Thursday, 20 December 2012

Plankton are People Too

As it's been over a month since my last entry, I've decided to write another. For some reason, I haven't felt particularly ~bloggish~ these days. This is in spite of the fact that I'm now actually getting visitors after having put a link to this blog on my NaNoWriMo profile.

With that latter point in in mind, it probably isn't necessary to go into much detail about what NaNoWriMo is. But for those who don't know: one novel (read: first draft), 30 days, 50,000 words.

Before November, 50k words were far more than I'd ever written for a single piece, so naturally, I was a little apprehensive. In the end, though, I managed it with 50,902 words. My story is called “Muscle Memory”. Some previous working titles were “Plankton are People Too”, and “All Flesh is Arse,” a HILARIOUS!!! take on the Biblical phrase, “All flesh is grass”.

The nautilus, being (says Wikipedia) a megaplankter, is a person. And yes, I did only put this image here so it'd make the preview to this entry look better on my blogspot reading list.

Here's part of the synopsis, taken from my NaNoWriMo profile:

“Our hero, Karl Levy, has discovered that some sneaky bastards have somehow turned him into a robot. Join him on his journey as he deals with snobby executives and hallucinates about buses with teeth and people dancing badly to 80s pop songs.

Actually, ignore the bit where it says "join him on his journey" because this first draft is going to be crap and I probably won't show it to anyone.”

It turned out that “crap” was putting it kindly. There are plot holes that I didn't bother to fix, organizations acting in ways that a real organization would never act, and a few too many dream sequences which were fun to write but don't add much to the plot. The quality of writing is often downright atrocious; and if clichés are litter, then my story is a landfill. I do quite like a few of the characters, but unfortunately, the protagonist isn't one of them.

I'm still happy that I went through with it, though, even if the end result isn't great, because now I know that I can do it (going to the write-ins certainly helped). I don't know if I'll try making a second draft. They say that one ought to put a first draft away for a significant amount of time so that when one gets to reviewing and rewriting, they will do so with a less biased mind. Maybe I'll do that.

I'm thinking about my next piece of writing, which will probably be a short story. I have the beginnings of characters and a plot. This time around, I think I'll manage to avoid writing about things which I don't know anything about (a very long list).

Monday, 29 October 2012

Entry #6

In my last entry, I said that I'd probably write about what I was up to since the entry before that. To sum it up, I did my masters dissertation project and played some excellent games – the best of which, Dark Souls aside, were probably Deus Ex and Deus Ex: Human Revolution.

There, I've written about it. I'm not going to go into detail about the university side of things (though I might post some screenshots of my project later) as it'd be rather boring. I'm actually considering making a separate blog to talk about programming projects. It's not as if Bradcom has a huge audience, but I don't want anyone who finds their way here to be more bored leaving the blog than they were coming in. As Jen from The IT Crowd said, “Keep the conversation about things that would interest everybody. You know, nothing about 'memory' or 'RAM'.”

My first excuse for this entry: NaNoWriMo

I mentioned in my very first entry – not counting the two entries from years ago which I deleted when I refurb'd this here blog – that I like to write. However, aside from a few pieces of fanfiction which I won't link to here (not because they're slashly or anything; they're just not too great) and a spot of poetry, I haven't finished any piece of creative writing since 2002 or 2003 when I wrote a fairly long piece for a GCSE English assignment – something like 3,000 words though we were only expected to write about 1,500 – which, again, I won't be publishing here.

I have two main excuses for this creative inactivity. Firstly, I had to spend five or six years being a moronic teenager and then another four years being a pretentious university student; and secondly, that writing is much harder than just thinking about writing.

I've known about NaNoWriMo for some time, but I've never given it a go due to either forgetting or knowing I'd never manage the 50,000 words due to other commitments. This was especially true during my university years when I preferred to use my free time to play video games and watch TV than force my exhausted brain to juggle words and avoid clichés; though I did try my hand at writing a play in 2009, but then I scrapped it because it was shit.

