30 August 2012

My experience with Slender

If you are a video game nerd you probably have heard about the game Slender. If not... it's a first person horror-adventure game that is based on the 3D-engine Unity. The player spawns in a dark forest, only equipped with a flashlight and the ability to sprint for a short duration, and he is given the task to collect 8 pages that are scattered in this forest.

Over the past weeks I have read from people (mostly on 9gag.com) of how scary this game is. Many say it's even scarier than my favorite Amnesia - The Dark Descent. Two days ago I downloaded the game. I waited until night and played it. I was walking around the forest for a couple of minutes. Because I had a slight clue of what to expect I had more and more tension build up inside me, but the problem was, nothing ever happened! I was waiting for the big scare, for this tension to finally be released and NOTHING happened. I exited the game after merely 3 minutes. Somehow 'nothing' was already too much to take.

Later I found out that I misunderstood the controls. I tried to use the Enter key to collect pages, wheareas in truth I should have used the left mouse button.

That night I had a dream about the game I had only played for 3 minutes. In that dream I was playing a video game trying to collect pages inside a building while trying to stay away from dreadful tentacle monsters and their master. I had not seen any hentai on that day (at least not the tentacle type). The urban/internet legend says the Slender Man is a creature that abducts children. He is depicted as a very tall man in a suit with unnaturally big limbs. I guess that is where the tentacle dream comes from. Unfortunately I don't remember the end of the dream. Usually I go into inception mode whenever things get interesting :(

Yesterday I was too scared to play the game.

Half an hour ago I tried to man up and give it another try. I don't know how I can describe the game without giving too much away. You see, the problem is, the game doesn't offer very much. The forest isn't very big but relatively there is even less to do. The graphics aren't nice to look at. The game lives mostly by a creepy atmosphere and its shocking effects. If I had to review the game like any other game it would probably score in the 60%-75% range.

If you want your own virgin experience to be untainted then skip the following two paragraphs.

As I was playing the game I was feeling lost all the time (as I am supposed to feel, I understand). I think I was runnning around the edges of the forest all the time, orientating on the fence. From time to time there would be a clearance with a building, some stones or a vehicle. More than 5 minutes had past and I still had not found any pages. Suddenly there would be a continuing booming sound, like a timer telling me I would have to hurry. And all of a sudden this guy would appear in front of me. I lost the game with 0/8 pages collected.

I immediately gave it another go. Finally I collected my first page between some tanks. Then the booming sound would appear but no Slender Man for some time. I got my second page after more than 5 minutes. from a gameplay perspective I was already bored at that point. But on the other hand tension was building up inside me, wanting to get out. Then Slender Man would appear but I had managed to evade him. I got my third and fourth page around 10-15 minutes into the game. I believe that Slender Man appears more often the more pages I got. After the fourth page I could feel his breath on my neck. He was always so close to me that it wasn't fun anymore. I decided to walk right into him to finish it.

I could go on about how the game could be improved by making the forest more linear, and adding some narrative, but my conclusion is that this game, like Dear Esther, is not meant as a classic video game. Dear Esther tried to be an audio-visual book. Slender is a test of human fears. The fear of the dark, the fear of being lost, the fear of being followed. In that it succeeds, but in my humble opinion, Amnesia is scarier.

You can get Slender here, for free.

25 August 2012

Continued work on SotX: Chapter 3

Summer is almost over an I barely spent any time on the third Chapter of my StarCraft 2 campaign "Shadow of the Xel'Naga". But the recent mapper meeting with Blizzard has motivated me over the past week to put some effort into the map. The last time I had worked on the map was in April. Back then I updated my blog to inform people of the features of this map. Here's the short list:

- Tug-of-War-gameplay
- Two very different heroes.
- Experience points to level heroes and abilites.
- an inventory and usable items.

Over the past week I spent most of my time on balancing the map for fun combat. Since the heroes the player(s) can control are so different I've been trying create areas that promote their abilities.

The Dark Templar Xerana is very similar to Zeratul in the Protoss mini-campaign. She relies mostly on stealth and melee combat. She uses a Void Prison to effectively eliminate single targets. In emergency situations she can cast a Psionic Storm to get rid of multiple enemies. She can also teleport to otherwise unreachable space. She has an ultimate ability that allows her to duplicate herself so she can deal twice the amount of damage. Xerana should be used to find weak spots in the enemies defences.

Imagine a situation with her standing where the enemy has a Missile Turret and a Siege Tank on high ground. She can quickly teleport to that spot, use Void Prison to block the Missile Turret's ability to scan invisible units, then use her Cloak to dispose of the Tank and when the Missile Turret gets back in action and enemy forces come to help she can teleport back to the low ground, awaiting her allied forces to support them with her Psionic Storm.

The Star Relic, on the other hand, is a massive combat unit. It can use a Pulse Cannon which is similar to the Battlecruiser's Yamato Gun to dispose of enemy Tanks or Spore Colonies. Its Matrix Shield allows it to take additional damage and its healing capabilities can support allied forces. Its ultimate ability is massive shockwave that damages enemies and stuns all enemies that survive the shockwave. The Star Relic should be used to fight enemy waves and crack their defense line with brute force.

