Tuesday, September 25, 2012

Second Empire, First Post About Kentucky Bluegrass

First thing's first. I hate the new Blogger editor layout, but I've already complained about that.

But besides that? Well I've just found a very...interesting comic while perusing around TVTropes.

It's called Second Empire; the story of a renegade Dalek's struggle against a decadent and ineffectual regime and it's mission to create it's own empire. One of the first things one notices when reading is that there absolutely no mention of the Doctor for the first two hundred pages (at least). Try to picture that, 100%, nonstop Dalek action. Daleks on every single page.

It's all made with CGI. Normally I would scoff at something like that but it works the look very well.

It's only fair to warn you: these Daleks are very different from their T.V. counterparts. It's actually kind of jarring. Each of them had much more of an individual personality than usual and has honest-to-goodness emotions besides hate. It's like they think they're people or something. Plus, in spite of being about homicidal aliens there's innumerable little comedy bits sprinkled throughout.

It's about nothing but Daleks without being too dark yet still has a compelling story and action scenes. I'm giving Second Empire a nine out of ten; If you liked the TV21 comics this will be equally appealing. Give it a look-see.

Speaking of the TV21 comics, I found a gallery that's compiled every single one of them in a convenient package. Like Second Empire it's all about the Daleks being sneaky and evil without any interference from obnoxious men in blue time machines.

Aaaaand that's all for now. Nothing else is going on unless you count Obtuse Goose being a whiny little girl and demanding I make a blog post about how much I hate him. Because apparently, I don't get to decide when I hate something enough to make a post about it anymore. Well you know what? Fine. I'll have you know that he's let Borderlands 2 completely take over his life and he's that much less of a man for it.

All the weapons are randomly generated and it's all cel-shaded like some kind of dumb baby game. So not only are you constantly reminded that you're playing something made by Fischer-Price or some other dumb baby company, but you, as the player, are completely stripped of control over what kind of weapons you have.

What's that? You have, like, a shotgun with a sniper scope on it? Too bad, you're stuck with it until the random number gods decide to give you something less ridiculous.

Plus, he listens to Kentucky Bluegrass because, according to some tortured logic and a quadratic formula he made is equal to classic metal. In what exactly? I don't know, he hasn't told me.

I just don't understand. I don't understand.

Sunday, September 23, 2012

Bunday Massacre

This isn't any old bunday. Oh no.

Prepare yourself for the terror of...

...giant killer bunny rabbits.

Night of the Lepus, now in theaters.

Tuesday, September 18, 2012

Piercing Gaze

Well here we are. The Black Mesa hype is starting to die down, which is strange because I know for a fact that there's still several people who haven't played it yet. This smacks of bitter irony when I can list a number of self proclaimed Half-Life fans who haven't even bothered to download it yet. Shame on them.

But for the sake of my blood pressure let's try to forget this flagrant injustice. Because now, ladies and gentlemen, we must leave this world of well ordered sanity behind. It's time for us to peer into the dark depths again, into the world of...

...album covers.

Who is Dr. Who

Friends? Hated Enemies? Same thing really.

Tom Tom Club

I guess you can't be a genius of love and album design at the same time. Should have kept Byrne around a little longer, aye Tina? HMM?

Oh you know I'm kidding, this is going on the fridge with the others.

...I Care Because You Do by Aphex Twin

Don't look into his eyes!

Scroll down enough so he can't steal your soul. Ready? Okay, this was Richard D. James's third studio album under the Aphex Twin moniker. James is known for acting extremely annoyed in interviews and telling outrageous lies to confuse his fans. He claims to only sleep two to three hours a day and allegedly owns a windowless, stainless steel building at the Elephant and Castle intersection in London. At eleven years old he tampered with a Sinclair ZX81 computer, causing it to produce sound despite having no sound producing hardware whatsoever.

Many of his song titles are in Cornish. Others are named after computer viruses, still others are anagrams for Aphex Twin and Caustic Window; such as "Wet tip hen ax" and "cow cud is a twin". His most famous music video is probably "Windowlicker" which features dozens of women in bikinis hideously transforming, their faces turning into replicas of James's.

In the Aeroplane Over the Sea by Neutral Milk Hotel

This is one of those love-it-or-hate-it albums. But we're not here to judge the music, just the cover. And in my professional opinion this woman is suffering from a severe case of potato-head.

