I came across a great video showing the Portal 2 in-game level editor which is being released soon as part of the Perpetual Testing Initiative DLC. Whilst I was intending on embedding it in this post, it seems the video has been mysteriously pulled from YouTube. For now the following image will have to suffice – I’ll update this post when I find a working video link.
Having seen a demonstration of what can be done, I’m extremely impressed by the clean interface that couples simple geometry manipulation with WYSIWYG design. In the past I have made levels using a number of tools including Deathmatch Maker, QuARK (for the original Quake) to the first version of Hammer for the original Half Life engine. But irrespective of the tool used the basic principles for map creation were the same, as was typically the (rather steep) learning curve. The beauty of this Test Chamber Editor is the player doesn’t have to understand the theory behind binary space partitioning nor worry about leaks or striking the right lighting balance. They simply choose from prefabs of the small number of elements that make up Portal test cambers and see where their imagination takes them. Without trying the editor myself I can’t say much more; but from the video, it looks like a lot of fun.
I’ve been reading with great interest a recently released approximation of the quantity and deposition of radionuclides from the Fukushima Dai-ichi nuclear power plant accident earlier this year. Recently published on the Atmospheric Chemistry and Physics open discussion forum, the PDF form (entitled “Xenon-133 and caesium-137 releases into the atmosphere from the Fukushima Dai-ichi nuclear power plant: determination of the source term, atmospheric dispersion, and deposition”) is freely available.
The discussion paper raises a number of interesting points, particularly the indications of pre-tsunami reactor containment failure as evidenced by radioxenon releases, the large contribution to overall emissions from the spent fuel pool fire (reactor building #4) and the upward rating on the overall estimated radionuclide emissions. I strongly recommend a read.
Photo credit: TEPCO
Steam have a rather timely offer given my last post on STALKER 2, buy both STALKER Shadow of Chernobyl (SoC) and Call of Pripyat (CoP) for £6.24 !! Interestingly the offer doesn’t include Clear Sky but that is another story ;-)
This is a real bargain and a perfect opportunity to experience these fantastic games, so go and grab your copies.
Remember, to get the most out of Shadow of Chernobyl get the STALKER Complete fan made spruce up mods.
STALKER 2 in the works, STALKER 2 in the works, STALKER 2 in the works. … (calmly reclining) and I’m mildly excited about this. :-) Not a huge amount is known about the follow-up to the first trilogy of STALKER games yet, the original press release was somewhat short on details. However, we do know that the same studio (GSC) are already working on it and it might use the Crysis engine.
I found the original trilogy to be somewhat of a flawed gem – breathtakingly exciting, compellingly authentic and very engrossing; but sadly each title lacked a certain ‘something’ that ended up detracting from the experience. Luckily a number of talented community members have released various spruce up mods which (especially in the case of Shadow of Chernobyl) really make the games feel MUCH more complete and enjoyable, greatly enhancing what is already a phenomial gaming experience.
If you’ve not played a STALKER game before I can’t recommend enough grabbing a copy of Shadow of Chernobyl (£9.99 currently on Steam) along with the STALKER Complete 2009 fan made spruce up mod and Call of Pripyat (currently £19.99 on Steam or £14.99 if you own either Shadow of Chernobyl (SoC) or Clear Sky). Somewhere between these great titles is pure gaming gold, I really hope GSC find it for STALKER 2. Roll on 2012!
I think I am going to give Mediaportal another go, now that 1.1 final has been finally (after so much time and so many release candidates) released. I had been using Mediaportal as my media center software of choice since about 2007 (back in the 0.2.x days) but recently I had been lured away with some of the shinier features of Windows 7 Media Center.
Although overall I have enjoyed the user experience and polish of 7MC, the frustrations and limitations (lack of good plug-ins, local content, themes etc..) continue to mount. There are a lot of things 7MC is simply great at (series record, intelligently recording at another time to deal with timing clashes, Windows integration, four-foot configuration and so on..) but I think I am ready for a bit more freedom again from my media center.
