17 December 2007

I'm on GameTap Watch!

The GameTap video crew interviewed a couple staff members for the input on the best games we launched in 2007. I was one of the employees interviewed! The video is finished and now viewable in the GameTap.com/Watch area. Look for the video segment titled "Best of GameTap 2007". Recommend viewing in Internet Explorer rather than Firefox.

I provided some feedback on X-Com: UFO Defense, Tomb Raider: Anniversary, and Civilization IV. Many thanks to the video crew for an editing job that didn't make me sound like a tool.

Follow Up to "Theaters = No"

This is a response to the post "Theaters = No" as discussed with friends of mine via e-mail.

Clint writes,
You make some good points Ryan. However a home theater system will never be as good as a movie theater for the following reasons:

720P on a projector using a DVD does not rival a film print shown on a massive screen. The sound will could probably come closer but I'd say most theaters worth their salt blow away a home system. Also there is the 3-6 month wait for DVDs to come out.

I agree about the commercials, prices, and loud movie goers. And I'm sure everyone would love to come over to your house (which requires MORE driving for some) and watch some DVDs but the theater is a completely different experience.
Kevin writes,
i had a friend who also thought that going to the movies was always a waste of money... i suggest going to the theater selectively. dont buy food unless you want. some people like going to baseball games, no one argues that this is stupid, even though it is undoubtedly cheaper to sit at home and watch every game at home with your own fmv hotdogs, people still flock to the stadiums. I still go see bands live even though i can watch them play cheaper on youtube.

I feel that there is an aura associated with the movie theater experience, and while i have already seen a pierrot le feu for free i will still pay 10 bucks to see it at the theater. watching movies on my shitty TV just is not the same (not to metioned the sacrifice in aspect ratios, i was amazed when i saw star wars at the theater for the first time. i felt like everything was new). Movies are made for display in theaters as well. I also use netflix and will one day have my own projector, but even then i will go out to the movies...that being said; i love watching movies at home too.
They brought up some great points that I wanted to share with everyone. Firstly, the quality of picture and sound in a theater versus that of the home theater. This, and really the subject of most arguments, boils down to preference. I completely agree that the quality of the presentation surpasses that of the typical home theater. Personally, I don't need it. The image quality of 720P and my 5.1 surround sound is all I need. I simply don't notice much difference other than screen size and volume. There exists a spectrum of taste- some people have no problem putting down a few extra bucks for a top notch presentation, others are fine watching movies on their 32" CRT television.

The second point was the turnaround time for movies to release on shelves in DVD format. My only rebuttal there is once you actually wait the three-to-six months and start seeing movies you missed in theaters on DVD, you're done! Shifting your perception of movie releases by three months is very easy to accomodate in the off season, typically winter.

This brings me to another point that wasn't clear in my first post. I don't advocate the total boycott of theaters. I still see the occasional movie in theaters... but it's usually 3-4 a year. When I do go, I make sure it's a matinée screening and that I smuggle in candy from a gas station! Kevin's e-mail made me realize that I had been too harsh in my first post. Theaters do have a certain experience associated with them and no perfect recreation of sight and sound in the home theater will recreate that aura.

16 December 2007

A Not-So-Brief Summary of My Recent Activities

I've been out and about the country these past few weeks. Rather than flesh out a complete post for each place I went, I'd like to highlight the important images and feelings in a single entry.

My first trip was to see my family for Thanksgiving. My family now lives in Burke, VA and it is quite trippy to see endless signs for shopping outlets and roads with your surname on them. Hopefully when I go back for Christmas, we can select a good sign with which to take a family picture. Anyway, it's a bizarre experience for me to visit them because for the past three years, every time I see them they are in a new house! Alabama to Greece to Virginia... same people, same stuff, new location and new arrangement. I play a little game with myself to find the locations of my favorite furniture & pictures in each new residence.

Anyway, it was great seeing them all, including my aunt and uncle and their kids who came to visit as well. Thanksgiving dinner was delicious as always! As an added bonus, I was treated to homemade Mom donuts a month early!

My favorite moment was making a mountain of leaves in the back yard and having fun taking turns diving into it. Check out the Picasa album and YouTube video:

2007.11.25 Mt Burke

Moving along to the following week, I and a few of my friends took a trip out to Colorado to see our friend Lisa and to go snowboarding at the Keystone ski resort. Before we got to snowboarding, Lisa showed us this amazing brewery in her town of Ft. Collins, called the New Belgium Brewery. You may have tried or heard of Fat Tire beer... that's this brewery. I had recently discovered that Belgian beers were the first beers that I've actually enjoyed and was thrilled to visit a brewery dedicated to that style. We did a round of taste testing a couple of their brews - they were all delicious! After that we got a free tour of the brewery by a very pleasant employee. Below are pictures and a video of me going down the slide at the brewery:

2007.11.29 New Belgium Brewery

Next up, snowboarding! This was only my second time snowboarding, so I had a lot of learning to do. It took me a long time to even get vertical and going down the mountain. Once I did, my entire first run down the mountain was me falling, flailing, and failing. The second run was much better. I was able to stay on my feet for segments, fall down, get up and do it again. It only took me an hour to get down the second time. The third and fourth times could more appropriately be called "snowboarding" and not "rolling". I can't help but mention my inspiration for skiing and snowboarding comes from the movie Better Off Dead: "Go that way, really fast. If anything gets in your way, turn." That kind of describes the way I was snowboarding that weekend.

