Friday, December 21, 2007

Crysiswatch: Day Three

The NVIDIA Forceware update
released yesterday seemed to solve the worst of the problems, even though I still get a bad disc read error the first time I try to launch the game (the second attempt always works).

Until I got the Blue Screen of Death.

This game is doing everything it can to halt my forward progress. At this point I feel like maybe if I don't finish this game the world will end, that a malevolent force is ensuring my frustration by casting error incantations at my processor and video cards.

I will gather my strength by playing something that works, like Team Fortress 2.

Then once more into the breach.

Thursday, December 20, 2007

Artificial Intelligence, Real Stupid

a job opening for a Senior AI Programmer.

Please, someone, someone very good, apply for this position. Hell, someone apply who has at least heard of AI, because the developers at Crytek don't know shit.

Nearly three years ago I wrote about Far Cry's horrible AI. It has gotten worse.

Not only are the dreaded player-seeking helicopters back, but there are several new tricks that basically amount to cheating. Koreans who can take three rifle shots to the face and at least seven to the body. Fifty cal machineguns with small armor plates that magically deflect bullets and even goddamn direct grenade hits.

There was the time I launched a fucking rocket into a sniper tower, blowing its roof off, and both of the snipers in it survived.

Or the time I very cautiously approached a position and thoroughly scouted the area. Completely clear. Then I got into a jeep. My radar lit up with three enemies in a circle around me. Yes, enemies spawn in out of thin air. These are not augmented sci-fantasy enemies with crazy powers - these are just grunts that apparently slide through dimensional folds.

When they aren't killing you over and over again, the enemies are outrageously dumb. They drive into obstacles. The boat drivers will putter around once their gunners have been killed, not even attempting to fight. When you cloak and decloak, most of the time enemies won't look at your last known position. Instead they'll just forget you were there and get distracted by some other shiny object.

I watched a tank turn its gun toward me. I cloaked. The turret swung back to the allied tanks. I uncloaked. Turret came back toward me. Cloaked. Turret swung away. Satchel charge, BOOM. Dumb.

It's pretty clear that the AI wasn't even touched between Far Cry and Crysis. The game's idea of challenge is waves of hard-to-kill enemies. And I've already seen instances of being out of range of the health tracking, so an enemy you're sniping runs around being shot and taking no damage at all.


So I got Crysis working for a little bit (obviously). Now it just freezes twenty minutes into a playsession.

Jesus what a shit game.

Wednesday, December 19, 2007


would be a great shooter.

If it weren't the buggiest piece of shit I've ever tried to run. Settings don't seem to matter. Display drivers don't matter. I even installed the RC1 beta Vista SP.

First it wouldn't read the disk.

Then it would crash trying to load saves.

Then it would shut off my mouse and keyboard.

Then objective updating completely bugged out.

DirectX 9 or 10, it doesn't matter. Low, High, Very High settings, it doesn't matter. I even turned on single processor affinity, which seemed to help things until it triggered a huge memory leak.

This thing is a buggy piece of shit on a computer pretty much designed to run a game of its kind: Core 2 duo, dual 8800s, 4 gigs of RAM.

When it runs, it looks great and runs fast. The gameplay is a sleeker iteration of Far Cry, which is also a blast. It's not quite a sandbox game, but you have a larger array of tactical options available at any one time.

But it has more major bugs than I've encountered in any game, ever. They might patch it soon, but I'm likely to uninstall it in the meantime.

*Sigh* Back to The Witcher, I suppose. Which is a post for another time.

Thursday, December 06, 2007


If I'm
reading this correctly, the big plan to help out people who are in danger of losing their homes is:

1. Pretend the plan will cover a large number of people.
2. Make the terms so specific that a much smaller number of people will benefit.
3. Make sure that the poorest people, i.e., those who would most benefit from the plan, are excluded from the terms.
4. Ensure that the plan doesn't actually do anything except delay the inevitable accounting in the hopes that a miracle will occur between now and the reset date.
5. Meet with the same fuckers who issued the subprime loans in order to devise a way to completely shift responsibility onto consumers - even though the current problems are endemic to the cash-grab business practices of the loan industry, which just happened to be de-regulated.
This totally makes sense.


It grows increasingly difficult for me to moderate my political feelings. Every time I try and convince myself that Republicans just have different ideas for running the government, it basically comes out that they'd much rather dismantle the government, sell off everything that isn't nailed down and roll back social progress to a feudal system.

Every plan they come up with is pretty much asking Big Business what would help the bottom line.

Since they've come to power the Republicans have done everything they can to completely erase the Great Society. Ronald Reagan sliced off its limbs and Cheney/Bush have been skullfucking its corpse.


Speaking of Cheney . . .

But his implication was clear: When asked if these men had lost their spines, he responded, “They are not carrying the big sticks I would have expected.”

This is really easy to understand, let me explain the context.

It's perfectly coherent when you understand that Cheney is pretty much the biggest dick in the known Universe.


The above news article about our crooked soul of a Vice President is actually quite relevant considering this month's Round Table. Cheney is making the argument that a woman, Nancy Pelosi, in a position of leadership in the House is emasculating for male Representatives. Poor guys.

Really, our world is so infused with the stench of sexism that the Vice President is threatened by a female Speaker of the House.

We really should geld all male politicians.

Video Games Versus Art - Part One Billion

= Not Art.

A man dipping bugs in paint and then using light to manipulate their scurrying over a painted background = Art.

Devil is in the Details

I think
I'm broad-minded enough to give Mitt Romney a little leeway for his religion. There are some good sentiments in his most recent speech. I don't expect him to not speak to his own religious experience.

Then there's this:

"We are a nation 'Under God' and in God, we do indeed trust."

No we aren't. No we don't.

I realize it can be hard to pander to Christians and discuss the founding documents of our nation. The best we've got is "Nature and Nature's God" or maybe "Creator", but those are so non-specific. "Divine Providence" might just end up confusing people. That's it in the Declaration of Independence.

The Constitution has even slimmer pickings. Basically "no religious tests" and "no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof."

It's almost as if the Founders knew what they were doing.


I don't even want to get started on what the sentence "Freedom requires religion just as religion requires freedom" might possibly mean or portend or imply.

Honestly, I'd just like a guarantee from a candidate that they won't listen to God if He says something like, "Go and invade Iraq, er, liberate the Iraqis." Let's face it, God's a shitty strategist. He sent His people against Jerusalem without any siege equipment.

Monday, December 03, 2007


This is
a bit old (May of this year), but I don't remember seeing anything about it.

The folks at Introversion, makers of the most delightfully stylish and interesting little games, have got another one lined up. A big one. No real clue what it's about.

But there are some tantalizing clues.

Go read this topic. Watch the video. See a city take shape before your eyes utilizing very simple rules that generate a chaotic result.


In about two minutes half of the game Crackdown has been created, with buildings you can actually enter.

Well, okay, not quite half.

Sandbox games utilize simple rules to create complex chains of interesting gameplay. The real bottleneck is creation of assets. If you begin finding ways to create rules that govern the content then you're a step toward simulating the complexity that human designers generate.

I don't think designers will ever be replaceable (I hope not), but I am always looking forward to better tools that allow tremendous flexibility with simple inputs.

Right now game creation tools are crude, the equivalent of hand-cranked film cameras. Everything has to be cut together piece by piece, lit only by candlelight; the medium on which we present things tenuous and prone to error.

