• Final bizcard design. This is the actual image I sent to overnightprints.com yesterday; I expect to have a bucketful of cards by PAX day. Thanks be to various Arbitrarium denizens for helping me fine-tune it.

I wrote another column on comics and video games. It's a bit wanky and therefore everyone seems to have ignored it, but I had fun with it anyway. (Because: wanky.)

• Spent the weekend in DC with Amy, visiting our friend Monica and eating things and looking at things. I'd been to the city before, but never for its own sake.

The high point was our tour of the monuments on Sunday. Walking through the (very) different war monuments put me into an unusually quiet and receptive state, and perhaps I should have paused before moving on to the Lincoln memorial. But I did not, and so suddenly finding myself standing in the presence proved such a crescendo that I nearly broke down. I had to exert real effort not to sob loudly as I scuttled, trembling, behind one of the big pillars. It took me long minutes before I could look directly at the statue, and even then I had to sidestep slowly from behind my hiding place, making its revelation gradual.

I have never before experienced such a reaction to a piece of static artwork.
Work is work. There's stuff worth talking about but nothing I'd want to blog about; so goes working for oneself. The overall status of Appleseed and my relationship with it remains stable.

I want to finish the next Gameshelf before PAX, which affords me another five weeks. I've put a lot of work into it (as have many friends), but my motivation level now is not nearly as strong as it was a couple of months ago. This is in part because of the resurgence my interest in -- wait for it -- gaming, or anyway gaming of a particular nature, and the novel creative paths this activity has been urging me down.

I found my interest in multiplayer online digital games re-ignited last month. This started with my rediscovery of TF2 on Xbox, built itself up with my ensuing seeking out and palling around with certain online communities of mature gamers, and most recently culminated with the surprise re-launch of Planbeast.

I'm not sure what pushed me to actually do it, but at the start of the month I made a post about Planbeast to Geezer Gamers, a web-based community of grown-up Xbox Live fans I'd been hanging around long enough so that I could make a project-pimping post without feeling like a spammer. The next thing I knew, the Planbeast website actually grew a bunch of events from people other than myself. The interest has died down somewhat from its initial spike, but it remains far higher than it was at any earlier point.

Tending to this effectively sopped up all of my attention for an entire week, and made my thoughts wander even further afield. And: I loved every minute of it. I am starting to cultivate a new obsession. Planbeast, after all, is the child of a greater interest: researching the state of multiplayer video games, isolating its faults, and investigating the ways it could be improved. I have a lot of loose notes about this which I'm presently choosing to spare you. You will be informed when I have patted them together into some more concrete shape.

To give you a taste, here are four tweets I made on the topic:
Shooters are the superhero comics of the multiplayer videogame world. The medium's potential is vast, but nobody wants to leave the house.

Spider-Man (the character) and TF2 are best-case scenarios of their respective sub-genres, building on decades of art. I am glad they exist.

But the continued super-ultra focus on gun-fetish games or underwear-crimefighter stories rolls on anyway, as if there's no other path.

Part of what I wanna do with Planbeast is help strengthen the signal of all the other MP games that are unheard in the chattering gunfire.
My guiding light, here, is a piece of self-realization about my relationship with games, come to me a good decade after I got back into the tabletop gameplay hobby: I am far more interested in media that bring people together through play, rather than solitaire play experiences. This is true in both face-to-face games, and the much (much) newer world of online games. As for the latter, for all its good press, its exploration beyond the familiar is so goddamn timid it drives me up a wall. I want to do something about it.

One related whim of particular interest is an untitled web game project, based on a design I scribbled together last fall while I was thinking about Facebook games. It's a web-based multiplayer game of a sort that I've never seen before, and might not actually work, but deem Absolutely Worth Creating just the same. I really want to block out a month or so of free time and make it happen.

And now, the whinging. )
Howdy y'all. I've been quiet on LJ, even though I've been melting my keyboard under the fury of my frantic typing into Twitter, so feel free to read my recent stuff there. I've been far too deep into the end-of-year gravity well action playset to organize my thoughts into more than 140 characters at a time. (Or, sometimes, more than 280.) I have no doubt that I shall return presently.

