As you might have noticed I updated the logo and fixed a few things in the CSS.
While I was working on those I realized that this blog is more then a year old.
My god, how time flies… I’m getting older at an alarming (yet, standard) rate.
Anyways, I also made a distance field generator in PixelBender. This famous Valve paper explains the basic idea very well, but only scrapes the surface: distance fields can be used for much more. My next tutorial will be about the practical uses of DFs, implemented in the Unreal engine.
However the generator filter is available right now: DistanceField.pbk.
- Download and Install Pixel Bender.
- Copy the .pbk file to the Pixel Bender Files directory, located in the Photoshop folder.
- Open a black and white image.
- Start the filter from the filters menu.
There is a slider control called “Iterations”, which controls the precision of the filter. By default it’s on a rather low number, because higher precision can cause the display driver to bail out. (The filter runs entirely on the GPU!)
It is recommended to gradually increase this value until it starts to take around 3 seconds to update the image. Beyond that point my GF8800 GT tends to crash, resetting the driver and killing PS (and only PS, the rest of the system is unaffected).
Smaller images are safer: I had no problems with 512×512 textures at all even at full precision.
The Adobe guys know about the problem and are trying to work something out.
Fortunately this issue has less significance when it comes to real life usage: The generated image is often scaled down considerably, where the loss of precision has little or no impact on the final image.
Still, please let me know if you encounter other bugs.
Okay, maybe the game won’t be “crappy” per se but it won’t be an true XCOM game either, here is why:
It will be a first person shooter.
There is a good reason why there isn’t any Need for Speed adventure games or Contra MMOs: there are expectations toward a franchise. The genre, the main characters, the legacy it has. Yeah, sure, you can deviate from them, but it’s very tricky to do it right. Just look at the sad decline of Sonic games…
And it’s not like they switched the turn based strategy to a new and fresh approach. No, it will be just another first person alien shooter in the sea of similar FPS games. Smells more like sure money than inspiration.
“…gripping narrative ride.”
Big part of the appeal of the original game (to me at least) was that I played my story. I placed and designed the bases. I named the soldiers and I made the mistakes which killed them. There was no script to ensure the safety or death of a character. I was responsible for everything.
Now I can be sure that the hero saves the world and gets the girl the same way every time.
The player plays as an FBI agent.
What? An FBI agent fighting aliens… hmm wait a minute… Oh, okay, I see…
It’s not X-COM but X-FILES… a simple typo…. of course… it all starts to make sense now.
Anyways, by removing its guts is not how you revitalize and update this admittedly slow paced genre.
You do it the way Nival did with the excellent Silent Storm:
- Full 3D with dynamic shadows.
- Realtime actions if no enemy is visible.
- Fully destructible buildings.
- Physics driven props. (Guy dies on the top of a hill, drops ammo which rolls down the slope to me. Cheers.)
I wish they were making more games like that…
Also, beyond the gameplay aspects, I don’t really get the marketing side either. What were they trying to do?
I doubt they thought that people who knew and loved the original will be pleased with this FPS approach.
Who knew the franchise but didn’t like it is still not a particularly good customer base.
This leaves the ones who didn’t know X-Com at all, as the target audience. Hmm…
I think the interesting question here is not whether it will be a good game by itself, but why is it called like that?
I’ve always been a fan of platformers, especially the ones starring Mario.
I first met him in a bootleg version of Super Mario Bros played on a noname Chinese NES compatible “TV computer” (“…with 1001 integrated games!”).
The game was awesome until it got incredibly difficult. Blisters started to form on my fingers due to the increased pressure I applied to the buttons, hoping that it will make Mario run faster and jump farther. It made no difference, I kept dying so I lost interest along with the skin on my thumbs.
I grew older and more dexterous, so I enjoyed Super Mario 3 a bit more, although I never actually finished it either. Well, at least not on the console: I beat the first 3 real Mario platform games (SMB2 is crap, doesn’t count) in the late 90’s on an SNES emulator. (The “save anytime” feature helped me through the really frustrating parts.)
The New Super Mario Brothers shows once again that apparently only Nintendo can create a proper modern 2D platformer.
Simply put, this game is a real artwork, easily the best of its genre.
I think the main reason why it succeeds is that they struck a balance in every aspect of the game:
How it looks / how it plays.
It’s not like those indy games which might play well but they are so ugly that my eyes hurt. But it’s not the other extreme either where the visuals are breathtaking but the gameplay itself is boring/frustrating (who cares about the stupid AI or the control problems when a game uses DX10 effects and has big tits in it, right?).
In NSMB the graphics perfectly match the gameplay: neither of them has more emphasis than the other, both of them are polished and feel solid.
Easy to learn / hard to master.
The whole game can be played through with only three buttons: left, right and jump.
My mom, who has never played a single computer game in her life, started playing and after the third session we got through two maps without dying. (The fact that my mother got interested in the game, by itself tells much about the quality and appeal of NSMB.) Simple controls, proper feedback, clear goals. (And it looks cute too.)
But you can also go deep if you want: the control scheme and game mechanics allow you to perform some really hardcore stuff:
New tricks / old tricks.
While the fundamentals of the game remained the same, there are enough new elements to keep the experience fresh.
They introduce new mechanics cleverly, showing how things work, what actions are possible to do. There are no explanation popups, no NPCs describing a new enemy or situation. The player learns about the world as children do: by observing the environment and the events happening within.
For example the first time we encounter a sand fountain, a turtle is walking onto it, showing that the column of sand is solid enough to carry things.
Only a game developer can spot and isolate these nice, subtle touches: they are transparent to casual players who don’t even realize that they have just learned something new. What they perceive at the end of the level is that it was fun.
Single player / Multi player.
Playing alone on the maps is fun, playing with friends (or parents) is fun as well. The levels’ layout work well in both single and multi player modes, I was not able to spot any kind of bias in the level design.
The solitary exploration of the map is a different kind of fun than the chaotic multi player sessions, so it’s really up to personal preferences who enjoys which more.
(Check out this video for some advanced multiplayer action.)
Not easy / Not hard.
While there were moments when I really wanted to break the wiimote in half, generally the game is much more friendly and less frustrating than any of Mario’s previous adventures.
Failing several times on a level turns on the Super Guide feature which provides some help: Luigi shows how to play the given area, often revealing useful tricks. (Like that a barrel carried above my head works as a shield, blocking icicles and fireballs. God, knowing this made my life so much easier…)
And there are levels (like the one where you ride a raft and control a spotlight by tilting the wiimote) which are difficult but also so interesting that I didn’t mind trying again and again.
Okay, so these were the good things about the game, now lets see the problems.
The “spin” move is performed by shaking the wiimote, but often there is some lag, and sometimes it doesn’t register the move.