Thursday, May 31, 2007

Monday, May 28, 2007

Galactic Civilisation 2 War Report and 4X Game Issues

Recently I have been playing Galactic Civilisation 2 which is the type of game that would be traditionally referred to as a Strategy game, but as I understand it now large scale galactic colonisation games including expansion strategy games in general now all come under the genre title of '4X' which stands for eXsplore, eXpand, eXsploit and eXsterminate. I have played many galactic conquest games over the years with them being one of my favourite genres, as games are long, non-linear and all strategy decisions have lasting consequences. But there are a few long running issues with the genre that GalCiv2 has actually fixed.

The problem with most 4X games is that once the player has more than ten planets (or settlements if you where playing Civilisation for example) it becomes increasingly difficult for the player to manage all the production queues of the growing number of colonies. Eventually turns take hours and the player will even forget what they wanted to do for a given turn so their strategy becomes watered down and undirected with some planets build queues being wasted simply because they where forgotten. It is in the large scale games that a good AI can easily win against a tired player as the AI doesn't get tired, doesn't forget about a planet, what it was doing with a particular planet and performs all actions with a mindset on every aspect of their empire and avoiding all potential expansion problems perfectly. The only disadvantage the AI has is if it was poorly built and then will occasionally do something stupid.

My idea of fixing this build queue issue for a game I wanted to build was to use levels of abstraction with things like fleet construction. So to build up a fleet a player would set a fleet marker, virtually construct the fleet that they wanted to be there at that marker and then press build. An AI would then choose planets and set build orders to build that chosen fleet for the player as quickly as possible and then when each ship finished building it would travel to the marker. Then when the fleet is finished the player is notified and they can play with their new fleet. The advantages of this is that the player wouldn't need to tell individual planets what to build, which is complicated by the fact that different planets have different build times and are various distances from where the player wishes to constitute their fleet. Having an AI take care of this would help the player out a lot as it could look at all the player's planets, their build time and assess wither it would be quicker to build two small ships on separate close planets or decide that building two ships on one distant planet with result in a faster build time for making the desired fleet.

There are other issues that come with 4X games, but the above one is solved in GalCiv2 by having all planets with a shipyard infinitely build ships. You actually have to specify that a planet not build anything for it to stop producing ships. Also if the player chooses to change what ship is currently being constructed at a shipyard, the work that has already gone into making the ship is put straight into the new build order so the player isn't penalised for changing their mind. This coupled with allowing the player to create long build lists for planet structures and auto-upgrading planet structures when new ones are discovered on the research tree means that forgetting about a planet is quite difficult. Especially since GalCiv2 has such good summery screens that detail everything about your empire and even notifies you as soon as a planet's build queue is empty on the turn summery screen.

There are still many problems that haven't been solved in GalCiv2 like that of planet development where the player will sometimes overcompensate in a particular field like research on all their planets, but GalCiv2 is a great game and did an article called GalCiv 2 War Report which is an account of a massive twenty day (real world time) GalCiv2 game. The article is long which is why I waited for them to finish writing it before posting about it and GalCiv2, but it is very funny so is well worth reading if you have the time.

I has a look on YouTube to see if there was any good gameplay videos of GalCiv2 that I could put in this post and found an excellent series of videos that talk about how the team went about debugging the AI. And I can attest that GalCiv2 does have a good AI because the different races always feel like they have personalities and if they win it is because they deserve to win and not because they cheated.
For reference the spore weapon that is talked about in the video is a very powerful invasion weapon that sends down a plague to the planet that crystallises all non-plant life. Meaning you don't need to send down troops to conquer the planet because as soon as your ship enters orbit around the planet everybody is already dead.

Friday, May 25, 2007

Halo 3 Multiplayer Beta FileShare

Have been playing the Halo 3 Beta through Crackdown. I still take issue with the small field of view and the beta in general feels more like a well polished demo that has been released after the game was released and then patched. It is way more polished than any beta I have ever played before, but the weapon balancing, map navigation, weapon placement on maps, sound and graphics are all better than on any previous Halo so it's a thumbs up from me, but something that stands out that you might not have heard about is the FileShare feature.