Snowboarding is quite a rush. It's the closest I've ever felt to actually flying. I was really banged up after my first run and that severely influenced how much total snowboarding I could do that weekend. I am determined to keep going when I can and get better at it. I find it superior to skiing in that mobility and agility is better on a board than on skis. The toughest thing for me to get over was aligning my body sideways to go forward. It's a stark contrast to walking and every other typical orientation for forward momentum.

I don't have any pictures of me snowboarding (like hell I'm taking my camera or phone with me to fall down a mountain), but here a couple shots of the terrain:

2007.12 Colorado Snowboarding Trip

Let's see... after Colorado I was back in Atlanta for mostly a normal work week... then right out the door again, this time off to San Francisco on business. I flew out with a couple co-workers to get some training on Digital Rights Management (DRM), InstallShield's InstallScript, and how to package games for digital release. Interesting stuff, I feel like it is important to know these kinds of things as the industry makes moves towards significant sales coming from digital releases.

I liked the city of San Francisco. Definitely better than Los Angeles and New York City in my mind, however not quite as good as Seattle. (The relevance of those cities being different cities GameTap has sent me to on business.) Not too terribly much to report from a week in San Fran... good food and seeing my buddy Will were the highlights for me. I did find a totally sweet museum of arcade machines, but that is for another post!

I recommend the Edinburgh Castle Pub and Colibri, both found on Geary Street. Edinburgh was a dive bar in a sketchy part of town, but hosted a fun night of team trivia where people from Google and Berkeley are rumored to participate frequently. Colibri was an excellent upscale Mexican bistro. Yummy margaritas, fresh guacamole, and lamb shank!

I discovered the works of Alphonse Mucha via local art galleries near the hotel... and I'm in love. Highly recommend checking out his work; I know I will be adding some prints of his stuff to my house. I have trouble putting into words what I love about his work. I simply don't possess the art vocabulary to comment on the way he used colors and shapes, but I do know I love the borders he created and the vertical canvas he often used.

Alright, that should catch me up on where I've been and what I've been doing! Right now I'm chilling out in Greenville, SC with Josh and Casey for a few days. I absolutely love spending time with them here. It's so peaceful and we get along so well. I truly miss living with them. And I feel sad because once they're married in May, I don't feel like the opportunity will ever arise again to co-habitate with them.

I'm on a plane again as soon as Thursday... back to Virginia again to see the family for Christmas! =) I sense rocking in our future...

The Rock Band Post

Rock Band is the best money I've spent on video gaming. Ever.

That's a bold statement. It may be too soon since its release to make such a statement, but right now I can't get enough Rock Band. If this industry had any legitimate award societies, I would nominate Harmonix for Developer of the Year, Rock Band for Game of the Year. (Too bad the best we have is the Spike VGA program... complete with category "Most Addictive Game Fueled by Mountain Dew.")

Simply put, the amount of content to play is staggering. Four band roles, 45+ songs with more each week, a huge multiplayer campaign, dueling, and insane character creation. Compared to competitor Guitar Hero 3, which I find highly ironic is Harmonix's previous game series, this game shines in ways Guitar Hero will never know. That is entirely because Harmonix has a different vision for music games that is unique to them and no other developer. They make games to celebrate music and the essence of human-music interaction.

Let me start with the basic gameplay. The game comes with 45 tracks + a few bonus songs. I've already purchased a few tracks and I'm to about 55 total songs. You know I love math so here we go:

55 songs X 4 tracks per song X 4 difficulties per song = 880 unique tracks

Compared to Guitar Hero 3's total content (70 songs X 4 difficulties X 2 tracks = 560 unique) you can see already that Rock Band has 36% more tracks to play than its competitor. However, Rock Band isn't about how many songs there are to play, it's about presentation and simulation, or rather the "how" and "why" you're rocking out.

To get an idea of what Harmonix delivers with Rock Band, it helps to make comparisons to the Guitar Hero series. Guitar Hero 1 introduced me to the joy of simulating rockage. It was about solid rock tunes that are fun to jam. The learning of this game's rules and how best to hold and play the controller were exciting and stimulating. Hearing music in a different way, picking up on guitar notes and understanding rhythm and song architecture made Guitar Hero an educational experience pioneering further interest in music.

Guitar Hero 2 was a slight departure from the previous title. I already knew how to play the game; I jumped straight to Expert and played through all the game's songs in 24 hours. It was great to have new songs to play and master, but the overall feeling of the game was slanted towards earning 5-stars on much harder songs. It didn't have quite the same educational and exploratory experience as the first game. I can't say for sure, but it felt like the game lost a little bit of its soul under the publishing eyes of Activision.

Now comes Guitar Hero 3, crafted by established developer Neversoft, of Tony Hawk's Pro Skater fame. Harmonix had left Activision and Red Octane to work with MTV and EA on Rock Band. I dreaded what Neversoft would do with the series. Would they simply clone Guitar Hero 2 and add new tracks? Or would they insert their own takes on the music game genre? The answer was a combination of both. Guitar Hero 3 maintained the sense of style Harmonix left behind, but the gameplay was an even greater shift towards relentless solos and tricky guitar work.

