Gaming, A Layman’s View Part 3

Fist off before I look at the history, I must apologize to those who are console gamers, since I am not. Much of what I am writing here has to do with PC gaming. So if you are wanting to see something on consoles you must look elsewhere.

While gaming on computers can be traced back to a lab where Pong was invented and played, followed by small computers that you could build and personally program, to include games, it wasn’t until IBM started releasing the first Personal Computers, running on DOS (Disk Operating System), with a small hard drive, that gaming truly began. These machines were wimpy, and quite expensive, but for the first time anyone who had the money, time, and a willingness to learn the DOS commands, could own a computer. Most originally were purchased for businesses, and business software dominated, as expected. Yet most of this software did not push the systems, and even though as time passed, and the PC’s became more popular, there had been little or no reason to upgrade.

Then games began to proliferate, mostly through the channel of “share ware”. Share ware meaning that you got a chance to try the software before purchasing. These small games usually were on 5 1/4 inch disks originally, but then moved to the 3 1/2 inch disks later. When you consider the size of a modern game, these early games wouldn’t even make up a single file, since these disks held respectively 1.2 megs, and 1.44 megs, and the whole game rested there, albite compressed. Most computers at the time only had a tiny speaker that was part of the unit, and sound cards were nonexistent, RAM sat at 2 megs, and hard drives were around 40 megs or less. RAM at this time sat directly on the Motherboard, and while modern computers place RAM directly on the motherboard the method then and now were completely different. To increase the RAM on those early systems, you had to buy an above-board card, then purchase RAM in 256 bit chips, set the jumpers so that both the motherboard and DOS knew what type of RAM it was seeing, and hope it all worked. Later as PC’s improved the standard configuration included 4 megs of RAM. Very rarely would you find a system with more. RAM was prohibitively expensive, and hard drives also fell into this category of expensive, thusly even a bottom of the line system would run into the $1000’s.

Duke Nukem, Jill of the Jungle, Commander Keen, Cosmos. all got their start at this time, all as share ware, and all were side scrollers. Apogee software was distributing much of this early stuff. They distributed games from Id software, which is still operating today, and this company was the creator of the FPS. Eventually a company called Origin, that operated out of Texas created a space combat game called Wing Commander. This series ended up with 5 separate games in the Wing Commander Universe, plus expansions. This company was also responsible for the first game that started the MMO revolution. This game was Ultima, and was as popular as Wing Commander, and was an RPG. Alas Origin is no more, and the innovative games they created are gone.

Wing Commander was important if for no other reason, that when another game was released, it required the gamers to upgrade their systems. Each game pushed the capabilities of the Computers, bring forth improved Sound Cards, faster CPU’s, and better Graphic Cards. Yet if you look at the full size of Wing Commander 2, it took up less than 30 megs of space on your hard drive. Compare that with some of the modern games that take upwards of 16 gigs. When you played these games you had to learn how to manipulate your operating system. And this required creating a boot disk which included the autoexec.bat, and config.sys. Because DOS allocated RAM in certain ways, games such as Wing Commander required all the RAM that DOS allocated. So the boot disk was necessary so you could squeeze every bit out of it for use of the game. Wing Commander became so popular that it showed up in a couple of commercials on TV for PC’s. Wing Commander also used branching trees in their game, while almost all games, other than RPG’s, are linear, meaning go from point “A” to point “B”, and so on and so on. Branching allowed the actions the player performed to change direction, like in life, and the outcome at the end of the game could be different each time one played. The other big game they produced started another revolution in gaming. Ultimate introduced a dynamic game world. Up until this time most game worlds were static, meaning that if you left an area of the map, and then returned later nothing would have changed. This dynamic world would continue to operate even when the player was not at any certain point on the map. It functioned more like the real world. This type of world eventually existed in the Wing Commander Universe also. Just a sidenote here, most console games had static environments until the consoles themselves became powerful enough to sustain dynamic worlds.

Another company that began a very successful franchise was Westwood. They were the original creators of The Command and Conquer Universe, and like Origin are no longer around. They were one of the early adopters of RTS, and up until that time most of the Strategy games were turn based. (Oh just a fact, EA was responsible for closing both of these successful companies down.) One last thing to mention, gaming at the beginning was all single player. Networks only existed in business, and college, and dial-up only connected to message boards where you could post messages. The World Wide Web did not exist, as well as email. With modems running at 12 baud one could not expect a game to run very well, if at all. It wasn’t until the internet, and broadband that finally multiplayer gaming could become a reality, and as time passed eventually the true MMO’s emerged.

In 1995 Windows became available. It was originally built on top of DOS, and had its problems, which many may say that it still does. But it brought a stable platform for gaming to build from, and now with gaming being a multi-billion dollar industry world-wide, with continual growth, it probably will be with us in one form or another, until the Holodeck from Star Trek becomes a reality and like this article is considering the world of DOS, then today and today’s systems will be looked at as the bad old days of early, primitive gaming.

