Thursday, January 31, 2013

Dead Space 3 demo, Addendum

I just realized I forgot to make one major point which was the parts based crafting system.  They've touted the hell out of it and it's not as confusing as I was worried it would be.  It's generally pretty sensible and is just customizable enough to be unique and cool.  I'm sure it will be a bit more daunting in practice when they don't front load you with a lot of resources but it makes a lot more sense than the blue print/store system from earlier games.  I had always wondered in that situation 1)  Why they would even sell vital supplies like health, air, guns, ammo, armor on a ship like the Ishimura and 2) What's to prevent Isaac, with his engineering prowess, from hacking the freaking things to give him free shit?  Needing a certain part removes these because now you're not buying what you need from a store, you're really building it and improvising a weapon using parts and a work-bench.  It's kindof cool.

Wednesday, January 30, 2013

The Dead Space 3 demo

I know I'm a bit late to the game but I finally got a chance to play the Dead Space 3 demo on Xbox.  Most of this post is going to be mentions of things I noticed while playing.  Some items will be discussed at more detail, but not all.

The first thing I notice is the interesting change in menu style.  Previous Dead Space installments used a menu style evocative of a RIG-style computer interface with a nebulous background of shifting tones and shapes.  3's menu panels are on large cross-sectional slices of what appears to be a necromorph or some other organic thing frozen in a block of ice.  I suppose if I were trying to read into it I'd draw a parallel between the more concrete and grounded menu system with the terrestrial basis of the game.  Dead Space 1 was entirely in space except for the last level and so far Dead Space 2 has been all in space as well (You can follow that playthrough on youtube).  Either way, it's got a lot of motion and is very cool to watch although I can see possibly being annoyed at the length of some of the animations.

Immediately after the menus I noticed the focus on music.  The previous Dead Space installments used music as a background element, and they were very effective with it.  The menu is subtle and unnerving but very much ambient, it's tense in the battle scenes and generally serves purpose...but I couldn't hum you the Dead Space theme.  This new game puts the music front and center with a discernible theme in the menu, however it sounds like a poor man's Batman theme (Nolan era films, possibly including Arkham games).  Not that it's bad since it's a great theme and other recent movie themes have lifted from it somewhat and it's possible it lifted its inspiration from something I can't recall, it's just very reminiscent and I couldn't stop noticing it.

Onto the actual gameplay, the game begins with Isaac pulling a Luke in the Wampa cave.  Apparently he somehow ended up upside down when his ship crashed following Dead Space 2.  Isaac is either the unluckiest or the LUCKIEST S.O.B. ever.  He keeps running into these Necromorph outbreaks and somehow surviving them.  Deciding he's the unluckiest, he assumes that if he survived everyone else is probably safe and begins to look for them.

I don't know that I can take full credit for this as I already saw Chris of gamertagged notice that Isaac shields his face with his hand while wearing his face-shielding helmet in the snow storm.

The early game in general is a lot more linear that previous installments, I barely felt like activating the beacon.  The outdoor texture is quite well done and they have an interesting looking snow effect for when you're walking, though I do hope they make it look less lumpy for the final release.  The footprints look good.  It's a nice way to conceal the borders of the level, but I think in some spots they go overboard.  There are a few spots where you can see the path really well, then take a few steps forward and now the snow is everywhere and you can't see more than 3 feet.  It's not time based because it doesn't go away until you back up.

The physics system for loose objects on the ground has been upgraded, though still seems a little rough.  This game involves the standard "Isaac stomp all boxes on the ground to receive goodies" mechanic, but the boxes are a bit more jiggly than they used to be.  Stomping can sometimes just move the box.  Also, the engine is so picky that when Isaac raises his foot to do said stomp, it can result in kicking the box like a soccer ball.  At one point Isaac just straight up punted a box off the side of a cliff because of this.  It was actually really funny.

The quicktime events the game uses are interesting.  I had to do the opening one where you climb through the falling vehicle cab 3 times because I was having a hard time figuring out if the panicked and flashing buttons meant to tap, hold, or spam.  The arrow for which direction to push the joy stick is hard to pick out until you realize what it means and the constant flashing is confusing.  It turns out you HOLD the joystick even though it's flashing and spam the buttons because it's flashing.

The snowy terrain leads to some interesting potential where enemies literally pop up through the snow, but since this is Dead Space I have the sense they're going to beat the gimmick like a red headed step-child.  The enemies are more charred looking and smaller than enemies in previous Dead Space games.  They're all wearing snowsuits and from what I remember don't have many extra limbs.  Some enemies will break in half causing 3 huge tentacles to spew from their waist.  I'm not sure if this is because of a specific kill type or enemy type since there's a lot less differentiation...or the demo primary included this enemy type with a few variations.  There are also pure human enemies due to the planet magically being a Unitology stronghold or something.  There are some humans who are neutral to you and another faction that wants you dead.  Also the necromorphs.

