Archive for the Everything Else Category

These Wars of Mine

Posted in All the Things, Everything Else with tags , , , , , on August 6, 2017 by trivialpunk

     It has been a long, strange journey. I’ve considered picking up the metaphorical pen again many times, but there’s never been anything I’ve considered worth saying dripping off the end of it. Tonight is a little different. Tonight, I’m thinking back to my time with This War of Mine. It’s not so much a review as a look at what games can do for us. It’s a bit personal, so fair warning.

"Are you gonna kill us?"

“Are you gonna kill us…?” the old man asked.

 

     Let’s begin with the game, because none of this is going to make any sense unless you understand what I’m talking about. If you aren’t familiar with the Metacritic darling, This War of Mine is a side-scrolling survival-strategy game inspired by the Siege of Sarajevo. You control a variable number of survivors that are using a bomb-torn house as a shelter. The day-time segments are spent inside to avoid the eyes of snipers; your characters spend this time improving their shelter and taking care of their daily needs. You’ve gotta cook food, filter water, build beds, clean up rubble, break down or reinforce walls, construct a grow-op in the basement and make liquor to sell for more sugar to make liquor. If you’re successful enough, you’ll be able to supply an entire neighbourhood with cigarettes and home-made vodka. But, you’ll hoard it and trade it for medical supplies.

     Becaaause, the night-time segments are spent gathering the very limited resources from the surrounding buildings. There’s very little food left in This War of Mine. There’s very little of everything, and what’s left is hoarded, guarded or rotting in ruined shelters. So, in the spirit of adventure, you can send a character out at night to do some jolly looting. It’s dangerous, though, and these fragile characters often have very limited inventory space. If they die, you lose everything they’ve gathered, an entire night of looting, a useful set of hands, and a very dear friend. It’s an insane, but necessary, risk. Your character can be shot dead or break a leg. They can be attacked by other looters or become insanely depressed by the proposition of stealing from helpless senior citizens. War-time is a dark, dangerous time, and your characters are twisted by their war into horrible, selfish shapes. It remains to the player to decide what you take and if you take it, but your choices will end up killing people either way.

     This War of Mine is a stark world, and it is unforgiving when it comes to compounding failure. If you lose a good scavenger, then you’ve gotta send out someone else with fewer slots and a slower run speed. You have to make crucial decisions about finding chances to sleep, preparing water to drink, and reading books to steel your sanity. Everything takes times, and time is the most important resource in the game. Scavenging resources buys you time. Finding food buys you time. Recruiting survivors increases or decreases the survival time-value of your remaining resources and the number of things you can do with that limited time. Your entire goal is to outlast the war, to survive it. That is the war in This War of Mine: a tooth-and-nail fight for both your flesh and your humanity. You will lose chunks of both, but you can survive. You will not always do well, but you may do better. It all comes down to how you use your time. That brings us to my metaphorical war.

     This war of mine was more about surviving a financial crisis. In the last few years, I’ve gone through many ups and downs. I went from my friend’s couch into a single room, through a bachelor suite, and now I’m snuggled into a one-bedroom apartment. It was shortly after I moved into this apartment that this story takes place. I quit my Tim Hortons job to start my dream career as a writer that supports people with disabilities in their day-to-day lives. It was gonna be great! Exceeept, they called and said they didn’t need me after all. I was fairly heartbroken and extreeeeemely unemployed. I had just paid my rent, so I had some time. I went over my finances. There was no way to pay next month’s rent, and I couldn’t sink any of it into my bills. I’d need food and bus tickets, resume paper and clean clothes. I didn’t know how I was going to manage it all.

     I looked at the numbers I’d written down. The duration of my survival quantified before my eyes. It was like staring death in the face again. I would have to make my bed on the street or hope to use someone’s couch, again. I’ve done it before, and it’s never pleasant, but it’s always enlightening. My anxiety welled, and I felt the dread wash over me, a great surge that left me shaking like a leaf. I held on and let it pass through me. Fear overwhelmed me, frothed like a raging hurricane, then subsided. There was much to do. It was time to survive.

