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3:56 PM on 09.10.2012

Rhythm Destruction on Steam Greenlight

Hey all, a friend of mine has been working on this game in his spare time for several years now. Finally, the game is nearing release and I'm hoping to get some DToid members to help spread the word! The game is equal parts bullet hell shmup and rhythm as you tap specific buttons in beat with the music to destroy enemies. Music for the game is being provided by Kyle Ward who also did music for In The Groove.

So far he's had really positive feedback from testers and even got a shout out from Twisted Pixel on twitter!

Here are some screen caps:

And the launch trailer

Review copies of the games are being sent out very shortly to several websites, but it's still incredibly tough to gain traction as a new indie developer. Check the game out and if you like what you see, anything you can do to help support the game and get the word out is definitely appreciated!

The game is up on Steam Greenlight

And there's also a kickstarter they've recently launched.   read

9:17 PM on 06.17.2012

Night of the Loving Dead: Post-Mortem

Early this year I decided to dive more into game development and I released my first game, Night of the Loving Dead, in late March. Now that the game has been out in the wild for a few months, I decided to reflect on the experience and share what Iíve learned throughout the process. I hope this information is helpful to someone or at least entertaining.

If you want to try the game, you can check it out here; I'd really appreciate any feedback you may have! The premise is you play as a skeleton that must find various parts of his body to become whole again and reunite with the love left behind upon death.

The Good

Flixel - I had never made a game using Flixel prior to this project, but after talking to some friends and doing a bit of research, it seemed like a good way to go: it was. Flixel is a fantastic game engine written in ActionScript 3. It handles nearly all of the really hard parts about creating a game including physics and collision and since it renders via blitting, its incredibly fast. I highly recommend checking it out if youíre looking to make a platform game.

SFXR - This little program is awesome. Itís a fantastic way to generate retro-style sound effects for games. One of the biggest pains in game development (for me) is searching the internet for royalty-free sound effects so SFXR was a welcomed surprise.

MochiMedia - The good thing about writing a game in Flash is the massive distribution avenues available. There are countless Flash portals out there allowing you to get your game in front of a very large audience. So far, Iíve gotten the best results using MochiMedia which has out-performed Kongregate by 600%.

The Bad

Music - Finding music for the game was a pain. Iíd suggest starting this early in the process. Finding music that fits and getting permission to use it can take a long time. I saved this for last thinking it would be simple and ended up sitting on an otherwise finished game for weeks while waiting for replies on music.

Art - Iím a developer, not an artist. Making the art and animations for the game took a LONG time. At the end of the day, Iím happy with what I was able to produce, but I will definitely be looking to improve my pixel art abilities. I severely underestimated how long it would take to create even seemingly simple items. This also gave me a better appreciation for the work artists do. After trying it firsthand, Iím even more amazed by some of the great pixel art Iíve seen on the web.

Lessons Learned

Staying Motivated - When working on a game project, it can be hard to stay motivated. In order to make sure I got the game finished, I tried every day to work on it at least a little. I didnít succeed every day, but I came pretty close. As long as you keep working on it, even if one day all you do is add a button, it is progress. The biggest danger in taking a day off is that it can quickly become 2 days off, which becomes 3 and so on.

Another way I stayed motivated was by sharing the game with friends. I had buddies play the game early and often. The positive reinforcement gained from that went a long way in keeping me interested in the project.

You Canít Please Everyone - It is important to take the feedback of your players seriously, but it is equally important to realize that not everyone is going to like your game. Initially, a lot of people complained that the game was too easy so I added a new enemy (the floating eyeball) and then people complained that it was too difficult. In response to this, I gave the player more health to begin with. I actually liked the game better without the eye, but it seemed like less complaints came in so I left it at that.

Currently I am hard at work on my next game and have so many ideas for others that it is sometimes hard to stay focused! Anyway, that's pretty much it; I hope this wasn't a waste of your time.   read

8:40 PM on 11.11.2011

Uncharted 3: Good, but not great. Anyone else?

If you know me, then you probably know I'm largely a 360 gamer. I don't play games nearly as much as I did in years gone by, but when I do, I usually reach for the Xbox controller. It may surprise you then to learn that the Uncharted series is my favorite new IP of this generation. Uncharted 2 was absolutely fantastic and I couldn't wait to get my paws on the third installment in the franchise. So here we are; the Uncharted 3 release has come and gone. Having finished the campaign in just under 9.5 hours, I find myself somewhat disappointed with the overall experience.

Note that I tried to keep this blog relatively vague to avoid ruining the Uncharted 3 story for those that haven't finished it yet, but you may want to bail here anyway to be safe.

Don't get me wrong, Uncharted 3 is a good game. The lovable cast of characters is back and in fine form. The storyline is a pleasant mix of historic facts and myth. So what exactly is the problem? It's twofold for me. For one, the gunplay in the game is lacking. I found the controls and aiming in combat to be slightly frustrating; they just don't feel very accurate. I love the characters and story so much that I often found myself feeling annoyed when yet another wave enemies swarmed the screen.

In addition to the great characters and storyline; a couple other favorite features from the series includes exploring the environments and solving puzzles. The environments are always gorgeous in the series and the puzzles are clever; not overly difficult, but not always that simple either. The frequent gun combat in the game serves only to interrupt an otherwise enjoyable experience.

