Playing Oblivion Again

After nearly a decade-long pause, I’m finally playing The Elder Scrolls IV: Oblivion again.  I’m actually going to beat it this time, too!

Back when I was obsessively playing Skyrim, I remember thinking that Oblivion was still better. I couldn’t remember exactly why it was, but I felt very strongly about that fact. Now that I’m back into Oblivion, it’s easy to see why.  Oblivion is beautiful. Skyrim is epic in a Game of Thrones tribute to the north kind of way, but it gets dreary and boring. Even the later generation graphics don’t quite save it by comparison. The placement of villages and overall map structures in Oblivion make sense, and don’t feel packed in like Skyrim’s do. Oblivion feels smaller, but that’s okay, because the cities, towns, caves and other areas resonate with the mood of the game.

I never finished Oblivion back when I first played it largely because my game got bugged inside the oblivion gates.  My incredibly powerful alchemist made potions to walk across the lava in the oblivion areas to reduce travel time.  I thought I was being clever by sidestepping one of the more boring areas of the game, but I ended up bugging the gates, and treasure chests weren’t populating along with other issues.

I have other games I intend to finish soon, so my current Oblivion playthrough is more of a casual speedrun.  I’m having fun, and this time around I’m not taking any shortcuts.

Tiny’s Adventure in TV Land – A Ludum Dare Postmortem

Tiny's Adventure in TV LandLast weekend I created the adventure game “Tiny’s Adventure in TV Land” in 48 hours for Ludum Dare #31.  Prior to the competition I had a plan for the development methods I would use and roughly how I would spend my time.  This is a postmortem of how it went.

What went right:

  • I completed the game in 48 hours!
  • The thematic portions of the game were easy for players to identify.
  • Improved graphics. This game was visually nicer than my previous Ludum Dare entries.
  • The overall game design I came up with Friday night largely held throughout the weekend.
  • Having a tested build system in place.  This made the submission hour a breeze.

What went differently than I expected:

  • Dropping mobile support early. Prior to the competition I wanted to make a mobile entry, but I decided there wasn’t time to tweak a game type I was unfamiliar with.
  • Time management. I’d planned to have the entire prototype finished Friday, and then iteratively polish it over the weekend. Instead, the game came together a few hours before the competition ended.

What went wrong:

  • The first level was too hard.  Some players mistook the carrot as life or status indicator instead of an item to retrieve.
  • I didn’t allow enough time to create a soundtrack.
  • The physics were floaty.  I went with it, rather than changing it, but this limited the level design later on.

After each competition I have an idea of what I need to work on.  These are my plans:

  • Practice composing music in GarageBand.  I need be good at this and have a solid workflow in place prior to the competition.
  • Study photoshop techniques.  I learned quite a lot during the competition and I think I can improve even more for the next one.
  • Improve my use of JavaScript 2D physics and use a better tweening solution.

Overall, I had fun participating in this Ludum Dare. I learned the most enjoyable part of the game development process for me is at the point when the game is assembled just enough to be playable. I’m looking forward to the next competition in April.

Ludum Dare #31

Ludum Dare #31 starts in a few days.  I’m looking forward to participating – this will be my fourth entry in the 48-hour competition over the past couple years.

I plan to create an html5/css/js game with crafty.js, photoshop, pickle for the sprites, and garageband.  I may also use a sfx generator for beeps and boops if the game is in a retro-style. I usually make retro style games, but ultimately I wait for the competition to start before deciding on a specific type.

Before each competition I make a small goal, usually an improvement or feature I’d like to attempt. For this competition I want my game to be easily playable on desktop, tablet, and mobile devices. Since this requires some knowledge going in, my plan is to spend a few hours a day this week testing the waters by playing around with crafty.js and media queries.  Now that I have a mac I can easily test with an iOS simulator too.

I’m also going to try a new schedule. Typically, I design the game Friday, implement on Saturday, and then go into full-scale-panic-mode Sunday when the previous day’s work doesn’t mesh.  This time I’m going to attempt to both design and finish a fully working prototype on Friday and then use the rest of the time for polish.

A Good Birthday

Yesterday, November 6th, was my 35th birthday.  Encompassing most of 2014, this previous year has been a very good one for me.  I’ve achieved personal and professional goals, I’m lucky to have good friends who care about me, and I feel close to my family.

The festivities were mellow. I took a day off from work, I had a relaxing time at my favorite restaurant, and I received some interesting gifts.  I purchased an Atari 2600 for myself, which I hope to use with the Harmony cartridge to port a Ludum Dare entry (more on this later).  I also received an apple, a t-shirt, and the mother of all power strips which is greatly appreciated right now to support all of my various gadgets.

I’m really looking forward to the next year. I have a hunch it’s going to be a good one.

Addicted to Ultima 1: The First Age of Darkness

Ultima 1: The First Age of DarknessLast week I took the plunge and started playing games in my massive GOG.com library. Let me tell you about Ultima 1.

Ultima 1: The First Age of Darkness, is Richard Garriot’s first game in a series I loved as a child. One of my all-time favorite games is Ultima 4: Quest of the Avatar for the classic Nintendo. But looking back I hadn’t played much of the others, stopping after briefly playing Ultima V on the classic NES, and some aborted attempts with VII in the 90′s on an ever-slow 386. The first game in the series, released in 1981, simply passed by me.

Fortunately, the version on GOG.com is the 1986 remake with enhanced EGA graphics and a few other tweaks. The graphics look brilliant on my netbook, and the game’s overworld is bright and colorful with animated sprites and wandering monsters.

Probably the best part of the game is the most sparse, the 3D line-art minimalist dungeons. They are positionally navigable, capturing the first-person dungeon exploration experience I loved in other games like Dungeon Master and Eye of the Beholder. And the line-art makes me smile.

I’m only a few hours into the game so far, but I’ll post an update when I’ve managed to complete it. I’m hoping for a long adventure.

September 2014 is here

Summer has been as busy as expected, and I’m glad to have time to blog during these next few months.

My technical certifications are moving forward. I decided to finish off the MySQL certification series and become a certified 5.6 administrator by the end of this year. I originally skipped this certification test, sitting only the developer portion of the exams.  I’m now able to commit a couple hours a day for studying and I expect it will pay off.

I participated in another Ludum Dare 48-hour game development competition. My web-based entry is called SWARM, and it’s available here (click on Web/HTML5 above the picture).  I’ll probably do a post-mortem on it after the judging ends next week.

Shadowgate came out and was for the most part well-received by the series’ fans. This makes me very happy.

I’ve also agreed to look at PHPUnit Essentials for Packt Publishing and will be posting a review here within the next week or so. Reviewing books here was something I started on an experimental basis, and I hope to have a couple more reviews up in 2014.

On a personal level, I’ve made some efforts to reconnect with friends and former co-workers. Keeping positive people in my life is important to me.

An Eventful Early Summer

I’ve had an eventful summer so far, and the past month has been busy. In June, I vacationed to Nevada City and Grass Valley, California to tour historical sites involved with the gold rush and mining. The highlight of the trip was visiting Empire Mine State Historic Park and looking down into a very long mineshaft.

In late June, I played the new Shadowgate beta and tested it quite a bit. I love the style and format, and I’m hopeful the game will do well. There’s something fundamentally cool about seeing the game revived more than 20 years after I first played it.

I also got the MacBook Pro I desperately needed. I originally planned to buy a new mac after expiration of the warranty on my Inspiron M5030, but things worked out, and the mac happened sooner. I love it.

I expect to spend July catching up on certifications, and planning out the last half of 2014. I’m proud of everything I’ve accomplished this year, and the next few months should be pretty great.

Reading Update 5/19/2014

May is more than half over, and I’ve made good progress on the novels I planned to read this month.

I finally finished A Game of Thrones by George R.R. Martin and immediately started the sequel A Clash of Kings. So far it’s a breeze to read and so much more fun than the first book. I’m completely hooked.

Halting State by Charles Stross was an intriguing if somewhat confusing read, and I only made it to the 50% point before my e-library loan expired. The book is brilliant and relevant given present day advances with Oculus Rift, but I had trouble following the action with its changing character perspectives. A video game programmer hired to help with an investigation is my favorite character, and I might renew the book later to see what happens to him.

I’ve started Ancillary Justice by Ann Leckie and plan to restart The Drowning Girl by Caitlín R. Kiernan next week.

I’m also enjoying a preview of the 2013 Locus Reading List’s fantasy section through Kindle samples. I hope to browse the entire list by the end of summer and discover some new favorites. I found Neptune’s Brood (also by Charles Stross) this way, and it’s easily my favorite book from 2013.

Playing Papers, Please

Papers, Please

Papers, Please is my new favorite game on Steam. Created by indie developer Lucas Pope, it’s a dystopian game about running a border control checkpoint in a fictional 1980′s country.

Each day the player examines the passports and paperwork of applicants trying to enter the country Arstotzka. Money is paid out for successful processing, and fines are levied for mistakes. Increasing imposed hassles slow applicant processing (and therefore moneymaking) down. The story is told through the people entering the checkpoint and a daily newspaper. Ultimately the player has to support themselves and their family on a dwindling budget.

The concept of Papers, Please is original and well executed. The pixel graphics, fonts, and simple animation mesh well with the in-game tasks and story. The game also has branching saves. It’s possible to go back to a different day, make new choices, and keep the original timeline from the first save.

The game’s UI is a little confusing. Interrogation mode gave me the most trouble: it wasn’t immediately clear how to successfully check all of the items I needed to. The game is also disturbing. I found myself trying to do a good job even with the consequences of complacency.

Overall, I’m glad I spent time on Papers, Please. I’m looking forward to playing more of Lucas Pope’s games in the future.

 

 

The Lost World: Jurassic Park Is A Terrible Film

Last week I finished my re-watch of Jurassic Park. I hadn’t seen the movie since it hit theaters in the 90′s, and I was happy to discover that it held up in unexpected and delightful ways.

I cannot say the same of The Lost World: Jurassic Park. It was so bad, I was surprised it was based on a sequel novel by Michael Crichton, had been directed by Steven Spielberg, and that it did so well commercially.

The Lost World had some positive moments. Jeff Goldblum, who played the chaos theory expert, almost held it together with infrequent but well-delivered humor. I hadn’t minded him in the first film, and it was fun to see his return. There were also scenes with special effects just epic enough to feel like a Spielberg film.

Aside from that, everything else was a mess. Actors faced away from the camera while speaking at length. The sound, fantastic in the first movie, felt blunted. The plot consisted of implausible action scenes strung together, badly.

The Jurassic Park universe is still exciting, and I’d love to see a well-done remake. For now, at least there are YouTube cat videos.