     That night, after handing out dozens of resumes, I double-streamed Saint’s Row 4 and This War of Mine to ease my mind. For someone in my position, it was a real relief to solve my financial problems in Saint’s Row with the elegance of violent theft. This War of Mine, on the other hand, seemed to resonate with the same atmosphere my life had taken on. It became a mascot for my financial struggle and a vague reassurance that survival is possible. The rhythm of This War of Mine is a lot of setting instructions, planning while you wait, then reaping the benefits of those plans. That low-key pattern is intercut with sections of tense stealth and violent death, which proved both engaging and oddly relaxing. It was a perfect heat-sink for my anxieties. It helped me think about my own survival in more proactive and productive ways. I rationed out my remaining food with greater care and made smarter purchases with my remaining funds. I contacted my local foodbank and made my first ever withdrawal. Most crucially, I asked for help from my friends in a way I never had before. And they fucking came through.

     My city was in the midst of a terrible job drought. None of my unemployed friends could find work. There was a local group of us that would check in with each other to see how the hunt was going. Like the traders in the game, we had developed a support network, exchanging information and providing solidarity. It was rough. I never actually did find new work at the time. Later in the month, the agency I’d dreamed about working for called me back. They had room for me on the team, now! Which was great, except that I would never get paid in time to make rent. I would get my first cheque three weeks later, exactly two weeks too late to save my apartment. I was devastated, but I would survive. I would start looking for a new one-room place in the morning. I left a post on my facebook about it and went to sleep. When I woke up, an old, dear friend had sent me a message. She’d read about my troubles and wanted to help. She straight-up gave me the remaining seven hundred dollars I needed to make rent and stave off my bill collectors that month. No strings attached. “Pay it forward,” she said. Never tell anyone who did this. I’m not gonna, but you still saved me.

     Now, all I had to do was ration my food and bus tickets through five weeks of work: three weeks to pay my rent and two weeks to get money for food. My cousin, who also happens to be one of my two god-mothers, was in town and took me shopping for groceries. Thinking back, I did better than I had that first time I’d been given a timer and some resources. I remembered everything I had learned from those days with This War of Mine. There are no guarantees in life, and you will not always do well, but you can always do better. The goal of survival becomes more nebulous outside of the framework of war, especially when the harbinger of your doom is Capitalism. However, the game’s mechanical assertions that patience, planning, humanity and community are crucial to survival rings true in every setting.

     Games are imaginary spaces where our decisions are evaporative, and that makes them a perfect mirror for the kind of logical considerations that make your blood run cold in the real world. I had trouble facing the spectre of my own imminent doom, but I could assist a world full of animated puppets with their struggle to survive. Using that space, I was able to be more honest with my circumstances and overcome them more efficiently. It all fell to shit again later, but that’s another game for another time.

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All-New Advertising Gimmicks Really Aren’t Much

Posted in All the Things, Everything Else with tags , , , , , , , , , on June 26, 2014 by trivialpunk

I’m shared between the rich and clever;
I’m the heart of each endeavor.

I gleam in every artist’s eye;
I’m the awe that fills the sky.

I am love, both old and new;
I’m the reason you can “do”.

Despite our clashing; I’m your friend, too;
You’ll use Me to figure out if that’s true.

Who am I?

The first letter of my name is the first clue.

The second letter begins the Tweet that holds the second clue. It’s the only one from June 26, 2014 that begins with that letter.
Ditto for the third letter.
The fourth precedes the beginning of the end;
And, even though it’s jinxing the entire thing, it refuses to move.

Yes, I absolutely put this together to spoil the title of my first ever web-series.
If I must advertise, then I want it to be enjoyable and challenging for everyone involved!

Good luck!

Marc Married to WTF: Attention Grabbing Title

Posted in All the Things, Everything Else with tags , , , , , , , on June 25, 2014 by trivialpunk

Hi! So, we’re trying one of those smaller posts that I said would be interspersed among the longer ones. For consistency’s sake, let’s also plug a video while we’re here. My YouTube channel has a new trailer! I’m vaguely excited about it, because it’s the first time I’ve ever been caught on tape playing guitar. And, it was an accident. And, as an act of self-flagellation, I posted it.  Because, I need to get over myself.

