Tuesday, June 26, 2012

The Raspberry Pi and HDMI

I finally got my Raspberry Pi in the mail (woot!) and have had the chance to toy around with it a little. After trying both Debian Squeeze and Arch ARM, I couldn't get HDMI working for either. The RCA video was working though, so I tried that and it worked splendidly.

To get HDMI working, I simply followed this guide I found at Coded Structure, essentially saying to create a file at /boot/config.txt with the contents:
 After rebooting, HDMI worked just fine. That's unfortunately all I've had the chance to do with the R-Pi just yet.

I'm curious though, would people be interested in a podcast about the Raspberry Pi? I'd be very interested in trying to start it and would love to find someone that could be a co-host. I'm thinking maybe bi-weekly to start out, maybe 30-45 minutes per episode, since there probably isn't going to be a ton of news about the Pi. If you're interested, whether it be in co-hosting or if you would simply listen to it if it existed, please drop a comment to this post.

Thursday, June 21, 2012

The Wii U will probably be a rousing success

When the Wii was released, me and my brothers -although huge Nintendo fans for years- were skeptical. The new controller interface was either going to be revolutionary, or completely flop -or at least that's how we saw it. This was a big step for gaming, and a huge risk for Nintendo. Looking back on it, I would still say that it was a huge risk, though I'm not exactly sure if it has paid off. I would say, however, that it was neither revolutionary, nor a flop: it sat somewhere in between, which I was not expecting at all.

That being said, many people would classify the Wii as a "disappointment", even though it did very well in terms of sales. For a while, I wondered why this was, but as the Wii U is drawing closer to release, I think I've come to a speculation. One of the biggest aims for the Wii was to get everybody playing video games: your grandma, your kids, everyone. It's focus wasn't really to keep the focus of the gamers that already love and play Nintendo consoles. You might disagree; after all, Nintendo is still creating Mario games, so shouldn't the older gamers still want to stick around for that sake of nostalgia?

That's partially true, but an issue that is far more dramatic is how much (a) those gamers have changed as they've grown up and (b) the industry has changed. I'm not exactly sure which caused which, maybe the consumers drove the industry or vice versa, but the point is, games today are different than they were even in 2001. There aren't as many platformers, there are loads of first-person shooters, and people have started to care about weird things like "graphics". When you take all this into consideration and take another look at the Wii, it becomes clear: Nintendo is not trying to accommodate all these changes. Whether or not this is a good thing or a bad thing, I'll get to in a moment, but it's safe to say that Nintendo is not moving along with the general flow of the gaming world.

Some might say that they are stagnating and so the Wii U will be a flop, but I'm not so sure. Another way to look at it is that they're not dropping out of the race, they've just decided to slow down and fill the niche that they've always filled. If you think about it, their earlier systems really appealed to kids, or as we might call them nowadays, non-hardcore gamers. Many of these kids have grown up to be more "hardcore" gamers, and Microsoft and Sony have been attempting to keep up with them, but Nintendo hasn't. They've kind of let the kids outgrow their target market and now they're aiming at the next batch of kids and other non-hardcore gamers.

And so, a lot of us look at the Wii and are disappointed, because when comparing it to the PS3 or the Xbox 360, it really falls flat on its face. It's not even in the same league. But it's not meant to be. Nintendo hasn't lost the race, they've just swerved off to a different path that Sony and Microsoft barely notice.

As for the Wii U, it's just the next step of Nintendo down this path of a more "casual" gamer. And even though it bugs a lot of people, there are a lot of casual gamers out there. (Just ask Angry Birds or Farmville.) So while the Wii U probably won't be that impressive, I think it's probably going to be a success, assuming there isn't any major hardware and/or software issue at launch.

But the Wii U probably won't be just for casuals. People will buy the Wii U for certain titles (Zelda, most likely), or even just because it's cheap, just like the Wii's launch. Even though those people are probably also going to own some other system that they play more frequently, they'll help contribute to the sales for the Wii U. And that's what I mean by "success": will people buy it? Will it be a big enough market for game makers to make games for it? The Wii may not have been very impressive, but it was definitely a success, in that it was successful. My guess is that the Wii U will be equally unimpressive, but equally as successful.

