Twenty Sided is Nine Years Old

 By Shamus Sep 1, 2014 110 comments

Today is September 7,672nd, 1993.

Back in the late 80′s and early 90′s, the internet was mostly email and Usenet. No Google. No YouTube. No corporations at all, really. The web (web pages) sort of existed, but there weren’t many pages, they were mostly text, and it was difficult to find things.

Usenet bears a striking resemblance to what we call forums today, except it was designed around the (at the time reasonable) idea that everyone on the internet was a responsible, well-adjusted adult that knew how to behave. Imagine your typical forums like many websites have today. Now imagine that there is just one forum for the whole internet, and that anyone can post under any name at any time to as many sub-forums as they like without ever needing to create an account or to verify their identity.

My first exposure to the ‘net was in November of 1992. I was working at Taco Bell and one of my coworkers had access to Usenet. He would bring me a hardcopy of the Star Trek TNG groupI'm not sure if the group was based in Usenet or a mailing list. Either way, it used a format that isn't really part of the internet we have today. that discussed episodes as they aired. He’d bring me a stack of green bar printouts that represented a week worth of postsWhich means my first usage of the internet was via hardcopy..

I know the date because I specifically remember reading everyone’s reactions to A Fistful of Datas. I’d kind of grown indifferent to the show in the last year or so, but these discussions rekindled my interest in all things Trek.

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Bad and Wrong Music Lessons, Part 2

 By Shamus Aug 31, 2014 76 comments

Previously I talked about the difference between major and minor scales. So far all the tracks I’ve shown you have been in A minor. I also mentioned that songs written in major scales are (roughly) happy / upbeat and songs written in minor scales are moody, sad, angry, anxious, or suffering from irritable bowel syndrome.

I thought it would be fun to illustrate this, and at the same time share a little more of my badly misunderstood over-simplifications of music theory. As before, keep an eye out for the music majors. They will say things that are deeply confusing. If a music major tries to teach you anything using words like chromatic, octatonic, consonance, or “Shamus Young is a clueless hack who doesn’t know what he’s doing”, then slam your hands over your ears, close your eyes, and begin singing the Batman theme at the top of your lungs. Actually, you should be doing that sort of thing anyway. It’s like yoga for the musical parts of your brain: It makes you look silly but it feels good.

Here is a song I made in C major:

That’s pretty different from the stuff I’ve been doing. It’s bouncy, jubilant, and playful. That’s a result of it being written in C major. As I said before, to make a major scale you pick a starting key (C in this case) and walk up the keyboard this many keys at a time:

2 2 1 2 2 2 1

piano2.jpg

If you follow that pattern from C, you’ll land on every single white key and no black keys.

If you want to make a minor scale, then you follow this pattern:

2 1 2 2 1 2 2

If you do that from A, then… you’ll land on every single white key and no black keys? So A minor and C major use the exact same keys on the keyboard. Does that mean they sound the same? Actually, no. Very no. Here is the same song from above, translated into A minor:

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Marlow Briggs EP12: Marlow Briggs and the Marlow Briggs Fanfiction

 By Shamus Aug 29, 2014 89 comments


Link (YouTube)

If you’re curious, here is the Errant Signal Sonic episode I was talking about.

Also, I have to admit to being a bit pedestrian and easy to please in my tastes, but I do enjoy bloom effects and ultra-saturated colorI'm a bit more conflicted on DoF (Depth of Field) which is when things in the distance get blurry. It makes for nice screenshots, but can sometimes be a little too distracting.. This might be a reaction to the ultra-brown and infra-grey color schemes of yesteryear that Chris mentioned. I just love seeing blobs of bright glowing color everywhere. I’m pretty sure that’s like, 45% of the reason I liked Bulletstorm.

I think we need to do a $100 million Kickstarter to simultaneously develop all the Marlow Briggs spinoff games Rutskarn pitched in this episode.

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Marlow Briggs EP11: Marlow Briggs and the Helicopter Canyon

 By Shamus Aug 28, 2014 52 comments


Link (YouTube)

I feel like this game is invulnerable to my nitpicking. I try to fault it for the plodding mook fights or the incoherent level pacing, but then it throws a new stupid minigame at us or throws in Yet Another Gameplay Element and I’m rendered speechless. I feel like the game doesn’t even care what I think. Someone really, really wanted to make this ridiculous thing, and it never occurred to them to wonder if anyone else would like it.


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Bad and Wrong Music Lessons, Part 1

 By Shamus Aug 28, 2014 95 comments

The system we have here is really simple: My hobbies feed the blog. If I code, I write about code. If I play a game, I review the game. If I read a slightly annoying news story about a games publisher, I write a meandering 2,000 word screed denouncing the entire enterprise and everyone who took part in it.

