Games and Gamers…

Everyone has an image in mind when they think of a gamer. You know the one; living in his mom’s basement, with no job or life to call their own. Perhaps even fat, lazy, and dirty. There are those who fit that description, but the reality is most of us are actually quite functional members of society.

I guess the thing to figure out is what makes a gamer. You can try and define us by the types of games we play, but if you know more than one gamer you’ll know that we can argue about the dumbest aspects of a game. The tiniest thing can mean loving it, or hating it. So we can’t be put in that kind of a box. Simply, a gamer is someone who enjoys playing video games. This means that the Grandmother who plays Wii Sports is a gamer. Anyone who plays solitaire at work, is a gamer. The lines are blurring, and society is finding it more and more difficult to keep up their shunning of this new age of human entertainment.

Call of Duty: Modern Warfare 3

The world has changed, and video games have become the new books; that fact will frighten some and sadden others, but it remains true. If you go around and survey people between 20 and 30, asking if they’ve ever read Moby Dick, they might answer yes only because their parents read it to/with them as a child. Ask the same group if they’ve ever played Mario, and I would be willing to bet 90% or more would say yes, and then be able to go on describing their favorite part. The success of recent games like “Call of Duty: Modern Warfare 3” is not just because there’s more kids playing video games, but because their parents are playing them too. An entire industry has grown up, and almost nobody has noticed. The ones who have noticed have been trying to deny it, or capitalize on it; there really seems to be almost no middle ground.

The beauty of games is that they come in so many styles and types. No two are the same, even if they share some of the same elements. “Battlefield 3” and “Modern Warfare 3” are direct competitors in the shooting genre, but ask any gamer which one is better and they can go into great detail about why one is better than the other. Same type of game, two completely different styles of implementation. I prefer “Modern Warfare 3,” because of the better response from the control system.

Sephiroth - Aerith scenePeople ask me why I like games so much, and I have never really taken the time to consider it in great detail until now. If I had to sum it up, I like them because of the complex things that make it all work; and because they can be just as effective, as an escape, as a good book. In truth, many games now have more involved and developed story lines than modern books. The process of getting your attention has gone far beyond simply making it fun to play.

They have to engage you mentally as well. “Final Fantasy 7” still has thousands of players around the world (including your writer) even after 2 new console generations and countless graphics improvements in the industry. The story captured peoples’ imaginations and took us to a place no book can… A place where we actually get to make choices in the story. Sure, they have choose your own adventure books, but those just encourage you to spend more time organizing a system, to reach every possible ending, than actually enjoying the story.

Creating a game is a very time consuming and complex thing. It seems that most people think they just sit in a room for a month or two and crank one out like a movie, but it is vastly more stressful than that. You have to code everything so that when you press “A”, you jump. You have to have extremely talented artists to make it all look amazing while you play it (even a game as simple as “FEZ” took immense thought and creativity.) There are people whose’ only job is to make sure that a single level works the way it should.

The easy tileset for the Gnome games version o...

The process of fixing a bug in a game is very misunderstood by most gamers as well. If you browse the forums for any game, you will find people complaining about things that they don’t have in game, or that are broken. Often they just demand immediate solutions, but they don’t understand that it takes time and many people to get there. First someone has to identify where the problem is in the code, then they have to either fix it or write a new feature (which could break something else) and send it off to the artists. The artists make sure it appears to belong in the game, because if the menu shows Mahjong tiles in a solitaire (Klondike) game, it confuses the player. That’s an extreme example, but true enough.

After the code is implemented, and the art work is done, the testers take over. Their job is to find as many bugs in the new system as possible, and report any they find back to the coders. One new feature can run through this circle many many times before it’s ready to be given to the gaming masses, and even then it might not be perfect. It’s easy to say “fix the bugs before you release a game” but the number of different possible actions are magnified thousands of times once it reaches the public. If I have 10 full time game testers, they may be able to execute a few million actions in a month. Millions of gamers will execute billions upon billions of actions, and can uncover a lot more errors simply because of the number of them going through the game; and that’s not even mentioning the ones who deliberately try to break the game in the search for exploits.

