Archive for February, 2014

Netrunner is a fantastic card game that was rebooted in 2012 with a new core set which offered brilliant new cards for the player to utilize in building their new deck for the faction of their choice. 7 factions, comprising of 4 corporations and 3 hackers (Runners) are the main contents of the core set box, along with all of the relevant tokens and rule book so the player can hit the ground running and learn the basics.

The video that is linked at the top of the post is the online tutorial for the game for those budding players that prefer having a video tutorial to use instead of a hard copy, even though they may still need to read the rule book from time to time.

The Aim of the Game

While the most obvious answer to this is to win, there is more to the game than just heading into it and winning, there are strategies to consider, different ways to play, play styles of your opponents, and of course, the player has to work off the cards that they have in their hands and reacting to the actions of the opponent in order to achieve victory. There are different ways in which each player can win in the event that scoring Agenda cards doesn’t go the way either player planned.

Agenda Cards: These score the players Agenda Points. The Corporation deck is the deck with the Agenda Cards in them and they have to install and advance them in remote servers in order to win the game. The Runner on the other hand, has to use their cards and tricks to break into the Corporation servers and steal the agendas. The first person to score 7 Agenda Points wins the game.

Decking Out: The Corporation can lose the game if their turn comes around and they don’t have any cards left in their deck (R&D).

Flat Lining: The Runner can lose the game through their hand being empty of cards. There are several cards within the Corporation Decks that deprive the Runner of cards in their hands and if the Runner has no cards in their hand at the end of their turn, then they Flat Line and lose the game.

Flat Lining a Runner can be achieved through various different means:

Net Damage: When Net Damage is dealt to the Runner, they have to trash one random card from their hand for each point of net damage dealt to them.

Meat Damage: The Runner has to trash one random card from their hand for each point of Meat Damage dealt.

Brain Damage: The Runner has to randomly trash one card from their hand for each point of Brain Damage dealt to them and their hand size is permanently reduced by one for each Brain Damage they have taken. The Runner uses Brain Damage tokens to keep track of this.

Themes

The emphasis within the game themes is that of the greedy Corporations and the Runners that are trying to break into their systems and stop them from amassing power. The Runner has to break into the secured Corporation serves for information about their hidden agendas and steal them before they can be put into action.

There is also a lot of emphasis on the credit system within the game, as the Corporation needs to throw more and more money into their system security to thwart the efforts of the Runner and stop them from breaking into the systems, so there is a theme based around money and security within the game, especially later in the game when the Corporation has to spend more and more of their funds to stop the Runner from increasing their chances of successfully breaking into a Remote Server and stealing those precious Agendas.

Play Styles

Because there are seven factions within the game, three Runners and four Corporations, there are seven different play styles available to the player so that they can really test their skills with different play styles, finding the one that they prefer within the core set before they move into the expansions. And because of his Identity ability, whenever he installs a virus, he corrupts a file within the R&D of the Corporation, meaning they are losing cards from their R&D and therefore they have an increasingly diminished presence within the game.

Runners:

Noise: Noise is the first of the Runners within the game. His deck is based around installing viruses onto the Corporation servers, weakening them and strengthening his own position so that he can hit the Corporation harder and have more chance of stealing information and disrupting the Corporations plans.

Gabriel: Gabriel is a master criminal and as such his deck is full of ways to deprive the Corporations funds. Through denying them the credits they need to install and reinforce their security measures, Gabriel can soon leave a Corporation on the verge of bankruptcy, with their servers open and vulnerable to attacks. If Gabriel makes a run on the HQ of a Corporation he not only gains additional funds of his own, but he can strengthen his insight into the workings of the Corporation itself so that he can plan his next attack on their server.

Kate: Kate is the tinkerer of the Runners. Working with programs and hardware, she installs a lot of programs in quick succession so that she can overwhelm a Corporations systems, upgrading her hardware if the Corporation is capable of upgrading their systems effectively.

Corporations

Haas-Bioroid: Utilizing their collection of Bioroids, and cybernetic security systems, this Corporation is able to throw up a lot of sever security quickly, while denying the Runner the chance to penetrate the systems too quickly by trashing their hardware and programs, denying them the chance to force their way past the Ice laid down by the Corporation.

Weyland Consortium: Weyland work hard and do their best to gain as many resources as quickly as possible so they can set up their servers, advance their agendas and win as quickly as possible while holding the Runner at bay. They use credits to set up their plays quickly and they aren’t above sacrificing their technology in order to further their financial gain so that they can push their agendas through.