Having no such excuses this year, I have decided to give NaNoWriMo a go. Other than writing, it will give me an excuse to meet people, many of whom are NaNo veterans. The other day I attended a get-together for London dwellers (and visitors) who were also taking the challenge. Here's a picture.

I'm the red haired chap in the checkered shirt near the centre of the picture. I don't recall if I was pulling that pose for the camera or if the lady next to me was telling me something horrific.

I met many friendly and funny people and learned that I wasn't the only one who gets demoralised by the crappiness of first drafts. I also heard many intriguing plot ideas, which made me a bit sad, as I believe participants don't always choose to share the ensuing stories. Knowing how terrible my first drafts are, I'm not sure I'll be sharing mine, either. All the talk about plots and characters and badly-written sex scenes inspired my inner author (if I may be so ostentatious as to say I have one) to write something, but as I'm saving my creative energy for November and I don't want to be a rebel I'm writing this blog entry instead.

My story is going to be about a young man who one day realises that he's been replaced by an android clone. As in, he is the clone. I haven't thought of a decent title yet.

My second excuse for this entry: VVVVVV

I played an indie game the other day, which, as per Bradcom tradition, I am going to write about.

The game I played was the excellent faux-retro 2D puzzle-platformer VVVVVV. You are Captain Viridian, a person-shaped block of colour, and your ship has crashed in a strange dimension which loops in on itself. You and your crew are somehow teleported on impact to separate parts of this bizarre new land, and you have no choice but to slap gravity in the face repeatedly as you hop between floors and ceilings to make your way to each of your friends.

If you've never played VVVVVV before, my vague description might have conjured up a horribly inaccurate image of what the game is actually like. Allow me to direct you to this video, which demonstrates the game nicely (but makes it look much easier than it actually is).

I like a lot of things about the game. The music is catchy and suitably retroish, if ill-fitting for the setting. The visuals are a bit more subdued – while bright and colourful, the game never looks garish. The gameplay is the game's strongest point. As you may have gathered from the video, Captain Viridian cannot, in the traditional sense, jump; he can only reverse the effect gravity has on him, and cannot do so in mid-air. If the player is confronted by a pit of spikes, the best they can do to cross it is fling themselves upwards and hope that there's a ceiling which they can walk across, and that said ceiling has no spikes. Many areas are a mess of spiked surfaces and shifting mid-air platforms, requiring you to first figure out how to use the gravity-flipping mechanic to make a workable route before attempting to reach the other side.

source: VVVVVV Steam store page

My main (and perhaps only) issue is that Captain Viridian is too, well, slidey. If I let go of a movement key or analogue stick, I don't expect my character to skid to a halt one foot onwards, I expect them to stop moving. A good number of the deaths I accumulated in VVVVVV were due to sliding into spikes. It might seem a bit captious to take issue with this (thanks,, and perhaps it's true, perhaps I am being a bit unfair. It could have been my keyboard, which I used because the game didn't detect my Xbox 360 pad and I found no settings to enable it. Had the game been longer, I'm sure I would have gotten used to the sliding and learned to work with it. As it stands, though, in a game with such unforgiving collision detection and where even the smallest mistake in movement will often get you perforated (accidentally brush your arse against the flat side of a spike, and you die), it quickly becomes irritating. Luckily, you have infinite lives, there's no reloading after a death, and checkpoints are very, very frequent.

At least the game had no ice levels.

The game is about three hours long (my Steam dashboard says “2 hours played”, but I'm betting it's more like 2:59) and probably longer if you go for all of the secrets (I didn't). Some might consider this brevity a flaw, but a few weeks ago, I gave myself a target of completing one game a week, the short length allowed me to finish it in two sittings, putting me ahead of schedule.

There are also custom levels as well as a level editor, neither of which I've tried, and tributes such as Notch's demake, VVVV

That's about it, really. I also read American Psycho. I hope it won't influence my NaNoWriMo story.