The problem is that I’m composing music. I’d write about music, but I don’t know anything about music. Sure, I made some music, but that’s mostly because I am a hard-working and resourceful idiot, not because I have any musical talent.

Speaking of which, here’s another track I made:

Since I can’t share my knowledge with you, I’ll have to share my ignorance. Let me tell you about all the things I don’t know about music. Or to be more precise, all the things I think I know but are most likely profoundly, dangerously wrong.

So let’s say you want to make some music. To keep things simple, let’s say you’re doing it on a keyboard where 1 input = 1 note, and not one of those devious string or wind instruments where you can make a large number of notes from a small number of inputs. You want to make some music-type sounds, but when you ask people to explain how it works they baffle you with a bunch of nonsense about “Seventh augmented fifth” and “an augmented fourth/tritone”. They draw these “circle of fifths” things that have twelve points and are numbered with letters, and you can’t even tell if the gibberish they’re saying actually makes sense or if they’re just making stuff up to avoid answering the question.

Ignore those idiots. They’re trying to confuse you with knowledge and facts. Here is what you need to know…

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Marlow Briggs EP10: Marlow Briggs and the Wheels that Make Total Sense

 By Shamus Aug 27, 2014 62 comments


Link (YouTube)

So I guess we’re talking about the 90′s today. Earlier we were talking about my DOOM 2 mods. And now in this episode we talked about the 10,000 Maniacs concert I went to in 1992, and the time I went to see Stargate in theaters. (1994.)

Anecdote:

In 1992, 10,000 maniacs were touring to go with the release of their album Our Time in Eden. They played at Slippery Rock, the college my girlfriend Heather attended Also, both of my parents went to Slippery Rock, and that's how they met. Both of Heather's parents went there, and met there. Also my sister went there, although she didn't find her husband. During the concert – right in the middle of their set – this guy screams out at the top of his lungs, “GOD LOVES YOU NATALIE!” (Meaning lead singer Natalie Merchant.)

“What?” she shouted back. She was about to launch into her next song, but apparently she felt like she needed to sort this guy out first.

“GOD LOVES YOU!”

There was this long silence. She looked at her fellow band members. She still wasn’t hearing him. Finally she took a guess, “Can I juggle?” She shrugged. “Not really.”

There was a pause. The guy in the back didn’t have anymore theological advice for her to misinterpret, so they started playing the next song.

That’s the largest group of people I’ve ever shared a really awkward moment with.

You know how I’m always analyzing plots and nitpicking and demanding that storytellers know what they’re trying to say? Obviously I wasn’t like that as a kid. If I saw a movie and it had lasers in it, then it was awesome. I think Stargate is the turning point. It’s the first time I walked out of a theater and I knew why I didn’t like a movie.

(Can’t remember any of it now, of course. I guess I thought the bit where James Spader figured out how to speak ancient Egyptian in the space of ten minutes was pretty dumb.)

In any case, I think it’s clear we are completely out of things to say about Marlow Briggs and the Whatever of Bullshit Thing.


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MAGIX Music Maker

 By Shamus Aug 27, 2014 58 comments

Ages ago I dabbled in making music. How long ago was it? Well, I was making tunes for the Doom 2 mods I was building. So, sometime around the mid-90′s. While writing this post I searched around and found that my mods are still out there in the wild, still being played. Here is someone playing through one of my levels with the music cranked.

That is a pretty good demonstration of my musical approach at the time: Find a few notes that sound barely tolerable together, then loop that arrangement to the limits of human endurance. Seems ghastly now, but I remember thinking it was awesome.

I never really understood music or music theory. My music-making was purely brute force. The software I was using at the time (Cakewalk) let you build MIDI music a note at a time. This is ideal if you can’t play an instrument and don’t know what you’re doing. Just shove the little notes up or down until you find something that doesn’t sound dissonant. Didn’t understand chords. Had no idea how different keys worked. I had no idea what the sharps and flats were for. (They always sounded dissonant, so I stuck to the “white keys”. I suppose this means all my stuff was technically in C major?)

Recently I got the urge to try my hand at making music again. I have no idea why. I have important projects that need doing. But in a mad impulse I bought myself MAGIX Music Maker 2014 Premium on Steam. It wasn’t even on sale.

I’ve hammered out a couple of tunes. Here is probably the most complete effort:

On Soundcloud I said this was my “first effort”. Technically it’s my first full-length piece of music in 20 years. (I made a shorter tune on Saturday.) But you get the idea.

mmm3.jpg

If you’ve never used a program like this, here is how it works:

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Experienced Points: What Made Silent Hill 2 Great and Why the Devs Don’t Get It

 By Shamus Aug 26, 2014 110 comments

Poor Silent Hill. Fans keep hoping the Silent Hill 2 lightning will strike twice, but all the industry trends are against it. The need for ongoing iconic main characters. The need for “fun, action-friendly combat” that looks good in trailers. The aversion to puzzles in an “action” game. The push to make players feel empowered. The need for an ongoing story with friendly supporting characters. The trend of making the monsters bigger and badder. The need to spell everything out for the player.

