Archive for October, 2010

Games of my life – Part II

29 Oct

The year was 1986… and a game series that for many has the best games ever was born!

I’m talking about “The Legend of Zelda” series, in it’s various incarnations… This series was the reason I bought consoles (I bought the Game Boy because of the Oracle games, the N64 because of “Ocarina of Time”, the Gamecube because of “The Wind Waker”, the DS because of “Phantom Hourglass” and the Wii because of “Twilight Princess”).

Created by Shigeru Miyamoto (almost a household name) and Takashi Tezuka, the series was always a mixture of action, light-RPG and puzzle solving game mechanics.

This game really shook (and continues to rock) my world; when I start to play a Zelda game, I can’t let it go…

Can’t exactly explain why the game appeals to me so much… the story is pretty basic (and it’s more or less always the same from game to game), the graphics aren’t top-notch, the sound is passable (except for the music, but more on that later) and the game lacks depth (for the current standards)… So why is “Legend of Zelda” so good?

It all boils down to gameplay: the puzzles are interesting, the fighting is simple yet complex enough, the controls are very good and responsive… the game immerses you in that simple fantasy world and doesn’t let it go. I think it acts on that child-like part of your brain, since the basic story/area design is very akin to a child’s story, without tons of backstory and lore to read and memorize, etc… Not saying that is normally a good thing (God knows I love a good story and rich universes!), but in the case of “Legend of Zelda”, it all comes together in a very compelling way…

And this is not me… “Legend of Zelda” games have been awarded by several websites and magazines the titles of best games of the year/ever, and no top-ten best games lists of blogs and sites everywhere can be complete without at least a “Legend of Zelda” game in it!

The main highlights (for me) of the series:

The Legend of Zelda

Although this was the first game in the series, it was the second I played… I started with “A Link to the Past”, and only later I got access to a NES and could play this one… Since I was used to the SNES graphics of “A Link to the Past”, the graphics looked terrible, but the basic playability was there (in a much simpler form)… I had fun with this, but it’s far from the brilliance of “A Link to the Past”.


A Link to the Past

As I said, this was the first Zelda game I played, back in 1991… and it was totally awesome… it was one of the games that had more impact on me, gameplay wise… I could go on for hours in what makes this game brilliant, but lots of people throughout the net can do a better job at it than me! The graphics were beautiful for the time (on par with the graphics on my Commodore Amiga) and the gameplay was amazing… it was the first game I remember playing that you would get new weapons and skills throughout the game, and that was an amazing experience… I couldn’t wait to get to the new dungeon and get new stuff, or to revisit previous ones to explore what were previously unnaccessible areas.

Ocarina of Time

This was the game that made me buy a Nintendo 64… I saw this running as a demo back in 1998 on a store, and I had to buy a console and the game right away… thankfully, I still had some leftover money from my birthday almost three months before! 🙂

This was one of the few games that made a good transition from 2d to 3d, specially in such a different point of view… But everything did the transition smoothly… the lock-on mechanism made fighting easy even in 3d, the context-sensitive buttons make exploring and adventure simple, and the clean style of graphics overcame the technical limitations of the time…

Picked it up again four or five years ago, in a N64 emulator, and the game still rocks, specially in emulators that support upscaling of graphics…

Oracle of Seasons and Oracle of Ages

These games in 2001, and were created at the same time; the story intertwines slightly at the end… In Oracle of Seasons, the player can switch between seasons of the year (winter, spring, summer, autumn), and that affects the game world to make stuff passable/impassable. In Oracle of Ages, Link can travel to different time periods, where obstacles may or may not be present.

I bought a Gameboy Color because of these games and it was a good investment (even though I didn’t play anything else in the GBC, that I can recall). Here we can again see the capacity Nintendo (with Capcom on this launch) have to innovate without effectively changing the game whatsoever, just by adding two new items that can make changes to the game world).

The Wind Waker

And why did I buy a Gamecube in 2003: this is why! The Wind Waker was an amazing game, full of all the Zelda-like traits we’ve all come to love… From an innovation standpoint, it didn’t add much to the previous 3d incarnations; it changed the graphical style to a cell shaded that first you loathe, then you love… The explosion and effects are particularly good… never before in my life I saw such cartoony effects, and they were really really really nice!

