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Tyler Jones's blog

Member since: 2008-10-20 21:02:00
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    Play the game here!

    Last weekend I teamed up with my friends Manic Maverick and Pankin to create a game in 72 hours for the 25th Ludum Dare game jam. I've never entered before, and finishing the game was a pretty big achievement. It is currently the biggest game programming project I've ever completed.

    The game we came up with is meant to invoke the feeling of the obscenely over-powered game villains that you'd see in 90s arcade games, except in this game you are the villain. The game elements that reflect this include your projectiles that pass through game terrain, your high damage output, and the fact that colliding with an enemy bullet causes you to lose a single pixel of life from your health bar.

    It's not terribly complex, but I think we managed to squeeze in a fair bit of charm. Upon depleting an enemy's lives their HUD turns in to a Continue timer, and both of my teammates came up with excellent art and music assets. The player's claw attack looks especially cool.

    The game is far from perfect, though. Enemy AI is nonexistent as they merely walk left and right, pausing only to fire. Targeting is pretty poor, and there's a bug where enemies will spawn multiple copies of themselves when they come back to life.

    Making a game that intentionally embodied frustrating boss fights may not win me all of the fans, but I'm thrilled with what we made in a limited amount of time. I hope you will play it and give it a rating, as it would mean a lot to me and my teammates.

    Almost all gamers have their own idea of what 'retro games' are. The problem is that they frequently don't match when compared to each other, as most people use the term subjectively to describe the games from their own youth. For me, retro used to mean everything from the 8 to 32 bit console eras, and strictly applied to 2D games. For others, the Nintendo 64 or the first Playstation was their first console, and is therefore retro to them. That's always jarring for me to hear, as the shift to 3D graphics in the fifth console generation has always signified to me the end of the retro years.

    So what do we do about these discrepancies? First off, we should acknowledge that just using the term 'retro' on its own isn't enough; games have been around long enough for us to need more accurate terminology. There have been seven generally recognized generations of home video game consoles, and distinctions can even be drawn between early and late periods within these generations. However, even without those distinctions, seven generations is too many to keep straight or be useful.

    I propose as a solution that we group similar generations together to create four distinct eras of video game history. After each grouping I've given a tentative name to the era, listed the major representative consoles, and given my reasons why they belong together.

    Pre-crash: generations one and two.

    Odyssey, Pong, Colecovision, Atari 2600, etc. ect. etc.

    For me, this era of games has always been off of my radar. It was before my time, and the types of games you'd have seen during this era were largely unrefined and still experimenting with what could be done with the existing hardware. At the time, people put up with them due to their novelty, but the thrill wore off when the market became flooded with competitors trying to cash in on the game craze, causing the crash of 1983.

    With a few exceptions, these early styles of games haven't survived to the modern day.

    Golden Age: generations three and four.

    NES, Master System, TG16, Genesis, SNES

    The advent of the NES to me signals the beginning of modern gaming. Its controller was the first to use the layout featuring a d-pad on the left, start and select in the middle, and buttons on the right, on which nearly every standard controller since then has been based. Many 2D game genres were either created and/or perfected at this time and a tremendous amount of classic franchises were born, many of which are still continuing to this day.

    Silver Age: fifth generation.

    Saturn, Playstation, N64

    2D games that came out in this era had reached stunning levels of technical excellence, but were becoming rarer and rarer as Nintendo and Sony actively pushed developers towards making games that showed off their consoles' new 3D technology. There were an awful lot of growing pains as game developers had to create all new ways to either bring established genres into the third dimension or create entirely new types of games.

    While many 3D genres were created at this time, many would not be perfected until the following generations. Since controllers wouldn't feature two analog sticks until later in the Playstation's life, controlling characters in 3D space was quite awkward in many games, and almost every game had a unique control scheme.

    Current: sixth and seventh generation.

    Dreamcast, Xbox, Gamecube, PS2, 360, Wii, PS3

    Though the term 'current' tragically no longer applies to the Dreamcast, all the other sixth gen consoles are survived by some degree of backwards compatibility, making them still somewhat relevant. The 360 is still running the Xbox Live service started on the original Xbox, and the PS2 still gets the occasional release.

    3D gaming found its stride at this time, helped greatly by the designs of current controllers. Barring the Wii and Dreamcast all of them have two analog sticks, making simultaneous control of character and camera easy.

    Another major feature of the seventh generation is online marketplaces. The implications and effects are a little too far reaching to address here, but their impact has been significant in allowing smaller developers a shot at major success.


