Something in the Water, Part 3

 By Shamus Oct 13, 2014 112 comments

The story of Why I Moved continues…

Early August

Halfway down our staircase is a single step that’s twice as long as the others. We’ve lived here a year and a half and I STILL trip on it.

The music roars from downstairs. I was just sitting at my desk, enjoying a hot cup of PVC herbal tea when someone downstairs decided to pump up the volume. Downstairs, Wilma has brought her sisterI assume. Betty to live with them, who likes to crank up the music until we can feel the furniture vibrate.

On the upside, she does this during reasonable daytime hours. On the other hand, my wife sometimes works nights and needs to sleep during the day. I try not to get upset about this. It’s entirely possible that we’re worse offenders when it comes to noise. We’re on the top floor and we’ve got three teens. That can’t be quiet. Moreover, they’re probably blasting music to cover up the the furious tunneling of the water company. Judging by the sounds I’m hearing, I figure that they have uncovered a balrog, which they are now fighting.

I kept hoping the problems with my asthma would blow over. I really don’t want to move. Apartment hunting is ruinously time consuming, tedious, and stressful. Moving is expensive. I have multiple projects going right now and I can’t bear to have everything interrupted with that hassle. So I’ve been foolishly hoping that the cat wouldn’t be a problem. Or that it would be a nuisance instead of a danger. I’ve been telling myself that my recent allergy problems were just seasonal pollen, and that the apartments should be isolated well enough to keep me safe. I’ve been ignoring the signs, huffing on the inhaler, and hoping for the best. In the meantime, the dander has been building up.

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So Much Content, So Little Content

 By Shamus Oct 12, 2014 30 comments

I have a ton of content in the queue, but it’s all sort of stuck at 80% complete. I have some programming posts in response to Jon Blow’s language proposal. I’ve got this massive 8-part series that I’m simultaneously ashamed and proud of. I’ve got the end of my “Something in the Water” series. I keep getting yanked from one project to the next without finishing things up, which isn’t usually one of my vices.

The move is still keeping me busy and distracted, but at some point I’ll get back into my groove and the content will flow again. Right now I’m going slightly crazy. I have this thing where I get really antsy if the front page of the site has content that’s more than two weeks old. I realize this probably only matters to me. Most of you use RSS and the rest just hit the back button when there’s nothing new. But the desire to push Old Stuff off the front page is one of the drives that keeps me going.

In the meantime, here is some more of my alleged music:

The title doesn’t mean anything. I’ve just always found the phrase “shotgun wedding” inherently funny, like “chainsaw birthday party” or “gatling gun bat mitzvah”.

I just realized recently that I’m getting pretty close to have an “album” of music content. That’s really strange.

One final note is that if you’re looking for good electronic music, check out Corporate Lifestyle Simulator. It’s cheap, it’s modestly fun, and it’s the best soundtrack since Hotline Miami.

201030 comments. (A twenty-sided die has 30 edges.)

Something in the Water, Part 2

 By Shamus Oct 10, 2014 94 comments

The story of Why I Moved continues…


The T-shaped scar in the street is the handiwork of the Dwarves from the water company. It’s hard to believe they spent the better part of the summer on that.

The water company is still at it. I’m up on the second floor, so I have a really good view of the spectacle from here. As before, they’ve blocked off one of the major intersections and they’re turning perfectly good asphalt into rubble as fast as they can to get at the rottenOne assumes. water pipes underneath. They’ll tear up the whole street, blocking off traffic and making noise and confusion for days. A one-way-street passes right in front of the elementary school, then in front of our house, and then into the waiting arms of the water company’s obstructionist demolition team. This – coupled with the triangular street pattern in this corner of town – creates a really bad case of “you can’t get there from here”. Especially when the school buses show up. It’s madness.

I go downstairs to check the mail. I have to walk down the precarious wooden steps and all the way around the house to do this, which makes up 90% of the exercise I’ll get today. If the postal service ever went on strike I’d probably gain 50 pounds.

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Here’s 52 Minutes of Receiver

 By Shamus Oct 9, 2014 59 comments

Drinking game: Take a drink whenever Josh accidentally throws a desired item on the floor. (It’s been nice knowing you.) Receiver is the QWOP of firearm usage.

Link (YouTube)

I reviewed this game last year. It’s a complete gigglefest for sure.

