30 June 2010

Kinect and it's specs!

Seems it's a busy day, news-wise!

Seems Eurogamer has the scoop on Kinect. I was quite skeptical of Kinect and it's abilities on our last podcast and it seems my fears might not be that far off the mark. The technology for the kinect is generally scaled down from its prototype (take that Bioshock 2 haters!):

Maybe Tboon can enlighten us a bit better on the field of view specs (which i've posted below).... that's a little over my head, but the resolution is half of what we thought with at a distance of up to 3.5m. My simple calculations for a distance of 2.35m (middle distance for the depth sensor) put it at approximately 3.24 DPI. Considering they're supposedly only tracking whole body parts as opposed to individual pieces (such as the fingers) as the tech was originally designed to be able to do, then it's unlikely to be much of a problem for gesture control..... that poor depth 'perception' might limit what developers can and can't do on the system though: Gestures won't be able to be too slight otherwise they will not register - especially if the camera is unable to properly detect the depth. This likely means the movement of an arm that is in the plane of the body will be easier to detect than if it is pointing towards the camera.

More worryingly is the potential only two player limit. I don't quite understand why the system can track six people but with only two participants.... i'm not understanding the difference there. This could limit the appeal of the system as opposed to the Wii and Move but then, to be honest, how many games allow more than two people to play a game when on the screen at the same time anyway? From my understanding this is rare even for Wii games.

One interesting tidbit is that the motorised portion of the device is only for effectively setting up the monitoring area of the cameras so that it'll work on multiple surfaces/height levels and in different environments. It won't be used to follow users around if they move towards the edges of the monitoring area - which is what we saw from demos at E3.

Overall these differences in spec from prototype to final product might not make much difference in user experience as Eurogamer reports that, having tried both pieces of tech, they state that "the overall experience is fairly close". Playing devil's advocate - it makes me wonder if the overall experience is being held back...


Colour and depth-sensing lenses
Voice microphone array
Tilt motor for sensor adjustment

Field of View

Horizontal field of view: 57 degrees
Vertical field of view: 43 degrees
Physical tilt range: ± 27 degrees
Depth sensor range: 1.2m - 3.5m

Data Streams

320x240 16-bit depth at 30FPS
640x480 32-bit colour at 30FPS
16-bit audio @ 16 kHz

Skeletal Tracking System

Tracks up to 6 people, including 2 active players
Tracks 20 joints per active player
Ability to map active players to Xbox LIVE Avatars

Audio System

Xbox LIVE party chat and in-game voice chat (requires Xbox LIVE Gold Membership)
Echo cancellation system enhances voice input
Speech recognition in multiple languages

I love this...

Mark Rein has been talking about the new platforms like the iPhone and future handheld devices and is saying that triple-A games won't go away. I agree with him on that note but what has me more worried is what he goes on to say:

"I'd rather sell 10 million games at $25 and have a chance to sell DLC than 5 million at $50 on a disc that gets traded around," he said.
"I think it'll change, and it'll change for the benefit of the customers. We're definitely going to experiment with micro-transactions and lower-price games."

Well, of course you'd rather do that! So would everyone. I mean, lets take an example of how much it costs to make one of those games these days.....anywhere between $20-100 million. Those are the copies that are being shoved around on disc which your customers are trading around. Those filthy scumbags!
So the new plan is to half the cost to the consumer but the games will be on cheaper platforms: we're talking about development costs of less than a million. Not only that but there'll be micro-transactions as well though no guarantee that they'll be on those cheaper games.... PSYCH! Of course they'll be on the cheaper games.

Great business plan guys. Shit for consumers though.... but hey! Like many people I see on gaming forums say: "Who cares how much we're shafted when the developers are making money and giving us games?"

(Okay, no one actually said that.... but i interpret that sort of thing from what they do say!)


Seriously, it's just a slog towards taking all control away from consumers... making exponentially more money whilst offering exponentially less for the same amount of money.... reducing value. The problem i have with it is that it will work.

