June 29, 2009
For me the best part of ‘open world’ games is looking for the orbs/hidden packages/charged earth. They are a great way for the developer to show a particularly awesome view of the virtual world or highlight a tricky locomotion puzzle while rewarding the player for their efforts.
This summer I decided I needed to be less sedentary. A friend of mine mentioned that they frequently went Geocaching. Geocaching involves using a GPS receiver to travel to a predetermined location in order to sign a log and exchange trinkets like key chains or toy cars. When it was first described to me it seemed like a silly high-tech scavenger hunt and I could not be less interested. Eventually I made the connection to open world games and realized there’s a lot I haven’t seen in my city.
When my wife and I went out for the first time we were directed to go to a park a few miles from our house that we didn’t know about. A about 50 yards along the trail the aging trees and brush made it easy to forget we were inside a modern metropolis.
The cache was hidden on a floating unguarded bridge over a small lake. The bridge’s segments shifted with each step we took, a veiled threat to dump us into algae coated water. Turtles, cranes, and hundreds of tiny fish eyed us cautiously, as if ready to flee the moment we toppled into the drink. While we were looking for the exact hiding spot we looked north, where the trees had given way to the city.
After a few weeks of caching I’ve received a bonus to my constitution! I’m a few pounds slimmer and I traded my monitor tan in for a more traditional version.
So you want to get involved. You need two things: a GPS receiver and a caching community. The community provides the cache, and the GPS receiver helps you find it. Before you go hunting, it might help to know what a cache is.
In my experience caches are typically containers that are more-or-less waterproof. Film canisters, plastic food containers, mint tins, sandwich bags, water bottles, and even light posts. Often they are camouflaged to increase difficulty and prevent casual observers from stumbling upon them. Sometimes finding a location will present you with a riddle/puzzle you must solve before you discover whatever prize the owner left for you. Most of the time a cache will have a notepad so you can prove you actually found it.
I shopped around the internet for a few days and eventually found a GPS receiver in my price range. You’ll want to look for a device that has at least a 512k of internal memory and is “Geocaching friendly.” You might want to give serious consideration to water resistance, depending on where you live. These statistics will be listed on the details on the product page of the unit. Street and trail maps aren’t required, but if you have the money to spend they can be helpful. I’d recommend sticking to Garmin and TomTom devices because they have the greatest compatibility with the various web communities and software. You can find refurbished units for as little as $50.
There are several communities out there. The largest independent site is http://www.GeoCaching.com, while membership is free they do offer premium features, including special caches that presumably contain items of more significant monetary value. To my knowledge they have the largest listing of caches, and they operate in nearly every country on the planet. Directions to the cache’s general location are given by all major driving direction sites.
http://www.NaviCache.com is a popular alternative to Geocaching.com, mostly because they are not as selective about what awaits the cache-hunter at the coordinates. The unique cache types Navicache has to offer include events (cache party at x, y!) and caches that move around. They rely on MapQuest to give directions to a general location. Navicache is very friendly with their data, a lot of smaller caching sites use their engine.
http://www.TerraCaching.com is a site for the hard-core end of the sport. To be honest I’m a little intimidated by this site’s reputation. They say it has the hardest caches, either it’s difficult to get to or it’s hard to find once you’ve arrived. TerraCaching promises the most rewarding experience of any of the communities out there, but it doesn’t feel very friendly for beginners.
