December 27, 2007

My Vacation = Laziness

Well, it's been a while since my last post (gee, how many times have I said that in the last month?) and this is going to be a relatively short one. Blame it on Christmas or the fact that my brother is home from work all this week or that I simply don't feel like doing anything that even mildly resembles work and there you have it.

Lately I've been hanging out with Rick primarily and occasionally with the rest of my family and friends over the holidays. We played a game of Starcraft: The Boardgame which I got for Christmas (yeah, I'm that big a nerd, moving on...) and we've been playing a lot of Rock Band at least when it's not too late for the other guests in the house. Rick is our drummer (surprisingly good at it no less), Sharon is our singer (also surprisingly proficient) and I am the mildly handicapped lead guitarist. Still, the Novi Ninjas (our band) are quickly gaining fans, and I must say I've been pretty impressed with how fun the game is despite myself. The music/rhythm games aren't typically my style, but the cooperative aspect is really well done, and makes all the players really support each other instead of tearing each other down.

Starcraft: The Boardgame is also really solid, and I'd recommend it to anyone who likes reasonably complex/strategic boardgames. It manages to maintain much of the strategic complexity of games like Twilight Imperium while avoiding overly-complex rules and decisions. The things you can do are limited and relatively simple when you think about it which helps keep things flowing, even in your first game. Also, combat is designed to heavily favor attackers which keeps players moving and keeps the game from stagnating like Twilight Imperium often does. Seriously, if you like strategic boardgames, and have any interest at all in the Starcraft mythos I highly recommend it. I should add, by the way, that the game doesn't use any dice, which I whole-heartedly approve of.

Anyway, that's all I've been up to. I spent most of today "fixing" my computer as I needed to update my laptop drivers in order to use Crysis (which I purchased with some holiday cash) and neither Dell nor nVidia really supports their mobile cards. Anyway, I finally managed to fix it, but it took much more time than I would like, and my 7950 GTX just isn't powerful enough for Crysis as I pretty much knew, but it'll certainly look nice on my next computer :). Alright, well, I've been writing for long enough, and I'd actually like to play some games before I need to hit the hay. Night all, I hope you all are having a very happy holiday, wherever you are.

December 20, 2007

Why Am I Tired?

Alright, so that may be, in fact, the worst post title ever conceived, but it's a question I've been unable to shake for the past couple days. It's been about a week since my last final, and apart from some packing and traveling I haven't really had much to do since then, yet for some reason every day my body wants to sleep for about 10 hours, and the entire day I feel overly run down. Is this lasting effect from my prior illness? Some strange OCD that my time at the Guildhall has given me that will not allow me to be unproductive? Is there such a thing as too much sleep?

I'm not really sure as to what the cause is, but despite being on vacation, I feel as tired as ever. I hope that my body is just recovering from a combination of stress from school and serious illness, but it still leaves me wondering when it's going to stop. I have grand plans for this break, and I won't have them dashed by my stupid, tired body. Well, ok, maybe not grand plans, I wanted to play a lot of games for a while and then after feeling refreshed, do some small level design projects. I was thinking of maybe working on a couple RTS maps, or starting work on a Neverwinter Nights module that I might eventually be able to use for application to Bioware, or maybe try my hand with Unreal 3 a bit. Unfortunately, at this rate, I think I'll start feeling better about the same time I need to go back to school. Hmmmm, maybe that's what's bugging me....

I can't help but feel that the Guildhall has given me some sort of productivity complex that I am still getting over. While you are there, there is basically always something you could/should be doing. You can always improve your level/art/code, making it cleaner, more fun, prettier to look at, what have you, but it's important to set aside time to keep yourself from burning out. I thought this was a skill I had developed, but maybe I still need work on some of the finer points, like how to separate yourself from the work over long periods of time.

I guess the truth is, outside of school and the occasional Friday night game session, I haven't had much else going on because school demanded so much of me. Now with an overabundance of free time thrown in my lap, I guess I'm a little bewildered with what to do with it all, though my body has decided to sleep its way through vacation. I could work to help focus my attentions a bit, though I'm not sure that is the healthiest plan overall, and I may be setting myself up for a huge crash next term. A classmate told me I should find someone to date over break, which while very tempting, seems unlikely to occur in the near future. At the very least I should probably start regulating my sleep patterns so I stop sleeping through most of the daylight hours.

