tempest in a teacup

the pointless musings of a strange recluse

Archive for the 'Uncategorized' Category

A lot of Sonic fans are pretty big idiots

Now that we've got that unfortunately true generalization out of the way…

A rather amusing and somewhat depressing truth occurred to me recently. As you might recall, one of the main marketing points of the travesty of a “next-gen” title known to me as Sonic the Crapfest was its use of the Havok physics engine to provide amazing and realistic physics effects. We all know how that turned out. Yet, one thing that struck me immediately as I booted up my copy of Sonic Mega Collection+ for the PS2 puts this marketing spiel in perspective. You see, the 2D Sonics of old had pretty damn good physics engines. In spite of being layers of pixels at what would be considered ridiculously low resolutions today, the characters you controlled felt like they had weight, and behaved (within the limits of the game world, of course) as you expected them to.

Take, for example, a staple of Sonic games both new and old – loops. In the 3D games they've been relegated to “let go of the controller and watch as Sonic does something really fun before catapulting you back into boretown” moments. However, as most astute gamers will recall, this wasn't the case in the 2D games. You needed to have the necessary momentum in order to make it through a loop without stopping. Or how about when you had to go down a slope? The instinctive thing in the classic Sonics is to build up speed by rolling into a ball. This doesn't work in the 3D games, not even Sonic Adventure (which I still consider the best of the bunch). In fact, rolling in Sonic Adventure makes you SLOW DOWN for some reason, even when going downhill. Even the newer 2D Sonic games like Advance and Rush don't quite get this right (although to be fair, they make up for it in many other ways).

Anyway, that was really more of a tangent to the main point I wanted to make.

Reviews for Sonic Riders: Zero Gravity have been trickling in…and the verdict isn't pretty. And of course, the vast majority of the fanbase has responded in the most predictable way possible – by claiming that reviewers are somehow biased against Sonic games.

First off, this claim is nonsensical. A bias against Sonic games does nothing to explain the praise reviewers threw at the feet of games like Sonic Rush and its sequel (or the Sonic Advance games, for that matter), or the sentiment of redemption they expressed after playing Sonic and the Secret Rings. Suggesting that all professional game reviewers somehow hate Sonic games is therefore patently ridiculous. The lengths that some fans go to prop up this farcical argument is moreso.

The simple truth is that when compared to other platformers – indeed, other games – the Sonic series fails to measure up in innumerable ways. The writing and characterization is a joke (see Psychonauts for a good example of how to get this right), the graphics are consistently mediocre (the so-called “next-gen” Sonic lacked basic features like bump-mapping and water reflections that had been standard in video games for years) and the game mechanics continue to get worse and worse, diluting the core experience. In addition, the games are just chock-full of terrible design decisions. Do we really need to be able to play as one of 10 barely-distinguishable characters (most of whom feel buggy and unfinished)? Does a game about racing hoverboards really need a bloody story mode? And nevermind the fact that guns and Sonic generally don't mix – was it really a good idea to put in firearms without any sort of targeting system? And let's not forget about how ever since Sonic Heroes, the basic controls have been pretty broken as well. No, I didn't know that grass was like ice when you ran on it, but thanks for letting me know.

I suspect the reason for so many fans not realising this either that they've never played a game built on GOOD design principles, or they have remarkably low standards. There are people at numerous boards who can list off a bunch of significant issues they had with a Sonic game, and yet somehow claim it's a great game and that the reviewers have underrated it, tossing out 7s and 8s as if they were spring cleaning the number closet.

Have I ever mentioned how much I hate numerical review scores? God I hate numerical review scores.

I fully admit I was once one of the huddled masses, worshipping the garbage Sega tossed our way on a regular basis. I think it took a game that sucked on the level of Sonic the Crapfest to make me realize the travesty the Sonic series had become – this game was essentially my “red pill,” and it helped me see the Matrix of Sonic fandom for what it really was.

(I fully expect members of aforementioned fandom to read this and reply angrily about how I'm a cynical elitist bastard who hates everything. To which I reply – no, I'm a cynical elitist bastard who hates ignorance. For some these two definitions may be functionally equivalent)

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MacWorld and other musings

You can read about the new product announcements here.

The main things that have me interested are the new iteration of the Apple TV software which (FINALLY) adds support for buying stuff straight off your set-top box, as well as the HD movie rentals that go along with it (although I have no idea if the store is going to get HD TV show rentals as well). The lower price point is neat too. I might be convinced to get one of these some time down the road (although for regular TV watching it still works out pretty expensive compared to a cable subscription).

Other than that, though, it was mostly a snoozefest. I couldn't care less about the iPhone and iPod touch as long as there's no SDK for third-party apps, and the new MacBook model honestly looks like a product without a market. Seriously, who will buy a $1799 notebook that doesn't have an optical drive or Ethernet, and only a single USB port? Not to mention the abysmally slow 4200rpm hard drive (although if you're insane, you can add $1000 to the price to get a 64GB solid-state drive). I do like the LED-backlit screen and the multitouch trackpad, though, not to mention the sleek form factor (although one suspects that the latter was the reason for many of the unit's shortcomings).

The biggest Mac news for me today was that Call of Duty 4 and Spore will be coming to the Mac (although it's courtesy of Transgaming's wrapper rather than a native port of the games). Not that it matters to me or anything, seeing how I don't own a Mac, but it probably is good news for Mac owners who want to get their game on without having to reboot their computer.

In other news, I bought Super Mario Galaxy for Wii around the New Year, and have been playing it for the last 3 weeks. I must say it's easily the best Wii game I've played so far (although that may not be saying much, seeing how my library only consists of three games). Very solid mechanics, nice use of the Wii remote (although I will say manta surfing makes me want to hurt something) and the best graphics on the Wii, period. I've got about 94 stars so far, and will not really consider the game “complete” until I get all 120 stars as Mario. And looking at the remaining levels, that could take a while…

Finally, there's this piece of news that hit recently:
Amazon chooses to pay fine rather than eliminate free shipping in France

I'm sure there's some company policy that prevents me from expressing an opinion about this (and if there isn't, then, well, I guess I don't want to tell you what my opinion is :P) but I was wondering what you guys thought of it.

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Go, Bioware, go!

Sonic RPG, now called Sonic Chronicles: The Dark Brotherhood, details from Nintendo Power

Screenshots and concept art from Sonic CuLT

Come on, Bioware! Make a great story-driven Sonic game that makes up for the shit of the last 6 years! I BELIEVE IN YOUUUUUUUUUUUUUUU

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Vroom vroom

Tata Motors unveils its $2,500 car

I have mixed feelings about this. On the one hand, it's admirable that Tata has decided to come out with a vehicle that the average middle-class family can realistically afford, particularly since the default mode of transport for the average family of four in India is a two-wheeler of some kind, which, given the terrible state of traffic in most Indian urban areas, is incredibly risky. A car would undoubtedly be safer. However, I have to wonder if it really is a smart idea given that pollution in Indian cities is, well, pretty bad. In addition to that, adding even more cars to already strained infrastructure in cities like Bangalore is only going to cause problems down the run. If you thought the roads were bad now, try increasing the number of cars that roll over them every day. Given the penchant for lousy maintenance of public infrastructure in India, I can imagine that its state will only deteriorate further.

As for the car itself, well, I'm not really a fan of the bug-eyed flat-faced look, but that might just be a matter of personal taste. I suppose the low horsepower makes sense for a car meant for city driving at a relatively low speed limit, but since Tata is touting the safety of this new car, the omission of airbags seems like a rather glaring one. In addition, given the rather compact profile of the vehicle and the materials used in its construction, I have to wonder how the vehicle would fare in a head-on collision, perhaps with one of India's notorious Ambassadors (picture an average sedan, only built like a Panzer minus the gun barrel). I can only assume that Tata has done the necessary testing.

In other India-related news, I'm 99% sure that this is going to cause some fireworks, and as usual, I have no bloody idea why.

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Since we're talking about politics and all

How about a political meme?

92% Barack Obama
92% Bill Richardson
90% Hillary Clinton
88% John Edwards
85% Chris Dodd
77% Joe Biden
74% Dennis Kucinich
71% Mike Gravel
47% Rudy Giuliani
42% John McCain
35% Mike Huckabee
34% Mitt Romney
27% Tom Tancredo
23% Fred Thompson
14% Ron Paul

2008 Presidential Candidate Matching Quiz

LOL @ Ron Paul being at the bottom.

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Two days late on this one

So, these Iowa primary results. I have significant doubts about exactly how indicative they are of anything (a pastor winning the evangelical vote? Surely you jest). If you absolutely must know, I have doubts about both winners (moreso about Huckabee than Obama). I also agree with Paul Krugman's reservations about Obama, in that his tone of building consensus doesn't jive with the fact that his opponents in Washington will be ideologues who will attempt to get in the way of anything even remotely progressive-sounding. In any case, Iowa isn't going to determine the winner by itself, so I'll be keeping an eye on events for the next few months.

And before you ask, no, I don't really have a preference for any candidate, although if I did end up supporting someone (inefficacy of my doing so be damned), it would most assuredly be a Democrat. I do not share what seems to be the average techie's fascination with Ron Paul, for various reasons.

Actually, I don't even really know if any of the candidates running right now would be agreeable to me either. Not that I can vote or anything, but it does matter to me who runs the most powerful country in the world, for reasons that are hopefully obvious to most people.

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