Tag Archives: games

Compact Disc

IMG_1766Like everyone else, I stopped buying physical CDs for music years ago. The main computer I use these days doesn’t even have an optical drive, and the only use my PC optical drive gets is to occasionally read a CD full of film photo scans every now and again.

But to be honest, I was never a huge buyer of CDs for music or games. My collection of physical media for music and games isn’t anything to write home about, since I’ve always preferred digital downloads. Steam and iTunes have mostly sated my needs for both forms of media.

As with anything, there are a few edge cases.

If there’s a cool “Collector’s Edition” of a game that I’m somewhat into that has cool physical or digital bonuses, then I’ll pick up a copy of the game. It’s kind of how I ended up with two copies of Dishonored. I picked up the PC version of the game first and played through that. I liked it so much that I gave it my game of the year award for 2012 (wow, was it really two years ago?), only to be disappointed there wasn’t a Collector’s Edition of the PC version, which came some super cool, Dishonored-themed tarot cards. I’m not sure who thought it was a good idea to have special editions of only the console versions of the game, but a quick trip to eBay later and I was the proud owner of the Dishonored Collector’s Edition — for Xbox 360. I’m pretty sure the game itself is still in the original shrink wrapped packaging.

Which brings us to the point of today’s post, the edge case of buying music on physical CDs. I used to buy CDs from artists that I liked, but gave that up a few years ago when physical media fell out of favour. These days, I pirate or stream pretty much everything, only buying digital when I really, really like the artist and album.

I’ve been listening to Taylor Swift’s 1989 for weeks now, and Shake It Off for months before that, but when I heard about the awesome collection of polaroids included with every copy of the album, it was Dishonored all over again. For the briefest of moments I contemplated buying multiple copies of the album, seeing as there’s actually 65 “Photos from Taylor” you can collect — you get 13 with one copy of the album — but I quickly realised that was a little too crazy. I mean, it’s a good album and all, and Taylor Swift is* incredibly pretty, but buying multiple copies of the album is crazy talk.

And yeah, I had a bit of a look on eBay for just the polaroids, but I couldn’t find anything reasonably priced. They’re also not actual Polaroids, seeing as that would be prohibitively expensive — they’re more photos printed on glossy paper to look like Polaroids, but they’re still insanely cool. I don’t have my favourite lyric from the album in the set that I got, but I’m cool with that, too.

These words part of Blogvember, a thing I just made up right then about getting back into blogging. You can read more words about Blogvember right over here, but the gist is that I'll be attempting to post something up on the blog every day in November 2014. Read other Blogvember posts.

Gone Home

Thanks to the tweet above, there’s been a bit of discussion on the internet about whether Gone Home is a game or not. For the life of me, I can’t seem to figure out why that’s even a valid question, as the major premise of a game is an interactive narrative with playable character(s), and Gone Home is exactly that.

Contrary to what my Steam stats would have you believe, I have played other games besides Dota 2 in the past year. I’ve clocked 92 minutes on Gone Home, all of which was played in one sitting in early January (which is definitely the best way to play the game). It was so long ago that I barely remember the minor details about what happens in the game, but the one thing I do remember is that it’s an insanely great title that everyone should be playing.

This is the point where I tell you that’s about as much as I can say without spoiling the game, because the game itself is about discovery — so go out, grab it on Steam, and start discovering for yourself why it’s been so widely lauded as one of the best titles of recent times. I was sitting in Good Game’s Q&A panel at PAX last weekend, and I don’t even remember what question they were asked (it might have been something to do with experiences in games and/or how they impacted the panelists), but Hex brought up Gone Home as one of the best games she’s played. As someone who’s played Gone Home, it’s hard not to agree with her, despite how little “game” there is to Gone Home itself.

Undoubtedly, Gone Home is a game. It leans towards the “interactive narrative” side of the spectrum, but it’s definitely a game. It’s kind of like The Walking Dead, only with less characters and less zombies, and without a massively popular TV series to back it up, but it’s definitely a game. There’s no action, per se, but the game makes up for that in spades with one of the most poignant stories I’ve ever had the pleasure of experiencing — and coming from the guy who plays the single-player campaign of mass-market multiplayer FPS titles for the story, you know that’s kind of a big deal.

