Best Games - Driver : You are the Wheelman
Driver is filthy. It looks filthy. It sounds filthy. The slap base, funk soundtrack is filthy. The 70s exploitation storyline is filthy.
The driving is absolutely spotless.
That’s a very good thing, because the only thing you do in Driver, is drive.
There are a lot of driving games, but they tend to be racing centric. You might race around virtual versions of real tracks with virtual versions of real cars, or you might race on fictional tracks with fictional cars. No matter the combination of those, you will be ‘simulating’ a sport. Getting from one place to another, in competition with other drivers. That means you are primarily using the car to travel forward as fast as possible. There are other ways to use a car.
Driver is a semi-open world game based on real locations, where you may as well be playing as the car. There is a story, involving you taking on the role of an undercover cop, but there are no real opportunities for you to interact with the world outside of a car.
The game is called Driver, and you drive.
What driver did, that only Grand Theft Auto 3 would do a few months later, was to treat a car as a way of navigating a space. Going flat out at all times isn’t the way to beat the game. Turning, sliding, going in reverse, and even driving casually at the speed limit are all tools you will need to master in Driver. Since you are, allegedly, an undercover cop and not an autonomous vehicle, keeping a low profile is pretty important. Why draw the wrath of random patrol cars when you don’t need to.
None of that would work if the driving didn’t feel right. There is a weight and momentum to the vehicles in Driver that is extremely satisfying. You spend most of your time in American muscle cars and huge boxy sedans with chromed steel bumpers. These aren’t twitchy sports cars that stick to a track. They want to keep moving in whatever direction you propel them. Sometimes that means driving up a curb or through a park or crashing through other cars.
There are other modes that task you with either chasing or evading other cars, and despite the developers putting time into the mission based story mode, these are where you will have the most fun playing Driver. This is what the game is really about. Using a car to navigate a space in any way that a Playstation game from 1999 could muster.
There is something to be said for exploring a mechanic fully. Using all of the available verbs. There are more verbs when driving a car than just racing, and all of them can be fun. Games that set up playgrounds for that sort of mechanical exploration aren’t super common, so when they come along, we should celebrate them.
Driver is about driving, and it’s one of the best games.
I’m currently getting a story ready for submission. I haven’t sold any stories recently, but I have gotten a couple of holds and a couple more personal rejections. I’m not completely numb to rejection yet, but I have to tell you, anything you do a lot of, you get better at. I have a large collection of rejection letters, so I suppose I’m getting better at that.
I wrote a bit about editing not that long ago, so I’m not going to get too deep into it here, but I do have something else that I would like to touch on.
My own personal inclination is working on multiple projects at once. I know that is anathema to some people, but I constantly find it to be a reinforcing practice. Working on one thing will improve another thing I am thinking about, or working on. Editing this particular story helped me find solutions to problems I was having with two other stories. These are solutions that I might have come to if I had only worked on one story at a time, but I doubt it.
I have also talked about how brains like to work on background processes. At least that seems to be how my brain works. Setting a story as a background process means that I will probably figure out some way to improve it while I work on something else. Sometimes that other thing I’m working on is a piece of art, or code, or construction, or metal work, or even another story. Stories seem to be particularly good at running as a background process. Again, this is in my brain. Maybe your brain might be better at running different things as background processes.
Mine likes stories.
There is, of course, an upside and a downside to working this way. On the upside, nothing is ever abandoned, because you can have a lot of background processes running. On the downside, you have to be extremely disciplined about keeping notes, and knowing the difference between being distracted away from whatever your main task is, and taking a moment to make a note.
I still have to work at both of those, but just like rejection, everything you do a lot of, you get better at. I have made it a habit to quickly mark up stories so that I can remember how to fix them when I eventually get around to it. I usually write in Scrivener, but I keep google doc versions of most of my writing, so that I can make those notes no matter where I am, but in both, I use the same system for adding notes to already written passages. I use a hierarchy of folders and files, and all of that is automatically backed up so that I don’t accidentally lose any stories or notes and I know where to look when I get back to working on a particular story.
It is likely that very little of this is helpful to anyone else writing, or trying to write, but you can take this as permission to work on more than one thing. Absolutely, make a habit of finishing stories, but bouncing from one to the other and pushing them all forward is absolutely a valid way to work. In some cases, it will even be helpful. Let those background processes run.
