Trouble Thinking

November 29, 2010

On the Value of Humanity

Filed under: News — Tags: , , , , — Chris @ 6:54 pm

I’ve spent most of the day working on and off on an article about what makes up personal taste in art, through the lens of discovering or rediscovering music by artists I had previously written off as not to my liking. I’m excited about the material, but I just can’t get the essay to work the way I want to, so I’ve decided to shelve it for the time being. That’s alright; it works out like that sometimes. Hopefully I can clean it up and make use of it soon. Fortunately, I’ve found something else to write about.

As you can probably guess from the fact that I used the phrase “through the lens of” up there, I have a BA in English Literature. It can get tiring defending my field of study, and those like it, as “not useless,” especially in the face of stories like this: SUNY Albany, in an effort to save money, is cutting five of its humanities programs.

Now, I could write a lengthy, cutting editorial on why this is a misguided decision, but fortunately Gregory Petsko, a Professor of Biochemistry and Chemistry from Brandeis University, has already done so—and far, far more effectively than I could have ever dreamed. If you have any opinion whatsoever regarding the continued teaching of humanities at the collegiate level, you need to read this. Not only is it a striking, well composed defense of the humanities from a scientist’s perspective, it is also the academic equivalent of a sick burn. An excerpt, for your elucidation:

“You could fix the enrollment problem tomorrow by instituting a mandatory core curriculum that included a wide range of courses.

Young people haven’t, for the most part, yet attained the wisdom to have that kind of freedom without making poor decisions. In fact, without wisdom, it’s hard for most people. That idea is thrashed out better than anywhere else, I think, in Dostoyevsky’s parable of the Grand Inquisitor, which is told in Chapter Five of his great novel, The Brothers Karamazov. In the parable, Christ comes back to earth in Seville at the time of the Spanish Inquisition. He performs several miracles but is arrested by Inquisition leaders and sentenced to be burned at the stake. The Grand Inquisitor visits Him in his cell to tell Him that the Church no longer needs Him. The main portion of the text is the Inquisitor explaining why. The Inquisitor says that Jesus rejected the three temptations of Satan in the desert in favor of freedom, but he believes that Jesus has misjudged human nature. The Inquisitor says that the vast majority of humanity cannot handle freedom. In giving humans the freedom to choose, Christ has doomed humanity to a life of suffering.

That single chapter in a much longer book is one of the great works of modern literature. You would find a lot in it to think about. I’m sure your Russian faculty would love to talk with you about it – if only you had a Russian department, which now, of course, you don’t.”

Hell yes. That’s just a taste. Read the rest. It’s good for you.

Arcen Games Massive 60% Off Sale!

Filed under: Game News — Tags: , , , , , — Durandal @ 5:09 pm

So, I haven’t actually posted about one of my favorite new games, AI War.

It is, without a doubt, a game that I will play for the better part of a decade. It is engaging, strategically interesting, and offers a ridiculous amount and variety of content that manages to actually add to instead of simply cluttering the experience. It’s truly a gem, the equal-but-opposite of Super Meat Boy in that it takes the reasonably complicated nature of the modern RTS and instead of trimming the fat, adds tons and tons of amazing new meat that is so delicious you need to eat it because oh man it’s so cool.

Sorry, Thanksgiving leftovers on the mind.

But I’m not posting a huge rant about AI War just yet. I’m posting to say that Arcen Games, the people behind this ridiculously wonderful piece of software, are offering all of their stuff for 60% off. You can purchase (spectacular beautiful fun wonderful) AI War and the extensive expansions, as well as their intriguing puzzler Tidalis for a combined $20. If you’re a big old wuss-pants cheapo jerkface, you can just pick up AI War for $8 or Tidalis for $4.

Both of their games easily integrate with Steam and have achievements, are DRM free, and are excellent. Give them your money, you jerks. I want them flush with cash and making new games. Give them all of your money or I will never ever speak to you again without berating you.

November 25, 2010

Thanksgiving!

Filed under: News — Tags: , — Durandal @ 11:36 am

Man, it is Thank-you times, get off the computer. Jeez.

 

Okay okay, here’s a thing um

 

 

Man, those poor little Spider-Man wranglers. Their costumes aren’t even a thing, they’re just red and blue.