However, [livejournal.com profile] ahkond recently expressed surprise at my tweeted assertion that I found the Xbox 360 version of Team Fortress 2 more fun to play than the PC version, and I wanted to write up a deeper examination of my reasons in a longer format. So, yes, the rest of this post is video-game neepery, and you will probably want to skip it unless you're into that sort of thing.

Earlier this month, Valve hosted a special TF2 free-play weekend, and I jumped right in, blessing my good fortune that it happened right after I had set up the used PC I'd recently bought from a friend. Unfortunately, I quickly discovered that, for one reason or another, the game didn't work very well on my machine. Simply put, my framerate was either rather bad or completely unacceptable, depending upon how many other players were in my immediate vicinity.

Several friends, hearing my dismay over Steam-chat, suggested various fixes: What kind of video card had I installed? Was I running all the latest drivers? Did I google to see if my particular setup need some more patches somewhere? Perhaps I could try playing with some of the game's graphics-quality sliders?

After spending a couple of hours in frantic configuration-wanking abandon, I paused to catch my breath, lift my head, and look down the road. What looked back at me were the dully glimmering eyes of a hundred yaks, all lined up, waiting to be shaved.

Now, I am totally down with people who can get into the sub-hobby / metagame of keeping their PCs up to date with the latest bits n pieces of hardware, drivers, and operating system patches necessary to keep them aloft for another month or two. If that works out for you, then by all means, please pursue it with all due relish.

But, look: A key reason that I enjoy playing video games on consoles (and not PCs) is the same as a key reason I do all my work exclusively on Macs (and not PCs): I don't want to think about any of that stuff. The thought of having to think about any kind of low-level hardware configuration, and the mid-level firmware and software diddling that necessarily comes with it, makes me shudder with dread. I can just feel all the tufts of matted yak-hair scratching against my skin. Ugh.

TF2 is a great game, and it is a shame that I can't currently enjoy its more recent features, since ol' Valve isn't hurrying to add them to the Xbox version. But I am so not into the idea of paying dollar-sign question-mark question-mark question-mark, and burning up gord knows how many hours from my life, just to bring one of my secondary computers the ability to play a game which, er, I already own a perfectly good copy of for my game console. So, yeah. No.

(Also, it happens that I learned to play modern FPSes on the two-stick, two-trigger console controller, and so am quite comfortable with their use, to the perpetual befuddlement of my WASD + mouse-using friends. So be it!)

Steam

Friday, 18 December 2009 18:28
Early in the year I bought a surplus PC from [livejournal.com profile] taskboy3000 to help me work on Project X, and we all know how that went. So I ignored it for a while, until long after the bitterness had faded. Last week, following a burst of energy from no particular direction, I shouted "Quick, someone sell me a small desk", and [livejournal.com profile] dougo came through. So now I have a nice little begging-your-pardon gaming rig in my office, separate from the console setup in the living room. I like this.

As a result I'm on Steam now, as "zendonut", and feel free to react to this news in any way that makes sense to you. I've been also taking the opportunity to play various little amuse-bouche-sized commercial Windows games that I never quite had the gumption to play via virtualized-Windows on my MacBook, and which Steam makes very easy to find and tempting to purchase. Have gulped down Samorost 2 and Loom (though, yes, the latter, hailing from 1990, could hardly be called a "Windows game"), and next on my inevitable-buy list are Osmos and the locally-grown AaaAAAaaAAAaaAAAAaaA!!!, which is probably the only video game that doesn't care how badly you misspell it, because it's still close enough.
Wii Fit Plus is a fantastic piece of software, a $20 upgrade to the original that fixes its most annoying flaw. In the original Wii Fit, exercises lack flow. You choose one from a menu, work at it for a minute or two, then have to click through screenfuls of text and a high score list before getting dumped back to the menu where you must choose another exercise. (Sometimes it will suggest a follow-up exercise based on the one you just did, but infuriatingly, leaves it to you to paw through the menus to find it.)

You can still use Wii Fit Plus that way, but you can also instead use it to build up a custom regimen either from individual exercises or thematically linked blocks of three. You can also just say "Gimme N minutes of exercise" and the Wii will oblige you. I find that after working through a Wii-scripted regimen, I actually enjoy spending a few more minutes poking around the full menu in the old style, just to wind down. And then I'm done for the day.

