Saturday 30 April 2011

Expedition: The New World

I should also apologise at this point for not promoting Slashie's Expedition: The New World the same way. But he's become the first project to successfully raise the targeted funds on a similar, game centric site 8 bit Funding, so he probably didn't need me promoting it :)

I'm guessing additional contributions are always welcome though...

Friday 29 April 2011

In Profundis

John Harris, who for readers of this blog should need no introduction, is raising funds via Kickstarter for a project In Profundis. From his development blog:
IN PROFUNDIS is a 2D cave exploration game in a very random world. Not only is the cave highly unpredictable, but it also has dynamic, flowing water, falling boulders, dangerous gases with random properties, and many other dangers besides. It is somewhat realistic; your character's abilities are modest, more like what a real person could accomplish, but you can use equipment brought from base to help you get around: pitons, hammers, ropes, air guns, and more.
His previous game Mayflight, also uses procedural content generation in some very smart ways.

I'm a huge fan of Kickstarter, because it does something incredibly useful: allows me to give you money based on how much I value your work. I've given John $25, and I encourage you to make a contribution as well.

Tuesday 26 April 2011

Why are you using commercial software?

From Finding and Understanding Bugs in C Compilers:
There exist many more commercial C compilers than we could easily test. The ones we chose to study are fairly popular and were produced by what we believe are some of the strongest C compiler development teams. Csmith found wrong-code errors and crash errors in each of these tools within a few hours of testing.

Because we are not paying customers, and because our findings represent potential bad publicity, we did not receive a warm response from any commercial compiler vendor. Thus, for the most part, we simply tested these compilers until we found a few crash errors and a few wrong-code errors, reported them, and moved on.
Yet another example of the multitude of inherit contradictions in attempting to develop software commercially.

Monday 25 April 2011

2000 hours

That's apparently how much content there is in Portal:

Originally Posted by P.M. View Post
I could believe clocking 2k hours in Borderlands, but Portal?

As far as Portal, doing lot of speedruns, practicing various different Ninja moves, and countless maps over 3 years. Portal is my all time favorite game.
I wonder if Portal 2 will match it?

(From this thread on Borderlands. I've just finished my first pass through Borderlands - so 'finished' it from a narrative point of view, excluding the DLC. Of course, there's plenty of game left and many great weapon drops to find).

Friday 22 April 2011

Critical leaps

In all the sound and fury of the reaction to Portal 2, it is hard to have a more subtle critical dialog about the game. There's two main points worth exploring: which go in two different directions and which I have hinted to earlier.

1. The disparity between the overall critical response and the overall end user response. This is part of a wider conversation about the complexity of reviewing a game at release. I don't mean this needs to be a conversation about the ARG, in fact I'm not especially interested in it beyond watching the car crash of Valve's clever and inspired marketing and overwhelming end user expectation. If Portal 2 was an unqualified success, the end user grumpiness would be quickly silenced. But the fact is that the critical response is so overwhelmingly positive, when in fact there are problems with the game - such as the weaker story with some really ham-fisted moments and plenty of missed opportunities; that if you don't warm to the two-dimensional characters, Wheatley especially, you'll be left out in the cold; that you need to play co-op to experience puzzles which are actually challenging; the final encounter ends in a train wreck of cut scenes and music.

2. The feeling that Valve's game design somehow doesn't ring as true as it used to. I had the same problems with Left4Dead 2 as I do with Portal 2: for almost the whole game there is this feeling of one obvious path, which for me ended up me rushing through the levels waiting for the 'good bits' to begin. Paradoxically, it took me 9 hours to complete but almost all the delays were me missing switches and not using angled ramps for their intended purpose[1], which meant I would repeatedly try weird alternate solutions. The puzzle design in single player rarely involves any planning or experimentation: it's all spoilable in the sense that once you figure out the problem, implementing the solution is trivial. I particularly miss the sense of escalation to the 'you've got to be kidding me' level of complexity of the first Portal, something Valve has done well since Half-Life: instead here is all big is better, and 'distance fog makes levels awesome'.

The biggest flaw to me is the sense that games should be aspiring to something other than this. Maybe I'm over reading what is an encapsulated game experience, but the AI director and limited experiments with procedural level generation lead me to believe Valve was moving in a different direction. Portal 2 feels like a dinosaur raising it's head to watch the oncoming Minecraft block asteroid.

[1] Spoiler: Which is always jumping.

Thursday 21 April 2011


When I first started blogging, I ended up engaged in some conversations with fellow bloggers that never really went anywhere because the blog to blog format didn't really accomodate two way communication very easily. Facebook's walls are the perfect mechanism for this, but I don't want to have to friend everyone or make my profile public to have these conversations read more widely.

I'm sure there's a half-way house out there for this...

