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What Can't Indies Do?04:56 PM -- Tue January 31, 2012

Well, a lot, it turns out. Let me open this discussion with a game review:

Batman: Arkham City

I got this free with my new video card, which is awesome, because I desperately wanted it ever since I played Arkham Asylum. I was going to say who it's by (Rocksteady), but there are layers of publishers and middlemen such that I don't actually know who it's by, which is certainly something indies need not worry about.

AMAZING game! I absolutely love it, and I've been playing it obsessively and dangerously for the past week, to the point of ignoring much that I really need to be doing. I'll make up excuses like "Well, I implemented that. I deserve a Batman break!" I've been annoying my wife as I constantly pop up behind the couch and around corners saying, "I'm Batman." (Michael Keaton voice, the most ludicrous of Batmen. Then again, I never saw Clooney, and I know he had to face Arnie)

So, if you click on that Arkham Asylum up there, you can see me gushing over that game. This game is, no question, more of the same. A lot lot more. I finished the main story mode several days ago, and since then I've been playing maybe 4 hours a day, and I'm still not done just collecting the hidden riddles and doing the side missions. I haven't even started New Game Plus mode or any of the Challenge Maps. I am now riskily going to launch Steam to display my total playtime. Let's hope I don't start playing. It says 27 hours played, which is less than I thought. The game calls my current state 63% complete, though for the sake of my productivity, I won't launch it to verify that. I think I've got so much to go that it'll be something like 100 hours if I actually try to complete all the challenges. And fail. Those fighting challenges are murder later on (in Arkham Asylum, anyway, and I expect the same here).

So... in short, the story's great (with a fun twist), it's never too hard (except the stupid AR training missions, which are very frustrating), the fighting is awesome (better than before, thanks to the ability to quickfire your gadgets in combat, yanking guys around with your batclaw, electrocuting them, dropping explosives while doing a backflip, etc), the stealth is awesome (better than before, thanks to more new and exciting tools, and enemies with more unique threats to you from thermal goggles to radar jammers). There is no Killer Croc fight this time, no boss is ever painful to experience, though some are pretty tough. There's a scene, in the museum, that's almost a parody of the Killer Croc fight, in that it's some of the same stuff, but completely trivialized. There are hundreds (400 I think?) of Riddler Trophies to collect, and almost every one has a little 'puzzle' involved in getting it. Usually something quite trivial, but the variety is amazing. Some test your gliding skills, some are for your brain, some require assorted tools, and some just rely on reflexes and timing.

There's also Catwoman, which is definitely a little change of pace from Batman. She has roughly the same abilities (only two very simple gadgets to Batman's 12ish), but she's a lot faster, a lot less capable in terms of travel, and a lot more limited in her stealth abilities. But she can get to places he can't, and has her own Riddler Trophies to collect. She also has a tiny bit of story of her own. Not much for sure, just a few scenes and a (very nasty) boss to fight, but they're fun to do, and you can even level her up a bit.

If there is a minus to Arkham City, besides the patently unfun AR Training, it lies in being a little too complicated, over what Arkham Asylum did. I definitely spend a lot more time wondering which gadget to use and looking at the situation instead of playing, and in fights sometimes my brain freezes up just thinking about the sheer number of choices because I can't think of which one applies to the specific moment I'm in. Then they punch me. Sometimes I just plain hit the wrong button because there are too many functions to keep track of. So it's kind of the classic, "If this game has any faults, it's that it's too much fun", only with an actual downside.

So that's an easy 5/5 Yerfdogs from me. It's so great that such an amazing new game series has appeared. They are rare and precious jewels!

What Can't Indies Do?

Now to my point. Batman is what indies can't do. Oh sure, there's the license, which obviously no indie will ever be able to afford, but take that aside. Indies can't make a game like this. The gameplay particulars could be copied - an open world in which you zoom around and punch guys or go into stealth situations against them, that is all possible and it's all been done (maybe not in one game though?) - but this implementation is light years beyond what the most dedicated independent developer could accomplish. A significant part of the thrill in playing this game comes from the things that cost literally millions of dollars and hundreds of man-years of work.

When you push the punch button as Batman, there are dozens of different things that can happen, and every one of them is an animation that somebody motion captured (or created, I don't know!). You might just punch the guy, knee him, elbow him, jumpkick, do a flying flip to elbow drop on somebody across the room, grab the guy's face and slam it into a wall, and just on and on through little variations, depending on your proximity to him, how far into a combo you are, what's in the environment around you, and other nearby enemies. And all of these things have been animated. I would guess that Batman alone has nearly a thousand animations in this game. The fact that the "break the enemy's weapon" animation is different for a lead pipe and a baseball bat and a gun (possibly even different for different guns?) and a sword is mind-boggling. He only bends the pipe, which I would expect to make it still quite useful, but nobody picks it up anymore.