The Minish Cap

Knew this was comming out in 2004, “gave” my wife a Gameboy Advance so “she” could play it… 😉 Just kidding, dear!

Same formula as before, Link can now shrink…

The Twilight Princess

I bought the Wii to play this back in 2006… and I was quite disapointed, to be honest… It was the first Zelda game that I felt disapointed with… Not sure if I was expecting a “proper” sequel to “Ocarina of Time”, “Majora’s Mask” and “The Wind Waker”, or if the game world was too big and empty, but the game didn’t pull me in as much as the ones before… There’s nothing obviously wrong with the game, it just doesn’t have the magic of the rest…

Phantom Hourglass

After being disapointed and fearing for the series decline, this game restored my faith completely in 2007… I was expecting to see what the new Nintendo DS interface would do to the series (and gaming in general)… and I wasn’t disapointed! The controls are really good and intuitive, and the basic gameplay traits of Zelda are all there… one of the best I’ve played ever… 

The world is the same as in “The Wind Waker”, which is great…

I liked the controls so much, that I (and the rest of Spellcaster Studios) started working on a prototype for game loosely inspired in this one… For the first time, a public demonstration of what we achieved after two weeks of work:

The Music

A note has to be done about the music in “Legend of Zelda”… while usually the music is competent and well though for the game/area in question, the main title for the series (in all it’s incarnations, from the beep/blops of the NES to the metal versions around the web) is a landmark song, known by everyone, even if they haven’t played the game… It’s one of the most catchy songs in the world…

One cool metal version:

In closing…

I’ve played all of the games in the Zelda series, some on the original consoles when they came out, others in emulators to satisfy my Link-addiction… I prefer the 2d games to the 3d game in the “The Legend of Zelda” series, but all are good (except “Twilight Princess” for some reason). The ones above are representative of one “generation” of Zelda games, and were usually my favorites (with the exception of “Ocarina of Time”, which is tied with “Majora’s Mask”).

The “Legend of Zelda” series is one of the reasons why Nintendo is currently on top of the world now, and the reason for that is apparent to anybody that actually plays the game: the games are wickedly well designed, consistent, polished, and give a sense of self-satisfaction pretty regularly (which is extremely important in this kind of games, in my opinion).

Can’t wait for “Skyward Sword” and I’ll probably buy a 3DS when it comes out to play “Ocarina of Time 3d”… if it drops the price, since it’s a pretty costly gizmo… it costs as much as an XBox 360!

Until the next time, where we’ll look at Sierra’s space-adventures “Space Quest”…

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Games of my life – Part I

27 Oct

Hi guys, and welcome to what I expect to be a regular feature on my blog: “Games of my life”.

In this feature, I’ll be talking about some games that really made a difference in my life… I’m not talking of the best games I’ve ever played (although some of them are), nor the ones that had more impact in the video game world. I’m talking about games that made an impact on _me_ personally…

Why should you care? Well, to be honest, I don’t expect you to care that much, but it’s fun strolling down memory lane and see old games again… I know I had a blast doing some research for this while I was preparing the series.

So, without further ado, here is part one of the series, hope you enjoy!

The Hobbit

Released in 1982, developed by Beam Software, “The Hobbit” was the first text adventure I’ve ever played, and it really blew my mind at the time… I’ve never read the books before this, so the story was completely new and it was very exciting to have a game telling me a story. I played it on the ZX Spectrum (a Timex 2048 machine).


You can play it online here. They even left in the time it took to render the screen like on the Spectrum…


“Elite” was a space trading game (probably the first one) created by David Braben and Ian Bell in 1984. It featured wireframe 3d graphics in the ZX Spectrum (where I played it), but it had ports in almost all machines known to man (some better, some worse… I played the Commodore Amiga version years later, and it was beautiful for the time!). It was also one of the first sandbox games, in which there weren’t any obvious objectives besides the ones you set for yourself, and it featured a procedurally generated universe to play in.

You’d go around trading stuff and defending your cargo, trying to rise higher and higher in the game hierarchy (to the coveted “Elite” title).