Excerpt from Facebook

    • Ben Abraham You have been taken over by a freaky AI.
      about an hour ago ·
    • Ben Abraham But I like it. I really, really like it. Took me two whole reads to get what you were doing, and then it clicked and I was like "Aha, this... is real clever."
      about an hour ago ·
    • Andrew Doull Well I can't comment on your blog, and your latest post was the reason I posted this review... it's in the vein of my reviews of World of Goo and Bioshock which both achieved a measure of notoreity.
      about an hour ago · · 1 person
    • Andrew Doull And you did basically say the same thing regards Portal vs Far Cry 2 = S.T.A.L.K.E.R. for me... (I had actually written this this morning, but we're obviously reacting along the same lines)
      about an hour ago ·
    • Ben Abraham I'm beginning to think that we need better ways of responding to games beyond rate it or hate it.
      about an hour ago ·
    • Ben Abraham Like I *know* it's a damn good game, but... I guess it's not for me? But it is for me... kinda? It's for my *demographic* and it should appeal to me, but at the same time... I
      about an hour ago ·
    • Ben Abraham ‎...I'm more than just a demographic. Certain things work for me, and certain things don't.
      about an hour ago ·
    • Andrew Doull Like Left4Dead2, I found myself soullessly rushing through the levels because Valve's visual/level design is so good there is such an obvious path to move forward on... sometimes the player should be free to feel like they are discovering something for themselves, something dangerous even.
      about an hour ago ·
    • Andrew Doull Dare we reference NGJ?
      59 minutes ago ·
    • Ben Abraham WE DARE.
      37 minutes ago ·
    • Ben Abraham But yes, I know exactly what you mean. I found myself slipping into "the portal method" where I go... hmm, I can't tell where to go. Okay, lets look for whatever the light is shining on. There's my exit. Then I worked back from there.
      36 minutes ago ·
    • Andrew Doull
      Hunch: The difference between critic scores and user reviews at is the exact thing we're talking about but can't quite put our finger on. Also: Does it matter that I haven't replayed World of Goo again after finishing it in the same way you won't play Portal 2? Opinion: Portal matters more than Portal 2 because in Portal, you are the person who makes the leap of faith to escape, Portal 2 doesn't give you that. Clint Hocking: Ludo narrative dissonance?
      20 minutes ago ·
    • Andrew Doull ‎(Ignoring but also taking into account the Portal 2 user score rating scandals/ARG fuck up/day one DLC).
      17 minutes ago ·
    • Andrew Doull BTW: This is the sort of conversation I imagine occurs on twitter all the time but probably doesn't due to stupid character limi
      15 minutes ago ·
    • Andrew Doull ‎:)
      14 minutes ago ·
    • Ben Abraham Re: twitter, exactly.
      9 minutes ago ·
    • Ben Abraham Also: I like the phrase "ignoring but taking into account" all that stuff. I feel like the milieux around release simultaneously needs to be and cannot be ignored. Weird paradox.
      7 minutes ago ·
    • Andrew Doull Sounds like a weird paradox which is more like life & death (or at least career) for some:
      6 minutes ago ·
    • Andrew Doull Anyway, should have been up late playing Portal 2 and instead up late engaged in civilised debate/theoretical wankery (delete one). Tempted to post this verbatim to blog, but may sound like too much of the later and not enough of the former.
      3 minutes ago ·

Wednesday 20 April 2011

Review: Portal 2

I am.

Shift technician one three six, audio diary day seventy four, notes for test pass four oh niner. Add drop light highlighting sealed liquid outflow. Test subjects four through six spent mean of 16.3 seconds in room interval transition - increase marketing screen size 3.2%. Widen conveniently fallen metal trellis work cross section by 2^40 picometers. Still waiting on results for next test subject.

I am test.

Amusing anecdote three needs to be moved to 32s from game start to allow reviewer to mention without spoiling. Test subject two was able to deviate by 0.2 radians from part one climax reveal - need to reduce prisoner pod yaw by 1 hammer unit. Come on people - we need ARG in-joke to be tangentially referred to in 68% of reviews. And where's the results for that test subject?

I am test subject.

Digipen spray unit four still malfunctioning due to Kimistry interferance: dropping this feature. 'A short game is a good game' - enlarge this sign in development team bay three and increase psych profiling to flush out deviation. Zombie search teams reporting remaining test subject for this pass lost in level 14 due to misaligned seam in pipe cross section. Need to recruit new test subject.

I am test subject seven.

Following remaining instructions from voice over: Forget Amnesia. Confiscate The Ball. Suppress Research & Development. Instead reuse nameless generic industrial facility we have been leasing for last thirteen years, refurbished with retro-trendy overtones. There is no such thing as over design. Cutting technician easter egg from final release.

I am test subject seven. Where did this Valve spit me out? Shivering in the rain, listening to the howl of mutant dogs, in a zone, somewhere, near Pripyat.

Friday 15 April 2011

Finished Far Cry 2

I've just added Far Cry 2 to the short list of games I've actually finished.

There's probably twice that again of games I've gotten to the final boss fight and given up... Far Cry 2's narrative is instead extremely effective at motivating you for the equivalent of the final boss fight. After a symphony of betrayals of those you don't care about, it sings poetically for a brief shining few minutes.

Really a rather brilliant game from a narrative point of view, even after seeing the seams.

With regards to game mechanics, just needed the occasional weapon you pick up to not be completely rusted, and give you more running endurance if you choose to throw your existing weapons away. As it is, the checkpoints just grind you down once you have unlocked all the weapons in the game - extra supplies isn't reward enough for the time degrading your shiny armoury supplied equipment.

I've never been so glad for public transport.