Tuesday, August 5, 2008

Random Bits  

I've been accumulating lots of bits and pieces that I keep meaning to blog about but I've noticed that I'm just not getting around to them, so I've decided to clean out my stack of little Post-it notes with ideas on them and just be done with it.

Teachers: I hate teachers who don't have complete mastery of the subject they’re teaching.

I had a teacher in high school who was covering grammar and spelling, and she made constant errors. She couldn't even discuss the subject without having the answer key in front of her, and it drove me up the wall. When I go into a class, I expect the person in charge to blow me away with their level of skill and knowledge, and to completely be my superior on whatever topic it is we’re covering. I realize that people are only human and humans are not perfect, but education is a serious subject and to waste a person's time by doing a poor job of teaching is offensive to me.

Long story short: don't be my teacher unless you've got your shit locked down tight.

Eco: There are a bunch of electric cars running around Seattle, and the wife and I thought they were pretty damn cool until we actually did some research and got the facts. Long story short, these aren’t even close to the excellent vehicles that were featured in the film “Who Killed the Electric Car?” Instead, they're little better than glorified golf carts that cost as much as a regular car. Pretty disappointing. I mean, seriously… I've had RC cars with more pep than these things. I know for a fact that electric cars can do better than this, and I fail to see why these things are even on the market.

Spotted: On the side of a locksmith’s struck, a bit of text said “unlocks free when child is trapped inside.” That's pretty decent of them, I suppose… however, the real humanitarians of this a bit are the proprietors of the adult entertainment shop I passed along the highway a while ago when we were tooling through Oregon. Their sign? “ADA ACCESSIBLE” in huge letters on the outside of their building. It's great to know that people in wheelchairs who need a little visual stimulation won’t need to struggle with pesky curbs or stairs on their way to pick up some weekend wank material. Kudos!

Games: My 360 returned via UPS today, and it's good to have it back. I nearly chucked it out the window, though… upon putting it back up on my shelf and reconnecting all the cables, the unit would not turn on and displayed three red rings.

I'm sure you could imagine my joy.

Undaunted, I turned the unit off and unplugged all the cables, determined to make the damned thing work. Poking it all back up, what did I get? Four red rings.

I was on the phone with Microsoft customer service and I had literally drafted a letter to Shane Kim while I was waiting, but for whatever reason the techno gods were having a little joke at my expense… a few minutes after the rep came on the line, the thing suddenly started working for no apparent reason. My fingers are crossed that it will remain in this state.

Speaking of the 360, N+ level pack #1 is now available on Live. To be perfectly frank, I haven't had a chance to actually sit down and go through it, but I have complete faith in MetaNet and I downloaded it without any hesitation, whatsoever. I suggest you do the same.

On the DS front, I finished the review for Izuna 2: the Unemployed Ninja Returns and found it to be lacking, not at all up to the standard that other recent Atlus games have set. Feeling unsatisfied with that roguelike, I put down some cash for Mystery Dungeon: Shiren the Wanderer and although I'm still at the very beginning, it's already seeming like a much higher-quality experience.

Finally, I had a comment and/or question regarding my use of the phrase “rooted in the last generation” and what exactly that meant.

To be honest, I think it's a little bit lazy of me to use that phrase often because it's shorthand for a couple different things. I apologize for my lack of specificity, and no, that's not sarcasm. = )

I suppose in general what I mean by that is to say that certain games pick the low-hanging fruit of the current generation and then stop in terms of their design. For example, I've played several games recently where the graphics are taking advantage of console X’s horsepower, but completely ignore things like realistic physics, adding objects to interact with, having realistic architecture, and so on. It's not that these games are necessarily bad because they aren't, but it's pretty clear that they're not reaching to fully take advantage of what the current generation offers.

A perfect example of this is Folklore, a game which I actually have great affection for. It looks fantastic for the most part, the level of detail at certain times is amazing, and the level of atmosphere is almost palpable. However, its design is “rooted in the last generation” (or perhaps even the one before the last) by having levels which offer effectively no interaction and a core design which consists of:

A> questioning townsfolk in ultra old-school “talking heads” fashion

and B> capturing monsters.

That's really it, and this game could have existed on the PS2 and probably even on the PS1, though it would have been looking like a goat’s dirty bits on that hardware.

With Folklore (and really, a lot of games these days) it's pretty clear that the people designing the game aren't starting from a current-gen perspective and they’re trying to justify a $60 price point by making things look oh-so-pretty.

Again, I don't mean this to come off completely negative because I think certain aspects of older design are just fine, and I still enjoy playing games on older systems. I don't mean to sound like we need to burn our heritage and keep our eyes focused only on the future, but at the same time there are many new factors to take into account when designing a game and if we're going to avoid stagnation in the industry and if people selling the games really want to justify the higher price consumers are paying, games are going to have to start in a more advanced, current-gen place (i.e.- online, the role of downloading, multiplayer, physics, customization, more sophisticated storytelling, more sophisticated interaction, and so on and so on and so on.)

Does Folklore start in a current-gen place? Absolutely not. In terms of sophistication, it's actually pretty crude. Do I still like it? Without a doubt. Still, I'm not one to advocate for laziness in game design and in general, I think the bar does need to keep being raised.