(I'm pretty sure this isn't what DEVO meant when they were talking about spuds.)

Diamond Dogs by David Bowie

Oh dear god.

Well if you ever need an argument against genetic engineering I suppose...

Presto by Rush

And for my next trick, I'll erase your memory of David Bowie's horrifying dog demons.

I hope.

Oh, no! It's DEVO by DEVO

According to Gerald Casale Oh, no! was made to answer the age old question: "What would an album by fascist clowns sound like?" Why did we need an answer? That's a question that can only be answered by another album.

(I'm pretty sure this isn't what Neutral Milk Hotel meant when they were talking about potato slices.)

Richard D. James Album by Aphex Twin

Not again! Quick, avert your gaze!

Did you escape? Good, then it's time for more Afacts:

Allegedly, he has over a thousand hours of unreleased music and he lives in a bank. He claims to have invented an algorithm that automatically generates music and he has synesthesia. He often hides images in his songs, meaning that if run through spectral analysis one is liable to find his distorted, grinning face leering at you from the resulting waveform.

Oh, and his second most popular music video? "Come to Daddy" which features him turning into a monster and screaming at an elderly woman for about a whole minute.

Aliens Ate My Buick by Thomas Dolby

Before you ask: No, the warranty doesn't cover that.


Heino's finally found himself a lady-friend! Good for him! Just please, don't let the diamond dogs pick up her scent. You remember what happened last time.

Sunday, September 16, 2012

A Red Letter Day

You all know by now: Black Mesa was released on Friday.

I woke up especially early that morning so I could download it before the servers were flooded. As it turned out, the official servers had already crashed by the time I got there. Multiple websites were scrambling to get their own mirrors up and running, only to crash themselves, unable to keep up with the torrent of people trying to snag a copy. It had only been an hour and people were already trampling each other to play it. Thankfully, Lambda Generation posted a link and I got there soon enough. I hit 'download' and suddenly I had an epiphany.

"Oh my god, it's actually come out."

The immense file size was a little shocking at first; a full six gigabytes. But I didn't waste any time, not even bothering to tell my friends, I rebooted Steam and started playing immediately.

Suddenly I was open to a whole new world of perfection.

I don't mean that as a hyperbole. I knew from the moment I started playing that this mod was going to be perfect. Even the title screen had a cornucopia of intricate details. The scientists in the background busied themselves as trains sped past. I did a little poking around the options, took a quick look at the achievements (I had no idea they even put achievements in), and jumped into a new game. There was a moment of nervous anticipation and then I heard those words, the one's I've been waiting to hear for eight years:

Good morning, and welcome to the Black Mesa transit system...

It's hard to describe how it felt to play this. It was so recognizable as Half-Life, the sense of deja-vu was inescapable. Yet it was so radically different at the same time. It was so jarring to see places I recognized so well so transformed, so modernized. Some sections of the games were drastically shortened, while others were expanded on. Some chapters were so radically altered that they became practically unrecognizable. They didn't just remake the original game, they expanded on it immensely. Everything felt so much more futuristic, more bleak and visceral. Every character has been vastly improved. The scientists aren't just the same four models either, every single one is unique (some of them are even ladies!). The houndeyes are much more of a pain too, acting more like pack predators than in the original. Of course, the zombies are every bit as disgusting and morbid as I thought they were going to be.

But what impressed me the most was the level design. Many iconic areas went virtually unchanged besides the vast graphical improvements, but like I said, whole levels were altered and extended. This made the facility seem that much more alive and functional. As I played, I accepted that I was in the Research Facility, a place were the brightest minds of a generation lived and worked in secret, dabbling in things they really shouldn't have. The above-ground sections especially stood out. They were alright in the original, but here we're treated to vast landscapes and soaring vistas. The hydroelectric dam is easily twice as large as the original, making the player feel tiny just standing near it.

It's such a weird feeling for me to fall so completely in love with something (Lord knows I haven't felt this way since I first saw a Dalek). But in all honesty there's nothing bad I can say about Black Mesa. For me at least, it's utterly perfect: the monsters, the level design, the visuals, all of it is perfect. There wasn't a single moment I didn't enjoy. I played it from start to finish in a single uninterrupted session, which was inevitable really. But I was so hooked to it. I just had to know what was going to happen next, what the developers changed or kept the same. Even if it was a remake it felt like a completely different game altogether. There was no escaping it.

