Two Eye Slicings and a Mugging

Ello. My name's Horatio, Horatio Harpell, and I've been stolen by bloody wankers.

Monday turned out to be one of the busiest days in recent memory for me, a day that started out with great and exciting events and ended with a bit of a nasty blow to the rickety jury-rigged thing I call a life. It started out with me around noon going down to get LASIK surgery for my eyes. I’ve been horribly nearsighted for a very long time with -6.5 prescription. Having to spend a couple hundred dollars a year every year for new lenses and exams and sometimes contacts seemed like a horrible waste after my father had the procedure done and it worked great. So I spent my afternoon drinking a coke and a baby Valium, signing the last of forms, and finally getting wheeled under the most terrifying looking machine, and getting a little flap cut in my cornea followed by a laser flashing a few times, smelling burnt ozone and thinking, “So this is what the lemon feels like when it’s being zested,” all while trying to remain totally still and calm. I make it sound worse than it is. The whole procedure is almost entirely painless. The only pain I felt was when the suction cup with the microkeratome cut the flap in my eye, like a needle prick, and before you even realize you’ve felt anything it’s over. Honestly I’ve had cavities drilled out and filled which were more traumatic than the LASIK procedure, and this procedure is really only so stressful because it’s unfamiliar. But even though it’s not so bad, it still leaves you a bundle of nerves, because you are getting your eye cut and your lower brain functions are spending the whole procedure screaming “We’re getting cut, dammit! Abort! Abort!” at your higher brain functions. You know, kind of like getting a cavity drilled.

So after the surgery I was supposed to be spending the day resting, which I did for the most part, but not entirely as around dinner time I got a call from a friend telling me they had found my two of my D&D books and my gaming supplies in a pile beneath his car. As it turns out someone coveted the backpack where I keep my gaming supplies and on the 29th of January had broken out the driver’s side rear vent window to get into my car and steal my red swiss gear backpack and then they decided to open it up and dump the contents of the main compartment beneath my friend’s car, allowing both books to be destroyed by the snow and making off with my pencils, dry erase markers, calculator, rubber bands, miniature box and miniatures, dice, dice cup, and the custom Horatio Harpell miniature which I took a picture of on the right. So instead of getting to take a nap after dinner I ended up having to call the police and file a police report about the whole event. While we’d noticed the window was broken on the 30th we had thought the cold had somehow caused the window the to break. After covering up the window we all returned inside, as it was still snowing, and no one realized anything was missing from the car until my books turned up at a friend’s house, alerting us to the fact that my possessions were missing. All in all the missing items totaled around $300+ at retail, $250 of which the thief is probably going to throw away because it’s all gaming supplies, and he already trashed the PHB and Forgotten Realms Players Guide right after stealing the bags. So yeah, all that damage just because some neighborhood kid wanted a book bag. According to the police officer handling the case, if you have to put bags like that in your car, put them in the trunk where thieves can’t see them, as they’re not likely to break into a car if they don’t know if anything worth taking will be inside.

Western Digital Green Power: Why No One Else Uses “Idle 3”

Some of you may think I don’t have anything to blog about. Not so, quite the opposite. I have so much that I would like to blog about that I can’t decide what to write about. Where to start? Global Warming? Netbooks? Gaming? Portable Apps? Books? The list just doesn’t seem to shrink. So instead of all that great controversial stuff that you’re probably all waiting for, here’s a tech article about a problem with a device that I’ve had for months now and have only been able to fix. All because some shmuck at Western Digital decided that “Green Power” was an effing sweet slogan.

The year was 2008 (AKA Year Awesome compared to 2009 AKA Year Epic Fail) and it was February, and WD had made their RE2-GP drives. I decided to pick up a 1TB edition of the line. Because that was their newest 1TB drive, and who doesn’t just love being able to say they can store a Terabyte of data. Even though it’s not really a Terabyte because  hard drive makers sing themselves to sleep at night by singing 1 kb = 1000 bytes in stark contrast to the reality that 1kb = 1024 bytes, SI be damned. Anyway to top this off the GP in RE2-GP stands for “Green Power” which was WD’s way of saying the drives turn themselves off. A lot. They like to call this state “idle 3”. And that’s not such a bad idea. That means less wear on the drive, and all the bench marks said things worked well and it got good reviews.

Problem is it seems those benchmarks were treating this thing like any other drive that doesn’t go into idle3 if it’s left alone over 30 seconds. Once the drive starts up, the drive works great. But when the drive is in idle 3 it takes it a second for it to wake up. How long you ask? Long enough for Windows to decide your new drive has a bad block, that’s how long. Forums and product review pages alike were littered with people RMAing these drives because of bad blocks, meanwhile those people were being shouted down by others who didn’t have any problems. The difference between these groups was just how the drive was used. Those with problems were using the drives in a way that the drive would go into idle 3 mode and then give them the errors when they tried to access them.

