Sunday, April 19, 2015

Sunday Shorty: Gotham

"Hey, we're making a Batman-themed ultragritty police drama."
"Will there be powerful, independent women?" 
"Shit, yeah, dog. There'll be tons of tough ladies! And domestic abuse." "Awesome! And, wait what?"
"Oh, domestic abuse. Yeah, you know Batman's colorful entourage of villains that commit cute themed robberies?"
"Well, we replaced all that boring, kiddy stuff with more realistic villains. Like a guy who abducts women, forces them to wait on him hand and foot for weeks, and then ties them up and murders them. No costume or anything. Just a regular guy. We call him The Ogre because it sounds cooler than an appropriate modus operandi nickname like Bluebeard or King Henry or Praying Mantis"
"But there will still be Batman stuff, right?"
"Oh, sure, sure. Every episode the whole cast will stare into the camera chanting /Batman, Batman, Batman/ in a haunting monotone for five minutes. It'll make you totally forget you're basically watching what Criminal Minds would be if their Standards and Practices department ate a bad batch of mescaline."
"...That actually sounds radical."

Wednesday, April 15, 2015

LEGO MOC: The Demoman's Place

The third set in my TF2 Lego Digital Designer series. Much like the Engineer, the Demoman is someone I always felt hinted at having technical expertise that doesn't come out much in the extended universe of TF2, but it must be there! While most people assume the Engineer is responsible for the Bomb Carts, I've always put that squarely on the Demoman, and a bomb artist must have his studio. This set is an expression of that. It's also the place where I decided to explore the more complex mechanical side of LEGO as well: specifically, using TECHNIC blocks to push some more playability. The Demoman seemed the perfect set to do it with, too: his compound is boobytrapped, in case anybody gets any smart ideas about penning him in.

The Demoman set is my first hinged piece. BLU has a great orthogonal building style that's fairly straightforward and industrial. This may be something that deserves a second pass at some point in the future, or perhaps a future BLU building will just be more visually interesting. If you have ideas for sprucing up the appearance, let me know! Don't ask why I decided to go RED soldier/BLU demoman when the War! Update specifically stated the opposite: I don't know man. I'm just an architect.
Here's what it looks like unfolded. The red patches are the removable wall fragments--press the button emerging from the left side and that section of wall will pop out, revealing the dynamite stashed there by our favorite inebriate!

The wall on the lower section, underneath the air conditioner, is held on by two pegs. A simple flick with a finger will remove it with suitable panache for a charging Demoman pounding through. I won't bore you with details of these wall designs. Here, however, is the interior of the compound. Currently there's a table laid over a barrel--perfect for two friendly enemies to play cards by. On the second floor is the Demoman's bomb-making lab. Detonators, some miscellaneous sticky bombs,  and of course, walls with blueprints on them. The one piece that I felt was crucial for the bomb lab that we didn't have? The Scissors, currently available only in 3 sets and not yet added to the LDD; I felt the wiresnips used to cut the various lengths of wires used in the manufacture of explosives would be a nice accessory.

Also visible hanging from the wall is a Charging Targe and Eyelander. The third floor features a target dummy like the one's seen in Degroot's Keep, and of course, a couple bottles. 

Detail of work area

Detail of card table
Another great accessory for the Demoman is not yet available in the LDD, and that is the Super Jumper, a device that allows characters like Superman appear to fly into action. For a class characterized by explosive jumps (like the Soldier and the Scout) this would be a pretty handy device to incorporate.

Monday, April 13, 2015

LEGO MOC: The Sniper Tower

Another LDD design. I guess I'm doing a series now, because I don't think I'm wired correctly! Seriously, I keep me locked in my basement, it would be abduction if I were also someone else. In addition to being me. For the Sniper I was going for a more spartan feel to match his lifestyle, and also because I was looking to make a $30 set.

Pretty straightforward set, for the sniper. He... he doesn't have a lot going on. The tower manages to look funky but I think it could look cooler (leave me comments with suggestions for improvements!) I think there may need to be more embellishments on the roof.

The Sniper himself has a sniper rifle, Razorback, binoculars and the ever popular Jarate. It was too easy to just give the Sniper a prefabbed rifle, so I elected for the (only slightly) more complex 3-part rifle.

