Archive for April, 2007

2 Days with Pokemon Diamond

Ok so getting pokemon turned out to be quite an ordeal. I had a gift card that I was saving from Christmas to buy Pokemon for Best Buy and even though I’ve lost favor with Best Buy I still don’t mind using Gift Cards there. So I went online and ordered Pokemon Pearl cause the exclusives seemed a tad better there, and I didn’t mind if I got my copy a few days late. Well if Best Buy makes it obvious what address you are shipping it to, I don’t know where it is because this was the second time that I failed to notice a shipping address entry form and it had my old address in it. Needless to say when I went to check the delivery I was shocked to see it going to the wrong place. So I couldn’t change the address so I am going to have to cancel the order altogether. So on Tuesday I went to Target and bought Diamond (just in case I still get Pearl in the mail somehow). So I got it, though much later than I really thought I would (I was expecting it on Monday cause it shipped on Friday).

So what to say about the newest Pokemon that hasn’t already been said? First, it is pokemon through and through. The game itself really hasn’t changed much. I’m happy for the return of day & night cycle that was lost in R&S (Ruby & Sapphire), I’m kind of annoyed of the return of berries, though I am hoping that they make them easier to manage, Battle is identicaly, there are no new types added, there are a bunch of new pokemon, especially evolutions of old ones it seems. Overall very much the same.

So what is different? Well I’ve seen a lot of reviewers taking points off because the graphics aren’t great, but you know I never felt they had to be state of the art. Pokemon has always been a tad behind on graphics largely due to the fact that they need graphics for 400+ pokemon plus the various attacks, inventory items, and characters, etc. So I don’t mind that the graphics aren’t quite what the DS can pump out, RPGs are rare that do anyway. I think the graphics are great personally, they feel a lot like the harvest moon like graphics from maybe early gamecube or late N64 which isn’t too bad really. They are cute, and the 3D switch is apparant. They zoom in and out a lot, and it offers a slightly more immersive feel because of it. Something else that they’ve been able to do more because of it is true vertical levels. When you go down a canyon, the camera zooms down so you feel like you are going down, and there are many more multi-tiered areas. For instance the first badge has 2 or 3 levels to it inside and when I went in I was just like “Wow, they’ve never done this before” it felt more like a 3d Platformer than a top down RPG. They’ve also added a number of little things that I appreciate. For instance, now you can change the graphic of your pokeballs when they open, although you need to get various in game pieces to do it. Things like how the battles start with going through the grass and having it split open to see the pokemon you face is really clever.  There are a lot of little things that make the graphics work well. I’ve also heard some complaints on how they haven’t really updated combat graphics and this is largely true, although they have updated most of the attacks, most of the updates are marginal at best, but some are spectacular like the new Hidden Power animation is great (and you see it early too!). I think it is getting better, but again with all the moves involved in the game this is probably hard to do too much.

I’ve also heard complaints the sounds are bad, especially pokemon sounds. First of all I think the switch to stereo sound has helped even basic sounds quite a bit. I think the music is fitting for the DS and there seems to be much more variation in music than in previous Pokemon games. We do still have the cheap little chirps of the pokemon, however, in a way this isn’t bad because it is almost retro at this point that they keep the original sounds from 10 years ago around.

The pokemon themselves are fairly cool, I especially like the new electric. Something I found interesting so far is that it has always been the case that the early pokemon have been grass & bug types, but here they have been fairly mixed, with maybe normal being the early strong one.  There are a lot of normal types and they are all fairly boring. However, some are kind of fun like I just got a new psychic type that is the first catchable one that I’ve seen that looks like a bell. It seems this one they are steering away from the animal pokemon and going towards every day objects a little more (another new one is a bird with a musical note for a head, at least I think it’s new). There also seems to be a lot of new cat-like creatures so I like that as I love cats.

From what the NPCs say, they’ve also changed how they sell items. Apparantly the more badges you get the more items a store will sell you. Previously the stores later in the game just sold more and the early stores sold less.  If you finished the game and went back to a newby area, then you would have to return to the vet areas to get more good pokeballs, but I assume that has changed and if you get more badges all stores will sell the better pokeballs.

Also the team wild pokemon battles are weird, strategic, and annoying all at once. I have only had one experience with it but you can’t capture a pokemon while the other one is still alive. So you have to start by killing off the one you don’t want, and then go back weaken the one you do want and catch it all while hoping that your partner doesn’t kill it before you catch it. This has caused problems though as one particular pokemon named Murkrow has been a very difficult catch and my partner almost always kills it before i can get it. I’ve even had one battle where I threw 4 balls at it and it still wasn’t enough. Hopefully I can go back and get it alone, but the nice thing about the double wild pokemon thing is that you generally get two different pokemon which makes it somewhat easier to find the one you are looking for, just more difficult to actually get it.

