Marlow Briggs EP14: Marlow Briggs and the Montage of Sadmaking

 By Shamus Sep 11, 2014 132 comments

Link (YouTube)

Josh brings up a good point about magic: All spells seem to take 60% of your mana, so you can’t use them more than once without a refill. I haven’t played the game so I don’t know what I’m missing, but from a design standpoint I have to wonder why we bother with mana at all. Like, if we can use one spell and then we need a power-up (which totally refills the bar) then why have a bar? The bar could be replaced with a simple “charge” concept: You either have one or you don’t.

Spoiler: No need to shout advice at him in the comments. We’re done with the game now, and I don’t imagine Josh is going to be in any particular hurry to play it again.

So now that we’re just about done with this circus sideshow, I guess I might as well do some actual game analysis:

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Top Ten Influential Books

 By Shamus Sep 11, 2014 171 comments

Jarenth tagged me with this meme on Facebook where you’re supposed to make a list of 10 books that “stuck with you”. I spent the better part of an hour hammering the list together when I realized that it would make for a half-decent blog post. And to be honest, I think Jarenth, my wife, and mother are the only people on Facebook who will careAnd they all read the blog, so....

I don’t read a lot of books. Not fiction, anyways. But I’ve read a few and some of them stuck with me.

Note that I’m disqualifying the Bible because I don’t think that’s the sort of thing that this list is about. That’s like if I asked you for your list of favorite cars and you listed the ambulance that took you to the hospital that one time and saved your life. Okay, but that feels… weird. I’m also disqualifying reference books, even though there are some that really stuck with me in a practical sense.

My list:

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Marlow Briggs EP13: Marlow Briggs and the Most Impractical Bridge Ever

 By Shamus Sep 10, 2014 55 comments

Link (YouTube)

Migraine today. It really hurts to watch this. It also hurts to not watch it. Whatever. I can’t fulfull my usualy commentary duties because i can barely look at the screen. Just watch the episode and pretend I said something witty or interesting about it . Or write your own. I trust you.

Good luck.

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Experienced Points: What Made Gone Home Such a Powerful Game?

 By Shamus Sep 9, 2014 160 comments

My column this week attempts to offer a gentle counter-argument to the people sneering at Gone Home and calling it a “walking simulator”. I suspect this will go the way of all debates about this game, but you never know. Maybe the stars will line up and one person will see the game from a different angle.

I have no idea where this optimism came from. I hope it’ll pass soon.

This game had one of those situations where a single mistake threw the rest of the game into sharp relief. At one point I was reading a note ostensibly written in 1994 or 1995, and one teenager referred to someone’s dadIt might have been a teacher. The details elude me now. as a “tool”. I was instantly yanked out of the story. In my experience, “tool” didn’t come to mean “useless person” until almost a decade later. At that point I realized I read dozens and dozens of notes that had nailed mid-90′s lingo and I’d just taken it all for granted. Looking back, I realized how hard it was to get little details like that right.

Which makes it all the more disappointing that a vast majority of the audience won’t even notice the details because they grew up in the wrong place and time.

EDIT: So apparently the word “tool” was indeed in use for years before I ran into it. (I guess I’d have known about it sooner if I’d ever watched Beevis & Butt-head.) Interesting.

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Hangout Sept 13

 By Shamus Sep 9, 2014 51 comments

The Spoiler Warning cast (some of us, anyway) will be doing a hangout this weekend. Josh and Chris will be playing Destiny on their pagan consoles and I’ll be watching via Twitch with the rest of the peanut gallery. The event is this Saturday (September 13) at 11PM UTC. This page ought to convert the time into your local temporal region.

Also, here’s a countdown to the event:

Since we didn’t do a Diecast this week, we’ve gotten behind on our mailbag questions. So if things get slow I might do some of those.

The stream will be here when the event goes live.

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Bad and Wrong Music Lessons, Part 4

 By Shamus Sep 8, 2014 33 comments

As this series drags interminably onward, we reach the end of my musical knowledge. Actually, I guess we were at the end of it way back in part one, and now we’ve sailed off the edge of the map into a vast ocean of befuddlement and misapprehension. (It happens.)

