Thursday, 15 October 2009

An open letter to all MPs

Dear Members of Parliament,

I am not the kind of person to describe tax as theft: I understand that the money gained from the public is meant to then be used to benefit the public as a whole through providing services such as the NHS.
I understand that when your constituency is not near London, you need to have somewhere to live in London so you can attend Parliament, and that we should therefore pay for the costs accrued in your having that residence.

In recent times the costs have been a popular topic of discussion, and rightly so. Some of your claims have been unreasonable, and you have been caught. Others are still under investigation.

You claim that your claims were within the rules: That might be so, but you wrote those roles, and in such an ambiguous manner that you could abuse them.
It used to be the law that black people could not sit next to white people on the bus. Just because something is a rule or a law does not mean that it is moral.
The committee that is investigating your claims is imposing limits retroactively on the claims that you could make.
You believe that it is unfair, that the rules as they were - weak, vague and easy to abuse - should be all that is taken into account.

When I hear you saying this, I only see you as petulant children, who having been caught doing something wrong, stamp their feet and cry "It's not fair!"
If you claimed more than £2000 a year for cleaning your second home, then you have either been embezzling some of the money, or have been grossly overcharged for the service.

You are by us elected to represent us. We give you money (and are given no choice in the matter) in order for you to do the job you chose to do and that we allow you to do, yet you take more than is reasonable. Money is a limited resource, yet when the account from which you take looks like it is going to run out, rather than reflecting upon your own spending habits and budgeting like the rest of us have to do, you demand that we give you more from now on.
Hard working, nice, honest people have to live on much less than you get as a default, and yet you keep on demanding more and more.

What you have done is corrupt. What you have done is immoral. What you have done is illegal in all but name. Tax is not theft, yet you have been stealing from those who put you in the position where you could steal from them.

When you disagree with the findings of investigations, you lose the trust of the people who you should represent. When you state that you are entitled to what you have gained illicitly, you generate no sympathy, only abhorrence.

Those who do what is right, apologise, and pay back what they are asked to might be forgiven by the populace, and re-elected.
Those who fight to the bitter end will be recognised for what they are: greedy, obnoxious, self-righteous and corrupt, and you will fall. Though you will still get your pensions, still be paid an extortionate amount of money for doing nothing, at the cost of the tax payer, for the rest of your lives.

Sunday, 20 September 2009

The Final Destination 3D

On Wednesday I saw the fourth film in the dramatised safety manual franchise "The Final Destination" - and because the option was there I saw it in 3D. I've got to say, it was much better than I expected.

Let me first of all say that there was a trailer for James Cameron's "Avatar" before the film, showing off what can be done using this new(ish) fangled 3D technology. The trailer was very impressive. However, it made the flaws with how the technology is implemented in the feature more apparent. In the trailer, you could look at the objects in the foreground comfortably, but in the Final Destination focusing on the foreground objects made me feel queasy, so instead I had to focus on the middle-ground at most. The effect was, however, impressive overall.

Now, on to the film itself. It follows the same plot as the other three films, where a young person has a vision of a disaster about to occur in which they and many others die. They save some people, but then those people die in the order in which they would have died according to the vision.

In the first film the disaster was a plane exploding in mid-air, and the deaths that followed were entertaining. Some were quite funny, and some were incredibly surprising. For the most part the deaths were caused by human stupidity, setting off a reasonably convincing Rube-Goldberg device resulting in the character's death. Occasionally there would be some sort of black haze just before events would occur, which I interpreted as some sort of physical manifestation of death watching the characters.

The second film was some sort of accident on a motorway, but I can't remember enough of the rest of the film to discuss it.

The third film was a disaster at a theme park, and the film itself was a disaster. The deaths were hilarious purely because they were not convincing in the least - one major flaw was that the writers seemed to do away with the concept of the deaths being matters of human error or stupidity, instead making death an invisible force that, for example, pushes things over to make a forklift truck drift forward. As a hyperbole example, it was as if death would resort to making a gust of wind appear in an airtight box. What ever happened to death being patient?
That and saving the people at the beginning of the film would have averted the disaster altogether anyway...