Overall, I like what they’ve done so far with this Pokemon. It seems like all the elements are much better merged together than in previous attempts. Previously they had added various features like the berries and the natures and the contests and it never really felt right together, but I think this game does alot to really bring everything together.

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Virtual Worlds Weekly #11

I think I forgot last week’s assignment. I need to go back and post that at some point because I felt it was a fairly good response. This week’s response focuses on fan fiction and corporations and I also thought it turned out fairly well too. Enjoy.

In both texts, “Literacy in Virtual Worlds” by Black & Steinkuehler and “Quentin Tarantino’s Star Wars?” by Jenkins, I thought there was an interesting dichotomy between the creators of fan fiction and the creators of the original work’s corporation. In both there seem to be issues where the corporation doesn’t want this fan fiction to be around, and oftentimes actively works to squash any such fan fiction. This, despite the fact that such fan fiction offers free advertising for their product, and very rarely does anyone confuse a work of fan fiction with that of standard cannon of the fiction being written on. In fact, this constant fight between the corporation and the individual’s rights to both property and thought has gotten to the point where the fight itself is what is ruining the reputation of not only the property itself, but now the owners of the property such as LucasArts in the case of the Star Wars property.

Continue reading ‘Virtual Worlds Weekly #11’

A note to the news media: I know why he did it.

Everyone in the media has been postulating why it was that the shooter killed everyonoe at Virginia Tech and I think I have an answer as to why. I have seen many photos of the deviant deluging my television screen since the shooting and I have noticed one thing in particular…. he is wearing a shirt in every single picture! It is obvious that this man was obsessed with shirts so much that he felt the need to wear one all the time! This obsession finally broke a tipping point when he felt he should be the only one who is allowed to wear shirts and started with the only logical step… to kill hot women who wear shirts and anyone who might try to stop him from declothing these women. After this moment, he stopped and pondered for a minute why anyone should wear shirts but him and started shooting people in mass in the area of school most likely to make shirts… the engineering department. It is shocking, but it is true. Shirts are the downfall of american society. We need to immediately disrobe our tops and burn them never to be clothed again, or risk having some other freakazoid like Seung-hui going off on mass murder sprees. Disrobe america!

EQ2’s Tradeskills

Ok, EQ2 doesn’t have a very stellar tradeskill system, in fact looking at most of the recent systems coming out in new games it seems to me as if everyone has just kind of given up on tradeskills and is resigned to just let it be “grind grind grind yer way to the cap.” This system is so inherently wrong that it makes no one actually want to do it, even if the reward is worth the effort of it (Some games put in some of the best loot in the game into their tradeskills). EQ2 tried to make the system a little more interesting by putting in a few tradeskill arts which were supposed to add some timing and strategy to the system, but in the end it just made the system slightly easier to get the best quality stuff than I am sure the designers intended. It is also not that much more interesting than any other system ever was, the button pressing doesn’t even seem to prevent macroing much as people seem to ignore almost completely the little bonus boxes.

With that being said, I thought I’d come up with a few simple ideas to help EQ2’s system in particular. A lot of these ideas would offer very little new tech and would likely just involve the insertion of a small amount of code.

The first idea is to change rares so that they are about 10% more difficult to make, but offer about 10% more xp from the craft. This does a couple things, it makes sure the high quality stuff is no longer guaranteed, and it also makes it so that the player is rewarded with more xp for his efforts, making spending that rare harvest more worth it just to gain the xp. It also means less grind, less grind = good.

To that end, they need to institute i so that you gain xp from stuff that has greyed out to you. The reason for this is that right now there is little reason for a 60 to make level 20 items unless it is for the cash, and to be honest it is likely cheaper to get a level 20 to make 20 items than a 60 due to the lack of xp. Even if the xp isn’t great, offering a small chunk of xp for helping a friend would go a long way to grow a stronger sense of community, and also take away some of the grind. I mean no one is going to make this stuff just for the xp, it would be a lot more natural, someone needs help, you help and get xp for the effort.

Next a slight overhaul in the rare spells. This may be slightly controversial. I suggest a tiered system to adepts like we currently see for apprentice spells. This would mean that if you only complete the first bar you get adept2, second and third bars would get adept3, and all four bars would get adept4. They did this to add app4s a long time ago, they can easily put in the code for adept4s too. I could see this as controversial because it would waste a lot of rares, a LOT of them. Because people wouldn’t want anything but adept 4s, they wouldn’t buy 3s and people would just toss the 3s, and even get angry if the crafter fails to get a 4. This would also lessen the need for masters which again may upset people but at the same time may help alot of others.