So, yeah, definitely a game, and you should definitely play it.

These words part of Blogvember, a thing I just made up right then about getting back into blogging. You can read more words about Blogvember right over here, but the gist is that I'll be attempting to post something up on the blog every day in November 2014. Read other Blogvember posts.

DotA for Recreation, Not Profit

Dat courier, though. Phwoar.

Dat courier, though. Phwoar.

Alternate title: remember when online gaming was fun?

As part of my ongoing adventures in DotA 2, I’ve stopped playing ranked matches altogether. After experiencing how much they brought out the worst in people (and I include myself in that), I decided they were making gaming less fun, so I gave them the flick. Of the online games I am playing, I stopped choosing “All Pick” as a game mode and starting choosing basically everything else: Single Draft, Random Draft, All Random, Least Played, Captain’s Mode, and Captain’s Draft. The other game modes change things up a little by not offering the full hero roster, and do a decent job of teaching me to be a better player by playing with hero and team combinations I’m not necessarily familiar with. Ability Draft, on the other hand, is just… weird, and almost seems like an arcade version of DotA.

The thing I enjoy the most isn’t sledging my teammates when the carries can’t actually carry, despite what you may hear or read. No, it’s playing DotA with friends, either in friendly 5-on-5 matches, against bots in coop, or even online, when it takes our fancy. Work and other commitments mean we hardly get to see each other and catch up as often as we’d like, but playing DotA together means we can jump in Mumble or TeamSpeak and catch up with other while participating in some truly epic teamfights.

And at the heart of it, isn’t that what online gaming is all about? Having fun with people you know in real life, online? I’m no stranger to playing single-player games, but every now and again, I enjoy playing with friends. Multiplayer games like DayZ, Wasteland, DotA, and so many others just aren’t the same when you play by yourself. You could argue that there’s a time and a place for playing single-player games by yourself, but at the end of the day, there’s no denying that online gaming is infinitely better with friends.

But you know what isn’t fun? When friends get too serious about a game. I’ll admit straight up that I’m guilty of this, but aren’t we all? Our naturally competitive nature means that a disappointing loss hits harder than any elation from a convincing victory, which leads to blaming people we’re usually on very good terms with.

Continue Reading →

Grand Theft Auto V and Everyday Photography →

Brendan Keogh:

Players can take low quality, low resolution photos full of fake noise. I’m sure some people are grumpy about the poor quality of these images (I’m just annoyed at the need to go through and bypass Rockstar’s terrible social media thing as opposed to saving them directly to the PS3), but I love this replication of everyday photography in a game. For many people, photography is no longer a big deal. You don’t stop and perfectly compose a photo with your expensive camera any more. You pull out a phone, take some snaps, throw a fake filter on it, and throw it on social media. Photography is now fleeting as often as it is permanent.

There’s no doubt that photography has become almost infinitely more accessible thanks to the pervasion of smartphones in today’s society, but fleeting? I’m not so sure.

Just because digital is cheap, that doesn’t mean it doesn’t matter.

Flappy Bird Think Pieces →

A Tumblr curating a collection of long-form pieces about the game that was.

The joke is on them though, because any writing about games is better than no writing about games.

And hey, if it’s good enough for the Rolling Stone, it’s good enough for everyone, no?

Nvidia’s ShadowPlay and One Angry Earthshaker

fraps movies settings

Occasionally, I put gaming-related videos on YouTube. For all of those videos, I’ve used Fraps to capture in-game footage, and as far as software-based capture tools go, it isn’t bad. I’ve been using Fraps for a few years now, and for the most part, I’ve been pretty happy with it.

