Friday, September 30, 2011

Phoenix Downs and Phantom Trains

Video games have changed over the years, and if you're not a regular follower of the medium you may have missed the subtle shifts at work. Let me explain it to you.

Modern video games: "Hey what's up! Okay, here's how the controller works, here's what this button does, now this one, now those two together. Did you die? It's okay, I saved for you when you entered the room!"

Old video games: Go **** yourself.

You notice the difference when a more casual gamer (aka, normal person) attempts to play  . . . say Chrono Trigger, or Final Fantasy VII. You hear a lot of "So I have to do all that again?" and "How was I supposed to know that?"

And the answer is that, yes, you have to do all that again. And you were supposed to know that because the designers just assumed you were familiar with the mechanics of this genre—or that you'd get desperate enough to look through the manual*, which was a larger part of the experience in those days.

The problem for those of us who've been playing for a while is that we don't fully trust the modern design. We've been trained to hunt for that next save point (see kids, before there was autosaving you only got to save your game at certain points. If a boss battle left your party a wreck, you healed up afterwards, immediately. Otherwise, you might get randomly attacked in the 5 steps to the save point, die, and tear your controller in half.**) and now the idea of turning off the system without selecting a save slot is like trusting a random person to deposit your paycheck.

*And sometimes you'd rent a game, and in that section at the back for "notes" that no one used some guy would have copied down every level skip code. And you knew that, wherever that guy was, he was awesome.

**That was FF7, by the way, and the boss was Alexander.

Saturday, September 24, 2011

History Lesson

Far be it from me to grumble about "these kids today," or their lack of understanding about . . . whatever. I don't think those kinds of criticisms are worth much, other than to highlight the speaker's level of irrelevance. 

But it's come to my attention that there's an entire generation who doesn't know about WinAmp.*

Before there was an iTunes to complain about, there was exactly one music player that anyone cared about, and it was called WinAmp. It was a light, versatile piece of software that simply did what it was supposed to.

Like the honey badger, WinAmp does not give a ****. Winamp does not manage your collection of music, scan your hard drive for music, or do anything else with your music-unless you tell it to. You can run multiple instances of WinAmp at the same time. You can play different songs on those instances all at once. I mean I don't know why you'd want to, but WinAmp doesn't make the assumption that you wouldn't. 

And it's still there. Even though it's been largely forgotten, WinAmp is still around. Try it. You might just find that there's comfort in a tool you can mold, rather than one that molds you.

*Also, Apple did not invent the mp3 player, or even the hard drive based mp3 player. I was using one of these when you were putting a cushion under your CD player.

Friday, September 16, 2011

Ready When You Are

I understand why getting television shows through the Internet is so difficult.

There are a lot of parties involved: ones that make content, ones that deliver it, ones that attach their dreaded advertising onto it. And all of them stand firmly on a groundwork of laws, business models, and methods that weren't designed with the Internet in mind.

But for a moment, TV execs, please consider how frustrating the whole thing is to me as a consumer.

I like some of your products. They're good. I enjoy them, and I'd like to purchase them from you. And you won't let me. Oh I know you've got episodes on Amazon and iTunes and such, but that's not good enough. Selling me the product I want with conditions on exactly how I can get it is not what I want. It's like selling me a piece of cake, but only letting me eat it if I wear handcuffs. And I know you've got ad-supported shows on your website and Hulu, but that's . . . let's see . . . that's kinda like spitting on the cake. And that's gross. What a terrible bakery you run.

Just let me buy my episodes, commercial and DRM-free, and watch them. Is that so hard? Doesn't it tell you something is drastically wrong with your industry that you have a customer in your shop, money in hand, ready to buy a product that you make, and you're completely incapable of selling it to him?*

The terrible reality is that pirates understand your audience, and the future of your industry, much better than you do.

*In fairness, this is true at a number of physical stores as well.

Friday, September 9, 2011

This post is worth8.75/10

At some point I stopped reading reviews, for anything. Actually that's not exactly accurate. I stopped reading anything in a review except the last paragraph. That golden bit of text is where most any author give me what I want: a quick summary of what he thought, and whether he feels this thing is worth my time.

I realize this policy might be an affront to people who write reviews for a living, and consider them valuable, but I stand by it. The fact is, as a form of communication I think reviewing is incredibly weird for a couple of reasons.

1. Experience is inherently a partnership between the viewer and the viewed (a bad way to phrase it, since there are usually more senses involved, but you get my meaning). As a separate entity from myself, you can't infer much at all about my reaction to the same thing. It'd be like if you tried on clothes for me, or (when I was single) dated a girl on my behalf—very little of what you'd find would have any relevance to my experience.

2. Most anything that gets reviewed I can investigate on my own for a nominal fee. I can try electronics out at a store, rent movies or see them in the theater for an (arguably) small price. Video games do have such a high cost that a bad review might save me a considerable amount, but that's why I use Gamefly and buy PC games on the cheap.

In fairness, there are things that a good reviewer can do:

-Provide perspective from a very knowledgeable person who can evaluate a product against its competitors, or a book/movie/game in terms of his experience with the medium
-Offer a discussion of a thing's merits, so that I think about it in a different way or notice elements that I might otherwise miss.

But both of those benefits are more useful after I've had direct experience, not before. They are elements of academic analysis, not a purchase recommendation.

So what do I need before direct experience? I need to know where to invest my time. Don't tell me what's "good" and "bad." Tell me what's interesting and boring. Direct me toward things worth looking into, give me enough data to recognize something that's not. And by all means keep putting it in the last paragraph, its as good a place as any.*

*Don't bother saying that you skipped to the last paragraph of this post, I've beaten you to it.

Friday, September 2, 2011

This is a joke. Please don't try it.

For hundreds of years, people have been trying to lose weight, but no one has ever found a way to do it!

Now, thanks to the marvels of modern science combined with ancient Chinese weight loss secrets, at last you can get the body you want. Immediately! Like, tomorrow!

How? Simple! BurnFlex Turbo 44x*!

BurnFlex Turbo 44x is the ultimate and only way to strengthen your abs, arms, legs, ears, face and kneecaps all while becoming more attractive! The key to BurnFlex Turbo 44x is it's asymmetrical power design that shocks your body into destroying itself, taking the ugly fat along with it!

A BurnFlex Turbo 44x workout does it all. First, push-ups until you collapse, then a run in 90 degree sunlight until you're severely dehydrated. Follow that up by doing more push-ups with your hands in vats of ice water, and then eat a handful of salt! That'll teach your body to be fat!

Once you're done, the dieting takes care of itself, since your digestive system will now be shocked into "health mode," and be unable to process anything at all. It's losing weight the natural way!

*Brought to you by PowerSauce.