World of Apex

Saturday, January 28, 2006

Nineteen ninety what?

I've been playing a lot of Total Annihilation lately. I mean a *lot*. When I first got TA back in 1998, my PC could hardly run it and would literally take five minutes to load a large map. This is back in the days when we hardly had that Internet thing, so I didn't spend any time on multiplayer despite the game's large focus on enjoyable online games. A year or two later, this gem of finely crafted real-time strategy goodness was packed up and stored away to be dug up by a crazed fit of nostalgia.

It turns out that day was about two weeks ago, when I was rummaging around for games to throw on my laptop. Sure, I have HL2/CS Source/Gmod on there, and a couple other newer games, but most of those take so long to load it's time to stop playing when it finishes. I figured a good place to find a load-n-play game would be my old classics repository, and I was right. TA fit the bill perfectly; a classic RTS I can save/load whenever, and the whole game goes from startup to battle in about five seconds. I spent a few days hammering the AI in OTA (official or original TA) and realized just how bad Cavedog's AI was. From there, I went on a quest to find mods and AI files for TA to make my experience more fun.

Here's where the story gets really interesting. While surfing through dozens of sites dedicated to mods for the old game (which is one of the few, if not only RTS games with a still active mod community NINE YEARS after release) I kept hearing about this "Spring." What is this "Spring" these people speak of, I wondered? I decided to find out. Google lead me promptly to the home of the Swedish Yankspankers. Apparently the SYs are a well known group of modders for the original TA, as well as the developers of the best demo recording app out there for the game.

However, their talents were not limited to simply modifying the game, they teamed up to make TASpring. The closest thing to the resurrection of Christ himself is this game's reincarnation on a modern 3D engine. It may not be as flashy as Eyecandy at War, but it does a damn good job (in fact there's a nice Star Wars total conversion out for it as well). The full 3D engine isn't the only feature either; coupled with the spiffy graphics and four camera modes are the ability to directly control any unit or defensive structure FPS style, a wonderful terrain deformation system (that's right, you can blow holes in the ground) and an AI plugin system that allows you to swap around bot files. Did I mention the release comes with a handy multiplayer lobby client as well? You can also share a single team with multiple players, allowing each player to micromanage a certain part of the team's strategy. Comp stomping anyone?

TASpring propaganda aside, I've fallen practically in love with FLAC. You really don't notice the loss in quality that MP3 has until you compare the two yourself, which is exactly what I did. Any CD I borrow to rip will be compressed in FLAC, and if I ever buy a dedicated player it absolutely must include FLAC playback (only two players have it right now, the Rio Karma and Cowon X5). If you're a quality freak like I am, check out FLAC here.

In other news, about the same time I started binging on TA/Spring my dad started playing Endless mode on Bejeweled 2. As of now, he's on level 41 of 280. Go dad!

*Disclaimer: I am in no way affliated with, involved in development of, or hired to advertise the programs/codecs mentioned in the above post. I refer to these purely from personal experience and do so as a non-affiliated individual. Wow, that was redundant wasn't it? At least I'm not selling you anything.

Thursday, January 05, 2006

Emo kids should play Bejeweled

It's about time for another sideways look at the gaming world.

Have you ever played a game that single-handedly affected your self esteem? You know, those games that are so incredibly difficult that they make you feel inadequate because you can't win? How about those multiplayer ones where it seems every player you meet is a power-hungry vulture bent of shattering your fragile psyche? With the expanded horizons of gaming, and the unfortunate fact that it's fast becoming as sickly mainstream as having cereal for breakfast, the video game has actually had a lasting effect on our world's mind. I'm not talking about Jack Thompson-ish violence garbage, I mean real effects.

Think about it. If someone calls you a loser, you might have any number of reactions. Some may get really pissed and beat the hell out of the guy, which are the types that chuck the controller across the room. Some might just shrug it off or laugh at them, which are the types that simply adjust strategy and try again. But then there are the ones that take it to heart and add it to their mental list of faults, which are the kind that get so worried over a game they stop playing it ever again. Although I don't think a single game could really hurt a person's feelings permanently, the effects of feeling like you aren't good enough to win coupled with normal things like bullies, peer pressure, and other troubles of school life could add up to something very bad. I've been amazed how many emo kids play video games (not many of them have much taste in games either I might add), and what they play has likely toyed with their head just a little to help tip them into the grasp of a subculture. I guess my point here is far too many people take games to heart, and should actually hate the game, not the player. Don't let it transform you into an iPod toting, skintight jeans wearing MySpace hermit.

On the flipside of the downers, there has been an explosion recently of games that actually help your self-image. Since web-based games have become increasingly popular, especially among the casual surfing crowd, many "cute little puzzle games" have started doing more than burning time. Take one crack at Bejeweled 2 and you'll see what I mean. You're almost bombarded with compliments about your actions by a booming announcer voice: "Good!; Excellent!; Incredible!" It's a bit over the top and gets both old and annoying after awhile, but there are likely quite a few players out there that really need the morale boost. We're talking about people that do not, in their day to day life, recieve a single friendly compliment. In fact most high school kids don't even know how to accept a compliment properly. Recently the phrase "thank you" has been placed on the endangered species list.

So what's all this jabber mean? It means people can be psychologically affected in either direction by games, and this could essentially alter their daily life or even cause major changes in some extreme cases. Now that would be an interesting topic for Socialology class.