"That which is overdesigned, too highly specific, anticipates outcome; the anticipation of outcome guarantees, if not failure, the absence of grace."
-- William Gibson, All Tomorrow's Parties
June 7, 2004

Adam and I played some Go this evening. This being the first time I've ever played the game, it should be somewhat less than surprising that I got owned. A lot. I did okay the third game we played ("okay" when compared to the first two games), and have decided I'm going to try to play at least a few games a night, most likely using Goban.

I like how visual Go is, and how you can sort of step back and play without thinking (to a point). I also like how incredibly telling it is when after the game and the dead stones are pulled off the board it's completely obvious who the winner is (at least if I'm your opponent), simply by looking at captured territory. The way the game progresses organically (as Adam said while we were playing) is also pretty awesome.

So far it's really helped me to think of stones as infrantry units, chains as battle lines, and eyes as entrenched positions. Realizing that it's more about gaining territory than stones is also useful.

I played a couple games on IGS and got owned left and right, but everyone was polite, something you won't get on most gaming networks.

Here's an intro to Go I found a few weeks ago, and something I need to read more thoroughly now.

February 9, 2005

So I'm waiting on another fan for ligur Mk II, and in the mean-time, I installed Windows on it... Athlon XP 2500+, half a gig of RAM... I dredged up my old GeForce4 64MB, too.

Half-Life 2 is pretty awesome.

The graphics hold up surprisingly well considering it's "only" a 64MB card. I never get any slow-downs or jerking. The plot so far is really good, too, though I would like less driving stupid vehicles around, and more skulking around shooting at stuff. (Of course, I say that now, but I'm going through Ravenholm right now, which is supra creepy and nothing but skulking around shooting stuff. Also: Gravgun + sawblades = lurve.)

I also played CS for a couple hours. It's still CS. The kids still call each other "faggot" and "nigger" and other bullshit.

Something new they didn't do when I used to play: Now they have spambots. It's incredibly obnoxious and makes me annoyed that while you can mute people's voice messages, you can't /ignore a player.

Or can you? Hm. I'm out of practice with all this gaming junk. Thankfully. :)

April 13, 2005

* kitten- just got another gman sighting.
<bda> Where?
<kitten-> Gman was at the dam.
<bda> Seen that one.
<kitten-> When you have to go up to the observation area to open the thinger.
<kitten-> Mmf.
<kitten-> Well, I like finding the gman.
<bda> Aye.
<bda> It's keen.
* kitten- straightens his tie.
<bda> Keeping track of his protoge. :|
<kitten-> Yeah, well.
<kitten-> Maybe if his protege wasn't such a fuckup.
<kitten-> Every time Gordon shows up with his face, something explodes.
<kitten-> And then all Hell breaks loose.
<kitten-> I heard that as a child, Gordon once tried to make a sandwich and the Marines had to be called in to clean up the mess.
<kitten-> "They're waiting for you, Gordon. In the test kitchen."

August 5, 2005

Bryan Allen: I played over an hour of Hamtaro yesterday.
Bryan Allen: I feel pretty gay about it.
Adam J. O'Donnell: huh.
Adam J. O'Donnell: thats disturbing.
Adam J. O'Donnell: well at least you have something to do on the john aside from reading "hairy men quarterly."

April 18, 2006

I started playing EVE Online the other day. It's like Escape Velocity Nova, only y'know, MMOG. Considering how addicted Adam got to EVN, it sure is a shame EVE is Win32-only. It's not like there's work or something to be done.

The game is insanely pretty, and pretty damn complex. I'm still reading through the player guides while going through the "tutorial" (the actual tutorial takes about two hours, and then there's the storyline missions which will probably take even more than that). I've almost got enough isk to upgrade my noob hunk of crap ship into the nicest frigate my chosen race can get. But first I have to train up to the level of frigate-usage-awesomeness-skill before I can buy the thing. The training of which takes over a real day (29 hours). If that was 29 hours in play-time there's no way anyone would play it, but since it's real-time, well... There's always more isk to be made.