Free Image Hosting at

FileShare is this thing where after you have played a match you can choose to save a replay of the match to memory (press Back and then X) so you can then watch it back whenever you like, but Bungie gives you some server space to go with your Halo Profile (24MB of, with videos taking up anywhere between 2MB to 6MB of), this allows you to upload replays which can then be downloaded by anybody and watched as many times they like. So if you played against someone very good, you can check their FileShare, download a video or two and see how they play, possibly even learn from their videos.

Free Image Hosting at

The thing I like about this the most however is that while running Halo 3 you can hit the GuideButton, select a friend or someone you recently played with and at the top of the GamerTag blade is shortcuts to their Halo medal case and their FileShare, which makes it ultra easy to find videos of people you have played with or friends. But better still is if you play with someone you know, try exchanging recordings of the match you just played together and then watch each other's videos at the same time. That way you can both learn from each others play styles.

Plus with the FileShare I imagine we will be seeing far more Halo related videos uploaded to YouTube as all matches are being recorded now as you play. If something cool or unexpected happens you don't have to grab a camera, just save the video after the match. Here is one I already found titled "Obie Vs The Warthog From Hell". This video quite accurately portrays some of the difficulties I myself have encountered with 1337 (and average) players.

Wednesday, May 23, 2007

Cover Letters

I am currently writing a cover letter for a job application and using one of my Mum's old cover letters as a template. I don't normally read her stuff, but her body text is odd:
I believe that with all my skills and experience I have gained through self motivation and hard work over the years would benefit any Company that was continuously working towards improving standards, quality and Customer focus. I consider myself to be hard working, loyal and honest and relish working under pressure or to deadlines. I can work as part of a team or as an individual.
I have always been accused of writing too casually, but seriously this can't be what companies are looking for!

As it turns out she didn't get the job with this one, but it begs the question as to wither all her cover letters that she has been successful with, have also sounded like corporate press releases.

Saturday, May 19, 2007

StarCraft 2

For Screenshots of SC2 follow This Link. There is an awesome Cinematic Trailer that Blizzard has put out you should head over to the SC2 Website and download in the highest resolution that they have available. Below are some gameplay videos with english developer commentary from the South Korean announcement event.

If you look at the screenshots that are out, there is One Screenshot that seems to show Kerrigan the Terran Physic who was abducted by the Zerg and then mutated into a Zerg super unit. So the story will probably follow on from where the BroodWar Expansion left off.
Design wise Blizzard seems to have gone with a "this unit is awesome, but is very weak against this specific thing" design strategy. Which is good because all the best strategy games have very limited numbers of distinct unit types. As long as the base management doesn't turn into micromanagement SC2 is going to be awesome.

The Virtual Haircut

A while ago I delved into the world of Virtual Surround Sound where an algorithm takes a surround input (like a Dolby Digital 4.1, 5.1 or 7.1) applies sound filters to the different channels to mimic the kinds of distortions that happen to sound naturally when a human hears a sound being sourced from different directions, the output is then played through a stereo output (best results come from using headphones) and this allows listeners who might be commuting by train to watch a film with a full surround sound experience.

Well there is another technique that accomplishes the same thing called Binaural Recording. Where a manikin head, in combination with two microphones representing eardrums is setup so that the manikin head filters the sound as a real head would as the sound is recorded. That way when the sound is played back through headphones the listener is transported to the place of the manikin in sound's original recording environment.

An excellent example of a Binaural recording is The Virtual Barbershop. Best results come from using headphones, even earbuds will be better than a 2.1 setup in this case.

Friday, May 18, 2007

A Love Letter to the Film Industry

This video counts down from one hundred to one with clips from movies where the number was spoken. No film is repeated and every film is a great film in one respect or another. A full list of the films with the corresponding number can be found Here.