So when WD finally released a firmware update that keeps their drive from going into idle 3 mode every two seconds do they make an announcement? No, they quietly release an update, bury it on their site, and then include a readme which says things like the following

Some utilities, OS’s, and applications, such as some implementations of Linux, for example, are not optimized for low power storage devices and can cause our drives to wake up at a higher rate than normal.

The number of systems using such applications and utilities is limited and customers can resolve this symptom by optimizing their systems to not wake up the drives unnecessarily every 10-30 seconds or so, thereby gaining substantial power savings and eliminating superfluous activity.

Yeah I guess if you consider the Event Viewer a limited use application then sure, I suppose the issue did affect limited users, as everyone else was too dumb to realize those program errors they were getting were caused by Windows saying “@#$% it” every time it had to wait for the drive to come out of idle 3 and just spat out an error instead of waiting. Needless to say once I installed this firmware all of those bad block errors that occurred only when the drive first attempted to perform a task after being idle, like say when booting up, all magically went away after installing this firmware.  So much for “Green Power”, huh? Guess next time WD wants to unveil some new drive technology they should make sure it works with any operating system on the planet before trying to sell it.

Also, because of this I had to dredge out one of my floppy disks and make a boot disk just to upgrade this firmware. That just annoys me. Those floppy disks are for super-secret emergencies, darnit!

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Time Extended!

Anyone who’s ever played outrun or any of Sega’s other similar racers in an arcade can probably hear that over-excited digitized voice in their head now at the mere mention of these words. Imagine my surprise when browsing for some soda in Wal-mart I came upon these two packages of Mountain Dew Throwback and Pepsi Throwback. For those of you who don’t know, the superb Pepsi Throwback and Mountain Dew Throwback are back again for a limited time. According to Pepsi the production run for these is going to be 8 weeks long and it started on December 28th. These two sodas are identical to the previous run, though the packaging is much more in theme, I’m really glad to see the old Pepsi logo, and the Mountain Dew has orange juice concentrate and more caffeine in it like regular Mountain Dew.

I really like soda. A lot. And I like soda made with real sugar even better. Well, at least I think I do. Who knows, if I took a blind taste test, maybe I wouldn’t be able to tell the difference. I’m not about to discount the fact that this whole, “Made with real sugar thing” could be a gigantic placebo effect on my taste buds. But if that’s the case, placebo tastes mighty good. It just seems to me the sodas made with real sugar “pop” a bit more and have a “brighter” taste to them. So I’m happy to see these products back on shelves. How happy am I to see them? I normally drink cherry coke. Yeah, that’s right, this whole real sugar thing is enough to get me to drink Pepsi instead of coke. I sure hope Pepsi gets smart and stops teasing us all with these limited runs, because I really want to keep on enjoying this stuff. Of course, without it I’ll just switch back over to Jones Soda and their excellent Pure Cane Cola, which is also excellent, and they have many other great flavors of cane cola as well. Berry Lemonade being a real favorite.
If you like soda too, check out www.sodapopstop.com for Galco’s. They’re in California and they were featured on History Channel’s Modern Marvels, Soda. (I did say I loved Soda, right?) They’re a veritable Mecca of soda. I mean they have nigh unto everything there, and their site is like an encyclopedia of Soda in the United States and nearby countries. Check it out.

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Why Game Systems do not Enhance Roleplaying

Every so often I’m told that a particular game system enhances role-playing, or that it is more role-playing friendly. However it’s my opinion that the “Game” part of “Role-playing Game” is actually in most cases is something that generally limits the “Role-playing” part, not enhances it. Since D&D is most popular, I hear that about editions of D&D, but this phenomenon and discussion is something that has come up in one form or another in every game I’ve ever played. In this article I will attempt to explain what role-play is, identify the best case scenario for role-playing, why role-playing is traded in exchange for the game, and give some examples of how game systems limit role-playing potential and how they’re largely divorced from the minutia these discussions usually delve into.

So to begin, what is role-playing? Well when in doubt, grab your dictionary. Here’s how the Random House dictionary defines role-playing.

role-play

  • verb (used with object)

1.     to assume the attitudes, actions, and discourse of (another), esp. in a make-believe situation in an effort to understand a differing point of view or social interaction: Management trainees were given a chance to role-play labor negotiators.
2.     to experiment with or experience (a situation or viewpoint) by playing a role: trainees role-playing management positions.

  • verb (used without object)

3.     to engage in role-playing.