|Benchmark||Similar to travel bugs (see below) only they include instructions on locating government created permanently marked coordinates. The locations described are usually geologically significant, and thus a great deal is known about their position.|
|Micro Cache||Smaller caches, typically only large enough for a log.|
|Muggles||People who are not geocachers. They provide an element of danger for you while you’re carefully looking around public areas. They might ignore you. They might ask what you’re doing. They might destroy the cache if they see you find it. They might report your suspicious activities to law enforcement. Geocaching isn’t illegal in the United States, but bomb squads have been called, and no one wants to explain what they’re doing to the police. To avoid these issues stealth is strongly encouraged.|
|Multi-part cache||These are a lot like scavenger hunts. You find one box which gives you a clue to find another, and so on. Often hiders think it’s a wonderful idea to make you learn something about the park’s history in order to complete the chain. These hiders are jerks.|
|SL||Signed Log. The one thing nearly all caches have in common is the log. It’s the only way to prove you actually found the cache.|
|TFTC||Thanks for the Cache|
|TNLN||Took Nothing, Left Nothing|
|Traditional Cache||Usually large enough to hold common prizes, such as toys or keychains|
|Travel Bug||Some people purchase tokens (such as coins or dog tags) with codes and leave them in a cache. You can take them provided you put them in a different cache and announce the new location later.|
|Virtual Cache||Often these are designed specifically to show you something about the location; can be included in multi-part cache|
Generally the rules are pretty easy. Stay off private property and don’t trash the place. Parking lots seem to be frowned upon for cache locations, but you’ll find it’s pretty easy to get permission from hiking/outdoors stores; often because they sell related gear. Finally Geocaching.com runs “Cache in, Trash out” which asks you to take a garbage bag with you on your walk to pick up stray litter. I shrugged off the idea at first, but after a few frightened looks from muggles I’m beginning to seriously consider picking up trash as a “cover-id.” People are less likely to report a bomb scare if there’s an apparent reason for you to be poking around public areas.
June 25, 2009
I picked up inFamous, which is a great game. Really. You should play it. Anyone reading this has probably read a million reviews about it and/or has played it themselves, so I’m not going to belabor the point.
inFamous is a great excuse to talk about something a little more abstract, however; morality in games. There seem to be two schools of thought on how the players choices impact them throughout the game. inFamous follows the same path as Fable, Fable 2, Spider-Man Web of Shadows, Knights of the Old Republic, and many others. I call this the pendulum method. Good and Evil are real, absolute qualities in your character and where you fall on the spectrum can be calculated mathematically. This is a very Aristotelian method of determining ethics. If we reduce a person’s merit to the net gain or loss of their actions Jenny McCarthy is a worse person than Charles Manson, and the Octo-mom is a better person than most everyone else.
I believe, as do most modern thinkers, that good and evil are useless terms, and that only consequence matters. Let’s call this a moderated version of Nietzsche’s ethics. To my knowledge the only developer that attempts to achieve this world view is Bethesda. Games like Oblivion and Fallout have karmaic meters, to be sure, but they don’t really dwell on them. If you blow up Megaton it’s gone and you’re left to associate with scoundrels (or should I say Atlantians?). If you do not you are left with honest, hardworking and mostly-virtuous people (Athenians, for metaphor’s sake). Perhaps your motives for destroying the town were based on reason; surely living around an active atomic bomb is hazardous to the health of everyone in the DC metro, and disposing of it would help the most people with the most speed. That would make you less ‘evil,’ but the consequences remain the same. Of course the Megaton example isn’t perfect, but we’ve all played games where doing the ‘evil’ thing would actually be the greater ‘good.’
So why don’t more developers try to emulate Bethesda’s approach? Some may actually see the world in absolutes, but I think it’s mostly because they approach morality as an additional feature and the effort it would take to craft a world with morality as we understand it would take too much effort. If your character’s moral standing is a number between one and ten it becomes far easier to unlock content based on actions. To a developer a phrase like “If Action Man is 5 evil, Sheriff is hostile” is easier to program than “If Action Man killed Little Girl, Sheriff is suspicious.” That’s not to say developers are lazy. Most of them have time and budget constraints that limit the amount of effort they can put into any aspect of their game. As Bethesda moves more into the realm of publishing I hope they maintain their willingness to treat morality as a core game mechanic and not an additional feature.
June 23, 2009
So I’ve got a few tasty morsels that I cannot confirm for one reason or another. I want to share, as I believe my sources, but you should take this with a grain of salt.
- NATAL’s hardware could retail at $70. Speculation is that Microsoft might subsidize the camera or bundle it with a game.
(Ed: I was asked to remove the other rumor that was on this page by my source. Sorry.)
June 21, 2009
“I’m getting concerned about Sony; the PlayStation 3 is losing a bit of momentum and they don’t make it easy for me to support the platform,” Activision Blizzard CEO Bobby Kotick told the Times Online. “It’s expensive to develop for the console, and the Wii and the Xbox are just selling better. Games generate a better return on invested capital on the Xbox than on the PlayStation.”
I got curious about the nature of this threat, so I dug into their 2008 10-k (it’s a pdf, you’ve been warned). In pure revenue generation here’s the breakdown:
- PS2: 716,922,000
- PS3: 313,123,000
- Xbox: 785,476,000
- Wii: 309,867,000
- PC: 156,068,000
- Other (handhelds and such, it’s not broken down): 4,411,000
So while Sony does account for about 50% of Activision’s revenue the PS3 is nearly in PC sales territory – and remember these numbers only have one quarter year of Blizzard ownership AND the PC doesn’t have Guitar Hero. Also consider the licensing fee for PC is $0.00; while PS3 is… well, a lot more. Also consider ports between the 360 and PC are fairly easy/inexpensive.
So does Activision need Sony? Yes, for now. Do they need the PS3? Probably not. If the investment:return ratio for PS3 is at half the 360, Activision must move their investments away from the PS3.
(Full disclosure: I own 3 shares of Activision stock, worth about $45. I do not own Microsoft or Sony stock.)
June 2, 2009
Same drill as the Nintendo blog. I’ll go through the showing as best I’m able, but I’m significantly more tired than I was two hours ago. Expect more ‘snarky blogger’ out of this post.
- Opening video lays it out. Ps3, PS2 Slim, PSP, PSN. In order of emphasis?
- Jack Tretton takes the stage. Bitches about leaks, cracks a joke. I hope he has a few surprises left for us.
- Only the PS3 can show games at a decent resolution on a 40′x80′ screen. How many people have a screen big enough for that stat to matter?
- Jack reminds us of Rachet and Clank, Heavy Rain, and throws Batman Arkham Asylum a bone. I’m hoping for a lot of Heavy Rain talk.
- “PS2 will have 100 new titles.” Sure would be nice if most consumer’s PS3s could play them, eh Jack?
- 35 exclusive titles for PlayStation in 2009. Let’s talk about Naughty Dog…
- Uncharted 2: Among Thieves. Multiplayer beta begins tonight at midnight, PST I presume. Wait, who wanted Multiplayer in Uncharted again? Regarding Singleplayer, the gameplay trailer Drake’s still got his dry humor. Backgrounds-check that, city scapes look good. How’s this for buzzword filled: “Drake 2 innovates by integrating vertical cover mechanics with realtime destructible environments.” It’s almost as cool as the buzzwords make it sound. Ok, the collapsing building was pretty damn cool. No date given.
- MAG – Andy from Zipper showing live gameplay, decked out with 256 players spread from Seattle to San Diego. The maps are pretty damn big, I suspect they’re sharded between squads? Players gain exp for kills, I’m glad that’s becoming defacto. MAG looks like it’s becoming everything Sony promised last year. Huxley better hurry up. Ha-ha.
- PSP has 50 million units in the wild. They’re going for the 10-20something girls with Hannah Montana and a pink-ish psp. Seriously guys? If you think that’ll work…
- Kaz gettin up in this. Hopefully he’ll tell us about Ridge Racer. The new PSP GO is freakin TINY. It has a slide out controls. Kaz assures us Sony will continue to support UMD and PSP3000. 50% smaller and 40% lighter. 16 megs of internal memory, plus M2 port, no mention of MSD that I caught. I can’t wait to go buy a new propriatary memory stick that I won’t use for anything else.
- Media Go handles Playstation Store, Pictures, Music, and Movies from PC to PSP, and I assume PS3.. god damnit, no mention of the PS3 here.
- PSP Go is $249.99, launches in October. Man, I think I might have to hold out for $150.
- Kazunouri Yamauchi is talking about Gran Turismo for PSP. The game runs at 60 frames/second, 800 cars, 35 tracks + variations, races, time trials, and liceanse mode. That’s fantastic. Where’s Gran Turismo 5? Gran Turismo PSP is a launch title for PSP Go.
