Nan o’ War CH11: Riding the Seasaw

By Rutskarn
on May 24, 2017
Filed under:
Lets Play

It doesn’t matter if you’re learning to play the piano or how to blast a smoking hole in the breastplate of empire; Practice Makes Perfect.¬†And just like the quickest way to learn piano is to try playing two of them at once:

Ave! True to Keezer!
Ave! True to Keezer!

The best way to learn naval craft is to engage two enemies at a time. What good fortune I stumbled onto this smuggler flotilla!

Okay,¬†maybe I wasn’t looking where I was sailing. Doesn’t matter! I am about to learn some incredibly important lessons about naval combat. Ideally these will consist of the ninja strategies that let me snatch a victory out of these hungry chompers, but I’ll also settle for a simple, “Never do this again.”

Continue reading »


201225 comments. Neato.



Zenimax vs. Facebook Part 4: The Airing of Grievances

By Shamus
on May 23, 2017
Filed under:
Column

Like I said last week, Zenimax seems to be suingYes, the initial trial is over, but appeals are ongoing and I expect this will drag on for ages. Oculus over the “theft” of it’s technology. This is a tricky argument because they’re accusing Oculus of stealing technology that Carmack was apparently sharing freely. You can argue that Carmack shouldn’t be sharing information against his employer’s wishes, but that makes this into a fight between Zenimax and Carmack, and Zenimax doesn’t want that fight.

Disclaimer: I am not a lawyer. This is a complicated case and I am not an expert on the law, VR, or corporate contracts. I’m working with incomplete records of complex events where there was often more than two sides to every story. I’ve done what I could to be accurate, but series is intended as opinion commentary, not authoritative historical record.

I am not a lawyer, but it seems to me that going after Carmack would mean Zenimax admitting that it was their own fault that Oculus had all this technology. They needed to push blame on Luckey’s team, because if they try to blame Carmack then the blame just boomerangs back on them. Why did you continue to share secrets you didn’t want the other party to have? Why did you continue to employ someone who was giving out your secrets? This sounds like an internal company dispute. Whatever disagreements Zenimax has with Carmack, he doesn’t have billions of dollars for them to sue him for and he doesn’t own the Rift.

They really wanted in on this VR stuff, and the best way to do that was to humor Carmack and try to entice Luckey to show up at the bargaining table. Or it was, until the moment when Carmack left.

Punishing Carmack was a dead end. So was bargaining with Luckey. And once Carmack was gone, their only move was to take Oculus to court. Carmack left for good in November 2013, and the Facebook acquisition was announced in March of 2014, just three months later.

Continue reading »


2020201171 comments. (Seventy-one is the largest supersingular prime!)



The Terrible New Thing

By Shamus
on May 21, 2017
Filed under:
Rants

We don’t learn from the past. I don’t mean “we don’t learn from history”. I mean we often don’t even learn from our own past. Individual people might be smart, introspective, and level-headed, but if you zoom all the way out the aggregate behavior of the culture at large is that of a panicked reactionary simpleton.

When I was a kid we had this fad. Miniature 4×4 trucks. I don’t know why. They were maybe the size of your average computer mouseNot that anyone knew what a computer mouse was. This was 1984, and I wouldn’t see one for another five years.. The trucks were stupid. You put batteries in them and turned them on. In the commercials it portrayed them as being able to overcome any obstacle and just! keep! going! In practice they tended to flip over or spin their wheels if they were tasked with climbing over anything that wasn’t specifically shown in the commercial.

One day a kid showed up in class with one of these things, and a month later half the kids had themBut not me. It wasn’t a computer or a videogame, so I was never the slightest bit interested in them.. Two months later they vanished and I don’t think I’ve seen one since.

The year before that it had been Scratch-n-Sniff stickers. Everyone had to have tons of Scratch-n-Sniff stickers stuck all over their elementary school accoutrements. The year before that it was puffy stickers and Rubik’s Cubes. At some point friendship bracelets were momentarily a big deal. A bit later the Garbage Pail Kids collectible cards came out and every class began and ended with kids wheeling and dealing with each other to try and complete their set.

The reaction from the adults was invariant: Annoyance, outrage, and heavy-handed prohibition. Sooner or later they would get fed up with this New Thing and start banning it from classrooms or confiscating it if the items were found during class time. This often applied even if you had your work done. After all, you might distract other kids. If you’re done early then just stare at the front of the room and try to avoid doing anything mentally stimulating, because think of the (other) children!.

The kids were always mystified by this crackdown. It obviously didn’t have much of an impact on anyone’s performance. Class clowns continued to clown whether or not a toy fad was going on. The A students continued to be A students and the poor students continued to do poorly. This cycle of petty hand-wringing and over-reaction always mystified us.