I've been hitting the balance board every other day for a weeks and I feel super duper, working muscles that I ordinarily barely use. Even though some of the yoga poses cause my belly to become twisted or pinched in ways so unfamiliar that my guts misconstrue the context, and then I have to actively resist the urge to retch. Downward-facing BLARRGGHHFFF!

Anyway, if you own Wii Fit and are disappointed with its not-quite-thereness in the way that I was, please go pick up this update. You will like it.

Gaggle? GAGGLE?

Saturday, 5 December 2009 00:20
prog: (what_you_say)
I just got to play in a really-real nationwide game show and blew it within - literally - the first few seconds of my appearance. Details here.

Despite my best all-smiles efforts I can't help but feel upset about this, being driven from "heh I'm doing good at this tonight" to "HOLY SHIT I'M PLAYING FOR REALS" to complete choking flameout defeat, within the span of a minute. I hear the ghost of the laughter of every 7th-grade gym-class tormenter ringing in my ears.

This will be erased by the time I wake up next, so hooray for it being so close to bedtime now. But: ugh.

More hooray to [livejournal.com profile] derspatchel for also getting called up to the stage and making a much more impressive show of it!

Update: Fuck you, "contrarycoho". Now is so not the time.

Update:
I'm going to the Boston interactive fiction meetup tonight, 6:30, at MIT 14N-233 (Nick Montfort's office). Guest: Steve Meretzky. Come join!

(Ha ha, that was totally my first-ever pasted-in Tweet, suckas.)

http://groups.google.com/group/boston-if?hl=en


If you see a little icon instead of a video player, clicking it should make it appear... (Blah LJ)
Wired reports that unscrupulous players now have the power to disrupt online multiplayer Xbox games by DDoSing individual players. It's possible thanks to some new tools that make it easy to get the IPs of the people you're playing an Xbox game with, rent a slice of botnet time, and willfully firehose the former with the latter.

I didn't know this until just now, playing an otherwise delightful game of TF2 with [livejournal.com profile] lediva and a pile of anonymous members-of-public. Playing on defense, we both found our connections had become unusably choppy moments before our opponents' raiding party showed up, time and again - how curious. I was blown clear off the server at one point. Ms. Diva suspected the likely culprit, and forwarded me the article link even as we soldiered on. (We still managed to win, but jeez.)

As far as I know, there's no practical way to defend against this, or even react using the system's reputation tools, other than blanket-voting-down every member of an opposing team - it's impossible to know which of them threw the DDoS at you. This is a real bummer, and rather a wet blanket on the idea that NXE's friends-only chat channel would let you play with strangers online without being exposed to idiocy. Boy if only there were some way to easily gather a group of non-strangers to play together and etc. etc.

Boob tubage

Saturday, 7 February 2009 11:25
Been on my Xbox 360 a lot lately, both to play games and watch TV...

I learned from "Penny Arcade", of all places, that most (all?) of Doctor Who, new and old, is now available via streaming Netflix, which I am able to enjoy via the Xbox. So, I finally got to watch "Blink". Hooray. Even [livejournal.com profile] classicaljunkie liked it! We are likely to go back and start watching season 3 from the start. (I gave up midway through season 2 when Sci-Fi Channel was broadcasting it, either after the Satan-in-space one or the Cybermen ones. It was just too cheesy.)

I finished "Operation: Anchorage", the first chunk of Fallout 3 DLC. Meh. The super-easy combat isn't any harder, and the game once again makes it even easier by pairing you up with a literally invulnerable NPC buddy. (The main storyline has one of these too, but at least you can choose to make the game harder by telling him to stay home.) I had fun with it, but I am unlikely to purchase further expansions for this game. I still have plenty of the main map to explore, should I feel like it later.

I picked up "Castle Crashers" finally. It's stupid fun, as expected. Also lots of poop jokes. I wish 360 controllers weren't so dang expensive or I'd go pick up a couple more, just to be able to host a four-player local game.

My field trip into non-random Xbox Live play last Tuesday evening was a success, thanks to Anthony and Sean. I got to try out the new "party" system, introduced to all Xbox users with last November's OS update, and confirmed that it will dovetail quite nicely with a certain project of mine.

Hmm... I'd better go hit the trenches and finish up what's left of said project, now.