Speaking of me, I review a lot stuff on here, because I explore many different facets of the lovingly putrescent diamond that is pop-culture. I’m sure you’ve noticed some themes in the things I write about, but I try to keep my mind as open as possible. “Try”, not always successfully, I’ll admit, but the first step is always admitting you have a problem. So, it’s time to admit that I love comedy.

I’ve been watching it since I was a small child, almost as long as I’ve been immersed in the world of horror, actually. Maybe I was dealing with intense psychological trauma, or maybe I only had a few television channels. I’ll let you decide. But, I thought I might use some of these shorter posts to briefly review some comedians. One per post. And today, we’re talking about Marc Maron.

I’ve been listening to a lot of WTF with Marc Maron lately. He’s an older, experienced comic that was a pioneer of podcasting. Still is, if we’re being honest. I’ve learned a lot from the show. I mean, I’ve learned a lot of interesting things, but the things are not the only things that are relevant. (Stay with me, here.)

Marc and I disagree on a lot of “things”, but his method of self-inquiry is infectious. It’s brash and unassuming, humble, passionate and silly. Even if someone thought the whole thing was an act, the act itself is bold. And, I’ve enjoyed every second of the process of deconstruction that the show makes me go through.

If I’m being honest, and if that string of accurate fan-boy adjectives didn’t already suggest it, I’ll consume most media that Marc Maron puts out. Comedians, generally, have a touch of the auteur about them, but Marc’s an auteur of self-reflection, so, I’m always surprised by the way he spins things, because the loom he’s working from is so intricately refined. Coupled with his honest acts of self-reflection, he lets me see the world through his eyes without asking me to buy into it. And, that’s refreshing.

But, he’s not for everyone. Like most auteurs, it’s easier to digest their ideas if they resonate with you on some level. I enjoy his act, because comedy has been a part of my life for so long, and he spends his time deconstructing it in a novel and interesting way. For me, that’s awesome.

So, I recommend checking him out through either his podcast or his stand-up (I haven’t watched his television show, yet, so I can’t comment on that). If you enjoy his comedy “drive-shaft”, then I’d also suggest Dylan Moran and Louis C.K. because they’re also consummate comedic story-tellers. I know these are big-name guys, but if you’re a comedy neophyte, then they’re great places to start. Cheers!

Twitter, YAW, NAM and The Problem With Hashtags

Posted in All the Things, Everything Else with tags , , , , , , on June 4, 2014 by trivialpunk

Dear Readers: We’re still on hiatus. This is just me talking here.

I’m back again with some startling news: social media is weird. Why do I say that? Well, because you, as an individual on social media, represent both yourself and any demographics you might belong to. If you hashtag, you’re throwing your voice into another stream that is made up of many more voices. Seems easy enough to navigate, right? No, we’re having a lot of trouble with that. And nowhere is it more evident than the recent YesAllWomen-NotAllMen fiasco. Today, I’m going to address this issue and try to explain why I’m using the word “fiasco.”

Let’s start where most people are going to tune out: both of these issues are important. Neither of them is mutually exclusive. When we’re answering the question: is sexual harassment still a big deal? The answer we can glean from the hashtag is, “Yes, all women deal with it.” But, not all men harass women, and that’s the general thrust of NotAllMen. Now, if you’re sitting on the side-lines, this all seems very reasonable. But, if you’re down in the pit, then these two things aren’t as simple as they seem.

To respond to YesAllWomen with NotAllMen is missing the point. It’s not about passing judgement on individual men, guys. It’s about the shit women are dealing with and making it public. And, it should probably be informing our understanding of our interactions with women, as well.

However, I also believe that an individual man might have a stake in NotAllMen, because we’ve spent the last how many years studying the effects of media on people and we still don’t get how labelling works? To me, NotAllMen is about rejecting aggression as an identifying characteristic of “males.” Because, believe me, women are capable of being aggressive.

But, again, that’s not the point of YesAllWomen. But it is the point of NotAllMen, because that self-identification matters if you’re a part of that group. Do these two groups need to fight? No, not really, but like I said, they are. So, why?

