18 September 2011

Deus Ex: Human Revolution

TL;DR: Highly recommend the PC version to old school PC gamers, fans of FPS looking for more plot/dialogue/RPG mechanics in their games, and anyone who likes a little ethical ambiguity or sci-fi in their games.

I spent most of my free time this past week playing through Deus Ex: Human Revolution on PC.  I wasn't terribly excited about it until very near it's release when it started to get several positive reviews.  Did Eidos Montreal truly resurrect the spirit of the original Deus Ex?

Beats me! I never played past the second mission of the original.  However, I did play the first level something like five times, so I have some concept of what the spiritual successor should look like.

I was impressed by most design decisions with the exception of the stealth gameplay.  I was quickly sold on the game's atmosphere, audio design, voice acting, plot, and gun play in the opening sequence.  They're all good... at least, what you'd expect from a brand new AAA title. Not going to elaborate.

I found the stealth gameplay to be sorely lacking.  Is this really where we're at in terms of stealth AI and game design? No, thankfully we have games like Metal Gear Solid to modernize this classic game archetype.  I just couldn't believe that the stealth culminates with static guard paths and security cameras.  Seriously? That's all you have to offer?  As soon as you get the optic camouflage augmentation, the game gets laughably easy.  If I were to play the game again, I would either do a total no-kill, no-detection play through or go crazy with the gun play action side of it.  I weep for the future of Thief 4.

Some dialogue scenes are more significant than others.  They are significant in that the game's missions change because of the conversation's outcome.  I thought the developer team did a great job with these scenes.  I always felt engaged and conscious of my dialogue tree options.  The situations were consistently more intense or intriguing.  I *wanted* to get the information or outcome that *I* was looking for and made sure to carefully consider the dialogue tree options to anticipate how it would turn out.  If you haven't played the game yet, I urge you to convince yourself not to reload a save game if a critical conversation doesn't play out the way you want it to.  It makes the game that much more interesting!

The voice acting deserves it's own nod.  Elias Toufexis either did his homework and/or received great direction from Eidos Montreal because he nails the homage to original protagonist JC Denton with his flat, gruff delivery and also reminded me somewhat of Keanu Reeves as Neo.  Stephen Shellen, the voice behind the game's driving plot mechanic, boss David Serif, portrays an excellently sleazy company CEO who you never know if you should be trusting or arresting.  I'd actually say all the voice actors outperformed the in-game models, which frequently failed to keep up with present emotions.

Thoughts on the story, spoilers ahead and possibly in the rest of this post.

After completing the game, I enjoyed the overall vision of presenting a world in moral and ethical grey territory.  I believe the developers intended to show a world full of those influenced by the augmentation technology and present two major opposing forces, those for and against the technology.  Through the characters you meet on your missions, the player starts to get a sense of where they stand in this world.  The critical flaw in this plan is that the character you play is totally bad ass and has no draw backs from the augmentations.  Only partially seeing those hurt by the technology and those who stand against it is insufficient grounds to convince the player that these enhancements aren't always beneficial.  Had the writers introduced limitations to the player or more thoroughly invoked the dark side of the technology, the game's conclusion would bear more weight and personal takeaway.

Little stuff:

- Disagree with the design of the energy bar. If you use your last bar, it will automatically refill the last one.  This makes it feel like the energy use is a crutch and the player can't complete the game with out the free bar of energy.  Also feels abusable to just stay on one energy bar most of the time and not bother with energy restoring items.  Would have rather it did not refill the last bar and make the player more conscious of energy use and energy restoring items.  I *DID* however like that partially used bars would refill when no longer using energy abilities.  This made the camouflage mechanic more interesting to me, because I always tried moving just so far that I wouldn't consume a whole energy bar and it would refill for free.

- Icarus landing system is awesome!  Great visual design and fun mechanic.

- Reunion with Megan Reed was odd.  Adam is concerned to find her the whole game, then you get a brief cutscene with her (which was good), and then you don't see her ever again.  Wtf?

