Friday, November 30, 2007


You may have heard the case of the teacher in Sudan who was imprisoned for allowing her students to name a teddy bear "Muhammad," but they still want to kill her.

OK, than the fact that their religious argument is totally bogus (the bear was not intended as an image of Muhammad to begin with) totally drives me crazy. Really, the only response I've been able to have to this has been, "Nuke the site from orbit, it's the only way to be sure."

And I feel bad about that. I want to be tolerant and respectful of other beliefs and religions, even though in my opinion they are entirely wrong and very often harmful. The right to be wrong and the right to be offensive are fundamental to the right to freedom of thought and the freedom of speech.

So, here's the deal:

We all have to live in the same world. I agree to be tolerant of your beliefs regardless of any criteria, including but not limited to a) internal logical inconsistency, b) inconsistency with observation and c) inconsistency with my own beliefs, on the condition that the same tolerance is reciprocated to myself and all others offering the same conditions.

Is that so hard? I suppose it is, it directly contradicts the very foundation of radical Christianity, Islam, Scientology, or any other similar belief system. It's the "radical" part that is the problem - the non-radical religions already subscribe to the above agreement. Really, it's far from sufficient for having a peaceful, open society, but if we can't even have that agreement at least in principle, we're utterly screwed.

For anyone who doesn't like it, we have the glass parking lot.

(Now, the paranoid conspiratist in me would suggest that perhaps all of this nonsense is a ruse designed to piss off even people like me enough to allow wars of aggression to proceed... I hope the fact that I still worry about stuff like that means I can be balanced about the situation and recognize when I'm being tricked before it turns to disaster.)

Game Violence

I was reading something about game violence recently. Aside from the fact that I find the entire "debate" irritating for reasons I might get into later, the interesting thing I got thinking about was the different types of violence in the world and, similarly, in games.

You basically have different situations that would generally be considered more or less acceptable:
  1. Intentional harm of the innocent (murder)
  2. Coincidental harm of the innocent (knew it was likely, manslaughter)
  3. Mutual oppositional violence (war)
  4. Defensive violence (repel invaders)
  5. Accidental harm of the innocent (no idea it would happen)
  6. Mutual permitted violence (boxing)
There may be other shades of it in there. The main point of interest was the lumping of a sport such as boxing under the "violence" label as though it was the same thing as playing a serial killer.

The interesting thing that occurs to me after writing a list in diminishing order of severity leads me to think about what the West is doing in the Middle East. We're being sold the "war in Iraq" as a war (severity 3), but really that's not quite right. The people in the country are repelling invaders (severity 4), but the US is fighting an unjustified war of aggression, which is pretty much murder (severity 1).

Now, to say the US should pull out right now, or even on a timetable, is a much more difficult issue. They should not be there, and I've maintained that since long before they even were there. They've made a right nasty mess of the Iraq and potentially ruined the US economy with massive debt, but there isn't any good way out now. That is why any nation worth any respect whatsoever doesn't involve itself in wars of aggression.

Thursday, November 22, 2007

Recently Played: Crysis

Crysis is an exercise in so many things gone right, and so many things gone wrong. At one point my son made a comment to the effect that, "They made a movie out of this game!" He didn't mean cheap Hollywood derivative crap. There are moments in the game as visually stunning and epic as any movie, which is really saying something. I partially shrug at the whole "nanosuit" thing, which basically means your character can choose between armor, speed, strength or stealth. Only one can be selected at a time, and each drains power at a different rate depending what you are doing (getting shot, sprinting, hitting things or moving, respectively). As a sci-fi theme it isn't exactly inspired, but it does let you approach any of your objectives from a lot of different angles - speed in shooting, or sneak through without raising any suspicion.

The system requirements are astronomical. Now, I have a hard time faulting them for that, because the game does look fantastic. On the flip side, Half-Life 2: Episode Two also looks fantastic and doesn't grind my moderate-to-high performance system (Intel Quad Core 6600, nVidia 8600GTS) to dust. I think there must be a balance there that wasn't sufficiently met.

But the really bad stuff is the bugs. I've seen exactly the same issues reported by others (but curiously, not by everyone) so it's not just me. Some are genuine bugs, some are design issues, but here we go:
  • Several bugs that prevent missions from advancing. In particular, some "death animations" for enemies don't work all the time, leaving them hanging in the air. This would be just a graphical glitch, except in several circumstances this also prevents the proper events from getting triggered and allowing you to continue through the game, forcing you to load an old save game. (Either by fortunate chance or good design, the game does save your progress in individual files, rather than overwriting the same one, so you can go back fairly easily.)
  • Cutscenes are often very, very slow, much worse than the rest of the game for some reason. Occasionally they will simply pause for seconds at a time, causing the audio to go completely out of sync with the visuals.
  • The end-game involved dying. A lot. Which is fine, except it was almost always for completely random reasons. Game designers figured out that was a bad idea many years ago, what it's doing in one of the most high-profile modern games is beyond me.
  • The end-game didn't exactly communicate objectives well. You get the Stupid Big Gun at the end, then go off to defeat the Super Big Bad Guy, but you can't use the Stupid Big Gun against it for some reason. After defeating Super Big Bad Guy through conventional means (which takes forever and gives little indication that you're actually doing any damage), Big Daddy Super Big Bad Guy comes out, where you CAN use the Stupid Big Gun, but only in a very specific way. Since BDSBBG is a big pushover compared to SBBG, if the whole thing wasn't presented with such style it would be immensely disappointing, instead of merely being underwhelming.
  • Did I mention the end-game involved a lot of dying? So while you're stumbling around trying to figure out what you're supposed to be doing, you tend to get killed a lot, without any idea if it's because there's a bug in the game (since we established that is a problem), you're not doing it right (which is possible, it's all explained so poorly), or you just suck.
  • The end-game is really where the framerate issues become a problem, because despite having acceptable framerates on medium settings for the whole game, even with everything on low settings the whole thing turns into a slideshow at the very end, compounding all of the above problems.
I loved this game on the whole. Still, as was a common complaint with its predecessor Far Cry, it starts off marvelously, then just takes a wrong turn at the end, which is really unfortunate. Now, maybe I'll come back to it in two years with more computing power and a few patches and be blown away. If only they could have spent another couple weeks fixing the bugs.

Tuesday, November 6, 2007

Stupid thing of the day

So, I heard on the radio this morning a big debate about whether to allow a gigantic Canadian Tire box store to be built in Vancouver. I don't really care much either way, really, but the interesting thing was how it was being suggested that it might generate a lot of traffic, and they were hoping to find a way to minimize it. After all it was only a few blocks away from the Sky Train...

I just couldn't believe anyone actually said that. It's a Canadian Tire. Sure, they carry a wide range of things, but it's primarily an automotive store. Of course people are going to drive there!

It's actually planned for the site of a former car dealership, so... the whole argument is just oozing lies, lies and more lies on every side really. At least the opponents had the decency to say that they mostly didn't want it because it would almost ensure Wal Mart would then find a way to put a store in (which the opponents recently prevented from happening).


Monday, November 5, 2007

Recently Played: Portal

OK, so, it's been a month since I last posted. That's not so great. Considering my audience size is about two, it probably doesn't matter, but whatever. It's been a while.

So, I bought the Orange Box, which may explain some of that absence of posting. Half Life 2: Episode Two was fabulous, and like all good things left you wanting more.

The more surprising thing in the box was Portal. I was expecting an interesting puzzle game involving portals (create your own "holes" in walls, go in one and you'll come out the other). What caught me (and many others) off guard was the very subtle and very funny story that ties the game together. To top it all off, it has one of the best credits sequences in any game.

Really, Portal is just a nearly perfectly executed game, and meshes perfectly with Valve's game design theory. They always design their levels to teach players the skills they need, and then give them progressively harder problems to solve with those skills. The story that helps hold that together involves an insane, homicidal computer running the show, but this aspect is only gradually introduced. In fact, the story is so subtly introduced I have read raging debates on the forums about what different parts of the story actually mean. That people care that much about the story is perhaps the greatest indication about how well done this game is.

More to the point, I wish I had made it. :-)

At least it gives me some good ideas on how games I'm working on should be designed, and hopefully help make them better.

As usual, Yahtzee has generally captured the essence of what I'd like to say in Zero Punctuation.