I'm not sure how into this I'm going to get. So far the farthest I've jumped for one mission was through six gates, and that took twelve minutes. Playing this is affording me a decent amount of time to just sit and read while reaching over to the iMac to click on stuff every now and then. Hopefully that will change somewhat once I get a faster ship.

I haven't interacted with anyone yet; unlike WoW where you just kind of run around and there's people (or anyway, avatars that look like people) all over, EVE is just a bunch of ships. Kind of impersonal. It's definitely the sort of game where you need people backing your ass up, though.

Anyway... today was a crap day at work (25 or so comp'd hosts, several of which were doing very bad things) and somehow I doubt tomorrow is going to be any better. And here I thought I was just going to spend the day refactoring some code...

April 22, 2006

Okay. EVE is bad for you.

I managed to lose three Tristan-class frigates today. The first one I was running through Egg -- which is 0.4 space with only two exits, so it's perfect for gate campers -- and got both blowed up and podded by Pirate Coaliation sumbitches. Thankfully I've been following the Basic Rules of EVE:

  • Always keep your clone updated. If you don't, you'll lose skill, which translates directly to lost time. The higher level skills you have, the longer they take to train -- so you're talking about losing days or weeks of training.

  • Insure your ship. You're going to get blowed up sometimes, so you might as well insure the damn things and get some cash back when it happens.

  • Don't fly anything you can't afford to lose. This doesn't just include your insured ship, but also weapons, cargo, etc.

The other two times were just not jumping out quickly enough when rats (NPC bad guys) were kicking my ass.

At the moment I'm waiting for destroyers to finish training so I can purchase a Catalyst and go ratting. Well, actually, I'm just waiting for the skill to finish training so I can set it up to work on science level three while I sleep.

...this is so not healthy.

(But at least I'm not playing WoW, which can get you killed.)

February 7, 2007

Andrew hooked me up with a Wii tonight and I played around with it for a couple hours. Fun stuff. The Virtual Console has Toe Jam & Earl. I'd forgotten how totally unsane that game is (chickens with tomato cannons!).

Only complaint is that it's freezing downstairs, which is not very conducive to jumping around like an idiot playing boxing. cough.

I set up my Mii. Wii code is 4389 8290 7785 1813.

Must. Get. Zelda.

April 20, 2007

Origami Starcraft

Yeah, ok, that isn't awesome at all.

[via digg]

May 19, 2007

Videos of the recently announced Starcraft II.

woot.

I spent a ridiculous amount of time playing the first one. From the videos, it looks like they didn't jack with the concept at all, just updated the engine, units and whatnot.

Warcraft 3 was ... really awful, compared to previous titles, so not jacking around with Starcraft makes me a happy little nerd.

Here's hoping SC2 is ++.

October 13, 2007

Finished Half Life 2: Episode 2 tonight.

Excellent installment of the franchise. Great plot and character developments, some very surprising twists, and the Hunters? The freaking Hunters.

After I beat it, I looked through the achievements list. Apparently you can use the Hunter's flechettes against them..? Going to have to see what the grav gun does with those little beasties.

The last battle was completely insane.

And then ending? All I've got say about that is... Valve, you bastards. You dirty, $#%@! bastards.

e3 comes out when?

(As for Portal, it is super fun! The AI is very cute, and the hidden behind-the-scenes areas you can find really reminded me of Cube. A great little puzzler.)

Hello, awesome.

That looks fantastic.

Full Throttle and Grim Fandango were perhaps some of the best adventure games to come out of '90s. Along with Sam & Max Hit the Road, they're some of my most favoritest games ever, plur, etc. They remind me of when games were meant to be hilarious, unique and fun, before the dark times of LucasArts pumping the flaccid junk, corpse-like junk of a certain franchise to spew out another tepid crap-fest.

I suck and have yet to play Psychonauts, though everyone from dragorn to Adam have called me names for not having done so (and really, Adam telling someone they should play a video game would be enough to check it out if only I didn't suck so much).

