Monday, November 14, 2011

open world video games suck

been awhile, but link times at work are absurdo-slow, and thus i cant get anything done. seriously it took me longer to build my main executable than it did to leave the building, go to the salad place, have them build me a wrap, and walk back. today is clearly a lost cause.

so! Gabe has a really good point:

he laments that, basically, when games present you with a choice, it is as much about forcing you to choose what _not_ to experience as it is anything else. as neo says, the problem is choice. and this for me is a huge problem, because i'm clearly not getting "everything" out of the game. which is fine, i clearly dont get "everything" out of any media, but games are extremely upfront about it. they smack you in the face with a "hey, this right here? this is you missing out on something. deal with it". and there's no way in hell i'm going to invest the time to re-play vast sections of the game just to do a few things differently - diminishing returns make that clearly not worth my time.

at a broader level, letting players choose how aspects of the narrative play out is akin to writing a choose-your-own adventure book, instead of a novel. it completely destroys any semblance of pacing, narrative cohesion, or character that may otherwise have been established. so as far as i'm concerned you can effectively toss the story out of a game like Skyrim before you even start. and once you've done that, you have this grand, huge world to explore... and no reason to explore it. sure, there's probably some giant boss dragon or demon or something somewhere, and you may have to go through a lot of plot/quests to get there. but if no one in the world cares if you piss off hundreds of hours in an NPC's basement, why the hell should you bother? i mean games have an extreme potential for narrative art, because of the inherently deep level of interaction and immersion the player has by being in control. and players should be in control, and should have lots and lots of options - about HOW to achieve the narrative goals of the plot (ie, save the world). they should be able to use their sword or their axe or magic or items or whatever they want. but they should not, NOT, have any choice about what goals to set. it'd be like letting the audience decide in the middle of Hamlet to bail out on this depressing mopey dude and go see what Fortinbras is doing. it may seem like a cool idea, but its really going to have an extremely destructive effect on the play as a piece of narrative art.

a few other rants: you cant do "anything" in these games. and honestly the more they try to let you do, the more the 4th wall shows when you can't do something. i have never played an open world or sandbox game that actually felt like it existed without the player character - so long as NPCs' are asking you to clear out their basement for you... hell so long as they're asking you to do _anything_, it wont feel that way. this is a huge problem with non-character player characters (ie, player characters that have no voice, not dialogue, express no opinions or only the opnions the player chooses for them). in fact in my opinion, non-character player characters should be done away with entirely. there are other narrative techniques to draw in your audience, without watering down your narrative to if not non-existence, than at least irrelevance.

and these games are, artistically, socially, irrelevant. they may be fun, but they are not important. and maybe you dont care, maybe you just want something fun. but i think in a few decades, kids could be playing games for literature classes. i think there's going to be a shakespeare in a few generations whose complete works will be purchased for the xbox. stories have always, will always, be an extremely important way for humans to communicate with each other, ideas, warnings, lessons, the human experience. and games provide a seemingly unique level of interaction with the story.

but as soon as the player gains control over the story - any aspect, even something like pacing, then the story looses.

and so i will not buy skyrim. instead i will just read and write about it, to express my disappointment with the development of the medium, and the, as i see it, stagnation thereof that skyrim represents.

games that promise "open" worlds and "non-linear" gameplay while simultaneously claiming to have "epic" storylines are full of shit. those things are in direct and irresolvable conflict. the games may be big (and probably therefore muddled), but they are not really open. nor should they be. games that set tight limits on themselves, games like portal with its extremely short play time, or dark souls which basically ignores narrative in favor of mood, are, in my opinion, better games. if i were picking a curriculum for a Comp Lit class in video games, i'd pick them, and not elder scrolls, or GTA.

Bioware mostly manages to walk the line. but i'd still rather they take control of Shepherd.

