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SiN Episodes – your questions answered

January 30, 2006 5 comments

UPDATE 5:20pm: Turns out Ritual has a survey up. Go let them know if you’d like Co-Op or any other form of multiplayer!

Got a bunch of questions via email, comments, and forum posts after my last blog entry about SiN Episodes, Emergence. Here’s your answers, right from the source:

  • Middle of March is the estimated ship date. But I’m pushing them hard (and sounds like they’re pushing themselves hard) to not ship before it’s polished. So if it slips, don’t kill me.
  • The original SiN will come, free of charge, with a purchase of SiN Episodes. You can play it immediately, no waiting period.
  • SiN-on-Steam will work for multiplayer (including the awesome SiN-CTF!) via Steam and Steam’s browsers
  • SiN-on-Steam *is not* the Source re-make of SiN. Ritual’s working on it, but it’s a low priority right now.
  • The “shaky cam” video from a tradeshow (CES?) isn’t very indicative of the current game. In that video, it looked sorta like a HL2 mod. The game itself doesn’t look or feel that way at all. I guess I played with a newer version, but the art and design didn’t feel like HL2 at all. There were one or two placeholder textures, but most of it looked like new art and definitely a new feel.
  • Wages of SiN – Ritual wants to include this in the SiN-on-Steam package, but don’t know if they can yet. They’re looking into who has the rights, and whether they can get them if they can’t. They’re hopeful.
  • Multiplayer in SiN Episodes – it’s coming, but not in Episode 1. Hopefully in Episode 2.
  • Co-Op in SiN Episodes – A couple of people at Ritual would like to do this, but they’re not sure if lots of their fans really want it. Let them know if you do!
  • There will be a mod SDK for SiN Episodes shortly after release.
  • There’s *lots* of interactivity. I thought I made that clear in my first post, but I got questions about it. Lots!
  • Elexis’ “assets” have more animation “bones” in them than the rest of her model total. Think DOA4 level reality on the animation of those puppies.
  • ADV has a new SiN anime in the works. The first one was a blockbuster, so this should come as no surprise.

I’ll update again if there are more questions. Keep em coming!

Categories: personal, video games

Hands-on with SiN Episodes

January 27, 2006 9 comments

As some of you may know, I worked on the video game SiN back in the day. We loved making it, and everyone involved has wanted to make a sequel ever since. Ritual’s finally doing so, and I spent all of last night looking under the hood of the game. I’ve got some goodies to share. (And so does my brother). Also, I can get details on just about any aspect of the game you’d like. Post your stuff in the comments and I’ll do a follow-up entry with answers (UPDATE 1/30/06: Answers!).

Before getting into the details, though, I wanted to quickly touch on just how important this game is for the entire video game industry. Everyone wants episodic games. Developers want it because they get to make better games (by listening to their fans suggestions every 6 months and incorporating it directly into the next chapter) and do it more cheaply (6 months of game development vs years. Do the math). Gamers want it because their favorite games will be more frequent, higher quality, and more innovative since developers can now take some risks with different & new gameplay.

But figuring out if it’s a money-maker is a big risk. Someone’s gotta put their hard-earned dough on the line and try it out. Traditional publishers don’t want to jeopardize their revenue stream (just like the music and movie industries, they’re terrified of new distribution models.) Luckily, Ritual’s putting their money where their mouth is and self-funding this little experiment. If they succeed, the market will shift and we’ll all get what we want. Valve did an excellent job proving online distribution works (last I heard, 50% of Half Life 2’s ~5,000,000 copies were sold online via Steam)… now we just need Ritual to prove that episodic games make money. I know I’ve got Steam fired up and my $20 ready. Bring it on. ๐Ÿ™‚

Let me get to the game itself. If the game sucks, this whole episodic thing could get set back 5 years. Luckily, the game looks awesome. (Bear in mind it’s not complete yet, and things may change, so don’t lynch me if everything’s not exactly as I described) It’s a true sequel to the original, and the art style manages to both remain consistent to the original and extend it. In fact, I saw some of the exact same geometry from the first game in one of the first sequences. ๐Ÿ™‚

The thing that struck me first was how strong the AI is. They watch where you’re waving your gun and react accordingly. Aiming at their head? They’re gonna duck. Aiming at their torso, and there’s cover nearby? They’re gonna use it. Are there some garbage cans in the alley with you? They’re likely to pick them up and throw them at you before shooting. They help each other, too – we loved kneecapping guys and laughing at them as they fell to the ground, unable to walk. That is, until they still continued to shoot at us and called over a buddy, who helped them get back up. Oops!

