26 December 2015

Sci-Fi Tropes: Space Warp...

I should preface this article by pointing out that I do not know everything, ever and that I am working on the knowledge I have collected and can interpret from the given experiences I have been exposed to through both personal exploration and accidental exposure. There! That should fend-off the Babylon 5 fans! ;)
Art by Funerium on DA

There are actually many sci-fi misconceptions about space and many tropes used regarding this part our understanding but I'm only going to focus on one: warping space.

Space as we refer to it is (according to our current limited understanding) actually a continuous mesh of physicality, energy and time - whatever that may actually turn out to be! Most people popularly call this construction Spacetime.

The important thing to note about spacetime is that no constituent of this can be separated completely from the rest of it. Much as particle-wave duality has no separation - i.e. everything is a particle and a waveform, including macro objects like humans, trees, planets etc. - spacetime is its own thing. It is all around us, within us and part of us. In many ways, George Lucas was correct about The Force: including that we can affect it.

Don't get any hasty ideas now because we can't affect it in any 'conscious' manner. We affect it by 'being'. Simply existing in our own configuration, our own mass has an imprint and waveform on the very fabric of spacetime. It's a very small imprint but it exists nonetheless.

So taking these concepts further lets get onto the topic at hand: warping space.

10 December 2015

Sci-fi tropes: Nanobots can't exist...

I've not had a lot of time to write a review of any of the games I've been playing but I did want to publish at least one article a month and so we're stuck with a simple post from the meanderings of my mind. (And now I'm late because I didn't manage to get this post done in time for the end of November! :) )

Take a look up there at the title. It's a little inflammatory and simplistic but it's also true. Let me summarise the point of this post neatly:

Nearly every depiction of nanobots in sci-fi and popular culture is incorrect. 

10 October 2015

Post Thoughts: Grow Home

Grow Home has been a surprise to me. It's an indie (sort-of-though-not-really) produced title from Ubisoft with minimalist graphics and gameplay. However, this simple combination is very effective and serves to evoke pleasant memories of other games I've played. Part Super Mario, part Minecraft and part Pikmin, Grow Home tugs on all the right emotional centres in my brain...

29 August 2015

Mid-Thoughts: Diablo 3 - Reaper of Souls

What's interesting is that this artwork is used for the loading screen of the game on the PS4 version (at least) but they cropped it so you can't see the wings.... so it looks like this dude has spirit armpit hair!

I loved the original Diablo. It was at a time when I didn't read game magazines and I'd never heard of it before my dad returned from Canada with a copy (huge box with plastic window and all!)... only to realise that our 486 with a floppy disk drive would not run it.

The game sat in its box for a few months while I poured over the manual, absorbing all the information that I could, until one day, at a PC fair, I made a faustian deal with my dad. We bought a pentium chip and accompanying motherboard (presumably also with compatible RAM but I forget all the details) with a CD-ROM drive and switched out the parts of the 486 using the same case without telling my mother.

I have no idea whether she ever knew about it or not but I was able to play Diablo without any hassles. I still have very fond memories of the game, its aesthetic and its replayability even though it took me a good while to understand how the game really worked since before that I'd mostly been playing Wolfenstein 3D, Doom and sidescrollers like Commander Keen and Duke Nukem.

Needless to say that I picked up Diablo 2 (and it's expansion) on day one of each release and played them for many hours with multiple characters. I just loved trying out new builds and Act 1 & 2 were my favourite out of them all.

I, like many people on the internet, did not take the reception of Diablo 3's change in tone and mechanics all that well. Sure, I didn't rant and rave about it like some extremists did but I did think that the design of WoW had crept into the franchise. At the time many people said this was being paranoid and just wanting dark game design.

I actually held off buying the game because there were plenty of other games to play (god knows how many!) and what with Blizzard's restrictive DRM, real names policy and other, in my opinion, SNAFUs I just didn't want to buy it on the PC.... So you can imagine I was happy when they announced the console versions. 

I didn't buy it when those were released because I thought that maybe my gaming tastes had changed in the intervening years and having read up on the way skills were implemented and how the story wasn't that great (according to other people) I figured I'd wait until the price came down.

Boring details finished!!

30 July 2015

Social change vs becoming more responsible... vs the advertising world...

So, I'm old. Not so old I'm getting a retirement cheque any time soon but old enough to look back on things and see how those things have changed or turned out. So it's surprising for me to admit that things are getting pretty good for creators on the internet.

