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Today I briefly talk about video games. Not in any fancy way - just what I've been playing recently, old or new, mostly on the 360.

I haven't posted for a while. If I was any more disciplined it wouldn't have been a problem. Truth be told, I'm a bit of a video game addict to the point that there probably isn't a single day that goes by I don't think of something video game related, or compare something in reality to a video game. I regularly visit Kotaku several times a day, though I try to make it a rule not to make any comments on the posts that go up. I figure I don't want to get involved in any discussions like that while at work because it'll waste too much time. Of course, I really shouldn't be there in the first place, but whatever. Anyway...

That's a clever game. Gorgeous too. I first saw it at GDC06 and I thought it was completely mind blowing. I knew it'd be something pretty special - despite it looking really visually incomplete back then, the game mechanics were all in place and played very much the same as it does today. I loved the finished product from start to finish and highly recommend it to everyone. If you really despise puzzles though, perhaps it's not for you.

Castle Crashers
I'm quite certain that most everyone here at NG has played it. It's a good game. I'm not sure I'd call it great. I don't want to sound too negative, but there are some design flaws that I thought were a little bad/strange. I'm talking strictly on the gameplay there - the actual visual design is fantastic. Paladin's work is pretty damn phenomenal and the game flows effortlessly from one set piece to another. The sound design feels lacking to the point it sometimes feeling like I'm playing a game that's missing all it's sound cues. Even just a little "Argh!" sound when a baddie is dead would have been very much welcome. If not that, then give enemies health bars. Instead I tend to be juggling enemies in the air for a while, just to make sure they're definitely dead when they hit the ground. Some levels have really huge foreground objects that will entirely block your view. Strange, as the camera view is normally only 3D 3rd person games need to worry about. Perhaps it wouldn't be so bad if the tolerance on lining up with your enemy to hit them wasn't so strict. There are other problems, but overall it's a good game that could have been great.

Bionic Commando Rearmed
I never played the original so I wasn't so sure what to expect. All I could tell was that it looked fun from the videos. Firing it up, I immediately realised what the developers were striving to create - a faithful remake of the NES original, complete with remixed music that manages to feel retro as well as modern without betraying the 8-bit versions melodies. The game itself is hard as nails but very satisfying and reasonably lengthy. There's a load of optional bonus levels to complete at your leisure so if you're really into it, I think it can keep you busy for a while. A great game with some quirky humour that only Capcom seem capable of and wonderfully vibrant visuals. If you don't feel like buying it, you could always check out the demo or play the original over at Virtual NES right inside your browser.

Grand theft Auto 4
I decided to sit down and go for 100%. I think I just wanted the achievement, but they really could have rewarded you a bit more on this. Instead, just your ammo limits are removed but even when you save your game, any "extra" ammo you had over the limit is removed. Unfortunate, but with the upcoming episodes soon available for download, perhaps the developers didn't want to give the player too much power with infinite ammo, instant reloads, etc. Oh and, yeah, it's a brilliant game.

Halo 3
Well, sure, I played through this a while back and thought it was pretty good. If you can, play it co-op with a mate or 3. It adds a lot more to the experience and driving a Warthog while your mates shoot stuff up is just a heck lot more fun. Speaking of multiplayer, I finally tried out the online multiplayer of this game and I can kinda see why there was so much hype for this game as it's release approached. I'm not a Halo nut so I never played Halo 2 online but now after having a quick go online with Halo 3 I can see that it must have been something pretty special in the last game. For some reason it seemed to remind me of a good old game of Goldeneye64 back in the day. I don't know how I managed to make this comparison, but I seemed to get the same satisfaction from taking someone down in Halo 3 as I did in Goldeneye64, despite Halo 3 being a much more detached kind of environment. I mean, you're not in the same room with your opponent with Halo 3 but... whatever. It's fun. I might play it some more, I might not.

Geometry Wars 2
I loved the original with the exception of one thing. It took way too long for the game to pick up speed and to get to what you really wanted - complete mayhem on screen with a ton of baddies chasing you all over the place. Geometry Wars 2 fixes all that and things speed up much faster with it only taking about 30 seconds or so to get interesting and it just gets better from there. Ironically though, despite them having much improved the core game mode, I have much more interest in the Pacifist game mode. There's something very satisfying about killing those damn drones with the gates and soaking up those geoms. I think I'll continue to play this one for a while, trying to beat my own highscore. Plus it's just really pretty to look at. Highly recommended.

