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Sniper Rifle Armed Robotic Helicopters – America’s Solution to Piracy

Monday, April 27th, 2009


Posted by Tony Huynh.
I was reading Wired magazine and ran across an article about how the US military is mounting remote controlled sniper rifles to unmanned helicopters. They call it Autonomous Rotorcraft Sniper System (ARSS).

Sniper Rifle Mounted Unmanned UAV Helicopter

This comment to the linked article cracked me up.

“For combating pirates, maybe they can change the name to Autonomous Rotorcraft Remote Robot Rifle. Then they could call it ARRRR!” – Gustavus Adoofus

While the idea has been around for a while, it only became feasible recently when Utah State University’s Space Dynamics Laboratory designed a lightweight, stabilized turret. And get this, the whole thing is operated with an adapted Xbox 360 controller. The military could start recruiting The Last StarFighter style or even hide the whole thing and go Ender’s Game!

“[The] ARSS is literally point-and-shoot for the operator on the ground, using a videogame-type controller. The software makes all the necessary corrections, and the system should ensure first-round kills at several hundred yards. The secret is in the control system and stabilized turret (on the right in the picture above), which is currently fitted with a powerful RND Manufacturing Edge 2000 rifle specifically designed for sniping work, using the heavyweight .338 Lapua Magnum cartridge.

The stabilized turret could be fitted to a variety of other vehicles — including a a small blimp, or a fixed-wing unmanned plane, like the Predator. Compared to the Predator’s array of Hellfire missiles, the ARSS’ lone gun would be much less likely to hit civilians. It would also give a far deeper magazine: dozens of shots instead of a handful of missiles, and at a cost of around $4 per trigger pull rather than about $100,000 for a Hellfire. But the turret doesn’t need such a big craft to carry it, as the complete turret assembly weighs less than a single Hellfire.”
Pirates better watch out!

This is an article in Popular Mechanics with greater detail about the ARSS’s capabilities.

See my other related articles:
Roger Ebert is Right: Games are Not High Art…Yet
Top 5 Greatest Moments in Competitive Gaming (eSports)
What Video Games Taught Me About Life
Low Skill Cap and Luck (RNG) in World of Warcraft PVP
Best Games of All Time by Genre Part 1
10 Greatest Video Game Designers Part 1
What’s Bad About Call of Duty 4: Modern Warfare Multiplayer Mode?
8 of the Most Underrated or Overlooked Video Games of All Time
Best MMA Fights & Genki Sudo: Real Life Video Game Character


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Call of Duty: World at War Through the Eyes of a Game Designer

Thursday, December 4th, 2008

CoD: WaW X360 Box ArtCoD: WaW PS3 Box ArtCoD: WaW PC Box Art

I played through the single-player campaign of Treyarch’s Call of Duty: World at War over the long Thanksgiving weekend and again decided to compile my notes. As this is not a review of Call of Duty: World at War and more of a collection of my notes organized in a more readable format, it will contain some spoilers. You have been warned.


I have got to tell you that going in I was very skeptical considering I was less than impressed with Treyarch’s last outing in the series, Call of Duty 3.

Call of Duty: World at War brings the series back to its traditional setting of World War II. I am torn by this decision as I enjoyed the more freeform story that a modern setting afforded Infinity Ward’s Call of Duty 4: Modern Warfare. The modern setting allowed Infinity Ward more flexibility in their locations, missions and story. The developers even introduced a villain and made him perform evil acts so that the villain evoked an emotional response from the player. There was suspense in the outcome of the game as the way the game could end was in question. These sorts of conventions are more difficult or even impossible in a historic setting like World War II, where the player enters the game knowing that the allies win and how they win. Still World War II allows for very epic scenarios.

In the following sections I will outline the levels and events in the game that left a more lasting impression on me.

The first mission was easily the worst mission in the game. The level traps the player into really tight corridors. Invisible walls hem the player in preventing the player from entering areas of the level that are seemingly blocked by small bushes and knee high rocks that the player should be able to easily traverse. Worst still is the fact that very little cover is available in these tight corridors and because it is so tight in sections, it prevents almost all lateral movement. The end result is a player that is left out in the open with no cover and no place to move. I also really dislike the convention of placing enemies in places where the player is unable to travel. It is in many ways lazy and I feel cheated that a 3-foot wall or small plant is preventing me from a performing a flank or even approach the enemy position. By the conclusion of the first chapter I was almost ready to turn the game off and never revisit it. I am glad I continued.