I'm going to be online for some Xbox Live shenanigans at 9PM eastern tonight. TF2 and Castle Crashers are likely to be played, and maybe some Carcassonne. Feel free to join me! Note that I'm going to concentrate on how player-herding menu options work at least as much as on actually playing any games... this is a research trip!
Hey XBox Live Gold Account-Havers,

For mysterious reasons, I wish to personally investigate how the "Party" system works for XBL-connected consoles. Anyone up for a game of something in the 2009ish part of the week? Perhaps Thursday evening? Or whenever... I'll be around.

Games I have )

Wii Fit

Sunday, 21 December 2008 11:28
[livejournal.com profile] classicaljunkie and I got Wii Fit as an early Xmas prezzie. It's nice! I recommend it if you have a Wii but lack a solid exercise regimen. I'm skeptical about the game's longevity, but it is teaching me some new, worthwhile stuff. If nothing else, it's like a super-interactive exercise video, with feedback.

It's a bit too interactive at times, though. It needs a mode where it leads you through a workout of several linked exercises, rather than letting you choose exercises one-by-one until you feel like stopping. Not only do I not always want to choose, but the break of a minute or two for menu navigation and (unskippable) high-score-list admiration feels artificial.

Sometimes it does suggest a good follow-on exercise after you complete something, but instead of offering you a "Hey great let's do that" button, it leaves it to you to find where in the menu-maze that second exercise is, and start it up yourself. How could they miss this?

It'd also be nice if you could navigate the menus using only the foot device, a la DDR, rather than having to pick up and put down the Wii Remote all the time, often just to press the A button. Really, would puttting an extra A button in toe's reach on the board have been that hard? (It already sports a toe-friendly power buttton.)

And, too bad about the BMI, which everyone (even my doctor) seems to agree isn't a very useful metric, at least in terms of presenting a normal/overweight/obese range that hardly applies to all humans. But we knew about this deal ahead of time, so we're not taking it too seriously. We laugh as the Wii performs its initial judgement on new players, which is invariably HELLO YOU ARE ENORMOUS followed by ploomp ballooning up the player's on-screen Mii, who is like "WTF". whatever
I now officially agree wth [livejournal.com profile] mmcirvin and [livejournal.com profile] rserocki that Pinball Hall of Fame: The Williams Collection is a hot little number and totally worth $20, especially if you spent a lot of time around pinball machines during the 1980s and 1990s. The level of simulation is truly amazing, and evident that true pinball otaku had a hand in creating this disc. The tables look, sound and act exactly as their real-world counterparts, as far as I can tell.

Get the Wii version, if you can; the controls are simple and clever, essentially letting you play "air pinball". My only complaint is that the motions necessary to play pinball well emphasize the Wii controllers' assumption that I have smaller hands than I do. My right trigger finger quickly starts to ache from pulling on the too-small B button repeatedly, and my right palm continually presses the 1 and 2 buttons by accident, which in this game changes the camera angle.

Despite this, I have just played Taxi like 10 times in a row. Still haven't managed to pick up Santa. One day.
Microsoft's having a sale on these two downloadable games for Xbox 360. Assault Heroes, a top-down shoot-em-up with Robotron-style controls, is ~$3.13 (i.e. 250 Microsoft Points); and Catan, a very nice port of Settlers, is $6.25. I already own the latter, and just picked up the former, because hey.

Both support network play, so If any of y'all would like to Xbox Live either game up with me, give a shout.

Gee if only there were some web-based service I could use to announce that I own and enjoy a certain game, and wish to play it online with others. I know, right?

(Yeah, I should make a Gameshelf post about this. I should made a GS post about a lot of things. Doo dee doo.)

Also on sale for $6.25 is Boogie Bunnies, which is Snood except cuter and stupider. I wasn't blown away by its demo, but if you want to play a, er, Snoodlike on your high-def TV and you have 500 Microsoft Points burning a hole in your Microsoft Points Containment Unit, go for it.
After on-the-dot two weeks of calendar time, I finished Fallout 3's main quest.

Lots o spoilers )

We'll see if I end up starting a new game, creating a completely different kind of character and seeing how much that affects gameplay. I've never bothered to do that with a game before, but I was so impressed by Fallout 3 that I'm really tempted to try. Just not right now.
Fallout 3 continues to be a tremendous piece of work. I am really having some problems putting the damn thing away. The game's clock says I've put over 40 hours into it, which I grudgingly believe to be accurate. (Hmm, I don't know if it counts time that I spend staring at my status screen, which is how I sometimes leave it paused for a while.) EIther way, this is the most engaging CRPG I have ever played. I like it so much that I am choosing to look past its recent habit of locking up whenever I try to use certain doors, or fast-travel to certain locations. (The fact it has a good autosave system also helps.)