This is the divergence of the two games I'm talking about. Guitar Hero 3 focuses on melting faces with amazing guitar skills, while Rock Band returns to the roots of what made Guitar Hero 1 so phenomenal. I've still got ties to the Guitar Hero series (nailing Slayer's Raining Blood on Expert for the first time is an intense feeling), but I am positively ecstatic that Harmonix renewed their vision for the music game genre with Rock Band. An experience of learning, having fun, and accessibility.

The two main reasons why I see a return to the original Guitar Hero experience: the drums and World Tour mode. Sitting down with the drums for the first time was exactly like picking up the SG controller with Guitar Hero 1. The sense of new and stimulating ways to play a game, figuring out how best to sit, how to hold drumsticks, how NOT to hit the 360 button... such a mind-expanding time. The vocals don't have the same effect; I've been singing in cars and showers for years =)

World Tour mode is the other masterpiece. Getting together with your friends, making rock personas, coming up with a band name and icon... what a great time to be alive. Moving from city to city and seeing these actual venues with your band's name on the sign, hearing the crowds sing along to the songs, timing Overdrive use to max out that score multiplier... I really salute you, Harmonix.

As you saw earlier, I hosted a launch party at my house for the game and invited about 15 people to come celebrate the game with me. The party was fantastic! Everyone was psyched to play the game they've been waiting for since it was announced. We jumped right into World Tour mode with the band name "omg play" as we were so impatient to get started. Having everyone sing along to the songs they love was an experience I witnessed first at PAX 2007. Seeing it then I knew I wanted the same thing for my launch party.

It's 3:20am and I'm just jumping around sub-topics here. Let's talk about character creation. It's the most insane combination of clothing, hair styles, and customization that I've ever seen in a video game. Players can select from either gender, four schools of style, several faces, so many hairdos, a fantastic amount of clothing from the four styles, and a small version of Photoshop with which to ink the skin! Math time.

Total character possibilities? First, let's exclude the gargantuan numbers introduced by the near-freestyle tattoo shop. Also these numbers are from best memory, just to get an idea.

2 genders X 4 rock styles X 6 faces X 20 hairstyles X (4 shops X 20 colors ^ (20 tops X 12 bottoms X 8 shoes)) = approximately 9.11 x 10^2500

Holy shit.

Throw on top of that rings, gloves, accessories, make up, and THEN a mini-Photoshop for tattoo creation that goes on both arms, chest, and the face? The numbers are STAGGERING. Oh wait, I forgot about all the instruments! There are plenty of models of real world guitars, bass guitars, drums, and mics to select as well. Those odds suggest that you will never, ever see the same Rock Band character twice.

Add to that the fact that not all of these options are available from the get go. There is an element of RPG character building at work. The clothing costs money, earned from playing gigs. Some of the nicer items cost thousands of dollars, while a single gig might only net you $20. See where this is going? It looks like Harmonix took a few notes before designing this game.

What else can I say about Rock Band? Tons. But I need sleep and more Rock Band. I'm looking forward to the complete albums coming soon, from such artists as The Who and Nirvana. I've also heard that Metallica will be premiering a new song exclusively on Rock Band as downloadable content. Amazing stuff. I can't wait to watch the full effects this game will have on TWO industries. In the mean time, come over to my place and play in my band, Zeus' Testicles.

15 December 2007

Catching My Breath

No posts in over a week! What a terrible blogger I am.

Truth be told this is the first relaxing day I've had in some time. In the last three weeks, I've been on six flights and bounced around the country between D.C., Denver, San Francisco, Atlanta, and Greenville! I'm taking it easy for a few days visiting Josh and Casey, but come Thursday I have another flight to see my family in D.C. for Christmas!

I've been rolling around some blog posts in my head that I'm committed to getting online tonight. I simply must talk about Rock Band, Philip Pullman's His Dark Materials series, my trips to San Francisco and Colorado, a neat game mechanic I'm fleshing out, and a follow up to the post about theaters vs home theater.

Hmmm, that's pretty ambitious. Whatever I don't get to tonight will certainly be finished up tomorrow.

Also, check out the side panel for links to my favorite blogs!

04 December 2007

Theaters = No

I don't go to movie theaters much anymore. Can you blame me?

- Ten bucks for a single viewing, more if you purchase in advance via the web to skip the lines
- 400% mark up on all food and drink
- Commercials before the trailers
- Not guaranteed an optimal seat
- Put up with noise from other movie-goers
- No control over movie settings (volume, language track, pausing, etc)
- No control over room atmosphere

With the prices of home theater technology these days, you can easily have a 40" LCD @ 720p with 5.1 surround for $1000. For that price you get to watch movies your way and in the comfort of your own home.

Let's do some math!

That $1000 setup is multi-purpose. It serves as your setup for movies, TV, and gaming. That's three different functions, so let's assign a value of $333 to the cost of your movie watching. We need some movies to watch, too, so let's tack on $15 a month for Netflix's Two-At-A-Time plan. You can easily see 8 movies a month on this plan. Food and drink? Let's assume bag of popcorn, candy snack, and soda per movie. Getting this at the store runs you $2 at most per movie.

Alright, let's calculate our movie watching costs for a year.

$333 + 12 x $15 + 12 x 8 x $2 = $705

How does this compare to theater costs?

Let's assume the same eight movies per month, popcorn and soda per movie for $3.50 + $2.50, and one gallon of gas for travel @ $3.00. Total?

