Monday, May 21, 2012

Why do people disguise religious meetings?

I have not been overly fond of religions. I am not an atheist, but I am NOT religious either.

My grandparents are Buddhists, my grandma especially so.

My mom's a Baptist, and my dad is much like me: not religious.

About two weeks ago, my dad said we have to keep Sunday afternoon free to deal with some guy he knew like 20 years ago, something about a birthday. I said, really? You knew someone from _____ 20 years ago, and he's here in San Francisco? What does he do?

No idea. Just go.


So... comes Sunday. I drove over there with my dad. It was a nice house, looks like they just moved in.

Got inside, two dozen people already showed up, and I recognized absolutely no one, which I was not surprised. They are all smiling and chatting. I already feel out of place. My dad was sorta hoping to socialize.

We did drop off some gifts... Some cheap souvenirs we picked up from years back. 

So the event started, and they started by welcoming everybody, about how my dad was nice to the guy when he passed by over a decade ago.

What *did* surprise me was they started handing out hymns, "Jesus was my friend" or something like that.

Even my dad was taken aback, though he didn't show it at the time.

We begged a quick retreat. Instead of a birthday party we ran into a religious event.

And I blame my dad. :D

Sunday, May 13, 2012

Did PC Racing Game Developers ran out of ideas?

It seems that PC racing games have reached sort of a plateau, where the developers, instead of concentrating on RACING, is focusing on all sorts of ADDITIONAL mechanics that you need to employ DURING the game to "win", and that's just ridiculous.

Racing games now are very rarely "pure" racing. There's almost always some sort of a 'twist' as the selling point.

The "pure" racers like NFS: Shift and Formula 1 2011 are going for the pure simulation: tire contact patch, squeak of suspension, and more. There are people who love that sort of games, and the really diehard play iRacing.

There are the "arcade" racers like GRID, DiRT, that use looser physics, simpler car control, to get the adrenaline going without thinking too much about spring rates, gear ratios, downforce, and such.

Then there are the "twist" racers... cars with... something.

Nothing wrong with a twist. Pure racing is a bit boring, tell you the truth. However, when the additional mechanics takes over the game and distracts from racing, then the designer have failed.

Example 1: Blur

Blur, for example, is basically "Mario Kart" with real cars. You grab power ups and shoot them at opponents front or back. However, instead of just that, they added some additional minigames DURING the race, i.e. hit this "gate special" and you need to make it through 12 gates (while you're racing other cars) to get popularity bonus.

Instead of racing, this 'racing with weapons' basically turns race into a crapshoot. Skills no longer matter. Even if you are ahead you're one or two weapon hits away from dropping way back into the pack. Even if you are behind if you got lucky with weapon hits you'll be ahead in no time. You call that excitement, I call that "games of chance", instead of games of skill.

Without the weapons, the game is actually quite good, with decent driving model, track, special effects, and so on. However, the weapons added way too much chaos into the game thus negative value of skill.

The game also suffers from "doing-too-much-itis". One of the mechanics they introduced is "fan base", where if you do some special moves, you get additional fans. Except the moves usually involve you 1) pick up a special "fan powerup", and 2) that activates a series of gates, which are active WHILE YOU race. You need to go through ALL of these gates (through the middle, not just clipping them) to fulfill the bonus objective: pleasing the crowd. So not only you have to pick racing line, dodge other cars, AND dodge weapons, deploy defenses, use weapons, but you also have to alter your racing line to go through those gates. There's just too much to do  and sensory overload.

Example 2: those ATX / MTX games.

I have played many of those ATX racing games, where you *must* perform stunts to gain nitro, and nitro to go faster. You cannot just 'race'. If you don't do any stunts you get no nitro and you end up in last place. If you do stunts and **** up, you end up in last place any way. You cannot ONLY do stunts either. This is like a "forced marriage" of the two genres where the couple is handcuffed together, neither happy.

The actual mechanics ends up as race, race, stunt!, race race race stunt! repeat ad infinitum. If you integrate the stunt INTO the racing that's fine. But what this feels like is playing Wario brothers... where you play a game, then in the middle of the game you sudden swap to an unrelated minigame, only to switch back to your regular game after a few seconds.

Example 3: Ridge Racer Unbounded

Ridge Racer is all about drifting and the latest version adds a bit of Motor Storm, Burnout, and Split/Second, as well as a bit of NFS: Motor City and Trackmania. It is definitely different, but it is NOT better.

