syltefar.com

RTS Campaigns are Bad

2021-12-29 21:00:00 +0100
I have realized something about myself: I don't like story-based RTS campaigns.

After 30 years of playing RTS games, I have realized something about myself: I don't like story-based RTS campaigns.

To be clear, I love many elements of the RTS genre:

  • I like building, commanding, and upgrading tiny units.
  • I like building bases, and the pressure of withstanding hordes of attacking enemies.
  • I like developing strategies for which unit combinations work best against other unit combinations.
  • I like the type of RTS meta-game where you conquer zones in a world map, pioneered by Dune II and later reimagined by Dawn of War: Dark Crusade.

However, what I don't like are campaign missions where a story is told through scripted events on an RTS map, where you move a small group of units around, learning to use their abilities, defending bases, rescuing units.

I don't like that many of the missions will have sequences where the gameplay boils down to moving a single unit or small group of units around and activate their abilities once in a while. When I realized that this is the part I don't like, a question came to mind: Moving a unit using a mouse cursor and activating timed abilities is exactly the gameplay of action RPGs like Diablo. I like Diablo. So why is this type of gameplay fun in Diablo-likes and not in RTSes?

Firstly, the production time spent by a developer on a single hero unit is obviously going to be limited by the number of other units in an RTS. Thus, we wouldn't expect the controls, abilities, and animation to be as sofisticated as those of a Diablo character. Usually the RTS unit will have less refined controls, less abilities, and less detailed animation. So, from the facts of game development, the part of an RTS that plays like Diablo is going to be less refined than Diablo, where this part is the entire game. The Diablo-part of an RTS is going to seem like a 'cheaper' version of Diablo.

Secondly, I think games like Diablo keep your attention by leveling up your character and making them more powerful as you play, making earlier enemies easier to defeat, and enabling using new loot. These elements are rarely present in RTSes, and even if they are, they will be pretty shallow. The progression in these sequences are then mostly based on getting through a mission, rather than empowering your character.

Most story-based RTS campaigns don't reinvent the wheel, but fall back on these types of missions pioneered by games like StarCraft. Many players seemed to enjoy this type of campaign in 1998, and RTS developers retained these tropes since.

I don't enjoy playing this type of campaign anymore, and I might resign to just focusing on skirmish modes, where you just play matches against AI enemies.

I wish that RTS developers would focus on making a simple but effective metagame such as conquering world maps or leveling up your units. The missions themselves should be based on the core gameplay that make RTSes unique: building bases and commanding groups of units.


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syltefar.com

2018-11-20 00:00:00 +0100
OCDgamer.dk → syltefar.com
I've changed the name of the site from ocdgamer.dk to syltefar.com . There are now a whole bunch of sites and YouTube channels called OCD gamer or something similar, some of them gamers with actual OCD, and my dumb joke site name seems less funny now. From now on this site will go by my earliest game account name - 'syltefar' - from back in 2008 when I made my Xbox account. I hope that I'll be able to stay the one and only syltefar on the internet.

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ASCII Immersion

2018-11-17 00:00:00 +0100
I finished my first text adventure in 2018, a Lovecraft-inspired horror story from 1987, taking place in a fictional university.

The Text Adventure Genre

When the genre of text adventures was at its peak, I was about 10 years old and not a native english speaker, and this type of game seemed completely impenetrable. Also, I was always very focused on graphics and sound, and having the choice between a text adventure and, say, Marble Madness or Hybris, the game with no graphics or music would never win. I did use to read Fighting Fantasy books, which were like text adventures, except with fixed choice instead of a text parser, and later on, I would make a short Warhammer 40K text adventure myself for the Amiga.