8 x 12 x ( $10 + $3.50 + $2.50 + $3 ) = $1824

Wow. That's a lot of cash going to the theaters. You can spend less on a home theater AND have the better experience. How about a few more comparisons to make you feel worse about your spending habits? Coming right up!

Add in the full cost of your home theater setup = $1372, still less than $1824 in the theaters
Half as many trips to the theater = $912, still more than your home theater

Two years of home theater use (@ full setup cost) = $1744
Two years of theater trips = $3648

Basically, you could spend $1000 on new home theater equipment every other year and STILL save money compared to going to the theater. And believe me, I plan on it.

John McClane vs Optimus Prime

While visiting my family for Thanksgiving, I had some time to catch up on two summer blockbusters I had skipped this year. Live Free or Die Hard and Transformers were pegged as the two biggest action movies of the summer. (Why did I miss them in theaters? Read why I don't pay for theaters anymore...)

Before either movie had come out, I was busy rolling my eyes at the trailers for each. A *fourth* Die Hard film? Helmed by Len Wiseman, director of the Underworld movies? I like the first Underworld movie... but to make the leap to the cherished Die Hard series was a bit much. Wait, the bad guys are hackers? And Justin Long plays his sidekick?? C'MON! These factors didn't add up to a Die Hard film in my head.

As for Transformers, I don't know why Hollywood keeps resurrecting IP from the 70s and 80s. It was a children's cartoon! Children's cartoon != summer blockbuster! Whoa whoa whoa, Michael Bay is directing? That's it, I'm out. I loved Bad Boys and The Rock, but every movie since has been over-the-top in a bad way. For some reason, people eat that shit up every summer, so who am I to argue against his movies? I can choose not to see them.

Imagine my surprise when these movies came out and received positive reception? I was shocked, but skeptical based on the people who were reporting they liked them. They were saying Live Free or Die Hard was a good ol' American ass-kicking action movie. It filled a hole that has been lacking in the last few years of film releases. I can respect that, but it's not enough to get me to the theater and spend ten bucks.

Five months went by of weekly "OMG you haven't seen Transformers yet?!" comments. They were poised to come out on DVD and I put them up on my Netflix queue. However, getting into November, I knew I would be out of the house a lot for a couple months, and decided to put my Netflix subscription on hiatus until January. Lucky for me, my family had a copy of both movies on DVD while I was visiting for Thanksgiving! I watched both movies back-to-back and here is what I thought-

Live Free or Die Hard = yippie-kai-yay, mother-fucker!
Transformers = one of the worst movies I've ever seen

Die Hard was just plain good. I understood about 30 minutes in what people meant by "good ol' American ass-kicking". It's just fun to watch Bruce Willis shoot some bad guys and blow shit up. Justin Long wasn't annoying at all and the hacking elements had physical manifestations that challenged the protagonists. I was concerned that if the bad guys were hackers, how would they be stopping John McClane?? He is ready and willing to bend you over and "drive this truck up your ass". How colorful. I was pleased with the writers' methods of translating hacking to physical conflicts. It's complete bullshit, but who cares, right? =)

Transformers was god awful. Too many actors, too many characters, not enough plot for 2.5 hours, dialogue and entire scenes that did nothing for plot or character progression, and can anyone tell me why they didn't shove the All Spark cube into Megatron's chest at the first opportunity? The Autobots certainly didn't give a damn that it was gone and it sure took out their worst enemy in five seconds. What's going on there?
You know what else? The CG sucked. I said it. Sucked. Impossible to track which robot is which; they all looked the same! The robots didn't look real at all, however the composition of CG with live footage was fantastic. Big difference.

The only reason to watch Transformers is right here:

29 November 2007

road trip to keystone

we are on our way from ft collins to the keystone resort!

21 November 2007

Rock Band Launch Party (short post)

Quick post for Rock Band party linkage.

Pics at picasa
2007.11.20 Rock Band Launch Party

Videos on youtube

Full post coming later!

10 November 2007

Team Fortress 2 Cosplay At GameTap

Has everyone seen the photos of game development studios dressing up as Team Fortress 2 characters? There are some really outstanding costumes among them...

LucasArts , Blizzard , Volition

So, we at GameTap decided we didn't want to be left out and put together this truly spontaneous cosplay effort-

2007.11 Misc

My favorite parts are Gerald with his hand over his eye as the Demo, me with the lighter as the Pyro, and Jason in the back as the Sniper.

09 November 2007

mobile blogging from my new phone

I got my new phone this week- the HTC 8925 or ATT Tilt. It is a very bad ass Pocket PC running windows mobile 6, with features like 3G network access, GPS w/ navigation, bluetooth,slide out keyboard, touchscreen, and 3MP camera. Oh yeah its got a phone too. I am quite pleased with it as it dwarfs my previous device like nuclear power to fire.

lessee if i can take a picture and add it to this post

hmmmm it works but it puts the code at the top of my post and i cant figure out how to relocate a body of text yet... so i moved the pic afterwards on my pc.

ooooo the other neat thing i have now is Agile Messenger which lets me use AIM and gtalk on the go! this phone can do so much, its crazy. i'll write more on its features later!