Lastly new secondary tradeskills. I first would like to see yet another revision to some of the tradeskill items to become more adornment like. What I mean by this is that some items are actually pretty cool in tinkering, however they take the form of armor that some can’t wear, and at best is really bad for those who can. The whole purpose of the item is for the effect, which is fine but it’d be nice if the ability could just be added to an existing piece of equipment somehow. Tinkering would still have a ton of items that wouldn’t require this adornment system, but this would work better I think than how they currently are. I also think they need to re-add the rares into tinkering. But outside these I actually like the old secondary tradeskills.

For new ones, I’d like to see an appearance secondary skill. This skill would allow a crafter to apply a change in appearance to weapons, clothes and armor. They might even be able to do this so you can have 2 skills, one deals with physical appearance, the other deals with color, or put em both in the same thing. But the basic idea is that you could swap out the appearance of an armor with something else if you wish. This would mean that any armor could look any way you want. And you could also do color changes in the same way, offering players a truly customizable look and feel to their armorsets and weapons.

Lastly, since these suggestions include more rares needed in order to keep it going. I think that one of two things needs to occur. 1) slightly increase rare drop rates or have new harvesting tools that increase rare harvest chances or 2) Add new difficult tradeskill quests that require some sort of time, travel, and maybe instanced dungeuns of some sort that have rewards of rares (maybe even 24 hour timers on the quest or what not, or access quests to get to special mines that have a much higher chance at dropping rares, something to draw more interest for tradeskilling).

My problem with the Wii

Overall, I like the Wii in general. I think it works great, the games on it are unique, fun and interesting. I like the download service and have several, the channels are great though I haven’t been voting recently which I need to get back into, and I’m excited about the future of the console in general.

My real problem with it is the cost of software. When Nintendo announced the Wii they made a point to say that the software would be just as affordable as the hardware, saying that they won’t release a game for over $50, in contrast to the $60 of most Microsoft games at the time. While this is still great for the top tier games coming to the Wii like Zelda, Super Paper Mario, Madden, and SSX Blur, it doesn’t necessarily translate to more affordable, or rather better value, software.

A perfect example for this is Cooking Mama. Cooking Mama was originally part of the DS Touch Generations, which retail at only $19.99, in stark contrast to a normal title’s $29.99-$34.99. Yet, when they ported the game over to the Wii, they changed some functionality for the control, and added a couple small features and recipes, yet the game was essentially the same. And for this very little effort put forward by the devs, they have decided to charge the full price of $49.99. We see it again with Trauma Center, another almost direct port that got increased another $20 in price just for coming to the Wii. It used to be games were ported from the consoles and decreased in price, not to the consoles and increased in price, people will pay less for a game they already own just to make it portable, they usually won’t pay more to make it unportable. I think Cooking Mama would have done well if they priced it at $29.99-34.99, similarily i think Trauma Center would have done well at $39.99. At max price, these two games didn’t feel like you were getting your money’s worth but at budget price I think they would have done well.

Relatedly, I also think the Virtual Console is fairly overpriced as well, though i actually like the service. I think all we’ve really learned is that fanatics and reviewers will buy them all, but for everyone else only the top tier games like Zelda and Mario are worth full price. I think the best example of the overpricing of Nintendo is with the recently released Galaga which is a great game, but the 360 has the same game at bout the same price, just remastered with additional features and better graphics. Why are we paying the same for less?

I think to fix the VC they need to do two things. First they need to have a tiered pricing system, not based just on console, but also based on quality of title. For instance, each console would have tier A, B, & C. For the NES the A tier titles could go for $5-6, B would go for $4, and C would go for $3. (the reason for the upper range in tier A is because I do think there are AA titles, and I also think some titles are getting hit with liscensing which is causing price to go up, like the NES TMNT game which is being sold at $6 for no reason). I think this would satisfy everyone. A game like Galaga may still be at $5 because it is top tier in quality, but games like Soccer which are aweful could go at $3 and see slightly more sales and give the buyer a feeling of value for their money ($3 isn’t much to spend even for a crappy game). This could all change if they started providing online play & leaderboards to games and instantly they would feel more worthwhile.

The second thing they need to do is offer some sort of rental service. Either allow people to rent a game for $1 for a week/month, or allow people to download 5-6 games a month at $10 a month. There was talk of such a thing before launch, and I hope they are actually just waiting to have a decent inventory of games and kinks worked out to do it, because this is something that is really needed. This would help promote quality games that didn’t really sell well and get known when they were new, like Ristar. You are totally dependent on reviews on these older games you’ve never heard of and sometimes reviews aren’t right. What a rental service would provide is a way for people to actually try out some of these older games, much like going to blockbuster to try out a new game like it used to be done. I do think this will happen eventually, but I hope they make it a good value because value still needs to occur on the platform.

