Trouble Thinking

June 27, 2012

There Is A Magic Machine That Will Always Beat You At Rocks, Paper, Scissors

Filed under: Uncategorized — Tags: , , , , , , — Durandal @ 1:28 pm

Stolen direct from BoingBoing.net (who stole it from /.), this thing is just too cool not to mention briefly. Look at this! Researchers at UTokyo’s Ishikawa Oku Lab made a sweet RPS robot!

It looks at first blush like it’s out-predicting you, but it’s totally not! It’s just waiting for you to move with a high-speed camera, then snapping out its fingers really quick when you’re settled. That is the coolest. I am slightly disappointed that it’s not some sort of super-robot mind-freak machine predicting your every move, but I’m also more interested in replacing my limbs with robot parts than ever!

It only takes a single millisecond for the robot to recognize what shape your hand is in, and just a few more for it to make the shape that beats you, but it all happens so fast that it’s more or less impossible to tell that the robot is waiting until you commit yourself before it makes its move, allowing it to win 100% of the time. You might be thinking that you could fool the system by changing your mind halfway through, but my guess is that the hand and vision system are faster than your reflexes could ever be, and that it would be trivial for the robot to adapt to any creative moves that happens on the human end.

June 21, 2012

Gaming and Women

Okay that’s an ambitious title I can in no way back up. I can’t really speak to the whole experience of women with games. But there’s been some shit stirred recently that caught my interest and made me slightly frustrated with the way conversations about ‘geeky’ media and feminism go. So first off: the very capable media critic Anita Sarkeesian has been doing this Feminist Frequency thing for a while and it’s quite nice! It’s bite-sized explanations of a lot of shit everyone should probably have a handle on. She likes games, so she decided to do similar explanatory videos about tropes and women in games. Basically, here’s what is meant by “damsel in distress”, here’s why some people take issue with it being a cliche, maybe shape up slightly?

So, she got just craploads of death threats and rape threats and … well one guy said he’d never date her which isn’t really a “threat” per se but suffice it to say her entry into the ‘gaming community’ proper with this video series was met immediately with some pretty harsh fucking words. Now, in a nice countermove here Kickstarter asking for $6,000 got funded for $158,917. So, that’s nice. But the thing is, the fact that the reaction to seeing the word ‘feminist’ next to the word ‘videogames’ got a significant portion of the internet crazy mad is not great. There’s also the fact that a rather large number of people responded to her discussing that with ‘Well that’s just how things are you know? You have to let it roll off your back.’ Which ignores the fact that in a lot of circles being inundated with rape and murder threats is not considered the cost of doing business. And it probably shouldn’t be!

Which leads to this interesting post on the blog of one Foz Meadows: rape culture and gaming. Also, on Pandagon: Geeks, You Have a Problem. Basically, there’s a simultaneous assumption by geeks that we’re too smart to be privileged or misogynistic or racist or whatever but if you want to change a goddamn thing about anything we will cut you. After arguing at a ridiculous length about this for years, I feel like it mostly comes down to people who are nice deciding that means they cannot do a bad thing. Well, no that goes too far obviously nice people realize if they just shot a dude it’s probably bad. But I’ve met a hell of a lot of nice people who don’t find using homophobic slurs particularly bad. It just means ‘stupid’, man! Get over it! It’s different! Anyway point is I will destroy mountains before I stop saying this one word I got in the habit of saying for no reason.

Nice people are extremely stubborn when you ask them to change any behavior that cannot be directly demonstrated to harm another person the moment it happens. Because for fuck’s sake, they had a groove. Now, you’re asking them to reevaluate everything and maybe never do some of the things they’re used to doing. That seems pretty mean! So feminist complaints about gaming culture are reduced to the nagging of shrill harpies who just don’t get us. Look, if you’re made uncomfortable by the unrelenting misogyny on display at tournaments, or the trailer for Hitman and the new Lara Croft game having an attempted rape in it but I’m not it sounds like you’re just a whiner. It often gets shifted to a censorship discussion because geeks feel more comfortable in that arena. But the thing is, no one is interested in censoring a goddamn thing. Ms. Sarkessian isn’t making a series of videos about ‘what games need to be destroyed’, she’s making a series of videos about what tropes exist, why they exist, and what that means for female gamers. The exploration of the concept that things may not be perfect is seen as an attack worthy of a pretty outsized response. And of course, the nice kind good people of the geek community say well that’s just 4chan they’re crazy I would never do that but anyway it kind of sounds like you’re just being whiny I never had a problem don’t censor games I like here’s a few examples of good characters that totally disprove everything they’re just doing what sells! They’re totally on your side they can’t stand those damn commenters either but have you ever thought about how all these weak-ass arguments prove you should shut up?

