Mission Control Center Font

As I write this, Chris Hadfield has turned over command of the International Space Station and is on his way back to Earth.

Now what does this have to do with Star Control?

A very long time ago, when I was watching the news about Hadfield becoming the first Canadian to take command of the ISS. The news was very positive, describing him as the “the most interesting person OFF Earth”. Numerous images of him, the space station and the Misison Control Center. One particular image quickly caught my eye:

Flight Control Room of Houston's Mission Control Center (2006)

Flight Control Room of Houston’s Mission Control Center (2006)

Take a look at the top, just above the giant world map in the front of the room. Look at the font. Does it look familiar?

Mission Control Center font in comparison to the fonts for the Genesis and PC versions of Star Control

Mission Control Center font in comparison to the fonts for the Genesis and PC versions of Star Control

While the fonts are not exactly the same, I find it interesting they each use the “C” in “Control” to envelop the “o” and once again for “Center”. Of the few images I’ve seen, that Mission Control Center logo remains, though the layout of the room itself has changed significantly over the years for each mission. Unfortunately, I don’t know much about NASA’s policy on typography/graphics without doing more research or requiring internal knowledge. However, whoever designed the Star Control box art must have been aware of the font and it’s style.

Other than that, I think it’s interesting to see a similar style used between NASA and Star Control.

What do you think about this? If anyone has additional information, I’d love to hear about it.

Links
NASA Mission Control Center Website
Mission Control Center on Wikipedia

Kickstarter

“… for the cost of a handful of lattes, you can help build a virtual world in which your character could be drinking virtual lattes with a femme fatale (who’s probably a dragon in disguise) while blowing the crap out of everything around you with a smart gun. Isn’t that what we all want?”
– Jordan Weisman, Shadowrun Returns Kickstarter Video

“What could possibly go wrong?”
– Tim Schafer, Double Fine Adventure Game Kickstarter Video

Yes, I have finally uploaded my own video commentary. I’ve always wanted to make one, but I never had the time or resources. So after some careful thinking and feeling the need to experiment, I finally decided to give it a shot. Video editing is a longer process than I thought it would be.

In case anyone is wondering, here is my current setup:

  • Sony Vegas Movie Studio Platinum HD
  • Blue Snowball USB Microphone

I mentioned Transformer: Fall of Cybertron and Prototype 2 as Activision-published games that have science fiction elements. I didn’t mention Battleship from Double Helix. From what I’ve seen, it’s a first-person shooter and looks very similar to Call of Duty. However, it is worth noting that Double Helix is using a proprietary engine. Other than that, it gives the impression of a action-oriented shooter with aliens. The movie it is loosely based on received mixed reviews internationally.

Another game developer I wish I mentioned was Wolfire Games. They are currently working on Overgrowth. Their business model works by accepting pre-orders, and releasing a weekly beta version of what they have worked on so far that anyone who pre-ordered can play. In addition, they are behind the “Humble Indie Bundle” sales that pay developers and charity.

I hope to make more videos in the future and to improve upon my scripted dialog.

What do you think about the Kickstarter phenomenon?

Links
Kickstarter website
Shadowrun Returns Kickstarter Page
Leisure Suit Larry Kickstarter Page
Wasteland 2 Kickstarter Page
Star Command Kickstarter Page
Derek Smart Gametrailers Interview
Al Lowe Wishes TFB The Best of Luck

Mass Effect 3

Note: This article contains spoilers regarding Mass Effect 3’s ending and is geared towards an audience that understands both Star Control and Mass Effect.

Introduction

I bought Mass Effect 3 a long time ago and I have played through the ending which ultimately leads to two decisions:

  • Destroy all synthetic life, including Geth.
  • The Reapers allow themselves to be controlled by Shepard and stop their attacks.

From what I’ve read from MassEffect.Wikia.com, there is a third ending where Shepard does not die, but I only had the above two choices because of my stats. Regardless of the decisions above, the following always happens in my experience:

  • Shepard dies in either decision.
  • The Illusive Man dies, though the events leading to his death can vary through dialog.
  • The mass effect relays are destroyed, making hyperspace travel impossible.