 

Also! Don’t forget to try deep-frying a frozen turkey. It looks awesome, particularly on a wooden deck. Happy Thanksgiving!

November 22, 2010

Bear: Read the Whole Thing.

Filed under: Comics — Tags: , , — Durandal @ 9:39 pm

This is a quick, clever comic that anyone with a decent childhood should figure out by the last page. It really is spectacular.

It’s by the incredibly talented Jeff Parker, who wrote one of the comics Chris really liked: Age of the Sentry, and one of my favorite recent comics: Guess How Soon Agents of Atlas Will Be Canceled This Time

(more…)

November 20, 2010

Strange new world.

Filed under: Computers, Interesting Things — Tags: , , — Katherine Barclay @ 8:25 pm

So, I’ve always liked computers. I’ve always been one of those fixypeople, the ones you ask when something’s gone wrong with your technology and you can’t quite figure out why – I’m the girl who either solves it for you, or lets you know you’ve got an actual problem problem on your hands and should really ask someone who knows that the hell they’re doing, like Durandal. I’m pretty good at things like codecs, and updated drivers, and turning it off and on and plugging it in again, and kicking it when nothing else works.

For all of that, though, there’s always been this large, sturdy brick wall between me and actually understanding what goes on inside the case of that technological devil that bewitches us all. I knew that motherboards had very little to do with maternal instinct, and that video cards made things look good, and that some processors are faster or slower than other ones, which is either good or bad … When it came down to it, though, all of the hardware in my computer basically just looked like a tangle of wires that would probably electrocute me to death if I looked at it the wrong way, or tried to stick my hand in where it didn’t belong.

Until a few days ago, when I built my own computer.

I’ve been living in a laptop, you see — a pretty good laptop, definitely considering when I bought it, but still small, and limited, and growing older by the second. Games that used to be nice and shiny now play like they’re running through molasses, and that’s with the graphics settings dropped to minimum. So, I’ve wanted a nice new desktop for a while, but I  figured while I was moving around from school to other places it didn’t make sense to spontaneously acquire some giant hulking thing that breaks your back to carry down five flights of stairs. Now, though, I’m reasonably more settled, and just so happen to have some friends with extra parts lying around, parts that they decided they were willing to sell to me at awesome prices to get me the computer I’ve been craving.

There was only one condition: they weren’t going to work for free, or at all, so I had to make the thing myself. And, I had to understand what I was doing while I was doing it.

You can be sure, I looked at them as though they were stark raving mad when that ultimatum was first set down: I don’t do hardware, I never have; I don’t know what a gigahert(z?) is or what clocks have to do with speed or how going over one could be a good thing … to suggest that a random civilian could acquire such knowledge is insane.

Well, apparently crazy works for me, because I have to say, I haven’t had as much fun in an embarrassingly long time. Sitting at a workstation with a slightly condescending friend pointing out every blinking light on the motherboard, I suddenly felt everything click into place. All those things I thought I just couldn’t understand, like what BIOS was or why a dual-core processor isn’t the same as a quad-core one, began to make sense. Suddenly, I know what a heat sink is, and why they’re useful, and why the one I have isn’t as good as it could be, and I get it.

It kind of makes me wonder what exactly was stopping me from figuring all of those out before, honestly. But aside from that little bit of self-chiding, it feels like an entirely new world has been opened to me. Like my ball and chain went from being a mystery box to a device with regular, predictable means of operation, with parts that intersect in logical ways. When my dvd drive stopped working, I opened up the case, checked, found that the cables weren’t properly connecting because my video card was putting a bit of a strain on them, fixed it, closed the case, and had it work again when I turned my computer on.

Which is probably more impressive when one notes that my previous response to that situation would have been to stare in confusion, and wait for a man to come and rescue me.

It’s liberating, and empowering, and just a little bit frightening … but at the end of it all, I have a computer that can play Batman, so I have to fucking win!

November 17, 2010

Child’s Play

Filed under: News — Tags: , , , — Durandal @ 11:07 pm

Child’s Play is a charity that brings entertainment to sick little kids. And not the shitty Patch Adams kind. They give the real shit: videogames.

