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Trapper Zoid

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Random Thought for the Day
Wow, has it been a year since I started this journal? I'm not sure if that seems too short or too long. It certainly doesn't seem right.


Sorry that it's been a while since I've updated this journal. I've been a little bit busy over the last week. Canberra had a long weekend last week, and I headed back to Melbourne for a while. Then this week I've been busy with some postgrad work that obviously takes priority. It's been a pity as there's a whole bunch of stuff I've been meaning to post here but I've had too much on my mind to spend the time to write it all down. But the backlog has gotten too great so I'll have to post something today now that the week is finally over.

I've been wanting to post a follow up to that long review of my failed projects of 2006 for a while, but I think I'll wait until after the weekend to do that post for a couple of reasons. Firstly I really need a few hours over the weekend to gather my thoughts (as well as get properly stuck into gamedev again; I've been only able to do a few dribs and drabs the last week). Secondly given it's Friday evening after a fairly full week us postgrads might have had a drink or five, and the kind of post that is required to follow that last one is something to do with a clear head.

So today I'd like to post the whole collection of things that have been collecting in my mind over the last week or so that I'd have liked to have posted here that are vaguely related to games or game dev in general, and leave the important game development direction details 'til later. That way hopefully I'll be less distracted over the weekend.


Game Reviews

In my trips back home to Melbourne I spend my time mostly hanging out with my family, and over the last couple of trips I've had a chance to try out some of my brother's Xbox games, some of which have been interesting to me given I don't own the console or it's next generation sibling. Unfortunately for the Xbox, one of the prime reasons I've not got that console is its overlap with the PC, which is the case with the two games I'm reviewing here. However that might prove a strength in the future as I find it harder and harder to justify upgrading a perfectly good computer purely to satisfy the steep requirements of modern games.

Here I'd like to briefly give my impression of a couple of these Xbox games. Given they also have Windows PC versions you could consider them PC reviews as well. I'm certainly considering buying a PC copy for these. I know these have been out for a little while, but it's not as if I'm deterred by that.

Fable

Fable has interested me for quite some time. Several years ago I was deeply interesting in researching methods of presenting interactive storytelling, and so I was drawn to designer Peter Molyneux's descriptions of how Fable was going to break new ground in letting players experience an RPG in anyway the want. However after the mixed reviews and the debacle that was Black and White I decided against picking up a copy of Fable, even though it is out on the PC. But given my brother had a copy, a month or so ago I decided to give it a go and see what it was like.

As far as interactive RPG storytelling goes, Fable is a flop. I've seen more dynamic storylines in a majority of the RPGs I've played (on the PC at least). The main plot is the pretty standard pedestrian RPG-ish fare, and quite linear at that.

However, I found Fable strangely compelling. This might have been due to the fact that unlike many RPGs it doesn't take itself seriously. If you overlook the Molyneux hype and just treat Fable as a game it actually was quite fun. I found the slow metamorphasis of the player avatar from gangly youth to battle hardened hero quite good, especially with the increasing awe of the townsfolk (I hear that the adjustments for the villain are also good). The main game might be a little short, but as a fun romp it certainly seemed worthwhile.

Personally, I think I might pick up the extended PC version of Fable (the Lost Chapters) once it hits the bargain bins. Full price might be a bit much but there's enough fun in there to warrant a bargain purchase.

Jade Empire

Being a fan of Bioware's RPGs, Jade Empire was one title I was miffed was only on the Xbox. I thought that, while not perfect, Star Wars: Knights of the Old Republic was a decent mix of PC and console RPG paradigms. So given I thought Jade Empire was going to remain purely on the Xbox, I was eager to see if Jade Empire was any good. Now that I have recently found out that it is finally being ported to the PC, I'm thinking it might have been better to wait until I bought a copy of my own. I found Jade Empire to be a fine game, and I'm a bit sorry that I rushed my way through it.

Firstly, the good points. I thought the Chinese flavour was Jade Empire's greatest strength. I'm a fan of fantasy games, but I'm tired of RPGs set in a Western medieval Tolkien-esque setting. The use of Chinese mythology and surroundings for their fantasy world made Jade Empire very compelling to me. It also made the source for some beautiful artwork that I thought worked really well.

Being a Bioware RPG, the storyline and characterisation was also solid and generally well done. It was certainly enough to keep my interest. My main complaint would be that it was a little too similar to Knights of the Old Republic. I had the feeling that those characters would feel equally at home if you threw them into a space port rather than the Imperial City and gave them lightsabres rather than Chinese longswords. There's also a limit of one NPC at a time to hang around with the main character at any one time; fine for gameplay considerations but it also meant that I didn't really find myself that attached to many of the characters (although this might also have been due to my rush through the game). It might also be a little bit short, although not excessively so (plus I'm a big fan of Baldur's Gate II, so I am biased towards the insane RPG epics when it comes to length).

