Beyond Good & Evil & Codified Boundaries

With the recent release of Beyond Good & Evil – HD on Xbox Live Arcade, I thought I might honor the occasion by revisiting a post I made while playing the original game some years ago. It might actually be of some benefit, as it points out a game killing bug I encountered. BG&E-HD might not suffer from the same problem, but just in case they didn’t mess too much with the code, you’ve been warned.


[originally posted to 1up on Sep. 7, 2006 at 9:46 am]

I might have missed my calling in life. Maybe I should have been a play tester. I keep encountering bugs in the games I’m playing. And not just weird graphical bizarreness, but errors that keep one from finishing the game. Sure, they’re probably all commonly encountered and have been documented excessively on the internet, but it does seem like I keep encountering these things rather frequently of late.

BG&EI’ve been replaying Beyond Good and Evil (yes, I am suppose to be writing. Would you believe that my wife made me play a game so that she could hang out with me while I was playing and read the instructions for File Maker? And that she called it “romantic”? Yup, I’m glad I married her!) and the other night encountered a glitch on the Slaughterhouse level that makes it impossible to finish the game. What’s worse, is that if you didn’t recognize the problem, you have plenty of opportunity to save, forcing you to eventually restart your game from the beginning (unless you keep lots of old saves). For those who somehow missed the wonder that is Beyond Good and Evil (not to be confused with Xenosage II: Jenseits von Gut und Bose), it is a game published by Ubisoft that came out in 2003. I always think of it as an rpg, but it’s not. It’s a 3d adventure game that features exploration, stealth-type puzzles, simple brawling-style combat, some racing, and Pokemon Snap (in that you earn money by taking pictures of the various life forms on your planet). While the underlying plot is pretty cliche, the story is told in a very interesting way, and the world is very detailed and full of life. Not a very difficult game, and some would say short, but a very pleasurable experience.

Anyway, once you enter the Slaughterhouse, you have to park your hovercraft at a gate. I think that this level is divided into three sections, each section containing one of your mission objectives. So, at the gate, you exit your craft, and attempt to tackle the first section. The terrain forces you to separate from your computer controlled partner. After a little exploration, you will quickly discover that you need his assistance in order to continue. Once you figure out how to get your hovercraft on the other side of the gate, your partner can access the area with you.

Now, here’s the problem. If you’ve played the game before, or if you prefer to explore off the beaten path, you may do the following tasks out of sequence, which seems to delete your partner from the game. The game expects you to explore alone and discover that you need help to get to the next area, and/or have your partner help you access what becomes a blocked passage. After that, you are suppose to discover that you can use the gate to access a path to circumnavigate the blocked passage, making it unblocked. If you go there first, which also requires the assistance of your partner, when you come back through, he will be forever gone. Sure, you’ll still trigger dialogue segments at the appropriate times, but only his disembodied voice will be present. Since it doesn’t crash the game, and because you can still go to, and complete, the second section of the mission without your partner, you could save a number of times before realizing that you are screwed. Bravo, Jade.

In conclusion, BG&E remains an excellent game, but be careful, and follow the programmer’s intended course of action.

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Cagey at GDC

Michael Abbott has a nice reaction piece up at The Brainy Gamer to David Cage’s GDC presentation entitled “Creating an Emotional Rollercoaster in Heavy Rain“. The post has led to a pretty interesting discussion in the comments.

As I stated there, I am fascinated by the idea that Cage is selling. Unfortunately, while Cage is very passionate about his design philosophy, his ego tends to steal the focus. While I think that his personality is good for stirring up very useful conversation on story telling in games, we need to quickly get past Cage in order for the conversation to be of value.

I haven’t played Heavy Rain, so I can’t comment directly on Quantic Dream’s latest work, but I can link back to the thoughts I had about Indigo Prophecy, a game I was very excited about, and a game that left me a little disappointed.

That said, I’m still very interested to see what Cage does next. And all of the other developers working to develop story through gameplay.

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Hello world!

Welcome to WordPress. This is your first post.

Indeed. After owning this domain for, oh, about five years, I’ve finally managed to put some content on it. Over the next (hopefully small) interminable time period I’ll migrate the more worthwhile posts from my blog. After that, hopefully some entertaining or engaging thoughts on the media I’ve been consuming, media I’ve been creating, and life lessons I’ve hopefully not been failing too terribly. Thanks for your time, and as always, I greatly appreciate your feedback and discussion.

Thanks for stopping by my dusty corner of the internet!

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The Truth About Kinect

Microsoft is poised to change the world with Kinect.  While not recognized as being as original with their new ideas as companies like Apple or Nintendo, Microsoft has the opportunity to leap ahead in the computing world thanks to Kinect.

To see the likelihood of this seemingly improbable occurrence, let’s take a look at the technological landscape of gaming.  In response to the rule-changing interface design of the Wii, Microsoft created the Kinect.  At its heart, Kinect is a set of cameras that watch how bodies move through the space in front of it, and software that translates that data into information that can then be used to control other programs.  Nintendo is preparing to launch the 3DS, a handheld gaming system with a display that creates three dimensional imaging without the use of glasses.  Similar display technology is being developed for televisions and monitors by the likes of Toshiba and others.  Microsoft employs Johnny Chung Lee, among other brilliant and creative minds who are hard at work developing innovative user interface control schemes.
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Walking Out of a Coma

Coma is an interesting game.  It reminds me a lot of Little Wheel.