I added two small details just to shore up the set. One is the payphone from Meet the Sniper, the other is Saxton Hale fighting a gorilla. I'm pretty fond of those.

The camper van is something else I'm pretty proud of. I wanted to make it on a minifig scale, so I used two 4x6 baseplates in order to ensure that it matches the wheel wells of the intel truck from the Engineer set. However, there wasn't a prefabbed door that fit that size on the truck, so I elected to use a hinge to keep that interior area in play.

Thursday, April 9, 2015

LEGO MOC: Engineer's Hideout

Another Lego Digital Designer piece. The Engineer's Hideout is an idea I had way back in 2011 when I started this blog. I've tried to build it in several different pieces of design games, from the very complicated Source Development Kit, which is free level design software from Valve, to the lacking-in-relevant detail Minecraft. The LDD is the first piece of software that has combined the ease of development that allows me to just express my ideas with the design complexity I was looking for to express my designs. I incorporated some LEGO design considerations, with plans to incorporate more on any subsequent redesigns. With 540 bricks it's perfect for the $29-40 price range. Plans for future updates include a hinge that will allow for accessibility to the upstairs work area, and a level 3 sentry with firing rockets.

The entire playset consists of the 2-story hideout, 2 sentry guns, a truck (loaded with stolen intel) and one Engineer minifigure. I tried to stay true to TF2's visual aesthetic while also creating a LEGO set that would be fun to build and play with. The exterior has a vaguely industrial-punk chimney with gears and transformers to give it that special "Engineer" flair. 

Detail of gas tank/dispenser

The first level is a 2-car garage containing a Dispenser, a gas can, an extension cord and a key. Redesigns will include a narrower separator between the two levels in order to allow the intel truck to fit more comfortably into the garage.

The second level contains a workshop for the engineer, with a worktable with a lathe, toolchest, and a tank of gas underneath. There are tools on the wall and a shelf with some more oil cans, spare parts, and (of course) a Saxxy trophy.

I included an intel truck (like the one seen in Meet the Engineer) that contains 6 blue intel briefcases. There are 2 level 1 sentries, each capable of rotating 180 degress. Currently the roof contains a hook to allow a sentry to be placed there. A redesign may be used to reduce the piececount (the roof uses a LOT of of it) and to allow for more viable sentry locations on the roof.

Saturday, April 4, 2015

Lego Design: The Operating Theater

I started playing with the Lego Digital Designer recently. As I come up with new builds and MOCs, these will join the list of things I'm sharing. Screwdle has always been a way for me to document the creative projects I'm working on, and this is just another fun extension of that! 

The Operating Theater

The main level of operating theater features an octagonal backdrop, with recessed alcoves for a bust of Hippocrates and a model skeleton. Green walls and medium-brown wainscoting give the design a distinctively Victorian flavor; although the tone isn't quite right, it seemed appropriate that this facility be painted with Scheele's Green paint. If I had to redo it, however, I'd probably try to go for a slightly more medical flavor; white walls with blue or sand green accenting where the wainscoting is. I may still do it; I rely too much on browns and grays. The octagonal walls were perhaps the most difficult part to do right in a digital medium. Getting the walls to line up so that the N/S and E/W facing walls would click onto the pegs and support the hinged wall segment required (if you're curious) one to be at 29.45' and the other to be at 60': using a 30' angle left many of the floor pegs inaccessible

 I'm particularly proud of the bust of Hippocrates, which I'd originally felt should be situated on a shelf in the Dr. Merriwether's office but I had an extra alcove already. Right now a doctor's private office is a low priority, too. I have lots of laboratories I think I'd prefer to build first.

A detail of the medicine cabinet, lamp, and cuckoo-clock on the wall. The lamp is a socket wrench with an ice-skate forming the decorative flourish on top.

The cuckoo clock uses feathers to represent the weights that drive the pendulum mechanism.

A detail of Dr. Merriwether with her patient. In retrospect, a screwdriver makes for a more convincing scalpel than the diving knife I used here, but I don't think there's any piece that makes for a more convincing minifig heart than an upside-down apple.

And last but not least, a detail of the sink, track lighting, and work table.  A scale allows the doctor to measure organs collected during her work.

