My head in the clouds

Posted in Uncategorized on November 18, 2012 by link6616

So, over the last year I’ve attempted to revive my netbook from it’s life of being unused. From buying a new battery, reinstalling XP back to it’s factory settings, trying Lubuntu, a light weight Ubuntu distro even more lighter than Ubunutu eee, Chrome OS, and most recently Joli OS.

Lubuntu was nice, but I very quickly ran into issues around forgetting to make a swap disk and swap files screwed over sleep/hibernate mode, which is pretty important for netbooks, so that died quickly.

A cloud based caught my eye, so I tried chrome. Supposedly, my little 2008 netbook wasn’t quite up to scratch for Google, although it ran it quite well it just didn’t work with the touchpad at all, which is a little difficult. But I played with it with a mouse for an hour or so, got to say, it’s impressive what you can do with what amounts to just a browser.

In my attempts to fix this issue with Chrome though I ran into an interesting OS called ‘JoliOS’ a cloud OS like chrome, but also tied with Desktop iOS and android applications, with the idea being that your cloud is unified, everything you do on Joli is there on anything else you can access with it. Oddly is is also based around Chrome, but is at it’s heart a linux distro.

Although you actually need to dig a little to find that linux core, right clicking on the desktop will reveal to most techy people that Joli is basically entirely within a web browser from the word go, with the options back/forwards save as etc. 

While the whole thing doesn’t quite come together as well as it should perhaps on my eeepc with a few bugs around full video display, and some slowness going between sections of the desktop, it’s fast and quick to get to everything, with no real taskbar (only a small thin line up the top with small icons for all open apps) most of my eeepc’s screen can be taken up with whatever single page I’m looking at.

Yup, single page. This is where it’s clear this is for netbookers or low power users in my eyes, you are not viewing anything side by side here at all. But for a netbook, this isn’t really an issue.

Joli also uses ‘apps’ in a very iOS like appearance, but upon closer inspection there really isn’t much to these apps… they are with few exceptions hyperlinks that don’t present the URL at the top of the screen. However, this actually works, for the sites you constantly look at like facebook or something having them close but separate to the general browsing experience helps you reduce the amount of tabs open during your research or whatever it might be that you are doing.

And it’s actually pretty surprising how much really is covered by these hyperlink apps. With word processors, editors of various kinds, music movies, it’s unsurprising there is a push to take these things to the cloud.

But, you ask, what’s so great about all that, can’t I just do all that on my computer without the OS. And the answer is yes, on that level Joli is nothing special. For me what is special is what Joli seems to be on the verge of really setting up. Along the side of the desktop under buttons for desktop and HDDS is a section called ‘my cloud’ listing dropbox, skydrive, google drive, flickr, readability youtube and all those kinds of things. chances are you have a lot of these services already. And what’s impressive is that most of these are actually not just the hyperlink to webpage, but more fully intergrated. Clicking on a cloud storage will look like just another drive, youtube has a different interface closer to an iPad, flicker and readability much the same, and all these unique services are made to look much more unified. the swap from Readability to dropbox isn’t as jarring as it might normally be.

While all that is impressive what Joli really lacks is completeness though, while it displays dropbox like another drive, clicking on anything simply opens up dropbox’s website, to the same spot regardless of what file you clicked on. While readability is nicely integrated facebook is barely a part of the system, and twitter merely a hyperlink.

Another strong issue with the OS is probably a lack of native apps. While it is linux, the Joli app store only has a very limited collection of the most basic linux apps, open office, VLC and skype come to mind. But I was surprised at the lack of a general IM program like Pidgin. There are plenty of web based services that emulate it, but I do feel the OS lacks more non cloud based applications at the moment, and even though you can install other linux apps on the OS, I have not been able to make them appear on the desktop.

Keyboard short cuts i also see as another issue.

I’m really curious to see how Joli turns out once the iOS app is restored on the Australian itunes store, and see if it being around on all my gadgets really helps a great deal or not. But I’m actually now quite optimistic for what a cloud future might be like for computers, I’m convinced at the very least, it could actually work if devs like Joli keep doing the kind of thing they are trying.