I hope that answers your question, Anonymous… I'm a little sleepy at the moment so I'm not sure that entirely made sense, so let me know if more clarification is needed.

One last thing: Fruity Pebbles are way tastier than Cocoa Pebbles. It's true, so deal.

What next?

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5 comments: to “ Random Bits

  • Anonymous


    I see what you mean now, thanks. Though to be fair i'm sure there are a number of developers that can't really afford to do everything these new systems can offer (i've read that the cost of developing games these days is much higher then previous years). We probably won't see the things you mention fully utilized by most games until much later in these systems lifecycles (when the costs come down a bit). Maybe some people go for that low hanging fruit because they don't have the means to reach higher.

    Nice to see you picked up Mystery Dungeon: Shiren the Wanderer. There was about a month or so where I was completely involved in the game and couldn't put it down (not that I wanted to put it down anyway). I eventually set it aside after losing a fully leveled sword and shield in the tainted path, but I do plan to pick it up again someday to complete the two dungeons I never finished.

    Oh, and your totally off base with your Fruity vs. Cocoa Pebbles conclusion. Don't worry about it though, we all make mistakes sometimes...


    Glad I could clear things up, and again, sorry for any confusion on my part.

    I definitely agree that not every developer has the resources to “start” a project in the current era, and that's all right as long as it doesn't become an accepted norm for the industry in general.

    Also, I absolutely want to be clear that I'm not biased against games which don't sport all the latest bells, whistles, or philosophies – a game doesn't need to be bleeding edge for me to find enjoyable or worthwhile, but I will be taking certain games to task if they start talking the talk without walking the walk…

    If there’s a small indie house somewhere who struggles to get a game off the ground without incorporating current trends but they poured their heart and soul into it, they get my total respect. In fact, projects of this type are sometimes my favorite. On the other hand, if there’s a huge development house somewhere trying to cram the “latest and greatest” blockbuster down my throat and the best they can do is repackaged something I've already played 10 times while gussying up the graphics, I’m going to call bullshit on that.

    It's all about positioning and perceived role in the market and industry, really… the expectations can be wildly different depending on each particular game.

    Glad to hear that you enjoyed Shiren, too… I've only put about three or four hours into it, but I'm pretty addicted to it so far. I totally understand the pain you must have felt after losing that equipment… I've only lost a few crappy cudgels and one good katana, and those losses were pretty hard to deal with. ; )

    Did you end up actually finishing the critical path? (i.e.- did you get credits to roll?) If you did, I'd love to hear a little bit more about your experience with it. If not, I'd like to hear about that too.

    And about Pebbles… if we were talking about the OLD cocoa formula, I'd be agreeing with you, but the new formula has never tasted the same. It's too harsh and overpowering.
    Sorry to say, but Fruity takes it.

    (BTW, don't feel any pressure to give your real name but why don’t you pick a handle? Anonymous is so…. anonymous.)

  • Anonymous


    I wasn't aware of any recipe changes to Cocoa Pebbles recently, i'm only recalling my preferences as a child back in the early 90's (haven't had any in years).

    My losses in Shiren were my own stupid fault. I didn't even die (otherwise I would have sent out a rescue request), a Metal Armor knocked both items into a lake somewhere around level 45 in the tainted path. The worst part was that I had just stepped on an Unequip Trap on the previous turn, and instead of using a scroll or something to incapacitate the monster (who was next to me) I tried to re-equipt my gear.

    I did finish the main dungeon and saw the end credits. It only takes around 2 hours to get through if you know what your doing, but in my eyes the real meat and potatoes of the game doesn't start to show itself until you unlock the bonus dungeons (requires finishing table mountain among other things). There are about 6 of them, and they mix things up a bit in fun and interesting ways (My personal favorite is the Kitchen God Cave). I'm hoping that the recently released (for the wii) 3rd entry in the Shiren games (part 2 was on the N64 apparently) gets ported over here sometime soon.

    I'll use my handle whenever I reply then; I just didn't think you cared about that sort of thing.


    Thanks for the reply, and the story. I'm still digging the game quite a bit, but I have to admit I was a little concerned that it might be one of those games that gets shelved without ever being finished… glad to hear that there’s at least a few people like you out there who have at least been able to accomplish the basic completion. I'm still putting time into it every day and I seem to make it a little further each time, but I have to admit that losing all my equipment and going back to the beginning can be a little bit frustrating at times. Still, it's such a cool game that I don't really feel like the challenge isn't worth it. At this point, anyway… ask me again in 30 more defeats. ; )

  • Anonymous


    My victory came about completely by surprise. In the previous run I was decked out in strong gear and had several jars full of supplies that i'd been saving up. I believed that this would be it, and was pretty confident i'd reach the end with all this prep work under my belt.
    Ended up dying in a monster house on the 18th floor. The next time I turned the game on I was all "Screw that! I'm just gonna go!" and left the opening town with only a single rice ball on me. Thirty hair-raising floors later I killed the boss and won a supremely satisfying (and hard fought) victory.

    I lost on a run I thought was in the bag, only to win on the very next run which I assumed was certainly gonna end in failure. Experiences like this and others (a white knuckle rescue into the kitchen god cave, a race against starvation in the Scroll cave) made the game an early contender for a spot somewhere on my top ten list for 2008. Pretty surprising for a remake of an old super famicom game.