Now that generation – my generation – is all grown up. And then some. We run shit now. And here we are, acting like the screwball Baby Boomers that tormented us in the 80s.

The fad this month is apparently Fidget Spinners, and my generation is dutifully getting all worked up and banning it from schools because (of course) it’s a distraction. So now all the news sites have to say something stupid about it. Last Friday’s Penny Arcade strip isn’t literally true, but it feels true to the spirit of the moment: A bunch of grownups acting like this month’s toy is an alien invasion.

I kind of assumed that Baby Boomers behaved this way because they were the first to grow up in a world of fads driven by televised toy commercials. I’m sure the generations before them had fads too, but they probably weren’t as widespread and they probably didn’t focus so much on gadgets. But I’d hoped my own generation would see the pattern and develop some sense of perspective about this sort of thing. At the very least I thought maybe we wouldn’t see it as newsworthy.

When I was young I always assumed the cycle of annoyance and moral panic on the part of adults was just a local problem. “Man, my teachers are jerks.” But now I see it’s some inescapable human behavior. The desire of administrators to impose order and routine is just as strong as the desire of children to seek novelty and stimulus.

Fidget Spinners look fascinating. I thought I’d get one as a gesture of solidarity with the beleaguered schoolchildren of the world.

But then I saw they were $15 on Amazon and I was like, “Nah”.


A Hundred!2020205Many comments. 165, if you're a stickler



Learning C# – Sort Of

By Shamus
on May 19, 2017
Filed under:
Programming

As I alluded to last Friday, I’ve been dabbling with the idea of expanding (modernizing) my programming knowledge and learning some Unity. I’ve been stuck in my old habits for a long time now. I’ve always been caught in this Catch-22 where I don’t want to stop working on an existing project to learn something radical and new, because doing so would bring the project to a halt. But if I’m not working on a project then I don’t have any immediate use for the New Thing. I’m either too busy or I don’t need it.

But for whatever reason, now feels like a good time to take a crack at it. To this end I’ve been watching Unity tutorials. This is both fascinating and maddening.

I have decades of coding experience, but I’m new to both Unity and C#. I’m a C++ programmer. C# and C++ are very similar, but not so similar that I can just jump in and begin writing useful C# code without educating myself first. The problem is that aren’t really any tutorials out there for me. Everything is either high-level stuff that assumes a deep knowledge of both C# and Unity, or (I am not joking here) it teaches you how to make some rudimentary “game” without needing to write a single line of code.

The latter actually kind of pisses me off. I get that this is part of the allure of Unity for most people, but for me it’s like I took a class with a master carpenter in hopes of learning woodworking, and instead he spent the entire class showing us how to assemble IKEA furniture. This wouldn’t be so bad if I was just scanning a text document, but it’s pretty annoying to sit through fifteen minutes of rambling video waiting for them to get through this introduction crap and to the main part of the video, only to realize that this click-and-drag stuff IS the main part of the video and I’ve just wasted my time again.

For couple of days in a row I’ve opened up Unity to an empty project with the silly notion that I was going to begin making some small thing. But then two hours later I was still scanning through video tutorials looking for answers and I hadn’t typed a single line of code.

Continue reading »


A Hundred!20201We've got 141 comments. But one more probably won't hurt.



Arkham City Part 17: Catwoman

By Shamus
on May 18, 2017
Filed under:
Batman

We’ve been skipping the Catwoman sections in this write-up because things are easier to analyze when you cut out the extraneous parts. But now let’s circle back and talk about her subplot.

Catwoman’s story involves her efforts to steal from the Arkham City vault. Apparently Hugo Strange stores confiscated things there, and Catwoman wants them. It doesn’t ever say what the loot is. It’s just a couple of silver suitcases with some unspecified valuables inside.

She’s also got a couple of ongoing feuds with Two-Face and Poison Ivy that complicate things for her. When Batman gets knocked out or otherwise incapacitated, we sometimes cut back to Catwoman and play as her for a while.

Cat Movement

Even after she claws the faces off a half dozen goons, the rest keep coming. They`re not very smart, but I have to admire the mook work ethic.

Even after she claws the faces off a half dozen goons, the rest keep coming. They`re not very smart, but I have to admire the mook work ethic.

I enjoy playing the Catwoman sections. From a mechanical standpoint, she works as a great counterpoint to Batman. She has strikes, counters, stuns, and takedowns just like Batman, and they’re all mapped to the same buttons so that your muscle memory can get you through the fights. At the same time, she’s different enough that her sections of the game feel really distinct. She’s very fragile compared to No-Parents Man but she’s also faster, which makes her a bit of a glass cannon.

