Posts Tagged 'video games'

Computer Games

Story time. If you want to skip to the interesting list at the end, go right ahead. I’m in the typing mood though so I’m about to tell you my entire life story as it relates to gaming.

English: A NES console with the Super Mario Br...

English: A NES console with the Super Mario Bros./Duck Hunt game (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

I’ve always loved video games. My grandpa was kind enough to donate his Nintendo Entertainment System to my parents when I was very young, probably after we visited him once or twice and he saw how the machine captivated my brother and me. I must have been five years old (plus or minus the standard deviation for my poor memory).

Super Mario Bros, The Legend of Zelda, Baseball, Duck Hunt, Gumshoe, Master Blaster, Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles, Marble Madness, Captain Skyhawk, and many more games filled the earliest years of my memory.

Then, after much entreatment from my brother and me, we got a Sega Genesis for Christmas, and years later a Nintendo 64. I believe my grandfather may have had a financial hand in one or both of those acquisitions as well.

Our time with those game systems shaped who we are. My brother is now lucky enough to work for a small but well-known game development company and I… well, I make useless JavaScript toys in my free time.

As a part of my interest in games, teenager me wanted to become a 3D artist. To this day I work plenty in 3D and the skills I gained in my teens will forever benefit me. However, in support of my quest to learn 3D modeling my parents loaned me the money to buy a PC (circa 1998, plus or minus whatever my memory is wrong about). I got my first job to pay my parents back. I was 15.

Anyhow, the computer I got worked for very limited 3D work (renderings took forever and often never finished due to hard drive crashes or other terrible mishaps), and it also allowed me to try my hand at PC gaming for the first time.

I had tried a couple of very simple games on my father’s Power Mac, but these PC games were entirely different. I can’t remember everything I played (I’ve spent quite a bit of time in bursts of nostalgia trying to hunt down those games), but a few of them were Jane’s Advanced Tactical Fighters, Descent, Oddworld: Abe’s Oddysee, Blastdoors, Return Fire 2, Mech Warrior, and Gravity Well.

Unfortunately my PC was junk and barely ran most of those games. I had no idea that games could actually be played at more than five frames a second. I thought all PC games were supposed to be choppy and slow. Then I tried a few games on a friend’s computer and everything changed. He had built his machine for speed. He had one of those things called a graphics card.

When I went to college several years later I made sure my computer had a graphics card. I was going to be studying 3D animation and I knew I’d need some serious power. So I got a mid-level desktop replacement laptop (this would have been sometime around 2003). It had a whole 512 MB of ram, and an NVIDIA graphics card with several MB of dedicated graphics memory (I don’t remember how much).

Despite all of this raw power, I didn’t really get back into computer gaming. I played a few games here and there, but for some reason I forgot all about what a good graphics card did for PC gaming. I still remembered playing Return Fire 2 at 5 FPS with the textures and effects turned off, and I think that left the impression that PC gaming was inferior to console gaming.

Eventually I got married and that laptop became an aging family computer. After one particularly hefty tax return when my wife and I didn’t have any major purchases in mind we decided to get a new (first generation) HP TouchSmart computer. Our young son would be able to have so much fun on the touch screen, we thought, and since the mouse was on its way out as an archaic technology we figured it was time to introduce our child to the future (right?).

That computer lasted us several years, but eventually the integrated graphics burned out and rendered the entire motherboard useless. I salvaged the hard drive, but we needed a new computer.

Once again, with a new baby girl, we decided that a touch screen would be handy. We now knew that the computer mouse was here to stay, but babies do better with touch screens. Plus, the second generation of TouchSmart PCs had been out for a while, and there was a model with a graphics card. So we got that one.

English: HP Touchsmart PC. With Rob Miles using it

English: HP Touchsmart PC. With Rob Miles using it (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Now, with an actual graphics card, I was ready to start playing computer games again. I started with emulators (I’m a sucker for nostalgia), but eventually installed Steam and got a game (Super Meat Boy, at my brother’s suggestion). I figured my fancy new graphics card should be able to handle the latest 2D game. Well, I was disappointed to discover that my system choked a little on that 2D game. I eventually figured out that, on the lowest settings, I could run a few modern games, but with serious restrictions and difficulties.

I played through Portal, but Portal 2 was a little too much for my system (I did eventually play through it, but with the graphics all turned down to the lowest settings again). I played Mount and Blade with all the settings configured for a crappy system. I played Minecraft comfortably for a while, but in the last few months my system began sputtering even on that game.

Unfortunately that computer lasted a full two years and some change. Though I knew we couldn’t afford to just replace it, I always secretly hoped it would die so that we could start looking for a way to pay for a new computer.

Well, a couple of weeks ago I got my wish, and, thankfully, we were financially prepared for it. My wife had gotten into a few of those computer games with me, and she agreed that it was time to get something that would comfortably play most of the games we wanted to play. We both knew we weren’t going to spend thousands on the best hardware available, but we didn’t want to have to play Mount and Blade at less than 30 FPS with all the textures and effects on the lowest settings.

I’m not saying what I got because the purpose of this post is not to open my system up for criticism. I want to talk about games.

As someone who has had to turn down the opportunity to play any new PC games for several years, there is a whole list of games I haven’t been able to play and I’m looking forward to playing on my new computer. I’ve got the list divided into three parts. The first part is stuff that’s out now and I need or want to play it (according to me). The second part of the list consists of games that I’m interested in but they aren’t out yet (I’ve backed a few of them on Kickstarter and will be getting the full game when released). The final part is for suggestions. A coworker suggested a few games, but I want you to help me add to the list.

I realize that not all of these games require a modern graphics card, but my poor graphics card made me disinterested in PC gaming for so long that I skipped over a lot of games that I was interested in. Add your suggestions in the comments!

Part 1: Games Available Now that I Want to Play

Part 2: Games Coming Soon that I’m Interested In

Part 3: Suggestions of Games to Play

  • Bioshock
  • Halflife 2
  • Black Mesa
  • Stalker
  • Dwarf Fortress

Again, add your suggestions in the comments. I’ll look into the game and if it’s pertinent to my interests I’ll add it to my list. Also, if you see any games in my lists that you think are not worth spending money or time on them, let me know your reasons (don’t just say, “Don’t play that awful game!”). I’ll take them into consideration, and if you’ve got a good point I’ll skip over that game. Thanks!