I am rather surprised at the amount of downtime Twitter has had today – the site is up and responsive, but I’ve not been able to access or update my timeline for at least six twelvetwenty eight(!) hours! Twitter is of course famous (especially in the early days) for downtime but this is stretching credibility given the lack of prior notification.
Looks like the flailbot is here to stay, at least for now.
Update - twenty eight hours into the down time I am really shocked at the lack of acknowledgement of the problem on the Twitter status blog. For what is a mature social media network I’d have expected a better response than this, even if it is ‘we have a serious problem and we are trying to fix it’.
Final Update – well clearly whatever the problem was it was rectified. Oddly enough, as many people I spoke to were affected by this as those that weren’t. Odd.
So, as I wrote before, I have now finished Farcry 2 on my second attempt. The first time I picked up this game I got bored in about five hours, but to be honest, that was my fault. You see, I was expecting a standard Farcry 1-esque run of the mill fairly open world shooter with clear objectives and some HUD monkey telling me what to do and where to go. What I wasn’t expecting, was this:
Completely open space and complete freedom to explore the world. There is little or no hand holding from a very early stage in the game which both empowers (and certainly in my case) confuses in equal measure at the start. To players not used to going (or unwilling to go) out and have their own adventure, this game quickly can become boring. But those who do get frustrated and stop playing will miss an incredible, but slightly flawed, experience.
The world in Farcry 2 is large and breathtakingly stunning. Ubisoft have done a fantastic job of creating an engine that not only paints the harsh African landscape in its rightful splendor, but also requires no annoying and immersion sucking inter-area load pauses. In fact, this is so well done that it wasn’t until I had played for a few hours did I realise I hadn’t yet seen a load screen. The landscape is also ever-changing, with wild animals roaming, patrols roaring up roads between checkpoints and a beautiful day-night cycle. As such, they few areas of the world the player revisists repeatedly always look and feel different.
The environments range organically from wide open sun bleached deserts to dense thick jungle and vast open water areas. My only minor criticism is that, while the world feels huge, it is possible to drive from one side to the other in around twenty minutes. Despite this, the number of times I stopped simply to look around and take in the scenery really stunned me.
Although there are no RPG character creation elements to Farcry 2, it is such an open game that it allows the player to play in a wide variety of ways. For example, I started off as a bit of a rookie taking potshots with rusty, inadequate weapons. But as I started unlocking equipment, I learned the joy of picking off patrols from afar with my sniper rifle and closing in for the kill with an Uzi. Then there was the unmitigated joy of destroying arms convoys with IEDs and picking off survivors with my green dot scoped M4. I also went through a phase of only attacking at night, creeping upto guards armed only with my machete, possibly using an IED planted on a nearby arms crate as a diversion. Finally, I enjoyed using guided rockets and mortars to soften up enemy strongholds before assaulting with a light machine gun.
Although playing at night did encourage the use of stealth, I was disappointed that the night never seemed to be quite dark enough. It was no where near the ink black darkness of STALKER, a series that really sets the benchmark in this regard.
This is only the tip of the iceberg but one further element I do want to mention is the inclusion of buddies in the game. Buddies are NPCs who (depending on your history with them) will provide side missions that either help or extend main faction quests. But their main lure is as backups – if the player falls from enemy fire and a buddy is available, they can turn up and drag the player out of harms way allowing the wounded player to patch up and either go back for their vehicle and equipment or simply run to safety.
This really raises the bar for NPC characters as far as I am concerned, as does the fact that, occasionally they will genuinely need the help of the player to stay alive. I painstakingly kept each buddy alive throughout the game, although I was pleased and slightly irritated by them towards the end (although I don’t wish to spoil anything for those who have not played the game through yet.)
On the subject of the end of the game however, I felt that, overall the ending was rather poor. Actually there is more to it than that- the story and story telling aspects of this game were poorly presented and, frankly, uninteresting. The player is given one goal when they start Farcry 2 : “Kill the Jackal”. Apart from a few minor references and appearances by this character, he is (just) barely mentioned by the main characters during the story quests. None of the quests even seem to have anything to do with him. Most missions inevitably boiled down to the simple formula of ‘GOTO A, Do Buddy Side Quest, GOTO B, Kill X / Destroy Y’. While this echos what I said about the openness of the experience and gives the player a great deal of freedom to pursue their objectives in a number of different ways, it still gets rather lacklustre after a few times.