Okay, I'm sure there are plenty of creators struggling with stolen works and their (obviously valued) time and products being free-loaded by the likes of everyone and anyone... However, I feel that there is a slow change occurring in people's general perceptions and their conception of what it means to be a consumer.

22 July 2015

Post Thoughts: Arkham Knight

I don't really think there's much to say to introduce one of the biggest and most successful game series in recent years. Arkham Knight was developed by the original team behind Arkham Asylum and City but not Origins. Some people decry Origins and City as being inferior to Asylum and I think they're right if you take it only from one perspective: Asylum was a very limited experience and as such provided a very self-contained and explanatory story and environment which an open-world game can not hope to achieve (at least not without significant investment and even larger teams of developers).

Think of it like this: Half Life 2 provides a certain kind of experience compared to Morrowind or GTA San Andreas. Knight exhibits this same behaviour when compared to Asylum - the world and experience is a little stretched and strained but it's still a fantastic game and story and I think that's the take-away message that'll bear out below.

What ya' gonna' do when he comes for you?

21 June 2015

Public Service Announcement: Freelancer working on Win 7

This is a bit of an unusual post for me but I've had to perform this twice within a year and a half and I forgot the particulars for the second time... they were not so easily found even with half of the knowledge!

Freelancer was and is one of my favourite Privateer-a-likes. No, not an elite-a-like, more of an elite-a-lite. ;) Anyway, it can be a bit of a pain to get working on modern computers. Win 7 actually is easier to get working than on Vista (though that is entirely possible as I've also managed it by following the below steps as well) though I've no experience with win 8+.

It was pretty hard for me to find the information the first time around as I had nothing to go on. However, the fan sites and forums do harbour this information if you know the key search terms and where to look... So, the following is as much as a reminder for myself for future play sessions as it is a repository for everyone else who's a casual player and not into the online fansites for this game.

12 May 2015

Sci-fi tropes: To singularity or not to singularity...

So I've read a lot about the probable, possible and, at it's most egregious, inevitable AI singularity. However, I just don't buy it.

I have come to the conclusion that the AI singularity can never come to pass. Note that I state, specifically, an AI singularity... Whether an intelligence singularity can and will occur is another matter entirely.

10 May 2015

Post Thoughts: Dragon's Dogma + Dark Arisen

It's difficult to know where to begin with this Post Thoughts; I've been playing Dragon's Dogma and Dark Arisen on and off since 2012. It's a fantastic game and there's so much there, much like when trying to talk about an Elder Scrolls game, that I'm bound to mix things up, miss details out and worst of all not do the game justice. As always, spoilers ahead...

Scale is not something that this game shies away from - not only in the architecture but also for the enemies as well...

22 March 2015

The two map problem...

I blame Far Cry 2 for this, though it may just occupy my earliest memory of this 'problem'... some other game may be the culprit instead! Suffice it to say, The Two Map Problem (TTMP) is a pretty rare but annoying (at least to me) issue mostly regarding open-world games. Let me explain:

Far Cry 2 had an expansive map. I conquered the known universe, like Columbus.. or was it Ghengis Khan? Anyway, I'd unlocked all the safe places, the weapons, knew the routes and settlements - I had explored every nook and cranny available to my time; I had mastered the world and its systems. This was enjoyable. It is enjoyable to complete things even if they are on your own terms (I'm looking at you achievements!).

Then I hit the plot point. In a cutscene I was rendered impotent (yes, by now I'm used to it - damn you, developers!) and then forced into a new world. One I hadn't conquered.

I wasn't reduced in skill. I didn't have my weapons taken away from me but it was, nevertheless, a setback. I didn't know these paths, settlements or landscapes. It was confusing and debilitating. I'd spent countless hours mastering the world and now I had a whole new world to master. 

In a strange way, it was my fault.

I had constantly desired more. I wanted to explore and understand this world even further. To enjoy new vistas and secrets. To clamber, unbound to the limits of the world provided. I didn't like what I was given.

So what went wrong?

I've long thought about this issue since Far Cry 2 and there have been a number of games that have performed this 'insult' to the player: most recently, Dying Light (though both Dead Island and Riptide did the same thing) and it is this game that has prompted me into this dialogue.

The problem with open-world games that use a two map layout is that the instant you move to the second map you have undone everything the player has mastered in the original map - whether that's an understanding of all the places in the world or the optimum travel paths, secret locations, known characters or resources.... Other games that perform what would otherwise appear to be similar mechanisms, such as RPGs with multiple local maps fitting into an overworld do not suffer the same possible negative emotional reaction from changing map due to their relative impermanence. i.e. You don't need to master a map because the world itself is larger than any one map and characters and resources you might need or use are not necessarily in a single place and thus the player's mastery of the game systems is more important than their knowledge of the world layout.