During the endgame, manual saving is disabled and the only way to resume a game is to load autosaves. This forced me to play through a much longer portion of the game in order to see the two results of the two choices in the end. After the game ends, I was brought back to just before I attacked Cerberus, forcing me to play through the entire thing if I wanted to try another path to the ending.

I’ve been aware that Mass Effect has always been planned as a trilogy and I knew that this game would be the last. Anyone keeping track of Mass Effect 3 is well-aware of the mixed reception from its ending. Needless to say, the series is definitely concluded. It is still an epic ending with lots of action.

Here are some things I’d like to mention with regards to this game:

Comparisons to Star Control

I have seen multiple tweets online about people being reminded of Star Control, which is awesome. Like Mass Effect 2, the player only controls the ship when moving between different star systems. However, there is an additional threat. Whenever the player scans a star system, the Reapers will eventually locate the player and Reaper ships will chase the ship. If three of their ships catch the player, it will be game over and the player will be forced to load a previous save or exit. The player also has the option to retreat and come back another time.

Mass Effect continues the trend of requiring the player to forge alliances to defeat an enemy that will annihilate the galaxy of all sentient life. There is a strong mix of rich dialog where the player can choose different responses that can range from being nice, neutral or downright aggressive. In addition, it is not possible to be allies with every race. Not all races get along with one another and there is a lengthy history explaining why this is.

There is no perfect answer to give in the dialogs. It does not seem that there is a “best case scenario”. Whether or not I succeed or fail in convincing anyone through dialog, there can be a negative and/or positive reaction. Just because I failed to convince someone to see something my way, does not mean I failed the entire game. Character dialog is a very important part in Star Control and it is just as important in Mass Effect.

Here is an example of one alliance I tried to create:

Choosing Geth over Quarians

The Quarians created a race of robots to be used as laborers. They eventually gained intelligence and turned on their masters. While it is similar to the Cylons in Battlestar Galactica, I assure you that is where the similarities end. At first, I tried to create a truce between the Geth and Quarians to fight the Reapers. In one of the Quarian missions, I had to deactivate a series of transmissions that the Reapers were using to control the Geth to fight on their side. After deactivating the last transmitter, I encountered an old Geth ally I met in Mass Effect 2: An independent Geth infiltrator named Legion. I made the decision to bring him aboard, angering my new Quarian allies.

There was an ongoing space battle between the two races. This is where things started to get complicated. Now I had an ally to represent the Geth. Things started to get more complicated when Legion asked for something to help his race: He wanted to give Reaper upgrades, sentience and independent thought to all the Geth. In other words, they would all have free will just like him and stronger. I accepted his request, angering the Quarians once again.

At this point, I’ve been fighting off several Geth enemies and they are incredibly strong, powerful, advanced and there are many of them. If I can guarantee the Geth on my side, they would make a very powerful ally, even if they are just robots. So we attacked a base full of reapers.

There was even an epic boss battle where I had to battle a tower-sized Reaper. The only weapon I could use was a laser targeting system that would give a target for orbiting ships to fire on. After memorizing the Reaper’s patterns and remembering that it is easier to target a reaper with the laser while standing still, I won in the end; for my last attack, the game changed to slow motion and my eyes were fixated on targeting the Reaper before it can fire and watching it explode was definitely epic.

A cinematic showed the Geth ships in space deactivating, vulnerable to the weakened Quarian ships.

Then came the next decision. Legion and Quarian Admiral Shala’Raan vas Tonbay* were with me and Legion asked if I will allow him to send the upgrade commands to the rest of the Geth. I accepted. Tonbay stated that the Geth must be destroyed and pointed out how many lives they have taken since their creation. The Geth began uploading the upgrades to the geth. Tonbay reiterated her hatred towards the Geth and that we should not allow them to be upgraded. I had the option to shoot Legion to stop the upgrade. I decided to allow him to continue the upgrade.