Wednesday, May 16, 2007

Sega's 32X Suicide Note

On of the sources I use for clarity on issues is the Angry Video Game Nerd who just putout an episode on the 32X. I never owned a 32X and although I have read about it on Wikipedia's 32X Page which talks about poor quality games, cost and production issues, I had no idea the thing sucked so bad until just now when I watched this video.

Monday, May 14, 2007

Closed Minded Unintelligent Christians

A lot of the time when I think of Christians I think of closed minded people who live in their own fantasy world to comfort themselves against the harshness of life. I know this is notion is wrong, but I had this enforced when I watched the Atheist edition of 30 Days a few months ago where an Atheist went to live with a Christian family for 30 Days. Normally when this happens on UK television there are a few arguments and the stay is cut short, but I found 30 Days to different because both Atheist and Christian family actively explored each other's beliefs. However fifteen minuets into the show there is a Bible Study meeting where one of the Christian's asks Brenda (the Atheist):
What credentials, documents or whatever do you base your lifestyle on?
I was a little surprised by this question as the answer is obviously that Atheists base their life chooses primarily on their knowledge and past experiences. For example killing is wrong for an Atheist not because it says so in a text, but because it robs someone of their life, hurts the people emotionally that knew that person when they where alive, is unnecessary as all problems can be worked out without resorting to violence and there are harsh consequences for the killer if the law finds out.

Direct Link

In the several months that have past since I watched this episode of 30 Days I have noticed several Christians on YouTube ask this same question several times and Albert (who is an Atheist) has kindly put together quite a nice video responding to that question with what he believes.

I know Albert is right when he says that a minority of Atheists automatically regard theists as unintelligent, but it doesn't help that there are Christians willing to reinforce this viewpoint, like this woman that went on Wife Swap:

Friday, May 11, 2007

New Crackdown Content

The new Crackdown content is out and having played with the free stuff and the premium (in co-op) I can safely say that the free stuff is great, and that if you have just bought Crackdown then the 800 points that the premium content costs is well worth paying. But if like me you have already invested many hours into Crackdown to the point even where you have put the game down and moved on to other games, then picking the game back up just for the premium content isn't worth £6.80 as you have already completed the game and that means the value you are going to get out of the premium content is only a couple of hours.

Professor of Catan Achievement (Win Single Player on Hard)

I was on the forum and after reading a post titled Catan Achievements Guide by Justin Barrow I defeated the AI opponents on hard using Justin's strategy, this surprised me a little as they are indeed hard opponents to defeat, but his strategy works well. So if you too have been thwarted by the Hard AI's superior strategy you too might want to give this a try:

  1. Setup a game with default settings, with the exception of setting the game on a fast victory condition so the winner is the first to reach seven points and not ten.

  2. Set your opponents to Hard and make sure the only character type you are playing against is Cleopatra.

  3. Once starting the game build your two start settlements to capitalise on Grain, Ore and Wood (remember that numbers six and eight are more commonly rolled by the dice).

  4. Upgrade your two start settlements to cities.

  5. Buy Development Cards and play as many Soldier Cards as you can from there.

  6. Win!
From this strategy you should get seven points before the AI does by getting two points for your start settlements, another two points by upgrading the settlements to cities, two points for playing the most number of soldier cards and then one hopefully by getting a victory card.

This strategy wouldn't work on a ten point victory as getting one Victory Card is common, but getting three more would take so long that a better strategy would be to switch strategies after getting the Largest Army Bonus.

Thursday, May 10, 2007

New Crackdown Content This Week or Next

As if Crackdown wasn't a good purchase anyway Major Nelson has a list of stuff that is going to be added for download this week or next. Below I have just given a brief overview of what is being added, if you want a detailed look then I suggest you have a look at Major's Post.

With the free content comes the missing 100 Achievement points that where missing from Crackdown's retail release and an additional 40. Meaning that with the free downloadable content you can now get a total of 1040 achievement points from Crackdown.
If you play co-op with someone who has bought the premium content, you can play with some of the premium content and get an additional 40 points from them that you can't get from the free content, but if you actually buy the premium content yourself then you can get 210 additional points from playing with the new stuff. Meaning a game with the premium content has a maximum of 1350 achievement points up for grabs.