You really shouldn’t need any further inducement to click that and give some poor cancer-ridden kid Super Mario. It’s an absolutely unarguable good.

It’s a very simple process, too! You just click whatever hospital you like on their map, then you buy things from an Amazon wish list and they get sent to the hospital. The list covers everything vaguely entertaining for children from 0-18, so you get to pick out an assortment of toys/games/consoles/books/etc. Each item has a wanted/ordered number attached, so you know what’s in high demand. Last year I got some of my favorite books from when I was a child and a couple of the Pokemon games. I think what makes it resonate with me is a very selfish personal understanding of how awesome it would have been to get a DS when I was 10.

From the site:

Q: What is Child’s Play?
A: Child’s Play is a Seattle based, gamer-run organization that holds an annual toy drive for childrens’ hospitals. Many of the gifts donated by gamers are, as you might imagine, age appropriate videogames and gaming systems – but they are by no means the only things donated. We received eager donations of coloring books, art supplies, crafts, movies, cartoons, virtually anything a young person could ask for. We asked the world-wide community of gamers, and they gave so much we had to move to larger storage facilities three separate times.

Our 2008 drive raised over 1.4 million dollars in toys and cash for 60 children’s hospitals around the US and the world, putting the community’s total contribution level since our inception at the five million dollar mark.

Q: Who is behind Child’s Play?
A: Child’s Play was started by Mike Krahulik and Jerry Holkins of the online comic strip Penny Arcade, which concerns itself with videogames and gamer culture.

Q: Why did Penny-Arcade create Child’s Play?
A: Giving hundreds of thousands of dollars worth of toys to children in long-term care is its own reward. Past that, it’s a way to show a different side of people who play videogames as a hobby.

Q: How does Child’s Play work?
A: We have partnered with Amazon.com, which hosts a series of “Wish Lists” stocked with toys the hospitals have requested, as well as age appropriate videogames and game systems selected by Child’s Play. Simply choose the hospital nearest you from our interactive map at http://www.childsplaycharity.org and the toys you purchase will be delivered directly. We also accept cash donations via Paypal to childsplaycharity@childsplaycharity.org, which will be used to buy additional equipment and split amongst the hospitals in this year’s drive.

Q: Where can I find more information about Child’s Play and its creators?
A: We welcome you to visit our online hub at http://www.childsplaycharity.org. Take advantage of the interactive map, choose the town nearest you and give a gift.

The charity runs with incredibly low administrative fees, too. That’s a really nice guarantee that your dollar is actually going to help someone instead of the salary of someone running the charity. So click on one of these links and buy some kid stuck in a hospital for Christmas whatever thing made your tiny little brain light up when you were seven.

 

November 15, 2010

Indie Games Winter Uprising!

Filed under: Game News — Tags: , , , , — Durandal @ 2:48 pm

So the tiny little brother of X-Box Live Arcade, the X-Box Indie Games Store, has had a slightly checkered history.

The good part about the store is that it allows people without the time, inclination or resources to make a full-featured XBLA game to make something and put it in front of a wide audience. There are some really fun games on the service, and usually for a crazy cheap price-point. The games I’ve purchased on the Indie Games Store ran me 80 Microsoft points, or $1. That’s less than an awful cup of coffee. And the games are all actually pretty impressive! Fun, low-budget, usually experimentalist, and well worth a try. If you’ve got a 360, I heartily recommend any of the RadianGames games, all of which have been a good shoot-em-up time, as well as “Breath of Death VII: The Beginning”, a comedic RPG that manages to recapture the fun of the SNES style RPGs without recapturing the insane grind and boredom.

There’s one problem with the Indie Games Store, though: It allows people without the time, inclination, or resources to make a barely acceptable game to put their stuff out there. The games on it are, in the main, spectacularly bad. The ones I bought, which I do love, represent 1/1,000th of the content available. There are a dozen variations on “Massage”, which is a “game” where you press a button and your controller vibrates. A depressing amount of the content is comprised of exact clones of existing games, repeated over and over as each individual hack decides that it would be totally awesome to remake Brick Out.

But good news! A collection of developers, tired of the generally slipshod nature of the content being released on the Indie Games store, have banded together to offer a pretty sweet promotion. The Indie Games Winter Uprising is a timed release of a collection of a staggering 14 titles from top-notch developers that actually put effort into the things they make. With the average price a dollar per game, it is pretty much impossible to go wrong here.