This film involved a disaster at the racetrack as the start of events. It seemed that it took some of the criticism that was levelled at the third film, and took it under consideration. There were some stupid deaths akin to what occurred in the third film, but many of them seemed to be close to the standard of the first film - one of the most hilarious moments was when a death from the first film was repeated while one of the characters was talking about deja vu. As such the film came off as incredibly tongue in cheek and self-aware, and I believe it was all the better for it.
There is one gripe I have with it, though - after going through the events, averting one of the final deaths, getting to the end of the list, another disaster occurred (with another accompanying vision) - until it became a vision it seemed like death had just gone "You know what? I'm sick of these kids defying their fate. Screw subtlety, I'm just gonna blow stuff up!"
Once it was revealed to be a vision, it left a lingering plot-hole: If I recall correctly, the ending of the first film made it seem that when they get to the end of the list, it just goes back to the beginning, so the characters would have to be on the look out forever. Yet here it seemed that by getting to the end of the list they did avoid their fate forever, so death created a new disaster.
The ending then became even more confusing, when death just skipped all of the people they saved to kill them first in the "shocking" ending. What ever happened to consistent writing?

Overall, though, I found it entertaining - a worthy addition to the franchise inheriting some bad traits, but many of the very good traits.

There are only two points left that I want to discuss:
1) Why do these people get these visions? This is something that is never explained, and I want an explanation dagnabbit. When the third film was going to be released, I remember it being hyped as the end to the series, the film that would explain everything. Instead it explained nothing, and was just plain terrible.
2) The name. Why not Final Destination 4? It obviously took place after the other 3 - they have print-outs from teh internet and everything! Maybe they wanted to give it an ambiguous name in case they wanted to set a film between 3 & 4, but what would the point be? It's not like the films link together in some coherent large-scale story. At most it's thematic links and fan-service references.

Sunday, 13 September 2009

Alternate endings

Here's a quick one:

"Alternate Endings" are really annoying. Sure some can be good (look at the deleted ending to Terminator) and some can be bad, but that's not what annoys me. What annoys me is the use of the word "alternate"

You see, I just started playing Braid, and I know about the secret stars. When all of these stars are collected, an "alternate ending" is revealed, apparently. But is it really, truly alternate? Sure, it will be different from the normal ending, but is it completely instead of or is it as well as?
Does it replace the normal ending, or is it an epilogue of sorts?

Why do I want to know this? Well, if it is instead of, then I will need to play the game twice. If it is as well as, I should play the game once, ensuring I collect everything (which, considering where I am, I would need to actually restart the game - should I keep going, or should I start again?)

Sure the game might be good, I'm not as far through it as others, but I fear it may suffer from being over-hyped, and I may not want to play through it again (at least not for a while.)

Tuesday, 25 August 2009

Oh my

Since my last post, the one about game design that included a discussion about using XML, I took another run with Microsoft's XNA studio. In particular the RPG toolkit.

Can you guess how it stores all of it's quest, item and character data?

Yup. XML. I'm building it at the moment, using the "release" configuration. For science!

While waiting I may as well say something useful... ho-hum. ICO is great, though I think I preferred Shadow of the Colossus.

When I saw that my counter had reached over 2000 hits I had a look at my stats again. Some interesting ones. I get regular searches through google, and some hits from Wikipedia. My main traffic comes from the Nosgothic Realm, which is fair enough. However, I've also been linked to through a quick-search on Facebook and Google's Orkut beta, which is basically Google's answer to Facebook. It looks a bit interesting.
Also, I've gotten hits to the main page without a referring link from someone in Japan using the "@home Network Japan" ISP. Sam, is that you?

There we go, build done... The XML files are transformed into Microsoft's own standard, XNB files... which are non-unicode files, so difficult to mess with.
On the one hand it is good - if you were to design an RPG and then give it to people, you wouldn't want it to be essentially you giving them the engine, leaving them able to mess with the data. That would be a bit pointless.
However it also makes it a bit more difficult - for example, if you wanted to create an RPG which was extendible, so people could make mods for it. Even if you didn't want to let them mess with your stuff, you might still want them to be able to add things. You would then need to make the program in such a way that it could also read the external files added by users, which may or may not be difficult.

Monday, 10 August 2009

Game design

I like to try and program games in my spare time - I've got a few projects in mind, but they'll all take a long time to make.

