Witcher 3: First Impressions

Game Reviews   By Shamus   May 29, 2015   97 comments

I’ve stated before that I do not like the Witcher series. I played the first act of the first Witcher game and quit when I got sick of the dreary visuals, agonizing loading times, awful combat, cumbersome interface, and skeezy protagonist.

I played several hours of the Witcher 2. I liked Geralt more, the visuals were better, and the loading screens were fixed, but I still hated the combat. Worse, the world was so relentlessly dark that I didn’t care about it. “Which group of ugly, undeserving assholes do you choose to help at the expense of the other?” is not a choice I enjoy, and that was the only kind of choice I ever seemed to make. The combat felt like fighting a linebacker with a foam sword. It was time consuming and fiddly and more work than I was willing to put in.

But people keep telling me this series is amazing and fans keep being amazed that I don’t like it. So I’m back for the third installment. Will Geralt and I click this time?

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Audio Editing for Podcasts

Projects   By Shamus   May 28, 2015   74 comments

Once a week, I sit down with an hour of raw audio and Audacity and produce our weekly podcast. It’s a really annoying job to me, mostly because it doesn’t seem like it should exist. You record audio, you upload audio. What else is there to do? Why mess with it?

But no, apparently it takes a lot of work just to create the sort of medium-quality audio we have on our show. It’s like when I found out about foley artists, who painstakingly record all the everyday sounds to put in a feature film, because normal boom mics don’t pick them up and the world sounds mute without the footstep, clothing, and door-slamming noises we expect to hear. Tons of work goes into something I always assumed was effortless.

I’m not an audiophileI actually call myself an audioslob: I’m not very picky about fine-detail sound quality. I listened to all my music on cassette in the 80’s and the lack of quality never bothered me., I have no training in audio production, and I barely know what I’m doing. I’ve mostly had to figure this gig out on my own through trial-and-error, with some guidance from Josh.

Once in a while people ask questions about how this is done, so I thought I’d document the process…

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Diecast #105: Zero Escape, Life is Strange, The Witcher 3

Diecast   By Shamus   May 27, 2015   110 comments

Note that this podcast and the previous one were recorded back-to-back. No, this isn’t a permanent music change. I just wanted to do something different since this is a special episode.

Direct link to this episode.

Direct download (MP3)
Direct download (ogg Vorbis)
Podcast RSS feed.

Hosts: Shamus, Campster, Josh, Chris Franklin, Mumbles, and Mr. Errant Signal.

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Experienced Points: 50 Shades of The Dark Knight

Escapist   By Shamus   May 26, 2015   183 comments

My column this week is a little talk about what Batman: Arkham Asylum and 50 Shades of Grey have in common and no that’s not a joke.

Really, this is just my swipe at the long-standing trend of condemning art because you think OTHER people are too stupid to enjoy it responsibly. “This art promotes [longstanding social ill]!” Now, the response to my sort of article is usually, “It’s just criticism! Don’t be such a butthurt fanboy! If games are art then they deserve criticism like all other forms of art!”

But we’re talking about really different sorts of criticism here:

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Also By The Author

Notices   By Shamus   May 26, 2015   117 comments

Here is something I’ve been thinking about: Readers come and go. There was a time when I refreshed Lileks.com obsessively. I’m a sucker for nostalgia and ruminations on the first half of the 20th century, and if you want to cruelly mock while also secretly appreciating the quaint, kitschy, corny styles of middle America then he’s the best in the business. I’d read everything the guy wrote, and when he didn’t post new content I’d go back and re-read some of my favoritesThis retrospective on the 70s is pretty cathartic, for my money. I think that was my introduction to his work, actually.. His blog was pretty influential on my own writing and is probably why I drop into autobiographical mode once in a while.

Then one day I just… stopped. I have no idea why. James Lileks didn’t lose his mojo, sell out, offend me, or or anything else that usually causes a rift between fan and artist. I just finally got enough of whatever I was looking for, and I stopped going. I know the same thing happens to people who read this site. They eventually get enough of my crap and move on. It happens.

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Diecast #104: Nvidia HairWorks, Star Trek 3, Marvel Movies, Supergirl

Diecast   By Shamus   May 25, 2015   145 comments

The bad news: No Spoiler Warning this week. The good news: Double Diecast. I don’t even know why, but later this week you’ll get another installment. So that’s nice.

