tempest in a teacup

the pointless musings of a strange recluse

Archive for the 'Rants' Category

Bumper Stickers

Why do people use bumper stickers?

That’s just something that randomly occurred to me the other day while stuck in traffic. The car ahead of me was festooned with the usual array of colourful stickers proclaiming support for some cause or the other. The first thing that came to mind was “Why don’t I have any bumper stickers on my car?” The second thing, however, was “Why should I put bumper stickers on my car in the first place?”

On some level I wonder if it’s an American thing. People here tend to wear their hearts on their sleeves, so to speak – they’re outspoken and more than willing to tell you what their position is on any given issue, regardless of whether you asked for it or not (this is particularly obvious on the Internet where you don’t have to worry about the consequences of saying stupid things in the presence of other people). You see this all the time, what with the yard signs, flagpoles and of course, the bumper stickers.

And I guess my problem is: why are you making it even easier for me to judge you without even meeting you?

People describe me as almost annoyingly diplomatic – I try to go out of my way to not offend people and I do my best not to have preconceived notions about people I’ve met for the first time. I don’t think I’m terribly successful with the latter but all I can say is that loudly proclaiming your support for/against some political cause doesn’t really help me or anyone else in getting a decent first impression of you. In addition, I think the sort of person who decides to open with all their political/ideological stances when they first meet you is probably not someone I want to spend too much time with.

Case in point – I was driving in downtown Seattle earlier this year and I saw a car ahead of me with a piece of paper taped to his rear windshield with some lame missive about Obama or something. That immediately spoke volumes to me about what sort of person he might be, not to mention convince me of his stupidity in blocking his rear visibility in order to spout some inane political talking point.

And because of my own biases I even start judging them then and there! Like if I’m stuck behind some guy on the freeway with a bunch of, say, anti-Obamacare bumper stickers on the back of his truck I do find that I start to nitpick the way he’s driving, perhaps unreasonably so. “Oh look, he changed lanes without using his signal! Of course he would, he doesn’t care about the well-being of the public!”

I also guarantee that no-one has ever had their mind changed on a subject by a bloody bumper sticker, of all things. If my positions on anything were determined by my daily commute my life would be a mess of epic proportions. If you feel the need to convince people of things, how about talking to them? Not over the Internet though, that always leads to disaster.

That said, I have nothing against bumper stickers with funny quips on them. I can at least see the value in reading something while I’m stuck in traffic. Or, I suppose, stickers that claim affiliation with some school or the other. I don’t think it’s possible to be offended if you feel it necessary to tell people which college your kids go to.

Unless your kids go to a different school, or something.

Me? I think I don’t use bumper stickers because I like the way my car looks without them. Maybe I should put that on a bumper sticker. Which I won’t use.

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Warning: Pedantry ahead

I’ve been watching (and enjoying) the new take on Carl Sagan’s classic Cosmos series about the universe (this time around hosted by the entertaining Neil deGrass Tyson), but I’m not too good about watching stuff when it’s initially broadcast (and I don’t have a DVR), so I’ve been watching it after the fact on Hulu.

It was during one such catchup session that Dr Tyson stated emphatically that ‘the theory of evolution is a scientific fact’.

Before you ask me if I’m a creationist or an intelligent design advocate, I don’t disagree with the spirit of the statement made. Also, I’m disappointed that you have such a low opinion of me. That said, I would hope that a programme supposedly trying to raise public interest in science would be a bit more rigorous in terms of making statements like that, i.e. something like ‘Evolution is the theory that is best supported by the evidence that we have collected so far’. The original statement implies evolution is incontrovertible, whereas the version here suggests that we may discard it and seek a new theory if new evidence surfaces that cannot be reconciled with the current theory. Which is in fact what scientists on the cutting edge of the discipline do routinely.

Probably not snappy enough for TV?

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Pot, Kettle, etc

One of the big pieces of news coming out of GDC last week was this comment from Fez developer Phil Fish:

But when he asked what the panel thought of modern Japanese video games, Phil Fish (pictured) immediately replied “your games just suck” – a comment that sparked an audible reaction from the crowd, though some were cheering.

Others looked on awkwardly as the Japanese developer was then subjected to a string criticisms about game design flaws in his native country. The developer nevertheless thanked the panel for their response and returned to his seat.