Anyway, I realize this may not have been the most interesting post, but they can't all be winners, so sue me. You don't think I can go into deep diatribes about every game and genre everyday do you? As for gaming, I played a bunch of Star Trek: Legacy (which I received last Christmas) over the past day or so, and am moving swiftly through it's plot, which is pretty cool overall, and I'm largely pleased with what the game has to offer (though some of the achievements are friggin' hard). I'm also trying to finish up the last campaign of Supreme Commander as I asked for the expansion for Christmas, and that game is pretty sweet. Rick also got Jericho on Gamefly, but I've only had the chance (read: desire) to play it a little bit. I actually seems pretty neat, but the 360 is so bloated with FPSs that it's hard to make anything that really stands out, unless you're COD4 :).

Well, I think that will be the post for the evening. It may not be particularly interesting, but hey, at least it's long... :) Night all!

December 19, 2007

My Take on MMOs

So I've brought this up now and again over the course of the blog (at least I think I have, not sure really) especially in the last few days, I'm not particularly big on MMOs. Now I am not trying to alienate my fan base (that is, if I have a fan base), but I have just never understood what makes these games so successful and why people keep coming back to them. In my time I have played: Everquest, Dark Age of Camelot, City of Heroes, Guild Wars, D&D: Stormreach, World of Warcraft, EVE Online, Lord of the Rings Online, and now finally, Final Fantasy XI, so I am not exactly new to the genre. Admittedly, I haven't played any of them for more than around 50 hours (which some of my friends say doesn't even count), with perhaps the exception of World of Warcraft, but there is a reason for that.

Every time a new interesting looking MMO comes out, I get excited for it. The graphics look cool, it has some new combat/faction/economic/character/whatever model that looks really interesting, it's in an IP I'm really interested in, or some other reason that piques my interest. I run out and pick up a copy, spend about 1+ hours installing and updating it, and finally I'm ready to go, and for a while it's great. The environment is new and different, it's got some new system I'm playing with, and I'm just having a fun time finding things out. Before long, however, I start to become bored when I realize that it's the same old grind I've played over and over and over before. Some of the newer games get away from this better than others with solid PvP like Guild Wars and DAoC, or cool quests like WoW or LotRO, but ultimately these are some of the most repetitive games in existence.

Sure, when you boil things down all games are based on some level of repetition, heck, the industry was founded on people willing to pay to play the same thing over and over and over. As the industry as evolved, however, many genres have tried to get away from this, either by having gameplay that evolves throughout the experience, or breaking up some of the repetition with other things to do, like vehicle segments or townspeople to talk to, or a hundred other things to do besides shooting, racing, fighting, etc. MMOs on the other hand don't seem to have really grown much from their MUD roots. Ultimately it's all about walking around and killing stuff so you can get more experience/better equipment and kill bigger stuff, and the cycle repeats ad nauseum.

I guess the truth is that MMOs are still young compared to many of the more standard genres. FPSs, Platformers, Fighters, even RTSs have been around long enough to have learned from their more notable mistakes. The problem I see is that the overwhelming success of a few MMOs has lead to an overabundance of "me too" developers trying to get their slice of the pie. I'm not sure on the exact statistic, but I'd say for every MMO in existence right now there are probably about 2+ MMOs in development. The problem is, by and large, none of these new MMOs is really trying anything different. Typically, they just try to separate themselves from the pack through their IP and so MMOs have seen very little evolution in gameplay.

Ultimately, this whole cycle ends up leaving me feeling very disenchanted with the whole genre as I get excited for new properties only to find out they are the same game I've been playing for the last five years with a new coat of paint slapped on. Until this changes, I think that you can count me and many others like me out of the market for this particular genre. From what little I've heard of the new Bioware/LucasArts venture, I've heard they are taking a completely new approach that may, in fact, change the genre. If there's anyone I could imagine doing it, it would be Bioware, but you'll excuse me if I don't hold my breath, and until then you can find me playing my other games quite happily and more heavily invested.