Hybrid text adventures had existed for a while, games such as Mindshadow, a text adventure with accompanying still images, originally written in 1984 for the Apple II by Ayman Adham, co-founder of Silicon & Synapse, programmer on Battle Chess and The Lost Vikings, and lead designer of World of Warcraft. The game was released by Activision, and the 1985 Amiga port is one of the earliest games to come out for the Amiga 1000. However, as this point, the genre was evolving into different styles of adventure games: there were the Sierra-style adventures games such as Space Quest and Leisure Suit Larry, which still used a text parser, but were fully graphical and animated with a controllable third person character, there were first person mouse-controlled adventure games such as Uninvited and Deja Vu, and finally the third person point 'n click adventures that ended up being very popular in the 1990's such as Maniac Mansion and The Secret of Monkey Island. All of these flavours of adventure games had graphics and sound, and seemed much more appealing to me at the time.

The Lurking Horror

30 years and thousands of video games later, I felt curious about text adventures. This was a very unique genre - could there possibly have been a unique experience that I had missed completely? I decided to try playing through a real text adventure by the prolific text adventure game company Infocom. The Lurking Horror from 1987 was supposedly one of the best of its kind. In the game you play as a university freshman just enrolled at a university, and everything takes place in the university location in a single night. The Lurking Horror is set in 'present day', which in this case means the 1980s, and it is very inspired by the weird tales of H. P. Lovecraft.

I completed the game in 2018, and it was a pretty interesting experience. The Lurking Horror is far from perfect, and it actually had a lot of frustrating moments, many of which could be solved using modern design ideas adapted for the text adventure genre. But it did one thing right - it had one of the most intricate mechanical puzzles I have encountered in a game: The elevator puzzle. Here is a quote from my game log:

I made sure that the elevator was on the first floor, pryed open the elevator door, put the crowbar in the door to keep it open, climbed down, attached a chain I found to a rod using the padlock from the Tomb, climbed up and attached the other end of the chain to a hook on the bottom of the elevator, removed the crowbar, went up and called the elevator on a higher floor, ripping the rod out of the wall and opening a passage to the Steam Tunnels. Now this was a pretty sofisticated puzzle that made mechanical sense, and was pretty easy to figure out. Very nice.

Text Immersion

Games without graphics generate visuals in your mind as you play them, and these visuals are strong in your memory after playing the game. One of the first times I noticed this was playing Moria back in the 90s, a classic roguelike. I have a vivid memory of walking through dank tunnels with torches on the walls, hearing my footsteps echo against the stone walls. None of that is in the game, all of that is something I made up myself. The Lurking Horror had a similar effect, I can see G.U.E. Tech in my mind, the walkways, stairs, elevators, the snow storm outside, and something I haven't tried before: a clear layout of the whole place in my head, something rare for someone with no sense of direction such as myself.

Text adventures have the potential to be more immersive than most games, even games that deliberately avoid showing or hearing your own character, such as first person RPGs. In 'The Lurking Horror', I felt I completely inhabited the character, and it reminded me of playing a pen and paper RPG, without the social aspect. When a Call of Cthulhu pen and paper RPG 1990s campaign was started at the office where I work, I decided to transplant my character from 'The Lurking Horror' to this game. I took the backstory and decided that my character would be traumatized and antisocial after the events of the game, and played him like that.

Please check out my playthrough on YouTube.

You don't hear 'whiz-bang' a lot in this decade

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Video Recording

2018-11-12 22:17:00 +0100

The Early Videos

I recently published the 1000th video on the OCDgamer YouTube channel, an account that I created in 2006. I was fascinated with the idea of recording videos of games and putting them online, and the first game video uploaded to my channel was from the weird PS3 game Noby Noby Boy, which had built-in YouTube upload support. I recorded 50 seconds of weird snake creature tangled around a rotating thing from a friend's PS3, and uploaded the video on March 28th, 2009. I looked at the metadata for the video, and learned that the filename uploaded from the game is

o----o.mp4
, an adorable little ASCII Noby Noby Boy worm.