I went back and counted. The graphics tablet I use, nearly daily, is the fifth I’ve owned and the seventh I’ve used. If I don’t count the iPad. Actually, come to think of it, I think I have to count the iPad now. I can’t use it with Blender or Krita or the desktop version of Affinity Designer, at least not easily, and all three of those are go to apps for me, but I do use the iPad to draw and paint pretty regularly. So, eight. The number of graphics tablets I have used is eight. That seems like a lot.
I am thinking about this now, because several times a year, every year, I consider getting a new graphics tablet. This is just part of the natural cycle of things.
The one I currently use is a Huion HS610. It’s perfectly capable and I like it quite a bit. Other than occasionally brushing the scroll wheel with my hand, I don’t think I have any issues with it. The only reason I have for thinking about a new tablet, is that I saw there were some screen based pen displays on sale. I don’t really need one, but that never stopped anyone from wanting a thing.
Very recently, I saw a pixel artist (who apparently used a mouse?) asking the game dev community whether a graphics tablet is worth it. As someone who has owned six of the things (I think we decided on six) I had to say, emphatically, yes.
Not only are graphics tablets amazing tools for artists at any stage of their career or development, having one has almost certainly saved me from worse RSI than I currently have. I switch constantly, from tablet, to trackball, to mouse. The changing hand positions and movement ranges keep my carpal tunnels from getting too distressed.
The other reason I can recommend a graphics tablet is pretty simple. They are so much cheaper now than they have ever been. A new Huion tablet can be picked up for the same price as a mid range mouse. My second Wacom Intuos cost something like $200 and it was far less capable than anything you can buy today.
Even if you only think you will use it occasionally, I think a graphics tablet is a purchase you likely won’t regret.
I think that’s all I have to say this week. I just think graphics tablets are nifty keen and worth getting. I think I’ll go back to drooling over some glossy, 4k, pen displays, and convincing myself that I don’t really need one.
There is a particular look that some old games have that I love. I’ve been chasing it for ages, and I think I’ve finally figured out how to achieve it.
I’m the sort of guy who still plays some game from the early 90s almost daily. Usually it’s some flavour of street fighter. I know the nostalgia for those games is deep in my bones. Nostalgia can be a positive force, or a negative one. People suffering from nostalgia can sometimes convince themselves that the past was better. That the way things worked were better. What they remember was better than what currently is. This is almost universally wrong.
I still love those old games. They are still enjoyable, even without the nostalgia. They are not better. In so many ways, they are far worse than what we have now. That doesn’t mean that there aren’t aspects of those games to love.
I got rid of the last CRT in this house a few years ago, and I have no intention of obtaining another one. It’s worse than what we have now in so many ways that it’s difficult to compare. The LCD, and OLED screens that we have now, are better. Period. By any reasonable metric, just better. But they are different.
So, here’s my issue, I love old games, and I love the look of some old games, but I think breaking out the old hardware just to see them is ludicrous. If I can’t be bothered to break out a CRT to play these games, you can be damn sure that I won’t be using ancient tools to create these sorts of graphics.
CRTs work very differently to modern displays, and the artifacts of how they function are part of how those old games looked. There is some tendency among game nostalgia sufferers to believe that artist of that time were wizards or more capable than modern artists. Of course, that’s nonsense. They were doing the best they could with what they had. What they had were displays that glow and fluoresce in uneven, but controllable, ways. None of the pixel art in CRT based games was ever intended to be seen unfiltered by an aperture grill. Unblurred by light bleed. It is an art form tied to a specific technology with specific limitations and specific qualities. Qualities that you can fake well enough, if you mess around with digital art tools long enough.
I know there are a lot of CRT filter shaders out there. Some of them are very good and very convincing. What I couldn’t find were any art creation tools that would help an artist to create graphics that would look correct when run through one of these filters. So I made one.
Currently this is a series of Krita layers that mimic a set of optical effects. They are mostly just Multiply and Addition filters, literally taking the base pixel values and multiplying or adding them by another value. Basic stuff that computers are great at. I also have a set of blurs that are slightly more difficult, but also something that modern computers can crunch through very quickly.
My set of layers let me paint with any tool in Krita’s box of brushes. It all updates in real-time to look like a limited set of colors are being represented as large chunky pixels and filtered through a CRT screen. It’s all instantaneous. No waiting for something to render. No testing my pixel art through a secondary CRT filter. No creating using a limited set of pixel art tools. Just paint, and see it as if it were the early 90s.
I don’t know about you, but that seems to satisfy my nostalgia.