All posts for the month February, 2006

This, then this, and this makes me sad. Sad in a gloaty, shouldnadonethathe'sjustaboy way where the evolutionist in me looks forward to a rebirth.

Steve and I were talking yesterday (when he graciously dropped by my class to give the students a talk about real-time rendering), and we've come to see that the future for entertainment can only be minimally pioneered with better and better graphics. This is in stark contrast to a few years back when we argued fitfully, and he claimed that ultimately the graphics were 90% of the sale. Yes Steve, this is my I-told-you-so.

Anyways, the problem today is that games have better graphics, but not better visuals. Visuals here meaning the fundamentals of good art direction, like cinematography, good acting, shot composition, and that ill-defined "style." I've mentioned the Uncanny Valley before, and it's only gotten worse. We've made incredible milestones in shadowing, shading, and surfacing technology, polycounts, texture resolutions, but at the end of the day, an awkward camera angle of a stiff animation of a poorly acted Batman is is never as Batmany as Frank Miller's.

The even deeper problem is that with the novelty of graphics revolution, consumers are plucking down (often to their regret) for deteriorating sequels. They keep EA in business, and tell EA it's not profitable to make anything better than a B- game. The real innovations have suffered for it. AI/physics driven animation, adaptive AI, muscular systems, intelligent camerawork, even fucking blendshapes have, for the most part, taken the backseat to the new titans of what can only be described as "real-time Poser art." Until these changes happen, no matter how good Neo looks in a still, his wooden movement or lack of upper lip realism brings it all crashing down.

The news headlines scream about the gaming industry being bloated. Actually, it's just the opposite, except there's just nothing out there good to spend my eager money on. You know what I mean.

I look towards episodic content to save the day. I look towards the revolution it created in Cable TV quality, when you can stop paying when something starts to stink. Then the scam of the $60 game will come crashing down on developers thinking they'll sucker enough folks in for their bottomlines, all the while wondering why milking their big brands gets less profitable every year. I look towards Valve's Lost Coast as an big step in this direction. Though Valve may fail (their stories are frankly eons behind cable TV), they'll bravely open new ground for a consumer base that purchases more responsibly, perhaps enough to put an end to these Scavengers of Licenseploitation ruining games, movies, and comics all at once.

So in addition to the classes I teach, I am now also taking over for the previous audio/video lab technician. My first duty was to troubleshoot some Mac networking. My first impressions are that OSX has an exceptional GUI and when IHATEMACHATEMAC DETEST HATE MACMACHATEDETEST STUPIDMAC even with mutiple users. Of course, if you use their version of explorer, Finder, you can IHATEMACHATEMACDETEST HATEMACMACHATE DETEST STUPIDMACIHATE MACHATEMAC DETESTHATEMACMACHATE DETEST STUPIDMAC pretty common. All in all, I feel that IHATE MACHATEMACDETEST HATEMACMACHATE DETESTSTUPIDMAC and isn't so bad once you get used to it. I hate macs.

Yeah yeah, I'll get over it. Just can't stand not having complete and immediate access to everything. Some Apple nerd is going to try to set me straight, but I won't budge. I've seen you guys in line at the iPod releases. "Bleek" and "autocorrosive" were the first two words that popped into mind.

Picked up Advance Wars DS from Fry's, got re-ddicted enough to this sterling series to let Xstine order a navy DS Lite from LikSang. The compromise involved letting her get a bunch of retarded toys like a pixelated Mario mouse and Naruto keychains. At least now we won't have to fight over the DS when she wants to train her Nintendog. I'm going to buy a chihuahua when we get the money, call it Walker, give him a ten-gallon hat, and instead of "sit" and "liedown" his tricks will be "roundhouse" and "give me AIDS." He'll be able to kick so hard his foot will break the speed of light to travel back in time to kill Toto in the make-up trailer.