- Kojima appears at Sony’s conference too. MGS: Peace Walker features Snake in the 70s. It is a ‘true sequel.’ I guess that means it’s as much cannon as the rest of this man’s batshit crazy story. He is writing and producing, the MGS:4 team will be participating, and he emphasizes this is not a spin-off or side-story. He promices to make it PSP friendly. The trailer shows a subliminal 5; which ties it in to the website countdown hoopla. I guess it’s also a que to accept this game as MGS5. This presentation feels like, “Sure, Microsoft’s got Raiden, but we’ve got Snake!”
- SoCom, Resident Evil, Monster Hunter, and LittleBigPlanet Monster Hunter all PSP bound this winter. Jak and Dexter, Final Fantasy something-or-other, Soul Calibur, Star Wars something-or-other, Hamsters, Hannah Montana, and the usual slew of sports games all set for PSP this year.
- Time to talk PSN. 24 Million users, 475 million downloads. 50 PS1 classics are being added to the PS Store. FF7 is there today; if the price is right I might grab that to avoid putting the disk into the ps3 and finding wifi while I’m out and about.
- Home has 6.5 million idiots users. Jack’s giving us a lot of generic information about what’s coming for Home, but I sure would like to hear about something useful/interesting. Nope, they’ve got nothing.
- PS3′s turn. Let’s talk Ghost Busters and let’s talk Heavy Rain. Or we can talk about Agent, a Rockstar North PS3 exclusive. Or we could talk about Assassin’s Creed 2, which isn’t exclusive…
- Ubi rep is promising diversity in Assassin’s Creed 2. Desmond returns, apparently he also had an Italian assassin ancestor. You can use a glider to navigate the city. You get two hidden blades, and they make situations where that’s useful. Disarms in addition to the previous counter system. PSP-PS3 cross functionality, I couldn’t quite catch what the bonus is. AC2 and AC: Bloodline (the PSP game) drop this fall/winter.
- Final Fantasy 13. I can’t even pretend to care.
- Final Fantasy 14.. PS3 exclusive…when it launches in 2010. I still don’t care. Wait.. it’s another MMO? I just might care.
- Jack’s countering NATAL by reminding people the EyeToy happened last generation. Now they’re showing the the PS3 answer to the Wiimote; which uses the Playstation Eye. This tech demo looks like it’s a few years off. Okay, this demo’s getting progressively cooler. I don’t see any reason why NATAL couldn’t do any of this, though. They think it’ll be out spring 2010. I wish them luck with that.
- ModNation Racers is a user generated/kart racer. They’re emphasizing the user generated portion of this, but not showing how the user generates content. The game itself looks like a standard Mario Kart clone. Track creation is done by driving your cart around. The game does seem to take some liberties with automation, it doesn’t look very invasive though. I’m not sold on this game, but I wouldn’t mind playing it at someone’s house.
- Trico The Last Guardian time. From this trailer I’ve learned that giant hyena-turkey-goat chimeras are adorable, and science needs to produce one ASAP. The game looks like a stealth platformer, like Ico and Shadows blended together.
- More Gran Turismo 5 trailers. Jesus Christ, I’m having trouble distinguishing real life footage from gameplay footage. Was that all in game?
- God of War 3, they’re saying this is the last one. I really don’t buy that. The game looks about as interesting as any of the others in the series. I’m still not a big fan of QTEs.
Sony Summary: Jack really approached the show with a proper attitude this year. They never felt arrogant, but they still managed to own their successes. Apart from the Eye motion control demo they didn’t try to play “me too” very hard. I wish Heavy Rain or Agent could have been discussed a bit more, but of all of the shows I think I came away from the Sony conference with the most knowledge of the games they discussed.
June 2, 2009
I haven’t slept yet (I’ve been working on my L4D map) so I’m going to try to make this painless. Here’s what I think about Nintendo’s conference as it happens.
- Oh boy, it’s Cammie. Tell us about how well Nintendo’s doing Cammie. Really well? That’s just great.
- It’sa me, Mario. 2d and 4 player coop. The “coin rooms” look a lot like the OOOOLD Mario Brothers game. Neat. Of course there’s waggle. Holiday 2009.
- Balance Board/Wii Fit sold really well. Hurray. Wii Fit Plus adds to the original, which will somehow make people who gave up on the original return to Nintendo’s fitness regiment. Cammie says Wii Fit is “Brainage for your Backside.” I say hooey.
