Thursday, April 23, 2009

Do you like 30 Rock?

This guy does too!

Okay, aside from the inherent strangeness (and that he looks a bit like Crypt Keeper), just some befuddled guy on the internet, right?  Well, now check out this one, and you start to realize that maybe he's not quite right, like he should be wandering around Central Square and laughing at the pavement. 

Now watch this one, and you start to think that this is the kind of guy who your parents warned you not to take candy from.  Picture him driving down the road in his van, doing this routine out the window.

Now try and watch 30 Rock without picturing this guy in your head.  I sure as hell can't.

Wednesday, April 22, 2009

I love technology

These are amazing.  The dude uses the magic Auto-Tune voice altering software (think Cher in Believe) to make news caster types sing.  The first one gives you the idea, and then the second one brings it home.  Watch out for the amazing duet with Katie Couric toward the end of the second clip:

Playing with yourself

Lately, I've been playing through Half Life 2.  In fact, I finished it over the weekend (hooray!).  It was a very good shooter, but sometimes I felt like I was forcing myself to play through it.  I recognized that it was a good game, and I was enjoying it mostly, but some parts were just dragging.  I figured out that I was mainly playing to get to the next story segment.

So here's what happens in the game, and really, in most shooters: you get a story segment explaining why you need to go through this level killing everything.  Then you leave the dudes who you were just talking to behind, and go through the level killing everything until you get to the other end, where some more dudes meet you and point you to the next batch of things to kill.  Some games give you and AI buddy or buddies.  These buddies fall into two categories: cannon fodder that gets killed 10 seconds into the level, or a story-relevant character who follows you, sometimes assisting, and yelling at the enemy.

I've long since accepted that I really need storylines in my games.  I can enjoy the gameplay, but I need a story to give me a reason to keep going when the game gets hard.  Because of that shooters can be tricky because of the formula mentioned above.  Generally, once you get into a level, the story stops.  It's kind of like a Broadway show, where the story gets put on hold for a musical number, except shooters replace jazz hands with flying lead.

So what the hell does this have to do with Half Life 2? Last night I started playing the follow up, HL2: Episode 1.  At least in the early going, you're accompanied by Alyx, a character that you ran into occasionally in HL2.  What sets her apart from other AI buddies, besides the normal-sized, fully covered chest, is that she f-ing interacts with you.  She comments on what's going on, asks how the hell you're going to get past this barrier, and generally behaves like a person.  What winds up happening is that this interaction gives me the human element that I miss during the majority of shooter levels.  While the story itself may not be advancing per se, at least I get someone to talk to.

I think it's the same thing that leads to so many buddy comedies in movies.  If you were just watching Tom Hanks trying to solve a case by himself, it'd be boring.  Give him a slobbering dog to interact with, and it's awesome! Hell, even Tom Hanks talking to a volleyball on a desert island managed to be entertaining for a while (though I could've done without the dentistry scene).  Either Tom Hanks is simply enchanting to watch (possible), or movies/games are simply better when there's some kind of interaction going on.

For a perfect example of this, play Left 4 Dead in a room by yourself.  To take this a step further, kill your AI buddies and don't rescue them.  Now play it with four other live people.  Which experience did you enjoy more? Same game, but I bet you liked the version where there were people.  Proof positive that even something as inherently awesome as shotgunning zombies in the face is improved vastly by adding other people.

Tuesday, April 21, 2009

For realsies.

We just announced a new project.  Rock Band + Legos = Lego Rock Band.  Oh my.

Some highlights from the songs that have been announced: Kung Fu Fighting and The Final Countdown.

Where have I been?

I don't know!

Oh wait, yeah I do.  That whole crunching thing.  Well, that's done with now, at least for this week.  After that, anything goes (and probably will).  It wasn't too bad, but I'm glad it's over.

I did manage to finish off two games during it, with Half Life 2 finally getting finished and Lego Indiana Jones getting played all the way through over this past weekend.  That one actually got finished at 100%.  I think that's the first game in my life that I've gotten to 100% on, in the subset of games that give you a completion percentage, usually because of copious hidden goodies.

I got to thinking about why I felt the desire to finish this particular game to 100%, while I haven't with others.  I think there's a few factors.  First, the way that you find hiddent things is to go back through the stages a second time with abilities you didn't have the first time, giving you access to areas you had seen the first time through, but couldn't get to.  That's a mechanic that plenty of other games, like the Metroid and Zelda series, have used before.  

Where the Lego games differ is that they also tell you explicitly that there are 10 of one type of goody and 1 of another hidden in each level.  Why is that important? Because it gives you explicit goals to fulfill and a set area in which to search.  In other games, like Grand Theft Auto, they might tell you "there are 100 packages hidden in the city", and only award 100% completion for finding all of them.  How is that different? The goal in GTA is far less attainable or trackable. 