We also have been watching Bleach, in an attempt to fill the vacancy Naruto fillers have literally bored into our ghostless shells. One thing that stands out in every anime series we watch, Naruto, Bleach, Berzerk, DBZ, etc. and Japanese video game we play is the omnipresent brainwashing that goes on. There is always a reluctant hero character who world-saving ability is almost exclusively defined as the ability to preservere. In every one of these, the hero merely needs to reach down deeper and harder and things will be ok. His teammates are usually skilled combatants that are surprised by his ability to persist, and are willing to sacrifice their lives for him.

What a contrast to American comics, where teamwork is a rare and precious thing, where individuals struggle to find their roles and the values they are willing to sacrifice. Or in solo comic characters we find that they don't have a supporting cast, and often have to hide or justify their powers.

The more I watch, the more shocking it is to see how much conformity and brute force willpower are stressed as values to uphold. Perhaps U.S. sailors on aircraft carriers felt the same, seeing kamikaze pilots plow into our daunting seaborne fortresses with the Emperor's name on their lips. I guess the opposite of that is the American myth of the lone hero, ever present in our comics, movies, novels. Our caped crusaders and soldiers sacrifice themselves for each other, not for the Cause. Is that a weakness? Time will tell, as we fight more and more wars we know nothing care nothing about.

He's rippin', he's trippin', he's… bomberman? WTF? This is what the little guy turned into after climbing into the lowered cadillac of American machismoism, the graffiti'd wasteland of the Xbox 360 Live?

Still, I miss the blank stare of the original, a gaze that hid a lust for ultraviolence into a cute, pop-iconic package of ultimate destruction. I'll still own any fool in this game, steroids or not.

Domo arigato, ya fucked up roboto.

Nerd par excellence Sirlin, the man who can never stop telling us about the life lessons he learned form being a pro Street Fighter 2 player, and the creator of a site about game design, always gets on my nerves. But usually, he's got a seed of truth sequestered in his geekspeak, and this rant about WoW is, for the most part, summary of why we quit.

Let's not talk about the lowest depths of hell each soul logs in to delight in on the PvP servers, the torture and abject disregard for life and decency of the weaker player. Honor system… what a fuckin' euphemism for wholesale slaughter. Let's talk about why it exists. It exists because Blizzard has set an example for arbitrary rules. This is ok, this is not, that is not, that is ok. Sirlin is exactly right in that their abuse of their own ToS has left a culture that respects no boundaries, except those profitted from and still under the radar.

In a sense, this form of control has yielded Blizzard a co-conspiring consumer, complacently paying away and assuming fault when their flawful system offers yet another exploit. Xstine and I dealt with this since beta, and we learned that there is no which way about it. It's completely at Blizzard's behest.

Which brings me to this picture. And ones like it.

Having lately read Dogs and Demons, I felt that, despite the book's failings, it is essentially correct. The Japanese society too is held in a thrall of social control so cleverly surreptitious that it permeates every level of the ladder. When asked at a job interview what he would do to improve the company, one applicant responded immediately by saying "Goodday" and being polite to all.

Like World of Warcraft, arbitrary rules have become culture. The Tea Ceremony, once a simple and spontaneously hallowed ceremony, was turned into a veritable manufacturing process post-WWII. And taking the way it is today as "tradition," no one is able to deviate from a cultural paint-by-numbers given to the people by the state. Same goes for flower arrangement, today an ugly cyborg completely devoid of the awe of nature it once had.

And just like WoW, there is a need for an outlet. When I looked around Gadgetzan, I saw Nanking. In Japan, where everyday every hour every moment you are stapling your life and hopes to your work or your study, tossing away personal achievement in their world of kamikaze sacrifice, your identity warps. In WoW you see unbridled violence, often the dishonorable repeat killing of the same person by the same hunting party to the point where the person logs out, resolving to do the same when he is empowered one day. I was shocked at the things I did in-game, having considered myself a chivalrous gamer. In Japan, violence and perversion is enacted in hentai, love motels, the streets of Shinjuku, the noise scene.

