Always up for discussion!

Please keep discussions civil.  Drivebys/angry politicos/hateChat and other unhelpful comments will receive a tap with the banhammer.

 

The Death of Splitscreen

 

I got into this great Twitter discussion the other day about whether or not FPS games like Destiny or Titanfall are losing anything by excluding a splitscreen multiplayer option. (For those of you who don’t know, splitscreen is what we call it when your TV image gets split to offer the differing POV for two or more players at the same time. Like Picture-in-Picture, but a bit more awesome).

The thing about where I am in my life right now, I can clearly see this through two lenses.

On the one hand, the core-gamer in me doesn’t GAF about playing with friends locally. I can count on one hand the number of friends I have who are still core gamers at this stage in their lives. (Jobs, Kids, Vacations, Mortgages, Rent, Grocery, all these things take a huge amount of time, time that could be better spent shooting Vandals in the head, I grant you, but still, once you accept those responsibilities, they tend to expand to fill all available space.) So, for the Gamer-Me, splitscreen is nice to have, but by no means a necessary. I can go online, mute my mic and play with a handful of real-live humans any time I choose. Yay Gamer-Me.

On the other hand, I am a Gamer Parent, and I have three Gamer Kids plus one Gamer Spouse. That’s FIVE people, and we are lucky enough to have ONE Xbone in the house.

Now, sharing is a thing. And I recognize that, yes, having all of use share a controller is of benefit for a whole bunch of “Real Life” reasons.

But now (especially in games like Destiny, where the whole game is, essentially, crippled unless you get your *ss out there and team up with people) instead of my kids being able to invite friends over to play Titanfall or Destiny or whatever the current favorite FPS is, they can only get their teamwork on by going online and gaming with a randomly assigned group of strangers. Which works well, in theory, but when you are 14 year old trying to team up with a bunch of adults who have been playing FPS’s since DOOM, you’re going to have a bit of a skill gap. The players who suck (or who haven’t managed to lay their hands on a particular special item… LOOKING AT YOU GJALLEHORN) get kicked repeatedly. (Destiny is addressing the “special item” issue in an upcoming patch, btw, because they don’t like it either).

NOW. For those of you who think you know where this is going. Shut up for a minute. This is not a “special snowflake” rant.  I love my kids, but if they suck at a game, then they’re going to have to practice more.  This is a true thing.  BUT…

If we had splitscreen for these games, it could solve a couple of problems. First, getting local kids to team up would be much simpler, AND (for you core gamers who hate the squeakers) would let them bang their heads against missions without them getting out into the broader team pools. In essence, they could team up with each other, deliberately, and they wouldn’t be bugging all you core players who b*tch about tweens in the mix. When they do get into the bigger pool of players, then they will at least have had the opportunity to become a better player beforehand by playing with friends who won’t kick them for missing a shot. (And when you kick them off your team, they’ll have someplace to go to get better). They’ll get the chance to memorize the maps and min-max their weapons without having to rely on players they are getting randomly teamed up with. The whole player pool gets improved.

Now, all that said, as a professional game developer, I can see a handful of reasons why splitscreen simply isn’t practical (some are addressed by the 343 team HERE, for the upcoming Halo release).  BUT I would simply like to ask the AAA group to please keep it in when you can.  Don’t kid yourself, your audience for these games goes down to the Elementary School set (especially when their parents are also gamers).  If you want to keep expanding your player base, you’ve got to allow more than one player per console.

On the Subject of The Thing’s Lack of Pants

 

Allow me, gentle reader, to revisit a topic that is near and dear to my heart. Character design.  Most of the time, I’m working with character design for my games, either my own, or consulting on someone else’s project.  This doesn’t mean I’m figuring out what their favorite color is, or what their favorite birthday cake is (the answer is ALWAYS chocolate).  Most of the time I’m trying to deconstruct something more vague, something to see if a character “works” and if not, WHY doesn’t it work.