It should be said that this is much harder than the original, much harder. It felt like every enemy was more intelligent. Even the Headcrabs seemed a little more clever. Plus the players weapons are weaker in some aspects. The MP5 feels like it's shooting little pebbles and it's attached grenade launcher is basically a long distance firecracker. On the other hand you have weapons that feel so much more robust this time around. For once, I had a real reason to use the revolver. There was ammo for it virtually everywhere and it was just so powerful. I used it in exclusion to practically anything else for the first few chapters. Why shouldn't I? The thing made me feel like some space sheriff on patrol.

So there you have it. For once, I actually love something. You won't hear a peep from me about how this could have been improved because as far as I'm concerned this is now the definitive article. I'd go so far as to say this supersedes the original Half-Life in terms of the canon. Bold? Absolutely, but after playing this you won't be able to deny the sheer craftsmanship and, dare I say, love that went into making this. It's the best of both worlds; Valve's original vision shines through as brilliantly as it has for years, but refined by it's fans, molded, tempered into a pristine everlasting form.

Well, almost pristine. I forgot to mention they completely cut out Xen in this mod.

Like most people, when I first heard this I started howling for their blood. But really, it all makes sense. They didn't cut Xen because they felt like it wasn't good enough. Of course not! The developers are actually going to make an entirely separate mod just for the end of the game. From what I've heard, they're going to make that section MUCH longer than the original. Imagine it, a sprawling trek through a hostile alien dimension unlike anything we've seen before. I'm looking forward to this like no one's business because this time we know it's going to be good. We've already seen what this team can do, we know they have what it takes to make this bizarre eldritch Universe a reality. So far, we've only had two glimpses of what their version of Xen will look like. I won't say any more, except that those two peeks are enough to keep me waiting for the next ten years if I have to.

At least.

Wednesday, September 12, 2012

The Pain

My little plan to make a post every day before the release of Black Mesa hasn't really worked out, as you can see. Oh I wanted to, but I couldn't. Maybe my explanation to Mother might help explain why:

Mom this is horrible. For the past two days I've been incapacitated by the most awful, painful stomach cramps. I have no idea why it's happening either. It just started on Tuesday, my eyes were extremely sore and I had a headache. I thought it was from looking at the computer too long, even though something like this has never happened before. Later that day my stomach started cramping. It came and went in waves. I'd feel fine for a minute then suddenly I was doubled-over in pain. There wasn't anything I could do either, I just laid in bed convulsing. I thought I had an ulcer or my intestines were dissolving. I had no idea.

I woke up this morning feeling fine, my stomach still hurt. I was fine for most of the morning too, I even went for a little walk around the sports park. When I came home I had a glass of orange juice thinking "Hey, it's not like fluids could make it any worse." Next thing I know I'm balled up on my bed riding these awful waves of pain. I was pale and sweaty, completely defeated by this aching. I could barely eat dinner, I had to stop every minute and wait until the pain went away enough. I had a glass of milk, thinking it might drown out the acid from the juice. Later I took some ibuprofen. Bizarrely that actually worked and I've felt fine more or less since. But I still have no clue what's actually happening to me. Is orange juice really THAT destructive to me?

Am I dying? Because if I am this mean's I'll never be able to finish my novel.

So there you go. I still have no idea what's wrong either! All I know is that my body is not ready for Black Mesa. Still, we must preserver! In just thirty-two hour's time it'll be released and there will be much rejoicing.

Except from me because I'll be dead.

Sunday, September 9, 2012

Point Insertion

They're waiting for you Gordon...

I guess this means I'm devoted to updating everyday before the release, doesn't it? Well that's perfectly fine because I just realized that in all the time I've maintained this blog I haven't told you about our good friends from the sea: the Nautiluses.

The cephalopod family Nautilidae has survived in one form or another for the past million years. Today, this family of mollusks are the only living members of the superfamily Nautilaceae, belonging to the subclass Nautiloidea of the class Cephalopoda which of course includes octopuses, squids and cuttlefish. Because the Nautiluses have been around for so long they're considered living fossils.