That said, there are a few things about Fraps I don’t like. For starters, it creates massive files on disk — it works out to be about 1.2GB/minute for 720p footage at 60fps. There’s no option to record at arbitrary resolutions, only your display resolution or half size, whatever that turns out to be1. And enabling Fraps usually kills my FPS, which usually gets me killed in whatever game I’m playing. The frame rate drop I experience in certain (read: more recent, more demanding) games turns me off recording unless I really want to, otherwise I’d probably record far more often than I do. That, and the massive hard drive space requirements for recording.

But like any in-game capture tool, the worst thing about Fraps is that I have to manually enable it whenever I want to record something. That’s fine if I know something cool might happen in advance, or when I know I’m going to do something which I might need footage for later, but I honestly couldn’t tell you how many times I’ve done something epic and wished it has been recorded. So many times I’ve missed out on capturing some real Kodak moments, and all because FRAPS wasn’t recording. The “workaround” for this, if you can call it that, is to have Fraps running all the time — but when gaming sessions go for hours on end, I have neither the hard drive space nor the low-FPS tolerance for that to be a viable solution.

shadowplay settings

Enter Nvidia’s ShadowPlay.

In Shadow Mode, ShadowPlay automatically records everything in the background. It records up to the last ten minutes of gameplay in the background, which you can then save to disk if you want by pressing the appropriate key combo. Do something epic, and want to have a permanent record of it? No need to gripe about not having Fraps turned on and recording to your friends over TeamSpeak, because ShadowPlay already recorded it for you. All you have to do is save the recording.

ShadowPlay is also great because it doesn’t produce massive files when recording footage. It uses the GPU to transcode your recordings on the fly to H.264 (which is why you’ll need a GTX 600 or 700 series graphics card), resulting in reasonably-sized files, and best of all, there’s no performance hit that I’ve noticed thus far. (For comparative purposes, 1GB of hard drive space gives me roughly three minutes of in-game footage with ShadowPlay at 1080p/60fps, compared to under a minute with Fraps at 720p/60fps.) There are alternative software capture tools that can perform similar compression on your recordings, but those use CPU power instead of a dedicated H.264 encoder built into the graphics card. And since my CPU is a few years old now, I don’t really have those CPU cycles to spare when I’m gaming.

ShadowPlay has a manual recording option too á la Fraps, in case you want to go down that path. But having something sit in the background silently recording my every move is great, and means I don’t have to think about what I’m going to be doing next and whether I want to have that on file for later. It’s like having an instant rewind for anything.

There’s always room for improvement though, and ShadowPlay is no exception. It needs the ability to record voice input, for starters. If I’m communicating hilarious things over TeamSpeak but all the recording captures is my teammates’ responses, then that’s not very useful. And I have to do some more thorough testing, but I’ve had a few recordings with a number of graphical glitches too. Then again, Nvidia have labelled it a beta for a reason, so I’m sure it’ll get there.

But for now, ShadowPlay is pretty great. Reasonably-sized files, little to no performance hit when recording, and the best part is, it means I don’t have to worry about turning on Fraps before doing something cool. What’s not to love?

ShadowPlay makes recoding game footage an afterthought, which is what it should be — because you’re supposed to be playing games, not thinking about whether you want to record what you’re doing in games.

About the video2: OK, so, there was this one game of DOTA 2 I was playing, right. We had an Earthshaker on our team who wanted to play him like a carry — constantly going 1v1 against other heroes. Dude thought he was invincible, even after he died three times in the space of two and a half minutes. After he died he’d usually ping-spam the map, resulting in our Death Prophet getting worked up and shout at him over in-game voice. It was hilarious, right up until the point where Earthshaker revealed he had a mic after all, but apparently only used it to abuse other teammates over voice. We lost the game, of course, but it was really strange. Almost like the dude was drunk or something.


  1. Since I game at 2560×1440, the native resolution of my display, half size turns out to be 720p, which works out well enough for YouTube purposes. 1080p would be great, but recording at full size and then down-sizing is too much work. 
  2. I had to upload the video to Vimeo because YouTube blocked the audio because of the Lady Gaga going on in the background. But the audio is kind of the best part. And yeah, sorry about having the not-very ad-free Spotify going on in the background. (The new Lady Gaga is just OK, IMHO). 