Look I love Bayonetta, it is the best. But I don’t think the hair-fetish shit was really the reason I had so much fun with it. I’m amazed that in a genre of media so much more defined by mechanics than narrative there’s such push-back against the ideas presented by feminist critiques.

Also worth reading: Beyond Barbie and Mortal Kombat. One of the pieces I found really interesting talked about how gender-neutral games were until some pretty random events kicked them into being a male-centric thing to do.

Also: Women beat 18-34 men for tech adoption and purchasing power. In case you talk to someone trying out that “just what sells” pile.

June 14, 2012

Red Letter Media Talks About Prometheus

Filed under: Movies — Tags: , , — Durandal @ 4:29 pm

Oh also, this is pretty funny.

They liked a lot more than me in their full review, and do correctly state that yeah compared to basically a lot of films, this was wonderful and shouldn’t be getting that much scorn… but I do like the giant list of little gripes.

Prometheus: Pretty, But Empty.

Filed under: Movies — Tags: , , , , , , — Durandal @ 3:22 pm

So this is going to be pretty spoiler-y if you care about that. But I want to say right now: you shouldn’t, because there’s nothing about Prometheus to actually spoil.

So I’ve gone over this a lot since I saw the movie Saturday, and I think I’ve boiled down why I really didn’t find it that enjoyable. First and foremost is that I went in with pretty high expectations. I watched Alien the night before, and I was really excited to see another tight, interesting sci-fi film that maybe expanded upon the intriguing mysteries of Alien a little while focusing a bit more on exploration than on sheer body-horror. For all that Alien is remembered as a “slasher movie in space”, it was a much more tightly focused and interesting exploration of a strange new landscape and the dangers it contains than any of the more bombastic sci-fi that has come after. The visual effects supervisor of the movie “Moon” actually has a great little bit on why the Alien script is so well-done.  Prometheus is badly done in equal measure to how excellently Alien was crafted.

Before I get into just non-stop griping, I will say that Ridley Scott is a master of visuals and cinematography. He’s capable of making every single shot look amazing, as well as creating a surprisingly believable futuristic world (besides the spaceship having a fucking rec room and basketball court NO no griping). Beyond a few silly “transparent things with holo-graphs” and “generally using holograms just for the fuck of it” that so plagues modern movie SF, he sticks to believably chunky surroundings and very pretty but functional-looking space-suits. He also uses color in a way I don’t actually have the vocabulary to describe properly. He doesn’t just slap a filter over a scene, he makes sure that light sources line up in exactly the necessary way. So yeah, he’s great! The guy who is not great is the script writer, Damon Lindelof, the same dude who did LOST. And Ridley Scott for thinking any of the script was good and then filming it.

There are multiple lengthy and funny discussions of the exact nature of the many small terrible bits of the script, like how they take their helmets off maybe an hour into their expedition, even though it makes nothing simpler. These are all great, and you should read them. My problem with the film can be summed up quicker, though: it did not matter. No individual mattered, no event mattered, and no theme mattered. Three examples stand out. Spoilers, obviously. The first is Extreme X-Games Archaeologist. Boyfriend/Husband/whatever to the female lead. He gets poisoned with black goo by David the android for… well for no real reason. You could invent a clever reason, maybe, but that would be all on you. Following this poisoning, he’s burnt alive by a flamethrower in order to protect ship quarantine. Following that absolutely nothing and no one ever references, mentions, or as far as I can tell thinks about him. Including his significant other. I’m not the best person, but should my significant other get cooked alive in front of me, I would like to think that my thoughts will occasionally turn to the trauma of that event. Following the cookery, the female lead is on a surgery table blah blah Terrifying Demon Pregnancy! So she cuts it out in a well acted but intensely silly/gory sequence, and heads back to the rest of the ship. No one mentions that again. She occasionally holds her lasered open abdomen as she makes flying jumps. At one point, two crew members are trapped in the cave system thing that the team is exploring. A chuckle is had, and they are told to stay there for the night. Obviously they die. No one seems super perturbed about this afterward. When one of the dead men comes back as a zombie, he murders a half dozen nameless, faceless crew members. The captain roasts him back to death. None of that is ever mentioned again, as why would anyone ever bring up what has to be the most terrifying thing ever to happened to them?

