A helmet that can read thoughts?

First a vest that lets you feel the game and now a helmet that reads minds! Holy c**p! What’s next? Really interesting indeed, though I am a little bit skeptical it would be that easy. Even the article mentions the fact that it would be really difficult to isolate specific brain signals required for flawless character movement inside a game.

Let’s say the report is based on fact, does such a helmet really enhance a game overall? It does brings up some rather interesting questions. Would such a helmet really add to a player overall game experience? For example, my thoughts are a jargled mess when I am playing a FPS game. If a helmet would translate that into player actions, the character would behave really weired indeed 😀 .

Then again I like to get sweaty palms during fast paced action. Just sitting idle and thinking about hacking and slashing opponents is not something that sounds too appealing. Hey, I think such thoughts about people I hate all the time 😉 , that’s not something new, neither does it sound interesting. OK maybe I am kidding, but really, would such helmet allow for greater player immersion? It might, maybe, or it might not. Then there are other issues as well; like response and reactions times which are integral to overall game mechanics. On the whole, I remain a skeptic about such a “mind reading” helmet.

Violence and Videogames.

As you know I recently had a run in with the Crysis game and I am awed at the amount of graphic detail that the games manages to push through. If pushed to it’s max settings on a high enough resolution, you would be forgiven for calling it a movie instead of a computer game (, well almost). As I mentioned in my earlier post, the graphics and especially the violence can be nauseatingly real. Crysis has definitely raised the bar in video game realism. If people called Doom (1993) to be too violent, this game has like, multiplied the violence by a factor of 10. It’s not just limited to the Crysis game but most of todays games, mostly in the FPS genre, are pretty much known for extreme violence.

There is a strange thing I have observed, as a player you often don’t realize how gory the violence really is. As a computer game player you generally tend to focus more on your character. Your brain tries to rapidly compute permutations-combinations in the gameplay and is actively trying to keep your character alive. As a player you miss out on the gore the game delivers. Well not entirely, but you don’t tend to focus on it. It is the third person, observing the game who actually sees the gore in the game. As a player your priorities are different. You are more focused on achieving your intermediate goal at the same time trying to keep your character alive. It’s somewhat like a soldier in the heat of a battle, you don’t see all the pain around you. It’s like your mind tends to switch off of all the gore and concentrates it’s attention of keeping the character alive.

I generally tend to disagree strongly with people that say video games promote violence. I have always been an FPS fan until very recently, that doesn’t mean I am prone to violence. Then again, that’s not something new, it is probably the same sentiment shared by most FPS fans. It’s not like you go “Ooh! I love the blood spatter caused by the bullet when it hits”. OK, maybe some weirdos do, but majority of FPS junkies play the game because it is fast paced, and yes because “it is a game”. Believe me while playing a game you (, and even those weirdos) are very much aware that your in a middle of a game and not in the real world. That doesn’t mean you are going to enact similar actions in the real world.

Violence and violent tendencies in general maybe because of different reasons but not due to video games. I have seen people blatantly blame video games for all the violence in the world, but consider this fact, maximum violence and the most heinous of acts are carried out by people who don’t even have a clue as to what a video game is, much less played one. I am not a physiologist (, not by any stretch of imagination) but the root cause of violence is seated somewhere else and not in any computer game you can find. It is a dark nature of humans to lust for violence. In th past the Romans used Gladiatorial combat. What could be more violent that that? Yet the Romans were known as the most civilized people of their time. Some say they even ushered the modern age. Isn’t Boxing a violent game too? I could say the same thing with many others, but lets just leave it at that.

So why do some people have this uneasiness with video games that have violent content. It’s not like the game itself is physically harming someone. Not in the least. So what is the real reason behind this outcry over banning video games? I am surprised that in this day and age, people still feel the need to ban something, “something like a video game”! My personal feeling is, because a computer game is a fairly new and misunderstood entertainment medium, at least by some. The usual argument is violent video games will promote violence. With whom? With kids? They shouldn’t be playing such violent games in the first place! That’s what ratings are there for. As far as ratings for violent video games go, I am very much for that. Just like adult movie content should not fall into the hands of minors much less kids, so shouldn’t violent video games. I have seen adults fail to realize this but violence is adult content, anywhere, in any entertainment medium! And, it is the responsibility of an adult to see to that. Violence is often treated as “OK” with regards to minors and kids, and that can be dangerous. Talking about movies, what about violent movies? Should we ban those too? That’s just crazy.

