Tuesday, 24 March 2015

Ransistor - Episode 4 - Processing

I quite like the function system, at least for now the extra backstory unlocked by swapping them around has me constantly reevaluating and trying out new power combinations. I am sure I will settle on a stable set at some point in the future but for now it seems to be fulfilling its purpose.

I am looking forward to getting a bit more memory so I can use more functions at the same time, it can't be too far off because I am already constantly hitting the limit without being able to fill most of my slots.

I was also pleasantly surprised that the little tests in the sandbox were faster and less painful than the equivalents were in Bastion, again at least for now. They give me a nice little buzz of satisfaction but don't feel like they are pulling me away from the main story for too long.

Sunday, 22 March 2015

Ransistor - Episode 3 - Taking_A_break.exe

We have our stronghold now, our home away from home, our bastion if you will. In keeping with the approach from Bastion we get little side tasks in the form of time trials and undoubtedly other trials that will test my ability with different elements of the game.

It is kind of neat to have it, but I am not sure it fits thematically. Red just doesn't seem like the kind of hero to sit back and relax while she has a job to do and the city seems to be being converted without her. It made a lot more sense in Bastion because story wise it was structured as the hub you strike out from and return to. Here the sandbox is just the kind of place you seem to run across entrances to periodically as a chance to take a break.

Saturday, 21 March 2015

Ransistor - Episode 2 - Headline Performance

Sorry for falling behind on these posts, been a bit ill this week.

Today's episode has the first boss fight of the game and I think it is a pretty interesting one in that it feels like it is intentionally unfairly long. Every time you take the boss down she immediately regenerates tougher and with more friends. It seems to me that the designers want the player to run out of health at least once in this fight so they can introduce the equivalent of lives.

Basically whenever you run out of health one of your active functions blows out and is unusable until you have visited a few more access terminals, so your options and abilities are further restricted. Enemies are not reset so you do get to keep pushing on, but you feel restricted and damaged. I like it conceptually, though I do have some reservations because I have a tendency to have only 1 or 2 damage dealing functions active at a time and I could see myself losing both of those first and then literally having no option other than to throw the remaining lives away.

It will be interesting to see how I feel about it later in the game when presumably I will encounter that state much more often.

Tuesday, 17 March 2015

Ransistor - Episode 1 - Hello World

This week kicks off a lets play, this time Transistor where I take the reins of Red and her mysterious sword. This is the latest title from Supergiant games, the same folks who made Bastion and it is another action RPG with a smooth voiced narrator.

This time however it is not set in a mysterious post apocalypse in the sky, instead it is in some kind of strange virtual world and it features an interesting hybrid real time and turn based combat system along with a slot based weapon and upgrade system. It will be interesting to see how long it takes to get used to them.

Already really enjoying the art and atmosphere. I have gone into this game hoping to have an interesting setting and story to explore, hopefully Transistor will deliver.

Monday, 16 March 2015

Ranneko Plays The Collider

The Collider was a fun little palette cleanser, I guess it would count as an infinite runner and it was made by Shortbreak studios.

The aim of the game is to thread the needle for as long as possible, as you get faster and faster, you collect coins as you go and the only way to spend them is to let you recover from a crash. I noticed it because a friend on twitter compared it to Super Hexagon and I can see what they mean, but it just doesn't quite hit the same notes for me.

I can definitely see that it likes to use patterns, but unlike Super Hexagon you just can't see them until you are already part way through and it means it feels much more like a raw reaction test rather than also building on pattern recognition.

I did have fun with it and will definitely be popping back to it every so often if I need a quick distraction but it isn't going to hold me the same way.

Sunday, 15 March 2015

The Ideal Support Interaction

When applying for support roles you see some questions crop quite frequently, the exact forms differ, but the general concepts remain the same. I figure here is as good a place as any to try to expand upon my answers and make sure I am providing useful information.

The first one is "What is an example of an ideal support interaction?"

In my view the absolute ideal support is invisible.

Ideal support is the result of a system where the customer never needs or wants to contact support because the design of the product and the resources available to provide help are all so good and useful that it simply never occurs to the customer to contact support as they can quickly and easily fix their own problems.

This is a pretty tall order, it means that the design that is intuitive enough that users can always find the functions they want quickly and easily, but also a design where mistakes are difficult to make and easy to recover from. It also would somehow need to be immune to abuse and misuse.

The help functions would need to always be present, relevant, up to date and useful, covering both common and extremely unusual use cases. Ideally the help would be proactive in surfacing information that users might find useful, especially during the set up phase, where you need good on-boarding tools to ensure that your users get everything up and running quickly and easily.

This is especially tricky both because you don't want to create a new version of clippy and also keeping help resources up to date is difficult in even at the best of times. Documentation is one of the less interesting tasks on any project and most web start ups really like to advertise a fast evolving improving product, which means existing help files go out of date even faster.

So what can you do to move towards this kind of support? Look closely at your on-boarding process, make sure you have tools in place to help people get set up, pay close attention to the kinds of issues your customers contact support over and ensure your help documents keep up to date.

Finally make sure that the reason why people don't contact support is because they don't need to, not because the support experience is bad or that finding how to contact support is difficult.

In the next post for this series I will talk about what I think makes for a good support interaction, because at some point some users will or at least should contact support for help.

What do you think? What makes for an ideal support interaction?