The Lineup!

Soulcaster 2: Equal parts dungeon crawler, strategy and adventure, MagicalTimeBean’s follow-up to the critically-acclaimed Soulcaster features an all-new set of worlds to explore and a soundtrack glossed in late-80’s redbook audio excess. Also: exploding skeletons.

Cthulhu Saves the World: The next RPG from the creators of the popular parody RPG, Breath of Death VII: The Beginning, Cthulhu Saves the World features a new 16-bit visual style, a fantastic soundtrack, sophisticated yet streamlined gameplay, and an epic tale of insanity, romance, and redemption. Save the world to destroy it!

RadianGames Crossfire 2: Crossfire 2 features all new upgrades and weapons systems, along with two main modes. Play through Conquest mode with a friend and save your progress through 60 all-new waves and new enemy types, or play Score Attack and match your best scores against your friends and the world.

Chu’s Dynasty: Chu’s Dynasty combines the strategic fighting of street-fighter with the multi-tiered 4 player mayhem of super-smash brothers. Chu’s then adds a new twist to the genre with time manipulation. Over 2 years in the making.

Alpha Squad: Alpha Squad is an adventure game that has mechanics primarily used in dual-stick shooters, to keep the action fast and heavy as you explore the world and its characters. Up to 4 player co-op, a customizable storyline, large world, unforgettable weapons, music from Stemage of Metroid Metal, and art from industry veterans.

Epic Dungeon: The ultimate dungeon crawling experience! Multiple character classes and fast paced gameplay make Epic Dungeon one of the most enjoyable roguelikes to date.

Break Limit: Prepare to go mind-numbingly fast as you Blast, Smash and Break Limit through every one and thing in your way! Featuring classic arcade style play – will you survive to be the champion of our online scoreboard, or will you end up a grease spot on the first asteroid you see?

Decimation X3: The thrilling sequel to one of the most popular shooters on the service features insane firepower and pure arcade action. From the creators of Duality ZF (coming soon to XBLA).

Asteroids Do Concern Me: Test your piloting skills in this addictive one button action game. Featuring five different modes of asteroid dodging fun. The odds of surviving this game are 3720 to 1. Have you got the minerals?

Hypership Out of Control: Space is a dangerous placed for even the most seasoned starship pilot, full of asteroids, multicolored floating blocks, and space mines. It’s even more dangerous when you your accelerator is stuck to the floor and your brakes are out. Can you survive long enough to get that elusive high score or are you destined to add a new crater to the face of an unsuspecting asteroid? Find out in this retro gaming tour de force featuring 10 Waves (forward and backwards), 5 game modes, 1 to 4 player co-op, and online high scores.

Aphelion: Wings of Omega: The conclusion to one of the most popular RPG franchises on XBox Live Indie Games, players will reprise the role of Savion Mercarte as they pick up where Episode One: Graves of Earth left off. Featuring numerous new features and enhancements like improved animations, more side quests and optional content, faster paced combat, a new playable character, and much, much more!

ZP2KX: Zombies and Pterodactyls!: In a dystopian future where humans love guns and zombies just want to be left alone, the pterodactyls have seen to it that everyone has to be miserable together. Take your jetpack online and splatter some fools with blades, guns, grenades, and other instruments of mayhem. Earn XP, level up, unlock features, clothes, and skills! Build awesome classes! From the developer of I MAED A GAM3 W1TH Z0MB1ES!!!1 1NIT!!!1 and The Dishwasher: Dead Samurai.

Ubergridder: You are in deep space, and nasty one-eyed tentacle toting aliens have broken your spaceship. Help Robert the maintenance robot repair the spaceship, one grid at a time.

Rickenbacker vs. the Aliens: Rickenbacker vs the Aliens is a cel shaded 2D shooter where you fly Eddie Rickenbacker’s SPAD against a relentless enemy rendered in a 1930’s movie serial style. Bomb ground targets as you defend yourself against an arial barrage, fighting your way to victory for Earth.

Look for all of these on your console this winter! Together we can get something besides Massage apps.