As rude as that was to the man who asked the question, that’s not really what irritated me about that particular outburst. Let’s keep in mind that Phil Fish is a guy who’s somehow managed to spend five years working on a 2D platformer. Even if you take into account the fact that only two people are working on it, that seems like a really inordinate amount of time to have spent working on a relatively simple game.

Given, then, that he has yet to release anything, it seems incredibly hypocritical for Fish to turn around and relegate all modern Japanese games to the rubbish bin. Especially when such a relegation is thoroughly unjustified – in the last few years I’ve played BlazBlue, King of Fighters XIII, Trouble Witches Neo, Valkyria Chronicles, Yakuza 3, Vanquish, Bayonetta, Metal Slug XX and Hard Corps: Uprising – all high-quality games, and all made by Japanese developers. And there are even more titles worthy of attention that I haven’t gotten around to playing yet, like Demon’s Souls and its sequel Dark Souls, Deadly Premonition, Yakuza 4. not to mention countless arcade games.

My guess is that Fish thinks that the Japanese only make Zelda and Mario games, or something, or is completely ignorant of what they’ve actually been up to in the last few years. Either way, all he does is come off as an asshole and a colossal moron at the same time.


In other stupid-shit-developers-said-at-GDC-news, here’s an interview Jonathan Blow (the developer of Braid) did with Gamespot:

Ignoring for a second the ludicrousness of his statement that fun and challenge are mutually exclusive, Blow seems to be under the impression that all Japanese games are like Zelda, in that they handhold you every step of the way without letting you discover anything. Much like Fish, it seems Blow has yet to play any Japanese games not made by Nintendo. I wonder if he’ll ever get around to trying Bayonetta or Vanquish…my money’s on ‘No.’

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Making excuses

The ‘big’ release of last month was Duke Nukem Forever, a game that’s been about fourteen years in the making, mainly due to purported incompetence on the part of 3D Realms. At least year’s PAX, Gearbox officially announced they were taking over development after 3D Realms was shuttered and promised to finish the game. And that’s what finally launched last week.

And apparently, it’s terrible. But that’s not what I’m intent on talking about here – there are plenty of places you can go to find out about the problems with what Gearbox has just shat out (I recommend Rock Paper Shotgun’s take). No, my peeve has to do with how some people are reacting to the bad reviews – the same way a lot of people react to bad reviews of anything. One particular phrase.

“It’s good in its own right.”

Now what the hell is that supposed to mean?

To realise how silly that statement is, you have to think about what we mean when we say ‘good.’ There isn’t any universally accepted scale of ‘goodness’ – you can’t say that a cake is good because it’s a 500 on the goodness scale. On top of that coming up with a universal scale would also be very difficult because goodness is highly subjective. Therefore all judgments of quality are necessarily relative.

Given that, saying that something is ‘good in its own right’ is the same as claiming to be able to judge the quality of it without comparing it to anything else. Which is quite clearly nonsense. Even unqualified statements of quality have an implicit comparison embedded in them – for instance, when I say that the Duke Nukem Forever demo failed to convince me that the final product would be any good, I’m implicitly evaluating DNF’s mechanics against those from the best FPSes I’ve played, and realising that it falls short in several areas.

What I suspect that people who pull the above statement are trying to say instead is “I liked this game.” Which is reasonable – there’s no real accounting for taste. But to say that you like something is not the same as saying that it’s good. I mean, hell, I play games that aren’t quite as good as popular opinion would have you believe (for instance, Team Fortress 2). It’s entirely possible (and up to a point, acceptable) to say you like something while admitting that in the grand scheme of things, it doesn’t really hold up.

So please, by all means, go ahead and like Duke Nukem Forever, or KOF XII, or any number of games that were generally received poorly. But if you’re going to claim that they’re good by some arbitrary standard, then my inevitable follow-up question is going to be ‘compared to what?’

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Comparison Theatre: The Witch and the Warrior

Confused by the title? Well, read on and all will become clear.

I’m a fan of 3D action games in general, and I’m currently working my way through two of them, which has inevitably led me to draw comparisons between the two of them. And as it turns out, one of them comes out on top of the other. Or rather, one of them completely curbstomps the other.

To start, let’s talk about Bayonetta.