Sunday, December 02, 2007

To Search Again

If you're really interested
in the latest game-violence/real-world violence causation study beyond just skimming the press article, you may as well go to the website of one of the principal authors, Brad J. Bushman.

Dr. Bushman helpfully allows the download of almost all of his peer-reviewed articles. I've snagged three of them that focus on videogames and will do my layman's best to go over them when I have the time.

Homework never stops.


Before I read these papers, I will mention that one thing I noticed in the studies I've read previously is the disregard for the actual incidence of violence and lack of correlating any increases of violence in specific demographics with other social factors.

For example, in the last six years the gap between rich and poor has widened due to disastrous economic policies. This kind of wealth disparity has been shown to cause an increase in crime, and these crimes are the type that aren't motivated by violence but often result in it - carjackings, home robberies, muggings. And because college is often out of reach and jobs scarce, this type of crime comes from young people - who happen to members of a generation in which almost everyone has played videogames.

In fact, the biggest difficulty in any media violence study is attempting to control for all the variables. Are they correlating with children who played sports? Are they identifying the type of sport, e.g., contact vs. non-contact. What about music choices? What about different kinds of abuse? What were their social groups and the interaction between them? What economic status?

Without a good control group, and with the fact that pretty much everyone from the last three generations has grown up surrounded by videogames, these kinds of studies are nearly impossible. Then there is the difficulty of classifying violence - is Mario violent? "Realism" is often touted as being especially affecting, but what is considered realistic? Mortal Kombat was called realistic, but nowadays it looks cartoony. The goalposts are constantly moving, so how do you even begin to discern a metric for realism?

Media violence doesn't happen in a vacuum. I'm not going to disparage the people who make it their life's work to study it, but I do find that conclusive studies tend to be anything but.

Saturday, December 01, 2007

Funny To Me

If you follow
the work of Maynard James Keenan at all you might be interested in his latest release under the name Puscifer.

The first video is here on youtube.

It's . . . well, the funniest thing to me will be the reaction from both Tool and A Perfect Circle fans who aren't familiar with anything else MJK has done.

But if you've ever listened to Children of the Anachronistic Dynasty, then you'll be a little more prepared, at least for the single. Weird, drum-heavy, ambient . . . music, with vocals that are more about experimentation or ornamentation than anything else - if that sounds like something you want to try, give it a shot. While Maynard never gets quite as crazy with his voice as Mike Patton, both of them like to play with intonations, effects, breath patterns, hisses, pretty much anything they can do with their sound.

I used to listen to CAD while trying to fall asleep, and while I found the album to be shit when fully awake, in that reverie of near-sleep it was great for triggering lucid, strange dreams.

Maybe Puscifer will be the same.

The Marilyn Vos Savant of Blogs

cash advance

That's right.

I wish I knew exactly what metric they're using. Spelling maybe, though I use plenty of nonstandard words. They certainly don't mark you down for profanity.

I'm guessing it just pulls your most recent post and checks one or two things. Maybe word count, percentage of misspellings, that kind of thing.

Or maybe it's random. I don't know. My blog's the genius, not me.

Regardless, you are smarter for having read this contentless post.

Daily Dose

The President of the United States is
not the fucking Commander-in-Chief. People do not elect a Commander-in-Chief.

The President of the United States is the Commander-in-Chief of the Armed Forces. That's it.

If you are not a current member of the military, he is not your Commander-in-Chief. He's not even the Commander-in-Chief, because that title is not applicable to a vast majority of the country.

If you're a journalist making this stupid flub, you're promulgating a dangerous error. The difference in context is not minor. It is the difference between a Republic (no matter how tenuous) and a Military Dictatorship.

It's telling that the President's own Press Secretary enjoys using this turn of phrase. But that doesn't mean you have to follow her deliberate propaganda with your own acquiescence.

Get it right.

And start acting like citizens, for goodness' sake. You're embarrassing us in front of the rest of the world.

Friday, November 30, 2007

Things to Consider

I'm still seeing
this whole "Are videogames art?" thing all over the internet, from serious discussions to parodies to outright mockery.

I've found one constant between all of these discussions: all of them assume that art has to be good.

I know I've talked about this before, that old X of Y Postulate. Where is the Mona Lisa of videogames?

But think about it. There is a lot of really shitty art out there, and yet plenty of people will accept it as art. When I see some enterprising Norwegian who has wrapped a building in cellophane and says it is a deep musing on human calamity, I can at least say, "Pretentious, moronic, insulting, ridiculous and absolute shit. But its art."

We really just need to remember that shitty art is still art.


I've kind of arrived at a way that I recognize art. I look for the intersection of technical knowledge with aesthetics for the purpose of expression.

Think about architecture. There are architects who are considered artists, because they used an intimate understanding of their craft and combined it with an exploration of their aesthetics and created something that aided their own self-expression.

What about painting? I can paint. Anyone can. It's a craft. What makes those museum pictures art-worthy is that someone used their internal processes of judgment to create a thing appealing to their own nature.


I'll say it one more time to break it down:

When people do the whole videogames vs. art debate, the art they use as a comparison is always a fucking masterpiece. But masterpieces constitute maybe .1% of every kind of art ever created in recorded history. Even some of the masters only made one or two masterpieces and a bunch of humdrum crap. Not every Shakespeare play is a hit.

Videogames are art. It isn't a big deal, so why do people treat it like it's some crazy unknown thing? Oh god, they're interactive, how can they be art? Oh god, they're commercial products, it's as if Andy Warhol never existed? Oh god, a medium in its infancy doesn't compare to music, which has had thousands of years to mature, or film, which has had over a century, or photography, over 150 years, or painting, or architecture.

Can we get over it? Then maybe we might be able to talk about how to make it better. And maybe someday get a masterpiece.

But even if we don't, big deal. Shitty art, which is most of it, still has value.

Tuesday, November 20, 2007


Amazon has released
its own E-book reader, and it will probably flop just as bad as all the others.

I wrote a post once on my objections to E-books. My feelings haven't changed.

And now, reading Boing Boing's description of the harsh Terms of Service and mind-bogglingly prohibitive DRM involved in overpriced digital books, this looks like one of the stupidest gadgets. I don't doubt that someone, somewhere will plunk down money for this, the same type of person who regularly purchases from Hammacher-Schlemmer catalogs, but I doubt it will be as ubiquitous as an Ipod.

Let's go over the basics:

1. It's 400 dollars.
2. The books are 10 bucks.
3. You can't loan out the books to other people.
4. You can't resell the books.
5. It's 400 fucking dollars.

The screen does look nice, but I don't doubt that we'll see the technology used in other readers, hopefully ones that don't cost more than an Xbox 360.

I really wouldn't mind an E-book reader. The pricing sweet spot for me, though, is more like a hundred bucks, with books somewhere around 5 bucks.

Sometimes technology really isn't worth it.

Out of Time

I got me a 360
for my birthday. It just felt like it was time.

Jesus but this has been a great season for games. Almost every thing I've played has been outstanding.

Mario Galaxy halfway in the bag. I'm at Bowser but still have to go back and collect the hidden shit.

Mass Effect waits for my sister-in-law to leave so I can wrest control of the television from my wife and the neverending stream of shows (the writer's strike is truly a shitty situation for writers, but I can't help feel a bit of relief that I might be granted a small reprieve from constant idiot-boxing.

