Wednesday, May 4, 2011

A Little Creative Writing

Holy crap, an update. I wrote this after rolling randomly on this table for a jumping-off point.

I rolled 54, which yielded "Forgotten." This has not been edited, although I may give it some attention if it's not terrible.

Day 3401

He awoke. He wound his watch. The ticking was reassuring to him; audible and rhythmic, it gave his days framework. He'd never forgotten to wind it, not once, even when he was delirious with fever. By the light of the dim emergency lights, it read 8:46 AM, a little later than his usual, but well within protocol.

He rose from his cot, faced north, and recited his name and number, the syllables running together. Crossing right foot over left, he held his fist to his forehead, and bowed once quickly. Then, seating himself at the metal table against the wall, he began to pump the foot-pedals until a light static sound could be heard from the small metal box that adorned the table.

He requested new orders, and held the channel open for the 200 required ticks of his watch. He expected no response, and received none.

He ate rations, high-calorie and bland, and took inventory. Rations remained for 2,875 more days, assuming one per day. He estimated he could stretch it to 2 rations every 3 days, but protocol dictated that such measures were to be enacted only in the event that fewer than 30 rations remained, or rations would not last until the projected end of the mission.

The waste packaging went into the compactor, and the bathing ritual began. The soap was long since used up, but there was no lack of water, which came from a hand pump sunk deep into the aquifer. He knew he stank, but he could no longer smell himself.

Moving to the stair-climbing machine, he began the repetitive motion, charging up the capacitors and keeping his body from deteriorating at the same time. As he climbed fictional stairs, he watched a stack of green LCD bars climb slowly upward. After they had topped off, he kept going for 48 more steps, knowing that the cells would top off after the bars.

Closing his eyes, he turned on the lights. No new ones were burned out, and the West-side ceiling light took slightly longer than usual to flicker on, but that one had been getting slightly worse for the past month. He could get around in complete darkness here, but lacking simulated night and day, sleep became erratic, and his logs became surlier than usual. Taking the current log book from a drawer, he noted the time, the date, and his activities and observations. He initialed the entry, and opened his footlocker to remove his treasure.

She was blonde, tall, and almost entirely nude, her shapely frame splayed out on a bed of silky fabric, one forearm resting over one breast, the other bent over her head. He sighed, whispered her name, and ran a finger along the curve of her two-dimensional spine. Almost. He could almost feel the warmth of her skin. On the good days, he would reach to touch himself.

This wasn't one of the good days. His next breath came in a sob, and before his brain could catch up to his body, he was crouched beside his cot with his sidearm under his chin, safety off. His brain rallied, raising arguments such as his duty, the dishonor in abandoning his post, and his own long-held beliefs that suicide was weakness. His body countered, screaming that it could not feel her touch, had never felt her touch, could not remember what such a touch felt like. The brain spoke calming words, seeking to pacify the wild urges that could not be satisfied. Over a thousand thunderous ticks of his watch later, the body relented, and he eased the safety back onto his sidearm.

He dressed, he drank water, and put his treasure away without looking at it. His brain could not face her gaze, and his body could not stand to know that her gaze would never change.

He made the next entry in his log book, initialed it, and lay down for his afternoon nap.

He awoke to the master alarm. Scrambling to the desk, he pulled out the code book, and ran his finger down the columns, matching the sequence to its translation. As his finger found the sequence, his heart began to thunder.

*First seal breach*

He spun the wheel on the safe, missing the combination twice before he wrenched the door open. He removed a small box, and a small flask of liquid. Time was of the essence. This outpost must be purged according to protocol.

The liquor went down easily, but produced goosebumps up and down both of his arms. It had been many years since he'd had any alcohol. He gave one last salute, and flipped the cover off of the box's switch.

His brain asked about suicide, then reminded itself of duty. He knew much, and there was valuable intel in this bunker. Neither could fall into enemy hands. His brain briefly tried to remember specifics related to "enemy," but gave up. He was trusted with a great responsibility, and could not shirk from it.

He sucked in a breath, then another, squeezed his eyes shut, and depressed the switch.

