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     Kicking the farm
    Filed under: — David @ 8:32 am

    I enjoyed FarmVille for a while. It was fun to build up the farm, and interact, after a fashion, with old friends I don’t otherwise get to see much.

    While many people took the power-leveling approach to FarmVille, adding “friends” indiscriminately and growing just the right crops for maximum experience points, I decided the purpose of the game is to have fun making a nice-looking farm. After all, no matter how fast you level up, there is no way to “win”.

    But I’ve gotten bored with it. I can’t expand my farm without adding more friends, and since I insist on only adding people I actually know I’m pretty much at my limit. So my farm has been kind of stagnant for a while, in spite of Zynga’s attempts to regularly add new things.

    Two of the recent big additions to the game actually contributed to my decision. The Co-Op Farming feature seems fun, but you can’t meet its goals unless you have tons of friends with big farms. The new puppies are a non-starter because I’d have to either pay money or play every single day for two weeks straight to get one. Since I have a strict rule about not playing video games on Sundays, that doesn’t work for me.

    The other factor in my decision was another game, an iPhone game called We Rule, which is very similar to FarmVille except you build kingdoms instead of farms. It seemed nice (except when there were server problems), but the main problem I had was I don’t know anyone else who plays it. That makes a social game kind of pointless.

    So first I deleted We Rule, and then I shut down my farm. I harvested the last of my crops just because I like to be clean, but FarmVille is now hidden from my news feed and gift requests are blocked. Thanks to my friends who played with me. Now that I’ll have a little more spare time, maybe I can finally finish LEGO Indiana Jones 2.

     No custom announcers for UT3?
    Filed under: — David @ 9:11 am

    I was poking around in the innards of UT3 last night, in particular seeing how Warfare nodes are given names like “east road node” or “tank node”. Part of this mechanism involves specifying the announcer sounds for the attack and defend directives. Then it hit me - in the shower this morning actually - that identifying the announcer sounds so explicitly will probably make it difficult to do custom announcers. Obviously the option isn’t currently in the UT3’s menus, but it seems the game’s own design makes it difficult to add this feature.

    It UT2004, custom announcers worked by identifying sounds by a simple name, like “Red_Flag_Returned” (used by UT2004’s CTFMessage class). The sound was then found in the selected announcer package. But in UT3, it’s a fully qualified name, including the package name, like “A_Announcer_Status.Status.A_StatusAnnouncer_RedFlagReturned” (see UT3’s corresponding UTCTFMessage class). In order to find a corresponding sound in another package, you’d have to pick that big name apart, which is ungainly to say the least. It’s as if they deliberately designed this feature back out of the game.

    I continue to be perplexed by the shortcomings of Unreal Tournament 3.

     Unreal Tournament 3 initial thoughts
    Filed under: — David @ 8:54 am
    • Still no “mature taunts” option - and no, the bAllowMatureLanguage flag in the .ini files doesn’t work, at least not on taunts. I looked at a few of the profanity taunt sounds, and the bMature flag isn’t even set on them. I guess my mutator will have to filter them manually. What a pain.
    • Where’s the custom node setup UI for Warfare?
    • I like how there are designated folders for Custom Maps and Customs Characters.
    • I love how the new Torlan extends beyond the playable area to give it some context. The communications tower in the center is now just one in a long series of towers extending from one horizon to the other, and the river below it is still running. But where the heck is the AVRiL?
    • It seems to be having trouble saving my keyboard setup, just as the beta demo did.
    • Why the heck is there no Spectate option?
    • I prefer third-person view for deaths. Another mutator?
    • I would rather see map descriptions in the game setup UI as before, rather than waiting until the game has started.
    • I did a quick poking around in the editor. Vehicle factories don’t look like vehicles anymore; in fact I couldn’t find them at all. There are also too many buttons to fit in four-pane mode on my monitor.

    I’d love to get modding right away, but I just have less spare time than I used to.

     A peek at UT3 UnrealScript
    Filed under: — David @ 10:52 pm

    If you open Unreal Tournament 3 Demo/UTGame/CookedPC/UTGameContent.u in NotePad or some such text editor, and scroll about halfway down, you can get a good look at what kind of UnrealScript lives inside of UT3. Unfortunately it’s all a bunch of relatively minor classes - status messages, weapon effects, and some vehicle weapons. The real good stuff, like the game types, is hidden somewhere else. Darn. It would have been great to have some reading material so I could be a little more prepared for the final game.