Ninja Gaiden 2
In this game you play as a Ninja that runs around killing things in awesome ways. If you stand still for more than 2 seconds, you die. It's a great action game with some unfortunate framerate issues, not to mention that whacky camera, but it's probably one of the best hack-n-slash games you can get. It's pretty damn big too. I recommend it, unless you hate to die a lot, though it's no way near as difficult as it's predecessor on the default difficulty.

Most people know what Spore is. It got a lot of attention over it's years of development, only to feel a little lacking on it's release, stunted by an extremely harsh DRM system. Ignoring that issue though, I think it's a fun game. Not as much to it as I would like maybe, but it's otherwise fun. I love creating my own stuff in it, and I find it quite exciting just to see what other people make for it and enjoy seeing their creations being used in my own game. We're undoubtedly going to see some add-ons or expansion packs for the game that will hopefully deepen the gameplay some more, but should we really be paying extra cash for features in a game to make it as deep as we wanted? I guess not, but the game is enough for me as it is. In fact, I'm glad the RTS elements of the game are so light because I'm horrible at those type of games.

Bangai-O Spirits
This is an incredible game from Treasure that's somehow been magically ported onto the DS from the Dreamcast (which is a port of the N64 version). In Bangai-O, you control a robot suit capable of unleashing hundreds of missles on screen with the size and number of the missles being dependent on how much enemy fire is in your immediate proximity. There's a fair selection of missle/shot types as well as a sword for cutting through thick enemy fire as well as a baseball bat for knocking enemy fire back. There's well over 100 levels and if you get bored, you can make your own and/or have a mate transfer his to yours via sound that will be interpreted by the receiving DS and build the level depending on what it "hears". At least I think that's how it works - I've actually yet to try it! The game is incredible - if you're into shooters in the slightest then I can't recommend it enough. It looks great, sounds awesome and plays brilliantly. Get it. In fact, I'd probably be playing this in bed right now if my DS hadn't gone and broken.

That's it for now. I'm sure I've probably been playing more than I've listed here, but these are what came off the top of my head for now. It's quite a generic list I guess, but I wouldn't mind hearing about what other people have been playing too. Am I missing out on anything big?

People should really watch what they eat

I guess I've been playing a lot of video games recently.

Today I briefly talk about things I think need changing in Flash to make life easier for new and experienced users.

I took me a while to figure out, but Flash is actually a pretty awful program for what it does. Unfortunately, it's the only program of it's type out there, so we have little choice but to put up with it's retarded irks and quirks until Adobe get round to sorting these problems out, rather than bolting on new features with each release. CS4 isn't far off and I actually have access to an early build of it, so perhaps some of these things in the list can be crossed off but I really doubt it.

Here's the the list, in no particular order:

1) The Subselection Tool - make it work. Editing points in your artwork with it is so unpredictable and for each point you nudge with it Flash will store the single point being moved in it's history, so if you make enough nudges, you may not be able to undo all the way back. Just make it like Illustrator. Like, not rubbish and actually extremely useful.

2) The Pen Tool - make it work. Another unpredictable tool that is mostly utterly useless. It doesn't work properly and undoing and redrawing with it can cause unexpected results. Same with the last point, make it like Illustrator.

3) Resizing Text - make it change the font size and line spacing, not the size of the object, like in Photoshop (unless it's a Symbol I suppose). This is so we don't end up with some 200% scaled text with a font size of 12 looking the same as some 100% scaled text that is size 24. It may not sound like a big deal, but if you think about it, it defeats the purpose as to why you would even set some text a font size.

4) Line spacing seems to work in Flash completely different than it does in any other art package.

5) Snap Align seems to enable itself automatically for seemingly no reason at random times. I've also hated this Align option ever since it was introduced, but perhaps that's just preference.

6) Snapping only half works when you're editing a Movieclip in place. Specifically, drawing new lines will not snap to anything (other than snapping to be perfectly vertical or horizontal). However, if you drag the end of a drawn line with the Arrow tool, it will snap as it should.

7) Add an option to quickly switch between using a contact-sensitive selection box or not (did anyone else notice Adobe trying to sneak that default option by everyone?).

8) Primitive objects (rounded rectangles, sliced ovals, etc). These are useless unless you manage to draw the shape in question to the exact size you want. If you try to scale a Primitive Rectangle with rounded corners, it will scale/stretch the corners. This is... wrong.

9) Expand/Inset Fill, Convert Lines to Fill, Soften Fill Edges etc all need fixing. They're some of the most glitchy commands in Flash and are truly a gamble as to whether they will work properly or not.

10) Don't allow a Motion Tween to be inserted between Keyframes where the artwork is invalid for the Tween to work properly.

11) Don't allow a Shape Tween to be inserted between Keyframes where the artwork is invalid for the Tween to work properly.

12) Don't automatically create Tween Graphic symbols.

13) Using Page Up/Down to cycle through Symbols while editing a Symbol - make it work all the time, not just up to a certain Symbol and then stop working.

14) Flash will sometimes forget any custom shortcuts you've made, only to remember them when you remind the program by showing it the command in the menu. Shortcuts aren't supposed to work like this!

15) Stop automatically enabling Lock Fill when I pick a fill with the Colour Picker. This wouldn't be so bad if there was a shortcut to quickly disable Lock Fill, but as far as I can tell, you can't hotkey it.

16) Let me be able to select multiple symbols on the Stage and still use the Swap... option.

17) Let me save/copy Custom Tween graphs for use on more than just that one single instance (There's actually a slight work around to this by copying the Instance on the Keyframe you wish to reuse the Custom Tween on, then Alt-Click-Dragging the Keyframe that has the Custom Tween you want over the Keyframe you just copied the Instance from. Now, delete the contents from the new Keyframe you just Alt-Click-Dragged and Paste in Place the Instance you copied from just before. Now you've got 2 Motion Tweens that essentially have the exact same Custom Tween. Great! Sure took a lot more doing than it should have though). This is actually the singular reason I very rarely use Custom Tweens.

18) Stop resizing the Timeline window when I move from one document to the other.

19) Make a Publish All option.

Ah... almost made it to 20, but that's all I can think of for now. Perhaps I can finish it off with something I genuinely like about Flash.

20) The Gradient Transform Tool is brilliant - don't mess with it.

Flash is still alright a program, but I think it could be tons more useful and productive if all these little things were sorted out. Granted, some things on the list are just nice-to-haves but others are really really needed quite badly. I think my biggest irk is the first one - that Subselection Tool frustrates me to no end. It's quite ironic as that and the Pen Tool are my number 1 tools to use whenever I use Illustrator. Even more ironic; I think the Gradient Tool in Illustrator is really underdeveloped. Strange, since Flash is now backed by Adobe, who also make Illustrator. Hopefully the next CS release will bring some much needed change, with CS3 perhaps only being an excuse to rebrand Flash a little.

Still, that doesn't stop me from being disappointed at software that has refused to change for the greater good over the past 5 years. Instead, they keep slapping on new features (some that don't even work properly) and remove useful tutorial files (why did they do this??) making the program hard for anyone to learn. I remember Flash used to have a Lessons option under Help. No such option exists anymore and while there are some Getting Started-esque help files, they're less accessible and I'm sure new users would sooner seek help from other resources. Even then, I reckon new users will be too busy scratching their head over why a certain thing didn't work the way they expected it to, slowing the whole learning process down.

Oh well. Flash gets the job done. I'll give it that.

Did I mess anything from the list? I'm sure I did. Maybe you found a problem and found a good work around for it? Share your secrets!

Man, that ninja really needs to learn to chill out.

A list of things that must be changed in Flash for their next release

Living and working in London

2008-07-20 22:33:01 by Stuart-Hart

Today I briefly talk about what it's like living and working in London.

I confess that this is quite a boring rant.

Living in London can be both great and bad. I think it all really depends whereabouts you live. London is a pretty darn big place, so it has it's fair share of good and nasty places to live. I used to live in a wonderful area situated close to Hampstead Heath, an extremely large and leisurable park. It sounds ridiculous, but feeding ducks is one of the more peaceful time wasting activities I love to indulge in. It was a nice quiet place to live.

Today, I live in a single roomed studio (plus 1 bathroom). I thought I'd have a go living without roommates and so far it's been a hit and miss affair. The area is more noisy, people outside are louder and there are a bunch of things that really need sorting to this little flat. I've only lived at two previous London addresses, but this one is by far the most problematic.

The biggest problem has been the walls becoming damp in wet/cold weather. Last I checked, walls are supposed to keep water out of a room. At first I thought the walls just had general scuff marks, but as time went by they got more and more worse, and ugly black mold was beginning to grow in patches. The walls have since been completely destroyed and then rebuilt with bricks/concrete and plaster. Currently, I have half a room with a half painted wall, and it looks like crap. They can't be painted until the plaster is fully dry which will be about 2 weeks from now. However, before that, new skirting needs to be put down where the walls were rebuilt. As things are now, the room has holes in the corners of the floor where mice or whatever can probably easily access my room.