Wednesday, April 1, 2015

Conspiracy Theory: Aang Fathered All the Airbenders

With respect to Avatar's intended age range, the following blog post may not be one hundred percent appropriate--or interesting--to people of all age ranges. It's also not safe for work, technically. In the sense that you really shouldn't be reading blogs at work about cartoons at work. Unless you're on break. Then you're probably in the clear.

As I have previously stated in this blog, I don't think Katara and Aang were sexually exclusive throughout their lifetime. [Did Aang "Cheat" on Katara] Given Aang's desire to resurrect his culture and preserve the art of airbending, I think it's extremely likely that he had some (possibly with permission) extramarital adventures. As I state in the article above, it takes Aang at least twenty years to father another airbender; something that would presumably be direly frustrating. Even more so when you consider that Tenzin won't have his first child until the age of forty-one, six years after his father's death.

There are other problems, too, of course. Katara can only get pregnant once at at a go. It might take three or four years to genuinely ascertain whether or not a child is an airbender. Women have a finite number of children they can bear: although many of these reports appear apocryphal, the most bountiful women in real life hit like... seventy at MAX, and that's with a woman who is content to just be pregnant all the time, which is a life that's hard to imagine on poor Katara. As a man, however, Aang can father children pretty much as fast as he can woo ladies, and men can remain virile their entire lives (the oldest father in the real world was 96).

No, it seems to me that Aang, the intrepid world traveller, probably tried his hand with lots of ladies. If it seems out-of-character for Aang to subsequently abandon those children and for them to not be discussed by the three children he had by his wife, well, it also seems out of character that Aang would be a distant father. It's possible that he had many children out of wedlock, trying desperately to bear airbenders and failing catastrophically.

Only one airbender is ever born in Aang's lifetime, but then, after his death, four are born in rapid succession, less than ten years apart. And, eighteen years after his death, harmonic convergence and the destruction of Vaatu results in a crop of new airbenders appearing, all over the world.

Who are these airbenders? What do they have in common? From what we can tell, not a lot. However, one of them, Bumi, is the son of Avatar Aang. Could it be that some aspect of harmonic convergence, or Aang himself, wasn't preventing new airbenders from being born, but was preventing them expressing their abilities?

Aang couldn't have fathered everybody that becomes an airbender, of course. Kai is six or seven years Korra's junior, born much too late to have been fathered by Aang, and while Opal COULD be old enough to have been fathered by Aang, we know her parents to be Suyin and Bataar. But could they be more of Aang's grandchildren? Kai is an orphan--with his parents dead before harmonic convergence, there's no way of knowing if they'd have had bending abilities. While this does mean disturbing things for Kai and Jinora's budding relationship (they'd be half-cousins), I'm not even sure it's illegal in the US.

Opal's parent is a little more complicated, since we have some ideas. We don't know Bataar's forebears, so it's possible on that end. However, Grandma Toph is extremely reluctant to share the names of the men she was involved with.. so Opal's grandfather COULD be Aang. I expected Toph would hook p with Sokka, given Toph's apparent crush on him in Season 2 (S2E12, Serpent's Pass), but that's with only a few weeks of history between them. By the time Suyin comes around, Toph and Aang would have nearly three decades of history, and Suyin doesn't become an airbender during harmonic convergence because she's already an earthbender. Suyin is distinct from her sister with her slightly sparklier attitude, possible the result of Aang's bubbly personality.

That would also mean that Zaheer is somehow related to Aang. Given his interest in airbending culture (ruminating as he does on airbender monks long before the Harmonic Convergence grants him bending abilities), it could even be possible that he has some connection to the Air Acolytes prior to joining the Red Lotus Society. While it seems unlikely that he would know that Aang is his ancestor and NOT mention it when he meets half sibling and favorite son Tenzin, it's entirely possible he was born to an Air Acolyte family.


Or maybe I'm reading way too much into this. Hey, do you have some evidence supporting this? Or contradicting it? Say so in the comments! Or, if you're visiting from Reddit, talk about it on the reddit thread. Or, if your'e visiting from Facebook, hi Mom!