Happenings

It's like I found a magic lamp or something, and squandered my wishes...

Several long-time desires of mine have recently unfurled into something palpable. I wouldn’t say my dreams are coming true, but it’s close enough.

Where to start?

We’ll start with the most recent and work our way backward.

Hm. That’s tough. We’ll start at the… Well shoot. This is tougher than I thought.

Forget chronological order. Forget any order.

More photos can be seen at the link.

I recently completed the first draft of my real leather Link’s Adventure Pouch 3DS Case.

I can’t say I’m 100% satisfied with it (see my notes in the album I shared at the previous link), but I am looking forward to the second version. Each photo in the album has my notes on what I’ll do differently next time, but if you’re an expert who can tell me how to keep the darned surface of the leather from cracking, please leave a comment!

In addition to completing the leather pouch, I recently ended a 10 year search for something.

Yes. Ten years.

For the last ten years I’ve gotten this song stuck in my head. I knew it was from an upwards scrolling puzzle video game, and I knew that video game has Yoshi in it, and I knew that video game was on the Game Boy. I had asked around, I had search the Internet, I had spent years trying to figure this thing out.

Finally!

Then one day I ask someone, and they said, “Sure, I just played that game last week. It’s called Tetris Attack.”

Sure enough, he was right. The song that got stuck in my head all these years was Yoshi’s theme. I could finally hear the full song after only remembering one small phrase of it all these years!

Then I found the game used and bought it for my Game Boy Advance. It is a fun game.

So that’s a happy ending to that search. There are still a few memories I am trying to fill in, but that was the biggest, most frequently bothersome one.

Last of all (for this post) I finally got to see a real space shuttle. Sure, I had been to see Enterprise at the Smithsonian’s Udvar-Hazy Center, but Enterprise never flew in space. It was hardly a shell of a shuttle. It was the right size, and the right colors, but that’s about it. No real action. No battle scars.

But this last week OV-103 Discovery was flown out to replace Enterprise at the Udvar-Hazy Center, and on Saturday I took my daughter to see the shuttle.

This shuttle is COOL.

It was awesome.

And while I was there I got a new picture of myself in front of the shuttle for use on social networks. I liked the angle of the old photo better, but this one with a real shuttle is better since A) it’s a real shuttle, and B) I am wearing my super awesome hat.

Alright. That’s going to be it tonight. I didn’t need to write a blog post tonight, but I wanted to. I hope it was worth your time, because then it will have been worth my time.

Oh, and real quick: in related [to the shuttle] news, I am making slow progress in the design of my deep space exploration vehicle. I worked on the escape pods and their hangar bay today. Not done yet, but happy with the progress.

Related to escape pods-I recently read parts of an extraordinarily interesting article (I’ll read the whole thing later because it is relevant to my interests) and in that article the author notes that he doesn’t feel escape pods ever make sense for a deep space exploration vehicle.

The point he makes is that if you have to escape the vehicle quickly, it’s usually (in science fiction, at least) because the ship has a problem and the “reactor core” or something is going to blow up. He notes that leaving the comfort and life support systems of the larger ship makes little sense. You should just eject the core.

My system is designed to completely separate into its separate modules in the event of any mechanical emergency anywhere on the ship. Even each of the six main engines can act as emergency life boats, and so the dinky escape pods (which seat twenty adults) are not meant to be actual life boats. Everything separates after all the passengers are on the life boat engines or in the escape pods (which can dock with the engines if needed), and the computers on each module of the larger ship assess damages. Any module that is still usable docks back together and the escape pods and life boats all transfer the people back into the habitable parts of the ships. Even damaged modules attempt to repair themselves or salvage useful resources.

So emergencies would more or less be handled in a way that makes sense. You’re not permanently leaving the ship behind, but you aren’t sticking around to see if everything is going to explode either.

I think my system adequately addresses the author’s concerns, even though I didn’t read any of his remarks until after I had designed my system.

Because remember: Dream big or go home.

Review: Pokémon Diamond (Game for Nintendo DS)

Game Cover

Game Cover

I first played the original Pokémon Red and Yellow versions for the old Game Boy system many years ago and fell in love with the simple RPG style game play, cute Pokémon creatures, and the ability to link up with my brother to trade and battle Pokémon. I felt that 150 different species Pokémon were more than enough though, and stayed away from the subsequent iterations of Pokémon games out of a fear that the addition of more Pokémon and more things to do would complicate things and take away from the elegant simplicity of those first Pokémon games. Plus, I grew up and decided that the whole Pokémon thing was a little childish.

For anyone who hasn’t played Pokémon before, see below for an in-depth look at what is so fun about it (for adults and children). If you’ve played older Pokémon games but aren’t sure about this one, you’re in the same position I was when I got my DS.

In Diamond (and Pearl) there were many new ideas for me: berries and poffins (not new to those who have played Pokémon on the Game Boy Advance), seals to decorate Pokéballs (I guess, though I haven’t gotten into it much), more in-depth relationships with your Pokémon, contests (kind of like beauty pageants, but for Pokémon), an underground cave system for use with wireless multiplayer, and many other things I can’t even think of because I don’t use them. That’s right, even though they went and complicated the game by adding stuff, you can still enjoy the basic game the same way you could back with the first games. These additions only add to the experience for those who wish to participate in them.

There are other enhancements as well. The interface for navigating menus, viewing information, and battling has improved drastically (especially since there are two screens on the DS), and they have finally incorporated some true 3D elements (mainly just in the environment, the characters are all still 2D sprites).

While this version may not represent a huge leap forward in the Pokémon series, it certainly does take a few steps forward, and no steps back. Anyone who has ever enjoyed another Pokémon game will appreciate Pokémon Diamond (or Pearl), and anyone who has never played a Pokémon game would do well to give this game a chance. Pokémon may not be for everyone, but many have fallen in love with these simple RPGs, including me.

If you’ve never played Pokémon, allow me an opportunity to sell you on the idea. It turns out many adults can enjoy this sort of thing as well as children (even if the story is a bit childish).