As a person who’s interests lie in writing and graphic design, I love games of all kinds. I’ll take a simple game with interesting graphics and a great story over a super complex game with a bad story every time. Role Playing Games are among my favorite, and Resident Evil types are the ones I despise most, because they are great examples of what I am talking about. Resident Evil started off as an intricate hybrid of a shooter and a puzzle game, with elements of a “find the object” game. The story left a lot to be desired, and I found myself never going back to the series after the first one. Role Playing Games put almost all of their eggs into the story aspect of the game, so they draw you in and make you want to know what happens.

I’m often asked why I want to go to school for graphic design and photography; I usually end up being honest… “I want to work in movies finding shooting locations, or making video games. I know that even if I never get to do that people will always need someone to design their web pages, logos, fliers, and advertising materials.” Graphic design can help me get to a dream job, but it will also allow me to continue with a viable career even if that doesn’t happen, which is a win win. Photography can also help me get a dream job, but it can be done freelance, which will help boost my income no matter which direction I end up going in.

I went off in a few directions here, so thanks for putting up with my late-night ramblings. I guess that means everything above is useless, and the lesson here is that gamers have short attention spans. I have a short attention span, and I am a gamer. I just can’t figure out if I have a short attention span because I’m a gamer, or if I’m a gamer because of a short attention span.

Hands On With Windows 8

Before I begin, I have to say that I have been a little absent this week. Normally I try to post twice a week, but I have been busy preparing to bring you this.

I must admit that I began downloading my copy of Windows 8 with a lot of skepticism. The trend has been laid for a long time, that you really only want to upgrade at every other version of Windows. Windows 95 was good, but 98 set the standard. Millennium Edition (ME) was a failure on many fronts, which drew a lot of criticism from users and probably helped Apple build it’s base on the (then) new i-branded hardware. XP stands as the single most well received version of Windows ever. I personally liked Vista, but the vast majority of people thought it was unstable and not friendly with older software.

Windows 7 took it up to where Vista should have been at the start. Most people really like the software, and the “compatibility mode” actually works with most things now. You would be hard pressed to find anything really annoying about it, and I haven’t experienced a “Blue Screen of Death” since I installed it for the first time during the preview period. I think Microsoft may be trying to break the cycle… Finally!

The first thing you see, after logging in, is the new Windows Phone style of environment. After the initial reaction (for most it’s either WOW, or UGH!) you will have to start actually trying to use the  system. While everything is very responsive and quick, navigation is tricky, and compatibility will be an issue once again. You can move the icons around however you like, and change the background color, along with many other options for personalizing the look. I chose purple, because I like purple.

Prepare yourselves, because you are going to have to teach your grand-parents a whole new way to use the computer again. Some of it will be easier for them, and some of it will be harder. Navigating between the app-screen and the desktop is easy enough, but takes a bit of getting used to. You will notice that there is no longer a start button in the lower left of the desktop, which has been replaced by a pop-out menu system that is the basis for navigating your operating system. If you move your mouse to the lower-left corner of the screen, you will be able to quick-swap between whatever app you have open and the main start/app-screen. This process is very quick, and seamless. In the lower-right you get the menu shown below. The “start” icon takes you to the app-screen which, for all intents and purposes, has replaced the old start-menu.

Moving to the upper left will show you whatever app you had open last, and if you had more than one open, you can move the mouse down a little bit and see the whole list of apps that are currently running. This leads me to the single most important change… Switching to another app will NOT close the process, so you will have to check this app-list and close out the ones you’re no longer using. While this step may seem like a no-brainer to people like me, most people never bother doing this on their iPhones, Androids, or Windows Phones… I would be willing to bet that that trend will carry right over to their computers running Windows 8. Be prepared for all kinds of apps claiming to optimize the speed of your computer by automatically closing unused apps.