The game spawned a sequel in 1993, called “Frontier: Elite II” (or just “Frontier”), but for me it never captured me as much as the original… You had better graphics, and more worlds to explore (and you could even go to the surface of the planets), all generated procedurally. Most of the elements of “Elite” were also present in “Frontier”, but the game had a better, more physically corrected flight model, which was much harder to master and not as much fun (for me, at least)…

Jet Set Willy

Another game from the golden age of ZX Spectrum games, “Jet Set Willy” was a sequel to “Manic Miner“. Created in 1984 by Matthew Smith (working for Software Projects), it was a step up in platformer games.

What made this game amazing for the time was the fact that it was huge, having dozens of different rooms (that could be played in non-linear fashion), with different challenges to overcome, to help Miner Willy to clean up his house after a party. It was wicked difficult (for me at least, I was 11 when I played it for the first time), and had some bugs that prevented players from finishing it if you did stuff in a certain order.

Took me ages to finish this one…


Had a though time finding information on this game on the internet… Matchpoint was a tennis game created in 1984, by Sinclair Research (I think, couldn’t verify this)…

While I didn’t enjoy this one very much (not much of a sports fan), it was very important to me because it was the first game I saw on the Spectrum, the game that made me say “I want to be a game developer!”. From then onwards, most of my life choices were done around that…

The game had impressive graphics for the time (the ball even cast a shadow!!!), and it was relatively fun in two player mode (two people crouching over the small keyboard)…

Ok, that’s it for this first installement of “Games of my life”, hope you enjoyed it… Next time, I’ll be looking into the Space Quest saga and Legend of Zelda games, so stay tunned…

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The Box

25 Oct

Watched “The Box” this weekend (among other stuff, I’ll post about it later this week).

It’s an interesting movie; it’s based on a 1970’s short story called “Button, Button” by Richard Matheson, and was adapted to an episode of “Twilight Zone” in the 80’s… my final idea about the movie is that the story is much more suited to a format like “The Twilight Zone” than an actual full-lenght feature-film…

Although the movie doesn’t become “boring” per-se, it has lots of dead moments where not revelations are comming and that seems to be just re-hashing what has already gone on…

The acting is good enough, with Frank Langella being awesome as Steward (he’s super-creepy, as the character calls for it); the special effects are not cutting edge, but they do their job (some of the work in the scar on Langella’s face looks too CGI, but other than that, it’s ok).

The story revolves around a couple to which a mysterious man gives a box with a button. If they press that button, one person they don’t know will die, and they’ll get one million dollars. The movie than proceeds into analysis of human behavior and the consequences of actions.

On a final note, the movie is quite nice (a bit slow for some)… I give it a 7/10.

Later this week, don’t miss the review on “Jonah Hex”, and the introduction of new featured articles in everyone’s favorite format: lists!


Now for the spoiler part (stop reading if you want to check out the movie):


Really, stop reading… I’m telling you, it kind of makes the movie more boring if you know this…


You’re really persistent, aren’t you?


Fine, fine, have it your way…

This is all supposed to be a big test by a super-advanced race of alien beings, trying to figure out if mankind can be selfless or not. If not, they’ll destroy us all, like they did on Mars millions of years ago…

The silly part, in my opinion is the nature of the test: people seem to press the button just because they don’t actually believe in the “bad” consequence, they just don’t want to miss out on the “good” consequence, and that seems to me that it’s not a good metric of human behavior… Specially, it seems too falible to be used by a super-alien race…

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“Glorg: The One Button Dungeon Crawler” and other stuff…

19 Oct

Ok, go watch this:

Done it? Ok… What you’ve just seen is a small trailer for “Glorg: The One Button Dungeon Crawler”, and it’s a procedurally generated dungeon crawler where you use just one button to play the whole game.

While I actually don’t know how this actually translates into a fun experience in practice, I’m curious about the results…

One button games like this or “The Adventures of One Button Bob” always throw me into this kind of idea frenzy, in which I think of cool ideas for games that only use one button; although I’m not sure I could actually pull it off, thinking of games in terms of “one-button-interface” is really helpful to help focus on the game concept and removing the fluff… It’s a way for a game designer to really optimize the game actions and to see if his/her novel idea can really shift from “novelty” to “innovative”.

