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November 28th, 2011

First post-TAGAP 2 blog update

It's been ages since the last Penguin DT and TAGAP update, so here we go.

The launch post-mortem

The launch of TAGAP 2 was a pretty smooth one, at least in practice. Planning ahead paid off and seeing things through was just a matter of watching things falling to their place. Well, it was more like 'let's hunt Assassin's Creed II achievements while my laptop uploads the stuff to the Interwebs', but you get the idea.

On mental level it was a lot more taxing than the launch of the first TAGAP. When the first game launched four years ago, it was all about 'let's just release it and see what happens' kind of deal. I'm not really talking about living up to hype and expectations – the game is what it is and if people like it, all the better – but more about getting the launch done as smoothly as possible with little no technical hitches.

And it almost didn't happen; During the launch weekend the servers crashed on Friday and didn't come back until late in Saturday, causing Titanic amount of stress and ripped out hair. I had prepared for every kind of hick-up but this one – for instance I had bought a pre-paid USB modem in case my Internet connection crapped out.

This all leads to the state of post-launch TAGAP.net; There really haven't been that many updates and even the promised competition has been delayed (it's coming soon now, though). It's all about TAGAP 2 fatigue. The launch was stressful enough that I really wanted to take some time off from public TAGAP land, just working on bug fixes behind the scenes. Now I'm over it though, and things start to get back into gear.

The freeware paradox

Now, before I start with this subject, I want to make clear that I'm not bitter or disappointed in the launch of TAGAP 2. On the contrary; Most of the people who gave TAGAP 2 a spin had nice things to say about it and the fact that anyone else besides us enjoyed the game lands it into 'mission accomplished' folder in my book. Now since that is out of the way...

One thing I've noticed in launching TAGAP 2 was the state of gaming and how people relate to games and game pricing. And it was one damn scary revelation. In a nutshell; I had a tough time trying to get visibility for TAGAP 2 - and by tough I mean almost impossible. Back in 2007 all I had to do was to say; 'Here's a freeware game, have at it' and it did the trick.

In 2011 things are all different. Instead of people jumping out of joy saying 'free game, cool!', everyone replied with pure suspicion. It really culminated in RopeCon 2011 where Timo and Heini were giving away TAGAP 2 calling cards. I was told that the majority of people couldn't believe it being free and kept asking how is TAGAP 2 going to cash in on the player. "So it has a subscriptions? In-game microtransactions? DLC? Adverts?".

One could say that the free-to-play market has brought in so much competition that TAGAP 2 wasn't relevant anymore, but judging by the reactions I don't think that's the case. Instead I believe the change isn't in the game market but the consumer, who has been hurt so many times in recently that a 100% free game seems like too good to be true. Now we live in a world where you have to pay 15 EUR for three multiplayer maps, term 'free-to-play' equals 'pay-to-win' and even single-button single-use titles on iOS AppStore cost real money. Combine that with the financial situation across the world I can't blame anyone for being super-cautious.

Future of Penguin DT

I'm not going to talk much about where Penguin DT is heading next, but rest assured, we've been working on something new ever since June. The technology is already pretty much in place and designs are on the way.

There are two things I can reveal at this point. First off, the game we're working on now really wasn't our first option. In fact it was the last one of the three potential concepts we had been tossing around. Things just fell into place in such way that it felt necessary and just right to go with this one.

Secondly, the new engine powering this project brings forth plenty of much-wished improvements to the original TAGAP Engine. It's no longer fixed into 4:3 aspect ratio, it supports shaders, skeletal animations, expanded scripting support – the list goes on and on. It's also no longer bound to a fixed resolution like our previous efforts, but is natively HD. So far at least the code base is such that if the machine can run TAGAP 2, it can run this new engine as well. To sum up, if TAGAP 2 version of our tech was more TAGAP Engine 1.5 than 2.0, this baby is close to 3.0.

But that's it for now. We'll be announcing this new project as soon as we have something to go along with the press release – you know, other than well-animated HD stick figures.

Gaming front

TAGAP 2 safely out the doors, it's been my epic return to actually playing games. My main focus has been, as I mentioned earlier, Assassin's Creed series. For some reason this series past me by until earlier this year. There's no need to sugar-coat things, so I'll just say it; I'm hooked to the series and I'm on the edge my seat going through Assassin's Creed: Revolutions.

The main reason for this is the balance between story and gameplay. Usually action adventure games put emphasis on one or the other, handicapping the whole, but not so in Assassin's Creed. There is one meaty, century-spanning semi-time-travel epoch, but it never takes the center stage from super-slick gameplay. Just when you're starting to tire doing videogamey things, it throws cinematic twists your way, with neither of them wearing out their welcome.

In addition to those, finished RAGE a while back. If you've played TAGAP or TAGAP 2, you can likely see that id Software titles have been great influence to everything we at Penguin DT do – and in case of coding, how we do it. So, a new game from Carmack, Willits and Co. is always larger-than-life event for me and RAGE delivers, but not in the way I expected.

You see, prior to getting my hands on it, I had the idea it was something on the lines of Doom 3 or Quake 4 with meatier story and some fun vehicle action. Turns out it is way more on the lines of BioShock meets Borderlands with id technology and gameplay, proving to be one spicy sauce. Only thing lacking is the non-existent plot, but then again, if you've ever played an id Software game for the story, you might not be right in the head :)

Doctor Who

I've now wrapped up watching (New) Series 6 and it's pure gold all the way through. And without spoilers I can say that while it doesn't actually end with a cliffhanger, the ending does raise the expectations through the roof. And it does so with a simple, perfect line of dialogue, repeated three times. It seems Matt Smith's 11th Doctor may end up being the most legendary of them all, if the series goes down the path they are hinting at.

I also have to say I can't understand why some of the fans created a storming backslash against Steven Moffatt regarding the episode "Let's Kill Hitler". I loved every second of it – well, except perhaps the Antibodies, which moved around like something out of early-80s Doctor Who and not in the good way. The dialogue is the most hilarious I've heard in ages – and it's just the kind of quirky you can hear only in Doctor Who. 'I think it's Hitler in the cupboard', indeed!

And since we're on the topic of The Doctor, I have to comment on the planned Doctor Who Hollywood movie. My opinion in a nutshell; If it happens, it's likely the biggest mistake BBC has made since the EastEnders crossover in 1993. Given how hard it is for Hollywood production machine to get even the simplest concepts right these days, I can't see how this movie could turn out as anything but a let-down. Turning 50 years of well-developed, smart and distinctly British adventures into two-hour, Hollywood-produced blockbuster without ending up a train wreck borderlines on a paradox.

But that's it for now; Time to start writing the HTMLs for the TAGAP 2: Overdose Edition contest! Hopefully I'll get them online for December.

Until next time,

Jouni Lahtinen, the head penguin