Easily my favorite thing about the game is the adaptability. The game adjusts the difficulty on-the-fly, which we’ve all heard before. I thought that’d be sweet, but probably a little one-dimensional and easy to “game” or use to your own advantage. It turns out it’s not one-dimensional at all, but actually 5-dimensional. It utilizes a spider-chart to track your progress along multiple different game axis – things like how fast you’re moving through a level, your accuracy with your weapons, how much damage you’ve been taking, etc. The game then adjusts all sorts of variables to try to keep everything balanced just so. It’s got a great visual (I’ll get a screenshot for everyone) which looks remarkably like a spiders-web. The game tries to keep you dead-center on each axis, if that makes sense.

The reactions from the game aren’t just “oh, ok, we’ll spawn more guys” or “let’s make more health canisters”. Instead, they’re things like more helmets on enemies if you’re getting very good at headshots. Feels more immersive than just piles of health everywhere. ๐Ÿ™‚

The weapons are great. Blade’s magnum still feels and sounds powerful and meaty. You can now look down the barrel to get a more accurate shot, and it has an alternate fire which shoots a wall-piercing antigen round. The antigen round, when used on certain mutants, can make them grow or shrink. His shotgun now has an alternate fire with a ricochet. Bounce shots around corners and things. All the weapons have a melee attack, so you can beat SinTEK to a pulp. There’s an assault rifle, a sniper rifle, and off-hand grenades. The grenades have great effects, with sweet particle sparks and nice flames which affect the environment and enemies.

From time to time, Jessica (JC’s hot sidekick) will drive Blade around the city and Blade’s on gunner duty. She’ll take different courses each time, based on her decisions, so there’s a little extra replayability for the “rail shooter” portions of the game. The car is totally destroyable piecemeal, so parts (doors, windows, the trunk, the hood, etc) can fly off as Blade takes heavy fire. Oh, and for a funny easter egg, stare at Jessica’s assets a bit sometime. ๐Ÿ™‚

Ritual’s built an amazing skybox with the complete city all laid out. So as you progress from location to location in the game, all of the scenery totally matches up. Further, one of the buildings is an enormous skyscraper, from which you look down on all the other places you’ve visited during this chapter.

As SiN fans will know, Ritual has ABOs, or Action-Based Outcomes, which let the player change the direction the game takes based on how you accomplish tasks. One thing we talked about was the possibility of meta-ABOs where this episode gathers data on how everyone killed the final boss, for example. They can then take that information and start the second episode in such a way that it matches up with the way most people played the first. It wasn’t clear whether this would make it in this first episode or not, but I truly think the most powerful aspect of episodic game design is something like this. When fans can tell the developers what parts of the game they did and didn’t like, and the developer can incorporate that into a brand-new game within 6 months, everyone wins. Automatic stat gathering could help this a great deal and keep the story seamless.

There’s TONS of interactivity, and as a result, tons of easter eggs. You can use almost everything the world, including pay phones, and there are tons of numbers to call all over the place. If you see it in the world, you can probably do something fun with it.

The physics stuff is present and works well. It looks like they’ve extended Valve’s base physics to include things like oxygen tanks that have accurate velocity when shot. The game remembers which portion of item you picked up, so when you drop or throw it, it spins naturally as if you’d grabbed some corner of something, rather than the whole object.

There’s a massive amount of stat-tracking in the game. They keep track of everything you’d imagine, like your hit percentage, time playing, shots wasted and lots you wouldn’t. There are dozens of different metrics the game tracks and you can take a look anytime. If you’ve got a Logitech G15 keyboard, the game will show you your stats on the built-in LCD display.

We saw one boss fight, and he was sweet. Didn’t seem to have multiple stages or anything, but he did have a variety of attacks (huge melee fists, and a great glowing ball of stuff) and his skin showed all the damage we were laying on him. During the fight, we discovered that you can blow up any of the health containers in the game and they’ll make volumetric clouds of health. Likewise, the antigen containers will make coulds of antigen. And it turns out that antigen harms you but heals the mutants (and vice versa). So we could blow up health canisters as a means to injure the boss and other mutants. Pretty sweet.

Whew. I could go on-and-on, but the game really looks like a winner. Ritual, like Valve, has a full-time writer on staff and it shows. The game feels cohesive. It’s story-driven without getting bogged down in the details. The world exists already and you just happen to be in it. Some lame video game story isn’t shoved down your throat, whether you like it or not. You don’t know everything that’s going on, and it doesn’t matter.

Oh, yeah, and before I forget: All SiN Episodes buyers will get all of SiN 1 as a free bonus. So when you pre-order SiN Episodes, you’ll immediately get to play SiN 1. Pretty great, if you ask me. (Long live SiN-CTF!)

Post any questions in the comments (or over on my brother’s Shacknews thread) and I’ll try to answer any questions you have. I think I’m at liberty to talk about just about anything.

Categories: business, video games

Photocasting nothing new, move along

January 24, 2006 Comments off

It’s been said over and over, but there seems to be some confusion. Let’s see if I can clear the air. ๐Ÿ™‚

Kudos to Steve and his team at Apple for ‘photocasting’. It’s a great name, I wish we’d thought of it.