Basically, instead of just racing, your job is now to drift as much as possible, and thus, earn boost. Then use boost strategically to smash through buildings and other stuff to create shortcuts as well as burst of speed to catch up to your opponents. Drift doesn't "just" let you go around corners faster, it also gives you boost! And boost is what lets you do takedowns, instead of just smack other cars like in Burnout.

The problem with this game mechanic is instead of drifting as part of racing, the REWARD system is now a bit out of whack. Basically, if you don't have boost, you can't win. I tried the demo and played half a dozen races. In all but one race I was 11th or 12th out of 12, because I only crashed like 2 special targets during the 2 lap race. In the final race, I crashed 3, and I was up to 9th place. So instead of "racing" as the objective, the way to win is actually to smash static targets while under boost.

Or in other words, instead of racing car to car, the objective of the game is actually "to drift around corners and turn my car into an invincible kamikaze and crash into things as much as possible".

Tuesday, May 8, 2012

Garbage in, garbage out

PC Gamer - Complete History of Gaming
PC Gamer - Complete History of Gaming (Photo credit: Defragged)
When you want to prove something, you have to prove it with data, not bogus extrapolations.

There was an article on Gamersblog back on November 2011, that claims PC games, due to digital distribution like Steam and such, is going to destroy the consoles. Their "proof"?

Battlefield 3 PC outsold Battlefield 3 PS3, close to BF3 XB360

Wait, where did they get *that* idea? They said they "extrapolated" it. Through these steps

1) VGChartz got the figures:

Xbox 360: 2.2 mil­lion
PlaySta­tion 3: 1.5 mil­lion
PC: 500,000

As of October 2011.

2) They "estimated" that 75% of sales are made digitally, which is NOT counted by VGChartz (who only counts retail), so the "real" PC sales is actually 2 million

3) They "estimated" 75% because "Accord­ing to Techcrunch as of 2010 it was esti­mated that over 57 per­cent of PC gam­ing sales are done dig­i­tally and that num­ber has only grown"

Sounds reasonable, but what does the Techcrunch article actually say, as they didn't link to it? Well, I found it.

It actually says: "According to the all-seeing, all-knowing NPD Group, there were 11.7 million digital sales of PC games during the first half of 2010. That compares to 8.2 million physical sales. "

First of all, using early 2010 data to extrapolate sales in late 2011 is pretty bogus. furthermore, BF3 is only sold on EA's Origin, which doesn't exist until June 2011. Which makes it even more bogus.

Second, that survey is for all games, casual (like those hidden object games, or simple games like Drop, Zuma, bejeweled...) AND big AAA titles. And this is TOTAL SALES. You can't use this to predict ONE game's distribution of digital vs. physical sales!

To give an example: 100 vehicles are sold at dealership A, and 80 vehicles are sold at dealership B. Five vans were sold at Dealership B. How many vans are sold at delaership A?

The answer is: you don't know. You have to ASSUME that both of them are equally adept in selling vans (thus, the van to vehicles sold ratio is same at both dealerships) to get an answer.

Same with the game sale stats. You don't know what is the distribution of sales is in both sales mediums (retail vs. direct online). So you can't use that to extrapolate!

Third, TechCrunch didn't do any predictions, but actually linked to its source: a Gamasutra article and what does THAT say?

"... the tracking firm [NPD] appears to lack agreements with the majority of digital retailers. This means that the figures cited are extrapolated from third-party tracking. The firm attempts to divine PC game purchase habits from surveys, using anywhere from 8,000 to 180,000 individuals on the NPD online consumer panel, depending on which of its methods it chooses."

In other words, the data is NOT reliable, but are very rough estimates! They have a large margin of error! And it does NOT predict any trends and such.

When you use it to predict trends, or to "prove" a trend, you get GARBAGE. Garbage in, garbage out.

Which was borne out when EA released sales figures recently...  It says that Origin, during 10 months of existence, pulled in 150 million.

Consider the fact that catalog of EA PC games sold by origins includes the SIMs (all permutations), and many other games (it numbers 202, as of May 2012, so should be over 100 back in October / November 2011)

Consider the fact that EA serves ALL consoles (Wii, PSP, PS3, PS2, NDS, Xbox360) on Origin, in addition to the PC

Given that the retail price of BF3 on Origin is 59.95, to sell 1.5 million copies of BF3 on Origin (75% of sales ought to be digital) would account for... 90 million of that 150 million revenue, or fully 60% of ALL games sold by Origin.

Clearly, it is NOT possible. Thus the extrapolation is wrong. And the premise is NOT proven.

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