Something else to keep close in mind is that there will often be two types of apps to deal with, even if it is the same program. Internet Explorer for instance. In app-mode it will be very quick, and bare-bones, but right-clicking will no longer display a menu. It will show you the navigation bar (located at the bottom of the screen now) and the tab bar (located at the top.) If you open Internet Explorer in Desktop-Mode, it will be exactly the same as you use now in Windows 7. Another very noticeable thing is that Facebook apps cannot be used in the app-mode version of IE. You can browse facebook just fine, but using any flash-based apps will not work, and navigation bars like the one that WordPress uses do not show up.

Overall, I like the new system, but I am not someone to be annoyed by learning a new way to do things. Most people will start off very frustrated with the seemingly alien environment, and unless they manage to integrate Adobe Flash Player into the app version of IE, they will be causing a lot of people to downgrade simply because of the Facebook app issue. Most people will (probably) never bother with Desktop mode, and will not even be aware of how much power they are signing away by doing so. To be honest, the desktop behaves like an app, in that you can close it like any other.

Make no mistake, this is a transitional OS, designed to help people prepare for a world where we have more powerful machines that do less, only because of software limitations. The days of having hundreds of programs installed, and buying a laptop for a DVD-burner are over. This is meant to make you ready to give all that up for a slick touch-based user interface installed on a glorified net-book which will be dubbed “ultra-book.”

The only place this will really really shine is on a tablet device, which is the only reason why I can’t wait for it to come out. I think the Windows Phone OS has a lot of potential to compete with iOS where Android has failed. Microsoft will keep things a little more open, so we should see some incredible apps come up for sale on Windows-based tablets.

If there is demand for it, I will post an in-depth review of specific aspects of Windows 8 once a week. Would that be something you want to see?

Life’s Little Kicks…

Image representing Apple as depicted in CrunchBase

There come times in one’s life, where you realize that you have been colossally stupid. Today is one of those days.

When I was 18, I received around $3,000, which I spent quickly on a car and stuff I didn’t need. The car was a good investment, because it worked, which the one I had before didn’t have going for it. I had also considered entering the stock market, and one of the companies I was looking at was none-other than Apple.

This may sound strange, but it’s true. I understood what Steve Jobs was capable of. He was the first person to make computers a thing girls thought was cool. The iMac changed everything. I know, it sounds cliche now, especially since companies now use that line for everything they do. I knew that if he could make computers cute, he could do anything, and I wanted a piece of it. I was enough of a geek to know these things, but “normal” enough to completely ignore them. I ended up buying things like clothes, a stereo system, TV, etc… Things any 18 year old thinks are really important.

Looking back today, I want to go back in time and punch myself in the face.

Had I invested $1500 in October of 2000, I would now have over $90,000 worth of Apple, without ever investing another dime in it. The stock was at $9.78/share then, and is now at $601.10/share as of close yesterday (Mar-19-2012).

Steve Jobs shows off the white iPhone 4 at the...

$1500 / $9.78 = 153 full shares, plus some change.

153 * $601.10 = $91,968.30 today.

God am I stupid!

I guess the lesson is: trust your instincts, because you never know which one could pay off in the end. If anyone has a time-machine, I’ll deal you in if you take me back so I can invest in Apple, Google, and a few others.

Expansionism.

Right! So I am going to begin a new blog. I am going to play a video game and tell you if it’s brilliant, or crap. It’s all very not-technical with lots of personal opinions and absolutely no scientific studies about seizures, statistics, psychology, and all the rest of the stuff you don’t care about.

You can get all of that stuff from people who actually get paid to do it. I simply don’t have the paycheck to make me care about that stuff, and I have a feeling that you don’t either. I may or may not actually finish the game before I write a review, because if I’m honest, most games aren’t worth beating.

One other thing; because I’m not paid to do this, don’t expect every game to be a brand new game. I can’t afford to keep up with it. Over the course of the year, I may get to all of the biggest releases, but do not count on it happening the week the game is released. Some exceptions may be, titles and huge franchises that I personally can’t wait to play.