Her controls for traversing the city are this timing-based deal where you have to tap the jump button with the right rhythm to move efficiently. In all my hours with the game, I’ve never been able to get the hang of it. There’s this metallic impact sound when she locks her claws into the wall, and my instincts make me want to press the jump button in time with this, but as far as I can tell you’re supposed to press in between these sounds. It feels like playing a version of guitar hero where you’re supposed to hit all the notes exactly half a beat late. You’re not so much fighting against the game as your own instincts.

Batman can launch himself off the top of a tall building and then glide halfway around the city. He can soar overhead and ignore all the freaks and hazards below. But Catwoman gets around by scaling buildings, which means she’s sometimes obliged to engage the inmates on the way to her destination.

This is probably for the best. If Catwoman was as mobile as Batman, I’d never want to stop playing her. After playing as Catwoman for a while, Batman’s fights feel sort of ponderous.

Continue reading »


202020202There are now 82 comments. Almost a hundred!



Nan o’ War CH10: Wet Run

By Rutskarn
on May 17, 2017
Filed under:
Lets Play

Let’s recap.

I started out broke and rideless in the middle of Hispaniola. Since then I have impersonated a nun, defended a guy, beat that guy, defended him again, beat him again, sniped a parade of five people, mugged smugglers, blinged up, and generally written my memoirs in human blood in four different ports on three different islands. I have also mildly offended the Spanish.

Not bad for my first day!

Continue reading »


201535 comments. Hurry up and add yours before it becomes passé.



Zenimax vs. Facebook Part 3: History and Context

By Shamus
on May 16, 2017
Filed under:
Column

Palmer Luckey sent the Oculus Rift prototype to John Carmack in April 2012, and Carmack made improvements to it as I detailed last week.

Disclaimer: Like I said at the start of this series, I am not a lawyer. This is a complicated case and I am not an expert on the law, VR, or corporate contracts. I’m working with incomplete records of complex events where there was often more than two sides to every story. I’ve done what I could to be accurate, but series is intended as opinion commentary, not authoritative historical record.

In May, Zenimax had Luckey sign an NDA. This was probably the fatal mistake in the entire process. While I object to the entire premise of the Zenimax arguments regarding code, most of this case seems to turn on the NDA, and Oculus was probably doomed the moment Luckey put his signature on the thing.

Continue reading »


202020666 comments? This post wasn't even all that interesting.



Prey: Debugging the Problem

By Shamus
on May 15, 2017
Filed under:
Video Games

You might remember my complaint from yesterday, where I talked about a bug that killed my Prey playthrough. I managed to solve the problem. What I found might also help all the other people experiencing strange broken quests triggersAt least on the PC. If you’re playing on a console you’re on your own. Sorry.. I don’t know. It turns out that (at least in my case) this is an issue with save data collisions between different games.

Note: This post is spoiler-free, aside from the names of levels and random screenshots of the first fifteen minutes.

Prey is pretty good in terms of PC creature comforts for a game of 2017. It’s got quicksave and quickload and they’re reasonably fast to useThis isn’t one of those game engines that purges EVERYTHING from memory when doing a quickload.. But it’s still a game of 2017, which means there are some console-minded design decisions impacting the interface. Specifically, you get three save “slots”.

Now, each of those slots can hold multiple saves. If you start a game in Slot 1, within that slot you can have multiple auto saves, quick saves, and manual saves. This isn’t inherently a bad system. If you and your little brother are both playing through the game, this system means you can both have your own games without the save files getting all mixed together. The “only three active campaigns at a time” limit is a little alien to my PC sensibilities, but whatever. It’s odd, but I’m okay with it.

Or I would be, if it wasn’t for the problems it caused…

Continue reading »


A Hundred!5105 comments. Quick! Add another to see if this message changes!



Prey vs. My Nostalgia

By Shamus
on May 14, 2017
Filed under:
Video Games

It has been bugging me for years: maybe the problem isn’t the games. Maybe it’s me.

I didn’t like the Thief reboot. I was tepid towards BioShock. The new Deus Ex games have some charm, but they never engrossed me the way the original did. Dishonored was kind of amusing, but it always felt like classic Thief with the best parts ripped out. Most other people loved these gamesAside from the Thief reboot. Nobody liked that.. Reviewers like them, the public embraces them, but they just don’t blow me away like in the good old days.

Maybe I’m getting old. Maybe I’ve just played too many games. Maybe after rolling over the same tropes and gameplay for years I’ve just lost the ability to give myself over to a game like I did back in my 20s. Maybe what made those games so magical was my own sense of wonder.

