A couple of things.

Posted in Uncategorized on April 27, 2011 by thesreyn

This post doesn’t really have a subject. Or at least it could not be said to have one subject. We’ll see what spouts forth from the recesses of my mind, but at the moment I’m more focused on the things that have been running around in the forefront.

Many people keep blogs these days and why wouldn’t they? They provide an outlet for feelings, thoughts, ideas, ideals, considerations, positions and plenty of synonyms to go with these. But (and I have no data to back this up, so I may be wrong) from personal experience the personal blogs I see tend to be about the negative aspects of a persons life. Certainly some people post the positives as well, but negativity is a cloud that appears to hang over the blagosphere. There might be some truth to the “Internet emo-kid” hiding away from everything and only talking about stuff on their blog but I cannot possibly believe that everyone who does this follows that trend. After all, livejournal is still active so those kids are all on there.

I suppose what interests me is this decision to tell the Internet about your feelings. Not because of the potentially enormous amount of people from the faceless masses of Internet browsers that might see it, but because of the few people who actually know the blog poster. Those few people in real life who know this person and have, through some means or another, gained access to this person’s thoughts and feelings as expressed by their blog. More importantly, they have a context in which to place these postings because they know the person.

The reactions I’ve seen to such blog posts tend to be varied and it is, obviously, based on the context of reader and author and the relationship between the two. It can range from comforting someone after something terrible has happened all the way to hostility and anything in between, but there is one form of response that I have found to be quite irritating. Let’s call it gossiping, for lack of a more appropriate moniker.

Most people are guilty of this. They will have read some acquaintance of theirs blog and considered what it has to say, then one day they will be talking about the person with someone else and the topic of the blog will come up. It may be a reference to a specific post or it may be speaking about the blog as a whole but what is most likely in these gossip situations appears to be the use of the blog as a weapon against the author. Now this sort of hostility has happened plenty; open debate due to what someone posts online is common but we’re not talking about open debate here. We’re talking high school level backstabbing. The sort of behind-the-back bitching that teenagers appear to be oh so fond of.

This leads me to wonder why such a person would read the author’s blog. In most cases, it’s not outright enmity that fuels these acts, so the reader clearly has some other interest in the author than to just put them down at the next meeting of the gossip girls (Note from legal: Gossip Girls is just as likely to include other genders). For that matter, why do people complain when someone posts about how bad their day was to a blog where noone else can see it?

I can understand the irritation of people who see authors post their feelings on forced networking sites. Facebook is not the place to be posting your innermost feelings, at least not unless you want to have people calling you an attention seeker. Even things like tumblr semi-force a person who’s connected with you to engage, at least on some level, with what you’re posting. These are the sorts of things that should be up to the end reader to decide. Maybe I don’t want to know how bad your day was. Maybe I don’t want to deal with vaguely depressing posts that only hint at a deeper cause. I may just reblog you though, because that sad-quote-on-a-wintery-forest picture really applies to my life right now, you know?

Forer and Barnum were right.

Also yes I’m aware of the hypocrisy of my wordpress automatically updating my facebook whenever I make a new post. I’ll justify it by saying that my blog is generally not for these sorts of postings.

Other stuff. Hmm.

Have you ever noticed how naïve and hypocritical some people are? It boggles my mind sometimes but there are also some individuals that just take the cake. A recent personal experience would be a person who created and manipulated a situation through their own actions, then externalises blame for the outcome. “It might seem like we could be good for an hour”. Hmm, perhaps you might be able to increase that from “an hour” to <insert period of time here> if you were actually willing to spend more than an hour working on it. Or perhaps concerns about how “the things that were my problems may not have changed” could be allayed if you would actually, you know, do something about your problems.

Perhaps instead of outright saying “things will be too difficult” you should actually try them out instead of passing judgement from within your safe little zone, automatically assuming that nothing will work, running from comfort to comfort because you’re too scared and weak to actually fight.

Perhaps you should be willing to fight for what you want. I’m not talking something like a new of sheets that you want because you saw them and they looked nice. I’m talking about how you want something so badly that you keep coming back to it. Over and over, even when you’re not in the same location. Something you want so bad that you’ll risk ruining your safe zone not once, not twice but three times, only to claim that “it would be too difficult/scary to properly try”. Maybe this isn’t being hypocritical or naïve. Maybe it’s trying to juggle having the best of every world instead of having to work on the one you want. The thing with juggling is that it requires skill and even when you end up tossing only one ball into the air, if you don’t care about that ball you’re just going to end up dropping it.