Both heroes can use a variety of items:
- Portals allow them to teleport back to the last check point.
- Medkits heal and replenish shields.
- Energy Kits restore energy.
- Enemies can be lured into Spider mines.
- Single targets can be eliminated with a Vortex Bomb.
- Grenades can be used to kill groups of weak enemies.

The gameplay is about 40% complete, including AI, level design and balancing. Level art, audio and cinematics will be started after that. No screenshots until then (I guess). No ETA. This post is just here to let you know the project is not dead.

17 August 2012

Gamescom/Mapper Meeting with Blizzard

At Gamescom last year I had bought a season ticket and only used two of the four days available to me. It was a really stressful experience.  It was so overcrowded that we had to walk outside the main halls to get anywhere, where an unforgiving sun was bombarding us with its heat. There were endless lines everywhere. You would have to wait 2-4 hours to play any decent game. Many people decided that 8 hours was worth the wait to play 10 minutes of Battlefield 3, or Modern Warfare 3. Games that would be releases only a few months later.

Also the tournament area, were we had spend most of our time two years ago, seemed smaller and was also overcrowded. I felt lucky when I was able to find a chair for myself. Not to enjoy the games on-stage but to relax a bit. Finally I had decided to enter the queue for Batman: Arkham City. After three hours I got to play the game for 10 minutes. 5 of which I was trying to figure out the controls and the things that were going on screen. Afterwards I left the building, wondering who in his right mind could get eny sort of joy out of this.

After last year's desaster I had no plans to relive that dreadful experience, when out of the blue, I got a private message from Sixen, the admin of sc2mapster.com. He wrote that Blizzard is planning to hold an hour long meeting at the Gamescom, with people from the mapping community. They wanted to discuss the recently launsched Arcade for StarCraft II and ideas to get more people into mapping and playing custom maps.

A friend and me arrived at the Gamescom building at 10.30am. After some irritation with the entrance we got into the main halls at 11am. We went to Gamescom relitively unprepared so we just decided to take a stroll and see what was going on. Unfortunately my friend had to leave at 12.40 due to work.This year the halls seemed a lot less crowded. The main passageways had a lot of space and even the big name games didn't have queues longer than 3 hours.

The meeting with Blizzard was at 1pm. I arrived there a couple of minutes early, and the only person waiting to get in was Ahli. A dedicated SC2 mapper who made the famous Diablo conversion Mortal Shroud. After the initial greetings the community manager Xordiah explain the purpose of this meeting after which she asked us on how we think more people would get interested into mapping. Some time later more mappers from instarcraft.de entered the room.

I don't want to bore you with the details of the meeting so I'll just sum it up.
We talked about:
- holding more tournaments for mappers and getting more custom melee maps into official tournaments.
- the weak publicity for the Editor, despites its power.
- the complexity of the Data Editor and how to make it simpler for beginners (an easy mode was mentioned).
- Blizzard developers getting into more direct contact with selected mappers (via a private forum)
- in-editor links to tutorials.
- more featured custom content on the arcade.
- ways to improve the arcade.
- some suggestions to improve the editor (campaign support, portrait animations, forced text and ingame help  etc.)

Bear in mind that all those things I mentioned were just ideas thrown around by all the people in the room. But Xordiah wrote down everything and promised to pass it down to the development team.

Originally I wanted to return home right after the meeting, but then I decided to make one quick wlak to the StarCraft II booth. The queue seemed really short so I decided to give it a go. After merely twenty minutes I got a seat and played a round of multiplayer against a kid. We had twenty minutes for a game and I told my partner to not attack to roughly so we had time to play around with the new units. ...

I felt good that I got to play as muc as I had to wait so I decided to give other games a go to. I went to the Bethesda booth were I asked one of the people in the middle of the quee how long he had been waiting there. He surprised me by saying twenty minutes so I joined the queue as well. After 35 minutes we were led into a big hall were I could play Doom 3 BFG Edtion and Dishonored. I tried Doom 3 first. I hate using the joypad for shooters but luckily Doom 3 is a simple enough game that it could be fun. The graphics didn't seem much better than I remembered the original game. Also the 3D annoyed me more than it pleased me. But then again 3D glasses weren't designed for people who already wear glasses. Anyway, I had fun. Doom 3 is still a cool  game. Afterwards I tried the infamous Dishonored. Again with a controller. This time I had my problems with handling the proper weapon for the right situation. After dying three times at the same spot (I hate you electric door) I gave up after 10 minutes. Also my feet hurt because I had to stand all the time. ... Despite it Dishonored seems like a promising game. A bit like Dark Messiah of Might & Magic, a linear shooter were you had many ways to dispose of enemies. I like that.

Before leaving the building a decided to have another stroll. I played a game called Dark, where you play a vampire and use stealth skills to your advantage. Seemed OK, but also unpolished. I will keep an eye on this one. The Capcom queue didn't seem very long so I joined there too. It took us about 40 minutes to move forward, but then we actually entered the booth ... when there was still another queue. A working lady (well, some of them look like hookers) told us it would take another hour before we would reach the start of the queue (or the end, however you want to see it). Quite exhausted I called it quits and left the queue.

The battery power of my mobile phone had been exhausted for quite some time. It was only when I left the bulding that it was 6.30pm. I had spent 7,5 hours at Gamescom.

I left the premise with a good feeling. I am glad I didn't buy a ticket for more than a day but I am also glad that I didn't refuse to go at all. I'm looking forward to next year.