Joost

So I recently got into the Joost beta, I don’t particularly remember signing an NDA, but in case I did I am going to try to keep this mini-review fairly vague.  If you do not know what Joost is, it is a program by the developers of Skype that is essentially Television over the internet. It is set up in channels and you can watch whatever you want whenever you want, sort of.

Well so I think that the tech of the program is great. I haven’t watched a full episode of anything yet to find out exactly how it works but i saw their demonstration and a P diddy video and it is looking good. The television stream is smooth, there are slight jaggies but nothing too bad, the interface is amazingly slick. The plugins are cool and i think will offer the program something different as well.

However, I do have a concern for the program. I do realize that it is only beta, but at the same time the company has been getting a lot of attention for signing on the likes of MTV, Comedy Central, and National Geographic (I think they signed with Viacom). But really this isn’t that big of a deal, each channel has about maybe 15-20 programs on it, and these programs are usually canceled ones. For comedy central the main shows they have are Stella and Freak Show… now they may have just gone this route first to test the waters, like I said this is just beta. But if this is what they come out with after launch, the program will fail.

I also wonder how they will handle live programming. Yes it is nice that you can watch what you want when you want it, like TiVo just without the recording aspect. However, some programs are best watched live. For instance they have the indy racing channel which if is anything like other channels will likely have 2 year old races. Who the heck is going to watch this? This is a bigger niche than the classic ESPN channel. Currently they have no streaming news or sports live broadcasts and this is something they need in order to really have a chance to replace TV. These things do not work the next day, they really need to be watched when or near the air time.

But overall, the program shows a lot of promise. If they can provide the right kind of content, keep it easy to navigate, and keep the UI gorgeous, they may have a winner again.

Development

So one of my longstanding projects has been to try to get together with my friends to find out if they are interested in game development at all. This is something that I’ve found fairly difficult to do, I actually thought it might be easy on some but is proving very difficult on all.

The first two are guild mates, neither is likely proficient but could do early in my development when we are kind of learning the tricks. We could all learn together. One is a programmer who switched out of CS Major but loved it, and one was a graphic artist major who dropped out to take care of his family. Both I think are in prime position to join me, and between the three of us we would have one in each field. This would be great early when I am building the company, learning, and making more simple games. However, these two are stuck up on the “we don’t have time or experience” and “we can’t make games so far from each other” mantra. For these two especially, none of this is true. The simple games can easily be made online with various calloboration tools, early in the company’s development we wouldn’t need anyone to provide a ton of time, maybe 5-10 hours a week, and the early games would be simple by design and would allow the three of us to grow into true developers. Yes eventually we would start making more serious games and at that point we would need to consider looking at getting together in a single place, and at this point we would have issues. But really this  wouldn’t happen for at least a year and at that point if the two are still interested in developing the larger games, or can, then we would talk about how to move forward.

The third was a network programmer for MCI and thus would be an invaluable asset for any online games that would be made. In fact, I think her especially I could widdle into doing, she was laid off when all the telcom mergers were occuring, and is currently a housewife. I had gotten a commitment of “if you need a little help here there I would help, but I’m not sure if I wanna do it full time.” Which was great, I got some sort of commitment, and I think I could continue to work her and get her full in. Again I think here we would run into moving issues as she had a family and it is hard to uproot families, so this again would be an issue a year down the road (but she was a very likely candidate for lead network programmer). Her problem is though that she left the game and has been totally out of contact with everyone for about 7 or 8 months, this makes convincing her extremely difficult.

My forth is an old guildmate in AC2, and shadowbane. He is currently a database programmer who may be going back to school soon for his master’s. He I think would be a really hard sell, he left gaming behind, and is happy with his current job. Especially if he goes back to school, the gaming development community can rarely pay for masters students, but I still have hope that I can pique his interest to help part time.

I think there are a couple of other friends I’ve had that may be interested in this type of thing, but I can’t recall who they are at all. I think that it is surprising the number of people out there you may already know who may have interest. The main thing I think I need to do though, is figure out a way to convince these people that the first year at least will not require much time or experience and that we can try to work out long term plans later if they are still interested. The first year is really like a trial, to see if they like it, to see if they think they can do it, to see if we work well together, and to learn the field. It’d be a great experience for all, and I think for some who are unhappy with their living situations, it may be a good way to get out of a tough area.