The ball is a metaphor by the way.

Then again, maybe your ball should grow some balls and actually do what it was planning on doing. But then again, some balls just like to roll around in the crazy.

Statistics time, I suppose.

On a more personal note…

Posted in Uncategorized on December 30, 2010 by thesreyn

This blog is wonderful. I get to write big articles about esoteric topics that hopefully generate thought within my readership (all 4 of you). However, there are times I would like to put up something random, something that happened, just vent or share something interesting I found or thought about. For that reason, we now have In Space, a new tumblr I’ve opened for the posting of all things outlined above.

So, wonderful readers, feel free to keep coming here for the sporadic updates and if you’d like to know a little more about me or see some weird pictures, go to In Space.

Classical Conditioning and Game Design, or “How not to make a challenging game”

Posted in Gaming Articles with tags , , , , , , , , on December 21, 2010 by thesreyn

I like a challenge in my video games. I was one of the people who was bashing their heads over and over against Vaelastraz, Nefarion, C’thun and the like until durability was a whisper on the wind, then dropped a repair bot and did it all again. I play pokemon Nuzlocke, I use unorthodox builds in RPG’s and I’ll play with just plasma pistols on Legendary Halo. Whether a game is challenging by itself or can be made challenging, it doesn’t matter so long as the challenge is there. Sadly, developers these days seem to have misinterpreted the concept of “challenging” as “brutally hard”.

It may seem that the two are similar, or that this is just complaining. After all, what is more challenging than giving an enemy five times the health and triple damage? Unfortunately that is not creating a challenge. That is simply increasing the difficulty level. You see, most games created in these times come with variable difficulty levels, which is understandable considering the need to target an ever growing population of casual gamers. However, the challenges present in older games aren’t finding their way into the newer titles and what we are seeing is an endless slew of titles whereby the only challenge is to put several more bullets into something before it dies.

A game does not have to be brutally difficult to be challenging. Consider Ultima Online, for example. Whilst the game was not easy it was not brutally difficult either, but death had serious consequences. This meant that whilst you could navigate the game fairly simply, it was required that you knew what you were doing and that you were careful. Combined with encounters that forced a player to deal with a substantial risk to their lives for the best rewards, you were given a challenge without the need to mindlessly raise health and damage levels of enemies. Trine is another good example of a game that provides a challenge, in that it required equal elements of puzzle platforming and simple combat, which meshed together to provide the challenge. On the higher difficulty levels it wasn’t necessarily more enemies, but enemies in new, more difficult places or the removal of certain terrain or an increase in the cost of abilities that generated a more challenging gaming environment.

Now, I haven’t played much in the way of Demon’s Souls, but from what I have played and having done some reading it appears clear to me that this is an example of what NOT to do when you want to challenge your player base. Challenges are something that, with appropriate skill, awareness and knowledge can be beaten the first time around. It may take a few more tries, but the point is that it CAN be done. For example, consider solo dungeons in DDO: Stormreach. As a rogue, with careful movement, positioning and timing you would attempt to navigate an intricate environment of traps and enemies and by keeping a watchful eye out as well as being able to read the movements of your enemies, you could disable the traps, slay only the enemies you needed to and complete your goal. With Demon’s Souls, you run out and you die; not because you didn’t possess the necessary skill or awareness but because the game is designed like that. It is an exercise in repetition, forcing a player to redo a particular section many times. That isn’t challenging, that’s rote learning. If you were to give players information about the task ahead instead, such as telling them vaguely the sorts of dangers they will face, the player is then armed with some level of ability to defend themselves on their first try. Another possibility is to make certain events more obvious or slower, so that it isn’t a case of “step here, instantly die, respawn and retry”. A game following that design philosophy would make even Pavlov wince.