Here's an example.  Let's say I told you to find 100 hobos in all of Boston.  You go out and find 90 hobos.  Now there are only 10 left, except that you have to look through every inch of the entire city to find those last 10.  That's a pain in the ass, since those hobos could be anywhere from the Financial District to JP, or anywhere in between.  Contrast this with the Lego game.  In this case, I'd tell you that there are 100 hobos in the city, 10 in Allston (camoflauged to look like BU kids), 10 in JP, 10 on the Common, etc.  If you've found 90, you can look at how many you've found in each area to figure out where you need to look for the last 10.  

In addition to making things easier on you, you get the side benefit of having a series of small victories ("Yay, I found all the hobos on the Common!") as you progress toward the big goal of finding all Boston's hobos.  In GTA, you get the frustration of not knowing where the last 10 hobos are without the breadcrumb victories.  Of course, at the end of the day,  you have to figure out what to do with 100 hobos, and the inevitable questioning of your life's direction that brought you to your current occupation of hobo hunting.  I would suggest a bath, and then starting the reality series "America's Next Top Hobo."

In other news, kt is still buried under schoolwork.  Once she'd un-buried herself, we'll resume our regularly scheduled Sunday movie days.

Thursday, April 9, 2009

When a computer is like Jersey

Kt has a Mac (we know, neither of us is happy about it).  In order to do fun things with it, like play games (something that Apple conveniently forgets about as it continually portrays PCs as boring business machines), she boots into Windows.  Two months ago, the DVD drive stopped working.  Last night I worked on fixing it.

As with so many problems in life, solving this o
ne started with checking the device manager.  Windows was reporting a problem with the driver for the DVD drive.  Here's where I made my first mistake: I believed it.  

Of course, the problem with that message is that Windows hasn't needed a driver for a CD/DVD drive since the mid-90s.   Still, because I'm dumb, I started my search for a solution with the driver.  Of course, this was fruitless.

My next step was to apply my ninja-like Google-fu, using the model number of the drive and various combinations of words like "Windows", "Mac", "shitty Mac", "not working", "not recognized", "broken", "busted", and "busted-ass".  I can't remember which of these combinations worked, but I'm pretty sure it was "Mac" and "busted-ass".  It turned out that the solution involved removing two Windows registry keys.

Now, there's a good chance that you may not be terribly familiar with the Windows registry.  This is not surprising.  The registry is like the PC's version of New Jersey.  It sits in the background, and its job is to act as a holding area for all the nitty-gritty files that New York (Windows) needs in order to do all the awesome and fun things that it does.  You know that it's there, but really it's not someplace you want to go unless something has gone terribly wrong in your life.

When you actually go into the registry (or New Jersey), you'll find that it's filled to the brim with strange files and other things, all nested within byzantine family/file structures, and they're all very hard to understand.  Thus, getting anything useful done in the registry/Jersey is very difficult.  There's the added side benefit that if you do something wrong while in the registry/Jersey, very bad things will happen, like your computer suddenly no longer working/you get whacked.

Here's an example of a registry entry that you might find while visiting: HKEY_CURRENT_USER\Software\Microsoft\MediaPlayer\Player\Settings.  Imagine a few thousand of these, all with the power to make your computer explode.  Hell, give that entry some big hair and a few Jaeger shots, and it'll be slurring Bon Jovi at the top of its lungs for the rest of the night.  Basically, you want to go into the registry very infrequently, do what you need to do quickly and carefully, and then return to the relative safety of Windows/New York, so that you can get back to your regular routine of killing zombies/walking fast and being fashionably disaffected.

So after discovering this solution, I made the changes, and then went to reboot Windows so that they would take effect.  Then I realized that I didn't know how the hell to convince the Mac to boot into Windows.  

When you set up a PC to dual-boot operating systems, perhaps because you're a rebel and want to have the option to run Linux so that you can feel like you're fighting the evil MS empire, but still want to be able to, you know, use your computer for things without resorting to black magic, the computer very nicely asks you which OS you'd like to use when you turn it on, assuming that since you went to the trouble of installing two OSes, you might want to use both.

In Mac-land, as I found out, you have to hold down the Option key (that's the Alt key for those of us with real keyboards) while it boots in order to get the option to choose your OS.  Apple assumes that installing Windows must have been some accident on your part, or maybe some drunken dare that went horribly wrong.  Either way, it does what it can to protect you from yourself by making the option to use the non-Apple OS a hidden and obscure process, while simultaneously making it simple enough to do with one finger so they can say "Oh, all you have to do is thing x.  See, easy!"  

Once I figured that step out, all was well, and the DVD drive was once again working, which means that kt can return to playing Sims 2, and is all set for when Sims 3 comes out.  I also thought I'd share this, which I love: