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Dying with M.E. as a software developer

January 27, 2014 38 comments

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[Updates to this article: Final wishes: Crowdfund Update, and Future of my Blog: I’m Still Alive]

A couple of months ago I wrote about Living with M.E. as a software developer. What I didn’t write about was the true extent of my illness, the potentially fatal prognosis of M.E. and what I want to happen as a precaution to my possible death. Read more…

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Living with M.E. as a software developer

October 26, 2013 15 comments

This is not a sob story. I’m just going to tell you about how I feel.

I wouldn’t normally write an article like this on my professional blog, but I’m fed up and want to reach out to people and share my experience for anyone who is interested.

Many of you have noticed that the posts on my blog are very sparodic. Well, a few years ago, I started to get tired easily and found myself needing 12 hours of sleep per day. I thought that I was just someone who needed more sleep than average, although it was frustrating that the days were so short. In the last 2 years, I’ve been extremely tired, and out of professional work, my sleep level rising to 16-20 hours per day, constant pain in my back, neck and shoulders (which is occasionally excruciating; I pop painkillers like candy), a strong sensitivity to changes in temperature making me feel very hot and cold all the time (thermostatic intolerance), regular headaches that I never used to get, periodic bowel irritation, weakness in the arms and legs to the point that some days I can’t walk and others I am so tired that I can’t even lift my phone to call someone for help. Sleeping does not actually make me feel any more refreshed, I am usually just as tired when I wake up as I was when I fell asleep. Mentally, my brain is full of thoughts and ideas, but physically I am quite destroyed almost all of the time. If I walk the ten minute distance to town and take a coffee, a typical result for me would be 1-2 days of sleep afterwards. Finally, in October last year, I received a diagnosis of M.E. Read more…

Xbox One Reveal Post-mortem: Microsoft reveals expensive PVR which under limited circumstances can play games

May 28, 2013 2 comments

I’ve waited for a few days after Microsoft’s Xbox One reveal on May 21st 2013 to gather up the trickle of additional information that has been leaking out of the press in the aftermath of what has widely been considered one of the most disastrous console reveals of all time. While fanboys and media alike were quick to criticise the new machine, here I am going to present just the facts as we know them so far, and a dose of reality that some readers may find startling. Read more…

PlayStation 4 Reveal Post-mortem: The end of gaming as we know it?

February 21, 2013 2 comments

Logo of the PlayStation Network

Let’s not pull any punches: while the PlayStation 3 has been successful as a games console, its development and lifecycle management has more or less been a catalogue of errors by Sony Computer Entertainment (SCE). We have seen a hardware architecture that nobody knew how to use, backed up by poor quality development tools; hardware reliability for the first years was extremely poor with a 33% return rate due to the ‘yellow light of death’ syndrome; management of the PlayStation Network (PSN) has been extremely shoddy, with one security breach leading to over a month of downtime, regular large maintenance windows which often stretch to 12 hours or more, and pricing/availability errors with each new store update every week. Regionalized versions of the PSN store (something the Xbox 360 doesn’t have) have created almost a kind of class divide between Europeans and Americans, with each complaining that the other gets better service and offers. Each region uses its own certification and QA processes, leading to non-uniform release dates for digital titles that are sometimes staggered by months. In the meanwhile, the platform has become infested with day 1 DLC, online passes, in-game micro-transactions and other ploys to milk the gamers of their hard-earned cash in as many ways as possible. Consumer confidence in PlayStation among hardcore gamers is at an all-time low. In the meanwhile, Sony as a global brand have failed to turn a profit for the last 4 years running due to poor TV sales, lack of interest in 3D (mercifully), the earthquake in Japan and unfavourable exchange rates against the Yen.

It was with a healthy dose of trepidation, therefore, that I tuned into the PlayStation 4 Reveal which took place at midnight CET on the morning of 21st February 2013. Read more…

The State of the PlayStation Mobile SDK with regards to PlayStation Vita development

September 23, 2012 2 comments

It has now been several months since PlayStation Mobile (formerly PlayStation Suite) was unleashed onto developers in beta form. On 20th September 2012, Sony announced that store deployment will be made available from October 3rd, with a final version of the SDK to be released in November.

So far, I am sorry to report that, in my opinion, the PSM SDK is not in a fit state for production use, particularly for PlayStation Vita development. Far from it. Before I look at the key issues, I want to make it clear that I do understand that PSM is designed as a portable platform to work on all PS Certified devices (which currently includes a range of Xperia Play, Sony Tablet and HTC One devices as well as the Vita), and as such developers wishing to max out the Vita’s hardware potential should ideally be using the official full-blown Vita SDK for games specific to that platform. And that brings me to the core political problem:

Read more…

Review: SingStar Guitar

October 20, 2010 Leave a comment

This is a re-print of an article originally posted on another site, included here so that the blog is a complete repository of my written work. The article is reproduced without pagination, formatting, images or editorial changes made on the original site prior to original publication.

I know what you’re thinking. When SingStar Guitar arrived, I was thinking the same thing. We have Guitar Hero and Rock Band in a billion incarnations, is there really any need for this? How can SingStar Guitar possibly compete with an existing line-up of thousands of songs, full instrument sets and the impending release of what will likely be the all-conquering music game of all-time with 17 fret guitars and MIDI keyboards that is Rock Band 3.

SingStar Guitar

SingStar Guitar (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

The answer is, SingStar Guitar is aimed at a different market, and I was shocked and dismayed to discover that the game is really rather fun.

The gameplay is the familiar highway that you would expect, with the chaff stripped out: there is no star power, no multiplier and only three difficulty levels (using 3, 4 and 5 of the buttons respectively). The presentation is very clean and SingStar-like and I actually prefer it to Rock Band’s highway. Obviously, the emphasis is more on pop music.

Regarding the logistics, SingStar Guitar is basically like any other SingStar disk: you get 30 songs you can sing, but this time you can play them on the guitar as well. Wisely, London Studio have implemented support for all existing Guitar Hero and Rock Band guitars so you won’t need to gunk your house up with even more plastic junk peripherals. The SingStore has been enhanced to allow selected songs you already own to be upgraded for guitar playability for a small fee. These upgrades are being released fortnightly along with the regular SingStore song releases. If you already own SingStar, your game will be patched to version 5.0 next time you play, which will allow you to use your guitar, so there is technically no need for the disk. The only difference between SingStar Guitar and other SingStar disks after patching is that the Guitar disk includes 30 guitar-compatible songs out of the box.

Now that’s out of the way, why should you bother to buy this, or upgrade your existing songs?

  1. Roles: any combination of one or two players can be assigned to any combination of instruments, ie. One player can both sing and play the guitar at the same time, or two players can sing, or play the guitar, or both. The single player singing and playing guitar simultaneously mode makes for some very tough challenges and is a lot quicker and less hassle to set up than in Guitar Hero or Rock Band which requires you to fudge it by creating two players. Also it’s not possible to have two people singing at the same time except in the latest Guitar Hero and Rock Band releases supporting 3-part harmonies.
  2. Load times are instant – load times in Guitar Hero and Rock Band are considerable.
  3. You get the music video. Which turns out to make quite a difference.
  4. Every song is scored out of 10,000. This means your scores are comparable across songs – something you can’t do in Guitar Hero or Rock Band, which may be important to you if you are competitive like me.
  5. You can’t fail. The song won’t stop if you play poorly, which is much better for social players and parties.
  6. No need to change disk during parties.
  7. If you prefer pop music, SingStar is clearly going to be a better choice for you, musically, than the other games.

Of course, there is no career mode, no character customization, no bass play or drums, no challenges. And right now, there are only the 30 songs on the disk plus another 8 or so released on Wednesday 20th October on the SingStore which you can actually play – however this will change pretty quickly in the coming months. Your desire to play therefore will have to come from self-motivation to beat your own scores and those of your friends.

There isn’t much more to say. As usual it’s another solid SingStar disk release, more of the same, but with added plastic. I didn’t think the guitar element would be much good, but in fact it was, and made me inclined to upgrade some of my other songs for guitar play.

You can find the full track list here: http://www.totalmusicgaming.com/vbulletin/showthread.php?t=1158

7/10

Review: WRC: FIA World Rally Championship 2010

October 20, 2010 Leave a comment

This is a re-print of an article originally posted on another site, included here so that the blog is a complete repository of my written work. The article is reproduced without pagination, formatting, images or editorial changes made on the original site prior to original publication.

Need For Speed Hot Pursuit. Test Drive Unlimited 2. F1 2010. Ferrari Race Challenge. Man Furismo Jive. We are currently in the process of being rained upon by driving games, so you could be forgiven for wondering if it was even necessary to release WRC FIA World Rally Championship at all. The good news is, this is Black Bean’s best driving game to date. The bad news is, that’s not exactly a groundbreaking achievement.

WRC: FIA World Rally Championship (2010 video ...

WRC: FIA World Rally Championship (2010 video game) (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

WRC is of course nothing like any of the other games I mentioned, it’s also nothing like DiRT 2 so if you’re expecting that kind of adrenaline rush, look elsewhere. What we have here is a serious, slow-paced take on pure rally driving. There are no crazy race modes: this is rally, after rally, after rally. Therefore, if you like rally driving, you will probably love this game. If you like Split/Second, you’ll hate it.

Let’s start with the positives. This game is crammed with things to do. There is a very long campaign – The Road To WRC – as well as a separate campaign-ish mode where you play all the special stages and championship rounds of the real 2010 WRC according to the official calendar, which is also incredibly long. Two to four players can also sit down and set times in turn-based play with no restrictions on stage, rally or championship setup. Finally, the online mode is excellent, and although everyone – up to 16 of you – drives in their own instance trying to set the best time, you can see the ghosts of the other players which makes it feel much more like a race and much less lonely. There are a decent variety of online modes with the obligatory ranking tables and XP/levelling, I had no problem finding a game and there was no lag during play.

