September 30, 2005

Odd Game Design Story

(Warning: The following post contains descriptions of biological functions. If you believe that anything that is emitted from your body is pure, concentrated evil, then you might want to skip this post.)

I own a lot of games. By a lot, I don’t mean 100 or 200 games. By a lot, I mean over 1,900 games across multiple platforms going all the way back to the Atari 2600. (Storage is a bit of a problem, as you can imagine, but that’s a story for another day.)

My collection has been growing fairly significantly recently, with “We ♥ Katamari,” “Final Fantasy Chronicles,” “Still Life,” “Fable: The Lost Chapters,” and others joining the ranks recently. (What’s scary is that I still have my “Final Fantasy II” Super Nintendo cartridge, bought “FFC” so I could have it for the PS2, and I’ll probably buy it again when it comes out for the GBA this December…)

Anyway, my point is that I own a lot of games. Like most people, I keep gravitating back to a few core titles. What’s really interesting is that the titles I go back to seem to be grouped by their nation of origin.

I play games from America when I feel the urge to decimate my opponents, or feel like a total badass. Games like “Age of Empires II: The Age of Kings” give me that visceral feeling of domination. Games like “Halo” give me that heroic basis that make my experience expand by allowing me to envision life as the savior to Humanity.

I play games from Europe when I want quirky humor, a deeper viewpoint or a skewed viewpoint of life in the United States. “Worms” and “Fable” have a nice, subtle humor to them. “Incubation,” while it possesses an amazing storyline and kickass gameplay, draws me back with the small touches that delve deeper into the characters that I’m assisting. The “Grand Theft Auto” series is the epitome of a skewed viewpoint of how America truly is. “GTA” is to America what Hugh Grant movies are to the U.K. There’s enough of a similarity that you can tell where it’s supposed to be because of the blanket stereotypes, but the natives can tell the difference.

I play Japanese games when I want to do one simple thing better than anything else. “We ♥ Katamari” and “Katamari Damacy” are perfect examples of a simple concept honed to perfection: collect items. “ICO” is a perfect example of the “protect” gameplay mechanic. The “Silent Hill” series is a perfect example of how to instill dread in a player. The “Mario” series is the perfect example of the “run & jump platformer” school, while “Metroid” and “Castlevania” are definition of “exploratory platformer.”

When I play Japanese games, I don’t feel as heroic as I do with games from America, but I do feel more human because I feel like I’m doing something a human would do. The Japanese way of designing games seems to be finding one thing that you enjoy doing, find the fun in it, and design a game around that fun. For example, “Dance Dance Revolution” is designed around the fun associated with dancing. “Metal Gear Solid” is designed around the fun associated with sneaking around.

So I thought I’d give it a try and see if I could design a game the Japanese way. I said to myself that the next time I found myself playing a game in the real world without there really being a game there, I’d design a game around what I was doing at the time.

Flash to two weeks ago when I went out to dinner with my wife. I had to use the restroom, and while I was using the restroom, I noticed a fly on the back of the toilet. So I did what any male would do…I aimed at it, hit it, and felt superior for a moment…and then I realized that not only was the fly painted on the back of the toilet, but I had made a game for myself. So I’m designing a game based off the concept that it’s fun to urinate on things.

It’s actually pretty funny. The psychology of male urination is pretty well known. The restaurant I was in painted the fly on the back of the toilet to encourage people to pee on it. During the winter, men will often go out with their sons and write their names in the snow. Urinal cake holders are made in the shape of targets, or have small targets on them. Some men actually throw cigarette butts or pennies into the urinals so they’ll have a target to aim for.

So, we have our core mechanic: aim and “shoot.” A training level could be a snow bank. Have the player “write their name” to try to accustom themselves to the control. Resource management is already a part of the game. After all, we only have finite size bladders.

Challenges could be as simple as “hit the stationary target,” progress to “hit multiple moving targets,” progress to “don’t cross the streams in the stadium trench toilet,” progress to “put out the fire completely,” and others.

