Trouble Thinking

May 31, 2011

Why Haven’t You Read Rice Boy?

Filed under: Comics, The Internet — Tags: , , , , , , , — Durandal @ 10:48 am

What?

No, fuck you. You don’t get to just not know about it, that’s what people say when what they mean is “I am a worse human being than I could be, but I’m also so bad and lazy that I won’t fix it bleeeeeeh”. You sound like that. “Bleeeeeh”, yeah it’s disgusting.

Rice Boy is a comic by Evan Dahm that makes comics on the internet worth keeping. It justifies all the hundreds of poorly draw retreads of ancient joke c0nstructions that are trying to be the next Penny Arcade. It’s a massive, interesting, well paced fantasy story starring a little person with no arms or legs, just a sort of well… just a sort of rice boy I guess.

Yeah I don't know how he's picking that fruit.

The art begins and for the most part remains weird and sort of developing. I mean the main character is basically a sketch, and many people are drawn with varying levels of detail. But at the same time it’s so confident that it’s difficult to tell whether certain things look odd due to inability to draw them any other way or due to a stylistic choice. The artwork quickly becomes a defining aspect of the story, helping to characterize the world and the people in it in a manner far more effective than simply attempting to be “realistic” would.

The story, briefly, is about a prophesy and the person who is supposed to fulfill it. It is almost exactly a Hero’s Journey, and plays out in a manner that will be familiar to anyone who’s read Lord of the Rings. But the unique aspects of the story come in the little details about a strange world and the people in it, and in the surprising emotional connections a skilled writer can create using characters that are incredibly foreign. I mean only a few people in the story even have the ability to display human emotions effectively.

The whole thing, about 450 pages, is available online. And that’s only the start! He’s got a bunch of short stories and another complete epic: “The Order of Tales“, as well as a new ongoing called “Vattu“, all of which are really awesome.

Plus, his new stuff has some even more interesting and sweet-looking art.

May 27, 2011

Ubisoft Steam Sale

Filed under: Game News — Tags: , , , , , , , — Durandal @ 10:52 am

Okay, Steam is like 3 days into a sale of Ubisoft products. Don’t worry, you didn’t miss much actually shoot Trackmania might have been up your ally… hm. Well, summer sales are coming up so who knows maybe you can grab it cheap then.

Anyways! Right now, Far Cry and Farcry 2 for $2.50 and $5.00 respectively. Good price, I’ve heard great things about them. In about 3 hours I’ll update with the newest sale. EDIT: The new sale is Brothers in Arms: The Road to Hill 30, Hell’s Highway, and Earned in Blood for $2.50, $5.00 and $2.50 respectively. Also Star Trek Online is the Daily Deal for $3.75. It’s the Deluxe Edition which I suppose means there is a bunch of extra useless bullshit that is kinda fun anyways. It’s also got the update/expansion Season 2 included. So there you are! More deals this weekend.

But that’s not what I’m here to talk about. I’m here to talk about AI War. The game I constantly mention without really expanding upon. And in keeping with that: Just go buy it it’s half-off and now ten fucking dollars. You can afford that if you can afford to keep yourself clean enough to read this on the public computers in the library.

It is a Real Time Strategy game that emphasizes single-player and co-op. It’s deep as hell, it’s got crazy varied gameplay, the expansions (also $10, for the lot) are all nice big interesting contributions to the game that add new layers of strategy.

I won’t lie. It’s ugly, and it’s off-putting at first. But if you’re into strategy on a grand scale, it does the weird stuff for you. There’s a demo!

If you’re super not into that sort of thing but you do like puzzle games, boy howdy do I have the best news. Tidalis is another Arcen game that is basically what you’d get if someone made Bejeweled only with a more interesting basic matching gimmick and an almost literally infinite variation in gametypes and gameplay. It’s seriously crazy. I’ve played hours of it and at some point I realized that I was insane for trying to “get through” the game. There’s a campaign, yes, but the campaign is just a series of levels that say “here you go, here’s a new setup for the board that you could try playing maybe forever.” And they all work, forever. It’s seriously the last puzzle game you’ll ever need, after Spacechem. And it’s five dollars for christ’s sake.