One of the first tasks would be to try and design an engine for the game, which in turn requires figuring out what classes to use/design and how they should interact.

So I'm going to muse upon this here and we'll see what I come up with.

The first thing to consider would probably be whether the game is 2D, 3D, or a mix of both. This would greatly influence how characters get displayed - you could have a fully 2D game using sprites like the old Zelda games; You could have a fully 3D game like Half Life, in which everything is a 3D model with a texture on top; Or you could have a game that blends the two - 2D sprites in a 3D environment, 3D models on a 2D plane... those are probably the only two options to be honest.
You could even have fully 3D game but viewed from such a perspective that it looks like a 2D game - the most recent Pokemon games seem to be like this (though the characters could be 2D sprites, it is difficult to tell.)

Since I know next to nothing about 3D programming, I'll focus on 2D for the sake of familiarity and simplicity.

For 3D games you'd probably want a camera class, but this also goes for 2D games.
Though the camera will likely be following the main character, perhaps all of the time, it can be more complex depending upon how the game world works.
Think of Link's Awakening on the GameBoy, or the Minish Cap - the world is split in square areas. Large square areas, bigger than a single screen, but they have borders. When Link approaches a border, if the camera is centred on him constantly, then the game would have to display what is outside the area. If not properly controlled, it could show the contents of some other bits of memory.
The game could be set to only display black outside of each map (so, make it place the maps in the centre of a large piece of black that is generated by the game itself) - this would take up processing power, which may or may not be cheap.
You could design each map and have a big black border around the side of it (assuming that the maps are saved images, rather than generated on the fly using a tileset) - this would cost storage space, which may or may not be cheap.
Another solution would be to make the camera centre on the character, but to never cross the border of a map - this would require that the map somehow conveys what its borders are and would be much easier if the maps were uniformly rectangular.
A final solution would be to make the maps wrap, but this would only really be sensible if the game world was open and not a set of isolated maps.

Also, perhaps worth some brief contemplation - will the camera make the engine render only what the camera sees, or does it simply display what is rendered within a small space. I'd think the latter, though the former is probably possible (just not obviously sensible.)

Next I might as well consider maps. In 3D games they tend to be meshes with textures stretched over them, so you could have one mesh landscape with a single texture over it per map, but this is a silly option.
A better option would probably be to have maps made up of different 3D models placed together, intersecting.

But enough of that, let's focus on 2D.
The way I see it you have two main options:
A single image per map. Though this is a misnomer of sorts - how would you account for solid objects? One solution is to use what is referred to as a "hardness map" - another image using particular colours so that the game came determine what you can and cannot walk through. This of course means that you have at least two images per map.
You could perhaps still do this, but have all solid objects (or objects that would result in particular interactions, for example water) as sprites.
If storage is an issue and you plan to have many maps, this may not be the best solution.

The second idea is to use what is referred to as a "tile set" - simply a set of tiles which can be used to create maps. In many cases I think I've just seen this as a tool for creating the single images as mentioned above, but you could use it another way.
You could use something like xml for each map (which, since it would be unformatted text, would be small in file size) which maybe would say the name of the set it will use, the dimensions of the map, and the tiles.
As an example, if you have a set consisting of 8 tiles and a map which is 2x2 (and each tile is, say, 32 pixels square) this could be described as:

Or something like that. There would probably be a more sensible way to describe which tile goes where, but I think I made my point. A file like this would be 117 bytes (in windows), where the equivalent image (I just quickly tested in GIMP) was about 34.2 kilobytes - roughly 299 times larger (though some of that will be offset by including the tile set, so this is probably only a good idea when you have many many maps.)
Not only is this obviously better in terms of storage, but this method is highly adaptable - the information can be arranged in any way and new functionality that is part of the maps can be easily added without needed to carefully alter an image.
However, if the maps are too big this might impact processing power too much, so the designer should take care.

Another consideration is the sprites in a game.
Now, I cannot think of any way around this problem - no matter what you will need a lot of images. From some tools I've used this is normally done in the form of a sprite set - so, rather than needing many many smallish images, you can have one large image per character (or per character type if they are going to be used multiple times.) This will cut down on storage marginally, but also increase processing somewhat.
These would be used much like the tile set, except you would only display one at a time. By having a series of sequential images you could do a character animation (though maybe storing them as animations could be a better solution.)
The only major problem with this is if the sprite will ever change in size - they might be 32x32 for most of the time, but then for some actions get larger, which would mean all of the other images would need to be larger, increasing file size greatly - so, basically, if the character images (for one character) are going to be similar in size, a sprite set is the way to go; if the character is ever going to change in size, then separate images is the way to go.