Pokémon are creatures that inhabit the land in the Pokémon games. In Japan, the game is called “Pocket-Monsters” (I believe). The first generation of Pokémon came around the time that virtual pets were becoming popular, so essentially these Pokémon were modeled after the virtual pet concept (just without the little buttons for “feed” and “clean up mess”).

In the Pokémon games, you become a Pokémon trainer – someone who catches and trains Pokémon to battle. Though the monsters battle, the loser simply runs out of energy (measured in HP – health points) and faints – nothing ever happens that is graphic or unfriendly to children.

As you wander around the game (not aimlessly, there is always something to do), you encounter more and more monsters and use special capturing balls (Pokéballs) to catch more Pokémon (you may recall the catchphrase – “gotta catch ’em all”). You battle your Pokémon against other wild Pokémon or against those of other Pokémon trainers and any Pokémon on the winning team that participated in the battle gets experience points (and the trainer gets money to spend on stuff for the Pokémon). As they grow in experience they level up, learn new moves, and sometimes they evolve into more powerful Pokémon. In this way you raise the most powerful team of Pokémon to win every battle and become a Pokémon Master (lame, I know).

The trick is that you can only carry six Pokémon with you at a time (the rest are stored in a computer system), so you must assemble a team that is diverse enough to tackle any foe. There are many kinds of Pokémon (flying type, fire type, water type, electric type, etc) and some are more effective against others. Most of the time, these pairings make sense – a water type Pokémon does very well against a fire type for example. The same goes for the individual moves they know (one Pokémon can not know any more than four moves to use in battle at a time).

The basic formula is simple, easy to understand, and allows for a lot of strategic consideration. The execution in the game is challenging (but not too hard), fun and great for multi-player experiences. From the beginning, the franchise has focused on allowing game pack owners to trade Pokémon and battle them with friends. These days, on the Nintendo DS, trading and battling other Pokémon players has never been easier. There are no cables, and you can even connect over the Internet.

A lot of people criticize that the story in every Pokémon game is basically the same, but that is what I love about them (not that I wouldn’t enjoy a departure from the formula). You start out some place where there is someone that wants you to go out and see/catch all of the local kinds of Pokémon and you are given a starter Pokémon. There are side missions, caves, an evil group/entity at every turn, other trainers, and of course your rival to deal with, in addition to gyms, badges (earned by defeating gym leaders) and the Elite Four. The above description is good for basically every Pokémon game (as I understand it, though I haven’t played ALL of them).

A final note for those who are not familiar with the Pokémon franchise: You may be asking yourself what the difference is between Pokémon Diamond and Pearl. Simply put, there isn’t enough of a difference for you to worry about it. Since the first two were released (Red and Blue) they have always released Pokémon in pairs (with the exception of an occasional special edition – Yellow was a special Pikachu edition, and Platinum is a special DS version with even more side features than Diamond and Pearl). Each version has a few things here or there that are marginally different, most notably there are usually a few Pokémon you cannot catch on your game pack so you must find someone else with the sister game pack and trade them for it (especially since you have some on yours that they can’t find in their game). Don’t worry though – you don’t actually have to catch all of the Pokémon to win the game – you can do it without having both game packs.

Review: Lock’s Quest (Game for Nintendo DS)

Summary: Surprised me…

Pros: Excellent music, great replay value, good game-play variety.

Cons: Can get monotonous, can’t skip lengthy title screens when starting the cartridge, a little frustrating at times.

 

Game Cover from Best Buy

Game Cover

This is one of those games I would never have thought to get for myself. It looked like just another run-of-the-mill RPG, but then the product description mentioned something about building fortresses and I wondered if I might like it.
You see, ever since I was a young child I have been obsessed with castles, fortresses and defensive architecture. If you’ve ever had an interest in any of those things, this game might be for you.
This game is an effective mix of some of the best elements of Desktop Tower Defense, Defend Your Castle and the Final Fantasy series. Ok, so maybe not the best elements of those games, but it’s a delightful blend of features borrowed from all of those games (or games like them).
If you’re familiar with Desktop Tower Defense, you’ll be used to ideas like building walls, slowing the advance of the enemy to give turrets more time to attack, strategically placing and strengthening offensive and defensive weapons, and using weapons that do a variety of attacks for ground or airborn enemies.
In Lock’s Quest you are an “archineer” – that’s the job title, though you’re really just a nobody from a small village – who is given the task of defending important things or people from the invading “clockwork” army. You build walls, turrets, gates, traps and many other defensive implements with the aim of defending a “source” well (source is what the people in this universe use to build things, among other nifty uses), some soldiers, or who knows what else. From there, Lock’s Quest departs from the Desktop Tower Defense model and adds some cool new features – like prototyping new weapons before being able to build them (a fun puzzle-like segment of the game), and ocasionally having to man a turret tower.
Battles are fought day by day (a system closely related to Defend Your Castle – you even see the sun travelling across the screen) and at the beginning of each day you must repair and add to your defenses. One of the best parts of the battle sequences is that you don’t have to just sit there and watch the little robot dudes tear your walls down and smash your turrets. Your character, Lock, can run around repairing damaged units and even engage in combat. Throughout the game you learn new moves for attacking (all of them simple to execute), but you must watch your health bar to avoid fainting.
There are other modes as well, such as wandering around talking to people, and a side view mode where you are manning a turret. You purchase upgrades for the turret at the end of each day, and blast enemies as they come toward the wall and attack. This portion of the game reminds me of Defend Your Castle, without being able to fling people into the air – you’re shooting at them instead.
Occasionally, navigating Lock around obstacles can be frustrating. Or sometimes I’ll tell him to repair a turret (something he usually does from inside the fortress) and he will run out through the gates instead, where he gets beat up a bit before I tell him to run back inside and try again. Otherwise, the controls are relatively natural and smooth.
Perhaps my biggest complaint comes from the title screen. Every time you start the game (as in, turn on the system and load the cartridge) you are forced to watch the opening splash screens for the companies involved in making the game. I don’t mind being shown the logos, I just like being able to rush through them so I can jump into the game. The titles don’t last all that long, but they seem to take forever when you just want to flip it on for a second to do a quick round.
I think my favorite part of the game is the music. The game-play is fun, the graphics are nice, and the controls are comfortable, and the story is ok, but I could say that about a lot of games. When was the last time you heard a video game score that really impressed you though? Zelda games usually have good music (Twilight Princess was awesome) and Final Fantasy games are usually pretty descent (Sid’s theme, anyone?) but the focus on games in the last few years has been on graphics, not music. Some big names have been called in to compose scores for a few games lately in an attempt to revitalize video game music. David Franco did the score for Lock’s Quest, and though I hadn’t really heard of him before, it looks like he’s done quite a few scores for television and has been involved with movie music for a while.
Most of the score is powerful and fun to listen to, but I feel that the music is a little hit and miss – with far more hits than misses. I think Franco lacks the polished experience of some composers, but the average game player will appreciate the work he put into Lock’s Quest. Overall, it is a pleasure to listen to, and it really adds to the experience of playing the game.
If you already know you love thinking defensively and you don’t mind fixing things that people break (sometimes over and over again), then Lock’s Quest is perfect for you. None of the battles I’ve fought so far have lasted more than five or six days, so you’ll never find yourself locked into the same old motions for more than forty five minutes, and so far I’ve won all of them. The wins don’t come too easily, but it’s not impossible – it’s just challenging. I haven’t tried the two player mode yet, so I can’t include that in my review, but overall I am glad I played this charming game for the Nintendo DS.