*Tick, Tick, Tick, Tick*

The watch kept working. So did he. Of all the mechanisms to deteriorate, it had to be this one. He threw the detonator away violently. Protocol dictated that he must incinerate his logs, and finish himself with his sidearm, but as he cast his gaze over to the thermite incendiary device in the safe, the argument of responsibility and duty was shoved aside by a powerful, desperate need.He looked down at his sidearm, and set it aside. If the enemy were to capture him, at least before his death, he could see and hear another human. Body and brain agreed that this was the only thing they wanted.

He sat down to wait. Dishonor would be a small price to pay. He tried to envision the person who would tear open the hatch and lay eyes on him. He found he couldn't. He looked at his watch, and watched the seconds tick by.

A squealing sound came from the hatch, and the long-frozen latches groaned, and shifted into motion. His breathing quickened, and he stood to face the only way in or out. The hatch moved, and light lanced in. Daylight. Every part of him screamed with joy. A soft cry of delight escaped his throat, as he heard voices. He did not know the language, but he knew the sounds. Human. His eyes blurry with tears, he stepped toward the light.

Friday, February 26, 2010

Number 1 vs Number 2, Part 1: Bioshock

Bioshock 1 was an amazing game, extremely well written, imaginative, immersive, and fun. With the recent release of the sequel, let's take a look at each game, and what they do differently, for better or worse.

The Main Character
The clear winner in my mind in terms of a main character is Bioshock 2. While number 1 was designed to provide an outsider perspective on the world of Rapture, the sequel takes a route that allows for a sometimes shocking amount of identification and empathy with its main character. Whereas in B1, you arrived at Rapture seemingly by accident, B2 puts you in the massive boots of a Big Daddy, searching relentlessly for his daughter through the ruins of the ill-conceived Rapture. Though both protagonists are silent (except for grunts of pain and effort), it seems much less strange from inside a Big Daddy's helmet. Also, B1 and B2 both took pages from HL2's book, and never, from start to finish, take the camera from the main character's eyes, thus never breaking the immersion with a 3rd person cut-scene.

The World
A tie. Rapture is one of my favorite video game locations ever. Each game explores different parts of the same steampunk city, which is staggeringly well designed. Although there is a current of (very) dark humor in both games, walking through this underwater city which is falling/has fallen apart evokes a sense of haunting wonder in me. The environments are beautiful and varied, with the ever-present ocean leaking back into the city. In fact, I could have enjoyed this game just fine if the exploration were the main part of the game, and the combat were entirely absent.

The Gameplay
The sequel takes it, but not by a whole lot. Though you can argue that the sequel made some pretty big improvements with the combat, they don't seem as important, as the core of the game has changed. While both are FPSRPG's, B1 emphasizes the FPS part, while B2 focuses much more heavily on the RPG portion. Why does this make a difference? Well, because one thing that B2 does thousands of times better than B1 is give you a goal. In B1, most of the game is centered on survival, with a goal finally being issued in the last few hours of play. In B2, you are given a goal right out of the gate. Your daughter has been taken from you, you have been functionally dead for a while, and now that you have been put back together, your daughter is calling to you inside your head, begging you to come find her. Because of this, combat ceases to be the enjoyable romp that it was in the first game, and is instead a frustrating obstacle. You are looking for your daughter, and these crazies are keeping you from her. Instead of finding the best or most creative ways to solve a given encounter, I found myself throwing away valuable ammo, health kits, and EVE hypos, impatiently smashing and blasting my way through anything in my way, not because it was a matter of survival, principle, or anything else, but because they were in my way. Once I reached the ending area, I found myself often just running past enemies, even as they pumped me full of lead, because I did not have the time to deal with them. To clarify, there was no countdown, or actual time limit, but the atmosphere was frantic enough, and my goal almost in sight, that they were unworthy of my attention. Also, pro tip, level the Insect Swarm plasmid , or as I call it, the "Fuck you button", right away.

The Story
Number 1 takes it, if only because there was more of it, and because of the "What a twist!" moment. Number 1 was longer than number 2, and told the story of rapture as a whole. The story is told through the world itself, and through audio diaries of people like Andrew Ryan, the father of Rapture, Fontaine, his opponent, as well as a number of citizens of the doomed city. B2's story is more personal, but shorter and less epic. Actually, you know what? B2 was better. B1 was the setup, and it was great, but B2's story is more immersive, more powerful, more important. If I were to judge the stories on the basis of being historically interesting, then yes, B1's story about a war in a ruined underwater city would take home the trophy, but B2 provides a personal link between story, character, and player, and that is worth more than all the fall from paradise stories in the world.