Halo is guilty of this sort of thing too. I would ask how many Spartans had fallen to sniper fire when rounding a corner but I’d only receive the collective moaning of thousands of gusts of wind through the holes of so many Mjolnir helmets. This is not good challenge design. You want to know what would be good challenge design there? A simple, one line piece of dialogue that warns the player of snipers. Heck it needn’t even be done visually, you could have the player be guided toward a marine hiding behind some form of cover and as the marine goes to warn the player, his head explodes in a puff of red mist because of a high energy plasma discharge. The player is now aware that snipers are a challenge in the next section and additionally has some information as to where the first sniper fired from. They can now take steps to deal with them, instead of the typical situation that is “walk around corner, oh I’m dead, frigging snipers, let’s try that again”.

The essence of a good challenge is to provide the player with an obstacle that is surmountable the first time with proper care, skill, awareness and knowledge. To blindly kill the player repeatedly in order to make a game seem more difficult is not challenging, it is artificial challenge increase through the use of Pavlovian methods; “Die, learn, repeat until you don’t die anymore”. In regards to good challenges, I have to say that Blizzard holds the title with one key problem; those players who first encounter a new fight must follow the Pavlovian Method, to die and to learn through death. This is why websites with tactical information to defeat the challenges in World of Warcraft are so popular. Players can gather the knowledge required to defeat the challenges ahead of time and can put that knowledge into practice on their first attempt, providing the key to any good challenge; surmountability. It is just unfortunate that to get there, we must step over the bones of those slain by the Pavlovian Method.

Don’t forget to do this in your research reports either.

Posted in Creative Writings with tags , , on December 14, 2010 by thesreyn

Click on the picture to view it proper size, or view it at XKCD

Relationships must be more than just a series of unlabeled events. There must be definition and substance to the events. We must be able to quantify them in the whole, larger part of our relationships. To do otherwise makes what you are doing arbitrary, meaningless and without point of reference. So in this respect, XKCD got it right. Graphs are meaningless when they have no labels to give them definition, substance and a point of reference. So next time you’re in a relationship, don’t forget to label your axes.

Love: A concept defined by ill definition

Posted in Psychology with tags , , , , , , , on December 14, 2010 by thesreyn

It strikes me as incredible that the human race has so many fascinating contributions to our overall knowledge base that we understand much of chemistry, physics, biology and so many other disciplines, yet we have so little understanding of our very selves. I can only blame our lack of applicable technology and the youth of the discipline of psychology for this problem, so if you’re going to complain about psychology not being a science, let it be known that it is your failings in your particular field that make psychology a supposed pseudo-science.

Alternatively, you could simply agree that the only plausible reason for calling psychology a pseudo-science is because we don’t understand the fundamentals yet. Astronomy, chemistry, physics, mathematics all of these were pseudo-sciences during their inception (no I haven’t seen that movie yet). However debating the status of psychology as a science isn’t why I’m writing this, I just got a little side-tracked since I don’t really have a specific focus for this article other than discussing how little we know of our human selves.

As an example, let us take something that the majority of us search for all our lives, something that many of us would postulate is the primary reason to continue on in this world: love. I want you to consider this concept carefully and then ask yourself this question and I mean really ask yourself,

What is Love?”

Now, there is an evolutionary view that we are driven by our most basic instincts such as procreation and that our prime directive, so to speak, is to pass on our genes. This school of thought has received a lot of study and has persuasive evidence in its favour, particularly in the animal kingdom. However, if there is one thing that we must be clear on, it is that we are not animals, or at least we are not animals in the general sense of the word. Sentience prevents us from being classified with what we traditionally hold as animals and with sentience comes the many aspects of humanity. Love, then, is a construct that perhaps inhibits the biological base urge that we have to spread our genes as widely as possible. Is that all that love is? Absolutely not.

You see, we as a species revolve around this concept of Love and whether you take the evolutionary approach that Love is a biological construct designed to keep a mated pair bond together for the purpose of raising off spring, or the romantic approach that love is an emotion brought about by caring and compassion and the want to take care of another person, or any one of the numerous psychological approaches to Love there is one thing that we can say with total certainty: We have no idea what Love is.

Perhaps this is for the best? Beilby Porteus has a rather heart-warming quote that provides the most comprehensive definition that isn’t a definition I’ve ever seen; “Love is something so divine, description would but make it less; ‘Tis what I feel but can’t define, ‘Tis what I know, but can’t express.” It is wonderful to think of Love in these terms and it certainly strikes a chord with me, because I for one cannot express what Love is. I can express how it makes me feel, in terms of other emotions and physical sensations, but therein lies an important distinction. The feelings we associate with love all have more simplistic, more base names once we break it down. The majority of these revolve around the medium of “Happiness”, but we may also feel content, safe, secure and a number of other emotions.