Little WheelLittle Wheel is a concise, point-and-click puzzle game where the player navigates the hero robot on its quest to turn the power back on.  The puzzles are not very challenging, but engaging enough that the player actually is doing something other than simply clicking on to the next scene.  The art style is gorgeously realized (how’s that for a meaningless critique?) with fluid animation and a great soundtrack.  And it wordlessly tells a story.  The point isn’t to solve the puzzles, but to lead the robot through its journey.  The puzzles are merely the obstacles in the plot.

ComaComa, at its essence, is also a story told through a game.  It too benefits from gorgeous stylized artwork and a provocative soundtrack.  And while Coma uses some words, the story unfolds as the player works through the surreal layers of subconscious that manifest as the game world.
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Digital Distribution

Comments have been made recently regarding the future of digital distribution, specifically that people like to have tangible product.  We like to be able to touch, to possess things.  Digital products are not possessions, they are simply bits of data on a computer somewhere that we pay to interact with – if we’re lucky.

Digital distribution in our society began in earnest with the jpg.  In its infancy, the internet was essentially text.  Data transfer rates made it undesirable to relay anything with high graphic fidelity.  But once suitable communication and compression technologies were in play, pictures were easy.  Scanners suddenly became as popular as printers.  Photo processing labs sent back scans on cds with your holiday prints, or allowed you to access them through their website.  Digital cameras replaced film for armchair photographers.  Now, cameras are built into our phones, and instead of printing pictures, we transfer the files to digital picture frames.  We’re way beyond Kodachrome now.

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Scalzi / Wheaton Slash-Free Fanfic

Yes fanfic.  But it’s for a good cause.  You can learn more about the “rationale” on John Scalzi’s site.  The gist is that the following is my entry in their contest to write a story inspired by the embedded image below.  I hope you enjoy it


It’s a Trap

The vessel skipped into existence in the shadow of the smallest of three moons.  The lone occupant of the skip-sled initiated the maneuvering sequence, and the craft accelerated towards the insertion point in the planet’s upper atmosphere.  After the instantaneous skip across the galaxy, the final leg of the journey was aggravatingly slow.  To pass the time, the pilot reviewed his orders, again.

The sled canopy retracted and the man, an elite agent of the Colonial Defence Forces, rolled out into the thermosphere.  His descent was subtle at first, but as his speed increased, the curvature of the horizon began to flatten quickly.  Writhing clouds of charged volcanic ash smothered the planet’s surface.  Scattered islands of dull maroon throbbed through the jagged black cloudscape, marking the volcanoes beneath.  A terrain overlay appeared in the soldier’s vision, supplied by his BrainPal, the organic computer integrated into his brain.  The overlay created a topographic map highlighting key locations such as his landing zone and descent trajectory.  He noted that the red line marking his trajectory did not point to the landing zone.  A scowl cut deep furrows across his forehead.  Before he could complain further, he was enveloped in darkness.

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Rapture of Persephone

[Note that spoilers abound, so don’t read any further if you haven’t completed BioShock 2.]


“Empty house. Only an echo to my name. Eleanor, baby… where are you? I turned my back, and someone took you – it happened so quick.” – Grace Holloway


In Greek mythology, Persephone, the daughter of the goddess Demeter, was kidnapped by Hades and taken down into the underworld.  There, Persephone resided as the Iron Queen until Demeter’s grief and anger forced Zeus to intercede and command Hades to release Persephone.  But before Persephone was returned to the surface, Hades tricked her into eating the seeds of a pomegranate, binding her to the underworld, where she must return for one season every year.

The story of BioShock 2 is a retelling of the Rape of Persephone.  The story unfolds as two parallel narratives, of events past and present. The parallel presentation of the stories reinforces present themes with echoes of the past.  Unweaving the two timelines, both stories can be seen as complete retellings of Persephone’s tale, with the past version serving to emphasize the present by both its similarities and juxtapositions.  The extended allusion is enhanced by related references found in the environments, themes, and the characters themselves.

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Gaming in 2009

Perhaps February is too late for a year-in-review-type post, but as my posts this past year have been… lacking, it seems my window of opportunity is still open. (Even though that may be entirely the result of my elbow impacting it at a high rate of speed.) My life continues to slip deeper into the dark persona of ‘responsible adult’. Three children don’t leave one much time on the side for gaming – though this year I’ve been able to play some games with my eldest. As a result, this year marked my shift into handheld games. Being able to snack on games in fifteen minute nibbles, or devour them in hour long feasts, depending on my circumstances, enabled me both to play more games than I otherwise would have been able, and to get more sleep, not being fettered to late night binges to satisfy my cravings. But before I delve into the statistical analysis, allow me first to summarize what I played last year.

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I’m a structural engineer, so I keep up on the general goings on in the construction industry.  Infrastructure is suddenly getting a lot of attention in the media because of the various bridge collapses, and failed levies, etc. that have happened in the past few years and the upcoming “stimulus package”.  The situation with our country’s aging infrastructure is simple: we build it, and then forget about it.  Our bridge and highway system hasn’t really been touched (except for occasional expansions and new additions) since World War II.  Most city sewer systems, at their core, are whatever was placed when the city was founded.  The common blame, of course, for the lack of upkeep, is that it isn’t glamorous to spend money on roads and pipes for poop.  Politicians are more likely to get votes for spending money on flashy things like stadiums and sculptures.
So now we find ourselves with all of our civil systems falling apart around us, all at once.  And the cost to repair everything is way more than any of the governing bodies can afford.  And it occurrs to me, that civil leaders could learn a lot from playing some Sim City.

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