I’m not sure anyone knows the whole story, for everyone, and that’s really my big criticism of the whole thing. As far as I’ve been reading, I haven’t had one side stop and really try to listen to all the others. Because, assuming this is about one cohesive group debating another is asinine, but I know a lot of people are talking about it like that’s what’s going on. And that sort of highlights the whole problem we’re having here: the rejection of nuance.

For my part here, this is about individuals who belong to those groups not spending the time to listen, and, instead, forwarding their own agenda. I mean, that’s totally understandable. If you think something’s important enough, then you’ll toe the rhetoric line. But, this isn’t about one side versus another. This is about all of humanity.

Why is an individual being sexist? Why do they have that view? How am I sexist? How is my own myopia making it hard to see other people’s perspectives? Is trying to move past my myopia giving me a perspective that’s useful or good? What am I doing with that perspective?

These are important questions. And we can’t stop asking them. Why? Well, I went through the English circuit at a University, so I’ve seen plenty of individuals learn Trans-gender Theory or Feminist Theory and then turn around and use it to degrade ignorant ass-holes or, even, just human beings who didn’t know better. I’ve taken a certain amount of self-righteous joy in it, because we need to look at the historical perspective when we’re discussing this. But, equally, we need to care about the individuals, because education is a privilege. If we’re going to call out privileges on the net, then we need to recognize that, or we’ll turn into pompous jerks.

Also, men, having an activist group for our rights is a great idea, but I urge you to be thoughtful. Males have dominated the popular culture for so long that it’s hard for us to see why having a male-only group might be an issue, but let me just give you a “for-instance.” On my campus, we wanted to put together a Men’s Activist group. I wasn’t involved directly, but I like the notion of defending everyone’s rights, because I believe we’ll hit an even point, and then we’ll need to make sure we’re letting everyone be as free and supported as possible within the constraints of not stabbing each other. However…

Upon further reflection, and after checking some rosters, I’ve discovered that men are the majority of the population of a lot of groups. In fact, both clubs I belong to are headed by men and have a 70-30 pop. split. So, what would a men’s group be on my campus, at this time? Honestly, in effect, a group that discludes women. You can fear the spectre of quasi-Nazi pro-male regimes all you like, but I think this is the real issue. Having a boy’s club is great, but we had those for a long time. They were called clubs.

And maybe the demo-split is changing. (Although, it’s better to check than to assume) I mean, we have to acknowledge that the world is changing, right? We all know that the variation within humanity is beyond current comprehension, so why wouldn’t there be places in the world where someone would want to have a place to just be a guy? I call that place my house, but, if I spend the time, I can see their point.

So, again, why is this an issue? Well, because of hashtags. And because we forget that speaking under a hashtag means our words are being interpreted with thousands… millions of others. Because there are people who are using the hashtags for political ends. Hey, Not All Men are supporting women’s rights, here. Let’s be honest, some of the people speaking under this label are sexist jerks. But, the same goes for YesAllWomen. Let’s be fair.

But, that’s the not the point of the groups as a whole, is it?

Both of these groups are trying to do something good for the people within them. In truth, they should be supporting each other, too, though. And, honestly, these groups aren’t just made up of their original intentions; they’re made up of the people within them. I’ve read pieces on both sides that made me want to vomit my insides up. Both groups are spending a lot of time speaking past each other. So, what can we do?

Well, we’re members of these groups, too, whether we want to be or not. We don’t have to talk or anything, but I would encourage you to see people’s humanity, not just their sex or gender or any other defining characteristic. It’s demeaning to shrink an entire human down to a sound-bite. And do what you want, but we should avoid demeaning all humanity at once by simplifying something this complicated into Boys Vs. Girls. Let me give you another “for-instance”…

Recently, I saw a celebrity I won’t name say, “Tip for men, *Pro YesAllWomen explanation*…” Another guy responded by saying that the celebrity shouldn’t throw his hat into the ring so carelessly, to which the celebrity responded by deriding him and explaining YesAllWomen. Seems good, right?