This similarity continued to the gameplay dynamics. Rather than the light and dark sides of the Force, Jade Empire has two philosophies; the Way of the Open Palm for generosity to the downtrodden, and the Way of the Closed Fist for the superiority of strength. While the game says these are different from simply good and evil, in practice that's what the choices boiled down to. The problem I have with the Way of the Closed Fist choices in Jade Empire is the same as that with the Dark Side in Knights of the Old Republic; they seemed just a little bit too petty and unsubtle. Admittedly I was role-playing a good character as I usually like to do, but I would have liked to have seen the "Closed Fist" choices to be more than just an anti-social thug. I'd have liked it if that path was more oriented to a combat philosophy; say if a peasant wanted help from bandits raiders offering him a weapon and telling him to fight for what is his. Instead the Closed Fist path seemed more about sneering at those types of people and maybe belting them a few times and nicking their stuff. Not exactly non-evil.

Another gripe I had was with the combat system. Unlike Knights of the Old Republic, Jade Empire has an action based RPG combat system. There are a number of different combat techniques you can use, and the battle strategy is based around a "rock paper scissors" balancing system; normal attacks beat slower power attacks, power attacks break blocks, and block stop normal attacks. In practice though, since if a normal attack gets blocked you take no damage it's a sensible strategy to use those most of the time and occasionally dodge. There's also the issue that while there are many different types of attack there isn't much difference between styles - one weapon seems pretty much like any other - and since you invest skill points as you build up your character there's an incentive to just stick with the same combat techiques for the entire game. The combat itself was not really that challenging; I only found myself losing a couple of fights on standard difficulty and I usually won those the second time through.

Oh, and for some reason there are these weird aerial shmup sequences. I'm not really sure why.

Despite all that, I did enjoy Jade Empire a lot; possibly due to the interesting setting and general Bioware quality. If you liked Knights of the Old Republic you'll probably enjoy Jade Empire. I'm strongly thinking about getting my own copy once the game is released for the PC next year and playing through again at a leisurely pace to catch the stuff I missed.


Books, books, books
Another interesting thing is the arrival of my long awaited parcels of books from Amazon. I love adding to my library, but given I like to get my books in a group I like to wait until I have a dozen or so queued up before ordering the lot. For some reason it takes ages for the parcels to get here, but at least that has the benefit that I forget what I ordered until they arrive, so it's a nice surprise.

One of the main topics the books covered were drawing; I got some helper books on drawing hands (always a problem) as well as fabrics (got to get the hang of that too!). I also got a copy of "How to Draw Comics the Marvel Way" by Stan Lee and John Buscema; I got this mainly to balance out the collection of manga drawing books with a bit of American comic styling. I also got a few books on game design to help round out my entire collection; I noticed that I didn't really have that much on game design on my shelves.


Art
I've noticed there's a push to start a drawing workshop in the Visual Arts forum, which I support. I've been meaning to put more effort into extending my practice, and it's a good opportunity to try a few new things. I might try something detailed this weekend. I've been meaning to try some more manga-style drawing (despite my recent Marvel drawing book acquisition [smile]) since I've been getting a bit stuck on simplified cartoons recently.

I'm also looking for something to base a new Inkscape tutorial on, if anyone has any suggestions.


Anything Else?
So is there anything else to add? Let's see: I'm still unable to change my profile, which is a really pain. I've been wanting to put a link to my Inkscape tutorial in there for a while, but the "Change Profile" screen just doesn't seem to work for me. I just get SQL errors. I've mailed the webpage maintainer as well as posted a message in the forum, but I haven't seen a reply yet.

When I was in Melbourne chatting with my brother who I know reads this journal, I found that despite putting in a huge post on all my projects he still didn't have a clue what I was presently working on [smile]. I guess I really should put one of those checklist thingies in my journal header.

Plus my GDNet+ membership did get through. Now I'm officially signed up for another year. Let's raise a glass to the first year anniversary of this journal!

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Well, congrats on a full year of journalling.

Speaking of books...I remember you asking a little while ago about some book suggestions. I have another one...sort of.

I hate to spoil the arrival of your coveted shipment, but I found a video series that teach you how to program a game from scratch. And they're amazing!
Downside is, they're in Object Pascal - but it seems to be a full windows IDE they're using, so...
Linkie.

Anyhow, just thought you'd be interested since you're getting started.
Cheers,
Craig in Sydney

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