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Tarvu's blog

9:48 AM on 08.09.2015

Oh hey look the link to the forums is back! The subcommunity that wouldn't die.


2:44 PM on 04.05.2014

Here's stuff what I have been doing a bit - the daring sequel

One of the last things I posted up in this bitch was some dumb video gaming content I've done for a Student Television Station. Here is some more of that. There'd be more, but I'd like to graduate (and get back into those unemployment statistics RIGHT?). EGX Rezzed is a PC and Indie gaming expo run by the same folk as the-expo-formerly-known-as-Eurogamer, and is full of lovely indie people and not so many drones as you'd get on most other show floors.

It's alright.

As part of my dissertation project, I've put out a short survey about Television consumption habits. It'd be nice of you if you did it for me. Go on. Do it. I'm hoping to have a varied sample, over many demographics, which are words.

Warning, this paragraph is about a kickstarter project. Sorry. I'm not particularly part of this project, but every person behind it is a friend and working hard to make it great. It's a short film written and directed by a crazy talented young lady, and there's a kickstarter to raise money for costs of distribution and entry to film festivals. It'd be very nice if the goal is met, very nice indeed. Do have a look. Please.

I'm going to have to write some more about Rezzed, or rather the people there. Talking to indie developers is almost always such a pleasant experience. The interview at the top of the page is with the four man studio (of which three are brothers) called Boneloaf, and their game Gang Beasts is looking like brilliant fun. Also, they have a boneloaf plush. That's attention to brand detail. We also got to know a little about a guy named Alan Zucconi, a lone developer and surely one of the nicest people on the planet. He was showing his game 0rbitalis, a simple astrophysics simulator with pleasing visuals. There's a video below wherein an idiot talks to him.

My favourite game of the show was Halo 2, but it was so popular and I was so busy that I didn't get a chance to play it. However, what follows is a video of #thetruth


4:30 AM on 11.24.2013

A Practical Guide to the Gamer Genocide

I am sorry if this offends you. I'm even more sorry if it doesn't offend you, though. The idea for this piece arose from conversation between two silly people and, as something born from silliness, it is silly. I do not endorse gaming or genocide in any way. Unless there is money involved.

Now, let us purge on. You've successfully elevated yourself to a position of power through persecution of those damnable video gamers, and your Minister for Ironic Justice has presented you with solutions to the geeknerd problem. He has gone to the effort of assessing each for practicality, effectiveness, originality and enjoyment factor. Now it is up to you to decide: however will you wipe out the gamers!?

Precision Kinetic Bombardment with Italians

They are the soil o' the earth and one of the backbones of this country. They are also aerodynamically flawed and ineffective projectiles due to inherent design flaws in composition and structure. To successfully kill or seriously incapacitate a gamer requires no less than a direct hit at high velocity. This method would require more or less one Italian per gamer, and with approximately 120 million Italians worldwide and many hundreds of millions more gamers (probably), it could not be recommended as a means to the gamer's end. The implementation would require relatively simple apparatus, but the sheer volume of Italians to drop would necessitate many sites to be built.

Practicality: 5
Effectiveness: 2
Originality: 7
Fun factor: 8

Respiratory impairment via immersion in 'Mountain Dew'

A vile liquid frequently imbibed by many gamers, slowly dissolving them all from the inside. With sufficient time and quantity we could perhaps rely on a significant proportion of them to pickle themselves to death with the product, but the volume required would be much better utilised by drowning them in it. There are no definitive publically accessible statistics on Mountain Dew production volumes, but one can assume there are many many many millions of litres of it around. With seizure of these assets and utilisation of pre-existing liquid storage facilities a cost-effective mass extermination of the gamers could be easily achieved.

Practicality: 8
Effectiveness: 8
Originality: 2
Fun factor: 4

Shafted projectile wounds to the Mid-Leg

For ten thousand years people have shot arrows at one another. They can be deadly weapons when notched to the bows of professional archers aiming at someone's important bits, so with the modern shortcoming in such training and our predilection for perforating patellae the lethality of this effort may be less than desirable. Mass production and distribution of bows and arrows will be simple, less so will be the amount needed to kill every damnable gamer. There should at least be the occasional accidental shot to the heart.

Practicality: 2
Effectiveness: 1
Originality: 0
Fun factor: 6

Asphyxiation by Obstructive Testicular Alignment

This particular implement of impulse impairment is so common that practically one in every two people have them, though that ratio may be thrown off a bit when our grand task is complete. The desirability of using them in such a fashion may be less than pleasing, depending on the fight left in the victim. Chemical induced unconsciousness or physical restraint by others may be required, but it remains a cost-effective way to beat them at their own game.

Practicality: 8
Effectiveness: 3
Originality: 9
Fun factor: 1

Induction of Inflammatory Disorder of the Intestine

Dysentery, or the bloody flux, was once the scourge of many a pioneer. But with the advancement of modern medicine it is just not the pathogenic killer it once was. Extermination utilising this disorder would require holding facilities for gamers who've consumed contaminated food and water whilst the pathogenesis runs its course, which will be unhygienic and costly to maintain.

Practicality: 4
Effectiveness: 1
Originality: 1
Fun factor: 1

Execution by Firing Squad from the Hip

Guns are cool. They're also fun, safe and just so American! Aiming is for pussies though, and when you're firing several bullets a second there's barely any need for it! Effectiveness of this method increases according to the number of gamers being targeted and proximity to them. Dispatching singular targets is ineffective. The bigger the machine gun (and operator), the better.