NBN: NBN trace the Runner trying to access their accounts quickly so that they can cut off their funding before they can become too much of a problem within the system. By cutting off the funds of the Runner, NBN can keep tracing the Runner and using the information gained to advance their agendas through trickery and false trails.

Jinteki: The Jinteki Corporation work quickly to deny the Runner the chance to set up their board. Throwing net damage at the Runner, shutting down their hand and leaving them sitting in a puddle of their own drool while the Corporation advances their agendas is the way the Jinteki work, taking control of the situation quickly and leaving the Runner what happened when they find that they don’t have a leg to stand on.

The Matrix is a system of control devised by the machines of the 22nd century in a bid to control the human race and harvest their bodies for fuel. Humans are “grown” in gigantic farms and used like batteries to fuel the Machines and their city.

However, a small population of humans have had their minds freed from the Matrix, and they in turn spend their time in specially designed ships that they travel in, dodging machine patrols and working to hack into the Matrix so that other minds can be freed and they can break down the level of control the machines have over the human race.

As the viewer learns, the Matrix is a form of control by means of virtual reality, with the human mind being trapped inside. Each person trapped within the Matrix is effectively a digital avatar that inhabits the world that the machines have created. The humans inside don’t know anything about the Matrix and so they go about their lives without questioning the system. Those that do question the system are either killed/deleted or the human resistance that can hack into the Matrix find them first and set them free, thereby bringing them into the “real world”.

Thomas Anderson, also known as Neo, is one of these individuals that has begun to question the system, looking throughout the internet and using his hacking skills, trying to find out what the Matrix is and who Morpheus is, a legendary freedom fighter that is branded as a terrorist by the machines within the virtual world. Morpheus in turn is one of several individuals that are searching for Neo, believing that he can bring the Human/Machine war to an end.

 

The Use of Technology

 

Within the film series, technology plays a rather vital role, with the humans using technology to break into the Matrix and free minds, while the Machines themselves are made of hardware and software, as is the Matrix, hosted on a mainframe at the centre of Machine City, inhabited by the minds of the human race along with programs written by the machines to govern the world and keep the system from crashing down. One such program that exists within the Matrix is a security program called Agent Smith. Even though he is a program of the machine world and he is to make sure people stay in check or they are deleted, he rebels against the system and eventually takes over, spreading throughout the system and replicating himself like a virus, infecting everything that he touches, turning it into a copy of himself until he takes over the entire system.

Agent Smith tries and fails several times to destroy Neo, removing the only person/thing in the Matrix and Real World that can stop him from taking over everything. In the end both entities are destroyed, ending the war between the Humans and Machines, while bringing peace to the Matrix, in which those that wish to be freed are allowed to be freed without interference by the programs of the Machines. Nobody knows how long the peace will last, but they hope that it will last for as long as possible. Even the ever vigilant machines seem to be glad that the war is over when the Architect, the creator of the Matrix, speaks to the Oracle, a program that aids the humans in their struggle.

The Concept of Free Will

Free will is the subject of debate throughout the series, with Agent Smith often reciting “We are not here because we are free, we are here because we are not free, there is no escaping reason, no denying purpose” basically stating that free will is an illusion and everyone is going about their lives according to a path that is set out before them, even though they think they have a choice over their actions.

The Oracle, whenever speaking to someone, talks about choice, and how the person didn’t come here to make a choice, they have already made it, the reason they are there is to understand why they made it. Once again highlighting the illusion of free will and how reason is the pathway to understanding. The film series highlights throughout that there may be no such thing as free will and that no matter what people do, they are being controlled by a force that they cannot see or fight, that everyone is a puppet having their strings pulled throughout their entire lives.

The fact that humans can be freed from the machine created construct of the Matrix is a strange one, because it is said throughout the film that when the Matrix was created, there was a man born inside with the ability to change and shape the Matrix as he saw fit, effectively the runner of the enter construct and that he set the first humans free. It is noted within the second film that he is another form of control, another program that can change the Matrix and keeps things in balance, but if that is true then the machines are the force behind the human resistance in the first place and the reason for the human/machine war that is taking place and that Neo must eventually stop.

