A return to enjoying games

I was laid off recently, so for the first time in a couple years I got to fully enjoy a couple single-player experiences that were so PURE in their game-ness that it felt like a small personal gaming renaissance for me. It was delightful.

DOOM
There’s a lot to love about this game, but what struck me most was how much it respects your time. (What struck me second most was how much they embraced the original Doom/Doom II and paid homage to it, were transparent in their respect for it, and reveled in it. Thanks guys. That means a lot to me.)
They’re very upfront with what’s hidden for you on each level (2 collectibles, 3 mission-specific challenges, a classic Doom level opened by a lever hidden somewhere nearby, and a set number of secrets/upgrades to be found), and you can quickly gain the ability to see where all those items are on the minimap. The challenge isn’t in divining what all the game’s hidden from you, it’s in finding the things you know exist and you get to decide how much you care about accomplishing any of the side objectives. It was remarkably refreshing to have a game be so honest with me. And if you finish a map with things undone, you can load back in, grab the things you missed, and then go back to the latest mission you unlocked and move on with your day.
On top of that, it was SO FUN and I enjoyed the music, characters/story, art, the incredible work that went into making the SnapMap editor easy to learn and use and build with, and the game is gorgeous. I’m a fan of a lot of things about it.

Turok
Nightdive’s remaster is the first time I’ve ever played this game, despite owning a Nintendo 64. (And despite the hype of the Cerebral Bore in Turok 2, which I’m happily awaiting.) I’m sure there was some kind of backstory and setting written in the manual, but there’s nothing in-game that tells you what’s going on; that may seem like a complaint, but it was actually somewhat thrilling to launch a game and just have it go, “I’M A GAME! You’re outside with a knife and arrows and there’s a raptor coming at you! Run! Follow this trail of floating triangle pickups! What are they? GAME PICKUPS! Run! Collect things! Step on that switch! Checkpoint! Jump across these platforms! EXPLODING SHOTGUN.”
No pretense, no justification, no sitting through a cutscene or wall of text to tell you why you’re there: just pure, unadulterated GAME.
I’ve also started to play around in the editor, so as time goes on I’ll work on building maps and a campaign for that. My goal is to do tutorial posts as I go, so hopefully working with it is easier for others starting out in the future.

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I’ve also been getting back to playing Source mods. I went though Richard Seabrook’s Prospekt, which was an amazing effort by one guy. The combat focus was a little much for me, but he did some really good work. The visuals were the strong point for me by far, while the story/Half-Life 2 tie-in fell flat. (That may also be because I was watching Cabinet confirmation hearings while playing, so I’ll give him a pass. Sorry Richard.) Transmissions: Element 120 is next on my list, which I’m very much looking forward to.

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This month, I’m going through a course on Udemy to get comfortable working in Unity. (You should wishlist it and wait from them to send you an email when it’s on sale; it’ll often get under $20, and you can get it as low as $10 if you wait long enough.) I’m 1/6 of the way through it, and I can already recommend it to anyone who’s interested in the idea.

Delicious Learning

Well, I just finished my first semester at DigiPen as an RTIS student!

I’ve learned all the basics of C, I made it through Linear Algebra, I can convert between and do math in binary and octal and hex, and I kind of understand how to program in assembly.

But mostly I made 2 games in DigiPen’s ProjectFUN framework with my awesome team, Muffin Express.

I primarily worked on code and graphics for the UI; getting the HUD and score system set up and implemented in both games, as well as the turret upgrade screen and system for Firewall. I also found the music for both games and designed most of the sounds. (Shout out to DrPetter’s incredible 8-bit sound generator here!)

ANTIVIRUS

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Antivirus is a side-scrolling, Tron-styled 8-bit homage SHMUP with a great twist on mechanics. All of the enemies in Antivirus disable when you shoot them; they eventually reactivate, and the only way to kill them is by cleaning them off the screen with your Clean Beam. Following the Tetris risk-vs.-reward mechanic of building up blocks in hopes of pulling off that 4-line clear, Antivirus encourages you to push the limit of how many enemies you can deal with on-screen, because each enemy you clean gives you an exponential score multiplier. You can win with thousands of points, or you can win with millions, depending on how well you play and how much stress you want from your game!

