Category: Games


With my current escape room obsession, I feel I ought to write up what I’ve admired, or felt disappointed in, so that I can pretend that there’s something noble coming out of my inability to say no to an escape room invite.  So here we are.

An Hour To Kill” is a James Bond themed escape room from “The Exit Room” company in Los Angeles, USA.  It is, at time of writing, their newest and flashiest room – though I think they may have a few last little technical kinks to work out.

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A bawdy tavern – full of NPCs

I’ve been thinking about characters in games a lot more recently, and specifically, the problems with NPC (non-player characters) entities in MMOs.  Your typical MMO features hundreds of characters – quest givers usually – who come and go on an endless conveyorbelt of sob-stories and XP rewards.  It’s hard to care for the 10th, 50th, or 100th NPC mother with a missing son, or someone needing their precious supplies gathered from the bellies of wild animals.  So, with that in mind, here’s my police-suspect-inspired checklist for making a character work in a game.

Means, Motive and Opportunity…

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Animal Crossing New Leaf QR Code for Mabel's Jumper in the Gravity Fall's Intro

Animal Crossing New Leaf QR Code for Mabel’s Jumper in the Gravity Fall’s Intro

I’m a fan of the Disney cartoon series, Gravity Falls – it’s funny, charming, and just a little surreal.  I’ve also gotten rather involved in the most recent release of Animal Crossing on the 3DS; New Leaf.  So why not put these things together and re-create the amazing Mabel Pine’s light-up jumper from the intro sequence, for my character in Animal Crossing?  Now you can too, if you so wish.

The intro, with the jumper/sweater in question at 22 seconds in, beneath the cut.

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The Onion shows us the only news that matters – the news from THE FUTURE.

(I’m soon to run a cyberpunk-setting pen-and-paper RPG with some friends and this is just perfect setting fodder!  Marvelous slang.)

So, this is my big internet debut!

Only 6 days to go before release now, and I’m very excited.  Looking forwards to seeing how people feel about Elizabeth – the women we worked so hard with.

(And it is the weirdest, most peculiar, thing to see your face on video for the first time.  Unnerving as all get out.)

Grey Knight Terminator with Psycannon and Force Sword

Grey Knight Terminator with Psycannon and Force Sword

So, I’m likely getting back into Warhammer 40k after a departure measured in decades – and I’ve decided to go with Grey Knights as they seem to be the favored army right now.  I used to play Eldar (long before ‘Dark Eldar’ or Tau or Necron were things) but the old models are at my mum’s house and I was never any good with them anyway.  Can’t remember ever winning a game, actually…

Anyway – haven’t painted a miniature in so many years and honestly I couldn’t remember if I was any good, or if I only thought I was – but I’m quite pleased with the Grey Knight terminator above – with his Psycannon and Force Sword.  1 down, 15 more to go – one of the advantages of a Grey Knight army – not many minis to paint!

So, yeah.  That’s me – Amanda Jeffrey, Level Designer.  Hearing my own voice is most unnerving.  Not long now until the game is released and on the shelf, and Elizabeth will take her first real steps out into the real world.  That’s my girl.

Go Liz Squad!

Two lady troopers ready to kill alien scum

Two lady troopers ready to kill alien scum and explore the galaxy

I like Games Workshop, and I really like 3d printing – and one day, quite soon, those two likes are going to have an epic battle of their own, off the wargaming table.

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Wildmax's valve console concept from Polycount

Wildmax’s valve console concept from Polycount, just for fun

So it was announced that Valve will be working on creating their own living room PC – a ‘steam box’ for under the telly.  There’s all sorts of theories out there about it and here’s my own to add to the noise:

This will be a PC-console second, and a cloud-gaming-device first.

Locked Hardware vs. Console Cycle

Consider how limiting and how annoying it is to be tied to the console generation cycle – a cycle that PC owners have thumbed their noses at for decades.  A console is locked hardware – and thus simpler to develop for in some ways than the multitude of different PC configurations out there.  Having a ‘locked’ PC would bring what was a moving target, back into something easier to work with.

So a locked down PC console makes a lot of sense – it will be the easiest to develop for!  It’s got all the ease of developing for the most well known, most openly discussed, least proprietary development environment in the world – coupled with not having to check compatibility with a dozen graphics cards, processors, sound cards and all their permutations.

Cloud vs. Hardware Upgrades

All well and good – but would Valve want to get into the endless race of creating new hardware boxes?  Doesn’t it seem like a business strategy out of step with such a PC-focused company?  Instead, I propose that Valve’s console will be, out of the box, a ‘cloud gaming’ device, prepared to offer as much of your gaming experience via the cloud as your internet connection can handle.

Instead of having to regularly upgrade your console to get better graphics and the next big upgrade in memory and disk-read-speed – instead Valve will be upgrading their cloud hardware, and users will be naturally upgrading their internet connections.  That same connection that enables their Netflix habit, or their Skype chats, will seamlessly improve their gaming experience.

Of course, out of the box, the Valve PC will be a competent PC-console that will be able to play a great many games (no doubt using Big Picture Mode – introduced now so developers can get used to it) but I suspect that’s just the foot in the door.

Cloud Gaming Problems

Of course, cloud-gaming is not without its issues.  It requires some serious bandwidth and hardware on the cloud end of things – something that Valve has been getting used to with Steam.  A few companies made a splash last year with cloud-gaming offerings – then disappearing without much of a to do.  OnLive mysteriously bought itself out, firing most of its staff in the process, while Gaikai was bought out by Sony – an action that won’t have been missed by the big players.

Valve’s no stranger to muscling in to a lightly-tested water, and then just toughing it out until everyone loves them – Steam used to be a dirty word, after all.  But here’s the dream:

The Dream

Everyone and their cousin have their Steam Box under the television – it’s been sat there, quietly whirring away, for years now, except for that one time it was sent for simple refurbishment.  Jenny Random finishes watching the latest episode of something on Netflix, and changes channel to Steam – Big Picture sat there waiting for her.  She picks up the wireless controller and flicks around for a new game to play – finds one and pays for it.  There’s a brief blip of confirmation, and she can start gaming immediately – on the cloud.

The graphics look amazing – she upgraded her internet connection last week (yay for Google fiber!) and the little Steam-box, talking to the Steam Cloud, have detected that and ramped up the settings on all her cloud games to match.  No hardware upgrade needed on her end – it’s all seamless – whatever her internet pipe can handle, Steam will give her.

Intro Picture for Tower Defense games - showing Defense Grid: The Awakening and Plants vs. Zombies

Tower Defense games have, in my opinion, stagnated – but there’s hope!

Think of what a tower defense game means these days – a top down view of a field of play, where AI controlled agents enter from one or more known directions, seeking to damage your critical resource so much that you fail.  The way you counter this is by spending a renewable resource to strategically place specialized buildings that will neutralize certain types of these AI agents before they can damage the critical resource.  Neutralizing an agent results in a gain of renewable resource, and the cycle starts anew.

Sound like a tower defense game?  Yup.  However, it could also be describing…

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