Initially the game invited a lot of comparison to John Carpenter's The Thing, and I kindof wanted to think it too, especially when I first ran into the co-op character but I can't see it happening.  The Thing is all about slow tension and paranoia, a sense of isolation.  With as much action as the series involves at this point I don't think they could pull it off.  First off, Carver is the other player character.  They simply couldn't have the character betray Isaac or be implied to be an enemy which removes the paranoia that could result from not knowing if your friend was really on your side.  Sure they can do this with some of the other characters, but we're kindof used to that twist by this point in the's happened in every game so far.  Also, there are so many necromorphs, and random human allies and enemies that show up and fight you or shout and die by a scripted event that I don't feel isolated at all as Isaac.  I feel like Doomguy.  It's finally gotten to the point where I am no longer even pretending to  cautiously move down a hallway.  I am Isaac-Fucking-Clarke with advanced degrees in engineering YOUR ASS TO BE KICKED!!!!!!RAAARGH!!!!1oneshift

I'll still have to decide if the game is worth buying initially.  I kindof want to play it on Let's Drink to Gaming, but I don't know if it's worth it.  EA's doing a lot of stupid stuff around the game that I don't want to support so I may wait a few months until it goes on sale.  Another option would be buying it and immediately marathoning the whole thing in a single sitting live on  That's sort of outlandish and would probably take 12 hours or more given the times on for Dead Space 1 and 2.  Maybe I'll ask twitter to see if there's interest in it.

Anyway, that's what I thought of while playing the demo.  Take from it what you will.

Saturday, January 19, 2013

A foray into video recording and editing

I'm fully aware it's been a very long while since I discussed anything technical on this site, and that makes me feel a little sad as that was the original point.  I had been somewhat hindered by the fact that there was very little I was doing outside of work that seemed interesting, and a lot of what I was doing in work was too difficult to make generic enough to not get me in trouble.  However, since I had started doing YouTube Let's Play videos (as mentioned previously) I've got something that's pretty interesting and somewhat technical, so here we are.

Let's Drink to Gaming is a Let's Play show with themed cocktails.  I wanted this to be a little more interesting than just playing a game and narrating what's going on, so I decided that I would play with a rotating cast of guest hosts over the internet.  This leads to a somewhat interesting challenge of broadcasting the game video to the other person while simultaneously recording it.  It also raised the question of how to record multiple audio sources, and broadcast multiple sources.  I needed to hear and record their voice, they needed to hear me and the game.

I did some wandering around Google and tried: XSplit, FFSplit, Fraps, Taksi, Bandicam, and I think "GameCam"?  Eventually I settled on Dxtory.  It's paid software but it has a lot of features that were really important in my situation that only really XSplit also mirrored, and since XSplit uses a subscription pay model Dxtory is technically cheaper.  The most important features Dxtory has are:
  • The ability to record an arbitrary number of audio streams.
  • The ability to stream the video it's recording to several DirectShow contexts.
Almost every other program only recorded 2 audio streams, if that.  They're really well setup for traditional commentary recording where you want the game and a microphone, but I was obviously biting off a bit more.  Since starting I've recorded up to 4 tracks at once: Game audio, my friend Tim and his fiancĂ©e over Teamspeak, myself on a headset mic, and my girlfriend on another local mic.  Being able to isolate all these lets me mix everything independently while I'm editing the final video so I can do some EQ and noise removal, basically make a run through and try to clean up the audio as much as possible.

Streaming via DirectShow is the way most webcams work, so since Dxtory can do that, I have a lot of options for video conferencing or streaming software.  I tried Skype first since it's super-easy, but the video quality is awful.  Skype uses 640x480 streams.  We've been trying to get RTSP with VLC working for some time can't quite get it over the internet.  I have a sneaking suspicion Verizon may be blocking RTSP.  I had also briefly toyed with the idea of using a game streaming site like Twitch and maybe making the channel private, if that's possible, but the lag on my stream was unbelievable.  I just recently found out this was because one of the utilities which came with my motherboard, a bandwidth prioritization utility, was devoting almost all my network resources to a Synergy server.  So maybe this is an option again.  I should also revisit the VLC tests in case bandwidth was an issue.

Audio mixing for the live feed was still unanswered.  This market is unfortunately less varied and most of it is paid software.  I tried without success using PulseAudio for windows, Jack for windows.  Eventually I bought Virtual Audio Cable.  VAC lets you create virtual audio devices on your PC and also arbitrarily route real and virtual devices.  This has been really important when we've played non-co-op games and had my girlfriend in the room with me.  I can use VAC to combine both of our microphones, and the game audio into a single device and make Teamspeak use that as its microphone while not affecting my ability to record all 3 of those sources alone.

