Friday, November 27, 2009

Is this really so hard?

If you, while walking down the street, saw a man flailing his arms, mumbling to himself, and jerking his head around wildly, you'd likely cross the street to avoid him. And doing so wouldn't constitute some kind of bigotry on your part. No, staying away from that man is absolutely the right thing to do. The chances of him grabbing you, striking you, or attempting to lick your face are significantly higher than they are for most strangers.

Informal social rules, although they seem arbitrary when you examine them closely, do serve an important purpose. A man wearing clean clothes is communicating something to the world around him. He took the time to buy those clothes, to wash them and fold them, to put them on before he left the house. "Hello," his garments say to society at large, "I am NOT here to murder you!"

So why is it that a person's writing is not subjected to the same kind of scrutiny as their behavior on the street? Why don't we look at bad writing and see it as suspicious, too?

And I'm not talking about little stuff. If you make the occasional spelling error, forget a punctuation mark, or even make a grammatical error, that's one thing. People make mistakes, and writing is a skill that not everyone has.

But if you write a paragraph's worth of information without a single capital letter or period, all your thoughts separated by ellipses, then you need to be put on some kind of watch list. Just like a man babbling to himself incoherently, that sort of writing shows a complete disregard for any human life around the speaker. It is nothing less than the telltale sign of a broken, tattered mind.*

*See also: My work inbox.

Friday, November 20, 2009

Authoral Gaming, Part 2

So I mailed Uncharted 2: Among Thieves back to Gamefly (it's like Netflix for games) the other day.

There was a point during my rental that I thought I might try to acquire the Uncharted 2's "Platinum Trophy," the highest accolade available on any Playstation 3 game. Platinum Trophies are the award for getting all other trophies, a special prize reserved for those players that don't just beat the game, but master it to the level of mockery.

Course then I came to my senses.

See, I follow a simple rule for playing video games, really for consuming any form of entertainment: When I stop enjoying the experience, I walk away. Never burn yourself out on something that you don't like, even if you feel like you SHOULD like it or because you feel obligated to complete it.

With Uncharted 2, I enjoyed playing through the game, for sure. In fact I loved every minute of it. I even enjoyed hunting down some of the more difficult "silver" and "gold" trophies.

I DID NOT enjoy attempting the trophy for beating the game on the highest difficulty. I did not enjoy that at all. And the reason I didn't enjoy it goes back to the authorial aspect of games.

Even though Nathan Drake, the main character in Uncharted, is a firmly established "action movie hero" character, the player still has a lot of authorial room to work with while taking on that role.

-Does Drake stick to the plentiful automatic rifles? Or is he more of a skirmisher, using shotguns and rushing his enemies?

-Does Drake go into a situation carefully, sneaking around and using stealth take-downs? Or does he toss a grenade out as his opening move?

-Does Drake spend lots of time searching out every hidden treasure in an area?* Or is he just looking for the next challenge?

And the brilliant bit about Uncharted's storytelling is that all of these options are compltely reasonable for the character. When I play, I blind-fire from cover all the time, use grenades as a distraction while I change position, and frequently run-and-gun an advancing enemy. But watching a friend play through the game, I never felt strange watching him scope out an area so he could take out several enemies with stealth, then find a long-range position where he could pick off the remaining baddies with his pistol.

There's enough room in Drake's character for all these options to be reasonable, and enough leeway in the game mechanics to allow all of them to be successful.

. . . Unless you turn up the difficulty. "Crushing mode" limits your options while playing the character. I simply can't jump out of cover to bring down an enemy. I can't even change position very often because I'd be cut down too quickly.

Doesn't that make the game more realistic? Sure.

But I'm not in this for a combat-simulator. I'm in it for a narrative experience that I get to take part in, and that experience gets broken when I have to play the character a certain way.

*Because I guess some people author their character as a severe obsessive-compulsive.

Thursday, November 12, 2009

Random Play All

-Some people tell me that I only hear what I want to hear, and those people are right, I AM very attractive.

-The word "brewery" is kinda hard to pronounce, you almost can't say it without sounding drunk. It makes me think that the original pronunciation was something else entirely, but it's been slurred into oblivion by generations of intoxicated people. "I'm comin' home from the brurar-y. From the ber-rur-y! From the burrrrrr-y."

-Dear Carl Sagan,

Dude, what the hell are you talking about? If I wish to make an apple pie from scratch, I don't have to invent the universe.* I just go to the grocery store. It's super-easy.

Your pal, Sam

-I can't look at the word "ration" without reading it as "rat ion," which I guess would be a rat with a negative electrical charge.

-My hobby: Saying nice things in a sleazy way. "Check that out that girl. Ohhhh yeah, I would buy THAT some flowers."

-There should be a mixer event for geeks called "Speed Chess Dating."

*It does make a good intro to Glorious Dawn, though.

Friday, November 6, 2009

That hideous lie

Aptitude isn't something I'm a big fan of. It is, in fact, a concept that I'm wholly against. Also, I think I once referred to it as "that hideous lie."

And that's . . . not exactly an endorsement.

But there's a dirty little secret to this particular aspect of my world view. Even though I believe it, I have to admit that people DO take to certain skills more readily than to others.

I'll pause here to answer your question, "But Sam, how can you believe something while also acknowledging evidence that contradicts it?"

Answer: Because I am a crazy person.

And I suggest that you do everything possible to become crazy like me. How lifeless my mind would be if I dismissed every idea simply because of the clear evidence against it! I can't even imagine what that would be like. *shudder*

Without that ability, I certainly wouldn't have solved this "aptitude dilemma" one day while I was thinking about robots.

I'll pause here to answer your next question, "Why were you thinking about robots?"

Answer: I think about robots a lot, actually. See also: the answer to your first question.

Not only do I think about robots a lot, I've been thinking about them, and machines in general, my entire life. You might remember me talking about one of my favorite childhood books. You know what it's about? People building machines to solve problems.

And then there's one of the earliest Christmas presents I remember.

And then there's the piggy bank I had.

Oh, and I was also big into Lego, a toy that is about building stuff. And I didn't just like any Lego's, I liked Space Lego's.* The ones that had the most to do with technology.

So now let me ask you something. Do I have an aptitude for machines? Do I "just get" computers?

Or is it that, when the time came to start using technology seriously, all those years of thinking about and tinkering with machines came to my aid? Because if that's the case, then what the world sees as "aptitude" is really my personality, my interests, and the mark they've made on my mind.

*Yes, I had the monorail. And yes, it WAS awesome.