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Come On! Let's Boogie to the Elf Dance!

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Jump to: The Apology :: The Personal Touch :: The Geeky Touch :: Games of 2006 :: Parting Sentiments

The Apology
Now that I'm officially engulfed in the first day of my Christmas vacation, I can address an increasingly vocal group of readers who are dissatisfied with the amount of entries that have been written within the last few months in a more-or-less rambling fashion. This method of rambling has been, by and large, dismissed in the favor of far more technological in nature -- read: nerdy, as can be seen in exhibits one, two, three, four, five, and six -- and I do apologize to those five of you who enjoy the more casually-written Intarwebian endeavors. At the same time, I won't make any promises about the frequency which these sorts of posts will make in the future, as the amount of technical and gaming writings are proving to be far more enjoyable to write than I had originally planned. This admittedly bizarre exuberance that I experience in writing about various game genres and programming projects is something that is fairly unexpected even to myself. And, as far as I'm aware, I am the foremost authority on myself (contrary to popular belief). Every now and then, throughout the site's three or four year lifespan, it has taken an unanticipated slant in the variety of content it presents to the unknowing, and potentially unwilling, Internetians who stumble upon it and this is... Well. It's nothing like the kind of changes (v0.1, v1, v2, v3, v4, v5 -- each featuring some kind of "gimmick" that never lasted long), that it's gone through in the past; it's just more focused in the tech direction than in the emo-blogboy direction that it once reveled and bathed in.

The Personal Touch
As of December 20, 2006, I have completed the first semester of my senior year at the University of Michigan. Even though I've had some really great experiences over the course of my time as a student there, I can safely say that this semester has been the best I've had since I came to the school in fall of 2003. This past semester I was able to take a fairly hefty amount of classes (and do well in all of them, save one), see three performances by the visiting Royal Shakespeare Company (two of which featured Patrick Stewart in a leading role), along with some other more personally awesome things which don't sound quite as impressive when spoken from the Intarwebian rooftops. At this point in my education I finally managed to really lock-down my academic goals. After starting at the University as a Computer Science student in the U of M College of Engineering, I am now a declared English major at the school. I'm going to have my bachelors in English at the end of the next semester, then I'll be going on to get a minor in Computer Science, and to finish my time at the school I'll be getting a Secondary Education certificate. I'm told that the dream of one day teaching High School English/Computer Science is one of insanity and guaranteed poverty. I'm okay with that. As for what I'll actually be doing when I get done with my degree(s)... Well, that's a bit fuzzier.

In case it hasn't become all that apparent, I've also finally gone back to my hobby programming roots in the last few months. After getting a solid number of pages and words and grammarstuffs successfully down on digital paper for the novel I randomly came to the conclusion that hobby programming was, for me, a far more relaxing, enjoyable, and fulfilling way to spend my down time. Since I'm the kind of person who would rather be doing something rather than sleeping, I often am awake at times when most other people are not so much. What this eventually comes down to is that at 4:00am or so, I can be found plugging away at something or other in my room at night. During the time from 1:00am to whenever, I have a whole lot of time to get whatever I want done without any fear of being interrupted by a drunken housemate, stressed-out friend, or romantically-distraught brother-in-arms. And now, instead of sitting aimlessly during this down time hoping that some kind of divine inspiration will strike me, I can usually get right down to work on a programming project. For whatever reason, logic and inspiration aren't the kind of best-friends-forever-and-ever that written creativity and inspiration are. And I am thankful of this fact.

This change in hobby does mean one thing, though, and that is exactly how much less nothing time I have over the course of my down time. Since I find programming to be a much easier task to get into -- whereas with writing I had to set aside a block of time if I was "in the mood" to get something done -- I can generally fill aimless time far easier. So, in the past where I had lazy-time that may result in watching a movie, a new episode of a TV show, a new site entry, or time playing whatever the game-of-the-week was at the time, I spend far more time actually programming something. This is my way of explaining why the amount of site entries and updates over the course of the past couple of months has vastly deteriorated into... Well, nothing. I had a few of my friends bring up to me in the past questions along the lines "What happened to your site!? It's all... Icky!" I eventually discovered that "icky" was, in fact, the word to describe an Internet site which has gone inactive save for incredibly long and nerdy articles about video games and computer programming. To satiate this crowd of folk, I'll try to make a stronger effort to write the occasional rambly-type post -- but no promises.

The Geeky Touch
A few days ago I posted short, little entry about some of the new directions that my programming has taken over the last couple of months. Since I lost a decent amount of the work that I've done over the last few years with a pair of very unfortunately-timed hard drive crashes, I figured that when starting my new project that I would try something completely new. Microsoft's release of XNA and Game Studio Express Beta One (which I elaborate a bit on in the aforementioned article) occurred mere days before my jump back into the 'gramming realm, and I thought the idea of a suite of tools geared toward the indie side of things would be a neat first step. Granted, I had never even looked at so much as a line of C# before in my life, but I considered that to be a negligible detail (and, in fact, the transition from C/C++ to C# proved near-effortless).