In the end a game is just that “A Game”. It is an highly interactive entertainment medium that is here to stay. Games allow for more immersion than traditional entertainment mediums like theater and movies. Some people (, and their numbers are declining rapidly) haven’t fully understood it, mostly because it is new. Like with all new things, at first they are seen as a threat to society, which games are not. In the end, that too shall pass and attitudes will change.

Sneak peek at the looming “Crysis”.

Well it looks like its time to go and get the 8800 GT after all. I just had a run-in with the recently released Crysis demo and the only real thing I can say is “Superb”, about the graphics that is. The game has ultra realistic graphics, “mind-boggling” and “jaw-dropping” would be a better words. I haven’t played the demo myself but observed someone else playing it for a short while. He had pretty much maxed out Crysis settings with a resolution of 1920×1200 on a 19″ monitor and still the game was running pretty smoothly.

The first thing that caught my eye were the shadows. The game features impressive real-time soft shadows probably done using shadow maps. Other real-time techniques just seem unlikely given the complexity of geometry in the scene. I am not too sure how the team solved antialiasing issues or maybe it was the very high resolution and the setting, but there were no visible aliasing artifacts that commonly occur when using shadow maps.

When you look at the surroundings, you can help but wonder how the game manages to push so much foliage and trees per scene. I haven’t quite figured that out myself. Maybe it’s some clever instancing tricks coupled with the obvious raw power of the 8800 that allows for such incredible amount of vegetation to be simulated correctly. You can even shoot down trees and shrubs with your gun. Shooting at leaves will even leave bullet holes in them. Amazing, truly amazing.

The rest of the graphics stuff from the game is equally impressive. The atmosphere and sounds compliment the game effects nicely and the movement of the sun allows for a very diverse experience with a dynamic environment because of varied lighting. Another thing that impressed me from a game engine developer point of view were the destructible terrain environments. I had heard about the Crysis team using a voxel based terrain system which allows for exactly such type of terrains, but the results in the game are even more impressive. I remember Ken Silverman working on something like this in his Voxlap engine, interesting!

The AI seems to be good, but I haven’t played the game myself so couldn’t really tell. Post-processing effects, explosion, all look incredibly real. One thing that is really cool gameplay feature is where you can hold a guy by his throat and use him as a shield against enemy bullets, yeah, something out of a schwarzenegger movie. I am sure FPS junkies are going to get a kick out of this one.

It’s all about the graphics then. The graphics the game delivers can be nauseatingly real at times. I am usually not the one who falls over a game just because of graphics, but the Crysis game will probably be an exception. Maybe it’s just the programmer inside of me talking, maybe things will change when I play the game for myself. But I just kept thinking about (, and googling to find an answer as to) how some of those game effects were achieved. More… later!

Response to a rant: Is OpenGL being abandoned?

It is no secret that the gaming industry is dominated by Windows platforms and the API of choice is DirectX. There are some staunch followers of the OpenGL way of life, but their numbers seem to be dwindling rather rapidly. I have read a lot of blogs claiming that OpenGL is better than DirectX or vice-versa. I even got a mail (, or two) from an unknown person recently claiming that my War of the graphic APIs was rather biased towards DirectX. Let me assure anyone and everyone that it is certainly not the case. I am supporting both APIs in my engine and let me say this again, “Both APIs are functionally equivalent. It is not the API that determines the performance of a game, but rather the underlying hardware.”

The email further went on to show some in game screen-shots to claim that OpenGL based games looked better than DirectX games. Now, anybody who has worked on a game that uses either APIs knows how much of a folly this is. “It is not the API that determines how a game looks, it is the artist that creates the content and the engine programmers that provide the technology (, like Shaders/Level Builder/Script support) to the artists which determines how the game looks.” Game design also plays an important role. In any case it’s not the API. The mail didn’t have a valid sender so I could not mail him/her with my response. In any case, Dude, you could have just posted a comment and I would have been glad to respond.

No OpenGL is not dying out. However I am sorry to say, OpenGL is falling behind. It is being increasingly abandoned in favor of DirectX. Don’t believe me? OK read this, at least you believe him. I think I made it pretty clear why that was the case in my earlier post. I am not going to outline the same points again.