What blows my mind in terms of animation is one very simple thing I keep noticing: there's a situation in which you can press a button to interrogate somebody (a feature I quite enjoy, much improved over how Arkham Asylum handled the equivalent scenario). The first few times I did it, there was a basic animation: he picks the guy up by his neck, threatens him, the guy talks and struggles, and then he elbows him unconscious. I thought that was it, until I interrogated a guy next to a wall, and discovered there's a different animation where he throws him against the wall. Then there was doing it near a ledge, and he dangled him over the ledge with one hand! Those may be the only three options, but I don't even know that. The point is, they could've easily done all this with one simple animation, the basic grab one. It would work near walls and ledges just fine, since you're still standing on the ground. But they didn't do that. They threw in more animations just for the joy of seeing it. Of course, all these interrogations also draw from a wide variety of random voicework too, different threats and responses.

And that voicework! There has to be hours of voicework (very top-notch voice acting too) in this game, from all the random conversations you overhear that hardly ever repeat to the massive amounts of talking between the different heroes and villains both in cutscenes and during gameplay. It's really something that I don't press a button to skip hearing what the villain has to say to me when I die. The first five times.

The art is great too, but whatever. Anybody can do good art (although I could rattle on about the sheer amount of it, as with everything else. Tiny TINY details everywhere, that vary so widely from place to place).

The point is, it's a blockbuster. Indies can make great games, games that are more fun than the big publishers make. But they can't make this kind of spectacle. It's not a matter of time and heart and love and sweat, it's a simple impossibility. It's the same as in movies, but in movies that's a no-brainer (indies can't afford to blow up a building), while in games I feel like, as the indie bar keeps rising, people think anybody can do anything. Well, we can't. Batman is something only a big-money publisher could create, or would. They could've made just as much money with 1/10 the work. Batman really doesn't need 20 different kinds of punches, nobody would've complained if the punch button always threw a normal punch. But thank heavens for the hubris of the big-money fat cats, because without it, Batman would not be the spectacle and wonder that it is. Those 20 kinds of punches add a subtle thrill to the game that means something, even if it's something minor, nowhere close to worth the 6 months of effort from a team of ten animators that went into it.

So what's the conclusion? I suppose it's that I'm glad the big publishers and overhyped AAA games exist, and that they don't comprehend the concept of effort vs. reward. I like indie experiences, but I also want to see The Matrix sometimes. Don't worry, big publishers, I will let you continue to exist. For now.
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Brave New World02:46 AM -- Fri January 20, 2012

I am typing to you from my new PC! I've been using it for a few days now, bit by bit discovering the things I don't have that I need. My other PC is sitting on the other side of my desk, all set up and ready to fire up each time I find something else I need to grab off of it. I was going to make a Behind The Dumb (really!) of "Let's put it together!", but it was such a massive task to build, I just couldn't bring myself to do it.

It's... difficult. Big time. Not the computer itself, that is great. The most amazing computer I've ever had, while simultaneously one of the cheapest. I'm running WoW at max settings, and seeing 100-200FPS. A lot nicer than 13FPS at low settings. It's a little dizzying to look at, actually, and I think it might be giving me motion sickness. But it's pretty! And oh the instant load times! I'm pretty sure even my internet's faster, but I can't figure out how that could be possible.

But! The thing that is making it difficult is this whole idea of operating my life through a new lens. My whole life is on the computer (you call it sad, I call it The Future!!), and all the little things are just off. Passwords that I used to have stored and now have to dig up and re-type, websites that aren't in my history, programs I don't have installed, programs I can't find anymore or don't know how to install again, the obnoxious things Windows 7 does to "help" you, drivers for the hardware, settings for connecting to IRC, fonts I'm missing. All of these things just put my life off-kilter and leave me just feeling uncomfortable, strange as that may seem. I can't just roll through life and deal with the things that happen as usual, because suddenly the crystal lens I used to view life ("life" is my peoples' word for the internet) is cloudy and fractured, so it's no longer transparent to me. I have to fiddle with it.

That'll all fade away in time, as this new home of mine becomes the norm, but boy, for now I'm just all in a tizzy. And I have so many major things going on in reality/business, that it's just all a little overwhelming. Makes me want to take a break, but if I do that, it all just piles up higher. I just need to get a few little things done, then the pile will seem less extreme.

(Side adventure for the hopelessly dull: I can't find my Quicken CD, but even if I could, Quicken has been warning me that since I use the 2009 edition, it's going to stop doing online statement downloads as of April, so I need to upgrade. Well, that's fine and dandy and money-grubbing, but the problem is, when I went to shop for Quicken 2012, I discover that it's HORRIBLE. It has mostly 1-star reviews on Amazon, from people complaining about all the bugs and how it won't actually download statements for most people. So now I'm giving MoneyDance a try. And like the computer, it does almost all the same things Quicken did, but it does them differently and a little more awkwardly. I don't know if I can adjust, or if I'll just cross my fingers and hope that 2012 works for me. Scary world. Just as my computer is my life, Quicken is my entire financial world)
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Testers Taken02:50 AM -- Sat January 14, 2012

I've picked some testers from those who requested, so if you sent in a request to test, go visit the forum and see if you see a beta testing forum! Thanks for helping, and I think this will be a quick one, because the game is basically done already.

As for the rest of you, I can't really say when you'll see the game, because I'm not sure how it's going to get out there. But I would tentatively say you'll see it in... a month? I dunno!

Lots of other little business going on, probably nothing I can really talk about right now, but I think you'll see a lot of different stuff coming from Hamumu this year in various formats. Just wait and see! And I hope more strange and wonderful opportunities show up too, because this is already shaping up to be an interesting year, and the first month isn't even half over!
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TESTORZ10:23 PM -- Wed January 11, 2012

Hey, remember Testor's? Model glue, I think. Or something related to plastic models. I could google it, but rambling seems so much more worthwhile.

Nonetheless, I am looking for beta testers for a Flash game. It's yet another platformer, and I can't show it to anyone yet for various reasons, but I do want to share it with some testers in the next couple of days. If you would like to test, email me and let me know! I only want a few testers here, so if you enjoy Hamumu-style platformers, feel free to sign up! I will pick some... maybe tomorrowish?
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Constructing Future Games06:44 PM -- Sun January 8, 2012

I have gone and done it! I have ordered a massive collection of random metal objects which, when all combined, will form a brand new PC! A very seriously powerful one, by my standards. I can't wait to see what life with a solid-state drive is like.

I'm worried though. I'm bad at everything in the physical world. It's the first time I've built my own PC since ... well, the last one I built was a 486. I think it's all pretty straightforward, and I followed a handy list of parts from my favorite WoW website (the premier source for tech info!), but then I wonder what bits I forgot, and what surprises are in store. Like I bought a hard drive and a motherboard... but does one or the other include the cable that connects them? Who knows! Maybe you do?

Let me exploit this wondrous blog to take advantage of your collective knowledge. If you've built a PC before, maybe you can post a comment and let me know if I missed something obvious or there are cables I need to add? I can also scavenge things from my various dead computers too, if the technology has not changed. Here's the list of things I bought (specifics removed to protect the innocent*, but I'm not worried about compatibility issues, I think I handled those):

A mid-tower case
A power supply
A CPU
A CPU cooler (a fan... I want watercooling, but I'm kind of scared to try)
A motherboard
A video card
An SSD
A regular hard drive
Two SATA cables just in case
A DVD drive
Memory chips
(I don't need keyboard, mouse, speakers, and monitor, those are covered)

I realize that you may say you can't guess anything without specifics, but I'm just wondering about the standard things included and common extras you need. I am planning to use the Windows Recovery CD from a defunct computer to install windows, so let me know if that doesn't work. I have plenty of time to get other things, since some of these parts won't arrive until mid-february.

Also, just to share the shopping tips I got from others and discovered for myself during this all-day excursion into the web:

- Sign up at FatWallet first and click through from there. You get 3% cash back for purchases at NewEgg, and 4% back at TigerDirect. That's just free savings.
- TigerDirect was almost universally cheaper than NewEgg for the exact same products (I filled a cart at both places, because I am a penny-pincher). It also (for me, in California) meant free shipping and no sales tax, which NewEgg was charging both of.
- For the regular hard drive, the price was very similar at the two places... but $100 cheaper at Amazon.com! Otherwise, Amazon was not a good choice, but I sure bought the hard drive there.

Anyway, I am excited about this whole thing. Too bad it's over a month until I can start jamming things together and breaking them. This is technically a business expense, even though I totally got it so I could play games better. Don't tell anyone. I'm even considering making it purely for gaming, and cleaning up this old computer so I can develop on it without risk of accidentally playing anything. Sounds a little crazy though. It's so much easier to have everything in one place. Plus I don't have monitors to spare. Whee! New computer!