26 June 2010

Podcast! The Easy Button Episode 8

Hello, and welcome to the Easy Button!* The show were you get to hear me miss the point several times as Tboon goes over my head with his high-brow humour and intellectual debate.

You might have to pre-stitch up your sides this week as Tboon had sharpened his wit to a fine edge so prepare yourself for some laughs! Though he also pulls out his "old man curmudgeon" act for a bit of naysaying. :D


The Easy Button Episode 8

Podcast Compliant RSS Feed

If you want to contact us please feel free to email us with comments, shout-outs, suggestions or questions at: The.easiestbutton AT gmail.com

*I swear i'm going to get that right one of these days!!

24 June 2010

Ponderings: Deus Ex

It's interesting playing Deus Ex 10 years after its release. Doubly interesting for me because this is the first time i've played it.... ever. There's no rose-tinted glasses to improve my experience. No past knowledge of controls or levels or AI to exploit. Even worse, I have all the knowledge and experience of nouvelle gaming – all the improvements and accoutrements afforded the modern gamer and their games of choice. Usually, in this cutting light, the games of the past just do not hold up.

Deus Ex does.

I often say that gameplay trumps graphics and this is definitely a case of that; though in its time Deus Ex was no slouch in the graphics department. I'm about 7 hours into the game and enjoying it a lot. People often extol the multitude of choices available for the player when talking about Deus Ex and, yes, every level has multiple paths on which you can walk..... narrow paths, but (marginally) different nonetheless. Going in with no expectations of the game I haven't been disappointed with these options so far but ultimately they seem a lot more shallow than some people might lead you to believe – they're not so far from the choices available in System Shock 2 or Dark Messiah of Might and Magic (which SO needs a sequel!!) in that what you specialise in with your augmentations and skills tends to dictate what method you use to bypass whatever obstacle is in the way.

What sets Deus Ex apart from other games like the ones mentioned is the pseudo-RPG mission mechanics with primary and optional secondary objectives available from various places within the mission areas. There just isn't another game that I can think of that combines this multifaceted mission approach that is often found within RPGs with the linear-ish plot and interface of a traditional first person shooter.

On the poorer side of things the dialogue isn't great, nor is the voice acting but then they're not any worse than 90% of the games released today..... and that's the saddest thing about this and various other games from that golden era of PC gaming: that games really haven't improved much over the last ten years. Even Half-Life 2, the second coming for PC games, showed little in terms of gameplay improvement over its predecessor – it was all prettied-up and the set-pieces were all perfectly calibrated for various play styles – but the “go here and do this for no real reason” element of the early behemoths of gaming was still there. Not only this but story and plot were pretty much espoused in that game in favour of “experience” and they only really came to the fore during the subsequent (and excellent) episodes.

Looking back, there was so much promise coming into the new millennium for gaming and yet overall I don't think we've really hit those expectations yet. There's always room for growth and it's nice to be able to mull over what worked and what didn't and then try and emulate and evolve what has gone before. However, i'd like more games to emulate the other excellent games that aren't Half-Life from around the 1995-2001 period. Half-Life is great and I do enjoy the games and appreciate what they've brought to the gaming landscape but when every first person shooter you play reminds you of the meticulous set-pieces and emotionally-charged dialogue and inter-character relationships of Half-Life 1 and 2 you get to wondering where the other influences should be.

I'm tentatively looking forward to Deus Ex: Human Revolution as I want what Deus Ex had to offer but with the influences of Half Life to bring it all together. It may be that this is the first game of its type to make something more than Half Life in a different skin.

15 June 2010

Co-op or competitive?

Back in the day, competitive meant playing against other people. It meant 1 VS anyone else. Team play meant competitive play in a cooperative environment. You don't play a team game alone. However, it looks like game playing itself has come down to this.
Players do not see themselves as part of a team. They do not control themselves as part of a team, of a greater whole. You watch those people play online and you see them just shooting, regardless of the consequenses because alls that matters to them is whether they, personally, get more or less points. What happened to the team game? What happened to sacrifice and honour?