Winning (and losing)

Dota Dire Ancient Gone

If there’s a universal truth, it’s that people don’t like losing. Ask anyone, and they’ll tell you that losing sucks; anyone that tells you otherwise is either lying or a sadist.

The question is: do I take winning too seriously? There was one time, years ago, where a friend and I were playing Left 4 Dead. We were in a co-op match with two other folks, and I was shouting obscenities into our team’s text chat in an attempt to get the other players on our team to do something useful. After the match, the friend I was playing with pointed out “that guy” that was trying to get the team to win. I pointed out that “that guy” was actually me, and things were pretty awkward from that point on.

I’ve played a number of DotA 2 games now. As of writing, dotabuff says 249 real matches, with perhaps an extra 10-15 versus bots on top of that. At the moment, my win-loss ratio is sitting just under the 50-50 ratio, at 124 wins to 125 losses. Anecdotal evidence (i.e. the dotabuff profiles of a number of friends who have played hundreds of more games than I have) leads me to believe the matchmaking in DotA conspires to keep you around a 50-50 WL ratio, but with a good enough team, you can beat the odds.

Despite what you may believe, the number one influencer on your win-loss ratio isn’t yourself. At least, it’s not about yourself as much as it is about other players. For example: if another player on your team, in a different lane, decides to die repeatedly to one of your opponents in the early game, then that opposing hero now has a level and gold advantage. And even if you’re playing to the best of your ability, there’s very little you can do from preventing that opposing hero from dominating the rest of the match. From there, your fate is all but sealed: the opposing hero which received early kills dominates teamfights, and hence wipes the floor with your team. Eventually, through no fault of your own, you lose. Good game, sir.

But I’ve played enough games of DotA 2 now to realise that it’s a little more complicated than that. I’ve seen my share of impressive comebacks and last-gasp pushes that result in a win to know that the balance in DotA is incredibly delicate. What one player does or doesn’t do can tip the scales in your favour, or lose you the match. Didn’t deny the tower when you had the chance? You lose because the enemy all gained gold. Didn’t carry a TP scroll when pushing? You lose because a Nature’s Prophet decided to teleport into your base and demolish your ancient with his army of trees. Spent too much time jungling instead of pushing with your team? You lose because your team just lost that 4v5 teamfight, the enemy pushed, and you lost a tower and barracks.

Don’t get me wrong, good team work is of the utmost importance in DotA 2. It’s why I gently push others to be the best they can be if they’re having a bad game, because good teamwork means you can bring a game back from 9-0, their advantage. 30 minutes in, and it’s 16-32, still their advantage. We’re behind in kills the entire time, but when we finally take their ancient, the scoreboard reads 44-54, still in their favour. You’ll notice I went 2-17 in that match. I contributed almost nothing to that game, and yet we won. So how does that work, exactly?

Teamwork.

Continue Reading →

Time

time

A little while ago, the insane Randall Munroe completed perhaps the biggest project on XKCD yet: Time, comic number 1190.

The XKCD blog post tells the entire story: 3,099 panels, drawn over a period from March to August. An epic project by any standard, and yet, not altogether unexpected from the inanity of Mr Munroe.

I’ve been working a lot over the past few weeks, and as much as fun as six days a week sounds (for my bank balance, maybe), I’ve come to the realisation that it leaves very little time for extra-curricular activities, the stuff that I want to do.

Yes, I’m talking about games.

When you work full time, there’s very little time for anything else. A normal work day involves getting up at 6:30 AM, writing and publishing the news, and by 8:30, I’m ready to go to work. I don’t get home until after 6 PM, at which point it’s time to get something to eat and start thinking about what I’m going to do with my evening. But I’ve barely started when, oops, it’s 10 PM, and now I have to go to bed so I can get enough sleep to function as a person (as opposed to a zombie) the next day.

I usually finish eating by around 7, which gives me three hours, give or take, to do everything I didn’t get to do during the day. I usually check a few websites, read some forums, go through my email, and trawl through some RSS feeds. You’ll note I don’t even consider things like gaming, writing, movie-watching, or anything like that. I usually watch an episode of something when I’m eating, but that’s about it.