Does this mean that Love is an amalgamation of other emotions? If so, what we call Love is essentially nothing more than say, Lanthanide’s or indeed nothing more than any overarching concept that is defined by the sum of all of its parts. Could we, therefore, define Love mathematically as a set of all relevant emotions? Is Love Gestaltian, perhaps? I cannot say with any measure of certainty but what I can say is that this seems unlikely. In the same way that we do not call the activation of a particular network of neurons in the temporal lobes a “memory”, it does not seem plausible to call the “Love” the activation of a particular network of emotions. This becomes somewhat more clear when we consider that all the emotions that make up Love can be obtained from people whom we merely like, or in some cases don’t even know.

Maybe, then, Love is when a particular person provides a proportionate percentage of permissable paradigms? Alliteration aside, what I mean is that Love may be when all the emotions that make up love are conjured by one particular person. Most likely this person would be an attachment figure in our lives and probably our primary attachment figure (for those who don’t know what this means, read this). But the distinction between primary and non-primary attachment figures brings with it its own confounding variable, specifically that we can have certain forms of love for certain people and by the very nature of being different forms, these types of love will have distinct features.

Perhaps we must look at Love in this way. Love may be a multi-faceted thing and we may have Companionate Love, which is feelings of intimacy and affection without physiological arousal or passion, Passionate Love, which is an intense longing for another person including physiological arousal and may be characterised by shortness of breath and heart thumping when in that persons presence, and Compassionate Love, which is a combination of both of the above and has been suggested to be generally found in people who are romantically involved. But then where does it end? Are these our only forms of Love or are there more? What about Obsessive Love? We couldn’t simply disregard that as not a form of Love, though it could certainly be argued otherwise. Or what about an example that a friend of mine was happy to provide, that of ‘True, week-long love for characters in books and tv shows’. We can argue that this is not Love but without knowing what Love truly is then all we are doing is forcing our own conceptions and definitions of Love onto other people.

In the end, that may be what Love is all about. Not the forcing of definitions, but the acceptance that Love is not something that we can universally define or perhaps even understand. Perhaps we human beings evolved brains capable of sentient thought and other wonders but evolution had no way of translating our primal selves into that sentient thought. Maybe that is why the brain is segmented into essentially “Primal” areas and areas of “Higher Functioning”. If we were created by some higher power, who is to say that the spark of life implanted in us by this entity did not create our brains with the inability to truly comprehend such things as powerful as Love. But then, we are capable of understanding where happiness, sadness, anger and other emotions come from and they are all rooted in biological systems, systems which we have defined, studied and can certainly wrap our heads around. Why then is Love so difficult a concept to define and understand? Is it a fundamental inability in our brains, or simply a lack of appropriate knowledge and technology, such that we feel about Love the same way that people must have once felt when trying to understand the stars?

I honestly don’t know and whilst there is a part of me that wants to know everything, there is another part of me that wonders if knowing about Love would remove all the magic and wonder from it. Perhaps Porteus was right in saying that defining Love would only make it less. But then, what is something if we cannot define it? You tell me.

The Singularity of Multiplayer: The Slow Death of Single Player games

Posted in Gaming Articles with tags , , , , , , on November 30, 2010 by thesreyn

I, like so many others (the greatest amount of others in gaming history in fact) recently purchased the latest Call of Duty. Widely considered the best selling game ever, CoD: Black Ops is everything you’ve seen before in the Call of Duty franchise with some upgrades, tweaks and the return of the Zombie game mode from World at War. It’s fun and certainly worth it if you are a fan of the franchise or can pick it up nice and cheap, but the best gameplay is the multiplayer and it is this upon which I’ll be focusing. I shall note now that this is not a review of Call of Duty: Black Ops. This time on From SPACE I am going to be discussing the ever growing role of multiplayer within gaming and its effect upon single player games and gaming as a whole.