Compared to their glory days, there's not many of them around anymore. They're found only in the Indo-Pacific on the slopes of coral reefs, usually at a depth of a couple hundred meters. It used to be a very different story back in the early Paleozoic Era when the oceans were completely dominated by hard-shelled cephalopods of all sizes and shapes. In those ancient times the Nautiloids were the undisputed masters of the seas, making up the bulk of the whole predatory population of the entire planet.

Compared to their shell-less relatives, the Nautiluses are fairly simple animals, especially when it comes to eyesight. Unlike the cuttlefishes who try to rival the mantis shrimps for sheer visual power, the Nautiluses make do with a highly developed, but lensless structure that acts like a simple pinhole camera. They usually rely on olfaction when foraging, sniffing out prey like a tentacled bloodhound.

They don't swim like other mollusks either. Their shells are chambered like a submarine ballast. When water is in the chamber salt is extracted and diffuses into the Nautilus's blood, making them more buoyant. If they want to sink they remove liquid from their shell chambers.

Speaking of which, Nautilus shells form pretty close approximations of logarithmic spirals. Vortexes like these can be found throughout nature; such as in the growth of broccoli, sunflowers, hurricane clouds and even the spiral arms of galaxies.

The turnings of logarithmic spirals increase in distance according to a geometric progression, meaning the further out they spiral, the wider it will get and the greater the distance will be between each successive "layer" of the spiral. This is different from Archimedean spirals where the distance remains constant.

Nautilus shells are sometimes used as examples of Golden Spirals in nature, even when they're obviously not. The confusion probably stems from the fact that golden spirals are logarithmic spirals just like Nautilus shells. But the growth factor of a golden spiral is the golden ratio, about 1.61803... which would be way too wide for any real Nautilus. I have no idea what the geometric progression is for most real Nautiluses but if I ever meet one I'll be sure to ask.

In any case, it doesn't matter if they're proportional to the Greek Parthenon or not. Because at the end of the day they're still primordial, hard-shelled, submarines with tentacles. If that's not cash, I don't know what is.


Oh, and before I forget...

...It's Bunday.

Saturday, September 8, 2012

Wake Up and Smell the Ashes

Five days, Doctor Freeman...

I have no idea how I'm going to emotionally prepare myself for this release. I still feel like I'm in some bizarro world where impossible, beautiful things actually do happen. It's such an alien feeling to be able to look forward to something and have good reason to believe it's going to be good, instead of a vague hope (unlike Asylum of the Daleks, more on that later).

To keep myself occupied, I've been looking through their wiki again, ogling at all their new models for Xen aliens. After I made it my mission to read their whole wiki I found this page. This gist of it is that they have absolutely no plans to include cooperative gameplay and have redesigned all the maps specifically for single-player. I don't care what you think, that's hot.

I hate cooperative games like nobody's business. I hate how every game that comes out now has a co-op component tacked on. Why is it so wrong to release a proper single-player game? When did developers decide that every game has to play like a social networking site? I know there's a boat-load of people out there who disagree with me, especially mackdombles. On paper co-op sounds like a good idea; it's not just you playing a game, you're inviting a friend to share in the game's world, forming a bond in a hand-crafted world of adventure. In theory, co-op games promote trust and cooperation. Heck, it's even in the name.

But that's the linchpin of the problem: in theory.

The awful truth is that most people who play co-op games are unsavory egomaniacs. They do not cooperate and they rarely contribute anything besides angry demands on the other players. The result isn't a group of like-minded friends working towards a common goal, it's a bunch of backstabbing bandits looking out for themselves, gobbling up all the items they can and running ahead of the group to distance themselves from their perceived failure.

I think this is part of the reason why Alien Swarm isn't as popular as it should be. You're stuck, relying on other people. Well that's bad news because those people you're forced to depend on will more often than not try to kill you in exclusion to the aliens. Yes, even when friendly fire is deactivated. These developers forget that the natural inclination of all people, especially gamers it to evil and when they're playing a game on the Internet, their inherent wickedness is magnified to such a degree it would make Marquis de Sade blush.

But let's assume that your teammates don't want to kill you. First of all that's not possible, second of all they're still going to steal health kits and ammunition from you. It's a given. In fact, the easiest way to tell if someone playing Left 4 Dead is a computer-controlled bot is to see if they're healing someone, because only the computer ever actually bothers to try and heal teammates. Everyone else hopes they can make it to the safe room first and use the rest of the team as bait.