Comming back to the topic of my last post (the World of Warcraft pre-Cataclysm patch), it seems more obvious that Blizzard really screwed up… the game is so full of bugs now (characters that don’t log off completely, 60% speed mount when you die) and so unbalanced (mages, warlocks and DKs are completely op, while holy pallies and balance druids have been reduced to a steaming pile of crap) that players are in a general state of outcrying… if we consider that Blizzard’s revenue stream depends on players being happy and playing, this was all a dangerous move…

The thing that impresses me the most is why none of these problems came up during beta… I know people just leveled to 85 and nobody actually played at level 80 (so the balancing issues might not have been apparent), but considering this patch was schedulled for almost two months before Cataclysm (and new levelling) came about, it seems like a mistake to do a patch trying new game systems and not forcing some level 80 testing on them…

I know several people already considering rerolling (after been playing the same class for five years!!!!), or giving up the game altogether… this general state of unsatisfaction is serious from a game design/testing perspective… a lesson Blizzard will learn the hard way, I think…

Lastly, I’ve been playing “Professor Layton and the Pandora Box” on the Nintendo DS, and while the game seems to have a good concept (minigames galore to solve mysteries), the storytelling system itself is soooooooo annoying that it kind of takes the fun out of the game… The cutscenes take too long, and impart very little new knowledge about the game or the story… seems like a constant reminder of everything that’s been going on for the last 5 mins, done in awfull voice work… I feel bad, because I really like the concept of the game (a kid/puzzle version of the Mystery Case Files games from Big Fish, definite must-have games!)…

That’s it for today, have fun everyone!

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Thoughts on the new World of Warcraft game mechanics

14 Oct

Hey all!

Today I’d like to talk about the new mechanics on World of Warcraft, so if you’ve never played the game on Wrath of the Lich King, you might want to skip to the end of this post…

As the players already know, yesterday came out the new patch for the game (4.0.1), which implements the game mechanics that will be present in the next expansion “Cataclysm”.

First of all, I don’t know if I should praise or curse Blizzard for the update… On one hand, they show some courage changing most game systems… it shows that someone at Blizzard doesn’t want to follow the “just add more content/areas/monsters/spells/etc” mentality, which I think is great; Blizzard’s not sitting still at their laurels and apparentely are striving to give players something new to do besides the same thing they’ve done the last five years to different monsters.
On the other hand, I feel there’s a lack of new content on the new expansion… It seems to me that I’m just revisiting old areas with new skins… of course, I’ll eat it up and be thankfull, but I wish there was something more to it than this… I like exploring and seeing new stuff! I also feel a bit cheated by the new game systems; I’ve spent the last five years becoming good at playing the game, understanding the core mechanisms and using them in my favour, and with just one patch, Blizzard changed the whole game system, making it not simpler, nor more complicated, but just different. So now, I’m back to being a noob!

Not that all is bad… After all, I’m a fire mage (surprisingly called Covenant, on EU-Hellscream), and from where I’m standing, I’ve been boosted like hell; I can move and shoot at the same time, while still having circa 8k dps self-buffed on the practice dummy, and without spending mana; or I can sit still and shoot the target dummy with my standard rotation for about 5 minutes doing 12k dps, geared only with 10-man ICC gear. I’m guessing mages will be nerfed on the next patch, considering most people are complaining about nerfs, while mages and warlocks are shouting out loud “huzzah!”.

The idea transmitted by Blizzard on this expansion is that they’re simplifying mechanics and removing the fluff, but I don’t feel that’s the correct way to go… on one side, players that reach level 85 will be players that should know their class and will appreciate more complex stuff… On the other side, removing the fluff for Blizzard apparentely means removing choice, and this is my main complaint about the game now. It seems to me (at least at high-end level 80, might be different in high-end level 85) that all mages use the same playstyle, use the same gear, have the same talents, gems and enchants. It means that instead of you “roleplaying” a character, you’re just one in between the huge masses… and with this expansion, it seems that it will become worse…

I always disliked the concept of “precedence” on the talent trees… A player should be free to put talents at will (just unlocking some talents with level, and that’s it), to create new and novels specs which combined some of the characteristics of all the talent trees, in which spell rotations could include arcane blast and then switch to fireballs just for the DOT effect (which of course would be magnified by the arcane blast, etc). The idea would be choice, and when Blizzard announced the talent rewrite I thought something like this might be included with the game, but that didn’t come to pass… if anything, the “use these talents” became more evident, because you can’t go into another tree without spending 31 points on your “primary” tree.

