blarg?

April 8, 2009

Music Box

Filed under: arcade,digital,interfaces,toys,want — mhoye @ 7:36 am

A Plant Of Some Kind

Advise me, internets.

I am about eighty percent done my quite cool new AV setup, and I am missing one key component: sound.

I am using headphones now, but I’m almost certainly going to be picking an entry-level Dolby 5.1 package deal, most likely a Logitech G51 box set for the speakers, but my problem is that if I want 5.1 surround sound out of my Xbox, it has to come out through a TOSLINK port. So I would like to buy a device that is as simple as possible for splitting a TOSLINK-carried signal into its component parts, and amplifying them. Ideally this device would have one TOSLINK sound-in jack, six RCA out jacks and one power cable in the back, one volume control on the front and nothing else. In a perfect world the volume dial goes to 11.

Unfortunately, what I’m finding is that if I don’t want to spend a barrel of cash, I will end up with a device with a brutally bad UI that does a mess of other stuff I don’t want. The “does one thing well” process seems to be limited to higher-end audio gear and I’m reluctant to spend any money in that area without a ton of research, because that field is a sewer full of hot running crazy. All the solutions I can find are more complicated than I want or otherwise worse, and often for substantially more than I would like to spend. Frequently way more; whenever I look at audio magazines, I am curious about how people so deeply brain-damaged have managed to amass the kind of money these things apparently cost; the wild enthusiasm for things like $500 ethernet cables, $12,000 power cables, absurdly expensive polished rocks and sheets of wood and a slew of bizzare superstitious practices, all in pursuit of sound that has been distorted unmeasurably but just so. How do people whose brains will buy into that actually develop marketable skills? I don’t really want to know, because I’m not particularly in favor of self-absorbed lunatics that bleed money. But it’s definitely a strong case for raising the estate tax.

Nevertheless, it’s hard for me to believe that this device I want doesn’t exist in this wondrous modern age of ours. Internets: if I want reasonably-priced surround sound out of an Xbox, what device do I want to sit between the console and the speakers?

December 19, 2008

Insert Coin To Continue

Filed under: arcade,awesome,toys — mhoye @ 9:23 pm

I’ve finally finished Lock’s Quest, which is pretty good news (spoilers ahoy!) and just in time for the annual winter humbug festival; it’s a great game, a few inexplicable bits aside, but after a while there the stylus-driven interface was just destroying my wrists. By the end of it, I’d play for five minutes, wait fifteen minutes until I could feel my fingertips again and then, possibly because it’s great fun and possibly also because I’m an idiot, play for five more minutes.

There are some minor oddities about the game, I should tell you – levels are timed for playability purposes, for example, the narrative excuse when you’re fighting your “clockwork” enemies being that they are only wound up to last a certain time. But when you switch allegiances and start campaigning against humans, they also fall over after two or three minutes in an oddly synchronized narcoleptic spasm. I can understand that the developers wouldn’t want to change too much in terms of gameplay as things proceed, but it would have been neat to see the differences in “clockworks” versus “people” be somewhat more profound than just the sprites.

That is a quibble, though, because altogether it’s a reasonably well-balanced and thoroughly enjoyable hybrid tower-defense/combat game. It’s got a plot on rails and there’s no attempt to bridge the tactical level you play at to anything like a strategic level, but that’s OK, really. And it comes with a storyline that is far more engaging than it had any right to be.

Oddly enough, it’s also the second game I’ve enjoyed this year involving clockwork people, the other being the very different but also excellent Professor Layton And The Curious Village.

So what am I playing next, internets?

December 13, 2008

Baby Needs Powerups

Filed under: arcade,future,life,lunacy,toys — mhoye @ 1:44 pm

Baby Needs Powerups

Everyone remembers the carseat, but how many parents think to get a their kid an extra life? Not many, I’ll wager! I was going to get a fire flower too, but I think that can wait until they’re a little older.

If that’s not responsible parenting, I don’t know what is.

November 17, 2008

Inventory Mandatory

Filed under: arcade,awesome,interfaces,toys,vendetta — mhoye @ 11:16 pm

Street Level

I stumbled across Asobi Seksu recently, and I’ve been listening to them pretty much nonstop this week. It’s great, like listening to some aspiring Sad-Girl-in-Snow-type j-popper singing along while Muse is rehearsing in the next apartment over. “Thursday” and “New Years” are quite fine.

So, it turns out that anyone who owns a Mac needs to make a list of all the applications they stumble across for it in the first few weeks and then tell you how awesome they are. It’s some kind of rule – they don’t make you sign anything, but you’re in a cult, so the expected behaviour becomes self-evident after a while, you know?