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Published in: on January 28, 2012 at 8:54 am  Leave a Comment  
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Gaming, A Layman’s View Part 2

This week I want to look at the basic genres within the hard-core gaming world. There are others out there, and I am sure that there are those who might complain a little because their favorite may be missing from this list. As in life there are no 2 people alike, and there are no 2 gamers that are alike either. This led to the development over time of different styles of games and game play, and as time passed with gaming becoming more popular, different categories were developed.

Like every other medium out there, gaming was attacked as the work of evil, that leads our children astray. It is responsible for crime, murder, and all sorts of mayhem. If this sounds familiar, look back in your history and check out comic books, and you will see a familiar pattern develop. Then the cry was comic books were corrupting our children leading them away from what is right and good! In all of these cases, with no true facts to back them, and only riding on the roller coaster of emotion the cry was, “There needs to be a law to ban, to control . . .” And in all of these mentioned examples the media that was under attack, came before congress for congress to do just that. Of course comic books were not the only media to face these attacks in the past, but is one that is easy to research. Fortunately cooler heads prevailed and we still have our graphic novels, comic books, and digital gaming.

Now if you are new to gaming then what I state below may help you in deciding what to try. But remember this, if you enter a multiplayer game where you have no experience, then expect to lose heavily, and be called all sorts of things. “Noob!”, is probably one of the least offensive terms you will hear. But don’t let it bother you, as in all things there are people (peeps), and more so on the net, that seem to want to make it difficult for any and all who want to try their hand at something new. Mostly they forget, and many times they are around 12 years old, that at one time they were “noobs” also. “Noob”, is a shortened version of “newby”, or new to the game and one who doesn’t know anything. Now let’s get to it.

Action: As the name suggests, any action you perform in the world has direct consequences. And as the genre has matured, the environment has become destructible, so one can see more results from the actions you, as your avatar, do. Here there are two main sub-genres, FPS, and Third Person. FPS stands for First Person Shooter, and is set up to make it appear that you are the one walking through the environment, just as you do in life. An example of this is the one that in the end defined the genre, and that was Half Life. Third person is an over the shoulder view, and an example of this would be Gears of War. In this genre hand-eye coordination is critical. Just a thought here, and I feel an important one – I have found that by playing these games that in real life you can recognize things developing much quicker, thusly responding much faster. An example for me, I was driving home on a 2-lane backcountry road, and some one passed into me. I saw it developing and reacted very fast, and avoided a possible collision.

Adventure: Many hard-core gamers do not consider this to be worthy. It is less frantic, and more casual in its approach. These games usually deal with some kind of mystery or horror that must be solved. The action is based on finding clues within the scenes and solving puzzles to move the story along. The Syberia series is an example of this genre.

MMO: Massive Multiplayer Online. WOW (World of Warcraft), and Everquest are the 2 biggies out there. Based on the RPG genre (which I define further down), they allow players from all over the world the interact, battle, form guilds, and such. While it is about gaming, it is also about social interaction between the players. It is one of the influences that has helped in shrinking the real world. Instantly one can talk and game with anybody from almost anywhere in the world.

RPG: Role Playing Game. Almost all MMO’s are role-playing games. Unlike an Action game, you choose at the beginning what your character will be. Many allow you to even create the way your avatar will look to everyone else within the game world. Most often they are based on fantasy, and are in the 3rd person. In this genre, you are playing a role. And while it appears that damage is being done to an enemy with the actions being presented, if one looks at the time of the strike, whether it is a cast spell, or a weapon strike, you see negative numbers roll off of the target. These represent hit points, and are determined by the level, experience, and the power of the weapon being used. Experience points are called XP. As an avatar in the game you have a health bar which allows you to see what condition you are in. Then there is a power bar which in some games requires mana to recharge, others it will slowly recharge over time. This bar provides the energy necessary to cast a spell, or to add power to a strike. Through a complicated system within the engine that runs the game, this back and forth will eventually kill either the enemy, or you. The game thrives on quests, and is usually an open world. Meaning that you can go almost anywhere you want to explore. In RPG’s you have real-time, and turn based games. An example of real-time would be Elder Scrolls, and an example of turn based would be the Final Fantasy series.

Simulation: This is where the real truly hard-core gamers exist. They demand realism in their games, and usually have the peripheral equipment that simulates the real thing. Most often found in military style games, and especially flight games, the only thing missing is the feel of the “G’s”, as they take their fighter into a tight turn to face an enemy. A couple of games that fit this category is Janes, and MS Flight Simulator. Although most of the MS Flight Simulators deal with private aircraft, and only the expansions have the military fighters.