All of this goes runs directly counter to the design of a game where the protagonist is something of an enigma, isolated and alone in a deeply alienating world of slow-paced exploration, reflection, and unraveling of mysteries. A game where the monsters and the protagonist should be unique and the story should stand on its own. In a world of Zombieland-style stories, nobody want to make a Twilight Zone.

My column this week is a list of the things that they Keep. Getting. Wrong. with Silent Hill.

It’s frustrating. The premise of Silent Hill 2 is fantastic. It’s an idea that could be takes in a dozen different directions: People suffering from some kind of inner torment are drawn to a town, and are sucked into this alternate dimension where they will make peace with their inner demons, or be killed by them. A cop that accidentally shot his partner. (The world is filled with prison imagery.) A doctor that made a wrong call that killed a kid. (Medical themes.) A Booker DeWitt type person who got religion but felt like they still needed to pay for their past crimes. (Religious themes!) Someone who was the only one to make it out of a collapsed mine and now suffers from survivor’s guilt. (This is too easy.) A guy who was cold and verbally abusive to his wife, and then she killed herself. (And OF COURSE she was pregnant, for bonus trauma and guilt.)

But no. Let’s make a game about a stupid cult and beating up recycled versions of the Silent Hill 2 monsters.

The sad thing is that I think this is one of those areas where indies can’t solve the problem. Making something like Silent Hill 2 requires graphics, cutscenes, voice acting, and a large-ish gameworld. Maybe with some creativity you can cut a few corners. (Maybe set the whole game in a single house and limit the speaking parts to one or two people.) But to do this right you need a decent mid-tier budget of a couple of million bucks, and small scrappy indie teams have trouble getting that kind of funding. There have been some good scary games (Amnesia comes to mind) but they are very rare, and so countless ideas are left unexplored.

It wouldn’t bother me so much if there were alternatives. Once in a while we get a survival horror game (Penumbra, Amnesia, Outlast) but nobody is really working on psychological horror.

Pity.


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Errant Signal – Watch_Dogs (Spoilers)

 By Shamus Aug 26, 2014 127 comments

Chris and I already gave Watch_Dogs a pretty thorough beating on the Diecast, but here is the fuller and more organized take from Chris. I only played the first couple of hours, so I can’t comment on a lot of the game. But when he was talking about the parts of the game I knew, I started getting seasick from nodding my head too vigorously.


Link (YouTube)

Everything about Aiden Pierce that isn’t repugnant is completely boring. You thought I didn’t like Geralt? I’d rather go on a date with Geralt where we watch a Michael Bay movie and then sit around the malt shop drinking from the same root beer float with a pair of curly straws and then walk home holding hands, rather than share an elevator ride with Aiden. Screw that guy. And his idiot ballcap.

I guess Watch_Dogs is supposed to be a revenge story, but if Aiden really wanted revenge for the little girl’s death he should have shot himself in the face as soon as the opening credits were over. She was never targeted by the bad guys. She was caught in the crossfire between warring assholes because Aiden was driving her around. If you’re going to get deep into crime such that you have people trying to kill you, then maybe that should disqualify you as a babysitter.

And then this jackass has the audacity to tell his sister not to worry, because he’ll protect what’s left of her family. You know, since he did such an awesome job with her other kid. The entire world of Watch_Dogs revolves around Aiden and nobody ever calls him out on this bullshit. He’s in turns arrogant, cruel, stupid, self-absorbed, and hypocritical. He was literally the most evil person I saw in the game. (Remember I only played the first few hours.) The idea that this game ends as a Batman-style origin story where he talks about protecting the city is so ridiculous and tone deaf it actually makes me angry.

Screw that guy. And his idiot ballcap.


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Ding 43!

 By Shamus Aug 24, 2014 99 comments

Today is my birthday. Good day so far. My wife got me a Canon EOS M digital camera. She’s been gently hinting that I should do some video content, and I think this gift is her way of hinting even harder. On one hand, I’m really uncomfortable doing any video content where you can see me. I’d prefer to just talk and hide my face behind images and game footage. I’m not young or photogenic, so maybe I should leave the camera work to those sorts of people. On the other hand, I watch plenty of videos from creators who do not have faces for television, as it wereAlthough I really dislike videos of ONLY talking into a camera. I think a mix of head-shots and footage is a good balance between production costs and production values. And sometimes you can do things with facial expressions that are harder to convey with just vocal inflections..