November 11, 2010

There’s Always a New Way to Waste Time: The KoL Edition

Filed under: Game Reviews — Tags: , — Mrs. Orange @ 6:37 pm

(So before I even begin, I’ll just preface with the fact that I know this game has been out since 2003, but I only heard of it recently. Nuts to you if you already know about it. As with any bandwagon, I am always one of the last to hop on.)

So last Thursday or Friday or whatever it was, I was bored. It happens. I had my Simpsons DVD playing through in the background and a glass a red wine in my hand, but I wanted something more. I proceeded to go on the prowl for entertainment.

“I’m bored,” I whined to my friend. In an effort to quickly get rid of me, he linked me to a game called “Kingdom of Loathing,” (or KoL) a browser-based multiplayer role-playing game. On the home page were little drawings of stick figures. Adorable.

Now, knowing that I am predisposed to online-game addiction, I decided to tread lightly. I tentatively made a “Disco Bandit” (one of six classes that also includes “Sea Clubber” and “Pastamancer”) and start my adventuring in this crudely drawn kingdom.

That's-a me

Verdict: Oh, you guys, it’s just ridiculously fun and funny. The puns! There’s a place called “Degrassi Knoll” which I can appreciate as someone who knows both American history AND Canadian teenage television dramas! Something for everyone!

And you only have a limited number of “adventures” you can use a day, so addiction is more or less successfully warded off. Sure, you’re supposed to advance the story line by doing quests or whatever, but, for me, it’s all about the journey, man.

By far, my favorite place to spend adventures is the Haiku Dungeon, where a battle can go something like this:

A slacker in black,

he dropped out of ninja school.

He’s deadly… sort of.

Before you’re ready

The fiend starts beating on you.

So much for sneaking.

Wind through the bamboo

Cherry blossoms slowly fall

He fails to attack.

Now I’d love to try and sell you guys more on the game, but I’ve got more adventures to spend. However, I will close with this victory haiku:

Know what time it is?

Time for a victory dance!

And the winner is you.

November 10, 2010

British Libel Reform: BAM ZIP POW!

Filed under: News — Tags: , , , — Durandal @ 2:00 pm

So, this has just come to my attention: In Great Britain, libel law is really really expensive to contest, and requires the person being accused to prove it wasn’t libel. So that’s pretty awful. But what makes it actually relevant to my own interests is that apparently you can be sued in British courts no matter where or how you published your possibly libelous work.

For those of you who don’t know what “libel” is, it is basically “shit-talking”. Now, if I were to shit-talk a public figure, generally that’s protected speech in the US. After all, a public figure is known to millions and probably has more than the capacity to defend themselves from a statement of ill intent by some random person from Podunkville. It only becomes an issue when said shit-talkery actually negatively impacts the other person or business interest. So for instance, I can say “Coke tastes bad” in practically any form I wish. But saying “Coca-Cola definitely actually contains rat poison in every tenth bottle” and then printing it in every newspaper in the US would probably cross the line.

 

Or maybe not

 

The British go a bit farther. Like, they go basically to the place on the map where things like “here be monsters” and “what the fuck are you thinking” are scribbled in the margins. There’s the whole aformentioned “Guilty until proven innocent” thing, which is a big red flag to start with. But it gets pretty steadily worse. Cases are brought to court in Britain on the flimsiest of causes. If literally a single copy of your book/article/paper has been sold anywhere in Britain, it is likely that whatever rich person you pissed off will be suing you there. And you’ll probably be confused as to why these funny-accented people in wigs aren’t responding to your Jack McCoy voice. There is no Jack McCoy in Britain, man. That’s why British Law & Order is so weird. The great part is, even if you have your day in court and win, you might have to leverage yourself deep into debt. The average libel case takes years to resolve, as well as millions of dollars.

It’s been used to great effect by a variety of con-men who realized that you can’t really prove that Deep Tissue Chiropractic Aqua-Massage doesn’t do anything, and you need to pay for that accusation.