You can add additional challenges to the above by modifying the players abilities based on extenuating circumstances. “You are drunk: your trajectory will wander.” “You are dehydrated: ‘ammunition’ cut in half.” “You are supersaturated: Double ‘ammunition’ but two second max ‘no fire’ time.”

Is it disgusting? Yes. It is quirky? Yes. Is it fun? Not sure yet. I’ve got a base design, but I need to implement it at least at a skeletal level in order to see if it’s fun…which is exactly what I’m going to do. If you don’t like it, well, piss off.

September 29, 2005

Page Views Speak Louder Than Words

I've been trying to decide what direction to take this blog in. I've been trying a variety of different things, between talking about products I've worked on, testing techniques, Managed DirectX code, technical issues, career items, product reviews, etc.

Based off of the page views for the last few months, it looks like the readers here want:

1) More technical information and product analysis. My article on Steam's memory usage is by far the most popular article on the site right now. It's also the number one item on Google if you search for "Steam memory usage".

2) More how-to's. The next biggies are how to fix errors with Microsoft products, specifically Media Player errors, Media Center errors and Portable Media Center errors.

3) More workarounds. My Managed DirectX articles on how to get around certain problems with MDX are the next biggest draws.

4) More stories about the video game industry from the inside.

5) Finally, more humor. I still get a ton of hits on my list of ways to tell you're dating a tester...

Those five areas are going to be my focus over the next few months. You may see less content from me, but the content that you do get from me will be more focused and hopefully higher quality.

Anyway, to the 11,000 of you who visit this site each month, thanks for reading.

September 28, 2005

Test's Most Powerful Weapon

Lots of people think that they know the perfect silver bullet for testing. Some believe that automation is the savior that will reduce testing time to nothing and reduce or eliminate human error. Others believe that in-depth test plans and suites will ensure that no stone is left unturned. Still others believe that only white-box testing will allow the product to advance beyond the Stone Age.

Well, all of those are useful tools, but all are forgetting the most powerful weapon to a test department: a live tester.

True, your automation tests can glide through your product and help ensure nothing has broken, test suites ensure that nothing has been missed in the product and white-box testing helps uncover bugs that would hide for years. But the bugs that you find with these tools cannot compare to the bugs you will find with one intelligent tester just sitting back for 5 minutes and saying, "I wonder what would happen if..."

If you don't have at least a small period of ad-hoc or directed ad-hoc testing on your product per day, you're missing all sorts of wonderful bugs. It could be something as simple as a timing based bug. It could be something as major as an issue requiring a complete architectural overhaul.

In video games, ad-hoc is especially important, because we need our testers to be as abusive as regular gamers are going to be. We need to think, "I wonder what would happen if I abused the weapon physics system to get around massive chunks of the level." We need to think, "I wonder what would happen if I shot that grenade the guy tossed at me in mid-air." We need to think, "I wonder what would happen if I drop this unbreakable crate into this tram that has to move to the end of this railway, and orient it in such a way that when the tram moves forward, the crate collides with the ceiling."

In "Halo 2," you could toss a grenade on the ground, bounce yourself high into the air, and land on top of the buildings so you could run past 30% of the level. The other two are things that came from our ad-hoc testing on "SiN: Episodes."

Fact of the matter is that tools are merely And the end result of using a tool is only as good as the craftsman using the tool.

Let your testers ad-hoc. It refines their skills so when they do more automation testing, they write deeper tests. It hones their instincts so when they run their test suites, they instinctively test into the holes in those suites. It sharpens their intellect so when they do white-box testing, they do more mental checks for invalid inputs while walking through the source.

September 26, 2005

The Great Steam-Powered Experiment, Part 3

Eight minutes. That's how long it took for the game to finish decrypting and download the appropriate files after I restarted the Steam client. Of course, it would have taken less time if it hadn't been downloading the files from Internode in Australia...

So, as for issues...

1) VALVe recycled their Half-Life 2 intro video and as a result, also recycled their copyright date in the intro video. Correct copyright date should be ©2005, since it was released today.

