Kessler Chaos

Lately I’ve been working on a mod for Kerbal Space Program.

It’s all about Kessler Syndrome, where orbiting junk can cause deadly collisions in space. You might not think that losing a screw is a big deal, but even a tiny screw can cause big damage when it is travelling at 10000 kilometers per second.

Grab the mod over at the ksp forums.


Zenimax, you’re doing it wrong

Apparently there is going to be an elder scrolls MMO. Sigh. What I really want is co-op elder scrolls. So multiplayer, without the “massive” part of the acronym.

The great thing about the elder scrolls games (Morrowind, Oblivion, Skyrim) is the sense of being in the world, exploring it, and making your own story. You can do that by yourself. You can do that with one or two friends in co-op. You can’t do that in an MMO. When random strangers barge in, call you a newb, shout “LFG” etc, it breaks the sense of place. There will be so much metagaming, that the rest will be lost.

Other people are better at getting the point across than me

As a follow up to the nerds and sexism thing, go read this.

I will pause now for the traditional arguments from my readers: these characters are all femme fatales in the comics, all of the characters in the Arkham games are over-the-top, the men are just as exaggerated/sexualized/objectified as the women. Got all of that out of your systems? Good.

Because that reaction is exactly what I’m talking about.

Y’see, one of the issues of male privilege as it applies to fandom is the instinctive defensive reaction to any criticism that maybe, just maybe, shit’s a little fucked up, yo.

Keep reading at kotaku.

Also this:

From the peeps at shortpacked.

Indie game review – Bastion

Lately I’ve been tinkering with the idea of creating my own “indie” videogame. It’s a shitload of work though, so instead of creating something, I’ll take the easy road for now and tear down the hard work of others for my own amusement. Starting with indie darling, Bastion.

All indie games gotta have a gimmick right? Otherwise they are just a low budget commercial game. Bastion’s gimmick is the narrator. Watch the video and you’ll get the idea, the “stranger” narrates your path through the game. I think this idea is really cool, but the tone of the narrator and the cartoony art are incongruous. The gravel voiced “stranger” wants to set the tone of a desolate wasteland, but the colourful, vibrant, beautiful artwork of Bastion fights against it. It’s a shame, because the art on one side, and the voice acting, plot and atmosphere on the other are both great in their own right, if not for their schizophrenic combination.

Bastion screenshot

The level design tries to make you feel that the world is crumbling around you, with no edges and long drops to your death; but as you walk around, the world actually falls into place and constructs itself in front of you. Your “leaps of faith” are all successful, making you feel safe, as if someone is looking out for you with a ready safety net. Contrast this with the approach of Dark Seed 2:

dark seed 2 screenshot

Dark Seed 2 is a point and click adventure game where you cannot fall off the edges (unlike in Bastion) but the narrow suspended walkways are much more unsettling. You can’t see the bottom, and their threat is more implied than real.

The combat in bastion is workable, but not very interesting. You have different melee and ranged weapons, with a bunch of special abilities, but on the whole it feels very button mashy. Dodging and defense are important but I found it easier to just eat the damage, spam hammer attacks and quaff potions like an junkie rather than employ any tactics. Turning the difficulty up or playing further into the game might invalidate this strategy, but I wasn’t having enough fun enough to warrant it. Aiming and hitting seemed imprecise, with the art and animation focussing more on looking pretty than providing functional feedback. The ranged weapons have a targeting guide that I found more confusing than helpful due to it being traced along the ground, rather than the actual flight path of the projectiles, and the height difference between the two paths caused by the isometric viewpoint.

So how would I improve Bastion? Or more to the point, how would I use this narrator concept in another game? A bit of unreliable narration would be nice, like in Spider and Web. Or subvert the usual RPG adventurer role goblins comic style, and have the narrator describe and condemn your every genocidal action. For example:

After setting the defenceless orc villagers on fire and laughing at their anguish, the ‘hero’ rifled through their home in search of valuables.