Another problem was that the game just didn't grab me the way 2 did. In Uncharted 2, there were several moments that just blew me away. The truck that comes crashing through the wreckage, attempting to run Nathan down; finding Marco Polo's crew underground; the helicopter that shoots out the building's supports, sending it toppling over with Nathan and Chloe still inside. Those kinds of scenes stick with you; in fact, I get chills just thinking about them.

I only felt that way about one scene in Uncharted 3: the plane scene. Many others; such as the burning mansion and cruise ship, just didn't have the same impact. I felt like the developers were trying to capture the intensity of the aforementioned scenes in Uncharted 2, but just couldn't quite pull it off.

Plus, you know what? I'm all Team Chloe here. I don't really care for Elena; she's boring. Drake needs to drop her already. Ha!

Maybe I just expected too much from Uncharted 3. Perhaps the fact that I already knew what I was getting into with the game just made it less exciting for me. Whatever the reason, it is still Uncharted 2 that I call my favorite game of this generation and certainly the best in this series.

Anyone else feel the same way? Or heck, even if you disagree; feel free to say why. I'd be interested to see what others think of the game and series as a whole.   read

1:02 PM on 09.26.2011

The Pros of Console Gaming

Recently Destructoid's Jim Sterling wrote this piece on Rage for Xbox 360 and PS3. At the end of the piece he states "I'm starting to really struggle to find the pros of console gaming anymore." I thoroughly enjoy Jim's writing and admire him for being one of the few in the industry that isn't afraid to speak his mind. So I thought I'd help him out and list the pros of console gaming as they apply to me.

The Display
Console Gaming: 42" Samsung HDTV

PC Gaming: 19" Dell Monitor

The Seating
Console Gaming: Sofa King Cool; note the surround sound too!

PC Gaming: An old and warped wooden chair.

The Controller
Console Gaming: A device that fits comfortably in the hands; created specifically for gaming

PC Gaming: Two devices that don't fit comfortably in the hands; not designed specifically for gaming

Console Gaming: Sit back and relax; upating will be complete in just a few minutes

PC Gaming: FFFFFFFFFUUUUUUUU................

The Games

Miss out on all these? No way.

I'm a software engineer. I spend all day sitting at a desk in front of a computer. When I come home at the end of the day, I don't want to sit in that wooden chair at my small, cluttered desk. And I certainly don't want to spend the evening browsing through message boards trying to figure out why the Catalyst driver update just crashed...again. I want to kick back on the big, comfy couch, put my feet up on the coffee table and play games with a small, comfortable controller.

Understand that I'm simply stating my opinion on the matter. You are, of course, free to disagree. :o)   read

7:22 PM on 07.29.2011

Motion Control: Yes, I Like Kinect

When Microsoft first unveiled the Kinect not many gamers I knew had quite the same reaction that I did. Most laughed it off, talked about how stupid it looked and wrote it off altogether without even giving it a shot. Those gamers didnít get it; many still donít. Certainly, MS was showing some games and technology to appeal to a larger, more casual audience, but is that all they were doing?

In the words of Al ďtable for oneĒ Borland: ďI donít think so, Tim.Ē

Microsoft wasnít showing off just another gaming peripheral, they were giving us a glimpse into the future of media and control.

Forget games for a moment; weíll come back to that, the thing I was most excited about with Kinect was the UI and media control. Kinect goes beyond gaming and allows for new control of other media types including movies and music. Playing movies and songs with voice commands is slick. Being able to scrub through movies with a wave of your hand? Even more so.

By integrating Kinect control into some of the most prominent XBL services such as NetFlix, ESPN and, Microsoft is paving the road for a full, controller-free entertainment environment on the Xbox 360. Earlier this year they promised to deliver a new dashboard update that allows for full dashboard control via Kinect. Thatís something that I canít wait to try. Navigating a user interface without the need for a controller still hasnít quite been perfected, but Kinect marks the best attempt Iíve seen so far and from the looks of things, itís only going to get better at it.

While Kinect will continue to improve in its handling of other media experiences, it will also improve on the gaming front. Not that we havenít seen some good games already; I still havenít tired of Dance Central. Kinectimals also makes pretty good use of the technology if you're willing to give it a chance. Perhaps the best evidence of Kinectís usefulness in gaming is the recently released Child of Eden.

Kinect is an essential part of the Child of Eden experience

Hereís a game that isnít merely enhanced by Kinect, but actually requires it to be fully experienced and appreciated. After playing the game with nothing between you and the action on screen, it is not just difficult to go back to using a controller, but unthinkable. I challenge anyone to play it both ways and honestly say otherwise. This game alone proves that motion control has a place in our industry, even among the not-so-casual.

The future for Kinect looks bright. Some games will use Kinect in supportive roles such as the head tracking in Forza, the weapon customization in Ghost Recon or the voice commands in Mass Effect 3. Still others will be crafted around motion control such as Rise of Nightmares, The Gunstringer and Konamiís LeedMees. I can only speak for myself here, but I think those games look like a lot of fun. Especially LeedMees which is putting an innovative twist on puzzle games by allowing you to use your body as a platform for the characters in the game.

LeedMees: a unique use of the Kinect technology

We as gamers have the right to complain when developers cram motion control support into a poorly made game, but we should also respect the developers who create experiences properly with motion control in mind from the beginning. The automatic and vehement hatred I see from many traditional gamers when it comes to motion controlled games is striking. The very audience that clamors for innovation then fiercely rejects it when it comes along.

