Archive for the 'Games' Category

Oct 10 2008

Halo 3 Recon

Published by under Games

Bungie surprised attendees of the Toyko Game Show today by announcing a new campaign experience for Halo 3.halo3recon.jpg

There is very little information available at this time but it has been reveiled that the game is a stand alone expansion and will be set prior the events of Halo 3.

Rather than playing Master Chief, this time you will take on the role of an Orbital Drop Shock Trooper fighting in the Covenant-occupied city of New Mombas. A trailer is available here but unfortunately not much else is known at this time. 

I’m a huge Halo fan and this news was definitely a welcome surprise. I’m looking forward to learning more about this release!

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Dec 13 2007


Published by under Games

Thought I’d finally write a review of BioShock…

Like most people, I found BioShock to be an outstanding game on many levels. The graphics were superb, the enemy AI well done, the combat system inventive, and the story was engaging and often made me think. One of the strongest features of BioShock was the immersive environment. Every level had a hand crafted look that was both beautiful and often poignantly tragic.


Setting foot for the first time into the alternate 1960’s dystopian underwater city known as Rapture felt special. It had the sense of experiencing something new, perhaps a new generation of first person gaming that would extend the boundaries of immersion, characters, and storytelling. For the most part, the game held up to that promise, however there are a number of areas where I think it fell short or wasted potential for greatness.  

The setting of BioShock is really the game’s greatest strength. The city is effectively the biggest character in the game. The back story is of one Andrew Ryan who loathed the state of religious and political oppression in the world and envisioned a self-sufficient underwater city where the best and brightest of humanity could live free from outside interference.

Steeped in Objectivist philosophy and a code of values based on preservation of one’s own individual rights, the game raises many moral and political questions but unfortunately offers few actual choices to the player.

An example of the Ann Rand inspired writing is the opening voice over as the player descends into the underwater city of Rapture:

I am Andrew Ryan and I am here to ask you a question:

Is a man not entitled to the sweat of his own brow?

No, says the man in Washington. It belongs to the poor.
No, says the man in the Vatican. It belongs to God.
No, says the man in Moscow. It belongs to everyone.

I rejected those answers. Instead, I chose something
different. I chose the impossible. I chose… Rapture.

 —Andrew Ryan

As previously mentioned, I thought the game fell short in many areas. One of these was the physicality of the city Rapture. The game was effectively a series of sequential levels set in different parts of the underwater city. Rarely did the player ever go back to a previous area. As the player, I could look out the glass windows and see other parts of the city, however there was no way to actually find your way over there.

This lack of physicality and connectedness really detracted from the overall immersive of the game. I so wanted the game to be a virtual play ground where I freely roamed around an extensive multi-connected city. I even had dreams of possibly leaving the city and piloting an underwater craft and experience the city from the outside.  

These expectations were not entirely unfounded either. I recall reading an interview with the designer of BioShock where he talked about how the player would be free to follow the main storyline or simply take off in his own direction and explore Rapture on his own terms. This turned out to be very much not the case given the games linear level progression that was tied tightly to the main story. 

Something else that reduced my satisfaction with the game was the story twist that took place about ¾ the way through the game. When that happened, I felt that I had been lied to by the game and my connection to the character that had been built since the start was gone. The twist was okay from a story perspective, however it really had a negative impact on me as the player and eliminated any desire to replay the game.
BioShock is indeed a landmark game that will almost certainly be remembered as advancing the state of game play to a new level. I just can’t help feel a certain sense of disappointment because the game could have offered so much more by being open ended. In the end the player really only had one moral choice throughout the entire game which is too bad because there was so much more potential. 

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Dec 11 2007

Happy Holidays

Published by under Games,Misc,Uncategorized

Below is a card I made to wish a happy holidays to friends in my World of Warcraft guild. My main character (a Night Elf Druid) has a Panda Cub pet which is fairly well known in the guild.

For this year’s card I decided to make a drawing of Panda with a mini-weighted companion cube from the game Portal. I know it’s crossing two games, but given the popularity of Portal and the Weighted Companion Cube I figured it might work.


The above picture was done completely on the computer rather than the initial pencil sketch being done on paper. I got a Cintiq display tablet a few months ago and have been very happy with it.

The Cintiq is a combination 21″ monitor and graphics tablet where you draw with a stylus directly on the screen. So far it has been a suitable replacement for pencil and paper and programs like Painter X and Photoshop really make it shine.