October 24, 2007
December 30, 2007

I finished Assassin's Creed the other morning. I wasn't sure I was going to bother, really, as I'd beaten the first eight missions before going on vacation and had left it feeling somewhat less than ambivalent. As everyone has been hyping, it has gorgeous graphics, and an interesting, unique storyline. Unfortunately the actual gameplay is mediocre at best.

The basic premise is that you're the descendent of a fedayeen assassin who operated during the first Crusade in the Holy Land. Your ancestor's memories are locked away in your RNA and a corporation has kidnapped you to get at information about a specific series of events.

Ignoring the whole genetic memory thing, the premise is really, really cool. You get the scifi stuff, the Near Future Megacorp of Doom stuff, and you get to run around doing awesome shit in a period no game has touched... and it's gorgeous there.

Also, Kristen Bell voices Lucy, an apparent lab assistant in the Now. Kristen Bell is yay.

Unfortunately the gameplay itself is... stilted. Perhaps it's just the hype engine at work, but I was really not impressed. After Altair (the aforementioned ancestral assassin) has done exactly the wrong fucking thing for the half-dozenth time, leaving you Totally Screwed, well, it becomes very tedious.

Free-running, which is to say, a simplified parkour mechanic, is actually really fun when it works. You hold down the free-run button and just Go. Up walls, over roofs, all over the place. Mostly Altair does the right thing, except when he doesn't, it's almost always when it matters most, leaving you Totally Screwed.

You're meant to assassinate nine figures, somehow linked together, on both sides of the conflict. You're meant, supposedly, to plan each assassination in detail, sneak through the city or over the rooftops, and then strike your blow and melt away.

This rarely, if ever, happens. Mostly you end up fighting a half dozen or more soldiers before, after, or during, killing your actual target. And the sword fighting leaves a lot to be desired. Mostly you'll end up waiting to counter when an enemy attacks, though spamming and randomly hitting the counter button works just as well, frankly. Instead of fighting, you can always just run away. Those are basically your options here: Tedious fighting, or somewhat fun fleeing (until Altair slams into a wall or refuses to grab the chunk of masonry you're telling him to grab, and you get a rock thrown at you. And you fall down. Again).

The planning part of the assassinations amounts to the same three mini-games over and over. Pickpocketing, interrogations, and eavesdropping. To mix it up, one of your assassin buddies (who either come in bootlicker or asshole versions) will give you either stealth assassination missions (kill n people without raising an alarm in t minutes) or ... or you get to run around collecting flags for them. So they will hopefully impart some useful piece of information about your current target. It's never useful, either.

Another mini-game allows you to save citizens. This gives you access to moving hide spots (scholars) or vigilantes, who will impede guards chasing you. Basically there are citizens the guards are harassing, and you kill the guards, and then the citizen licks your ass. While the citizen is licking your ass, you cannot control the camera, run, or do anything else.

When the citizen is done licking your ass, you do not get control back until the camera shows you whatever you unlocked: Scholars or vigilantes.

The citizens say the same four or five things every time, and you do this mini-game dozens of times. You can't skip the dialogue. You have to listen to their blathering the same shit over and over and there's nothing you can do about it.

The stealth assassinations would be fun, except that the NPCs are all retarded. There are basically six types of NPC:

  • Town crier: These people are meant to inject some sense of scale into the game. They say the same speech over and over, either about Saladin, Richard, or the Christian God. Over. And. Over. (Weirdly I don't think I ever heard a speech actually citing the Prophet or Allah explicitly.) If they are not repeating these incredibly obnoxious lines, which can be heard halfway across town, they are going to end up being an interrogation mission. That way you know you shouldn't kill them as soon as you get into the city so you don't have to listen to them; you'll need to beat them up and kill them later. You can confirm this because they are always talking about your target. Subtle.
  • Citizen: They respond to you, but only if you act oddly (climbing walls in front of them, running into them, killing someone). Supposedly you can use them for cover, but I didn't find this to be the case. If the guards are on the look-out and you aren't blending, they'll find you regardless of who's surrounding you. See below for further commentary on how ridiculous blending is.
  • Guard: They patrol or guard stuff, and have some sort of Guard Sense which can discover you even if you haven't done anything recently except walk by them. Unless you're "blending". You don't even have to be moving to blend. Or in a crowd. Your powers of awesome are so great you can blend into a crowd without a fucking crowd.
  • Beggar: Always women. Always annoying. They run up and impede your progress. They say the same fucking annoying thing over and over. And forget it if you are trying to listen to someone else while they're around, because their idiotic repetitive speech will drown it out. Punching them or throwing them will draw attention to you, but no one will do anything. They also have a really annoying habit of throwing rocks at you when you're climbing, then running away. They do not harass other NPCs, just you.
  • Drunk: Somewhat rare, they share many aspects of the beggar. Except they push you. Usually into guards. Which cause the guards to realize "hey that guy's an assassin! Get him!" They do not harass other NPCs, just you.
  • Madman: Tend to cluster in areas where they will cause the most annoyance. They stumble around, muttering to themselves, only to realize that while you're 20 feet away they should run over and push you into a guard or the guy you're tailing. Why? The voices told them to. They do not harass other NPCs, just you.

And that's it. There are also "thugs" you can steal knives from, or get into fisticuffs with, but whatever. They're basically citizens.

The problem with the beggars, the drunks, and the madmen is that they are useless game mechanics. They are moving obstacles that are there for no other purpose than to screw you over. If they harassed other NPCs, they could be useful, as they are generating a distraction you can use. But they go out of their way to bother only you: This breaks the player's immersion in the game, and is simply not fun at all to deal with. I don't mean to harp on it, but it made me really angry when I would have to do a mission over six times because the area was littered with crazed morons all intent on giving me a push when it was least convenient.

Some people will suggest that they're part of the terrain, meant to be managed, except their very nature is not realistic or fair. It's just obnoxious because apparently the missions, on top of being repetitive as hell, are simply not difficult. So how do you manage them? You either kill them all beforehand, which can be time-consuming and generates a large guard presence in the area, or you somehow avoid them. Usually by climbing walls or running, both of which draw attention to yourself.

They should just be less stupid, and they aren't. They just cause you to fail missions repeatedly for no good reason, or waste a bunch of climb cleaning them up before doing a mission you've basically done a dozen times before. And in cleaning them up (read: killing them), you're playing the game wrong. Part of the Creed is not harming the innocent. While really fucking annoying, crazy people are innocent enough in context.

And speaking of failing missions. When you fail an "informer" mission (stealth assassination, flag gathering), typically because some crazed jerkoff has shoved you into a guard, you get to run away (or fight a bunch of guards for a while) and hide. Then go back and talk to the informer again. You can't skip the dialogue. You have to listen to their blathering the same shit over and over and there's nothing you can do about it.

After the fourth time failing a mission and having to listen to the guy, I just gave up. Screw it. It's not like whatever useless piece of information he had was worth it, anyway.

The problem with all of this is that I really liked the plot! It was just so incredibly annoying getting at it that I almost didn't bother beating the damn game. The machinations of the Templar in the Holy Land, exactly how the assassins fit into everything, what the Templar treasure was... and how it all fit into what you're going through in the Now. I really did want to know what was going on.

But I had to dig through this tedious, mediocre game to get at it. I didn't even mind the long cutscenes and the ridiculous "hit the button to change camera angles when the screen flashes funny" gimmick.

I am pretty sure I was playing the game "right", too. I was trying to act like an assassin: Not drawing attention to myself, being stealthy, not getting into big swordfights... but the problem is, the stealth element is lacking. You can't drag bodies out of the way, where they won't alert the guards. You can blitz through the game and it doesn't really affect the world at all. Eventually everyone forgets what's going on, no one is paranoid about the guy with all the sharp cutlery strapped to his back. There's no good reason to play an assassin as opposed to a berserker except the game is called Assassin's Creed.

I think the only real assassination I managed to actually pull off was Sirbrand. I snuck up to his pier after half a dozen attempts on jumping on these very suspiciously placed stanchions (detection there was way off, so even if you lined it up right, you'd end up jumping in the wrong direction and oh, assassins apparently can't swim, so you die. Yay!) in the harbor, climbed up onto his ship, and shivved his ass. Then ran away back into Acre before anyone even noticed. Everyone else I ended up playing the tank for some reason or another. Usually something stupid.

Finally you get your pay-off: You unlock the last memory, you discover what happened to the Templar treasure, get the skinny on what your assassin brothers are up to, you get the full brief on what Templar, Inc are up to in the Now, your captors run off to pilfer more ancient mind-altering treasure, and... oh. You can see crazy symbols drawn all over the lab where you're being kept. Drawn in blood by a previous subject.

"I wonder what it means?!" your character cries.

And cut to credits.

Mediocre gameplay coupled with a crappy cliffhanger ending makes me not very happy. And yes, I read all the emails, so the whole previous-subject-going-nuts thing made sense. It was just a .. dumb place to end the story.

And the worst of it, all of this should have come out in QA.

"Hey, those NPCs are really stupid."

"Hey, there's no real stealth involved here."

"Hey, the mission diversity is... not there."

"Hey, uh, the NPCs SAY THE SAME SHIT OVER AND OVER AND YOU CAN'T SKIP IT."

"Hey, uh, if you're going to make people fight, maybe fighting should be fun."

This was a really ambitious game, and it could have made it with a bit more polish. But it doesn't have it, and it's made all the more frustrating and flawed because of it.

Meh.

(One other thing that confused me: From the reading I've done since the game came out, it seems that Saladin and Richard respected each other at the very least. Richard's comments in the game were basically the opposite. It was somewhat disconcerting.)

To speak, briefly, about the core thematic elements... The plot is a contemplation on free will. Two basic philosophies are engaged in a shadow war. They both want the same thing (peace, specifically in the Holy Land, but also in a more general context), but have very different ideas about how to get it.

The fedayeen (in this case, the assassins) want an educated populace, mature enough to understand the world and the people around them. The Templar wish to enforce peace, through fear, bribery, reprogramming, and ultimately, through controlling the populace's very minds. With the exception of the fat bastard, everyone you kill believes they are doing the right thing. Not just for their cause, but for the betterment of Mankind. They are unapologetic, absolutely positive that the ends justify the means.

Faith is also touched upon, though certainly not as much as it could have been. A few of your targets, both Christian and Muslim, make some snide remarks about being abandoned; but it's only at the very end that the exact powers of the Piece of Eden are revealed, and Al Mualim drops a few bombs on the believers. A steadier hand on this theme would have been nice, though I suppose given today's climate it's understandable why it was glossed over.

The philosophical conflict, bound together with war between the Saracen and the Crusaders, is far more interesting than the tedium of the game itself. And that's a shame. It's still rare when you get actual depth in this medium, and it's saddening when the concept is failed by implementation details.

January 14, 2008

The "Sex-Box" Race for President

If you want to know what Mass Effect is really all about, well. Yahtzee knows.

ME isn't anything resembling a sex game, either. It's a sci-fi RPG with some curse words. There's a sex scene, sure, in which you see about two seconds of badly pixelated skin. No actual nudity. The vast majority of the game is flying around waiting for aliens to shut up so you can shoot stuff, as one might expect from an FPS/RPG.

Oh. And it's rated M. For Mature. Obviously you want to drag the president into what should be a matter of simple parenting.

I mean, if this guy wants to get all up ons, maybe he should be looking into some of those Japanese mutant love harem games. Just sayin'.

One can envision this goofball and Jack Thompson circle jerking until their hands are raw with .. righteous fervor, though. Good to have friends.

Now where's the rail gin to get that image out of my mind. Good Lord.