2) It's slightly disturbing when the first item in your main menu is "Report Bug."

Report Bug is first item on menu...

3) Hitting "ESCAPE" in-game goes to the server browser instead of the main menu.

Other than that, not bad...

The Great Steam-Powered Experiment, Part 2

"Day of Defeat: Source" is now available through Steam. As you may recall, I preordered the game back on the 19th so I could experience a pure Steam-only purchase experience, just like people who buy "SiN: Episodes" will encounter later this year.

Unfortunately, I'm at work for another 90 minutes, so I'll be getting a real torture test...I'll be unlocking at the same time as 90% of the people who preordered the game.

I'll post again once that's done and over with.

Off-topic: Agent 86 Signing Off...

Don Adams, probably best known as Agent Maxwell Smart in the TV series and as the voice of Inspector Gadget, "Get Smart," has passed away at the age of 82.

I have a deep-seated respect for comedians who make a living playing the incompetent competent...those who succeed despite doing their best to fail. It takes a lot of character to be able to pull that off.

My best wishes to his family. This is a fan, signing off.

September 22, 2005

Viva La Liberation!

I just got back from Gearbox Software's Liberation party, and I had a good bit of fun...even if I couldn't stay for the entire thing.

They had a nice "Moulin Rouge" rip-off on stage with some fairly attractive ladies (and the token beefcake for the ladies in the audience). They had some extremely expensive finger food that tasted like the fingers that prepared it. They had the trailer for "Brothers in Arms: Earned in Blood." They had some high-poly renders of the vehicles they were going to use for their next-gen stuff. They had Mark Rein from Epic Games there plugging Unreal Engine 3. They had free shirts. Enough said.

A lot of the Ensemble guys who had RSVP'ed weren't able to show...something about a well-deserved day of golden slumber...

Anyway, if you're looking forward to "Brothers in Arms: Earned in Blood," here's a link to the PC SKU via Amazon:
- Purchase Brothers in Arms: Earned in Blood via

Anyway, I'm working on an article related to "We ♥ Katamari." I'm hoping to have that up this weekend. Those who are offended by bodily functions may want to skip that article, however. Consider yourself warned.

September 19, 2005

The Great Steam-Powered Experiment, Part 1

As many of you know, "SiN: Episodes" is going to be released exclusively on Valve Software's Steam electronic distribution system.

Valve is also releasing "Day of Defeat: Source" on Steam this month. So this weekend, I decided to put Steam to the test. I pre-ordered and preloaded "DoD:Steam."

This may seem stupid, but I didn't do this because I like "Day of Defeat." To be honest, I've never played the game...not once. I did this because I wanted to experience a Steam pre-load/pre-order just like our customers for "SiN: Episodes" are going to. And aside from a minor glitch on the credit card number entry screen, it went off without a hitch. The preload was finished in about five hours, and my card will be charged next week.

This release is a true test for Valve. The launch of "Half-Life 2" was marred by issues with Steam authentication. We'll see if history repeats itself, or if Valve has learned the lessons that needed to be learned.

September 14, 2005

Published Yet Again...

Thumbnail of article in (game)land Magazine
I was just noticing that my site and my blog have been getting significantly higher volume than normal, so what do I find? Seapine Software, makers of TestTrack Pro, ran a previous entry from my blog in their September 2005 newsletter.

Well, welcome to the new readers. I hope you find something worthwhile during your visit. Another entry is scheduled for either October or November, but I'm unsure which.

As for why I say I was published yet again, well, I was published in (game)land Magazine in Russia back in July. That article was on the Windows Logo for Games program from Microsoft...a program that I fully back, but fear will fall on deaf ears until Vista ships.

Hell, I'm just glad that QA is finally getting some notice in the software industry. This is a good sign...let's keep it up.

Minor update, 8:45pm: Added links to (game)land Magazine; Seapine Software.

September 13, 2005

"SiN": Did you know... takes five man-days to do a full test pass on just the ABO sections of the original "SiN"?