    It’s disappointing to me that Epic chose to have such a narrow selection of game types in UT3 (just CTF and Warfare) because as a modder it gives me less to work with. For example, in the UT2003/04 version of Flag Domination I was able to use existing announcer sounds like “Red Team dominating!” I made two game types (Bombing Spree and BR4) based on Bombing Run, building on its game elements, models, sounds, and so forth. Now there is less to build on, and making my own content is even more complicated as the engine gets fancier. Plus I have less time, but that’s my fault for having a life.

     Second batch of UT3 beta demo thoughts
    Filed under: — David @ 9:53 am
    • The Hellbender has only two seats, with the driver controlling the skymine cannon like with the SPMA. They must have figured more seats aren’t needed when there are hoverboards.
    • The SPMA finally has an interesting name - Hellfire. It took me a while to figure out what the bots were talking about.
    • The Hellfire is now a one-seater. You use the skymine cannon normally, then stop and hit the space bar to deploy and use the artillery cannon. This makes it harder to use the skymines to defend yourself.
    • From the Hellfire’s floating camera, you now aim your shells with the mouse instead of the keyboard. Why didn’t they think of that sooner?
    • The handling on the Scorpion is very different, and I’m still unclear on what the main gun is supposed to be. In UT2004 I was doing 180° spinouts all the time, but I can’t seem to pull it off in UT3.
    • The UDamage platform on Suspense hardly seems worth it. How do you get down fast enough to make use of it? I tried jumping down and using the hoverboard to soften my landing, but that ended badly.
    • Also, surprisingly, the hoverboard can’t get you all the way to that top platform. The last part of the walkway is too steep.
    • I upped my video settings to 1280x1024. There was a slightly noticeable performance hit, but it still looks good.
    • If I summon a Paladin, its shield is opaque white. Presumably the shield texture is just missing in this demo. The projectiles are smaller - in fact I think they look like skymines, so hopefully it’s just a placeholder.
    • As I noted with the Dark Walker, the mouse wheel doesn’t move the camera in and out from the vehicle, and I now find this applies to all vehicles. I hope they bring that feature back.
    • The new vehicle health bar is fuzzier and harder to read.
    • I hope the full, non-beta demo has more bots. Hearing the same voice over and over in VTCF gets a little old.
     UT3 Demo thoughts
    Filed under: — David @ 11:47 pm

    I’ve poked around a bit with the demo. Just a short tryout with VCTF, and then exploring the DM maps without bots.

    • It runs fine on my Mac Pro, though I’ve only tried 1024x768 so far. I bet it can handle more. It defaulted to 800x600.
    • Not only do I miss the death messages like everyone else, I’m not a fan of the weird visual distortion that happens when you die. It looks too different from the rest of the game experience, making it less immersive.
    • Unfortunately I’m not a fan of the layout of VCTF-Suspense. Flag placement seems like an afterthought, making it difficult and non-intuitive to figure out for the first time where the flags are. The AVRiL seems to be a pain to get at. It also focuses mainly on a single choke point, the bridge, and I prefer maps that spread the action out. I think that’s part of the reason why I like Flag Domination.
    • Among the other missing options in this “beta” demo, there’s no option to disable “mature taunts”, which I would have taken advantage of.
    • The mouse wheel didn’t zoom in and out while I was in the Dark Walker, so I couldn’t see the legs walking. I haven’t tried it in other vehicles yet.
    • The driver’s weapon in the SPMA is now the skymine cannon. That’s an interesting reversal, though I always thought copying the Hellbender’s weapon was a bit of a cop-out.
    • The Hellbender’s turret doesn’t seem to charge anymore.
    • I like how the pickups periodically flash different colors (green for link gun, red for rockets) to make them more recognizable. It helps counter-balance the near overload of detail in the game.
    • The game says it’s “logging in” somehow even when I say to play offline.
    • A quick glance through the folder structure didn’t turn up anything that seemed to be analogous to a .u file. I was hoping to get a peek at some UnrealScript.
    • Has anyone tried using the RoboBlitz editor?

    At first I read that UT3 would include multi-team support, maybe even for more than four teams. But I’ve seen more recent statements that seem to contradict that, so it’s unclear what the future of CTF4 on UT3 might be. I’d love to be able to get started on Flag Domination right away, but who knows how much time I’ll be able to devote to such things now.