You can watch a playthrough, if you don’t mind boss/gameplay spoilers, here.

Download Antivirus
(Has Xbox 360 controller support, and therefore PS3 controller support)

FIREWALL

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Firewall is our twist on Missile Command meets Tower Defense, following in the same style and theme as Antivirus. Again, the primary goal is to play for a high score and make it past the final boss, but this time your multiplier is determined by how many enemies you can get at one time in the chain explosions triggered by your shots. All of the turrets can be upgraded three levels by using your score as a resource; if you’re really playing for a high score, you’ll have to play lean and with a much higher skill level.

Download Firewall

We’re hoping to do some amazing things together in the future, so keep an eye on our blog and Facebook page for all the wacky times of riding the Muffin Express!

A thank you letter to Eidos MontrĂ©al

[One *tiny* spoiler if you haven’t played the first level yet.]

Hey guys!

I just wanted to say thank you so much for making Deus Ex: Human Revolution. The original Deus Ex is my favorite single-player game of all time, and I can’t tell you how suspicious I was of some new start-up studio trying to make a sequel (well, prequel) to such a beloved franchise with such a fiercely loyal, intelligent, and critical fanbase. I was even more cautious with Warren Spector not being involved, and I was so concerned that it was going to be worse than Invisible War or that it would be some cheap cash-in on the title and it wouldn’t REALLY be a Deus Ex game.

Thankfully, I was blown away. I cannot tell you how proud I am of your whole team. My friend and I would sit next to each other, each playing through, and I would keep turning to him and saying, “I am so proud of those guys.” over and over. Your love for the universe is so clear and evident in every piece of that game. It was a love letter not just to the fanbase, but to the original game. I didn’t think a Deus Ex game would ever be made like this again. The amount of backstory and tie-ins to the original, the dense and multifaceted level design, the voice actors (both new and returning), the absolutely stunning and gorgeous art design, the music, the strong writing of the factions and themes, the fact that my exploring and looting Sarif Industries before the first mission cost the hostages their lives and that *I was okay with that* as a consequence of my actions… Every piece of this game oozes Deus Ex, and it’s clear that everyone really loved this project. I worked in QA on a game that no one cared about, and it showed. Playing Human Revolution, I could tell that everyone loved it dearly and gave all that they had to make it right. And you did. This game IS Deus Ex: powerfully, purely, and delightfully.

I truly want the best for you guys in the future. I hope that this isn’t a fluke that was possible because it was the studio’s first project and no upper management was breathing down your neck; I have a fear that now that you guys have achieved “rock star” status you’ll be under more scrutiny and pressure and get reduced to shipping yearly sequels or get shut down later for not living up to this success. I hope none of that ever happens and that you escape the fate of a lot of great studios before you.

I believe in you all and I hope you can continue to make great games that you love. Thank you so much for treating the PC crowd well on this release (we even got an FOV slider!) and for creating something I literally thought was impossible. You guys are amazing.

Sincerely,
– Mark Valentine

DM-Permanent – Released!

That’s right! I’m finally releasing DM-Permanent! (On 01/10/11, or 1/2/3 in binary, no less!)

You’ll quickly notice that, unlike I promised last time, this is still a fairly pure recreation of the original and not something expanded into a new, more traditional HL2DM experience. The reasons for this are primarily that (a) this was much quicker and easier to achieve to get a first map out the door, and (b) I’m a sucker for simple, old-school BSP maps anyway. Plus, I love recreating things and that made it more fun to work on.

Here are the press release comparison shots (full size is 1920×2400 if you click on them):
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Bug Hunting in Borderlands – Original Tech – Part 1

Remember when Borderlands was going to be beautiful? When it was detailed and polished and looked like a slick Fallout 3 + Rage mashup? (Not to mention when each character actually had a story and a reason for being on Pandora, such as Lilith looking for one of the other 6 Sirens in existence to learn more about her own powers?) Sadly, those days are long gone, with Gearbox's original design thrown away in a last-minute gamble to differentiate themselves. I was actually really excited when I heard about the change and saw the early promo screens for the new look; I'm a sucker for cel shading, what can I say? But as I played through the game, it was clear that a lot of things were rushed and the game wasn't ready to be shipped. Never have I played a AAA game with so many blurred and mismatched textures, buggy menus, world geometry errors, and such a pervading sense of half-completed, slipshod work. Even the story and ending were completely botched and haphazard.