Well, I would caution against making any assumptions here. The problem with the initial remark was that it was sexist. Sorry, it was. Not JUST men have this problem. We all share it. Women harass, too. The fact that women, roughly half our population, are getting harassed is everyone’s problem. However, the judgement on guys is inherent in the construction of the sentence, and if it effects you that way, then you will see it. But you might not, because it’s syntactic sub-text. It only pops out if you’re looking for it, the same way using the word “boner” here would change your perception of the phrase “pops out,” if I wanted to make a crass joke. It’s pattern-recognition working on a semantic level.

However, the sentence wasn’t meant to be about that, in reality. The sentence was about women and an issue they face. But, a sentence is written and interpreted separately, so it must be wrought carefully. When we speak on social media, we have to be clear, because we’re talking to literally everyone. We need to be sensitive, because we might be shouting at everyone on the planet that’s on Twitter, especially if we’re hashtagging, which is universal short-hand for “everyone pay attention, I’m saying a thing.”

More importantly, we need to do our best to search for a poster’s meaning. It’s hard, though, because we’re working with so little information. If your friend says something insensitive, then you have a history with them that you can use to understand what they mean. On Twitter, under a hashtag, we have 140 characters and a bunch of assumptions about the culture we live in. That’s a lot of information, honestly, but cultural information does not apply directly to human beings. You need to know where culture intersects with the facts of their life. And even then, you’ll only have a caricatured understanding of them as a person, because you won’t know what their memories, habits, biology and self are.

But, YesAllWomen and NotAllMen are working on a cultural level. So, the individual often gets over-written by the cultural narrative to which ze or he or she is speaking. The only way I see to begin solving this issue is by trying really hard to understand what someone means when they’re speaking on Twitter, not just what they’re saying. This won’t solve our problems. YAW and NAM go much deeper than this issue of communication, but we do need to be able to talk to each other if we’re going to work through issues like this efficiently and thoughtfully.

Yes, all women deal with harassment, but not all men have to let that fact dictate their identity, even if it should inform it. We can just “be” without harassing each other, but we can’t ignore that it’s happening, either. I don’t know what you think of these issues, and I’m not trying to convince you of anything but the importance of listening honestly. So, whatever my thoughts on these topics really are, I’ll see you on the other side.

Trivial Punk is a white, cis-gendered male living in the upper-lower class with a University education and too much time on his hands. He likes rice, wears glasses and once fell in a lake. #Canada

I only have my perspective, and it’s horribly flawed, because it’s horribly small. Please, check this issue out, because I only see a small portion of it at once, so I could be totally off-base. Cheers!

Digital Humanities: Double the Entendres, Thrice the Parable

Posted in All the Things, Everything Else with tags , , , , , , on May 19, 2014 by trivialpunk

I’ve had trouble explaining some of the core tenants of the Digital Humanities directly, so here’s a parable of one of its ideas:

This is Newsman 1. He knows a lot about A. There are a lot of letters in the alphabet, though. 26, to be exact! That’s a lot of letters to pay attention to at once, especially since A splits off into Aa, Ab, Ac…

Now, there are plenty more letters than that, and the combinations get pretty divergent. But, Newsman 1 knows that the people reading him are really only interested in Aa. He knows a lot about that, and there are enough people in the world that want to read about Aa that he can continue writing about it specifically. So, he does. He gets quite a following, which invests him with authority when speaking about Aa.

Now, there are also the people that listen to Newsman 1 because he can explain the news precisely and concisely. He speaks clearly and organizes his thoughts very well. And these people need someone like that, because the amount of information available to the average news-reader has increased exponentially. The number of things they have to know about is insane, especially if you consider that some of them are experts on B-Z. So, they rely on informed individuals to explain the complex nuances of things like Aa and Ab.

That’s a pretty efficient system for sharing information, but it has considerations that must be addressed. For instance, a lot of people who listen to Newsman 1’s  opinions about Aa also write about A or Aa. So, now Newsman 1’s opinions and ideas reach much farther than they did before. Some people credit him, some people don’t. That doesn’t matter for our purposes here; you can’t stop the signal.

This can be a good thing, if Newsman 1 is well-informed and even-handed. But, no one can know all things, even about something as specific as Aaa, let alone anything as generalized as A. That’s fair, though. We can’t expect people to be more than people, especially when they get to something they’re unfamiliar with. Or, when someone comes up with a new idea, like Aab.