Monday, December 20, 2010

dear Apple; fuck you

i have an iPhone 3Gs. i've head this one for about 1.5 years (after cracking the screen on my first on by dropping it on a marble floor in mexico).

i dont update the thing very often - there's not much point because i steam all my music, so theres no real need to sync the thing ever.

on saturday i finally update to iOS 4.2 or whatever - the one with multitasking. i had been putting this off for awhile because while its annoying not to be able to use a music-playing application like Rhapsody while also checking email, that frankly doesnt happen that often, and updating is a hassle. as soon as i updated, my phone stopped working.

if it goes idle for more than a minute or so, it just turns off. if its on, and being used, its slow, almost unusably slow. if its on and playing music, once the screen goes off, the music will start skipping. it is, in short, not usable for anything a phone or media player should be used for.

now remember, before update, everything is just fine, after update, no worky worky.

so i make an appointment at the genius bar, and go. about 10 minutes of waiting (no big deal, they run the place well), and i'm being help by my "genius". she's pleasant enough, i explain my problem, she sounds like she already has a few suspects in her head, takes my phone off to the back corner to run some diagnostics. so far, so good.

now the bad. she comes back and tells me that this is actually a hardware problem - something with the RAM. presumably some of the RAM is no good, and the phone is constantly trying to access it, etc etc and just shuts off. this didnt cause any problems before with the old version of the OS, but with the new software the problem is exacerbated and we get an unusable phone as a result.

reasonable enough. now i'm under contract with AT&T until march, and i have my eye on switching to Sprint with their version of the Samsung Galaxy phone - this one does 4G and has a real keyboard. hot stuff. so my ideal solution to this current problem? rollback the goddamn software update and give me my phone back, the way it was, for another months.

but thats not the way Apple does things. this is apparently impossible in Apple-land. I'm out of warranty. my options are:

a) spend $200 to get a refurbished phone, same as my old phone.
b) spend $200 to upgrade to the new iphone, attached to a new 2 year contract with AT&T.

so, to boil that down... their software update kills my phone, and i have to spend at least $200 to fix it.

i understand that the software problem is actually caused by an hardware problem - however that hardware problem was completely unnoticeable before the software update, and may have occurred AT ANY TIME, from when the phone rolled off the factory floor, all the way through the year i was under warranty, or any time after. i'd have had no way to notice the problem and get it fixed when it happened, until this software update, which renders my phone rather useless.

this from the company that has built a reputation on customer service (actually the customer service is quiet good, but this particular policy fucking sucks) and things "just working".

so, i'm pissed, and this is more than i needed to abandon apple forever.

i'm not entirely sure how to proceed. my current though is to get a Galaxy Tab, which i kinda want anyway, and have that fill in for all my non-strictly-phone functionality until my contract is up, at which point i'll get the Galaxy S as well. or perhaps i'll break the contract, i need to figure out which option is better financially. but one thing i do know? fuck. you. apple.

edit: oh, also, actually said by some apple guy to a customer while i was waiting: "well, physical damage to your ipod isnt covered under the warranty, but i'm gonna give you a new one anyway". and you fuckers cant kick me a refurbished outdated model for less than $200? fuck you.

Tuesday, August 24, 2010

religion + morality

intelligent people who are also religious are a bit of a conundrum to me. and i'm going to speak very vaguely here for a bit so feel free to dismiss this all as vaporous bullshit if you want to.

but there seem to be some people out there who are brilliant, aware of the physical world, and willing to admit that god plays pretty much no part in it. he's not out actively influencing events or anything like that, actually answering the prayers of some sports team over another, and all that other stuff that doesnt make any sense. but, they believe in him anyway.

sometimes if you ask this kind of person why they believe, you'll get an answer about how they were raised in a given tradition, and how it played an important part for them at a young age in figuring out right from wrong.