The Geth ships started to reactivate and with their new upgrades, they resumed their attack on the Quarians and were victorious. Admiral Tonbay took out her pistol and proclaimed her disgust with what I had just done and she shot herself in the head. In addition, Legion dies as a result of the upload. The Geth fleet moved towards the Quarian homeworld and the Quarians became extinct.

Then there is a cinematic showing a deadly, gigantic, red Geth soldier stared at my character, thanking me for the upgrades and promises to help us defeat the Reapers.

While I have one very power ally on my side, it cost me the entire race of Quarians. I could have maintained the truce had I not allowed the upgrades. I could have also killed Legion in the first place, allowing the Quarians to wipe out the Geth while they are deactivated, saving their race. However, there is no perfect answer and no matter what I choose there is always something positive and something negative.

And speaking of Legion, did you know that Legion is voiced DC Douglas, who also provided the voice for Albert Wesker in Resident Evil? The following video is an easter egg in response to the announcement that Albert Wesker will not be in Resident Evil 6, though DC himself will remain active in the voice acting business:

Difficulty Increase

Of all the the announcements about Mass Effect 3, one of them that stood out to me was one regarding the game’s difficulty. It was stated that this one would be significantly more difficult than the previous two games. That is definitely true. With the different enemy types, there are different tactics. For example, the Geth can turn invisible and Cerberus troops use smoke grenades to make sniping and targeting impossible unless the player is using a heat-vision scope. Also, the player will frequently encounter enemies with armor, riot shields and regenerating shields. There are even larger enemies that can kill the player in a single strike. I also found myself dodging grenades more frequently.

I found myself investing in medi-gel upgrades and stocking up. I also saved up for armor and weapon upgrades. Taking cover before attacking became an instinct to me and I started to rely on powers just as much as weapons. I admit it, I may have gotten frustrated at some points and I temporarily switched to casual difficulty so that I can move through the game’s plot at a reasonable rate.

Conclusion

I’m glad that more people are mentioning Star Control and Mass Effect in the same sentence. Even though TFB is currently working on Skylanders Giants, it’s good to see that even a critically acclaimed game such as Mass Effect will remind enough people about Star Control.

With the success of Tim Schaefer’s Kickstarter fund for Double Fine’s independent adventure game, many people have wondered if TFB can do the same for an independently developed Star Control game. I would love to donate my money for such a project. However, at the same time, I must remain aware of “video game politics” and remember it’s really up to TFB themselves and whether or not their agreement with Activision allows them to do such a thing. I would love to write more about this when I get more time.

Mass Effect 3 is a good game and it is clear that this is the definitive last game in the trilogy, unless Bioware decides to create a new Mass Effect without the original Shepard character. However, it is difficult to continue from a save game where the mass effect relays have been destroyed. After I brought the Geth to my side, I did not see them very much in the end; I wish there was more epic scenes with the powerful Geth solders. I highly recommend this game to any Star Control fans. Playing the previous two games is not required, but is recommended.

Some people have interpreted the ending as “Buy the DLC to see more”. While I haven’t played the DLC yet, I do not necessarily hate the ending. It may be possible to have Mass Effect spinoffs or prequels, but that’s entirely up to Bioware. I wish I could have seen more in the ending. For example, in Mass Effect 2, depending on the ship upgrades I purchased before the final mission, the ship may or may not be destroyed. In Mass Effect 3, I was able to recruit a group of violent mercenaries to join me. There was even a criminal I released from prison and she even repeatedly stated that she loves to kill people. All I got was some dialog from other characters shocked that I would support these types of people. Other than the occasional dialog, I never saw these people again, not even in the ending. Other than that, showing more results of even my minor decision would have been nice.

When I get more time, I’d love to play the DLC. I heard that at least one of the downloadable missions will be free and I will definitely be looking forward to that one.

What do you think about Mass Effect 3 and the ending? Love it? Hate it?

* Tali died in my save game of Mass Effect 2. Had she been lived, she would have taken Tonbay’s place. However, she would have jumped off a cliff to her death as a reaction to my support to the Geth upgrades.

