RE: BFRPG

While part of me wants to be happy to have contributed to the improvement of BFRPG and the Morgansfort module, it’s with a bit of bitter regret.  Having a long time to reflect on the things I said and the complaints I made, I’m incredibly embarrassed and somewhat ashamed of myself and my behavior, and still I feel like my apology to Chris was not really enough.  I was at a very dark and strange period in my life then, and while I was and still am uncomfortable with some of the things, I’ve found I can easily ignore what I don’t like and use what I do, and I’m upset at myself with the way I initially approached the subject.  Looking back on it now, I’d definitely think that whoever wrote that was being an asshole.  Trust me, BFRPG, it wasn’t you, it was me.  But if Chris thinks that he was able to make BFRPG better because I was a jerk, let me tell you, it is a truly humbling thing.

Thanks, Chris, and I’m sorry for having been a jerk.

Advertisements

Arkham City

Over the Christmas holiday, I ‘finished’ Arkham City. And by Finished, I mean I got through the basic story mode which gave me 51% completion. Haven’t finished the Catwoman stuff and haven’t started they Harley stuff.

Arkham City left me with a lot of strange mixed feelings. I’ll go ahead right off and say that I enjoyed it a lot. There were some things I was a bit ‘eh’ about, a few things I was all ‘huh?’ about, but plenty I was ‘yeah!’ about.

-Interspersing the Catwoman content with the main game would’ve been more effective if it weren’t so stacked toward the backend. I realize that this is important for story purposes, but it was strange to start the game as Catwoman for one fight, play as Batman through the prologue, do a Catwoman mission, then play almost the entire rest of the story as Batman before doing another Catwoman mission. According to the game stats, after the main story ends and you start playing as Catwoman again, her story is only about 20% complete. So, we’ll see.

-Mixed feelings about the Riddler stuff. I didn’t mind the Riddler stuff in Arkham Asylum, and eventually even got 100% completion, though it did feel like a tacked on element. The Riddler is much better integrated into Arkham City, and he legitimately feels like the most powerful and dangerous Batman villain because of his shear ability to have crap everywhere; he has the rest of the inmates pretty terrified, too. I like, to an extent, that getting Riddler trophies is a bit more of a challenge than simply waiting until you had the right bit of equipment, but at the same time, you’re still waiting until you have that right bit of equipment, AND you’re looking for more trophies in a MUCH larger and less open area. And some of the traps really ARE so mind-boggling that you’re left thinking “I must not have the right item yet”, put it off, and the next thing you know, the game is over. Riddler’s puzzles, while more rewarding are also much more daunting, and hunting them all down feels like the wearying chore that Riddler intends them to be.

-The augmented reality missions probably need to be done much earlier than I tried to do them. Preferably before everyone and their dog has a gun. I didn’t finish these, and they were pretty annoying. Very Superman 64.

-While it’s not quite a “thrill is gone” kind of thing, the atmosphere is different; Arkham City is creepy but in a different, urban decay sort of way, while Arkham Asylum is creepy in the haunted mental hospital sort of way. As terrible as Arkham City appears on the surface, in a way, that’s kind of how I imagine most of Gotham looking. It’s still a stealth game; gameplay wise, aside from the rooftops thing, it plays like the same game as Arkham Asylum, but the difference is that Arkham Asylum felt like a horror game. I spent the first half of Arkham Asylum (especially the platform puzzle in the caverns) just wondering when Killer Croc was going to pop out of somewhere and eat me. I never felt that sort of anticipation in Arkham City. And the Mad Hatter side mission, while amusing, didn’t come close to that first encounter with Scarecrow in the morgue.

-Two-Face felt like a tease. Sure, he has a faction of thugs sandwiched between Penguin and Joker’s territory, but other than the prologue, he’s fairly irrelevant to the story, which is surprising considering all of the foreshadowing in Arkham Asylum that he might be a major player in a sequel.

-Screw Ra’s al Ghul’s flight challenges. I probably died on these more times than in that big brawl with Joker near the end.

-I feel bad for Penguin that his Iceberg Lounge and natural history museum happened to be in the part of Gotham that got converted into Arkham City. But it’s great for players. The Cobblepot Museum is by far one of my favorite parts of the game. Damn shame that the whole place has fallen into ruins, but Penguin’s really made the best of things with it. I do wonder where Jay, Raven and Lark were. (it got blown up in Gates of Gotham, which I got for Christmas, too!)

-The ruins of “Old Gotham” and Wonderland Park had kind of a silly feel to them and reminded me a bit of Bioshock. It was fun fighting the league of shadows there, though. My opinions on Ra’s and the League have softened over the years, in no small part due to Liam Niason; Arkham City makes this work.

-The concept behind Hugo Strange’s Arkham City makes sense. His big secret plan that he’s carrying out for the real big-bad makes less sense. Poor Warden Sharp. You just know that he was hoping that he could’ve been the villain this go round, but alas, it was not to be.

-Some fairly big name Rogues die ultra grisly deaths, which was kind of a surprise. Lazarus Pits, though, mean that death is certainly not the end.

