Friday, February 6, 2015 09:50 PM
in Travel | Work
The company that I work for is switching over to using a new set of software for our products. Because of this, several members of our development staff were required to travel to our development studio in Manchester, United Kingdom in order to be trained on the new software.
Downtown Manchester, January 30, 2015.
As one of the senior developers in my office, I was asked to be one of the representatives of our studio for this training, and I had the good fortune of being able to go on my very first trip abroad. It wasn't technically my first visit to a foreign country, as I've visited Canada several times. Nor was it my first trip over an ocean, since I've visited Hawai'i. But the trip to Canada was many years ago; before a passport was even needed to cross the border, so it didn't feel like as big of a deal.
The training element was a bit underwhelming. The training schedule coincided with a major release deadline, so the engineer who was supposed to be providing the training and answering our questions had limited availability due to some last minute crises that he had to handle. So instead, we had a room full of people from different development studios in different countries all trying to bumble our way through the new software together.
But we did still learn some things, and even taught the lead engineer a thing or two!
A piece of advice to tech companies: don't schedule training sessions to begin a couple days before a major software release deadline - especially if you are flying developers in from halfway around the world to participate.
A British perspective on the World Wars
It wasn't all work though. I did try to do some touristy things.
I arrived in Manchester early Sunday morning after a red-eye flight from Philadelphia. After checking into the hotel to drop off my luggage, I took the cable car trolley back into the city and visited the Imperial War Museum (North). The main museum is in London (which I did not get to visit, other than a lay-over on the return trip), but there is a small branch of the museum in Manchester as well.
A tank displayed outside the Imperial War Museum North in Manchester, U.K.
One of the interesting things about this museum (compared to most history museums in the States) is the emphasis on the domestic impacts of war. Several exhibits were dedicated exclusively to the effects that the world wars had on the general populace [More]
Despite being great games, the character development systems of many Final Fantasy games have really weird qualities that put them at odds with the games' narratives. One of the things that separates games from other media such as books or movies is that games are interactive experiences. The best games typically have gameplay that informs story and / or a story that informs the gameplay. This is especially true of RPGs, which are generally designed entirely around their stories and characters.
While the combat and character development systems of most Final Fantasy games do have a basis in the game's narrative, some of the Final Fantasy games have gameplay systems that actually pull the player out of the story and create strong disconnects between the gameplay and the narrative.
Yet, we still love these games. That is either a testament to the overall quality of the games, or to the general gullibility of gamers.
Perhaps the two most popular Final Fantasy games are the worst offenders in terms of having gameplay mechanics that aren't well integrated into the narrative.
Final Fantasy VII is widely regarded as best game of the series, and it frequently appears on lists of "the Best Games Ever". Its story, characters, and locations have become iconic. And its primary character-development mechanic, materia, is generally well-received by fans and critics. The materia itself is even a functional object in the game world and an integral part of the plot, instead of just an abstract game mechanic.
All skills and abilities (except Limit Breaks) are granted by equipping materia,
making all character functionally almost identical.
However, this materia system does have one significant drawback: It severely limits the role of the characters in the actual gameplay.
From a gameplay perspective, the characters of Final Fantasy VII are mostly blank slates. The only mechanics that are unique to characters is their weapon classes and unique limit breaks. The weapons are mostly cosmetic, since the combat mechanics don't differentiate them much. There are slight variations in the number and arrangement of materia slots between characters' weapons, but these are minor differences. Limit breaks are infrequently used and are of little consequence ... [More]
Friday, January 16, 2015 08:05 PM
Advocates of a college football championship playoff may feel a little vindicated after the inaugural championship game earlier this week. The #4 ranked Ohio State Buckeyes defeated the #2 ranked Oregon Ducks with a decisive three-score lead. And they did this after also defeating the #1 ranked Alabama Crimson Tide.
For years, fans of college football and critics of the BCS (Bowl Championship Series) have been complaining that leaving the championship eligibility up to a subjective vote of a committee is unfair. These fans and critics have long proposed a playoff system that would allow more teams to compete for the national title. And this year, the fourth-seeded team - a team that would not have had an opportunity to even compete for a Championship title in the previous BCS-selection process - won the title.