Review: Wall-e (Game for Wii)

Summary: Fun Game – Rent Me First

Pros: Fun to play, easy-ish controls, tons of multiplayer options, nice graphics, cheat codes.

Cons: Not a whole lot of replay value, only a couple of multiplayer games are fun, cheat codes cause glitches.

Game Cover

Game Cover

I rented this game, and I’m sure glad I didn’t rush out and buy it.  As much as I loved the movie, I was hoping the game would be good.  Plus, I read some reviews and found quite a few people saying the game was actually pretty fun (as far as movie games go).  Since most movie games turn out to be lame, and some people were saying this one was fun, I decided to get it.  I almost just bought it, but in a fit of good judgement I decided to rent it first.

 

From the very beginning the game established a routine with me – lots of waiting for things to load.  This game loads especially slow, even for a Wii game.  I imagine the load time comes from the massive graphics.  Every new level brought a loading screen that would show hints and tricks completely unrelated to what you were about to do.  I love Wall-e though, so I was willing to wait for him.

I imagine that you, as a potential buyer of this game, are interested because you loved the movie like I did and are hoping to jump into the story and feel of the movie through this game, reliving those beautiful memories.  While this game does a much better job of carrying the feel of the movie to your game console than past attempts, it still falls short on too many levels to really get me excited.

The production of the game began before the movie was released, and the game crew was working with concept sketches and written descriptions of many parts of the unfinished film in order to do their job.  In several places they had to do their own thing rather than follow the actual movie, though most of the time the game follows the movie’s storyline almost exactly.

I was able to work through the entire game in a matter of hours (two or three) which unlocked most the game’s content.  The remaining unlock-ables are cheats that can be found by searching the web.  Unfortunately, the cheats rarely made the game more fun, and in most cases they caused severe glitches that, on occasion, completely crashed my system and necessitated restarting the Wii.  This may not be the experience everyone has, but it was certainly enough for me to avoid using the cheats and recommend that you do the same (or, cheat at your own risk!).

The little Wall-e character was adorable on the screen (just like in the movie) and the look and feel of the environments was appropriate.  Some of the challenges were difficult, but beating the game was not.

I especially enjoyed a couple of the multiplayer modes, but was disappointed that only one or two of them was worth my time.  In fact, my overall evaluation of the game was not as positive as I would like to report.  Video games based on movies are rarely up to the quality that they should be, and I was hoping (in vain) that this one would be the exception.  If you have ever played and enjoyed a game based on a movie in the past, and you loved the movie Wall-e, then I recommend that you try this game.

Try it, then buy it if you like it.

Unrealistically Cute

How often do you wish technology would just deliver what it promises?

I have about had it with hardware that doesn’t do its job, broken links and slow system performance.

However, the hard work is done and I am now free to write a fun little tidbit for you all.

If you found this entry searching for anything related to:

Samus Aran

or

Super Smash Brothers Brawl

you can either continue reading (which will probably end up being entertaining and worth your time) or jump to the end for a summary and links to all the important stuff (lame).

That’s right, it’s all about a video game tonight, and special character in the game.

When I was young I loved watching cartoons and playing video games, and such activities always provide plenty of cute little girl characters to attract the straight little boys and make them want to play the game or watch the show. For example, I actually watched the Power Puff Girls because I had a little thing for Blossom.

Any time I tried a new racing game or fighting game, I wanted to be the girl just so I could watch her while I played. Obviously, I liked girls a lot then, and I still do. I married one.

Of course, just because I’m married it doesn’t mean I have to stop thinking these characters are cute.

Not long ago we purchased a new game for our Nintendo Wii. The game (some of you may be familiar with it) is Super Smash Brothers Brawl (or SSBB for short, check it out on Amazon). The game is massive, with tons of characters to play, levels to play in (even a level editor for if you get bored with the ones they made) and trophies and stickers to collect. There is an adventure mode to play that resembles older RPG style games but in the Smash Brothers game play. As with prior versions of the game, you can pause it durring the battles and move the camera around to take pictures (more on that later).

I’ve had a lot of fun playing around with the game for the last week or so, and early in my time getting to know it I found a character that I really loved.

Not only is the character a good player with nice, powerful moves to keep me winning a lot, but she happens to be rediculously and unrealistically cute. Meet Samus Aran:

As far as video game chicks go, she is the cutest one I’ve ever seen, and she’s got a big gun. I’m not usually into blond hair, but in this case it doesn’t matter. She’s got a simple face, pretty hair and a plain body (with the usual virtual enhancements to fill her out, which are not necessary but they make money).

After seeing her in the game, I realized there was probably a lot of fan art and material dedicated to her online, so I poked around just a little bit and found something that opened up a whole new world to me. The world of cosplay.