    So these are the distinctions that I usually think of when placing a game in history. It's important to note that this was not in any way meant to address arcade, hand-held, or PC gaming, as their histories have followed quite different paths.

    I've borrowed the golden and silver age terms from comic fandom, but am not terribly attached to them. I'd love to hear any alternate name suggestions if you have them, or even suggestions for alternate groupings. This list can't be completely objective as we've all had different experiences with different consoles, but I hope it's a step in the right direction.
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    Lately I've been working really hard on filling my new Etsy store with cute amigurumi! One of the first patterns that I made after I taught myself to make these was Kirby, so I wanted to put a really nice Kirby in my store.

    Soon after that I devised my own Slime pattern from Dragon Quest, and decided to make several colors to represent all the different varieties in the game. These are about four inches tall.

    Then I decided to go all out and make a really huge slime amigurumi. At 9" tall and 28.5" around, t's easily the biggest thing I've ever made, and it took forever!

    I think my cat is a little scared!

    There's more to come soon, and I gladly accept requests and suggestions.

    Thanks for looking. I hope you guys enjoy them :D
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    I had been eagerly waiting for Lords of Shadow for a long time. The Castlevania series is near and dear to me as a long time retro-gamer, and I appreciate nearly all of the entries in the series in some way or another. LoS rose a few red flags early on, but I remained optimistic. Each of the last three DS games, two PS2 games, and one WiiWare Castlevania titles had found their ways into my heart, so why would this be different?

    This was going to be an all new Castlevania from Madrid-based developer Mercurysteam, who previously made Clive Barker's Jericho. Jericho was okay in my book; while it was not great it had a lot of potential and good characters and storytelling. LoS was pitched as a reboot to the series that would feel fresh while still maintaining the Castlevania flavor and charm. While I wasn't too keen on this, as the main series had plenty of avenues left to explore, I understood that there can only be room for so many Belmonts in one universe and let it slide.

    On the day it released, I marched eagerly to the game store to pick up my nice shiny collectors edition bright an early. I could be one of the first people playing this game! I listened to the included soundtrack CD in the car on the way home! This was going to be rad! The music didn't seem to have any classic Castlevania tunes, but it was epic in scope! I didn't give up hope then, but boy should I have. It was the first in a long long line of disappointments.

    Other than the soundtrack CD and two(!) game discs, the collectors edition of LoS was said to have an included art book While the article included is technically a book and has art, it was fairly deceptive advertising. The art book contains almost entirely screen shots of character renders and game scenes, and is not removable from the case at all, disappointing me more than a little.

    The game starts out when Gabriel Belmont rolls into a small village besieged by these gangly werewolf-things called lycans. I don't much appreciate the use of this name as it reminds me of the Underworld movies, nor do I appreciate the idea of a Castlevania drawing inspiration from a tween mall-goth action film.

    In-game tutorials instruct you in the arts of whipping these critters to death using either direct attacks centered on one opponent or slightly weaker area attacks hitting all nearby enemies. You can chain these together as you see fit. A neat thing you can do is jump in the middle of a combo and automatically swing smaller enemies into the air with you for a continued lashing. The combat animations are all very nice, but some problems become apparent later in the game. Continued use of area attacks seems to be futile as it rarely interrupts enemy attack animations, leaving you open to counterattack. Infuriatingly this seems to happen more and more often with the standard direct attacks as the game progresses, but we're not there yet; we're back in the village. The lycans are dead and a much larger Warg has appeared.

    The Warg lunges at you, prompting the game to tell you how to guard. It seems easy enough. One of the Warg's later attacks glows with a white flash before coming out and the game tells you you need to perform a dodge roll to get out of the way, as such attacks are unblockable. Peachy. These would be standard action game commands if they WORKED properly, but our man Gabe is not so fortunate.

    I discovered to my horror all throughout the game that hitting the guard button would not interrupt my attack animation, letting enemies score hits when I felt I had defended properly. I committed to using the dodge roll more often only to find myself constantly getting hit in the middle of a roll! There's no invincibility in the dodge roll! If you roll in the wrong direction or face an enemy with attacks that cover a wide area then you're screwed! Almost every battle has you facing either groups of smaller enemies, one or more large creatures, or a mix of the two. You can also time your guard just before an attack lands to perform a synchronized guard, leaving the enemy open for counterattack, but this is hardly an option in regular fights. Attacks are hard to see coming as most enemies are smaller than the main character, the camera is zoomed way out, and attack animations are quick and not telegraphed very well.