The little stuff makes the movie annoying, but it’s that schizophrenic tapestry that really kills it. I was hoping for more a “Rendevous with Rama” vibe, exploration of the vast unknowable, trying to figure out as much as you can before realizing you’ll never get it all. A contrast with the scared truckers of Alien, but with hubris comes the fall and oh noooo they didn’t realize X would Y or whatever. They completely ditch that, and make the scientific exploration worse than the average sci-fi original movie about ice volcanoes. In place of that, they have many more gory scenes of carnage, none of which actually lead anywhere. No one reacts, no one even flinches. So what if half the crew was just ripped in half? We didn’t know them, and the captain doesn’t seem to give a shit! So what if at the end the captain and Nameless Crewmen A and B sacrifice themselves? We never got to know them, and they don’t have a chance to be humanized at any point in a two goddamn hour movie. You could cut scenes at random without altering the flow of the film at all. Almost all of the characters could be ditched, and you’d never notice.

The ostensible reason for the pacing and plotting issues is that this movie is concerned not with lowly things, but with high and interesting questions about life, the universe, and everything. The only issue is that, like LOST before it, the movie seems to believe that raising those questions is exactly as thought-provoking as attempting to answer them. It is not. “Why are we here?” is not the end of you philosophical discussion. And the annoying bit is that if it focused more on the actual small scale human element it would probably do a better job of conveying interesting answers! Alien wasn’t great about characters, but it had many little moments of characterization, and the decisions made by crew members reflected their personalities well. In “Alien”, the lowest man on the totem pole mouths “the money” to his more charming friend, so they can see if it’s possible to upgrade to full shares. We get an idea of the chain of command, of the interpersonal style and conflicts of the crew, and of the overarching corporatism that will ultimately kill most of the people on board. In “Prometheus” a man angrily states “I’m only in this for the money!” at someone saying hello, as it is the first time they’ve met. Almost characters show evidence of interpersonal relationships and most characters lack a discernible motive for any of their actions.

Jeez, that was longer than I meant it to be. Basically, this is up there with Inception and Avatar as a big, beautiful sci-fi movie that so focuses itself on “big themes” that it forgets how little those matter when your characters are disposable cardboard and the script is just egregiously bad.

June 7, 2012

Just buy the Humble Bundle V

Oh my goodness for real just pick this one up. I can say that with confidence having, like a damn fool, already bought all the frigging games in this bundle. It’s amazing. I’ll give you a rundown, though.

LIMBO: Neat, slightly full of itself platformer/puzzle game with a very striking visual style. It’s good, it’s quick, you’ll die a bunch to cheap stuff for a shock but it’s cool.

Superbrothers: Sword and Sworcery EP: Okay I lied I haven’t bought all of them, but I’ve heard good things about this!

Amnesia: The Dark Descent: It’s really good! It’s not quite as pants-crappingly scary as the internet has decided it must have been, but it’s definitely one of the top horror games. Played in the dark with headphones it can get pretty close to as scary as people joke about it being!

Psychonauts: Great, charming platformer about a boy in a summer camp for psychics made by Double Fine of Having Tim Schafer fame. It’s more than worth a look, even if the collectibles were rubbish.

Bastion: I’ve written about this! It’s the best fucking game! Seriously just pay your $8 for this, it’s beautiful and moving and has a neat narrative conceit and fun gameplay and man maybe I should replay it. Remember to get this, you need to pay more than the average!

Lone Survivor: Aaaagh I’m a liar! But! I did play the demo. Did a surprisingly good job of wringing horror out of pixels, so check it out! Remember to get this, you need to pay more than the average!

Braid: Not half as clever as it wishes it was, it’s still pretty frigging clever. A puzzle game masquerading as a platformer, it’s all about manipulating time in different manners to progress. Super fun, really worth a playthrough. Reasonably neat meta-story thing too, but mostly just play the puzzles and leave it be. Remember to get this, you need to pay more than the average!

Super Meat Boy: The best platformer the world has ever seen. Tough but fair but SO TOUGH. Really fun times. Remember to get this, you need to pay more than the average!

There you go! Pick it up, you cannot possibly be disappointed by these games.

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