The Point
Each game has a moral, and I'm not talking about the "moral choice system" in B1, which asks the daring question, "Are you Jesus, with a love for all living creatures, or Hitler, only with hemorrhoids, so you're ultra-evil?" B1's moral, aside from "Rapture was a bad idea," was the age-old "do the ends justify the means" question. B2's moral was that your decisions not only affect the world around you, but the people around you. Without giving away too much, the kind of person your daughter turned into depended on your actions throughout the game. Whether your daughter turned out ruthless or merciful, good or evil, was dependent on what she learned from you, her father. This is a step above most "moral choice" systems, where your decisions affect the world, and how people see you, but rarely shape another character. I can handle faceless NPC's thinking I'm a dick, but the idea that being a dick could rub off on my daughter does what all these other games have either utterly failed, or mostly failed to do: make me care. Point to B2.

To conclude, I was very happily surprised with B2. I questioned the need for a sequel, feeling that B1 was fantastic, and no sequel was necessary. To be fair, a lot of sequels are crap, but B2 is a rare instance of a sequel done right, and indeed, better than the first. The Bioshock team saw that the common thread they were looking for was the city, and telling more stories in Rapture would be ok, as long as they could stand up on their own. It is still a good idea to play B1 before B2, and I highly recommend them both, but B2 is the more memorable of the two for me. I really hope they keep up the good work, as more Bioshock games will surely be on the way. Please don't screw up, guys.

Friday, February 5, 2010

I love my friends, part 2

Fluffy: 'Retards flock to you, Ubu'
Ubu: 'I am their king'


FatherBadTouch: So what job are you volunteering for?
Towersheep: I am a medic?
FatherBadTouch: Something tells me you're a good one.
Massive: It's pretty fucking easy. All you have to do is point your medic gun at him.
Towersheep: Oh ya, one guy was having a heart attack. I gave him an uber. Problem solved.


Ishikawa: Ok Mati, What's the plan that we'll eventually ignore?


alderbarren: Me vs. cooking
alderbarren: ROUND TWO
alderbarren: FITE
alderbarren: FIRE FROM MY HANDS


On the phone:
Ubu: Mati?
Mati: Ubu! Match in 8 minutes.
Ubu: You got somebody else you can use? I literally just got done having vigorous sex, and I'm not exactly at my best.
Mati: Haha, yeah, I think so.
8 Minutes Later, on vent
KingUbu has connected
Ubu: Whats up guys
Mati: I though you just got done having vigorous sex?
Ubu: I did. Now I'm kicking her out so I can play video games.
Fluffy: Ubu, you're my hero.

Tuesday, February 2, 2010

Role-playing in RPG's

Oblivion's world was dead to me. From the instant I stepped out of the sewers, holding the emperor's amulet, the world felt like a bad middle-school play, each actor struggling to remember their few lines, walking stiffly around the world in their own monotonous routine, taking sideways glances at the audience for approval. The wilderness was undoubtedly beautiful, but populated by 1 wolf per 20 square feet, strange, overly aggressive solitary animals. The dungeons started out interesting, but pretty soon you realized there were 3 kinds of dungeon with 3 kinds of enemies, and no unique items to be found.

Even when the oblivion gates started opening, supposedly flooding the world with daedra, unless you were right in front of an oblivion gate, nothing was different. The elder council seemed unable to raise an army, and worse, nobody seemed to care. The emperor's death was just a topic for small-talk. People went about their business, oblivious to the hell gates riddling the land. Indeed, there was no incentive to enter the gates, and whenever the sky turned red, indicating a gate was nearby, I would change course, knowing that closing the gate would accomplish nothing.

But once, it seemed important. I went into a gate that lay directly outside the walls of one of the few cities in the game. Rather than a solitary trek to the top of the biggest tower, as is the usual procedure, there was a small group of men inside, wearing silver armor, fighting the daedra inside. My character, a female dark elf archer, helped them out with the clanfear they were fighting. After the immediate danger was dead, I asked them what the hell they were doing in there. It turns out, the leader of the group, the Knights of the Thorn, was the son of Count Indarys, the Count of the city.

The Knights of the Thorn were a laughing stock. Their lodge was decrepit, and its ranks were filled with the useless sons of the gentry. Indarys was a braggart, with nothing to back it up. He was worthless, and his 2 comrades were only slightly less so. Babysitting these three was a nightmare. My normal was of progressing though this dungeon was by sneak attacks and arrows from the shadows. Indarys made this quite impossible. Any time he saw an enemy, he'd shout a challenge and charge his worthless ass into the fray. I barely kept the three knights alive, on the way up to the top of the tower, where the sigil stone was located.

The top of the tower was the final hurdle, holding several dremora guards, some clanfear, and a daedroth. The Knights of the Thorn charged, and I loosed nearly every arrow I had. When the battle music faded, I realized we were two men short. Walking the battlefield, I found one Knight standing, and two dead. One of them was Indarys.

I reached for my quickload key, but stopped. I realized that for this tiny window of time, this was war, and I felt legitimate sorrow for the man's death. Sure, he was a blowhard, and sure, the Knights of the Thorn were a laughing stock, but he had acted to protect a city that thought poorly of him, and he died with honor. He was the NPC that felt most alive, and now he was dead.

I took the signet ring from his body, and then, along with the last remaining Knight, closed the gate. I felt compelled to break the news to the Count that his son was dead. I expected to fail the quest, or for the Count to be angry at me, but he received the ring gravely, and thanked me for trying to help his son. He promised that he would restore the Knights of the Thorn to glory, and they would forever be remembered for the service they did to the city.

I left the city reluctantly, knowing that I had caught a small glimpse of what the game might have been.

Tuesday, December 1, 2009

Dear FPS's: Please don't do these things

1. Unlockables

If I wanted to play an RPG, I'd play an RPG. The draw of multiplayer FPS's is the level playing field. The only difference between a new player and an experienced player is skill. Having to grind in an FPS to unlock the best weapons ruins the fun.

Biggest offender: Battlefield 2142. In this game, there are 4 classes, but they all start out with a gun, a pistol, and a knife. You have to unlock grenades, you have to unlock class features like med packs, defibrilators, you have to unlock the better weapons, and you have to do this with points. What's more, it doesn't happen even remotely quickly. Here's why it's worse. If you're starting out in this game, you're competing against people who not only have played the game a lot, but have all the best unlocks, making the gap between you and them even wider.

Moderate offender: Team Fortress 2. This isn't as much of a problem in TF2, because the default weapons are useful. The unlocks usually have some defecit to balance out their advantages. For example, Natascha, the unlockable minigun, has a 25% slowing effect on whatever it hits, but it does 50% less damage. Here's the problem. The two ways to get the weapons are to either grind achievements (which never, EVER come up in regular play), or just wait for them to be randomly found. This promotes a different kind of grinding, however. People either elect to sit in an Idle server, or use an idle program (which valve frowned upon, and invalidated all unlocks gotten by that method), rather than just enjoying the game.

Lesser offender: Battlefield 2. This game had 7 classes, but unlike its sequal, all the specials of each class are unlocked right out of the gate. The only unlocks are a different primary weapon for each class. The unlocked guns aren't much different from the defaults, however, and not having the unlocked weapons isn't really a defecit. Each class can still perform its duty, regardless of weapon.

2. No spectator mode while dead

If I die, I do not want to spend the 15 or 20 seconds before the next spawn staring at the sky, ground, or a black screen. If I'm not alive, I want to be looking at other people who are alive. If I am not bored, realism is an appropriate sacrifice.

Worst offenders: The Battlefield series. I know you're looking at the sky because there is a chance you may be revived, but it is no less disorienting to be thrown back into the action from a spectator's view than from a view of the sky.

3. Shitty lobby systems

Lobbys aren't a bad idea. They give you time to get a game set up, and you can start the game when all your friends are in. Furthermore, matchmaking for pubs on some games is a great idea, and properly implemented, works very well. But a lack of options can make this system maddening.

Worst offender: Call of Duty Modern Warfare 2. This game is banking on multiplayer, as the single player campaign is 6 hours long at most. So thanks, InfinityWard, for removing dedicated servers and making all multiplayer work on a lobby system. The wonderful thing about dedicated servers is there are infinite options. People who own the servers choose the settings that fit the server's playstyle, and also can administrate the servers to get rid of hackers and douchebags. Now that's all gone. This also means pings will inevitably be higher and more eratic. Worse, players surrender control of their gaming experience.