Speaking of... dealing with ants is something I'll be writing down on my "not cool" list. I lifted my blinds the other day and discovered a large number of ants crawling along my window sill. A whole bunch of them had wings (future queens from what I understand), and they were entering via tiny little holes in the wood work. I spent the whole morning vacuuming the suckers and plugging up the holes with blu tack and red tape. Not cool at all...

To round off my problems, we have a fire alarm that feels the need to go off every now and then. It's been peaceful the last few nights, but the alarm for the whole building goes off thanks to an over enthusiastic smoking neighbour upstairs. It wouldn't bother me so much if the fire alarm system wasn't right outside my room, which of course makes me the #1 guy to go out and switch the thing off. It would bother me less if the guy didn't feel the need to fire up at 2am in the morning.

Other than these problems though, things are fantastic.

As I first said, I believe your quality of life in London will all depend on where you live. I have pretty much zero problems with the way the city actually operates. As transport systems go, the London Underground is super easy to use and is very reliable most of the time. All the stations work exactly the same and security is comforting there. You rarely wait more than even 3 minutes for the train to arrive. I guess the recent ban of alcohol has also made things better for some, but I never encountered any problems with drunk folk on the train before.

The whole city is very multi cultural, and any popular place you go to you're gonna see tourists. I work in a particular spot of London where there is absolutely no shortage of tourists. Not that it bothers me. It might for some, but it just seems to remind me how popular London seems to be despite how expensive it can be to live/visit here!

Yes, living costs are high. Generally speaking though, jobs pay more to make up for it, but rent is especially expensive and you're highly likely to live in a less luxurious location than you would if you were living more North of England where things are cheaper. Cost of eating out and drinking is more expensive too. Fortunately for me, I'm not one that enjoys spending all my cash on alcohol on a night out, and I like to think I'm pretty careful with my cash in terms of what food I bring home with me.

All in all, I enjoy living in London. There's always something going on and it's pretty easy to get about. Thanks to that, I'll never need to own a car, and as a result, I doubt I'll ever get round to learning how to drive. Driving lessons are freaking expensive in this city, and I don't even know how I can possibly make time for it.

Not that I work really long hours or anything... I work 8.5 hours a day, including an hour's lunch, which is pretty standard stuff. I read these reports in the paper of Londeners having to working longer hours than anyone else in the country, but I'm not sure how much truth there is to that. Do people not realise that they are probably only contracted to work a number of hours a day? If they're paid overtime and they're after that extra cash, then fine, that's totally understandable. I'm not paid for any overtime, so once my 8.5 hours are up, I wanna be out of there. And if anyone tries to force me to work longer, I make my feelings pretty clear on the subject.

Having said all this, the idea of living out in a super peaceful countryside has always been a very appealing thought to me. As things are now, I'd only take up space out there. Still too caught up in technology and the internet to appreciate my surroundings.

I have to save up some cash... buy a house... something.

Living and working in London

Today I briefly talk about what it's like making Flash content for a living.

So far, personally, I think it's quite great. But, I imagine you'd find a lot of varying opinions on what it's like working in a company. For one thing, a company may treat their employees quite poorly. Or you might have an unfriendly boss. Perhaps you're forced to work long hours, being forced to miss lunch to meet ridiculous deadlines.

Fortunately, none of these things apply to me. I feel I'm treated fairly well at where I work, I get along quite well with my boss, and it's vary rare I have to work even just 10 or 15 extra minutes at the end of the day. Other perks I get is the free Coca-Cola (among other soft drinks), free fruit every day, MSNing/Skyping/whatevering at work, flexible starting times in the morning and free alcohol on Friday nights in the office. Most importantly is I don't ever need to think about work once I've stepped out the door. My work in the office is work. Anything outside the office is my time. I'd prefer to keep it that way. As things are now, I'm more interested in what I'm going to cook for my dinner than what I'll be doing at work tomorrow.

But then I think that depends on your mentality (perhaps you just love your job that much to think about it so frequently), or even the nature of your work. I'm not unhappy with the work I do - I generally try to do as good a job as I can - but the truth is that I don't have a ton of creative freedom. Not to say that I don't have any at all (someone's gotta make that layout and someone's gotta animate it all together), but most everything I create is not my own original IP. It doesn't bother me a whole lot. If it did, I would have left and found another job. However, If I left and got a position in some random design agency, more than likely I'd be doing things specified to a clients desires or be adhering to strict branding guidelines. But say you did land a position where you were always presented with the opportunity to create something unique and to innovate - something that is yours, your own creation. Then sure you'd think of it outside the office. Afterall, that should be the sort of work you're more passionate about doing, being your own thing and all. It's not just work's work anymore, but it's your work. But what's going on now? Are you suddenly bringing all your work into your own home? Is your life now your work or something? Again, I think that depends on your mentality. Personally, I don't enjoy the thought of having a deadline hanging over my own IP, but on the other hand I would be very happy to do what I want. For a company though? I'm not so sure... wouldn't my work belong to the company? Yikes - I definately don't like the sound of that!