It's funny that we embrace Japan in the West as "hardcore." We think of them as extreme, pushing the limits for all cultures. We don't see a school system that abandons all but the highest scoring, condemning unsatisfactory detritus to a shameful future. The "world's most advanced educational system" in which you study more and make less progress? In Japan, talent is defined differently than America: it is the ability to get along with others. The ability to conform. Women in particular are disposable, becoming housewives, eschewing the path their education suggested. We don't see a workforce that has words describing "death by work exhaustion." We see their lone company of creativity, Nintendo, and then ignore the lack of imagination that led to a befuddling collapse in economy.

We've confused their outlet with their strength.

At the entrance to Onyxia, my first raid, I realized what stupidity it was to have waited for two hours for forty idiots to assemble and be wiped within an hour. I realized that moment that WoW was headed in a direction that would never recognize the feats of one person outside its unspoken rulesets. I realized that if my raid had survived, I wouldn't have been any more satisfied, as Blizzard would continue to heap more hitpoints on more lowpoly models for bigger and bigger player mobocracies to attempt an extraction of fame. I realized that anime's lure was addictively drawn glistening eyes and intricate robots, and permutations thereof, which after a certain volume, began to insult my intelligence. I have not yet regretted leaving Azeroth, for it lies in the hands of confused, fate-wrought masses, much like Japan.

Let's pretend this cute spokes-pre-teen for Sega inspired this rant, I need an excuse to post her. I'm not a huge fan of Japanese chicks, but this one looks genetically cultivated and bionically enhanced to be the ruling anime Amazonian in the jungle of the shamefully kawaii.

While it would be fun to jump in on the virtual carnaval of Sony hatred that the recent rumors of PS3 development going awry, the AACS re-delay of Blue-Ray standards, and a poorly written but spiritually semi-competent report from Merrill Lynch have drummed up among the webernet, I think I'll stay out of it.

As much as I despise Sony for being the new content tyrant with their draconian DRM/rootkit stances and their insistence on forcing new (read: their) formats down our throats, to me it's almost a non-issue that pricing point will affect my future purchases from now on. With quality these days being hit or miss personified, my wallet and my wife are not going to stand idly by to see me gamble for a good game.

Merrill Lynch says the PS3 will cost them $900 per unit. More power to them, both of them. My purchase line-up is already determined:

DS Lite
Some DS games
Some DS games
Hellgate: London X2
Fallout 3
Some DS games
Revolution games
Neverwinter Nights 2

As a working couple, we really have less and less time now to spend playing games that the other doesn't care about. Cooperative games will be huge in the future, mark my words. We had our stint in the XboxLiveness of random multiplayer, and it's simply not as satisfying as playing with people you know. I don't give a crap about Blu-Ray, as I'm going to end up streaming a harddrive to my TV. I want to kill shit. With my gal.

In the meantime, it's been interesting to be at the sidelines of this dismal, blinded war, and I wish I could take bets like in Fantasy Football. Take this Google map of game legislation and this Google map of game company locations, squint really hard and it… kinda… looks like Gondor and Mordor on the eve of the final battle. My Tim Schafer the White with his double+ 2 to imagination is losing the profit dice rolls against the Democrat ringwraiths, despite the fall of Jack Thompson from Isengard. Am I losing my mind?

In other news, I am unable to beat Cowboys From Hell on Hard anymore. Excuse me, as I have a wrist to break.

In the first instance I can think of of a re-virtualization of a game that semi-de-virtualized a virtualized activity, it was only natural that the crazy Finns were responsible for this pop-cultural strange-loop. Suomea has given us a Virtual Air Guitar, that allows the user to rock out simply by wiggling fingers in air and strumming at nothing, all vid-capped and transmagically technologically transmorgifying the absolute crystalline essence of the wannabe spirit into actual music. Someone else's music that is, since musicianship is a fourth dimension beyond the salve of invention.