  • Game Update (Free)

    In the game update there is a new game mode where you can play from the start of the game with all the gang bosses in place. The update also improves the camera, targeting, controls, mine lifespan, ramp truck interaction and graphics view range.

    The improvement with the ramp truck probably means that it is now possible to go over the thing in the supercar.

  • Free For All (Free)

    Keys to the City

  • Getting Busy (800 Points)

    New Equipment

    Street Racing

    Game types

Wednesday, May 09, 2007

XBox360 Spring 2.0.5759.0 Dashboard Update is Here

Ring the church bells the new dashboard update is here ready to download. Below is a short list of things that have been updated.
  • Users are signed into XBox Live quicker.

  • Achievement notifications now include the Achievement's name and it's gamerpoint value.

  • A new marketplace dashboard blade (lots of enhancements there).

  • Instant messaging support between XBox360 and MSN Messenger.

  • A new option to auto download all Arcade games is on the Auto Download option in Arcade.

  • New low power mode for downloading so if you are downloading when you turns the 360 off it will go into a low power mode and finish downloading before it turns off.

  • The name of the game that is the the DVD drive is displayed on the dashboard's game launch button. As well as Achievement and gamerscore information being displayed at the same time in the dashboard's ad space.

  • Support added for the new Mini-keyboard.

  • Users can now fast forward, stop and rewind video as it is downloading.

  • Download progress of a video that is currently being watched and view progress through the video can now be seen on the new progress bar which is accessible by selecting the Info Pane while watching a video.

  • Users can now change video aspect ratio while a video is playing.

  • H.264 and MPEG4 codex support added.

  • Every video now remembers where you where last time you played it so when you select it you can choose to wither resume playback or go from the start.

  • Videos without chapters are now automatically assigned ten points that users can skip through.

  • Windows media protected content is now streamable from a Windows PC.

  • If a user buys content from Marketplace without the space to store that content, Microsoft Points are now not deducted from the user's account.

  • The screensaver is now automatically disabled when a photo slideshow is playing.

Tuesday, May 08, 2007

All Your Cards Are Belong To Me Catan Strategy

I have been playing some Catan on XBox Live Arcade and if you want a few easy GamerPoints there is a strategy that can be played against the Easy AI opponents to make them give you all of their cards.

When it is your turn go to the trade screen and request two question-marked cards for one of any card you have. Then accept an offer if one is made. If no offer is made try offering a different card in exchange for two question-marked cards. Of course the question-marked cards refer to a card chosen by the opponent. Repeat this until none of the AI opponents will trade with you, upon exiting you will see that you have taken almost all of the AI opponents cards. This is only a fault with the Easy AI opponents, and I would class this as a fault because it does not convey a feeling of intelligence on the part of the AI.

Sunday, May 06, 2007

China and Fake Brands 2.0

By way of Japanator an extreme example of a fake brand where some themepark in China is imitating Disney World.

China is currently the biggest producer of Fake Brands. That being products that look like they where made by well known and established brands, but aren't. At the moment China doesn't seem to be moving against these fake brand producers within Chinese boarders, probably because they are bringing in a lot of money, but it will hurt in the long term. As soon as china starts exporting it's own intellectual property then they are going to find that the world's distributors will happily accept these new brands as long as China respects theirs. And at that point China will have to enforce foreign intellectual property and crackdown on fake brands.

Saturday, May 05, 2007

Skate's Revolutionary Control Scheme

EA has been saying that Skate, their upcoming Tony Hawk rival, has somekind of radically different control scheme that is teh awesome. Well now a video has been released (see below) that actually shows kind of what the controls are and I have to say I am pleased with what EA has done.

Traditionally skateboarding game controls have been very similar to that used by players to perform special moves in Beam Em' Ups like Street Fighter and Tekken, but Skate changes this by seemingly using a gesture based system with the analogue sticks. The right analogue stick seems to control vertical board movement and then the left analogue stick seems to control horizontal board movements. I don't believe this will be easier to play with than the scheme currently used in Tony Hawk games, but certainly the emphasis on memorising button combinations is almost eliminated completely and exchanges it for a system that is more symbolic of the actions that the player is trying to preform with their virtual skater.