(I can't believe I just typed a post about this. Generally, I hate people that try to speculate on things that there is no point speculating on. But oh well.)

Wednesday, June 20, 2012


If you've never played TAGAP - that's "The Apocalyptic Game About Penguins"- yet, you're seriously missing out. It's an extremely unique, fun, addicting sidescroller starring -you guessed it: Penguins. Words really don't give it justice. I mean, there are a ton of different guns, baddies, and levels....but that doesn't really capture just how fun this game is. Everything about it is just relaxing: the graphics, the soundtrack, the sound effects, and even the idea of just mowing down a line of zombie penguins with a minigun. It's challenging yet relaxing, intense yet subtle. It is the most possible fun you can have involving penguins without physically owning a penguin.

The best part? Both TAGAP and TAGAP 2 are free. So please, go, download them, give them a try. TAGAP 2 even has co-op mode so you can play with a friend.

So awesome.

Monday, June 18, 2012

Dead Space and Mass Effect

Yes, I am extremely embarrassed. I don't know how it happened, but I fell of the bandwagon somewhere along when it comes to video games, and so now I'm about 5 years behind. (xkcd comic = me). Right now people are talking about Skyrim...no wait, they've moved on to Diablo 3.....

Dead Space

In any case, I finally got through Dead Space and Mass Effect in the last week or so. I had gotten up to about 50% of the way through Dead Space when I got stuck at the part with the invincible zombie and the locked door. (Don't ever buy the saw. The saw is the bane of my existence.) I actually played the entire thing through on easy instead of normal just because I really wanted to beat it and had already played through half of it on Normal. (Side note: very interesting, it was a lot less scary on Easy. It was still creepy and scary as hell, but not pee-my-pants scary, because I wasn't as afraid of dying. It was still extremely enjoyable to play, it was just an interesting experiment: for a horror game, you genuinely have to be afraid of dying the entire time for it to be scary.)

I drooled for about 2 weeks after I first got Dead Space, and I still think it is amazing. One of the things I love most about it is that it very rarely goes for the "cheap scares"; they could always just have something pop up behind you, but they very rarely do. (I think I could count the number of times in the entire game on one hand.) Instead they go for much creepier tactics. You see something moving through the grates overhead; you just barely see a deformed leg round the corner as a door opens; a shadow is cast from behind you as you head into a doorway. (The latter was probably one of my favorite spine-chillers of the game.)

In terms of combat, it starts out very  intimidating (which is a good thing!). As you gradually get familiar with the different types of creatures, you get less and less frightened by them. But the game does a really good job of gradually introducing new baddies at just the right rate to keep you thinking "Oh *&@!, what now?" The plot is .....adequate. It's basically "Fix this. Ok now fix that. Ok now fix this." The backstory, on the other hand, is phenomenal. The makers really did a good job of creating this solid story of how you got to where you are, and it's slowly dispensed throughout the game, little by little, enough to keep you intrigued up till the very end. The final boss is......adequate. After all, this game isn't about the combat; it's about the terror. It's genuinely hard to have a hard boss be terrifying because the player knows what's up. The plot has built up to this point and this is the final battle. In any case, it wasn't exceedingly challenging (although I was on easy), but it did leave me feeling satisfied (unlike, gee, I dunno, Mirror's Edge?).

There are just so few things that I can pick to criticize in this game. (coughSAWcough) The pacing was good, the graphics were generally good (especially when they needed to be, i.e., baddies), the combat was fun but very unique....it's just a winner all around. I can't wait until it's been long enough that I can play this game again and piss my pants repeatedly for enjoyment.

Mass Effect

After Dead Space, I moved on to Mass Effect. The first one. I had tried playing it one other time before, skimmed past all the tutorials (even the part that told you how to get to the tutorials), and quit about 5 minutes in because I had no clue what I was doing. This time, I took my time and was engrossed about 10 minutes in. The thing I love most about Mass Effect is how cinematic it is. The beginning cutscene is a perfect example: epic music playing in the background as the camera follows Shephard up the ship. You can just tell that the makers really thought this game through. Every cutscene and piece of dialog is expertly crafted.