Basically, the way I understand it, cosplay is a word coming from “costume play” and it represents a whole network and community of individuals who devote a healthy (or, I’m sure sometimes unhealthy) portion of their time and effort into creating costumes and props and attending events dressed as characters from games, shows and movies all over the country and even the world.

What I found was a Samus Aran cosplayer who actually looks a lot like the real deal (only slightly more realistic). As of writing, she hasn’t updated her blog since January of this year, but here’s a link and here is a photo of her as Samus:

Isn’t she cute? Her face matches the video game character’s closer than any of the other “cosplayers” did, she’s got the big gun and her hair is just right.

I looked through some of her other photos (none were of as good a quality as this one) and saw some really sweet photos of her posing with kids at comic book conventions, hugging other video game characters and even posing next to a few real celebrities in the world of comics and anime (or at least, I thought they looked like the real people, I could be wrong).

Of course, I am not the only married man who thinks Samus is a hottie. Plenty of people absolutely worship this character and it was fun looking into their little world.

So, using the photographing feature in the game, I took some cool photos and wanted to share them. I went through the usual process of trying to get the photos off my Wii and onto the computer, but was stumped. I couldn’t just e-mail them to myself, they seemed to be an in-game item only, not viewable outside the SSBB game. There is an option to copy the pictures to an SD card in the Wii, so I tried that, but the files are stored as .bin files, not image files (.bin is used as a general file format for all kinds of random crap and is rarely meant to be opened or read by human eyes, only by the programs that made them).

That’s when I did what any nerd would do – searched the web to see if and how other people were doing it. I came across a whole bunch of people who credited one known as GTCoder as being the super-coder who wrote a simple .BAT for converting a bunch of the .bin files into .jpg files. It came bundled in a .zip along with a couple other files, I’m sure they’re useful too, but I only needed the bin2jpgall.bat program which converts any .bin file in its folder to a JPEG.

If you need it, the download can be found here, and you want to make sure you get the “Windows binaries: bin2jpg tools” rather than the source code (unless you’re hip to that stuff).

Of course, it wasn’t that easy (it never is). No, not for me…

First, in looking for the GTCoder program I found several broken links before stumbling upon the one that worked (found it on YouTube, of all places).

Then I loaded the images onto the SD card and went to put them onto my laptop (where I write from and do all of my Internet stuff). That would have been the most convenient and direct way to do it, especially since the laptop has a built-in SD card reader…

Guess what? The SD card reader doesn’t work anymore (anyone know how to fix that? It recognizes when I stick a card in, but doesn’t recognize that the card is formatted). So, I had to use the family PC to transfer the .bin files from the SD card to my thumb drive (good old trusty thumb drive…) and then take it to the laptop. From there, everything worked fine.

Here are a few of the photos:

If you’ve played the game you might be asking why the pictures look just a little funny. The Wii does a little anti-aliasing but stores the images in their raw, pixelated form. I could have taken these into Photoshop and made them look a little more like they did on the screen, but decided not to waste my time – they look just fine as they are.

Summary

In summary (for the losers who didn’t want to read all of the stuff I wrote:

*** I found a really cute girl who calls herself “a girl from mars” who dresses up like Samus Aran and looks a lot like the real fake character.

*** I found a way to convert the .bin files from your SD card (the way the images from SSBB are stored) to JPEGs using GTCoder’s tools.

*** Finally, I was really amused while reading in the Samus is a Hottie post by “chris” to learn that performing well in the prior Metroid games has always led to images of Samus outside of her power suit (like the images you see above, only less cool). Here’s an example (see his post for more):

With power suit (notice the time):

Without power suit (see the time again):

Notice that “without the power suit” means “without much on at all.”

Aahh, I love video games… 😀

Game Progress

OK, here I am again with another update on that game I’ve been working on.

Lately, it’s been rough. I’ve been trying to balance my deep desire to work on my coding project and my family life. I think I’ve been doing OK, but I’m sure my wife wishes she could have me just a little bit more than she has had me.

If I must say so myself though, I think everything is turning out fairly nicely. Sure, I’m not really focusing on the graphics, so the pictures I’m sharing below shouldn’t be taken too seriously (they are for example purposes only), and I’m not really working on the story of the game yet (I have friends that are helping with that because they’re excited about it), so a lot of what is written in the instructions is bogus and silly, but the underlying code is working really nicely and I have a lot of ideas written down for making it even more efficient and flexible.

Some of the ideas include a more efficient system for handling the doors and linkages between maps (I think I can reduce the lines of code per door by up to 66%), I have to add support for conversations with different responses (the mechanics are all worked out, I just haven’t coded it yet), I have to add support for doors that lock now that my keys are working properly (I had a wonderful moment of genius yesterday where I figured out a simple, elegant way to handle the locking mechanism in code), and I want to explore the idea of having a border-less map system (where the walls around the edges would be unnecessary). Of course, I need to make tons of new maps (and I keep thinking that some kind of cool editor would be fun, for now I use Notepad), I have to do more with the part of the game where you die (we have some good ideas for a heaven/hell situation based on your choices in the game, the tracking system of which does not yet exist in the code, but I think I’m ready to add it), and I want to do a tutorial mode where you are sent on a brief, simple mission just to learn how to play.

Of course, if the actual game play is going to last more than five minutes it would be nice if the user could save their progress. Right now all of the progress information is stored in variables on the web page and all of the information is lost when you reload the page (close your browser, navigate away from the page and back to it, etc.). I know that cookies could help me save the key information and reload it when the page is loaded again, but I’ve never worked with cookies before so it would be a learning experience. I think I will wait until the game is done and playable before getting into that though, because it would be a pain to make changes to the game code that would require the cookie code to change.

Below I am sharing a few screen shots and the entire written portion of the instructions I’ve drafted up (they are more for fun that serious, and they have not been spell checked so have mercy). The version that is pulled up from the game shows the images associated with each ASCII character, but I didn’t want to upload all of them so you could see. If anyone is interested in playing around in my unfinished version (you can’t win because there is no story yet), just let me know and if I feel like it I’ll upload a .zip file with all of the images and .htm files you need to play. Really all you can do is walk around collecting stuff, talking to people (most of whom have nothing to say) and killing things. Most of the doors don’t work and most of the items don’t do anything. If you want to play around with it though, just let me know and I’ll upload it all. Just don’t go stealing my code! 😀

Click on the image to see the full sized version (I am especially proud of my water monster and the two headed dragon, and no, that woman does not have arms).