So if you want to weigh in on the debate, this might be a good time to do so. Would you like to see me do something along the lines of SuperBunnyHop, where you mix a talking head with game footage? I don’t feel strongly either way. I really like doing videos, but they take so damn long that they devour the time I spend writing prose. Using self-footage might make it easier to make videos without making sacrifices elsewhere. I don’t know. Tell me what you think.

It’s become an accidental tradition to write autobiographical things at this time of year. Well, either that or depressing calculations regarding how long I’ve been alive and how much time I’m likely to remain so. That’s no fun. So let’s tell a story…

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P.T. Part 3 – An Exorcise in Futility

 By Shamus Aug 22, 2014 109 comments


Link (YouTube)

You think this is frustrating to watch? It was worse to be a part of. I heard the crying and I knew we should be looking at the mirror, but with everyone talking over the sounds and giving conflicting advice, I knew that shouting yet another set of directions at Josh would only add to the chaos. This resulted in about ten minutes of us staring at the Wrong Things.

In our defense: Josh could only hear the game in one ear. Chris was reading from directions that were out of date and incomplete. And everyone but Josh was seeing everything on a six second delay.

Hopefully this is still amusing on some level. I’m not a huge fan of these kind of mystery teaser shenanigans, so I wasn’t really motivated to unravel this puzzle. All I wanted was for us to have interesting things to see and comment on, which this “stare at a haunted object” gameplay kind of defeated. For the record, if you unravel all the mysteries you end up seeing the teaser trailer for the actual game they’re working on, which looks so unlike what we’ve seen so far that we’ve learned nothing.

If you’re curious about how the mystery worked, it looks like players have managed to solve the whole thing:

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P.T. Part 2 – They’re Calling to Me From Hello

 By Shamus Aug 21, 2014 128 comments


Link (YouTube)

I think this demo / trailer / teaser thing ran out of ideas after about half an hour. At this point it’s just being obtuse. Like, if Chris wasn’t reading from the guide, how would we possibly know what we’re supposed to be doing? We have no character, no goal, no context, and no direction. That’s fine in this case, since it’s not supposed to be a game. I’m not asking for cutscenes or anything. But it does need to let you know what your goal is or when the demo is over. I can’t imagine I would have ever found that pencil-point hole on purpose. I would have stumbled around, growing more restless and annoyed, wondering if the demo was over or not. Instead of ending on the high note, I would have been pissed off at the dumb game that wasted a half hour of my time.

Also, let’s think about these controls. We have one button: Zoom in. We don’t need to select weapons, aim, shoot, reload, open inventory, toggle flashlight, interact with objects, crouch, jump, or sprint. We have over a dozen available inputs, including the convenient and familiar face buttons. But no, we’re going to bind our primary means of interaction to holding down the right stick. I’ve had to do that before in games, and I know it’s incredibly uncomfortable. That’s a pretty egregious sin from an interface standpoint, but then making the little cutscene reset when you stop pressing down on the stick is where it goes from uncomfortable to infuriating.

THIS is the Kojima influence I was worried about. I’m sure the thinking is, “Hey! It’s uncomfortable to depress the stick, just like the character would be uncomfortable looking through the hole. And it’s tense, because you’re always worried your finger might slip and you’ll have to watch it again. And you don’t know what you’re supposed to be doing, which makes it mysterious like Silent Hill.” That’s pretty standard Kojima thinking: Make something incredibly obnoxious and then use a complete confusion of in-game and out-of-game logic to justify it. I know this is his shtick, and I know I’m risking the wrath of his fans by even bringing it up, but this sort of thing drives me nuts. I don’t begrudge Kojima his particular style and I’ll admit it’s made the Metal Gear series a powerhouse with an army of enthusiastic fans, but this is not what I’m looking for in a Silent Hill game

I don’t want to be thinking about the controller at all. If I have an emotional connection with my avatar then I’m perfectly capable of empathizing with them without needing to contrive a bunch of immersion-breaking gimmicks. These two feelings are mutually exclusive…

  1. I am trapped in a psychotic hellscape, and the only way to escape is to go deeper in by looking through this pinhole and facing whatever nightmares this world has to show me.
  2. Ow. My finger is uncomfortable and if I adjust my grip I might slip and waste a bunch of my time watching this again.

….and the first one is a thousand times more potent than the second. Moreover, Silent Hill is pretty much the only series that’s even willing to attempt that sort of thing. All the other AAA spook games have turned into shooting galleries and quicktime button-mashers.

Having said all that…

Meh. I gripe, but it’s not actually a big deal. This is a demo for an idea that might become a game someday, and the final product might not look or play anything like what we’ve seen. There’s no point in getting worked up about any of thisHe said, once it was too late.. We wouldn’t have bothered with it, except we wanted something low-stakes to test our recording setup.

We’ll finish up the demo (sort of) in the next episode. Next week we’ll go back to Marlow Briggs. After that, we’ll launch the new season.


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