Experienced Points: Why Video Games Need Their Own Programming Language

  By Shamus   Dec 9, 2014   176 comments

Nitpick shield: Games don’t “need” a language, but such a thing would be useful. I’m not complaining about the person who titled this article. I had the same problem yesterday when I said GTA V was “Banned” instead of more correctly stating it was “un-stocked from certain retailers in one country in response to an internet petition”. It’s really hard to cram complex ideas into pithy article titles. I’m okay with a bit of conceptual slop as long as it still conveys the basic idea. The only downside is the prevalence of people who argue with article titles without reading the article. Those people make me sad.


My column this week talks about the fact that we use C++ for making AAA games, and why that’s strange and un-optimal. The conversation stems from this video:

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Diecast #83: Game Awards 2014, GTA V “Banned”

  By Shamus   Dec 8, 2014   272 comments

Trigger warning: In this episode we talk about mass murder, censorship, and social justice. These are touchy subjects. Just remember to be nice and to not to post angry and we’ll get through this.

Thanks again to special guest George Weidman of SuperBunnyHop for joining in.

Direct download (MP3)
Direct download (ogg Vorbis)
Podcast RSS feed.

Hosts: Josh, Rutskarn, Chris, George Weidman (SuperBunnyHop), and Shamus.

Show notes: Continue reading »

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Trek Week: The Movies

  By Shamus   Dec 5, 2014   235 comments

Now that we’re at the end of Trek Week, I have a confession to make: I really like parts of the Abram’s Trek reboot. Sacrilege, I know. How can I – Admiral of Starfleet Continuity Audits and former captain of the USS Nitpicker – tolerate these stupid movies that are riddled with contrivances and plot holes and mostly serve as a showcase for fanservice, explosions, and tits? Why am I not burning with outrage at the travesty that Trek has become?

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Trek Week: Voyager

  By Shamus   Dec 4, 2014   238 comments

In contrast to TNG, Voyager was a show with all the right ingredients going in, but was completely unable to pull them together into a coherent whole. The cleverness of the setup is only matched by the awfulness of the execution. We’ve got a lost ship, a divided crew, an eclectic mix of non-standard characters, and a solid long-term goal. This is arguably a better setup for Trek-style stories than TOS, TNG, or DS9. “Tiny boat in a big ocean” was the phrase people used to describe it.

I actually really loved how Mulgrew played Janeway. I loved her performance so much it wasn’t until the second or third season that I realized Janeway was a stupid irresponsible bully jackass. Mulgrew was able to take that idiotic dialog and make the character come off as compassionate and smart. For a while I would respond to Kirk vs. Picard arguments by saying my favorite was Janeway. But it became increasingly hard to defend that position when I couldn’t cite anything really smart or clever behind her decisions. She was basically a real-world politician: A dunce with a wobbly moral compass who suggests terrible ideas in a confident and compelling voice.

The most painful part of it is that as much as I dislike Voyager, it has my favorite character in the Trek universe: The Holodoc is brilliant and every moment he’s onscreen is pure joy. Even when he’s in stupid episodesWhich is good, because there are a lot of those.. Even when he’s in stupid scenesPlenty of those, too.. Even when reciting stupid dialogYou get the idea..

Please state the nature of the medical emergency.

The rest of the crew unraveled almost instantly. Tuvok was written and performed as a prickly cantankerous grouch, lacking the calm dispassion we expect from Vulcans. Chakotay had no personality beyond the cringe-worthy native American stuff they gave him to do. Kes was an obvious case of “Hire a pretty actress, we’ll figure out what to do with her once the show takes off”. (And then they forgot to do the second part.) Neelix was a comedy character in a show where all the comedy was unintentional. Having a “bad boy” like Paris was a great idea, except they could never really figure out what “bad boy” meant and ended up making him argue for often sensible things in an unreasonable voice. Kim was the closest thing on the ship to a human being with a soul, so of course everyone treated him like a doormat for no reason. Torres was an interesting idea but ended up competing with Tuvok for the title of “most pointlessly petty and cantankerous person”.