Sports: This genre covers all the popular sports out there giving sports fans a chance to either play as a member of a team, or to manage a team.

Strategy: This genre is an over the top view. In these games you must build, collect resources, manage and protect your bases, build your defensive and offensive weapons, seek out the enemy and use your strategy to defeat them. Here you control all your forces as a general might, but unlike a general, you have the view of the battle field. Although the enemy can enter the map from beyond what you can see, they as you are limited by what they control, how much resources they can gather, and then the manufacture and deployment of the weapons. Again in this genre there are two types, RTS, Real Time Strategy, and Turn Based. Turn Based simply means you take a turn, and I take a turn – very popular when computers were underpowered. Turn Based strategy is almost dead and gone, for obvious reasons, and the RTS has become king. The Command and Conquer Series is one of the best known and is a RTS.

The last I am talking about this week has to do with the blending of certain genres which may lead to a creation of a new genre. What we are beginning to see is the blending of the FPS, and the RPG, taking elements from both and creating a fresh view and play. Examples of games that are doing this are: Borderlands, and Fallout 3.

In the last part of this article we will look back at a bit of history, returning to the bad old days of DOS.

Published in: on January 21, 2012 at 8:38 am  Leave a Comment  
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A Touch of the Past, Present, Future

Originally I had planned on posting part 2 of my 3 part article on gaming. But I realized that on Monday we will be celebrating the birth of a man who has played a great part in the elimination of discrimination. This blog will not be covering him or any part of what he accomplished. I am sure that there will be plenty of articles out there that will do justice to the man and his legacy. Instead I want to look at a bigger picture, and while much of what I write is opinion, and personal views, I feel that there is truth to what I am stating.

If one first looks at history, the one thing that becomes obvious is that all races have had their share of slavery. Unfortunately in parts of the modern world slavery is still legal, and very real. No race can claim that they were unique in either owning slaves or being slaves. This is a sad statement to realize that it is true, and that slave trafficking is still alive and well. And with this comes discrimination that has existed since the beginning of time. Again no race has escaped both sides of this coin. Yet if one looks at this discrimination and the negativity it leaves on all of us, is there a specific class of people who have been consistently discriminated against, abused, and have been made slaves? Again the answer is yes. And if you want the answer, it, simply stated, is women.

There is no time in written history where this has not been true. In the time of the Bible women were property, and treated as such. The animals that the men owned at times were more valuable than a woman. And with no rights women had to submit themselves to the whims of the men of that time. I guess the question to ask is this, has it changed? Again the answer is not so easy. In the Western Civilization, it gives the appearance to have changed. Yet once again if you look closer, you see abuse, molestation, rape, and the overall lack of protection for women.

If we look to the Middle-East we find that what was existing in the 6th century still exists there  today. A hundred years from now, they will still be fighting and killing each other, as they have for the last few thousand years. Women once again are slaves and property with no rights all. Here slavery is still practiced and is still legal, with women being a major part of this trade. So can we as a civilization be proud of our accomplishments when we still have this abuse, subjugation, and slavery? Again sometime in the future when this era is looked back upon, then our future ancestors will make that judgment.

As a second area of discrimination, I am finding that the Socialists are beginning to control much of our government, be it city, county, or country. And as they always do, they start administering Social Justice to a class of people that they can take advantage of, forcing them to have to depend on the government for survival. At one time it was known as the west coast, but now has become known as the left coast. I have watched as a county government has taken away the rights of citizens who live in the backcountry. Taking away their rights to earn a living from their land, to threaten to add a surtax on their properties, and refusing them the right to build on their own lands. Demanding without putting the measure before the people that they are limited in all things to what they can and cannot do with their property. It has gotten so bad, that unless you own 40 acres you cannot improve your land at all. Of course, taxes are still due, but don’t you dare build, because we have the law we created and we will not allow it.

Now I know some think out there, that this is something I just cannot know anything about, and that I am just venting and going off half-cocked. To those people, I  would smile, then state, that at one time our 41 acre family property  had 3 family homes which were  destroyed by a wildfire, along with 10 other families who lived on the mountain. With the meetings that followed, there were promises from the county board of supervisors that if the homes were there before the fires, they could be replaced. This was a lie, as many homes including 2 of ours were never allowed to be replaced. They began shouting laws that limited what we could and could not do with our 41 acres, and that was 9 years ago. Since then they have increased the pressure on any who live in the backcountry with additional restricting laws – laws that will eventually force the ones who live there out of their homes. Yes, Social Justice at its finest.

In a way I apologize for this post, since I stated that I would attempt to keep politics and such out of my blog. There are plenty out there that push their own agendas, and I am really trying to avoid such things. Yet, this has weighed heavily on me for a while, and finally I felt the need to put it in words. I know that this week was supposed to be part 2 of the gaming series, and I promise that next week that part 2 will be posted.