Saudi Woman Campaigns for Right To Drive

Filed under: News — Tags: , , , , , — Durandal @ 10:07 am

This is a pretty interesting thing. Manal al Sharif, a Saudi Arabian woman,  is arranging a “mass drive” on the 17th of June and encouraging other women to learn how to drive as part of a protest movement she’s helped popularize that is looking to make it socially acceptable for women to drive in Saudi Arabi. Apparently, it’s not actually illegal to drive if you’re a woman in Saudi Arabia, it’s just that you’ll get arrested if you drive and you’re also a woman As the video below from Al Jazeera English explains, there’s nothing actually codified in the law of the land that says a female driver is committing a crime, it’s just that there’s a religious proscription against it and a general cultural agreement that they shouldn’t. Plus, separate religious police will arrest you I suppose. It seems like a terrifying system.

Women are also disallowed from public transit as they can’t come into close contact with men, which public transit requires. Manal al Sharif’s point is that due to the fact that women are so restricted in their movements, they and the people they take care of are inherently less safe. What if you husband gets a heart attack and you can’t take him to the hospital? What if your family needs food and you can’t afford a driver and have no nearby male relative?

Unfortunately it appears the KSAWomen2Drive channel isn’t on YouTube anymore, and I can’t find their Facebook page.

May 25, 2011

Dead Island Gameplay: Nothing Like That Earlier Trailer But Looks Like Fun Times

Filed under: Game News — Tags: , , , , , , — Durandal @ 12:04 pm

So “Dead Island”, a game about zombies on a (wait for it) island, got a bit of press a while back for a pretty gut-wrenching trailer. Basically a little short film about zombies that was pretty sad. Here! You can be sad:

So yeah, that was impressive, no? Now, the thing is there is basically not a good way to convert that sort of thing into a game. Now, I should clarify that actually you could probably take that as a challenge and produce something really interesting with similar emotional resonance. But there’s not a solid “invest $40 million” game design methodology in existence for producing that sort of art in games. The trailer depends on things that movies are good at, and frankly interactivity would likely not do much for it. I’m sure indie developers are right on that, but you’re a madman if your plan for a AAA game is “let’s see if we can make it about existential terror, and less about ‘playing'”.

So what exactly is Dead Island if it’s not a tactical weeping simulator?

Well, it’s a pretty fun looking open-world FPS/RPG game about an island populated with zombies. It seems a lot like a western studio “Dead Rising”. That is, slightly more serious and much less full of incredibly annoying boss fights and escort missions (I hope). Fun times! I don’t know why, but seeing numbers pop up when I hit something and when I kill something just makes a part of my brain tickle.

They released a pretty long chunk of gameplay for you to peruse at your leisure assuming you’ve not decided zombies are “played out” because you’ve heard it’s cool to say that:

Lots of first-person melee zombie killing. Could be fun! Certainly one to watch.

May 20, 2011

Comics Are Boss: Poyo!

Filed under: Uncategorized — Tags: , , , — Durandal @ 4:23 pm

One of the best things about Chew is the fact that it takes it’s own jokes so damn seriously.

But Poyo, Poyo is no joke. He’s just…

POYO!

Seriously, I dare you to find me another medium willing to base a significant amount of story progression on a skilled fighting rooster taking out terrorists. The fact that you can’t is evidence enough that comic books are providing a vital lifeline to a place where things are just totally boss all the time.

May 18, 2011

You Should Probably Try Terraria

Filed under: Game News — Tags: , , , , — Durandal @ 12:35 pm

If I know my readership (165 people a day searching for the same picture from Minecraft), then I think I can be certain that I’m correct when I say you guys will all really dig this game.

Terraria seems to be basically: 2D minecraft. Being in 2D means it has some limitations that minecraft doesn’t, like not being able to give you gigantic procedurally-generated vistas, but at the same time 2D has the advantage of being much cheaper to make. So the game seems chock-full of just random bullshit, like hundreds of monsters and weird usable items.

From the developer:

Grab your tools and go! You can do many things in Terraria: make weapons and fight off a variety of enemies in numerous biomes, dig deep underground to find accessories, money, and other useful things, gather wood, stone, ores, and other resources to create everything you need to make the world your own and defend it. Build a house, a fort, even a castle, and people will move in to live there and perhaps even sell you different wares to assist you on your journey. But beware, there are even more challenges awaiting you… Are you up to the task?

