Stuff I Say

Mario Galaxy Is Magical

Posted in gaming by 51future on April 29, 2008

So you’ve probably already heard that Mario Galaxy is awesome, but some things deserve reiteration.

Mario Galaxy is a fun game.

A close friend of mine, one who I used to play a lot of Halo 2 with, used to talk about the way we played Halo when we played it. We would sit down on the couch together, at first slouching and ragtag, and as the competition would heat up we would sit up straighter and straighter. Finally, we would inch closer to the television. We eventually came to the conclusion that to play a good game of Halo 2 required a little bit of preparation.

“Time to sit down,” I would say, with a look of serious resolve on my face, “Put the TV in my lap, put my face inside– all the way inside the television, and play a game of Halo.”

Halo 2 was always a very intense gaming experience. I wouldn’t call it fun, really. Just intense. But I’ve never really expected fun from the Halo series. I expect competition, intensity, and energy. I want to… I don’t know… Tear my balls off in frustration sometimes and Halo is the game that helps me achieve that end.

Mario Galaxy, on the other hand, is a completely different experience entirely. In two days I’ve gone from 3 stars to something like 27, all within short bursts in-between laundry or cleaning the house. I haven’t once felt compelled to keep playing longer than I want to, or been subjected to anything frustrating. None of the stars I’ve gotten so far presented any insurmountable challenges– in fact, most stages have plenty of extra lives and safety nets so that it never really punishes you when you make a mistake. In addition to that all, at times, the game feels decidedly retro. It’s the closest thing to the pure, wonderful feeling that is solid 2-D platforming in a fully 3-D world. For instance, there are glass stars that you can run around inside and/or outside. There are puzzles that flip a tiny planetoids gravity for specific sections up or down, allowing you to run on ceilings or up walls. All of this is open. Much of it spherical. Completely 3-D, and yet, the concepts that stitch it all together feel as though they were taken directly from New Super Mario Bros. or Yoshi’s Island; all because of the way they shine in their simplicity. Gone are jumping puzzles where you’re fighting the camera. Now you’re wrapping your mind around satellites with core-centric gravity and cannons that should rays of colored light that you fly to your destination on. And, whenever you do fly to the next section, the game presents you with an effortless little joyride akin to Half-Life 2’s “vistas” (hauntingly beautiful post-apocalyptic stretches of terrain often situated strategically to “reward” players who had gotten past difficult or story line content) which gives you a few seconds of rest to breathe in the scenic stretches of each individual galaxy.

I had been thinking all this for a long time. Thinking it because the art direction is probably the best Nintendo’s ever put out. Ever. And then I went inside a room and suddenly the game was reading me a story about a little girl in a spaceship and a star looking for its mother.

It just feels so pure to play for fun again.

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Technical Image Press Association 2008 Awards

Posted in photography by 51future on April 28, 2008

TIPA 2008 Awards

Both Canon and Nikon put up a good showing at the awards, with (surprisingly) Sony up there as well…

Best “Advanced” Level D-SLR: Canon 450D

With its 12.2 megapixel sensor, an ISO rating between 100 and 1600, a responsive autofocus system and superb image quality, the Canon EOS 450D is an excellent camera to discover the next step in digital photography. Offered in kit form with an 18-55 mm f/3.5-5.6 lens, the camera boasts advanced features like Live View, and features an impressive LCD screen which accurately displays the model’s crisp, clean images. Both lightweight and compact, the EOS 450D is simple to use and fast, too, with a burst rate of 3.3 frames per second.

At $899.95 at BH Photo Video I’m not surprised this received an award. My 20D was $1299 new and it has an 8MP sensor and no auto-dust cleaning or live view functions. Great entry SLR.

Nikon nabbed the Best “Expert” D-SLR and the Best “Professional” D-SLR with their D300 and D30 respectively.

These cameras are incredible and at their price range they beat out anything and everything Canon has to offer. Additionally, I personally love the manual aperture control and huge back catalog of compatible Nikon F-Mount lenses on Nikon’s cameras.

Right now, I’m waiting for Canon to put out a weather sealed 5D Mk. II to compete with Nikon’s D300 before I invest in another camera, mostly because I already own a fair bit of Canon kit (about $2200 in Canon lenses as well as flash and some other doodads) that I don’t want to go through the trouble of getting rid of if I was to switch over to Nikon.

I was for a while considering investing in some Olympus kit (namely the E-3) because of Olympus’ great colors and fantastic Zuiko lenses

BSG: Secret Cylon Interview

Posted in TV by 51future on April 22, 2008

Battlestar Galactica’s Secret Cylons Tell All

So I didn’t believe it, I didn’t like it. I had actually said numerous times once we were shooting Battlestar Galactica, am I ever glad that I’m not playing a cylon. But over the four years that we’ve been doing this. The powers that be have never steered me wrong, I may have disagreed with them, and sometimes they go along with me.

No spoilers for anyone who’s been keeping up with Season 4. It’s probably even safe if you’ve seen as far as the last episode of Season 3…

I really wish I had someone to talk about BSG with. Season 4 is, right now, the best season so far, bar none. The production values are staggering. Rich, I say. And it’s far more interesting than the first few episodes of the latest season of LOST, in my opinion.

Meanwhile, after the scene in S04 E03, when Adama is reading out of a book entitled “11 Bullets” to Roslin, I’ve determined (along with a friend of mine) that there should be entire audio books read by Edward James Olmos. I can’t find a YouTube clip right now, but take my word for it– it was awesome.

Boreout?

Posted in work by 51future on April 21, 2008

Boreout at Work

Many workers are so ill at ease in the office that they spend a large part of the day simulating work. That generates more negative stress than excessive working. The result is serious but hidden depression in the office.

Boreout has been part of office life for the best part of a century. I remember while working for the Financial Times in the 1970s that colleagues developed an “Italian Jacket” system. A spare jacket, kept in the office, would be spread over the back of your chair, a half-drunk cup of coffee would be placed next to the phone – and you could disappear for a couple of hours. The Editor would assume that you were briefly elsewhere in the building.

All this sounds… familiar…

So I bought a Wii…

Posted in gaming by 51future on April 21, 2008

I finally bought a Wii.

Nintendo really rubbed me the wrong way for some reason when the Wii first came out. I was totally opposed to the idea of motion control (I’ve never been a huge fan of the DS and at the time I imagined that the Wii was just an extension of Nintendo’s fascination with alternate control schemes.) and there wasn’t anything that I was really dying to play, either.

Now, I wanted to play Super Mario Galaxy, but I didn’t want to pay $250 for the pleasure. Zelda: Twilight Princess rubbed me the wrong way too, mostly because I’ve never been a Zelda Zealot. (I don’t see myself as a Halo zealot either, but people who know me might disagree.) I was angry that the major Wii launch title was a rebadged Gamecube game. I took it personally.

In any case, here now, a year and a half later, I have a Wii sitting in my living room. Along with that, I have my initial thoughts.

Pros:

  • The Wii is small and sleek. It looks good under my television.
  • The UI is appealing.
  • Making Miis is more fun than I expected.
  • Motion control is neat but there are caveats…

Cons:

  • Internet is a PITA.
  • Motion control is finicky and there are no options.
  • Nintendo loves peripherals too much.
  • Nintendo tried to include everything, resulting in a frankenstein that does nothing very well.

My problem is that I have a Time Capsule and a MBP, both of which are wireless N compatible. The Wii, however, is a b/g device, so the first thing I did when I got home and hooked it up was to downgrade my network into a b/g/n network with WPA/WPA2 security. This was fine. The Wii connected without a problem. However, after setting up the Wii, it asked if I wanted to turn on “WiiConnect24.” This is the problem. If I turn on WiiConnect24, then my Wii will periodically connect to my wireless network, even when it’s off, and download firmware updates, weather station updates, etc. Every time it does this, my router kicks back into g mode and my network goes slower. Is this a huge problem? I’m not really sure. I use my Time Capsule for Time Machine backups from my MBP, but the HD inside of Time Capsule isn’t a speed demon, so I’m not sure if it even reaches N-speed throughput anyway, but if I’m running, say, torrents (as I often do) and Time Machine is trying to upload a new backup, the bandwidth is swamped, even in N-mode. So I’d really rather not have my Wii maintain a constant 24hr connection to my network, because then having N-compatible devices is just a waste.

The ridiculous part of all this is that my Wii isn’t able to just download the weather on demand or utilize any dashboard-level functions (Wii store, etc.) without WiiConnect24 on. Thanks Nintendo. Right now, I’m not sure why I even bothered to punch in the network details on my Wii– it doesn’t seem to be able to connect to the internet at all without WiiConnect24, but maybe I’m just missing something.

As far as motion control is concerned, because of the sensor bar, it’s all but impossible to sit even two feet away from directly in front of the TV. My Wii is in a tiny room and the only place where motion control works reliably is the bean bag 3 feet from the front of my TV– and only while sitting. The bluetooth in the wiimotes, on the other hand, works pretty reliably anywhere in the room.

I was disappointed that Nintendo felt it necessary to own a Wiimote for every accessory you want to connect, too. I had to go out to the store a second time to buy a second Wiimote for my second classic controller before I realized that the classic controllers are pretty terrible anyway and I decided I like the Nunchuck/Wiimote better in Brawl. The other problem with control is that there are 3 main ways to control any given game: Wiimote/Nunchuck, Classic Controller, and Gamecube Controller. Mario Kart Wii also has this plastic wheel that is apparently required to do stunts, as well. The problem with all these different control schemes is that, at least in Super Smash Brothers Brawl, there is no perfect control scheme. It’s hard as hell to utilize your shield and/or dodge using the classic controller and only marginally easier than the Wiimote/Nunchuck, which makes the game a lot harder to get into than it should be. The fact that I’m considering buying a used Gamecube control– that I’m stepping back an entire generation to find a suitable control scheme really says something about control in general on the Wii. I really like the feel of the Wiimote/Nunchuck, especially in Mario Kart, but even there it’s limited by the software just so that Nintendo could sell a few more plastic wheels. I don’t know what else to say. It sucks.

With all that said, I do like it. I like it a lot more than I expected I would. As far as a “party system” is concerned, I think the Wii is really where it’s at. If there were actually people here to play with (there are a few people here, and I did go through all of Subspace Emissary with someone else, but that’s for another entry) I think it would be a great system to rock out on with friends. It sort of represents the essence of gaming– innocent fun, compared to the Xbox or the PS3 which are closer to cultural platforms that you are compelled to follow and keep track of than they are to actually laughing, playing and having a good time. But I guess Mario Kart and Brawl– the way you play these games and the way they encourage four people to get together in the same room have as much to do with that as the Miis and the other gimmicks the Wii has to offer.

New MacHeist!

Posted in Apple by 51future on April 16, 2008

The MacHeist Retail Bundle Unboxed

There’s another bundle up at MacHeist which has a few worthwhile applications in it and from the sound of the email, might have another handful of surprises coming towards the end of the sale. (That is a referral link, by the way. Purchases through it benefit me… somehow. Feel free to use or ignore it.)

As an already registered member, we know you may own a lot of these apps, so in an effort to keep you interested, and involved in the world of Mac software, we’ve been hard at work putting together a truly awesome referral program. It’s time to call up those old friends… because this time around, we will be unveiling multiple tiers of software prizes, each crammed with several options. Take your pick, and have fun as always.

I’d definitely recommend Awaken if you’re in the market for alarm software. I wake up to it everyday and the only time it has ever failed me was actually my fault. There’s no slicker, more reliable alarm clock out there, as far as I’m concerned.

Coversutra is a neat little application that I’ve started using somewhat frequently since I picked it up in the last MacHeist bundle. It works best if you have a well organized iTunes library and it integrates with last.fm, if you’re into that. (I don’t really get last.fm, but that’s for another entry, really.)