As for the gameplay, it's extremely enjoyable, though it takes some getting used to; I think it took about a quarter of the game until I stopped throwing a grenade when thinking I had to reload. Infinite ammo is just kind of weird in today's gaming, from what I've seen. It's not that it makes it any less challenging, just different. I went with the default "John Shephard" because the game froze after I spent about 10 minutes designing my character (doesn't that always happen?), so I really didn't get a chance to use much of the biotech stuff. Which addresses something else....this game is huge. The normal gameplay takes a good amount of time, but the sidequests are where it's at. I really enjoyed exploring this world that was so amazingly created. The developers went out of there way to create so many things that aren't vital to the plot, which makes it feel like a real, thriving universe.

There are very, very few things I can find fault with in this game, other than the fact that it doesn't flipping tell you anything, which is annoying. It's not that it's complicated, it's that they just don't tell you. There's really no in-game explanation of how to play. What the hell is "omni-gel"? What is "Renegade" vs "Paragon"?

Other than that, there's really nothing to complain about. The dialog was weird at first, but I grey to like it, though at times it seemed tedious. The vehicle was a bitch to drive, but I never actually veered off any cliffs, so that's good. The AI seems kind of dull at times; I would take cover and then turn around to see my two teammates, just standing in the open.

The thing that I realized about Mass Effect is that I think I'm going to enjoy it just as much the second time through. The first time, I did quite a bit of the side quests, but I generally stuck to the main story. I didn't really peruse many stores or explore many planets because I honestly wanted to finish it before I became any uncooler for playing it so late for the first time. But I still enjoyed the heck out of it, and I know that the next time I play it and take things a little slower, I will enjoy the heck out of it as well.

So yeah, two amazing games that came out about 5 years ago by now. If you've been a loser like me and haven't played them until now, go buy them; I'll bet you can snag them both off Steam for $5 each during a Summer Sale.

Tuesday, June 5, 2012

"All your base are belong to us"

This is a book that I've had sitting around various locations (backseat of my car, hamper, bookshelf) for [what seems like] several years that I've really wanted to try to get through reading, but now that I've finally picked it up and read it to the back cover, I feel slightly disappointment.  It's kind of hard to put my finger on why I don't think this book lived up to expectations, but I will try.

The biggest thing that I find is that the title is (in my mind) completely deceptive. It references a pseudo-obscure reference that is meant to give people a chuckle, but the book doesn't follow through on that. It feels incredibly droll and slow moving and very rarely says something that is witty or funny. (The attempts at humor are borderline cringe-worthy, at best.) I guess from the title, I was expecting to get all these tiny nuggets of information about the evolution of video games, like the poorly translated Zero Wing, but there was little to none of that in this book.

So what is this book? Well, the subtitle is just about as deceiving as the title: "How Fifty Years of Videogames Conquered Pop Culture" is a horrible misnomer about what this book even tries to be. It doesn't at all spend time talking about how video games (note the space there, book makers) conquered or even effected pop culture; instead, it spends nearly all of the book just talking about how specific companies were formed. At the beginning of the book, this makes sense: myself being relatively young, I had always assumed that Pong was the first "video game", so I greatly enjoyed learning about its predecessors and then eventually how Pong did slip into history.

But I was really expecting that type of angle to die off at about 1/3 of the way through the book. Instead it continued throughout the entirety of the rest of the book. I suppose the reason I got less and less interested is that as the video game market spread out, singular people and companies got less and less important. In the beginning, it's interesting and crucial to talk about the forefathers of the industry, but by the time Miyamoto comes into the picture, things are happening all over the place and you feel kind of robbed that the author spends so much time on this one person, or one game (Tetris). Granted, each chapter was interesting to an extent, but it just seemed much too chaotic to be considered a "book"; it seemed to lack a general thesis to which every chapter adhered to.

About halfway through the book, you start to call BS. It becomes just a random smattering of a detailed history of specific games or companies with no rhyme or reason. The very least that this book could be lacking would be a brief description of why a certain company or game was crucial to the way that gaming was changing. Goldberg does that occasionally mid-chapter, but he talks more like an advertiser than a historian or an interested party; he goes in in poetical speech about how this new game gave the player this new sensation in a way that they never could before and how the graphics or gameplay were so real and.....that's great, but what does it mean? How did it effect the market? How did it change the view of video games in the eyes of the general population?