- Great implementation of a grid-based inventory. I never had to bother with rearranging items on the grid just to get something else to fit.  They should open source the code that did this or do a community write up or SOMETHING and then we'll never have to worry about it again.  Huge progress here.

- Ending was too abrupt.  I like what they did at the end, but I felt robbed of catharsis.  There just should have been some kind of wrap up.

- Malik's death was too underplayed.  She was a main character and deserved more emotional impact in her death scene.  It was too... "oh no! but back to the mission!"

- Game needed more consequences for your actions.  It's partially a morality game, but there were no story/moral incentives to spare people and no penalties for blasting your way through.

- The only weapons vendor I ever found was in Detroit.  Were there others? No idea.

- Loved the idea that your ex-cop character had a former CI on the street.  Why wasn't this played up more?

I could say more on the game, but I'll end saying I had fun, couldn't put it down, and I'm sad that it's over.  Surely that's all the recommendation you need?

11 August 2011

Vaadin Inter-portlet Communication (IPC) for Liferay

I recently started working on a project in Java built on the Liferay enterprise portal and Vaadin UI framework.  There's not a TON of writing done on this combo, so I thought I'd write up anything remotely shmancy in case someone else can use it.

One of the tenets of computer science is Don't Repeat Yourself.  When writing portlets for Liferay, we want to keep portlets small and modularized to increase their reusability.  Unfortunately, when using multiple portlets on a Liferay page, they can't talk to each other without refreshing the page.  With the IPC add-on linked below, you can add message listeners and events to your portlets to update other portlets without refreshing.

Check out this Vaadin add-on written by Artur Signell.
Add-on is here: http://vaadin.com/directory#addon/vaadin-ipc-for-liferay
Source is here: https://github.com/R2R/LiferayIPC-for-Vaadin
Demo portlets are here: https://github.com/R2R/LiferayIPC-for-Vaadin-demo

Gist of an implementation I wrote is here: https://gist.github.com/1139809

28 July 2011

Games As Art

I recently figured out my position in the "Are games art?" debate.  For the longest time, my answer was a simple "yes," but never thought to elaborate as dozens of prominent people have voiced the same opinion.

First, my own synopsis of the state of arguments made for and against the issue.

The most common argument for games as art is The Transitive Comparison.  Recently, Lesly Brezilien at Agora Games wrote about her stance on the company dev blog.  It's a great example and well argued article using The Transitive Comparison.  Simply put, if this thing over here is considered art and these games over there look a lot like that art, then surely games qualify as art.  If similar emotional responses are elicited from both things, then games are art.  It's a worthwhile argument, but is typically countered with The Trash.

The Trash is a standard argument against games as art.  The Trash poses that games are in an infantile state and no game yet comes close to being a work of art.  Roger Ebert goes so far as to say this transformation will never occur.  The Trash refers to games about simplistic entertainment and not meant for deep emotional response, long-lasting value, or considered worthwhile.  Typically, games referenced in The Trash argument are mainstream, high profile, and violent.  In short, how could such an entity be considered art when it has no substantial value?

In my observation, the bulk of arguments around games as art revolve around these two positions.  I'm ready to propose an alternative take on the matter.

Games aren't art as modern society defines the term.  Games are actually an extension of the concept, which is what causes so much debate over the issue.  To me, the interactive video game is a paradigm shift of the relationship between creator, medium, and audience.

In classical art forms, the creator has a vision for a message, recreates that message through a medium, and then submits it to the world.  In many games, this is still the path of the creator.  However, we have just scratched the surface of a new relationship.  In this new form, a creator envisions a *medium,* and through that medium, the audience is left to find their own message.  In this sense, there is no single message communicated, but several are developed by different users.  The intentionally open interpretation is the key notion.

