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September 15th, 2013

September '13 happenings

What am I working on right now?

Lots of things at once, as usual. Arguably the most boring is the first pass of optimization. In order to get the game 'trailer-worthy' we had a mad crunch, working day and night to get the levels shown there to almost 'shippable' state. This means we have enough content for benchmarking and optimization purposes and that's what I'm doing right now.

This first pass of optimizations is far from final and consists mostly of house-cleaning; Now that we have nice, feature-ready slice of gameplay we can determine what parts of the old TAGAP engine are still necessary and what can be thrown out. Most of this non-used, obsolete code doesn't interfere with performance or anything, but if left un-weeded, they can cause problems down the line.

On more interesting note, I'm just finishing another level. This is a continuation to the forest level seen in the trailer; Aesthetically it continues more or less the same, but there's a gameplay twist that makes it feel very different. I already mentioned cybernetic killer plants in my previous post, so expect to see those – and saying more would be spoilers! The level is almost done, all it needs is some fine-tuned enemy placement and automap scripting.

And finally, I worked on the AI. Now more than ever, actually, you can call the enemy behaviour an AI, as the new, complex and multi-staged level layouts required some actual navigational routines. TAGAP and TAGAP 3 were simpler in terms of design and thus we could get away with very rough code – like if player is to the left, move left. As example, flying entities now lower themselves in order to fly through doorways while the long-legged robot seen in the trailer can, too, squeeze itself through a corridor. Don't get me wrong; Proper bot-level AI this is not, but it's far more responsive and reactive than before. And all without scripting or adding AI waypoints, I might add.

Gaming front

It's been months since the last 'gaming front' update – and since most games these days are less than 8 hours long, I've covered a lot of ground with my backlog. To sum up, I finished Saints Row The Third and all the DLC, survived the zombie invasion in Dead Rising 2: Off the Record, bunny-hopped around some demons in Painkiller: Hell & Redemption, witnessed a pregnancy of a ghost girl in F3AR and tried my life as an immortal in NeverDead. So much for backlog, though, as right now I'm sneaking around unsuspecting evil-doers in Splinter Cell: Blacklist, the super-power-infused Saints Row IV is waiting in line and Grand Theft Auto V is just around the corner!

Most of the games were good, with a couple of brilliant highlights and a few disappointments. Saints Row The Third, which I had just started at time of the previous 'gaming front', was a blast. It had some issues, but considering the publisher THQ was literary on the doorstep of a bankruptcy at the time, I'm pretty sure majority of issues and holes in the content were down to plain old lack of money and/or time. That doesn't seem to trouble Saints Row IV though, and it looks like the Crackdown sequel I always wanted but never got. I can't wait!

But since I play only one big game at a time – in order to keep the experience as much like whole as possible – it'll have to wait until I finish Blacklist. I'm several missions in and so far it feels pretty darn good. Even though the initial reveal made the game look like an action-focused takedown game, it is not; It's stealth game through and through. But unlike some of the older stealth games that were basically puzzles with only one valid solution, here you can approach the situation the way you want. Lethal or non-lethal, aggressive, sneaky or adaptive – it's all good. In this regard it reminds me of Deus Ex series, allowing you to find your own play style. Hopefully the game stays like that to the end, but so far I've liked it.

Considering the slow pace of stealth games, I might be still playing Splinter Cell when GTAV lands. I might actually pick that as my next title, if that happens, not because I consider Saints Row a lesser game, but because of the heavy story focus of GTA series; Sooner I get that finished, lesser the change some bastard spoils the story for me on the Interwebs.

Crowdfunding happenings

Kickstarter goes on and a slew of new penguin projects have appeared. Everyone knows I love penguins and wholeheartedly support the concept of crowd-funding entertainment and design, so when the two collide, I just have to point them out. If you don't want to hear about penguin-themed Kickstarter happenings, just skip this part of the blog. And if it pisses you off to extra extend, let me know – I know not everyone necessarily shares my excitement for this kind of thing :)

  • The Penguin Counters, Documentary Film by Harriet Gordon & Peter Getzels

    A documentary film focusing on penguins, following the folks who have the best goddamn job in the universe; Counting the penguin population in the Antarctic. The focus of the film is on how the penguins underline the climate change by showing clear signs of both adapting to and having troubles in the constantly-warming-world. It's both a darn shame and kind-of lucky that I don't have 8500 USD at hand; That would get you to join the penguin counters on their expedition.

  • PENGUEMIC - Word Domination by LearnDistrict Inc.

    Half tactical combat game, half vocabulary-extending edutainment, Penguemic is a videogame starring adorable penguins graving for world domination through... words! Interesting concept, lovable characters, plenty of charisma and support for wide range of platforms from desktops to tablets, this looks like fun. Plus the pledge reward tiers have plenty of penguin collectibles, so I'm hooked.

  • The Adventures of Super Penguin by Sam Keenan

    Not too dissimilar to a project I once planned, years before TAGAP even started, The Adventures of Super Penguin is a comic book starring a crime-fighting plush-toy penguin Agete. Being semi-biographical, the story is inspired by the author's daughter and her favourite plush toy penguin, while mixing it with cartoon fantasy. This one is available both digitally and in print, either one issue at a time or in a collected omnibus edition, once all issues have been published.

Doctor Who casting extravaganza!

And I wouldn't be a Doctor Who fan if I didn't sound off on the matter of The 12th Doctor. Now we know that the possibly-last Doctor will be played by Peter Capaldi. Possibly last, as it was established aeons ago that the Time Lords have 12 regenerations – 13 lives – and given Tennant regenerated twice (first resulting the half-human copy), the number is up.

So what do I think of the casting? Brilliant! I'm not going to lie, Capaldi was not on my personal short-list, mostly because I had already written him off for already playing a major role in this universe as the 'other' Frobisher in Torchwood: Children of Earth. But not only is Capaldi a great actor with plenty of charisma and great sense for both drama and comedy, he also seems to be a huge fan of the series. Like, fan-author huge, as media has uncovered his fan origins dating back to the Tom Baker days, revealing fan letters to Radio Times as well as articles to fanzines. So, unlike with the previous well-known serious actor in the role, Capaldi is well aware of what he is getting into. While I'm in no hurry to see Matt Smith go, on the contrary, I also can't wait to see Capaldi owning the role.

By the way, Capaldi isn't the only Doctor Who casting news that got me excited. Big Finish recently announced that Juliet Landau will be appearing as the next Romana in their audios. She will start next yeaer with Luna Romana, a special in the Companion Chronicles range, where she will be appearing alongside the Second Romana Lalla Ward. I really hope the play is a success, as this casting is just perfect! Landau's Romana as the third TARDIS passenger in Dark Eyes III – make it happen, Mr. Briggs!

In case you don't know of Juliet Landau or Romana; Romana is a Time Lady from Gallifrey who was put into Doctor's TARDIS as his assistant more or less against the will of either party, but as these things go, they grew to trust each other and went on to have many adventures. As a Time Lady she can obviously regenerate and in the show we saw two of her incarnations – played by the late-and-great Mary Tamm and aforementioned Lalla Ward. Juliet Landau, on the other hand, is a great actress known both in VO world and on screen. While she is best known as the delightfully insane vampire Drusilla from Buffy the Vampire Slayer and Angel, every gamer everywhere must remember her most legendary voice role; The eerie Little Sisters of the first BioShock.

So, the good old Type 40 TARDIS is in good hands and the future looks bright.

And that was that for now. Now that turned out long, I'd better ramp up the frequency of these things or the next one will end up a novel.

Until next time,

Jouni Lahtinen, the head penguin