One of the things I found most annoying about this book is what I just mentioned: his poetical descriptions. Maybe I'm being cynical, but there's really no point in attempting to describe what playing Everquest for the first time was or the graphics of Bioshock, because it was very, very specific and restricted to that time. When Donkey Kong first came out, people were engrossed. They were amazed at the quality of the graphics and the gameplay, the sounds, everything. Nowadays, people are not engrossed by it, and they really cannot understand what it was like to be engrossed by it because they never were. So I frequently found myself rolling my eyes when Goldberg spent several pages gushing on how amazing Everquest was, because they're just words to me. One sentence will sum it up just fine.
On the other side of the coin, if you have been engrossed by a game, reading it is pointless because you already know everything that he's saying! I found myself skipping parts of the chapter on Bioshock for that very reason: I've played Bioshock, I know the graphics and the world and the overall creepiness. Spending several pages to gush about it is just time that I could be reading about something new. I just felt like this book had way too much filler, but then I was really expecting something more intricate.

Towards the very, very end of the book Goldberg finally seems to get to something relevant: how the industry is/was changing. But it just seems so terribly rushed. It points out another horrid flaw that I saw in this book, which was pacing. It's not that I didn't find some of the earlier stuff interesting, but I felt like it really should have gradually transitioned over a period of time, spending about a chapter or two for each era. But instead, he tries to cover the "modern" era in just one chapter, focusing almost entirely on Nintendo. Actually, fanboying on Nintendo. Maybe that word is too harsh, but it was certainly the first word that came to mind when I tried to stomach the chapter on the Wii. I will grant that I am totally biased and so maybe my view on the matter is completely wrong, but somehow I never ever expected to read the words "Wii juggernaut". I'm having a hard time trying to summarize what I think is wrong with this chapter because...honestly, I think everything is so wrong. And it's not even that the info is wrong; I know that the Wii sold very well, but I also know that opinions of it are very very different than opinions of the PS3 or the 360. I know that, for a lot of people, the Wii is something that just kind of sits on their shelf that they'll get out every now and then, but their Sony or Microsoft system is what's usually humming; the Wii is just so cheap, you shrug and think "Why not?"
To me it just seems very inaccurate to look at the sales of the Wii and say that it is the most important of the current generation of consoles, especially in a book that is supposed to be written by an informed party! Instead he completely downplays the fact that the Wii doesn't have HD resolution, even DVD (much less Blu-Ray) playback, or decent online play. He mentions them briefly but just kind of stuffs them down because hey, the Wii is selling well, right? So it must be awesome.

Overall I feel that Goldberg just utterly and completely missed about 90% of the information that made it into this book. And it's not that I know the information that he left out that he should have put in; on the contrary, after reading this book, I don't really feel enlightened, I just feel frustrated. What about the death of Sega and Microsoft entering the ring? What about mobile gaming devices other than 2-3 pages briefly mentioning the original Gameboy? Does Bioshock really necessitate an entire chapter dedicated to it? What about gaming on tablets, phones, and other media? What about how PC gaming has been making a recent comeback; what about Steam?!?!

It just misses the mark in so many ways and if you check the Amazon reviews, you'll see that many people will agree with me. The strangest thing about this book is that it honestly did not seem like Goldberg seemed like he knew what he was talking about. He felt more like an outsider looking in that somebody who has apparently been reviewing video games for 15 years. By the end of this book, I did not have any sense of satisfaction, I was just glad that it was over and actually looking forward to an old textbook on AI that I picked up at my school computer lab. (That's how much enthusiasm I had for finishing this book.) I would not recommend this book to anyone and I'll probably honestly never read it again. There are some interesting stories and it's not horribly written in all places, but it's just not worth it; I feel that there are probably so many other books out there that do a better job than AYBABTU that spending your time reading it instead of them is just a waste of your time.

Here's the Amazon page for it. Don't buy it, dummy.