Collision detection could also prove to be a problem - if the character images are stored in blocks with some blank space around them, then the game would need to understand not to report a collision if the blank space is hit - using a uniform background "ignore" colour is probably the best way to go, but the game would also need to make sure that colour is not displayed, so would need to either not draw it or convert it to transparency. Either way, processing is probably going to increase.

On that note - characters. Each character will obviously have a sprite, but what other aspects should they have?
In many RPGs you will have characters you can talk to but cannot kill, or even attack. If any fights are going to be separate to the talking mechanisms (i.e. in the Final Fantasy games where you would normally be talking when viewing the game from one perspective, but in battle be on a special map from a different viewpoint) then you could either have two separate characters (one for outside battle, one for inside) or have one character with two different sprites (in and out of battle.)
If it is more of an action oriented game (e.g. Zelda) you could stop the player from being able to attack in certain areas and you would populate the areas with such NPCs. Other games in the same series don't stop you from being able to attack, but have no collision detection from your weapons activated on such characters.
Or you could go the route of Elder Scrolls and give everyone every single statistic and just make everyone killable.

Though this may seem to be only applicable to RPGs or Action RPGs, but it could also extend to other genres - platformers, or even top-down-shooters (perhaps first person shooters, but that is a bit harder to imagine) - heck, even GTA kind of goes the Elder Scrolls route, it just has fewer stats.

Assuming you go any route but the latter, a class hierarchy could be like this:
Character (has a sprite)
/ \
NPC | Enemy (also has a battle sprite and stats)
But then what of the player character? It seems like it could be a subclass of enemy. Also, what of Enemies that you won't encounter in the field? Perhaps their "character" sprite could be null - as long as it is never called then everything should be fine.

Maybe then a better structure would be:
/ \
NPC | Statted (or a better name)
/ \
Enemy | PlayerCharacter

That's all I can come up with for now.

PS: I note that the class diagrams are bad at the moment, but having worked on this post for about 90 minutes now, I have run out of steam.

Thursday, 30 July 2009

Nintendo hates Europe

The title for this post is both appropriate and a plug - GameCentral is going to be turned off in the new year, so there is a petition to try and save it: here.

Now for the appropriate: I've been a bit miffed recently. I make it no secret that I enjoy the Pokemon games, which are just plain awesome.
Every so often Nintendo puts on events, some of which are difficult to get to, where you can download special exclusive Pokemon.

They've been in various places: the Metrocentre, Woolworths in the Metrocentre, a Toy'R'Us in Stockton... and the Sunderland Air Show on Seaburn Beach.

That is not difficult to get to, but the problem is the timing. Nintendo announces these things by having a website which first of all teases us then reveals the details. The Sunderland Air Show was the weekend of the 25th and 26th of July. This was revealed as a location on the 20th of July.

Think about that. I work on Saturdays and I tend to be at John's on Sundays. If I were to change either of those facts I would need more than 5 days notice. I need at least 7.

Now imagine I was a child and I did not work... but to go there I might require my parents, who might be in the same position as the adult me.

When I left the event (I did it on Sunday morning) I stopped by a cafe, where I was informed that it actually costs people £2,500 a day to set up a tent.

So Nintendo spent £5,000 on this, but shot themselves in the foot by not actually announcing it quickly enough (and it won't have been a last minute decision.)

Finally to add insult to all of that injury, today (30th) I got this email. Oh goody. They only actually advertise the event after it happened (though, obviously not with the Sunderland one on that list.)
Also take a further look - only in England and not in any major cities, either.

Sodding Nintendo. How I love to hate you, or hate to love you. I'm not sure any more.

Wednesday, 15 July 2009

NIN and Game Design

Though those topics are not linked together. Or at least not in this post.

So, in reverse order: In December I had an article published on Gamecentral on Teletext. I have no created a page which has my original version of the article, and links to their mirrored bits. You can use the link on the sidebar, or this one.