That's one hell of a kick

I’d been looking forward to Hideki Kamiya’s first project after leaving Capcom, and Bayonetta absolutely doesn’t disappoint. It’s fast-paced and unforgiving, and the combat mechanics are great to play around with. The idea behind Witch Time is easy to understand at first glance, but actually putting it to good use is where the fun lies. Your attacks don’t put enemies into hitstun immediately (unlike most 3D hack-and-slash games), so weaving in dodges with your attack strings to activate Witch Time mid-combo is the key to keeping up a good offense. On top of this there’s the Dodge Offset mechanic that lets you attack immediately after dodging, which I’m still trying to figure out. On top of this, every level introduces something like three to four new enemy types and mixes them up to keep you on your toes.

My only complaint is the QTE sequences that seem to kick in at random intervals, often resulting in instant death if you fail them – an annoying blemish on an otherwise excellent game, especially considering that your end-of-level ranking is severely crippled if you have to use continues to complete the level. But otherwise, I’m really glad I bought this game, and I’m looking forward to playing a lot more of it.

That said, it vastly outshines the other 3D action game I’ve been playing alongside it – Metroid: Other M.

This is the root of most of the game's problems

The game starts out strong enough, with a decent level of difficulty, although the one thing you notice straight away is that there isn’t really much substance to the combat. It’s fast-paced, to be sure, but Samus auto-locks to anything in a wide cone in front of her, and dodging is pulled off reactively rather than proactively (you press a direction on the d-pad when there’s an active enemy attack on the screen), so there’s very little risk of mistiming your dodges. The first-person mode is a little disorienting at first, but it works ok for the few times you need to fire missiles at enemy weak points.

Unfortunately it’s all downhill from there. As you collect powerups and, um, ‘gain’ abilities, the combat doesn’t really get any harder, and once you get the charge beam and diffusion beam you might as well put down the controller and walk away. You can beat most of the enemy encounters by just running around in circles, charging a shot, turning in the enemy’s general direction and releasing the button. And once you figure out that you can instantly charge a shot while dodging…well, yeah.

On top of that the game forces you to use this ridiculous Wiimote-only control setup that makes you use the d-pad to dodge, one button to fire and one button to jump. Would it have been so bad to include a GameCube controller or Classic Controller setup? Hell, a proper controller would have probably forced the developers to come up with a more interesting combat system.

Honestly the only reaction this game elicits from me is ‘wow, did Team Ninja really make this game?’ I still remember how the Ninja Gaiden Sigma demo kicked my ass, so seeing a game like this come from them makes me feel like I’m being trolled. I know that drawing comparisons to Super Metroid is silly since the two games are in different genres, but if there was a game that could have shown how to do a free-roaming 3D action game with the same veneer of non-linearity as Super Metroid, this could have been it. This should have been it. Unfortunately, it wasn’t.

(I’ve got one more ‘Comparison Theatre’ coming up soon…if you want a hint what the topic will be, here’s a hint: YOUはSHOCK!)

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Oh, who would ever want to be king

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Looks like King of Fighters XIII is en route.

(logo yoinked from Dengeki Online)

To be clear, I didn’t like KOF XII at all. I did pay $60 for the game, but in retrospect, my money would have probably been better spent on something else. And no, my complaints have little to do with the lacklustre console port – they all centre around what was done to the game system itself. General dumbing down, removal of anything that might be potential interesting and highly stripped-down movelists that made even my usual go-to KOF characters boring as hell to play. Oh yeah, and the stuff about the sprites being upscaled didn’t really help either.

To be honest, the fact that everyone’s complaint about the game seems to be ‘the game plays fine, but the port sucks’ just astounds me. I have to conclude that these people never really played the games that came before XII (the great KOF XI and KOF’98 Ultimate Match) and what came after it (the equally great KOF2002 Unlimited Match). I regard all of those games as superior to KOF XII in every way, simply because their systems were far more interesting. They may not have fancy fake-HD sprites with tons of frames, but they make up for it by actually being fun to play. XI took 2003’s incomplete tag system, fleshed it out and made it awesome; ‘98UM added new twists to a classic formula without breaking it (I actually have a reason to try and use the Extra mode meter and dodging now) and 2002UM addressed my only problems with the original game (crappy aesthetics and stripped-down movelists) while making enough system tweaks to be interesting.