I haven’t actually bought it because I am still enjoying the holy heck out of Brink, but I think it looks like something deserving of a lot more attention!

Here is a pretty preview video:

You can buy it now on Steam!

May 13, 2011

Brink Patched! Hey, That Is Just Peachy

Filed under: Game News — Tags: , , , — Durandal @ 11:31 pm

So Brink received a major patch today. The most important bit to me is that the issue with ATI Radeon 4XXX cards was fixed. So now, I can tell that the game looks quite pretty!

Here are the notes, I’m hoping this is the start of a very close support detail by the developer. I’m a big big fan of the game, but they need little updates all over the place to make it as solid as it could be.
Patch notes:

General:
Fixed issues with custom ui_fov settings when playing as a client
Added support for 2560×1440
Slightly improved start up times
Fixed crash when clicking in blank area on Training Videos menu
Fixed memory leaks on shutdown
Fixed Be More Objective leaderboards being incorrectly named

Graphics:
Fixed “texture gridding” issues on certain graphics cards
Fixed settings being incorrectly applied on the advanced video options screen
Improved performance when using Ambient Occlusion
Fixed halos not rendering correctly

AI Bots:
Removed bot intelligence inhibitors for Freeplay games
Adjusted bot behaviour in Campaign games to make teams more evenly matched
Changed bots’ objective priorities across all game modes
Fixed issue with bot difficulty continually dropping

User Interface:
Fixed poor server browser performance for users with a large number of items in their history
Made server browser refreshes much more responsive
Changed server browser to no longer group player counts by max players
Added new pop-up text for server browser filters
Fixed not being able to sort by favourites column
Server browser now retrieves favourites correctly from Steam
Fixed arrow keys not working when exiting out of a chat submenu
Made it easier to select a default secondary weapon
Disabled chat options in solo mode

It’s totally actually a great patch.

Honestly, I feel like this is a game I’ll like for a while. God though, knowing me absolutely no one else will bother playing after this week.

Brink: Okay… Okay, Let’s Talk About Brink.

Filed under: Uncategorized — Tags: , , , , , — Durandal @ 11:10 am

So, I’ve been kind of hyped about Brink, published by Bethesda and developed by Splash Damage, for a long time. I love myself some objective-based, class-based shooting. I love it, it allows me to come out on top simply by understanding my role in combat rather than having the world’s best aim. I mean, I am just oddly terrible at aiming, I don’t even know.

But anyway, I’ve been a huge fan of what this game was planning to do since forever. Here’s the thing: I love this game and I want everyone to buy it so I have people to play against. It has given me more fun moments than any shooter in a long time. But holy moly is it flawed. It’s just… it’s not even flawed the way you expect. It’s not just that things are cut-rate because they didn’t get a big enough budget or something. Mostly, the flaws make it feel like Splash Damage didn’t ever test the game with people who weren’t on the development team.

Let me make this clear: With 16 people who play well, talk to each other, and attempt to win the game and get the highest score this game is incredible. It’s fast, exciting, varied, and chock-full of moments of awesome. I’m usually a Light Medic, and there’s nothing quite so cool as sprinting toward the front, bouncing off two walls on the way down to a courtyard, vaulting a barrier and going into a slide while tossing revive syringes and speed boosts before leaping back up to the balconies and firing on the enemy to distract them from the people I’ve just brought back to life until they kill me and I revive myself so I can hop right back and do it all again.

It’s awesome. Here, look at this video and tell me you don’t want to move like that in every FPS.


When things line up. When they don’t line up I feel embarrassed for Brink. I want to hug Brink and say “It’s okay, I know you’re beautiful Brink. On the inside.”