You’ll hear music nerds talking about “chord progression”. It’s time for another one of my screwball images of keyboards:

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Study: Gamers are more educated, more social than the people who make fun of them

 By Shamus Sep 7, 2014 121 comments

The Washington Post has this story under the headline “Study: Gamers are more educated, more social than the people who make fun of them“. Now, that sounds pretty good to me. I love scientific studies that prove I’m smart and nice. But I also thought the story felt a little ego-stroke-y, which made me suspicious. Who did this study, who paid for it, and what did it (actually) reveal?

The WP talks about the study being done on behalf of Shamefully, they neglected to link to the data or even to the research site. Once again, I have to condemn the way news sites write news stories for the web as if they were writing for print. There’s no reason not to link this stuff.

Digging a little deeper, I found that the group behind the study is Life Course Associates. They are not a research institute. They are a marketing firm. The WP story did say that funded the study, but the crucial context we were missing is that they funded this study as part of a marketing campaign. There’s a huge difference between a company giving a grant to (say) a university to do a study, and a company paying a consulting firm that does research as a form of marketing.

Now, that doesn’t mean that the research is automatically false, but it is crucial context that should be included in the news story. This report is exactly the sort of thing a marketing team is after:

  1. Headline-grabbing conclusion that generates buzz.
  2. An effort to change of the public perception of the demographic they were hired to market to.

My last complaint is that their definition of “gamer” is shockingly broad: “anyone who has played a game on a digital device in the past 60 days”. When I hear “gamer” I think of someone who is engaged with the culture on some level. Maybe you read forums, or reviews, or you network with other players via your friends list, or you watch streamers or Twitch, or Let’s Plays on YouTube, or… something. Calling someone a “gamer” because they play Flappy Bird once every other month is like calling me a NASCAR fan because I drove a car this week. This definition is so broad that it borders on useless. Note that I’m not trying to condemn people who aren’t “real gamers” or whatever. But if the study is supposedly to find out about “gamers” then broadening the definition to include such a massive chunk of the population is going to muddle the results. If I want to study people who live in the city, then including “people have visited a city in the last month” is clearly spreading the net far too wide.

I don’t have a background in science or statistics, so I can’t comment on the veracity of the data or critqique how it was collected, but I’d be surprised if it withstood the normal standards for scientific rigor. In any case, when a marketing firm releases a study that tells you what you want to hear about yourself, you might want to be skeptical.

And if you work at the Washington Post, you really should include these details with your story.

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What If I Read a Book?

 By Shamus Sep 5, 2014 47 comments

A friend got me this as a gift.

Randal Munroe (the XKCD webcomic guy) has been doing this for a while now, and it is – no hyperbole – the highlight of my week. People email him ridiculous science questions and then he answers them. If you’re a science-lightweight like me, then this is great entertainment. If you have a science background, then I imagine these are a rich source of nitpick fodder for people looking to play “stump the alleged ‘expert’.” And I KNOW you folks like that game. I mean, that makes sense. Being more correct than everyone else is kind of embedded in the entire premise of science, and sometimes you just can’t help yourselves.

I was worried the book would just be a re-print of his existing questions, but there’s a lot of new material. Doing a Fermi estimation, I suppose about half-ish of the book looks newThat's not how Fermi estimation works. I know this because I'd already read the entry where he explained Fermi estimation..

It’s really good. The only downside is that you can’t hover over images for mouseover textSometimes the images have captions instead. You know, like they were made by SAVAGES. Also, you can’t click on footnotesLike this one. to get the detailCan these things still be called footnotes when they don't reside at the foot of the page?, but must manually move your eyeballs to the bottom of the pageLIKE A SAVAGE..

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Bad and Wrong Music Lessons, Part 3

 By Shamus Sep 4, 2014 64 comments

As I’ve discussed before, I’m using MAGIX Music Maker Premium 2014, and I am not a fan of the software. I realize this probably comes off as kind of silly. How can I be picky about music programs? I’ve only used one! It’s like a 16 year old kid who just got their license suddenly talking about how a car feels, like he thinks he’s Jeremy Clarkson. But MMM is really getting on my nerves.

I’m sort of torn now. Do I try another music program? These things are expensive and I’m not knowledgeable enough to sort the good from the bad by just reading product descriptions. Or should I just put up with MMM until I get used to its quirks?