The new types of games coming out for Kinect may not be tailored to an individualís specific tastes, but that doesnít make them any less valid as games. They may very well attract a new audience. A new ďhardcoreĒ that differs from what the industry has seen in the past.

The traditional toys such as Halo and Gears of War, Super Mario and Uncharted are still around; theyíre not being replaced. I, as a gamer since the mid 1980ís, embrace this addition to our rich and storied medium. I invite you to do the same.

This is your face on Kinect

5:37 PM on 06.07.2011

E3 2011: Press Conference Analysis

Now that the three major press conferences are over, it's a good time to look back on them and see how each company performed. What follows is my opinion on what went down at the E3 2011 press conferences.

First out of the gate was Microsoft. In my blog leading up to E3, I mentioned what I thought MS needed to do to ward off their competitors. The main three points were:

-Core Kinect games
-New services for XBL
-More exclusive titles

So how did they do? In short, MS delivered. They showed off several hardcore titles that smartly implemented Kinect functionality in unobtrusive ways. Gamers said they wanted to see Kinect work with hardcore games and MS gave us Mass Effect 3, Ghost Recon: Future Soldier and Fable: Journey in response; not a bad lineup if you ask me. Of course Microsoft also showed off some new family friendly titles with Kinect functionality, but that wasn't unexpected.

One of the more interesting parts of the MS conference was the preview of the upcoming Xbox dashboard which is due to arrive this Fall. The dashboard takes a page from the Windows Phone 7 book with its overall look and feel and is integrating some fantastic new features. MS announced that YouTube will be arriving as an XBL service and that they have integrated Bing! search into the dashboard (which can be activated with voice commands). Furthermore, Kinect has finally been implemented throughout. This was something I have been waiting to see since launch. As if that weren't enough, MS also announced that they are expanding their live television programming with some major networks already on board.

A remake of my favorite game of all time? Yes, please!

If there is one area that I felt MS fell a bit short in, it was the exclusive games arena. Aside from Crytek's Ryse, there were no new franchises. True, we did get two Halo games, but that's not a brand new IP. I was hoping we would get a surprise game announcement in the form of an original property. Still, it isn't all that bleak. The Xbox 360 does still have Forza Motorsport 4, Halo CE Anniversary, Halo 4 and Gears of War 3 to fall back. Also, they're still getting great 3rd party support as shown with the Tomb Raider and Call of Duty demonstrations.

Final Grade: B+

The next big contender to take the stage was Sony. I admired how they got straight to the point and issued an apology for the PSN outage. Sony did a great a job with this. They thanked everyone including developers, retail partners and their consumers. They also showed off some great software. Uncharted 3 just looks amazing. There are no words to describe how badly I want to play this game. The demo shown at the conference was phenomenal looking.


Other big PS3 games included the Ico/Shadow of the Collosus package, Resistance 3, a new Sly Cooper offering and Starhawk. They also introduced Dust 514 from CCP and renewed their commitment to both the PlayStation Move and 3D.

The last big item on Sony's agenda was the NGP; which they are officially calling the PS Vita. I'm still not sure how that name made it past the board meeting it was brought up in; what's so wrong with PSP 2? Atrocious name aside, the Vita did come in cheaper than I had anticipated. You are getting a lot tech for your money, but I still have some doubts about this thing. I've never been a big fan of portable gaming to begin with, but the biggest problem I see for the Vita is this:

This is where mobile gaming's at

Smart phones have made devices like the Vita obsolete. In my previous blog, I stated that Sony would lose me if they focused too much on the NGP and that's exactly what they did. I would call this a missed opportunity for Sony. The MS conference; while solid, was not out of this world. If Sony wants to compete with the 360, then they need to focus on the PS3. I felt like their conference was more focused on 3D and the Vita; neither of which I have any interest in. Not only did they fail to pull out any big surprises, but they left out big games that we were expecting to see.

Final Grade: C+

Nintendo probably had the most excitement leading up to their conference. They were, afterall, unveiling a brand new home console. They kicked things off with Miyamoto and discussed the 25th anniversary of The Legend of Zelda. They also had a full orchestra play a few memorable melodies from the franchise and announced some musical collections and an orchestra tour to celebrate the occasion.

After teasing us briefly about the new home console, Nintendo dove into their 3DS lineup for the year and it looks strong. A new Mario Kart game (complete with gliding), StarFox, Kid Icarus, Super Mario 3DS and Luigi's Mansion 2 were all on display and will be hitting store shelves before the year's end. However, as previously mentioned, the portable systems are not my thing so I was more interested in seeing the new home console.

If Zelda on the Wii U actually looks like this, I'll be picking one up.

The new console, named the Wii U, is supposedly Nintendo's bid to provide a console for the casual market and for the hardcore market as well. Judging from what I saw, I don't think they've quite done it. The Wii U still looks like something aimed at a more casual audience. Don't get me wrong, Nintendo's done a great a job with this. For the first time in a long time, it looks like Nintendo has some strong 3rd party support. Games like Battlefield 3 and Batman: Arkham City will be making their way to the Wii U.

What about that unique controller then? Having no hands on experience, I can only offer my opinions based on what I saw and what I saw did not look especially appealing. The controller must be massive to house a 6 inch display and it doesn't look particularly comfortable or easy to hold up.