I got a bit of use out of Wallet when I got it free from the Mac Giving Tree, (a December extension of MacHeist) but I’ve since replaced it with 1Password, which quickly became one of the most useful applications on my Mac.

Devonthink Personal looks interesting and I’m actually going to download a demo today and see what there is to see. It’s one of those “organize everything here” database applications which appeal to the side of me that hates dealing with Firefox’s bookmarks menu. The trial apparently has “150 hours of non-continuous runtime” which sounds like plenty of time to evaluate it. (6.25 Days? Hmm…) Really though, the important thing to remember is that if Devonthink ends up being worthwhile, the bundle is nearly worth that application alone, given that the bundle is $49.95 and Devonthink Personal is $39.95.

Then there’s XSlimmer. I’ve considered purchasing this several times in the past because the idea of smaller applications that launch more quickly appeals to me, even if I can’t slim WoW’s binaries.

And finally, while Writeroom is probably a fine full-screen text editor, I’d personally recommend Scrivener. Scrivener has even more robust full-screen text editing capabilities than Writeroom, along with an indispensable creative-works centric organizational GUI that makes doing any creative writing a joy, rather than a chore.

Most of these apps are old hat and/or already in my applications folder, but anybody who missed out on the MH bundles in the past might find this bundle worth the cash.

Legendary Maps: Initial Impressions

Posted in gaming by 51future on April 15, 2008

Lockout\'s Back!

Lockout is back and it’s blacker than ever.

The map itself remains true to the original. Spatially, a lot of individual rooms (shotgun gauntlet, sniper basement, radial basement) have returned and become much roomier and larger than before. They still manage to feel claustrophobic and not-big-enough once the firefights start though. As far as the shotgun gauntlet is concerned, they’ve added some small antechambers at the entrance to the lift room that you can hide in and ambush people going in and out of the tunnel. At the same time, they’ve turned the ramps there into staircases which makes bouncing grenades out if you’re found a lost cause. All in all though, in gameplay the tunnel feels like less of a deathtrap, which is a nice change.

A lot of the walkways now have lips to them (more on all of this, along with photos in the detailed impressions later) which make cut down on willy-nilly grenades and make it less likely your ambush will be defeated by sheer luck.

The small walkway above the sniper tower that used to have a lip over it, resulting in a great hiding spot is now just a pipe attached to a building. You can still walk on it, but you’re not longer completely hidden up there like it used to be.

In forge you can place two vehicles: ghosts and mongooses, along with a mancannon, but the low artificial ceilings limit the cannon’s usefulness. You can block off entrances and exits with shield doors, if you want to remake the bottom of Snowbound.

All in all, my first impression is that they took Lockout, rebuilt it from scratch, removed the exploits (super-jumping, namely) and polished off a few of the rough edges (curbing the usefulness of grenade diarrhea in a firefight, etc.). They also simplified a lot of the jumps (center to sniper, radial walkway to big tower basement walkway (near the sword) and added in a few new ones which require a little more skill (big tower radial ramp to upper center walkway).

I played one game on it, and I have to say, this might be what brings me back to Halo 3 from Call of Duty 4 and keeps me there.

It\'s Not Turf...

Ghost Town seems like a lot of fun too. While I don’t have as much to say about it as I do about Lockout (Lockout was “my map,” just as it was “my map” for all sorts of Halo 2 players). Ghost Town is a slight bit larger than Lockout. It felt like it would make a good 8-10 player Slayer map and maybe less for objective games. It has a ton of nooks and crannies, a rocket spawn on default, a sniper rifle, and even a mongoose.

It has an urban feel reminiscent of Turf without all the bullshit. The layout is asymmetrical and seems to sort of revolve around a large, broken structure in the middle surrounded by a good assortment of dark, lower drainage pipe tunnels, broken scaffolding sniper perches, and multi-level structures with a wide variety of entrances and exits. Throughout the game I played on Ghost Town, I always felt like I had both a wide variety of attack venues as well as a number of escape paths, should the shit hit the fan. The worst position is the overgrown street level, but even there there’s ample cover and a Mongoose kicking around, if it comes to that.