Friday, May 04, 2007

Random Fact

Windows (XP & Vista) will not allow a user to name a file lpt1.png, lpt2.png, lpt3.png, lpt4.png, lpt5.png, lpt6.png, lpt7.png, lpt8.png, lpt9.png or name a folder com, com0, com1, com2, com3, com4, com5, com6, com7, com8 or com9.

Tuesday, May 01, 2007

Why Guitar Hero is so Addictive

I was going to do this in a very different format (video), but what the hell. A few weeks ago I was reading about the Loci System as part of some research I am doing on Mentalism and realised where Guitar Hero achieved it's addictive qualities. So here is why I think Guitar Hero is addictive, and I would note that all these points come into play at the same time, even when the player isn't playing:
  1. Audio Memory
    Players remember how their past performances sounded. This is not only a reminder of GH's existence when players aren't playing, but also if a track from GH is played back in the player's mind they will also hear any mistakes that they made the last time they played that track and this reminds them that they could have done better, but also there is a nature in people to have a dislike for broken audio. It is well known that given a choice between broken audio or broken video, people will always choose the broken video as the broken audio is almost painful for people to listen to.

  2. Muscle Memory
    The memory of GH tracks is enforced by a memory of the muscle movements used while playing each track.

  3. Visual Memory
    All notes played have different visual patterns and all songs all have very different visual queues. It would be possible to identify any track from the game simply by showing someone a screenshot of a track being played or even just by showing a diagram of the notes from just a section of a track. This together with the two previous points (Audio and Muscle) means that the memory of each track is remembered in more then one part of the brain and thus by the basis of the Loci system easier to remember than if each track was just audio.

  4. Instant Feedback
    Just like any good game GH provides feedback on how the player is doing, but because mistakes are so immediately communicated to the player by way of broken audio the game has a disciplining effect on the player (almost like Aversion Therapy for playing wrong notes).

  5. Rewards
    There is a store in GH where the player can buy items with money they have earned by playing well.
    The XBox360 version contains Achievements & Gamer Points which can be shown and compared with friends online.
    And there is a star system where each track has a star rating listed next to it on the track selection screen that the player sees before and after each track is played, that directly communicates to the player how successfully the player has played all the notes in that particular track. The star ratings are particularly rewarding in that they are clearly visible, directly related the player's performance on each individual track providing micro-feedback on game performance and once a player has completed a song with 100% accuracy, the stars will turn gold, which gives some added visual satisfaction as it makes the track standout on the track list and communicates to the player that they have mastered that track (and have heard the track played from start to finish without mistakes).

  6. Satisfaction (Rewards Continued)
    Upon completing any track the crowed in the game cheers the player on with the player's avatar looking very rockstar on stage, this adds to the narrative of the game that the players has just successfully played a great performance for an audience. This is opposed to if the player had failed a track where the crowed will boo and the player will be pulled from the stage early, not being allowed to complete the track.

  7. Encouragement
    Again with the monetary value of items in the game's Store that the player must save up for and the star reward system, the game encourages the player to improve their performances. There is even a practise mode that the player is encouraged to use to perfect songs with.

  8. Difficulty Scaling
    Difficulty in GH increases gradually, this communicates to the player that they are getting better as they complete and re-complete tracks that where previously just outside of their skill level. This is opposed to allowing the player to play all tracks in the game at the very start of the game and this would mean that the player might not realise that they are improving, especially once they have played through all the tracks once. Plus GH has four basic difficulty settings that each has a track list with a list of star ratings that is all kept very separate from each other.
There might be other aspects of the game like the controller, the colour system and the player knowing some of the tracks before playing GH that makes the game addictive, but it is clear that GH has many elements that means players will keep coming back and the developers have done their best to capitalise all aspects of this.