Did the lack of team play on console over the last few years do this? Or maybe the current trend towards self-glorification? Honestly, it's probably neither and both a the same time. Humans have, as a society during my lifetime, become much more self-obsessed and self-indulgent... they believe that they are more important than other people and so there are corollary effects on how we perceive ourselves both in-game and in real life. It's a never-ending feedback effect that results in people that experience life in a way that is alien to most older people: they are part of a team but soley responsible.... they are not co-operating but innovating. You look at corporate CVs and you see the result of this social experimenteering... none of it is real and yet it all is. But how do you tell the difference?

Every single thing is real and yet it is not the exact experience of reality. *I* am responsible for X and yet, unknown to you, several dozen people were also responsible for X taking shape. It's ego... it's personality.... it's everything and nothing all combined to form a globulous whole that results in a non-definition. I worked in a team that resulted in my own personal goal....

Personally, i hope we move away from this self-aggrandisement because ultimately we are not generally responsible.... nor are we capable. Society is a mass of links and co-operations against other cooperations.... 1 vs 1, or deathmatch.... that is individual skill. Anything else is co-operation. The sooner we acknowledge this, the sooner we see where our strengths lie.

10 June 2010

Podcast! The Easy Button Episode 7

Amazing! Another podcast, just one week after the previous one..... We'll just ignore the fact that it was over a month since it was recorded. ;)

This episode we talk around the water cooler as usual; Fable 2, Master of Magic et al. but we also chat about remakes and reboots and why they're good or bad.


The Easy Button Episode 7

Podcast Compliant RSS Feed

8 June 2010

Regenerating health and infinite bad guys: A recipe for boredom?

In the years since Halo was first released regenerating health has become very popular in many first person and third person games - we've even discussed it on the podcast - but the last few games i've played that included this mechanic began to bore me pretty quickly. I think that i identified the problem: infinitely respawning enemies combined with a lack of AI challenge.

When you're given a game you want to be challenged at least slightly by the enemies at all points of the game. You want to be able to beat down enemies because of your skill (especially the enemies you faced at the start of the game during the latter part of the game) not because they're easy at all points in the game. At some point it becomes a shooting gallery and your god-like character has virtually no resistance with the exception of certain insta-kill situations.

Take the most recent example i played of this type of game, Wolfenstein (2009). The game was pretty good. There were weapon upgrades as well as power upgrades all set within a hub world that allowed limited exploration and collection of items. I really enjoyed it to begin with but after a few hours i'd grown bored due to the 4 types of enemies acting very predictably. They never did anything except advance on me and take cover so they died pretty easily. This meant that my character had infinite health and infinite ammo on at least two weapons as you could just travel around the hub world exterminating the zombie Nazis* and collecting their dropped weaponry. The fact that you get really cool-looking super weapons was lost on me because apart from one or two notable instances there just was no reason to use them and, since the ammo for those was scarce, i tended to save them until those particular instances occurred (there's three i can think of).

This is not to say i didn't die. The game itself has a difficulty though i would call some of the developer's tactics a little cheap or underhanded.

  • The way i'd fix this** would be to have limited enemies like there are when you're actually on a mission. Killing a thousand Nazis in the city made no sense. I'm a good soldier but not that good... and eventually tactics and strategy would result in the Nazis pulling out of the city and just bombarding it into ashes and rubble. That's what logic would say - rather than just sending legions of peons to their inevitable deaths. To help with this new mechanic i'd make it more difficult to have a head-on approach. Your allies in the two factions of the game would become very important then: do a mission to curry favour and then ask them for a diversion or for safe passage through espionage into enemy territory.

  • I'd design the levels to allow flanking by having the linear path dotted with arenas (something that this game lacked) as was previously seen in Halo itself. Allow movement within a space so that the player and the enemies can use it to their advantage.

    One particularly underused feature in Wolfenstein (or at least i thought) was the being able to walk through certain walls that had a black sun icon stencilled onto them. There was no reason for the stencil to be there in modern achitecture that i could think of and the mechanic tended to be used very sparingly to tackle obvious obstacles such as reaching a document in a locked room etc. I would have preferred this ability to be more universal in its application to the battlefield arenas whereby the player could use it to disappear and then reappear elsewhere. A real beneficial ability rather than what i ended up using it for: spotting enemy targets when they were poorly outlined against the background.