Links
To Mass Effect 3 players, from Dr. Ray Muzyka, co-founder of BioWare
Legion – Mass Effect Wiki
Reaper – Mass Effect Wiki
DC Douglas’ (voice of Legion & Albert Wesker) Blog – Goodbye Video Games, Hello Fans!

Starflight 1 & 2 On GOG.com

Starflight header on GOG.com

Starflight 1 & 2 are on GOG.com

I was browsing through GOG.com and I discovered that Starflight 1 & 2 were added to GOG’s catalog. Starflight was created by Greg Johnson while he was working for Electronic Arts. This was before ToeJam & Earl was released. Paul Reiche worked with Greg on this game before Star Control. For this reason, Starflight and Star Control have things in common with one another. His experience with Starflight would eventually lead to the creation of Star Control, hence the similarities.

A long time ago, I sent an e-mail to Paul regarding his share of the pie from GOG sales. He said they came to an agreement and he is now getting royalties from Star Control sales from GOG. Although, The Ur-Quan Masters is the superior port with its remixes and speech updates. In addition, it has other touches such as rotating planets. However, if anyone wants to buy the DOS version, it’s available on GOG.com. I also noticed that Abandonia only removed Star Control 1’s download and Star Control 2 is still downloadable from there.

I sent an e-mail to Greg Johnson regarding his thoughts about Starflight being added to GOG and if a deal has been worked out between them. He replied that he does not actually own Starflight; the rights belong to Rod McConnell and that he’s “not sure he will really care, as he’s retired”. With that in mind, it doesn’t seem like there’s a big legal issue here like the time when Paul pointed out that Atari lost publishing rights of the Star Control games a long time ago.

I have purchased the Starflight Package and these games are certainly a sign of the times. Graphics technology certainly changed significantly between the 80s and 90s and the trend is continuing through the 2000s. I had difficulty displaying the Starflight 1 on my PC and I had to tinker with the graphic settings for DOSBox to get it to work.

I just noticed that in the above image is from Starflight 2. The human male is holding his hand in front of the alien’s hand with a ball of energy in between. This reminds me of the cover of Star Control 1, which was remade by Boris Vallajo for the Sega Genesis. Coincidence?

It’s nice to hear that Paul and Fred are getting something from the GOG sales now. Although, I still recommend playing The Ur-Quan Masters to get a more immersive experience of Star Control 2. For anyone who’s a fan of Star Control or retro DOS games in general, I recommend Starflight. It’s really interesting that Paul and Fred contributed to each other’s respective sci-fi games. Did you know that the Genesis port of Starflight was licensed, while the Star Control port was unlicensed, along with other ports from Accolade?

Have you ever played though either of the Starflight games? If so, what do you think of it?

Links
Starflight 1 + 2 – GOG.com
Abandonia – Star Control II
HumaNature Studios – Greg’s current dev studio

Project 6014 Demo Thoughts

I managed to get some more free time and checked out the latest update to Project 6014 with its hi-res graphics update. In addition, some of the music has been remixed such as the Shofixti music. As of version 0.2.1, the following species have voices: The VUX, Orz, Yehat and the Lurg.  In the sound settings, the speech volume was set to zero.

While the plot starts with finding a missing Shofixti scout force, ultimately leading to an encounter with the Lurg, a fan-created species, there are other things to explore. For example, what other races have done after the destruction of the Sa-Matra and a strange marking found on a planet’s surface. After the battle with the Lurg, the player has the opportunity to send a planet lander to the surface to examine a strange object, which triggers the demo’s end cutscene before going back to the main menu. So, I highly saving the game beforehand to have more time to explore without having to restart the game from the very beginning.

The starmap has some creative updates that make it more accessible. If someone gives the player a location during a conversation, the map is updated.The blue text box also reminds the player that the starmap is searchable.
The starmap shows smaller circles, making it easier to find aliens in their respective spheres of influences.

Here is a recording of an Orz conversation. It includes its own custom speech.

Did you notice how the music quiets down when the speech is playing? I think it did this in UQM as well, but I just noticed this now with Project 6014.