However, it’s nothing new. SmugMug has had it for many many moons, and Flickr had it before we did. Everyone (like Pixagogo and Fotothing) has it, and has for quite some time. Some call it photofeeds or ‘image podcasting’ or a variety of other names.

(And for the record, I think Apple’s doing just fine with their XML conformance).

Bottom line: Cool that Apple’s publicizing it, and cool the iPhoto “just works” with our feeds (and I assume the rest out there), but not so cool that they seem to think they invented it.

Welcome to the playground, Apple.

Categories: smugmug

The newest smugmugs!

January 14, 2006 6 comments

I’m now a dad not once, but twice over. I’m not sure it’s totally sunk in yet. In the space of less than an hour we went from being pregnant (and expecting to stay that way for at least a little longer) to being parents. Crazy!

My wife is doing a much better job at blogging this than I am, so go read hers for the regular, frequent, detailed updates. But I do have one story to tell that she can’t: The C-Section. If you’re squeamish (like I am), you may not want to continue reading…. or click any of the links below. ๐Ÿ™‚

C-Section ahead!

Those who know me well know that things like needles, blood, cutting flesh, and the like make me go woozy. I get faint enough to pass out most of the time. For the entire 7 months of the pregancy (our twins were born early at 31.5 weeks), everyone had been telling me not to watch the C-Section.

I watched.

And boy, was it cool! No sign of wooziness here, I can tell you. And yes, as a good smugmugger, I had a camera with me the whole time (Baldy’s Canon 20D for those of you keeping score at home). And I got some great shots!. Almost as soon as I got in there, I peeked over the curtain as a trial run to see if I could handle it.

What I saw on the other side didn’t really resemble my wife, or any human for that matter. The surgeons had covered her entire abdomen with a plastic sheet which adhered to her skin, and then began cutting through it. It was too surreal to be gross, and things only got more surreal as the operation progressed. It only lasted maybe 10 minutes, but it was crazy.

Perhaps the strangest thing for me was that they seemed to be treating my wife more like a slab of meat than a person. They were so anxious to get the babies out that they were exerting *lots* of force on her, pulling her every which way. I couldn’t believe she wasn’t feeling anything, but she wasn’t -she felt human on one side of the curtain, but looked like a side of beef on the other.

Then, after they’d cut through her skin, fat, and muscle, I saw something white poking out of the new hole in my wife. Thinking it was some organ, I almost turned back to my wife to chit-chat a little when I realized that wasn’t an organ – it was a tiny foot! Fascinated, I watched as the surgeons tried to grab said foot, only to fail. Leia, my little girl, was busily kicking them off of her as soon as they tried to grab it!

Finally they got a good grip and *yanked* her out. I don’t mean gently eased her out – they *hauled* her out and tossed her down on my wife’s stomach for a few seconds. (Yes, tossed. Again, like a side of beef). She looked more like a baby-shaped sausage than an actual baby – all white skin and wrinkles. Certainly not the pink baby I expected, and the doctors weren’t treating her much like one either. Leia lay there for a few seconds, obviously alive but helpless. She slumped down and patiently waited to see what came next – and I was in love. As soon as they snipped her umbilical cord, though, the nurses whisked her away and began to clean her up. Almost instantly her skin got all pink and she began to cry. Elizabeth and I beamed.

Mommy meets Logan

Looking back, there was now a surgeon with half his arm buried in my wife’s stomach. Basically up to the elbow, obviously trying to grab another slippery, squirmy, kicking baby. Finally they manged to get Logan cornered in there (poor guy had no-where to hide!) and hauled him out too. Again, sausage which looked remarkably similar in shape and size to a baby. Again, love. This time I had the presence of mind to get more than one photo, so we’ve got a little more photo evidence of his resemblence to a sausage.

Getting cleaned up

The fascinating (non-squeamish!) surgery part over, I ambled over to the two infant beds they had set up for the cleaning procedure. They were nice enough to let me cut Logan’s umbilical cord (again, no wooziness!) which was probably the first instant I really started thinking dad-like thoughts. The surgery was so surreal it hadn’t even begun to hit me that I was now a daddy. Beaming, I rushed over and told my lovely wife that I’d cut his cord, and watched her kiss her babies as they left for their reservations at Hotel NICU.

Hotel NICU

Now, a week later, I’ve gotten to talk to them (even sing a little, and I can’t sing!), touch them, change them, hold them, and (my favorite so far) read to them!

Thanks especially go out to the wonderful surgeons who delivered our beautiful babies, the nursing staff and doctors who were with us throughout the entire ordeal (short version: 2 years of infertility followed by miracle pregnancy and then 7.5 weeks of pre-term labor, with 5 trips to the hospital and my poor wife stuck in bed the entire time), and our family and friends whom we love so much. We couldn’t have done it without any of you.

I’m a dad – and my life has changed forever.

Categories: family, personal, twins
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