 

It struck me when I was considering this topic that I have often mentioned (not on this blog but when talking about games with people) that multiplayer is basically the new single player for video games and that single player these days is much like what multi player was a long time ago; a nice addition but not something that was core to the game. With the advent of the digital age, high speed Internet and near instant communication anywhere in the world, it makes sense that those of us who enjoy the medium of gaming would like to share our experiences with like minded others. After all, this is what we indulged in when getting our friends around, getting our mother to order us pizzas and having goldeneye sleepovers (or Perfect Dark, or Halo; feel free to pick your poison).

 

Then we saw LAN cafes springing up during an intense period before everyone realised that they could either LAN for free or just use voip to chat with friends while playing games. LAN cafes were born of a time when big groups of players couldn’t play together in very many games over the Internet, combined with a setting that provides the socialisation with like minded peers many gamers enjoy. They were a resounding success until they went under. Now few are left, roaming the bleak wilderness of the cities, supported by the devoted few who regularly attend their foul-smelling, hygiene resistant depths. Although maybe that is just Canberra, perhaps other cities are having greater luck with their LAN cafes.

 

Anyway, multiplayer is the core element of many games these days and it is difficult to justify putting a title into production based on single player merits alone. Starcraft 2 certainly had an enjoyable single player bolstered by the crack of the gaming world; achievement points. But would anyone have much cared if there was no single player? Some people certainly but I think you would be hard pressed to say that any significant majority have bought SC2 purely for the single player. CoD: Black Ops is another example, whereby the game itself is balanced around multiplayer and a far greater amount of work is put into this aspect of the game than the single player.

 

One of the major proponents for this shift in player focus, I believe, is the advent of E-sports. Gamers are notorious for having a large amount of disposable income (tabletop wargamers especially) and they also have a reputation for being suggestible and incredibly loyal to their franchises. This suggestibility and loyalty combined with large wads of cash provide an enormous untapped market which e-sports and game producers capitalise on enormously through the advertisement and sale of gaming gear, gaming food, gaming drinks and gaming merchandise. Why would they not do this? They are, after all, out to make money and if these peripherals sell better because their game can be promoted in e-sports due to its multiplayer capabilities they would be stupid not to try.

 

Another major cause appears to be the slow-boiling catalyst that began with the earliest multiplayer games. Playing a game is fun. Playing it with friends is more fun. Playing it with lots of friends is even more fun. Logically, being able to play with an enormous amount of people, finding more friends, servers you enjoy and the like should, in turn, increase the likelihood of you enjoying your game. Whilst some players may be heartily against this, including noted game critic Ben ‘Yahtzee’ Croshaw, the majority of gamers embrace the idea of a global community for their favourite games. Much like someone might play indoor cricket socially to enjoy the game and make more friends, gamers can do so with their favourite IP.

 

But what might be the consequences of placing too heavy a focus upon multiplayer? A major one that jumps out at me is the slowly dying art of the epic single player campaign. I am not arguing that Neverwinter Nights had an excellent original campaign but the storylines of it and its two expansions were incredibly epic and enjoyable, experiences that I have gone back and replayed many times over regardless of knowing the plot twists. Dragon Age and Mass Effect are another two single player epics that run the risk of being swallowed by the ever growing pressure to focus upon multiplayer. Companies that wish to produce single player only games will find that less funding is coming their way and less public interest will be devoted towards their game compared to the next expansion of World of Star War Craft Duty: Halo Evolved.

 

Does this mean that single player games are dead? Certainly not. The Mass Effect series has a very strong following. But what I do see a lot more of in the coming years is the integration of single player with multiplayer; that is to say the ability to switch seamlessly between both single player and multiplayer such as with Monster Hunter Tri or the recent generations of Pokemon. These are single player games that allow us instant access to a broader world should we choose to make use of their features and all the accomplishments we have made through our single player success/failure is transferred there. Can’t take down a Barroth by yourself? Gather three people online and take it down together! I don’t believe single player games will die out soon. There are still many places in the world where one cannot access the features necessary for multiplayer capabilities and until the advent of free, entirely global Internet and Internet gaming (I’m looking at you, Xbox live) for all gaming devices there will always be a market for the single player epic.

 

And don’t mention Legend of Zelda. We’re just replaying the same NES game over and over so it’s not fair to judge that by modern standards.

