What’s Your Price For Flight?

January 25th, 2011 § 0 comments § permalink

My lovely wife bought me Rock Band 3 for Christmas. I already owned some incarnation of Guitar Hero (also a gift, also from wife), so a plastic guitar with five clacky plastic buttons and clackier strum bar already cluttered a corner of our living room. Guitar Hero belongs to that genre of video game known as a “rhythm game” where correctly pushing buttons on a nominally instrument shaped controller in response to visual or audio stimuli racks up points. You may argue this is true of all video games, so the distinguishing factor here is that the stimuli are nominally music related. Push the buttons in time to the beat or flashing light, basically. Rock Band 3 mostly follows the same model as Guitar Hero except with the addition of more instruments (vocals, drums, and keyboard). With the purchase of a microphone we now have a video game that Susan and I can actually play together.

Rock Band 3 interested me because of the new “Pro Mode” feature. For instrumentals, rather than playing a cut down instrument with five buttons, players now have the option to play the real thing, or at least something a lot closer to the real notes. This requires a MIDI capable device which in the case of the guitar or keyboard could be considered a bona fide genuine musical instrument. The guitar is already on order and won’t show up until March, but I already have a MIDI keyboard. So I plugged it in expecting to kick ass and was instantly, crushingly humiliated. A virtual audience threw beer bottles and kicked me off the stage in the midst of playing “Roxanne”. I barely managed Devo, and “Whip It” involves a grand total of seven keys, dammit.

The problem is, my brain is wired to read music notation. Very hard wired. To the detriment of many other things.

And Pro Mode does not involve reading music. It involves reacting to upwardly scrolling columns of beads. This is the normal modus operandi of these musical rhythm games, but Pro Mode more than doubles the stakes (twelve columns instead of five buttons, mapping to a keyboard octave), and throws in whole scale remappings to other parts of the keyboard for good measure. As a generous gesture, it color codes these bars. However, even this generosity does not create anything close to resembling to music notation. In fifty years, as music education dies a slow agonizing death in elementary schools, it may perhaps supplant music notation and mnemonics such as Every Good Boy Deserves Fudge may be perceived as an utterly quaint historic custom. But this is not the musical notation that I can read today better than I can recognize my neighbor’s faces.

I struggled with this for a few days and got somewhat better. Then I went after a Trophy: playing 200 consecutive notes on Pro Keyboard mode in Sister Christian. I tried for two hours, clawing my way to 170 before screwing up, and gave it up. My brain waggles fingers in reaction to a restricted set of stimuli involving black beans sitting on horizontal lines on a page and that wasn’t about to readily change. So I did what any sane musician would do: I went away, found a recording, transcribed the keyboard part of Sister Christian to manuscript paper, came back, and kicked its ass.

And now you know why this page of music is floating around my living room. You may call it a cheat code if you will. It is certainly an arcane scribbling that, when correctly followed, allows one to beat an arbitrary task set in a video game. The fact that there is some higher merit attributed to this piece of paper is perhaps just a stubborn fiction that I will cling to in the name of my art.

Official Lego Harley?

February 18th, 2008 § 1 comment § permalink

Screenshot of Harley Quinn from Lego Batman: The Videogame

Screenshots released today of Harley Quinn from Lego Batman: The Videogame, which means this is probably what the actual minifig will look like in a kit released later on this year. I like the head, but I still think my torso design is better. :)

More screenshots at Shacknews.

On a related note, I love Paul Dini’s current writing on Detective Comics. More Harley and Zatanna (in April)!

Chess with the Google Web Toolkit

April 1st, 2007 § 2 comments § permalink

Screen capture of Chess applet written with GWT

My brother-in-law and I have been playing chess by e-mail for the last few months. This has been less than optimal: we use the old style English notation rather than algebraic notation, and he sets up a real board while I use Apple Chess, so there’s always some transcription from mail to board. Invariably one of us (usually me) gets something wrong, and we end up backtracking through mail history or making a stupid move that we didn’t intend.

We looked at web interfaces for chess by e-mail gateways, and none of them worked out acceptably for both of us. So finally I decided I’d program something. I decided to put together a client side using the Google Web Toolkit; I plan to integrate the back end with WordPress as a PHP plugin.