Unfortunately, there is no getting around it, the storyline is weak. The player rebounds from one faction to another doing quests which, whilst eventually upping the ante of the conflict, really don’t serve to engage the player in the world or develop the story. What is even more disappointing is that there is no option to pick a side in the conflict or remain neutral.
Frankly, if you are the type of player that just ignores side quests and just goes like a Bull in a China shop towards the main objective - don’t. At least not in this game, otherwise the whole experience will be over very quickly and the story will have been even less satisfying.
This was the first game that made me break my promise to myself of never buying anything laden with SecuROM. In my defense, I didn’t know at the time Farcry 2 came with such an annoying free extra as it is only stated in very small writing at the bottom of the back of the DVD case. That said, as of a recent patch activation and disc checking were removed although I will still have to remember to deactivate my machine when I come to uninstall it or reinstall Windows. As a result, I consider this point rather moot as it serves as an example of how, if a game has to use SecuROM, it can be done without inconveniencing the honest customer base. (Although I really am not a fan of DRM in any shape or form in my games.)
Overall the game is an amazing experience. The story, although poor, acts like a tour guide taking the player around all the noteworthy places in the world. Pyromaniacs will also have a field day as the game has some of the most pretty and satisfying explosions and fire effects of any game I have played before. The so described ‘realistic fire’ of the Dunia engine really is impressive and can be used to great tactical advantage. Sadly, it does feel as though Ubisoft created Farcry 2 as a tech demo to highlight the capabilities of their Dunia engine and simply slapped on a story afterwards rather than the other way around. That said, the beautifully modelled African wilderness resulting from this is so fun to play that I think I can just about forgive them.
All the screenshots I have taken whilst playing Farcry 2 can be found on my Xfire FC2 screenshots page. Although a word of warning – they are in chronological order with the newest (i.e. the end of the game) first so be wary for spoilers.
Yes I am still around (as some of you who are following my meanderings on twitter are aware) and am still interested in my blog. Finding free time at the moment is a huge issue for me (just one look at the stack of games in my ‘to-do’ pile speaks to that) but I hope to use my blog as something akin to a more verbatim twitter feed. Twitter has been much easier to post to given the (forced) laconicity of the medium and I have been tweeting fairly regularly for the last few years. Naturally there have been times when I would have wanted to expand what I was tweeting about into a more concise discussion allowing it to coalesce outside of the 160 character limit.
I have formerly made no bones about my aversion to micro blogging (or link blogging for that matter) and this is not where I am leaning. To be honest, I am not entirely sure exactly how this new setup will come together yet, I am looking at the possibility of moving away from a hosted wordpress account to doing something self hosted. Whilst that would give me the opportunity to develop my own (or tweak an existing) CMS system, the problem of maintenance rears its ugly head. Security on the web is paramount the issue of platform is a double-edged sword. Developing a proprietary solution (fun, although likely very time consuming) would prevent off the shelf attacks against known exploits although I do not have enough experience in PHP/MySQL yet to be sufficiently confident in my hardening skills. On the other side of the spectrum, using an off the shelf solution like wordpress would give me the instant bonus of a CMS that I could customise, although I would have to be strict about keeping up with patches and security bulletins for the platform (highlighted by recent history).
So, as you can see, not only am I unsure where / how I am going to take this, I am also unsure of the platform I am going to use. A great start :-).
My interests have evolved and grown a lot in the last couple of years. It goes without saying (as it is my job) but I am very into coding and software development, I regularly write code in C++ and python outside of work now. This presents something else that I need to consider, I would love to write posts about some of this code and make it available for free on here, but I need to figure out how it all fits with the existing content on my blog.
But anyway, before I start rambling, I will be shortly looking into tweaking and starting up writing again. Please bear with me whilst I get everything together. :-)