With the Orz font, it uses a calculator-style font to differentiate the words that are not accurately translated by the ship’s computer, which is explained in original SC2 game. Personally, I think the Orz voice used here is well-done the audio effects sound Orz-ish and the voices are still clear. The Orz in SC2 were voiced by Greg Johnson, creator of ToeJam & Earl and recently, Deko-Deko Mail and Quiz for Facebook. Greg also did the voices of the Utwig and Pkunk.

The Project 6014 demo is looking great and I hope this project continues. Even though it’s fan-fiction, this is the closest thing we have to UQM HD at the moment. I’ll be uploading more videos in the future to show off more gameplay. There’s more to come.

Links
Project 6014 homepage
Project 6014 Demo 0.2.1 released

Let’s Start The Year Off With More Video Game Politics

While I do not regularly keep track of celebrity news, a certain event has caught my attention: Dick Clark’s Rockin’ New Year’s Eve bash a Times Square in New York City. This event was televised. Please keep in mind, I did not watch this event when it was first broadcasted. For those who do not know who Dick Clark is, he a very popular television personality who owns his own company, Dick Clark Productions. He is also known for his youthful appearance, even at his current age of 82.

There were various celebrities who appeared on these shows. Justin Bieber also performed in the New Year bash, though I am not a fan of his music. The reason why I am mentioning him is because after his performance, he had a private party with his girlfriend, Selena Gomez, friends, family and other people from the Island Def Jam record label, which was sponsored by Activision! He and his guests played Skylanders and other Activision-produced games.

Now why is this worth mentioning? First of all, this news is spreading around quickly due to Bieber’s popularity. With the popularity of New Year’s Eve countdowns, Activision easily reached out to millions of people watching. It reinforces the fact that Skylanders will become a big franchise that will have a marketing campaign as strong as Call of Duty. With the strong ratings for a children’s game, high sales and celebrity endorsement, this product easily stands out in both the video game and toy markets. Pokémon will finally face direct competition from a powerful competitor similar to the competition between Call of Duty MW3 and Battlefield 3, where both games have achieved high sales and critical acclaim.

The current layout of the Toys for Bob website, there is no longer a news section. We may not be seeing new updates from Alex Ness anymore :(, but we know they are working hard on another secret unannounced project.

Should I worry about SOPA?

I am aware of SOPA, the “Stop Online Piracy Act”. In summary, the purpose of SOPA is to block any websites accused of breaking the law from being visited by US internet users, receiving US funding, ad revenue, etc. However, the way the law is written and the nature of the internet, this will affect the entire world. Essentially, any site under SOPA can be blocked or removed without contacting the site owner. This blog is hosted on GoDaddy, a company that supports SOPA. I am prepared to migrate this site to another host if I need to; I have prior experience with migrating WordPress blogs so this is not hard for me to do.

Conclusion

I would like to wish everyone a happy new year. I hope Skylander’s success brings TFB closer to more projects for them to have greater creative control over. I believe this shows how strong marketing campaigns and taking calculated risks by allowing TFB to experiment with “toys with brains” can lead to a successful game. I’m still keeping my eye on SOPA and preparing a plan should it be approved and I need to migrate to another host.

Links
Perez Hilton – The Biebs Brings In The New Year With a Bash Of His Own
Stop American Censorship

TFB & Skylanders Praised in Activision’s Q3 2011 Earnings Report


Eric Hirshberg: “They’re not toys; these are superheroes they’re alive inside!”

Even though I am not a financial expert, I occasionally skim through Activision’s annual and quarterly for things that I may find interesting. The purpose of these reports are to show investors how much profit is being made and what their expectations for the future are. Needless to say, Activision is clearly making high profits. In this year’s report for the third quarter, Skylanders is mentioned multiple times, and Bobby Kotick gives a shout-out to Toys for Bob.

“…our industry-leading capability to develop original, globally-appealing innovative intellectual property, which we do exceptionally well, continues with Skylanders.”