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Trek Week: Deep Space Nine

  By Shamus   Dec 3, 2014   314 comments

Ah, Deep Space Nine. Reportedly it’s everything I’ve ever wanted from Trek. I’ve really enjoyed the few episodes I’ve seen. I love the cast. I love the idea of a large, ongoing arc. But I never got into it.

I think part of the problem was timeslot. I don’t remember when the show was on, but I seem to recall it was really inconvenient for me. I couldn’t catch the show, mostly because I was working nights. By the time I had a job where I could watch evening TV, the show was a long way into its run and I had no idea what was going on. (I have this memory that the show kept moving timeslots, making it difficult to watch. But I might be confusing it with another show.) And then I began a family and couldn’t watch television for the next few years. And then we stopped using TV and started relying on DVDs for all our entertainment, since that made a lot more sense with our eclectic schedule.

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Experienced Points: Bring Your Daughter to Murder Day

  By Shamus   Dec 2, 2014   105 comments

My column this week tries to sort out why we had this sudden rash of father-daughter games in 2013. I don’t know that I nailed it, but this is my take on a very odd little trend.

The other thing about this trend is that all of the father / daughter styled games were really well received. (If you’re reading this before the column then we’re talking about The Walking Dead, BioShock Infinite, and The Last of Us, with partial credit to Dishonored and Tomb Raider.) My concern is that these accolades will end up creating an awful bandwagon effect and two years from now we’ll get a bunch of vapid, half-assed, me-too games coming out with a father / daughter motif.

My hope is that we’ll get even more diverse setups. Different protagonists, different sidekicks, different group dynamics.

Let me put you in the game designer’s shoes. Let’s assume we’re dealing with a typical soulless publisher who doesn’t know anything about videogames except what sells, and they don’t know how to market anything except to imitate the behavior of Hollywood blockbusters. Their specs are thus:
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Trek Week: The Next Generation

  By Shamus   Dec 2, 2014   261 comments

Here was a show that seemed to do everything wrong at the start, but somehow pulled it together after a couple of rough seasons and went on to tell some great stories. The Inner Light is some of the best sci-fi ever filmed, as far as I’m concerned. The Survivors was also really goodSir, may I say your attempt to hold the away team at bay, with a non-functioning weapon, was an act of unmitigated gall. I admire gall.. Tapestry was pretty good, too. There were a lot of other gems in the 7-season run, and the finale was a fun bit of fan-service that brought us all full circle.

The first season was so appalling I’m still amazed the show managed to survive. In going back over the episode lists for this series I realized that nearly all of my most hated TNG moments came from that first batch of episodes. Even back then, when I was a dumb teenager with no capacity for analysis and no taste, I still recognized these episodes as rubbish. I can only assume the show survived entirely on the pent-up demand for prime time sci-fi and the gee-wizz factor of the special effects, because the show had nothing else going for it.

The term Flanderization is used to describe the process where seemingly minor character quirks are intensified until they consume the character. TNG sort of underwent a broad reverse-Flanderization. The characters began as simplistic and broad. Data misunderstood everything in the most stupidly literal way possible. Picard was a stiff diplomat. Worf was all growls. Troi was a touchy-feely ninny with nothing useful to say. But as the show grew these traits gave way to solid characterization and nuance. As shockingly dumb as the first season plots were, the shows are even more insufferable to watch now that we’ve seen these same characters mature into something interesting.

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Trek Week: The Original Series

  By Shamus   Dec 1, 2014   255 comments

Sure, it’s campy and cornball sometimes, the uniforms are pure comedy, and Shatner is an epic ham. I actually didn’t like it very much when I was young. I saw Star Wars before I saw Star Trek, and so Trek always seemed kind of boring and talky and cheap looking to my younger self. It wasn’t until I got older – after The Next Generation had run its course – that I was able to appreciate what TOS has accomplished.

It’s smart. (For TV sci-fi of the day.) It’s reasonably grounded in science. (For TV sci-fi of the day.) It’s amazingly tolerant and optimistic and forward-looking. (For almost any Sci-fi. Always with the dystopias, these Sci-fi writers.)

But the one thing that took me a long time to accept about the setting was Roddenberry’s idea that money wouldn’t exist. He insisted on a future where there were no longer haves and have-nots, and as a shortcut to that goal he just waved his author’s wand and said money was no longer a thing. (After all, if money exists then what’s to stop one person from getting a whole bunch of it, or another person from running out? And if that happens, then we lose our quasi-utopian future.)

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Trek Week: Introduction, Enterprise

  By Shamus   Nov 30, 2014   119 comments

So last week we had a pretty interesting conversation about Star Trek. That was a nice change of pace, so I thought we’d expand that discussion and talk about Trek in more detail. Spoiler Warning is on hiatus this week due to the holiday, so we’ll have lots of space to give the topic its due, as opposed to shoving it in the margins of an episode of The Last of Us.

Note that I don’t pretend to be a hard-core fan. I’ve seen more than my share and TNG was a big part of my late teens / early twenties. I’ve seen all the movies. But there are a lot of episodes I’ve never seen and I don’t own any of the shows or movies. I like Trek, but as a friend.

So this week we’re going to talk about the Original Series, Voyager, Deep Space 9, Next Generation, the Movies, and Abrams Trek. I don’t have anything to say about The Animated Series. I have very little to say about Enterprise, which I will say now:

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The Last of Us EP27: Quest For Hats

  By Shamus   Nov 28, 2014   54 comments

Link (YouTube)

Man, last episode I totally missed the part where two girls lift a mountain of rubble, and this episode I go on an insane rant about a totally realistic door. I was thinking of municipal breaker bars used in stuff like schools, where it’s supposed to be impossible for people to end up locked inside. However, there are indeed lots of doors that can be locked to keep people in, and if you look closely this is such a door. The vertical metal rods are basically like a really long bolt lock that goes into a little opening in the floor.

I’m off my game here. I blame it on the fact that all of this is new to me and I can’t properly watch, listen, discuss, and nitpick simultaneously. I spent the entire episode listening to half of what the cast was saying and reading half the dialog and catching other bits of dialog in audio and being completely confused.

We’re taking next week off from Spoiler Warning. (The holidays have made it so we can’t record the show.) Hopefully between now and the next time we record I can find time to watch Left Behind on YouTube so I can do my job properlyAssuming there is a “proper” way to complain about videogames. for the rest of the DLC.

Going by what we’ve seen, I’d say I like the look of Left Behind a lot more than the core game. More puzzles, more zombies, more character development, and less manshoots.

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The Last of Us EP26: John Sheeperson

  By Shamus   Nov 27, 2014   76 comments

Link (YouTube)

Dear indies: please get Chris to be a voice actor in your videogame and have him do that “I did a wheelie on a horse” voice. I don’t even care what the game is about. Have him play Abraham Lincoln with that voice. Odysseus. A Japanese schoolgirl. It doesn’t matter. Just do it. It’ll be an instant GOTY.

Also, I apologize for not completely losing my mind and going on an insane tirade at the 24 minute mark when two teenage girls lift ten tons of rubble with a tiny metal bar. AND THEY CONTINUE TO BE ABLE TO TALK WHILE DOING SO. I got caught up in trying to multi-task so I could recount old TNG episodes and also follow the subtitles, and I failed to be your avatar of indignant outrage over absurdities.

I’ll try to do better next time. (Spoiler: I will fail. Seriously. In the very next episode.)

This is a review of Threshold, the worst episode of Star Trek ever made. It really is an abomination.

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Happy Thanksgiving!

  By Shamus   Nov 27, 2014   117 comments

It’s that time of the year when we count our blessings and overeat. But not in that order. And maybe more the second thing than the first. And then we go shopping.

In any case, I’ve compiled a list of everything I’m thankful for:

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