Moderate to Lesser offender: Left4Dead and Left4Dead2. Lobbys are a good idea for pubs and friend-only games here. The problem is, you can't control which server you play on, so you may end up on a strangely modded server, or a server with different than usual settings. If you want to connect to a specific server, you have to mess around with configuration files and the console, which is a lot of hoops to jump through to play the damn game on your own server. My friends and I usually end up hosting locally and waiting 3 minutes for the pings to calm down.

4. Regenerating health

I'd love it if a game would come up with a good system for dealing with getting wounded. I don't know why we can't use health packs anymore. Sure, picking up a box with a red cross on it and having it instantly restore your health is not very realistic, but neither is crouching in a corner and sucking your thumb until your vision clears. It breaks flow.

Worst offender: Any curent-gen game.


So there's a list of four things that annoy me. I'm off.

Saturday, November 14, 2009

Atheism and the Internet

Let me preface this article by giving you the point of view from which it is written. I am 22 years old, and I am a Christian. If asked for a denomination, I'd cite my background as a Presbyterian and a Covenant, but say that I am non-denominational at the moment. I believe in God, and that he is still around. I believe in Evolution, as I do not think we have brains that we are not supposed to use. I believe that a good deal of the Bible is a metaphor, and taking it as literal historical fact will only lead to trouble. I believe in Jesus, and I believe that our responsibility as Christians is to try to be more like Christ. I dislike religious extremists, and I don't think "God told me to" is an excuse to commit atrocities. I have friends of quite a few different religions, including atheists, and I don't think that being a Christian says I can't be friends with them.

Alright, there's where I'm coming from. Here is today's rant.

There are a lot of very vocal atheists on the internet. I don't know that they're the majority, but they sure are loud. The atheism board on reddit has over 64,000 subscribers, and you'll run into vocal atheists no matter which parts of the internet you frequent, be they news sites, online games, forums and imageboards, etc. I'm not planning to start a theological debate here, but I would like to point out a few observations I have made in regards to the attitudes of some internet atheists.

Many atheists associate atheism with intelligence, as though only smart people can be atheists, or all atheists are smart. They speak as though being an atheist puts them in a select group of smart people who haven't been taken in by "The God Delusion." Often, they'll make sweeping statements about society as a whole, like "It's 2009 and we still have 'In God We Trust' on our money. Society has a long way to go."

Intelligence and Atheism are not mutually inclusive. Really, it's true. Stupid people can be found in any cross-section of individuals, regardless of creed.

Somehow, the words "Christian" and "Creationist" became synonymous to internet atheists. Again, the two are not mutually inclusive. I got as annoyed as any atheist when I heard about the Creation Museum in Kentucky. Teaching the Bible's creation story as literal truth is doing children a disservice. Teaching that one man and one woman were literally created fully formed, and populated the entire planet without inbreeding is silly. Evolution is widely accepted as scientific fact, and many Christians accept it as true as well.

Some internet atheists are the rudest and most offensive people I've come into contact with. On a few memorable occasions, when they found out I was a Christian, they immediately reached several conclusions (I am stupid and/or weak, I was tricked into believing from an early age, I am a Creationist, I am a hypocrite) and launched an attack on my beliefs. Now, I don't mind having my beliefs questioned. I did quite a bit of that myself, and if my beliefs didn't stand up to questioning, I wouldn't still have them. I do mind having my beliefs attacked, unprovoked, and being put on the defensive in an argument that I didn't start, or want to have in the first place.

For the constant cries of "don't force your religion on me," some of these internet atheists are sure obnoxious about forcing their beliefs on others. They raise a fuss about "Under God" in the pledge, about "In God We Trust", about "God Bless America". Christianity, Islam, and the rest of the world's religions, do not have a monopoly on ignorant, extremist points of view. Several atheists I have spoken to are of the opinion that religion as a whole, and the concept of a supreme being, are harmful to humanity, claiming that religion is nothing but a tool of social repression and control.