The game really starts to pick up at the start of the Russian campaign. The Russian campaign begins with a sniper mission called Vendetta. The start of the mission is nearly a direct copy of one of the scenes from Enemy at the Gates. As you gain consciousness surrounded by a stack of bodies inside of a destroyed fountain. You crawl to make your way to the edge of the fountain and are given a sniper rifle by a fellow survivor. Here you spot a group of Germans and must wait for planes to fly overhead to mask the noise of the sniper rifle before opening fire. Later in the level, while inside of a building you are spotted by Germans just outside. They pour fire through the windows of the building with flamethrowers and you must go into the prone position and learn to crawl to avoid the streams of fire. While crawling a bookcase that falls overhead was a simple, but very nice touch. There is also a sniper versus sniper segment further in the mission that was very well executed as well.

The tank level, while breaking up the pacing, was not fun. It consisted entirely of sitting at range and firing over and over at targets. If you came too close you would be punished by being pelted by Panzerfäuste carrying infantry or other tanks and quickly destroyed.

The Black Cat mission was one of the more memorable. It involves the player manning the turrets of a “Black Cat” PBY Catalina plane. Although the gameplay is 100% scripted, the running back and forth through the plane to switch to another turret was very exciting. In one scripted event, just as you sit down at your seat to man the turret, a Japanese Zero crashes into the water right in front of you. The mission is littered with exciting moments and there is always something to shoot.

Later in the Russian campaign you are asked to storm a German occupied city. As you prepare to storm the city, your troops line up in front of you forcing you to stop and watch a bombing of the building ahead. The group then charges through the fields screaming battle cries. I just thought this was a great gating mechanism that greatly increased the chance that the player will see the scripted event of the bombing happening and get the rush of charging across a field under fire.

In one of the American Pacific campaign missions, you fight your way up a hill and you arrive at a nice vista shot to close the level. Amazing vistas are a great way to reward the player for reaching a goal.

One of the departures from previous games in the series that I liked was the way the game made you feel heroic especially in the Russian campaign. Previous Call of Duties put you in the roll of a grunt soldier that was treated no different from any of the other soldiers. In Call of Duty 4: Modern Warfare the player meant so little that the developers went so far as to kill the player’s character.

Some of the situations where the game made you feel like a hero were:

  1. The Russian commander giving you a rest on the back of a tank for your performance, while ordering another grunt to walk.
  2. The Russian commander also kept reminding you of all the harrowing circumstances you had lived through and that as long as you lived the Russian army could not be broken.
  3. The Russian commander also gives you the honor of planting the Russian flag to signify victory over your German adversaries calling you out specifically for your heroics.

I am also glad to see Treyarch got rid of the quick time event hand-to-hand battles that you had no control over when they occurred from Call of Duty 3 and replaced them with a single knife button press and only if the enemy comes within range of you. This gives the player the ability to prevent these events from occurring by not allowing enemies to get within range. Although the frustration of these events have lessened by being able to prevent them from happening, when they do occur they can be frustrating because the game clock continues and this often leads to grenades landing on you that you can have no chance to escape from.


Issues I saw and improvements I would have liked to see in the game:

  1. Enemy AI will occasionally just stand there ignoring the player or you will see two AI from opposing factions standing back to back ignoring each other while they engage more distant targets.
  2. It is about time CoD fix their AI’s animations. The IK or something is off, they just occasionally get crossed up while moving and it looks very wrong.
  3. The flamethrower was completely overpowered. It made any of the levels that it existed in a complete joke. You just fan it around and everybody instantly dies. It also has unlimited ammo. At least the developers limited the flamethrower to a few select missions.
  4. Enemy guns should do more damage and grenades should do less. I could just stand there and be nearly impervious to fire on the Regular difficulty. Where as grenades are instant death over a very wide radius. Grenades accounted for 90% of my deaths. If the player moved forward and a grenade is already on the ground, the grenade icon would appear before instantly detonating and giving the player no warning before dying. These deaths feel very cheap. This could be resolved by reducing the instant death radius of grenades (falloff of damage), while at the same time increasing the damage of enemy guns against the player. This would place more value on the use of cover.
  5. The achievements come few and far between in the solo campaign. Ideally an achievement should be handed out after every mission completed even if it is a small one in point value to keep the player motivated. It is like Warren Spector says, “have you patted your player on the back lately?”