    Back to the Warg. After you diminish his health you don't even have the opportunity to deliver the final blow yourself; a glorified quicktime event instructs you to lift a large sharp branch off the ground as the wolf lunges at you, impaling itself. This sets precedent for two more awful afflictions this game has: QTEs and over-instruction.

    QTEs work in a truly bizarre way. When one starts you will see two white concentric circles on screen, the larger outer circle is rapidly contracting and the medium sized inner circle stays put. Gamer's instinct told me to hit the button as they met (also because that's how it worked in Lost Odyssey), but this is not what you need to do here. Strangely, you need to hit the button any time the dynamic circle is within the boundary of the static one, but before it disappears. And there's no button prompt: the QTE tutorial just instructs you to hit any button. What it doesn't tell you is that the shoulder buttons don't work for this; only the face buttons do. This is confusing if you weren't aware of this beforehand and the QTE you're engaged in involves defending or dodging an enemy attack, two actions which normally require the use of shoulder buttons. Go ahead, ask if that happened to me.

    The QTEs are terribly overused as well. As foreshadowed by the first boss battle with the Warg, virtually every large and medium enemy is finished the same way: when you get it to nearly empty health it glows a shiny white (as all items do that can be grabbed), you grapple it and kill it with a QTE. Boss battles are even more egregious, working on this same principle but much more frequently over the course of a boss' life bar.

    Even stranger is LoS's inclusion the ability to ride certain large monsters. Often you will come to a door or other obstacle that can't be dealt with by Gabriel's powers alone, so a convenient monster will appear such as a troll, giant spider, or warthog that you can ride around following its low-life QTE. Then you can use it to bash down a door, spin a web bridge, or get you from point A to B in some other contrived way. If this happened once in a while it would be merely odd, but it happens dozens of times within a few hours in the early levels. It gets to the point that every time you see certain obstacles it's a sure sign that the corresponding enemy type is going to come crawling out of the woodwork so you can conveniently get through, but it ends up feeling scripted and forced.

    LoS crams every piece of information you could possibly need to play the game down your throat. There's a part where another character sends you to collect four crystal pieces, and not only is there an indicator on screen telling you how many pieces you have, but she's constantly shouting at you out loud how many pieces you need every ten seconds and there's also on-screen text telling you the same thing! “Keep going,” it says, “pick up three more pieces!” “Now you only need to get two more!” The level is linear anyway; it's not like I'd be doing any thing else. She won't shut up during the boss fight she's present for, either. Every time the boss changes its attack pattern, she's literally screaming at you telling exactly what to do whether or not you're already doing it, whether or not you already know what to do. LoS force-feeds you everything and never lets you just experience the game on your own in your own way. It doesn't even feel like you're playing; you're just following instructions for hours on end.

    This comes into play not only during boss fights but the interminable platforming sections. These seem at first glance to be lifted from Prince of Persia, except without being fun. Gabriel does lots of ledge climbing and chain swinging, but the next thing you need to interact with is always highlighted and the actions are so easy to perform and the stages so linear that they just feel like a time-wasting diversion from the combat segments of the game.

    None of this is helped by the camera issues. At no point can you control the camera in this game, and it frequently sits behind you and presents Gabriel with a ledge to leap off, giving no indication of what lies on the other side. Other Gabriel will be heading down a set of stairs, only to be assaulted by enemies who haven't come into view yet. This removes any pleasure I would have taken out of mentioning that the graphics themselves are actually quite nice.

    Even worse than the platforming is all the other inane tasks the stages put you through. There's a timing puzzle in a swamp level early on that has you waiting for bubbles in water signifying submerged enemies to disappear before proceeding safely, but you're trudging at a snail's pace through waist-deep mud the whole time. When has wading slowly through muck ever been fun in a game? Later on you have to cross balance beams made of spiders web, being careful not to tilt the analog stick too far left or right or you'll lose your balance and fall. I could pose the same question of this task, but more pressing is what is this even doing in a Castlevania?

    Like many action games before it, LoS offers you combat upgrades that you can purchase with experience points as well as relics that improve your abilities throughout the game. This ends up needlessly over-complicating the controls. For example, one commonly used ability has Gabriel smash through walls first by pressing right bumper to activate shadow magic, then click the left stick to ready the poewr while holding left trigger (which normally guards), then tilt the left stick in the direction of the door or wall to be smashed. That's a long an fairly confusing ability, and the game is full of them. It makes you not want to even buy any new abilities to avoid having to learn these byzantine input sequences.