Halo 3: Staggering Sales?

It seems that Halo 3 has hit new records in sales. However this figure is from Microsoft themselves.

The staggering figure presumably came from Microsoft’s internal estimates.

Apparently Halo 3 has outsold every entertainment release in history and is making and breaking sales records all over the world. Oh great, Microsoft should stop making OSes and concentrate on making games instead. I guess this is going to be where the bulk of the revenue is going to come from for Microsoft.

“BioShock” did shock.

Yesterday I had the opportunity to finally have a sneak peek at the much hyped game BioShock. Had heard a lot about it from friends and I was eager to see what the game was. Unfortunately my PCs have nowhere near the hardware configurations required to push the game even at its lowest setting. But yesterday I was visiting a friend of mine who is a avid gaming freak. His system has the new 8800 GT (or was it the GTX, can’t quite recollect, anyways), and it so happened that he had already installed BioShock.

I must make some confession here. Initially I had figured BioShock to be one of those mad shooting FPSes which, I am sure, all of us (or at least I have) played gazillion times before. I had a notion that it was another of those graphic pipeline consuming hogs that are filled with unnecessary eye candy just to make you go “whooo… cool graphics dude!” How wrong I was! BioShock turned out to be quite different. It has a more depth in game play than just dark corridors and shooting bright eyed monsters. The fact is I should have expected that from a team that brought us SystemShock 2. It’s just that FPS games have just got so nauseating in the past couple of years that I tend to turn away from most of them. I am not a big fan of SystemShock 2 and there are several things about the game that ticked me off when I first played it. Sure many may disagree with me, but I though that the game was not properly beta tested and while some innovations were made in the FPS gameplay they were not fine tuned enough. The weapons degraded far to quickly and that is one other game that I dropped half-way.

But BioShock is different. I think the team has got it right this time. Again the game seems to be modeled on decision-consequence behavior, meaning your decisions directly affect the gameplay. Over the past few months, ever since I started playing Oblivion, I have become fond of this type of gameplay and to see it in a FPS game is refreshing. I don’t know how much affect this has to the overall game-plot since, and I must confess, I have played only a very small part of the game, about 2-hours or so. A more interesting Cricket match got my attention away from BioShock, but now I sorely miss playing the game. Too bad my PCs don’t have powerful cards like the 8800.

The graphics of the game are (, you probably already know,) wonderful and allow for total player immersion in the game. That was to be expected. An engine like the powerful UE3 engine in the hands of good artists and game-designers can give scintillating graphics, and BioShock doesn’t fall behind in that respect. The scenes are flush with nice post-processing effects and the water effects are beautiful. I had heard that the BioShock team had heired a special engineer and an artist just for doing those effects, and it shows in the quality of those effects. One of my friends had told me the game featured amazing refraction effects on glass, and I did make it a point to look at those, and yes, he is quite right. Shadows and Lighting seems to be a combination of pre-baked lightmaps and shadow maps. I am not quite sure if the game features LDR or HDR, but I suspect strongly that the game does use HDR lighting since you could distinctly see some bright patches on the gun and some totally in shadow, but yet visible. I am not quite sure though, I think I will have to have a re-look at those.

So was the BioShock hype overrated. I think not. I thing the game does deliver on all the hype meted out. Awe! I miss playing BioShock already :(.

Leading a Second Life.

Ah again a long week with no updates to the blog. Actually this was something I was planning to write a couple of weeks back but never got the time. As it goes, a few of months back I had downloaded Second Life and decided to give it a try. I am still pretty new to this concept of Second Life so these are basically my initial reactions. Once again, the game is something new, something I certainly look out for thesedays. I haven’t really played any MMOs before this one, so I was a bit exited. Installation and setup of the software was a breeze. I did get a nice name for myself and decided to sign on.

The game features a in-depth tutorial but I found it a little bit difficult to understand. There were some poor unfortunate souls in there who couldn’t understand anything at all. I think the tutorial focuses more on how the program should be used, but fails to address what Second Life is all about. I would rather like a tutorial that explains to me the “possibilities” in the game. I would like the tutorial to explain to me the different experiences that can be had in the world of Second Life. Essentially how to go about having a very different life. Maybe some examples of how others, maybe senior players have gone about and created their own worlds. Yes, the tutorial does a good job at explaining stuff like which keys do what and what needs to be done to achieve something, but fails to address finer issues with the game. Like, for example, how to do macro level things like building your different life. You tend to pick things as you go along, but I would have loved a more in-depth tutorial.