My character has really gotten her ninja on. The first few levels were a little rough (as is so for any PC who voluntarily takes a low-hit-die class) but she became so adept at the snipey-snipey that I've turned up the game's difficulty level. This makes open combat more expensive, and therefore makes all this sneaking seem more worthwhile. I am predicting that when I've completed the game with this character, I'll go back to the start and roll up a big bruiser, just to see how differently the game plays. I don't do this, normally. Crazy.

I sometimes run across other recent, not-quite-buggy In-play oddities, which I assume are the different NPC's scripts colliding in strange ways. Last night I discovered a minor character lying dead in the center of the town my PC lives in. There was no explanation for it, and none of the NPCs were paying any mind to him. After looting his corpse (hey, it's still an RPG), I picked him up and waved him around at passers-by, but they just said their usual scripted "Hello! Nice day!" greetings to me, their friendly-if-eccentric young neighbor. I then had some Weekend at Bernie's fun, propping him up in a chair outside of my house, but he kept sliding off. I settled on taking an empty bottle and laying it by his head: there, it just looks like he's merely dead drunk, now. Much better. Role playing!!

Fallout 3

Thursday, 6 November 2008 22:53
Fallout 3 is fantastic. I've been in the mood for a wide-open, American-style CRPG and this not only fills the bill, it may be the best example of its class I've played. I've dropped over 15 hours into it since Monday evening - ouch. It's leaning as hard on my addiction button as my last serious Angband streak did last year. Gonna have to ration my playtime.

I created the same type of character I played in Fallout 2 - a small woman with high INT/CHA/DEX. Dumping most skill points into Sneak, Lockpick, Speak and Small Guns. Trying to play "the stealth game" for real. It didn't work out that way in Fallout2, when I didn't try hard to maintain any sort of character-type out of the gate, and so spent most of the game running around in a bright purple robe zapping people with a customized cattle prod in broad daylight. Being a bit more judicious with character-building this time around.

I like that the game doesn't take itself too seriously; it's full of crazy little rules, especially regarding modifiers attached to items. The setting's got a whole lot of logical inconsistencies, but if you put on a lab coat you suddenly become better at hacking into computer systems, and I love that, so I don't care. (Right now my character is wearing a Solid Snake suit that gives her a Sneak bonus, and a gray fedora that lets her detect enemies around corners better. Yes.)

The writing and plotting are so cool and full of delightful surprises - literally from the very first moment you start a new game - that I'm not even reading the list of possible Xbox Live achievements you can get. I find myself as spoiler-averse to this game as I have been to any recent TV series I've enjoyed. That's rare.

I wish that my posts about Fallout 2 from five years ago were easy to find. They're buried deep in the untagged middle ages of [livejournal.com profile] prog-LJ.

World of Goo.

Tuesday, 21 October 2008 10:58
World of Goo is a brilliant game. If you have a Wii, you owe it to yourself to drop $15 on downloading it.

I'd classify it as a cross between Lemmings and a Tinkertoy set. On each level you need to guide cute little critters ("gooballs", in this case) from a starting point, across variously hostile terrain, and then to an exit. But where Lemmings had you assign various worker-roles to some of the critters in order to make a path for the others, Goo has you using them as building material.

The gooballs like to be picked up with the wiimote, and if you drop one near two or three of its buddies, they'll reach out and link up as a lattice. Thus you construct towers, wedges, bridges, and various other structures that non-linked gooballs can walk across to the exit. The game uses a full-bore 2D physics engine, and the things you build act like "real" (in a Flatlandish sense) structures of their shape would, if made out of a rubbery material. A lot of the puzzles involve figuring out how to use up as few gooballs as possible to build stable supports for the up-reaching ones, and it's a real joy to play with.

This is surely the best Wii Ware game published yet, and worth every penny. Go get it. (Thanks to [livejournal.com profile] queue for the rec!)

May 2015

M T W T F S S
    123
45678910
11121314151617
1819202122 2324
25262728293031

Expand Cut Tags

No cut tags