Freelance Whales – Weathervanes

I’ve recently run into a band via the extremely awesome mog. This band is known as the Freelance Whales. I’ve heard the music described as orchestral indie rock, and it”s a fitting description. They play an oddly uplifting kind of sound on an eclectic mix of instruments.

They’ve recently released their first album, Weathervanes, which is now one of my all-time favorite albums. From the opening track to the closing, the album is soothing, heart-warming, inspiring, and entertaining. The songs aren’t wholly lyric-focused, merely incorporating the words as another instrument. It’s a nice touch that serves to distinguish the band from the crowds of others that just use the rest of the band as a way to keep the singer in tune and rhythm.

I strongly recommend the whole album, but I especially like the first track “Generator ^ First Floor”, and its companion track, “Generator ^ Second Floor”. Nods also go to “Hannah” (which has some of the best-written lyrics on the album), and “We Could be Friends”. It”s not available on CD yet, but it”s available in all good digital music stores.

Training the Player

Hi. I play MMOs. At the moment, I”m going to take a bit of both our time to convey a concept about these colossal, yet awesome, timesinks. You have to learn how to play the game in order to excel at the game.

Right, points for the obvious, I know. Now, the usual method of training someone for doing well involves rewarding them for doing things right, and punishing them for doing things wrong. Right? Well… sort of. In order to actually learn, you would need to know what you did right, and what you had done wrong. If this were a sports game, you would see instant replay, and at the professional level, someone making more money than the average schoolteacher would patiently explain how someone on the team did something right in the heat of the moment, with imperfect information, and that the other guys weren”t ready for such a startling display of competence. MMOs lack this. Your random group of bored strangers may have simply succeeded on the 3rd try because one of the casters accidentally dispelled the enemy”s debuff… because he hit the wrong key at the right time. You did nothing different, so you don”t learn. Everybody thinks the other players game improved.

Now, it is possible to learn to play better… by listening to the advice of others. Sometimes this advice is actually good. Sometimes it is ranked slightly below frenching an electrical socket. I recall fondly my first serious group attempt in World of Warcraft, as a newbie warlock. I was repeatedly told 4 pieces of advice. I ignored half. One was to whip out the big ugly smoke pet I use as a tank when solo. I”m being told this by the tank. We have a tank and a healer. I can use my little imp to give everyone more stamina/hp, and set foes on fire. I ignore the advice.

I am told that I should not Fear an enemy in an instance. This makes sense. They run screaming for help, we get 5 guys in exchange for the 1 I sent packing. Bad news for the party. Good call. Instead, I use a power that prevents a foe from running. Curse of Recklessness. I”m told I should be using the mutually exclusive DPS power. I ignore this, because it”s a bad call. The foes aren”t living long enough to have a second tic of damage. And if they run, they tend to live just long enough to bring back grief.

The best advice I recieved was to “SS the healer”. SS turns out to mean “soulstone”. A bungee cord for the tunnel with the white light at the end. Brilliant! However, as a newb, it wasn”t “till a breather halfway down the dungeon when I was able to type out “WTF is SS?” and actually get a coherent answer. Acronyms are not your friends when you try to train another person. They are used between people who already know what they are doing. When I used the power in the most tactically advantageous method, to let the healer survive a total wipe, so she could restore all of our bleeding corpses to life… it saved us all a long walk. And I got to disappoint said healer, who hadn”t known it was only usable once every 30 min.

Now, in all of WoW, the game itself never actually tried to train me on the most effective uses of my powers. It just sat there being Darwin. If I got it right enough, I survived. If I didn”t, I got to hike back to my corpse.

These days… I play LOTRO. One thing I really love in this system are the deeds. If you”re only familiar with WoW, think of them like Talents… that don”t suck, there”s far fewer of them, and you have to earn each one before you can spec it. Earning them is the critical aspect. As a game designer, you can never truly anticipate what stratagems the player base is going to roll out to break your carefully crafted balance. This is a reason that it isn”t altogether simple to train a player in using his class effectively. Sure, in the prior example, the tactical significance of letting the player who can resurrect  the party rez himself is a bit obvious. But not using the damaging curse, or the biggest looking pet… is a bit less obvious.

LOTRO”s deed system encourages experimentation. Because it rewards experimentation directly. You don”t know which of your abilities will advance a deed until actually using it, once you”ve reached a high enough level for that particular deed. So, to unlock all of them, you must practice your abilities to see what must be done. Granted, they are all simply “use ability x a few hundred or thousand times over a few days.” There is still a mighty opportunity to learn from such rote practice. The Minstrel has one that is simply based on using healing abilities. A thousand times. No deeper meaning here, other than training the player to spam healing. The Lore-Master, however, has one for an ability that simply drains power from a foe into his own reserves. While it”s never a horrible thing to have a mid-battle recharge, running out of power is extremely rare in the early game. However, against foes with low reserves, it also functions to drain them to zero. Which denies them further use of their most powerful attacks. If I didn”t have gamer OCD towards such traits, I”d never have understood how useful this could be. I”d have saved it for long boss fights when I needed the boost. This system improved my competence in the game.