Mind over Matter

While plugged into the Matrix, Neo and any other members of the human resistance are projecting themselves into the construct, their bodies taking form as they are loaded into the hacked ports. Their bodies are nothing more than avatars within a digital construct and aren’t actually real, it’s the same as whenever someone in real life uses a program such as Second Life, creating an avatar in their likeness. However, due to the mind being the reason behind the avatar being created, anything that happens to the avatar within the Matrix also happens to the persons real body on the ship, so if they die within the Matrix, they will die in the real world too, because as Morpheus states “The body cannot live without the mind”.

Also due to the mind, because the rules of the Matrix are built upon the rules of a computer, the hackers that enter the Matrix are able to bend the rules of the world to an extent, Neo being able to break them completely, so that they can jump further, move faster and upload information directly into their mind so that they can operate any piece of equipment or use any form of transportation to make their travelling through the Matrix swifter and giving them an edge over those that are locked into the system.

“A young boy is arrested by the US Secret Service for writing a computer virus and is banned from using a computer until his 18th birthday. Years later, he and his new-found friends discover a plot to unleash a dangerous computer virus, but they must use their computer skills to find the evidence while being pursued by the Secret Service and the evil computer genius behind the virus” – IMDb Plot Summary

First Impressions

So at first glance, the film is about a group of teenagers that are interested in computers and breaking into secure servers to steal information for the fun of it, accidentally getting caught up in a crime along the way and then working their way out of it using their smarts and computer hacking skills. This seems all well and good for a film that isn’t overly long and doesn’t really push the boundaries too much, offering a small time film that entertains and leaves the viewer satisfied or bored, depending on your personal preference in film.

It’s an interesting piece of film and offers an insight into a subculture that rose up throughout the late 80’s and early 90’s where teenagers and other like minded individuals with a gift for computer programming would meet and discuss computer systems, along with what they had found on the inside of the servers that they broke into. These people would then discuss their next targets or they would have some fun with local systems, just because they are curious about the world around them and what makes it tick over, along with what people get up too on their own “private” worlds within the internet.

While there are many people out in the world that say that the film didn’t accurately portray the hacking side of the film, there is no doubt that the visuals and the terminology help people make the mental leap and find the film at least half way believable.

Hacking and Corporate Digs

Of course, with a title like “Hackers” it’s going to be about computer hacking. With the cyberpunk theme, the soundtrack and the long nights spent in front of a computer breaking into systems that they have no right to be in, the characters bring across a strong portrayal of what many people did during the 90’s when computer systems were not as secure or safe as they are these days. Computers brought about an age of curiosity, with people wanting to find out more about what makes the world around them tick and hacking seemed the way to do just that for many people, so they dedicated years of their lives learning the necessary skills to effectively hack into computer servers the world over, while making sure they couldn’t be traced as government agencies started pressuring companies to alert them to system intrusions so that they could put a stop to the leaking of private information.

Many films that are set around some form of control and rebellion have many of the characters saying phrases and acting in certain ways as a way to get digs in at the Corporations they encounter in their adventures, along with some tag lines that appear through (Hackers) such as “Sit on my Interface” which is displayed on the computer screens when the hackers successfully shut down a banks system. There are also many other forms of rebellion, such as when the main protagonist is visited by the government officials hunting hackers along with the main antagonist of the film and he rebels against them from the start, shutting down their efforts to turn him to their side and betray his new friends. He states that he “doesn’t play well with others” effectively telling them to go do one, which is understandable since he spends his nights hacking into corporate systems for the fun of it.

Thoughts for Project

Hacking is very much a part of the cyber theme throughout the different mediums, with many films showing hackers present within the world (Johnny Mnemonic, The Matrix) and I wanted to incorporate some form of hacking system into my own project, either through the player recruiting hackers to break into systems so that they can learn new technologies, or whether there are hackers as trainable units so that they can be deployed around the gaming world, hacking and causing havoc wherever they are. I also want to try and incorporate a soundtrack eventually if the project progresses far enough, with cyberpunk music being incorporated in some way, like playing in the background while the player plays the game. I also really want to take the colours that are worked throughout the films and games, giving the project as much authenticity as possible.

Deus Ex: Human Revolution is a brilliant example of a game that utilizes the advancement of technology and human augmentation/enhancement. The player assumes the role of the main character Adam Jensen, an Ex-Swat security adviser that is tragically brought to the brink of death when militants enter the research lab he is guarding and steals vital information while also kidnapping a member of the research team. Jensen is left for dead and over a number of months is restored to working order through the use of extensive technological enhancements being placed all over his body, including having his arms replaced with robotic variants that improve his strength beyond his previous capabilities.