This blog will not end, but I think the crowd for game reviews will be quite a bit different than the crowd interested in the stuff I feature here. It’ll be like a sister-blog.

I’ll post a link once I get all the important bits finalized, and a first review down.

This Week Was Interesting…

Weird!:

Massachusetts men can get a free pizza with a vasectomy operation. This has got to be one of the most ridiculous things I have heard of in a long time. Apparently if you like sports, you also want to sleep around and avoid having babies with 300 different women.

Sci-Tech stuff:

NASA released map of nearly the entire night sky. This is really cool just to look at, even if you don’t have much interest in the scientific knowledge that can be gained from all of this. They also managed to map 90% of the near-earth asteroids, and Earth’s very own “Trojan Asteroid.”

Apple releases new iPad today. Thousands of people have lined up outside Apple Stores around the globe, all hoping they got there early enough to spend $499 or more on one of the new devices. With a better display, faster processor, and improved camera this will likely be the first iPad that you will be happy to keep for more than a year.

Image via ny.racked.com. Will be removed if requested.

I cannot say anything bad about the people who wait in line for Apple products, because that would make me a hypocrite. I stood outside the West Towne Mall Apple Store in Madison, WI, for 7 hours to get my iPhone 4 the day it was released.

I do have to admit that I was only doing it because my iPhone 3G had decided to stop functioning properly after updating to iOS 4.0. Choosing to wake at 2 am, drive 2 hours to stand in a line and have a chance, was far better than the guarantee of having to endure a barely functional phone for as long as two months.

Why did I stay with Apple after that? It’s simple really… I have hundreds of dollars invested in my iTunes music, and more invested on the apps. I really didn’t want to have to go through the trouble of making the music work on an Android device, or repurchasing the apps I used most.

iPod, Cell-Phone, PDA, Hand-Held Game System, GPS… All in one device. It’s really worth the investment in a smartphone of some kind if you don’t already have one.

Entertainment:

‘Luck’ horse trainer says ‘Sometimes S**t Happens.’ “Luck” is an HBO series starring a lot of big names, which is focused on Horse Racing. The thing about horses is that they are quite panicky. Naturally they have to have a stable of horses to have a show, and those horses sometimes panic. There has been a lot of contraversy over the care of the show horses due to the three that have died during filming. PETA (People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals) and AHA (American Humane Association) are both supporting HBO’s decision to cancel the series.

I don’t really understand what the fuss is all about. The show had 50 horses, and almost all of them appear in running sequences or staged races. Accidents happen in that world, and they really can’t be helped. I do not support euthanizing animals just for not being able to race any longer, but I also would hate to see a horse not be able to even walk. So, while the deaths are saddening, I don’t think it calls for the cancellation of the series. I am sure they received top care.

The trainer could have chose better words than “Sometimes shit happens” regardless of how true it may actually be. With groups like this gunning for the show, he has only added fuel to their fire. A shame really, because it is a pretty good show.

Jermaine Jones was given the boot on American Idol. Apparently he “didn’t know [he] broke the rules” by having outstanding warrants for his arrest in New Jersey…

Fine, claim ignorance on American Idol rules, I’ll let that incredibly insulting statement slide (because it implies that Americans are stupid enough to believe that.) What I want to know is, how did you forget that traveling across the country would be breaking LAWS? Idiot.

Photo-Future?

I ran across this blog post discussing a new kind of camera technology that will prove interesting, if not a bit gimmicky… Light-field cameras, or “Plenoptic” Cameras. Lytro makes a consumer targeted product, while Raytrix produces a professional-minded product.

Lytro Camera

Lytro Camera (Photo credit: bovinity)

I have some reservations about all of this, because some people will be expecting things to remain, largely, like they already are. They will expect to be able to print, share, edit, and save these images in much the same way we do any digital photo. None of this is true. Sure, if your only focus is to post all your worldly photos on Facebook, it will work wonderfully. Who really wants to do that with everything they shoot? Exactly. Nobody but teenagers who have yet to learn that some things don’t need to be shared.