The game is basically a 3D world or should I say a 3D chat room. You can log into a place and the content then gets pulled off the net into your PC and slowly you can see the world. The login interface looks deceptively similar to a chat or an IRC application. Maybe the developers intended it to be that way so players can pick things up rather easily. I tried to log into different places to see that it was all about. I must say, places with high number of users are particularly slow. Unfortunately these are the very places that are interesting and worth a visit. Catch 22 there. If you want to logon to Second Life you better have a high speed connection, else you can forget about it. Other places I visited were mundane and uninteresting. Some places were plain weired! Some were disturbing (, parents watch out there).

The game is great if you like to make friends on the internet or spend your time chatting on IRCs. The game allows you to push this further and adds a whole new dimension to your social networking experience. Second Life provides players with “Unlimited Freedom”. You can check out the FAQ for more details. You can even earn money off of Second Life, I haven’t explored that part however. The fact is I got bored rather quickly. I am not the kinda guy who you would expect to find on a chat channel, or one who spends a lot of time on a social networking site, so I quickly lost interest. I have too much things to do as it is in my First Life. I haven’t given up though. Maybe after a few days I might try again and see if I can really get the hang of a “Second Life”.

Fear factor.

Fear factor.Just yesterday I was rummaging through my article archives when I had a run in with my Doom 3 DVD. It’s been a while since I played Doom 3, actually it’s been almost a year and a half since I abandoned the game half way. Interesting, since I hate leaving games mid-way. I generally have two particular reactions to games, a. I don’t like the game in the first few levels and never look at it again. This can be due to several reasons like bad controls, bad graphics, crashes and generally things like that will put off any normal person, or, b. I take an interest in the game and play it till the very end. However Doom 3 is an exception and that got me thinking as to what it was about the game that made me turn away from it.

I got my hands on the game a while back, about 6 months from its release. I was excited about the graphics and wanted to see what all the talk about stencil shadows and Carmack’s new and then controversial algorithm was. Unfortunately a series of accidents (with hardware failures) and incidents (job) kept me busy. When I did finally fire up the game, it was mind blowing. Most of id’s games are, nothing new about that. (For the record I have played every one of their games excepting Commander Keen series.) However after playing a couple of levels, I was already turning away from the game. For one, the game is set in a very dark backdrop and the whole gameplay revolves around getting the player shit scared. Dark alleys, claustrophobic environments and very little to no light. Everything is designed to play on basic human fear. It’s like the whole game is designed keeping only one intension in mind, FEAR.

Along with the environment there are some subtle tweaks done to the FPS style of play that aliments to the overall fear factor. Small things that you may or may not have noticed. For example, notice when you hold a torch, you can’t hold your gun at the same time. This is just an immensely powerful physiological disadvantage that has been designed in. It leaves you virtually helpless against an attacking enemy. Take away the light and hold the gun, and you can’t see what is approaching. The game tries to lead you into a dark void of the unknown! This “unknown” and the “fear of the unknown” is the gameplay of Doom 3. The best way to generate fear is having a set of unknowns. The game is very smartly designed to have you believe, of course, subconsciously that the environment is fearful. You start off on a Mars base where everyone is jumpy and fearful. Again no one knows anything (an unknown there). The base is flush with rumors and information is intentionally kept vague. The PDA you like so much, ah huh, again just used to play on your fears. The PDA messages are intentionally vague and misleading all done deliberately to keep the unknowns pilling up.

The overall game progress is slow and sometimes very slow. You might not have noticed this, but try adding up the amount of time you spend reading your PDA, listening to conversations, switching between the torch and the gun, and loading up saved levels and you will see what I mean. This is very contrary to most FPS style games where the action is fast paced and certainly for id’s games which are known for their shoot and frag style games. All well and good, so what had me dump the game. For one, I got tired of getting scared. Yes I did. I mean after playing the game for like 6-7 hours (total) that fear factor kinda gets boring. All due respect to the game designers, but th game has very little and too few “cool off” periods. A cool off period is an interval just after a intense fight sequence where the player is given time to cool off. This is an integral part of gameplay design especially for action oriented games. There are small and large cool off periods and their placement in the overall game flow is critical. While there are a number of small cool off periods, the game misses out on larger periods which generally occur after a level is completed. Yes, they are there, but they are short.