But this outcome is still not without controversy. The age-old argument of "our school got snubbed" has not gone away. I'm sure that after watching Ohio State run the tables in the playoff, the coaches, players, and fans of both Baylor and TCU had to have thought "that could have been us!" And they're right.
Both those teams were left out of the playoff due to misfortunes of mathematics. Even though Alabama (#1), Oregon (#2), Ohio State (#4), Baylor (#5), and TCU (#6) all finished the regular season with only one loss, Baylor and TCU had one fewer win on account of having played fewer games. Only Florida State (#3) finished the regular season with a perfect record.
#4 Ohio State defeated #1Alabama and #2 Oregon to become 2014's national champions.
So while the playoff did consist of the four "winningest" teams in the country, Baylor and TCU didn't have an opportunity to win as many games. Part of this is their fault, since the individual schools do have the privilege of setting their own schedules. Had Baylor and TCU scheduled an extra non-conference game (possibly even one against a Division II school), they could very well have been 12-1 along with 'Bama, Oregon, and Ohio State. But they didn't.
A proposed 12-team playoff similar to the current NFL playoff model.
Depicts the 2014 conference champs and 2 wild cards, with top 4 teams receiving 1st-round bye.
But what if TCU and Baylor had played (and won) an extra game and ended the season 12-1? In that case, the selection of undefeated Florida State would still seem like an obvious pick for one of the four playoff spots. But the remaining three would have been a much more subjective selection ... [More]
I'm very late to the Gone Home bandwagon. It's a game that has been available for well over a year and a half. I've had it sitting in my Steam library for quite some time, but only just now got around to playing it, since I've been busy with other games and projects.
The game has already received piles and piles of critical acclaim, awards, and accolades, and I can't imagine that I have anything new to add to this conversation. It was very hard to go into this game without a bias considering that I already knew a bit about how it would play out, and that it's received overwhelmingly positive praise. But now that I've played it, I can say that Gone Home deserves every bit of praise that it receives!
The inclusion of real family photos
adds to the sense of realism.
The premise of Gone Home is that the player assumes the role of Kaitlin Greenbriar, a young woman returning home after a year abroad. She finds the house empty. Her younger sister apparently got into a fight with her parents and has run away. The player must explore the house to discover clues as to what happened in the family, why Sam ran away, and where she is now.
To discover the details of the situation, the player must explore the house, reading hand-written notes, looking at journals, looking at photographs, and picking up cues from the environment in order to piece together the story. Each note has distinct hand-writing, and by the end of the game, you'll even start to recognize the handwritings and know who wrote a particular note before you even pick it up.
By observing the house, reading notes, and hearing journal voice-overs, the player begins to piece together the family's story. The primary narrative revolves around a budding romance between Sam and a friend at school, and the conflict that comes from her parents' disapproval of the relationship.
Anyone who has ever had a crush or been in love (which is almost all of us) should be able to recognize and relate to elements of Sam's story, even if your situation doesn't mirror hers. The early notes depicting the excitement of getting to know someone new and falling in love were particularly powerful. Reading about Sam being shy in approaching her crush, and then finally having the feeling reciprocated is heartwarming. And the eventual roadblocks in the relationship are then equally heartbreaking.
The game is loaded with personality that makes the characters more substantial and real.
This story is made even more powerful by the absolutely perfect voice-over narration ... [More]
Although not a terrific game, the indie survival adventure game Miasmata (developed by Bob and Joe Johnson of IonFX) is an interesting title that does deserve to be played by its target audience. It's not a particularly challenging game, but players can back themselves up into seemingly insurmountable holes. Knowing the game's mechanics and rules - and knowing them early - is important to ensuring that you aren't forced to restart from the beginning or give up entirely.
Like with my previous strategy post for Alien Isolation, I am not going to provide specific walkthroughs for the game or any of its specific set piece challenges. In fact, doing so would be even harder than in Alien because Miasmata is a completely open-ended sandbox game. Instead, I will be offering some general-purpose tips that should be relevant for the entire game. This will include some techniques for working around the game's bugs and odd design flaws.
Owl statues point towards a cache of medicinal plants, but they do not count as landmarks or show up on the map.
This should be a pretty obvious tip. If you find the plants that are used for the 3 parts of the cure, or the three emphasis drugs, you should immediately pick them and ... [More]
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