Aab is kind of radical. Or maybe it’s counter-intuitive. Or maybe Newsman 1 just isn’t a fan of Aab. Either way, he says Aab is stupid and Aaa is obviously the superior idea. The people that listen to him take that negative impression into consideration when they’re talking about Aab. Now, Aab is always addressed from the angle of being compared to Aaa, which it might not have anything in common with, besides their shallow resemblances or context.

But, how could Newsman 1 know that? He writes what he knows and approaches that as thoughtfully as he can. Maybe he’ll change his mind, who knows? Maybe it’s a political idea, and he’s more on the fence than he lets on, but he has to have an opinion when he reports it. Whatever the reason for his disinterest in, or ignorance of, Aab, he is merely a dot in the chain of the spread of information. Whether he changes his mind or not, that perspective has spread through the web based on his authority on Aaa.

You might be thinking, “Yes, but aren’t there many different Newsmen. Surely, there are people who will provide coverage on the perspectives that Newsman 1 misses.” Absolutely true! But, what do you think the ratio is between people who interpret, then report, on A and those who read about it? It’s minuscule. The ideas of the many are being funneled through the visions of the few.

We rely on those people to be even-handed and informed, to report in an unbiased manner, but they’re already starting from a perspective. Unbiased reporting is a dream; good reporting takes bias into account as much as possible, but it will never try to convince you that it’s objective. Unless the reporters are lying to convince you of their opinions.

This parable represents a type of group-think on a scale that we could have never imagined before. Remember, in a world as chaotic and filled with information as this one, being even a little bit salient is a massive leg-up. It’s also a big responsibility. And it can be hard to know what information you’re actually spreading, some of it’s pretty tacit.

For instance, I used “Newsman” this entire parable. But, there are Newswomen. And, if I wanted to be truly thoughtful, I should say “Newsperson,” because I see the Gender Binary as an emergent, but artificial, social construct. But, if we ever get Androids to do the news or a member of an alien race, then “Newsperson” becomes a thoughtless generalization. And here’s where it gets tricky, if I say “Newsperson,” then will you ever imagine an alien doing it?

And if you never think of it, if it stays a strange, foreign idea, and you’re opposed to it, then how will you ever grow comfortable with it? Or even be exposed to it?

In a world as complex and chaotic as ours, as full of possibility and diversity as the bottom of the sea or the farthest star, the information people don’t address is just as meaningful as the stuff they do. A drowning man thinks only of the air-pocket, but ignores the ocean at his own risk.

So, that’s it: my triple parable. I don’t necessarily agree with all the ideas I put forth. And maybe later, I’ll realize I was being a newb and reconsider. But, for now, this makes sense to me.

The Titans Come

Posted in All the Things, Everything Else with tags , , , , , , , , on May 17, 2014 by trivialpunk

Hi! I just have to get this all out of my system, don’t worry about this becoming an exclusively Titanfall fan-site. I was working on a Titanfall fan vid and I thought: “Let’s procrastinate and make some Titan load-outs!” So, here are some of the things I came up with…

 OGRE-BP

The Hardpoint

Arc Cannon
Vortex Shield
Multi-Target Missile System/Rocket Salvo
Tactical Reactor/Regen Booster/Dash Quickcharger
Big Punch/Core Accelerator

Deployment: This is an end-game Titan and an important piece in any ground-engagement. As a giant hunk of metal and shielding, your battlefield presence is already impressive. But, augmented by your Kit load-out, you’ll be a persuasive force of battlefield control. The Over-shield Reactor ability always comes in handy, especially so when you’re taking some hits for your team in a narrow city-scape. Then again, there’s nothing like the ability to send a Titan flying with a single punch. Use your dash judiciously, or depend on your shields. Particle walls suit other load-outs, but you’re the mobile tank. You can’t afford to be unguarded on any side.

Don’t forget your true purpose: Staying alive and getting attrition points. Pilots, Spectres and Grunts are easy targets for the Arc Cannon’s chain-lightning. And every encounter you survive is another five attrition points denied. Be the shield. Live to tell the tale.