Crysis will be a future purchase despite the fact that Crytek obviously hasn't done fuckall with their AI since Far Cry.

I still jump on Team Fortress 2 regularly. I feel competent with the Pyro and sometimes the Medic. Other than that I go from mediocre to awful, but with a pretty even match it's a good time anyway.

I tried out Crackdown and my judgment is that it's a great platformer and an OK action game. It's basically a futuristic mercenaries with a comicbook sensibility. I spend about 90 percent of the time collecting agility orbs and hidden orbs and then remember that there are gang leaders to take out or something.

Assassin's Creed will also be something to maybe buy when it gets cheaper. I spent about two hours with a borrowed copy but there was a scuff and the disc wouldn't load any intel points in Damascus. By now if you've heard about this game at all you've been spoiled for the sci-fi "twist," which apparently has the ability to instantly twist nerd panties into a knot of anger. It happens in the first five minutes and is about on par with a good Michael Crichton novel. I enjoyed the nods in the story to the real Assassins (stories that are no doubt apocryphal, but nevertheless show detail to crafting the world).

The real flaw of the game is that it's exactly like Spider-Man 2 - run around a city, do the same five or six kind of tasks until you earn enough plot points to trigger the next part of the story. It feels lazy, which is a letdown when you consider how much work was evidently put into the rest of the game. The combat's been criticized but I didn't have a problem with the implementation.
Rock Band's also out now, and there is no way I can afford it anytime soon. I'm not too disappointed. I don't have time to play single-player stuff let alone gather a bunch of friends together to bang on plastic instruments. Hell, I've been trying for a few years to find enough time and friends to get together to bang on real instruments.

I thank god that Grand Theft Auto isn't out yet.


The bane of all developers is player expectation.

Players can't help but talk about how they would have implemented a feature or designed a character or mapped a control. It's a natural thing no matter what the media.

But I've seen more and more reviews by supposedly professional reviewers that judge a game based upon player expectation rather than on the game itself. It's sloppy and lazy and one of the reasons that I read about games on joke forums where the users do nothing but flame each other over their choice of console/game/controller/avatar.

At least it's honest.

Sunday, November 04, 2007

Long 'i' Live

Microsoft's XNA program is a strange mish-mash of freeware, indie development and corporate culture.

The biggest complaint is the $100 fee to join the XNA Creators Club, a required step if you wish to develop for the 360. To me, it's a negligible cost for access to great dev resources.

There's another problem, though. If I, as a PC-only developer, wish to join the XNA Creator's Club, there is no way for me to do so without signing up as a 360 developer. That is, I need to have a Live Subscription (which means access to a 360).*

This doesn't make any sense, and it's illustrative of Microsoft's entire approach thus far to their Games for Windows "initiative." Piss-poor, nonsensical, a seeming afterthought. It was only recently that you couldn't sign up for Windows Live without purchasing a game (and even then access was only possible with the game running).

Still, the free SDKs are nice, and they get better and better. My only gripe is that the coding world changes so fast that tutorials are superseded quickly and stuff that is done to make professionals have an easier time can lead to confusion for newbies.

I keep on banking that someday I'll just "get" programming. At this point I understand every single basic concept, but then I look at basic code and it's like "How the fuck did you even find that? How do you know what it does and how to use it?"

Ah well. Dabbling is fun.

*There is a bit of logic here, but only a small bit. The Creator's Club resources are geared toward 360 development, so Microsoft might be trying to avoid complaints from PC developers that the examples don't help them with PC development. But the whole draw of XNA is how easy it is to cross-develop between the 360 and PC (and really, it's mostly just a matter of leaving out the 360 using statements).

Thursday, November 01, 2007

Simulated City, Real Propaganda

I was looking forward to the new Simcity. Tilted Mill did a decent job on its first title, Children of the Nile. Their follow-up, Caesar IV, was lackluster, especially considering its pedigree.

They really seemed to have an interesting take on the overly-familiar Simcity formula. The focus would be on developing a city's "energy," its overall feel - whether authoritarian, liberal, etc. It definitely sounds cool, dealing not so much with micromanaging spreadsheet numbers but shifting the emotional aura of districts.

But now I'm not so sure.

See, it turns out that BP, the energy giant, was so fascinated by the social implications of the title, that they generously offered to consult with the publisher. How we deal with pollution is very important, you see.

That's why, in the game, all the environmentally-sound forms of energy are branded with BP's logo. Gas stations, too, but automobiles miraculously don't cause pollution.* All of the high-polluters are unbranded; I guess we're lucky they aren't marked with BP's competition.


“We want people to understand the climate issue a bit better and understand that there are twice as many greenhouse emissions from generating electricity than from all forms of transport combined."

Holy fucking shit. I know that EA has been spreading their legs for in-game advertisements for a few years now. This, though, goes beyond product placement. They are now presenting industry propaganda completely unchecked. I really cannot support this game in any way. In fact, I would encourage people to buy completely legal copies and destroy them.

Here are a few of my own ideas for the game:

-When you build a BP headquarters, they will spend millions buying off your city officials in order to deregulate the publicly-owned energy utilities. Once that happens, they monopolize the energy industry. Then they start manipulating the reserve power in order to artificially inflate supply and thereby raise prices. You can actually zoom in and watch your old Sims freeze to death in the winter because they can't afford heat (alternately, you can watch as they pay for heat but neglect their prescription medication).

-As your city fills with automobiles, your oil demand skyrockets. The pollution they generate causes a high incidence of respiratory disorders. The BP board surreptitiously fixes prices at gas stations, causing ill will. You are forced to pay huge subsidies to BP in order to replace their oil rigs destroyed by tsunamis (an unfortunate side effect of global warming). A war in the Middle East causes gas prices to triple, business suffers, the crime rate skyrockets. Billions of dollars in oil is lost to the black market; BP is of course completely innocent.

-You have to levy huge taxes on your middle class citizens because, for some reason, you can't tax the upper class above 4% (the slider won't go higher).

Maybe I'm being too harsh. Not all energy companies are the same. They just all collaborate behind closed doors with the Vice President for some reason.**

*I recall Buckminster Fuller's take on the LA smog - a rebuttal to oil companies who denied that automobiles contributed a significant amount of pollution - and how Sunday mornings had mysteriously clear skies along with little traffic, surely a coincidence.

**For those who think I'm being unnecessarily conspiratorial:
"The document, obtained this week by The Washington Post, shows that officials from Exxon Mobil Corp., Conoco (before its merger with Phillips), Shell Oil Co. and BP America Inc. met in the White House complex with the Cheney aides who were developing a national energy policy, parts of which became law and parts of which are still being debated."

Friday, October 26, 2007

Plausible Deniability

I am all for game designers tackling social and political concerns through interactive media.

But there are certainly times when a designer tries too hard to convince people that their game is deep without actually adding any depth to the game.

That's what I think of when I read this Gamasutra interview:

Are you at all concerned that people are not going to get the message, and the game might, instead, glorify this situation? Because the characters themselves do look like the ultimate male power fantasy.

CF: Well I think that obviously when you see that armor and the masks and the guns and stuff -- we need an image to get people to go into the game, right? And the world is obsessed with it. I mean how many shooters are at the show today -- eleven plus? So it’s popular. People like guns. Americans love guns. The world likes violence. It’s human nature. People enjoy war, they enjoy this stuff. It’s creepy when you look at it... a singing game [compared to a] shooter, what the sales numbers are, it’s actually kind of scary in just the amount of violence. But what we’re doing is... we’re going to try to bring this to light subtly.