...that chapter 3 can be skipped entirely?

...that chapter 5 is the most complex chapter, with nine seperate branches and the ability to affect events in chapter 6?

...that Blade was on the front cover of the U.S. release, but Elexis was on the front cover for the European release?

...that "SiN" was one of the first games to receive the "Mature Sexual Themes" ESRB descriptor due to the hidden Easter egg in Janitor Bob's closet?

...that "SiN" was the first ever American property that made the transition to anime?

...that you can buy the original "SiN" for under $2 through, but the expansion pack still costs nearly $25 through the same place?

...that if you're running Windows XP, it's a bad idea to run the DirectX 6 installer on the "SiN" CD?

...the original game shipped with a bug where load times could take up to 40 minutes because it would accidentally load the entire level twice?

...that the silliest line in the game is, "Well, I never liked the Pacific Northwest anyway. Too much fish."?

September 7, 2005

Off-topic: Webcomic Telethon

Webcomic Telethon - September 13-14, 2005
Several web-comic authors, including R.K. Milholland from Something Positive, are throwing an online telethon next Tuesday and Wednesday to benefit the victims of Hurricane Katrina.

Just follow the banner above or this text link to go there to either participate, donate or enjoy.

September 6, 2005

Off-topic: Refugee

refugee, n. One who flees in search of refuge.

refuge, n. Protection or shelter, as from danger or hardship.
The Reverend Jesse Jackson has asked that we not call the people who were driven from their homes by Hurricane Katrina "refugees" because he feels that the term has racist overtones.


This is the worst natural disaster to hit the United States in years. Several hundred thousand people (at a minimum) are without homes and income as a result of this storm. These people are having to make a new life for themselves as a result. Several have given up hope of ever returning to their beloved towns due to the extent of the damage and the horrible memories that lie in wait for them should they choose to return.

We called those who survived the tsunami overseas "refugees." It is an accurate term. Why can't we call American citizens who experience a similar tragedy by the same term? A "refugee" is not a second-class citizen...but a closed-minded preacher who believes that terminology is of high importance during these trying times should be.

DirectX, Installers and D3DX

As you may know, I recently upgraded to a new computer. Before getting this computer, I was participating in an NDA beta-test on a different product. (I'd tell you which, but the NDA doesn't expire for a year, so I'm just going to call it "Game X.")

Anyway, the first thing I did on my new machine was install Visual Studio .NET 2003 and the latest DirectX SDK. I received my gold master copy of "Game X" after I got my new machine, and this weekend decided to install it so I could properly stress-test my new machine, as this game really taxed my old box.

The install goes through without any problem, and I tell it to launch the game. I get a "Missing DLL" error, telling me that d3dx_24.dll was not found.

At this point, it hits me like a ton of bricks. A few versions of the SDK ago, the D3DX DLL's were broken out from the main redists so that breaking changes could be made. Unfortunately, that means that any game that uses D3DX needs to either have their installer force the proper version of the DirectX installer to run, or needs to include the D3DX_??.DLL as part of their installed files to their application directory.

So, if you get a game, install it and get a "D3DX_??.DLL" missing error, all you have to do to fix it is to run the DirectX installer on the installation media.

It doesn't surprise me that this wasn't caught either. When we build and test installers, we test on clean machines to make sure that a machine that doesn't have anything is brought up to the point where it can run the game. We don't usually think to test against newer versions of redists...usually because they don't exist when we are doing our testing.

Anyway, my apologies to the "Game X" development team. I E-mailed the beta lead what I found...I hope you haven't pressed too many CD's...

September 2, 2005

Off-Topic: Vacation Day 1

First off, I want to send out a big "thank you" to the staff at AnimeFest for their decision to grant the FEMA crews on hand to handle the Katrina refugees free access to the convention. I saw several support representatives from California and Nevada on the show floor, and it was good to see their spirits lifted slightly before having to go back to support those who were displaced by the worst natural disaster in recent history.