-Like with Arkham Asylum, Batman’s character model reflects, over the course of the game, the beating he’s taken and the damage to the Bat-suit. By the end, Batman looks like hell, and everyone who sees him is all “Holy, crap, what happened?”

-The first few hours of the game almost trolled me into complaining “Where’s Oracle?”

-Combat continues to be ace.

-Changing up the boss-fights was a big improvement over the original Arkham. Plus, getting to go head to head against more of Batman’s Rogue Gallery was pretty rewarding (Two-Face letdown aside).

-Hooray for the gun disruptor!

-The inevitable-villain-betrayal syndrome is a bit comical, though really I’m pretty sure it’s played for laughs. I couldn’t help but chuckle at Bane’s “Oops, sowry, Baht-mahn!” when he catches you with a charge attack when you’re fighting the squad of Tyger elites together.

-Harley Quinn skanks it up less than the packaging art implies; this is not necessarily a bad thing.

-Something I would’ve liked to have seen more of was the conflict between the opposing gangs. Coding a dynamic gang-war in Arkham city probably would’ve been a nightmare, though. Still, it struck me as odd that when Two-Face & Penguin’s men are there side by side, they’ll call each other names but not really do anything. But when Batman shows up, everyone is all “It’s the Bat!” and with a startling amount of confidence which lacks any justification they all put aside their differences and try to jump you. You’d think that after awhile, “It’s the Bat!” should be a cue to drop what you’re doing and run like hell; this is never the case. While there are a lot of things the game recreates from Batman comics, chasing down scared thugs running for their lives is not one of them.

-Did I mention that the boss fights were better than in Arkham Asylum? Because, man, those were some awesome boss fights.

-M. Night Shyamalan would be jealous of the twist Joker cooked up.

-That was one hell of a powerful ending.

-Watching the credits all the way through should give you an achievement unlock.

-Mark Hamill, you are one hell of a creepy dude, and you are the definitive Joker.

A Day in the Life of Quality Assurance + Thoughts on Game Development QA

requirements

 

 

While I’m not a tester per se, I do end up doing a lot of exploratory testing as I go through the process of doing documentation.

I’ll admit, too, that my experience has not been in games development but in accounting software development.  Testing is hard and tedious work, and can be especially bad when requirements are vague and shifting.  Given my background in QA, maybe I should be more sympathetic to the game publishers who release broken, buggy or sometimes even unplayable games on the assurance that a day 1 patch will fix things out of the box, but I’m really not.  I feel like by the time you get to actual playtesting, where many of the worst gamebreaking bugs should be obvious, the requirements ought to be solidified enough (requirements: be able to play game, complete game objectives, and perform regular tasks during the course of gameplay without defect) to get the dev tasks reissued and have a smoothly working game.

While this model may work for PC gaming, it’s a really lousy way to handle console or cross platform releases, because it works on the assumption that everyone with a console has access to whatever online network is available to download patches. The expectation for console games used to be, and in this, it was one of the few regards where console games were truly superior to PC games, was that the game would work on your hardware without requiring updates, configuration tweaks, patches to the system and patches to the game. That’s not to say that there weren’t broken and unplayable games for console, but those were inexcusable; the attitude toward PC games was more forgiving, and that forgiving attitude has allowed for some really garbage stuff making its way into console games.

Luckily, I haven’t experienced too many game-breaking bugs in console games, but that’s largely because of how restricted I’ve become in my consumption of console games. A part of it, I think, is the “fear climate” created by the stories of AAA titles being released with tons of bugs; I end up not buying games at all because I’m worried that I’ll plop down all this money for a title and then it won’t work and I will have to go through all of the headache of retrieving my Microsoft login info that i have’t used in 6 or 7 years, stringing ethernet cable across the house (I don’t have wifi) and hoping that I can figure out how to patch a console game. I’d rather just wait for a game of the year edition with vital fixes (I’m looking at you, Clavicus Vile!) and some of the DLC added in at a substantial discount.

I know it’s unfair to companies who put out quality products, I know, but I really feel like the companies who put out inexcusably broken content have ruined it for everyone. Because some AAA title that I’d have no interest in anyway comes out horribly buggy and broken, I’m more hesitant to buy console titles I’m actually interested in.

The games industry as a whole would benefit greatly just by investing a little more time, money and manpower into QA than almost any other aspect of their project. All of the assets, gameplay, and storytelling in the world isn’t going to offset the bad PR of a disastrous launch caused by a failure to devote appropriate resources to your testing. Regardless of what industry you’re in, bugs in your software are going to cost you money and trust.

There’s more at work, though, than just QA.  Video games are often marketing driven software development; the sales team has already sold the idea, deadlines are in place, the marketing is already prepared and the development now has to keep up with the goalposts of the deadline and the promises made by sales & marketing.  Anyone in software will tell you that this is a terrible way to drive product development, but it’s really just how it goes regardless of what part of the industry you’re in.  I also want to say that I’m not blaming the Devs; things get added and dropped in software projects at the whims of clients, BAs and team leads.  What needs to change is the attitude toward what is a finished product that can go out the door.  The point of QA is to make sure that broken software does not get approve and released.  The current state of things is that the window of time during which physical software product is manufactured, distributed and sold is additional time bought for developers to finish their coding.  The day the product hits the shelf cannot be treated as the deadline for completing the product, especially for console releases.