  • I'd make some of the AI enemies have the same powers as me but not better than me. Especially if they're supposed to have "equal" amulets or suits or whatever. Give them improved AI routines to allow smarter thinking by assessing the situation (e.g. their and my health, their and my ammo and the surrounding allies on both their and my sides) than their dumb but cannon fodder-esque minions. There's nothing worse than having your super-powered guy only able to use his powers for 4 seconds when the enemy are able to use them indefinitely. Allow room for players to invent their own tactics on the fly by making the enemies use their powers and then have to recharge and then taking advantage of that.

So what do you think? Does this type of gameplay bore you? What would do or want to fix in a game like that?

*There are no zombies in the game, just bog-standard AI.
** I enjoyed Wolfenstein for what it was - which was certainly not a bad game.

7 June 2010

Futurism and the negative Nancy's of today's future thinkers...

I realise that it's late in the night and that, possibly, my self-induced drunken stupor is writing this response reflexively instead of my intellectual self writing this in an engaged manner but i was spell-bound by Jim Rossignol's musings on post-apocalyptica.

The thing i found most interesting was the paragraph where school children were found to have become more melancholy in their visions for the future. This resonated with me because, well, for a number of years now i've been quite melancholy in my visions of the future as well. I think that while Iain MacLeod's observations probably ring true in general, they are an indication of a much larger trend in human behaviour. Jim mentions the rosy past of futurism but, again, that was purely a reflection of the social feeling of the time. You look at the period from the end of WW2 towards 1960/70 and you see an unprecedented economic recovery AND expansion of knowledge which, coupled together, led the way forward to where we are today. It's not surprising that this period sparked fantastic imaginings for the world of tomorrow.

However, look a few years earlier (before and during WW1/WW2) and you quickly find that futurism was so much more darker.... indeed, even those works drawn up on the eastern horizon during the post WW2 - 1960/70s period were darker than those we are more familiar with in the west. Why? Because life was harder for those people. Let's face it, we are a collection of our experiences and art reflects and magnifies the hopes and fears of humanity.

So, while the golden age of western comics and sci-fi dealt with unlimited expansion in technology and zeal (while reminding us of the terrors of tyranny/bigotry/racism coming from the world wars), recent times reflect the more realistic imaginings of science and technology as depicted through the eyes of a sensationalistic and morbidly-focused press. We know so much more now..... we know what can be possible and what is more likely to be improbable. Where once our pages were graced with flying cars for everyone, we now realise that clean fuel technology is more likely to be present in the transportation of the future. Spin that image around in the politicalised news-reporting machine and you end up with an energy deficient future where only the privileged can afford to travel. Send it back through the poltical reporting machine of the 1950s/60s and you would instead end up with the Mr Fusion's of the Back to the Future franchise - a car that runs on rubbish and which has no emissions.

I guess what i'm trying to say is that the attraction of the golden age of sci-fi/imagination isn't that it was all positive and amazing... but how naive we were to believe what we thought it was okay to believe. I think, in this regard, Fallout 3 has this sentiment nailed perfectly; a place where each car has its own nuclear power supply and radiation disperses within a few minutes or years..... where unbound optimism has lead to a land devoid of hope. The new age is a place of reality and is where we strive for more realistic goals and in doing so we achieve hope through our efforts. Humans have survived as long as we have done because of our foresight: we can predict outcomes and though they're not always 100% right, knowing that something can happen means that you can be prepared for it. This means that we can be hopeful for the future despite naysaying that same future.... we must just be mindful in order to preserve our kind.

This isn't neccessarily bad, it just IS. It prepares us for the inevitable in such a way as to keep us motivated to do better. The old us would have made the expensive and hugely inefficient Concorde, the new us is going to make planes that can fly around the world non-stop on half the fuel load of a normal long-distance flight.

Isn't that amazing?