Despite these issues, Call of Duty: World at War snuck up on me and surprised me with the quality of the campaign. The game starts off slow and the weapons are mostly familiar if you have played Call of Duty 1-3, but the game slowly builds momentum and ends on a very high note.

My thoughts and impressions of the game were based off of a play through of the solo campaign set at Regular (the suggested) difficulty on the Xbox 360 platform.

See my other related articles also:
Roger Ebert is Right: Games are Not High Art…Yet
What’s Bad About Call of Duty 4: Modern Warfare Multiplayer Mode?
Dead Space Through the Eyes of a Game Designer
Gears of War 2 Through the Eyes of a Game Designer
Become a Video Game Designer: Everything You Need to Know Part 1
Top 5 Greatest Moments in Competitive Gaming (eSports)
What Video Games Taught Me About Life
10 Greatest Video Game Designers Part 1
Low Skill Cap and Luck (RNG) in World of Warcraft PVP
Best Games of All Time by Genre Part 1
8 of the Most Underrated or Overlooked Video Games of All Time
Pimps at Sea err I mean Age of Booty & Gen 13 Cosplay
My Student Films 2: EverQuest Documentary and Guilty Gear Isuka Trailer
Best MMA Fights & Genki Sudo: Real Life Video Game Character

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Dead Space Through the Eyes of a Game Designer

Thursday, November 13th, 2008




Dead Space
Just finished playing through Dead Space and since I always take notes on every game I play through, I thought it would be useful to compile them all together and write a short disposition for Dead Space from a game designer’s perspective. Warning: Some very minor spoilers in this article.

Dead Space is a third-person survival horror game that closely resembles Resident Evil 4 only with better controls (strafing included) and taking place on the set of the movies Event Horizon and Sunshine. Dead Space was developed by EA Redwood Shores, whose previous effort was the licensed title, Godfather.

The Dead Space team runs a real clinic on great design decisions. Dead Space does a number of things to immerse the player in their world and keep them there.

One of the most important decisions made was to never take control away from the player. What this means is that the entire story takes place from the player’s camera. The great thing about this mechanic is that the player’s immersion is never broken by cutscenes. The negative is that story telling is more difficult for the developers as they cannot rely on cutscenes to drive the story forward. The developers at EA had to be extra inventive in the way they told the story of Dead Space and they managed to do a great job with audio and video recordings spread throughout the gameplay spaces as well as using NPCs to drive the exposition.

Another difficulty that the team must have faced was in introducing new enemy types to the player in a fair manner. That is to show what the new enemy type is capable of before letting them loose on the player. The most common practice in games is to introduce new enemy types through a cutscene. There are many advantages to the cutscene approach. The main one being that you can never be sure which direction the player’s camera will be facing during the game, thus they may miss events that happen during gameplay. The disadvantage is that the control is taken away from the player and immersion is broken. Dead Space manages to get around the cutscene crutch in a number of interesting ways. They minimize the likelihood of the player looking in the wrong direction by picking spots like tight corridors to introduce their enemies or by placing the enemies behind glass and showing what the new enemy type is capable of by allowing the player to view the new enemy attack and kill another member of the crew. Another way that the game introduced a new enemy type is through foreshadowing. An example is when the player, passing through a room to complete an objective cannot help but notice the numerous holes punched through the walls. Returning to the room you are attacked by the giant worm that has caused all the damage in the room and it is pulling you towards the large holes. While this is not new to games, as Valve used a similar methodology in their title Half-Life, it is not often done because it is simply not easy to pull off. The developers at EA should be given credit for applying and following this rule, and it is a formula that I would implore other developers to follow.

The second decision made to promote player immersion is that Dead Space has no on-screen HUD. The player’s health is displayed on the character’s spine and gun ammo is read directly from the gun. This system is incredibly well executed and I am sure that going forward, there will be many games that will be copying this mechanic.

There are a few minor issues with not having a HUD that Dead Space did not handle gracefully. One example is since there is no “press A button to open” dialogue on the screen, I did not even know you could open any of the small crates laying on the ground until half-way through chapter 2, when I opened one by accident.

While on the subject of lack of information, the tutorial does not go overboard and lets the players discover a surprising number of the game’s mechanics. The alt-fire mode is not even explained until chapter 2 and the waypoint path is never mentioned and the first time I used it it was during a cinema, which caused it to not function at all.