The Raytrix cameras boast the ability to make 3D images without multiple lenses (like the recent 3D cell-phone cameras) and no need to refocus during shooting video. This is true, but what use is a 3D video if it will be at such a low resolution that any modern 3D-TV will make it look downright laughable. For $3,500, I had better be able to at least get full HD resolution (1920 x 1080) and a proper aspect ratio. You can get the resolution with their more expensive models, but even they are limited to 7.25 megapixels.

As near as I can tell (these companies seem to be purposely avoiding the discussion of image size, and the post-shot process) you will not really be able to do much in the way of advanced editing. The advantages are big though, they are the first true point and shoot cameras; with no worry about shutter speeds, focusing, or other time-consuming tasks.

So, in short, it is a technology that needs to be watched. It will eventually evolve into something that can give us what we expect out of all cameras today, with the advantage of not having to worry about the focusing issues.  Until that happens, it’s just not practical for anyone who is more serious about their photography/video projects.

English: Pleiades Star Cluster

One side-effect of this technology is that exposure time (shutter speed) becomes less of an issue as well, with so much light being gathered. This is reflected in the design of the Lytro device with the lack of advanced options for shooting. You cannot choose to keep the sensor active longer (for gathering the light required to take astrology photos for instance, or night-time photos.) I am afraid that may eventually lead to exposure timing becoming an option in only the most premium (expensive) models.

Triumphant Return…

Or not.

I may have bitten off more than I can chew recently…

The problem I am having is the complete lack of experience when it comes to Adobe anything, other than Photoshop and Illustrator. I opened After Effects to check it out, and discovered what was obviously a video editing powerhouse; a powerhouse that I had absolutely no clue how to use.

I know that I could search for some tutorials for the After Effects basics, but I find those annoying. It’s always some James May type, blithering on about some mundane little thing like I am an idiot. I don’t need someone to guide me through as if I am a child who’s never seen a mouse. This means I will need to do this the same way I have done everything else in the computer graphics world… Trial and error. If you were to see this program you would understand how someone could feel a bit overwhelmed when first looking at it.

I wouldn’t even bother except that once I have it figured out, I can generate some pretty spectacular graphical effects and import them for use in Photoshop projects. It will also be handy for making future videos to go with this blog. This is one of the distractions things that caused me to not make a proper blog entry in a while.

Simple vs Complex.

One thing you learn from Photoshop is that sometimes the “simple” ideas are the ones that take forever, while very complex things can be accomplished with a few clicks of the mouse. Mind you, I’m a bit of a perfectionist so what I consider simple, may not be. The Modern Warfare 3 logo is simple. Yet, accomplishing a similar effect in a way that looks polished, with different letters, is a painstaking process involving two programs (Photoshop and Illustrator) and lots of caffeine.

Official MW3 logo:

“My” version: 

Mine looks more subdued than theirs, but mine was designed almost entirely from scratch, and theirs’ appears to be a screenshot of a sequence out of a game trailer. I’m still not quite happy with mine, but it looks pretty cool. Using After Effects, I will be able to create that audio-wave effect in the background in a matter of minutes.

And with that I have an announcement to make!

I have been in contact with someone from this KickStarter campaign. I have been invited to go take a look, and I will be taking pictures and asking a lot of questions. It will be my first “reporting” style entry. I feel it’s a very interesting project… Do you have any questions you would like me to ask?

Redbox and Universal Studios Joke!

Image representing redbox as depicted in Crunc...

Have you ever rented a movie from Redbox? I have many times, and mostly on DVD. This was great because I got to watch a number of pretty crappy movies without spending a great deal of money. Sometimes you want to watch something to find out if you like it, before you spend $25-$30 on a Blu-ray pack.

Bly-ray Disc logo

Take Real Steel for instance. This movie was actually pretty good, despite the obvious father-son bonding motif that is often ruined in Hollywood. It took a bit of a different path which I commend. I rented it on DVD to see if I wanted to bother buying it, and if I wanted to spend the extra cash on a Blu-ray bundle. I decided that it would be worth it and bought the movie the same night I watched it. No, it’s no American Gangster (which I also picked up on Blu-ray that night) but it is a special effects heavy movie which lends itself to the medium better than regular DVD.