I look at it like Invasion of the Body Snatchers. That movie came out back when, and people were like “oh, it’s a horror movie.” And some people took it at face value -- “oh, it's a horror movie... I’m afraid of body snatchers!” But other people realized that the underlying message was McCarthyism, and what was going on in America at the time.

We’re hoping that someone who plays the game a lot and who really follows the story, and doesn’t just skip through it and pays attention, that we can spark them to say “you know what, I’m going to look into this.” That’s all. “I’m going to gain interest in this, and find out what’s really going on here. What am I doing?” In the game you’re doing all kind of crazy stuff for this company. You’re sent on all these different missions, and then you find out what’s wrong with this deniability and what’s wrong with everything in general.


I would really like to believe Chris. It's very possible that he is in fact making a highly negative statement about mercenary armies through the medium of videogames. But every single trailer makes it look like any other consequence-free run and gun. The slasher-mask helmets, impossibly beefy main characters*, Dukes of Hazzard water jumps - I am just so totally reminded of Blackwater opening fire on civilians.

Chris isn't completely wrong. Violence can be titillating. Where he's wrong is that he thinks the widespread enjoyment of violence in media means that he has to portray it as enjoyable. Were he really interested in making a statement he wouldn't be crafting a game where two buddy mercs blow a bridge with rocket launchers. Radical, dude!

It isn't an impossible task to make a playable game that also makes a statement. It's just not as easy a sell as balls-to-the-wall murder.

A scenario I would like to see: Your character is attached to a squad that detains a group of civilians. You are told to pull the truck around. When you do, you see through the windshield that they have opened fire and the civilians are running for cover while the squad laughs. You have to make a decision - place your vehicle in the line of fire, watch as the civilians are murdered, join in, or radio to headquarters explaining the situation. A thirty minute game with these kinds of decisions would be infinitely preferable to twenty hours of gunning down faceless "ethnics" in a scenario based on the fantasy world of xenophobic right-wingers.

*The funniest thing to me about these roided out character designs that seem so popular in shooters is that I saw maybe two Marines during my four years that resembled those inflated ubermen in any way. Do developers not realize that military members are recruited from the general population and not grown in a genetics lab?

Thursday, October 25, 2007


Jared Diamond's Collapse is an interesting read, in an absolutely chilling way.

I am always reminded of its lessons whenever I hear how a social organization designed to make human life better ends up creating the opposite situation.

Consider this firedoglake post about the California fires.

To sum up:

People form communities so they can collectively achieve more than they could alone. These communities pool resources in order to effectively deal with disasters. Then some of the people in the community become so wealthy that they don't have to worry about disasters, because they can insure their property for more than its worth and they can always move to their summer home. So they form another organization of other wealthy people who pitch a fit that their taxes are too high.

They use their wealth to gain influence, and use their influence to buy politicians. The politicians cut taxes to please these shitheels. Children starve. People walk around sick and dying. Food is contaminated. Toys leak poison. Cities are swept off the map because the levees weren't maintained.

And in California, fires destroy lots of property and kill lots of people.


The signs of our collapse are pretty clear. They are in the headlines every day. Not just America, but we're already in the disintegration process. We can shamble on for a couple hundred years as a husk - the Roman Empire did.

But we're at the point where we are squandering our resources at such a fantastic rate and lack the political will to take care of anyone but the superrich.

Our President, phony huckster fuckstick that he is, demands billions for his imperial ambitions and then threatens to veto a bill that gives health care to children. He should've choked to death on that pretzel. Too bad the opposition party can't muster enough courage to pluck a lame duck.


California burns. The budgets were cut more and more every year. Unchecked global warming increased the fire risk year after year. The National Guard is busy being overextended in Iraq and Afghanistan. FEMA was gutted by the Department of Homeland Security, who are too busy selecting targets to be kidnapped and sent to Syria for CIA torture to do a goddamn thing to save people.

It's not that things haven't been this bad before.

It's that I've got to fucking live in it.

This Blog Post Does Not Exist

Portal might be a perfect game.

It has been criticized for being too short. Two hours if you catch on quick, four if you ponder or multi-task.

It is short, but it's not too short. There is a big difference. I found that the game ended just as I was craving more resolution. To me, that's perfect.

I finished the game wanting more, but this doesn't mean it was too short, either. Merely that it was effective.

The writing is excellent: alternately funny and menacing without ever going out of character.

This is one of those games that shows every single strength of the medium. You could make a Portal movie, or a book, or a graphic novel, but none of them would have the same impact. The interaction makes the story a personal journey.

Also, the end credits are the greatest I have ever seen.

Wednesday, October 24, 2007

Squash This Trend

I absolutely hate the recent trend of putting "reaction events" in games. Maybe they're called Quick Thinking Events or Press Stuff Sequences. The shit like in Resident Evil 4 when you're walking along and they switch to a cutscene of a boulder and at the last second they tell you to press 'A'. You don't and you get the honor of watching a death sequence and then wait to reload your game.

It's lazy and boring and not fun at all. Simon is not a fun toy, not for more than five minutes, after which it is a nuisance.

There is no reward. Either you have fast enough reflexes or enough patience for unnecessary repetition.

These are barely tolerable in God of War, and even then there's no reason to use them more than once or twice, not all through the games.

They absolutely ruined Fahrenheit. Here's a sequence made of twelve different timed button presses, if you miss one you die and have to start all the way at the beginning, have fun. Not much of a loss, because the game itself was shit.

They may as well put electrodes on controllers and administer electrical shocks every time you miss one of those button presses. At least it would get my adrenaline going.

My most recent encounter was in the Jericho demo, an okay shooter capped by a Pres Butan sequence that added nothing to game except a chance to reload and try it again. Easy enough, but pointless.

The grandfather of these sequences is the Dragon's Lair laserdisc game. This game was not fun. It was cool to watch if you had a friend with perfect recall to play through the whole thing, but it did not provide enjoyment in a traditional sense.

Stop doing this, designers. You do not want to rely on either of these two variables to keep people interested in your game: Reaction time or Patience.

Tuesday, October 23, 2007

The Aging Process

Apparently getting older entails growing increasingly frustrated at a world you barely understand.

I can feel it myself. That creeping suspicion that videogames aren't as fun as they used to be, or as good, or as meaningful.

So take it away, Mr. Bushnell:

"Video games today are a race to the bottom. They are pure, unadulterated trash and I'm sad for that."

This from the guy who made Atari the Playboy Mansion of videogames and then sold out to the highest bidder, not giving a shit for quality or meaning or message. This from the founder of Chuck E. Cheese, purveyor of shit-grade pizza, nexus of germ-ridden ball pits, token-eating ripoff machines and quarter-munching arcade blastathons.

Please, don't let the change happen to me.

Sunday, October 21, 2007

Gaming War

I understand that
the new Resident Evil raised a stink for alleged racism because it takes place in Africa and black zombies get killed. I would like to state for the record that I oppose zombie discrimination.

But I also wanted to point out that there is another game on the horizon that probably deserves the attention more than Resident Evil.

I'm talking about Far Cry 2.