It’s been bugging me for years, but Prey proves that this isn’t the case. My fondness for those old titles isn’t blind nostalgia. Modern games really have been missing something special that I’ve been craving. I know this, because Prey has these things and I’m suddenly experiencing a game in a way I haven’t since I was 28. Prey is the real deal.

Continue reading »


2020201171 comments. (Seventy-one is the largest supersingular prime!)



I Am Currently Playing Four Videogames

By Shamus
on May 12, 2017
Filed under:
Video Games

No, I’m not going to try to get you to feel sorry for me.

The Expectation: Now that I have Saturday nights free, I should be able to get more writing done!

The Reality: A couple of weeks ago I started playing Diablo III. And then the Factorio update came out, and I’ve been waiting for that for five months. And then Prey came out, and rumor was that it’s a spiritual successor to System Shock. Given my history with those games, I HAD to get it. And then STRAFE came out and I’ve been waiting for that since I backed the Kickstarter in February 2015.

So I’m trying to play four games at once and it’s going about as well as you might expect. I can’t say anything substantial about any of them, so let me say something insubstatial about each of them…

Continue reading »


A Hundred!20202016Many comments. 176, if you're a stickler



Arkham City Part 16: Batman v. Rubble

By Shamus
on May 11, 2017
Filed under:
Batman

As Batman punches his way into the steel mill, Clayface-Joker gives a televised speech to his goons, who don’t know about the “two Jokers” gag. To them (and to the player) it looks like Joker has been fully cured. Since Harley Quinn stole the cure a couple of scenes ago, it’s reasonable to expect he would have used it by now. But there is a little clue for the player if they stick around and watch the entire speech instead of jogging off to give free naps to the next batch of goons. At one point the view shakes as the cameraman coughs, and the cough is clearly Joker’s voice.

Batman has to open some doors, climb over some puzzles, punch some goons, ambush some snipers, and generally engage in the sort of stuff that makes this game so fun to play. Near the end of the obstacle course Batman runs into Harley Quinn, who has been bound and gagged in a side-passage.

The game doesn’t make it at all clear what happened. Did Joker tie her up for laughs? Which one? And why?

For the record: Batman isn`t hitting Harley in this shot. He`s just pulled a piece of tape off her mouth so she can give us exposition. Sadly, she doesn`t explain how she got here, which is kind of important for understanding the story.

For the record: Batman isn`t hitting Harley in this shot. He`s just pulled a piece of tape off her mouth so she can give us exposition. Sadly, she doesn`t explain how she got here, which is kind of important for understanding the story.

Continue reading »


20201959 comments. It's getting crowded in here.



Zenimax vs. Facebook Part 2: The 5 Problems Of VR

By Shamus
on May 9, 2017
Filed under:
Column

Disclaimer: Like I said at the start of this series, I am not a lawyer. This is a complicated case and I am not an expert on the law, VR, or corporate contracts. I’m working with incomplete records of complex events where there was often more than two sides to every story. I’ve done what I could to be accurate, but series is intended as opinion and commentary, not authoritative historical record.

VR is a strange thing. For people who haven’t tried it, it’s natural to assume this is just another technological advance like plasma screens or surround sound. They think this is just the next step up in fidelity.

This is not the case. VR is as different from looking at a screen as a screen is different from a radio. VR engages parts of the brain that aren’t really involved or excited by traditional screen experiences.

Presence

A screen grab of the VR demo at Valve in 2014. This is back when they were still using the Oculus Rift, before they developed the Vive, their own competing headset.

A screen grab of the VR demo at Valve in 2014. This is back when they were still using the Oculus Rift, before they developed the Vive, their own competing headset.

A notable example is one that Valve was offering in its VR labs in 2014. In the demo, the user would find themselves standing on a narrow stone platform floating in a vast open space. The space wasn’t even designed to look real. The skybox was comprised of old webpages. The platform texture looked like something out of Half-Life 2. If you looked at this on a traditional screen it would be incredibly boring. It looks like “Baby’s First Game Level”. It’s cheap and dull and you wouldn’t give it a second look.

But in VR this stupid box room can be a visceral experience. If you’re at all nervous around heights then you’ll probably catch your breath, feel your knees lock up, and have an intense desire to grab onto something solid. You know you’re in a VR lab and you know it’s just a simulation, but the input reaches deep down and tickles the atavistic parts of your brain. You can see a similar idea at work in the Fear of Heights VR demo. While FoH makes for a better demo to watch, I think the Valve demo makes the more dramatic case for VR, since it accomplishes the same effect using only rudimentary visuals. It manages to convince you using unconvincing graphics, thus driving home just how different it is from traditional screen experiences.

This feeling of “being there” is called presence, and it’s only possible in VR. This effect isn’t a novelty. It persists, even in people who use VR regularly.

Continue reading »


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




From the Archives: