Experienced Points: Time to Put the Two-Weapon Limit Out of its Misery

Escapist   By Shamus   Feb 17, 2015   163 comments

I need to start this one off with an apology. Last week we talked about the two-weapon limit and Halo. (The conversation actually spanned multiple episodes of Spoiler Warning: Half-Life 2: Episode 1.) Everyone said what they had to say and we all moved on. So it will probably come off as obnoxiously passive-aggressive that my column this week is basically having the same argument all over again. Sorry. At one point in the debate I realized this was a lively enough topic for an article, and I really wanted something catchy after the collective “meh” everyone gave my column last week at The Escapist.

Writing for a game site is so different from writing on a blog. Here, I can post any dumb thing and you folks will at least give the first paragraph a look. You’re here for the words, after all. The article title doesn’t need to be eye-catching and nobody minds when I run long. (In fact, some people prefer longer articles.) On a gaming site, all of this is inverted. Your readership rises and falls on the strength of your headline, and when I go over 1,000 words I usually notice a blatant increase in the number of people who jump into the comments after reading only the first page of the article. And having an eye-catching headline really works: In the last hour or so this column got as many comments as the previous column got in a week.

I don’t want to sound like I’m complaining. It’s just a different kind of gig. If you’re a stand-up comic, then sometimes you get a half-hour in front of a fun crowd in your home town, and sometimes you get ten minutes in front of stony-faced seniors who are just waiting for the headline act to come out. It’s not like the people at The Escapist are obligated to read my stuff. They can read it or not, and it’s my job to grab those eyeballs.

Whatever. This is mostly a stealth rant about Destiny anyway. Don’t tell Josh.

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Common Security Failings

Projects   By Shamus   Feb 17, 2015   211 comments

I’m planning the column I’m going to write for the Escapist in a couple of weeks, and I’m looking to do a kind of public service-y kind of piece on how to judge the security of a website from the position of a user. If you play videogames then you most likely have a lot of accounts: MMO’s, gaming sites, DRM systems, etc. That’s a lot of data entrusted to a lot of idiots, and obviously it doesn’t always work out.

So I think it would be good to encourage a little more security-savvy among the masses. Normally I wouldn’t crowdsource my columns like this. I realize this probably comes off as rude and lazy. It’s my job to write stuff, not yours. But this is for a good cause and I’d rather beg for help than get it wrong on this topic. And I’m not confident enough in my knowledge to write this without some input and half-assed peer review.

I really want people to read this, so I want the list to be breezy and easy to digest. This is not a technical column. I might even make it a top N list. The whole point is to come up with things that should cause concern when a website does it. Here is what I have so far:

Security sins:

  1. Has visible data in the URL: www.gamesite.com/user/shamus@shamusyoung.com/profile or whatever.

    (I know Xbox had a problem with this, but I can’t remember how it worked. I’ll read up on this before I write the column, obviously.)

  2. Sites that limit password length. (Dude, do you even hash?)
  4. Sites that require uppercase, lowercase, a number, and a symbol in the password.
  5. Also: Are sites supposed to store the number that comes from the BACK of your credit card? I always thought that short number was so that it would be safe(ish) to store the CC# and Exp date on their site (so you don’t have to type it in every time) but still make it so that you need to enter SOMETHING to make a purchase happen. The security code is short so it can be entered even on a console or a phone without too much pain. But I see sites (including Steam) remember the security number along with everything else. Am I misunderstanding how this is supposed to work?

Anything you’d add to the list? Remember that I’m looking for ways that a typical user can spot bad security policies. “Has open ports on the server” might be a sign of trouble, but it’s not the kind of thing the average person can detect. (And even if you teach them, it’s not the kind of fooling around people want to do when creating an account. Also, probing for open ports is dangerous and not something I’d teach Joe and Jane Internet.) Likewise, while “Asks for too much personal information” is a sign that a breach would be more damaging, it doesn’t necessarily mean the system is inherently insecure.

So if we could just have a general discussion on horrible security policy, that would be great.

Also, this is my favorite security story. It’s not the most destructive (not even close) and it didn’t make headlines, but it is a glowing display of incompetence and stupidity. Tom Scott describes what happened at MoonPig:

Link (YouTube)

So… what are some major indicators of bad security policy?

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Diecast #93: Nintendoh, Game Development Sucks, Mailbag

Diecast   By Shamus   Feb 16, 2015   166 comments

Dear young people who ask me how to get into game development: Don’t. Just don’t. I like you too much to see that happen to you.

Direct link to this episode.

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

Hosts: Shamus, Josh, Chris.

Show notes:
Continue reading »

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Overused Words in Game Titles

Programming   By Shamus   Feb 15, 2015   108 comments

It’s been a running joke for a couple of years that half the games coming out have the word “Dead” in the titleAlso, games with ‘half’ in the title are dead.. Dead Space, Dead Island, Deadlight, Left 4 Dead, etc. So it got me thinking: Just how common is the practice, really? Is the word “Dead” really as played out as it seems, or is this a case of confirmation bias run amok? Aside from “dead”, what are the top overused words in game titles? Are there any overused words that we just don’t notice?

So I’m going to find out. Since I don’t want to run through and manually enter the name of every videogame ever made, I need a way to automate this. The path of least resistance seems to be to use Steam’s library. Being a PC platform, Steam is obviously missing a ton of games. But this should be close enough for our purposes. This isn’t science, it’s trivia.

Sadly, I can’t find a clean way to extract a full list of titles from Steam. The closest I can come is this file, which looks kind of promising at first. But there’s no way of knowing how old the list is, or if all games are listed.

Worse, the list includes a lot of non-game stuff like DLC and trailers. Which means that if there was a game called Dead Shooter, then it might appear several times in our list like so:

Continue reading »

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Half Life 2 Episode 1 EP5: Radiator Gladiator

Spoiler Warning   By Shamus   Feb 13, 2015   73 comments

Link (YouTube)

I’ve said in the past that Spoiler Warning seems to polarize my thoughts on a game. I develop admiration for some games, and animosity for others. This one is definitely falling into the “admiration” category. Yes, I know there are annoying bits all over the place. But overall I just love the rollercoaster of tension I feel when playing it. Like Chris said in an earlier episode: Nobody can create a sense of relief like Valve.

This is the same reason I enjoy survival horror. Not for the dread, but the relief. And Episode One is really good about this. You keep exiting horrible places into moments of quiet safety and exploration. That really scratches my itch.

So the Episode One Spoiler Warning is going to be seven episodes longThat sentence sounds ridiculous when deprived of context. Heck, it sounds a little silly IN context.. The final two episodes will happen next week. And then… I don’t know.

We’re still haggling over what game to cover next. We’re down to a list of four games, all of which were supported by three people and vetoed by the fourthMumbles wasn’t there for our last meeting..

Half-Life 2 and its episodes are so fun to do that I want to suggest we go back and do a season on the original Half-LifeWell, not the ORIGINAL original. The source engine remake would be easier to get running., but that would be a long season and that game has been thoroughly picked over, commentary-wise. I’m sure we’d have lots to talk about, but I doubt we would say anything that hasn’t been said a thousand times already. Also the game is crazy long by today’s standards. And kind of hard by today’s standards.

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Project Button Masher: UNATCO Office Party

Music   By Shamus   Feb 12, 2015   26 comments

And so we come to the end of the project. This was an interesting exercise, and it pushed me into doing a lot of new things. So regardless of how good the music is (or isn’t) it was still a success for my purposes.

This week I’m going to attempt to make something that would feel like it belongs in the Deus Ex soundtrack:

Link (YouTube)

Notable characteristics:

  1. The particular sound of the late-90’s UMX music. This technology was used in Unreal, Unreal Tournament, and Deus Ex, and has a pretty distinctive sound. If I had to describe it, I’d say it sounded like the mid 90’s synth MIDI music, but with lots of chorus effects. (More on that below.)
  2. Lots of climbing and descending sequences of notes.
  3. There is some really mild gliding and pitch-bending going on in a lot of tracks. That’s when a long note goes slightly out of tune – or glides to a different note – during its duration. I’ve fiddled with this, but I don’t think I really nailed it. Sounds interesting when it works, though.
  4. Echo effects. Nothing says “moody cyberpunk” like echoing synths.

For the purposes of making something Deus Ex-ish, I made a track that has both a slow ambient part and a faster section with drums. In the game it would often shift between the two styles when you entered or ended combat, but here I’ve just worked both into the same song.

The result: Continue reading »

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Half Life 2 Episode 1 EP4: Alyx is Cranky

Spoiler Warning   By Shamus   Feb 11, 2015   70 comments

Link (YouTube)

Things I noticed:

  • At 4:20, when Josh put the crosshair right on the tripmine, and the auto-aim “helped” by bending the bullets into the soldier. I have to say this kind of thing drives me crazy. Boo.

  • Am I the only one who did the see-saw puzzle the “right” way? I distinctly remember not having enough weight in the room to hold down that pipe, but apparently I’m the only member of the cast to solve it by supporting it. So… I have no idea.
  • At 16:30, the title for this episode was nearly, “Alyx is so Metal”. So you were going to get a pun either way.
  • At 19:30: I really agree. The antlion queens aren’t a very fun enemy. They’re pretty the bog-standard FPS damage sponge with a huge melee attack. I’ve never enjoyed fighting one. Maybe if their stun animation lasted longer, or if you could reliably sidestep them matador-style. But as it stands, these fights feel incredibly random and chaotic. (In a bad way.)

I really do love covering these games.

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Experienced Points: Graphics Are Sometimes Hard

Escapist   By Shamus   Feb 10, 2015   47 comments

As luck would have it, a bunch of people all sent in related questions at once, so this week I’ll answer three different questions about graphics programming.

I don’t have much to add to the column, so instead I want to whine that STRAFE isn’t going to meet its Kickstarter goals, and that makes me really sad.

A couple of weeks ago on the Diecast I was talking about combining modern lighting with retro-90’s low-fi graphics. I’ve actually dabbled in that idea myself. I’m sort of obsessed with it. But work will begin again on Good Robot very soon, and I expect that will keep me busy enough. I just don’t have time to work on mixing lighting models with anachronistic graphics styles. Having STRAFE was going to be the next best thing.

Ah well. Maybe in six months.

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Diecast #92: Nintenduh, Evolve, Life is Strange

Diecast   By Shamus   Feb 9, 2015   138 comments

January is over, and suddenly there’s gaming news again! And it’s all bad! Just the way we like it!

Direct link to this episode.

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

Hosts: Shamus, Josh, Chris, and Rutskarn.

Show notes: Continue reading »

A Hundred!2018There are 138 comments here. I really hope you like reading.

New Site Theme

Notices   By Shamus   Feb 8, 2015   132 comments

Nine and a half years. That’s how old this blog is. And since day one, I’ve always used a theme where the text was 600 pixels wide. At first I used a stock theme. Then I got into coding my own theme. But the column width stayed the same. Partly this was because I didn’t want to disrupt the layout of old posts where images floated to the left or right. Partly it was because mobiles were getting popular and I wanted my site to be readable on a mobile without (shudder) horizontal scrolling.

But the day has finally come. The old small-image posts now represent a tiny percent of the site content, and I’m okay if they look stupid. Mobiles now have 1080p resolution, so we have more pixels to work withI have no idea how anyone is supposed to read text that small, but apparently people do it all the time. Dang kids.. So the blog is getting a little wider, which will hopefully waste less screen space on the 3-meter jumobotron monitor you’re probably using.

Over the years I wasn’t diligent about documenting the appearance of the site. For the record, this is what the site looked like yesterday. And for those of you reading this in the future, here is what it looked like after the change.

Changing the theme is pretty disruptive. This is a big, complicated site with deep archives and lots of features. Let me know what I broke.

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Half Life 2 Episode 1 EP3: Combombies!

Spoiler Warning   By Shamus   Feb 7, 2015   127 comments

Link (YouTube)

I’d like to see how everyone answers Rutskarn’s question, “What’s the WORST section of Half-Life 2?” Try to give your answer before you read everyone else’s.

In contrast to Rutskarn, I kind of think the whole sand traps (“The Floor is Lava”) section of Half-Life 2 is fun… ONCE. It’s basically a really long puzzle with lots of fiddly physics busywork, and puzzles lose their appeal once you know the solution.

That said, I usually cheat past the mines, but sprint through the sand traps. It’s actually pretty easy once you realize it won’t spawn more that four antlions at once, and once you get ahead of them they’re a small threat.

A Hundred!207There are 127 comments here. I really hope you like reading.

Half Life 2 Episode 1 EP2: How to Win at Physics

Spoiler Warning   By Shamus   Feb 5, 2015   149 comments

Link (YouTube)

Just to be clear: All of my complaints in the episode were really trivial. Maybe it sounded like I hated this game. I don’t But this is what I would have said if the designers asked me for my analysis during development. The energy spheres are too random and unwieldy, and the explosion sound effect doesn’t really satisfy.

But for all my whining, this is making me really sad we haven’t gotten Half-Life 3 yet. They just don’t make games like this anymore, and they should. They really should.

For the curious, here is Ivan the Space Biker:

Continue reading »

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