Now I know, I KNOW that getting all photoreal is the thing to do with GCI (especially in superhero movies/tv) these days.  We’re trying to move away from the past… what, 20 years, of best-of show latex and muscle suits.  I get that.  But you have to remember, a lot of these superheroes were developed by traditional illustrators.  People who were destined to be “car stuffers” or advertising illustrators before they found their way into comic-books as a trade.  Many heroes were likely designed with a handful of constraints in mind.  1. You had to be able to draw them quickly and repeatedly.  2. You had to work with how the comic book would be printed (b/w line, grey halftones, 4 color process, etc) and 3. You had to have a clearly recognizable, definable figure.

Now, it could be argued that The Thing is one of the most recognizable figures in comic books.  Almost on a par with The Hulk, you might say.

 

Thing is (ha ha) that as a character design he’s very fiddly.  That stone-pebble surfacing that helps to make him so distinctive makes it hard for us, as a viewer, to make out the lines that normally indicate muscles, foreshortening, even the details on the face get muddled and hard to discern.

This is a problem that has carried over to the most recent cinematic version of The Thing, and I would argue that his “breaking up” effect has been compounded even further by the decision to have Thing without a costume at all.

 

From a visual standpoint, there were some excellent decisions made here, most particularly with the variation in patterning of the stone, large pieces and small ones, to help us better discern one body part from another.  the lack of definition to the feet also makes perfect sense, and gives him a somewhat alien look.

BUT

The very nature of the Thing’s key design element (the pebbly skin) means you need to give some thought to two key elements.

First off, his face.  Right now, we get a wall of rock.  Which is okay if you’re clobberin’ the bad guys, but if you are trying to develop any kind of empathy with your audience, if they want us to care about what happens to The Thing at all, we’ve got to be able to make a connection to his eyes and facial expressions.

Now, I’ll point out that the recent run of comic book artists have already solved this one:

BAM.  The jutting jawline and overhanging brow give us a perfect visual frame, they drive the audiences eyes right to the character’s face.  The extra thick line-work and shadows there help to resolve that area, to give us a place to connect to on a human level.  Even if we can’t see his eyes per-se, we know we are looking into his face, which matters a whole lot more than you might realize on a subconscious level.

Now.  Number two.  Those hero-pants and the lack thereof.

From the CGI design level, we have a big problem with the movie-Thing.  See his hips?  See his shoulders?  See those LINES of separation that allow the legs and arms to swing freely?  The audience can see them too.  They may not SEE them, but unconsciously, they’re going to recognize them as separations in the costume.

Yeah, I said costume.

See, even when you are working with a wholly CGI created character, your audience is going to suspend their disbelief.  They’re going to presume that pants have snaps and shirts have buttons (even though they don’t actually NEED them because CGI).  So if there are separations in the form, those tell the audience that this is a rubber-suit.  You’re pushing them one little step closer to killing their experience.  If it’s one of your main characters, the effect is doubled, or even more so.

So WHY pants?

Modeling and animating for VFX is a tricky business.  Getting skin to stretch and flex in a natural fashion is not easy, not by a long shot.  There’s a long and venerable tradition of designing your forms so that the glitches, the places where your mesh goes all wonky, or folds up badly, get hidden in shadow, under the armpits, underneath the clothes or shoulderpads or kneepads or what have you.

Now, let us be clear.  The Thing likely doesn’t NEED pants.  The between-the-legs architecture has been discussed in various venues and comic books and, well, okay, pants are not a NEED for that particular character, any more than they might be for Groot.

But the design of the movie-Thing character, those breaks being in the form are the problem.  In order to counter that “hey it’s a rubber-suit” voice in the back of your audience’s brain, that’s WHY you need pants.  You need to either give a meta-reason for the break (a-la, hey these aren’t breaks int he suit, these are the edge of his tighty-hero pants) or you need to cover them over entirely.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Yet Another Security Flaw

 

http://www.theverge.com/2015/8/11/9130203/wireless-hack-corvette-brakes-insurance-dongle

“‘We acquired some of these things, reverse engineered them, and along the way found that they had a whole bunch of security deficiencies,’ says Stefan Savage, the University of California at San Diego computer security professor who led the project. The result, he says, is that the dongles ‘provide multiple ways to remotely…control just about anything on the vehicle they were connected to.'”