And so, as I played through with my friends, we began to long for the days of "the real Borderlands:" the one we'd seen movies and screenshots for, the one that seemed to have a real plot, the one with such love and care put into the graphics… The game we'd thought we were buying.

We carried on, the game enjoyable despite some of its efforts to the contrary, until we reached New Haven. That's where we saw it… Like an ancient monolith, it called out to us as we entered, and we were reinvigorated as we gazed upon it. Suddenly the game was fun again; suddenly, we had a purpose.

We had found an ancient remnant; a piece of Original Tech. Behold!

Borderlands 2010-01-20 12-42-18-64

This object single-handedly revived our interest in the game. Suddenly, there were hidden treasures to be found all across Pandora, glimpses of the Game-That-Was.

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DM-Permanent – Snapshot Update #1

I've recently decided to start mapping for the Source engine, and I thought it could be beneficial for everyone if I started chronicling my progress. This is my first real attempt at mapping in over 6 years, and even the one map I have released to my credit (DM-Zkorch for Unreal Tournament, receiving Insite's 3rd lowest score!) wasn't really "good," and all the really cool stuff (details, sweet skybox, trap…) was added by my good friend Christian. So essentially, I was starting from scratch here.

I decided to start with something very basic to get my feet wet in the editor: A deathmatch level, based as exactly as possible on a map called DM-Permanent][ made by Frostblood for Unreal Tournament. Using an existing level saved me from trying to come up with my own layout, which I think was a great decision for my first level: just like a good workout, it's important to focus on individual "muscle groups" in mapmaking when you're learning. There's no reason to have to come up with your own layout and figure out a map's flow when you're not sure you can build a room yet. The original DM-Permanent was made as an entry in a three-day speed mapping contest that Christian ran on some forums a long time back, and so I figured that if it only took Frostblood 3 days to make, then maybe I'd have a chance at finishing it. It's also been one of my favorite UT DM maps for a long time and has always stuck in my head, so I figured I might as well start with something good that I really enjoyed. I'm proud to say that all the work you see in here (though I grant it may not seem like much) was done in about 4.5 days, which I think is a pretty good start; for the first day and a half, I didn't even know how to make a cylinder! [I thought you had to make a block and then start cutting, and you just had to figure out the angles if you wanted something other than an octagon… Thankfully I figured that out after finding a beginner's tutorial; I wondered why nobody was complaining about how terrible the tools were!]

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The Unreal Development Kit

I've returned. I promise no rigorous schedule, but I've been getting some encouragement to start back up, so I figure I'll post as ideas come up.

Today's post regards last week's excellent announcement from Epic about their Unreal Development Kit, which has surpassed 50,000 downloads in its first week of release and already has updates on the way. Whether this release was in reaction to Unity releasing their cross-platform game engine (formerly $199 per license) for free to indie developers or if that's just a matter of coincidence, the end result is that there are now 2 well-known game engines available to you so that you can do whatever your heart desires! (Rock, Paper, Shotgun raised a really interesting question: Instead of larger-scale mods, will we now be seeing more indie games released? I highly recommend the article. My guess would be that both will find their places; the major Total Conversions will move to being indie releases so they're not bound to the owners of a certain game, and the mods will shift back toward expansions/extensions of the parent's gameplay or story.)

My initial thought when I read about the UDK was that it was basically like giving everyone free licenses. Obviously that's not exactly true; the main differences between this and a license are 1) no tech support from Epic, and 2) no diddling the engine source code. However, it IS the latest possible version of UE3, so all the Lightmass technology and everything else that hasn't come out in a commercial product yet is in here. To quote one of Epic's employees from the BeyondUnreal announcement, "Man, one thing I hope you guys realize is that this is almost EXACTLY the engine build that we're using here at Epic! You get every single feature that we've been using here that aren't even in any games yet! We only got some of these features last week!"

The Lightmass technology really is beautiful. Included with the UDK is a trimmed-down version of UT3 featuring several levels overhauled with the new technology. I had to fire it up and make the comparison for myself, so following are screenshots from the 2 different DM levels. Feel free to click for the full-res versions, but be warned: they are huge.

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