Oh, this was typed on Joli while listening to music from 61, which is a surprisingly interesting service that I wouldn’t have known about if it weren’t for joli 


Sengoku Basara: The game that surprised me

Posted in Uncategorized on January 3, 2012 by link6616

Earlier this year I realised something… I’d just ignored the whole Dynasty Warriors thing. Disregarded it as bad and never even considered it could have some merit. All I knew was that is was shallow, mindless, repetitive and all these other words I associate with bad…

But you know what… A lot of games are like that when all is said and done and you’ve done the spread sheets. So I found a copy of Sengoku Basara, the capcom version of Dynasty warriors, and Dynasty Warriors 7 a little later and I was actually really impressed by them. They we’re everything I expected, mindless, shallow, repetitive and actually felt a little wrong with running speeds too (both of them, you feel too light if that makes sense)…

But they both taught me something really important…. Those qualities can be just what you want, and with the right visuals to go with it can be super compelling. I’m enjoying my time with these more than I did with the diablo.

Ghost Trick

Posted in adventure, Games on January 3, 2012 by link6616

Today (months ago) I did something amazing. I finished Ghost Trick.

Me finishing a game is kind of rare… And while I got it months ago it’s a solid ride. But to know about Ghost Trick, you’ll need to know about another series. A very well known series in fact, the Phoenix Wright series, well Ace Attorney series actually… but most people are more familiar with our first man.

The Phoenix Wright series suffers from great writing and bad pacing. Constant flashbacks from minutes ago, to long dry runs through mostly dull investigation sequences which admittedly do make the court battles great fun, but in themselves, can’t be help with great esteem. However, these moments do keep the series going and make the games great to play.

Ghost Trick, by the same people (mostly) is not as well written as the first but it is still well written. What Ghost Trick does differently is solid pacing. With lots of pressure and light situations mingled together, but clearly defined, the game does a good job of keeping you on your toes, but not just constantly doing that so you get used to it.

But the really cool thing Ghost trick is simple. It makes a part of adventures games you’d never think of the most fun part: moving the cursor. Ghost trick’s puzzles are essentially based on moving your cursor to the right place at the right time. Doesn’t sound like a challenge really, does it. But it is, mainly due to face you can only move to other objects very close to you.

This you are the cursor idea is just a fascinating bit of game design that I’ve only ever really encounter in two games, this and Knights in nightmare (the latter of which is an SRPG where you must dodge bullet hell patterns while inputting commands).

Ghost Trick was on of the most memorable games I played in 2011 and bought adventure games back to life for me.

Being aware of your biases.

Posted in Uncategorized on June 5, 2011 by link6616

It’s recently been coming up in a discussion on fighters being too hard to learn (which they are) that people aren’t aware of their biases. So what is a bias? Traditionally we think of bias as being unfairly liking/hating something, however bias really is anything that affects your opinion on it. Mauled by strippers as a child and bayonetta might not be your thing, that’s a bias in a more traditional sense. Grew up on a dpad controller and never got the hang of analog sticks, that’s also an bias in the traditional sense.

But biases can be less obvious, some can go as simply as X to jump/Select things, O to cancel, possibly other main action. Good chance Square and triangle are attack buttons. Noticed I used playstation button names? That’s right, I’m biased as I don’t think in terms of the Xbox buttons. The learning of conventions is a huge part of our biases, and when things go against those conventions, no matter how stupid they might be, we tend to get worked up about it. Not that going against conventions is always good, and unless your new setup is genuinely better, it’s probably best to stick with convention when you can with control schemes…

But conventions, and bias affect how we can learn things. Fighters are unintuitive, for some people (although we are talking basic levels here, higher levels of everything are unintuitive), but some people they make sense. Usually you can trace that back to what those people might have learned before hand… If you played games like Golden Axe, streets of rage, Final Fight, ninja gaiden, and all those older 2d action games, you’ll probably find fighters easier. You are used to all sorts of 2d collisions, invulnerability, recovery, wake up in some cases and all those conventions part of that larger genre of ‘2d action’ encompassing quite a lot.