Universal Studios has decided that you aren’t entitled to see any “bonus features” unless you actually go out and buy their movie. I discovered this after renting Cowboys and Aliens; a movie I would give 2.5 out of 5 stars. I saw it available in Blu-ray for an extra $0.50, which I figured was great because then I could really see it in HD and make a truly informed decision. Well, the movie was a disappointment, but what got me most was the menus and nag screens within the Blu-ray. You actually have to wait for some crud to load, then deal with it reminding you about some smartphone/tablet app that is supposed to “enhance your movie experience.” I just want to watch the damned movie, not try and watch it AND my iPhone at the same time.

Beyond this ridiculous nagging, I discovered that ALL of the special features were locked. Rather than allow me to watch the “making of,” I was treated to this fine little nag screen…

“This disc is intended for rental purposes

and only includes the feature film.

Own it on Blu-ray to complete

your movie watching experience

with additional bonus features

and language options”

A similar message will appear if you try to watch the extended version. In fact, the only thing you CAN access is the movie and the previews for other Universal Studios products and movies. This would not be so bad except for one tiny little detail… Redbox sells used DVDs and Blu-rays after they no longer bring in the expected level of revenues. So eventually some poor sap is going to buy a Blu-ray from Redbox, or Blockbuster (they have blue rental boxes at many locations now) and discover that they got ripped off.

Needless to say, it will be very difficult for me to justify buying a movie from Universal in the near future. I will most certainly NOT be buying Cowboys and Aliens (it’s simply not good enough) and will probably pass on many others as well.

Universal Studios Home Entertainment

Anyone else think this is all just stupid? The price to go see a movie in the theaters is at an all time high, and that’s before getting any snacks. The discs now have nags and restrictions. The companies make crappier and crappier movies. Is there any wonder why they would have to try and get legislation to block video sites? I mean, there’s only so much we can afford to pay for movies in this economy. Maybe it’s about time that Hollywood figure out that they’d get more sales by dropping the prices just a little bit, or producing better quality movies, rather than trying to sell bonus features.

To be “legal”: I took a picture of the nag-screen with my camera, but I do not claim rights to the contents within said photograph. The rights to those contents remain with the respective copyright holders.

A reminder: The SOPA/PIPA fight isn’t over yet people, it’s just begun.

Lightning Reflexes

I read a blog recently, which is a bit old (May, 2011) but had one line that left me a bit… We’ll say curious.

… a longer exposure is necessary, as no human has the reflexes to catch a lightning bolt. …

I beg to differ. Too often we define ourselves as limited. We decide “We can’t do that, so we’ll use a tool to do it for us. We’ll cheat.” and just accept that as reality. The truth of the matter is, we CAN catch a lightning strike! I have personally done this with a relatively cheap point-and-shoot camera.

July 7th, 2008; 6:02am. Higginsville, MO.

No long exposures. No tricks. No Photoshop. Just good timing on my part.

I’m not saying it’s easy to get a shot of lightning, quite the opposite. It can be a royal pain in the rear. You will get many shots of nothing, which some will see as a waste of good opportunities you could have had with long exposures. I don’t see it that way, because this shot is beautiful, simple, and un-edited. No cloud noise, no funny lighting, plenty of drama. The only bad thing about this picture, is the lack of quality due to the poor camera I had to shoot it with.

The camera I took this with was a Kodak Z710. I didn’t even use a stand, just waited for the show to start, and clicked when I saw signs of life. I actually caught several strikes that day, but this was the only one that didn’t end up distorted due to the lack of stand. We shall see if my new camera can do any better this spring… Sony NEX-5, which I will write a review of in the coming weeks. I need more shots with it.

I guess my point is: Don’t assume it’s not possible just because you haven’t done it yet.