Essentially, almost all that ends up being posted on internet atheist hangouts are rage-inducing news stories about extremists, pedophiles, fundamentalists, things that make organized religion look bad. The comments on said stories and the other posts comprise one big, pointless circle-jerk of self-congratulating lines, boiling down to "Look how stupid, hypocritical, and backwards religious people are." They blame religion for the Westboro Baptist Church, for ignorance, for the pedophiles in the Catholic Church, for the Dark Ages, for hate crimes, but the problem isn't religion. The truth is, those things frustrate Christians just as much as atheists, moreso in fact. Every rational Christian out there is frustrated, embarrassed, and angry, not just because of the event itself, but because of the damage it does to the world's view of Christianity. For every atrocity, there are thousands upon thousands of good people trying to make the world a little nicer. But hey, that's not news.

Anyway, to wrap all of this up, I'd like to see a bit less aggression from the atheists of the internet. This article isn't going to change anything, but it's been on my mind lately, so there it is. Thanks for reading.

Sunday, October 18, 2009

This Month in Movies

Surrogates

So a few weeks ago, I went downtown to hang out with my Ukrainian buddy and his girlfriend to celebrate our mutual employment. We ended up going to see Surrogates, and here are my thoughts on it.

Here's the premise. Mankind has perfected robotic technology, and 99% of the planet now live their lives through robots called Surrogates. Plugged into an interface and sitting in a chair, they control their robotic self as they do all their daily tasks. Crime rates have plummeted, and Violent crime is nearly non-existent. Until, that is, the son of the inventor of surrogate technology is killed by feedback from his surrogate being killed, which is supposedly impossible. Bruce Willis plays an FBI agent investigating the case.

My biggest impression of this movie was wasted potential. There were flashes of true brilliance here, that a bit more polish could have brought out. There were a lot of really great things that the movie touched on, that, had they done a bit more with them, could have really made an impact. For example, at the beginning, there's a scene where the afore mentioned son of the surrogate inventor goes to a club. Obviously, it's populated only by surrogates, and the whole scene suggests the dissociation between these robots and the people behind them. Not only can the person behind the machine be anybody, but they treat the surrogates quite recklessly. There is absolutely nothing remaining of the whole “body is a temple” idea.

Unfortunately, this idea is essentially abandoned, or treated as less than important. One of the things I would have liked to see a bit more of was uncanny behavior. A few actors really had that down, behaving subtly off, and producing a sense of disquiet, or wrong-ness, but for the most part, this was also neglected, which was really too bad.

Anyway, It wasn't bad, but I can't wholeheartedly recommend it. Might be worth a rental or a download.

One movie, however, I can recommend with every fiber of my being, and that is...

Zombieland

Zombieland is the most fun I've had at the movies in years. In fact, its hard to remember any movie I've seen recently which had the pure entertainment value that Zombieland offers.

Here's a quick rundown of the "plot." Without dawdling, we are plunged into a zombie-infested world with a wonderfully creative introductory sequence in which Columbus, our main protagonist, explains his rules for zombie survival. Shortly, we are introduced to Tallahassee, another survivor, although he doesn't so much survive as thrive. A line that comes close to summing up his character is "Momma always said 'Everyone's good at something.' Who'd have thought my something would be killing zombies?" Our two other main characters are Wichita and Little Rock, two con-artist sisters, heading for California.

I've heard this described as a video-game movie not based on a game, and Left4Dead: The Movie. Both are not too far from the truth. Zombieland's audience is clearly the gamer generation, as is apparent from the tone of the film.

Zombieland approaches zombie-killing with a sense of determined glee, as if to say, "you and I both know zombie-killing is awesome, but just in case anyone is in doubt, watch this!" The movie is, without a doubt, a comedy, and yet it never falls into the trap of becoming campy. It's violent and gory, but never dependent on violence for shock value, or slapstick.

Thankfully, since we're a ways into the zombie apocalypse, we don't have to deal with the bane of my existence: stupid people. Why? They're all dead! Woohoo! Our 4 main characters are interesting, and together carry a sense of charm that allows the audience to easily connect to at least one of them. Know how in most zombie films, there's an idiot you hope is the first to get eaten? Not here.

Above all, the movie knows what kind of movie it wants to be, which is pure fun and entertainment, and it does that so well, I am almost mad at it. I laughed and clapped throughout the entirety of the movie, and I was physically incapable of stopping smiling after I left the theater. It's funny, scary, heartwarming, and awesome.

See this movie. Do it.