So I’m pretty sure this will get me my merit badge:

  • Firefox, obviously. Safari is pretty much whatever; I understand this Chrome thing is pretty spiffy, but you can’t use it on anything unixy and it’s hard to imagine an advertising company ever producing something as useful as Adblock Plus and Flashblock, so who cares? That and URL Fixer are my current three favorites, and you can get them all here.
  • Miro, formerly the Democracy Player. Plays just about everything, handles torrents, feeds, and feeds of torrents, so there’s really nothing not to like. I’d be using VLC and Transmission, if I didn’t want Miro for some reason.
  • Quicksilver and Nocturne from Blacktree. Quicksilver in particular is extra-awesome, the equivalent of Firefox’s Awesomebar for your whole OS.
  • Things, a todo/GTD manager.
  • Skype, because duh.
  • Caffeine, a tiny widget to manage sleep mode. The SmartSleep pref pane is related.
  • Handbrake, video conversion for your iPod.
  • Adium (called Pidgin everywhere else) for instant messaging and a cute duck.
  • Flickr Uploadr, which does what it says on the box.
  • Colloquy for IRC, though on a server and inside a screen session is still the preferred way to do that.
  • Growl, a flexible and quite useful something-you-wanted-to-know-about-just-happened notifier.
  • TextWrangler from Bare Bones Software. That’s some awful nice text you’ve got there. Be a shame if somebody wrangled it.
  • Vienna, a quite nice feed reader, and
  • Remote Desktop forthe Mac, if you need that sort of thing.

I’m also using the iWork tools, which are so far pretty great. I don’t know if they’re quite as rich as Microsoft Office, but they’re so hugely better than OpenOffice that I can’t see myself going back to OO.Org for anything less than some arbitrarily contrived hostage situation. I won’t be installing Office for the Mac, because it handles like a bad ride at the pre-beta rodeo. It’s huge, really twitchy, and some appendage I care about is probably going to get stomped.

I’ve installed Windows on it, though, via BootCamp. I’ve been spoiled lately at work, and haven’t had to do a Windows install with anything but Ghost for some time now; I’d forgotten how much that experience sucks, but installing XP Pro via BootCamp turned out to be the most painless non-Ghost install I can remember. My only reason for doing it at all was this deal right here, which I believe is too tempting to pass up.

Man, though, the combination of Quicksilver and the multitouch trackpad is just incredibly great. Switching back to the Windows box at the office is like trying to work chopsticks through boxing gloves.

June 18, 2008

The Song Of Time

Filed under: arcade,awesome,beauty,digital,life,music,toys — mhoye @ 11:26 pm

I’m told I get more like my Dad all the time, so let me tell you this story in the traditional manner of my family – through a bizarre, protracted, narrative spiral that, at length, slowly and anecdotally converges on the point. We have long understood in my family that ideas are dangerous, especially when they’re cornered; that they must be approached with caution, so they don’t panic and bolt. So this is actually about a recent video game, but I’m going to start off by telling you a funny story about a classic movie I saw in grade eight. Wait for it.

So let’s start with the love interest, a girl I have forgotten in every specific but name but who I still remember fondly for a few words she uttered twenty years ago. (Tara Ukrintz, if Google brings you to me: this actually happened, I swear.) I think, maybe, somehow, we were the only two people in our class who didn’t go on the year-end trip, wherever that went, for whatever reason. But our teacher at the time, Ken Blogg (same disclaimer as above, if you’re out there, though I remember you as looking like an oboeist, strangely) decided that we could, should, whatever, watch a movie instead of just sitting around.

The movie he picked for us was Casablanca. And oddly, until I sat down to write this, I never once wondered about that choice, any reasons he might have picked that film or how seeing it right at that moment might have influenced my life. I’m so far removed now it’s impossible to say, but if I think too long about it I can feel the unnamed things shackled in the dark corners of my mind stirring and rattling their chains. Lucky for all of you, I’m not some emo dishrag with a leather wristband and a myspace page, so we can just ignore that and go about the business of me telling you what happened at the end of the movie.

So it wraps up, hill of beans in this crazy world, round up the usual suspects, start of a beautiful friendship and so forth, and the teacher asks us what we thought of it, and Tara said, I swear, that it was a pretty good movie, “except that it was full of cliches.”