Sandbox games are an easy example, perhaps too easy.  So, let me explain via Half-Life 2.  My experience playing Half-Life 2 is unique.  It's not like any other person's perspective of the game.  Part of my persona fused with the character of Gordon Freeman and how he proceeded through the game.  How I engaged enemies, puzzles, and levels was up to me, despite being a linear gameplay experience.  Valve didn't just make a game with a start, middle, and end.  They created a medium for players to explore and create their own story.  It's the reason the game is so much fun to discuss with others.  Each player had a different experience and the discussion of those experiences is how gamers talk about art.  If the game had no substance, we would have just said it was good or bad and moved on, but there is a reason it's still talked about today.  The reason is that Valve created an artistic medium which merits experiencing, discussing, and remembering.

My point could be boiled down to the idea that something is art if it's open to subjective interpretation.  That's partially true, but my unique addition to the discussion is that games are evolving the classical definition of art.  That evolution is defined by the relationship between creator, medium, and audience.  Instead of defining a message to send to the audience, the creator delivers the medium itself, with which the audience finds it's own message.  Art for a new generation.

25 July 2011

Great News

I have accepted a position with Isidorey Cloud Solutions! I will be advancing their Java API and getting some experience under my belt in the cloud computing industry.  Can't say that I'm sorry to leave Dish... they just don't have their IT component in order.

Perks for me are 5 minute bike ride to work, start-up atmosphere, great learning environment, and freedom to pursue some of my own ideas!

Captain America

I went with Kyle, Katy, Michael. Josh, Lauren, and Dan to see Captain America today.  I wasn't super stoked about it, but when I learned the director (Joe Johnston) was part of the 1970s Spielberg/Lucas club, my interest level rose.

It was maddeningly average.  I had average expectations and they were fully met.  Nothing majorly disappointing, but nothing wow'ed me, either.  I think The Avengers film next near could be a ton of fun, and all of these Marvel origin stories have done a good job of making me excited for an ensemble cast and a huge plot arc inspired by the canon.

I think I liked the Chris Evans portrayal of Cap, but little else was interesting.  Tommy Lee Jones played a very Tommy Lee Jones character. Most of the supporting cast had little to work with.  I would have liked to see a better script for Howard Stark and Red Skull.  Hugo Weaving did not disappoint, but the motivation for his character was minimal.  It didn't amount to anything more than "he's bad, so... yeah".

Good job in the stunts of making Cap look superhuman, except whenever he jumped long distances.  The SFX industry still hasn't nailed that look.  Though, it's hard to criticize when there's no reference material!  How will we figure out what that is supposed to look like?

Oooh and minor spoiler, but I did like the plot point that he became a super soldier yet didn't immediately go fight bad guys.  Nice touch to the script.

21 June 2011

Game of Thrones

I finished season 1 of HBO's Game of Thrones tonight.  The finale was light on plot, heavy on emotion.  I think I would have intertwined last episode's close with the finale's close for one super season ending. 

Season one is an incredible production by HBO.  I love that they were able to make an entire season of high quality fantasy and make it appealing AFAIK to the general public.  I'm glad that season two is already on the way, but I'm not sure if I can wait before I start reading the books.  I'd love to know, in a spoiler-free response, how much the main plot points have diverged from the books, if at all.

Green Lantern

While on a business trip, I saw Green Lantern in 3D in order to hang out with colleagues for the evening.  You must know how much that pained me.

Evil 3D aside, I hadn't planned on seeing the movie since I know nothing of the Green Lantern and Ryan Reynolds has a habit of being a smarmasaur.  The movie was trite and featured poor writing, characters, and action.  The only noteworthy aspect was Peter Sarsgaard, who continues to be excellent in every role he plays.  I loved his creeper look, emotional scars, and crippled-body/super-intelligent motif.

Tonight, I decided to look up some history on Green Lantern on Wikipedia, but didn't see much that interested me.  I got a notion that there is some good lore and stories in the GL universe based on the tragedy that was the film, but the Wikipedia articles didn't back that up (in my opinion).  Holler at me if you're a Lantern fan.

19 May 2011

If only

If you ignore the years on my posts, it looks like I was only gone for a week. :)

Returning to Blogger

After taking a hiatus to play with Tumblr, followed by a hiatus of Twitter-only communication, I am returning to Blogger.

Tumblr doesn't have any export tools, so here's a snapshot of my entire Tumblr history thanks to this guy.