The truth is, as things are now, I mostly enjoy my job and I'm really happy with all the benefits I get from it. I've met some great people along the way so far, I've learnt a ton of stuff I would never have learnt on my own and it's generally stress free.

That's not to say that the job is without it's fair share of stress, but no where near enough to break you down into tears or anything. Most headaches come from when someone on the Marketing team suddenly believes they're a better designer than you and start dropping "suggestions" (which are actually just demands) on the creative. Usually I'll do what they ask with little to no question, coz it's normally faster to show them they're wrong, rather than trying to explain to them in detail in an e-mail why you think their suggestion is a bad decision only for them to reply saying something like "Well, let's see what it looks like anyway". Just make sure you make multiple saves of your work.

Perhaps I'm sounding a bit negative? I think as long as I have the evenings to myself to do what I want then I'm satisifed, but if I were making original IP at my job and it had the companies logo slapped onto the finished product... that'd throw me in weird space.

Hmm... maybe things could be better.

Working in the industry (for those interested in making a career out of this)

Where am I? What's going on? I feel like an old man...

2008-06-26 20:08:19 by Stuart-Hart

I stopped regularly coming to Newgrounds a long time ago. I used to be such a frequent visitor, checking out submissions every day, voting on content, sending the links to mates... Newgrounds looked a lot different back then. They seemed to be much simpler days. Now, when I come here, geez, it's just so different! Not bad-different mind, though there certainly seems to be many more things you can click now than you could a few years back. I certainly don't recall being able to write my own little blog like this back in the day.
I remember back when the site went through a heavy redesign. I seem to recall Newgrounds once looking predominantly black and red - maybe I'm wrong - and then suddenly overnight there was a lot of yellow colour everywhere and it turned quite a few people off I think. Certainly turned me off at the time. I even remember writing to Tom Fulp expressing my opinion and it turns out that a lot of people shared similar feelings. Things settled a bit though and everyone seemed to enjoy that new look. I think it was also around that time I recall Newgrounds being an extremely slow site, or it had extremely slow 'spikes' quite often. Maybe that was what turned me off... back then, on a pretty slow connection... it wasn't cutting it anymore.

Let's fast forward a bit. Why'd I come here, discover I could write a blog post and start doing one? I figure, for those interested, I should maybe give a little update on what I'm doing now. I still receive e-mails after all these years to carry on with my stupid Flash animation series and I get the odd person contacting me on MSN about it too, so I figure there are some people that still care.

But no, the real reason I decided to write a News post was that a couple games have been submitted here recently by a certain user. This user is actually a company I work for as a Graphics Animator/Designer. Yes, you see, those games submitted under the (now removed from this post) name - while not personally submitted by myself - are in actuality mostly made by myself. Aside from the lack of original IP, I'm happy about them. When I started building those games, I had a vision of what I wanted to make and mostly hit the mark I wanted. I'm not too bothered about people being upset that they're basically just big adverts - I can fully understand - but I try to make a fun game anyway and at the very least, I walk away from the project with some new found knowledge in Actionscript (it's about time I started to learn!).

It feels a little strange though. It's been well over 5 years since I last submitted anything to Newgrounds, back when I was a student. Now, at 24 years old and making Flash content professionally, it seems kinda weird that the work I make now gets submitted to somewhere I once submitted stuff just for fun. Perhaps a part of me feels that this is even wrong. It's a strange circle to come round. Yes, certainly I would have liked to have submitted new content that was my own IP. Ah, but it wasn't me-me that submitted it though... what's going on? I'm kinda feeling at odds here. Some work I just made was submitted to this site and I feel like I'm not being fully credited. That sorta sucks. At the same time that work is just that - work. Paid work. It's not something someone has made in the spare time and given to the world for free. Hmm... am I not proud of that work? Maybe I'm even a little ashamed that after all these years of not having given anything to the community that kick started my whole interest in Flash, I come back with something I made at my day job.

Oh well, whatever the hell I'm feeling, I hope you enjoyed that little game all the same.

EDIT: Originally I mentioned the name of the user, but I've now removed it in case anyone gets the wrong impression that I'm trying to further advertise them on Newgrounds. This wasn't my intention and I hope I didn't step on too many peoples toes in this regard.

Where am I? What's going on? I feel like an old man...