Thursday, 4 October 2012

I like Dark Souls. Here are pictures.

I was going to write about what I've been up to recently, and I probably will eventually do so, but it's going to be difficult to compose something about it that's interesting or at least readable, so I've decided instead to talk about Dark Souls, which recently came out on PC, and post screenshots.

Warning: spoilers and spiders ahead.

This is my main character, the ultra-stylish Varine, looking all shiny in her silver knight armour. She started off as a backstab-happy thief, but on acquiring a pair of rings that lessen the weight of her armour and thus allow her to sprint and roll as if she was in civvies, she began to grow into a medium-armour curved-sword fighter - dagger and curved swords both scale in damage with the dexterity stat. It is important to note for those who haven't played the game that you play as an undead character. Beneath all her armour, Varine is essentially a zombie.

Here we see a rare glimpse of her “human” form. In this form, other players can invade your world, where they'll try to hunt you down. After a few incidents in which invaders did toilet in her hair while she was fighting other, larger enemies, I've made a point of keeping Varine corpsified for most of the time.

Here she is offering humanity to the Fair Lady. In Dark Souls, one may make covenants with gods or other powerful entities, and offer them items in exchange for unique rewards. Varine's covenant is with the pale, blind half-spider known as the Fair Lady, who has been left crippled after having saved her servants from disease by drinking the “blightpus” that caused the affliction. You can give her humanity, a sort of secondary currency and also a temporary character stat, and her health will gradually improve. She'll also teach you some extremely destructive fire spells.

Here's Varine posing next to some bump mapping...

...and here we see her about to find out what a “lawsuit” is.

Firing an inexplicably luminous (or brightly-painted) arrow. lol if only I could be so grossly incandescent etc

This is one of the few remaining screenshots where Varine is well lit and not covered in motion blur effects. The pose makes her look like a Games Workshop figurine. In this one, you can see that she is barefoot. In Dark Souls, boots and greaves and the like are included in the leg armour, but this skirt doesn't come with any. It looks a bit inconsistent, but that's what I get for combining plate armour with mage attire.

So, as you might have noticed, I like Dark Souls a lot. I do think, though, that the music could have been better, especially as it was composed by Motoi Sakuraba, who did music for the Golden Sun games as well as many other JRPGs. I associate him with tracks that have actual melodies, rather than the film score-like music of Dark Souls, which sounds impressive but ultimately forgettable (with a few exceptions). I'd have been happy if the tracks were like this, which sounds all grand and royal and suitably hectic, but has a memorable tune.

That's all for now.

Saturday, 16 June 2012

Thinking Aloud

Physics and Half-Life and Theatre
Well, they're telling the truth when they say that it's harder to maintain1 a blog than it is to begin one.

The biggest reason for my inactivity is this:

This isn't a terrible attempt at abstract art, but rather a zoomed-in screenshot from one of my assignments, a 2D physics demo which I had to develop from scratch. It was so difficult that I began to see it as a sort of final boss for the semester. It involved a fair bit of advanced differential calculus, which alone was pretty tough, given that my educational background isn't particularly mathsy. Add collision detection and response to the equation (hehehehehe) and things started to get a bit ridiculous; and that's before I even tried to get it working over two computers (one computer handles the blue shapes and the other handles the red). Several 14-hour days and cans of energy drink later, I managed to finish it, but it was probably the most difficult thing I've ever done.

It's a fairly close call, though.

In my scraps of free time before the level of crunch became ludicrous (ludicrunch?), I played through the original Half-Life for the first time (I've played it before but never completed it). I was planning to write an entire entry about it, but I wouldn't really be saying anything that hasn't already been said, and it'll be difficult to describe what I liked about it without sounding unreasonably critical of modern games, so I'll just summarise: I think that it has aged pretty damn well and is even better than its sequel. It's a textbook example of how to make a fun and immersive action game, in my opinion.

