Archive for Videogames

Run, Barry RUN!

Augmentation is a funny thing.  In science fiction you tend to see integration, bionics, different and intimate ways of meshing machines with humanity.  Superhero fiction and Steampunk tends to be where you find the true gadgeteering.

Experimenting on live people tends to be frowned upon, so oftentimes you see these technologies developing not only in parallel, but there is a certain amount of reinventing the wheel.  The end result seen in these bionic boots mimics the result seen in the “kangaroo” boots that are already on the market. Is the engineering that creates this effect exactly the same?  Probably not, but the end result (that we as the potential user experiences) is very similar.

You see the same kind of thing happening in “bionics” (I’m defining this as “limb replacement” for the purposes of this blog).  There are a half-dozen solutions for getting a replacement hand to close on an object.  Some are simple, mechanical levers and dials operated by the off-hand, some are directly hardwired into the muscles, some use a conductive surface to “read” impulses under the skin, but they all have a very similar end result.


Three Gun Monte

This is a re-post from my Gamasutra Archive.  As Halo 5 approaches, I’m working my way back through Halo 4 and I’m very interested in seeing how the gameplay has evolved over the past few years.  The change from Bungie to 343 brought about some significant changes to the way the game played.  Not all “bad” but some things that took quite a bit of adapting to.




I’ve been playing Halo since the original demo at E3 many many years ago now.  Like so many of you, I’ve had the privilege of watching this IP evolve, go from being the Flagship title of the original XBox console to a product vast enough to change the way we think about entertainment (but that’s for another post).

My first thought, out of the box was (and you can find this on Twitter) “Holy sh*t, 343 brought their A Game…”  And I stand by that statement.  If this title were to stand alone, even without the decades of experimentation and innovation behind it, it would be worthy of the AAA rating.  I have my complaints, everyone does with a new game in a well loved IP, but one thing sticks out to me.

There used to be this Big Three in the level design.  Within the space of a single level there would be 1.  a place where you wanted to use grenades, 2.  a place where melee combat might be best and 3. a place where you wanted a hand-held weapon.  Might be in different places in different levels, but it was consistent enough that you had to *think* as you played through the game, because these changeups would happen inside the level.  You had to be able to assess where you were, what you had to hand and how best to use that.  You had to be quick on your toes, but it made you FEEL like the best of the best if you didn’t get your *ss handed to you.  If you started slogging too much, then you’d screwed something up, missed a cue, gone in for melee when what you’d really needed was the Battle Rifle or the Needler.

Halo 4, in contrast, almost feels like a “One Level, One Perfect Weapon” game.  When you come around the corner you can look at the layout, the architecture and you know, “okay, it’s all sniper shots from here on out”.  The combat change up *within* the encounter spaces seems to be gone.

And I guess this is what happens when you have a new set of minds working with an old and familiar franchise.  But I can’t help but wonder if this was a conscious design decision, if 343 decided to do away with that Big Three aspect of the original in favor of this One Level One Perfect Weapon approach, or if this simply reflects a difference in how they think a FPS ought to play.  OR, conversely (since I don’t know anyone over at Bungie or 343 to ask this of) was that Big Three a mistake?  Was it a random convergence of level design and gameplay and never intended to be the way things were supposed to be played.

I like to think, especially after hearing reports of the oodles of gameplay and focus testing that went on for the Halo franchise, to keep the “fun” factor vibrant, that there has been a conscious change here (hopefully something with an awesome payout as I near the end of the single-player game) and that there is a higher-concept at work that I’m just missing.  But I miss being able to make those assessments on the fly, being able to play smarter, not just with a bigger gun.

Not Enough

On the one hand, this is pretty awesome.  NASA is putting research money into some pretty innovative (and unusual solutions).  On the other hand, it’s only $100k per grant.  That’s Angel level investment, but for working with engineers, hardware and proof of concepts, it seems a little small.

BUT, what it does do (as a small startup) is give you a kind of legitimacy that you can then take to other, larger investors.  You can inform them that NASA is one of your backers, which then means you’ve got a market for your product.  It’s got a home if you can make it work like you think it will.  Having a market in-hand when you go to speak with investors and Angels makes a huge difference, whether you are building mobile apps or inventing a way to finally clear some of our debris from space.

Uncanny Environments


I think Dying Light has nailed the urban environment.  It’s been coming for a while, every iteration, every game that comes out that has been set in an analog for a real world space has been taking baby-steps forward.  Watch Dogs nearly got it, the Modern Warfare games were as close as I’d ever seen up until that point, Max Payne had a toe over the line, but I think in Dying Light we finally have a believable urban environment to play with.

Why do I say this?  Because of all the *stuff*.

For long time (decades, really), if there was an object in your environment, it was useful.  Barrels?  You could blow those up.  Boxes?  Smash’em to get stuff.  But not any longer, in fact, the fact that “useful” objects are tagged with some kind of glow effect, or show up as actionable in your HUD is, in part, due to the fact that there is so much stuff in the world that you can’t find what you need unless we point your eyeballs at it.

In order to get an environment to look “real” it has to be dirty.  This is a problem that artists have beat their heads against over and over.  One of the things that made the model effects in Star Wars look so real?  The dirt, the grime, the grit in-between joints. Ever try to get “realistic textures” from in-service military vehicles?  Good luck, they keep those things *so* clean that, even though you are working from a photo of an actual tank, nobody ever believes it.

It’s the uncanny valley of environments, and I think we’ve finally climbed out.


Catch and Destroy

Image from Astrobiology Magazine online


Walter Jon Williams may have described it most clearly in his novel “Aristoi”, the idea that any nano-technological critter, given the ability to reproduce, can go bad and take over a whole environment, devouring everything it can reach.  If you are a cyberpunk/hard sci-fi fan, you may have heard of it as “Mataglap” or “Grey Goo”.  It begs the question, how do you control against a microscopically sized organism?  Or more to the point, how can you control against them on the fly, away from lab facilities and clean rooms?

Here and now, for biological organisms, there is a solution.  Specialized adhesive tapes that can be impregnated with chemical compounds to neutralize biological organisms.  The kinds of germs, bugs and viruses that many imagine the architecture of future nano-particles will be based upon.

As always, the link’s there at the top so you can read the original article for yourself and decide if you’re going to be taping the cracks around your windows closed in case the Measles epidemic comes to your street in suburbia.