Help and Instructions


Story and General Instructions

For now, there isn’t much of a story. Just like any other game, you take control of the worthless and expendable life of some poor little man who needs you to tell him what to do all of the time. The rest of the story will become more clear as you play, or it won’t. Either way, it’s a game, not a movie.

This game is controlled entirely through the keyboard (which is impressive considering that most of the original code was written before I incorporated the keyboard controls). For details on which keys do what, see the table below titled “General Keyboard Commands” and the “Items” table as some items have a keyboard command associated with them.

Most spaces in the game can be walked on, some cannot. The “Terrain” table contains details about that. If there is anything you’re curious about, try to step on it and see what happens. Most item, character and enemy interaction is handled this way.

Look over the tables below to learn more details, then get back to playing the game! This screen can be called up any time throughout the game by pressing the “h” key on your keyboard. To return to normal gameplay, press the space bar. Good luck and have fun!

General Keyboard Commands

Key Action
h Displays this help file. Can be used at any time during the game.
space Function varries based on the situation. If pressed now, it will return you to the game.
t Currently, pressing this key causes the rendering code to switch from using image tiles to using ASCII letters and from ASCII to image tiles.
arrow keys These are the keys you use to move around. You can press an arrow key once to move one space, or hold one of them down to travel a greater distance. While holding down a directional key you cannot change directions without releasing the key you are already holding down. By standing next to an interactive item, such as an enemy, another character or an item, and pressing the arrow key toward that item you will interact with it.
numbers 1-4 These are used in conversation to select your response.
Y/N Sometimes, rather than a complicated response, a character will simply ask a yes or no question, in which case you will hit “y” or “n” to respond.
F5 Pressing the F5 key refreshes the page and starts everything over completely. Your progress is not saved, though a saving system is being considered. Can only be used during game play, not now.

Items

ASCII Key Name Description
a backpack The backpack is used for carrying items. It is required before you can start the game (officially) and carry other items.
o small orb The small orb adds a little attack power to your weapon attack power. The orb is carried in the backpack.
i c candle The candle is used to light up dark rooms. Some rooms have areas of darkness which the candle can also light up, but only momentarily. The candle is carried in the backpack.
# raft Once you have the raft, you can travel over water. The raft is also carried in the backpack.
small stick The small stick is the least effective weapon. Choosing it at the beginning of the game may give you certain advantages however. The backpack is required to carry the small stick.
_ big stick The big stick is a little more powerful than the small stick, though less powerful than the sword. The backpack is required to carry the big stick.
t basic sword The basic sword is the most powerful weapon you can choose at the beginning of the game, though you may find yourself in a disadvantage sometimes throughout the game should you choose it. The backpack is used to carry the basic sword.
/ arrows As of right now, arrows don’t do anything. You carry them in your backpack.
D bow Currently, the bow just sits there and looks pretty. You carry it in your backpack.
~ w gummi-worm The gummi-worm is carried in the backpack until you need it. Pressing the “w” key causes you to eat one from your inventory and restore health.
O big orb The big orb adds even more attack power to your weapon. Requires the backpack.
C lucky horseshoe The lucky horseshoe is useless. You carry it in your backpack.
l k key The key is required for opening locked doors. You need a backpack to carry them in. An inventory is kept for when you have more than one.
B b bomb Bombs blow some things up, but not everything. Use with caution – if you blow one next to another bomb you will get hurt. You carry them in the backpack.
* health star Find one of these to restore some health.
$ money Collect lots of cash. Mostly just because you never know what you’ll need it for.

Terrain

ASCII Name Description
X wall Walls cannot be stepped on or passed, but some are easy to blow up with a bomb.
H/I doors Some doors are locked, others take you random places. Have fun with doors.
= bridge/wooden floor Some of the bridge sections may blow up when you use a bomb. Be careful.
| railing On occasion you will find a rail that can blow up. It never hurts to check, unless there are other bombs nearby.
w water Once you have the raft, you can travel over water.
! tree Some trees can be blown up, but that’s not a very nice thing to do.
A/M mountains Mountains cannot be crossed for now, but some funny people often live among them.
^ hill You can walk on these with no problem.
P flag I’m not sure what these are for.
grass Feel it between your toes…
E darkness You can’t even see yourself in the darkness, you need light.
`/./,/: sand For walking in. Not good for eating.

Characters

ASCII Name Description
@ hero This silly moron doesn’t know how to think for himself and needs you (of all people) to guide him through every little aspect of his meaningless 2-dimensional life.
& old man Usually friendly, these people just want to have a word with you.
K woman Maybe she needs your help, maybe not. You never know which woman will turn out to be the princess in your life.
e basic enemy These are weak, but not the weakest of enemies. The small stick will not kill one alone.
s small snake These are among the weakest of all the enemies. Even a smack from a small stick will beat one to death.
Q “Q” enemy These are a little more fearsome. You’ll need more than just the sword to take these out.
S big snake These are a gamble, even with the sword. Once you’ve got an orb or two though, they’re hardly worth mentioning.
Z “Z” enemy These are some of the strongest enemies made so far.
F water monster These mysterious enemies are strong, so watch out.
N horse monster These are as strong as the “Z” enemies, but harder to find.
Y two-headed dragon These ultra-strong enemies are dangerous, and even a few orbs and a sword cannot kill them. You’re going to have to find something else that may be effective against them.

Where I Went

Occasionally I may disappear from time to time. I should hope that anyone who knows me at all would realize that my disappearing does not mean that I have ceased to be actively engaged in something. In fact, when I neglect something like my “thing” here it’s usually because I have something more exciting going on.

In fact, over the last week I have had several more exciting things happening than this.

In small news, we rented a fun game over the weekend. I loved the movie “Wall-e” so much that I just had to try the Wii game. Overall, my impression of the game was a good one. I think the developers rushed through parts of the game, but the majority was well thought out and fun.