So how paranoid does the average consumer really have to be?  Well, the truth is, not all that paranoid.  Right now, attacks like this have to be focussed, you have to know who you are going after, there has to be a personal connection of some kind.  They take research and consideration (they have to find your car, they have to figure out what kind of device you have implanted, if any, they then have to do some work to get access to that specific device, etc) so these are not “off-the’cuff” style hacks that can be thrown out willy-nilly like some *sshat firing off pepper-spray into a crowd of Black Friday shoppers.

The real risk will come when you get an enterprising soul who finds a way to hack 10,000 cars at once, then you are into hostage taking/hush money territory.  THAT’s when you have to worry about whether or not you should get the “good driver” discount by adding that wireless dongle to your dashboard.

It’s too late for the current crop of devices that are out there.  They are int he wild already, the security flaws have already been laid bare.  The real value in exposures like this is in encouraging companies to make sure they have at least passable security up front (many of these hacks are discovering close to NO security, security through obscurity, as it were), rather than adding the locks after the horse is already out of the barn.

Set it and Forget it

TeslaRecharger

http://techcrunch.com/2015/08/06/for-realz/

 

Some day I will own a Tesla.  That’s a given.  Not sure how I will actually, you know, pay for it, but a gal can dream, right?

As cool as this is, though, I’m seeing only half of the equation here. Something Tesla doesn’t usually forget.  The people half.

Humans like to f*ck with stuff. I’m not speaking of our innate desire to break open the housing and see the glowy flashy bits, but rather our inability to just leave something alone.  To set it and forget it, because we know, we KNOW, deep in our brains, that the one time we don’t double-check, is the one time something will go wrong and we will burn our house down..

Imagine, if you will, pulling into your garage in your shiny shiny e-car, pulling the parking brake and walking away.  No muss, no fuss.

You can’t do it, can you.

You’re going to end up standing there, every time, just to make sure your magic snakey-charger plugs in properly.  At first, it will be because it’s just so *cool*, but then you’ll find you just don’t trust it.  What if, this time, you parked an inch too far to the left?  What if one of the connectors doesn’t seat right?  Your palms will itch with the desire to just plug the d*mn thing in YOURSELF and be done with it.  And if you *do* walk away, you’re going to come back, just to make sure, even if it’s two in the morning and you’ve woken in the middle of the night.

Because there are some things we just cannot let go of.

 

 

The Internet of Things

https://hacked.com/hackers-find-way-remotely-switch-smart-sniper-rifles-target/

Now, as a rule, I am all for pushing technology forward.  Building new things, breaking sh*t, changing the way that people think about pretty much everything.  Forward is good.

But incautiously forward is becoming the norm.  While there are hundreds of companies pushing forward the idea of IoT (Internet of Things), they are all, almost invariably, following the “MPB” model (minimum playable build).  The idea behind the MPB is to get your product to market first, start establishing your user base, let your consumers become your testers and thereby get them to buy in to your product.  After all, it’s their suggestions and requests that you are taking and implementing, so they now have some skin in the game.

The problem arises when security gets involved.  When you have a user base of ten or a thousand, you’re often not big enough to attract attention from any serious hackers.  So it’s easy to get lax on security for the sake of time to market.  You can fix it after the fact, right?  But as your development teams turn over and new faces replace the old, those security flaws (which you knew about but planned to fix once you were a viable product, really) get layered over.  They get forgotten, or you hope they never get noticed.

The thing about the kinds of people who hack a system, they love to know sh*t. If you get cool enough or big enough, they’re going to take a look.  They’re going to want to pop the hood to see if your programmers really did something really slick in there, or if it’s a train wreck in a shiny plastic housing.  The flaws will be found out, and if you’re lucky, you were hacked by an ethical bunch, who will be happy to take their turn deconstructing you at Black Hat and may (if paid) help you to fix those flaws before someone gets hurt.