05 November 2007

Girl in the Rear View Mirror

Locked in mortal coil
Cycling heat between our bodies, endlessly
Once we leave this place
Our time together is through
No one moves

A long embrace, a passionate kiss
And I start to drive away
The crimson glow of my brakes
Illuminates her face
I see her one last time
The girl in the rear view mirror

01 November 2007

My Forearm is on Fire

I just finished Metallica's "One" on expert for the first time and I can actually feel heat emanating from my forearm. Seems all ya gotta do is star power that one insane fast solo section and the rest of the song is cake.

Last song to beat before playing the devil is Slayer's "Raining Blood"!


Happy Halloween! A couple of us went to The Earl for food and drinks. James dressed as Space Ghost, KT as Lara Croft, and I ... put some random things on. Jason and Tony decided they wanted to be boring =)

JD > Free Candy
2007.10.31 Halloween

27 October 2007

This Week's Smash In Review

Inspired by the recent slew of Smash Brawl news, I've had a sudden resurgence of Smash Melee play. I wish Melee had some kind of replay feature; I've been dominating Jason and Justin all week. The three of us (well, two and a ginger snap) have been playing every day this week and rounded out tonight's evening with a solid two hour session of beat downs.

Nothing but strict 1v1, no/low items, tournament stages, of course.

I started to get some practice in across the board, but after a couple hours I decided I wanted to focus on Mewtwo and Bowser. Oh yes, I've finally decided that Bowser is playable. Mewtwo is money in 1v1 and always has been, but Bowser takes a lot of focus and practice to win matches.
Some of my highlights from this week...
- 2 kills with Bowser's flame breath
- a 6-hit combo in a Peach vs DK match
- a Meteor Smash kill in a Mewtwo vs Luigi
- a perfect game using Jiggly's "wall of pain" against Jason
- Donkey Punching a green shell all the way across the stage and connecting
- Using Mewtwo's stun followed by a baseball bat =)

I'm thrilled with all the new characters announced for Smash Brawl so far, however I'm at a loss why there are now three characters from the Kirby universe. I'm all for a large hammer wielding character type, but King Dedede? Really?

21 October 2007

Orange Box Rap

Pick up your crowbar and come with me
On a journey to White Forest from City 17
Runnin' with Alyx, tell me the way to go
What's that figure movin' through the shadow
I hope nothin' happens cuz she knows best
Oh shit she just got stabbed through the chest

In the Box
wik-wik-wik wik wik wikwik
Orange Box
wik-wik-wik wik wik wikwik
The Box rocks
wik-wik-wik wik wik wikwik

Vortigaunts will help bring her back to life
Find some glowy bug goo in this time of strife
Fight off the antlions with Jayne Cobb
G-Man thinks I'm the man for the job
Time to show these Hunters who's the man
Don't mess with rocket science, I'm Gordon Freeman

In the Box
wik-wik-wik wik wik wikwik
Orange Box
wik-wik-wik wik wik wikwik
The Box rocks
wik-wik-wik wik wik wikwik

Pyros in your face
Spies in your base
Medic's got your back
Soldiers on the attack
Heavy's sprayin lead
Sniper bullet in your head
Team. Fortress. Twoooooo
Team. Fortress. Twoooooo

In the Box
wik-wik-wik wik wik wikwik
Orange Box
wik-wik-wik wik wik wikwik
The Box rocks
wik-wik-wik wik wik wikwik

The Cake is a lie
Android hell's a real place
Now gimme that portal gun
And watch me fold space

In the Box

15 October 2007

Moved to Google's Blogger service

I've moved the site over to Google's Blogger service. As I kept adding to my site's code more and more, I realized I was just adding features that bring it closer to one of these full-fledged blogging services. Not much point spending my time developing what already exists. The nice thing about the switch is that comments are now enabled and you can add comments using your Google account. Say hi!

25 September 2007

Ode To Excel

You Are
Near My Heart
Saving Life From Time Lost
Pivot Tables Turn Data Into Paychecks For Me

23 September 2007

Exploration of the Digital Image

A couple of days ago I was thinking about photos and their properties when existing in the digital domain. A frame of life is captured and stored as a series of pixels, each pixel a set of numbers defining color. A random number generator could provide data to create a series of pixels and would result in an image. That got me thinking... if I were to have a file for each set of possible pixels, wouldn't I have the set of all images? Yes!

This excited me greatly.

So, how do we define the set of all images? First, we must decide on a resolution, or, the number of pixels in width and height. Then, we must define how specific to get when defining the set of colors. That's it. Our formula for the set of all images becomes:

(number of possible colors a pixel can be) ^ (width * height of the image)

Simple formula, huh? Let's start defining a sample resolution and color depth. What is a common image size found on computers? How about the icon? Icons are 10 pixels wide, 10 pixels high, and can have 256 colors. So how many possible icons could we ever see?

(256) ^ (10*10) = 6.67 * 10 ^ 240



Holy mackeral! It would take an astronomical amount of time and disk space to generate the set of all icons. On the bright side, we won't be running out of unique program icons for awhile...

Let's make a huge jump to photographs. A common format for photos stored and viewed on the web is 800x600, 24-bit color. 24-bit color refers to the number of bits needed to represent possible colors. A pixel has three primary colors: red, blue, and green. Each color has a range of values from 0 to 255. Each color range can be represented by a hexadecimal digit. For example, a pure red pixel has values of R=255, B=0, G=0, which in hex is R=FF, B=00, G=00. Each of those hex digits is four bits in size (2^4 in binary), so one pixel uses 24 bits (four bits per digit, two digits per color, three colors per pixel) to store it's color value. This provides for 16,777,216 (16^6) possible colors; a decent range for representing real life images. Good grief, what does this look like in our formula?