Direct link to this episode.

Direct download (MP3)
Direct download (ogg Vorbis)
Podcast RSS feed.

Hosts: Shamus, Josh, Chris, Mumbles.

Show notes: Continue reading »

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Top 32 Posts, by Comments

Random   By Shamus   May 24, 2015   72 comments

On Friday Krellen said this to me:

Yeah, the Supergirl post exploded in just a few hours. Partly this is my fault. I was trying to do this hairpin turn argument where I would list all the ways the trailer looked awful and then pull a 180 and argue why it was just fine, and might even be a good thing. But either I whiffed the turn or some people stopped reading halfway through, because a lot of people pushed back, thinking I was attacking the show. That probably made the discussion a little more controversial than it needed to be. Ah well. We hammered it out.

But it did get me thinking: What are the most commentedAnd thus, probably the most controversial. posts on this site? So I did a little MYSQL querySELECT comment_count, ID, post_date, post_title FROM `wp_posts` ORDER BY comment_count DESC LIMIT 32; to find out. Below are the results and my analysis.

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Resident Evil EP3: Meet Scott Umbrella

Spoiler Warning   By Shamus   May 22, 2015   78 comments

Link (YouTube)

I don’t watch a lot of horror movies, so I’ll crowdsource this question and see what we can find: Has there ever been a time in a movie / game where a male protagonist has backed slowly away from a threat, fell on his ass, and then stared helplessly as the threat overcame him, when all he needed to do was stand his stupid ass up and walk away from it? Because that happens a lot in movies, I only see it happen to women, and I think it has the opposite effect the writers intend.

It’s clearly supposed to heighten the tension. Get up! Run away! Hurry! It’s going to eat / dismember / suck the brains out of / stab you. And you know what? The first couple of times, it worked. But after a couple of decades of this I find it really annoying. Whenever I see someone sit of their ass instead of fighting for their survival, I kind of feel obligated to let Darwin have his way with her. No offense lady, but I don’t want your lack of intelligence and survival instinct to get spread around the gene pool.

Does this make me a horrible person? Probably. Although bear in mind we’re talking strictly about fictional women. I like to think I’d be more charitable to someone real.

I will say that Jill Valentine spends entirely too much time screaming for help and gawking at things trying to kill her. I give her a pass for her first encounter, but somewhere around zombie number ten its time she got with the program and stopped being so surprised. Particularly since she’s supposed to be a capable police officer or whatever she is.

So that’s Resident Evil. It’s an interesting specimen and even though I don’t care for the franchise, it’s the great-grandsire to a bunch of stuff I really love.

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Resident Evil EP2: Nice Doggy

Spoiler Warning   By Shamus   May 21, 2015   110 comments

Link (YouTube)

This game is sort of beyond our usual criticism. It’s ancient by the standards of videogames, and massively influential. It’s pretty hard to tag any of its design choices in terms of right or wrong, since this is back when developers were still inventing and evolving new genres as a natural part of game development. To a certain extent, criticizing this game is like criticizing the flat lighting and lack of dynamic shots in Forbidden Planet, or the stage-style acting delivery of Gone With The Wind. That was just how we did things back then.

It feels very strange to see these ridiculous puzzles and goofball doorways realized in HD. The layers of abstraction kind of took the edge off of some of the more outrageous puzzles. Having said that, this dog collar puzzle is bonkers. You kill a dog and take its collar and in the collar is a retractable FAKE key that can be swapped for a REAL key of the same dimensions, so that you can deactivate the elaborate trap with moving walls and an animated knight with a blade designed to grind up people who don’t have the fake keyI’d love it if there was a mop bucket nearby for dealing with occasions when people set off the trap..


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Nerd Culture   By Shamus   May 21, 2015   360 comments

So the big news in costume crimefighting funnybooks last week was the new trailer for the upcoming Supergirl show on CBS:

Link (YouTube)

Lots of people are unhappy with it. For starters, it looks a lot like this idiotic and satirical SNL parody movie, except played straight. Our protagonist is a down-on-her-luck assistant to a powerful magazine editor who is looking for love and approval. So it’s Superman crossed with The Devil Wears Prada, maybe with a twist of “My Big Fat Greek Wedding” thrown in. It feels like an executive got the green-light to make a superhero show and – unable to imagine a world where women would watch a power fantasy – his first instinct was to take the bog-standard “chick flick” formula and make the protagonist a super. Going by the trailer, it feels less like a superhero with romantic elements and more like a rom-com with comic book elements.