I can sometimes get away with a few extra hours by putting off my bedtime until midnight, but missing out on sleep more than a few times a week puts a negative spin on things, and usually just results in falling asleep on the bus to and from work. Work is tiring enough without me also feeling tired from a lack of sleep on top of that.

When you work full-time, free time, or the lack thereof, is a real issue.

During my degree there were definitely times where I had too much time. I’d waste the day by taking naps, or not getting out of bed until after noon. I’d put off doing work until the very last minute, when I’d spend all-night working on some horrible requirements document or other fun deliverable, and spend the next day sleeping. If you’ve been a Uni student before, you can probably relate: you procrastinate the smallest of tasks only to spend a few sleepless nights working feverishly on whatever you were supposed to have worked on before the deadline was looming large. It was like that during my degree, too; I could afford to waste time, because there was plenty of it.

But now that I’m kind-of, sort-of, looking for work and filling in for someone who’s going on holiday at my current place of employment, there’s just not enough time. Or at least, I don’t seem to have enough of it free as I would like.

Continue Reading →

Dishonored

I’m somewhat ashamed to admit I never played Thief. The first time I saw it being played was so long ago I can’t even remember the year, but it was a friend’s house, on his original-generation Xbox. I didn’t see a lot of gameplay, but what I did was enough to intrigue me.

Dishonored has been described as the spiritual successor to Thief, and it’s easy to see why: both are stealth based games, both revolve around assassinations of prominent characters, and both are set in some kind of steampunk-slash-industrialised England. Like I said — I’ve never played any of the Thief series myself, but Dishonored looked good enough that I decided to pick it up the other day.

And I’m glad I did, because Dishonored is my game of the year. More on this in a bit.

There’s a lot to like about Dishonored, wrong spelling of its title aside. You play the part of Corvo, a bodyguard of sorts who fails to protect his primary within the first few minutes of the prologue. What happens next is the story of how you escape from prison, meet up with some mysterious friends and benefactors, and begin exacting revenge upon those who wronged  you in the opening scene.

The story itself is all very cloak-and-dagger, and it plays out like any good conspiracy should: the bad guys all have ulterior motives, and you soon begin to start unravelling the real sequence of events that led up to your wrongful incarceration. There’s a bigger picture here, one that you might not fully understand unless you’re reading the myriad of letters and notes left carelessly on desks, or securely locked away in safes. The basic premise of the story is based around the tried-and-true concept of “someone did some wrong to me, now it’s my turn to find out what happened and/or slit the throat of everyone who was involved”, with perhaps a few non-optional side quests here and there. It’s all quite well done, to be honest.

But as good as the story aspect of Dishonored is, where it really shines is the gameplay. The combination of stealth and the option of non-leathal and lethal takedowns at all times gives you lots of choice — there’s always multiple ways to the objective to suit your gameplay style. Do you walk in the front door  with pistol in hand and sword in the other, ready to execute whomever you come across? Or do you use the side entry, tagging the guard with a sleeping dart before scaling the wall to get access to the roof, dropping onto a guard from the railing and taking him out like you’re Batman? There’s lots of choice in Dishonored, enough to suit whatever your playstyle might be.

The stealth aspect is particularly interesting. It’s been a while since I last played a good stealth game, and I think the last title that did this the whole “stealth combined with multiple access routes” was Deus Ex: Human Revolution. That game had similar choices when approaching objectives, meaning that you could either walk in and blow stuff up, or you could take the stealthy route, silently taking out guards and managing to do the most amount of damage without any alarms being rung. And say what you will about the Splinter Cell series turning to crap after whatever the last title was, but Splinter Cell Conviction was enjoyable because it employed stealth in a way that worked well: its excellent use of colour (or more specifically, the lack thereof) to tell you when you were hidden from enemies was a brilliant, brilliant move. Continue Reading →

Oceans Away! | Unwinnable

Before I tell you the story of how I tricked and deceived my son, an innocent 7-year-old who trusts me with his life, his happiness and his dignity, let me first explain how much I hate Plants vs. Zombies. I cringe just typing the name. A clip of the music or a piece of the art is enough to make my gut shrink. I don’t blame the game, which is a perfectly great, smartphone-friendly tower defense title. I hate it because of my son.

via Oceans Away! | Unwinnable.