Dead Space does manage to pull off many aspects of their game very well. Not being able to pause the game to use the inventory or map brought a risk versus reward and a heightened sense of danger anytime the player wants to check the map or use an item from their inventory.

Even the reuse of environment is handled well. Every one of the game’s 12 chapters start the player in a hub area where the player can save, replenish on items from storage and buy upgrades and items at a store. The hub branches off into multiple directions where the player will accomplish each of their objectives for the chapters. This allowed for reuse of the environment as the areas were populated with enemies on the way down to the objective and repopulated on the way back. This repetition is somewhat mitigated by very good scripted events both ways through as well as the player’s desire to reach the hub again to replenish supplies.

The Zero-G environments are impressive visually and offer a lot of unique gameplay from a platforming standpoint.

The dynamic lighting in Dead Space is shown off to great effect through the use of flickering lights, sirens, wires that flail all around spewing electricity and even random objects hinged to the ceiling just swaying back and forth casting shadows. Little tricks like these really help to make the game environments seem less static and more alive.

The audio is one of the highlights of the game. Creepy singing from people driven insane, screaming in the distance, Necromorphs wailing, objects being knocked around and even the occasional music are all dead on and set up the creepy mood.

The telekinetic powers and puzzles helped break up the pacing and the way it is used reminded me a lot of Star Wars: Force Unleashed. This made me start to wonder how a Jedi would behave in a survival horror style of game. Back on topic.

Last note: Guns whose parts animate all over the place like the Line Cutter are always cool.

Improvements I would have liked to see in the game:
1. As with most middle portions of games, they are usually slow and uneventful. Sadly, Dead Space is no exception to this rule.
2. Playing on a console I was surprised by the absence of aim assist on the turret sections of the game. It was immensely frustrating attempting to aim at precise points on the Xbox Controller without any assistance. You can get away with this on the PC Mouse, but with a console controller this is simply not acceptable.
3. Taking away the player’s ability to run on sticky substances was intriguing, but not explored. I am really surprised EA Redwood Shores did not take advantage of this more. The player’s inability to run could have led to a number of cool scare moments. Just off the top of my head, imagine the fear and anxiety of the invulnerable Necromorph chasing you through a corridor where you cannot run from it, but must slow it down with limb shots to make your getaway. This is a missed opportunity.
4. The red explosive barrels that do not affect the enemies are a “wtf moment.”
5. Why does the game reset my plasma gun alt-fire position to default at the beginning of every level and on reloads? This gets annoying.
6. The way the game spawns enemies behind you or when you turn a corner and the tiny Necromorphs (which are out of your view frustum because they are tiny) immediately latching onto you is pretty cheap. If you are going to do that at least give the player some warning and a chance to react. An example of this warning could be, the player enters in a room and hears a crash through the ceiling behind him and then hears the roar before the Necromorph attacks him.

Despite these relatively minor issues, Dead Space is an achievement and is one of the first fruits of a welcome shift within EA to create more original IPs. This is a game that developers, aspiring developers and gamers should not miss.

For aspiring developers, this article is an example of what a designer is looking at when they play games. To learn more about how to become a game designer please read: Become a Game Designer: Everything You Need to Know Part 1.

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See my other related articles also:
Call of Duty: World at War Through the Eyes of a Game Designer
Roger Ebert is Right: Games are Not High Art…Yet
What’s Bad About Call of Duty 4: Modern Warfare Multiplayer Mode?
Gears of War 2 Through the Eyes of a Game Designer
Become a Video Game Designer: Everything You Need to Know Part 1
10 Greatest Video Game Designers Part 1
10 Greatest Video Game Designers Part 2
Low Skill Cap and Luck (RNG) in World of Warcraft PVP
Top 5 Greatest Moments in Competitive Gaming (eSports)
What Video Games Taught Me About Life
Best Games of All Time by Genre Part 1
Best Games of All Time by Genre Part 2
8 of the Most Underrated or Overlooked Video Games of All Time
Pimps at Sea err I mean Age of Booty & Gen 13 Cosplay
My Student Films 2: EverQuest Documentary and Guilty Gear Isuka Trailer
Best MMA Fights & Genki Sudo: Real Life Video Game Character

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Posted in Video Games | No Comments »

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