Secondly, I saw Nine Inch Nails in Manchester last night, and they were amazing (as they are 3/4 of the time - sorry, but that Edinburgh gig was not that good.) There were many good points, but two particular highlights for me: They played their version of "I'm Afraid of Americans", and 30,000 (or however many people there were) singing along to "Hurt".

Sunday, 28 June 2009

RIP Michael Jackson

Wow. This was quite a shock. I did not see that coming, especially since I was getting quite excited due to having bought tickets to see him in February.

Thursday, 23 April 2009

Happy Earth Day

Minor update: I'm still working on the pages I mentioned earlier, but for enhanced functionality I should also look into cookies.


Big Ideas (don't get any) from James Houston on Vimeo.

Friday, 17 April 2009


Well, I'm still working on some tech demo things - they of course won't be linked to until they are done.

That's not what this post is about, though.
For some reason, today, I wanted to see if whatsinthebox had updated at all, and it has. I then went searching to find out what other people had discovered, and found this site.

It's all quite interesting. Initially I though "What's in the box" was a Valve produced HL2:E3 promotional viral. It could have been a fan-tribute, but I wasn't entirely convinced.
After looking today, I was further convinced that it in fact must be for Episode 3. After all, so much work has blatantly been put into it, and surely no-one would spend so much time and effort doing something like this if money wasn't involved, right?

It made references to Black Mesa, and on some pages even has the Aperture Science logo as well as the Black Mesa logo, so it must be linked... But right next to them, is the Hanso Foundation logo. From Lost.

I'm not sure what to think. Is this a cross-property ARG, or a really sophisticated one that is completely unrelated to the properties it repeatedly cites?

Also, this is just plain awesome, if a little creepy. It doesn't seem to be a joke - it's there on

Wednesday, 15 April 2009


So, a bit earlier today I decided to alter some pages (hosted elsewhere) so that they aren't just all using this same template - sure it's nice, but it doesn't really demonstrate what I can do design-wise.

So I looked at the Google pages WYSIWIYG ("what you see is what you get") editor in order to get some inspiration. I found a very nice one called "Branches" - it was a nice green colour for the background, with all of the contents in a blue colour, and the header had a picture of a tree-branch with some blossom on it.

It was so nice that I wanted to do something similar myself, but I didn't want to use the exact same image (what with it being copyrighted and all) so I was presented with two options:
1) Draw my own
2) Use a public domain alternative

Unfortunately I am not very good at drawing using the GIMP - it looked sharp and pointy. "Stylised" didn't seem like a good enough excuse for the quality.

So, I searched around - I found a fair few good results... but none of the good ones were free. Oh well.

I generally don't like Google's WYSIWIG editor, I felt it didn't give me as many options as I wanted, so I needed to alter the html itself... but it only let me alter the html of particular blocks, particular DIVs. Sometimes you need to be able to edit all of the html, or sections that aren't contained within the DIV (for example, the body tag.)

Wednesday, 11 March 2009


Wow, MSPaintAdventures' Problem Sleuth adventure is finally over. It's been quite a ride.

What is the point in this post? Purely to mention something brilliant in the FAQs.

Einstein came up with the equations of relativity, which have been demonstrated to work again and again. The equations show that the faster you move (up until the speed of light*) weird shit starts to happen. Relative to an observer moving at a slower speed, time for you passes slower (i.e. you actually age less) you weigh more (increase in mass) and you shorten in length.

The last one was always very counter-intuitive to me, but in the MSPA FAQs there is a fantastic explanation that I wish my Physics teachers had used:

"This is because the speed of light is always constant, no matter where you are, or how fast you or anyone else is going. So if it takes a beam of light 1 second to travel from the back of a box to the front of a box, then if that box is moving, then that box has to be a little narrower for that same beam of light to reach the front of the box in one second!"

GENIUS! It makes so much more sense now!

*nothing can move faster than light apart from the purely theoretical species of particles called "Tachyons" which cannot go slower than the speed of light. However, the existence of such particles relies on the existence of numbers such as the square root of -2.
When I followed EvE, I mentioned this in a forum, and was responded to with what root-2 was: 1.41421356 i
The person who told me this neglected to realise that the "i" means "imaginary" - we have a hard enough time trying to convince ourselves Real numbers exist, so trying to claim that imaginary numbers exist just takes the cake. Away from a starving baby. With diabetes.