Noby Noby Boy

The second video I uploaded was more exciting, it was an input recording from March 2010 of me beating the original Mega Man for NES. The final 10 minutes of the game included a difficult boss rush and a final boss fight. The emulator supported recording my key presses, and I could replay the input and record an .AVI after having beaten the game. I uploaded the result to YouTube.

These kinds of videos were fun, but I didn't have a good general way of recording from Xbox 360 and PS3 games. However, that didn't stop me, and in 2011 and 2012, I recorded a bunch of videos with a laptop camera pointed towards the TV. The games I have horrible quality videos of include Uncharted 2, Gatling Gears, Transformers: War for Cybertron, and Gears of War 2.

December 2013 I bought myself a PlayStation 4, and a few months later I used the built-in video recording and uploaded a difficult boss fight in glorious 720p 30 FPS of the PS4 Strider game. This was the future of game recording: built-in recording in the console, with a button for capturing a video of a number of minutes of gameplay back in time.

Later that year, I started streaming gameplay live to the very popular video streaming service, Twitch, and, because Twitch isn't very suitable for my style of video recording, I downloaded the video files from Twitch and reuploaded them to YouTube. In 2015, I started making long streams of my first playthrough of Bloodborne. From the PC, I also started streaming using OBS, the first games I recorded were Diablo, Elite: Dangerous, and Diablo III, and later on, I would stream emulated games such as Dig Dug, Jackal, and over 7 hours of Castlevania: Symphony of the Night in two videos. The longest marathon session was 6 hours of Dark Souls III in May 2016. I wasn't even trying to stream for a long time, it just turned out that way:
Dark Souls III (PS4) 20 - Consumed King's Garden
In September 2018, I bought an Elgato HD60 that captures 1920x1080 at 60 FPS via USB. I use OBS to stream it to YouTube and record an offline copy. They are running at 4 MB/s, which is the maximum bandwidth I can reliably upload to YouTube.

9 Years Later

Now that the channel has been up for 9 years, the videos have been gathering views, most of them in very low numbers. I have not advertised them anywhere, so I wouldn't expect them to. However, a few of them have been seen by a lot of people: When I streamed Pac-Man Championship Edition 2 to YouTube on the hour of its release, the stream had a lot of views, and it is still the most viewed video on my channel:
Pac-Man Championship Edition 2 (PS4) - Tutorial and Score Attack
8151 minutes watched 2589 views In general, my live YouTube streams using the PlayStation 4 built-in streaming system has had the most viewers, but other videos have been reasonably popular even though they weren't streamed live. A lot of my videos of Amiga games have done reasonably well, but none better than Paradroid 90: 5104 minutes watched 1270 views
Paradroid 90 (Amiga)
In total, my videos have had 34000 views and 1500 hours watched in total, which of course are very low numbers when divided by the 1000 videos in total.