- Reggie! Thank god, save us from Soccer Moms. Wii Motion Plus time. I remember when they were talking about this last year.
- Wii Sports Resorts doesn’t strike me as any more fun this year. Wii Skydiving doesn’t seem as exhilarating as the real thing. Archery looks decent, not something I’d play for more than any other tech demo. After some faux witty banter and a tedious 3 point competition we finally get a release date: July 26th.
- Tiger Woods and Virtua Tennis will be out around the same time.
- Wii won for most 3rd party games sold, DS came in second, so saith Reggie. Lots of poor selling shovel-ware adds up.
- Square Enix is bringing another Crystal Chronicals game, exclusive to Wii. Looks like a 3rd person adventure/rpg from the brief gameplay.
- September 29th brings an ‘exclusive version’ of Kingdom Hearts.
- A Mario RPG on the DS, Mario & Lugi: Bowser’s Inside Story, drops this fall. Doesn’t look terrible; but I didn’t see any treadmills.
- Golden Sun DS. Apparently I’m supposed to be excited about this IP returning, but I honestly don’t remember it.
- James Patterson game is going to be an innovative ds interactive novel. Hotel Dusk anyone?
- COP is an innovative ds open world game. GTA: Chinatown Wars anyone?
- Style Savvy is an innovative ds fasion game. This one might actually be innovative, I just don’t care.
- “DSi captures the passion of players.” I mean, it has the entire DS libary!
- Flip Notes Studio drops this summer, if you want to make movies on your DSi.
- Mario vs Donkey Kong: March of the Minis drops Monday. It looks like content for the DSi that is closing in on system-seller status. Too bad I still have my doubts about other games in the near future.
- LoZ: Spirit Tracks —is mentioned. I was hoping for details.
- Iwata takes the stage. He’s acknowledging the slowing growth. He believes there is a possible 50% growth of gamers left. To summarize Iwata’s point, “Games should be easy to learn and difficult to master.” Iwata brings out the big guns… Wii Vitality Sensor. *sigh* Another gimmicky peripheral. It’s a pulse detector; and while it could be used to do awesome things, it won’t happen on a console like the Wii. Third parties are too gunshy to take a risk on a game that requires an attachment.
- Another 3d Mario! Yoshi’s in it! Super Mario Galaxy 2 – looks better than Galaxy was from where I sit.
- Reggie’s back on the stage to talk about exclusive 3rd party ‘hard-core’ titles. The Conduit, still looks good for a Wii game. Resident Evil: The Dark Side Chronicles – Looks like a light-gun shooter to me; I’ve got a softspot for light guns and zombies. Finally EA’s Dead Space: Extraction.. I’m not sure I’m feeling that one.
- Nintendo’s “new, edgier game” co-created by Team Ninja is Metroid: Other M. 2d and 3d levels, has a first person camera that looks a lot like prime. From the gameplay/story shown I’m not sure what makes it darker or edgier, but it doesn’t look bad.
Nintendo’s press conferance summary: Hot DAMN. New Super Mario Brother’s Wii, Super Mario Galaxy 2, Metroid, Conduit (again) and Dark Side Chronicles. That was a pretty strong showing, even if I didn’t get dates for everything. Reggie closed that presentation like a champ.
June 2, 2009
I was taking notes so that I could write a post without forgetting anything. The notes were sort of conversational, so I figured I’d cop out live blog, post facto.
Dante’s Inferno trailer – Vencian poets are a lot more bad ass than I imagined. This may as well be called EA’s God of War. I think I’d rather take a virtual tour of hell; or at least a decent silent hill clone. Why even invoke the name of the book?
Sims 3 – More Sims. Yawn.
Chip Yang talks about a bunch of crap I don’t care about. That’s about all Chip ever seems to do.
People are clapping for littlest pet shop. There’s your unbiased media, folks.
Oops, they were welcoming tweens to the stage. Yay tweens.
Speed hair teasing – I really wish these were booth babes and the game was as perverted as I make it sound.
Need for Speed: Shift presents: Bullshots. Precise vs Aggressive driving seems interesting. My wife likes to smash the cars, I like to race like a ballet; maybe we should pick this one up. Cockpit crashes look awesome. I hope it works out that way in game.