STRYDER-BP

Blaze of Glory

Quad Rocket
Electric Smoke
Rocket Salvo/Cluster Missile
Nuclear Ejection
Auto-Eject

Deployment: You are a missile that shoots rockets. Explode directly AT your opponents. Get them in clusters. Get them alone. Blow up from every available turret. This Titan is a sinister bet: that you can give more damage than you get. Calling this Titan down virtually guarantees your opponent five Attrition Points. But, that’s okay if you gained fifteen in the process. Or, if your team is getting spanked in the Titan game, and you need to level some Titans to level the playing field.

Nuclear Ejection is a powerful ability. Most Pilots are ready for it, but not everyone’s thinking about how much room they have to escape the blast. And, keep in mind, they might not be able to eject if you catch them, weakened, in the epicentre of your nuclear detonation. So, more points for you! But, try to make sure Auto-Eject has the air-space necessary to save your life, or you’ll bounce off the ceiling and back into some serious fallout. Don’t let giving up five points turn into giving up nine points.

ATLAS-BP

My Titan

40MM Cannon
Electric Smoke
Rocket Salvo
Fast Autoloader
Auto-Eject

Deployment: This is My Titan. There are many others like it, but this one is mine. It’s your basic Swiss-army knife. Does well at ranged combat, close-combat, Anti-Pilot combat, and leaves you alive to tell the tale… or to blow more things up. Control Line-of-sight with Electric Smoke, or use your agility to force a Titan into stepping inside the deadly vapor by dashing behind them and applying your fist. Once you’ve dropped their shields, hammer them with cannon-fire, liberally.

Your cannon doesn’t do a LOT of damage at once, but keep it firing and aim for weak-points carefully. A salvo of rockets should drop most enemy shields or tear a sizable hole in their life-bar. Either way, if their shields are down, shoot for the red until they’re dead.

OGRE-BP

The Hoplite

Triple Threat/Mine Field
Particle Wall
Cluster Missile
Regen Booster/Tactical Reactor/Nuclear Ejection
Survivor/Big Punch/Core Accelerator

Deployment: Not every mission calls for mobility. Sometimes, you’ve got to dig in. Hop in and become a wall. Clear buildings with your grenade launcher. Set the line in the sand with your Particle Wall, Mine Field and Cluster Missiles. Watch your enemies weather it all, then Big Punch them back through it.

It’s your choice. Depend on your shield, your Particle Wall or just raze the earth in the wake of your destruction. It doesn’t matter how, you hold that ground!

Good luck, Pilot.

Combat Evolved

Posted in All the Things, Everything Else, Game Guts with tags , , , , , , , , on May 13, 2014 by trivialpunk

Hello! It was just my birthday! Which means I’ve passed the threshold necessary to be +1 years old. I marked it on my character sheet this morning. (Make one for yourself; it’s nerd-cool >.>) So, in honor of my newly gained age, this week, I’ll be up-dating The Gift Box with a new game every 26 hours. (If I can’t get to it in time, I’ll double-post the next one!) Also, I’m going to teach Valve a thing or two by releasing some third instalments: Final Fantasy 14: ARRDark Souls and Titanfall

I was going to do another post on Titanfall, but I figured that you might want me to punctuate the giant robots with a little something else before this site becomes free advertising for Respawn. So, let’s do some free advertising for Microsoft, instead. Playing Titanfall got me thinking about next-gen game design, which, of course, brought me back to the first time I noticed a shift in design principles in my games: Halo: Combat Evolved. Now, I know a lot of people deride Halo as the beginning of the boring, cover-based, two-weapon shooter, but I protest. I don’t think you’re quite remembering it right.

That sort of thing started with people misunderstanding the thrill of the adrenaline-fuelled five-minute tactical fire-fight. A limited number of guns makes sense in that situation, because you’re never going to need more than one, really. You can switch between spawns and try new strategies with very little down-time. Stretching that hot-zone of bullet-riddled chaos into corridors of pop-up targets is what not to do. So, what do I think Halo did right? What problem do I think they were trying to solve? Let’s get to it.