There’s one major reason Brink is sometimes terrible, and it’s the same reason I love it. Brink is a shooter where you are, generally, not supposed to shoot people. The maps all consist of Offense and Defense. Offense wins by completing a series of objectives in a set time, Defense wins by… defending.  So here’s the thing: in Brink you play as both a Body Type and a Class. Body Type is set for the entire map, Light, Medium, or Heavy. The benefits and drawbacks of Body Type are related to health and mobility. If you’re a Light, you can bounce off walls in order to get places faster or reach areas that other people can’t. If you’re a heavy, you move at a comparative crawl but you’ve got a big health boost and access to heavy weaponry. Classes all perform basically the same when it comes to shooting people, but they each come with a specialized role that is usually related directly to helping other people on the team. For instance my favorite class, the Medic, has access to a variety of abilities that increase health regeneration rate, movement speed, health total, and can bring people back from the dead (with all the benefits I’ve been conferring to them all match).

Each other class has some similar ability to help out the team. Soldiers can toss extra ammunition out as well as toss out extremely effective grenades, Engineers can grant teammates a boost in damage as well as laying down traps like mines and turrets, Operatives can sneak behind enemy lines and frustrate them with a variety of little tricks, point out enemy mines and players so they’re highlighted through walls, and can also take direct control of an Engineer’s turret in order to turn it into a much more effective weapon. Every class also has a specific Objective that only they can complete, whether it be blowing the door or hacking the mainframe.

The difference between a team that is working together and one that isn’t is immense. If you have a few good medics your team is moving a double time, can take an extra clip to the chest, and heals like the dickens. A good Operative means you know where everyone is, you’ve got Turrets that can slice a team to ribbons, and so on. Your Soldier blows the door while the rest of the team watches his back and your Operative goes behind enemy lines to distract them. It’s great fun that I highly recommend.

But it’s hard. It requires communication of a sort that I don’t think strangers on the internet are really okay with, much as this sort of online gaming has become standard. And the thing is, a mediocre Offense team will almost always lose to a mediocre Defense team. Defense is much less effective if they don’t figure out how to work together, but they aren’t absolutely forced to do so because when it comes down to it Defense just needs to kill anyone who gets too close to an Objective. The scoring system, which rewards players for doing things that benefit the team, helps a bit but doesn’t feel nearly as real as a game like Call of Duty for some reason. “+75? For healing? That can’t be right, I barely did anything” is the basic sensation. It’s definitely a good idea, but it needs to be played with and modified extensively before it becomes a really effective breadcrumb trail for new players. The game has been balanced, but it’s been balanced with people who are pretty good at working together in mind.

Which leads me back to my basic hypothesis: this game wasn’t tested by a general audience for nearly long enough, nor was it tested with new players nearly often enough during development. It’s obvious in the flailing terror with which the game tries to explain itself to you, and in a dozen tiny but conspicuously odd design decisions.

For instance, the very first thing you do in the game is choose a side, Resistance or Security. What does this first, highlighted choice do? Nothing. Nothing at all. It affects the default display model of the current character you’re creating. Note that it has no effect on which side you’ll be playing, because each game will place you with either Resistance or Security depending on which team has open slots. And even making characters is a slightly strange experience. You choose a body type, which can only be changed in that menu, not in-game. You also choose upgrades that apply to the classes you play, which you choose in-game and are expected to shift constantly as play progresses. Any time you want to alter any of this, you’re forced to disconnect from the game to go back to character-creation.  Hell, even in character creation there are strange, unnecessary dead-ends. When you change your character’s clothing or body type, you can press “back” to go back to the paper-doll model and choose another thing to alter. When you change their hair and facial features, the only button available is “done”, which kicks you to the main menu. During the game, your list of objectives will on many occasions say, for instance “Guard The Door” when actually it means “A solider needs to blow this door, and you should guard him while he does that”. No one a soldier on your team? Better hope someone realizes that pretty quick. Little things that an experienced player doesn’t need to worry about, but a new player will find completely off-putting.

The server browser is shoddy, and frankly I still cannot understand how I’m supposed to mark something as a “favorite”. I’ve yet to play a campaign game because I’ve never been able to connect, so I’ve been searching for “freeplay” which I feel wasn’t intended to be the most-played mode the first week out the gate. VOIP support is inconsistent, and because I run an ATI Radeon 4XXX card, I’ve got strange graphical mixups that make a truly pretty game turn into something terrible. It’s just not quite as ready for prime time as the packaging makes it out to be.

Splash Damage cut their teeth making really excellent multiplayer mods, and it shows. The basic, boring elements of game design like the menus and the matchmaking and simply having a clear vision of what you want people to do with your game are all lacking. The game is awesome, and it’s great fun when you’ve got a team that knows which end is up. But Splash Damage couldn’t figure out how to effectively communicate with people who weren’t already hardcore fans of online shooters, and it is glaringly obvious. It takes time and effort to figure out your place in this game, and it’s time I’m afraid many people won’t take.

May 11, 2011

Facebook App Security Hole Allows Anyone Who Cares To See Your Personal Data… For Going on Four Years.

Filed under: The Internet — Tags: , , , , , — Durandal @ 12:59 pm

So, let me just say that I am a slightly paranoid … let’s say “thing” because I’m not giving you fucking vampires anything to go on.

There’s a reason that my name is Durandal on here instead of Richard Dean Anderson, and that’s to keep my identity out of the hands of the thronging hordes that are trying to take it from me. It’s not an entirely rational position, I’ll admit.

But for fuck’s sake, people. Is Facebook really so incredible that having every single personal detail leaked every month or two is worth sticking with it? Text your friends or something, store your photos on Flickr. Stop acting like you’ll ever contact that bitch from high school, you guys only added each other because you were both in dance together and you feel obligated to pretend you liked your entire extended pre-college social group.

The latest lovely news on the privacy front from Facebook comes from the security firm Symantec, revealing that a loophole in the way applications on Facebook work means that hundreds of thousands, if not millions, of “keys” that allow you to access a users private information, post to their wall, and view photos, were handed out to advertisers and search engine bots. According to Symantec:

Symantec has discovered that in certain cases, Facebook IFRAME applications inadvertently leaked access tokens to third parties like advertisers or analytic platforms. We estimate that as of April 2011, close to 100,000 applications were enabling this leakage. We estimate that over the years, hundreds of thousands of applications may have inadvertently leaked millions of access tokens to third parties.

Access tokens are like ‘spare keys’ granted by you to the Facebook application. Applications can use these tokens or keys to perform certain actions on behalf of the user or to access the user’s profile. Each token or ‘spare key’ is associated with a select set of permissions, like reading your wall, accessing your friend’s profile, posting to your wall, etc.

So think long and hard about whether or not Farmville is so fun that it’s worth having your contact information and drunk party pictures accessible to anyone who puts a bit of effort into finding some of these things.

At the very least, change your password to invalidate this shit. According to Symantec:

There is no good way to estimate how many access tokens have already been leaked since the release Facebook applications back in 2007. We fear a lot of these tokens might still be available in log files of third-party servers or still being actively used by advertisers. Concerned Facebook users can change their Facebook passwords to invalidate leaked access tokens. Changing the password invalidates these tokens and is equivalent to “changing the lock” on your Facebook profile.

May 9, 2011

SpaceChem is Half-Off on Steam!

Filed under: Game News — Tags: , , , , — Durandal @ 7:07 pm

SpaceChem is half off on Steam.

I cannot overstate the importance of this fact. SpaceChem is currently the number-one best regarded puzzle game in the world according to “Durandal Is Correct Weekly” which is a self-published magazine companion to this blog that I force into the hands of my co-contributors each and every day.

In all seriousness: SpaceChem is great, and it now costs less than what you paid for your lunch today. And let’s be honest: your lunch wasn’t that great. It was pretty shit, actually. You only go there because it’s near work and you’re only given a half-hour for lunch because this is fucking bullshit. My lunch today was awesome, though.

You could go back and read my post on SpaceChem to see why it’s great, but let’s both just be honest for a minute and admit that you’re far too flawed a person to actually do that. I’m going to repeat a short version of the wonders of this game here instead!

-Unique solutions to every puzzle: you don’t just stumble around looking for the one right way to do things like you do in shitty puzzle games like Portal 2 or … another game everyone likes! Edgy.

-A cute little story: Okay it’s not the greatest thing in the entire world, but it’s fun to read!

-Awesome, awesome puzzle mechanics: Creating a working manufacturing facility in miniature is brain-teasing, fun, and you can actually feel it making you smarter!

-It’s just great: just great! Seriously, guys.

So, go buy it. Zachotronics deserves your money.
While you’re downloading it, watch this man talk about it! He talks for 8 minutes and you can depend on that.

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