Practicality: 6
Effectiveness: 5
Originality: 4
Fun factor: 9

Excessive Inhalation of Therapeutic Fumes

According to Doctors (and courtesy of HM Government):

 - Smoking kills
 - Smoking seriously harms you and others around you
 - Smokers die younger
 - Smoking clogs the arteries and causes heart attacks and strokes
 - Smoking causes fatal lung cancer
 - Smoking can cause a slow and painful death
 - Smoking may reduce the blood flow and cause impotence
 - Smoking causes ageing of the skin
 - Smoking can damage the sperm and decreases fertility
 - Smoke contains benzene, nitrosamines, formaldehyde and hydrogen cyanide

Disappointingly, these effects are far from instantaneous.

Practicality: 6
Effectiveness: 1
Originality: 2
Fun factor: 3

Placement in regions prone to loss through rising Sea levels

Sea levels are rising (maybe)! Although Manbearpig is the more clear and present danger, it has been announced by scienturds that the dominant source of global warming is people. More heat means less ice caps and more water, which means less beaches and more drowning! Unfortunately, the rate of this rising is such that a person left to slowly drown in it would die of exposure, starvation and old age first. All at the same time. We 'd have more success in an estuary or Michael Barrymore's swimming pool.

Practicality: 7
Effectiveness: 0
Originality: 9
Fun factor: 1

Vehicular collision while costumed as Elvis Presley

Vehicle speeds in excess of 30mph are often fatal for the pedestrians hit by them. Crank up the velocity and durability of the vehicle and this becomes a fairly efficient and easy execution order! Mass-production of inauthentic Elvis costumes is already a thing as well. Although it may take a few passes and the fast ones may need chasing down, gasoline is still relatively cheap. Especially for our glorious leader's armed forces!

Practicality: 8
Effectiveness: 7
Originality: 7
Fun factor: 10

Aversion Therapy to video gaming streams using drug-induced Nausea

If the gamers can be effectively cured of their disease, they may be re-introduced (under heavy surveillance) into the population. If they cannot be, they shall be driven to their deaths by the newfound horror in their addiction. Implementing this will impractical due to the large amount of medical personnel and psychotherapeutic chemicals required, visual stimuli can be administered en-masse however.

Practicality: 2
Effectiveness: 5
Originality: 7
Fun factor: 8

We await your decision, and anticipate their destruction.   read

8:24 AM on 11.17.2013

Here's a Video thing what I have been doing a bit

Anybody who knows me well enough or is unfortunate to follow me on Twitter may have noticed I've been doing a lot of Student Media outside of my course. Because it's ridiculous fun and full of great people. One thing I've been working on is a show idea that my friend James (say it with a soft J, go on) had, the first episode of which which finally came out last week (we started gathering material in June).

We're not looking to get some hit show, it's just a bit of fun really. We're planning for the subsequent episodes to be very different to this, with less topical and more off-beat features being desirable. Part of that will be opening up the development to any interested people at our University, and feedback on what we've done is pretty important too. So feel free to give me some of that here, you filthy nerds.

We've also done a buttload of interviews, most of them need uploading (not by me) but here are the two video gaming ones we've published so far. Watch them too maybe!

Also, cocks.   read

9:03 AM on 08.06.2013

The Technology and Processes behind Seventh Generation Motion Control Systems

Back in March I submitted this content as part of a report and presentation on motion tracking systems in professional and consumer environments. As the internet is mostly full of hypothetical discussions of the consumer systems written before they were released, I figure I should put this up somewhere so that it might one day be informative to somebody (who will probably just copy it verbatim anyhow). The full body of work included observations on motion tracking in motion picture production by a collaborator, and comparisons of the professional and consumer motion tracking technologies.

The most recently concluded generation of home game consoles was notable for the onset of motion controls, such that by the end of it each of the three main competitors had one for their system. Each had a distinct way of operating, but faced similar challenge in balancing quality with cost to manufacture.

Nintendo Wii’s Wiimote

Of the seventh generation of home video gaming consoles, the Nintendo Wii launched first. Unlike its competitors, it focus on motion control from the outset and targeted a broad and mainstream audience.

The Accelerometer axis and motions of the Wiimote (Source: Osculator)

The key technology of the console was in the controller, the "Wii-mote". Within it was a chip (ADXL330) (Analog Devices) containing an accelerometer system built around a 'Microelectromechanical' system (MEMS) that enabled measurement of the acceleration of the device in three axes. This information could be processed by the Wii for the movement and orientation (due to Earth's own gravitational field) of the Wii-mote in 3D space to be used in the software. On the end of the controller, which would be held away from the operator, was a simple monochrome camera optimised for detection of infrared wavelengths. In the same module on the PCB is built-in image processing technology for tracking up to four points that are most likely to be those of the sensor bar. When the two points are detected,  the distance and orientation of the controller relative to the bar could be calculated. Assuming the bar was above or below the screen (and the console is told which) this allowed for calculation of the area on the screen at which the controller is pointed (with proper user calibration).