I really like the complex gun mechanics. I’d love to have another game with a similar system, only perhaps:

  1. Not quite so user-unfriendly. I think a lot of the myriad inputs could be condensed. Maybe use the same button to insert or eject a mag, for example. And I think things like “un-equip your gun so you can load the mag” could be implicit. We should focus on simulating the complexities of the firearm, not the complexities of hands. (Especially in a game where you can’t see your hands.)

  2. Maybe not so murderously unforgiving. There’s nothing wrong with roguelike games in principle, but as a matter of taste I’d rather learn something new and difficult in a system of positive feedback than one based on negative feedback.

Still, it’s phenomenal what the developer accomplished with limited time and resources.

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Something in the Water, Part 1

 By Shamus Oct 8, 2014 80 comments

So we moved. You know this already, because I complained about it a thousand years ago, before my five-day internet blackout. Why did we move after only living in that place for a year and a half? Telling this story requires a bit of bellyaching on my part. Sorry about that. Also there are a lot of barely-justified digressions. I’m less sorry about those.

To sort things out properly, we have to go back to…


Not taken in March. I mean, OBVIOUSLY.

It’s been a brutally cold winter, but the world is starting to thaw. I allow myself to indulge in the daydream that I might actually see the sun again.

It’s been a year since we moved into this apartment after that whole unfortunate business over the last twelve years. Things are quiet. This isn’t the best place I’ve ever lived, but it’s not the worst either and we’re finally living within our means.

This house must have been glorious when it was built, which was probably sometime during the Taft administration. It was no doubt a proud house in its day. It’s got fancy roof work and a lot of space. Now it’s a sagging thing of rotting wood and shabby windows. The front porch steps are gone and the paint is peeling off the outside like it’s too ashamed to cling to the structure anymore. It’s been split into an upstairs and a downstairs unit. Even though we only have half the house, we still have three bedrooms, plus a living room and an office. Those house-builders of 1930 sure didn’t mess around when it came to living space.

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Waiting for the Internet

 By Shamus Oct 7, 2014 55 comments

I’m back. Well, that was a stupid waste of five days.

Somehow, the designers of the Minecraft mod Technic PackThese days I’m playing a ton of the Technic “MoonQuest” mod collection. made it so that if you launch the game in offline mode, then it has no sound. I have no idea why, but I’ll be sure to ask them right after I hunt them down and right before I kill them.

I couldn’t play vanilla Minecraft, either. Once I was off the net and I discovered Technic wasn’t working, I remembered that my Minecraft launcher was set to run in Oculus Rift mode. I tried to turn that off, which meant changing profilesNot change users, just profiles. It’s complicated., which forced me to log in, which I couldn’t do. I’d hunt down the person responsible for this stupidity but I’m not sure who to blame in this case. I always saw the Minecraft launcher as a convenience thing, but after fighting with it for an hour or so I’ll say it feels very DRM-ish. It doesn’t stop any pirates but it did prevent this customer from using the software when he really, really needed it. That sounds like DRM to me.

So my #1 time-killing game was unavailable. Instead, I composed a song. I spent my time waiting for the internet writing a song about waiting for the internet entitled, “Waiting for the Internet”:

You say it’s repetitive? Yes, yes it is. I was trying to capture the tedium and frustration in musical form. The upbeat stuff at the end can be interpreted as the return of the internet, or the sweet release of insanity. The line between half-assed and avant-garde sometimes gets pretty blurry, but I know which side this song is on. And it’s not the side with the fancy French words.

We will resume our regular posting schedule shortly. Right after I play some Minecraft. And catch up on my webcomics. And some YouTube videos. And blogs. And gaming news. And Steam sales. And email. And comments. And Facebook. And…

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Moving Day II: The Movening

 By Shamus Oct 2, 2014 132 comments

Note that the photos in this post are unrelated. They’re just pictures I took while wandering around the neighborhood. Also because I think the Pepsi-door looks kind of strange and cool.

We are moving. Aside from the normal hassle of cramming things into boxes, hauling them somewhere else, and taking them out of the boxes again, I also have to make the phone calls to the utility providers:

The apartment building nearby. They have a really bad case of dish overgrowth.