It really rubbed me the wrong way. The whole thing. The whole, “Nobody respects me” angle can work for some heroes. But Supergirl? At one point a guy tells Supergirl – in her Supergirl costume – to stick to getting coffee. I can buy the idea that a government guy would tell Spiderman to “stick to taking pictures”. I can believe he’d disrespect Daredevil, Ant-Man, Aquaman, Mr. Fantastic, The Flash, or Luke Cage. But Supergirl? if you don’t trust her with matters of national security, fine. If you’re really so dumb you can’t imagine ANYTHING more useful that could be done with limitless thrust, fine. If you’re dumb enough to SAY THAT TO HER FACE then your character is the worst sort of drama-for-its-own-sake contrivance.

Also, the line about capes aiding with “aerodynamics” made me reflexively shake my head. I can believe in a world where an alien gets laser eyes because the sun is yellow, but I’m not going to accept the idea that a loose cloth cape offers the slightest bit of air control. Stop being so silly.

I get why she’s serving coffee, but this makes me want to shout at the screen, WHY DON’T YOU HELP PUT STUFF IN ORBIT YOUR POWERS ARE WORTH BILLIONS!


The problem is not this show, the problem is the lack of alternatives.

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Resident Evil EP1: Enter The Survival Horror

Spoiler Warning   By Shamus   May 20, 2015   72 comments

Link (YouTube)

Here is the original intro to Resident Evil that we discuss in this episode.

To be clear: When I described the old rendering techniques, I was talking specifically about the original Alone in the Dark. In that game, it would render the room once, making both a fixed image and some sort of depth mapSo your character could walk behind elements in the image.. Then it would take that single fixed view and render the dynamic stuff on top of it: The player, moveable items, monsters, etc. This was well before the age of graphics acceleration, so every single processor cycle was precious.

All of this is based on my observations from playing the game. I don’t know for sure how it actually worked. It’s certainly how I’d tackle the problem on those old machines.

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Experienced Points: Hatred and the Catharsis of Violence

Escapist   By Shamus   May 19, 2015   202 comments

This week I wrote a column about Hatred, the upcoming game where you go on a killing spree and try to slaughter as many innocent people as you can. I’ve been thinking about this game for months, and I actually had more to say about it than could fit in a single column. (And I didn’t think it warranted two columns in a row.) So go read the article, then come back here and read the rest of my thoughts on the game.

For context: I have my Playstation right next to my PC, so every time I took a break from writing the column I’d pick up the controller and play a little more GTA V, where I was trying to see how long Trevor could survive with a five-star wanted level. I killed dozens of civilians and hundreds of cops during the course of writing this column, and it was pretty fun. Then I watched a few segments of the Hatred trailer and got sick again.

Ain’t this dandy?
A degenerate, degenerate strategy: I’m always looking for spots where you can hold off the police for a long time. I think the Ammu-Nation in Pillbox Hill (the one with the shooting range) is the best you could possibly hope for. You’ve got cover, you’ve got protection from helicopters, you’ve got a single choke point for the AI to funnel through, and you’ve got a vending machine to refill your health. Once you master blind-fire headshots with a shotgun (lining guys up and headshotting them without using a cursor) you can hold them off forever.

Getting away is still pretty tricky, though.

In GTA, it’s not your goal to kill the police. (Although sometimes they are in the way of your goal.) More importantly, the police aren’t sympathetic public servants. They’re brutal, corrupt jackasses who will shoot you in the face for denting one of their cruisers and who scream stuff like, “Killing makes my dick hard!” in a firefight. In the Hatred trailer, we only see police officers as victims being sadistically murdered as they try to stop you from killing civilians. So even though both games have killing people as a gameplay element, the framing, tone, context, and focus are completely different.

It’s like nudity: One picture of bare breasts is obviously pornography and another is obviously fine art, and there’s a whole lot of grey area between the two. But the fact that the line is blurry doesn’t mean the two things are the same. Context is everything.

There’s one other thing about this game, which is that I’ve seen people claim that it’s “satire”. I’ve watched the trailer a couple of times now, and I haven’t detected even a whiff of satire. Satire is more than simply presenting a thing. If this was satire, it might sound like this:

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