Friday, 13 March 2015

There Came An Echo / Episode 6 / End Simulation

And so we hit the end. An ending I would definitely class as unexpected. It basically comes out of left field in order to answer the last remaining questions. I can't say it is one I thought was particularly cool, which is a pity because as you can see in my last post I was really having fun riffing on some of the ideas introduced in the tower. Ultimately I think I was way more interested in exploring them than the game was.

There Came An Echo does achieve the primary hook, it is a tactics game that can be fully controlled with your voice. It still missed enough that I got frustrated at times, but not to a point where it was unplayable, and I am not sure if some of those instances weren't just bugs.

That said, the voice control limits it in unusual ways, your squad size has to be manageable, the battlefield has to be split up into predefined points, your limited squad size results in smaller enemy confrontations and the vocabulary you can use is limited and definable. You can really see the trade offs they had to make for this to all work and the end result is mostly novelty. The best system to come from this is the Mark system. I actually really want to be able to use it in other real time games. To be able to queue up a bunch of different orders to be executed at one specific time in the future.

Being able to set a single mark is useful enough, but being able to have multiple marks means you can try to set up contingencies a thing I am pretty bad at handling in these kinds of games. All you need is a bit of prep time to get it all going.

The art, animation and voice acting all tie together really well, soldiers even stick their guns out of of their shields when threatening people. The writing up until the end was also good enough, they answered questions at similar times to when I asked them, characters mostly acted in a believable manner and no one was particularly one sided.

Then we get that ending followed the best video game credits sequence I have ever seen, though admittedly one that could never be done by a AAA studio.

Overall really happy with having backed There Came An Echo, I am glad it exists and that Iridium are building new and interesting games.

It is available over on Steam right now and I believe is also coming out on consoles at some point in the future.

Tuesday, 10 March 2015

There Came An Echo / Episode 5 / Activating Override

This mission was surprisingly frustrating to complete. Some of it was because it checkpointed badly on my first attempt, some of it was that my voice commands were not reliably understood and acted upon and some of it was that I did not know how to skip the starting cut scene.

Thank goodness that it is over though, it was frustrating enough that I quit out and had to come back to it later.

The point I tried to talk about a few times in the video, but didn't quite get to was the potential uses of some of the technology mentioned so far, even without the ability to print out and download minds into fresh bodies.

The game already explicitly has the ability to upload and store people's conciousness, and to put said consciousnesses into sims, the potential uses both ethical and unethical are amazing.

Imagine if when you joined a company, they reserved the right to make a copy of your conciousness for consultation in the future. You build something for them and it breaks down after you left? No problem, boot up the old copy and ask them about it.

The uses for spying and security are also pretty obvious too, if you have captured someone, you can scan them and then interrogate the digital copy, multiple copies in fact, in parallel, Check each copies answers against each other to try to eliminate lies and the physical version of the prisoner never even gets to learn the questions asked of them.

In fact the potential mix of permanence and impermanence could also be pretty cool and creepy to explore. Imagine an artist who makes a deal for immortality, when her work is purchased a copy of her conciousness is made and sent along side so that whenever it is shown the viewers can question the artist herself.

Assuming that they just reset it at the end of the day, to the these copies of the artist every showing is the first since the purchase, the grand opening. To him there is no difference between the first showing and the last, every past showing makes no impact or impression because they literally were not experienced by him once the power goes off at the end of the day.

How does the original react to this? Does she regret it in later years? How would the staff react at a museum or gallery? To this person who they are increasingly familiar with, but is incapable of growing to know them?

There Came An Echo really isn't interested in exploring these questions which is totally fair enough, but I certainly am.

Monday, 9 March 2015

There Came An Echo / Episode 4 / Merciful Miranda

So many reveals in this episode, enough that I want to be pretty careful about what I write here because I don't want to give away spoilers to people reading the snippet of description that will go up on Google+.

But I think the most important thing revealed is that The Tower both has the capability of growing new bodies, back up minds and put virtual minds into simulations. So yes, they have very expensive functional immortality, original gets into an accident, print out a new copy, lose at most a couple of weeks experience.

Who wouldn't be interested in this? Imagine if you no longer needed to be worried about the head of a government being assassinated. You just back up the president regularly and before every public appearance.

No wonder Farrick wants to get her hands on it, I am frankly surprised The Tower ever lost its funding with capabilities like that.

Friday, 6 March 2015

There Came An Echo / Episode 3 / Slyly Syll

I really enjoyed the turret defence mission in this episode, it was pretty straightforward and at the difficulty level I was playing I'm frankly not sure I could have lost too badly, but it was so much fun literally telling mines to explode to take out a squad of mooks.

That said, I am having a surprising amount of trouble getting Syll and Grace to listen to me, I guess the accent model for AU doesn't quite match with how I pronounce those words, I definitely need to look into defining more custom commands because I suspect that may help me avoid that issue in future.

Tuesday, 3 March 2015

There Came An Echo / Episode Two / Graceful When Angry

Bugs happen, but it is always unfortunate when you run into one that blocks progression. Even temporarily. I am in general pretty averse to playing the same thing over, at least in story focused games.

I really like the mark system, I love being able to set up a bunch of orders ahead of time and then trigger them and see my whole group work as one. I kind of want to see it as a feature in other tactical games though I guess it only works if they are also real time.

I probably should try setting some up marks for weapon configurations and retreats too. It is good that you tend to have a quiet period before fights so you actually can take advantage of the mark system, setting it up during a fight seems like it is a path fraught with peril.