for example, andrew sullivan (or whoever these guys are who blog for him when he's apparently otherwise occupied) has little post up:

with an interview with some catholic rocker who says:
"I started really thinking about the role the church played in my own life, and the fact that even though I didn't believe every little bit of what the Pope thinks, there's a lot of beauty in the Catholic church and a lot of beauty in the teachings. Things like forgiveness and redemption, the Ten Commandments, it's hard to argue these as negative things."

now, these are supposed to be the kinds of opinions everyone should respect, because they sound so nice. the guy believes because the church, to him, means stuff like forgiveness and redemption. who doesnt like forgiveness and redemption?

but thats half-baked. because god, and the church, have nothing to do with forgiveness and redemption. they may teach about it, but they dont have anything to do with its existence or value. algebra doesnt exist or not exist because of your grade school math teacher - just because something happens to have been the source of insight or knowledge for you doesnt actually tie it to the truth or validity or correctness of that insight or knowledge.

god is either necessary for morality, or he isnt. thats true for everyone; you either think everyone needs god to be moral, or else it follows that no one needs god to be moral.

if you think god is necessary to be moral, then you think i'm immoral, since i dont believe in god. fuck you, i'm a good person. ok, i'm a pretty mediocre person. but there has been some person out there somewhere that you'll probably admit was both "good" and not of your faith.

so then if, on the other hand, you think people can be perfectly moral without god, or the church, then... why do you continue to believe in him/it? anyone can be perfectly moral with or without god/the church, so... why do we need god/the church? obviously, at least as far as morality goes, we dont.

why is this important? why not just let people have their good values (forgiveness and redemption are pretty great values, after all), and leave it be?

because the same though processes are used to justify some pretty loathsome shit. i mean, stoning for example.

you may say that i cant equate stoning and forgiving. but i can, if the exact same thought process is used to validate both actions. someone who only forgives because god tells them to is not much different from someone who only stones because god tells them to. both of these people are abdicating their responsibility to make the moral judgment for themselves.

which is why intelligent religious people confuse me, and why i'll often get sucked into tryingconvince them that they are, in fact, actually atheists who just havent owned up to it yet. and thats why i think its important for them to own up for it; because either religion is a valid source for moral decision making (in which case, stoning and forgiving are both equally good), or its not (in which case forgiving is still good, but stoning is pretty fucking awful).

its also interesting to watch these people go through mental gymnastics around the idiotic stuff the church believes that they dont while simultaneously defending the good parts of church doctrine. as if these actually were a package deal in the real world (as opposed to the one defined by the church). i get very confused about why they even bother.

Thursday, August 19, 2010

fuck "near" ground zero...

..lets put a mosque in ground zero.

seriously, whatever memorial or whatever we finally eventually build there (almost 9 years now and its still just a fucking hole) should include a mosque (as well as other places of worship.. lets not exclude anybody!)

what kind of message would that send?

Osama: "America is the great devil who hates Islam and we must wage holy war agaisnt them"

Everyone else in the fucking world: "are you serious? they put a mosque in ground zero! you are totally full of shit"

i am honestly completely for this idea. as long as large percentages of our population are going to worship fictitious parental figures in the sky, we may as well use that to unify our populace and show just how awesome/free/strong a country we actually are.

edit: just dont pay for that part of it with public funds, obviously.

an important point..

and one thats easy to forget:

Insulting our Muslim allies and giving Osama bin Laden a huge propaganda victory by making the struggle against terrorism appear to be a war against Islam -- exactly as he claims -- would be a strategic disaster."

i still cant believe this shit. people who want to limit the practice of a particular religion can get the fuck out of my country. they can go start a new one with those people who dont want to pay any taxes.

Wednesday, August 18, 2010

dick armey on TDS

watched the interview just now. its frustrating, thought JS does a good job pointing out just incoherent what Dick Army is saying actually is.

there seem to be a subset of people who simply dont want to pay taxes to the federal government. i would suggest that that is completely unpatriotic, and that if they dont want to pay any taxes to the united states, they are free to leave and go live/work somewhere else.