Fall Games Lineup

CNN has a post up this morning about this Fall’s upcoming “must-play” lineup.  I’ll spare you some of the pain there and tell you the five they’re mentioning:

  • Halo: Reach
  • Guitar Hero: Warriors of Rock
  • Fallout: New Vegas
  • Civilization V
  • Medal of Honor

I”m experiencing a bit of indifference because for the first time in a long while, I don’t really want to play any of the games coming out in the very expensive, normally quite crowded holiday season.  It’s actually kind of strange because I’ve been into video games for quite a while.  I know that I’m experiencing some changes in my personal life with my attempt at heading back to school to finish up a BA degree soon but still… What is this?

Games represent a lot to me– aside from enjoying a (sometimes) interactive storyline, I enjoy playing them both for their rewards and their experience.  My friends also play video games and so it’s common topic of conversation: “What are you playing this week?”  “Did you try out (insert title here)?”.  Often we talk about shared experiences of beating a tough boss or finding some cool new thing that we’ve never seen before.  Unfortunately I find myself to be getting burnt out by the “sameness” of some of these titles.

Let’s take a look at that list again: 3 out of 5 of those titles have a colon in their title somewhere suggesting that instead of providing a number indicating the sequel’s position they decided to not tell you just which one this is in the series.  All of the titles are sequels– this is Halo 5, Guitar Hero 5 or 6, Fallout 4, Civ 5, and Medal of Honor 5 or 6.  Of these titles I’d say I’ve played all of their predecessors at least once, and some of them I really enjoyed.  All of the titles seem to have had an inception somewhere around 2001 it seems as well aside from Fallout (which received a reboot a few years back), and Civ (which seems to go long stretches in between game variants anyway).

2001 was the start of the Xbox-PS2-GameCube race that apparently has moved the industry to where it is today: 3 large companies competing over the same market, and pumping out the same titles over and over.  When did I suddenly start not liking the same stuff?

Some of it has to do with playing smart original titles that don’t necessarily fit any of the existing categories and surprising myself.  A lot of these titles belong in the scene I’ve dubbed “Indie-cade“, sort a mash of Indie Arcade.  These titles are often created and produced from one or two brains instead of a team of 30-100 people.  One title that I recently finished, Limbo was done with 5 people including art, dev, music and production.  That’s crazy and really cool at the same time.  They’ve now sold over 300,000 copies on XBLA, which I hope means it paid for itself and are continuing their awesome sales run. Limbo itself has a very simple concept: get the main character through this side-scroller with one action button, and survive. There are booby traps, environmental puzzles, and occasionally an enemy or too that wants to kick your butt.  The game took me about 6 hours of playtime and was well worth the $15 I think.

Limbo Screenshot

I told you it was B&W...

The art style is fantastic– very minimalist, black and white with some occasional twists thrown in.  If I could hear the soundtrack over my “helicopter-taking-off-Gen1-X360-fan-noise”, I’d tell you it was creepy and effective.  This title was unlike anything I’d played before and unlike the major-AAA titles coming out this Fall.

I picked up a MacBook Pro back in April, one of those snazzy i7, 17″ beasties that I love.  Soon after, Valve released a MacOS Steam client and I started to play some more Indie-cade games on the Mac.  Again, these titles don’t scream AAA but I found them to be more fun than sitting on my X360 playing shovelware.  Torchlight is one of the standout dual-platform games I’ve found and enjoyed playing in-between tasks.

I’m wondering what I’ll by occupying my time with in the coming months– I’ve started a little game with myself to try some of the older titles I own but never really played a lot of.  Maybe I’ll find some gems there, but certainly not coming out of a major publisher.  Perhaps that’s ok.

CD-DA Format

After spending some time with my mother on the phone last night involving audio CD formats and why or why iTunes won’t import them, I’ve decided to do a brief write-up on the now ancient CD audio format.

I first knew this format as “Red Book” audio format. It’s a spec dually held by Philips and Sony and was released in 1980. It calls for the following:

  • 2 channels of LPCM (or PCM) audio, 16-bit signed values samples at 44100 Hz.
  • A maximum capacity of 74 minutes of audio (later expanded to 80 minutes)
  • Maximum number of tracks is 99
  • The audio data is in a 2,352 byte block

Wikipedia tells me the format is apparently still licensable for $5000 from Philips which is kind of shocking to me considering how old the format is. Why isn’t this open-sourced yet? I can only assume the logo that Philips lets you license is also part of that 5k. Anyway, at its simplest CD-DA or Compact Disc Digital Audio is stereo audio at 44.1 Khz. When you pop it in a traditional CD player the device reads the information at 1x (about 150 Kib/second) , decodes the LPCM audio and streams it to your speakers.

CD-DA Logo

The CD-DA logo, imprinted upon many a CD.

I recall playing a brand-new CD-ROM based game that I had as a kid with our new Sound Blaster 8-bit audio card. This game loaded data off of the CD-ROM at 2x (making this horrible seeking noise), and then played Red Book audio from the audio portion of the image, thus freeing the CPU to continue rendering the game loop and not having to worry about decoding that audio on its own. This was also my first exposure to IRQ’s (Interrupt Requests) and how you could tell the processor that you wanted to deal with a specific hardware entity, in this case the decoding engine on the sound card. I though it was awesome.

Back in the mid-90’s I was starting to share media with friends across the Internet. With broadband having almost zero penetration at the time I was stuck using a 56k modem and a phone line to get out to the world. Some of you will recall that few people were ever able to get up to the so-called 56,000 bits of data that our modem’s were supposed to bleep merrily down the phone line so often I was reduced to an even slower mode–44k most of the time. On the web I found guys who were trading effectively CD quality audio via encoded files called MP3’s. Developed by the Fraunhofer Institute, MP3 went on to become a standard format for easily encoding and transporting audio–it sounds decent enough, files went from bulky 60 meg .WAV files to 3.5 meg MP3’s. It was great and it transformed the industry. CD burners became cheap and fast enough to put in home computers, media became widely available using a dye sandwiched in between two layers of plastic. Almost overnight we started using these devices more and more and seeking new and higher resolution audio formats for our media.

One of those was the Super Audio CD (SACD).  SACD was also developed by Sony and Philips and offered almost 8 GB of storage on a single disc and a higher audio fidelity for those who had new SACD playback devices. The format never took off and really the only remnant I have of it is a John Williams soundtrack CD from 1999.

Another extension known as CD-Text buried Artist, title and other relevant information in the 5 kb storage area know as a lead-in on a CD-DA disc. This does not adhere to the Red Book standard, but most newer playback devices (car stereos for example) can read this data and output it in some way to the user.  Apparently its rare to find the old Philips CD-DA logo on discs any more since rarely do the adhere to the standard. Not having bought a CD in years I don’t know about that but it stands to reason.

I think at a later date I’ll delve into some of the stranger formats I’ve used included hybridized discs.