mentioned the wonderful website GOG.com before, but for those that haven't been so attentive: go, support, buy games you thought long gone, and enjoy DRM (Digital Rights Management) free bliss. Many of the titles will run natively on your netbook of joy, but some will require some modding. Recent acquisitions include Age of Wonders: Shadow Magic, Disciples 2: Rise of the Elves, Earthworm Jim 1 & 2, and many many more.
     Disciples 2 is a masterpiece with a powerful mood. Sadly, the mood is doom and gloom, but they do pull it off amazingly. The fantasy races clash  in cloudy sunsets and decrepit lands. The sky is rarely clear. When it is it falls coldly on wet or dead lands. The game features four deities and their followers going to war (five with the inclusion of the elven expansion pack). The races are the stuff of fantasy with a heavy artistic sense. Human's and angels march in "righteousness" while dark and twisted undead rise up as skeletons and liches. The demons are disturbing, the dwarves gruff and grave (Lord of the Rings the book, not the movie).
    You can bring up to four friends on one netbook and wage war, or allliances, and the expansion packs allow you to create randomly generated maps that can be massive.
    Excellence.
    I advise research as you purchase and adventure in the lands of yor. Many classics will dissatisfy you (I remember playing Zork for the first time and am still scarred by its textual let down), but many will leave you wondering how you could miss this adventure, this world, the first time around.
    Enjoy!

Tuesday, February 22, 2011

Roleplaying in a galaxy far far away

Star Wars has been an ever popular setting for all types of games. From shooters to strategy games we get to blow up droids, eliminate Sith, and choose which side of the force will become our fate. That being said the branch of the franchise devoted to role-playing  has often been one of speculation for me. The entire idea of role-playing involves taking on a role and becoming involved in a world not your own, in a character not yourself, and making decisions for that role. In this particular franchise I have never found the world engaging, the character deep, or the decisions all too important ( *cough* Anakin's acting *cough*).
     When one of my friends suggested jumping into the already-established classic "Knights of the old republic" I looked it up. Produced by Bioware (Yes, of Mass Effect, Dragon Age, and Jade Empire fame)  some years ago, it's reputation was epic and it's following large. The price tag, however, was small. I got in on sale from Steam for a meager $2.50.
      Apprehensively I loaded up what was rumored to be a game on the scale of Baldur's Gate 2. I candidly played the first thirty minutes and was able to look past the outdated graphics, silly tutorial-man voice acting, and all too familiar scene of a Star Wars ship under siege. But, what I saw beyond the basic elements didn't impress me. The storyline didn't catch me. I drifted off to more pressing matters, such as another play-through of Psychonauts.
      A series of month's passed and I found myself between worlds at having just finished King's Bounty. I glanced at the large icons on my desktop, all of them representing places and decisions and characters I had explored and there in front of me glared Malak's face--the icon for Knights of the Old Republic. I double clicked and prepared some patience to get me past the introduction once again.
      Since my fateful decision to start playing it, Knights of the Old Republic has often surprised me. The voice acting took a major leap in improvement from the time you leave the stereotypical introduction and now I am enjoying conversations with rich characters. The decisions you make are very Star Wars in their own right; light and underplayed, but the acting does a fine job of keeping your interest as the plot twists and thickens.
      You get to play in a world estranged from the movie as you know it. Four-thousand years in the past the Sith are still wily and the Jedi are still terrible judges of character. Two of their pupils rise as Sith Lords and start taking over the galaxy. Predictably you must rise up and become a Jedi to stop them. Now, don't get me wrong. This is cool. Jedi are cool. Blasters are cool. Spaceships are cool. But, can Bioware wrap it into a cool story driven package? They pull it off.
      As a character in the world of Star Wars you get to do things and meet people only the most die hard of fans would dream of. Planets for the first time can be traversed and scoured, citizens talked to, and those annoying droids blown up if you really don't like them. Ever wanted to hack a C3PO-ish droid to distract enemies? How about actually question of those Twi'lek dancers? Maybe you wanted to get from the nitty-gritty of a planets economy all the way to the ritzy heights. Whatever your intergalactic passion, Bioware expands and elaborates upon the Star Wars world wonderfully, and they manage to do it while retaining the overall feel of the series.
      With only minor swearing, almost no blood or gore, and very little questionable content (romance options are extremely mild, and cantina's feature alien dancers in semi-modest clothing), I can rightly suggest this title to the masses.
      May the force be with you!