So once I recorded everything I end up with a few gigs of x264 encoded AVI files with separate audio streams.  All the post-production work is done in Linux.  The software for windows I bought to record and stream was pretty cheap, and they were the only programs I saw with the featuresets I wanted.  Video editing software, however, is really freaking expensive.  I tried some free programs for windows, but they were all terrible.  Nothing could even match the feature set of of Adobe Premier Elements or Windows Movie Maker.  So I went to Linux where there were at least a few programs for me to choose from: Cinelerra, KDEnlive, and OpenShot.

I made my first video in Cinelerra but it was clunky, old looking, unstable, and couldn't export quickly or easily.  I wound up rendering the audio separately, and the video into a ludicrously large MOV, 80 gigs or something, then muxing the two together and reencoding on the command line.  Since then I've been using KDEnlive and it is much much better.  It still crashes and it has some clunkiness around certain tasks or filters.  I'd love some project templates and previewing animated title cards has some problems.  Also, it had this super-strange audio glitch that made creating the clip show utter madness.  I may try OpenShot soon, since it looks really good but I have nothing on it now.

I have a shell script that invokes ffmpeg to extract all the audio streams from the video file so I can work with them in Audacity.  Audacity seems like the go-to cross platform audio program, so I use that to import all the tracks, then run noise removal and run a pre-amp on anyone who seems too quiet.  Then I basically listen to the entire project covering up bits of keyboard noise or other unwanted sounds and if anyone talked over anyone else, bring out whoever said something better.

Anyway, that's the basic setup:
VAC to setup the audio so everyone can hear what they need.
Dxtory to record all the audio to independent data streams and output video in a usable format.
Google Hangouts to stream video to the remote commentators.
Audacity to clean and mix the audio into a single track.
KDEnlive to put everything together into the final video.

Yeah, this is long winded, but at least I'm talking about software again.  Maybe I'll post the bash script next time I boot linux to do some work.

Tuesday, January 1, 2013

2013, Hello, how are you?

I had originally intended to write this around Christmas time to explain the radio silence on the site, but the holidays just get so incredibly busy I just couldn't find the time.  So it's pretty late on New Year's Day and I figure I can write this pretty quickly.

2012 was a helluva year, it was the year I started trying to be a lot more regularly active on this site, writing the articles on Bro-horror and the video game articles about SCP-087 and Self-extension and the horror of Discovery.  Also, a ton of movies.

The House at the end of the Street was probably the most disappointing movie I'd seen.  I really ripped into it, and that may not have been fair but if I had seen this movie on Netflix instant I would have wandered off or found something else to watch.

I didn't write a full post about it, but The Woman in Black impressed the hell out of me.  It was a bit of a comedy of errors trying to watch it, but on the 2nd attempt we got all the way through it and it was a great old-school horror movie.  It had a lot of Thing-In-The-Background, Weird-Shape-In-The-Storm styles of scares.  Almost no jump scares and false scares used well.  I wasn't making nearly as many "Oh look it's Harry Potter" jokes as I was expecting, since the acting was actually not half-bad.  I'm planning on getting this on DVD/Blu-Ray.

In other news I also went to the National Homebrewer's Convention this year.  It was a wonderful experience, and also very educational.  The 2013 Convention is going to be in Philly, and as usual you need an American Homebrewer's Association membership.  If you brew ANYTHING, vinegar, kombucha, beer, wine, sake, etc.  you should get an AHA membership.  It's not expensive and they are doing good things for homebrewer's across the country.

Also in beer I made the official change to all-grain brewing and started kegging my homebrew.  Kegging is much more satisfying than bottling, it's a worthwhile switch.  In 2013 I'm switching from a braid filter to a false bottom.  I recently re-attempted the Chocolate Orange Stout, but won't get to try that until 2013 as well.  I'm also anticipating some sours beginning this year.

2012 also saw me traveling much more than I ever have before.  As mentioned the NHC was in Seattle, so I had to fly there.  I also went to Florida twice, once in February to visit my folks on vacation and then again in October for Halloween Horror Nights in Universal Studios.  It was an incredible collection of haunted houses.  The whole thing teemed of some very annoying people, but with a speed pass it was possible to see everything.  All the haunted houses followed the same basic formula, which really good in some haunts and not so well in others but it was all really professional quality.  I can only imagine the show will get better in 2013, though I'll probably get a multi-night pass and spread the visit out a bit.

However, one of the main reasons I haven't been writing as much is that I started a Youtube Channel.  Currently the only show is is "Let's Drink to Gaming", which is a Let's Play-style show with themed cocktails.  Check it out, the edges are still rough but the quality is improving.  There are a few more things in planning, so stay tuned.  It'll hopefully be interesting.

Anyway, that's some stuff that's been going on.  Now I need to start getting used to writing 2013 on my checks.