A pretty basic definition. So what situation is ideal for role-playing? Free-form role-playing. Now some of you reading this may have dabbled in this before and some of you haven’t. Free-form is just what it sounds like, it’s completely free and there are no rules attached to it. About the only kind of restriction on what can be role-played is any kind of theme that might be in place to provide a setting. Other than that players can create characters with of any type or background or ability that they can possibly imagine. It’s an ideal scenario for role-playing in that pretty much whatever any player wants to roleplay is allowed.

However as anyone who has dabbled in free-form will tell you there can be some problems with this setup. The fact that anything is allowed can be a double-edged sword. You have to work and flow with concepts that may be strange, and if there is any conflict between players, well, you can just forget it. Without anyone in a position to arbitrate and no way to make judgments about what is and isn’t acceptable the entire thing will almost always devolve into a power-gaming mess unless all the players are on the same wavelength. And that’s the crux of the problem. Unless you have a group you can really trust for this, or an experienced group that knows how to work their way around this, then it doesn’t really work so well. All it takes is one guy not in sync to knock down the house of cards.

That’s where the “Game” part of “Role-playing Game” comes in. When you play a Role-playing Game you’re trading some of the freedom of free-form for some rules that decide how strong your character can be, what they can do, and a system to resolve conflicting actions as a kind of neutral arbiter. This is the reason combat is often a big section of any game system, as it’s a large conflict often in need of strict management. You no longer have infinite options, but everyone’s options are limited equally. If the game-system won’t support your character concept or won’t let you have an ability you’d like to play then your ability to role-play that is eliminated.

Now some games choose to take a very light-handed approach to the game system, like Amber or Fudge, and some have a pretty heavy-hand like D&D or Warhammer. None of these approaches is wrong. The game system is written with a particular tone or common activities being the focus of the game, and so it is written to facilitate  these things and to anticipate the conflicts one will see there. D&D expects a focus on exploring sites, fighting monsters, feats of skill, etc. so it has a lot of rules to govern this, where as a system like BESM expects more focus on character abilities and social events with quick bursts of conflict, and so it focuses on these elements. What particular system you decide to use largely depends on the sort of activity you would like to be doing in your game, and then using a game system to supports that.

However in all these cases it’s not the minutia of how the game handles something, like if it uses magic points, spells per day, per encounter, etc, or which dice are role and how they’re compared to a stat that limits your roleplay, but if the system will even let you do something in the first place. If you can do the action at all, then generally the game mechanics side of it doesn’t really matter. The player describes the action, embellishes it, describes it, does whatever the game-system demands he do in exchange, and either it succeeds or fails. It doesn’t really matter how the game mechanics of casting a fireball or a lightning bolt work so long as you can cast one in the first place.

This means that really what determines what is going to be better for role-playing for a particular character is what set of restrictions they are willing to accept on their role-playing in exchange for the benefits the game system itself provides. If a player finds the way a particular set of restrictions on their ability to roleplay are set they’ll enjoy that system better, but it doesn’t make any system better for everyone. Just remember, role-playing lives in the fluff, not the crunch, and when comparing game systems we should be talking about how game systems restrict role-playing more or less in different areas, rather than saying certain game systems promote role-playing.

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Redoubt Operations #1 & #2 Nominated in 2009 Mission Architect Awards

2009 ma awards nomsLast week I had the pleasure to learn that Redoubt Operations #1: Fires over Kalago and Redoubt Operations #2: Wrath of the Imperium had been nominated in the 2009 Mission Architect Awards for Best Villain Group and Best Villain Story, respectively. (I’m not quite sure why Redoubt Operations #1 got misspelled, though.) In any case this news was the highlight of my week last week. Unfortunately, complete victory was not to be as “Internship in the Fine Art of Revenge” won Best Villain Story and “Blight” won for Best Villain Group, but still even being nominated among the thousands of other entries is incredible. Now, here’s to hoping my two arcs can manage to get a Dev’s Choice out of all this. Cross your fingers.

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Brutal Legend for Xbox 360 Impressions

So this week I got my hot little hands on Brutal Legend, a game with big aspirations, amazing visual style, and a hype machine that’s been steadily building once everyone’s eyeballs were finally graced with viewing this piece of eye-candy. I want to say I love this game, but it has two major, and one minor,  flaws that sort of spoiled it for me.

But let’s start with the good. It’s chock full of awesome, metal sounds, it drips style, and it has great voice acting that is fun and humorous, reminiscent of the old Lucasarts adventure games. In addition it has a fun beat’em up aspect that evolves into a competent real-time strategy game that is high on action. Imagine Dynasty Warriors game where you built units, the combat was less repetitive and you had a plethora of buffs and powers at your disposal, that’s what the game’s RTS action is like. This RTS battle game is what the multiplayer is built on, and from trying the single player, I think this is poised to be successful if it keeps up a following. It’s definitely a new game in town for Xbox 360 play.