I didn't take any screenshots when I played it, so I stole one from GameSpot. (Source: GameSpot)

What else did I do? Well, last week, I went to the theatre to see One Man, Two Guvnors – something I'm rather hesitant to write about, as I don't want my uninformed opinions to be mistaken for an attempt at an objective and adequately-justified review. This following few paragraphs will contain minor spoilers, but it's mostly stuff you can read on the website.

According to Wikipedia, the play is a modern adaptation, of the 18th century Italian play Servant of Two Masters. It's driven by two connected stories. The first follows the roguish Francis Henshall as he lands himself two jobs with different “guvnors” and tries to keep them from discovering one another long enough for him to get paid (and steal some of their food). The second is concerned with the guvnors themselves; one of whom is a woman disguised as her gangster brother who was murdered by her boyfriend. The other guvnor is the boyfriend.

According to its website, the play has received five stars from many reviewers from both the tabloids and the broadsheets. I can only assume that these are people who know far more about comedy than me, so I'm not going to say their reviews were wrong, nor that the play deserved less. To be honest, though, I thought it could have been much better. The whole thing was a tad too slapsticky, for a start – one character gets hit in the face by an opening door at least twice, and tumbles down the stairs three times, in the space of a single scene. The dialogue was largely unmemorable, though that's not to say there weren't highlights; a few scenes have some particularly funny alliteration.

The one thing that bugged me the most was the constant breaking of the fourth wall. Every so often, Hernshall turns to the audience to talk about his plans. I'm not saying he has soliloquies or that he makes a handful of dramatically ironic “it's as if I was in a play!” statements; and the play isn't inherently “meta”, either. No, he actually addresses the audience as the audience, banters about the play in drama speak, and even brings a pair of people on stage to help him carry some luggage.

Now, I realise it's written as one of those comedies that you shouldn't take seriously, but still, what exactly did it add that couldn't have been added through other, less gimmicky means?

Level Editing, Mighty Jill Off, and Tomb Raider
In my last entry, I mentioned that I was doing a bit of Super Meat Boy level editing. Here's a screenshot of my tiny first (and thus far only) level, so you don't have to entry-hop:

Would have called the series "Castles 'n' Shit" - this level is one of the "'n' Shit" bits.

I decided to give it a try after reading about the game Mighty Jill Off (not as explicit as it sounds), an indie platformer which, according to discussants, uses a (sparingly used and mostly SFW) BDSM theme as a metaphor for the dynamic between the player and creator of a difficult or punishing game. The game's protagonist Jill is a guest character in SMB, which is what alerted me to MJO's existence in the first place (you can see her in my screenshot dying to spikes – no imagery intended there, I'm just rubbish at my own level). Now, I have absolutely no profound insights to share about the themes themselves, but it did get me thinking about difficulty in platformers as well as games in general. What level of difficulty is permissible in a game?

It's something I've been thinking about ever since I released my custom Tomb Raider level2 Jobmond& Co back in 2007 as a part of's “Back to Basics” contest.

Jobmond & Co (Source:

It performed well score-wise, but became vaguely infamous at the time for being weird, difficult, and confusing. The two biggest gripes appear to be backtracking and the difficulty of timed runs. The first I can understand, and I'm quite surprised that I didn't realise that it was a problem after having played through it so many times. The second, I'm not so sure about. I realise a lot of Tomb Raider players don't like the pressure of having to complete tasks under timed conditions. I certainly didn't while playing the official (Core) games, and I can't pinpoint what made my preferences change.

So don't get me wrong – I'm not disputing the preferences of those who criticized the level for its timed challenges or difficult jumps, nor can I fairly say that they graded the level based on the wrong criteria (some reviews were insultingly bad, but for different reasons). What I wonder, though, is how much should I care? Or, more formally, how far should the author go to cater to the preferences of the players? I enjoyed testing the difficult platforming areas, but there's the fact that I made them myself, so it is/was difficult to be objective, especially knowing that I didn't have to complete a timed platforming sequence or tricky jump to see the rest of the level; I could skip it or make it easier, if I so fancied.