Guardians of the Galaxy: Not Exactly a Review, But…

While I may have been content to wait for Hobbit 3: The Manhattan Project to come out on DVD so I can watch characters with the same names as those from a book I read once spend 3 hours flailing about trying to kill a dragon, my Dad, bless his heart, wanted to see it in theatres, and who am I to turn down a christmas gift movie, especially one that my girlfriend is excited to see (she loves the Jackson LotRs movies even more than I love the source material)? Well, we show up to find that it has been sold out.* Our fallback plan was to watch Guardians of the Galaxy, which my dad had on bluray from Netflix.

I’ll start this off by pointing out that I’m more of a DC person, and beyond a few fairly run of the mill Marvel series and events, I don’t know jack about the Marvel Universe. But never again will I say “DC is better than Marvel at Cosmic Crisis stories”, because Guardians of the Galaxy did a fine job of it, even if it was in a very ‘by the book’ sort of way. Alien bounty hunters & pirate lord? Check. Escape from a maximum security space prison? Check. Strange Kowloon-walled-city-esque outlaw collective in space? Check. Guardians of the Galaxy was probably one of the most troperiffic movies I’ve seen in awhile, but it was still good fun. Miles above the bloated and writhing pomp and self importance of Man of Steel (again, if Chris Nolan can’t make a good Superman movie, no one can).

My girlfriend pointed out that if it weren’t for the somewhat excessive swearing, it easily could’ve made for a great family movie. Then again, these days, swearing may not be a thing? Just the other day, I saw a lady say motherfucker in front of her kid 4 times, and only one of those times was in context of “I’m gonna slap you in your motherfucking mouth if you don’t be quiet.” I know that you want people to take your movie with a pissed off raccoon man and his tree friend (time to start a tally of how many ultramax space prisons Vin Diesel breaks out of) seriously, so sure, keep them swears a comin’ I guess.

Again, it’s a part of the Marvel-verse I’m only cursorily familiar with. The nerd in me lit up like a pin-ball machine when they mentioned the infinity stone thingies. “Orite! Thanos is always looking for the Infinity Stones to destroy the universe or something! I remember now!” Indeed, my only real exposure was that a friend of mine lent me the Infinity Gauntlet back in highschool. Thanos may be a poor man’s Darkseid (blue lady and green lady even kind of strike me being knockoffs of Darkseid’s furies), but he at least got to be in a decent live action movie before Jack Kirby’s ultimate dark god villain.

On something of a tangent, I remember once that someone checking me out at walmart asked if I thought that Dark Knight Rises or the Avengers was the better movie. It was a difficult question to be asked in a checkout line, because the real answer may have been too complex and nuanced for appropriate store-checkout-line small talk. Ultimately, I said “They’re both good, but they’re very different movies.” All of the Marvel-movie-verse movies are super-hero movies, through and through. Big action, larger than life heroes, all in the name of fun and entertainment. There’s some thought-provoking to be done on the side, but for the most part, they don’t attempt to directly address some serious fundamental societal issues in ways that make people uncomfortable. The Batman movies that Nolan made were very much cerebral crime thrillers (particularly the second two) which happened to feature a costumed crime fighter. They did not feel like superhero movies, however. Maybe it’s that lack of truly triumphant moment in which the day is saved (for the day is never truly saved in Gotham, just as the day is never truly saved in real life; for every criminal, terrorist, corrupt politician, corrupt judiciary, corrupt law enforcer or man-caused disaster dealt with, there will always be more to come). They made you think, though, even if they didn’t necessarily make you smile. Batman is probably one of the only top tier superheroes that such an experience could be truly rewarding for fans.** Perhaps this is one of the reasons why I hated Man of Steel? A Superman movie NEEDS to be a Superhero movie, full of tropes that make us laugh and cheer for the heroes who will save the world.

I really wish that Superman Vs. Batman wasn’t the next major DC movie on the slate, because DC REALLY needs a movie that is as FUN as Guardians of the Galaxy, and I’m pretty certain that Supes Vs. Bats is gonna be all “Crime-fighting & responsible use of force is serious business, guys.”

*: No idea at this point just when I’ll get around to seeing it.

**: It’s worth noting that in many ways, the live action Tim Burton Batman movies felt far more cartoony than the cartoon series and features that followed in their wake. A lot of the 1st season villain debuts in TAS were DaF. I think this is why it so greatly benefited the Arkham Asylum games to have a good portion of the voice cast from the Animated Series. I very belatedly had the opportunity to crack open Arkham City, so I’ll probably have some thoughts on that before too long. Yeah, yeah, I’m WAY behind the times…

Last Reminder: Comment for Free Copy of City at the Top of the World

This is the last call for anyone who wants a free copy of City at the Top of the World!  Leave a comment here or on the stickied post.  Your comment must be associated with a valid email.  A “Like” doesn’t count, because there is no email address associated with the Like.  Comment by no later than Sunday (or the wee hours of monday morning).  I’ll be sending the free copies out Monday.Alexcirsova-72dpi-1500x2000