Now for the bad. The single player campaign is short. (And I did every single side mission too.) I managed to finish the entire campaign in one sitting. Granted it was a very long sitting, but one sitting? That’s pretty insane. I really got the feeling that the last “act” as it were got chopped off. There’s a huge build up to your battle with the demon lord Doviculus’ army, only to have one full-scale RTS battle with him and his hordes, followed by the boss battle with him. Really? You also fight him in the same place you beat the previous faction. While I guess that did help some plot points I was really looking forward to the triumphant march to Doviculus’ new home base on the map, only to be disappointed. Really, you spend more time going after the faction before Doviculus’ demons than you do Doviculus himself.

There’s also a plot point so dumb it makes me want to bang my head, but not in a good way. I’m not going to spoil it for you but there is a name that’s dropped that by the big bad guy that causes a big to do in the hero’s team of Ironheade. Interesting, right? No, because one of the main characters has said name written on their person! How can everyone there, including Jack Black’s character, Eddie Riggs, not already know the name Doviculus drops and diffuse the situation creation by him dropping the name? Am I supposed to believe 3 months went by from the time Doviculus dropped the name and no one said, “Hey <BLEEP>, you’ve got that <BLEEP> name written on your <BLEEP> in big giant easy-to read letters. I think that means we made a mistake about <BLEEP>.” It boggles my mind. Yes, more than people mining rocks with their heads.

A third sticking point that annoyed me. The game is pretty good about giving you tutorials. One of the first things you’re taught is to look around the world for a particular symbol and to use a relic raiser song to raise the relic, and told about jumping for lightning plugs, doing side missions, etc. Simple, no? Well at the same time in the beginning of the game there are serpent statues and hidden artifacts that are bound up.  I found lots of these statues. You can interact with them and Eddie will say something about them, which usually indicates there’s something important. Now I figured later I would get some ability that would let me open up these items, like the Relic Raiser, and similar to many other games with explorable worlds like this. You know the drill, get the upgrade, go back to the places you’ve visited to use the upgrade to unlock the thing that was locked before. I figured I’d get a tutorial about it too, maybe a quest to introduce it like so many other things in the game. Surprise surprise, none of that happened. I found all the upgrades, did all the side quests, and completed the game and then I realized no, no such tutorial and hint would be coming my way. At which point I found these things and messed around with buttons until I figured out that some of my basic moves from the beginning of the game could have opened them up. And then once I opened these things up I got the entry that told me what these things were. Goody. The artifacts tell me about the game world’s history, something I always find interesting, and the serpent statues upgrade Eddie’s health, damage, etc. No wonder Eddie seemed like he was made out of wet toilet paper in the RTS battles. I mean I thought that’s just the way it was as a way to encourage me to use my unit’s and not Eddie’s axe, but apparently it’s just because I didn’t get a single serpent statue throughout the whole game. Aye. Needless to say having completed the game I’m not going to go back through the game and find these things. I just wish the game would have given me a clue, especially when it’s so good about introducing every other element of the game.

Assuming you can get around those sticking points the game is quite simply, awesome. I really enjoyed my time with the game, and I don’t regret my rental of it at all. But I don’t think I could justify a purchase of this game unless I planned to play the multiplayer game a lot. And maybe that will be the case, because the RTS battles are really good and a some of the best action sequences in the game. We’ll just have to see if there is the kind of following this game needs to do well.

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Ringo Star Lives in Bailey’s Nightmares

If I hide under this desk the John Lennon can't get me

If I hide under this desk the John Lennon can't get me

Although I’m sure some people will think this is just a picture of a little dog laying down, those of you who have dogs might be able to recognize the signs of a dog freaked out of his little gourd. This is a picture of Bailey hiding under my desk, curled up into a little ball with his tail tucked in and shivering. What catastrophic event caused Mr. Bailey’s distress? Lightning storm? Hurricane? A nationwide Carrot Top comedy tour? No! It’s “Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Heart’s Club Band” being played on The Beatles Rockband. Incidentally Bailey started reacting to the game shortly after I read the trivia about how an ultrasonic sound, like a dog whistle, was added into the song Inner Grove on the album, though that song isn’t present in The Beatles Rockband. It wasn’t just Sgt. Pepper that scared Bailey though, he showed equal fear to “Here Comes the Sun”, “Octupus Garden”, “Get Back”, and every song in between. I guess something about the Beatles’ later years really frightens the poor little dog. After playing the game I ended up having to spend the next hour consoling the poor little dog that the big bad Paul McCartney wasn’t going to get him.

Well, at least the game was loads of fun. Guess it’s a good thing for Bailey it was only a rental.

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