In this game you play a mercenary in Africa. You can accept work from two different warlords in exchange for blood diamonds.

Unlike zombies, there are actually mercenaries in Africa. There are also blood diamonds. And warlords who pay mercenaries to kill lots and lots of people.

I'm not going to assign blame to the game. That kind of formulation is ridiculous. But as videogames become more of a cultural phenomenon, I wonder how they might be used as a way of tracking the general emotional state of the nation.


What I'm trying to say is that our diversions don't make us, but they can say something about us.

Consider a game like NARC. The game structure is reflective of the time - technology, game mechanics, arcade sensibilities. The content is a perfect distillation of loud 80s ultraviolence and anti-drug reactionary politics in a garish, unregulated package.

That's not to say that we don't have loud, garish ultraviolent games today. We just have different reasons for them.


The glut of modern war shooters doesn't seem outstanding considering that war shooters are practically the bedrock of videogaming. But in tone and content they can offer small reflections of current events and attitudes.

And seriously, there are just a ton of modern/future military shooters coming out. This reminds me of the analysis that the return of the torture porn slasher subgenre was due to the Iraq Invasion and subsequent horrifying images as well as the disgusting admission that torture is now standard in CIA questioning.


I won't comment too much on my extended absence except to say that it happens. A lot. Lately I've hit some strange writing brick wall, which hasn't happened to me before. I can usually work on something. Now it all comes out a mess and I feel like I've completely forgotten how to make an English sentence.

Maybe I'll try nanowrimo this year.

Friday, September 14, 2007

Something I've Noticed

After poring through
scores of samples and tutorials on C#, I've found that nothing covers how to use the visual aspect of these IDEs.

Even if something specifically says it's for Visual C#, it will inevitably talk about initializing your form data through code. Not that this isn't good information, but when you create stuff with the form designer that code ends up looking quite different than when it's done by hand.

Which means basic tutorials require looking through every last bit of code generated by the form designer in order to figure out what has already been handled so you can try and figure out where to put what hasn't been included.

Is this just a result of the people who write these tutorials preferring to do everything by hand? Or do they just assume that people will immediately see how regular coding is placed into a visual environment?

Wednesday, September 12, 2007

Code Talking

Microsoft has got the Visual Studio 2008 Beta 2 stuff up on their developer sites.

I just started poking around, and it turns out they've got some pretty fantastic support. Signing up gets you access to all kinds of webcasts from all over the place. I downloaded an intro to C# webcast given by a Princeton professor. For free. Can't get a better price on education anywhere.

As much flack as Microsoft gets for being bad for development, it really seems like things have changed without anyone noticing. Getting a complete visual development IDE for free is great - it keeps me from having to track down another solution without as much functionality or continued support (just look at DevC++ for an example of a great IDE with spotty support).

Mostly this is just to scratch the programming itch I get every few months. The upside is that C# is so simple that a Hello World tutorial only takes 30 seconds. They also have a decent 20 minute web browser tutorial that gives a good overview.


Yeah, I know it's actually been up for awhile. But I'm only now just getting around to it.

Thursday, September 06, 2007


I've got this
wicked idea and no means to pull it off. Mostly I'm just trying to think it through, look at different angles.

If the proprietor of Cathode Tan is interested in discussing some pie-in-the-sky ideas relating to past and present interests, please shoot me an e-mail at thothanon [at] gmail [dot] com.


In unrelated news, I finally uninstalled World of Warcraft. I was leaving it on my hard drive in order to facilitate re-subscribing, just in case (I hate waiting on 3 years of updates). Today I said, "fuck it," deleted the damn thing and hope never to return.

I also unsubscribed to Lord of the Rings Online. I couldn't snare anyone into playing and running around by myself grew tedious. I'm trying to streamline a little, so I can attempt to get these quest writeups and mod done by November. Eve Online is nice because I can queue up a skill and leave it for a day or two (or more). When I come back my character will be more effective. I'm still dallying with Roguelikes, too. Again, they let me work on other things. I can pop over, play a few turns, die horribly and then get back to research.

I need games that let me keep a schedule and have a life without punishing me.

Wednesday, September 05, 2007

I Hate Yahoo

One day I tried
to log onto my Yahoo e-mail, the one I've had for at least eight years.

My password was denied.

And denied again.

And again.

Sure, I can have my password if I only give them all kinds of information, including all the original information with which I registered the account. Information I haven't looked at in at least eight years and which was most likely fake because I didn't want them knowing it.

So it's all gone. There was a lot of information in that account.

I could almost reach it, too. Before the cookies in my computer expired I could still watch the e-mail come in, but Yahoo's automatic sign-out (despite me clicking the box to stay signed in) asked me to re-authorize (even though the cookie was already accessing the account).

They tell me to fill out the page for a lost password, except my password isn't lost. It's been changed. Either the account's been hacked or their system fucked it up.

Fuck them. Seriously. Three e-mails and it's like a broken record: "Please give us the zip code under which this account was registered." I've lived in at least fifteen different zip codes since then, and that's assuming I used a real address.

This is just here for catharsis.

I'm glad I've switched almost everything over to Gmail at this point. They have an actual security question, one which I am prepared to answer (because they actually told me to remember it).

I guess the moral is: Yahoo is a shitty service that apparently can't look at a log and realize that my current IP address has been logging into that account for at least a year now, and that something is broken on their end.

Saturday, September 01, 2007

In the Way

I was working on a Round Table post and couldn't find anything really interesting to say, so I scrapped it. Mostly it was about how the concept of hardcore is mostly semantics and self-identity and that industry people who concern themselves with hardcore vs. casual are spitting out buzzwords and run the danger of disconnecting their metaphoric understanding from the way people play in real life. I prefer a system that is measurable, not based around endless ego-inflation. Developers need to pay attention to two things: accessibility and duration.

How difficult is the control/concept/customization? How long does it take to play a session/reach the next "carrot"/finish the game?

There you go.


Extraordinarily busy right now. I've got more games on deck than ever before. The big thing, though, is that a design internship position is opening up at work and I've got to put something together. This is pretty much the dream. Even if I'm shunted back to QA after the intern period it's still the opportunity of a lifetime. But it means finishing a mod and putting together some quest writeups with dialogue. I've got concepts and stuff down, but the learning curve for the mod stuff is pretty long.


I've also found my tastes in video games suddenly changing. I don't know why.

Maybe not changing. More like expanding.

I've actually started playing roguelikes and enjoying them. The last time I tried them (which was also the first time), I played for two minutes, quit and uninstalled and vowed never to bother with them again.

I also started up Eve Online and am considering picking it up, at least for a few months. This is my third or fourth time trying it out. The other times I never played for more than a day before uninstalling.

It's very strange. I think I'm just enjoying minutiae more, which used to turn me off. We'll see where this leads. Probably to me picking up a Warhammer 40K Chaos army.

Tuesday, August 21, 2007

IGN Spreads Ill Will

Kotaku's got a story up about Direct2Drive offering up Bioshock.

Apparently some people were able to jump the street date and play it right after downloading.

Now IGN is sending threatening letters to anyone that downloaded the game.

Kotaku is making it sound as if all these people were actively hacking. But from what I'm reading elsewhere, people who simply pre-loaded are also receiving these letters because the files were sent to their PC. They didn't even have to try to launch the game.