We didn’t do much in Forge here besides trying to crack the softwalls on the top of the map by stacking ramps (this turned out to be impossible). However, in both this map and in Avalanche, which I’m not going to get to in this post because I didn’t actually play a game on it (Forge’d it though), there were a few bits of strange geometry that felt like they should have put invisible walls or kill zones on, even though they didn’t.

And really, I’m all for it. Besides a few initial qualms and lingering fears over how Blackout’s lighting is going to shake down, I think I’m most upset that in order to combat griefers Bungie had to go to great lengths to artificially box the new levels in, preventing a lot of mancannon shenanigans.

The Static Grey Yonder

Posted in Blogs, internet by 51future on April 15, 2008

Procrastination and You

On a Carleton Internet questionnaire, North American respondents said they spent an average 3.5 hours on the Internet and nearly half of it procrastinating. Tim says the 2001 study probably underestimates today’s online procrastination by a factor of three.

Or, using new vocabulary: “Cyberslacking” is producing “mouse potatoes” stressed by “cyberguilt.”

Monday Smorgasbord

Posted in Gadgetry, gaming, internet, News by 51future on April 14, 2008

The government seems to be having some problems with their robot killing machines that have apparently set the program back 10 to 20 years. Sounds like something out of, I don’t know… BSG?

——–

Meanwhile, in WoW the Oceanic server problems continue. Blizzard is apparently monitoring the situation and trying to adjust the “background processes” that 2.4 introduced server-side in order to do… something. The real question here (that no one at Blizzard will ever answer) is: Why did these processes get the green light to run at Oceanic peak times?

(Blizzard Customer Service Rep) Syndri has come out and said that after 12 days of lag and issues, there is still no fix. They are still working on it. That means that they have a team assigned to diagnose the problems and try to fix them. Syndri even acknowledges the severity of the situation, in that the issues are affecting hundreds of thousands of customers.

It’s actually been about 3 weeks rather than 12 days, and as Oceanic players we’ve always had to deal with latency because our servers are in California, rather than in a locale near their player base. Maintenance also happens during the Oceanic prime time, so there’s basically one day a week where we can’t play at all. In any case, I think it’s sort of irresponsible for Blizzard to say that this issue is severe, especially considering that for those “hundreds of thousands of customers” a few servers in Australia or Korea is entirely out of the question. Thanks for nothing, Blizz.

——–

The last thing that caught my eye this morning is this: Light Emitting Wallpaper to be previewed at Salone Internazionale del Mobile.

I’ve always been interested in what I like to callwallforms and given that I don’t really have a place right now that feels permanent, I can’t wait to see this new luminescent wallpaper for sale. I think I’m in love.

The Internet is Not Quite Yet Ubiquitous

Posted in Apple, internet by 51future on April 13, 2008

Gartner Says Vista Will Collapse; Google Apps Are Where It’s At

For most early adopters (and all Mac users), the browser is increasingly the only operating system that matters anyway. Windows isn’t really that relevant any more just because of the increasing utility of online applications like Google Docs, which competes with Microsoft Office. Vista could be perfect and it still wouldn’t matter. The fact that it is flawed only makes the situation worse.

I think I’m supposed to come away from this article with the idea in my head that Mac users do the majority of their computing in their browser? Or I suppose he was trying to say that Mac users have no use for Vista? Well, that makes a little more sense, I guess… Still– stupid.

The idea that Google Apps, and say, Photoshop Express, are supposed to replace Photoshop and iWorks is just plain stupid. I don’t know anyone who feels comfortable enough computing online that they’d go so far as ditch Vista or OS X to compute entirely on a barebones, browser-based OS. Not only are there reasons to write off the grid (intellectual property, anyone?) but things like page layout, RAW editing, and hundreds of other processor-intensive tasks aren’t being replaced by AJAX and javascript any time soon.