The other issue I have with the Wii U is that Nintendo didn't give a real release date or mention anything about the price. In addition, they stated that all the stuff shown from Nintendo were only tech demos and not actual game prototypes. We saw several multiplatform 3rd party games, but nothing from Nintendo.

I realize it may sound like I'm dogging on Nintendo here, but really I don't mean to. I think Nintendo had a good conference and did what they needed to for their audience. They showed a stellar lineup for the 3DS and showed off their new console. However, as with Sony, most of the stuff shown wasn't for me.

Final Grade: B

I didn't feel that any of the three companies had a particularly strong showing. I wasn't surprised by anyone this year. Microsoft had the most stuff that I'm actually looking forward to and that is why I gave them the nod here. Sony and Nintendo both had solid showings, but most of it wasn't stuff that I'm particularly interested in or excited to try out. That said, I still stand by Uncharted 3 being the best game of the show.   read

11:34 AM on 06.05.2011

E3 Approaches: A Random Gamer's Take

I love E3. Every year I get excited to see what all the companies will bring to the show floor, but mostly, I look forward to the press conferences of the big three. While Nintendo has kind of been off doing their own thing in recent years, Microsoft and Sony have been slugging it out; each vying for the hardcore crowd while also attempting to cash in on the casual market that has risen in recent years.

This year, I'm expecting the conferences to be huge. The current generation consoles have reached a crucial point in the life cycle. The Xbox 360 will be pushing six years soon and the PS3 five. Historically, we'd be seeing the next generation of hardware soon. However, Nintendo aside, MS and Sony both seem confident in their current machines. Recently we've all been hearing whispers that both the next Xbox and PS4 are in the beginning stages of development, but I wouldn't expect to see those any time soon. Instead, the companies will be focused on the here and now. What follows are nothing more than my opinions and speculations about what we'll see at this year's E3 show. Enjoy!

Nintendo: A Return to Form
It's no secret; the Wii hasn't exactly been a console for the hardcore, but it has enjoyed tremendous success. Nintendo took a risk and it paid off. They were able to reach a previously untapped market for consoles in the casual gamer. However, things haven't been all rosy for Nintendo. As mentioned, the Wii may have gained a new market, but it all but lost the traditional gaming audience. Add to that the mediocre reception of the 3DS and it becomes clear that Nintendo has some explaining to do.

The answer? Project Cafe. Many in the industry are calling it Nintendo's attempt to recapture the hardcore market. It isn't under-powered like the Wii, and in true Nintendo fashion, it may bring something new to the table with a touch screen embedded in the controller. This is a move that could help Nintendo keep their casual fan-base (everyone knows how to use an iPhone) and the added power may grab the attention of the traditional gamer.

Nintendo: Not afraid to take a risk

In order for Nintendo to be successful, they're going to need some new games. Mario and Zelda are two great franchises, and I would love to see a new Mario title on the new system, but the typical Nintendo franchises just won't be enough to sway PS3 or Xbox 360 gamers. Nintendo needs something new. They will also need proper 3rd party support. Nintendo's games are almost always good. The problem is that those games are usually the only ones worth playing; give or take a few gems.

In addition to new games for Project Cafe, Nintendo needs to show some software for the 3DS. The lineup so far has been a bit underwhelming; sure we've got an Ocarina of Time remake on the way, but I've already played that game - show me something different.

The Verdict: While I am interested in seeing what Nintendo's new console is all about, I can't say that I'm expecting much. Given the company's recent track record, I feel like they've lost touch with the traditional gamer. I'm not big on portable gaming so the 3DS isn't of much interest. That said, I'd love to be proven wrong.

Sony: Gaining Ground
I don't think its too big of a stretch to call the PS3 a disaster for Sony. I'm not saying the console doesn't have great games; it does, but the console is succeeding in spite of Sony's efforts - not because of them. It feels like Sony just can't catch a break as of late. They botched the console's launch with a ridiculous price tag, are constantly pushing out firmware updates, failed to properly market the PS Move and are currently the number one target of hackers around the globe.

Still, all is not lost. What Sony does have is the best exclusive lineup coming into this show. These are big franchises that gamers actually care about including inFamous, Resistance, Final Fantasy, Uncharted, The Last Guardian, Dark Souls, Twisted Metal and more. That's a whole lot of gaming goodness; much more than the competition has shown thus far.

Game of the Year; you heard it here first.

Despite their troubles, Sony's "Welcome Back" program on the PSN is solid. It is a great way to gain back the respect of their customers which is something they're going to need if they want the NGP to be a success. The next generation portable from Sony already has an impressive library of titles going for it with Uncharted leading the way. Add to that unique titles such as Sound Shapes and the NGP could do very well, but only if gamers are willing to overlook some of its shortcomings. For one, the five inch screen may be beautiful, but it's also big. This next generation portable may not be so portable after all.

Another potential problem for the NGP is price; how much is this thing going to set you back? So far Sony hasn't said a word about price. Hopefully they'll be giving us all the details at their E3 press conference. The answer will vary from person to person, but how much is too much? Would you be willing to spend $300 on the NGP?

The Verdict: Sony's lineup this year is killer; if you asked me which console had the most games I want to play on it for the year, my answer would be the PS3. There is simply too much to love coming up here. What could Sony do to lose me? Focus too much on the NGP. In my opinion, cell phones have made dedicated portable gaming devices obsolete. I love Uncharted, but its a game I want to sit and play for hours at a time; not something I want to play for five minutes in the checkout line at the grocery store. I think if Sony wants the PS3 to overtake the 360 then that's what they should focus on. We've already got a great roster of games coming, Sony could sweeten the pot with a few surprise announcements. Oh, and don't name the NGP PlayStation Vita.

Microsoft: Up to the Challenge
This year, Microsoft is in a bit of a strange situation going into E3. The Xbox 360 has been a huge success and solidified Microsoft's spot in the industry. Yes, I fully admit it: the Xbox 360 is my current favorite of all the consoles. In fact, I'd go so far as to say it is my favorite system of all time. MS forever changed the landscape of gaming with the Xbox and Xbox LIVE. XBL has been a huge boost to this industry and new business models have risen around it. Microsoft is currently ahead of Sony, but the gap has been narrowed significantly; what does MS need to do to in order stay ahead?

It's simple: The Xbox 360 needs more exclusive titles; good ones. We can see how strong Sony's forecast is, but Microsoft is a bit of a mystery. Halo, Gears and Forza are all great games, but MS will need more if they plan to counter Sony's stacked deck. Crytek's 360 exclusive, codenamed Kingdoms, could be a good start, but we need to see more of it to be sure. MS needs to have some big surprises lined up or they'll risk losing the crown they've worked so hard to get.

More of this, please.

MS also needs to show some more support for Kinect. The $150 peripheral has been on life support since launch nearly eight months ago. Has anything of note been released since launch? Nothing comes to mind. I was glad to see it finally integrated with more XBL services such as Netflix, but come on, we need some good games to play with it.

Lastly, XBL has been Microsoft's saving grace. The service is phenomenal and with Sony stumbling recently, this would be the perfect time for MS to show gamers why XBL is the place for online gaming. New features and services would be great, but might we also see a pricing structure change? What if MS took a hint from Sony and modeled the XBL memberships more like PSN and PS Plus? Online gaming could be free for all members and gold memberships would become more of a bonus like PlayStation Plus. Do I think this is likely? No, but it is certainly possible.

The Verdict: MS needs to take note of Sony's gaming lineup and counter it with more exclusives of their own. I'm hoping to see some surprise game announcements from MS at their conference and I want to see some good Kinect titles come forth. I fully expect MS to have more DLC deals with big 3rd party games such as Call of Duty, but I'd also like to see some new services and features added onto XBL; maybe something with Skype now that MS officially owns it.

Well there it is; that's what I think about E3 this year. I'd be interested in hearing what you all think as well, so feel free to comment and let me know!   read

9:03 AM on 03.22.2011

My first iPhone game is now live - Cherry Picker iOS

Hey all,

I just wanted to announce that my first iPhone game is now live on the app store: Cherry Picker iOS (the name Cherry Picker was already taken). Actually, it's been live for over a month now, but I wanted to get clearance here to blog it; thanks, Hamza!

It is a simple, casual game that makes a pretty good play on the toilet, if I may so. It was pretty fun to make and I learned quite a bit about optimization techniques for the iPhone in the process. The objective of the game is to grab the cherries from the tree before the crows fly by and steal them. As you progress, the margin for error gets less and less. If you manage to get above wave 50, missing even a single cherry can mean Game Over! The game tracks several of your statistics including the most crows you've KO'd, the most cherries collected, highest wave completed and more.

I'm hoping to create an Android port next, but I first need to secure an Android phone. I'm looking at picking up a Droid off ebay on the cheap soon here.

Below is the link to the game and some screenshots too. If you do decide to give it a shot, let me know what you think!


CherryPicker_ios - $0.99


3:51 PM on 03.19.2011

A video tour of my apartment

Hey, Dtoiders, I just moved into a new apartment with my fiancee and recorded a little video tour. Check it out if you want and let me know what you think! Enjoy!

[embed]196784:37120[/embed]   read

4:52 PM on 02.10.2011

What is reality?

The start of it all
It happens that on occasion I like to think about the origins of the universe, of reality. I recently saw a truly remarkable BBC presentation entitled What is Reality? and it inspired me to write about my own thoughts on the matter. The video is almost an hour long, but I highly recommend it if you're into philosophy and physics. Much of it was stuff I had already heard about, but there was one new idea that I thought was interesting; something about the universe being a hologram with all its data stored in a two dimensional plane, but that's not exactly what this blog is about.

By reading many books and watching many presentations and films, I've borrowed bits from each medium to propose that The Matrix actually makes a lot of sense. That is, what if we're all just part of a complex computer program? Does that sound silly to you? Perhaps, but open your mind for a few minutes while you read this and I think you'll see it actually isn't too difficult to believe.

The Matrix may not have been too far off the mark

A word from our sponsors
First, I want to get a couple things out of the way here. I'm not saying I believe this to be the case, I'm simply putting the idea out there. Second, I don't believe in a creator. I don't know how or why we're here; we just are. I guess that's what scientists across the world are trying to figure out. To me, "I don't know" is a better answer than "God did it." Finally, I fully admit that I may be wrong. Now let's jump in, shall we?