The Google Web Toolkit (GWT) is pretty neat, even without diving into all the AJAX/RPC stuff which I might not need for this project. You program the client side in Java, using the GWT-supplied emulation of java.lang, java.util, plus their own classes which provide UI elements and control over the browser object model. During development, the GWT environment runs your code in a Java-enabled hosted browser; once done, it compiles your code into browser-specific Javascript. No Java plugin required.

The result of hacking this weekend: a Chess applet that runs in a browser. The applet itself is about 61 KiB depending on browser, plus 16 KiB for Google-supplied base code. You can play a new game on a blank board here. All chess rules except for pawn promotion are handled, including en passant and castling – you shouldn’t be able to input an invalid move. (If so, it’s a bug! Please let me know.) It should detect check, checkmate, and stalemate (by lack of move) correctly, and the game log should be maintained in proper algebraic notation. The applet can also load a movelist in PGN format (or at least a good subset of it), embedded directly on the web page – for example, here’s Fool’s Mate in 4 moves, view the page source to see the original PGN. For a more interesting problem, here’s Reshevsky vs. Fisher, 1970, black to move and win.

I burrowed the icons from XBoard, themselves generated from a METAFONT font. I noticed Wikipedia has SVG versions derived from same.

The Google Web Toolkit does have a few quirks. No java.util.StringTokenizer, but String.split sort of covers that. It also doesn’t completely cover cross-browser issues. I noticed some differences between regular expression handling (or maybe it was actually newline or whitespace issues in TextAreas), and because of Internet Explorer stupidity (lack of CSS support for min-width), and because I couldn’t figure out how to size an element after an image had guaranteed loading, I couldn’t successfully achieve my goal of getting all sizes and images controlled completely by a style sheet. I still have a ways to go before the client UI is as clean as I want, and with all the chess rules pushed to the client side, it isn’t as optimal as it should be. For example, you may have gotten a script incomplete warning while loading the last page: it’s churning through a lot of possible moves while dealing with PGN notation. Then there’s figuring out how to integrate this all with WordPress properly. Once this is all done though, David and I can finally be rid of my KP1-KP3 gaffes.

“gg” just makes it worse

March 30th, 2007 § 0 comments § permalink

Online Gaming: Because It's Never Your Own Fault That You Got PvPed

I can’t claim credit for the original idea; someone else did a Star Wars themed version over on RPGnet, in this thread. I just thought Kill Bill was a better fit. Click image for the full version (1287 x 765, 313Kib).

Incidentally, crazy42′s quote is exactly what was mailed to my Nintendo DS while playing Final Fantasy III last week.

Got better excuses?

Yeah, it’s December!

December 5th, 2004 § 0 comments § permalink

November is over, and with it go my seasonal doldrums. I was mildly disgruntled at work for half the month for all the usual reasons, but it is now December, vacation is coming up, and I am so over it. Any further dwelling on this topic would lead to rants of the sort that would undoubtably get me fired, and there are parts of the job I enjoy sufficiently enough for this to be an undesirable circumstance.

Judgement Ring from Shadow Hearts Covenant Apart from the blues my other excuse for not blogging much lately has been a pair of video games eating up a lot of waking hours. Not the first person shooter sequels dominating the scene; I can’t play any of these due to motion sickness. So for a combined total of something like a hundred hours, I’ve been slogging through Shadow Hearts and its recently released sequel, Shadow Hearts: Covenant. Both of these games are RPGs of the Final Fantasy X-ish variety, with the main twist being the “Judgement Ring” – a Wheel of Fortune deal, but involving split second timing and quick reflexes. Which is exactly the sort of thing not well tuned in a person who doesn’t play FPSs.

So a lot of time ended up spent hunched in front of the TV, eyeing a fiendishly fast needle spinning on a dial and trying to get it to line up with equally fiendish little red wedges. Which I guess is about as lame as it sounds, but the games were entertaining enough to make it worth while. Oh yeah, all press you may have seen about Covenant is indeed true: the characters are pretty loopy (a vampire-turned-pro-wrestler features prominently), and yes, there is indeed a very weird upgrade path, which Penny Arcade describes most humorously. Unlike FFX, I actually did finish both games. Shadow Hearts doesn’t make getting ultimate powerups depend on silly, nearly impossible minigames like, say, dodging lightning bolts 200 times in a row. This makes the game more appealing to power munchkins such as I. Square Enix, please take note.