I”m quite curious what the next iteration of gaming is going to roll out to subtly train the player. Because this sort of stealth education is powerful, and molds a playerbase nicely… when it works. Now, if only we could use it to weed out side-conversations in movie theatres.

15 Things To Teach Your Kids As Young As Possible

Heres an article I’ve been thinking of random bits and pieces for over the week, so I’ve decided to compile them and post them. So here it is – 15 things to teach your kid as young as possible – the 15 kinds of things that should never go untaught. Ever.

1) If it ends up in the toilet, its gone forever. FOR. EVER.
2) Don’t touch anything that doesn’t belong to you. Assume everything that isn’t yours is full of spiders and KEEP YOUR GODDAMNED HANDS OFF IT.
3) Walking barefoot in sand will get you hosed the fuck down. With ice cold water.
4) Throwing your food on the floor at home, or the bin at school will get you 1: belted and 2: starved in your room until the next day.
5) Touching a dog and then touching food/other people warrants a hosing down also.
6) The computer is more valuable than you are. Remember this forever.
7) Drinking daddy/mummy’s beer/wine/bourbon while they’re not looking will get you 5 across the eyes.
8 ) Assume every adult you see is a paedophile (except your family, of course).
9) Playing in the kitchen will get you belted. Hard.
10) Playing with the telephone, or a mobile phone will get you double-belted, especially if either of them suddenly disappear.
11) Touching a toilet in any way warrants instant hand washing – with SOAP. NO EXCUSES.
12) Trying to get daddy’s attention while he’s playing videogames/watching a movie will see you locked in your bedroom until the following day.
13) Liars always get found out. Being dishonest will eventually get you belted really hard. It’s much better to tell the truth and accept a small belting  up front, than getting found out in the future and being belted until sitting down brings tears to your eyes.
14) Hitting your mother will result in your father hitting you in a way that will teach you not to try that again.
15) Running amok in a shopping centre, or out in public where running amok is generally not acceptable, will result in you having the belting of a lifetime, which doubles in intensity per public outing you misbehave in. Wooden spoons may snap over your arse if belting intensity reaches certain heights.

Print these out and stick them on your fridge, or laminate them and give them to your kids. Make sure you follow through with the epic beltings though, or you’ll look soft, and everybody knows soft parents breed thugs, drug addicts, murderers and general scum!

Live (forever immortal): Pixelante’s “ImmorTall”

I am not a hardcore gamer. I don’t play FPS games for fear of throwing up my soul, I’m no good at RTS games (I do <3 me some StarCraft though), and I have approximately 5 games for my PS2. I much prefer to watch someone else play long-form games unless it’s some sort of point-and-click puzzle/adventure or Killer7. It’s that Kon Smith. He’s so cool.

On the other hand, I spend a portion of nearly every day playing casual games. I love these things. They are great diversions, and occasionally I run across one that turns out to be much more than I had expected. The other day I was poking around Kongregate when I discovered a new game called ImmorTall. I’ve played Hunted Forever and Alter, other games by Pixelante and I was already in it just to see some more of this developer’s artistic style. I clicked, the music started, I was ready to find out what that extra “l” in the title is for.

True to Pixelante’s style, the art is gorgeous. It’s got a retro feel, not too detailed but looking instead like something from a retro-futuristic war poster. The coloring is mostly primary with black and white. I loved the sounds: guitar punctuates every game happening as well as providing a moody musical backdrop to the action.

You begin the game as a little inchwormy alien who has emerged from a crashed ship. Over the course of the next few minutes you meet people, get snacks, grow tall, and then become a human alien shield. There isn’t a lot to figure out and when you need to do something instructions appear on the screen to guide you. This could be said to be a linear game, in that there is a single ending which really cannot be prevented, only staved off. I won’t pull any punches here: I played this game several times to see how much I could influence the ending and I cried my eyes out every single time.

My impression of ImmorTall is that it’s a very well done tiny story about any number of things including our fear of the unknown, the ways humans are willing to harm one another “for their own good”, and -depending on the circumstances at the ending- sacrifice.

It’s brilliant in that there’s just enough there to nudge you toward some understanding of what the game means, though it might be very different from the interpretations of other players. It made me think, and according to Pixelante’s Twitter feed there are a lot of varying opinions as to its meaning. That is, I think, as it should be. Art is interpreted by the one who experiences it.