At the same time, I have no familiarity with the FPS genre. I didn’t play quake, not much of golden eye or perfect dark. I didn’t play system shock, bio shock, Deus Ex, I just haven’t really touched the FPS before, and continued to not do so because I didn’t before. And I increasingly don’t know how to, nor learn how to go about learning how to. Sure I get my WASD and mouse aiming at this point in games like Dragon Ages 2, but I don’t naturally work in that dual stick m/k way. And so I don’t get good at these games because I’m simply not aware of what i can be looking for.

Short story: You need to learn how to go about learning in an environment. You need to learn what stats might help you, like in a fighter, knowing how much meter you gain off everything is less important than knowing how to counter a few jump ins. But to know which is more important is hard. Learning how to learn is tricky, don’t take it lightly when treading into a new genre.

Negotiating with SMT: Strange Journey

Posted in Games, RPG on May 26, 2011 by link6616

Ah Shin Megami Tensei, you keep reincarnating yourself in more truely goddess like ways. (For those lost on the meaning here, look up what the name means).

One of the more interesting parts of the older SMT games according to long time fans (who would have needed very good Japanese) is that in nearly every fight you have the option of talking to the demons you are fighting. It might be as simple as “Do you think I look scary” or as complex as “Why is your world so screwed,” and in theory at least you have to make a decision based on what you think the demon wants to hear. This is rather like the social links in the later 2 persona games where certain answers will advance the link better. Part of the problem here is that different demons of the same type respond differently to the same answers. So telling one Jack Frost you are here to play, and the other the same thing the 2nd might attack you and the first might join your party.

However, despite this inconsistency that does hamper the gamy element a little, it does present the rather nice notion that all these demon’s are unique, and mostly Jack Frosts will like people who want to play or aren’t afraid of mascot characters. And the uniqueness is a great notion to present because the negotiations are nearly always interesting the demons are relatively simple characters but enjoyable to talk too. This enjoyable to talk to aspect really is what makes the game shine, when you see a new demon I always try and talk to them because I want to know what they speak like, what kind of views do these demon’s mostly have? Are they pro human (rare), curious about us, or just hate us and would rather die than help?

One of the other interesting things that Strange Journey brings to light is that if you have a complex deep growth/formation system in an RPG, and a deep battle system, you risk making the game too hard to see where you need to improve. Was it my tactics or my planning that was wrong? By having a simple battle system you always knew failure was more from planning than in combat options, although you could still have made choice in combat causing you to loose, but those would be more obvious.

Here is an the interview that talks about this.

More later on Strange Journey most likely! (probably on how the low tech helps it stay creepy!)

The Longest Journey

Posted in Games on May 22, 2011 by link6616

I’ve finally finished up the Longest Journey, a PC classic from 1999/2000 and was totally unknown to me until I’d heard of dreamfall in 2006. A game I wouldn’t play until 2009.

TLJ is a classic point and click adventure and a great example of why the genre is both amazing and terrible at the same time. Using examination fantastically to both help characterize April and her own world. Her book shelf of books she tells us she’ll never read, to her childhood drawings that get her to tell us about her past. One of the key things the examination or looking element of adventures do really well is give characters a way to say things about their world or situation without being forced upon the player. If you had to examine everything and listen to it, it’d be a chore, but the option to investigate allows character development to go as deep as you want without being forced to sit through long monologues, or have dialogue choices just go ignored. Also, it helps define a character outside of conversation with people, as most people have personality even without talking to others.

Oh, and TLJ also tells one of the best stories any adventure game has ever told, builds it’s world fantastically through strong aesthetic design, voice acting, atmospheric music and pretty good writing. It gets a little wordy at times but you really are there for the story. It’s a pretty typical story of girl finding X things and facing a trial for each of them, filled with self doubt and by the end she becomes more confident in herself… However despite that it’s actually pretty well done, and has a slight self aware air to it, as since she’s from a world resembling our own, transported to a magical parallel, she’s read stories and is aware of the tropes of fantasy fiction. And this self awareness actually makes the tropes all the more enjoyable. One of the fantastic things TLJ pulls off is a feeling of culture. Even though you only spend a short time with each culture you encounter, there is a great feeling that is culture actually has a purpose outside of being your backdrop, even if sometimes an entire culture of people is represented as a single person.

But… this is an adventure game, so despite it being fantastic with all this other stuff you need a source of conflict, and we are in the adventure genre so it’s non violent mostly! This means puzzles. And TLJ likes to screw with you. With missable items and some puzzles that would make Monkey Island seem as ordinary as a table TLJ is basically an adventure game you’ll want to play with a guide handy at all times… Thankfully the gog version comes with a guide…

The Longest Journey really makes you think about Adventure games as an overall genre… Outside of them it’s hard to tell a story that’s not about fighting, but in order for the game to not be just a movie or a visual novel you need to do something. Adventure games chose inventory puzzles back when they were just text, and they’ve stuck with them. There are other puzzles, and some games without items like Loom, but mostly it’s inventory puzzles. When going back to play even the best adventure games, it’s hard to not want to just grab a guide before you start, because you know you are going to get stuck.

I think adventure games really need to start learning some new tricks. Heavy Rain despite all it’s hate from many gamers, it’s probably the best example of how adventure games can improve… It has some puzzles, but mostly it’s exploring and going, with your gameplay really just being pressing extra buttons to do things… Arbitrary yes, but strangely works really well. If you got into the story, the gameplay was just enough to feel like something you were doing, while at the same time never had it’s gameplay hold you back. Apparently LA Noire is similar in many ways but without the quick time events that many hated in Heavy Rain, and hopefully a better plot with less holes.

Dragon Age 2

Posted in Games, RPG on April 15, 2011 by link6616

Sorry for not updating for ages! I have a bunch of half written articles waiting to go up… and be finished… Anyway…

Recently, I’ve been playing DA2, I’m not usually one for CRPGs… I find them too complex. But, I got a new computer, and heard DA2 was more streamlined, and had really fun combat, so i gave it a go.

It’s really good. But as nearly everything has commented, it’s not the same as the first. With many changes that are obviously for console users, like the dialogue wheel or the lack of higher up camera angle. However, many of these changes do something that’s really important for me, and that’s streamlining the cRPG genre. I’ve tried many, many times to dabble with cRPGs, tinkering with neverwinter, icewind dale, diablo and many others, and to most of them, I’ve given up rather early and gone ‘it’s not for me.’ These games all seemed a little to complex for me and i hadn’t already learned how to play them, something, making their tutorials more a head ache than a help as there was just too much information to really deal with.

‘But surely you like complexity’

Yes, i do, I love it in fact. But there need to be stepping stones in all genres… And unlike JRPGs where there are several high quality ‘starter’ ones, and the FFs in a constant loop of being reprinted most older cRPGs are so antiquated that they are of no help in starting up with the genre due to some very outdated design choices. In other words, there is no way to get into cRPGs if you aren’t already in them and not prepared for a really tough learning curve. This is where Dragon Age 2 comes in, it’s quick, easy, but with a lot of the type of depth you’ll find in other cRPGs. This makes the easy to get into DA2 an excellent stepping stone to the better parts of the genre. DA2 starts to get you thinking in terms of skill trees, level ups, stat allocation, weapon choices in the ways more unique to cRPGs than JRPGs (in which weapons pretty much always just go up one path, always one right choice, cRPGs often present you with more equally good but in different way situations). And whats more, it’s getting you to do all that in a ‘safe’ environment. Given the small skill trees in DA2, it’s nearly impossible to screw your character up for more than a few levels without a lot of hard work.

Admittedly, these are the same reasons many people will find annoyance with DA2, it’s a simpler game that’s harder to do badly in. But, it’s playable by more people who’ll be able to move on to the more complex and interesting without being bombarded, and they’ll also know why it’s fun, what kind of decisions they are actually making and so on…

DA2 is a great stepping stone RPG, and while it might not be a great sequel to DA:O it’s one I think the genre really needed, and needed a big name attached to.