Video Games

Winkin, blinkin, and warm reboot

I’ve been on an indie game kick these past few weeks.  I love indie games, regardless of graphics or sophistication, since they can take such sweeping liberties and diversions from the norm as compared to big AAA titles that are beholden to the whims of publishers and stockholders.

I’ll list some of my recent favourite indie games below, but first my rant:

Sometimes with free indie games you get what you pay for.  Occasionally you’ll find one that doesn’t quite work right.  A few games I’ve tried recently try to invoke a screen mode that either my video card or monitor are incompatible with, causing my monitor to go blank and making its power light blink persistently.  This leaves me with no recourse and no control.  If I’m lucky I can tap the power button on my PC case to shut down Windows gracefully, else I must press the reset button and hope my computer turns back on at all!

I found a pretty easy fix for this in Windows XP – without being able to see what I was doing I’d press alt-tab which would hopefully get me to the desktop, press Win-R to open a run box, type "cmd" and press enter to open a command prompt, and press ctrl-enter to make it fullscreen.  This would usually force the screen to change modes.  I’d then press ctrl-enter again to restore the command prompt to a window, at which point I’d usually be returned to my desktop where I could close the offending game.

I’ve tried this on Vista, but no dice.  I don’t know whether it’s impossible or just takes a lot of coaxing to get Vista to run a command prompt in full screen.  I don’t know where to go from here.  I just tap my power button and cross my fingers, waiting for the hard disk access LED to stop flickering and my optical mouse to stop glowing red, before I can turn my PC back on.

Anyone have a better solution for me?

And now, my list of favourite free indie games du jour! (these all work fine for me BTW!)

Gamma Bros is a 2D low-fi space shooter akin to Robotron or Smash TV.  It has a lot of personality and is very well realized.

Cave Story is a 2D NES-style platform with RPG elements.  The story and characters are endearing, the action and controls are solid, and the music is great.  I’m maybe 4 hours in with no end in sight yet!

Quest for Glory II by AGD Interactive is a remake of the game by same name, originally by Sierra OnLine.  This version is nearly a decade in the making with lovely updated graphics and the famous Sierra point-and-click interface.

Façade is an utterly unique experience.  You play yourself and are invited to the apartment of a couple whose marriage is failing.  This "game" is a marvellous merger of AI and psychology that will keep you playing and replaying for hours.

Video Games

Flagship lists

I went on quite the little tirade early this year about my poor experience with the PC game Hellgate: London by Flagship Studios, and its support staff. This game really broke my heart – I expected so much from it, and so many compelling features were promised, but the final product didn’t live up to its own hype. Its inauspicious launch last Halloween was one of the worst in PC gaming history due to bugs, server downtime, and broken content.

The weight of this poor launch was too much for Flagship to bear. This little startup, fronted by Blizzard North veteran Bill Roper, was forced to lay off its entire staff and liquidate its assets. There’s a great, genuinely heartwrenching interview with Roper on which is well worth a read.

So why am I bringing this up now, after writing the game off fourscore and seven hellgates ago? Because I feel really bad for Flagship and its staff, and especially for Roper, who had to jeopardize his family’s financial security in order to get his people paid for their last shifts.

The real reason why I care so much, though, is that I actually like this game now. I reinstalled it in May and got a good couple of months of online gameplay out of it. The kinks haven’t all been worked out – online play can be laggy and it’s not long before you’ve seen all the assets repeat themselves – but to be perfectly honest this is the game I’d hoped for all along.

It took 7 months for it to reach this state, and 10 months for the company to go under. Just imagine if Flagship had just half a year of extra funding and could have delayed the launch. I bet it would have been a real summer blockbuster, even for a modest underdog of a game.

I don’t feel I can retract my criticisms or comments from my previous post about this game, since I’m a paying customer and deserved better than what I was handed in that huge foam-filled box. Still, I am saddened that it had to end this way, so soon.

Let this be a lesson to any and all who are tempted by a lifetime founders’ subscription – $150 bought those poor saps only a few expensive months of sparse subscription content that was promised but only fractionally delivered.

Most of all, let this be a lesson to startup companies on the importance of image. When your userbase is screaming from the rafters that something foul is afoot with your product, the WRONG way to handle this feedback is to ignore it and pretend that everything is fine. Flagship insisted on playing their cards very close to their chest, which unfortunately meant that they let the pessimists and naysayers do all the talking for them. I imagine this was a conscious choice by Flagship’s senior staff to hide their tenuous financial situation from prospective investors, but unfortunately this made damage control impossible, forcing frustrated customers and would-be subscribers to get their news from more vocal sources like Flagshipped (a site with the subheading “MMO Fail as Daily News”).

It takes a good captain to send his staff out with all the life preservers and go down with his ship. My condolences to you, Bill. You put up a hell of a fight. I’d have empathized with you from day one if only you’d given us a glimpse of your tribulations much earlier on.


My creativity dribbles unfettered

I’ve been toying with the Korg DS-10 synthesizer for a few days and am having a blast with it.

With a pair of headphones on it’s incredible what a range of crisp, raspy waves the DS can belt out – and simultaneously to boot. DS-10 gives you two lead synthesizers and a drum machine, effects modules, a mixing board, and a virtual patch board to generate sounds. A primitive sequencer puts it all in order, and given the small screens and resolutions it does a really good job of conveying and separating information across the two screens, but many of the memory and control features are scaled back due to the limitations of the DS platform so it’s really not much more than a toy.

That’s perfectly okay with me, though, because it’s really fun to toy around with. The manuals are all in Japanese but the interface is completely English. Loading up, playing, and modifying the awesome demo song helped me learn all the basics, and with this limited package the basics are as much as you need to know.

Writing music came back to me really easily, and I looped a few little 4-bar jams until I came up with the full-on middle of the song – something catchy and driving. Then I replaced all the default instruments with some custom ones, which I’d revisit and tweak occasionally. I had fun with all the knobs and the patch panel, and generated lots of dissonant and swirly sounds with the flanger.

I copied the primary 4-bar pattern to the other 16 patterns and varied them all slightly. Then I put the patterns in order using the clunky sequencer. I wanted to make a long song of 6 or 8 minutes but ran out of space very quickly. This was kind of a shame, but I enjoy working within limitations and found it kind of liberating to be forced to compose little more than a song mcnugget.

It’s ugly and simplistic but I like this song. It’s the first song I’ve written in 11 years which I feel kinda proud of. I love the fidelity of the sounds and it recorded quite cleanly with a male-to-male 1/8″ cable in my Audigy 2’s line in port.

As I was recording it in Audacity I asked my wife to recommend a name that describes the sound. She didn’t hesitate to suggest this one. Click below to download my song if you’re a real masochist.

Download Brian’s Movement Number 2