Even at that age and somehow right at that moment, even before I had any real idea what “things working out” meant, I knew things weren’t going to work out between me and Tara. It’s the earliest I can remember doing a double-take, though. “Yeah… wait, what?”. But what other response could there be, really, from kids that age? I was clever enough to recognize it as the root of the tree, sure. But once you’ve seen those tropes so thoroughly abused in so many other settings, it’s hard to recognize that the reason they’re everywhere now is because that one time, in that one now-classic work, they were so definitively great that everything that came afterwards owed a debt.

And watching it now, after I’ve lived a bit, travelled a bit and been in some relationships that got complicated, some that worked and some that didn’t, it’s a whole different movie, even though not a frame of it’s changed.

So, yeah, video games. And another thing where, as usual, I’m late to the party, but since one of the first links in the google search for “twilight princess homage” includes the phrase “i’m a pimp with the sword and shield”, it seems likely that what I have to say hasn’t been mentioned before. And, yes, I am here to day to tell you about The Legend Of Zelda: Twilight Princess.

First of all, I’m an unabashed Legend of Zelda fan and something of a dork so, yes, I will tell you that Twilight Princess is a fantastic game. But the thing that I haven’t seen discussed at any length is the fact that it is also an homage to a lot of other fantastic games, probably more than I even realized playing it. There are times that the game switches gears completely and all of a sudden for a couple of minutes you’re playing a faithful rendition of a completely different game. There are hints of lost worlds in the scenery, echoes in the music that bring back the cavernous spaces or threatening claustrophobia of other games, whispering threats and hinting at glories that aren’t even real in the context of this particular fiction.

Very meta that at times the deja vu almost unbearable, a nonexistent world echoing with the memories of other nonexistent worlds. It is fantastically well done.

I thought that I’d take a moment to list the ones that jumped out at me; some of them are obvious, some of them might not be, but here you go. If I’ve missed any, you need to tell me in the comments.

  • Okami because, obviously.
  • Shadow Of The Colossus, hinted at in some of the washed out color schemes and decaying bridges and masonry in wide-open spaces (Look up at the bridge across Lake Hylia from the Tower, for example) and the way Link hangs with one hand, swaying before getting his grip, in a motion you will find immediately familiar.
  • The Legend Of Zelda: A Link To The Past, obviously in the light and dark worlds, but much more quietly in a lot of other ways. The soldiers are dressed the same, for one example among many.
  • The Ocarina Of Time perhaps also obviously, but in too many ways to mention. Windwaker, too – the summit of Hyrule Castle is a smaller model of a castle that looks, in the final moments of the game, a lot like it did in the final moments of Windwaker.
  • The terrific Metroid Prime, in a couple of distressing ways. One is that you fight a boss very similar to Ridley late in the game, but possibly worse is the fact that a lot of the music (particularly in the desert) sounds like half of it was ripped straight from the Metroid Prime soundtrack. In the arena where you reassemble the twilight mirror it’s particularly severe. It wasn’t obvious for a long time why the claustrophobic, ancient-magic mood that saturated Metroid Prime was crawling up my spine until I realized that the background music sounded like a crossover of the Gerudo Desert music from Ocarina and the Electric-Monk-sounding mood music from Prime. I kept thinking, Jeebus, if Link and his boomerang get jumped by a bunch of Space Pirates, he’s going to get abused.
  • God, the minigames. It only occurred to me when I was two-thirds of the way through this that I should start writing these down, but just as an example at one point after you fight your way to the top of an icy mountain, you have to slide down it on a plank. And just like that, all of a sudden you’re playing a totally serviceable version of SSX for five minutes. And the game is full of stuff like this.

So that’s what brings us circling slowly in on our point here; I have no idea how a younger gamer might view this game – drop all that baggage, and what’s left over is a pretty good game with a bunch of wierd little sidequest things and some OK graphics, maybe? Some pretty good writing scattered around a lot of fetch-seven-of-these and recover-three-of-those, but the state of that art has moved on a bit, you know? Does it get a little long near the end? Maybe. But, God, pack all those memories, all that emotional investment back in, all those faint (and not-so-faint) echoes of great games you’ve played before, and the result is just about transcendent. It’s not a perfect game by any stretch of the imagination. But it’s definitely the best of the Legend Of Zelda series and, particularly I would think for veteran gamers, it’s… hard to describe? It’s not the greatest video game of all time, but it might be the best video-game-playing experience of all time. And it only gets better, the more classic games you’ve played; I’ve never seen a game like it, and as far as I know, no other game has even attempted the sprawling, protracted homage to the field as a whole that has been so beautifully accomplished here.

I’m just lucky I’m old enough to appreciate it.

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