Get this down: People who paid money to pre-load the game and then pre-loaded it are being sued because some other people might have been able to play the game a few days before the street date.

Sue first, admit your own screw-ups never.

I'm really glad I got it on Steam.

Thursday, August 16, 2007

Lord of the Rings Online Revisited

My reaction
to the LOTRO beta can be found at this link.

I've actually been playing for the last month and started a subscription. The game is much improved since beta. I also updated my PC, which really shows off the gorgeous amount of detail in the game world. It can be an adjustment coming from something as colorful and stylized as WoW, but the graphics definitely fit well with the lore and themes. The LOD is still ugly, but I've learned to deal with it.

One of the best things about the game is how much the developers interact with the community. Book 10 goes live this month with countless changes based upon player feedback. Book 11 is also due out this year. The goal is to put out as many free updates as possible, not just tweaking classes but adding in new content across all levels.

The main reason I got tired of WoW was the focus on high-level content. I never leveled a character beyond 54. But I leveled at least six characters into their 30s, and even more into their 20s. I like to try everything, but nothing ever got added to the low-level game. It was always Wailing Caverns. Over and over. No soloable instances.

Developers should not put all their focus on the people who burn through all the content, get to the highest level, and raid over and over. Yet ultimately those are the people who bitch the loudest and threaten to quit because now they have nothing to do. Boo hoo.

Try enjoying yourself.


A good example of the way that players can completely subvert design intentions is LOTRO's Monster Play.

Monster Play can be accessed once your character reaches level 10. You can make one of each class of monsters (or "creeps," as they're called).

Creeps were designed to be considerably weaker than player characters (or "freeps"). They're the underdogs. The best way for them to win is zerging.

Turbine never planned on making Monster Play a focus. They didn't consider that some players might grow attached to their creeps, often to the exclusion of their freeps.

They also assumed, since players can be monsters at level 10 but must be at least level 40 to enter the PvP zone as a player, that monsters would greatly outnumber freeps. This was a faulty assumption for several reasons:

-As a creep, you are dropped into a PvP zone without a revealed map and no idea what to do. If nobody is willing to help, you will probably leave and not come back. A lot of first-time creeps are on for five minutes, then leave and never come back.

-You are also much weaker than freeps. If you get into a skirmish you will probably die A LOT. Again, five minutes can turn someone away forever.

-The entrances to Monster Play are in out-of-the-way places in major cities. They also don't show up on maps. Some people have probably gotten into the higher levels without ever knowing where to access Monster Play.

-Some people do not enjoy PvP.

I would hazard about 50% of players try Monster Play and only about 10% stick with it long term. When you factor the "flippers" (people who PvP as both freep and creep) the number of creeps rarely gets above 40-50 at a time, max. Sometimes much, much lower.

What this means is that more often that not creep and freep numbers are balanced, but the deliberate imbalance of creep stats/skills puts them at a very, very noticeable disadvantage.

Turbine could've just left it at that, explaining that PvP was never a priority for the game (which would be true).

Instead the Senior Content Designer engaged the community and collected tons of feeback from PvPers. Book 10 is going to introduce a lot of changes to Monster Play to make the creeps more viable for the long term (including access to your monsters from the login screen).

I'm sure there will still be a lot of work (after all, how do you balance something that is meant to be unbalanced?), but the process of actually dealing with a community is pretty great to see.


Look, I have
the greatest respect for Freeman Dyson.

But just because you know very much about a certain thing does not mean that you know very much about certain other things. Just because you are fairly certain about the things you know very much about doesn't mean your certainty is automatically transferred to things of which you know very little.

To put it simply: You know about as much as I do about climate science. You even admit your lack of knowledge.

But then you rationalize your bullshit contrary opinion with the notion of climate scientists who never go outside, never take real measurements, and somehow work only with computer models. Climate science is not wholly done by simulation-only shut-ins. Even fucking weathermen look out the window and use barometers and thermometers and all kinds of real world science.

Climate scientists correlate much more data on a much larger scale. This isn't rocket science or advanced physics. It's basic knowledge about a very general field of scientists studying our actual physical world using actual physical data. They don't sit around and say, "Hey, it's warm out, must be global warming."

That kind of sloppy thinking is pretty much confined to mush-headed corporate apologists and disingenuous fundamentalists: "If there's global warming then how come it's so cold outside right now?"

In other words, Freeman Dyson is very intelligent, but that doesn't mean he isn't acting like a moron.

Wednesday, August 08, 2007

You Can't Kill the Revolution Tie-In

I attended
the Virgin Festival in Baltimore.

As Ben Harper played and sang the same old songs about revolution I thought about how easily movements are co-opted, how ideology is a game of constant hypocrisy we call compromise.

Harper needs a carrier wave for his thoughts of against-raging and spliff-smoking and his label needs to target the demographic of dread-locked college kids, old hippies, young hippies, and People Who Give a Shit (Who Will Never Change Anything). So they engage in this sickening relationship, a commercial venture that binges on the culture of excess and purges it with war whoops and anti-government bravado.

But he plays the dobro like he wants to crack open a fault line, eking out roaring waves of feedback that clang and clatter. This is what the Devil's fiddle-playing sounds like, and it's heavenly.

I saw Ben Harper almost ten years ago and he hasn't altered his shtick a whit. How could he? Being a revolutionary means always saying the same thing.

Tuesday, July 24, 2007

For Your Consideration

If the Bratz "girlz" have no "nosez", how will they ever learn to snort cocaine?

Wednesday, July 11, 2007

Unofficial Sequel

I remember Tabula Rasa from when it was called Anarchy Online.

Wait, I guess it still is called Anarchy Online.

Tuesday, July 10, 2007


"The innovative program is called the Nintendo Fan Network. For a fee, the network uploads a program onto the user's DS Lite and allows fans to order food and drinks, watch the live television feed of the game, access stats and scores and play trivia, all from the comfort of their seat -- whether it's a premium seat behind home plate or in the top row of the stadium."


This is a very cool example of how Nintendo is integrating their consoles into our lives.

I'd come up with an actual cartridge, too, something that would let you track stats yourself, swap virtual cards, even compete in a fantasy league. A signature book would be awesome, but I'm wondering how the players would react to digitizing that aspect of fandom.

There are all sorts of cool possibilities. Maybe even the ability to post messages to the Jumbotron (I'm assuming they'd employ a human filter to check for the naughty stuff).

Makes me almost want to go to a baseball game. If I got bored I could always pop in Pokemon.

Turing Test

Found while looking around:

Originally Posted by Acidbaron

You can never be sure, by just looking at their behaviour ingame, bots are getting harder to detect also, so i don't think it really is that easy

Sorry, but I disagree with that ...
Ok let me give you some hints to identify a WoW bot in 10s ....
1) you have a player which name is like "Hghfgfgfgh"
2) He is more than 90% of the cases a Hunter class, though now it's less the case because they are identified too easily
3) He is the whole day at exactly the same spot, and moves only when he his too high level. He is always at those spots where a maximum pack of mobs spawns, but are soloable, and don't wander around.
4) When you talk to him he never answers.
5) The behaviour : on a pvp server when you fight him in Bot mode, he fights really worse than any noob. He nevers attacks you when he's on the other side. When you kill him over and over, you notice that the Bot modes turn off, and as he tries to get rid of you from his hunting spot he plays better while PVPing.
6) When he dies and respawns, or select a new target, he always do exactly the same actions and pathing.
7) You can see in the Auction house Blue World items sold by another player names "Erfgrerggr" that is for sure the mule of "Hghfgfgfgh"

Now tell me Bots are tough to identify ...


According to this list, my actions in World of Warcraft have me pegged as a bot. Other than the weird thing with the names, it's a good description of how I roll.

I hate Philip K. Dick moments.

Monday, July 09, 2007

I Will Never Do This

This follows on
from my discussion yesterday regarding permadeath.

I was reading some forums on that very subject and someone mentioned that all MMOs already have a permadeath option.

It's called deleting your character.

If you're so keen on permadeath, then when your character bites it for the first time, don't resurrect - simply logout, delete char, type in the confirmation code and reroll.

I suspect that people who are very keen on permadeath as a game function like it that way in part because, if given the option, they will rez their character like everybody else. They want their hand to be forced so they don't have to resist temptation.

But what I suspect it really hinges on is creating obstacles for other players. They would argue that permanent death gives more meaning to quests, more risk. This is true.

It's also what would worry me most about such a system. Online games aren't known for their level-headed communities. Instituting permadeath is basically ceding emotional resonance to the griefers.

So remember: If it's that fucking important to you, delete your character the first time you die. If you can't bring yourself to do it, then never again make a bad faith argument about how much more exciting it is to risk it all to server lag, trained mobs, and overpowered bosses.

Thursday, July 05, 2007

The Itch

I got the urge to play WoW again the other day, but it very quickly turned into boredom. This is good. It saves me time and money that I would've spent re-activating my account, playing hours a day for two weeks, getting burned out, and quitting in disgust.

But I've still got the urge to play an MMO. Problem is, I've played 'em. Very nearly all of them. Even the Korean ones.


For some reason I'm really looking forward to both Age of Conan and Warhammer: Online.

I don't know why I'm suddenly enamored with the Conan game. I loved the first movie as a ten-year-old kid, which is understandable, but haven't thought of it much since then.

While Conan is still a fantasy world, it falls into magical realism. Something about it feels grittier and more mysterious.

Funcom, developers of Anarchy Online, are trying for real-time combat with out-of-the-way number crunching. I'd like to see them pull this off. My guess is that 56k will be shit out of luck. While Anarchy was almost incomprehensible, what I've seen so far looks very straightforward.

They're going for an M-rating, which hasn't been very common in MMOs (I can't actually name any thus far).

Warhammer's the other property I've only lately delved into, courtesy of the 40K RTSes.

I really would have preferred to see 40K. Sci-fi isn't quite a dead horse yet for MMOs, while fantasy has been dead, beaten, deboned, and ground into chuck.

But maybe the sheer mindless brutality of the Warhammer universe will carry the day.

From what I've heard Mythic is also looking at an M-rating. Waagh!


The thing that will clinch it, that always seems to clinch it, is how these games will handle death.

Just to get it out of the way, I hate the idea of permadeath. I wouldn't care if developers made it a switch at character creation, no problem there. You either choose it or you don't, and go on your merry way.

The problem I have is that pro-permadeath people typically either want everyone to be affected or they want some kind of fucking reward for being so hardcore. If it's a choice they will bitch about balance. If it's required then the game is doomed.

I also hate experience debt. And item loss/degradation. Basically, I hate punishing players for playing.

One of the joys in an MMO is the sheer scope of the world, which naturally appeals to explorer types. They want to see everything.

It can also appeal to hardcore types. They might have a challenge to run through a dangerous area and make it as a lowbie into some hard-to-reach settlement.

Permadeath/xp debt/item loss punishes players for risky behavior.

When these things are implemented, people are more cautious, or they quickly learn to be. Why try to take on an enemy you might not be able to defeat? Why test out a difficult tactic? Why do something daring or stupid? Why travel to an area that might be out of your level?

WoW seems to have it right. You have to make a corpse run, or take a penalty at the graveyard. Minor annoyances, but they don't have the effect of setting you back.

City of Heroes lost me because XP debt was exponential - you hardly noticed it in the early levels, but the higher you got the more debt you incurred and the harder the missions - therefore the more you would die, therefore even more debt. It would spiral out of control, especially if you sidekicked. You were incredibly vulnerable as a sidekick, so you could come out of a mission with barely any progress. The XP debt made the sidekick system, which should've been awesome, into such a high-risk venture that I didn't bother with it.

A permadeath system could have the effect of keeping even more of the player base away from high-level content, which would not only lead to anger at the top (not enough high-levels for raids/dungeons) and at the bottom (no chance to access high-level content). I know that I still have yet to bring a WoW character to 60, but at least without permadeath there's a chance I might.

All of that just to say that I'm watching Age of Conan and Warhammer: Online in anticipation of how they will handle player death.

Find That Game

The new website GameHunt looks like it could become a very useful resource, given enough time.

You can look for games based upon lots of common parameters. Right now it's pretty much brand new and lacking in games, but there is a way to submit games to the database.

There is a lot of room for gaming this kind of system in order to generate false positives (tagging your game with all genre types), but hopefully some kind of rating system will be put in place to show confidence in the information, as well as a way to mark an entry as spam.

Give it a look.

Lack of Support

I think I figured out
why Jamlab doesn't work for me.

The drivers that are supposed to ensure 32-bit Vista compatibility aren't compatible with 32-bit Vista.

Which, yes, they're beta drivers, but you'd think that basic functionality wouldn't be spotty.

The device shows up fine in the Device Manager, but it won't start. The installed driver still shows up as the default (dated 2006) even after installing the update. Manually uninstalling the old driver and installing the most recent one has no effect. I believe the old driver may be installed by the device itself.

So I'm back to where I started.

I'm pretty sure I won't be buying any M-Audio stuff in the future. The support is just terrible. I can't even find any official forums.


On the other hand, I've gotten a look at Native Instruments Guitar Rig 2 and it looks mighty sweet. I have the fear, though, with computer audio, that things will not work or be glitchy or become obsolete. Understandably.

Plus it's a fuckload of money (370 bucks) to drop on noodling gear.

Wednesday, July 04, 2007

Jamlab Update

I was excited
to see that M-Audio released Jamlab beta drivers for Vista.

The install seemed to go off without a hitch. Now I've got the little icon down in my system tray.

Then I tried installing GTPlayer Express. No Asio driver detected - GTPlayer wouldn't even attempt insallation.

I installed Asio4All and restarted. Tried GTPlayer again. No luck.

I have no idea what other program to even attempt with Jamlab and I have no confidence whatsoever that any other program would work. Not to mention that I'd be without a simple amp/effect interface which was the whole reason I bought the damn thing. To jam.

I have no desire to spend several hundred dollars on a hardware/software interface for my computer because I just want to bust out some power chords and maybe play along with MP3s.

Shit like this makes my Mac-lust flare up, visions of Garageband flying through my daydreams.

Of course, that conflicts with the whole not spending money thing.

Tuesday, July 03, 2007

Odin Sphere

Odin Sphere is
a good game.

It's wonderfully drawn and animated, reminiscent of Darkstalkers. Details like the character idles are so subtle that you could miss them. Layered backgrounds scroll by like a watercolor with real depth.

This is a game of simplicity, art, and imagination. The story is told in a postmodern style, character arcs occurring out of temporal sequence. The stories are fairy tales, seemingly cliche but with surprising turnarounds. Characters exhibit their own motivations, resisting neat, happy resolutions.