Anyway, now for some individual points on the specifics:

  • New talent trees: They reduce choice, although it’s good to see they’ve removed lots of silly talents and added some useful ones. Level 85 won’t solve this, since you won’t be able to go deep into the secundary trees, so it’s more of a flavor thing, and I feel most people in one spec will choose the same talents from the others.
  • Removal of spellpower stat: This seems to be a cosmetic choice above all… In my case, for example, it’s a win, since spellpower got converted to intellect, and I get a larger mana pool (not that I need it as a fire mage), and I get all the benefit from spellpower anyway (I even went up a bit on that)
  • Mastery: The mastery system is one of the big additions to the game… still get mixed feeling about it, but it seems like an overall win… you get a more “general” stat that applies to all classes that gives a good measure of the item’s quality, even if you don’t know the other class. I like stuff that scales with gear in a smooth way, and it seems that Mastery is the way to go.
  • New character page: Cleaner design, more informative (with the tooltips and such), so it’s better.
  • New glyph system: I like the new glyph system, but it makes scribes almost usefull at a high level. What I mean is that while they’ll make a bucketload of money at the start of Cataclysm, they’ll not be able to do any money from their profession at end game level (since glyphs don’t change and only need to be bought once, so not even respecs can make the scribe profit). Maybe there will be a source of money in some other way besides glyphs, but nothing seems to indicate that. I also like the fact that I can see what glyphs I’m still missing on my characters, although it seems to me that not all existing glyphs are visible yet (only two prime glyphs usefull for arcane, for example).
  • The new spell notification system: Seems nice, although a bit more customization control would be useful (on mage it’s simple, I only have one notification to look at (hot streak), but on a Moonkin druid, it’s three or four notifications, which becomes a bit more complicated).
  • Social stuff: Where the hell is the new social button?! I have to press the hotkey “o” to access it now!
  • Guild screen: The improved guild screen is nice, with the achievement ranking and profession screens
  • Guild reputation: Have no idea on what this means, and I haven’t got a definitve answer either in-game on in the internet… but it seems like it can be a nice idea.
  • Reforging: Reforging is an awesome idea… The only way it could be better is if you could really define how much you take from a stat to give another, instead of those predefined values, but even so it is incredibly versatile system, which I believe will make a world of diffence at end-game content.

The changes also made different character classes behave different… I only have a fire mage and a resto/boomkin druid, so I can mostly speak about those and what I learned from comments on the guild and general chat:

  • Mages and Warlocks: Got boosted a lot, it seems to me. Rotations got a bit wonked, but it’s easy enough to adapt.
  • Druids: Only got remarks about Moonkin, and it seems to me that the class became even more difficult to play (previously I already though it was one of the most difficult to play ranged classes, because of all the different DOTs, procs and such). The new Lunar and Solar energy concept is very neat, but it’s still not clear to me how to work that in the advantage of the druid.
  • Priests: They’re complaining a lot about useless talents in the holy tree, but that gets compensated by the infinite mana on shadow form. Still they seem satisfied, although it seems to me that they’ll need to relearn how to play their class again.
  • Paladins: They seem overall happy with them.
  • Warriors: Only heard from the dps ones, and they’re definately unhappy, reporting loss of 40% dps and up, which sucks big time…

I know, pretty incomplete, but I was busy with my own character, so I couldn’t pay that much attention to the other characters…

Unfortunately, since all life can’t be fun and games, on the work front, I’ve been working on the new core routines for the new company I’m at… Redoing classes I’m used to working for ages (threads, sockets, mutexes, database, etc) sucks a lot (although I can improve some of the interfaces in the process). But the worse part is that we’ve decided on this new company to actually document the code properly, using Doxygen… and while the tool really helps and it will make the integration of other people much easier in the future, I spend more time documenting code than actually writting it… Hopefully, this will soon normalize, when I start doing more complex code that doesn’t require so much documentation as the core libraries…

So that’s it for now, please comment on this, specially if you spot something wrong with my overviews and specially if you’re a class on WoW different from mage! 🙂

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Point lights

06 Oct

Got shadows for point lights working:

Had some issues getting it to work:

The errors in the shadows are noticeable in the areas in between the vertexes.