You should read this.

Can we talk about video games?

I have about a million and one thoughts on various aspects of photography and tech (I got a Kindle Touch!) which I’m going to write about a little later, but just for now, can we talk about video games for a second?

I’ll start with this: nobody likes guys.

Nobody. Likes. Guys.

Or so says the Thought Catalog piece that sparked this piece on video games. What is it about video games, man? What is about video games that makes people start foaming at the mouth whenever someone even mentions DICE are working on a new title, or that Notch has something new on the horizon?

I wrote about Medal of Honor a little while ago, and it was while watching the new Medal of Honor trailer that it dawned on me: video games are all about enjoyment, and maybe, just maybe, feelings. When you play games like Mass Effect (I wrote about that too), with games that tell the same story over a period of years, you feel something for the characters. For Commander Shepard, and for you. When you play games like Medal of Honor and you’re falling off a cliff trying to escape from people you were previously hunting down, that feels real. For Rabbit of AFO Neptune, and for you.

I recently re-played the single-player campaign of Battlefield 3 and Medal of Honor, and it was then I realised why it was enjoyable. It was about the storyline, yes, but also about experiencing gameplay as a game designer wanted you to experience it. A game designer, sitting a desk in a country you’ve only read about or seen photos of, wanted you to experience a game in a very specific way. And not just you, but everyone who played the game. How crazy is that? Think about that.

Don’t get me wrong, I enjoy the multiplayer aspect of games. Even more so when playing with friends over voice comms. But I was thinking about the Fallout 3 campaign, how your choices impacted gameplay, and I realised that single player gaming will always have my attention. Single player means you have unique experiences, exactly as the game designer wanted.

And yeah, a big part of these experiences are the graphics. I’ve been looking forward to the new Medal of Honor ever since I played through the 2010 game, and the new Medal of Honor trailer looks fantastic. Rightly so, because it’s based on the same engine as Battlefield 3. But what’s up with the trailer for Ghost Recon Future Soldier looks terrible by comparison? The graphics look like something out of 2005 — honestly, they’re not that much better than the Battlefield 2 intro (the Battlefield 3 remake of which is fantastic, by the way). Call me crazy, but I know there are heaps of games that offer brilliant gameplay experiences — but if the graphics just aren’t there, then I can’t really play the for any length of time.

I guess what I’m trying to say is that it’s a combination of heaps of things that mean people play games. What I’m trying to say is that you should go read the Thought Catalog piece on The Games Guys Play, because it explains everything a little better than I just did.

Mass Effect, Tolkien, and Your Bullshit Artistic Process – doyce testerman

Let’s pretend for a moment that The Lord of the Rings was released not as a series of books, but a series of games. More importantly, the company behind the series decided to do something really hard but rewarding with the game — they were going to let you make decisions during play that substantively altered the elements of the story. That means that some of people playing through this Lord of the Rings story would end up with a personal game experience that was pretty much exactly like the one you and I all remember from reading the books, but that story is just sort of the default. Whole forums were filled up by fans of the series comparing notes on their versions of the game, with guides on how to get into a romantic relationship with Arwen (the obvious one), Eowyn (more difficult, as you have to go without any kind of romance option through the whole first game, but considered by many to be far more rewarding), or even Legolas (finally released as DLC for the third game).

via Mass Effect, Tolkien, and Your Bullshit Artistic Process – doyce testerman.

If you have no idea why people are upset about the ending of Mass Effect, but have watched and understand the Lord of the Rings, then you should read this.

Actually, you should read this anyway, because it’s one of the best pieces of writing I’ve read in a while (not to mention the best Mass Effect 3 ending-explanation-kerfuffle to date).