Games that do deviate from this caveat include such titles that remove previously accessible game hubs, removing player's ability to engage in upgrades or character interaction. Usually, these are unlocked again in some different form later on in the game but not until some plot points are driven through by the player. e.g. Borderlands 2.

Let's put it this way - the two map problem is only a problem because the developers have put such importance on the map layout in the first place. To give an example: Dying Light, a great game that I've thoroughly enjoyed, relies on you to be able to successfully navigate the world in order to avoid the predators that hunt you at night or to better reach objectives and deal with hordes of undead during the day... 

You want to learn and explore new areas but at the same time, to be taken from the world you know into a new world without all the comforts of the previous one and with a different landscape is both exciting and annoying - much as, for many humans, the prospect of being thrown into a completely unfamiliar space or society is intimidating until you understand and learn to accept its idiosyncrasies. 

Developers may need to throw players into these secondary worlds due to memory limitations of the hardware or game engines but effectively birthing the player anew into the same universe twice is not an efficient or, in my opinion, effective way of managing the player/world interaction.

At the end of the day, that says more, perhaps, about my mentality and psychological profile than it does about the game... but I'd rather have the ability to move out from the world I've learnt to understand and master than be a baby again in a new world, completely cut off from the old for a second time in the same game. There's a sense of continuity and relationship when moving across a space - even if the architecture changes significantly... but that is lost when you're thrown into what is a space devoid of all relationship to the first landscape you are familiar with,

Standing at the top of the tallest spaces in Dying Light (the Old Town and the Dam) I strain to see the areas I am familiar with in the skybox the developers have given me. A frame of reference for me to get my bearings. There are none and I feel untethered from the world...

12 February 2015

On spoilers...

I'm a no spoiler sort of person. Always have been, always will be. I won't get into the reasons for why I don't like spoilers, nor the mentality of those who are for or against them. Neither will I delve into the seeming lack of empathy one side has for the other. What I will address is one particular phrase that does tend to crop up from the spoiler side of the equation.

"The ending isn't any more important than any of the moments leading to it."

It speaks to a belief that the journey is more important than the destination. How you get somewhere is more important than the end point. There's just a couple of things I want to say to people who think this way:

You don't believe in crescendos? You don't think that the whole can be more than just the sum of the parts? 

One of the major storytelling conceits - and even experiences in life itself - is that an event can be lifted past its inherent momentary significance by events that preceded it or that will proceed it. The man standing in Tiananmen Square was a significant event in itself... but without the context of the events that preceded that moment it has much less power and meaning.

It's just a guy on the way to the shops, right?
The way most stories are constructed is to build to a crescendo moment, a scene where the themes of the story are explored or exploited. Even more complicated stories have mini-crescendos within this crescendo where past scenes are hints of future events... This is generally called foreshadowing and is a way of building a rapport with the subconscious of the consumers of the story (and sometimes the conscious of very astute consumers of the story - depending on how subtle the foreshadowing is).

The reason these techniques work is because our human brains work like this. It's as simple as that. We think, therefore foreshadowing allows our brains to accept future events more easily and by doing so allows us to link together multiple events in a way that makes us appreciate the whole story and theme(s) more completely.

Thus, spoilers (or what some people consider spoilers) detract from those crescendo moments. They take that energy and effort expended in building up to a moment to make it more than it is on its own and actually turn every preceding event into a negative build-up emotionally.

I would argue that people who aren't bothered by spoilers have the wrong conception of what a spoiler is and what it does. If someone has already experienced something that was not spoilt for them then spoil the event for someone else it is possible that these people did not realise that the build-up to the event contributed to their enjoyment of it. They are in crescendo-denial. The other type of person is someone who allows themselves to be spoilt of a sequence of events and then go and watch them anyway. I'm not saying they're wrong but I question if they would have enjoyed the sequence of events more if they had experienced them without being spoilt.

It's not a question of each event in the sequence not being enjoyable on its own merits. The question is whether we believe, as a species, that enjoyment of a sequence of events is affected by the way consumption of the sequence occurs. i.e. Can something be more than the sum of its parts? Of course that also implies the corollary: Can an event be detracted from by previous events leading up to it?

I posit that if you think that spoilers do not matter then you cannot hold this belief. The two concepts are logically at odds to one another.