Published in: on January 14, 2012 at 9:50 am  Leave a Comment  
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Gaming, A Layman’s View Part 1

For many out there, understanding gaming is very difficult. In this multi-part article I want to first look at games from what transpires on the screen, and how it comes about, followed by part 2 where we look at the genres within the gaming world. Here I will be using and defining terms so that a basic understanding will emerge. Remember that the ones who create these worlds are always trying to balance game play, the environment within the game world, with the computing power available in both the CPU, and Video Card, and insuring that the gamers can have a great experience within these fictional worlds. So in this first of three parts, we will look at maps.

When you look at the world that the gamer is participating in, this present area is called a map. These maps can be large or small, and usually when a loading screen is reached, then the player is being moved from one map to another. Within the map exists all the terrain, buildings, trees, plants, and whatever will remain consistent within that world. To make this map work, there is a number of things that has to happen. First off let me say, that one cannot depend on what you know about the real world to create the maps within the games. After all a computer doesn’t have any idea what laws dictate the real world. The computer will only do as it is told. So if the program says that trees must grow from the sky, then that is what it will present. So here is the basic list.

Let’s look at collision. Now when most of us think of collision it is traffic accidents, running into something or someone, or having something fall on us. In the game world collision has to do with anything the avatar (your in-game character) makes contact with. If collision is not there, this in-game character will be able to walk through a solid wall, and fall through the floor or ground. If this has been programmed poorly, then falling through the ground, which has happened to me in the multiplayer maps in Halo, or getting stuck in an object and not being able to get out can easily be the result, as in the game Gears of War.

Remembering that each area that one inhabits within a game is a separate map, then the programmer has to make sure that the player stays within the map boundaries, but at times there are places within the map that are also blocked. This task is normally handled by walls. These walls are usually set up along the perimeter so that one cannot get outside of the map world. Some companies do a great job of blocking and others leave gaps that can be found. The nice thing about the software used to create these walls, is that they  start out visible, and then are made invisible after the walls have been checked. In the first STALKER game, the company did not do a very good job, and I have been able to get outside of 50% of the maps. I was also able to get outside of one map in Fallout 3, and the demonstration map Lost Coast.

Now why would leaving  the map world be so important? A very good question, and the answer for me is simple. From there you can see how the map was created, and once outside you can normally walk around the whole map and view it from the outside in. One of my favorite things in these games is exploring. I love to find what the creators have placed in their fictional worlds. But once outside you can see the shortcuts that the programmers took, more to conserve CPU power than shortcuts to speed the process. After explaining the next subject I will revisit this.

Eye candy! What the heck is eye candy? Simply stated it is the visuals that one sees within the game environment. But just because you can see it or touch it, does not mean you can interact with it. This item or object can be there to help make the scene as real as it needs to be, and this includes areas that are off the official map playing area. After all, if you are in a forest and looking out into the distance, then you expect to see it continue even beyond the playing area. If it just ended at that point then there would be an obvious end, and break the immersion within this world. Eye candy is what makes the world “sweet” to the eye, just like candy is to one’s taste.

Now I will revisit exiting the official area of the map. Here you can see much of what is used to create the map world. One of the first things you find is that collision is turned off. So if you were to try to walk across an obvious bridge you would simply fall. You then find that many objects out in this area are 2 dimensional sprites, and many times are not even anchored to the ground. But from within the game world you cannot see this. The buildings that may sit out in these areas only have walls that are visible from the game world itself. If you look at them from an angle that would not be visible from there, they simply disappear, cease to exist, and yes, they are 2 dimensional, with collision turned off. And those large piles of rubble of a collapsed building – from the other side is just a hollow area, like when you used clay as a child to make an impression of something. Again all of this is done for efficiency and keeping the frame rate up. After all, no one wants a slide show. “Got to conserve wherever one can.” Then when get beyond what could be seen from the map world you run into the mesh that the map is built upon. A flat plain, that in some maps has collision, and in others none. Here you can see where water areas just end, or in others a gray area leaving one feel that they are standing on the edge of a great abyss. Yet the weather effects, time passing, and even the NPC’s (Non Playing Character), continue to roll in from beyond this map world. And according to where you are standing outside of the map, as an example, you can see a solid hill with houses built on it, and then by moving the hill completely disappears, and the houses are now floating in the sky with nothing supporting them.

So if you look at it, when a map has problems, then the game will have problems. Of course you can say that for any portion of a game. Yet the map is the world, and everything within the game must use that map, and it is from here that all things within the game happen. Of course there is much more that goes into maps, but here I am just wanting to give an overview, and a brief understanding of a game world map. I have no plans on getting into the actual programming of games, since each genre has its own set of problems. Next week we will move on to part 2, and look at the different types of game play that is out there.

Published in: on January 7, 2012 at 8:31 am  Leave a Comment  
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