“Also, with respect to industry firsts, I want to thank everyone at our wonderful studio, Toys for Bob, for all their inspired work on Skylanders. The game has received outstanding critical response, and although it’s early in the quarter, so far Skylanders is performing ahead for our expectations.”

“Modern Warfare 3, Call of Duty Elite and Skylanders are all extraordinary examples of how we continue to redefine entertainment around the world.”
-Bobby Kotick, Activision-Blizzard CEO

“Inventories of $207 million increased sequentially ahead of the Skylanders launch…”
-Thomas Tippl, Activision-Blizzard COO/CFO

“…we put a tremendous amount of passion, imagination and innovation to the creation of Skylanders and the result is the world’s first truly cross-platform game, which brings the world of toys, video games and the Web and mobile together like never before.”

“…in the West, the markets of toys is actually bigger than the market for video games. The franchise like Skylanders, which brings these 2 audiences together, represents significant opportunities.”

“…Skylanders is already on many of the most influential list for the top toys of the holidays including the Toys ‘R’ Us Holiday Hot Toy List, the Toy Insider ‘Hot 20 List’ and Time to Play’s ‘Power Ups’ holiday toy list.”

“…our retail partners have embraced Skylanders as though we’re an established franchise, giving us unprecedented shelf space and store presence.”

“…reviews have been incredibly strong, especially for a kids title. Gamers received an average 87 ranking across 5 platforms according to GAMESMagazine.com and my favorite are some of the reviews from the hard-core gamer press who really seem to love it.”

“…the game is performing ahead of our expectations in both starter pack sales and the sale of individual toys. As of today, there are already millions of toys in the hands of children around the world.”

“…after only a few weeks in the market, literally all of our major retail partners across all territories have already placed reorders.”

“So in summary, this year, we have delivered innovation with both Skylanders and Call of Duty: Modern Warfare 3 and Call of Duty Elite, which are firsts for the industry.”

“…in terms of Skylanders, we’re not going to discuss exact attach rates but it is — we can say that it is higher than we expected.”

– Eric Hirshberg, Activision Publishing CEO

Conclusion

It is clear that Activision is continuing to make lots of money. They are the largest third-party publisher in the world. Even though Skylanders is completely different from what we were expecting before their announcement, it’s has been very successful. The combination of TFB’s creative control, younger target audience, fascinating toy collection elements and Activision’s strong marketing campaign made Skylanders far more successful than anyone could have imagined. After listening to Activision’s report, I almost forgot about the developers who were closed down or downsized because of unsuccessful games. Regardless of the video game politics, TFB is clearly here to stay and they are still growing in size. Because of this success, their relationship with Activision is stronger. It’s nice to hear that Kotick gave them a shout-out in the report in addition to the remark he made in an older interview that he was the one who gave TFB additional time during it’s development. Eric had the most to say about Skylanders because he is directly involved in publishing the games.

This is essentially the American equivalent of Pokémon. The collectible toy market is going to have stronger competition now and there will definitely be a sequel. If TFB isn’t working on Skylanders 2 as their next project, the TFB guessing game continues…

Links

Activision’s Q3 2011 Earnings Report

TFB’s New Intro


Their new intro seen in Skylanders.


Their former intro. In Tony Hawk’s Downhill Jam, the intro is slightly longer with the Ur-Quan theme is playing before the Orz theme.

In case you haven’t seen it yet, TFB has updated their intro video and website to reflect their most recent game, Skylanders: Spyro’s Adventure. The video is made using stop motion techniques. The toy that is shown in this video is called Trigger Happy. His guns shoot coins, which may or may not be a reference to pirates who would stick any metallic objects in their blunderbuss, ranging from nails to valuable doubloons.

Check out the video and the links below.

I don’t want to jinx it, but I think it’s safe to say that Skylanders will be successful in ratings and sales to its younger demographic. The relationship between TFB and Activision has strengthened and they’ll have more games to work on for many years to come.

If they’re next games is not a Skylanders sequel, could it be a game geared towards an older audience? What do you think?

Links
Paul Yan’s website
Pau Yan’s YouTube website
Toys for Bob website