I do think timed events have their place, even in a game like (Core's) Tomb Raider where the controls are somewhat antiquated and the grid and movement systems mean you can't always jump when you want, or as high as you want. I think, and I'm sure there are others who agree, that when you're used to the controls, the challenge of lining up a sequence of jumps is pretty fun; and adding a time limit makes it even more exhilarating (and you can't spell “exhilarating” without “Lara”. Coincidence? ...Probably). Who can forget that flaming platform bit in Palace Midas in the first Tomb Raider?

I suppose I should ask myself what I would have done differently, gameplay-wise. For a start, I would have gotten rid of some of the backtracking, or at least flipped3 some of the revisited rooms so that the player wouldn't worry about whether they're making progress. I'm sure if I had played the level as the player instead of author, I'd have gotten annoyed and given up. But I'm not sure I would have added more camera hints – I think they're a bit of a crutch. I'd rather have tried to make the various areas more distinguishable (which I tried to do anyway), and added a suggestion in the readme to sketch out a map.

I don't think I would have made the platforming easier, but I might have made it less frustrating. There are one or two parts where all but the most precise jump will send the player sliding away from their objective. For those who would prefer to explore rather than repeatedly attempt the same precarious jump (which is perfectly fine; they're playing Tomb Raider, not I Wanna Be The Guy), I might have released an “easy” mode alongside the standard version, but I'm not so sure about this one. It's wise to avoid challenges so difficult (whether the good or bad sort of difficulty) that they alienate a lot of your audience, but I don't know. Would it cheapen the experience? Well, I think that's another blog post for another time (but I promise nothing).

Go play Mighty Jill Off. It's a fun game and short enough to be played in a half-hour sitting.

I don't know how to do footnotes properly
  1. “Maintain” makes it sound like it's some sort of vehicle, and that I should be “oiling it up” on a regular basis. Needless to say, I won't be doing this.
  2. The level editor is a lighter version of the one that The Last Revelation was made with – the old engine, basically.
  3. A flipped room is an alternative versions of a room. It usually has modified architecture or objects. One such room is the main chamber in TR1's The Cistern where pulling a level fills it up with water, and pulling it again drains it.

Sunday, 22 April 2012

Entry #3

I have so much work going on at the moment that I'm going to go ahead and forgive myself for not updating this blog. That said, I have to write something, so here are some things that I've been up to.

I played Breath of Death VII a week or so back. It's a nice little JRPG (Japanese by genre, that is; the developers are American). It's short and funny and cheap (£1.99 on Steam will net you both this game and the similar Cthulu Saves the World).

In many aspects, it's mid-way between Chrono Trigger and I haven't played enough JRPGs to finish the comparison. I'll give it 7.5/10 (read that as “8/10” if you go by a scale on which 7.5 means mediocre). Although the combat system is very well-designed, the game relies too much on it. The dungeons are often very maze-y, and would probably have benefitted from a sprinkling of Golden Sun-esque puzzles.

I've been playing a lot of Super Meat Boy, and have decided to do a bit of level editing. Here's a screenshot of the first version of the first level I've made. I might expand it into a small chapter, which I'll title Castles n Shit.

My excuse for making it is that I'm investigating the line between difficult gameplay and unfair gameplay. I plan to go into more detail in my next entry.

Thursday, 29 March 2012


The Bit Where I Talk About Essentially Review Limbo

The other day, I finally got round to completing
Limbo; a 2-D platforming/puzzle game in which the protagonist, a young boy, ventures through a land of misty forests, decrepit rooftops and foreboding industrial areas - in order, apparently, to find his sister. The game's graphics are black-and-white and heavily stylized. To begin with, I thought this was a bit pretentious; but as I played, I began to see that it was a sensible direction. It's pretty unobtrusive, and manages to convey a lot with (relatively) few assets.