Out of the new stuff KOF XII added, I only regard the Guard Attack and guard crush CDs as interesting, and the latter already made an appearance in KOF NeoWave (albeit in a slightly different form). Critical counters and deadlocks are too rare and too difficult to get to be of any consequence, and the changes they made to how close and far attacks work is just off-putting. Why the hell would I want Shen Woo’s close C from a full character length away?

Anyway, what does all of this have to do with KOF XIII?

Simply put, I’m not super confident about it. Based on a comment from Falcoon back in 2006 (shortly after XI’s arcade release), they worked on KOF XII for 3 1/2 years before releasing it, and the end result of that was a game that felt stripped down in every single way. Given also that the first build of the game at AOU 2009 didn’t even have super meters and most of the subsystems implemented, I’d say that the bulk of the time was spent on drawing those fancy new sprites. They’ve had a year to work on the game since then, but given that these sprites take so long to draw (SNKP themselves said it’s 16 months per character in terms of man-hours), I’m not expecting a major shakeup in the game system. Maybe everyone gets a new move or two, and we get 2-3 new characters at most.

Hey, maybe they’ll add super cancels! Or a multiple-level power meter! That’d truly be revolutionary.

So yeah. I’m keeping an eye on it, but I’m not holding my breath.

Nice logo though.

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I have the worst luck with computer parts

I bought 4GB (2x2GB) of RAM during Amazon’s pre-Black Friday sales last week. I got it on Monday and installed it, and things ran smoothly…until I popped into Left 4 Dead today and my computer turned itself off. Twice.

One quick run of memtest86 later, and the result was clear – one of the sticks was bad. In fact, ONE BIT on that stick was bad. It would have passed the complete test suite had it not been for the random number test where that bit failed to get flipped correctly.

The aggravating part is that this happened to me one year ago with the RAM I originally bought to build this machine. The same exact problem – one bad stick of RAM.

On top of that, my five-year old Creative speakers finally gave up the ghost this week, so it looks like I’ll be needing a new set. I’m not into 5.1 or 7.1 setups that much (I used to have a 4.1 setup way back in 1999 but I kept tripping over the rear satellites), so I’ll probably pick up a cheap 2.1 set. There’s a Logitech set on Amazon going for $30 that’s gotten some good reviews.

Fortunately we have a pretty good returns service, so I’ve already asked for a replacement, and will be shipping this dud RAM back to Amazon for a refund. I hope they don’t mind that I snipped off the bar code to submit for my mail-in-rebate, though…

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Leaving on a, uh, shuttle bus

I’ll be heading to Vancouver next week for what will hopefully be a brief trip to get my US work visa stamped. And before you ask, yes, I have to leave the US in order to get my visa stamped. No, it doesn’t make sense to me either.

I’ve heard horror stories of people who get stuck for weeks waiting for their passport to be returned to them…I have my fingers crossed that my interview goes smoothly.

This has pretty much been the only thing on my mind for the last month or so.

Otherwise, not much else is going on. Playing TF2 every night with Perfect Stranger and his friends, going to work as usual and otherwise pretending that my continued legal status in this country is not down to the decision of one guy in a building in Vancouver.

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I fucking hate AVG Antivirus

So I read this story on Slashdot this morning and reacted the same way any sane techie would: “My god, AVG is a pile of crap. I need to get it off my computer now!” So I did.

Only to have it, with its dying breath, somehow fuck up my Windows registry, preventing Windows from starting at all, except in Safe Mode.

I booted into Safe Mode and used System Restore to bring my computer back to the last point where I could guarantee that it was working. Unfortunately, System Restore also apparently rolls back installed programs. Meaning the copy of Diablo II and its expansion set that I had downloaded and installed from Blizzard’s online store are now gone.

Guess I won’t be playing any TF2 tonight while I download both games all over again :|

For some reason my game directory (with my save data apparently intact, otherwise I really would have lost it) still exists, backed up under another name, but the .exe files and Start Menu entries are nowhere to be found.

I guess AVG wanted to leave me something to remember it by. -_-

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In case anyone was wondering where I was yesterday

Monday was a repeat performance of Friday’s “awesomeness” at work (only worse), and I got home just in time for a wind storm to knock out all power for 5 hours.

So yeah, I was a little tied up.

That new 3G iPhone looks awesome, though.

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