I finally got to meet R.K. Milholland, one of my favorite webcomic authors. Admittedly, his artwork may not win awards, but it still looks a helluva lot better than anything I could make. I'm going to see if I can get him some giveaway stuff this weekend. I did my small part to make his trip financially worthwhile by buying a T-shirt.

I tried to manage my money much more efficiently at this con. Half of the money I was going to use at this con I donated to the Red Cross. Even so, I managed to get quite a bit for a small amount of money. I got a pack of "Noir" playing cards, a full set of "Neon Genesis Evangelion" capsule figures, some "Excel Saga" merchandise, I won a DVD from Funimation, my alias done in Chinese calligraphy, and I got a really cute "Serial Experiments: Lain" figurine. All that for under $30.

Anyway, we're going back tomorrow morning, and we'll stick around through the AMV awards. Yvonne wants to go in on Sunday to see if she can get the autograph of Nabeshin (Shinichiro Watanabe), but I intend to spend the rest of the time polishing up my Managed DirectX game. Anyway, back to work...

September 1, 2005

Off-Topic: I Lost It Tonight...

I feel embarrassed, but vindicated tonight. I'll explain, but my explanation is going to ramble a bit, so please forgive me.

First, it seems like the population of Dallas has doubled overnight with an influx of people from the disaster areas along the Gulf Coast. I started seeing the refugees this morning, and it's a very striking sight. Most of them seem to be walking around in a state of shock, as if they had just seen the wrath of God and lived to tell the tale.

Second, I gave up on giving money to panhandlers about four years ago back when I was working at Microsoft. I gave up because I found that a panhandler who I often saw in Salt Lake City begging for change outside of Temple Square happened to live in and pay for a $235,000 home in Ogden just down the street from me with the money he earned from panhandling. Since then, I donate to support organizations like the American Red Cross (link to donation page), and to local organizations dedicated to helping those in need. If I see someone in need, I'll help by buying them a meal or some food or a blanket...but I won't give money any more.

Third, there is a panhandler that comes out every night near the West End DART Station. He hit me up for the first time about three months ago. He said he had just gotten in via Greyhound from Oklaholma and was out of cash. He asked for a buck so he could get a Big Mac at the McDonald's two blocks away. I said, "You want food?" He said, "Yes." I said, "Okay, let's go." He quickly stammered, "Well, can I just get the cash?" I said, "Nope," flipped the bozo bit, and proceeded to ignore him. Since then, he's hit me up at least twice a week with the same story. Usually, I just ignore him.

Tonight was different, though. He came up to me and told me that he'd just gotten in from New Orleans. I didn't let him finish his spiel. I ripped into him for exploiting their tragedy for his own benefit. I literally yelled at him until I was hoarse. For five minutes, I slowly edged him away from the station while I vented all of my frustration on those who would exploit the kindness of others. I finally told him that if I ever saw him again, I would have him arrested for fraud and panhandling and he ran like crazy.

I will gladly help those who need help. Today, I donated $100 to the American Red Cross. It was all I could afford, but it was a start. That money could feed a Katrina refugee for a week.

If you want to help those whose lives were ruined by Katrina, donate to the American Red Cross. Don't fall prey to those who would exploit this tragedy for their own purposes. Put your money where it will do the most good.

Off-Topic: The Weekend

Well, I was here at the office until 11:45pm last night trying to get a build out. Finally succeeded, so I'm going to be taking the next four days off.

So what are my plans? At least two days this weekend will be spent at Anime Fest at the Hyatt Regency in downtown Dallas...assuming that the Regency doesn't get turned into a refugee center like the American Airlines Center has in Downtown Dallas.

I plan on spending one day getting caught up on my game backlog. I still need to finish "Clock Tower 3" and "Fatal Frame." I haven't even started "Still Life" yet.

Finally, I want to spend one day getting my own little skunkworks Managed DirectX project polished enough to show to the guys here at Ritual. Let's just say that there is more than one way to fight a mutagen...