I'll admit: I don't exactly know a whole lot about the actual game I'm currently making, but I am, in fact, making a game. I've said I would do this in the past and the end result was me neglecting the idea of a game entirely in favor of extensively research some aspect of the tech that I was working with. It was this deviation into a graphics programming frenzy which led to my first book and then a slow, but steady, decline into the High School teaching-obsessed, book reading', English major that you see now.

Currently, though, my goal is actually come out with some semblance of a playable game at the end of this projected timeline of a couple of months. The demo at the end is not exactly going to be the most polished or feature-filled game in the world, but I'd like to at least have one playable map up and running with a single match of the hypothetical game playing (whether or not that game can be played against an AI is possible, but doubtful). As for what the thing actually is... Well, best I can decipher from the dark, twisted, and incredibly cobweb- and cockroach-infested corridors of my brain is that the game will be a heavily stylized real-time strategy game which revolves around a hyperviolent war between cats and dogs. Yes. As far as I'm concerned, the game will simply not be a product solely done by me as myself unless critters were somehow the focus of it. The next week or so will revolve around various methods of rendering the environment and some placeholder 3D models to try and secure the look and feel of what I envision the game to be like. I've gotten the actual model rendering and have been playing with various types of vertex and pixel shaders over the course of the last few days and it's been a lot of fun. Here are some of the screenshots from the implementation trials of the High Dynamic Range rendering and tone-mapping code (which is now, for the most part, fully operational):

High Dynamic Range Rendering Experiments.

After that, I was trying some shaders and rendering styles that, in my head, seemed like they might be plausible effects to use for the terrain. Granted, these are very half-hearted attempts at implementing styles that might, with a little bit of lovin' and elbow-grease, be very good looking... But while I run through my mental list of possible appearances of the thing I'm not going to give any eyesores like the screenshots below any more time than is absolutely necessary to get an idea.

Pixel Vomit (Possible Terrain Rendering Effects).

Yeah. I have a ways to go.

Games of 2006
In case anyone was wondering, I will not be continuing the Games of the Year series that I did last year. The cop-out answer that I could give is that I just won't have time to write the ten articles necessary to actually compose such a list... But, really, the answer is just that I haven't played nearly the same number and breadth of games this year that I did last year. I have yet to play a great number of the titles that are widely considered this year's blockbusters and, for that reason, I'm just going to list my top three games of this year without much elaboration.
  • #1: Company of Heroes -- I wrote about this title pretty extensively in the final part of my RTS series and my ravings of the title still stand. It is, without question, an amazing real-time strategy game and a spectacular all-around PC title. And, after a couple of months of sporadic playtime, I finally got around to beating the single-player campaign a couple of days ago. It was a blast of a game to play.

  • #2: Titan Quest -- Titan Quest is an admittedly flawed game. It's a title that does its best to imitate the addictive and the, for many, everlasting qualities of Diablo 2 and, according to some, fails to do that with the same success... For me, though, this was the greatest Action/RPG game that I've played in years. The amount of items and class combinations was a component of the genre that I found sorely lacking in recent hack-and-slash games. Titan Quest got a rough start with its bug-ridden release -- which was so bad for me that I could not actually play the game for more than five minutes at a time until the first patch came out -- but when the patches game, they turned this already-great game into a great playable game. Had Titan Quest received the same free post-release support that games likes Sacred received it would have had the potential to be one of the best titles in the genre... But I guess there's always that forthcoming expansion pack. Sigh.
  • #3: Wii Sports -- It may be unfair to really list this game as one of the best of the year given how recently it came out (and given that I played it in an optimal environment), but seeing how this title has fared amongst all of the people I know and seeing how a group of people get such a joy out of playing this game in a crowded college living room it's hard to deny Wii Sports a place in my top three. I was pretty outspoken in my circle of more tech- and nerd-inclined friends against the Nintendo Wii and even seeing some people playing Wii Sports and Twilight Princess wasn't enough to change my mind. As soon as I picked up that little motion-sensitive remote to play a round of Wii Golf, though, I quickly changed my viewpoint. The experience of playing a round of bowling, baseball, golf, or tennis with or against a room full of people is one that I find immense difficulty in actually describing, but it is definitely a lot of unexpected fun as far as I'm concerned.

  • Honorable Mentions (In no particular order): The Elder Scrolls IV: Oblivion, Gears of War, Battlefield 2142, Guitar Hero 2, and Galactic Civilizations II: Dread Lords.

Parting Sentiments
That seems pretty good for an entry in old school rambly fashion. Currently, I'm working on adding a non-photorealistic sketch effect to the game so if that works out particularly well (or particularly bad), I'll post shots of it to the devshot gallery. So. Yeah. Awesome.

i can see a lot of life in you
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