*By which I actually mean that some would see it as bragging, and others would nerd out on it and tell me how bad my choices are and how option X is infinitely superior to Y and only idiots don't know that. I'd prefer to avoid both situations.
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Aaaaand we're back!05:35 PM -- Mon January 2, 2012

Wait, I think I did that title once before. Oh well, I'm doing it now.

Happy new year, it's 2012, Mayans blah blah etc boom. I don't have a big self-improvement plan this year. I'm definitely stepping up to try to get stuff done, of course, as with the start of every year, but I haven't come up with any fabulous plans or grand goals.

But wait, let me backtrack. For the past week, I have been on real, true, vacation. Except I stayed at home. Oh, I ate so much candy. I watched all the TV. I gained 8 pounds. And I played more games than even a largish stick could be shaken at. I made the mistake of checking on the Steam christmas sales. I had some gift money I had gotten, and I spent $50 of it there, on about 20 games. I am still picky though, I didn't just get all kinds of weird indie junk (no offense, I make that stuff too). I got things that really interested me. So far, I'm loving Orcs Must Die. It's nothing amazing in terms of gameplay, but it's got such a great feel and style, and nothing can stop me from playing a tower defense game! In a similar vein, I also got quite into Anomaly: Warzone Earth ("Reverse Tower Defense", but it feels pretty much like tower defense in most ways), and The Binding Of Isaac is disturbing and fun. I just wish it didn't limit you to 4-way fire, which is so annoying, and not a legitimate design choice by my personal rules (it made sense in 1986, guys).

What other quick game non-reviews... I tried to earn as many of the Gift Pile gifts as I could, so I dipped lightly into millions of games. Team Fortress 2, I haven't played since before there were hats in it. It's really classy now, I'm almost tempted to play except I hate getting stomped by humans. I like to play computers, because I can beat them. And Yet It Moves - hated it. Just not fun at all. Clever design is not the same as fun design (I didn't buy that one, somebody gave me a Humble Indie Bundle code. Thanks, JT!). Bastion is really cool, but feels quite constrained, not enough freedom of choice and movement, and no options to backtrack or grind (I've been playing that off and on for a month). King's Bounty is pretty good, it's like Heroes of Might And Magic in a lot of ways, including the fun of "walk 2 steps and you find some new special thing". Just constant goodies everywhere, and tactical battling madness. Not quite crazy about it, though, not sure. Sanctum is Orcs Must Die's more boring brother (and infinitely harder on my video card, ouch. Orcs looks 10x better too, despite being one of the few games that didn't leave me saying "I need a new video card"). Bulletstorm is just awesome. I do need a new computer before I can play it any further, but I'm dying to play more of that despite it being in slow-motion the whole time I played at the lowest settings.

That's the overriding theme of all the games - I need a new computer. So I'm gonna work on making that happen. It's been quite a few years, that's for sure. This computer used to be alright for this stuff, until the fancy video card burned up and nearly took the computer with it. Now I'm using on-board video, and WoW is about the only game that runs semi-smoothly (if you like 20FPS). It feels wrong to buy a computer for gaming purposes, but let's say it'll improve my development in some unspecified way. Maybe it'll compile faster. Or I can keep developing on this one and have the game one somewhere else. Keeping the games away from me while working would help my development a lot! The real trick would be to remove the web browsers, but that's not very feasible. Also, I do work on the web. Like right now. And now.

So, that's my steam game-fest, the misery of the exploited game developer being turned into this particular game developer's joy. I'd be happy to have Steam exploit me, since it's great money overall, but man, the gaming industry is headed into a scary collapse right now. I paid $5 for a recentish AAA game. I paid $0.99 for indie games. Like everybody, I bought more games than I can play, and I bought bundle packs which included stuff I don't even care to play. It's a glut of games, and the prices reflect that. The world is doomed. I am actually quite concerned about the future of this industry, and I spent a lot of time in the past couple months banging my head on just what else I can do for a living when the well is too dry to continue here. I didn't come up with anything. I only make games. Anyway, the industry's always in a massive state of flux, so who knows what will happen next. There will be some other boom, and everybody will be into Dumb Games, and I will be rich, rich as nazis!

Okay, that's enough of all that ranting. In short-term news, I have a week or so to go on my secret Christmas Game, then I don't know when you'll get to see it (other than testers, which I will be obtaining later), and then it's back to the Witch Game, except that I think I am going to be doing another game that will interrupt it, for somebody else (take a wild guess!).

Also, I should probably come up with a witty and charming t-shirt for the month, and write a newsletter and do things like that. It's not only a new year, it's also a new month!
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