Sunday, March 29, 2015

Game Mechanics: 3 Redesign Ideas for the Bioshock Franchise

I spend a lot of time thinking about video games. Thinking about how video games could be different than they are. Not better, just... just different. Not because I think I'm smarter than game designers--no, I realize that I am just a man with a blog. No budgets. No deadlines. No publishers, distributors or fans breathing down my neck for a release date. No design team to tell me my ideas are impossible. No QA team to tell me my dreams crashed the server, froze the engine and killed Ted from accounting. No feasibility, no marketing, just a guy sitting at his unmade bed desk.

So today I sat down, dialed my brain back through the last eight years, and revisited some ideas I had for the Bioshock games. Some of these ideas are original. Some of them are loosely based on concept art or cut content. I'm just thinking.

1) Bioshock 1 & 2: Surviving Humans 
In the Rapture-based Bioshock games, the narrative occasionally suffers when there are supposed to be regular, non-spliced human beings creeping around in Rapture, but you only meet them when they're specifically named in the plot. Rapturites you encounter respond to your presence more or less the same way: violent incoherence and incoherent violence. Seeing some regular people just eking out a living amid the violence would have been radical. It would go a long way to explain how plot-important regular humans lived in the world of these delusional homicidal-types.

Now, this is something that was considered for BS2. There's some cut content that suggests that they had considered it, and when I read about that I thought about how unclear the narrative got occasionally, where non-spliced people were involved. Tanenbaum originally looked like a miscolored Ladysmith splicer, Frank Fontaine looked like Waders. What do you mean, they're regular people? How do I tell? Give me some context!

2) Bioshock 2: Repair missions
This one strikes me as obvious. Delta handles very much like Jack, the silent protagonist of Bioshock, and if you're angry at me for explaining who Jack is, someone asked me that on the Bioshock freaking Subreddit so I guess I need to bloody well explain. Meanwhile, I'm a Big Daddy! Rapture's monstrous, brainwashed custodians. My primary weapon is a rivet gun, which one might reasonably expect I use to rivet things together, but no. The game forgot, apparently! Instead, it's like, "oh no, some ice is preventing this subaquatic train from progressing to the next area. Better find a fire plasmid with which to melt the ice off with. Remember the time you did that in the last game? There was ice and we made you find a fire plasmid? This is, like, exactly like that. Embarrassingly similar, actually. Fortunately it's the only time we reuse a mission. Except for the time when we force you to drop what you're doing and research some splicers for us. And the one where you protect Little Sisters during collection sequences! We made that one a core game mechanic."

 I don't mean to suggest that the game is uncreative. It does expect us to do new things in the story, but the absence of repair missions left the story almost incomplete. I have a rivet gun, and am compelled to make repairs. The first game was a pointed commentary on the fact that gamers have relatively little control over the stories they make happen; forcing a brainwashed character to stop what he's doing and make repairs is a great way to reinforce that message. So please! Make me fix things! Send me out to tighten the rivets on a tunnel, quell the flooding, and let an NPC--one of those humans I mentioned earlier--get somewhere they need to go!

3) Bioshock Infinite: Improving Vigors
Clash in the Clouds was a CHORE for me, because BSI's combat is so squiggly. Vigors aren't terribly valuable or fun; many of them feature arbitrary, cruel limitations (charge can only be used while targeting an enemy? Why?) and without EVE hypos they're too expensive. I get why you don't necessarily want us to carry medkits, but EVE hypos are just specialized ammo..

The skylines were fun but too often the unreliable hitboxes (compounded by my own terrible aim) meant that an A-button press that should have turned me into a blood-streaked comet actually featured me hopping up and down ineffectually, waving my arms like a toddler eager to be carried. Often I found myself trying to jump to a barge or ledge, only to give a gentle bunnyhop, because the SUPER jump is only available when you're looking at the correct pixel on the rail. What I'm trying to say is that I hated the contextual controls.

A handful of vigors should have had advanced movement options in place of traps, the kind you see in competitive shooters like TF2. What if the Return to Sender projectile, fully charged, was also a grabbing point for the Sky Hook? Let me use Bucking Bronco to rocket-jump. Murder of Crows? While I'm using that, let me glide for a moment while I look for somebody to goomba-stomp. Single-use teleporter projectiles would have been neat, like the kind we saw in Plants Versus Zombies: Garden Warfare.  And let me use Charge any time I want!