[edit] Also, the Schwarzschild radius is fascinating to know. Mine is (using Newtonian physics) 1.48×10-27 m/kg * 75ish... 1.11*(10^-25)m... 0.111 yocto metres.

Saturday, 7 March 2009

The only thing we have to FEAR...

... is not FEAR itself.

Welcome to my rant.

First of all, brush up on Yahtzee's FEAR 2 review, and this Steam thread.

Now you know some annoyances to do with FEAR 2. Remove the references to controlling giant mechs, and the cover system. What remains is an accurate review of FEAR.

FEAR is not scary. At all.
Yes, there are moments that make you jump, but jumping does not equate to being scared. If you walk around a corner, not expecting to see someone, but you do, you jump. You jump out of surprise, you jump to get more distance between you and this sudden obstacle. You jump to get around said obstacle without any collision. Are you scared, though? No.

FEAR is, like most western horror, guilty of confusing actually being scared with being surprised. It relies on schlock horror - blood and gore, rather than things that are actually scary. When faced with a pile of dead bodies in the game, I am not scared. Rather, I think of a (not very) witty comment about it.
When I suddenly have an illusion of the main enemy appear next to me, I am not scared. I jump, and fire off a few rounds (on the grounds that so far everything I can shoot might kill me) and am then annoyed for wasting bullets. But not scared.
Some of the scares rely on you looking in a particular direction. Maybe I'm a good soldier, or a very bad one, but I tend to check every nook and cranny for things I can use or things that might try to kill me. Thus, when a scare occurs, I am investigating a potted plant, rather than looking in the room I cannot get a good view of yet, and thus the entire set piece is lost on me.

Basically, for a game called FEAR, the very name of which implies pant-wetting terror, it was very disappointing in the scare department.

Now, past the "scary" section, onto other criticisms. As you may have noticed, FEAR 1 has dynamic shadows (whereas FEAR 2 does not.)
It does this by using the Doom 3 engine, which I have to generally criticise on the grounds of being incredibly inefficient. When a lot happens on screen, my (quite high spec) computer lags. Correct me if I'm wrong, but doesn't HL2 have dynamic shadows, too? Yet, HL2 runs as smooth as butter. Why? Because it's programmed better.
Yeah, okay, maybe the Source engine was too expensive/unavailable, but still... it is annoying when my computer has trouble running a 5 year old game, and yet no trouble running a more recent one.

Pretty much everything Yahtzee said is correct - potentially scary parts are interspersed with wild (and non-scary) gun fights, there are too many medkits, body armour sets, and guns to maintain any level of tension. Plus, the gunfights are reduced to using SlowMo, shooting what you can see, hiding, recharging, repeating. I became such a perfectionist that I would re-load if I got hit at all in rooms, and at most it would take me 5 attempts to get passed any given room. I wasn't playing on easy mode.

Finally, the story. It's clich├ęd, it's predictable, and it makes no sense. Throughout the game you have been attacked mainly by cloned soldiers led by a man called Paxton Fettel, sometimes by robots, and sometimes by ghosts.
Paxton is commanded by Alma, who has also tried to kill you multiple times, but has also managed to consistently wipe out any help you have by turning people into mush instantaneously.
Why not you?
Alma is often depicted as a small girl in a red dress, but was put in an induced coma while used for "Project Origin" and had no chance of a normal life anyway.
Okay, that's fine.
You and Paxton are her sons... Wait, why does she tell Paxton to kill everyone, and try to kill you?
Further to that, (this may be just in the expansions) she seems to protect you sometimes.
What?! She's trying to kill me, but also protecting me?!
The lead scientist says there's a scientific explanation for everything, but he thinks she's just annoyed. Oh, and she died 20 years ago...
What?! A person who died 20 years ago is communicating with people now, and easily murdering people... and you claim there's a viable scientific explanation?! That's beyond ridiculous. My suspension of disbelief can only go so far.

Seriously, guys. As the Eurogamer review said: You made "No One Lives Forever", you're better than this.