Another thing that bugged me a lot is the spawning of the enemies. In later stages of the game, enemies get spawned when you pick up a health pack or an ammo kit. This is somewhat controversial. Ammos, health packs, and other goodies are there to give a the player a reward, and often a well deserved one. To have a monster spawn up when you pick up a health pack makes me feel cheated! Period! In the end I just feel that the game lacked variety. Doom 3 is an old run of the mill fire and forget FPS style game, but then again we have played such games too many times already. I was coming over from playing Half-Life 2 and so the comparison couldn’t have been starker. I switched over to Quake 4, completed it and loved it. That’s because the game has a well balanced gameplay, great variety and never got me bored once. Maybe I had expected too much from Doom 3 since I am such a great fan of the old legacy Doom and Doom 2 series of games. They were like the ultimate technology adrenaline boosters when I played them. Maybe my expectation from Doom 3 was a bit too much. Maybe it’s just me getting older or maybe my tastes have changed over the years. I don’t know.

A taste of Oblivion!

Oblivion!A few months back I ran into a friend on mine who was on and on about Oblivion. For those who are blissfully ignorant, The Elder Scrolls IV: Oblivion is an action oriented role playing game by Bethesda Softworks. He was so persuasive, that I finally got hold of the game and decided to have a go at it first thing when I was a little free. So about three months after first getting it, I finally had some time yesterday evening and decided to install and see what the game was all about.

The first thing you notice (or should I say hear) when you start the game, in this amazing title soundtrack. The only thing I can say is, Wow! Awesome music, it captivates you instantly. The story and cut-scenes following the initial game introduction are equally breathtaking. The next thing you do is choose your character. You can actually design your character the way you want him(/her, not sure if a female character is allowed) to look. Nice piece of technology, but kinda unimpressive. OK so you can change the look and feel of the character, big deal!

When the game begins, you immediately have a couple of characters talk to you. One thing I noticed is the facial animation system. Oblivion uses the famous Gamebryo engine, so I was more than eager to see what the guys had put in on top of that. The facial morph animation system looks good, but still not as good as the Source Engine’s facial animation system in Half-Life 2. I must say, not bad.

As the game progress, you are taken through tunnels and dungeons. The pace of the game is good, but I am not too impressed with hand to hand combat. Another thing that ticked me off is an extremely difficult weapon selection window/dashboard. The designers have crammed an insane amount of things in that small dashboard including spells and what not. You have to be pretty quick on the keyboard while selecting a weapon or spell, else you can get mutilated really quickly. This can get real annoying at times when there are too many enemies around. Playing the game, you end up spending nearly 40% of your time on the dashboard selecting and sifting through things. I mean, come on, selection via dashboard, didn’t the designers find any better way to do that?

Another thing that impressed me are the terrain and the atmospheric effects. I must say they are good and add good cohesion to the game play. The game features some interesting effects like moving-grass, thunderstorm, rain and fog. It is commendable that the game manages to keep a playable FPS with all these effects ON, but the results of level of detail calculations are painfully obvious on my dirt cheap 6200 card. I also liked the effects for the Oblivion gate, ooh! you have got to see that.

The gameplay is designed to allow the player to explore and lure him into a sense of a limitless world. This can get confusing at times resulting in the player losing focus of his goal. Sometimes the goal is not clear, sometimes you tend to wander off, or take a wrong turn and get lost, sometimes you can go around in circles. The game, I think, allows you to explore more than what is needed. You can enter any inn, house, castle and anything else and explore. Apparently, you tend to gain very little by exploring and in fact get yourself in trouble if you talk to a wrong person. You can directly approach your goal without exploring anything and it makes little difference to the game, maybe it does, but nothing is made clear.

The game features impressive enemies, but their role is not immediately apparent. Some enemies can pop-up in strangest of places, some just wander the terrain. Some just hit you for no reason and others don’t even seem like enemies till they throw a lightening bot at you. Why? Maybe things will get clearer as I progress. There seems to be one more thing, enemies get harder to kill as you progress. I am currently inside the Oblivion gate and I can tell you killing anything here is pretty damm hard! Thus far the game seems OK, not the best I have played, but good enough to continue playing, which could be a while since I am like extremely busy on the game release.