The real time sucker for me the last week or so has been related to my last post about the game project. Shortly after writing that post, I came up with the bright idea to set the actual game portion aside and continue with an aspect of my original idea – the part where simple games could be made even by a novice or child.

I remembered the days when I had a TI-eighty-something graphing calculator that allowed for some simple code writing (scripting) in its native language. I was able to program it to play a number guessing game. It would print out on the screen “guess a number between 0 and 100” or whatever two numbers I chose, then I could guess. It would tell me “too high” or “too low” until I got the answer and it reset to “guess a number…” The experience with programming that simple application was enough to spark my interest in computer and web programming and has led me to better learn linear/sequential-thinking skills (I guess I’m a visual/spatial person, and linear or sequential thinking is difficult for me).

What I’m getting at is this: I thought, “wouldn’t it be great if I could write a program that would ease my son into the world of programming!?!” My son is definitely sequentially challenged and could certainly benefit from a bit of computer interaction at the programming level. How do you teach a five-year-old to write code though? So, I devised a plan (like I always do).

The plan was only complicated because of how elegantly simplistic and straightforward it was. It would be able to teach anyone the basics of a simple web programming language known as JavaScript. I developed an outline for a set of lessons that would walk the user through various levels of difficulty in programming functions. The program itself would adapt its interface to grow with the user as he progressed through the lessons and became more proficient.

I may or may not create the JavaScript teaching program, but I am already nearly done with one of the projects the program would walk the user through creating.

In fact, the project has grown into something far more complicated than anything I would ever ask a new programmer to attempt. It has even stumped me a couple of times in big ways.

When I finish it, I’ll try to upload it to my Google page so you can try it out. Quickly, before I go off to bed, I’m going to explain what it is and ask for your input and suggestions.

I’m making a simple game that will be played in the web browser. It is programmed entirely in JavaScript and is (as of right now) designed to be played in one sitting, though each time you play it your choices will create a different experience. If I go back and review techniques for writing and reading cookies to your local machine, I may be able to allow you to save your progress, but for now the entire game resets when you close the browser, refresh the page or load the page.

Right now, the entire look of the game is achieved with text. Here are a couple of screen-shots to illustrate:

Eventually I may take screen-shots like these into Photoshop and modify each individual character to better represent its item (saving the modifications as small images and having the program assemble the images in the same manner as it assembles the text).

For now, I would simply have to explain what each character represents for a person to be able to play the game. The @ symbol represents the main character. The & represents other people, the s and S are snakes, the $ is money, * is health and the C is a lucky horseshoe. Of course, the e is an enemy, as are the Q’s and the snakes. The H’s at the tops and bottoms of the screens are doors, and the I’s are also doors on the sides. The ^ represents a hill that can be walked on, but an A is a mountain and cannot be initially transversed (perhapse special shoes could be obtained allowing one to scale a mountain). The w is water, and a raft (#) is required before one can cross rivers that do not have a bridge (=). Sand and grass are represented by periods, semicolons and commas, and trees are exclamation points.

Of course, there are many other characters that I have used, but it would be a simple job to have the Javascript replace each letter or character with an image and thus create a much less jarring visual experience for the user.

Essentially, I have too many ideas (just for the game engine, the inner-workings of the code that drives the game) to outline everything here. The room on the right in my example was dark (represented by a screen full of E’s) until I used my candle to light it up (many ideas are drawn from games like the Zelda and Link series). I have set my code up to be flexible enough to do almost anything. All I need now are more ideas.

What kinds of stories would you tell if you had an open ended game like this? What kind of adventure would you go on? You can’t bring any friends with you, and your items may be limited (with no features for animating, enemies don’t move and it would be nearly impossible to actually use the bow and arrow – for now I don’t plan on animating anything), but many quests and adventures are still possible. Send me your best ideas and I’ll see if anything sounds fun to me.

My wife has already contributed (Burt and the gummi worm are her handiwork). What ideas will you contribute?

Once I’ve finished the basic game engine I’ll try to post it online somewhere so you can see what it’s capable of. I won’t have a story fully developed by then, of course, but everything should function properly (as of right now, it is possible to lose a battle and end up with negative health points, but you don’t die). I’ll work out the bugs and you can come up with ideas for me. If your idea requires a reworking of the basic engine, but it’s good, I’ll see what I can do. Remember, I’m keeping things fairly simple, but complicated enough to be fun.

Oh, and in case you’re wondering… The portion I expected an intermediate beginner to be able to code was finised within the first day. It consisted of a few lines of code to draw the map and some buttons that moved the little man around in the map. From there I just kind of went crazy… And what if you could collect items? Oh, and what if you could have a raft? Wow, and how about doors? Let’s put some enemies in! We need weapons, and battles, and candles for darkness, and keys for doors, and guys to talk to, and boss battles, and stores, and dynamic items and terrain, and conversations, and why won’t he die?, and, and, and… … …

Overly Ambitious or Genius?

Ever since I was a young child I have had ideas.  Some of my ideas are novel, others impractical, while most of them are hardly noteworthy.  The problem is, not much has ever been produced from my ideas, other than the ideas themselves.  In the end, all I am left with are more ideas.

Take, for instance, an idea I had as a Freshman in High School in 1997, the same year the Nintendo 64 gaming system was released.  The idea began brewing long before then, but I know for sure that I began imagining the particulars during that first year of High School.

My idea really took off that year because we got our first glimpses of what some of our favorite games could be like in a fully three dimensional world.  Playing Mario 64 I was impressed with the level of freedom the extra dimension offered, but I still felt limited.  So I began imagining my own version of the perfect game.

It began with my version of the perfect Mario 64 game.  In stead of levels limited at the edges by invisible walls or impossibly steep hills, why not connect all of the levels?  There could be extra terrain blending the different environments that each level contains, and the whole thing could be one massive world.

On that note, my logic continued, why not make the whole thing into a giant planet?  It could be the Mario 64 world.  A whole planet filled with Mario levels.