This made the controller a simple but effective tool for navigating guided user interfaces and for performing the actions required of the player for the multitude of games on the platform. Further enhancement to the motion control capability of the Wii included a secondary handheld attachment dubbed the "Nunchuk" which itself included an accelerometer chip (LIS3L02AL) which allowed interface with games that wanted to track the motion of both hands, with the motion and orientation relative to the Earth of the Nunchuk also made available to the software. Later on in the life of the console, at attachment for the bottom end of the Wii-mote was made available called the 'Wii MotionPlus". Inside this was contained the IDG-600 multi-axis MEMS rate gyroscope (InvenSense). This was a more precise technology for tracking orientation than the accelerometers, which only inferred linear motion from analysis of the information, and in conjunction with them could produce better overall tracking of the Wii-mote.

At any given point in time the Wii-mote and Nunchuck accelerometers portray a snapshot vector of the overall force acting on due to a combination of gravity and any movement by the user, when processed with the previous vectors and points in time where the Wii-mote was able to detect the horizontal plane from the sensor bar, these snapshots can be used meaningfully by the software as instructions for avatars or GUIs.

The Signal Path for Wiimote Motion Tracking (click here for original)

Users of the Wii occasionally developed a form of Tennis elbow from extended play with the Wiimote, and the often violent actions necessitated the use of a wrist strap to prevent the controller being flung around by accident. The product was limited at the time by the desire to minimise production costs for the console to maintain a competitive edge, indeed the console was already light on graphic processing power to achieve this. As technology improves and gets smaller, better and smaller accelerometers and gyroscopes will be produced and implemented in more ways. Most modern smartphones will feature one, the other or both for sensing device orientation for screen reorientation, for controlling games available on the platform or even just allowing an extra control option. Although the Wii's motion technology was relatively low budget and insensitive at the time, it will continue to be relevant through the eighth console generation with the support of its peripherals and software library by the successor platform, the Wii U.

PlayStation Move

Sony released their Playstation Move interface 4 years after the Nintendo Wii and the PlayStation 3 itself were made available. Although they included a motion control system in their Dualshock 3 controllers for the platform, it was rudimentary and unpopular, few games implemented it and fewer gamers opted to use it. Sony opted for a highly similar controller and accompaniment to the Wii-mote and Nunchuck, with important differences that often took advantage of the higher processing power of the platform.

Notable differences between the Wiimote/Nunchuk and Move controllers is the lack of connection between the Move controllers, they can use separate Bluetooth connections due to the PlayStation 3 supporting up to seven paired bluetooth devices (compared to the Wii's four). The Move controllers do have mini-USB ports for charging like the Dualshock 3, and can be tethered to the console for charging during play. There are also more buttons across the Move controllers due to the need to replicate as much of the Dualshock 3 functionality as possible. The Move's additional 'navi-controller' does not track motion.

Perhaps the most immediately notable thing about the controller is the orb. This RGB LED illuminated bubble performs a similar role to the Wii sensor bar, in that it presents a distinct visual identifier for the camera part of the setup to identify and track.The colour it glows can determined by the whole picture seen by the camera, from which the most distinguishable colour is derived. The colour glown can also be used to differentiate between players or provide another form of feedback. The LEDs are capable of 24 bit colour resolution. The camera in this scenario also performing a not too dissimilar role to that of the simple IR camera on the Wii-mote. It tracks the location of the glowing ball. Where the Wiimote could only use the IR sources when pointed at the screen and would calculate distance from the spacing of the sources, the camera can track the orb as long as it is in sight and can determine its exact location in space according to how large it is in the captured image.

The camera is important in understanding the development of Move, because it precedes it by three years. The PlayStation Eye was released in 2007 as a successor to the EyeToy on the PlayStation 2, which is where developers first tested 'colour-based 3D wand tracking'. The success of the Wii prompted the revival of development and Move was developed to work with the Eye peripheral. Aside from Move functionality, it is also capable of basic face tracking.

Inside the Move controller is a multitude of microchips. A three-axis accelerometer (KXSC4) (Kionix), a two-axis (X&Y) gyroscope (identified as STM LPR425AL), a single-axis (Z) gyroscope (Y5250H) and a three-axis magnetic compass (AKM AK8974). There is also a thermometer to enable adjustment calculations for temperature bias in the measurements. A microcontroller chip (STM32F103VBT6) and Bluetooth transmitter chip (Cambridge Silicon Radio BC4RE A16U) process and communicate measurements to the console, and receive back instruction for the LEDs. (Perl, 2012) (PlayStation Move Teardown)

The Signal Path for Move Motion Tracking (click here for original)

As with the Nintendo Wii-mote before it, the Move controller had to be designed to minimise cost. It does however show how much technology improved and cheapened over the four years since the Wii-mote, with more advanced motion-detecting chips being included. An obvious avenue for improvement would be increasing the data bandwidth of the camera, which will likely follow with future hardware. The PlayStation 4 was announced to feature the DualShock 4 with in-built Move functionality, achieved by a LED lit triangle facing away from the player (which will work like the orb on the Move controller) and presumably with similar or improved motion detection chips inside. The Move peripherals will continue to be supported by the PlayStation 4 too. A more advanced camera for the system, using a proprietary connection for higher bandwidth and compatibility, has also been detailed. (Sony)

Microsoft’s Kinect for Xbox 360

Microsoft revealed the Kinect in 2009. In the years leading up to this they had licensed the camera array and a microchip from PrimeSense, and acquired 3DV systems and Canesta to acquire patents associated with them. It launched in 2010, barely a month after the PlayStation Move, with $500 million poured into the marketing - more than the console's own launch received! It paid off as Kinect claimed the record for fasting selling consumer electronics device.

