Friday, May 27, 2011

Let the Stupid Rats Die. For Science. You Monster.

Clear-headedness under pressure.  It's a skill that should come in handy if I ever find myself in a life-or-death situation where I need to keep my wits about me to survive.  Am I driving a FWD, RWD or 4WD car?  That will be key to knowing how to regain control of the vehicle and not slide off the cliff into the canyon below.  Will water extinguish this fire, or cause an explosion?  Should I put my hands out to stop my fall, attempt to roll with it or take the full force of the fall on my stomach so as protect my head?

That last one is a real situation I found myself in where I did indeed take the fall on my stomach.  With a metal bar acting as the delivery system.  I couldn't roll with the fall and putting my hands out would have catapulted me off a ledge and onto my head.  The stomach option was very painful, but I take pride in the notion that it was actually the smart choice.  The details mattered.  In the best games, the details matter, because then my decisions have meaning, and I have a chance to develop this crucial survival trait that I may need some day.

Friday, April 1, 2011

Tuesday, March 15, 2011

A Narrow Window

The medium is always a limiting factor.  Otherwise it would be not so much the medium as the actual, and that's decidedly not what computer games are.

I'm going to talk about the limitations of viewing the world through the narrow window that is the computer monitora.  At first it seems like this is a trait that computer games have in common with film, but film has had many decades of experience to overcome this limitation with tricks that are invalid for a game, because they rely on absolute control over the camera.  These tricks have made their way to computer games in the form of cutscenes, but as games develop and mature, I think we'll see less reliance on cut & pasting from that other medium.

In most computer games, control over the camera is given to the player, and that means a serious rethinking of its application.  In a film, the camera is a tool for the creator, but in a game, the camera is a tool for the audience.  How that tool can be used will have an enormous impact on the experience of the game.

Some games allow you to move the camera independently of the player avatar, some allow you to select first or third person views, some allow you to look through security cameras, at least one that I know of uses security cameras exclusively, some use only top-down views, and some allow you to view the world from any conceivable angle.  The choice of viewpoint is important enough that First Person Shooter and Third Person Shooter are two separate genres, with very different playstyles.  It’s clearly a big deal.

Thursday, March 3, 2011

Bad Reality

I was going to spend this post talking about Tetris, and the glories of the physics minutiae to be discovered therein, but then I got asked such a mind-meltingly st00pid question that I had to nip it in the bud before it became an infestation. My sister, who is so profoundly ignorant of computer gaming that she requires even the most basic and obvious elements to be spelt out ad nauseum, wants to know how realistic a computer game can be before it stops being fun.

That's an interesting question, and at first my smart-ass answer was, "It's the same as in film, or books, or any other media that attempts to mimic real-world things. If you're attempting to convey an experience, how much do you change reality for the sake of improving that experience?" But then I realised that that was way too Zen and glossed over all the points that the question was capable of raising, so I decided not to mention it but instead make a genuine attempt at an answer.

The question implies that realism is a problematic thing in and of itself, which is only partially true.  Also, there are different kinds of reality warping, for different reasons:  abstraction or omission to remove unnecessary detail and reduce scope; added convenience to prevent frustration; unavoidable technical limitations, both in terms of computing power and the limited interface; artistic license, otherwise known as stylisation; and of course, Bad Writing.  Each of these points is capable of becoming their own post, as I've discovered from the 2,000-odd words that I cut out from the middle of this post, but the question my sister asked me was to do with Bad Writing, so I'm going to stick with that for now.

Saturday, February 12, 2011

Exercise Restraint

It's not a quality that's typically required when playing computer games, but restraint is occasionally important.  Like when you're playing a stealth game, and you think, "Yeah, I can take out that thug who's just walked into the room, even though I haven't taken the time to think it through properly.  What's the worst that could bangsplatohnoimdead?"

Or when you're playing a platformer and you just can't be bothered waiting 5 seconds for that moving platform to go away and come back again, so you take a chance and try jumping to reach it and fall to your death and no it wasn't really worth it because now you have to do the whole level again.

Okay, so maybe restraint is required a lot.  In fact, it's probably required anywhere that there exists a risk that can be taken for little tangible reward beyond simple convenience.  It's certainly not emphasised in many games that I've come across, not like it is in Test Drive Unlimited 2 (TDU21).

Tuesday, February 8, 2011

I'm not doing this because I love you.

This is for me.

This is going to be about gaming, physics, pedantry and anything else I feel like.  I'm setting these expectations early, so that I have some direction, but I refuse to avoid anything just because it might alienate my audience because, well, read the title.  Expect non-sequitirialism, digressionistic tendencies and general self-indulgence, because that's what I'm here to do.

I've also noticed that in general games reviews tend to sideline one of the chief things that I play games for:  physics.  Yeah, physics.  And I'm not talking about the bullet point feature that appeared on the back of the box of every shooter for three years after Half-Life 2 was released, although I do love me some Havoc Physics, to be sure.  I'm talking about the back-end of the movement system that is a part of every game with even the slightest physical analogy to the real world.  Half-Life 1 has physics, WoW has physics, the original Mario Bros. has physics.  Even Tetris has physics.

Now, one of my passions is the vehicle simulation genre, where physics is basically the be-all and end-all.  There's very little gameplay in there besides manipulating a virtual physical object into another virtual physical position using a complex series of inputs, and I love it.  I'm currently studying a bachelor of Games Programming, and part of the reason I chose the course, apart from my enjoyment of all things both technical and creative, is because I was assured that game physics is a job that is given mainly to programmers.

Physics is also the reason for the title of the blog - it's about games, specifically from the point of view of someone who is passionate about their more analogue aspects.  Most simulator enthusiasts focus on a single genre, like car racing or helicopter piloting, or even a single game, like Orbiter, X-Plane or Live for Speed.  I'm going to be talking about game physics in general, with a healthy dose of simulators included.

Or not.  It's really all up to me, which is the way it should be.