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Dec 01 2007

Awesome Dragon Cake

Published by under Games,Misc

I attended a friend’s birthday party today who was turning 30. john-snow.jpg

The first part of the day was planned to be a time-speed-distance road rally which is where teams (consisting of a driver and navigator) follow instructions to travel a route and arrive at checkpoints precisely on time. 

Unfortunately the weather didn’t cooperate and the rally was called off after the first checkpoint due to snow. We plan to reschedule the rally for sometime early next year.

After the rally we all headed to my friend’s condo in Seattle for the party.  I should point out that he is one of the guys who plays D&D with us each week at my house.  Along that theme, he went all out this year and had a custom cake made by Mike’s Amazing Cakes in Redmond.

The cake was nothing short of amazing both in size and artistic quality:


As mentioned, the cake was D&D themed and what could be more iconic than a red dragon? The dragon sat on a Chessex Battlemat surrounded by gold coins (edible white chocolate) and clutched an oversized D20 die in its right claw.

When it came time to have desert it was almost a shame to cut into such a great looking cake. The cake was delicious and completely set a new bar for awesome nerdy celebration. Thanks for the great party and happy birthday Ignatius!

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Nov 09 2007

DC Unlimited Figures

Published by under Games

In the mail today arrived several World of Warcraft models that were designed and produced by DC Unlimited. These highly detailed models stand 8″ tall and include weapons.

Here we have an Orc shaman named Rehgar Earthfury. The model features nice detail and the wolf helm comes off to reveal the face and head.


 This stoic Dwarf warrior is known as Thargas Anvilmar. I’m sure when he is not in a tavern drinking you could find him adventuring in the mountains of Khaz Modan.


Last but not least, we have a nasty looking Undead warlock named Meryl Felstorm.


I’m really happy with the quality and detail of these models. DC Unlimited has several more coming out before the end of the year and I’ll definitely have to check them out. More information on these and other Warcraft models is  here.

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Nov 05 2007

Blizzcon Tavern Music Performance

Published by under Conventions,Games,Music

Here is a video I took of a cool musical performance at Blizzcon this year.

The song, which starts about 90 seconds in after the introduction, is a Celtic folk piece called “Deepwater” and is the in-game song heard when you enter the Deepwater Tavern at Menethil Harbor.

YouTube Preview Image

I shot the video at the “Sound/Music” panel. That panel was part of the developer track which featured talks by people in the various disciplines (e.g., cinematics, music, development, etc) who work on the game.

During the panel, they had a surpise appearance by David Arkenstone and his band. Arkenstone had been commissioned to write a collection of tavern songs for the World of Warcraft which is available on the “Taverns of Azeroth” CD pictured below. It features 19 songs that are heard in taverns across Azeroth. A review of the CD can be found here.


The “Sound/Music” panel was in a small room and I happened to be sitting in the front row which was a great spot to watch the 30+ minute performance.

I hadn’t heard of Arkenstone prior to that panel, but he is apparently a well known composer (nominated for several Grammy awards). He and his band played a few songs the next night at the big Video Games Live concert finale.

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Oct 31 2007

WoW Halo 3 Battlegrounds

Published by under Games

The new World of Warcraft Halo 3 battlegrounds are pretty cool. Pitting WoW players against Halo 3 players is a great idea. I’ve been playing “Covenant IV” and am getting pretty good at taking down the Scarab tanks.

Here are some tips:

Start Game
The other team starts with two Covenant Type-47 Ultra Heavy Assault Platforms (a.k.a, scarabs). With dual cannons these things can send your entire team to the graveyard in a heartbeat.

Unfortunately fight form and flying mounts are not allowed in this battleground so you have to use other modes of transportation.


Hitching a Ride
This is the guy to talk to for a ride out over the battlefield. Hornet pilots are pretty good at following orders, however don’t spend too much time in the air because the Hornet isn’t particularly sturdy and will not stand up to repeated fire by a scarab gun.

The Hornet aircraft can take two passengers in addition to the pilot so grab a healer if possible before take-off.

Going in Hot!
If things go well, the Hornet pilot will take you in over the nearest scarab. You don’t have to worry about the main cannon because it can’t shoot high enough to hit you. You do need to watch out for the top cannon which can easily target you during your approach. 