Kinect (an amalgamation of kinetic and connect) was distinguished from its competitors by featuring controller-free gaming. It is just a sensor.

The Kinect features three windows, though only the centre two are cameras. The off-centre one is an infrared laser projector which blankets the area of play in over three hundred thousand dots or specks. This array is very precisely designed and programmed into the Kinect for recognition by the centre-right camera, which is sensitive to Infrared wavelengths. The specks of light will have a different focus depending on how far from the sensor they are, ie the further they are, the blurrier they are. This is a method of depth perception called 'depth by focus'. The Kinect also employs a method of depth perception called 'depth by stereo' by having the sensor which is imaging the pattern a known distance away from it, so that the deformation of the pattern on the environment can also be used to infer distance and shapes. The middle camera is a simple RGB one and used for imaging the environment in the visible spectrum. (Reichinger, 2011)

The depth image data is used to identify shapes of players, using basic awareness of what shapes people come in and the proportions they usually conform to. The Kinect effectively learns about a player the more they use the sensor, as their biometric data is stored and associated with them for future reference. RGB captured data such as their facial features are also stored for functions such as signing them into their system user accounts.

Inside the device, there is a proprietary chip from PrimeSense (PS1090-A2) which processes the depth or RGB image (whichever is needed), an accelerometer (KSXD9) to detect orientation for calibration and also detect if the peripheral has been moved (which would necessitate recalibration) and a motorised sensor tilt for automated calibration. (Microsoft Kinect Teardown)

The Signal Path for Kinect Motion Tracking (click here for original)

The original prototype for Kinect cost Microsoft around $20,000 to produce, and so to develop that into a device that could retail for less than a hundredth of that compromises had to be made. The RGB and depth cameras are the lowest resolution possible for an acceptable result, this reduction in data bandwidth greatly reduces processing power required but also impacts on the level of detail resolvable in the skeletal tracking. Kinect cannot track individual finger movement. The field of play in Kinect is also restrictive both in the minimum space needed and the limited number of people who can fit into the space of play. It is expected that Microsoft will improve on this with their next-generation gaming console and peripheral. Codenamed 'Durango, it is rumoured to track more players (larger field of play), more skeletal joints per player (better image resolution and processing) and better RGB image quality.

Comparisons and Conclusions

Motion control emerged in the seventh generation of console gaming, and apparent quality and power of the systems did not reflect success. The eight console generation will be fought heavily with motion controlling as the graphical quality possible plateaus and other ways of differentiating each console from competitors are required.

Though the Nintendo Wii kick started the Motion Control race, I feel that Microsoft and Sony both outshone them. PlayStation Move had vastly superior motion tracking to the Wii, and Kinect brought full body motion tracking to the consumer market for the first time despite the corners cut to do so.


Xbox One has been announced and detailed along with the sometime controversial Kinect attachment. As with the majority of information about the original Kinect, most currently available information is conjecture and marketing. It has a higher resolution camera and better skeletal tracking of more individuals as was assumed. It also, to my interest, uses a different method for inferring distance to the original sensor. Instead of depth by focus and depth by stereo, it uses a method known as 'time-of-flight' where the time taken for the infrared beams to hit the environment and return to the sensor is used with the known speed of light in the medium to calculate distance. This requires a much more powerful sensor to be executed accurately, making the sensor somewhat impressive in that aspect. Not using depth-by-stereo is why Kinect for Xbox One only has one 'eye'.

It has also become apparent that the sensor for PlayStation 4 Move uses two cameras. This will improve tracking greatly, and may have been a necessary improvement to enable accurate tracking of the DualShock 4 light bar.   read

6:14 PM on 08.03.2013

Gaming with Tarvu

I don't often find the time, bandwidth, computational resources or microsoft subscription fees to play online with folks much these days, but there was a time when I'd run the European part of Friday Night Fights. Attendance was low and almost exclusively restricted to a usual grouping of folk. But we tried to make EUFNF a thing. We tried damn it. And we'll rise again.

I usually need more motivation to play multiplayer than the games themselves, I generally don't like it enough to otherwise. It so happens that the uproarious experience of group voice chats with friends is sufficiently numbing to the senses for me to endure most pap. So: gaming with me is largely banter-oriented.

Conversations with me can range from anal banality, I know a lot of trivial crap and can unload it with a full awareness of how undesirable hearing it might be for my own amusement, to frivolous inanity as the pressure of multi-tasking can reduce conversational engagement to merely turning something said into a very bad pun or, more likely, nonsensical innuendo. Also, Cocks.

When I do talk about the game being played, it probably won't be pleasant. I often bitch a terrible amount about games I play if I think there have been shortcomings in the design. Last year I played a fair amount of Mass Effect 3's multiplayer mode and wrote a fair little piece about it, and I can assure you the roots of it were in muttered foulness whilst playing it. If I'm not complaining about the game, it means I probably like it. And if I like the game, and the team is small enough for our contingent to matter, I'm playing to win. Which is to say, if it's Halo or Left 4 Dead. 