December 18, 2007

Unfinished Business

I think that my posts for vacation will focus less on what I am currently doing which may be, bye and large, uneventful and focus more on my random musings about games based on whatever I am doing at the time. I think I have decided that over break I am going to try to complete some of the games that have fallen by the wayside over the past couple years, like King Kong for example. Others include Overlord, Odin Sphere, Lost Planet, Crackdown, and a bunch more as almost everyone can tell you I buy games at a faster rate than I can play them, so I almost always have a backlog.

Actually in response to that fact, I have considered getting a membership in Gamefly. My brother recently chose to do this as a way to save a bit of money and has become and instant promoter for the service. I've known several others who've used it as well and heard nothing but positive reviews. Probably something I won't do until I get back home, but I did ask for a subscription for Christmas, so we'll see what happens.

In other news, I bought presents for Rick and Sharon today and we actually exchanged them tonight. Rick and Sharon got me a cool Penny Arcade T-Shirt, four volumes of Penny Arcade comics, and a huge bucket full of cheese popcorn. I gave both of them indie games that I thought they would enjoy. I gave Rick a copy of Shadowgrounds: Survivor (and inadvertently purchased a copy for myself actually) as we both enjoyed its predecessor, and I bought Sharon a copy of Aquaria, a game that strangely combines Zelda, Castlevania, and Ecco: The Dolphin, and is just plain awesome. I can't claim a great deal of credit for it, however, as my lead artist on Canopic Chaos was the one who originally made me aware of it. They seemed to enjoy them for their limited playtime before they both eventually retired.

Anyway, that was pretty much the day. I plan to go Christmas shopping for the rest of my family tomorrow, and then continue to play games as a standard matter of course. Despite the introduction to this post, I'm not sure I have any real musings to discuss right now besides the extension of the "Why I Dislike MMOs" line of thought, and I don't really feel like getting into that right now. Actually, right now I just feel like playing some games before I need to head to bed, so I think I'm going to go ahead and do that. I actually woke up around 1:30 P.M. today, so that will make today something like a 12 hour day. I am hoping I'm still just recovering from school and this isn't going to become some sort of trend. Regardless, I'm off, later!

December 17, 2007

Life Without a To Do List

To be honest, it's a little weird to have this stretch of free time in front of me with nothing in mind that I need "to do." I'm not saying I'm not happy for it, but it's a little strange to move from being rigidly structured and busy basically all of the time to being completely free with nothing to do. As such my blog posts have been late to non-existent, so I am of the mind that I need to start managing at least a few minor, personal tasks. Things like doing my Christmas shopping (yeah, I know, its way late), cleaning up my desktop (yeah, it's that bad), posting on the blog, and potentially planning some projects for the break. Some game design stuff I've wanted to do that I just don't have the time for at school. Maybe dip into the newly available Unreal 3 editor, or work on something other than an online, multiplayer fragfest.

At the very least, I need to start writing my blog posts when I am less tired/more lucid. No major events today. I moved in with my brother, Rick (is it possible I have never referred to him by name until now?) and his wife, Sharon, while I am at home for the holidays (they live about 20 min. from our parent's house), went out with his wife to pick up groceries and supplies for the house (which is soon to house Sharon's mother and sister as well), then was feeling crappy so I crashed on the couch for a while until Rick got home from work. Then we watched some TV while we ate dinner and afterwards Rick and I played a bunch of Super Mario Strikers Charged which he recently received from Gamefly. I finished up the day with a little King Kong which I have resolved to complete over the next couple days considering I got it as a present nearly two Christmases ago (before I had an Xbox 360 to play it on oddly enough).

Anyway, that was pretty much the day, and now it is late and I'm tired. I know this may not be the riveting constant-deadlines-are-driving-me-crazy antics of the Guildhall that you have all come to know and love, but hey, it's vacation. :)

December 16, 2007

A Taste of Freedom

Alright, so it's been a few days since I last wrote a post, and considering it is 3:00 A.M. here (I am in Michigan now) this is likely to be a short one. The combination of the beginning of my vacation and the apex of my illness has kept me too tired/lazy to write anything, my apologies. Truth is, not much has happened since my last post. Finals went well, and I think I did pretty well in all my classes, I'm still waiting to hear on one of them.