That approach would only work for a short form game though. For a longer play like Bastion, perhaps make the game itself much darker in art and music style, more punishing and scary in gameplay, and have the narrator as your one and only friend. Once the player gets accustomed to this, once they come to depend on the narrator, pull the plug on it. Make them feel alone, abandoned and afraid. When this becomes old, give them a hint and make them fight to get the narrator back. Apologies if Bastion actually does anything like this later, I only played through the demo on the google chrome marketplace (which worked brilliantly on linux).

Debunking the latest “violent video games are bad for your brain” study

Oh oh, bullshit science reporting incoming!

A functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI) analysis of long-term effects of violent video game play on the brain has found changes in brain regions associated with cognitive function and emotional control in young adult men after one week of game play.

Hmm let’s examine this claim shall we. First up, who funded the research?

This research is supported by the Center for Successful Parenting, Indiana

Why it’s the Center for Successful Parenting! What does their mission statement say?

Our culture used to protect the innocent. Today our children are constantly exposed to sex and violence. Our vision is to move parents, leaders in health, government, business, education, public safety and other vocations to action by changing our culture to protect children from unhealthy media in all formats.

Hmm, no potential for bias there. Cue media outlets not doing their homework and rattling off alarmist headlines.

But let’s examine the study itself shall we? The authors are Yang Wang MD, Tom Hummer PhD, William Kronenberger PhD, Kristine Mosier DMD, PhD and Vincent Mathews MD. Unfortunately I don’t have the paper itself, just the press release and the abstract:

Twenty-two healthy adult males (age 18-29 years) with low past exposure to violent video games (average: 0.9±0.8 hours/week) were included in this report. Subjects were randomly assigned to two groups. In the video game group (n=11), subjects were instructed to play a violent video game for about 10 hours (average: 9.8±1.6 hours) at home in the first week, without game play for the next week. Another group (n=11) served as the control group without violent game play for two weeks.

They call that a control group? The study can’t possibly separate between the effects of violent video games versus “acceptable” video games like sim city or gran turismo. How about using three groups, one playing violent, one playing non-violent, and one doing nothing?

FMRI measurements were performed at baseline, 1, and 2 weeks follow-up… Two modified Stroop tasks were carried out in an event-related manner. During the emotional Stroop (ES) task, subjects pressed buttons according to the color of visually presented words. Words indicating violent actions were interspersed among the non-violent action words in a pseudorandom order. The counting Stroop (CS) task required subjects to press buttons to indicate the quantity (1-3) of a repeated numeral (1-3) that was discrepant with the quantity.

So in order to test their brain activity and emotional response, they had them play button pressing video games? Of course the ones who had been playing more adapted to it. They could have just gotten better at games. Being better at games, they would have cut to the crux of the game – the colour of the words, not their meaning. Or they could have gotten better at distinguishing the imaginary from the real, and realised that those words flashed on the screen are just that.

“These findings indicate that violent video game play has a long-term effect on brain functioning,” Dr. Wang said.

Or that video game play has a long term effect, violent or not, seeing as the study didn’t control for that. Whether that effect is harmful or beneficial or benign, they don’t comment on either.

If you want to prove that violent video games make people more violent, take a large sample of convicted violent offenders, and a sample of people with no record of violent crime. Do a linear regression to control for other factors show me the results.

What’s wrong with the video game industry

This is appalling, but it sure explains the rampant sexism in videogames. Hey devs, 42% of all gamers are women! Perhaps you should not despise and fear them so much?

Clearly we need more women working in the games industry. We need to stop this bullshit. If you are a game developer like the turds in this video, grow the fuck up. Read something about feminism and misogyny. You don’t have to be afraid of women! It’s not their fault that you are afraid of them! Perhaps the reason you are single is because you hate women? Stop blaming them for your own failings.

And for those of you who would like to counter with the “this is just some shitty tv show” argument, you are so wrong.