Copyright strikes

Samurai Shodown II
This is an interesting situation: I got a copyright claim for the 'Haohmaru' video, starting at 1:49:06, which is the title sequence. The copyright claim is that the music is sampled from the track 'Bishamon' by Swiss rapper Milchmaa. Listening to the track, it is clearly the same music, but of course, since Samurai Shodown II is a game from 1994 and 'Bishamon' is from 2007, Milchmaa obviously sampled from the game, not the other way around. Now, I don't have monetization enabled on my channel (since my videos usually have around 20 views, that would be dumb), but I decided to press the 'File a dispute' button for the copyright claim on principle because this claim made no sense, and I explained the simple facts of the track being from 2007 and the game being from 1994 in the message accompanying the dispute. Today I got a mail from YouTube about the claim, stating: 'After reviewing your dispute, Believe Music [the copyright holder, I assume] has decided that their copyright claim is still valid.' which clearly shows that noone actually looked into anything regarding the video. Doing a YouTube search for Samurai Shodown II, several videos have the same copyright claim on it. Now, there is an 'Appeal rejected dispute' button, but I'm hesitant to press it, because of this description: 'Are you sure you want to appeal? You must provide your contact information to the claimant. Claim will be released: This lets you use the copyrighted material in your video. Video will be taken down: The claimant can ask us to remove your video from YouTube, and you’ll end up with a copyright strike.' A copyright strike is a three-strikes-and-you're-out system, and in this case, 'out' means that my account can be terminated, all uploaded videos removed, and I'm banned from creating any new channels. Not exactly an easy choice to press that button. I don't care much about that video, but it does nag me that Believe Music can potentially make illegitimate advertising money on every Samurai Shodown II video on YouTube, and all you can do is to risk getting a copyright strike for attempting removing the copyright claim on your video. The problem will remain for any future video of this game. After reading a blog post from another person who had trouble with Believe Music, I decided to contact Believe Music directly, using a form on their website. I wrote the following: I got a copyright claim for the linked video, starting at 1:49:06. The copyright claim is that the music is sampled from the track 'Bishamon' by Swiss rapper Milchmaa. Listening to the track, it is clearly the same music, but since Samurai Shodown II is a game from 1994 and 'Bishamon' is from 2007, Milchmaa obviously sampled from the game, not the other way around. I pressed the YouTube 'File a dispute' button for the copyright claim on principle because this claim made no sense, and I explained the simple facts of the track being from 2007 and the game being from 1994 in the message accompanying the dispute. Today I got a mail from YouTube about the claim, stating: 'After reviewing your dispute, Believe Music has decided that their copyright claim is still valid.' I don't know if this was some sort of an automated response, but it seems unlikely that Believe Music would own the rights for the soundtrack to the 1994 SNK game. Doing a YouTube search for Samurai Shodown II, several videos have the same copyright claim by Believe Music on it, and all of them would appear to be illegitimate. Since I can't post the form without ticking the box that I'm the copyright holder for the music, *which I'm certainly not*, I decided to still tick it to be able to contact you. I hope you guys are flexible enough to still deal with this issue, and I think you should remove the box to avoid scaring away other fair disputes from people like me. There is quite a lot of talk about Believe Music and copyright claims on reddit. It seems they are claiming a lot of music belongs to them.
asdf

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Tetris Aesthetics

2018-11-12 01:35:24 +0100
A Tetris game with the metagame structure of Lumines, the new agy aesthetics of Child of Eden, and the musical integration ideas of Rez.

The classic arcade puzzle Tetris and cyberpunk techno rail shooter Rez are some of my favorite games of all time. Tetris Effect has been presented as a Tetris game by Tetsuya Mizuguchi, producer of Rez, making it a strange dream come true for me.

Lumines + Child of Eden + Rez = Tetris?

The notion that this is 'a Tetris game by Tetsuya Mizuguchi' requires a little more refinement. Tetris Effect was developed by Japanese developer Resonair and directed by Takashi Ishihara. Resonair also ported Rez to modern consoles and VR under the name 'Rez Infinite', and Ishihara designed the new 'Area X' for Rez Infinte. Similarly, Lumines, a game that Mizuguchi originally directed, and a game that is very similar to Tetris Effect in almost every way, was remastered for modern consoles by Resonair. Tetris Effect was co-produced by Mizuguchi and Mark MacDonald, and like the aforementioned remastered games, published by Enhance Inc., a company Mizuguchi founded after leaving Q Entertainment, developer of Lumines. Apart from production and publishing, Mizuguchi has 'Game Concept' credits together with Ishihara. This could be interpreted as Mizuguchi being the one with the game ideas, with Resonair implementing them. Until recently he was listed as the game director on the Tetris Effect Wikipedia page, but this has been fixed.

More than anything else, Tetris Effect is a Tetris game. It's not derived from or inspiried by Tetris like Lumines was, this is a modern Tetris game with the metagame structure of Lumines, the new agy visual and musical aesthetics of Child of Eden (a game directed by Mizuguchi), and a great implementation of the musical integration ideas of Rez, which was seminal for its musical integration, but not technically well implemented (possibly due to limitations of the hardware, I'm not sure).