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Pleasant and helpful error messages

 By Shamus Oct 1, 2014 126 comments

This was originally a commentary on the talk by Jon Blow about creating a programming language designed specifically for games. At one point he mentions “Pleasant and helpful error messages” and I got caught up thinking about what that would really entail. So let’s talk about compiler errors.

Compilers are very bad at giving us useful error messages. I’ve been doing this for decades and I still get errors that baffle me. You could make the case that “better error messaging” could be a whole project in itself. You could keep yourself pretty busy by just ditching the whole “new language” idea and just attempting to give the C++ compiler more useful output. (Although that’s probably a bad idea, for reasons I’ll talk about below.)

There are errors that don’t make sense and point to things that aren’t the source of the problem. They also lean really heavy on the jargon. This is a subject near and dear to my heart. I mean, this article exists because I have this compulsion to help other people understand difficult things.

Lots of people point to templates and classes as a source of baffling messages. But rather than dive into the deep parts of the language or pick on some goofy obscure edge-case, let’s look at a really simple error:

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Experienced Points: Can Virtual Reality Actually Hurt You?

 By Shamus Sep 30, 2014 134 comments

My column this week is a little more anecdotal-ish than usual. It’s a bit about VR sickness in general, along with some of my personal experiences with it.

Just a bit of personal curiosity here, but have any games ever made you sick? Which ones? It’s been SAID that Descent made some people queasy, but I don’t think I’ve ever heard anyone say the game made them personally sick. It’s always “some [other] people”.

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Diecast #75: Diablo II, Final Fantasy 13, Concursion

 By Shamus Sep 28, 2014 180 comments

The plan this week was to talk about the canceled Blizzard MMO and a few other current topics. Instead we talked about a sixteen-year-old hack-n-slash. I don’t know. That’s how this show goes sometimes.

And yes, I’m still fiddling with the theme music. Based on the feedback last week, most people would prefer if I just went back to the original theme that we used for 70 episodes. I might. But allow me this little vanity for now. It’s short and I’m having fun with it.

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

Hosts: Jarenth, Josh, Shamus, and Rutskarn.

Show notes: Continue reading »

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Last of Us EP6: Very Poor Life Choices

 By Shamus Sep 26, 2014 133 comments

Link (YouTube)

We already had the discussion on consumable melee weapons last episode when we talked about breaking metal pipes. Let’s not have the exact same discussion about shivs. Instead, let’s talk about buildings:

In the episode I said that buildings ought to be standing after just twenty years. (Assuming they weren’t bombed.) I mean, there are hundred year old buildings all over the place (especially around Boston) and buildings shouldn’t suddenly fall over just because people stopped sweeping the floor. But then Josh pointed out bursting pipes, and now I don’t know what to think. Let’s just set aside the bombed-out scenario we see in The Last of Us where (basically) warfare has turned the place to rubble. Let’s just imagine one of those “everyone is suddenly gone” scenarios:

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Last of Us EP5: The Brick Thief

 By Shamus Sep 25, 2014 88 comments

Link (YouTube)

So Joel rolls up his sleeves, and Tess walks around with bare arms. This is silly. But it doesn’t bother me as much as this:

Watching the episode after recording, I see that Joel’s metal object (a pipe, I think) snaps in the middle of combat. Look, I understand the need for the player to gather and manage resources, but that is simply not good enough as a reason for having heavy-duty objects snap in half after a few hits. Neither is the “well, maybe it rusted!” excuse. Get a wooden bat, and see how long it takes you to snap it in half by pounding away on a mattress, punching bag, or other things that give and bend the way the human body does. I’m not saying it’s impossible, but I am saying it’s not going to happen after five swings. It’s certainly not going to be common. And I don’t care how ripped you are, you are not going to snap a metal rod on a human torso. Guffaw.

We’ve got bullets, guns, potted plants, food, pills, bricks, shivs, and documents. The player has lots of crap to gather up. Please don’t add this ridiculous nonsense to a game that’s trying so hard to be taken seriously. I could hand-wave it (like so many other mechanics) if it made for good gameplay, but melee weapon degradation was an annoying contrivance twenty years ago, and it hasn’t become fun since then. Now it just looks silly.

Having complained about all that, I do like the approach to combat that this game takes. Most zombie games have you fighting waves of them, but TLOU keeps it small, focused, and tense.

202020208Great Scott! 88 comments! If only this post was a DeLorean.