Initially, I thought the problem was that I was a pixel shader/vertex shader mismatch, since when I was creating the shadowmap, the vertex shader for it did most of the computation and the pixel shader was just a simple passthrough, and when I was “applying” the shadowmap, all the calculations were done in the pixel shader.

After I corrected that (passed most of the computations for the pixel shader on the shadow map phase), the problem persisted… I got pissed about that, and after much scrounging around I found the problem…

The issue had to do with the projection of the geometry in the shadowmap… As I’m using a dual-paraboloid map, I have to create a “fish-eye” perspective of sorts when generating the shadowmap. This works fine, but I didn’t take to account lowly tesselated geometry near the light source (because the perspective transformation is done at a vertex level):

So, originally we have a tesselated square… If we apply the spherical projection we need for the “fish-eye” effect, we should have something rounded like we see on the second picture… But, as we are only applying the math to the vertexes, we in fact get the red lines, instead of the rounded edges…

On a zoom:

In the middle of the object, that’s not a big problem… there will the wrongfully drawn shadows, but we won’t notice them… Problem is on the outer edges of the object, in which we would fetch texels outside of the “drawn area” of the shadowmap!

Thankfully, the solution for this problem is simple enough: just clear the shadowmap to the maximum distance, to insure that all the areas outside of the “drawn area” are never shadowed… this is potentially wrong, but it should be close enough to never be a problem…

Anyway, they look neat and are fast, which is the two main points in all of this… I’m thinking I’ll have probably two or three shadowmapped lightsources on screen at a time… Need to devise a way to reuse the shadowbuffers of lights that don’t need them at the moment (since I’m currently using 32 bit floating point shadowmaps, which are huge memory hogs!), but that shouldn’t be an issue…

Next step, directional lights!


Halo: Reach

01 Oct

Just finished playing “Halo: Reach”, and although I don’t think it measures up to any of the Halo FPSs, it’s a very competent shooter, and I enjoyed playing it very much…

First, the good part: As usual, Bungie has done a great job in the playability and in the level design… this becomes more apparent if you consider that the game doesn’t add absolutely nothing to the genre, except for the space fighting and Hornet sections, which are quite fun, albeit too easy. The characters are not annoying (in this day and age, I call that positive), although a bit stereotypical (i.e. “psycho”, “hacker girl”, “righteous commander”, “rookie”, “lovable giant”).

The bad part is that the game feels like it has taken some steps back from the Halo franchise; The lack of duel wield kind of bothers me, since it was one of the selling point of the original Halo, besides being fun…

The game doesn’t add anything to the FPS genre, it’s just a well done FPS, with some technical flaws (lots of frame-rate stalls, for example). The story and storytelling are simple and predictable, the characters are too simple for me to actually care about them (which is important considering the objective of making the player feel sad because of the situation on Reach and in Noble team). To be honest, from a story perspective, the whole situation in Reach is kind of silly, and it only becomes vaguely interesting closer to the end of the game…

By the way, developers of the world: having a subtitle option that is only useful for cutscenes and not the in-game dialog is stupid… specially when most of your game’s storytelling relies on communications between team members during the fights where stuff is exploding and shots are being fired… For non-native speakers, it’s very hard to understand what’s being said…

Finally, note that my opinion is based only on the single-player experience, since I don’t play multiplayer FPSs, so the game might be actually much better with the multiplayer taken in consideration…

End of the day, “Halo: Reach” is a competent shooter, with some neat elements, but nothing to write home about…


  • Gameplay: 9/10
  • Story: 6/10
  • Graphics: 7/10
  • Sound: 8/10 (with 10/10 if we consider only the soundtrack!)
  • Sad Platoon-like feelings: 10/10
  • Overall: 8/10
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