In the image above, we can see that Jensen has had extensive “repair” work done to his body, with the surgeons even going so far as to implant neuro-relays into his head so that he can put on a pair of sharp sunglasses that are released from the frames around the edges of his eyes. This does not mean that he is not still human, he is more of a cyborg, while being able to do more than a human, he can still be harmed like a human, as we find out throughout the game, if the player allows Jensen to take too much damage, he will die and the player will have to start over from their last save point.

Cybernetics Within the Game

Jensen has many changes when he is enhanced with all of the life saving technology because he effectively becomes the ultimate crime security guard in the process, as well as being elevated from security consultant to a crisis preventor. As can be seen in the image above, the heads up display is actually inside Jensens new eyes, as he has had those replaced too due to the beating he took when he was left for dead. The new cybernetic eyes give him access to a mini map, a heads up display of who is talking to him through the comms at the beginning of a mission, and his ammo count and health as well.

As the player progresses through the game, they gain experience through killing enemy forces, completing objectives throughout the mission and many other ways. At the end of each level, if they have leveled up through enough experience, they gain augment points, which give them the chance to go into the augmentations menu and improve or “upgrade” any of the augmentations that are present within Jensens body, making him even more lethal and hard to kill as the game progresses. They can also improve a number of his skills, such as being able to hack computer systems of higher levels as they move through the game, this also means that the hack may be more successful the higher the level of the hacking augmentation. They can also upgrade him to be able to run faster, jump higher, increase his strength and even his health so he can take more damage before dying. All useful things as the player progresses through the missions and they become more difficult, meaning sooner or later those upgrades are going to come in useful as they could mean the difference between success and having to start the mission from the beginning again.

Movement and Cover within the Game

While it isn’t a turn based game, because it is a first person shooter, it certainly makes the player think their moves through before they go launching all guns blazing into the action. They have to use cover to make sure they don’t take any damage from gun fire as is shown in the image above, but they also have to make sure they can travel around and secure any important objectives (such as taking out the security forces surrounding a group of hostages) before they can go around gunning people down, for they could fail the mission or at least suffer a reprimand at the end of the mission if they go off and let the hostages be gunned down in retaliation for interference from the police. So there is definitely an element of strategy involved in the game, with the slightest wrong move potentially being fatal to a character within the game, usually Jensen himself.

Personal Impressions

I love the play style of the game, because it offers different ways in which the player can take on the missions. They can either go in stealthy, with a nerve dart rifle and use non lethal force to take down the enemy forces presented or they can take a combat rifle and shoot their way through missions, using the minimum amount of effort and just straight up getting the job done. I think I personally prefer the all guns blazing tactic as I am by no means a stealth inclined player, but the rewards are larger for completing a mission with 0 fatalities. So there is always that incentive to be that little bit more strategic and take your time with missions, making sure you take everyone down with the most minimal amount of bloodshed possible.

I like the theme of the game, because it is set in the future with corporations trying desperately to unlock the potential for human augmentation and enhancement for the sake of “human controlled evolution” as one character puts it at the beginning of the game, and they are willing to go through any means necessary to be successful. It gives the game a dark edge but it also leaves the player in the dark enough to be intrigued and want to find out more about the Corporations plans and how they mean to achieve them, and I really like that because I do like a game that is as much story driven as it is action driven and that is a rare thing among games these days unless you take up an RPG such as World of Warcraft or Diablo 3.

I also really like that it makes the player think about their actions, along with the consequences of those actions and how it will affect their progress throughout the rest of the game. So they really have to make sure they take each section of the mission in a step by step motion otherwise they could miss something vital or they may end up accidentally putting someone else in danger such as the hostages mentioned above who could be shot if the enemy forces surrounding them are alerted to Jensens presence when he shoots the bad guys’ buddies.

I think that the aiming system could be improved a little bit as it seems off at times, especially when it comes to aiming over the terrain that the character is hiding behind, as you have to line up the shot before peaking over the top of the cover to take the shot, otherwise the bullets fly all over the place, but by peaking your head over, the player takes the risk of instead being shot by the five guys that are in front of him, all letting loose with their weapons. It’s just a little thing that can mean life or death in these sorts of games and I think it’s a little bit sloppy, but then the game delivers an overall brilliant performance and I look forward to diving back into the game at a later date when I have the time to do so because there are some really interesting mechanics that I haven’t seen yet and I want to explore, especially as they could prove to be useful in the design of my own game in this self initiated project.

Risk is a turn based strategy board game. Players take it in turns to place their troops on the board, the board being separated into different territories that the players split between them at the beginning of the game.

