Results tagged “cranky”

On pixels

Warning: this post contains no deep insight. (It does provide my recommended weekly allowance of grump. If you like, you can read half a letter per minute, to stretch it out for a week. I wouldn't want anybody overdosing.)

There's a movement on the move in the game world, and it is pixels. I'm talking about Today I Die, I'm talking Don't Look Back, I'm talking The Majesty of Colors and I Wish I Were the Moon. The theme of these games is, if you can see pixels the size of postage stamps, it's art.

I have no problem with the games. I liked Today I Die a lot. (Don't Look Back turned into too much of a pain in the ass.) I just don't get the pixels. They're ugly, and they've been done. Yes, I had an Apple 2. Screens are better now.

I've heard it suggested that the pixels are a counterreaction to Flash -- especially in Flash games. Flash makes vectors easy. You know what? That's good. I like vectors. They're pretty, and they'll still be pretty in ten years when monitor resolution comes out of faucets. Go play Windosill for a while, for polygons' sake. Go play Gray; it's stylized art, it's got pixels; but it uses them as elements of a language, not a pretense that it's 1990.

There's a whole conversation to be had about the artistic value of retro. Go have it somewhere else. I'm changing the subject, and contradicting myself, because I've found something I hate worse than pixels: fake smoothing of pixels.

I just played through Loom -- speaking of 1990. It's just been re-released on Steam. Here, go play it now. It's four bucks, and it's a short game.

Loom at 320x240 Now, Loom was released on several platforms, with slightly different artwork to match their graphics hardware. Some were better than others -- fine. I played the Mac version, and I remember it as pretty. The re-release uses the nicest graphics available, unsurprisingly. But they can all be described, roughly, as a base set of 320x240 artwork -- maybe squashed down to a fixed color palette -- and then pixel-doubled. Here you see an example. Notice that it's gorgeous.

Here's that scene as it appeared in 1992:

Loom at 640x480

And here's how it appears, by default, today:

Loom at 640x480, smoothed

(These images are cut off on the right side to fit the Gameshelf's layout. Click for a complete image at the same resolution.)

Same thing? Except that something horrible has happened to the font -- look at those letters. And the lines around them. And the branch above them -- it's gone all... runny.

It's a pixel-smoothing algorithm, of course -- not a very bright one. Take a look at the bush in the lower left. Or the trees in the background. A delicate dithering has turned into a blotchy, gummy mass. It looks like it's been chewed.

(In the Steam version, you can hit Alt-S to switch the smoothing algorithm on and off. That's how I got these screenshots.)

In point of fact, this "smoothing" job has made the art look less smooth. The original artwork plays off the meaningful, low-frequency attributes of the scenery against the high-frequency noise of the pixel grid. Your eye actually sees through the pixels to the shading underneath -- a shading job that the hardware of the time could not convey. You see more resolution than exists.

I'm serious here: that's what dithering is. Look at the figure's grey robe (in the full-size version -- he's over on the right). It's made of pixels, in no more than eight discrete colors. But it looks smoothly blended. Whereas on the "smoothed" side, the same eight colors are flat puddles of pigment. The illusion is gone.

That's all I've got. Pixels: bad. Pixels: good. If you want a moral, go with beauty.

Ads in flash games

I play a lot of teeny little Flash games. These games are free and ad-supported. Therefore, they recapitulate the entire history of Web advertising, and we could repeat it right down the line in the comments, and maybe we will. I will try to short-circuit it with the following assertions. (Expletives have been BSGified for public consumption, but really, I wrote this with a lot of swears.)

  • People frakking hate web ads. They hate banner ads, they hate pop-up ads, they hate them all. More people hate them with silent grumbling than by jumping up and down screaming "feldercarb!" but the hate is there.

  • This is because they are noisy, ugly visual pollution which exist to drag your attention away from what you care about.

  • Ad companies politely pretend this hate does not exist. They pretend they are presenting valuable relevant content in parallel with your web-browsing experience. This is a load of bat-dren, but it lets them sleep at night.

  • Some people use ad blockers and such. This makes ad companies weep, and then you get the whole "You're killing the Web 2.0 economy! You are destroying the sites that you visit!" argument. This is right up there with the "Software piracy costs 250 billion dollars a year!" argument: there is a real concern there, but it is comprehensively snowed under by phony hysteria, which is to say, an ocean of decaying dingo's kidneys.

  • The reason this is hysteria is that, even without in-browser ad blockers, people grow ad blockers in their brains very quickly. Ad companies sit around discussing "dwell time" and "optimal ad positioning" as if they weren't staring at the proof that everybody hates them, and discussing their strategies for making everybody suffer more by breaking their brains.

  • Therefore, speaking as a consumer, I avoid lots of ads, and you can't make me feel guilty about it. No, not even if you're the game designer who makes money off the ads. I love game designers, you're awesome, kid, now shut up.

How does this apply to Flash games? Well, we have lived through the following stages of the war:

  • A game appears on a web page
  • A game appears on a web page with ads around it
  • An ad appears on a web page, and then turns into a game
  • ...and then ads appear inside the game itself (between games, or even between levels)

We hit stage 3 a couple of years ago -- managed by ad companies like Mochiads. We are just now hitting the point of stage 4.

Rather than trying to make a moral or aesthetic argument about this progression, I will describe my rules for dealing with it.

  • When I fire up a web page with a game, if I see a splash-page ad, I'm going to bury the window and wait for it to finish loading. I saw your ad, now I'm doing other stuff. I'll be back later. Sorry!

  • If you show a loading progress bar with an ad above it, I understand. I'm not watching it load with glazed consumer eyes, but I get that you're making use of dead space.

  • If you show a falsified loading progress bar, which ticks up for 20 seconds even after the game has finished loading, you're a frakking liar. This is not a moral argument about your ad, this is a moral argument about you. "You" meaning Mochiads. You're dishonest sleazeballs when you do this. Sorry!

  • The only thing that blinks on my screen is the game I'm playing. Animation is an emergency signal. Misuse it and I'll resize the window to cut your ad right the frell off. Sorry!

  • Honestly, a row of brightly-colored, high-contrast ads is pretty damn noisy even if they're not animated. I'll trim them off too. There's a reason that Google Ads are homogenous in style and blend with the overall page: it makes the page suck less.

  • You can put an ad on the "click to start game" screen.

  • Once I click to start the game, ad time is over. I'm playing a game now. The next ad I see is the end of the game. I mean that literally: the next time I see an ad, I shout "game over!" and close the window. No, I am not playing again. You lost fired me.

  • If you can't make a living this way, I'll play other people's games. I'm fine with that. Yes, I do design games for free.

  • Maybe someday ad technology will get so sophisticated that I can't play Flash games at all. Do you want to go there? No, don't worry -- I don't really expect it to happen. Web ad blockers seem to be in fine shape these days.

  • So, if you want to try to go there, you're frakked. One way or the other.

What does all of this boil down to? Seriously, this: web ads are an attention tax levied on the people who don't care about them very much. I care about them a lot, so I block a lot of ads (by various means). You cannot get me to start watching ads by making them more intrusive; you can only make me hate you more.

So back the hezmana off and be happy with the (large majority) of ad-viewers you've got now. Most people aren't juggling windows around to avoid your dren. You don't have to yotz up the game experience itself to make your garbage-spreading cash quota.

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