Now that I have the RPG bug out of my system for another few months, and before I fall to Jeff’s proffered temptation that is World of Warcraft, perhaps I should mention that Susan and I did spend Thanksgiving together in Vancouver. Family and girlfriend were introduced to each other with no ill-effect, a delicious turkey with trimmings was made by Susan and scarfed down by all (although Mum did get cranky about the collision in timing with her current soap opera – sigh), and general merriment was had with friends. I picked up a new nickname which you will have to extract from Susan since she’s inadvertently responsible for it.

In other news, my fellow piano student Donna has, unlike me, put her musical talent to good use and with her piano trio has put out a CD. You have it on good authority (mine – in a former life I actually performed half of the C minor Mendelssohn trio, so I know exactly how hard it is) that it’s an excellent recording, and you should consider buying it – especially if you’re a current or former Lorraine Ambrose student.

My brother-in-law, who is now more or less ensconced in his new position as elementary school teacher, seems to be inflicting HTML upon his students. Say hi to the students of Wiltse Elementary’s Division 4.

And finally, speaking of HTML, I have decided the recent experiments with drop shadowed title bars and menus really were quite tacky and have scaled back them back. Opinions on the look and navigational structure are encouraged!

Saturday, April 3

April 3rd, 2004 § 0 comments § permalink

Back in grade ten (my worst year of high school), I started playing Dungeons and Dragons with some fellow misfits from CS 12. During the very first session, and if I recall correctly during the very first battle, our dungeonmaster Graham saw fit to unleash a shambling mound upon us.

Those of you not familiar with the D&D Monster Manual will probably have the same reaction I did that day: “a what?” Letting google answer the question, you’ll then understand my followup reaction to the answer: “a giant animated pile of rotting vegetation is beating up on me? What kind of medieval fantasy game is this?”

In retrospect, I think it was less of an unleashing so much as a bad roll off a random encounter table. Graham definitely wasn’t a mean guy, but neither was he very imaginative.

I’m surprised now that I was still interested in the game after that afternoon, where a nine hit die pile of weeds quickly laid waste to our party. Graham was soft in some ways – he’d given us each “rings of reincarnation”, which we went through instantly – but hard in others. In particular, he grimly enforced the “lightning causes shambling mounds to grow bigger” rule. It was really a no-win situation from the start. Nonetheless I still continued to play after that, and it was the habitual truancy for these sessions which eventually led me to nearly fail Comp Sci 12.

Anyways, I was reminded of this incident because of yard work today. If looking outside isn’t enough of a reminder, the increased commentary on yard work among friends’ blogs is certainly a harbinger of spring. When Rosalind visited a couple of weekends ago she commented on the moss growing in the back yard. Moss had taken over a large portion of the area, a result of living in a wet climate with poor drainage and acidic soil. So we went a trip to Home Depot where we picked up a jug of iron sulfate moss killing compound. She liberally applied it to the yard and within half a day the moss turned black (and, I imagine, made a squeaking, shriveling dying noise). Today was the first day I could rake it all out, and soon discovered a six inch thick layer of moss taking over a third of a lawn makes for a lot of raking. By end of it I felt like I could animate my own shambling mound – two hit die’s worth, at least.

Normal people herald spring with evocative haikus. I herald it instead with the relationship between yard work and hack and slash role playing games:

A bolt of lightning
Blasts the moss in my back yard..
Help! A shambling mound!

Thursday, January 29

January 29th, 2004 § 0 comments § permalink

So after the couple of movies left in the contract, Pixar will part ways with The Mouse. I guess I was as surprised as anyone, even taking into account that this will have zero effect on my job.

It’s ironic how the last blog entry was me being all chirpy about work, because this last week has been pretty stressful. The reward for a good review is even more work piled on your plate. The current project is subdivs again, from a new angle this time around. (Sorry, can’t get that specific.) Lots of math, not many easy papers to read (and typos to contend with), different coordinate systems to get confused about, fiddly indexing of arrays of data, all for a deadline which looks more and more overly optimistic. As a result I’ve been mean at work and I know it. Argh.

Lame as it sounds, adding to the stress this week has been the current video game addiction: Tiger Woods PGA Tour 2004. Manh suggested I get the game for online competition, and I must admit it’s pretty cool – taking into account that I haven’t played a real game of golf ever since high school and the infamous backswing incident where I bloodied someone’s nose. I spent half an hour fiddling with the Game Face feature trying to make the game avatar look like me, which was a novel feature for a console game – even though I don’t think they spent much time tweaking it for Asians:

Tiger Woods PGA 2004 avatar

The stress part comes from being a sore loser, especially when it comes to virtual CPU opponents. By extension I’d think I’d be a terror on a real golf course field. I can easily see myself taking a putter and attacking people with it after missing a hole by a few inches. Manh, Leon and Gary have told me to pick up the sport and get clubs this year to join them for a few rounds. I think given they call me a spaz on a regular basis, they may not want to press the issue.