Thursday night, a bunch of people from class went out to Dave & Buster's to celebrate which was a load of fun. Then Friday, I spent pretty much the whole day resting, playing Final Fantasy XI with some of the other level designers (more on that in a minute), or playing COD4 with Rick. Saturday, I spent most of the day packing and cleaning up my apartment and I managed to finish Ratchet and Clank Future, and finally today, I spent most of the the day finishing up my packing and traveling. So as you can see, not much to say...

As for the Final Fantasy XI thing, someone (I'm not sure who) apparently thought it would be fun for a whole bunch of us to play an MMO together, in this case FFXI. Oddly enough it was at the same time a bunch of the programmers decided to start playing WoW together. Anyway, I ended setting it up and playing a good deal Friday, and at this point, I'm just not sure how interested I am in continuing it. Don't get me wrong, I like the idea of playing a game together with my friends from school, but I'm just not sure I actually like the game.

I mean, I'm not a big fan of MMOs in general, and I think as of late I have been a bit spoiled by games like WoW, LOTRO, and others which actually help you understand the game and are (arguably) fun to play. My little time with FFXI felt more like a job as I was grinding out level after level of random enemies until I hit 10 and ultimately shut down for the night. I may give it some more time, especially given my friends are planning to play it pretty heavily from what I could tell, but my initial experience was not particularly engrossing, and it ultimately left me feeling that it was time I would have rather spent playing something else.

Actually, I feel that a lot of the time that's the way I feel about most MMOs, but I guess that's a train a thought for another day (maybe tomorrow), for now, I need to rest. You all have a good night, and I'll see you tomorrow :).

December 11, 2007

Is it really almost vacation?

There's a strangely surprising dichotomy at work here where time just seems to absolutely fly by, but at the same time you look back at it all and realize the sheer amount of work you've done. About two weeks ago, I wasn't sure I would survive to this point, but in a few days I will by on my well-deserved vacation, and just seems like it snuck up on me.

There's still a fair bit to do, but nothing I don't feel prepared for. We have our Greenlight presentation tomorrow and our final version of Canopic Chaos is due Thursday. Outside of that I have finals in my Level Design and Programming classes, but considering they are practical exams, I can't really study for them anyway so I'm not really worrying about them.

In other news, I decided my minor concentration today, well...effectively I decided. Level designers can choose whether to concentrate on programming/scripting or art, and I actually discussed it with the Professor, mostly about whether it was preferable to be "balanced" or highly specialized. Ultimately, I've decided that I am much more interested in programming, much better at it, and I would rather be an exceptional programmer and a competent artist, than be good at both. He seemed to agree as I sort of talked myself through the decision, but it's nice to have another choice out of the way.

Anyway, it's late and I have discovered that presenting on low sleep is decidedly not optimal, so I think I am going to actually try to get to bed at a reasonable hour tonight. Night all!

December 10, 2007

Solid Reference

Itchy. Tasty.

December 9, 2007

The Road to Recovery

Well, if there's anything I think I've learned here thus far (or maybe just this term), it's approximately how much punishment my mind and body can take before one or both just begin to shut down. I think it's actually a valuable bit of information and I don't think that's been more true than these last few weeks. It turns out it's actually a bit more than I probably would have estimated a year ago, but even I have my limits. A few days of about 4 hours of sleep a night followed by an all-nighter, is easily enough to put me down for the count, but the effects are even a bit more subversive than that.

When the whole sleep-deprivation thing actually becomes a factor, it can manifest in a lot of different ways:
  • Emotionally - like feeling exceptionally anxious or depressed without any significant cause
  • Mentally - like an inability to approach your work or solve problems you might easily address
  • Physically - the most obvious symptoms like feeling tired or sore, and some intense headaches
The list probably goes on from there, but I think I experienced each of this dimensions at some point during this last week, and the counter to them as well. On Wednesday, I was pretty fried and the professor took some note. He actually told me to go home and get some rest, that sometimes the best thing you can do is take a break and get away from work for a while then return refreshed and ready to tackle the problems head on. While I wasn't able to take his advice in its entirety (which was to take the night off), I did come home and take a nap and play some games before finally making a quick dinner and getting to work. I'll be darned if it wasn't one of my more productive nights lately.