One of the cosier areas of the game

Gameplay wise, Limbo is a lot more Abe's Oddyssey than Super Mario Bros/Land. The game's challenges consist of physics puzzles and platforming, with the latter based more on timing than coordination, which is fortunate, as the character is anything but agile, and the controls often feel sluggish. The puzzles, meanwhile, are extremely varied, with several earlier levels requiring you to move loose objects around in order to bypass bear traps or get enough height to jump over (and occasionally ride) rolling boulders. Later areas have you playing with magnets, gravity and water levels to realign the environment in order to pass, sometimes literally - one section requires you to rotate the entire level to progress; wall-mounted circular saws, previously part of the scenery, lurch around toward you as you ride the landscape, requiring some rather accurate jumping to avoid them. Just thinking about it is making me imagine that this page is slowly slanting to the left.

<Hilarious joke about Australia> (source: Wikipedia)

A lot has been said about the game's atmosphere, and it's not difficult to see why. Things are often macabre. You'll sometimes see corpses hanged, caged or just slumped on the ground, and occasionally you'll need to use them as part of a puzzle in order to progress. I'd even suggest that the game has elements of black humour in it, if I was willing to pretend I knew what that meant.

With all that said, I was irritated by the game's lack of story. I realise that it's supposed to be minimalistic (I'm surprised I've only used this word once in this entry) and open-ended, but the result, to me, was a plot so skeletal that I found it difficult to care. I don't mean it has the subtle fill-in-the-gaps environmental storytelling of early Tomb Raider games (or to a lesser extent, Half-Life and Metroid Prime), but that there's very little story to actually tell.

A game which promises so much with its atmosphere should deliver something story wise, too. With that in mind, if I discover more about it on a subsequent playthrough, I'll amend this article and post a picture of me slapping myself.

In summary, the game is good. This isn't a review and so I'm not going to give it a score, but if it was, I'd probably give it 8/10.

Music and Other Thoughts

The other day, I went back to download the rest of the Humble Indie Bundle 4 games, and noticed that the soundtrack for each title was included at no extra cost. I wish more games/distributors did this. There's probably business logic somewhere in there - if a game soundtrack is good, I'll listen to it outside of the game, and if I do that, I'll think about the game more, and if I do that, I'll be more likely to recommend the game to my friends. I think this would have been a good tactic for Dear Esther, whose excellent soundtrack costs £5.99 (as an MP3 download on Amazon), which is a mere pound less than the game itself.

Above: not the Dear Esther soundtrack

The playthrough of Ragnarok is (probably) on its way, but as an obscure game in a rather unsexy genre, it's proving a quite tricky subject for any kind of remotely engaging writing. I don't want to bore my 0 readers.

That's all for now. Back I go to trying to unlock The Kid on Super Meat Boy.

Wednesday, 21 March 2012


Recently, a lecturer at my university made a blog post in which he talks about blogs and why he tells his students to start them. They should do so “not because they'll instantly get loads of readers, or because the world necessarily cares much what they think”, but because it's a good exercise in writing.

Strictly speaking, I am not one of his students. Nevertheless, having been disarmed of two of my three primary reasons for not renovating or updating this blog sooner (the third is that “blog” just isn't a pleasant-sounding word), I have decided to follow his advice.

I am an masters student in computer graphics programming. When I'm not programming, I like to read, play games (when I have the time) and write (when I can be arsed).

He had it coming. Just look at those tribal tattoos. Alt text tihihihihihihi
Here's a mongoose statue to break the flow, because this is 2012 and our internet pages can include images now. Do note that this is a 3d model I made, and not an actual statue. Please do not contact me to complain that it is not a statue.

I'm not precisely sure what I'll write about. I've started a playthrough of this little game, and I think, for now, I'll write about that.

Watch this space (or don't, for I promise nothing).

Blog. Blog. Blog.