When playing Halo or Left 4 Dead and being faced with a challenge, a strange and stressing transformation happens to me and I suddenly start trying to coax teamwork and tactics out of those with me. Because I don't see the point in playing to lose, that's a no-win-scenario and I don't believe in them or something. Thankfully this is rare. I actively avoid it because it's less fun.

Fun is, of course, subjective. There's something I find fun that I've had to forcibly avoid to prevent becoming an amorphous blob, and that is Minecraft. A few years ago I logged hundreds of hours in servers building things, and those I shared the servers with may have noticed one thing. Sometimes playing with me means never seeing me. I can be quite the lone wolf in any game, but in Minecraft I have a preference for going to lengths to conceal everything I do until it's grand enough to be shared.

Some of the most fun times I've had in multiplayer have been in GTA IV. Liberty City has so much to offer, from the party bus to highly effective and deadly German helicopter pilots. The size and variety makes it a perfect kind of game for extended group play in free mode, where you can both talk random and do random. When GTA V comes out next month I'll endeavour to get something EUFNF (or similar) underway, so look out for those listings and jump in!   read

3:55 AM on 02.21.2013

Tarviews: Unsurprising, Undepicted, and it wasn't even the Wii U this time!

I dislike writing shawtblawgs, but it's been a while and there's rarely anything topical worth writing about. Hell, this was a waste of time too. I'm going to go back to bitching about the industry in private until it's good again.

Yesterday, as every extant video game journalism outlet will have let you known, Sony revealed the PS4. This shocked nobody, with even mainstream news reporting that it was exactly what they were doing. They also revealed the new Dualshock, game streaming, that share button that the hermits are already hating and... wait a minute, this all sounds like old news.

I don't care to dissect the PS4 and the announcement event. I only came in halfway through it and found it underwhelming. When you follow the gaming news with some degree of consistency, these sorts of things are just confirmation of what you already know. Why is there no secrecy surrounding these things? Is the industry like the bizarre British political parody program The Thick of It?

Another interesting thing to me about the information expressed during the event was the showing of peripherals but not the console itself. You may recall Nintendo spectacularly cocking up their Wii U reveal by making the majority of viewers unsure as to whether it was a controller or a new console. The PlayStation 4 is obviously going to be a box, but we didn't see it. Now this doesn't really bug me since it is quite an unimportant detail, but most people expected to see it and were irked to be denied that privilege. I happy because it's a good excuse to use Jim Carrey's face for a thing.

Although he is entirely right, we've yet to see how badly Microsoft reveal their hand. Consider my breath bated.   read

10:00 PM on 03.31.2012

Disappointment: Portal 2

It was the winner of multiple game of the year awards and was received with universal acclaim. It was announced following a secretive update to the original game that I loved, and released 10 hours early on PC following the lucrative efforts of Steam gamers lending their time to the GLaDOS@home project. There were no online passes, no shoddy ports and no day one DLCs to be seen on any platform and those buying it for PlayStation 3 even got a Steam copy for free. Portal 2 was an example of how a game should be developed and released. But some people are never entirely satisfied.

I played the first Portal game fairly soon after release, and like most people I was able to buzz through it in one sitting. It was exhilarating, a sucker punch of dark humour wrapped around a fist of perfect puzzle gameplay and clenching the source engine in its palm. I love replaying Portal, in no small part due to the almost sandbox nature of testchambers. Although there are solutions to every room, there is no definitive way to accomplish it and you can cheat within the confines of the game. The game rarely cheats to keep you in check and is in fact going to acknowledge most situations where you break a room.

The cube disappearing from the end corridor of Test Chamber 9 if you're not also in there is the worst case of Portal cheating that I can find right now.

Portal 2 knows what it is doing from the start. The light humorous opening rapidly progresses to a somewhat familiar setting, with the instruction that you're "looking for a gun that makes holes". This is the same facility, the same chambers and soon, the same gun. The environments may have been ravaged by time, but the new version of Source being used makes them all the prettier for it. The testing doesn't really start until GLaDOS is reactivated, and this is where the cracks in the game for me, personally, start to become noticeable. There is joy to be had in solving these rooms you're being presented with. They are mostly enjoyable puzzles. They are also mostly linear puzzles, with few solutions.

Control is taken away from the player in a few ways throughout Portal 2. Assistance is given in Portal placing throughout, often where assisted placement will aid progression to keep in time with the narrative (such as the part where he kills you) but also in some singleplayer and co-op test chambers. Players are restricted from 'breaking' rooms through use of invisible walls preventing game objects (and in co-op, players) from entering certain areas. For example, you cannot throw a cube out of reach near the end of Test Chamber 7. These limitations may not hamper solutions to challenges, but they are a form of control that falls outside of good game design.

A significant amount of time in the game is spent travelling between rooms. These are perhaps the worst parts, with frustrating pathfinding and little character action to offset it. And the characters will make you forget gameplay woes. The exchanges between Wheatley and GLaDOS and their further one-sided conversations with the player make them some of the most well written and enjoyable characters that many gamers will ever be fortunate enough to carry around with them. I cannot deny that Valve have succeeded in creating a true comedy game.