(16^6) ^ (800*600) = (My calculator commits suicide)

Yep, should have seen that one coming. What if we mix and match the icon properties and the photo properties?

Icon size with photo color range:
(16^6) ^ (10*10) = 2.96 * 10 ^ 722

Photo size with icon color range:
(256) ^ (800*600) = (Calculator chokes on itself again)

Raising the color depth of an icon to photo quality keeps us in the land of reality, but even with a drastically reduced color depth, we still aren't anywhere near fathoming the set of all photos at 800x600. Let's continue reducing the size and color depth until we can at least computet a number my computer will understand. How about 200x150 (a quarter of the resolution) at 16-color greyscale?
(16) ^ (200*150) = 3.98 * 10 ^ 36123

Hooray! Finally, a number my computer can display without imploding.

Moving along, let's think about why the numbers are so massive. There are so many fricken images in the set of all images that are very nearly the same image. Can you really tell the difference between these two images?

All I did was modify the value of a single pixel!

How many images look nearly exactly like this one with variation in a single pixel? Well, there are sixteen million values for a pixel and 480,000 different pixels that could be different by a single value. What does this mean for the set of all images? Just looking at one example, there are (16^6)*(800*600), or 8 trillion images that basically look exactly the same. If from the set of all images, we threw out 8 trillion entries for every good entry we wanted to keep, we reduce the number of images we care about. However, dividing an incalculably large number by a "measly" 8.00 * 10 ^ 12 is relatively insignificant. After all, in a much smaller set of 200x150, 16-color images, the magnitude of the total set is still in the range of 10 ^ 36123.

Why stop at discarding images with a single pixel difference? If ten pixels were different, would I still consider this an interesting image? Of course! Determining how many relatively similar images we could throw out of our random image generator is one path of a possible research project. In terms of "duplicate" images, what else can we throw out? Is there another factor for deciding whether a set of images are similar enough that we can keep one and discard the rest? Are there other factors for determining garbage images that we don't care about? It was here that I arrived at a very interesting question. What determines whether a set of 480,000 pixels is "worthwhile"?

This is where the fun starts. I can imagine this being a great research project. Creating a set of algorithms that define an image as either "interesting" or garbage pixels. Once enough algorithms are in place, how long would it take a random image generator to produce an interesting image? How long to produce two? This stuff fascinates me and is what computer science is all about: translating real life into mathematics executed on a computer.

16 September 2007

BioShock Review

I finished playing Bioshock today. It took me about 12 hours, spread over three sessions. Irrational Games has created a terrific and terrifying experience that raises the bar for games in many areas, yet falls short in a few areas that prevent it from earning the fabled Perfect 10.

*spoiler alert*

Very solid FPS gameplay here. Perfect FPS controls on a console controller. I prefer my FPS titles with keyboard & mouse, however, the PC demo only ran at 20fps on my laptop. Gunfire and weapon switching are done on the right trigger and shoulder, plasmids (spells) and plasmid selection done on the left trigger and shoulder; simple, elegant, and functional. The brief pause that occurs when weapon switching served a welcome reprieve from frantic combat. Acquisition of new weapons and plasmids is done at a steady pace, I think I had all of them two-thirds through the game. The combat is great. The nature of the game encourages players to attack an enemy not with their strongest weapon, but their smartest weapon. This is what excited me most about the game leading up to it's release. Weapons have three different kinds of ammunition, plasmids can be used in combinations to achieve clever results, enemies have strengths and weaknesses to certain elements, and the environment itself can be turned to your favor. All of these factors are present in every fight in the game. There's no way two people play through Bioshock the same. I actually wonder how much of the game could be completed without firing your guns.

Bioshock doesn't just raise the aesthetic bar. It pulls it out of the ground and beats down competitors ala the Burly Brawl in The Matrix Reloaded. The city's architecture, set pieces, voice acting, environmental audio, visual effects, et cetera are all superb! Developers must look to this game for how a big budget video game stimulates the senses. These are all things I can't convey too well with words, they must be experienced. I highly recommend playing this game in a low-light environment with surround sound. More than once did I actually yell out loud.

As a whole, the game's story was good, but this is one of the first elements the game falls short on. The way the story is told is excellent. Playback of recorded audio, radio messages, flashbacks; all of these were top notch. However, the story itself was only good for two-thirds of the game. The "ha-HA, **I** am the true bad guy" mechanic did not belong here. I condemn Irrational's efforts to have me hunt down Andrew Ryan, only to have me wish he was still alive after I killed him. He was a superior villain compared to Fontaine. In the end, I don't even understand why he insisted on dying at my hands. It was a good twist, but unsatisfying to kill a "mastermind villain" via cutscene and unnecessary to throw in an overly typical "video game boss" in a game that was clearly above such commonplace standards. I was really hoping for a meaningful ending that perhaps played on the game's sophisticated narrative. Instead, I got a generic three-staged, fire boss, ice boss, lightning boss, congrats-you-win conclusion. This really hurts the game for me because Bioshock was setup to break current video game conventions.