Not only that, but they're stupid. And they're foreign. Despite what 80's cop movies told us, there's no such thing as a multicultural team; if you can't speak the same language how can you yell at each other for stealing the good weapons? What if they're just plain stupid? Then it won't matter what language you're speaking because they won't understand you anyway. They'll go on attacking enemies twice their size and setting everyone on fire without a care in the world.

And don't tell me I'm being an old fart, because I know this is true. I know because I turned into the very picture of a bad co-op partner when everyone was playing Killing Floor. I could see myself undergoing a hideous transformation into a hateful, frothing loony. Maybe it's because I played as the Berserker in exclusion of any other class. Or maybe it's because I used the samurai sword in exclusion of any other weapon. For whatever reason I started to scorn everyone's lack of honor. My team wasn't a help, they were a hindrance. They were an obstacle to my own personal honor and glory. Without realizing it, war drums started sounding in my brain. I would run to the far end of whatever map we were playing, trying to keep as much distance between myself and the dishonorable fools I was trapped with.

I would loudly belittle their choices of classes and weapons. I would painstakingly explain to them how they could achieve no honor by playing Demolition. You'd think I'd get some sort of comeuppance for my obvious loathing for those people, but no. I tore them up verbally and I tore up all enemies literally. And there was nothing anyone could do about it because, and I cannot stress this enough, they had no honor. None of them.

And that's really the heart of the problem. Online games aren't good for cooperation, just competition. When I see another player there is no part of me that wants to empathize with them, only to destroy them. That's why there's no such thing as teamwork in Team Fortress 2. It's more trouble than it's worth to try and get everyone working cohesively, especially when it's so much easier to do your own thing and kill the other team however you see fit.

This is why single-player games are so much more emotionally fulfilling. In a game like Half-Life you're not tied down by some jerk you met online. It's you, all alone against the whole world. You can take all the time you need to explore the environment, because you're not worrying about someone else's schedule. You can go at your own pace and take in the scenery.

So there, I got that out. I actually feel a little better now. Plus I think we've learned a valuable lesson here today: Steve Moffat is a terrible, terrible writer.

Thursday, September 6, 2012

Time, Doctor Freeman?

Seven days...

Just seven more days until Black Mesa is released. I can't believe this is actually happening! After all this time, after all the jokes and delays we're actually going to be able to play this mod. It seems so unreal, like a dream!

For those of you who don't know (I.E. Mother), Black Mesa is a modification for Half-Life 2 that aims to recreate the entire first game in the Source engine. This means massively improved visuals all around.

Try to imagine what it's like trying to recreate a whole game from the ground up, with all of your own assets, sounds, textures, models. It's not just any game either, it's Half-Life; considered one of the greatest first-person shooters ever. It's such a monumental project, especially when you consider that it's more or less just a group of friends doing it in their free time.

From the day they started to now, it's taken over eight years to make, longer than Half-Life 2's development. There's been plenty of delays during that time. They kept pushing the release date back further and further, until it seemed like it would never actually come out.

This is one of their earliest trailers. You'll notice it says the release date is 2009. Of course a lot has changed since then. The developers have been constantly working and reworking what they have and now that they actually feel like it's ready to be released is absolutely incredible. That trailer looks like something produced by a professional gaming company, better even. Yet the makers of this mod didn't think even that was good enough and spent three more years improving it even more. I can hardly image what it looks like now!

Of course I don't have to! Because after all this time, we'll finally get to play it. We just have to wait seven more long, agonizing days.

In all seriousness, I think this will have greater implications for the whole video game industry. Granted, I'm not a professional analyst by any means but it certainly makes one think. If modders can create something that good looking with little more than community interest and their own force of will, shouldn't we expect better from big name developers with millions of dollars invested in the creation of their games? If anything, this shows just how strong the Half-Life modding community really is. In spite of being such an old game, Half-Life 2 has so many great mods built around it; SMOD, Garry's Mod, Nightmare House, Minevra Metastasis, JBMod (Okay, maybe not JBMod), Dear Esther and now this, Black Mesa.

If Black Mesa is finally, actually coming out, who knows what else is possible?