The trick here is that – unlike programming development environments – music environments use proprietary formats. That’s to be expected, but it does mean you need to choose your platform well. Sure, I can export my music to MP3 or OGG, but the source – the editable file where I can change instruments, toy with volume levels, and move notes around – is married to whatever platform I used to make it. The longer I stick with MMM, the more of my musical source will be stuck there as well. If I am going to jump ship, then the sooner the better.

On the other hand, this whole music thing is probably just a passing fancy and I shouldn’t sink too much money or concern into something I won’t care about next month.

In the meantime, let’s compare two pieces of music like we did last time. First up is a plastic facsimile of music:

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Diecast #73: New 3DS, Gotham, Mailbag

 By Shamus Sep 3, 2014 174 comments

I made a theme for the show. It’s nice to have a piece of music I can edit for length as needed. On the other hand, I kind of think our theme should be more upbeat than this. I’m still messing with it. Also, the audio is atrocious this week. There were several annoying audio problems that popped up, and I wasn’t as diligent as I could have been at hiding / mitigating them.

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

Hosts: Chris, Josh, Shamus, and Mumbles.

Show notes:

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Experienced Points: Why Games Journalists May Not Reflect the Ideas of the Gaming Public

 By Shamus Sep 2, 2014 232 comments

So often I see people accusing game journalists of being biased, pretentious, or having a hidden agenda. There’s a little bit of truth to that, inasmuch as talking about games requires you to have an opinion, and people who comment on games professionally tend to drift away from the positions of people who merely play them as a hobby.

Of course, this column suffers from a bad case of preaching to the choir. If you’re the sort of reflexively angry person who expresses outrage when a critic assigns a “wrong” review score or brings up a topic you think isn’t important, then I doubt my article is going to temper your rage. Moreover, I doubt you read my stuff to begin with. But we do what we can, and sometimes calmly offering some perspective is cathartic.

I actually really dislike the “pretentious” label. I get it on rare occasions, but Campster gets hit with it all the time because his stuff is a little more academic and highbrow than mineWhich is one of the reasons I love Errant Signal so much: It presents a viewpoint I couldn't extrapolate on my own.. It implies you don’t actually believe the thing you’re advocating, you’re simply pretending to believe it to seem smart / educated / tolerant / whatever. It’s an ugly attempt to wall off deeper discussions and analysis. I can understand if someone thought Gone Home was dumb, or boring, or whatever. What I can’t stand is someone making the presumptuous argument that everyone secretly feels the same way about it, and are just pretending otherwise. The assertion is part conspiracy theory, part ad hominem, part attempt to portray shallowness as virtue.

Anyway, yes. I’m preaching to the choir. After the service I’ll be sure to ask the choir what they thought of my message, and then we can all go to Applebees for lunch and agree with each other. Someone else can pay this time. I paid last time.

A Hundred!A Hundred!2012232 COMMENTS? What are you people talking about?!?

Twenty Sided is Nine Years Old

 By Shamus Sep 1, 2014 171 comments

Today is September 7,672nd, 1993.

Back in the late 80′s and early 90′s, the internet was mostly email and Usenet. No Google. No YouTube. No corporations at all, really. The web (web pages) sort of existed, but there weren’t many pages, they were mostly text, and it was difficult to find things.

Usenet bears a striking resemblance to what we call forums today, except it was designed around the (at the time reasonable) idea that everyone on the internet was a responsible, well-adjusted adult that knew how to behave. Imagine your typical forums like many websites have today. Now imagine that there is just one forum for the whole internet, and that anyone can post under any name at any time to as many sub-forums as they like without ever needing to create an account or to verify their identity.

My first exposure to the ‘net was in November of 1992. I was working at Taco Bell and one of my coworkers had access to Usenet. He would bring me a hardcopy of the Star Trek TNG groupI'm not sure if the group was based in Usenet or a mailing list. Either way, it used a format that isn't really part of the internet we have today. that discussed episodes as they aired. He’d bring me a stack of green bar printouts that represented a week worth of postsWhich means my first usage of the internet was via hardcopy..

I know the date because I specifically remember reading everyone’s reactions to A Fistful of Datas. I’d kind of grown indifferent to the show in the last year or so, but these discussions rekindled my interest in all things Trek.

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