The Road To WRC career mode is broken down into ten levels, each of which has six events. You have some leeway in the order you complete the events within a given level, with subsequent levels being unlocked by reaching a certain completion percentage.

Like Need For Speed Shift, there is a well-paced reward system with constant livery, colour, car, sponsor and event unlocks as you complete each event. The trophies are also very well-designed and paced, and will encourage you to play plenty of different game modes.

Let’s talk difficulty. This is a two-pronged affair: you can set the various driving assists, and you can change the AI difficulty independently via a slider, giving you many difficulty levels to choose from. There are three default combinations of settings when you start the game but you can tweak as you see fit, and there is no punishment for playing on an easier setting. This is a good thing, because playing with any combination of assists other than everything turned on will immediately thrust you into F1 2010 Expert mode levels of toughness. With all assists on, you rarely need to brake although getting round the stage without crashing once is still a moderate challenge unless you drive carefully. Cut down on the traction control and brake assist and you are going to need every ounce of concentration to keep the car under control – so this should appeal to arcade and simulation fans alike. Similarly, with the AI on the easiest setting, it is ridiculously easy to win, even if you crash constantly, but on the hardest setting they are ruthless. Black Bean should be commended for this range of settings because it vastly broadens the appeal of the game.

I will say that driving ‘alone’ constantly is quite a lonely experience, so you should bear in mind that you will only see other cars on the track during online play. In offline play, you simply see the current times of the AI cars. This is though, naturally, par for the course with rally games.

True to form, between each special stage you can customise your car settings (downforce, suspension, all the usual suspects) and spend your allotted repair time choosing which bits of your car to repair, with each repair type costing a certain amount of time. Use too much and you receive a time penalty.

The driving physics themselves are.. a little strange, I would say. You get to drive over tarmac, gravel, dirt, ice and so on, with the car behaving differently on each surface, and differently from car to car as well of course. I’ve never driven a rally car, but it did seem awfully hard to do long drifts at speed, similarly the handbrake does not quite function as it does in other games. I’m not going to level this as a criticism because the controls are perfectly fine and I don’t know what it’s really like to drift in a rally car, so note this as an observation only. If anyone here remembers the awful driving mechanics of V-Rally 3 on PS2, fear not, the controls in WRC are solid.

I played the game using a Logitech Driving Force GT Pro wheel – wheels of course being a must have for any serious driving game fan – and the control was excellent, however there was quite a large steering deadzone with the default settings. Fortunately there are many sliders you can use to tweak the wheel to your liking. The force feedback worked flawlessly.

As always, there are some problems. For one thing, the presentation is awful. Just awful. While the menu music is unobtrusive enough, the menus themselves are dull and bland, using black, white and green for the most part. The backgrounds are low res and not animated. It makes the whole thing feel completely soulless. Worse still is that the in-game graphics are pretty shoddy. The cars are low on polygon count, the pop-in is moderate-to-severe in places with bushes appearing randomly for example, and the overall scenery is barely above PS2 graphical standards. Normally I don’t care about graphics in a game. Lately I could pick RUSE and Sports Champions as examples of games with mediocre graphics that are great fun to play, but in WRC’s case, the poor graphics actually hurt your enjoyment. We have come to expect so much more than this, graphically, even in run-of-the-mill titles. In WRC’s defence, there are absolutely tons of special stages and what scenery there is is very varied, so you won’t be seeing the same thing over and over.

There are two interior views which is a very nice touch that can enhance gameplay, but the interiors are not representative of the actual cars themselves. The cars get nice and dirty but damage modeling is minimal to non-existent.

Another major gripe is that nothing is explained. This is fine if you’ve watched a bit of rally on TV, but if you don’t know the difference between N4 and S2000 cars, or what the green and red lines mean on the left side of the screen while driving, the game isn’t going to tell you. It also amazed me what counted as a clean section: you can crash three times and still be told you did a clean section.

A couple of nice touches: you can choose whether your co-driver has a male or female voice. You can have three career profiles at once. If you quit out of a long event half-way through, your progress is saved.

Pros:

  • Long campaigns, lots of stages, tons to do
  • Online modes work great

Cons:

  • Significantly marred by terrible graphics and presentation
  • Offline multi-player is turn-based only

At first, playing WRC was a slog. In truth, the more I played it, the more I liked it – once you get used to its quirks and nuances. There are a lot of nice touches and thoughtful features, spoiled by the presentation. Ultimately though, while I couldn’t recommend WRC to just anyone, it is a solid but slightly soulless game and has the official WRC license, which if you have at least a passing interest in rally games makes this the only realistic choice. Just don’t expected to become a rally fan if you aren’t already.

7/10

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