I guess I was operating under some principle of needing to be constantly working to get my work done, when in fact the truth is you need to find whatever it is that can keep you working at optimally. So if that means you need to sleep more than some people, or you need to set aside time to actually play games and remember why it is you came here in the first place, then you need to do that. I think I spent a lot of time trying to be the "superstar," and I thought the only way I could do that was to work as hard as possible, but that's just not the case, at least not for me.

Now that doesn't mean that sometimes you aren't called to work exceptional hours anyway, my all-nighter on Friday is proof of that, but like anything, it's all about balance. Passion is critical to quality in this industry, there's no doubt about that, and if you aren't absolutely dedicated to doing this, then don't, you'll be putting yourself through hell, and it won't be worth it. I don't mean you need to have spent your entire young adult life creating mods (or playing games for that matter), but that when you look inside yourself, there's a part of you that knows this is what you want to be doing.

In the end, passion is great thing, and I think it is what has pushed me and so many others to excel, but you can't let it consume you. Without trying to sound melodramatic, I think I almost did, and this was an important lesson for me to learn....and I'm sure I'll have to continually learn it as I progress. Anyway, I've got a document to review before I head to bed. I hope you all derive some meaning from this post and it doesn't sound like the crazed rantings of a sleep-deprived game developer.

December 7, 2007

This is the part where...

...I collapse in a tired heap on my couch and hope to get enough rest over the weekend to make it through the rest of term. Seeing as I probably won't look at my computer again tonight, I should probably take care of my post...

I finished my FY-Iceworld map around 5:00 A.M. and spent the rest of the morning working on our statement of work. Then we had more time to work on the Statement of Work during Game Studies this morning, there was a midday luncheon lecture which was alright, and we finished the day off with a speed map which seemed a bit excessive since I had spent probably 12 of the last 18 hours working on the map we had just turned in. Given my tiredness and disinterest in creating another level today along with the fact that unreal decided not to play nice, my level was wholly unimpressive. It had some interesting pieces, but needed some refinement.

Anyway, that was my day. This weekend seems like it shouldn't be too awful work wise, though I've been wrong before. I just need to finish and clean up some of our documentation for the Statement of Work and play with a few minor things for the actual project. Then I am at the disposal of the level design team as much as they need me. Kind of like being on call, it can be wholly uneventful or it can consume your whole day. I suppose we shall see. Well, that's all folks, now I'm going to eat and probably pass out on the couch. Later!

December 6, 2007

My Last All-Nighter (of 2007 at least...)

Well, things are starting to fall into place all across the board. I'm continuing to do well in class and my team is finally starting to gel on our mod. That being said, I have the final version of a map due in roughly 18 hours, and a lot to do before then in order to even meet the base requirements. Based on the complexity of the assignment and the timetable, I was pretty sure this would be the case, so I am reasonably nonplussed by the whole situation. I've started a movie marathon (the theme tonight is sappy romantic/holiday movies) and I've already finished a few more of the project requirements.

This weekend should be relatively light. There will be work to be done on my team's Statement of Work and some ancillary tasks I hope to help out on for our mod. Then it's just finals and freedom. The light at the end of the tunnel is getting pretty bright now, just a few more roadblocks to get past. On that note, I better get back to work. If you need me, you know where I'll be...

December 5, 2007

Coming to a Close

Well, my posting has suffered a bit as of late since it probably isn't the highest priority right now and I've got about a million things I need to do within the next few days. Most notably I have a final map due and about 36 hours and it's not exactly all. I mean it's certainly starting to come together, but the list of requirements is about as long as my arm, and I think I've met about half of them...maybe. It's not for lack of trying, I haven't been doing anything but work lately, but the map is simply the lowest priority item on my list.