Further to the basic game, Portal was released with six "advanced" versions of the more substantial test chambers in the game and the option to do the vanilla versions with an aim of completing them in as little time or using as few portals or footsteps as possible. Less than a year after it was released with the Orange Box, Portal: Still Alive was released as a standalone game on the Xbox Live Arcade. This release boasted 14 new maps and achievements providing additional challenges to players. Portal 2 has a stunning array of co-op testing chambers but nothing to match them for the solo player. The Peer Review content pack only added time and portal counters to the single player levels, which do not complement the linear maps; With them they become an exercise not in innovation, but in perfecting a known solution.

Portal 2 has a significant focus on cooperative gameplay (quite possibly because there is a "two" in the title) and one might say that the element of gameplay I enjoyed so much in the first game has reappeared there, but it suffers from the same lacking of solution flexibility if not an even more acute onset of it. Once the test chambers for co-op are figured out, the main challenge will come from the coordination of the players in time and space. This can be really difficult if you're playing with a Brazilian.

I really enjoyed playing through both games again whilst writing this. Portal 2 was as worthy a sequel as there could be, rather than playing off the strengths of the first game it developed its very own and is very much better off for it. The technical changes since the first game favour a less technically able game for puzzle platforming but ultimately work in favour it. As much as I love Portal 2 I can't forget the disappointment that a part of me felt over it, and rationalising it as I have tried to doesn't make it any less irrational. If Portal 2 had not made me feel this way, it would not have been such a great game.   read

5:30 PM on 03.25.2012

Tarviews: The Mass Effect Galaxy at War

Since the main meat of Mass Effect 3 is going to remain a touchy subject for the foreseeable future, I would like to take some time to discuss the multiplayer component. I was one of the people who laughed at the the concept of multiplayer in this series, and I laughed even harder when it was confirmed. It just seemed so typical of a game developed under EA to have a pointless multiplayer mode to justify inclusion of an online pass! Contradicting my bias against the publisher and the developer, I got the game on release with the intention of playing it with friends and have spent a fair bit of time doing so. With no further delay, here follows the thoughts on it that have accumulated in my head space.

Some problems with this mode are only apparent through playing it, others require more obscure trains of thought. A small one is that the keybinds for the PC version cannot be different for singleplayer and multiplayer, this annoyed me since Q and E are ideally used for Team member commands in the campaign but are without function on the multiplayer mode and I am terrible at hitting the number keys without looking at them. I accept that this is largely a problem for me as a terribly uncoordinated PC gamer, but I have a similar issue with the Xbox 360 button mapping where one cannot change which of the three buttons (Y, RB, LB) individual powers are mapped to in the multiplayer, a function that is in the campaign mode. It's not ideal for powers mapped to Y which you'd ideally have aim control up to the last moment with, or for characters where you may choose to ignore a power altogether and have a functionless shoulder button.

Talking of buttons, as we were, you had better hope your A button, cross button or spacebar is prepared for some punishment from this game because it only does bloody everything. This is less of a pedantic gripe than most problems I have, as anybody who has gone to revive a squadmate or interact with an objective only to take cover would surely agree. Or anybody who has attempted to run from a scene only to take cover yet again. There are two analog sticks on the console gamepads and an insulting wealth of buttons on a standard keyboard without worthwhile or any assigned function. For example, the ability to run without fear of becoming intimate with the nearest wall should take precedence over moving around corners whilst in cover (the default function of the left thumbstick). One button should not rule them all.

Cover is important on Mass Effect games, it is essentially a cover-based shooter by this point in time! But the multiplayer maps are small and globular, not many areas of cover will be useful for long before flanking attackers force you to reposition. The enemies and mechanics were designed for largely linear missions and not entirely befitting of this hoard mode, and I for one would not hate to see the co-op developed further with potential DLC expansion or even a whole game into a more linear and narrative-driven feature, perhaps included like the three named multiplayer missions were in GTA IV.

No comment.

Although the maps may be lacking in variety of scale and complexity, there is significant difference in the three enemy factions. The Geth are underwhelming and pretty manageable, Cerberus forces are bolstered by a few challenging units and the Reapers bring the hardest enemy to abide to the table in the form of the Banshees. They, along with the other formidable enemies, are capable of engaging close enough players in an automatic kill animation that sadly invalidates them as targets for close-quarters combat. As one would expect from the series the player classes also offer significant variety in gameplay. There are different strengths and tactical advantages strewn across them and between the different races available for them, and for somebody such as myself who has not experimented with classes in the series beforehand it can be quite an eye-opener! Stealthy infiltrators can accomplish objectives and revive squadmates whilst invisible to enemies. Soldiers can wipe out groups of cannon fodder enemies with grenades. Human Vanguards can charge, then nova, then charge, then nova, then charge and then nova until everything is dead. Turian Sentinels can nullify or weaken enemy defenses whilst hammering them with a trusty rifle. Adepts can use dazzling arrays of powers to defeat opponents. Krogans can headbutt the shit out of everything. It's pretty good fun if you're lucky enough to play with people who are competent enough to work with their character's strengths in how they are equipped and leveled... and if you're lucky enough to best the unlock system.

I would not expect these guys to be free of charge.