Massively Multiplayer: More than Meets the Eye

Posted in Gaming Articles with tags , , , , , , on November 14, 2010 by thesreyn

I’m having trouble studying. So here’s procrasti-blogging. Also oh god Hasbro don’t sue me for the title of this post.

Multiplayer is the biggest thing in gaming these days. I’ve mentioned it in at least one previous article I’ve written and it remains as true now as it did then. The advent of high speed Internet capabilities to the majority of video game players means that multiplayer is no longer a gruelling process of organising with other people a good time for everyone and who’s bringing that extra xbox and do we have another tv oh did someone remember the network cable ugh. No now multiplayer is as simple as opening up a game in most cases and with dedicated Internet connections now the mainstay of most gaming consoles and gaming computers joining up with people from around the world for a quick match or two has never been easier.

Thus it was only a matter of time for Massively Multiplayer Online Games (MMOG’s) to evolve. They have done so tremendously yet the king of the heap is still one of the earliest true MMOG’s ever developed; World of Warcraft. I read an article a few weeks back where it was said that beating WoW is a near impossibility because it had not only had it’s 6-8 years of development but also the constant upgrading and tweaking that has gone into the many years it has been running. Add onto that the fact that WoW cannibalises all the good ideas that spawn from its competitors and you have a deadly mix of ingenuity (stolen and otherwise), customer base and venture capital. However this post isn’t about WoW, this is all just relevant information.

The Activision/Blizzard MMO giant that is the World of Warcraft is clearly one of the most popular games of all time and is certainly the most successful MMO. That is until we consider the changing nature of multiplayer. What truly constitutes a massively multiplayer game these days? Definitions vary, but they all mention the ability for large numbers of players to commune and interact in the games environment. That part is quite obviously integral to an MMO. Now, if you’re a player I want you to go and fire up your copy of Team Fortress 2. Or Halo: Reach. Or Monster Hunter Tri. Or Goldeneye Wii.

Each and every one of these games I’ve mentioned provide the player with the ability to get online with massive amounts of other players to commune and interact in the game environment, yet they are not considered to be MMO’s? That seems rather odd to me.

The only distinction I have been able to drudge up is that of persistent worlds. An MMO seems to require some level of persistency about it. Now, since the game world itself cannot change that much, this persistency (yes I will continue to use persistency even though it is not a word) must come from somewhere else and to me it would appear that it evolves within the player characters. The players themselves create persistency by having characters who evolve with them throughout their playing time. But then, what of Team Fortress 2’s item system? Your favourite class may not have a unique name, but you can create a persistent character from the mixing and matching of items and with the introduction of new items with the Mann-Conomy (such as description tags and name tags) you can create a level of persistence that matches even World of Warcraft. Team Fortress 2 has its own Persistent World.

What about Global Agenda? It claims to be an MMO Shooter. But what makes it different from Team Fortress 2? Is it the persistent AvA world? That can’t be right, because the AvA world resets every 2 weeks. The only persistency comes from the player characters of the world, much like World of Warcraft and Team Fortress 2. Even considering a game like League of Legends, we can see many characteristics of MMO’s, yet it is certainly not classified under our traditional concepts of these games.

Thus we have stumbled upon the building blocks of MMO’s. A Persistent World (so far only achieved via Player Persistency) and being Multiplayer. Why is it then, that the games I have drawn comparisons to in this article are not considered MMO’s? So far the only reason I can come up with is that very first word; Massively. Even then, it only appears relevant in the context of how many players may interact within the game environment simultaneously. A WoW server can hold thousands of players. A TF2 server can only hold 24 (yes there are increased player cap servers but 24 is the established, balanced norm). But then, a match in Global Agenda only has 10 players on each side though many more can interact simultaneously in the “Hub World” of Dome City. But if the number of players capable of interacting simultaneously is a measure of an MMO, then theoretically more players being able to interact simultaneously would be a measure of a good MMO. Thus EvE Online would be a better MMO than WoW because of the number of players interacting on its single server.

To be frank, I’m not sure what constitutes an MMO and I don’t think anyone in the world does either. We can quite easily point to a game and say “That’s an MMO” but when it is pointed out that these games are essentially no different from other games that “Aren’t MMO’s” we fail to provide an adequate distinction. Food for thought, anyway.