Now why this has a bit of personal relevance to me is that this spectacular wonderland of horrifically unfair legal process is now open not just to people who have published works that might once have flown over Britain. See, the law hasn’t really changed since before the internet. Say, for instance, I write an article called “The Queen Isn’t Very Great At All”. Now, if I press “publish” to the right of me here, and this is readable in Britain… does that count as publishing a work in Britain? Well, yeah. According to the batshit legal process currently in place, it does. In fact, writing any comment on the internet counts. And you might be thinking “oh but, that’s insane. If yankeefan56 posts ‘Wal-mart is a tool of our lizard overseers, death to the machine!’ it is pretty obviously not libelous. No one listens to him!” Well, first of all apologize to yankeefan56. We appreciate all of our commenters here at Trouble Thinking and that crossed the line. Second of all, remember that part about “guilty until proven innocent”. If someone with money wants to make your life hell, you can be dragged into court over the most inane forum post, and be required to mount a defense and pay legal fees.

I am honestly not joking, from the site libelreform.org:

Lawyers for the football club and seven of its directors launched legal action against the proprietors of an independent Sheffield Wednesday Football Club supporters website, Owlstalk.co.uk, over 11 messages about the club’s board and management, which had been posted on the site’s discussion board. The site is freely accessible, but those who post on it have to register their details, and give themselves a pseudonym by which they are then known.

In a separate case, supporter Nigel Short received warning letters from the club over comments he made on Owlstalk.co.uk in February 2006. The club rejected Short’s offer of an apology, and pursued him for damages. Short was able to recruit George Davies Solicitors to fight his case, and eventually the club backed down, paying his legal costs. However, Short suffered two years of legal wrangling, during which time he lived in fear of bankruptcy.

You read that right. A couple of fans shit-talking about the losing streak their favorite team was on got sued by the management because that is how you solve a PR problem, dammit. People’s lives were upended because they had posted the equivalent of “Haha, man do the pats blow this year.” on a public site under a pseudonym.

Basically what I am saying is: if you are in Britain and can do anything at all to help reform your completely insane local practices, do it. If you are not currently a major player in the British legal system, then go to libelreform.org and put your name on the list. Yes, internet petitioning is probably useless, but it also can’t hurt. At the least read up on the facts of the matter so that you can complain about the issue to any person with a funny accent you meet.

November 8, 2010

Co-Optimus: A Valuable Resource for Synchronized Time-Wasting

Filed under: Uncategorized — Tags: , , , — Durandal @ 1:51 pm

Co-Optimus!

So I love playing games. Anyone who has read more than two articles here has probably seen me update about some new shiny bit of code that you simply must try. I’m at least half responsible for the success of Minecraft, but I’m too generous to push the issue of payment.

One of the things I most enjoy about playing games, though, is the opportunity to have fun with friends. I cut my teeth being beaten to death in Street Fighter, losing constantly in Mario Kart, and accidentally killing myself with rockets in Quake. I played Gears of War 1 and 2 three times a piece. I don’t even think Gears of War is particularly amazing, I just loved being able to cut a swathe through Bad Dudes with a pal. It’s also nice that in general playing something cooperatively means that you can bring a person who isn’t particularly “into” games along for the ride instead of telling them to hit the road or just watch you have fun. I like that co-op allows you to include people in your hobby.

It’s not that I mind playing a game alone, to see a story or challenge myself to get through an entertainingly difficult experience. It’s just that at a certain point it starts to feel like going to the movies alone.

Particularly as friends age, and you get into relationships more complicated than “our parents know each other/you have an SNES”, it’s difficult to keep that sort of constant contact and shared knowledge that allows you to play together easily. I mean, I posted a few times about being excited for “Brink” – and I am – but what are the odds that 5-6 of my friends will plunk down $60 as well? What are the odds that if they aren’t really excited by it as well, they’ll spend money on it simply so that they can get in a couple hours of play time a couple times a week? It’s like trying to play pick-up basketball only everyone needs to bring their own ball and balls cost $60. It is a difficult situation to manage.

That is why I’m a big fan of Co-Optimus! It is a website dedicated to co-op games, particularly ones that let you play together without competing. It’s a great compendium of games that will allow you and anyone else you know have fun. The list can be easily sorted by type, rating, system, local or online, whatever you might need. I heartily recommend checking it out, and seeing which games you can play with other people! There’s no reason you should allow goddamn Monopoly to be the only game you’ve enjoyed with your friends. That’s just a crime.

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