The game has a campaign-like mode, called JOURNEY MODE, and a list of EFFECT MODES, with different rule variations.

In JOURNEY MODE, you are playing a Tetris game accompanied by beautiful visuals and uplifting music, and every move you make is accompanied by musical sounds that are quantized to fit the rest of the music. The progression and feeling is very reminiscent of Lumines. At times, I wished for this game to be more Rez and less Child of Eden. I don't mind the new age aesthetics of this game, but I can't help dreaming of a brutal techno cyberpunk version of Tetris Effect.

The visuals are mostly very well implemented, save for a few minor frame drops (on the regular old PS4), e.g. going above water in the dolphin level. The frame drops are rare, but are frustrating in a Tetris game, where you need all the frames you can get to make split second decisions.

The audio boldly blends musical elements and sound design, with unusually tight integration between your actions as a player and the sound. When you realize just how much of the music and sound is created by you moving and dropping tetrominos, you are filled with childish joy. Both music and visuals react to level progression, which is very satisfying. The only let-down in the musical integration is that almost every level ends with the same style of build-up and break, which comes of as a bit cheesy and unimaginative.

Speed Change

The way the Tetris gameplay is integrated with the emotional experience and progression of levels in JOURNEY MODE seems to be through one parameter alone, as musical and visual climaxes are accompanied by sudden changes in game speed. These changes seem to invite using the one addition to Tetris in this mode, the ZONE mechanic, which can act as a life saving mechanic during the game speed changes.

I completed JOURNEY MODE without ever using the ZONE mechanic, because I didn't know it was there. That's what you get for skipping the tutorial. So, when I played through JOURNEY MODE, the speed changes were extremely jarring, forcing me to snap out of the typical Tetris mental flow state and go into full on panic mode, dropping tetrominos all over the place, desperately trying to survive. I believe the changes in game speed are based on lines cleared in a level, but it is not visually indicated in any obvious way, and although it is connected to musical changes, it is not at all obvious which musical changes are accompanying changes in game speed, and which are not. So, the first time you play a level, the game speed changes can come as a total surprise, creating these jarring jumps in mental states. I tended to mess up badly when this happened.

Adding salt to the wound, the music seems to take on an almost mocking tone in these situations. The soundtrack accompanies the speed changes with crescendos and triumphant vocals, and at times, this almost felt like the game was celebrating its triumph over me! For the final level in JOURNEY MODE, you have to clear 90 lines. Without the ZONE mechanic, I failed many times when the speed changed along with the music swelling to epic levels, and I got so annoyed that I ended up turning the volume down on my TV. I'm sure my frustration to a large degree was due to me not knowing about the ZONE mechanic.

Modes

After finishing JOURNEY MODE, I started playing the EFFECT MODES, which are now my preferred way of playing the game. The CLASSIC mode has the same levels and music as JOURNEY MODE, but with a slower build, and none of the abrupt game speed changes. It feels much better, and because you play the same level for a longer time than in JOURNEY MODE, you may well end up completely entranced by the aesthetics.

As great as the EFFECT MODES are, I can't help but compare this game to Puyo Puyo Tetris, a superb Tetris / Puyo Puyo hybrid game that came out in 2014. Puyo Puyo Tetris has a wealth of innovative modes, many of them fusions of Tetris and Puyo Puyo, others cool new twists on each game separately. Tetris Effect lifts its ALL CLEAR mode directly from Puyo Puyo Tetris and both games borrow ideas from the awesome Super Famicom game Tetris Battle Gaiden, but I don't think Tetris Effect contributes with a new mode that is as interesting as these games.

All nitpicking aside, Tetris Effect is a wonderful experience for anyone who likes Tetris, and the musical integration should be experienced by anyone interested in audio technology and design. And be sure to check out the tutorial before starting JOURNEY MODE, or you'll be sorry!

Tetris Effect looking its best

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