Regardless, it looks like tomorrow is going to be an all nighter, but then I should actually have some time to recharge before finals I think. The only thing left after this map is dealing with our Statement of Work for Canopic Chaos and I can't imagine that should be too bad. Anyway, it's late and if there's anything I've learned multiple nights of back-to-back sleep deprivation are never good...never....

December 3, 2007

Alpha Lock

Well, our Mummy Freeze Tag is Alpha-locked at this point. I don't think this is a common term, but for our team it means we have hit a point where we are ready for the Alpha demonstration and we have locked it from being changed in any way until after tomorrow's presentation. Overall the game is fun, really fun actually, but many of our assets are not where I'd like them to be.

Realizing we've only had a week to work on it, it's not really a bad place to be, but unfortunately, one of my level designers, George, was able to craft a very nice looking level using the standard unreal assets, and then we were forced to graphically tear it apart to meet the "all custom assets" requirement for the project. I'm still working my way through the whole assertive leadership thing, but I think I am getting better. I just need to learn to "be the f@#$er" as one of my professors so bluntly put it.

Anyway, we are pretty much ready for the Alpha demonstration except for the brief outline I have to put together for the presentation. Then I need to worry about my individual work like my FY-Iceworld which is currently in a pre-pre-pre-Alpha stage and is due in its entirety in less than 4 days, my Rube Goldberg device which is almost ready, but lacks a great deal of polish (due in less than 3 days), and my sections of the Statement of Work for the Mummy Freeze Tag Mod (working title: Canopic Chaos), also due at the end of this week.

There's just a remarkable amount to do, and it's proving to be quite the challenge to focus on all these different things. Alright, well I should get to work so that I can potentially sleep tonight. Take care, all.

December 2, 2007

Weapons Grade Senioritis

I'm don't know if it qualifies as "senioritis" as I'm not really close to graduating, but I'm definitely in that vacation-is-so-close-and-I-can't-do-anymore-work mindset that can make it difficult to get really anything done. I focused on work all day for all the good it did me. I finally have concepts for my FY-Iceworld map and the Rube Goldberg device I need to make for programming (using the physics engine in Unreal), but I didn't get terribly far along at creating either.

I'm a little bit stressed about the lack of progress there, but I am more worried about my team's alpha integration tomorrow evening. Communications haven't been our strong suit thus far, so it's hard to get a grasp on exactly where we are relative to where we need to be. I think the programming team is pretty far along and is about where they need/want to be for tomorrow's integration. As far as the level and art assets go, all I can say is I haven't seen them. They may be awesome and totally ready for integration tomorrow, but if they are I haven't really heard much about it, and the aren't up on the repository.

Anyway, it's late and I suppose there's no use worrying, we'll just deal with whatever happens as it comes. For now, I need to get some sleep for the long days ahead...

December 1, 2007

Best. Saturday. Ever.

Why, you might ask? Probably mostly because I completed Mass Effect today, and that game is just absolutely phenomenal. The ending does a terrific job of tying up that story arc while doing an excellent job of setting up the sequel. Really, I'm not sure I could recommend the game more highly, all the elements (action, strategy, story, exploration, etc.) are balanced so superbly that the game just flows smoothly from beginning to end. It's cinematic, it's exciting, and it's the best game I've played this year (no small feat considering some of the competition), and probably the best I've played in the last few years.

Energized by my victory over Mass Effect, I decided to make a day of it and only do minor housework and project management tasks instead of getting deep into my FY-Iceworld map as I had originally planned. I recognize this is the second or third time I've decided to put off my FY-Iceworld map, but I imagine it will be okay. I've been feeling pretty burnt out lately with all these final projects swarming around at the end of the term, and I think today was just what I needed to recharge and hit the ground running for the rest of term. Plus, my temptations to play Mass Effect are significantly diminished (though not entirely absent) which should help me to focus on my upcoming projects.

Anyway, while today was thoroughly enjoyable, it has put me behind a bit from where I intended to be at this point, so I should get headed to bed soon and prepare for a long couple days: Alpha on Tuesday, Programming assignment on Thursday, FY-Iceworld due Friday. Yep, it's the home stretch, but there are quite a few hurdles between here and there.