The unlock system is perhaps the most distasteful thing about the multiplayer mode to me. It has not changed significantly since the demo, and on the PC demo I manipulated the system (coalesced.ini modifications) to get an idea of how unrewarding it can be. Items are purchased in packs from a "store", with packs being increasingly expensive in proportion to what possibilities they offer of getting rarer items. The packs are bought with credits earned from completing games (as well as the experience points that go towards character progression). It wasn't clear in the demo, but this system seems to have been used in favour of simply awarding random items with mission completion so that there was a platform for microtransactions within the game. You'd need to have more money than sense to do it, but you can use your Microsoft points, Bioware points or real money (thanks Sony!) to purchase these unlock packs at a completely unrespectable rate. The silliness doesn't even end once you have bought these packs, as they are completely random (with the solitary exception so far of an equipment pack, at a stupid price for purely common items) you have no control over what you are unlocking. For a mode based on games with character building, you sure don't get a choice about what weapons, upgrades or characters you might be unlocking. You're just as likely to unlock weapons you would never want to use as the ones you would. Your chance of getting any particular item doesn't improve well with time since every weapon unlocked has 9 ranks to potentially unlock, every upgrade has 4 ranks and every character has three or four customisations followed by unlimited experience point boost packs. You may think I am being silly, but blow it your your ass because I still don't have a Krogan.

That's twice as many crushed balls for every Krogan.

The multiplayer is not without its fair share of bugs. Most notable to me are the poorly designed maps which will permit players and AI momentary HUD targeting through walls. Players will barely notice this but enemy AI can often be found attempting to shoot through the scenery. Imperfect game connections seem to be responsible for characters losing their firm grip on the ground and potentially ending up stuck above or below the map without any way out, this may however also be associated with Vanguards being incredibly free from the laws of Physics. Joining games through invites will often cause players to be returned to the front end menu if they are already in multiplayer, which seems unnecessary. The use of EA servers are likely for no more than ensuring that they're making money, and requiring a constant connection to them can be frustrating when you're kicked out of a game for nothing other than losing connection to them. It would not be so bad if rejoining the game you had left returned your previous score, total score for all players is a key factor in how much experience (and credits) everybody receives for a mission. The experience points awarded for missions are the same for every player, which makes playing with high-scorers rewarding if you can bear the shame of your pathetically low score. During missions, points for defeating enemies are fairly distributed between players regardless of who got the killing shot in.

A small praiseworthy aspect of the multiplayer implementation is the minimal impact it makes on the achievements, with only a couple of them requiring the playing of it but with several encouraging the player to try it out. On the flip side, playing the multiplayer is required to get story endings that may be considered more preferable. This would be required every time one wished to replay the game since Galactic readiness decreases over time and during development it had been promised that this would not be the case.

This mode is being supported by the developers with tweaks, challenges and perhaps more. There is chance for improvement even if there is little hope, if there had been more thought and effort thrown at this mode I think it could have been a real dazzler. But then I could say the same about the singleplayer. I guess the multiplayer missions at least have conclusive endings.

That was a joke.   read

4:42 AM on 01.15.2012

What I Want in 2012: South Park

(My Header image for this was lost during the October 2012 site update, blame Niero!)

(Also, it's highly amusing how this is now due out in 2014 and could very well be terrible.)

When I was a kid, I had an older brother. I still do, but I used to, too. He was a teenager when South Park first became a thing, and having not-terrible tastes, he was a fan of it. He had the first season on VHS. Being like nine years old I was not allowed to watch it and, as you do when you're a kid, I wanted to watch it more because of that. One night back in the early noughties I was left alone in the house with the bad parent and managed to watch the South Park movie like three times in a row. The point is, South Park has been with me for quite a while.

South Park hasn't gone anywhere since then, and doesn't appear to be leaving any time soon either. The show has varied in quality and popularity and has (in my opinion anyway) settled into a formulaic yet watchable (if a bit preachy) show for now. After 15 seasons there is an immense wealth of characters and locations based in the fictional town of South Park yet there has never been a game that could take advantage of it, no games that have been the right genre. The early games didn't have much to go on, and were genre mismatches; the more recent release of South Park Let's Go Tower Defense Play! was a tower defense game and the upcoming South Park: Tenorman's Revenge is a platformer. And now set for release in 2012 is the inventively titled South Park: The Game, a fully sized RPG for Xbox 360, PlayStation 3 and Microsoft Windows!

This game is promising to be everything a South Park game should be, and that's because it is a labor of love from Matt Stone and Trey Parker who have been writing it, voicing it and directing the game based on their personal gaming preferences. If I have learnt anything about these guys over the years it would be that the TV series is one of the least amusing things they have produced, and so I have high hopes for this game. The setting is, as you would expect, the small Colorado town of South Park. However, it appears to be based in the town as imagined by the characters during their fantasy role in the episode titled The Return of the Fellowship of the Ring to the Two Towers. The brilliance of this being that you'll be playing a character in a game who is playing a character in a game. Shit's meta. You'll also be playing as your very own silent protagonist which is unsurprising when character generators like this this (or this if you're a Limey) have been around for over a decade.

All the information that has been released since this was announced late last year points to it being the South Park game we deserve and it's exactly the sort of project that we ought to see more of, tie-ins that are made with as much love as the thing they're tying into. Hell, if the game should fail there is at least a place it can be sent to etch out its days free of reviewer mockery...

All images used were taken from the show and not from released game assets. Deal with it.   read

3:32 PM on 12.16.2011

Modifications: Rewriting History

I don't particularly play games with mods, I haven't been a PC gamer for most of the years I have been gaming and in that time I've played with maybe a handful of mods. I'm really more of a PC tweaks kinda guy! However, earlier this year a game was graciously gifted to me, and I found I couldn't play it my way without a modification or two. That game was Sid Meier's Civilization V.