Journalists might win a car for checking out NfS:S. What kind of crap is that?
Bioware doctors have my attention. Dragon Age: Origins sounds like a George Martin book. Hopefully it skimps on the twincest.
Mass Effect 2 – “How awesome are we? We’re really awesome.” I’m not hearing anything informative about the game… but wait, here’s a trailer. Sounds like the original voice actors are back; yay for Seth Green. Game mechanics look more-or-less unchanged. I think I’m alright with more of the same.
EA Sports segment; I wish I was there so I could hit the concession stand. Oh wait, Peter Moore might have a new tattoo. Nope. I guess no one wants to be typecast. The Madden 10 Online Franchise looks like a great way to manage fantasy football teams. 600,000 units of EA Sports Active. Apparently there are lots of soccer moms who can’t find Wii Fit.
Hey, real games again. What’s Saboteur about? France? In World War 2? Man, it’s going to take me a bit to get comfortable with this strange setting. Bullet Time effects and “stylized black and white” ala Sin City; I thought Mad World would be the only game to rip that off. Gameplay is MGS meets GTA; then again isn’t that sort of like what they said about Crackdown? Hopefully stealth remains viable throughout the game.
Tim Schafer on the stage. It’s hard not to love this guy. Ozzy is in Brutal Legend. Pimptacular. Jack Black is being Jack Blacky; I really wish he wouldn’t. I really don’t have a good idea about how this game plays; looks a bit like Overlord?
Crytek. I smell pretense. Yep, CryEngine 3 is going to be the second coming for all platforms, including PC. But will it be optimized enough to run Crysis?
Realtime Worlds MMO, APB. Character creation looks really tight. I’m not seeing any gameplay in the trailer. That’s too bad.
Star Wars something-or-other–ooh, Bioware’s KotR MMO. Lucus Arts says Bioware was the obvious choice for a Star Wars MMO. I thought that was SOE, silly me. Old Republic will be fully voiced, eh… sounds like lots of micro-cut scenes. Bounty Hunters will be an Empire class; that’s too bad. I thought bounty hunters played both sides. A chick wearing Boba Fett’s gear; color me interested. Too bad I still have a mountain of questions about the game.
EA in summary: a bunch of interesting sounding games that I know nothing about after supposedly being informed.
June 2, 2009
The biggest news for me is L4D2. When I first heard the rumor on Steam’s forums I went on record saying, “Yea, probably not.” Oops.
So here’s a list of things from the video that I think Valve will change before the game comes out:
- The machine pistol has no recoil in the videos. That won’t last.
- Your character’s animations. Those are not final.
- The textures didn’t seem quite right, I expect a few more passes there.
- The fatter character might present some problems for mapping. I don’t think he’s the final design.
- The release date will be pushed back. We are talking about Valve, after all.
Peter Moleneux spoke up for Natal, Microsoft’s answer to the Wii’s motion sensor controls. It looks a lot like the EyeToy on the Playstation. His tech demo involved talking to a boy on a dock, playing with fish, and passing an image from the real world to the virtual child. I’m not sure what about that couldn’t have been done on the PS2, but hurray I guess.
Natal will also act as a controller for the 360′s UI. I’m not sure I really want that, but there it is. It’s not all totally useless though. You can turn off the console with voice recognition. It will also recognize your face and sign in on your profile, which doesn’t matter a lot at my house, but maybe it does at yours. Hopefully this will be another $20 webcam, because I don’t think I’m willing to spend any more than that for the features it offers currently.
Netflix will get an upgrade. We’ll be able to add movies to the queue from the 360, so my laptop can finally move away from my coffee table. Right on.
Last.FM, Twitter, and Facebook will have Xbox Live functionality. I get enough spam on those services, but I guess it’s time for some more. I also have my own music library, so I don’t really need Last.FM either. Oh well, I guess I’m getting it anyway.
They’re merging the Xbox Movie Marketplace with the Zune Movie Marketplace. I’m stoked for that; hopefully movies I’ve already purchased on the Zune store get ported over. All content will be 1080p, so if that matters to you, congradulations.