Tuesday, 24 February 2009

Games as art

So, I occasionally like to write what are, for lack of a better word, essays on subjects that I am passionate about. Games as something other than just a childish way to waste time is just such a subject.

On the escapist forums there is currently a thread on this very subject, referencing a link that lists 10 such games. The list primarily mentions audio and visual aspects, and thus many posters are arguing that the list is therefore invalid. Admittedly, the list may be flawed, but that does not mean it is invalid. Some claim that art is subjective, and in a way they are correct, but isn't that less that something isn't art and more than you do not like that particular example of it?
I hate most modern art, but that does not mean it is not art.

I think, to describe art in the most objective way possible, it must use the medium in a way that is unique to the medium.
That does not mean art has to be "original" or that it has to be the first to use the medium in this way (obviously, more than the first painting can be a work of art)

All mediums are limited, some more so than others. Pictures on canvas can never encompass sound, and music itself cannot encompass pictures (though, album art or music videos can combine the two.)
So, what do games have that is unique? Interactivity is the most obvious, but something would have to have a truly revolutionary way of having you interact with the game in order to qualify, surely? Can the Katamari games count purely because of how you interact with the game world? Possibly.

But now we have hit upon a key term - "game world" though a visually appealing world by itself is probably not enough. The Lord of the Rings films are not art purely because the castles are so impressive (plus, what is impressive varies with time, and "visually appealing" is far too subjective a term.)

So what else can there be in terms of game worlds? The most obvious thing that springs to mind is level design, but how can that constitute art?

Games have many aspects to them: Gameplay, Interaction, Controls, Game worlds, Level design, Story, Music...
Most of these can be linked together, but the toughest to link fully into the set is story. Story can be partially told through music, but how can you tell the story through the other methods?

Psychonauts provided perhaps the best example of such an attempt. Many other games will have the story told using objects within the game world, like a phone, or a poster, or a diary.
Psychonauts could tell it through the design of the level. Not to say that it could describe the plot, per se, but that it greatly contributed to the characterisation (which is an integral part of the story but not the story itself.)

Throughout the game you had levels taking place in the real world, and levels taking place within the minds of others. These levels were representations of the personality of the characters, and also within these levels you could find safes containing hidden memories. These memories were sets of pictures, never more than 6 of them, which added a lot of characterisation.

The levels described how the characters are at that point in time, but the hidden memories described why they are that way.
The Milkman Conspiracy is a particular level which is often used to try and demonstrate this, but to choose only a single level to demonstrate the point doesn't quite demonstrate it enough, in my opinion. All of the levels, without exception, have this wonderful feature.

So, why does this feature constitute art? Because it is using the medium of computer games in a way that is unique to it - a series of pictures of the level and the memories could not have this effect, nor could mere words do it quite as effectively. Video games are a combination of music, complex visuals, story, dialogue, and interaction. None of these by themselves is effective, but it is the combination of all of them. Why did I include interactivity in that list? Because the location of the memories is important - they are hidden, after all.

Wednesday, 14 January 2009

Sam and Max Statue

So, my Sam and Max statue that I ordered from Symbiote Studios arrived today.
It took me under 10 mintues to set it up, and it's quite nice.
For one thing, it's huge - 17.5 inches.
The pieces are heavy, and nicely painted, so it doesn't feel delicate.
The pieces slot together a little too easilly for my liking, so I will resort to gluing it at some point (maybe after I've got my carpet put in, so I can transport it easily)
Another slight niggle - Max's head and Sam's tie don't seem to quite get along. The tie and Max's head are touching, which can set the tie in the wrong position. Perhaps placing Max slightly further away from Sam would've been the best solution, but then I'm not a model maker so I don't know how to design or manufacture these things properly.

Anyway, here's a 7 minute video of me putting it together. Sorry for the low res - I was using my webcam as I have nothing better. 3 fps.

Monday, 5 January 2009


Well, I finally did it.

I killed the Grox.
It took months to do, but I wiped out every single one of their planets.
I bought the last one. I even tried to make a video, but there were a couple of problems:
1) The video doesn't show the GUI or menus when communicating with a planet
2) It cuts out when a cutscene starts.

Thus, no video.
Maybe a screenshot of my badges, when I can be arsed.
But for now, Dungeon Siege 2 (and Phoenix Wright 3)