    Lords of Shadow is an atrocious game. Every step of the way I'm assaulted by objectively awful displays of game design. Whether its combat or platforming, each type of gameplay that Mercurysteam tried to implement is horrible to experience. The developers have lifted a bewildering array of elements that have appeared in other games and put them all together in one 3D action game without any regard to whether or not these elements are fun. There's a glimmer of hope in the combat engine that's crushed under the weight of everything that doesn't work. Avoid this game whether or not you like Castlevania. Avoid it unconditionally.

    I've seen some pretty cool game rooms put up on Dtoid in the past, and now I think it's time I made my contribution. Let's start at my desk and go clockwise around my room.

    Here's my computer desk, where I spend a great deal of time. Got the browser open to Destructoid, of course. I check the site pretty compulsively, along with Tomopop. There are also Cthulhu and mini Cthulhu plushies watching over my room on top of my CDs (lots of metal and video game covers), and those darkstalkers figures below them are my two favorite figures that I own.

    That Fightstick is one of the best things I've ever bought. I posted another c-blog a while back asking which one I should get a while ago and settled on a MadCatz TE Fightstick Round 2, thanks to RAB and other users. It's pretty much been glued to my hands since arriving; using it has injected so much extra fun into my games.

    There are lots of other things to be seen, including my Cutman plush that I made, a ninja sunshine buddy, and some computer games, but it's time to move on.

    VIDEOGAMES. Out of all of these, the 360 gets the most playtime being my only modern console, but I use the PS2 and SNES pretty often as well.

    I recently completed the Genesis tower on the lower level, so I've been putting time in on that recently. I'm really glad to have it, because for much of my childhood I was a Nintendo-only kid, infinitely jealous of my classmates who could play Sonic the Hedgehog, with whom I was obsessed at the time. At MAGfest I got a great deal from a vendor, who sold me a big cardboard box containing two model 2 Genesis consoles, one attached to a Sega CD, one Genesis 3 console, three games, two controllers, and assorted cords. There turned out to be no power cord for the CD, so I had to order one on eBay. It was a pretty cool deal, though.

    Also, that 32X was in dire condition when I found it (with no cords) at a different used game store, so the guy gave it to me for free. After rigorous cleaning and ordering power and connecting cables, I was very pleased to find that it worked! I'm still waiting on a power cord for the Sega CD, it's still untested.

    The SNES is my favorite older console and I recently modified it to play import games. Sadly, most of the Super Famicom games I had gotten turned out to be really awful, but now the possibility is there to play better ones.

    I love my Dreamcast, but could use a few more games for it. Gunbird 2 rocks, though.


    More figures on this shelf. I'm really proud of my Vic Viper T-301 on the top shelf in the center. The R-9 and Silver Hawk are pretty cool, and I have a few more ships from that series of figures, but I already wrote about that on Tomopop.

    The figures on the bottom and middle shelf I'm trying to get rid of. They're either bent or uninteresting to me.

    Leaning against the shelf is a stack of games and DVDs in progress or in my queue.

    Chilling on the bed and watching movies is pretty sweet. Oh, and I sleep here.

    My bookshelf, nice and organized. The bulk of my figure collection rests on top, but they've already been covered on Tomopop. Some more amigurumi plushies live here.

    Not too much interesting in the dresser, but my DS and PSP stuff live on top along wit some Kirbys, figures, and my VGcats Leo.

    And here's the walk-in closet, the cave-within-a-cave. My Rock Band peripherals are stored here, along with the extra furniture that came in the apartment, and some more odds and ends. Nothing else terribly important.

    So I hope you like my place. Stay tuned in the future and I may do more articles from the Nerd Cave.
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    I just got back to my college apartment after a lengthy winter break and what do I find? My Dtoit secret santa present from Germany! AWESOME!

    Enclosed in the box was this letter. It's a bit hard to read so I'll sum it up:
    1. Greetings from Mark in Berlin.
    2. Berlin is cold.
    3. There are presents.
    4. There were going to be cookies, but customs said no-no.

    And here are the presents! LocoRoco for the PSP (awesome how it's a region free device BTW), Sonic Advance, a Mario keychain, and WARM SOCKS YEAH! Seriously, it's cold in NC right now as well. I can't wait to try them on.

    Wow. I knew Germany was awesome for giving the world the likes of Blind Guardian, Helloween, The Scorpions, and Gamma Ray, but this takes it to a new, personal level Mike, you are awesome.

    Also, there are apparently clues on the box as to who this fine gentleman is, but I may be too thick to piece this information together.
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