A couple other notes-
- Despite solid architecture, the level design in terms of games was lacking. The game was entirely too linear with not enough path diversion. I was under the impression the city was falling apart, so where were my "Oh shit, this building is collapsing, get out before you drown" events?
- Not enough first person cutscene events. For example, when you get the first plasmid, fall off the balcony, and see the Little Sister evaluate you for the first time, or the cutscene where you kill Andrew Ryan. Each of these cutscenes were excellent, I would have liked to see more.
- TOO. MUCH. SEARCHING. Good god, there are 1000 objects to search for loot in this game and only half even have any.
- I'm torn on hacking. I enjoy mini-puzzles, but there are so many hackable objects that I felt an hour of my game time was spent hacking.
- Speaking of puzzles, where are my damn puzzles? I would gladly have given up the crafting and photography elements for some environmental puzzles.
- I can't stress how awesome the Little Sister character design is. The way she moves, how she speaks ("C'mon Mr. B! Angels don't wait for slowpokes!"), and how you interact with them throughout the game will be memorable for the rest of gaming.

Given the length of the game, all of my minor gripes can be forgiven. The only real reason this isn't a 10 for me is how it falls flat and sells itself short in the final chapter of the game. Had the game ended after the encounter with Andrew Ryan, I probably would have given Bioshock a 10.

Some possible alternate endings I would have preferred include eventually gaining all of Andrew Ryan's memories by using more and more ADAM, essentially resurrecting him in his son as his master plan; becoming a Big Daddy permanently (they said over and over again that the process was a one-way trip) and being enslaved to the torment of Rapture; and learning that Andrew Ryan IS Atlus and was using you to eliminate the Splicers so he could reset the population of Rapture with nothing but his own offspring.

Share your thoughts on BioShock in the comments!

29 August 2007

PAX Day 2

I'm combining my posts for the rest of PAX, mostly because I've already lost track of which things I did on Saturday and which were on Sunday. Saturday of PAX weekend was most enjoyable. Saturday night was fantastic, but I'll get to that. I could only manage to sleep in until 8am, but with the time difference it felt more like 11am. I didn't have to work the booth until 2pm, so I had plenty of time to walk around town and see stuff at the convention center. I decided to walk a couple blocks around my hotel to see the city in the crisp, cool morning air. I took a lot of pictures this morning, you can see them here. The first thing I noticed were these crazy pig statues everywhere...

My assumption regarding the swine en masse was some kind of city culture fundraiser. Turns out I was mostly correct.

So blah blah blah, great downtown area, on to PAX day 2.

I spent most of my time before booth-time thoroughly investigating the exhibitor hall. I roamed from booth to booth, watching gamers try out sacred previews of this fall's red hot line up. The lines to play the games wasn't bad at all. Everything except Rock Band only had a line of 3-5 people. Despite that, and this is going to sound odd, over the course of a three day gaming convention, I played games for about fifteen solid minutes. I was more than content to watch others demo the games for me, then travel to the next exhibit. Except Rock Band =)

Rock Band was worth the wait. People, this game is going to pwn my soul. Let's just get it out of the way; there will be a mega launch party for Rock Band at my house, Tuesday, November 20th. BE THERE. (edit: cancelled!)

I really dig the new guitar controller. It took about 30 seconds of playing to get used to the new style of the fret buttons. They are now flat along the fret board, so you press into the neck instead of pressing protruding fret buttons with the Guitar Hero axe. Not sure how this will affect face melting solos, but I enjoyed it for the song I played. The width of the guitar is about half of the GH controller, but has the same weight. The design of it is leaps and bounds ahead of GH. This looks more like a Fender turned game controller than the other way around.

I am very pleased with it. Didn't get a chance to wail on the drums... bummer. Everyone I saw playing them looked like they were havin' a blast. Not a doubt in mind they rock as hard as the guitar. I captured a short video of the Mega64 comedy troupe playing on the Harmonix "stage", check it out-

Hmmm, what else did I do or see:

- Saw StarCraft the board game in action. No, thanks. Looks way more complicated than the PC game.

- Met Wil Wheaton! He seemed like a really nice guy. I got a good picture with him, he signed my PAX badge, and he was pleased to learn that GameTap now has Mac support! I thanked him for the stories he writes on WWdN.

- Castle Crashers looks bad ass. I wasn't sure about it for a long time, but seeing four people have a go convinced me of the fun times to be had.

- Walked into the Assassin's Creed live demo. Didn't see Jade Raymond. Walked out.

- Annoyed the hell out of Robert Khoo (Penny Arcade manager) by asking him to give Jerry and Mike the GameTap swag. :)

- Drank a Bawls. It tastes like Sprite.

- Talked about GameTap with one guy for 30 minutes. I'll be damned if he isn't a customer by now.

- Lamented the lack of playable StarCraft 2. Blizz, now that I'm a blogging industry figure, I'll be expecting my SC2 beta key.

- Ran into Flynn De Marco several times and discussed the good stuff we had seen at the con so far.

- Saw an AMAZING Peach player (Smash Bros) at the GameTrailers booth. She dominated the three guys playing against her in a way that made my jaw drop.