    Filed under: — David @ 8:43 am

    The PlayStation 3 has been listed among PC World’s top 20 most annoying tech products, and I disagree with pretty much all of their reasons.

    “…buggy wireless…”
    It has worked flawlessly for me. Entering the password was a bit tricky, because it hadn’t occurred to me at that point to plug in a keyboard, but since I got it connected there have been no problems.

    “…slow and cumbersome firmware updates (requiring a USB cable).”
    I have updated twice: once during the initial setup, and once since. I didn’t consider them all that cumbersome, at least not compared with updating Mac OS X or Windows. You do have to have the controller connected rather than using it wirelessly for certain parts of the process, but why is that a big deal?

    “…the PS3 doesn’t upscale the [DVD]’s native 480p resolution to high-definition.”
    It looks perfectly fine to me, better than the S-Video output of my old disc player which is noticeably more pixellated.

    “And the PS3 still has the distinction of being the only Blu-ray player that does not output movies at 720p.”
    Huh? My TV is 720p, and everything looks great.

    “Worse, problems with high-definition copy protection (HDCP) caused some PS3 titles to blink on and off on some TV sets.”
    In the linked article, “some” means “Westinghouse”, and the fix was a firmware update on the TVs, not the PS3.

    “The most annoying thing about the PS3? Its $599 list price.”
    For a multimedia wireless Internet set-top box with HD console games and a DVD/Blu-ray player, I feel I got my money’s worth.

    On a related note, I was amused by reactions to Sony’s recent announcement that they’re dropping the 20GB PS3. Now, on the one hand, they claim it was because those weren’t selling as well, but as I noted before, one Target employee I talked to said they only ever received two 20GB PS3s while at the time they still had two or three of the 60s in stock. But what amused me more was the user comments to the news articles on various sites: it was just another excuse for a PS3/XBox/Wii flame war. Talk about annoying.

     PS3 Experience
    Filed under: — David @ 4:23 pm

    I was going to get the 20GB PlayStation 3, but those, it turns out, are much harder to find. As I mentioned before, one local Target only ever got two of them, with presumably many times more 60GBs. I don’t know if Sony expected less demand, or if they’re trying to push the more expensive version since they’re selling them at a loss as it is.

    So I caved in. I still had a $50 gift certificate from Christmas, it has wireless networking, and I figured the extra HD space would be good for all the online content I’d probably be getting. I’m downloading the MotorStorm demo at the moment (457MB). I’m normally not into racing games, but I’ve enjoyed playing this on demo systems because of the fun offroad physics. It’s already the first game I’m tempted to buy, and I’m happy there’s a demo. It also looks like there will be a PS3 version of UT3, and presumably mods will work on that version too, just like previous UT mods are cross-platform.

    Now, if you get a PS3, and you plan on using the Internet features at all, my first recommendation is to have a USB keyboard handy. Entering text with the controller works like typing on my cell phone, except I have to use the d-pad to move my “finger” around. It’s really tedious. The problem with the keyboard, though, is that all of my keyboards have been rearranged into the Dvorak layout and there was no way to tell the PS3 that. So since I’m not so good at touch-typing QWERTY anymore I had to take a couple of minutes to put the key caps back in their original places. I think I got them right. If not, I’ve messed up my password.

    The first thing I noticed about the PS3 is it’s the heaviest console I’ve ever picked up. And although the initial setup is a bit tedious, even with a keyboard, I’m surprised at how much I’m enjoying the online integration. This really is more a serious multimedia device than simply a game system. My main criticism so far is that it’s all very modal; you can’t do anything else while you’re downloading something. If you want that kind of flexibility, you’ll have to use your PC (in the OS-neutral sense) and then transfer the files via one of the portable media options. I’m a little surprised there’s no way to transfer files over the local network. Maybe you can do it by setting up a web server on your PC and using the PS3’s browser.

    After downloading the system update and the MotorStorm demo, I went to download a movie trailer. When you do this, it asks you to select a destination, so apparently you can download directly to a USB drive or data storage card. The only option I had was the hard disk, which at this point had 47GB free. That’s right, if I had gotten the 20GB version, I’d have 7GB free now. Looks like I made the right choice.

    Edit - For some reason the PS3 web browser displays this blog page with the post text all centered. I wonder why. Also, it doesn’t support QuickTime, so going to Apple’s movie trailers site isn’t very productive.

    This is my personal blog. The views expressed on these pages are mine alone and not those of my employer.

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