The game system itself is of the eternal recurrence type, bringing to mind Otogi: Myth of Demons. Each level follows the same guidelines, enemies spawn and must be completely defeated. Clearing a level yields a rating based upon time, damage done, damage received, etc. Managing your resources and timing your attacks is the strategy for success.

To illustrate the strange, clever beauty of this game, consider this: You regain health and earn experience by eating food. You can buy certain foods from vendors or earn them as rewards - milk, cheese, the like. Then there are the seeds. You plant seeds. As you destroy enemies, small particles of light are released called Phozons. Seeds absorb Phozons and sprout right before your eyes. When a plant has matured you can harvest the fruit. Take too long and the fruit will drop off the plant and rot. The greatest seed you can find is the one that sprouts sheep, which ripen, then pop off the vine and run across the level.

I would also like to note that the game looks great even on a 50-inch HDTV. I can't say the same about any 3d PS2 game.

I think I paid 35 dollars for Odin Sphere, brand spanking new.

It's well worth it.


The only negative thing I can say about Odin Sphere is that the action can slow down quite a bit when there are a lot of enemies onscreen.

I'm surprised that this happens, even with last-gen hardware. I often wonder if all the attention lavished on 3d affected the development of 2d. There are lots of optimizations for geometry and textures, but does that naturally carry over to animated sprites?

Anyone out there have any information on this subject? Would a game comparable to Odin Sphere suffer slowdown even on current-gen systems?


The same company that created Odin Sphere is coming out with a 2d RTS with the same art style. I have no idea how this will work.

I have confidence that it will, though.

A Feast

All I can say
is that Scooter Libby should've been staked to a hillside so that crows could eat his eyes and tongue.

Friday, June 29, 2007

Tag, I'm It

Thomas at Mile Zero has tagged
me with one of those Intermemes.

Here are the rules: Eight random facts or interesting lies about yourself. Send me the link to your post when you're done. Tag 8 more people. Drop a comment on their blog to let them know they've been tagged. Don't sit by your maibox waiting for thank you notes from those you've tagged.

1. I didn't get my first driver's license until I was twenty-four years old.

2. I used to live in an apartment above the Rocky's Pizza in downtown Athens, Georgia (Rocky's, sadly, no longer exists).

3. When I was a kid, the movie Gremlins made me afraid of the dark for many years. But for some reason I watched it repeatedly.

4. I think "Travels with Charley" by John Steinbeck is the Great American Novel.

5. I have been an atheist my entire life and have never once come close to practicing any kind of religion, unless you count dropping acid.

6. I lettered in Theatre. Yes, I know.

7. While I have difficulty remembering historical dates, I have no problem recalling the lyrics to old rap songs. Around the Way Girl, At the Playground, Rumpshaker, Crossover, and others too embarrassing to mention.

8. I very nearly got a part as an extra in the movie Enemy of the State. I went to a cattle call where they took my information. Then I got a call back, stood in a line-up and met the director - they were looking for someone younger than me (I was seventeen or so). I got another callback. The appointment was in DC. I exited at the wrong Metro stop, had to walk about fifteen blocks and missed my chance completely. But they still paid me 12 bucks just for showing up - sweet deal!

Thursday, June 28, 2007

Tig Old

In the
new screens released for Soul Calibur IV, Ivy can be seen with two pendulous globes dangling from her chest. They look like tumors.

If I were in charge of her character arc, here's how I'd plot it:

Ivy has entered the competition in order to fund her dangerous love of surgical modification. Her obsession with breast size has seen her go under the knife six times now, the increases leaving horrible stretch marks on her skin and layers of scar tissue beneath each breast. She plans to go bigger next time, despite warnings from her doctor. If she can win the tournament, she'll have enough cash to fly to Eastern Europe where a doc exists who will do the surgery regardless of the risk.

If you win as Ivy, the final cutscene shows a series of snapshots of her in a skimpy bikini, breasts swollen to even more gigantic proportions, smile plastered on her face. It fades into a dimly-lit room, Ivy on a surgical table, a doctor smeared with blood, his forehead covered in sweat. The heart monitor flatlines, the doctor works furiously for a minute, the nurse handing him gauze and sutures, but to no avail.

Close-up of Ivy's blank eyes as the announcer says, "Ivy has been defeated, but the soul still burns."

Sunday, June 24, 2007

Movie Time: Black Christmas

There is a point
in the Black Christmas remake, right near the beginning, where one of the characters suggests that they call the police. This is in response to a very disturbing call that purports to be from a spree killer incarcerated for murdering his family. The female characters are members of a sorority, staying in the spree killer's childhood home.

They don't call the police, opting instead to talk about opening gifts.

That tells you everything you need to know.

This is a stupid movie, even for a slasher film. Rent the original.


I'm not sure what the deal is with remaking decent horror/slasher films. There are plenty of stinkers from which to choose.

I'm of the opinion that you should only attempt a remake if you can do it better, or at least do it different enough to feel original.

I feel the same way about cover songs.

Friday, June 22, 2007

Galaxy Questing

I'm addicted
to Rogue Galaxy, but I get the feeling that I shouldn't enjoy it as much as I do.

The gameplay hits the sweet spot between determination and frustration. To use the modern term, it has Flow.

But this game has the most inane dialogue and plotting I have ever encountered. I'm not using hyperbole. Conversations are bland, slow, repetitive, and lacking any subtlety. This is a game that would announce a devious scheme by having the bad guy say to himself, "Now to put into motion my devious scheme of stealing things and fighting." In fact, that might be a quote.

I don't think this is a localization problem, either. It's probably just as awful in the original Japanese.

Characterization also stinks. There are some great character designs that definitely feel part of a coherent universe. Then the whole effect is spoiled by the introduction of the most hideous, ridiculous NPCs. They are non-sequiturs, ruining any possibility of a unified style. In other words, they completely shatter immersion.

Which is a shame, really, because the actual meat of the game shows some great refinements. Cutscenes can be paused and skipped. Special ability animations (think of those long summons from Final Fantasy) can be skipped. There is a skill system similar to the FF XII license board but with much better organization and less hassle. Combat is challenging but the direct control gives the player a strong feeling of agency.

There's a good game in Rogue Galaxy, but it's bottom of the barrel when it comes to story. This might be the reason why I saw seven or eight used copies in Gamestop.

Friday, June 15, 2007


I wrote about playing Psychonauts two years ago.

I never got past the tank boss.

Gametap's got it, so I downloaded it to try again.

Now, let me preface by saying that Psychonauts has some of the best level/character design out there. It is absolutely brilliant in the way it takes thematic elements and translates them to gaming elements.

But it has a huge, huge problem.


The game is plagued with horrible, shitty, overly-complex boss fights. I managed to beat the tank boss this time around, and from there the story goes right into another fucking boss fight.

The camera angles make it hard to fight the bosses. The short lock-on distance makes it hard to fight the bosses. Every boss has two forms, an annoying form and an even more annoying form. I thought I was doing okay until I went to gamefaqs to figure out how to beat the goddamn Lungfish.

The Lungfish is the third boss. There are eighteen bosses.

In the future I'm going to try to talk about Psychonauts as if it were two different games: 1) a brilliant platformer with fun, intriguing collection elements and clever levels and 2) the worst game in the world.