Wednesday, January 30

January 30th, 2002 § 0 comments § permalink

Spent last evening and all of today’s working hours tracking down one little niggling, yet painfully catastrophic, bug. Ugh.

Forgot to post this, the results of taking the “What Pre-1985 Video Game Character Am I?” test a couple of weeks ago:

What Video Game Character Are You? I am a Gauntlet Adventurer. I am a Gauntlet Adventurer.

I strive to improve my living conditions by hoarding gold, food, and sometimes keys and potions. I love adventure, fighting, and particularly winning – especially when there’s a prize at stake. I occasionally get lost inside buildings and can’t find the exit. I need food badly.

Oddly enough, Gauntlet has a special place in my heart as the only game which caused Dr. Hinton to revoke my high school computer lab privileges for a week.

Saturday, November 10

November 10th, 2001 § 0 comments § permalink

Some of you may fondly recall the “gold box” Dungeons and Dragons computer games put out under the SSI label during the eighties, including the original Pool Of Radiance. If so, whatever you do, do not buy Pool Of Radiance: Ruins of Myth Drannor. Unfortunately, I did, and I deeply regret it – that’ll be the last time I impulsively buy a game based on the box without reading its reviews first. There are so many things wrong with it – terribly clumsy interface, crippled or missing classes from the 3rd edition D & D rules, barely any NPCs, pointless repetition. And I nearly bought Civilization III instead, dammit.

One good thing has come out of this though: it annoyed me enough to do some coding on the mud for the first time in months.

Monday, October 15

October 15th, 2001 § 0 comments § permalink

Been a while, for which I can blame being busy with work, having some computer downtime, and find other more recreational things to do.

Work for the last couple of weeks has mainly been dealing with the pending software release. That’s really it in a nutshell, but as they say the devil’s in the details. Over the last two weeks I’ve ended up writing a lot of documentation, thinking about software installation details, writing and running regression tests, and finally today setting up some cgi-bin scripts to control who really gets to download the software. Hopefully we can get this damn thing out the door tomorrow.

Computer downtime was started about two weeks ago, when I finally concluded the mysterious crashes of my Win2K box was due to CPU overheating. While addressing that problem I decided I’d better upgrade some hardware and operating systems – hence the downtime last weekend, in case anyone noticed.

As far as recreation goes, on Wednesday I finally found myself a climbing partner via Ironwork’s online message board, and so on Friday, I went climbing for real for the first time. Kristin and I got along well enough, and despite some initial concern about my being an utter novice, it turns out we have nearly commensurate ability. So it looks like I’ll have a climbing partner for the next while, or at least until we both “get off the ground” (her words). Tonight I spent another hour climbing, got my permanent belay card, and finally managed to complete one 5.7 route. I was quite pleased with that, although relative to the other routes, this isn’t much – the Ironworks is a pretty spartan place for a newbie climber. Besides a couple of kiddie routes (mislabeled 5.10 as pointed out by Kristin, much to my chagrin on the first day when I charged up them gleefully), there is one 5.3, one 5.5, and maybe three or four 5.7 routes at the place. (No idea what these numbers are referring to? Check out the Yosemite Decimal System.)

Haven’t really been to TKD practice – turned my left ankle badly couple of weeks ago, but that really has been just a lame excuse since unlike my other ankle twisting, I was mostly fine by the next day.

The other recreation aspect is that I’ve been spending too much time on my current video game addiction. I’m glad my only PS2 game purchase so far has been Gran Turismo 3, because it’s just way cool – and this is coming from someone who generally thinks that cars and car-related games suck. The driving engine is both hard enough to be challenging, yet not completely impossible for driving challenged folks like me. The car collecting and upgrading aspect is pretty mindnumbing – just think Pokémon: “Mazda Miata, I choose you!” or “Mitsubishi Lancer has evolved to Turbo Level 4!”. And the brain dead AI and non-existent collision damage leads to some fun tricks – ie scraping up against another car on the outside lane in order to make a corner faster.

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