Your feature presentation
Here's the general idea behind this theory: I propose that there isn't one, all-powerful creator, but that there may be billions of them. And perhaps it would be more appropriate to call them users for this case. Take a look at The Sims from EA. The people in the game, are they aware of the users that create them? That control them? How would we know? Suppose a character in The Sims started to wonder about how he or she came to be. That character then starts performing experiments to discover the purpose of his existence. He discovers textures, underneath the textures he finds models, within the models he finds individual meshes, maybe bones, in the 3D modeling sense of the word. Perhaps he even discovers bits: 1's and 0's.

Now what? How does that character go further? Does he have the capacity to imagine that something else is responsible for the bits? Let's say he does. He now assumes there is a creator. There is an all-powerful being responsible for his world - a god. His assumption is not entirely accurate. There isn't just a single creator. There are billions of us - humans. Now consider this, what if that sim is you?

Our physicists have discovered amazing and wonderful things. Humanity has uncovered particles that we believe make up the very fabric of reality. Quantum mechanics - a strange and seemingly unexplainable realm of physics will make even the brightest of individuals concede that he or she has no idea how it functions. Maybe we have reached the bits, maybe there is nothing left to uncover (though I don't think we should stop trying). Maybe now we can think: what if there is an EA that created our universe and one of the developers simply thought "Hey! Wouldn't it be funny if we put our company in the game?" And thus we have our own Electronic Arts. You can substitute whatever development house you like for EA, by the way.

I think this explains a few things an omnipotent, loving god does not. For instance, we now have a reason for natural disasters and all the horrible things that happen in this universe. Would a loving, all-powerful god really allow his creations to harm one another in the ways that people do? I would have to say no because it either means he isn't all-powerful or he's not so loving afterall. However, would you? Sure you would. I imagine most of us do it all the time; maybe we shoot a squadmate in an FPS game or perhaps you build four walls around a sim and let the poor guy starve to death, or worse. I would hope that most of us wouldn't behave this way in real life, but in a game it's ok because it isn't real. Well, perhaps our universe is a game to someone else.

God might not allow this, but I sure as heck do

In his book, Darwin's Dangerous Idea, philosopher Daniel Dennet marvels over the DNA in our bodies: "Even to those of us accustomed to the 'engineering miracles' of the computer age, the facts are hard to encompass. Not only molecule-sized copying machines, but proofreading enzymes that correct mistakes, all at blinding speed, on a scale that super-computers still cannot match." He goes on to quote Bernd-olaf Kupper's work Information and the Origin of Life, "Biological macromolecules have a storage capacity that exceeds that of the best present-day information stores by several orders of magnitude. For example, the 'information density' in the genome of E. coli is about 10 [to the 27th power] bits/m" cubed. Here we have hit on something I find very interesting: DNA as a data structure.

Philosopher Daniel Dennet and a most gnarly beard

In computer science, there are many different data structures: linked lists, stacks, queues and hash tables are a few examples. Basically, these are just code structures used to store data. Perhaps DNA is the ultimate data structure. It holds a nearly inconceivable amount of information in a compressed space. Another way to look at it: maybe the program running this universe renders us based on the data in our DNA. I don't know about you, but I find that to be a rather fascinating thought.

Now that's a data structure!

When you're coding games, memory management is key - particularly with console and mobile development. You have to make sure you are freeing up system resources when objects are no longer needed. When a player defeats an enemy, you should give his resources back to the system for reuse since they are no longer required to keep the enemy behaving appropriately - he is dead. And so it is with living beings on Earth. When we pass away, our bodies decompose, providing materials that enrich the soil and help new life grow. In essence, we are deallocated from memory. The resources that were being used to keep us alive can now be recouped and used to power something else. Or at least they would be if we weren't sealed in caskets.

In astrophysics, there is something that continues to stump scientists: dark matter. Dark matter constitutes roughly 80% of the matter in our universe and yet no one knows what it is. Suppose it is simply unused harddrive space. What if galaxies are like sectors of a harddrive, or perhaps just random clusters of data. The vast emptiness of space is nothing more than blank harddrive space. Planets and galaxies could be little hubs of data. Maybe asteroids and comets are small, random files floating around the harddrive. What would harddrive space, or unused RAM look like to that sim we discussed in the beginning? Maybe it looks like outer space. Maybe we exist on a harddrive that is only 20% full.

Data on a harddrive

It's been a pleasure
It's fun to wonder about the origins of the universe. I think the idea of multiple creators, perhaps not wholly unlike ourselves, is at the very least, an interesting and entertaining thing to consider. What about you? :o)   read

11:10 AM on 02.09.2011

Groundhog Day: Halo

Full of doubts
What a difference a single game can make. I have to believe that even Bungie could not have predicted the success that Halo would become or the impact it would have on the industry. For me, the game holds a special place in my gaming heart. Prior to the launch of the original Xbox, I'd heard about Halo. I had even played it in person at E3 - I left unimpressed. When the Xbox was finally released, I picked it up along with Halo and Dead or Alive 3; it was a bundle deal from Toys 'R Us.

Oh, what you will become...

I played through Halo in its entirety and felt the game was decent, but certainly not fantastic. I put it away without even trying the multiplayer. Then, months down the road, I was flipping through the pages of OXM and they had a small posting about Halo and sending Ghosts flying all the way across the Sidewinder map. For whatever reason, I thought it looked amusing, so I tried it myself. At that point everything changed. I fell in love with the physics that allowed vehicles to flip stupidly high and for ludicrous distances.

A gateway to awesome

I convinced one of my buddies to buy an Xbox and Halo so that we could try out the system link multiplayer. Afterall, my friends and I loved GoldenEye and Perfect Dark multiplayer on the N64, but our one gripe was "screen watching." With the Xbox and system link, that was no longer an issue. Well, he ended up going for it and myself and three friends stayed up literally all night playing 2v2. What a blast! This was unlike anything I'd ever played before! I can still vividly remember being crouched behind a hill in Blood Gulch when a warthog suddenly soared overhead, engine roaring, .50 cal blazing; what a rush!

Needless to say, Halo became our game of choice. We spread the word around school and before long "Halo nights" became our weekend plan...every weekend. It went from just the four of us to sixteen plus every time. We had guys hauling large, CRT televisions from their parents living rooms in the middle of the night. The constant wear and tear even started to show on the sets; weird coloring started to appear in the corners, bits of plastic casing were chipped off as we tried to shove the televisions into the backs of compact cars and one or two may have been completely busted after being dropped.

The televisions weren't the only thing to take a beating. We once had a guy that ended up in the hospital because of a kidney stone. He was complaining about how bad his side hurt, but somehow managed to finish up a two hour game of Sidewinder CTF before being brought to the emergency room. All this in the name of Halo.

Further down the rabbit hole
Our love for the game only grew with time and before long we were competing in tournaments. We started with a small tournament in a nearby town. The guys there opened the doors to a whole new community of Halo players and competition. They told us about the AGP (Associates of Gaming Professionals) and that there was a huge, nationwide tournament coming up in Nashville, TN. We didn't even have to think about it. A month later the original four of us were driving 500 miles to Nashville to compete. This was only the first of several big tournaments we would attend, and it was eye-opening. Here were some of the best Halo players in the world. Anyone remember Darkman? Mr. Shizz? The Psycho Soldiers? All those guys were there and they played the game in ways we hadn't even thought of. I still remember the gasps in the audience when TDT, The Dream Team, displayed their BattleCreek CTF tactics. They were extremely efficient and could cap multiple flags in the blink of an eye.

Meet The Dream Team

The highest we ever ranked in a national tournament was 18, but out of 50+ teams, I was ok with that. After competing at that level, it was pretty easy to come home and sweep the local tournaments. When I came down to Florida for school, I was able to convince Full Sail University to sponsor our team for a national tournament. We continued to play in Florida, though without as much success as there is an abundance of Halo talent down here.

Evolving combat
Halo did a lot of things right; I don't know how I managed to not see it at first. The game is incredibly well balanced. The pistol, while a lot of people complain about it being overpowered, was actually the great equalizer in the game. As long as you had your sidearm, you were on equal footing with anyone else in the game. Halo also had amazing level design. I have yet to encounter another shooter that has as many memorable maps for multiplayer combat.

Damnation: one of the greats

The addition of the recharging shield system, love it or hate it, has completely revolutionized the FPS genre. Nearly every single FPS released since Halo has copied this feature. Halo also made strategy a bigger part of gameplay. By slowing down the pace and limiting you to just two weapons, the game makes you think about your situation and what tools would be best for the job at hand. Most FPS games prior to Halo did not have this strategic element.

The grenades in Halo also added to the strategic play. In most games, grenades blow up and only affect other players. In Halo, they can be used to knock power ups or weapons into safer locations so that you don't need to stick your neck out to grab that sniper rifle.

Even the bugs in Halo made it a better game. Most of the bugs were totally awesome and knowing how to utilize them proved to be an invaluable asset in competitive play. Any time you saw someone actually run out onto the catwalk to grab rockets in Hang 'em High, you knew you had a noob on your hands. Grabbing weapons and flags through walls and floors actually added to the game as opposed to taking away from it.

The Silent Cartographer: epic name, epic action

After being so engulfed in the multiplayer portion of the game, I revisited the single player campaign and loved it. I couldn't believe I had simply glossed over the storyline the first time through; here was this amazing sci-fi story and I hadn't even paid attention to it before. But more importantly, I finally understood how to play Halo. This is something I didn't get the first time I played it. Most FPS games are just about killing your enemies. Halo isn't. Halo is about killing your enemies with style! The Master Chief is a badass, so play like one! Once I got it, I couldn't go back to other shooters.

Stay classy, San Diego
To this day Halo remains my favorite shooter, possibly my favorite game, of all time. It isn't just the great gameplay mechanics; it's the experiences I've had with the game over the past ten years, the friends I've made while playing and the memories that were created. Those things are irreplaceable; perhaps you have a different game that impacted your life the way Halo impacted mine. If so, I'd love to hear about it!

And yes, I do still revisit the game every once in a while. Running around the old maps such as Damnation, Chill Out and Blood Gulch is like returning to my old stomping grounds; places I hung out with some of my best friends.

I thought Reach was a great game; especially toward the end. Knowing how Cortana makes it aboard the Pillar of Autumn and seeing Captain Keyes again made the hairs on my arm stand up. I knew the epic saga that was about to begin, and as good as Reach is, the original is still the king.   read

7:52 AM on 01.29.2011

Why Halo is better than Call of Duty

It is one of gaming's great debates: Call of Duty or Halo? Which FPS is better and why? Most of the time you just have fanboys on both sides saying one game totally rocks while the other completely sucks. Well, I find myself in the Halo camp, but perhaps this blog entry should be titled "Why I like Halo more than Call of Duty" as it simply reflects an individual's opinion.