Halo-combat-evolved

As with every post of this nature, I’m purely speculating. These are things that make sense to me, but life is rarely so orderly. But, let’s step back in time, nonetheless. You’re playing Doom. You’re low on ammo and high from blood-loss. The sounds of explosions and feral death-dealers aren’t far behind. You’ve got no health. You fucked up. Now, what if I were to auto-save the game for you, right there? Crap. Well, I guess you’ll either have to master the game very quickly or restart. That sucks.

It does, indeed. For gamer and developer alike. Because, gamers have to play around it, but if situations like that are too plentiful, then it could break your game. Worse than that, your franchise, and the work you put into it, might suffer. So, developers have to plan their levels around situations like that. Health-packs, ammo dumps and obvious save-points/quick-save features are a few solutions. However, the necessity of each of those features is going to limit what you can do with your levels, and, therefore, your game.

There are games that just don’t handle the injection of quick-save features very well. Choice or story-based games come to mind, especially if you want to increase re-playability by weaving a complex, swerving narrative into one story. But, challenge-based games can also have their flavour changed quite significantly by the ability to restart from any point within the challenge. Sprinting an entire kilometre is an impressive feat of human perseverance, but not if you stopped to nap every fifty meters. It loses something in the process.

So, if you don’t want a quick-save, and you don’t want to be limited by weapon/health availability, what do you do? You ensure that your player can easily return to their full-health/ammo resting state at any point in the game. And, we facilitate that with the use of energy shields and limited weapon capacity. No, seriously, a limited number of weapons, and the similarities between the human and Covenant weapons, can encourage players to switch tactics mid-combat. You can’t really run out of ammo, because everything you kill drops a weapon. You’re not hoarding ammo, because you’re not carrying an armory on your back. But, your weapon might run dry, encouraging a quick swap. Done correctly, this can add variety to the combat.

If you remember, the first Halo game wasn’t quite ready to dump health bars altogether. Which I was alright with it, because it encouraged me to play intelligently to be pressured by a waning life-total. But, the shield bar did allow the devs to know approximately how much health you were walking into a given situation with. This allowed them to plan accordingly. Now, they could fine-tune the levels to any challenge level they wanted. Do you remember that structure from when you first crash-land on the planet? It was basically a mini-fort guarded by aliens.

I remember it as being challenging, but not impossible. As I ramped up the difficulty, the number of enemies increased, sure, but their placement became more thoughtful, as well. Phalanxes of Jackals protected Elites, as the Grunts swarmed forth unto death. It was neat. Each time I played it, the challenge remained robust, until I got to the point where I’d played it into the ground. And I think a lot of that has to do with a well-tuned challenge curve that benefited from a design that suited its deployment.

Am I saying that shield bars are better than health meters? Not even a little bit. But, there are benefits to shield bars that health bars don’t possess, unless they regenerate (very small practical difference, at that point), and vice versa. All I’m saying is that the mechanics craft the game-play, which is used to craft the experience. And the experience, here, is being Master Chief.

As a character, Master Chief was designed as a mobile weapons platform. His visual design echoes a tank for a reason. But, he’s not just the fire-power, he’s the intel, too. Cortana, his tactical A.I, gives him the tech-presence to also be a mobile command post. His whole deal is being a walking army. An unstoppable force wielding an immovable object as a shield. And what game-play style reflects that? Fast-paced, wit-fuelled, weapon-swapping, on-the-fly tactical combat. And when you were deep in the on-line melee or had it cranked up to Legendary, it could start to feel like that. Yup, that sounds like the right amount of bad-ass to me.

That’s not even mentioning what the increased processing power of the next-gen might have brought in terms of level-design freedom. But, honestly, I don’t know if it played much of a role, so we’ll say no more about it.

Every mechanic is another piece in a developer’s tool-kit, but not every tool is right for every job. Thinking about how those tools can be used to best effect has brought us some pretty excellent games. It’s given freedom to devs and allowed them to craft more thoughtful experiences. Sure, some people use mechanics thoughtlessly because they seem well understood, but when someone brings it all together to make something new, I call that next-gen. Graphics and processing power are fantastic, but next-gen is just an idea. So, ideas are its heart and soul.