What struck me as mindboggling is if you were to consider that this Virtual Air Guitar would have been inspired by Guitar Hero, which was inspired out of pity for air guitarists making fools of themselves around the world, whose inspiration was real guitar players, you could then see how bizarre a human achievement it is. What especially lends weight to this theory is the fact that the Finns have almost made an Olympic sport out of air-guitarring, with full-blown competitions and tournaments. It's as if they've reconstituted the spectacular and familiar imitation of being a rock star, defying RedOctane's efforts to intrude a mundane world with a plastic five-buttoned effigy. Amateurism, I guess, tastes worse freeze-dried into a videogame.

The only other milestone in modern civilization that is similar to this was "pilingual" (fluent in 3.14 languages) Douglas Hofstadter's proposal to write a book filled with reviews about itself:

"I would love to see a book consisting of nothing but a collection of reviews of it that appeared (after its publication, of course) in major newspapers and magazines. It sounds paradoxical, but it could be arranged with a lot of planning and hard work. First, a group of major journals would all have to agree to run reviews of the book by the various contributors to the book. Then all the reviewers would begin writing. But they would have to mail off their various drafts to all the other reviewers very regularly so that all the reviews could evolve together, and thus eventually reach a stable state of a kind known in physics as a "Hartree-Fock self-consistent solution". Then the book could be published, after which its reviews would come out in their respective journals, as per arrangement."

If you haven't already, pick up a copy of his Gödel, Escher, Bach: an Eternal Golden Braid. I could say that I've gotten more from his work, his books, his projects than from the whole of the so-called Cognitive Science field in which I invested two dismal years in for my major, but a rant about the inability of men who study the mind to escape its mechanisms themselves, I fear, is ultimately unfair.

What's that? Wait… is it true… yes! OPERA! On the DS! The gateway drug now has a pusher, and what a fine wifi pusher it is!

To commemorate this wonderful day, I've got two great clips for DS fans as well as DS newbies:

Football meets Japanese self-throttling insanity

Phoenix Wright Spoof (this is actually very close to what this game plays like, fyi)

This week Christine got me re-addicted to Tower Defense, which surprisingly exists almost exclusively as mods for Blizzard games. If only the terribly addicting genre was transcribed to my favorite portable, then the world would be complete. Heck, they should pack the game with an IV drip of your favorite anti-depressants, into which I would mainline the tasty new Mountain Dew MDX energy drink, thereby offering my serotonin levels permanent residency in Valhalla.

yes I know, since episode 136, we've been plagued by worthless filler. But just rewind time and sip some wine, watch them all over again! Hah! Caught myself, I'm too uncultured for wine. I'm a recent convert to gin, and it's put the tentacles back into anime for me.

Here's some wild recipes I concocted:

Anti-gin Tonic (you love that name)
1oz Bombay Sapphire
3/4 can of Venom energy drink
lots of dasani ice

Lightness of sapphire with the menthol kick of pineapplely Venom, this one owns me like the Ice Climber grabsmash, but tempered with the sensation of trailing snowflake particulate on my merry trajectory towards giving Gaara a maudlin thumbs up as he breaks Bruce Lee's legs, literally.

The English Cow
2oz Tanq or Beefeaters (or a good oily gin, I'm guessing Tanq Ten could be nice but I'm poor)
3oz Cock n' Bull Ginger Beer
lots of dasani ice

The antithesis to Anti-gin, this ugly bitch kicks as hard as a Moscow Mule but taste much better, this makes sound five sound divine with its "mi fa so" combo of stomach churn.

and just for fun,

Red Chakura
2 shots Southern Comfort
1 shot Grenadine
1 shot Torani Peach syrup

Mix and pour into a wide highball impregnated with thick ice cubes, then pour in tonic water til the glass is filled. Taste like Sakura's hair, but with a touch of ageless nine-tailed demon seething with rage at poor American dubbing efforts.

If taking shots is your tune, then perhaps you should hit it each time:

-Someone turns into a log.
-Naruto misses Rasengan.
-Perverted Hermit pimps up local nin-bitches.
-On every flashback.

Pizza's burning, anti-jap rant will have to wait another day…