First of all, the fact that these two shooters get compared at all is somewhat perplexing as they are completely different in almost all respects. One is an epic sci-fi tale set hundreds of years in the future while the other takes a more realistic approach to war and is set in the not-so-distant future. It is only natural that the two titles would appeal to different crowds. Now that we've established the inanity of comparing the two games, let's go ahead and do it anyway!

Space is cooler than Earth
Not only is this a climatically accurate statement, but Halo's space age setting is just more appealing. It offers much more room for creativity and creates a grander scale for the action. The unique architecture of the alien structures and Halo itself are wonders to behold. How could you not love looking out at the horizon in the original game and seeing the world curve up and over on itself?

Only a hero can save us
The Master Chief is hands down one of the most badass characters ever to grace the virtual landscape. His armor looks cool, he's not afraid to blow shit up and he takes on an entire alien armada...and wins. When playing as the Chief, you feel like a badass. You'll get cocky, you'll jump into a wave a menacing foes, you'll kick ass and you'll come out the other side feeling like a hero. And it's not just the Chief, the Rookie in ODST was no slouch and Noble 6? Come on, the guy gets picked up off the floor by an 8 foot tall alien and doesn't give a shit - he punches the bastard square in the face. That, my friends, is badass.

Like a boss

What about Call of Duty? Well, on about half the missions your character ends up getting double-crossed or killed at the end...not very badass. It makes it almost impossible to feel any sort of connection to the character because you don't spend much time in his boots. In fact, I've played through both Modern Warfare single player campaigns in their entirety and I can't recall the name of anyone I controlled during that time. I remember some supporting characters - after all, how do you forget someone like John "Soap" MacTavish or "Ghost"?

The bottom line is this: in Halo, you're fighting to save the entire universe. In Call of Duty, you're fighting to ensure the safety of a handful of countries at the expense of others.

Variety is the spice of life
As mentioned, I believe that Halo's setting gives the developers much more freedom for creativity. This translates into a more varied game with distinct locales, characters and weaponry. Each enemy race of the Covenant army is easily distinguishable from the others. You have grunts, jackals, elites, brutes, prophets, hunters, the flood and more. These enemies have not only distinct looks, but varying AI as well. In Call of Duty, the terrorists all look alike; they don't behave in any distinct manner. Shooting some generic guy in the face over and over loses its appeal pretty quickly.

Enter generic terrorist...with shades

The variety of Halo shows through in the guns and vehicles as well. Ok, I could do with a little less purple, but the elegant lines of the Covenant ships and weaponry provide a nice contrast to the bulky, hard-edged equipment of the humans. In Halo, its very clear what is and what is not enemy technology. With Call of Duty, this distinction is pretty much non-existent. CoD may indeed feature more weapons than Halo, but its hard to tell the difference between any of them - a machine gun with a little recoil feels pretty similar to a machine gun with slightly more.

90's flair
One of my pet peeves with the CoD franchise is that the developers are content with simply spawning infinite enemies out of thin air. This is an archaic approach to game design that might have been acceptable in the mid-90's, but comes across as rather lazy today. I'll never forget one incident in particular in the first Modern Warfare title; I cleared out an area in one of the later stages and backed myself into a corner so that I wouldn't have to worry about getting hit from behind. A few seconds later guess what enemy spawns directly behind a corner. Where the fuck did he come from? Is there a secret hatch in the wall? Weak. Sauce.

In Halo, enemies don't just appear. They inhabit the world or are brought in via ships. You can clear an area of all enemies and explore it without worrying about an enemy suddenly appearing out of thin air.

Ladies night
Are there any female characters in Call of Duty? That's a serious question - I honestly can't remember any. The Halo cast has a number of memorable female characters that span a variety of positions. How about Miranda Keyes, Dr. Halsey/Cortana, Cat, Dare or Professor Anders? All of these women played large roles in the Halo universe. I get that a military shooter like Call of Duty may be designed primarily with men in mind, but does it take place in a world devoid of female life? Or just one where women serve only in behind the scenes roles?

Dare - not content with a non-combat role

Track this
The stat tracking in Halo is quite simply unmatched. If competitive multiplayer is your thing, there's nothing that compares to It tracks every kill you've ever made, with every weapon and on every map. It keeps track of all the medals you've won in combat across multiple game types and even multiple games!

Call of Duty has nothing even close to the detailed tracking of Sure it has upgrades that can be unlocked and no doubt that Bungie copied that feature for Reach, but they did it better. The upgrades in CoD can make the game horribly unbalanced whereas the Reach upgrades don't affect the game mechanics.

That's all, folks
As a space nut, I love the Halo franchise...well mostly, Halo 2 pretty much sucked. However, to dismiss the Call of Duty franchise altogether would be a mistake. I have a tremendous amount of respect for the developers of that series. The technical prowess behind the games is unrivaled in the industry. The Call of Duty games look better, and run better, than even the mightiest of graphical powerhouses such as Uncharted and Gears of War.

Visually striking

Whether you agree with me or not, I hope this has come across more as a presentation of what makes Halo a better franchise to me and less of a Call of Duty sucks rant.   read

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