Rawr Bomb
When you arrive over the Scarab jump off and try to land on the upper deck. The enemy probably saw you coming and will likely be waiting for you on deck. If possible, charge an enemy on the way down to avoid falling damage. The Hornet jump can be tricky because both you and the scarab are moving.

Clear the Deck
You’ll need to clear the upper deck of enemies as quickly as possible. It turns out that the Covenant plasma weapons don’t hurt Druids too bad so don’t be afraid to take a few rounds in the face. If there is a brute chieftain on deck take him out first.

Head to the Engine Room
After you have cleared the upper deck head around back using either of the side walkways and then enter the doorway. Do not waste time going down the ramp to the lower deck. Any enemies still alive down below will die soon enough.

Blow the Engine Core
You should now be standing in front of the engine core. Bash the core a couple times, if you have the rage, or just hit it repeatedly until it explodes. Once the core destabilizes, turn around, run out the door, and jump off and away from the doomed scarab.

Run Away!
Once you hit the ground keep running until you’re well out of range. You’ll have 5-7 seconds before the massive explosion that signals the end of the scarab. If you made it out in time you’ll feel a great sense of satisfaction for having taken down one of the Covenant’s largest armored vehicles!

Remember, there is no time to /dance because the enemy still has one more scarab.

I’ll let you figure out how to take that one down. Good Hunting.

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Oct 28 2007

UO World Map

Published by under Games

While cleaning my music studio last weekend I came across a cork-board containing a large strange looking map:


This map really takes me back. In fact, rewind over 10 years back to the Ultima Online closed beta in 1997. I had managed to get accepted into the beta and was REALLY excited to play the game. When the beta CD arrived in the mail I dropped everything and immediately installed it on my computer. 

After a bit of trouble connecting to the server my first foray into in a MMO began. The game was everything that I had hoped for and more. Issues such as jerky lag and frequent server disconnects seemed trivial in the face of being able to explore Britannia online.

uobox.jpgAfter a few weeks of game play I decided to take a closer look at the game files on my hard drive. Hacking around in program files is something I often did (and still do) to see what’s there and possibly what I might be able to change. Viewing the files in a binary file editor was a little like exploring a new dungeon because you never knew what you might find.

It was fairly obvious from viewing the game that it used a tile based map system. This meant that the game world consisted of a large grid of tiles that made up the terrain seen by the player. Each tile was a small graphical picture around 16×16 pixels in size and represented a piece of the world (e.g., grass, water, part of a road, etc). The tiles were used primary to represent the ground and objects such as bridges and buildings were rendered separately on top of it.

I eventually found a set of files that appeared to be map data. I could tell when viewing the files in a binary editor that the data was structured and seemed to contain patterns that repeated along certain boundaries. After some analysis I determined that the tiles in the map were organized into cells of a particular size (e.g., 8×8) and those cells were organized into thousands of map segments. There was some weirdness with element ordering within a cell versus a segment that took some time to sort out.

uomap2.jpgAfter working out the details of the map data format I started thinking about how I could render the data in a useful way. I first wrote a program that would display small segments of the map on the screen. That was useful, however I really wanted to see it all at once. To that end, I wrote a program that would generate a a huge JPEG image file containing the entire world map. The size was something like 4K x 6K pixels which was fairly large for a personal computer to handle at the time.

To generate the image file I utilized some C code published by the Independent JPEG Group that could write JPEG files. The JPEG format is fairly complex and getting this code to work properly on Windows required some work. Eventually I got it working and the result was a giant image of Britannia! From there, I printed out the image across 12 sheets of 8.5 x 11 paper and taped the entire thing together to make the map seen above. 

uomap3.jpgThe map provided many hours of directed exploration where I journeyed to find something in-game that I saw on the map. One interesting thing was that some of the special dungeons were located in the lower right corner of the map. You couldn’t sail a ship there because the in-game world wrapped before going that far east.

I experimented with modifying the local map data on my hard drive to see what would happen in-game. For example, I added a bridge between the mainland and the city of Moonglow, which was on an island to the East. Although I saw the bridge on my screen in the game, the server would snap me back to the mainland after a few seconds of running on the bridge. As expected, the server validated movement and would not allow me to run across water. Oh well, I had to try. :^)

For the next few months I watched the message boards and Usenet to see if anyone else had reverse engineered the Ultima Online map. There was no mention of it anywhere and I was left with the dilemma of whether or not I should share the map with people online. I ultimately decided to keep it to myself because I didn’t want to potentially undermine the online game play by publishing an exact map of the entire world.

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Oct 14 2007

Save The Last Human Family!

Published by under Classic Arcade Games,Games

Today I performed some badly needed maintanence on my Robotron cabaret (mini) arcade game. The game had been exhibiting a number of problems for the last year including start up failures, garbage on the display, and random resets. The problems made the game almost unplayable so it was time to give it some well deserved attention.

robo1.jpgThis game is probably the most rare and valuable classic arcade game in my collection.  A “cabaret” or “mini” arcade game is a smaller version of a normal upright arcade game.

Cabarets typically have a much shorter production run than their full sized counterparts. In the case of the Robotron mini, the estimated number produced ranges from 50 to 500.

The short production run of the Robotron mini along with the game’s popularity has made it a real collector item. It’s very rare, but once in awhile you see one go up for sale for ebay.

I spent over a year convincing the previous owner to sell me the game. He operated an amusement device business locally and I believe he was the original owner.

I used to buy other games from him regularly and when I saw him I would always ask about the Robotron mini. For almost a year his answer was always no, but one day, to my surprise he agreed to sell it.

That’s enough game history – let’s get back to the exciting work of classic arcade game maintenance!

Upon powering up the game it would often display error messages like the one below, which suggested it was losing its settings memory.


More problematic, however, were the frequent game resets which were often preceeded by garbage appearing on the screen. Since Robotron machines were known for having power supply problems I ordered a new Happ Controls Power Pro 110W CE Power Supply.

After opening up the game and discharging the CRT using my handy high voltage probe, I began the job of installing the new power supply. It appeared that the game’s power supply had been replaced at least once before. One nice thing to note about the Robotron mini cabinet is the hinged rear door as shown below.


Installing the new power supply was fairly straight forward. I hooked up the power and then calibrated the +5V line using the pot on the unit. Next I moved over the various power connectors to the appropriate outputs of the power supply. Here’s how the installed unit looked:


In addition to replacing the power supply I also went through all the PCBs and reseated the plugs and connectors. This can sometimes fix a problem with a poor connection. I also pressed down on all the socketed ICs to make sure they had not come loose due to heat.

Another item that I replaced was the set of three AA batteries used to save settings and high scores. One of the batteries was corroding so a fresh set was way overdue. Upon power up I was greeted with the message:


Which told me that I had not made any horrible mistakes installing the new power supply. I successfully played through several games and did not experience any of the prior problems. Success!

Next on my list of game repairs are 1) Berzerk fails to start up, 2) Defender has a controller problem, 3) Tempest fails to start up and also needs a monitor cap kit, 4) Battlezone needs monitor work, and 5) Donkey Kong Jr. Fails to start up. At least my normal Donkey Kong game is still going strong…

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Oct 13 2007

Battle Damaged Scarab

Published by under Conventions,Games

A cool item I picked up at the San Diego Comic-Con this year is a large model of a Halo 3 Scarab vehicle.  The model is made by WizKids and is part of the Halo ActionClix collectible miniature game. It is the largest game figure they have ever produced and measures 24″ x 24″ x 20″. I set an Xbox controller in the below picture to give a sense of scale.


The “Battle Damaged Scarab” was a limited edition item sold exclusively at Comic-Con to 500 lucky buyers. Each day WizKids held a raffle and if your ticket was drawn you won the right to purchase one. I actually got mine at the end of the day when they sold the extras units that raffle winners did not show up to claim.


Playing through the Halo 3 game gave me a new appreciation for this model. At the time when I bought it, I had no idea that Halo 3 would feature several set piece battles where you fight one or more Covenant Scarab tanks. Those battles were a lot of fun and this model provides a cool way to recall the action.

scarab2.jpgThe level of detail on the model is outstanding. The box says the model was hand painted and you can tell that a lot of effort went into the workmanship.

The click bases shown on the legs in the top picture can be removed as shown to the left. The click bases are used to track the vehicle’s health when playing the tabletop ActionClix game.

I bought the model primarly as collector item and probably won’t actually play the ActionClix game. I have played a number of the WizKids click base games in the past but never really got into them.

Now all I need to do is find a place to set this model on display. That may not be easy due to its size. I may put it in my office at work.

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