Each turn the player gains reinforcements of troops depending on the number of territories they control at the start of the turn. They are able to place these reinforcements in any of their own territories that they wish to reinforce, whether for offensive or defensive reasons, depending on their strategy.

Players can send their troops into enemy territories, an invasion force if you will. These troops will clash with the enemy forces placed within that territory and each player will have to roll dice, the attacker using up to two red dice depending on the number of forces they send in while the defender uses up to three blue dice depending on the number of troops that are defending the territory in question. If the defender manages to kill all of the invading forces, the territory is held and they keep hold of it, but if they lose all of their own troops in the region, then it is lost and the attacker takes over and gains another territory for themselves, giving them the opportunity to press into other regions of the board that were previously out of reach, or they can then spend their next turn reinforcing their position to make sure the territory they just captured cannot be wrestled from their control in the opponents following turn.

Self Initiated Proposal

Posted: February 7, 2014 in Self Initiated Project

Proposal Turn Based Strategy Game

Name: Operation Upgrade (Working Title)
Genre: Cyber Punk
Game Type: Turn Based Strategy

There are three goals that I shall have achieved by the time the project is finished:

  1. Have a detailed level mapped out within Unity, with completed resources and structures in place. This can serve as at minimum an environment design piece.
  2. Have a working turn based system in place for a demonstration of how turns are broken down into several stages.
  3. Have a complete demonstration level complete with working turn based system for players to take part in the game.

Research

There are many different types of turn based strategy that I will be looking at for inspiration and ideas in conjunction with me own designs and development. These games include:

  • Risk
  • Chess
  • XCOM: Enemy Within
  • Worms
  • Total War: Shogun 2
  • Magic the Gathering: Tactics
  • Heroes of Might and Magic
  • Warhammer

Due to the nature of the game, being a strategy game, I feel that I need to maximize my research capacity so that I can see how movements are made within games, therefore there shall also be a research component dedicated to real time strategy games, so that I can look at the troop deployment and movement methods, hopefully concluding with my being able to create a system of deployment and movement within my own game. I shall be looking at games such as:

  • Command & Conquer
  • Warcraft 3: Reign of Chaos
  • Warhammer 40,000: Dawn of War
  • Age of Mythology
  • Company of Heroes

While I am not aiming to create a real time strategy game, it is worth noting unit movements within the games, as well as terrain layouts throughout all of the games so that I can better design the terrain for my project.

Development Programs

Throughout the design and development of my proposed project, I shall be using Unity, 3DS Max and Photoshop to create buildings, assets and terrain.

Motion capture hardware is on the increase in application in certain industries, namely Film and Games. Animation films are the most common environment for motion capture suits, as directors hire actors to wear the specialist suits as shown in the image above so that they can recreate realistic character movements within the animated film, instead of the traditional frame by frame drawn animation films.

The person that is acting out a scene for the film either wears a bodysuit that have motion capture nodes placed all around the body, meaning the camera can then capture the live movements and apply them to a 3D model on a connected computer that the editors can then apply the character features too, or they can wear normal clothing and have individual nodes placed around their body at vital points so that movements can be captured the same as if they were wearing a bodysuit. For more information, follow this link http://animation.about.com/od/moviemagic/a/motioncapmagic.htm

 Tom Hanks wearing a bodysuit, recording a scene for the film The Polar Express in which he played multiple roles.

 Andy Serkis in his bodysuit as he assumed the role of Gollum in the highly popular Lord of the Rings film series.

In terms of video games, motion capture can be used a lot to help create realistic cut scenes in a games story (Call of Duty, Battlefield) to enhance the player experience, but the technology is also finding new applications in the form of console accessories; such as the Xbox Kinect.

The Kinect is a unique form of console accessory in that the player doesn’t have to use any form of controller to make it work, it can be accessed through voice commands and there are no wires or nodes for the player to connect to themselves for it to recognize their movements, they just have to stand a certain distance in front of the camera.

The player standing in front of the Kinect accessory, which is usually placed in front of the television or on top of it, can then use their limbs to access games and applications on their Xbox. There are a number of games that are Kinect use only, meaning the player has to stand and use the Kinect in order to play these games. The main use for the Kinect is for players to have fun playing their favourite games while getting exercise, but it also offers a unique way to play a game, as the Nintendo Wii and the PlayStation Move require the use of a controller, whereas the Kinect relies solely on the movements of the player for in game interactions and movements.