Civ V is a strategy game or something, and the latest installment in a games series that's as young as I am. More importantly, it has Nuclear warfare and Empire building. There is a comprehensive range of options for the game, from graphical to geographical. You can have any combination of Nations on landscape variations but when the maps get large and the AI players number too many the game can chug a little so it's a good thing that you can knock the graphical settings down a great deal, I can barely tell the difference anyway! On top of all this vanilla fidelity there is an in-game mod browser and management system with several hundred community made mods, which is really rather useful should you develop a niche niche in need of scratching.

When I was starting to play the game and learn how much I sucked at it, I was disappointed that there was no option to have realistic starting locations for nations on Earth maps. Luckily, I was pointed in the direction of the Mods and eventually found a simple little one called Yet (not) Another Earth Maps Pack (v.9) and an even more up-to-date version of what I have been using can be found here (eep).

I enjoy this Mod because although I find the game fun in general, I think the homeland of the nations is important and being able to fight Napoleon for control of France or nuke India because Gandhi is a dick adds a level of excitement to it. It's worth mentioning that I really don't play the game for a challenge and that this Mod will let you know where every enemy is (assuming you know basic geography, sorry America) so you can avoid them or attack them with ease as well as colonising huge areas of the World because you know they'll be vacant. As the in-game warning informs you, using mods in this game can be tricksy and for this one in particular you are advised to have a computer with the recommended specifications for the game. Having multiple mods enabled at once can make everything even more unstable too.

The mod is great, it lets me enjoy a genre I don't even like all that much. The latest version of the mod has a Europe-only map. Hot damn I wish I didn't have a hot date this weekend otherwise I'd be rewriting that European history the way it should have been.

I'm going to end on the most indispensable wisdom that has been shared with me regarding this game in the hope that it may help out other people when dealing with the menace of Civ V...

"The biggest thing that stands out about Gandhi is that he has a nuke rating of 12. This is 4 points ahead of the closest leaders (Catherine, Montezuma and Ramesses tied at 8) making him hands down the most nuke prone leader." -- A Brazilian, 1st July, 2011.   read

12:07 PM on 11.01.2011

MMO Stories: Prattle battle

I shall preface this by stating that I am in no way an MMO gamer, nor a fan of them. The few MMOs I have played have not offered up gameplay that I find particularly scintillating and have only really been able to appreciate the ease with which one can play with a group of friends, which is of course how this all began...

The Lord of the Rings Online went free to play around this time last year, and when January came several Dtoiders including myself took an interest in it. The game was free-to-play, not requiring of a powerful machine and set in a fictional world that we were all acquainted with through various degrees of being terrible nerds. We deliberately chose a variety of classes to bolster any teamwork that might happen. I played as a Dwarf Champion, despite how disappointing the lack of female Dwarf characters was to me. The Guy with the Hat played as a Hobbit and spent way too much time tending to root vegetables and making stews.

Over the course of a few weeks we started playing and moved towards coordinating our play sessions and trying to keep at similar levels, most early outings were predominantly spent with people walking great distances just to find one another. The size and faithfulness of the Middle Earth recreation on the game is incredible in my opinion, and one of the most fun times I had on it was in travelling to Rivendell despite being vastly underlevelled just because it was goddamn Rivendell. We even set up a Kinship on the server we were playing, that's how much sheer fun we were having!

Carnies. Circus folk. Nomads, you know. Smell like cabbage. Small hands.

The fun reached climax point when we discovered that you could play music files on your in-game instruments and play time quickly devolved into abuse of this. It would be the end of us.

The thing that happened

On this ominous day, we coalesced in Bree. The Bree area in-game has early story quests found in the Prancing Pony, and it is one of the more interesting places in the region for the amiable atmosphere within. Those who, like us, were hell bent on showcasing our ability to copy files from the Internet into a folder on our computers found a place to do so here. Since the Inn itself was crowded and noisy we eventually went outside to showcase our musics at each others faces.

Outside the Prancing Pony... there is a rock.

And on it, we played.

And we saw everything that we had played, and, behold, it was very good.

However, we were not the only ones who favoured this polygon podium. A handful of members of a certain Kinship on the server were also present and after a while a discourse broke out between our parties in the local chat. It was a lackluster battle of the bands if there ever were one. Despite the amicable nature of the situation, the interlopers were genuinely displeased with our presence there. Sexual advances were made and improbable implications were made, yet these so called gamers would not warm to us. They went running to a moderator and got one of us banned. Clearly, bias and a surgically removed sense of humour and of social grace were on the cards that day. We found the whole situation funny as hell and haven't really bothered with the game since.

Enjoy your rock, assholes.

I know this isn't much of a story, and it has been so long since the event that we can barely remember it, but it has nonetheless left an unfortunate impression of MMO gamers with us. These games must rely on and facilitate interaction and cooperation, and promote friendship between players, more than any other genre of game. I am sure there are less sucky players for every group such as we encountered, but I'm not going to waste a single iota of time looking for them. For me personally the most illuminating and important feeling to take away from this is the contentment in not need strangers to play with. As annoying as it can be when a group of friends only have a few games in common, I'd rather have those games and friends than deal with people who can't share a fake fucking rock.   read

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