Ok, so Saturday night. During the show on Saturday, I was in the White Wolf/CCP Games booth and noticed a sign "Now hiring: Programmer, QA Lead, Senior Artist". ORLY? I inquired about the posting and they told me the QA Lead position was in Atlanta! The guy also told me that anyone who applied that day would get an invite to a private party that night. Heck yeah! The application form felt like a canned, fast food application. High school? Vocational school? WTF? I'm a Georgia Tech grad workin' at Turner Broadcasting, that's all you need to know. I jotted a few things down and told them I would e-mail them a real resume when I returned to Atlanta (still haven't done that yet...).

I went to the bar on the invitation a little early, just to make sure I could find the place. The dude at the door gave me two vouchers for free drinks on White Wolf. Sweet, free booze! I straight to the bar and ordered a drink. Scoping out the bar, I counted about fifteen people from White Wolf/CCP and maybe ten or so applicants. Then I saw the three cute girls at a table in the corner. Hmm. Schmooze with devs or talk to cute girls... I totally sat down at their table. An hour and two drinks later, I haven't really spoken to any of the devs yet, but I was having a great time talkin' to three Seattle nurses. I told them about the convention in town, that I was working my company's booth, asked about the pigs, etc. Who happens to join us at the table but the freakin' Penny Arcade webmaster! What a world. And some private party =P. He clearly scoped me talking to three wiminz and tried to get in on that. Though try as we might to keep the girls in the conversation, we just couldn't help ourselves. Within five minutes we were discussing server backends and Penny Arcade's bandwidth trends. The nurses didn't tune us out or leave, but they did start up their own conversation at the table. I know, we suck.

Another hour goes by, the PA guy goes to talk to other folks. I ask the nurses if they are doing anything else that evening, nope, so I headed out. The convention center was on the way back to the hotel, so I stopped in to see if anything was going on (~11pm). It was like no one had left yet. Everyone was still there, playing games, hanging out, it was crazy. I remembered there was a concert going on the top floor that night, so I checked that out. And that was my introduction to nerdcore rap. Holy crap, it was strange. About 1000 people were listening to this guy in a bright orange shirt and bright blue tie, square glasses, shaved head, sing some absolutely silly stuff. His name was MC Frontalot. Whoaaaaaa. I stayed for about two songs, wide-eyed and mouth open. Here is a self pic I took on my phone as I walked out:

I'm'a go ahead and say nerdcore is not for me.

OK, I suppose those were the highlights... not much else to report from Sunday. Delta delayed our red eye flight from 1045pm to 1245am. Not cool. I got home around 9am, took a breather and a hot shower, and went to work. Ten bucks says no other co-workers on that flight were at work on Monday!

28 August 2007

PAX Day 1

OK, I failed at blogging while on a B&P trip (business & pleasure?)... can you blame me? I didn't feel like lugging my laptop around the con to make use of the free WiFi, nor did I feel like overpaying for service at the hotel. I tried Starbucks the morning after - Verizon customers only. Library down the street - not open yet. My efforts to blog were thwarted. This weekend was the first time I truly desired an iPhone. Think about it. I could have used it to get directions in an unfamiliar city, find nearby restaurants, call a cab, check my e-mail wherever, and even live blog from PAX! If the mobility of my job ever picks up, I will seriously consider buying one.

Anyway, on to PAX - day 1.

After a five hour flight to Seattle, which passed quickly thanks to the narrative prowess of Philip Pullman and the His Dark Materials series, I arrived at the Washington State Convention & Trade Center with a co-worker from GameTap. What's the first thing I see as I enter the building? A dude dressed in the best Princess Peach costume ever. Needless to say, I was concerned about the flavor of the weekend to come. It was amazing to see this guy walk down the hall and receive nothing more than a friendly smile nine times out of ten. The tenth guy lol'd.

We stopped by the GameTap booth to check in with the rest of the gang, although I didn't have to start manning the booth for an hour. The exhibition hall was a good size. Not large enough to get lost or take significant time to traverse, yet accomodating 30,000 attendees so that we weren't shoulder-to-shoulder. It's also important to comment on the atmosphere of the hall. This was not the main hall of E3, trumpets blaring and sirens beckoning witless young men to lavish booths of electric sex and video game glamour. As I entered the hall, I had a strange realization: I could hear the people around me talking at regular volumes. I wasn't assaulted with neon lights or cleavage. The enviroment of this exhibition hall was oriented towards weaving gamers around the exhibitors and putting controllers in their hands. What a concept! Kudos to whatever force produced this experience, be it man or coincidence.

After a brief once-a-round of the hall, I snarfed a banana and an apple turnover and started my shift at the GameTap booth. Sadly, I'd say 80% of the attendees missiled by, snatching up our Tomb Raider Re/Visioned poster and dog tags swag, without so much as identifying us. This was to be expected given the volume of booths to see, swag to collect, and other events to attend at the convention. The rest kept us busy though, asking questions about GameTap, inquiring about Re/Visioned and our collectible dog tags, or taking a break to fire up their favorite game in our lounge. Check out some pics of our booth and PAX in general.

After the exhibition hall closed to attendees, some catering rolled in for a pleasant surprise - exhibitor party! Woot! Scored some free drinks and roast beef fresh off the bone. The GameTap crew met up at the hotel that evening and we went out to eat at an upscale surf & turf called "Brooklyn". It was crazy expensive @ $30/plate, but on Turner's dime I can't complain! Not much else to report on day one. Retired to the hotel and crashed in a hella compfy bed. Day two blog will come tomorrow!