Then we got a new game, Mario Kart 64.  This, being another Mario game, instantly began crowding its way into my already busy imaginary Mario world.  In the Mario Kart game, one track takes place in the same setting as the beginning of Super Mario 64 – outside the Princess’s Castle.  I thought it would be cool if you could get out of your race kart and enter the castle.  Of course, in my imaginary 3D Mario world, this would be possible.

The next game I remember getting and loving completely changed my imaginary game forever, and that was Star Wars: Shadows of the Empire.  This game allowed me a visual companion that took my 3D game into new galaxies.  Of course, it didn’t happen so fast.  At first, I saw the opportunity to have other planets and space ships that could fly around in space, allowing you to land on other planets.  Then, another game (this one for the PC) got me thinking even more.

I just spent the last half hour researching and trying to find the name of this game I used to love playing, but found nothing.  I have no idea where I got it, but it was a shareware game where you controlled a small ship and tried to conquer a galaxy.  There were two or three star systems, each with planets in orbit.  It was a simple, 2D game but I loved playing.  You used the up arrow key to fire a single thruster, left and right to rotate and orient the craft (like Asteroids) and the down arrow key to fire your weapon.  The physics reminded you that there is no friction in space, and gravity can pull you off your course.  The planets weren’t all that much bigger than the orbiting landing platform you began on.  You moved out from your planet and found unclaimed planets to make your own.  All of your planets worked on upgrades for your ship such as new weapons, shields, etc.  There was a complicated system for colonizing and developing your planets, but it seemed to take care of itself in the background as long as you kept flying around claiming more planets.

The trouble was with your opponent, who was constantly trying to attack and conquer your planets.  Anyhow, there was a little more to it that that, but I think you get the point.  I decided my game had to have aspects like that.  You could either play around on the surface, or you could go from planet to planet and try to gain control over as many of them as you could.  Then I got to thinking about other jobs, tasks, and so forth that could keep a person busy in a universe like this.  People could play the game to race, to run around on missions like in Golden Eye 007 or Perfect Dark, try to save people like the Star Wars game, fly people from planet to planet, compete for money, use the money to buy ships, cars, and other things…  The list kept growing.

Eventually, I realized this sort of thing would be more fun with other real people if they could be connected over the Internet.  In a recent letter to a loved one, I wrote the following (this person is still using a dial-up connection to the Internet):

Too bad you’re on dial up still.  I was just remembering dial up this week when I was recalling my first experiences with the Internet.  My dad’s place of work had supplied him with a  notebook computer and he had some responsibilities online.  He subscribed to AOL for Internet service at home, and I remember hearing about websites and pages from friends, on television and at school, and wanting to check them out online.  So, I would occasionally ask my dad if we could go on the Internet to look at one thing or another.

Every time we went online it was an adventure.  Not from the discoveries, learning or witnessing of new technology as one would hope.  The experience was an adventure because our connection would get refused a couple of times, then we’d get on with a painfully slow connection speed, and lose the connection five minutes later, only to repeat the whole process again and again.  I remember my “last straw” was when we decided to try filing our taxes online for the first time.  It took many, MANY hours.  Again, not because it was confusing or difficult, but because our connection was unreliable and slow.

A few of these “adventures” and I was convinced that the Internet was a useless, frustrating fad that would pass before I graduated high school.  That was one of my last wrong predictions.  As soon as I heard about “T-One Lines,” “Cable Modems” and “DSL,” I realized that the Internet didn’t have to be a slow, unreliable pain in the rump and a whole flood of possibilities became apparent.

Among that “flood of possibilities” was the idea that the Internet could connect gamers so they could interact in the same virtual world or universe.  Little did I know, but online games were already in existence, and at around the same time as I was developing my ideas for an online multiplayer game, MMOG‘s were also developing into the 3D worlds they are today.  Now, games very similar to the final version of my idea exist (and they are making their creators a lot of money), but they lack the personality and flavor of my imaginary universe.

Spore and Second Life are two examples of ideas like mine that were capitalized on rather than sat on.  In Spore you get something more complicated than what I imagined but more centralized and less ambigous.  However you get the same level of scale and interactivity.  In Second Life you get the social networking, interactivity, creativity, ambiguity and freedom, but you still don’t have the video game style play.  I just think the themed worlds would be fun (imagine a Link and Zelda world).  I also think playing as your favorite video game character should be an option, as well as the traditional creation of an avatar.

In the end, though, my idea is still an idea.  I’m writing about this because I am once again faced with an idea that keeps escalating.  If I don’t squelch the proliferation of ideas soon, my idea will once again become too impractical to create.

Once again, my idea is for a game.  It is a simple game this time though, one for children or adults.  At first, while designing the code on paper, I realized that a modular approach would be easier to work with and make the whole project more flexible.  Then I decided I would like the program to help create the code for the game, making the game easier to edit and change.  I thought it would be good to make the game files separate from the code so it wouldn’t be hardwired into the actual program.  Then I decided to integrate the editing function into the final product so users could create their own games like mine, telling their own story.  Then it just got more complicated and more intricate until I realized I was going to have to back some of the features out if I’m ever really going to program this thing.

Only once did this tendency of mine to escalate ever pay off.  I was in High School, designing a program to help decode some encrypted messages for a contest I was working on in the evenings (instead of doing homework at home).  It worked out because I started getting the extra ideas while I was actually executing the project.  I started with a simple program that helped count characters and plot a graph to help me decode substitution ciphers by character analysis.  Then I got involved in a harder, multi-alphabet substitution cipher that required yet another function in the program to facilitate its decryption.  Eventually I got it to work, and it did its job beautifully.  I was very proud of this program, and to this day I regret the harddrive crash that wiped away every last line of its code.

The dilemma I am faced with is one of practicality.  Is it better to cut off an idea before it gets out of control to keep it feasible, or is it better to dream big, aim high and resign myself to a life full of ideas that I will never bring to life?  I like dreaming big, I love my ideas, but they are too big to execute.  This world we live in moves so quick that if I don’t do something about an idea fast enough, someone else will think of it and do it before me.  I have had numerous ideas that became big a few years after I dreamed them up.

Am I an overambitious, lazy and unrealistic dreamer or am I an under-ambitious genius who lacks the necessary gumption to do something about his ideas?  What do you think?


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