I recommend this game for anyone who’s got about 5 minutes and a little thought power to spare. From beginning to end it’s a tiny masterpiece and the newest of my favorites. It’s games like this that show me the strength of play as a vehicle for storytelling and inspire me to want to make my own.

cincos aranas de madres
Rated 5 momspiders – A perfect score

The Saboteur

Yes, the videogame. Been playing around with this latest sandbox game. It does a lot of things right. And it looks pretty… but…

This is a game for killing Nazis from the point of view of an Irish race driver and mechanic helping out the french resistance. Seriously. You get to run around laying dynamite and evading patrols in a sort of reverse terrorism, because it’s to give the good people of France hope, restoring color to the world.

The actual gameplay is rather straightforward. It’s a GTA style game with wall-climbing, because that’s the new thing these days. In this environment, the Nazi army has established rather a large number of guard towers. You get to remove them with dynamite. It’s a bit of civic cleanup… rather literally, as the work is akin to picking up trash off the roadside.

Fortunately, once you clear the streets and rooftops of these eyesores, the game rewards you by not actually having any of them respawn. The major benefit is obvious! Uh… well, you get paid for it. A little. And when you run away from Nazi alerts, it’s easier to lose them in an area where you’ve destroyed all watchtowers.

About the only thing that’s really new here (since transforming a landscape’s color pattern is as fresh as Prince of Persia and as old as Q*Bert) is the “Perk” system. The game has a few skills and upgrades unlocked not by amassing loot and buying them, but by achievements. Each is a line of 3 tiers, unlocking the potential to finish the next, and giving progressively more game-changing rewards. In many cases, the work is really its own reward, as you can upgrade your ability to throw folks around in melee simply by throwing a few Nazis off their towers. Or not just getting some practice in with a sniper rifle, but by lining up shots where you cap 2 soldiers with one bullet. The abilities unlocked vary a bit from minimizing recoil to letting you summon a vehicle driven by a shopkeeper. Important, as, well, even with upgraded storage for multiple types of explosives, you are only one man, and you are trying to blow up several hundred structures.

Part of me really wants to enjoy this game, for the spectacle, and the unlockables. But I’m already most of the way through them, and… realizing about all the game has to offer from here is combat and sneaking around to eliminate a gigantic number of minor obstacles. Not that this is a bad thing, but I would be far more involved in the game itself if this realization had been delayed by another layer of accomplishments.

Playing this game on the PC of course provides another layer of fun in the form of crashes. Thank god for quicksave. That feature alone has made the game go from impossible to reasonable, due to a tendency to crash after 20-50 minutes playing at anything higher than minimum resolution. Whether this represents a holdover from the console editions or my computer’s shoddy design… the world may never know. I will, however, not forgive the game for having no quick way to access the full map. You can only enter the menu, select map, and then select Full Map. Which is ridiculous, because you only ever want the full map on that screen.
Most recently, in an event that probably sums up my impression of the game, I found a spot to drive downhill through a park, hitting a few ramps to jump the vehicle for profit. The game only requires that you get the car over the ramp, not to manage to land something you cannot adequately control. It is functional, and less frustrating than many GTAs, but a bit tedious for the rewards offered. Still, a bit of fun to take care of before moving on.

Are you perennial, or annual?

There seem to be many people in life who live as if they were annual, they develop for a short period, spread their seed and die. Sometimes it is a slow death, waiting for death accelerated only by the toxins chosen. Sometimes the lack of growth prevents true strength, and they crumble and succumb to various pressures, and hasten their demise.

There also seem to be those who never stop their growth, through the years the fire they carry remains hot and vibrant. They never wait for death, death comes to them when it is time. To constantly grow is to have a certain degree of assuredness and an uncertain degree of doubt.

Like the tree, we have thick rings of great growth and thin rings of stagnation.

Unlike the tree, we can choose thick or thin. Which do you choose?

Living without social media

So, as I am a catholic, I am (at least nominally) required to give something up for the forty days before Easter, also known as Lent. So, it came down to 11:00 or so on the night of Fat Tuesday, and i still hadn’t come up with anything. A few minutes after this thought floated on through my head, I thought about precisely how much time I wasted dicking around on the Internet. And thus, an Idea was born. Fairly quickly I realized it was pretty much impossible to avoid it completely in this day and age, so I revised my proscription to what I deem the Big 3 (twitter, Facebook, and IRC). So, about halfway through now, I’ve decided to post my findings.

1) I’m reading a LOT more. I’ve read more books in the past three weeks than I have in most of the past year.

2) I spend less time on the Internet in general. While I haven’t completely stopped Internet-dicking-about, it’s reduced to reading technology blogs.

3) I’m reading far less webcomics, which is a combination of several things, but partially due to the lack of comic-related chatter on IRC.

4) My grades have not significantly improved. This further supports my conclusion that teenagers will find ways to procrastinate, even without the major time-wasters on the internet.

5) I don’t suck at StarCraft anymore. This could be related, or it could not be. However, it is something I have realized as the days have gone by.

In light of all this, I don’t think I’ll be staying away permanently. i would guess I’ll spend less time on facebook,at least in the time immediately following Easter, but I get the feeling I’ll still spend hours on IRC as soon as I’m able to.